May 11/2019
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For today
But even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me.
Letter to the Philippians 02/12-19: “Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labour in vain. But even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me. I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I may be cheered by news of you.”

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on May 10-11/19
Lebanon: Mansourieh Residents Reject Installation of High-Voltage Power Lines
Lebanese Cabinet Wants to Reduce 1200 Billion LBP from Budget
Lebanese Cabinet approves tax increase on bank deposits interest rate
Lebanese-Syrian Dispute on Maritime Border
Aoun receives President of Socio Economic Council, Iran's ambassador
Hariri receives GCLW delegation, chairs Cabinet draft budget session
Berri meets Bassil over budget, maritime borders
Berri Says Parliament Could Reject Budget that Doesn't Observe Deficit Reduction
Bustani: Installation of high voltage lines in Mansourieh unharmful
Bassil Describes LDE Conference as 'Quality Leap'
Signees of Power Plan Appeal Stress Role in Anti-Corruption Fight
Serge Dagher Calls for Abolishing Double Standards in Lebanon
Two Injured in Gunfire in Aramoun
Amnesty Slams UAE Trial of Lebanese Shiites

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on May 10-11/19
UN Security Council to Meet on Libya amid Offensive on Tripoli
Behind apparent military escalation, US and Iran buy 2-3 months’ grace for reassessment
US commander says he could send carrier into Strait of Hormuz
Nobody's Happy' about N. Korea Missile Launch, Says Trump
Trump tells Iran as tensions flare: ‘Call me’
Trump nominates acting Pentagon chief as Defense Secretary
Pompeo will meet with Russia’s Putin, Lavrov during visit to Russia
Key Yemen Grain Silos Come under Fire, Says UN
Saudi Cargo Ship Won't Dock at French Port for Arms
Asylum seekers acquitted over Greek island camp protest
Two French soldiers killed in rescue of four hostages in Burkina Faso
Russia, Japan say differences remain over disputed islands
U.S. Hits China with Higher Tariffs, Raising Stakes in Trade Talks
US and Palestinians clash over US plan for peace with Israel
Kazakhstan Says Scores of Children Evacuated from Syria
US airstrike kills 13 Daesh militants in Somalia: US military

Litles For The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on May 10-11/19
Lebanon: Mansourieh Residents Reject Installation of High-Voltage Power Lines/Sanaa Al-Jack/Asharq Al Awsat/Mat 10/2019
Lebanese Cabinet approves tax increase on bank deposits interest rate/NNA/May 10/2019/
Behind apparent military escalation, US and Iran buy 2-3 months’ grace for reassessment/Debka File/May 10/2019
US commander says he could send carrier into Strait of Hormuz/Reuters, Washington/May 10/2019
Q&A: Syria's Assad Sets Sights on Idlib, the Final Showdown/Associated Press/Naharnet/May 10/2019/
Notre Dame: Christianity Is Desecrated in Europe/Raymond Ibrahim/May 10/2019
Only Trump can save Syria’s Idlib, but time is running out/Josh Rogin/Washington Post/May 10/2019
India Should Beware of American Islamism/Sam Westrop/Islamist Watch/May 10/2019
Europe’s Three Concerns About Iran/Amir Taheri/Asharq Al Awsat/May 10/2019
How the War Between America and Iran Will Start/Warren Getler/Haaretz/May 10/2019

The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on May 10-11/19
Lebanon: Mansourieh Residents Reject Installation of High-Voltage Power Lines
Beirut - Sanaa Al-Jack/Asharq Al Awsat/Mat 10/2019
Wednesday’s Lebanese Cabinet session saw talks on the recent clash between residents of the Metn town of Mansourieh and security forces over the installation of high-voltage power lines, which protesters say can cause cancerous diseases. On the sidelines of the session, Information Minister Jamal al-Jarrah said: “Studies have proved that no harm would result from the high-voltage lines in Mansourieh; the standards to which we have committed are higher than European standards.” He added: “The decision of the Council of Ministers is final in this regard and the security forces are tasked with securing the project implementation; attacks on the security forces will lead to problems.”Energy Minister Nada al-Boustani, for her part, said that the high-voltage lines extended all over Lebanon, over Tire, Sidon, Keserouan and Metn, adding that they spare technical waste worth $20 million.
“We are against the use of force against demonstrators, as well as against the security forces,” she added. Asharq Al-Awsat met the protesters in the area. One of the demonstrators appealed to Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah to intervene because he was “the only effective force in Lebanon.”Another pointed to the workers, saying: “They are all Syrians. While Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil is demanding their return to their country, he is using them today to kill us with cancer.” “We have given the ministry studies that confirm the danger of extending the lines, but we do not know if they have read any of them,” said Mona Harb. The residents have asked the government to extend underground lines, instead of installing them near the houses. “They argue that the underground link will cost an additional $4 million, but they forget about the billions they have wasted on power ships, and the millions of dollars that the Ministry of Health will spend to cure the diseases that will afflict us if they complete their crime,” Harb remarked. She indicated that the basic plan was to extend the lines in a land that has no houses on it, “but the property belongs to an influential figure, so the location of the project was changed.” The residents of Mansourieh have been voicing their rejection of the project for 18 years now. The irony is that the Free Patriotic Movement was totally against the extension of the high-voltage power lines in the region. It even participated in the residents’ sit-ins and supported them, until Bassil took over the energy portfolio and then gave it to the current deputy and former minister Cesar Abu Khalil and then to Nada al-Boustani.

Lebanese Cabinet Wants to Reduce 1200 Billion LBP from Budget
Naharnet/May 10/2019/The Cabinet held another meeting on Thursday to discuss the 2019 state budget and it was chaired by Prime Minister Saad Hariri at the Grand Serail. At the end of the meeting, the Minister of Information Jamal Jarrah said: “Today’s meeting lasted five hours, during which the budget items and required procedures to reduce current and operating expenses were discussed. The expenditures were discussed and the reduction rate for each article was defined so we can reduce between 1000 to 1200 billion Lebanese pounds from the 2019 budget. This took around two hours. After that, each minister will study these reductions in his ministry. Starting tomorrow, we will discuss the articles of the ministries according to the directives set today regarding the reduction, so that we can reach the desired reduction. This way we will be able to reduce the budget deficit between 7 and 8 percent. This took a while because we went into the details of each article. Tomorrow, the Council of Ministers will meet at one-thirty to pursue the discussion”. Asked if tomorrow’s session will be the last one, Jarrah said that it will not and there might be meetings on Saturday and Sunday.
Asked if the twenty percent reduction is an addition to the twenty percent reduced last year, Jarrah said: “It’s true, but the percentage is not 20%. This means it is of 8 or 6 or 2% for some articles and more for others. But we took the directives based on a study prepared by the Presidency of the Council of Ministers to see the reductions that would lead to a cutback of 1200 billion Lebanese pounds”.Asked if the 15% reduction in salaries is the last solution, Jarrah said that the issue of salaries was put aside to see what could be done in the other articles. There are new proposals by the ministers that can increase the income and reduce the expenditures, all of which are being studied. Tomorrow the ministers will give suggestions and practical ways to reduce the budgets of their ministries.

Lebanese Cabinet approves tax increase on bank deposits interest rate
NNA/May 10/2019/
 The Council of Ministers held today another meeting chaired by the President of the Council of Ministers Saad Hariri at the Grand Serail. At the end of the meeting, the Minister of Information Jamal Jarrah said:
“It was somehow a long session, but it was very productive in the pending issues, most of which were approved, namely raising the tax on interest rates on banks and individuals, from 7 to 10% for three years. After three years, the tax returns to 7%, and our financial and economic situation would have improved. If there is further improvement, we may reduce it to less than 7% perhaps to 5%.
On the issue of the military institutions and the veterans, there was an early retirement on the 18th year. It is now on the 23rd year. The retirement that used to take place on the 20th year is now on the 25th. As for the specialized officers, three years were added to their retirement.
There has been a serious discussion of measure No. 3 and the issued decrees, and the government will apply the law that stipulates that measure number 3 applies to confrontation with the Israeli enemy, while the rest is subject to measure number 1. The heads of security services will identify the cases they consider to be subject to measure number three 3 and those subject to measures number 2 and 1. In the sense that they determine with the Council of Ministers the exceptional circumstances in which a country can pass, and when measures number 3, 2 or 1 apply. Those who are on the frontlines with the Israeli enemy are governed by measure number. 3. There will be proposals from the Minister of Defense and the Minister of Interior to resolve this issue.
The issue of school benefits for the public sector employees was also discussed. The numbers must be studied more thoroughly to take the necessary measures and reduce them gradually to lessen the weight on the state.
Question: What about salary cuts?
Jarrah: The atmosphere is very positive towards a significant reduction in the public bodies salaries. We did not specify the percentage. There was a suggestion of 50% and suggestions for less than that. Hopefully we will decide on this either Sunday evening or Monday noon.
Question: What about the reduction of public sector salaries?
Jarrah: We will decide on them when we finish with the figures.
Question: The Minister of Education said that school grants were reduced by 15%?
Jarrah: We did not decide yet on this matter. There is a proposal of a 15% cut and other suggestions for more.
Question: Did you take a decision to reduce the salaries of public officials by 50%?
Jarrah: We did not take the decision yet. Everyone knows that there are MPs and ministers whose sole source of income is this salary while others are comfortable.
Question: Will there be exceptions?
Jarrah: We are looking for the best way, because the public authorities should contribute to the reduction in the budget deficit, even if slightly.
Question: Was the issue of maritime properties discussed?
Jarrah: A law was issued in Parliament and I was the head of the subcommittee that prepared this law. There is a decree issued by the Council of Ministers regarding the prices, and another decree was issued that increased these prices, and the decree is being implemented. Some institutions paid, while the files of other institutions are being considered by the Ministry of Finance, and others lack documents and the owners are working to complete them. A valid decree is now in force according to the law on maritime property.
Question: But Minister Wael Abu Faour said that the prices are low compared to what they should be?
Jarrah: Minister Abu Faour gave his opinion that the new decree is still low. This issue will be discussed by cabinet but not within the budget because it does not have anything to do with the budget. There is a valid decree that is being implemented, and the people submitted their requests to pay the state on the basis of this decree, and there are those who originally paid on the basis of this decree.
Question: Is there a clear figure on maritime property revenues for this year?
Jarrah: According to the estimations of the Minister of Finance, the revenues reached one hundred billion Lebanese pounds, but he expects that they reach more because the total estimate of maritime assets over the past 23 years was $800 million. 144 billion reached the treasury, and there are one hundred billion put by the Minister of Finance as a preliminary estimate in the budget of 2019, but his conviction is that it can reach more than the number achieved in 2018.
Question: Is there a decision to complete the budget on Monday?
Jarrah: We hope to finish it on Sunday evening. We will start at nine thirty and I do not know at what time we may finish. We are in a hurry more than you are because in the end the budget must be sent to Parliament and it has a path.

