May 18/2019
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For today
It is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness
Letter to the Hebrews 06/01-09:”Let us go on towards perfection, leaving behind the basic teaching about Christ, and not laying again the foundation: repentance from dead works and faith towards God, instruction about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgement. And we will do this, if God permits. For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit,and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, since on their own they are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding him up to contempt. Ground that drinks up the rain falling on it repeatedly, and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it produces thorns and thistles, it is worthless and on the verge of being cursed; its end is to be burned over. Even though we speak in this way, beloved, we are confident of better things in your case, things that belong to salvation.”;

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on May 17-18/19
U.S. State Department Uncovers Iran's Training Base in Lebanon
Remittances of Lebanese Expats Ease Financial Pressure
New York Resident Convicted of Spying for Hezbollah
Hizbullah Member Convicted in U.S. for Planning Attacks
Macron Says Lebanon Can Rely on France's 'Continuous Support'
Report: Word of U.S. Reassurance over Lebanon Security, Displaced Issue
Government Schedules 15th Session to Discuss Draft Budget
Tensions Rise as Another Week of Strikes Loom Ahead
Hariri: I Won't Waste this Opportunity for Economic Reform
Abu Faour Says Govt. Held 'Productive' Session as Bassil Says Thorny Issues Not Yet Tackled
Retired Servicemen Erect Protest Tent at Riad al-Solh
Iran’s regional proxies ensure it will never fight alone
Britain Bans Hezbollah
Growing Link between Lebanon’s Cancer Surge and EU Abetted Corruption
International Policy Digest/May 11/2019
The Patriarch’s final ascension/When Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir passed away, he took part of Lebanon’s soul with him

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on May 17-18/19
Iranian lawyer who defended women’s right to remove hijab gets 38 years, 148 lashes
US: Iran not Going to be Happy without Behavioral Change
Iran FM Says No Talks with US
IRGC Deputy Chief: Iranian Missiles Can Easily Reach US Ships
Insurer Says Iran’s Guards Likely to Have Organized Tanker Attacks
Iran Tells Iraq Militias to Prepare for Proxy War
Algeria Riot Police Step Aside in Face of Protesters
Maduro Government Welcomes Norway 'Dialogue' Efforts
Palestinian Family Say Turkish 'Suicide' Detainee Abused
Putin Urges Tehran to Stick to Nuclear Deal
Sudan: New Wave of Protests Call on Military to Hand Over Power
Kuwait Says Risk of War in the Region Is High, Calls for Unity
Gaza’s Friday Border Protests Canceled
2 Former Algerian PMs, 4 ex-Ministers Questioned in Corruption Cases
Yemen's Legitimacy Accuses Houthis, UN Envoy Office of Thwarting Jordan Meetings
Iraqi Airways Resumes Flights to Syria
Italian PM Meets Haftar, Reiterates Need for Ceasefire
Egyptian Forces Kill Dozens of Militants in North Sinai
Statement by Minister of Foreign Affairs on International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia

Titles For The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on May 17-18/19
U.S. State Department Uncovers Iran's Training Base in Lebanon/ 17th May 2019
New York Resident Convicted of Spying for Hezbollah/The Associated Press/May 17, 2019
Iran’s regional proxies ensure it will never fight alone/Associated Press/May 17/2019
Britain Bans Hezbollah/Naville Teller/Jerusalem Post/May 17/2019
Growing Link between Lebanon’s Cancer Surge and EU Abetted Corruption/International Policy Digest/May 11/2019
The Patriarch’s final ascension/When Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir passed away, he took part of Lebanon’s soul with him/Michel Hajji Georgiou/L'Orient-Le Jour/May 17/2019
Iranian lawyer who defended women’s right to remove hijab gets 38 years, 148 lashes/Guardian/03.11.19)
Tehran Apologists Should Change their Tune/Amir Taheri/Asharq Al Awsat/May 17/2019
The Threshold of America’s Escalation Against Iran/Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Al Awsat/May 16/2019
Why Palestinians Oppose Economic Prosperity/Bassam Tawil/Gatestone Institute/May 17/2019
Radical Islam’s Existential Threat to Christianity Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow/Raymond Ibrahim/May 17/2019
Missiles in the Desert/Jerusalem Post/Jonathan Spyer/May 17/2019
Iran may take Trump up on his offer to talk/Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/May 16/2019
2019 Zeev Schiff Memorial Lecture on Middle East Security/Israeli Security Today: Facing Multiple Challenges on Multiple Fronts /Gadi Eizenkot/The Washington Institute/May 17/2019

Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on May 17-18/19
U.S. State Department Uncovers Iran's Training Base in Lebanon 17th May 2019
The U.S. State Department earlier this week released a video claiming that Iran has set up a military training base located in the proximity of the Riyak Air Force base near the border with Syria.
The video, released in an Arabic language tweet on Tuesday, said that the facility, established by Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force training facility near Beit Moubarak, train militants from Iraq and Hezbollah.
The base is also a training facility for armored personnel carriers (APCs).
“We see a small little valley that goes down. This has a series of berms that are alternating, the ones on the left, and the next ones on the right. This is a training course for armored personnel carriers,” explained Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., Senior Fellow for Imagery Analysis at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS).
Seth G. Jones, Senior Advisor at the CSIS, says Iran’s goal behind a base like the one in Lebanon is to improve the capabilities of its local allies.
“The IRGC’s Quds Force is Iran’s primary military actor in the Middle East. It competes with countries like the United States by training, advising and equipping sub-state forces, including Shia militias in Iraq and Hezbollah in Lebanon,” he added.
“Between 2011 and 2019, we see a lot more militias and other fighters that work with the IRGC Quds Force in Yemen, Syria and Iraq, in Lebanon, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bahrain,” he said. “The reason Iran has more training facilities, it has got more fighters to train,” Jones pointed out.
RT @DOTArabic: قوة القدس التابعة للحرس الثوري تعمل على تدريب وتسليح وتجهيز مليشيات تابعة لها في معسكرات تدريب في#لبنان، وكذلك في #إيران. الهدف من ذلك هو استخدام هذه المليشيات في حروب الوكالة، وإشاعة عدم الاستقرار في عموم الشرق الأوسط #العراق #البحرين #اليمن #سوريا #أفغانستان
— الخارجية الأمريكية (@USAbilAraby) May 14, 2019

Remittances of Lebanese Expats Ease Financial Pressure
Beirut - Ali Zeineddine/Asharq Al Awsat/May 17/2019
The World Bank has estimated the inflows of expatriate remittances to Lebanon at $7.2 billion in 2018, a 1.8 percent increase from the previous year.
The inflows stood at $7.1 billion in 2017, it said. Expatriate remittances to Lebanon were equivalent to 12.7 percent of GDP in 2018, which constituted the 17th highest such ratio in the world and among developing countries, as well as the second highest ratio, behind Palestine (17.7 percent), among Arab countries. The 2019 austerity budget, which is under discussion by the Lebanese government, seeks to lower Lebanon's deficit to less than 8 percent of GDP compared to 11.5 percent in 2018. Fears that the budget will include wage or pension cuts have sparked protests by public sector workers and retired soldiers.  In the region, Egypt topped the World Bank's list of remittance recipients with $28.9 billion. It was followed by Morocco ($7.4 billion). Lebanon came third while Jordan was fourth on the list with remittances amounting to $4.4 billion. Yemen came fifth with $3.4 billion. It was followed by Palestine (The West Bank and the Gaza Strip) with remittances worth $2.6 billion. Tunisia ($2 billion) was seventh on the list while Algeria, Iran and Iraq had inflows of expats of less than $2 billion each. Remittances to the Middle East and North Africa grew 8.8 percent to $62 billion in 2018, said the World Bank. The growth was driven by Egypt’s rapid remittance growth of around 17 percent. Beyond 2018, the growth of remittances to the region is expected to continue, albeit at a slower pace of around 3.2 percent in 2019, it added. The Bank estimates that officially recorded annual remittance flows to low- and middle-income countries reached $529 billion in 2018, an increase of 9.6 percent over the previous record high of $483 billion in 2017. Global remittances, which include flows to high-income countries, reached $689 billion in 2018, up from $633 billion in 2017.

New York Resident Convicted of Spying for Hezbollah
The Associated Press/May 17, 2019
Lebanese-born Ali Kourani, 34, was recruited, trained, and deployed by the militant movement to 'plan and execute acts of terrorism in the United States,' prosecutor says. A New York resident was convicted Thursday of providing material support to Hezbollah by seeking targets in New York City for terrorist attacks.  A jury returned its verdict against Ali Kourani in Manhattan federal court after a weeklong trial. Kourani, 34, could face life in prison at a sentencing scheduled for September 27.  His lawyer, Alexei Schacht, said he'll appeal the verdict on the grounds that statements his client made to the FBI were made involuntarily in response to false promises of confidentiality. "Given the fact the judge allowed in the statements, we were not surprised at the verdict," he said. The Bronx man has been held without bail since his June 2017 arrest on charges he sought to support Hezbollah. U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said Kourani surveilled terrorism targets in New York City, including Kennedy International Airport and law enforcement facilities including the building housing the FBI. "Ali Kourani was recruited, trained, and deployed by Hezbollah's Islamic Jihad Organization to plan and execute acts of terrorism in the United States. Kourani's chilling mission was to help procure weapons and gather intelligence about potential targets in the U.S. for future Hezbollah terrorist attacks," Berman said in a release.
Authorities said the Lebanon-born Kourani received sophisticated military training overseas at least twice, including in 2000 at age 16. They said he was trained in the use of a rocket propelled grenade. Authorities said he came to the U.S. legally in 2003, eventually earning a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering in 2009 and a master's degree in business administration in 2013. Prosecutors said Kourani was recruited by the terrorist organization after a residence belonging to his family was destroyed during the 2006 Second Lebanon War between Israel and Hezbollah. He was also convicted of other terrorism, sanctions, and immigration offenses. Hezbollah has been designated by the U.S. government as a foreign terrorist organization.

Hizbullah Member Convicted in U.S. for Planning Attacks
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 17/2019/A US federal court in New York on Thursday convicted a man of charges that he bought weapons and plotted attacks on behalf of the Lebanese Shiite group Hizbullah. Ali Kourani, a 34-year-old American of Lebanese descent, was convicted of eight allegations including conspiracy to use weapons in a violent crime, which is punishable by life in prison. "Kourani’s chilling mission was to help procure weapons and gather intelligence about potential targets in the US for future Hizbullah terrorist attacks," US attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement, using an alternate spelling for the group. The targets Kourani surveyed include the JFK International Airport and a federal building in Manhattan. "Today, Kourani has fittingly been convicted for his crimes in a courthouse that stands in the shadow of one of his potential targets," Berman said. Born in Lebanon but naturalized by the US in 2009, Kourani attended several Hizbullah training camps in his country of birth and took orders from agents of the Iran-backed organization after his 2003 arrival in the US. He is now set to be sentenced on September 27. Another man who was taken into custody in Michigan on the same day Kourani was arrested in 2017, Samer El Debek, is still awaiting trial. He is also accused of belonging to Hizbullah. Washington considers Hizbullah, which was created by Iran in the early 1980s, a terrorist organization. The group has been blamed for attacks in France, Lebanon and Bulgaria, and is one of the main allies of Syria's government against the country's rebels.

Macron Says Lebanon Can Rely on France's 'Continuous Support'
Naharnet/May 17/2019/French President Emmanuel Macron has told President Michel Aoun that Lebanon can count on France's "continuous support," in a letter of condolences over the death of ex-Maronite patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir. “France has lost a precious friend,” Macron said in the letter, which was delivered by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. Sfeir was a “defender of the Lebanese model which is based on pluralism, tolerance and coexistence, which we are keen on,” Macron added. “I remember his work for reconciliation and dialogue among the various sects in Lebanon after the end of the civil war,” the French leader went on to say. He added: “I cannot but salute patriarch Sfeir's vigorous and courageous struggle for the sake of Lebanon's sovereignty and independence when they were fundamentally threatened.”“I remain confident that the spirit he deep-rooted and the heritage he left will continue to inspire the Lebanese, especially as they face the challenges that are rocking your country. In its efforts, it can count on France's continuous support.” Macron said. Sfeir, who wielded considerable political influence during the country's civil war and was an ardent advocate of a Syrian troop withdrawal, was buried in the seat of the Maronite church in the town of Bkirki on Thursday. Hundreds of mourners took part in the funeral, including clergymen and local and foreign dignitaries, among them French FM Le Drian. "He was a man of peace," Le Drian said. "Throughout his entire life, he was an architect of Lebanese national reconciliation."The former patriarch died on Sunday, two weeks after he was hospitalized with a chest infection. He was 99.

Report: Word of U.S. Reassurance over Lebanon Security, Displaced Issue
Naharnet/May 17/2019/The United States has reportedly appeased Lebanon’s fears about a security escalation in south Lebanon with Israel, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Friday. “Lebanon received “American” messages, reassuring there will be no escalation in the South but a tendency to kick off negotiations with Israel regarding the demarcation of the maritime border,” the daily reported, quoting diplomatic sources who spoke on condition of anonymity. Moreover, the “Americans have asked the Israelis to stop the work in the oil fields (in the disputed area with Lebanon or nearby) temporarily," the sources added. They said “the Americans do not want the regional situation, including the issue of the displaced Syrians, to have an impact on Lebanon and on its security situation. They are seeking possible solutions to return the refugees to their homeland.”Acting US Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield has been mediating the maritime border dispute between Israel and Lebanon and met with Lebanese officials Wednesday for a second day, signaling a new push to resolve the matter. He is set to convey the maritime border proposals of Lebanese officials to Israel. Israel and Lebanon both claim some 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon hopes to unleash offshore oil and gas production as it grapples with an economic crisis.

Government Schedules 15th Session to Discuss Draft Budget 17th May 2019/The government failed on Friday to finalize the 2019 draft budget talks, scheduling a 15th session over the weekend.
"The last session to discuss the draft budget will be held Sunday at 21:30," Telecom Minister Mohammad Choukeir told reporters following the session held at the Grand Serail. Information Minister Jamal Jarrah said that the government has approved major decisions on curbing tax and customs evasion, noting municipalities will now be obliged to declare to the Finance Ministry all businesses established within its boundaries in a bid to counter tax evasion. The minister revealed that the Cabinet is mulling the reduction of the daily transportation allowance for public sector employees from LBP 8000 to LBP 6000. "We are considering the option of separating the private sector from the public sector. A final decision is yet to be taken,” he said. Concerning the application of the Measure 3 in the new budget, Jarrah told reporters that it was agreed that both the Interior and Defense ministers would submit their proposals to the Higher Defense Council which would accordingly take a decision and submit it to the government for final endorsement. Under "Measure 3", one year of frontline service is counted as three when it comes to calculating soldiers' end-of-career compensation. However, the government is considering that only soldiers serving at the frontline with Israel would benefit from a financial incentive. For his part, Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said that he had submitted to the prime minister the final version of the draft budget that includes the figures approved by the government during previous sessions, adding that the updated blueprint will be distributed to the ministers.

Tensions Rise as Another Week of Strikes Loom Ahead 17th May 2019/The Union Coordination Committee (UCC) announced a nationwide strike on Monday, calling for a protest at the Riad Al-Solh Square at 15:00 to warn the government against cutting the public servants' salaries or reducing their end-of-service benefits as part of its 2019 austerity budget. The UCC stressed that salaries and social benefits are a red line that must not be crossed, threatening to stage an open-ended strike and to opt for escalation measures, that would include the boycotting of official exams, if the government fails to pay heed to their demands. Moreover, head of Private Teachers Syndicate, Rudolph Abboud, announced a nationwide strike on Monday to denounce any salary cuts plans. The League of Public Administration Employees staged a nationwide strike on Friday to protest against what they deemed as negative signs indicating that they would be harmed by the government's 2019 draft budget. Speaking at a protest held in front of the VAT building in Beirut, head of the league Nawal Nasser warned that public servants will go on an open-ended strike if the new budget cuts their salaries and reduces their benefits. Nasser stressed that the strikes were legal despite a memorandum issued by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, stipulating that the regulations and laws prohibit the paralyzation of public institutions. A statement released by the league on Thursday said that it would wait for the decisions to be issued by the government on Friday, threatening escalation if the public servants' rights are curtailed. Retired military officers also slammed the government's draft budget for cutting their pensions and imposing taxes on them, setting up a tent at the Riad Al-Solh Square as a protest action. "The dignity tent will serve as a platform to defend the people's rights," the veterans said. “After the officials insisted on imposing taxes on the retired officers while trying to cut pensions as a reward for their lifelong journey in the service of the country, they’re proposing a draft budget that hits the poor and middle classes,” they added. “All those who remain silent over this offence are thieves who do not deserve to be Lebanese."Furthermore, Lebanon's judges decided to carry on their strike following a meeting held at the Justice Palace in Beirut.

