August 01/17

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For Today
Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke 11/37-41/:"While he was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to dine with him; so he went in and took his place at the table. The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not first wash before dinner. Then the Lord said to him, ‘Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you.

The Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied altogether there were about twelve of them
Acts of the Apostles 19/01-10/:"While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the inland regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?’ They replied, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ Then he said, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ They answered, ‘Into John’s baptism.’Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied altogether there were about twelve of them. He entered the synagogue and for three months spoke out boldly, and argued persuasively about the kingdom of God. When some stubbornly refused to believe and spoke evil of the Way before the congregation, he left them, taking the disciples with him, and argued daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord.

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on August 01/17
Bankers cry foul over ‘double taxation,’ look to Aoun/Osama Habib/The Daily Star/July 31/17
Resistance Axis Sources: Al-Hashd Al-Sha'bi (PMU) Has Close Ties With Iran, Hizbullah, Opposes U.S. Presence In Iraq/MEMRI 31/17
Macron attempts a gamble in Libya/Christian Chesnot/A l Arabiya/July 31/17
Politicizing pilgrimage, the new Qatari crisis/Salman al-Dosary/A l Arabiya/July 31/17
Will Qatar save itself or ‘the project’/Sawsan Al Shaer/A l Arabiya/July 31/17
The open African secret/Hussein Shobokshi/A l Arabiya/July 31/17
US blacklists IRGC, affiliates for terrorism/Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/ArabNews/August 01/17
What Kind of Iran Did the U.S. Just Certify/Reza Shafiee/Gatestone Institute/July 31/17
Germany: Muslim Biker Gang Vows to "Protect" Fellow Muslims/Police warn of spiraling vigilantism, parallel Islamic legal system/Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/July 31/17

Titles For Latest Lebanese Related News published on August 01/17
Report: Second Phase of Hizbullah-Nusra Agreement to Witness Militants' Transfer to Syria
Aoun on army day eve: Martyrdom elevates man to devoutness
Aoun, Hariri meeting at Baabda palace concludes
Hariri after meeting Aoun: Army enjoys full political cover
Lebanese warplane shells Daesh posts in Ras Baalbek, Qaa outskirts
Sami Gemayel, Rifi discuss range of national affairs
Mashnouq in front of Kuwait's Ambassador: Ready for security coordination
Bou Assi from northern Bekaa: Army solely responsible for Arsal and its security
Overcrowded prisons feature high on talks between ministers of justice, interior
Future Bloc visits Kuwaiti Ambassador, deplores 'Hezbollah links to Abdali cell'
Saniora Meets Kuwait Envoy to Deplore 'Hizbullah Cell', Mashnouq Ready to 'Cooperate'
Evacuation of Nusra Militants, Families Postponed to Tuesday
Four Lebanese-Australian Suspects Arrested After Australian Plane Plot
Clooney Foundation to Open Schools for Syrian Refugees in Lebanon
Berri Says Battle in Arsal an 'Achievement'
ISF Captures Terror Cell Linked to Islamic State Organization
Bankers cry foul over ‘double taxation,’ look to Aoun

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on August 01/17
Qatar Accuses Saudis of Hampering Mecca Pilgrims
Trump's New Comms Director Out as New Chief of Staff Takes Reins
U.S. Slaps Sanctions on Maduro, Labels Him 'Dictator'
Drone Strike on Qaida in Yemen Kills 5
Food Access in Syria's Raqa at 'Critical Turning Point'
Saudi Arabia: Iran refused to complete investigations into embassy attack
First batch of Iranian Hajj pilgrims arrive in Madinah
Syrian President: Arab peoples have advanced level of awareness about what is happening in region
Hamburg attacker hoped to die as 'martyr': prosecutors
Algerian army kills six armed extremists

Latest Lebanese Related News published on August 01/17
Report: Second Phase of Hizbullah-Nusra Agreement to Witness Militants' Transfer to Syria
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/July 31/17/The second phase of a ceasefire deal reached between Hizbullah and the jihadist al-Nusra Front group militants is due on Monday, amid reports that top Nusra official Abu Malek al-Talli has already moved to the border town of Arsal and will likely be flown to Turkey later on, the pan-Arab al-Hayat daily reported. The phase would see the transfer of Syrian fighters and refugees to Syria's northwestern province of Idlib. Meanwhile, information obtained by the daily through eyewitnesses in Arsal, said that "al-Talli has moved from the outskirts of Arsal to the town itself to pave way for his transport to Turkey by air."The daily said "the first stage included the release of a Syrian woman called Mayyada Allouch, who hails from the town of al-Qusayr and who had been arrested by the military judiciary since February 7 on charges of financing terrorism and transferring money to Nusra.""Allouch was accompanied by her son, who was not arrested. They were taken to Arsal's outskirts in the afternoon," added the daily. The second phase deals with the transfer of militants to Syrian territory in five batches, each coinciding with the release of one of Hizbullah's fighters captured by Nusra. This will include the transfer of families of the militants and other displaced persons. The number of those wishing to leave Arsal's encampments and the Wadi Hmayyed area to return to Syria have dropped to 6400, according to the daily. Hizbullah and the jihadist militants on Sunday exchanged the bodies of fighters as part of a ceasefire deal for the restive Syria-Lebanon border. The truce, announced by Hizbullah and confirmed by Lebanon's General Security agency on Thursday, ended six days of a Hizbullah-led assault on al-Qaida's former Syrian branch in the mountainous border region of Arsal's outskirts. Hizbullah's "War Media" outlet reported that the "first phase of the deal" took place on Sunday. "The bodies of nine al-Nusra fighters were exchanged for the remains of five Hizbullah fighters who died in the battles," it said. The second phase is due Monday with the return to Syria of around 9,000 jihadists and their families who have been in eastern Lebanon since the beginning of the Syria war, Hizbullah's news agency said.In exchange, an undetermined number of Hizbullah prisoners would be freed. The "War Media" outlet said the bodies of the Syrian militants were handed over to the Lebanon's General Security and their remains were to be transported to Syria's northwestern province of Idlib. Al-Nusra Front was al-Qaida's affiliate in Syria until mid-2016 when it broke off ties, before going on to found a new jihadist-led alliance called Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which now controls large swathes of Idlib. Hizbullah launched its offensive on Jurud Arsal -- a barren border area used by militants as a hideout for several years -- on July 21.The group took media outlets on several guided tours of the territory it had secured, including an underground base allegedly used by militants. Military-style vests were piled in one corner near stacked sandbags. Papers were strewn all over the carpeted floor in one room, and crates of ammunition were stored in another. Hizbullah had cornered rival fighters in a small pocket of territory when it announced the truce. Head of Lebanon's General Security agency Major General Abbas Ibrahim confirmed the deal, saying it would also see the transfer "within days" of Syrian fighters and refugees to Idlib province with the help of Lebanon's Red Cross. Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees live in the town of Arsal, adjacent to the border region, and an unknown number are also thought to have taken shelter in the surrounding mountains.
More than one million Syrians are registered with the United Nations as refugees in Lebanon, a country of just four million people.

Aoun on army day eve: Martyrdom elevates man to devoutness
Mon 31 Jul 2017/NNA - President of the Republic, Michel Aoun, saluted the army martyrs on the eve of Army Day, saying "martyrdom elevates man to the level of sanctity."

Aoun, Hariri meeting at Baabda palace concludes
Mon 31 Jul 2017 /NNA - The two-hour meeting at the Baabda Palace between President of the Republic, Michel Aoun, and Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, winded up a while ago, NNA reporter said.

Hariri after meeting Aoun: Army enjoys full political cover
Mon 31 Jul 2017/NNA - President of the Republic, Michel Aoun, on Monday afternoon met at the Baabda Palace with Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, who briefed him on the outcome of his meetings in the United States, notably with US President, Donald Trump, and a number of US officials. Talks also reportedly touched on the current situation on the local arena. On emerging, Premier Hariri told media representatives that they discussed an array of matters on the domestic scene, saying government work shall be activated during the upcoming Cabinet session on Thursday. In reply to a question about the salary scale issue, Hariri underlined the dire need to preserve the state budget, rejecting the notions of money lending or the accumulation of debts to secure the funding of the wage scale. In reply to another question, Hariri stressed that the positions he proclaimed during his recent visit to the United States emanated from his keenness to protect Lebanon, citizens and economy. On the other hand, Hariri stressed that the Lebanese army has always enjoyed an all-inclusive political cover of all its military operations, saying "this is an essential matter." "The government and all the political forces stand by the army," Hariri stressed.

Lebanese warplane shells Daesh posts in Ras Baalbek, Qaa outskirts
Mon 31 Jul 2017/NNA - A warplane belonging to the Lebanese Air Force, type Cessna, on Monday targeted Daesh posts in the outskirts of Ras Baalbek and Qaa with 5 air-to-ground missiles, NNA field reporter said.

Sami Gemayel, Rifi discuss range of national affairs

Mon 31 Jul 2017/NNA - Kataeb Party chief, MP Sami Gemayel, on Monday received at the Saifi Central House former minister Ashraf Rifi, in the presence of Party Politburo member Serge Dagher. On emerging, Rifi hailed the efforts exerted by MP Gemayel at the level of combating corruption, deploring the recently approved taxes as an unacceptable matter. "Our project is that of the State's sovereignty," Rifi said, disclosing that his current deliberations and action plan fall within the rise of the sovereign state. Rifi saluted the army on its day, voicing support to the army as solely entitled to bear arms. On his recent visit to Baabda, Gemayel relayed President of the Republic's dissatisfaction with the manner in which recent taxes were approved.

Mashnouq in front of Kuwait's Ambassador: Ready for security coordination
Mon 31 Jul 2017/NNA - Interior and Municipalities Minister, Nuhad Mashnouq, on Monday met at his ministerial office with Kuwait's Ambassador to Lebanon, Abdul Aal Al Qenae, with talks reportedly touching on the memo of protest delivered by the Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry to Lebanon over the alleged Abdally cell case. Minister Mashnouq expressed great respect for the state of Kuwait, heaping praises on its immense contributions in terms of its longstanding developmental and economic projects. Mashnouq hailed the wisdom of the Prince of the State of Kuwait Sheikh . Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, expressing the Lebanese security apparatuses' readiness to cooperate and coordinate with the Kuwaiti Interior Ministry, in terms of providing any needed assistance whether in this issue or any other case. On the other hand, Mashnouq met with MP Allan Aoun, with talks reportedly touching on issues related to the legislative by-elections and the new election law. The Minister then met with Deputy Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Lebanon, Emmanuel Gignac, where they discussed the condition of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon and the humanitarian situation in Arsal.

