English LCCC Newsbulletin For Lebanese, Lebanese Related, Global News & Editorials
For March 16/2020
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations For today

But immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid
Mark 06/47-56: “When evening came, the boat was out on the lake, and he was alone on the land. When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the lake. He intended to pass them by. But when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was.And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the market-places, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.”

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on March 15-16/2021

Elias Bejjani/Visit My LCCC Web site/All That you need to know on Lebanese unfolding news and events in Arabic and English/http://eliasbejjaninews.com/
Health Ministry: 1,505 new Coronavirus cases, 42 deaths
Aoun discusses economic situation and Shouf development needs with MP Boustany
Presidency Press Office: “No new governmental formula was presented to President Aoun”
United States Central Command Commander Visits Lebanon
Hariri receives Jumblatt
Head of Food Importers blames chaos in prices on state’s absence
Berri meets families of students abroad, chairs ‘Liberation and Development’ bloc meeting
Army chief meets US Central Command Commander
Bitar Says No Port Blast Culprit Will Remain outside Prison
Hizbullah Fails to Convince Bassil of Berri's Initiative
Raad Meets Lavrov as Hizbullah Delegation Visits Russia
Echoes from Lebanon: A Collective Virtual Art Exhibition
Hariri Holds Talks with French Ambassador
Palestinians to Meet in Cairo to Discuss Elections
France, Germany, Italy Suspend AstraZeneca's Covid Vaccine
Berri’s bloc urges leaders to overcome govt formation hurdles
Lebanon’s protesters should reach out to the army/Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib/Arab News/March 15/2021
Lebanon held hostage as it hurtles towards collapse/The editorial board /Financial Times/March 15/2021
The Aounist Elites’ Ethics/Hazem Saghieh/Asharq Al Awsat/March 15/2021
'Israel will be hit by 2,000 missiles a day in future war' - IDF general/Jerusalem Post/March 15/2021
Ex-IDF intel analysis chief: We know almost everything about Nasrallah/Yonah Jeremy Bob/Jerusalem Post/March 15/2021

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on March 15-16/2021

Rockets Hit Iraqi Military Base, Security Officials Say
U.S. engaged in indirect diplomacy with Iran, says White House adviser
U.S. seeks to reinvigorate diplomatic effort alongside U.N. in Yemen - State Dept
Iran Says Compromise Needed to End Nuclear Deal Deadlock
‘It is not Lebanon and Gaza — Egypt is the hottest and most active border’
Iran releases footage of Revolutionary Guards 'missile city' base
Israel unveils the 'Iron Sting' laser, GPS-guided mortar munition
Canada/Statement by Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of International Development to mark 10 years since the peaceful protests in Syria
Assad responsible for Syrian suffering — joint US, European statement
Thousands Rally in Syria's Idlib to Mark 10 Years since Uprising


Titles For The Latest The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 15-16/2021

Syria, 2011-2021, or the land of alternating dead ends/Charles Elias Charouni/March 15/2021
How Biden Can Overcome Iran’s Maximum Pressure/Dennis Ross/The National Interest/March 15/2021
Latest U.S. proposal for ending Afghan conflict runs counter to Taliban beliefs/Bill Roggio/FDD's Long War Journal/March 15/2021
Al Qaeda leader threatens Myanmar in new video/Thomas Joscelyn/FDD's Long War Journal/March 15/2021
The Russian Thread and the Syrian Carpet/Ghassan Charbel/Asharq Al Awsat/March 15/2021
Catholic Leaders Betray Mary’s Honor for Muhammad’s Approval/Raymond Ibrahim/March 15/2021
Denmark Bans Foreign Funding of Mosques/Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/March 15/2021
Biden Can Trigger a Regional War by Reviving the Nuclear Deal/Majid Rafizadeh/Gatestone Institute/March 15/2021

The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on March 15-16/2021

Elias Bejjani/Visit My LCCC Web site/All That you need to know on Lebanese unfolding news and events in Arabic and English/http://eliasbejjaninews.com/

Health Ministry: 1,505 new Coronavirus cases, 42 deaths
NNA/March. 15/2021
The Ministry of Public Health announced, on Monday, the registration of 1,505 new Coronavirus infections, thus raising the cumulative number of confirmed cases to-date to 419,953.
It also indicated that 42 deaths were recorded during the past 24 hours.

Aoun discusses economic situation and Shouf development needs with MP Boustany
NNA/March. 15/2021
President of the Republic, General Michel Aoun met Chairman of the Parliamentary Economy, Trade, Industry and Planning Committee, MP Dr. Farid Boustany, today at the Presidential Palace. The meeting tackled general economic conditions, topics studied by the Parliamentary Committee, in addition to the proposed law to create a Planning Ministry, which was submitted to the Parliament with defining functions and authorities of this ministry, given its importance for coordination between ministries and projects which are under implementation.
MP Boustany also stated that he had addressed numerous needs of Shouf region, with the President, who was keen on implementing the necessary development projects.-- Presidency Press office

Presidency Press Office: “No new governmental formula was presented to President Aoun”
NNA/March. 15/2021
The Presidency Press Office states that what was broadcasted by the "Al Jadeed” TV this evening about a formula presented to the President of the Republic, General Michel Aoun, to form the new government, and was rejected by adherence to the blocking third, is false news. The Presidency Press Office asserts that no new government formula was presented to President Aoun.—Presidency Press Office

United States Central Command Commander Visits Lebanon
NNA/March. 15/2021
General Kenneth F. McKenzie, Commander of the United States Central Command (USCENTCOM), visited Lebanon on March 15, 2020. General McKenzie met with senior representatives of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), including LAF Commander General Joseph Aoun, where he reaffirmed the importance of preserving Lebanon’s security, stability, and sovereignty, and underscored the importance of the strong partnership between the United States and the LAF, particularly as Lebanon endures significant economic challenges. General McKenzie was accompanied by USCENTCOM officials and officers, as well as U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon, Dorothy C. Shea, and the U.S. Defense Attaché, Robert Meine. The visit to Lebanon also included office calls at the U.S. Embassy, visits to a USAID-funded water pumping and solar power station, and visits to the 3rd Land Border Regiment and a review of LAF operations at several military installations. “This visit is a great example of the importance of trust and respect,” McKenzie said. “Our relationship with the Lebanese Armed Forces is built upon a mutual desire for security and stability in the region and our ability to train together for collective benefit.”—US Embassy in Beirut

Hariri receives Jumblatt
NNA/March. 15/2021
Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri received this evening at the Center House the head of the Progressive Socialist Party Walid Jumblatt, accompanied by MP Wael Abou Faour. They discussed the political developments and the general situation.

Head of Food Importers blames chaos in prices on state’s absence
NNA/March. 15/2021
Food Importers’ Syndicate Head, Hani Bohsali, on Monday blamed the chaos in prices nationwide on the incessantly increasing USD exchange rate against the LBP “at the full absence of all the country’s official financial authorities from the matter.”
“Neither the Lebanese Central Bank, the Ministry of Finance, nor any side responsible for public funds, has intervened to curb the incessant rise in the USD price against the LBP, which has led to the inability of merchants to price goods and to deliver them to consumers as expected,” Bohsali told the National News Agency. “We, as importers, merchants, supermarkets, or industrialists, and even as citizens, can no longer handle the situation — while officials remain elsewhere; we have not heard a statement from the Ministry of Finance or the Central Bank on the matter. I myself buy USD from money changers, not from the bank!” he exclaimed. Bohsali then said that the problem was rampant and that citizens were the only victims. “Merchants buy their goods in USD, whose price has reached LBP 13 thousand, and the biggest problem is that it is no longer available in the market. If we continue in this manner, we will witness a great shortage of goods in approximately a month,” warned Bohsali. Regarding the empty bags of subsidized items that were found in some areas, he affirmed that not all merchants were greedy. “There are 20,000 points of sale in Lebanon, that is, 20,000 retailers and about 3,000 half-wholesalers, 2,000 wholesalers, and 5,000 importers,” he explained. On the issue of subsidized items, he went on to appeal to the Minister of Economy "not to sign any request for importing subsidized items that might be smuggled out of the country."

Berri meets families of students abroad, chairs ‘Liberation and Development’ bloc meeting
NNA/March. 15/2021
House Speaker, Nabih Berri, on Monday, chaired the Liberation and Development Parliamentary bloc's weekly meeting, in the presence of the bloc's members. The meeting was devoted to discussing the latest political developments, repercussions of the current financial and health crises, as well as legislative matters. Earlier, Speaker Berri met at his Ain-el-Tineh residence with a delegation of the families of Lebanese students abroad. "The ball of the non-implementation of the student dollar law is in the court of the banks," Berri told his guests. He also confirmed that no amendments had been made to this law. Berri also met with former Minister Ghazi Aridi, delegated by Progressive Socialist Party leader, Walid Jumblatt. Talks between the pair reportedly touched on the general situation and most recent political developments. Following the one-hour meeting, Aridi left Ain el Tineh without making any statement.

Army chief meets US Central Command Commander
NNA/March. 15/2021
Army Commander, General Joseph Aoun, on Monday received at his Yarzeh office, the Commander of the United States Central Command (USCENTCOM), General Kenneth McKenzie, in the presence of US Ambassador to Lebanon, Dorothy Shea.
Talks reportedly touched on the cooperation relations between the armies of the two countries.

Bitar Says No Port Blast Culprit Will Remain outside Prison
Naharnet/March. 15/2021
Lead investigative judge into the Beirut port blast, Tarek al-Bitar, vowed Monday that “no culprit will remain outside prison and no innocent will remain in prison.”“Any measure taken will be based on clear scientific evidence and we will hold accountable any wrongdoer, be them politicians, security officials or others,” Bitar told a delegation from the families of the victims. Calling on the families to place their confidence in him and in the judiciary, Bitar pledged that he will “spare no effort to reach the truth.”“The investigation will tackle all the aspects of the case, starting by the ship Rhosus, the ammonium nitrate shipment and its owners, the side that imported the cargo and those who paid for it, stored it at the port and kept it there for seven years,” the judge said. He added: “The file is huge and multi-pronged but the probe will unveil the truth and determine how the explosion happened and whether it was the result of a welding error, a certain security act or a missile.”Noting that the blood of the victims will not go in vain, Bitar said he will seek the assistance of all Lebanese and foreign security agencies and will issue writs to reach convincing answers to all the points that have raised question marks. The delegation for its part vowed that the families will support the judge in all his steps, hoping the investigation will not draw out in an unjustified manner.


Hizbullah Fails to Convince Bassil of Berri's Initiative
Naharnet/March. 15/2021
Hizbullah secretary general’s political aide Hussein Khalil met two days ago with Free Patriotic Movement chief Jebran Bassil in a bid to convince him of the initiative that Speaker Nabih Berri is readying to launch, highly informed political sources said. Khalil failed to “soften” Bassil’s stance, the sources told Asharq al-Awsat newspaper in remarks published Monday. Berri’s initiative does not give a one-third-plus-one share to any camp and takes into consideration that he would be authorized to find a solution for the row over the interior portfolio while the government would consist of 18 ministers, the sources noted. “Berri has been informed that Khalil has failed to clinch Bassil’s approval on the initiative,” the sources said, adding that PM-designate Saad Hariri has shown “flexibility” towards it. “Hizbullah does not intend to pressure its ally Bassil and it is settling for hoping that he join the settlement that Berri is preparing to promote,” the sources added. “Hizbullah was not satisfied with its ally’s response but it meanwhile refrained from telling him that it would endorse it alone, because it does not intend to give up its relation with the FPM in the absence of an alternative that would grant it a political cover in the Christian community,” the sources went on to say.

Raad Meets Lavrov as Hizbullah Delegation Visits Russia
Associated Press/March. 15/2021
The head of Hizbullah’s Loyalty to Resistance bloc, MP Mohammed Raad, met Monday in Moscow with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. “The meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was a meeting between friends and the atmosphere of the discussions was frank,” Raad said after the talks.
“We discussed the situations in the region and Lebanon, and means to consolidate stability and strengthen the achievements that were made through combating terrorism in Syria and Lebanon,” Raad added. Talks also explored "what Russia can do to support friendly peoples in the region, especially in Lebanon," the top Hizbullah lawmaker went on to say. He also discussed with Lavrov "the governmental situation in Lebanon and Hizbullah's keenness on the need to speed up the government's formation in a manner that reflects the Lebanese people's will." "This is the key to stability and the start of solutions," Raad added.
A Hizbullah delegation led by Raad had arrived overnight in the Russian capital, following an invitation from the Russian Foreign Ministry. The delegation met with Lebanese Ambassador to Russia Shawqi Bou Nassar upon its arrival in Moscow. The delegation comprises the party’s Arab and international relations officer Ammar al-Moussawi, his aide for international affairs Ahmed Mehani and the media advisor Ahmed Hajj Ali. The three-day visit will involve meetings at the Russian Foreign Ministry, the Russian parliament and other political and press meetings. The visit by the four-member Hizbullah delegation comes as Lebanon is mired in its worst economic crisis in decades and stuck in political stalemate over the formation of a new Cabinet. Russia and Iran-backed Hizbullah joined Syria's conflict fighting alongside President Bashar Assad's forces and helped tip the balance of power in his favor. Russia has recently been more active in dealing with Lebanon and Lavrov last week during his visit to the United Arab Emirates met with Lebanon's Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri. Lebanon's worst economic and financial crisis began in late 2019 and was made worse by the pandemic and a massive blast at Beirut's port in August that killed dozens and wounded thousands. Prime Minister Hassan Diab's government resigned six days after the Aug. 4, blast of nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive material used in fertilizer, that killed 211, wounded more than 6,000 and damaged entire neighborhoods. Hariri was chosen to form a new Cabinet in late October but so far political bickering and disagreements between him and President Michel Aoun have delayed the formation. On Monday, the local currency hit a new record low, with the dollar selling for 13,200 pounds. Since the middle of last week, the currency has been hitting record lows almost every day, triggering protests and road closures. The international community has said it will not give Lebanon financial assistance before major reforms are implemented to fight widespread corruption in the tiny country.

