May 07/17

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For Today
After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint John 21/01-14/:"After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’He said to them, ‘Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the lake. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you? ’ because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

Pray for us; we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honourably in all things

Letter to the Hebrews 13/18-25/:"Pray for us; we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honourably in all things. I urge you all the more to do this, so that I may be restored to you very soon. Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen. I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been set free; and if he comes in time, he will be with me when I see you. Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those from Italy send you greetings. Grace be with all of you."

Question: "Who is the Holy Spirit?"
Answer: There are many misconceptions about the identity of the Holy Spirit. Some view the Holy Spirit as a mystical force. Others understand the Holy Spirit as the impersonal power that God makes available to followers of Christ. What does the Bible say about the identity of the Holy Spirit? Simply put, the Bible declares that the Holy Spirit is God. The Bible also tells us that the Holy Spirit is a divine person, a being with a mind, emotions, and a will.
The fact that the Holy Spirit is God is clearly seen in many Scriptures, including Acts 5:3-4. In this verse Peter confronts Ananias as to why he lied to the Holy Spirit and tells him that he had “not lied to men but to God.” It is a clear declaration that lying to the Holy Spirit is lying to God. We can also know that the Holy Spirit is God because He possesses the characteristics of God. For example, His omnipresence is seen in Psalm 139:7-8, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.” Then in 1 Corinthians 2:10-11, we see the characteristic of omniscience in the Holy Spirit. “But God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.”
We can know that the Holy Spirit is indeed a divine person because He possesses a mind, emotions, and a will. The Holy Spirit thinks and knows (1 Corinthians 2:10). The Holy Spirit can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30). The Spirit intercedes for us (Romans 8:26-27). He makes decisions according to His will (1 Corinthians 12:7-11). The Holy Spirit is God, the third Person of the Trinity. As God, the Holy Spirit can truly function as the Comforter and Counselor that Jesus promised He would be (John 14:16, 26, 15:26).

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on May 06-07/17
Why Trump chose Saudi Arabia as his first foreign visit/By Ali al-Shihabi/Fox News Saturday, 6 May 2017
How America can influence the Syrian conflict/Hussein Ibish/The National/May 06/17
A First Step to Peace: Calm Angers, Then Talk/Charles R. Bronfman and Susie Gelman/The New York Times/May 06/17
Putin Requested His Call with Trump to Outline a Plan for Syrian Safe Zones. Why Now/David Ignatius/The Washington Post/May 06/17
Europe's Childless Leaders Sleepwalking Us to Disaster/Giulio Meotti/Gatestone Institute/May 06/17
Increasing security fears threatening Hamas’ presence in Turkey/Huda al Husseini/Al Arabiya 06/17
Brands and creating an alternate reality/Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran/Al Arabiya 06/17
When International Guarantees Utterly Failed/David Makovsky/Jerusalem Post/May 6/17
Iran's Presidential Election: The Clergy's Political Irrelevance/Mehdi Khalaji/The Washington Institute/May 05/17

Titles For Latest Lebanese Related News published on May 06-07/17
Geagea Believes 'Red Lines' on Law Agreement Won't be Crossed
LF Denies al-Akhbar Report on Electricity File, Says 'Will Press Charges'
Report: Country's Security 'Stronger than Ever'
Berri Says His Law Proposal Won't be Valid after May 15
Aoun Says Determined to Make Lebanon 'Middle East Focal Point'
Bassil inaugurates Diaspora houses in Batroun
Berri meets Congo Brazzaville FM
Pope Francis accepts Patriarch Laham's resignation

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on May 06-07/17
Syria Fighting Eases as Safe Zones Plan Begins
Relative calm in Syrian safe zones after deal
Saudi FM Jubeir: Trump’s First Foreign Visit Choice Sends a Powerful Message
Implementation of ‘Safe Zones’…Russia Excludes Qabun
Iraqi Forces Prepare to Open Escape Routes for those Trapped in Western Mosul
Haniyeh, Abu Marzouk Fiercely Compete to Succeed Meshaal
Israel Budgets of Shin Bet, Mossad Have Grown under Netanyahu
Ex-Gaza chief Haniya elected leader of Hamas
Islamic Jihad Rejects Palestine State within 1967 Borders
Egypt reopens crossing with Gaza in humanitarian move
Egypt’s Al-Azhar university replaces head in apostasy row
Looting Ravages Venezuela, Unrest Death Toll Hits 36
129 Africa Migrants Mugged, Stranded at Sea off Libya
French MP Dies Campaigning for Macron
Iran Army Criticises Rouhani's Missile Comments

Latest Lebanese Related News published on May 06-07/17
Geagea Believes 'Red Lines' on Law Agreement Won't be Crossed

Naharnet/May 06/17/Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea said he believes that political parties will not cross the deadlines set to agree on an electoral law, pointing out that the actual deadline is when the parliament's term ends in June, the pan-Arab Asharq al-Awsat daily reported on Saturday.
“The media is concerned but I am not worried. The actual red line is not May 15, but June 20, that is when the term of the parliament effectively ends. We have made deliberations in all directions. I believe that everyone realizes now how critical the situation is. Before we reach the red lines there will be an agreement on a new law,” Geagea told the daily in an interview. The LF leader pointed out that options are now varying between adopting a “hybrid law, a fully proportional representation system or something in between.”“No matter what format will be agreed, there will be elections at the beginning of autumn unless other calculated circumstances emerge,” he added. Whether the LF would accept a technical term extension of the parliament if an agreement fails, Geagea: “I can't foretell what will our stance be. But my personal conviction is that we will reach an election law.” The country has not organized parliamentary elections since 2009 and the legislature has instead twice extended its own mandate. The last polls were held under an amended version of the 1960 electoral law. An anticipated parliament meeting is set to be held on May 15 where the parliament might extend its term once again if parties fail to reach a consensual agreement on a voting system that will rule the upcoming polls. Several political parties have reiterated that a term extension, vacuum at the legislative authority and keeping the country's current 1960 majoritarian electoral system are all rejected.
Several law proposals were presented but none have so far been consensually agreed.

LF Denies al-Akhbar Report on Electricity File, Says 'Will Press Charges'
Naharnet/May 06/17/The Lebanese Forces denied on Saturday media report alleging that the party seeks to be part of a coalition aspiring to obtain a special license to produce electricity in the northern city of Jbeil (Byblos), after the government approved a plan to lease Turkish generating vessels for Lebanon's plagued electricity sector. “The LF categorically denies a report published in al-Akhbar daily claiming that sharp rhetoric led, by (LF) Health Minister Ghassan Hasbani, about the power generating vessels was caused by the LF and Kataeb's intention of joining a coalition to obtain a special license to produce electricity in the city of Byblos,” an LF statement said. The statement added that it's strange “how amendments proposed by Hasbani on behalf of the LF were faced with rumors to mislead the public opinion and divert the attention from the LF purpose to save the state at least one billion dollars, accelerate implementation and ensure transparency and environmental conditions.”"Our reform battle will not be influenced by rumors,” pointing out that it will “press charges against the daily and all parties found to be involved in fabricating false news,” it added. Al-Akhbar daily on Saturday reported: “Sources were surprised by the onset launched by Hasbani, inside and outside the cabinet, on the energy vessels. They linked the issue to the LF and Kataeb intention to be part of a private coalition to produce electricity in Jbeil, which was rejected by the Energy Ministry for some time.”During a cabinet meeting on Friday, LF ministers urged the cabinet to consider options to improve Lebanon's power supply other than leasing energy vessels as proposed by Free Patriotic Movement Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil and approved by the cabinet earlier. The LF have also demanded an amendment to the book of conditions related to the electricity file which was rejected as well. LF sources said after Friday's cabinet meeting that dismissing their suggestion “indicates that the book of conditions is tailored to the Turkish ships without taking regard to the technical, environmental and financial specifications in line with the priorities of the state. "This has cut the way for a reform plan that would have saved the state an equivalent of one billion dollars.”

Report: Country's Security 'Stronger than Ever'
Naharnet/May 06/17/As the result of the army's and security apparatuses strenuous efforts to preserve Lebanon's stability, the security situation is “under control now more than ever before,” al-Joumhouria daily reported on Saturday. “It must be emphasized that the security situation in Lebanon is under control more than ever before. The Lebanese army and the various security apparatuses are on high alert to confront any emergency,” an unnamed security source told the daily. “Our decision is clear. We will not allow the terrorists to exploit Lebanon and its border. The Lebanese arena is more immune today that ever as the result of army's and security apparatuses daily efforts to hunt down and arrest terror cells,” added the source that spoke on condition of anonymity. The source emphasized: “However, we don't drop the possibility that terrorists could use an opportunity to strike Lebanon as compensation for their losses suffered in Syria. Accordingly, we assure the Lebanese that the path of the terrorists to Lebanon is arduous, yet the army and all the apparatuses are fully prepared to deal with any possibility.”The security source's remarks came one day after the United States provided over 1000 machine guns to the Lebanese Armed Forces as part of the LAF’s ongoing efforts to improve border security.The equipment includes 800 heavy machine guns and another 320 crew-served weapons, adding to battle-tested equipment already in the hands of the LAF. The machine guns will be used to increase firepower along Lebanon’s borders and will allow Land Border Regiments in the LAF to occupy and defend their border positions on schedule, a US embassy statement has said. Militants from the IS and al-Nusra Front are entrenched in rugged areas along the undemarcated Lebanese-Syrian border and the army regularly shells their posts while Hizbullah and the Syrian army have engaged in clashes with them on the Syrian side of the border. The two groups briefly overran the town of Arsal in August 2014 before being ousted by the army after days of deadly battles. The retreating militants abducted more than 30 troops and policemen of whom four have been executed and nine remain in the captivity of the IS group.

