February 28/17

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For Today
Whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 06/05-15/:"‘Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. ‘When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. ‘Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done,on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts,as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."

We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.
Letter to the Romans 15/01-13/:'We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Each of us must please our neighbour for the good purpose of building up the neighbour. For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.’For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, ‘Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name’; and again he says, ‘Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people’; and again, ‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him’; and again Isaiah says, ‘The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.’ May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.".

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 27-28/17
Disciplinary move against UN envoy to Lebanon causes stir/Joseph A. Kechichian/Gulf News/February 27/17/
Netanyahu: Israel will not allow 'drizzle' of rocket fire from enemies/Jerusalem Post/February 27/17
Palestinians: Why a "Regional Peace Process" Will Fail/Khaled Abu Toameh/Gatestone Institute/February 27/17
Copts Flee Sinai Amid ISIS Campaign Of Murder, Threats/By: R. Green/MEMRI/February
Justice catches up with a CIA agent/Fawaz Turki/Al Arabiya/February 27/17
Libya’s logical conclusion/Dr. Theodore Karasik/Al Arabiya/February 27/17
Innovative strategies to raise the level of education in Saudi schools/Samar Fatany/Al Arabiya/February 27/17
Christians fear for their lives in the Middle East/Micah Halpern/Jerusalem Post/February 27/ 2017
Is Israeli-Saudi peace a realistic proposition/Jackie Hogi/Jerusalem Post/February 27/17

Titles For Latest Lebanese Related News published on February 27-28/17
U.S. General Discusses Military Aid on Lebanon Visit
Hariri Follows Up on Palestinian Refugee Camp Security after Weekend Clashes
Geagea Says LF Vote on Budget Conditioned to Privatization of Electricity
Kataeb Slams Govt. of 'Contradictions' for 'Tampering with Country's Democratic System'
Berri Says Could Back 1960 Law but Never Parliament’s Term Extension
Israeli Bulldozer Removes Cement Blocks near Shebaa Farms
Budget Cabinet Session Called Off over Lack of Quorum
Lebanese paper mocks Minister Kara over killer robot comments
Report: Israeli Minister Reveals Technology to 'Assassinate Nasrallah'
Why the French candidates are so keen to visit Lebanon
Disciplinary move against UN envoy to Lebanon causes stir
Kuwaiti Ambassador hopes Lebanese will agree on election law
Kahawaji, Votel tackle military aid and cooperation
ISF refutes circulated info about phone numbers stealing data and images
Hariri puts off Cabinet session for lack of quorum
Hsbani: LF electricity reform plan practical not theoritical
Army: 3 enemy drones violate Lebanese airspace
Asbat al Ansar gunmen deploy in Ain el Hilwe
Bomb detonates inside Ain el Hilwe camp

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 27-28/17
Egypt Denies Asking Christian Residents to Leave North Sinai
Putin Says Astana Talks Helped Revive Geneva as Syrian Opposition Meets Russians
Opposition: We have evidence that confirms Syrian regime’s ties to ISIS
Russia wants Kurdish representatives in Geneva talks
Iraqi forces battling ISIS reach Mosul bridge
Egypt’s parliament expels lawmaker who had criticized it
Trump seeks $54bn increase in US military budget
Egypt MP proposes extension of presidential terms
Israeli forces shoot Palestinian woman at West Bank crossing
Iran tests new versions of the Nasir, Dehlaviyeh missiles in naval exercises
Rafsanjani’s daughter: Mysterious cause behind my father’s death
Indonesia police shoot dead suspected militant during attack
Afghan official: Attack which killed UAE officials planned in Pakistan
Rocket fired from Gaza hits southern Israel, army claims
Trump expected to sign new refugee order on Wednesday
Air Strike Kills Key Taliban Commander in Northern Afghanistan
Iranian Army Stages Exercises between Strait of Hormuz and Bab-el-Mandeb
Syrian Actor Jamal Soliman Makes A Plea For Democracy: It Is A Culture, A Way Of Life, Not A Magic Solution
11 Killed in Government Raids on Northwest Syria
Iran: Four Civil Rights Activists Sentenced to 45 Years' Imprisonment and Eight Years of Exile
Giulio Terzi: Iran Regime Exports Fundamentalism and Terrorism to Conceal It's Disabilities
Iran: the Terrorist Mullah's Trip to Europe Must Be Canceled
U.S. Soft Diplomacy to Move Al-Abadi Away From Iran Regime
Iran Regime's Ridiculous Claim: IRGC Defends the Region Against Terrorism
Iran Regime's IRGC Is Training Fighters in Syria
'Moonlight' Takes Best Pic Oscar after Stunning Mix-Up
Trump Proposes $54 Billion Increase in Defense Spending
Pentagon Gives Trump New Options to Fight IS Group

Links From Jihad Watch Site for February 27-28/17

McMaster and Gorka: Understanding or Misunderstanding Islam?
Mali: Muslims smash Timbuktu bars and liquor stalls
CPAC Declares World War III Against Jihad
Jamie Glazov Moment: Lindsay Lohan ‘Racially Profiled’ for Wearing Hijab?
“Can I criticize Islam without fearing for my life?”
Nigeria: Muslim leader warns that regulations on polygamy violate the Qur’an
France: Muslim “human rights activist” to Le Pen: “I am going to slit your throat Muslim-style”
UK: Oxford University protects lecturer on Islam from hard questions by ex-Muslim
DNC’s Perez denounces Trump’s “racist executive action against Muslims”
Iran’s former President Ahmadinejad to Trump: “The contemporary U.S. belongs to all nations”
Indian doctor freed from Islamic State captivity saw jihad suicide bombers as young as 10
Canada: Ontario unanimously passes “anti-islamophobia” motion

Links From Christian Today Site for February 27-28/17
England's Cathedrals Are Not 'Too Big To Fail' Archbishop Warns
Bishop Angaelos Implores Action For Egypt's Coptic Christians 'Being Killed In The Streets'
Hundreds Of Christians Flee Spate Of ISIS Killings In Egypt
Where Is Jeff Woodke? Concern Grows For Missing US Missionary
Bethlehem Christian Soars To Victory In 'Arab Idol'
Mexican Church Says Trump Migrant Plans Are 'Terrorism'
Pope Francis May Visit War-Torn South Sudan With Archbishop Of Canterbury
What Happens In Holy Week And When Is Holy Week 2017
Dying Bishop Calls For Church To Allow Gay Marriage
Chinese Pastor Arrested After Refusing State Surveillance Of Church

Latest Lebanese Related News published on February 27-28/17
U.S. General Discusses Military Aid on Lebanon Visit
Associated Press/Naharnet/February 27/17/The commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East has met with top officials in Lebanon to discuss American military aid and other efforts to contain the fallout from the civil war in neighboring Syria. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command, met with President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Defense Minister Yaaqoub al-Sarraf during the visit. Votel did not make any public comments in the Lebanese capital. The U.S. has been speeding up delivery of ammunition to help Lebanon's military combat jihadist groups near the border with Syria. ashington has provided more than $1 billion in military assistance to Lebanon since 2006.

Hariri Follows Up on Palestinian Refugee Camp Security after Weekend Clashes
Naharnet/February 27/17/Minister Saad Hariri followed up on Monday on the deteriorating security situation in the southern Palestinian refugees camp of Ain el-Hilweh in Sidon. Hariri received at the Grand Serail a delegation from the Sidon Consultative Gathering that included former PM Fouad Saniora, MP Bahia Hariri, Mufti of Sidon Sheikh Salim Susan, Sidon Mayor Mohammed Saudi, Vice President of the Politburo of al-Jamaa al-Islamiya Bassam Hammoud and its members. Discussions focused on the political and economic situation in Sidon, and the security situation in Ain el-Helwe camp. They focused on the security arrests in the city highlighting the need to abide by the laws that decide the detentions. Fierce clashes erupted Sunday afternoon between the secular Fatah Movement and a number of hardline Islamist groups in Ain el-Hilweh. The fighting was focused on the Sifsaf-Briksat frontier on al-Fawqani street and the sounds of machineguns and rocket-propelled grenades echoed across the city of Sidon. Cautious calm engulfed the camp in the evening after the national and Islamist Palestinian factions reached a tentative ceasefire agreement under which the gunmen were supposed to be withdrawn from the streets, media reports said. The clashes had renewed earlier in the day, leaving several people injured. The Lebanese army meanwhile closed the Ain el-Hilweh entrance that faces Sidon's state-run hospital to preserve the safety of passersby.

Geagea Says LF Vote on Budget Conditioned to Privatization of Electricity
Naharnet/February 27/17/Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea emphasized on Monday that party ministers and lawmakers will not vote in favor of the draft budget plan if it does not include the privatization of the state-run electricity sector. “I assure you, the Lebanese Forces' ministers and lawmakers will not vote for the budget without privatizing the electricity sector,” Geagea told LBCI. “The privatization of the electricity sector will help us save $ 1.5 billion” he said, stressing that the country will be supplied with electricity 24/24 without additional expenses if this decision is taken. He stressed that the Lebanese Forces' position is clear and firm because it benefits the people at the electricity level, and benefits the state at the financial level. Three cabinet sessions are scheduled this week to discuss and approve the long-stalled state budget. Due to political wrangling between the rival political parties, Lebanon has not approved a budget since 2005.

Kataeb Slams Govt. of 'Contradictions' for 'Tampering with Country's Democratic System'
Naharnet/February 27/17/The Kataeb Party on Monday lashed out anew at what it called a government of “contradictions” over its continued failure to approve a new electoral law. “The Kataeb Party holds the political authority responsible for usurping the popular will and tampering with the country's democratic system through its procrastination in producing a new electoral law,” the party said in a statement issued after its political bureau's weekly meeting. It warned the ruling political class against “taking the country into the unknown through its attempt to pass one of three terrible choices: elections under the 1960 law, extension (of parliament's term) or vacuum.”“The Kataeb Party insists on a law that ensures correct representation and pluralism inside sects and allows popular accountability,” it said. “Accordingly, the party is open to any draft law that achieves this, and the best law that achieves this would be one based on individual districts, but it also supports the one person, one vote system and proportional representation according to the 15 districts that were agreed on by the Christian parties in Bkirki,” Kataeb added.

Berri Says Could Back 1960 Law but Never Parliament’s Term Extension
Naharnet/February 27/17/Speaker Nabih Berri stressed that he would never agree on the extension of the parliament's term, but might agree on staging the election based on the 1960 electoral law if the deadline approaches, An Nahar daily reported on Monday. “I can support the 1960 law sixty times and not once do I support the parliament's term extension. I don't have to repeat how must I reject and hate this law,” Berri told the daily. If we arrive at April 17 and a new law is not agreed, everybody would then have to choose between: either staging the elections based on the current 1960 or the parliament's extension, Berri had noted. Political parties are bickering over amending the current 1960 controversial electoral law which divides seats among the different religious sects. The country has not organized parliamentary elections since 2009 and the legislature has since extended its own mandate twice. While al-Mustaqbal Movement has rejected that the electoral law be fully based on the proportional representation system, arguing that Hizbullah's arms would prevent serious competition in the party's strongholds, Druze leader MP Walid Jumblat has totally rejected proportional representation, even within a hybrid law, warning that it would “marginalize” the minority Druze community. The political parties are meanwhile discussing several formats of a so-called hybrid law that mixes proportional representation with the winner-takes-all system.

Israeli Bulldozer Removes Cement Blocks near Shebaa Farms

Naharnet/February 27/17/An Israeli unit carried out on Monday some changes near the occupied Shebaa Farms, the National News Agency reported. It said that the unit, comprised of a bulldozer and a number of soldiers, removed cubes of reinforced concrete near the Shebaa Farms. The units worked on the installation of an iron gate on the road between the liberated Bastra farms and the occupied areas facing it. Later in the day, the Lebanese army erected new concrete blocks on the western edge of the Bustra Farm, in response to Israel's removal of the old cubes, NNA said. Tensions were recently high along the Lebanese-Israeli border. Last week, a 12-member Israeli force crossed the electronic fence in the outskirts of the southern border town of Mays al-Jabal in the Kroum al-Sharqi area. They planted spy devices consisted of a camera and a transmission instrument that are both solar powered. Over the weekend, residents of the Mays al-Jabal staged a sit-in protesting Israel's recurrent violation against Lebanon's southern territories. They were accompanied by MP Qassem Hashem. Israeli troops had fired tear gas bombs in the direction of the campaigners to disperse them which led to several cases of suffocation. The development comes amid high tensions between Israel and Hizbullah that follow an exchange of threats and amid unconfirmed reports of Israeli airstrikes on Hizbullah posts inside Syria.

Budget Cabinet Session Called Off over Lack of Quorum
Naharnet/February 27/17/A cabinet session dedicated to discussing the 2017 state budget was called off on Monday due to a lack of quorum. Prime Minister Saad Hariri and 18 ministers waited for the arrival of their colleagues for around one hour before the session was postponed. LBCI television identified the absent ministers as Ayman Shuqair, Jamal al-Jarrah, Pierre Raffoul, Pierre Bou Assi, Cesar Abi Khalil, Melhem Riachi, Talal Arslan, Ghazi Zoaiter, Michel Pharaon, Mohammed Fneish and Nouhad al-Mashnouq, saying some of them are outside the country, some are “ill” while others have not offered any explanation. Several ministers stressed that the absence of their colleagues is not “politically motivated.”A statement issued by Hariri's press office said the premier “canceled a cabinet session scheduled for 4:00 pm at the Grand Serail after a number of ministers failed to show up on time.”Quoting sources close to the prime minister, LBCI television said a “dismayed” Hariri decided to call off the session to send a message to the “negligent” ministers that their behavior is “unacceptable.” The botched session was one of three consecutive sessions scheduled for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to continue the discussion of the state budget. Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil had announced after a session on Thursday that “very big progress” has been made towards approving the budget. “Today we made very big progress and in principle, all the legal articles pertaining to the budget have been finalized,” Khalil said after the “We have started discussing the taxing measures and the amendments and the premier has scheduled three sessions for next week that will start on Monday. According to my estimations, it is possible to finalize the budget during these sessions,” the minister added. Due to disputes between the rival political parties, Lebanon has not approved a state budget since 2005.

Lebanese paper mocks Minister Kara over killer robot comments
Roi Kais/Ynetnews/February 27/17/The Hezbollah-affiliated newspaper, Al Akhbar, lampoons Minister Ayoob Kara, saying 'Kara's solution to Israeli robot killing Nasrallah: Schwarzenegger movies.'The Lebanese and Hezbollah-affiliated newspaper, Al Akhbar, mocked Minister Ayoob Kara (Likud) Monday, over comments he made last week in which he referenced a robot "that will eliminate the heads of Hamas and Hezbollah" without endangering soldiers in hostile territories. Ridiculing Ayoob, the newspaper noted "The Israeli minister without portfolio, Ayoob Kara, has found the portfolio he was looking for: 'Minister of Science Fiction.'" In the article written by Yahya Dabouq, the Israeli Affairs correspondent, Dabouq sardonically added, "Tel Aviv's objective, killing its number one enemy, the Secretary General of the organization (Hezbollah), Hassan Nasrallah, is within reach. The solution, according to Kara, is the American movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger: 'Killer Robot.'"The newspaper's snarky remarks come in response to an interview Kara gave last week at a Be'er Sheva cultural event in which he made the comments. Kara's comments were mentioned throughout the Arab media, however they were conspicuously absent from Hezbollah's media arm, Al-Manar.

