August 13/17

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For Today
The Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke 19/01-10/:"He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycomore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him.
All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’"

Christ Jesus himself is the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord
Letter to the Ephesians 02/17-22/:"Jesus came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God."

Question: "Is it wrong to have pictures of Jesus?"
Answer: When God first gave His Law to mankind, He began with a statement of who He is: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt” (Exodus 20:2) with a warning that Israel was to have no other God but Him. He immediately followed that by forbidding the making of any image of anything “in heaven above or on earth beneath or in the waters below” (Exodus 20:4) for the purpose of worshiping or bowing down to it. The fascinating thing about the history of the Jewish people is that they disobeyed this commandment more than any other. Again and again, they made idols to represent gods and worshiped them; beginning with the creation of the golden calf during the very time God was writing out the Ten Commandments for Moses (Exodus 32)! Idol worship not only drew the Israelites away from the true and living God, it led to all manner of other sins including temple prostitution, orgies, and even the sacrifice of children.
Of course, simply having a picture of Jesus hanging in a home or church does not mean people are practicing idolatry. It is possible that a portrait of Jesus or a crucifix can become an object of worship, in which case the worshiper is at fault. But there is nothing in the New Testament that would specifically forbid a Christian from having a picture of Jesus. Such an image could well be a reminder to pray, to refocus on the Lord, or to follow in Christ’s footsteps. But believers should know that the Lord cannot be reduced to a two-dimensional image and that prayer or adoration is not to be offered to a picture. A picture will never be a complete image of God or accurately display His glory, and should never be a substitute for how we view God or deepen our knowledge of Him. And, of course, even the most beautiful representation of Jesus Christ is nothing more than one artist’s conception of what the Lord looked like.
As it is, we don’t know what Jesus looked like. If the details of His physical appearance were important for us to know, Matthew, Peter, and John would certainly have given us an accurate description, as would Jesus’ own brothers, James and Jude. Yet these New Testament writers offer no details about Jesus’ physical attributes. We are left to our imaginations.
We certainly don’t need a picture to display the nature of our Lord and Savior. We have only to look at His creation, as we are reminded in Psalm 19:1–2: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.” In addition, our very existence as the redeemed of the Lord, sanctified and made righteous by His blood shed on the cross, should have Him always before us.
The Bible, the very Word of God, is also filled with non-physical descriptions of Christ that capture our imaginations and thrill our souls. He is the light of the world (John 1:5); the bread of life (John 6:32–33); the living water that quenches the thirst of our souls (John 4:14); the high priest who intercedes for us with the Father (Hebrews 2:17); the good shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep (John 10:11, 14); the spotless Lamb of God (Revelation 13:8); the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2); the way, the truth, the life (John 14:6); and the very image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). Such a Savior is more beautiful to us than any piece of paper hanging on the wall.
In her book Gold Cord, missionary Amy Carmichael tells of Preena, a young Indian girl who became a Christian and lived in Miss Carmichael’s orphanage. Preena had never seen a picture of Jesus; instead, Miss Carmichael prayed for the Holy Spirit to reveal Jesus to each of the girls, “for who but the Divine can show the Divine?” One day, Preena was sent a package from abroad. She opened it eagerly and pulled out a picture of Jesus. Preena innocently asked who it was, and when she was told that it was Jesus, she burst into tears. “What’s wrong?” they asked. “Why are you crying?” Little Preena’s reply says it all: “I thought He was far more beautiful than that” (page 151).

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on August 12-13/17
Lebanon: Hezbollah vs. DaeshéAndrew Korybko/Sputnik/August 12/17
Hezbollah Announces Support for Venezuelan Vice President El Aissami to Take over from Maduro/Sabrina Martín/Panama Post/August 11/17
Four ways Trump could kill the Iran nuclear deal/Shahir Shahidsaless/MEE/Friday 11 August 2017
The US Is the Sick Man of the Developed World/Justin Fox/Bloomberg/August 12/17
Palestinians Escalate War on Journalists/Bassam Tawil/Gatestone Institute/August 12/17
Late mediation makes Doha sink further/Sawsan Al Shaer/Al Arabiya/August 12/17
Moqtada al-Sadr’s visit to Saudi Arabia is not the first of its kind/Rasheed al-Khayoun/Al Arabiya/August 12/17
The OIC must now lead the efforts to stop Rohingya persecution/Dr. Azeem Ibrahim/Al Arabiya/August 12/17

Titles For Latest Lebanese Related News published on August 12-13/17
Evacuation Deal of Saraya Ahl al-Sham from Arsal's Outskirts Delayed
Terror Plot Against Tripoli's Mansouri Mosque Foiled
Hariri Set to Visit Kuwait
Rahi Urges Government to Approve Budget, End Corruption
Al-Rahi Deems Political Substitution as an Unacceptable Matter
MP, Nadim Gemayel: Iran's Interference in Lebanon’s Affairs is Dangerous
Sayegh Deems Dismissal of Kataeb's Silos Employees as Retaliatory
Jumblatt announces candidacy of Bilal Abdallah to replace Terro: Second nominations subject to each region's specific conditions, alliances according to new law
Lebanon: Hezbollah vs. Daesh
Hezbollah Announces Support for Venezuelan Vice President El Aissami to Take over from Maduro
Geagea Supports Expanding UNIFIL Mission to Lebanese-Syrian Border
Lebanese FM Follows up with Kuwait on ‘Hezbollah’ Involvement in Abdali Cell

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on August 12-13/17
Syria Suicide Blast Kills 23 Near Jordan Border
Gargash: Qatar Crisis Will be Resolved Politically
Kuwait Arrests 12 Convicted Members of Abdali Cells Linked to ‘Hezbollah,’ Iran
LNA Spokesman Says Qatar Sent Armed Forces to Benghazi, Controls Tripoli’s Power Supply
Israeli Intelligence Say Gaza ‘Collapse’ Is Due Any Minute
Kurds Set Independence Referendum Date as US Calls for Postponement
Syria: Regime Forces Advance Towards Al-Tanf Base
IOM: 600,000 Syrian Refugees Return Home
Muqtada al-Sadr: Riyadh serves as regional ‘father figure’

Latest Lebanese Related News published on August 12-13/17
Evacuation Deal of Saraya Ahl al-Sham from Arsal's Outskirts Delayed
Naharnet/August 12/17/An agreement deal reportedly set to see the evacuation of rebels and displaced Syrians from the outskirts of the northeastern border town of Arsal to Syria's East al-Qalamoun has been delayed, the National News Agency reported Saturday. Saraya Ahl al-Sham rebel groups and displaced Syrians were set to evacuate Arsal's outskirts, but the deal was delayed when the militants insisted on using their (military) vehicles to move to Syria, NNA said. The Lebanese side is working on overcoming the obstacle, added the news agency. Quoting Hizbullah's War Media outlet, VDL (93.3) said: “Implementation of the agreement to move fighters of Saraya Ahl al-Sham and displaced Syrians from Arsal's outskirts to the eastern Qalamon has been delayed because of a logistical problem related to their transfer.”As part of the deal between Hizbullah, the Lebanese negotiator General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim, and the rebel group, the fighters are supposed to 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.The evacuation deal follows 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 and an exchange deal that saw the release of three Hizbullah hostages captured by Nusra.

Terror Plot Against Tripoli's Mansouri Mosque Foiled
Naharnet/August 12/17/An Internal Security Forces patrol foiled a terror attack by an Islamic State group affiliate that planned to target the Grand al-Mansouri mosque in the northern city of Tripoli, media reports said. A communique by the ISF Directorate General said it foiled the attack on 7/8/2017 at 16.45 pm and that the suicide attacker had planned to execute his mission during the afternoon prayers. In details, ISF police apprehended a Lebanese national who was identified by the initials R.K, (born in 2003), as he was trying to enter the mosque. After searching him, two hand grenades were found inside his bag.
The detainee was referred to the Information branch for interrogation, and he admitted his affiliation to the terrorist IS organization. He confessed he was planning to enter the Grand Mansouri Mosque during the afternoon prayers and toss the two hand grenades at worshippers. He also planned to snatch a gun from one of the police on guard and open fire at worshippers. Investigation is underway under the supervision of the concerned judiciary.