Berri Says His Law Proposal Won't be Valid after May 15
Naharnet/May 06/17/Speaker Nabih Berri called on political parties to grasp the chance and approve his electoral law proposal because it “will not be valid after May 15” when an anticipated parliament session convenes, al-Akhbar daily reported on Saturday. “I have done everything I could, but the others did not pick up the opportunity. The last law proposal I made to get out of the current crisis will not be valid after May 15,” Berri told the daily in an interview. Berri's proposal calls for electing a senate under a sectarian voting electoral system and a parliament under an electoral law fully based on proportional representation. However the Speaker did not elaborate on the fate of the upcoming parliament session which was first suspended by President Michel Aoun to give more room for more deliberations on an electoral law and avoid another extension of the parliament's term. “My offer ends in a few days, by then I will no more accept what I do now. I have relinquished some powers of the parliament, which I have acquired for many years, in order to reach solutions, but it seems some do not wish for a solution,” added Berri. Berri's proposal for the creation of a senate as part of efforts to resolve the electoral law crisis calls for forming a body consisted of 32 Muslim senators and 32 Christian senators and for allocating its presidency to the Druze community. If an agreement is reached on allocating its chairmanship to the Greek Orthodox community, the Druze community would be given either the deputy speaker post or the deputy premier post. The proposed snate would take some powers from parliament, especially those related to crucial issues, in line with the Taef Accord.

Aoun Says Determined to Make Lebanon 'Middle East Focal Point'
Naharnet/May 06/17/President Michel Aoun stressed on Saturday that the State's efforts will continue to bring Lebanon to the forefront of the Levant and to make it the focal point for business and tourism. “We are determined to bring Lebanon to the forefront of the Middle East and make it the focal point,” Aoun told Lebanese diaspora delegations. “You have planted joy in the hearts of your families and all the Lebanese when you came to Lebanon,” he added. “Today you are witnesses that Lebanon is very stable. We hope that you prompt the idea that Lebanon is in good shape in the minds of others,” added Aoun. The President concluded encouraging communication and the formation of a “solidarity force similar to influential gatherings in the global politics.”

Bassil inaugurates Diaspora houses in Batroun
Sat 06 May 2017/NNA - Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil on Saturday inaugurated a series of Diaspora houses in the northern city of Batroun, as part of the Diaspora Energy Conference's proceedings. The event included the inauguration of the Lebanese-American House, the Lebanese-Emirati House, the Lebanese-Canadian House, and the Lebanese-Brazilian House, as well as the Lebanese-South African House, and the Lebanese-West African House. The series of inauguration took place with the participation of Brazilian House Speaker Rodrigo Maia, Madagascan Foreign Minister Beatrice Atallah, Congo's Minister of Cooperation Clement Kanku Bukasa, in addition to Canadian Ambassador Michelle Cameron, Emirati Ambassador Hamad Said al-Shamsi, Brazilian Ambassador Jorge Kadri, Mexican Ambassador Jaime Garcia Amaral, and U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy Danny Hall. In a word delivered on the occasion, Bassil indicated that the Diaspora Energy Conference could not be complete without making a stop in Batroun and visit the Diaspora houses, a project undertaken by the city's municipality. Bassil did not fail to remind expatriates to apply for the Lebanese citizenship, revealing that the top ten diplomats to collect the maximum of application will be honored and rewarded.

Berri meets Congo Brazzaville FM
Sat 06 May 2017/NNA - Speaker of the House, Nabih Berri, welcomed, at Ain-el-Tineh on Saturday, Foreign Minister of Congo-Brazzaville, Jean-Claude Gakosso, and a delegation of Lebanese expatriates, with talks featuring high on the bilateral ties and the role of the Lebanese Diaspora. "We are here delegated by the President of the republic, and it is normal that we visit Speaker Berri to discuss the means to bolster relations between our countries," Gakosso told reporters following the meeting. "[Berri] informed us of the situation in Lebanon and the region, in addition to the role that he can play as to consolidating stability and security," he said. "We tackled the economic, political, and diplomatic ties between the two countries, as well as between Lebanon and Africa in general," he added. Moreover, Gakosso hailed the role assumed by the Lebanese Diaspora in Africa. He also revealed that preparations for a Lebanon visit by the President of Congo-Brazzaville were in the offing. Separately, Berri welcomed a delegation of the southern town of Hanine.

Pope Francis accepts Patriarch Laham's resignation
Sat 06 May 2017/NNA - The Holy See announced, in a statement on Saturday, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Patriarch Gregory III Laham, submitted on February 23, 2017, National News Agency correspondent in Rome reported.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on May 06-07/17
Syria Fighting Eases as Safe Zones Plan Begins
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 06/17/Fighting subsided in Syria on Saturday after a deal signed by government backers Russia and Iran and rebel supporter Turkey to create four safe zones began to take effect, a monitor said. The zones still exist only on paper and the cosponsors have until June 4 to finalise their borders under the terms of the agreement struck at peace talks in Kazakhstan on Thursday. But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported only sporadic skirmishes and shelling early on Saturday in the areas covered by the deal. "Apart from a few exchanges and bombardments during the night and in the morning in Hama, Damascus and Aleppo provinces, violence was sharply reduced in the areas covered by the deal," Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP. The agreement covers four main battlegrounds between the government and non-jihadist rebels -- the northwestern province of Idlib, parts of Homs province in the centre, the south, and the opposition enclave of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus. It provides for a ceasefire, a no-fly zone, rapid deliveries of humanitarian aid to the designated areas and the return of refugees. It builds on a ceasefire agreed between Russia and Turkey last December that reduced violence for a period but gradually fell apart. The new proposal is significantly more ambitious, proposing the deployment of monitoring forces from the guarantor countries and seeking to ground all warplanes. Some of its terms are ambiguous -- it does not specify that the safe zones take effect immediately but gives the three guarantor countries two weeks to form working groups to delineate them and then until June 4 to come up with the definitive boundaries. It also calls for a continued fight against the Islamic State group and former Al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front, which could pose challenges. In Idlib province in particular, Fateh al-Sham is a major component of the rebel forces that control the area. Washington has given the deal a guarded welcome. UN chief Antonio Guterres said he was "encouraged" by it.More than 320,000 people have been killed in Syria since the country's war began with anti-government protests in March 2011.

Relative calm in Syrian safe zones after deal
Associated Press, Beirut Saturday, 6 May 2017/Relative calm prevailed Saturday in wide parts of war-ravaged Syria despite sporadic violations and clashes after a deal to set up “de-escalation zones” in mostly opposition-held areas went into effect, opposition activists and government media outlets said. There were no immediate reports of casualties after the plan hammered out by Russia, Turkey and Iran - the latest attempt to bring calm to the country - kicked in at midnight Friday. The establishment of safe zones is the latest international attempt to reduce violence amid a six-year civil war that has left more than 400,000 dead, and is the first to envisage armed foreign monitors on the ground in Syria. The United States is not party to the agreement and the Syrian rivals have not signed on to the deal. The armed opposition, instead, was highly critical of the proposal, saying it lacks legitimacy. Details of the plan must still be worked out over the next several weeks. There were limited reports of bombing in northern Homs and Hama, and the southern province of Daraa, areas expected to be part of the “de-escalation zones,” activists said. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
It is not clear how the cease-fire or “de-escalation zones” will be enforced in areas still to be determined in maps to emerge a month from now. Russian officials said it will be at least another month until the details are worked out and the safe areas established.
In the tangled mess that constitutes Syria’s battlefields, there is much that can go wrong with the plan, agreed on in talks Thursday in Kazakhstan. Syria’s government has said that although it will abide by the agreement, it would continue fighting "terrorism" wherever it exists, parlance for most armed rebel groups fighting government troops.
The armed opposition delegation to the talks in the Kazakh capital of Astana said in a statement released early Saturday that the truce should include all Syria and not just specific areas. It said some maps of the “de-escalation zones” that were released are not accurate and will not be accepted because the armed opposition did not negotiate them.Still, opposition activists in southern, central and northern Syria told The Associated Press on Saturday the situation is by far much better than previous days, with no airstrikes reported. The government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media reported there was “relative clam” Saturday morning in the “de-escalation zones” nine hours after the deal went into effect. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has activists around the country, said the government’s helicopter gunships dropped three barrel bombs on the rebel-held Latamneh area in central Syria where fighting was reported between rebels and troops. It added that government forces shelled rebel-held neighborhoods of the capital Damascus.
“Despite some violations the situation is much calmer than before,” said opposition activist Mohammed al-Homsi, speaking via Skype from northern Syria. Ahmad al-Masalmeh, who is based in the southern province of Daraa that borders Jordan, said there were six breaches in the province when government forces shelled opposition-held areas. Al-Homsi, al-Masalmeh and opposition activist Osama Abu Zeid said government warplanes have not carried out any airstrikes on rebel-held areas since Wednesday, a day before the deal to set up the zones was signed in Kazakhstan.
Syrian, Russian, Turkish and US-led coalition aircraft sometimes operate in the same areas in Syria. It is not yet clear how the new plan would affect flightpaths of coalition warplanes battling ISIS militants and other radical groups - and whether the American air force would abide by a diminished air space.
The Pentagon said the de-escalation agreement would not affect the US-led air campaign against ISIS.
Russia and Iran - two of the plan’s three sponsors - are key allies of President Bashar Assad’s government and both are viewed as foreign occupation forces by his opponents. Rebels fighting to topple Assad are enraged by Iran’s role in the deal and blame the Shiite power for fueling the sectarian nature of Syria’s conflict, now in its seventh year. Turkey, the third sponsor, is a major backer of opposition factions and has also sent troops into northern Syria, drawing the ire of Assad and his government.Yet troops from the three countries are now expected to secure four safe zones. An official with Russia’s military general staff said other countries may eventually have a role in enforcing the de-escalation areas. Russian Col.-Gen. Sergei Rudskoi told reporters on Friday that personnel from Russia, Iran and Turkey will operate checkpoints and observation posts.
But it’s difficult to imagine how many boots on the ground would be needed to monitor the yet to be mapped areas or how and where exactly Russian, Iranian and Turkish troops would patrol. A previous cease-fire agreement that went into effect on Dec. 30 helped reduce overall violence in Syria for several weeks but eventually collapsed. Other attempts at a cease-fire in Syria have all ended in failure.