Hariri: I Won't Waste this Opportunity for Economic Reform
Naharnet/May 17/2019/As the government plans to implement austerity measures to slash the country’s ballooning budget deficit, Prime Minister Saad Hariri said there is an “opportunity to improve the economic situation,” stressing that the Lebanese Lira is doing “fine.”“We have an opportunity that I will not waste and those who want to waste it should bear responsibility”, said Hariri, adding “there is a chance to improve our situation, but without serious reforms there won’t be any improvement, investments or job opportunities.”
Hariri’s stances came during an Iftar held by the union of Beirut families at the SeaSide Arena, in the presence of a number of dignitaries and representatives of Beiruti families. “We know where the country stands, and the difficulties we face in economy. We all have to work to get out of this economic situation, because we really have an opportunity. It is true that we want to reduce spending, but at the same time, there is CEDRE, with $12 billion for the infrastructure,” added the Premier. “Does anyone believe that our infrastructure is fine? Of course not. This is why we have to apply austerity on one hand and implement these projects on the other, because they will create between 30 and 50 thousand job opportunities per year. I assure you that we will reach solutions regarding the budget that satisfy everyone,” he emphasized. The Premier assured that austerity plans are a “treatment” for the economic situation “not a sedative, this is why we should carry out these reforms. I will always be honest with you and we will continue the path together.”“Things may be difficult these days, but after the approval of the budget things will be better because we would have reached the place that we, as state and government, should reach. CEDRE and all its projects will be launched,” noted the PM. Hariri concluded: “There is a lot of alarmism in the country, but President Michel Aoun said yesterday that the Lebanese Pound is fine and I assure you that the Pound is fine because we have a governor at the Central Bank named Riad Salameh who is working hard. We all have to work together and no political team can enhance the country alone. We should all do it together.”

Abu Faour Says Govt. Held 'Productive' Session as Bassil Says Thorny Issues Not Yet Tackled

Naharnet/May 17/2019/The Cabinet held a "very productive" session on Friday and the state budget is expected to be finalized on Monday, Industry Minister Wael Abu Faour said. Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil meanwhile said that the Cabinet has not yet reached "the thorny articles which will require a lot of time.""The discussion was good and not only related to the state budget but also to reform, corruption and the economy and there are items in my paper that have not yet been discussed," Bassil added. Information Minister Jamal al-Jarrah said the Cabinet will convene anew on Sunday evening. "The most important decisions that were taken today are related to curbing expenditure and tax and customs evasion," Jarrah added. Before the session, Abu Faour said "no agreement has yet been reached on hiking fees on some imported items, because we're awaiting the opinion of the Customs Higher Council, seeing as it is up to it to identify the imported items that are competing against the local products." Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil meanwhile said that he would present "an explanation in numbers about the budget in its new version.""The proposals made by Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil which are already in the state budget will stay and those not present are subject to discussion," Khalil added. Interior Minister Raya al-Hassan meanwhile described as positive her meeting with Defense Minister Elias Bou Saab on the so-called Measure Number 3, which is related to beefed up compensations for servicemen operating in danger zones. Prime Minister Saad Hariri later told ministers that the issue will be discussed by the Higher Defense Council. Hasbani for his part asked why the Cabinet has so far failed to discuss key issues such as seaside properties, the Beirut port and other topics.
"So far there is no answer," he lamented. Lebanon has vowed to slash public spending to unlock $11 billion worth of aid pledged by international donors during an April 2018 conference in Paris. Last month, Prime Minister Saad Hariri vowed to introduce "the most austere budget in Lebanon's history" to combat the country's bulging fiscal deficit, sparking fears among public sector employees that their salaries may be cut. Lebanon is one of the world's most indebted countries, with public debt estimated at 141 percent of GDP in 2018, according to credit ratings agency Moody's.

Retired Servicemen Erect Protest Tent at Riad al-Solh

Naharnet/May 17/2019/Retired officers and soldiers on Friday began a sit-in at the Riad al-Solh Square in downtown Beirut, erecting a tent which they called 'The Tent of the Nation's Martyrs' and banners saying 'The Servicemen's Rights are a Red Line'. “We reject the imposition of taxes or the cut of a single lira from the salaries of retired or active servicemen,” they said in a statement. “Some officials have insisted on slapping taxes on the retirees and they are trying to cut a percentage of their salaries,” the retirees warned. “Those who robbed the people have come up with a state budget against the poor and middle classes,” they lamented. The retired servicemen finally announced that they will keep the protest tent until Monday, May 20, when the anniversary of the Nahr al-Bared battle will be marked. Lebanon is set to impose austerity measures to combat its bulging fiscal deficit. It 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 finalized, but thousands of Lebanese public employees went on strike in the past weeks amid fears that their salaries and benefits would be cut as part of strict austerity measures to reduce a ballooning budget deficit and massive national debt. They included employees at Banque du Liban, Beirut's port, the Social National Security Fund and the main state-run landline telephone company. Retired servicemen have also staged a series of protests across Lebanon.

Iran’s regional proxies ensure it will never fight alone
Associated Press/May 17/2019
Iran has used such groups in the past to strike its regional foes, and could mobilize them if the latest tensions with the United States lead to an armed conflict — dramatically expanding the battlefield.
BEIRUT: In the event of war with the United States, Iran “will not be alone.”That message was delivered by the leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group to a mass rally in Beirut in February marking the 40th anniversary of Iran’s Islamic Revolution. “If America launches war on Iran, it will not be alone in the confrontation, because the fate of our region is tied to the Islamic Republic,” Hassan Nasrallah said. From Lebanon and Syria to Iraq, Yemen, and the Gaza Strip, Tehran has significantly expanded its footprint over the past decade, finding and developing powerful allies in conflict-ravaged countries across the Middle East. Hezbollah is one of the most prominent members of the self-styled “axis of resistance,” armed groups with tens of thousands of Shiite Muslim fighters beholden to Tehran. Iran has used such groups in the past to strike its regional foes, and could mobilize them if the latest tensions with the United States lead to an armed conflict — dramatically expanding the battlefield.
The militant group, whose Arabic name translates into “Party of God,” was established by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard during Lebanon’s civil war in the 1980s. Today it is among the most effective armed groups in the region, extending Iran’s influence to Israel’s doorstep. In a paper for the Brookings Institute earlier this year, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman described the group as revolutionary Iran’s “most successful export” and Tehran’s “multi-purpose tool.”Hezbollah was formed to combat Israel following its invasion of Lebanon in 1982. It waged an 18-year guerrilla war against Israeli forces, eventually forcing them to withdraw from Lebanon in 2000. Six years later, it battled Israel to a bloody stalemate in a monthlong war. Today, the group has an arsenal of tens of thousands of rockets and missiles than can reach deep into Israel, as well as thousands of highly disciplined and battle-hardened fighters. Hezbollah has fought alongside government forces in Syria for more than six years, gaining even more battlefield experience and expanding its reach.At home, the group’s power exceeds that of the Lebanese armed forces, and along with its allies has more power than ever in the parliament and government. Despite the rhetoric, Hezbollah says it is not seeking another war with Israel, and it is not likely to join in any regional confrontation — at least not in the early stages — unless provoked. Hezbollah has lost hundreds of fighters in Syria, exacting a heavy toll on the Shiite community from which it draws most of its support.
Yemen’s Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, swept down from the north and captured the capital, Sanaa, in 2014. A Saudi-led coalition entered the conflict on the side of the government the following year. The war has since killed tens of thousands of people and generated the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Saudi Arabia views the Houthis as an Iranian proxy, and along with Western nations and U.N. experts has accused Tehran of providing arms to the rebels, including the long-range missiles they have fired into Saudi Arabia. Iran supports the rebels but denies arming them.
The Houthis have given up little ground since the coalition entered the war, and have targeted the Saudi capital, Riyadh, with long-range missiles. Earlier this week they claimed a drone attack that shut down a major oil pipeline in Saudi Arabia, which responded with airstrikes on Yemen’s rebel-held capital that killed civilians.
Iran has trained, financed, and equipped Shiite militias in Iraq that battled U.S. forces in the years after the 2003 invasion and remobilized to battle the Islamic State group a decade later. The groups include Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Kataeb Hezbollah and the Badr Organization, all three led by men with close ties to Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s elite Quds Force and the architect of Tehran’s regional strategy. The militias fall under the umbrella of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, a collection of mostly Shiite militias that were incorporated into the country’s armed forces in 2016. Together they number more than 140,000 fighters, and while they fall under the authority of Iraq’s prime minister, the PMF’s top brass are politically aligned with Iran. U.S. forces and the PMF fought side-by-side against Islamic State militants after Iraq’s parliament invited the U.S. back into the country in 2014. But now that the war is largely concluded, some militia leaders are calling on U.S. troops to leave again, threatening to expel them by force if necessary. This week, the U.S. ordered all nonessential government staff to leave Iraq, amid unspecified threats in the region said to be linked to Iran.
Iran has long supported Palestinian militant groups, including Gaza’s Hamas rulers and particularly the smaller Islamic Jihad group. Hamas fell out with Iran after the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, losing millions of dollars in monthly assistance. The group today is in a severe financial crisis; its employees and public servants in Gaza have not been paid full salaries in years. Tehran is said to have continued its military support to Hamas’ armed wing, but the group appears to get most of its aid from Qatar, making it less likely that it would rally to Tehran’s side in a regional conflict. Islamic Jihad, another Sunni militant group, is seen as much closer to Iran but still not as deeply intertwined as Hezbollah or other groups. Hamas and Islamic Jihad launched hundreds of rockets from Gaza during a bout of fighting with Israel earlier this month. Israel accused Islamic Jihad of triggering the violence, which was the worst since a 2014 war. The movement did not deny the Israeli accusations.

Britain Bans Hezbollah
تقرير من صحيفة الجيرازلم بوست: بريطانيا تمنع حزب الله
Naville Teller/Jerusalem Post/May 17/2019
Britain has had a long relationship with Hezbollah and has disengaged from it only slowly.
Al Quds Day in 2019 falls on May 31. Al Quds, literally “The Holy One,” is the Arabic term for the city of Jerusalem. The occasion, despite its twenty-year history, is not one that commands much universal recognition.
In 1979, Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini declared that the last Friday of Ramadan would henceforth be consecrated as Al Quds Day, an annual opportunity for all enemies of Israel to have a field day. To mark the occasion those so inclined around the world organize marches and rallies to denounce Israel and declare their support for the Palestinian cause.
The UK has witnessed Al Quds Day rallies for many years. A dominant feature, as demonstrators chanting slogans and waving banners parade through central London, has been the preponderance of the yellow and green flag of Hezbollah, the organization dedicated to destroying Israel. That flag will be notable by its absence from the rally planned for June 2, 2019.
Britain has had a long relationship with Hezbollah and has disengaged from it only slowly. The divorce was made final on 26 February 2019, when Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced in the House of Commons that he was banning the organization as a whole under the Terrorism Act 2000.
“We are no longer able to distinguish between their already banned military wing and the political party,” said Javid. “Because of this, I have taken the decision to proscribe the group in its entirety.” Anyone expressing support for any part of Hezbollah could in future face a prison sentence of 10 years.
Although Labour’s front bench spokesman maintained that there was no new evidence justifying a change in the UK’s position, the Labour party did not oppose the measure.
The UK first banned what was then described as Hezbollah’s “terrorist wing” in 2001. This followed a long succession of terrorist attacks against Western targets, and culminated in the abduction by Hezbollah in 2000 of three Israeli soldiers from the Israeli side of the Israel-Lebanese border, and their subsequent murder.
In 2008 the UK added what it designated Hezbollah’s “military wing” to its ban, after the organization targeted British soldiers in Iraq. But it reserved judgment on the organization as a whole, citing as its reason Hezbollah’s direct involvement in the internal politics of Lebanon.
As a consequence, since Hezbollah’s so-called “political wing” was not proscribed, the rally parading through the streets of London every year to mark Al-Quds Day was legally entitled to display the Hezbollah flag. Distasteful as this annual display of racism was to many Londoners, and as much as successive Home Secretaries disapproved, it was not an offense to do so.
Any distinction between so-called “military” or “political” wings of Hezbollah – a distinction which the EU copied from the UK – is illusory. Presenting the new measure in the Commons, Javid said: “There have long been calls to ban the whole group, with the distinction between the two factions derided as smoke and mirrors. Hezbollah themselves have laughed off the suggestion there is a difference. I’ve carefully considered the evidence and I’m satisfied they are one and the same with the entire organization linked to terrorism.”
And indeed Hezbollah’s deputy secretary-general, Naim Qassem, declared in 2012: “We don’t have a military wing and a political one.... Every element of Hezbollah is in the service of the resistance.” He added, unequivocally: “We have one leadership, with one administration.” In short, Hezbollah is a unified organization, and its jihadist purpose is basic to its existence.
A glance at Hezbollah’s organization confirms this. It has a unified command structure consisting of five sub-councils, or assemblies. Above them sits the Shura Council, which controls the leadership of Hezbollah and all its operations, and comprises nine members, seven of whom are Lebanese and the other two Iranian.
Iran’s involvement at the very top of today’s Hezbollah is no surprise. In the 1970s Lebanon, torn apart by civil conflict, was under the occupation of the Shia-aligned Syrian government. Around 1980 – the exact date is disputed – Iran’s first Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomenei, still basking in the glory of his 1979 Islamic Revolution, decided to strengthen his grip on Shi’ite Islam by consolidating a number of Lebanon’s militant Shia Muslim groups. He formed and funded a body calling itself Hezbollah, or “the Party of God”. Its forces were trained and organized by a contingent of 1,500 Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
Hezbollah declared that its purpose, in line with Khomeini’s, was to oppose Western influences in general and Israel’s existence in particular. Very shortly Hezbollah was acting as Iran’s proxy in perpetrating a campaign of terror against their two perceived enemies. A wave of kidnappings, bombings, and assassinations were carried out across the world. These include the detonation in 1983 of an explosive-filled van in front of the US embassy in Beirut, killing 58 Americans and Lebanese, and the bombing of the US Marine and French Drakkar barracks in Beirut, which killed 241 American and 58 French peacekeepers.
In 1992 Hezbollah operatives boasted of their involvement in the bombing of the Israeli embassy in Argentina killing 29 people, and two years later claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Jewish community center in Argentina and the subsequent death of 85 people. The atrocities continued: 21 people, including 12 Jews, killed in an airplane attack in Panama in 1994; the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing inside Saudi Arabia killing 19 US servicemen; the 2005 assassination of one-time Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri; the 2012 Burgas bus bombing in Bulgaria killing 6. Over the eight years of the Syrian civil war Iran recruited thousands of Hezbollah fighters to help keep President Bashar al-Assad in power and restore his lost territories to him.
It is no surprise, therefore, that Hezbollah in its entirety has been designated a terrorist body by the Arab League, as well as by a batch of other nations including Canada, the Netherlands, the USA, all the Gulf states that form the Gulf Cooperation Council and, of course, Israel. Now the group is joined by the UK, but notably absent from the list is the United Nations.
In praising Britain’s decision, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, said: “We will continue to lead the struggle for the Security Council to recognize Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, and mobilize the international community against it, as it serves as an arm of Iran to spread Tehran’s aggression.”
During its 38 bloodthirsty years of existence Hezbollah has nevertheless managed to achieve a certain acceptability in Shia Muslim sections of Lebanese society. In the election that followed Israel’s withdrawal in May 2000 from the buffer zone that it had established along the border, Hezbollah, in alliance with Amal, took all 23 South Lebanon seats out of a total 128 parliamentary seats. Since then Hezbollah has participated in Lebanon’s parliamentary process, and has been able to claim a proportion of cabinet posts in each government. As a result it has achieved substantial power within Lebanon’s body politic, to a point where it has been dubbed “a state within a state”.
In Lebanon’s 2018 general election, Hezbollah again strengthened its parliamentary position. When the subsequent political deadlock was finally resolved on January 31, 2019 and a government was formed, the organization was allocated three ministries including, for the first time, the Ministry of Health which controls one of the country’s largest budgets. In addition the Finance Ministry is in the hands of a Hezbollah ally.
This situation causes a delicate diplomatic dilemma for all the states that have proscribed Hezbollah.
In supporting the ban in the House of Commons, UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said; “We are staunch supporters of a stable and prosperous Lebanon. We cannot, however, be complacent when it comes to terrorism. It is clear the distinction between Hezbollah’s military and political wings does not exist, and by proscribing Hezbollah in all its forms the government is sending a clear signal that its destabilizing activities in the region are totally unacceptable and detrimental to the UK’s national security.”
But Hunt added: “This does not change our ongoing commitment to Lebanon, with whom we have a broad and strong relationship.”
Because Lebanon’s constitution is itself a precarious balancing act between its various religious factions, it has coped with this unsatisfactory position for two decades. But if Hezbollah’s power within the Lebanese administration ever became dominant, Britain might have to think again about its relationship with Lebanon itself.
*The writer is Middle East correspondent for Eurasia Review. His latest book is The Search for Détente: Israel and Palestine 2012-2014, and he blogs at