Bou Assi from northern Bekaa: Army solely responsible for Arsal and its security
Mon 31 Jul 2017 /NNA - Social Affairs Minister Pierre Abou Assi on Monday opened up his tour in the northern Bekaa by visiting thethe 9th Brigade command in Labweh, where he inspected the Brigade's frontline posts in the outskirts of Arsal. Minister Bou Assi was accompanied by the Lebanese Forces parliamentary candidate in the district of Baalbek-Hermel, Toni Habshi, and LF eastern Bekaa Coordinator, George Matar. Bou Assi congratulated the army on its day, and stressed rallying around the military institution. The Minister underlined that the army is solely responsible for Arsal and its security. He also voiced the LF's support to the return of Syrian refugees to their homeland but against negotiations in this regard with the Syrian regime. The Minister said he shall visit the areas of Qaa, Ras Baalbek and Jdaidet Al-Fakiha.

Overcrowded prisons feature high on talks between ministers of justice, interior

Mon 31 Jul 2017 /NNA - Minister of Justice Salim Jreissati and Interior and Municipalities Minister Nouhad Mashnouk discussed on Monday the issue of overcrowded prisons, and cooperation between the two ministries in this field during a meeting held at the Ministry of Justice. In the wake of the meeting, Mashnouk said that consultations with the Minister of Justice were ongoing. "I consider him [Minister of Justice] to be an element of political balance necessary for all developments in the country," Mashnouk said."The reason behind this visit is to discuss the issue of overcrowded prisons, especially by displaced Syrians, and to find a practical formula for this issue in cooperation between the Ministries of Interior and Justice," Mashnouk added.

Future Bloc visits Kuwaiti Ambassador, deplores 'Hezbollah links to Abdali cell'

Mon 31 Jul 2017/NNA - Kuwaiti Ambassador to Lebanon, Abdul Al Al-Kunai, welcomed at the Kuwaiti Embassy on Monday a delegation of the Future Movement headed by Future bloc head, Fouad Siniora, and MPs Atef Majdalani, Amin Wahbi, Ahmed Fatfat.In the wake of the meeting, Siniora made clear that the visit primarily aimed at expressing the Future bloc's utmost condemnation of what "appeared to be after three years of trials" a link between Hezbollah and Al-Abdali cell.
"This only leads to sabotaging relations between Lebanon and the brotherly State of Kuwait, which has always been one of the first countries to welcome Lebanese people over long decades. The State of Kuwait has always stood by Lebanon and supported its stability, growth, and development," Siniora said, highly praising Kuwait's relentless support to Lebanon over the past fifty years.
"It is regrettable that there are a few who are trying to destroy this historic relationship between Lebanon and Kuwait and causing serious damage to this relationship between the two brotherly countries. This will only bring harm to Lebanon, its children, and its interests," Siniora added. "We wish that the Lebanese government would take this matter seriously and deal with it as soon as possible so as not to lead to more fractures that we reject."

Saniora Meets Kuwait Envoy to Deplore 'Hizbullah Cell', Mashnouq Ready to 'Cooperate'
Naharnet/July 31/17/A Mustaqbal bloc delegation led by ex-PM Fouad Saniora on Monday visited Kuwaiti Ambassador to Lebanon Abdul-Al al-Qinai to condemn alleged Hizbullah involvement in a “terrorist cell” that has been busted in the Gulf emirate. In addition to Saniora, the delegation comprised MPs Atef Majdalani, Amin Wehbe and Ahmed Fatfat.“We came here today to express, in the name of al-Mustaqbal parliamentary bloc, our condemnation of the presence of a Hizbullah group in the so-called al-Abdali cell, which has been verified after a three-year trial,” said Saniora after the talks. “This act would only lead to sabotaging ties between Lebanon and the brotherly state of Kuwait, which was among the first countries to embrace Lebanese expats,” he added. “The state of Kuwait has always stood by Lebanon and supported its stability, growth and development,” Saniora went on to say.
Also on Monday, Kuwaiti Ambassador al-Qinai held talks with Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq at the Interior Ministry. Mashnouq said the meeting tackled the issue of the letter of protest that Kuwait has submitted to Lebanon over Hizbullah's alleged involvement in the cell. Expressing his “great respect for Kuwait,” Mashnouq expressed “his readiness and the readiness of the Lebanese security agencies to cooperate with the Kuwaiti interior ministry and to offer any help possible in this case or any other issues,” Lebanon's National News Agency said. The supreme court in Sunni-ruled Kuwait, which has a sizable Shiite minority, last month convicted 21 Shiites of forming a "terrorist cell" with ties to Iran and Hizbullah and plotting attacks in the Gulf state.  Kuwait has protested to Lebanon over the alleged training of the cell members by Hizbullah, which has ministers in the Lebanese government.
Earlier this month, Kuwaiti authorities expelled 15 Iranian diplomats and shut down the military, cultural and trade missions of the Iranian embassy in Kuwait over Tehran's backing of the "terrorist cell."Iran said the allegation is baseless. Fourteen of the 21 convicted members are on the run. Local media said they fled to Iran by sea. Around a third of Kuwait's native population of 1.35 million are Shiites.

Evacuation of Nusra Militants, Families Postponed to Tuesday
Associated Press/Naharnet/July 31/17/The second round of an exchange between Lebanon's Hizbullah and Syria's former al-Qaida affiliate al-Nusra Front has been postponed to Tuesday due to "logistical problems," TV networks said on Monday. The process was supposed to begin with the evacuation of Nusra's militants and their families from the outskirts of the Lebanese border town of Arsal to north Syria. Reports said the registration of thousands of Syrians who want to return home was taking longer than expected. MTV meanwhile said the process was suspended after al-Nusra "insisted on taking the three captives who are in its custody in Arsal's outskirts to areas inside Syria in order to release them there." Hizbullah and the Lebanese negotiator, General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim, "have rejected this condition, with Maj. Gen. Ibrahim telling Nusra that it is prohibited for the convoys to head to Syria while Hizbullah's captives are still in its custody," the TV network added. According to MTV, al-Nusra has also asked for "the release of Roumieh Prison inmates, a demand that has been rejected by Lebanese authorities" seeing as "some of the prisoners were involved in acts of terror."Scores of buses and ambulances had arrived earlier in the day at the Lebanon-Syria border for the evacuation process. The second round is planned to have about 9,000 Syrians, including hundreds of Nusra fighters, resettle in their home country of Syria, mainly in Nusra's bastion Idlib.In exchange, eight Hizbullah fighters held by Nusra will be returned home – five from northern Syria and three from the outskirts of Lebanon's Arsal. The government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media released video and photos of the buses and ambulances in Arsal and the Syrian village of Flita preparing for the evacuations.The second round comes a day after the two groups exchanged the bodies of their dead fighters as part of an agreement to restore order to the Lebanese-Syrian border region. Buses are expected to head from Arsal's outskirts to Flita and then to the Homs international highway en route to Aleppo. Syrian Red Crescent ambulances will escort the buses, according to Hizbullah's “War Media” outlet. LBCI television said “Hizbullah will safeguard the route that the convoys will take.” But Voice of Lebanon radio (100.5) meanwhile said the exchange process had been hampered by the need to “fully secure the route of the buses that will carry the refugees to Idlib.”A military source later told LBCI that “the buses have gathered under the army's supervision at the Wadi Hmayyed crossing but any transfer of refugees and militants will not take place today.”Also to be evacuated are members of the Saraya Ahl al-Sham rebel group whose members did not take part in last week's battles. Those fighters will head to the government-held town of Ruhaiba, about 50 kilometers northeast of the Syrian capital Damascus where they will benefit from an amnesty by the regime and return to normal life, according to Hizbullah's al-Manar TV. The exchange and evacuation deal followed a military offensive by Hizbullah fighters and Syrian troops during which they captured border areas between the two countries and left hundreds of Nusra fighters besieged in a small rugged mountainous area. The fighting ended with a ceasefire on Thursday.

Four Lebanese-Australian Suspects Arrested After Australian Plane Plot
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/July 31/17/Four men accused of plotting to bring down a plane planned to use poisonous gas or a crude bomb disguised as a meat mincer, reports said Monday, with Australian officials calling preparations "advanced". The men -- reportedly two Lebanese-Australian fathers and their sons -- were arrested in raids across Sydney on Saturday evening. The Sydney Daily Telegraph said they allegedly planned to carry the device on board a commercial flight from Sydney to a Middle East destination as hand luggage. It said the idea was to use wood scrapings and explosive material inside a piece of kitchen equipment such as a mincing machine. The Sydney Morning Herald also reported that a mincer was being examined, while The Australian newspaper cited multiple sources as saying it was a "non-traditional" device that could have emitted a toxic sulphur-based gas. This, it said, would have killed or immobilised everyone on the aircraft. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the plans were "advanced" but refused to comment on the conflicting claims over the method of attack. "I have to respect the integrity of the investigations," he said. "But I can say that certainly the police will allege they had the intent and were developing the capability. "There will obviously be more to say over coming days. It will be alleged that this was an Islamist, extremist terrorist motivation." Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin on Sunday said the aviation industry was potentially a target and that an improvised explosive device was involved. - Seamless cooperation -Justice Minister Michael Keenan on Monday called the plans "quite sophisticated". "It was a plot to bring down an aircraft with the idea of smuggling a device on to it to enable them to do that," he said.A magistrate late Sunday gave police an additional seven days to detain the men, who have not been officially named, without charge. Police continued to gather evidence Monday at the five homes raided, warning the investigation would be "very long and protracted". TV footage on Saturday showed riot police moving on a terraced house in the inner-city suburb of Surry Hills, with a man with a bandage on his head being led away by authorities, draped in a blanket. A woman at the address denied they had any link to terrorism.Police reportedly acted after receiving information from an overseas intelligence agency, suggesting the men may have been directed by someone else. Turnbull would not confirm this, but said "nowhere is far away from anywhere else these days"."In an age of the internet and the age of social media and the age of instant messaging applications, Syria is not a long way away from Sydney," he said. "And so that's the criticality of it -- seamless cooperation."
Security has been strengthened at major domestic and international airports across Australia since the raids, with passengers asked to arrive early and to limit their baggage. This prompted long queues at Sydney's domestic terminal on Monday morning, with officials saying extra checks were likely to continue for some time. Australia's national terror alert level was raised on September 2014 amid concerns over attacks by individuals inspired by organisations such as the Islamic State group.Canberra has become so worried that it announced the creation of a super ministry this month combining its security agencies including the domestic spy service, border force and national police to better tackle terrorism. A total of 12 attacks, before the latest one, have been prevented in the past few years, while 70 people have been charged. Several terror attacks have taken place in Australia in recent years, including a Sydney cafe siege in 2014 that saw two hostages killed.

