May 30/2019
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For today
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit
Letter to the Colossians 02/08-15:”See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.”

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on May 29-30/19
Israel Not Yet Decisive on Parallel Demarcation of Land, Sea Borders
Israel Border Talks to be Held in Naqoura as Lebanon Rejects 'Timeframe'
Foreign Ministry Expects Israel Border Talks to Begin within 2 Weeks
Berri Says MPs Have Right to Take Their Time in Debating 2019 Budget
Aoun Hopes Budget Will be Swiftly Approved in Parliament
Geagea Urges Bassil to 'Rein in' His Party Members
Geagea: We did not reconcile with Free Patriotic Movement only to withdraw later
Sehnaoui, Fatfat Invite Lebanese to Watch Champions League Final for Free at Beirut Port
Finance Minister Sends Memos on Preparing for 2020 Budget
French Embassy Welcomes Cabinet's Approval of Budget
Hariri in Saudi Arabia to attend Arab and Islamic summits
Standard & Poor's: Lebanon Budget May Not Be Enough to Restore Confidence
Maronite Patriarch Requests Retraction of Lawsuits Against Asmar
Berri Says Parliament Will Not Rush Budget Ratification
Abu Nader Calls for Shortening of Lengthy Budget Discussion Sessions
Kataeb leader Samy Gemayel Discusses Kataeb's Suggested Budget Reforms with UN Official
Despite New Efforts to Tackle Pollution in the Litani River, Challenges Remain
Secondary sanctions would put Tehran and Hezbollah in an economic chokehold
Lebanese Bubble with Anger over Hookah Tax

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on May 29-30/19

Iran Agents Storm Church, Tear Down Cross At 100 Year-Old Christian Place Of Worship
Just a month after being sworn in, Israel’s 21st Knesset disbands
Kushner Meets Moroccan King on Trip to Press U.S. Peace Plan
Israeli PM Confirms Strike on Military Base near Quneitra, Syria
Syria: Fresh Strike on Militant Enclave Kills 13
Paris Says Has 'Indication' of Chemical Attack in Idlib
Erekat: China, Russia to Boycott Economic Workshop
Israel Tightens Gaza Fishing Curbs After New Fire Balloons
Bolton: Ships sabotaged off UAE coast attacked ‘almost certainly by Iran’
Rouhani Suggests Talks with US Possible if it Lifts Sanctions
FireEye: Iran Used Fake Social Media Accounts to Mislead Americans during Midterms
Travelers Stranded as Sudan Strike Enters Second Day
Iraq Hands over 188 Turkish Children of ISIS Members
6 Belgo-Moroccans Elected to Belgium’s House of Representatives
Egyptian Terrorist Hisham Ashmawy Transferred from LNA to Cairo
Egypt: Court Upholds Execution of 17, Life Sentence of 19 in Church Bombings
Yemen’s Government Urges Transparency in Operations of Int’l Organizations
Security Council Freezes Assets of 26 Tunisian Terrorists, 3 Organizations
Trump Says 'Case Closed' as Mueller Says His Report Did Not Acquit Him
US Special counsel Mueller says he’s leaving Justice Department
Statement to mark International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers
Canada opposition head wants to stop ‘illegal border crossings’ from US

Titles For The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on May 29-30/19
Despite New Efforts to Tackle Pollution in the Litani River, Challenges Remain/Lauren Holtmeier/Executive Magazine/May 29/2019
Secondary sanctions would put Tehran and Hezbollah in an economic chokehold/Khairallah Khairallah/Al Arabiya/May 29/2019
Lebanese Bubble with Anger over Hookah Tax/Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 29/2019
Iran Agents Storm Church, Tear Down Cross At 100 Year-Old Christian Place Of Worship/Callum Paton/Newsweek/May 30/2019
Just a month after being sworn in, Israel’s 21st Knesset disbands/Debka File/May 30/2019
The Palestinian War on the Trump Peace Plan/Khaled Abu Toameh/Gatestone Institute/May 29/2019
Turning the Tables on "Global Zero"/Peter Huessy and David A. Deptula/Gatestone Institute/May 29/2019
Lawmakers Show US Appetite for Confrontation/Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al-Awsat/May 29/2019
On the Sidelines of the European Elections/Hazem Saghieh/Asharq Al-Awsat/May 29/2019
Three historic summits in Mecca amidst rising tensions with Iran/Prince Turki al-Faisal//Al Arabiya/May 29/2019
Islam’s Greatest Victory: The Fall of Constantinople, May 29, 1453/Raymond Ibrahim/May 29/2019

Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on May 29-30/19
Israel Not Yet Decisive on Parallel Demarcation of Land, Sea Borders
Beirut- khalil Fleihan/Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 29 May, 2019/ David Satterfield, the acting United States assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, met on Tuesday with President Michel Aoun, Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, to update them on his recent talks with Israeli officials on the demarcation of the land and maritime borders. The US official is currently on a mission to reach understandings and agreements on the demarcation of borders. He returned to Beirut from Tel Aviv to convey the Israeli response to the relevant Lebanese proposal.
Sources close to Berri said that positive atmosphere surrounded the talks, adding that Lebanon “looks forward to the completion of the negotiation process with Israel, provided that the issue of Hezbollah’s arms would not be linked to the demarcation file.”Satterfield discussed with Hariri the latest local and regional developments and underlined his commitment to mediate between the Lebanese and Israeli sides in order to reach an agreement over the border demarcation. Meanwhile, LBC television channel reported that the issue of the parallel demarcation of the maritime and land borders has not yet been resolved by the Israelis. It added that Satterfield would return to Tel Aviv to complete the discussions over this point in addition to other matters, and would later inform Lebanon of the outcome of his consultations.In this regard, a Lebanese official with knowledge of the matter told Asharq Al-Awsat that Lebanon insisted on the demarcation of the maritime and land borders at the same time, to guarantee the full process, while Israel wanted to start first with the sea borders.

Israel Border Talks to be Held in Naqoura as Lebanon Rejects 'Timeframe'
Naharnet/May 29/2019/The Lebanese-Israeli negotiations over the demarcation of the land and maritime borders will be held at UNIFIL's headquarters in Naqoura, media reports said, after U.S. envoy David Satterfield told Lebanon that Israel has agreed to begin the talks. "The U.N. will host and sponsor the negotiations, which will be held under its flag and with the participation of the U.S. mediator and the attendance of the Lebanese and Israeli sides,” al-Joumhouria newspaper reported on Wednesday. “The Lebanese delegation will be military and will enjoy a political cover,” the daily added. Satterfield had returned Tuesday to Beirut with Israeli responses to the Lebanese proposals. He held talks with President Michel Aoun, Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil. Berri said “things are still going in a positive direction but so far have not been settled.”And as Berri said that Satterfield relayed Israel's acceptance of simultaneous land and sea demarcation, he added that “there are things that still need discussions and scrutiny and we're awaiting the U.S. official to return with the Israeli response to them.”As for the pending points, he clarified that “the Israelis are proposing a six-month timeframe for the negotiations, whereas Lebanon is rejecting any timeframe for the talks.”Lebanon wants “open-ended negotiations until an agreement is reached,” Berri added. Al-Joumhouria said Lebanon fears that Israel would procrastinate and waste time during the six-month period should the talks be confined to a timeframe.The Lebanese side has insisted on UNIFIL's participation in the U.S.-mediated negotiations. Satterfield also met with Army Commander General Joseph Aoun on Tuesday, which indicates that logistic details related to the possible negotiations have started to be raised in the preparatory contacts. 

Foreign Ministry Expects Israel Border Talks to Begin within 2 Weeks
Naharnet/May 29/2019/The Lebanese Foreign Ministry expects the Lebanese-Israeli negotiations over the demarcation of the land and maritime borders to kick off within two weeks, ministry sources said. U.S. envoy David “Satterfield told Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil that he carried Lebanon's viewpoint to Israel and that the latter has agreed to Lebanon's demand that the demarcation of the land and maritime borders be held simultaneously,” the sources told al-Joumhouria newspaper in remarks published Wednesday. Expecting the negotiations to begin “withing two weeks,” the sources said “the agenda of these talks and the U.N.'s role and level of representation are being currently discussed.”“The meeting between Bassil and Satterfield was more than positive and the vision that the President reflected in his letter is on the right track,” the sources added. Satterfield had returned Tuesday to Beirut with Israeli responses to the Lebanese proposals. He held talks with President Michel Aoun, Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil and Army Commander General Joseph Aoun. 

Berri Says MPs Have Right to Take Their Time in Debating 2019 Budget
Naharnet/May 29/2019/ Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri announced Wednesday that lawmakers have the right to take their time in debating and approving the 2019 state budget although it has missed its constitutional deadline. “MPs have the right to raise all issues and problems related to the draft state budget and the current draft is not at all binding for them,” Berri told lawmakers during the weekly Ain el-Tineh meeting. “They have enough time to debate it from square one,” he added. “The Parliament will perform its duty and practice its role fully in studying the budget,” Berri went on to say, expecting the finance committee to convene Monday to scrutinize the budget's philosophy and to hold successive sessions after Eid al-Fitr,” Berri went on to say. “The debate will be open-ended in the committee and subsequently in the general assembly and it will take its time,” Berri said, noting that he has instructed the committee to hold several sessions everyday. President Michel Aoun had hoped earlier on Wednesday that the budget will be approved in Parliament “as quickly as possible.”The Cabinet held 19 sessions to finalize the budget after Lebanon 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. 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. 

 Aoun Hopes Budget Will be Swiftly Approved in Parliament
Naharnet/May 29/2019/President Michel Aoun on Wednesday hoped the 2019 draft state budget will be approved in Parliament “as quickly as possible.”“The draft 2019 budget includes measures to strengthen the productive sectors in Lebanon, especially industry and agriculture, with the aim of gradual transformation to a productive economy rather than a services-based one as endorsed by the previous governments,” Aoun said. “The economic rise process has kicked off and oil and gas exploration at the beginning of next year will have a positive impact on the national economy,” the president added.And noting that “the Cabinet's approval of the draft 2019 budget has created relief in the financial markets,” Aoun said “the implementation of the measures and steps stipulated in the new budget will slash deficit and lay the groundwork for the 2020 budget.”He added: “The ministers will begin submitting their budgets to Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil in order to study the (2020 budget) and refer it to Parliament within the constitutional timeframe.”The Cabinet held 19 sessions to finalize the budget after Lebanon 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.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. 

Geagea Urges Bassil to 'Rein in' His Party Members
Naharnet/May 29/2019/Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea on Wednesday called on Free Patriotic Movement chief MP Jebran Bassil to “rein in his party members,” in connection with a war of words over LBP 40 billion earmarked for the Ministry of the Displaced. “The last thing we want is to create any dispute with the FPM, or else we would not have backed President (Michel) Aoun's election,” Geagea said after a meeting for the Strong Republic parliamentary bloc. “I hope the FPM chief will give his instructions (to FPM officials) to answer questions instead of digging up the past. If they want to talk about war, we're the ones who know the war's secrets,” Geagea added, in a jab at Minister of the Displaced Ghassan Atallah of the FPM. “We gave our opinion on the issue of the state budget with all due frankness, and instead of answering us with a logical sequence, he returned to a wrong rhetoric and claims,” Geagea added. He noted that one of Atallah's “wrong claims” was that the LF was behind the displacement of Mount Lebanon's Christians. “Do not hit out at us or else you will hear our answers. We did not achieve a reconciliation with the FPM in order to renounce it later, but if someone attacks us we will respond against him personally and we will not be dragged into a problem with the FPM as a movement,” Geagea added. “Let the FPM chief rein in his party members,” he urged. Geagea also blasted Bassil for saying that the LF was behind “the fall of Mount Lebanon” during the civil war, in reference to the Chouf and Aley regions from which Christian residents were forced to flee after deadly Christian-Druze clashes. “Do they want us to remind them of the fall of Baabda after the LF defended it for 15 years?” Geagea added, referring to Aoun's 1990 ouster from the Baabda Palace at the hands of the Syrian army. Aoun was the head of a military government back then. The latest FPM-LF war of words erupted after the LF questioned how LBP 40 billion were earmarked for Atallah's ministry in the last moments before the Cabinet's approval of the draft 2019 state budget.

Geagea: We did not reconcile with Free Patriotic Movement only to withdraw later
Wed 29 May 2019/NNA - "The last thing we want to stir is trouble with the Free Patriotic Movement," said Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, in a press conference he held this Wednesday in Maarab in the wake of the "Strong Republic" parliamentary bloc meeting. "We did not achieve reconciliation with the Free Patriotic Movement only to get back on it later," he asserted. "If we did seek trouble, we would not have supported the arrival of president Aoun to office," said Geagea. "We frankly gave our input on the issue of the budget and instead of Minister of the displaced Ghassan Atallah answering logically, he resorted to a defensive tone and wrong statements," he went on to say, wishing on the Free Patriotic Movement leader, Minister Gebran Bassil, to give his instructions to answer to the question and not to dig in the past. "If they want to talks about the war, it is us who hold the secrets of that war," he warned. "It is good that we now have a draft budget which we can discuss. It is indeed a better version of its precedents, but it does not live up to our expectations," the LF leader pointed out. Tackling the issue of illegal crossings, he said "all the security services are reporting them and giving lists of the crossing. Saying there are not enough personnel to close them is inaccurate.""I do not want to elaborate on the subject of the budget because we will be studying it and announcing our positions. It is okay as it is at present," Geagea concluded.

