English LCCC Newsbulletin For Lebanese, Lebanese Related, Global News & Editorials
For  September 20/2020
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

The Bulletin's Link on the lccc Site

News Bulletin Achieves Since 2006
Click Here to enter the LCCC Arabic/English news bulletins Achieves since 2006

Bible Quotations For today
I am the Alpha and the Omega says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty
Book of Revelation 01/01-08/:”The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place; he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it; for the time is near. John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on September 19-20/2021
Lebanon Asks U.N. to Forbid Israel from Oil Drilling in Disputed Area
WHO: Lebanon Life-Saving Health Services Must be Preserved at All Costs
Al-Rahi Slams Hizbullah Fuel Tankers, Obstruction of Port Probe
Iran Says Ready to Sell Lebanon Fuel if Its Govt. Asks
Company of Seized Nitrates Says Quantity was Intended for Agriculture
Lebanese PM says oil shipments from Iran were ‘not approved’ by his government
Lebanon outraged as Israel moves forward with gas drilling plans
Hezbollah Is the Only Winner in Lebanon
Lebanon’s skateboarding scene revived with new Beirut park

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on September 19-20/2021
Iraqi church desecrated by ISIS gets new bell after restoration/Mosul's Christians return to see their church 'brought back to life'
Taliban Replace Ministry for Women with 'Virtue' Authorities
ISIS claims responsibility for attacks on Taliban in Afghanistan
France cancels defense summit with Britain over submarines crisis with US,
West imploding over submarines deal: What is going on with US, UK, Australia, France?
Paris Denies Cancelling Swiss President Talks over Jet Snub
Biden Asks for Early Talks with Macron amid Submarine Row
Israeli Army Arrests Last 2 of 6 Palestinian Prison Escapees
Iran looks to ‘mitigate sanctions’ after China-led bloc OKs entry
Mossad assassinated Iran’s chief nuke scientist with remote AI gun — report
Controversial US, UK, Australia deal has ramifications for Middle East
Low-Key Funeral for Algeria's ex-President Bouteflika
IS Claims Syria Gas Pipeline Attack
Russia’s pro-Putin party wins parliamentary vote, exit polls show

Titles For The Latest The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on September 19-20/2021
The neo-Taliban and the super-jihadi state/Walid Phares/Sunday Cuardian Live/September 18, 2021
To rehabilitate Al Assad, Iran may have to rein in Hezbollah/Raghida Dergham/The National/September 19, 2021
How a Syrian War Criminal and Double Agent Disappeared in Europe/Ben Taub/The New Yorker/September 19/2021

The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on September 19-20/2021
Lebanon Asks U.N. to Forbid Israel from Oil Drilling in Disputed Area
Naharnet/September 19/2021
Lebanese Ambassador to the U.N. Amal Mudallali has filed a memo to U.N. chief Antonio Guterres and Security Council President Geraldine Byrne Nason over the reports that Israel has granted the Halliburton company contracts to drill gas and oil wells in a disputed offshore area. In the memo, filed at the instructions of Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib, Lebanon asks the Security Council to “verify that the drilling works do not lie in an area disputed by Lebanon and Israel, in order to avoid any infringement on the rights and sovereignty of Lebanon.”Lebanon has also asked the Security Council to “prevent any future excavation works in the disputed areas to avoid any steps that might represent a threat to international peace and security.”

WHO: Lebanon Life-Saving Health Services Must be Preserved at All Costs
Naharnet/September 19/2021
World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Ahmed Al Mandhari have issued a joint statement on their visit to Lebanon this week. “We have just concluded a two-day visit to Beirut, Lebanon to reiterate our commitment to the people of Lebanon and express our solidarity and continued support,” the statement said. “Since the Beirut port blast last year, the country and its people have slipped even further into despair. The current economic crisis has increased poverty across the country, and all sectors including health, are at risk of collapse,” the statement added. Tedros and Mandhari warned that fuel shortages are causing most hospitals to operate at only 50% capacity. “Just today, we were told that two open heart surgeries were canceled because of limited fuel at the facility where they were planned to take place. Basic and life-saving medicines are in short supply, with restrictions in foreign currency severely limiting importation of medicines and medical goods,” they said. The statement added that a brain drain is occurring at alarming speed, noting that almost 40% of skilled medical doctors and almost 30% of registered nurses have already left the country either permanently or temporarily. “Mental health needs are greater than ever before, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to create additional challenges for both the health sector and communities alike,” Tedros and Mandhari said. They cautioned that the challenges are immense and threaten “the many significant health gains that Lebanon had made over the last decades.”“But we can use this crisis as an opportunity to build a better health care system in Lebanon, and work with national authorities, partners, and the international community for positive health sector reform,” they said.
They added: “We cannot afford to leave behind those most vulnerable and in need. Access to essential and life-saving health services must be preserved at all costs – including for migrants and persons with disabilities.”“Throughout our visit, we saw firsthand the spirit of resilience and determination that the Lebanese people are renowned for. Health care workers that have remained in the country are saving lives with the few resources they have at their disposal. The Lebanese people are eager to rebuild their country, and we are with them every step of the way,” the statement said. It added that the WHO remains committed to continuing its “immediate, lifesaving work in Lebanon, while also planning for longer-term strategies for health.”“And we count on the support of all sectors and all stakeholders to build on the support they have provided so far, so that together, we can take Lebanon from its current crisis to a future where all people can enjoy health as a basic right,” the statement went on to say.

Al-Rahi Slams Hizbullah Fuel Tankers, Obstruction of Port Probe
Naharnet/September 19/2021
Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi on Sunday called on the new government to “work as a unified national team that reflects the state’s unity.” He added that the government must “halt the deterioration and confront the incessant attempts to undermine the state and harm its democratic system.” “The state cannot function properly amid practices or stances that contradict with its entity and institutions,” al-Rahi said. “They simply call them points of contention, as if resolving them is unnecessary, such as Lebanon’s neutrality and its nonalignment; the correction of the practices that violate the constitution and the Taef Accord; the way the fuel tanker trucks were brought in; and the obstruction of the probe into the port crime, as if what’s wanted is to halt the investigation,” the patriarch lamented. Al-Rahi, however, added that what boosts his hope is that “the domestic, regional and international circumstances that gave birth to this government allow it to carry out the urgent efforts that the Lebanese people need from it.” He accordingly called on the government to “conduct reforms, revive the financial and economic activity, secure the academic year, support the private schools alike the official ones, resolve the fuel and electricity crisis, shut down smuggling crossings on the border, and address the issue of apple refrigerators to avoid its spoilage.”

Iran Says Ready to Sell Lebanon Fuel if Its Govt. Asks
Agence France Presse/September 19/2021
Iran said Sunday it is willing to sell fuel to Lebanon's government to help ease shortages, days after a first delivery of Iranian fuel arranged by Hizbullah entered the country. "If the Lebanese government wants to buy fuel from us to resolve the problems faced by its population, we will supply it," foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said. He told a news conference that the Islamic republic had already sold fuel to a "Lebanese businessman," without naming Hizbullah. Tehran-backed Hizbullah promised in August to bring fuel from Iran to alleviate the shortages sowing chaos in Lebanon, in defiance of U.S. sanctions. On Thursday, dozens of tanker trucks carrying Iranian fuel arranged by Hizbullah arrived in Lebanon and were due to fill the tanks of a fuel distribution firm owned by Hizbullah, which has been under US sanctions. Lebanon's new Prime Minister Najib Miqati had told CNN the shipment "was not approved by the Lebanese government."He added that he was "saddened" by "the violation of Lebanese sovereignty." Hizbullah is a major political force in Lebanon and the only group to have kept its arsenal of weapons following the end of the country's 1975-1990 civil war. Lebanon is facing one of its worst-ever economic crises, with more than three out of four Lebanese considered to be under the poverty line. Last year, it defaulted on its foreign debt and can no longer afford to import key goods, including petrol and diesel. Mains electricity are only available a handful of hours a day, while the Lebanese are struggling to find petrol, bread and medicine.

Company of Seized Nitrates Says Quantity was Intended for Agriculture
Agence France Presse/September 19/2021
The Lebanese company that owns the ammonium nitrate quantity that has been seized in the Bekaa has said that the fertilizer was intended for agricultural use. "One of our employees informed the relevant authorities that we have ammonium nitrate, so they raided the warehouses on Friday," one of the company heads told French news agency AFP on condition of anonymity. The name of the firm that owns the fertilizer has not been made public pending investigations. "We have been working in the feed and fertilizer industry for 40 years," the company official added. Authorities had seized the 20 tons of the dangerous chemical from a truck parked at a warehouse belonging to the company and the material was transported to a "safe place" in the Bidnayel Plain, the National News Agency had reported. Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi, who visited the Bekaa Valley on Saturday, called on security forces to conduct a sweep of the area. "We must do our best to move these materials to a safer place away from exposure to heat and sun" to avoid a "catastrophe," the NNA quoted him as saying. “I’m here to follow up on the investigation and not to expose its details. I will not reveal any names or detainees. I’m here to laud the work, vigilance and prudence of security agencies,” he added. Ammonium nitrate is an odorless crystalline substance commonly used as a fertilizer that has been the cause of numerous industrial explosions over the decades. At least 214 people were killed and some 6,500 others wounded on August 4, 2020 when a shipment of the chemical carelessly stocked at the Beirut port for years ignited and caused a massive blast. The blast also destroyed entire neighborhoods of the capital. When combined with fuel oils, ammonium nitrate creates a potent explosive widely used in the construction industry, but also by insurgent groups for improvised explosives. Lebanese authorities are still investigating the circumstances in which hundreds of tons of the chemical ended up in the Beirut port for years, before the monster explosion that levelled swathes of the city.

Lebanese PM says oil shipments from Iran were ‘not approved’ by his government
AMY SPIRO and TOI STAFF/September 19/2021
Najib Mikati, who took office earlier this month, says dozens of trucks of Iranian diesel organized by Iranian proxy group Hezbollah violate Lebanon’s sovereignty
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who took office less than 10 days ago, said shipments of Iranian oil into his country violate Lebanon’s sovereignty and were not approved by his government. “Frankly, I am sad, because this [violates] the sovereignty of Lebanon,” Mikati told CNN about the oil shipments organized by Hezbollah — the first of which arrived on Thursday — in an interview that aired on the network on Friday. Mikati said that he preferred “not to make any other comment” about the oil shipments “because we are trying to solve this in a very calm way.” But asked by CNN anchor Becky Anderson about the potential of US sanctions against Lebanon for importing oil from Iran, Mikati said that “since the Lebanese government didn’t approve this… I don’t believe the Lebanese government would be subject to any sanctions.”
Dozens of trucks carrying Iranian diesel fuel arrived in Lebanon on Thursday, the first in a series of deliveries organized by the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group. The overland delivery through neighboring Syria violates US sanctions imposed on Tehran after former president Donald Trump pulled America out of a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers in 2018. The shipment is being portrayed as a victory by Hezbollah, which stepped in to supply the fuel from its patron, Iran, while the cash-strapped Lebanese government grapples with months-long fuel shortages that have paralyzed the country. Hezbollah operates independently from Lebanese authorities, which are struggling to deal with a crippling energy crisis. Israel has said it will not interfere with the shipments.Mikati — whose cabinet includes two Hezbollah-backed ministers — declined to explicitly condemn the terrorist group for the shipments in his comments to CNN. “I have two ministers, yes they are friends of Hezbollah — and Hezbollah as a political party exists in Lebanon… so I cannot bypass this party,” Mikati said. “I am very pragmatic and what I care for is Lebanon, how I can save Lebanon.”
Therefore, he said, his objective is to “put politics aside, and let’s see how we can save this country.” Mikati added that Beirut is looking for a “big brother” in the Arab world to come and “take Lebanon from this mess. It is to the benefit of all the region and the Arab world to have a stable Lebanon.”
Asked if his government could exert any control over Hezbollah, Mikati told CNN that he vowed to prevent the group from being active overseas.
“Hezbollah is a political party in Lebanon that exists — but the most important [thing] is to not have Lebanon as a platform for any conspiracy against any other country outside of Lebanon,” he said. “That’s the most important for me, that’s what I can promise, what I can do.”
Mikati said he would work to “change the image” of Lebanon in other countries and in international media as a training ground for Iranian-backed terrorists, something he said he has “no proof” is happening.
Lebanon’s ongoing economic crisis is rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement by the ruling class and a sectarian-based political system that thrives on patronage and nepotism. Severe shortages in fuel have resulted in crippling power cuts. People wait hours in line for gasoline. Protests and scuffles have broken out at gas stations around Lebanon including in some Hezbollah strongholds. Hezbollah’s leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, announced last month that Iran was sending fuel to Lebanon to help ease the crisis. The first Hezbollah-commissioned Iranian oil tanker arrived in the Syrian port of Baniyas on Sunday and the diesel was unloaded to Syrian storage places before it was brought overland to Lebanon on Thursday by tanker trucks.
The convoy of 60 trucks, each carrying 50,000 liters (13,210 gallons), went through an informal border crossing in Qusayr in Syria. Another convoy of 60 tanker trucks arrived on Friday.
Hezbollah, often accused of operating a state-within-a-state, has been taking part in Syria’s civil war alongside government forces. It manages its own crossing points along the Lebanon-Syria border, away from formal border crossings.
Nasrallah said in a televised speech earlier this week that the tanker did not offload its cargo directly in Lebanon to avoid embarrassing authorities and risking sanctions on Lebanon.
Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV called it “the tanker truck convoys to break the American siege.” It said the trucks were on their way to the eastern Lebanese city of Baalbek where a Hezbollah-linked distribution company will start distributing the fuel. Nasrallah said the company, al-Amana, which is already under US sanctions, won’t risk new penalties.
For critics, however, the convoy is a symbol of the dissolution of the Lebanese state. While the oil delivery was seen as a victory for Hezbollah, the group is facing growing internal criticism for increasingly pulling Lebanon into Iran’s orbit and for defending its political allies who resist change rather than push for reform.
Agencies contributed to this report.


Lebanon outraged as Israel moves forward with gas drilling plans
Tzvi Joffre/September 19/2021
The Halliburton company announced that it would collaborate on drilling projects near waters disputed by Lebanon and Israel.
Lebanese officials expressed outrage on Saturday after a gas field service company announced last week that it had been awarded a contract to execute a drilling campaign for Greek energy producer Energean off the coast of northern Israel.
The Halliburton Company will collaborate with Energean on three to five well drilling and completions in the Karish North natural gas field, located near Israel's disputed maritime border with Lebanon. The gas field is expected to contain about 1.14 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of gas reserves, according to Energean.
"We are excited to build on our strong relationship with Energean and honored to once again be selected to deliver integrated project management services that maximize the value of their offshore Mediterranean wells,” said Ahmed Kenawi, senior vice president of Europe, Eurasia and Sub-Saharan Africa Region at Halliburton. “This campaign will deliver a fully integrated solution using our Halliburton 4.0 digital platform and drilling technologies to optimize well delivery.”
Israel and Lebanon began US-mediated negotiations concerning their maritime border last year, although talks hit a bump earlier this year when Lebanon increased its demands with a line extending much further south then their original claims, increasing the disputed area from 860 sq.km. to 2,300 sq.km, which would include at least part of the Karish North field.Israel has rejected the extended claims made by Lebanon, although Energy Minister Karin Elharrar stated in June that “despite Israel’s strong legal case, we are willing to consider creative solutions to bring the matter to a close.”
Israel has become an energy powerhouse in the region in recent years after a number of natural gas fields were discovered in Israeli territorial waters. Israel exports natural gas to both Jordan and Egypt.
In response to the announcement by Halliburton, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati stated on Saturday that "there is no complacency in this matter, nor is there a waiver of Lebanese rights, and the United Nations must play its role in deterring Israel and forcing it to stop its repeated violations of Lebanese rights and Lebanon's sovereignty," according to Lebanon's National News Agency (NNA).
Lebanese House Speaker Nabih Berri called on Lebanon's Ministry of Foreign Affairs to take "urgent and immediate action in the direction of the UN Security Council (UNSC) and the international community to verify the possibility of a new Israeli attack on Lebanese sovereignty and rights."
Berri added "the Israeli entity's undertaking commissions and concluding offshore exploration contracts for Halliburton or other companies in the disputed area at sea represents a violation, or even a blow to the framework agreement sponsored by the United States of America and the United Nations."
The House Speaker also questioned the failure of Total Novatek and Eni companies to begin drilling in Block No. 9 of Lebanese waters, of which a small part lies in waters disputed by Israel, saying the drilling was supposed to begin months ago.
Amal Mudallali, Lebanon's representative to the UN, submitted a letter to both UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Ireland's delegate to the UN, Geraldine Byrne Nason, on the matter, calling on the UNSC to "ensure that the drilling evaluation works are not located in a disputed area between Lebanon and Israel, in order to avoid any attack on Lebanon's rights and sovereignty."
The letter also called to "prevent any future drilling in the disputed areas and to avoid steps that may pose a threat to international peace and security."
The Israeli Energy Ministry responded that "Israel is not drilling in the area in dispute. The drilling that has been taking place for several years is happening under license for Karish and Karish North, and they are not at all in the area under dispute."
Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.