Clooney Foundation to Open Schools for Syrian Refugees in Lebanon
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/July 31/17George Clooney's foundation is planning to open seven public schools for Syrian refugee children. The Clooney Foundation for Justice announced a new partnership Monday with Google, HP and UNICEF to provide education for more than 3,000 refugee children in Lebanon. Clooney and his wife Amal Alamuddin, a prominent Lebanese-British human rights lawyer, said in a statement Monday that the foundation's commitment of more than $2 million toward education for Syrian refugees aims to prevent thousands of young people from becoming "a lost generation." "They have been victims of geography and circumstance, but that doesn't mean there isn't hope," the couple wrote in a statement provided to The Associated Press. "Our goal with this initiative is to help provide Syrian refugee children with an education and put them on a path to be the future leaders their generation desperately needs." A UNICEF spokesman described the couple's support as "investing the future of the entire region."George and Amal Clooney established the Clooney Foundation for Justice last year to support equity in courtrooms, classrooms and communities around the world.

Berri Says Battle in Arsal an 'Achievement'
Speaker Nabih Berri described as an “achievement” the recent Hizbullah operation against the jihadist al-Nusra Front group in the outskirts of Arsal, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Monday. “What happened in the outskirts is a great achievement that is in its final stages,” Berri was quoted as telling his visitors. However the Speaker added that “danger still lingers namely that terrorists from the Islamic State group are still entrenched in the outskirts of Ras Baalbek and al-Qaa. “They are located in an area twice as big as that (occupied) of al-Nusra. In my opinion this should be completed by liberating that area. I believe that the Army's role in the outskirts of Ras Baalbek will be bigger,” added Berri. The Lebanese Army is gearing for a battle against the Islamic State group militants on the eastern borders in the al-Qaa and Ras Baalbek. The step comes in the wake of a Hizbullah assault in Arsal's outskirts that managed to oust al-Nusra Front's jihadists from the area. “Areas of al-Nusra are geographically much more difficult than Ras Baalbek, not to mention the presence of refugees near it, as well as Arsal which they used to control. The greatest danger has been eliminated and it was embodied in the entry of terrorists into camps of the displaced in Arsal making it more difficult to get them out. The battle in the outskirts of Ras Baalbek is much easier,” he added.

ISF Captures Terror Cell Linked to Islamic State Organization

Naharnet/July 31/17/The Internal Security Forces arrested members of a dangerous terror cell linked to the Islamic State group who were in motion mostly between the northern city of Tripoli and the region of Denniyeh north of Lebanon, the ISF said in a communique on Monday. “As a result of field follow-up and preventive security measures carried out by the Information Division of the Internal Security Forces, in a bid to monitor the activities of terrorist cells, especially those associated with the Islamic State terrorist organization, the said Division succeeded in identifying members of a seriously dangerous cell working in favor of the IS inside Lebanon,” the Directorate General of the Internal Security Forces - Public Relations Division said in the communique. “The IS members were mostly in motion between the city of Tripoli and the area of Denniyeh in northern Lebanon,” it added. A special force of the Division staged raids on July 24-25 which resulted in the arrest of the entire network, added the communique. A number of weapons have been seized in the process.
The detainees have all been referred to the competent military court.

Bankers cry foul over ‘double taxation,’ look to Aoun
Osama Habib/The Daily Star/July 31/17
BEIRUT: The Association of Banks in Lebanon and other private sector leaders are weighing the few options open to them as recently approved new tax measures, poised to be implemented soon, threaten to have a detrimental effect on their businesses and the overall economy. The few available options include trying to persuade President Michel Aoun to use his prerogatives to block some of the tax measures that were approved by Parliament to finance the salary scale increase for state employees.
If this option fails to produce any concrete results, then the ABL and other private professional associations such as the Order of Engineers and Beirut Bar Association could contest and challenge the tax measure before the Shura Council and other constitutional institutions.
But the ABL prefers to persuade the president and other senior officials to amend some of these taxes before pursuing this course.
For this purpose, a delegation from the ABL headed by its president, Joseph Torbey, is expected to visit Aoun at the presidential palace Monday to explain to him the serious repercussions of some of the taxes on the country in general.
Torbey will assure the president that the association is not against tax increases in principle but it has serious concerns about what bankers see as double taxation.
Lebanese commercial banks are paying a 5 percent tax on interest generated from Treasury bills, certificates of deposit and Eurobonds, not to mention a 15-percent tax on their profits.
However, the bankers stress that the authorities agreed in the past not to tax profits generated from Treasury bills and Eurobonds since the lenders have already paid the 5 percent tax on interest on deposits.
“We can swallow increasing taxes on interest on deposits from 5 to 7 percent and we can swallow increasing taxes on profits from 15 percent to 17 percent. But we really can’t digest taxing us twice on the bonds in our portfolio. This is clearly a tantamount to double taxation and this runs against the avoidance of double taxation which Lebanon agreed on it in the past,” one banker told The Daily Star.
The ABL argues that many banks depend heavily on revenues generated from T-bills and Eurobonds to make a profit.
Bankers note that the taxes imposed on the income generated from the financial engineering last year alone covers two-thirds of the cost of the salary scale.
“In some cases [double taxation will drastically reduce] the income of some banking institutions. The concerned authorities must realize the magnitude of the difficulties they have been facing due to the deterioration situation in the region, growing cost of complying with financial standard requirements, growing operational costs and growing costs of complying with measures to combat money laundering and terrorism funding,” one banker said.
One source said that some banks count heavily on government T-bills and Eurobonds to generate revenues and some of them hardly have any real customer deposits.
One banker added that the authorities should take into consideration that the flow of funds to Lebanon may drop once the taxes on interest on customer deposits are implemented. “I don’t think that depositors will be too thrilled to be charged 7 percent on the interest of their deposits, and could take their money somewhere else. The remittances and capital inflows could be the first victims of such hasty decisions,” the banker said.
The ABL said that the double taxation mandate imposed by the draft law on banks would also weaken the return on private funds in the banking sector, which does not exceed 11-12 percent in Lebanon – already a low rate.
Banks also have strong reservations about increasing taxes on dividends which contradicts previous agreements with the successive governments. “Increasing the tax on these shares from 5 to 10 percent contradicts all the official statements and proposals calling for the development of the capital markets in Lebanon and the strengthening of capital stock,” one banker said.
Bankers and the private sector believe that the president can rectify the serious errors in some clauses in the tax package before it is too late.
They added that some of these taxes would inflict great harm to various economic sectors in the country.
“We hope that the president would return the tax measures to Parliament with a recommendation that some of the tax measures should be reviewed or even cancelled,” one banker said.
Bankers and other associations wonder why Parliament did not endorse the 2017 draft budget first instead of passing the 20 tax items.
They insist that the state can easily finance the salary scale if it cut waste, combat corruption and improved tax collection.
Opponents of the tax measures hint that if all efforts to dissuade the authorities from implementing these taxes, then they may have no other choice but to contest these taxes before the Shura Council.
“One item which will be challenged is the double taxation. We hope that we won’t reach this stage. Many countries are avoiding double taxation to lure investors and Lebanon should not run against this trend,” one banker said.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on August 01/17
Qatar Accuses Saudis of Hampering Mecca Pilgrims
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/July 31/17/The Qatari authorities have accused Saudi Arabia of jeopardising the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca of Qatari pilgrims by refusing to guarantee their safety. Saudi Arabia and its allies have been boycotting Qatar since June 5, accusing it of backing extremist groups and of ties to Shiite Iran, in the region's worst diplomatic crisis in years. On July 20, Riyadh said that Qataris wanting to perform this year's hajj would be allowed to enter the kingdom for the pilgrimage, but imposed certain restrictions.The Saudi hajj ministry said Qatari pilgrims arriving by plane must use airlines in agreement with Riyadh. They would also need to get visas on arrival in Jeddah or Medina, their sole points of entry in the kingdom. The Qatari Islamic affairs ministry, in a statement published by the official QNA news agency on Sunday, said the Saudi side had "refused to communicate regarding securing the pilgrims safety and facilitating their Hajj".The ministry accused Riyadh of "intertwining politics with one of the pillars of Islam, which may result in depriving many Muslims from performing this holy obligation". According to the statement, 20,000 Qatari citizens have registered to take part this year. The ministry said it denied Saudi claims that Doha had suspended those registrations."The distortion of facts is meant to set obstacles for the pilgrims from Qatar to Mecca, following the crisis created by the siege countries," the Qatari ministry added, referring to Saudi Arabia and its allies. Some Gulf media claimed the Qatari statement was a call for the "internationalisation" of the management of the hajj season, which is run by the Saudi authorities. "Any call to internationalise (the management of) hajj is an aggressive act and a declaration of war," Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told Arabiya news channel on Sunday.
But Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani described the claims as "media fabrications." "There has not been a single statement by a Qatari official concerning the internationalisation of hajj," he told Al-Jazeera news channel. The hajj, a pillar of Islam that capable Muslims must perform at least once in a lifetime, is to take place this year at the beginning of September. Saudi Arabia and its allies Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates cut diplomatic ties and imposed sanctions on Doha in June, including the closure of their airspace to Qatari airlines. The four Arab states accuse Qatar of supporting extremists and of growing too close to Shiite-dominated Iran, the regional arch-rival of Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia. Qatar denies the allegations and accuses the Saudi-led bloc of imposing a "siege" on the tiny emirate.

