December 16/17

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations
Although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened
Romans 01/18-32/The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 15-16/17
Jerusalem, Israel's Capital: Watch the Masks FalléNajat AlSaied/Gatestone Institute/December 15/2017
Revisionist Powers and Rogue Regimes in the Trump Doctrine/Raghida Dergham/December 15, 2017
Jerusalem Deals in RealityThe Australian/Jonathan Spyer/December 15/2017
Behind The Lines: Who Is Qais Al-Khazali, And Why Should You Care?/Jonathan Spyer/Jerusalem Post/December 15/17
How did Qatar lose its audience/Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya/December 15/17
Back to the future: Resetting the time continuum from 1979/Faisal Al-Shammeri//Al Arabiya/December 15/17
Lebanon remains occupied/Eyad Abu Shakra/Arab News/December 15/2017

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on December 15-16/17
Report: Officials Express Reservations over Opening Lebanese Embassy in Jerusalem
Jubeir: Hariri's Resignation Withdrawal No 'Defeat' for SA
Abi Khalil: Oil Drilling to Begin in 2019
Salameh: Crisis Boosted Confidence in Lebanese Economy
Aoun Says Lebanon Didn't Yield to Pressure
Rahi lights Bkerki's Christmas tree
Marotti, UNESCO Lebanon Director sign Wadi Qadisha rehabilitation project's funding agreement
Geagea meets Ambassadors of Switzerland, India
Rahme representing Berri at AIPU meeting: To restore mutual trust among Arab countries
Mashnouq signs draft decree inviting voters to 2018 elections
Frangieh receives Australian Ambassador
Abi Khalil: Oil wells' drilling to start in 2019
Hariri meets Ambassadors of France, UAE
Energy Minister Dismisses Accusations over Oil Exploration 'Achievement'
Sarkis: Lebanon's Oil Policy Shrouded with Secrecy and Deceit
Hungary to Renovate Lebanese Churches as Part of Aid Program

Titles For
Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 15-16/17
US says it wants Syrian government to negotiate ‘seriously’ with opposition
Four killed in Israeli gunfire in Gaza clashes as Jerusalem fallout continues
Top Shiite cleric opposes disbanding of Iraq's Hashed militia
Israel court says illegal to keep dead Palestinian assailants
Despite Trump move, Europe leaders say Jerusalem stance ‘unchanged’
Pentagon: US jets intercept Russian warplanes in Syria
Israel questions Iranian blogger after giving her asylum
US making ‘serious’ efforts for Mideast peace deal: Al-Jubeir
Iran Supplied Ballistic Missile to Yemen Rebels, Says US
Israeli troops wounds more than 40 Palestinians in protests over U.S. Jerusalem move
Putin, Trump Discuss N Korea in Phone Call
UN Envoy Says Opportunity Missed' as Syria Talks Wrap Up
UN Voices Alarm at Clashes, House Burnings in Disputed Iraqi City
Iran Accuses US of Trying to Hide Own Role in Yemen War
Kenney crushes byelection opponents at ballot box to win seat in Alberta legislature

Latest Lebanese Related News published on December 15-16/17
Report: Officials Express Reservations over Opening Lebanese Embassy in Jerusalem
Naharnet/December 15/17/Lebanese officials expressed reservation regarding a suggestion to open a Lebanese embassy in Jerusalem citing concerns the move could be misinterpreted, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Friday. Speaker Nabih Berri said the move is “highly dangerous and indirectly serves Netanyahu's remarks when he said two days ago that states, besides the US, will open embassies in Jerusalem,” the daily quoted Berri as saying. Early this month, US President Donald Trump took a decision where he recognized Jerusalem as capital of Israel and kicked off the process of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Berri added: “Personally I believe that Palestine is one and Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine. There is no such thing as West or East Jerusalem. Therefore opening a Lebanese embassy in Jerusalem violates this principle.”Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil announced Thursday that he has submitted a memo to the government to “establish a Lebanese embassy in Jerusalem, the capital of Palestine.”In that regard, Prime Minister Saad Hariri said: “Lebanon agreed to the Arab Peace Initiative in 2002 and must remain in line with this matter.”The Arab Peace Initiative is a proposal for an end to the Arab–Israeli conflict that was endorsed by the Arab League in 2002 at the Beirut Summit and re-endorsed at the 2007 Arab League summit and at the 2017 Arab League summit. The initiative calls for normalizing relations between the Arab region and Israel, in exchange for a full withdrawal by Israel from the occupied territories (including East Jerusalem) and a "just settlement" of the Palestinian refugee problem based on UN Resolution 194. In a long debate at the Cabinet's Thursday meeting, Minister of Women Affairs Jean Oghassapian also “asked for caution to avoid confusion and misinterpretation,” according to the daily. For his part, Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said although the intentions (of Bassil) are trustworthy but the subject requires “deep constitutional and political debate that the circumstances are not prepared for at this time. It is not so simple. It has a political, ideological, intellectual and cultural dimensions, and we oppose it.”Khalil's stance got the nod from Ministers of: State for Parliament Affairs Ali Qanso, Industry Hussein Hajj Hassan, Youth and Sports Mohammed Fneish, Public Works and Transport Ghazi Zoaiter, Education Mawaran Hamadeh and Telecommunications Jamal al-Jarrah. Later on Thursday, the Cabinet formed a ministerial panel led by Hariri to study Bassil's suggestion. But al-Joumhouria said forming the panel is a prelude to dismissing the proposal.

Jubeir: Hariri's Resignation Withdrawal No 'Defeat' for SA

Naharnet/December 15/17/Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir on Friday affirmed that the Kingdom was not “defeated” after Prime Minister Saad Hariri rescinded his resignation, pointing out that SA will “wait and see” if the premier will be “allowed to implement his political agenda.”“We have backed PM Saad Hariri and his political agenda when he formed his first government under President Michel Aoun. However, Aoun and Hizbullah did not give Hariri the space to govern,” said Jubeir in an interview with France 24 “They used him as a front to change the electoral law. That's why Hariri decided to resign and create a positive shock,” he added. Hariri's announcement from Saudi Arabia that he was stepping down in November-- which he later revoked after returning back to Lebanon three week after-- has thrown the country into disarray as the move was highly blamed on the Kingdom as having forced the PM's resignation. Hariri's announcement from Saudi Arabia that he was stepping down in November-- which he later revoked after returning back to Lebanon three week after-- has thrown the country into disarray as the move was highly blamed on the Kingdom as having forced the PM's resignation.
The Saudi minister added that Hariri had returned to Lebanon with the aim of submitting his resignation officially, “but Speaker Nabih Berri promised him that Lebanon will commit to neutrality regarding the happenings in the Arab world and that Hariri will be given a political space to work with.”
Saudi Arabia “will therefore wait and see. We have backed this notion and will see if Aoun and Hizbullah will allow Hariri the space he wants to work for Lebanon,” he added.Saudi Arabia “wants a stable and prosperous Lebanon. If Lebanon had not existed, there should have been a need to invent it. There are more than 17 sects living in harmony in this model country. If we lose it we will lose the minorities and wealth to our culture,” concluded al-Jubeir.

Abi Khalil: Oil Drilling to Begin in 2019
Naharnet/December 15/17/Energy and Oil Minister Cesar Abi Khalil said on Friday that Lebanon will start exploratory drilling off the Lebanese coast in 2019 while preparations for the procedure will take place in 2018.In a press interview Abi Khalil said granting licenses for oil exploration “is an economic benefit for the country that will create new job opportunities,and will secure less expensive and less polluting local sources of energy.”On Thursday, Lebanon's Cabinet approved licenses for three international companies to carry out exploratory drilling off the Lebanese coast. The licenses will allow Italy's Eni, France's Total and Russia's Novatek that bid for two of Lebanon's 10 offshore blocks to determine whether oil and gas exist in the area. Oil Minister Cesar Abi Khalil tweeted "congratulations to Lebanon for the approval of the oil license and Lebanon's entering the oil countries club."

Salameh: Crisis Boosted Confidence in Lebanese Economy
Agence France PresseNaharnet/December 15/17/Lebanon's ability to survive the crisis sparked last month by the premier's now rescinded resignation has increased confidence in its economy, the governor of the country's central bank said Friday. Lebanon, chronically feared to be on the brink of default, was shaken last month by an unprecedented crisis that saw Prime Minister Saad Hariri resign in Saudi Arabia under mysterious circumstances before a Western diplomatic effort and subsequent national consultations saved his job."The liquidity to fund the economy remained available because we maintained monetary stability during this crisis and even I think that after this crisis there will be more confidence," Riad Salameh told AFP.

Aoun Says Lebanon Didn't Yield to Pressure
Naharnet/December 15/17/President Michel Aoun said Friday that Lebanon did not succumb to pressure and was able to overcome a political crisis that emerged following Prime Minister Saad Hariri's resignation-which he eventually rescinded. Speaking to visiting Beirut Bar Association delegation at the Presidential Palace, Aoun said: “Thanks to Lebanon's national unity and willingness to preserve stability, we succeeded at overcoming the crisis. “Lebanon held its head high and did not succumb to pressure,” added Aoun. Hariri's announcement from Saudi Arabia that he was stepping down in November-- which he later revoked after returning back to Lebanon three week after-- has thrown the country into disarray as the move was highly blamed on the Kingdom as having forced the PM's resignation. On the Jerusalem file after the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as capital of Israel, Aoun affirmed that Lebanon's position at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation summit on Jerusalem in Istanbul has won international and Arab support.“What we said at the summit has distinguished Lebanon and highlighted its comprehensive role,” added Aoun.

Rahi lights Bkerki's Christmas tree
Fri 15 Dec 2017/NNA - Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Mar Beshara Boutros Rahi on Friday lit the Christmas tree at the Maronite Patriarchate in Bkerki. "Today, we carry Jerusalem in our prayers so that the US decision be withdrawn," Rahi said. "Hope must be given to people through actions and initiatives," he added.

Marotti, UNESCO Lebanon Director sign Wadi Qadisha rehabilitation project's funding agreement
Fri 15 Dec 2017/NNA - Ambassador of Italy to Lebanon Massimo Marotti and UNESCO Director for Lebanon Mr. Hamad AL-HAMMAMI signed the agreement for funding the project "Rehabilitation and Valorization of Wadi Qadisha". The project aims to improve the mobility in the valley and the conservation of Cultural and Archaeological Heritage assets of the Qadisha Valley. The 500.000 euros project granted by the Italian Government will be implemented by UNESCO in coordination with the Directorate General of Antiquities, the Maronite Patriarchate and the Municipalities Unions. It is a step forward in the long-standing partnership between Italy, Lebanon and UNESCO. The objective of the project is to rehabilitate pedestrian paths in order to improve mobility in the valley and surrounding municipalities, restore the archaeological sites of Mar Assia and Deir es-Salib and ensure training for the conservation and restoration of cultural assets through collaborations with local and international universities.

Geagea meets Ambassadors of Switzerland, India

Fri 15 Dec 2017/NNA - Lebanese Forces leader, Samir Geagea, met, at his Maarab residence on Friday, with Swiss Ambassador to Lebanon, Monika Schmutz Kirgoz, who came on a protocol visit. The pair discussed the current political situation in Lebanon and the broader Arab region. Geagea later met with Indian Ambassador to Lebanon, Sanjiv Arora.

