April 22/17

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For Today
As the Father has sent me, so I send you, If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint John 20/19-25/:"When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained. ’But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

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

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on April 21-22/17
Mattis From Israel: Diplomatic measures necessary against Assad regime/Ynetnews/Reuters/April 21/17
Iran’s presidential candidates: Khamenei’s pawns/Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arabnews/April 21/17
The Erdoğan Enigma/Daniel Pipes/Australian/April 22, 2017
Coexistence Is the Last Chance to Avoid the Precipice/Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Al-Awsat/April 21/17/
Iran’s Presidential Charade: Another Slap Coming/Amir Taheri/Asharq Al-Awsat/April 21/17/
What Can Trump Learn from Truman/David Ignatius/Asharq Al-Awsat/April 21/17
Europe: Making Itself into the New Afghanistan/Giulio Meotti/Gatestone Institute/April 21/17
The Trump Administration Might Put the ‘Extreme’ in ‘Extreme Vetting’/Joby Warrick/Asharq Al-Awsat/April 21/17/
Sermon At Dar Al-Hijra Islamic Center In Falls Church, VA: 'There Is A Difference Between Bani Israel... And Current Jewish Community'; We Are Dealing With Manipulation'; Muslims Must Understand That 'The Children Of Israel' Killed Prophets – They 'Take Pride' In Their 'Zealotry... Their History Is Like That'/MEMRI/April 21/17

Titles For Latest Lebanese Related News published on April 21-22/17
A Tribute Of Pride & Dignity to The Armenian People
Our Thoughts with the Paris Terror Victims
Lebanese PM asks UN to help seek permanent truce with Israel
Israeli General Downplays Hizbullah Border Tour
U.N. Coordinator Lauds Hariri's Southern Tour, Says 'Reflects Continued Partnership'
UNIFIL: Contacts underway with LAF over reports on presence of armed individuals during Hezbollah's Blue Line media tour
UNIFIL Head Lauds Hariri for Reaffirming Lebanon Commitment to 1701
Hariri Affirms Commitment to Resolution 1701, Says Army 'Legitimate' Force to Defend Border
Sami Gemayel: Hizbullah's Border Tour Tarnished State's Image
Report: Hizbullah's Border Tour 'Three-Dimensional' Challenge
Geagea Likens Attacks on Khan Sheikhun, Shiite Evacuees to Armenian Genocide, Says LF 'Daughter of Bashir, March 14'
Report: Salameh's Term is Likely to be Renewed
Aridi from Bkirki: PSP to Declare Law Format on Saturday
President Aoun, Chinese investors discuss development projects
Aoun issues stern warning against 1960 law, extension
Lebanon: Electoral Law Debate Deepens as Aoun Rejects Parliament Extension
Lebanon’s electoral suicide
Hasbani obtains WB approval to provide USD 150 million for healthcare system
Hariri receives delegation of UK Conservative Party
Hariri receives Kassar with Chinese economic delegation
Hariri honors Chief Executive Organization
What Is Hezbollah Planning For The Third Lebanon Ware

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on April 21-22/17
IDF attacks Syria in response to mortar hits in Golan
Mattis From Israel: Diplomatic measures necessary against Assad regime
Canada condemns attack on Champs-Élysées in Paris, France
Canada announces new sanctions against Syrian leadership with links to chemical weapons
Gunman Attacks Regional Russian Security Service Office as Metro Bombing Death Toll Rises
Qatari Hunting Party Kidnapped in Iraq since 2015 Released
Evacuations of Besieged Syria Towns Continue after 48-Hour Halt
Champs Elysees Shooter was Focus of Anti-Terror Probe
Prestigious Muslim Body Condemns Paris Attack
Pentagon Chief Warns Syria against Using Chemical Weapons
Syria Evacuees on Move Again after 48-Hour Delay
U.N., Russia Set for Syria Meet without U.S.
Assad Blames ex-Qaida Affiliate for Bombing Evacuees
Iraq Forces Free 11-Year-Old Yazidi Girl in Mosul
Iran Election Campaign Kicks off Without Ahmadinejad
Kuwaiti Opposition Leader Freed from Prison
Israel Reopens Taba Crossing to Egypt

Latest Lebanese Related News published on April 21-22/17
A Tribute Of Pride & Dignity to The Armenian People
Elias Bejjani/April 21/17
Genuinely, with pride, and loudly we pay tribute to the Armenian People and to its courageous and blessed martyrs. A tribute to the Armenian people who are steadfast and stubborn in defending its religious faith, existence, history and civilization. Every year on April 24th the Armenian people renew their holy vows to be who they are no matter what and to hold on to their existence, holy cause and faith.

Our Thoughts with the Paris Terror Victims
Elias Bejjani/April 20/17
We strongly stand with the French terror innocent victims and with all other victims of terrorism in any part of the world as we always will, we loudly stand against terror and terrorists. Our thoughts are with victims affected directly or indirectly by today's savage and terror attack in Paris.

Lebanese PM asks UN to help seek permanent truce with Israel
ReutersYnetnews/April 21/17/After Lebanon-based terrorist group Hezbollah tours Israeli-Lebanese border, Lebanese PM Saad al-Hariri beseeches UN for permanent ceasefire between his country and Israel; a powerful force in Lebanon, Hezbollah tour likely pushed Hariri to seek out calm front with Israel. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri asked the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) on Friday to help Lebanon and Israel move towards a permanent ceasefire and end what he called Israel's "continuous violations" of Lebanese territory. Hariri's request comes after Lebanese-based terrorist group Hezbollah toured the Lebanese-Israeli border the previous day, in a show of force the likely prompted him to seek out a quiet front with Israel. Israel and Lebanon's Shi'ite Hezbollah group fought a month-long war in 2006 that concluded with a cessation of hostilities but without a formal peace deal.
Hezbollah tour of the border  ."I urge the UN secretary general to support efforts to secure, as soon as possible, a state of permanent ceasefire. This is long overdue and my government is committed to move this agenda forward," Hariri said.Hariri was speaking on a visit to south Lebanon a day after Hezbollah officials staged a media tour near the same area to view what they said were recent Israeli fortifications on the border and to state their preparedness in case of any new war. The tour drew a response from IDF Spokesperson Unit representative, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, who said in a Facebook post that Hezbollah's media tour was to "shake their sabres and pound their chests".Under UN resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, the Lebanese Army is responsible for security on its side of the border in a zone from which any other armed force, including Hezbollah, is banned. The United Nations also maintains a peacekeeping force on the border. Resolution 1701 also required Israel to withdraw from Lebanese territory. Lebanon says that Israel has not fulfilled this because it continues to occupy a disputed area known in Lebanon as the Shebaa Farms.

Israeli General Downplays Hizbullah Border Tour
Associated Press/Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 21/17/The head of the Israeli army's strategic division has said that Hizbullah's border show of force on Thursday was "more blunt" than usual, but that the group's "violations" of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 were “nothing new.”Brigadier General Ram Yavne said Hizbullah's border tour for journalists was primarily a message of "mutual deterrence" with Israel and that while Israel takes the threat seriously, Thursday's show of force would not change the overall "calculus.""I don't think this organization is in a very comfortable situation these days," he said. "Its leadership absolutely understands the cost of an escalation," Yavne added. Hizbullah spokesman Mohamed Afif told reporters that "this tour is to show the defensive measures that the enemy is taking."The tour sought to paint Israel as afraid of a new conflict, while depicting Hizbullah as ready for war despite having committed thousands of its fighters to bolstering Syria's President Bashar al-Assad. Journalists were taken from the southern Lebanese town of Naqoura, with Hizbullah fighters in full military regalia stationed along the route alongside the group's yellow flag -- despite an official ban on any armed paramilitary presence in southern Lebanon. Faces smeared with black and green camouflage, they stood silently holding guns and RPG launchers. "We do not fear war, we don't hesitate to confront it. We yearn for it and we will confront it if it is imposed on us, and God willing we will win," a Hizbullah military commander dressed in digital camouflage and sunglasses told the reporters, recalling a famous statement for Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. Despite the bellicose tone, Afif insisted that Hizbullah believes "the chances of war are remote." "These defensive measures show that Israel is the one who is afraid of the resistance and it is not the resistance that is afraid," he said.

U.N. Coordinator Lauds Hariri's Southern Tour, Says 'Reflects Continued Partnership'
Naharnet/April 21/17/U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Sigrid Kaag on Friday welcomed a visit to the South by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, saying it “reflects the continued partnership” between Lebanon and the U.N.
The Special Coordinator "welcomes today’s visit of Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Minister of Defense Yaacoub Sarraf and Army Commander Gen. Joseph Aoun to South Lebanon, including the Blue Line,” Kaag's office said in a statement. “The visit reflects the continued partnership between the Government of Lebanon and the United Nations in support of the country's stability and security. The Special Coordinator lauds the Government’s continued commitment to strengthen the capacity of the Lebanese Armed Forces,” the statement added. Kaag also welcomed Hariri's reaffirmation of the government's commitment to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, noting that the U.N. “stands ready to continue to provide its good offices to help effect progress on outstanding obligations under the resolution and towards a permanent ceasefire.”Hariri's visit to the South came a day after Hizbullah took a group of over 100 local and international journalists on a rare tour of the border with Israel. Members of Hizbullah's armed wing stood guard on part of the tour, displaying weapons despite a prohibition stipulated by UNSCR 1701 on any armed paramilitary presence so close to the demarcation line. Hariri said Friday that "what happened yesterday is something that we, as a government, are not concerned with and do not accept."There has been rising speculation about a new conflict between Hizbullah and Israel, who fought a 34-day war in 2006 that ended after the approval of Resolution 1701.That conflict killed 1,200 people in Lebanon, mainly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers. Israel withdrew its forces from southern Lebanon in 2000, ending a 22-year occupation, but the two countries remain technically at war and there have been occasional skirmishes on the border. During his visit to the South, Hariri urged U.N. chief Antonio Guterres to "support efforts to secure, as soon as possible, a state of permanent ceasefire."

UNIFIL: Contacts underway with LAF over reports on presence of armed individuals during Hezbollah's Blue Line media tour
Fri 21 Apr 2017/NNA - The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon said, in a statement on Friday, that contacts were underway with the Lebanese army following news reports claiming the presence of armed individuals during the media tour organized by Hezbollah along the Blue Line yesterday. "Shortly before the media delegation reached the area yesterday morning, the Lebanese army notified the UNIFIL of a media tour along the Blue Line, without mentioning any other detail," the UNIFIL said. "As to reports speaking of the presence of armed individuals among the delegation, the UNIFIL reminds that this would be a breach of resolution 1701; and as per the resolution, the Lebanese authorities bear the main responsibility to verify the presence of unauthorized armed individuals in the area between the Blue Line and Litani River," the statement read. "Following those reporters, the UNIFIL is holding contacts with the Lebanese Armed Forces to determine the circumstances of what happened," it concluded.

UNIFIL Head Lauds Hariri for Reaffirming Lebanon Commitment to 1701
Naharnet/April 21/17/UNIFIL Head of Mission and Force Commander Major General Michael Beary on Friday commended Prime Minister Saad Hariri for reaffirming Lebanon’s commitment to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 and a permanent ceasefire. Beary was speaking during a meeting at UNIFIL's headquarters with Hariri and a high-level Lebanese delegation comprising Defense Minister Yaaqoub Sarraf, Army Commander General Joseph Aoun and a number of senior army officers and government officials. Hariri paid his first visit to UNIFIL's headquarters as part of his tour of the UNIFIL area of operations in southern Lebanon. The visit comes a day after Hizbullah took a group of over 100 local and international journalists on a rare tour of the border with Israel. Members of Hizbullah's armed wing stood guard on part of the tour, displaying weapons despite a prohibition stipulated by UNSCR 1701 on any armed paramilitary presence so close to the demarcation line. Hariri said Friday that "what happened yesterday is something that we, as a government, are not concerned with and do not accept." In his briefing to the Lebanese delegation, Beary expressed his deep appreciation for the “excellent cooperation accorded by the Government of Lebanon and LAF (Lebanese Armed Forces) in the fulfillment of UNIFIL’s mandate in accordance with the U.N. Security Council resolution 1701,” a UNIFIL statement said. The UNIFIL head also said that the cooperation between UNIFIL and the Lebanese army has been crucial for preserving stability along the UN-demarcated Blue Line for more than 10 years. “UNIFIL has been here for too many years,” said the UNIFIL head. “We really need to get to a point where we are discussing permanent ceasefire and make sure that that term enters into the lexicon here and we move on to a real settlement,'' he added. There has been rising speculation about a new conflict between Hizbullah and Israel, who fought a 34-day war in 2006 that ended after the approval of Resolution 1701. That conflict killed 1,200 people in Lebanon, mainly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers. Israel withdrew its forces from southern Lebanon in 2000, ending a 22-year occupation, but the two countries remain technically at war and there have been occasional skirmishes on the border. During his visit to the South, Hariri urged U.N. chief Antonio Guterres to "support efforts to secure, as soon as possible, a state of permanent ceasefire."

Hariri Affirms Commitment to Resolution 1701, Says Army 'Legitimate' Force to Defend Border
Associated Press/Naharnet/April 21/17/Prime Minister Saad Hariri during a visit to south of Lebanon on Friday affirmed commitment to UN resolution 1701 and stressed that the Lebanese army is the sole legitimate force entitled to defend the country's border. “We thank our troops and tell them that they are, and only they, are the legitimate force in charge of defending our border,” Hariri told reporters.“I reaffirm my government’s commitment to the UN Security Council Resolution 1701. We need to put an end to Israeli violations,” added the PM.Hariri kicked off his tour by visiting the headquarters of UNIFIL forces in Naqoura. He arrived in a military helicopter, accompanied by Defense Minister Yaacoub Sarraf and army commander General Joseph Aoun. They were greeted by the UNIFIL head of mission and force commander Michael Beary and high-ranking officers of the force, and held a meeting that focused on the situation in the South and the role of UNIFIL with the Lebanese army and all security forces in reinforcing security and stability in the region. The PM's visit comes one day after Hizbullah party organized a media tour of south Lebanon to offer insights into the defensive measures taken in the past year by Israeli forces along the southern frontier in preparation for any future conflict.Asked about Hizbullah's move, Hariri said: “It is definitely unacceptable. That is why i am here today to affirm commitment to 1701.”Hizbullah's tour was criticized by many political parties some dubbing it as an “insult to the State's image” and others as a “strategic mistake.”The tour was the first since an inconclusive monthlong war with Israel in 2006. It came amid heightened tensions along the border between the old adversaries, with each side promising to inflict massive casualties on the other in any upcoming conflict.

