May 18/17

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For Today
Jesus said to his desciples: Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Yeast means their teaching)

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 16/11-20/:"How could you fail to perceive that I was not speaking about bread? Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!’Then they understood that he had not told them to beware of the yeast of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah."

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others
Letter to the Philippians 02/01-11/:"If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on May 17-18/17
Who is Iran’s Ebrahim Raisi/Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/ArabNews/May 17/17
Writer For Official Saudi Daily: The Jews Have An Eternal Plot To Destroy Mankind/MEMRI/May 17/17
Former Attorney General: Trump Made the Right Call on Comey/William Barr/The Washington Post/May 17/17
Assad Avoids Justice/Scott Turow/Bloomberg/May 17/17/
Last Week’s Global Cyberattack Was Just the Beginning/Nicholas Weaver/The Washington Post/May 17/17/
Palestinians: The Threats Trump Needs to Hear/Bassam Tawil/Gatestone Institute/May 17/17
German Companies Boycott Breitbart, Not Ayatollahs/Stefan Frank/Gatestone Institute/May 17/17
Sweden: A Qatari Protectorate/Judith Bergman/Gatestone Institute/May 17/17

Titles For Latest Lebanese Related News published on May 17-18/17
Aoun Receives Salameh, Talks Focus on Lebanon's Monetary Situation
Berri 'Still Optimistic' on Electoral Law, Says Vacuum 'Affects Everyone'
PM Says Govt. a 'Failure' if No New Electoral Law as Cabinet Avoids Salameh's Issue
Hariri welcomes U.S. Ambassador, WB delegation
Report: Lebanese Delegation in Washington to Avert US Sanctions Threat
Lebanese Army Bombs Cars Carrying IS Leaders
Mashnouq: Plenty of Time to Agree on Vote Law or Else Enforce 1960
4 Kids Suffocate to Death inside Locked Car in West Bekaa
State Security Arrests Suspects over Links to Terror Groups
Italian particiaption at Project Lebanon 2017
Othman chairs meeting for antiterrorism funding committee
Italian Embassy: Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation visits Lebanon
Army Commander, Pakradonian tackle overall situation
ESCWA new executive secretary arrives in Beirut
Government declares November 4 Lebanese Women's Day
Merehbi: Lebanon Offered $10 Bln More to Refugees than Donors

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on May 17-18/17
Macron Blurs Party Lines with Mixed French Cabinet
Putin 'Ready to Provide Recording' of Lavrov-Trump Exchange
U.S. Maintains Nuclear Deal Sanctions Relief
Military, Economic Agreements During Trump’s Visit to Saudi Arabia
UAE Signs New Defense Agreement with US
U.S.-Led Coalition Denies East Syria Strike that Killed Civilians
Syrian Rivals Weigh U.N. Plan for New Constitution
US Accuses Assad Regime of Executing Political Prisoners, Burning The Bodies
Syria Opposition Expresses Reservations on De Mistura’s ‘Constitutional Mechanism’
ISIS Dislodged from All but 12 Sq. Kilometers in Western Mosul
UNICEF: 11,000 Cases of Diarrhea Reported in Yemen
Former top Israeli officials break with govt line, call Trump leak very troubling
US officials: Trump's intel leak endangered life of spy placed inside ISIS by Israel
Friedman: Palestinians drop settlement freeze as precondition for talks
Report: Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner to join president's Mideast, Europe trip
Abbas: Ending Israeli Occupation Paves the Way to Enforcing Arab Initiative
Hamas Releases Details on Military Wing Commander’s March Assassination
Egypt: Former Minister of Interior Flees after Sentence of 7 Years in Prison

Latest Lebanese Related News published on May 17-18/17
Aoun Receives Salameh, Talks Focus on Lebanon's Monetary Situation

Naharnet/May 17/17/President Michel Aoun met on Wednesday with the governor of the Central Bank Riad Salameh where talks focused on Lebanon's financial and monetary situation, the state-run National News Agency reported. NNA said, Salameh briefed the President on the current “financial and monetary situation highlighting the efforts of the Central Bank in preserving Lebanon's financial stability.”The meeting between the two men comes in light of requests demanding the extension of the governor's term for another six years. The cabinet convened on Wednesday at the Grand Serail, but Salameh's term extension issue was not tackled during, according to media reports. Salameh is the Governor of Lebanon's Central Bank since August 1, 1993. He was reappointed three times for a six-year term of office in 1999, 2005 and 2011.

Berri 'Still Optimistic' on Electoral Law, Says Vacuum 'Affects Everyone'
Naharnet/May 17/17/Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri announced Wednesday that he is “still optimistic” regarding the possibility of reaching an agreement on a new electoral law before the expiry of parliament's term on June 20. “This optimism stems from the continuation of communication among all parties to achieve this goal, and also from the threat of heading to vacuum, which would affect everyone without exception,” MPs quoted Berri as saying during his weekly Ain el-Tineh meeting with lawmakers. The speaker warned that “failure to reach an agreement before the expiry of parliament's term would be a loss for the entire country.”“That's why the bet remains on devising a new law as soon as possible,” Berri added. “We will remain open to debate and we will deal flexibly with all the formats and ideas that are based on proportional representation, despite everything that has been said and is being said,” the speaker went on to say. The majority of the country's political parties have announced that they would accept an electoral law fully based on the proportional representation system but President Michel Aoun and the Free Patriotic Movement have insisted that such a law should have “restraints” aimed at preserving the representation of Christians in the political system. FPM chief Jebran Bassil has recently proposed a so-called qualification electoral system that involves sectarian voting in the first round and inter-sectarian voting in the second, but most political forces, including Berri, have dismissed the suggestion as divisive and outdated.

PM Says Govt. a 'Failure' if No New Electoral Law as Cabinet Avoids Salameh's Issue
Naharnet/May 17/17/Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced Wednesday that he would consider his government a “failure” if its parties do not manage to agree on a new electoral law. Hariri was speaking during a cabinet session that was held at the Grand Serail. “There is insistence that the government should reach an electoral law,” Information Minister Melhem Riachi announced after the session. In response to a question, Riachi said the issue of extending the term of Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh was not discussed. The Cabinet meanwhile approved the recruitment of 2,000 army soldiers and a meeting will be held between the ministers of finance and defense to agree on the process, Riachi added. “There is a possibility to approve the recruitment of another 2,000 soldiers,” he said. Hariri meanwhile briefed the Cabinet on his upcoming participation in the Arab-Islamic-American Summit in Riyadh this weekend. Asked about Hariri's stance on Hizbullah at the summit, Riachi said “certainly there is keenness on fully abiding by the ministerial Policy Statement and on entire Lebanon without any exception.” Salameh had held a meeting earlier in the day with President Michel Aoun. Talks focused on Lebanon's financial and monetary situation, the state-run National News Agency reported. The meeting comes amid requests demanding the extension of the governor's term for another six years. Salameh has been the central bank's governor since August 1, 1993.He was reappointed three times for a six-year term of office in 1999, 2005 and 2011.

Hariri welcomes U.S. Ambassador, WB delegation
Wed 17 May 2017/NNA - Prime Minister Saad Hariri welcomed, at the Grand Serail on Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon, Elizabeth Richard, with whom he discussed the current general situation in the country and the broader Arab region. The pair also dwelt on the Lebanese-US bilateral relations. Hariri has also met with a delegation of the International Finance Corporation and the World Bank. "We discussed with the Prime Minister future projects and what the IFC can do, especially on the level of infrastructure and partnership between the public and private sectors," ICF CEO Philippe Le Houerou said following the meeting. "We believe that it is time for us to invest in infrastructure, especially that the private sector in Lebanon is very vital and creative; it only needs proper infrastructure like roads, telecoms, ports, and energy," he added. Hariri later met with a delegation of Menyeh-Doniyeh lawmakers, with whom he discussed developmental affairs, in addition to the Islamist detainees. Talks also dwelt on political issues, especially the election law.

Report: Lebanese Delegation in Washington to Avert US Sanctions Threat
Naharnet/May 17/17/In light of concerns that the US administration might impose new financial sanctions against Lebanon, a parliamentary delegation began a visit to Washington to ward off the threat, media reports said on Wednesday. A delegation began a visit to Washington to discuss ways to strengthen the Lebanese-American ties, especially after Lebanon has achieved the necessary financial legislation in line with international banking and financial standards, al-Joumhouria daily reported. The delegation is comprised of MPs Yassin Jaber and Mohammed Qabbani, media adviser to the Speaker Ali Hamdan and Lebanon's ambassador to Washington Antoine Shedid. During the one-week planned visit, the delegation is set to hold talks with congressmen, senators, deputies and figures of the US administration. It comes in light of concerns that the US administration might impose new financial sanctions on specific Lebanese figures and institutions doing business with Hizbullah, said the daily. Sources from the delegation told the newspaper “the visit is a continuation of the mission initiated by the parliamentary delegation last year to discuss ways to strengthen the Lebanese-American relationship, particularly that Lebanon has achieved the necessary financial legislation in accordance with international banking and financial standards.”"The delegation plans to ask the US administration to renounce additional sanctions," they said, "mainly that Lebanon enjoys significant assistance from the US government to its armed forces and Lebanese army."The visit is the second in a row commissioned by Speaker Nabih Berri and aims to set ground for a Lebanese-American parliamentary friendship committee, it added. On the other hand, unnamed diplomatic sources told ad-Diyar newspaper that the Lebanese delegation, which also includes a group of bankers led by governor of the Central Bank Riad Salameh, has begun holding meetings with US Congress officials in an attempt to influence hard-line trends of some US financial and political bodies against Hizbullah and Lebanon. They submitted a presentation on the mechanism of Lebanese banks and monetary institutions, focusing on their absolute commitment to international laws and the reflection of this mechanism on the overall financial situation. The sources remarked that a tightening of US financial sanctions will pressure Lebanon's banking sector in the first place, which in turn will lead to destabilization of social security and threaten the situation as a whole. The world's decision-making capitals are keen on keeping the Lebanese arena protected from imbalances that may be indirectly reflected on the Lebanese people and displaced Syrian and Palestinian persons who, if the economic and social conditions falter, will change their orientation towards the Western countries, diplomatic sources told ad-Diyar.

Lebanese Army Bombs Cars Carrying IS Leaders
Naharnet/May 17/17/The Lebanese army was firing heavy artillery on Wednesday evening at militant posts in the outskirts of the eastern border town of Arsal, Ras Baalbek and al-Qaa, state-run National News Agency reported. The bombardment followed the detection of suspicious movements, the agency said. Army helicopters and surveillance drones were taking part in the operation and several cars carrying leaders of the extremist Islamic State group were hit, NNA added.