Trump's New Comms Director Out as New Chief of Staff Takes Reins
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/July 31/17
ouse communications director Anthony Scaramucci was forced out Monday after barely 10 days in his post, as Donald Trump's new chief of staff asserted his authority on his first day in office. John Kelly, who had served as Trump's secretary of homeland security for six months, has been brought in as chief of staff to bring order and discipline to a White House beset by scandal, infighting, low approval ratings and legislative defeats. After an Oval Office swearing-in ceremony, Trump confidently predicted the 67-year-old combat veteran -- one of a group Trump has dubbed "my generals" -- will do a "spectacular job."And Kelly got straight to work, as reports emerged that Trump dismissed Scaramucci -- the fast-talking New York financier -- at Kelly's request. "Mr Scaramucci felt it was best to give Chief of Staff John Kelly a clean slate and the ability to build his own team. We wish him all the best," the White House said in a terse statement. Scaramucci had courted controversy with an expletive-laden attack on his colleagues -- then chief of staff Reince Priebus, who was forced out last week, and chief White House strategist Steve Bannon.
Kelly inherits the day-to-day running of a White House staff that -- far from marching in lockstep -- look like a regiment pinned down by heavy fire, getting conflicting orders from their commander and squabbling over the way forward. "I predict that General Kelly will go down as, in terms of the position of chief of staff, one of the great(est) ever," Trump said. "What he has done in terms of homeland security is record-shattering, if you look at the border, if you look at the tremendous results we've had."Kelly replaces Priebus, a Republican Party operative who was ousted last week after the spectacular failure of Trump's bid to repeal Obamacare and as his ugly feud with Scaramucci spilled into the open. The chief of staff is the highest ranking White House employee -- a chief operating officer who organizes staff, manages the president's schedule and decides who gets access to him and when. That is no small mission in Trump's White House, where a rotating cast of family and staff with unclear roles and opaque job titles walk into the Oval Office seemingly at will. Many question whether anyone can rein in the mercurial, Twitter-happy Trump, who has appeared to encourage the infighting among various factions vying for influence in his administration.
No chaos
Trump -- ever determined to project success -- insisted Monday that there was no "chaos" at the White House, which was instead running as a finely tuned machine."I think we’re doing incredibly well. The economy is doing incredibly well, and many other things. So we're starting from a really good base," he told a cabinet meeting. "We have the highest stock market in history," Trump said, adding that US economic growth in the last quarter stood at 2.6 percent and was approaching the three percent target he once set. "Unemployment is the lowest it's been in 17 years. Business enthusiasm is about as high as they've ever seen it." But aside from the economy, there has been little reason for Trump to cheer. Under pressure from a widening probe into his campaign's contacts with Russia last year, Trump last week attacked his own attorney general Jeff Sessions for disloyalty, alarming his conservative base, before turning on Priebus. In another tweet Monday, Trump hinted that Congress's own health insurance plan should be replaced for its failure to repeal Obamacare, his predecessor's signature reform of the US health care system. "If Obamacare is hurting people & it is, why shouldn't it hurt the insurance companies and why should Congress not be paying what public pays?"Since taking office six months ago, Trump's tumultuous administration has seen a succession of negative headlines and brewing scandals. Fueling the fire, the billionaire Republican has parted with a number of top officials including his national security advisor, deputy national security advisor and FBI director, among others -- an unparalleled turnover for such a young presidency. On the global stage, Trump faces the stark challenge of a North Korea that could be on the verge of marrying nuclear and ballistic missile technology. "We'll handle North Korea. We're going to be able to handle them. It will be handled. We handle everything. Thank you very much," Trump said. Kelly's arrival is likely to signal a renewed focus on border security and immigration. "As the coils of the Russia investigation grow tighter, as his failures in Congress mount, Trump reaches for what he knows -— demagoguery of the rawest sort," predicted Eliot Cohen, a former State Department official once tipped to join the Trump White House. "Trump will remain Trump, and the various denizens of the White House are unlikely to treat Kelly with much more deference than they treat one another," he wrote in the Atlantic magazine.

U.S. Slaps Sanctions on Maduro, Labels Him 'Dictator'

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/July 31/17/The United States branded Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro a "dictator" threatening his country's democracy on Monday and imposed sanctions targeting any assets he might hold on US territory. "Yesterday's illegitimate elections confirm that Maduro is a dictator who disregards the will of the Venezuelan people," U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement announcing the action. "By sanctioning Maduro, the United States makes clear our opposition to the policies of his regime and our support for the people of Venezuela who seek to return their country to a full and prosperous democracy." Sunday's vote in Venezuela to elect a Constituent Assembly that would supersede the country's opposition-controlled National Assembly earned international scorn, with the U.S. leading a group of nations refusing to recognize the election. Washington has been a longstanding opponent of Maduro's government -- and of his late predecessor Hugo Chavez -- but Monday's statement marks the first time that a senior official had publicly branded him a dictator. And the United States has already imposed sanctions on several Venezuelan individuals and organizations, but it was a rare step to target a sitting head of state by name that signaled growing alarm at the crisis. The order does not, however, impose restrictions on Venezuela's huge oil exports to the United States -- a key lifeline for the country's tottering economy but also its leftist anti-American government. "As a result of today's actions, all assets of Nicolas Maduro subject to U.S. jurisdiction are frozen, and US persons are prohibited from dealing with him," the Treasury statement said. "Under Maduro, the Venezuelan government has deliberately and repeatedly abused the rights of citizens through the use of violence, repression and criminalization of demonstrations," it alleged. "At his direction, the regime's security forces have systematically repressed and criminalized opposition parties through arbitrary detention, military prosecution of civilians and the excessive use of force against demonstrators. "Any member of the opposition or critic of the regime risks being detained, imprisoned, assaulted, tortured and assassinated."The statement urged those Venezuelans elected to the controversial Constituent Assembly not to take their seats, and warned that any who support the imposition of "an authoritarian regime" will also face sanctions.

Drone Strike on Qaida in Yemen Kills 5
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/July 31/17/Five men suspected of belonging to al-Qaida were killed in Yemen Monday in a drone strike likely to have been carried out by the United States, a security official said. The strike on Juba in the central Marib province, the site of a ground raid by U.S. commandos in May, killed five Yemenis and "foreigners" in an attack that targeted a gathering of people "known to belong to al-Qaida," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. He declined to elaborate on the nationalities of those killed. The United States considers the Yemen-based Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula to be the group's most dangerous branch. A long-running drone war against AQAP has intensified since President Donald Trump took office in January. An air raid he ordered that month killed a U.S. Navy SEAL and several Yemeni civilians in Baida province, south of Marib.
The May raid on Marib killed at least seven militants in an operation that also left several American troops wounded. AQAP has taken advantage of a war between the Saudi-backed government and Shiite rebels to expand its presence in several areas of eastern and southern Yemen. More than 8,000 people have been killed since Saudi Arabia and its allies joined the conflict in 2015.

Food Access in Syria's Raqa at 'Critical Turning Point'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/July 31/17/Food access in Syria's battle-torn Raqa is now at "a critical turning point," aid organizations said Monday, with markets shuttered and residents depending fully on their dwindling stockpiles. Raqa has been gripped by fierce fighting for nearly two months and the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have ousted the Islamic State group from half of the northern city. An assessment released Monday by REACH, a network of humanitarian organizations operating around Raqa, painted an increasingly dire picture. "While in previous weeks residents were able to purchase some food at markets, the majority of key informants reported that residents are now relying entirely on food stored from previous weeks," it said. "Food markets, which were functioning sporadically three weeks ago, are generally no longer in operation." Bread was consistently found in 15 of Raqa's 24 neighborhoods several weeks ago. Now it is no longer regularly available anywhere in the city. Food prices have also skyrocketed, forcing residents to eat smaller meals or skip them entirely, the report said. Raqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS), an activist collective publishing news from inside the city, has also warned of food problems. "The bakeries are closed because there's no fuel or flour, and the shopowners have fled. Whatever flour is here is spoiled and full of worms," RBSS activist Husaam Eesa told AFP earlier this month. "People can't store things in the refrigerators because there's no electricity. They can't cook because there's no water." The United Nations estimates that between 20,000 and 50,000 people are still in Raqa, but REACH said the number could be as low as 10,000. It estimated that the most densely populated district was al-Hurriya in the north, with at most 5,000 residents, and that 14 out of the 24 neighborhoods were abandoned or almost abandoned. According to REACH, only one wing of Raqa's state hospital is still functioning but offers just basic first aid. Medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) echoed those concerns on Monday, saying wounded civilians were often trapped in the city for days or weeks without medical care."In Raqa city, if you don't die from airstrikes, you die by mortar fire; if not by mortars then by sniper shots; if not by snipers, then by an explosive device," a 41-year-old with shrapnel wounds to his chest told MSF after he fled Raqa. "And if you get to live, you are besieged by hunger and thirst, as there is no food, no water, no electricity."

Saudi Arabia: Iran refused to complete investigations into embassy attack
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English Tuesday, 1 August 2017/A statement from Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry has condemned Iran for delaying and refusing to complete investigations into the attack on Riyadh’s embassy in Tehran last year.

First batch of Iranian Hajj pilgrims arrive in Madinah
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English Monday, 31 July 2017/Around 800 Hajj pilgrims left Iran’s Bandar Abbas airport on three flights to the holy city of Madinah on Sunday.They are the first batch from around 86,000 Iranians expected to attend the Hajj this year after Tehran boycotted the pilgrimage last year amid tensions with Saudi Arabia.Al Arabiya interviewed some pilgrims upon their arrival to the Prince Mohammad bin Abdulaziz International Airport. “Iranians love the holy sites of Madinah and Mecca … we were welcomed by Saudi airport officials in a good way,” on pilgrim said.
Another said: “It was a smooth journey to reach Madinah airport; we were not delayed even by a minute.”Around 800 coordinators have traveled to Saudi Arabia to help Iranians during the pilgrimage, he said.Iran boycotted the Hajj last year following a diplomatic rift between the two countries.

