March 04/17

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For Today
All who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke 18/09-14/:"Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, "God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income."But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!"I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted."

Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion
Letter to the Hebrews 03/14-19.04,01-04/:"We have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end. As it is said, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.’ Now who were they who heard and yet were rebellious? Was it not all those who left Egypt under the leadership of Moses? But with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, if not to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest is still open, let us take care that none of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For indeed the good news came to us just as to them; but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, ‘As in my anger I swore, "They shall not enter my rest" ’, though his works were finished at the foundation of the world. For in one place it speaks about the seventh day as follows: ‘And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.’"

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published english On March 03-04.17
Hezbollah as a threat to the US that no wall can prevent/By: Tony Duheaume/Al Arabiya/March 03/17
Lebanon’s Army and Hizbullah Join Ranks/Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira/Jerusalem Centre For Public Affairs/ March 03/, 2017
Hizballah lists targeted Israeli “nuclear sites”/DEBKAfile Exclusive Report March 03/17
Iranian Kurds, a key partner in ‘containment of Iran’/Arash Saleh/Jerusalem Post/March 03/17
The United States: Wither the Democrats/Amir Taheri/Asharq Al Awsat/March 03/17
The conflicting discourse in Saudi Arabia/Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya/March 03/17
The story of Mubarak’s innocence/Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/March 03/17
Is Trump’s appointment of Generals alpha-male validation of his ego/Dr. Azeem Ibrahim/Al Arabiya/March 03/17

Titles For Latest Lebanese Related News published On March 03-04.17
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 03/17In Absentia Trial in Bashir Gemayel Assassination Adjourned to April 28
Aoun Promises 'Big Achievements, New Approach'
Kaag Holds Talks with Bassil
Report: US Says Aoun's Pro-Hizbullah Stances Could Push Out UNIFIL
Report: France to Provide Lebanon with Military Aid
Report: Military, Security Appointments Will be Announced Next Week
EU-Funded Gender Equity Project Celebrates Achievements at Closing Event
UNIFIL Donates U.N. Assets to General Security
Khoury: Military Appointments Not Settled, Advanced Discussions on Budget
Cabinet to resume budget talks Monday
Cabinet approves budget items except for salary scale
Irish State Minister for Diaspora leaves Beirut
Information Ministry's conference on dialogue culture winds up
Bou Assi tackles social issues with Central College students
MP Rahme visits Iranian Ambassador
Palestinians clash with Israeli settlers in West Bank
Geagea, Bonne tackle current situation
Rahi returns from Cairo
Sweden-Based Lebanese Journalist Jerry Maher: Compared To Hizbullah, Israel Is An Angel; Hizbullah Is The Same As ISIS
Hezbollah as a threat to the US that no wall can prevent
Lebanon’s Army and Hizbullah Join Ranks
Hizballah lists targeted Israeli “nuclear sites”

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published On March 03-04.17
Iranian Defense Minister: We Need To Surprise The Enemy, America, And Hit It Where It Hurts The Most
Syrian Opposition Says Geneva Talks 'More Positive' than Previous Round
Juppe May Step in if Fillon Quits French Race
Russia's Top Diplomat in US in Eye of Political Storm
Iranian Deputy Parliament Speaker: What Have We Done That College Students Are Mocking Us Today
Why Iran's Most Famous Lake and World's Second Largest Salt Water Lake Is Dying?
Iran: Jamming Devices Installed in Prisons to Put Political Prisoners Under Pressure
Iran's Meddling in Arab World Provides Grounds for Extremists: UAE Official
Iran: Vendors Clash With Special Unit Agents
Iran Regime's Ongoing Concerns Over the Results of Munich Security Conference
Iran: Yet Another Environmental Disaster After Khuzestan's
Turkey’s Erdogan accuses Germany of ‘aiding and harboring terror’
EU parliament wants US citizens to get visas
US Vice President Pence used private email as Indiana governor
US drones target militant suspects in Yemen, Pakistan

Links From Jihad Watch Site for March 03-04.17

Raymond Ibrahim: The Slow-Motion Genocide of Egypt’s Christians
Germany: Muslim migrant is al-Qaeda jihadi suspected of executing 36 people
Muslim Star Wars actor: Put Muslims on TV or they will join ISIS
Trump administration and Congress seek to slash UN funding in wake of new anti-Israel action
Muslim who claimed visa denied by Trump ban, who Schumer got into US, arrested for sexual assault of 12-year-old girl
Anti-Trump Leftist Muslim reporter arrested for Jewish Center bomb threats blamed on Trump supporters
UK Muslim: “In our religion, Islam, it’s OK to have slaves,” wanted to buy nine-year-old sex slave
EU Parliament lifts immunity from prosecution for Le Pen for tweeting images of Islamic State violence
Turning Our Backs on One Half of the World
Facebook and Twitter censor Jihad Watch, block thousands from reading it
Unfit for duty: McMaster and Gorka
Fake anti-Muslim hate crime in Montreal: Muslim arrested for bomb threat against Muslim university students

Links From Christian Today Site On March 03-04.17
EXCLUSIVE: Top UK Major General Who Is A Christian Praises Donald Trump's Defence Team
Church Stance On Gay Marriage 'Increasingly Untenable' For An Established Church, Say MPs
Defiant Jesus Talk From The Archbishop Of York: 'We Are Here To Change And Transform The World'
He Lived To Save Others': The Legacy Of Dawson Trotman And The Navigators
Seeing Threats? Seeing Opportunities? Social Media, Mobile Technology And The Church
Beauty And The Beast Has A Gay Character - What's The Christian Response?
Should A Baptist Feel Free To Make The Sign Of The Cross?
He Lived To Save Others': The Legacy Of Dawson Trotman And The Navigators
Fears For Malaysian Abducted Malaysian Pastor After Son Says He May Have Been Murdered

Latest Lebanese Related News published On March 03-04.17
In Absentia Trial in Bashir Gemayel Assassination Adjourned to April 28
Naharnet/March 03/17/The Judicial Council, Lebanon's highest court for state security crimes, on Friday held its second in absentia trial session in the case of the 1982 assassination of president-elect Bashir Gemayel. After having issued an ultimatum asking the accused Habib Chartouni to turn himself in within 24 hours at the latest from Friday's session, the court decided to consider Chartouni a fugitive and to try him in absentia. It also decided to launch in absentia proceedings against the other suspect in the case, Nabil al-Alam, seeing as no death certificate has been issued for him by the Directorate General of Personal Status. Media reports had said that al-Alam had died of illness in 2014. According to al-Jadeed TV, the Judicial Council has given al-Alam an ultimatum to turn himself in within 24 hours at the latest from the next session, which will be held on April 28. State-run National News Agency, said the court also decided to strip Chartouni of all his civil rights and to seize any assets he has in Lebanon. Protesters from a Syrian Social National Party faction calling itself the July 8 Movement meanwhile staged a protest near the Justice Palace in support of Chartouni. Demonstrators carried banners and pictures and called on the Lebanese state to consider Chartouni “a hero not a criminal.”Security forces took measures to prevent the demo from approaching the Justice Palace before eventually asking the protesters to leave the area.Gemayel was a senior member of the Kataeb Party and the supreme commander of the Lebanese Forces militia during the early years of the civil war. He was elected president on August 23, 1982 while the country was torn by civil war and occupied by both Israel and Syria. Gemayel was assassinated on September 14, 1982, along with 26 others, when a bomb exploded in Kataeb's headquarters in Ashrafieh.
Chartouni, a member of the Syrian Social National Party, was later arrested in connection with the assassination. His sister was a resident of the apartment above the room Bachir was in. He had visited her the previous day and planted the bomb in her apartment. The next day, he called her and told her to get out of the building. Once she was out, he detonated the bomb from a few kilometers away from the building. Two days later Chartouni was arrested by the Lebanese Forces. At a press conference before being handed over to the Lebanese judiciary by the LF, he called Gemayel a traitor and accused him of “selling the country to Israel.”He said he was given the explosives and the fancy long-range electronic detonator in West Beirut’s Ras Beirut district by Nabil al-Alam, who was reportedly SSNP's intelligence chief at the time. Alam reportedly had close ties to the Syrian intelligence services and he swiftly fled to Syria after the assassination. Chartouni spent eight years in Roumieh Prison without an official trial until he escaped on October 13, 1990 during the Syrian offensive to oust Michel Aoun from the Baabda Palace.

Aoun Promises 'Big Achievements, New Approach'
Naharnet/March 03/17/President Michel Aoun on Friday promised that the country will soon witness “a phase of big achievements.”“It is impossible for the State to continue with the same situation and it will move forward with a new approach,” Aoun said during a meeting in Baabda with Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil and the ministry's team of consultants. “We have started a new era that will be dynamic, vigorous and full of ideas, determination and work,” the president added. Aoun was elected president in October 2016 after around two and a half years of presidential vacuum. Analysts have warned that Aoun's election will not be a "magic wand" for Lebanon, which has seen longstanding political divisions exacerbated by the war in neighboring Syria and has struggled to deal with an influx of more than a million Syrian refugees. In addition to pledges of economic growth and security, Aoun said in his oath of office that Lebanon must work to ensure Syrian refugees "can return quickly" to their country. Aoun also pledged to endorse an "independent foreign policy" and to protect Lebanon from "the fires burning across the region."

Kaag Holds Talks with Bassil
Naharnet/March 03/17/UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Sigrid Kaag held talks on Friday with Interior Minister Jebran Bassil where talks focused on the latest developments in Lebanon and the cooperation between the UN and Lebanon. “I just had a productive and constructive meeting with Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil. It was an opportunity to discuss the latest developments in Lebanon and the ongoing cooperation between the United Nations and Lebanon along the pillars of peace and security, development and stabilization of Lebanon,” said Kaag after the meeting. “The Minister and I discussed the forthcoming report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of resolution 1701 (2006) due on 15 March,” she added. The UN coordinator concluded: “The Minister and I also discussed recent developments in the Palestine refugee camp of Ain el-Hilweh and the importance of the resumption of basic services of UNRWA, which remain key to stability

Report: US Says Aoun's Pro-Hizbullah Stances Could Push Out UNIFIL
Naharnet/March 03/17/Ambassadors of six countries, the United States and the European Union sounded the alarm over President Michel Aoun's latest statements about Hizbullah's arms, amid threats that the UNIFIL could withdraw its peacekeeping mission from south Lebanon, MTV reported on Friday.
A covert meeting was held on February 15 at the United Nations headquarters in Yarze. It included ambassadors of the International Support Group for Lebanon, the US, France, Britain, Germany, Italy and China in addition to the EU ambassador and Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General in Lebanon and Arab League Representative, MTV said.According to information obtained by MTV, the meeting addressed three main issues: The upcoming parliamentary elections and the new electoral law, the security situation in Lebanon including backing the Lebanese Army, the International Brussels Conference on the Syrian crisis and the Syrian refugees in Lebanon. On the elections, the conferees emphasized the need to conduct democratic and transparent parliamentary polls. However, they refrained from making a statement in that regard, avoiding interference in Lebanon's affairs, but agreed to have talks with the government to urge staging timely polls, added MTV. As for supporting the Lebanese army and ensuring a sound security situation, the ambassadors stressed the need to abide by UN resolution 1701 that comprised limiting the presence of arms to the army and providing it with the aid needed in accordance with the resolution. Talks highlighted the latest statement of Aoun during an official visit to Egypt, which they said does not abide by resolution 1701, but merely reflects visions of a single Lebanese party. They agreed to have talks with Lebanese defense minister and other officials prompting the need to respect the resolution, since a failed approach affects international assistance for the army mainly from Saudi Arabia and the US. The Chinese ambassador has pointed out to lack of harmony between the President's stance and the Prime Minister's, said MTV. The Italian ambassador has however stated that Aoun's rhetoric does not benefit the Lebanese cause. The US ambassador has however, revealed a tendency to pull the UNIFIL forces from southern Lebanon if the country does not abide by international conventions. For his part, owing to Aoun's stance, the French ambassador said it is unlikely for a conference to provide Lebanon with the material and moral support in Paris to be held in the next few months, it concluded.

