December 27-28/17
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

The Bulletin's Link on the lccc Site 

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

Bible Quotations
Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things
Philippians03/01-21/:Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.  Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more:  circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee;  as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ  and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Following Paul’s Example All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.  Only let us live up to what we have already attained. Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.  For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one
Philippians 02/01-11/: "Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,  then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,  not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 27-28/17
Nasrallah’s Call To Tweet Against Trump’s Jerusalem Announcement Sparks Scornful Responses On Social Media, Lebanese Press: Nasrallah Has Become A Digital Warrior/MEMRI/December 27/17
On Israeli border, Hezbollah, Syria demand rebel surrender/Ynetnews/Reuters|/December 27/17
Five Challanges For Israel If Syrian Regime Retakes Golan Border Region/
Jerusalem Post/December 27/17/
America's growing lack of interest in the Middle East comes at its peril/Michael Young/The National/December 27/17
DEBKAfile:Hezballah-Iranian-led force, now 5km from Israeli border/DebkaFile/December 25/17
UK: Going about Our "Normal" Lives/Douglas Murray/Gatestone Institute/December 26/2017
Palestinians: Where Have They Gone/Shoshana Bryen/Gatestone Institute/December 26/2017
Czech President Miloš Zeman: Warrior for Truth/Josef Zbořil/Gatestone Institute/December 26/2017
We are Not out of Options on North Korea/John R. Kasich/The Washington Post/December 27/2017
Euro-Zone Reform Proposals Don't Go Far Enough/Sony Kapoor/Bloomberg/December 27/2017
Arab Apartheid Targets Palestinians/Khaled Abu Toameh/Gatestone Institute/December 27/17
How to Defund the U.N./John R. Bolton/Gatestone Institute/December 27/17
Turkey: Still a U.S. Ally/Lawrence A. Franklin/Gatestone Institute/December 27/17
Syria’s Future Decided without the Syrians’ Consent/Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Al Awsat/December 27/17

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on December 27-28/17
Deprivation in Lebanon unacceptable: Aoun
Aoun-Berri feud brings Lebanon ever closer to crisis
Berri Defiant on Officers Decree, Says Stance 'Not against Christians'
Hariri Says Resignation Crisis was 'Bitter', Dialogue is 'the Only Way'
Report: Saudi Arabia Accredits Lebanese Ambassador
Khalil Declines to Sign Officer Promotion Decrees amid Aoun-Berri Row
Deryan Says Saudi Arabia 'Cornerstone of Islam'
Report: Aoun-Berri Spat over Officers' Decree 'Threatens' Political Consensus
Syrian Refugees in Lebanon Drop Below One Million
Hassan Khalil comments on officer promotion decree
Berri meets deputies within Wednesday parliamentary gathering
Bazzi: Speaker Berri upholds his stance on officers' decree
Hariri, Allawi tackle general situation
Rahi receives army command delegation on festive season
Army Commander inspects military police command: For intensifying security tasks during holidays
Geagea via Twitter: Mohammed Shatah's blood will not go in vain
On Israeli border, Hezbollah, Syria demand rebel surrender

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 27-28/17
Bahrain FM: Iran’s state shall remain while the regime will be gone
UAE court sentences 13 on terror and espionage charges
Saudi crown prince meets with Turkish prime minister
Saudi king receives, holds talks with Turkish prime minister
Coalition raids kill and wound dozens of the Houthi militia in al-Jawf
Houthis seize and detain bank accounts of 1,223 Yemeni officials and citizens
Argentina judge says death of prosecutor Nisman was murder
Negotiations to Guarantee Tahrir al-Sham Evacuation from Syria’s Beit Jin
10 Hurt in Russia Supermarket Bombing
Medical Evacuations Begin from Besieged Syria Rebel Bastion

Latest Lebanese Related News published on December 27-28/17
Deprivation in Lebanon unacceptable: Aoun
The Daily Star/December 27/17/BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun said Wednesday that he considers any privation in any locality of Lebanon to be unacceptable, regardless of the location, and said he would work toward developing the economy in all regions. “I won’t accept for deprivation to remain in any Lebanese areas,” Aoun said while meeting with a delegation of provincial representatives headed by Abdel Hadi Mahfouz, the president the National Council of Audio and Visual Media, according to a statement from the presidency. Aoun vowed to work toward improving conditions and lessening the suffering of all Lebanese people by transitioning Lebanon to a more productive economy. The president said it was important to develop an economic system that would benefit all regions of Lebanon. "We started by establishing and licensing industrial zones in different districts, securing the necessary investments, and there are other steps we will try to apply one by one," he said. The president said that two issues were identified in the meeting as crucial to developing a civil state: eliminating sectarianism and instead focusing on developing the skills of individuals, as well as “developing a non-sectarian education system that focuses on the concepts of patriotism, democracy and duties towards the state and history."Mahfouz was quoted as saying that the meeting “represented all Lebanese factions and achieved the idea of a just, capable and civil state,” and that the “unifying factor among the Lebanese people should be the concept of a single citizenship and not the sects.”He also stressed the importance of ensuring citizens’ rights and having balanced development in every region in the country. "The people of Akkar and other [underserved] areas in Lebanon feel forgotten, but they are hopeful that you will be concerned with the problems facing all citizens, especially in Baalbek-Hermel and Akkar," Mahfouz said to Aoun. Aoun for his part assured that he is pursuing the affairs of northern regions, including Tripoli, which was a concern of his even before becoming president, according to the statement.
Mahfouz reportedly added that he also appreciated the president’s positions regarding “two fundamental issues that were a turning point in Lebanese political life: first dealing with Prime Minister Saad Hariri's resignation and Aoun's position on Jerusalem.”Separately, Aoun Wednesday met with head of the Central Inspection Commission Judge George Attieh, Lebanon's Ambassador to the United Nations Amal Mudallali and Lebanon’s Ambassador to Turkey Ghassan al-Moallem.

Aoun-Berri feud brings Lebanon ever closer to crisis
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star/December 27/17
BEIRUT: An escalating rift between President Michel Aoun and Speaker Nabih Berri over the signing of a controversial decree promoting a number of Army officers flared up into a full-blown crisis Tuesday, threatening to plunge the country into deep political uncertainty and paralyze the work of state institutions. Responding to Aoun’s statement that the decree promoting a number of Army officers who served under Aoun in the late 1980s when he was the Army commander required the signing of the president and the prime minister only, Berri warned that overriding the finance minister’s approval would place the Taif Accord on equal power-sharing between Muslims and Christians into jeopardy.
Berri went as far as to implicitly accuse Aoun of violating the spirit of the Taif Accord and the Constitution with regard to the country’s power-sharing formula by signing the decree and ignoring the finance minister’s approval. A defiant Berri also rebuffed Aoun’s call on the speaker to take the issue to the judiciary, casting doubts about the judiciary’s role as long as the Justice Ministry is controlled by a minister who belongs to the Free Patriotic Movement, which was founded by the president. It was the first time in Lebanon’s modern history that the president and the Parliament speaker found themselves engaged in public mud-slinging over an issue that touched on the leaders’ prerogatives as stipulated by the Taif Accord and the Constitution, an episode that threatens to take a sectarian turn in a country that is still trying to recover from the consequences of the devastating 1975-90 Civil War.
An official source at Baabda Palace declined to comment on Berri’s fiery comments against the president, saying that Aoun has pointed to a solution to the dispute by calling on the speaker to resort to the judiciary.
Asked whether ties between the president and the speaker had reached the point of no return, the source said: “No.” Tensions between Aoun and Berri have ramped up over the decree, which was signed by Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Hariri and overlooked the signing of Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, a key political aide to the speaker. The decree promotes around 200 Army officers – all Christians aside from 15 Muslims – who served with Aoun in the late 1980s when he was Army commander, advancing their seniority and rank by one year.
Berri was reported to have been furious because the decree ignored the finance minister’s signature and upset the sectarian balance given the fact that a large number of Christian officers stood to benefit from the promotion while only a few Muslim officers will benefit.
Berri, who last week said he left it to the president to tackle the decree dispute, changed his mind Tuesday and decided to respond to what was seen as “escalatory” views expressed by Aoun on the decree.
Aoun defended the signing of the decree, saying the promotion was the officers’ right, and, taking an indirect swipe at Berri, he said that those who took issue with the decree can go to the judiciary to contest it.
“The decree is a right ... We tried to give [these officers] at least half of what they have a right to by advancing their seniority and rank by one year,” Aoun told reporters after meeting with Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai and attending the Christmas mass held at Bkirki Monday.
“The decree should be signed by the president and the prime minister alone,” he said. “There is no financial burden from the decree for the finance minister to need to sign it.”“If anyone has objections to this, let them go the judiciary. I would be more than happy as a president if the judiciary breaks my decision,” Aoun added.
Responding to Aoun’s comments, Berri, speaking to journalists at his Ain al-Tineh residence said: “It caught my attention [Aoun’s] saying that ‘the decree should be signed by the president and the prime minister alone.’ And so, may the Taif [Accord], the Constitution, norms, the Cabinet and ministers rest in peace.”Berri rejected Aoun’s argument that the decree did not have any financial burden. “No, your Excellency the President, there is a financial burden from this decree, and anyone who told you otherwise, only pretended to know. And so [the decree] should have been presented to the Finance Ministry,” he said. Berri lambasted the Justice Ministry, which is headed by Salim Jreissati, who belongs to the FPM, saying only the weak resort to the judiciary.
Asked if he was ready to go to the judiciary as per Aoun’s request to contest the decree, Berri said: “When the Justice Ministry is not affiliated [with the FPM], I will resort to the judiciary. The weak resort to the judiciary.”Later, Jreissati hit back at Berri. “Ministries in Lebanon do not belong to anyone, but to the nation and the symbol of the nation’s unity, which is the president of the republic,” Jreissati told LBCI channel. He called on Berri to review his position, saying: “Let’s all of us go to the judiciary strengthened by right.”Berri, who earlier in the day called Aoun to congratulate him on Christmas, again left it to the president to tackle the decree dispute. “Again, your Excellency the President, I leave the matter to your wisdom and judgment.” The speaker, who was reported to have been irritated by Hariri’s signing the decree, was asked if the decree dispute might affect his relations with the prime minister. “Ask him [Hariri],” Berri responded. Hariri has asked Fouad Fleifel, the Cabinet’s secretary-general, to hold up the publication of the decree in the Official Gazette until a solution is found to the dispute. Berri, speaking to The Daily Star at the weekend, said: “The officers’ decree is so serious that it might lead to a review of the entire Taif Accord.”Another bone of contention between Aoun and Berri was a proposal by FPM leader and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil to extend expatriate voters’ registration for next year’s parliamentary elections until Feb. 15. Berri staunchly opposes this proposal. Aoun sidestepped Berri’s objection, saying: “This issue can be tackled in the Cabinet and the interior and foreign affairs ministers are discussing the matter and they are part of a ministerial committee [tasked with implementing a new vote law].”

Berri Defiant on Officers Decree, Says Stance 'Not against Christians'
Naharnet/December 27/17/Speaker Nabih Berri is “still clinging to his constitutional and legal viewpoint regarding the officers decree and whoever tries to depict the issue as being targeted against Christians would be mistaken,” MP Ali Bazzi of Berri's Development and Liberation bloc said.
“Speaker Berri does not approach things in this manner and maybe if his opinion had been taken into consideration there would have been more than one solution,” Bazzi told reporters after the Speaker's weekly meeting with lawmakers in Ain el-Tineh. “There is no political clash, but perhaps there are parties who are offering advices in contravention of the Constitution and the law,” Bazzi added. Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, who is also Berri's political aide, meanwhile said that had he received the decree to sign it, “there would not have been a constitutional problem.”Berri and Khalil have insisted that the decree, which grants one-year seniority to a number of officers, should have carried the finance minister's signature along with the signatures of the president and the premier. “Anything based on something illegal would be illegal,” Khalil added, noting that similar decrees related to the Internal Security Forces had been referred to the finance minister and that “the Finance Ministry's role is not restricted to expenditure but also to the impact of expenditure.”As for Berri's statement that “only the weak would resort to the judiciary,” the minister clarified that “Speaker Berri meant that those whose constitutional argument is weak would resort to the judiciary.”President Michel Aoun had noted Monday that the decree, which has sparked a row between him and Berri, is “lawful,” asking those who have reservations to “go to the judiciary.”Ain el-Tineh sources have meanwhile warned that the decree would tip sectarian balance in favor of Christians in the army's highest echelons. The officers in question were undergoing their first year of officer training at the Military Academy when Syrian forces ousted Aoun’s military government from Baabda in 1990. They were suspended by the pro-Damascus authorities until 1993 before they resumed their officer training course as second-year cadets.

Hariri Says Resignation Crisis was 'Bitter', Dialogue is 'the Only Way'

Naharnet/December 27/17/Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Wednesday described his November resignation ordeal as “one of the bitterest crises” in his political life, while stressing that dialogue is the only possible approach in Lebanon. “Four years have passed since the martyrdom of the brother and the comrade of the difficult days, (slain ex-minister Mohammed Shatah), and each year I was sensing the extent of the emptiness he has left. But this year I increasingly felt his absence and how much I needed his wit, wisdom and firmness during one of the bitterest crises in my political life,” said Hariri at a rally marking Shatah's fourth assassination anniversary. “Shatah fell on the same path of late PM Rafik Hariri. Together they walked the path of moderation and state-building and together they were martyred in defense of the state's role,” Hariri added. “Today Mohammed is the symbol of dialogue and this country cannot live without dialogue,” the premier went on to say. He added: “We can challenge each other, practice arrogance, yell at each other and fight each other, but in the end, the country would pay the price. Dialogue remains the only way no matter the political disputes.”Emphasizing that he and certain political parties will not agree on a lot of issues, especially regional matters, Hariri asked: “Without dialogue, how would the situation in the country be?”“We experienced the absence of dialogue prior to the Taef Accord but we ended up around the same table. The Taef Accord is doing very well because we will always defend this Constitution,” the premier added. Hariri had shocked the Lebanese and the world on November 4 when he resigned during an unusual TV broadcast from Saudi Arabia, citing assassination threats and blasting the policies of Iran and Hizbullah in Lebanon and the region. After a puzzling mini-odyssey that took him to France, Egypt and Cyprus, Hariri arrived back in Lebanon after around two weeks of absence and then announced the reversal of his resignation after he reached an agreement with the Hizbullah-led camp on distancing Lebanon from regional conflicts. Many questions remain unanswered following the unprecedented scenario that saw Lebanon's prime minister resign in a foreign country suspected of keeping him under “house arrest” and return only after the apparent intervention of France. And while Hariri and Riyadh seemed on a collision course with Hizbullah last month, an apparent behind-the-scenes deal has restored the status quo.