Gemayel: Hizbullah's Border Tour Tarnished State's Image
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 21/17/Kataeb party leader Sami Gemayel said a tour organized for reporters by Hizbullah along Lebanon's southern border to brief them about the defense measures set up by Israel in recent months “has insulted and tarnished the image of the State," media reports said. “The tour organized by Hizbullah's military command along a border area under resolution 1701--which stipulates that the region should be free of any military force other than UNIFIL and the Lebanese army-- is considered an insult to the Lebanese State's standing and a new threat to Lebanon's relationship with the international community,” said Gemayel. “Where is the government of all that is happening in Lebanon? What are the authority's concerns?" asked Gemayel. He went on accusing the government and said: "It is not concerned with the sovereign affairs or extending the authority of the state and law on its territory." Hizbullah sought Thursday to show that Israel is building up defenses in anticipation of another conflict, after a string of statements from Israeli officials warning of a potential confrontation. The party, which fought a devastating war with the Jewish state in 2006, brought dozens of journalists on a rare and highly-choreographed trip to the demarcation line between Lebanon and Israel. A military commander identified as Haj Ihab, dressed in digital camouflage and sunglasses, said the Israeli army was erecting earth berms up to 10 meters (30 feet) high, as well as reinforcing a military position near the Israeli border town of Hanita. There has been rising speculation about the possibility of a new war between Israel and Hizbullah, more than a decade after their last direct confrontation. The 34-day conflict in 2006 led to the deaths of 1,200 people in Lebanon, mainly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

Report: Hizbullah's Border Tour 'Three-Dimensional' Challenge
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 21/17/A tour organized by Hizbullah for reporters along Lebanon's southern border to brief them about the defense measures that Israel has set up in recent months, was highly criticized by several parties with some describing it as a challenge, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Friday. “Christian sources said the move is a “three-dimensional” challenge to the Lebanese State, The United States of America -which is gearing up to impose new sanctions against Hizbullah- and defies Israel in light of reports about a possible military confrontation with the party, knowing that such indicators do not exist,” said the daily quoting unnamed sources.Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea on Thursday slammed the tour as a “strategic mistake.”Hizbullah sought Thursday to show that Israel is building up defenses in anticipation of another conflict, after a string of statements from Israeli officials warning of a potential confrontation. The party, which fought a devastating war with the Jewish state in 2006, brought dozens of journalists on a rare and highly-choreographed trip to the demarcation line between Lebanon and Israel. A military commander identified as Haj Ihab, dressed in digital camouflage and sunglasses, said the Israeli army was erecting earth berms up to 10 meters (30 feet) high, as well as reinforcing a military position near the Israeli border town of Hanita. There has been rising speculation about the possibility of a new war between Israel and Hizbullah, more than a decade after their last direct confrontation.
The 34-day conflict in 2006 led to the deaths of 1,200 people in Lebanon, mainly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

Geagea Likens Attacks on Khan Sheikhun, Shiite Evacuees to Armenian Genocide, Says LF 'Daughter of Bashir, March 14'
Naharnet/April 21/17/Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea on Friday described the suspected chemical attack in Syria's Idlib and the deadly bombing that hit Shiite Syrian evacuees as a continuation of the massacres that started with the April 1915 genocide of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire.
“Since April 24, 1915... massacres have continued across the globe, the last of which was the Khan Sheikhun massacre, seeing as the international leniency in fulfilling justice regarding the Armenian massacres has encouraged tyrants and oppressors to carry on with their crimes until the moment without fearing punishment,” said Geagea at a Maarab rally marking the 102nd anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. “The winds of evil that lashed Armenians a century ago have returned in a new round and in new forms to hit other places and peoples. The targeting of civilians with chemical weapons that happened days ago in Khan Sheikhun -- and previously in Aleppo, Eastern Ghouta and other places – and the terrorist bombing against innocents, women and children from the residents of the towns of Fuaa and Kfarya are only different manifestations of the Armenian massacres,” Geagea added. Turning to the domestic situation, Geagea said “the LF's strength does not come from the number of its ministers or MPs despite their importance, but rather from its legitimacy, credibility and the firmness of the foundations it was built on.”“It has the ability to speak to the national conscience without any complex, because it is the daughter of Bashir (Gemayel) and March 14,” the LF leader added.

Report: Salameh's Term is Likely to be Renewed
Naharnet/April 21/17/The majority of Lebanon's political parties have agreed on the renewal of the term of Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh, and the debate is focusing on whether the renewal will be for three or six years, al-Akhbar daily reported on Friday. Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Speaker Nabih Berri, MP Walid Jumblat, Hizbullah and the majority of the political forces said they support an extension of Salameh's term, unnamed sources told the daily. The parties have reported their position to President Michel Aoun, who has not announced his full approval as yet. However, banking and government sources have confirmed that Foreign Minister and Free Patriotic Movement leader Jebran Bassil has informed Salameh of the FPM's approval that he remains in his post. The debate focuses now on a mandate extension for either three or six years. Hariri is pressing for a quick decision and not to wait until the end of Salameh's mandate in July. Arrangements are under way to place the extension on the agenda of the next government meeting, said the daily. The government usually discusses whether to renew the term of the Central Bank Governor. Salameh' term ends in July 2017. On August 1, 1993 he was appointed Governor of the Central Bank of Lebanon for a six-year term and was reappointed for two further terms in 1999 and 2005.

Aridi from Bkirki: PSP to Declare Law Format on Saturday

Naharnet/April 21/17/Progressive Socialist Party MP Ghazi al-Aridi announced that the party will declare on Saturday a new electoral law format that “ensures partnership,” the National News Agency reported Friday. Aridi, dispatched by PSP leader Walid Jumblat, spoke from Bkirki after meeting with Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi, he said: “The PSP will declare a new format on Saturday.”“I have briefed the Patriarch that tomorrow we will announce a voting system format which we believe ensures partnership, preserves proper representation, justice and equality among the Lebanese,” he said. “We want to invest every moment between now and the fifteenth of May to complete open discussions with all partners without exception. It is no secret if I say that we have held during the past days open sessions, away from the media spotlight, with all the key partners to confirm this outlook,” added Aridi. He went on stressing: “We want to get to an understanding on a new electoral law. Other ideas may be put forward by other political forces as well. We are open to them and we will be partners in discussing them.”

President Aoun, Chinese investors discuss development projects
The Daily Star/April 21, 2017/BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun and President of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade Jiang Zengwei Friday discussed development and economic projects in Lebanon with the aim of strengthening bilateral ties. Aoun met Zengwei, who headed a delegation of Chinese businessmen visiting Lebanon, for talks at Baabda Palace. Zengwei praised Aoun’s election, saying it encourages business and "gives Chinese and Lebanese businessmen an opportunity to work together and improve ties," according to a statement issued by the president’s media office. Economy Minister Raed Khoury and his 2004 predecessor, Adnan Kassar, were also present at the meeting. Lebanese officials have reached out to China and other states for aid and improved economic relations amidst the refugee crisis that the country is facing, saying that the country’s infrastructure has been stretched to the limit. Earlier this month, Fransabank Group and the Silk Road Chamber for International Commerce organized a conference at the Adnan Kassar Building for the Arab Economy in Beirut, where Prime Minister Saad Hariri called for Chinese and international investments. “We thank the international community for humanitarian assistance extended to the Syrian displaced and we certainly hope it will continue. But our infrastructure and public services are simply not designed for this massive influx of users,” Hariri said at the opening of the conference. “We invite Chinese investors and businessmen to Lebanon to benefit from Lebanon’s strategic location given China’s ongoing and anticipated role in the reconstruction of Syria and Iraq,” Kassar, who is also Chairman of Fransabank, had said during the conference.“Chinese companies will benefit from partnerships with Lebanese companies, and Lebanon has much to offer in terms of friendly regulations, free transfer of funds and movement, a talented multilingual population and a beautiful country that we are happy to claim as the safest in our region today.”

Aoun issues stern warning against 1960 law, extension
Hussein Dakroub/The Daily Star/April 21/17
BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun Thursday sent his strongest message yet against a new extension of Parliament’s term, or holding elections under the controversial 1960 majoritarian law by pledging to remove obstacles blocking an agreement on a new vote system. Aoun’s remarks were interpreted as targeting Speaker Nabih Berri, who last week scheduled a Parliament session to extend its term for one year and also MP Walid Jumblatt who had previously called for an amended version of the 1960 electoral law as a solution to the monthslong deadlock over a new voting system. In the meantime, the European Union urged rival Lebanese parties to quickly agree on a new electoral law in order to stage timely and peaceful elections. “Conducting timely, peaceful and transparent parliamentary elections is an important step to ensure the normal functioning of the Lebanese democratic institutions, in the interest and for the benefit of the Lebanese people,” the EU delegation and EU ambassadors in Lebanon said in a statement. “A democratically elected Parliament is an important element for the international community supporting Lebanon in its strive for stabilization and economic development,” it added. The EU also reaffirmed its “commitment to provide support for the preparation and the implementation of timely parliamentary elections in Lebanon.”Amid the lingering crisis over a new electoral law, Berri is expected to unveil an initiative next week based on proportionality, political sources said.
“Berri’s initiative will be an improved version of former Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government’s proportional vote proposal,” a political source told The Daily Star. However, the source said doubts persisted that Berri’s initiative would help resolve the crisis over a vote law. “We are still stuck in the stalemate over a new electoral law,” the source said. Mikati’s government had proposed in 2012 an electoral draft law based on proportional representation that would divide the country into 13 districts and referred the draft law to Parliament, but it was not passed. Aoun said it’s time for political rivals to agree on a new vote law to govern the upcoming parliamentary elections, reiterating his staunch opposition to the 1960 system and an extension of Parliament’s mandate, which has been extended in 2013 and 2014.
“No one should dream of extending Parliament’s term, or keeping the same [1960 electoral] law in place or a vacuum [in Parliament],” Aoun said in meetings with visitors at Baabda Palace. Noting that he had promised in his constitutional oath to work for a new electoral law, Aoun, according to a statement released by his media office, said: “We will be able to sort out all wrinkles that prevent an agreement on a new electoral law and we will reach this law.”“It’s time to draft a new electoral law nine years later,” he said. “We have succeeded in building our national unity and we will work to achieve comprehensive citizenship to everyone.”
Aoun, who discussed with Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk ongoing talks by the rival parties to reach an agreement on a new electoral law, criticized Parliament’s failure to forge a vote system. “If Parliament has been unable to draft a new electoral law for nine years, that is since 2008, what can it do? This is entirely unacceptable,” Aoun said, adding that Parliament’s current mandate has become similar to “a king’s mandate.” Aoun’s remarks came a week after he suspended Parliament’s meeting for one month to prevent a new extension of its term, thus averting a fresh political deadlock for now. Aoun’s move came in response to Berri’s decision to convene Parliament on April 13 to extend the body’s term for one year. Following the suspension of Parliament’s meeting, Berri decided to convene the next session on May 15 to give rival factions additional time to agree on a new electoral law. The suspension of Parliament’s meeting has also averted a much-feared confrontation between supporters of the three major Christian parties opposing extension of Parliament’s mandate and security forces. The Lebanese Forces, the Free Patriotic Movement and the Kataeb Party had called for mass protests last Thursday in central Beirut to prevent Parliament from voting on an extension of its mandate to June 2018. MP Hikmat Dib from the FPM warned Thursday of street protests by the Christian parties to prevent an extension of Parliament’s term. “If no agreement is reached on a new electoral law by May 15, we will resort to democratic means and take to the street to protest an extension of Parliament’s term,” Dib told Al-Jadeed TV. Aoun’s remarks drew a quick response from Jumblatt, whose parliamentary bloc has rejected all Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil’s hybrid vote law proposals. “Why is there a misinformation campaign by some authorities?” Jumblatt asked in a series of tweets, clearly referring to Aoun. “There will be no extension [of Parliament’s term] until agreement is reached on a new [vote] law. There is the 1960 law which exists in accordance with the Doha Accord and the Constitution,” the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party added.
Aoun’s suspension of Parliament’s meeting has placed political rivals under heavy pressure to intensify efforts and consultations aimed at ironing out differences over a new vote law. Prime Minister Saad Hariri met with several politicians at the Grand Serail, discussing with them ongoing attempts to reach an agreement on a new electoral law. He met with Education Minister Marwan Hamadeh and State Minister for Human Rights Ayman Choucair, both affiliated with Jumblatt’s bloc. He also met with former Army Rangers regiment chief Brig. Gen. Chamel Roukoz, Aoun’s son-in-law, with whom he discussed a new vote law. Voicing support for a proportional vote law, Roukoz said: “An electoral law is essential for the country’s stability.”Also at the Grand Serial, Bassil, the FPM leader, met with Nader Hariri, chief of Hariri’s staff, as part of their ongoing talks on a new electoral law. Neither spoke to reporters after the meeting. Hezbollah’s parliamentary Loyalty to the Resistance bloc warned of the “risks” posed by the failure to agree on a new electoral law. It also reiterated its support for a vote law based on full proportional representation. “The least negative repercussions of the failure to agree on a new electoral law before May 15 are heightening divisions among the Lebanese and putting the country in a complicated deadlock,” the bloc said in a statement after its weekly meeting. “This is in addition to dashing hopes pinned on the possibility of bringing about a national change for the better.”
“The bloc still believes that full-fledged proportionality is the best constitutional formula for the forthcoming [vote] law,” it added.