Report: Israeli Minister Reveals Technology to 'Assassinate Nasrallah'
Naharnet/February 27/17/An Israeli minister said that the Israeli army will soon possess a new robot technology that can assassinate Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and Hamas leaders, an Israeli news report said. Minister Without Portfolio Ayoob Kara stated that the new technology “can eliminate the enemies, mainly Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah and Hamas leaders in Gaza." The report said the robots will be ready in a year or two and will perform “dangerous missions instead of the Israeli army.”“After what happened in Gaza and Lebanon, I don’t want Israeli soldiers to enter anymore,” quoted the Israeli minister “I want our soldiers only at the international border. I can dispatch robots to Gaza in order to fight against them and to eliminate them face to face.”He explained that the new robot technology can enter into the smallest tunnels and can operate at a distance.

Why the French candidates are so keen to visit Lebanon
The National/February 27/17 /Marine Le Pen, the far-right French presidential frontrunner, visited Lebanon a few days ago. She met president Michel Aoun as well as prime minister Saad Hariri. Ms Le Pen’s rival, Emmanuel Macron, paid a visit to Beirut in January, while right-wing candidate François Fillon, who is to be the subject of a full judicial inquiry over allegations that he paid family members for fake parliamentary assistant jobs, cancelled his visit to Lebanon and Iraq this month. Writing in Aletihad, the Arabic-language sister publication of The National, the columnist Hazem Saghieh expressed his views on Ms Le Pen’s double position towards Arabs and Muslims. "First, she harbours racist and anti-Islamic sentiments that mainly target North African immigrants and French people of North African descent," Saghieh said. Second, she has long defended Syrian president Bashar Al Assad, calling on France and the West in general to start a dialogue with him. In a media interview she gave last month, the Front National party leader even stressed that "president Al Assad will win the war against Islamist fundamentalists."As such, Saghieh saw in Ms Le Pen’s visit a racial motive as she sought to exploit the region’s crises and the suffering of its people, especially minorities. It's "a path paved by the new American president, Donald Trump, whose stance on minorities differs from that of the Muslim majority in seven countries in this region, which is reflected in the immigration ban". According to the writer, Ms Le Pen’s visit to Lebanon builds on the country’s Christian particularity in the Middle East, while Mr Macron chose to visit Lebanon for a totally different reason. "During his trip, Mr Macron called for the adoption of a balanced policy towards the Syrian conflict, nonetheless without taking advantage of the issue of minorities and majorities in the Arab world," he added. Saghieh concluded that a great part of the French elections is taking place in the Arab world. This explains why a few weeks before the first round of voting, these candidates are visiting this region. According to the Arabic-language commentator Khairallah Khairallah, Ms Le Pen’s visit to Lebanon shows the true colours of France. Writing in the London-based pan-Arab daily newspaper Al Arab, Khairallah pointed out that Ms Le Pen could have visited Lebanon from the perspective of France’s affinity to the country and the thousands of French voters of Lebanese origin.
The writer found it outrageous that the representative of a racist, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant party visited Lebanon to promote the Syrian president and all that he represents. "Marine Le Pen visited Lebanon in a bid to terrify the Lebanese of ISIL, unaware that the Syrian regime is worse than ISIL as it has played a key role in creating the group. "Mr Al Assad and ISIL are two sides of the same coin, a fact totally overlooked by Ms Le Pen, who seeks to shore up her popularity in France by adopting opportunistic positions on the one hand and ignoring the reality on the other," Khairallah added.
According to the writer, the National Front party leader has revealed that France no longer has reliable visionaries to run for office. He saw Alain Juppé as the only candidate capable of restoring the dignity of the French presidency, but he was defeated in the right-wing primary by the scandal-tainted Mr Fillon.
"As for Mr Macron, he turned out to be a limelight-seeker with his condemnation of France’s colonial past in Algeria," he noted. That said, the writer considered that Mr Macron still has strong chances of winning, although his presidential qualifications leave much to be desired.
He concluded that each candidate in the French election is looking to secure trivial victories in the absence of a clear vision of France’s potential role in Europe, the Middle East and the rest of the world.
* Translated by Jennifer Attieh

Disciplinary move against UN envoy to Lebanon causes stir
Joseph A. Kechichian/Gulf News/February 27/17/
Kaag was summoned by the ministry of foreign affairs over a tweet which was interpreted as being critical of Aoun
Beirut: In an apparent muscle-flexing move by Hezbollah, the Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned UN representative Sigrid Kaag after a tweet she posted last week calling to uphold UN Resolution 1701 which ended the Israeli war against Hezbollah. Her tweet came after an interview by Lebanese President Michel Aoun in mid-February when he told a private Egyptian TV station that he backed Hezbollah’s ‘right’ to be armed — a point of contention inside Lebanon where all militias turned over their weapons after the country’s gruelling civil war except the Iran-backed group. Kaag affirmed 1701 was “vital for Lebanon’s stability and security”. But Al Nahar posited that the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon was hinting that there should be no arms outside control of state. Her tweet angered Foreign Minister Jibran Bassil, leader of the pro-Syrian Free Patriotic Movement Party and Aoun’s son-in-law. He summoned her and took the unconventional step of filing an official complaint about protocol. Director-General at the ministry, Ambassador Wafiq Mohammed Rhayme reportedly told her that the tweet was an undiplomatic criticism of a head-of-state, and that she should operate within a narrower context to fulfil her specified tasks.She insisted that her note was not directed at Aoun or his statements. Leading Western embassy officials in Lebanon are now demanding the Foreign Ministry to clarify the circumstances which led to Kaag’s summoning. Al Nahar reported that the embassies have yet to receive an answer.
On August 11, 2006, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1701 to stop the Israeli war against Hezbollah, called for a full implementation of the Taif Accords and, far more critically, resolutions 1559 (2004) and 1680 (2006), which required the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon.Kaag, a Dutch diplomat married to a Palestinian, assumed her Lebanon post in January 2015 after serving as Under Secretary-General and Special Coordinator of the United Nations Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. She is expected to replace Staffan de Mistura as Special Envoy to Syria and, should she assume that office, will play a vital role in determining the political process that will presumably resolve the safe return of Syrian refugees from Lebanon back to their country.

Kuwaiti Ambassador hopes Lebanese will agree on election law
Mon 27 Feb 2017/NNA - Kuwaiti Ambassador to Lebanon, Abdul Al al-Qinai, hoped on Monday that the Lebanese would eventually reach agreement on an election law and achieve the imminent legislative polls. "We hope that brotherly Lebanon would be able to reach agreement over an election law and achieve the legislative polls in a way that allows this authentic Arab country to carry on its usual life, and keep on developing and prospering," the envoy told a reception ceremony he hosted at Biel, upon Kuwait's 56th National Day and 26th liberation commemoration. "The Kuwaiti-Lebanese relations are deep rooted in history, whether on th official or popular level; these ties are growing deeper and closer throughout time, thanks to the wisdom and determination of the two countries' leaderships," he said. "Since its foundation, Kuwait has endeavored to stand by every Arab and Islamic cause, on top of which the Palestinian Cause; and has generously supported the Arab brothers and others from the poor and damaged countries anywhere, regardless of religion, race, or political affiliation," he added. The event was attended by representatives of the President, House Speaker, and Prime Minister, in addition to a panel of politicians, diplomats, and media figures.

Kahawaji, Votel tackle military aid and cooperation
Mon 27 Feb 2017/NNA - Army Commander General Jean Khawaji met on Monday at his Yarzeh office with the Head of U.S. Central Command, General Joseph Votel, in the presence of US Ambassador to Lebanon, Elizabeth Richard, with talks reportedly touching on bilateral relations between both countries' armies, and the needs of the Lebanese Army in terms of ammunition and advanced materiel to fortify Lebanon from the hazards of terrorist organizations, and crises in the region. General Kahwaji thanked the leadership of the US Army and the US authorities for the "qualitative military aids provided to the Lebanese army," and commended General Votel's remarkable cooperation with the military institution to strengthen its combat capabilities. General Votel, for his part, branded the security partnership between both countries' armies as deeply rooted and strong, expressing his country's confidence in the efficiency of the Lebanese army and admiration of its remarkable achievements in the fight against terrorism and border control to maintain the stability of Lebanon. Votel stressed ongoing determination to continue cooperation between the two sides in the various fields, especially in terms of support for the special units of the Lebanese army. Votel held a press conference at the Officers' Club in Yarzeh, attended by General Kahwaji and Ambassador Richard and a number of army officers. Votel said during the press conference that he thanked all the officials for the excellent work carried out by the Lebanese army units in the face of the terrorist organization Daash on the eastern border. On the issue of the Syrian refugees and controlling their influx into Lebanon, Votel expressed keenness on working with the Lebanese army to strengthen their abilities in the field of border control.

ISF refutes circulated info about phone numbers stealing data and images

Mon 27 Feb 2017/NNA - Internal Security Forces Directorate General refuted in a communiqué what has been circulated in some social media networks, notably Whatsapp Service, about the presence of international and Lebanese phone numbers whose callers can get through the cellular phones and steal data information and images. "Such circulated info is groundless," statement said, clarifying that receiving the call does not technically lead to the infiltration of the malicious program "VIRUS TROJAN or" into the cellular device of the receiver.However, the possible damage could occur when the receiver calls once again the number which comes with the "Call Premium" feature, the matter that would inflict higher material cost than the normal tariff.

Hariri puts off Cabinet session for lack of quorum
Mon 27 Feb 2017/NNA - Prime Minister Saad Hariri adjourned the Cabinet session which was set to take place at the Grand Serail at 4.00 p.m. this afternoon due to the failure of a number of ministers to appear on schedule.

Hsbani: LF electricity reform plan practical not theoritical
Mon 27 Feb 2017/NNA - Deputy PrieMinister, Minister of Public Health Ghassan Hasbani, maintained on Monday that the plan proposed by the Lebanese Forces to reform the electricity sector through privatization is "practical" and not "theoritical," adding that the party sought to include the plan in the state budget. "We have been waiting for the electricity plan to be implmeneted for ten years now," he told the news bulletin on MTV channel. "Why not resort to Lebanese companies to produce electiricity through investments by the Lebanese banks and investors?" he wondered. "This is an available option. Otherwise, providing electricity would take additional 20 years."

Army: 3 enemy drones violate Lebanese airspace
Mon 27 Feb 2017/NNA - A spying drone belonging to the Israeli enemy violated at 1:25 pm today the Lebanese airspace over Kfarkela, and effectuated circular flights off West Bekaa, then left at 5:20 pm, a communiqué by the Lebanese army indicated on Monday. Earlier at 1:20 pm, two enemy warplanes flew for 25 minutes over the sea west Shekka.

Asbat al Ansar gunmen deploy in Ain el Hilwe
Mon 27 Feb 2017/NNA - Armed members of Asbat-al-Ansar group deployed this evening in Teira and Sofsaf streets inside the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain-el-Hilwe, National News Agency correspondent reported on Monday.

Bomb detonates inside Ain el Hilwe camp
Mon 27 Feb 2017/NNA - A bomb detonated this evening in the face of al-Barrak call center inside the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain-el-Hilwe, National News Agency correspondent reported on Monday.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 27-28/17
Egypt Denies Asking Christian Residents to Leave North Sinai

Mohamed Abdu Hassanein/Asharq Al Awsat/February 27/17
Cairo – Several members of the Egyptian parliament demanded to check the country’s security plan against ISIS in north Sinai, in what seems a doubt of the government’s ability to end the attacks of the terrorist organization. The request comes after hundreds of Egypt’s Coptic Christians have fled the Sinai Peninsula following a number of killings in recent weeks by suspected militants. Speaker of the parliament refused the demanded saying that strategies are confidential and are not subject to any parliament in the world. Egypt’s Minister of Interior Magdy Abdel-Ghaffar defended his country’s security strategy on Sunday saying that the ministry has not asked any citizen to leave North Sinai. Since Friday, Christian families began leaving their homes in north Sinai after ISIS terrorists have shot and killed at least seven Christians in separate attacks in Sinai’s el-Arish city.
Evangelical Church in the Suez Canal city of Ismailiya began receiving displaced citizens.
The speaker pointed out that no parliament in the world demands its army to present a security plan to secure the area.He added that everyone in this world knows that the armed forces and police are fighting terrorism on behalf of the entire world. The speaker stressed that the parliament more than once stood a minute of silence for the martyrs of the police and army who lost their lives while fighting terrorism in difficult areas. He also mentioned that Minister of Social Solidarity, governor of Ismailia and a number of MPs visited the displaced civilians to see to their needs. MP Samah Saad said that the murder against the officers in Arish is part of the attacks against forces that have been happening for years now. She added that Coptic families should be secured against the attacks that threaten their religious identity. In addition, MP Margaret Azar said that terrorism targets both the army and the Coptic families. She added that Ministry of Housing promised to provide places to all families that were displaced. Azar demanded the armed forces to send messages of reassurance for the families in the area.
Minister Abdel-Ghaffar held a meeting with top security officials on Sunday during which he said that the ministry has not asked any citizen to leave North Sinai. During the meeting, Abdel-Ghaffar said the ministry is responsible for the safety of all citizens across the whole state, including North Sinai, vowing to continue the fight against terrorism, sparing no effort. He praised the achievements of the security forces, stressing that the citizens should trust the forces’ capabilities to defend the country. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Sherif Ismail ordered the establishment of an operations room to coordinate the provision of services to the families. In addition, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi hailed the “strategic and special” military relations with the United States. Presidential spokesperson Alaa Youssef said that Sisi met on Sunday General Joseph L. Votel, commander of the US Central Command (CENTCOM), in the presence of Egyptian Minister of Defense Sedki Sobhi and US ambassador to Egypt Robert S. Beercroft. The meeting tackled the latest security developments in the Middle East and international efforts to eradicate terrorism and ways to restore security and stability in the region.
Both sides discussed several issues of common interest and ways to restore stability in the Middle East – in addition to increasing military cooperation in exchanging military expertise between the Egyptian armed forces and their American counterparts. Sisi emphasized the importance of strategic Egypt-US relations, namely in military cooperation, suggesting its expansion to face the parallel increase of extremism and terrorism threats to the region and the world. Sisi told Votel Egypt has, over the past three years, spared no effort in its fight against terrorism and extremism, Youssef added. The two countries are convinced that this is the perfect way to end conflicts, spare further bloodshed and restore peace and stability to the region. For his part, Votel described Egypt as “one of our most important partners in the region,” a statement by the US embassy said Sunday.