Mashnouq: Plenty of Time to Agree on Vote Law or Else Enforce 1960

Naharnet/May 17/17/Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq said on Wednesday there is still time for political parties to agree on an electoral law for the upcoming parliamentary elections before the parliament's term ends next month, otherwise the law in force will be adopted.
“Nothing new has been recorded as for the electoral law issue” said Mashnouq before a cabinet meeting at the Grand Serail. “If endeavors are serious, there is still plenty of time until June 19 to agree on a new electoral law, otherwise the law in force will be applied,” said the Minister. The parliament's term ends at midnight on June 19. Political parties are bickering over amending the current majoritarian 1960 election law which divides seats among the different religious sects. 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.

4 Kids Suffocate to Death inside Locked Car in West Bekaa
News Agencies/May 17/17/Four children suffocated to death Wednesday inside a car in the al-Qadriyeh-Khyara area in west Bekaa as a fourth kid was rushed to hospital while undergoing cardiopulmonary resuscitation, the Lebanese Red Cross announced. MTV said the children, whose ages range between three and four, were trapped in a tinted-glass SUV after it was locked automatically. Lebanese Red Cross chief George Kettaneh said the children were "playing hide and seek," identifying them as Yassmine al-Askar, 4, Shahd al-Hassan, 3, Bayan al-Hassan, 4, and Leen Qassem, 4.“Their parents told interrogators that they lost track of them until one of the children was heard screaming before succumbing to death,” MTV added.

State Security Arrests Suspects over Links to Terror Groups
Naharnet/May 17/17/Lebanon's State Security clamped down on six Lebanese and Syrian suspects in south Lebanon over their involvement with terror groups some of which have links to Syrian armed organizations dealing with the Israeli enemy, the state-run National News Agency reported on Wednesday. Under the supervision of Maj. Gen. Mohammed Shraim, the State Security arrested six people of Lebanese and Syrian nationalities in the town of Marjayoun town, NNA said. Some of the detainees are connected to terrorist organizations and others have links to Syrian armed groups dealing with Israel, it added. The agency also arrested eight other Syrian individuals after infiltrating Lebanon's territory. Some are held on accusations of kidnapping, having links to the Islamic State militant group. They detainees were referred to the related judiciary.

Italian particiaption at Project Lebanon 2017
Wed 17 May 2017/NNA - In a press release by the Italian Embassy in Beirut, it said: "This year the Italian Trade Agency (ITA) will reach its 11th consecutive presence in Project Lebanon with a national stand organized with the support and collaboration of the Italian Embassy. ITA-Italian Trade Agency coordinated the participation of the Italian delegation, represented by various subsectors of the construction industry. This year the Italian Pavilion hosts 10 exhibitors, represented by 20 Italian delegates, on a space of over 150 square meters. This confirms the strong interest of Italian industries in the Lebanese construction sector and it shows confidence in the opportunities offered by Lebanon. Within the Italian Pavilion the "ITALIA Meeting Point" is set to provide adequate assistance to Lebanese visitors as well as logistical support to Italian exhibitors. To support the Italian participation in Project Lebanon, ITA planned an advertisement campaign in major local media and websites as well as direct marketing targeting more than 2,000 businessmen in the Lebanese building and construction industry. Again in 2016, Italy holds the position of first country supplier in Europe and second in the world behind China. In 2016 Lebanon's total Imports amounted to US$ 18.7 billion. Italy holds a market share of 8% , corresponding to US$ 1.4 billion, prevailing over the other competing countries. In the same year, total imports to Lebanon of construction materials amounted to 467 million. Italy holds a market share for Italy of 12%, corresponding to US$ 55 million. Italian exhibits at Project Lebanon a wide range of construction machinery, building and interior decoration materials including: construction equipment, tools and hardware, pipes and tubes, plumbing, hydraulic machinery, contractors, consultants, construction materials, insulation, plastering & drywall, lumber & wood trade, metal products, roofing materials, wall coverings materials, carpentry work, scaffolding formwork, kitchens, paints, waterproofing, chemicals, furniture."

Othman chairs meeting for antiterrorism funding committee
Wed 17 May 2017/NNA - The national coordination committee for the fight against terrorism funding on Wednesday convened in a meeting under the chairmanship of Internal Security Forces chief, General Imad Othman. Conferees reportedly agreed to reactivate security and logistic measures in their operations against terrorism funding. Othman has earlier met with UN chief security advisor from the Department for Safety and Security (UNDSS), Sabir Mughal, and the accompanying delegation. Talks touched on the current general situation in Lebanon.

Italian Embassy: Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation visits Lebanon
Wed 17 May 2017/NNA - In a press release by the Italian Embassy in Beirut, it said: "The Embassy in Beirut announces the visit to Lebanon of the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Angelino Alfano, on Wednesday and Thursday May 17th and 18th, 2017. Minister Alfano will meet with the President of the Republic, Gen. Michel Aoun, the President of the National Assembly, Speaker Nabih Berri, the President of the Council of Ministers, Saad Hariri and with the Lebanese Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, Gebran Bassil. The Italian Minister will also pay a visit to the Italian contingent operating within UNIFIL in South Lebanon. A joint press conference will follow the meeting with Minister Bassil."

Army Commander, Pakradonian tackle overall situation
Wed 17 May 2017/NNA - Army Commander Joseph Aoun on Wednesday received at his Yarzeh office MP Agop Pakradonian, with the pair reportedly touching on the overall situation in the country. General Aoun also met with Jbeil Maronite Parish Bishop Michel Aoun. Later, the General met with a delegation of the International Baalbeck Festivals' Committee, led by Nayla de Freij.

ESCWA new executive secretary arrives in Beirut
Wed 17 May 2017/NNA - Newly-appointed Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), Mohamed Ali Alhakim, on Wednesday arrived in Beirut to assume his post. Speaking to reporters upon arrival at Beirut airport, Alhakim thanked his predecessor Rima Khalaf, adding that the commission will resume the implementation of projects the former executive secretary has embarked on. "ESCWA's work is not confined to drawing strategies, but also applicable policies, especially in respect of issues that concern the commissions, like poverty, quality education, and sustainable development," he said. "There will be projects special to certain countries," he revealed. Alhakim was appointed in April, following Rima Khalaf's resignation over "the pressure to withdraw a report that was critical of Israel."

Government declares November 4 Lebanese Women's Day
Wed 17 May 2017/NNA - The President of the Council of Ministers Saad Hariri chaired today the cabinet meeting at the Grand Serail. After the meeting, Information Minister Melhem Riachi said: "The cabinet held its meeting in the absence of ministers Youssef Fenianos and Pierre Bou Assi, and approved its agenda. Prime Minister Hariri spoke about his visit to Saudi Arabia to participate in the Arab-Islamic-American summit at the end of the week". Asked if there had been any debate in Cabinet about Lebanon's participation to the summit, Riachi said: "The Councils of Ministers has its privacy and we do not announce everything (to the press). There is certainly a will to be fully committed to the ministerial statement and to Lebanon as a whole without any exception." Asked if there was anything new concerning appointments in Tele Liban, Riachi said: "The subject was not on the agenda and is waiting to be placed on the agenda. My mission was fully completed on this issue in an institutional framework." Answering a question about the items discussed, Riachi said: "The appointment of a Central Bank governor was not discussed. We approved the enlistment of 2000 elements in the army. A meeting will be held between the ministers of finance and defense about this and we might approve the enlistment of 2000 additional elements. We approved the item related to the Investment Development Authority of Lebanon IDAL" (exports by sea). Asked why the draft electoral law was not discussed, Riachi answered: "Prime Minister Hariri spoke about the issue at the beginning of the meeting and there is an insistence that the government reaches an electoral law. In this context, Prime Minister Hariri said that if we do not reach an electoral law, we would be a failed government." He said that they had not been informed about the next meeting of the ministerial committee responsible of studying the electoral law, adding: "The discussion is ongoing and we have until June 19. There is a serious attempt to reach a law". Asked if Speaker Berri is optimistic about reaching a law, Riachi said: "I am optimistic too". Asked if Cabinet is not meeting in Baabda Palace to avoid the appointment of a Central Bank Governor, he said: "Not at all, the session can be held at the Serail or in Baabda, depending on what the president and the Prime Minister agree on and on the agenda. The next meeting will be held Wednesday." For his part, the Minister of State for Women's Affairs Jean Ogasapian announced that Cabinet has agreed that November 4 of each year would be celebrated as "Lebanese Women's Day", and to instruct all relevant governmental bodies to enhance the status of Lebanese women and encourage their role so they achieve a distinguished rank locally, regionally and internationally.

Merehbi: Lebanon Offered $10 Bln More to Refugees than Donors
Asharq Al-Awsat/May 17/17/Beirut – Lebanon’s State Minister for Affairs of the Displaced Moueen al-Merehbi declared that his country has offered more aid to Syrian refugees than donor countries. He said that Lebanon gave 18 billion dollars to the displaced as opposed to the 8 billion offered by donor countries. The minister made his remarks while touring a number of southern regions that are hosting refugees. He was accompanied by United Nations Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator Philippe Lazzarini and Director of the Economic and Social Fund for Development Haitham Omar. Merehbi explained that the Lebanese government is tackling the case of refugees through the UN, adding: “Even if we support their return to their homeland, we cannot do so on our own and violate international community norms and refugee principles.”“The municipality is like a miniature government that has absolute authorities,” said Merehbi, suggesting that more pressure be exerted on concerned ministers. “We are all in the same boat. If the Lebanese are well, then everyone else in the land will be well,” he declared. For his part, Lazzarini thanked Lebanon for hosting the Syrian refugees, vowing to work, despite all international difficulties that are drying up the aid, to provide what is needed for the country.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on May 17-18/17
Macron Blurs Party Lines with Mixed French Cabinet
Naharnet/Agence France Presse/May 17/17/French President Emmanuel Macron appointed his first cabinet on Wednesday mixing Socialists, centrists and rightwingers with newcomers to politics as he pressed ahead with plans to create a broad governing coalition. The new cabinet of 22 people meets campaign pledges of being smaller than its predecessors and having gender parity, with European lawmaker Sylvie Goulard landing the prestigious defense portfolio. She will take over from veteran Socialist Jean-Yves Le Drian who will move over to foreign affairs, while rightwinger Bruno Le Maire was appointed economy minister. Other key figures instrumental in Macron's sensational victory in this month's election were given senior roles, with the Socialist mayor of Lyon, Gerard Collomb, named as interior minister while centrist ally Francois Bayrou becomes justice minister. Macron faced a tricky balancing act in naming his first government, with the 39-year-old needing to keep his allies happy while opening up positions to the rightwing Republicans party. France's youngest ever president wants to create a new centrist force in French politics -- at the expense of the traditional Socialist and Republicans parties -- which will be put to the test in parliamentary elections next month. Without a parliamentary majority, he will find it hard to push through his ambitious plans to loosen France's strict labor laws, boost entrepreneurship and reduce class sizes in tough neighborhoods. Along with politicians, the government will feature new faces from civil society, including black Olympic fencing champion Laura Flessel, renowned environmentalist Nicolas Hulot and publisher Francoise Nyssen. The announcement of the government was delayed by 24-hours on Tuesday, officially due to the need to carry out more extensive screening of candidates, but which might also have been down to last-minute negotiations. Macron has promised a new law introducing higher ethical standards for lawmakers as one of his first pieces of legislation and was keen to avoid possible embarrassments, aides said. Former president Francois Hollande was left red-faced by revelations in 2012 that his budget minister Jerome Cahuzac, a plastic surgeon, had a bank account in Switzerland where he had hidden income from tax authorities.
EU priority
In his busy first week, Macron is also set to meet EU Council President Donald Tusk in Paris on Wednesday as he tackles his top foreign priority of reforming the European Union. The meeting was pushed back at the last-minute from its scheduled time of midday until the evening. Tusk was one of the first prominent European voices to congratulate Macron on his May 7 presidential election runoff victory over far-right and anti-EU politician Marine Le Pen. Macron, who ran a staunchly pro-European campaign, kept with tradition by visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday in his first trip abroad after taking office. The pair now at the center of the European project vowed to give it new impetus, saying they were ready to change treaties if necessary. Macron has urged a deepening of the EU to fight off a recent surge of populism on the continent.