Lebanese-Syrian Dispute on Maritime Border
Beirut - Nazeer Rida/Asharq Al Awsat/Mat 10/2019/Beirut has presented the US with its stance on the maritime border dispute with Israel as differences with Syria on Lebanon’s Exclusive Economic Zone began looming on the horizon. President Michel Aoun on Thursday presented US Ambassador to Lebanon Elizabeth Richard with new proposals on maritime border demarcation in the South. Richard later visited Speaker Nabih Berri who told her Lebanon had a “unified” position on border demarcation. Beirut has been calling for the official demarcation of the southern maritime border between Lebanon and Israel. It now hopes that the US mediation would resolve the dispute. But informed Lebanese sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that Lebanon is facing a dispute with Syria on the northern maritime border in an area spanning over 1,000 square kilometers. The Lebanese government approved in April the launch of the country’s second licensing round for offshore oil and gas exploration. The blocks approved for exploration tenders include those along Lebanon’s northern border with Syria. “There could be a crisis” with the neighboring country, the Lebanese sources said. “It is not yet clear how the government will deal with the matter,” they said. The head of Justicia Foundation, Dr. Paul Morcos, said border demarcation is possible but needs the approval of all sides. “It also requires bilateral agreements.”He ruled out a Lebanese-Syrian dispute, saying no country has an interest in putting oil exploration and investment in jeopardy. Lebanese sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that a joint committee on border demarcation has never been formed. They said the demarcation of the Exclusive Economic Zone requires discussions between the two countries.

Aoun receives President of Socio Economic Council, Iran's ambassador
Fri 10 May 2019/NNA - President of the Republic, Michel Aoun, on Friday followed up on the course of deliberations on the draft budget 2019, and discussed with his interlocutors a range of economic, diplomatic and political matters. In this framework, President Aoun welcomed at the Baabda palace Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon, Mohammad-Jalal Firouznia, with talks between the pair reportedly touching on bilateral ties and most recent regional developments. Later, Aoun met with lawmakers Nicolas Sehnawi, Imad Wakim, Faisal Sayegh, and Tarek Al- Merabi, accompanied by Lawyer Pierre El Khoury and Dr. Aziz Barbar. The delegation briefed the President on the course of a draft to amend pre-university curricula. On the other hand, the Head of State met with the President of the Economic and Social Council, Charles Arbid, who briefed him on the activities of the Council. Discussions also touched on the current economic situation in the country and the work of the Economic Council committees tasked to follow up on the various issues on the domestic arena, especially the demands of workers and employers. On emerging, Arbid said that the Council's concerned committees has put proposals for solutions to pending matters in the country, disclosing that the a delegation of the Council's General Assembly shall visit Aoun shortly to hand him such proposals.

Hariri receives GCLW delegation, chairs Cabinet draft budget session
Fri 10 May 2019/NNA - The Cabinet met this afternoon at the Grand Serail, chaired by the President of the Council of Ministers Saad Hariri, to study the draft budget. Earlier, Prime Minister Hariri received the head of the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers Bechara Asmar at the head of a delegation representing independent institutions including Beirut Port, Electricite du Liban, National Social Security Fund, the Regie Libanaise des Tabacs et Tombacs, Ogero and the Litani River Authority. After the meeting, Asmar said: “We informed Premier Hariri about the situation of the workers in the independent institutions and the pressure they are feeling as a result of articles in the draft budget that would affect the future of workers in these institutions, and the necessity of eliminating them. We presented to Prime Minister Hariri a legal memorandum explaining the situation of the independent and public institutions, and he promised to deal positively with this. We also briefed him on the atmosphere of the meeting we held with President Aoun and his promise to address these issues. Each institution has its own regulations. Harming the acquired rights that are the result of years of hard work and struggle is unacceptable. All items in the draft budget that harm these rights should be reconsidered and we are ready for dialogue.”

Berri meets Bassil over budget, maritime borders
Fri 10 May 2019/NNA - Speaker of the House, Nabih Berri, met Friday at his Ain-el-Tineh residence with Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, over an array of local affairs. Speaking to reporters in the wake of the meeting, Bassil indicated that his visit today came within the frame of "bolstering the existing ties" between the two sides, praising the "positive cooperation" inside the government over the electricity and budget issues. He added that the meeting also featured high on the maritime and land borders' dossier. "We coordinated the related position in order to be able to preserve our rights in the sea and on the land," Bassil said. "I also broached the affair of Imam Moussa Sadr, and the action of the Lebanese state in that respect," he went on to say, vowing further efforts in the upcoming stage. Moreover, Bassil sounded the alarm on major external perils including the "deal of the century" and the settlement of refugees. Accordingly, he maintained that Lebanon would not make any concession in that respect, calling for inter-Lebanese solidarity. "I would like to reassure the Lebanese that Israel is incapable of touching our resources," he stressed. "We must not live in panic. Israel has no means within the current equation of force," he said. "Therefore, we must preserve our stability and, in order to encourage oil-related activities, we must try to find solutions without making any concession," he underlined. Separately, Berri met with Head of the Finance and Budget House committee, MP Ibrahim Kanaan, with whom he discussed the state finances and budget, as well as the hiring issue at public administrations.

Berri Says Parliament Could Reject Budget that Doesn't Observe Deficit Reduction
Naharnet/May 10/2019/Speaker Nabih Berri warned the government “not to refer the state budget draft to the parliament” if it fails to reduce the budget deficit to “9% or even less,” al-Joumhouria daily reported on Friday. “Everyone is required to sacrifice for the country’s sake, but I reject any budget attempt to keep the deficit the same as it is today (11.5 percent), it must be reduced to 9 percent or less. If this reduction is not attained, it is better for them (government) not to refer it to the parliament,” said the Speaker in remarks he made to his visitors. Berri expressed his “resentment” with the negative atmospheres that have developed lately in the country over Lebanon’s economic and financial situation, which he said caused “great confusion among all Lebanese segments,” and describing it as a "climate of conspiracy.”The government is set to impose austerity measures to combat its bulging fiscal deficit, amid “painful” measures to cut part of salaries and benefits of public sector employees which triggered a wave of protests. Lebanon is one of the world's most indebted countries, with public debt estimated at 141 percent of gross domestic product in 2018, according to credit ratings agency Moody's. The budget for 2019 has yet to be finalised, but public sector workers fear that austerity measures may mean cuts to their salaries.

Bustani: Installation of high voltage lines in Mansourieh unharmful
Fri 10 May 2019/NNA - Energy and Water Resources Minister, Nada Bustani, on Friday maintained that the installation of high-voltage electricity lines in the Metn area of Mansourieh was not harmful according to international and scientific studies. "The international and scientific studies have proved that the high-voltage lines are unharmful," Bustani told a press conference. "The Cabinet's decision is to resume the installation of all high-voltage lines in Tyre, Hermel, Faitroun and Mansourieh," she said. "I understand your concerns," she told the residents, reminding of the ministry's offer to purchase the apartments of those fearing potential damages.

Bassil Describes LDE Conference as 'Quality Leap'
Naharnet/May 10/2019/Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil on Friday said in a press conference that Lebanese Diaspora Energy (LDE) annual conference would be a "quality leap", confirming that this year will cover various economic topics. "This conference comes at a time when Lebanon endures a tough economic stage, especially with the formulation of a budget that reflects a real intention to change and launch an economic revival movement," Bassil said. "If we allow the Lebanese abroad to feel a sense of confidence in their motherland, then we will not need foreign sides to financially lend or support us," Bassil added, announcing an unprecedented appointment of 20 economic attaches by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Bassil also noted that the LDE conference provided a platform for start-ups to present their projects and receive financial support. "What distinguishes the conference this year is the new electronic platform and the startup village of emerging Lebanese companies," he added. Bassil also explained that the Lebanese nationality issue would be a milestone in the conference.

Signees of Power Plan Appeal Stress Role in Anti-Corruption Fight 10th May 2019/Following the submittal of a challenge contesting the electricity plan before the Constitutional Council, MPs Paula Yaacoubian and Nicolas Nahas both pinned hopes on the appeal as a gateway to transparency and reform in the power sector. Speaking to the Kataeb website, Yaacoubian said that the Kataeb appeal was neatly drafted, stressing that everyone must realize that the appeal does not hinder the electricity plan as some are claiming. "On the contrary, the appeal reinforces the plan. Some are claiming otherwise because they are simply afraid that theft will be impeded,” Yaacoubian said. For his part, Nahas voiced optimism over the Constitutional Council’s ruling on the appeal, adding that the challenge is aimed at forging the principles of accountability and transparency throughout all of the plan's phases for the sake of the people, investors and contractors. Nahas stressed the need to open the door for real competitiveness and conveying to the international community a message that Lebanon has initiated real reform. Yaacoubian and Nahas are among the deputies who signed the challenge along with MPs Samy Gemayel, Nadim Gemayel, Elias Hankache, Marwan Hamadeh, Oussama Saad, Ali Darwish, Jihad Al-Samad and Faysal Karameh.

Serge Dagher Calls for Abolishing Double Standards in Lebanon 10th May 2019/Kataeb politburo member Serge Dagher on Friday said that the party supports the high-voltage power lines project in Mansourieh provided only that they would be installed underground, adding that the high cost should not be used as a pretext to endanger people's lives by installing the lines above the ground. “Instead of purchasing the properties located near the power lines, let the acquisition funds be instead used to install the power lines underground,” Dagher said during an interview on OTV. Dagher called for letting go of double standards in the country, wondering if citizens in other areas would have been treated with the same violence as the residents of Mansourieh. “Why were the high-voltage power lines installed underground in Beirut? Why isn't the same thing applied in Mansourieh?" he asked. Dagher reiterated that the appeal submitted to the Constitutional Council does not hinder the government's power plan, adding that it rather prevents the violation of laws.

Two Injured in Gunfire in Aramoun
Naharnet/May 10/2019/Two individuals were injured when a personal armed dispute erupted at midnight in the town of Aramoun in Aley, LBCI TV station said on Friday. The station did not specify whether the shooters were the ones injured in the clash. It caused material damages to the nearby bakery of Chamsine, added LBCI. Investigations were run into the incident.