Rahme representing Berri at AIPU meeting: To restore mutual trust among Arab countries
Fri 15 Dec 2017/NNA - MP Emile Rahme has participated in the urgent meeting held by the Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union in Morocco, to discuss US President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Rahme flew to Rabat delegated by House Speaker Nabih Berri, who had decided not to attend the summit as other Arab Parliaments were not invited. "Considering our experience with the US-Israeli policies, we say that Trump's decision will not be the last; other decisions and wars will follow," Rahme said in his word. "Trump's decision has returned matters to square one, and ignited our people's momentum and agitation for the sake of justice and Palestine," he added. "In the name of the Lebanese Parliament, I exhort this instance to reject and condemn Trump's decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem," he stressed. He also called conferees to reject settlement schemes, support the Palestinian people's right to resist and fight Israeli Occupation and to return to an independence Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, in addition to launching a parliamentary diplomacy to restore mutual trust among the Arab states and to end geographic, political, and media tensions.

Mashnouq signs draft decree inviting voters to 2018 elections
Fri 15 Dec 2017/NNA - Minister of Interior and Municipalities, Nohad Mashnouq, on Friday signed the draft decree inviting voters to the 2018 legislative polls that shall take place on forthcoming May 6.For their part, Lebanese expatriates are asked to cast their ballot on April 22 and 28.Mashnouq has chaired today the periodic meeting devoted to following up on the preparations for the coming polls.

Frangieh receives Australian Ambassador

Fri 15 Dec 2017/NNA - Marada Movement leader, MP Sleiman Frangieh, met, at his Bnachii residence on Friday, with Australian Ambassador to Lebanon, Glenn Miles. The pair dwelt on the latest developments in Lebanon and the broader Arab region.

Abi Khalil: Oil wells' drilling to start in 2019
Fri 15 Dec 2017/NNA - The process of exploratory drilling of Lebanon's offshore oil and gas resources will kick off in 2019, Minister of Energy Cesar Abi Khalil said in a press conference on Friday. "I have summoned the oil companies' consortium to negotiate the technical bids and we obtained an undertaking to excavate block 5, and to start the diggings in 2019," he indicated. "Therefore, 2018 will be devoted to preparations," he added. The Cabinet on Thursday approved granting licenses for oil exploration and excavation in the offshore blocks 5 and 9. "The importance of those licenses lies within the huge economic benefits of the oil-related activities, as new job opportunities and local energy sources that are less costly and polluting will be provided," he explained. Lebanon's Petroleum Administration will hold a press conference on Thursday to provide further explanation, Abi Khalil added.

Hariri meets Ambassadors of France, UAE
Fri 15 Dec 2017/NNA - Prime Minister Saad Hariri held talks at Bayt-al-Wasat on Friday with French Ambassador to Lebanon, Bruno Foucher, over the latest developments on the local and regional scenes. The pair also dwelt on the Lebanese-French bilateral relations. Hariri later received Emirati Ambassador to Lebanon, Hamad al-Shamsi, with whom he tackled the current general situation and the ties between the two countries.

Energy Minister Dismisses Accusations over Oil Exploration 'Achievement' 15th December 2017/Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil announced on Friday that the consortium which was licensed yesterday by the government to take charge of the offshore oil exploration will start drilling in the two blocks, 4 and 9, in 2019. Addressing a press conference at the Ministry, Abi Khalil explained that negotiations with the bidding companies had been "fierce", noting that the licensed consortium has committed to drilling five wells in each of the two blocks."Partitioning accusations are not worth being commented on. Everyone has agreed that the first licensing round was transparent and professional," he assured.

Sarkis: Lebanon's Oil Policy Shrouded with Secrecy and Deceit 15th December 2017/Petroleum expert Nicholas Sarkis described the government's approval of two drilling licenses as a proof that Lebanon's oil policy is based on secrecy and deceit, casting doubt over the consortium which has been awarded the offshore exploration tender. "How comes that 30 companies had withdrawn from the tendering process and that a consortium of three companies, including a small Russian company which has nothing to do with oil exploration, was the only one to remain in the competition?" he asked in an interview on Voice of Lebanon radio station. "The government's approval of exploration licenses is not an achievement."“Why didn't a Lebanese company take part in the bidding process? Why aren't the basic petroleum laws being respected in terms of the binding need to have a national company that represents Lebanon and the Lebanese?” he added. In an interview on LBCI's Kalamennas talk show on Thursday night, Sarkis criticized the government’s approach towards the oil and gas exploration issue for being shrouded with ambiguity, saying that the terms of the oil agreement were kept under wraps.

Hungary to Renovate Lebanese Churches as Part of Aid Program 15th December 2017/A Hungarian aid program will renovate more than 32 Lebanese churches as part of a governmental initiative aimed at helping Christians in the Middle East. Following his meeting with Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil on Thursday, Ambassador-at-large of the Hungary Helps Initiative, Peter Heltai, hailed Lebanon as one of the pillars of peace, diversity and coexistence in the Middle East. The Hungarian government established the Hungary Helps Initiative on August 28, 2017. The program covers all of Hungary’s international aid activities, including the donations of private citizens and those of the private sector.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 15-16/17
US says it wants Syrian government to negotiate ‘seriously’ with opposition
Reuters/December 16/2017/The United States on Friday urged supporters of the Syrian government to press it to "participate fully" in negotiations with the opposition, saying a lack of a political resolution in the war-torn country threatened indefinite instability. In a statement, a spokeswoman for the State Department said the United States wanted the government's supporters "to use their leverage to urge the regime to participate fully in tangible negotiations with the opposition in Geneva." "The United States urges all parties to work seriously toward a political resolution to this conflict or face continued isolation and instability indefinitely in Syria," spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.A United Nations negotiator characterized a round of peace talks that ended on Thursday as a missed opportunity, and he laid most of the blame at the feet of Syria's government.

Four killed in Israeli gunfire in Gaza clashes as Jerusalem fallout continues
The Associated Press/December 16/2017/Four men were shot dead by Israeli gunfire in clashes in East Gaza and East Jerusalem on Friday, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, as thousands of Palestinians take to the streets in protests. Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli forces as fallout continues over President Donald Trump’s announcement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last week. Following Muslim prayers on Friday, Palestinians threw rocks at Israeli troops who responded with tear gas in the West Bank. Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra said five Palestinians were injured in clashes in two locations along Gaza’s border with Israel. He said they were injured by live fire and are in moderate condition. They confirmed that since the protests began after President Trump's announcement, over 2,000 Palestinians were injured.Palestinians have been clashing with Israeli troops across the West Bank and along the Gaza border since Trump’s declaration. It departed from decades of US policy that the fate of Jerusalem should be decided through negotiations.East Jerusalem is home to sensitive Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites.

Top Shiite cleric opposes disbanding of Iraq's Hashed militia
AFP, Karbala/December 16/2017/Iraq’s most revered Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, on Friday opposed calls to disband a controversial paramilitary force which was instrumental in defeating the Islamic State group in the country. Iraq is “always in desperate need of heroic men who have backed up the army and federal police and who fought alongside them on different fronts”, said Abdel Mahdi al-Karabalai, the Ayatollah’s representative. “We need to continue to benefit from this important source of energy, within the constitution and judicial framework,” he said in a sermon at weekly prayers in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, south of the capital. Karabalai stressed that the Hashed al-Shaabi’s arms belonged to the state and its mission was to defend national security. The force was established in 2014 after Sistani urged Iraqi citizens to take up arms against IS jihadists who had swept aside government forces and seized control of much of northern Iraq. But the Hashed, a Shiite-dominated alliance, remains deeply divisive and has been accused of a string of abuses. Known in English as the Popular Mobilisation Units, the various forces within the Hashed can field a total of between 60,000 and 140,000 fighters. Iraq’s parliament has classed it as a state force operating within the constitution. Calls have been growing from the West for the Hashed to disband, with French President Emmanuel Macron proposing “a gradual demilitarisation” of the group and for all militias in Iraq to be “dismantled”. But Hashed spokesman Ahmad al-Assadi, who is also a member of parliament, told AFP on Friday that Sistani had stood up for the units to be retained as part of Iraq’s security system. The Hashed suffered 7,637 dead and 21,300 wounded in the three-year war to drive out IS, according to a top Hashed commander, Qais Khazali.

Israel court says illegal to keep dead Palestinian assailants

AFP, Jerusalem/December 16/2017/Israel’s supreme court ruled Thursday that it was illegal not to return the bodies of dead Palestinian assailants to their families unless an exchange was agreed. However, the Jewish state’s highest court, on a motion filed by the families of nine Palestinians, granted the government six months to pass a law allowing such action, otherwise the bodies would have to be handed over. Current legislation does not authorize refusal to return the bodies, it said. The government announced last year that it would not return the bodies unless the Palestinians agreed to an exchange for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers believed to have been killed in a 2014 war in Gaza.

Despite Trump move, Europe leaders say Jerusalem stance ‘unchanged’

AFP, Brussels/December 16/2017/European Union leaders on Thursday rejected US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, saying they stuck by their view that the city’s status should be settled by negotiation. Trump’s administration invited widespread criticism earlier this month when it officially recognized Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, effectively ignoring Palestinian claims on the city. “EU leaders reiterate firm commitment to the two-state solution and, in this context, the EU position on Jerusalem remains unchanged,” EU President Donald Tusk tweeted after the leaders of the bloc’s 28 countries discussed the matter at a summit in Brussels. The EU has voiced alarm at the US decision, with foreign policy head Federica Mogherini warning last week that it could take the situation “backwards to even darker times”. The EU has voiced alarm at the US decision, with foreign policy head Federica Mogherini warning last week that it could take the situation “backwards to even darker times”. (AFP)
Fresh weight
But Thursday’s statement by the bloc’s heads of state and government adds fresh weight to the criticism of Trump’s move, which upended seven decades of US policy on Jerusalem and triggered protests across the Islamic world. The EU has long maintained that the only way to peace is two states -- Israel and Palestine -- with Jerusalem as the capital of both and the borders returned to their status before the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earned a stern rebuff from Mogherini in Brussels on Monday when he suggested Europe would follow Washington’s lead on Jerusalem.
Mogherini told him in forthright terms to “keep his expectations for others”.

Pentagon: US jets intercept Russian warplanes in Syria
AFP, Washington/December 16/2017/A pair of US warplanes intercepted two Russia jets over a part of Syria they were not supposed to be operating in, the Pentagon said Thursday. At one point during Wednesday’s incident, the American F-22 Raptor stealth fighters deployed chaff and flares to convince the Russian Su-25s to leave the area, and one US pilot had to “aggressively maneuver” to avoid a midair collision, Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon said. The Russian fighters had flown into airspace controlled by the US-led coalition that is fighting ISIS in Syria, crossing onto the east side of the Euphrates River near Albu Kamal. They “were promptly intercepted by two F-22A Raptors providing air cover for partner ground forces conducting operations to defeat ISIS,” Pahon said. “The F-22s conducted multiple maneuvers to persuade the Su-25s to depart our deconflicted airspace, including the release of chaff and flares in close proximity to the Russian aircraft and placing multiple calls on the emergency channel to convey to the Russian pilots that they needed to depart the area,” he added. In this photo made from the footage taken from Russian Defense Ministry on Nov. 15, 2016, Russian Su-33 fighter jets are parked on the flight deck of the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. (AP)
Following the encounter
The incident lasted approximately 40 minutes before the Russian aircraft flew to the west side of the river. During and following the encounter, coalition leaders contacted Russian officers on a special hotline to try to calm the situation and avert a “strategic miscalculation,” Pahon said. The Pentagon said that in early November the US verbally agreed with Moscow that the Russians would keep west of the Euphrates and the coalition would stay east. “Since agreeing to this deconfliction arrangement, the Russians have flown into our airspace on the east side of the river six to eight times per day, or approximately 10 percent of the Russian and Syrian flights,” Pahon said. “It’s become increasingly tough for our pilots to discern whether Russian pilots’ actions are deliberate or if these are just honest mistakes,” Pahon said. Albu Kamal was ISIS’s last urban stronghold in Syria until the army retook it last month.