Report: Saudi Arabia Accredits Lebanese Ambassador
Associated Press/Naharnet/December 27/17/Saudi Arabia has accepted accreditation of Fawzi Kabbara as the new Lebanese Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said pan-Arab al-Hayat daily Wednesday, after months of delay over what was perceived as a diplomatic tussle between the two countries. The daily quoted unnamed sources at the Lebanese Foreign Ministry who said they “received a letter from the Saudi Foreign Ministry accrediting ambassador Fawzi Kabbara as Lebanon's ambassador to Riyadh.” Al-Hayat said the accreditation delay was the result of administrative reasons, shunning reports it had political grounds. Kabbara is expected to leave for Riyadh at the end of next month to take over his duties as ambassador, it added, succeeding outgoing ambassador Abdul Sattar Issa who remains in the post on acting capacity. Lebanon's ambassador to Saudi Arabia and his Saudi counterpart were named months ago, but their accreditation was delayed. The delay highlights tension between SA and Lebanon following the bizarre, now-reversed resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri from Riyadh. Lebanon's ambassador to Saudi Arabia, a member of Hariri's political party, was named to the post in late July. Saudi Arabia named its ambassador in September. Ambassador Walid al-Yaacoubi arrived in Lebanon in November, but still has not been sworn in by the president and the foreign minister, as customary. Lebanon was thrown into a political crisis after the Nov. 4 Hariri resignation which he delivered in a televised statement read from the Saudi capital, Riyadh. Hariri has since withdrawn his resignation and returned home nearly three weeks later. The resignation was widely perceived as Saudi-orchestrated, and part of the kingdom's high-stakes rivalry with Iran. Iran is ally and backer of Hizbullah, which is a partner in the Hariri government. The resignation was viewed as an attempt to break up that unity government and pull the rug from under Iran's ally and destabilize the country. Domestic support for Hariri and international mediation by France and the U.S. helped reverse the resignation. Saudi officials, however, maintained their vocal criticism of Hizbullah.

Khalil Declines to Sign Officer Promotion Decrees amid Aoun-Berri Row
Naharnet/December 27/17/Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil refused Wednesday to sign decrees for the promotion of some army officers, following a war of words between President Michel Aoun and Speaker Nabih Berri over a previous decree that granted one-year seniority to some officers.
The new decrees involve the promotion of a number of officers from the rank of colonel to the rank of brigadier general and others from lieutenant colonel to colonel. Khalil declined to sign the decrees after he found out that they included officers whose names were listed in the controversial seniority decree, media reports said. The minister has asked for clarifications from the Defense Ministry, according to the reports. The Aoun-Berri spat broke out after the president and Premier Saad Hariri signed a decree granting one-year seniority to a number of officers. Berri and Khalil have insisted that the decree should have also carried the finance minister's signature. Aoun and his aides have argued that the decree did not require Khalil's signature because it did not contain any “financial burden,” a point Berri and officials close to him have argued against. Ain el-Tineh sources have meanwhile warned that the decree would tip sectarian balance in favor of Christians in the army's highest echelons. The officers in question were undergoing their first year of officer training at the Military Academy when Syrian forces ousted Aoun’s military government from Baabda in 1990. They were suspended by the pro-Damascus authorities until 1993 before they resumed their officer training course as second-year cadets.

Deryan Says Saudi Arabia 'Cornerstone of Islam'
Naharnet/December 27/17/Grand Mufti of the Republic Sheikh Abdul Latif Deryan praised Saudi Arabia saying the “Kingdom is the cornerstone of Islam,” the State-run National News Agency reported on Wednesday. “SA has always been keen on serving the Two Holy Mosques. SA is keen on the present and future of Islam away from extremism and tension,” said Deryan. Deryan's remarks came at the International Conference on Development and Reconstruction Projects in Makkah held in Jeddah.

Report: Aoun-Berri Spat over Officers' Decree 'Threatens' Political Consensus
Naharnet/December 27/17/An aggravating political spat between President Michel Aoun and Speaker Nabih Berri over a controversial officers' decree "threatens political consensus" with an open crisis expected to weigh on all other political files, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Wednesday. On Tuesday, Speaker Nabih Berri sharply replied to President Michel Aoun's remarks on the officers' decree, promoting a number of Army officers, bidding “farewell to the Taef Accord, the Constitution, norms and Cabinet.” Aoun had made remarks a day earlier that the officers' decree required the signature of the President and the Prime Minister alone. In this regard, Berri eulogized article 54 of the Constitution, he said: “I was told that the decree requires the signature of the President and PM alone,” sadly we can say “farewell to the Taef, constitution and Cabinet.” Berri's stance on Tuesday came in remarks he made to media representatives, whereby he dwelt on the current debatable officers' decree in light of the latest statements made by Aoun on Monday. Aoun had noted that the decree that has sparked a row with Berri is “lawful,” asking those who have reservations to “go to the judiciary.”In reply to remarks that the arguable officers' decree does not entail any financial burden, Berri stressed that the decree bears such a burden, and decried that it should have also carried the signature of Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil. Ain el-Tineh sources have also warned that the decree would tip sectarian balance in favor of Christians in the army’s highest echelons. The officers in question were undergoing their first year of officer training at the Military Academy when Syrian forces ousted Aoun’s military government from Baabda in 1990. They were suspended until 1993 before they resumed their officer training course as second-year cadets.

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon Drop Below One Million
Naharnet/December 27/17/The number of registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon has dropped to below one million for the first time since 2014, the United Nations told AFP on Tuesday. As of the end of November, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) counted 997,905 Syrian refugees -- a vast majority of them women and children -- registered in Lebanon. "The number reached one million in April 2014, and this is the first time it drops below that," UNHCR spokeswoman Lisa Abou Khaled told AFP. Numbers were decreasing, Abou Khaled said, as refugees had resettled in third countries, returned to their homes in Syria, or passed away. From 2011 until September this year, nearly 49,000 Syrians left Lebanon as part of the United Nations' resettlement program to third countries including the United States, Sweden, and France. Others left on their own, making the dangerous sea journey to reach Europe. "We cannot confirm how many returned to Syria. They don't necessarily tell us, but we know it's a few thousand in 2017," Abou Khaled said. She said the United Nations revised its numbers on a quarterly basis to assess who remained in Lebanon and what support they required. In December 2016, the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon was 1,011,366. In the first six months of 2017, it dropped by 10,315, then again by more than 3,000 between June and November 31. More than five million Syrians have fled the country's conflict since 2011 to neighbouring Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon, and even higher numbers are displaced internally. The influx has tested Lebanon, a country of just four million that already struggled with overstretched resources. More than half of registered Syrians in Lebanon live in extreme poverty, struggling to eke out a living while sheltering in informal tented settlements or unfinished buildings. Lebanese politicians have increased their calls in recent months for refugees to return home, with large parts of the country under government control but left in ruins.

Hassan Khalil comments on officer promotion decree
Wed 27 Dec 2017/NNA - Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil said after the Wednesday parliamentary gathering at Ain Tineh residence that "if the officer promotion decree had been presented to the Finance Ministry, a constitutional problem would have been evaded." Minister Khalil also pointed out that the Internal Security promotion decree had been presented to the Finance Ministry, stressing that the "Ministry's role is not solely confined to expenditure but also to the impact of spending." On the recent statement by House Speaker that the "weak resorts to judiciary", Khalil elaborated the Speaker meant that "those who have weak argument only resort to the judiciary."

Berri meets deputies within Wednesday parliamentary gathering
Wed 27 Dec 2017/NNA - Within the framework of Wednesday parliamentary Gathering, Visiting deputies quoted House Speaker, Nabih Berri, as saying that "he shall not add anything [today] to his comments he made the day before on the officers' decree." Visiting MPs also noted: "There are many things related to the subject yet the Speaker does not wish to speak about today." On the other hand, Speaker Berri underlined that "the most important matter nowadays is what is currently taking place in the occupied Palestine, and the ongoing intifada of the Palestinian people, which requires genuine solidarity and support in the face of the Israeli occupation." Berri also met with the Chairman of the French-Lebanese Parliamentary Friendship Committee, MP Luick Cerrifran, and the Advisor on Strategic Affairs and Innovation, Ahmed Shams El-Din. Talks reportedly touched on means of bolstering parliamentary cooperation and French-Lebanese ties.

Bazzi: Speaker Berri upholds his stance on officers' decree
Wed 27 Dec 2017/NNA - MP Ali Bazzi said in the wake of Wednesday's parliamentary gathering that House Speaker Nabih Berri upholds his stance on the debatable officers' decree in terms of its constitutional and legal aspect.
"Whoever attempts to portray the matter as being against the Christians is categorically mistaken," MP Bazzi said, ruling out the presence of a political spat in this regard.

Hariri, Allawi tackle general situation
Wed 27 Dec 2017/NNA - Prime Minister Saad Hariri received on Wednesday evening at the Center House Iraqi Vice President Dr. Ayad Allawi, with whom he discussed the general situation and bilateral ties between the two countries.
Premier Hariri also met with a delegation of "Arab Khaldeh" tribe, led by Abu Deeb Daher.

Rahi receives army command delegation on festive season
Wed 27 Dec 2017/NNA - A delegation of the army command on Wednesday paid a visit to Bkirki to well-wish Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rahi on the festive season. Patriarch Rahi also received well-wishers in Bkirki from the various perishes across Lebanon.

Army Commander inspects military police command: For intensifying security tasks during holidays
Wed 27 Dec 2017/NNA - Army Commander General Joseph Aoun on Wednesday morning inspected the military police command in Al-Rihaniyeh, whereby he had firsthand look at its various field, training and administrative activities. General Aoun congratulated army soldiers and officers on the festive season, heaping praise on their extraordinary efforts in controlling security, combating crimes and implementing law and order. The army commander urged the military police to redouble security tasks during the holidays, in order to ensure people's safety and maintain public order.

Geagea via Twitter: Mohammed Shatah's blood will not go in vain
Wed 27 Dec 2017/NNA - Lebanese Forces leader, Samir Geagea, on Wednesday said in his tweet: "The blood of Mohammad Shatah did not and shall not go in vain, but rather has fostered the cause to which we shall cling till the realization of the state of mankind." Geagea was speaking marking the fourth commemoration of the assassination of Minister Mohammed Shatah. "Mohammed Shatah... We shall not forget you," he said.

On Israeli border, Hezbollah, Syria demand rebel surrender
Ynetnews/Reuters|/December 27/17
Despite repeated Israeli warnings not to approach its northern frontier, Syrians rebels pinned down in strategic area near Israeli-Lebanese border given 72 hours to surrender by Hezbollah and Syrian army as the two allies close in. Syrian rebels pinned down in a strategic area where the Israeli and Lebanese borders meet with Syria were handed an ultimatum by the Syrian army and its Iranian-backed militia allies to either surrender or face certain military defeat, rebels said on Tuesday. The Syrian army backed by local militias financed and equipped by Iran alongside Druze fighters from the area have been escalating a fierce assault against Sunni rebels in an enclave in the foothills of Mount Hermon, close to both the Israeli and Lebanese borders. “They were given 72 hours to surrender with fighters to go to Idlib or those who want to stay have to reach a settlement,” said Ibrahim al-Jebawi, a Free Syrian Army (FSA) official familiar with the situation on the ground. Another rebel official who asked not to be named said they were told either to “surrender or a military solution.”The rebels have now been left encircled in Beit Jin, their main stronghold after losing strategic hills and farms around it this week after over two months of near daily shelling and aerial strikes. Iran-backed Lebanon’s Hezbollah’s media unit said insurgents had agreed to negotiate surrender terms and said negotiations had already begun over their evacuation in the next few days to rebel-held Idlib. The Syrian army has used similar tactics of pushing opponents to rebel areas further from the Syrian capital after a twin tactic of siege and months of strikes on residential areas. There were also more than 8,000 civilians who have been trapped in the remaining enclaves with their plight worsening, according to rebel spokesman Sohaib Alraheel.
Israel, which Syria accuses of helping the rebels, is alarmed at the growing Iranian military influence in the Golan Heights and has stepped up its strikes against pro-Iranian targets inside Syria. Israel has been lobbying both big powers to deny Iran, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and other Shi‘ite militias any permanent bases in Syria, and to keep them away from the Golan, as they gain ground while helping Damascus beat back Sunni-led rebels. Early this month there was an Israeli strike on a base near Kiswah, south of Damascus, that was widely believed to be an Iranian military compound, a Western intelligence source said. Hezbollah’s bastion in southern Lebanon is only a few kms from the rebel enclave, and securing a supply line from its stronghold into Syria’s Quneitra province was a major strategic gain, rebels and defense analysts say. “Now Hezbollah will have a bigger foothold on the Syrian side of the Golan and it is desperate to link this area with southern Lebanon,” al-Jebawi added. Israel had warned Hezbollah against trying to open a front in the Golan Heights and was believed to be behind the killing a prominent commander in an air strike in 2015 whom the group later admitted had overseen a local Hezbollah presence in the area. “This is an effort by Iran and its proxy Hezbollah to expand the lines of engagement with Israel. The question is will Israel allow that?” said Fayez al Dweiri, a retired Jordanian general who follows Syria closely.

Nasrallah’s Call To Tweet Against Trump’s Jerusalem Announcement Sparks Scornful Responses On Social Media, Lebanese Press: Nasrallah Has Become A Digital Warrior