Putin Says Astana Talks Helped Revive Geneva as Syrian Opposition Meets Russians
Asharq Al-Awsat English/February 27/17/Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday that talks on consolidating the Syrian ceasefire held in Kazakhstan’s capital this year helped jumpstart the United Nations-led peace negotiations in Geneva. At the first round of the talks in Astana in January, Russia and Iran, allies of the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, and Turkey, an Assad opponent, reaffirmed a shaky ceasefire between insurgents and the regime. A mechanism to control the ceasefire has been created, which is the most important thing,” Putin told reporters during a visit to Kazakhstan.
“This is the foundation that has allowed the Geneva negotiations to resume.”The Astana ceasefire has been repeatedly violated, while the war with jihadist groups such as ISIS – which are not included under the ceasefire – has raged on. Meanwhile, a senior negotiator said the main Syrian opposition group at the Geneva talks plans to meet Russian envoys to discuss promises it says Moscow had not kept. “The (opposition) High Negotiations Committee (HNC) will be meeting today with the delegation of the foreign ministry,” negotiator Mohammed Alloush told Reuters when asked if he planned to meet Russian officials. “The Russians did not fulfil a ceasefire agreement despite the promises from the highest levels of the Russian delegation,” Alloush, a member of the Jaish al-Islam rebel group, said. Also Monday, the Russian frigate Admiral Grigorovich left the port of Sevastopol in Crimea for the Mediterranean where it will join the country’s naval forces deployed near the Syrian coast, a naval official said. The frigate armed with Kalibr (Caliber) cruise missiles was deployed to the Mediterranean Sea last November as part of Russia’s naval task force to Syria where it launched missile strikes against ISIS targets. On the battlefield, regime air raids on northwest Syria killed at least 11 people overnight, mostly civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday. “Regime warplanes carried out air strikes after midnight on several areas in the town of Ariha” in Idlib province, said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman. “The preliminary toll is 11 killed, including at least seven civilians,” three of them children, he said. Also in northern Syria, a military source told AFP that Syrian forces had “seized 18 towns and villages, including the town of Taduf and a number of strategic hilltops in eastern Aleppo province, totaling about 600 square kilometers.”Taduf had been held by ISIS jihadists and lies near Al-Bab, a key town where rebel fighters, backed by Turkish soldiers, artillery, and air power, defeated the terrorist organization last week.

Opposition: We have evidence that confirms Syrian regime’s ties to ISIS
Staff writer, Monday, 27 February 2017/Colonel Fateh Hassoun, a member of the Syrian opposition, confirmed during the Geneva discussions that the delegation is in possession of visual evidence, which confirms that the Syrian regime is closely involved with ISIS. According to Hassoun, the involvement included the handing over Tadmur twice over to ISIS. Colonel Hasooun further stated that “the file will be handed over to the United Nations”. Colonel Hassoun had previously stated that the attack on Homs was executed by government forces, and that the opposition owns evidence that proves that there is a relationship between the regime and ISIS, and their coordination with one another. Moreover, Naser al-hariri, member of the Syrian opposition delegation, accused the governments’ delegation of trying to sabotage the negotiations, adding that the delegation consists of at least five people from the two groups, Cairo and Moscow. Furthermore, the regime’s delegate had not spoken about the airstrikes which were carried out on civilian communities, he stressed. Al-Hariri stated that “our position is honest and clear in condemning all terrorism and terrorist attacks, we also condemn ISIS and everyone who is related to unpatriotic and un-Syrian agendas”. Al-hariri’s statement came as a direct response to Al-jaafari claim to issue a stance that condemns the suicide bombing that struck the city of Homs on Saturday that left forty-two dead. Earlier that day, during the peace convention in Geneva, the Syrian regime's representative Bashar al-Jaafari demanded that they condemn the attacks on the security forces in Homs, warning that if they choose not do so they would be considered terrorist as well.
Last Update: Monday, 27 February 2017 KSA 12:04 - GMT 09:04

Russia wants Kurdish representatives in Geneva talks
By Reuters Monday, 27 February 2017/Russia hopes the Syrian opposition will form a joint delegation for the Geneva peace talks, RIA Novosti news agency reported on Monday, citing Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov. The agency also quoted Bogdanov as saying that Kurdish representatives should also take part in the talks. The United Nations opened the Syria peace talks with a symbolic ceremony last Thursday.

Iraqi forces battling ISIS reach Mosul bridge
The Associated Press, Baghdad Monday, 27 February 2017/Iraqi forces reached one of Mosul’s five destroyed bridges on Monday as they pushed deeper into the western half of Iraq’s second largest city, driving ISIS militants back with the help of US-led airstrikes. Maj. Gen Thamir al-Hussaini said the militarized Federal Police advanced in the face of snipers, anti-tank missiles and suicide car bombs, describing “fierce” clashes in which Iraqi forces suffered casualties, without providing exact numbers. Just a few kilometers (miles) from the front, wounded troops streamed into field hospitals, many of them suffering from shrapnel wounds. One soldier had lost the lower part of his leg in an explosion. Frontline medics at one field hospital said they had received more than 20 casualties by midday. The medics spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations as Iraq’s military does not release casualty US-led airstrikes disabled all of Mosul’s bridges spanning the Tigris River last year in a bid to isolate the militants in the western half of the city. Iraq declared eastern Mosul “fully liberated” last month but the militants have carried out attacks there since then. Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen TV aired live footage from the western Gawsaq neighborhood, showing Iraqi troops in armored vehicles and Humvees rolling through dusty streets as gunfire rattled. Thick black smoke could be seen billowing up after airstrikes. Iraqi forces took Mosul’s international airport and a sprawling military base next to it last week before pushing into Mamun, the first neighborhood in the western half of the city after the airport. Mosul is Iraq’s second largest city, and its western half is the last significant urban area held by ISIS in the country. Iraq launched a massive operation in October aimed at retaking Mosul, which fell to ISIS in the summer of 2014, along with large swaths of northern and western Iraq.

Egypt’s parliament expels lawmaker who had criticized it
The Associated Press, Cairo Monday, 27 February 2017/Egypt’s parliament has expelled a lawmaker who spoke out against alleged corruption and criticized the body for its handling of human rights issues. The legislature, which is packed with government supporters, accused Mohammed Anwar Sadat of forging the signatures of lawmakers and leaking classified information to foreign agencies. Sadat, the nephew of slain Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, dismissed the allegations in a brief statement Monday, saying “the parliament dropped my membership based on false accusations.”In January, Sadat had raised questions about the parliament’s purchase of three vehicles for more than $1 million at a time when the government is imposing austerity measures. The head of parliament, Ali Abdel-Aal, described such criticism of its budget as a “crime.”

Trump seeks $54bn increase in US military budget

Reuters, Washington Monday, 27 February 2017/President Donald Trump is seeking what he called a “historic” increase in military spending of more than 9 percent, a huge rise even as the United States has wound down major wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and remains the world's strongest military power. Trump will seek to boost Pentagon spending in the next fiscal year by $54 billion in his first budget proposal and slash the same amount from non-defense spending, including a large reduction in foreign aid, a White House budget official said on Monday. The president does not have the final say on federal spending. His plan for the military is part of a budget proposal to Congress, which, while it is controlled by his fellow Republicans, will not necessarily follow his plans. Budget negotiations with lawmakers can take months to play out. Trump told state governors at the White House that his budget plan includes a “historic increase in defense spending to rebuild the depleted military of the United States of America.”“This is a landmark event and message to the world in these dangerous times, of American strength, security and resolve. We must ensure that our courageous servicemen and women have the tools they need to deter war and when called upon to fight in our name, only do one thing: Win,” he said.

Egypt MP proposes extension of presidential terms
Special to Al Arabiya English Monday, 27 February 2017/An independent Egyptian lawmaker stirred controversy after proposing a motion to extend presidential terms from four to six years, only a year before the current term of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi comes to an end. Lawmaker Ismail Nasreddine said Sunday he will start collecting signatures to amend article 140 of the constitution to extend presidential terms, and lift restrictions on re-election, to allow a president to run for more than the two four-year terms currently permitted. In statements to the press, Nasreddine claimed the current rules restrain “the will of the nation” which should have the right to amend the constitution to suit the period’s circumstances, “regardless of who is the president.”"It will be the right of the president to nominate himself for the office as he wishes... and the right of the people to choose him or reject him," he told reporters. He also noted that extending the presidential term from four to six years was a “necessity” for countries that recently experienced democratic and economic changes, as it helps the executive authority to stay in power for a relatively long period to deliver long term plans. The lawmaker will need the support of 20 percent of MPs to table a discussion on the issue in parliament. And even if he is able to push an amendment through parliament by the required two-thirds majority, the constitution also stipulates that any revision be approved by public referendum. But the timing of the motion triggered a debate on whether it is intended to allow Sisi to seek a re-election, when his current term ends in 2018. So far, Sisi has not said whether he will seek re-election and promised to respect the will of Egyptians. Constitutional law professor Salah Fawzy said nothing prevented amending the constitution, but the amendment has to be either requested by the president, or at least approved by two-thirds of the members of the parliament, and then approved by the people in a referendum, in statements to Al Watan newspaper. Public law professor Ahmad Mahran said not only the public should have a say on the amendments, but that “constitutional amendments should only be made for reasons considered in the public interest and national security”, describing the current calls for extending presidential terms as “attempts to get closer to the leadership.”In the same vein, constitutional expert Shawky Sayed said the request by Nasreddine is “inappropriate and unconstitutional”, saying amendments have to follow a certain procedure, and that it can’t be based on “a member who suddenly thought of changing its articles, so it gets amended.
(This article includes information from Reuters)

Israeli forces shoot Palestinian woman at West Bank crossing
AFP, Qalandiya Monday, 27 February /A Palestinian woman suspected of intending to attack Israeli guards at a West Bank checkpoint into Jerusalem was shot and injured by security forces Monday, police said. The 30-year-old woman allegedly walked towards the guards at the Qalandia checkpoint using the vehicle-only lane “all the time clutching her handbag in a way that made them suspicious,” police spokeswoman Luba Samri wrote in a statement. She had ignored repeated orders to halt and they opened fire. The Palestinian woman was lightly injured and taken by Israeli ambulance for medical treatment, Samri added, without specifying if any suspect items were found in her handbag. Since a wave of violence broke out in October 2015, 252 Palestinians, 41 Israelis, two Americans, a Jordanian, an Eritrean and a Sudanese have died. The rate of attacks has declined sharply in recent months.

Iran tests new versions of the Nasir, Dehlaviyeh missiles in naval exercises
AFP, Tehran Monday, 27 February 2017/Iran’s navy has test-fired the latest versions of the Nasir and Dehlaviyeh missiles during military exercises in the Gulf, local media reported on Monday. “The latest naval cruise missile called Nasir was test-fired during Velayat 95 naval manoeuvres in the southern waters of the country,” said Defence Minister Hossein Dehghan, according to the Fars news agency, adding that the missile had successfully hit its target. Tasnim news agency said the Dehlaviyeh, a laser-guided missile, had also been successfully tested. It was reported back in 2012 that Iran had based the Dehlaviyeh on a Russian anti-tank The ranges of the latest versions were not given.

Rafsanjani’s daughter: Mysterious cause behind my father’s death
Staff writer, Monday, 27 February 2017/Fatima Rafsanjani, daughter of former Iranian President and chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, said that the reasons behind her father’s death are still ambiguous. On January 8, Rafsanjani died at the age of 83 after a heart attack, as announced by the Iranian government. However his daughter Fatima said in an interview with Iranian ISNA news agency that the statements of the Health Minister and several doctors who examined her father “were inaccurate and contradictory.” Fatima Rafsanjani said that “evidence submitted by the doctors about her father’s death is not convincing and opposed to what she knows.”She also stressed that her father was in good health before his death and he was examined by an experienced Iranian doctor who lives in the United States. The Iranian opposition Green Movement supporters stated that Rafsanjani might have been biologically assassinated, due to his recent escalating problems with Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei. They claim that there are several signs that prove that Rafsanjani was assassinated and not dead after a heart attack. Rohollah Zam, who is close to the Green Movement’s leaders, told the Farsi-speaking “Voice of America” radio, that “Rafsanjani was choked underwater in the pool when he went to the gym.”Mehdi Khozali, son of late Shiite cleric Abul Qasim Khozali, said that doctors have issued a death certificate for Rafsanjani under pressure, adding that the certificate was supposed to be issued by forensics. He also said that Rafsanjani’s family members are under severe security pressures and they are not allowed to be interviewed about their father’s death. A controversy was raised after the statement of Iranian Health Minister Hassan Qazi Zada Hashemi, where he said that Rafsanjani’s medical team was not with him when his health deteriorated so he was rushed to the hospital but it was too late.” Reformist Aftab News website revealed that there was a medical malpractice when Rafsanjani has first suffered from the heart attack. Disregarding the reasons behind the death of the “Iranian political fox” as Rafsanjani was nicknamed, a debate sparked regarding his political legacy between the openness and following reformers in the last two decades and his role in consolidating the pillars of the authoritarian Wilayat al-faqih regime.

Indonesia police shoot dead suspected militant during attack

By Associated Press Monday, 27 February 2017/Indonesian police said they shot and killed a suspected militant in the West Java capital of Bandung on Monday after his bomb exploded in a vacant lot and he fled into a municipal building and set it alight. National police chief Tito Karnavian said the man was a member of Jemaah Ansharut Daulah, which was designated a terrorist organization by the US in January. Members of the militant group have contacts with Bahrun Naim, an Indonesian fighting with the ISIS group in Syria who has instigated several attacks by JAD in Indonesia. Karnavian said the attacker wanted fellow Islamic militants who are in prison to be released. “What we know is that he is from JAD, but we are still not sure whether he has contact with Bahrun Naim,” Karnavian said. “Clearly he wanted his friends to be released.” West Java police spokesman Yusri Yunus said the attacker was shot in the stomach and died on the way to a hospital. No one apart from the suspected militant was injured in the attack, which triggered a massive police response and gunbattle. TV footage showed police storming the municipal building as black smoke billowed from its upper floors.
Indonesia has carried out a sustained crackdown on Islamic militants since the 2002 bombings on the tourist island of Bali killed 202 people, mostly foreigners. The arrests of hundreds of militants and the killings of leading figures have neutralized the Jemaah Islamiyah militant network, which was responsible for the Bali bombings and other attacks, but a new threat has emerged from ISIS-inspired radicals.An attack in January 2016 in Jakarta, Indonesia's capital, killed eight people, including four attackers. Other recent attacks have killed only the perpetrators or been foiled by counterterrorism police, including a December plot to bomb a guard-changing ceremony at the presidential palace, a popular attraction in Jakarta. Yunus said another person may have been involved in Monday's attack because witnesses told police they saw two men on a motorbike arrive at the lot where the bomb exploded and one of them riding away following the explosion. The low-explosive bomb exploded about 50 meters (55 yards) from the municipal building. Yunus said the man who entered the building was armed with a gun and apparently had explosives in a backpack. When police called on him to surrender, he responded by throwing out an explosive. All workers in the building escaped after the attacker ran into it. TV footage showed police using a ladder to help some people out through the building's windows. Iwan, a Bandung resident identified by one name, told MetroTV that he heard the explosion and saw residents and students chasing the attacker as he ran to the building, yelling, "Terrorist! Terrorist! Catch him!"

Afghan official: Attack which killed UAE officials planned in Pakistan
By Staff writer Al Arabiya News English Monday, 27 February 2017/A senior Afghan interior ministry official has alleged that a terror attack last month that killed six Emirati diplomats in Kandahar was planned in Pakistan. “The attack was planned in Mawlawi Ahmad Madrassa in Chaman, Quetta,” Sediq Seddiqi, a spokesman for the Afghan ministry of interior, told Voice of America. The United Arab Emirates ambassador to Afghanistan died of wounds sustained in the bomb attack in Kandahar last month that also killed five others. The diplomats were expected to open a number of UAE-backed projects as part of an aid program in Afghanistan. The Taliban denied carrying out the bombing, saying the attack was a result of “internal local rivalry”. VOA said 30,000 madrassas operate across Pakistan, most of them legal and adhering strictly to religious teaching, the report said. “But thousands of them are not registered with the government and are teaching grounds and recruiting points for militants and Taliban, according to Pakistan and Afghan intelligence officials,” it added.