Israel questions Iranian blogger after giving her asylum
Reuters, Jerusalem/December 16/2017/An Iranian blogger granted asylum in Israel has been questioned by its Shin Bet internal security service on suspicion of illegal communication with Iran, an Israeli official said on Friday. Israel admitted Neda Amin, who was previously based in Turkey, on humanitarian grounds in August, saying that she faced forced repatriation to Iran and would be at risk given her writings for an Israeli news site. Amin is of part-Jewish origin. Israel and Iran are enemies. As home to thousands of Iranian Jewish immigrants, Israel has in the past allowed such citizens to visit or correspond with relatives in Iran. But Israeli law bars contact with Tehran’s military or similar state agencies. A Shin Bet statement said that, after moving to Israel, Amin communicated with “Iranian representatives” and was questioned about this by the security service, whose responsibilities include counter-espionage. The statement used a Hebrew term for Amin’s alleged Iranian contacts that can also translate as “agents” or “officials”. Asked by Reuters for clarification, an Israeli security official said only that the people with whom Amin was accused of communicating were not her relatives, and were inside Iran. Amin was not under arrest, said the Israeli official, who requested anonymity, adding: “Whether there is a (criminal) case here is still being investigated.” Reached by telephone, Amin declined to discuss the matter.
“I’m okay. I’m free, and I’m at the home of a friend,” she said. “I don’t want to speak about this topic now.”Amin, originally from Tehran, added that her father was Jewish and mother Muslim. “My idea and my belief is that I am Jewish,” she said.

US making ‘serious’ efforts for Mideast peace deal: Al-Jubeir
Arab News/December 15/2017/PARIS: The US administration is serious about getting a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians, but its proposed plan is still being put together, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said. US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and eventually move the US Embassy in Israel there has angered the Palestinians, who question Washington’s role as a sponsor of Middle East peace. “We believe the Trump administration is serious about bringing peace between Israelis and Arabs,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir, a former ambassador to the US, told France 24 television late on Wednesday. “They were working on ideas and were consulting with all parties, including Saudi Arabia, and they are incorporating the views represented to them by everybody. They have said they would need a little bit of time to put it together to present it.” Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel overturned decades of US policy and ignored international consensus that the city’s status should be decided only in a future peace agreement. Trump’s aides say the peace plan could be released early next year and the US president has said he hoped for an agreed two-state deal between the two sides. Al-Jubeir emphasized that Riyadh continued to support a two-state solution, which Washington had indicated to Saudi Arabia was its working proposal. “Whether the administration’s proposals are acceptable to the parties remains to be seen because I don’t believe that the plan the US administration is working on has been finalized yet,” he said. Al-Jubeir also denied the Kingdom had any relations with Israel despite sharing Israel’s concern about Iran. He repeated that Riyadh had a “roadmap” to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel should there be a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Meanwhile, US Vice President Mike Pence will delay an upcoming Middle East trip by a few days in case a tie-breaking vote is needed from him for tax-cut legislation in Congress, a senior White House official said on Thursday.

Iran Supplied Ballistic Missile to Yemen Rebels, Says US
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 15/17/US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley presented what she called "undeniable" evidence Thursday that a ballistic missile fired by Huthi rebels in Yemen at Saudi Arabia last month was Iranian-made, a charge Tehran immediately denied.
Haley accused Tehran of a "blatant violation" of UN Security Council obligations designed to rein in its missile activity, further stepping up the rhetoric towards Iran which Washington accuses of going against the spirit of a historic nuclear accord. Standing in a warehouse at a Washington military base in front of recovered pieces of two missiles, Haley said Iranian fingerprints were all over the weapons, one of which she said was fired at Riyadh's airport on November 4. "It was made in Iran then sent to Huthi militants in Yemen," Haley said. "From there it was fired at a civilian airport with the potential to kill hundreds of innocent civilians in Saudi Arabia."She charged that the 2015 nuclear deal to curb Iran's nuclear program had "done nothing to moderate the regime's conduct in other areas," and accused Tehran of "fanning the flames" of regional conflict. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif posted on Twitter a photo of Haley juxtaposed with a well-known image of former secretary of state Colin Powell appearing before the Security Council, where he provided intelligence in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq war that was later found to be false. "When I was based at the UN, I saw this show and what it begat...," Zarif wrote. The Iranian mission said the accusations leveled by Haley were intended to divert attention from the devastating war in Yemen being led by Saudi Arabia, a key US ally.
- Tougher stance -A confidential report to the council says UN officials had examined debris from missiles fired at Saudi Arabia which pointed to a "common origin" but there was no firm conclusion as to whether they came from an Iranian supplier. Haley said the missiles were Iranian Qiam-class short-range ballistic rockets and pointed to valves that she said proved their origin. The Qiam-1 is based on a modified Scud design. Haley showed other pieces of military material she said were provided by Iran, and after her announcement officials showed journalists pieces of an anti-tank missile, an explosive boat, drones and other gear."The evidence is undeniable. The weapons might as well have had 'Made in Iran' stickers all over it," Haley said. Haley has called on the Security Council to take a tougher stance toward Iran, accusing Tehran of making illegal arms deals in Yemen, Lebanon and Syria. Asked about Haley's claims that the evidence that Iran had supplied the missile was irrefutable, Sweden's UN Ambassador Olof Skoog said "she may be in possession of evidence that I have not seen. The information that I have up to now is less clear."Haley did not discuss the timeline of when Iran is supposed to have provided the weapons, or whether this may have happened before the nuclear deal was signed.
In a statement, the Saudi embassy in Washington welcomed Haley's remarks and "US condemnation of Iran's hostile activities that support and arm terrorist groups, including Hezbollah and Huthi terrorist militias."- 'Bleeding Saudi Arabia of money' -However, the report from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, obtained by AFP, said officials were still analyzing the information.A separate team of UN experts who inspected the missile fragments during a visit to Riyadh last month found a possible link to an Iranian manufacturer, the Shahid Bagheri Industrial Group, which is on the UN sanctions blacklist.
The experts, who report to the sanctions committee, found a component marked by a logo similar to that of the banned group, which is a subsidiary of the Iranian Aerospace Industries Organization. Behnam Ben Taleblu, senior Iran analyst for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told AFP that Iran's apparent willingness to risk transferring missiles to the Huthis indicates the Yemeni conflict "may not be as peripheral to Tehran as previously assumed." "Bleeding Saudi Arabia of money and men is a clear goal for Iran as it continues its war in Yemen," he said in an email. Aside from leading a military campaign in Yemen, Saudi Arabia has deployed expensive Patriot missiles at home to guard against incoming rockets. Recent Iranian missile launches have triggered US sanctions and accusations they violate the spirit of a 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and major powers.
"Today's revelations proved yet again that Iran's dangerous presence in the Middle East is only growing despite their attempts to deceive the world," Israel's ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said. A Saudi-led coalition fighting rebels in Yemen imposed a blockade of Yemen's air and sea ports and borders after the missile was fired at Riyadh, citing concerns that weapons were being smuggled into Yemen.

Israeli troops wounds more than 40 Palestinians in protests over U.S. Jerusalem move
Fri 15 Dec 2017/NNA - Israeli troops shot and wounded more than 40 Palestinians in Gaza and the occupied West Bank on Friday, medical officials said, as protests over U.S. President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital entered a second week. Near the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the West Bank, Israeli police troopers said they shot a man after he stabbed and hurt one of their unit. Reuters photographers who saw the wounded Palestinian fall said he was holding a small knife and wore what looked like a bomb belt. Medical officials said three more Palestinians were shot and wounded in the West Bank. A further 38 were wounded on the border of the Gaza Strip, whose dominant Hamas Islamists have called for a revolt against Israel in protest against Trump's Dec. 6 decision. The Israeli military said that about 2,500 Palestinian took part in riots in the West Bank, rolling flaming tyres and throwing firebombs and rocks at soldiers and border police. Troops took action to break up the riots, it said in a statement. Similar scenes occurred along the border with Gaza Strip, where about 3,500 Palestinians demonstrated. "During the violent riots IDF soldiers fired selectively towards main instigators," the military said. Gaza has also seen almost nightly rocket launches into Israel by Palestinian militants, which have not caused casualties. An Israeli counter-strike on Gaza killed two Hamas gunmen. Trump's announcement, reversing decades of U.S. policy which treated Jerusalem's status as a matter for Israeli-Palestinian negotiation, stirred anger across the Arab and Muslim world and concern among Washington's European allies. Jerusalem is holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians. Israel captured East Jerusalem from Arab forces in the 1967 Middle East War and later annexed it in a move not recognised internationaly.
Palestinians hope that part of the city will be the capital of a future independent state and Palestinian leaders say Trump's move is a serious blow to an already moribund peace process. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to visit Israel, as well as Egypt, next week. ---Reuters

Putin, Trump Discuss N Korea in Phone Call
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 15/17/Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump discussed the crisis over North Korea's nuclear program in a phone call Thursday, in which the US president took the unusual step of thanking his Russian counterpart for praising America's economy. The two heads of state discussed "the situation in several crisis zones, with a focus on solving the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula," the Kremlin said in a statement, without elaborating. The White House said the two "discussed working together to resolve the very dangerous situation in North Korea." But Trump's thanks to Putin took top billing in the US statement. "President Trump thanked President Putin for acknowledging America's strong economic performance in his annual press conference," it said. Earlier in the day, Putin told his press conference: "Look at how the markets are reacting, they are growing. This shows confidence in the American economy. With all due respect to (Trump's) opponents, these are objective facts."The pair have lavished praise on each other in the past, with commentators describing their cozy relationship as a "bromance." Special counsel Robert Mueller is currently investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow to tilt the White House race in his favor. Washington this week said it was ready to talk to North Korea -- which has launched several intercontinental ballistic missiles in recent months -- "without preconditions." US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that while the Trump administration was still determined to force Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear arsenal, it was willing to "have the first meeting without preconditions." Putin, in his annual press conference with hundreds of journalists in Moscow, welcomed the United States' "awareness of reality" in the crisis.
However, he called on all sides to "stop aggravating the situation" and said Moscow did not recognize North Korea's status as a nuclear power.