Growing Link between Lebanon’s Cancer Surge and EU Abetted Corruption
International Policy Digest/May 11/2019
Lebanon’s infamous corruption is swallowing up EU cash for environmental projects which scientists are now calling a “disaster” for health. Money destined for recycling and compost contracts is being diverted by the country’s own anti-corruption agency. But to whom?
Miniyeh was once considered a paradise. People from all over the north of Lebanon for hundreds of years flocked to this valley, just a few kilometers north of Tripoli, along the Lebanese coastline, for its rich land, its natural water, and its beauty. Christians and Muslims here lived in harmony even during Lebanon’s 15-year civil war. But this town and its surrounding region now have a dark side. For many of its mostly Muslim inhabitants, Miniyeh is the victim of an environmental calamity which is a by-product of the country’s growing corruption frenzy, a looming environmental Armageddon and its murky relations with international aid donors.
Local people are being poisoned by infected well water, following an EU-funded recycling project which, from the very start, was destined to fail due to corruption in central government and a shocking complacency by Brussels to check how its own money was being spent, it has been revealed.
According to an extensive investigation, a cavalcade of environmental experts, academics, anti-corruption activists and whistleblowers, are all pointing the finger at an EU-funded compost and recycling scheme here, which they believe is actually polluting the water for the entire region and threatening the lives of hundreds of thousands of citizens. Remarkably, some are even going as far as to link it to the growing numbers of cancer fatalities in the North of Lebanon.
Our own 18-month long investigation has unearthed that the EU blithely plows millions of dollars into environmental schemes without the slightest interest in how the money is spent – effectively encouraging big business and public officials to gorge themselves on the easy cash available.
Absurdly, at the vortex of that shadowy world is the government’s own anti-corruption department, which, a whistleblower accuses of previously being complicit to the scam over many years, which worries experts here that the entire EU program covering a dozen regions is itself entirely bogus and presents a very real threat to public health.
Film set props
In 2005, a compost and recycling plant was opened in Miniyeh. It was funded entirely by the EU in two stages: construction and operation. Yet right from the outset, the construction was a blatant, crude sham, orchestrated by a company – and given the tender by the Lebanese government’s OMSAR (a ministry responsible for government reform) – whose only role was to produce huge, bogus composting machines; in reality they were just empty drums and merely built for the purposes of producing an allusion to pick up a half a million dollar payout of EU cash. These drums never produced even a handful of compost and years later were to perform a role of allusion with at least three EU ambassadors in Beirut.
11 years later, after the newly arrived (and present) EU ambassador attended a ceremony with dignitaries to inaugurate a new round of financing, they were thrown out.
The huge drums were dumped in a field nearby, looking like redundant props left over from a Star Wars movie. In fact, unbeknown to the hapless EU ‘ambassador’ – a Dane who enjoys the high life in Beirut – they had been sitting in the plant for well over a decade without turning.
Half a million euros was handed over to a company to produce these fake composting drums, which were left in place specifically to fool an EU ambassador (pictured) who was led to believe they function.
But at that farcical ceremony staged for the press in 2016, was a local politician who has been campaigning for four years to change the tendering procedures so such gargantuan corrupt deals can no longer be struck with EU cash. Imad Matar is an unassuming man, humble and uncomfortable in the role of whistleblower, but his incendiary allegations threaten to end the present slack EU funding procedures in Lebanon via OMSAR and to force the EU to be more responsible about how it funds such environmental projects.
“These drums never worked at all. They tried everything to make them work,” he tells me in an interview. “And of course this is suspicious,” he says, smiling, pausing for effect.
Calmly, he says quietly “I believe there has been corruption in acquiring these machines. All visitors who saw the machines agreed that these machines were bogus and acquired just to benefit the supplier.”
So Matar’s local authority which oversees the EU project was left with an entirely sham plant, which was only a sorting plant at best after it swallowed up a staggering 2.5m euros of EU aid in total. Exasperated with naively trying to point out that the entire set up was bogus, both to the EU and OMSAR he then appealed to the UN and UK charity MerciCorps to help ‘complete’ the construction of the plant. The result is a functioning sorting plant but one which had a shoddy composting side, which until now, has been in the open air – a grotesque environmental health hazard in itself.
Yet it is the disruption to the entire region of Miniyeh’s network of small landfill dumps which is also at the heart of what today Matar and a bevy of experts believe, is poisoning the water in the region and infecting local people. Those who controlled the EU tender for the recycling and composting plant chose a singular, large regular landfill dump a couple of kilometers away, higher up, when an environmental impact assessment specifically warned against this, in preference for ‘sanitary’ landfills.
Matar claims that he also warned the EU chief at the ceremony that this was unwise and even offered to build one himself with local money. “When Christina came here in July 2016, I told her that this facility needs a secondary landfill nearby and we would assume the financing and building of it.”
That awkward moment. Christina Lassen, EU delegation chief of Lebanon, sitting with a distinctly troubled Imad Matar.
Matar and a number of experts I interviewed are all convinced that the compost which the EU-funded plant produced for over a decade, was teaming with deadly bacteria and possibly even dangerous metals. None of the EU plants in Lebanon produce a grade of compost which is even good enough to be sold to farmers, but Miniyeh’s was so badly infected that, after being dumped at this landfill, it poisoned the water table in the entire region.
“Toxic” warning from an expert
Out of five independent water samples from wells the author personally took and handed over to the American University of Beirut’s laboratory, all were contaminated with alarmingly high levels of bacteria, which local officials in Miniyeh believe is responsible for a rise in a number of sicknesses in recent years. One of the country’s most respected eco-toxicologist, Dr. Carol Sukhn of the AUB was shocked when she saw the results of the tests. “This is incredibly high levels of bacteria in these water samples…I mean, it’s basically sewage water which these people are drinking so they are exposed to all kinds of serious illnesses as they are being poisoned and are at risk to even some forms of cancer,” she told me in November 2018.
Water samples which proved to be “basically sewage” according to lab tests and an academic’s assessments.
“If all the 12 [EU funded] plants are failing to produce [good] compost yet there are solid wastes brought to their premises on a daily basis, then this can be considered a disaster on both the environment and on the human health,” she warns more recently in January 2019, after seeing results of a study carried out by the municipality itself. “The 12 sites will be like active landfills but without the specs of the landfills and it will contaminate aquifers, soil & air, to mention few, with all kinds of toxicants. It will have even more [health] implications especially if these solid wastes include hospital rejects, then the effect on human health is tremendous and irreversible,” she warned.
Her chilling warning about hospital rejects is particularly worrying given that one EU plant in the south was mired in a scandal involving hospital waste.
For Miniyeh though, the academic warns that the levels were “over a hundred times” above what the minimal levels of acceptable bacterial levels are recommended by international health organizations but adds further concerns about the dire implications of the tests: “What worries me is that with these high levels of bacteria, there could also be heavy metals in the water which is even more serious,” she adds.
Experts agree that an acceptable model of composting is that sites produce 80 percent of good quality compost and accept that 20 percent is bad. But not one EU funded site can come anywhere near to this figure, according to our research. In the case of Miniyeh, which collects 60 tonnes of garbage a day, about 70% of it brought in is processed for compost while the remainder goes straight back to the landfill. Both categories are contaminated though and have resulted in groundwater effectively being poisoned for miles around due to the malevolent disregard to accountability.
Blame game
So who’s to blame? According to Matar, and indeed Lebanon’s environmental experts, OMSAR has a corruption problem itself as nearly all accuse it of embezzlement of the funds which it controls in the tendering process. Even government ministers I interviewed joined the chorus of accusations against it, with some suggesting that Hezbollah itself has officials within ministries like OMSAR whose sole job is to extract money for the Iranian-backed group. In Lebanon, it is widely accepted that ministries revenues are plundered by political groups with many appointed ministers acting as dodgy accountants looking to extract public funds for their masters.
Inquiries into OSMAR’s practice paint a picture of a well-organized group of officials who work in tandem with businessmen connected to politics, who provide the hardware for the EU funded projects, regardless of the expertise required. “It’s always the same companies who get all the contracts time after time and these companies are very close to OMSAR officials,” one source, who insisted on not being named, said. I put this to Matar who claims he was sent on a wild goose chase whenever he complained about the “corruption” behind the construction of the plant.
“Not only did we tell OMSAR but on several times about what was going on but we also we tried to get meetings with the [then] minister but she totally ignored us.” He is nervous about spelling it out in a recorded interview in a lawless country where such talk can get you killed. He smiles and tries to choose more politically appropriate words when I bluntly talk about accusations of OMSAR corruption. “OMSAR did not perform as well. It’s either politics or corruption [smiles]. They didn’t even come to check once to see if the facility is running or not. I will surely say that they are not performing properly.”
At the heart of these allegations is Mohamed Baraki, an official who makes the decisions on the lucrative contracts whose general aura of apathy and bellicose disregard towards the EU plants was quite astounding.
In a recorded interview, he not only admitted that the EU funded plant had entirely polluted the water near to Miniyeh’s plant but casually attributed this to the type of landfill being used as inappropriate – while adding later that a new landfill could have easily been built for little or no cost.
Putting aside the comic irony that he is the chief project manager of the plant and made all the decisions, his despondency towards Miniyeh and the public health implications was alarming and perhaps gives an indication of why the plants are failing and why “corruption” – which he admits is part of the problem – has made their success almost impossible. In a recorded interview, which at times descends into farce, he even admits that all of the plants are “not run very well” but denies any wrongdoing himself and places the blame on no real laws in Lebanon governing the sector, a lack of monitoring from the ministry of environment and no effective composting laws.
The OMSAR official at the centre of the storm who denies all wrong-doing, admits “corruption” is part of the problem and concedes that the compost is “not safe” and the water table polluted.
He also denies any malpractice on OMSAR’s side for the choice of companies who get the contracts, admits he’s “concerned” about the Miniyeh plant and even concedes that the compost is a threat to public health. “I’m not saying it’s safe. The compost quality is always affected by the material which comes to the facility. I cannot control what is being thrown into the garbage,” he adds, shrugging his shoulders.
But it’s not very convincing. The way Baraki describes the EU plants’ effectiveness which he has built, is like how a weary doctor might refer to a sticking plaster used to assist a patient with a decapitated limb. He talks of 50% of waste coming is “at least” being treated before it is dumped back into the landfill but fails to acknowledge that this compost produced is polluting the water table almost as much as the raw garbage being returned. The majority of the EU plants are essentially a total waste of time, money, effort and administration and in most cases present a prolific public health threat, not to mention a fabulous waste of EU taxpayers’ money. In most cases they are a triumph of stupendous futility, he seems to be admitting towards the end of the interview, with only 5 out of 12 which he claims makes any impact whatsoever on the environment. But even this estimation is folly and his arguments lack any credibility.
A lab test requested by this author and reluctantly produced by Baraki to show the quality of the compost of one of his best sites even shows an alarmingly high level of Escherichia coli in the compost.
Banging on an empty drum
Yet it’s his response to allegations presented to him that the contracts given to companies are suspicious at best, which is the heart of the matter. It’s these contracts and the impressive speed in which the plants were built, which has started to panic the EU which in 2017 jetted in a French official to investigate the resolute malpractice of the entire program. Shocked by what he saw, the Frenchman was so alarmed that he brought in an outside consultancy firm from Greece to do some snooping.
Since 2014 the record of €25 million euro going awry has resulted not only in the catastrophe of Miniyeh but also two other plants in the south of Lebanon closing down, the very moment the contractors got their hands on the EU cash to build them. Baraki, in a somewhat pompous state of denial, struggles to accept these two failures and the waste of cash. In the case of Miniyeh, in the north, he even fails to see how many might regard it suspicious that a company whose only expertise is making conveyor belts being awarded a 480,000 Euro contract to construct huge composting drums which have their own technology. And as to those drums not working ever as composting machines, he strongly denies charges from the whistleblower that the drums only turned for five days and produced nothing.
The drums themselves which an OMSAR official claims worked “for three months” dumped in a field next to the plant.
Yet my research found that in Miniyeh, the drums were installed in 2005 and after five days of turning, didn’t produce any compost. When pushed, Baraki dismisses them as a “bogus technology” which could not work in Lebanon, a curious claim, given that one firm who still makes them can point to at least one plant in Lebanon where they still work today, not to mention thirty years of USAID in Lebanon also using the same large drum technology. Also, he says that the drums were an “experiment” in Miniyeh, yet doesn’t explain the mysterious circumstances of how the firm who got the contract – a road building company who then subcontracted the job to a conveyer belt manufacturer – also ‘supplied’ two other sites and becomes quite angry about the insinuation of corruption.
Yet aside from his ludicrous claims that he is a fall guy for bigger players and their poor management, the truth is that the drums were never supposed to work, but merely turn, as they were only ever a magician’s prop just for a trick to get fast EU cash. Further investigation reveals more incriminating evidence against OSMAR buried in a confidential document. The study, conducted in 2005, and made by AUB academics, not only clearly stated the threat to water being contaminated if composting is not done correctly but also boldly contradicts Baraki telling the author that it is the municipalities themselves which chose the technology.
Very poor quality compost being produced by the plant in 2016 which clearly has glass, plastic and other foreign bodies in it, which would have been taken to the landfill.
In the study, it also clearly states that a company called Ceder Environmental should be given the contract to supply the drums. Its chief, Ziad Abi Chakir an environmentalist businessman not only presented the designs in the study but gave the researchers diagrams and dimensions of the drums.
Unwittingly, the 50-year-old businessman, who is part of a legal campaign to ban incinerators from coming to Lebanon, gave OMSAR all that it needed to hand the plans over to a company they preferred.
Does OMSAR, the anti-corruption agency, have its own corruption problem?