Putin 'Ready to Provide Recording' of Lavrov-Trump Exchange
Naharnet/May 17/17/Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that Moscow could provide a recording of the exchange between Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. President Donald Trump, but his aide later suggested he had meant a written transcript. "If the U.S. administration finds it possible, we are ready to provide a recording of the conversation between Lavrov and Trump to the U.S. Congress and Senate," Putin said during a press conference. He mocked the idea that Trump went off-script to share secrets with the Russians, saying he could issue a "reprimand" to Lavrov since he hasn't passed on the information. "(Lavrov) didn't share these secrets with us -- neither with me nor with the representatives of the Russian security services. That is very bad of him," Putin said to sniggers from the audience as he answered questions after talks with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni in the southern Russian city of Sochi. Although Putin used the Russian word for audio recording at the press conference, his foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov said that "audio is not made.""There is a recording kept by a special person present at conversations," Ushakov told Russian news agencies. Citing unnamed sources, The Washington Post reported that Trump had shared intelligence with Lavrov regarding an Islamic State group terror threat related to the use of laptop computers on airplanes. According to sources cited in the report, that intelligence came from a U.S. ally who had not authorized Washington to pass it on to Moscow. Putin slammed critics who spread allegations about Trump's ties with Russia."What else will the people generating such drivel and nonsense think of next?" he said. "They are shaking up their internal politics while using anti-Russian slogans.""They either don't understand that they are hurting their own country, and then they are simply dumb, or they understand everything and then they are dangerous and corrupt," Putin added.

U.S. Maintains Nuclear Deal Sanctions Relief
Naharnet/Agence France Presse/May 17/17/The United States passed up a chance to reimpose sanctions on Tehran's nuclear program Wednesday, deciding to stand by an international accord two days before Iran goes to the polls. President Donald Trump has demanded a review of the terms of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, raising concern that Washington might unilaterally pull out of an accord backed by six key world powers. But on Wednesday the State Department renewed its waiver on the nuclear-related sanctions against the Islamic republic that it had suspended in exchange for Iran submitting to strict controls. Washington nevertheless maintained a stern tone, imposing new measures to punish Iranian defense officials and a Chinese business tied to Tehran's banned missile program. And U.S. officials vowed to maintain pressure on Iran over human rights abuses and renewed their demand that Tehran release US citizens held in its notorious jails. The decision not to renew sanctions came just two days before Iran votes and may prove a boost for President Hassan Rouhani, who approved the nuclear deal and is seeking re-election. Under the terms of the 2015 deal, the previous US administration of president Barack Obama agreed to waive sanctions on Iran's nuclear program in return for controls to prevent its developing a bomb. Some of those sanctions waivers come up for review this week for the first time since Trump was elected -- after warning during his presidential campaign that he might rip up the agreement. But Washington's top diplomat for the Middle East, Stuart Jones, said the department had told Congress that "the United States continues to waive sanctions" that were lifted under the Iran deal. Nevertheless, his statement added, the Treasury Department will apply new targeted sanctions on individuals and firms helping Iran's banned ballistic missile program. "Iran continues to pursue missile-related technologies capable of delivering a nuclear weapon," he said, noting that the missile program is in breach of internationally backed UN Security Council resolutions. "The State Department will continue to partner with our colleagues at the Department of the Treasury to ensure our national security in the face of Iranian threats."
Political capital
The Treasury said it had added two Iranian defense officials and an Iranian business to its sanctions lists, accusing them of aiding the missile program or supplying explosives to Syria. A network of companies controlled by Chinese national Ruan Runling was also added to the list for supplying gyroscopes and other missile-applicable navigation technology to an Iranian firm. "It is alarming that individuals involved with Iran's missile program are assisting the brutal Assad regime, and we are taking action to curtail this behavior," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said. The Trump administration is keen to maintain its tough stance against Iran ahead of the president's visits next week to Tehran's main foes -- U.S. allies Israel and Saudi Arabia. But Tehran politicians such as Rouhani, who have staked political capital on their engagement with the West delivering economic gains, will be relieved the nuclear accord survives. Trump has repeatedly denounced the agreement, which was signed in July 2015 by Iran and six major powers -- the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany. Critics of the agreement, including Israel, have argued that when some of the terms of the deal expire in 10 and 15 years it will leave Tehran on the threshold of building a bomb.  And in January, just before his inauguration, Trump again dubbed it "one of the worst deals ever made." Last month, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson admitted Iran was complying with its own commitments under the deal -- placing its nuclear sites under international scrutiny and halting most enrichment.But he said Trump had ordered a review of the agreement to determine if it remains in the U.S. interest.

Military, Economic Agreements During Trump’s Visit to Saudi Arabia
Asharq Al-Awsat/May 17/17/Washington, Riyadh – The schedule of US President Donald Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia was uncovered on Tuesday with additional details about the 17th consultative meeting of leaders of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) for Arab States, Gulf-US Summit, and Arab-Islamic-US Summit to be hosted by the Kingdom next weekend. US National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster said during a press briefing at the White House in Washington Tuesday that his country “will participate in a signing ceremony of several agreements that will further solidify US-Saudi security and economic cooperation.”Trump will make Saudi Arabia his initial stop this Saturday on his first official trip overseas, before visiting Israel and the Vatican. After the arrival ceremony in Riyadh, the president will have coffee with Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, attend a royal banquet, and hold bilateral meetings with the King, Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Naif, and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, McMaster said. He added that on Saturday evening, Trump and the first lady would join members of the Saudi royal family for an official dinner. On Sunday, “Trump will hold bilateral meetings with GCC leaders, as well as broader meetings with Gulf state leaders. In the afternoon, he will meet and have lunch with leaders of more than 50 Muslim countries where he will deliver an inspiring, yet direct speech on the need to confront radical ideology and on his hopes for a peaceful vision of Islam to dominate across the world,” McMaster said. According to McMaster, Trump’s “speech is intended to unite the broader Muslim world against common enemies of all civilization and to demonstrate America’s commitment to our Muslim partners”.On Monday, King Salman welcomed the visits of Trump and the leaders of Arab and Islamic countries and asserted that the Saudi-US Summit’s talks, expected on May 20, “will contribute to strengthening and enhancing strategic relations between the two countries in various fields. Early this month, Trump said he would start a “truly historic gathering in Saudi Arabia with leaders from all across the Muslim world.” On Tuesday, Trump had a telephone call with King Abdullah II of Jordan. The President had also called his Egyptian counterpart President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi to express his commitment to further “robust strategic relations” and partnership between the two countries. The office of el-Sisi quoted Trump as saying in the call on Monday night that he looks forward to meeting el-Sisi during the Arab-Islamic-American summit in Saudi Arabia on May 21. Hiba Al-Qodssi, Maaz Al-Omari, Abdel-Hadi Habtoor

UAE Signs New Defense Agreement with US
Asharq Al-Awsat/May 17/17/Washington – Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, discussed means to increase co-operation between the UAE and the USA with State Secretary Rex Tillerson during his visit to Washington on Tuesday. During the meeting, which was attended by Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan, National Security Adviser, and Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the officials demonstrated the developments on regional and international arenas, especially the crises witnessed by Syria, Yemen and Libya as well as the challenges that face the Middle Eastern region and undermine its foundations of peace and stability. The discussions included the international community’s efforts in fighting terrorism, extremism and violence, and the co-ordination of the two countries in this regard. They highlighted the importance of continued support to these efforts to spread peace and establish the foundations of security and stability in the region. The US and the UAE signed a new and updated defense agreement that could allow Washington to send more troops and equipment to the UAE in the latest sign of deepening ties with the close Gulf ally, Department of Defense said on Tuesday. The agreement reflects the broad range of military-to-military cooperation that the UAE and US enjoy today, according to spokesman Christopher Sherwood. Sherwood described the agreement as a framework that dictates “the magnitude and conditions of the US military presence in-country.” The spokesman said that this will provide US military the ability to more seamlessly respond to a range of scenarios in and around the UAE, if necessary. He didn’t provide any further details.

U.S.-Led Coalition Denies East Syria Strike that Killed Civilians
Naharnet/Agence France Presse/May 17/17/The U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group said Wednesday it did not conduct strikes in the eastern Syrian town of Albu Kamal this week that reportedly killed dozens of civilians. But it said it was assessing reports of civilian casualties in a strike it launched in Syria's Raqa province. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor says May 15 coalition air strikes on Albu Kamal in Deir Ezzor province killed 62 people, including 42 civilians. The Britain-based monitor had previously said 30 people were killed in the strikes, but subsequently revised the toll upwards. It said the dead in the town on the Syria-Iraq border included 11 children and 20 IS fighters. In a statement to AFP, the U.S.-led coalition said its only strikes in the area on May 14 and 15 were carried out outside Albu Kamal. "The open-source reports of civilian casualties referred to locations inside the city itself, where we did not conduct strikes during the time period of alleged civilian casualties," the coalition said. "There were other non-Coalition nations conducting strikes in Abu Kamal on the 14th and morning of the 15th though," the statement added, without specifying which countries it was referring to. Both Syria's government and its Russian ally have carried out strikes against IS in Deir Ezzor, and in February, Iraq's air force carried out strikes against IS fighters in the province for the first time, including on Albu Kamal. The coalition added that it had carried out strikes on the village of al-Akeryshi in Raqa province on May 14 and had "forwarded the allegations of civilian casualties to our team for assessment." The Observatory says those strikes killed 14 people, including 12 women who were farmworkers traveling home in a convoy from the fields. The U.S. military said in May that coalition strikes in Syria and Iraq had "unintentionally" killed 352 civilians since it launched operations against IS in 2014. But rights groups say the true number is significantly higher.