Echoes from Lebanon: A Collective Virtual Art Exhibition
Naharnet/March. 15/2021
Echoes from Lebanon, a virtual art exhibition, has been launched to show how people expressed their feelings on the recent events and situations in Lebanon: hope, pain, love and anger. The concept was created and organized by I Have Learned Academy in collaboration with Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, Lebanon Office. “Due to the corruption, Beirut Blast, and financial challenges, many people and artists sublimated the suffering by making something beautiful out of every situation,” a press release said. “Echoes from Lebanon is a scream from Lebanon to the world, a shout to be heard echoing all over the world,” it added.
Exhibiting Artists: Adra Kandil (Dear Nostalgia) | Armen Gevorgian (Arame Gallery) | Bernard Hage (The Art of Boo) | Carlos Haidamous | Christine Kettaneh | Dahlia Ezzeddine | Danielle El-Hayek | Eddy Choueiry | Emile Issa | Georgi Bitar | Ghaleb Cabbabe | Ghaleb Hawila | Hady Beydoun | Hayat Nazer | Imad Abou Jaoude | Ivan Debs | Jad Ghorayeb | Karim Tamerji | MarieJoe Raidy | Michel Chamaa | Mohamad Tohme I Nivine Massoud | Nour Flayhan | Omar Frangieh | Omar Imady | Rabih Yassine | Rami Kanso | Rami Rizk | Randa Farah | Rim El Assal | Roula Abdo | Said Mahmoud | Salma Siblini | Sandra Sahyoun | Sarah Richani | Sasha Haddad | Selim Mawad | Tamara Haddad | Tom Young | Zaynab Mourad As well as Habib Fawaz & Carole Ayoub | Jad Taleb for the TV videos displayed and Styro 3D for the Fist of the Revolution

Hariri Holds Talks with French Ambassador
Naharnet/March. 15/2021
Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri held talks Monday at the Center House with French Ambassador to Lebanon Anne Grillo. The National News Agency said talks tackled the latest political developments and the general situations. France and the United States hit out at Lebanon's warring politicians last week, with Paris saying they were failing to help the country as it slid towards "total collapse." "It's tempting to say it is a case of non-assistance to a country in danger by Lebanese politicians," French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told a news conference. "Everyone knows what needs to be done." France has taken a leading role in trying to break the political deadlock in its former protectorate, with President Emmanuel Macron visiting Lebanon twice last year. Lebanon's deeply divided political class has failed to agree on a new cabinet since a massive explosion in Beirut port last August that killed more than 200 people and led to the government's resignation. Le Drian said "nothing has happened" since Macron's visits when he pushed a plan for the political parties to form a non-sectarian government of experts which would be tasked with carrying out economic reforms and tackling corruption. "I do believe that it is still not too late, but we're running out of time before total collapse," the French minister added. The US supported Le Drian's statement, saying that Lebanon's leaders have shown "inaction in the face of multiple ongoing crises."Lebanon is mired in protests and an economic crisis, which has brought surging unemployment and spiraling prices while the currency has plunged to lows to the dollar on the black market. French officials have repeatedly voiced their exasperation at what they see as Lebanese politicians failing to put the interests of the country before their own.

Palestinians to Meet in Cairo to Discuss Elections
Agence France Presse/March. 15/2021
Palestinian rival factions Fatah and Hamas will hold a new round of talks Tuesday in the Egyptian capital to push on with plans for forthcoming elections. The meeting, announced Monday by the Islamist Hamas and the secular Fatah, will come more than a month after the two factions agreed in Cairo talks on "mechanisms" for the polls.The parliamentary and presidential polls are set for May 22 and July 31, respectively, and will be the first Palestinian elections in 15 years. Hamas, blacklisted as a terrorist group by the European Union and the United States, won an unexpected landslide at the last elections in 2006, a victory not recognized by president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah. That led to bloody clashes the following year and a split in Palestinian governance. Fatah has since run the Palestinian Authority in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Hamas has held power in the Gaza Strip since 2007, the year Israel imposed a devastating blockade on the coastal enclave. To avoid a repetition of the tensions and violence that erupted in 2009, the two groups met in Cairo in February and agreed a series of steps, including setting up an "electoral court" to oversee the polls.
They also declared they were committed to respecting the results of the forthcoming vote. On Tuesday in Cairo the two sides will discuss "key issues linked to the elections", Hamas official Khalil al-Khalil said.
"After the legislative elections, we would like to form a national unity government... and we would prefer to reach consensus on just one national candidate for the presidential vote," he said. A spokesman for Abbas meanwhile stressed that the Palestinian Authority president is determined to see through the elections despite tensions within Fatah. Last week, Fatah expelled prominent member Nasser al-Kidwa from the movement after he announced he would seek the Palestinian presidency in what was seen as an affront to Abbas. Kidwa is a nephew of the iconic late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

France, Germany, Italy Suspend AstraZeneca's Covid Vaccine
Agence France Presse/March. 15/2021
The EU's three biggest countries -- France, Italy and Germany -- are the latest to suspend AstraZeneca's Covid-19 shots because of fears over blood clots and other possible side effects, despite the company and the WHO insisting there is no risk.
Here's a recap:
- Nordic countries sound alarm -
Denmark is the first country on March 11 to say it will suspend use of the AstraZeneca vaccine as a precautionary measure over fears of blood clots in vaccinated people. Iceland and Norway follow the same day, temporarily suspending use of all their supply of the vaccine.
- List grows -
A day later Bulgaria suspends the use of the vaccine as it investigates the death of a woman with several underlying conditions who recently received the jab. An initial probe had suggested the woman died from heart failure and an autopsy found no link with the vaccination. Thailand abruptly delays the start of its rollout of the vaccine, stopping Premier Prayut Chan-O-Cha from getting the first jab.And the Democratic Republic of Congo, also due to start administering the vaccine, postpones its campaign citing "precautionary measures." On Saturday, Norwegian health officials report three more cases of blood clots or brain hemorrhages in younger people who received the jab, but say they can not yet say they were vaccine-related. Ireland and the Netherlands join the list Sunday, followed by Indonesia and then Germany, Italy and France on Monday.
Announcing its decision, the German health ministry says a closer look is necessary after the reported blood clotting incidents in Europe.
- Suspending batches -
The first halt of a batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine is announced by Austria on March 8, following the death of a 49-year-old nurse from "severe bleeding disorders" days after receiving it. Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Luxembourg also suspend the use of doses from the same batch, which has been delivered to 17 countries and included one million vaccines. Italy's medicines regulator on March 11 also bans the use of a batch as a precaution, triggering a similar decision from Romania. And on March 14 Italy's northern Piedmont region suspends use of the vaccine after the death of a teacher who had received it the day before, with a national postponement coming a day later.

Berri’s bloc urges leaders to overcome govt formation hurdles
Hussein Dakroub/he Daily Star/March. 15/2021
BEIRUT: The Amal Movement’s parliamentary bloc pleaded Monday with President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri to stop linking the formation of a new government to regional developments and begin immediately talks aimed at overcoming obstacles hindering the formation.
In a statement issued after a meeting of the 17-member parliamentary Development and Liberation bloc chaired by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri at his Ain al-Tineh residence, the bloc stressed that the new government should be made up of nonpartisan specialists with no veto power to any party, in line with the French initiative designed to rescue Lebanon from its worst economic and financial turmoil since the 1975-90 Civil War. The bloc’s position entirely conformed to the terms of Hariri, who since his designation last year to form a new government, has insisted on setting up an 18-member Cabinet of nonpartisan specialists to enact reforms outlined in the French initiative. He has vowed not to grant veto power to any party in the government.
The bloc also emphasized that the formation of a government of nonpartisan specialists was essential to preventing the collapse of the nation as it faces a string of serious economic, political and health problems, including an unprecedented financial downtown as reflected in the dramatic free fall of the Lebanese pound against the US dollar on the black market since last week. The pound hit a new record low Monday, trading for more LL13,000 against the dollar on the black market for the first time in its history.
The Amal bloc’s plea came four days after the international community, namely the United States, France and Russia, issued new appeals to Lebanon’s rival leaders to agree on the swift formation of a new government to implement essential reforms aimed at averting a total economic collapse and a much-feared social implosion.
However, the international appeals, laced with serious warnings that Lebanon was running out of time before a total collapse, as well as nationwide street protests against the deteriorating economic conditions, have so far failed to restore talks between Aoun and Hariri on the Cabinet crisis and nudge them into softening their conflicting positions on the shape and size of a new government to enact reforms stipulated in the French initiative. The two leaders remain at odds over the distribution of key ministerial seats, namely the Justice and Interior ministries, and the naming of Christian ministers.
The Amal bloc’s meeting was held against the backdrop of the pound’s free fall against the dollar with all its serious consequences for the country’s crumbling economy and the lives of the Lebanese, and an alarming surge in coronavirus infections and a high mortality rate despite a nationwide vaccination campaign launched on Feb. 14 to curb the pandemic.
“In the face of the terrible deterioration of the financial, economic and living conditions and the use of the livelihood of the Lebanese as a hostage in the hands of the merchants of crises and black markets ... and in order to avoid what is more serious and dangerous, the Development and Liberation bloc calls on those concerned with the government formation at various levels and positions to take an historic and responsible stance and act to stop the media exchange which leads only to one result and is upsetting the public order and a further loss of confidence in the state and its institutions by its citizens inside [the country] and in the Arab and international communities abroad,” the statement said.
In a clear reference to Aoun and Hariri, whose deepening rift has left the country without a fully functioning government for more than seven months, the statement said: “Those concerned with the [Cabinet] formation and signing its decrees must abandon any betting on time and on a regional change here or there, stop throwing the ball of responsibility from one court to another and begin immediately opening channels of dialogue and meeting together in order to eliminate all the obstacles that have blocked and are still blocking the formation of a mission government to save Lebanon from what is threatening its existence. A government of nonpartisan specialists according to the French initiative, a government whose members will not provoke anyone, a government that respects the [National] Pact requirements and equal power sharing [between Muslims and Christians] in which no party will have a blocking third [veto power].”
“The government is a mandatory pathway to prevent the collapse of the nation’s temple over the heads of everyone,” the bloc said. As part of his ongoing consultations on the Cabinet formation crisis, Hariri met Monday at his Beirut Downtown residence with Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Joumblatt. The two leaders discussed latest political developments and the general situation in Lebanon, a terse statement released by Hariri’s media office said, without giving further details.
Hariri also met with French Ambassador to Lebanon, Anne Grillo, whose country has emerged as the main power broker since last year’s massive Beirut Port explosion. The two discussed latest political developments, a statement released by Hariri’s media office said.
The Hariri-Joumblatt meeting came amid reports that both Aoun and Hariri had rejected Berri’s latest initiative aimed at breaking the Cabinet deadlock. The Amal bloc’s statement made no mention of Berri’s initiative apparently because it had not received a favorable response from Aoun and Hariri.
MP Ali Hasan Khalil, a top political aide to Berri, who met with Hariri last week reportedly to promote Berri’s proposal, blamed the two sides, the president and the premier-designate, for blocking the government formation. He also said that a demand by Aoun’s son-in-law, MP Gebran Bassil, head of the Free Patriotic Movement, for veto power still posed a major hurdle to the government formation. Berri’s proposal reportedly called for the formation of a 20-member Cabinet in which no party would be granted veto power, with the Interior Ministry part of Hariri’s share and the Justice Ministry part of Aoun’s share. The name of the second Druze minister would be chosen in agreement between Joumblatt and his Druze rival, MP Talal Arslan, head of the Lebanese Democratic Party, an ally of the FPM.
Future Movement officials have said Hariri rejected a proposal, made by Bassil last month, for raising the proposed 18-member Cabinet to 20 or 22 ministers, to add two ministerial seats, one for the Druze sect and the other for the Melkite Greek Catholic sect. The Cabinet deadlock comes amid an unprecedented economic meltdown that is hitting the Lebanese hard. The crashing pound has lost more than 85 percent its value since 2019, and subsequently driven half of Lebanon’s 6 million population below the poverty line. The unchecked rise in the dollar exchange rate on the black market has unleashed a wave of nationwide street protests, including road closures in Beirut and other cities, by hundreds of angry residents demonstrating against the deteriorating economic conditions. Disgruntled residents Monday blocked roads throughout Lebanon, including areas in Beirut, with burning tires to vent their anger against the free-falling pound. Main highways and roads from the north to the south of the country were closed off by angry demonstrators who can no longer cope with the worsening living conditions.