Abi Chakir and many others in his field believe it does. When approached, he is remarkably sanguine for a man who lost half a million dollars and had his technology ripped off. Unsurprisingly, he calls for much tighter controls to be put in place for EU-funded plants. “This should have been the case from day one. You don’t get plumbers to perform eye surgery no matter how connected to the hospital management they are,” he quips. “Public service projects in Lebanon are not really known for accountability…what was surprising was even EU financed projects were not held to proper accountability standards…and the results were disastrous.”
On Miniyeh, he is confident about the failure of OMSAR in the construction and running of the plant and its impact. “It is clear that due to the failure of the composting module at Miniyeh the bulk of the organic waste was being dumped untreated in the landfill of Adweh and since this landfill is not sanitized the accumulation threshold was reached quickly and the underground water was severely polluted,” he tells me.
The landfill near Miniyeh (Adweh) which was used by the EU project in its haste to get the grant. Even OMSAR admits that it was wholly unsuitable and a study warns of water pollution if used. So why wasn’t a second custom landfill built?
Health minister uses the C word
The breathtaking lack of accountability and independent audits, let alone OMSAR giving contracts to construct the plants to dubious firms, while ignoring experts’ warnings on public health is worrying, especially for Lebanon’s ex-health minister who is not remotely shocked at the investigations’ findings, despite the implications of a wide scale nation-wide epidemic landing at his door.
In an exclusive interview in January, Ghassan Hasbani, Lebanon’s deputy Prime Minister (and ex-health minister), not only acknowledges that OMSAR has a problem with corruption but goes further and calls for an overhaul of such internationally-funded programs, arguing that a much more diligent approach from the EU itself should be part of the funding process, and OMSAR should no longer continue in its role of allocating firms to the contracts.
“OSMAR shouldn’t be regarded by aid agencies as a funding authority or an agency to fund municipalities,” he says. “I’m all for preventing corruption to happen in the first place…the tendering process is an important stage when we talk about transparency…I struggle to find the logic behind [the EU funding ] them”. “I’m also very worried as we are already seeing trends from the solid waste management crisis with certain diseases like cancer in areas that have water pollution…we have been taking water samples ourselves in various parts of the country and the water table is getting severely impacted by mismanagement of the solid waste sector in general”. Ghassan Hasbani wants OMSAR to be banned from both choosing the companies and allocating EU cash to them.
EU trapped now by Lebanon’s “corruption market”
But the story about Miniyeh’s dysfunctional, if not comical recycling plant is not isolated. The lack of accountability with such projects has spurned in recent years a feeding frenzy of corrupt individuals, eager to profit themselves in a ‘business’ where a million or two dollars can be made with a phone call to the right people.Part of our investigation even found a legitimate businessman who was approached by a former government minister with a suggestion to set up one of the bogus operations to fill his pockets with EU cash, ‘administered’ via the infamous OMSAR.
Furthermore, out of a dozen EU-funded recycling and composting plants, the author found two which had been created, and once the EU money had been handed over, quickly closed down in rather suspicious, if not hilarious, circumstances. And leagues of experts who all claim that the ‘compost’ which is being produced by those operating is not even genuine, but, again, substandard.
Wadih el Asmar, the former leader of Youstink! Protest movement and a leading human rights activist is just one of many, who has been arrested in the past for his human rights work. He also supports claims that most of the EU funded projects are bogus – with some resorting to either burning their garbage or dumping it at night, as a result of poorly managed operations which can’t cope in the first place.
“It’s not that the government does not have the technical means…it’s more than these EU projects are almost entirely ineffective,” he said.
“Most of them just don’t work because of corruption, and it doesn’t matter if there is an EU badge on it. In one, all of the equipment was stolen at the very beginning…None of them actually function as the EU doesn’t seem to care about the corruption which is going on.”
One EU plant never even functioned from day one, as staff stole equipment and the company running it took the money and ran. In another one, politically connected families actually fought over who would get the contract, such is the easy money to be made.
In December 2018, El Asmar added that “most of the time such politicians make it impossible to really hold accountable the criminals so we don’t rely a lot on politicians stories.” “The main problem with the EU program is that it’s an investment program, so the EU build and then hide behind the fact that they are not responsible for the operation and they can’t make any intervention once the plant is handed out to OMSAR. It’s all the system that need to be reorganized in a way to guarantee more transparency and efficiency.”
On Miniyeh, El Asmar is clear: “Definitely, a genuine and transparent assessment could have prevented such criminal mistakes. This is why we insist on having a systematic assessment prior to any project,” he adds.
Indeed, it beggars belief that even a simple committee of environmental experts to vet the companies’ applications for the lucrative EU contracts is not set up, in a country teaming with academics. Why does the EU have such a cavorting repulsion towards uncovering corruption and getting the right companies to carry out its work?
Some have argued that it is the hold Lebanon has over the West in general with its over 1 million Syrian refugees. Others believe it may be about the present EU delegation chief herself who could feel uncomfortable about rocking the boat which might draw attention to her own extravagances, like the 10 million dollar villa she rents as her own residence, a huge djinn palace which took a whole year to fit out to her specifications, paid for by EU taxpayers.
Others though, like one leading anti-corruption expert, believes that the EU is simply trapped now in a game it created with the Lebanese elite who see the 100s of millions of euros that the EU gives Lebanon as a legitimate revenue stream to divert. Add to that the EU’s mercurial relationship with Hezbollah’s sponsor, Iran, and the power of the Shiite group in Lebanon and it’s easier to understand how things got out of hand. “Apparently, the political mafia agreed to devise area of corruption so they minimize the clash risk between each other. Each political faction has its group of companies that are monopolizing its part of the corruption market,” explains Rabih El Chaer, a lawyer who previously headed up a transparency organisation in Lebanon.
“International donors understood this equilibrium,” he says. “They know that this is the price to pay in order to them to be able to work in Lebanon”.
This trap which EU agencies find themselves ensnared in is starting to worry powerful officials in Brussels though. A respected MEP on the international circuit is “shocked” and is now calling for the entire Lebanon waste management program to be investigated by the EU’s own anti-fraud agency based in Brussels.
“I’m extremely concerned about what this investigation has exposed,” says Ana Gomes MEP. “It’s more than the EU’s credibility that it puts in question: it’s the efficiency and integrity of EU internal and external controls which may have been infiltrated by incompetent or criminal individuals enabling criminal networks in Lebanon, thus totally perverting the goals of EU aid and even putting at risk people’s lives,” she explains.
“Besides grossly misusing European taxpayers’ money, this calls for an urgent and deep investigation from the EU…so that those responsible, in the EU and Lebanon, will be brought to justice and that Overseas Development Aid (ODA) to Lebanon will be immediately reviewed, corrected and put under stringent control,” she added.
Ana Gomes is pushing for an investigation in Brussels to not only stop the corruption but to also prosecute those in Lebanon who are part of the sham companies. (Connect Euranet)
But getting the system changed might be difficult in a country ran by gangs who are hell-bent on destroying its infrastructure for the express purposes of looting more foreign ‘rescue’ aid.
El Chaer even warns that if the EU attempted to replace or even tweak the current corrupt system, that it “would encounter serious problems in Lebanon.” Indeed, there cannot be a better example of aid projects grinding to a halt when the corrupt politicians have not been allowed to take a huge cut, than Lebanon’s six wastewater plants – all built around 2000 and inoperative due to donors’ strict anti-corruption conditions.
The result is that 100% of Lebanon’s sewage goes straight into the Mediterranean while these six giants lay idol, a stoic metaphor for everything which is corrupt in Lebanon’s waste management cesspit of international aid.
In Lebanon, the rule is that if Corruption Inc doesn’t take a fat slice, then nothing moves.
In the case of OMSAR, the lawyer is supporting the notion that the corruption inside the organization with contracts may well not be individuals filling their pockets but political agents (in this case Hezbollah which had a number of ministers in its pocket in recent years) who are procuring huge amounts of cash.
In the frenzied scramble for the elite to get their hands on the EU cash, the waste is breathtaking, with little effort to cover up the scams, such is the confidence of those cashing in on them.
Antoine Moussa, an environmental pundit is deeply cynical about the EU plants. “The EU is spending €60 million on these plants, but it’s a waste of time and money as all that is going on in these operations is corruption,” he said citing an example of two EU plants that are now closed. “One EU plant, Kfour, had political parties squabbling over who would run it, and there was a scandal about hospital waste being found there. Another, Ansar, is totally deserted now with all the equipment stolen.”
Yet for those who are neither dumping nor burning their garbage, but actually producing compost, all activists agree there are real health and environmental worries, following the water tests carried out on the Miniyeh plant. How likely is it that all of the dirty dozen EU recycling and composting plants are producing hazardous waste which is poisoning the water table and threatening people’s health, in a country only beaten by Mozambique, Nigeria, and the Central African Republic in terms of corruption ranking by Transparency International?
Investigating the investigators
Numerous emails exchanged with the EU delegation conducted over almost two years have concluded that it considers itself not responsible for how the money is administered once it leaves the EU coffers.
The predecessor to the current expert who left in 2017 admitted though that the plants had some problems while stressing that the EU only pays for the construction. “It is true that Operation and Maintenance (O&M) is a concern and that the private operators in charge of O&M are not always fulfilling their duties. O&M is financed by the Government, not by us,” he explained.
But how can such malignant irresponsibility be acceptable? One argument might be that the EU now is in ‘cover-up’ mode and wants to draw a veil over the spectacular failure that its waste management projects have become in Lebanon.
After 15 years, not one plant is able to even produce compost of a grade which could be sold to farmers. The EU is clearly trying to gloss over its awesome failure of the 12 sites and attribute blame.
And how can the EU expect to be taken seriously though when it pays off a consultancy firm which is part of its cozy political circle in Brussels? Was LDK, like many consultancies which have elegant offices close to the European Commission, brought in to expose OMSAR’s dirty deals, or cover them up? Surely OLAF, the EU’s own investigator against fraud should have been given the task, not a consultancy firm, which can be manipulated? And what sort of an example to OMSAR is the French official, who, when he arrived in 2017 refused to sign off 17 million dollars of aid to OMSAR – not because of it being diverted to bogus companies – but because it would have clashed with his own holiday plans for that summer?
The EU has not only created an environmental calamity with its shady, tacit agreement for these funds to be diverted to political groups like Hezbollah but is also exposing itself to legal action. Wadih el Asmar refers to the Miniyeh case as “criminal” and asks for action to be taken against OMSAR and the companies. That’s unlikely to happen but on a local level, the EU (via OLAF) could push the Lebanese government to prosecute officials from the municipalities, as the MEP has suggested. This idea is more feasible, according to a professor in environmental law who reluctantly agreed to be interviewed, afraid of the consequences.
“I would like to see an official subject to a judicial investigation, and possibly condemned but this is a utopia in the current state of the severely corrupted system,” says Raphaël Joseph Sfeir.
Ziad Abi Chakir, however, believes that the EU should simply scrap or radically overhaul the present tendering process. “When no one is accountable in any project then the trend continues until it reaches unacceptable levels before one of two things happen: either financing completely stops or some new accountability measures are strictly enforced.”
The EU’s entrapment or addiction to pouring hundreds of millions of EU taxpayers’ money into sham projects in Lebanon stinks on so many levels. Clearly, the cash-for-hegemony is there, but perhaps more so, the EU is in too deep and any attempt to stop the madness, would result in such a media scandal, that it is not worth it for officials like the EU delegation chief to clean up the act. But worse though is the sensational disregard for accountability, presided by EU officials who spend money like gangsters set free from prison and live in sprawling townhouses with rock star lifestyles, which has encouraged the record growth of corruption as in industry itself in Lebanon and which now is surely set to make the headlines again when the water is officially acknowledged as the main source of rising levels of chronic diseases. And the EU funded plants responsible.
The ‘market place’ of corruption now has grown too big and too powerful and, in hand with politicians, is now wetting its lips as it eyes $300 million dollar incinerators which it wants the EU to buy, as part of a perverse cycle of funneling money into a black hole, which itself, grows exponentially, in a country breaking records for its environmental degradation; an ocean completely polluted because of sewage pumped into it, following failed EU wastewater plants, competing with a dozen recycling and compost schemes which are poisoning groundwater (used by farmers for their crops) while municipalities burn waste at night releasing toxins into the air. And now incinerators, which will bring in millions for the elite’s coffers (and their militias) is now the new focus, despite the byproduct (ash) which has to be put into landfills know to be toxic. If the EU failed, as our investigation revealed to even conduct the simplest water tests in the region of Miniyeh, before it signed off the financing, then can we expect it to care about the horrific implications of incinerators? Will the argument be from the Lebanese government that “the groundwater was already polluted 100 times beyond what is anywhere near to safe by compost which was toxic, so what difference will toxic ash from the incinerators make?”
On May 9th, the EU will celebrate its 40 years presence in Lebanon, as banal and ironic as Christina Lassen recently giving a speech about how much great work the EU is doing there in the environment sector – or even the ambassadors from EU countries – like the UK – who support her and claim to be great champions of journalism, but yet couldn’t quite support the crowdfunding of this investigation. The international community is not merely a hypocrite in its support for the assiduous destruction of Lebanon’s environment and its rise in cancer cases, but is a major player in enabling a mafia to take hold and actually make the country a disaster zone so as to embezzle more aid money, which is happening right now with the $11 billion dollars of ‘aid’ heading towards Beirut from ‘donors’ – which in reality, future generations will pay for in higher taxes, fewer services, fewer jobs, higher crime levels and much, much worse health.
It’s high time the Lebanese woke up to this reality and started by holding them to account before their own leaders, starting with the EU’s criminal waste management program in Lebanon which just stinks.
Editor’s note: In January, a new Lebanese government took office with a new OMSAR minister. The ex-environment minister did not respond to interview requests. The EU delegation chief referred all questions via email to her environment officer. Lebanon’s ex anti-corruption minister was considering investigating the allocation of contracts mentioned in the piece. The new environment minister in April 2019 called for the landfill dump in Miniyeh (Adweh) to be closed.