Syrian Rivals Weigh U.N. Plan for New Constitution
Naharnet/Agence France Presse/May 17/17/Rival Syrian delegations on Wednesday weighed a U.N. proposal on developing a new constitution for the war-ravaged country, but hope of a breakthrough at the Geneva talks remained dim. The sixth round of U.N.-backed negotiations is the latest drive to bring a political solution to the conflict which has claimed more than 320,000 lives since 2011. The talks opened with tensions high over a U.S. charge that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government was using a prison crematorium to hide evidence of thousands of murdered detainees. Syria's government delegation, led by Bashar al-Jaafari, returned to U.N. headquarters Wednesday afternoon for a meeting with talks mediator Staffan de Mistura. They were expected to have discussed the U.N.'s proposal to create a "consultative" committee of civil society activists and technocrats tasked with setting a roadmap to a new constitution. The team would begin work immediately on "specific options for constitutional drafting" in order to "prevent a constitutional or legal vacuum at any point during the political transition process being negotiated," according to a copy of the document seen by AFP. The opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC), which has said it has "reservations" about the draft, met with de Mistura later on Wednesday.
'No more committees'
"We don't know what the aim is or how it will be implemented. We don't want there to be more committees outside of our control," the HNC's Munzer Makhos told AFP. A new constitution is one of four separate "baskets" on the agenda at the talks, alongside governance, elections and combating "terrorism" in the war-ravaged country. There is meanwhile little hope of a breakthrough, with the HNC continuing to insist on Assad's ousting as part of any political transition -- a demand seen by the government as a non-starter.
And U.S. claims of new regime atrocities at the notorious Saydnaya prison near Damascus have cast additional shadows over the talks. Satellite images released by Washington appeared to support earlier claims by rights groups that Saydnaya is an execution center, a claim Damascus rejected. Relatives of detained Syrians -- some of them imprisoned in Saydnaya -- gathered outside the U.N. in Geneva Wednesday, carrying portraits of their missing loved ones and tearfully writing their names on long strips of paper. "Those on the outside think a Syrian detainee is just living in a locked room with a bed and food -- but he's living in a coffin," 42-year-old Amina Kholani told AFP. The plump woman in a white head scarf was lobbying to free three relatives still held in Saydnaya, and her husband was held there for a year before Syria's uprising started in 2011. "Sometimes he'd come out unable to walk from the lack of food, or from the torture and the blows," Kholani recalled.
'Different role for Russia'
The HNC has said the accusations about Saydnaya demand an international response, including from Russia. "For us, we need to see a different role for Russia -- not only helping Assad commit crimes. We need to see Russia help Syrians decide their fate and their destiny," said HNC spokesman Salem al-Meslet. Longtime regime ally Moscow has become a key player in Syria's crisis, launching an air war in support of Assad in 2015 and brokering several agreements aimed at ending the war. The latest effort is a tripartite agreement between Russia, fellow Assad ally Iran, and rebel backer Turkey to create four "de-escalation" zones across some of Syria's bloodiest battlegrounds. It was signed on May 4 in the Kazakh capital Astana as part of parallel negotiations. Russia's deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov met with de Mistura on Wednesday. He also met with Jaafari on Tuesday evening, and was expected to meet with the HNC delegation Thursday. Syrian peace efforts have also been marked by Washington's all-but withdrawal from the process since President Donald Trump came to power in January. But on Wednesday, de Mistura met with U.S. Ambassador to International Organizations Henry Ensher to discuss Syria's conflict, according to the U.N.

US Accuses Assad Regime of Executing Political Prisoners, Burning The Bodies
Asharq Al-Awsat/May 17/17/The United States accused Syria on Monday of executing thousands of imprisoned political opponents and burning their bodies in a crematorium to hide the evidence, testing the US administration’s willingness to respond to atrocities, other than chemical weapons attacks, that it blames on Syria’s regime headed by authoritarian Bashar Assad’s. A handout satellite image was released on Feb. 7, 2017, by Amnesty International shows the military-run Saydnaya prison, one of Syria’s largest detention centers located 18 miles north of Damascus. More so, the State Department said some 50 detainees a day are being hanged at Saydnaya military prison. It added that the crematorium is being used to hide evidence of the shocking extent of the killings. The allegation of mass killings came as United States President Donald Trump weighs options in Syria, where the US launched cruise missiles on a government air base last month after accusing Assad’s military of killing scores of civilians with a sarin-like nerve agent. In its latest accusations of Syrian abuses, the State Department said it believed about 50 detainees each day are being hanged at Saydnaya military prison, about 45 minutes north of Damascus. Many of the bodies are then burned in the crematorium “to cover up the extent of mass murders taking place,” said Stuart Jones, the top US diplomat for the Middle East, accusing Assad’s government of sinking “to a new level of depravity.”The department released commercial satellite photographs showing what it described as a building in the prison complex that was modified to support the crematorium. The photographs, taken over the course of several years, beginning in 2013, do not prove the building is a crematorium, but show construction consistent with such use. The revelations echoed a February report by Amnesty International that said Syria’s military police hanged as many as 13,000 people in four years before carting out bodies by the truckload for burial in mass graves. Although the State Department cast its unusual news conference as an effort to press Assad’s key backers, Russia and Iran, it also underscored Trump’s lack of a strategy for stopping Syria’s violence. The war has killed as many as 400,000 people since 2011, contributed to Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II and enabled terror group ISIS to emerge as a global threat.

Syria Opposition Expresses Reservations on De Mistura’s ‘Constitutional Mechanism’
Asharq Al-Awsat/May 17/17/Beirut, Geneva- UN Special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura sought on Tuesday to achieve a breakthrough in the “negotiations stalemate” by suggesting a new mechanism on legal and constitutional issues, but opposition forces expressed their reservations on the proposal. A leading opposition member told Asharq Al-Awsat on Tuesday that during the sixth round of Syrian peace talks in Geneva, de Mistura proposed a special mechanism for discussing Syria’s new constitution, to be the base on which negotiations would later be built. “De Mistura is trying to operate outside the blocked negotiations by establishing a mechanism that would practically comfort the Russian side, which gives the priority to discussing the issue of the constitution at the benefit of the political transition that opposition forces insist on tackling,” the source said. He added that the opposition held a meeting on Tuesday night to discuss the suggestions. “They noted several remarks without taking yet a final decision,” the source added. A copy of de Mistura’s proposal received by Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper stipulates “the creation of a technical, consultative mechanism on constitutional and legal issues to avoid a constitutional, legal or institutional void at any phase of discussing the political transition operation.”The consultative mechanism, headed by de Mistura’s teamwork, should hold separate sessions with a team of legal experts, which will be designated by the government and opposition delegations during the intra-Syrian talks in Geneva. The annex for the mechanism also reads that the team will start its work immediately and seek to find ways for drafting a new constitution for the country. High Negotiations Committee (HNC) spokesman Salem al-Meslet said that HNC members discussed during their first meeting with Mistura on Tuesday the topics of a constitution for Syria, and thousands of prisoners in regime jails. The Syrian talks in Geneva kicked off one day after the US Department of State uncovered reports and photos documenting the involvement of the Syrian regime in “atrocities” committed in several prisons, including mass murders, sexual violence, and the building of a crematorium in the Saydnaya prison. On Tuesday, France demanded an international inquiry on this matter, and called on those supporting the regime, especially Russia, to put pressure on Damascus to allow the arrival of the investigation team to the prison.

ISIS Dislodged from All but 12 Sq. Kilometers in Western Mosul
Asharq Al-Awsat/May 17/17/Baghdad- Iraqi authorities announced on Tuesday that ISIS militants based in Western Mosul are cornered now that 90 percent of the city has been liberated by Iraqi forces. Iraqi forces have dislodged ISIS from all but 12 square kilometers of Mosul, a military spokesman said after planes dropped leaflets into the city telling civilians the battle was nearly won. Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, spokesman for Iraq’s Joint Operations Command, told a news conference in Baghdad that ISIS now controls just over 10 percent of west Mosul. “The terrorist organization is now controlling around 10 percent of the area of the west Mosul,” Brig.Gen. Rasool said. Both Staff Lieutenant General Abdulwahab al-Saadi, a senior Iraqi special forces commander, and Colonel John Dorrian, the spokesman for the US-led international coalition against ISIS, said that the end was near for extremists in the city.
More so, Brig. Gen. Rasool told reporters in Baghdad that over 16,000 ISIS militants were killed by the joint offensive of the Iraqi and Kurdish security forces, backed by the US-led Global Coalition against ISIS in the five-month military operation to reclaim Iraq’s second-largest city of Mosul. On the other hand, Dorrian said that coalition strikes have destroyed more than 300 explosives-rigged vehicles in Mosul, as well as over 200 ISIS tunnels and more than a thousand extremists fighting positions. The Iraqi forces have made some quick advances against ISIS militants in the city as various forces, including the US-trained Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) and the elite Rapid Response Force, attacked ISIS-held areas from different sides, creating pressure on ISIS’ ability to coordinate a defense. The coalition of forces have also destroyed 697 car bombs, 889 of various mortars, and 6,000 explosive devices (IEDs), and 76 bomb-making factories, Rasool said. ISIS overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, but Iraqi forces backed by US-led air strikes have since retaken much of the territory they lost to the terrorists. But while the battle for Mosul is moving ever closer to its conclusion, the city’s recapture will not mark the end of the war against ISIS in Iraq. Losing Mosul would remove from jihadists’ hands the largest Iraqi population center still under ISIS control, and would be a major blow to their narrative that they have established a cross-border ISIS. But ISIS also holds other territories in Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital, as well as in Kirkuk and Anbar, while Syria’s Raqa is also controlled by the extremists.