Lebanon’s protesters should reach out to the army
Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib/Arab News/March 15/2021
With the words “Where are you taking us,” Lebanese army commander Gen. Joseph Aoun last week addressed the country’s political elite. For the first time, the head of the military showed a confrontational attitude toward the civilian authority.
“The people are hungry and the army that is part of the people is hungry too.” That is how Aoun described the situation. The commander explained that, if the army breaks up, the existence of Lebanon as an entity will be at risk. People cheered the commander for his courage. However, his speech was not welcomed by Hezbollah. This group was never comfortable with Aoun, who it views as being too friendly toward the US. The pro-Hezbollah newspaper Al-Akhbar has always accused him of having presidential ambitions. After his speech, it published an article under the title “The coup of Joseph Aoun,” accusing him of placing himself above accountability.
The perceived presidential aspirations of any army commander are viewed with suspicion in Lebanon. Though there is nothing wrong with having such an ambition, the Lebanese have been disappointed with previous army commanders who went on to become president. Emile Lahoud and Michel Suleiman were both promoted to the presidency as “compromise candidates,” or candidates in the middle that belonged to no specific party. But those ambitious generals compromised the national interest and gave in to the political elite in order for the latter to return the favor when it came to selecting the president. This makes the Lebanese worry, especially the protesters. They are worried that the same situation could be repeated with Aoun. They worry that he will make concessions in order to fulfill his rumored presidential ambitions.
However, the commander’s speech shows very clearly that he is not courting the political elite. He cannot ask his hungry soldiers to repress hungry people to protect the corrupt elite that have driven the Lebanese people into misery.
In order to contain the military’s wrath, parliamentarian Ali Hasan Khalil, who belongs to the Amal Movement, proposed giving soldiers a monthly increase of 1 million Lebanese pounds ($662) a month for the next six months. However, the funding for this pay rise will likely come from the country’s reserves and will probably lead to more inflation and a greater deterioration of living standards.
People at large are supporting the general, but some of the “Hirak” protesters are not comfortable with his intervention. They have seen so many examples in the Arab world where the rule of a military junta brought increased clientelism, corruption and repression. Nevertheless, the protesters need to be pragmatic. They want the “thawra” (revolution) to succeed, but no revolution in history has succeeded without the help or at least the tacit acquiescence of the army. If the protesters want to reboot the Lebanese regime into a mode free from corruption, they need to engage with the army.
It is very unlikely that the groups of the Hirak alone will make the breakthrough they aim for in the next elections. The current system will ensure the survival of the elite and perpetuate the current corrupt power-sharing scheme. Expecting a different outcome in the next parliamentary elections would be similar to expecting a winner other than Bashar Assad in a presidential election in Syria. There might be some gains here and there, but there will not be enough change to get rid of the current corrupt system.
Some politicians opposing Hezbollah, like the Lebanese Forces and some groups in the Hirak, are advocating for early elections. The Lebanese Forces thinks it might be able to score gains among the Christian constituency at the expense of President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement. To add to that, a few independents, along with the Future Movement and Walid Jumblatt, might enable the anti-Hezbollah coalition to regain a majority in parliament. But a win for the anti-Hezbollah bloc would not mean that the corrupt system can be changed. Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri has also been swinging between the pro and anti-Hezbollah camps. There is no guarantee he will remain on the opposite side to Hezbollah. Such a change in the parliamentary majority would not be enough to ensure the reforms that are needed to get Lebanon on its feet again. A colleague who is pro-Lebanese Forces said to me: “What is the purpose if we gain a few seats and the entire country is lost?”
The only way to enable the country to rise again is to have a transitional government that will allow the space for civil society groups to emerge properly ahead of the next elections. The thawra groups should act fast, as Lebanon is living on borrowed time. As French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said last week, the window of opportunity before the country faces “total collapse” is closing. And no one will impose a solution from outside. Those who dream of Lebanon being helped under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter should realize that the UN will not deploy troops and take over the country. The protesters should instead think of 1952, when a transitional government was headed by the commander of the army, Fouad Chehab. This government ensured the country didn’t slip into violence, which is a likely outcome today due to the rising tensions and rampant poverty.
The Lebanese army commander’s speech shows very clearly that he is not courting the political elite.
They should push for a transitional government of technocrats under the leadership of Gen. Aoun and protected by the army — a government that will have an administrative role and will conduct the necessary reforms to allow the country to stand on its feet again and be eligible for foreign aid. This government will prepare for elections that are free from the control of the current corrupt system. If the protesters unanimously adopt this proposition, then there is a chance the international community will support it, which could lead the political elite to yield.
The protesters and revolutionaries should realize that their only chance of success lies in some form of agreement with the army.
*Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib is a specialist in US-Arab relations with a focus on lobbying. She is co-founder of the Research Center for Cooperation and Peace Building, a Lebanese NGO focused on Track II. She is also an affiliate scholar with the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. vicinity


Lebanon held hostage as it hurtles towards collapse
The editorial board /Financial Times/March 15/2021


Refusal of sectarian power-brokers to confront crises risks state failure
In October 2019, a civic uprising against Lebanon’s entire political class brought down the government. Last August, a cataclysmic chemical blast destroyed the port of Beirut, devastated whole districts of the capital and toppled its successor. After seven months of bickering, a bankrupt country is still without a government, spiralling downwards in a collision of crises. Instead of statesmen taking full measure of this national emergency, Lebanon is plagued by political vultures feeding rapaciously on its carcass.
More than three decades after the 1975-90 civil war, the Lebanese are being held hostage by sectarian cliques of warlords in suits, with Hizbollah, the Iran-backed Shia paramilitary movement that has become a state-above-the-state, clasping the master keys.
It is hard to overstate the plight of Lebanon, as it hurtles towards collapse. Already prostrated by a compounded financial, fiscal, debt and banking crisis, the coronavirus pandemic and port blast squeezed any remaining life out of the economy. The local currency has lost almost 90 per cent of its value.
As businesses fail, joblessness and hunger abound, along with the spread of begging and barter. Lebanon’s fabled banks, having lent 70 per cent of their assets to an insolvent state and central bank, are essentially bankrupt, and have locked most depositors out of their savings. A deadline for recapitalising the banks has passed, with only a pretence of restructuring. A caretaker government limps on. There is no budget and there will soon be no hard currency to pay for imports, while the central bank prints increasingly worthless money and fuels hyperinflation.
No one can be sure where Lebanon’s breaking point is; the country has survived wars, invasions, occupations and serial assassinations. But Lebanon is running out of dollars to subsidise imports of wheat, medicine and fuel — items the finance ministry estimated last year already accounted for 60 per cent of the average household budget.
Lebanon’s power-brokers refuse to engage seriously with IMF bailout plans. Donors led by the US, France and the UK stand ready to support a capable government committed to reform but the political class refuses to form one. Its members are all complicit.
The largest Christian party of President Michel Aoun, backed by Hizbollah, insists on an unwieldy cabinet of placemen rather than technocrats, in which they would have veto rights. There is jockeying for the formerly lucrative energy and finance ministries. But the real blockages are even harder to surmount.
Among many preconditions for any bailout is a forensic audit of the central bank and state finances. The Banque du Liban is resisting, on spurious grounds of banking secrecy laws. These were not designed to hide bankruptcy and massive peculation, which could be what an audit would reveal.
Hizbollah and the pro-Tehran bloc want to bide their time and see what emerges from the Biden administration’s attempt to re-engage with Iran. It does not want to risk its valuable Christian alliance, which it sees as a source of national legitimacy, or run any risk to its power.
There are voices of alarm. Gen Joseph Aoun, the Christian army commander, last week all but ignored President Aoun’s (no relation) order to clear the roads of protesters and barricades, asking instead where the political class was taking the country. The answer is not encouraging. In their refusal to permit accountable government while pretending to negotiate with each other they are leading Lebanon, historically a strategic east-west crossroads on the Mediterranean, to failure as a state.

The Aounist Elites’ Ethics
Hazem Saghieh/Asharq Al Awsat/March 15/2021
Many hold their hearts as soon as they see any Aounist activist or high-ranking official on TV. Scandal is on its way! Parents would rush to tuck their kids in bed to save them from hearing offensive statements. Facial expressions change...
In such situations, viewers would be expecting one of three things to happen: Either a sexual insult against a woman who has an opposing opinion to that of Aounists, a racist obscenity directed against Syrians or Palestinians, or a sectarian attack against Muslims as a whole. A lack of courtesy and civility is precisely what defines their rhetoric. Other Lebanese parties and movements could commit actions of this kind, but this remains an exception limited to situations of maximum tension and fury. With the Aounists, it is the rule. It could be expressed angrily, but it is often said calmly, as though it is something normal that one does not need to be get carried away or become infuriated to say. Their television station, OTV, is the most prominent platform for espousing this stuff, though it seeps through to other stations.
In all likelihood, obscenity has never been absent from Aounist elites’ political rhetoric, but it has never been as intense and commonplace as it is today. Behind this, most probably, is a sense of being detached and disconnected from everything. From everything that binds the person speaking to whoever is listening, thus to any form of public responsibility.
The state and institutions? Economic success? “The strong reign?” Combating corruption? Lebanon’s image in the world? These are some of the Aounist headlines that ended up becoming irrelevant. “This has nothing to do with us”..it is said.
Nevertheless, the disconnection manifests itself most clearly in two headings, the most intimate to Aounists:
Defending Christians’ rights and interests and loyalty to the army, from whose ranks Michel Aoun has emerged.
However, today, after the October 17 Revolution and especially after the August 4 port explosion, the Christians do not associate Aounists with anything but the erosion of their rights and the undermining of their interests. As for the subjugated army, its conditions are no different from that of the people; the dispute between its commander, Joseph Aoun, and the president of the republic has become political life’s major news story.
This disconnection culminates in the fact that the multi-faceted crisis that exploded during the Aounist reign was met with pitiful rationalization and wicked behavior. There is an absolute inability to rationalize what is happening, coupled with interpretations that are filled with conspiracies. In terms of behavior, there is greed that broadly induces disgust because it is impeding the formation of a government, which is a condition for reform, which is, in turn, the condition for obtaining loans and aid.
This allows us to say that Aounism has failed to become anything more than a contingency, a fleeting movement in Lebanese political life, especially Christian political life. Neither is it another Chamounism nor is it another Chehabism. It is neither a new Constitutional Bloc, National Bloc, or Kataeb. It will most likely not last long.
Of course, things haven’t always been like this. Previously, up until the 2016 presidential election, Aounists enjoyed overwhelming popular support, representing over two-thirds of Christians. The Aounists managed to reach an “understanding” with Hezbollah, which was a gateway to changing the traditional Christian attitudes. The latter, for the first time in their modern history, came to despise the West and fawn over the security regime in Syria. They even came to adore “resistance”, especially since those who were killed pursuing it were members of another religious sect. Moreover, it seemed to many that the Aounists, who had opposed the Taef Accord and had not taken part in any of that era’s governments, had the moral high ground.
Today, all of that has changed. Some observers have begun predicting that Hezbollah will abandon the “understanding” concluded with them because they no longer provide the party with anything substantial.
It is from this dissociation from everything around them that the Aounist elites’ new ethos springs. It is similar to the ethos of those who were fighting in the markets of Beirut during the Two Years War: They would exchange profanities directed against parents and sanctities, while they were isolated from a frightened society sheltered at home; they had no considerations but persistence for the longest time possible in their isolation that exacerbated as the fighting went on.
Fighters, in this case, revert to their most basic instincts, the worst of what they have inherited from their social classes, regions and upbringing. To the lumpen-ness that results from being disconnected from everything alive, productive and mobile. Those fighters would defecate or urinate in public and private places that had previously been hotels, schools, and places of worship. They were doing everything that is not doable. In this sense, it was not astonishing when the Aounists received the largest share of insults hurled by the revolution’s protesters. What is astonishing is that their milieu considered those insults “obscene.”

'Israel will be hit by 2,000 missiles a day in future war' - IDF general
Jerusalem Post/March 15/2021
: جنرال إسرائيلي يقول بأن إسرائيل سوف تُرّب ب الفين صارخ في أية مستقبلية“

They know they cannot defeat us on the battlefield so they try to move the war to a second front and that is our homes and in our cities.” Israel will come under an onslaught of 2,000 rockets and missiles every day during a future war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, OC Home Front Command Maj.-Gen. Uri Gordin warned on Monday. Speaking at the B’Sheva Conference in Jerusalem, Gordin said that some 2,000 rockets and missiles will be fired at Israel every day and will challenge Israel’s military and civil defense capabilities. “Our enemies on the different fronts need to know that if needed, we will activate a powerful military that has never been seen before,” Gordin said. He added that Israel’s enemies should know that the Israeli home front is resilient and has proven itself in the past.“They know they cannot defeat us on the battlefield, so they try to move the war to a second front and that is our homes and in our cities,” the IDF general said. Israel believes that Hezbollah has an arsenal of approximately 150,000 rockets and missiles, some of which have the ability to strike anywhere inside the country.

Ex-IDF intel analysis chief: We know almost everything about Nasrallah
Yonah Jeremy Bob/Jerusalem Post/March 15/2021
يونا جيريمي بوب/جيروزاليم بوست: محلل عسكري إسرائيلي سابق يؤكد بأن جيش بلادع يعرف كل شيء تقريبًا عن نصر الله