Sehnaoui, Fatfat Invite Lebanese to Watch Champions League Final for Free at Beirut Port
“Who's gonna win? Team Nicolas or Team Sami?” An event organized by the Mouna Bustros Foundation promises to “bring Madrid to Beirut” on Saturday, June 1 at the Port of Beirut. The event will start at 8pm and football fans and enthusiasts will enjoy free entrance and parking and have access to a food court. “Are you ready for the most unforgettable sports events of the year? We bring the Madrid Experience straight to you,” the Mouna Bustros Foundation says. “Meet us this Saturday at the Port of Beirut, behind Forum de Beyrouth, so that we watch the Champions League final together,” Beirut MP and deputy head of the Free Patriotic Movement for political affairs Nicolas Sehnaoui says in a video published on his Twitter account. “As everyone knows, the Champions League final will pit Liverpool against Tottenham Hotspur and there will be free entrance and parking and a post-iftar food court,” young Tripoli MP Sami Fatfat says in the video. “It will be a very nice match, and I'm personally with Liverpool,” he adds. “I support Tottenham,” Sehnaoui meanwhile hits back. According to Fatfat, “it will be very difficult for Tottenham to win,” a claim disputed by Sehnaoui.“But anyone can come watch the game,” Fatfat insists.He adds that it will be “an opportunity for us all to get to know the Port more and of course to get to know each other.”“It will also be an opportunity to introduce you to the Port of Beirut, to link it to the city and to show you how beautiful Ashrafieh is,” Sehnaoui adds.

Finance Minister Sends Memos on Preparing for 2020 Budget
Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil has sent memos to the ministries asking them to start preparing for the 2020 state budget. The draft for the 2020 budget is supposed to be devised next month. “Based on the deficit reduction in the 2019 budget, it is normally expected to reach a lower deficit” in the 2020 budget, Khalil told al-Joumhouria newspaper in remarks published Wednesday. The 2019 state budget was referred to Parliament after 19 haggling sessions in which the Cabinet managed to lower the deficit to 7.59%.

French Embassy Welcomes Cabinet's Approval of Budget
The French embassy in Lebanon has welcomed the Lebanese Cabinet's approval of the draft 2019 state budget, describing it as “a positive indication that Lebanon is abiding by the pledges it committed itself to during the CEDRE conference.” “The budget will not become final before its endorsement by Parliament. We hope this endorsement will happen as soon as possible,” the embassy said in a statement. Stressing that France will always support Lebanon, the embassy added that it is “fully taking part in the implementation of the resolutions of the CEDRE conference, which will allow Lebanon to put into action the necessary reforms so that it faces the challenges of the future, especially in terms of governance.”“The effective implementation of the CEDRE conference requires devising a firm and transparent mechanism which we hope will be put into practice soon,” the embassy added. The Cabinet 19 sessions to finalize the budget after Lebanon 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. 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.  

Hariri in Saudi Arabia to attend Arab and Islamic summits
Wed 29 May 2019 / NNA - The President of the Council of Ministers Saad Hariri arrived this evening to Jeddah to head the Lebanese delegation to the Arab and Islamic extraordinary summits to be held on Thursday and Friday in Makkah upon an invitation from the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz to discuss the Arab and Islamic developments.Upon his arrival at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah, Premier Hariri was greeted by Deputy Emir of Makkah Prince Badr bin Sultan, the Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Ambassador Abdullah bin Abdulrahman Alem, the Kingdom's Ambassador to Lebanon Walid Bukhari and a number of officials. The official delegation to the summit includes Ministers Wael Abu Faour and Jamal Jarrah, the Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ambassador Hani Shmaitli, Lebanon's Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Fawzi Kabbara and Lebanon's permanent representative to the Arab League Ali Halabi.

Standard & Poor's: Lebanon Budget May Not Be Enough to Restore Confidence 29/2019/Lebanon’s budget plan to cut its fiscal deficit to 7.6% of GDP this year may not be enough to restore damaged confidence in the deeply-indebted country, credit rating agency S&P Global said on Tuesday. Mounting worries about Lebanon’s finances saw S&P put the country’s B- rating on a negative outlook at the start of March. “The announcement itself (to cut the deficit to 7.6% from above 11% last year) may not be sufficient to improve the confidence of non-resident depositors and investors, which has waned in recent months,” S&P’s primary Lebanon analyst, Zahabia Saleem Gupta, said by e-mail. She added slippage from the new target could happen, particularly since any cost cutting measures will only be implemented in the second half of the year. “We estimate the 2019 fiscal deficit outturn at about 10% of GDP,” Gupta said. “In the absence of substantial revenue-enhancing and cost-cutting measures, we forecast that Lebanon’s general government debt to GDP ratio will continue rising to above 160% of GDP by 2022, from 143% in 2018.”

Maronite Patriarch Requests Retraction of Lawsuits Against Asmar 29/2019/The Maronite League and the Maronite Diaspora Institute on Wednesday retracted the lawsuits filed against the resigned head of the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers, Bechara Asmar.
The move came upon the instructions of Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rahi, MTV channel reported. Asmar, who was caught mocking the late Patriarch Emeritus Nasrallah Sfeir in a video leaked earlier this month, has requested a meeting with Al-Rahi, MTV has learned.

Berri Says Parliament Will Not Rush Budget Ratification 29/2019/Speaker Nabih Berri on Wednesday stressed that the Parliament will not abide by a specific deadline to ratify the 2019 state budget, saying that the legislature will scrutiny the blueprint as if it was not already examined by the government. “Lawmakers have the right to discuss all of the budget's items,” MP Ali Bazzi quoted Berri as saying during his weekly meeting with deputies in Ain Al-Tineh. "They have enough time to study the draft." Bazzi also told reporters that Berri had contacted the Audit Bureau which assured him that the audit of the 2017 financial accounts will be finalized within a week. President Michel Aoun Tuesday signed a decree allowing Parliament to hold exceptional sessions from June 1 until October 21. Parliament’s Finance and Budget Committee is expected to discuss the draft budget, before referring it to the General Assembly.

Abu Nader Calls for Shortening of Lengthy Budget Discussion Sessions 29/2019/Kataeb leader's top adviser Fouad Abu Nader on Wednesday called for reducing the lengthy Parliament sessions aimed at debating the 2019 draft budget, saying that only the opposition lawmakers must take the floor to discuss the blueprint. “Given that all the political parties that are represented in the government have approved the draft, then why don’t we limit interventions to the opposition lawmakers who signed the appeal against the electricity plan?” Abu Nader wrote on his Twitter page, noting that by doing so, the blueprint would be debated in just one day.
Abu Nader added that limiting the budget discussions to one day would spare the Lebanese platitudes and "fake gallantry" by lawmakers who have agreed in advance to the government's financial plan.

Kataeb leader Samy Gemayel Discusses Kataeb's Suggested Budget Reforms with UN Official 29/2019/Kataeb leader Samy Gemayel on Wednesday met with UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis, with talks featuring high on the latest developments in Lebanon and the region. During the meeting, held at the Kataeb's headquarters in Saifi, the two men conferred over regional developments and their potential repercussions on Lebanon, with both stressing the need to control the border so as to immunize the country. Gemayel briefed the visiting guest on the party’s suggested reforms that the government should have included in the 2019 draft budget in a bid to avoid further inflation and economic stagnation. Talks were attended by former Economy minister Alain Hakim and Kataeb leader's legal adviser, Lara Saade.

Despite New Efforts to Tackle Pollution in the Litani River, Challenges Remain

Lauren Holtmeier/Executive Magazine/May 29/2019
The Litani River and its health—or lack thereof—directly impacts those Lebanese residents living near the river or buying produce irrigated by the river. The largest river in Lebanon, the Litani River Basin (LRB) is equivalent to 20 percent of Lebanon’s land area and winds through the Bekaa Valley and south Lebanon. In April 2018, the Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute (LARI) officially asked all farmers—particularly those in central Bekaa from Riyaq down to Qaraoun—to not use the water for irrigation because pollution levels were so high. Michel Afrem, head of LARI, told Executive it will be years until water from the Litani is safe for irrigation again. Since August 2018, there has been an uptick in citations against alleged polluters, says Nassim Abou Hamad, head of the Litani River Authority (LRA)’s water governance department, but a clean river is still almost a decade away when considering the current cleanup roadmap and the amount of time after implementation that is needed for the river to rid itself of pollutants.
A tale with many actors
Ending pollution in the Litani is not a simple task. Legislation to tackle the governance and protection of the river does exist, including Law 63 (2016) that: established the governance structure for the Litani River Basin, giving the LRA authority; set out a roadmap for improving the wastewater network and building treatment plants, due to be completed by 2023; and earmarked $730 million to clean up the river, though so far only $55 million has been spent, primarily on rehabilitation of wastewater networks. Roland Riachi, visiting assistant professor in political studies and public administration at the American University of Beirut (AUB) said Law 63 gave the LRA more capacity to act than the previous Law 221 (2000) or the more recent Law 77 (2018), which is the water code for the whole sector. According to Law 63’s text, which defines 17 government entities’ roles regarding the river, the LRA’s mandate includes the ability to “prosecute all offenders with regards to the LRB through unlicensed construction, uncontrolled waste dumping, dumping soil, or unlicensed well excavation” regarding industrial pollution, which the law defines as waste coming from industrial enterprises, including farms, gas stations, health sector institutions, and tourist institutions, as well as sand drills, quarries, and crushers. Law 77, on the other hand, was passed hastily the week before CEDRE in April 2018, says Riachi; it does not have implementation decrees attached to it yet, and is currently under review at Parliament. In an attempt to satisfy international donors, the law was pushed through to demonstrate progress being made in the sector. Neither Abou Hamad nor Riachi knew the specifics of the potential revisions of the law.
Coupled with these legislative powers, Sami Alawieh’s appointment as head of the Litani River Authority (LRA) in March 2018, has furthered progress on the river, as under his tenure there has been an increase in the number of citations issued and in subsequent legal action surrounding accused polluters. “Since Sami Alawieh has come into power, he’s really taken action,” says Yasmina el-Amine, the author of an AUB policy brief on pollution in the Litani published in March. According to the brief, the LRA has issued over 200 citations to factories and municipalities in the basin with the help of the ministries of environment, energy and water, and industry, as well as the Internal Security Forces. Explaining the process to determine if a company is dumping waste in the river, Abou Hamad says that there is a team of six or seven technicians working on the ground who first try to visually determine if there is pollution. If it cannot be confirmed by sight, the water is collected and sent for testing; if it tests come back positive for pollution levels higher than those allowed under Ministry of Environment (MoE)’s guidelines, a citation is issued and a lawsuit filed. The case then goes to a judge at a civil court; to date no judge has ruled against the LRA in a case, Abou Hamad says. The presiding judge may also request a third party take another sample before the final verdict is issued. Both Abou Hamad and Afrem told Executive of an upcoming memorandum of understanding between the LRA and LARI that will increase cooperation between the two entities, with LARI lending its ability to test water for pollutants.
Facing the consequences
Factories found guilty of polluting are given a grace period of three to four months to build the necessary treatment facility before being shut down, says Abou Hamad. In some extreme cases they will be shut down immediately, like one slaughterhouse that was found to be dumping between half a tonne to 1 tonne a day into the river. Shutting down factories is the mandate of the Ministry of Industry according to Abou Hamad. “The attorney general took the decision to shut down the slaughterhouse until a solution was implemented because of the massive amount of waste,” he says.
The ultimate authority regarding the river is the Ministry of Energy and Water (MoEW), but the MoE also has some authority, setting the environmental standard that the LRA use, Abou Hamad adds. According to Amine, Law 221 (2000) gave the four regional water establishments responsibility for wastewater management, but they lack administrative or financial capacity to play this role, leaving the responsibility to other actors. “For wastewater they either contract a third-party, or [in] some cases the municipalities take on the work, or (in most cases) the job is not done,” Amine wrote in a follow-up email to Executive.
Muddying the waters
There is no single source of pollution flowing into the Litani, but factories, municipalities, and agriculture have all contributed to the problem. Recently, refugees have received blame for dumping their waste directly into the river, and the LRA has sent letters to the UNHCR asking that the settlements be moved from the banks of the Litani, citing the LRA’s authority on the matter granted by Law 63. “Syrian refugees located on the river are dumping their sewage directly into the river and in many cases solid waste as well,” says Abou Hamad. However, while the refugees’ presence does contribute to the overall problem, they are not responsible for the largest amount of—nor the most dangerous—waste, both Afrem and Abou Hamad told Executive separately. Those titles go to municipal and industrial waste, respectively.
LARI’s Afrem explains that while municipal waste contains largely bacterial pollution, industrial waste contains heavy metals that have more long-term health risks. Whereas bacterial infection can be treated with antibiotics relatively easily, heavy metals may accumulate in the body over years, increasing the risk of cancer. Municipal sewage is the biggest polluter, Abou Hamad says. “At least 35-40 million cubic meters (MCM) a year enter from household and municipal waste. The other amount comes from industries, 4 to 5 MCM, but it’s concentrated with heavy metals and it’s very dangerous effluent.”
Another pollutant is agricultural waste, generally caused by an overuse of pesticides and lack of proper runoff and treatment networks. From sources Executive talked to, the problem is four-fold: household waste, waste from industry and agriculture, and, on a much smaller scale, waste from refugees camped alongside the river bank. Making matters more complex is that each type of waste requires its own treatment processes.
While the LRA and other actors, like the Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR) work to implement solutions, the level of pollution in the Litani is intensifying. A new report by LARI due to be sent to all ministries in May found that pollution levels were worse in 2018 than in 2017. “We are now reaching 50 million bacteria per millimeter in some places,” Afrem says. The permitted level as established by the Food and Agricultural Organization and the Lebanese Standards Institution is 200 bacteria per millimeter— 250,000 times lower.
Efforts to rehabilitate wastewater networks and build treatment plants have seen some progress made with $55 million (7.5 percent of the allocated funds) dispersed after Law 63 was passed. When Executive queried why such a small amount of funding had been secured so far, Abou Hamad said that talks were held last month with the CDR, LRA, MoEW, and World Bank in which releasing another $300 million in funding was discussed, but he did not know if or when those funds may be received. These funds would go toward rehabilitating and building wastewater networks and establishing treatment facilities. Thirty years ago, wastewater networks were built in the Bekaa, but no treatment plants were built, effectively expediting the pollution flow to the river, says Abou Hamad. “It would’ve been better to leave every house with its own septic pit instead of connecting everyone to one line,” he says. In other places, he says the wastewater network itself is deficient and leaks are prevalent.
Those Executive spoke with say that treatment plants, new and rehabilitated wastewater networks, and stronger governance are all needed to effectively clean up the Litani. So how long will this take? According to Abou Hamad, 2023 is the goal, but the question remains if this is achievable. “As the LRA, we issued a letter to CDR in November or December saying you are not upholding Law 63,” says Abou Hamad, referring to the roadmap set out by Law 63 that stipulates all projects related to networks and treatment stations must be finished within seven years of the law’s issuance. CDR, he says, is not on schedule. “They said everything was on track and everything will be finished by 2023.” Executive reached out to CDR for comment, but did not hear back before publication.
However, assuming every plant, municipality, farmer, and refugee along the river stops dumping waste and proper wastewater networks and treatment plants are installed, a pollution-free river is still four to five years beyond this, Afrem says. This would mean if everything is finished by 2023, Lebanese can expect to see a clean river by 2028, but in a country where little runs on schedule, a country-wide river clean up seems unlikely to arrive on time.