Amnesty Slams UAE Trial of Lebanese Shiites
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 10/2019/The terrorism trial of eight Lebanese Shiites detained in the United Arab Emirates is unfair and based on fabricated confessions obtained under torture, Amnesty International said Thursday. A verdict is expected on May 15 in the trial of the eight men, who are all Shiite Muslims and were arrested in the UAE between December 2017 and February 2018. Amnesty International said the charges of planning attacks in the Emirates on orders of the Iranian-backed Lebanese organization Hizbullah were trumped up. "These men were tortured, they were forced into making confessions," Sima Watling, a researcher for the Britain-based rights group, told AFP. She said the defendants had lived in the United Arab Emirates for years but were denied regular access to their families or to a lawyer. One of the eight is Abdel Rahman Talal Chouman, who had lived in the UAE for more than 15 years and been working as a safety and security trainer with Emirates Airline. During an April 3 session at the state security chamber of the Federal Appeal Court in Abu Dhabi, he described how he was tortured for six hours at a time and forced to sign a confession he was not even given a chance to read. "He had documents in his laptop for training his colleagues on scenarios of possible attacks... these were part of the accusation that he was planning an attack on the airport," Watling said. "If the authorities take these confessions in this trial as being the truth, they are not abiding by international law," she said. All of them have been held in solitary confinement, more than two weeks of which can amount to torture, according to United Nations standards for the treatment of prisoners. The detained men are from Lebanon's Shiite community and are accused by the Emirati authorities of collaborating with Hizbullah. The UAE is a close ally of Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia, which considers Shiite-dominated Iran to be its arch enemy, and lists Hizbullah as a terrorist organization. "It is clearly fabricated, it is a bogus trial against people who happen to be Shiite from the south of Lebanon," Watling said, urging the court to recognize that the trial was unfair and set the eight free. In a Ramadan message to the UAE leadership on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil called for the eight to be granted amnesty.

The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on May 10-11/19
UN Security Council to Meet on Libya amid Offensive on Tripoli
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 10/2019/The UN Security Council will meet behind closed doors to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Libya as a month-long offensive on the capital grinds on, diplomats said on Thursday. Britain requested the Friday meeting so a UN aid official could brief representatives on the assault that has displaced 55,000 people and left more than 430 dead, the diplomats said on condition of anonymity. Libyan commander Khalifa Hafter, whose forces hold the east of the country, launched the offensive on April 4 to seize Tripoli, seat of the UN-recognized government. The council has been divided over how to respond to the crisis in Libya, forcing Britain to put on hold a draft resolution demanding a ceasefire.

Behind apparent military escalation, US and Iran buy 2-3 months’ grace for reassessment
Debka File/May 10/2019
While the US and Iran seem to be on the knife edge of an armed clash, both have taken time-out to reassess their next steps. Iran has given the West 60 days to ease Trump administration sanctions, while the US after slapping sanctions on Iran’s metal experts has allowed 90 days for them to take effect. It is therefore unlikely that, in the short term, the heightened tension will explode into direct hostilities between the US and Iran, although their proxies and allies are another matter – like, for instance, the 36-hour Palestinian rocket blitz against Israel on May 4 and 5, which claimed four Israeli lives. That event, too, was cut short. Neither Tehran, while ranged face to face against America, nor Cairo, which is deep in the Libyan conflict, have the time, will or funds to spend on a major clash of arms in the Gaza Strip. Amid the buildup of US military strength in the Gulf – the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier crossed into the Red Sea on Thursday, May 9 – US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spent no more than four hours on talks in Baghdad on the safety of US troops in Iraq with President Barham Salih and Prime Minister Abdil Abdul-Mahdi on Wednesday. Both are in touch with the Iranian Al Qods chief Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Pompeo asked them to convey to Tehran the message that if US forces or its allies in the region came to harm, the Trump administration would respond with direct military action on Iranian soil. Because the dialogue he initiated with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un is in crisis, President Trump felt obliged to show he is not shy of using military muscle in pursuit of his sanctions against Iran. Kim has broken off diplomacy with Washington after complaining in vain to Chinese and Russian leaders that Trump and Pompeo were too tough. Kim watches every US move on Iran’s nuclear program like a hawk, just as the ayatollahs keep track of Washington’s handling of North Korea. While playing for time, the muscle-flexing between Washington and Tehran continues. On Wednesday, Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani gave the world powers who signed the 2015 nuclear pact up until July 1 to ease US sanctions, or else Tehran would restart its nuclear enrichment program. It took President Trump only hours to hit back with an executive order to slap sanctions on Iran’s metals (iron, steel, aluminum and copper) exports, second only to petroleum as a source of Iranian revenue. But the 90-day period for winding down was the US answer to Iran’s 60-day deadline.

US commander says he could send carrier into Strait of Hormuz

Reuters, Washington/May 10/2019
The commander overseeing US naval forces in the Middle East told Reuters on Thursday that American intelligence showing a threat from Iran will not prevent him from sending an aircraft carrier through the vital Strait of Hormuz, if needed. Vice Admiral Jim Malloy, commander of the US Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet, did not say whether he would send the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group into the strategic waterway off Iran, through which passes a fifth of oil consumed globally. The group, whose deployment to the Middle East was fast-tracked by President Donald Trump’s administration as a warning to Iran, transited through the Suez Canal into the Red Sea on Thursday and was now under Malloy’s command. “If I need to bring it inside the strait, I will do so,” Malloy said in an interview by phone. “I’m not restricted in any way, I’m not challenged in any way, to operate her anywhere in the Middle East.”Iran has dismissed the US contention of a threat as “fake intelligence.”Tensions have risen between Tehran and Washington since the Trump administration withdrew a year ago from a 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran and began ratcheting up sanctions to throttle the Islamic Republic’s economy.
The Pentagon said it expedited the Lincoln’s deployment and sent bombers to the Middle East after US intelligence signaled possible preparations by Tehran to stage attacks against US forces or interests. Malloy said the intelligence was linked “with actual activity that we observed.”“And that was certainly enough for me ... to say that we saw this as a threat,” he said. US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, say one of the pieces of intelligence indicated Iran had moved missiles on boats. One of the officials said the particular missile observed was perhaps capable of launching from a small ship.
The officials also noted growing concerns about the threat from Iran-backed Shiite militia in Iraq, which have long avoided any confrontation with US troops under the shared goal of defeating ISIS extremist group. Malloy, whose naval forces would support efforts to defend US troops throughout the region, did not enter into details on the US intelligence. But he confirmed that some of the US concerns centered on Iranian missiles. “It might be a new fielding of technology by Iran,” Malloy said, adding the weaponry “falls under the category of destabilizing and offensive in nature.”
‘Not in a war-plan footing’
The nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers required Tehran to curb its uranium enrichment capacity to head off any pathway to developing a nuclear bomb, in return for the removal of most international sanctions. Iran has always said it pursued a nuclear program for peaceful purposes only. In the past month, the .S designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization and increased sanctions pressure, with an explicit goal of slashing Iran’s oil exports to zero. Beyond the deployment of the Lincoln, the United States also dispatched B-52 bombers to the Middle East in response and is also weighing the redeployment of Patriot missiles after pulling several out of the region last year, officials said. Some of Trump’s critics fear the White House is intentionally provoking Iran. Although the military sought the deployments, the announcement itself came in a statement from White House national security adviser John Bolton - a hawk on Iran policy. Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat, said he worried “that the Trump administration is leading us toward an unnecessary war.”Malloy, in his first interview since the IRGC designation, confirmed that US forces were operating at a heightened state of readiness. Still, Malloy stressed that the U. military was not seeking or preparing for war with Iran. “I am not in a war-plan footing and have not been tasked to do so,” Malloy said. He added: “However we are absolutely ready to respond to any aggression against the United States, partners in the region, or our interests.”
Trump also reaffirmed that message on Thursday, saying he did not want conflict. “We have one of the most powerful ships in the world that is loaded up and we don’t want to do anything,” Trump told reporters.

Nobody's Happy' about N. Korea Missile Launch, Says Trump
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 10/2019/US President Donald Trump said that "nobody's happy" after North Korea raised the pressure over the future of their deadlocked nuclear negotiations by launching two short-range missiles. Trump's second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi in February broke up without an agreement or even a joint statement as the two failed to reach a deal on what Pyongyang would be willing to give up in exchange for relief from sanctions imposed over its banned nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes.Since then Kim has accused Washington of acting in "bad faith" and given it until the end of the year to change its approach. In what South Korea President Moon Jae-in termed an "element of protest", the North "fired what appeared to be two short-range missiles" on Thursday, Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a statement. They were launched from Kusong in North Pyongan province, it said, and flew eastwards for 270 and 420 kilometres (170 and 260 miles) across the North. It was Pyongyang's second such move in less than a week, after having not launched a missile since November 2017, shortly before a rapid diplomatic thaw eased high tensions on the peninsula and paved the way for the historic first Kim-Trump summit in Singapore last June. At a White House event, Trump said US authorities were looking "very seriously" at the launch of the "short-range missiles". "Nobody's happy about it," he told reporters. "We'll see what happens," he added. "I know they want to negotiate, they're talking about negotiating. But I don't think they are ready to negotiate."Thursday's launches came hours after the US Special Representative on North Korea, Stephen Biegun, arrived in Seoul for talks with South Korean officials, in his first visit since the Hanoi summit.
'Peace and security'
North Korea's Rodong Sinmun newspaper, the mouthpiece of the ruling party, devoted its entire front page and half of page two to the launch on Friday, with 16 pictures, the main one of Kim watching the launch from a camouflaged shelter. It was a "long-range strike" drill, the official Korean Central News Agency said, without specifying what kind of weapon was fired and avoiding the words missile, rocket or projectile. Thursday's missile firing came after North Korea carried out a military drill and fired multiple projectiles on Saturday, with at least one believed to be a short-range missile. And in a potential indication of more launches to come, KCNA said that Kim "set forth important tasks for further increasing the strike ability of the defence units". "The genuine peace and security of the country are guaranteed only by the strong physical force capable of defending its sovereignty," it cited him as saying. The pictures of the two launches released by the North appeared similar, and experts said at least one short-range ballistic missile was involved on Saturday. A report on the respected 38 North website said debris left by the launch suggested it was a "direct import" of a Russian-produced Iskander -- a single-stage, solid-fuel missile. If North Korea had imported Iskanders from Russia, the report added, "it has an existing capacity to deliver warheads to targets in South Korea with great precision". Pyongyang, Seoul and Washington had all refrained from explicitly calling Saturday's launch a missile -- the South used the term "projectile" -- which could jeopardise the ongoing diplomacy if it violated UN Security Council bans on ballistic technology as well as Kim's announcement of an end to long-range missile tests. But Japanese defence minister Takeshi Iwaya said Friday that Tokyo had "reached the conclusion" the latest launches were short-range ballistic missiles. "Launching of ballistic missiles is a clear violation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions," he told reporters.
'Highly displeased'
Pyongyang's latest move "is a pressuring action to steer the nuclear talks in a direction it desires", South Korea's President Moon said in an interview marking his first two years in office. "It appears the North is highly displeased that the Hanoi summit ended without agreement," he added, but warned that the launch "could make negotiations more difficult". A summit between Moon and Kim a year ago was instrumental in lowering the temperature, but since the Hanoi summit, the North has blamed Seoul for siding with Washington, leaving inter-Korean relations in limbo. In New York, federal authorities said the US had taken possession of a North Korean freighter seized a year ago by Indonesia on grounds of violating UN sanctions. The officials said Wise Honest -- an 18,000-ton, single hull bulk carrier -- had exported high-grade coal and brought back machinery to the impoverished and reclusive country.