Saudi FM Jubeir: Trump’s First Foreign Visit Choice Sends a Powerful Message
Heba El Koudsy/Asharq Al-Awsat/May 06/17
Washington – Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said the White House’s decision on making Saudi Arabia President Donald Trump’s first international visit since he took office sends a powerful message on how important Saudi-US ties are. In an exclusive presser held at Saudi embassy in Washington, which Asharq Al-Awsat attended, Jubeir explained that the upcoming visit is vital and considered historic in many ways. He also anticipated that positive outcomes would be achieved as a result. FM Jubeir said Trump’s time in Saudi Arabia would include a bilateral summit, a meeting with Arab Gulf leaders and another with leaders of Arab and Muslim countries. Speaking to reporters, Jubeir said that this visit reflects the United States’ respect of the wise leadership guiding the Kingdom, which always seeks to enhance security, stability and peace in the region and world, reported the Saudi Press Agency SPA.
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the first partner for the United States of America in the Arab and Islamic nations,” he said. Jubeir stressed on Saudi Arabia being a key state in combating terrorism and extremism, pointing out that the Kingdom has provided the Arab Peace Initiative which is a key reference to a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict where President Trump is seeking to end this conflict. “The Kingdom is the first partner for the US in combating terrorism and extremism as well as eradicating ISIS and al-Qaeda. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is at the forefront of countries addressing the Iranian negative interferences in the regional affairs. This is an important issue for the United States,” added Jubeir. “Therefore, the partnership with the Kingdom is very important.” “President Trump desires to restore the US role in the world which is welcomed by US allies. He also expressed his desire to destroy ISIS and terrorist groups. President Trump also seeks to address the Iranian illegal practices in the region. All these matters are welcomed by US allies in the region. So, we are allies with the US administration in these issues,” Jubeir added. “The US President’s visit to the Kingdom is historic by all standards. Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam and serves the Two Holy Mosques. Terrorism and extremism cannot be defeated without the Kingdom,” Jubeir explained. “We are the closest partners in the fight against terrorism and extremism. The Kingdom is at the forefront of countries against Iran’s negative and illegal activities. The Kingdom is at the forefront of countries fighting the terrorist ISIS organization. The Kingdom has provided the Arab Peace Initiative. The Kingdom has a key role in pushing the peace process forward. The Kingdom has huge investments in the US economy. The Kingdom is a big trading partner with the United States, which means existence of enormous economic and financial interests between the two countries,” Jubeir added. In order to achieve goals set by President Trump, whether in restoring the US role, defeating ISIS, containing Iran, promoting peace or enhancing investment, trade and prosperity, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the key to these issues. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is among the US most important allies in the Arab and Islamic world, and is one of the most important international partners with respect to economy, trade and investment. “It’s a very clear message to the world that the US and the Arab and Islamic countries can form a partnership,” he said. “This visit will enhance, we believe, cooperation between the US and Arab and Islamic countries in combating terrorism and extremism. It has enormous interests in the region and world,” Jubeir concluded.

Implementation of ‘Safe Zones’…Russia Excludes Qabun
Taha Abed alWahedAsharq Al-Awsat/May 06/17
Moscow – Astana’s agreement on setting up “safe zones” has taken effect at midnight on Saturday after Russia has announced that US-led coalition warplanes will be barred from flying over these zones in Syria while confirming it will continue fighting ISIS and Nusra Front in Qabun. Russian President’s Special Envoy on Syria Peace Talks in Astana Alexander Lavrentiev said that Moscow is ready to work closely with the United States and Saudi Arabia. For his part, Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said that the position of the United States positively influenced the establishment of the de-escalation zones.
“The US supported measures aimed to reduce violence in Syria, improvement of humanitarian situation and creation of conditions promoting political settlement of the conflict,” Fomin said. Fomin added that the support of the UN, US administration and Saudi Arabia guarantees its implementation. He said that the Russian Defense Minister held bilateral talks with Ministers of Defense of Iran, Turkey, Syria and Israel. “Intelligence services and foreign affairs departments cooperated with each other permanently. A large work was done in order to convince the Syrian leadership and leaders of armed opposition to take measures aimed to deescalate the conflict.” Chief of the Russian Main Operational Directorate Colonel General Sergei Rudskoy said that since May 1, the Russian Aerospace Forces have stopped operating in the de-escalation zones determined by the Memorandum. In a press release on Friday, Rudskoy said: “The safe zone does not include the area of Qabun controlled by insurgents of al-Nusra Front. The Damascus city, and the Russian Embassy in particular, are shelled from there. Operation aimed to eliminate terrorists in this area is continued.”The Russian official explained that in order to prevent incidents and combat actions between the opposing sides along the de-escalation zone borders, security lanes are established. “These lanes include posts for observation of reconciliation regime and checkpoints for controlling movement of civilians without weapons, delivery of humanitarian aid, and support of economic activity,” he said. Operation of the checkpoints and observation posts as well as control over security zones will be provided by personnel from Russia, Iran, and Turkey, he added, noting that forces from other countries can be involved under agreement of state-guarantors. Regarding the regime forces that will be able to move freely due to these safe zones, Rudskoy said that “the Syrian regime troops will be sent to continue offensive on the ISIS formations in the central and eastern parts of Syria as well as to liberate areas located along the River Euphrates. The Russian Aerospace Forces will support these actions.”

Iraqi Forces Prepare to Open Escape Routes for those Trapped in Western Mosul
Asharq Al-Awsat/May 06/17
Mosul – Iraqi forces pushed further into Mosul from the north on the second day of a new push to speed up the nearly seven-month attempt to dislodge ISIS, commanders said on Friday. Footage taken by a drone operated by the Iraqi 9th Armored Division over the northwestern suburb of Musherfa, showed the militants had scant defenses there, unlike in other parts of Mosul where streets are blocked by anti-tank barriers and vehicles. ISIS tried to block the troops’ northerly advance into their de facto Iraqi capital with suicide car bombs and sniper fire, Brigadier General Walid Khalifa, deputy commander of the 9th brigade, told Reuters in Hulayla, west of Musherfa. His troops had killed about 30 militants and destroyed five car bombs before they could be used against them, he said. US air support has proved vital for spotting suicide car bombs and for avoiding targets where civilians are trapped. For his part, Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, a spokesman for the joint operations command, told Reuters the militants “didn’t have time to make barriers, the advance since yesterday has been good.”The US-backed Iraqi forces’ new foothold aims to open escape routes for the hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped behind ISIS lines and, in turn, help troops’ progress. The 9th Armored Division and the Interior Ministry’s Rapid Response units are aiming for the Tigris river bank to complete their encirclement of the ISIS-held Old City center. Their progression should help the elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) and Interior Ministry Federal Police troops who are painstakingly advancing from the south. The militants are now besieged in the northwestern corner of Mosul, which includes the historic Old City, the medieval Grand al-Nuri Mosque and its landmark leaning minaret where their black flag has been flying since June 2014. In this matter, US Army Lieutenant Colonel James Browning, the partnered adviser to the 9th, said the militants had tried to keep some streets open in order to use suicide car bombs.ISIS was probably expecting the attack, he said, “but they can’t defend everywhere.” Only two months ago, the militants would be firing 200 rockets or mortars at Iraqi forces in Mosul on any given day, Browning said, but in the past two days it dropped to about 30. “When you open up more fronts it becomes harder for ISIS to be able to defend. There are certainly some challenges. There are defenses in place,” he told Reuters. ISIS had taken up positions in the homes of civilians in Musherfa, said one man who came out of Mosul carrying his handicapped son.“They knocked on our door but we did not open it. When the army came we raised the white flag,” he said. He was among several dozen people walking out of Musherfa with the full beard that ISIS makes men grow in places where it holds power.

Haniyeh, Abu Marzouk Fiercely Compete to Succeed Meshaal
Kifah Ziboun/Asharq Al-Awsat/May 06/17
Ramallah – Hamas concluded on Friday the latest phase of its internal elections, which are aimed at choosing a successor to Khaled Meshaal to head the movement’s politburo. The internal elections saw fierce competition between former Hamas President Ismail Haniyeh and Moussa Abu Marzouk, Hamas politburo’s first chief, who was elected in 1992. Well-informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that the movement held a closed session in the Qatari capital, gathering Hamas leaders in Doha as well as leaders from the Gaza Strip and others from the West Bank. Participants, who represent the General Shura Council, concluded their meeting late Friday, as they were expected to elect the new head and two deputies of the general Shura Council, as well as the president and members of the politburo. The sources said that while Haniyeh was regarded as the main frontrunner, the elections saw tense competition between the two candidates, adding that surprises might occur at the last minute. In an article published in September, Asharq Al-Awsat said that Hamas Movement was seeking to elect Haniyeh to lead the politburo, replacing Mashaal. Haniyeh, who enjoys wide Hamas popularity, is among those who call for normalizing relations with the Iranian regime and establishing good ties with Egypt and other Arab and Islamic countries. Awaiting the outcome of the elections, the sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that only one obstacle might prevent Haniyeh from winning the politburo presidency. Haniyeh resides in the Gaza Strip and his movements might be constrained by the presence of Israeli forces there. As for Meshaal’s fate, the sources noted that the latter would be member in the Movement’s Higher Shura Council. Four years later, he will be able to run for a new term.

Israel Budgets of Shin Bet, Mossad Have Grown under Netanyahu
Asharq Al-Awsat/May 06/17
Tel Aviv- The Israeli finance ministry has said that the annual combined budget for the Shin Bet security service and the Mossad espionage agency will be 8.6 billion shekels ($2.4 billion) in 2018, double what the two intelligence entities received 12 years ago. A ministry report said that the 2018 budget is 10 percent more than this year’s budget of 7.8 billion shekels. In 2016, the combined funding for the two agencies was 7.5 billion shekels. The budget figures don’t include the cost of pensions for staff who have retired from both the Shin Bet and Mossad, which amounts to approximately a billion shekels a year. The figures have grown considerably since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took office in 2009. When Ehud Olmert was prime minister in 2006, the budget had reached 4.3 billion shekels. It later began to increase gradually. When Netanyahu came to power in 2009, the budget of both agencies stood at 5.24 billion shekels. The current head of the Mossad, Yossi Cohen, enjoys Netanyahu’s complete trust, allowing him to expand the Mossad’s operations. There are also visible signs of the physical expansion of the Mossad headquarters north of Tel Aviv to accommodate new staff. Most of the growth in personnel at the two agencies has been for staff dealing with technology.