Lebanon: Electoral Law Debate Deepens as Aoun Rejects Parliament Extension
Youssef Diab/Asharq Al-Awsat/April 21/17/
Beirut – The ongoing dispute over a new parliamentary electoral law in Lebanon is creating a real crisis among the rival Lebanese political powers, who have demonstrated that they are incapable of reaching an agreement on a law that enjoys the support of the major blocs. The efforts to resolve this issue have lessened in recent days even as the scheduled May 15 parliamentary session draws near. The session will be held with the sole purpose of extending parliament’s term, which has been repeatedly rejected by President Michel Aoun. The president reiterated this stance by saying: “No one should dream of the extension or of adopting the old electoral law or that vacuum will take place.”“It is time that we are able to agree on a new electoral law,” he declared. “We succeeded in building national unity and we will work on achieving complete national partnership,” Aoun added. Lebanon last held parliamentary elections in 2009. Since then, parliament twice extended its term after the political powers’ failure to agree on a new electoral law. Education Minister Marwan Hamadeh questioned cabinet’s failure to convene during this period, asking in a statement: “Why doesn’t it meet in order to deal with the people’s concerns? It can convene while various bodies carry out contacts that can lead to an agreement on a new law.”Minister of the Displaced Moeen al-Merehbi remarked however that the electoral law dispute cannot be resolved in cabinet. He told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The government, which represents all political powers, cannot approve an electoral law in one or two sessions because starting the debate from zero could take up to two years.”“If bilateral, tripartite or quartet talks cannot reach a formula that is approved by all sides, then how can a government devise a new law, whose main articles are still being contested?” he asked.
“The divide is very deep.”
“Parliament’s term is coming to an end. If God forbid we don’t reach vacuum, then we will head from postponement to postponement and from extension to extension,” Merehbi remarked. The Mustaqbal Movement meanwhile appears to be insistent on distancing itself from internal disputes. Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq stated: “It is important during the dangerous transition period that the region is passing through for us to preserve ourselves on the security and political levels.” He said during a dialogue with the executive board of the Movement: “We hang on to the idea of the state and the continuity of its institutions. We should be open to all electoral laws without exception.”Kataeb politburo member MP Elie Marouni stated that “saving the constitutional institutions starts with approving an electoral law, because parliament is the mother of all authorities.”“Without parliament, which represents the will of the people, there can be no authorities. We should approve a law that serves the nation and people. It is time for us to unite to save Lebanon before it is too late,” he stressed.

Lebanon’s electoral suicide
Makram Rabah/MEE/April 21/2017
Efforts so far to secure a new electoral law have been fruitless - and worse, lead only to the death of Lebanon's paraplegic democracy
The Lebanese constitution, adopted in 1926 under the French Mandate, gives the president of the republic the power to adjourn parliament for a period not exceeding one month.
For more than 90 years, Article 59 of the constitution laid dormant. That was until last week when incumbent president Michael Aoun enacted it after key political factions failed abysmally to pass a new electoral law for the parliamentary elections scheduled for this summer.
Aoun’s constitutional bailout was a direct response to growing sectarian tensions brought about by the refusal of the Christian parties, among them Aoun’s own party the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and the Lebanese Forces (LF), to allow the current parliament to extend its term for a third time.
In principal, Aoun’s step was perceived by his supporters as a sagacious initiative which would pave the way for all sides to hammer out an acceptable deal.
However, a proper examination of the events so far and the obstacles separating them from 15 May, the end of the 30-day period, does not bode well for the Lebanese people, nor for their political leadership.
Parliamentary puzzle
Much of the debate over the election law involves all sides vying to pass a law which increases their current parliamentary seats - or at least maintains them.
Initially, the FPM and its ally Hezbollah staunchly supported the proportional electoral model, which supposedly provides a progressive and just reform of the archaic law. However, the FPM and their Christian counterpart, the LF, soon realised that the proportional law was indeed disenfranchising, as it would virtually give Muslim voters, with their numerical majority, a final say in electing Christian MPs.
Coincidently, Hezbollah’s intentions from the onset was to secure one-third of the seats in parliament. Although that would appear to be a distant possibility, if not entirely impossible, it would allow the group to veto and derail the democratic process legally, rather than to continue to do so by threat or use of force.
Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, who heads the largest parliamentary bloc, has objected to Hezbollah’s plan and suggested a hybrid law which incorporates both majoritarian (winner-takes-all) and proportional voting.
The entrenchment of all parties behind their respective laws blocked any chance of a halfway settlement, leaving them with two choices: extend the term of the current parliament, or go ahead with elections under the provisions of the much-loathed prevailing election law, commonly referred to as the 60’s law.
Suspending parliament has left Aoun with the burden of devising a way out of this predicament. The solution will require the proposal of a completely original law and one which will be unanimously accepted by all parties involved.
Consequently, Aoun delegated this somewhat herculean task to his son-in-law and successor as head of FPM, Gebran Bassil, Lebanon’s controversial minister of foreign affairs. Bassil’s efforts, however, yielded an even more contentious two-stage law, one which involves a first round of proportional sectarian vote, in which each sect elects its own candidate, followed by a second majoritarian round.
Bassil's law virtually amounts to adding oil to an already flaming sectarian fire, potentially risking civil unrest.
Taif: dead and buried?
More importantly, Bassil’s horrid suicidal electoral law reveals an intrinsic flaw in the ruling elite’s reactionary approach to lawmaking or lack thereof.
Many of the proposed electoral laws, chiefly Bassil’s, blatantly disregard the essential pillar of the state, the Lebanese constitution. The constitutional amendments, introduced as result of the Taif accord in 1989 which ended 15 years of civil war, clearly stipulate (in article 95) a pledge to abolish political confessionalism.
Therefore, 28 years after Taif, no self-respecting Lebanese lawmaker should present the Lebanese with outdated and seditious laws which can only widen the sectarian schism.
Additionally, much of the logic that surrounds the election negotiations reflects a dangerous undertone by the oligarchs which is that this election law, whatever its specifics, will be eternally static and, therefore, losing this election has existential implications for the losing side.
This perilous road can only lead to the death of Lebanon’s already paraplegic democratic system. Elections are a routine exercise which also involve a constant revision and reform of laws which are neither perfect, nor eternal.
The Lebanese, at least starting in 2005 when the Syrian army left Lebanon, were given numerous chances to change their ruling elite, something which they willingly chose not to do. However, the ruling elite, including Aoun, need be reminded that democracy is a not a spectator sport and that depriving the Lebanese of their right to vote will render them obsolete.
The Aoun establishment, represented by Bassil, should refrain from proposing more laws which send a message to their Muslim compatriots that the Taif agreement is dead and buried.
Whatever the end result of the next election, when and if it takes place, the Lebanese at large and the politicians specifically must grasp that an idle parliament is the devil's plaything.
If they do not find a way to resolve their disagreements through dialogue, the only viable option would be a suicidal plunge into the abyss of civil war, in which parliamentary seats are the least of their concerns.
- Makram Rabah is a lecturer at the American University of Beirut, Department of History. He is the author of A Campus at War: Student Politics at the American University of Beirut, 1967-1975.

Hasbani obtains WB approval to provide USD 150 million for healthcare system
Fri 21 Apr 2017/NNA - Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Public Health Ghassan Hasbani, on Friday continued his meetings at the World Bank's HQ in Washington, whereby he held talks with Vice President for Human Development at the World Bank, Keith Hansen. Hasbani's press office indicated in a statement that Hansen hailed Lebanon's capacities and the resilience of the healthcare sector, voicing WB readiness to assist Lebanon. Afterwards, Hasbani participated in a dialogue session, in presence of a panel of representatives of international organizations and donors; all approved a healthcare development project submitted by the Ministry of Public Health. Conferees agreed to earmark USD 150 million to develop the healthcare sector's infrastructure. The approval will be submitted to the WB board for endorsement. Moreover, Hasbani met in Washington with a number of officials at the U.S. administration and the State Secretary. He also met with a group of researchers and strategists, with whom he tackled latest developments in Lebanon and the broader Arab region, in addition to the challenges caused by the massive presence of displaced Syrians.

Hariri receives delegation of UK Conservative Party
Fri 21 Apr 2017/NNA - Prime Minister Saad Hariri welcomed, at the Grand Serail on Friday, a delegation of the British Conservative Middle East Council, chaired by MP Nick Herbert, and comprising lawmakers Richard Bacon, Antoinette Sandbach, and Leo Docherty.
During the meeting, conferees reportedly exchanged viewpoints on the situation in Lebanon and the broader Arab region, in addition to the bilateral ties between Lebanon and the UK.

Hariri receives Kassar with Chinese economic delegation
Fri 21 Apr 2017 /NNA - Prime Minister Saad Hariri received today at the Grand Serail the president of the Lebanese economic bodies and the chairman of Fransabank group, former minister Adnan Kassar, accompanied by a high-level Chinese economic delegation that comprised the President of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade Jiang Zengwei, and representatives of 20 major Chinese companies, including VANKE, the largest developer and real estate investor in the world, as well as Hytera Communications, China's leading mobile radio manufacturer and TCL, the largest Chinese TV manufacturing company. Kassar spoke during the meeting, thanking Prime Minister Saad Hariri for his keenness to receive the Chinese delegation, and attend and give a speech at the event organized by the Fransabank group earlier this month under the title "One Road: One Belt" at the headquarters of the Union of Arab Chambers. During the meeting, Kassar commended the depth of the relations between Lebanon and the People's Republic of China, which extend back to the 1950s. He said: "I had the honor with my brother Adel to sign Lebanon's first trade agreement with the People's Republic of China. We continue to play this role that serves the Lebanese-Chinese economic relations and first of all the Lebanese interest. We, as a Fransabank group, received several governmental and private delegations from China in 2017, including four high-level delegations during the month of April". He added: "We call upon the Lebanese state, especially the government, to take all measures that will encourage Chinese companies to invest in Lebanon, especially in the areas of productive energy, to expand cooperation in infrastructure and facilitate trade and investment in new energies and vital sectors such as agriculture and finance in a way that achieves common progress and development." Afterwards, Hariri received US Senator Michael Bennet, accompanied by US Ambassador to Lebanon

Hariri honors Chief Executive Organization
Fri 21 Apr 2017/NNA - Prime Minister Saad Hariri hosted, at the Grand Serail on Friday, a dinner banquet in honor of Chief Executive Organization (CEO), upon the election of Lebanese businessman Karl Boustany as a periodic president of the organization.
The event was attended by Ministers Ghattas Khoury, Inaya Ezzeddine, and Raed Khoury, as well as European Union Ambassador to Lebanon Christina Lassen.
"We, as Lebanese, always knew that our status among the states had never been related to the size of our country, but to our aspirations, heritage, and culture," Hariri said in his word.
"The number of Lebanese expatriates worldwide is twice their number in Lebanon; they are the backbone of our economy," he added.
"The World Bank estimates that funds flooding into Lebanon from the Lebanese expats amount to over USD 7 billion per year," he indicated.
"The banking sector, considered the biggest employer in Lebanon, has assets exceeding 360% of GDP in Lebanon," he continued.
"There are also 18 religious groups officially recognized in Lebanon, which makes it a model of coexistence, dialogue, and moderation in the region," he said.
"We have formed a national unity government in December 2016, in an attempt to activate the policy making process after a long stagnation. My government has committed to addressing the many challenges that are facing Lebanon, including:
1- The impact of the Syrian war, which led to the paralysis of trade and to the displacement of more than 1.5 million Syrian, in addition to 500.000 Palestinian refugees already present in Lebanon;
2- The continuous Israeli occupation of Shebaa farms in south Lebanon;
3- The deep keenness on national security and the full commitment to fighting terrorism;
4- The need to reform the political institutions;
5- The improvement of economy and public administration;
6- The formulation of a new election law;
7- The full implementation of Taef Agreement," he explained.
Hariri went on to say that the World Bank estimated the overall cost of the refugee crisis on the Lebanese GDP had reached USD 18 billion by the end of 2015.
He also said that the Lebanese Central Bank, for its part, estimated the expenditures related to the displaced Syrians reached USD 4.5 million annually.
"Our government has agreed over a national vision to address this issue, and we are submitting it to our Arab and international partners. It is based on a seven-year investment program, aimed to improve infrastructure and public services, and to create job opportunities, especially for the youth," he explained.
"Everybody will win from this program: the Lebanese, the displaced Syrians, and the international community," he concluded.