Syrian President: Arab peoples have advanced level of awareness about what is happening in region
Mon 31 Jul 2017/NNA - Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad received on Monday a delegation from the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT), headed by its Assistant Secretary General Bu Ali Mubaraki. President al-Assad stressed that this delegation’s visit, just like the visits of all other popular delegations to Syria, is important because it carries many messages to the Syrian people and to the world as it "reflects the pulse of the Arab public opinion and its orientations.""One of the most important reasons for what our Arab countries are facing is that we are suffering a conflict of identity and belonging. Regardless of this, the Arab peoples have shown that they have an advanced level of awareness about what is happening in the region, and this should be an additional motive for the unions and pouplar organizations for furtehr cooperation and action to push the Arab situation forward to the best interest of these peoples as well for dialogue with the popular bases on various issues with the aim of reaching a collective state of unity of concepts."On the war in Syria, President al-Assad asserted that the will of the Syrian people and the determination of all their components to continue their daily activities despite the crimes of the terrorist organizations and their supporters, as well as the heroism of the Syrian Arab Army, are the most important reasons that have helped in overcoming the difficult stage of this war. "Heroism in Syria is no longer an individual case, but it has become a general status," he said. In turn, members of the delegation confirmed that they came to Damascus in implementation of the decision taken by the UGTT to convey a message of support to the Syrian people, who have showed matchless resilience and supported their leadership and army that is defending the dignity of the Arab nation.--SANA News Agency

Hamburg attacker hoped to die as 'martyr': prosecutors

Mon 31 Jul 2017/NNA - German prosecutors say the Palestinian man who fatally stabbed one person and wounded six others at a Hamburg supermarket appears to be a "self-radicalized Islamic extremist" who hoped to die as a "martyr."
Federal prosecutors, who handle terrorism cases in Germany, said Monday that they were taking over the investigation of the suspect, identified only as Ahmad A. in line with German privacy rules. They said there's no evidence that he carried out Friday's attack as a member of Daesh (ISIS) or any other terror organization, or that he was in contact with or influenced by a member of any terror group.--Associated Press

Algerian army kills six armed extremists
Mon 31 Jul 2017/NNA - The Algerian army on Monday killed six armed extremists during an ongoing security operation west of Algiers, the defense ministry said. Weapons and ammunition were also recovered, it said. The six suspects were killed in the Safsafa area near Tipaza, 70 kilometers (44 miles) west of Algiers, according to the ministry. At least 71 armed extremists have been killed by Algerian security forces this year, according to an AFP tally of official figures.--AFP

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on August 01/17
Resistance Axis Sources: Al-Hashd Al-Sha'bi (PMU) Has Close Ties With Iran, Hizbullah, Opposes U.S. Presence In Iraq
الحشد الشعبي مرتبط بإيران وحزب الله ويعارض الوجود الأميركي في العراق

MEMRI 31/17
Since its establishment some three years ago – following a fatwa issued by Iraqi Shi'ite leader Ayatollah 'Ali Sistani calling for "jihad kifa'i"[1] against ISIS – the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU, Al-Hashd Al-Sha'bi in Arabic), an umbrella organization of armed Iraqi militias, has played an important role in the fight against ISIS in Iraq, alongside the Iraqi army and the international coalition.
Because most of the militias in the PMU are Shi'ite and their commanders are very close to Iran, elements both inside and outside Iraq have long been questioning whether the militias are subordinate to and controlled by the Iraqi authorities, or are in fact controlled exclusively by Iran. To repel this charge by institutionalizing the PMU and thus granting it government legitimacy, in early 2014 the Iraqi government formed the "People's Mobilization Committee." Furthermore, in 2016 the Haider Al-'Abadi government passed the PMU Law, formally incorporating the organization in the country’s armed forces and subordinating it to the prime minister. In an effort to refute the claim that the PMU is controlled by Iran, Iraqi National Security Advisor Falih Fayyad, chairman of the People's Mobilization Committee, said that Iran had extended assistance to the PMU but only in an "advisory" capacity, and emphasized the Iraqi identity of the organization: "In its first months the PMU received assistance from Iran; nevertheless, it is a purely Iraqi endeavor..." Asked about the involvement of senior Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani and of experts from the Lebanese Hizbullah in establishing the PMU, Fayyad said: "We received help from the brothers in Iran and Lebanon... [and] we thank our friends for the extensive advice they granted us."[2]
These statements, however, did not quell the doubts regarding the organization's primary loyalties, for good reason. PMU commanders have openly discussed the militias' close connections with Iran and Hizbullah, as well as their fierce opposition to the U.S. presence in Iraq, which is sanctioned by the Iraqi government. Reports about these connections have also appeared in the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which is close to the resistance axis.
This paper reviews recent statements by PMU commanders, as well as the Al-Akhbar reports, about these connections.
PMU Commanders: Iran, Hizbullah Have Helped Our Jihad Units From The Start; Foreign Presence In Iraq Is A Red Line
As stated, senior commanders in the Shi'ite PMU militias freely admit Iran's and Hizbullah's support for their militias. In an interview with Al-Akhbar, PMU deputy commander Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis flaunted Iran's involvement in establishing and training the militias: "Iran contributed to the establishment of our jihad forces. It developed them – especially the Badr organization – and [its] Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps [IRGC] supported us and trained us. After the fall of president Saddam Hussein in April 2003, Iran helped Iraq in everything – materially, financially and politically. In 2014, after the Iraqis heeded the call of supreme religious authority ['Ali Sistani and established the PMU], the IRGC [played] a clear role in training our militias." Al-Muhandis also spoke of his connections with two senior Hizbullah commanders who have since been killed: chief operations officer 'Imad Mughniyya and Mustafa Badr Al-Din: "My personal relationship with them, and with others in the resistance [i.e., Hizbullah], [including] Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, goes back a long time. 'Imad [Mughniyya] and Mustafa [Badr Al-Din] trained the first armed jihad groups of the Iraqi opposition in 1982, as well as the first resistance units that opposed the [American] occupation in 2003... Hizbullah's involvement, by means of its advisors, in the fight against ISIS is very important, and some of them were [even] wounded or killed. Nasrallah sent operatives here with the consent and the knowledge of the Iraqi [government]."
Al-Muhandis clarified that the PMU sees Iran and Syria as its allies and opposes the U.S. presence in Iraq. He stated further that Iraq is currently a central part of a "regional plan" in which it cooperates with its neighbors in combatting terror, and added: "The current and former governments decided to open [Iraq's] airspace to Iranian and Russian planes in order to help Syria, despite the ongoing U.S. pressure aimed at preventing Baghdad from opening up an aerial route from Tehran to Damascus."
He stressed that he is committed to the decisions of the Iraqi government but did not hide his opposition to the U.S. presence in the country: "We flatly oppose the foreign military and security presence (the security companies). We don't think they benefit [us]." He called the foreign presence in Iraq, in all its forms, a "red line." Al-Akhbar clarified that "the commitment to the Iraqi government's decision [to allow the U.S. presence] does not oblige Al-Muhandis and the PMU to accept this [fact] and keep quiet about it, but rather motivates them to keep a tight military and security watch [on the Americans] and warn about the increasing number [of U.S. military personnel]." It added: "The possibility of friction or a confrontation between the PMU forces and the American forces is very real. Al-Muhandis does not rule this out 'if Iraq's sovereignty comes under attack.'"[3]
Al-Muhandis made similar statements in a conference held on the margins of the General Assembly of the Islamic Radios and Televisions Union in Tehran: "Were it not for the support extended to the PMU by Iran and Hizbullah, it would never have attained its current achievements against ISIS... We welcome the victories attained in Iraq and thank the Imam, [Iran's Supreme] Leader Ali Khamenei, and Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah for the help they have given us in the campaign against ISIS." Warning that the U.S. intends to stay in Iraq and increase its presence there, he said: "We will thwart with all our might the American plan to take control of the Syria-Iraq border and establish a zone under American influence there... They accuse us of opening up a route between Damascus and Baghdad. We will [in fact] guard this route and maintain our ties with the Syrians and Lebanese... In the future Iraq will have an important regional role in supporting Syria."[4]
Kazem Al-Jabri, commander of Saraya 'Ashura, a major component of the PMU, likewise thanked Iran for the help it has extended to Iraq in the fight against ISIS. He said in an interview with Hizbullah's Al-Ahed website: "Without Iran, Iraq never would have won... Iran gave Iraq a lot of help and support in its campaign against ISIS, especially in the form of security and military advice, as well as the necessary logistic [assistance] and supportive political positions...[5]"
Reports In Pro-Hizbullah Lebanese Daily Al-Akhbar: PMU Has Close Ties To Iran, Hizbullah
Further evidence of the PMU's close connections to Iran and Hizbullah is found in reports published in the recent year in the pro-Hizbullah Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar. The head of the daily's board of directors, Ibrahim Al-Amin, wrote that Iran's opponents had failed in their attempts to hobble this country and the resistance forces in the region, and that, in Iraq, even the ouster of prime minister Nouri Al-Maliki for his loyalty to Iran did not significantly change the situation on the ground. According to him, Hizbullah "sent experts and operatives to Iraq, [and] Iran supplied everything that was needed to establish the PMU and to support its activity."[6]
In another article, addressing Israel's threats to Hizbullah, Al-Amin stressed that the organization had become a significant force in the region at large. As for its role in Iraq, Al-Amin wrote: "Hizbullah's military and security experts are present in the most important war rooms. Hassan Nasrallah has become the inspiring commander of the PMU and the authority directing most of the political relations [in Iraq]..."[7]
The PMU's close ties to Hizbullah and Iran were also mentioned in several articles published by Al-Akhbar on July 13, 2017 to mark the third anniversary of the PMU's establishment as well as the defeat of ISIS in Iraq. The articles were full of praise for the PMU's role in the war against ISIS, and one of them even claimed that it was these militias that had "saved Iraq and the Iraqi people" from ISIS.
Another article stated: "These factions [the Shi'ite militias in Iraq] were eroding, but the leader ['Ali Sistani], of Iranian origin, fulfilled a crucial role in reviving them after Iran took a strategic decision to put its weight behind Iraq – both the state and its people – in order to enable it to fight ISIS on its own..." The article added that the PMU's strength lies mainly in "the ideological commitment of its fighting units" and in its good planning and staff work. It stated further "the Iranian and Lebanese foreign experts that the PMU imported [to Iraq] with the knowledge and consent of the Iraqi government played an important role in establishing and activating [the PMU] and in its planning and training [activities]." The article stressed that "the spirit of courage and daring with which the [PMU] operatives are blessed stems mostly from the general spirit of revival that filled the Iraqi street following the fatwa issued by the supreme religious authority ['Ali Sistani], and also from the cultural traits inherent to the social sectors that had heeded this fatwa [and joined the PMU]."[8]
Yet another article stated: "From the Baghdad area, through the center [of Iraq] and up to the north and to the deserts of Al-Anbar, the PMU scored an unbroken chain of victories through local effort and immense battles, with the assistance of Iranian experts and Lebanese ones [from Hizbullah]."[9]
[1] Collective jihad, namely a duty incumbent upon the Muslim community as a whole rather than on each individual Muslim. The duty is fulfilled as long as a sufficient number of Muslims engage in it.
[2] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), February 9, 2017.
[3] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), May 23, 2017.
[4] ISNA (Iran), July 4, 2017.
[5], March 19, 2017.
[6] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), January 24, 2017.
[7] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), July 3, 2017.
[8] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), June 13, 2017.
[9] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), June 13, 2017.