Report: France to Provide Lebanon with Military Aid
Naharnet/March 03/17/French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is expected to visit Beirut in the next days, amid reports that France will provide Lebanon with military assistance after Saudi Arabia halted its grant last year, the pan-Arab al-Hayat daily reported on Friday. The French minister's visit affirms that France is going to support Lebanon's military agencies after Saudi Arabia halted a Lebanese army grant in 2016, added the daily. France has developed a plan that will be put into implementation the current year. It will see the reinforcement of Lebanon's security forces to counter terrorism, it said. In February 2016 Saudi Arabia halted a $3 billion program for military supplies to Lebanon in protest against Hizbullah's policies and diplomatic stances by the Lebanese foreign ministry. The $3 billion program financed military equipment provided by France. Alleged leaders of Hizbullah are under sanctions by Saudi Arabia. Hizbullah is supported by Saudi Arabia's regional rival Iran, with whom relations have worsened this year. Riyadh cut diplomatic ties with Tehran in January after demonstrators stormed its embassy and a consulate following the Saudi execution of a prominent Saudi Shiite cleric and activist.

Report: Military, Security Appointments Will be Announced Next Week
Naharnet/March 03/17/The cabinet is expected to pass the long-stalled 2017 state budget plan next Monday at the Baabda Palace, amid an overall agreement between political parties to hold another session on Wednesday to finalize the security and military appointments in six top positions, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Friday. Wednesday's session will see the appointment of military and security officials. Brig. Gen. Joseph Aoun will be promoted to the rank of General to succeed Army Commander General Jean Qahwaji. Brigadier General Imad Othman will be promoted to the rank of Maj. Gen. to succeed Internal Security Forces chief Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Basbous. Basbous will be referred to the diplomatic cords as ambassador. Brig. Gen. Tony Saliba will be promoted to General to succeed Director General of State Security Maj. Gen. George Qaraa. Maj.Gen, Mohammed Sanan as deputy. A successor for Higher Defense Council chief Maj. Gen. Mohammed Kheir will be appointed as well. The daily added that the “basket” of appointments will include General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, 59, who will submit his resignation from the military to serve the next five years, until he reaches retirement age of 64, as a civilian. Moreover, it has not been ruled out that the position of director general of the Lebanese Customs, currently occupied by Chafic Merhi, will also be looked into. Al-Joumhouria added, administrative appointments are said to follow and contacts are ongoing in that direction. The appointments at the military posts is a contentious subject among political forces, especially that the Free Patriotic Movement says it rejects term extensions for any military or security official. Former Defense Minister Samir Moqbel had in August 2015 postponed the retirement of Army Commander General Jean Qahwaji, Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Walid Salman and Higher Defense Council chief Maj. Gen. Mohammed Kheir, extending their terms by one year, after the political forces failed to reach an agreement on security and military appointments.

EU-Funded Gender Equity Project Celebrates Achievements at Closing Event
Naharnet/March 03/17/The government-affiliated National Commission for Lebanese Women (NCLW) organized a high level closing event Friday to showcase the achievements of the EU-funded project “Gender Equity and Empowerment of Women in Lebanon”. “The successful results of the project and the outcome of an advocacy study for the adoption of a quota system for women in Lebanon were revealed at the event,” said a press released distributed by the Delegation of the European Union to Lebanon. This was followed by a panel debate on women participation in political processes and aspects of quota systems in which participated Jean Oghassabian, Minister of State for Women’s affairs, Ambassador Christina Lassen, Head of the Delegation of the European Union and former Minister Wafaa Dika Hamza, Secretary General of the Coalition "Women for Politics". In his opening speech, the Secretary General of NCLW, Fadi Karam, highlighted the project's achievements in enhancing NCLW's capacity and in “opening new horizons to ensure the outreach to civil society through the establishment of the National Coalition to support women political participation in Lebanon, that aims to adopt a women's quota in the electoral law to be agreed upon,” the statement said. He added that NCLW benefited from the expertise and knowledge of the project's experts such in integrating Gender in all public institutions and the creation of an instrument for the establishment of an observatory for women's rights. Ambassador Lassen said: "In Lebanon, women represent around 53% of the country's population. They are active in the public and private sector, but usually not, or only to a limited extent, at management and top management level.""The tireless work of civil society has paved the way and advanced the debate on women’s rights, including their right to political representation in Lebanon. I encourage you to deepen the spirit of partnership between government institutions and civil society. Joining forces of both -- the Ministry and the National Commission for the Lebanese Women -- is essential to achieving women’s full participation in the economic, social, political and cultural development of the country," she added. During the panel, Minister Oghassabian said that "through their presence, women can enrich the government. They can be productive and have an impact on all levels, and can become essential for improving the work of the government." For her part, former Minister Hamza confirmed that the main message of the "Coalition for Women" is the inclusion of at least 30% quota in the upcoming parliamentary elections. The project “Gender Equity and empowerment of Women in Lebanon” was funded with a grant of 800,000 Euro from the EU under the “Promotion of Social Justice” program, with the objective to advocate for democracy, good governance, human rights and gender equality. The project contributed to these objectives through the provision of technical support to the NCLW and other relevant stakeholders and their internal governance processes, with the aim to mainstream gender equality and women’s rights at policy level. The main results of the project include the development of a gender mainstreaming toolkit, an enhanced cooperation between the NCLW and civil society, the launching of a media and advocacy campaign and the enhancement of capacities of Gender Focal Points in all Lebanese ministries among others.

UNIFIL Donates U.N. Assets to General Security
Naharnet/March 03/17/The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) on Friday donated a number of U.N. assets, including vehicles and information technology equipment, to the General Directorate of the General Security of Lebanon, a UNIFIL statement said. “The donation is in line with the existing cooperation between UNIFIL and the Lebanese Government’s military and other security institutions, as mandated by the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which forms the core of UNIFIL’s mandate,” the statement said. In his remarks at a ceremony held at the U.N. Mission’s headquarters in south Lebanon, UNIFIL Head of Mission and Force Commander Major General Michael Beary said the donation is “a clear and important demonstration of the close and professional working relationship that exists between UNIFIL and the Directorate.”
“I sincerely hope that this equipment will facilitate the General Security in the important role they play in protecting the Lebanese state, its institutions and citizens,” said the UNIFIL head. “Such donations by UNIFIL are a clear example of the level of international support for Lebanon and its security agencies, as they continue to deal with the myriad of security threats that the country faces as a result of the ongoing conflict in Syria,” he added. Today’s donation of 11 vehicles and 278 information technology assets is the sixth in a series of donations by UNIFIL to the Directorate of General Security, dating back to 2011. Speaking on behalf of Major General Abbas Ibrahim, the head of General Security, Colonel Fawzi Chamoun said the donation reinforced the agency’s long-standing partnership with UNIFIL. He also added that the agency “will make the best use of the assets, especially in maintaining stability and prosperity in UNIFIL’a area of operations in south Lebanon.”

Khoury: Military Appointments Not Settled, Advanced Discussions on Budget
Naharnet/March 03/17/Economy Minister Raed Khoury announced on Friday that the military and security appointments file was not finalized as yet although some progress was recorded, as he affirmed that budget discussions made a progress. “The security and military appointments have not been resolved yet, but progress has been made in this file which is mainly the concern of the defense minister,” Khoury told VDL (93.3). Media reports said on Friday that the cabinet has reached a final decision on the appointments, and will announce the names during a meeting on Wednesday. As for the draft state budget discussions, Khoury said the government will approve the budget either during government’s meeting on Friday or Monday. Lately, the government has been holding sessions dedicated to approving Lebanon's stalled 2017 budget plan. Lebanon has not approved a state budget since 2005 because of disputes between political parties.

Cabinet to resume budget talks Monday
Fri 03 Mar 2017/NNA - A Cabinet session that was devoted to discuss the state budget winded up this evening, and decided to convene on forthcoming Monday to resume talks, National News Agency correspondent reported on Friday.

Cabinet approves budget items except for salary scale
Fri 03 Mar 2017/NNA - The Cabinet approved today all items related to the state budget, except those on the salary scale, which shall be discussed during the joint House committees' session on Monday, Minister of Information, Melhem Riachy, indicated on Friday. The Council of Ministers convened at the Grand Serail this afternoon, in a session devoted to discussing the 2017 state budget bill. Reading out the Cabinet decisions, Minister Riachy told reporters that discussions were positive, and that the budget would be soon finalized. Asked whether the Cabinet would convene on Wednesday, he said ministers had not been officially notified of it, adding that an agenda of items is being prepared for this session. In response to a question on whether the budget would be approved during a session chaired by the President of the Republic, Riachy said that discussions were taking place at the Grand Serail under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister, and that an ordinary session could be held at Baabda palace on Wednesday. Afterwards, Minister of Culture Ghattas Khoury revealed that his Ministry is holding a seminar at UNESCO palace tomorrow, to launch a national plan on the development on culture.

Irish State Minister for Diaspora leaves Beirut
Fri 03 Mar 2017/NNA - Irish Minister of state for the Diaspora and International Development, Joe McHugh, left Beirut on Friday, concluding a two-day official to Lebanon.

Information Ministry's conference on dialogue culture winds up
Fri 03 Mar 2017/NNA - The Directorate of Lebanese Studies and Publications at the Ministry of Information concluded on Friday the third conference on the culture of dialogue and social media, at the American University of Beirut (AUB), under the auspices of Minister of Information, Melhem Riachy. It is to note that a committee was formed and tasked to formulate the conference's recommendations, which Minister Riachy will announce soon.