Hezbollah Is the Only Winner in Lebanon

Jacques Neriah/JNS.org//September 19/2021
JNS.org – “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” is a French epigram immortalized by Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr in the January 1849 issue of his journal Les Guêpes (“The Wasps”). Literally: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” The maxim would seem to be an apt summary of the Lebanese quagmire: caught in an endless political deadlock, Lebanon has become a failed state, unable to provide governance because of its sectarian-based political system. Having declared bankruptcy, its future is uncertain.
Modern Lebanon is an artificial creation of the French Mandate, which, at the request of the then-Maronite Patriarch, added in 1920 geographical areas populated by Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims to a homogenous Christian Maronite territory. The act laid the foundations of the failed state of today; the short-sighted Maronites became the victims of their own creation. Adding insult to injury, the heads of the Christian and Sunni communities decided in 1943 on a division of national leadership positions that ignored the rights of the Shi’ite community and left the richest ministries and national institutions in the hands of the Maronites and the Sunnis, who consolidated Christian supremacy over other sectarian and religious communities.
The resultant imbalance could not last long. Lebanon, the only Arab state governed by non-Muslims, could not resist the assault of Arab nationalism and later the growing Shi’ite and Sunni resentment. Three civil wars (1958, 1975 and 1983) changed the governing formula by reducing the Christian representation in parliament, as agreed in the 1990 Taif Agreement, which was meant to serve as “the basis for the ending of the civil war and the return to political normalcy in Lebanon.” However, this was only a short lull.
The tectonic change in Lebanon occurred slowly but surely among the Shi’ites, the country’s most disadvantaged and persecuted community, who were, even before independence, treated as second-class citizens by the Lebanese elites. Inside Lebanon, the Shi’ites suffered from Palestinian mistreatment in the 1970s and ’80s until Israel’s military incursion into Lebanon in 1982. They finally rose to become the most important political faction in Lebanon, with the active contribution of their Iranian sponsor.
The Shi’ite awakening was aroused by the cleric Imam Musa Sadr in the early 1970s, followed by the establishment of the Amal movement and the formation of Hezbollah by Iran in 1982. As a result, the basic formula used to govern the Lebanese state underwent an unprecedented change, culminating in the collapse of the Christian and Sunnite supremacy enjoyed by those communities until the start of the 21st century. The assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005 was the catalyst. As a result of massive protests and accusations that Damascus was behind the assassination, the Syrian military presence in Lebanon came to an end, and exiled Lebanese politicians returned to the country. The architect of the change was Michel Aoun, exiled to France for 15 years (after fleeing invading Syrian forces and finding shelter, in his pajamas, at the French embassy in Beirut). In 2005, he signed a strategic agreement with Hezbollah, which replaced the historical alliance signed in 1943 between the Maronites and the Sunnis with a new one that served as the basis of the “new Lebanon.”
President Aoun bows to Hezbollah
Aoun followed the example of predecessors, striking deals with foreign powers to assure his tenure. (Examples include Camille Chamoun, who allied with the United States; Fuad Chenab, who allied with Egypt’s Nasser; Suleiman Frangieh with Syria’s Hafez Assad; and Bashir Gemayel with Israel.) In Aoun’s case, he decided that aligning with Iran’s Shi’ite Hezbollah movement would assure the continuation of Christian rule in Lebanon. By doing so, Aoun changed the country’s political course, bringing it closer to Hezbollah’s vision of an Islamic republic, a province of the larger Shi’ite empire to be ruled by the Supreme Leader in Iran.
After its “successful” military confrontation with Israel in 2006, Hezbollah was hailed as a hero throughout Lebanon and the wider Arab world. However, Hezbollah became the target of criticism and mockery when, at the direction of Tehran, it mobilized to fight in Syria, Iraq and Yemen and to organize subversive activities in the Arab Gulf states. This intimate Hezbollah-Iran relationship wrought havoc on Lebanon. By 2013, large numbers of Arab depositors had withdrawn their investments in Lebanese banks, signaling the beginning of Lebanon’s “descent into hell.” Hailed as a hero in 2006, Hezbollah, with its leader Hassan Nasrallah and Iranian sponsors, became the target of vitriolic attacks as being responsible for Lebanon’s calamity. Nasrallah has been hanged in effigy in the streets of Beirut, and Hezbollah has been discredited in the eyes of many Lebanese, including some Lebanese militias, which have even dared to confront Hezbollah in scattered skirmishes. Lebanon is now a failed state, and is heading toward a fourth civil war, crumbling under an unprecedented economic and political crisis.
Despite its recent setbacks, however, Hezbollah remains the only power in town, having built a state-within-a-state and an essential component in Lebanon’s economy, military and politics. The more the crisis expands, the more Hezbollah dares to initiate state-like decisions, such as its recent announcement of its intent to solve Lebanon’s grave energy crisis by importing oil from Iran.
As is its nature, Hezbollah will seek to fill the void and do the job. In the case of energy imports, Hezbollah’s seemingly altruistic actions are nuanced: most of the oil products will be channeled to Hezbollah’s facilities (mainly hospitals and social institutions), and the rest will be sold to Hezbollah’s political allies or smuggled to Syria. The silent and acquiescent President Aoun is eager to secure Hezbollah’s political support in the 2022 presidential elections for his son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, the former foreign minister and head of the “Free Patriotic Movement.”
Recent reports from Lebanon tell that under the instructions of Tehran, Hezbollah has convinced its strategic partner Aoun to compromise and accept the formation of a new government, only 13 months after the resignation of Hassan Diab following the mega-explosion in the port of Beirut on Aug. 4. By accepting Hezbollah’s mediation and solution, Aoun has given Tehran not only the keys to Lebanon’s political puzzle but also turned Tehran into the kingmaker in Lebanon’s politics.
All observers of and commentators on the Lebanese scene concur that Hezbollah is the real winner following the announcement of the formation of the Lebanese government headed by Najib Miqati, especially since the formation of the new government represents the so-called “typical Lebanese compromise.” The newly-named ministers and leaders represent the same sectarian equation in the partition of portfolios and are totally dependent on the traditional political parties.
At this time, it seems that there is no remedy to Lebanon’s catastrophic economic state of affairs, a situation favoring further moves by Hezbollah to replace the functions of a failed state. Hezbollah will be emboldened to assume the failed Lebanese institutions responsible for other fields of neglect: water, energy, medicine and social services. If Hezbollah pushes to absorb the duties of Lebanon’s police, intelligence, or army, then Lebanon’s entire state structure will be in the hands of arsonists.
Going back to the opening sentence of this article, with regard to Lebanon, “plus ça change plus ce n’est plus la même chose” — things are definitely not staying the same.
IDF Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah, a special analyst for the Middle East at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, was formerly foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and deputy head for assessment of Israeli Military Intelligence.
*This article was first published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

Lebanon’s skateboarding scene revived with new Beirut park

Maghie Ghali, Al Arabiya English/19 September ,2021
Following a relief fund in support of Lebanon’s skateboarding community after the 2020 Beirut Port explosion, NGO Make Life Skate Life has opened the country’s first public skate park at Beirut’s Horsh park.
Despite Lebanon having an active skateboarding scene, it has so far only existed on unsafe roadsides, abandoned plots and quiet backstreets, due to a lack of public spaces for recreational activities. The fallout of the port blast has left many of Beirut’s street corners unusable, some relegated to dumpsites for the rubble.The newly built Snoubar Skate Park provides a free-of-charge skateboarding arena from sunrise to sunset, offering a space for the youth of Beirut to meet and practice skating safely, whilst promoting psycho-social wellbeing and community spirit. It’s the latest venture from the NGO, which has so far built public skate parks in 10 countries across the Middle East, South East Asia, South America and Africa. After the blast, it donated new skate gear to Lebanese youths and helped pay for damages to their families’ homes and hospital bills. They then began searching for the perfect spot for the arena.
“With the economic crisis, boards are not affordable anymore for locals, so we brought boards, shoes and protective gear in and started making connections with potential sponsors. All we needed was a piece of land available for construction,” Make Life Skate Life executive director Arne Hillerns told Al Arabiya. “There were a lot of challenges in getting things done on time due to road blocks, no fuel and electricity cuts, so it took longer than usual.
“It’s important for people to have space to play and in Beirut there is a huge lack of this. There was a big demand for a skate park – there was already a big scene but also with COVID lockdowns people were getting more interested in this,” he added. “In countries that have a difficult time, this is way to for us engage with them, create some positive news, as there can be a lot of negative news about these countries, especially the Middle East. This is a cause to notice something good for once.”Skateboards and protective gear are available for free use at the park, along with scheduled classes by local coaches. A refugee program has also been established, bringing over 40 Syrian and Palestinian children from the nearby Shatila Refugee Camp three times a week to take classes, in collaboration with NGO Just Childhood. The Horsh is not an area they would usually enter and the program aims to integrate refugee children with locals in an organic, informal setting.“Through skateboarding they can have a community feeling and we hope they develop their motor skills to, because most of the children we work with lack this,” Just Childhood founder Wiebke Eden-Fleig said. “They also lack the opportunity to be outside, which was one of the reasons we were so eager to provide them this chance. There is no open space in the camps, or the opportunity to be with other kids. “I think it’s a bit strange for them but some of them have picked it up so quickly and it’s no nice to see them engaged, enthusiastic and excited to come every time,” she added. “Even some of the mothers who come with them, it’s a totally different culture for them, the skateboarders who look and dress totally different to what they’re used to. They enjoy it and some even tried to learn how to skateboard themselves.”Eleven-year old Akram Hajj Ali said that skateboarding made him joyful and it was “a way to pass time and to use up pent up energy.”
Seven-year old Zeina had heard of skateboarding but never tried it before. “I wanted to sign up for the program because I want to have fun and it seems nice to learn,” she said. Just Childhood hopes to later add some benches to the space and teach the kids to take care of the park and clean up after themselves. Part of Make Life Skate Life’s mission is to show how beneficial skating can be, and to replace misconceptions that skateboarders are uncouth or antisocial. Since its first project in India in 2013, it has learned to work closely with the communities that are benefiting and to make them an integral part of the park’s future management. The local skaters who worked with the NGO in the past went on to become professional skate park builders and have now built ten big skate parks around India. “I grew up skating at a time when skating was viewed like that [antisocial] and already this misconception is changing - we have skating in the Olympics for the first time this year - but a lot of countries do still have this idea about skaters,” Hillerns said. “It’s not hurting anyone; it’s not polluting as a form of transport and its fun and accessible. It gets people outside doing physical things.
“In more conservative countries they usually start thinking it’s something strange and not good but eventually they start to see the benefits once they understand what we’re really doing,” he added. “In Myanmar we had a group of monks who were so against the project and just a week afterwards, seeing the vibe of the place, they were fully on board, showing up in the morning and cleaning the park.”
Hillerns said that its Middle Eastern projects have been some of their most successful, with the parks in Iraq and Jordan now expanded, creating a new community of skateboarders. Each project is tailored to the local needs, making the process unique in each location as the park must fit into the society it’s for. Over the years its learned to adapt to the challenges. “We’ve learned to always communicate closely with the beneficiaries, to understand what their needs are. In Beirut the skate scene is the biggest we’ve worked with,” Hillerns said. “In Jordan and Iraq they were really small, but they’re so on point when it comes to teaching and have developed into their own organizations.
“In Amman it took two years before there were any official classes and in Iraq we gave them the tools to set up classes about three months after, whereas this time in Beirut we started the next day bringing kids in to learn. It’s a learning curve for sure,” he added. “In Iraq we worked with about five skaters on the project and just a couple of months afterwards there were 100 and there are now like 300, so it was really exponential.”The NGO has yet to commit to its next project, but see Libya and Gambia as possible spots for skate parks.

The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on September 19-20/2021
Iraqi church desecrated by ISIS gets new bell after restoration/Mosul's Christians return to see their church 'brought back to life'
The National/Sep 19, 2021
A church bell rang out in the Iraqi city of Mosul for the first time in seven years on Sunday. The 285-kilogram bell was rung in the Syriac Christian church of Mar Tuma following a local and French-led restoration effort.
The church was demolished by ISIS during its takeover of the northern city in 2014. According to the French NGO Fraternity in Iraq – that led the project – the place of worship had been just “a pile of rubble” when repairs began.
I hope the joy will grow even more when not only all the churches and mosques in Mosul are rebuilt, but also the whole city
Father Pios Affas
The bell was restored in Beirut and then flown to Mosul to be reinstalled in the 19th-century church. "After seven years of silence, the bell of Mar Tuma rang for the first time on the right bank of Mosul," Father Pios Affas told AFP.
A large congregation of Iraqi Christians travelled to the church to witness its reopening, which Fraternity in Iraq said was in part thanks to the efforts of the local Muslim majority. “We would like to thank the dedication of the mukhtar [local elder] and the people of the Muslim village of Khidr because they are the ones who cleared the 600 cubic metres of rubble resulting from the blast,” the NGO said. The return of the Mosul bell "heralds days of hope, and opens the way, God willing, for the return of Christians to their city," Fr Affas said. "This is a great day of joy, and I hope the joy will grow even more when not only all the churches and mosques in Mosul are rebuilt, but also the whole city, with its houses and historical sites," he said. Nidaa Abdel Ahad, one of the worshippers attending the inauguration, said she had returned to her home town from Erbil so that she could see the church being "brought back to life".
"My joy is indescribable," said the teacher. "It's as if the heart of Christianity is beating again."
Christians cautiously return
Faraj-Benoit Camurat, founder and head of Fraternity in Iraq, said that "all the representations of the cross, all the Christian representations, were destroyed," including the church's marble altars. "We hope this bell will be the symbol of a kind of rebirth in Mosul," he said. Iraq's Christian community, which numbered more than 1.5 million in 2003 before the US-led invasion, has shrunk to about 400,000, with many of them fleeing the violence that has ravaged the country. Mr Camurat said about 50 Christian families had resettled in Mosul, while others travel there to work for the day. "The Christians could have left forever and abandoned Mosul," but instead on being very active in the city, he said.

Taliban Replace Ministry for Women with 'Virtue' Authorities
Associated Press/September 19/2021
Afghanistan's new Taliban rulers set up a ministry for the "propagation of virtue and the prevention of vice" in the building that once housed the Women's Affairs Ministry, escorting out World Bank staffers on Saturday as part of the forced move. It was the latest troubling sign that the Taliban are restricting women's rights as they settle into government, just a month since they overran the capital of Kabul. During their previous rule of Afghanistan in the 1990s, the Taliban had denied girls and women the right to education and barred them from public life. Separately, three explosions targeted Taliban vehicles in the eastern provincial capital of Jalalabad on Saturday, killing three people and wounding 20, witnesses said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Islamic State group's militants, headquartered in the area, are enemies of the Taliban. The Taliban are facing major economic and security problems as they attempt to govern, and a growing challenge by IS militants would further stretch their resources. In Kabul, a new sign was up outside the women's affairs ministry, announcing it was now the "Ministry for Preaching and Guidance and the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice."Staff of the World Bank's $100 million Women's Economic Empowerment and Rural Development Program, which was run out of the Women's Affairs Ministry, were escorted off the grounds, said program member Sharif Akhtar, who was among those being removed. Mabouba Suraj, who heads the Afghan Women's Network, said she was astounded by the flurry of orders released by the Taliban-run government restricting women and girls. On Friday, the Taliban-run education ministry asked boys from grades six to 12 back to school, starting on Saturday, along with their male teachers. There was no mention of girls in those grades returning to school. Previously, the Taliban's minister of higher education minister, had said girls would be given equal access to education, albeit in gender-segregated settings. "It is becoming really, really troublesome. ... Is this the stage where the girls are going to be forgotten?" Suraj said. "I know they don't believe in giving explanations, but explanations are very important."Suraj speculated that the contradictory statements perhaps reflect divisions within the Taliban as they seek to consolidate their power, with the more pragmatic within the movement losing out to hard-liners among them, at least for now.
Statements from the Taliban leadership often reflect a willingness to engage with the world, talk of open public spaces for women and girls and protecting Afghanistan's minorities. But orders to its rank and file on the ground are contradictory. Instead of what was promised, restrictions, particularly on women, have been implemented.
Suraj, an Afghan American who returned to Afghanistan in 2003 to promote women's rights and education, said many of her fellow activists have left the country. She said she stayed in an effort to engage with the Taliban and find a middle ground, but until now has not been able to get the hard-line Islamic group's leadership to meet with activists who have remained in the country, to talk with women about the way forward. "We have to talk. We have to find a middle ground," she said. UNESCO's Director General Audrey Azoulay on Saturday added her voice to the growing concern over the Taliban's limitations on girls after only boys were told to go back to school. "Should this ban be maintained, it would constitute an important violation of the fundamental right to education for girls and women," Azoulay said in a statement upon her arrival in New York for the opening of the U.N. General Assembly.
A former advisor to the women's ministry under the previous Afghan government sent a video message to The Associated Press from her home in Kabul, slamming the Taliban's move to close the ministry. It is "the right of women to work, learn and participate in politics on the national and international stage," said Sara Seerat. "Unfortunately, in the current Taliban Islamic Emirate government there is no space in the Cabinet. By closing the women's ministry it shows they have no plans in the future to give women their rights or a chance to serve in the government and participate in other affairs."
Earlier this month the Taliban announced an all-male exclusively Taliban Cabinet but said it was an interim setup, offering some hope that a future government would be more inclusive as several of their leaders had promised. Also on Saturday, an international flight by Pakistan's national carrier left Kabul's airport with 322 passengers on board and a flight by Iran's Mahan Air departed with 187 passengers on board, an airport official said. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media, said the two international flights departed in the morning. The identities and nationalities of those on board were not immediately known. The flights were the latest to depart Kabul in the past week as technical teams from Qatar and Turkey have worked to get the airport up to standard for international commercial aircraft. A Qatar Airways flight on Friday took more Americans out of Afghanistan, the third such airlift by the Mideast carrier since the Taliban takeover and the frantic U.S. troop pullout from the country last month. The State Department said Saturday that there were 28 U.S. citizens and seven permanent residents on board the flight from Kabul, and thanked Qatari authorities for their help. Also Friday night, a flight by Kam Air, Afghanistan's largest private carrier, took off from Mazar-e-Sharif, the capital of northern Balkh province, with 350 passengers on board, according to two employees there. The flight was headed to Dubai, said the two, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. They said the plane carried foreigners but it was not clear if and how many Americans were on board.