MEMRI/December 27/17
The reactions of the Iran-led resistance axis to U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital were characterized mainly by calls for escalated violence, in particular against U.S. interests.[1] However, the response of Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah was relatively cautious and restrained. In a speech delivered on December 7, 2017, one day after Trump’s announcement, he expressed support for a new Palestinian intifada, and called on the Arab and Muslim world “not to stand idly by” but rather to “offer full moral, political, monetary, and material support, and also aid with weapons, to the Palestinian people” – but did not promise that Hizbullah would be participating in this intifada. He also called on people throughout the world to respond to Trump’s move by “posting hundreds of millions of tweets and hundreds of millions of positions on social media,” adding that this is the duty of every man and woman worldwide and promising that it would have real impact.[2] In another speech several days later, Nasrallah again stressed the importance of social media activism against Trump’s move.[3]
Nasrallah’s statements provoked scornful reactions from Lebanese journalists and politicians, and from social media users, who claimed that he had transformed from an armed resistance fighter into a “digital warrior.” They also complained that his reaction, as well as the reactions of Iranian officials, reflected their helplessness and lack of real concern about the Palestinian issue.
This report reviews the responses to Nasrallah’s statements on Twitter and in the Lebanese press.
Responses On Twitter: Nasrallah Is Defending Jerusalem With Hashtags And Tweets
Lebanese Twitter users, as well as activists associated with the Syrian opposition, heaped scorn on Nasrallah’s call for social media action, and the Syrians also pointed to the discrepancy between his restrained reaction in the matter of Jerusalem and his movement’s armed involvement in Syria.
A Lebanese user calling himself “Dissident of the Party of Satan [a derogatory name for Hizbullah]” tweeted: “The villain from the Dahia [Hizbullah’s Beirut stronghold] has screeched. The villain Nasrallah is calling on his herd to tweet against Trump’s position on Jerusalem! Where are your missiles that can reach Haifa and beyond?[4] Shame on you, villain.”[5]
The following day, the same user tweeted a Hizbullah flag bearing the Twitter icon and the slogan “Hizbullah are the Tweeters” (instead of “Hizbullah are the Victors”), with the comment: “Jerusalem has exposed Nasrallah’s mercenary ways. This is the new flag of the Party of Satan [Hizbullah]. The screeching of the villain from the Dahia, Hassan Nasrallah, has confirmed what was [already] certain: [that] Hizbullah is the creation of the Zionist-Iranian alliance.”[6]
Lebanese journalist Jerry Maher, a known opponent of Hizbullah, tweeted the day after Nasrallah’s speech: “The terrorist Hizbullah [organization] used every kind of weapon to confront and kill the Syrian people, but when it comes to Jerusalem they use tweets and social media to protest and resist! Hassan Nasrallah is soft on the Israelis but rabidly [violent] towards Sunnis!”[7]
Shi’ite Lebanese journalist ‘Ali Amin, editor of the Lebanese anti-Hizbullah Janoubia website, posted quotes from Nasrallah’s speech under the caption “Nasrallah: Wage Armed Resistance in Syria, and Tweet for Jerusalem!”[8]
Ahead of Nasrallah’s second speech, Nadim Koteich, another Shi’ite Lebanese journalist who opposes Hizbullah, tweeted: “In Hassan Nasrallah’s speech this afternoon, expect the announcement of an Instagram platform to reinforce the arsenal of resistance axis [weapons] for confronting Israel and liberating Jerusalem. We defend Jerusalem with the blades of our tweets.”[9]
Faysal Al-Qassem, a Syrian television host on Al-Jazeera, tweeted: “The new slogan of the resistance [Hizbullah] and the resistance [axis] is: “Missiles for Syria and Hashtags for Israel.”[10]
‘Alaa Sunnoufi, who identifies as a Syrian opposition activist, tweeted in response to Nasrallah’s speech: “Now we know why there was no retaliation against the Israeli [war]planes in the skies of Syria and Lebanon. The range of the anti-aircraft Hashtag Ra’d-1 and Hashtag Aqsa-2 missiles is not long enough.”[11]
Syrian journalist Majed ‘Abd Al-Noor wrote on Twitter in a similar vein: “Breaking news: Tweet launched by Hassan Nasrallah in South Lebanon lands in Israeli settlement”[12]
Syrian Twitter user Maher Sharaf Al-Din tweeted: “After Nasrallah demanded to tweet in response to Trump’s decision, we are wondering: Sayyid[13] [Nasrallah], why did you not tell your supporters to tweet at the Syrians instead of sending them to kill, slaughter and destroy?”[14]
Responding to this tweet, a user calling himself “Hassan Nasrallah 5” posted an image showing Twitter icons bearing names of Iranian missiles (Ra’ad-2, Zilzal, Khaibar-3, Fajr-6, Sakher-4).[15]
Lebanese Journalists Mock Nasrallah: He Wants To Liberate Jerusalem Using Twitter
Lebanese Journalist: Nasrallah Has Become A Digital Warrior, Attacking With Tweets And “Likes”
As stated, criticism of Nasrallah’s speech was also expressed in the Lebanese press. On December 12, 2017, journalist Rashed Fayed published a mocking article in the Al-Nahar daily, in which he wrote: “The truth which cannot be camouflaged or concealed is that the Arabs are not the only helpless nation… The Persian nation [can] be added [to the list as well]. What Trump has done is to expose everyone’s helplessness, the boasting of the resistance axis, and the conspiracy of those who support [the principle of] ‘land for peace.’
“It is enough to ask: What can empty the Palestinian issue of substance more than the pronouncement that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, [a pronouncement] that challenges the U.N., its decisions, and the peace plan based on two states?[16] This is the greatest and most blatant crime against the Palestinians and their hopes since the Nakba [in 1948]. When Trump raised his hand and held up the document of recognition, the illusion crept into [my] mind that… this may be the chance for the resistance [axis to prove] its bravery and for Khamenei, Nasrallah, and Hizbullah [to make good] on their threats.
“However, the surprise came when Trump’s position transformed Nasrallah into a social media activist who is adept at sharing tweets, ‘likes,’ and so on, while the chief advisor to the [Iranian] Jurisprudent [Ali Khamenei], Hossein Amir Abdollahian, revealed his astrological powers when he foresaw an apocalypse for the region. After the adherents of [Iran’s] Islamic Revolution [endlessly] drummed into our ears that they were waiting for Israel to make a mistake so that they could destroy it, we [recently] heard the Friday preacher in Tehran, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, say that ‘Iran is developing its ballistic capabilities so as to deter its enemies, and will burn Tel Aviv and Haifa if the insane Zionist entity tries to do something foolish one of these days.’ In other words, Tehran is lying in wait [for Israel] so as to defend itself, not in order to liberate Palestine… Nasrallah, who only recently boasted that he has thousands of fighters ready to go into Syria, has forgotten that such a force could liberate Al-Aqsa, and has become a digital warrior dispensing advice about how to hit the Zionists of Jerusalem with tweets and text messages.
“The reactions of the resistance [axis] show us that neither [Qassem] Soleimani, [the commander of Iran’s Qods Force, which is part of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)], nor [the Commander of the IRGC itself, Mohammad Ali] Al-Jaafari, nor Abdollahian, nor [Iran’s Supreme Leader], Imam Khamenei himself, has the capability to confront [the U.S. and Israel] with anything other than whining and cries of ‘Death to America.’ [This,] while their adopted son in Lebanon [Nasrallah] lashes out with his tongue and dispenses advice all around, and calls for war by means of a new Palestinian intifada that has absolutely no need of his approval in order to start up. And as for his speeches since 2006 about the [anticipated] confrontation [with Israel] and about the readiness [of his organization for it], he has basically put an end to that.
“The main thing that stands out in the reactions to Trump’s announcement… is that the accusations of negligence, sycophancy, defeatism, and surrender that Tehran has leveled at others constitute the ‘sole act of resistance’ carried out by the so-called ‘resistance axis,’ from the Dahia to Tehran…”[17]
Lebanese Daily: Nasrallah Unveils A New Weapon With Which To Liberate Palestine – Social Media
Journalist Walid Hussein wrote in the Lebanese online daily Al-Mudun: “Nasrallah’s speech seems to have come from a different era, namely the era of civic activism, but using modern means, namely social media. We aren’t used to this kind of thing from the armed Hizbullah, which declares openly that it has more than a hundred thousand missiles with which to destroy the oppressive entity [Israel], and is always promising the ‘believers’ [to do so]. But Nasrallah’s speech unveiled a new weapon with which to realize the dream of regaining Palestine from the river to the sea. He called on Lebanese and Arab citizens… to express condemnation of Donald Trump’s decision… on social media… Nasrallah’s speech was met with an unprecedented wave of jokes from social media activists…
“The great paradox here doesn’t lie [only] in the fact that [Hizbullah] availed itself of the help of the [Iranian IRGC’s] Qods Force, which is armed to the teeth, in order to ‘liberate’ Syria, but made do with the weapons of demonstrations and tweets in order to liberate Jerusalem… The paradox [also lies in the fact that an organization like] Hizbullah called for the use of this non-violent weapon. [Also,] Twitter and Facebook have been blocked to users in Iran since 2009, after the protests in response to the election of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad… Will Nasrallah’s speech be the trigger for the [re-]opening of the virtual space to the Iranians, so that they will be able to take part in the virtual campaign to liberate Jerusalem, so long as it is not yet time to [launch] Khaibar, Ra’ad, and Shehab missiles? Or perhaps [these sites] will remain blocked [in Iran], while the missiles remain in storage, waiting ‘for the right place and time?
“There is additional significance to the weapon of tweets: it has put Hizbullah in the same place as the Arab officials whom it criticizes. Hizbullah has long criticized these [officials] for their negligence and for making do with condemnations and declarations that do not lead to the regaining of Jerusalem… Will the Hizbullah tweets be different from those of the Arab League, for example, which condemns ‘the manipulation of the status of Jerusalem that leads to instability in the region’? Does Nasrallah believe that the tweets from his public will be more ‘destructive?'”[18]
Head Of The Independent Nasserite Movement (INM) In Lebanon: Twitter And Facebook Are Nasrallah’s Missiles
Dr. Ziad Al-‘Ajouz, who heads the Leadership Council of the Independent Nasserite Movement (INM), leveled similar criticism at Nasrallah in an interview with the Kuwaiti daily Al-Siyassa, in which he said: “Nasrallah’s false claims that his weapons are intended for confrontation with the Zionist enemy have collapsed. He [apparently] believes that the road to Jerusalem passes through Damascus, Homs, Aleppo, Iraq, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Yemen. He is laughing in the face of the world and of our peoples. When he had to express a serious position [about the means] to actualize his declaration about the defense of Jerusalem after U.S. President Trump recognized it as the capital of the Zionist entity, Hassan Nasrallah declared that today the defense of Jerusalem is to be carried out through demonstrations and through opposing [Trump’s step] on social media. Twitter and Facebook have become Nasrallah’s missiles for the liberation of Jerusalem, while his ballistic missiles are reserved for attacks on Arab cities. The great plot against the Arabs has thus been exposed. Is there any greater moral [of this story] or evidence [to be deduced]?”[19]
1] On reactions to Trump’s announcement across the Arab world, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No.7217,
Reactions To U.S. President Trump’s Jerusalem Announcement: Hamas, Resistance Axis Call For Violence, Attacks On U.S. Interests; Palestinian Authority, Moderate Arab Countries Express Restrained Condemnation, Hope For Retraction, December 10, 2017; for Iranian reactions to Trump’s announcement, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No.7230, Reactions In Iran To Trump’s Recognition Of Jerusalem As Israel’s Capital: Incitement To Violence, Calls To Revive Intifada And Destroy Israel, December 15, 2017.
[2], December 7, 2017.
[3], December 11, 2017.
[4] An allusion to Nasrallah’s speech during the 2006 Lebanon-Israel war, in which he said that his organization’s missiles could reach Haifa and “even way, way beyond Haifa.”
[5], December 7, 2017.
[6], December 8, 2017.
[7], December 8, 2017.
[8], December 8, 2017.
[9], December 11, 2017.
[10], December 7, 2017.
[11], December 8, 2017.
[12], December 8, 2017.
[13] A title of honor denoting people accepted as descendants of the Prophet Muhammad.
[14], December 7, 2017.
[15], December 8, 2017.
[16] The reference is to the Arab Peace Initiative, which was unanimously accepted at the 2002Arab League summit in Beirut, and endorsed by other Islamic countries as well.
[17] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), December 12, 2017.
[18] Al-Mudun (Lebanon), December 8, 2017.
[19] Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), December 16, 2017.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 26-27/17
Bahrain FM: Iran’s state shall remain while the regime will be gone
Al Arabiya/December 27/2017/In a tweet posted by Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, he said that “Iran and its followers know who stands in the face of their despicable expansionist project, stressing that Iran as a state will go on, but its regime will be gone”. He also added that if his statement is considered offensive to Iran, that “it doesn’t bother him”. “Iran and its followers know who stands in the face of their expansionist plan and who conspires against us, God save the king and his loyal men,” the foreign minister tweeted. “I repeat and I will not waste the opportunity, Iran shall remain but the Islamic Republic is just a temporary status, an odd state that will pass,” he said. “If the Islamic Republic does not like our words, let it drink the waters of the sea and strike its head in the four walls,” using proverbs suggesting Iran’s futile action.“We and our brothers will be closely watching and will face its schemes,” he said.

UAE court sentences 13 on terror and espionage charges
Al Arabiya/December 27/2017/Jail sentences ranging between 18 months to 15 years were handed out to 13 individuals by the Abu Dhabi Federal Court of Appeals on Tuesday, local media reported. Fines of Dh50,000 ($13,615) up until Dh1 million were also issued in cases related to the “promotion of terrorism, espionage for foreign countries and the joining of terrorist organizations,” according to the Dubai-based Gulf News. Among those convicted was 28-year-old Emirati, identified as H.A.M.M, who was sentenced to 15 years for spying for Iran. The Emirati was reportedly found guilty of sharing confidential military information to Iranian agents working at the Iranian embassy in Abu Dhabi. The court ordered him to pay for all judicial expenses and a confiscation of all documents and communications was placed. In addition to this sentence, a Sudanese woman, 46, was sentenced to 10 years and deportation for assisting the Emirati in contacting the Iranian agents. Another Emirati man, 45, was also sentenced to 10 years in prison and was given a Dh1 million fine for supporting terrorist ideologies, such as those of ISIS in Syria and Ansar Al Sharia in Yemen. The Emirati was further found guilty of releasing false articles about Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The court also sentenced four Jordanians to 10 years and each was given a Dh1 million fine for creating pages on social media that support the ideology of terrorist organizations and circulating information that could jeopardize the stability of the UAE, consisting of false information on UAE foreign policy. Additionally, another case saw a 35-year-old Emirati receive 10 years in prison and a Dh100,000 fine after he was found guilty of espionage for Iran. He was ordered to be placed under probation for three years after his term is served. The man’s accomplice, a 45-year-old Bahraini was sentenced to three years and to pay Dh50,000. He was also found guilty for insulting UAE leaders. In the final case, two Syrians were found guilty for joining terrorist organizations ISIS and Al Nusra Front. Each were given seven-year prison sentences, each to be followed by deportation. A third suspect, 17-year-old Syrian received 18 months in prison.

Saudi crown prince meets with Turkish prime minister

Al Arabiya/December 27/2017/Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz with Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim in Riyadh on Wednesday. During the meeting, both reviewed bilateral relations between the two countries and ways of enhancing them in addition to the latest developments in the region. “The talks were attended by Minister of State and Cabinet's Member Dr. Musaed bin Mohammed Al-Aiban; Minister of Commerce and Investment Dr. Majed bin Abdullah Al-Qasabi; Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr. Nizar bin Obaid Madani; Chief of General Intelligence Khalid bin Ali Al-Humaidan and Saudi Ambassador to Turkey Engineer Waleed bin Abdulkarim Al-Khuraiji,” a statement from Saudi Press Agency (SPA) read. On the Turkish side, the meeting was attended by members of the delegation accompanying the visiting Prime Minister.

Saudi king receives, holds talks with Turkish prime minister

Al Arabiya/December 27/2017/Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz has received Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim in Riyadh on Wednesday. King Salman and PM Yildirim held talks during which they reviewed bilateral relations between the two countries, means of enhancing them, and latest developments in the region. “The talks were attended by Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz, Governor of Riyadh Region, Minister of State and Member of the Council of Ministers Dr. Musaed bin Mohammed Al-Aiban, Minister of Commerce and Investment Dr. Majed bin Abdullah Al-Qasabi, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr. Nizar bin Obaid Madani, Saudi Ambassador to Turkey Engineer Walid bin Abdulkarim Al-Khuraiji and the Chief of General Intelligence Khalid bin Ali Al-Humaidan,” a statement on Saudi Press Agency (SPA) read. On the Turkish side, the talks were attended by the delegation accompanying the Prime Minister.

Coalition raids kill and wound dozens of the Houthi militia in al-Jawf
Al Arabiya/December 27/2017/Sanaa – The Yemeni army announced on Wednesday that dozens of Houthi militia fighters have been killed and injured as a result of the intensive coalition air raids of the Arab alliance on their positions in the province of al-Jawf north of the country. The official website of the Yemeni army quoted a field source as saying: “The air raids targeted sites and mechanisms of combat and weapons storages of the militia located in the Ham camp in the directorate of Mitoun north of the province.”According to the source, the raids led to the deaths and injuries of the militia, in addition to the destruction of heavy vehicles along with weapons and ammunition. He explained that other raids targeted a gathering of militia elements in a training camp led by the Houthi leader Abdul-Karim al-Houthi, in the valley of Soda Madhab, located between the directorates of Burt al-Marashi and Harf Sufian. He confirmed that the raids resulted in dozens of deaths and injuries among the Houthis. The Yemeni army, with the assistance of coalition air forces liberated large areas in the border province of al-Jawf with Saudi Arabia. Most notably, they took control over the region and the Ajashr strategic camp and consolidated the Jawf and Saada, the main stronghold of the Houthi militia in the far north of Yemen.