What Is Hezbollah Planning For The Third Lebanon Warجيريزولم بوست: ماذا يخطط حزب الله للحرب اللبنانية الثالثة مع إسرائيل
Jerusalem Post/April 21/17
As Syria continues to disintegrate, the chances increase that a new conflict with Hezbollah will erupt.
In Military Intelligence they call it “Fire-by-Six,” a reference to the dramatic transformation of Hezbollah’s rocket and missile arsenal in the 10 years that have passed since the Second Lebanon War.
The first change is in quantity. In 2006, Hezbollah had approximately 15,000 rockets, of which it fired about 4,300 rockets during the 34 days of fighting, an average of 130 a day. Today, the Iranian-backed group is believed to have around 130,000 rockets and missiles, and is expected to be able to fire approximately 1,000 a day in a future war.
The next five changes are in quality. Hezbollah’s missiles today have, for example, a longer range. In 2006, the group could strike Haifa and north. Today it can strike almost anywhere it wants within Israel. The missiles also have larger warheads, greater accuracy, and the ability to launch from deeper inside enemy territory, and not just from southern Lebanon as in 2006. In some cases, it can even fire the missiles from within fortified and underground silos.
One example is the M-600. Made in Syria, the M-600 is a clone of an Iranian missile called the Fateh-110, with a range of about of 300 km. and a 500-kg warhead. It is also equipped with a sophisticated navigation system, meaning that Hezbollah can strike any target it wants to.
Israel believes that Hezbollah has several hundred M-600s stored in underground silos and homes throughout central and southern Lebanon. The terrorist group is also believed to have a handful of Scud missiles, including the advanced Scud D it received from Syria which has a range of 700 km.
This puts the Knesset in Jerusalem, the nuclear reactor in Dimona, and the power plant in Ashkelon all within Hezbollah’s range.
Hezbollah has also improved its capabilities on the ground – it has around 5,000 guerrillas currently fighting in Syria, and while some 2,500 have been killed and another 6,000 or so have been wounded, the organization has gained real battlefield experience, meaning that it will be an even more difficult adversary in a future ground war.
The prevailing assessment in the IDF is that Hezbollah will fire its long-range missiles early on in the next war, the result of two motivating factors: first, the group will want to inflict great damage and devastation on Israel as quickly as possible. Second, it remembers the first night of the Second Lebanon War in 2006, when the IDF destroyed most of its long-range missile stockpiles in a preemptive air campaign. Next time, it will want to use the missiles before they can be destroyed by Israel.
This expected devastation is something Israel has never experienced, and the likely high number of casualties will shock the nation. While Israel has made impressive leaps in its development of missile defense systems in recent years with the deployment of Iron Dome and more recently David’s Sling, these systems will be busy protecting strategic installations such as military bases, airports and power plants, and will not be able to intercept every missile launched into an Israeli town or city.
That means if Israel wants to minimize the extent of the missile onslaught, it will need to be far more aggressive than it has ever been in the past.
One possibility would be targeting the Lebanese national infrastructure. This idea was raised in 2006, but was nixed when the government decided to distinguish between Hezbollah and the Lebanese government, based on an understanding then that Hezbollah was a small organization primarily focused on operations in southern Lebanon. In addition, the Bush administration was working hard to bolster Fouad Siniora, then Lebanon’s prime minister, and would not have been happy with massive Israeli bombardments throughout the country.
What this meant in practice is that while the IAF bombed a runway at the Beirut International Airport as well as a few bridges throughout southern Lebanon, it held back from striking power plants, water facilities and military bases. The runway and bridges were bombed to prevent Hezbollah from being able to move the two abducted IDF soldiers out of the country and from receiving new weapon shipments from Iran.
A lot has changed since 2006. Today, a growing number of officers in the IDF, including Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, as well as some members of the security cabinet, are openly pushing for a change to Israel’s approach in the event of war. This is based on the understanding that Hezbollah today is not like it was in 2006, when it could be written off as a smallscale guerrilla organization that happens to be located in Lebanon. Today, nothing happens in Lebanon without Hezbollah’s approval. Its members are in the cabinet, and the organization effectively controls the country.
Lebanon’s president, Michel Aoun, basically said as much in a recent interview he gave Egyptian media during his visit to Cairo two months ago. “Hezbollah is a significant part of the Lebanese people,” Aoun said.
“Hezbollah’s weapons do not contradict the national project... and are, rather, a principal element of Lebanon’s defense.”
That is why in a future war, Eisenkot and those ministers see no reason to distinguish between Lebanon and Hezbollah – they are one and the same, and as a result, so are the targets.
Questions remain, however, about the utility of such strikes. Those opposed to them argue that attacking the national infrastructure will turn Sunni forces in the region against Israel, which will need those forces to help stabilize Lebanon following a war. Those in favor of such strikes believe that they will deter Hezbollah from future attacks, and motivate other actors in the country to restrain the group.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah also remembers what happened in 2006, and how the war ruined the Lebanese tourism industry and economy. As it is, Hezbollah is under criticism in Lebanon for siding with Bashar Assad and fighting on his behalf in Syria. A new war, even more devastating than the last, would not be easily forgiven by the Lebanese people, who could take to the streets in an Arab Spring-like protest to try to get rid of Hezbollah once and for all.
Whatever is decided about Lebanon’s national infrastructure, Israel is unlikely to respond to Hezbollah aggression with a gradual escalation scale as it did in 2006 or in the various anti-Hamas operations it has fought in the Gaza Strip.
During those operations, the IDF traditionally started with a week or two of aerial operations, and only then – if that didn’t work – sent in the troops. Due to the extent of Hezbollah’s missile arsenal, Israel will need to hit the organization with everything it has from the beginning – on the ground, at sea, in the air and in online cyberwarfare as well.
Why is any of this relevant today? Because as Syria continues to disintegrate, the chances increase that a new conflict with Hezbollah will erupt.
Israel’s attack against an arms depot in Syria in March demonstrates just how fragile the situation is. Imagine for a moment that one of the Israeli fighter jets had been shot down by the missile Syria launched in retaliation to the Israeli air incursion. Or that the missile had struck an Israeli town. How would Israel have responded, and how would Syria and Hezbollah have responded in return? This is a slippery slope that has the IDF and the security cabinet on edge, with some officials openly speaking about a preemptive war under which Israel would strike first to significantly degrade Hezbollah’s capabilities before they could be used in a full-fledged conflict.
Now don’t get me wrong. As strong as Hezbollah might be, Israel is significantly stronger and whatever damage Hezbollah can inflict on Israel, Israel can inflict far worse on Hezbollah. It is also important to keep in mind that for all its rockets and missiles, Hezbollah can not conquer and hold on to - for an extended period of time - a single village along the northern border. It can inflict damage and cause casualties, but it is nowhere near becoming an existential threat for the State of Israel.
Either way, in a volatile region like the Middle East, Israel needs to be prepared. The Third Lebanon War is looming on the horizon.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on April 21-22/17
IDF attacks Syria in response to mortar hits in Golan
Ynetnews/April 21/17Following three mortar shells landing in Israeli territory, apparently a spillover from internal Syrian fighting, the army strikes back. The IDF announced on Friday evening that it had attacked the sources of three mortars fired into the northern Golan Heights earlier that day. Friday afternoon, a mortar shell exploded in an open area in the northern Golan Heights. No alarm sounded at that time.Later, an alarm sounded shortly after 6pm in the area, and a short time later, two mortar shell hits were identified in Israeli territory. The IDF reported that there were no casualties and no damage was caused by any of the mortars.In a statement, the army said, “The IDF will not tolerate any attempt to harm the sovereignty of the State of Israel or the security of its residents and will see the Syrian regime responsible for what happens within its territory.” It was also reported that the mortars were apparently a spillover from the internal fighting in Syria.

Mattis From Israel: Diplomatic measures necessary against Assad regime

Ynetnews/Reuters/April 21/17
The US secretary of defense acknowledges that Syrian Army has been moving its planes in recent days; Mattis further stresses that Syria's continuing to hold chemical weapons is 'a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions.'
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Friday that Syria had dispersed its warplanes in recent days and that it retained chemical weapons, an issue he said would have to be taken up diplomatically.
During a press conference alongside Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Mattis was asked whether the Syrian Army had moved warplanes to a Russian base in Latakia, likely as a way to protect themselves against another US attack. "They have dispersed their aircraft, no doubt. They have dispersed their aircraft in recent days," Mattis said.
Mattis also reiterated that the United States believed Syria had retained some chemical weapons.
"The bottom line is, I can say authoritatively they have retained some (chemical weapons). It's a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions, and it's going to have to be taken up diplomatically," Mattis said.
The United States launched dozens of missiles earlier this month against a Syrian air base in response to a chemical attack that killed 90 people, including 30 children. It says the Syrian government launched the attack from the Shayrat air base. The Pentagon has said that the strike had damaged or destroyed about 20 percent of the Syrian military's operational aircraft.
While human rights organizations such as the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical weapons have said that sarin or a similar banned toxin was used in the April 4 strike in Syria's Idlib province, the Syrian government has denied it has any chemical weapons or that it was responsible for the attack.
"We think it was fabricated. To us, there was no chemical attack and no chemical depot. It was a fabricated play to justify the attack on the Shayrat air base, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told Sputnik and RIA on Thursday.
The IDF said on Wednesday it believed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces still possessed several tonnes of chemical weapons. In a 2013 agreement brokered by Russia and the United States, Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons.
In addition to Lieberman, Mattis met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin. Before the start of his talk with Netanyahu, Netanyahu said he was optimistic about relations between the two countries under the new US administration.
Later on Friday, air raid sirens sounded in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights when two mortars fired from the Syrian side of the frontier struck an open area, causing no damage or injuries, Israel's military said.
In response, the IDF said it "targeted the launch sites" by attacking in Syria. “The IDF will not tolerate any attempt to harm the sovereignty of the State of Israel or the security of its residents and will see the Syrian regime responsible for what happens within its territory.”

Canada condemns attack on Champs-Élysées in Paris, France
April 20, 2017 - Ottawa, Ontario - Global Affairs Canada
The Honourable Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs, today released the following statement regarding the attack on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, France:
“The Government of Canada condemns the apparent terrorist attack this evening on the Champs-Élysées, and we offer our deepest condolences to the loved ones of the police officer killed and a swift recovery to the two police officers injured.
“Canadians stand in solidarity with the people of France.
“We are in contact with local authorities and stand ready to provide consular assistance to Canadian citizens if needed.”

Canada announces new sanctions against Syrian leadership with links to chemical weapons
April 21, 2017 - Ottawa, Canada - Global Affairs Canada
Canada is deeply committed to supporting the Syrian people and working with the international community to find solutions to end the war in Syria. Following last Thursday’s sanctions, the Honourable Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs, today announced that Canada’s Special Economic Measures (Syria) Regulations have been further amended to list additional individuals and entities subject to an asset freeze and dealings prohibition.
The sanctions announced today affect 17 high-ranking individuals in the Assad regime and five entities linked to the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
Adding these names to the sanctions list is part of additional international pressure on this regime to immediately stop the repeated and heinous attacks against its own people.
Canada has taken a number of important steps to push for greater accountability for Syrians, including by being a leading contributor to the international investigation into the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
Canada will continue its efforts to support the Syrian people and to help resolve the crisis in Syria.
“Canada is working with its allies to put an end to the war in Syria and to hold those responsible to account. Today’s announcement of additional sanctions against key officials in the Syrian regime sends a strong, unified message to the Assad regime that their war crimes will not be tolerated and that they will be held accountable for their actions.”
Hon. Chrystia Freeland, P.C., M.P., Minister of Foreign Affairs
Quick facts
Canada reviews its sanctions on an ongoing basis and takes action as appropriate.
Canada has called for greater accountability and protection for civilians in Syria, including through Canada’s UN General Assembly resolution in December 2016, which garnered the support of 122 countries. Canada actively contributes to accountability efforts, including through its leading financial support for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons–United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism, which investigates the use of chemical weapons.
Canada also supports and funds the collection of evidence of war crimes in Syria through the Commission for International Justice and Accountability.
Canada is contributing more than $1.6 billion over the course of three years toward security, stabilization, and humanitarian and development assistance in response to the crises in Iraq and Syria and their impact on neighbouring countries.
Associated links
Canada adds Syrian officials to sanctions list
Canadian sanctions related to Syria
Canadian economic sanctions
Canada concerned by conclusive findings of use of chemical weapons in Syria
Canada contributes €2.5 million to support OPCW work in Syria
Third Report of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism
UN General Assembly calls for action on Syria in Canada-led resolution

Gunman Attacks Regional Russian Security Service Office as Metro Bombing Death Toll Rises
Asharq Al-Awsat/April 21/17/Russia’s Federal Security Service said on Friday that a gunman killed two people in an attack on one of its regional offices in the far east of the country. The gunman burst into the office in the Khabarovsk region, which is close to China and opened fire, killing one of its employees and a visitor, FSB said. Another visitor was injured in the attack, the successor organization to the Soviet KGB said, adding the attacker had been killed. The gunman identified as A.V. Konev was a local resident, born in 1999, who belonged to an unnamed nationalist group, the TASS news agency reported, citing an FSB official. Russia was this month shaken by the deadly suicide bombing of the St. Petersburg metro, which killed 16 people. A woman wounded in the bombing died in hospital Thursday, a local official said, taking the death toll from the attack to 15. Another 23 people are still in hospital, four of them in serious condition, she said. Authorities say the attack was carried out by 22-year-old suicide bomber Akbarjon Djalilov, a Russian national born in Kyrgyzstan. Ten men from Central Asia have been detained in connection with the bombing, including Kyrgyz-born Abror Azimov, whom officials say was one of the organizers. Both he and his elder brother Akram — whom the FSB says was allegedly in contact with global terror groups — are in custody. There has been no claim of responsibility but investigators are looking into possible links to ISIS jihadists, who have threatened to strike Russia in revenge for its intervention in Syria.

Qatari Hunting Party Kidnapped in Iraq since 2015 Released

Asharq Al-Awsat/April 21/17/A Qatari hunting party that had been kidnapped in Iraq for 16 months has been freed, announced the interior minister’s adviser Wahab al-Taee. He told AFP that all 26 members of the party have been freed and handed over to a Qatari delegation in Baghdad on Friday.
“The interior ministry has received the Qatari hunters, all 26 of them,” Taee, said. “They will be handed over to the Qatari envoy.”He said the hunters were currently in Baghdad undergoing identity checks by Iraqi officials and would be handed over to a Qatari delegation that has been waiting for them in the capital since last week. The group of hunters was kidnapped on December 16, 2015 during a hunting trip in southern Iraq. It is likely that the “Hezbollah Brigades”, which is close to Lebanon’s “Hezbollah”, was behind the abduction. The Gulf Cooperation Council had condemned the kidnapping, saying that it “harms fraternal ties between Arabs.” Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari had declared days after the kidnapping that his government had nothing to do with it, stressing that Baghdad was exerting all efforts to free the hostages.

Evacuations of Besieged Syria Towns Continue after 48-Hour Halt
Asharq Al-Awsat/April 21/17/The evacuation of Syrian civilians and fighters from four besieged towns, part of a Qatari-mediated swap deal between the warring sides, resumed on Friday after a two-day halt, regime media and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Five buses carrying rebels and their relatives from towns in Zabadani and surrounding areas near the capital Damascus left a transit point outside Aleppo city where they had been waiting to cross into rebel territory in Idlib province in the northwest, regime media said. Meanwhile, ten of the 45 buses carrying people from the rebel-encircled Shi’ite towns of al-Fua and Kefraya arrived in Aleppo city, which is under the control of Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Thousands of evacuees from the two Shi’ite towns have been stranded for two days at a second nearby staging area outside Aleppo, where scores of people were killed on Saturday in a bomb attack on an evacuation convoy. Dozens of armed rebels were on Friday guarding the buses at Rashidin for fear of another attack. The Britain-based Observatory said the 48-hour suspension was due to rebel demands for the regime to free 750 prisoners as part of the agreement. The war monitor said it remained unclear if authorities had released the prisoners. Under the deal, thousands of rebels and civilians have been moved out of Zabadani and Madaya, which have long been under siege by pro-regime forces, mainly Lebanon’s “Hezbollah.” They departed for Idlib, bringing the two towns near Damascus under regime control. In exchange, thousands of civilians and pro-regime militants were moved out of al-Fua and Kefraya, besieged by rebel groups in Idlib. Asharq Al-Awsat has learned that Qatar accepted the mediation in order to secure the release of its abducted nationals in Iraq. The Qataris were kidnapped on December 16, 2015 from a desert hunting party in the province of Muthanna in Iraq.