Macron attempts a gamble in Libya
Christian Chesnot/A l Arabiya/July 31/17
The joint statement adopted - but not signed - by Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and his rival General Khalifa Haftar at Celle St-Cloud in the Paris region on July 25 is a nice diplomatic maneuver for French President Emmanuel Macron, or rather a poker stroke. How can we explain this French desire to relaunch a moribund reconciliation process? It was Jean-Yves Le Drian as Minister of Foreign Affairs and former Minister of Defense under President Hollande, who maintained ties with General Haftar. Le Drian has indded been aware of the deterioration of the security situation in Libya for some time now. According to the French president, the situation in Libya has become “a node of destabilization with multiple faces”. There is also a French desire to be forgiven. Indeed, the efforts of former President Nicolas Sarkozy to bring down Muammar Qaddafi in 2011 are inversely proportional to France’s efforts to stabilize the country now and participate in its reconstruction now. Along with the British – who are, on the record, completely silent and absent - France played the part of wizard apprentices, as the America of George W. Bush did before in Iraq. It is easy to defeat a dictator, but it is much more complicated to organize a lasting national reconciliation.
Being pragmatic, Emmanuel Macron felt that there was what is called in diplomatic language a “momentum”, that is to say, a window of opportunity for action. Breaking with the incantatory postures of his predecessor, the new tenant of the Elysée Palace decided to restore all the Middle Eastern and North African files in order to push forward with realism - but determination - the situation in Syria or Libya. The French eagerness to act on the Libyan file also stems from the fear of seeing Russia carve out the lion’s share in the future Libya. After Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, Moscow has established close ties with General Haftar, the strongman of eastern Libya, and also intends to weigh in on the future of the country. Macron, the first Western head of state to do this, offered him a political costume and diplomatic legitimacy by receiving him at Celle St-Cloud. For their part, the two main Libyan protagonists - al-Sarraj and Haftar - are also keen to work with President Macron who has resurrected the voice of France, between that of Trump and Putin, both of whom were recently received in Paris. The French eagerness to act on the Libyan file also stems from the fear of seeing Russia carve out the lion’s share in the future Libya. After Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, Moscow has established close ties with General Haftar, the strongman of eastern Libya, and also intends to weigh in on the future of the country. Macron, the first Western head of state to do this, offered him a political costume and diplomatic legitimacy by receiving him at Celle St-Cloud.
New prospects
In light of these new prospects that are now opening, France also counts on the new special envoy of the UN, the Franco-Lebanese Ghassan Salamé, who has been sailing for a long time in Parisian politico-diplomatic circles. France will have the ear of this experienced diplomat in the Libyan file, which also serves as a billiard table. At the end of the Celle St-Cloud meeting, Macron thanked several countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and the UAE, but did not mention Qatar. We know that Doha has supported and continues to support the powerful militias of Misurata. In short, it is also a discrete but effective message to Qatar to shut down its aid to its local militia allies. For the Libyan bet of Emmanuel Macron to succeed, it will be necessary to play collectively. Yet, Italy, the former colonial power in Libya, is furious about being put aside in a file where it is in the theater of operations. After all, it is Italy that receives front-line the flow of African migrants.
The main risk
Too sure of himself and of his good international reputation, the main risk for the French president would be to ruffle the susceptibilities of one or the other. Even if France has taken the lead for the European Union in the Libyan case, it will not be able to go far without the support of Brussels and the regional partners.And then there is the justice of the peace which remains the one on the ground: given the multiplicity of the local Libyan actors in conflict, the road map approved at Celle St-Cloud will undoubtedly be put into practice and to the test soon.
The key question becomes: Beyond the quarrels of egos, are Fayez al-Sarraj and Khalifa Haftar really ready to play the democratic game?

Politicizing pilgrimage, the new Qatari crisis
Salman al-Dosary/A l Arabiya/July 31/17
After its failure in promoting the quadre-boycotting as a blockade and internationalizing the three-month crisis, Qatar played the card of politicizing pilgrimage to remind the world of its isolation. This outdated idea was of no benefit. The Saudi government announced that it welcomes pilgrims from all over the world including Qatar and that Qatari people can continue to perform Umrah at any time and can arrive into the kingdom through any airline, except Qatar Airways, even those taking off from Doha, coming through any transit station and arriving at King Abdul Aziz Airport in Jeddah or Prince Mohammed Bin Abdul Aziz Airport in Madinah. Qatari pilgrims and those residing in Qatar who have Hajj permits and have been registered in the Hajj electronic system, will be able to come by air via any airline selected by the Qatari government and approved by the GACA. The only thing that has changed is that the Qatari people won’t be able to come by land to perform Hajj because of the border closure – they also won’t be able to travel through Qatar Airways and can instead travel directly from Doha to Jeddah through any other carrier. This totally contradicts with what the Qatari authorities are claiming, in the sense that Riyadh is preventing its citizens from performing this religious duty. The Saudi authorities didn’t reduce their number, prevent them or impose any conditions on them. The whole story is that instead of using the Qatar Airways – banned from flying in the Saudi skies – they should use another carrier. Unless it is a must to use the national carrier in order to perform pilgrimage!Pursuits to politicize pilgrimage are not new. Since the eighties, Tehran has been keen to politicize this religious duty under the slogan of “disowning polytheists” – it exploited this duty by spurring protests regardless of other pilgrims to invent special rituals in Hajj. Since the eighties, Tehran has been keen to politicize this religious duty under the slogan of “disowning polytheists”
Pilgrims banned
At the end of eighties and after cutting ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Tehran banned pilgrims from performing this religious duty for three years until 1991. Last year, Iran also prevented the 80, 000 pilgrims from it, accusing the kingdom of subversiveness and incapability to ensure safety of pilgrims. It is no secret that Iran is standing behind the call to internationalize the Two Holy Mosques to irritate the kingdom, which is entrusted with organizing the Hajj without any foreign interference. Iran has never ceased to create crises in every Hajj season to reach its goal. The Iranian regime has failed in his calls and found no interaction from any country, re-allowing its citizens to perform the duty after losing hope. This time it is the same Iranian call but through Qatar, which hasn’t learnt the lesson from Tehran. Even worse, the Qatari authorities are spreading fear through media by saying that citizens are banned from entering the Grand Mosque and that Saudis might kill them if they go to Hajj. Doha is neglecting the fact that what Iran failed to do through preventing 80,000 pilgrims from performing hajj for four seasons and what Qaddafi failed to do with such a crazy suggestion, Qatar won’t be able to accomplish with 1,600 pilgrims – it won’t be able to cause tension and use it politically in the crisis. The idea of politicizing hajj lacks wisdom and insightfulness – hajj season will pass safely as well as the crisis with Qatar – even if late – but Qatari attempts to politicize hajj will remain an unforgettable stigma by Saudis and the government.

Will Qatar save itself or ‘the project’?

Sawsan Al Shaer/A l Arabiya/July 31/17
The quartet alliance, which consists of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, has gone beyond defending itself against the “new Middle East project” and has entered the phase of arranging the ranks inside the countries, which some powers have schemed to topple. The alliance has thus adopted an offensive approach against the project and is no longer only defending itself. The biggest mistake Qatar is committing now is that it is trying to save “the project” instead of saving itself as it thinks it is the target here. Truth is, Qatar’s role in redrawing the map of the new Middle East and toppling Arab regimes was secondary, i.e. it was an extra, as it only played the role of the funder. The project almost succeeded as major Arab regimes fell and countries collapsed. It was all going as planned if it hadn’t been for the resistance to the rebellion, which began in Bahrain in 2011 and then in Egypt on June 30, 2013 and in 2015 in Yemen via the Decisive Storm Operation. The devastating blow to “the project” came from the quartet alliance against the funder, which is Qatar in this case. The alliance exposed Qatar’s role and put it in a defensive position for the first time. Doha thus thought it was the target and that the best way to defend itself is to hold on to the project and link itself to it – a move it will later realize is like tightening the noose around its neck. Groups which Qatar funded are being replaced by others who are allies of the quartet alliance
A new phase
We are now facing a new phase. Qatar will further drown itself if it does not comprehend the changes on the ground and it will be difficult for it to save itself. The quartet began a new strategic phase, in the beginning of July, in which it is taking on “the project”. As a result, key players such as the US, Iran and Turkey, and new players such as Russia and the EU, had to reassess the situation as a result of the failure of mediations and independent moves made by the alliance. The four countries are now certain that the policy of dissociation from internal conflicts in Arab countries and the policy of not interfering in their affairs left the door open for all powers – except themselves – to intervene in their own domestic affairs. They also realized that the collapse of some Arab regimes have created a vacuum that helped others interfere and target them with a divisive project. The region has witnessed unprecedented Saudi-Emirati-Egyptian activities since the beginning of July. These activities have led to reshuffling the deck in Iraq, Libya and Gaza. Instead of closing in on themselves, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt took action to impose their agenda and interests in areas which they had preferred to dissociate themselves from their conflicts for some time. On July 20, Chief of Staff of Saudi Arabia General Abdul Rahman Al Banyan met with his Iraqi counterpart and Joseph Votel, Commander of the US Central Command in Iraq, to discuss reopening Saudi-Iraqi borders. The meeting also witnessed the agreement to reopen Jordanian-Syrian borders and Jordanian-Iraqi borders under American sponsorship. These agreements cut off the Iranian route inside Iraq and Syria and imposed a Saudi presence in Iraq.
Gaza and Libya
Also in July, Hamas and Egyptian officials held a meeting to reopen the Rafah border crossing and the UAE will thus have a role inside Gaza. The two Libyan rivals, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and Fayez Sarraj, met in Abu Dhabi to put away disputes after the victories which Haftar achieved as a result of Egyptian air support. They met again last week in Paris and held talks hosted by President Macron. We are thus facing a new phase during which new players seem to be emerging on the scene. Groups which Qatar funded are being replaced by others who are allies of the quartet alliance. Qatar is suffering multiple blows because the alliance is not concerned about Qatar itself as much as it is concerned in ending its project and redrawing the region’s map according to people’s initiatives and not according to plans devised by intelligence apparatuses. Even Iran realized the magnitude of these changes and began to reposition itself inside Iraq. Whatever comes will be at its own (Iran’s) expense so it began to introduce new Iraqi faces and asked its agents to change their hats as it knows the situation is now going in the opposite direction. Iran may have served these players’ strategies in the past but it has now become a burden.Qatar has not realized any of this, and it is now a burden on these players. The price to stay by its side will thus become costly. This is what the quartet alliance has realized so they boycotted it and decided to address the root of the problem. They began to work to suspend the project. However, instead of thinking of saving itself, Qatar is thinking of saving the project!