Bou Assi tackles social issues with Central College students
Fri 03 Mar 2017/NNA - Minister of Social Affairs, Pierre Bou Assi, on Friday deplored "the dangerously increasing poverty ratios in Lebanon," stressing that social protection is an obligation towards society. "The state alone cannot have the solutions. Political and security stability, as well as the development of the legal system and services, must be guaranteed," the Minister told a meeting with the students of Jounieh's Central College. Tackling social issues, Bou Assi highlighted the necessity to enroll in volunteerism.On street children, he said this plight was one of the hardest to deal with. "I have been following up on this issue since I took office. Nonetheless, it is a very difficult issue which requires a critical legal frame and practical solutions that are not available today. And Syrians' displacement has contributed to exacerbating this plight," he explained. As to the disabled and those with special needs, Bou Assi indicated that his Ministry had undertaken a workshop in that respect."The Ministry has allocated a huge part of its budget to the disabled and child care," he added. Lastly, the Minister said that approaching the Syrian refugee crisis from a humanitarian perspective, as well as from a political one, in order to "protect Lebanese citizens' best interest."

MP Rahme visits Iranian Ambassador
Fri 03 Mar 2017/NNA - Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon, Mohammad Fathali, received at the Embassy on Friday MP Emile Rahme, with whom he discussed latest regional and international developments.During the meeting, Rahme thanked the Islamic Republic of Iran for hosting the international conference to support the Palestinian Intifada.

Palestinians clash with Israeli settlers in West Bank
Fri 03 Mar 2017/NNA - Palestinians clashed with Israeli settlers Friday near the city of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, an AFP photographer said. Fighting broke out near a water source for the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, and residents of the Halamish settlement fired gunshots into the air. An Israeli army spokeswoman said one settler was lightly wounded in the clashes after Palestinians tried to block the access road to the settlement. "Security forces intervened and dispersed the Palestinian protesters," she said. Nabi Saleh has for years been a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Each Friday, Palestinians, foreigners and some Israelis protest in Nabi Saleh against the expansion of the nearby Halamish settlement. In August 2015, pictures of an armed Israeli soldier in Nabi Saleh pinning down a crying Palestinian boy against a rock went viral on social media and made international headlines. ---AFP

Geagea, Bonne tackle current situation
Fri 03 Mar 2017/NNA - "Lebanese Forces" leader Samir Geagea met on Friday in Meerab with French Ambassador to Lebanon, Emmanuel Bonne, with talks reportedly touching on most recent developments in Lebanon and the broad region. The LF leader also met with "Future" bloc member MP Bassem Shab, whereby they discussed current developments on the local arena. On the other hand, Geagea met with a delegation of "Their Right to Return" Committee.

Rahi returns from Cairo
Fri 03 Mar 2017/NNA - Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Mar Beshara Boutros Rahi returned on Friday from Cairo, after his participation in Al-Azhar conference. Upon his arrival in Beirut airport, the Patriarch told reporters that Lebanon's value lied within communication. "It is the country of relations and friendships." "Lebanon is not a country of war," he underlined. Rahi indicated that talks with the Egyptian President focused on "the need of Egypt's voice in order to restore unity in the Arab world," as well as to put terms in the war in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq. Turning to Lebanon, the prelate considered that the election law and the voice of citizens must be esteemed. "It is shameful that after 12 years, we still have no election law," he said. Moreover, he underlined that a state with no budget means waste and theft of public funds. "Lebanon is getting poorer, after it had for long been known as Switzerland of the East," he noted, calling for controlling public waste.

Sweden-Based Lebanese Journalist Jerry Maher: Compared To Hizbullah, Israel Is An Angel; Hizbullah Is The Same As ISIS
MEMRI/March 03/17
Lebanese journalist Jerry Maher, the CEO of Radio Sawt Beirut International, said that Israel no longer posed a threat to Lebanon and that "the real war is the one that Hizbullah is waging against the Syrian people and against the Lebanese army." Speaking in a February 21 Al-Jazeera TV show, Maher, who is based in Sweden, said there was no difference between Hizbullah and ISIS, that "Hizbullah is the biggest catastrophe to befall this region," and that "when you compare [Israel and Hizbullah], Israel is an angel and Hizbullah is Satan." Jerry Maher: "We have learned that there is an American policy to hold Hizbullah accountable, and not to remain silent over its deeds in Syria in the past five years. [The Americans] believe that Lebanon cannot become a state with institutions as long as Hizbullah is not disarmed, especially since there is no longer any real Israeli threat to Lebanon."
Interviewer: "No threat?"
Jerry Maher: "None. It's over. Today, Israel seeks peace in the region. It is striving to get closer to the Arab countries, and will not instigate a war that would turn back the clock. The real war is the one waged by Hizbullah against the Syrian people, and Hizbullah's war against the Lebanese army, attempting to weaken it. "What is the difference today between Hizbullah and ISIS? [ISIS] threatens people, forcing them at gunpoint to follow its policies, in Deir Ezzor, Al-Raqqah, and elsewhere, and Hizbullah does the exact same thing in Lebanon. "Hizbullah is the biggest catastrophe to befall this region. I believe that it has even surpassed Israel itself in terrorism. When you compare the two, Israel is an angel and Hizbullah is Satan, because Israel has not killed as many Arabs and Palestinians as Hizbullah has done in Syria. We cannot deny this fact. Israel did not bombard schools in Syria. It did not bombard a university in Idlib, a mosque or a church in Aleppo or Deir Ezzor... Hizbullah, on the other hand, has reached all the way to Bahrain, in its attempts to kill people over their sectarian-religious identity."

Hezbollah as a threat to the US that no wall can prevent
By: Tony Duheaume/Al Arabiya/March 03/17
When it comes to fighting terrorism, building walls and executing travel bans do nothing to deter hardened terrorists from pursuing their violent agendas, as it matters not what is put in their way, they will find their cannon fodder amongst the vulnerable, dispossessed and downtrodden on the streets of any inner city, including those of the US. The ones who suffer the most from such draconian restrictions of movement, are the hundreds of thousands of innocent migrant Muslims left to suffer in abysmal conditions, after escaping from the terrible surroundings of wars, and end up being stigmatized as a “public enemy”.
What should scare the US government more than anything as far as Mexico and its own country is concerned, is the presence of Hezbollah in both areas as they are known to have constructed sophisticated tunnels along its border with the US, like the one that had tunnelled beneath the ground into San Diego, allowing both Hezbollah operatives and the Mexican mafia to cross into US territory unseen, to set up gangs within the US.
These tunnels were a replica of the ones their Lebanese cousins had dug in Lebanon, which enabled them to transport rockets and other weapons into the country from Syria during past conflicts with Israel, and also to supply insurgents in Gaza.
Also, throughout recent years in the US, there has been an upsurge in apprehended drug dealers, who are adorned with tattoos denoting Hezbollah symbols, showing how the US has become a prime target for the terror group’s drug enterprise, which has been made much easier by the fact that Americans of Lebanese descent are running various drug networks on the US side of the border.
It was noted as far back as 2010, by the Tucson Police Department, how the presence of radical groups within the US prison system was on the increase, and how an upsurge of inmates were becoming radicalised during their incarceration, and how many Hezbollah tattoos were being found on incarcerated felons. With these reports flagging up serious concerns amongst the authorities during this period, a plea was put out to all American citizens through the internet, to report any person seen sporting such artwork on their bodies, in an effort to track these hardened terrorists, who are the real threat to US security, and are already on US soil.
Ideological and political sympathy
With Iran having found ideological and political sympathy among various administrations across Latin America, its hatred for the US has turned out to be a great asset in the area, as many of the more radical Latin American leaders share the same line of thought, and with many regimes living for the day that America suffers a series of attacks as bad as 911, the recent strengthening of ties with the Iranian leadership, has set them on the road to achieve this.
To highlight Iran’s radical plans for the area, one of the regime’s long-standing ambassadors to Mexico, Mohammad Hassan Ghadiri, who was a fanatical supporter of Ruhollah Khomeini’s ideology, and a fervent anti-Semitic, had spent his time in Mexico trawling deprived areas, actively seeking out and converting young Mexicans to embrace his former mentor’s radical form of Shiite Islam, filling their minds with religious fervour, while trying to persuade them to travel to Qom in Iran for religious study.
This might have happened in Mexico, but it could quite easily be replicated in the downtown slums of a US inner city, where many youths feel they have no chance of finding work, and feel they are being harassed from pillar to post by a society that has no room for them.
But as far as Ghadiri was concerned, one troubling statement made by him during his time in Mexico, was to urge his young recruits to access the servers of US defence installations, in a bid to bring mayhem to the military, and added to this was a statement was his views of wanting to see the annihilation of Israel’s “Zionist” regime, which showed the intentions of the Iranian administration when it came to influencing the politics of Latin America.
Sleeper cells
For decades, Hezbollah has been well entrenched in Mexico, and US intelligence reports suggest the terror group’s agents have a well-established sleeper cell network within the US itself, and it is believed that the only reason that Hezbollah has not carried out a “spectacular” on US soil comes two-fold:
•The first being that Iran needs to win friends and influence people within Latin America, and Hezbollah needs to fill its coffers with cash made on the misery of the West’s desperate army of drug addicts through its dealings in narcotic, and so it would be counterproductive to have the Americans hunting them down as a result of terror attacks, as this would disrupt their trafficking network, costing them a vast amount of US dollars.
•The second being that of the Iran deal, which the Iranian regime has adhered to insofar as it sees fit, by agreeing to curb certain aspects of its nuclear program, which gives it a chance to build up its armed forces, fuel foreign wars such as those in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, and regain its prestige within the international community. So as long as this agreement remains in place, Iran will have billions of dollars pouring into its coffers from cash being returned after being impounded as a result of Western sanctions, imposed through the Iranian regime’s dogged pursuit of nuclear weapons.
So with the Iranian Qods (Jerusalem) Force – which is an elite armed division, acting on behalf of its sister organization the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and takes on extra-territorial operations such as covert action in foreign lands on its behalf – known to direct Hezbollah operations, it has kept tight reins on the terror group’s present day terrorist activities.
This is just to make certain there will be no serious attacks by its proxy on American soil, which will help to ensure that the Iran deal stays in place, and Iran won’t suffer any further stringent sanctions, or finds itself under military attack from the West. But should this change, with the West showing aggression against Iran, the Tehran regime would put out the word to awaken Hezbollah sleeper cells across the Western world, and terror attacks would begin, including vital targets on US soil.
Lebanese abroad
It has been estimated that more Lebanese live abroad than in Lebanon itself, so with a vast number living in Latin America, as within the US itself, within every émigré community, there are a certain amount of criminal elements to be found, and with the cocaine trade being widespread throughout the Americas, many Lebanese émigrés have become hooked up in the trade, and Hezbollah has found a foothold through these criminal groups, to form ties with various narco terror gangs throughout both continents. It has been known for several years that dealing in drugs with the Mexican mafia is a lucrative source of income as far as Hezbollah is concerned, having come into contact with its leadership through its dealings with guerrilla groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) for decades.
Although entering into peace negotiations with the Colombian government, the FARC is still a designated terrorist group, said to have at one point produced 70 percent of the world’s cocaine, plus having been responsible for 90 percent of the drug on sale within the US.
Being more brutal than the Colombian drug baron Pablo Escobar’s Medellin drug cartel was in its heyday, the Mexican mafia has operated with virtual impunity on the streets of Mexico, due to the fact that the police have found themselves totally outgunned when caught up in fire-fights with cartel foot soldiers, who dress like paramilitary troopers, and carry an awesome array of military weapons.
Mexican cartels
As far as the Mexican cartels are concerned, Hezbollah makes the perfect partner for any group that is at odds with its government. Not only is Hezbollah an insurgency group, whose talent in asymmetric and urban warfare is second to none, brought about through rigorous training at Qods Force training camps, it also has a talent in all other forms of insurgency expertise. Its list of techniques includes training snipers for assassinations, teaching the fundamentals of intelligence systems, methods of obtaining secure communications, and much more besides. So with expert bomb-makers within its ranks, with all of the knowledge you could ask for in both the design and the planting of explosive devices, it is no surprise that such techniques in bombings have taken a sudden upsurge on the streets of Mexico since Hezbollah arrived on the scene. But what makes Hezbollah so appealing to narco gangs, is the fact that its insurgency techniques have been well-honed through its wars in Lebanon against the Israeli army, and recently with its backing of Iranian troops in battle zones such as Syria, Iraq and Yemen. So such is their experience on both the battlefield, and through bringing terror to the streets, it makes Hezbollah an essential ally as far as Mexican drug cartels are concerned. So with past Mexican governments not been able to control the situation the cartels have created on the streets, violence escalated rapidly, and with Hezbollah putting gang members through their paces in fully equipped training camps, the whole situation is now way out of hand, and having left the borders of the US at risk should the Iranian regime give the order to attack its foremost enemy, no wall will protect a country from sleeper cells that are already established on its soil.