Champs Elysees Shooter was Focus of Anti-Terror Probe
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 21/17/The man who shot dead a policeman on Paris's Champs Elysees Thursday was the focus of an anti-terror probe with a history of attempting to kill officers, sources close to the investigation said. Raids took place at the 39-year-old's Paris suburb home during the night after he killed the policeman and wounded two others in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group. He was shot dead in return fire while trying to escape, police sources told AFP. The suspect was arrested in February on suspicion of plotting to kill officers but was released because of lack of evidence. He had been convicted in 2005 of three counts of attempted murder, with two of these against police officers, sources said. The charges dated back to 2001, when he was armed and behind the wheel of a stolen car, which hit another vehicle. He fled on foot before the driver of the other car and the passenger -- a trainee police officer -- caught up with him. He fired twice, seriously wounding both men in the chest. He was arrested and placed in custody under a false name. Two days later he seriously injured an officer who was taking him out of his cell, seizing his weapon and firing several times. Officials have refused to name the Champs Elysees shooter and are trying to establish if he had accomplices for the attack, which sent people running for their lives on the world-famous street.

Prestigious Muslim Body Condemns Paris Attack
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 21/17/The prestigious Egyptian Muslim institution Al-Azhar condemned on Friday a deadly Islamic State group attack in Paris, describing it as "sinful" and un-Islamic. A known extremist shot dead a French policeman and wounded two others on the world-famous Champs Elysees avenue on Thursday night, in an attack claimed by IS. The gunman was shot dead as he tried to flee. "Al-Azhar strongly condemns this sinful terrorist attack," the Cairo-based Sunni institution said in a statement. "Al-Azhar affirms its categorical rejection of such terrorist acts that contradict Islamic teachings," it added. Observers had feared bloodshed ahead of Sunday's presidential election in France following a string of atrocities since 2015 and the violence is likely to thrust security to the front of voters' minds.

Pentagon Chief Warns Syria against Using Chemical Weapons
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 21/17/US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said during a visit to Israel on Friday there can be "no doubt" Syria has retained some chemical weapons and warned President Bashar al-Assad's regime not to use them. Mattis made the comments as he began a one-day visit for talks with Israeli leaders, who strongly supported the recent US strike against an airbase in neighbouring Syria over an alleged chemical attack on a rebel-held town. "The bottom line is there can be no doubt in the international community's mind that Syria has retained chemical weapons in violation of its agreement and its statement that it had removed them all," Mattis said during a press conference with Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman. "It's a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions, and it's going to have to be taken up diplomatically, and they'd be ill-advised to try to use any again. We've made that very clear with our strike."Mattis added that Syria had "dispersed their aircraft in recent days."An Israeli military assessment has found that Assad's regime was still in possession of "a few tonnes" of chemical weapons, an army official confirmed. Some Israeli media reports put the number at between one and three tonnes. Lieberman declined to comment on the assessment at Friday's press conference. Assad, backed by his ally Russia, has strongly denied the allegation that his forces used chemical weapons against the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun on April 4, describing it as a "100 percent fabrication". He has said repeatedly that his forces turned over all chemical weapons stockpiles in 2013, under a deal brokered by Russia to avoid threatened US military action. The agreement was later enshrined in a UN Security Council resolution.
- Talks with Netanyahu -Mattis was later holding talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, followed by President Reuven Rivlin. Israel and the United States have long had close strategic ties, with Washington providing Israel more than $3 billion per year in defence aid and President Donald Trump pledging unstinting support for the country. Despite tensions over Israeli settlement building, Barack Obama's administration signed a new agreement with Israel before he left office increasing the amount to $3.8 billion for a 10-year period beginning in 2018. Mattis hopes to hear directly from Israeli leaders on their concerns and what they expect from the Trump administration, a US defence official said. Iran's influence is at the top of the list for Israel, a worry shared by the United States. Trump has denounced Iran's "harmful influence" in the Middle East. Israel is closely watching Iran's presence in Syria, where it is backing Assad. Israeli enemy Hezbollah is also fighting with Assad in Syria. Israel fought a devastating war against the Iran-backed Lebanese Shiite movement in 2006. Israel has sought to avoid being dragged into the six-year civil war in Syria, but acknowledges carrying out air strikes there to stop what it says are deliveries of advanced weapons to Hezbollah. Last month, in the most serious incident between the two countries since the Syria conflict began, Israeli warplanes struck several targets there, drawing retaliatory missile fire. Israel used its Arrow interceptor to destroy what was believed to have been a Russian-made SA-5 missile, and Lieberman threatened to destroy Syria's air defence systems "without the slightest hesitation" if it happened again. - Iran nuclear deal -Testy relations between Obama and Netanyahu reached a low point over a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, led by Washington. Obama pushed hard for the agreement, but Netanyahu fiercely opposed it, arguing it will not prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and that the lifting of sanctions would allow it to support proxy groups in the region. Trump also harshly criticised the deal, and on Thursday said Iran was "not living up to the spirit" of the agreement, adding that the United States would set out its position on it soon. On Tuesday, Trump ordered a review of the deal to be led by his National Security Council, although the State Department admits Iran has so far stuck to its side of the bargain. Mattis said on Friday that Iran appeared to be living up to the agreement, but that it "in no way mitigates against or excuses the other activities of Iran in the region."In a further sign of close relations, Israel is to receive three more F-35 stealth fighter jets on Sunday, adding to two which arrived in December. They are among 50 that Israel has agreed to buy from US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin.

Syria Evacuees on Move Again after 48-Hour Delay
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 21/17/Hundreds of frightened Syrian evacuees were on the move again Friday after being blocked for 48 hours at a transit point where a bomber killed dozens of their fellow townspeople, a monitor said. Ten of the 45 buses carrying civilians and loyalist fighters from the besieged government-held towns of Fuaa and Kafraya left the marshalling area in rebel-held Rashidin, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. All of the 11 buses evacuating civilians and fighters from Zabadani and two other rebel-held areas around Damascus were also on the move, the Britain-based monitoring group added. The buses from Fuaa and Kafraya entered second city Aleppo, under full government control since December, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP. The buses from Zabadani and surrounding areas entered rebel-held Idlib province in the northwest. A total of 3,000 evacuees left their homes in Fuaa and Kafraya at dawn on Wednesday as part of a deal under which residents and fighters are also being evacuated from the rebel-held areas surrounded by government forces. But the evacuees were forced to spend two nights in their buses at the marshalling area following an 11th-hour rebel demand for the release of prisoners held by President Bashar al-Assad's government. The evacuations began last week but were delayed after Saturday's suicide car bombing killed 126 people, 68 of them children, at the transit point in Rashidin.

U.N., Russia Set for Syria Meet without U.S.
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 21/17/The U.N.'s Syria envoy said Thursday that he will hold talks with Russian officials next week but without the U.S. present after previous plans for a trilateral meeting were "postponed."U.N. peace mediator Staffan de Mistura said his meeting with Russia's deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov is set for Monday in Geneva. "The trilateral meeting is not off the table, it is simply being postponed", de Mistura told reporters. Asked why U.S. President Donald Trump's representatives decided to skip the meeting, de Mistura said: "you should ask them, frankly."
Syrian regime supporter Moscow and opposition-backer Washington had been the key foreign powers shaping the U.N.'s Syria peace process. De Mistura has previously asked for more clarity from Trump's administration on its vision for the Syria talks. U.S. officials have in recent weeks voiced commitment to support a negotiated solution to the conflict. Monday's sitdown with Gatilov "will be a very intense bilateral meeting," de Mistura said. He also restated his desire to convene a sixth round of U.N.-backed talks involving Syrian rivals next month. The previous rounds have failed to produce concrete results.

Assad Blames ex-Qaida Affiliate for Bombing Evacuees
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 21/17/Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad on Friday blamed the country's former al-Qaida affiliate for a deadly bombing against buses carrying evacuees outside Aleppo at the weekend. "It was Jabhat al-Nusra, they haven't hidden it from the very start, and I think that everyone agrees that it was Nusra," Assad told Russia's RIA Novosti news agency in an interview, referring to the jihadist group now known as the Fateh al-Sham Front that has supposedly severed its ties with al-Qaida. The bombing killed 126 people, 68 of them children, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at the Rashidin transit point west of Aleppo as people were evacuating from the besieged government-held towns of Fuaa and Kafraya. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, one of the deadliest episodes since the start of Syria's six-year civil war.
In the interview translated into Russian, Assad denied there had been a chemical attack this month in the town of Khan Sheikhun, claiming there was "100 percent" certainty that rebels had obtained chemical weapons from Turkey. "The only route for terrorists to receive money, weapons and any kind of materials, new recruits or such substances goes through Turkey," he said. Assad added that Damascus had lost "more than 50 percent" of its air defense systems and that Syria was in talks with Moscow for weapons deliveries. Assad also minimized the death toll for the civil war that has raged in his country since 2011, which has killed more than 320,000 people. He said that merely "tens of thousands" had been killed in the conflict, accusing the West of overblowing the death toll. "These (figures) are only given to inflate numbers in order to show how terrible the situation is and use this as a humanitarian excuse for the invasion of Syria," he said.

Iraq Forces Free 11-Year-Old Yazidi Girl in Mosul
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 21/17/Iraqi forces in Mosul have freed an 11-year-old Yazidi girl who was kidnapped and sold as a slave by the Islamic State group in 2014, the federal police said Friday. The girl was taken by the jihadists from the village of Kosho, south of the Yazidi hub of Sinjar in northern Iraq, together with her mother and sisters. She was freed during an operation by the security forces on Thursday in the west Mosul neighbourhood of Tanek, federal police chief Lieutenant General Raed Shakir Jawdat said in a statement. The elite Counter-Terrorism Service has been operating in the area and secured more than half of the neighbourhood on Thursday. "They who kidnap these children are monsters," Major General Jaafar al-Baatat, Jawdat's top aide, said in a statement which was released with a video showing the girl at a police base south of Mosul. Vian Dakhil, a prominent Yazidi lawmaker who helped bring her minority's plight to the world's attention when IS jihadists swept through the region in 2014, said the girl's release had been carefully planned. "When Daesh (IS) took her village on August 15, 2014, she was eight years old and she was kidnapped with her mother and her sisters," she told AFP. "She was initially taken to Tal Afar and was sold on to Mosul."Yazidis are neither Arab nor Muslim and when IS swept across northern Iraq almost three years ago, it carried out massacres against the minority which the United Nations said qualified as genocide. Most of the several hundred thousand members of the minority live in northern Iraq, mainly around Sinjar, a large town which anti-IS forces have now retaken but was extensively destroyed. IS jihadists captured Yazidi women and turned them into sex slaves to be sold and exchanged across their self-proclaimed "caliphate". Around 3,000 of them are believed to remain in captivity.

Iran Election Campaign Kicks off Without Ahmadinejad
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 21/17/Campaigning began on Friday for Iran's presidential election with incumbent Hassan Rouhani facing a tough battle against hardliners, though not from former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who was barred from standing. Ahmadinejad's disqualification by the conservative-run Guardian Council was no surprise -- he had been advised not to run by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who said it would "polarise" the nation. Ahmadinejad's populist economics and defiant attitude to the establishment had alienated even his hardline backers during his tenure between 2005 and 2013. "Once the supreme leader had told him not to stand, it became impossible for him to be cleared by the Guardian Council," said Clement Therme, research fellow for Iran at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. "By his second term, (Ahmadinejad) was even challenging the clerics. He was not useful anymore for the system."The mood in Tehran has been subdued -- many are disillusioned with Rouhani's failure to kick-start the economy despite broad support for his efforts to rebuild ties with the West, notably through a nuclear deal with world powers that ended many sanctions.The election commission ruled on Thursday that live TV debates would be banned, without giving a reason -- a decision criticised by Rouhani and other candidates. Campaigning, which the Guardian Council announced could begin immediately, had not been supposed to start for another week, so little activity was expected on Friday.But experts say the authorities are keen to excite interest in the vote. "They need that for legitimacy -- the turnout is even more important than the result," said Therme. Iran's elections are tightly controlled, with the Guardian Council allowing just six people -- and no women -- to stand for the May 19 vote out of 1,636 hopefuls that registered last week. If no candidate wins more than 50 percent, a run-off between the top two is held a week later. Rouhani, a politically moderate cleric, squeaked to victory last time with 51 percent in the first round, helped by a divided conservative camp. The Guardian Council has resisted efforts by Iran's parliament, the Majles, to clarify the criteria by which they choose candidates. The constitution adopted after the 1979 revolution offers only vague guidelines that candidates should possess "administrative capacity and resourcefulness... trustworthiness and piety".
- Hardline competition -The build-up to the vote has injected more interest than many predicted just a couple of months ago, when Rouhani was seen as a shoo-in for a second term if only because the conservative opposition seemed unable to offer a strong candidate. Since then, the 56-year-old former judge and cleric Ebrahim Raisi has emerged as a front-runner for the conservatives. Little-known on the political scene, Raisi runs a powerful religious foundation and business empire in the holy city of Mashhad and is seen as a close ally of -- and possible successor to -- supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But despite emphasising his care for the poor, many say Raisi's hardline judicial background and entourage will turn off voters. "He seems like a good and calm person himself, but the people around him are scary," said a tour operator in Yazd, echoing a widely heard sentiment.
Some think he may drop out at the last minute in favour of Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, who came second to Rouhani in 2013.
Ghalibaf is a war veteran, former Revolutionary Guards commander and police chief -- and could be the preferred choice of powerful backroom hardliners. The other three candidates have been less prominent so far. They include two moderate reformists, Mostafa Hashemitaba and vice-president Eshaq Jahangiri, and a veteran hardliner Mostafa Mirsalim -- a selection that appears designed to give an even balance to moderates and hardliners in the upcoming debates. - 'Took risks' -There were mixed reactions to Ahmadinejad's disqualification. Despite controversial rhetoric against Israel that worsened ties with the West, and somewhat reckless financial management, he retained considerable popularity, particularly among the poor. "I think Ahmadinejad should not have been disqualified," said Mohammad Barkhordar, 20, doing his military service. "He was the kind of president that took risks, like distributing money among people and giving houses to the poor, and he had big ambitions for Iran's nuclear programme. Rouhani doesn't take any risks."But many were glad to see the back of him. "It was right for Ahmadinejad to be disqualified but it happened 12 years too late," said one Twitter user.