Trump tells Iran as tensions flare: ‘Call me’
The Associated Press/Friday, 10 May 2019/US President Donald Trump has a message for Iran’s leaders as tensions flare over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program: “Call me.”The softer line marks a clear shift, at least rhetorically, from the administration’s tough approach to Iran, which has included moving some of America’s most formidable military weapons, an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers, to the Middle East. “What I would like to see with Iran, I would like to see them call me,” Trump told reporters Thursday at the White House, a day after he slapped Iran with new sanctions. Shortly after Trump spoke, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a written statement that reinforced Trump’s friendly tone. After repeating the administration’s complaints about Iranian misbehavior, including what he called “40 years of killing American soldiers, attacking American facilities and taking American hostages,” Pompeo appealed to “those in Tehran who see a path to a prosperous future” through modifying the regime’s behavior. Pompeo quoted Trump as saying he “looks forward to someday meeting with leaders of Iran in order to work out an agreement and, very importantly, taking steps to give Iran the future it deserves.”The Trump administration moved a bomber squadron and sped up the deployment of a US aircraft carrier to the region in response to unspecified threats by Iran against American interests. On Wednesday, Iran threatened to renew some nuclear enrichment that had been halted under the 2015 nuclear deal. Trump withdrew from the deal last year, citing Iran’s other malign activities in the region. Trump acknowledged Thursday that the new deployments could increase the potential for military confrontation, but he wants Iran’s leadership to know that his phone line is open.

Trump nominates acting Pentagon chief as Defense Secretary
AFP/Friday, 10 May 2019/US President Donald Trump plans to nominate acting Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan as his next secretary of defense, the White House announced Thursday. The former Boeing executive has been acting secretary for more than four months, since James Mattis resigned in protest over Trump’s surprise announcement of a rapid withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and Syria. “Based on his outstanding service to the country and his demonstrated ability to lead, President Trump intends to nominate Patrick M. Shanahan to be secretary of defense,” a White House statement said. Shanahan said he was happy to accept the nomination. “I am honored by today’s announcement of President Trump’s intent to nominate,” he said in a statement. “If confirmed by the Senate, I will continue the aggressive implementation of our National Defense Strategy… I remain committed to modernizing the force so our remarkable soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines have everything they need to keep our military lethal and our country safe,” he added. Shanahan, 56, was Mattis’s own pick in 2017 to be deputy secretary of defense, overseeing the management of the massive US military bureaucracy. Before joining the Pentagon, he spent 30 years at Boeing, where he earned the nickname Mr. Fix-It for having put the problem-saddled Dreamliner program back on the tracks. Since taking the Pentagon’s reins on January 1 as acting secretary, he has kept a low profile while bending to Trump’s pressure to deploy Defense Department funding and manpower to the southern border to halt the inflow of migrants from Central America. But he first had to undergo an investigation into allegations that he was a biased advocate for Boeing, especially against rival aerospace company Lockheed Martin, the builder of the F-35 joint strike fighter. After he was cleared of those allegations two weeks ago, the way was open for Trump’s nomination.

Pompeo will meet with Russia’s Putin, Lavrov during visit to Russia
Reuters, Washington/Friday, 10 May 2019/US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel to Russia on May 12-14, where he will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the State Department said on Friday. They will discuss “the full range of bilateral and multilateral challenges,” the State Department said in a statement.Though US President Donald Trump has sought closer ties between the two countries, Pompeo’s meeting comes as the two heavyweights have clashed over a number of issues, including Venezuela, Syria and Russian interference in the 2016 US election.

Key Yemen Grain Silos Come under Fire, Says UN
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 10/2019/Grain silos outside the port of Hodeida that are vital to UN plans to feed millions of needy Yemenis were hit by gunfire just days after aid staff gained access, the UN said Friday. The World Food Programme is still assessing the damage from the Thursday attack, which caused no casualties, the UN agency's senior spokesperson, Herve Verhoosel, said in a statement. A WFP team finally gained access to the Red Sea Mills silos on Sunday after postponing its inspection visit for a month for security reasons. The silos themselves are controlled by troops of a Saudi-led coalition that has been fighting in support of the Yemeni government. But they are close to front line with Huthi rebels who control the port and much of the city of Hodeida.. Verhoosel said the silos contained some 51,000 tonnes of grains -- enough to feed 3.7 million people for a month. "It appears that two silos were hit, one of which contains wheat," he said. "There was no fire." Verhoosel told said the WFP was unaware who carried out the attack. In February, a WFP team visited the mills for the first time since September, when they became inaccessible due to heavy fighting between pro-government forces and the rebels. The fighting has largely stopped under a UN-brokered ceasefire struck in Sweden in December but there have been intermittent clashes. The more than four-year conflict in Yemen has killed tens of thousands of people, many of them civilians, relief agencies say. The fighting has triggered what the United Nations describes as the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with 3.3 million people still displaced and 24.1 million -- more than two-thirds of the population -- in need of aid.

Saudi Cargo Ship Won't Dock at French Port for Arms

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 10/2019/A Saudi cargo ship that had been expected to pick up a hugely controversial shipment of French arms from France's Le Havre will not dock there, a port source said Friday. French Defence Minister Florence Parly had on Wednesday said French weapons would be loaded onto the Bahri Yanbu, which has been anchored off the northern port for the past few days. The shipment has triggered controversy in France amid fears the arms could be used against civilians in Saudi's military campaign in Yemen. "The stopover won't take place," the port source told AFP, without giving further details. French investigative news site Disclose leaked a classified military note last month detailing the use of French tanks and artillery in the Yemen war. The report sparked a political furore in France although Parly insisted there was "no proof" of casualties in Yemen caused by French weapons.
There had been protests against the docking of the ship in Le Havre. There was no immediate indication of where the vessel might head next or what had prompted the change of plan.

Asylum seekers acquitted over Greek island camp protest

AFP, Lesbos Island/Friday, 10 May 2019/More than 100 asylum seekers were acquitted by a court on the Greek island of Lesbos on Thursday for protesting against overcrowded camp conditions. The mainly Afghan asylum seekers were accused of occupying a central square on the island in April last year.
Along with women and children, they staged a sit-in that was swiftly attacked by far-right militants who threw stones and flares, with riot police deployed to keep the two sides apart. Among the attackers, 26 have been provisionally identified by police. Their trial date has not yet been set. “We didn’t do anything. We were attacked by some extreme people. We are innocent,” one of the defendants, Afghan refugee Hadisse Hosseini, told AFP outside the courthouse. Defense lawyer Elli Kriona Saranti welcomed the court’s ruling, saying the “charges were unfounded.”However, she expressed concern that the suspected attackers had not faced trial, saying it was “a situation that fosters impunity on the island.”More than 70,000 refugees and migrants have been stranded in Greece following a mass influx from 2015 onwards. Most were fleeing war-torn Syria and want to go to wealthier EU states such as Germany. Of these, some 15,000 are housed in badly overcrowded camps on Greek islands where living conditions have been repeatedly criticized by rights groups. Conditions are worst on the islands of Lesbos and Samos, where more than 10,000 people live in camps built to handle just a third of that number. Municipal officials estimate there are about 7,000 refugees and migrants on Lesbos, about a quarter of the population of the island’s capital Mytilene.

Two French soldiers killed in rescue of four hostages in Burkina Faso
AFP, Paris/Friday, 10 May 2019/French forces have freed two French hostages as well as an American and a South Korean in northern Burkina Faso in a military raid that cost the lives of two soldiers, the French presidency said Friday.
The military operation took place overnight in a bid to free the two French tourists, identified as Patrick Picque and Laurent Lassimouillas, who disappeared during a safari in the remote Pendjari National Park in Benin on May 1. The identity of the American and South Korean hostages was not immediately known, but they were both said to be women. The location of the raid confirmed that the French tourists had been kidnapped in Benin and taken over the border into Burkina Faso, where extremist terror groups have stepped up attacks in recent months. President Emmanuel Macron “wants to congratulate the French armed forces for the liberation of the hostages, and includes everyone who worked alongside them,” a statement from the presidency said. “He bows with emotion and solemnity before the sacrifice of our two soldiers who gave their lives to save those of our citizens,” the statement added. In a separate statement, Defence Minister Florence Parly thanked authorities in Benin and Burkina Faso, as well as the United States for its “precious support” in the operation. France has thousands of regular troops and special forces as part of its Barkhane force stationed in the poverty-wracked and violence-hit Sahel region of northwest Africa.

Russia, Japan say differences remain over disputed islands

AFP, Moscow/May 10/ 2019/Russia and Japan’s top diplomats said Friday there was a way to go before their countries could resolve a World War II-era dispute over a chain of islands, following a meeting in Moscow. Ahead of talks, Russia’s Sergei Lavrov said that “significant differences” remained between Moscow and Tokyo’s positions, despite several previous rounds of negotiations. “The task is not easy, it’s clear it will only be solved by long, painstaking and creative work,” Lavrov told journalists following his meeting with Japanese counterpart Taro Kono. The territorial dispute centers on four islands, between the Sea of Okhotsk and the Pacific Ocean, seized by the Soviet army in the last days of World War II. The string of volcanic islands is called the Kurils by Russia and the Northern Territories by Japan. “Solving a problem that remains unresolved more than 70 years on from the end of the war is not easy,” Kono said at a joint press conference. “It cannot be said that as a result of today’s talks we were able to overcome these differences,” he added. Tokyo has refused to recognize Moscow’s sovereignty over the islands, preventing the two countries from signing a peace treaty formally ending hostilities. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Vladimir Putin have made resolving the dispute a priority, meeting 25 times since 2013 in an effort to build cooperation. But both face domestic opposition to any compromise and fell short of reaching an agreement at a meeting in Moscow in January. A further meeting between the foreign and defense ministers of the countries will take place at the end of May in Tokyo, Lavrov said Friday. Moscow has said negotiations should be based on a 1956 Soviet-Japanese declaration, which calls for the signing of a peace accord, before the possible handover of two of the smaller islands to Japan. But giving away even uninhabited islands would be poorly received in Russia, where World War II is hugely symbolic and post-war territorial gains are seen as non-negotiable. Moscow in recent months has taken further steps to consolidate its hold on the islands, which are home to some 20,000 people. In December, Russia said it built four new military barracks in the Kurils, prompting an angry response from Tokyo. In February, it said it had laid fiber-optic cables to provide homes and businesses there with high-speed internet access.