Ex-Gaza chief Haniya elected leader of Hamas
AFP, Gaza City, Palestinian Territories Saturday, 6 May 2017/Hamas’s former chief in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, has been elected overall head of the Palestinian Islamist group, succeeding Khaled Meshaal, its official media announced Saturday. Haniya is expected to remain in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian enclave run by Hamas since 2007, unlike Meshaal who lives in exile in Doha and has completed the maximum two terms in office.
Islamic Jihad rejects Hamas new policy
In a related story, the radical Palestinian group Islamic Jihad has rejected Hamas’s new policy of easing its stand on Israel and accepting the establishment of a Palestinian state limited to the 1967 borders. “As partners with our Hamas brothers in the struggle for liberation, we feel concern over the document” which the main Islamist movement that rules Gaza adopted on Monday, said Islamic Jihad's deputy leader, Ziad al-Nakhala. “We are opposed to Hamas’s acceptance of a state within the 1967 borders and we think this is a concession which damages our aims,” he said on Islamic Jihad's website.
Nakhala said the new Hamas policy formally accepting the idea of a state in the territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War would “lead to deadlock and can only produce half-solutions.”Hamas has eased its stance on the Jewish state after having called for decades for its destruction, as the movement seeks to improve its international standing. Founded in the 1980s in the wake of the Islamic revolution in Iran, a close ally and source of its ideology, Islamic Jihad is the second force in the Gaza Strip and focused entirely on the armed struggle. In another related story, Egypt reopened the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip for three days starting on Saturday to allow hundreds of stranded Palestinians to return home, officials said.

Islamic Jihad Rejects Palestine State within 1967 Borders
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 06/17/The radical Palestinian group Islamic Jihad has rejected Hamas's new policy of easing its stand on Israel and accepting the establishment of a Palestinian state limited to the 1967 borders. "As partners with our Hamas brothers in the struggle for liberation, we feel concern over the document" which the main Islamist movement that rules Gaza adopted on Monday, said Islamic Jihad's deputy leader, Ziad al-Nakhala. "We are opposed to Hamas's acceptance of a state within the 1967 borders and we think this is a concession which damages our aims," he said on Islamic Jihad's website. Nakhala said the new Hamas policy formally accepting the idea of a state in the territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War would "lead to deadlock and can only produce half-solutions". Hamas has eased its stance on the Jewish state after having called for decades for its destruction, as the movement seeks to improve its international standing. Founded in the 1980s in the wake of the Islamic revolution in Iran, a close ally and source of its ideology, Islamic Jihad is the second force in the Gaza Strip and focused entirely on the armed struggle.

Egypt reopens crossing with Gaza in humanitarian move
AFP, Rafah, Palestinian Territories Saturday, 6 May 2017/Egypt reopened the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip for three days starting on Saturday to allow hundreds of stranded Palestinians to return home, officials said. The move, described by Palestinian border officials as a “humanitarian” gesture, will allow Palestinians stranded in Egypt and elsewhere, including students and sick people, to return to Gaza. “Egyptian authorities reopened the Rafah crossing for three days only, from Saturday until Monday, and only in one direction to allow those stranded on the Egyptian side to return home,” a statement said. The Gaza Strip has been under an Israeli blockade for a decade. Palestinian militants in Gaza have fought three wars with Israel since 2008. The Rafah crossing is Gaza’s only gateway to the outside world not controlled by Israel but it has remained largely closed in recent years because of tensions between Egypt and Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas. Relations between the two soured after then Egyptian army chief, now President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi overthrew his Islamist predecessor Mohamed Mursi in 2013. They have eased this year, however, and Egypt briefly opened the Rafah crossing for humanitarian cases in February and again in March. The Gaza border authority said on Saturday that “more than 20,000 Palestinian citizens, who are considered humanitarian cases, are stuck in Gaza and desperately need to travel abroad” for treatment.

Egypt’s Al-Azhar university replaces head in apostasy row

Reuters, Cairo Saturday, 6 May 2017/The head of Egypt’s Al-Azhar university, the 1,000-year-old seat of Sunni Muslim learning, has been replaced after describing a leading Islamic researcher as an apostate, official media reports said on Saturday. Al-Azhar said its Grand Imam, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, had named Mohamed Hussein al-Mahrsawy, dean of the Arabic language faculty, as the university’s acting president following the resignation of Ahmed Hosni and pending the appointment of a permanent successor. Hosni caused controversy earlier this year when he said that Christians who are interested in joining Al-Azhar University have to save and memorize the Quran first. He added that the university is specialized in Islamic related sciences and want to teach students about both Islamic and general sciences."The ahramonline news site also said Hosni had quit after being criticized for describing researcher Islam El-Behery, known for controversial interpretations of Islamic jurisprudence, as an apostate. The shake-up comes as the university, one of the most prominent Sunni academic institutions, faces criticism from Egypt’s parliament and sections of the media, who say its clerics have resisted pressure to modernize their religious discourse to help the fight against extremism. Al-Azhar last month played host to Pope Francis, who visited Cairo to improve relations between Catholics and Muslims.

Looting Ravages Venezuela, Unrest Death Toll Hits 36
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 06/17/A young man died Friday after he was injured in violence as looting broke out in impoverished Venezuelan cities, an official said, bringing the toll from unrest in more than a month of anti-government protests to at least 36. Hecder Lugo Perez, 22, died after he was hit in the head by a projectile in the northwestern city of Valencia, sources at the Valles de San Diego medical clinic said. City Mayor Enzo Scarano confirmed his death. Mass protests erupted on April 1 by demonstrators demanding elections to remove President Nicolas Maduro. They blame him for an economic crisis that has caused shortages of food, medicine and other basics.Anger boiled over Friday in the western municipality of Rosario de Perija, where young protesters burned, pulled down and then smashed a statue of former president Hugo Chavez, Maduro's late predecessor and mentor, according to video posted on social media showing the incident in a public square. Looting broke out this week in cities such as Valencia, which looked like a disaster zone with bars on shop windows bent and windows broken. "There was a crowd of them. They broke through the walls and took everything. They destroyed everything" before police came and fired tear gas to disperse the looters, said Nuvia Torrealba, 42, who worked in a bakery.
"My bosses have lost their home and we are out of a job. It was horrible." Residents were stockpiling food, water and fuel. At least 70 stores have been raided since Tuesday, the Valencia chamber of commerce said."They are taking advantage of the protests to go out and rob," said Magaly Oliveros, a 64-year-old housewife in Valencia. "Today we are hungry, and tomorrow we will be hungrier still because there is nothing."- Army allegations -Maduro is resisting opposition demands for elections. Each side accuses the other of using armed groups to sow violence in the demonstrations. Maduro has the public backing of the military high command, which analysts say is key to resisting the protests. However, senior opposition leader Henrique Capriles said on Friday that 85 mid-ranking army officers have been detained for opposing moves to crack down on protesters. He cited information he said was given by the officers' families.
- Weekend protests -Maduro's opponents called for women to march on Saturday dressed in white, a traditional show of defiance against what they brand a repressive government.
"The regime is falling," said Lilian Tintori, wife of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, outside the prison near Caracas where she was demanding to see her husband. "It has no strength and is showing its worst side, using weapons because it is does not have right on its side."The president has launched moves to reform the constitution, further angering the opposition, which says he is trying to dodge elections. He says the economic crisis is a US-backed conspiracy to topple him and install a right-wing government. "We will not let a fascist regime be set up here," said Elias Jaua, the official appointed to lead a presidential commission on the constitutional reforms. Capriles said the opposition will take no part in the constitutional discussions. The celebrity Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel, director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, added his voice to calls for an end to the violence on Thursday. He called for Maduro to "listen to the voice of the Venezuelan people", in a message posted on Facebook.

129 Africa Migrants Mugged, Stranded at Sea off Libya
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 06/17/Gunmen mugged 129 migrants on a rubber dinghy headed for Europe and also stole the craft's motor, abandoning them off the Libyan coast, Libya's navy said Saturday. Navy spokesman General Ayoub Qassem said the gunmen in a speedboat chased the dinghy on Friday, boarded around five nautical miles off the Libyan town of Zuwara and stole the migrants' possessions. The migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, including 27 women and two children, were stranded at sea for several hours before being rescued by Libyan coastguard alerted by a local fisherman, he told AFP. In the first three months of 2017, more than 24,000 migrants arrived in Italy after making the perilous crossing from Libya, up from 18,000 in the first quarter of last year, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

French MP Dies Campaigning for Macron
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 06/17/A socialist lawmaker died after collapsing on stage during a speech at a campaign rally for French presidential frontrunner Emmanuel Macron, party officials said Saturday. Corinne Erhel, 50, was the last to speak at the rally Friday in western France when she suddenly fell to the ground. She was rushed to hospital, where she was pronounced dead. "I learned with immense sadness of the death of Corinne Erhel at the event in Plouisy, where she was speaking to 300 activists," wrote French lower house speaker Claude Bartolone, a socialist. "A member of parliament since 2007, she was fully invested in her parliamentary work, while still remaining close to the people," said socialist President Francois Hollande. Erhel joined the centrist political movement "En Marche" ("On the Move") of Macron, who polls predict will beat his far-right rival Marine Le Pen in Sunday's decisive run-off.

Iran Army Criticises Rouhani's Missile Comments
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 06/17/Iran's armed forces warned President Hassan Rouhani against discussing the country's defense program after he criticized the anti-Israel slogans written on the side of ballistic missiles, local media reported on Saturday. During an election debate on Friday, Rouhani took the rare step of criticising the elite Revolutionary Guards for the provocative messages they wrote on ballistic missiles before testing them. "We saw how they wrote slogans on missiles and showed underground (missile) cities to disrupt the JCPOA (nuclear deal)," he said during the debate, which comes ahead of the May 19 election. Armed Forces spokesman General Masoud Jazayeri responded that the missile programme had "no connection" to the nuclear deal. "We again stress and recommend the presidential candidates to avoid controversial entries into important and sensitive military and defence issues of the country and giving false information to people," said Jazayeri, according to the website of state broadcaster IRIB. "The existence of underground missile sites are an important deterrent factor against the sworn enemies of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the nation," Jazayeri added. Iran says its ballistic missile tests are part of its legitimate defence programme and are not a violation of the 2015 deal, under which it agreed to curb its nuclear programme in exchange for an end to certain sanctions. But Washington has used them as a pretext for fresh sanctions, saying the missiles could carry nuclear warheads in the future. All six candidates in the presidential election support the nuclear deal since it had the tacit backing of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but Rouhani has accused his conservative opponents of trying to derail it during negotiations.  "Tell people clearly, what will you do regarding (the nuclear deal)? You were all against it," he said during the televised debate. "When (US President Donald) Trump took office you were celebrating because he said he would tear up the deal. Today people should know whether sanctions and confrontation are coming back or not," he added.