Rocket fired from Gaza hits southern Israel, army claims

By AFP Monday, 27 February 2017/A rocket or mortar round launched from the Gaza Strip slammed into southern Israel before dawn on Monday but caused no casualties, the Israeli army said. “A projectile fired from the Gaza Strip hit an open southern Israel,” a military statement said. “No injuries have been reported.”Security forces were sweeping the area where the object is thought to have fallen in order to recover fragments for investigation, the statement said. Early in February Israel hit Gaza with tank fire and air strikes that wounded three Palestinians in response to a projectile fired from the Palestinian territory which wounded nobody. On February 16, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned Gaza's Hamas rulers that he would respond harshly to their "provocation" in future.

Trump expected to sign new refugee order on Wednesday

By Associated Press Monday, 27 February 2017/President Donald Trump is expected to sign a new refugee and immigration executive order on Wednesday, one day after addressing lawmakers at a joint session of Congress. That's according to a senior administration official. Trump initially planned to sign the new order last week, but spokesman Sean Spicer said the president was holding off “to make sure that when we execute this, it's done in a manner that's flawless.”The president's initial order temporarily halting all entries into the US from seven Muslim-majority countries was blocked by a federal judge. Trump has vigorously criticized the decision. The administration official was not authorized to discuss the rollout of the new order publicly and insisted on anonymity.

Air Strike Kills Key Taliban Commander in Northern Afghanistan
Asharq Al-Awsat English/February 27/17/An air strike has killed a senior Afghan Taliban commander who twice oversaw the capture of a strategic northern city and who has been declared dead several times in the past, officials said Monday. Mullah Abdul Salam Akhund, the Taliban shadow governor in Kunduz province, was killed on Sunday when he was holding a meeting in the volatile Dasht-e-Archi district. “He was killed with five others in the house,” said provincial governor Asadullah Amarkhil. The Taliban acknowledged the death of “the conquerer of Kunduz”, saying he was killed in a “cowardly attack by US invaders”.“He was on a journey a few days ago and stopped at a house at Dasht-e-Archi town when the drone fired missiles,” said a Taliban official. Akhund, who had previously been reported dead several times by Afghan officials, had led the insurgents to mount several attacks in Kunduz since 2011.
A US military spokesman said an American warplane had conducted a strike in Kunduz on Sunday, but the command did “not have confirmation of the results.”The Taliban seized the provincial capital Kunduz city for about two weeks in September 2015, in their biggest victory since they were toppled from national power by a US-led invasion in 2001. The militants briefly overran the city again in October last year before they were beaten back by NATO-backed Afghan forces.

Iranian Army Stages Exercises between Strait of Hormuz and Bab-el-Mandeb

Asharq Al-Awsat/February 27/17/London- Iranian Naval Commander Admiral Habiballah Siari has announced that navy maneuvers began in a two million square kilometer area that stretches from the Strait of Hormuz to the north of the Indian Ocean near Bab-el-Mandeb. Siari stated that some segments of the Iranian Navy will take part in the concluding phase of maneuvers code-named ‘Velayat 95’ – similar drills code-named ‘Velayat 94’ were conducted in 2016. “These maneuvers will show the Iranian Navy power in the international seas,” he said, denying that they are a threat to other countries. Iranian maneuvers coincide with tension between Washington and Tehran that erupted last month after the ballistic missile test in Iran. Trump’s administration issued an official warning to Tehran, considering it the biggest state sponsor of terrorism. US Navy’s Fifth Fleet refused to comment on the Iranian maneuvers, knowing that the fleet protects sea lanes from the Gulf to the Strait of Hormuz.During the past years, Iran’s threats to close the Strait of Hormuz and prevent the entry of oil tankers to the region became a source of concern for the international community, but Iran says that its military forces’ alertness in that region falls under the framework of protecting Iranian ships from piracy. Iran is facing accusations of transferring arms to conflict zones in the region, especially to the Houthis in Yemen. Yet Siari said: “The maneuvers contribute to the region’s security and confronts maritime terrorism.”During his electoral campaign, Trump warned of targeting the Iranian Navy in case it approached US ships. Lieutenant Commander of the Iranian Army Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Pourdastan pointed to recent war games staged by the Iranian Army and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and said the main objective behind them is to create preparedness and prevent sudden attacks. “In case of any foreign aggression, the aggressor will definitely regret its action,” Pourdastan added.

Syrian Actor Jamal Soliman Makes A Plea For Democracy: It Is A Culture, A Way Of Life, Not A Magic Solution
MEMRI/February 27/17/In a recent Al-Jazeera TV interview, Syrian actor Jamal Soliman talked about the role of culture and education in preventing terrorism and extremism, saying that security measures, although necessary, were not sufficient. "This is a matter of education and culture," he said. It is a "dangerous matter" when the citizen-state relationship becomes "distorted and shattered" and "hostile," as it has in the Arab world, he said. On the issue of democracy, Soliman said that although it is not a magic solution and does not boil down to elections alone, "we need to begin to establish democracy tomorrow, so that in 20 years, we will be living in a real country." The interview aired on January 5. Jamal Soliman: "We are talking about a conspiracy against the Arab region. Sir, I believe in conspiracy theories and know that such conspiracies exist. But in my view, we are the ones who conspire the most against ourselves. We help conspiracies thrive. We roll out red carpets for them. (It's like) somebody wanting to burn down my home, and me preparing a heap of dry firewood outside my door for him, so that the fire will spread quickly and be lethal. I believe that culture plays a major role in what has happened and is happening in the Arab world. The rhetoric in the Arab world today talks about the fight against extremism and the extremist ideology, which leads to violence, killings, takfir, and so on. How are we to fight extremism and violence? Are we to fight extremism only through the intelligence agencies?
"I understand full well that when there is a terrorist cell that is planning to blow some place up and kill innocent people, it is of course necessary to raid the place and arrest them, and to shoot them if necessary. There is no argument about this, because this is the duty of the state. But how are we to prevent the emergence of more terrorists and extremists? This is a matter of education and culture. Social development in the Arab world is almost non-existent, because people do not have the means to become enlightened. Even the relationship between the Arab citizen and the state has become distorted and shattered, and even appears to be hostile. This is a dangerous matter. True, this is connected to justice, to decency, to life in reasonable economic and humane conditions, and to human dignity, but it is also connected to culture, to the fact that this is my country, my homeland, in which I am a partner and which I defend, just as I criticize it when it is wrong. I believe that even the democracy to which we aspire in our beloved, precious Syria... "Many people ask me whether democracy will resolve the problems. No. We need to begin to establish democracy tomorrow, so that in 20 years, we will be living in a real country. Democracy is not a magic recipe, and it does not mean just the ballot box - because (if it did), I would be able to buy votes for the price of a shawarma. People would vote according to their sectarian, tribal, or geographical affiliation, and this would be lethal to democracy. That's why (elections) can be lethal, and then people yearn for the days of dictatorship. Democracy is a culture, a way of life. We need to reinforce this, through books, through plays, through films, and through TV series - especially TV series, because they have the most impact on the Arab viewer."

11 Killed in Government Raids on Northwest Syria
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 27/17/Government air strikes on northwest Syria killed at least 11 people overnight, most of them civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday. "Government warplanes carried out air strikes after midnight on several areas in the town of Ariha" in Idlib province, said the monitoring group's head Rami Abdel Rahman. "The preliminary toll is 11 killed, including at least seven civilians," three of them children, he said. Others were still missing and rescue teams were searching for anyone trapped under the rubble, Abdel Rahman added. Leith Fares, a rescue worker in Ariha, told AFP his team had pulled at least 20 wounded people out of the rubble. "We've been working since 3:00 am (0100 GMT) to rescue victims still under the rubble of two four-storey buildings that totally collapsed on the residents inside," he said.
"We're still looking for two families, estimated at eight to 10 members each, that are still trapped," Fares said. The deaths come two days after 10 civilians were killed in government air strikes on Ariha, held since spring 2015 by an anti-regime coalition dominated by jihadists. Idlib province has been battered by heavy air strikes in recent weeks, with intensifying bombing raids by regime warplanes in particular, according to the Observatory. It has also been rocked by infighting between rebel and jihadist factions, including Al-Qaeda's former Syrian affiliate, Fateh al-Sham Front.

Iran: Four Civil Rights Activists Sentenced to 45 Years' Imprisonment and Eight Years of Exile
NCRI/Monday, 27 February 2017/Four Turkish speaking civil rights activists in Iran have been sentenced to 45 years in jail and 8 years of exile on charges including commemorating International Mother Language Day. According to the verdict, the activists have been interrogated and convicted due to their beliefs and peaceful cultural and linguistic activities. Issued on February 19, the verdict has been communicated to the activists on February 21, coinciding with international Mother Language Day. Court documents show that the activists have been involved in no violent activities, with cultural and linguistic activities being their most areas of interest. According to reports, the activists’ sentences are as follows: Alireza Farshi, 15 years of imprisonment and two years of exile in Khuzestan province, Akbar Azad, 10 years of imprisonment and two years of exile in Ilam province, Behnam Sheikhi, ten years of imprisonment and two years of exile in Khuzestan province, and Hamid Manfi, ten years of imprisonment and two years of exile in Lorestan province. A Turk activist said in this regard that the defendants’ main charge was holding a ceremony to commemorate International Mother Language Day in 2014, which along with their forming mountain climbing groups and publishing contents on social networks, has been regarded as ‘divergent and separatist measures’ by the Revolutionary court.February 21 has been named by UNESCO as International Mother Language Day. Ethnic rights activists in some regions of Iran commemorate the day in unofficial ceremonies. Meanwhile, twitter users criticized the ban on teaching languages other than Farsi at schools with #MotherTongue. Teaching mother tongue at schools and universities was one of Hassan Rouhani’s promises during his Presidential Election campaign.

Giulio Terzi: Iran Regime Exports Fundamentalism and Terrorism to Conceal It's Disabilities
NCRI/Monday, 27 February 2017/The former Italy's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Giulio Terzi warned about the interference of the Iranian regime in the region, stating that the regime intends to cover its disabilities in resolving people's issues by exporting domestic crisis to abroad. Consequently, the regime is in dire need to export fundamentalism and terrorism and it cannot survive without interference.In an interview with the Saudi Newspaper, al-Jazeera, Giulio Terzi stated: “in order to guarantee a democratic change in Syria without Assad, it is strictly necessary to prevent the Iranian regime's meddling in Syria. Additionally, the regime's meddling in Iraq must be stopped. Nevertheless, for the successful realization of these goals in order to change the situation in Iran. All measures shall be implemented with the efforts of the Iranian Resistance and the MEK. The 10-point plan formulated by Maryam Rajavi the president elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) very well illustrates patience and contemplation. This [plan] can defeat fundamentalism in the Middle East, sovereign the moderating forces and democrats, and establish stability and democracy. Therefore, not only should [the Iranian Resistance] be supported by Western governments but it also has to receive support from all democratic nations as well as all citizens who think of human values and freedoms.

Iran: the Terrorist Mullah's Trip to Europe Must Be Canceled

NCRI Statements/Monday, 27 February 2017/The Iranian Resistance strongly condemns the trip of criminal cleric Hashem Hosseini Boushehri, a member of the Presidency of the Assembly of Experts and Vice Chairman of two organs of the regime for the export of terrorism and fundamentalism called "Al-Mustafa Society" and "Al-Zahra Society" to Austria and calls for its cancellation. The mandate of Al-Mustafa Society and Al-Zahra Society is the recruitment of non-Iranian mercenaries and training and organizing them for terrorist operations and expansion of Islamic extremism outside of Iran. Al-Mustafa Society, where Mullah Boushehri has been its Vice Chairman for years, was formed in 2008 by Khamenei’s order with the merger of two of the regime’s organizations abroad called the "Global Center of Islamic Sciences" and "the organization of theological schools abroad". Al-Mustafa Society has created "seminaries" in 78 countries and under the cover of cultural and advertising activities advances its goals. ore than 12,500 recruited personnel are trained in Al-Mustafa and Al-Zahra related schools. Terrorist Qods Force, in coordination with Al-Mustafa Society, recruits suitable people foe terrorist projects. The Qods Force director for Europe and America works in concert with representatives of Al-Mustafa Society in European The trip of this criminal mullahs to Austria which takes place under the cover of “Propaganda trip”, paves the way for export of terrorism and crisis to Europe and terrorist acts against Iranian refugees in these countries. Secretariat of the National Council of Resistance of /February 26, 2017

U.S. Soft Diplomacy to Move Al-Abadi Away From Iran Regime
NCRI/Monday, 27 February 2017/The Trump administration is trying to increase its support of al-Abadi and appease the Iraqi figures known to keep their distance from Tehran in order to gain more favor for US-offered options. In an article titled ‘American soft diplomacy to move al-Abadi away from Tehran’, the London-based al-Arab newspaper writes on February 22: “in his visit to Iraqi capital, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis made comments which, unlike Trump’s, seemed to use proper words with regard to Iraqi oil. Informed Iraqi circles believe that Mattis’s comments suggest a soft US diplomacy aimed at appeasing Abadi and encouraging him to cut relations with Tehran. This move is considered as part of a Washington’s scenario to pull Iraq out of Iranian hegemony while staying away from Trump’s harsh and controversial remarks.”“A source in Abadi’s office revealed to the newspaper that Iraq’s case has been taken from Joe Biden, US Vice President under Obama, and given over to the next Secretary of Defense. According to the case, the first priority in Iraq is defeating ISIS and that US special troops play a bigger role in containing pro-Iran al-Hashd al-Shabi militias”, added the newspaper. “Concerned about Iran’s influence at the last minute, Mattis is taking the last steps to pave the way for completely defeating ISIS”, writes Al-Arab. According to the article, “the Trump administration tries to openly support al-Abadi and appease Iraqi figures known to keep their distance from Tehran, so that it can expand the circle of supporters of reducing Iran’s influence. This could include Shiite figures like Muqtada al-Sadr as well as Sunni ones and prominent leaders in Iraqi Kurdistan region.” “Mattis’s visit to Iraq comes a day after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of a ground offensive against Isis in western Mosul”, writes Al-Arab, concluding the article.

Iran Regime's Ridiculous Claim: IRGC Defends the Region Against Terrorism
NCRI/Monday, 27 February 2017/As the U.S. government weighs designating Iran's Revolutionary Guards a terrorist group, the Iranian regime’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif stated that IRGC is the biggest guardian of the neighboring countries against terrorism. Referring to the U.S. government's plan to designate the IRGC as a terrorist group. Zarif claimed that the whole world acknowledges the IRGC as the guardian of the neighboring countries against terrorism more than any other party." According to reports published by the state-run IRNA News, on February 25. In fact IRGC supports the fundamentalist and radical Shiite militias in some countries of the region such as Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. Nearly a month ago, Reuters quoted some US officials announcing that Trump has asked the institutions to consider a plan in order to list the IRGC as one of the terrorist organizations. A number of the IRGC officials and its affiliated organizations and even the foreign companies who work with the IRGC are currently on the sanctions list of the US. The IRGC is the most powerful military-security organization that represses internal clashes and exports warmongering plans in the region. This organization is almost involved in all key industries and businesses in Iran. Iran's missile tests are carried out by the IRGC and they have been criticized by the U.S. and some of its allies in the region. The U.S. Department of the Treasury added 13 individuals and 12 entities linked to Iran to the sanctions list.