U.S. Hits China with Higher Tariffs, Raising Stakes in Trade Talks
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 10/2019/The United States pulled the trigger Friday on a steep increase in tariffs on Chinese products and Beijing immediately vowed to hit back, turning up the heat before a second day of trade negotiations. President Donald Trump got a briefing from his trade negotiators after the first day of talks with the Chinese side on Thursday, but made no move to hold off on the tariffs -- dashing hopes there might be a last-minute reprieve as the negotiations continued. Minutes after the US increased punitive duties on $200 billion in imports from China from 10 to 25 percent, the Chinese commerce ministry said it "deeply regrets" the move and repeated its pledge to take "necessary countermeasures", without elaborating. Locked in a trade dispute for more than a year, officials from the world's two biggest economies returned to the bargaining table late Thursday, led by Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Since last year, the two sides have exchanged tariffs on more than $360 billion in two-way trade, gutting US agricultural exports to China and weighing on both countries' manufacturing sectors. Trump began the trade war because of complaints about unfair Chinese trade practices. The US team met with Trump late Thursday night to brief him and "agreed to continue discussions tomorrow morning at USTR," the White House said in a statement. Lighthizer and Mnuchin met with the Chinese delegation for about 90 minutes Thursday evening. The White House statement said they also had a working dinner with Liu, who is leading the Chinese side. "We hope the US and the Chinese side can meet each other halfway and work hard together to resolve existing problems through cooperation and consultation," the Chinese commerce ministry said in a statement. Despite optimism from officials in recent weeks that the talks were moving towards a deal, tensions reignited this week after Trump angrily accused China of trying to backpedal on its commitments. "They took many, many parts of that deal and they renegotiated. You can't do that," Trump said on Thursday. But he held out hopes of salvaging a deal. "It's possible to do it," Trump said. "I did get last night a very beautiful letter from President Xi (Jinping)."At the same time, he said he would be equally satisfied to simply keep tariffs in place. And he has threatened to extend the tough duties to all Chinese goods. The International Monetary Fund has called for a rapid resolution, warning that the trade battle was a "threat" to global growth.
Tariffs increase
The renewed tensions roiled global stock markets this week and unnerved exporters. Liu said on his arrival in Washington that the prospects for the talks were "promising," but warned that raising tariffs would be "harmful to both sides," and called instead for cooperation. "I hope to engage in rational and candid exchanges with the US side," he told Chinese state media. "Of course, China believes raising tariffs in the current situation is not a solution to the problem, but harmful to China, to the United States and to the whole world."The higher duty rates will hit a vast array of Chinese-made electrical equipment, machinery, auto parts and furniture. But due to a quirk in the implementation of the higher tariffs, products already on ships headed for US ports before midnight will only pay the prior 10 percent duty rate, US Customs and Border Protection explained. That could effectively provide a grace period for the sides to avert serious escalation. China had earlier threatened to raise tariffs on $60 billion of US imports but held off amid a trade war truce. It could also use other tactics to disrupt business for US firms in China. The US is pressing China to change its policies on protections for intellectual property and massive subsidies for state-owned firms, in a bid to reduce the yawning trade deficit. Derek Scissors, a China expert at the American Enterprise Institute, said the two sides had clashed over how much of the final trade agreement should be enshrined in a publicly available document, something Beijing has long resisted. "What the Chinese step-back primarily says is they don't want to publicly acknowledge that their existing laws, especially on IP, are flawed," he told AFP. Washington is counting on the strong US economy to be able to withstand the impact of higher costs from the import duties and retaliation better than China, which has seen its growth slow. While American companies complain of lost export markets, disrupted supply chains and higher costs, the US continues to see steady growth and falling unemployment. But Mary Lovely, an economics professor at Syracuse University in New York, warned that American companies will feel the pinch. "We're already hearing a lot of companies screaming about their input costs," she told AFP.

US and Palestinians clash over US plan for peace with Israel

AP/May 10/2019/UNITED NATIONS: A key architect of the long-awaited US plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace lashed out at the UN’s “anti-Israel bias” Thursday while urging support for the Trump administration’s “vision” — but the Palestinian foreign minister dismissed the US peace effort, saying all indications are it will be “conditions for surrender.”The speeches by US envoy for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt and top Palestinian diplomat Riad Malki at an informal Security Council meeting ended up focusing on much broader issues than the chosen topic — Israeli settlements at the “core” of the “obstruction of peace.” Greenblatt said it was “surprising and unfair” that Indonesia, Kuwait and South Africa organized the council meeting and condemned Israel’s behavior when it “was not even invited to speak at this session.” He added that it was “inspiring” to see Israel celebrate the 71st anniversary of its independence on Thursday, calling it “a small brave country” that grew to a “thriving, diverse economically vibrant democracy,” the only one in the Mideast. He called the council’s “obsessive” focus on Israeli settlements a “farce,” saying settlements aren’t keeping Israel and the Palestinians from negotiating peace, and said the council should instead condemn Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad for recently firing hundreds of rockets into Israel from Gaza. The council should also focus on the Palestinian practice of paying the families of “terrorists” rather than on how the United States could support the Palestinian Authority’s budget, Greenblatt said. The Trump administration has drastically cut its support for the Palestinians to try to spur their return to negotiations. The Palestinians pre-emptively rejected any peace proposal floated by the Trump administration amid concerns it would fall far below their hopes for an independent state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem — which they want as their capital — and Gaza, lands captured by Israel in the 1967 war. Their demand for a two-state solution is supported by the UN and almost all of its 193 member-states. Malki told the council that after President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel “in blatant violation of international law, it is not possible to have faith” in the peace plan, which was crafted over two years by a team led by Greenblatt and the president’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
“Every decision the US administration has taken since has simply confirmed its disregard for Palestinian lives, for Palestinian rights” and for the two-state solution, he said. “We canot afford not to engage with any peace efforts but the US efforts cannot be characterized nor can qualify as peace efforts, unfortunately,” Malki said. “All indicates this far that this is not a peace plan, but rather conditions for surrender — and there is no amount of money can make it acceptable.”
Greenblatt and Kushner have been tight-lipped about the peace plan’s contents.
Last week, Kushner said the blueprint attempts to ensure security for Israel and provide economic opportunity to improve the lives of Palestinians. The plan won’t be released before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan ends during the first week of June, and perhaps not even then. Greenblatt told the Security Council “the vision for peace that we will soon put forward will be realistic and implementable” and “lay out the core issues of the conflict in enough detail that everyone will be able to imagine what peace could look like.”“This is the right package of compromises for both sides to take in order to leave the past behind and start a new chapter, where there could be tremendous hope and opportunity in the region,” he added. Greenblatt called on council members “to support the parties to get together to get behind this opportunity.”In the meantime, he said, “we will continue to speak the truth even when it is not welcome,” starting with the UN’s failure to condemn the “vicious, cynical, unprovoked attack” from Gaza a few days ago “that was intended to terrify, kill and maim Israelis.”Malki, who spoke before Greenblatt, told reporters afterward that the US envoy’s remarks gave him no hope for the US peace plan.
“I thought I was listening to an Israeli speaker ... rather than an American official,” he said. “It seems that the American position has been totally taken by the Israeli position and right now the US administration has no independent position.”Malki said Greenblatt “attacked the Palestinians and nothing else” and called Israel the only Mideast democracy while forgetting that Israel is the “only occupying power ... in the world.”“It’s very clear that his thinking, his mind, is well set to be exclusively anti-Palestinian, anti-peace and anti-logic, and anti-international law,” Malki said.

Kazakhstan Says Scores of Children Evacuated from Syria
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 10/2019/Kazakhstan said Friday it had evacuated 231 of its citizens, most of them children, from Syria after they travelled or were taken there to join the Islamic State group. Thousands from Muslim-majority Kazakhstan, other Central Asian nations and Russia's Caucasus have travelled to Syria to fight with jihadists since war broke out there in 2011. The operation to repatriate 156 children and 75 adults took place between May 7 and May 9, Kazakhstan's presidency said in a statement, without providing details. The evacuation follows a similar operation in January that saw 43 Kazakhs returned to the country, some of whom were subsequently arrested for extremism-related crimes. But in the statement on Friday, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev characterised the earlier operation as a success. "Women abandoned their radical past, got a job, restored ties with relatives. The children went to schools and kindergartens," he said. "The influence of destructive false propaganda of terrorists" had persuaded Kazakhs to travel to Syria, he said. Kazakhstan has hosted a series of talks on Syria brokered by Iran, Russia and Turkey since the beginning of 2017. The talks have featured negotiators from the Syrian regime and armed rebel factions but not militant groups such as IS.