Secondary sanctions would put Tehran and Hezbollah in an economic chokehold
Khairallah Khairallah/Al Arabiya/May 29/2019
The Trump administration’s restored Iran sanctions have started strong and are likely to become even stronger in the future. The US Treasury Department’s recent announcement that the so-called “significant reduction waivers,” which allowed certain foreign countries to continue buying Iranian oil in reduced quantities, were ended and that no new waivers were forthcoming was a major positive development. The US terrorist designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which in addition to their military activities control important segments of the Iranian economy, was another welcome step. The totality of US sanctions have been effective and have imposed heavy costs on the Iranian regime.
To be sure, further ratcheting up of US sanctions can be highly effective and should be undertaken. In this regard, blacklisting not just individual Iranian banks, but the totality of the Iranian banking sector, would be the most powerful step. It is also possible for the US to bolster the existing shipping-related sanctions to apply to all vessels that carry cargo to and from Iran. While these steps may well be taken by Washington in the future, it is important for other countries concerned about Iran’s maligned activities to support US sanctions with strong efforts of their own.
With this in mind, key US Middle Eastern allies, with the GCC in the lead, can and should promptly impose Iran- and Hezbollah-related secondary sanctions. This approach would have several major benefits. First, it would be effective in intensifying the pressure on Iran by further squeezing the Iranian economy. From a purely economic perspective, GCC-driven sanctions would be particularly efficacious vis-à-vis those European and Asian companies that do a lot of business in the Gulf and the Middle East. Without a sufficient footprint in the US, such companies do not worry about US secondary sanctions. But if forced to choose between doing business with Iran and participating in the GCC economy, they are highly likely to opt for the latter.
The secondary sanctions process would also present a valuable opportunity to bankrupt Hezbollah, which would be both a symbolic and practical blow to Tehran. This is because Hezbollah is both a model utilized by Iranian foreign policy and a vital power projection tool for Tehran. Turning Hezbollah from an asset into a liability would be invaluable. The key element of Hezbollah focused portion of the secondary sanctions would be to have them apply not only to Hezbollah, but to all Hezbollah-affiliated entities, such as the Amal Movement.
GCC-led sanctions would also have an important symbolic effect, helping to drive a wedge between the Iranian mercantile class – the bazar – and the regime. In this regard, the fact that the thus far US-only sanctions have been multilateral and now include key Middle Eastern powers would underscore the isolation of the Iranian regime.
In addition to imposing secondary sanctions of its own, the GCC should consider participating in the sanctions enforcement efforts. These should be focused on companies and entities that are engaged in sanctions-busting activities. Turkish or Qatari companies that have so far largely escaped punishment for Iranian sanction violations would be particularly promising targets.
Having the GCC lead in this area, both by adopting secondary sanctions of its own and participating in the sanctions enforcement efforts, would be greatly beneficial. It would enhance the efficacy of the currently existing sanctions-related efforts and manifest a united front against Tehran. This overall strategy would help cement the alliance between GCC countries and the US, while also serving as a powerful rebuke to the European countries that have chosen to side with Iran. Overall, it would also demonstrate that GCC countries are practicing a 21st century level of sophisticated diplomatic and economic statecraft.
*Khairallah Khairallah is an Arab columnist who was formerly Annahar's foreign editor (1976-1988) and Al-Hayat's managing editor (1988-1998).

Lebanese Bubble with Anger over Hookah Tax
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 29/2019
Flipping the hot coals on his green hookah in a crowded Beirut cafe, Abbas Nasreddine says Lebanon's new austerity budget has spoilt his daily treat of smoking a water pipe. "It's how we deflate stress," says the 26-year-old university student, a long drag of mint-scented smoke rising overhead.
"But now our tool for coping with our worries has become a worry itself," he said, fiddling with the hookah's long hose. Nasreddine is among many regular smokers who are displeased with a government decision to impose a new tax on water pipes as part of a larger austerity package. They will soon have to pay an additional 1,000 Lebanese pounds ($0.66) for every water pipe they order in a cafe or restaurant, at a time when job opportunities are scarce and the economy is in decline.
"For politicians, 1,000 LBP may be of no value," Nasreddine says.
"But, for me, 1,000 LBP has a value -- I get to university for 1,000 LBP," he adds. After decades of civil war, corruption and political crises made Lebanon one of the world's most indebted countries, the government adopted a new austerity budget on Monday to combat a ballooning budget deficit.
It reduced benefits and pensions in the public sector and introduced a series of tax hikes, including on personal firearm licences and permits for tinted windows. For some, the new levy on water pipes has provoked particular ire.Taxes should not be raised "on something most people use to just relax," Nasreddine says. "We smoke to calm our minds because we are sick of the situation in this country."The World Health Organization has warned that a full hookah is equivalent to smoking 20 to 30 cigarettes at once, and has linked the practice to lung damage and cancer.But in much of the Middle East, sharing a water pipe -- also called shisha or nargileh -- is often conceived as a social occasion during which smokers spend hours in cafes chatting and passing the hose around.
'They're ruining us'
This is especially the case in Lebanon. Lebanon has the highest rate of shisha smokers in the region among teenagers, according to a 2016 study in the medical journal Ethnicity & Disease, which found that roughly a third of 13 to 15-year-olds it surveyed had smoked at least once in the past month.
Hussam Shuman, 28, sits outside a bustling cafe in the southern suburbs of Beirut, a hookah complete with apple-flavored tobacco burning at his side. The young accountant says he smokes more than once a day, "out of boredom" and "mainly after work."But now, leisure is set to become more costly. "Let them get money from somewhere else. Why are they targeting us water pipe smokers?" he says, trying to calculate how much more he will now be spending on shisha every month.
"They're ruining us."
Shuman and many Lebanese are disillusioned with the ruling class, whom they accuse of nepotism and graft, and the latest austerity measures have compounded this situation. The government has been criticized for raising prices and limiting benefits and pensions rather than fighting corruption, tax evasion and smuggling to reduce the deficit. On a nearby table, Fayyad Mustafa shuffles a deck of playing cards, a water pipe gurgling beneath him. The 24-year-old technician says the shisha tax is not the only problem.
"We are living in a state that wants to make everything more expensive," he says. "They started with water pipes but we don't know what other things will become more costly later on." He believes that not reacting to the hookah tax would encourage the government to raise other goods.
"If we are silent when they raise the price of a water pipe, we will have to be silent when they raise the price of a loaf of bread... or a sack of potatoes."

The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on May 29-30/19
Iran Agents Storm Church, Tear Down Cross At 100 Year-Old Christian Place Of Worship
نيوزويك/رجال المخابرات في إيران يقتحمون كنيسة عمرها 100 سنة ويحطمون الصلية
Callum Paton/Newsweek/May 30/2019
Iranian intelligence agents have shut down a church in the country’s northwestern city of Tabriz, storming the place of worship and tearing down a cross that stood on its conical spire.
The Christian Iranian rights group Article Eighteen has said Iranian regime security officials charged into the 100-year-old church May 9, took down its cross, changed all the locks and ordered the church warden to leave.
According to the group, members of the Assyrian Christian community that worshipped at the Presbyterian church had been living in a state of fear after pastors from nearby churches were barred from visiting the Tabriz church, a National Heritage site, in the days after Christmas
Those fears were realized earlier this month when agents from the Execution of Imam Khomeini's Order (EIKO), a state owned holding company built on confiscated assets and under the direct control of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, descended on the church. As well as taking down the cross and threatening the custodian, the agents reportedly installed monitoring instruments
While the church had been confiscated by the Iranian authorities in 2011, local worshippers had been permitted to continue using the building and carry out Assyrian language services. Article Eighteen’s Advocacy Director has said the confiscation and eventual destruction of Protestant churches in Iran has become a part of a noticeable strategy.
"In most cases the government has been unable to repurpose them, especially if they were listed. So they typically remain as empty buildings, often neglected, and turn into ruins before being demolished," Mansour Borji explained.
The human rights group Amnesty International has decried the treatment of the Christian minority by the Iranian government. Under the constitution of the Islamic Republic, the country's Assyrian and Armenian Christians are permitted freedom of worship. However, they are not allowed to hold services in Persian, as this could be interpreted as proselytizing, and converts face harsh sentences of between 10 and 15 years in prison
Ahead of Christmas last year, Iran arrested more than 100 Christians during a week-long crackdown. Many of the 114 detained were converts, who were accused of spreading Christianity, The Telegraph reported.
Click here to read the report in the Newsweek site

Just a month after being sworn in, Israel’s 21st Knesset disbands
Debka File/May 30/2019
On Sept. 17, Israelis face their second election this year. After midnight Wednesday May 29, the 21th Knesset dissolved itself by 74 to 45 votes – just a month after it was voted in and became the shortest-lived parliament in Israel’s history. All the opposition parties voted against dissolution, except for the two Israeli-Arab factions which cast their votes in favor, along with Likud and the right-wing and religious parties. By this motion, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu blocked President Reuven Rivlin’s path to passing the torch for forming a new government to another Knesset member. Straight after the vote, the prime minister laid the blame for the unnecessary election at the door of Israeli Beitenu leader Avigdor Lieberman, accusing him of willfully impeding the formation of a right-wing government coalition by the Wednesday midnight deadline. Lieberman, he said, had cheated his voters by aligning himself with the left. The Yisrael Beitenu leader held out to the end against giving the Netanyahu lineup of 60 a majority by adding the support of his 5 member-faction. Netanyahu lamented the time wasted on another superfluous election campaign when vital national business was at hand. The first session of a US-Russian-Israeli committee was due to take place very soon in Jerusalem for a unique discussion on regional and Israeli security, he revealed. He promised more information on this development in the coming days. The White House announced shortly after this disclosure that the US. Russian and Israeli national security advisers would hold a joint meeting next month in Jerusalem.Opposition leader Benny Gantz adhered to his party’s electioneering line which claimed that the coalition negotiations failed because they did not offer Netanyahu protection against the corruption indictments allegedly facing him,
On Thursday morning, Israel plunges straight into a fresh election campaign which is likely to be no less turbulent than the foregoing one. It will be interesting to see who the voter decides to punish for one of the most abject fiascoes in the country’s political history.