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on May 06-07/17
Why Trump chose Saudi Arabia as his first foreign visit
By Ali al-Shihabi/Fox News Saturday, 6 May 2017
President Trump just announced that Saudi Arabia will be the first foreign country he visits as president, underscoring both the success of Saudi outreach to the new administration, and the determination of this President to recommit to the strategic alliance providing stability in an unstable region. The symbolism of this is exceptionally important, illustrating that the Trump administration understands the fundamental issues at play in the Middle East today. Make no mistake: The Middle East today faces a determined effort to bring down the Saudi led Gulf Monarchies that constitute the front line in the battle against terrorism. And while it is not popular to praise monarchies, particularly when the crown sits atop an Arab head, Saudi Arabia and other countries governed by ruling families have emerged as the last line of defense in a dangerous “great game” for the heart of the Middle East, and with it, global stability.
Iran, ISIS, and al-Qaeda all want to replace the Gulf monarchies, with rulers under the sway of Iran’s Shia theocracy or, in the case of ISIS and al-Qaeda, with a radical Sunni caliphate. Both Iran and the Sunni jihadis dream of controlling Islam’s holy cities of Mecca and Medina, as well as the oil fields of Arabia, prizes that would endow them with tremendous influence over the Islamic world and beyond. Just this week, Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman warned that his country is “the primary target for the Iranian regime.”
Ties with the GCC
Blocking their path is the Saudi-led traditional Gulf ruling order, the GCC. These six monarchies—Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar—are the last foundational pillars directly and indirectly upholding the nation-state structure in the region. They not only constitute a bulwark against the spread of Iran and ISIS but also help maintain the nation state order beyond their borders by supporting Jordan, Egypt, Pakistan and other regional states that would likely fall without their active support. Without the big checks of the wealthy Arab monarchies, not to mention American aid, Egypt would likely have crumbled by now. The same goes for Jordan. In Yemen, where the Iranian backed Houthis are fighting a brutal civil war against the legitimate government, what looks now to be an emerging disaster zone would have gone that way long ago without massive Gulf support, including hosting millions of Yemeni workers and refugees in the GCC.
A problem for many Western intellectuals, though, is that they don’t like the existing Gulf monarchical order and hence, discount the value of those monarchies to America as allies. Those crowned heads represent many things that offend them: autocracy, inherited power, “unearned” wealth and privilege, and the suppression of women’s rights. All this is exacerbated by a growing aversion to an Islam that is increasingly defined in public narratives by terrorist and jihadi atrocities.
This attitude is dangerously flawed. While there is still so much social progress to be made, the Gulf monarchies have provided their people, and the world order, with decades of stability and far better governance than their peers, namely, the post-colonial regimes that emerged in the last 70 years, whether socialist, Arab nationalist, communist, Islamist, or even “democratic” like Lebanon.
Yes, monarchies have certainly curtailed freedoms. But their efforts in light of any suppression of freedoms of their people have paled in comparison to those of their republican or Islamist peers. Count the number of Iranians killed by the Islamic Republic since the revolution of 1979 and note that it is exponentially more than the number of people executed by all the Arab monarchies put together. The Iranian regime’s brutality compares in its use of violence only to the Ba’ath republics of Syria and Iraq. Despite any corruption and elite self-indulgence in the monarchies, their subjects have still benefited from a substantial share of the economic pie—far more than citizens in the aforementioned states have received since their independence. With a stronger social compact with their people, it’s not surprising that the monarchies were better able to withstand the chaos and bloodshed that came to define the Arab Spring.
Strategic partner
The Gulf monarchies, faults and all, are now the primary glue left holding the dangerously stressed Middle Eastern region together. Were they to weaken or even collapse, it is not inconceivable that they could bring the international order down with them. Imagine revolution and chaos in the center of the global map with the region’s sea and air lanes imperiled, oil infrastructure compromised or crippled, and a Muslim community spread across the world becoming more consumed by bitterness and anger. The idea that this could lead to global conflict is not hyperbole; previous world wars were ignited by much less.
The West must look at the Gulf monarchical order as its strategic partner and fully support it as it stands up to these dangerous revolutionary forces, not only ISIS and al-Qaeda but also, and with equal urgency, Iran, which is a much more formidable and institutionalized revolutionary actor than either ISIS or al-Qaeda. Iran’s revolutionary capacity is more powerful because it enjoys the resources of a modern state. It is also more dangerous, since it insidiously pretends to be a responsible member of the international order, feigning to strive for peace and playing the diplomatic game while actively working to bring down the Arab order through its Revolutionary Guard Corps and its non-state actor/terrorist proxies across the region.The relative success of the Arab monarchies needs to be understood and recognized if the dangerous downward trajectory of the Middle Eastern region is to be halted and reversed. President Trump, in announcing that his first foreign trip will be to Saudi Arabia, shows that his administration clearly understands this, and understands too what’s at stake for the world.

How America can influence the Syrian conflict
Hussein Ibish/The National/May 06/17
Washington faces a crucial decision on Syria in the coming weeks, with massive implications for its entire Middle East agenda.
Because the strategic situation in Syria has been relatively stable – largely in favour of the regime – since the fall of Aleppo in December, the external parties that have gained major leverage during the conflict are starting to define how to end it and what will come next.
At the Astana talks, Russia and Turkey, with the grudging cooperation of Iran, have agreed to create four "de-escalation zones". These are essentially the "safe areas" for displaced persons, supposedly free of conflict, that Donald Trump and others cite.
But there has been no American involvement in these conversations or this agreement, because for years there has been no effort by Washington to try to shape the nature or outcome of the conflict.
It’s no mystery why Russia and Turkey like this idea. Both Ankara and the Bashar Al Assad regime benefit from fragmentation in Syria. Mr Al Assad can prevent opposition groups and areas from uniting, and Turkey can ensure that Kurdish areas along its southern border don’t consolidate either.
The agreement, which may have little or no buy-in from many Syrian armed parties, nonetheless reflects the interests of both the Turks and the Russians and their Syrian clients, which is why they agreed to it, at least theoretically.
Meanwhile, all the articulated American aims in Syria are in desperate trouble. Indeed, the chances of achieving them are dwindling daily, and in many cases may well soon evaporate altogether.
Washington says its biggest priority in Syria is eliminating ISIL, and especially ousting it from Raqqa. But it is glaringly obvious that Al Qaeda affiliates, which have been increasingly dominating much of the opposition since the fall of Aleppo, are at least as dangerous a terrorist threat as ISIL, and probably more.
Also, an additional imperative is rolling back the Iranian presence and influence in Syria, and, even more importantly, reducing Hizbollah’s newfound power and influence there. And, following the regime’s renewed use of sarin gas, the Trump administration has returned the United States to the view that Mr Al Assad cannot be part of the long-term solution in Syria.
Every single one of these goals is rapidly becoming unrealisable because of a single, overarching failing: the lack of any reliable and sizeable pro-American force on the ground drawn largely from and representing the Sunni Arab majority.
Take the campaign to liberate Raqqa. Washington has been assuming Kurdish militias will lead that battle. But they can’t.
First, there’s no reason to believe Turkey would allow that, especially with American forces compelled to intervene directly to prevent their two allies inside Syria, Turkish soldiers and Kurdish militants from devouring each other.
Second, there’s no reason to believe the Kurdish forces are willing to spend the massive, and largely military, resources and energy required for post-conflict stabilisation in Raqqa and its surroundings, far from their own areas.
Third, there’s no reason to believe the local population would welcome what would be, in effect, Kurdish rule.
In short, the Kurdish militia is simply the wrong force to lead this battle, no matter how keen the Americans are on them. So, who could?
What about Al Qaeda now dominating much of the opposition? This is largely a function of how impotent other groups have become, mainly because they have been so badly neglected.
What could challenge Iran and Hizbollah’s long-term presence in Syria, and the consolidation of a game-changing literal land bridge between Iran and both Lebanon and the Mediterranean coast, running directly through Syria and controlled by Iranian and Hizbollah forces?
What could change the calculations in Damascus to prompt the eventual replacement of Mr Al Assad?
And how can Washington earn a seat at the negotiations, not merely as observers, but as real players with skin in the game and an actual voice in what happens in Syria?
The answer to all of these questions is the same: the United States must bite the bullet and seriously and rapidly work to create its own, powerful, viable, well trained and well armed Syrian allies, based largely on the ample and sincere nationalistic Sunni Muslim community.
If Washington does not do this – which it certainly could and is mainly a matter of determination, clout and funding – it can kiss goodbye to the war against ISIL and Al Qaeda, rolling back Iran and Hizbollah, being taken seriously by Russia and Turkey, and having any role in shaping the nature and outcome of the Syrian conflict.
Trump administration officials say their two main regional priorities are counterterrorism and confronting Iran.
If they’re at all serious about that, they can no longer stay passively on the sidelines in Syria, where the future of both terrorism and Iranian power in the Middle East are being decided right now, in real time.
**Hussein Ibish is a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States ­Institute in Washington