Hariri Set to Visit Kuwait
Naharnet/August 12/17/Prime Minister Saad Hariri will travel to the Emirate of Kuwait for talks with Kuwait's Emir Sabah al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah,al-Joumhouria daily reported on Saturday. Hariri's visit comes in light of the latest reports on a alleged Hizbullah's involvement in a terror cell uncovered in Kuwait. Hariri's trip precedes a visit he plans to make to Paris early in September to hold a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron. He is also expected to travel to Moscow on September 11. Sources following up on the visit told the daily that the meeting with Emir of Kuwait will be followed by a business lunch and that Hariri will discuss issues related to both countries with a number of Kuwaiti officials. He will also confirm Lebanon's support for Kuwaiti mediation between Qatar and its boycotting countries. Hariri will present the government's vision to cope with the burden of displaced Syrians and explain the government's economic recovery plan, according to the sources. The alleged involvement of Hizbullah in the so-called al-Abdalli terror cell case that was uncovered in Kuwait in 2015, will also be highlighted. The Lebanese government has issued a position a while ago, condemning anything that harms the security of Kuwait. Kuwaiti authorities busted what they said was a "terrorism" cell with ties to Iran in August 2015 and seized large quantities of arms, ammunition and explosives. Cell members were convicted of working for Iran's Revolutionary Guards and Lebanon's Hizbullah. They were also convicted of smuggling explosives from Iran.

Rahi Urges Government to Approve Budget, End Corruption
Naharnet/August 12/17/Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi voiced calls on Lebanon's politicians and officials to ensure “economic, livelihood, security and moral stability” for the entire Lebanese, the National News Agency reported on Saturday. “For the sake of stability, state officials must undertake an economic renaissance, approve the state's budget in order to balance revenues and expenses, put an end to financial and political corruption and protect public money from waste and theft,” said al-Rahi during an inauguration ceremony of a pastoral complex in Tannourine. The Patriarch has also urged the government “to work hard to gradually fulfill public debt, and reduce political interference in public administrations and the judiciary and maintain the integrity of the latter.”Ensuring the good performance of employees, is necessary added al-Rahi pointing out that those who prove to be conscientious must be “rewarded and promoted.”

Al-Rahi Deems Political Substitution as an Unacceptable Matter 12/17/Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi Saturday condemned political, factional, and doctrinal substitution of staff members, saying it undermines trust and reinforces tensions and enmity. During an inauguration ceremony of “Antonios Reaidy pastoral complex” in Saint Doumit church, Tannourine, the patriarch called on political leaders to provide economic stability and security to all the Lebanese so that they can live in peace, urging state officials to undertake an economic renaissance in all fields. "A budget law needs to be adopted so as to balance the revenues and expenses of the state, as well as reducing financial and political corruption and squandering," he added.

MP, Nadim Gemayel: Iran's Interference in Lebanon’s Affairs is Dangerous 12/17/Kataeb MP Nadim Gemayel Saturday stressed that the Iranian interference in Lebanon’s affairs is very dangerous, saying that the crisis facing the country from two months till now is the parliament’s visit to Syria along with appointments. “When the Lebanese government appoints an ambassador to Syria, it gives an impression of fortifying ties between the two countries,” Gemayel said in an interview with Voice of Lebanon radio station. Gemayel pointed out that the battles were launched and ended; agreements, deals and exchanges were made but no one was informed of what was going on, highlighting that there was an Iranian decision controlling the country. “We perceived who was invited to Syria and where instructions came from,” Gemayel added. The kataeb leader questioned Hezbollah’s control over decision making in Lebanon when it comes to the presidency, the government structure, and the electoral law as all that has been suggested by the party was eventually approved on and implemented. “Hezbollah is waging wars without the government’s approval,” Gemayel said, deploring Prime Minister Hariri’s method of regulating the cabinet. "The party is dominating the Lebanese government as the Syrian regime has done during Syrian occupation of Lebanon in order to pass deals and political decisions," he said. Gemayel urged the 14 March coalition to restore its fundamental principles of revolution because covering up on the President is paving the way for forces to take full control over the Lebanese state. He also cautioned that any political victory is an additional exertion of control that does not belong to the Lebanese government, such as the case of Hezbollah in Arsal outskirts which benched the Lebanese army. As for the parliamentary elections, Gemayel regretted that the parliamentary elections might not take place due to some factions not wanting it to happen calling on for a swift decision to hold parliamentary sub-elections. Gemayel pointed out that there is a major economic crisis which is not the result of the ranks and salaries scale but due to Iranian occupation of Lebanon which distanced the Gulf and global investments, and tourists away from the country leading to an economic decline. “If Hezbollah takes over decision making in Lebanon, the situation will deteriorate and the Lebanese youth will resort to immigration,” he pointed out.

Sayegh Deems Dismissal of Kataeb's Silos Employees as Retaliatory 12/17/Following the dismissal of six Kataeb employees at the Beirut Port's grain silos, Kataeb's Second Deputy-President Salim Sayegh deemed the reasons on which Economy Minister Raed Khoury had based his decision as fabricated, saying what happened is a retaliatory act to undermine the Kataeb's role as an opposition force. “The general director of the grain silos, Moussa Khoury, who was appointed during the term of former Economy Minister Alain Hakim, has been fulfilling his duties in the best way possible,” Sayegh told Voice of Lebanon radio station. “Khoury requested a meeting with the Minister several times so as to discuss ways to improve and develop the silos, but the latter refused to schedule an appointment as the political decision [to dismiss Moussa Khoury] was already taken," he added. Sayegh stressed that it is not a coincidence that all the five employees who have been fired belong to the Kataeb party, saying this is definitely a revenge action.

Jumblatt announces candidacy of Bilal Abdallah to replace Terro: Second nominations subject to each region's specific conditions, alliances according to new law
Sat 12 Aug 2017/NNA - Democratic Gathering Chief, MP Walid Joumblatt, announced Saturday that Dr. Bilal Abdallah will be running for the Shouf District Seat in the upcoming Parliamentary elections instead of MP Alaeddine Terro.
In a press conference at his Mukhtara Palace earlier this afternoon, Joumblatt signaled this nomination as falling within the context of the change and renewal process within the National Struggle Front. "A new step necessitated by the logic of matters, which will be accompanied by similar steps at the level of the Progressive Socialist Party and Democratic Gathering's representation in various areas where the Party has influence or presence," added Joumblatt. "The timing of the second nominations depends on the circumstances and specifications of each region. They will include 70 percent of the Party's comrades, and perhaps more or less of the Democratic Gathering deputies," he indicated. "As for alliances, they will be based on the new law," Joumblatt went on, adding, "we hope to meet with each of the Free Patriotic Movement, Lebanese Forces, Kataeb, Future Movement, Jama'a Islamiya, Hezbollah, Amal Movement, National Bloc, Liberal Nationalists, Independent and others.""The most important thing is competing democratically to meet the social and economic challenges, and to boost the principle of partnership to stabilize national unity in the Mountain and the Iqlim," emphasized Joumblatt.

Lebanon: Hezbollah vs. Daesh
Andrew Korybko/Sputnik/August 12/17
The international media is abuzz about an impending anti-Daesh offensive along the mountainous Lebanese-Syrian border which will interestingly see the participation of both US special forces and Hezbollah.
The American troops will reportedly be based on the Lebanese side of the border and will only provide training and back-end assistance to their national counterparts, while Hezbollah will take the helm in working alongside the Syrian Arab Army on the Syrian side. There have been conflicting reports about whether the Lebanese military will coordinate its operations with Hezbollah and the Syrian Arab Army, but nothing has been officially announced as of yet so it’s uncertain what’s really true or not. There are, however, indications that Beirut will not coordinate with Hezbollah or Damascus due to the idiosyncrasies of the country’s political situation.Hezbollah is a powerful political party in Lebanon and an ally of recently inaugurated President Michel Aoun, but the Shiite group is at odds with Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who is a rich dual-Saudi citizen that’s serving in his position for the second time after returning to power as part of a compromise deal with Aoun. In most cases, the Lebanese Prime Minister is legally more powerful and influential than the President, so Hariri’s anti-Hezbollah bias needs to be taken into account when considering whether the country’s military will coordinate with Hezbollah. In addition, Hariri’s familial ties with self-appointed Sunni leader Saudi Arabia add a strategic sectarian angle to all of this, since it’s unfathomable that the Prime Minister’s allies in Riyadh would approve of him ordering the military to work alongside Hezbollah, which the Kingdom accuses of being an Iranian proxy.
Moreover, there’s also the fact that the US officially designates Hezbollah as a “terrorist organization”, and its Israeli ally probably wouldn’t take too kindly to the national military of its northern neighbor cooperating with a group that it too believes is a “terrorist” one. These factors work against the prospects of the Lebanese Armed Forces coordinating operations with Hezbollah, even though the latter has been proven over the years to be a very effective anti-terrorist force against al-Nusra, Daesh, and others. There’s always the chance that the military will put aside politics and apply pragmatism in waging its War on Daesh, but in any case, the discussion about Hezbollah’s participation in anti-terrorist operations on the Lebanese-Syrian border highlights the group’s powerful regional role and the polarized reaction that it’s generating.
**Navid Nasr, an independent geopolitical analyst (based out of Zagreb) and Bashar Murtada, Syrian expatriate commented on the issue.