Lebanon’s Army and Hizbullah Join Ranks
Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira/Jerusalem Centre For Public Affairs/ March 2, 2017
Institute for Contemporary Affairs
Founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation
Vol. 17, No. 6
Hizbullah has completed the process of usurping the Lebanese state and its institutions. The election of Michel Aoun as president, through a forced arrangement with Hizbullah, has fulfilled the Iranian vision of controlling Lebanon without changing the power equation that has prevailed there since the National Pact of 1943. That historic unwritten agreement divided political power among the Lebanese communities and stipulated that the president would be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni, and the speaker of the parliament a Shiite.
For the first time since Hizbullah was established in 1982, Aoun’s declaration that its military power is a main component of Lebanon’s defense and grants Hizbullah the legal authority to operate as a legitimate military force. The Shiite force complements and does not contravene the Lebanese army, which cannot fight Israel by itself.1 This is notwithstanding the fact that Hizbullah’s military operations have more than once run counter to the national interest of the Lebanese state – as in the case of the fighting in Syria, which has exacted a heavy toll on the organization with over 1,700 fighters killed and about 5,000 wounded. Other cases include Hizbullah’s involvement in fighting in Iraq and Yemen, and, of course, Hizbullah’s likely participation in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.
The Lebanese president’s declaration has essentially removed Hizbullah from the restrictions of UN Security Council Resolution 1559 of September 2, 2004. That resolution called for “all remaining foreign forces to withdraw from Lebanon” and for “the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias.”
These developments pose a substantial risk to Lebanon. Beyond the loss of the Lebanese state’s decision-making independence regarding the use of force – something that had already occurred – the Lebanese president has undone the separation between Hizbullah’s military power and the Lebanese army. Hence, presumably, Hizbullah’s special relations with the army and with Lebanon’s security and intelligence mechanisms will intensify all the more, and Hizbullah commanders will even be integrated into these mechanisms. The army’s weapons transfers to Hizbullah will also increase. This phenomenon was recently revealed in the military parade that Hizbullah held on Syrian soil, in which American M-113 armored personnel carriers that most likely came from the Lebanese army were seen.2 Such arms transfers will likely jeopardize American economic and military assistance.
Aoun’s total endorsement of Hizbullah boosts the status of Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon’s domestic arena, which has been considerably eroded by the ongoing military involvement in Syria, with harsh criticism leveled at him within the Shiite community. This criticism is rife with complaints about the fact that Hizbullah has ceased to be Lebanon’s shield and instead became Iran’s and Syria’s. Nasrallah has had to reemphasize that Hizbullah constitutes the main force against Israel, and he ramps up his threats against Israel at every opportunity (as in his warnings about strikes on the ammonia facility in Haifa and the nuclear reactor in Dimona).
Hizbullah Weapon Convoys Arrive by the Tens, if not Hundreds
Ibrahim al-Amin, editor of the newspaper Al-Akhbar, who is very close to Nasrallah, asserted that despite Israel’s attacks on the weapon convoys to Hizbullah, “tens if not hundreds” of convoys have managed to get from Syria to Lebanon bringing weapons that Hizbullah needs, including “deal-breaking” weapons. These weapons, al-Amin noted, arrive in large quantities not only to the border front between Israel and Lebanon but also to the Golan Heights front. He also hinted that Israel’s assessment that Hizbullah is capable of firing 1,500 missiles at Israel per day is an underestimation of the organization’s real capabilities.3
The main importance of these developments is the official recognition of Hizbullah’s special status in Lebanon and its ability to deploy the enormous military power that Iran has built in Lebanon against Israel. In this situation, the removal of the separation between Hizbullah’s military power and the Lebanese army, creating a single force, will enable Israel to operate freely against the Lebanese state, including its army and its civilian infrastructures, at any time that Hizbullah acts against Israel.
* * *
1 Al-Ahram, February 12, 2017.
2 As-Safir, November 16, 2016.
3 Al Akhbar, January 24, 2017.
** About Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira
Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira is a senior research associate at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He edited the Jerusalem Center eBook Iran: From Regional Challenge to Global Threat. He served as bureau chief to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the military-secretary to the Prime Minister.

Hizballah lists targeted Israeli “nuclear sites”
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report March 03/17
Hizballah’s latest round of threats against Israel reached a new peak Thursday, March 2, with the release of a videotape claiming to expose nine locations allegedly tied to the production and assembly of Israel’s nuclear weapons, debkafile reports. The Lebanese Shiite terror organization said it possessed precise missiles for wiping out Israel’s nuclear infrastructure and attached addresses to all its targets. Five locations topped the list, starting with the nuclear reactors at Dimona in southern Israel and Nahal Soreq on the Mediterranean coast. “Revealed” next are three secret locations for the production, assembly and storage of nuclear missiles and warheads. Kfar Zacharia near Beit Shemesh in the Jerusalem Hills, defined as the main depot for the Jericho Series I, II and III, of three-stage ballistic missiles, which can reach ranges of up to 6,000km.
Two others were a factory in Beer Yaakov near the central Israeli town of Ramleh, the alleged production site for nuclear warheads; and the “Galilee Wing-20” plant at the Tefen Industrial Park, 17km from the town of Carmiel, a facility where the Rafael Advanced Defense System Authority was said to mount nuclear warheads on ballistic missiles and prepare them for launching.
The video stresses that Hizballah now possesses precise missiles able to pinpoint and destroy every single facility.
Just two weeks ago, Nasrallah “advised” Israel in an aggressive speech, to dismantle its large ammonia tank in Haifa and the nuclear reactor in Dimona before they were hit by Hizballah rockets and caused massive casualties. He and his associates have repeatedly warned in recent weeks that their Lebanese terrorist group has acquired weapons capable of deterring Israel as well as the capability to catch Israeli intelligence unawares by “surprises.”
In previous articles, debkafile accounted for the heightened bellicosity of Hizballah’s leaders by the permission Bashar Assad recently granted Hizballah to launch missiles against Israel from Syrian soil as well as from Lebanon.
Our military and counterterrorism sources draw a straight line from Hizballah’s latest stance and the newfound aggressiveness displayed this week by the Palestinian extremist Hamas which rules the Gaza Strip.
Thursday, March 2, Hamas spokesmen stated that the group would no longer exercise restraint in responding to the heavy Israeli air and artillery strikes that are conducted in retaliation for rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. Henceforth, it would conduct a policy of “military position for military position” – meaning that for every Hamas position destroyed by Israel, the Palestinian extremists would swipe at a comparable Israeli military site.
The new Hamas posture challenged Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman”s strategy of holding the Hamas government of Gaza responsible for any attacks coming from the Palestinian enclave - whether the work of Hamas or the extremist Salafis running loose there.
On Feb. 27, the Israeli Air Force smashed five Hamas targets in the northern, central and southern regions of the enclave after a rocket from Gaza exploded in Israel. The IDF did not respond to the rocket fired subsequently at the Hof Ashkelon region. But then, after a round of fire from Gaza to shoot up IDF military engineering equipment, the IDF knocked over two small Hamas look-out positions in the north.
Hamas had in fact given the defense minister an ultimatum: either exercise restraint, or continue the policy of massive retaliations for every rocket coming from the Gaza Strip - at the risk of a fresh round of fighting with Hamas. Lieberman appears to have settled for the first option for the time being.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published On March 03-04.17
Iranian Defense Minister: We Need To Surprise The Enemy, America, And Hit It Where It Hurts The Most
MEMRI/March 03/17/Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan recently said that the main threat to Iran was from America and its ally, Israel, and that in order to gain the upper hand in battle Iran should operate in a situation of asymmetric warfare, and have sufficient power to surprise the enemy in order to "hit it where it hurts the most." He was speaking on IRINN TV on February 7.Hossein Dehghan: "Today, the main threat is from the arrogant regime, America, along with the Zionists and so on. When we consider how to fight such a threat, we need to find factors that will give us the upper hand in battle. There will be a situation of asymmetric warfare. "We have several plans to develop [military] products and technology, to improve existing products, and to develop our industrial infrastructures. We must operate in such a way that strategically, we will not be surprised on the day [of battle], for example, by finding ourselves in a scenario that we did not think of, or by suffering damage that we did not anticipate. "In addition, we need to have sufficient power to surprise the enemy. In other words, we need to hit the enemy where it hurts the most.

Sudanese Islamic Scholar Yousuf Al-Koda: Islamic Law Permits Normalization Of Ties With Israel
MEMRI/March 03/17/Speaking on Sudania 24 TV on February 8, Sudanese Islamic scholar Yousuf Al-Koda said that "from the perspective of the shari'a, there is nothing to prevent normalization [of ties with Israel],
" recalling the Hudaibiya agreement that the Prophet Muhammad had signed with people of Mecca. Al-Koda, a former member of the Sudan Scholar Organization and currently the head of the Islamic Wasat Party, made similar statements in a conference titled "On [Religious] Awakening and Dialogue," held in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum on February 6. See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6776, Sudanese Cleric: Islamic Shari'a Permits Normalizing Relations With Israel, February 9, 2017. Yousuf Al-Koda: "The fact that the Kaaba was under the control of the polytheists did not prevent the signing of Treaty of Hudaibiya with them. So the fact that Al-Aqsa and Jerusalem are under the control of the Jews should not prevent me from doing the same with them. "First of all, normalization of ties with any party... I am talking about Palestine - or rather, Israel - for a reason, but it is true of normalization with the U.S., Russia, or any other country. Normalization means stability. It means peace. There can be no progress or development without stability and peace."Interviewer: "Did normalization bring stability to Egypt?"Yousuf Al-Koda: "Let me answer your question. You asked about Egypt's stability... Never mind, this point requires elaboration."
Interviewer: "As I understand it, this entire discussion hinges on the issue of interests."
Yousuf Al-Koda: "True."
Interviewer: "We look at all the countries that normalized their ties with Israel - Jordan and all the other countries - and examine in what way it benefitted them. But when you consider this from the religious perspective, and tell people to normalize their relations with Israel on religious grounds... Well, that is a mistake."
Yousuf Al-Koda: "In what way is it a mistake? It's not a political matter..."
Interviewer: "I'm not talking about politics. Do you really think that religion has nothing to do with interests? Religion is based entirely on interests.
"From the perspective of the shari'a, there is nothing to prevent normalization."