UN Envoy Says Opportunity Missed' as Syria Talks Wrap Up
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 15/17/The U.N. envoy for Syria said the latest round of Geneva talks ended without progress on Thursday after two fruitless weeks, calling it a "golden opportunity missed" and acknowledging that he needs to come up with new ideas to make headway toward ending Syria's nearly seven-year war. Staffan de Mistura's dire assessment — and a rare admission of failure — came at the end of the eighth round of the largely ineffective, U.N.-sponsored talks in Switzerland. The U.N. envoy said he was "disappointed," after going in with ambitions to get the two sides to talk to each other. De Mistura also offered some of his harshest criticism yet of the Syrian government delegation, accusing it of setting preconditions that he had warned against, and said its team refused to discuss anything other than "terrorism" — a term the government uses to refer to all armed opposition against President Bashar Assad. The Damascus delegation also insisted the opposition team fell short of being an adequate representative of all of the opposition in Syria — a reference to groups that Assad's government has tolerated and that have not called for his ouster.
De Mistura said the opposition was engaged on other subjects, such as governance, the constitution and elections. "Despite a lot of effort by my whole team, day and night with all sorts of creative formula, we did not have real negotiations," he said in frustration. "It is a big missed opportunity, a golden opportunity missed at the end of this year," he said. However, de Mistura, who has mediated the talks since early 2016, said he was still planning to reconvene the two sides next month — but will need to consult with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres first. Asked whether there was any point in returning to Geneva, de Mistura said the alternative would be abandoning Syria and a return to war.
"Our motto is never give up," he said. The head of Syria's government team in Geneva, Bashar Ja'afari, extinguished any hopes of a last-minute breakthrough when he emerged earlier Thursday from a meeting with de Mistura to say his team would not talk to the opposition as long as it insists on Assad's removal from power. In comments to reporters, he slammed the Syrian opposition for its so-called Riyadh communique, issued in Saudi Arabia before the latest round got underway in Geneva. The communique stated that the opposition's ultimate goal was to see Assad step down at the start of a political process.
The Damascus official described the statement as "blackmail of the Geneva process" and said its withdrawal was a precondition for talks. He also told reporters in Geneva that "those who drew up the Riyadh communique are the ones who sabotaged this round" of talks.
Nasr al-Hariri, the head of the Syria opposition delegation, warned that the Geneva talks are in "great danger" — accusing the government delegation of sabotaging them. Al-Hariri said the "credibility of the international community is at stake" because Assad's government is "sabotaging the political process."
He noted that no date has been set for a next round of the Geneva talks, and said that under current circumstances "I don't think that another round would be quite effective.""We call on the United nations and the U.N. special envoy to tell the entire world about the side that is undermining the political process and to sabotage the Geneva process," he told reporters Thursday evening. Earlier, de Mistura called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to "have the courage" to push his Syrian government allies to accept new elections and a new constitution. In an unusual public appeal directly to a key power broker in the region, de Mistura told a TV interviewer the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, should "convince the (Syrian) government that there is no time to lose" in efforts to reach peace after nearly seven years of war. Russia has provided crucial military and diplomatic backing to Assad's forces, though Putin announced a drawdown of his forces in Syria during a surprise visit to the Mideast country on Monday. The Russian president touched down at a Russian military base in Syria in the wake of battlefield successes to laud the troops' achievements and tell them that a significant number would be going home. Asked what signal Putin could provide now, de Mistura said territorial gains are "temporary.""Peace must be won — and for the peace to be won, it's necessary to have the courage to push the government also to accept that there must be a new constitution and new elections," the U.N. envoy added in comments late Wednesday to Swiss broadcaster RTS. Ja'afari also blasted de Mistura for his comments on Russia, saying such positions "derail his mandate as a facilitator of the talks, which will have an impact on the Geneva process all together. In the interview, de Mistura said it was "regrettable" that Assad's delegation had refused to meet face-to-face with the opposition. At the start of the latest round, the delegations at one point were just meters (yards) away from one another in separate rooms. With Russia pushing a separate peace talks track, de Mistura emphasized the importance of a U.N. role in any peace process. Hinting at his repeated concerns about a de facto partition of Syria, the U.N. envoy held up a color-coded map showing the divisions of territorial control in Syria. The war is estimated to have killed at least 400,000 people and driven over 12 million from their homes. De Mistura's two predecessors stepped down in frustration after failing to jumpstart peace talks.

UN Voices Alarm at Clashes, House Burnings in Disputed Iraqi City
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 15/17/The UN voiced deep concern Friday over the reported shelling and burning of homes in the Iraqi city of Tuz Khurmatu, warning of a "serious risk" that violence could escalate. The United Nations rights office pointed to reports that residential areas of Tuz Khurmatu, in the Salahaddin governorate, had been shelled on December 9 and 12, "causing casualties among civilians.""It is not clear who is carrying out the shelling, which is reported to be coming from the mountains overlooking the area," agency spokeswoman Liz Throssell told reporters in Geneva. Iraqi forces are working to determine where the shelling is coming from and who is responsible. Tensions have been swelling in the disputed area of Tuz Khurmatu following September's independence referendum in the neighbouring Kurdistan Region. The city's population is a mix of Turkoman, Kurd and Arab communities, and Throssell warned that "there is a serious risk that given the ethnic and religious fault lines in the area, that violence could escalate and spread."In recent weeks, clashes have raged between the Kurdish security forces also known as the Peshmerga and Turkmen Popular Mobilisation Units (PMUs). "This fighting has to date resulted in an unconfirmed number of deaths in each group," Throssell said.She said staff from the UN rights office visited the city on December 7 and again on the 14th to investigate reports of the burning of homes and looting of businesses.They had seen "some 150 premises that had been burned or otherwise damaged," she said, adding that they had also spoken with people who had fled violence in the city and were currently staying in Kirkuk and Erbil. In October, a similar number of houses were reportedly looted and burned by Turkmen PMUs and civilians, she pointed out. As many as 11 houses reportedly belonging to Kurdish families and officials had also been destroyed by explosives in the city, Throssell said. "Thousands of residents, mainly of Kurdish origin left for the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, apparently fearing repercussions, and to date many have not returned," she warned. The UN rights office called for an end to "all acts that threaten the fundamental rights of the Tuz Khurmatu population." "We also call on the Iraqi authorities to ensure that civilians there are protected and those responsible for human rights abuses brought to justice," Throssell said.

Iran Accuses US of Trying to Hide Own Role in Yemen War

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 15/17/Iran's foreign minister accused the United States on Friday of trying to divert attention from its own responsibility for the deadly war in Yemen with claims of Iranian weapons shipments. Mohammad Javad Zarif was responding to claims by US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley that a missile fired by Yemeni rebels at Riyadh airport on November 4 was "made in Iran". "No amount of alternative facts or alternative evidence covers up US complicity in war," Zarif said on Twitter. "While Iran has been calling for ceasefire, aid and dialogue in Yemen from day 1, US has sold weapons enabling its allies to kill civilians and impose famine."Saudi Arabia, which has led a military intervention in Yemen with US backing since March 2015, on Friday demanded immediate action against its regional arch rival over the alleged missile deliveries. "It is necessary to take immediate steps against the terrorist activities of the Iranian regime," said a government statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency. Haley said Washington had "undeniable" evidence that at least two missiles fired at Saudi Arabia by the Yemeni rebels as well as other weaponry had been manufactured in Iran. But her comments went beyond the findings of a UN investigation which reached no firm conclusion on whether the missiles came from an Iranian supplier, saying only that they had a "common origin" to some Iranian designs. Asked about Haley's claims that the evidence was irrefutable, Sweden's ambassador to the United Nations Olof Skoog said: "She may be in possession of evidence that I have not seen. The information that I have up to now is less clear."The Saudi-led coalition imposed a blockade on rebel-held ports in Yemen in response to the November 4 missile attack which has been only partially lifted, intensifying what the United Nations has described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis. More than 8,750 people have been killed since the coalition launched its intervention, most of them civilians, according to the World Health Organization. Some 8.4 million people are "a step away from famine", the UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, warned on Monday.