US airstrike kills 13 Daesh militants in Somalia: US military
Fri 10 May 2019/NNA - A U.S. airstrike killed 13 Daesh (ISIS) militants in Somalia's semi-autonomous Puntland region Wednesday, the U.S. military said, days after another strike killed three. U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) said late on Thursday the latest strike targeted a Daesh-Somalia camp in Golis Mountains. "At this time, it is assessed the airstrike on May 8 killed 13 terrorists," it said. AFRICOM said in April it had killed Abdulhakim Dhuqub, identifying him as Daesh's deputy leader in Somalia.--Reuters

Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on May 10-11/19
Q&A: Syria's Assad Sets Sights on Idlib, the Final Showdown?
Associated Press/Naharnet/May 10/2019/
After eight months of relative calm, Syria's northwestern province of Idlib is once again a theater for bloody military operations: heavy bombardment, airstrikes and waves of civilian displacement as Syrian government troops, backed by Russia, push their way into the rebel-held enclave in a widening offensive.
The violence of the past week threatens to completely unravel a crumbling cease-fire agreement reached between Turkey and Russia at the Black Sea resort of Sochi in September last year, which averted a potentially devastating assault by the Syrian government to retake the province.
"There are no good options when it comes to Idlib," an analysis by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group concluded in March, explaining why the province has oscillated between stagnation and bursts of bloodshed for years.
The area is among the last in the war-shattered country outside President Bashar Assad's control — and the last area still held by rebels. Confident in the support from Russia, Assad has pledged to recover the province and every other inch of Syrian territory lost during the war.
Here's a look at the rebellious region, and the fighting taking place:
For Assad, Idlib stands in the way of final victory against the armed opposition. After eight years of war, he has largely quashed the popular revolt that erupted against his family's decades-long rule in 2011, which was inspired by the Arab Spring protests that swept the region that year.
On the Syria conflict map, Idlib province in the country's northwestern corner bordering Turkey forms a green-colored, rebel-controlled region surrounded by a sea of red, code for Syrian government control. Recapturing it would constitute a definitive defeat for opposition forces that once controlled half the country and threatened Assad's seat of power in Damascus. Russia and Iran, key international allies of Assad, want him to complete the victory. But while recapturing Idlib or even just regaining control of key highways around it has major economic benefits, a protracted, bloody battle will be costly in terms of soldiers' lives, rekindling criticism over deaths just as his government may be starting to come in from the cold. And the area is not just important for Assad. Idlib sits across the border from Turkey, which has long extended political and logistical support to the rebels fighting to topple Assad. Turkey also maintains about a dozen military observation posts around Idlib and has carried out patrols around the area. Turkey, which already hosts 3 million Syrian refugees, fears a spillover of refugees across the border into its territories in case of an all-out assault.
The truce reached in September by Turkey and Russia has been fraying, with violations taking place on an almost daily basis in recent weeks. Parts of the agreement have yet to be implemented, including the withdrawal of al-Qaida-linked militants from the front lines, which Turkey was supposed to facilitate.
Two major highways that cut through rebel-held areas were also supposed to be reopened before the end of 2018 but remain closed. A large government military buildup and advances on key villages in nearby areas suggests an assault is already underway.
But the current government offensive is likely to be limited in scope for now, aimed at regaining government control over the strategic M4 and M5 highways to open the way between the Mediterranean city of Latakia, a government stronghold which houses a huge Russian air base, Hama further to the north and the city of Aleppo. Fighting currently is concentrated in towns and villages in northern Hama and parts of southern Idlib, where the government has captured a number of villages, including a village known for its medieval fortress, Qalaat al-Madiq on Thursday.
Russia and the Syrian army say they are responding to stepped-up attacks by al-Qaida linked militants on government-held areas. One such attack in April in Aleppo province killed 22 soldiers and pro-government gunmen. The rebels say Russia and the government are using military pressure after failed negotiations to secure access to the highway and protect the coastal area, where Russia has its air and naval base.
Idlib is the opposition's last refuge. Its prewar population of 1.5 million has swelled to around 3 million after it was designated a "de-escalation zone" under an agreement between Turkey, Russia and Iran in May 2017. Tens of thousands of Syrians trapped in other parts of the country were evacuated there under various cease-fire agreements. Now they have nowhere left to turn, after other opposition pockets have collapsed, and Turkey is building a wall along its borders, sealing them to new refugees. It is estimated that there are tens of thousands of rebel fighters and jihadis in Idlib, the most dominant of these groups being Hayat Tahrir al-Sham — the latest iteration of al-Qaida's former affiliate known as Jabhat al-Nusra. Other factions have coalesced under the umbrella of the National Front for Liberation, and include Islamists, army defectors and some of the early armed opposition formations. Earlier this year, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham seized control of most of the enclave after clashing with other rebel groups. In 2017, the U.S. envoy to the coalition fighting the Islamic State, Brett McGurk, described Idlib as "the largest al-Qaida safe haven since 9/11."
A full-blown military offensive to recapture Idlib is expected to bring some of the most brutal and bloody fighting to date in Syria's civil war, which has killed close to half a million people and displaced millions of others. The mix of cornered, hard-core militants who will likely fight till the end with hundreds of thousands of trapped civilians is potentially disastrous, aid organizations warn. "As bad as Idlib's status quo is, all military solutions would be worse," the International Crisis Group report said. "There is no obvious way to neutralize" Idlib's jihadis without a terrible human toll. According to the United Nations, airstrikes and shelling caused at least 80 civilian fatalities an over 300 injuries over a period of 10 days, starting April 28, while over 150,000 were displaced within the enclave to safer areas. It also said shelling, airstrikes and active fighting in and around some 50 villages caused destruction of at least 10 schools. At least 12 health facilities were hit by airstrikes. The U.N. and aid workers warn that up to 800,000 people are in danger of renewed displacement.
With Turkey closing its borders to new refugees, it is unclear where civilians would go.

Notre Dame: Christianity Is Desecrated in Europe

Raymond Ibrahim/May 10/2019
Note: The following article by Hanne Nabintu Herland first appeared on WND. It makes important observations and raises even more important questions. Herland, a Norwegian author and historian, runs The Herland Report news site.
Mystery surrounds the burning of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, the very symbol for France’s Christian heritage. Even before the fire was extinguished, French authorities stated that the Notre Dame fire was a “mistake due to renovation.” How did they already know? Paris’ Church of St. Sulpice burned just a few days earlier, on Sunday, March 17, set afire by arson – as many churches have in France the past year. Still, French authorities ruled out arson in Notre Dame even before an inquiry into the matter, which some characterized as a political decision.
The Notre Dame consumed by flames was instantly described by the joint mainstream media as an isolated happening. Why? Over 1,000 churches have been set afire, vandalized and subjugated to theft in France in 2018 alone. Over 80 percent of the desecrated places of worship in France are Christian churches, according to police reports. It is a massive scandal.
The situation is horrifying: In the same period as the Notre Dame burning, the Saint-Denis basilica outside Paris was vandalized, and in Notre-Dame-des-Enfants, in Nimes, human poo was formed as a cross on a wall, its consecrated bread found in the garbage. Human excrement is smeared on and in French churches on a regular basis, a well-known method to demonstrate hatred against that which is sacred.
Two churches are now desecrated every day, yet French politicians remain locked behind a code of silence, including the clergy. Very little is done to stop it, though the rumors state that the priesthood and church leaders are desperately pleading for the government to react. This is a scandal of gigantic proportions and a blatant attack on France’s traditional values. What if Notre Dame were a mosque or a synagogue? The uproar would have been at an all-time high. Yet, the media hardly mention the attacks on churches, as the truth about the slow killing of Christianity in France is silenced.
The examples are seemingly endless. As Islamic scholar Raymond Ibrahim writes, the St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Houilles was vandalized on three separate occasions in February; a 19th century statue of the Virgin Mary deemed “irreparable” was “completely pulverized,” and a hanging cross was thrown to the floor. The Saint-Alain Cathedral at Lavaur was desecrated and crosses smashed, the altar cloth burned and the arms of a crucified Christ mutilated in a mocking manner. Ibrahim adds that a January 2017 study revealed that “Islamist extremist attacks on Christians” in France rose by 38 percent, going from 273 attacks in 2015 to 376 in 2016. As the French media do not mention the ethnic origin of the perpetrators, it is hard to know to which degree the vandalization is linked to Muslims or secular extremists, yet smearing poo on churches and leaving excrement on altars is hardly a typical European way of demonstrating disdain.
There are other driving forces. Notre Dame is state-owned and was not insured. The building was in a very poor state; the government had for years halted the urges from the clergy to renovate. The wooden roof where the fire “started” was allegedly not under renovation with no workers there, and the French government recently removed many of the valuable artifacts.
One thing is certain: The spate of attacks on churches in France is not deemed an important issue by its radically secular elites, who for decades have sought to undermine France’s Christian traditional values as outdated. If they cared, they would have done something about it.
Ever since the French Revolution, the mocking of religion and disdain for priests has been a national trait. When the magazine Charlie Hebdo, on its one year marking after the 2015 terrorist attack, chose to print a blasphemous picture, depicting God with blood on his clothing, saying he was the real perpetrator of the attack, the Vatican stated that the cover was sacrilegious: “Behind the deceptive flag of an uncompromising secularism, the French Weekly once again forgets what religious leaders of every faith have been urging for ages – to reject violence in the name of religion and that using God to justify hatred is a genuine blasphemy,” adding that Charlie Hebdo does not want to respect believers’ faith in God.
In the aftermath of the Notre Dame burning, French officials have largely focused on its cultural value, billionaires now saving the French state from the restoration expenses, yet few focus on the church’ spiritual heritage as the most valuable element. Was religion dead in France – and traditional European culture with it – long before Notre Dame burned?