Hezbollah Announces Support for Venezuelan Vice President El Aissami to Take over from Maduro
Sabrina Martín/Panama Post/August 11/17
The newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat and the Al-Manar television network, which has strong ties to Hezbollah, reported that Islamic terrorist leaders view El Aissami as the best politician to ensure Chavismo survives in Venezuela. (Twitter)
The Islamic terrorist organization Hezbollah sees Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami as a possible key to keeping Chavismo alive. The newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat and the Al-Manar television network, which has strong ties to Hezbollah, reported that Islamic terrorist leaders view El Aissami as the best politician to ensure Chavismo survives in Venezuela.
Sources within the Arab community close to Nicolás Maduro’s regime are reportedly looking into making a change of face for the Chavismo movement, with Tareck El-Aissami at the helm.
Sectors in Venezuela affiliated with El-Aissami reportedly collaborated with Syria in preparing a report broadcast on the Al-Manar television channel in Lebanon. It called El-Aissami “a strong man in the shadows and a close friend of the Lebanese resistance and the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.”
The television channel said El Aissami is one of the “non-military soldiers of the Chavez school that can replace Maduro.”
El-Aissami was born on November 12, 1974 in El Vigia, Mérida, in western Venezuela. He is the son of a family of Syrian Druze immigrants and a direct relative of Shibli El-Aissami, who served as Secretary General of the Iraqi Baath Party when Saddam Hussein held power.
Western intelligence agencies have made hundreds of accusations against the current Vice President, as large political and economic circles consider him a close ally to Hezbollah, in addition to being the leader of major drug trafficking rings on the continent.
Director of the Center for a Free and Secure Society Joseph Humire accused El-Aissami and First Lady Cilia Flores of running a major criminal organization through the Venezuelan government.
El-Aissami’s role in drug trafficking reached the peak of scandal in 2010 during the arrest of Walid Maklad, a major Venezuelan drug and arms dealer of Syrian origin with links to Islamic terrorist organizations.
At the time of his arrest, Makled claimed that he worked for El-Aissami in the Venezuelan government and that his boss also had ties to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) organizing crime and drug smuggling operations.
**Sabrina Martín is a Venezuelan journalist, commentator, and editor based in Valencia with experience in corporate communication. Follow @SabrinaMartinR.

Geagea Supports Expanding UNIFIL Mission to Lebanese-Syrian Border
Asharq Al-Awsat/August 12/17/Beirut – Lebanese Forces (LF) leader Samir Geagea voiced on Friday his support for expanding the mission of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to the Lebanese-Syrian border in the east and north. He said that he “sees no problem in this issue. On the contrary, it will fall in Lebanon’s favor.”The peacekeeping force is currently deployed in southern Lebanon. Calls for it to deploy on the Syrian border are usually aimed at preserving Lebanon’s security and curbing the smuggling of arms. “At the end of the day, the Lebanese state will rise and it will be the sole possessor of warms,” stressed Geagea. “This is a problem that needs to be resolved and the current situation cannot continue,” he declared. His stances were made in wake of two Lebanese ministers’ preparation to travel to Syria to attend the Damascus International Fair, which opens on August 17. Fourteen Lebanese companies are also set to participate in the event. The delegation includes Industry Minister Hussein al-Hajj Hassan and Agriculture Minister Ghazi Zoaiter. This would be the first time that Lebanon takes part in the fair since the eruption of the Syrian conflict in 2011. The participation of the ministers has sparked a heated political debate in Lebanon with Geagea reiterating his rejection of their visit. “Regarding strategic affairs, President Michel Aoun constantly seeks to maintain the middle ground. In regards to the ministers’ visit to Syria, we are waiting for him to say ‘no’,” he added. “There are no problems between the Lebanese and Syrian people and life must go on. Vehicles still cross the Lebanese-Syrian border, but going there to meet with a group that no longer has any legitimacy is a totally different issue,” Geagea stated. The departure of the ministers to Syria cannot take place without the approval of the government, stressed the LF chief.

Lebanese FM Follows up with Kuwait on ‘Hezbollah’ Involvement in Abdali Cell
Asharq Al-Awsat/August 12/17/Beirut – Lebanese Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil telephoned on Friday his Kuwaiti counterpart Sabah al-Khaled al-Hamad al-Sabah to follow up on the al-Abdali terrorist cell, the members of which had received training from Lebanon’s “Hezbollah” group. Bassil and his counterpart discussed the official complaint that Kuwait had filed against the party’s involvement in the cell, reported Lebanon’s National News Agency (NNA). Twenty-one Shi’ite members of the cell received training from “Hezbollah.” The cell was charged with seeking to carry out terrorist attacks in Kuwait. NNA said that Bassil had in recent weeks carried out a number of contacts with Kuwaiti officials in order to tackle the development and its repercussions. It revealed that he had agreed with Sabah on “how to follow up on issues at hand and to resolve them.”The complaint, filed to the Lebanese government on July 22, included a call on the state to “take the necessary measures to deter ‘Hezbollah’s’ heinous acts given that it is a member of government.”The party’s leader Hassan Nasrallah had denied in his latest televised appearance that “Hezbollah” had any cells operating in Kuwait. “’Hezbollah’ did not form cells in Kuwait and it does not have any cells or members there.” He stressed Lebanon’s “great keenness on having the best ties” with the Gulf country.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on
August 12-13/17
Syria Suicide Blast Kills 23 Near Jordan Border
Agence France PresseNaharnet/August 12/17/At least 23 rebel fighters were killed Friday and dozens more wounded in a suicide blast in southern Syria near the border with Jordan, a monitoring group said. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the bomber detonated an explosive belt at a base used by Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam) near the Nasib border crossing. "Most of the 23 rebels killed were from Jaish al-Islam. Dozens were wounded, including 20 in critical condition," said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but jihadists linked to the Islamic State group have attacked rebels in southern Syria. The Nasib border crossing -- known as Jaber on the Jordanian side -- lies in Syria's southern Daraa province and was captured by rebel groups in April 2015. Syria's uprising erupted in Daraa province in March 2011 with widespread protests calling for the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad. It has since turned into an all-out war that has drawn in international powers and killed more than 330,000 people. Under a plan hammered out in May between Russia, Turkey and Iran at peace talks in Kazakhstan, four "de-escalation zones" were to be established across swathes of Syria to ease fighting between regime and rebel forces. Parts of southern Syria make up one zone. Another lies in the rebel bastion of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus, while a third is in the central province of Homs. The fourth zone, in northwestern Idlib province, has yet to be implemented.

Gargash: Qatar Crisis Will be Resolved Politically
Asharq Al-Awsat/August 12/17/Dubai – United Arab Emirates Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr. Anwar Gargash stated on Friday that the crisis with Qatar is a product of its government’s policies against its neighbors and region. He said in a series of tweets: “The crisis with Qatar is purely political and it will be resolved through political means.” He added that it was “unfortunate” that the dispute had an impact on the Qatari people, stressing that the problem does not lie with them, but with the government. The crisis erupted in June when Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE severed their ties with Doha, accusing it of supporting terrorist and extremist groups and of creating instability in the region. Addressing Iran’s criticism of Iraqi Shi’ite leader Moqtada al-Sadr’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia, Gargash said: “This underlines the need to continue the policy of openness towards Iraq. The road is bumpy, but the Arab world demands this.” “Arab communication is necessary and the role of Riyadh is pivotal in the post-terrorism (ISIS) phase. The scene is complicated, but it will not be difficult for any common approach that backs Iraq’s stability and prosperity,” he stressed. Head of the Sadrist Movement Moqtada al-Sadr had paid a visit to Saudi Arabia earlier this month where he held talks with Vice Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Gargash made his tweets as Kuwait and the United States are leading efforts to persuade Qatar to accept the 2014 Riyadh agreement, which it signed, in order to end the boycott of the four countries. The efforts are also aimed at pushing Doha to commit to its pledges. Two US envoys had arrived in Doha to hold talks with Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman and then the Emir of Qatar. They had met in Abu Dhabi on Thursday with Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, stressing American support for the Kuwaiti mediation.