Kushner Meets Moroccan King on Trip to Press U.S. Peace Plan
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 29/2019/U.S. President Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner haw met Morocco's King Mohammed VI in Rabat as part of a fresh push on a long-promised but yet-to-be-delivered peace plan for the region. The trip -- which will also include stops in Amman and Jerusalem -- comes amid a flurry of other administration moves to shore up alliances with Arab allies against Iran and the deployment of warships and bombers to the region. Kushner is accompanied by Jason Greenblatt, Trump's special representative for international negotiations, and Brian Hook, the special U.S. representative for Iran. The meeting in Rabat focused on developments in the Middle East and North Africa as well as strengthening the partnership between Morocco and the US, a palace spokesman told AFP. Greenblatt tweeted that he and Kushner shared an iftar dinner -- the traditional meal to break the daily fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan -- with Morocco's king, Crown Prince Moulay Hassan and Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita. "Thank you to His Majesty for a special evening and for sharing your wisdom," Greenblatt wrote. "Morocco is an important friend & ally of the United States."The Trump administration is expected to unveil the peace plan -- after numerous failures by its predecessors -- possibly as early as next month, but the Palestinians have already rejected it as heavily biased in favor of Israel. Washington has yet to commit to an exact timetable with respect to the political aspects of the plan. Kushner is the chief architect of the proposals and Greenblatt, a longtime Trump lawyer, has served as his right-hand man on the Middle East initiative. Upon his arrival in the White House more than two years ago, Trump proclaimed his ambition to secure a final accord ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But the odds of his succeeding where every previous U.S. president -- Republicans as well as Democrats -- have failed appear particularly low. Palestinians have boycotted the process since Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December 2017.
Bahrain conference
The U.S. is expected to roll out the economic aspects of the peace plan at a conference in Bahrain on June 25-26. Co-hosts U.S. and Bahrain have billed it as "a pivotal opportunity... to share ideas, discuss strategies and galvanize support for potential economic investments and initiatives that could be made possible by a peace agreement." But Palestinian political leaders say they will boycott it and Palestinian business leaders said they won't go either, raising further questions about the plan's viability. "Any economic project without a political solution is selling an illusion," said Arafat Asfour, chairman of the Palestine Trade Center. Among those declining an invitation was Bashar al-Masri, a high-profile Palestinian businessman who worked with international partners and in cooperation with the Israelis to invest $1.4 billion in the new Palestinian town of Rawabi. Kushner, who will join up with Trump in London after his Middle East trip, has been evasive about the US plan, which has been shrouded in secrecy. While promising new ideas to revive a moribund peace process, he has refused to talk about a two-state solution, the formula that has long been at the heart of international efforts to achieve peace and also the official US position.Instead, he has looked to an alliance with the Saudis against Iran as a way to gain Arab support for his plan. Three days before Kushner's trip, Trump authorized $8.1 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Arab allies, bypassing Congress.Arms sales to the kingdom were frozen after the assassination of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi in October and in response to mounting concerns over the human toll of a Saudi-led armed campaign in Yemen. But the administration defended the sales as necessary "to deter Iranian aggression and build partner self-defense capacity."

Israeli PM Confirms Strike on Military Base near Quneitra, Syria
Tel Aviv - Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 29 May, 2019/Israel launched a retaliatory strike against Syrian targets after anti-aircraft fired at one of its fighter jets during a routing flight, announced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In a statement, he confirmed Israeli forces destroyed the system in response, leaving at least one person dead and another injured. The incident took place Monday night. “Our policy is clear, we are not prepared to tolerate any aggression against us and we will retaliate against it forcefully and decisively,” he vowed. The incident first occurred when Israel shelled a military vehicle in Quneitra. It then struck the vehicle with its jets. Although Israel did not claim responsibility for the operation, a military source in Tel Aviv said the vehicle belonged to groups affiliated with Iranian militias that are trying to set up bases in the eastern part of the Golan Heights to launch operations against Israel.
Other sources claimed the attack was an assassination attempt targeting a senior militia official. His name was not revealed. Syrian regime forces responded by firing a missile at the warplane late Monday, downing a small Israeli reconnaissance plane. According to Israeli sources, the plane was shot down by anti-aircraft fire and landed in the Golan Heights, without any clear indication whether it landed in the Israeli-occupied part or not. Israel considered the bombing a violation of the ceasefire agreement and an infringement of Israeli sovereignty, the army spokesman said. He said the plane was on a regular reconnaissance mission of the Israeli side of the border. He pointed out that the Syrian missile missed its target and fell over Syrian territory, thus there was no need to activate the iron dome. However, an Israeli plane bombed the Syrian anti-aircraft battery from which the missile was fired. According to Syrian sources, a Syrian lieutenant and a Syrian soldier were killed. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Israeli missile was "reportedly fired from the occupied part of the Golan", noting that that three Syrian soldiers were wounded.
Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes in Syria, most of them against what it says are Iranian and Hezbollah targets. Last week, Syrian sources reported heavy Israeli bombing on a site near Damascus International Airport, which destroyed a weapons cache. Syrian forces responded by firing about 10 rockets towards the Israeli border, while Israeli media claimed that the bombing targeted an Iranian military post north of Damascus.

Syria: Fresh Strike on Militant Enclave Kills 13

Beirut/Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 29 May, 2019/The latest strikes in an unprecedented wave of regime bombardment on a militant enclave in northwestern Syria killed at least 13 civilians on Wednesday, a war monitor said. Air strikes, some using deadly barrel bombs, and shelling by both government and Russian warplanes have claimed a mounting civilian death toll over the past few weeks. The violence, which has rattled a fragile truce deal brokered by Moscow and Ankara in September, is causing mass displacement and bringing Syria to the brink of the worst humanitarian catastrophe yet in its eight-year-old conflict. The United States and the United Nations demanded an end to airstrikes on Tuesday, as bombardment by Damascus killed 27 people -- the single highest civilian death toll in the region since the regime increased attacks in late April. But on Wednesday, aerial bombardment did not relent. According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring organization, seven of Wednesday's victims were killed in an air raid on the village of Sarja. It lies in Idlib province, most of which is controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a group dominated by former members of Al-Qaeda's Syria affiliate.
The four other victims were a father and his three children in the village of Bara, said Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman. Two others were killed in strikes on the Idlib town of Hbeit, he said. "The bombardment by the regime and Russia continues to be intense on several areas. The Russian strikes are focused on Khan Sheikhun but have not caused any casualties for now," he said. Syrian state news agency SANA reported one woman was killed by militant shelling on northern Hama. The regime has not announced an all-out offensive to retake the entire militant enclave, a large area which is home to almost three million people. Analysts predict that the government of President Bashar al-Assad and its allies will continue to chip away at the area but not unleash a major assault that would create chaos on Turkey's doorstep. The regime is likely to continue applying sustained military pressure whilst attempting to preserve a fragile truce agreement reached in Russia last year to spare the region a large-scale humanitarian disaster. On Tuesday, Syria's UN envoy Bashar Jaafari said Damascus "will spare no effort" to free the residents of Idlib from militant control, according to comments carried by SANA. UN deputy aid chief Ursula Mueller, however, told the Security Council that a further escalation would threaten humanitarian assistance for the region's residents. She said some 270,000 people had been displaced by the fighting in Idlib since late April. Aid agencies have been forced to suspend their work in some areas, she said, adding that 22 hospitals and clinics had been hit by air strikes or shelling since April 28. The United States has said that "indiscriminate attacks on civilians and public infrastructure such as schools, markets, and hospitals is a reckless escalation." The civilian death toll has mounted in and around Idlib in recent days, reaching more than 270 over the past month, according to the Observatory. In villages struck by regime raids, excavators dug new graves and civilians buried the dead stealthily at dusk to avoid being targeted by more air raids.The conflict in Syria has killed more than 370,000 people since it started in 2011.

Paris Says Has 'Indication' of Chemical Attack in Idlib
Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 29 May, 2019/French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has said that the country had an "indication" that a chemical attack had been carried out in Syria's northeastern Idlib province this month as alleged by Washington last week. "We have an indication that chemical weapons were used in the Idlib region, but for now it has not been verified," Le Drian told a parliamentary commission on Tuesday. "We're being cautious because we consider that chemical weapons use has to be proven and be lethal, in which case we can react," he said. President Emmanuel Macron has made use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime a "red line" that would trigger a military reprisal against Bashar al-Assad. The United States has also threatened reprisals if the suspected Idlib attack is proven. International inspectors say that Assad's forces have carried out a series of chemical attacks in the course of the brutal civil war, which has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since 2011. A sarin gas attack in April 2017 in the town of Khan Sheikhoun killed 83 people, according to the United Nations, leading US President Donald Trump to order a strike by 59 cruise missiles on a Syrian air base. And France joined Britain and the US in launching missile strikes on three suspected chemical weapons sites in Syria in April 2018 after a suspected chemical attack in Douma.

Erekat: China, Russia to Boycott Economic Workshop
Ramallah- Kifah ZbounAsharq /Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 29 May, 2019/The Secretary-General of the Palestine Liberation Organization's (PLO) executive committee, Saeb Erekat, said he had been informed by China and Russia that they would skip the next month’s workshop in Bahrain end of this month. Erekat noted in meetings with foreign delegations and through the social media websites that the leadership held talks with more than 20 states and international authorities. He was briefed by China's ambassador to Palestine who informed him and other Palestinian officials about the boycott.
Earlier, member of the PLO Executive Committee Ahmed Majdalani arrived in South Africa, carrying with him political messages. Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister and Information Minister Nabil Abu Rudeina handed a letter from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the developments in the Palestinian cause and the steps to be taken by the leadership to face the Deal of the Century. Abu Rudeina added that any partial solutions wouldn’t bring peace and security because the Palestinian cause was originally political. This message was conveyed by Erekat to ambassadors and consuls, asking them not to respond to any invitations to participate in Manama. The “Peace to Prosperity” economic workshop, to be held on June 25 and 26 in Bahrain, was announced last week by senior White House officials, who said that the Trump administration is planning to release the economic component of its upcoming Middle East peace plan during that workshop.

Israel Tightens Gaza Fishing Curbs After New Fire Balloons

Jerusalem- Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 29 May, 2019/Israel announced Wednesday it had tightened restrictions on Palestinian fishing off the blockaded Gaza Strip after more balloons fitted with firebombs were floated from the enclave into its territory. The zone it allows Gaza fishermen was reduced to a maximum of 10 nautical miles from 15, COGAT, the Israeli defense ministry unit that oversees such regulations said. The move came just days after Israel restored the fishing limit to the 15 nautical mile maximum after a previous cut in response to fire balloons last week. Palestinians in Gaza have frequently floated balloons fitted with firebombs over the border to damage Israeli property and have succeeded in setting fire to large areas of farmland.Around 80 percent of Palestinians in impoverished Gaza are reliant on international aid, according to the United Nations. Israel and Palestinian factions in Gaza have fought three wars since Hamas assumed power over the enclave more than a decade ago.

Bolton: Ships sabotaged off UAE coast attacked ‘almost certainly by Iran’
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Wednesday, 29 May 2019/US National Security Adviser John Bolton says the ships sabotaged off the UAE coast “were navel mines almost certainly by Iran”.He said the tanker attacks were connected to the strike on oil pumping stations on the Kingdom's East-West pipeline and a rocket attack on the Green Zone in the Iraqi capital Baghdad.“We take all of this very seriously,” he said. “These attacks were unfortunately consistent with the very serious threat information that we had been obtaining. It is one reason we increased our deterrent capability in the region.”In statements made on Wednesday during his visit to the UAE, Bolton added that the US is very confident that they, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia are all on the same page about the priority and risk of an Iran with nuclear weapons. Bolton also revealed the US’s concern about the Quds Force and Qassem Soleimani, whome he said is using proxy Shiite militias as an indirect way to attack US forces in Iraq. “We will hold the Quds force responsible if we see attacks,” Bolton said. Bolton had arrived in the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday ahead of talks scheduled for Wednesday. “We are consulting more closely with our allies in the region to discuss what to do next this is one of the reasons I’m here,” Bolton said. Tensions have risen between Iran and the United States after an attack this month on oil tankers in the Gulf. Washington blamed the attacks on Tehran, which denied the accusations. Bolton stated on Wednesday that the point is to make it clear to Iran and it’s surrogates that these “kind of activities risk a very strong response from the Americans”.

Rouhani Suggests Talks with US Possible if it Lifts Sanctions
Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 29 May, 2019/President Hassan Rouhani suggested on Wednesday that talks with the United States may be possible if it lifted sanctions against Iran. “Whenever they lift the unjust sanctions and fulfill their commitments and return to the negotiations table, which they left themselves, the door is not closed,” he told a cabinet meeting without explicitly naming the US. “But our people judge you by your actions, not your words,” he said according to state television. Rouhani's website also quoted him as saying that if the US chooses "another way and returns to justice and law, the Iranian nation will keep the road open to you." He made his comments days after US President Donald Trump said a deal with Tehran on its nuclear program was conceivable. Washington withdrew last year from a 2015 international nuclear deal with Tehran, and is ratcheting up sanctions in efforts to shut down Iran’s economy by ending its international sales of crude oil. Trump said on Monday: “I really believe that Iran would like to make a deal, and I think that’s very smart of them, and I think that’s a possibility to happen.” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Tuesday that Iran saw no prospect of negotiations with the United States. Tensions have risen between Iran and the United States since Washington deployed military resources including a carrier strike group and bombers and announced plans to deploy 1,500 troops to the Middle East, prompting fears of a conflict.