ISIS claims responsibility for attacks on Taliban in Afghanistan
Tuqa Khalid, Al Arabiya English/19 September ,2021
ISIS claimed responsibility for a series of bomb attacks in Afghanistan which targeted the Taliban, the extremist group’s Amaaq News Agency said on its Telegram channel on Sunday. “More than 35 Taliban militia members were killed or wounded in a series of explosions that took place [on Saturday and Sunday],” ISIS said. Explosions targeted Taliban vehicles in Jalalabad city, the provincial center of Nangarhar, Bilal Karimi, a deputy of Taliban official Zabihullah Mujahid, confirmed to Afghan news outlet TOLOnews on Sunday.According to TOLOnews that blast in Kabul on Saturday wounded two people and two explosions in Nangarhar wounded approximately 20 people.

France cancels defense summit with Britain over submarines crisis with US,
Tuqa Khalid, Al Arabiya English/19 September ,2021
France cancelled a defense ministerial summit with Britain after Australia scrapped a submarine contract with Paris in favor of a security alliance with Washington and London, the Guardian reported on Sunday. French Defense Minister Florence Parly and her British counterpart Ben Wallace were meant to hold a bilateral meeting in London and address the two-day Franco-British Council this week, but the event has been “postponed to a later date,” according to the Guardian. The defense summit is the latest casualty in the aftermath of the US, Britain and Australia new security alliance to equip Australia with nuclear-powered submarines, leading to Melbourne scrapping a 2016 contract with Paris to build 12 conventional diesel-electric submarines worth nearly $100 billion. The announcement enraged France that accused the US of “duplicity”, and Australia of “betrayal” and declared that a crisis struck at the heart of Western alliances. France recalled its ambassadors to the US and Australia. US President Joe Biden and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron will speak over the coming days in an effort to resolve the issue. Australia’s Prime Minister defended the decision by saying he didn’t regret prioritizing his country’s national interests. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson simply said that relations with France were “rock solid.”

West imploding over submarines deal: What is going on with US, UK, Australia, France?
Tuqa Khalid, Al Arabiya English/19 September ,2021
The US, Britain, and Australia announced they formed a new security deal that will equip Australia with nuclear submarines. The announcement enraged France that accused the US of “duplicity” and declared that a crisis struck at the heart of Western alliances.Here’s a breakdown of the situation:
President Joe Biden announced that the US was forming a new security alliance with Britain and Australia that will equip Australia with nuclear-powered Submarines. Australia also announced that it was backing out of a 2016 contract with France to build 12 conventional diesel-electric submarines worth nearly $100 billion. France said it was not informed of the US deal in advance and found the new alliance to be a stab in the back between supposed allies. “It was really a stab in the back. We built a relationship of trust with Australia, and this trust was betrayed. This is not done between allies,” said French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. France recalled its ambassadors to the US and Australia. It was the first time in history that France recalled its ambassador to the US.
Paris also said that Biden acted like former US President Donald Trump who was seen by the majority of Europe as having had disregarded the importance of US-Europe alliances. Significance of the Indo-Pacific region: The Indo-Pacific region stretches from India and China through Japan to Southeast Asia and eastward past New Zealand to the Pacific, is growing in importance given its rising population and political weight, its role in global trade and security and its impact on climate change. The US new security alliance is aimed at the Indo-Pacific region where China is seen to be bolstering its influence there.
US-China ties have been rocky at best under Biden’s presidency, and a call between the countries’ two leaders ended with President Xi Jinping refusing to commit to an in-person meeting with Biden, according to official Xinhua News Agency. However, the US is not the only one with concerns about Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific region. France also believes it has a role to play since there has long been a French presence in the region too. France, since Britain’s handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, is the only European nation to have significant territorial possessions or a permanent military presence in the Pacific.“What’s at play in this affair, this crisis… are strategic issues before being commercial issues. The question is... the forces present, the balance, in the Indo-Pacific where part of our future is at play, and our relations with China,” said French government spokesman Gabriel Attal. With The Associated Press

Paris Denies Cancelling Swiss President Talks over Jet Snub
Agence France Presse/September 19/2021
Paris denied Swiss media reports Sunday that a long-planned meeting between the countries' presidents in Paris had been called off due to French anger about Bern's decision to purchase U.S., not French, fighter jets. Two Swiss dailies, Le Matin Dimanche and SonntagsZeitung, reported that the French had pulled the plug on Swiss President and Economic Affairs Minister Guy Parmelin's talks with President Emmanuel Macron in November. Citing unnamed diplomatic sources, both newspapers said that France had opted to drop the meeting due to anger over how the Swiss had conducted their negotiations in the run-up to their June decision to buy 36 Lockheed Martin F35A jets. According to the sources, Paris charged that the Swiss defense ministry had continued negotiations with other manufacturers, including with French Rafale maker Dassault, after the decision had already been reached to buy the U.S. fighters.
Both the French government and Parmelin's office at the economic affairs ministry denied that the meeting had been officially cancelled, stressing that the scheduling had not been completed. "It was never canceled and especially not due to the reasons mentioned," the Elysee Palace in Paris said. It explained that President Macron had agreed in principle at the start of the year to a meeting with his Swiss counterpart, and that the Swiss had proposed a date in November. "We told them this summer that November would be complicated," the Elysee said, adding that the final date for the meeting "has not been set yet."
Parmelin's office also insisted that since the scheduling had not been finalized, the change of plans was not considered "a cancellation of a confirmed appointment."  It also highlighted that the visit had not been billed as a state visit, but simply as "a working visit by the president". The reports come as France is locked in a tense standoff with the United States and Australia over Canberra's decision to break a deal for French submarines in favor of American nuclear-powered vessels.

Biden Asks for Early Talks with Macron amid Submarine Row
Agence France Presse/September 19/2021
U.S. President Joe Biden has requested early talks with French President Emmanuel Macron, France said on Sunday, in an apparent effort to mend fences after a row over a submarines contract sparked rare tensions between the allies. The announcement came after Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison rejected French accusations that Canberra had lied about plans to cancel the contract to buy French submarines, saying he had raised concerns over the deal "some months ago." Australia's decision to tear up the French deal in favor of American nuclear-powered vessels sparked outrage in Paris, with Macron recalling France's ambassadors to Canberra and Washington in an unprecedented move. But French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said Sunday that there would be a telephone conversation between Biden and Macron "in the coming days" at the request of the US president. Macron will ask the U.S. president for "clarification" after the announcement of a US-Australian-British defense pact that prompted Canberra's cancellation of the huge contract for diesel-electric French vessels. "We want explanations," Attal said. The US had to answer for "what looks a lot like a major breach of trust". Morrison meanwhile insisted that he and his ministers had made no secret of their issues with the French vessels. "I think they would have had every reason to know that we had deep and grave concerns," he told reporters in Sydney. "We made very clear that we would be making a decision based on our strategic national interest." French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had on Saturday used distinctly undiplomatic language towards Australia, the US and Britain which is also part of a new three-way security pact announced Wednesday that led to the rupture. "There has been lying, duplicity, a major breach of trust and contempt," Le Drian told France 2 television. The recall of the ambassadors for the first time in the history of relations with the countries was "to show how unhappy we are and that there is a serious crisis between us". The French contract to supply conventional submarines to Australia was worth Aus$50 billion ($36.5 billion, 31 billion euros) when signed in 2016. Morrison said he understood France's disappointment, but added: "I don't regret the decision to put Australia's national interest first. Never will." Defence Minister Peter Dutton also insisted Canberra had been "upfront, open and honest" with Paris about its concerns over the deal. Australian Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said that the aim was now to ensure "that we re-establish those strong ties with the French government and counterparts long into the future".
- 'The third wheel' -
Le Drian also issued a stinging response to a question over why France had not also recalled its ambassador to Britain over the AUKUS security pact. "With Britain, there is no need. We know their constant opportunism. So there is no need to bring our ambassador back to explain," he said. Of London's role in the pact he said: "Britain in this whole thing is a bit like the third wheel." NATO would have to take account of what has happened as it reconsiders strategy at a summit in Madrid next year, he added. France would now prioritize developing an EU security strategy when it takes over the bloc's presidency at the start of 2022, he said. Admiral Rob Bauer, chair of NATO's Military Committee, earlier played down the dangers, saying it was not likely to have an impact on "military cooperation" within the alliance.
'Stab in the back'
Biden announced the new Australia-US-Britain defense alliance, widely seen as aimed at countering the rise of China. It extends American nuclear submarine technology to Australia, as well as cyber-defense, applied artificial intelligence and undersea capabilities. Le Drian has described it as a "stab in the back" and said the behavior of the Biden administration had been comparable to that of Donald Trump, whose sudden changes in policy long exasperated European allies. French European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune has hinted that the row could affect Australia's chances of making progress towards a trade pact with the EU, which is its third-biggest trading partner. For America, the row has sparked a deep rift in its oldest alliance and dashed hopes of a rapid post-Trump renaissance in relations. State Department spokesman Ned Price on Saturday stressed the "unwavering" U.S. commitment to its alliance with France. Australia meanwhile has shrugged off Chinese anger over the nuclear-powered submarines order. Beijing described the new alliance as an "extremely irresponsible" threat, warning the Western allies that they risked "shooting themselves in the foot."

Iran looks to ‘mitigate sanctions’ after China-led bloc OKs entry
The Arab Weekly/September 19/2021
TEHRAN--Iran on Saturday hailed its acceptance into a China and Russia-led bloc, an eastward turn it sees as opening access to major world markets and a counter to crippling Western sanctions. Conservative and reformist newspapers showed rare unity in welcoming the outcome of a conference in Dushanbe on Friday at which members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation endorsed Iran’s future membership in the bloc. The eight-member group, created two decades ago and which also includes India, promotes itself as an antidote to Western dominance. The bloc’s decision on Iran comes with negotiations at a standstill on bringing Washington back into a 2015 nuclear accord. Then president Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018 and reimposed sweeping sanctions. “Iran integrates into the biggest market of the East,” a headline in the Javan newspaper said, calling the SCO “one of the principal symbols of cooperation of non-Western powers opening the door to a post-American era.”Kayhan, like Javan an ultraconservative title, headlined its lead story in large type: “Deflecting Western sanctions.” In Kayhan’s view, “from now on Iran can implement its policy of multilateralism, progressively abandon a vision based solely on the West and mitigate Western sanctions.” Etemad, a newspaper representing reformists who call for more social freedoms in the Islamic republic, expressed a view similar to that of the ultraconservatives. It said SCO membership would permit Iran “to connect with markets” representing a major portion of the world’s population. Iran, one of four SCO observer states, had applied for full membership in 2008 but its bid was slowed by UN and US sanctions imposed over its nuclear programme.
Several SCO members did not want a country under international sanctions in their ranks.
‘New era’
The 2015 agreement, aimed at preventing Iran from obtaining an atomic bomb, provided economic relief in return for a sharp scaling back of the country’s nuclear activities, but Trump’s withdrawal started the deal’s unravelling. Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia remain in the agreement, and US President Joe Biden has expressed readiness to rejoin them but talks have so far made little headway. Last year, Iran again failed to attain SCO membership because of a refusal by Tajikistan but on Friday it found the door to membership wide open. For Iranian international relations expert Fayaz Zahed, Moscow and Beijing endorsed Tehran’s membership because they expect the nuclear issue to be resolved. “The SCO countries think Iran is going to abide by the international accords as the sanctions have been the main obstacle to its membership” in the bloc, Zahed said. Russia, China and India are all waiting for a lifting of the economic penalties so that they can invest in Iran, he said. Chinese President Xi Jinping said Iran’s membership had been unanimously accepted. SCO leaders did not, however, announce a timeline for Iran’s accession. Apart from Russia and China, the other founding members are the former Soviet states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. India and Pakistan were admitted in 2017. Together they represent around 40 percent of the world’s population and more than 20 percent of global gross domestic product — an immense potential market for Tehran. Iran’s ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi, in his address to the SCO, called the sanctions “economic terrorism” and “the most important tool of the hegemonic powers for imposing their will on others.”Raisi, who succeeded relative moderate Hassan Rouhani in August, added that such economic penalties are “a major obstacle to the promotion of regional integration and the SCO should design structures and mechanisms to present a collective response to sanctions.”Two-way trade between Iran and SCO member states was valued at $28 billion (24 billion euros) for the Iranian year ended March 2021, according to Tehran.
China accounted for $18.9 billion of that. But Iran sees political as well as economic benefits in the SCO. “The world has entered a new era. Hegemony and unilateralism have failed,” Raisi said. “The international balance from now on leans towards multilateralism and the redistribution of powers towards independent countries. Unilateral sanctions don’t uniquely target one country. It has become evident that, in recent years, they affect more the independent countries, especially SCO members.”

Israeli Army Arrests Last 2 of 6 Palestinian Prison Escapees
Associated Press/September 19/2021
Israeli forces on Sunday arrested the last two of six Palestinian prisoners who escaped a maximum-security Israeli prison two weeks ago, closing an intense, embarrassing episode that exposed deep security flaws in Israel and turned the fugitives into Palestinian heroes. The Israeli military said the two men surrendered in Jenin, their hometown in the occupied West Bank, after they were surrounded at a hideout that had been located with the help of "accurate intelligence." It said the men, along with two others who allegedly assisted them, were taken for questioning. Palestinian media reported that clashes erupted in Jenin when Israeli troops entered the city. But a spokesman for Israeli police, said the two escapees, Munadil Nafayat and Iham Kamamji, were arrested without resistance. The military said clashes broke out as the forces withdrew, with residents hurling rocks and explosives at troops who responded with live fire. Fouad Kamamji, Iham's father, told The Associated Press that his son had called him when the Israeli troops surrounded the house and said he will surrender "in order not to endanger the house owners." The prisoners all managed to tunnel out of a maximum-security prison in northern Israel on Sept. 6. The bold escape dominated newscasts for days and sparked heavy criticism of Israel's prison service. According to various reports, the men dug a hole in the floor of their shared cell undetected over several months and managed to slip past a sleeping prison guard after emerging through a hole outside the facility. A massive pursuit operation followed, and the first four inmates, who also are from Jenin, were captured in two separate operations. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett praised the various Israeli security forces that worked to recapture the men for "an impressive, sophisticated and quick operation."
"What has broken down — it is possible to rectify," Bennett added.
Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have celebrated the escape and held demonstrations in support of the prisoners. Taking part in attacks against the Israeli military or even civilians is a source of pride for many Palestinians, who view it as legitimate resistance to military occupation. The earlier arrests of four of the men prompted Gaza militants to launch rockets into Israel. Israel considers all six of the men to be terrorists. Five are from the Islamic Jihad militant group, with four of them serving life sentences, and the sixth, Zakaria Zubeidi, is a member of the secular Fatah group of President Mahmoud Abbas. Zubeidi was a militant leader during the second Palestinian uprising in the early 2000s and well known in Israel both for his militant activity and his love for giving media interviews. Lawyers for Zubeidi and Mohammed Aradeh, who was captured with him last week, have said their clients were badly beaten after their arrests. Israeli security forces have been accused of torturing high-profile prisoners in the past, most recently in 2019 after a deadly bombing in the West Bank. The Shin Bet internal security service said at the time that interrogations are carried out in accordance with the law. A 1999 Supreme Court ruling forbids torture, but rights groups say it still occurs and that perpetrators are rarely held accountable.

Mossad assassinated Iran’s chief nuke scientist with remote AI gun — report
Yonah Jeremy Bob/Jerusalem Post/September 19/2021
Some would say that the operation succeeded in throwing Iran’s nuclear program into chaos for some months, but that Tehran has long since recovered. Iran’s chief military nuclear scientist and the father of its weapons program, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was assassinated in November 2020 by the Mossad using a remote-controlled artificial intelligence operated sniper machine gun, The New York Times reported on Saturday. From the start, there has been controversy about how Fakhrizadeh was killed, but The Jerusalem Post can now confirm the accuracy of the Times report regarding the remote-controlled gun.
When he was assassinated, multiple intelligence sources told the Post that the killing of Fakhrizadeh might be as significant a setback to Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear bomb as the destruction of its Natanz nuclear facility in July 2020.
According to the report, “Iranian agents working for the Mossad had parked a blue Nissan Zamyad pickup truck on the side of the road connecting the town of Absard to the main highway. The spot was on a slight elevation with a view of approaching vehicles. Hidden beneath tarpaulins and decoy construction material in the truck bed was a 7.62-mm sniper machine gun.”“Around 1 p.m., the hit team received a signal that Mr. Fakhrizadeh, his wife and a team of armed guards in escort cars were about to leave for Absard, where many of Iran’s elite have second homes and vacation villas,” said the report.
According to the report, “Iranian agents working for the Mossad had parked a blue Nissan Zamyad pickup truck on the side of the road connecting the town of Absard to the main highway. The spot was on a slight elevation with a view of approaching vehicles. Hidden beneath tarpaulins and decoy construction material in the truck bed was a 7.62-mm sniper machine gun.”“Around 1 p.m., the hit team received a signal that Mr. Fakhrizadeh, his wife and a team of armed guards in escort cars were about to leave for Absard, where many of Iran’s elite have second homes and vacation villas,” said the report.