Only Trump can save Syria’s Idlib, but time is running out

Josh Rogin/Washington Post/May 10/2019
There is little that can stop the brutal assault underway in northwest Syria, where Russian, Iranian and Assad regime forces have launched a major military offensive as millions of civilians flee for their lives. But the record shows that if President Trump acts to try to halt the slaughter, it will have real impact on the ground. Even a presidential tweet could save lives. Time is of the essence.
There’s a lot going on right now in U.S.?foreign policy. The Trump administration is dealing with an escalating Iran crisis, North Korea missile firings, a shaky China trade negotiation and an attempt to oust the Venezuelan regime. It’s no mere coincidence that Bashar al-Assad and Moscow chose this moment to retake the last rebel-held area of Syria using scorched-earth tactics, committing atrocities along the way.
The region of Idlib holds about 3 million civilians, including 1 million children, who were moved there from across the country because they would not submit to the Assad regime. And now there is deafening silence from the international community about their brutal slaughter.
James F. Jeffrey, the State Department’s special envoy for Syria, told me the U.S. government sees a “major escalation” by the regime and its allies in Idlib and is working diplomatic channels to de-escalate the fighting.
“We are raising this at every level with the Russians,” he said. “Any major operation into Idlib would be a reckless escalation of the conflict.”
Assad is dependent on Russian air power, and Moscow has committed a lot of it to the assault, Jeffrey said. That means Moscow is flagrantly violating the cease-fire and de-escalation agreement it signed with Turkey last year in Sochi, Russia.
So far, Moscow is ignoring Jeffrey’s warnings. The Turkish government, which saw its outpost in Idlib shelled, seems unable or unwilling to stop the onslaught. But history shows that when Trump decides to intervene in Syria to protect civilians, Moscow listens.
In April 2017, when Trump first launched missiles at the Syrian regime, he was responding to a chemical weapons attack in Idlib that looked to be the beginning of the very offensive we are seeing now. Trump’s actions persuaded Assad and Russia to back down.
After a Syrian activist told Trump at a fundraiser that the assault on Idlib was beginning again, the president tweeted last September that Assad “must not recklessly attack Idlib” and that Russia and Iran must not support a “potential human tragedy.” The tweet worked.
“It stopped. You saw that. And nobody’s going to give me credit, but that’s okay,” Trump said at the time. “Millions of people would have been killed. And that would have been a shame,” he said.
Now Moscow is testing Trump again. So far, the president is silent. That has a cascading effect inside the U.S. national security system. Several people who work with U.S. government agencies on the ground in Syria told me that U.S. officials throughout the bureaucracy are waiting on Trump to signal his intent before they move to engage in Idlib.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) understands the importance of Trump’s verbal cues. He tweeted at the president this week asking him to speak up and protect Idlib. Putin surely also understands that in the United States’ Syria policy, only Trump’s words really matter. Trump and Putin spoke for about an hour last week, but it is unknown what, if anything, they discussed about Syria.
Meanwhile, Russian planes are targeting residential areas and hospitals and then killing aid workers responding to those attacks, said Raed Al Saleh, founder of the Syria Civil Defense, a civilian rescue organization better known as the White Helmets. In Idlib, he said, the regime has resumed the use of barrel bombs and white phosphorus, weapons of mass atrocity and mass displacement.
Public estimates of 150,000 newly displaced people are just the beginning, said Saleh. Millions of people are preparing to “form caravans like in El Salvador” to head for Europe. “These people see the international community is not willing to do anything to keep them safe in their homes,” he said.
Several schools in Idlib supported by U.S. aid organizations are now at grave risk. Thirty of those organizations wrote to Trump asking him to give the signal so the U.S. government can snap into action.
“Only you are able to direct our government to use every tool and resource at our disposal for the protection of civilians in Idlib Province,” they wrote.
Syrians will remember that the world abandoned them in their time of most dire need. The fresh atrocities will fuel more extremism. The new refugee crisis will further destabilize Turkey, the Middle East and Europe.
It’s bizarre that the fate of millions could hinge on whether Trump decides to speak up to protect them. But that is where we are. So please, Mr. President, tweet something, say something, do something — anything — before it’s too late. The people of Idlib will give you credit, if they survive.

India Should Beware of American Islamism
Sam Westrop/Islamist Watch/May 10/2019
While anti-Indian and Kashmiri separatist activism in the United States has previously been linked to Pakistani intelligence agencies, analysts may have overlooked the role of American Islamist movements.
A few weeks ago, the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) held its annual conference in Washington D.C. Organized in conjunction with the Muslim American Society, it is one of the largest events in the American Muslim calendar. But ICNA and MAS are not ordinary Muslim organizations; they are Islamist groups. While both ICNA and MAS claim to be moderate organizations, the long history of extremist speakers at their conferences betrays underlying radical ideologies.
Among the many hardline clerics and radical activists, one of the speakers this year turned out to be the anti-Indian activist Ghulam Nabi Fai, who used his platform to denounce the Indian government's "brutal activities" in Kashmir. Conspicuously, Fai did not even mention the widely-reported murderous acts of Kashmiri terrorism that has recently killed dozens of Indian troops.
Fai was subject to widespread American media coverage in 2011, when he was charged by American prosecutors with secretly serving as an agent of the Pakistani government. Fai pled guilty, admitting to extensive contact with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which has a long history of involvement with terror groups and other Islamist causes. Up to 2011, prosecutors showed, the ISI transferred an extraordinary $3.5 million to Fai and his organization, the Kashmiri American Council – all, reportedly, in a covert attempt to influence American policy on Kashmir.
Following Fai's arrest, ICNA and several other American Islamist organizations published a statement expressing support for Fai and the Kashmiri people's "peaceful struggle for self-determination." And since his release, Fai has been something of a regular partner for ICNA, almost always speaking on the subject of Kashmir and the ostensible wickedness of the Indian government. He has frequently addressed ICNA events and 'webinars', and his op-eds are featured on ICNA's website.
So why is an anti-Indian activist, associated with Pakistan's ISI, spending so much time with some of American's most prominent domestic Islamist activists?
As the Middle East Forum has extensively illustrated, ICNA is a branch of Jamaat-e-Islami, a violent South Asian Islamist movement that is particularly active in Kashmir. While ICNA itself is not violent, it supports violent Islamist movements in both Pakistan and Kashmir.
ICNA's international aid charity, Helping Hand for Relief and Development (HHRD), for example, funds and partners with Jamaat-e-Islami's welfare arm, Al Khidmat Foundation, whose president, Naeem ur-Rehman, is closely involved with the designated Kashmiri jihadist group Hizbul Mujahideen. Jamaat-e-Islami's own website also reports that Al-Khidmat has funded the "Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas)." Previously, writing in National Review, I uncovered that HHRD openly partnered in 2017 with Lashkar-e-Taiba, the designated Pakistani terrorist organization responsible for the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Kashmiri activists, the ISI and Jamaat-e-Islami have long been comfortable in each other's company, with some Pakistani experts reporting that the ISI uses Jamaat as a violent anti-Indian force, supplying it with weapons. In March, the Indian government banned Jamaat in Indian-controlled Kashmir because of its violent activities. Indian officials have also recently stated that Jamaat's Kashmiri branch is linked closely to Pakistan's ISI, and its militants were in regular contact with Pakistani officials.
Fai himself may not just be an ordinary Kashmiri secessionist. In the 1970s, Fai apparently joined Jamaat-e-Islami, serving as a local official for the movement. As ProPublica has discovered, this was just the start of a long history of involvement with Islamist activists and causes. Kashmiri separatist leader Hashim Qureshi reportedly even admitted in 1995 that Fai was working in the U.S. in the 1990s to raise funds for Jamaat-e-Islami and the designated Jamaat-linked terror group, Hizb ul-Mujahideen.
At previous ICNA events featuring Fai, he spoke alongside Nakibur Rahman, one of the leading U.S. advocates for Jamaat-e-Islami's Bangladeshi branch. Rahman is the son of former Jamaat-e-Islami leader Motiur Rahman Nizami, whom Bangladesh's war crimes tribunal convicted in 2014 of committing genocide, murder and rape during the 1971 Liberation War. Nizami was executed in 2016, while Rahman has remained an unapologetic supporter of his father.
Mohsin Ansari, the anti-Semitic head of ICNA's Helping Hand charity, has written that Nakibur Rahman has "worked in USA tirelessly for years to help relieve the victimization of Jammat workers in Bangladesh."
Given his past, and the current company he keeps, it seems apparent that Ghulam Nabi Fai was not just an ISI asset; he is a Jamaat-e-Islami operative as well.
When Fai struck a deal with federal prosecutors in return for a reduced sentence, one of the conditions imposed was that he must end all contact with the ISI. It is noticeable that today, Fai continues to express the same rhetoric and ideas as before his conviction. And even if Fai has truly stayed away from his ISI handlers, he remains very much involved with Jamaat-e-Islami's operations in the United States.
Just as the Gaza Strip is a campaign topic for America's Islamists, so too is Kashmir. And it's not just ICNA. Majlis Ash-Shura of New York, for example, is an umbrella organization for almost a hundred mosques and other Islamic organizations, whose officials have included a number of activists involved with Jamaati organizations. It has organized 'webinars' on the subject of Kashmir, in which speakers encouraged the audience to regard Kashmir as a similar struggle to Palestine, and urged activist groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine to campaign against Indian policy on Kashmir as well.
A recent report written by Hatem Bazian, a prominent Islamist academic, is titled "Islamophobia in India: Stoking Bigotry." Just like Fai, Bazian deceitfully presents the Kashmiri conflict as nothing but senseless Indian cruelty, describing the conflict as a "colonial" effort to "punish the [Kashmiri] population for demanding basic human rights and freedom." The "supposed war on terrorism," Bazian writes, is cover for anti-Muslim intolerance. Bazian's organization, American Muslims for Palestine, which heavily promoted the report, is a close partner of ICNA and is widely accused of being an American proxy for the designated Palestinian terrorist group Hamas.
Kashmir is now, more than ever, a leading issue for American Islamist movements. We know the ISI works closely with Islamist movements in South Asia; does it also have any contact with their proxies in the West? In any case, as long as India continues to fight the menace of Islamism, it should expect groups such as ICNA to continue providing political support and succor to these extremists. American Islamist movements now wield significant political influence in the Capitol, and have already proved their ability to organize powerful international campaigns. India is next in ther sights.
*Sa Westrop is Director of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.