The open African secret

Hussein Shobokshi/A l Arabiya/July 31/17
The African continent is often described as the promised last market — a clear destination for major industrial states and multinational corporations. The Dark Continent offers many investment opportunities and has huge reserves of wealth in the ground. It is a continent that is capable of absorbing all the investment opportunities it needs. It is in the urgent need of infrastructure and modern-life requirements, like airports, ports, electricity, railways, hospitals and sewage systems. But the continent also faces many important challenges — the pervasive corruption, security constraints, political deterioration and the pliant judiciary.
I have the advantage to know about the continent as I am a member of a family with a history of long trade with Africa. Ali Shobokshi, my grandfather’s father who had the same name, traded with the east African countries in food and livestock and he died in Port Sudan and was buried there.
My grandfather Hussein Shobokshi traded with Ethiopia and Eritrea and my father traded with Uganda and Tanzania. He had a good relationship with the leaders there. His political interactions and trade ties prompted him to write an important book, sharing his views and experiences about Africa.
Today China has embarked on a long-term plan to acquire the largest share in the African market, keeping in view the palpable indifference of the two traditional colonial powers that dominated the African market — Britain and France. One of the most important features of China’s Africa plan is that it does not measure the amount of investment in Africa in dollar terms but in the number of individuals. There was a plan to have 10 million Chinese permanent residents in the continent by 2010 and it succeeded.
East Africa offers the greatest opportunities for Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries to continue the old and successful Hadrami investment in agricultural and real estate
Demographic change
As a result of the demographic change, some African countries — Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and Sudan — have become completely reliant on China for their economies. These countries completely depend on Chinese financing for metro in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, oil companies in Sudan, major buildings in Khartoum, and many infrastructure projects in Zimbabwe.Japan also recently entered the market, announcing a very ambitious plan for long-term investment in the Dark Continent. These opportunities come amid American confusion over economic policies toward the continent. There are four major economies in the continent: South Africa, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Ghana. There are a number of other important economies, which cannot be ignored, such as Algeria, Morocco, Guinea, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya with some opportunities in different countries.
East Africa offers the greatest opportunities for Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries to continue the old and successful Hadrami investment in agricultural and real estate. They have very important and successful sale in coffee, tea, fruits and vegetables in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Sudan, Kenya and Uganda. For these areas, India is also betting as it has historical presence since the days of British colonialism. There is a promising, far-reaching and important outcome that has been made available to communications, contracting, mining, banking and agriculture companies in more than one African country.
The ancient history of Arab-African trade and geographical proximity makes Arabs the most likely partner to succeed with the African continent, but the importance of changing the style and way of dealing remains. Europe is out of date and there is no chance for market growth there, Asia is overcrowded, and America is expensive. Africa offers an important opportunity to invest and achieve remarkable returns, but it does not receive enough recognition and attention.

US blacklists IRGC, affiliates for terrorism
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/ArabNews/August 01/17
A powerful bipartisan sanctions bill, the Countering Adversarial Nations Through Sanctions Act, has been passed by the US Congress on Russia, North Korea and Iran. The bill is veto-proof because 419 voted in favor and only three against. Tehran and many leftist media outlets have tactically not drawn attention to the bill’s section on Iran. Instead, Russia has gained the media spotlight.
It is one of the most powerful US sanctions bills against Iran, and is a robust blow to it. The bill blacklists Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) for its terrorist activities and destabilizing behavior, and for being a national security threat to the US and its allies.
More importantly, any individual or entity directly or indirectly linked to the IRGC or its affiliates is also blacklisted. In addition, any American person or entity doing do is subject to penalties for violating the law.
Financial systems, US citizens and entities should be very cautious because the IRGC is not one institution. It has thousands of affiliates in Iran and abroad, it owns thousands of companies, and it has significant control over Iran’s economy and wealth.
Tehran did not draw attention to the sanctions bill mainly because it is not in its economic or geopolitical interests to publicize that the most important and powerful institution in Iran, the IRGC, has been blacklisted. The news will be detrimental to Tehran’s increasing trade profit with Western companies, as it will make other nations hesitant to do business with Iran due to repercussions from the US.
Iran has long warned that if the US imposes sanctions on the IRGC, its military will respond immediately. But such threats are mainly rhetoric aimed at projecting power and discouraging sanctions on the IRGC.
Tehran did not draw attention to the sanctions bill mainly because it is not in its economic or geopolitical interests to publicize that the most important and powerful institution in Iran, the IRGC, has been blacklisted.
Iran cannot take direct military action against the US because it knows its army is far inferior, so any direct war with the US would be political suicide. As such, if Iran acknowledges and widely reports the bill, it will have to act on its threats, and since it cannot, it would be seen as weak. Nonetheless, Tehran continues to present a significant threat to the national security of the US and its allies.
The next step is to place the IRGC on the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. To halt its support for terrorism, belligerence and destabilization of the region, other governments should impose similar sanctions. And Congress and US officials must impose sanctions on non-American individuals and entities that directly or indirectly deal with Tehran, the IRGC and its affiliates.
Before the nuclear deal, the US imposed such sanctions on European, Chinese and other entities dealing with Iran. Foreign individuals and entities must choose either to deal with the world’s top state sponsor of terrorism or with US companies.
They would choose the latter because the possibility of profits is higher. Such sanctions would be the most powerful blow to Iran’s regime, endangering its hold on power and pushing back on its terrorist activities and aggressive regional behavior.
• 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.

What Kind of Iran Did the U.S. Just Certify?
Reza Shafiee/Gatestone Institute/July 31/17
For past 38 years, Iran's Islamist regime has demonstrated that it is neither able nor willing to reform.
The time for the U.S. jettisoning its toxic "nuclear deal", and for regime change in Iran, is now.
The Trump Administration reluctantly certified to Congress on July 17 that Iran had continued to meet the "required conditions" for the 2015 "nuclear deal", signed by six world powers. Despite the certification, US officials were quick to remind Iranian regime that it is not out of the woods yet. Senior administration officials made it clear that President Trump intends to impose new sanctions on Iran for ongoing "malign activities" in non-nuclear areas such as ballistic missile development and support for terrorism.
The Trump administration made good on its promise just a day later, by imposing new sanctions on five individuals and 14 entities related to violations of what "primary" sanctions.
"The United States remains deeply concerned about Iran's malign activities across the Middle East which undermine regional stability, security and prosperity," said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert in a statement, adding that "Iran's support for US-designated terrorist groups, militias and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as well as domestic human rights concerns," remain unresolved in the eyes of US officials.
The mullahs in Tehran try hard to shift world's focus from their unneighborly activities in all other areas, such as sponsoring terrorist groups in the region, including the Lebanese Hezbollah, and, with the help of North Koreans, manufacturing indigenous missiles that are gradually improving in accuracy and range, and last but not least, oppressing Iran's population.
A range of US officials have made it clear to the regime in Tehran that, no matter how hard it tries to whitewash its image, such behavior is unacceptable.
US Defense Secretary James Mattis said in an interview that Iran is not trustworthy and by "far the biggest threat to peace and stability in the region," and he gave credit again to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for effectively using economic sanctions, and "forcing the Iranian regime to the negotiating table."Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of the U.S. Central Command also emphasized again that the Iranian regime remains the main source of instability in the region. "The Iranian regime," he said, "remains the most destabilizing influence in the CentCom region."
Such sharp comments on Iran's role in the region and beyond are not limited to that of Mattis or Votel. US officials are now openly calling for "regime change." President Trump named the Iranian regime among the "rogue regimes like North Korea... and Syria and the governments that finance and support them."
After Iran's fake-democratic elections on May 19, in which the slate of possible candidates was cherry-picked by the regime, and the declared reelection of Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, US policy on Iran requires a major overhaul. The Obama Administration's ostensible vain hope was that after the nuclear deal was struck with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in the summer of 2015, the mullah's regime would suddenly transform and turn into a responsible first-class world player. Two years into the deal with the Iranian regime, as foretold, the world is not a better place.
Old habits die hard, particularly with the rulers in Tehran. Hostage-taking of foreign nationals, and especially US citizens, has been a habit of this regime since day one. On July 17, an announcement appeared that Xiyue Wang, 37, a Princeton University student pursuing a Ph.D. in Eurasian history, had been arrested in Iran and sentenced to 10 years in prison on dubious charges of espionage. He is accused of spying for the US and the UK.
Hardly anyone would doubt that Wang is serving time until a different date, pending a foreseeable hostage swap of some kind, or better yet a hefty ransom in return for his release. Over the span of almost four decades, the Islamic Republic's hostage-taking has become a boring and bitter soap opera -- no disrespect is intended to the hostages' suffering families, who spend agonizing and frustrating years in the hope of freeing their loved ones. Lately the Trump administration has been demanding that Iran return former CIA agent Robert Levinson, who has been held captive for a decade, and whose family are suing Iran for kidnapping.
Iran's regime has also been meddling in the internal affairs of Syria, Iraq and Yemen by directly funding and training various militia groups, as well as directly trying to control the governments there, via Iran's violent military wing, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which also maintains ballistic missile sites. (revealed last month by the Iranian opposition).
The IRGC and its Quds Force no longer hide their presence in Syria and Iraq. Last month in Syria, a few near-collisions were reported between US Special Forces and Iranian-backed groups. Often high- ranking members of IRGC arrive home in body bags from Syria. In addition, Afghan and Pakistani recruits are being dispatched to Syria by the thousands. They have been given "religious" names such as Liwa Fatemiyoun, ("Fatemiyoun Division") and Zeinabiyoun, "Pakistani Division"). The Syrian opposition estimates that there are anywhere from 70,000 to 90,000 armed militiamen fighting under IRGC and Quds Force command.
Contrary to the Obama Administration's open-arms policy for embracing the mullahs at any cost to the US and Iran's jittery neighbors, the Trump administration and Congress seem determined to put an end to Iranian regime's expansionist and repressive actions.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has called for regime change in Iran. He also called for support of "elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of that government", among comments in a hearing on State Department budget for next year, before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has called for regime change in Iran, and specifically for support of "elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of that government". (Image source: US Department of State)
The Iranian people have been keen on getting rid of Iran's oppressive regime since June 20, 1981, the day that the IRGC embarked on a bloody crackdown on a half-million peaceful demonstrators in Iran calling for a free and open society.
An example of such resolve on the part of Iranian people was the galvanized crowd of tens of thousands of Iranian expatriates gathering, organized by Iran's main opposition, the National Council of Resistance (NCRI), on July 1 in Paris.
Many former and current officials from US, Canada, Europe and the Middle East unanimously called for "regime change" in Iran as a viable and realistic solution to mullahs "destabilizing role" in the region and crimes it has committee against its people.
"The overthrow of this regime is indispensable, feasible, and within reach, and that a democratic alternative and an organized resistance exists to topple it," said Maryam Rajavi, oresident of the NCRI in her address.
The time for the U.S. jettisoning its toxic "nuclear deal", and for regime change in Iran, is now.
*Reza Shafiee (@shafiee_shafiee) is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI)
© 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.