Syrian Opposition Says Geneva Talks 'More Positive' than Previous Round
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 03/17/Peace Talks Produce 'Clear Agenda' for War-Scarred Syria. The Syrian regime and opposition agreed a "clear agenda" to seek peace for the war-scarred country at talks which ended on Friday, the negotiations' U.N. mediator said. Veteran envoy Staffan de Mistura said he plans to invite both sides back to Geneva later this month for a new round of talks, which will include the issue of counter-terrorism at the request of Damascus. "The train is ready, it is in the station, it is warming up the engine. Everything is ready, it just needs an accelerator," he said at the end of nine days of talks in the Swiss city. "I believe that we have a clear agenda now in front of us," he told reporters.The Geneva negotiations, the first since last April, aimed at ending a conflict that began in March 2011 with protests against Syrian President Bashar Assad. Its seventh year begins on March 15.
Since then more than 310,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands have fled the country, fueling instability in neighboring countries and creating Europe's biggest migrant crisis since World War II.
The warring Syrian sides have been joined in Geneva by envoys of key parties including notably Russia, a major ally of Damascus.
Counter-terrorism -
But as in previous talks the focus was almost exclusively on the agenda. Under U.N. Security Council Resolution 2254 they should be framed in three "baskets" or areas of discussion: governance, constitution and elections. But Damascus pushed hard for counter-terrorism to be added to the agenda, against fierce resistance from the opposition who said the Syrian regime was "stalling" the talks to avoid engaging with political transition. The main opposition High Negotiating Committee (HNC) said the latest Geneva talks were "more positive" than previous rounds. "We are closing this round without (a) clear result... but I can say this time was more positive," HNC delegation chief Nasr al-Hariri told reporters. "It was first time we discussed in an acceptable depth the issues of the future of Syria and political transition," he added after the talks, the fourth mediated by de Mistura. The antagonism has been clear in briefings after each session of talks with de Mistura, with the Syrian regime delegation chief Bashar al-Jaafari lashing out at "terrorists" in the HNC.
The HNC meanwhile lamented the lack of a genuine "partner for peace."
The talks had hardly begun last weekend when they were rocked by a suicide assault which killed dozens in Syria's third city Homs. Al-Jaafari demanded after the attacks that terrorism be made a "priority" in Geneva. Speaking at the end of the talks Friday, the U.N. mediator conceded that for the moment face-to-face talks are unlikely. But he held up a photograph of the opening ceremony of the talks last Thursday, when both sides gathered in the same room, albeit only to hear a welcome address by de Mistura. "This picture is much more than iconic. It is highly symbolic. This was a very special moment," he said, adding: "A psychological barrier was broken."And he added: "I know there are still people in Syria who still believe that there is a military option or a military solution. "That is fantasy," he said, adding that only a "political solution that addresses the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people" would ultimately prevail.

Juppe May Step in if Fillon Quits French Race

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 03/17/Former French prime minister Alain Juppe is ready to step in as a conservative presidential candidate if the beleaguered Francois Fillon pulls out, a member of Juppe's entourage said Friday. Juppe, 71, "will not refuse if all the conditions are met -- Francois Fillon has to take the decision to pull out himself and the rightwing and centre camps... have to be united behind him", the source said. Fillon, 62, came from behind to beat Juppe in the rightwing nominating contest in November and Juppe returned to the southwest city of Bordeaux where he is mayor. He has kept a low profile since. Fillon this week revealed he is to be charged over allegations he paid his British-born wife hundreds of thousands of euros to work as his parliamentary assistant, even though little evidence can be found of the work she is supposed to have done. Police raided the Fillons' Paris residence on Thursday and more rightwing supporters deserted him, adding to the pressure on him to step aside less than two months before the first round of voting. Far-right leader Marine Le Pen is leading polling ahead of the first round on April 23 but surveys currently show she will be beaten in the decisive runoff on May 7 by either the rightwing candidate or centrist Emmanuel Macron.

Russia's Top Diplomat in US in Eye of Political Storm

Associated Press/Naharnet/March 03/17/The Trump administration's back-to-back controversies over its Russian ties now have at least one thing in common: Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Moscow's top diplomat is a Washington fixture with a sprawling network, and he has emerged as the central figure in the investigations into Trump advisers' connections with Russia. In a matter of weeks, contact with Kislyak led to the firing of a top adviser to the president and, on Thursday, prompted calls for the Attorney General Jeff Sessions l to resign. Separately, a White House official confirmed that Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn met with Kislyak at Trump Tower in December for what the official called a brief courtesy meeting. Flynn was pushed out of the White House last month after officials said he misled Vice President Mike Pence about whether he and the ambassador had discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia in a phone call. At issue Thursday were two meetings between Sessions and Kislyak — one in July and another in September, at the height of concern over Russia's involvement in hacking of Democratic officials' emails accounts. Intelligence officials have since concluded that Moscow ordered the hacks to tilt the election toward Trump. In his confirmation hearing, the Alabama Republican denied having contact with any Russian officials, neglecting to mention the meetings with Kislyak, which were first reported by the Washington Post. The Russian Embassy did not respond to a request for comment. Although the White House dismissed the revelation as part of a political witch hunt, Sessions' former colleagues took the omission seriously. At the urging of some in his own party, Sessions recused himself from the Department of Justice's investigation. Still, Democrats called for him to step down.
Observers note Kislyak is a somewhat unlikely figure to cause controversy. Over the course of a long diplomatic career, he's led the life of a somewhat typical global envoy — making himself a reliable presence on the circuit of receptions, teas and forums that make up the calendar of any ambassador. Kislyak, who was appointed to his post in 2008, is regularly spotted walking around town, heading to and from meetings. Early in his tenure, he often opened the doors of the Russian Embassy, hosting dinners for foreign policy professionals, Pentagon officials, journalists and Capitol Hill staffers. Those who have attended the events describe him as a gracious and amiable diplomat, although perhaps not as polished — nor as confrontational — as his more famous boss, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. In 2015, when Kislyak invited a group of Washington-based journalists, including one from the Associated Press, to the Russian Embassy for tea, he used the meeting to push warmer relations between the two nations — despite the conflict over Russia's seizure of Crimea and the crisis in Ukraine. Kislyak framed U.S.-Russian relations as salvageable and hoped specifically to combat what he considered cartoonish, anti-Russian depictions of his government in the American press. At a press conference where he recused himself from the investigation into the Trump campaign's ties with Russia, Sessions said he discussed a number of things with Kislyak, including counterterrorism. He said the meeting became confrontational when the discussion turned to Ukraine. Kislyak, 66, has bounced between the United States and Russia for most of his long career. His first foreign posting was to New York where he worked at the Soviet delegation at the United Nations in the early 1980s. He spent the following years as the first secretary and then councilor at the Soviet Embassy in Washington before returning to Moscow in 1989, where he took a succession of senior jobs at the Foreign Ministry. He did a stint as Russian ambassador to Belgium and simultaneously served as Moscow's envoy at NATO. He then returned to Moscow to serve as a deputy foreign minister, overseeing relations with the United States and arms control issues before being sent to Washington. Kislyak's contacts have sparked questions about his role or involvement in the hacking, questions that are difficult to answer.
The U.S. and Russia, along with many other countries, have made it a practice to separate their top diplomats from espionage activities, although it is not uncommon for an intelligence agent to operate under the cover of a senior-level diplomat. Foreign diplomats to the United States likely expect that their activities will be monitored by U.S. authorities in the same manner that American diplomats are monitored in countries like Russia. Russian ambassadors most likely are aware of the intelligence agents operating under diplomatic cover, but are not believed to part of the security services themselves. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Thursday ridiculed the claims of Kislyak's involvement in espionage as "total disinformation" and part of efforts to sway public opinion. "I'll open a military secret for you: It's the diplomats' jobs to have contacts in the country they are posted to," she said sarcastically. "It's their obligation to meet with officials and members of the political establishment."

Iranian Deputy Parliament Speaker: What Have We Done That College Students Are Mocking Us Today
NCRI/Friday, 03 March 2017/Iranian deputy parliament speaker acknowledged the fact that oppressive measures, poverty and unemployment are all on the rise in Iran. “Poverty, unemployment and economic corruption across the country is taking place due to weak measures by the officials, and if we had allowed everybody to speak their minds, the country would not be in its current status quo,” he said. “We shouldn’t be pointing fingers about the country’s problems. We ourselves have been the source of many problems, and the fact that we cannot face college students on campus and talk to them, it is our own mistakes and we have to see what we have done wrong that college students are mocking us today,” Massoud Pezeshkian said at a speech in Shiraz University on Wednesday night. “It is our fault that it is not clear where $800 billion dollars has disappeared, and it is due to weak governance that we are currently facing such problems. We shouldn’t be blaming the U.S. or any other country. Were we asleep when all this embezzlement was taking place in the country? Where was the judiciary? We are the source of these problems, not the U.S.,” he added.