UNICEF: 11,000 Cases of Diarrhea Reported in Yemen
Jordan Dakamseh/Asharq Al Awsat/May 17/17/New York- UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced that over 11,000 cases of diarrhea have been reported across the country, with more than 250 confirmed cases of cholera. The number of deaths caused by cholera and acute diarrhea reached 186 in the country. Deteriorating health systems and shortage in water supply are raising concerns for health, particularly for the youngest Yemenis. There are about 2.2 million Yemeni children suffering from severe malnutrition and a cholera outbreak poses a risk on their lives. About 7.6 million people in Yemen are living in areas considered high risk for cholera transmission. UNICEF spokesperson Christophe Boulierac calls the situation a “public health crisis in the making,” adding that at least 130 people have died so far this year. The UN agency and partners are providing diarrheal disease kits, oral rehydration salts, and water treatment tablets, but the outbreak “is more aggressive” than the last wave in October 2016.According to the UN, hospitals and health centers are struggling to deal with huge numbers of infected citizen. The organization warned that the situation could get worse because of shortage of doctors and nurses and medical supplies. Abductees’ Mothers’ Association (AMA) accused Houthi forces and troops of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh of abducting and torturing their children. AMA stated that cholera is spreading within the prisons as well and Houthis are not giving the prisoners the medical care needed to recover from this epidemic. The association added that the situations are dire inside the prisons because there are no clean drinkable water and water needed for personal hygiene. AMA urged human rights organizations to help transport the ill abductees to hospitals where they can receive proper care. It also held Houthi and Saleh forces full responsibility for the safety of their children. In a related matter, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) stated that the suffering of thousands of families who have had no contact with relatives detained in relation to the conflict in Yemen must end. “We urgently call on all sides, including states supporting parties on the ground, to ensure unconditional and immediate access to people detained in relation with the conflict,” ICRC’s global Director of Operations Dominik Stillhart said on Tuesday. He reported that hundreds of families have approached ICRC on the issue, some of which have been without news from their loved ones for years. Enforced disappearances and allegations of ill-treatment and deteriorating conditions further add to the plight of detainees and to families’ anxiety, he added. Such visits are a non-negotiable humanitarian imperative, Stillhart said. They also would be an important contribution to the building of mutual trust among Yemeni communities. ICRC last year visited more than 11,000 detainees in Yemen. “However, many conflict-related detainees remain off-limits in many locations. This has to change in the best interest of all sides,” Stillhart said.

Former top Israeli officials break with govt line, call Trump leak very troubling
Yonah Jeremy Bob/Jerusalem Post/May 17/17
Former officials reacted with alarm to the report that Trump leaked intel on ISIS to Russia, denouncing it in a move that broke the diplomatic facade of neutrality with which Israel has reacted. Multiple top former Israeli officials called US President Donald Trump's leak to Russia, reportedly of Israeli intelligence on ISIS, deeply troubling. breaking with the government's current line of trying to provide a face-saving show of unity with the embattled Trump administration. The majority of government spokespeople, including US Ambassador Ron Dermer and former Shin bet Chief and current Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Avi Dichter, tried to play down the riff by emphasizing the strength of US-Israeli intelligence sharing. They also stressed that leaders of both countries are known for their discretion regarding issues of intelligence sharing. However, many former officials were far less sanguine. This included former officials who had withheld judgment earlier Tuesday in the hopes that Israel was not involved, before a growing avalanche of reports that the leaked intelligence had indeed come from Israel. Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman officially reacted to the controversial report on Wednesday morning, taking to Twitter to say that Israel's security relations with its biggest ally remain intact. Liberman did not directly address the intelligence leak saga in his tweet, but did say that "the security relationship between Israel and our greatest ally the United States is deep, significant an unprecedented in volume and in their contribution to our strength," he wrote.He then concluded firmly with: "So it has been and so it shall continue." Israel's Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer reacted in the same vein on Tuesday when the New York Times first released the report. Dermer told the Times in an emailed statement that "Israel has full confidence in our intelligence-sharing relationship with the United States and looks forward to deepening that relationship in the year ahead under President Trump."According to the Times, two US officials, one current and one former, said that trump shared the intelligence supplied by Israel in the fight against Islamic State with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak during an Oval Office meeting last Wednesday, which the American press was barred from attending. And while past and present security officials are split in opinion over the gravity of the alleged leak, a new report released by ABC. News on Wednesday said that Trump's intelligence leak has jeopardized the life of an Israeli security agent who was placed inside ISIS by Israel. The spy in question was sent to track an ISIS plot to bring down a passenger jet en route to the US with a bomb hidden in a laptop that US officials think could get through airport screening machines unnoticed. US officials: Trump revealed intelligence secrets to Russia (credit: REUTERS)
Israeli officials have yet to comment on this most recent development. ** Staff and Anna Ahronheim contributed to this report.

US officials: Trump's intel leak endangered life of spy placed inside ISIS by Israel
Jerusalem Post/May 17/17 /US officials have reportedly said that US President Donald Trump's intelligence disclosure to Russian officials last week has put at risk a spy placed inside ISIS by Israel. US President Donald Trump's alleged intelligence disclosure to Russia has endangered the life of a spy who was placed inside ISIS by Israel, current and former US officials are reported to have affirmed on Wednesday according to ABC News. The spy in question, whose life now hangs on the line after Trump reportedly revealed classified information in a meeting with Russian officials last week, was tracking an ISIS plot to bring down a passenger jet on its way to the US with a bomb hidden in a laptop that US officials think could get through airport screening machines unnoticed, according to ABC. It appears that the information the spy had gathered was sufficient enough in helping US officials consider favorably the much-discussed possible ban on laptops on all flights from Europe to the US. On Tuesday the New York Times reported that Israel is the source of the classified intelligence that Trump disclosed to the Russian officials. Two US officials, one current and one former, said Trump shared the intelligence supplied by Israel in the fight against Islamic State with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak during an Oval Office meeting last Wednesday, which the American press was barred from attending. Russia had earlier dismissed reports first published by The Washington Post, calling it “fake news.” But facing a deluge of criticism over his handling of highly classified information, Trump took to Twitter earlier Tuesday, defending having shared “facts” with senior Russian officials, saying he had an “absolute right” to do so and had been trying to get Moscow to become more active in combating Islamic State.
“As president, I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety,” he posted on Twitter. “Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”
Trump’s acknowledgment that he gave sensitive information during a White House meeting last week undercut intense efforts by senior aides to play down the incident on Monday evening after news reports emerged of Trump’s conversations about a planned Islamic State operation.
**Yonah Jeremy Bob and Anna Ahronheim contributed to this report.

Friedman: Palestinians drop settlement freeze as precondition for talks
Tovah Lazaroff/Jerusalem Post/May 17/17 /Days after arriving in Israel, America's new envoy reportedly says the US is also not making the demand. The United States has not asked for a settlement freeze and the Palestinians have dropped that demand as a precondition for talks with Israel, America’s new Ambassador David Friedman told the Hebrew daily Yisrael HaYom. “We have no demands for a settlement freeze and [Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas] Abu Mazen wants to meet [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu without any preconditions,” Friedman said in an interview published on Wednesday. He spoke in advance of US President Donald Trump’s May 22-23 visit to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. During his trip, Trump won’t unveil a specific “diplomatic plan” or a “road map,” Friedman said. "The President has clarified that to start with, he wants to see the parties sitting together and talking without preconditions, with the hope that this will lead to peace,” Friedman added. “The US won’t dictate how you should live together, that is someone you will have to decide on our own,” stated Washington's new envoy to Israel. Meanwhile, on Tuesday night, Netanyahu and Trump held a 20 minute phone call about the American leader's upcoming visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories. The Palestinian insistence for the last eight years that Israel must halt all settlement activity and Jewish building in east Jerusalem was one of the core stumbling blocs to direct talks. Israel has rejected that demand, calling instead for negotiations without pre-conditions.Friedman pointed out that Israel did impose a 10-month moratorium on settler housing starts in 2009 and 2010, when former US president Barack Obama first entered office. That freeze did not lead to negotiations, Friedman pointed out.Trump’s policy is diametrically opposite from Obama’s on this issue, asserted Friedman, adding that Trump does not believe that settlements are a stumbling bloc to peace. Trump is a skilled negotiator who can help both parties and reach an agreement, said Friedman. He is pragmatic, where his predecessors were more theoretical, Friedman added.“It does not mean he can produce magic, but he can lead the parties to find common ground, at least in the first stage,” Friedman said. The US ambassador added that unlike his predecessors, who remained within the Green Line, he plans to cross over it, including visits to West Bank settlements.

Report: Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner to join president's Mideast, Europe trip
Jerusalem Post/May 17/17 /From the West Wing to the Middle East? Reports did not specify for which portions of the president's trip the Jewish power couple would be present. A large contingent of top aides will travel from the West Wing to the Middle East (and Europe) to flank Donald Trump on his first foreign trip as US president next week. The president's daughter and unpaid adviser Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner are among the band of administration advisers accompanying the American leader for major parts of the eight-day tour that kicks off Friday, Politico reported Wednesday. The report did no specify for which portions of the president's trip the Jewish power couple would be present. Trump has repeatedly spoken of his hope that his son-in-law would help broker a peace deal in the Middle East, exclaiming prior to taking office that Kushner "knows the region, knows the people, knows the players." The president's trip includes state trips to Saudi Arabia, Israel and Rome before he attends back-to-back summits in Brussels and Sicily

Abbas: Ending Israeli Occupation Paves the Way to Enforcing Arab Initiative
Kifah Ziboun/Asharq Al-Awsat/May 17/17/Ramallah- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said that ending Israeli occupation is a key gateway to implementing the Arab peace initiative. “Ending the occupation of our country will pave the way towards implementing the Arab peace Initiative, and would aid efforts spent on fighting off terrorism and extremism in both the region and the world,” Abbas said on Tuesday. In a joint press conference with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi, Abbas said that a solution to ending the conflict is embodied in establishing a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders. A Palestinian state neighboring Israel with eastern Jerusalem as its capital advances security, peace, and good neighborliness, said Abbas. Abbas intentionally gave emphasis to ending the occupation in order for Arab states the establish relations with Israel, and not vice versa, informed Palestinian sources told Asharq Al-Awsat. He “wanted to emphasize that he rejects any amendments to the Arab peace initiative, or any new initiatives to open relations between Israel and Arab countries before the occupation ends,” sources added. The Arab peace initiative, also known as the “Saudi Initiative”, is a 10 sentence proposal for an end to the Arab–Israeli conflict that was endorsed by the Arab League in 2002 at the Beirut summit and re-endorsed at the 2007 and 2017 Arab League summits.According sources, Abbas does not mind Arab states establishing relations with Israel. However, he wants them to come as a result of ending the occupation. He himself supports establishing Arab relations with Israel after a Palestinian state is recognized, but not before. The Arab initiative would allow Israel to establish relations with 57 Arab and Muslim countries. Israel must accept it as it is, including the Israeli withdrawal from 1967 territories and the establishment of a Palestinian state. Abbas’ comments came amid leaks on regional parties seeking to amend conditions of the Arab initiative, allowing enhanced relations with Israel in exchange for an Israeli shift toward peace. Abbas had said Palestine appreciates the solidarity India extends to its cause. “India is a friend. It has influence at the international level. India can play an important role (in resolving the Palestine Israel crisis,” Abbas said. He also had said India is “ahead of all friendly countries” in helping Palestine. The President said that he recently had meetings with US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin and discussed possibilities of an early resolution to the long-pending dispute on a two-state solution.