A First Step to Peace: Calm Angers, Then Talk
Charles R. Bronfman and Susie Gelman/The New York Times/May 06/17
Let’s face it: Current political realities have made a final status agreement between Israelis and Palestinians unachievable now. So Israelis need to focus instead on creating conditions, on both sides, in which an accord might be possible in the future.
To be sure, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis’s visit to Israel last month and President Trump’s meeting on Wednesday with the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, could lead to new talks.
But even if they do, resumed negotiations now would almost certainly fail — or boomerang. Every other attempt at direct, bilateral negotiations has failed, and violence has often followed. Each disappointment, in turn, only deepens the profound mistrust and misunderstandings between the leaders on both sides, which further erodes confidence among Israelis and Palestinians that peace can ever be attained.
In short, the peace process is broken.
Yet it remains true that only a two-state solution can safeguard the Zionist dream — a state that is Jewish, democratic and secure. A unitary state would no longer be Jewish if a majority Arab population controlled it, nor a democracy if a Jewish minority ruled an Arab majority. It would instead be a breeding ground for prolonged civil war.
Therefore, the goal of securing a comprehensive peace agreement needs to be set aside for now, and preserving hope for a two-state solution be made the objective. The immediate goal should be a realistic interim arrangement that could calm antagonisms and improve prospects for a political and psychological climate on both sides that would allow a two-state peace deal sometime in the future.
The Commanders for Israel’s Security, a network of 270 retired Israeli generals who have served at the highest echelons of the Israeli military, police and intelligence forces, has developed a program for such an arrangement. Its pragmatic proposals would immediately improve Israelis’ security, halt and reverse the erosion of conditions for a negotiated two-state solution and enhance Israel’s regional and international standing. At the same time, it would improve living and economic conditions for Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. And it can be put into practice now.
The program would allow Jewish settlers now in the West Bank to remain where they are, pending a final agreement, with the Israel Defense Force the only military force west of the Jordan River. But construction beyond built-up areas in the major settlement blocs, where 80 percent of settlers reside, would be prohibited, and Israel would acknowledge that the 92 percent of West Bank land east of Israel’s security barrier would be included in a future Palestinian state.
Israel would close gaps in that security barrier, but also reroute segments of it to minimize the disruption of Palestinian lives.
Building on the successes to date of Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation, the Palestinian police force would gradually expand its coverage to include some 700,000 Palestinians who now have no police protection. This would be accomplished by redesignating segments of the West Bank now under full Israeli civilian and security control (about 10 percent of the land) to bring them under Palestinian civil and administrative control. The expansion would produce greater Palestinian territorial contiguity.
Perceiving a current alignment of regional interests among Israel and moderate Sunni Arab states, Israel would accept the Arab Peace Initiative offered in 2002, with reservations, as a basis for future negotiations.
These and other steps can be taken independently by Israel today. They do not entail dismantling any settlements or evacuating any Israeli soldiers before an agreement is negotiated. Nevertheless, they would halt the descent into a one-state nightmare, even as they improved Israel’s daily security.
While the commanders’ proposal — which is endorsed by our organization — would not bring a final settlement now, it would increase public confidence among Israelis and Palestinians that a lasting peace is, indeed, possible by tangibly improving their daily lives. For Israelis, it would reduce border infiltration that enables terrorism. For Palestinians, it would improve their economy and daily life, not just by making their land more contiguous, but also by expanding the role of their own police in guarding their security.
And for both sides, freezing the expansion of Israeli settlements would enhance hope for the possibility of reaching a two-state solution.
Ultimately, the improved atmosphere for talks could facilitate negotiations on two tracks — between Israelis and Palestinians to separate into two states, and between Israel and Arab countries to achieve normal relations and a regional security structure.
The commanders’ group realizes, as do we, that this will not be easy; provocateurs on both sides would seek to prevent a two-state solution. However, an extended period of calm and a reduction of points of friction would reduce the ability of these spoilers to influence policy and public opinion. Over time, a new atmosphere would enable leaders to resist provocation and move toward a negotiated final status agreement, buoyed by their publics’ desire to live in two separate states, and their confidence that it is possible.
The United States would do well to support this plan, encourage Israel to carry it out, and call on the Palestinians and moderate Arab states to reciprocate toward Israel with equally constructive steps.

Putin Requested His Call with Trump to Outline a Plan for Syrian Safe Zones. Why Now?
David Ignatius/The Washington Post/May 06/17
Into the deadly morass of the Syrian war, Russian President Vladimir Putin has dropped a new peace proposal that calls for establishing safe zones in several parts of the country, grounding the Syria air force and possibly creating buffer zones between combatants to be monitored by international peacekeeping troops. Putin outlined his plan in a telephone call Tuesday with President Trump, according to a diplomatic source. Putin requested the call and dominated the conversation. The White House has said little publicly about the details, but has agreed to send a State Department official to peace talks taking place in Astana, Kazakhstan. Putin’s proposal may be an effort to fill the vacuum of any clear Trump administration diplomatic strategy for Syria. Much as Chinese President Xi Jinping made himself Trump’s partner for dealing with North Korea, Putin may be attempting a similar play for Syria. The benefits for Moscow would be reducing its diplomatic isolation and improving its image after getting caught red-handed interfering in last year’s US presidential election. According to the diplomatic source, Putin outlined for Trump a plan for “deconfliction zones” in four areas: Idlib province in northern Syria; a zone north of Homs in central Syria; an area east of Damascus known as Eastern Ghouta; and the southern region that borders Jordan. The plan calls for physical separation of combatants in these areas and allows the possibility of buffer zones that would be staffed by UN peacekeeping troops or another international monitoring force.
A sweetener for the rebels in the Russian proposal is that the Syrian air force would be grounded while the de-escalation process is underway. Rebels argue that Syrian bombing has caused the war’s worst atrocities, including the chemical weapons attack on a town in Idlib last month.The Russian leader also shared his proposal Tuesday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Wednesday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Putin has been trying for months to draw Erdogan into closer cooperation on Syria.
The Trump administration has been slow to frame its own Syria strategy, opening an opportunity for Putin to shape the diplomacy. A White House statement said Tuesday: “President Trump and President Putin agreed that the suffering in Syria has gone on for far too long and that all parties must do all they can to end the violence.”
Putin’s peacemaking will face the same obstacles as past US-led efforts to reduce the violence in Syria. Head of Syrian regime Bashar al-Assad is entrenched, his Iranian allies resist compromise, and the Syrian opposition is divided, influenced by extremist groups and resists any peace deal that doesn’t promptly remove Assad. The establishment of safe zones has been a key opposition demand for the past several years. Putin’s proposal appears to be a concession on that issue, but the devil is in the details here.
Asked to explain Putin’s new peace push, diplomats offered several explanations. The Russians were worried by Trump’s authorization of a cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base after last month’s chemical weapons attack. And they were concerned, more broadly, about the deteriorating state of US-Russian relations under a Trump administration they had hoped would bring an easing of tensions. Putin may have been uncomfortable, too, watching China’s Xi position himself as Trump’s key partner in Asia. Putin’s move is opportunistic. But for a change, he’s the one pursuing a Syria deal, while the United States bides its time.