Houthis seize and detain bank accounts of 1,223 Yemeni officials and citizens
Al Arabiya/December 27/2017/Houthis have sent an order to seize and detain the banks accounts and properties of more than 1,000 Yemeni officials including ministers in the legitimate government, political activists, those against the coup, and upper and middle party leaders. Based on these directives, the Central Bank of Yemen in Sanaa ordered banks in the private and mixed sectors to detain a number of bank accounts – as seen in the attached statements below. The statements, released under the name of the “Committee for the collection and receipt of traitors’ property (CCRTP)” and addressed to the Houthi operated Central Bank of Yemen, included nearly 1223 names the Houthi’s have labelled as “traitors.”The list of names starts with the Minister of Social Affairs and Labor in the legitimate Yemeni government, Ibtihaj Abdullah al-Kamal and Yousef Hussein Mahdi. Heading what they’ve called the CCRTP is Houthi leader and deputy minister of interior in the illegitimate government Abdulhakim al-Khiwani. This is the first time the CCRTP has been brought to light. The date it was established is unknown. The committee justified its decision as being based on what it has called the Specialized Criminal Apparatus and therefore requested the Central Bank to circulate its decision to seize accounts and properties to all official and private banks in accordance to the attached memo dated on December 23.
23rd of December Houthi statement. (Supplied)

Argentina judge says death of prosecutor Nisman was murder
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters)/December 26/17/- Alberto Nisman, the Argentine prosecutor who was found dead days after accusing former President Cristina Fernandez of covering up Iran’s role in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center, was murdered, a federal judge said on Tuesday.
In a 656-page ruling, judge Julian Ercolini said there was sufficient proof to conclude that the shot to the head that killed Nisman in January 2015 was not self-inflicted. That marked the first time any judge has said the case was a murder. Fernandez and others had suggested the death was a suicide, but a prosecutor investigating the case last year recommended it be pursued as a murder probe. “Nisman’s death could not have been a suicide,” Ercolini wrote in Tuesday’s ruling, which also charged Diego Lagomarsino, a former employee of Nisman‘s, with accessory to murder.
Lagomarsino has acknowledged lending Nisman the gun that killed him the day before he was to appear before Congress to detail his allegation against Fernandez. But he has said Nisman asked him for the gun to protect himself and his family.Fernandez, now a senator, was indicted for treason earlier this month over Nisman’s allegations that she worked behind the scenes to clear Iran of blame for the attack on the AMIA Jewish center, which killed 85 people, in an effort to normalize relations and clinch a 2013 grains-for-oil deal with Tehran.
Human rights groups and the former head of Interpol have criticized that indictment. Tehran has denied links to the attack.
Reporting by Maximiliano Rizzi; writing by Luc Cohen, editing by G Crosse

Negotiations to Guarantee Tahrir al-Sham Evacuation from Syria’s Beit Jin
Asharq AL-awsat/26/12/2017/The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights announced that negotiations are ongoing in the southwestern Damascus countryside to reach an agreement over ensuring the exit of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham from from the region. The plan is to transport them to the northern Idlib province. The negotiations for the plan came after weeks of heavy rocket fire and barrel bombing of the region by the Syrian regime, said “trusted” sources. They were made possible recently after the regime and its allies were able to surround the opposition factions and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham in a narrow area in the town of Beit Jin that is close to the border with Lebanon and Israel, they added. The regime and its Iran-backed allied were able to infiltrate the last remaining opposition stronghold near the strategic Lebanese-Israeli border. The enclave is the last rebel bastion left in the southwest of Damascus known as the Western Ghouta that had since last year fallen under government control after months of heavy bombing on civilian areas and years of siege tactics that forced rebels to surrender. A western intelligence source confirmed rebel reports that Iranian-backed local factions alongside commanders from the Lebanese “Hezbollah” group were playing a major role in the ongoing battles. “The Iranian-backed militias are trying to consolidate their sphere of influence all the way from southwest of Damascus to the Israeli border,” said Suhaib al Ruhail, an official from the Liwa al Furqan rebel group that operates in the area. Worried by Iran’s expanding influence in Syria after the defeat of ISIS, Israel has in recent weeks stepped up its strikes against suspected Iranian targets inside Syria. Early this month there was an Israeli strike on a base near Kiswah, south of Damascus, that was widely believed to be an Iranian military compound, a Western intelligence source said. Israel has been lobbying Washington and Moscow to deny Iran, “Hezbollah” and other militias any permanent bases in Syria, and to keep them away from the Golan, as they gain ground while helping Damascus beat back rebels. The southwest of Syria is part of a de-escalation zone in southern Syria agreed last July between Russia and the United States, the first such understanding between the two powers. The area has not seen Russian bombing, unlike other ceasefire areas in Syria.

10 Hurt in Russia Supermarket Bombing
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 27/17/A homemade bomb blast at a supermarket in the Russian city of Saint Petersburg injured 10 people Wednesday, officials said. "According to preliminary information, an explosion of an unidentified object occurred in a store," Investigative Committee spokeswoman Svetlana Petrenko said in a statement. The blast was caused by a "homemade explosive device with the power equivalent to 200 grammes of TNT filled with lethal fragments," she said. "The investigation is looking at all possible causes of what happened," she said, adding that a probe for attempted murder had been launched."Ten people have been hospitalized, their lives are not in danger," said the head of Saint Petersburg investigative unit Alexander Klaus, Interfax news agency reported. An AFP correspondent at the scene observed first responders and police as well as a car belonging the Federal Security Service (FSB), which investigates acts of terror. Police said the blast occurred in a supermarket northeast of the city center, with sources telling Russian agencies that the explosive device had been placed in a storage locker. "About 6:30pm there was the sound of a blast. As a result, several people have been injured," the Saint Petersburg police said, giving the incident's location. "There is no fire. All shoppers have been evacuated," an emergencies ministry representative told Interfax. Witness Artur Yeritsyan told TASS news agency that he heard the blast and saw smoke in the shop, but that there were not a lot of customers at the time, with some victims being taken away by ambulances. Russia's second city Saint Petersburg was the target of a metro bombing in April, which lead to fourteen deaths and dozens of people wounded. The bombing was claimed by a group linked to al-Qaida which said it was a message to countries engaged in war with Muslims.

Medical Evacuations Begin from Besieged Syria Rebel Bastion
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 27/17/Aid workers have begun evacuating emergency medical cases from Syria's besieged rebel bastion of Eastern Ghouta, the Red Cross said on Wednesday, after months of waiting during which the United Nations said at least 16 people died. Families waited in the darkness in the rebel-held town of Douma for their loved ones to board ambulances bound for hospitals in the capital Damascus. Under a deal with the government, five workmen detained by the rebels during fierce clashes with the army in March were released in exchange. Three children were among the first four patients to leave, Red Crescent official Ahmed al-Saour told AFP. He said in total 29 seriously ill people were due to be evacuated. The first four were a girl with haemophilia, a baby with the autoimmune disorder Guillain-Barre, a child with leukaemia, and a man in need of a kidney transplant, he said.
Eight-year-old Ingy, the girl with haemophilia, gave a broad smile as she boarded an ambulance, wearing a woolly hat and gloves against the cold. In another ambulance, one-year-old Mohammed lay in the lap of a Red Crescent worker, his mother sitting beside them in a long black cloak and a veil showing only her eyes. "Tonight the @SYRedCrescent with @ICRC team started the evacuation of critical medical cases from #EasternGhouta to #Damascus," the International Committee of the Red Cross said on its Twitter account.
The Syrian American Medical Society, another medical relief organisation, said the evacuations covered "29 critical cases, approved for medical evacuation to Damascus. Four patients were evacuated today."It said the remainder would be evacuated in the coming days.
The dominant rebel faction in Eastern Ghouta, Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam), said the rebels had agreed to free some of their prisoners in return for the evacuations. "We have agreed to the release of a number of prisoners... in exchange for the evacuation of the most urgent humanitarian cases," the group said a statement. Eastern Ghouta is one of the last remaining rebel strongholds in Syria and has been under a tight government siege since 2013, causing severe food and medical shortages for its nearly 400,000 residents. While some food is still grown locally, or smuggled in, humanitarian access to the region has been limited despite regular appeals from aid agencies.
Baby among dead -Last week, Jan Egeland, the head of the UN's humanitarian taskforce for Syria, warned that at least 16 people had died while waiting for evacuation from Eastern Ghouta. He said a list put together several months ago of nearly 500 civilians in desperate need of evacuation was rapidly shrinking.
"That number is going down, not because we are evacuating people, but because they are dying," he told reporters in Geneva. "We have confirmation of 16 having died on these lists since they were resubmitted in November, and it is probably higher," he said, highlighting the case of a baby who died on December 14, as the latest round of Syria peace talks in Geneva ended in failure. Egeland said evacuations and efforts to bring aid into the region had been blocked by a lack of authorisations from the Syrian authorities. The Eastern Ghouta region, near the capital Damascus, is one of the last strongholds of rebels fighting the forces of President Bashar al-Assad. It is one of four "de-escalation" zones agreed in May in a deal brokered by government backers Russian and Iran and rebel supporter Turkey. The agreement led to some reduction in fighting but the government kept up its blockade and renewed its bombardment of the enclave in mid-November. The government stands accused by its critics of using sieges of civilians as a weapon in its war against the rebels. Rebel fighters pulled out of second city Aleppo and third city Homs, as well as districts of Damascus, only after prolonged blockades caused serious hardship to their families and other civilians. More than 340,000 people have been killed and millions have been driven from their homes since Syria's conflict erupted with anti-government protests in 2011.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 26-27/17
Five Challanges For Israel If Syrian Regime Retakes Golan Border Region
Jerusalem Post/December 27/17/
In recent weeks the Syrian regime has launched a small offensive to isolate and retake several villages located near the Hermon.
For the last five years Israel has been on the front line of the Syrian civil war as clashes between rebel groups and the Damascus regime of Bashar Assad unfolded near the Golan. In the last few weeks the regime has opened a small offensive to isolate and retake several villages located near Mount Hermon. This is seen as the first in a series of moves that will eventually bring the regime and its backers in Iran and Hezbollah back to the border, raising major concerns for Israel.
The following are the major challenges:
Rebel groups control dozens of villages that separate the area of Israeli control on the Golan from the Syrian regime. Many of those are located in an area covered under a cease-fire agreement signed in July by the US, Russia and Jordan. At the moment, the rebels’ hold is most precarious on the village of Beit Jinn and the nearby Mazra’at Beit Jinn and Mugh al-Mir, which are located in a small finger of rebel-controlled territory near Mount Hermon. These villages are flanked on three sides by the regime and its allies. If they fall, which is expected to happen soon, some of the wounded and civilians from the villages may seek shelter in Israel. This is because Israel has treated thousands of Syrians over the past years. The total was estimated at around 3,000 by July 2017, including 1,000 children. They have not sought to remain in Israel. That could change, however, if they cannot return to their villages, or if they fear reprisals. The Syrian regime has attempted to “reconcile” with villages it is retaking, encouraging locals to accept Damascus rule in return for not being persecuted. Some of the armed rebels have been allowed to leave on buses in agreements in other areas of Syria.
However, years of Israeli fostering relations with locals, treating them, and sending aid across the border may have created some kind of dependency. When the day comes that the villages fall to the regime, Israel will have to monitor what happens closely and craft a policy for any refugees seeking a haven.
Terrorism and ISIS
Mixed in among the rebels on the Syrian side of the Golan have been elements of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, which was originally al-Qaida in Syria and was known as the Nusra Front for a while. This extremist organization could pose a threat to Israel if it felt that pressure on it by the regime might be lessened by getting Israel involved in the conflict. The problem is that Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham does not operate within clear boundaries and is not part of the cease-fire agreement on the Golan. As such it can carry out operations, such as the bombing against Druse in the village of Khadr which is controlled by the regime. Attacks on Khadr have created controversy in Israel because Druse on the Israeli side of the Golan feel sympathy for their co-religionists. In addition, Islamic State controls a section of the southern Golan near Jordan. This is an ISIS affiliate named the Khalid ibn al-Walid Army. It is also not part of the cease-fire agreement and has spent the last years fighting the Syrian rebels. Eventually the regime or the rebels will seek to destroy this ISIS pocket, and that will involve battles next to Israeli forces. There has only been one Israeli clash in the past with this ISIS group, in 2016. But changes on the ground in Syria could encourage more.
Israel has repeatedly stressed the need to prevent Iran from establishing permanent bases in Syria, especially anywhere near the Golan. The foreign media outlet Asharq al-Awsat reported that Israel had requested in July via Russia that Assad keep Iranian forces at least 40 km. away from the border.
On December 2, Syrian regime media accused Israel of bombing an Iranian base at Kiswah, south of Damascus. This is only one of many alleged air strikes, often reported in Syrian or other media. In November, Russia, the US and Jordan recommitted to the southwest Syrian cease-fire. Initially Israeli media reported that Russia had committed to expel Iranian-backed forces near the Golan, but Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov disputed those claims, describing the Iranian presence as “legitimate.” Iran’s support has been invited by the Syrian government. Any moves toward the Golan by the regime raise the issue of what role Iran and its proxies are playing and increase the chance for clashes and tensions.
In early December, President Vladimir Putin flew to Syria and announced that Russian troops were beginning a withdrawal from Syria. Moscow has declared victory over ISIS. Its support for the regime in 2015 was a key reason Assad remained in power. Since then Russia has hosted conferences in Astana and Sochi designed to seek a more peaceful resolution to the conflict. It has supported “de-escalation” zones in Syria, one of which is in southwest Quneitra Governorate. The idea is to freeze parts of the conflict. However, Damascus has vowed to take back the entire country. In 2017 it made major gains in this respect, taking back a huge swath of desert from ISIS near the Euphrates.
The question for Israel is whether Russia’s alliance with the regime will ever come up against an Israeli redline concerning the Iranian presence.Moscow doesn’t appear prepared to defend Iranian forces in Syria, and the reduction of the Russian presence leads to reduced concerns. This is buoyed by the close relationship between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Putin. However, there may come a time with any Syrian advance near the Golan where Israel and Russia do not see eye to eye.
The cease-fire
The truce agreement in southwest Syria was signed in early July and a Memorandum of Principles was drawn up in early November. The cease-fire is expected to last for many more months, at least until it is a year old. For the regime the more serious fighting is likely to be in the north in Idlib with more extremist rebel groups. Also, Damascus wants to recover from six years of war. It wants international aid and support for rebuilding cities, and it still has to police large parts of the country only recently liberated from ISIS. It has relied on support from Iran and Hezbollah, the latter of which is also exhausted by war.
The cease-fire is the main instrument of quiet on the Golan. If the rebels or the regime see an interest in changing it, then Israel will be on alert. At the moment the complex situation is quiet. This includes areas where the regime is very close to Israel, such as near Khadr. The maintenance of this quiet has been an achievement of Israel, Syria, Russia, the US and Jordan.