Hamas Releases Details on Military Wing Commander’s March Assassination
Asharq Al-Awsat/May 17/17/Gaza – Hamas’ Gaza-based Interior Ministry on Tuesday revealed full investigation details on the assassination of Hamas military wing commander Mazen Faqha, following a number of arrests of suspects allegedly collaborating with Israel. Faqha was fatally shot in the head and chest at the entrance of his Gaza City home on March 24.In a press conference broadcast on its television channel, Hamas official Tawfiq Abu Na’im, director general of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Interior Ministry, said: “The security services were able to arrest the direct killer of Mazen Faqha.” They identified him only as a 38-year-old A.L. Reports have recently suggested that an al-Qassam Brigades ex-member, who had partaken in the 2007 Fatah–Hamas conflict, was the prime suspect in Faqha’s assassination. On Friday, Faqha’s family identified the prime suspect A.L. as Ashraf Abu Layla, a 37-year-old former Hamas member from the central Gaza Strip. Abu Layla was a member of Hamas’s military wing, the Qassam Brigades, but was thrown out years ago over “moral transgressions,” they said. The suspect is assumed to have been involved in the killing of pro-Fatah Palestinians. “We also arrested two agents of the occupation, who confessed to having played a part in the assassination by monitoring and filming the crime scene,” Abu Na’im added, also identifying them only by their initials: H.A., 44, and A.N., 38. While two of the men are from Gaza, one is a resident of the West Bank, Hamas said. They were all arrested last week. Abu Na’im said that 45 “agents” on Israel’s pay were arrested since Faqha’s killing, in a “severe blow to the occupation’s intelligence services.” “The assassination was carried out by Israeli intelligence officers who were communicating [with the collaborators] through telephones and communications equipment,” the Hamas official added. A video released on Tuesday showed the steps, including Faqha’s surveillance, that were carried out to assassinate him, according to the confessions obtained by Hamas. Hamas says the video proves Israel’s role behind the operation.

Egypt: Former Minister of Interior Flees after Sentence of 7 Years in Prison
Asharq Al-Awsat/May 17/17/Cairo- Cairo Criminal Court rejected on Tuesday the appeal filed by Mubarak-era former Minister of Interior Habib El-Adly on the adjudication of seven years in prison for the accusation of embezzling the ministry of interior funds. The sentence has not been executed since Adly’s place of residence is unknown, according to security bodies. On Tuesday, the Ministry of Interior handed out Central Cairo Prosecution an official letter, notifying it that he wasn’t at his house in October City. In addition to the imprisonment sentence, Cairo Criminal Court imposed on Adly and two other men to return an amount of EGP195.936 million and to pay an equal amount as a penalty – eight others were sentenced to rigorous imprisonment. Central Cairo Prosecution representative asked the court to reject an appeal filed by Adly while Adly’s advocate Farid el-Dib called on the court to approve it and suspend the issued sentence. The Ministry of Interior sent an official letter to Central Cairo Prosecution, informing it that Adly was not at his house in October City to execute the sentence. Media sources reported that Adly was still in Cairo in a secured private residence – unaffiliated to the Ministry of Interior. Sources added that he is “in a bad health condition since the issuance of the imprisonment sentence,” and that “he is willing to surrender himself to the court once his health condition gets better.” Further, consultant Nabil Ahmad Sadeq ordered the public prosecutor to refer 66 terrorists to Cairo Criminal Court- department of appeal court – after investigating with them on accusations of forming a terrorist cell. The cell is affiliated to ISIS and operates in six provinces.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on May 17-18/17
Who is Iran’s Ebrahim Raisi?
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/ArabNews/May 17/17
Until few months ago, his name was unknown to the world. In a short period of time, Iran’s Ebrahim Raisi rose to be in the international spotlight. Born in 1960 in a religious district in northern Mashhad, Raisi began his religious studies at early age in city of Qom, the world center for Shiite studies. During the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, he seized the opportunity and showed his loyalty to the revolutionary ideal of Ayatollah Khomeini, the founding father of the Islamic Republic. Soon after the revolution, with no prior experience in the field and at a very young age, Raisi was appointed to be the chief prosecutor of Karaj, the fourth largest city in Iran. In addition, he was simultaneously appointed to be prosecutor of Hamadan province in western Iran. From the viewpoint of the ruling cleric and the political establishment, Raisi was successful at proving his loyalty as a prosecutor in the first few years of the revolution. He reportedly silenced many dissidents and opposition groups. In his later positions, Raisi wielded even more power, and would directly communicate with former Supreme Leader Khomeini, and receive instructions from him.
Raisi’s success led to his appointment as the deputy prosecutor of Tehran, which is often criticized as the platform from which one of the world’s largest mass executions would occur. A US bipartisan Congressional resolution recently shed light on the scope and nature of this mass massacre, where over 30,000 people were executed including children and pregnant women. The resolution said that “over a four-month period in 1988, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran carried out the barbaric mass executions of thousands of political prisoners and many unrelated political groups... According to a report by the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, the massacre was carried out pursuant to a fatwa, or religious decree, issued by then Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, that targeted the People’s Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI), also known as the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK).” Raisi has never expressed regrets or apologized for those executions and his actions.
The member of the ‘Death Commission’ responsible for thousands of executions is seen as a suitable presidential candidate by the IRGC.
Iran’s former grand ayatollah, the late Hussein-Ali Montazeri, who fiercely condemned the executions, named Raisi as one of the major orchestrators of the executions. He said: “I believe this is the greatest crime committed in the Islamic Republic since the (1979) revolution and history will condemn us for it…. History will write you down as criminals.” Born in Esfahan, Iran, Montazeri was one of the founding fathers of the Islamic Republic, a human rights activist, Islamic theologian and the designated successor to the Islamic revolution’s Supreme Leader Khomeini, until the very last moments of Khomeini’s life. His pictures were posted next to Khomeini’s in the streets. But because of Montazeri’s stance against the ruling political establishment and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Ali Khamenei was chosen as supreme leader after Khomeini’s death. After the first decade of cracking down on opposition, facilitating executions, and consolidating the power of the Islamic Republic, Raisi climbed the political ladder swiftly. He was appointed the prosecutor of Tehran, head of the General Inspection Office, Attorney General of Iran, and finally he was appointed under the Hassan Rouhani government to head Astan Quds Razavi, which has billions of dollars in revenues. Rouhani’s government promoted other members of the “Death Commission” as well, including Mostafa Pourmohammadi — former representative of the intelligence ministry to the notorious Evin prison — who was appointed as justice minister.
The IRGC and current Supreme Leader Khamenei appear to be fond of Raisi. As Iran’s current supreme leader’s health is said to be deteriorating, Raisi seems to be a suitable candidate in the eyes of the IRGC. He would allow the IRGC to wield its power with no opposition or restriction. He would not oppose the IRGC’s crackdown and reliance on hard power. He is also similar in position to Khamenei when the latter was chosen as Iran’s supreme leader. Although Iran’s supreme leader has to be a grand ayatollah, Khamenei, like Raisi, was a normal cleric when he was appointed. Raisi is also young, as Khamenei was when he appointed; his young age would remove the risk of going through the process of finding another supreme leader for decades to come.
In the process of grooming him for the potential position of becoming the next supreme leader, the IRGC has masterfully and swiftly managed to make Raisi known to the Iranian people and the world through the Guardian Council and the presidential election. The Guardian Council, the IRGC’s ally, placed Rouhani against Raisi and disqualified many other candidates. The presidential election is a stepping stone and significant platform being utilized by the gilded circle of power to significantly promote some favored individuals, who are loyal to the IRGC and Khamenei. But Iran human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh has strongly criticized Raisi’s candidacy. And Ahmad Montazeri — son of Hussein-Ali Montazeri, Khomeini’s former heir — has said Raisi’s presidential candidacy is a “joke” and “an insult to Iranian people.”Indeed, many Iranians question why someone with such a notorious profile would be qualified and running for presidency.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated, Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business. He can be reached on Twitter @Dr_Rafizadeh.

Writer For Official Saudi Daily: The Jews Have An Eternal Plot To Destroy Mankind
MEMRI/May 17/17
In a February 4, 2017 article in the official Saudi daily Al-Watan, Hala Al-Qahtani wrote that the Jews are eternally plotting to bankrupt the world and weaken its societies in order to facilitate their takeover of it and realize, at any cost, their dream of establishing a Jewish kingdom in Jerusalem. As evidence she claimed that three of the world's five richest families are Jewish families that are also members of Freemasons movement and have been pursuing this goal since the 18th century. These families, she said, are willing to do anything to advance their own interests, including starting world wars and toppling countries. It should be mentioned that of the three families she lists, only one, the Rothschild family, is actually Jewish.
The following are excerpts from her article:
"The 'fanatical' Jewish mind has throughout history lived in isolation, disconnected from the surrounding society, busy with the details of the grand eternal plot that aims to destroy the life of the surrounding societies in various ways, weaken them, degrade them and fragment them so as to strengthen [the Jewish mind] and enable it to control the world – and all this in order to realize at any cost its dream of establishing its Jewish kingdom in Jerusalem.
"Whoever follows Jewish history notices that [the Jews] work in close unison with the Zionist leadership that helps them realize the Jewish dream, [which is] first of all to control the money. They believe with all their heart that the only source of power is control over money, and that once the world is bankrupted the task of taking it overt will be easier for them. This control plan, which is as old as history itself, obviously had to begin with the U.S. and the [other] superpowers. Despite being difficult, this task has already been completed, in part of or in full, for today the world's money is in the hands of five families that are considered the richest, thee of which are Jewish and belong to the Freemasons and have been expanding their activity since the 18th century.
"At the head of the list is the leader of the Freemasons movement, the Rothschild family, which began amassing its wealth when Mayer Amschel Rothschild managed to found a very large global banking empire. This empire expanded as the father [of the family] installed his five sons in Europe's main financial centers: Frankfurt in Germany, London in Britain, Naples in Italy, Vienna in Austria and Paris in France. The family bolstered its status by financing the royal houses and the governments [of these countries], to the point that it controlled the decision-makers in Europe.
"Today the Rothschild family controls all the capital of the World Bank, which passes from father to son [within this family]. It controls and manipulates gold prices across the world, raising or lowering them at any given moment according to its interests. It also controls the central banks all over the world, most of which are covertly owned by it, for there is not a single bank in the world that is not wholly or partly owned [by this family] – to the extent that [its members] have been dubbed 'the Masters of Money.' Their fortune is measured in trillions and equals a third of the budget of [all] the world's [countries put together], if not more than that. Hence this family goes to great lengths to hide this [fact]. The Rothschilds were also the first who managed to create a mechanism that links the price of a barrel of oil to the dollar. The main source of their money is wars, and the greatest threat to their stability and wealth is a monetary slowdown which enables launching peace initiatives in the [Middle East] region. It's enough to know that this family controls a large portion of the U.S. [monetary] reserves, and that [former U.S. president] George Bush was very close to it, in order to understand the full picture. Many countries have fallen because of this family's influence, but there are eight countries that have not submitted to it: Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Cuba, North Korea, Iran and Syria. If we want to find out who stole 'Iraq's gold,' I think the answer is now obvious.
"The story of the Rockefeller family's wealth began when John Rockefeller founded Standard Oil and thus became the richest man in history, with a fortune estimated at $400 billion. This gave him great power and enabled him to create a shadow government in the U.S. at the time.
"The wealth of the third family – the Morgan family – started to grow when John Morgan and the Rothschild family lent the U.S. treasury over 2.5 million ounces of gold during the [1929] Depression in the U.S. [The family's] control over the gold reserves enabled it to found America's largest companies, such as General Electric, AT&T and the U.S. Steel. Later the U.S. administration accused the Morgan family that it had forced it to join World War II in order to protect the loans the Morgans had granted Russia and France.
"As for the fourth family, du Pont, its wealth began to grow when Éleuthère Irénée du Pont founded in the state of Delaware a gunpowder factory that supplied 40% of the world's bombs and explosives during World War I and produced plutonium for the American nuclear bombs during World War II.
"The Bush family is regarded as the fifth richest family, after its [founding] father, Prescott Sheldon Bush, staged an unsuccessful coup attempt against president Franklin Roosevelt, [a coup] that was funded by the du Pont, Rockefeller and Morgan families. The unity among the Jewish families enabled him to become director of the Union Banking Corporation and bring his son and [later] his grandson to the position of U.S. president so they could complete the family's plan. After the [2003] war in Iraq, the Bush family's private companies, such as Halliburton, KBR and others, profited from this country's natural resources. "Whoever follows the policy of today's financial market knows full well that the Rothschilds' financial empire is one of the major arms that secretly control the making of political decisions. [He also knows that this family] in its cunning has led several countries to the abyss and has managed to complete its takeover of other countries and to exert pressure on them by threatening to suck their blood until they died, and that [this family] will stop at nothing to pursue its interests, even if it means toppling the very pillars of the world."