Europe's Childless Leaders Sleepwalking Us to Disaster
Giulio Meotti/Gatestone Institute/May 06/17
As Europe's leaders have no children, they seem have no reason to worry about the future of their continent.
"Europe today has little desire to reproduce itself, fight for itself or even take its own side in an argument". — Douglas Murray, The Times.
"'Finding ourselves' becomes more important than building a world." — Joshua Mitchell.
There have never been so many childless politicians leading Europe as today. They are modern, open minded and multicultural and they know that "everything finishes with them". In the short term, being childless is a relief since it means no spending for families, no sacrifices and that no one complains about the future consequences. As in a research report financed by the European Union: "No kids, no problem!".
Being a mother or a father, however, means that you have a very real stake in the future of the country you lead. Europe's most important leaders leave no children behind.
Europe's most important leaders are all childless: British PM Theresa May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the French presidential hopeful Emmanuel Macron. The list continues with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel and Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
As Europe's leaders have no children, they seem have no reason to worry about the future of their continent. German philosopher Rüdiger Safranski wrote:
"for the childless, thinking in terms of the generations to come loses relevance. Therefore, they behave more and more as if they were the last and see themselves as standing at the end of the chain".
Living for today: Europe's most important leaders are all childless, among them German Chancellor Angela Merkel (left) and Mark Rutte (right), Prime Minister of the Netherlands. (Image source: Minister-president Rutte/Flickr)
"Europe is committing suicide. Or at least its leaders have decided to commit suicide", wrote Douglas Murray in The Times. "Europe today has little desire to reproduce itself, fight for itself or even take its own side in an argument". Murray, in his new book, entitled The Strange Death of Europe, called it "an existential civilisational tiredness".
Angela Merkel made the fatal decision to open the doors of Germany to one million and half migrants to stop the demographic winter of her country. It is not a coincidence that Merkel, who has no children, has been called "the compassionate mother" of migrants. Merkel evidently did not care if the massive influx of these migrants would change German society, probably forever.
Dennis Sewell recently wrote in the Catholic Herald:
"It is that idea of 'Western civilisation' that greatly complicates the demographic panic. Without it, the answer would be simple: Europe has no need to worry about finding young people to support its elderly in their declining years. There are plenty of young migrants banging at the gates, trying to climb the razor wire or setting sail on flimsy boats to reach our shores. All we need to do is let them in".
Merkel's childless status mirrors German society: 30% of German women have not had children, according to European Union statistics, with the figure rising among female university graduates to 40%. Germany's Minister of Defense, Ursula von der Leyen, said that unless the birth rate picked up, the country would have to "turn the lights out".
According to a new study published by the Institut national d'études démographiques, a quarter of European women born in the 1970s may remain childless. Europe's leaders are no different. One in nine women born in England and Wales in 1940 were childless at the age of 45, compared to one in five of those born in 1967.
French politician Emmanuel Macron has rejected French President François Hollande's assertion that, "France has a problem with Islam". He is against suspending the citizenship of jihadists, and keeps insisting, against all evidence, that Islamic State is not Islamic: "What poses a problem is not Islam, but certain behaviours that are said to be religious and then imposed on persons who practice that religion".
Macron preaches a sort of multicultural buffet. He speaks of colonialism as a "crime against humanity". He is in favor of "open borders", and for him, again against all evidence to the contrary, there is no "French culture".
According to philosopher Mathieu Bock-Coté, the 39-year-old Macron, who is married to his 64-year-old former teacher, is the symbol of a "happy globalization freed of the memory of the French lost glory". It is not a coincidence that "Manif Pour Tous," a movement that fought the legalization gay marriage in France, urged voting against Macron as the "anti-family candidate". Macron's slogan, "En Marche!" ("Forward!"), embodies the globalized élites who reduce politics to an exercise, a performance.
That is why Turkish leader Erdogan urged Muslims to have "five children" and Islamic imams are urging the faithful to "breed children": to conquer Europe. Islamic supremacists are busily building a clash of civilizations in Europe's midst, and they depict their Western host countries collapsing: without population, without values, and abandoning their own culture.
If you look at Merkel, May, Macron and others, are these Islamic supremacists so wrong? Our European leaders are sleepwalking us to disaster. Why should they care, if at the end of their lifespans Europe will not be Europe? As Joshua Mitchell explained in an essay, "'finding ourselves' becomes more important than building a world. The long chain of generations has already done that for us. Now let us play".
*Giulio Meotti, Cultural Editor for Il Foglio, is an Italian journalist and author.
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Increasing security fears threatening Hamas’ presence in Turkey
Huda al Husseini/Al Arabiya 06/17
Hamas now says that it supports a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, without recognizing Israel’s existence. Hamas has depleted its funds and has impoverished the lives of Gaza’s population; it does not have a modern strategy, its leadership is looking for what it has already lost, and it insists on trying to outsmart others. However, it seems that countries have many other priorities that are more important than Hamas. Turkey has been one of the most important news subjects in the past could of years, whether it was last summer’s attempted coup, the referendum that gave President Recep Tayyip Erdogan new powers, his dismissal of thousands of civil servants, or the media facing a clear and harsh battle. Erdogan’s administration was never out of the spotlight yet there was a news story that has not received much attention, namely Turkey’s relationship with the Palestinian Hamas movement. In recent years, Hamas leaders have been forced to relocate their leaders from Syria due to the war, to Qatar and from Qatar to Turkey. Erdogan’s regime has had a long and positive relationship with the Palestinian group, with both its political branch where the leaders’ houses are located in Ankara and where their travels are facilitated, or the military branch that has been for years welcomed by the Turkish government. Turkey welcoming the military branch of Hamas is the most interesting part.
Until recently, Hamas had taken this attention from the Turkish side as an existing act, which is living in security and working without restrictions in Turkey. The active group in Hamas was the most to enjoy this. However, recent information reveals that they are threatened to the extent that their comfortable sense of security in Turkey has been crushed. This drastic change in the atmosphere and climate is clearly based on recent events in the region. Sources related to this issue said that Hamas activists in Turkey had presented reports to the Turkish authorities that there are some who are being followed and who received death threats. The reports describe the incidents as brutal and in a growing level of violence with time.
This raises the question of whether these signs of violence are similar to those that emerged in Tunisia before the assassination of a Hamas member there, namely Engineer Mohammed al-Zawawi, who was responsible of the manufacture of the Ababeel unmanned drones and who was killed last December.
Hamas feeling at increasing risk
Hamas activists in Turkey felt they could not risk their personal security, especially given their busy schedules in securing funds for the movement in every possible way, working on electronic military mechanisms or coordinating further training and rehabilitation.
A specialist analyst says that before they were harmed in Turkey, they were afraid because they saw what happened earlier in Tunisia. He added: “What happened in Tunisia had a big impact on Hamas activities in other countries and Turkey was not different from any other. Consequently, they should have asked questions related to security, about who is following them, who is taking care of them and who is protecting them when they move abroad. Then they started to receives threats.” The source that spoke to Hamas members in Turkey said: “They know that no one is providing them with any security measures, neither Hamas leadership nor the Turkish authorities”. According to the source, this has created tension between the military wing and the political branch of Hamas in Turkey.
It is true that Hamas is close to President Erdogan and his aides, and his recent history confirms that, but in light of the current situation, Hamas is left alone to defend itself in Turkey.
This kind of violence cannot be disregarded by local authorities, especially by a strong sovereign country like Turkey. The fact that the regime does not make any exception in protecting Hamas, holds many meanings. Ankara is certainly aware of the recent events that are worrying Hamas activists in Turkey, but it is difficult to blame Ankara for not taking more measures to protect Hamas members that are in the country, even though Turkish intelligence experts estimate that recent events in Tunisia may happen again on their own soil. However, it is clear that Turkish intelligence experts have bigger issues to worry about, given that the war in Syria is not expected to end anytime soon and the new leadership of Hamas has decided to cut its relations with the Muslim Brotherhood. There is also the issue of the ISIS group which is still moving through Turkey for its activities. Besides, Hamas’ strong relations with Iran are well known and Turkey does not need groups that it does not trust on its territories.
External factors
The Turkish authorities announced last Sunday that they have arrested an Iranian citizen who was smuggling elements from the Russian anti-tank missile system, in order to hand them over to terrorist groups. The Department of Customs said that on the 27th of last month, following the inspection of a truck in the Black Sea region of Zonguldak, coming from Ukraine and was supposedly carrying diapers, they discovered that it was carrying the main components of Russian-made anti-tank missile systems used by ISIS fighters and Kurdish rebels.
Also on Sunday, Iranian oppositionist Saeed Karimian was assassinated in Istanbul along with his Kuwaiti partner. Thus, Tehran asked Ankara to investigate the case because Karimian is an Iranian citizen.
There are also Russian proposals to establish four low-tension areas in Syria: Idlib, the northern city of Homs, the eastern Ghouta and the south of the country.
Turkey noted that after bombing the Kurds in Syria, Russia and the United States deployed additional troops on its borders with Syria to protect the Kurds from further raids. Turkey realized that the only factor that may urge the Americans and Russians to cooperate in Syria are the Kurds, whom America considers as “US troops on the ground,” and therefore they need support. Perhaps, what is comforting them is that every previous partnership between the Kurds and the Russians did not end well.
In addition to all the Turkish security concerns, there are the European positions regarding the Turkish policies. Hence, the Turkish government does not prioritize Hamas’ problems at this time. Erdogan and his ministers have rather put their citizens first, and they are focusing on protecting them from ISIS and European policies that might harm them. They are also working on addressing the refugee crisis on their territories and in their own homes, then they will deal with Iran’s problems that are stretched beyond the borders, the Russian stances that are unclear and the US stances that are severe. Moreover, Erdogan is getting ready to visit China to sign trade agreements that protect the Turkish economy.
All of this leaves no time for Ankara to worry about the personal security of a foreign entity that it had already allowed in Turkey, to discover later on that this entity has a branch working with Iran. It is true that Hamas is close to President Erdogan and his aides, and his recent history confirms that, but in light of the current situation, Hamas is left alone to defend itself in Turkey, and there are certainly those who might benefit from this situation.

Brands and creating an alternate reality
Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran/Al Arabiya 06/17
Brands draw from the activity of human life. They draw on the imagination and dreams by linking them to the extent of the capability to possess or consume. The brand is about to almost bury the identity of people as it is viewed as an alternative value to the self and its worth rather than being looked at as an added value.The glamour which results from owning a brand carries emptiness within because it is related to purchasing a materialistic glamour that is not part of the self’s energy and that’s not related to the individual’s creations. A man thus drowns in a torrent of brands and he becomes haunted by the magic of these brands, from clothes to cars and other precious personal belongings. They are of course tempting. They also dictate a certain approach on people as they end up engaged in some form of symbolic competition. These people’s reality thus turns into an arena for display where empty people compete using the brands they possess. The social status transforms into a continuous battle to defeat others by showing them their purchasing capacity and increasing their consumption. It is therefore a desire to possess a self-worth through materialistic possessions. This is the peak of bankruptcy.
The issue is not about mocking the brand or about steadily listing it as personal bankruptcy. There must be tools for understanding before getting involved in debates related to brands, and we must be careful of burying the self and breaking the centrality of humans in the world and thus have brands and themes occupy people’s minds. The brand must not be an alternative identity and it must not define a man’s worth and individuality.
The semiotics of the brand imposes the necessity to research this considering it is the trait of the era. Precious brands have become part of the hopes and dreams of groups across the world. The Semiotics of Brand is one of these significant researches by Paul Manning. He talks about the ‘McDonaldization thesis’ in reference to the McDonalds brand.
He sees this as part of the controlling tools – not on the political level – as it is rather a global brand that is used to create a network which consists of the biggest number of people in order to set their behavior and organize global routine according to one pattern. Critics of globalization categorize this as within the plans of global capitalism. Manning then discusses other brands, like Coca-Cola and Nike and places them within the category which anthropologist Danny Miller calls “meta-symbols.”
Secondary culture
Manning says that brands makes daily life materialistic in terms of consumption or they can be a source for a secondary culture for fashion and tastes or they can represent the various contradictions of contemporary global capitalism or can simply sum up the psychological analysis of desires and instincts.
Daily consumption of ordinary brands and precious brands, which are for the elites, captivate people and drag them into arbitrary wars. The product also develops a network that reveals the symbolic connection among people. People silently communicate in the street via their cars or watches or clothing. The same happens in occasions and shops among women as silent debates using bags, personal tools and brands, speak louder than words. A part of the product’s purpose is to measure the extent of connection and struggle among consumers.
According to David Oglivy, an advertising genius, a brand is “the intangible sum of a product’s attributes: its name, packaging, and price, its history, its reputation, and the way it is advertised.”
The issue is not about mocking the brand or about steadily listing it as personal bankruptcy. There must be tools for understanding before getting involved in debates related to brands, and we must be careful of burying the self and breaking the centrality of humans in the world and thus have brands and themes occupy people’s minds. The brand must not be an alternative identity and it must not define a man’s worth and individuality.
A man must fortify himself from being included in groups that are fully drowned in daily consumption activities. Philosopher Martin Heidegger considers these groups as people with fake existence. Reality hence becomes filled with people chasing brands and symbols and lacking existential and individual awareness. Therefore, these people do not refine themselves through education, experience and inquiry.
Man though is deeper and more majestic than his belongings.