Kuwait Arrests 12 Convicted Members of Abdali Cells Linked to ‘Hezbollah,’ Iran

Asharq Al-Awsat/August 12/17/Kuwait announced on Saturday that it had arrested 12 convicted members of the al-Abdali terrorist cell. The members have ties to Iran and Lebanon’s “Hezbollah,” which is also backed by Tehran. The suspects were arrested after a weeks-long manhunt, announced the Interior Ministry according to the Kuwait News Agency (KUNA). They had been on the run since their sentencing last month, while two other convicted Kuwaitis remained at large. The supreme court in Kuwait in June overturned an acquittal by an appeals court and convicted 21 suspects of forming a terrorist cell with ties to Iran and “Hezbollah”. The cell had planned to launch attacks across the Gulf state, according to the court verdict. Kuwait has protested to Lebanon over the alleged training of the al-Abdali cell by “Hezbollah”. On Friday, Lebanese Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil held telephone talks with his Kuwaiti counterpart to discuss the complaint against Lebanon, vowing to follow up on the case. Last month, authorities expelled 15 Iranian diplomats and shut down the military, cultural and trade missions of the Iranian embassy over Tehran’s backing of the terrorist cell. Iran said the allegation is baseless.

LNA Spokesman Says Qatar Sent Armed Forces to Benghazi, Controls Tripoli’s Power Supply
Asharq Al-Awsat/August 12/17/Cairo, London- Libya National Army Spokesman Colonel Ahmad al-Mesmary revealed on Friday that multiple conflict zones overrun by extremist militias were run by Doha. He further clarified his claims by saying that direct funding and deployment of an armed faction into eastern Benghazi took place in 2012, and still is present till this very day under the name Al-Fad Al-Aswaad (Arabic for ‘black panther’). Col. Mesmary said in a televised broadcast that Qatar also has its grip around power networks in Libya’s Tripoli. He also demanded that Libya joins the Saudi-led Gulf plus Egypt boycott against Qatar. Oil giant Saudi Arabia along with Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates imposed a boycott on Qatar on June 5 and cut off all transport links with the country after accusing it of supporting terrorism and close ties to Iran. According to press reports, Qatar has been sending massive amounts of weapons and cash to Islamist militants battling the Western-backed government in Libya. A March 2013 UN report noted that in 2011 and 2012, Qatar violated the UN arms embargo by “providing military material to the revolutionary forces through the organization of a large number of flights and the deliveries of a range of arms and ammunition.”On the other hand, Libya’s military strongman Khalifa Haftar is scheduled to visit Moscow on Saturday for discussions over a peace plan including a ceasefire and political talks, a Russian official said Friday. Haftar will discuss “the issue of his eventual meeting with the prime minister” of Libya’s recognized government, Fayez al-Sarraj, said Lev Dengov, who heads Russia’s Libya contact group. “Relevant questions on reconciling the parties and the conflict will be raised,” Dengov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency. Oil-rich Libya has been in turmoil since the ouster of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, turning the country into a hub for human trafficking and drawing extremist groups from the region. The United Nations has been struggling for months to relaunch talks on a deal reached in 2015 on setting up a national unity government that has been rejected by Haftar and other factions. Appointed last year to lead the new government of national accord, Sarraj has failed to assert authority outside of Tripoli while Haftar’s forces this month scored a major military victory when they seized Benghazi, Libya’s second city. The pair reached agreement on a new peace initiative during talks hosted last month by French President Emmanuel Macron. In the 10-point joint declaration, Sarraj and Haftar agreed to work on a roadmap for security and defense, unifying national institutions such as the National Oil Corporation and the central bank, and hold elections as soon as possible. Haftar’s Libyan National Army is backed by Russia, Egypt and the UAE and recently liberated Benghazi after a three-year campaign against ultra-hardline groups.

Israeli Intelligence Say Gaza ‘Collapse’ Is Due Any Minute
Asharq Al-Awsat/August 12/17/Tel Aviv- Israeli officials on Friday said that intelligence reveals grim prospects facing the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, with infrastructure being closer to rubble and uninhabitable than sufficient housing units and facilities necessary for human survival. Saying that Gaza is racing towards its own collapse, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office had previously mentioned that available intelligence suggested the area would be utterly unlivable by 2020. Nevertheless, other intelligence officials said that it is no longer a ‘2020’ end-of-times in Gaza, predicting a sooner collapse in light of the accelerated rate of deteriorating humanitarian conditions. Israeli think tanks and intelligence parties have conducted extensive research on the topic primarily to examine the dangers of a new war with the Gaza Strip. Israeli intelligence concluded that the deterioration of the situation in the Gaza Strip could prompt Hamas to venture into another war with Israel. More so, Israel has proved reluctant to ease tensions and alleviate the suffering of the Hamas-ruled civilians, as Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman roll the drums of war and push to complete a wall construction being built underground to counter Hamas’ tunnels. The anti-tunnel barrier, at an estimated cost of 3 billion shekels ($833 million), is on schedule. By November, around 1,000 people will be working on the 65-kilometer-long project. When it is completed — the target date is mid-2019 — the barrier is expected to counter both underground tunnels and above ground breaches of the border. A concrete wall, fitted with sensors and extending dozens of meters below ground, is meant to bisect old tunnels and block the construction of new ones. The two have also blocked the initiative put forth by the Israeli communications minister on building an artificial island and a port for the isolated Gaza Strip, despite the army’s positive attitude towards it. In its previous forecasts for Gaza 2020, the Israeli intelligence service reported the expected complete collapse of the underground water network, a difficulty in providing safe-drinking water, and a semi-functioning power network, with a growing unemployment record and high poverty. Israeli security services believe that until this moment, Hamas has shown indifference towards the Israeli actions and deteriorating conditions, which was labeled as ‘puzzling’ to intelligence services. Hamas leaders have also toned-down the anti-Israel heated threats and are continuing to act under an impressive rate of self-restraint. Hamas has been exerting massive efforts in preventing the firing of rockets by unilateral organizations inspired by ISIS and radical ideology.

Kurds Set Independence Referendum Date as US Calls for Postponement
Asharq Al-Awsat/August 12/17/The Iraqi Kurdistan Region will hold its contentious independence referendum on September 25 despite misgivings by the United States. “The date is standing, September 25, no change,” said Hoshyar Zebari, a close adviser to Kurdistan Regional Government President Masoud Barzani. The US had requested the postponement of the vote. The US State Department said in June it was concerned that the referendum will distract from “more urgent priorities” such as the defeat of ISIS terrorists. The timing of the vote has drawn criticism from both the Baghdad and Western governments, due to the ongoing ISIS campaign. In a telephone call on Friday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Washington “would want for the referendum to be postponed and that the issues between the Kurdistan region and the federal government in Baghdad should be addressed through dialogue”, Barzani’s office said in an English-language statement. The Kurdish leader responded that were it to be put off, “the people of the Kurdistan region would expect guarantees and alternatives for their future”. Some Iraqi Kurdish officials have openly acknowledged that calling the referendum was intended as a bargaining counter in negotiations with Baghdad on other issues. The Kurdish regional government’s representative in Iran, Nazem Dabbagh, said last month that the Kurds wanted Baghdad to meet their longstanding demand for plebiscites on incorporating other historically Kurdish-majority areas in their autonomous region. He said they also wanted Baghdad to ratify laws on oil revenues and funding for the Kurdish security forces, known as the peshmerga, who have played a crucial role in the fight against ISIS. The referendum would in any case be non-binding and is strongly opposed by neighbors Iran and Turkey, which have sizable Kurdish minorities of their own and whose acquiescence is seen as key to achieving a viable separation.