The Patriarch’s final ascension/When Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir passed away, he took part of Lebanon’s soul with him.
مايكل حاجي جورجيو/صعود البطريرك نصرالله صفير النهائي وبوفاته أخذ معه جزء من روح لبنان .
Michel Hajji Georgiou/L'Orient-Le Jour/May 17/2019

Lebanon’s glory was handed to him, and we believed he would be eternal.
It couldn’t have been any other way since everything about him spoke of some kind of strange timelessness; a capacity to be out of time if not between times: the slightly juvenile sparkle of innocence when his century-old face would suddenly light up to convey the greatest joy; the tone of his voice, always steady, always perfectly measured, even in the rare moments when anger, fueled by injustice, would break his celestial serenity; the incredible swiftness of his body, maintained by a distinctive tendency towards asceticism, ready to jump anytime with the intrepidity of an elf, but nevertheless exhausted by all the ordeals of life in the public field, which he carried like a cross.
Could it have really been different? He was, after all, the 76th descendant in a long lineage of patriarchs entrusted with a historical, political mission: to protect the lit-up sanctuary that his predecessors had helped to found: The Greater Lebanon, the country of freedom, sovereignty, independence, coexistence, reconciliation and peace.
He was out of this world, in the sense that he was able to rise above the current moment, undoubtedly conscious, because of his mission as the eternal guardian of the Temple, that it is only by soaring above temporal fixations that it is possible to seize the historical timescale, which doesn’t care much about small political tribulations, tactical reversals, demagogic and populistic speech, hubris or the delirious feeling of might.
En français : L’ultime envol du Patriarche...
His time was one of immutability. That is why the immediate power struggles –insults, threats, intimidations, betrayals, occupations, militias, assassinations– never defeated his determination. This is how he succeeded in defying the times of violence and the times of tyranny, when everything was nothing but odorless and colorless smells of death. He did so with a patient, constant, unshakable faith. A faith that helped safeguard, promote and restore democratic principles despite the daunting and enormous size of that task falling on the shoulders of one man.
The voice that shook Damascus
Born in Rayfoun, Keserwan on May 15, 1920, shortly before the proclamation of Greater Lebanon, Nasrallah Sfeir, Patriarch of the Second Independence of Lebanon, died on the eve of his 99th birthday, at the end of a unique political journey. Powerful because of his humility, his simplicity and his detachment from power, solitary due to his monastic habits, no one deserved to have a better, more restful eternal sleep.
Since his resignation from his patriarchal duties in 2011–the culmination of his earthly glory–the patriarch had retreated into the shadows and silence. Above and beyond his legendary humility and his respect towards his successor, he was overdue for the inevitable, well-earned rest of a fighter, especially after concluding one of the most eventful patriarchal mandates (1986-2011) that was tainted by the fratricidal and intra-communal struggles of the end of the civil war, the Christian sentiments of failure and frustration of the post-war period and the “sinister days” of the Syrian occupation and then the bright perspective of the Beirut Spring, which was quickly bloodied by assassinations and the militia-like counter-revolution headed by Hezbollah.
This “apprenticeship” of silence wasn’t really one. Nasrallah Sfeir had always shown a lack of interest in idle talk, despite his extraordinary eloquence and his unique way with words: brief, corrosive, lethal. All that was needed were a few sober, mismatched, almost monotonous words, with a dash of finicky onomatopoeia, often proclaimed in a high-pitched, wise voice, in order to make the Republic–which was subservient to the Syrian occupier for much of his tenure–shake, as well as to induce a rumbling of passionate reactions orchestrated by Damascus.
Still, the Maronite Patriarch never argued with anyone. Apart from the nobility, the wisdom and the responsibilities imposed on him by his rank, he made it a point of honor to avoid climactic duels or positions too abrupt or capable of negatively impacting the country in general and Christians in particular. He also never divulged more than the message he wanted to transmit: so many journalists in search of sensationalism left a few teeth!
In the line of Michel Chiha and of the Vatican II
Sfeir never liked to seduce or woo in order to please the crowds. He stood firm on this point even after Pope John Paul II visited Lebanon in May 1996, which validated Sfeir’s role as a leader who was able to help Christians overcome their post-civil war malaise, and after the famous call of the Maronite bishops in September 2000 that gave him an unparalleled, symbolic stature similar to that of Jean-Paul II in his fight to bring down the Iron Curtain.
Still, populism and Sfeir never got along. In fact, it was quite the opposite, as highlighted by the sad episode of aggression carried out against Sfeir by supporters of General Michel Aoun in 1989, which remains a painful memory. In fact, a re-reading of his in-depth biography, written by our colleague Antoine Saad, which currently stands at three volumes, shows that Sfeir was often the moral, political and direct victim of movements such as populism, Caesarism and Mussolinism, which pushed certain figures to manipulate the masses.
Could it have been any other way for a man whose political ideology did not align with the militias and supreme leaders, but instead resembled Raymond Edde’s and Nassib Lahoud’s? Early on in his priestly journey, Sfeir was drawn to the civil, sovereign and nationalist ideas of the National Bloc. He was also well versed in the lucid, but idealistic “Libanism” of Michel Chiha and studied in the reformist and modernist school of the Second Vatican Council. He turned out to be the providential, post-war figure that Lebanon–with all its mixed communities–needed to meticulously reweave the inter-communal links destroyed by the fighting and to create, without turmoil, a common will as well as political and social unity around the restoration of Lebanese sovereignty. Because of this, for two decades he resisted any attempt to torpedo the Lebanese formula aimed at distorting the soul of the country of the cedars.
Impervious to the “alliances of the minorities”
Sfeir was one of the main Christian godfathers of the Taif Agreement–along with Samir Geagea–despite opposition from most Christian parties in 1989. When the “Pax Syriana” was ruthlessly put into force, with the assassination of President Rene Moawad and the destruction of the Baabda Presidential Palace, Sfeir still made a point of honoring the agreement and demanding it be implemented. In particular, he advocated for the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon. At the time, in 1992, he wasn’t able to rely on anyone. Raymond Edde, Amine Gemayel, Michel Aoun and Dory Chamoun, the four main Maronite political leaders, were exiled in France and were deeply divided. Samir Geagea was an isolated figure and in 1994, would be put in prison.
Despite Sfeir’s call for a boycott of the 1992 parliamentary elections, some Christian politicians ran and were elected with a ridiculously small number of votes. As a result, Sfeir appeared weakened and alone in his battle to restore Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence. On the one hand, the effort to mobilize an opposition stalled due to old grievances, internal quarrels and fighting between leaders. On the other, a different group of leaders was eager to ingratiate themselves to Lebanon’s Syrian masters in order to get their spot under the sun.
Sfeir faced a difficult task uniting Christian leaders to form an opposition, but he eventually succeeded. In 2001, with the founding of the Qornet Shehwan Gathering, under Sfeir’s auspices and with the direction of Bishop Youssef Bechara, an opposition finally emerged. Only Aoun broke ranks to preserve his own political stance, and his relationship with Sfeir would remain tense. Upon Aoun’s return from exile, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (CPL) proclaimed himself “the political patriarch of the Christians”, expressing his opposition to Sfeir’s hostile position towards the Syrian and Iranian regimes.
Over the years, many political leaders, such as Kabalan Issa el-Khoury, Rochaid el-Khazen, Elie Ferzli and Sleiman Frangieh, would attempt to convince the Patriarch to give up on pushing for Islamic-Christian unity and the restoration of Lebanon’s sovereignty. Instead, these leaders argued for a Maronite-Alawite alliance with the Syrian regime that would return the Christians to a position of strength.
Despite relentless attempts by proponents of the “minority alliance” to flatter him and change his position, Sfeir never embraced the plan, which he saw as a negation of the idea of Lebanon, and he persistently refused to honor the Assad regime with a visit to Damascus. Numerous attempts by the Syrian regime to open up a dialogue, led by emissaries close to the Maronite Patriarchy in Bkerke, only convinced Sfeir that the Assad regime lied pathologically and could not be trusted.
A Humbled Hero
The burden of the Christian rifts will prompt Nasrallah Sfeir to take the helm an guide the ship, leading the opposition to Syrian tutelage. Sfeir was also aware that the silence of the Muslim elite about the Syrian occupation wasn’t a sign of consent. Instead, he understood, it was due to the weight of the Syrian presence and dominance in Lebanon. Sfeir was certain that one day the Muslim elite would revolt. Sfeirs opposition was not one of tanks and soldiers, but sermons, speeches, religious services, diplomatic meetings, symbolic, unifying political acts and lessons in democracy, law and public freedoms. These were the tools that were used when the Lebanese-Syrian security apparatus would strike, sometimes arresting, torturing and randomly incarcerating political opponents and other times suppressing demonstrations or questioning students.
The first nail in the coffin of the Syrian occupation certainly came from the synod for Lebanon, and the Apostolic Exhortation that emanated from it, that was handed by Pope John Paul II to the Lebanese people at Harissa. The Vatican, encouraged by John Paul II and Achille Silvestrini, president of the Congregation of Eastern Churches at the time, would play a fundamental role in helping Lebanon regain its sovereignty. The Synod also provided an opportunity to forge deep and important ties with the wise and elder leaders of the Islamic community, including Imam Mohammad Mehdi Shamseddine, just as in the past it had helped establish a strong relationship with the Mufti of the Republic, Sheikh Hasan Khaled, who was assassinated in 1989. In 2003, Sfeir’s decision to oppose the US invasion of Iraq also considerably strengthened this link to the Arab-Muslim world.
The second nail came following Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon when Sfeir clearly and concisely called for the application of the Taif agreement and international resolutions and the establishment of a platform of plural opposition supported by the international community, notably from France’s Jacques Chirac, to restore the country’s independence.
Following the 2000 legislative elections and Sfeir’s famous appeal to the Maronite bishops that led to the Qornet Shehwan Gathering, he embarked on a symbolic tour of the US and travelled to the Chouf for a historic reconciliation with Walid Jumblatt, who had been one of his staunchest opponents. This caused a hysterical reaction of the mandate of Emile Lahoud, which resulted resulting in raids, and attacks on Aug. 7 and 9, 2001. Sfeir also moved closer to Rafic Hariri, who he always wanted to view as a new Riad al-Solh.
In the end, the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon was directly provoked by the assassination of Rafic Hariri (Sfeir’s visit to Koraytem to pay his respects on the eve of Feb 14, 2005 will forever be engraved in Lebanon’s collective memory). The efforts of intellectual, political and civil society figures such as Samir Frangieh, Samir Kassir and Gebran Tueni, helped build the momentum for the departure. And the people who turned out to protest on March 14, 2005 dealt the final blow. But the crazy dream had been patiently built, brick by brick, by an old man who had learned from and been transformed by the sacrifices of his ancestors and who had a youthful mind guided by the hope of renewal–that man was Nasrallah Sfeir.
From Spring to Spring
The decade following the Beirut Spring was full of disillusionment. There was the counter-revolution and gradual capitulation of the March 14 movement as a consequence of the steady blows delivered by Hezbollah and its allies. But Sfeir never gave up, despite his advancing age. He had campaigned to end the violence of the civil war and initiate a new chapter in relations between Christians and Muslims in 1989, and he had helped pave the way for the Syrian withdrawal in 2005, restoring Lebanon’s sovereignty.
The final cause he fought for was for the state to reclaim its monopoly on the legitimate use of violence and for the recognition of the incompatibility of armed militias and democracy. To this end, on the eve of the 2009 legislative election, he came out against Hezbollah being allowed to retain its weapons. His position likely helped March 14 win a final political victory–a symbolic Thermopylae for a movement that had grown less and less confident in its abilities and more and more fractured and marred by sectarianism and petty politics.
Sfeir delivered a few more significant moments as well. His surprise resignation, a nearly solitary example of someone voluntarily relinquishing power in the Middle East, paved the way for the revival of the Patriarchy. He also voiced strong support for the Arab Spring, especially the Syrian revolution against the brutality of the Assad regime, while the majority of Eastern Churches chose to demean themselves by remaining servile to the “alliance of the minorities” rather than supporting freedom and autonomy.
The Spring’s Patriarch, the one who held a noble and virtuous idea of Lebanon, left on his final journey in the middle of spring. Part of Lebanon’s soul went with him in the midst of darkening times. But as long as there are enough lucid and courageous men and women who will “choose well” and privilege freedom, peace and coexistence, Sfeir’s legacy will remain alive.
(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 13th of May)

The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on May 17-18/19
Iranian lawyer who defended women’s right to remove hijab gets 38 years, 148 lashes
After two trials described by Amnesty International as “grossly unfair,” Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh has been sentenced to a total of 38 years in prison and 148 lashes.
Sotoudeh, who has dedicated her life to defending Iranian women prosecuted for removing their hijabs in public, has been in the crosshairs of Iran’s theocratic government for years. In 2010, she was convicted of conspiring to harm state security and served half of a six-year sentence. Then, in June of last year, she was rearrested on an array of dubious charges. Tried in secret, details of her ordeal have often come via her husband, Reza Khandan, who wrote of her new, much harsher sentence on his Facebook page on Monday.
Sotoudeh was ultimately charged with seven crimes and given the maximum sentence for all of them. Five additional years were added from a 2016 case in which she was convicted in absentia. The total 38-year sentence was severe even by Iranian standards — a country often accused of human rights abuses, particularly involving women. Observers say it may signal a newly hardline approach to political dissent. Last week, a radical cleric linked to mass executions in the 1980s was appointed head of the Islamic Republic’s judiciary.
Critics from around the world decried the outcome of Sotoudeh’s case. Amnesty International said it was harshest sentence documented against a human rights defender in Iran in recent memory. Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, told CBS News it exposed “the insecurity the regime has to any peaceful challenge.”The same day Sotoudeh was sentenced, the UN investigator on human rights in Iran held up her case as a sign of the country’s increasingly brutal oppression of those who defend the rights of women. “Worrying patterns of intimidation, arrest, prosecution, and ill-treatment of human rights defenders, lawyers, and labor rights activists signal an increasingly severe state response,” he said.

US: Iran not Going to be Happy without Behavioral Change
Washington - Heba El Koudsy/Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 17 May, 2019/The United States reiterated on Thursday that it would like to see "behavioral change" come from Iran or else it will not be happy from Washington’s response. “As the President has said. If they take action they’re not gonna like what he does in response. They’re not gonna be happy,” Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters outside the White House. Her remarks came as President Donald Trump hosted his Swiss counterpart, Ueli Maurer, for his country’s possible role in pressuring Iran into the negotiating table with Washington. Trump told reporters on Thursday that he hoped the US was not heading to war with Iran as he met with Maurer, whose nation has served as a liaison conduit between the two countries since they do not have diplomatic relations. "Hope not," Trump said when asked by reporters if Washington was going to war with Tehran. Tension between the US and Iran has grown as intelligence officials have declassified a photograph of an Iranian missile on a small boat in the Gulf in their efforts to help show the increasing threat from Tehran. The intelligence was one of the critical reasons the US decided to move an aircraft carrier strike group and B-52 bombers into the region. The US also ordered all nonessential government staff to leave Iraq. A State Department official told Asharq Al-Awsat that Washington “is in continuous contact with its allies and partners.”“We exchange intelligence information with the UK, France and Germany on what constitutes a threat to the region.”Washington “has asked them to use their influence with the Iranian regime to calm the tension,” the official said. On Wednesday, Trump denied a report about “infighting” among his foreign policy team on Iran. “There is no infighting whatsoever,” he tweeted, denying reports by The Washington Post and The New York Times.

Iran FM Says No Talks with US
London - Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 17 May, 2019/Iranian officials on Thursday rejected negotiations with the United States amid growing tension between the two countries. In Tokyo for talks with Japanese officials, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said there was "no possibility" of negotiations with Washington. "I don't know why President Trump is confident," he told reporters. Iran is committed to its obligations under an international nuclear deal despite the US withdrawal from the landmark agreement, he said, calling the reimposition of US sanctions "unacceptable". Iran is exercising "maximum restraint in spite of the fact the United States withdrew from (the) JCPOA last May," Zarif said at the beginning of his meeting with the Japanese Foreign Minister. He was referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action signed in 2015 by the United States, Iran and other countries, under which Iran curbed its uranium enrichment capacity and won sanctions relief in return. President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement last year and is ratcheting up sanctions on Iran, aiming to strangle its economy by ending its international sales of crude oil. He has sent an aircraft carrier group, B-52 bombers and Patriot missiles to the Middle East to counter what Washington calls a heightened threat from Iran to US soldiers and interests in the region. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday that Tehran does not seek war with the US despite mounting tensions. "There won't be any war. The Iranian nation has chosen the path of resistance," Khamenei was cited as saying by the state media. "We don't seek a war, and they don't either. They know it’s not in their interests."Chairman of Iran's Strategic Council of Foreign Relations (SCFR) Kamal Kharrazi said Thursday that "no one in Iran is ready to negotiate with Trump."In an interview with French television, he said: "We don't see any reason to engage in negotiations with the team currently present at the White House which is seeking to change the Iranian regime."He added that Tehran "does not trust" the US administration.

IRGC Deputy Chief: Iranian Missiles Can Easily Reach US Ships
Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 17 May, 2019/A deputy head of Iran's Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) said even short-range Iranian missiles could reach US warships in the Gulf, adding Washington could not afford a new war. The comments added to days of sabre-rattling between Tehran and Washington, which has tightened sanctions and built up its military presence in the region alleging threats from Iran to its troops and interests. "Even our short-range missiles can easily reach (US) warships in the Gulf," Mohammad Saleh Jokar, the Guard's deputy chief in charge of parliamentary affairs, was quoted by Fars news agency as saying. "America cannot afford the costs of a new war, and the country is in a bad situation in terms of manpower and social conditions," he added. Jokar further warned that a conflict would endanger the world's energy supply. He said: "If a war happens, the world will suffer." Washington has already warned shipping companies that "Iran or its proxies" could be targeting maritime traffic in the Gulf. The US has deployed the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and B-52 bombers to the region to counter the threat. Separately, a senior Iranian military official accused US President Donald Trump of dishonesty, saying Washington was calling for talks while "holding a gun" at Tehran, Mehr reported. Trump has said publicly he wants to pursue a diplomatic route after withdrawing from the 2015 deal and moving to cut off all Iranian oil exports this month. "The actions of American leaders in exerting pressure and launching sanctions ... while speaking of talks, is like holding a gun at someone and asking for friendship and negotiations," said Rasoul Sanai-Rad, a political deputy of the armed forces command, Mehr reported. "The behavior of American leaders is a political game which consists of threats and pressure while showing a willingness to negotiate in order to present a peaceful image of themselves and fool public opinion," Sanai-Rad said.

Insurer Says Iran’s Guards Likely to Have Organized Tanker Attacks
Reuters/Friday 17th May 2019/Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) are “highly likely” to have facilitated attacks last Sunday on four tankers including two Saudi ships off Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates, according to a Norwegian insurers’ report seen by Reuters. The UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Norway are investigating the attacks, which also hit a UAE and a Norwegian-flagged vessel. A confidential assessment issued this week by the Norwegian Shipowners’ Mutual War Risks Insurance Association (DNK) concluded that the attack was likely to have been carried out by a surface vessel operating close by that dispatched underwater drones carrying 30-50 kg (65-110 lb) of high-grade explosives to detonate on impact. The attacks took place against a backdrop of US-Iranian tension following Washington’s decision this month to try to cut Tehran’s oil exports to zero and beef up its military presence in the Gulf in response to what it called Iranian threats. The DNK based its assessment that the IRGC was likely to have orchestrated the attacks on a number of factors, including:
- A high likelihood that the IRGC had previously supplied its allies, the Houthi militia fighting a Saudi-backed government in Yemen, with explosive-laden surface drone boats capable of homing in on GPS navigational positions for accuracy.
- The similarity of shrapnel found on the Norwegian tanker to shrapnel from drone boats used off Yemen by Houthis, even though the craft previously used by the Houthis were surface boats rather than the underwater drones likely to have been deployed in Fujairah.
- The fact that Iran and particularly the IRGC had recently threatened to use military force and that, against a militarily stronger foe, they were highly likely to choose “asymmetric measures with plausible deniability.” DNK noted that the Fujairah attack had caused “relatively limited damage” and had been carried out at a time when US Navy ships were still en route to the Gulf.
Both the Saudi-flagged crude oil tanker Amjad and the UAE-flagged bunker vessel A.Michel sustained damage in the area of their engine rooms, while the Saudi tanker Al Marzoqah was damaged in the aft section and the Norwegian tanker Andrea Victory suffered extensive damage to the stern, DNK said.
The DNK report said the attacks had been carried out between six and 10 nautical miles off Fujairah, which lies close to the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran Tells Iraq Militias to Prepare for Proxy War
Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 17 May, 2019/The commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, has recently met Tehran-backed Iraqi militias in Baghdad and told them to “prepare for proxy war,” the Guardian reported. Two senior intelligence sources said that Soleimani summoned the militias three weeks ago amid a heightened state of tension in the region. While Soleimani has met regularly with leaders of Iraq’s Shiite groups over the past five years, the nature and tone of this gathering was different. “It wasn’t quite a call to arms, but it wasn’t far off,” one source said.
The move to mobilize Iran’s regional allies is understood to have triggered fears in the US that Washington’s interests in the Middle East are facing a pressing threat, said the Guardian. The US on Wednesday ordered all nonessential government staff to leave Iraq. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s surprise visit to Baghdad this month came after US intelligence showed Iran-backed Shiite militias positioning rockets near bases housing US forces. Leaders of all the militia groups that fall under the umbrella of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) were in attendance at the meeting called by Soleimani, the intelligence sources told the Guardian. One senior figure who learned about the meeting had since met with western officials to express concerns.