Controversial US, UK, Australia deal has ramifications for Middle East
Seth J. Frantzman/Jerusalem Post/September 19/2021
The new deal is called AUKUS and involves Australia receiving technology for nuclear-powered submarines. It is interpreted as a way to strengthen Australia, a key US - UK ally, in the face of China. French and European anger over a deal the United States, Australia, and the UK recently announced could have ramifications for the Middle East. France said it had recalled ambassadors from the US and UK after the deal was announced. According to the BBC, the French foreign minister said the “exceptional decision” was justified by the situation’s “exceptional gravity.” The new deal is called AUKUS and involves Australia receiving technology for nuclear-powered submarines. It is interpreted as a way to strengthen Australia, a key US and UK ally, in the face of China. However, it appears to affect a French-Australia deal and was announced without other French or European input. It also builds on the existing “Five Eyes” network that involves countries linked by historical ties to the UK. Canada and New Zealand, which are part of the Five Eyes, are not involved in AUKUS.
French and European anger over a deal the United States, Australia, and the UK recently announced could have ramifications for the Middle East. France said it had recalled ambassadors from the US and UK after the deal was announced. According to the BBC, the French foreign minister said the “exceptional decision” was justified by the situation’s “exceptional gravity.”The new deal is called AUKUS and involves Australia receiving technology for nuclear-powered submarines. It is interpreted as a way to strengthen Australia, a key US and UK ally, in the face of China. However, it appears to affect a French-Australia deal and was announced without other French or European input. It also builds on the existing “Five Eyes” network that involves countries linked by historical ties to the UK. Canada and New Zealand, which are part of the Five Eyes, are not involved in AUKUS. France is also an important player in the region, but its policies sometimes diverge from the American role. For instance, France has interests in Lebanon that are not always the same as the US. France has shown flexibility regarding talks with Hezbollah. In addition, France attended a recent meeting in Baghdad where Turkey, Iran and other key states were present. The US and UK did not come to the meeting. What this shows is that France wants to play a more robust role in the Middle East at the same time the US and UK may be shifting policies. The US wants to concentrate on near-peer rivals like China. That means big investments in naval power. It also means the US is cutting back on counter-terrorism interests in the Middle East after leaving Afghanistan. Large questions loom about US commitment to eastern Syria and Iraq.  For Israel, this is important because Israel is confronting Iranian threats in places like Syria and Iranian proxy threats that include Hezbollah and also Tehran-backed groups in Yemen and Iraq. These groups now have advanced Iranian drone technology. A shift in European and French relations with the US and UK in the region could have ramifications for Israel if those states appear keener on dealing with Iran and its militias. That also has ramifications for the nuclear deal talks. It is important for Israel to be aware of these shifting sands to analyze where the next moves may be.

Low-Key Funeral for Algeria's ex-President Bouteflika
Naharnet/September 18, 2021
Algeria prepared on Sunday to bury Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the North African country's longest-serving president, at a cemetery for its independence heroes but without the ceremony accorded to leaders who died before him.  Bouteflika passed away on Friday aged 84, having lived as a recluse since he was forced from power more than two years ago. The veteran strongman quit office in April 2019 after the military abandoned him following weeks of street protests sparked by his bid to run for a fifth presidential term. He had risen to power in 1999 on a wave of popular support as his amnesty offer to Islamist militants helped bring an end to a decade-long civil war. Without fanfare, in contrast with previous presidential deaths, state television announced that Bouteflika would be laid to rest at El-Alia cemetery, east of Algiers, where his predecessors and other independence fighters are buried. The People's Palace, where other presidents had lain in state, appeared to have been prepared to display his remains before the interment. However, the lying-in-state was cancelled, according to sources. Only journalists from Algerian national public media have been given access to the funeral, and the official mourning period will last only three days instead of eight.
Flags are flying at half-mast. Private radio M said the funeral procession -- with a military tank carrying Bouteflika's body -- will leave from his nursing home and travel about 12 kilometers (seven miles) to El-Alia. This will be "an official funeral process with a protocol and security deployment" as is customary, the radio said. Bouteflika's successor Abdelmadjid Tebboune will be at the cemetery, where blue and black-uniformed security officers had gathered along with government members and foreign diplomats. Isabelle Werenfels, a Maghreb specialist with German institute SWP, told AFP the country's leaders are likely nervous "because there is a lot of hatred on social media surrounding the figure of Bouteflika". The announcement of his death triggered muted reactions in the former French colony.
Muted reactions
Political scientist Mansour Kedidir said Bouteflika had marked the country's history since independence in 1962 and his name "will remain engraved in the collective memory, despite his detractors". Others saw his two decades of rule as a time of missed opportunities. He wanted to surpass his mentor, the country's second president Houari Boumediene, with accomplishments including a boost to Algeria's regional influence and "to turn the page on the black decade" of civil war which killed around 200,000 people, University of Algiers politics lecturer Louisa Dris Ait Hamadouche said.
Instead, "the institutions of the state have never been so weakened, so divided or so discredited," she said. On the streets of the capital Algiers, many residents told AFP the once-formidable president would not be missed. "Bless his soul. But he doesn't deserve any tribute because he did nothing for the country," said Rabah, a greengrocer. A retiree, Ali, said Bouteflika "served his country, but unfortunately he made a big mistake" with a fourth presidential term and then by seeking a fifth when he was ill.
Ill health and protests
Dubbed "Boutef" by Algerians, he was known for wearing his trademark three-piece suit even in the stifling heat, and won respect as a foreign minister in the 1970s as well as for helping foster post-civil war peace. Algeria was largely spared the uprisings that swept the Arab world in 2011, something many credited to memories of the civil war and a boost in state handouts. But Bouteflika's rule was marked by corruption. Despite its oil wealth, Africa's largest nation ended up with poor infrastructure and high unemployment. Bouteflika faced criticism from rights groups and opponents who accused him of being authoritarian. He suffered a mini-stroke in April 2013 that affected his speech, and he was forced to use a wheelchair. Yet he decided to seek a fourth mandate anyway. His bid in 2019 for a fifth term sparked protests that soon grew into a pro-democracy movement known as "Hirak".
Some Bouteflika-era figures were eventually jailed but the old guard from his era still largely rules the country.

IS Claims Syria Gas Pipeline Attack
Agence France Presse/September 18, 2021
The Islamic State group on Saturday claimed an attack on a major natural gas pipeline southeast of the Syrian capital that led to power outages in the city and surrounding areas. IS fighters "were able to plant and detonate explosives on the gas pipeline feeding the Tishreen and Deir Ali plants," the group said in a statement. The Deir Ali station southeast of Damascus generates half of Syria's power needs, Electricity Minister Ghassan al-Zamel said Saturday in comments carried by the official SANA news agency. He said an attack on the gas pipeline on Friday evening with explosive devices caused the station to go out of service temporarily. The outage affected several other stations, causing blackouts in Damascus, its outskirts and other areas, Zamel said, before power was restored some thirty minutes later. He said maintenance works had started Saturday but warned of severe rationing until the pipeline is repaired and power plants resume normal operations. The Deir Ali and Tishreen plants remain out of service. The IS group's so-called caliphate in Syria was declared defeated in the riverside hamlet of Baghouz in 2019 following a grueling U.S.-backed offensive. But the group continues to conduct attacks on Syrian government forces from its hideouts, including in the vast east Syrian desert. Syria's gas and oil infrastructure have been among the targets of militants and rebel groups opposed to President Bashar al-Assad's regime. The Syrian conflict since 2011 has ravaged electricity networks as well as oil and gas infrastructure across the country. Syria's largest oilfields remain beyond the government's reach in the country's Kurdish-held northeast, and Western sanctions have hampered fuel imports from abroad. Syrians in government-held areas have had to adapt their lives at home and work around power cuts of up to 20 hours a day.

Russia’s pro-Putin party wins parliamentary vote, exit polls show
Reuters/19 September ,2021
The ruling United Russia party, which supports President Vladimir Putin, is on course to win a three-day parliamentary election, initial results and an exit poll showed on Sunday. With just 9 percent of ballots counted nationwide, the Central Election Commission said United Russia had won 38.57 percent of the vote. Separately, an exit poll conducted by INSOMAR and published by Russia's RIA news agency predicted United Russia would win just over 45 percent of the vote. The party won just over 54 percent of the vote in 2016, the last time a parliamentary election was held. It has since faced a slump in its popularity due to malaise over years of faltering living standards. Initial results showed the Communist Party finishing in second place with 25.17 percent of the vote, followed by the nationalist LDPR party with 9.6 percent. Allies of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny had urged Russians to follow his tactical voting strategy, which amounts to supporting the candidate most likely to defeat United Russia in a given electoral district.

The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials published on September 19-20/2021
The neo-Taliban and the super-jihadi state
Walid Phares/Sunday Cuardian Live/September 18, 2021
Afghanistan will become the top jihadi state in the world. Al Qaeda, Haqqani, and even ISIS will eventually be incorporated in its power. Intra jihadi deals will be cut, even if occasionally skirmishes and power struggles take place.
The shock left by the reckless withdrawal from Afghanistan ordered by the Biden administration has had significant dramatic consequences among the Afghan population, particularly its women, youth and minorities. The bloody repression waged by the jihadi militia targeting service members, journalists, civil society activists, and ethnic communities across the country is only the beginning of what could become a decades-long saga for a nation that has already suffered more than a half century of tragic wars. But this catastrophic surrender of an ally country to a terror army also leaves a deep impact in the hearts and minds of most American citizens. They wonder how it was possible that their government first negotiated with a jihadi terror network—and before it reforms and renounces violence! How was it possible to engage with them in Doha without the participation of the duly democratically elected government? And how is it even conceivable that a US administration practically coordinated and collaborated with the Taliban takeover of the presidency, parliament, ministries and armed forces installations with $80 billion worth of American made weapons and equipment? The sheer size of this reckless and suicidal act of collaboration with jihadi terrorists goes against everything the United States stands for and has fought against since 9/11. How did Washington sink to this low?
After 9/11, a bipartisan national consensus was built in the US about a sustained strategic response to the mass jihadi terror executed by Al Qaeda in New York, Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania, killing about 3,000 people. The gist of that consensus was to remove the Taliban regime, dismantle Al Qaeda and, as importantly, empower the Afghan people, government and army to build and defend their nascent democracy against jihadi militias of all types. This was confirmed by the recommendations of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission in 2004. The US national security doctrine since was focused on striking Al Qaeda, not just in Afghanistan, but also around the region and the world. The jihadi terror group had repeatedly taken aggression against the US homeland with about 50 planned attacks, some bloody, and by striking democracies and Western allies around the world, from Spain to the UK, Russia, France, India, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and many others. The US strategic goals aimed at keeping the Taliban guerilla at bay in Afghanistan until two conditions were met: The establishment of an Afghan army capable of leading the fight with ally support, and counter-radicalization efforts to remove extremist material from the educational system and assist in the rise of civil society forces. That was the goal.
The Bush administration, which was in charge during the attacks and the years that followed, removed the Taliban from power, followed Al Qaeda to Tora Bora and waged counterterrorism campaigns against affiliates on four continents. Furthermore, the US engaged in a mass reconstruction of Afghanistan, mimicking the Marshall plan after WWII, and attempted to strengthen democratic institutions in that country. The early stage of elections and counter extremist efforts peaked between 2002 and 2006. However, after the defeat of the Republicans in the 2006 midterm elections and the rise of a more radical majority in both Houses, the Bush administration was delayed, paralyzed and blocked from resuming its counter jihadi strategies in Afghanistan. Afghan democracy was launched, but its support from Washington dwindled.
With the election of Barack Hussein Obama as President in 2008, a massive change in US foreign policy was felt across the Middle East. Obama signalled his tilt towards collaborating with the Islamists, starting with an historic speech delivered at the Cairo University in June 2009, where the fight against Islamist ideology was replaced with partnership with the Muslim Brotherhood. Since then, US bureaucracies shifted from campaigning against Islamic fundamentalists to campaigning with them in preparing for their return or arrival to power across the Greater Middle East. This was the case during the so-called Arab Spring of 2011, with clear Obama support to the Ikhwan in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and beyond. His administration, when they pulled out from Iraq prompting the pro-Iranian militias to return, had to face the blitz of an ISIS Caliphate that rose in reaction to the post-withdrawal militia takeover. Thus, after Iraq, the Obama administration had to postpone a deal with the Taliban that was to be the basis for a pull-out from Afghanistan. In 2014, Washington had to take down ISIS in Iraq and Syria before offering Afghanistan to the Taliban, an impossible equation to impose on the American public. Besides, the Obama team was focusing on the Iran deal talks and wanted to achieve that deal first, before entering the fray of a Taliban Deal.
The Trump campaign committed to crush ISIS, push back against the Taliban and counter the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood. Once in the White House, the Trump team delivered on ending geographical Daesh control and kept the support going for the US mission in Afghanistan. But after the 2018 midterms, when the Democratic opposition seized the congressional majority again, plans for Afghanistan changed again. The Trump administration decided to engage in talks with the Islamist militia under Qatar’s mediation, but the “deal” that was reached (which I did criticize then) at least put draconian conditions on a return of the Taliban to Kabul. The latter had to engage in dialogue with the elected government, eventually disarm, integrate the armed forces, and form a national unity government with the other political parties. Perhaps the Trump plan was to defend the slogan of “ending wars” and then adopt a tougher stance with the Taliban after re-election. But after “difficult elections,” it was a Biden administration that decided the future of Afghanistan.
Within just a couple months after inauguration, the old Obama plans were reactivated, and the Taliban Deal signed by the Trump administration was remodelled into a new deal, accepting Taliban control of the country and government in exchange for change of policy by the jihadi militia. Either this was sheer naivete on behalf of Washington or it was part of the Obama vision of collaboration with the Islamists who would be in charge in the Muslim world. Both realities are catastrophic. And so it was on the ground. The Biden administration met with the Taliban in Doha and announced them as its new partners and the leaders of the new government in Kabul. In addition, the White House was adamant in refusing any military support to the Afghani military when attacked by Taliban and jihadi militias. That, by itself, signalled to the Afghan state that America had shifted alliance from the democratically elected government and parliament of Afghanistan to the jihadi forces it fought for twenty years. Without air support, and more importantly the imposing voice of America in the regional and international arena, the battle was lost for the Afghan state, already undermined by corruption yet willing to fight nevertheless. The Taliban invaded the country, the army crumbled, and many fled into exodus.
The neo-Taliban, as radical as before but using modern propaganda techniques from their political operation in Doha, are obliterating their opposition in Afghanistan via assassinations, executions, and fighting the last free enclave in the Panjshir valley. They immediately went back to their old ways of oppressing women, youth and minorities. But two differences play to their advantage. One, the US has withdrawn and the Biden administration is ready to enter political and financial partnership after some stabilization. Two, the Taliban seized $80 billion worth of US military equipment and arms, which they will use to fulfil their agenda. So, what is that agenda?
First, fully crushing the domestic opposition, seizing the border, and opening their regime to jihadists from around the world. Afghanistan will become the top jihadi state in the world. Al Qaeda, Haqqani, and even ISIS will eventually be incorporated in its power. Intra jihadi deals will be cut, even if occasionally skirmishes and power struggles take place.
The decision, by the Biden administration to go back to the original Obama plans to collaborate with the Islamists has gone too far, as this apparently assisted in the rise of a super “Islamic Emirate,” which will irreversibly become—as ISIS was—a building block for another jihadi Caliphate. The new regime will target Tajikistan and central Asia, India, the Arab Gulf, Egypt, Europe, and in the end will make the US suffer for having delayed the Islamists’ fantasy of a medieval Caliphate with modern weaponry.
Dr Walid Phares is an American political scientist, author, and advisor. He served as foreign policy advisor to President Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign and as senior national security advisor to Presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2011 and 2012. He served Fox News and Fox Business as the network’s foreign policy and national security expert from 2007-2021 and frequently appears on national and international media. He is the Co-Secretary General of the Transatlantic Parliamentary Group, a transatlantic caucus of members of the U.S. Congress and the European Parliament, founded in 2008. The objective of the caucus is to assess international security threats, economic crises, and social issues and recommend strategies and policies to the government of the United States and governments of members of the European Union. Dr Phares briefs and testifies to U.S. Congress, the European Parliament and the United Nations Security Council on matters related to international security, democracy, and Middle East conflicts. He lectures at defence and national security institutions and serves as a consultant on international affairs in the private sector.