“The IDF knows a lot about Nasrallah. Nasrallah knows this and knows a lot about Israel, but there could still be an escalation which is different from how he usually acts.”
The IDF knows almost everything about Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, but could still be reprised by an unwanted escalation with him, former IDF intelligence analysis chief Brig.-Gen (ret.) Itai Brun told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. Brun was reacting to a combination of an unusual Yediot Aharonot story on Friday in which current officers, many of who served under him from 2011-2015, revealed aspects of their classified assessment of Nasrallah along with the Hezbollah chief’s rejection of that article’s claims.“The IDF knows a lot about Nasrallah. Nasrallah knows this and knows a lot about Israel, but there could still be an escalation which is different from how he usually acts,” said Brun, referring to the idea that leaders can act unpredictably even after a period in which they follow a consistent pattern.
He said that the message from IDF intelligence through the article seemed to be: “We know everything – you are exposed. Your organization is exposed. We have information superiority.”
Further, Brun, who is currently Deputy Director for Research and Analysis at INSS, said that IDF intelligence could be using the article to respond in this latest series of exchanges.
Describing how in January, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi threatened Nasrallah to try to deter him from any escalation and the Hezbollah chief’s counter threat that he has surprises for Jerusalem in the case of war which could shock Israelis, Brun said this could be the IDF’s answer: “you can’t surprise us.”
The article describes Nasrallah as obsessed with reading Israeli media coverage, with his image in Israel and in Lebanon in general and with maintaining extraordinary levels of micromanagement and control of the Lebanese state.
Moreover, the IDF intelligence officers in the article give the impression that they have tremendous penetration and insight into Nasrallah’s inner circle, method of operations and intentions.
To that extent, the intelligence officers suggest Nasrallah is very deterred and intimidated from any broad conflict with Israel and much more conservative about taking gambles than he was earlier on in his 28-year reign over the Lebanese terror group.
Brun, who likely formulated significant portions of the classified file during his service, confirmed that Nasrallah, “is very interested in the Israeli public, government, IDF and what they say about him” as well as his “reading obsessively everything we write and stories about him having Israeli newspapers nearby him.”
However, he said that, “Nasrallah’s main knowledge doesn’t come from reading, but from Hezbollah’s conflict with us over 28 years.”
At this point, Brun pointed out gaps in Nasrallah’s knowledge and where Israeli estimates could also be imperfect despite impressive intelligence penetration.
After conflicts with Israel in 1993, 1996, 2000, an exchange of attacks in 2003 and a kidnapping attack in late 2005, the Hezbollah chief thought that he could continue small kidnapping attack operations without risking a major fight with Jerusalem.
Brun said that Nasrallah “was really surprised, he didn’t understand the Israeli side” leading into the 2006 Second Lebanon War when then-prime minister Ehud Olmert and others replaced Ariel Sharon and those who had run the country for around five years.
In other words, Nasrallah did not intend for the major 2006 war and that war combined with his success in converting Hezbollah’s military power into more of an army, a social network and a dominant political apparatus, changed his attitude toward Israel. The former top military intelligence official said he calls the current version of Nasrallah – “Nasrallah 4.0.”
Similarly to the current IDF intelligence officials quoted in the Yediot article, he said the Hezbollah leader is now “a supporter of the status quo. He has designed the rules of the game [in Lebanon], so now he doesn’t want to have the rules broken.” He added Nasrallah “has changed into a more careful, wary and deliberate actor” before making significant moves regarding Israel. In addition, Brun confirmed that Nasrallah “is overworked and spread thin” in trying to handle all the different levers of power after his main military planner, Imad Mughniyeh, was assassinated in 2008, reportedly by Israel and the US.
Another major evolution he discussed was that Hezbollah now “mostly serves the interest of the organization, thinks of its own people and institutions” as opposed to merely being “a proxy for Iran.”
All of this maintaining the pillars of his power and success in Lebanon are the same reasons why the “current IDF intelligence’s description is correct – today he is more hesitant, less ready to take risks, more restrained.”
But Brun flagged Nasrallah’s attack on an IDF convoy in the North in September 2019 when he did not know that the Israeli soldiers would avoid being killed as a sign that “he was ready for some escalation when it is important enough, though maybe not for an escalation getting out of control.”
According to the former senior intelligence official, this means the IDF cannot be complacent and feel safe that there is no scenario where Hezbollah might not shower Israel with its arsenal of rockets.
He argued that a deep understanding of a leader’s past habits is good, but is just that – their past habits – and is not a perfect indicator of their future conduct. “I think it is not right to learn from this that we know exactly what Nasrallah will do... leaders do not have operational codes,” which perfectly predict when they might act against their usual pattern.
Brun listed off a series of examples of leaders and countries acting unpredictably, including Anwar Sadat, Mikhail Gorbachev, Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
He said that though he had not necessarily participated in such an article of sharing classified intel during his IDF service, that he had participated in conferences and that, “the world has changed. There is logic to doing it with the proper caution. So many things today are publicly revealed.”

The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on March 15-16/2021

Rockets Hit Iraqi Military Base, Security Officials Say
Asharq Al-Awsat/Monday, 15 March, 2021
At least five rockets hit the Iraqi military air base of Balad north of Baghdad on Monday, without causing casualties, Iraqi security officials said. The officials said two more rockets fell outside the base at a rural area without causing casualties. No group immediately claimed the attack, but armed groups that some Iraqi officials say are backed by Iran have claimed similar incidents in the past.


U.S. engaged in indirect diplomacy with Iran, says White House adviser
WASHINGTON/Reuters/March 15/2021
The United States and Iran have begun indirect diplomacy with Europeans and others conveying messages about how they might resume compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Friday.
“Diplomacy with Iran is ongoing, just not in a direct fashion at the moment,” he told reporters. “There are communications through the Europeans and through others that enable us to explain to the Iranians what our position is with respect to the compliance for compliance approach and to hear what their position is,” Sullivan added.The new administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has rejected giving Tehran unilateral incentives to begin talks but has held out the possibility of both sides taking reciprocal steps to resume implementing the deal, an approach Washington calls “compliance for compliance.”
“We are waiting at this point to hear further from the Iranians how they would like to proceed,” Sullivan said. “This is not going to be easy but we believe that we are in a diplomatic process now that we can move forward on and ultimately secure our objective, which is to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and to do so through diplomacy.”The United States on Feb. 18 said it was ready to talk to Iran about both nations resuming compliance with the pact that aimed to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons, seeking to revive a deal that Washington itself abandoned in 2018.Iran began violating the deal in 2019, about a year after former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from it and reimposed economic sanctions. Tehran has accelerated its breaches in recent months. Each side has insisted the other go first in returning to the deal, with Tehran demanding Washington remove its economic sanctions and the United States demanding that Iran reinstate limitations on its nuclear program.

U.S. seeks to reinvigorate diplomatic effort alongside U.N. in Yemen - State Dept

WASHINGTON/Reuters/March 15/2021
- The United States plans to reinvigorate diplomatic efforts, alongside the United Nations and others, to end the war in Yemen, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told U. N. Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths, a State Department spokesperson said on Sunday. “He highlighted that the United States supports a unified, stable Yemen free from foreign influence, and that there is no military solution to the conflict,” State Department Spokesman Ned Price said in a statement. A Saudi Arabia-led military coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015 after the Iran-allied Houthi group ousted the country’s government from the capital Sanaa. The Houthis say they are fighting a corrupt system. The United Nations describes Yemen as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.


Iran Says Compromise Needed to End Nuclear Deal Deadlock
Agence France Presse/March 15/202
Iran's foreign minister said Monday that now was the time for the United States to decide if it will "compromise" to break the deadlock to revive the nuclear deal with Tehran. "Europeans are used to compromise. Iran and the United States are not. The Americans are used to imposing, and we are used to resisting," Mohammad Javad Zarif said during a videoconference with the Brussels-based European Policy Centre think tank. "So now is the time to decide. Will we both compromise and go back to the JCPOA? Or will we go back to our own paths?" he said, using the initials for the 2015 accord between Iran and world powers.  The deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, has been hanging by a thread since former U.S. president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed punishing sanctions on Tehran. Following Joe Biden's US presidential election victory in November, the U.S., the European parties to the deal -- France, Germany and Britain -- and Tehran have been scrambling to find a way to salvage the pact. Biden has signaled his readiness to revive the pact that has been largely left in tatters by his predecessor's decision to pull out.
But the new US leader insists Iran first return to its nuclear commitments, most of which it suspended in response to US sanctions, while Tehran demands Washington take the first step by scrapping them. Zarif repeated the Iranian position that the US needs to return to full compliance before Tehran will roll back steps it has taken that breach the deal. "We are ready to go back to the JCPOA immediately after the United States goes back to the implementation of the agreement. It is as simple as that. We don't need any further negotiations," he said. Tehran's top diplomat said that any agreement "involves a give and take," but insisted that despite its flaw the existing deal was the "best agreement we could have." "The current U.S. administration or the next administration will not be able to achieve a better deal with Iran than the JCPOA. Not with this government and not with any future government. This is the best possible deal," he said. The European Union -- which serves as mediator for the agreement -- has been seeking to broker fresh talks between Washington, Tehran and the other signatories, but so far those efforts have been rebuffed by Iran.

‘It is not Lebanon and Gaza — Egypt is the hottest and most active border’
Udi Shaham/Jerusalem Post/March 15/2021
IDF officials link the success in thwarting drug smuggling through the Egyptian border to the rise of crime in the Bedouin sector inside Israel
While the borders with Lebanon, Syria and Gaza make most of the headlines, the actual border with the most action seems to be the one with Egypt. The soldiers protecting the border have to deal with two main threats: the terrorist threat, which usually focuses on Wilayat Sina’ (the Sinai District), an organization affiliated with ISIS; and the criminal threat, which usually takes the form of drug smuggling.
The latter might seem to be less dangerous, but a senior source in the border protection apparatus told The Jerusalem Post these events, which happen on a regular basis, tend to develop into live-fire incidents.
“Our commanders and soldiers are experienced in live-fire incidents more than any other front,” the source said. “Once a week, during a smuggling attempt, they [the smugglers] shoot all over, and commanders and combat soldiers have felt here the bullets hovering near their heads.”The units protecting the border made a significant change in recent years in the way they deal with smuggling, the source said.
“We have managed to cut down a large percentage of the smuggling in recent years,” he said. “Because of our success, we see a rise in the phenomenon that we dub as ‘violent smuggling.’ In these incidents, the smugglers are using live fire. In most cases, they aim at the Egyptian police officers near the border, and in some cases, we see a slip of fire into Israel.”
There was an 11% decrease in drug-smuggling attempts through the Egyptian border last year, according to the IDF. Smuggling attempts were thwarted 57 times, compared with 34 times in 2019, it said.
The Paran Regional Brigade is in charge of protecting the Egyptian border from the southern Gaza Strip to Eilat.
In recent years, the brigade, composed of two coed battalions, Caracal and Bardelas, focused on improving its methods against this phenomenon. The two main efforts focused on quickly reaching a point in which there is a smuggling attempt and establishing a mechanism in which the IDF, the Israel Police and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority cooperate.
“One of our focuses was on improving the intelligence in the region,” a senior source in the Paran Regional Brigade told the Post. “It helped us build an ability to reach an event quickly.”
“This shortened the time that a smuggling event takes,” he said. “If back in the past a smuggling event lasted something like 20 minutes until an IDF patrol arrived, and during which they managed to smuggle some 40 bags, now we reach them in three minutes, and the most they can [move] is three bags.”
In 2019, some 70 tons of drugs were smuggled through the Egyptian border, and there was an average of 11 bags in a smuggling event, according to the IDF.
In 2020, the number dropped to 33 tons, and there was an average of 5.8 bags per smuggling event.
In terms of cooperation, after years that the responsibility to deal with the smuggling fell between the cracks, the brigade took the initiative and set up a mechanism that involves all the relevant parties, the source said.
“We set up a war room that assembled all of the bodies that need to be involved, like the police, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and special intelligence units,” he said. “Now, we know much more about smugglers on both sides of the fence. This war room creates intelligence on a daily basis, and then we know where to focus and where a smuggling event will take place.”
Another step the brigade took was rearranging its forces along the border. In the populated areas, such as Bnei Netzarim and Nitzana, and other places that were defined as “valuable assets,” the brigade located a permanent force with “high lethality.”
“In these places our forces have, among other things, infantry units and tanks,“ the source said. “We have them there so we will have an available and accessible force in case of an emergency. In the rest of the front, which is mostly unpopulated desert mountains, I work according to our precise intelligence.”
However, the success of the regional brigade does not come without a price. Cutting down the drug cartels in the South also cuts down the income of hundreds of families, which was steady for many years, and Bedouin families look for other ways to make money, according to the IDF.
“We hit them on one side, so they’re looking for another,” the source said. “We see that loss of income being ‘compensated’ in other fields, like breaking into [IDF] bases and attempting to steal weapons and ammunition.”
“This is a wide phenomenon, and solving it requires a national operation,” he said. “We need the entire system to focus on investing in the Bedouin society... in education and in creating jobs. This [the smuggling] is a widespread phenomenon, and it requires a holistic, wider and deeper solution, which also includes sovereignty in the South.”


Iran releases footage of Revolutionary Guards 'missile city' base
Reuters/March 15/2021
A report on state TV described the base as a "missile city" and showed rows of what looked like missiles in a depot with cement walls. It did not give any details on its location. Iran released images and film footage on Monday of what it said was a new Revolutionary Guards base armed with cruise and ballistic missiles and "electronic warfare" equipment. A report on state TV described the base as a "missile city" and showed rows of what looked like missiles in a depot with cement walls. It did not give any details on its location. Alireza Tangsiri, the head of the elite Revolutionary Guards' naval unit, told state TV the base had equipment to detect enemy signals. The report said the base's “electronic warfare equipment” included radar, monitoring, simulation and disruption systems. “What we see today is a small section of the great and expansive missile capability of Revolutionary Guards’ naval forces,” Guards commander Major general Hossein Salami said in the broadcast. Last year, the Guards force said it had built a number of underground “missile cities” along the Gulf coastline. Iran, which routinely boasts of technological advances in its armed forces, has one of the biggest missile programs in the Middle East

Israel unveils the 'Iron Sting' laser, GPS-guided mortar munition
Jerusalem Post/March 15/2021
A ‘networked precision fire system’ that engages targets accurately and prevents collateral damage • 10-year development concludes with successful trials
As the IDF completes preparations for possible combat in both the southern and the northern fronts — where it is expected to encounter a smarter, well-organized enemy —the Defense Ministry, the IDF’s Ground Forces and Elbit Systems have revealed a precise, laser and GPS guided mortar munition: the “Iron Sting.”The 120 mm mortar has recently undergone final trials in a testing site in southern Israel. The completion of testing enables the start of serial production ahead of the system’s supply to the IDF, the Defense Ministry said in a statement on Sunday. The body in charge of development of the system in the Defense Ministry is the Directorate of Defense R&D (DDR&D). The series of tests was carried out using two networked "Cardom" mortar systems developed by Elbit: a “Cardom” system, mounted on an M113 APC and a “Cardom Spear” system, mounted on a Hummer 4X4 SUV. The ministry said in a statement that Iron Sting is designed to engage targets precisely, in both open terrains and urban environments, while reducing the possibility of collateral damage and preventing injury to non-combatants. Its operational use will revolutionize ground warfare and equip battalions with organic, accurate and effective firepower. Following the announcement, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that "the technology made available to the IDF by Israeli industries changes the battlefield and provides our forces with more accurate and effective means.
"The integration of ‘Iron Sting' into the IDF corresponds to the vision presented in the military’s ‘Tnufa’ multi-year plan,” he said. “It also fulfills the IDF’s needs, adapting combat capabilities to contend with enemies hidden within civilian, urban environments, while meeting the legal and moral standards set by the State of Israel.” DDR&D’s Head of Research and Development, Brig. Gen. Yaniv Rotem, said that “ten years of research and development have led us to this moment when we can provide the IDF’s ground forces with advanced capabilities made for the modern battlefield.
“This laser and GPS-guided mortar munition provides troops with a precise firing capability that has only been implemented in missiles and air munition thus far,” he said. “This is a very complex program and a groundbreaking system on the international level.”
Col. Arik Aviv, head of the IDF’s Ground Forces’ Weapons Department, said that “the Ground Forces command is leading the process of integrating the ‘Iron Sting’ into the IDF. This precise guided mortar munition is groundbreaking for IDF battalions, equipping them with accurate and organic firepower.
This capability has so far been reserved for large and complex missiles,” he said. “Thanks to this impressive technological development, it will now be implemented in mortar munitions on a wide scale.”Yehuda (Udi) Vered, general manager of Elbit Systems Land Division, said: "The introduction of this laser and GPS guided munition transforms the mortar system from statistical firepower into a precision fire system, thus delivering a significant change in fire capabilities at the tactical level.
“We believe that we have been able to develop an efficient solution that enables us to increase precision and reduce collateral damage.”