Former Attorney General: Trump Made the Right Call on Comey
William Barr/The Washington Post/May 17/17
Having served as both attorney general and deputy attorney general in the Justice Department, I had responsibility for supervising the FBI, working on virtually a daily basis with its senior leadership. From that experience I came to understand how fortunate we are as a nation to have in the FBI the finest law-enforcement organization in the world — one that is thoroughly professional and free of partisanship. I offer this perspective on President Trump’s removal of FBI Director James B. Comey. Comey is an extraordinarily gifted man who has contributed much during his many years of public service. Unfortunately, beginning in July, when he announced the outcome of the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state, he crossed a line that is fundamental to the allocation of authority in the Justice Department. While the FBI carries out investigative work, the responsibility for supervising, directing and ultimately determining the resolution of investigations is solely the province of the Justice Department’s prosecutors. With an investigation as sensitive as the one involving Clinton, the ultimate decision-making is reserved to the attorney general or, when the attorney general is recused, the deputy attorney general. By unilaterally announcing his conclusions regarding how the matter should be resolved, Comey arrogated the attorney general’s authority to himself. It is true, as I pointed out in a Post op-ed in October, that Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, after her tarmac meeting with Bill Clinton, had left a vacuum by neither formally recusing herself nor exercising supervision over the case. But the remedy for that was for Comey to present his factual findings to the deputy attorney general, not to exercise the prosecutorial power himself on a matter of such grave importance.
Until Comey’s testimony last week, I had assumed that Lynch had authorized Comey to act unilaterally. It is now clear that the department’s leadership was sandbagged. I know of no former senior Justice Department official — Democrat or Republican — who does not view Comey’s conduct in July to have been a grave usurpation of authority.
Comey’s basic misjudgment boxed him in, compelling him to take increasingly controversial actions giving the impression that the FBI was enmeshed in politics. Once Comey staked out a position in July, he had no choice on the near-eve of the election but to reopen the investigation when new evidence materialized. Regrettably, however, this performance made Comey himself the issue, placing him on center stage in public political discourse and causing him to lose credibility on both sides of the aisle. It was widely recognized that Comey’s job was in jeopardy regardless of who won the election.
It is not surprising that Trump would be inclined to make a fresh start at the bureau and would consult with the leadership of the Justice Department about whether Comey should remain. Those deliberations could not begin in earnest until the new deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, to whom Comey would report, was confirmed and in a position to assess Comey and his performance. No matter how far along the president was in his own thinking, Rosenstein’s assessment is cogent and vindicates the president’s decision.
Rosenstein made clear in his memorandum that he was concerned not so much with Comey’s past arrogation of power, as astonishing as it was, but rather with his ongoing refusal to acknowledge his errors. I do not dispute that Comey sincerely believes he acted properly in the best interests of the country. But at the same time, I think it is quite understandable that the administration would not want an FBI director who did not recognize established limits on his powers.
It is telling that none of the president’s critics are challenging the decision on the merits. None argue that Comey’s performance warranted keeping him on as director. Instead, they are attacking the president’s motives, claiming the president acted to neuter the investigation into Russia’s role in the election.
The notion that the integrity of this investigation depends on Comey’s presence just does not hold water. Contrary to the critics’ talking points, Comey was not “in charge” of the investigation. In the Justice Department, responsibility for overseeing and directing investigations is lodged in the department’s prosecutors. Because Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself, the investigation into Russian interference is being supervised by Rosenstein and Dana Boente, acting head of the department’s National Security Division. Both men have long and exemplary service as career prosecutors in the department and were selected to hold political office as US attorneys by President Barack Obama. In short, responsibility for the integrity of the Russia investigation is vested in the hands of two highly regarded Obama veterans. Senate Democrats were well aware that Rosenstein would be overseeing the Russia investigation when they overwhelmingly joined with Republican senators in confirming him by a 94-to-6 vote. Furthermore, the day-to-day work in that investigation was being done not by Comey but by career prosecutors and FBI agents, whose professionalism and integrity do not depend on the identity of the FBI director. Indeed, as the acting director, Andrew McCabe, just testified, FBI agents working on the investigation will do a thorough and professional job regardless of who is serving as the bureau’s director. According to news reports, the investigation is in full swing, with the Justice Department using a grand jury to subpoena relevant information, indicating a degree of thoroughness not evident in the investigation into Clinton’s email server. Comey’s removal simply has no relevance to the integrity of the Russian investigation as it moves ahead.
*William Barr was US attorney general from 1991 to 1993.

Assad Avoids Justice
Scott Turow/Bloomberg/May 17/17/
The torrent of violence that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his operatives have rained down on his own people since 2011 — widespread kidnappings, torture, barrel-bombings and chemical weapons attacks — have led to mournful discussions of the dim prospects that Assad will ever be brought to trial for his atrocities. Yet the truth is that the US, and its stance toward the International Criminal Court at The Hague, have helped create many of the impediments to Assad’s prosecution. The ICC, a permanent war-crimes tribunal, was established through negotiations among most United Nations members in the late 1990s, with the US playing a leading role. Since the Nuremberg trials after World War II, a global consensus had emerged that public trials of war-crimes charges and punishment of those responsible were indispensable to creating a lasting peace in a conflict zone, because dispassionate justice allows survivors to move forward without nursing grievances for generations about horrors that have gone unaddressed. By the end of 2000, the US and 138 nations had signed the international treaty, called the Rome Statute, that created the court. Then in May 2002, the George W. Bush administration announced that it was “unsigning” the treaty and renouncing America’s obligations.
Many arguments were marshaled against membership, some of them understandable. Perhaps the most cogent objection is that no nation is more likely than the U.S. to be drawn into a peacekeeping role around the world. We would be less likely to do so if our soldiers had to bear the risk of a politically inspired prosecution in front of a criminal court thousands of miles from our shores, with procedures very different than our own. As an exclamation point, Congress in 2002 passed the American Service-Members Protection Act, which authorized the president to order military action to free any armed forces member called to answer before the ICC. The move was ridiculed in Western Europe as “The Hague Invasion Act,” but the US continued to put diplomatic pressure on other nations, including Iraq, where American troops were fighting, not to participate in the Court.
The American turnaround has helped hobble the ICC. Renegade nations such as China, which failed to participate from the outset, have been able to avoid pressure from the global community by noting the US stance. Far more important, America’s example made it easier for other nations that had signed the Rome Statute also ultimately to fail to ratify it. Many are countries whose actions have often been alleged to violate international law: Iran, Israel, Russia and, most importantly, Syria. As a result, the ICC has no jurisdiction over Syria and Assad. The UN Security Council could still refer the matter to the international court, but Syria’s ally, Russia, holds veto power there and has so far hindered efforts to call Assad and others to account. The UN has empowered two different bodies to gather evidence about the atrocities in Syria, but they have no forum in which to present it and Assad has said he and his administration “don’t care” about the UN efforts.
If US refusal to ratify the Rome Treaty were truly in American national interest, it could be excused, even if it provided shelter to someone like Assad. But Washington’s reluctance rests on a variety of assumptions that don’t stand up to scrutiny. Foreign prosecutors and investigators are never going to be crawling all over the US trying to imprison our soldiers. ICC jurisdiction is complementary, meaning it does not violate our sovereignty by supplanting our own justice system. The results of a good faith investigation by national authorities is conclusive on the ICC. The court acts only when the nation in question has refused to. It is unimaginable that serious war-crimes charges against American troops would go uninvestigated by the Pentagon, once they came to light. Consider the convulsive response to the actions by our soldiers at the Baghdad prison, Abu Ghraib. Furthermore, if membership in the ICC sharpened the need to investigate and, when called for, to prosecute Americans in order to forestall action by the court, that would be a positive development, with our treaty obligations serving as a powerful antidote to the inclination of the military, like other institutions, to protect its own and sweep things under the rug.
Finally, the brute realities are that if the ICC ever mounted a prosecution against Americans that we regarded as biased or corrupt, we could withdraw from the treaty then. No nation on earth is strong enough to force Washington to remain. But the US would be standing on firmer moral ground by voicing principled objections in a particular case, rather than adhering to our current position, which is that Americans can commit crimes against humanity without our government being willing to formally guarantee a response.
In the meantime, the efforts by the US and other nations to undermine the Court have significantly weakened it. Stuck trying to preserve a fragile constituency, the ICC has become bogged down in a rigorous procedural regularity, because its only defense to charges of political motivation is to demonstrate a rigid adherence to its own rules. That has meant that investigations drag on for years, while the lack of support from the US and other powerful nations like Russia and China has often left the court toothless in the face of the resistance. Russia, for example, has been under investigation since 2008 for its actions while invading Georgia. In 13 years, the ICC has charged a mere 33 individuals, convicting only eight. Charges have failed against 10 defendants, with the other cases ongoing, or suspended because the defendants are fugitives or dead. Worse, all 33 defendants have been from Africa, which has led the court to be derided on that continent as a tool of Western imperialism, even though the conduct charged in these cases is appalling and could never be ignored by any responsible prosecutor. Yet the US can hardly criticize the court for an ineffectiveness that we have done our best to create. Perhaps the most galling aspect of America’s refusal to participate is that it undermines our own policies and our frequent claims to be the world’s moral leader.