To rehabilitate Al Assad, Iran may have to rein in Hezbollah
Raghida Dergham/The National/September 19, 2021

The rehabilitation of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reached a critical milestone in the past few weeks following several regional and international deals. The operative ‘password’ behind these deals is Israel. The key sponsor is Russian President Vladimir Putin. The other players involved include the United States and the European powers. Iran, though an ‘extra’ player in these deals, is very present in them. Egypt and Jordan have been at the forefront too, while some leading Gulf states have been involved behind the scenes. Iraq is in a suspended state, while Lebanon (with all its corruption and back dealings), long considered by Syria a strategic depth – is being used as a testing ground. Hezbollah is at the heart of these deals, which could for all intents and purposes invalidate the logic and purpose of its weapons. In short, all sides are sitting at the strategy drawing board, albeit they are feeling a combination of low visibility, rivalry, disappointment, and relief. Indeed, this is not a stage of clarity and reassurance, or the stage where any of them have many options. Rather, it is a stage of swallowing the bitter medicine, with a little or a lot of concessions by all sides.
Believing he is the victor at home and in the region, Bashar al-Assad is unlikely to make many concessions and acts as though he shall remain president indefinitely. His alliance with Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah has turned his weakness into strength, and he is determined to use this against the internal opposition as well as against the United States and Turkey.
According to inside information from informed Russian sources, Mr Putin and Mr Assad, during their meeting in Moscow this week, agreed on the following:
First, they agreed that the time is now suitable to “liberate the remainder of Syrian territories”, meaning territories under US and Turkish control.
The joint Russian-Syrian assessment is that the US forces and US air support will continue even if US forces are withdrawn from Iraq or reduced in Syria. Therefore, the Russian-Syrian strategy will be to escalate demands for full US withdrawal from Syria and an end to its ‘occupation’.
Second, according to the same sources, an agreement was reached to prepare for a new offensive in Idlib. The belief is that the time is now suitable given Turkey’s preoccupation with the developments in Afghanistan and the domestic political crises surrounding President Erdogan. The sources quoted Assad as saying he wants to restore Syria’s official borders to his control, meaning retaking around 10 percent of Syrian territory currently outside of the regime’s control.
Third, the meeting between Putin and Assad consecrated Russia’s open-ended deployment in Syria, and an accord was reached on technical details under which Russian forces will remain in Syria with unprecedented privileges.
Fourth, the two leaders agreed to revive the political process in Syria under the Astana or Sochi process. However, Assad reportedly insisted on controlling all domestic decision making as elected president. In other words, Assad wants to be the final arbiter in Syria, meaning there would be no parity between him and the opposition in any political process.
Fifth, Putin and Assad made a firm decision that the trilateral Russian-Syrian-Iranian relationship must remain as a permanent strategy.
Sixth, regarding Israel, the sources said that the Russian president asked his Syrian counterpart to discuss the issue later and separately but requested that Syria avoid any confrontation with Israel that could provoke an aggressive Israeli response. The Syrian proposal was that the country must be liberated from all adversaries, whether from ISIS and al-Qaeda, or by liberating the Golan Heights. But the Russian response advised against raising the issue of the Golan.
Russia chose its side when its foreign minister Lavrov a couple of weeks ago said that Moscow considered Israel’s security a top priority in the Syrian issue and other conflicts. The Israelis had expressed concerns to the Russians regarding the implications of US withdrawal from Syria in terms of two things: Empowering Iran in Syria, and emboldening Assad in the Golan. Thus, Putin asked Assad to discuss the Israeli question separately at a later time.
The Russian position in terms of guaranteeing Israel’s security is a game changer. Today, Russia is in effect America’s partner in guaranteeing Israeli security. Lavrov’s remarks that Russia did not want Syrian territory to be used to attack Israel applies also to Lebanon. But while the decision to attack Israel out of Syria is a Syrian decision, the decision for Hezbollah to attack Israel from Lebanon remains an Iranian decision – not the decision of the Lebanese state
Logically speaking, this means that Iran, Russia’s ally, has agreed to rein in Hezbollah and the Lebanese front away from mounting any serious attacks against Israel (see my August 15 column). This in turn means that Hezbollah’s arsenal, which the party says its purpose is to resist Israel and liberate occupied Arab lands, now lies in deep freeze in the Russian-Iranian refrigerator, its real purpose purely propagandistic. Ultimately, this means that there is an implicit agreement among the major powers and Iran to neutralize Hezbollah’s weapons in the equation with Israel. In and of itself, this is a radical development.
Precisely assessing Hezbollah’s position in the home front, the region, and the world is not easy. There are at least two views here: The first that sees the Iranian accords with the European powers, Russia, and China – and the implicit ones with the Biden administration – as ushering in new roles for Hezbollah, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ longest and strongest foreign policy arm.
The proponents of this view believe that the formation of the Lebanese government under Najib Mikati, despite the wrangling over shares, the bargains made, the deception around its technocratic credentials, the restoration of the same old political class, and the French-Iranian-American deals made under the table, is a step towards assuring Lebanon’s survival.
The proponents of this view admit that there can be no serious reforms in Lebanon soon, because the class controlling the country can never hold itself accountable and will always work to obstruct such accountability. However, these voices believe Lebanon is now on the way out of a project for war and collapse that could have only taken it into unchartered territory, and that the formation of a government therefore is an achievement for the sake of Lebanon’s survival. The proponents of this view believe change in Lebanon will not come from outside and will take a long time, and that its first milestone will be the legislative election under international oversight and with serious popular participation, rather than revolutions and uprisings that have proven themselves to be unsustainable.
What about Hezbollah’s domination over Lebanon? What about its weapons?
Their answer to the first question is that Hezbollah can never alone control Lebanon because Lebanon’s composition prevents it. Hezbollah would never be able to dominate an area like Zgharta, for example. As for its weapons, these are now restricted by regional and international accords, and have become almost meaningless in the equation of preventing war with Israel with Iran’s assent as part of its own equation for war, peace, and truce with Israel. In other words, the meaning and purpose of Hezbollah’s weapons have been neutralized, the equation of war replaced by the equation of Iranian interests and economic repositioning in the wider region.
One question here is this: What will be the fate of Hezbollah’s weapons in Syria, as Assad becomes increasingly self-confident and confident in his strategic alliance with Russia? Clearly, Russia has become America’s partner in guaranteeing Israel’s security in the Syrian context, so will this be the kernel that produces a radical change in Hezbollah’s regional mission?
In other words, the master of the Kremlin is drawing the lines for his allies in Syria, from Assad to Hezbollah. Partnership is one thing and hierarchy is another. In the thinking of Russian diplomacy, many roadmaps are taking shape in the greater Middle East and the Gulf, where Moscow wants to broker security pacts between Iran, Israel, and the Arab states. The situation being as such, reining in Hezbollah is part of this strategy, and the need for its services in the region is declining.
Perhaps this will make Hezbollah more Lebanese, and less of an Iranian instrument and a factor of tension and distrust, especially for those who hold the other view, that these developments are part of a Persian crescent project in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. For the proponents of this view, Lebanon is effectively under Iranian occupation enforced by Hezbollah by dominating all aspects of the Lebanese state and its sovereignty. In their view, Iran’s theocracy and its Persian acumen will know how to play the Russians and Americans, while preserving its precious cards no matter what happens. Therefore, Hezbollah will increase its domination of Lebanon with American-French enablement, and will continue to control the decision for war and peace in the country at the behest of the IRGC. Indeed, Hezbollah and its supporters still behave with triumphalism, most recently celebrating the arrival of Iranian fuel shipments via Syria with Iranian flags and Assad’s portraits, rather than the Lebanese flag.
No doubt, Assad is elated. Iran’s fuel shipments and electricity and gas supplies from Egypt to Lebanon via Jordan and Syria are a gift to him from the Biden administration, wrapped in the guise of humanitarian aid to Lebanon. Indeed, the Biden administration is dismantling the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration and has found ways to circumvent the Caesar Act passed by Congress. To be sure, the US administration has been a strong advocate of bringing in gas supplies – most likely originating in Israel under the Egyptian-Israeli gas deals – via Jordan to Syria, rehabilitating Bashar al-Assad pursuant to a primarily American decision, under the pretext of saving Lebanon.

How a Syrian War Criminal and Double Agent Disappeared in Europe
In the bloody civil war, Khaled al-Halabi switched sides. But what country does he really serve?
Ben Taub/The New Yorker/September 19/2021