Germany: Muslim Biker Gang Vows to "Protect" Fellow Muslims/Police warn of spiraling vigilantism, parallel Islamic legal system

Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/July 31/17
Muslim vigilantes enforcing Islamic justice have become increasingly common in Germany. The government's inability or unwillingness to stop them has led to the rise of anti-Muslim counter-vigilantes. Germany's BfV intelligence agency, in its latest annual report, warned that an escalating action-reaction cycle could result in open warfare on German streets.
The self-appointed "Sharia Police" urged both Muslim and non-Muslim passersby to attend mosques and to refrain from alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, gambling, music, pornography and prostitution. In November 2016, the Wuppertal District Court ruled that the Islamists did not break German law and were simply exercising their right to free speech. The ruling, which effectively legitimized Sharia law in Germany, was one of a growing number of instances in which German courts are — wittingly or unwittingly — promoting the establishment of a parallel Islamic legal system in the country.
"Even if we still refuse to believe it: Parts of Germany are ruled by Islamic law! Polygamy, child marriages, Sharia judges — for far too long the German rule of law has not been enforced. Many politicians dreamed of multiculturalism.... This is not a question of folklore or foreign customs and traditions. It is a question of law and order. If the rule of law fails to establish its authority and demand respect for itself, then it can immediately declare its bankruptcy." — Franz Solms-Laubach, parliamentary correspondent, Bild.
German Muslims have established a self-styled biker gang — modelled on the Hells Angels — aimed at protecting fellow Muslims from the "ever-growing hatred of Islam," according to Die Welt.
The emergence of the group, which aspires to open chapters in cities and towns across Germany, has alarmed German authorities, who have warned against the growing threat of vigilantism in the country.
Muslim vigilantes enforcing Islamic justice have become increasingly common in Germany. The government's inability or unwillingness to stop them has led to the rise of anti-Muslim counter-vigilantes. Germany's BfV intelligence agency, in its latest annual report, warned that an escalating action-reaction cycle could result in open warfare on German streets.
The gang, which calls itself "Germanys Muslims" (the possessive apostrophe is not used in German), is based in Mönchengladbach and now has offshoots in Münster and Stuttgart. It was founded by Marcel Kunst, a German convert to Islam who also uses the name Mahmud Salam.
The gang's uniform consists of a black leather jacket with a logo depicting a one-fingered salute, the "Finger of Tawheed," which represents belief in the oneness of Allah. The logo also includes the number 1438, which represents the current year in the Muslim calendar, as well as the number 713, which stands for GM (Germanys Muslims), the seventh and thirteenth letters of the alphabet.
Police say they do not know how many people belong to the gang, which was established in May. The group's Facebook page, which has more than a thousand followers, describes itself as a "citizens' initiative" which advocates for the "peaceful coexistence between Muslims and non-Muslims in Germany." A mission statement dated June 15 reads:
"Our organization has been founded for only one purpose: To protect and support our brothers and sisters from the ever-growing hatred of Islam!!! To all non-Muslims who read this post, pay attention. The following could change your perception of us!!! We respect every religion and, as dictated by the Quran, do not force our faith on anyone!!! We do not sympathize with the Islamic State and are against compulsion in faith and in marriage!!! ISLAM DOES NOT RECOGNIZE HONOR KILLINGS AS IS OFTEN SUPPOSED!!! The raised finger in our logo is not from the so-called Islamic State. In our faith it symbolizes that there is only one God!!! We have summarized 40 commandments from the Quran for you....IMPORTANT. Whoever gets into a fight on the road or elsewhere (except for self-defense) will be expelled from our group without further discussion!!!"
Although "Germanys Muslims" claims to disavow violence, police say that several of its senior members are known to be Salafists, whose aim is to replace liberal democracy in Germany with Sharia law. One of its members, for instance, was detained as a security precaution during the Tour de France, which passed through Mönchengladbach on July 2.
German police describe the group's founder, Kunst, as an "Islamist who moves in Salafist circles." In a video that is no longer available, Kunst called on the group's members to protect mosques and Muslim women.
In a July 27 interview with Die Welt, Isabella Hannen, spokeswoman for the Mönchengladbach Police Department, revealed that police met with Kunst on July 5 and warned him that "vigilantism will not be tolerated." They also stressed that the monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force (Gewaltmonopol) is the exclusive domain of the state. On July 28, "Germanys Muslims" issued a statement saying that the group respects the authority of the state. "So far, we have no evidence that they are a danger, but we are keeping our eyes on them," Hannen said.
In its annual report released on July 4, Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV), said that Salafism is the "fastest-growing Islamic movement in Germany." The report revealed that the number of Salafists in Germany jumped to 9,700 in 2016, up from 8,350 in 2015; 7,000 in 2014; 5,500 in 2013; 4,500 in 2012; and 3,800 in 2011. According to the BfV:
"Salafists are seeking to impose a theocracy based on their interpretation of the Sharia and in which the liberal democratic order no longer applies. Political and jihadist Salafists share the same basic ideology. They differ primarily in the means by which they wish to achieve their objectives.... Nevertheless, it should be noted that political Salafism has an ambivalent relationship to violence... it does not always prohibit religiously-sanctioned violence."
A previous BfV report stated:
"The absolutist nature of Salafism contradicts significant parts of the German constitutional order. Specifically, Salafism rejects the democratic principles of separation of state and religion, popular sovereignty, religious and sexual self-determination, gender equality and the fundamental right to physical integrity."
The BfV also warned of the danger of civil unrest:
"The potential threat posed by Salafist violence remains dangerously high. Salafist violence could create an additional dynamic through interactions with extremist groups from other 'hostile' ideological camps, as already occurred in individual cases in the past."
The BfV was referring to an alliance between hooligans from rival football clubs who temporarily set aside their mutual hatred for each other in order to unite against a common enemy: radical Salafists. At one point, the grouping, known as Hooligans versus Salafists (HoGeSa), had more than 40,000 followers on its Facebook page before it was shut down by Facebook censors.
According to some commentators, the rise of HoGeSa was fueled in part by a growing sense of frustration that the German government is not doing enough to curb the spread of Islam in the country. Others said the group was incited by the Salafists' increasingly provocative support for replacing Germany's democratic order with Islamic law.
In Wuppertal, for example, seven self-appointed "Sharia Police" sparked public outrage when they distributed yellow leaflets which established a "Sharia-controlled zone" in the Elberfeld district of the city. The vigilantes urged both Muslim and non-Muslim passersby to attend mosques and to refrain from alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, gambling, music, pornography and prostitution.
In November 2016, however, the Wuppertal District Court ruled that the Islamists did not break German law and were simply exercising their right to free speech. The ruling, which effectively legitimized Sharia law in Germany, was one of a growing number of instances in which German courts are — wittingly or unwittingly — promoting the establishment of a parallel Islamic legal system in the country.
In Berlin, a hundred Islamists are now openly enforcing Sharia law on city streets, according to local police who are investigating a recent string of violent assaults in the German capital. The self-appointed morality police involve Salafists from Chechnya, a predominantly Sunni Muslim region in Russia. The vigilantes are using threats of violence to discourage Chechen migrants from integrating into German society; they are also promoting the establishment of a parallel Islamic legal system in Germany. German authorities appear unable to stop them.
Bild, the largest-circulation newspaper in Germany, recently warned that the country was "capitulating to Islamic law." In a special "Sharia Report" it stated:
"The 2013 coalition agreement between the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats promised: 'We want to strengthen the state's legal monopoly. We will not tolerate illegal parallel justice.' But nothing has been done."
In a commentary, Franz Solms-Laubach, Bild's parliamentary correspondent, wrote:
"Even if we still refuse to believe it: Parts of Germany are ruled by Islamic law! Polygamy, child marriages, Sharia judges — for far too long the German rule of law has not been enforced. Many politicians dreamed of multiculturalism.... This is not a question of folklore or foreign customs and traditions. It is a question of law and order. If the rule of law fails to establish its authority and demand respect for itself, then it can immediately declare its bankruptcy."
Meanwhile, German authorities have been fighting an uphill battle against an extremely violent "rocker" gang, the "Osmanen Germania" — "Ottoman Germania" — which consists mostly of Turkish Germans and, like the "Germanys Muslims" gang, is modeled on the Hells Angels.
The "Ottoman Germania" group, which claims to be a boxing club concerned about the welfare of young people, was founded after Hells Angels decided to allow non-Turkish migrants to join. Police say "Ottoman Germania" is an effort by former Turkish German members of the Hells Angels to protect their market share of organized crime.
The "Ottoman Germania" group is one of the fastest-growing gangs in Germany. Within months of its founding in April 2015, the group had established dozens of chapters across the country. Today the group, which profits from prostitution, extortion and the trafficking of weapons and drugs, operates across Europe, despite repeated police raids.
German authorities believe the "Ottoman Germania" is close to the Turkish government, which uses the group to fight Turkey's internal political struggles in Germany. Police say the gang also cooperates with Germany's Salafists.
*Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute.
© 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.