Kuwaiti Opposition Leader Freed from Prison
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 21/17/Prominent Kuwaiti opposition leader Mussallam al-Barrak was released from prison Friday after serving a two-year sentence for insulting the emir in public. Barrak, 61, walked free from Kuwait's central prison to a frenzied reception by relatives and supporters who broke through tight security fences and surrounded his vehicle. The former lawmaker, who served six consecutive terms from 1999 to 2012, openly critiqued the government upon his release. "One day I said and I repeat: History will jail those who sent me to jail," Barrak, still dressed in a beige prison uniform, shouted to the cheering crowd. Hundreds of family members and supporters braved scorching heat and dusty winds and waited over three hours for Barrak's release outside the central jail, 25 kilometers (16 miles) southwest of Kuwait City. The jubilant crowd sang and chanted slogans praising Barrak, hailing him as "the conscience of the people". Barrak gave a brief speech before a long motorcade drove him to his residence, where more supporters were waiting. In February 2015, Barrak was sentenced to two years in prison for comments he had made at a 2012 public rally which undermined the status of Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah. Barrak had been protesting changes to the kingdom's electoral law which he argued would allow authorities to manipulate election results. He has denied that his speech amounted to undermining the ruler of the Gulf state. He is the most senior, and the most popular, opposition leader to be jailed in an unprecedented government crackdown on dissent in the kingdom. Dozens of opposition activists in Kuwait are either in jail or are facing trial for insulting the emir, including via social media. Barrak's release comes months after a majority of his partners in the opposition alliance ended a four-year boycott of general elections.The alliance won about half of the 50 parliamentary seats in snap polls in November.The oil-rich emirate of Kuwait is widely viewed as a pioneer in operating a parliamentary system among the Gulf monarchies. The OPEC member state sits on about seven percent of global crude reserves and pumps around 2.8 million barrels of oil per day.

Israel Reopens Taba Crossing to Egypt
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 21/17/Israel reopened a border crossing into Egypt's Sinai region Friday after a more than week-long closure due to security threats, but urged its citizens to avoid visiting the peninsula. A statement from the prime minister's office said that based on an assessment at the counter-terrorism bureau, "it has been decided to allow the exit of Israeli citizens to Sinai via the Taba crossing." "At the same time the counter-terror bureau stresses that the threat to Israelis in Sinai remains severe, concrete and immediate," the statement added, calling on citizens to avoid visiting the area and for those already there to leave. The counter-terrorism bureau had on April 10 taken the rare step of closing the crossing into Egypt, citing increased security threats, a day after a series of deadly bomb attacks on Egyptian churches and just hours before a rocket from the Sinai hit southern Israel.
The closure infuriated Israelis planning on spending their Passover vacation in the Sinai, a popular destination for the week-long holiday. On Tuesday, an Egyptian policeman was killed and three others wounded when gunmen opened fire on a checkpoint near St Catherine's monastery in the Sinai, in an attack claimed by Islamic State group (IS) jihadists.Israeli Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, who is also intelligence minister, said on Friday that the decision to close the crossing was based on "concrete threats" to Israelis in the Sinai over Passover, against a backdrop of increased activity of IS's Sinai branch and the attacks in Egypt.

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on April 21-22/17
Iran’s presidential candidates: Khamenei’s pawns
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arabnews/April 21/17
The mainstream media has interpreted the registration of some Iranian politicians, such as former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in the 2017 presidential elections as a sign of defiance to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and proof of the country’s “democracy.” This interpretation fails to highlight the nuances and complexities of Iran’s political establishment.Many have failed to observe that Khamenei’s comments to Ahmadinejad to stay out of the race were made before Donald Trump entered the White House. Iran widely believed a US politician with similar policies to Barack Obama, such as Hillary Clinton, would replace him. Khamenei’s political calculations may have now changed, but it his policy not to admit to such changes.
Many have failed to observe that the supreme leader’s comments to Ahmadinejad to stay out of the race were made before Donald Trump entered the White House.
He “told me that it is not good” to run for the 2017 presidency, said Ahmadinejad. “I said yes. It did not take even a second.” Ahmadinejad wrote a letter to Khamenei saying he was fully committed to obeying him. Ahmadinejad later changed his position and said Khamenei’s recommendation was “just advice.” Khamenei does not merely give advice to Iran’s politicians; his “advice” is equivalent to legal orders.
It would be political suicide to so blatantly and publicly defy the supreme leader. Iranian politicians such as Ahmadinejad are shrewd enough to know this. They also know that they would need Khamenei’s blessing to stand a chance of winning the election.
Ahmadinejad has become Khamenei’s confidant, and he owes his political career to him. Khamenei endorsed Ahmadinejad in the highly contested 2009 election. After Ahmadinejad’s presidency, Khamenei appointed him to the Expediency Council, Iran’s highest political arbitration body.
The Council is predominantly made up of hard-line clerics, and functions as an advisory institution to the supreme leader. So it makes no sense for Ahmadinejad to jeopardize his position with such defiance.
The registration of people such as him is likely an orchestrated attempt by Tehran to project Iran’s elections as democratic; that even if a candidate is not desired by Khamenei, he or she can still register. Khamenei and leaders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) are likely testing the waters by allowing people such as Ahmadinejad to register.To gain Khamenei’s blessing, Ahmadinejad and others may have offered to rally and mobilize their ultra-conservative base for Khamenei’s choice candidate. In other words, Ahmadinejad has likely obtained Khamenei’s approval in private to register. Ahmadinejad and others are being used as puppets to see whether they still enjoy the power and popularity to rally and mobilize for the preferred candidate.
Before jumping to conclusions, we ought to wait until April 27 to see whether many candidates, including Ahmadinejad, will be qualified to run by the clerical Guardian Council. By then, Khamenei and the IRGC will have made their decision.
If Ahmadinejad qualifies, he will be approved to use his populist base to campaign for their favored hard-line candidate against the reformists. If candidates are shown to lack the popularity or competence to rally the hard-line social base for this purpose, they will either be disqualified on April 27 or be asked to withdraw later.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated, Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business. He can be reached on Twitter @Dr_Rafizadeh.

The Erdoğan Enigma
Daniel Pipes/Australian/April 22, 2017
[Australian title: "Erdogan: Turkey's man of mystery armed with extra powers"; slight differences in the text.]
I nominate Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, president of Turkey, as the most inconsistent, mysterious, and therefore most unpredictable major politician on the world stage. His victory in a referendum last Sunday formally bestows him with near-dictatorial powers that leave Turkey, the Middle East, and beyond in a greater state of uncertainty than ever.
Here are some of the puzzles:
The Apr. 16 ballot offered a simple yes ("Evet") or no ("Hayir") option
.Mystery #1: Holding the referendum. The Turkish electorate voted on April 16 in a remarkable national plebiscite that dealt not with the usual topic – floating a bond or recalling a politician – but with fundamental constitutional changes affecting the very nature of their government: Should the country continue with the flawed democracy of the past 65 years or centralize political power in the presidency? Under the new dispensation, the prime minister vaporizes and the president holds vast power over parliament, the judiciary, the budget, and the military.
Turks generally saw the 18 proposed changes to the constitution as a momentous decision. Famed novelist Elif Şafak spoke for most when she wrote that Turkey's referendum "could alter the country's destiny for generations to come." After the referendum passed, some of those opposed to it cried in the streets. "Turkey as we know it is over; it is history" wrote Yavuz Baydar, a journalist. Defense & Foreign Affairs assessed the referendum as perhaps "the most significant and transformative change in Eurasia, the Middle East, and parts of Africa since the collapse of the USSR in 1990-91."
Some Turks opposed to the referendum took their loss very hard
Mystery #2: The referendum results. Erdoğan brought enormous pressure to bear for a momentous victory in the referendum. He made full use of his control of most media. Mosques were mobilized. In the words of one international organization, in several cases, "No" supporters "have faced police interventions while campaigning; a number were also arrested on charges of insulting the president or organizing unlawful public events." Opponents also lost their jobs, met with media boycotts, faced electricity outages, and got beaten up. A week before the referendum, Erdoğan even announced that the "No" voters risk their afterlife. Then, according to a Swedish NGO, "widespread and systematic election fraud, violent incidents and scandalous steps taken by" the election board "overshadowed the voting."Erdoğan's fixation on officially imbuing the office of the presidency with the vast powers he already has in practice prompted him to steal an election, fire a prime minister, start a near-civil war with the Kurds, and provoke a crisis with Europe. Why did he bother with all this for a mere superfluity?But there's a catch: for years Erdoğan has held the powers the referendum gives him. He is the boss in Turkey who can bend the country to his wishes. Anyone – cartoonist, cafeteria manager, or Canadian – accused of "insulting the president" can be fined or jailed. A former prime minister or president who dares disagree with Erdoğan vanishes from public life. He alone makes war or peace. What Erdoğan wants, he gets, regardless of constitutional niceties.
Despite this, the referendum passed by a perplexingly meager 51.4 to 48.6 percent. Were it fairly conducted, why would Erdoğan take the chance of losing, thereby diminishing his stature and reducing his sway? Were the referendum fixed – entirely possible, given his party's record – why was the affirmative vote so low and not a more imposing 60, 80, or – why not – 99 percent? The unimpressive 51.4 percent majority virtually invited opposition parties, supported by the European Union and others, to challenge the legitimacy of the referendum, raising awkward questions that Erdoğan surely preferred not discussed.
Why did Erdoğan pick a fight with Gülen, creating turmoil within Turkish Islamist ranks and jeopardizing relations with the United States?Mystery #3: Gülen: Erdoğan wantonly ended a key alliance with fellow-Islamist Fethullah Gülen, transforming a stalwart ally into a determined domestic opponent who challenged Erdoğan's primacy and revealed his corruption. In his political war with Gülen, an elderly Muslim cleric living in the Poconos of rural Pennsylvania, Erdoğan implausibly claimed that Gülen's movement had planned and led an alleged coup attempt in July 2016; then he cracked down on Gülen's followers and anyone else who met with his displeasure, leading to 47,000 arrests, 113,000 detainments, 135,000 firings or suspensions from jobs, and many, many more entering the shadows of "social death." Erdoğan went further, demanding that Washington extradite Gülen to Turkey and threatening a rupture if he did not get his way: "Sooner or later the U.S. will make a choice. Either Turkey or [Gülen]"
Mystery #4: Semantic purism. The European Union reluctantly agreed to visa-free travel for 75 million Turks to its huge Schengen Zone, a benefit that would potentially allow Erdoğan to push out unwanted Kurds and Syrian refugees, not to speak of increasing his influence in countries like Germany and The Netherlands. But the EU made this access contingent on narrowing Turkey's vaguely worded anti-terrorism laws; it demanded "revising the legislation and practices on terrorism in line with European standards." Erdoğan could have made this meaningless concession and arrested anyone he wanted on other charges, but he refused to ("It's impossible to revise the legislation and practices on terrorism," intoned one of his ministers) and forewent an extraordinary opportunity.
Mystery #5: Canny or megalomaniacal. Erdoğan became prime minister in 2003 and for eight years governed cautiously, overseeing remarkable economic growth, mollifying the military leadership that held the country's ultimate power, and successfully pursuing a policy of "zero problems with neighbors." In contrast to the hapless Mohammed Morsi, who lasted just a year as president of Egypt, Erdoğan timed his moves with such deftness that, for example, hardly anyone noticed in July 2011 when he subdued the military.
That was then. Since 2011, however, Erdoğan repeatedly has fomented his own problems. He gratuitously turned Syria's Bashar al-Assad from his favorite foreign leader (the two and their wives once even vacationed together) into a mortal enemy. He shot down a Russian fighter plane then abjectly had to apologize. He lost out on a pipeline transporting eastern Mediterranean gas to Europe.
He illegally built himself on protected land an absurdly large palace, the largest in the world since Nicolae Ceausescu's disastrous People's Palace in Bucharest. In a particularly ignoble farce, Erdoğan showed up at the funeral of American boxer Muhammad Ali to give a speech, deliver presents, and have his picture taken with family members, only to be rejected in all these requests and slink back home.
He makes enemies everywhere he goes. In Ecuador, Erdoğan's bodyguards handcuffed three pro-Kurdish Ecuadorian women and roughed up a parliamentarian who tried to protect them. When asked about this incident, the deputy speaker of Ecuador's legislature replied, "Until Erdoğan's bodyguards assaulted a deputy, our public was not aware of Turkey. Nobody knew who was a Turk or a Kurd. Now everybody knows and naturally we are on the side of the Kurds. We don't want to see Erdoğan in our country again."
What happened to the cunning leader of a decade back?
Erdoğan's Islamist supporters sometimes suggest that he's on his way to declaring himself caliph. As the hundredth anniversary of the Istanbul-based caliphate's abolition approaches, he may find this tempting; depending on whether he uses the Islamic or Christian calendar, that could happen, respectively, on either March 10, 2021 or March 4, 2024. You heard it here first.
Sadly, Western responses to Erdoğan have been confused and weak-kneed. Angela Merkel agreed to hauling comedian Jan Böhmermann into court for ridiculing Erdoğan. Donald Trump actually congratulated Erdoğan on his tyrannic victory and rewarded him with a meeting next month. And Australians defer on account of the Gallipoli commemorations.
It's time to see Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for the dictatorial, Islamist, anti-Western egomaniac he is, and protect his neighbors and ourselves from the damage he is already causing and the greater problems to come. Removing U.S. nuclear weapons from the Incirlik air base would be one step in the right direction; even better would be to put Ankara on notice that its active NATO membership is in jeopardy pending a dramatic turnaround in behavior.
**Pipes (, []@DanielPipes) is president of the Middle East Forum. © 2017 by Daniel Pipes. All rights reserved.
**Topics: Turkey and TurksThe above text may be reposted, forwarded, or translated so long as it is presented as an integral whole with complete information about its author, date, place of publication, as well as the original URL.