Syria: Regime Forces Advance Towards Al-Tanf Base

Asharq Al-Awsat/August 12/17/Beirut, Ankara- Syrian regime forces expanded their grip in the southeast part of the country near the Jordanian border, getting nearer from al-Tanf military base close to the Iraqi border where US forces and western factions from the Free Army are being trained to fight ISIS.
“Jordan is greatly sensitive to the presence of Iranian militias and Hezbollah at its border. Therefore, the military presence in this area is limited to Syrian regime forces, Palestinian factions and Moscow-trained militants,” director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Rami Abdel Rahman told Asharq Al-Awsat on Friday. He asserted that regime forces would not have been capable to control the Jordanian border from the Souweida side without a Russian-US agreement, particularly that the presence of Assad forces in this zone was completely restricted. Meanwhile, the coalition-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Syrian Kurds and Arabs, continued on Friday to advance in the city of Raqqa, the stronghold of ISIS, joining forces coming from the west and east to the center of the city. The SDF now controls half of Raqqa. Separately, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Friday that Turkey “will not tolerate any efforts to form an artificial state at our borders, particularly the borders we share with Syria and Iraq,” in a reference to the Iraqi Kurdistan district and other Kurdish areas in northern Syria. Speaking to reporters in Ankara after Friday prayers, Yildirim said that Turkey would defend its borders against any threat. And while Ankara enhanced its security measures at the border with Syria after al-Nusra Front controlled the city of Idlib, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said from Istanbul on Friday: “We will continue to dispatch humanitarian aid to Idlib, however, we will not allow the entry of arms to the area.”

IOM: 600,000 Syrian Refugees Return Home
Asharq Al-Awsat/August 12/17/London – The International Organization for Migration (IOM) announced on Friday that large numbers of Syrians, who had fled the war in their country, have started to return home. It announced that some 603,000 people have returned to their cities and villages, in what that IOM said was the largest wave of returning refugees. The refugees making their way back came from various regions insides Syria and outside the country, such as Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan or Iraq. The IOM explained that Syrians decided to head back to their country out of the need to protect their homes and property. It also said that an improved security and economic situation in the country was another motivator. Problems of integration in the host country was another factor in their desire to return. Some 800,000 people remain internally displaced in Syria, added the IOM. The Syrian war, which has entered its seventh year, has left hundreds of thousands of dead and displaced nearly half of the population of 22 million.

Muqtada al-Sadr: Riyadh serves as regional ‘father figure’
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English Saturday, 12 August 2017/Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of The Sadrist Movement in Iraq, stated that visions were aligned during his meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah last month. Al-Sadr said that Riyadh serves as a “father figure” in its efforts to bring peace to the region. In an interview with the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper on August 11, 2017, al-Sadr said that the two parties discussed several files of concern to the region, including Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, Jerusalem, Iran-Saudi relations, as well as Baghdad’s ties to Riyadh. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in a meeting with Muqtada al-Sadr in Jeddah last month. (Supplied) He characterized the meeting as being transparent and honest. Al-Sadr pointed out that all the conflicts in the region can be solved gradually even if it took time, noting that this includes the status quo between the four countries Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE, on the one hand, and Qatar, on the other. He believes that Qatar showed reluctance to compromise, but will eventually come to its senses. He also called for the stepping down of Assad, as the head of the regime in Syria, pointing out that when he is out of the picture, it would contribute to peace.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on 
August 12-13/17
Four ways Trump could kill the Iran nuclear deal
Shahir Shahidsaless/MEE/Friday 11 August 2017
Among the sea of global media reports and expert analyses, one can clearly detect that the survival of the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear agreement – also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – is in jeopardy.
According to reports, President Donald Trump has already made up his mind not to certify Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA before the next deadline in October by when he must notify Congress. Many experts believe that such a move will destabilise, and eventually scrap, the Iran nuclear deal. In theory, the Americans can attack the nuclear deal with Iran from four angles.
1. Go after Iran’s ballistic missile programme
American officials, including Trump, have repeatedly stated that Iran's testing of ballistic missiles is antithetical to the spirit of the JCPOA. Why the spirit and not the letter? Because there is no mention of the Iran missile programme in the accord. It is unlikely that the Europeans, given the likely consequences of such a move, would go along with the US and scrap an international agreement, which is also endorsed by the UN Security Council, by relying on the argument that the agreement’s spirit has been violated.
Nevertheless, Iran’s ballistic missile programme is discussed in Resolution 2231, which endorses the JCPOA. However, the interpretation of that part of the agreement is in dispute. On 2 August, in a joint statement, Britain, France, Germany, and the US condemned Iran’s 27 July satellite launch in a letter to the UN. But interestingly, they claimed that “the program to develop ballistic missiles continues to be inconsistent [not in violation] with UN Security Council Resolution 2231".
One crucial point to remember is that even a violation of Resolution 2231 cannot be interpreted as a violation of the JCPOA. The Russians also contend that the missile issue “is not a violation of the [nuclear] agreement”. As such, this route for killing the nuclear deal appears to be a dead end.
2. File a complaint with the JCPOA joint commission
The Joint Commission of the JCPOA is tasked with supervising the implementation of the nuclear deal with the objective of resolving the problems that arise on the way. The commission is comprised of representatives of Iran, the P5+1, and the EU High Representative.
As astute observers may notice, the US may potentially have five votes – its own, the three European countries, and the EU H.R. – of the total eight if a vote is made on a decision. However, to establish Iran’s violation of the nuclear accord, the Americans should provide the group with clear evidence and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) must also confirm such a deviation. Thus far, the IAEA has repeatedly verified Iran’s compliance.
This path seems to be closed as well, as it is unlikely that the Europeans and the IAEA would confirm Iran’s non-compliance at the cost of a colossal international crisis simply at the behest of the Americans.
3. Pressure Iran with more inspections
Many reports maintain that the US administration is trying to force IAEA inspectors into military sites where US intelligence indicates that Tehran may be cheating on the deal.
According to the Associated Press, Senator Bob Corker, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, alluded to this strategy, saying that the US was trying to “radically enforce” the deal by asking for access to “various facilities” in Iran. “If they don’t let us in, boom,” Corker said.
In theory, this road could give Trump what he wants. But in practical terms, the issue of accessing suspected sites by the IAEA, covered under paragraphs 74 to 78 of Annex I to the JCPOA, is an extremely complicated process. To begin with, the IAEA must find evidence to prompt its suspicions.
The Europeans and the IAEA should not only fully cooperate with the US to push for obtaining access to a military base, but should also consider the real possibility that Iran denies them access. In other words, the predicted mechanism in this respect is aimed at removing suspicions, not killing a landmark international agreement.
4. Provoke Iran to rescind the deal
On 21 July, Senator Corker said, “You want the breakup of this deal to be about Iran. You don't want it to be about the US, because we want our allies with us.”
Some experts view the imposition of new sanctions on Iran under the recent Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act - which Trump signed into law on 2 August - as part of this strategy to press Tehran into a corner.
Iran, however, as repeatedly mentioned by various officials, will not fall in a US trap and will not walk away from the deal as long as major sanctions (such as on its energy and banking sector) are not re-introduced. Iran will protest, expand its ballistic missile programme, and will strengthen its military relationship with Russia. It will not, however, rescind the deal.
Why America won't abandon the deal
Considering this context, Trump is unlikely to certify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear agreement in October. Subsequently, he may not extend the sanctions’ waivers, either partly or in whole. This would be an indisputable violation of the JCPOA.
The Europeans, Chinese, and Russians will protest, as did France on 26 July by calling the new US sanctions “illegal” and “at odds with international law due to their extra-territorial reach". But that would be it. In practical terms, the hands of the other members of the P5+1 in taking any retaliatory action against the US are tied.
At the same time – and without tearing apart the nuclear agreement – Trump may decide to let companies that already work and do business with Iran off the hook and continue without any consequences.
But why then, some may ask, did he reintroduced sanctions that had been suspended as part of the nuclear deal? The answer is that with those sanctions in place again, the US administration has the option to broadly penalise non-American companies, banks, and institutions working with Iran.
Therefore, whether the US chooses to punish companies or not, the sanctions will work as a sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of any foreign entity who works with Iran. Simply put, foreigners will be very cautious entering the Iranian market. Consequently, Iran will be under the siege of American sanctions - and Trump won’t need to cancel the agreement because he would have what he wants.
What will Trump demand?
Trump will most likely demand, as he has repeatedly stated, a renegotiation of the deal. One can read between the lines to determine what the Americans expect to happen. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said that the nuclear deal “fails to achieve the objective of a non-nuclear Iran” and "only delays their goal of becoming a nuclear state".
So the American strategy is to put immense pressure on Iran to bring it back to the negotiating table. They will most likely demand changes to the agreement's sunset provisions which govern several key restrictions on Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity and its stockpile of enriched uranium, which will expire after 15 years.
Will the Americans get what they want? Consider this: there is a school of thought in the US that believes dogmatically that sanctions were the only reason the JCPOA was agreed in the first place. This view is flawed.
While it is true that sanctions played a major role in pushing back Iran, no progress would have been made toward the resolution of the nuclear crisis if the US had not abandoned its decade-long policy of “zero uranium enrichment inside Iran".
Notably, even military threats made by the US - and, more seriously, Israel – never bent Iran's resolve. Serious secret meetings only began in March 2013 in Oman after then Deputy Secretary of State William Burns conveyed a message from Obama that he would be prepared to accept a limited domestic enrichment programme in Iran as part of a nuclear deal.
The same outcome will be true here: Iran will not bend on the agreement. If Tehran’s obstinacy is met with sanctions on non-American companies, Iran may very well walk away from the deal, Trump will get what he wants and the world will likely have another conflict on its hands.
- Shahir Shahidsaless is an Iranian-Canadian political analyst and freelance journalist writing about Iranian domestic and foreign affairs, the Middle East and US foreign policy in the region. He is the co-author of Iran and the United States: An Insider’s View on the Failed Past and the Road to Peace. He is a contributor to several websites with focus on the Middle East as well as the Huffington Post. He also regularly writes for BBC Persian. You can reach him at or follow him on Twitter @SShahisaless.