When International Guarantees Utterly Failed
David Makovsky/Jerusalem Post/May 6/17
The international community's vacillation and vague guarantees in the run-up to the 1967 war taught the Israelis an important cautionary lesson: when the chips are down, they need to be able to defend themselves by themselves.
As we approach next month's 50th anniversary of the 1967 war, we should not forget one of the enduring lessons learned from the run-up to the conflict. Namely, that agreements need to stand on their own merits and cannot be based on abstract international guarantees about the future. This idea was seared into Israel's consciousness in May 1967. This painful lesson reinforced the Zionist ethos of self-reliance. Menachem Begin would later famously say: "There is no guarantee that can guarantee a guarantee."
On May 22, 1967, Egypt's president Gamal Abdel Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran, a critical blow to Israel, which relied on oil imports from Iran. Israel believed it had received a guarantee from the international community in 1957 that it would reopen the Straits if Nasser again closed them, as he had in 1956.
After the Suez Crisis (Sinai Campaign) of 1956, prime minister David Ben-Gurion conceded in principle to withdraw from the peninsula, but requested several assurances before Israel could move ahead: Among the assurances he sought were that the Straits of Tiran wouldn't be blockaded again, and that Israeli ships would have access to the Gulf of Aqaba and the Israeli port at Eilat. He also sought assurance that the UN Emergency Force (UNEF) in Sinai couldn't be withdrawn just due to the sole demand of the Egyptians.
President Dwight Eisenhower felt Israel was obligated to adhere to the UN resolution and withdraw, and could not put forward conditions for a pullout. At the same, he acknowledged, it had legitimate concerns. To square this circle in March 1957, he offered Israel a text known as an aide-memoire through the State Department, which stated that "no nation has the right forcibly to prevent free and innocent passage in the Gulf and through the Straits giving access thereto," and that "the United States, on behalf of vessels of United States registry, is prepared to exercise the right of free and innocent passage and to join with others to secure general recognition of this right," explicitly stating that blocking the straits is unacceptable. It implied but did not state that the US would be willing to use military means to back up its words.
In a letter to Ben-Gurion following the aide-memoire, Eisenhower wrote that Israel "will have no cause to regret" its decision to withdraw. Ben-Gurion conveyed to Eisenhower that he "saw freedom of navigation in the Straits and Gulf of Aqaba as more or less assured."
In wake of Nasser's move on the Straits, prime minister Levi Eshkol dispatched foreign minister Abba Eban on a whirlwind trip to Paris, London and Washington, to see if the international community would re-open the Straits, and avert war. However, Eban faced a changed political context from a decade earlier. Charles de Gaulle's France was now making up with the Arab world in the aftermath of the French exit from Algeria, and was no longer the pariah that it was in the 1950s. De Gaulle conceded to Eban that the commitment to keep the Straits of Tiran open had been made. As Michael Oren writes in his Six Days of War, de Gaulle then declared, "that was 1957," adding "now was 1967." President Lyndon Johnson was preoccupied with Vietnam and his aides had to scurry to Eisenhower's retirement residence in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to find out what had been promised.
Johnson's chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Earle Wheeler, did not like the British idea of a "regatta" or a group of ships from different countries to sail through the Straits, forcing Nasser to re-open them. When asked what if Egypt fires on the US in the event it forces its way through the Straits in such an instance, "it means war," Wheeler declared. The regatta idea fizzled.
However, the notion that international guarantees are not ironclad should not be confused with the thinking that Israel should only rely on force. The peace treaty between Egypt and Israel of 1979 and the peace treaty between Jordan and Israel of 1994 have withstood enormous regional and bilateral shocks in the last few decades.
Critics derided each treaty as merely a cold peace. However, these agreements have paid major peace dividends for Israel.
In the period after the 1973 war, US official figures estimated that Israel devoted half of its gross national product to military spending. On that percentage basis, this would mean that Israel would spend close to $150 billion per annum today. In fact, Israel's military spending is less than $19b., according to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. (Of that amount, $3.1b. comes from the US with another $500 million supporting Israel's missile defense. Starting in 2018, the US is committed to the figure of $3.8b.) The difference in the two figures is obviously enormous -- a peace dividend equivalent of over $130b. for every single year. That spending instead goes for roads, schools, clinics and a myriad of other programs that have led to a skyrocketing in the quality of life for Israelis.
Peace has also meant that bilateral military-security relationships between Israel and Egypt and between Israel and Jordan are at a high-water mark due to common threats from ISIS, Hamas and other jihadis. The bottom line is that properly constructed agreements have been hugely important to Israel's security and have withstood the test of time. Agreements work that serve the interests of both parties.
This is fundamentally different from general promises of international intervention from third parties in future crises where there is no contractual alliance. There were many factors contributing to the 1967 June war, and one such factor was that international guarantees of a decade earlier were ephemeral. When the political context changed for the external parties, the guarantees evaporated.
To be fair, international guarantees and security arrangements are not the same thing. Should the lesson of 1967 preclude the prospects of NATO- or US-led security arrangements in the Jordan Valley down the road in the event of an Israeli-Palestinian breakthrough? The issue has become extremely theoretical for now due to a variety of reasons, including the enormous gaps on issues between Israel and the Palestinians and the overall instability of the Mideast during the post-Arab Spring era. Of course, there are myriad factors to consider, and an aide-memoire from Eisenhower about a theoretical future scenario would be critically different from detailed, concrete, ongoing security arrangements where Israel would have to be able to act successfully by itself if these arrangements collapse.
The vacillation in the run-up to the 1967 war still teaches an important cautionary lesson, illustrating where international guarantees utterly failed. If the chips are down, Israel needs to be able to defend itself by itself.
**David Makovsky is the Ziegler Distinguished Fellow and director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at The Washington Institute. His publications include the Transition 2017 paper "Toward a New Paradigm for Addressing the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict" (coauthored with Dennis Ross).

Iran's Presidential Election: The Clergy's Political Irrelevance

Mehdi Khalaji/The Washington Institute/May 05/17
As clerics are pushed ever further to the political margins, the regime will need to double down on its current strategy: relying more on security measures than spiritual authorities to ensure its survival.
This PolicyWatch is the third installment in a three-part series on Iran's upcoming election. Read part one (on differentiating between Tehran's elected and revolutionary power centers) and part two (on economic issues).
The clergy's decreasing role in Iranian politics is becoming more visible than ever in the current presidential campaign. Two major clerical institutions issued their candidate endorsements much later than expected this year, and the relevance of their advocacy is questionable. The Association of Qom Seminary Teachers, a political organization based in the center of Shiite learning, endorsed hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, as did the Association of Militant Clerics in Tehran, which is supervised by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's Paydari Front and closely linked with powerful conservative ayatollah Muhammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi. Since 1997, however, all of the presidential candidates endorsed by these associations have lost, including to current incumbent Hassan Rouhani in 2013. Furthermore, they appear to have only limited influence over the regime's most committed hardliners, while other key religious authorities tend to refrain from public endorsements altogether.
The Islamic Republic's constitution and political practice give unique privileges to clerics. They are not bound by the country's compulsory military service, and both they and their institutions are exempt from taxes. In addition, ayatollahs have an exclusive claim on most of the regime's top positions, including Supreme Leader, minister of intelligence, judiciary chief, the Assembly of Experts, and half of the powerful Guardian Council.
These privileges have helped transform the clerical establishment from a traditional organization relying on religious resources to a gigantic entity with modernized bureaucracy, unlimited access to national resources, and the ability to rival the private sector on all fronts. Yet this growth has been a double-edged sword for the establishment -- although they gained a windfall of personal wealth and top posts in various regime organs, they have lost much of their independence, popularity, and actual power to other regime institutions or social groups.
The emergence of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- a lay politician who rose to prominence with the military's backing and defeated Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani at the polls -- was a landmark moment in the Islamic Republic's shift from a clergy-led government to a regime led by "lay Islamists" who use the clergy solely to maintain their legitimacy. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has been the main driver behind this change -- today, it is difficult to find any facet of public or private life, from the economy to foreign policy to the nuclear program, that is not controlled by the IRGC.
During his first widely broadcast campaign speech on April 27, President Rouhani asked IRGC-affiliated companies and intelligence agencies to stop weakening the private sector: "In the economy, competition should be healthy. Private companies cannot compete in the market if other corporations benefit from political and intelligence support." He offered similar criticisms in 2014, arguing that if Iran's money, military capabilities, media outlets, and cyberspace all become subject to the unmatched power of a single institution (i.e., the IRGC), then that institution will necessarily be corrupted.
Likewise, in August 2015, deputy speaker of parliament Ali Motahhari called the Guards "the people's rival" in the economy. And in 2009, the IRGC's increasing role in Iranian decisionmaking, economics, and electoral manipulation spurred the late Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri to note, "Iranian leaders should be brave enough to declare that the existing government is neither a republic nor Islamic." This indictment was particularly damning given his legacy as the theoretician of velayat-e faqih, the doctrine granting the Supreme Leader his authority.
The military's overwhelming presence can also be measured by the public's loss of interest in discussing the regime's religious legitimacy. In the 1980s and '90s, velayat-e faqih was a matter of hot debate in the media and other public forums, with many secular intellectuals and religious figures criticizing the theory inside and outside Iran. Since then, however, most observers have seemingly concluded that such discussions are irrelevant, at least in terms of swaying regime supporters or mobilizing the anti-regime camp. The decline in debate is also related to the inertial power of the status quo -- the regime's "legitimacy" stems at least in part from the fact that it is entrenched in all aspects of Iranian life and would be difficult to change rapidly (not to mention the likely personal costs of even trying to do so).
Despite expanding their social network and using more government resources to guide public thinking, Iran's clerics have lost their formerly paramount social authority. Their irrelevance in Iranian political campaigns is only one of many examples. In the past, the regime relied heavily on clerics to influence citizens into following its directives, but now it uses movie stars and sports figures to speak to the people on politics and even morality. Despite its sky-high wealth, the clergy has seen its role in managing religious rituals and ceremonies decrease significantly over the past two decades, with maddahs (lay religious singers) taking over many such duties.
The clergy's concern about this deteriorating influence has become serious enough to go public. In 2016, the Office for Islamic Outreach, a colossal regime clerical organization supervised by Khamenei, held a seminar titled "Sociopolitical Prestige of the Clergy in the Islamic Republic's Fourth Decade." Speakers examined the reasons behind their declining political and social stature and admitted that the problem had reached a critical point.
In reaction to the clergy's over-politicization, a new generation of seminarians has been trying to depoliticize itself. This trend worries Khamenei so much that he has tightened control over management of the clerical establishment. As Mesbah-Yazdi disciple Ayatollah Mohsen Gharavian stated last month, "The erudite seminarians are increasingly keeping their distance from politics and government...We see fewer clerics interested in dealing with political issues in their courses. For instance, in the seminary, they do not raise Imam Khomeini's thought in their courses and textbooks."
Paradoxically, the theory of velayat-e faqih has undermined fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) since the 1979 revolution. Shiite clerics at all levels have found that there is little point to studying fiqh and becoming faqihs (Islamic jurists) when the Supreme Leader treats them like anyone else, forcing them to obey his rulings alone on all religious and non-religious matters. Indeed, velayat-e faqih gives the Supreme Leader unique authority to overrule Islamic law whenever it contradicts the regime's interests. As the clergy become less and less relevant, the regime will need to double down on its current strategy, relying more on security measures than spiritual authorities to ensure its survival.
**Mehdi Khalaji is the Libitzky Family Fellow at The Washington Institute and author of its recent study The Future of Leadership in the Shiite Community.