Why Iran's Most Famous Lake and World's Second Largest Salt Water Lake Is Dying?
NCRI/Friday, 03 March 2017/Director of planning and integration of the revival of the Lake Urmia, criticized the Hassan Rouhani’s government for failing to meet its obligations and said: "Our contractors have abandoned the project since last September and October and in case of lack of finance, we will lose the chance of revival."According to the state-run news agency Mehr, Masoud Tajrishi, who was speaking at the Sixteenth International Exhibition on Environment on Monday February 27, added: "If we can’t secure funding, we lose the chance of revival."
He noted: "Half of the projects, including projects in dust control and inspection patrols are faced with the problem of continuity due to the lack of funds" and added: "Our contractors have abandoned the projects since last September and October due to lack of funds."
The official also noted that projects of eight percent reduction in water usage in agriculture also have been abandoned due to the lack of funds.
This is while the Rouhani government in early October announced the allocation of 300 billion Tomans for implementation of yearly projects of the working group to save Lake Urmia.Issa Kalantari, Secretary of the headquarters of Revival of Lake Urmia, on Monday pointed to the current projects for revival of this lake and said for the revival of Lake Urmia in the next ten years, 20,000 billion tomans will be needed. Mehr News Agency reported on February 29 that in 1396 (2017) fiscal year budget, the government has not allocated budget to some projects in the revival of Lake Urmia. According to experts, dryness of the Lake will put the lives of millions of people at risk.
Lake Urmia, as the largest salt water lake in the Middle East, in recent years lost 12% of its area which is equal to the area of Bodensee in southern Germany; the shore of that lake with a circumference of 240 km, is shared between the three countries of Germany, Switzerland and Austria ".
The Lake Urmia was the largest inland lake in Iran and the world's second largest salt water lake. Lake Urmia with more than one hundred small rock islands is a stopping place for migratory birds, including flamingos, pelicans, storks and ducks ... and has been registered by UNESCO as a protected area.
The lake began to get dry from mid-2000, and today is in danger of drying completely such that more than 80 percent of the lake has become a salt desert.
Although the Iranian regime has always tried to show that drought is the main cause of this crisis, but studies of international researchers showed that drought caused only 5% decrease in rainfall around the lake, and predatory projects of dam building and digging deep wells by factions of the regime and the IRGC Khatam al-Anbiya garrison, along with the construction of the 15 kilometers highway on the lake has led to the current crisis. Shahrvand state-run newspaper, in connection with the drying of Lake Urmia emphasized on the damage caused by the regime’s dam building projects and wrote: "By the year 2012 more than 200 dams on rivers in the catchment area of the lake were ready, or in the later stages of the design process. According to the latest studies water level of the Lake Urmia in October 2015 was 1270.04 meters that shows a decrease of 40 cm compared to the same period last year.
Khabar Online state-run news agency writes under the title of “Urmia surrounded by 88000 wells”: "Wells are among the important factors that have not left underground water untouched by human interventions. The growing trend of dogging wells across the country over the past four years indicates the significant increase in the number of wells to more than 760,000 wells across the country. More than 46 billion cubic meters of water is taken from these wells.”
Effects of the lake drying, on the surrounding environment: International experts believe that drying up of the Lake Urmia will change its mild weather to hot weather with salt winds and consequently the environment of the area will change, and salt along with many other poisonous materials will create respiratory problems for the people of the region that threatens a radius of up to 500 kilometers of the lake. Where did the project of revival of the Lake Urmia end up with? Hassan Rouhani, who had promised the revival of Lake Urmia, at the beginning of the election campaign and had said: “I promise you that if you put the executive responsibility of the country on my shoulders, solving the problem of the Lake will be my first priority on the agenda.” Has taken no real action to save the lake.

Iran: Jamming Devices Installed in Prisons to Put Political Prisoners Under Pressure
NCRI/Friday, 03 March 2017/To put more pressure on prisoners in ward 4 of Gohardasht Prison by applying white torture on them, the Iranian regime’s judiciary and Prisons Organization have installed eight jamming devices there. According to reports on March 1, following the increased pressures on political prisoners in Karaj Gohardasht Prison and closing all the ward’s outlets, a number of additional jamming devices were obtained and installed next to previous ones, to make sure that all the prisoners are affected by their carcinogenic waves. This comes at a time when the elderly prisoners there had got used to the amount of wave generated by previous devices and could somehow tolerate the pain and other symptoms caused by them, by taking anti-nausea and painkiller medications. With new devices installed, however, many of the prisoners are now suffering from dizziness, nausea, headache, and diarrhea, starting from today. Prisoners in the political ward ask all the human rights organizations for help. They demand human rights organizations to help prevent a disaster caused by white torture and characterized by madness and death

Iran's Meddling in Arab World Provides Grounds for Extremists: UAE Official
NCRI/Friday, 03 March 2017/Iran’s meddling in Arab countries and supporting Houthis militias paves the path and provides adequate grounds for extremist groups, including al-Qaeda and Daesh (ISIS/ISIL), said Anwar Qarqash, the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, in his speech at the 34th annual United Nations Human Rights Council session. Having the Houthis and former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Salah set the legitimate government of this country aside has led to human rights violations against the Yemeni people, including the arrest, torture and murder of thousands of people, and preventing the delivery of humanitarian aid to needy people, he added. Arming militia with advanced weapons, including ballistic missiles and drones, is on the rise and Houthi militias have fired thousands of missiles and mortar rounds to Saudi Arabia, Qarqash said

Iran: Vendors Clash With Special Unit Agents
NCRI/Friday, 03 March 2017/On the eve of new Persian year, vendors selling clothing, bags, shoes, and home appliances in Hamedan (Central Iran) clashed with law enforcement Special Unit agents. According to reports, the vendors first clashed with Hamedan’s municipal agents who were trying to collect their wares from the sidewalks on Hamedan’s Buali street. Faced with vendors’ resistance and protests, the law enforcement Special Unit agents subsequently arrived at the scene, trying to suppress these working people by firing shots in the air and tear gas. Regime’s municipality in Hamedan has ordained that the vendors should start working only after 22 pm. Protesting the decision, the vendors kept spreading their wares throughout the day, a move which led to clashes. Being supported by people, the vendors kept resisting and refused to wrap up their wares and leave Buali street, despite being suppressed by the Special Unit agents. The latest reports in this regard say that the vendors have again spread their wares following the clashes.

Iran Regime's Ongoing Concerns Over the Results of Munich Security Conference
NCRI/Friday, 03 March 2017/More than a week after Munich Security Conference and three days after Saudi FM’s visit to Bagdad, Iranian regime’s officials and media continue to express concerns over regime’s increased regional isolation. Acknowledging regime’s regional isolation, Hassan Rouhani’s vice president ‘Eshaq Jahangiri’ said in this regard “unfortunately, our relations with the Persian Gulf states have become somewhat cold and disturbing.”A day before Rouhani’s vice president’s remarks, Aftab-e-Yazd, a newspaper close to Rouhani’s band, regarded Kayhan’s commentary on Saudi FM’s visit to Iraq as ‘optimistic’, writing “Saudis are currently not in a position to seek reducing tensions with Iran without demanding substantial concessions. On the other hand, when you put Adel al-Jubeir’s visit in the context of recent developments and beside his critical remarks particularly those made at the Munich Conference, this optimistic viewpoint quickly disappears before our eyes.”Also in this regard, the ‘Iranian Diplomacy’ website expressed concerns on February 27 over US role in tightening the siege against the regime while commenting on the reason for Adel al-Jubeir’s visit to Bagdad. “Saudi Arabia began thinking about the idea of returning Iraq to the Arab lineup when they noticed the pressures by the Trump’s administration to move Haider al-Ebadi away from Tehran and break the alliance between Tehran and Bagdad. Particularly given that Trump is trying to tighten the siege against Iran with wider alliances which include Washington, Ankara and a number of Arab capitals”, the website says. Also the state-run ILNA news agency pointed to the US alignment with the coalition in the region to isolate the Iranian regime, writing “it should be noted that Saudi Arabia is now acting as a catalyst for US policies in Iraq.”
Earlier, the state-run Ebtekar newspaper had expressed deep concerns over the consequences of regime’s isolation, writing “all indications suggest that there will be events in the future, with its preparations being arranged right now. Each member of the coalition has in a division of labor assumed part of the responsibility.” This same fear is also strongly expressed among Khamenei’s band, so that the state-run ‘Alef’ website, linked to Ahmad Tavakoli, writes “currently, Saudi Arabia is forming a Hebrew, Arabic, and Turkish front against Iran so as to put it at a disadvantage.”

Iran: Yet Another Environmental Disaster After Khuzestan's
NCRI/Friday, 03 March 2017/Mazandaran’s Department of Environment has complained against the mayors in the province for accumulating nearly 200 tons of waste in northern forests each day. With the waste leachate penetrating the groundwater resources, Mazandaran province has now the highest rate of gastrointestinal cancer in the country. Thousand tons of abandoned waste in northern forests threaten the health of millions. Meanwhile, environmental activists emphasize on training and informing people. The list of environmental disasters such as drying up of Urmia Lake, loss of wetlands, and Khuzestan’s dust storms is now added by yet another problem, namely northern forests pollution. Warning over the situation, Director-General of Mazandaran’s Natural Resources and Watershed Management Sattar Babayee Kafaki said on Monday February 27, “if we are not serious about preserving natural resources and forests, soon a problem similar to Khuzestan’s will be raised here.”Mazandaran’s biggest problem is the abandoned waste in forests. A quick look at the headlines of local media best describes the problem: “here is the place where waste grows”, “Caspian sea and the forests which turned into garbage bins”, and “Iran’s forests are not feeling good.” The situation is so critical that Mazandaran’s Department of Environment has complained against the mayors in the province for accumulating 200 tons of daily waste in northern forests, following which arrest warrants for 80 percent of the mayors were issued. This, however, didn’t resolve the problem. Trying to justify the actions done by their relevant offices, the mayors said that they had no other option but to discharge the waste in forests, otherwise they would have been forced to leave them in cities. Nearly 2700 tons of waste is generated daily by Mazandaran’s three million two hundred thousand population. The amount is tripled with the presence of nearly 15 million tourists each year. Besides, the waste generated is abandoned in forests, rivers and the sea. In an interview with ‘Belagh’, a local website in Mazandaran, an environmental activist said that in Mahmoudabad, the waste is discharged just two meters away from the seashore while in Sorkhrood, it’s accumulated just 20 meters from the coast. In Ghaemshahr, the waste has been accumulated in riverbed for the past 40 years. In Fereydoonkenar, the height of the accumulated waste has reached ten meters. Also in Tonekabaon it’s now 40 years that the waste has been discharged in Telar river, with its height now reaching 15 to 20 meters. Warning over the situation in Mazanadarn capital Sari, the activist says that “there’s a lake of waste leachate next to Kiasar park, which is generated by accumulated waste”. With the waste leachate penetrating the groundwater resources, Mazandaran province has now the highest rate of gastrointestinal cancer in the country, says the activist.

Turkey’s Erdogan accuses Germany of ‘aiding and harboring terror’
By AFP Friday, 3 March 2017/Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday accused Germany of “aiding and harboring terror” and claimed a journalist who was detained this week on terror-related charges was a German agent. “They need to be put on trial for aiding and harboring terror,” Erdogan said, criticizing German authorities who had allowed outlawed Kurdish leaders to speak yet had blocked rallies where Turkish ministers sought to address the Turkish community. The president, speaking in Istanbul, also claimed Deniz Yucel, a correspondent for Germany's Die Welt newspaper, who was detained on Monday, was a “German agent.” Earlier on Friday, Turkey accused Germany of working for a “No” vote ahead of an April referendum on whether to boost President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's powers in an executive presidency. “They don't want Turkey to campaign here, they are working for a 'No'. They want to get in the way of a strong Turkey,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters in Ankara after German local authorities blocked rallies where Turkish ministers were due to speak.