Set of documents over a picture of an eye.
“When you receive an order, as a soldier, you have to carry it out,” Khaled al-Halabi said, before he vanished.Illustration by Mike McQuade
On a September day in 1961, a thin man with a small mustache walked into a post office in Damascus to pick up a parcel addressed to Georg Fischer. Few people knew that Fischer, an ill-tempered Austrian weapons merchant, was actually the S.S. Hauptsturmführer Alois Brunner, “the erstwhile assistant of Adolf Eichmann in the annihilation of Jews,” as a classified U.S. cable put it. But among those who were aware of his identity was a Mossad operative who had infiltrated the Syrian élite. When Brunner opened the package, it exploded, killing two postal workers and blinding him in the left eye.
The Israeli spy was later caught, tortured, and executed; Brunner lived openly in Damascus for the next several decades, in the third-floor apartment of 7 Rue Haddad. “Among Third Reich criminals still alive, Alois Brunner is undoubtedly the worst,” the Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal wrote, in 1988. France sentenced Brunner to death in absentia. Israel tried to kill him a second time, but the bomb took only some fingers. Brunner told a German magazine that his chief regret was not having killed more Jews.
Hafez al-Assad, Syria’s dictator, ignored multiple requests for Brunner’s extradition. Brunner was useful—as an assertion of Syrian state sovereignty, a mockery of global norms and values, and an affront to Israel, Syria’s neighbor and enemy. He was, as someone in Assad’s inner circle later put it, “a card that the regime kept in its hand.”
But, in the late nineties, as Assad’s health was failing, he became devoted to the task of preparing his ruthless world for his son. After inheriting the Presidency, Bashar al-Assad would portray himself as a reformer; it might be a liability to have an avowed génocidaire in the diplomatic quarter, flanked by Syrian guards. For the next fifteen years, Nazi hunters assumed that Brunner was hidden away on Rue Haddad, perhaps even past his hundredth birthday. But no one saw him, so no one knew for sure.
Brunner and other Nazis had helped structure Syria’s intelligence services, and trained its officers in the arts of interrogation. In Syrian detention centers, their techniques are used to this day. Among the practitioners was Khaled al-Halabi, a Syrian Army officer who was assigned to the intelligence services in 2001. By his own account, he was a reluctant spy—he wanted to remain a soldier. Nevertheless, he served for the next twelve years, ascending through the ranks.
When Syria erupted in revolution, in 2011, Assad and his deputies blamed the protests on outside forces. They jailed activists who spoke to foreign news outlets, and targeted for arrest people whose phones contained songs that were “rather offensive to Mr. President.” Even internal government communications asserted that the instability in Syria was the result of “Zionist-American plots.” But Halabi understood that the crisis was real. He raised his concerns with his boss. “Ninety-five per cent of the population is against the regime,” Halabi later recalled saying. “I asked him if we should kill everyone. He couldn’t answer me.”
In the next decade, Halabi would become the unwitting successor to Brunner’s circumstances. Diplomats and spies from other governments weighed Halabi’s and Brunner’s past service and perceived utility against potential future risks—and sometimes miscalculated. The two men even traded countries. In some ways, they were nothing alike: the Austrian was a monster; the Syrian, by most accounts, is not. But each man carried out the functions of a murderous regime. And, in the end, their actions as intelligence officers came to be their only protection—and the reason they needed it.
By the end of February, 2013, Khaled al-Halabi was running out of time. For the previous five years, he had served as the chief of the General Intelligence Directorate branch in Raqqa, a vast desert province in the northeastern part of Syria, far from his wife and children. To the locals, he was an outsider with the authority to detain, torture, and kill them. But Halabi, who was a fifty-year-old brigadier general, felt insecure within Syria’s intelligence apparatus. An employee at his branch of the directorate described him as a “well-educated and decent man” who was not a strong or decisive leader. Another noted that Halabi, who belonged to a religious minority known as the Druze, was afraid of two of his subordinates who, like Assad, were Alawites. He overlooked their rampant corruption and abuses.
It was partly through this sectarian lens that Halabi seemed to make sense of his professional disappointments. He thought of himself as a “brilliant officer,” he later said, and was the only Druze in Syrian intelligence to become a regional director. But, he added, “to be frank, Raqqa is the least important region in the country. That’s why they stationed me there. It was like putting me in a closet.”
Halabi regarded the local population with sympathetic disdain. They were tribal and conservative; he was a secular man with a law degree, who drank alcohol and read Marxist literature. To the extent that he had political beliefs, they were aligned with those of some of the leftist intellectuals whom he was occasionally ordered to arrest. His wife and children refused to visit Raqqa; they stayed hundreds of miles away, in Damascus and in Suweida, the predominantly Druze city Halabi was from. In time, Halabi began an affair with a woman who worked in the environmental ministry. A nurse recalled him asking for Viagra.
His rivals exploited such transgressions. Syria’s security-intelligence apparatus comprises four parallel agencies with overlapping responsibilities, and Halabi’s counterpart in Military Intelligence, an Alawite named Jameh Jameh, had taken a particular dislike to him. “He spread rumors that I was drunk all the time, that I don’t work, that I don’t leave the office because there are young boys coming to see me,” Halabi complained. One day, after Halabi left Raqqa to visit his family in Suweida, his car was ambushed at a checkpoint. He narrowly escaped assassination, he later said, and was convinced that Jameh had ordered the hit. If Halabi’s assessment was paranoid, it wasn’t baseless; Military Intelligence was wiretapping his phone.
The people of Raqqa were overwhelmingly Sunni and rural, and had benefitted little from the government in Damascus. When the protests began, the regional governor advised his security committee that “only threats and intimidation worked.” Halabi initially tried to act as a voice of moderation. According to a defector, he told his officers not to arrest minors, and, when possible, to patrol without arms. But, in March, 2012, after security forces killed a local teen-ager, armed conflict broke out in the province. One day, Halabi gathered his section heads and told them to open fire on any gathering of more than four people. It wasn’t his decision, he said; he had received the order from his boss in Damascus, Ali Mamlouk.
As Halabi saw it, Assad’s inner circle treated Raqqa as a limb to be sacrificed in order to protect “the heart of the country.” They deployed only a thousand troops to the province, which is about the size of New Jersey. By the end of 2012, the Free Syrian Army—a constellation of rebel factions with disparate ideologies—had captured key portions of the route from Raqqa to Damascus. It joined forces with Islamist and jihadi groups in the surrounding countryside. In Halabi’s assessment, the battle was over before it began. “Anyone who thought otherwise is an imbecile,” he said.
There are five main entrances to Raqqa, and by February, 2013, the city was under threat from all of them. Four were guarded by members of the other intelligence branches. The fifth, which led to Raqqa’s eastern suburbs, was the responsibility of Halabi’s men in General Intelligence. Hundreds of police, military officers, and intelligence officers had already defected to the rebels or fled—including almost half Halabi’s subordinates. Many of them urged Halabi to join the revolution, but he stayed in his post.
Son leaves his parents' home to become an artist.
“We’re expecting you to return as a rich and successful artist.”
Cartoon by Frank Cotham
On March 2nd, rebels stormed into Raqqa city through Halabi’s checkpoints, where they encountered no meaningful resistance. By lunchtime, the revolutionaries had conquered their first regional capital. Locals toppled a gold-painted statue of Hafez al-Assad in Raqqa’s main roundabout, and fighters ransacked government buildings and smashed portraits of Bashar. The corpse of Jameh’s lead interrogator was thrown off a building, then dragged through the streets. Meanwhile, Islamist brigades captured the governor’s mansion and took hostage the regional head of the Baath Party and the governor of Raqqa. By the end of the week, regime intelligence officers who hadn’t escaped to a nearby military base were prisoners, defectors, or dead. Only one senior official was unaccounted for. Khaled al-Halabi had disappeared.
More than a year passed, and Raqqa’s instant collapse served as fodder for regional conspiracy. A Lebanese newspaper published rumors that Halabi might be “lying low in Mount Lebanon.” An Iranian outlet claimed that Western powers had paid him more than a hundred thousand dollars to help jihadis bring down the regime.
One day in 2014, a Syrian dissident writer and poet named Najati Tayara got an unnerving phone call. Tayara, who was almost seventy years old and living in exile in France, had been in and out of Syrian detention several times in the past decade, for criticizing Assad’s government. Now, Tayara learned, Halabi was in Paris, and wanted to meet with him.
“I was concerned,” Tayara told me. “Before I came to France, I was in jail. And now here is an intelligence officer—he came here, he’s asking for me.”
Halabi had detained Tayara twice in the mid-two-thousands, when he was stationed in Homs, in central Syria. Tayara was part of a circle of dissidents and intellectuals who held salons in their homes. After each arrest, he sensed that Halabi had been reluctant to take him in for questioning. “He was a cultured man—very gentle and polite with me,” Tayara recalled. “He told me, ‘I am obliged to send you to Damascus for interrogation. Excuse me—I cannot refuse the order.’ ” Halabi gave Tayara his cell-phone number, and told him to call if anyone threatened or abused him in custody. “That was how al-Halabi handled people like me—human-rights advocates and public intellectuals,” Tayara told me. “But with the Islamists? Maybe he is a different man. I cannot be a witness for how he was with others.” When Halabi reached out in Paris, Tayara agreed to meet.
Halabi told Tayara that he hadn’t seen his wife or children in more than three years. After the fall of Raqqa, his eldest daughter, who had been studying in Damascus, was forced out of school and briefly detained. In Suweida, her mother and siblings were under constant surveillance by the regime. Halabi had never publicly defected to the opposition. But, Tayara recalled, “he told me that he left Syria because he made contact with the Free Syrian Army—that he gave them the keys to Raqqa.”
According to members of the invading force, negotiations had begun weeks in advance. “To insure that he wasn’t manipulating us, we asked him to do things in the city that made it easier for protesters and revolutionaries,” a rebel-affiliated activist recalled, in a recent phone call from Raqqa. “I was wanted by his security branch, but he shelved the arrest warrant, so that I could move freely.”
A few days before the attack, a commander from a powerful Islamist brigade reached out to Halabi. He promised to arrange Halabi’s escape, and to spare the lives of his subordinates, if the rebels could enter Raqqa from the city’s eastern suburbs. On the eve of the attack, armed rebels smuggled Halabi to Tabqa, a town by the Euphrates Dam. They handed him off to another brigade, which took him to a safe house near the Turkish border, owned by a local tribal leader, Abdul Hamid al-Nasser. “Some of the Free Syrian Army members wanted to arrest him, but, since my father was a revered local figure, no one could do anything,” Nasser’s son Mohammed recalled. The next morning, Nasser drove Halabi to the Turkish border. He crossed on foot, while officers from the other intelligence branches were slaughtered at their posts.
The Turkish border areas were filled with refugees, jihadi recruits, and spies. Halabi remained in touch with the Islamist commander, but he was never at ease in Turkey. Through intermediaries, he contacted Walid Joumblatt, a Lebanese politician and former warlord who is the de-facto leader of the Druze community. In the nineteenth century, Joumblatt’s great-great-great-grandfather Bashir led an exodus of persecuted Druze, including Halabi’s ancestors, out of Aleppo Province. (The Arabic name for Aleppo is Halab.) Now Halabi asked if he could seek refuge in Lebanon. But Joumblatt relayed that Halabi would never get there—that Hezbollah, which had sent fighters into Syria to support the regime, had a controlling presence at the Beirut airport. Instead, Halabi later recalled, “he advised me to go to Jordan.”
The journey was impossible by land. So, in May, 2013, Joumblatt sent an emissary to Istanbul, who escorted Halabi onto a plane. Halabi had no passport—only a Syrian military I.D. But, in Amman, Jordan’s capital, Joumblatt’s contacts escorted Halabi through immigration. “It was Walid Joumblatt who coördinated everything with the Turks and the Jordanians,” Halabi later said. “I do not know how he did it.”
Joumblatt’s men arranged for Halabi to meet with other Druze officers, Syrian defectors, and Jordanian intelligence, to support the revolution. (Joumblatt’s father was assassinated in 1977, and he has always believed that Hafez al-Assad ordered the hit.) But most of the Druze came to suspect that Halabi was still working for the regime. “We discovered that he had played a very nasty role in Raqqa,” Joumblatt told me. “We think he did his best to show the regime the weaknesses of the Raqqa resistance,” and flipped only in the final moments, to save his own skin. Joumblatt and his followers severed all contact with Halabi. “And now I don’t know where he is,” Joumblatt said.
Later in 2013, having been turned away by his fellow-Druze, Halabi walked into the French Embassy in Amman. He presented himself as a reluctant intelligence chief whose political and cultural tastes aligned with those of the French. “I like alcohol and secularism,” he later said. “France. Food. Napoleon.” He added that since the beginning of the Syrian war he had been “convinced that this regime will not last—that anyone who talks about longevity is a moron.” By this point, even the top general responsible for preventing defections had himself defected. After decades of service to the regime, “I decided not to tie my fate to it,” Halabi said.
The French government had spent more than a year debriefing high-ranking Syrian military and intelligence defectors—partly in anticipation of Assad’s losing the war, partly to facilitate that outcome. A hundred years ago, France occupied Syria and Lebanon, as part of a post-Ottoman mandate. Now it set out to make deals with anyone it considered acceptable to lead in a post-Assad era—an era that looked increasingly likely. At one point in 2012, there was gunfire so close to Assad’s residence that he and his family reportedly fled to Latakia, an Alawite stronghold on the Syrian coast. “If we did not want a collapse of the regime—perhaps as happened in Iraq, with dramatic consequences after the U.S. intervention—then we had to find a solution that blended the moderate resistance with elements of the regime who were not heavily compromised,” the French foreign minister Laurent Fabius told Sam Dagher, for his book “Assad or We Burn the Country,” from 2019. Assad, meanwhile, eliminated several possible candidates to succeed him—including, it seems, his brother-in-law Assef Shawkat, who was in touch with French officials before dying in a bombing that was widely considered an inside job.
Halabi trod a careful line. “If the regime hadn’t killed people—if I wasn’t going to get my hands dirty with blood—it is possible that I would not have left,” he told the French. “That’s why the extremist opposition hates me. And the regime considers me a traitor, because I didn’t kill with them.” As long as his family was still in Suweida, he said, “I am caught between these two fires.”
After months of dealing with Embassy officials, Halabi was introduced to a man whom he knew only as Julien. “As soon as I saw him, I understood that he was from the intelligence service, because I am in the business,” Halabi later said. Julien apparently dangled the possibility of a relationship with French intelligence, but Halabi refused to share his insights for free. “I am not a child, I am an intelligence officer,” he said. He told Julien that he would consider helping the French only if he were first brought to Paris and granted political asylum, and if his family were smuggled out of Suweida.
In February, 2014, the French Embassy in Amman issued Halabi a single-use travel document and a visa. He landed in Paris on February 27th, according to the entry stamp, and checked into a hotel. Then began an “intelligence game,” as Halabi put it. “I needed money. They wanted to pressure me, to make me needy.”
According to Halabi, Julien was aware that he had only five hundred euros and a thousand dollars. Someone was supposed to meet him at the hotel within two days of arrival, to take care of the bill, help him apply for asylum and housing, and start debriefing him. But nobody came. After two weeks, Halabi ran out of cash. Desperate, he reached out to a Druze financier in Paris who had connections to spies in the Middle East. After a cash handoff, a French intelligence officer turned up at Halabi’s door.
“They didn’t like the fact that I called on some friends,” Halabi recalled. The intelligence officer, who introduced herself as Mme. Hélène, cited the Druze connection as evidence that Halabi was associated with another foreign intelligence agency. She added that it would be useless for him to apply for asylum. Halabi never saw her again.
After ninety days, Halabi’s visa expired, and he applied for asylum anyway. “They brought me here and abandoned me,” Halabi complained to the asylum officer, of his experience with French intelligence. “If they were professional, they would try to win me over.”
Halabi declined to speak with me. But his French asylum interview—which lasted for more than four hours, and was conducted by someone with deep knowledge of Syrian affairs—offers a glimpse into his character, background, priorities, and state of mind. “I’ve been cheated—it doesn’t go with French ethics,” Halabi insisted, in the interview. “They could do this to a little soldier, but not to a general like me.”
“Ethics and intelligence services—they’re not the same thing,” the asylum officer replied.
“I am sure they will intervene,” Halabi said. “I know that I deserve a ten-year residency document—ask your conscience.”
“If they intervene, they intervene, but we will not contact them,” the officer said. “We will make our own decision.”
“Question your conscience! No one is more threatened than me in Syria.”
“We will do our due diligence,” the asylum officer continued. “As you can imagine, in light of your profession, we will have to think about it for a while. We can’t make a decision today.”
By the end of 2015, nearly a million Syrians had crossed into Europe, fleeing the conflict. Across the Continent, survivors of detention and torture began spotting their former tormentors in grocery stores and asylum centers. The exodus had forced victims and perpetrators into the same choke points—Greek coastlines, Balkan roads, Central European bus depots. Local European police agencies were inundated with reports that they had no capacity to pursue.
One day that fall, a Canadian war-crimes investigator named Bill Wiley led me to a padlocked door in a basement in Western Europe. Inside was a large room containing a dehumidifier, metal shelving, and cardboard boxes stacked floor to ceiling. The boxes held more than six hundred thousand Syrian government documents, mostly taken from security-intelligence facilities that had been overrun by rebel groups. Using these documents, Wiley’s group, an N.G.O. called the Commission for International Justice and Accountability, had reconstructed much of the Syrian chain of command.
Wiley and his colleagues formed the cija in response to what they perceived as major deficiencies in the international justice system. Because Assad’s government had not ratified the founding document of the International Criminal Court, the court could not open an investigation into its crimes. Only the U.N. Security Council could rectify this, and the governments of Russia and China have blocked efforts to do so. It was the ultimate symbol of international failure: there was no clear path to prosecuting the most well-documented campaign of war crimes and crimes against humanity since the Holocaust.
International criminal trials often focus on authority, duty, chain of command. The force of the enterprise is in deterrence—in making plain that there are inflexible standards for conduct in war. A lack of enthusiasm does not amount to a defense. What matters is what is done—not how an officer felt about doing it. Under a mode of liability known as “command responsibility,” a senior officer, for example, can be prosecuted for failing to prevent or punish widespread, systematic criminality among his subordinates.
This distinction was apparently lost on Halabi, who seems to have thought of “law” only as whatever he was instructed to do. “When you receive an order, as a soldier, you have to carry it out,” Halabi told the French asylum officer. He didn’t appear to connect his obedience to what followed: more than two hundred members of the Raqqa branch of the General Intelligence Directorate would receive his order, and have to implement it. “I never did anything illegal in Syria, except helping people,” he said. “If there is an international tribunal for these people”—Assad and his deputies—“I will be the first to show up.”
The cija had prepared a four-hundred-page legal brief that established the criminal culpability of Assad and about a dozen of his top security officials. The brief links the systematic torture and murder of tens of thousands of Syrian detainees to orders that were drafted by the country’s highest-level security committee, approved by Assad, and sent down parallel chains of command. The cija’s documents contain hundreds of thousands, if not millions of names—arrestees and their interrogators, Baathist informants, the heads of each security agency—and have served as the basis for economic sanctions targeting regime officials. In recent years, the cija has become a source of Syrian-regime documents for civil and criminal cases all over the world. A tip from one of its investigators in isis territory prevented a terrorist attack in Australia. Meanwhile, the group has fielded requests from European law-enforcement agencies concerning more than two thousand Syrians. According to Stephen Rapp, a former international prosecutor who served as the United States Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues and is now the chair of the cija’s board of directors, the evidence in the cija’s possession is more comprehensive than that which was presented at the Nuremberg trials.
Assad and his deputies might never set foot in a jurisdiction where they will be charged. But, in 2015, Chris Engels, the cija’s head of operations, received a tip from an investigator in Syria that Khaled al-Halabi had slipped into Europe. At first, Engels hoped to interview him as a defector, for the Assad brief. But, as cija analysts began building a dossier on Halabi—drawing on internal regime documents, and also on testimony from his subordinates—Engels began to think of Halabi as a possible target for prosecution instead.
“How many arrests were you ordered to make?” the French asylum officer had asked Halabi.
“I don’t remember—in Suweida, none.”
“And in Raqqa?”
“Four or five.”
By the middle of 2012, according to the cija’s investigation, Halabi’s branch of the directorate was arresting some fifteen people a day. Detainees were stripped to their underwear and put in filthy, overcrowded cells, where they suffered from hunger, disease, and infection. The branch converted storage units in the basement into individual cells that ultimately held ten or more people.
“Detainees would be taken into the interrogation office, and typically soaked in cold water, and then placed into a large spare tire,” one of Halabi’s former subordinates said. “Then they were rolled onto their backs and beaten with electrical wires, fan belts, sticks, or batons.” Survivors recalled receiving electric shocks, and being hung from the walls or ceiling by their wrists. Screams could be heard throughout the three-story building. After interrogations, detainees were routinely forced to sign or place their fingerprints on documents that they had not been permitted to read.
The cija saw no evidence of the restrained treatment that Tayara had described. The care that Halabi had shown him before the revolution was far from the brutality later endured by other human-rights activists and intellectuals.
Many of the worst abuses were carried out by Halabi’s head of investigations and his chief of staff, the two Alawites he was apparently afraid of. These men and others regularly used the threat of rape, or rape itself, during interrogations. Defectors said that Halabi, whose office shared a wall with the interrogation room, was “fully aware” of what was going on. “Nobody would do anything without his knowledge,” a former officer at the branch recalled. “Often, he would enter and watch the torturing.” As the head of the branch, Halabi signed each order to transfer a detainee, for further interrogation, to Damascus, where thousands of people have been tortured to death.