Iran Regime's IRGC Is Training Fighters in Syria
NCRI/Monday, 27 February 2017/It has been reported through Iranian regime’s media outlets that Iran is using Syria as a battleground to train military officers. The Imam Hossein University in Tehran which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) confirmed that military leadership students have been sent to Syria to train. Iran claims that its forces are there to protect a holy site in Damascus – the Zeinab Shrine. However, since the beginning of the Syrian war, Iran has provided extensive support to the government with its fighters and militia all over the country – far from the shrine it is supposedly there to protect. Around 100 students have gone to learn in Syria. The IRGC commander in charge of the university’s “brass hat division” said: “Some of the students sent for two-month training sessions got martyred (killed), many were injured and some have been deployed in Syria for a longer period.”
This is the first time since the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s that Iran’s military men can train on the frontline. A commander for the IRGC commented that the forces have “gained technical and tactical advancements, militarily and (…) intelligence collection” by spending time on the Syrian frontline.
Syria rebel fighters have also commented on the presence of Iranian military students which are concentrated near Aleppo, but also in Homs and Damascus. A leader of a rebel force said that reinforcements have been sent to Syria, “mainly new officers and students from its military academy”.
Experts believe that Iran’s presence in Syria is allowing Tehran to increase its capability of planning and carrying out more terrorist operations as they are gaining on-site and real-life experiences during their training. The Institute for the Study of War points out that the fighters are learning new methods from Russian military, for example, “cauldron battles, multiple simultaneous and successive operations, and frontal aviation”. It indicated that this is going to make Iran a force to be reckoned with in the Middle East “in relatively short order” and it will be a game changer for security and the balance of power there.
Iran is quickly becoming a real threat to the United States and its allies in the region.

'Moonlight' Takes Best Pic Oscar after Stunning Mix-Up
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 27/17/Coming-of-age drama "Moonlight" won the best picture Oscar on Sunday, but not before the film industry's biggest night was marred by one of the worst fiascos in its history, as "La La Land" was mistakenly handed the award first. Until the final minute the film industry's biggest night had run smoothly, marked by plenty of political statements -- mainly jabs at President Donald Trump -- and light-hearted jokes from host Jimmy Kimmel. The evening also represented a move towards burying the #OscarsSoWhite controversy of the past two years, with two of the four acting prizes and a handful of other major awards going to African American nominees. But the stunning final stumble was a nightmare of a Hollywood ending that no one wanted to see. Tinseltown legends Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, stars of 1967 crime classic "Bonnie and Clyde" and both past Oscar winners, were meant to give the best picture Oscar to Barry Jenkins's film.But after the pair were apparently handed the wrong envelope, she mistakenly called it for "La La Land," Damien Chazelle's nostalgic musical.
Scenes of confusion and embarrassment followed after the "La La Land" crew -- already on stage and delivering speeches -- suddenly realized the mistake and announced themselves that "Moonlight" had actually won. Beatty, the 79-year-old veteran actor and director, said he'd been given the wrong envelope -- the one containing the card announcing "La La Land" star Emma Stone's best actress win.
- 'Sincerely apologize' -Eventually PricewaterhouseCoopers, the accounting firm responsible for tabulating Oscar ballots and safeguarding the results until they are announced, apologized and admitted Beatty's version was true.
"We sincerely apologize to 'Moonlight,' 'La La Land,' Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, and Oscar viewers for the error that was made during the award announcement for Best Picture," the company said in a statement. "The presenters had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope and, when discovered, was immediately corrected," it added. "We are currently investigating how this could have happened, and deeply regret that this occurred."
Ahead of Sunday's event Brian Cullinan and Martha Ruiz, the two PwC partners who handle the Oscars, explained in an interview that two sets of envelopes are on site during the event. "We stand on opposite sides of the stage, right off-screen, for the entire evening, and we each hand the respective envelope to the presenter," Cullinan said in the interview published on "It doesn't sound very complicated, but you have to make sure you're giving the presenter the right envelope."
- 'Speechless' -"Moonlight" was a shock winner for best picture, after Chazelle's runaway favorite "La La Land" -- a modern take on the all-singing, all-dancing Golden Age of Tinseltown's studio system -- had taken six prizes for best director, actress, score, song, production design and cinematography. "I noticed the commotion and thought something was strange. And then I was speechless by the result," Jenkins said backstage. "I've watched the Academy Awards before and have never seen that happen.""Moonlight," the story of a young African-American struggling to find his place as he grows up poor in Miami, ended up with three prizes on the night -- best picture, best supporting actor for Mahershala Ali and best adapted screenplay. The film has won plaudits as both a vital portrait of contemporary African-American life and a moving meditation on identity, family, friendship and love. It beat eight other films to the best picture honors, including alien thriller "Arrival," family dramas "Manchester by the Sea" and "Fences" -- and of course, "La La Land."Starring Stone and Ryan Gosling as an aspiring actress and a struggling jazz musician who fall in love in Los Angeles, the musical charmed critics and did well at the box office. "This was a movie about love and I was lucky enough to fall in love while making it," said Chazelle, 32, the youngest filmmaker by several months ever to win a best directing Oscar.
- Music and politics -The gala began without incident -- first, Justin Timberlake crooned his upbeat nominated song, "Can't Stop the Feeling." Then the 49-year-old Kimmel wasted no time putting the A-list audience in a political frame of mind, quipping that Trump, who has taken a hard line on immigration, had taken the heat off Hollywood and its annual gala. "I want to say thank you to President Trump. Remember last year when it seemed like the Oscars were racist? That's gone, thanks to him," Kimmel said. Then came the stream of prizes. The most intriguing race was for best actor, which for weeks looked like a lock for "Manchester by the Sea" star Casey Affleck, but the 41-year-old had to fend off a late surge by Denzel Washington ("Fences") to take the trophy. Stone bagged her first statuette in the best actress category despite a late push from Isabelle Huppert, already a Golden Globe winner for edgy rape-revenge thriller "Elle."And as expected, Viola Davis took the supporting actress statuette for her work in "Fences."
"Manchester" went into the evening with six nominations but came away with only Affleck's win and a best original screenplay statuette for Kenneth Lonergan, who also directed the film. The Oscars is the highlight of the Tinseltown calendar, and wraps up two months of glittering prize galas. This awards season, the popping of champagne corks has been muted by the tense political situation in the United States.
Trump's controversial (and now halted) travel ban led Iranian director Asghar Farhadi to opt out of attending -- but a statement from Farhadi was read when his "The Salesman" was named best foreign language film.
Kimmel made mention of Trump's retort that Meryl Streep was "highly overrated" by recalling her record 20 nominations, and urging everyone to offer her a standing ovation. The audience willingly complied.

Trump Proposes $54 Billion Increase in Defense Spending
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 27/17/President Donald Trump on Monday teased a budget plan that includes a substantial increase in defense spending and cuts in foreign aid. Previewing a plan that will attempt to translate campaign promises into dollars and cents, Trump promised a "public safety and national security budget." An administration official said that Trump's plan would include a $54 billion increase in defense spending and a corresponding decrease in non-military programs. "Most federal agencies will see a reduction as a result," the official said. There will also be a "large reduction in foreign aid," he added, on condition of anonymity. The proposal, which will be picked over and must ultimately be approved by Congress, would increase defense spending -- already the largest in the world -- by almost 10 percent. Trump claimed that his budget "follows through on my promise on keeping Americans safe.""It will include a historic increase in defense spending."His comments come a day before he addresses a joint session of Congress, an important agenda setting event for new presidents. The initial outline did not include proposals for mandatory spending or tax proposals, which make up the bulk of outlays and receipts. The budget is a keystone statement of Trump's priorities for the coming years. The nearly four trillion dollar annual federal budget is a declaration of intent that puts the president's policy goals down in black and white. It also separates affordable campaign promises from the fanciful and is the final arbitrator after turf wars between departments and powerful interest groups. Trump has promised to cut waste and duplication in federal spending. U.S. president after U.S. president has made similar promises on coming to office, before delving into a text that runs in the thousands of pages and tossing the plan into the thicket of Congress. Trump has oodles of campaign promises to pay for, but faces a national debt set to hit $20 trillion on his watch and a deficit at 3.1 percent of GDP and rising. Trump's promises -- from building a wall on the Mexican border to stepping-up the deportation of undocumented immigrants -- carry an estimated price tag of $5.3 trillion, according to the non-partisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

Pentagon Gives Trump New Options to Fight IS Group
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 27/17/The Pentagon on Monday was to present the White House with possible new battle plans to defeat the Islamic State group, after President Donald Trump demanded top brass find additional ways to destroy the jihadists.
A pillar of Trump's campaign was to quicken the fight against IS, which despite losing thousands of fighters still controls parts of northern Syria and Iraq, and he berated the Barack Obama administration for taking too long to do so. Trump had claimed to have a secret plan to defeat IS, but never disclosed what this might be. He repeatedly pledged to "bomb the hell" out of the jihadists and even threatened to kill family members of suspected IS fighters. Shortly after taking office, the new president gave the Pentagon 30 days to come up with a comprehensive review of the fight against IS, which a U.S.-led coalition has been bombing in Iraq and Syria since late summer 2014, while also using commandos to train and advise local forces.
The initial version of that review is now complete, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will present the findings to Trump's top national security advisors later Monday. Though broad in scope, the options outlined in the classified review are preliminary and need to be further refined, Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis said. "It is about the rapid the defeat of ISIS," Davis said. "We're going to continue to have a dialogue with our chain of command going forward and developing this plan."The proposals will likely outline the possibility of sending more U.S. troops to the Middle East and could see the Pentagon taking a more aggressive stance in other key areas. "This is not about Syria and Iraq, it's about a trans-regional threat," General Joe Dunford, who is chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Washington audience last week. "In this particular case we're talking about ISIS, but it's also al-Qaida and other groups that present a trans-regional threat."Dunford stressed the importance of renewed military action coming alongside diplomatic and political efforts. "All of us who have participated in these conflicts over the last 15 years realize that anything we do on the ground has to be in the context of political objectives or it's not going to be successful," Dunford said. The review includes input from across the government, including its spy agencies, State Department and Department of Homeland Security.
More U.S. forces?
Since the coalition effort to defeat IS began, the jihadists have lost much of the ground they once held, and tens of thousands have been killed. In Iraq, they are clinging to the last parts of their former bastion Mosul as Iraqi security forces backed by Western air power push them from the city. The fight is more complex in civil war-torn Syria, where Russia is conducting its own air campaign to prop up President Bashar Assad. A key question is whether America will arm Syrian Kurdish forces to lead the fight to retake Raqa -- a move sure to infuriate ally Turkey, which considers the Kurdish fighters terrorists -- or whether the United States should send in more combat troops. Currently, only about 500 U.S. troops are in Syria, mostly special operations forces working behind the front lines to train local Kurdish and Syrian Arab fighters. Because Obama was elected in 2008 on the promise of ending US conflicts in the Middle East, he was loath to put U.S. forces in combat. The anti-IS review is also a significant first test for the relationship between Trump and Mattis. Trump has so far given the Pentagon chief broad leeway on shaping U.S. military policy, even though the retired Marine Corps general has pushed back against much of Trump's more blustery rhetoric, including his professed support of torture and claim that America should seize Iraq's oil.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 27-28/17
Netanyahu: Israel will not allow 'drizzle' of rocket fire from enemies

Jerusalem Post/February 27/17
Liberman says Israel has no intention of initiating any military action in Gaza, but urges Hamas to "take responsibility, impose order and calm down."Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday reiterated his warning that Israel will not allow any "drizzle" of rocket fire on its territory from enemy entities.
"We respond to all fire at our territory; thus we did today and as such we will do in the future," the premier underscored hours after a projectile launched by terrorists exploded in an open field in southern Israel overnight. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman stated that while Israel has no intention of initiating any military action in Gaza, “we have no intention to continue to absorb drizzles (of rockets out of the Strip)." "We will not get into a ping-pong situation of fire and counter-fire. I suggest Hamas take responsibility, impose order and calm down," Lieberman said in public remarks to legislators of his Yisrael Beytenu party in Jerusalem. No group immediately laid claim to the rocket attack. However, in retaliation to the strike, the IDF struck multiple Hamas terror targets in Gaza as the military holds the Palestinian terror group responsible for any fire originating from the Strip.
Netanyahu warns Hamas after weekend of rocket fire from Gaza [March 2016]
Taking to Twitter, Hamas evaded responsibility for the rocket launching and accused the IDF of escalating tensions with Gaza. There were no injuries or damage in Sunday's rocket attack on Israel. There have been several rockets launched at southern Israel in February, including two incidents in which the Islamic State group in the Sinai fired a barrage of rockets towards the southern city of Eilat. Three of the projectiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile system while a fourth landed in open territory. Two weeks ago, following a previous rocket attack, Netanyahu told reporters in London that his directives are to respond with force to every missile attack. “The two-and-a-half years since Operation Protective Edge were the two quietest years since the Six Day War,” he said, adding that Israel will be steadfast in responding to every attack, and not permit a “drizzle” of missile attacks that go without a response.
***Anna Ahronheim, Reuters and Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