The US Is the Sick Man of the Developed World
Justin Fox/Bloomberg/August 12/17
What do the economists at the International Monetary Fund see when they look at the US? An economy in the midst of a long expansion (“its third longest expansion since 1850”), with “persistently strong” job growth, “subdued” inflation and something close to “full employment.” But also this:
For some time now there has been a general sense that household incomes are stagnating for a large share of the population, job opportunities are deteriorating, prospects for upward mobility are waning, and economic gains are increasingly accruing to those that are already wealthy. This sense is generally borne out by economic data and when comparing the US with other advanced economies.
The IMF then goes on to compare the US with 23 other advanced economies in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The overall point is that the US has been losing ground relative to other OECD members in most measures of living standards. 1 And in the areas where the US hasn’t lost ground (poverty rates, high school graduation rates), it was at or near the bottom of the heap to begin with. The clear message is that the US — the richest nation on Earth, as is frequently proclaimed, although it’s actually not the richest per capita — is increasingly becoming the developed world’s poor relation as far as the actual living standards of most of its population go.
This analysis is contained in the staff report of the IMF’s annual “consultation” with the US, which was published last week. Another IMF report released last week, an update to its World Economic Outlook that downgraded short-term growth forecasts for the US and UK, got a lot more attention. But the consultation report is more interesting.
It is interesting not because the IMF economists have turned up shocking new information or have especially amazing ideas for improving the relative position of the US It’s just that as outsiders looking in (yes, outsiders who work in Washington, but still …), they at least offer a different perspective than one hears every day on Capitol Hill. For example:
Income polarization is suppressing consumption (see Alichi et al., 2016), weighing on labor supply and reducing the ability of households to adapt to shocks. High levels of poverty are creating disparities in the education system, hampering human capital formation and eating into future productivity.
What is to be done? Well, the IMF has suggestions, although they seem a little too sweeping to be helpful. Here are some comments on tax reform:
The US personal and business tax system needs to be simpler and less distortionary, with lower tax rates and fewer exemptions. The redesign of the tax system should aim to raise labor force participation, mitigate income polarization and support low- and middle-income households. Given the unfavorable debt dynamics and the resources needed to strengthen the supply side, tax reform ought to be designed to be revenue enhancing over the medium term.
On health care:
Health care policies should protect those gains in coverage that have been achieved since the financial crisis (particularly for those at the lower end of the income distribution). Doing so will have positive implications for well-being, productivity, and labor force participation. This, in turn, will strengthen growth and job creation, reduce economic insecurity associated with the lack of health coverage, and have positive effects for the medium-term fiscal position.
On one of the top priorities of the current US administration, deregulation:
In international comparisons, the US already scores favorably on regulatory barriers to entrepreneurship, trade, and investment. In addition, US-specific research on the evidence of negative economic implications of regulations is scant. Nonetheless, a simplification and streamlining of federal regulations as well as an effort to harmonize rules across states would likely boost efficiency and could stimulate job creation, productivity, and growth.
To sum up:
Reforms should include building a more efficient tax system; establishing a more effective regulatory system; raising infrastructure spending; improving education and developing skills; strengthening healthcare coverage while containing costs; offering family-friendly benefits; maintaining a free, fair, and mutually beneficial trade and investment regime; and reforming the immigration and welfare systems.
OK, right. We’ll take care of all that next week.
What’s interesting to me, though, is that most of these suggestions seem to come with the subtext that other affluent countries have devised approaches in these areas that the US would do well to emulate. I got into economic journalism in the mid-to-late 1990s, when the US was outperforming most other rich economies and policy makers in France, Germany, Japan and elsewhere were looking to New York, Washington and Silicon Valley for ideas on how to spur growth and dynamism.
The US still seems to hold a big advantage over the rest of the world (although China has made some inroads) in birthing and nurturing the global corporate titans of the digital age, which has to be worth something. It also, by the IMF’s reckoning, has a relatively healthy financial system. But on all sorts of other matters — taxation, labor markets, health care, education — the US has become more a cautionary tale than a shining example.
One major difference between the US and most of the rest of the developed world is ideological: People and politicians in the US are much more ambivalent about the modern welfare state than their peers in other wealthy nations and have been less willing to raise taxes to finance it. A report from the IMF or an opinion column by the likes of me isn’t going to change a lot of minds on that. Perhaps in part because otherwise their economies would have collapsed under the weight of all that welfare-state generosity, though, other wealthy countries also seem to have figured out better, more cost-effective ways of raising revenue, providing education, helping the jobless, fighting poverty, and keeping citizens healthy than the US has. This country has some catching up to do.