A few weeks after the fall of Raqqa, Nadim Houry, who was then the lead Syria analyst for Human Rights Watch, travelled to the city. He had been studying the structures and abuses of Syria’s intelligence services since 2006. Now he made his way to Halabi’s ransacked branch.
“You go in, and on the first floor it almost looked like a regular Syrian bureaucratic building—offices, files scattered about, the same outdated furniture,” Houry told me. “Then you go down the stairs. You see the cells. I’d spent years documenting how they’d cram people into solitary-confinement cells. And now it sort of materialized in front of my eyes.” In a room near Halabi’s office, he found a bsat al-reeh, a large wooden torture device similar to a crucifix but with a hinge in the middle, used to bend people’s backs, sometimes until they broke.
“This is what the Syrian regime is, at its core,” Houry said. “It is a modern bureaucracy, with plenty of presentable people in it, but it is based on torture and death.”
Halabi and Tayara met two or three times in Paris. The encounters were cordial, if fraught; Tayara never fully understood Halabi’s motivation for reaching out to him. Perhaps it was loneliness, he said, or a desire for forgiveness.
The poet and the spy sipped black coffee with sugar by the Seine. They strolled through the city’s gardens, discussing the challenges of living in exile as older men. Their lives as opponents felt distant. Both were broke and alone, unable to master the local language, displaced in a land of safety that felt indifferent to everything they cared about and everyone they loved. Tayara lived in a tiny studio; Halabi told his former captive that he was staying in the spare room of an Algerian who lived in the suburbs. France was deeply involved in Syrian affairs. But in France famous Syrians from every faction drifted about in anonymity, longing to return home, agonizing over events that, to the people around them—in buses, Métro cars, parks, and cafés—weren’t so much seen as irrelevant as simply not noticed at all.
I asked Tayara whether Halabi had ever requested his help. “No, no, no,” he said. “It was just to inquire about my health, my family. It was all very lovely. He didn’t need anything from me.”
But it appears as though Halabi was grooming a witness—that he planned for the French authorities to contact Tayara, and was taking advantage of his target’s solitude and nostalgia. When the French asylum officer asked about Halabi’s role in repressive measures against protesters, he brought up Tayara.
“There is a person here in France,” Halabi said.
“Whom you arrested?”
“He is a friend,” Halabi said. “A famous member of the opposition.”
He launched into the story of Tayara’s first arrest. “He knew full well that the order came from on high—that I had nothing to do with it,” Halabi said. “I even bought him a pair of pajamas, with my own money, because I liked him. I prohibited my men from blindfolding and handcuffing him—well, to blindfold him only when he was entering national-security facilities. He went, he came back, we stayed friends. . . . You can ask him.”
“I understand that you are minimizing your role a little bit,” the French officer said. “You say that you were against violence, torture, and deaths, but you continued to be chief of intelligence for a regime that was known for its repression. Why did you stay working for this regime for so long?”
Halabi didn’t wait for a decision on his asylum status; after several months without news, he opted to once again vanish. Before leaving Paris, he mentioned to Tayara that, according to a friend, Austria was a more welcoming place for refugees. It was a strange assertion; Austria’s increasingly right-wing government was taking the opposite stance. “We try to get rid of asylum seekers from the moment they touch our soil,” Stephanie Krisper, a centrist Austrian parliamentarian, who is appalled by this approach, told me.
I met Tayara in Paris, on a rainy November afternoon in 2019; he and Halabi hadn’t spoken in years. I asked for help contacting Halabi, but Tayara gently declined. “I am an old man,” he said. “I look for peace. I look for beauty, for poetry. I like watching ballet! This mystery—it is very hard. I don’t want to continue with it.” He sighed, and adjusted his scarf, which partly obscured his face. “I am afraid to continue investigations about him,” he said. “There are so many of them—so many Syrian officers here.”
At the cija headquarters, Engels and Wiley had concluded that there was no more important target within reach of European authorities than Khaled al-Halabi: as a brigadier general and the head of a regional intelligence branch, he was the highest-ranking Syrian war criminal known to be on the Continent.
The cija formed a tracking team to find him and other targets: investigators worked sources and defectors, analysts pored over captured documents, a cyber unit hunted for digital traces. Before long, the tracking team had Halabi’s social-media accounts. On Facebook, he went by Achilles; on Skype, he was Abu Kotaiba, meaning “Father of Kotaiba”—Halabi’s son. Online, Halabi claimed to live in Argentina. But Skype metadata revealed that he had told Tayara the truth about his plans; he consistently logged in from a cell phone tied to an I.P. address in Vienna.
From time to time, cija investigators receive tips about isis members in Europe, and Wiley immediately alerts the local authorities. But, when it comes to former Syrian military and intelligence officers, who pose less of an immediate threat, his organization is more judicious. “We don’t go to the domestic authorities and say, ‘Yeah, we hear So-and-So is in your country,’ ” Wiley said. “If these guys are still loyal to the regime, they might be a threat to other Syrians in the diaspora in Europe, but they’re not going to be blowing up or stabbing people in the shopping district.” Besides, a leaked notification could trigger someone like Halabi to go underground.
By January, 2016, the cija’s Halabi dossier was complete. For four months, the location of his Skype log-ins had not changed. Stephen Rapp requested a meeting with the Austrian Justice Ministry. A reply came back on official letterhead, with a date from the wrong year: “Dear Mr. Rapp! I am glad to invite you and Mr. Engels to the Austrian Federal Ministry of Justice.” It continued, “All expenses of the delegation, including interpretation and/or translation, accommodation, transportation, meals, guides and insurance during your stay in Austria will be borne by your side.”
“We hadn’t worked with the Austrians before—they’re not very active in the international war-crimes space,” Engels told me. “But normally this is a very coöperative process. And fast.”
On the morning of January 29, 2016, Rapp and Engels walked into Room 410 at the Austrian Ministry of Justice. Five officials awaited them—a judge, a senior administrator, the deputy head of the International Crimes Division, and two men who did not give their names. After Engels and Rapp laid out the cija’s evidence, one of the officials searched a government database and affirmed that a Khaled al-Halabi was registered to an address in Vienna.
The meeting drew to a close. Engels and Rapp handed over the Halabi dossier. Once they left the room, the two unnamed men—who worked for the B.V.T., Austria’s civilian security-intelligence agency—were asked to look into whether the man described by the cija was the man at the Vienna address. They agreed to do so, giving no indication that they had ever heard of Halabi before that morning. In fact, two weeks earlier, one of them, an intelligence officer named Oliver Lang, had taken Halabi shopping for storage drawers at ikea, and had written the delivery address using his operational cover name.
Lang kept the receipt, and later filed it for expenses. It also had Halabi’s signature, which he hadn’t modified since his days of signing arrest warrants in Raqqa. The money for the drawers had come in the form of a cash drop from Halabi’s secret longtime handlers: the Israeli intelligence services.
After the Second World War, the Austrian government maintained that its people were the Nazis’ first victims, instead of their enthusiastic backers. Schoolchildren were not taught about the Holocaust, and, for almost half a century, Jews who returned to Vienna were unable to recover expropriated property. In 1975, Austria halted all prosecutions of former Nazis. Ten years later, the Times reported that the country had “abandoned any serious attempt to arrest Mr. Brunner,” the Nazi then living in Damascus, who had deported more than a hundred and twenty-five thousand people to concentration and extermination camps. From his apartment on Rue Haddad, Brunner sent money to his wife and daughter in Vienna, where he had led the office that rid the city of its Jewish population. The Austrian chancellor, in a dismissive conversation with Nazi hunters, seemed to accept the Syrian government’s official position—that it had no idea where Brunner was.
In 1986, it emerged that Austria’s best-known diplomat, Kurt Waldheim—who had served for most of the previous decade as the Secretary-General of the United Nations—had been a Nazi military-intelligence officer during the war. At first, Waldheim, who was running for President of Austria, denied the allegation. But, as more information came out, he began to defend himself as a “decent soldier,” and claimed that the true “scandal” was the effort to dredge up the past. Other politicians came to his defense. “As long as it cannot be proved that he personally strangled six Jews, there is no problem,” the head of Waldheim’s party told a French magazine. Waldheim won the election, and served until 1992. The U.S. Department of Justice concluded that he had taken part in numerous Nazi war crimes, including the transfer of civilians for slave labor, executions of civilians and prisoners of war, and mass deportations to concentration and extermination camps. For the rest of his term, Waldheim was welcome only in some Arab countries and at the Vatican.
It took until after Waldheim’s Presidency for the Austrian government to begin acknowledging decades-old crimes. And only last year did Austria begin offering citizenship to descendants of victims of Nazi persecution. A shadow still hangs over the country. “The Austrians, in European war-crimes circles, have a reputation for being particularly fucking useless,” said Bill Wiley, whose first war-crimes investigation, in the nineties, was of an Austrian Nazi who had escaped to Canada. “You just never know what is driven by incompetence and laziness and disinterest, and what’s driven by venality.”
In recent years, Austria has been cut out of European intelligence-sharing agreements, including the Club de Berne—an informal intelligence network that involves most European nations, the U.K., the U.S., and Israel. (Austria withdrew after the Club’s secret review of the B.V.T.’s cyber-infrastructure, building-security, and counter-proliferation measures—all of which it found to be abysmal—was leaked to the Austrian press.) Senior Austrian intelligence officers have been accused of spying for Russia and Iran, and also of smuggling a high-profile fugitive out of Austria on a private plane. An Iranian spy, who was operating under diplomatic cover in Vienna and was listed in a B.V.T. document as a “possible target for recruitment,” was convicted of planning a terrorist attack on a convention in France; Belgian prosecutors later determined that he’d smuggled explosives through the Vienna airport, in a diplomatic pouch. “The Austrians are not considered to have a particularly good service,” a retired senior C.I.A. officer told me. The general view within Western European intelligence agencies is that what is shared with Vienna soon makes its way to Moscow—a concern that was amplified when Vladimir Putin danced with Austria’s foreign minister at her wedding, in 2018.
But in March of 2015, the Mossad invited the B.V.T. leadership to participate in an operation that sounded meaningful: an Israeli intelligence asset was in need of Austrian assistance. Three months had passed since Halabi’s French asylum interview, and he was simultaneously hiding and overexposed, searching for a way out of the country.
The deputy director of the B.V.T. travelled to Tel Aviv. According to a top-secret B.V.T. memo, the Israelis said that, owing to Halabi’s “cultural origins,” he was poised to “assume an important role in the Syrian state structure after the fall of the Assad regime.” Halabi wouldn’t be working for the B.V.T., but the Israelis promised to share relevant information with the agency from time to time. All the Austrians had to do was bring Halabi to Vienna and help him set up his life.
Bernhard Pircher, the head of the B.V.T.’s intelligence unit, created a file with a code name for Halabi: White Milk. He assigned the case to two officers, Oliver Lang and Martin Filipovits. Soon afterward, they received orders to go to Paris, meet with French counterintelligence, and return to Vienna the next day, with Halabi. There were no obvious challenges. The Mossad had cleared the exfiltration with French intelligence, according to a B.V.T. document, and Israeli operatives were in “constant contact” with Halabi in Paris.
Lang and Filipovits set off at dawn on May 11th, and boarded a flight to Charles de Gaulle—Row 6, aisle seats C and D, billed to the Mossad. When they landed, they went by Métro to the headquarters of France’s domestic-intelligence agency, the D.G.S.I. There, according to Lang’s official account of the meeting, they sat down with the deputy head of counterintelligence, a Syria specialist, and an interpreter. Also present were three representatives of the Mossad, including the Paris station chief and Halabi’s local handler.
The Austrian and Israeli officers asked permission to fly Halabi out of France on a commercial plane, a request that they assumed was a formality. But the D.G.S.I. refused. Halabi had applied for asylum, a French officer said, and domestic law stipulates that asylum seekers cannot travel beyond French borders until a decision has been made. The Austrians and the Israelis proposed that Halabi retract his French asylum request, but the D.G.S.I. replied that, in that case, Halabi would be in France illegally. After the meeting, according to Lang’s notes, the Israelis told Lang that the French had changed their position since learning that “the B.V.T. is also involved.”
Lang suggested that the Israelis smuggle Halabi out of France in a diplomatic vehicle, through Switzerland or Germany. The B.V.T. would wait at the Austrian border and escort them to Vienna. “The proposal was well received,” he wrote. But the Mossad team would first have to check with headquarters, in Tel Aviv, “as this approach could have a lasting impact on relations” between Israeli and French intelligence agencies.
In the early twenty-tens, the Mossad had made something of a habit of operating in Paris without French permission. The agency, which is not subject to Israel’s legal framework, and answers only to the Prime Minister, had reportedly lured French intelligence officers into inappropriate relationships; attempted to sell compromised communications equipment, through a front company, to the French national police and the domestic intelligence service; and used a Paris hotel room as a staging ground for a kill operation in Dubai. Members of the kill team entered and exited the United Arab Emirates on false passports that used the identities of real French citizens—an incident that a judicial-police chief in Paris later described to Le Monde as “an unacceptable attack on our sovereignty.”
On June 2nd, Lang, Filipovits, and Pircher met with officers from the Mossad. “It was agreed that the ‘package’ would be delivered” in eleven days, Lang wrote. The Israelis may have quietly worked out an agreement with French intelligence, to avoid friction, but the Austrians never learned of any such arrangement; as far as they were concerned, the D.G.S.I. would remain in the dark.
Unlike France, Israel did not overtly seek to topple Assad’s regime. Its operations in Syria were centered on matters in which it perceived a direct threat: Iranian personnel, weapons transfers, and support for Hezbollah. Since 2013, Israeli warplanes have carried out hundreds of bombings on Iran-linked targets in Syria. The Syrian government rarely objects; to acknowledge the strikes would be to admit that it is powerless to prevent them. It is unlikely that Halabi, from his hiding places in Europe, was in any way useful to Israeli intelligence.
Two days before Halabi’s extraction, Lang’s security clearance was upgraded to Top Secret. Outside of the B.V.T. leadership, only he and Filipovits knew about the operation. Lang still believed that Halabi had access to information that was of “immense importance” to the Austrian state. “Miracles happen,” Lang wrote to Pircher.
“Today is just like the 24th of December,” Pircher replied.
“Well then . . . MERRY CHRISTMAS.”
On June 13th, Lang waited at the Walserberg crossing, at the border with Germany, for the Israelis to arrive. It is unclear whether the German government was aware that the Mossad was moving a Syrian general out of France and through its territory in a diplomatic car. Lang booked hotel rooms in Salzburg for himself, the Israelis, and the man he would start referring to as White Milk in his reports. Once again, the Mossad took care of the bill.
“To betray, you must first belong,” Kim Philby, a British spy who defected to the Soviet Union, said, in 1967. “I never belonged.”
In the past two years, I have discussed Halabi’s case with spies, politicians, activists, defectors, victims, lawyers, and criminal investigators in six countries, and have reviewed thousands of pages of classified and confidential documents in Arabic, French, English, and German. The process has been beset with false leads, misinformation, recycled rumors, and unanswerable questions—a central one of which is the exact timing and nature of Halabi’s recruitment by Israeli intelligence. Nobody had a clear explanation, or could say what he contributed to Israeli interests. But, slowly, a picture began to emerge.
A leaked B.V.T. memo describes Israel, in its exfiltration of Halabi from Paris, as being “committed to its agents who have already completed their tasks.” This resolved the matter of whether he had been recruited in Europe. “No one really wants defectors,” the retired senior C.I.A. officer, who has decades of experience in the Middle East, told me. “What you really want is an agent in place.” In moving Halabi to Vienna, the Israelis were fulfilling a debt to a longtime source. So how did the relationship begin?
Halabi graduated from the Syrian military academy in Homs in 1984, when he was twenty-one. Sixteen years later, he earned a law degree in Damascus—a qualification that resulted in his being seconded to the General Intelligence Directorate. “I did not choose to work in the security service—it was a military order,” he told the French asylum representative. “I was a brilliant military officer. I was angry to have been transferred to the intelligence service.” He served the directorate in Damascus for four years; in 2005, he became a regional director—first in Suweida, then in Homs, in Tartous, and in Raqqa.
In asylum interviews, Halabi glossed over the precise nature of his first job at the directorate in Damascus, and his interrogators were focussed on what he had done in his final post. But, in a top-secret meeting, the Israelis blundered. According to the B.V.T.’s meeting notes, a Mossad officer said that Halabi couldn’t have been involved in war crimes, because he was the “head of ‘Branch 300,’ in Raqqa,” which was “exclusively responsible” for thwarting the activities of foreign intelligence services.
The B.V.T. didn’t register the mistake: there is no Branch 300 in Raqqa—Halabi’s branch was 335. And yet the Mossad operative had accurately described the counterintelligence duties of the real Branch 300, which is in Damascus.
I began searching for references to Branch 300 and counterintelligence in various Halabi dossiers and leaks. A defector had told the cija that Halabi might have served at Branch 300 but didn’t specify when. By now, there were hundreds of pages of government documents scattered on my floor. One day, I revisited a scan of Halabi’s handwritten asylum claim from France, from the summer of 2014. There it was, in a description of his work history, his first job at the directorate: “I served in Damascus (counterintelligence service).”
By Halabi’s own account of his life, he would have been a classic target: approaching middle age, feeling as if his military prowess had gone unappreciated; aggrieved at the notion that, no matter how well he served, in a state run by sectarian Alawite élites he would never attain recognition or power. Even after his promotion to regional director, “as a member of the Druze minority, I was marginalized,” Halabi told the French asylum interviewer. He seems to think of himself as Druze first and Syrian second. The Druze are not especially committed to the politics of any country; they simply make pragmatic arrangements in order to survive.
Syria’s counterintelligence branch is incredibly difficult to penetrate from the outside. But the rest of the Syrian defense apparatus is not. In the decades before the revolution, “everyone was spying for somebody—if not the Israelis, then us and the Jordanians,” a former member of the U.S. intelligence community told me. “The entire Syrian military—they were just a criminal enterprise, a mafia. They had no loyalty besides, perhaps, the really, really small inner circle. It was hard to work, because they were also spying on each other. But there were not a lot of secrets.”
Halabi appears to have stayed in Syria for most, if not all, of his career. For this reason, among others, it is more likely that his recruitment was the work of Israeli military intelligence than that of the Mossad. A secretive military-intelligence element known as Unit 504 recruits and handles sources in neighboring areas of conflict and tensions, including Syria, and it routinely targets promising young military officers. If Unit 504 got to Halabi when he was a soldier, his appointment to Branch 300 would have been an extraordinary intelligence coup.
Halabi may not have known for some time that he was working for Israel; its spies routinely pose as foreigners from other countries, especially during operations in the Middle East. Or perhaps he was given a narrow assignment regarding a shared interest. Halabi was disgusted by Iran’s growing influence over Syria, and has described Assad as an “Iranian puppet” who is “not fit to govern a country.”
The extent of Halabi’s service for Israel is unknown. But I have found no evidence of Israeli involvement in his escape from Raqqa to Turkey, or in his efforts to persuade the French Embassy in Jordan to send him to France—where his contact with the Druze financier was exposed. Something similar caught Walid Joumblatt’s attention—his men have detected an unusual flow of cash and communications into the Syrian Druze community via Paris. “This money was not coming from here,” he told me, from his elegant stone palace, in Mt. Lebanon. It was coming from Israel. “We think this Halabi is working with our other nasty neighbors, the Israelis.”
With Halabi abandoned in Paris, it fell to the Mossad to help an Israeli asset. (Unit 504 is not known to operate in Europe.) According to a B.V.T. memo, the Mossad created a “phased plan” for Halabi—exfiltration to Austria, plus an initial stipend of several thousand euros a month. The long-term goal was for Halabi to become “financially self-sustainable.” But he wasn’t, as the memo put it, “out in the cold.”
Oliver Lang was also a counterintelligence officer, and his specialty at the B.V.T. was Arab affairs. But he had never learned Arabic, so Pircher, his boss, brought in another officer, Ralph Pöchhacker, who had claimed linguistic proficiency. When Lang introduced him to Halabi, however, the two men couldn’t communicate. “Oh, well, you can forget about Ralph,” Lang informed Pircher. “Ralph more or less doesn’t understand his dialect.”
Pircher is short, with long blond hair, and a frenetic social energy. (Behind his back, people call him Rumpelstiltskin.) Before he became the head of the B.V.T.’s intelligence unit, through his political party, in 2010, he had little understanding of policing or intelligence.
Two days after Halabi crossed into Austria, Lang paid an interpreter to accompany him and Halabi to an interview at an asylum center in Traiskirchen, thirty minutes south of Vienna. In the preceding weeks, Filipovits had examined legal options for Halabi’s residency, and determined that asylum came with a key advantage: any government officials involved in the process would be “subject to a comprehensive duty of confidentiality.”
In Traiskirchen, Lang made sure that Halabi was “isolated, and not seen by other asylum seekers,” Natascha Thallmayer, the asylum officer who conducted the interview, later said. “I was not given a reason for this.” Lang never introduced himself; although his presence is omitted from the record, he sat in on the interview. “Why and according to which legal basis the B.V.T. official took part, I can no longer say,” Thallmayer said. “He just stayed there.”
Halabi lied to Thallmayer about his entry into Austria. A friend in Paris “bought me a train ticket,” he said, and put him on a train to Vienna—by which route, exactly, he didn’t know. The story was clearly absurd; the B.V.T. had arranged the interview with the asylum office long before Halabi’s supposedly spontaneous arrival by train. Nevertheless, Thallmayer asked no follow-up questions. “The special interest of the B.V.T. was obvious,” she said.
At the beginning of Operation White Milk, Pircher had noted in his records that Halabi “must leave France” but faced “no danger.” Now Lang fabricated a mortal risk. “The situation in France is such that there are repeated, sometimes violent clashes between regime supporters and opponents, some of which result in serious injuries and deaths,” he wrote. He added that, owing to Halabi’s “knowledge of top Syrian state secrets, it must be assumed that, if Al-Halabi is captured by the various Syrian intelligence services, he will be liquidated.” The B.V.T. submitted Lang’s memos to the asylum agency, whose director, Wolfgang Taucher, ordered that Halabi’s file be placed “under lock and key.”