Kenney crushes byelection opponents at ballot box to win seat in Alberta legislature
By Bill Graveland/The Canadian Press
/December 15/2017/Leader Jason Kenny took over 70% of the vote in Calgary Lougheed byelection Thursday night. The NDP candidate finished a distant third and the Liberals were in third place. Gary Bobrovitz reports
Former federal Conservative cabinet minister Jason Kenney threw down the gauntlet at Premier Rachel Notley late Thursday after an overwhelming byelection victory to earn a seat in the Alberta legislature. “Tonight sends a clear message that we are united, that we are stronger together and that if we stay humble and we work hard we are on track to defeat this job killing socialist government and to renew Alberta as a place of opportunity,” Kenney told hundreds of cheering supporters. “If we do those things then the promise is on the horizon and in the spring of 2019 there will be a new beginning and a fresh start for this magnificent province.”The leader of the United Conservative Party was an easy victor in the Calgary Lougheed byelection, easily beating out six other candidates, including provincial Liberal Leader David Khan. Unofficial results from Elections Alberta say Kenney won 71 per cent of the vote. The NDP came in second with just over 16 per cent and the Liberals came in third with about nine per cent. Kenney spent much of his 15 minute speech addressing Notley and her NDP government, which won a majority in 2015 and ended more than four decades of conservative rule. “Premier Notley. I respect you. You are a committed and capable public servant. We respect your office and we respect you… but we simply ask that you drop the politics of personal destruction. Let’s agree to disagree on the issues without being disagreeable, let’s recognize that we’re all in this for Alberta first,” Kenney said. “Albertans deserve better than the politics of smear and fear that we heard during this campaign.”Notley was quick to congratulate Kenney on his victory.
“Congratulations and welcome to the AB Legislature,” she said in a post on Twitter. “I look forward to debating you in the House.”Kenney was the driving force behind the merger of Alberta’s two centre-right parties, the Progressive Conservatives and the Wildrose. The win Thursday means he can go head-to-head with Notley in the legislature before the 2019 provincial election. “I’ve received my marching orders to fight every day, to hold this government to account, to fight their tax increases and to present Albertans with a strong, common sense alternative to this government,” Kenney said “We sent a message tonight. Stop quadrupling our debt. Stop your policies that have killed hope and jobs for so many Albertans and start putting common sense solutions ahead of your NDP ideology.”The byelection was called after Dave Rodney, a member of the United Conservatives, stepped aside to make room for a run by Kenney. Other candidates in the race included the NDP’s Phillip van der Merwe and new Green Party Leader Romy Tittel. Khan, a new leader also seeking a seat in the legislature, congratulated Kenney in a speech to his supporters. “Let me congratulate Jason Kenney and his team on their victory tonight. While I disagree strongly with Mr. Kenney’s views, the people of Calgary-Lougheed have spoken, and I respect their choice,” Khan said. Kenney spent several years as a cabinet minister in the government of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He won the leadership of the UCP in October. “Unity tonight is the evidence that unity has worked,” Kenney said.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 15-16/17
Jerusalem, Israel's Capital: Watch the Masks Fall
Najat AlSaied/Gatestone Institute/December 15/2017
When the actual announcement came, nothing happened. Those who were exploiting sensitivities related to Jerusalem -- especially political Islamists, such as Hamas and Hezbollah -- come mainly from the axis of resistance, led by Iran.
While mainstream media shows the oppressor to be Israel and the oppressed to be the Palestinians, the polls tell a different story.
The US Department of State is no less culpable than the mainstream media in failing to play a more vital role in revealing these realities, which could also mitigate the anger and hatred felt towards the US. This Department needs to be reformed from top to bottom to ensure that all diplomats are truly working for US interests. I am sure that it is the Department of State itself that will be the most reluctant to move its embassy to Jerusalem. It is not an exaggeration to say that moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem is the best decision that has been taken by any American President because it lays bare a rotten reality.
Many analysts say that US President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital is a campaign promise to evangelical Christian and right-wing Jewish voters, but there is another way of looking at it. Trump's recognition might be a golden opportunity for two-faced opportunists to be unmasked -- a shot of reality that might eventually help the peace process and solve this long-lasting conflict.
Since the declaration of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, many Arab observers, intellectuals and academics have started to question the veracity of those jihadists who claim they are sacrificing themselves to defend Jerusalem, because when the actual announcement came -- nothing happened. Those who were exploiting sensitivities related to Jerusalem -- especially political Islamists, such as Hamas and Hezbollah -- come mainly from the axis of resistance, led by Iran.
Other opportunists are the two-faced countries in the region, such as Qatar and Turkey. While publicly hostile towards Israel, behind closed doors they support it. Further opportunists are the Western and Arab media, who for decades have been promoting the idea that the problem is the Israeli occupation, but never mention the Palestinian Authority corruption.
Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital has also revealed the shortcomings of the US Department of State. It has not played any role in clarifying the above-mentioned points and, by this negativity and bureaucracy, only generated further hatred towards the US.
Trump's recognition has exposed the hypocrisy of the armed militia Hezbollah which always claims it will never disarm because of its fight against Israel. Now after the recognition of Jerusalem, many Arabs are questioning Hezbollah's motivations regarding Israel. Lebanese and other Arabs are questioning why Hezbollah has not sent its armed militia to fight in Israel as it did in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Dr. Hadi El Amine, a Lebanese researcher in political science and governmental studies, tweeted, "The axis of resistance's words are aimed against Israel, but their missiles are pointed at the Arabs."
Adhwan Alahmari, a Saudi journalist based in London for Asharq al-Awsat also tweeted:
"The soldiers, rockets and suicide bombers of Hezbollah are at Israel's borders yet they did not support Jerusalem after Trump's declaration, instead supporting the Wilayat al-Faqih [Iranian Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist] to fight in Syria to displace and annihilate its people to protect the shrine."
Yet another opportunist is Hamas and its supporters who have succeeded in turning Arabs against the Palestinians. This time, the Palestinians' anger was not turned only towards Israel and the US, but mainly at Saudi Arabia. Hamas and its followers attacked the Saudi flag and insulted King Salman of Saudi Arabia. These Palestinians seem to think that Trump did not make this announcement without a wink of approval from Saudi Arabia. Their reaction has angered countless Saudis, who consider this attack a demonstration of ingratitude from the unappreciative Palestinians, to whom they have given billions of dollars.
In response, the Saudis started several hashtags on Twitter such as #hellwithyouand your issue, and #Saudis are angry for their king. Many Saudis behind these hashtags regret every penny that has been given to defend the Palestinians, especially after they saw these Palestinian traitors, as they put it, insulting Saudi Arabia, which has enriched them and channeled exorbitant financing into Palestinian development projects. Salman Al-Ansari, a Saudi writer and political commentator based in Washington DC, tweeted:
"We want to make everyone aware that the salaries of Palestinian diplomats around the world come from Riyadh-Saudi Arabia; salaries which are 30% higher than that of Saudi diplomats. What did Doha and Ankara do for them other than offer empty slogans and stab Jerusalem in the back?"
If you now ask the Saudis, the one of their main supporters and funders, about this conflict, the majority will say, "It is none of our business". The Saudis would rather, it seems, focus on their own internal affairs and save their money rather than pay ungrateful Palestinians.
A large numbers of Saudis additionally seem surprised by the attitude of Palestinians, who support Qatar and Turkey, countries which have diplomatic relationships with Israel. As a result, many Saudis think the Palestinians are not serious about defending their cause.
The President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, after Trump's declaration, tweeted that he will turn the whole Muslim world against Washington. This kind of posturing does not influence the Arab public or intellectuals any more. As Yousef Al Kowaileet, a Saudi deputy editor-in-chief of the newspaper Al Riyadh put it in a tweet, "Most Muslim countries have ties with Israel. People are not stupid and they know that these interests supersede any creed."
Arab people cannot even believe Erdoğan's tweets, when they see that the day after his outburst on Twitter, Turkey, amid political turmoil, signed a deal worth 18.6 million euros with Israel.
Arabs also shared pictures of Turkish Cultural Day celebrations in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Several Saudi intellectuals responded to Erdoğan's rhetoric against Israel by saying, "If you are honest, the Muslim world wants you to cut diplomatic relations and stop military cooperation with Israel."
Qatar is playing the same two-faced role as the Turks, but with more of a focus on attacking Saudi Arabia. Qatar, through its news outlet Al Jazeera, apparently now wants to galvanize the Muslim world into embarrassing Saudi Arabia because of its relationship with Trump since his announcement.
Ostensibly this response is to defend the Palestinian cause, but its real objective seems rather to pressure Saudi Arabia into ending its relationship with the US administration. Qatar will never stop dreaming of Trump's impeachment; the rulers doubtless think that a Democratic President, like Obama, would again support Qatar in its Muslim Brotherhood project. Mohamed Krishan, a news anchor on Al Jazeera, tweeted:
"Jerusalem is the first of the two Qibla [the direction faced during salah prayers] and the third of the two Holy Mosques that is given to the Israelis as their capital by Trump after he got billions from the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques."
Ahmad Al-Faraj, a Saudi academic and researcher, tweeted back to him:
"If you leave your television channel of intelligence #Al Jazeera and go to your house in Doha, you will see on your right the Israeli representative building 600 meters from your house. People there... will tell you about the role of your channel in the betrayals and conspiracies that destroyed the Arab world and they will tell you who sold Jerusalem."
Saudis have also started to tweet interviews with Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, the former foreign minister of Qatar, and Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the former Emir of Qatar, about supporting Israel, to reveal their hypocrisy to the wider public. In the interview with Hamad bin Jassim on Qatar's Al Jazeera television on October 25, 2017, he mentioned that close Qatari-Israeli relations were to get closer to America so that Israel could open doors for Qatar in America.
Qatar is also trying to gain favor in the US through Saudi dissidents, such as Jamal Khashoggi. He previously held a number of positions in several newspapers in Saudi Arabia, served as a political adviser, and now, entirely backed by Qatar, is a columnist for The New York Times and based in Washington DC. Nowadays, Khashoggi takes every opportunity to attack Saudi Arabia in different US and European newspapers.
Anyone who can read Arabic can tell you Twitter account of Jamal Khashoggi is full of anti-Semitic tweets and retweets; it looks as if the New York Times allows him to write in its newspaper only because he attacks Saudi Arabia.
Khashoggi tweeted:
"Feel angry and shout out even if you do so among your own people and inside your frightened houses, it's #Jerusalem. Allah suffices me, for He is the best disposer of affairs. I feel distressed."
Saudis recognize that his real intention was not to defend Jerusalem or the Palestinians, but to galvanize people on the streets of Saudi Arabia to rise up against their own government. Ahmad Al-Faraj tweeted:
"If you feel that angry, why do you not leave this damned country of America, whose President is moving its embassy to Jerusalem?"
Other Saudi writers and others simply ridiculed him. "Go and drink a glass of wine to calm down", wrote Hani Al Dahri, a Saudi journalist, inserting Kashoggi's tweet above along a photograph of him celebrating Thanksgiving in the US with bottles of wine on the table:
Even with all this controversy and a complete change in Arab attitudes on social media towards the Palestinian cause, both Western and traditional Arab media still keep regurgitating the same anti-Israel slogans and rhetoric, and pumping out the same Palestinian propaganda. Most comments on social media have come from intellectuals, assuring the general public that the main reason for this never-ending Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a corrupt Palestinian Authority, run by Fatah and Hamas. The Palestinian Authority, they seem to believe, has traded on the Palestinian cause, which has garnered them millions, but none of that is ever discussed in the mainstream media.
While the mainstream media still shows the oppressor to be Israel and the oppressed to be the Palestinians, Palestinian polls tell a different story[1]:
In a June 2015 poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion (based in Beit Sahour, the West Bank), 52% of Palestinians living in Israeli-ruled East Jerusalem said they would prefer to be citizens of Israel with equal rights, compared to just 42% who would choose to be citizens of a Palestinian state.
More Palestinians in Jerusalem seek Israeli citizenship.
According to polls conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip between 14 and 16 September, 2017, the majority of Palestinians are unhappy with President Mahmoud Abbas's performance. 67% of the public want him to resign while 27% want him to remain in office. The demand for Abbas's resignation stands at 60% in the West Bank and 80% in the Gaza Strip.
If new legislative elections were held today, 63% of the Palestinians surveyed said they would vote. Of those who would participate, 29% said they would vote for Hamas; 36% said they would vote for Fatah; 10% would vote for all other parties combined, and 25% were undecided.
Only 38% of the Palestinian public polled said West Bankers could criticize the Palestinian Authority (PA) without fear of reprisal; 59% said that people could not freely criticize the PA. Half of the public (50%) viewed the PA as a burden on the Palestinians. 77% perceived the PA as corrupt.
Most of Hamas leaders, who portray themselves as jihadists against Israel, are millionaires. A senior official in Hamas, for example, Khaled Mashaal, who is worth US $2.6 billion according to global estimates, while Arab commentators put his worth at between US $2 and $5 billion, saying he "invested in Egyptian banks and Gulf countries, some in real estate projects." Next on the list is Ismail Haniyeh, who, until the recent signing of a unity deal between Hamas and Fatah, was the Prime Minister of Gaza. "His fortune is estimated at US $4 million, and most of his assets in the Strip are registered in the name of his son-in-law Nabil, and a dozen children of his and other less well-known Hamas officials. The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank appears no less corrupt than leaders in Gaza. Abbas and other leaders in the PLO have stolen millions of dollars from international funding meant for the Palestinian people. This corruption is the mistake of international donors who never hold these leaders to account.
Why is all this data absent from the mainstream media, which shows images of burning flags and other displays of anger only from the point of view of the Palestinian Authority and its supporters?
The US Department of State is no less culpable than the mainstream media in failing to play a more vital role in revealing these realities. Exposing this corruption would go a long way to mitigating the anger and hatred felt towards the US. The Department of State is always passive and bureaucratic, functioning mostly like a third-world country governmental body.
The Harry S Truman Building in Washington, DC, headquarters of the US Department of State. (Image source: Loren/Wikimedia Commons)
During my time working in the US Consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, I met some diplomats who do not hold the US Government's views. On the contrary, some of them held political views that were totally different to those of their administration, and some were even anti-Semitic. In addition, the expertise of the diplomats was not of the high standard that you would expect from a powerful country such as the US. A lot of these diplomats are sent to Arab countries like Saudi Arabia with no knowledge of the Arabic language and not much more of the region -- in sharp contrast to diplomats in the British Embassy. I was surprised to work with a diplomat who, instead of supporting his country in liberating Iraq from the most brutal dictatorship in history, was calling it "an invasion" to Saudi intellectuals and academics. He was also against the peace process. He insisted on calling Israel an "occupier" and complained that I was reading "right-wing websites" such as the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). The organization mainly translates material meticulously from the Arabic, but the diplomat calls it pro-Israel.
So, I was hoping that after Trump became President, the Department of State might be reformed to avoid the same mistakes made under George Bush – mainly that he did not confront the US Department of State about its incompetence. President Trump should be firm and alert avoid the same mistake. Currently, it is ineffective.
This Department needs to be reformed from top to bottom to ensure that all diplomats are truly working for US interests. I am sure that it is the Department of State itself that will be the most reluctant to move its embassy to Jerusalem.
The world has followed a course that has gotten this peace process nowhere. The fact that this conflict has been ongoing for 70 years demonstrates that there is something at fault. The main reasons for this stalled progress are a lack of transparency, hypocritical opportunists with hidden personal agendas, a biased mainstream media and ineffective diplomatic missions. It is not an exaggeration to say that moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem is the best decision that has been taken by any American President because it lays bare a rotten reality. This is exactly what is needed to galvanize the peace process toward a two-state solution. It will also put pressure on the corrupt Palestinian Authority either to reform or change its leadership. Who knows, it might even stop opportunists from perpetuating this conflict for their own ends.
**Najat AlSaied is a Saudi American academic and the author of "Screens of Influence: Arab Satellite Television & Social Development". She is an Assistant Professor at Zayed University in the College of Communication and Media Sciences in Dubai-UAE.
[1] Polling data were all kindly provided by Dr. Michael Sharnoff, Associate Professor of Middle East Studies at Daniel Morgan Graduate School
© 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.