Coexistence Is the Last Chance to Avoid the Precipice
Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Al-Awsat/April 21/17/
Last week, Egypt’s Coptic Christians cancelled Easter celebrations in mourning for those who were killed in two separate terrorist explosions targeting churches in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria.
In Iraq too, new maps are being drawn by sectarianism, while minorities shrink and ethno-religious fabric change under the violence perpetrated by Iran on one side and ISIS on another.
Likewise, we openly witness how shredded Syria has become, and under the eyes of the international community, it is well on the road of partition and population exchange– finally, the less said the better it is when the subject matter is ongoing events in occupied Palestinian territories.
Given this painful regional climate, the ongoing arguments about Lebanon’s future electoral system become a travesty, not much different from the ‘crowded’ field of Iran’s presidential elections where neither votes nor abundance of candidates mean a thing against what the Supreme Leader utters and the elitist Revolutionary Gaurd the (IRGC) dictates.
In Lebanon, the Middle East’s ‘democratic’ soft belly, the Lebanese’ daily bread and butter is endless and absurd arguments and counter-arguments about what the most appropriate electoral system should look like in upcoming parliamentary elections. This is not actually new. Moreover, true intentions behind what is going on have nothing to do with what is being said, whether the intention is escalation or hypocrisy.
The real problem is that the Lebanese are acutely divided on several basic issues regarding conditions of coexistence, political representation and even the meaning of democracy.
For a start, one must ask oneself whether the next elections – regardless of what system is adopted – are going to produce any change in the status quo? Is there any common Lebanese vision as to what the country’s identity is among the ostensible ‘allies’, let alone political adversaries and those dependent on foreign backing and sectarian hegemony?
Then, one may also ask – given defective mechanisms of governance – would ‘state institutions’ still be relevant and meaningful? Would any electoral law be effective in the light of accelerating disproportionate sectarian demographics, and the fact that one large religious sect enjoys a monopoly of military might outside the state’s umbrella, while still sharing what is underneath that umbrella?
The other day in his Easter sermon the Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Bechara Ra’i said “the (Lebanese) Christians are nobody’s bullied weaklings, but are rather indispensable (!)…”. This is tough talk indeed, but it too is not new.
From what is widely known about Cardinal Ra’i, even before assuming the Patriarchate, is that he is highly interested in politics, and that political views are as candid as they are decisive. On Syria, in particular, he has been among the first to warn the West against and dissuade its leaders from supporting the Syrian uprising; when he claimed during his visits – beginning with France – that any regime that may replace Bashar Al-Assad’s may be worse, and thus it would better to keep him in power.
The same path has been followed by current Lebanese president Michel Aoun, who was strongly backed by Hezbollah, to the extent that the latter forced a political vacuum on Lebanon lasting for over two years.
Of course, Hezbollah, in the meantime, had been imposing its hegemony over Lebanon, fighting for Al-Assad in Syria, and training the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen as part of Iran’s project of regional dominance. In promoting this ‘project’ globally, but particularly in the West, Iran has given it the themes of ‘fighting terrorism’ – meaning ‘Sunni Muslim terrorism’- and ‘protection of minorities’ within the framework of a tactical ‘coalition of the minorities’.
A few days ago Aoun said during an interview that “the aim behind what is taking place in the Orient is to empty it of Christians and partition the region into several states”. Again, this is not something new, as it used to be said on the murder and kidnapping road blocks during the dark days of the Lebanese War between 1975 and 1990. Those days the fears of uprooting were common and widespread; reaching the climax within the Christian community with rumors that the mission of American diplomat Dean Brown was to evacuate Lebanon’s Christians to Canada, and within the Druze community during ‘the Mountain War’ (1983-1984) that they would be expelled to southern Syria.
However, Aoun, as it seems, has not been quite aware of who was applying the final touches on population exchange, and drawing the map for the ‘future’ states he has been warning against. He has simply ignored the full picture, turning instead, to repeat old talk in order to justify temporary interests that are harmful if not fatal to minorities, rather than being beneficial and protective.
In this context, come the ‘try-to-be-smart’ attempts to impose a new electoral law in Lebanon as a means of blackmail, as if the country’s sectarian ‘tribal chieftains’ are naïve or debutants in the arena of sectarian politics. The latest has come from Gebran Bassil, the foreign minister and President Aoun’s son-in-law, when he expressed his “willingness to entertain the idea of a Senate, on the condition that it is headed by a Christian!”. This pre-condition was quickly rejected by the Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri on the basis that the presidency of a Senate, as approved in “Taif Agreement” – which is now part of Lebanon’s Constitution – was allocated to the Druze; and thus, what Bassil had suggested was unconstitutional.
It is worth mentioning here that all suggestions regarding the future electoral law have ignored the issue of a Senate. It was has also been obvious that another item in the “Taif Agreement” was being intentionally ignored too, which is adopting ‘Administrative De-Centralization’.
However, if some Lebanese parties feel uncomfortable with the idea of ‘De-Centralization’, more so as both Iraq and Syria seem to be on their way to actual partition, it is not possible anymore to separate Lebanon’s politics from its demographics.
The latter are now being affected by radical and everlasting demographic changes occurring across the country’s disintegrating eastern borders with Syria. These include what is being reported – without being refuted – about widespread settlement and naturalization activities in Damascus and its countryside. Furthermore, once the population exchange between Shi’ite ‘pockets’ of northern Syria and the Sunni majority population of the Barada River valley is completed, the new sectarian and demographic fabric of Damascus and its countryside would gain a strategic depth and merge with a similar fabric in eastern Lebanon. This is a danger that Lebanese Christians, indeed, all Lebanese, Syrians, Iraqis and all Arabs, must be aware of and sincere about. The cost of ignoring facts on the ground is tragic, as blood begets blood, exclusion justifies exclusion, and marginalization undermines coexistence.
Nation-building is impossible in the absence of a free will to live together. It is impossible in a climate of lies, while those who think they are smart gamble on shifting regional and global balances of power.

Iran’s Presidential Charade: Another Slap Coming?
Amir Taheri/Asharq Al-Awsat/April 21/17/
In old Hollywood, the word “chestnut” denoted a formula which though lacking originality could still provide the kernel for a moderately successful B-movie.
Anyone following the latest presidential election campaign in the Islamic Republic in Iran is bound to notice stark similarities between this Islamicized chestnut and those of old Hollywood.
Every four years, Iranians and others interested in Iranian affairs are invited to participate in or at least observe what is presented as a dramatic quest for power by rival factions defending sharply different programs. Thus a few weeks of excitement are created out of thin air to give the impression that the peculiar system created by the late Ayatollah Khomeini is an Islamic version of the cursed democracy promoted by the “Infidel”. The show is also used to blame all that is wrong in the country on the president in charge for the past four years and, almost always, end up re-electing him for four more years.
The “chestnut” script provides for the presence in the election of at least three candidates representing “the bad”, “the worse” and “the worst”.
This is important for confusing not only Iranians but also foreign powers interested in or bothered by Iran.
In 1997, quite a few Iranians fell for the fiction that Muhammad Khatami, a mid-ranking mullah, represented “the bad” option against Ali-Akbar Nateq Nuri, another mid-ranking mullah, who was cast as representative of “the worst”. Khatami won and Iran ended up with eight years of a presidency that witnessed the chain-killing of intellectuals, mass arrests of regime critics, strict censorship, increased support for terrorist groups and, finally, the massive expansion of Iran’s clandestine nuclear project.
In the 2005 presidential campaign, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, branded “the worst” candidate, emerged victorious. Paradoxically, in some important cases, he turned out not to be as bad as Khatami. He overlooked corruption that was spread like wildfire, but toned down the crackdown organized against critics and dissidents. His clownish performance amused some and revolted many more but it did not translate into a substantial increase in the Islamist regime’s repressive measures.
Four years ago, US President Barack Obama bent backward to help Hassan Rouhani, then believed to represent “the bad” for fear that Saeed Jalili, identified as “the worst”, might become Iran’s president. Rouhani’s four-year stint has been even worse than that of Khatami’s first term. Iran is now the world’s number one in executions, number two in political prisoners and on top of the list of states sponsoring international terrorism.
To add more spice to the mix, the regime and its lobbyists in the West also urge support for the candidate supposed to be farther from the “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei. That was supposedly the case with Khatami, Ahmadinejad and Rouhani.
This year, the candidate supposed to represent “the worst” while being closest to Khamenei is Ibrahim Rais al-Sadat, alias Raisi, a mid-ranking mullah who was recently appointed as head of the Imam Reza Foundation in Mash’had, perhaps the most lucrative post in the Islamic Republic.
Barring a last minute surprise, Rouhani will remain in the race as “the bad” candidate, wearing his trademark smile and waving the cardboard key that symbolizes his promise to “open all doors”.
Not surprisingly the old chestnut themes are back.
Tehran lobbyists in the West are going around demanding support for Rouhani who is supposed to be determined to do in the next four years what he couldn’t or didn’t want to do in the last.
One US-based apologist, Abdul-Karim Sorush, alias “The Martin Luther of Islam”, invites Iranians to choose “the bad”, which he dubs “Aslah” (the most qualified), meaning Rouhani.
Others have identified Raisi as the candidate closest to Khamenei and thus deserving a thrashing from an angry electorate. The list of candidates this time may also include the same old Jalili, “the worst” of four years ago who, presumably will be only “the worse” this time.
However, the fact is that in 1997 Nateq-Nuri was not Khamenei’s favored candidate just as in 2005 “The Supreme Guide” did not particularly favored Ahmadinejad. The only time that Khamenei has indicated a personal opinion about any presidential candidate was when, in 2005, he made it clear he did not want his old friend and new foe Hashemi Rafsanjani to regain the presidency.
For Khamenei, the presidential election is nothing but a four-year endorsement of the Khomeinist system, a kind of referendum on the regime’s legitimacy rather than a choice of an individual president. In the current election, too, I doubt that Khamenei is particularly keen on seeing Raisi become president. True, Raisi is an old protégé of Khamenei, hailing from his native Mash’had and holding the same narrow view of things as the “Supreme Guide”. However, Khamenei won’t mind if Rouhani wins again or if any of the other candidates whom he has pre-approved end up victorious.
Though a protégé of the late Rafsanjani, Rouhani has a 30-year record of service to the security services controlled by Khamenei. He is also close to powerful elements in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard who provide the backbone of domestic support for the regime.
The only factor that might have concerned Khamenei as far as Rouhani is concerned would have been the latter’s tentative attempts at easing tension with the United States. However, with President Barack Obama no longer around to do the pas-de-deux, Rouhani, has quickly switched to Khamenei’s “looking East” strategy of alliance with Russia. In fact, Rouhani launched his presidential campaign with a flash visit to Moscow and a photo-op with Vladimir Putin.
Four years ago Rouhani, like Khatami before him, promised reform. Now, however, it is once again clear that the Islamic Republic cannot be reformed. In his time, Ahmadinejad promised to end corruption, discrimination, and poverty, exactly as Raisi did today. Eight years later, Iran ended with more poverty, discrimination, and corruption.
The problem is not about who plays the role of president in a charade of pseudo-democracy. The problem is about an atrophied system in which all paths to reform, development and progress are rundown.
Thus the question Iranians face is not about which of the various puppets is “aslah”. The real issue is whether they wish this broken system to continue. If they have no interest in taking part in this charade. Four years ago, the presidential election scored the lowest rate of voter participation and Rouhani won with the smallest margin in Islamic Republic’s history.
In its limited way, the last election was a slap in the face for the Khomeinists. Will we see another such slap this time, too?

What Can Trump Learn from Truman?
David Ignatius/Asharq Al-Awsat/April 21/17
The only modern president who rivaled Donald Trump in his lack of preparation for global leadership was Harry Truman. Both men took office with little knowledge of the international problems they were about to face, and with worries at home and abroad that they weren’t up to the job.
“I pray God I can measure up to the task,” Truman said right after Franklin Roosevelt’s death and the shock of taking the oath of office. Trump wouldn’t be human if he hadn’t had a similar prayer in a corner of his mind on Jan. 20.
Now, in one of those curious rhymes of history, Trump faces a similar challenge to Truman’s in confronting North Korea. Truman went to war in 1950 to reverse a North Korean invasion of the South. Trump is now perilously close to conflict in his attempt to halt North Korea’s defiant nuclear program.
What can today’s occupant of the White House learn from Truman? The Missourian had many qualities now celebrated by historians, but let’s focus on his personal character. Truman exhibited what in those days were called manly virtues — quiet leadership, fidelity to his beliefs, a disdain for public braggadocio. He never took credit for things he hadn’t accomplished. He never blamed others for his mistakes.
President Trump is obviously a radically different person from Truman. He’s a showy New Yorker, where Truman was a low-key Missouri farm boy. Where Trump made his name as a noisy casino tycoon and TV star, the poker-playing Truman always kept his cards close.
What these two presidents have in common is the experience of coming into the Oval Office facing widespread doubts. What Truman teaches us is that character counts, especially for a president with low initial popularity ratings.
On foreign policy, Trump has shown a flexibility and pragmatism that contradict some of his inflammatory campaign rhetoric. He had accused China of “raping” the American economy, for example, but as president, he evidently realized that he needed Beijing’s help on North Korea and other issues and dropped his claims that Beijing was a “currency manipulator.”
Trump’s Russia position seems to be evolving, too. During the campaign, he was almost fawning in his praise for President Vladimir Putin, and investigators probed for hidden connections to Russia’s covert hacking of the 2016 campaign. Now Trump has taken a warier tone toward Putin. There have been similar shifts on more mundane issues, such as the Export-Import Bank and the tenure of Federal Reserve Chair Janet L. Yellen.
Trump’s new positions seem right to me. But because they represent reversals from earlier views, they raise the question of what this man really believes.
How does a politician become more trustworthy? There’s no formula; it must be earned. But Trump would help himself if he exhibited more of the virtues that Truman embodied. Trump should stop blaming others, for starters. He should never again say that Barack Obama is the cause of his difficulties in Syria, or anywhere else. Shifting blame sounds political, but it also sounds weak. Similarly, Trump should never again malign his military commanders, as he did after the death of Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens, when Trump said that “the generals . . . lost Ryan.” Such statements are the opposite of leadership.
Trump should stop taking credit for things he didn’t do (and even for things he did accomplish). These boasts only diminish him. It’s good that he has decided that NATO isn’t obsolete anymore, but he’s foolishly vain to take credit for it. The same is true with job gains from decisions by US companies to keep plants in the United States. The quicker Trump is to claim personal credit, the phonier it seems.
Trump’s taxes present another example of how trust is won and lost. The man running for president might refuse to release his tax returns, but the wise chief executive, never.
When presidents encounter difficulty, they need public confidence. Divisive tactics that may work in a campaign, or attempts to shift responsibility to others, can be ruinous. Truman is remembered as a great president because he overcame a history of personal failure, as a farmer and a haberdasher, to develop the one bond that’s indispensable for a president, which is that in a crisis, people believed him.
Truman was grieved by North Korea’s invasion in 1950. The war went badly, his popularity plummeted, his commander, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, defied him. But the public stuck with Truman for a simple reason: He had built a reservoir of the trust that is essential for a successful leader.