America's growing lack of interest in the Middle East comes at its peril
غياب اهتمام أميركا بالشرق الأوسط يعطي أخطاره
Michael Young/The National/December 27/17
It is remarkable that in just nine years, the United States has lost much of the influence it once had in the Middle East, which it had taken more than six decades to build. Ironically, under both presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, the decline has largely been voluntary, from administrations that initially claimed they would coolly pursue US national interests.
Mr Obama couched his disinterest in the Middle East in what was termed his “pivot to Asia”, which was effectively a pivot away from the region. Mr Trump, in turn, has promised to reverse his predecessor’s disengagement, vowing to contain Iran’s growing influence. However, it has been mostly words until now. There have been few efforts to push back against Iran in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, or Yemen, build a united Arab front against Tehran, or move forward in Palestinian-Israeli talks, a reality the Iranians have attempted to exploit.
During the Second World War, Washington defined a post-war role in the Middle East at a meeting between Franklin Roosevelt and King Abdulaziz Al Saud. The Americans sought a stable supply of oil in return for US military support for the Kingdom. This oil-for-security arrangement was a pillar of Washington’s regional presence until Mr Obama took a different tack as the US itself became a major oil supplier and pursued an opening to Iran in 2015.
During the 1950s, the Eisenhower administration intervened forcefully to impose a settlement on Britain, France and Israel in the aftermath of the Suez Crisis of 1956. This marked the first moment of affirmation against the former colonial powers in the region. The US focus then was on containing Soviet influence, which involved, for a time, building ties to anti-communist Arab nationalist regimes. That was before the US formulated the Eisenhower doctrine, offering aid to countries threatened by armed aggression from another state.
US intervention in Lebanon in 1958, like the overthrow of Iranian prime minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953, was partly driven by fear that Moscow might gain ground, even if realities in both countries were different.
Following the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, Washington took a different approach to the Middle East. The war placed a settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict at the centre of regional preoccupations and only the US could be the mediator. By the end of the decade, Washington had become a major weapons supplier to Israel, even as Egypt’s leaders came to understand that the Americans alone could secure an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Sinai.
The 1970s was the decade in which US supremacy would be greatly strengthened, despite the revolution in Iran. The Soviet Union could not compete with the US in the range of initiatives over which Washington had a say, from the negotiations after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war to those leading up to the Camp David Accords of 1978. Even prominent Soviet allies, such as Syria under then president Hafez Al Assad, understood they needed to open channels to the US.
This pattern would more or less continue until 2009, when Mr Obama sought a conceptual change towards the region. He was reacting to eight years of president George W Bush, during which the US had engaged in several wars in the greater Middle East, causing a major economic burden for the country. To Mr Obama, the region had eaten up too much US time and money and he questioned the foundations of previous US behaviour in the region.
While in office, Mr Obama engaged with the Arab world reluctantly and when he did so, he brought a revisionist reconsideration of the past. For instance, he undermined the security understanding with Saudi Arabia by trying to establish a new relationship with the Iranian regime, which Riyadh viewed then, and still does, as a regional aggressor.
In an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, Mr Obama famously said the Saudis and Iran needed “to find an effective way to share the neighbourhood and institute some sort of cold peace.” His efforts did not lead to the expected detente, with Iran’s hardliners blocking progress, even as Arab allies lost faith in Washington. Mr Trump has sought to portray himself as the anti-Obama but he suffers from the same faults as his predecessor. Both men showed a marked lack of interest in the Middle East, ignoring it at at their peril. With their focus on fighting ISIL, neither outlined a coherent US strategy for the region that would build on the strengths and ties of the past, although Mr Trump still has time to reverse that.
This attitude has cost the US the unchallenged influence it previously enjoyed. Now, old allies such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt aren’t hesitating to deal with Russia. America’s isolation from negotiations over Syria’s future, like the recent US moves in Jerusalem undermining its mediation role in prospective peace talks, have surrendered key levers of Washington’s regional power. Why a country with much clout should have given it all up for nothing in return remains a mystery.
Mr Trump wants to make America great again. Mr Obama always seemed fixated on the limits of American power. Neither could see that an unwillingness to defend and actively redefine America’s position in a volatile Middle East would only confirm its loss of direction in the world.

DEBKAfile:Hezballah-Iranian-led force, now 5km from Israeli border
قوات إيران وحزب الله باتوا في سوريا على بعد 5كلم من الحدود الإسرائيلية
DebkaFile/December 25/17
The strategic Beit Jinn enclave was allowed to fall and the Syrian rebel defenders to capitulate – without IDF intervention.
The Syrian-Hizballah-Iranian led attackers completed their capture of the Beit Jinn enclave on Tuesday, Dec. 26, forcing the Syrian rebel defenders to capitulate and gaining close access to Israel’s northern border and the Quneitra pocket of the Golan. For their final push, the attackers were reinforced Sunday by Hizballah troops from Lebanon and the Syrian army’s Golan Regiment militia. On Monday, leaders of the rebel militia holding Beit Jinn met with Syrian and Hizballah officers and signed the following note of surrender:
Full reconciliation is granted to militants native to the Beit Jinn region who wish to stop fighting.
Militants who refuse the reconciliation offer are to be transported to rebel-held areas in the Daraa and Idlib Governorates.
Militants who entered the Beit Jinn region through Israeli-controlled territory via Daraa are to exit back to Daraa through the same route.
The Syrian Arab Army will regain control over all military sites and bases in the Beit Jinn valley that it possessed prior to the beginning of the civil war in 2011.
The terms of the surrender are to be implemented on Tuesday the 26th of December, 2017.
As DEBKAfile reported on Monday, the IDF’s failure to force Druze inhabitants of the Golan village of Hader to open up a southwesterly escape route, would force the embattled Beit Jinn rebels to surrender and negotiate terms for their retreat. Since there was no IDF intervention, the rebels had no option but to bow to the terms dictated by Syrian, Hizballah and Revolutionary Guards officers, and let them move into to positions 6km from the Golan border. No impediment now remains in the path of the three hostile forces for heading towards Israeli Golan. Furthermore, by allowing its allies to lose control of Beit Jinn, Israel virtually signed away military control of the Quneitra pocket. It may be recalled that in October 1973, the Syrian army launched its Yom Kippur offensive for the conquest of northern Israel from this very location.
On Monday, DEBKAfile reported:
The Syrian-Hizballah-pro-Iranian force gain reinforcements from Lebanon and Syria to complete the successful bid for Beit Jinn and close in on Israel.
The Beit Jinn enclave faces the IDF’s Mt. Hermon positions and is 11 km from the Israeli border. Its fall is critical to the fate of the Quneitra region opposite the Israeli Golan. Three strategic setbacks confronted Israel on Sunday, Dec. 25 in the wake of the tripartite military’s capture of Maghar Al-Mir (see attached map) which split the Beit Jinn enclave in two.
Syrian and Hizballah forces continued to push forward east and south, while their officers pinned the defenders, the Islamist Hayat al-Tahrir al-Sham rebels, to the wall with an ultimatum: Hand over the fighters accused of ties with Israel in return for a safe passage of retreat from the embattled enclave, or face destruction.
The attackers mobilized reinforcements from a new direction – Lebanon. A column of Hizballah forces drove in Sunday, Dec. 24, from the southern Lebanese outpost of Chebaa and crossed into Syria to join the assault on the rebels.
Damascus, moreover, sent in the Golan Regiment militia to clinch the Beit Jinn battle, in the expectation that its fall would also have a domino effect on Israeli-backed rebel defenders in the entire Quneitra region of the Syrian Golan. The Syrian army originally established this militia for pro-Assad Druze fighters. But in the past year, it has been packed with Iranian elements linked to the Revolutionary Guards. They established a headquarters at Khan Arnaba north of Quneitra and 5km from the Israeli border. The Revolutionary Guards officers’ presence in Khan Arnaba gives Iran a direct hand in the Beit Jinn battle and its projected sequel, the fight for Quneitra right up to Israel’s Golan border and a threat to the IDF’s Hermon position.
DEBKAfile’s military sources estimate that the only way the rebels can escape the Syrian-Hizballah crunch is by going on the offensive against the Druze village of Hader in order to break open an escape route to the southwest. But the obstacle there is a pledge which Israel gave Israeli Druze leaders in November not to allow rebel forces to attack Hader. The pledge was given in the wake of violent Druze riots on the Golan and threats from Israeli Druze, some of whom hold high military ranks in the IDF, to cross the border and defend Hader themselves.
This Israeli pledge to its Druze citizens is the strongest card the Syrian, Hizballah and Iranian forces are wielding to compel the Hayat al-Tahrir al-Sham to surrender. After that, the three forces would move in and take up positions in the captured Beit Jinn enclave, and gain a jumping-off pad against Israel and its Hermon outpost. The way this affair is playing out makes naught of Israel’s government and military leaders’ solemn vow to keep Iran and Hizballah far from its borders.

UK: Going about Our "Normal" Lives?
Douglas Murray/Gatestone Institute/December 26/2017
One of the most striking images from the night of the London Borough Market terror attack was of drinkers being marched out of the Market under police escort with their hands on their heads. The British public at that point looked not like stoical, pugnacious heroes, but like a defeated army being marched into captivity.
Contrary to all our public statements, we have become terrorised, just as the terrorists want.
It is a glimpse into the soul of a city; and like all such ugly glimpses, we will turn away from looking at it, rather than considering it and wondering what it truly suggests.
Whenever Britain suffers a terrorist attack -- and it has suffered four Islamist attacks this year alone -- the British public responds the same way.
Twelve years ago, when four suicide bombers detonated homemade bombs on the London underground and on a red-top bus in central London, there was much talk of "Blitz spirit". After 7/7, the media erupted with boasts of wartime echoes. Some people who lived in London noticed a rather different atmosphere. Of course people "got on with their lives" (what else could they do?) but in the days and weeks after the attacks it was not really "business as usual". Especially not after another four suicide bombers went onto the tube a fortnight later, on July 21, and attempted to repeat the exercise. Fortunately, on that occasion the bombs failed to detonate. But during the period that ensued, it was certainly easier than usual to get a seat on the London Underground.
Of course, political leaders relish the opportunity to accentuate and exaggerate these echoes. If the British public are the citizens of London in the Blitz, then the politicians are Winston Churchill. After attacks like the 2013 daytime slaughter of Drummer Lee Rigby on the streets of London, then-Prime Minister David Cameron stressed from the steps of Downing Street that "One of the best ways of defeating terrorism is to go about our normal lives. And that is what we shall all do." These themes are thought to play deep to the spirit of the British people.
But the more this conspicuous, self-conscious egging-on of such attitudes is stressed, the thinner it seems to get. In March, after Khalid Masood ploughed a car across Westminster Bridge, mowing down locals and tourists, and crashed the car and stabbed policeman Keith Palmer to death inside the gates of the Palace of Westminster, one prominent British journalist took to the pages of the New York Times to pour out the clichés.
"By Thursday morning, London was, if not quite back to normal, then certainly back in business. As I traveled through the south of the city, up to Chelsea and later over to King's Cross, Londoners really were going about their lives as on any other day.
"This behavior reflects something deeper than conscious defiance, I think. It would simply not occur to the 8.6 million citizens of this megalopolis to allow one man to send them into hiding. As they say in the East End, you're having a laugh, aren't you?"
One wonders when the author last went into an East End pub to have a pint, and whether he honestly believes such honest cockneys still reside there? Nevertheless, he went to boast of the "stoicism" and "ancestral pride" that still exists there and to insist that, "The only way to proceed is -- in the much-loved British slogan -- to keep calm and carry on." Quite why this spirit is meant to reside in the bones of a city in which most of its current residents (according to the last census) have arrived in the decades since the Second World War is never clear.
Similar clichés spilled out after the suicide bombing at the Manchester Arena in May. They came out yet again after the London Bridge attack in June. Yet one of the most striking images from that night was of drinkers in Borough Market, where the terrorists finished their assault, being marched out of the Market under police escort with their hands on their heads. The British public at that point, at any rate, looked not like stoical, pugnacious heroes, but like a defeated army being marched into captivity. Still the clichés continued. The day after the attack, in her address to the nation, Prime Minister Theresa May assured the public that "Our response must be as it has always been when we have been confronted by violence. We must come together, we must pull together."
One of the most striking images from the June 3, 2017 Borough Market terror attack was of drinkers being marched out of the Market under police escort with their hands on their heads. The British public at that point looked not like stoical, pugnacious heroes, but like a defeated army being marched into captivity. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
So it is interesting to consider, beneath all the talk of business as usual, and Blitz spirit, and keeping calm and carrying on, what, in fact, are the British public actually feeling? Last month provided a sobering demonstration.
Early in the evening on Friday, November 24 there were reports of shots having been fired at Oxford Circus station. A crowd stampede occurred, with people fleeing in terror down Oxford Street and other parts of one of London's busiest shopping areas. Terrified crowds barricaded themselves into local shops. A celebrity singer and television presenter called Olly Murs tweeted to his millions of followers that he was in Selfridges department store. "F**k everyone get out of Selfridges now gun shots!! I'm inside." That was his first unwise tweet, followed up shortly after with, "Really not sure what's happened! I'm in the back office... but people screaming and running towards exits!"
The police announced that they were responding to events as though they were a terrorist incident. Social media and some early national media reports said that not only gunshots had been heard but that a vehicle had ploughed into pedestrians on Oxford Street and that there were bodies and blood everywhere.
Within an hour, however, all this turned out to be nonsense. Not only had there been no vehicular attack -- there had been no gunmen. Reports that the incident may have been sparked by a gang fight rather than a terrorist attack were themselves later quashed. The next day two men who thought they might have been responsible for the panic voluntarily came into a police station and were released without charge. The only casualties from the incident were 16 people injured, one seriously, as a cause of the mass stampede out of Oxford Circus station and through the neighbouring area.
Incidents like this one in London last month easily flow by in the news cycle, and are easily forgotten. They will not be referred to in the speeches of any politician and they immediately fell away from even the "News in Brief" sections of the nation's media. But they are in fact extremely telling. They suggest that rather than being this persistently stoical, unbending and resilient people, the citizens of London have absorbed the lessons of the terror attacks of the last year and the terror attacks across Europe that have occurred in the years preceding them, in Paris and elsewhere. Contrary to all our public statements, we have become terrorised, just as the terrorists want. So much so that a minor altercation on an average evening can lead to a mass panic, a crowd stampede, and terrified public figures bleating to their followers about wholly imagined horrors. It is a glimpse into the soul of a city. And like all such ugly glimpses, we will turn away from looking at it, rather than consider it and wondering what it truly suggests.
**Douglas Murray, British author, commentator and public affairs analyst, is based in London, England. His latest book, an international best-seller, is "The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam."
© 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.