Canada/Statement by Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of International Development to mark 10 years since the peaceful protests in Syria
March 15, 2021 - Ottawa, Ontario - Global Affairs Canada
The Honourable Marc Garneau, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the Honourable Karina Gould, Minister of International Development, today issued the following statement:
“Ten years ago, Syrians peacefully stood up to demand change and a better future for their children. Their bravery was brutally repressed, and in the decade that followed, Syrians repeatedly suffered human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Assad regime has engaged in torture, forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and the use of chemical weapons. The regime and its enablers—notably Russia—have also deliberately attacked civilian targets, including hospitals and schools.
“Over half of Syria’s pre-civil war population is now displaced, and more than 13 million people inside the country need urgent help. The international community must continue to search and strive for a lasting political solution consistent with UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which endorsed a road map for a peace process in Syria.
“Accountability for international crimes is critical, which is why Canada, together with the Netherlands, will take further steps to hold Syria accountable for its grave human rights violations and for torture in particular. Canada and the Netherlands have formally requested negotiations with Syria to address Syrian human rights violations under the UN Convention against Torture.
“The conflict has resulted in one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. In response, since 2011, Canada has provided more than $800 million in funding for humanitarian, development and security and stabilization assistance for vulnerable populations in Syria. This funding has helped to provide food and health care, as well as support access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene for millions of people. The funding has also supported women’s grassroots political participation and the livelihoods of thousands of women, youths and people with disabilities.
“This is a solemn moment to pause and remember all who have suffered in this terrible conflict. They also include the more than 73,000 Syrian refugees we have welcomed, many of whom became Canadians. Today, we all warmly embrace them once again and we thank them for making our country better.”

Assad responsible for Syrian suffering — joint US, European statement
Arab News/March 15/2021
LONDON: Syrian President Bashar Assad and his backers bear responsibility for the years of war and human suffering that followed, the US and a number of European countries said on Monday. “The Assad regime’s response has been one of appalling violence,” the foreign minsters of the US, UK, France, Germany, and Italy said in a joint statement issued on the 10-year anniversary of the Syrian uprising. “We praise the brave individuals and organizations who over the last ten years have exposed the truth from Syria, documented and pursued abuses, mass atrocities, and grave violations of international law to hold the perpetrators accountable and delivered vital assistance to communities,” they said. The foreign ministers also said that a decade of conflict, widespread corruption, and economic upheaval have left the Syrian economy “broken.” More than half of the population, nearly 13 million Syrians, depend upon humanitarian assistance, the statement said. “Continued conflict has also led to space for terrorists, particularly Daesh, to exploit,” they said, adding that preventing Daesh’s resurgence remains a priority. The US and Europe said the Syrian regime and its supporters must “engage seriously in the political process and allow humanitarian assistance to reach communities in need.”On the proposed presidential election this year, the foreign ministers said they would neither be free nor fair, and should not lead to any normalization of ties with the Syrian regime. “Any political process needs the participation of all Syrians, including the diaspora and the displaced, to enable all voices to be heard,” they said, adding they must be under the auspices of the UN. Millions of Syrians have fled the fighting over the last ten years, the majority of which are hosted by Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Egypt, in addition to those who are internally displaced and are unable to return home. “We will not abandon the Syrian people (and) our nations commit to reinvigorating the pursuit of a peaceful solution which protects the rights and future prosperity of all Syrians, based on UN Security Council Resolution 2254,” the statement said. The foreign minsters added that they would not tolerate impunity or non-compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention, firmly continue to press for accountability for crimes, and welcomed the “ongoing efforts by national courts to investigate and prosecute crimes within their jurisdiction committed in Syria.”
They also called for a natio

Thousands Rally in Syria's Idlib to Mark 10 Years since Uprising
Agence France Presse/March 15/2021
Thousands took to the streets in Syria's last major rebel bastion of Idlib Monday to mark 10 years since the nationwide anti-government protests that sparked the country's devastating civil war. Crowds marched through the jihadist-dominated stronghold's main city, with some protesters waving the opposition's three-star flag or holding up images of those killed during the conflict. "Freedom, freedom," they sang in Idlib city, just as the first protesters did in 2011 at rallies demanding an end to President Bashar al-Assad's rule.  "The people want the fall of the regime," they shouted, echoing the slogan adopted by protesters elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa in the spring of 2011. "We came to renew the pledge we made in 2011 when we decided to oust Assad," said one of those marching, Hana Dahneen. "We had hoped to topple the regime from day one," she added.  "But it unleashed all kinds of weapons against the innocent people to crush the revolution." Syria's war has killed more than 388,000 people and displaced millions of Syrians inside the country and abroad. But today, Assad is back in control of more than 60 percent of the country after a string of Russia-backed victories against rebels and jihadists. A decade on, Assad looks set to win a new presidential election this summer in regime-held areas.
- 'Suffering and pain' -
Idlib, whose 2.9 million inhabitants have been protected by a ceasefire since March 2020, is one of the few key areas still holding out against the Damascus government. It was a protest hub in 2011 and it officially came under full opposition control some four years later. A Russian-backed regime offensive in 2019 saw the Syrian government retake more than half the province.  Areas that remain outside its control are dominated by the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham group, which is led by Al-Qaeda's former Syria affiliate. Despite the regime victories, protesters on Monday were defiant. "We will remain committed to our... revolution even if it takes 50 years," Dahneen said. Yaman, a 30-year-old protestor echoed a similar sentiment. "We couldn't change much in the past 10 years, and this is painful, but we can't but continue on the path we have started, because Syria needs change," he said. "It is an existential issue."  Around him, protesters carried signs condemning the inaction of the international community. "A decade of disappointment," read one banner. Yahya, a 28-year-old demonstrator, said he would press on with his activism "until the regime is toppled and its leaders are tried in international courts." As the conflict entered its 11th year, the head of the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR looked back on what he said was "one of the largest refugee crises in modern times.""Ten years of the Syrian crisis have inflicted unimaginable human suffering and pain," UNHCR head Filippo Grandi said in a statement on Friday. "The world has failed Syrians," he added, while acknowledging the huge efforts made to accommodate Syrian refugees. The war has displaced some 6.7 million people inside Syria, with almost 5.6 million Syrians fleeing abroad, mostly to neighboring countries, according to UN figures. Endless rounds of UN-backed peace talks have failed to stem the bloodshed, and have in recent years been overshadowed by a parallel negotiations track led by Moscow and rebel backer Ankara.

The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 15-16/2021

Syria, 2011-2021, or the land of alternating dead ends
Charles Elias Charouni/March 15/2021
شارل الياس الشرتوني: سوريا بعد عشر سنموات على بداية النزاع، سوريا أو بلد الإقفالات المتوالية؟

“Being a king is stupid, what matters is making a kingdom′′
André Malraux
A simple overview of the Syrian scene refers to the alternating or intersectional deadlocks of a blood dictatorship, the nihilisms of a burst country and those of contemporary Islam, the predatory imperialism and the failure of political modernity in all its forms.
Two years after the defeat of the Islamic state and ten years after the beginning of the civil war and its clones, the cutting of zones of influence between Russia, Turkey and Iran and the return of the blood idiot, Bachar al Assad, At the end of a ruined Syria, unable to rebuild both politically and socio-economically and humanitarianly, and to find place in the concert of nations, we find the traits of this exhausted Arab modernity displayed by the collapses of the inter system – state, expanding strategic swings and structural offences that refer to societies that have no more registries than violence and dislocations of a social order in crumbs.
The height of misfortune is the state of mind of the blood idiot who thinks he is victorious in the futures and capable of foiling the designs of the predators who put him back in place, and reigns this kingdom of ruins and deaths, not having promises other than these delusions, cynicism, and the cruelties of this widespread state of ′′ silence ′′ that the fifty years of the Baathist dictatorship and its double community and tribal.
The inanity of Russian intervention is exemplified by its vacuity, it only refers to the elucubations of obsolete imperialism, without any political or economic succession plan or resources that can help this bruised country emerge from an endless conflict (managing lasting conflict). Predators usually have no prospect but to sanctuarize their areas of influence, play the contradictions of a discharged society without any framework that allows it to consider endogenous reconstruction plans. Otherwise, Islamisms have no other dream but to extend the geopolitics of murderous and mutant nihilism, and ethno-political dynamics seek stabilization and sanctuarization at the heart of a widespread maelstr öm where nothing seems to hold.
It is from this sober and bitter finding that we should rethink the possibility of a political settlement that ends these nested voids and helps the Syrians close endless conflicting cycles. Western diplomats are called upon to revive emergency diplomacy, coupled with a sanctuarization of their strategic positions, with a view to restoring chances to negotiated settlement on the basis of the Geneva agreements and a federal restructuring of Syrian geopolitics that end to policies of domination and counter-domination, oligarchic drifts of a corrupt and murderous central state, and historical injustices and their memorial conflicts.
Stabilization patterns in progress only replicate and postpone conflict, cultivate resentment and return this country to extversions of a bursted geopolitics, death of the territorial state, instrumentalization of geopolitical seizures by imperialism in a state of frontal shock, and to the macabre avatars of contemporary Islam and its nihilisms without ledges.