Palestinians Escalate War on Journalists
Bassam Tawil/Gatestone Institute/August 12/17
They said they did not know what "sensitive information" Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) were trying to hide.
Today, it is safe to say that the situation of the freedom of the media under the PA and Hamas is not much different than that under Bashar Assad's Syria or even North Korea.
Palestinian journalists' hateful obsession with Israel brings them no dividends. Rather, such venomous bias diverts attention from the true challenges and threats they face from the PA and Hamas. By expending their efforts in this twisted fashion, the journalists aid and abet their leaders in building dictatorial regimes that suppress public freedoms.
As part of its overarching effort to silence critics, President Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority (PA) has resumed its war against Palestinian journalists who refuse toe the line or are suspected of being insufficiently loyal to their leaders in Ramallah.
But this is nothing new: Abbas and his team have long been notoriously intolerant of news stories that reflect negatively on them in particular and on Palestinians in general.
In the past few days, PA security forces arrested six Palestinian journalists from Bethlehem, Nablus and Hebron. The journalists -- Mamdouh Hamamreh, Qutaiba Kassem, Tarek Abu Zeid, Amer Abu Arafeh, Thaer Al-Fakhouri and Ahmed Al-Halaykeh -- are suspected of "leaking sensitive information to hostile parties."
This is the first time that Abbas's PA has made such a ridiculous charge against Palestinian journalists. In an attempt to justify the latest crackdown on freedom of the media, Abbas's news agency, Wafa, published a statement by an unnamed "senior security source" who said that the detained journalists were being interrogated about their role in "leaking sensitive information to hostile parties." The detained journalists, meanwhile, have gone on hunger strike to protest their incarceration.
Upon hearing about the baseless charge, many Palestinian journalists said they did not know whether to laugh or cry. They said they did not know what "sensitive information" Abbas and the PA were trying to hide.
"We don't have nuclear facilities," remarked a Palestinian journalist from east Jerusalem sarcastically. "It's clear that the Palestinian Authority leadership is using the security issue as an excuse to justify its punitive measures against journalists."
Another Palestinian journalist from Ramallah scoffed at the charge against his colleagues. "This is the most ridiculous claim I've heard in years," he commented. "It reminds us of Arab dictators who accuse their opponents and critics of revealing state secrets and consuming narcotics."
That the PA leadership has refused to provide further details about the nature of the offense committed by the suspected journalists has only reinforced the belief that they were targeted as part of an ongoing campaign by Abbas and his lieutenants to silence critics and deter other journalists from doing their job or reporting any story that could reflect negatively on the Palestinian leaders.
Some Palestinian journalists take a different view of the matter. These reporters trace the arrest of the six journalists to a desire to pressure Hamas to release two journalists it is holding in the Gaza Strip: Amer Abu Shabab and Fuad Jaradeh.
In other words, the PA security forces are holding the six journalists hostage until Hamas frees the two newsmen it is holding. The journalists detained by the PA work for Hamas-affiliated media outlets in the West Bank.
Notably, the two Palestinian regimes - the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip -- have hardly championed freedom of speech and freedom of the media. In fact, the two parties share the same values when it comes to silencing all forms of criticism. Dozens of Palestinian journalists have been targeted over the past two decades by both the PA and Hamas.
These regimes have their own special way of defining freedom of the press. That is, the press is utterly free to blacken the name of Israel. The name of Hamas or the PA, however, is sacrosanct: criticism of either would land a Palestinian reporter behind bars or in an interrogation room.
Hamas and the PA prefer that the press pound Israel. Short of that, they tolerate journalistic critique of municipal services or the shortage of medicine in hospitals.
Today, it is safe to say that the situation of the freedom of the media under the PA and Hamas is not much different than that under Bashar Assad's Syria or even North Korea. The failure to achieve a free media for the Palestinians is yet another sign of the Palestinian failure to build proper and transparent state institutions.
The Palestinians have no functioning parliament, no open debate and no free media. In the West Bank, the media is controlled, directly and indirectly, by Abbas and his loyalists. In the Gaza Strip, the only "media" is that which is controlled by Hamas -- again, directly and indirectly.
But there is an interesting twist to the latest story of Palestinian Authority and Hamas assaults on freedom of the media. Sadly, many Palestinian journalists do not seem to care much about the harassment and suppression of their colleagues at the hands of their leaders in Ramallah and the Gaza Strip.
Instead of organizing widespread protests to demand the release of their colleagues who are being tortured by PA and Hamas interrogators, Palestinian journalists are still scapegoating Israel. Incredibly, they continue to incite against Israel despite the fact that they are being detained and tortured by the PA and Hamas. Instead of demanding the release of their six colleagues from PA prison, some Palestinian journalists are protesting because some Israeli (Jewish) journalists came to Ramallah last week to cover the visit of Jordan's King Abdullah II.
The presence of the Israeli reporters in Ramallah enraged several Palestinian journalists, who took to social media to condemn the Palestinian Authority leadership that gave them permission to come and cover the monarch's visit.
The presence of Israeli reporters in Ramallah last week, to cover the visit of Jordan's King Abdullah II, enraged several Palestinian journalists, who took to social media to condemn the Palestinian Authority leadership that gave them permission to cover the visit. (Image source: Palestinian President's Office)
In this cartoon by Palestinian cartoonist Mohammad Sabaaneh, an Israeli journalist, carrying a microphone dripping with blood, is interviewing a dog.
Such incitement was easy to find on Palestinian social media websites this week. The presence of several Israeli Arab journalists seemed to roll right over the racist, raging Palestinian journalists -- it is the presence of Jewish journalists that they cannot stand.
This attack on Israeli journalists has been backed by the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS), a Fatah-affiliated group headed by Nasser Abu Baker, a correspondent of the evidently unprofessional Agence France-Press: Baker has also run for election in the Fatah Revolutionary Council.
In a statement published in Ramallah, the PJS strongly condemned the presence of Israeli (Jewish) journalists in Ramallah and urged Abbas to hold accountable whoever gave the Israeli journalists permission to come to the city to cover the Jordanian king's visit.
It seems that for the PJS, the presence of Israeli (Jewish) reporters in Ramallah is more disturbing than the arrest of Palestinian journalists by the PA and Hamas.
For the record, in recent years the PJS has served as a mouthpiece for Abbas's office; instead of defending the rights of Palestinian journalists, it devotes more than 95% of its words and actions to denouncing Israel and whipping up rage against Israeli journalists.
Palestinian journalists' hateful obsession with Israel brings them no dividends. Rather, such venomous bias diverts attention from the true challenges and threats they face from the PA and Hamas. By expending their efforts in this twisted fashion, the reporters aid and abet their leaders in building dictatorial regimes that suppress public freedoms.
*Bassam Tawil, an Arab Muslim, is based in the Middle East.
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The OIC must now lead the efforts to stop Rohingya persecution
Dr. Azeem Ibrahim/Al Arabiya/August 12/17
As the persecution of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar is getting worse by the day, we must now acknowledge that the United Nations is failing to enforce the principles of its own 1948 Genocide Convention.
Leaked documents from earlier this year described the office of the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, Reneta Lok-Dessallien, as ‘glaringly dysfunctional’, in no small part due to her putting human rights considerations on the back-burner, in favour of economic development goals. She was accused by many of her own staff of having too cosy a relationship with the civilian government and the military elite, whilst the persecution of the Rohingya and other minorities dropped off her agenda.
Hoping that the new dawn of democracy ushered in by Aung San Suu Kyi will soon start to bear fruit, the UN in general, and Lok-Dessallien in particular, were content to watch from the sidelines as hundreds were killed and tens of thousands ethnically cleansed from villages, and many thousands more were forced to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh and Malaysia on rickety boats – only to be met with conditions little better than those they had just fled. The UN seemed to have embraced the Obama Administration’s ‘Strategic Patience’ doctrine with regards to Myanmar. Which is diplomatic speak for ‘do-nothing’.
Many were relieved when it was recently announced that Reneta Lok-Desallien was moved on from her position with the Myanmar mission, a couple of years ahead of schedule. But whether the incoming Coordinator will recalibrate the priorities of the office to give due attention to the gross human rights abuses in the country remains to be seen.
Perhaps now that the world’s largest intergovernmental organisation has failed to live up to it’s responsibility towards the Rohingya, the task may be better addressed by the second largest. The plight of the Rohingya has already featured prominently on the agenda of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’s meeting of Foreign Ministers. In fact, the OIC held an Extraordinary Session earlier this year in Malaysia dedicated entirely to the situation of the Rohingya.
Not a good record
One concern might be that the OIC does not have a good record when it comes to conflict resolution. It is fundamentally handicapped in this regard, as it does not have the means by which to enforce its will. Resolutions are passed with little fanfare and go largely unnoticed outside the Muslim world. Often, their sole purpose is to mollify local populations.
Nevertheless, in this case the OIC may prove significantly more effective. As the second largest intergovernmental organisation, with a membership of fifty-seven states spread across four continents, and with a new dynamic secretary general in the form of Dr Yousef bin Ahmad Al-Othaimeen, the organisation will have the verve to intervene on the issue that the UN is clearly lacking. And there are simple measures the OIC could pursue.
The OIC does not have the happiest history when it comes to living up to its own founding principles. But on this occasion, they may well be able to succeed where the UN has failed.
Firstly, the OIC can work with the UN and Myanmar authorities to investigate the allegations that militant Islamist groups are attempting to penetrate and hijack the Rohingya struggle. Though such allegations are anaemic at best, they offer a convenient excuse to the Myanmar authorities to pursue their policy of collective punishment while placating the international community and forcing it to turn a blind eye. Particularly now that ISIS is losing territory in the Middle East and are looking for new regions in the world where their poisonous ideology might find fertile ground.
Secondly, the persecution of the Rohingya has a sectarian dimension, as some of the key instigators promote these abuses in the name of a militant interpretation of Theravada Buddhism. The OIC, as a religious-based organisation, can reframe the conflict-resolution efforts of the international community in terms of an inter-faith dialogue amongst religious communities and their global leaders. The OIC itself claims to represent the global Muslim voice, and so it should be able to bring in leading global Muslim personalities who would already be acceptable and respected by the Buddhist leaders of the country.
Finally, the OIC can help relieve pressure on neighbouring countries that have taken in hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees such as Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand and so on. The government of Bangladesh is justified in trying to ensure that the Rohingya do not become a permanent presence in their own country, as they simply don’t have the resources to absorb the kinds of numbers that are fleeing. The OIC could therefore organise a coordinated global effort to provide countries like Bangladesh the basic essentials to ensure the Rohingya are comfortable during their short tenure before they are able to return to their homeland.
The OIC does not have the happiest history when it comes to living up to its own founding principles. But on this occasion, they may well be able to succeed where the UN has failed. The Rohingya situation is providing it with an opportunity to redeem itself. And it can start with such simple measures which will have a real positive impact on the lives of so many people. Let us hope it seizes this opportunity with both hands.