Palestinians: Where Have They Gone?
Shoshana Bryen/Gatestone Institute/December 26/2017
American funding for UNRWA is problematic itself because the organization is inextricably intertwined with Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon. This may be the right time to review the number of Palestinian "refugees" in the world and the world's obligation to them.
Ten years ago, in a forum on Capitol Hill, then-Rep. Mark Kirk called for an international audit of UNRWA. Kirk admitted he was unsuccessful, despite such accounting anomalies as a $13 million entry for "un-earmarked expenses" in an audit conducted by UNRWA's own board.
Palestinians are the only "refugee" group that hands the status down through generations, which is why they are governed by UNRWA; all other refugees are under the care of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which has a mandate to settle refugees so they can become citizens of new countries.
Palestinian refugees are a slippery population -- but when 285,535 of them go missing from a small country such as Lebanon, it should raise eyebrows.
UNRWA in Lebanon reports on its website that 449,957 refugees live under its protection in 12 camps, but a survey by Lebanon's Central Administration of Statistics, together with the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, could only find 174,535. The Lebanese government said the others "left." Okay, maybe they did -- Lebanon constrained them viciously, so it would make some sense. What does NOT make sense, then, is the UN giving UNRWA a budget based on nearly half a million people when, in fact, there are far fewer than a quarter of a million. Who is paying and who is getting the money?
We are and they are.
The UNRWA website shows a budget of $2.41 billion combined for FY 2016 and 2017. The U.S. provides more than $300 million to UNRWA annually, about one-quarter of the total. In August 2017, UNRWA claimed a deficit of $126 million. A former State Department official said the budget shortfalls are chronic but that "the funds seemed eventually arrive" after pressing others for more money -- some of that additional money is from the U.S.
American funding for UNRWA is problematic itself because the organization is inextricably intertwined with Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon; see here, here and here. And specifically for Lebanon, the connection goes as far back as 2007. But stay with the "floating" population problem for a moment.
A July 2015 street celebration in Lebanon's Ain al-Hilweh camp, which is administered by UNRWA. (Image source: Geneva Call/Flickr)
The huge discrepancy in Lebanon suggests that UNRWA may have trouble counting refugees in the West Bank, Jordan, Gaza, and Syria as well. (We'll give them a pass on Syria for now.) The problem is not new, but that Palestinian agencies were running the census may help the United States overcome its own long-term obstinacy when it comes to counting and paying.
Ten years ago, a forum on Capitol Hill, then-Rep. Mark Kirk called for an international audit of UNRWA. Kirk admitted he was unsuccessful in generating demand among his colleagues despite such accounting anomalies as a $13 million entry for "un-earmarked expenses" in an audit conducted by UNRWA's own board. An amendment to the 2006 Foreign Assistance Act had called for $2 million in additional funds for UNRWA, specifically for an investigation of finances, but the amendment was withdrawn at the request of the State Department.
As a Senator, Kirk offered an amendment calling for the State Department to provide two numbers to Congress: the number of Palestinians physically displaced from their homes in what became Israel in 1948, and the number of their descendants administered by the UNRWA. The State Department denounced the amendment, saying:
"This proposed amendment would be viewed around the world as the United States acting to prejudge and determine the outcome of this sensitive issue."
Far from prejudging the outcome, a review of the number of Palestinian "refugees" in the world and the world's obligation to them would provide an honest basis from which to make policy.
In 1950, the UN defined Palestinian "refugees" as people displaced from territory that had become Israel after having lived there for two years or more -- this is distinct from every other population of refugees that must be displaced from their long-term homes. Furthermore, Palestinians are the only "refugee" group that hands the status down through generations, until there is a resolution of the status of the original group -- which is why they are governed by UNRWA; all other refugees are under the care of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which has a mandate to settle refugees so they can become citizens of new countries. UNRWA, naturally, produces the only population of refugees that grows geometrically over time rather than declining as the original refugees die and their children are no longer stateless. (See Vietnamese refugee resettlement for an example of how this works for others.)
The original population of refugees was estimated at 711,000 in 1950. Today, there appear to be 30-50,000 original refugees remaining, and UNRWA claims to care for 4,950,000 of their descendants. But 285,000 of them appear to have disappeared from Lebanon.
It has long been understood that there is an undercount of deaths in UNRWA refugee camps -- to admit a death means UNRWA loses that member in the accounting for the international community. It also wreaks havoc with Palestinian insistence that there are 6 million refugees (not UNRWA's 5 million) and that a million people are not registered, but should still have a "right of return" to homes their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents claim to have had inside the borders of Israel.
The numbers game also exists with people who do not live in refugee camps. The Palestinian Authority counts as residents 400,000 Palestinians who have lived abroad for over a year, and according to Deputy Palestinian Interior Minister Hassan Illwi, more than 100,000 babies born abroad are registered as West Bank residents -- both in contravention of population-counting norms. Jerusalem Palestinians are double-counted – once as Palestinian Authority residents and once as Israeli Palestinians. The PA, furthermore, claims zero net out-migration; Israeli government statistics differ.
How many Palestinians would there be in these territories if a proper census was taken? How many "refugees" would disappear from UNRWA rolls as they did in Lebanon? How might that affect the budget?
Can we please find out?
**Shoshana Bryen is Senior Director of the Jewish Policy Center.
© 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.

Czech President Miloš Zeman: Warrior for Truth
Josef Zbořil/Gatestone Institute/December 26/2017
"If you want the unspoken truth, Islamic migration is not possible to integrate, and it is not capable of being assimilated into European culture. " — Miloš Zeman, President of the Czech Republic.
"This country is ours. And this country is not and can not be for all." — Miloš Zeman.
"In my opinion, much of the guilt lies on the current leadership of the European Union, which is totally incompetent, bureaucratic, causing the alienation of European citizens from European institutions... We do not need censorship, we do not need an ideological police, we do not need a new press and information office if we are to continue living in a free and democratic society..." — Miloš Zaman, 2016.
Czech President Miloš Zeman, it was recently said, is "a world leader guided by principles, a man not only knows right from wrong, but has never been afraid to voice it. " Known for his longstanding support for the US, Israel and the Jews, he was the only European president publicly to support then-candidate Donald Trump before the US presidential election.
The historical relationship of Czechoslovakia, later the Czech Republic, towards Israel is most likely based on when the Czechs were overrun by Hitler in 1938, and learned the hard way that "appeasement never works". Zeman defends the Czech presidents' motto: "Truth prevails".
A Euro-federalist and leftist, Zeman became known to the public in August 1989, three months before the Velvet Revolution, thanks to an article, "Prognostics and Perestroika." In it, he criticized the totalitarian Czechoslovak régime at that time:
"The stolen future was not shared by a society which was not planning for itself but for which plans were being made.... Current events have already proven that long-term [economic] lagging has not contributed to the prestige of socialism. Also not contributing to it is a persistent unwillingness to admit its own responsibility for this lagging... There is nothing antisocialist about criticizing the incompetence of an uncontrollable power. On the contrary, there is nothing socialist about tolerance or even support for that incompetence."
Thanks to this article, he was not only fired from his job, but in August 1989, was also invited to appear on the television show Economic Notebook, where he said:
"For the past forty years, we have dropped from tenth place in the world to around the fortieth. In some areas, even worse. For example, in the development of science and technology... we are today roughly at the level of Algeria or Peru, and far below Portugal, which is considered the most undeveloped country in Western Europe ... I explain this development by [the government's] having taken economic decisions that were casually accepted; there was no sound competition of alternative ideas, and even ideas that would have extremely cautious consequences were taken without any evaluation of their effectiveness."
The ability of a chess player and the formulation of non-conformist attitudes, subsequently guaranteed his popularity to the general public. He was elected prime minister from 1998-2002, and in the first direct elections in 2013, he was elected president of the Czech Republic.
As a leader from "Western civilization", he has, as in the "clash of civilizations," long fought for women's rights, and equality for everyone. This stance has made him a natural "anti-jihadist" who, politically incorrectly, declares the entire Islamic civilization "anti-civilization":
"While it is possible to agree to a ban on driving a car, in all other cases, Islamic anti-civilization unjustifiably makes women a discriminated minority and their free development impossible."
He has also said:
"A Muslim can be defined as a Quranist, like a Nazi can be defined as a believer in racial superiority and anti-Semitism or a Communist like a believer in the class struggle and dictatorship of the proletariat.
"I think we can coexist with Buddhism, Hinduism, Shinto, Confucianism, but we cannot coexist with Islam. It has anchored in its sacred texts that it must rule the world and have unbelievers submit.
"The enemy is the anti-civilisation spreading from North Africa to Indonesia. Two billion people live in it and it is financed partly from oil sales and partly from drug sales."
Zeman is equally politically incorrect in criticizing his own nation. In a speech in Slovakia, in February 2016, he said:
"In the Czech Republic there is, for example, a Vietnamese community [about 80,000] which has assimilated marvelously. Their children are studying at universities; they speak perfect Czech. The Vietnamese are – and now I am committing an insult to my own nation – the Vietnamese are more industrious than the average Czech citizen. Why not admit it, when it is the truth? About 110,000 Ukrainians live here. And they are hard-working, they have overcome the language barrier, they have integrated very well into the [greater] society. The Slovaks I do not count, because I consider them 'our people'. Thus, we are not xenophobic.
"Five percent of the Czech population are foreigners who are integrated into our society. But when it comes to the term 'migration' we forget one adjective: and that is 'Islamic migration'. Political correctness, my friends, is synonymous with a lie. If you want the unspoken truth, Islamic migration is not possible to integrate and is not capable of being assimilated into European culture."
Ranked first among the biggest problems for the Islamic world, by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, according in its 8th OIC Observatory Report on Islamophobia of May 2015, was, "Deploring Czech President Miloš Zeman's Statement against Islam". Second was, "To conduct on-the-ground Post-Charlie Hebdo Inquiries".
Zeman said: "I will not be calmed down by statements that it [Jewish Museum of Belgium shooting] is only small marginal groups. I believe, on the contrary, this xenophobia and this racism or anti-Semitism stem from the very nature of the ideology on which these fanatical groups rely..."
At another conference in 2015, he stated: "You know the famous slogan: Ich bin ein Berliner. Now, we all must say, I am a Jew. Your discrimination is our discrimination. Your victims are our victims. But our society is too hedonistic, too consumption-oriented, and there is the cowardice and appeasement..."
Zeman's attitude is close to that of the "father of Singapore",Lee Kuan Yew (1923-2015), the great statesman and founder of modern Singapore, who said:
"I would say today, we can integrate all religions and races except Islam.... After 40 years of patchy economic development, many Arabs feel anger and humiliation that their once glorious Islamic civilization has been diminished by the West, especially America, and corrupted by its licentious culture... Muslims want to assimilate us. It is one-way traffic and they have no confidence in allowing choice."
The foreign policy of the Czech Republic has its own global specificities. In addition to strongly-held pro-Israeli attitudes, it also holds a similar position toward Syria, the US, and EU countries.
Pictured: Czech Republic President Milos Zeman (left) with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Israel on October 7, 2013. (Photo by Kobi Gideon/Israel GPO via Getty Images)
Syrian President Bashar Assad, speaking of the relationship between Syria and the Czech Republic, said:
"So, concerning the Czech Republic, I can say that our relations were not very good before the crisis, but during the crisis it was shown that it had a much clearer vision than other countries.... it was able to see, analyze, and understand what is actually happening, and by so doing, be more objective than other European countries..."
The Czech Republic Ambassador to the United States, Hynek Kmoníček, added: "Bashar Assad said that his relations with the Czech Republic were originally quite bad... but in the end, it seems that Bashar Assad has moved to the Czech position and the EU will move too".
Zeman sometimes seems to have his own global policy. He was the only president of an EU member state who visited Moscow during the "Victory parade for the 70th Anniversary of the End of World War II". He also, in a TV interview during his visit to China in October 2014, said:
" We do not teach market economy or human rights or something like that. Conversely, we try to learn. And I am in China to learn how to increase economic growth and how to stabilize society..."
In a Christmas speech in 2015, during a discussion with uncritical "welcomers" of about 45 % of refugees in a migration wave of 1.2 million economic migrants, predominately from the Islamic world -- and which included hundreds of jihadist terrorists -- Zeman said: "This country is ours. And this country is not and can not be for all."
Again, in a Christmas speech in 2016, he said:
"In my opinion, much of the guilt lies on the current leadership of the European Union, which is totally incompetent, bureaucratic, causing the alienation of European citizens from European institutions and is even unable to fulfill a fundamental task such as the protection of the external borders of the European Union..."I know that in the context of international tension, there are sometimes attempts to censor the internet... one who prevents others from expressing their arguments merely proves that he himself has no arguments... We do not need censorship, we do not need an ideological police, we do not need a new press and information office if we are to continue living in a free and democratic society..."Zeman describes Islam with the same raw truth as he translates into Czech the name of the band "Pussy Riot": like a "woman's genitals" -- not the politically correct "kitty".Zeman has warned of the willful blindness to Islamism's "sharia-apartheid ideology," similar to what former US federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy described for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in June 2016, when he said:
"From the standpoint of American national security, it is irrelevant whether there is a true Islam. What matters is that there is a sharia-supremacist construction of Islam to which millions of Muslims have adhered for centuries...They are supported by centuries of scholarship and scriptural literalism. We are not going to convince them that they are wrong... They do not care what American politicians and commentators think about 'the true Islam.' They judge themselves by their own civilization and culture principles – just as we in the West do by ours..."Sharia supremacism, their interpretation of Islam, is not a religion as we understand religion. It is political radicalism with a religious veneer. Sharia supremacism is virulently anti-Western, misogynist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic. It rejects basic tenets of Western liberalism, including the power of people to chart their own destiny and make their own laws in contravention of sharia. It rejects individual liberty and equality. It brooks no separation between spiritual life and civil society. It endorses violent jihad to implement and spread sharia. And it regards the United States, closely trailed by Israel and Europe, as the principal enemies of Islam that must be defeated. That is something we desperately need to understand and highlight, not obscure and avoid...
"In 1996, I was awarded the Justice Department's highest honor for proving the nexus between (a) jihadist commands in Islamic scripture, (b) their exploitation by sharia jurists like the Blind Sheikh, and (c) the commission of jihadist atrocities by the young Muslims he inflamed. Today, to say aloud what the Clinton administration honored me for twenty years ago, is to be ostracized as an Islamophobic bigot. Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, that is no way to protect our country. "
"Truth prevails", on the presidential flag, seems to guide Zeman. He appears to be ambitious to find a worldwide "truth vaccination" against the hypocritical political correctness of both the current "bureaucratic and incompetent" EU leadership, and a "jihadistic and radical" Islam. So far the only serious infectious disease that seems to have been completely eradicated is smallpox, also achieved by a Czech, Karel Raška, who was awarded the Edward Jenner medal.
With increasingly louder calls for the reform of the EU, if not its total dismantlement, one might do worse than to listen to what another father of a modern country, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, once said:
"I have no religion, and at times I wish all religions at the bottom of the sea... My people are going to learn the principles of democracy the dictates of truth and the teachings of science. Superstition must go. Let them worship as they will, every man can follow his own conscience provided it does not interfere with sane reason or bid him act against the liberty of his fellow men... He is a weak ruler who needs religion to uphold his government; it is as if he would catch his people in a trap."
*Josef Zbořil, Ph.D., is Czech blogger advocating "SMART permanently sustainable free society with citizenship 4.0."
© 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.