How Biden Can Overcome Iran’s Maximum Pressure
Dennis Ross/The National Interest/March 15/2021
دنيس روس/معهد واشنطن: كيف يمكن لبايدن أن يتخطى ضغوطات إيران القصوى
Iran must see that America’s pursuit of nuclear negotiations will not inhibit what we do to counter their threatening, unacceptable actions in the region.
Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, wants sanctions relief. To get the Biden administration off its compliance for compliance approach in which sanctions relief cannot come before the Iranians reverse their breaches of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the Iranians have adopted a Trump-like “maximum pressure” policy. Their leaders are acting as if coercion can work and carries little risk.
Consider the recent pattern of Iran’s behavior on both their nuclear program and in the Middle East. In early January, the Iranians informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog that monitors the Iranian nuclear program, that they would begin enriching uranium to 20 percent, the dividing line between low and highly enriched uranium. Subsequently, they also informed the IAEA that they would begin fabricating uranium metal, a possible step toward creating the core of a bomb. When that failed to move the Biden administration, the Supreme Leader upped the ante and announced that, if necessary, Iran would enrich to 60 percent, close to weapons-grade. In addition, the Iranian government took another step with the IAEA, conveying that it would no longer “voluntarily” adhere to the Additional Protocol which requires inspections of declared and undeclared nuclear sites. And, then it limited continuous access to information even from the declared sites, threatening that after three months to suspend it altogether if sanctions have not been lifted. While the Iranians did agree to discuss with IAEA what the agency says are Iran’s “unsatisfactory” explanations for traces of uranium found at three sites where the Iranians claimed no work on their nuclear program took place, they declined the European invitation to resume diplomacy on their nuclear program in an informal 5+1 format unless the US reverses the Trump sanctions first.
But Iran’s provocative actions are not limited to its nuclear program; they have clearly become far more threatening in the region at the same time. In fact, it is as if the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Qods Force, its action arm in the Middle East, have been given the green light to launch threats everywhere. They seized a South Korean ship a few weeks ago and have essentially held it for ransom, demanding that the South Koreans release $7 billion dollars in accounts frozen by sanctions. More recently, they fired a missile at a Bahamas flagged cargo ship owned by an Israeli company in the Gulf of Oman and reports suggest they are behind an oil spill off of Israel’s coast. In parallel, the Houthis, whose drones, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles are furnished by the Iranians, have been escalating their attacks against the Saudis, targeting now oil facilities at Ras Tanura, Jedda and Yanbu just in the last few days, helping to produce a spike in oil prices to roughly $70 dollars a barrel. Iran’s Shia proxy militias in Iraq have also fired rockets and drones at Riyadh, the Saudi capital city, even as those same militias have been firing on bases in Iraq where Americans are located. It was the fusillade of 107 mm rockets fired at Erbil, in northern Iraq, injuring an American soldier and killing a non-American contractor that helped trigger the American decision to launch a limited, highly targeted strike at Albu Kamal on the Syrian side of the Iraqi border.
President Joe Biden said he ordered the strike to show such attacks cannot be carried out with impunity and warned Iran “to be careful.” So far, the Iranians are choosing not to heed that advice as one of their proxies in Iraq fired ten rockets against the Ain al-Asad base in Iraq—the same one that Iran hit that wounded, but miraculously did not kill, any Americans last year in response to the Trump administration’s targeted killing of Qassim Soleimani, the leader of the Qods Forces. Iranians are doubling down, believing pressure will work and lead us to ease sanctions due to our desire to avoid the risk of conflict.
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The Biden administration faces a genuine dilemma. It understandably does not want to get into an escalating conflict directly or indirectly with the Iranians—not in Iraq or elsewhere. But it also does not want to appear to be willing to live with increasing missile and drone attacks on us and others. Doing so—or moving to lift sanctions now—would validate the position of the Revolutionary Guard and the Qods Forces in Iran and that is a recipe for guaranteeing more Iranian pressure and less Iranian responsiveness.
In this early test of the Biden administration, with others watching to see how the president and his team will respond, Iran’s leaders must see they cannot gain from this posture. Wisely, the administration has made it clear that it will not make unilateral concessions to the Iranians. But it will need to employ a mix of diplomatic and coercive options that create counter-pressures and keep the onus on Iran.
First, it should continue to emphasize we are ready to return to the 5+1 negotiating format with Iran even as it makes clear we will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. With the international community, the Biden administration must be able to show it is ready to reverse the consequences of Donald Trump’s walk away from the JCPOA. But negotiations are needed, especially because some of Iran’s breaches like the deployment of advanced cascades of centrifuges have generated Iranian know-how in ways that cannot be reversed—and Iran’s refusal to engage and the acceleration of its nuclear program increase the risk of conflict. This is not just about building political pressure on Iran; it is also about having Iran’s leaders see that we are conditioning the environment to the reality that in the absence of diplomacy, force may ultimately have to be used to prevent Iran’s march toward a nuclear bomb.
Second, the administration should forge a common public posture with our European allies and convey private messages. The public and private posture should be straightforward: so long as Iran breaches the agreement, refuses to come to a 5+1 negotiating forum, and directly or through its proxy militias launches rockets against U.S. forces or personnel, any sanctions relief is impossible. The administration should try to enlist the Russians and Chinese to convey this message not because they look to be responsive to the United States but because they have leverage on Iran and have little interest in seeing any escalation that could involve the use of American force.
Third, the Biden team should shine a spotlight on the Shia militias that are endangering Iraqi civilians with their rocket strikes. Both President Barham Salih and Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi made condemnatory statements after the attack on Erbil but more such statements will be necessary and are likely to be forthcoming if they know that our alternative is to hit back militarily against the proxies in Iraq. To be sure, if proxy attacks continue, the administration may well need to launch strikes, but it need not rush. The administration is right to say it will choose when and how to respond to such attacks, preserving the initiative for what to do and perhaps creating uncertainty among the Iranians and their proxy militias in Iraq. Still, because President Biden has often said, “Big nations don’t bluff,” any such statement carries with it the need to do something unless the attacks actually stop.
Fourth, the Biden administration should consider taking a page from the Israeli playbook. Israel has launched countless air strikes against Iranian and Shia proxy targets in Syria but it rarely acknowledges them. Why not make that part of the American toolkit? Not every action needs to be acknowledged; a covert action, including even a military strike against an Iranian site that supports the militias, need not be acknowledged. The Iranians would get the message but would not be put in the position of feeling obliged to respond lest Tehran appears weak if it doesn’t. We need the Supreme Leader to understand that the IRGC and Qods Forces are playing with fire and Iran is going to get burned if it does not stop. Over the years, Ali Khamenei has understood the danger of direct confrontation with the United States and avoided it. Presently, that fear needs to be restored.
All these moves should be geared toward convincing the Iranians to dial back their pressure campaign and resume negotiations on the nuclear issue. Even if they generally succeed on the nuclear issue, however, the need to be able to deter aggressive Iranian actions in the region is likely to remain. Indeed, the Israelis, Saudis, and Emirates all fear we will lose our leverage even if we hold firm on the compliance-for-compliance formula and only lift our nuclear-related sanctions after Iran is back in compliance with the JCPOA. At that point, they ask why would Iran concede anything more either on the nuclear issue or on their regional behavior when the pressure is off? The administration has a good argument on the nuclear program: if the only thing the Iranians really want is sanctions relief and they get it by the restoration of the JCPOA, we can always reimpose the Trump sanctions after negotiating for a defined period of time (e.g., twelve to eighteen months) if the Iranians prove unwilling to work out a successor agreement.

Latest U.S. proposal for ending Afghan conflict runs counter to Taliban beliefs
Bill Roggio/FDD's Long War Journal/March 15/2021
The United States recently drafted and proposed a plan to end the conflict in Afghanistan, but it featured several proposals that are diametrically opposed to the Taliban’s ideology, opening the door for it to be dismissed out of hand.
The so-called “peace plan” called for the current Afghan constitution to serve as the framework for a future constitution, elections, and power sharing – all of which have been flatly rejected by the Taliban in the past.
The plan, which was published by TOLONews, was reportedly sent on Feb. 28 to the Afghan government and the Taliban by Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation.
The proposal included three parts: the “Guiding Principles for Afghanistan’s Future,” a “Transitional Peace Government and Political Roadmap,” and a “Permanent and Comprehensive Ceasefire.”
In the first part, the plan called for using the current Afghan constitution as a “template” for the future constitution and elections. In the second part, the plan calls for a transitional “Peace Government” where the two sides of the conflict will share power. The Taliban has also previously rejected any attempt at a cease fire, which comprised the third part. All three are antithetical to the Taliban’s interpretation of Islam.
[Items in bold below are directly from the text of proposed agreement.]
“The 2004 Constitution will be the initial template from which the future Constitution will be prepared.“
The Taliban has outwardly rejected the Afghan constitution, and in the past has referred to it as a tool of “the stooge Kabul administration.” From a Taliban statement released on its official website, Voice of Jihad, in 2012:
“[T]he Islamic Emirate has been engaged in a struggle and Jihad for the past one and a half decade to establish an Islamic government … It is for this purpose and for bringing about peace and stability in Afghanistan that we have increased our political efforts to come to mutual understanding with the world in order to solve the current ongoing situation.”
“But this understanding does not mean a surrender from Jihad and neither is it connected to an acceptance of the constitution of the stooge Kabul administration but rather the Islamic Emirate is utilizing its political wing alongside its military presence and Jihad in order to realize the national and Islamic aspirations of the nation and its martyrs.”
At the Moscow conference in Nov. 2018, the Taliban said that the Afghan constitution “has been copied from the West and has been imposed on Afghanistan’s Muslim society under the shadow of occupation.”
“[The] Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan considers it necessary that [the] constitution must be based on principles of Islamic religion, national interests, historical achievements and social justice,” it continued. The Taliban has insisted that only Islamic scholars of its liking can draft a new constitution.
“The future Constitution will provide for free and fair elections for Afghanistan’s national political leadership in which all Afghan citizens have a right to participate. Ultimate authority to take decisions of paramount national importance will rest with the country’s elected government officials.” 
The Taliban has been very clear that elections are against Islam. In June 2020, just three months after signing the Doha agreement with the U.S., the Taliban said that Afghan government officials are “the Deviants … who are trained in the poisonous deviant beliefs of atheism, communism, secularism, democracy, and other satanic western and disbelieving ideologies in order to mislead the Muslims with their deviant ideologies.”
“The Deviants are the people who work for the implementation of secularism and deviant laws instead of sharia [Islamic law],” the Taliban said. The Taliban has rejected elections numerous times in the recent past. For instance, in Oct. 2018, it said it is a “religious duty” to oppose elections in any form, as elections have “no Islamic or Afghan essence.”
“In the end we must emphasize that the election process has no Islamic or Afghan essence but is a foreign plot to prolong occupation, mask military invasion and deceive the common mindset,” the Taliban argued. “Hence, it is the duty of every true Muslim and Afghan to nip this plot in the bud so that the invaders are disappointed in their plans and forced to withdraw from our homeland.”
The Taliban has been explicit that it will not accept the Afghan constitution or any form of government except for the return to power of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan – the formal name of its rule.
In March 2020, just one week after the Taliban signed the Doha agreement, it issued a religious decree calling for an “Islamic government” to be formed in Afghanistan. The Taliban uses the terms “Islamic government,” Islamic system, and the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan interchangeably. This “Islamic government” is to be led by Taliban emir Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, the “lawful ruler” of Afghanistan.
“The agreement with the United States does not alter the status of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s supreme leader as the lawful ruler of Afghanistan,” the Taliban said in a statement written in Pashtu and published on Voice of Jihad.
In July 2020, Taliban emir Mullah Maibatullah said the Taliban is “on the threshold of establishing an Islamic government” and a “pure Islamic government” after two decades of fighting.
In Feb. 2021, the Taliban called for the return of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
“[T]his corrupt and illegitimate regime [the Afghan government] that lacks all domestic and international legitimacy must be replaced with an Islamic government, concerning which the declaration of Islamic Emirate is on point …” the Taliban said.
“All appointments to the Peace Government shall be made according to the principle of equity between the two Parties to this Agreement…“
This part of the agreement would call for the Taliban to share power with the Afghan government, something the Taliban has stated it would never do. For instance, in Jan. 2016, the Taliban said it has not waged jihad for decades “for the sake of some silly ministerial posts or a share of the power.”
The Islamic Emirate has not readily embraced this death and destruction for the sake of some silly ministerial posts or a share of the power. On the contrary they epitomize the nation’s hopes and aspirations for a just and peaceful government that will strive to build our beloved nation on the basis of Islamic law, social justice and national interests.
The people of Afghanistan readily sacrifice their sons to achieve this objective. And the Emirate – as the true representative of our people – will not end its peaceful and armed endeavors until we have achieved this hope of Afghanistan.
Again, the Taliban has been very clear in its public statements that it would settle for nothing less than the re-establishment of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, with Mullah Haibatullah as its leader.
It has stated that elections stand in opposition to Islam and thus the Taliban’s desired system of governance. It has said sharing power with a government that it has called “illegitimate,” “impotent,” a “puppet” and “stooge” of the West – and most importantly, “un-Islamic” is unacceptable. None of these stances are new.
One week after Khalilzad’s proposal was made public, the Taliban has yet to publicly comment on it, which should give an indication as to how seriously the group is considering it. Read: Likely not at all.
*Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.
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Al Qaeda leader threatens Myanmar in new video

Thomas Joscelyn/FDD's Long War Journal/March 15/2021
Ayman al Zawahiri, as seen in “The Wound of the Rohingya is the Wound of the Ummah.”
Al Qaeda’s main propaganda arm, As Sahab, has released a new video titled, “The Wound of the Rohingya is the Wound of the Ummah.” The 21-minute propaganda film features undated audio clips of Ayman al Zawahiri, the overall emir of the global terrorist and insurgency organization.
The video is styled like a short documentary, with footage of Western commentators spliced together with scenes of soldiers in Myanmar committing atrocities against civilians. A narrator comments throughout, using the images to make various points. The release opens with an image of As Sahab’s logo alongside the watermarks of the media houses for each of al Qaeda’s regional branches. This graphic (seen below) is commonly used in al Qaeda videos and is intended to convey the global organization’s cohesion.
Al Qaeda’s official media houses.
“The entire world has witnessed the countless massacres that the Rohingyan Muslims have been subjected to,” Zawahiri says toward the beginning of the production. But this “problem” has led to only “slight condemnation and token gestures of humanitarian aid,” he adds.
As Sahab’s narrator uses Zawahiri’s words to launch into a broadside against democracy, the West and the international community.
“The latest coup [in Myanmar] has shaken the governments and organizations in the hypocritical Western World for which the idol of democracy is more sacrosanct than the slaughter of thousands of innocent people and the forced displacement of millions,” As Sahab’s man says, according to an English-language transcript of his remarks. This same narrator goes on to criticize the Western media and diplomats for defending the “democratic government of Myanmar,” even while it was allegedly an “active participant in the genocide of the Rohingyan Muslims and the subsequent cover up of the crimes.”
The video includes archival footage of Myanmar’s deposed civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, alongside President Barack Obama at the White House. Other images of former Secretary of State John Kerry and current President Joseph Biden are used to underscore America’s support for Myanmar’s democracy, which al Qaeda accuses of being complicit in the genocide. “Instead of holding this government accountable for its abetment in the crimes committed by the military, Western governments and organizations strongly backed it and are today demanding its return,” As Sahab’s narrator says.
Zawahiri then accuses the West of hypocrisy for failing to truly punish Myanmar. “As for the so-called democratic government of Myanmar, upon which the West had lavished much praise for its success in establishing a blind democratic order, no sanctions were imposed on it, no campaign was launched against it, and no alliance was formed to stop its crimes, in spite of the fact that the crime is well-documented, and in graphic, horrendous detail,” Zawahiri says. “The reason for this hypocrisy is simple: The victims are Muslims.”The video includes various images of Muslims recounting their oppression at the hands of Buddhist forces.
The narrator uses these examples to criticize the United Nations and other international institutions. “In spite of the horrendous nature of the genocide and racial cleansing of the Muslims of Rohingya, the ‘world community’ has remained silent, if not passively supportive of these crimes,” the narrator says. “The reason is simple: the victims are Muslims, not Christians, Buddhists or atheists – the occupants of the five permanent seats in the UN Security Council.”
As Sahab then cuts to an archival recording of Osama Bin Laden from 2006. “And I say, clarifying their nomination of the Security Council, that Crusader International and pagan Buddhism hold the 5 permanent seats and what is called the privilege of the right of veto in what is called the Security Council,” bin Laden says in the clip.
The al Qaeda founder, who was killed in May 2011, goes on to argue that Muslim-majority countries are underrepresented at the United Nations despite their large populations and control of significant territory. “The UN is an organization of unbelief, and he who is pleased with its laws is an unbeliever, and it is a tool used to implement the Zionist/Crusader resolution, including the declarations of war against us and the division and occupation of our land,” bin Laden says.
Zawahiri accuses Muslim countries of failing to come to the aid of the Rohingya as well. “Unfortunately, the response to these massacres by the governments in the Muslim World was no different from the Western response,” Zawahiri says. “And this should come as no surprise since these governments are essentially a Western creation, client regimes imposed on Muslims for the protection of Western interests.”
Zawahiri returns to this theme – accusing Muslim governments of serving the West – later. “Thus, I shall not waste my words on the petty criminals in Myanmar, nor on the bigger criminals in the Western World or for that matter, the client slavish regimes that have outlived their shelf life in the Muslim World,” Zawahiri says. “My message is for my Muslim brothers in Burma and for the Muslims the world over. To them I say: Beggars are not the choosers. This is the law of history.”
After citing the Quran, Zawahiri then calls on Muslims in Myanmar and elsewhere to strike the government. “Therefore, this criminal Buddhist government that has been pampered by the West shall not be deterred except by force and by making it pay the price of its aggression within and beyond Myanmar,” Zawahiri says. “This is a binding duty on the entire Ummah.”
Toward the end of the production, As Sahab’s narrator claims the “tragedy of our Rohingyan brothers and sisters is the same tragedy that has afflicted our people in Syria.” He then adds the conflict in Kashmir.
“As for the oppression faced by the Uyghur Muslims, the criminality of the Chinese government has crossed all limits,” the narrator says. As a tweet from China’s representatives is displayed on screen, he says: “Chinese diplomats in America have the audacity to say that this is something for which the world should be grateful to China!”
The narrator also connects the French military’s actions “in the Islamic Maghreb, specifically in Mali,” the American bombings in Afghanistan and the war in Somalia to events in Myanmar. He claims that all of these, and more, are among the “tragedies” affecting the Ummah, or worldwide community of Muslims.
Zawahiri returns at the end of the video to emphasize that the plight of Muslims in Myanmar is part of a global struggle.
“The wound of the Rohingyan Muslims is the wound of the Ummah in its entirety,” Zawahiri says. He then attempts to connect the situation in Myanmar to al Qaeda’s global jihad.
“Our enemies shall try to divide us,” Zawahiri explains. “They will say to the Egyptian: Your concern is Egypt alone. To the Maghreb they shall say: Your concern is the Maghreb alone and so forth to the Syrian, the Indian, the Chechen, the Philippine, the Somali and the rest.”
For Zawahiri, the situation in all of these countries is a concern for the jihadists. He criticizes the West and international institutions for maintaining lists of global terrorists. “And if you step over the boundaries that we have enclosed and imprisoned you in, you are an international terrorist,” Zawahiri says, when supposedly summarizing the international community’s response. “We [the U.N. and the West] shall put your name in the list of wanted terrorists, place sanctions on you and engage with you with bombs and missiles,” Zawahiri claims.
With an image of bin Laden displayed on screen, Zawahiri closes the video by again threatening Myanmar.
“This is the way forward: Striking the interests of Myanmar and the criminals of Myanmar wherever we are able to do so,” Zawahiri informs his followers.
One of the last images displayed on screen places various “martyrs,” including jihadist ideologues and al Qaeda figures, alongside historical figures, including Muslims who opposed various colonial powers. The image (seen below) is intended to portray al Qaeda’s agenda and program as part of a decades-long struggle against stronger foreign powers.
*Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