EU parliament wants US citizens to get visas
By AFP Friday, 3 March 2017/The European Parliament on Thursday said US citizens should have to get visas to visit the EU as long as Washington refuses to allow permit-free travel for five of the bloc's countries. A non-binding resolution passed by a show of hands said the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, was “legally obliged to take measures temporarily reintroducing visa requirements for US citizens” within two months. Any move to reintroduce visa requirements for US citizens would have to be approved by member states first, a process, which could take years. “Citizens of Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania still cannot enter US territory without a visa, while US citizens can travel to all EU countries visa-free,” a parliament statement said. The Commission should suspend the visa waiver system for US nationals for 12 months, it said. The parliament statement noted that Canada also imposed visa requirements on Bulgarian and Romanian citizens but these restrictions were now due to be lifted in December. The spat comes at a time when the European Union is keeping a wary eye on new US President Donald Trump who has attacked the EU, welcomed Brexit and imposed an immigrant ban on seven mainly Muslim countries which was later overturned by a court. A spokeswoman for EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos acknowledged the resolution and said he had resumed efforts to obtain full visa reciprocity during a recent visit to Washington.
“Our approach of continued engagement and patient diplomatic contacts brought tangible results with Canada,” the spokeswoman said. “Our assessment of the situation with the US has not changed and we will continue our discussions.”

US Vice President Pence used private email as Indiana governor
AFP, WashingtonFriday, 3 March 2017/United States Vice President Mike Pence used a private email account for matters of public business as governor of Indiana, US media reported Thursday. Emails obtained by that state’s daily Indianapolis Star newspaper showed that Pence used the private account – which the paper said was hacked last summer – to at times discuss “sensitive matters” and “homeland security issues.” The Star, which obtained the emails in a public records request, said that in response to its investigation the vice president’s office confirmed that “Mike Pence maintained a state email account and a personal account.”“As Governor, Mr. Pence fully complied with Indiana law regarding email use and retention,” his office told the paper. “Government emails involving his state and personal accounts are being archived by the state consistent with Indiana law, and are being managed according to Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act.”As US President Donald Trump’s running mate on the 2016 campaign trail, Pence criticized the Republican’s rival Hillary Clinton for using a private email server for official communications – a scandal that haunted her throughout the race. Also read: Trump seen rehearsing his speech on his way to Congress . The reporter who broke the story, Tony Cook, told CNN that Pence’s spokesman had “downplayed any comparisons to Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and email account.”Indiana law does not bar public officials from using personal email, but generally does require that messages connected to official business be kept for public information purposes. Pence’s office told the paper that his campaign had taken steps to allow outside counsel to transfer personal emails dealing with public business to the state. Former Democratic presidential candidate Clinton was dogged throughout her White House campaign by her use of a private email server while secretary of state. She has said FBI director James Comey played a part in her campaign loss, claiming that the agency’s re-opening of a probe into her email use broke the momentum towards victory.

US drones target militant suspects in Yemen, Pakistan
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English Thursday, 2 March 2017/US drone strikes targeting al-Qaeda positions in Yemen and members of the Taliban in Pakistan killed in total nine militants, officials reported on Thursday. Four separate US drone strikes killed at least seven suspected al-Qaeda members in Yemen. A dawn strike targeted the home of a known al-Qaeda member in the Yashbum Valley in the southern province of Shabwa province, a provincial security official told AFP. Four suspected militants who had been standing outside the house were killed, he said. A second strike, on al-Qayfa in Bayda province, further north, killed three suspected al-Qaeda members, a local official and a tribal chief said. A third strike targeted the militants in the Sawmaa district of the province, the local official said. And a fourth targeted an al-Qaeda position east of Shaqra in the southern province of Abyan, a security source said.
Related: Obama’s drone legacy in war-torn Yemen, will it continue under Trump? Al-Qaeda briefly overran Shaqra early last month just days after the January 29 US raid on one of their compounds in Baida province. The raid cost the life of as many as 16 civilians - eight women and eight children.
Meanwhile a suspected missile-firing US drone killed two Afghan Taliban militants on Thursday in a Pakistani village near the Afghan border, Pakistani officials in the area and a village elder said. Pakistani officials said the missile struck the two men while they were riding a motorcycle in the northwestern Kurram Agency, part of a lawless ethnic Pashtun tribal belt along the Afghan border areas where militants from both the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, as well as al-Qaeda, operate. US drone attacks inside Pakistan have become rare over the past few years and the latest strike, if confirmed, would be the first in the nuclear-armed nation since US President Donald Trump took office in January. In the past, both the US military and the Central Intelligence Agency have conducted drone strikes in Pakistan. A Pakistani government official identified one of the men killed as Qari Abdullah Subari, a senior commander from the Afghan Taliban. A Pakistani intelligence source said the other man was also a Taliban member named Shakir.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published On March 03-04.17
Iranian Kurds, a key partner in ‘containment of Iran’
By: Arash Saleh/Jerusalem Post/March 03/17
The role of liberal democracies and, above all, the United States is distinguished also by their capability for maintaining order in an international society based upon certain values.
The deal that the six international powers made with Iran may have addressed Iran’s nuclear program, but it has created, or maybe it is better to say exposed, an absence of strategy regarding other threats Iran poses to international order and stability. Iran’s ability to implement its plans in the Middle East is increased by the lack of a proper international response, which in turn stems from the aforementioned lack of an overall strategy.
The role of liberal democracies and, above all, the United States is distinguished also by their capability for maintaining order in an international society based upon certain values. Iran, for a long time now, has represented a security breach for this order by its sponsorship of terrorist organizations, and direct perpetration of terrorist attacks. Iran’s behavior has also faced our values, in the free world, with a functional challenge. Just as an example, by forcing the women members of the Swedish cabinet to wear veils.
The organizing principles of international society require its members to have a collective response to this threat the Iranian regime poses. The response must have two characteristics. First, it should be collective, and second it must factor in the realities of a diverse Iran. The most important question in configuration of such a response is how to act effectively while remaining loyal to the approach of the new administration in Washington, that sees international security as the duty of all its allies and not only America.
The containment of Iran is not possible unless it is accompanied by a reliable movement inside of the country that has the ability to challenge Iran both militarily and socially. This movement can contain Iran’s accessibility to its resources, challenge its legitimacy and accordingly, cripple its ability to act abroad.
The pivotal factor in this regard is the Iranian opposition itself and the parties and organizations already on the ground in Iran, that have a clear demand for regime change and are welcomed by the national minorities in the country. The Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran is one potential group which, with the support of the international society, can provide a viable alternative.
CNFI, the largest coalition of Iranian opposition groups so far, is an umbrella organization consisting of 16 political parties and advocacy groups. This organization calls to replace the regime with a federal Iran, a system in which Kurds, Arabs, Balouchs, Azari and Turkmens all have their local democracies and enjoy some checks and balances through which political participation and democracy in the whole of Iran is guaranteed.
Some parties among the members of CNFI are already on the ground and coping with the regime militarily and in other forms. The Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, with 71 years of experience, recently launched a new campaign, which is called “Rasan.”
During this campaign PDKI Peshmarga forces were present all over the Iranian Kurdistan area, which is comprised of four large provinces in the west and northwest of Iran. The scale of presence, which was considerably high, and the fact that some clashes happened in the depth of Iranian Kurdistan have two different implications. First, PDKI’s military ability is significantly higher than everyone thought it was, and second a huge majority of the 10 million-strong population of Kurds is with PDKI, protect its Peshmerga forces, provide them with supplies and food and conceal them among themselves.
With proper support from the international community, these forces are substantial enough to weaken the Islamic Republic of Iran and lower its capabilities to endanger the stability and security of the region and American allies. This will be the first step for the democratic opposition also to organize people inside and use the opportunity of a weaken Iran and eventually topple the regime from inside and replace it with a federal and democratic Iran.
**The author is the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan’s representative to the USA.

The United States: Wither the Democrats?
Amir Taheri/Asharq Al Awsat/March 03/17
“What next for Democrats in the United States?”
This was the question put by a small group of journalists at a private dinner to a Democrat party grandee during a recent passage in London.
Insisting on Chatham House rules, that is to say not to be quoted by name, the grandee offered an expose aimed at dismissing the party’s setbacks including the loss of the White House to Donald Trump, as a mixture of mishaps and bad luck.
But, does the Democrat Party have a strategy for returning to power?
“Whatever happens, demography favors us,” he quipped.
What is meant by “demography” here is the salad-bar view of America in which the nation is divided in a list of double-barrel identities.
The assumption is that a majority of those with double-barrel labels will always vote Democrat.
President Barack Obama called it his “rainbow coalition”, an alliance of African-Americans, Hispanics, Jews, Arabs-and-Muslims, Native Americans, and gays-and-lesbians-and trans-genders that helped him triumph in two presidential elections.
Last November, however, that alliance failed to mobilize to defeat Trump. The percentage of African-Americans, Hispanics, Arabs and Jews who voted for the Democrat candidate Mrs. Hillary Clinton was lower than it had been for Obama.
Counting on the “rainbow coalition”, Mrs. Clinton neglected an important segment of the electorate, the blue-collar workers of the old industrial states known as the Rust Belt. Losing in those states ensured her defeat.
The “demographic” analysis shows that Democrat Party strategists have become prisoners to what could be described as electoral arithmetic.
According to the “demographic” analysis, the White-European segment of the US population, accounting for 69 percent of the total in 2016, will fall below 50 percent by 2030. In the largest state, California, that is already the case.
Hispanics, representing the fastest growing community, are likely to emerge as a majority in at least five states while African-Americans will enhance their demographic strength in eight others.
Thanks to that arithmetic, Tom Perez, a former member of Obama’s Cabinet, became the first Hispanic to be elected Democrat Party’s National Chairman last week.
According to that arithmetic, Hispanics and most other minorities will always vote Democrat.
All that the strategist has to do is to ensure that he collects enough votes from each segment of the electorate to capture the magical 50+1 key to power. He has no need of coherent policies, let alone an ideological anchor. All he needs is a candidate, a slogan and a tone.
This is why the latest presidential election in which something like $1.5 billion was spent on “campaigning” failed to handle a single major issue of American life from the prism of clearly spelled out policy proposals. All that Trump had to do was repeating in the manner of a clocked-up automaton: “Make America Great Again” while Mrs. Clinton hoped to win only because she was not Trump.
For their part, the Republicans have tried to cast themselves as defenders of “true Americans”, that is to say precisely those who fear becoming a minority in their homeland. The result is a tribalization of American politics that could damage the nation’s democratic structures.
Regional, ethnic and religious divisions have always played some role in American politics. For decades the southern states were solidly Democrat in reaction to the War of Secession which they lost to the northern states under a Republican president, and the subsequent martyrization by “Yankee” carpet-baggers.
From the 1960s onwards, however, partly in reaction to reforms imposed by President Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat, in favor of African-Americans, the same states turned Republican. At the same time, the New England states, the original bastion of republicanism, morphed into Democrat electoral chips.
For decades, California was a Republican bastion, producing such figures as Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. Now, however, having lost much of its White-European middle class, it is a sure-win for Democrats.
Reducing politics to a version of arithmetic resembles failure to see the woods for the trees.
Over the past three decades, two parallel debates have dominated US politics. The first debate concerned social and life-style issues such as gender equality, sexual preferences, contraception and abortion, capital punishment, gun ownership, religious diversity and political correctness.
All in all, it is possible to suggest that on most issues the Democrats have won that debate.
From the 1990s, the Republicans made the mistake of refusing they had lost on those issues, alienating a larger segment of the electorate. That refusal meant that since 1989, with the exception of George W. Bush winning his second term in 2004, no Republican has won the presidency with a majority of the votes.
Moreover, in the context of the Cold War, Republicans were cast as the party of war, although it had been Democrats who had engaged the US in all its wars since the early 1900s.
The second debate concerned economic issues in the context of globalization which the US, promoting free trade and creating the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (GATT) mechanism, had pioneered since the end of the Second World War.
Initially, the Democrats adopted an anti-globalization posture that reflected protectionist and socialistic trends they had always harbored on the margins since the 1930s with such figures as Norman Thomas and Upton Sinclair, a tradition partly revived by Senator Bernie Sanders.
Under Bill Clinton, however, Democrats converted to globalization in a big way, as it benefited the economic, social and cultural elites that supported them. In the process they ignored the damage that globalization was doing to the party’s traditional blue-collar urban base.
They also went too far in their support of communitarianism, political correctness and Blame-America-First posture.
Trump won partly because a large number of Americans believe that multiculturalism and globalization have gone too far. However, Republicans would be wrong to assume that this means a desire to turn the clock back to the 1950s.
The Democrats cannot win by making a U-turn on multiculturalism and globalization, and by confronting Trump. What they need is a grand strategy of reform and re-adjustment, something eminently possible in a robust democracy.
Rather than trying to out-beat Trump by beating on hollow drums of radicalism, a la Sanders, Democrats need to move to center ground, recapturing the space lost under Obama’s erratic leadership.
That requires something more than electoral arithmetic.
**Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. Mr. Taheri has won several prizes for his journalism, and in 2012 was named International Journalist of the Year by the British Society of Editors and the Foreign Press Association in the annual British Media Awards.