FireEye: Iran Used Fake Social Media Accounts to Mislead Americans during Midterms

Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 29 May, 2019/A network of fake social media accounts impersonated political candidates and journalists to spread messages in support of Iran and against US President Donald Trump around the 2018 congressional elections, cybersecurity firm FireEye said on Tuesday. The findings show how unidentified, possibly government-backed, groups could manipulate social media platforms to promote stories and other content that can influence the opinions of American voters, the researchers said, according to Reuters. The campaign was organized through a series of fake personas that created various social media accounts, including on Twitter and Facebook. Most of these accounts were created last year and have since been taken down, the report said. Spokespersons for Twitter and Facebook confirmed FireEye’s finding that the fake accounts were created on their platforms. Lee Foster, a researcher with FireEye, said he found some of the fake personas - often masquerading as American journalists - had successfully convinced several US news outlets to publish letters to the editor, guest columns and blog posts. “We’re assessing with low confidence that this network was organized to support Iranian political interests,” said Foster. Before the 2018 midterms election, the nameless group created Twitter accounts that also impersonated both Republican and Democratic congressional candidates. It is unclear if the fake accounts had any effect on their campaigns. The imposter Twitter accounts often plagiarized messages from the politicians’ legitimate accounts, but also mixed in posts voicing support for policies believed to be favorable to Tehran. Twitter said in a statement that it had “removed this network of 2,800 inauthentic accounts originating in Iran at the beginning of May,” adding that its investigation was ongoing. Facebook said it had removed 51 Facebook accounts, 36 Pages, seven Groups and three Instagram accounts connected to the influence operation. Instagram is owned by Facebook. The activity on Facebook was less expansive than that on Twitter and it appeared to be more narrowly focused, said Facebook head of cybersecurity policy Nathaniel Gleicher. The inauthentic Facebook accounts instead often privately messaged high profile figures, including journalists, policy-makers and Iranian dissidents, to promote certain issues. Facebook also concluded the activity had originated in Iran.

Travelers Stranded as Sudan Strike Enters Second Day
Khartoum- Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 29 May, 2019/Hundreds of travelers remained stranded in the Sudanese capital Wednesday as bus terminal staff stopped work for a second day in support of protesters demanding the ruling generals step down. In a bid to step up the pressure on the military council which took power after ousting longtime president Omar al-Bashir, the Alliance for Freedom and Change protest movement called for a two-day general strike starting on Tuesday. Thousands of employees of government offices, banks, private sector firms and the docks of Port Sudan observed the strike on Tuesday, insisting that only civilian rule can lift Sudan out of its political crisis. On Wednesday, the capital's airport began to return to normal after scores of staff stopped work on Tuesday. But the flights of Sudanese airlines Badr, Tarco, and Nova remained suspended.
At the main bus terminal, stranded passengers were looking for private transport to reach their destinations as bus company staff remained on strike. "This is the second day I came to the bus terminal with my family and I am still unable to travel," said Mohamed al-Amin, who was trying to reach the eastern state of Kassala. "Now I'm trying to hire a car with some other passengers." Several newspapers were unable to bring out their editions because their printers were on strike. "My newspaper is not on strike but we were unable to print the edition because the technicians were on strike," the owner of Al-Mjher newspaper, Al-Hindi Ezzeddine, tweeted. Ahead of the two-day strike, protest leaders had said medics, lawyers, prosecutors, and staff from the electricity, water, public transport, telecommunications, and civil aviation sectors were set to take part in the strike. The army ousted Bashir in April after months of protests against his autocratic rule, including a sit-in by tens of thousands outside Khartoum's military headquarters. But the generals, backed by key Arab powers, have resisted calls from African and Western governments to step down. Thousands of protesters remain camped outside army HQ. Before suspending talks last week, the two sides had agreed on many aspects of the political transition, including its duration and the bodies that will oversee it. But negotiations broke down over the protesters demands that a planned new sovereign council to replace the current generals have a civilian head and a civilian majority.

Iraq Hands over 188 Turkish Children of ISIS Members

Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 29 May, 2019/Iraq has handed over 188 Turkish children of suspected ISIS members to Turkey in the presence of government officials from both countries and UNICEF, a judiciary spokesman said on Wednesday.
The handover took place in Baghdad airport and representatives of the Iraqi judiciary were present until the children got on the airplane that would take them home, he said. A legal source told Reuters the transfers took place on Wednesday. "The central investigations court which is responsible for the terrorism file and foreign suspects has handed the Turkish side 188 children left behind by ISIS terrorists in Iraq," said Judge Abdul-Sattar al-Birqdar, the spokesman, in a statement. He added that the figure included a few who had "come of age" and had been convicted of illegally crossing the border and served out their sentences. An Iraqi foreign ministry official, a representative of the Turkish embassy in Baghdad, and representatives of international organizations including UNICEF were present, Birqdar said.

6 Belgo-Moroccans Elected to Belgium’s House of Representatives
Rabat- Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 29 May, 2019/Six Belgians of Moroccan origin were elected to the Belgian House of Representatives during the federal, regional, and European elections held in Belgium on Sunday, Moroccan News Agency (MAP) reported. The newly-elected deputies are: co-president of environmental party Ecologist Francophone (Ecolo) Zakia Khattabi, president of the Socialist Francophone Group in the lower chamber Ahmed Laaouej, president of Flemish-Socialist Group of the same chamber (Spa) Meriam Kitir, member of Belgian Labour Party (PTB) Nabil Boukili, and members of the Democratic Christian Flemish Party (CD&V) Nahima Lanjri and Nawal Farih. Some 20 Belgo-Moroccan deputies were elected to regional parliaments: 15 in the Parliament of Brussels, three in the Parliament of the Wallonia, and three in the Flemish Parliament. Left-wing Francophone and Green Parties nominated in Brussels the more commonly known as “diversity” candidates, and to a lesser extent in Wallonia and on average among the “Flemish Socialists” and “Democratic Christians” in the northern Flemish region. The legislative and regional elections resulted in a major victory for the far-right Vlaams-Belang party in the northern Flemish region. In Brussels and Wallonia, the Socialist Francophone Party ranked first. The Belgian monarch Philippe began consultations Sunday to form the government, which appear to be difficult after the far-right victory, which gained 18 seats in Sunday’s elections in the lower house after it had 3 seats in the previous elections.

Egyptian Terrorist Hisham Ashmawy Transferred from LNA to Cairo

Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 29 May, 2019/The Libyan National Army (LNA) transferred to Cairo top Egyptian terrorist Hisahm al-Ashmawy, reported state television on Wednesday. Ashmawy, a former Egyptian special forces officer, was apprehended in the Libyan city of Derna late last year and has been long sought by Cairo on charges of orchestrating a deadly desert ambush on police and other high-profile attacks. At least two private Egyptian television channels showed live footage of the military aircraft landing in Cairo airport and a presenter climbed inside to film a blindfolded and ear-muffed Ashmawy. Another unidentified detainee could also be seen handcuffed, blindfolded and ear-muffed. Two intelligence sources told Reuters the man was Safwat Zeidan, Ashmawy’s personal guard. In his first comments on the transfer, Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi said in a tweet: “The war on terrorism has not ended and will not end before the right of every martyr is restored.”The transfer came following a visit by Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel to Benghazi where he met with LNA commander Khalifa Haftar. Ashmway had sought refuge in Derna to operate against the Egyptian government after the ouster of former President Mohammed Morsi in 2013. He attempted to form the so-called “Free Egyptian Army” that was comprised of radicalized Egyptians. He encountered complications when Egyptian terrorists from Syria and Iraq joined the group. Libyan and Egyptian sources said that the group was dissolved some two years ago. Ashmawy then formed the Ansar al-Islam network, which claimed responsibility for an ambush against police in Egypt’s Western Desert in 2017. Egyptian officials also accuse the network, which they link to al-Qaeda, of an assassination attempt on a former Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim in 2013. Ashmawy has been convicted in absentia to death in Egypt for attacks in Egypt, including a 2014 raid in which 22 Egyptian military border guards were killed near the frontier with Libya.

Egypt: Court Upholds Execution of 17, Life Sentence of 19 in Church Bombings

Cairo/Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 29 May, 2019/A military court in Egypt rejected Tuesday the appeals in the bombing of three churches. It upheld the death sentences of 20 convicts, life sentence of 17, 15-year imprisonment for one and 10-year for another. They were convicted of killing up to 80 persons in three terrorist bombings. The first targeted a church linked to the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo in Dec. 2016, and was followed by two consecutive blasts in churches in Tanta and Alexandria in April 2017. The charges include establishing two ISIS cells in Cairo and Qena. The indictment also included attacking security forces in the Negev, killing police officers, possessing and manufacturing ammunition and firearms, ISIS membership and receiving military training at ISIS camps in Libya and Syria. The Alexandria military court issued in Oct. 2018 verdicts giving 17 defendants death sentences and 19 life sentences, nine received 15-year jail terms and one a 10-year rigorous imprisonment sentence. ISIS increased its presence in Egypt five years ago after pledging allegiance to the extremist Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, which carried out terrorist operations mainly in north Sinai before launching other attacks in Cairo and the rest of Egyptian provinces. Mahmoud Shafiq Mohammed Mustafa was identified as the suicide bomber who targeted Cairo's historic Coptic St. Peter church. On Dec.8, Amr Saad Abbas and Walid Abu al-Majd Abdullah came to him with explosive vests. They resided with him, then on Dec 9-10 they monitored the church and the next day he blew himself up, killing 29 people and wounding 45 others. Moreover, the Cairo Criminal Court decided to release Hamada el-Sayed, a player at Aswan club in the case known in the media as Wilayat Sina' (Sinai Province).

Yemen’s Government Urges Transparency in Operations of Int’l Organizations
Riyadh - Abdulhadi Habtor/Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 29 May, 2019/The Yemeni government has said that 80 percent of international organizations have rejected to heed its demands on revealing operational expenses and the size of aid delivered to the country’s people.
The government warned the organizations that it could take legal measures against them, depriving them of their ability to operate in Yemen. Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Najib al-Auj said there have been question marks on how funds made available by donor countries were being spent in Yemen. Auj told Asharq Al-Awsat that some organizations were exaggerating in expenditures into operational costs by reaching 25 percent, although the norm is just five percent. The minister said that the Yemeni government has recently brought up the issue with international organizations, the United Nations and the World Bank. Yet only 20 percent heeded its request. “We are planning to take legal measures against organizations who are ignoring our demands for data on their operations in Yemen,” he said. Auj said that the Yemeni government will also inform donor states about the issue. Among other measures that the government could take are rejecting to renew the licenses of organizations that are lacking transparency in their operations, the minister warned. He denied that the government is interfering in the activities of international agencies, saying: “We are grating them customs and tax exemptions, and facilitating their work. So they should in return be transparent and cooperative.”“We don’t want to interfere in their work or impose anything on them,” Auj said. “We just want clear data so that we could announce to the Yemeni people about the assistance provided to them by such organizations.”

Security Council Freezes Assets of 26 Tunisian Terrorists, 3 Organizations
Tunis - Mongi Saidani/Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 29 May, 2019/ The UN Security Council froze the assets of 26 Tunisians and three organizations involved in terrorism cases. Those included in the council’s list are Ansar Al-Sharia, Uqba ibn Nafi battalion, which is affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and Jund al-Khilafah. The list also mentioned a group of dangerous terrorists: Saif Allah Bin Hussein, founder of Ansar al-Sharia who is also accused of several terrorist cases, including the political assassinations in Tunisia in 2013. It also included Mohammed al-Awadi, the military commander of Ansar al-Sharia. Notably, this group has been prohibited in the country since 2013.  The court sentenced Awadi to 20 years in prison for his implication in terrorist activities and planning for political assassinations. Tunisia’s National Counter-Terrorism Commission President Mokhtar Ben Nasr has announced, since November, the third batch of decisions on freezing funds and economic resources against terrorists. Omar Hanin, assistant undersecretary of the republic at Ben Arous, denied that the three suspects of the attack on Rades are related to the extremist intellect as rumored by media. Meanwhile, judicial sources revealed on Saturday that a quarrel erupted between a coffee shop owner and employees in Rades, in addition to four individuals who were in a car. Things later calmed down. After a period of time, they returned with a crowd holding sticks and attacked the shop. The Tunisian Ministry of Interior confirmed that the attack has no links to extremists.

 Trump Says 'Case Closed' as Mueller Says His Report Did Not Acquit Him
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 29/2019/Trump said Wednesday that "nothing changes" after long-silent Special Counsel Robert Mueller voiced new remarks on his probe into Russia's meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. “Nothing changes from the Mueller Report. There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent. The case is closed! Thank you,” Trump tweeted. Announcing his resignation earlier in the day, Mueller said that charging Trump with a crime of obstruction was not an option because of Justice Department policy not to indict a sitting president."Under longstanding department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office," Mueller said in his first public comments in two years. "That is unconstitutional. "A Special Counsel's Office is part of the Department of Justice, and by regulation, it was bound by that department policy," Mueller said. "Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider," the former FBI director said. "The Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting President of wrongdoing," Mueller added, in what appeared to be a suggestion that any further action would lie with Congress. At the same time, Mueller reiterated that his report into Russian interference in the 2016 election and potential obstruction of justice did not exonerate the president. "It would be unfair to potentially accuse somebody of a crime when there can be no court resolution of the actual charge," he said. "Those were the principles under which we operated, and from them we concluded that we would not reach a determination one way or the other about whether the president committed a crime. "If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so," Mueller said. "We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime."Mueller also said that if he was called to testify before Congress -- as some Democrats are demanding -- he would say no more than what is already in report. "I hope and expect this to be the only time that I will speak about this matter," he said. "I am making that decision myself -- no one has told me whether I can or should testify or speak further about this matter." Mueller ended by reiterating what he called "the central allegation of our indictments -- that there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election." "That allegation deserves the attention of every American."Mueller said that with the completion of the investigation he was resigning from the Justice Department to return to private life.