Europe’s Three Concerns About Iran
Amir Taheri/Asharq Al Awsat/May 10/2019

Talking to European think-tankers and policymakers in recent weeks one gets the impression that, seen from Europe, Iran is a recurring nightmare that everyone wishes would go away. A couple of years ago many in Europe believed that it had faded into oblivion. Now, however, the nightmare is back with a vengeance with drums of war beating in the background.
The truth is that, apart from wishing it would go away, the European Union has never had a coherent policy for dealing with the nightmare. Eight years of President Barack Obama’s dancing around the Iran issue enabled the Europeans to postpone serious analysis of the situation in the Islamic Republic.
That, in turn, seems to have led the Europeans obliged to gingerly rally to the hardline posture adopted by the Trump administration in Washington. Judging by the current discussions in European policy circles the European powers may well throw their weight behind Trump’s policy of “maximum pressure” during the forthcoming G-7 summit in France in August.
In informal talks, European policymakers and advisers express three concerns regarding the “maximum pressure” strategy.
The first is that the policy, ostensibly aimed only at persuading the Khomeinist leadership to change its behavior on some foreign policy issues, may, in fact, lead to systemic collapse in Iran and produce regime change with unforeseeable consequences.
The question is: who will take the reins in Iran and make sure that the vast country does not morph into yet another “ungoverned territory” in the heart of the Middle East?
I think the question is designed to dodge the issue of confronting a rogue regime that has provoked the current crisis. Iran has an old and well-established bureaucracy, dating back to the 16th century, and capable of operating within a strong culture of governance. Despite the serious damage done to state structures by the mullahs and their acolytes, the reservoir of experience and talent available is vast enough to ensure governance even on autopilot.
The second concern is that regime change in Iran may trigger an avalanche of refugees ultimately heading for Europe at a time EU nations are still grappling with problems created by the influx of Syrian refugees. Iran’s population is almost four times that of Syria which means Europe may face four times as many refugees. However, that concern too may be unwarranted.
To start, with Iran has been a source of refugees from the first days of the Khomeinist regime. Right now, over eight million Iranians’ about 10 percent of the population, are in exile, mostly in Europe and the United States, according to the Islamic Foreign Ministry. Replacing the present regime by something less obnoxious may, in fact, inspire a reverse flow by Iranian exiles returning home. Something like that happened in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. In the first five years after liberation, an estimated 3.2 million Iraqi exiles, half of them in Iran, returned home.
History shows that nasty regimes produce refugees in the first decade of their existence. We saw that in Cuba after Fidel Castro seized power. Today a change of regime in Havana will almost certainly lead to a return of some Cuban exiles, and not to a new outflow of refugees. The Syrian situation is exceptional. The popular uprising against the Assad regime was not allowed to succeed because Russia and the Islamic Republic intervened to crush it.
In the case of Iran, it is unlikely that Russia would want, or be able, to repeat the Syrian scenario to save the mullahs. Also, there is no one to assume the sidekick role that the Islamic Republic played in Syria.
The third concern that European express is that Trump’s “proximity pressure” strategy may lead to war. In that context, some Europeans claim that it is fear of war that fans the fires of fanaticism in Tehran.
One senior European official tells us that the Islamic Republic is behaving aggressively because it feels surrounded by “huge numbers of American troops”.
That assumption is based on insufficient attention to facts. The US currently has around 170,000 military personnel, out of total active military personnel of 1,280,000, stationed in 66 countries, the lowest number since World War II. Of these two-thirds are stationed in Germany, Japan, and South Korea. In areas that Iran might regard as its glacis, US military personnel number under 15,000.
In contrast, in the same putative glacis, the Islamic Republic has over 100,000 troops, including Afghan, Lebanese, Iraqi and Pakistani mercenaries in Syria and Iraq, not counting Hezbollah and Houthi units in Lebanon and Yemen.
Nevertheless, the possibility of war cannot be discounted.
A Persian classic on statecraft and warfare, says “words are the first arrows shot in a war.” The mullahs and their henchmen have set unimaginable records in the number of anti-American “word-arrows” shot every day. On the American side, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, and Brian Hook return the compliment with interest.
However, a war of words could also lead to real war. In the “Melian Dialogue”, Thucydides shows how the war of words between Athens and Sparta and constant military preparation in the island of Melos, ended up igniting the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC).
In the 15th century, the kings of Portugal and Spain went to war over the ownership of an island that was later found out to have been put on the map by a map-maker’s mistake. Peace came when the Portuguese agreed to cede the non-existent island to the Spaniards.
The mullahs are playing with fire and, ''He who plays with fire risks being burned!''

Opinion/How the War Between America and Iran Will Start
ورين كاتلر/الهاآرتس: كيف ستبدأ الحرب بين أميركا وإيران
Warren Getler/Haaretz/May 10/2019
Iran is laying trip-wires for a violent, costly escalation. America’s response will be determined by a besieged president, an administration led by anti-Iran hawks and a pre-occupied Congress.
There are growing signs that there could be escalation at the edge – provocative attacks by pro-Iranian Shia forces operating in the Wild West of Iraq. How will America handle this form of escalation with Iran?
Will a direct, premeditated attack on U.S. troops by Iranian proxies in Iraq and Syria draw the United States into a conflict at the core: a major, all-out U.S. war against Iran?
It’s becoming more conceivable by the day. Indeed, there's potentially a lot more than just good old-fashioned "gunboat diplomacy" and deterrence-posturing going on when it comes to recent, very loud and very visible moves by the Trump administration, which this week cited intelligence pointing to a threat to U.S. forces from Iranian proxies.
National Security Advisor John Bolton raised the alarm Sunday and announced the rapid deployment of both a U.S. carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the region. "The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or regular Iranian forces," he stated.
And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unannounced trip to Iraq Tuesday, the day after declaring: "There's escalation that may be taking place, and so we're taking all the appropriate actions, both from a security perspective, as well as [to ensure]...the president has a wide range of options in the event that something should actually take place."
Here's what behind war drums: The U.S. is muscularly tightening the screws with effective oil sanctions against Tehran, and, if Iran’s oil lifeline is all but cut off amid an already atrophying economy, the regime could strike back: with a first strike at scattered U.S. forces on the ground in Iran-dominated Iraq.
Were it to transpire, make no mistake, this would be a very big war, one that could rapidly escalate into a conflict that would unfold in a much more violent and costly way than the two Gulf Wars involving the United States and Iraq from previous decades.
Iran, with a population of some 80 million, has a very large military (including an estimated 550,000 active personnel), a growing armory of increasingly accurate land-based ballistic and cruise missiles, plus a scrappy navy that includes a contingent of hard-to-detect "midget" submarines.
Today the nation’s geopolitical sphere, indeed, its military reach, extends from Tehran, through Baghdad, into Damascus and terminates in Beirut: a highly strategic corridor all the way to the Mediterranean.
This strategic "crescent," or land-bridge, is something that the radical Iranian leadership has coveted for decades and has now achieved, via both boots on the ground and influence-by-other-means: influence that reaches deep into such remote spots as Yemen, Venezuela and North Korea.
And just this last weekend, Iran's proxy in the Gaza Strip, Islamic Jihad, in coordination with Hamas, unleashed a targeted barrage of more than 600 rockets on Israel, in an effort to keep Israel's military focused on this threat from one direction while more significant preparatory operations to the east, in Syria and Iraq, were underway by Tehran's proxies there.
Under Putin, Russia has notably shown itself to be interested in reconstituting the geography of the former Soviet Union. In turn, Moscow has condoned the pursuit by the authoritarian Tehran regime of Iran’s own "historic" and, indeed, expansive sphere of influence. Russia, to be sure, has played at best an inconsistent role in urging restraint by its allies in Tehran, particularly when it comes to Israel’s heightened concerns of an encroaching Iranian missile threat.
The U.S. Congress, focused on what could well become all-engrossing fact-finding hearings on alleged misdeeds by President Donald Trump post-Mueller Report, must pause and turn its gaze to the real and immediate danger of escalation at the edge.
Complacency about "over there," now that the last ISIS enclave has been wiped off the map by U.S.-supported forces, is misplaced. The regional chessboard is now very much U.S. v Iran, and the first major moves in that square-off already are in motion.
In the past - despite Iranian proxies being responsible for seeding Iraqi battlefields and villages with IEDs that killed hundreds of U.S. military personnel during the Iraq War - the United States has largely avoided any direct "kinetic" conflict with Iran or its operatives in the field.
At this critical juncture, America's elected representatives in both chambers will need to soberly consider the nation's carefully worded 1973 War Powers Act.
A landmark piece of legislation rarely enforced, it strives to balance the power placed in Congress to declare war with the need for the Commander and Chief to have utmost flexibility in meeting the national security exigencies of the United States in confronting any real or imminent military conflict – conflicts that could have long and significant impact on the nation as a whole.
The War Powers Act, becoming law despite a veto by then-President Richard Nixon, provides that the U.S. president can send American troops into conflict overseas only by declaration of war by Congress, "statutory authorization" or in the event of a "national emergency created by attack upon the United Sates, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces."
The recent designation by the Trump administration of the Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization theoretically gives the White House some legalistic air-cover to attack those IRGC units in Iraq and Syria without Congressional approval, or a declaration of war in the event of suspected or real hostile activities threatening U.S. or allied forces in the area.
Here’s the current equation, and it would be unsurprising to start seeing media reports of U.S. ground forces being reinforced in Iraq, following recent comments by President Trump about his desire to keep America's eyes on Iran in Iraq:
* Iran, feeling intense pressure from U.S.-imposed oil and economic sanctions, wants the U.S. out of its way in Iraq and Syria and will use plausible-deniability proxy militias to move history in its direction and to deter further attempts at strangulation-by-sanction;
* Russia is giving a yellow light to Tehran, or perhaps even a veiled green light, when it comes to Iran’s pressing its agenda on the regional battlefield, all the way up to Iran’s embedded positions along the Golan border with Israel.
* The U.S. president, with his stark anti-Iran views and policies, is supported by anti-Iran hawks, namely Bolton and Pompeo. Until recently, former Secretary of Defense and highly-decorated Marine General Jim Mattis was a voice of caution on aggressive moves toward Iran, but that voice, following his resignation, is no longer heard in the Trump White House. The same could be said about Trump's former NSC Advisor, H.R. McMaster.
* Israel is increasingly on edge as Iran becomes entrenched in Syria with advanced missile capability, and this on the heels of Tehran’s decade-long policy of supplying Hezbollah forces in Lebanon with tens of thousands of missiles aimed at Israel. The hardline Netanyahu government, recently re-elected, has made it explicit: it will not countenance Iran’s military presence in Syria. Rocket bombardment from Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip - meant to terrorize those Israelis living within range - seriously heightens the Israel v. Iran cross-border tensions.
The question then becomes: Will America, preoccupied with pregnant questions surrounding both Russian interference in the 2016 election, and possible obstruction of justice by President Trump, be tested by opportunistic moves by Iranian proxies in Iraq and Syria in the near future?
There’s a good possibility of that coming to pass. At the least, the current security environment in the region has become, as analysts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies here in Washington note, "increasingly fragile and dangerous."
The United States, traditionally slow to anger, must prepare for a potentially dire "trip wire" event, one aimed at American troops in Iraq and Syria, and at the hands of Shia militias controlled by Tehran. If that were to happen, at time when America has become exceedingly inwardly focused, the stakes will be very high. A more
dramatic move by Tehran, such as blocking the strategic Straits of Hormuz to oil traffic, could also transpire…and then all bets are off.
With a president under siege at home (not unlike Nixon during Watergate and Vietnam) will Congress have the calm wisdom and unencumbered focus to deal with escalation at the edge? Will it duly exercise the checks-and-balances powers enshrined in the Constitution?
Recent votes on the National Emergency border wall and the Yemen conflagration reveal that a number of Republicans in the Senate are willing to stand up with a loud "No." When it comes to a major confrontation with Iran and its proxies, the stakes will be far higher.
As a nation, Americans collectively pull together at vital moments when American lives and treasure are at stake. No foreign adversary should doubt American resolve in responding to threats abroad, even during times of domestic uncertainty.
**Warren Getler, based in Washington, D.C., writes on national security affairs. Previously he served as a New York-based financial reporter for The Wall Street Journal, as a London and Frankfurt correspondent of the International Herald Tribune, and as editor-at-large for Bloomberg in Washington