Algeria Riot Police Step Aside in Face of Protesters
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 17/2019/Thousands of Algerians pushed through police tear gas in the capital Friday, to rally at the focal point of mass protests against the country's ruling elite. Riot police for hours prevented demonstrators from marching on the iconic central post office, with officials citing security concerns, but they ultimately gave way under pressure from the crowds. "Shame on you police officers," protesters shouted as tensions rose, with a few scuffles but no serious injuries reported. Around a dozen people were helped by volunteers, the majority feeling faint due to the heat and fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. Demonstrators clutching the Algerian flag and brandishing home-made signs far outnumbered riot police, wearing blue helmets and body armour. While no official figure was given for Friday's rally, it appeared comparable to huge protests held since late February. As well as the Algiers demonstration, rallies took place across the country including in the cities of Oran and Constantine, TSA news site reported. Roadblocks had been put in place by security forces on some main roads leading to the capital, said Ali, a businessman who had traveled to Algiers from a town around 60 kilometres (40 miles) away. Initially demonstrating against ailing president Abdelaziz Bouteflika seeking a fifth term, since his departure last month protesters have turned their attention to those still in power with ties to the former leader. "Gaid Salah leave!" protesters shouted against the army chief, while others cried: "No military state." A former Bouteflika loyalist and key powerbroker, Ahmed Gaid Salah has thrown his support behind presidential elections set for July 4. But protesters -- some clutching "no to the elections" placards -- fear the polls could be used to keep longtime Bouteflika allies in power.They are also calling for interim president Abdelkader Bensalah and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui to resign. Said Salhi, vice president of the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights, accused those in power of lacking "any vision" and "playing for time." "If the system keeps the elections for July 4, that exacerbates the tensions and escalates the crisis," he told TSA.

Maduro Government Welcomes Norway 'Dialogue' Efforts
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 17/2019/The government of President Nicolas Maduro on Friday thanked Norway for its mediation efforts to build a "dialogue" with the Venezuelan opposition after both sides sent delegations to Oslo. "President Nicolas Maduro and the Bolivarian Revolution express their gratitude to Norway and their support for dialogue for peace and sovereignty," Venezuela's Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza tweeted. It was the first official confirmation from Caracas of its involvement in what Norway referred to as exploratory discussions in Oslo. The mediation bid comes after a months-long power struggle between National Assembly leader Juan Guaido and the socialist president, with sometimes deadly street clashes. Maduro on Thursday made no direct reference to the meetings, but said Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez was "on a very important mission for peace in the country... in Europe". So far details of the exact process underway in Oslo have been scant, but US-backed opposition leader Guaido -- recognized as interim president by dozens of countries -- denied on Thursday that any direct negotiations had taken place. Norway's foreign ministry said in a statement it had had "preliminary contacts with representatives of the main political actors of Venezuela."These were "part of an exploratory phase, with the aim of contributing to finding a solution to the situation in the country."Rodriguez and Miranda state governor Hector Rodriguez represented the regime in the discussions, according to media reports. The opposition said it was being represented by National Assembly vice president Stalin Gonzalez and former lawmaker Gerardo Blyde. Maduro has been shunned by much of the international community for presiding over elections widely-dismissed as a sham and the oil-rich Latin American country's economic collapse as well as for brutally suppressing dissent. Shortages of basic goods have forced millions to flee Venezuela.

Palestinian Family Say Turkish 'Suicide' Detainee Abused
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 17/2019/The body of a Palestinian who Turkish authorities said committed suicide while in jail was badly mutilated including having his tongue removed, his family said Friday. Zaki Mubarak's body was this week returned to Egypt and his family hope to bring it in the coming days to Gaza, where he originates from. Turkish authorities last month said 55-year-old Mubarak had committed suicide in prison after being accused of spying for the United Arab Emirates. His brother Zakaria, who is in Cairo, said he did not want to return his brother's body to Gaza until "we get a doctor's report showing he died due to torture and not suicide." He told AFP he had seen the body in a Cairo hospital. "His tongue was removed and there were the effects of blows to the head, a deep cut in his foot and the impact of strikes to his chest." A Turkish justice ministry official rejected the family's allegations. "The claims are baseless," the official said, declining to give more information saying the details of the case remained secret. Mubarak, a former member of the Palestinian intelligence services, left the Gaza Strip in 2007 after Islamists Hamas seized control of the enclave, his family said. He had since been based in Bulgaria and Turkey. He was arrested last month along with another alleged spy and later formally charged with "military and political" and "international espionage," according to Turkish state news agency Anadolu. Media had speculated he was allied to Mohammed Dahlan, a former ally and now rival of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas based in the UAE. Turkey has been investigating claims the two men were linked to the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist killed in the country's Istanbul consulate last year. Mubarak's family deny the allegations.

Putin Urges Tehran to Stick to Nuclear Deal

Moscow - Raed Jaber/Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 17 May, 2019/Kremlin reduced chances of US-Russia reaching agreements on the Iranian matter and said continued escalation in the region is likely. This came following talks between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Russian President Vladimir Putin, described as constructive and positive by Moscow. Meanwhile, Putin warned that Russia is not a "fire brigade" which "rescues everything,” and further urged Tehran to stick to the nuclear deal. During a joint press conference with Austrian counterpart Alexander Van der Bellen, Putin said: “I have repeatedly said during the talks with our Iranian partners that, to my mind, it would be more expedient for Iran to remain in this agreement at whatever cost.”"As soon as Iran takes its first reciprocal steps and says that it is leaving, everyone will forget by tomorrow that the US was the initiator of this collapse, Iran will be held responsible, and the global public opinion will be intentionally changed in this direction," he added. "The Americans withdrew," he continued, " the agreement is being destroyed, and European countries can do nothing to salvage it and cannot really work with Iran to compensate economic losses.""We cannot rescue everything that does not fully depend on us. We’ve played our part," Putin added as he expressed regret for the latest developments regarding the nuclear deal. For his part, Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “So far we notice the continued escalation of tensions around this subject.” "We are saddened to see the decisions taken by the Iranian side," Peskov noted while arguing that Washington has been provoking Iran, and that "there were no assurances from Pompeo." Pompeo held talks in Sochi on Tuesday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and was hosted by Putin.

Sudan: New Wave of Protests Call on Military to Hand Over Power
Khartoum- Ahmed Younes/Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 17 May, 2019/Sudanese protesters responded to the demand of the leaders of the "Declaration of Freedom and Change" by lifting the barricades and roadblocks off the main roads in Khartoum and staging a sit-in in front of the army leadership. They also called for new rallies towards the sit-in, with the aim of exerting more pressure on the Transitional Military Council (TMC) to hand over power to civilians. The demonstrators had expanded the sit-in to new areas, following the use of fire by armed forces, which led to the killing of four protesters and the injury of more than a hundred. The head of the TMC, Abdul Fattah al-Burhan, suspended negotiations with the forces of the Declaration of Freedom and Change for 72 hours, after troops wearing military uniforms used fire for the second time in two days. He said negotiations would be re-launched only after removing barricades outside the area of the sit-in, and ending what he described as a provocation of the military. In a statement broadcast on state television, Burhan accused informants of shooting at the protesters and acquitted the army forces, praising their efforts in supporting the revolution. Meanwhile, the Sudanese Professionals Gathering is planning to launch new protest rallies, starting from Khartoum and heading to the sit-in to emphasize the demand of handing over power to civilians. The opposition alliance had blamed the military rulers on Tuesday for renewed street violence complicating efforts to negotiate a handover of power to civilians after last month’s overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir.

Kuwait Says Risk of War in the Region Is High, Calls for Unity

Kuwait- Merza al-Khuwaldi/Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 17 May, 2019/Kuwaiti National Assembly Speaker Marzouq Al-Ghanim said on Thursday that the risks of war in the region were “very high,” taking into consideration the arrival of US military troops to the waters of the Gulf to face Iran.
Following a secret meeting called for by the Kuwaiti National Assembly to discuss with the government the current regional challenges, Ghanim said in a press statement that the Kuwaiti government was expecting war to erupt in the Gulf. The Speaker said that based on information revealed by the concerned ministers, the possibility was unfortunately high as the situation was alarming and going out of control. Calling on the need to abide by the instructions of Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al Sabah, Ghanim urged Kuwaitis to maintain unity in face of challenges ahead. He added that the ministries presented precautionary measures, including the Ministry of Information’s plan to raise awareness on the importance of maintaining internal stability. “The external situation is not reassuring, but internally, we believe, as we have been told, that the government’s preparations are better than before,” the speaker said. Ghanim noted that the Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah presented an overview of the regional situation and emphasized the importance of being prepared for all possibilities.“We need to act wisely and responsibly to face our external challenges,” he warned.

Gaza’s Friday Border Protests Canceled
Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 17 May, 2019/Organizers canceled the main weekly protests along the Gaza-Israel border on Friday, for only the second time in more than a year. They said a large demonstration had already been held in Gaza on Wednesday to commemorate what Palestinians call the nakba, or catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands were expelled or fled from their homes during the 1948 war surrounding the creation of Israel. "Today there are no activities in the 'return camps' in the east of the Gaza Strip, due to the high temperature and to provide a break to citizens, who held a large protest two days ago," the organizing committee said in a statement. The "march of return" demonstrations along the perimeter fence dividing Gaza and Israel have been held at least weekly since March 2018, with the backing of Gaza's Hamas rulers. Friday protests were canceled just once before -- after a flare-up between Israel and Hamas in March. Protesters have been demanding an end to Israel's more than decade-old blockade of Gaza and the right for Palestinian refugees to return to ancestral lands now inside Israel. At least 293 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the protests began, the majority during the protests.

2 Former Algerian PMs, 4 ex-Ministers Questioned in Corruption Cases
Algiers - Boualem Goumrassa/Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 17 May, 2019/A civil court in Algiers has summoned former prime ministers Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Salal and four ex-cabinet ministers in corruption cases. Ouyahia and Salal were seen on Thursday arriving at the court of Sidi Mhamed in a case linked to jailed businessman Ali Haddad. Haddad has good ties with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who resigned in April. Later Thursday, former Algerian commerce, transportation, finance and water resources ministers Amara Ben Younes, Amar Tou, Karim Joudi and Nassib Hussein, were seen arriving at the court, in addition to the former governor of the capital Abdelkader Zoukh, who was dismissed last month. According to observers, Haddad has told investigators how he has acquired his wealth, becoming one of Algeria's top businessmen, implicating several regime figures. Media reports said that other ministers would also be summoned to court. The Algerian judiciary has launched a series of investigations into corruption cases against powerful businessmen and senior government officials after Bouteflika’s departure from power following mass protests. Separately, the military court in Blida summoned on Thursday former head of Algeria's constitutional council Tayeb Belaiz to question him for his connections with prominent state figures, who are in detention pending trial. A Supreme Court judge told Asharq Al-Awsat that Belaiz was questioned over his contacts with Said Bouteflika, the powerful brother of the deposed president. The constitutional council is tasked with vetting election candidates, as well as ensuring the regularity of the polls. Belaiz has served as a minister for 16 years and was appointed head of the constitutional council for the second time on February 2.

Yemen's Legitimacy Accuses Houthis, UN Envoy Office of Thwarting Jordan Meetings

Aden - Ali Rabih/Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 17 May, 2019/Yemeni government representatives have accused the Houthi militias of paralyzing a new round of talks that ended in Amman this week without an agreement on the revenues of the ports in Hodeidah.  In parallel, the head of the government representatives in the Redeployment Coordination Committee, Major General Saghir bin Aziz, lashed out at UN Envoy Martin Griffiths over his report to the Security Council, in which he praised the militias and their leader Abdel-Malak al-Houthi. In a series of tweets, Bin Aziz accused the insurgents of hindering the implementation of the Stockholm Agreement, which was struck between the warring sides in Sweden last December, and said militia leaders ended discussions on prisoners exchange, ruined the Taiz understandings and rejected all options for true redeployment in Hodeidah. He revealed that the Houthis have not withdrawn, as Griffiths reported. “All the Yemeni people are aware of this fact,” he said. “All what (the Houthis) did was to allow a conditional access by the United Nations to the ports.” He went on to say: “Griffiths is seeking to save the Houthis and is trying to impose them on the Yemeni people and legitimize their presence by any means.”He added that the UN envoy “supports the presence of militias and tries to protect them.”Meanwhile, the head of the technical office and member of the Yemeni government delegation to the Sweden consultations, Mohammed al-Omrani, said that the Houthi militias and the Office of the UN envoy were responsible for the failure of the negotiations that took place in Amman, starting last Tuesday, on the mechanism of implementation of the provisions of the Hodeidah deal. He added that the militias hindered the opportunity to reach an agreement. In remarks on Thursday, Al-Omrani said that the meeting called for by the UN envoy was aimed at implementing the mechanism of the deal’s economic clause, with regards to collecting the revenues from Hodeidah’s three ports and depositing them in the Central Bank. But he noted that the government delegation was surprised after the other party, in coordination with Griffiths, discussed issues that were far from the meeting’s initial goal. The Yemeni official strongly criticized the mechanism adopted by the UN envoy’s office, describing it as “incorrect and incompatible with the agreements.”

Iraqi Airways Resumes Flights to Syria
Baghdad - Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 17 May, 2019/Iraq's national carrier is to resume flights to the Syrian capital for the first time since the war there erupted in 2011, a spokesman said Thursday. Iraqi Airways will operate a weekly service from Baghdad to Damascus starting Saturday, spokesman Layth al-Rubaie told Agence France Presse. The Syrian transport ministry welcomed the decision in a statement on its official Facebook page. Rubaie said the last flight from Baghdad to Damascus took place in December 2011, before the service was suspended due to the conflict that erupted in Syria that year.

Italian PM Meets Haftar, Reiterates Need for Ceasefire
Asharq Al-Awsat/Thursday, 16 May, 2019/Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte met on Thursday with visiting Libyan National Army chief Khalifa Haftar. "Prime Minister Conte reiterated the need to agree to a ceasefire as soon as possible to avoid a humanitarian crisis in the country and safeguard the already difficult conditions of the Libyan people," his office said following the talks in Rome. A French presidential source told Reuters that French President Emmanuel Macron will meet Haftar in the middle of next week to discuss how to resume peace talks in Libya. Macron last week called for a ceasefire in the month-long battle for Libya's capital Tripoli after meeting the head of the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), Fayez al-Sarraj. "They will discuss the situation in Libya, the conditions for a return to political dialogue following the visit of Sarraj and in co-ordination with the United Nations and partners," the source said.

Egyptian Forces Kill Dozens of Militants in North Sinai

Asharq Al-Awsat/Asharq Al-Awsat/Thursday, 16 May, 2019/Egyptian security forces have killed 47 militants in operations in the restive northern Sinai Peninsula recently, the military said on Thursday. Five military personnel were also killed, the armed forces said, without specifying where those deaths took place. The figures covered the "last period", the military said. The statement, which was released by military spokesman Tamer al-Rifai, said the army had found 385 explosive devices and had carried out controlled explosions, but did not specify the locations. The armed forces say hundreds of militants have been killed since the military launched a large campaign in February 2018 aimed at defeating ISIS or related militant groups in the Sinai peninsula.

Statement by Minister of Foreign Affairs on International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia

May 17, 2019 - Ottawa, Ontario - Global Affairs Canada
The Honourable Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs, today issued the following statement:
“On the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, Canada stands with everyone who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, two-spirit [LGBTQ2] or intersex. In Canada, we are working to create an inclusive society where everyone can feel safe and have their most fundamental rights protected.
“Canada has been honoured to play a leading role in global LGBTQ2 and intersex advocacy efforts over the past two years as co-chair of the Equal Rights Coalition along with Chile, and we are looking forward to working with the United Kingdom and Argentina, the incoming co-chairs. Canada is fortunate to be able to count on a vibrant LGBTQ2 and intersex community, including strong civil society organizations that have been at the heart of the progress made in the country in regards to LGBTQ2 and intersex rights.
“Too many countries continue to introduce or retain laws and policies that actively discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, two-spirit and intersex persons. We categorically reject any claims that such laws and practices can be justified. Today and every day, Canada condemns all forms of intolerance against LGBTQ2 individuals and communities worldwide.
“We applaud the countries that have enacted legislation that protects the rights of LGBTQ2 and intersex people and have put in place progressive human rights agendas. On the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, Canada reaffirms its commitment to promoting respect for the equal rights and inherent dignity of all persons.”

Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on May 17-18/19
Tehran Apologists Should Change their Tune
Amir Taheri/Asharq Al Awsat/May 17/2019
One of the problems with a dispassionate discussion of matters related to Iran today is that the issue has become too ideological to allow rational, not to say clinical, examination. Taking part in a televised panel the other evening to discuss the “sabotage” of four ships in the UAE port of Fujairah I noted that there was as yet no evidence to show who had been behind the operation. At the same time, I noted that a leading daily in Tehran had urged the launching of precisely such operations just a day before the Fujairah attack.
Needless to say I was attacked on all sides. Some claimed that by suggesting there was no evidence regarding the authorship of the attack, I was trying to whitewash the mullahs. Others claimed that by reminding people that such an operation had been urged in the daily Kayhan, representing the views of “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei, meant that I wished to incriminate Tehran to please “American warmongers.”
In a series of subsequent media programs, a range of personalities, including two former British ambassadors to Tehran, appeared as apologists for the mullahs while two former British defense and foreign secretaries spoke as if they had solid evidence that Tehran was involved.
On the one had we have those who, not always without reason, are suspicious of anything remotely connected with Islam, even if that connection is spurious. On the other there are those who see the Khomeinists on the side of angels simply because they are, or pretend to be, anti-American, even if their anti-Americanism is little more than a pose.
In his twisted carpet-merchant’s style, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif has acknowledged that. He says that if anyone notices the Islamic Republic it is because its leaders are or pretend to be anti-American. In other words, anti-Americanism upgrades a ramshackle and incompetent regime that is visibly incapable of running a kebab-shop let alone a modern developing society. Zarif says that without anti-Americanism we would, at best, “be something like Pakistan”. And, he adds, who cares about Pakistan?
I am inclined to think that the British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn agreed to work for the Revolutionary Guard television not only for money but mainly because Iran is anti-American, exactly the same reason that turned him into a mouthpiece for the Venezuelan regime.
At the other end of the spectrum we have France’s Marine Le Pen who, her dislike of all things Islamic notwithstanding, acts as an apologist for the mullahs because they are anti-American and, as a bonus, also hate the Jews.
In the United States, the whole thing is more complicated. The Islamic Republic has become the cause-celebre of the Democrat Party and the bete-noire of the Republicans.
At a private dinner in London the other night we listened to one of the US Democrat Party’s grand seigneurs repeating almost word-by-word the nonsense that the mullahs mouth every day in justifying their weird behavior. What mattered to the grand seigneur was that the mullahs were challenging Donald J Trump, the common foe.
Not surprisingly, all Iran-controlled and financed lobbies in the US have been reorganized as campaigning tools to help drive Trump out of the White House.
Where preferring the mullahs to the Americans seems difficult, the trick is to cast the former as peace-lovers and the latter as warmongers. Thus Trump, his National Security Adviser John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Brian Hook, the man supervising the Iran dossier, are depicted as the four horsemen of the Apocalypse while Khamenei and his cohorts are portrayed as messengers of peace and harmony.
Federica Mogherini, the lady who acts as the European Union’s foreign policy spokesperson, whatever that means, never tires of pretending that the mullahs’ aggressive behavior is due to American “bullying.”
Well, let’s go back to Fujairah. I still don’t know for sure who did the sabotage. But here is what Kayhan advised before the event: “Our solution is clear. In response to the cost of economic sanctions imposed on us we have to impose costs on the other side so that this war is no longer one-sided…. We have a free hand in striking economic blows at the enemy. America’s allies in the region, that is to say Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, are heavily dependent on two things: oil and the glass towers they have built around the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea… We must absolutely, hit the vital vein of those two countries, that is to say their oil exports. And we can do this in the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. Such an operation will, without a doubt, force Saudi and Emirati leaders to seek peace with Iran.”
And here is how the Revolutionary Guards news agency Tasnim’s news director Amin Arabshahi jubilated about the Fujairah attack immediately after the incident: “The port of Fujairah, the only vital route for exporting Saudi and Emirati oil, has been set on fire. Only a few steps away from the Strait of Hurmuz, the sons of Resistance have opened fire. Those who trade in fear should know that the war has been going on for years and we are heading for its final phase.”
Corbyn, Mogherini, John Kerry and other apologists for the mullahs should consider this. It is not enough to be anti-American or even anti-Trump to be automatically classed on the side of the angels. It is possible to be anti-American and anti-Trump and yet be a thoroughly obnoxious oppressor of the people and warmonger.
Apologists for the Tehran’s antediluvian regime do not necessarily do it a service. By justifying its destructive behavior, they encourage the continuation of policies that have led the Islamic Republic into a deadly impasse which, if not breached, could lead to something worse. True friends of the Islamic Republic, if not of Iran as a nation, should tell the mullahs to dismount their high horses and understand that they cannot gallop around imitating Saddam Hussein without suffering consequences.

The Threshold of America’s Escalation Against Iran
Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Al Awsat/May 16/2019
The build-up of the US military might in the Gulf region is supposed to be taken seriously; as there has been big changes both in the Middle East and in Washington’s calculations of foreign and internal policies. Indeed, any observer of American politics realizes the strong interconnection between foreign and internal policies. Even if one regards the relationship between Israel and any US administration as a foreign policy issue – as it should be, the reality of balancing interest networks and election considerations makes Washington’s support to any Israeli prime minister, any time, a strategic policy that transcends party lines. Interest networks and election considerations have been the main reason, even when Washington’s policies became indistinguishable from Tel Aviv’s, to the extent foreign and internal policies became one.
Far less, of course, was the bilateral agreement under the previous US administration, which not only chose to downgrade its relations with America’s Arab allies, but also turned away from the US strategic principles in order to rewrite its regional alliances. In this respect, the efforts of Barack Obama’s administrations concentrated on rapprochement with Iran, and cooperation with what Obama regarded as the moderate wing within ‘Political Islam’; but still, it was significant that warm US-Israel relations were terribly shaken while Obama’s negotiators were putting the final touches on a ‘nuclear deal’ whose sponsors intentionally ignored what was taking place on the ground.
Some people may say that ignoring Iranian expansion within the Arab world was intentional; so was ignoring the boasts of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) that “Tehran now controls four Arab capitals”. Moreover, such an attitude was not limited to the Obama administration that was extremely keen on normalizing relations with Tehran, but it was shared by the Israeli leadership which may have expected great benefits from Iran’s escalation, as well as sowing the seeds of sectarian and ethnic conflict throughout the Arab world.
The policies of the Obama administration, and its ‘cold’ approaches, also sent indirect messages of encouragement to Russia, which gained enough confidence in its ability to reclaim its old spheres of influence during the Soviet era. The Russians, who claimed to have been marginalized in Libya, went on to make impressive gains in both former Soviet territories (including Crimea and the Ukraine) and the Arab Middle East after the collapse of Obama’s non-existing ‘red lines’ to Bashar al-Assad.
With regard to Iran too, Russia has been free to maneuver at will. Its joint success in turning the Syrian popular uprising into an open ‘war’, hiding behind the excuse of ‘fighting terrorism’, has enhanced its negotiating and bartering positions with the US all over the Middle East.
The election of Donald Trump, with a political agenda that contradicts his Democratic opponents, was seen from the start as a sign of a radical shift in Washington’s policies in the Middle East. In fact, before the emergence of doubts about Moscow’s interests in Trump’s victory, and advances of the radical populist Right on Europe, many became convinced that the ‘US-Iran honeymoon’ was about to end.
True to form, as time went by, distinct differences appeared between Washington’s current and previous administrations’ approaches and reactions towards Turkey, Israel and Iran.
In Turkey’s case, Washington’s previous strident support of the Kurds, east of the Euphrates, slowed down a bit to the relief of Ankara; although the stances that have since been taken by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have not allowed for a positive new page.
As for Israel, the relations have been significantly strengthened, to the extent of moving the US embassy to occupied Jerusalem and unceremoniously recognizing Syria’s occupied Golan Heights as ‘Israeli territory’.
An even greater qualitative American shift was made in Washington’s Iranian policy. This shift included a series of escalations against the Tehran regime, beginning with its withdrawal from the nuclear deal (officially known as JCPOA), and tightening the noose of economic sanctions against Iran.
Today, the Gulf region is witnessing a serious US military build-up and mobilization that is being read, by many, as a stern warning to the Iranian leadership, with the intention of forcing it to curtail its regional ambitions. This has, actually, been taking place against the backdrop of several announcements by Trump’s officials, the latest by James Jeffrey, the US Special Representative for Syria Engagement, which confirmed that Washington was not seeking anything other than ‘changing Iran’s behaviour’, including the withdrawal of Iranian troops from Syria.
Jeffrey explained that the US wanted to see Russia support UNSCR 2254 and use its influence to guarantee the withdrawal of pro-Iranian forces from Syria. “We see no reason for the Iranians to stay in Syria once this war ends,” he stated.
Jeffrey also said that only Russia could help the US to remove the Iranians from Syria. “The United States will not use military force to get the Iranians out of Syria,” he added.
Finally, as for the fate of Bashar Assad, the US envoy emphasized that his country’s goal was not to remove Assad. “We will be happy if he leaves and declares his departure voluntarily; but this is not our goal. Our goal is a different Syria that does not threaten its people or neighbors, does not use chemical weapons, does not expel refugees and displace people from its territory, and does not provide Iran with a platform to launch rockets against Israel,” he noted.
Given the above, we may have to conclude the following:
1- There is no US-Russia disagreement on what Russian troops are doing in Syria.
2- Washington is now keen to get the Iranians out of the ‘new Syria’ after settling the Golan issue in Israel’s favor, as part the tacit regional and international agreement on the de facto, if not the de Jure partition of Syria.
3- The visions of US and Israel of a new Middle East have never been closer.
4- Washington does not mind that the Tehran regime remains in power if it is willing to negotiate and co-exist under certain conditions; which means that it still refuses to link the expansionism of Iran to the ‘chemistry’ of its regime.

Why Palestinians Oppose Economic Prosperity
Bassam Tawil/Gatestone Institute/May 17/2019
To advance his goal, Ashraf Jabari recently announced the establishment of a new party that calls for focusing on economic prosperity for Palestinians. The Reform and Development Party seeks to solve the economic problems of the Palestinians, particularly high unemployment, he said. "We have an army of university graduates who are unemployed. We've reached a situation where a young [Palestinian] man holding a Master's degree in law has to work as a street vendor because he can't find work."
Instead of giving Jabari a chance to carry out his initiative, Palestinians have waged a massive smear campaign against him, with many denouncing him as a "traitor" and "collaborator" with Israel and Jews. Some Palestinians have even gone as far as calling for his arrest or execution.
The upcoming peace plan, according to various reports, talks about giving the Palestinians billions of dollars and raising money for them from wealthy Arab countries. Yet, as Jabari's case makes clear, the Palestinians are less invested in gaining economic stability than they are in hating Israel.
For Palestinians, the financial aid is a cynical attempt to lure them away from their struggle against Israel -- and no Palestinian leader has the stomach to face the threats that Jabari is currently confronting. So, far from any "deal of the century," the Palestinian leaders long ago struck a dirty deal of their own: they put their stock in Israel-hatred rather than in their own people.
Ashraf Jabari, a 45-year-old Palestinian businessman from the West Bank city of Hebron, recently launched a new economic initiative with some of his Jewish friends, to advance joint entrepreneurship between Israelis and Palestinians there.
In most normal societies, a businessman who seeks to improve the living conditions of his people by boosting the economy and creating job opportunities for the unemployed -- including a host of jobless university graduates -- is treated with respect. The Palestinians, however, do not seem to belong to those societies.
Ashraf Jabari is a 45-year-old businessman from the West Bank city of Hebron. A member of a large Palestinian clan in the city, Jabari believes in economic cooperation and peaceful coexistence with his Jewish neighbors, including settlers living in the West Bank.
Earlier this year, Jabari and some of his Jewish friends launched a new economic initiative to advance joint entrepreneurship between Israelis and Palestinians there.
"We are working on taking down borders, and both Israelis and Palestinians need to take part in this," Jabari explained. "We need to breach this wall. We must first create good links and good relationships not just in the West Bank, but all over Israel so we can achieve our desired goal."
To advance his goal, Jabari recently announced the establishment of a new party that calls for focusing on economic prosperity for Palestinians:
The Reform and Development Party, he said, seeks to solve the economic problems of the Palestinians, including high unemployment. "We have an army of university graduates who are unemployed," he said. "We've reached a situation where a young [Palestinian] man holding a Master's degree in law has to work as a street vendor because he can't find work."
One would expect a message like that to be welcomed by Palestinians. Here is a man who is talking about helping his people put food on their tables. Here is a man who is saying: "Let's put aside our political differences and focus on ways of achieving economic stability for our people."
Instead of giving Jabari a chance to carry out his initiative, Palestinians have waged a massive smear campaign against him, with many denouncing him as a "traitor" and "collaborator" with Israel and Jews. Some Palestinians have even gone as far as calling for his arrest or execution.
The campaign against the Palestinian businessman reached its peak on May 13, after he hosted at his home several Jews for the Ramadan break-the-fast meal, Iftar. It is not unusual for Muslims to host non-Muslims for the Iftar meal. In this instance, however, Jabari seems to have invited the "wrong" guests: Jews.
As soon as photos of the Ramadan meal appeared in various media outlets, many angry Palestinians took to social media to voice their strong condemnation of Jabari.
In the face of the widespread protests and resentment, Jabari's clan was forced publicly to denounce and disown him. "Ashraf Jabari is a criminal, and he doesn't enter the Palestinian Authority-controlled territories," said Arif Rubin Jabari, a leader of the clan. "Our family already disowned this fraud back in 2002. He doesn't represent anyone from our clan or Hebron."
The clan leader further claimed that Israel was "using Jabari to carry out its suspicious schemes against Palestinians." He called on Palestinian Authority officials to "study Israel's attempt to give prominence to Jabari by presenting him as an alternative to the current Palestinian leadership."
The clan's public denunciation of Jabari, however, has failed to placate many Palestinians, who are now calling for severely punishing the him for his words and deeds.
The Palestinian news website Wattan, based in Ramallah, the de facto capital of the Palestinians, called for bringing Jabari to trial for treason. "The [Palestinian] security services must act immediately to arrest him," Wattan said in an article published on its website.
"According to Article 135 of the Revolutionary Penal Code of the PLO (1979), the punishment for treason is prison with hard labor. The law states that anyone who offers accommodation, food or clothes to an enemy soldier or a spy or helps him escape, should be punished. Dozens of spies have already been punished in accordance with this law. Article 140 of the same law stipulates the death sentence for anyone who serves as an informant for the enemy. Indeed, many spies have been executed."
Judging from the reactions of the Palestinians, they are angry with Jabari mainly for two reasons: engaging in "normalization" with Israelis and promoting the idea of "economic peace." The Palestinians' "anti-normalization" movement is strongly opposed to any form of relations with Israel -- including sports and cultural events. Now, it seems that they are even opposed to seeing Palestinians and Jews eating together.
Jabari offended many Palestinians because he dared to invite his Jewish friends to the Ramadan meal at his home.
Moreover, his talk about "economic prosperity" for Palestinians has turned him into a public enemy. How dare the man discuss seeking ways to improve the living conditions of his people and create jobs for the unemployed?
In the eyes of many Palestinians, the struggle against Israel should be paramount, even if they have to eat and drink that struggle instead of the food they could buy through engaging in economic initiatives such as those proposed by Jabari.
Had Jabari joined Hamas or Islamic Jihad, or one of the anti-Israel organizations in the West Bank, he would have been idolized. Had he called for boycotting Israel rather than working -- and eating -- with them, he would have been lauded among his people and his clan.
In light of the uproar sparked by the Palestinian businessman's actions and statements, it is safe to assume that his new party will never succeed in winning the hearts and minds of Palestinians. It's also hard to see how any of the economic enterprises he's talking about will ever materialize.
The unprecedented campaign of hate and intimidation against Jabari comes weeks before the US administration rolls out its long-awaited plan for peace in the Middle East, also known as the "deal of the century."
The upcoming peace plan, according to various reports, talks about giving the Palestinians billions of dollars and raising money for them from wealthy Arab countries. Yet, as Jabari's case makes clear, the Palestinians are less invested in gaining economic stability than they are in hating Israel.
For Palestinians, the financial aid is a cynical attempt to lure them away from their struggle against Israel -- and no Palestinian leader has the stomach to face the threats that Jabari is currently confronting. So, far from any "deal of the century," the Palestinian leaders long ago struck a dirty deal of their own: they put their stock in Israel-hatred rather than in their own people.
*Bassam Tawil is a Muslim Arab based in the Middle East.
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Radical Islam’s Existential Threat to Christianity Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
Raymond Ibrahim/May 17/2019
Note: The following report originally appeared on CBN News:
Middle Eastern Christians have endured a long and violent history at the hands of radical Muslims.
At the turn of the 20th century, Christians made up 20 percent of the population in the Middle East. Today, that number is only 3-5 percent.
“Christians have been harassed in more countries than any other religious group and have suffered harassment in many of the heavily Muslim countries of the Middle East and North Africa,” says the Pew Research Center’s Katayoun Kishi. Related
By 2050, it is estimated Christians will compose 3 percent or less of the population of the Middle East with Muslims becoming 94%.
Middle East specialist and author Raymond Ibrahim argues that “for centuries Islam has been literally and figuratively erasing Christianity.”
He points to a recent discovery by French scholar Dr Eléonore Cellard of an eighth-century manuscript of the Qur’an, which was written over a copy of the Old Testament.
Cellard noticed that behind the Arabic writing of the Qur’an were faint Coptic letters from Deuteronomy.
“This is a very important discovery for the history of the Qur’an and early Islam. We have here a witness of cultural interactions between different religious communities,” Cellard told The Guardian.
Ibrahim argues those cultural interactions were persecution.
“What is euphemistically referred to as ‘cultural interactions between different religious communities’ and ‘the contact between communities in the first centuries of Islam’ is a reference to the near cultural annihilation of Coptic Christian civilization by Islam on the former’s own homeland,” he writes.
John Nikiu, a Coptic bishop who was eyewitness to the Muslim invasion of Egypt in the seventh century, said Egypt’s Muslim conquerors viewed “the servants of Christ as enemies of Allah” and gave detailed accounts of Christian persecution at the hands of radical Muslims.
Nikiu concludes his bloody account by saying, “But let us now say no more, for it is impossible to describe the horrors the Muslims committed.”
Ibrahim points to other Coptic chroniclers who also described the events.
“The dead were cast out into the streets and market-places, like fish which the water throws up on the land, because they found none to bury them; and some of the people devoured human flesh” from starvation, writes the chronicler Severus Ibn al-Muqaffa (d.987).
Ibrahim documents the persecution of Egyptian Christians centuries ago in a new book, Sword and Scimitar.
That persecution continues today.
Over the last 30 years, more than one million Coptic Christians have left Egypt due to widespread attacks, church bombings, and kidnappings at the hands to radical Muslims. The same is true for many Christians and other religious minorities in the region….