US Special counsel Mueller says he’s leaving Justice Department
The Associated Press, Washington/Wednesday, 29 May 2019/Special counsel Robert Mueller says he’s leaving the Justice Department now that he’s concluded his Russia investigation. Mueller made the announcement Wednesday in his first public statement since his appointment two years ago.
Mueller has been on the Justice Department’s payroll since he formally concluded his probe in March. Last month, Attorney General William Barr publicly released a redacted version of his Russia report. It’s unclear what Mueller has been doing at the Justice Department since, though the Democrat-led House Judiciary Committee has been negotiating with his office in an attempt to secure his public testimony before Congress. So far, no deal has been made. Mueller’s report revealed that President Donald Trump tried to seize control of the Russia probe and force Mueller’s removal to stop him from investigating potential obstruction of justice by the Republican president. Trump has called the investigation a “witch hunt.”

Statement to mark International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers
May 29, 2019 - Ottawa, Ontario - Global Affairs Canada
The Honourable Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Honourable Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister of National Defence, the Honourable Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and the Honourable Maryam Monsef, Minister of International Development and Minister for Women and Gender Equality, today issued the following statement:
“On this International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers, Canada salutes the vital work done by all peacekeepers—women and men—to end conflict, restore stability and protect millions of vulnerable people.
“We are proud of the many Canadian military personnel, police officers and civilians who have supported, and who are currently supporting, United Nations peace operations missions all over the world, and we offer our sincere thanks to their families. We also honour the memory of all those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of peace.
“As the world faces a growing number of threats, Canada is determined to support international efforts to reform United Nations peacekeeping to meet these challenges, as evidenced by our role in the Vancouver Principles, which aim to end the use of child soldiers, and the Elsie Initiative, which seeks to increase the meaningful participation of women in peace operations.
“Canada has always supported the United Nations and continues to firmly believe that United Nations peacekeeping missions are an important tool for maintaining international peace and security.”

Canada opposition head wants to stop ‘illegal border crossings’ from US
AFP, Montreal/Wednesday, 29 May 2019/Canada’s Conservative Party chief and opposition leader Andrew Scheer said Tuesday he wants to end illegal border crossings from the United States by revisiting the two countries’ refugee agreement. Scheer outlined his proposal for migration policy should his party defeat Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in the October general election. “We will work to put an end to the illegal border crossings at unofficial points of entry like Roxham Road by closing the loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement that allows some people to skip the line and avoid the queue,” he said. Under the 2004 accord, anyone applying for asylum in either the US or Canada must file their application in whichever country they enter first. To avoid that rule and guarantee their asylum application will be considered in Canada, thousands of migrants have passed into the country through unofficial border crossings, such as at Roxham Road, an area on the border between New York and Quebec. About 55,000 people crossed the border into Canada from the US to seek asylum in 2018, according to the government.

Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on May 29-30/19
The Palestinian War on the Trump Peace Plan

Khaled Abu Toameh/Gatestone Institute/May 29/2019
In the past few days, the Gaza-based groups have issued several statements hinting that they would use all means, including terrorism, to foil the US peace plan.
What is perhaps most worrying for the Arab leaders are the threats coming from Iran's puppets -- Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah. It now remains to be seen whether the Arab heads of state will be deterred by these threats or ignore them at the risk of becoming the Palestinians' terror targets.
Clearly, the very Palestinians who are boycotting a conference -- whose aim is to help them move beyond their leadership-imposed economic devastation -- will wind up the big losers in this spiteful scenario of hate. This time, however, it also seems that the Palestinians will not only deprive themselves of billions of dollars, but will also damage -- perhaps irrevocably -- their relations with influential Arab countries. By all accounts, the Palestinians appear to be heading toward another "nakba" (catastrophe).
The Palestinian Authority and its political allies in the West Bank have launched a diplomatic and media campaign to rally worldwide support for their rejection of US President Donald Trump's upcoming plan for peace in the Middle East, also known as the "Deal of the Century."
The Palestinians seem to be moving on two fronts to thwart US President Donald Trump's plan for peace in the Middle East, also known as the "Deal of the Century."
The Palestinian Authority and its political allies in the West Bank have launched a diplomatic and media campaign to rally worldwide support for their rejection of Trump's upcoming plan. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian extremist groups, for their part, are already hinting that they will resort to violence in an effort to thwart the "Deal of the Century."
Last week, Hamas called on Bahrain not to allow the "Zionist enemy to defile its lands" by attending the economic conference.
Recently, the Palestinians intensified their attacks on the upcoming peace plan, particularly after the US administration announced that it will unveil the economic portions of the "Deal of the Century" at an economic workshop in Bahrain in late June. The Palestinians have voiced strong opposition to the workshop and said they will boycott it, despite its goal of improving the living conditions of the residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
In a rare show of unity, President Mahmoud Abbas's ruling Fatah faction and its rivals in Hamas and Islamic Jihad are saying that the Palestinians will not only boycott the Bahrain conference, but that all the countries invited should also reject the invitation to attend the workshop.
The Palestinians are particularly focusing their effort on trying to persuade the Arab states to boycott the Bahrain workshop. They are terrified that the Arab countries will surrender to US pressure and attend the conference, thus, as they see it, abandoning their Palestinian brothers and leaving them isolated in the international arena.
In addition to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have announced that they will send delegates to the US-led economic workshop. Jordan, Egypt, and Qatar are also expected to participate in the conference, notwithstanding fierce Palestinian opposition.
Abbas last week visited Qatar and Jordan in a bid to persuade the two countries to join the Palestinian boycott of the Bahrain workshop. The most Abbas managed to get from Qatar and Jordan were the usual laconic statements of support for the Palestinian cause and rights. His hope that Qatar and Jordan would publicly endorse the Palestinian boycott has failed to materialize.
Even Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, the country hosting the conference, have made similar statements expressing full political support for the Palestinians, while ignoring their call for boycotting the economic workshop. The Arabs have always excelled in paying lip-service to the Palestinians, at the same time offering them precious little in real support.
Echoing fears of being abandoned by their Arab brethren, Palestinian officials are now publicly appealing to the Arab states to boycott the Bahrain economic workshop. They have even gone as far as warning that participation in the workshop would be considered an act of treason against Palestinians and Arabs. Several Palestinian factions, including Fatah, have made it clear that any Arab who attends the economic conference will be denounced as a traitor.
The Palestinians, in other words, are directly threatening the Arab heads of state that they would be labelled traitors for "colluding" with US President Donald Trump's administration and Israel to liquidate the Palestinian cause and national rights. This unprecedented threat is an indication of the Palestinians' growing predicament and sense of isolation as the Arab states appear to be turning their back on them.
Moreover, the threat is a sign of mounting tensions between the Palestinian leadership and Arab heads of state, who are apparently fed up with Palestinian intransigence and refusal to adjust to the new reality in the Middle East, particularly Iran's continued meddling in the internal affairs of Arab countries.
PLO leaders who met in the West Bank city of Ramallah this week called on the Arabs to heed the Palestinian call for boycotting the Bahrain workshop. "The PLO Executive Committee calls on all the Arab countries that agreed to attend the conference to reconsider their decision," the PLO leaders said in a statement. They also warned that no Arab country was authorized to speak or negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians at the conference of any other international forum.
PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat also called on Arab states that have committed to attend the Bahrain conference to revisit their plans. "We call on the countries that have agreed to attend the Bahrain workshop to reevaluate their decision," he said.
Praising several Palestinian businessmen who announced that they turned down invitations from the US to attend the conference, Abbas's Fatah said it will not hesitate to "expose" anyone who dares to violate the Palestinian boycott or thinks of "conspiring" against the Palestinian cause. "Our patience won't last for long as we follow attempts by some suspicious people to open channels with the US administration," Fatah cautioned.
In the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, representatives of the private sector said that mere participation in the Bahrain conference was a "betrayal of the blood of Palestinian martyrs, the suffering of the prisoners and the pain of the wounded. The Palestinian cause is not for sale."
In light of these threats, it is hard to see how any Palestinian businessman living under the rule of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip would dare to take the dangerous step of participating in a US-led conference that is being denounced by Palestinian leaders as a "conspiracy" to eliminate the Palestinian cause and rights.
The Palestinian threats, however, are directed not only towards Palestinian businessmen, but also against entire Arab states and their leaders. For now, it seems that the Arabs are unfazed by these Palestinian threats.
Yet while Abbas and his officials have resorted to political pressure to persuade the Arabs to boycott the conference, other Palestinian groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, seem to be preparing for a violent response to Trump's "Deal of the Century." In the past few days, the Gaza-based groups have issued several statements hinting that they would use all means, including terrorism, to foil the US peace plan.
Islamic Jihad Secretary-General Ziad al-Nakhalah said last week that the Palestinian "resistance has enough power cards that would enable it to thwart the Deal of the Century." Although he did not provide details about the "power cards," al-Nakhalah was apparently referring to the possibility that his Iran-backed Islamic Jihad would resort to violence.
Islamic Jihad and Hamas say they are now cooperating with Hezbollah, Iran's proxy terrorist group in Lebanon, to foil the Bahrain conference and Trump's "Deal of the Century." Last week, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah expressed strong opposition to the "Deal of the Century," and drew praise from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and even the Palestinian Authority.
This is the message that the Palestinians are sending to the Arab world: "Either boycott the US administration, or we will incite the Arabs and Muslims against you." What is perhaps most worrying for the Arab leaders are the threats coming from Iran's puppets -- Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah. It now remains to be seen whether the Arab heads of state will be deterred by these threats or ignore them at the risk of becoming the Palestinians' terror targets.
Clearly, the very Palestinians who are boycotting a conference -- whose aim is to help them move beyond their leadership-imposed economic devastation -- will wind up the big losers in this spiteful scenario of hate. This time, however, it also seems that the Palestinians will not only deprive themselves of billions of dollars, but will also damage -- perhaps irrevocably -- their relations with influential Arab countries. By all accounts, the Palestinians appear to be heading toward another "nakba" (catastrophe).
*Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem, is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at Gatestone Institute.

Turning the Tables on "Global Zero"