The Russian Thread and the Syrian Carpet
Ghassan Charbel/Asharq Al Awsat/March 15/2021
The “Arab Spring” did not bear fruit. We talk about it as if we were reading a painful old novel. We have the feeling that those events took place a long time ago and that layers of dirt and ash covered blood stains that were scattered in capitals and squares.
One has the right to ask whether this spring came early or late and whether our societies are vaccinated against spring and change. Of course, the spring found an international community ready to give a round of applause and incite the revolutionaries to dream more, but without providing political, legal and human solidarity at the crucial moment.
In fact, spring can be punished through several means, especially when militants take over the podiums and squares, as terror grips society, and the security forces move to dispel fear and the spring altogether. Spring can be rebuked in many ways in the terrible Middle East, but the punishment in Syria was the most severe, and the outcome was a victorious regime in a devastated country.
A decade after the first spark, Syria seems confused amid interventions, flags, losses and numbers. One can say that the Syrian regime was lucky. Iran, which adopts the language of defending the oppressed and the troubled, had chosen, from the first moment, to prevent the Syrian Spring from achieving any change in the regime’s status and regional standing. A regime change in Syria simply meant cutting off the line of communication with Hezbollah in Lebanon, which is Iran’s greatest regional investment. The proof is the role the party plays in wars in the region.
Interventions multiplied on the Syrian arena. Weapons and convoys of fighters poured in to join a confrontation that was marked by its brutality, especially after their only method became the “scorched earth.”
But experience has shown that pro-Iranian militias alone are unable to prevent the fall of the regime, after the opposition attacks neared the heart of Damascus. It was necessary to search for an umbrella that would save the regime from falling, and later give it the opportunity to restore its capabilities and regain vital areas. If Tehran hated spring when it loomed over Damascus, the Kremlin master despised it even more.
Many reasons encouraged Vladimir Putin to deal a fatal blow to the Syrian Spring. Putin does not like color revolutions, civil society statements and international human rights organizations. He considers them mere masks of a Western desire to violate state sovereignty.
Another more relevant motive: The Syrian revolution became militarized and its front ranks were seized by the wandering fighters, whose infiltration into Syrian territories was facilitated by Turkey. They raised the slogans of ISIS and Al-Qaeda. Among them were a large number of expatriates from countries emerging from the Soviet rubble, and Putin saw an opportunity to crack down on them in Syria, instead of hunting for them on the outskirts of Russia or inside it.
The Russian intervention turned the tide, and the Syrian Spring turned into mere memories.
Ousting the regime is no longer on the table. Now the most Western countries can aspire to is hope that President Bashar al-Assad - who is close to winning a new presidential term - agrees to show flexibility towards a political solution, albeit less than what is stipulated in UN Security Council Resolution 2254.
When Syria was seen as an open arena for interference, Turkey stepped forward in its turn to undermine the Kurdish strip near its borders and to reserve, like Iran, a position in any future negotiations.
The map is very complex. The Russian victory is clear, but incomplete. Iran is a difficult partner, and its forces infiltrated the Syrian military and security services, and some segments of society. Israel is waging a relentless war against the Iranian entrenchment in Syria, as Putin describes Netanyahu as a partner and friend. Turkey is a recognized partner since the launch of the Astana process with Russia and Iran. As for the US military presence on Syrian soil, it raises the banner of confronting ISIS, but hopes to cut the Tehran-Beirut route, or at least keep an eye it.
The Russian victory is lacking because Moscow is neither able to lead the reconstruction process in Syria, nor ready to rehabilitate the regime and reintegrate it into the Arab and international groups. The regime’s victory is also incomplete. It is not likely to fall militarily, but the terrible economic deterioration is an evil enemy. Moreover, the long stay amid the rubble and staggering numbers of dead and wounded, refugees and displaced persons, is fraught with isolation and erosion.
In light of these facts, and with the presence of an American administration groping its way in the Middle East, Sergei Lavrov carried out a Gulf tour, which included Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar. The Russian-Qatari-Turkish meeting in Doha resulted in the launch of a “political path parallel to the Astana process.”
It is clear that Russia, which is currently engaged in Libya, Afghanistan and Syria, does not have the ability to generate solutions by itself. It needs an understanding with America and the support of the Gulf states. The Syrian regime knows that it is unable to change its current reality without taking steps that reassure the Arabs and encourage the West to soften the obstacles that prevent it from catching its breath.
Russia is the top in present-day Syria, but not the only one. Russian threads are necessary to weave the solution carpet in Syria, to remove it from the rubble and economic decline, and to open the door for reconstruction and the return of refugees. The Russian weaver also needs American, European, Gulf, Turkish and Iranian threads.
The solution in Syria is not simple. Russia and Syria know that the Biden administration, which is interested in the nuclear agreement with Iran and containing the “Chinese rise,” may not be seeking to allow Putin to achieve such success in Syria without a price. Can Assad facilitate the task of the Russian weaver?

Catholic Leaders Betray Mary’s Honor for Muhammad’s Approval
Raymond Ibrahim/March 15/2021
Martyrdom of Eulogius, who could not keep silent about Muhammad’s claims about Mary.
The same folks to bring you “Abrahamism”—the idea that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are intricately connected—have narrowed their sights on promoting Mary, the mother of Christ, as “a Jewish, Christian and Muslim woman,” in the words of Catholic priest Fr. Gian Matteo of the Pontifical International Marian Academy. In a ten-week webinar series titled “Mary, a model for faith and life for Christianity and Islam,” the academy will seek to present Mary as a bridge between the two religions.
This may be easier said than done — at least for those still interested in facts. For starters, the claim that Mary was a “Jewish, Christian and Muslim woman” is only two-thirds true: yes, she was a Jew by race and background; and yes, she was a Christian in that she literally birthed Christ(ianity); but she was most certainly not a Muslim — a term and religion that came into being 600 years after Mary died.
Worse, far from being the Eternal Virgin, as she is for 1.5 billion Christians of the Catholic and Orthodox variety, Islam presents Mary, the Mother of Christ, as “married” to and “copulating” with Muhammad in paradise — a depiction that would seem to sever rather than build “bridges.”
In a hadith that was deemed reliable enough to be included in the renowned Ibn Kathir’s corpus, Muhammad declared that “Allah will wed me in paradise to Mary, Daughter of Imran,” whom Muslims identify with Jesus’s mother. (Note: The Arabic word for “marriage” (نكاح, or nikah) denotes “legal sexual relations,” connotes the “F” word (due to its etymological connection to nakah, which carries the same spelling, نكاح) and is wholly devoid of Western, “romantic,” or Platonic connotations.)
Nor is this just some random, obscure hadith. None other than Dr. Salem Abdul Galil — previously deputy minister of Egypt’s religious endowments for preaching — affirmed its canonicity in 2017 during a live televised Arabic-language program. Among other biblical women (Moses’s sister and Pharaoh’s wife), “our prophet Muhammad — prayers and be upon him — will be married to Mary in paradise,” Galil said.
If few Christians today know about this Islamic claim, medieval Christians living in Muslim-occupied nations were certainly aware of it. There, Muslims regularly threw this fantasy in the face of Catholic and Orthodox Christians who venerated Mary as the “Eternal Virgin.” Thus, Eulogius of Cordoba, an indigenous Christian of Muslim-occupied Spain, once wrote, “I will not repeat the sacrilege which that impure dog [Muhammad] dared proffer about the Blessed Virgin, Queen of the World, holy mother of our venerable Lord and Savior. He claimed that in the next world he would deflower her.”
As usual, it was Eulogius’s offensive words about Muhammad — and not the latter’s offensive words about Mary and any number of other things — that had dire consequences: he, as well as many other Spanish Christians vociferously critical of Muhammad, were found guilty of speaking against Islam and publicly tortured and executed in “Golden Age” Cordoba in 859.
One expects that all of these “inconvenient” facts will be quietly passed over during the Pontifical International Marian Academy’s webinars. And if they are raised, no doubt Christians will somehow take the blame, as almost always happens in academic settings. As one example, after quoting Eulogius’s aforementioned lament against Muhammad’s claim of being married to Mary, John V. Tolan, a professor and member of Academia Europaea, denounced it as an “outrageous claim” of Eulogius’s own “invention.” He then railed against the martyr — not against his murderers or their prophet:
Eulogius fabricates lies designed to shock his Christian reader. This way, even those elements of Islam that resemble Christianity (such as reverence of Jesus and his virgin mother) are deformed and blackened, so as to prevent the Christian from admiring anything about the Muslim other. The goal is to inspire hatred for the “oppressors[.]” … Eulogius sets out to show that the Muslim is not a friend but a potential rapist of Christ’s virgins. (Saracens: Islam in the Medieval European Imagination, p.93)
As already seen, however, it is Muhammad himself — not any “Christian polemicist” — who “fabricates lies designed to shock,” namely that Mary will be his eternal concubine.
This, incidentally, is the main problem the purveyors of Abrahamism fail to acknowledge: Islam does not treat biblical characters the way Christianity does.
Christians accept the text of the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, as it is. They do not add, take away, or distort the accounts of the patriarchs that Jews also rely on. Conversely, while also relying on the figures of the Old and New Testaments — primarily for the weight of antiquity and authority attached to their names — Islam completely recasts them with different attributes that reaffirm Muhammad’s religion as the one true and final “revelation,” as opposed to Judaism and Christianity, whose biblical accounts on these figures are then seen as “distorted” because they are different from Islam’s later revisions.
Far from creating “commonalities,” it should be clear that such appropriation creates conflict. By way of analogy, imagine that you have a grandfather whom you are particularly fond of, and out of the blue, a stranger who never even met your grandfather says: “Hey, that’s my grandfather!” Then — lest you think this stranger is somehow trying to become your friend — he adds: “And everything you thought you knew about grandpa is wrong! Only I have his true life story.”
Would that create a “bridge” between you and this stranger who is trying to appropriate and recast the image of your grandfather?