We are Not out of Options on North Korea
John R. Kasich/The Washington Post/December 27/2017
With tensions continuing to build between the United States and North Korea, there's growing talk by politicians and TV pundits that we are on the brink of war. In truth, we shouldn't be anywhere close. This increasingly hot war of words - including loose talk about the probability of war - does nothing to bring us closer to where we need to be on North Korea, especially when military options short of war remain on the table. In fact, with millions of lives at stake, waging a war of words is a distraction from the serious task at hand. Any kind of war - especially nuclear war - should not be an option until all other options are exhausted. And, in the case of North Korea, there are several roads not yet taken. First, North Korea is not, as some claim, "sanctioned-out." We are nowhere near to applying the same type of restraints on North Korea that were successful in bringing Iran to the negotiating table. In fact, the breadth of sanctions we have placed on North Korea to date are far less than what was applied in earlier crises on Russia, Syria and Iran. While our sanctions on North Korea have clearly escalated, we still have the option to penalize and seize the assets of North Korea's enablers in other countries that enable Pyongyang to evade the full brunt of financial measures. We can expand our focus on shipping and work with our allies to deny maritime insurance to the vessels heading to or from North Korea. Last month, we targeted sanctions on 20 such vessels. Many more North Korean vessels are active and engaged in illicit activities beyond the small number designated by the Treasury Department. We also can do more to expose those who use North Korean slave labor and to block any remittances back to Kim Jong Un's regime. Second, none of this will work without more pressure to hold the reluctant Chinese government accountable for the commitments it has made and to target more Chinese entities that support the North Korean government. The overwhelming majority of North Korea's trade - 90 percent - is with or facilitated by China, and despite agreed-upon UN sanctions, much of this economic activity continues. Actions should include targeting a greater number of Chinese banks that deal with North Korea, fining their US subsidiaries and freezing their US assets. This year, the international banking transaction network, known as SWIFT, moved to prevent North Korean banks from using the global messaging system to facilitate international transactions, but that doesn't impact Chinese banks that transact for the North Koreans. We should consider expanding this ban to include Chinese banks with any North Korean connections. Finally, we need to ask: Where are our allies on all of this? Instead of threatening a bilateral war between the United States and the North Korea, we should be working with allies - including South Korea and Japan - to threaten increased multilateral pressure to choke the North Korean regime. While economic sanctions have not proved to be effective yet, they have not been fully exhausted and tested. Part of the reason the previous administration succeeded in bringing Iran to the table - regardless of the flaws of their final deal - was due to internationally coordinated sanctions. Thankfully, the UN Security Council has adopted three rounds of such sanctions this year, including significant measures last week. With millions of lives hanging in the balance, the last thing we need is to have politicians and pundits predicting odds on the probability of war. It's neither an accurate nor a helpful way to treat a complex international challenge.
*Kasich, a Republican, is governor of Ohio.

Euro-Zone Reform Proposals Don't Go Far Enough
Sony Kapoor/Bloomberg/December 27/2017
Large bank failures in recent years have led to reforms that strengthen crisis prevention and give regulators and banks the tools for dealing with crises that do occur. Similar policy measures can be helpful in dealing with sovereign crises -- when governments run out of money and credit. Unfortunately, the European Commission misses the mark in its recent proposals to upgrade the euro zone’s sovereign crisis management system. To reduce the likelihood of a bank crisis, recent reforms have mandated that banks increase capital requirements during economic expansions, allowing them to fall during contractions or recessions. Governments can benefit from the counter-cyclical approach, too. It is fine to have policies such as the EU’s Growth and Stability Pact that limit government deficits and debt, but instead of blanket limits, these parameters should vary depending on economic conditions, allowing higher levels during recessions but mandating more of a buffer during better times. The EU could also encourage the use of GDP-linked bonds issued by national governments, where the debt payments vary inversely with growth. This mirrors the now mandatory use of bail-in rules at banks.
Problems refinancing maturing debt in turbulent markets have often been a trigger for bank and sovereign crises. The newly agreed Basel III accord reduces this risk for banks by imposing a “net stable funding ratio” that limits banks’ ability to make long-term loans from short-term funds. Similarly, extending the maturity profile for sovereign debt, so as to limit the need for refinancing in any year to no more than, say, 10 percent of GDP worth of debt, will help prevent sovereign crises. Short average maturity for sovereign debt put Italy and Spain at great refinancing risk during the last crisis, which the UK, with the longest average sovereign bond maturity, weathered much better.
Just as banks are now required to stress test their balance sheet, stress testing national economies would make risk factors more transparent, and may make for more responsible policymaking. Such stress tests should also be used to encourage governments to develop contingency plans just like the living wills that are now mandatory for all major banks. For example, governments could be asked to publicly list the expenditures they will cut and the taxes they will raise to get out of fiscal duress if the need arose. The natural differences across political lines over which items to prioritize, and the transparency of the exercise, will increase domestic ownership, engender political accountability and help to speed up corrective action. No matter how good crisis prevention policies look on paper, the unexpected can happen. Once a bank runs into trouble, the challenge is to contain the crisis, stop widespread contagion, and restore confidence: so-called mitigation. Timely and speedy liquidity provision is crucial for sovereigns, too. Dithering over providing such liquidity support to sovereigns intensified the euro crisis and played a role in spreading the contagion from Greece to other euro-zone economies in 2011.
The ECB provided large liquidity support to banks in that crisis, and EU banks were allowed to issue more than 600 billion euro ($712 billion) in government-guaranteed bonds. Likewise, the commission’s proposed European Monetary Fund (EMF) should mostly provide guarantees for sovereign bonds, with the International Monetary Fund being able to chip in with liquidity support for sovereigns where needed. This will speed up the process of aiding troubled sovereigns as well as allow for a larger total support program. Sovereign bonds guaranteed by the EMF could, if necessary, enjoy preferential treatment of the kind that funding provided to firms under bankruptcy proceedings financing does under US law. So far, there is no such provision.
Of course, mitigation efforts will sometimes fail. It was the absence of a credible framework when that happens that helped turn Lehman’s collapse into a global financial crisis and forced the rescue of dozens of banks. Similarly, the absence of a framework for dealing with Greece’s sovereign debt problems caused it to infect the whole euro zone. A special regime has now been put in place to allow for EU banks to be recapitalized, restructured, and, if all else fails, wound up. Distributing losses among stakeholders is central to this. Naturally, countries cannot be wound up in the same way, but a predictable, formalized mechanism for dealing with nonperforming sovereign debt is sorely needed. Such a mechanism would only be credible if it is strictly independent in the same way that regulatory authorities and bankruptcy courts are independent. Because more than 1 trillion euro of euro-zone sovereign bonds are held by foreign governments, and much larger amounts are held in the private sector, the EU cannot credibly be an independent arbiter of how losses on the restructuring of member state sovereign bonds will be shared. That role must fall to the IMF.
The EU would be foolish to ignore the ways in which the lessons from past bank failures can be applied to preventing, mitigating and resolving a sovereign crisis. Current proposals don’t go far enough.

Arab Apartheid Targets Palestinians
Khaled Abu Toameh/Gatestone Institute/December 27/17
Palestinians say that what they are facing in Iraq is "ethnic cleansing." The new Iraqi law deprives Palestinians living in Iraq of their right to free education, healthcare and to travel documents, and denies them work in state institutions.
No one will pay any attention to the misery of the Palestinians in any Arab country. Major media outlets around the world will barely cover the news of the controversial Iraqi law or the displacement of thousands of Palestinian families in Iraq. Journalists are too busy chasing a handful of Palestinian stone-throwers near Ramallah. A Palestinian girl who punched an Israeli soldier in the face draws more media interest than Arab apartheid against the Palestinians.
Palestinian leaders, meanwhile care nothing about the plight of their own people in Arab countries. They are much too busy inciting Palestinians against Israel and Trump to pay such a paltry issue any mind at all.
Iraq has just joined the long list of Arab countries that shamelessly practice apartheid against Palestinians. The number of Arab countries that apply discriminatory measures against Palestinians while pretending to support the Palestinian cause is breathtaking. Arab hypocrisy is once again on display, but who who is looking?
The international media -- and even the Palestinians -- are so preoccupied with US President Donald Trump's announcement on Jerusalem that the plight of Palestinians in Arab countries is dead news. This apathy allows Arab governments to continue with their anti-Palestinian policies because they know that no one in the international community cares -- the United Nations is too busy condemning Israel to do much else.
So what is the story with the Palestinians in Iraq? Earlier this week, it was revealed that the Iraqi government has approved a new law that effectively abolishes the rights given to Palestinians living there. The new law changes the status of Palestinians from nationals to foreigners.
Under Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi dictator, the Palestinians enjoyed many privileges. Until 2003, there were about 40,000 Palestinians living in Iraq. Since the overthrow of the Saddam regime, the Palestinian population has dwindled to 7,000.
Thousands of Palestinians have fled Iraq after being targeted by various warring militias in that country because of their support for Saddam Hussein. Palestinians say that what they are facing in Iraq is "ethnic cleansing."
The conditions of the Palestinians in Iraq are about to go from bad to worse. The new law, which was ratified by Iraqi President Fuad Masum, deprives Palestinians living in Iraq of their right to free education, healthcare and to travel documents, and denies them work in state institutions. The new law, which is called No. 76 of 2017, revokes the rights and privileges granted to Palestinians under Saddam Hussein. The law went into effect recently after it was published in the Iraqi Official Gazette No. 4466.
A new Iraqi law, recently ratified by Iraq's President Fuad Masum, effectively abolishes the rights of Palestinians living there (free education, healthcare, travel documents, work in state institutions), changing the status of Palestinians from nationals to foreigners. Pictured: Iraqi President Fuad Masum (right) meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (left) on November 30, 2015. (Image source: Video screenshot, Office of Mahmoud Abbas)
"Instead of protecting the Palestinian refugees from daily violations and improving their living and humanitarian conditions, the Iraqi government is making decisions that will have a catastrophic impact on the lives of these refugees," said Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor.
"The recurrent harassment and restrictions imposed on Palestinian refugees in recent years have forced most of them to resort again to other countries such as Canada, Chile, Brazil and other European countries. Due to these violations, only about 7,000 out of 40,000 Palestinian refugees are now residing in Iraq. It is a shame to which an end should be put."
The law means, simply, that Palestinians would rather live in Canada or Brazil or any European country than live in an Arab country. They have more rights in non-Arab countries than they have in Arab ones. In the former, they can at least purchase property and enjoy healthcare and social benefits. Palestinians can even apply for citizenship in non-Arab countries and receive it. But not in countries such as Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. It is easier for a Palestinian to obtain Canadian or US citizenship than to get one from most of the Arab countries.
In a note of extreme irony, it is the Arab League that has advised its members not to give the Palestinians citizenship. The excuse: By granting Palestinians citizenship of Arab countries, you are denying them the "right of return" to their former homes inside Israel. So the Arab countries want the Palestinians to remain refugees forever by lying to them and telling them: you will one day go back to your former villages and towns (many of which do not even exist anymore) inside Israel.
Take, for example, the case of Amal Saker, a Palestinian woman who moved with her family to Iraq in 1976. Although she is married to an Iraqi national, and although her children have been granted Iraqi citizenship, she herself has not been given Iraqi citizenship. She says that the new law will now prohibit her from obtaining a travel document to visit her relatives outside Iraq. She and many Palestinians are convinced that the timing of the new law -- which coincided with Trump's announcement on Jerusalem -- is not coincidental. They believe that the new Iraqi law is part of Trump's purported "ultimate solution" for the Israeli-Arab conflict, which they are convinced is aimed at "liquidating" the Palestinian cause and depriving the Palestinians of the "right of return."
The Palestinians, in other words, are promoting a conspiracy theory according to which some Arab countries such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are colluding with the Trump administration to impose a solution that is completely unacceptable and even harmful to the Palestinians.
The Palestinians are "horrified" by the new Iraqi law, and some have begun waging a campaign to pressure the Iraqi government to backtrack. But the Palestinians are also aware that they are not going to win this campaign, because they are not going to win the sympathy of the international community. Why? Because the name of the country that passed this apartheid law is Iraq and not Israel.
Jawad Obeidat, chairman of the Palestinian Lawyers' Syndicate, explained that the new Iraqi law will have "grave repercussions" on the conditions and future of Palestinians living in Iraq. "The Palestinians will now be deprived of most of their basic rights," Obeidat said.
He added that Palestinian lawyers will be working with their Iraqi colleagues to put pressure on the Iraqi government to rescind the new law. Obeidat appealed to the Arab League to intervene with the Iraqi authorities to rescind the law and stop the "injustice" towards the Palestinians in Iraq.
"The Iraqi law is unacceptable and inhumane," stated Tayseer Khaled, a senior PLO official. He pointed out that the Iraqi authorities have failed to provide protection to the Palestinians living in Iraq and that is why they became easy prey for various militias that prompted many of them to flee the country during the past 15 years. Khaled noted that many Palestinian families were forced to live in makeshift temporary refugee camps along the borders of Syria and Jordan after being driven from their homes. "We call on the Iraqi authorities to treat Palestinians humanely," he said.
Iraqi leaders, however, can afford to sit back and relax in the face of Palestinian appeals and condemnations. No one is going to pay any attention to the misery of the Palestinians in any Arab country. Major media outlets around the world will barely cover the news of the controversial Iraqi law or the displacement of thousands of Palestinian families in Iraq. Journalists are too busy chasing a handful of Palestinian stone-throwers near Ramallah. A Palestinian girl who punched an Israeli soldier in the face draws more media interest than Arab apartheid against the Palestinians. A protest of 35 Palestinians in the Old City of Jerusalem against Trump and Israel attracts more photographers and reporters than a story about endemic Arab apartheid and discrimination against the Palestinians.
The hypocrisy of the Arab countries is in full swing. While they pretend to show solidarity with their Palestinian brothers, Arab governments work tirelessly to ethnically cleanse them. Palestinian leaders, meanwhile care nothing about the plight of their own people in Arab countries. They are much too busy inciting Palestinians against Israel and Trump to pay such a paltry issue any mind at all.
*Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist, is based in Jerusalem.
© 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.