Peter Huessy and David A. Deptula/Gatestone Institute/May 29/2019
As it turns out, the modernization of America's nuclear deterrent would require, at most, only around 3% of the annual defense budget.
"International arms control relies on adherence to reciprocal obligations and nations should not be required to subject themselves to unilateral observance of them. Arms control more generally is undermined by violations going unchallenged." — Forces Network, UK, April 4, 2019.
"Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping continue to expand and modernize their nuclear arsenals. Future arms-control agreements must take into account both the Russian and Chinese threats, while ensuring we don't place one-sided nuclear restrictions on ourselves." — Senator Tom Cotton; May 13, 2019.
"We must... realize that America will not be able to achieve the necessary changes to New START unless it is negotiating from a position of strength. That means Congress must invest in the modernization of our nuclear triad and the additional low-yield capabilities called for in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review. These investments are critical to America's ability to rein in China and Russia." — Representative Liz Cheney; May 13, 2019.
The modernization, build-up and deployment of American nuclear weapons during the Reagan administration was what gave the U.S. leverage over the Soviet Union, which led to the U.S.S.R. giving up its multiple thousands of SS-20 missiles in Europe and Asia -- in the 1987 INF Treaty -- and subsequently cutting half of Russia's strategic long-range missile warheads.
Two narratives that provided justification for cutting America's defense budget in the 1970s and 1990s -- détente and the "end of history" -- had a key component in common: Both were based on the assumption that existential national-security threats to the United States were either exaggerated or a thing of the past. In each narrative, this assumption proved to be false.
Détente favored the Soviet Union so markedly in terms of its "correlation of forces" -- the balance of conventional and nuclear power -- that victory over the U.S. was in sight. Détente also fueled U.S.S.R. expansionism. More than 20 countries were subjected to Soviet aggression, coups, revolutions or wars of national liberation.
The "end of history" narrative was largely responsible for America's massive lack of American awareness of the looming threat of Islamist radicalism that led to the 9/11/2001 attacks, the seeds of which were taking root throughout the previous decade, after the fall of the Soviet Union.
It was during that 10-year period, after the end of the Cold War, that there was a near collapse of funding for America's nuclear-deterrence, in spite of the rise of nuclear-armed countries, such as Pakistan and India, as well as North Korea's and Iran's search for nuclear weapons.
Then, in 2000, Russia effectively killed the START II treaty by insisting that the U.S. keep its missile-defense work in the laboratory, and not build an actual missile-defense system in Alaska to defend against North Korea.
Since December 2010, subsequent administrations in Washington have supported the modernization of America's nuclear deterrent -- with each leg of the nuclear Triad scheduled for replacement beginning in 2027, nearly the end of the next decade. Nevertheless, a small but influential community is pushing for unilateral reductions in American nuclear forces and curtailment of much of the deterrent modernization.
This community, the "global zero" alliance -- made up of some academics, journalists, actors and politicians -- espouses four radical ideas:
Current nuclear modernization plans are prohibitively expensive;
Conventional, not nuclear, weapons should be used by the U.S., even in response to a nuclear attack;
Arms control is the only serious method of reducing nuclear dangers; and
Congress should punish the Trump administration, which is hostile to arms-control, by withholding support for nuclear modernization.
Unfortunately, each of these ideas is wrong.
Regarding the first idea: While proponents of "global zero" claim that modernizing deterrence will cost $1.2 trillion over the next three decades, it will actually cost less than one-third of that number. The bulk of future nuclear expenditures will go to sustaining old nuclear systems -- such as the B-52 bomber, the Minuteman land-based missile and the Ohio-class submarine and associated warheads -- which are now approaching 40-70 years in service. As it turns out, modernization would require, at most, only around 3% of the annual defense budget, amounting to an average of $10.6 billion to be spent over the next five years. As for the second idea: Claims by proponents of massive U.S. defense cuts that nuclear weapons should never be employed is also unrealistic. According to former USAF General and nuclear commander Kevin Chilton, for example, the United States would not be able not deter a nuclear-armed adversary using conventional weapons alone: attempting to do so would "incentivize" enemies' first use of nuclear weapons against America.
Where the third idea is concerned: Contrary to the assertion that arms control reduces nuclear dangers, the opposite is the case. The modernization, build-up and deployment of American nuclear weapons during the Reagan administration was what gave the U.S. leverage over the Soviet Union, which led to the U.S.S.R. giving up its multiple thousands of SS-20 missiles in Europe and Asia -- in the 1987 INF Treaty -- and subsequently cutting half of Russia's strategic long-range missile warheads.
As for the fourth idea: Although the Trump administration is often blamed for the end of the INF treaty, Russia has been violating it for years, and successive U.S. administrations have tried to rectify the problem, to no avail. As a recent British study concludes, "International arms control relies on adherence to reciprocal obligations and nations should not be required to subject themselves to unilateral observance of them. Arms control more generally is undermined by violations going unchallenged."
Today, the Trump administration is declaring that the 2010 New Start treaty, which expires in 2021, can be extended, but on condition that Russian nuclear systems be included and that China – which, as nuclear analyst Debalina Ghoshal writes, "is working unrelentingly to make up for its quantitative disadvantage in its nuclear arms race against the U.S. by competing qualitatively" -- join the treaty.
Trump's critics have derided even these utterly reasonable goals, dismissing them as "poison pill" strategies and a cover for opposing arms control in principle. Yet, as Dr. Michael Pillsbury details in his book, The 100-Year Marathon, while Russia under Putin seeks to restore the hegemonic power of the former Soviet Union over Eurasia, China seeks to supplant the United States as the world's premier economic and military power.
The good news is that supporters of Reagan's "peace through strength" doctrine are turning the tables on the "global zero" community. Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) have introduced legislation stipulating that no money for the extension of New Start will be approved by Congress unless and until the "New START or successor agreement includes the People's Republic of China and covers all strategic and non-strategic nuclear forces of the Russian Federation."
In a statement released on May 13, Cotton said:
"Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping continue to expand and modernize their nuclear arsenals. Future arms-control agreements must take into account both the Russian and Chinese threats, while ensuring we don't place one-sided nuclear restrictions on ourselves."
Cornyn added: "As we negotiate future arms-control agreements, we should take the current threat landscape into account. This legislation would ensure we can protect our country's national security interests as both China and Russia continue to make strategic expansions of their nuclear arsenals."
Cheney explained: "America deserves better than a mere New START extension. Any meaningful arms control treaty must reflect reality as it is, rather than the hopes and dreams of negotiators. In the decade since President Obama's New START Treaty was ratified, the world has grown more dangerous and complex. The New START Treaty does little to advance America's national security. Since agreeing to this treaty, Russia has modernized its nuclear arsenal, and an unrestricted China has taken advantage of the opportunity to do the same and more. The changes laid out in the New START Treaty Improvement Act address Russia's nuclear expansion and the threat emanating from China. We must also realize that America will not be able to achieve the necessary changes to New START unless it is negotiating from a position of strength. That means Congress must invest in the modernization of our nuclear triad and the additional low-yield capabilities called for in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review. These investments are critical to America's ability to rein in China and Russia."
*Dr. Peter Huessy is President of GeoStrategic Analysis, a defense consulting firm he founded in 1981, as well as Director of Strategic Deterrent Studies at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. He was also for 20 years, the senior defense consultant at the National Defense University Foundation.
*Lt. Gen David A. Deptula, USAF (Ret.), serves as the Dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. He is a world-recognized leader and pioneer in conceptualizing, planning, and executing national security operations from humanitarian relief to major combat. He was the principal attack planner for the Operation Desert Storm air campaign; commander of no-fly-zone operations over Iraq in the late 1990s, and director of the air campaign over Afghanistan in 2001.
© 2019 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Lawmakers Show US Appetite for Confrontation

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al-Awsat/May 29/2019
Some believe that the Americans no longer have an appetite for confrontation; but this is not what we feel in Washington, whether in the legislative and executive branches, or in civil and military institutions.
Uncharacteristically, it is the Congress that is asking for more, as 400 members signed a bipartisan letter last week urging President Donald Trump to increase US engagement in the Syrian crisis. The lawmakers’ message to the president reflects their concern about the war there, despite eight years of conflict, and the failure of attempts to change the regime in Damascus.
The signatories say that the conflict in Syria is complex, potential solutions are not perfect, and there is no choice but to develop policies that would stop the growing threats to US interests, which is a strategy that requires US leadership.
Syria, which neither boasts abundant oil nor possesses strategic weapons, is today the scene of multiple conflicts, both regional and international. The goals of Washington, as identified by the lawmakers, are: Eliminating terrorist organizations, stopping Iran’s infiltration into Syria and its destabilizing activities in the region, boosting Israel’s superiority, protecting US allies, and weakening the Russian military role there.
In their letter, the lawmakers call on the US to play a key role in the Syrian conflict, which goes against the former desire of the president to withdraw troops and reduce the US role.
The letter says: “Dear Mr. President: At a time of grave insecurity in the Middle East, we are deeply concerned about the role that terrorist and extremist groups, as well as US adversaries, continue to play, particularly, in Syria.
As some of our closest allies in the region are being threatened, American leadership and support are as crucial as ever”.
It adds “Pockets of ungoverned space have allowed terrorist groups, such as (Daesh), Al-Qaeda, and their affiliates, to keep parts of Syria in their stranglehold. These groups’ ability to recruit, propagandize, and grow is alarming. Though their main purpose now may be to fight inside Syria, they retain the ability and will to plan and implement attacks against Western targets, our allies and partners, and the US homeland. The United States has an interest in preventing these terrorist organizations from solidifying their foothold in the Middle East.”
The letter goes on, stressing that: “The region has also been destabilized by the Iranian regime’s threatening behavior. In Syria, Iran is working to establish a permanent military presence that can threaten our allies.”
Furthermore, the lawmakers who signed the letter believe that Russia is working to secure a permanent presence in Syria, outside its existing naval facility in Tartus, and that it has changed the perimeters of the civil war to ensure the survival of the Assad regime. The signatories doubt Russia’s intentions and accuse it of complementing Iran’s role.
In addition to Hezbollah’s role in the massacres committed in Syria, the US lawmakers see that the group “now poses a more potent threat to Israel as well.” They believe that Hezbollah is playing the role of an advanced military battalion serving the interests of the Iranians by putting pressure on Israel and obtaining the concessions demanded by Tehran.
The demands of the lawmakers seem more belligerent than those of the White House and the State Department. This is reflected in their letter, in which they called on Trump to implement a strategy that includes the following elements:
• Increase the pressure on Iran and Russia in Syria in order to restrict their destabilizing activities.
• Emphasize the old US policy of supporting Israel’s capability and qualitative military superiority in the context of the current 10-year Memorandum of Understanding.
• Continue economic and diplomatic efforts to prevent Iran from supporting Hezbollah and other terrorist groups, as well as standing up to Russia’s support for Bashar Assad’s brutal regime. They also “encourage full implementation of sanctions authorized in the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.”
• Increase the pressure on Hezbollah by forcefully and fully implementing the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015, the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act of 2018, and other sanctions aimed at Hezbollah and those who fund it. In addition, they called on the president to continue to push the UN Interim Force in Lebanon to carry out its UN Security Council mandate, including investigating and reporting the presence of arms and tunnels on Israel’s border.
The importance of this letter lies in its timing. It also shows that a large group of politicians and lawmakers support confrontation and are willing to give Trump a significant margin of movement in the region; unlike what some Arab political analysts believe on the US desire to withdraw.
It is true that the letter from the Congress members does not call for confronting Iran militarily in the current crisis, but it clearly urges more work in Syria, the arena of the current confrontation between the two sides.

On the Sidelines of the European Elections
Hazem Saghieh/Asharq Al-Awsat/May 29/2019
It is easy to enumerate the messages and blows of the European elections: The populist right, especially in Italy, France and Britain, made remarkable progress, but did not achieve what it wanted. The alarm became louder, but the conditions to avoid the tragedy are still available, even though they required activation and capable leaders. This confirms that moderate parties and the traditional right and left are heading towards decline, while the European Union is more than ever required to reinvent itself in a less bureaucratic, more attractive way.
Cooperation between supporters of Europe in the new parliament has become a compelling issue. Repelling populist influence is a top priority, but social responsiveness remains the necessary condition to counter that influence. This priority trivializes the Franco-German dispute on the European commission president.  The high turnout, even if the populist rise was one of its causes, emphasized that democracy was still working and that Europe was still a key matter in the Europeans’ lives.
For the green parties, the European elections confirmed that cross-border issues, which cannot be dealt with nationally, occupy a prominent position in consciousness and behavior. When the young generation is the main supporter of the Greens, this indicates a promising future. Here lies one of the foundations upon which to build a force against the nationalists. But it is fine to go back a little to what we might call the populist deception strategy. Three years ago, Brexit looked fertile like cats in the winter: it was the only alternative to Europe. For France, there will be a “Frexit”, and for Italy an “Italexit”, for Deutschland, a “Dexit”, and for the Netherlands, a “Nexit”… These are not kids’ game names. These are ways of breaking Europe and making proposals that have the hearts of millions: Europeans, who do not want to be Europeans, who are driven by globalization, besieged by neoliberalism and terrorized by migration.
But the selfishness of the political elites has isolated them from elites and from politics. Their suffering was in large part true, but it was uttered by a false tongue. Their populist leaders told them that they were against the corruption of the elite. This is a lie. The most recent and most serious incident was that of a populist leader: Heinz Christian-Starche of the Austrian Fascist Freedom Party.
Populist leaders also told their supporters they were nationalist and sovereign. This is also a lie. Besides Strache, who is involved with the Russians, Marine Le Pen received two loans from Russian banks worth 11 million euros in support of her electoral campaign.
Investigations are ongoing into the possible Russian involvement with the electoral campaign of Britain’s Nigel Farage, during the referendum. On the other hand, the Hungarian leader, Viktor Orban, is now described as “the man of Donald Trump” in Europe.
But the lie of all lies had the shortest life: Brexit itself - the fertile cat - went floundering in its own blood. The resignation of Theresa May, after failed rescue attempts, highlighted the dilemma. Whoever succeeds her as prime minister, will inherit her struggle.
If she is replaced by Boris Johnson, dire consequences will follow, notably: the “business”, which uses Britain as a route to European markets for both exports and imports, will be affected; many job opportunities will be eroded; investments will be directed to other countries; the sterling will weaken and inflation will rise, reducing the standard of living.
The plight of Brexit represented the clash of ideology with reality: those who imagined that they knew the whole truth away from experimentation and comparison, later found their reality shamefully attacked by their ideas. They thought that the ideology of Brexit would open for them the door to the future, in the name of a legendary English past. But they realized that both the present and the future were now shut. Britain’s populist supporters preferred to be cured by the disease itself. This is why they voted for the Brexit party. But those who wanted to import "treatment" from London were hurt. Their strategy changed: they were hosted in Milan by the captain and Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who celebrated their plan to change Europe from within and to make the continent both "authentic" and "new".  They sought to become the third powerful bloc through the European parliament elections, knowing that they disagree on many issues that prevent them from becoming a bloc: Russia, the quotas of immigrants and refugees, the economic policies and other… However, Europe and its values, which should be strengthened, are what they seek to weaken. What is more dangerous is undermining the role of federal institutions, with imperial tendencies to maximize the strength of Trump’s America, Putin’s Russia and Xi Jinping’s China. The scandals of Strache, Le Pen, Farage and others did not weaken their resolve and did not make them change their minds.
Europe’s glory shall not be offered to such people.