Europe: Making Itself into the New Afghanistan?
Giulio Meotti/Gatestone Institute/April 21/17
"Those (migrants) who come to seek freedom in France must participate in freedom. Migrants did not come to seek asylum in Saudi Arabia, but in Germany. Why? For security, freedom and prosperity. So they must not come to create a new Afghanistan," said Algerian writer Kamel Daoud. Right. But it is the European mainstream that is letting them turn our cultural landscape into another Afghanistan.
The West used to be proud of being the land of the free. European museums, instead, are rapidly submitting to Islamic correctness. The exhibition "Passion for Freedom" at the Mall Gallery in London censored the light box tableaux of a family of toy animals living in an enchanted valley.
"The Louvre will be dedicating a new section to the artistic heritage of Eastern Christians", then President Nicholas Sarkozy announced in 2010. But the project was scrapped by the museum's new management, with the approval of President Hollande's culture ministry. So today, the Louvre has a section dedicated to Islamic art, but nothing on Eastern Christianity.
Maastricht, in the Netherlands, is the picturesque city that gave its name to the famous treaty signed in 1992 by the twelve nations of the European Community at the time, and which paved the way for the foundation of today's European Union and the single currency, the euro.
Maastricht, however, is also the home of "Tefaf", the most important art and antiques fair in the world. The art work "Persepolis" by the Italian artist Luca Pignatelli was already scheduled when the commission ordered it removed. The work, built in 2016, combined a Persian Islamic rug and a female head. "We are all humbled and speechless", Pignatelli declared, pointing out that his work had initially aroused the enthusiasm of the commission. The fair's explanation was that Pignatelli's work was "provocative".
The officials of fair presumably did not want to offend Islam and possible Muslim buyers with Pignatelli's combination of the mat (used by Muslims for prayer) with the woman's face. "We are shocked, this is the first time this has happened and I think it is legitimate to talk about it", Pignatelli said. "If in Rome it can happen that you decide to veil art works to avoid offending foreign visitors, well, I do not agree". The reference is at the Italian government decision to veil the antique Roman statues to avoid offending Iran's visiting President Hassan Rouhani.
If Europe wants a future, it should be less ideological about Maastricht's treaty and more against Maastricht's capitulation to fear. The brave Algerian writer Kamel Daoud said:
"Those (migrants) who come to seek freedom in France must participate in freedom. Migrants did not come to seek asylum in Saudi Arabia, but in Germany. Why? For security, freedom and prosperity. So they must not come to create a new Afghanistan".
Right. But it is the European mainstream that is letting them turn our cultural landscape into another Afghanistan. The Taliban have killed artists and destroyed art works. The West used to be proud of being the land of the free.
European museums, instead, are rapidly submitting to Islamic correctness. The exhibition "Passion for Freedom," at the Mall Gallery in London, censored the light box tableaux of a family of toy animals living in an enchanted valley. Entitled, "ISIS Threaten Sylvania", it was eliminated after the British police referred to its "inflammatory" content. Previously, the Tate Gallery in London banned a work by John Latham that displayed a Koran embedded in glass.
The brave work of the artist Mimsy, "ISIS Threaten Sylvania", which satirized the brutality of ISIS, was removed from London's Mall Galleries after the British police defined it "inflammatory." (Image source: Mimsy)
Another British artist, Grayson Perry, admitted that he censored himself out of fear that he might end up like Theo van Gogh, the Dutch filmmaker slain by an extremist Muslim, Mohammed Bouyeri, for having made a film about women under Islam. "I have censored myself," Perry said. "The reason I have not gone all out in attacking Islamism in my art is because I have real fear that someone will slit my throat".
The Victoria and Albert Museum in London first showed, then withdrew, a portrait of the Prophet of Islam, a work of devotional art image of Muhammad. The photographer Syra Miah, a British native whose family came from Bangladesh, saw her work withdrawn from an Art Gallery in Birmingham after protests by a group of Muslims. The photo portrayed a half-naked woman, mentally ill, who lives under a bus stop in Bangladesh.
The Museum of Cultures of the World in Gothenburg, Sweden, opened with an exhibition entitled "AIDS in the Era of Globalization". In it, the artist Louzla Darabi exhibited a work, "Scène d'amour", that depicts a woman having sex with a man whose face cannot be seen. A verse from the Koran is written on it in Arabic. Less than three weeks after the inauguration of the exhibition, the museum removed the painting. The Hergé Museum in Louvain, Belgium, was planning an exhibition to pay tribute to Charlie Hebdo's cartoonists; that event, too, was cancelled.
French President François Hollande eliminated a section of the Louvre Museum dedicated to the Eastern Christians, who in the last two years have been decimated by the Islamic State. "The Louvre will be dedicating a new section to the artistic heritage of Eastern Christians", then President Nicholas Sarkozy announced in 2010. But the project was scrapped by the museum's new management, with the approval of Hollande's culture ministry. Marie-Hélène Rutschowscaya -- former head of the Louvre's Coptic section and one of the world's leading scholars on Eastern Christianity -- denounced the move. "The dramatic events we are currently seeing in the Middle East and Eastern Europe should instead spur us to do more to promote lasting cultural ties," Rutschowscaya wrote in her letter to Hollande. So today, the Louvre has a section dedicated to Islamic art, but nothing on Eastern Christianity. Perhaps the Iranian ayatollahs were right in asking the Capitoline Museums in Rome to veil the nude statues during President Rouhani's visit. Perhaps the Islamic fundamentalists are wrong, the West is not as free as it claims. Perhaps we should apologize to the Taliban for criticizing their destruction of the great Buddhas of Afghanistan. According to the West's new cultural sanctimony, today these statues might be considered "blasphemous" too.
*Giulio Meotti, Cultural Editor for Il Foglio, is an Italian journalist and author.
© 2017 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

The Trump Administration Might Put the ‘Extreme’ in ‘Extreme Vetting’
Joby Warrick/Asharq Al-Awsat/April 21/17/
Most foreigners arriving in the United States are greeted by Customs and Border Protection officers asking routine questions, such as the reason for the trip, where they’re staying and who they’re visiting. But the Trump administration is now considering a far more intensive screening process for visitors and visa applicants from some of our closest allies. The new process would allow Homeland Security officials not only to go through social media content, but also to inspect cellphones for suspicious contacts. The process under consideration could apply to visitors from a broad cross-section of countries, possibly including the 38 countries whose citizens can usually enter the country without a visa per the Visa Waiver Program, such as Britain, France and Japan.
Even more alarming is a potential entrance questioning on ideology that would assess a visitor’s beliefs on issues such as the treatment of women in society, ethics in military conflict and the “sanctity of life,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Some have argued that these policies represent the president’s effort to fulfill his campaign promises of “extreme vetting.”Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly succinctly articulated the administration’s considered approach for the seven countries included in the administration’s travel ban during a February congressional hearing: “If they come in, we want to say, what websites do they visit, and give us your passwords. So, we can see what they do on the Internet . . . If they truly want to come to America, then they will cooperate. If not, next in line.” And while it’s too early to tell what the final policy will look like, the proposed procedures would, if adopted, set a dangerous precedent for privacy. The proposal represents a marked break from core American values. As a model of democracy, we must protect both our citizens’ privacy and the privacy of non-citizens. We can’t cherry pick which values we embrace and to whom we apply them.
And not only is it bad for democracy, but also it’s bad for business. In 2014, international travel and tourism generated more than $1 trillion in spending around the world. We host many visitors each year in Las Vegas for CES, where more than 180,000 attendees — including more than 60,000 international attendees — gather to do business and drive the global technology market. Visitors to the United States not only buy American products, they stay in American hotels, eat in American restaurants and participate in American culture.
If we make it harder for international travelers to come to the United States we not only discourage business and tourism but also encourage a retaliatory response from other nations. How many of us would travel outside the United States if we had to give up our passwords, contacts and perhaps other information on our cellphones?
What’s more, social media screenings so far have resulted in dead-ends as a security tool. Last December, former US Citizenship and Immigration Services director Leon Rodriguez told Congress that most information acquired through such screenings had not been helpful.
Every day we get better tools to weed out the visitors who mean us harm — tools that don’t require giving up a password from what could well be a bogus account or asking everyone to share their private conversations and content. We can do gait analysis and facial recognition to confirm identities. We can employ biometrics to determine stress levels. We can use algorithms to analyze facial micro expressions to tell law enforcement whether someone is being deceptive. And apps such as Moodies and others can listen to a voice for as little as 20 seconds and determine the speaker’s emotion.
By combining the smart use of technology with modern questioning techniques such as those used by Israel to remarkable effect in their airports, smart security can strike a balance between our need for privacy and our need for safety. We can debate the privacy issues surrounding such use of these technologies, but certainly we can agree these are less immediately invasive — and more effective — than demanding passwords for cellphone and social media access.
The United States’ unique role as a model for democracy, a home for free enterprise and a beacon for the world’s best and brightest has been the reason for our global lead in innovation and our consistently strong economy. If we are to prosper, we must resist the urge to shut our doors and instead develop innovative ways to reduce the risks of imported terrorism.

Sermon At Dar Al-Hijra Islamic Center In Falls Church, VA: 'There Is A Difference Between Bani Israel... And Current Jewish Community'; '
We Are Dealing With Manipulation'; Muslims Must Understand That 'The Children Of Israel' Killed Prophets – They 'Take Pride' In Their 'Zealotry... Their History Is Like That'

MEMRI/April 21/17
In a sermon at the Dar Al-Hijra Islamic Center in Falls Church, in Fairfax County, Virginia, Egyptian-American imam Shaker Elsayed pointed out that "there is a difference between Bani Israil" – the Israelites – "and the current Jewish community." It was "very smart," he said, "for the Jews of today to call the state they occupied Israel," adding "We are dealing with manipulation." He stressed that Muslims need to understand that the "Children of Israel" killed prophets because they did not like their message, and added that they "take pride that they are a community of zealotry and commitment... Their history is like that."
The Dar Al-Islam Islamic Center is known for its connection to Yemeni-American sheikh and, later, Al-Qaeda leader Anwar Al-Awlaki, who served as its imam from 2001-2001, and to two of the 9/11 hijackers, who had visited him at the mosque. Also, according to Al-Awlaki, Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan had worshipped there during his tenure as imam.[1]
The video of Elsayed's talk was posted online on March 31, 2017.
"There Is A Difference Between Bani Israel... And The Current Jewish Community – These Are Not One And The Same"
Shaker Elsayed: "There is a difference between Bani Israil [the Israelites], the historical community of the children of Prophet Jacob – whose name is also Israel – and the current Jewish community, as we know it. These are not one and the same. So, when you say the word 'Jews,' it is not equal to 'Israelites.'" [...]
"Very Smart For The Jews Of Today To Call The State They Occupied 'Israel' ... We Are Dealing With Manipulation... I Hope Somebody Doesn't Call Me Antisemitic... I Am More Semitic Than Those Who Claim To Be Semitic"
"It has been very smart for the Jews of today to call the state they occupied 'Israel.' It is giving it a name that is significant, important, and honored by Muslims. So now, if you speak against Israel, the state, they construe it as if you are talking against Jacob and his children, and against your own Book. But we have to understand what we are dealing with. We are dealing with manipulation as well. I hope somebody doesn't call me antisemitic, because I am more Semitic than those who claim to be Semitic." [...]
"We Muslims Really Need To Wrap Our Heads Around These Two Issues: Number One Is The Response Of The Children Of Israel To Four Previous Prophets... The Quran Summarizes It: '...You Acted Arrogantly: You Called Some Messengers Liars And Killed Others'"
"We Muslims really need to wrap our heads around these two issues: Number one is the response of the children of Israel to four previous prophets. What was their response? The Quran summarizes it: 'But is it not true that every time a Messenger brought to you something that was not to your liking, you acted arrogantly: you called some Messengers liars and killed others?'"
"Whenever A Messenger Comes To You [Children Of Israel] With Something You Don't Like... You... Killed Some And You Belied Some"; They Killed "Three Of Them [Prophets] Consecutively, Right Before Jesus"
"Isn't it true that whenever a messenger comes to you with something you don't like, you either kill or killed some and you belied some. You rejected some and you killed some. Right? So, they killed Prophet Zakariya, named Zechariah in their Book. They killed his son Yahya, John the Baptist in their Book. They killed Elias [Elijah], who has the same name in their Book. [They killed] three of them consecutively and concurrently, right before Jesus. So those three were finished." [...]
"So They Are Saying: "If Anyone Comes With A Message That We Reject, We Will Kill Him"; They "Take Pride That They Are A Community Of Zealotry... Their History Is Like That"
"So they are saying: 'If anyone comes with a message that we reject, we will kill him.' So they get rid of the prophet and the message, and it is finished. So they did this, and Jesus was saying that they were going to try to kill him, as they did to Elijah. An amazing prophecy. And it happened – they delivered him to be crucified. So after killing four prophets in a row... Jesus was an attempt – it was not fulfilled, according to the Quran, but they take pride in it anyway.
"[According to the Quran], they say: 'Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah. And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but [another] was made to resemble him.' So they still take pride that they are a community of zealotry and commitment, and they are willing to go all the way, to do anything. And they proved that. Their history is like that.
"This is one big reason – that what happened to these four prophets, besides many other prophets before, that we don't know the details of what was done to them."
[1], November 30, 2009; MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 2713, On - First Interview with U.S.-Born Yemen-Based Imam Anwar Al-'Awlaki on Major Hasan and the Fort Hood Shooting: Nidal [Hasan] Contacted Me a Year Ago, December 23, 2009.