How to Defund the U.N.
John R. Bolton/Gatestone Institute/December 27/17
As an assistant secretary of state in the George H.W. Bush administration, I worked vigorously to repeal a hateful United Nations General Assembly resolution equating Zionism with racism. Foreign diplomats frequently told me the effort was unnecessary. My Soviet counterpart, for example, said Resolution 3379 was only a piece of paper gathering dust on a shelf. Why stir up old controversies years after its 1975 adoption?
We ignored the foreign objections and persisted because that abominable resolution cast a stain of illegitimacy and anti-Semitism on the U.N. It paid off. On Dec. 16, 1991, the General Assembly rescinded the offensive language.
Now, a quarter-century later, the U.N. has come close to repeating Resolution 3379's original sin. Last week the U.N. showed its true colors with a 128-9 vote condemning President Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
This seemingly lopsided outcome obscured a significant victory and major opportunity for the president. Thirty-five countries abstained, and 21 didn't vote at all. Days earlier the Security Council had endorsed similar language, 14-1, defeated only by the U.S. veto. The margin narrowed significantly once Mr. Trump threatened to penalize countries that voted against the U.S. This demonstrated once again that America is heard much more clearly at the U.N. when it puts its money where its mouth is. (In related news, Guatemala announced Sunday it will move its embassy to Jerusalem, a good example for others.)
While imposing financial repercussions on individual governments is entirely legitimate, the White House should also reconsider how Washington funds the U.N. more broadly. Should the U.S. forthrightly withdraw from some U.N. bodies (as we have from UNESCO and as Israel announced its intention to do on Friday)? Should others be partially or totally defunded? What should the government do with surplus money if it does withhold funds?
Despite decades of U.N. "reform" efforts, little or nothing in its culture or effectiveness has changed. Instead, despite providing the body with a disproportionate share of its funding, the U.S. is subjected to autos-da-fé on a regular basis. The only consolation, at least to date, is that this global virtue-signaling has not yet included burning the U.S. ambassador at the stake.
Turtle Bay has been impervious to reform largely because most U.N. budgets are financed through effectively mandatory contributions. Under this system, calculated by a "capacity to pay" formula, each U.N. member is assigned a fixed percentage of each agency's budget to contribute. The highest assessment is 22%, paid by the U.S. This far exceeds other major economies, whose contribution levels are based on prevailing exchange rates rather than purchasing power parity. China's assessment is just under 8%.
Why does the U.S. tolerate this? It is either consistently outvoted when setting the budgets that determine contributions or has joined the "consensus" to avoid the appearance of losing. Yet dodging embarrassing votes means acquiescing to increasingly high expenditures.
The U.S. should reject this international taxation regime and move instead to voluntary contributions. This means paying only for what the country wants — and expecting to get what it pays for. Agencies failing to deliver will see their budgets cut, modestly or substantially. Perhaps America will depart some organizations entirely. This is a performance incentive the current assessment-taxation system simply does not provide.
Start with the U.N. Human Rights Council. Though notorious for its anti-Israel bias, the organization has never hesitated to abuse America. How many know that earlier this year the U.N. dispatched a special rapporteur to investigate poverty in the U.S.? American taxpayers effectively paid a progressive professor to lecture them about how evil their country is.
The U.N.'s five regional economic and social councils, which have no concrete accomplishments, don't deserve American funding either. If nations believe these regional organizations are worthwhile — a distinctly dubious proposition — they are entirely free to fund them. Why America is assessed to support them is incomprehensible.
Next come vast swaths of U.N. bureaucracy. Most of these budgets could be slashed with little or no real-world impact. Start with the Office for Disarmament Affairs. The U.N. Development Program is another example. Significant savings could be realized by reducing other U.N. offices that are little more than self-licking ice cream cones, including many dealing with "Palestinian" questions. The U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) could be consolidated into the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
Many U.N. specialized and technical agencies do important work, adhere to their mandates and abjure international politics. A few examples: the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization. They shouldn't be shuttered, but they also deserve closer scrutiny.
Some will argue incorrectly that unilaterally moving to voluntary contributions violates the U.N. Charter. In construing treaties, like contracts, parties are absolved from performance when others violate their commitments. Defenders of the assessed-contribution model would doubtless not enjoy estimating how often the charter has been violated since 1945.
If the U.S. moved first, Japan and some European Union countries might well follow America's lead. Elites love the U.N., but they would have a tough time explaining to voters why they are not insisting their contributions be used effectively, as America has. Apart from risking the loss of a meaningless General Assembly vote — the Security Council vote and veto being written into the Charter itself — the U.S. has nothing substantial to lose.
Thus could Mr. Trump revolutionize the U.N. system. The swamp in Turtle Bay might be drained much more quickly than the one in Washington.
**John R. Bolton, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, is Chairman of Gatestone Institute, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and author of "Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad".
**This article first appeared in The Wall Street Journal and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.
© 2017 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Turkey: Still a U.S. Ally?
Lawrence A. Franklin/Gatestone Institute/December 27/17
But what of NATO? Is Turkey a reliable NATO partner? Here the picture is
Turkey of late, with the purchase of two batteries of the Russian S-400 air defense system, appears to have taken a big step away from the NATO alliance. The Erdogan regime's nationwide post-coup purge of civil and military personnel, and its threatening acts against freedom of speech, such as the mass arrest of journalists, are eviscerating the country's independent civil society institutions. In addition, Turkey's crackdown on the activities of non-governmental organizations in Turkey is another sign that Turkey is turning away from democratic values shared by NATO Alliance members.
Is Turkey still a reliable ally? After repeated endorsements by the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of policies inimical to U.S. interests, the answer seems to be not really.
Erdogan recently announced he will seek United Nations support to annul President Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
In addition, the Turkish Ministry of Justice has issued warrants for the arrest of two American Turkey specialists, in effect placing a bounty of $800,000 on their heads.
Additionally, there is the somewhat comical furor in Turkey over the adoption by Turkish entrepreneurs of the American "Black Friday" sales concept. Several Turkish businesses, which had attempted to increase sales by borrowing the U.S. "Black Friday" market lure, were attacked by devout Muslims who accused store owners of disrespecting Islam's day of prayer. The perceived insult to Islam's Friday Prayer obligation is just another example of a widening antipathy towards the U.S.
While the misunderstanding by Turks over "Black Friday," will likely fade quickly, the diplomatic damage brought on by the early October arrest by Turkey's police of a Turkish employee at the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul allegedly for espionage is likely to be more long-lasting.
The arrest of the U.S Consulate's employee precipitated the U.S. Ambassador's suspension on October 8, of all non-immigrant U.S. visas for Turkish citizens. The incident underscores how bilateral relations have plummeted since Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan first came to power.
Shortly after Erdogan was elected in 2002, Turkey appeared to start turning away from its U.S. alliance when it refused to grant permission for U.S. troops to cross Turkish territory into northern Iraq. Turkey's parliament, the Grand National Assembly, voted down the request. Erdogan seems now to be focusing on regional affairs rather than on Turkey's traditional ties to the United States and Europe. Since Erdogan came to power, Turkey has increased its economic and diplomatic ties to Arab states.
Turkey's Erdogan regime also is fashioning a more Islamic Turkey, a trend especially noticeable in the field of education. As early as 2012, Erdogan hinted at plans to Islamize Turkey's public schools when he declared to an audience of young members of his Justice and Development Party, "We want to raise pious generations." Since then Turkey's schools now include a curriculum which reflects Sunni Islam doctrine.
After the failed July 15, 2016 coup against Erdogan, he exploited anti-Western sentiment among the Turks by permitting Turkish media to publish articles that accused U.S. General John Campbell, former Commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, of complicity in the abortive attempted coup. Suleyman Soylu, the AKP's Deputy Chairman, also accused the CIA of being involved. Erdogan further demanded that the U.S. extradite from Pennsylvania Fethullah Gülen, leader of a Turkish opposition movement, and the person Erdogan claimed had instigated the attempted coup.
Post-Cold War regional changes have likely altered Turkey's view of its U.S. alliance. Perhaps it now no longer seems indispensable to Turkish national security officers. Turkey's Syria policy, for instance, was initially aligned with other regional Sunni Islamic states against President Bashar al-Assad's regime. When Assad's Iranian allies helped to sustain the Assad government however, Turkey appeared to turn a blind eye to Sunni terrorists crossing Turkish territory into Syria. Perhaps the Turks hoped that these extremists would strengthen the anti-Assad military forces.
Turkey's efforts to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria only took a radical turn when Turkish territory became a virtual pipeline for the flow of foreign fighters. Thousands of them infiltrated Turkey's borders; there, they were met by smugglers and Sunni extremist facilitators. The facilitators then moved the fighters to safe houses and gave the jihadists logistical support until the combatants reached their jihadi destination in the Raqqa region. The combatants included members of the al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra Front and the Sunni Salafist Ahrar al-Sham.
This influx of foreign jihadists seemed to place old allies Turkey and America in a state of confrontation, as some of these terrorists remained inside Turkey. The counterproductive cost of Turkey's intentional or careless lax border policy struck home with an attack which left 39 dead on Istanbul's Reina Night Club.
In March 2017, Turkey began curbing the terrorist networks it had allowed into its territory. Only then did Turkey decide to cooperate with U.S. efforts to suppress ISIS. The Turks, however, recoiled at the Kurdish ethnicity of the U.S.-assisted anti-ISIS Syrian Democratic Force (SDF).
Turkey is wary of any armed force of Kurds; it evidently fears that if Syria's Kurds are able to carve out an autonomous zone for themselves, it will inflame nationalism among Turkey's millions of Kurds. The Turks view ethnic-Kurd fighters in Syria as an extension of the Kurdish Worker Party (PKK) which has been fighting the Turkish government for decades. That fear could explain why Turkish troops stood by while Syrian Kurds fought a harsh battle against Islamic State troops in Kobane, a Kurdish town in Syria, in late 2014.
The number of instances where Turkey and U.S. interests now clash, and the accumulated ill will that these disagreements are begetting, suggests that Turkey is no longer a dependable ally of the United States.
Is Turkey a reliable NATO partner? Pictured: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stands beside Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May during the NATO summit ceremony in Brussels, Belgium on May 25, 2017.
But what of NATO? Is Turkey a reliable NATO partner? Here the picture is more mixed. Turkey of late, with the purchase of two batteries of the Russian S-400 air defense system, appears to have taken a big step away from the NATO alliance. The Erdogan regime's nationwide post-coup purge of civil and military personnel, and its threatening acts against freedom of speech, such as the mass arrest of journalists, are eviscerating the country's independent civil society institutions. In addition, Turkey's crackdown on the activities of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Turkey is another sign that Turkey is turning away from democratic values shared by NATO Alliance members.
Nevertheless, Turkey's continued membership in NATO has its advantages for both parties. Turkey has the second largest standing army in NATO, after the United States. U.S. aircraft are permitted to use bases in Turkey to mount bombing runs on Mideast-based terrorists. Turkey's military complex at Incirlik houses an estimated 90 B61 nuclear gravity bombs. Should Turkey's incipient romance with Russia turn sour, as their historic hostility toward each other might suggest, then Turkey's large ground force, forward deployed nuclear devices, and sophisticated signals intelligence facilities would prove invaluable to NATO as well as to Turkey. Furthermore, should Iran continue its regional march to hegemony, Turkey would prove a worthy rival.
Although Turkey under Erdogan may not be a fully committed member of NATO, Turkey in NATO -- at the moment anyhow -- is probably still better than a Turkey out of NATO.
**Dr. Lawrence A. Franklin was the Iran Desk Officer for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. He also served on active duty with the U.S. Army and as a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve.
© 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.

Syria’s Future Decided without the Syrians’ Consent
Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Al Awsat/December 27/17
After eight rounds of talks in both Geneva and Kazakhstan’s capital Astana, the “sponsors” of Syria’s lost peace have agreed to meet, this time round, in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.
To begin with, there were differences of opinion towards the need of negotiations taking place in Astana since there was already a UN sponsored peace process in Geneva. More so, since there is - at least - a verbal agreement on abiding by the outcome of “Geneva 1”; i.e., the first round of the Geneva process, and regarding the Geneva process the gateway of the peaceful settlement in Syria. However, in the light of emerging duplicitous stances, contradictory evaluations, intentional recreation of new facts in the battlefield, as well as some major players’ reversal of their original commitments, numerous “givens” have changed.For a start, Russia went from using the “veto” (three times) to prevent international attempts at stopping the brutal suppression of the peaceful popular uprising to re-interpreting “Geneva”, with Iran’s and China’s support, on the ground! Then, both Russia and Iran launched a ferocious campaign to justify escalating their support for the Damascus regime’s war machine; claiming that the rebel “Free Syrian Army” and other rebel groups were being armed by foreign powers, including Turkey.
Furthermore, Russia and Iran accused Turkey of colluding with Islamist “terrorism” –Sunni, in Moscow’s and Tehran’s definition –, and facilitating entry of extremist terrorists to Syria via Turkey after providing them with weapons and training. In the meantime, Ankara was repeatedly claiming that it would not stay “idle-handed” while Syria’s Bashar al-Assad continued doing what he was doing to his people. As for the US, Washington clearly welcomed the Syrian uprising, early on, as it did with regard to the other uprisings of “The Arab Spring” of 2011. American officials were soon claiming that the “Assad regime has lost its legitimacy”, and “there was no role for Assad in Syria’s future”. Yet, there were two apparent reservations against the Syrian uprising from its early days, which may have contributed to the American and Western appraisal, in general, of that uprising. First, the weird official Israeli “silence”, and secondly, the outright opposition expressed by some Christian Middle Eastern clergymen. Indeed, while the Israeli government was keen to keep quiet, some media and ex-intelligence personalities were saying candidly that the fall of a regime that had kept Israel’s northern borders since 1973 was not in its interests. As for the Christian clergymen, namely Lebanese and Syrian, they were saying in every Western capital they visited that “while the Assad regime was never exemplary, any replacement would be worse”!
During this period, while the Syrian uprising and other uprisings of “The Arab Spring” were teetering between relatively smooth change and bloody civil wars creating “failed states”, former US President Barack Obama was planning his radical strategy for the Middle East. He was in a hurry to establish a “new Middle East” totally different from the one Washington was dealing with since “the Cold War”, but particularly, since 1979. Obama’s new strategy included winning back Iran as an ally of the US. However, unlike the old alliance with the Shah, who was regarded as a subservient “minor ally” and a mere “link” in its chains of containment of the former USSR; Obama saw in “revolutionary” Iran a “partner” in the fight against the Arab “Right”, and what he considered the “suicidal” policies of Sunni fundamentalism. Thus, the nuclear agreement (JCPOA) signed with the Iran Mullahs, after lengthy secret negotiations, became one of the underpinnings of Washington’s new regional policies.
In order to insure the success of the JCPOA, Obama was willing to go far; and consequently, the Syrian uprising, regarded by Tehran as fatal threat to its interests, became the first victim of the Obama – Khamenei deal. As suppression and bloodshed continued in Syria, chemical weapons were used causing many to expect that what was always warned against and claimed its usage would be a “red line”. Yet this “red line” was not only ignored by Washington, but President Obama went on to dismiss the ability of the rebels, hence leading the uprising into a different stage. At this point, the regime realized, and so did Moscow and Tehran, that Washington’s interests where somewhere else, and that it was free to do whatever it liked. On the other hand, two developments, drastically changed Turkey’s position: The first was Washington’s active military and political support of the “separatist” Kurds of northern Syria under the pretext that they were “the only force capable of confronting and defeating ISIS”, which was indebted to international dubious attitude for its growth, expansion and ability to destroy and displace.
The second development was Turkey’s downing a Russian fighter bomber in the late November 2015, while in a sortie supporting Assad’s ground troops over the Syrian – Turkish border area. Following this incident, fearing an unequal confrontation with Russia, and realizing that despite being a NATO member neither Washington nor NATO itself were willing to stand by it, Ankara decided to reach an “understanding” with Moscow. In addition to the above, as Washington pushed forward with its Kurdish option, Ankara rediscovered the anti-Kurdish common denominator with the Iranians, which more than justified cooperation with Tehran and sacrificing the Syrians and their uprising. Since then, after Russia and Iran were citing the need to “fight Turkey-backed Takfiri extremists” to justify their “occupation” of Syria, Russia, Iran and Turkey decided to work together in pursuit of their converging interests in Syria and the Middle East. This resulted in launching the Astana Talks, to which what has remained of armed rebels was invited. However, what has become clear, looking at what has been taking place on the ground, the aim of the Astana Talks was to tie up the armed rebels, and push the “moderate” factions to fight their more “radical” counterpart such as Al-Nusra and other Al-Qaeda like groups. Since January 23 and 24, 2017, during the eight rounds of the Astana Talks held under Russian sponsorship and US and UN participation, the regime backed by Russia and Iran has been imposing its combat superiority, the opposition has been forced to make more and more concessions, and lose an increasing number of disillusioned negotiators.
Peace in Syria is finished; and those who decide to go to Sochi do not really represent Syria, but rather their sponsors and backers… and here is the terrible tragedy.