Three historic summits in Mecca amidst rising tensions with Iran
Prince Turki al-Faisal//Al Arabiya/May 29/2019
Amid rising regional tensions, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud invited Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and League of Arab States (LAS) leaders for emergency summits in the holy city of Mecca on May 30, to discuss recent “aggressions and their consequences.”
Inasmuch as the Kingdom’s policies were first established by King Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman—to coordinate strategies and courses of action with Arab and Muslim allies before confronting challenges that threaten common concerns—the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques revealed how Riyadh intended to address the latest Iranian attacks on Arab interests. He spoke with determination and emulated the founder’s paradigm both to ascertain Riyadh’s will-to-power as well as defy potential foes.
Moreover, rather than embark on half-measures, the monarch wishes to consult with his partners as to the best approaches to enhance regional security and stability, in the aftermath of raids against oil installations inside the Kingdom and commercial ships off the coast of the UAE.
These offensives—including drone strikes by Yemeni Houthi rebels on a Saudi oil pipeline and the synchronized sabotage of four ships off the coast of the UAE —would have required sophisticated preparations necessitating innate military capabilities. Notwithstanding Iran’s denials of responsibility, the assaults demonstrated Tehran’s recklessness, since it was eminently conscious that any strike on oil facilities would trigger universal condemnation and, as necessary, coordinated reactions.
In the past, Iran has threatened to block shipping in the Straits of Hormuz, though fear of a global military clash prevented it from carrying out such ill-placed acts of daring. Still, few doubt that the attacks on Saudi oil installations were Iran’s reactions to the last American-imposed economic sanctions on Tehran, which strangulated the regime and pushed it to take irresponsible steps.
Such moves threaten to drag the region into a new war. As calls for combat gather momentum, King Salman’s offers to discuss sorely needed initiatives to address Iranian interferences in the affairs of the Arab world stand as the ultimate attempt to avoid catastrophe. Consequently, we can assume that the summits will witness frank discussions among allies, precisely to respond in a coordinated fashion to these interferences. The monarch’s approach stands out for its location too, as there is no better place on earth to hold such discussions than in the holy city of Mecca, just a few days before Eid al-Fitr 2019 dawns on the Muslim world.
Of course, while summit leaders are likely to discuss how best to avoid a war, King Salman is equally determined to defend Saudi and Arab interests amid increasing tensions between the US and Iran. In fact, while US President Donald Trump repeated that he was not looking to start a war with Tehran, and while Iranian leaders also dismissed the possibility of war, Riyadh reaffirmed its readiness to defend itself and its interests with all force and determination if Tehran chose warfare.
As the May 30 GCC and LAS gatherings will be followed on May 31 by the 14th Ordinary Session of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) under the theme “Mecca al-Mukarramah Summit: Hand in Hand toward the Future,” it is reasonable to anticipate what might be agreed upon in the 57-nation body. The expected “Mecca Declaration,” along with the Final Communiqué of the OIC, will likely address many current issues that preoccupy the Muslim world.
These include the latest developments in Palestine, the plight of the Rohingya refugee crisis in Myanmar, the growing phenomenon of Islamophobia across the globe, the need to counter terrorism and violent extremism, and a slew of other political, economic, cultural, and social concerns.
Yet what must stand above most of these matters are the questions of security and stability, along with the need to develop unified stances on ongoing developments that affect the Arab and Muslim worlds.
It may thus be fair to surmise that King Salman’s May 30 conclaves aim to find practical solutions to ongoing dilemmas and, towards that end, aspire to resolve critical differences with Gulf, Arab, and Muslim interlocutors. Such summits present golden opportunities to close ranks, coordinate efforts, and preserve the welfare of our nation as we all prepare to celebrate the end of Ramadan.
*Prince Turki al-Faisal is one of the founders of the King Faisal Foundation and serves as chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies. Prince Turki has served as ambassador to the United States from July 2005 until 11 December 2006 and as ambassador to the Court of St. James’s.

Islam’s Greatest Victory: The Fall of Constantinople, May 29, 1453
Raymond Ibrahim/May 29/2019
Today in history, on May 29, 1453, the sword of Islam conquered Constantinople. Of all of Islam’s conquests of Christian territory, this was by far the most symbolically significant. For not only was Constantinople a living and direct extension of the old Roman Empire and current capital of the Christian Roman Empire (or Byzantium), but its cyclopean walls had prevented Islam from entering Europe through its eastern doorway for the previous seven centuries, beginning with the First Arab Siege of Constantinople (674-678).
When Muslim forces failed again in the Second Arab Siege of Constantinople (717-718), conquering the ancient Christian capital became something of an obsession for a succession of caliphates and sultanates. However, it was only with the rise of the Ottoman sultanate—so named after its eponymous Turkic founder, Osman (b.1258)—that conquering the city, which was arguably better fortified than any other in the world, became a possibility, not least in thanks to the concomitant spread of gunpowder and cannons from China to Eurasia. By 1400, his descendants had managed to invade and conquer a significant portion of the southern Balkans—thereby isolating and essentially turning Constantinople into a Christian island in an Islamic sea.
Enter Sultan Mehmet, or Muhammad II (r. 1451-1481)—“the mortal enemy of the Christians,” to quote a contemporary prelate. (Note: “Mehmet” is simply an English transliteration of the Turkish pronunciation of “Muhammad.”) On becoming sultan in 1451, Constantinople sent a diplomatic embassy to congratulate him; the 19-year-old responded by telling them what they sought to hear. He “swore by the god of their false prophet, by the prophet whose name he bore,” a bitter Christian contemporary retrospectively wrote, that “he was their friend, and would remain for the whole of his life a friend and ally of the City and its ruler Constantine [XI].” Although they believed him, Muhammad was taking advantage of “the basest arts of dissimulation and deceit,” wrote Edward Gibbon. “Peace was on his lips while war was in his heart.”
What was in his heart soon became apparent. Throughout the spring of 1453 the city watched helplessly as Ottoman battalion after battalion made its way to and surrounded Constantinople by land and sea. One contemporary remarked that Muhammad’s “army seemed as numberless as grains of sand, spread . . . across the land from shore to shore.” In the end, some one hundred thousand fighters and one hundred warships came.
Sultan Muhammad II
Few Western Europeans came to Constantinople’s aid. In the end, less than seven thousand fighters, two thousand of whom were foreigners, made ready to protect fifteen miles of walls, while only twenty-six Christian ships patrolled the harbor.
Muhammad commenced bombardment on April 6. Although he tried to go over, through, and under the walls, he made little headway. Some six weeks after he had started bombarding Constantinople, he was no nearer his goal. At his wit’s end, the sultan held council with his senior officers. Although there was some discussion of withdrawing, in the end, Muhammad decided on vomiting forth every last man he had against the walls in one last-ditch effort.
But first he would need to inflame his men.
So he assembled and exhorted them: “As it happens in all battles, some of you will die, as it is decreed by fate for each man,” he began. “Recall the promises of our Prophet concerning fallen warriors in the Koran: the man who dies in combat shall be transported bodily to Paradise and shall dine with Mohammed in the presence of women, handsome boys, and virgins.”
Even so, Sultan Muhammad knew that rewards in the now were always preferable to promises in the hereafter. As Sheikh Akshemsettin had earlier told him, “You well know, that most of the soldiers [particularly the dreaded Janissaries] have in any case been converted [to Islam] by force. The number of those who are ready to sacrifice their lives for the love of Allah is extremely small. On the other hand, if they glimpse the possibility of winning booty they will run towards certain death.”
So the “Sultan swore … that his warriors would be granted the right to sack everything, to take everyone, male or female, and all property or treasure which was in the city; and that under no circumstances would he break his oath,” wrote a Catholic prelate who was present. “He asked nothing for himself, except the buildings and walls of the city; all the rest, the booty and the captives, would be theirs.”
Any Muslim still uninspired by the boons of the here or hereafter was left with a final thought: “[I]f I see any man lurking in the tents and not fighting at the wall,” warned the sultan, “he will not be able to escape a lingering death,” a reference to Muhammad’s favorite form of punishment, impalement (which Vlad the Impaler—“Dracula”—was introduced to while his hostage/guest). Muhammad’s “announcement was received with great joy,” and from thousands of throats came waves of thundering cries of “Allahu Akbar!” and “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet!”
“Oh! If you had heard their voices raised to heaven,” wondered a Christian behind the wall, “you would have been struck dumb with amazement… We … were amazed at such religious fervor, and begged God with copious tears to be well disposed towards us.” All this “most terrible shouting,” echoed another eyewitness, “was heard as far as the coast of Anatolia twelve miles away, and we Christians were very fearful.”
The all-out assault was set for May 29. Atonement, ablutions, prayers, and fasting, “under penalty of death,” were ordered for the Ottoman camp the previous day. Fanatics of all sorts were set loose to inspire the men to jihad. Wandering “dervishes visited the tents, to instill the desire of martyrdom, and the assurance of spending an immortal youth amidst the rivers and gardens of paradise, and in the embraces of the black-eyed virgins [the fabled houris],” writes one modern historian. Criers swept throughout the camp to horn blasts:
Children of Muhammad, be of good heart, for tomorrow we shall have so many Christians in our hands that we will sell them, two slaves for a ducat, and will have such riches that we will all be of gold, and from the beards of the Greeks we will make leads for our dogs, and their families will be our slaves. So be of good heart and be ready to die cheerfully for the love of our [past and present] Muhammad.
Finally, on May 29, around two a.m., Muhammad unleashed all hell against Constantinople: to blasting sounds of trumpets, cymbals, and Islamic war-cries, cannon fire lit the horizon as ball after ball came careening into the wall. Adding to the pandemonium rang church bells and alarms. After the initial wave of cannon fire, the sultan implemented his strategy: “to engage successively and without halt one body of fresh troops after the other,” he had told his generals, “until harassed and worn out the enemy will be unable further to resist.”
On and on, wave after wave, the hordes came, all desirous of booty or paradise—or merely of evading impalement. With ladders and hooks, they fought, clawed, and clambered onto the wall. “Who could narrate the voices, the cries of the wounded, and the lamentation that arose on both sides?” recollected an eyewitness. “The shouts and din went beyond the boundaries of heaven.”
After two hours of this, thousands of the Ottomans’ most expendable raiders lay dead beneath the wall. Having served their purpose of wearying the defenders down, Muhammad—now mounted near the wall and directing traffic with a mace in his hand—ordered another wave of fresh Anatolian Turks to crash against the wall. They built and clawed atop human pyramids of their own dead and wounded, all while cannon balls careened and crashed—to no avail. Having the high ground, the Christians slew countless. “One could only marvel at the brutes,” conceded a defender. “Their army was being annihilated, and yet they dared to approach the fosse again and again.”
By four a.m. nonstop cannon fire had made several breaches, which the Ottomans’ elite shock troops, the Janissaries—composed of abducted Christian boys indoctrinated in jihad—charged, even as their former coreligionists held firm. An eyewitness offers a snapshot:
[The defenders] fought bravely with lances, axes, pikes, javelins, and other weapons of offense. It was a hand-to-hand encounter, and they stopped the attackers and prevented them from getting inside the palisade. There was much shouting on both sides—the mingled sounds of blasphemy, insults, threats, attackers, defenders, shooters, those shot at, killers and dying, of those who in anger and wrath did all sorts of terrible things. And it was a sight to see there: a hard fight going on hand-to-hand with great determination and for the greatest rewards, heroes fighting valiantly, the one party [Ottomans] struggling with all their might to force back the defenders, get possession of the wall, enter the city, and fall upon the children and women and the treasures, the other party bravely agonizing to drive them off and guard their possessions, even if they were not to succeed in prevailing and in keeping them.
A small detachment of Turks entered the city through a minor doorway which the defenders had left open during the chaos. They quickly planted the Islamic flag, causing consternation among the defenders.
Emperor Constantine XI
Playing on their worst fears, the sultan cried aloud, “The city is ours!” and ordered his best Janissaries to charge. One Hassan—“a giant of a beast”—slew all before him and inspired other Turks to press in behind him. When a well-aimed stone took him down, he continued swinging his scimitar on one knee until riddled and “overwhelmed by arrows” he was welcomed into paradise by the houris. “By then, the whole host of the enemy were on our walls and our forces were put to flight.” Thousands of invaders flooded in and slaughtered the outnumbered defenders; others were trampled underfoot and “crushed to death” by the press of men.
Crying, “The City is lost, but I live,” Emperor Constantine XI stripped and flung off his royal regalia and “spurred on his horse and reached the spot where the Turks were coming in large numbers.” With his steed he “knocked the impious from the walls” and with “his drawn sword in his right hand, he killed many opponents, while blood was streaming from his legs and arms.” Inspired by their lord, men shouting “Better to die!” rushed into and were consumed by the oncoming throng. “The Emperor was caught up among these, fell and rose again, then fell once more.”
Thus “he died by the gate with many of his men, like any commoner, after having reigned for three years and three months,” concludes a chronicler. And on that May 29, 1453, the 2,206-year-old Roman state died with him, and “the saying,” observed another contemporary, “was fulfilled: ‘It started with Constantine [the Great, who founded Constantinople, or “New Rome” in 325] and it ended with Constantine [XI].’”
Even so, by holding out against Islam for as long as it did—eight centuries—Constantinople had saved the West. After all, “had the Saracens captured Constantinople in the seventh century rather than the fifteenth,” observes historian John Julius Norwich, “all Europe—and America—might be Muslim today.”
Note: The above account was excerpted and adapted from the author’s recent book, Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes come from contemporary eyewitnesses and primary sources documented therein.