Missiles in the Desert
جوناثن سبير/صحيفة الجيرازولم بوست: إيران نصت صواريخ في غرب العراق موجهة ضد إسرائيل
Jerusalem Post/Jonathan Spyer/May 17/2019

Evidence grows that Iran is stationing missiles directed at Israel with its client militias in western Iraq
In a speech delivered on May 9, Sheikh Akram al-Kaabi, Secretary General of the Hizballah Nujaba movement in Iraq, delivered a series of threats against Israel. Hizballah Nujaba is an Iran supported Shia militia. It is affiliated with the Popular Mobilization Forces, or Hashd al-Shaabi, which is a gathering of mainly Shia, mainly pro-Iran military groups. Al-Kaabi’s speech is by itself of only passing interest. But it is an indication of the growing involvement of Teheran’s Iraqi servants in Iran’s preparations for conflict with Israel – and not only on the verbal level.
In his speech, al-Kaabi accused Israel of supporting ‘Takfiri’ organizations – the Shia militias’ and Iran’s preferred term for Sunni groups such as ISIS. The Takfiri groups, al-Kaabi said, wage a ‘proxy war’ on behalf of the ‘Zionist entity’, so that it may ‘enjoy peace, while its proxies are killing the Muslims.’ The Shia militia leader pledged that after the ‘Takfiri’ groups were defeated, the goal of his organization would be to ‘completely end (the Zionist entity’s) existence, and restore the land to its rightful owners.‘
This is not the first time that al-Kaabi has expressed himself in this manner. On February 13, 2018, the Nujaba leader visited Beirut, and pledged that his movement would ‘stand with the axis of resistance’ in a future conflict with Israel. On March 8, 2017, al-Kaabi announced the formation of the ‘Golan Liberation Brigade,’ intended to take part in a future war against Israel on the Golan.
From one point of view, al-Kaabi’s words might seem somewhat pretentious – coming as they do from the leader of a force of around 9000 lightly armed militiamen. It is indeed unlikely that his threats will cause the commanders of the IDF’s 210th Bashan Division on the Golan Heights any sleepless nights just yet.
Nevertheless, the Nujaba leader’s latest comments reflect a deeper reality – namely, that the land area encompassing Iraq, Syria and Lebanon today constitutes a single arena from an Iranian operational point of view. Al-Kaabi’s controllers, in the Qods Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), have freedom of action in each of these areas, and operate a coordinated strategy across their entirety. This strategy involves the centralized coordination and use of the many political and military elements which the Iranians have established across this space and which they sponsor.
This is a new situation for Israel. Addressing it requires a broadening of focus, and paying closer attention to players and geographical areas formerly of only peripheral interest. Conversations with Israeli officials suggest that this widening of the lens of observation is taking place.
In this regard, an article published this week by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy is worthy of close attention. The piece, authored by IDF Brigadier-General (Res) Assaf Orion and veteran Iraq analyst Michael Knights focuses on indications that Iran is making use of its Iraqi militia clients to deploy short range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) in the deserts of western Iraq – with the intention that these could be launched against Israel at a time of Iran’s choosing.
These indications are of particular relevance given the current high level of tension in the Persian Gulf.
Knights and Orion’s article is not the first public airing of Iranian activity in this regard. A Reuters report on August 31, 2018 was the first to note the concerns of US and Israeli intelligence agencies. The article detailed the transfer by the IRGC’s Qods Force of Zelzal, Fateh-110 and Zolfaqar missiles and launchers to western Iraq. The Zolfaqar has a claimed range of 750 km – putting Tel Aviv within its range if it was deployed in this area. The distance from al-Qaim on the Iraqi Syrian border to Tel Aviv is 632 km.
Teheran has also established facilities for missile production in western Iraq, and is employing Iraqi citizens to carry out this work. The Reuters article named the areas where production is taking place as ‘al-Zafaraniya, east of Baghdad, and Jurf al-Sakhar, north of Kerbala.‘
Knights and Orion re-focus on this developing story, offering substantial new details. Specifically, the article names three militias as among the recipients of Iranian ‘long range artillery rockets’ – the aforementioned Hizballah al-Nujaba, Ktaeb Hizballah, and the Badr Organization.
The article notes that ‘These Shia proxies have reportedly developed exclusive use of secure bases in the provinces of Diyala (e.g., Camp Ashraf), Salah al-Din (Camp Speicher), Baghdad (Jurf al-Sakhar), Karbala (Razzaza), and Wasit (Suwayrah).’
The authors also point out that in ‘Iraqi, US and Israeli’ intelligence circles it is widely accepted that the ‘militias have developed a line of communication and control to Iran through Diyala, allowing them to import missiles and equipment without government approval or knowledge.’
The ability of Iran to operate a de facto contiguous line of control across Iraq, and thence to Syria, Lebanon and the borders with the Golan Heights is thus not under serious doubt. It appears that Teheran has begun to station SRBMs along this route, directed at Israel, and crewed by the Qods force-directed militia franchises – an arrangement intended to provide Iran with deniability in the event of their being used.
The latest episodes at the Fujairah port in the UAE and the Aramco East-West pipeline in Saudi Arabia this week suggest that Iran intends to follow a strategy precisely of deniability and use of proxies in its attempts to hit back at US efforts to contain and roll back Iranian advances of recent years. Israel is not outside of this circle. As an un-named Iranian official quoted by Reuters put it: ‘If America attacks us, our friends will attack America’s interests and its allies in the region.”
It may be assumed that relevant Israeli agencies take careful note of threats of this kind, along with the more florid pronunciations of such figures as Akram al-Kaabi. These are not mere chatter . In the remote deserts of western Iraq, Iran’s servants are busily at work preparing a new front against Israel.

Iran may take Trump up on his offer to talk
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/May 16/2019

Several TV outlets and newspapers controlled by the Iranian government this week put significant emphasis on US President Donald Trump’s call for negotiations with the Islamic Republic.
This was a totally unexpected message for the Iranian leaders. Trump stated in remarks to reporters at the White House: “What I’d like to see with Iran, I’d like to see them call me… What they should be doing is calling me up, sitting down; we can make a deal, a fair deal… We’re not looking to hurt Iran.” He added: “I want them to be strong and great and have a great economy. But they should call, and if they do, we’re open to talk to them.”
To Iran’s surprise, the White House even passed a phone number to Swiss officials in Tehran in order to give to the Iranian government in case it wanted to call the president directly.
The Trump administration is likely carrying out the carrot and stick approach, combining rewards and pressure, in order to hopefully change Iran’s aggressive policies and induce constructive behavior from Tehran.
The US this month deployeda Patriot missile battery, the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier, the USS Leyte Gulf guided missile cruiser, Carrier Air Wing Seven, and destroyers from Destroyer Squadron Two to the Middle East in order to deter the Iranian regime from carrying out its threats, which include closing the Strait of Hormuz, through which roughly a thirdof the world’s traded oil passes.
Gen. Ali Reza Tangsiri, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) navy, was last month quoted by the semi-official Tasnim News Agency as saying: “If we are banned from using it (the Strait of Hormuz), we will close it.” In addition, the US has reportedly received credible intelligence that Iran is planning to attack US bases and forces in the Middle East through its militias and proxies.
How did Iran portray Trump’s announcement that Tehran should call him? The regime attempted to show that the US president’s call for negotiations was a sign of weakness on the side of the White House. Iranian leaders are trying to project power and appease its proxies and hard-line base.
History has shown us that, whenever the Iranian regime is under significant pressure, it has resorted to negotiations.
Meanwhile, some state-controlled newspapers arguedthat Trump is seeking to negotiate in a bid to achieve an important foreign policy objective and utilize it to win his bid for re-election in November 2020.
Putting Tehran’s rhetoric aside, the key question is whether or not the Iranian leaders will respond to Trump’s statement and give him a call. The theocratic establishment will, more than likely, contact the White House for two critical reasons. Firstly, history has shown us that, whenever the Iranian regime is under significant pressure economically and geopolitically, it has resorted to negotiations and bilateral talks. This is due to the fact that financial austerity can pose a threat to the ruling clerics. In addition, the loss of revenues makes it extremely difficult for Tehran to continue supporting, training, sponsoring, funding and arming its proxies and militias across the region.
For example, during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic reached their peak, as four rounds of UN Security Council sanctions crippled the regime’s economy. This led to a new era of negotiations between the Islamic Republic and the US and the other members of the P5+1 (Germany, the UK, China, Russia and France). If it was not for the green light given by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to the so-called moderate administration of Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president would have not pursued the negotiations. This is because Iran’s supreme leader and the IRGC’s senior cadre enjoy the final say in critical matters regarding both domestic and foreign policies.
As a result of the negotiations, the Iranian government received billions of dollars in revenues thanks to sanctions relief, joined the global financial system, gained legitimacy, and secured and ensured its hold on power. Now, however, as Rouhani has admitted, the Islamic Republic is facing the worst economic crisis since its establishment. The second reason behind the belief that Iran will most likely call the White House is the fact that Tehran will view this as an opportunity to buy time. The Iranian leaders believe Trump is unlikely to get re-elected in 2020 and, if they can stall until another president — this time from the Democratic Party — assumes office, they believe they can weather the storm.
In a nutshell, Iran is facing its worst economic crisis since 1979. As a result, the regime will likely reach out to Trump in order to buy time until the US presidential elections in 2020.
*Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman, and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh

2019 Zeev Schiff Memorial Lecture on Middle East Security
Israeli Security Today: Facing Multiple Challenges on Multiple Fronts

Gadi Eizenkot/The Washington Institute/May 17, 2019
The IDF's former top general discusses Russia’s role in advancing security goals in Syria, ongoing Israeli concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the humanitarian imperative of keeping a lid on Hamas and Hezbollah, and more.
On May 15, The Washington Institute hosted the 2019 Zeev Schiff Memorial Lecture on Middle East Security, delivered by former IDF chief of staff and current Institute military fellow Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot. The following is a rapporteur’s summary of his remarks.
There are four main security threats facing Israel at the moment: (1) the nonconventional threat, whether coming from Iran or in the form of chemical weapons wielded by hostile actors, (2) the conventional threat of war, (3) the sub-conventional threat posed by fundamentalists in the region, and (4) the cyber threat. Over the past few years, the top priority of the Israel Defense Forces has been Iran’s vision for achieving nuclear capabilities, and, indeed, the 2015 nuclear deal marked a turning point. When agreeing to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the Iranians understood that it would be difficult to continue with their activities. Yet while they approved the deal due to tactical considerations, their quest for nuclear weapons continues. Israel has remained committed to preventing that outcome, but the IDF has simultaneously been able to focus on Syria, Lebanon, and the Palestinian arena.
A key aspect of Iran’s plan to achieve hegemony in the Middle East is its entrenchment in Syria. So far, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force has built intelligence positions along the border between Syria and Israel, with similar plans to deploy air force capabilities. Over the past three years, the IDF has successfully conducted an ongoing campaign against Iranian activity in Syria, but there is an opportunity to improve international cooperation on this threat.
Another key security challenge is Hezbollah and its intention to infiltrate Israel in collaboration with the Qods Force. This is an offensive plan that aims to occupy a part of the Galilee and fire large numbers of rockets and missiles. Over the past four years, Israel gathered enough intelligence to identify Hezbollah’s tunnel network and destroy the entirety of this infrastructure via Operation Northern Shield several months ago. But while the border between Israel and Lebanon has been quiet since 2006, a potential next war with Hezbollah would be very difficult for both sides. To be sure, it would be shorter than the previous Lebanon war, and Israel would achieve its mission. But the IDF must still do everything possible to avoid war for the sake of both populations.
In the Palestinian arena, Hamas continually threatens Israel with terrorist attacks, and a sensitive situation has developed within the Palestinian Authority. The IDF and other Israeli apparatuses are looking to provide security, prevent terrorism, and separate terrorists from the general population, particularly by maintaining cooperation with Palestinian security forces. President Mahmoud Abbas understands the need for cooperation, since without it there would be constant clashes. While something comprehensive between Israel and the Palestinians in the near future seems farfetched, Israel should take steps to stabilize and foster cooperation.
In Gaza, terrorism continues along the border with Israel. These are not demonstrations; there is an intense, aggressive energy spurred by Hamas efforts to infiltrate Israel. The two sides have gone through several rounds of rocket fire and other hostilities lately, making Gaza the most explosive front Israel faces. The main objective is to deter Hamas and improve the security situation, in addition to promoting a long-term ceasefire and bringing Israeli civilians and soldiers captured by Hamas home. Israel has made significant efforts to stabilize the situation in Gaza by supporting economic development. Ultimately, Israel’s interest is to see a different atmosphere in the West Bank and Gaza.
Another mission for the IDF is to combat Islamic State elements in the Middle East. The U.S.-led operation against the group achieved decisive victory in Iraq and Syria, but the Islamic State as a phenomenon remains.
Israel has gone five years without a major conflict or war. At the same time, it now faces as many as four interlinked and potentially explosive fronts. In the past, the military was alternately either preparing for war or fighting war. In recent years, however, the IDF has developed the concept of a “campaign between walls,” which is meant to take the initiative and combat the enemy in a sophisticated, low-profile manner.
There are two historical figures who can shed light on the challenge Israel faces with its neighbors: Zeev Jabotinsky, who wrote in “The Iron Wall” that peace will only be possible when Arabs understand that they will not be able to defeat Israel by force, and David Ben-Gurion, who noted that although Israel cannot achieve a decisive victory by use of force, the Israeli state would cease to exist without it.
As for the United States, Israel’s relationship with Washington is a source of power projection in the Middle East, one characterized by full cooperation. Although Russia is now deeply involved in nearby Syria, there are safety measures in place enabling continued Israeli freedom of action. Thanks in part to a 2015 meeting between President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel has been able to conduct activities in Syria for the past three years while avoiding major friction with the Russian military. In particular, the Russians understand that if Israel learns of Iranian deployments within 100 kilometers of its border, it will have complete freedom of action. It is thus very difficult to see progress on other Syria issues without cooperation between the United States and Russia.
Israel has also forged close military cooperation with neighbors Greece and Cyprus. Furthermore, it places high value on its enduring peace treaty with Egypt—a country that has developed a strong military relationship with Israel’s other longtime treaty partner Jordan. The threats posed by the Islamic State and Iran have created new opportunities for cooperation with Cairo. Moving forward, people-to-people relations between Israelis and Egyptians must improve. Israel has a lot to contribute to Egypt, from agriculture to technology.
After seventy years of independence, Israel’s strategic position is a strong point. The IDF aims to deter enemies and project Israel’s power to the world, which will in turn enhance the country’s stability and development.
This summary was prepared by Basia Rosenbaum.
Each year, the Schiff Memorial Lecture Series brings to Washington a distinguished leader from Israel’s national security establishment. The series was established by a group of Washington Institute trustees to honor the memory of Zeev Schiff, dean of Israeli security experts, former Haaretz defense editor, and longtime associate of the Institute. Previous lecturers have included Ehud Barak, Moshe Yaalon, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, Amos Yadlin, Yoav Galant, Shimon Shamir, “Benny” Gantz, and Yair Golan.