Palestinians: Why a "Regional Peace Process" Will Fail
Khaled Abu Toameh/Gatestone Institute/February 27/17
Many Palestinians sometimes refer to Arab leaders and regimes as the "real enemies" of the Palestinians. They would rather have France, Sweden, Norway and Belgium oversee a peace process with Israel than any of the Arab countries.
Hani al-Masri, a prominent Palestinian political analyst, echoed this skepticism. He, in fact, believes the Arabs want to help Israel "liquidate" the Palestinian cause.
The Jordanians are worried that a "regional solution" would promote the idea of replacing the Hashemite kingdom with a Palestinian state. Former Jordanian Minister of Information Saleh al-Qallab denounced the talk of a "regional conference" as a "poisonous gift and conspiracy" against Jordan and the Palestinians.
The Lebanese have for decades dreamed of the day they could rid themselves of the Palestinian refugee camps and their inhabitants, who have long been subjected to apartheid and discriminatory laws.
Israel as a Jewish state is anathema to Palestinian aspirations. Any Arab or Palestinian leader who promotes such compromise is taking his life in his hands. And Palestinian history will record him as a "traitor" who sold out to the Jews and surrendered to American and Israeli pressure.
Abbas and his Ramallah cohorts are already up at night worrying about the talking between Israel and some Arab countries, particularly Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. Such "normalization", in the view of the PA, is to be reserved for after Israel submits to its demands.
Any "regional solution" involving Arab countries would be doomed to fail because the Palestinians and their Arab brethren hate each other. Any solution offered by the Arab governments will always be regarded as an "American-Zionist dictate."
Here is what Palestinians really want: to use the Europeans to impose a "solution" on Israel.
Here is a fundamental misapprehension: Arab countries can help achieve peace in the Middle East by persuading, or rather pressuring, the Palestinians to make concessions to Israel.
This misapprehension is both misleading and baseless.
Recently, officials in Israel and Washington started talking about a "regional approach" to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this view, as many Arab countries as possible would be directly involved in the effort to achieve a lasting and comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Advocates of the "regional approach" believe that Arab countries such as Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have enough leverage with the Palestinians to compel them accept a peace agreement with Israel.
The Palestinians, however, were quick to dismiss the idea as yet another American-Israeli-Arab "conspiracy to "liquidate" their cause and force them to make unacceptable concessions. Chief among these "unacceptable concessions" are recognizing Israel as a Jewish state and giving up the demand for a "right of return" for millions of Palestinian refugees into Israel.
What the recent Washington-Israeli notion misses is that Palestinians simply do not trust their Arab brothers. The Palestinians consider most of the Arab leaders and regimes as "puppets" in the hands of the US and its "Zionist" allies. Worse, Many Palestinians sometimes refer to Arab leaders and regimes as the "real enemies" of the Palestinians. They would rather have France, Sweden, Norway and Belgium oversee a peace process with Israel than any of the Arab countries.
Palestinian leaders would rather have France, Sweden, Norway and Belgium oversee a peace process with Israel than any of the Arab countries. Palestinians simply do not trust their Arab brothers. Pictured: French President François Hollande (L) hugs Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a press conference in Ramallah, on November 18, 2013. (Image source: Oren Ziv/Getty Images)
In general, Palestinians have more confidence in Western countries than they do in their Arab brothers. That is why the Palestinian Authority (PA) headed by Mahmoud Abbas continues to insist on an international conference as its preferred method for achieving peace in the region and not a "regional approach" that would give Arab countries a major role in solving the conflict. Arab involvement in a peace process with Israel is, in fact, the last thing Abbas and other Palestinians want.
Hani al-Masri, a prominent Palestinian political analyst, echoed this skepticism concerning a potential role for Arab countries in the Middle East peace process. He, in fact, believes the Arabs want to help Israel "liquidate" the Palestinian cause.
He also predicted that the recent rapprochement between Israel and some Arab countries would embolden "all opposition and jihadist groups" that are fighting against the Arab regimes. According to al-Masri, it is not even clear that any Arab states, especially Israel's neighbors, are keen on a "regional solution." The Jordanians, for example, are worried that a "regional solution" would promote the idea of replacing the Hashemite kingdom with a Palestinian state.
Echoing this fear, former Jordanian Minister of Information Saleh al-Qallab denounced the talk of a "regional conference" as a "poisonous gift and conspiracy" against Jordan and the Palestinians.
The Egyptians, for their part, are worried that a "regional approach" would mean giving up land from Sinai to the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip -- a highly unpopular idea in Egypt. The Egyptians have good reason to be worried: some Arab leaders and countries have expressed interest in this idea.
Likewise, the Lebanese are worried that a "regional solution" would force their country to grant full citizenship and equal rights to hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees living in that country. The Lebanese have for decades dreamed of the day they could rid themselves of the Palestinian refugee camps and their inhabitants, who have long been subjected to apartheid and discriminatory laws.
Another adjacent state, Syria, is far too preoccupied with own implosion to think about peace between the Palestinians and Israel. Besides, when have the Syrians ever expressed concern for the Palestinians? Since the beginning of the civil war five years ago, more than 3,400 Palestinians have been killed and thousands injured. In addition, more than 150,000 Palestinians have been forced to flee Syria to neighboring Arab countries or to Europe. The Syrian regime does not care about its own people, who are being massacred in large numbers on a daily basis. Why, then, might it be expected to care about Palestinians? It would be a Syrian nightmare to resettle Palestinians and grant them full rights and citizenship. Like most Arab countries, Syria just wants its Palestinians to disappear.
Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria are rather wary, then, about a "regional solution." And no wonder: it poses a massive threat to their national security. So, which Arab countries would help to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Saudi Arabia? Qatar? Kuwait? Oman? Tunisia? Morocco? Really?
Israel as a Jewish state is anathema to Palestinian aspirations. No Arab leader in the world can persuade the Palestinians to give up the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees or accept a solution that allows Israel to retain control over certain parts of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Any Arab or Palestinian leader who promotes such compromise is taking his life in his hands. And Palestinian history will record him as a "traitor" who sold out to the Jews and surrendered to American and Israeli pressure.
Moreover, Abbas and the Palestinian Authority are far from interested in any Arab-Israeli rapprochement. Abbas and his Ramallah cohorts are already up at night worrying about the talking between Israel and some Arab countries, particularly Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. This is "normalization" -- plain and simple. Such "normalization", in the view of the PA, is to be reserved for after Israel submits to its demands.
Abbas's foreign minister, Riad al-Malki, made it clear this week that the Palestinians reject the idea of a "regional solution" that would give Arabs a role in the peace process. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, he said, was mistaken to think that rapprochement between Israel and some Arab countries would produce anything good. Al-Malki denounced Netanyahu's "regional approach" as a "twisted policy," adding: "Netanyahu thinks that by establishing ties with Arab governments he could force the Palestinians to enter negotiations with Israel." According to him, the Palestinians wish to see the Europeans, and not the Arabs, at their side when they "negotiate" with Israel.
The Palestinian foreign minister is saying that the Palestinians would rather have the Europeans in their court than their Arab brothers when it comes to trying to squeeze the life out of Israel. The Palestinians think that this is a better bet.
In any event, any "regional solution" involving Arab countries would be doomed to fail because the Palestinians and their Arab brethren hate each other. Moreover, even if Abbas were to accept terms dictated to him by such an alliance, his own people would reject them. Any solution offered by the Arab governments will always be regarded as an "American-Zionist dictate."
Here is what Palestinians really want: to use the Europeans to impose a "solution" on Israel. That is why Abbas sticks to the idea of an international conference like a dog that holds for dear life onto his bone.
*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.

Copts Flee Sinai Amid ISIS Campaign Of Murder, Threats
By: R. Green/MEMRI/February
The following report is now a complimentary offering from MEMRI's Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM).
In the last few days, dozens of Coptic Christian families fled El Arish in north Sinai amid an ongoing campaign of murder and threats waged against them by the Islamic State (ISIS). According to reports, at least seven Coptic civilians were killed by ISIS operatives in the city in recent weeks, prompting Coptic families to flee to mainland Egypt. Some Egyptian sources claim that 85 of the 103 Coptic families in the city have fled; other sources place the figure at 45. Some of these families have taken refuge in the Anglican church in Ismailia, while others have fled to Suez, Minya or Sohag. The Al-Sharq Al-Awsat daily noted that this is the first mass-exodus of Christian families from their homes for reasons of terror.[1]
It should be mentioned that the targeting of Copts is only one manifestation of ISIS's ongoing activity in El Arish and in north Sinai at large aimed at intimidating the local population and preventing the Egyptian authorities from regaining control of the region. This activity includes demonstrations of force in El Arish, raids on the security forces and attacks on security personnel or their homes, the abduction and murder of civilians for cooperating with the authorities, efforts to enforce shari'a law, and the vandalizing of property, among other actions.
One of the Copts who fled the city described the threats faced by his community: "Lately, murders of Christians increased significantly. People are being murdered every day, and I think it will [only] get worse. The terrorists openly declared they would attack the Christians. I can't blame the police, because the security situation in Sinai is very bad and terrorism is on the rise." El Arish Copts said they had received threatening phone calls demanding that they leave their homes, and that ISIS activists had handed out fliers in the city threatening the Christians.[2]
An eight-year-old girl from El Arish said: "I am very sad because I had to leave my friends and my school, and I don't know if I will go back or not. I saw the threats with my own eyes, on notices and written on the walls of [my] house. I heard what they said to my father on the phone, when they said we had to leave or else they would kill us." A woman recounted that there was a knock on her door one night, and when her son opened it terrorists burst in, shot him dead and then searched the house for the other men of the family. They found her elderly husband and shot him too, and then they stole her jewelry and set the house on fire.[3]
These events are the culmination of the ongoing terror campaign that has been waged against Sainai's Christians for years by ISIS and by its earlier incarnation, Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis. This campaign has included the murder of civilians, including priests, as well as abductions, ongoing threats and the targeting of businesses. The campaign became systematic in 2013, when the jihadis in Sinai launched an all-out war against the Egyptian authorities.
This report reviews ISIS's threats and actions against Christians in Egypt, the reaction of the Egyptian authorities to the crisis, and responses by the Christian religious establishment.
ISIS Incitement: Calls To Kill Public Figures, Increase Attacks On Christians
Last week ISIS released a video inciting against the Christians in Egypt, in which it permitted their killing and vowed to increase its attacks on them. The video claimed that the Christians are not entitled to the status of protected non-Muslims (ahl al-dhimma) because they violated the conditions for protection: they took advantage of their status to harm the Muslims in general and the Sinai mujahideen in particular. ISIS spokesmen in the video promised that the organization would stage further attacks on Christians, similar to the deadly church bombing in Cairo in December 2016. The video included excerpts from the last statement of the suicide bomber who perpetrated that attack, in which he addressed ISIS members imprisoned in Egypt, saying: "I swear that we will liberate Cairo very soon and come to release you from your shackles. We will come with car bombs, so take heart, servants of Allah."[4]
The release of the video was accompanied by many threats by ISIS supporters on social media, threats which have been on the rise since the Cairo church bombing.[5] For example, ISIS supporters on the Wilayat Misr Telegram channel circulated photos of Coptic public figures and Muslim figures who had expressed solidarity with the Copts, threatening to kill them. The photos were posted along with the text: "[Here is] an evil [seed] within the body of the ummah. We urge you, o lions of the [Islamic State's] security units in mainland Egypt, to eliminate them using your silencer-equipped guns, your explosive charges and your knives." Among the Copts threatened were former minister of industry, trade and investment Mounir Fakhry 'Abd Al-Nour and social activist Malik 'Adli; two Muslims who were threatened were prominent human rights attorney Negad El-Borai and Ahmad Khairi, a member of the liberal Free Egyptians party.[6]
Call to kill prominent attorney and human rights activist Negad El-Borai
Another message on the Wilayat Misr channel urged lone attackers to target Christians everywhere: "O you who seek martyrdom and [Allah's] good reward, o you who seeker Paradise and its Black-Eyed Virgins, jihad has come to you. Allah has chosen you for this mission, of all [the men] He created. The Crusaders in Egypt [i.e., Egypt's Christians] have violated all the agreements and contracts [of protection] and declared war on Islam and the Muslims. More than that, they offended our Prophet on their television channels. None of the so-called Islamic organizations in Egypt deterred them. Hence, the soldiers of the Caliphate stood up, put their faith in Allah and carried out a martyrdom operation in a large [Christian] house of worship that was guarded by soldiers and weapons. Allah allowed the brother [i.e., the bomber] to come among them and detonate his suicide belt, killing and wounding 80 of them. O supporters of the Islamic State! Increase your ambitions and prepare [calamities] for the Crusaders that will make their lives bitter. By Allah, it would be a disgrace for us to avoid targeting those who insulted our Prophet in our [own] country. Lie in wait for them and avenge our Prophet. Do not let them live safely in their homes and their places of work. You brothers in Sinai have already caused the Crusaders to hide like women, and some of them have even fled and left Sinai. Blood for blood, destruction for destruction. That is [the relationship] between you and us, o servants of the Cross. What will come will be graver and more bitter, so watch your backs."[7]
A message posted on another pro-ISIS Telegram channel, Misr Al-Kinana, said: "There is a great wave of Crusader immigration from Sinai following threats by the soldiers of the Caliphate. By Allah the One and Only, the [Islamic] faith will not triumph except by means of the sword and the hangman's [noose] and by fighting the enemies of Allah. It will not triumph through demonstrations or through the despicable laws that [the enemies of Allah] obey. You are the jewel in the crown, o soldiers of the Caliphate in Sinai, a thorn in the side of the infidels. We beseech Allah to grant you victory and accept your martyrdom."[8]
Another post on that channel taunted Egypt's Christians: "Where will you turn, o servants of the Cross? Allah willing, we will expel you from all of Egypt and drive you out, humiliated. You will pay the jizya [poll tax levied on ahl al-dhimma] whether you like it or not, and the government will be in the hands of the Muslims, Allah willing."[9]
From the ISIS video threatening Egypt's Christians
A message on the Wilayat Misr channel explained that Egypt's Christians are legitimate targets because they have declared war on the Muslims: "My dear brothers, whoever thinks the Christians in Egypt are a peaceful bunch and are not interested in fighting the Muslims is a fool, fool, fool. The struggle between the Sunni Muslims and the Christians in Egypt will [only] grow more and more intense in the future. There are voices in the church calling on young [Christians] to carry arms and defend themselves. There are also voices calling to displace Muslims and drive them out of the Christian areas in Egypt. The [only] thing delaying an open confrontation is the infidels' reluctance to [start] a war that will end in a victory for the Islamic State and will benefit the Islamic State. The Christians in Egypt are harming the Muslims, enslaving them and humiliating them using the official institutions of the current regime. The judiciary is controlled by the Christians. The economy is controlled by the Christians. The military is controlled by the Christians. Egypt's three largest establishments are controlled by the Christians... Whoever follows the news in Egypt will notice that the Christians are ready to declare war on the Sunni Muslims and that it is only a matter of time, nothing more..."[10]
Egyptian Authorities: We Have Taken Measures To Protect North Sinai Residents
The Egyptian authorities released a number of statements in response to the events in Sinai. A communique issued by the President's Office said that Al-Sisi had met with the Prime Minister, Defense Minister and other ministers to "discuss the developments involving terrorist organizations targeting innocent civilians in north Sinai." He "noted the importance of opposing all attempts to undermine stability and security in Egypt and of preempting the plots of these organizations to intimidate the secure people of the homeland or threaten their property." President Al-Sisi also instructed the government to take every measure to help the Christian civilians in the places where they are sheltering.[11]
A statement issued by the Egyptian interior ministry stressed that the security apparatuses had not instructed the Copts of north Sinai to leave their homes and seek refuge elsewhere. It added that the security and police apparatuses were discharging their national duty of combatting terror and were taking measures to ensure the security of north Sinai residents and their homes. It also noted the recent successes in the war against terror in Sinai.[12]
Government spokesman Ashraf Sultan said that Prime Minister Sherif Ismail and the Ismailia governor Yassin Taher were looking into the matter of the Copts who had fled from north Sinai; furthermore, Ismail had instructed to form a government situation room to oversee the provision of services to the families, in coordination with the relevant district governors. The spokesman clarified that it was not yet clear when the families would be able to return to their homes, because this depended on the security situation in north Sinai, but added that the situation room would provide them with all the services and aid they required. It was reported that the Prime Minister had called Pope Tawadros to express his sympathies and inform him of the government's measures to assist the families who had fled.[13]
The minster of family and social solidarity, Ghada Wali, visited the refugee families and said she was sure they would "return to El Arish very soon." She added that the authorities are seeing to their immediate needs and that those who had suffered material losses would be compensated.[14]
Egyptian Copts: We Demand State Intervention
Coptic officials refrained from criticizing the government or its response to the crisis in media interviews, but other Coptic figures and elements did voice dissatisfaction over what they described as helplessness on the part of the authorities. A statement by the Coptic Church said: "The Church condemns the ongoing acts of terror in north Sinai against the Christian people of Egypt, [terror] that deliberately undermines our national unity and attempts to rupture our solid joint position opposing the criminal terrorism that originates outside Egypt... We believe that the [victims'] blood is precious to God and will cry out to Him in demand of justice. [God] will observe and pass judgement."[15]
The head of the Coptic Orthodox Church in north Sinai, Gibril Ibrahim, stressed that the Copts demand to reinforce the El Arish police with increased army presence, adding that what is happening in the region is nothing less than a war, with all this entails. He expressed confidence that joint action by the police and the military can restore security to the region.[16]
Former Egyptian industry, trade and investment minister Mounir Fakhry 'Abd Al-Nour tweeted: "Where is the government, parliament, police, army and media? Where is the state while Sinai Copts are being slaughtered and their homes are being burned down?"[17]
[1] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), February 24, 2017; Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 26, 2017.
[2] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), February 24, 2017.
[3] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 26, 2017.
[4] On the video, see MEMRI JTTM report, In New Video, ISIS Threatens To Increase Attacks On Copts, February 20, 2017; for excerpts from the video, see MEMRI TV clip Clip No. 5903, New ISIS Video Threatens to Increase Attacks on Copts and "Liberate" Cairo, February 19, 2017.
[5] On threats posted after the bombing, see MEMRI JTTM report, Jihadis Express Satisfaction At Coptic Church Attack In Cairo, Threaten Egyptian Christians With Expulsion And Slaughter, December 12, 2017.
[6] Misr, February 24, 2017.
[7] Misr, February 25, 2017.
[8] Al-Kinana, February 25, 2017.
[9] Telegram/me/Misr Al-Kinana, February 27, 2017. The text alludes to Koran 9:29: "Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth from those who were given the Scripture - [fight] until they give the jizya willingly while they are humbled."
[10] Misr, February 25, 2017.
[11] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 25, 2017.
[12] Al-Hayat (London), February 27, 2017.
[13]; Al-Dustour (Egypt), February 25, 2017.
[14] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 26, 2017.
[15], February 24, 2017.
[16] Al-Watan (Egypt), February 25, 2017.
[17], February 23, 2017.