Revisionist Powers and Rogue Regimes in the Trump Doctrine
Raghida Dergham/December 15, 2017
President Donald Trump will on Monday declare a new US national security strategy for the next four years based on four pillars: protecting the homeland, stimulating American prosperity, promoting peace through strength, and enhancing American leadership in the world. National security adviser H.R. McMaster gave a preview of the Trump administration’s new national security policy, using interesting terminology to describe Russia and China as “revisionist powers”, and Iran and North Korea as “rogue regimes”. McMaster cited extremist jihadist groups as the third challenge facing the United States, but went beyond ISIS and al-Qaeda to include the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood in this category of threats, accusing Turkey and Qatar of endorsing, supporting, and promoting the Brotherhood.
Moscow responded swiftly, questioning the knowledge of the national security adviser and denying any “sophisticated subversion” in the United States. This came amid continued bickering between Washington and Moscow, the Kremlin having recently responded to Washington’s questioning of Russian victory against ISIS in Syria and attempting to take credit for that victory itself, by saying 'victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan'. The American-Russian bickering in Syria is both superficial and deep, especially with regard to the fate of foreign forces in Syria – US troops, Russian forces, Iranian militias, and Turkish soldiers – as well as the fate of Bashar al-Assad himself.
According to UN sources, the Syrian government is now working to kill off the Geneva Process, which has had the backing of the Security Council as a roadmap for a political settlement in Syria culminating with a transitional government with executive powers. Damascus’s bet is that the putative Sochi process would be the bullet that terminates Geneva. The Syrian government thus wanted the Geneva meeting to convene as a last stop without any further meetings, because in Sochi, under the auspices of its Russian ally, Damascus can possibly manipulate the transitional process away from the UN and Geneva path, complete with a new constitution, elections, and transitional mechanisms.
UN Syria envoy Staffan De Mistura is currently engaged in talks with the Russian authorities to agree on principles to link the Sochi process to Geneva’s. The UN hopes for a national dialogue to convene in Sochi on a basis that would enshrine a UN supervisory role in drafting the new constitution and holding elections, which should be the outcomes of this dialogue. But if De Mistura’s efforts to agree a clear framework for the Sochi process fail, Sochi will no doubt replace Geneva. This could spell the end for the idea of a transitional government with full executive powers, as promised by Security Council resolutions.
Regarding the role of the Syrian former foreign minister Farouk al-Sharaa, amid reports he could lead the transitional process, a UN source revealed Syrian opposition figures had suggested to Russia that Sharaa lead the Sochi meeting, as a figure acceptable to both sides. The Russians reportedly were open to the idea, and have communicated this to Damascus. However, according to the same source, the Syrian government has not given a conclusive answer. If an agreement is reached on Sharaa heading the Sochi meeting, it is likely his role would be expanded to head a broad-based national government agreed by both sides. However, this does not mean that Bashar al-Assad would step down. That outcome was related to the Geneva process, but if Sharaa comes to head a transitional government through Sotchi, the terms are entirely different both practically and politically.
The US administration seems less interested in the fate of Assad, his powers, and the transitional government than it is in the issue of permanent US military deployment in Syria. The US is determined to prevent Russia from monopolizing this strategic location to the exclusion of US interests. In equal measure, Washington is not concerned with the Syrian constitution and elections as much as it is concerned with the fate of Iran’s strategy in Syria and its corridor to Lebanon via Iraq and Syria.
US high-level military sources have mocked speculations suggesting Washington is going to turn a blind eye to Iran’s foothold in Syria and allow it to gain a strategic advantage there. Diplomatic sources say the US administration’s moves this week are crucial on the Iranian issue, ahead of President Trump’s announcement of his new national security strategy. Indeed, both McMaster and the US envoy to the UN Nikki Haley have moved to highlight their administration’s intention to confront Iran, especially in Syria, as McMaster said, and in Yemen, with Haley preparing a dossier on Iran’s actions there at the UN.
A starting point for the US campaign against Iran in Yemen would be the UN Security Resolution that prohibits Iran from exporting weapons and missiles to the Houthi rebels. Haley has ‘evidence’ of Iranian support for the Houthis, and intends to present it to the Security Council after presenting it to the media and public opinion, to mobilize support for a firm US policy against Iran’s role in Yemen. In truth, this marks a shift in US policy, which previously steered clear from the issue of Yemen. It is also a shift from the policies of former President Obama, who avoided challenging Iran’s regional policies including its intervention in Yemen.
This is an important shift, because it has a dimension related to US-Saudi relations under Trump, who resumed the strategic alliance with Riyadh after Obama’ downgraded those ties to a notch below his Iranian priority. It is also important because Obama had unburdened Iran from the Security Council resolutions that banned the export of weapons and fighters, under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, under the nuclear deal with Iran. Today, the Trump administration is attempting to re-uphold the ban through Yemen, on the basis of a binding international resolutions with sanctions in the event of non-compliance.
Haley is seeking to present evidence of Iranian violations and threats to the stability of US allies including by means of facilitating the launch of ballistic missiles against them, to pressure the European Union powers to stop abetting Iran’s actions in order to safeguard the nuclear deal. Indeed, the Trump administration intends to lobby the Europeans to impose sanctions on Iran, especially the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) for its deep incursions into Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. According to one US official source, however, it may be impossible to pass a resolution like that at the Security Council because of the Russian and Chinese vetoes. However, it is not impossible to take a firm stance with the Europeans on Iran’s destabilization of US allies.
The doctrine Trump is expected to unveil on Monday will be based on confronting threats to US national security as a strategic commitment. Confronting Iran as a matter of policy, philosophy, and doctrine for the Trump administration upends Obama’s doctrine of appeasing Iran and its regional adventures.
The introduction of the Muslim Brotherhood to this doctrine is new, along with its inclusion in the list of Islamic radicalism and the accusations against Turkey of sponsoring the Brotherhood, and Qatar of promoting them. This in parallel with the expansion of the scope of what constitutes Islamic radicalism to include Iranian-backed Shia groups.
The priority for the Trump doctrine will not be the ‘rogue regimes’ like Iran and North Korea, as much as it will be the ‘revisionist powers’ engaging in subversion in the domestic politics of Western states, undermining the international system, and waging economic aggression, like China and Russia, as designated by McMaster.
McMaster is not Rex Tillerson, who is reined in by the White House each time he speaks, most recently when he expressed willingness for ‘unconditional dialogue’ with North Korea. McMaster is one of the leading figures of the Trump administration, while Haley is a tough executor of what the US president wants. What they said this week is a curtain raiser paving the way for what Trump is going to declare in the context of US national security strategy, based on ‘strength’ and initiative-taking, rather than Obama’s doctrine of leading from behind.