Denmark Bans Foreign Funding of Mosques
Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/March 15/2021
"The mosque is a gift from Qatar but it's not free. I have always said that they will expect something in return, and this shows that they are making some claims for their money." — Lars Aslan Rasmussen, Copenhagen city councilman.
Officials from nearly all of Denmark's main political parties have expressed their support for the bill to ban foreign funding of mosques.
"It is a real problem if donations are made from organizations that want to undermine fundamental democratic values." — Foreign Affairs Minister Mattias Tesfaye.
Denmark's first purpose-built mosque — the Grand Mosque of Copenhagen, officially known as the Hamad Bin Khalifa Civilization Center — opened in June 2014 after receiving a donation of 227 million Danish kroner (€30 million; $36 million) from Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, the former emir of Qatar. Pictured: Qatar's Minister of Religious Affairs Ghaith bin Mubarak Ali Omran Al-Kuwari (second from left) takes part in the official opening ceremony of the Grand Mosque of Copenhagen, on June 19, 2014. (Photo by Thomas Lekfeldt/AFP via Getty Images)
The Danish Parliament has approved a new law that bans foreign governments from financing mosques in Denmark. The measure is aimed at preventing Muslim countries, particularly Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, from promoting Islamic extremism in Danish mosques and prayer facilities.
Denmark joins a growing list of European countries — including Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Switzerland — which have taken varying degrees of action to prevent foreign governments from financing the construction and upkeep of mosques on their territories.
In recent years, Algeria, Kuwait, Libya, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, among others, have distributed hundreds of millions of euros to finance the spread of Islam in Europe.
On March 9, the Danish Parliament voted 79 to 7 to approve Act 81, "Proposal for a Law Prohibiting the Receipt of Donations from Certain Natural and Legal Persons." The law, which does not mention Islam or Islamism by name, states:
"The purpose of the Act is to prevent natural and legal persons, including foreign state authorities and state-run organizations and companies, from working against or undermining democracy and fundamental freedoms and human rights by making donations.
"The Minister of Immigration and Integration Affairs may ... make a decision on whether natural and legal persons, including foreign state authorities and state-run organizations and companies that oppose or undermine democracy and fundamental freedoms and human rights, be placed on a public ban list....
"Anyone who receives one or more donations that individually or together exceed DKK 10,000 (€1,350; $1,600) within 12 consecutive calendar months, from a natural or legal person who is included on the public ban list ... is punishable by a fine.
"Anyone who ... has received one or more donations that individually or together exceed DKK 10,000 within 12 consecutive calendar months ... must return the donation to the donor within 14 days from the time when the person in question became or should have become aware of this...."
The legislation was sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Integration and enters into force on March 15, 2021. Foreign Minister Mattias Tesfaye said:
"Today there are extreme forces abroad that are trying to turn our Muslim citizens against Denmark and thus divide our society. Several times in recent years, the media have reported on Danish mosques receiving millions from the Middle East, among others. The government will oppose this.
"This bill is an important step towards fighting attempts by Islamic extremists to gain ground in Denmark. With this, we can take a targeted approach to the donations that undermine the values ​​on which Danish society is based.
"The bill will not solve all the problems that extreme Islamists and anti-democratic forces can give rise to. But it is a good step on the road, and it will be a benefit to society every time we can stop an anti-democratic donation in Denmark."
Tesfaye took action after the Danish newspaper Berlingske reported in January 2020 that Saudi Arabia had donated 4.9 million Danish kroner (€660,000; $780,000) to fund the Taiba Mosque, located in the "multicultural" Nørrebro district, also known as "little Arabia." The donation was made by means of the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Denmark.
The Taiba Mosque, one of the most conservative in Denmark, has been the base for a number of Islamists convicted of terrorism offenses.
The donation, included in the Taiba Mosque's annual report, was the first documented proof that Saudi Arabia was donating money to Danish mosques. Berlingske subsequently reported that Saudi Arabia was financing other mosques in Denmark.
Denmark's first purpose-built mosque — the Grand Mosque of Copenhagen, officially known as the Hamad Bin Khalifa Civilization Center — opened in June 2014 after receiving a donation of 227 million Danish kroner (€30 million; $36 million) from Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, the former emir of Qatar.
Critics of the mega-mosque, which has a capacity to host 3,000 worshippers indoors and another 1,500 in an inner courtyard, said that the organization behind the facility, the Danish Islamic Council (Dansk Islamisk Råd, DIR), was promoting a highly conservative interpretation of Islam.
In September 2013, when the mosque was still under construction, the Copenhagen Post reported that the facility was planning to rebroadcast Al-Aqsa TV, a television broadcaster controlled by the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas. At the time, city councilman Lars Aslan Rasmussen, himself of Turkish background, said:
"A few weeks ago, Dansk Islamisk Råd said that there would be no connection to Qatar and we can now see that is a lie. The mosque is a gift from Qatar but it's not free. I have always said that they will expect something in return, and this shows that they are making some claims for their money. This will not be a moderate mosque and it will present integration problems."
Meanwhile, Turkey has bankrolled the construction of 27 mosques in Denmark, including in the cities of Aarhus, Ringsted and Roskilde and in the towns of Fredericia, Hedehusene and Holbæk.
In September 2020, Berlingske reported that Abu Bashar, a notorious imam in Odense, forced a woman to sign a document that she would lose custody of her children if she filed for a divorce from her husband. He said that such a divorce would violate the family's honor.
The document, which contravened Danish law, caused alarm among Danish officials. Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen wrote:
"Sharia does not belong in Denmark. Yesterday and today, we have read about divorce contracts based on Sharia. On Funen [the third-largest island in Denmark]. In Denmark. It is wrong. It is oppressive of women. It is not Danish. And it must never, ever become Danish.
"In government, we will do everything in our power to stop this. An imam should not interfere in divorce at all. It is only a choice to be made by the two persons who entered into the marriage. Nobody else. This confirms our fearful suspicions about the undemocratic tendencies that exist in parts of Denmark.
"We will do everything we can to stop it."
Officials from nearly all of Denmark's main political parties have expressed their support for the bill to ban foreign funding of mosques. Foreign Affairs Minister Mattias Tesfaye said:
"I take a deep distance from the extreme forces in Danish mosques. It is a real problem if donations are made from organizations that want to undermine fundamental democratic values. That is why I am glad that there is broad political agreement on the main ideas in the forthcoming bill. The bill may not necessarily solve all problems, but it is an important step in the right direction."
Liberal Party rapporteur Mads Fuglede added:
"We must and must never find ourselves in the hands of anti-democratic forces trying to assert their influence in Denmark. And that is why we in the Liberal Party are very satisfied that there is now broad support for implementing the work that we started during our time in government. We have a political responsibility to take care of Denmark. And we do it best by preventing donations from dark forces that want to undermine our democracy."
Pia Kjærsgaard, co-founder of the Danish People's Party, said:
"Obviously, Middle Eastern regimes must not be able to send money to mosques or Koranic schools in Denmark to undermine Danish values. We therefore welcome this intervention and look forward to curbing the attacks on democracy that emanate from, among other things, radicalized mosques. Of course, we must never accept attacks on our peaceful society and democracy, and I am therefore pleased that the government has chosen to implement this agreement from before the election and look forward to it having an effect."
Conservative Party spokesman Marcus Knuth, said:
"We support restrictions on foreign donations to religious communities that oppose our Danish values. We hope that the work can lead to a more comprehensive effort against the extremist mosques and Islamist denominations in Denmark."
Henrik Dahl of the Liberal Alliance stated:
"We want to ensure that in Denmark no financial support is provided from anti-democratic organizations and individuals. We do not want outsiders to undermine democracy, freedom and fundamental human rights, or to have any kind of influence in Denmark. That is what this bill helps to prevent."
Prime Minister Frederiksen recently announced that her government intends significantly to limit the number of people seeking asylum in Denmark. The aim, she said, is to preserve "social cohesion" in the country.
Denmark, which has a population of 5.8 million, received approximately 40,000 asylum applications during the past five years, according to data compiled by Statista. Most of the applications received by Denmark, a predominately Lutheran country, were from migrants from Muslim countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
In recent years, Denmark has also permitted significant non-asylum immigration, especially from non-Western countries. Denmark is now home to sizeable immigrant communities from Syria (35,536); Turkey (33,111); Iraq (21,840); Iran (17,195); Pakistan (14,471); Afghanistan (13,864); Lebanon (12,990) and Somalia (11,282), according to Statista.
Muslims currently comprise approximately 5.5% of the Danish population, according to the Pew Research Center. Under a "zero migration scenario," the Muslim population is projected to reach 7.6% by 2050; with a "medium migration scenario," it is forecast to hit 11.9% by 2050; and under a "high migration scenario," Muslims are expected to comprise 16% of the Danish population by 2050, according to Pew.
As in other European countries, mass migration has resulted in increased crime and social tension. Danish cities have been plagued by shootings, car burnings and gang violence.
On January 22, during a parliamentary hearing on Danish immigration policy, Frederiksen, a Social Democrat, said that she was determined to reduce the number of asylum approvals:
"Our goal is zero asylum seekers. We cannot promise zero asylum seekers, but we can establish the vision for a new asylum system, and then do what we can to implement it. We must be careful that not too many people come to our country, otherwise our social cohesion cannot exist. It is already being challenged."
Frederiksen, who has been prime minister since June 2019, also said that "politicians of the past" were "thoroughly wrong" for failing to insist that migrants must integrate into Danish society.
*Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute.
© 2021 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.

Biden Can Trigger a Regional War by Reviving the Nuclear Deal
Majid Rafizadeh/Gatestone Institute/March 15/2021
Governments in the Middle East have a valid reason to be concerned about the nuclear deal. They have already witnessed its negative consequences.
[T]his would have not been the outcome if Israel and other regional powers had been part of the negotiations.
The composition of the current negotiating team, similar to the previous one, completely excludes those on Iran's doorstep. In an approach reminiscent of the bygone colonial era, it remains a policy set by governments thousands of miles away.
Arab nations have already seen the consequences of the previous attempt at striking a nuclear deal. The Iranian-armed Houthis simply ratcheted up efforts to cause death and destruction in Yemen, and Hezbollah escalated its involvement and control of large swathes of Syrian territory.
By returning to a deal which brought nothing but heightened destruction and instability to the region, the Biden administration would be abandoning old allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia – which at least has begun instituting reforms -- and instead empowering a regime that remains an existential threat to the entire Middle East.
By returning to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) -- also known as Iran nuclear deal -- which brought nothing but heightened destruction and instability to the Middle East, the Biden administration would be abandoning old allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, and instead empowering a regime that remains an existential threat to the entire Middle East. Pictured: Then Vice President Joe Biden meets with then Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal at the Riyadh airbase in Saudi Arabia on October 27, 2011. (Photo by AFP via Getty Images)
The Biden administration, deep down, unfortunately seems to wish to forge ahead with its agenda to revive the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) -- also known as the Iran nuclear deal, which, incidentally, Iran never signed -- and subsequently to lift sanctions against Tehran.
The Biden administration also seems to be conflicted about reversing the course of the previous administration's "maximum pressure" policy of economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic. The US had reportedly authorized South Korea to release $7 billion in frozen assets to Iran, until, on March 10, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged South Korea not to release the funds until Iran had agreed to return to full compliance with the JCPOA. Unofficial meetings between the Islamic Republic and the P5+1 (China, Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom and France, plus Germany) seem to be on the way to resurrect the nuclear deal, in spite of major opposition from many regional powers, including Israel and Saudi Arabia, as well as US Senators Jim Risch, Marco Rubio and Jim Inhofe.
Governments in the Middle East have a valid reason to be concerned about the nuclear deal. They have already witnessed its negative consequences. US President Barack Obama had pledged that he was "confident" the deal would "meet the national security needs of the United States and our allies". Throughout that time, the Obama administration not only initiated and expanded appeasement policies, they made unprecedented concessions in an attempt to dissuade the ruling mullahs from their internal and external aggression. The US met them with generosity and flexibility every step of the way.
Soon after, however, many countries in the region – as well as US citizens -- felt betrayed. It became clear that the nuclear deal had entirely overlooked Iran's funding of its violent proxies, such as Hezbollah, which took over Lebanon, Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the Houthis in Yemen, as well as Iran's expansion of influence over large swaths of South America. This would have not been the outcome if Israel and other regional powers had been part of the negotiations.
The composition of the current negotiating team, similar to the previous one, completely excludes those on Iran's doorstep. In an approach reminiscent of the bygone colonial era, it remains a policy set by governments thousands of miles away.
Worse, after the JCPOA agreement was sealed, the regional powers came to witness first-hand the impact of this nuclear deal. As sanctions against Iran were lifted during the Obama administration, it quickly became clear that instead of curbing Iran's malign behavior at home and abroad, those actions had, in the eyes of the international community, given Iran a newfound global legitimacy. Both that, and the lifting of sanctions, generated billions of dollars in revenue for Iran's military institution, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, as well as for Iran's militia and terror groups. Tehran used that influx of revenues to expand its influence throughout the region, including in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon. Iran's expansion campaign proved immensely successful.
The Gulf states and Israel saw immediately that the threat Iran poses was never, and will not be, thwarted by this nuclear deal. Instead of preventing Iran from having nuclear weapons, as deceitfully promised, the deal actually permitted Iran in a short time to enrich as much uranium and manufacture as many nuclear bombs as it liked – as well as the ballistic missiles with which to deliver them.
Arab nations have already seen the consequences of the previous attempt at striking a nuclear deal. The Iranian-armed Houthis simply ratcheted up efforts to cause death and destruction in Yemen, and Hezbollah escalated its involvement and control of large swathes of Syrian territory. The region also saw a greater propensity for Houthi rocket launches at civilian targets in Saudi Arabia, the deployment of thousands of Hezbollah foot soldiers in Syria, and the constant bombardment of southern Israel by Iranian-funded Hamas rockets.
As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pointed out, "We have already seen the nature of agreements with extremist regimes like yours [the Iranian regime]". Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan chimed in to the Agence France-Presse news agency:
"I think we've seen as a result of the after-effects of the JCPOA that not involving the regional countries results in a build up of mistrust and neglect of the issues of real concern and of real effect on regional security."
By returning to a deal which brought nothing but heightened destruction and instability to the region, the Biden administration would be abandoning old allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia -- which at least has begun instituting reforms -- and instead empowering a regime that remains an existential threat to the entire Middle East.
One possible repercussion of rejoining the nuclear deal is that countries in the region may find no other option than taking military action against Iran, a move that would spiral into regional war. "With an agreement or without an agreement, we will do whatever is necessary so you do not arm yourselves with nuclear weapons," Netanyahu said recently during a memorial ceremony at the Tel Hai monument in northern Israel. Israeli military chief Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi also recently warned:
"I instructed the army to prepare a number of operational plans in addition to the existing ones. We are taking care of these plans and will develop them during the coming year. Those who decide on carrying them out, of course, are the political leaders. But these plans have to be on the table."
In short, the Biden administration's attempt to revive the 2015 nuclear deal can easily turn both the region and the Biden legacy into a conflagration -- as well ignite a resolute nuclear arms race throughout the Middle East.
*Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a business strategist and advisor, Harvard-educated scholar, political scientist, board member of Harvard International Review, and president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He has authored several books on Islam and US foreign policy. He can be reached at Dr.Rafizadeh@Post.Harvard.Edu
© 2021 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.