Justice catches up with a CIA agent
Fawaz Turki/Al Arabiya/February 27/17
Here’s a blast from the past, reminding us of the days when the CIA ran amuck with its ‘extraordinary rendition’ program: Earlier this week, Portuguese authorities detained Sabrina de Sousa, a former CIA officer ordered to be extradited to Italy where she faces four years in prison.
De Sousa, who is now 61, is accused of taking part in the kidnapping of an Egyptian terror suspect in Milan 14 years ago. She was one of 26 Americans convicted by Italian courts in absentia for the February 2003 extraordinary rendition of Imam Hassan Mustafa Nasr and flying him to Egypt for questioning.
For the benefit of those readers who came of age, or began to acquire a political consciousness, only over the last eight years, during President Obama’s administration, which abolished the practice, let’s explain what extraordinary rendition was all about. It was, very simply, an egregious practice, and not by any definition a joking matter. Simply put, rendition involved the abduction of suspects, often by snatching them off the streets, from airport terminals and border crossings, and sending them to other countries - consenting countries not overly squeamish about inflicting pain on detainees - where they were subjected to a program euphemistically known as ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’, that is, extreme torture, including waterboarding.
Crimes against humanity
The United Nations considers a nation that abducts the citizens of another as committing a crime against humanity, and in that regard the European Court of Human Rights in 2014 condemned the government of Poland for having participated in the program, ordering it to pay restitution to men who had been rendered there by the CIA and held at secret ‘black sites’, or secret locations where suspects were tortured out of sight, out of mind - that is, until the Washington Post’s Dana Priest exposed their existence in a series of articles in November 2005, articles whose searing revelations won her he the Pulitzer Prize.
Some Americans at the time found those revelations shocking, other Americans nauseating. Though President Obama put a stop to extraordinary rendition and enhanced interrogation techniques in his first year in office, no one can stop what they say about America from entering the history books as a stain on its self-definition as a benign nation of laws and institutions. Whichever way you swing it, torture, for any reason, anywhere, anyhow, is a morally repugnant practice. It makes no sense except to its practitioners, gratifying a sick need in them to terrorize their victims and an equally sick need to instill fear in society
It’s not altogether clear how many suspects were sent to their destinations. One estimate puts the figure at roughly 2,000 detained between 2001 and 2005. In January 2005, Swiss Senator Dick Marty, representative of the Council of Europe, concluded that at least 100 had been kidnapped in Europe alone, and sent to countries where they were tortured. He qualified the case of Imam Hassan Mustafa Nasr as a “perfect example of extraordinary rendition.”The case, which in Italy became known as “Imam Rapito,” or the Kidnapped Imam Affair, drove the European Court of Human Rights in 2016 to condemn Italy, demanding that its government pay Nasr, after his release and repatriation to Milan, $127,000 in compensation. After you’ve looked at other victims and other cases, you scratch your head at how many of those abducted, rendered and tortured, tragically, had been innocent of any involvement in terrorism or even of engagement in political activism.
Degrading and inhumane
Take the case, for example, of Khaled Al-Masri, a German citizen of Syrian extract, on vacation in the Balkans, abducted by Macedonian police at he the behest of the CIA and rendered to a black site in Afghanistan, where he was subjected to all manner of degrading and inhumane conditions - before the CIA finally admitted that his arrest was a mistake and released him. Take another case, that of Maher Arar, a dual citizen of Syria and Canada, who was detained at Kennedy International Airport in New York in September 2002 as he was about to board a plane home after a family holiday in Tunisia.
Arar was sent, shackled and bound, in a private jet to Syria (instead of being deported to Canada) where he was tortured by Syrian intelligence. He was released after 10 months in captivity, during which he was tortured mercilessly, and forced to sign a confession linking him to al Qaeda.
And - surprise, surprise - it was later revealed that his was a case of mistaken identity. In October 2007, Arar received a public apology from the US House of Representatives. (The apology may have been cold comfort, but the $10.5 million in compensation he was granted by the Canadian government clearly was not.) And so it goes, with other - many, many other - cases, other tragedies, other ordeals. But whichever way you swing it, torture, for any reason, anywhere, anyhow, is a morally repugnant practice. It makes no sense except to its practitioners, gratifying a sick need in them to terrorize their victims and an equally sick need to instill fear in society. As Eduardo Galeano, Uruguay’s preeminent man of letters put it simply: “The purpose of torture is not getting information, it is spreading fear.”For Sabrina de Sousa, the chicken at long last have come home to roost. Four years behind bars in an Italian jail is not a long enough sentence for her crime, but long enough for her to ponder over the moral implications of her line of work. For her to resort to the old refrain, “But Gosh, I was following orders”, is no plea. It was not accepted as such at Nuremberg. As for the other 25 CIA agents convicted in the kidnapping of Nasr 14 years ago, none has actually served time because they had returned to the United States long before Italian courts ruled against them in 2009. And, sorry guys, with warrants out for your arrest, vacationing in Europe any time real soon may not be a good idea - unless, like your reckless colleague Sabrina, you want to buck the odds anyhow and return to the crime scene.

Libya’s logical conclusion?
Dr. Theodore Karasik/Al Arabiya/February 27/17
Last week’s Libya talks in Cairo may have cemented the beleaguered country’s future. UN-installed Government of National Accord (GNA) Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Serraj, from Tripoli, failed to meet with Libyan Field Marshal Kahlifa Haftar. The meeting was a non-starter for Serraj who bore witness to Egypt’s chief-of-staff, Lt. Gen. Mahmoud Hegazy, trying to get the Libyan Field Marshal to talk with the GNA prime minister. Egypt’s unwavering support for Haftar, who is solidifying control over Benghazi and the oil-rich Sirte Basin in Libya’s historical Cyrenaica, with his powerful Libyan National Army (LNA), is preparing to push for a logical conclusion to Libya’s Civil War. There is no doubt that Haftar’s forces are going to attempt regime change in Tripoli - again - in order to ‘liberate’ the city from not only the weak GNA but also the Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC) and a hodge-podge of militias and groups. Haftar’s ability to gain support from Misrata and Zintan families as well as support from the Warfalla and Tebu tribes. Following the failed Cairo talks, the Field Marshal told an Egyptian TV channel that his army comprises 60,000 skilled servicemen, including many trained in urban combat.
Russia is needed
Haftar wants a major role in any future unified Libyan government. Serraj is in no position to give such responsibility to the Field Marshal who is universally hated by Tripoli-based politicos and militias. The potential for the GNA to become irrelevant this year is real.
Egypt had called the talks between the GNA and the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR) where Haftar supports the latter. But despite strong efforts by Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Sisi, he could not convince Haftar to hold the meeting. After a day of waiting, Serraj left Cairo empty-handed. What happened next seems to have sealed Serraj’s fate. A GCC official said: “After Serraj and Haftar left Cairo, President Sisi hosted the Tunisian and Algerian military commanders to discuss supporting Haftar and the need to coordinate as Tripoli falls.”
Egypt’s support for Haftar is not possible without Russia. The Kremlin is steadily becoming Haftar’s largest and significant backer. Haftar’s multiple visits to Russia as well as the Field Marshal’s visit aboard the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov for talks on defense cooperation speaks volumes about the bi-lateral relationship between the LNA and Moscow.
The Trump administration’s potential for teaming up with Moscow on Libya could create complications for Washington’s relationship with Italy and Turkey
Russia, in backing Haftar, is now in a powerful position in Libya, with its state oil company, Rosneft, this week signing a cooperation deal with the state oil company, National Oil Corporation, in London. To be sure, Russia’s presence on the ground in Eastern Libya is a signal of Moscow’s intent. According to a Jordanian official, Russian military officials are now touring Haftar’s bases and has less than 100 advisors on the ground supporting Haftar’s LNA.
The Trump administration’s potential for teaming up with Moscow on Libya could create complications for Washington’s relationship with Italy and Turkey. Officials in Rome are busy engaging Russia on the Libya file and trying to convince the Kremlin to push the Tripoli - and Tobruk - based governments towards a negotiated settlement. Italy’s leadership does not believe that the US and/or Russia lending full support to Haftar is a viable strategy for resolving the country’s raging civil war.
Economic and humanitarian challenge
Given Italy’s close proximity to Libya, Rome views the crisis not only as a terrorism threat, but also as a major economic and humanitarian challenge. In truth, although Haftar is popular among many Libyans in certain parts of the country, he is rather divisive on a national scale and it is unclear his forces could fully usurp control of the entire country even with steady support from global and regional actors.
There is a possibility of the Turkish government, which has invested in Islamist causes in Libya since the former regime’s fall six years ago, putting more weaponry into the hands of Haftar’s Islamist enemies. In any event, as Italy and Turkey are two key US allies Libya will represent a major challenge for the Trump administration in terms of Washington’s ties with both Rome and Ankara. The US is seeking to reassure NATO members of its commitment to America’s traditional allies which were somewhat unsettled by Trump’s “America first” and his talk of states protected by the US military shield ‘paying their fair share’ for defense. Nevertheless, falling US support for the GNA is part of the new Trump administration’s strategy which fits nicely into the potential designation of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose adherents are found in the GNA and in the GNC, as a terrorist organization.
The Trump administration is supporting Egyptian, Russian, Jordanian and UAE military involvement in Libya which is obviously a far cry from the Obama administration’s pro-Tripoli approach. Egypt’s lead in supporting Haftar is a salient part of a winning strategy in Libya. Although pundits are arguing that America needs to not sub-contract Washington’s Libya policy to Egypt there is every reason to believe that Cairo is interested in supporting the Trump Administration in the Middle East. A word about ISIS in Libya. ISIS lost its grip on Sirte, which until recently was ISIS’s stronghold in Libya, currently controls no territory. Yet ISIS’s fighters have set up sleeper cells in other parts of the country such as the territory southeast of Tripoli, illustrating how it remains a threat to the security of many Libyans. The countries bordering southern Libya such as Algeria, Chad and Niger are fully aware that ISIS could relocate to the Fezzan and carry out operations across those nations’ porous borders into southern Libya where the bulk of Libya’s untapped natural gas lies.
Unfortunately, all of the above suggests that Tripoli’s current instability is a harbinger of a violent struggle for Tripolitania’s capital.

Innovative strategies to raise the level of education in Saudi schools
Samar Fatany/Al Arabiya/February 27/17
Prominent British educationist and writer Tony Swainston spoke about developing a culture of growth mindsets and highlighted the possibilities of success in schools, during the Leaders Meet event organized by the British Council on Feb. 23 at the Mövenpick hotel in Jeddah. Preparing students for life beyond school was also the subject of discussion among over 100 school owners, principals, vice principals and board members of schools in Saudi Arabia who attended the event. A panel discussion focused on three major areas: curriculum development, building skills for the job market and higher education advancement. The school principals and educational experts discussed strategies to revamp the structure and quality of the current educational system. They debated innovative solutions to spur academic excellence in schools and to reach the objective of creating contributing citizens. The event was an excellent opportunity for many of the international school principals to share their concerns and highlight the challenges that they face in their schools. Indeed, learning from the experience of experts in the field and adopting best practices from academic institutions can help our educationists raise the level of schools. Collaboration with international academic institutions can also help schools apply international standards and upgrade the level of academic qualifications of graduates.
Need for modernization
Reforming the educational system in Saudi Arabia continues to be a topic of hot debate. It is quite evident that we cannot continue to teach our students in the traditional way. Schools need to emphasize analytical and critical thinking and develop a curriculum that teaches children skills on many levels, building confidence and boosting the capabilities of students at a young age. Experts in the field urge schools to adopt technology in classrooms to facilitate faculty-student interaction. Educational software companies today aim at promoting interactive educational experiences, and stress the urgency of adopting new methods of education to catch up with our children’s high-tech abilities. They are the Internet and Facebook generations, who have easy access to knowledge and immediate communication with the whole world. Educators will not be able to offer them the knowledge they need through traditional textbooks. Teachers need to enhance their teaching abilities by adopting the new technologies in their classrooms and by engaging in the interactive online educational environment.
It is quite evident that we cannot continue to teach our students in the traditional way. Schools need to emphasize analytical and critical thinking and develop a curriculum that teaches children skills on many levels, building confidence and boosting the capabilities of students at a young age
The educationists also stressed the importance of developing the language skills of students. Mastering the mother tongue can develop the intelligence of children at an early age. Therefore, they urge the need to enhance the language curriculum in elementary levels - something that is currently lacking in many schools. Students struggle to write any official document and lack eloquence when they speak their own language, making them inefficient at any job they take. It is time we take serious measures to advance languages and promote eloquence among our nation’s youth.
The English language is important. It is the window to the world and the global language of science, business and technology. Without language skills, graduates lack the proper qualifications for employment in today’s world. Schools are required to teach students to speak well, write well, read well and work well with numbers at an early age. The passive approach to education in some schools deprives kids of the ability to be lifelong learners. Students should want to learn and have the curiosity to read and explore. Schools should instill in students the motivation and desire to learn and be creative.
Filling the market gaps
A new strategy to bridge the gap between the education output and the requirements of the labor market can ensure that students are making the right professional choices. Outlining suitable majors at an early age can give students the confidence to choose their career. There is an urgency to encourage students to major in specializations that are in demand for the labor market, engineering, health, agriculture and information technology specializations. It is the responsibility of schools, to provide students with the technical skills needed by the labor market.
Economists assert that most educational institutes need to work on modifying and developing their curricula and focus on creating technical workshops in order to produce graduates suitable for the industrial world. The reason behind the failure of industrial companies to recruit young graduates is their lack of adequate training that can prepare them to work as expert engineers, in the oil industry, technicians and pharmacists who can run factories that manufacture food products, pharmaceuticals, textiles, rubber and chemical products. There is an urgency to encourage our students to major in business, economics, finance and computer science as well as supporting an innovative environment and stimulating the spirit of entrepreneurship in order to realize the goals of Saudi Vision 2030 and create a knowledge-based economy.
The British Council event inspired many Saudi and expatriate school principals and educationists to look into best practices and adopt new strategies to raise the level of education in our schools. A Saudi knowledge-based economy can only be realized if we succeed in upgrading our educational system.
**This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on February 25, 2016.