Jerusalem Deals in Reality

The Australian/Jonathan Spyer/December 15/2017
The neighborhood where I live, on the seam line dividing Jew and Arab in Jerusalem, can be a useful place to take the temperature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In 2015, a wave of stabbing attacks against Israelis and Jews began. This was the result of a campaign of incitement by Islamist groups according to which the government of Israel planned to change the status quo regarding the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.
A number of the stabbers came from close by, and for a while, a police roadblock appeared on the main street. Petrol bombs were thrown at a Jewish house in the neighborhood in February, 2016, at the height of that period of unrest.
In late 2014, just after the Gaza war, Palestinian youths threw stones at police in the neighborhood, after the police shot dead a man who had tried to kill a prominent Jewish activist who led a campaign to demand Jewish prayer rights on the Temple Mount.
Since the announcement by President Donald Trump of US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel this month, however, the neighborhood has been quiet and serene. People are going on with their everyday lives.
The difference at ground level with previous periods of tension is notable and significant. Of course, the situation in a single seam line neighborhood cannot reflect the whole picture. The occasion has not passed without injury and loss of life. Hamas declared three ‘days of rage’ following Trump’s announcement. 2 Palestinians were killed and 98 wounded in the subsequent demonstrations.
There was rioting in Wadi Ara, inside the borders of Israel. An Israeli security guard was stabbed and critically wounded at Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station on Sunday. And in Gaza, the rocket launching activities of small militant groups are leading to a significant rise in tension.
But attendance at the Jerusalem and West Bank protests has been notably poor – a few thousand across the entire area. This week, the demonstrations have dwindled further.
What might explain the relatively minor dimensions of the protests?
First of all, President Trump’s declaration was just that – a declaration. With no immediate practical import.
But there are other important factors. In Jerusalem, Christmas and New Year bring with them throngs of tourists. Palestinian traders and businesses in the east of the city stand to gain from their presence. Many do not want to help fan the flames of a situation that will lead to the tourists staying at home.
The general quiet of recent months has brought with it opportunities for engaging in commerce, education. People are keen to preserve these opportunities. This situation is fragile, of course. A single incident could transform it. But for the moment, it is holding.
One should also factor in the searing experience of the Second Intifada in the 2000-4 period. This was an armed insurgency ,in which 3000 Palestinians and 1000 Israelis lost their lives. Together with the close-by examples of Syria, Egypt and Iraq, it constitutes a stark warning of the abyss that can wait beyond a decision for revolt.
The relative quiet in Jerusalem and the West Bank is in contrast to the fury expressed further afield against Trump’s declaration.
One of the salient features of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in contrast with other ethno-religious land disputes in the Middle East, is that it has an enormous symbolic significance for populations in the broader Arab and Muslim world and beyond who have no tangible and practical involvement with it.
Those whose interest is in the conflict as a symbol are not, of course, held back by the pragmatic and practical considerations of those who actually live it.
There has in consequence been in recent days a wave of fury against Israel and Jewish targets far from Israel itself. This has included attacks on synagogues in Gothenburg and Malmo in Sweden, angry demonstrations replete with anti-Semitic chanting in London, Berlin and beyond. A grim warning from Turkish President Recep Tayep Erdogan to Trump that Jerusalem is a ‘red line’ for Muslims, and Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah telling a crowd (via video screen) in Beirut that the US announcement represented the ‘beginning of the end’ for Israel. The attempted suicide bombing in New York too may at least partially have been inspired by the suffering of Muslims in Gaza.
At the most absurd end, even Malaysian Defense Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein said his country’s armed forces were ready to play some (unspecified) role on behalf of Muslim and Palestinian claims in Jerusalem.
What is it about this conflict that makes it raise these emotions across the globe, in a way that the far bloodier neighboring conflicts in, say, Syria, Iraq or Yemen demonstrably fail to do? One explanation might be that these other conflicts are intra-Islamic affairs, while that between Israelis and Palestinians places a largely Muslim people against a largely Jewish one. Another possible angle could be that Israel is associated with the democratic west, and hence its actions strike historic chords that are absent elsewhere. A third reason might be the traditional attitudes of contempt toward Jews that prevail according to all polling evidence throughout the Muslim world.
In any case, the reality is clear. The embassies of Iran and Russia throughout Europe remain almost entirely untroubled by protests, despite the role of those countries in assisting Bashar Assad to murder hundreds of thousands of his own people over the last seven years. US embassies throughout the Islamic world and Europe have, by contrast, in recent days witnessed furious crowds protesting Trump’s announcement.
And while Jerusalem and the West Bank remain largely quiet, the fury further afield is unabating. There is a third interesting layer to all this. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on December 11 noted that no Arab country had expelled its US ambassador or taken any active measures following the announcement. Nor is any such action imminent or likely.
In the tangible, decidedly non-symbolic world of Mid-East strategy and politics, as in the seam line neighborhoods of Jerusalem, the Trump declaration seems of secondary significance. In the same week that the announcement was made, a far less reported event and the response to it reveals much about the underlying realities of the region.
An Iran-supported Iraqi Shia militia leader, one Qais al-Khazaleh, in a video released on Saturday, was shown visiting the Lebanese-Israeli border, in the company of members of Hizballah. ‘’I’m here with my brothers from Hezbollah, the Islamic Resistance,’ Khazaleh says on the video. ‘ We announce our full preparedness to stand as one with the Lebanese people with the Palestinian cause in the face of the unjust Israeli occupation. [An occupation] which is anti-Islam, anti-Arab, and anti-humanity, in the decisive Arab Muslim cause.’
Al-Khazaleh’s statement was quickly picked up in the main outlets of both the Saudi and the Israeli media. The visit became a major subject in media discussion in both countries.
Prominent Saudi journalist Abd al-Rahman al Rashid,whose columns tend to reflect official Saudi thinking, noted al-Khazaleh’s status as a servant of Iran, and wrote in the Saudi Sharq al-Awsat newspaper ‘Now that Iran dominates Syria, Lebanon’s situation became annexed to the war’s results and agreements. Tehran’s domination increased to an extent that it now dares to send its militias and their leaders to demarcation lines with Israel attempting to drag it into a new war.’
This statement, from a Saudi journalist close to the corridors of power in Riyadh, reflects the real and non-symbolic nature of current power politics in the Middle East. Al-Rashid holds the Iran-led camp entirely responsible for any deterioration. Al-Khazaleh, it is worth remembering, is an Arab and a Muslim (albeit a Shia). He refers to the Palestinian case as the ‘decisive Arab cause.’ No matter. For al Rashid, he is aligned with Iran and Israel is Iran’s enemy. So the Saudi journalist’s sympathies, without quite stating it plainly, are clearly with Israel.
Whatever the theological disagreements, both Israel and Saudi Arabia (along with a host of other regional players including the UAE, Jordan and Egypt) are currently primarily concerned at the advance of Iranian power in the collapsed spaces in the region – in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. This core alignment is based on clear shared interests and it is unlikely to change as a result of Trump’s recent declaration.
This does not mean, of course, that these countries have any sympathy for Israeli or Jewish aspirations or claims in Jerusalem. They decidedly do not. It does, however, mean that when it comes to practicalities, more tangible and urgent threats will tend to take preference over symbolic matters. The latter will be the subject of lip service. And not much else.
So in the neighborhoods of Jerusalem’s seam line, daily concerns and interests appear – currently at least – to precariously take precedence. In the halls of regional power, too, beneath the rhetoric, self-preservation currently trumps symbolism.
Outside of the region, far from danger, pure symbolism can be indulged at no potential cost. So ideas and maximal aspirations continue to run free, unfettered by the bonds of reality. In the meantime, Iran is continuing to patiently advance its cause in the collapsed states of the Arab Middle East, amid the collapsed assumptions of Arab politics.

Behind The Lines: Who Is Qais Al-Khazali, And Why Should You Care?/جوناسون سباير: من هو قيس الخزعلي ولماذا عليك أن تهتم به
Jonathan Spyer/Jerusalem Post/December 15/17
جوناسون سباير: من هو قيس الخزعلي ولماذا عليك أن تهتم به
Iraqi Shi’a militia leader visits the Israel-Lebanon border
Last Saturday, a recording emerged of an Iraqi Shi’a militia leader called Qais al-Khazali visiting the Lebanon-Israel border area. The short video shows him in the company of two other uniformed men. They are in the village of Kafr Kila, which is adjacent to Metulla.
At a certain point in the recording, Khazali addresses the camera. ‘“I’m at the Fatima Gate in Kafr Kila, at the border that divides south Lebanon from occupied Palestine,” he tells his listeners. “I’m here with my brothers from Hezbollah, the Islamic resistance. We announce our full readiness to stand as one with the Lebanese people, with the Palestinian cause, in the face of the unjust Israeli occupation, [an occupation] that is anti-Islam, anti-Arab, and anti-humanity, in the decisive Arab Muslim cause. And, inshallah, all goodness and blessings to the mujahideen all over the world. And blessings and goodness to the Islamic resistance, which is ready to heed the call of Islam to pave the way to the State of Allah’s Justice, the State of the Possessor of Time [the Mehdi], peace and prayers be upon him.”
Khazali is the leader of an Iran-supported force called Asaib Ahl al-Haq (the League of the Righteous). In the manner preferred by the Iranians, the organization doubles as an armed militia and a political party. It was prominent in the Shi’a insurgency against the US and its allies just over a decade ago. Today, AAH is a key component in the Hashd al-Sha’abi (Popular Mobilization Units), the gathering of Shi’a militias raised up in the summer of 2014 to fight Islamic State when the Sunni jihadists were gunning for Baghdad. AAH has also played an important role in the Assad regime’s war in Syria.
Khazali’s visit had only a mild echo in news coverage of the region this week. The fallout from President Donald Trump’s declaration confirming Jerusalem as the capital of Israel continued to dominate the headlines. Arguably, however, the appearance of an obscure, bearded Iraqi Shi’a militia leader a short distance from the town of Metulla was an indication of a trend of greater potential concern to Israel than the small demonstrations held by Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank to protest Trump’s decision. The trend in question is the emergent unity of purpose of Iran-supported military-political organizations in the Levant and Iraq, and the emergent focus of attention of these groups – all directly controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – on Israel.
AAH is one of three veteran Shi’a Islamist groupings that form the backbone of the 120,000-strong Hashd al-Sha’abi. The other two are the Badr Organization, led by Hadi al-Ameri, and Kataib Hezbollah, led by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
AAH is the smallest of these three groups and is in many ways the most radical. Splitting from Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army in 2004, when the latter ordered his men to cease fighting the Americans, AAH claimed responsibility for over 6,000 attacks on coalition forces in the period 2006-2011. AAH elements took part in the 2006 Second Lebanon War, alongside Hezbollah. Following the killing of five Americans in the Shi’ite town of Karbala in March 2007, Khazali was arrested by the coalition. Ali Musa Daqduq, a Lebanese Hezbollah adviser with the Iraqi Shi’a militias, was apprehended with him. Khazali was released in exchange for Peter Moore, a British computer consultant kidnapped by AAH.
Following the US withdrawal in 2011, AAH entered the political process. It has worked and continues to work closely with former prime minister Nuri al-Maliki and his faction of the ruling Dawa Party. At the same time, AAH opened an office in Beirut and continues its close cooperation with Hezbollah. Despite its current visibility, the organization is shy of contacts with the Western media. On a project in Baghdad to profile pro-Iranian Shi’a militias in the summer of 2015, this reporter found AAH to be the only group to refuse all requests for interviews. This despite its possession of a seat in Iraq’s parliament in 2014.
So why do Khazali and Asaib Ahl al-Haq matter?
Khazali’s appearance at the border is the latest and most graphic demonstration that Israel can no longer consider its long standoff with Hezbollah as a closed conflict system between a state and a small, albeit well-armed militia. Iran has now breached the boundaries of this system.
On November 19, pro-Iranian Syrian and Iraqi forces completed the capture of Abu Kamal, a dusty town on the Syria-Iraq border 640 km. east of Quneitra. In so doing, Iran secured its land route from Iran through Iraq and Syria, to a few kilometers from the Quneitra crossing. It also secured a road for the supply of Hezbollah.
Iran is taking orders neither from Russia, nor from the nominal Syrian government of Bashar Assad in its activities in Syria. Rather, with thousands of militiamen on the ground in the country, it is building its own independent infrastructure. This includes the facility at al-Kiswa, 13 km. south of Damascus, bombed by Israeli aircraft on December 2. Iranian personnel are also present closer to the Israeli border.
In Iraq, as the war against Islamic State winds down, the Popular Mobilization Units is establishing itself as a permanent armed force. Already a year ago, its continued mobilization was confirmed by law. Now, components of the PMU are securing their status as political forces, ahead of the Iraqi elections scheduled for May. The Badr Organization was licensed to take part in the elections 10 months ago. On November 6, AAH also received its license from the Iraqi Higher Elections Committee to participate in the elections.
Using the kudos gained by their role in the war against Islamic State, and while maintaining their military capacity, these parties are set to perform well. And in cooperation with former prime minister Maliki, they may well emerge as the dominant force in Iraq after the elections.
All this has the slight flavor of déjà vu about it. On a smaller scale in Lebanon, similar Iranian clients who knew how to combine military and political activity are now in a position of unchallenged dominance of the country.
So put all this together – the achievement of the Iranian land corridor through Syria to Lebanon and the Israeli border, the burgeoning political and military strength of Iran’s proxies in Iraq, the Iranian efforts to push their presence and infrastructure to the border with the Golan Heights – and the potential scope and look of a future conflict between Israel and the Iran-led regional bloc becomes clear.
All this is taking place, by the way, at a time when the West is busy practicing politics in Iraq and Lebanon, backing supposedly moderate and certainly toothless figures such as prime ministers Saad Hariri and Haider al-Abadi.
Seen against this background, Khazali’s tour of the area north of Metulla is the latest item of evidence confirming the growing boldness, broadening dimensions and advancing agenda of the Iranians in Iraq and the Levant.