The B.V.T. had no safe houses or operational black budgets, so it rented Halabi an apartment from Pircher’s father-in-law. For the next six months, Lang carried out menial tasks on behalf of the Mossad. “Dear Bernhard! Please remember to call your father-in-law about the apartment!” he wrote to Pircher. “Dear Bernhard! Please be so kind as to remember the letter regarding the registration block!”
“God you are annoying,” Pircher replied.
“Dear Bernhard!” Lang wrote, in early July. He didn’t like the fact that, for all these petty tasks, he had to use his real name. “It would certainly not be bad to be equipped with a cover name,” he wrote. “What do you think?” By the end of the month, Lang was introducing himself around the city—at ikea, the bank, the post office, Bob & Ben’s Electronic Installation Services—as Alexander Lamberg.
The Israelis gave Lang about five thousand euros a month for Halabi’s accounts, passed through the Mossad’s Vienna station. Lang kept meticulous records, sometimes even noting the names of Israeli officers he met. Halabi found Pircher’s father-in-law’s apartment too small, so, after a few months, Lang started searching for another place. “Dear Bernhard!” Lang wrote, in July, 2015. “If we are successful, the monthly rent we agreed on with our friends will of course increase slightly. However, my opinion is that they will just have to live with it.”
On October 7th, Halabi provided Lang with intelligence that a possible isis fighter had applied for asylum in Austria. Lang filed a report, citing “a reliable source,” and sent it to Pircher, who passed it along to the terrorism unit. An officer there was underwhelmed by the tip. “Perhaps the source handler could talk to us,” he replied. The same information was all over Facebook and the news.
The next week, Lang and Filipovits went to a meeting in Tel Aviv. When they returned, Lang accompanied Halabi to a second asylum interview. Since Halabi had already applied for asylum in France, the officer asked his permission to contact the French government. “I am afraid for my life, and therefore I do not agree,” Halabi said, according to a copy of the transcript.
“There are also many Syrians in Austria,” the interviewer noted. “Are you not afraid here?”
“The number of Syrians in Austria does not come close to that of France, so it is easy for me to stay away from them here,” Halabi said. “And, above all, from Arabs. I stay away from all of these people.”
In fact, in both countries, Halabi was in touch with a group of Syrians who were trying to set up civil-society projects in rebel-held territory. But they suspected that he was gathering intelligence on their members. “All the other defectors and officers knew not to ask a lot of questions, to avoid suspicion among ourselves,” a member of the group told me. “But Halabi was the opposite. He was always asking questions. ‘How many people are attending the meeting?’ ‘Where is the meeting?’ ‘Can I have everyone’s names?’ ‘Everyone’s phone numbers?’ ” They cut him out of the flow of information. The member continued, “One possibility is that he simply could not leave his intelligence mentality behind. The other—which we began to suspect more and more, over time—is that he still had connections to the regime.”
In Vienna, Halabi hosted regime-affiliated members of the Syrian diaspora in his flat. According to someone who attended one of these events, several Syrians in his orbit flaunted their connections to foreign intelligence services, and the life style that came with them. The source, a well-connected Syrian exile, independently deduced Halabi’s relationship to the Israelis, and said that he believed it dated back to the previous decade and was likely narrow in scope—reporting on Iranian weapons shipments, for example, or on matters related to Hezbollah.
The moment Halabi left Syria, in 2013, he became “the weakest, the least relevant in the context of the war,” the man said. “Most people who are linked to foreign agencies participated—and in some cases continue to participate—in far worse crimes.” He added, “They have total access to Russia and the West, with all the money they need, all the diplomatic protections.” In the search for intelligence, not every useful person is a good one—and most of the good ones aren’t useful.
On December 2, 2015, Austria granted Halabi asylum. Within days, he was issued a five-year passport. Lang helped Halabi apply for benefits from the Austrian state. The B.V.T. had supported his application, noting that it had “no information” that he had ever “been involved in war crimes or other criminal acts in Syria.”
Seven weeks later, the Austrian Justice Ministry alerted the B.V.T. that the cija had identified a high-ranking Syrian war criminal in Austria. The Justice officials had never heard of Halabi, and were unaware that a member of their intelligence service was, at the behest of a foreign agency, tending to his every need. In Austria, war crimes fall under the investigative purview of the B.V.T.’s extremism unit. But no one in that unit was aware of Operation White Milk, and the B.V.T. sent Lang and Pircher to the January 29th meeting with the cija officials instead.
The Justice Ministry kept detailed meeting minutes. At one point, Stephen Rapp, the chair of the cija board of directors and former international prosecutor, noted that the cija’s witnesses included several of Halabi’s subordinates from the intelligence branch, testifying against their former boss.
Lang wrote down only one sentence during the meeting: “Deputy of Al-Halabi is in Sweden and is a witness against Al-Halabi.” It was as if the only thing he had absorbed was the urgency of the threat. Lang and Pircher told the Justice Ministry that they would look into whether Halabi was in the country. In secret, however, they set out to gather intelligence on the cija’s staff and its witnesses, and to discredit the organization, under the heading “Operation Red Bull.”
Days before the meeting with the cija, a miscommunication between the B.V.T. and the Justice Ministry had led Pircher and Lang to believe that Rapp and Engels, the cija’s head of operations, were part of an official U.S. delegation. When they finally understood that the cija is an N.G.O., they were startled by its investigative competence, and surmised that the group’s ability to track Halabi to Vienna signalled ties to an intelligence agency. Most of the cija’s staffers are from Europe and the Middle East. But, since the men across the table were American, Pircher and Lang inferred that the cija’s case against Halabi reflected a rupture in relations between the Mossad and the C.I.A. Rapp was especially suspect, they thought, since he had previously served in government.
Lang started researching Rapp, and e-mailed his findings to Pircher and Pircher’s boss, Martin Weiss, the head of operations.
Lang had unearthed the same basic biographical information that he and Pircher would have known if they had been listening during the meeting—or if they had read the meeting minutes, which the Justice Ministry had already shared with them.
Subject: Information on Operation Red Bull
Dear Bernhard!
Pircher had sent Lang an article from a Vienna newspaper, which Lang now summarized for him: a thirty-one-year-old Syrian refugee named Mohamad Abdullah had been arrested in Sweden, on suspicion of participating in war crimes somewhere in Syria, sometime in the previous several years. “Swedish authorities got on Abdullah’s trail through entries and photos on the Internet. Sounds suspiciously like the cija’s modus operandi to me,” Lang wrote. “Assuming that there are not umpteen war-crimes trials in Sweden, Abdullah must be the alleged deputy.” (Abdullah has no apparent connection to Halabi.)
On February 15, 2016, representatives of the B.V.T. and the Mossad met to discuss the cija and its findings; according to a top-secret memo drafted by Weiss, the Mossad team noted that the cija is a “private organization without a governmental or international mandate”—nothing to worry about, in other words, since it couldn’t prosecute anyone. Courts in Europe and the U.S. have opened cases that rely on the cija’s evidence. But that didn’t mean Austria had to do the same.
In mid-April, Pircher instructed Lang to find the address of the cija’s headquarters. For security reasons, the organization tries to keep its location private; documents in its possession indicate that the Syrian regime is trying to hunt down its investigators. Lang concluded that the cija shared an office with The Hague Institute for Global Justice, in the Netherlands, where Rapp had a non-resident fellowship.
A few days later, Pircher and another B.V.T. officer, Monika Gaschl, set off for The Hague. Their official purpose was to attend a firearms conference. But Pircher sent Gaschl to check out The Hague Institute. “Working persons are openly visible in front of their screens,” Gaschl reported. “At lunchtime, food was brought into the building. Obviously, food was ordered.” Gaschl took at least eight photographs—wide-angle images, showing the street, the sidewalk, the entrance, and the building façade—and submitted them to Pircher, who had sent her an e-mail requesting “tourist photos from the Hague.”
But Lang had supplied the wrong address, so Gaschl spied on a random office of people waiting for lunch. The cija has no affiliation with The Hague Institute. It isn’t even based in the Netherlands.
Austria’s Justice Ministry agreed that the cija’s dossier amounted to “sufficient” ground for an investigation—as long as the B.V.T. confirmed that Khaled al-Halabi, the Vienna resident, was the man in the file. (After three weeks with no update, the judge who had attended the cija meeting called Lang, who informed her that the results of his investigation showed that Halabi “was, to all appearances, actually staying in Vienna.”) But, after the cija sent more evidence and documents, “we heard nothing,” Engels said. During the next five years, the cija followed up with the Austrians at least fifteen times. A Vienna prosecutor named Edgar Luschin had formally opened an investigation, but he showed little interest in it. At first, according to the cija, Luschin dismissed the evidence as insufficient. He later clarified that the quality of war-crimes evidence was immaterial; he simply could not proceed.
Austria has been a member of the International Criminal Court for more than twenty years. But it wasn’t until 2015 that the Austrian parliament updated the list of crimes covered by its universal-jurisdiction statute—an assertion that the duty to prosecute certain heinous crimes transcends all borders—in a way that would definitively apply to Halabi. For this reason, Luschin decided, Austria had no authority to try Halabi for war crimes or for crimes against humanity; whatever happened under his command had taken place before 2015.
“Why this is the Austrian position, I could only speculate,” Wiley, the cija founder, told me. Other European countries have overcome similar legal hurdles. “It could be that the Ministry of Justice, as part of the broader Austrian tradition, just couldn’t be arsed to do a war-crimes case,” he added.
In fact, Luschin’s position guaranteed that there would be no meaningful investigation—and he promised as much to the B.V.T. In December, 2016, Lang’s partner, Martin Filipovits, asked Luschin about the status of his case. But when Filipovits used the words “war criminal” in reference to Halabi, Luschin stopped him. The term “is not applicable from a legal point of view,” Luschin said. He added that he might interview Halabi, but only to ask whether he had ever personally tortured someone—not as an international war crime but as a matter of domestic law, in the manner of a violent assault. Otherwise, Luschin said, “no investigative steps are necessary in Austria, and no concrete investigative order will be issued to the B.V.T.”
A year passed. Then the French asylum agency sent a rejection letter to Halabi’s old Paris address. “The fact that he didn’t desert until two years after the beginning of the Syrian conflict, and only when it had become evident that his men were incapable of resisting the rebel advance on Raqqa, casts doubt on his supposed motivation for desertion,” the letter read. It added that the asylum agency had “serious reasons” to believe that, owing to Halabi’s “elevated responsibilities” within the regime, he was “directly implicated in repression and human rights violations.” In April, 2018, the agency sent Halabi’s file to French prosecutors, who also requested documents from the cija. After it became clear that Halabi was no longer in French territory, prosecutors issued a request to all European police agencies for assistance tracking him down. The alert triggered an internal crisis at the B.V.T.; it was the first time that the extremism unit, which handles war-crimes investigations, had heard Halabi’s name.
In late July, Lang was forced to brief Sybille Geissler, the head of the extremism unit, on everything that had happened in the preceding years. She informed Luschin that Halabi was still living in the Vienna apartment that Lang had rented for him. She also handed him the cija’s dossier, which had just been supplied to her office by the French. Luschin acted as if he were seeing it for the first time.
That week, there was a flurry of correspondence between the B.V.T. and the Mossad. Lang was desperate to get Halabi out of the apartment. On August 1st, the Mossad liaison officer called Lang to say goodbye; according to Lang’s notes, the officer left Austria the following day. Two months later, the B.V.T. formally ended Operation White Milk. During the B.V.T.’s final case discussion with the Israelis, the Mossad requested that Halabi remain in Austria.
Seven weeks later, on November 27th, B.V.T. officers accompanied Austrian police to Halabi’s apartment and unlocked it with a spare key. Clothes were strewn about, and there was rotting food in the refrigerator. “The current whereabouts of al-Halabi could not be determined,” a B.V.T. officer noted, according to the police report. “The investigations are continuing.”
Oliver Lang still works at the B.V.T. His boss, Bernhard Pircher, was dismissed, after a different scandal. Pircher’s boss, Martin Weiss, was recently arrested, reportedly for selling classified information to the Russian state.
Three years ago, when Lang briefed Geissler on Operation White Milk, she asked him what Austria had gained from it. “Lang responded by saying that we might obtain information on internal structures of the Syrian intelligence service,” she later said. “I considered this pointless.”
Nazi hunters never gave up the pursuit for Alois Brunner. But, by 2014, when Brunner would have been a hundred and two, there had been no confirmed sighting in more than a decade. A German intelligence official informed a group of investigators that Brunner was almost certainly dead. “We were never able to confirm it forensically,” one of them told the Times. Nevertheless, he added, “I took his name off the list.”
Thief steals wheel from chained up bicycle and rides away on it like a unicycle.
Cartoon by Liana Finck
Three years later, two French journalists, Hedi Aouidj and Mathieu Palain, tracked down Brunner’s Syrian guards in Jordan. Apparently, when Hafez al-Assad was close to death, his preparations for Bashar’s succession included hiding the old Nazi in a pest-ridden basement. Brunner was “very tired, very sick,” one of the guards recalled. “He suffered and he cried a lot. Everyone heard him.” The guard added that Brunner couldn’t even wash himself. “Even animals—you couldn’t put them in a place like that,” he said. Soon after Bashar took over, the door closed, and Brunner never saw it open again. “He died a million times.”
Brunner’s guards had been drawn from Syrian counterintelligence—Branch 300—and the dungeon where he died, in 2001, was beneath its headquarters. Halabi may well have been in the building during Brunner’s final weeks. Now Austria deflected attention from Halabi’s case, much as Syria had done with Brunner’s. A year after Halabi hastily moved out of his B.V.T. apartment, Rapp met with Christian Pilnacek, Austria’s second-highest Justice Ministry official. According to Rapp’s notes, Pilnacek said that, if the cija really wanted Halabi arrested, perhaps it ought to tell the ministry where he was. Last fall, Rapp returned to Vienna for an appointment with the justice minister—but she didn’t show up.
Of Halabi’s recent phone numbers, two had Austrian country codes, and a third was Hungarian. Until last fall, his WhatsApp profile picture showed him posing in sunglasses on the Széchenyi bridge, in Budapest. There have been unconfirmed sightings of him in Switzerland, and speculation that he escaped Vienna on a ferry down the Danube, to Bratislava, Slovakia. But the most reliable tips, from Syrians who know him, still place him in Austria.
One of these Syrians is Mustafa al-Sheikh, a defected brigadier general and the self-appointed head of the Free Syrian Army’s Supreme Military Revolutionary Council—an outfit he founded, to the confusion of existing F.S.A. factions. In a recent phone call from Sweden, he described Halabi as his “best friend.” “General Halabi is one of the best people in the Syrian revolution,” Sheikh insisted. He said that Halabi’s links to war crimes and foreign intelligence agencies were lies, conjured by Syrian intelligence and laundered through “deep state” networks in Europe, as part of a plot to undermine Halabi as a potential replacement for Assad. “I am positive that it is the French and the Austrians who are trying to cut Halabi’s wings, because people like him undermine their agendas in Syria,” he said.
But Halabi has reported on Sheikh’s activities to the Mossad. On January 4, 2017, a Mossad operative informed Oliver Lang that Halabi would be travelling abroad, because a friend of his had been invited by a foreign ministry to discuss a political settlement for Syria. “The friend wants Milk to participate in the negotiations,” Lang noted, in a top-secret memo, adding that the Mossad would debrief Halabi on his return.
Lang figured that the negotiations were “presumably in Jordan.” Instead, five days later, Halabi flew to Moscow, where he joined Mustafa al-Sheikh in a meeting with Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Mikhail Bogdanov. In the previous months, the Russians had helped the Syrian Army, and associated Shia militias, forcibly displace tens of thousands of civilians from rebel-held areas of Aleppo. Now the Russian government framed its discussions with Sheikh and Halabi as a “meeting with a group of Syrian opposition members,” with an “emphasis on the need to end the bloodshed.” Sheikh appeared on Russian state television and said that he hoped Russia would do to the rest of Syria what it had done in Aleppo—a statement that drew accusations of treason from his former rebel partners. Halabi remained in the shadows. I have heard rumors that he made three more trips to Moscow, but have found no evidence of this. His Austrian passport expired last December and has not been renewed.
In late August, I flew to Vienna and journeyed on to Bratislava. Every day for the next four days, I crossed the Slovak border into Austria by train shortly after dawn. I could see an array of satellite dishes on the hill at Königswarte—an old Cold War listening station, for spying on the East, now updated and operated by the N.S.A. In the past century, Vienna has become known as a city of spies. It is situated on the fringe of East and West, by Cold War standards, and Austria has been committed to neutrality, in the manner of the Swiss, since the nineteen-fifties. These conditions have attracted many international organizations, and, in recent decades, Vienna has been the site of high-profile spy swaps, peace negotiations, and unsolved assassinations. Now, as my colleague Adam Entous reported, it is the epicenter of Havana Syndrome—invisible attacks, of uncertain origin, directed at U.S. Embassy officials.
Austria’s legal framework effectively allows foreign intelligence agencies to act as they see fit, as long as they don’t target the host nation. But Austria has little capacity to enforce even this. According to Siegfried Beer, an Austrian historian of espionage, “Whenever we discover a mole within our own services, it’s not because we’re any good at counterintelligence—it’s because we get a hint from another country.
“The biggest problem with the B.V.T. is the quality of the people,” he went on. With few exceptions, “it is staffed with incompetents, who got there through police departments or political parties.” Most officers have no linguistic training or international experience.
In 2018, after a series of scandals, the Ministry of the Interior decided to dissolve the B.V.T., which it oversees, and replace it with a new organization, to be called the Directorate of State Security and Intelligence. Officers are currently reapplying for their own positions within the new structure, which will be launched at the beginning of next year. But, as Beer sees it, the effort is futile: “Where are you going to get six hundred people who, all of a sudden, can do intelligence work?”
Press officers at the Interior Ministry insinuated that it could be illegal for them to comment on this story. Pircher declined to comment; lawyers for Weiss and Lang did not engage. The Justice Ministry’s Economic Crimes and Corruption Office, which is investigating the circumstances under which Halabi was granted asylum, said that it “doesn’t have any files against Khaled al-Halabi”—but I have several thousand leaked pages from its investigation.
A week before my arrival in Austria, I sent a detailed request to the Mossad; it went unanswered. So did three requests to the Israeli Embassy in Vienna, and one to Unit 504. On a sunny morning, I walked to the Embassy, on a quiet, tree-lined street. “We did not answer you, because we do not want to answer you!” an Israeli official bellowed through a speaker at the gate. “Publish whatever you want! We will not read it.”
From there, I walked to Halabi’s last known address. As I approached, I noticed that, on Google Maps, the name of the building was denoted in Arabic script, al-beit—“home.” For several minutes, I sat on a bench near the entrance listening, through an open window, to an Arabic-speaking woman who was cooking in Halabi’s old flat, 1-A. Then I checked the doorbell: “Lamberg”—Oliver Lang’s cover name.
A teen-age boy answered the door, but he was far too young to be Halabi’s son, Kotaiba. I asked if Halabi was there. “He left long ago,” the boy said. I asked how he knew the name; he replied that Austrian journalists had come to the flat before.
The next day, I visited Halabi’s lawyer, Timo Gerersdorfer, at his office, in Vienna’s Tenth District. He said that the government had revoked Halabi’s asylum status, since it had been obtained through deception, and that he has appealed the decision, arguing that the revelation of Halabi’s work for Israeli intelligence poses such a threat to his life that Austria must protect him forever. “No one could get asylum in Austria if they told the truth,” he said. According to Gerersdorfer, Halabi is broke; it seems that the Mossad has stopped paying his expenses. A few months ago, Halabi tried to stay in a shelter with other refugees, but the shelter looked into his background and turned him away.
I discovered a new address for Halabi, in the Twelfth District, an area that is home to many immigrants from Turkey and the Balkans. Later that afternoon, I walked the streets near his block, as people returned home from work. The neighborhood was full of men who looked like him—late middle age, overweight, five and a half feet tall. I must have checked a thousand faces. But none of them were his.
Luschin’s office says that its investigation into Halabi is “still pending.” But, according to someone who is familiar with Luschin’s thinking, the general view at the Justice Ministry is that “it’s Syria, and it’s a war. Everybody tortures.” Other European governments have expressed openness to normalizing diplomatic relations with Assad, and have taken steps to deport refugees back to Syria and the surrounding countries.
If Halabi is the highest-ranking Syrian war criminal who can be arrested, it is only because the greater monsters are protected. The obstacle to prosecuting Assad and his deputies is political will at the U.N. Security Council. Halabi’s former boss in Damascus, Ali Mamlouk, reportedly travelled to Italy on a private jet in 2018. Mamlouk is one of the war’s worst offenders—it was his order, which Halabi passed along, to shoot at gatherings of more than four people in Raqqa. But Mamlouk—who has been sanctioned since 2011, and was prohibited from travelling to the European Union—had a meeting with Italy’s intelligence director, so he came and went.
After twenty hours of searching for Halabi, I walked to his apartment complex and buzzed his door. A young Austrian woman answered; she had never heard of Halabi, and had no interest in who he was. I showed Halabi’s photograph at every shop and restaurant in a three-block radius of the address. “We know a lot of people in this neighborhood,” a Balkan man with a gray goatee told me. He squinted at the image a second time, and shook his head. “I have never seen this man.”
On my way out of the Twelfth District, I walked past the western side of the apartment building, where balconies overlook a garden. Directly above the Austrian woman’s apartment, a man who looked like Khaled al-Halabi sat on his balcony, shielded from the late-morning sun. But I was unable to confirm that it was him. A knock on the door went unanswered; according to a neighbor, the flat is empty. A lie uttered by Syria’s foreign minister, thirty years ago, kept playing in my head: “This Brunner is a ghost.” ♦
*Published in the print edition of the September 20, 2021, issue, with the headline “A Spy in Flight.”
*Ben Taub, a staff writer, is the recipient of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing. His 2018 reporting on Iraq won a National Magazine Award and a George Polk