The conflicting discourse in Saudi Arabia

Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya/March 03/17
We can often spot on social media outlets a wave of refusal and protest against modernization, representing those that fear the winds of change. In fact, these uncontrolled objections give a big credit to the Saudi government on the international level for struggling to improve the status of women, standing against religious extremism, encouraging social openness and seeking to get rid of the absolute dependence on oil resources. Domestic affairs of Saudi Arabia go beyond this framework, as an influential player on the regional and an international stage. Those who think what is happening in Saudi Arabia is only limited to the Kingdom, are not aware of the fact that it goes beyond the Saudi borders, especially in a time governed by international standards rather than local ones. The challenge of modernization in Saudi Arabia grapples with the bold and massive economic changes even as the government undertakes social modernization along with substantial economic development tasks The voices criticizing Saudi Arabia are unexpected and do not understand the difficulty of the change process, especially on the social level. Now, thanks to those who objected on the change inside the country, the world can now perceive the Saudi government as the leader of change that bears the emerging consequences. The government initiatives include the growth of women’s employability in public and private sectors, giving high government positions for women, and ending the embargo on the youth that is collectively fleeing the country due to the conservative climate. The youth brain drain is harming the economy, especially those getting integrated into communities abroad.
The government’s plans include the improvement of education, eradicating extremism from the curricula and institutions, modernizing the official media and introducing entertainment activities in cinema, concerts and popular events. There is no doubt that these programs will face severe objection from some people, and most of them are objecting on them out of ignorance or good intentions. After years of rising extremism, it is normal to have enclaves refusing any attempt to improve the aspects of life. These enclaves are resorting to all possible means to incite people against changes. Ironically, the modernization concept suggested today in Saudi Arabia, would mean a step back to the past, namely the sixties and seventies era when the society was still religious and tolerant; all what is now refused was permitted back then. The challenge of modernization in Saudi Arabia grapples with the bold and massive economic changes even as the government undertakes social modernization along with substantial economic development tasks
Winds of change
All societies in the whole world have passed through the waves of change; they were also faced with objection. For instance, I remember that when Britain decided to open shops on Sundays, the step was faced with a wave of objection under the pretext of the sanctity of the community’s traditions. They first refused this step but the wind of change was stronger than their objections. There is no nation in the world that has not been affected by change and modernization that might not please everyone. It is not wrong to see protestors objecting to these steps, but the change is bigger than their objections. This is why, some of them resort to the most dangerous weapons of intimidation, such as atonement, and they misuse religious platforms to attack others, although mosques belong to everyone and they can express their personal point of view on the available communication platforms.
Those who express conservative ideas that are labeled as defending traditions and hardline religious interpretations are not aware of the danger they are putting their country and community into. Restricting women’s role is harming the families on the financial level and depriving them of possible additional revenues, at a time when the income of the head of the household is no longer sufficient alone. Lot of investment is made to satisfy these conservative groups. The society and government cannot pay this high cost, which is threatening the future where oil revenues will not be able to fulfil the needs. If we want to change this erroneous situation, we must resort to change, not for the sake of entertainment itself or calm down foreign criticism, but rather for the sake of this country, its existence and prosperity.
**This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat on March 03, 2017.

The story of Mubarak’s innocence
Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/March 03/17
After several legal rounds and trial sessions, what was expected happened: the Egyptian Court of Cassation acquitted Hosni Mubarak, the ousted or recessive president, depending on your point of view regarding the felony of killing people in Tahrir Square and other areas. He was tried for murder; this was the legal case and reason for which Mubarak was jailed. With the help of his lawyer Farid al-Dib, Mubarak pleaded his innocence, stating that those who were in charge of the killings of Egyptian protesters were members of Palestinian Hamas, Lebanese Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood. Anyhow, Mubarak was acquitted through a legal process, the efforts of his lawyer, the appropriate political circumstances and a climate favoring his innocence. Egyptians have now more important cases to be worried about. However, what caught our attention is that the former president is now “living to tell the tale” as says the title chosen by Colombian genius Marquez. Will Mubarak write his biography today transparently or with as much transparency as possible? We all need to know the recent modern history; Mubarak is the history maker, not just for Egypt but for the whole region.
Will Mubarak write the complete tale, starting with “October War”? This is critical considering he has said that history will decide where he was right and where he was wrong
Jail narration
On May 4th 2014, Egyptian artist Hassan Yussef visited Mubarak in the military hospital and had an exceptional discussion with him. According to Yussef’s comments to al-Arabiya, he said that he asked the former president about the reasons behind his discharge. Mubarak said: “I had no other option. Omar Suleiman, the vice president at the time, had told me that the Brotherhood took over the streets and Tahrir Square. They were armed and ready to kill the protesters at the square once they take the decision to end the protests, especially that I had fulfilled all their demands, namely, the dismissal of the government and dissolving the parliament and the Shura Council. Once these young people get out of the squares, the revolution would end and the regime will be in control again.”“However, the Muslim Brotherhood did not want this to happen; on February 11th, Omar Suleiman called me when I was in Sharm el-Sheikh. He told me that the MB were about to take control of the Tahrir square and are intending to kill the protesters and blame the army and the regime. He asked about the solution and I told him that I have to walk out to save these young protesters and stop the plot of the Muslim Brotherhood (...) I had information about what the MB were planning to do, including the killings, burning and dragging the country to a civil war.”
Some might say that this is Mubarak’s biased opinion against his opponents. We say: So be it! History is the product of several tales as long as they are told by their heroes. Will Mubarak write the complete tale, starting with “October War”? This is critical considering he has said that history will decide where he was right and where he was wrong.
*The article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat.

Is Trump’s appointment of Generals alpha-male validation of his ego?
Dr. Azeem Ibrahim/Al Arabiya/March 03/17
It has already been reported widely that Trump has appointed more generals to his Cabinet than any President since the end of WW2. Now, in a sense, nobody can be surprised about this. In just the same way in which they cannot be surprised about the fact that he has the largest numbers of billionaires and millionaires in any administration ever. It fits in perfectly both with Trump the man, and with Trump the candidate. Yet it still bears analysing why the generals are there and what purpose they serve. And indeed, there are several non-exclusive explanations available. The most generous is that Trump understands that he has relatively little legitimacy. He has won the Electoral College vote, but he is obviously still very insecure about the 3 million deficit he had to Hillary Clinton in the popular vote.
For all his claims to be speaking for “the people” and being “tremendously” popular, “fake news” polls from the reputable media outlets continue to show him to be the least popular President in history. And no President in recent memory has caused as much public protest on the streets of the United States in such a short time. It is difficult to claim to be “the man of the people in Washington” when the people patently loathe you.
In these circumstances, he needs other sources of legitimacy. And the US Military remains hallowed with the vast majority of Americans in a way that no other institution is, with the exception of the Constitution itself.
Not even a scandal such as that surrounding retired Gen. Michael Flynn can dent the broader reputation of the military with the American public, and the Army top brass will continue to be the members of government with the broadest levels of public support. And, while they are at it, they will help buttress the otherwise incredibly shaky edifice of the Trump administration.
Trump can expect people who have been trained for decades to jump on a grenade for their fellow soldiers when the need arises: as indeed was the case with Michael Flynn, who took one for the team so that Trump and his campaign staff can avoid deeper scrutiny of their ties to Russia
Military mind-set
Other, less benign explanations, might perhaps have to do with the military mind-set, and the role that can play in the power dynamics of the administration. Military men have two psychological tendencies, which makes them very appealing to someone like Trump: they have incredible espirit de corp, and a very deeply ingrained sense of chain of command.
Thus, Trump can expect people who have been trained for decades to jump on a grenade for their fellow soldiers when the need arises: as indeed was the case with Michael Flynn, who took one for the team so that Trump and his campaign staff can avoid deeper scrutiny of their own ties to Russia.
And also, he can expect them to bow down to his “commands” and do as they are told. Which is not to say that many of his generals would have difficulties of conscience following Trump’s orders. After all, they were specifically selected from amongst the most reactionary members of the Military establishment.
Both of those reasons are perfectly logical reasons for why Trump chose so many generals to be part of his executive team. In fact, the only thing you might be surprised about is that he didn’t choose more – though I guess Trump’s billionaire friends also needed rewarding.
And yet, one cannot help but think that there is more to this. Surely, someone of Trump’s temperament just gets off on when a General in the US Army has to stand to attention and salute him. When they just have to do what he wants them to do.
A fragile ego?
Here are some of the best military leaders of our generation, some of the most respected Americans, and they now have to stand when Trump enters the room. Is there anything any other American can do to boost Trump’s fragile ego more than that? Ratings are all well and good, but having your own posse of the best military leaders of our generation salute you? This is the ultimate alpha-male validation.
The only thing that can top that in Trump’s universe is to have Vladimir Putin himself swear fealty to him personally – though, as things stand, that power dynamic seems to flow in the opposite direction.
Still, Trump can take solace in his generals. And for their part, they are already being amply rewarded: Trump announced just this week a 10 percent hike in general military spending. Quite why this was necessary is beyond even most defense analysts, at a time when the US still outspends the next 20 military powers combined and is still terrible at projecting power in a world where bombs and drone strikes are increasingly less effective at promoting American authority around the world.
But the generals will all have business relations with the companies that will benefit from this spending splurge. And I would not put it past Trump for him to have personal business relations with the very same companies as well.