How did Qatar lose its audience?
Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya/December 15/17
Most UAE residents today do not watch Qatari television channels, including Al-Jazeera. They don’t even watch them via the internet or social media pages.
In the real world, they no longer exist even if they are registered on receivers. This is because most television services are linked to telecom service providers and now that they are suspended, they disappeared.
In Saudi Arabia, and in most of the region’s countries though at a lesser extent, hackers gained the audience of the Qatari beIN channel. They provide the same service in HD and for around one quarter of the amount.
Scientifically speaking, Qatar’s media empire is collapsing. It did not only lose around $5 billion which it invested in news channels, sports contracts, movies, multiple-platform broadcast networks, websites and social media accounts which are directed from Doha, Istanbul and London but it also lost all political messages it aimed to convey through them.
Qatar thought it could scare the region’s governments with the idea that it manages audiences from afar
Failed attempts
Qatar’s attempts to incite against the war in Yemen, its attempt to support Iran and attack the Saudi government’s internal decisions failed. Doha even failed at defending itself in the dispute with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE.
Perhaps losing billions of dollars is what worries the Qatari government the most compared with its political and propaganda losses. To Qatar, this propaganda is its project, and it is a strategic factor and the source of its significance. Qatar thought it could scare the region’s governments with the idea that it manages audiences from afar.
The countries that have a dispute with Qatar used to be patient as they tolerated the practices by Doha’s networks and branching networks. However, when the recent dispute surfaced, it included the media in the battle. Everything that Qatar invested in throughout the years, such as skills and technologies, as well as the multiple brands it created and the audience it gained was struck to death. What happened?
A series of consecutive measures were adopted such as disconnecting Qatar’s media networks, confronting them via opposing networks and mobilizing counter digital armies.
The countries which rely on cable networks and dial-up for television broadcast shut down dozens of Qatari channels including those that broadcast under different names that are actually owned by Qatar. This included political, documentary, children, drama and movie channels.
Most viewers – like the case is in the UAE – lost access to these channels on their televisions and mobile phones, except for those who still them via satellite receiver dishes. So why haven’t people rushed to other means to get access to these channels, such as by resorting to proxies, like what used to happen in the past? It’s because there are many alternative and suitable channels that compensate them for the Qatari ones.
Another move also struck Qatar’s sports networks in the core as channels which broadcast sports games and matches for cheap prices encouraged many to give up their subscriptions with Qatar’s television networks.
Overpriced sums
Qatar had adopted the policy of seizing the sports-related rights of all associations they own, particularly big ones in Spain, Britain, France and Italy. It bought them for overpriced sums, which are estimated at around $2 billion in order to prevent other television service providers from even considering to compete with it for years to come.
Some may condemn involving sports in political confrontations. This is true. However, it was Qatar who violated international regulations when it exploited its monopoly over sports’ channels and mobilized international players to talk via its channels and condemn boycotting Qatar when most of them do not even know how to locate Qatar on a map!
Its sports television network which is the most expensive in the region is not based on commercial bases. Hackers thus worsened Qatar’s losses, doubled them and destroyed whatever audience – which it wanted to politically use to serve its own purposes – it had gained in the region.
My next article will be about digital armies’ fierce wars in the confrontation against Qatar and governments’ attempts in general to regain control of the initiative and to regain its audiences whom they lost in the past ten years.

Back to the future: Resetting the time continuum from 1979
Faisal Al-Shammeri//Al Arabiya/December 15/17
There are a host of issues in the Middle East grabbing headlines these days. Developments in Afghanistan and Iran, political instability in Egypt and acts of terrorism are some of the important areas in the news at this time.
These incidents are occurring almost simultaneously and before one can fully assess one event, another adds on to a growing list of geopolitical developments. It is tempting to look at four subjects mentioned above as all of them had their origins in 1979.
However, Egypt is perhaps the only exception in this regard in that it has remained stable until events that unfolded in 2011. Nothing has ever been the same since that year.
1979: The watershed year
Incidents of terrorism have increased at an exponential rate that show it is no longer a menace regionally, but is capable of afflicting every part of the globe. Khomeini seized power in Iran and introduced the most radical ideology since Lenin’s Bolshevik Russia. The world and the region has not been the same since the clergy started ruling from Tehran.
Since the Soviet invasion in 1979, Afghanistan has remained in a perpetual state of war. These events have shaken the world, especially the Muslim world, since 1979. The waves would come crashing on the shores of Saudi Arabia and in some cases they made inroads into the mainland.
There was no history of terrorism in Saudi Arabia and even Iran prior to 1979. From that year onward, Iran embarked on a policy of terror which lasts to this very day
Among other things lost that could be explained in two words are identity and narrative. In response to Khomeinist Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan the narrative and true identity of The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been lost.
The founding principle of The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is Islam. Of this there is no question and nor should it ever be. However, our identity was lost in 1979 and it would remain missing on account of some who wished to deliberately deviate from Islam with the goal of wielding an instrument that simply sought political outcomes through the murder of innocents.
There was no history of terrorism in The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and even Iran prior to 1979. From that year onwards, Iran embarked on a policy of terror which lasts to this very day. In response to this period of instability, it was thought that austerity and purity were the proper mantras.
Resetting progress
What would emerge was neither our true identity as a citizenry. The result was a failure to develop a balanced economy that truly reflected the vast talents of the citizenry. This led to an unbalanced society where some felt left out as they watched first hand some of the greatest transfers of wealth in human history that arrived in the Kingdom.
The education system was not properly designed to educate the citizenry in a way that could be fully mobilized to participate in the development of The Kingdom and the world at large. The result was an inability to find our identity in a world that was rapidly changing into what would be the modern era that we see today. The result was a stultification of our progress that had been rapid and dizzying in the 1970’s.
Vision 2030 is about the future, but it is also about the past. While moving forward into the future to a place that is rightfully ours we will be defining our narrative by rediscovering, in some ways, our identity. As the official policy of Saudi Arabia moves on we will also be returning to the norms existing before 1979.
Across the GCC, we see how Islam and modernity go hand in hand. Further afield, we can see Islam and modernity going hand in hand in places like Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta. Islam has proven throughout its history to be at the forefront of scientific thought and modernity. It has been said that while Europe was mired in the Dark Ages the torch of civilization blazed in Córdoba.
The greatest asset that Saudi Arabia will have during this journey is its people. A fully mobilized citizenry, imbued with the belief that good character, good activity, and good habits will find their just rewards, will be well situated to reclaim its true identity and narrative.

Lebanon remains occupied
Eyad Abu Shakra/Arab News/December 15/2017
New words and idioms have recently imposed themselves on Lebanon’s political dictionary, such as “preventing a vacuum,” “stability,” “realism” and “temporary truce.” All these express a particular situation pointing to a local imbalance that benefits from regional disorder and global confusion.
The Lebanese are now merely passing time while international strategies around conflict intersect and conceal themselves, as the players wait to agree on the lowest common denominator for a new world order. Before tackling the regional disorder from which one goes to deal with what is happening in Lebanon, let us look at the confusion encountered by three of the world’s most influential blocs. A year ago, the US went from living under one of the most liberal/leftist administrations in its history to one that could be described as the most right-wing. Despite the US political system being based on checks and balances, the election of Barack Obama as America’s first black president pointed to structural changes in the country’s social and political concepts, or so it seemed in November 2008.
In November 2016, the pendulum swung in the opposite direction with the election of Donald Trump. He is an ultra-conservative Republican and a businessman who came from outside the political establishment, fought the primaries against the Republicans’ traditional leaders, and was never elected to any political office. His election pointed to yet another change in the public mood, if not America’s political culture. Moving from the extreme left to the extreme right uncovered a deep rift among a nation of immigrants, which after enjoying ever-increasing strength thanks to its diversity, has become averse to openness, tolerance and welcoming others.
What we have witnessed in America has also happened in Western Europe, where strident globalization was met with long-dormant racism that has rediscovered its voice and self-confidence.
With this phenomenon, people seem to have forgotten the disasters that nationalist and ethnic extremism caused in Europe in the 20th century, including the rise of Nazism and fascism, and later the Balkan crises in the aftermath of the collapse of the USSR and the Berlin Wall.
In Asia — home to China and India, the world’s two most populous nations — complicated problems are becoming even worse against a background of diverging interests and different calculations, whether over a nuclear North Korea or the conflict over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, in addition to the problems of the Indian subcontinent, Myanmar and East Turkestan (Chinese Xinjiang).
The pre-occupations of these three major blocs were bound to have repercussions on the Middle East. Such a reality has helped three well-organized regional powers — Israel, Iran and Turkey — flex their muscles and compete for regional hegemony, or failing that, benefit from apportionment.
There is international collusion with this occupation, providing it with a veneer of constitutional legitimacy.
America’s unshakable support for Israel is not new, but has been further enhanced by Trump’s official seal of approval to the old Congress vote recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Washington has politically sponsored and militarily aided Israel for seven decades.
Iran and Turkey have had a rollercoaster relationship, from animosities to alliances. After they were US allies during the Cold War, their relations with Washington and Moscow changed radically as each pursued its own interpretation of political Islam, and invented its own Islamist slogans with a view to strengthening its presence in an Arab world that has since lost its nationalist identity without gaining an alternative capable of safeguarding the territorial unity of its political entities.
Iran began its interventions aimed at regional hegemony on the first day of the Khomeinist revolution in 1979. This was done through the slogans of “exporting the revolution,” which precipitated the Iran-Iraq war.
Turkey, on the other hand, had long dreamt of moving westward by joining the European family. But it eventually discovered that it was not a welcome addition to that family. Consequently, under Necmettin Erbakan then Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey changed direction, moving to the east and south toward the Arab world and western Asia. The Arab Spring of 2011 was an opportunity for all three regional powers to compete for influence at the expense of Arab ambitions and aspirations. As Iran gained an early advantage in 2003 with the US invasion of Iraq, and later in 2008 as Hezbollah took control of Lebanon, Turkey decided to confront Iran by winning in Syria, Egypt and perhaps Libya too.
Israel has decided to benefit from the escalating Sunni-Shiite animosities by destroying any remaining chance of creating a Palestinian state, and by ensuring that the regional and Arab bloodletting continues, thus increasing its impregnability and killing off all that might threaten its existence.
By 2011, Iran had already achieved hegemony in Iraq and Lebanon, and through the Houthis established a foothold in Yemen. Later, in the Syrian conflict, Iran’s militias fought against forces supported by Turkey, before the Iranians and Turks were brought together in the Astana process due to Moscow’s limiting ambitions and Washington’s zeal in encouraging the Kurds.
Moreover, in 2013 Ankara suffered a major setback in Egypt, where it had regarded itself as a winner after the January 2011 uprising, which was soon exploited by the pro-Ankara Muslim Brotherhood that ruled Egypt between 2012 and 2013.
In Lebanon, people had begun to realize that the withdrawal of Syrian troops in 2005 after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri was almost meaningless. The Assad regime was nothing but a front for a concealed Iranian occupation under the motto of “resistance.” The divisions between Lebanon’s factions were, and still are, too deep to build a responsible awareness of the need for an inclusive interest that is needed for nation-building.
Lebanon remains occupied, and worse, there is international collusion with this occupation, providing it with a veneer of constitutional legitimacy. Some Lebanese leaders, claiming to seek stability and adhering to realism after warning of the danger of a vacuum, have agreed to an apportionment that provides that cover. This is why they are now acting as if they did not know, although they know only too well what is asked of them.
• Eyad Abu Shakra is managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article is also published.