Christians fear for their lives in the Middle East
Micah Halpern/Jerusalem Post/February 27/ 2017
Protecting Christians will protect the region. Ultimately, it will protect Israel, too.
Christians fear for their lives in certain parts of the Middle East. Islamic State (ISIS) has called them its primary target – its “favorite prey.” And still, the plight and the tragedy of Middle East Christians go relatively unnoticed by the larger Christian and Western world.
The Christian community in Egypt numbers about nine million. It is the largest Christian community in the Middle East – and ISIS has hit it hard. Most Christians in Egypt are Copts, they have their own pope and their own tradition and they do not genuflect to Rome. They date themselves back to St. Mark in Alexandria during the period of Roman Emperor Claudius at about the year 42 CE, just after the death of Jesus. Copts call themselves “Christians of Egypt.” They are arguably the oldest Christian community in the world.
In December about 30 Egyptian Copts, mostly women and children, were massacred and many more were wounded, in their church, by ISIS. Other than AP and Reuters only a handful of media in the world covered the terrorist attacks by running the wire releases. Even fewer made more than casual mention of the atrocities against and persecution of Christians in the Middle East.
The events befalling the Christian community in Egypt are not simply newsworthy, they are an essential tool with which to elucidate the fragile status of a minority community in the Middle East – Christians among Muslims. These persecutions are important tools in measuring the activities of Arab governments and their responses to the challenge. Jews standing up and calling attention to the plight of Christians living under Muslim regime and being murdered by ISIS while worldwide Christian leadership remains silent smacks of only a slight touch of irony.
We need to prevent the oppression of minorities, and we know the importance of defending those who cannot defend themselves. And while there are those in the Arabic world who say that Jews are exaggerating these atrocities only to make these Muslim regimes look bad, I say poppycock. When extremist groups like ISIS are freely murdering it becomes big news in Israel. The most obvious reason is because Israel may be next, because Israel – as the world should know – is on the front line.
Over the past few weeks ISIS has produced and posted a “hit list” of Christians it intends to murder. So far ISIS has murdered seven people; one was beheaded, another was burned alive. A father and son, members of the Hana family, were dumped on the side of the road after ISIS shot the father dead and burned his son alive. The symbolism should not be lost.
In Islam the symbol of dumping a dead body on the side of the road outside a town, in this case the town was al-Arish, is very telling. It means the victims are seen by the murderers an unfit for human burial and instead worthy only of being thrown to the dogs to be mauled and eaten. The victims are seen by the murderers as subhuman. And that is the way ISIS views all Christians, but most of all, the Christians of the Middle East.
Many Christians are fleeing the Sinai where these attacks have taken place. They have seen the writing on the wall and heard the promise of future threats. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi condemned the recent attacks, much in the same way that he condemned the December massacre. But that’s all he’s done – little else has happened and the Christians rightfully fear for their lives.
Despite the AP and Reuters coverage of the persecutions the massacres of Christians in the Middle East has barely made a blip on the radar of the Western news media.
Sisi is reacting much the way Western media is reacting. The Copts are not a part of the mainstream; they don’t belong. Their tradition, their practice looks nothing like Western Christianity. There are no significant populations and affiliations outside of Egypt to take up the battle cry and defend them. Libya and Sudan have small Coptic communities, but they’re not going to make waves and risk their relative safety to help out in Egypt. Western Catholic and Protestant groups are not connected to these Christians who are part of the Eastern Church, sometimes referred to as the National Churches.
That leaves Israel and Jews around the world.
Defense of Egypt’s Christian community is not purely selfless. We have, as they say, skin in the game. We must call attention to the plight of the Christians under ISIS and other oppressors in order to make certain that moderate regimes in the region remain stable. Egypt must protect the Christians and destroy ISIS because otherwise ISIS will destabilize the entire country and the region. ISIS is recruiting members to help oppress the Christians.
Protecting Christians will protect the region. Ultimately, it will protect Israel, too.
**author is a political commentator. He hosts the TV show Thinking Out Loud on JBS TV. Follow him on Twitter @ MicahHalpern.

Analysis: Is Israeli-Saudi peace a realistic proposition?
Jackie Hogi/Jerusalem Post/February 27/17
Israeli leaders have hinted at improving ties with the Saudis and their Gulf neighbors, but the Saudis may be no less devious or subversive than their Iranian rivals.
Like a puzzle composed of only two pieces, two cabinet ministers separately delivered remarks last week, granting the Israeli public an interesting glimpse into the current reality of the balance of power in the Middle East.
First was Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who broadly described the main elements of Iran's intelligence activities in the Middle East during his speech at the Munich Security Conference on Sunday. His remarks included an expression of concern for a third, far-off country, which does not have diplomatic relations with Israel. "They are trying to create chaos in every place," Liberman said of the Iranians. "And there main target is Saudi Arabia."
Since when does the defense minister of Israel care about the hardships of Saudi Arabia? The answer was provided the next day by Liberman's fellow cabinet member, Intelligence Minister Israel Katz. "Yes, there is cooperation between Israel and these countries, which cannot be discussed in detail," Katz explained. "This cooperation is going to be significantly upgraded, because the US is going to lead it. The first goal is to block Iran and push it out of the area."
The two ministers are correct: Iran's efforts to act against Israel are currently reaching record heights. The Iranians, encouraged by their success in saving the Assad regime in Syria, have declared a quiet war on Israel. Their approach is two-pronged. In Gaza, they are providing Hamas's military wing with weapons and money. On the northern border, they are working tirelessly to fill Hezbollah's weapons warehouses with precision missiles, which are liable to cause battlefield losses for the IDF and the Air Force. More than a decade after the Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah is being built into a force that rivals that of a national army.
"There are many things that Israel doesn't know about the abilities of the Resistance," Hezbollah deputy chief Naim Qassem said in a television interview last week. "These abilities are different and better than they were at the time of the Second Lebanon War."
Some two years ago, Iran even tried to set up a military headquarters for actions against Israel on a third front: the Syrian Golan Heights. Senior Iranian officers who traveled close to the Israel-Syria border were killed in an air strike, attributed in foreign reports to Israel. "We have three problems to deal with," Liberman said at the Munich Security Conference, "Iran, Iran and Iran."
Iran has the status of an active enemy in the Israeli public discourse. The Saudis, on the other hand, have taken on a moderate image: the leaders of the good bloc. Riyadh indeed is not a declared enemy of Israel and does not directly support groups that seek to harm the Jewish state. However, presenting the picture as black-and-white is far from accurate.
The Saudi Initiative
The Saudi regime partakes in subversive behavior in the Middle East no less than the Iranians. In Lebanon, they back the Sunnis and their senior representative, Prime Minister Sa'ad Hariri, who has Saudi citizenship. They have a say in every important political development in Beirut, no less so than Iran. In Yemen, they have been immersed for the last two years in a bloody war against Shi'ite Houthi militias. It is a battle that is being waged mainly from the air, and often claims innocent civilian victims.
In Iraq, they supported al-Qaida from the beginning - a group established by leftovers from Sadaam Hussein's people and the Ba'ath regime, in an effort to create a counter weight to Iranian influence. The Saudis are also active in Bahrain, where a Sunni monarchy controls a second-class majority Shi'ite population, which constantly challenges the leadership, often with Iranian encouragement. The Saudis provide their ally, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, perpetual aid to deal with Shi'ite opposition, especially of a military and intelligence nature.
However, the greatest portion of the tens of billions of dollars the Saudis spend on their foreign activities has gone in recent years to Syria. Riyadh is actually the main generator of the war to topple Bashar Assad. In the summer of 2011, near the beginning of the civil war, the Saudis decided to topple the Syrian regime, no matter what the consequences would be. In order to do so they funded the founding of loyal militias and factions from among the Syiran population and provided them with weapons and military training.
Saudi intelligence operatives planned and designed the operational policy of their proxies in the fight against Assad. Later, more countries joined the effort to support the rebels, including Qatar, Turkey and the UAE. But the Saudis were the flag-bearers of the operation. If there hadn't been a declaration of war against Damascus from the Sunni coalition, Assad wouldn't have had to defend himself in such an uncompromising manner, and thus the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians who were slaughtered or made refugees would have been spared.
"You brought the whole world to fight in Syria," Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said of the Saudis in a speech two years ago, "only in order to topple Assad and his regime. You destroyed Syria, you killed it, you carried out massacres there and you refuse any diplomatic solution there." In the same speech, he also accused his hated enemy of involvement in post-Sadaam Hussein Iraq: "The ones who sent suicide bombers and funded murderous terror attacks in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, terror attacks that made no distinction between Arabs, Kurds, Christians, Sunnis, Shi'ites or Turkmens - were the Saudi intelligence."
In the critical stages of the war in Syria, it appeared that Riyadh's plan was succeeding, and the Ba'ath regime was collapsing. However, then Iran and Hezbollah came to Assad's defense, shedding blood to protect him, and later the Russians joined the effort, saving Damascus from complete collapse, at least for the time being. Throughout the years, the Saudis and their brothers the Qataris have tried persistently to portray Assad as a tyrant who systematically kills his own people through their control of Arabic-language satellite channels. The tyrannical Syrian regime indeed waged a war of destruction on its citizens, who are split into factions, which also included knocking down whole buildings on top of their inhabitants. However, the media picture presented by the Saudis and Qataris hid their part in the establishing and funding of the rebel groups, which forced Assad to fight without compromise.
The Saudi subversiveness in all of these arenas constitutes a mirror image of the Iranian involvement in terror and its moves to weaken regimes in the region. However, the Saudis are richer than the Iranians, no less devious, and mainly, they enjoy the West's tacit agreement for their actions. They tend to act quietly, by pulling strings from afar and through the use of mercenaries.
There are those in Israel who thought throughout the Syrian Civil War that Israel was gaining from the determined military campaign to oust Assad that was born in Riyadh. Reality has proven otherwise. Israel should be sending flowers to all those involved in saving the regime. If the Gulf states - our friends, according to Minister Katz, right? - succeed in their plan to topple the Damascus government, a second Iraq would come into being on Israel's doorstep. Nobody would prevent ISIS from coming to the northern border in the Golan Heights and attacking Israeli communities from there uninterrupted. Another front would develop similar to that on the border with Sinai.
In addition, the occasional attacks from Israeli ministers on the human rights situation in Iran is an insult to the intelligence of the Israeli listener. We have not yet seen the birth of the Israel minister that truly cares about the situation of Iranian citizens. And if their situation truly pains them, they would be well-served to take note of the poor human rights conditions in Saudi Arabia. A glance in that direction would find a kingdom like that of Louis XIV, which has been run for some nine decades by the same family, which passes the crown from son to son as if the country was its own private estate. It has no elected parliament, but rather a "Council of Ministers," whose members are appointed by the king, and their is no electoral system for choosing the king or the members of the legislature.
Iran is indeed the black sheep of the West, but the bitter truth is that if Saudi citizens could choose - they would be happy to be part of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Netanyahu's experiment
Israel is not only permitted to establish secret contacts with countries that can help it defend itself, it is obligated to do so. It can be assumed that all manner of business can be done with the Saudi regime. However, these contacts should be part of the public discourse in Israel. Not in order to satisfy the curiosity of journalists, but rather, in order to avoid failures and losses like those that happened with Egypt. For four decades Jerusalem acquiesced to Cairo's request to have relations like those of a man and his mistress; these relations never blossomed into a true peace agreement, which would serve as a worthy gift to future generations. Instead they remained a weak alliance. In the moment of truth, they almost collapsed.
With the Saudis it is too soon to discuss peace, but there is no reason that a strong democratic state would in the future have covert relations with a tyrannical regime that needs it. Saudi Arabia is not just an important military and diplomatic power. It is the most seasoned regime in the region, which has been in a fight for survival since its inception. We will never know its full map of strategic interests. You can steal a horse with the Saudis, but they have no problem - at the exact same time - with stealing a horse from your stable.
In one of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speeches, while he was running for election for his current term, he explained that Israel is undergoing a revolution in its relations with countries in the region. These regimes, who were always relatively tolerant of Israel, are looking for common interests in a region where everything around them is chaotic.
Not only the common Iranian enemy encourages this, but also two simple human needs: to find someone to lean on in a time of need, and the business potential. Israel is not only a military power, but it is mainly a technological, commercial and diplomatic power. Not only are governments seeking to be close to Israel, but so are Arab politicians who are making their way here secretly, all manner of business people and other individuals. Everyone is looking for what they're missing - from a work permit or refugee status to intelligence cooperation, establishing a base for future relations and billion dollar business deals.
This growing trend which the prime minster and the heads of Israel's defense establishment have seen has brought with it creative thinking. "They always said," Netanyahu explained in his speech, "that the moment we make progress, a breakthrough in the peace process with the Palestinians, we can also make peace with the entire Arab world. But more and more I think that the process can also move in the opposite direction. That the normalization, or advancement of relations with the Arab world, can help us attain a more realistic and stable peace with the Palestinians.
In other words, the prime minister cooked up a path to peace that circumvents Ramallah. It was an interesting test balloon, based on creative thinking and its goal was to rescue Israel from its relative regional isolation and to bring a historic dismantling of the Arab boycott. However, after the prime minister revealed his thinking, Arab capitals, led by Riyadh, rejected the idea. In talks between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Arab leaders, they gave him an insurance policy. "We will not sell you out," they told him, and declared their refusal to make peace with Israel without a solution to the Palestinian problem.
Why doesn't Saudi Arabia, the "moderate" kingdom and the leader of the Sunni world, jump on the enticing offer? The correct question is, why would it jump? Peace with Israel, unfortunately, does not interest the Saudis. Nor does it interest their brothers in the United Arab Emirates. They are concerned by two existential threats. From the outside - Iran, which is close by and dangerous, and from within - extremist Islam. A peace agreement with Israel that does not settle the Palestinians' problems, will give these two enemies the legitimacy to fight against the Saudis. For the Saudis this is not just a headache, but a real danger.
There is also another reason for their refusal to make peace with Jerusalem: the Saudis and their Gulf neighbors are already getting everything they need from Israel - according to foreign reports, of course.
**The writer is the Arab affairs correspondent for Army Radio.