Moqtada al-Sadr’s visit to Saudi Arabia is not the first of its kind
Rasheed al-Khayoun/Al Arabiya/August 12/17
If the relations between the countries of the region were to reflect sectarian strife, the people would certainly die as a result of war. Therefore, it is necessary to realize that the geographical borders are a constant and a destiny that can’t be escaped by building bars. Thus, we ought to highlight the common denominator. History between Saudi Arabia and Iraq was not all rivalry and brusqueness. Anyone who understands the chaos of sectarian discourse and the magnitude of the poisonous atmosphere will not be surprised by what was said in light of Moqtada al-Sadr’s visit to Saudi Arabia. In fact, during the Friday sermon on August 4, 2017, al Sadr speculated on his own assassination saying: “If my life were to end, it would be because my last steps bothered so many,” in reference to his visit to Saudi Arabia.
This visit came after that of the Prime Minister and the Interior Minister. The President of the Republic has also participated in the American Islamic Summit on the 20th-21st of May, 2017. Saudi officials from the Foreign Minister and military delegations have also visited Iraq. It seems that there are sincere intentions by the two parties to improve the relationship; a vigorous pursuit of good neighborliness, and a keen will to find mutual points in favor of both countries and peoples. The relationship between Baghdad and Riyadh has unfortunately been greatly affected by the chaos of the sectarian rhetoric, hate speech and generalizations. Such rhetoric drains the countries and strengthens the sting of terrorism. Al-Jurjani (died in 471 H) says: “If any matter is treated by intruders and looked after by strangers then it will grow in importance and causes infliction” Dala'il al-I'jaz (Intimations of Inimitability).
It is not reasonable that Saudi Arabia, with 28 million people and two million square kilometers of land, is full of hatred for Iraqis, as if the country does not have any intellectuals who fight sectarianism and face sectarian anger as a result. We all recall how Al-Sharq Al-Awsat published the proposal for the Nobel Prize award to Ayatollah Sistani (21/3/2005). Jamal al-Khashoggi (editor-in-chief of Al Watan newspaper) also called to grant him the award for “the service of Islam, not just Nobel.”
When one of the Sahouiyin criticized al-Sistani, Abdul Rahman al Rached wrote: "He is among the thousands of preachers who have engaged in sectarian strife, who know nothing about politics and believe in nonsense" (al Sharq al Awsat 21/1/2010). On the same issue, Turki al-Dakhil wrote: “Being a Sunni does not mean that I am lining up against another Saudi who is my partner in citizenship” (Al-Watan, January 17th 2010), referring to the imitative of Sistani from the Saudi Shiites.
It is not reasonable that Saudi Arabia, with 28 million people and two million square kilometers of land, is full of hatred for Iraqis, as if the country does not have any intellectuals who fight sectarianism and face sectarian anger as a result
Al Sadr’s Iraqi turban was not the first non-Hajj visit to Saudi Arabia. In the 19th century Muhammad Sa'id al-Habboubi (died 1915) frequently visited Najd (al-Khakani, the poets of al-Ghari), and wrote: “Your country is the soul and the lover is an Iraqi whose only hope is a meeting,” (Al-Diwan) the interpreter of al Diwan did not clarify whether the poet was talking to his beloved woman from Najd or a friend. This was written during the time that Wahhabism was common there.
In 1963, Sheikh Muhammad Jawad Mughniyah went to Hajj (died in 1979) and wrote: “I met with some of the scholars of Wahhabism. We discussed the concept of Islam and the reality of polytheism. Some were hardliners, keen to block any window of rapprochement and brotherhood, while others well full of humility and tolerance in all differences except in the reconstruction of graves and the construction of domes above it "(Mughniyah, this is Wahhabism). This is the doctrine of most Hanbali and it is not directed against a particular sect. The first dome which was removed in Najd was that of Sahabah Zaid, the brother of Omar ibn al-Khattab, who was killed in the war of al-Yamamah (11/12 AH).
Opportunities for agreement rather than separation
Those who were described as hardliners by Mughniyah became the subject of great debate by some of the successor of Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab himself (died in 1792). The world has changed and those who live in the past will stay there. Let the prays be for the people promoting modesty between the two countries, and they are not few if we were to leave all generalizations behind. They will eventually contribute to normalizing the atmosphere and establishing equal relations through seven hundred kilometers, so as to ensure mutual benefits.
Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim (killed in 2003) also visited Saudi Arabia, followed by an official visit by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim (died in 2009) along with leaders of the turbans and the effendis of the Islamic Dawa Party, who worked in Saudi universities during the 1980s. Political agreements were drawn with them in the 1990s. There is also the memory of Ali Jawad al-Tahir (died in 1996) and Mahdi al-Makhzoumi (died in 1993) and dozens of other senior Iraqi academics. The latter’s portrait is still hanging in the entrance hall of the university. Not to mention the facilities and the welcome that the authorities of the great Najaf receive during Hajj and Umrah. In fact, Hussein al-Sadr, the nephew of Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr (executed in 1980), greeted the former Saudi ambassador in Baghdad with great enthusiasm in an attempt to soften the atmosphere between the two countries.
I see opportunities for agreement rather than separation. The existence of thousands of survivors, who were born and raised on the banks of the Tigris and the Euphrates, and have been flooded with passion for everything that is Iraqi, regardless of the doctrine of the poetry, singing, science and sweet neighborhood is a living proof. Politics is a game based on interests, and these interests can only be implemented through close ties of friendship and a separation between the sectarian and the national, the religious and the political.

Late mediation makes Doha sink further
Sawsan Al Shaer/Al Arabiya/August 12/17
The delay in finalizing the Qatari problem escalates the situation and makes us more distant with Qatar. The more mediators renew their efforts, the more Qatar thinks it is right and that everyone wants to please it. This only makes the Qatari command madder as it commits more mistakes. Qatar took things too far and exposed more than one face since the boycotting decision was made against it. As efforts to resolve the crisis renewed, Qatar negatively acted towards us and towards mediators as its media has been even working to obstruct mediations and prevent restoring things to normal.
Just when Kuwait’s Emir Sabah al-Ahmad dispatched an envoy to revive Qatar’s hopes, Doha’s media outlets intentionally acted like Iranian media outlets while covering Al-Awamiyah events in Saudi Arabia. They used the same terms used by the Iranian Kayhan daily! Qatar led to the failure of the first mediation efforts as it lightly dealt with the matter and published the demands before meeting with Kuwait’s emir. It’s now exploiting the Kuwaiti envoy’s visit to cross all red lines and side with Iran in how it sees Al-Awamiyah developments. It’s doing so although it knows that to Saudi Arabia, Al-Awamiyah is a national security matter and a red line. Qatar thinks it’s being smart when it disregards the Saudi Arabia’s security and Kuwait’s mediation. However, Doha must realize that when it begins to match its media policy with Iran’s, then it means it chose to match Iranian goals. Whom does Qatar think Saudi Arabia is fighting in Al-Awamiyah? Saudi Arabia, like Bahrain, is fighting the soldiers and servants of Iran in the region. Those who fortified themselves in the village of Diraz in Bahrain and in Al-Awamiyah in Saudi Arabia are fighting the Bahraini and Saudi states and declaring war against them. They are funded and trained by Iran. Qatar then comes and underestimates all these threats against the security of Gulf states! And it thinks these are nothing more than media debates?! And when does it do that? When mediations start again to save it!
Just when Kuwait’s Emir Sabah al-Ahmad dispatched an envoy to revive Qatar’s hopes, Doha’s media outlets intentionally acted like Iranian media outlets while covering Al-Awamiyah events in Saudi Arabia.
We are now in a state of war and the souls of our sons in the armed forces are precious to us. They are fighting terrorism to protect us. Qatar’s underestimation of our sons’ lives is tantamount to declaring war against us. This is how it is, straightforward. By us, I mean the Gulf Cooperation Council countries – not just Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates but also Kuwait that’s confronting the Abdali cell which escaped to Iran. Therefore, if the GCC does not stand with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Kuwait in their war against terrorism, then the council and its members will fall, and the first to fall will be that state which thinks it’s safe from this fire.
Undermining security
Mediations, whether by the dear state of Kuwait or by a friendly state or an ally, aim to address this member that underestimates our security. When the goals of a GCC member match the goals of an enemy who’s fighting the GCC, then the latter must specify the fate of this enemy. Mediations, especially the Kuwaiti one, must specify the fate of this member and not the fate of the 13 demands.
All mediators must understand that there are no mutual points we agree with Qatar with when the matter is related to threatening security. There should be no negotiations when countering terrorism, as Jubeir put it. The quartet alliance’s demands are not “dictations” required to restore relations with Doha but they are conditions which if not met then Qatar will have declared war against us. Qatar must either stop threatening our security or there will be complete estrangement. This is our simplest legitimate right. It’s the least influential card to play and settling with it until now is only out of honoring the Qatari people. If Doha decides to side with Iran against us, then it must bear the responsibility of this decision while mediators must specify their stance from the Qatari decision.