Last Week’s Global Cyberattack Was Just the Beginning
Nicholas Weaver/The Washington Post/May 17/17/
A massive cyber-extortion attack known as “WannaCry” wrought havoc across the globe last week, taking out much of Britain’s National Health Service and, in a delicious bit of irony, the Russian Interior Ministry. The attack was a long time coming, representing the inevitable merging of two plagues that have long ravaged the Internet: the invention of programs that can rapidly infect digital systems and the rise of Internet crime. Without action, WannaCry represents just the first of what will undoubtedly be a long nightmare of self-propagating criminal attacks. The first Internet plague arose in 1988 when a small program, written by computer scientist Robert Morris Jr., escaped. This program, clearly written as an interesting experiment, ran on a single computer and, from there, attempted to contact other computers. Once it found another computer it attempted to exploit the victim using one of several vulnerabilities. When successful, it copied itself over and started running: First two computers ran the program — then four, then eight. Exponential growth caused it to quickly spread to all vulnerable systems on the Internet. Combined with a bug that caused it to effectively overload its victims, this acted to effectively shut down the Internet of 1988.
This was the inadvertent dawning of the worm, a program that spreads on its own from computer to computer. Since that time we’ve seen many other worms, including Code Red (the first widespread worm in the modern era, infecting 300,000 systems over 13 hours), Slammer (spreading worldwide in 15 minutes and even infecting a nuclear power plant), Blaster (silently infecting hundreds of thousands of Windows computers) and Witty (which took down network security monitors belonging to the US Army). The second plague crept up on us more subtly in the form of criminals seeking to make money. From spammers hawking Viagra to online bank-robbers seeking to take control over corporate accounts, this plague is organized crime that doesn’t care much about the damage done as long as it makes money. One particularly vile criminal strain involves ransomware: Malicious programs that encrypt a victim’s files and demand money to access them.
The ransomware epidemic is fueled by multiple factors, most notably the presence of both online criminal communities enabling specialization and Bitcoin. Criminal communities enable specialization: Somebody good at coding can write a ransomware framework and sell it to someone who’s good at attacking computers. Many of these communities are Russian, as Russia has a long history of sheltering cyber-criminals who don’t attack Russian interests.
WannaCry is simply the merging of these two plagues. Dealing with such worms is a technical problem — one that researchers have and will continue to focus on. But dealing with online criminals is a policy and economic problem.
Even when we can identify criminals, far too many escape capture unless they are foolish enough to go on vacation from their Russian sanctuary. And since we can’t seem to dissuade Russia from directly attacking Western democracies with its hacking and information operations, it is highly doubtful we can get Russian cooperation on cybercrime. There is a potential, however, to disrupt payments: Don’t play whack-a-mole on criminals, play whack-a-mole on criminal business models. In the past, cyber-criminals used Liberty Reserve until the U.S. government shut it down and arrested its founder for money laundering. This proved a substantial blow to the criminal underground.
Likewise, ransomware actually looked poised to take off earlier with payments through Green Dot MoneyPak and similar networks, but pressure from the Treasury Department has stifled the cash-out network used by criminals to convert MoneyPak into currency. That leaves Bitcoin as the only game in town for those wanting to conduct cyber-extortion at scale. Perhaps it is time for the United States to actually take meaningful action against Bitcoin. For non-criminal transactions, Bitcoin is decidedly inferior to all the alternatives, as it is expensive, cumbersome and surprisingly slow. Bitcoin’s only “superiority” over other electronic payment systems is its censorship resistance: There is no central authority that can say “thou shalt not.” Thus, it is only superior for criminal uses such as drug deals or extortion. US Bitcoin exchanges can be pressured to not enable ransom payments, and the Treasury Department can exert pressure on foreign Bitcoin exchanges to either comply with US money-laundering laws or be cut off from all international bank transactions (not just those transactions which originate in the United States). There is also a possibility for a technical solution: Clogging the Bitcoin network with spam transactions.Unless something can be done about the presence of payments through criminal-friendly Bitcoin or other means, we can only expect these two merged plagues — the crimeware worms — to continue to create chaos.

Palestinians: The Threats Trump Needs to Hear
Bassam Tawil/Gatestone Institute/May 17/17
The warning by Hamas and Islamic Jihad is directed not only against Trump and his new administration, but also against Abbas and any Arab leader who dares to "collude" with the U.S. A new policy document recently published by Hamas says that the Islamic terror movement accepts a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, but without recognizing Israel's right to exist. Translation: Hamas seeks a Palestinian state that would be used as a launching pad to destroy Israel.
The electoral showing demonstrates with excruciating clarity that Hamas could easily take over any Palestinian state that the U.S. and the Europeans help create in the West Bank.
Abbas is a weak leader with precious little legitimacy among Palestinians. He would never survive any kind of real peace deal with Israel -- a reality that, ironically, he has done his very best to create.
As U.S. President Donald Trump prepares to hold his second meeting with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem next week, two Palestinian terror groups have announced that the new U.S. administration is planning to "liquidate the Palestinian cause." The warning by Hamas and Islamic Jihad is directed not only against Trump and his new administration, but also against Abbas and any Arab leader who dares to "collude" with the U.S.
The two Palestinian terror groups, which control the Gaza Strip and its two million residents, also renewed their pledge to pursue the armed fight against Israel; they said they would not give up one inch of Palestine, from the (Mediterranean) sea to the (Jordan) river.
Trump and his administration would do well to heed the warning issued by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, especially in the wake of Abbas's recent statements concerning a two-state solution and peace with Israel. Abbas controls only parts of the West Bank, and how he intends to establish a Palestinian state when he cannot even set foot in the Gaza Strip is anyone's guess. Recently, Hamas announced that if and when the 82-year-old Abbas shows up in the Gaza Strip, he will be hanged in a public square on charges of "high treason."
The warning by the Palestinian terror groups was made during a joint rally in the Gaza Strip on May 14. Leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad vowed to "preserve the Palestinian rifle and Palestinian rights in the face of any schemes and attempts to liquidate the Palestinian cause."
Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar stated that Palestinian "principles are part of our [Islamic] religion, and we cannot make any concessions on them. We will not give up one inch of our land and holy sites. We will continue to work until the liberation of each inch of Palestine."
Zahar also warned Abbas against signing any agreement with Israel that includes relinquishing Palestinian rights. "Anyone who gives up our rights and holy sites will betray Allah and his Prophet Mohammed," Zahar cautioned.
Notably, Zahar's statement to "liberate every inch of Palestine" comes amid false claims in the Western media to the effect that Hamas has abandoned its dream of eliminating Israel.
The claims are based on a new policy document recently published by Hamas; it says that the Islamic terror movement accepts a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, but without recognizing Israel's right to exist. Translation: Hamas seeks a Palestinian state that would be used as a launching pad to destroy Israel.
Zahar and other Hamas leaders have taken advantage of every available platform to clarify that their acceptance of a Palestinian state on the pre-1967 lines does not mean abandoning their plan to eliminate Israel.
They have also explained, at length, that the new policy document does not replace Hamas's original charter, which explicitly calls for the destruction of Israel.
Hamas's honesty with respect to its true intentions stands in utter contrast to the deceit with which the policy document is being treated by others.
For instance, some Western media outlets and Palestinian affairs "experts" and "analysts" deceptively describe the document as a sign of moderation and pragmatism on the part of Hamas.
While Hamas leaders proudly proclaim that there is no real change in their ideology and charter, some Westerners seem to have a sort of hearing disability when it comes to the truth of the terror movement.
Another Hamas leader, Ahmed Bahr, said at the rally that his movement remains strongly opposed to security coordination between Abbas's Palestinian Authority and Israel in the West Bank.
Bahr described the security coordination and the crackdown on Hamas supporters in the West Bank as a new Palestinian "Nakba" (Catastrophe) -- the term used by Palestinians and Arabs to describe the establishment of Israel in 1948.
Referring to Trump's upcoming visit to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and reports that the U.S. administration was seeking to revive stalled peace talks between the PA and Israel, the top Hamas official said that Palestinians remain committed to the "resistance to liberate Palestine despite the conspiracies that are being concocted against them."
For Hamas and its allies, Trump's peace efforts are nothing less than a plot designed to force Palestinians to make unacceptable concessions to Israel. They will accept nothing but the elimination of Israel and its replacement with an Islamic state governed by Islamic sharia law.
Islamic Jihad leaders, for their part, said that Trump's upcoming visit to the Middle East was aimed at "forming a new alliance to preserve" Israel's interests. They believe that the purported alliance will consist of Israel, Abbas's PA and some Arab countries.
In the view of Islamic Jihad leader Mohammed al-Hindi, the Trump-engineered alliance would "create a new Nakba" for the Palestinians. "Palestine is the land of all Palestinians and part of our history," he declared. He too warned Abbas against any agreement that includes concessions to Israel.
Ignoring such threats issued by Palestinian terror groups is done only at one's extreme peril. These are not marginal factions with a limited following among Palestinians. Rather, the ideology of Hamas and Islamic Jihad is widespread among the Palestinians and lives in the hearts and minds of many of them. These terror groups are popular not only in the Gaza Strip, but also among large sectors of Palestinians in the West Bank.
Just last week we received yet another reminder of Hamas's increased popularity in the West Bank when its supporters won -- for the third straight year -- the student council elections at Bir Zeit University near Ramallah. Hamas's victory in the university election has once again left Abbas and his loyalists bewildered.
The electoral showing is anything but confusing: it demonstrates with excruciating clarity that Hamas could easily take over any Palestinian state that the U.S. and the Europeans help create in the West Bank.
No one is more aware of this than Abbas -- in a situation that accounts for why he has spent the past decade blocking parliamentary and presidential elections. Above all, Abbas wishes to avoid his mistake of 2006, when Hamas won the parliamentary election.
For a start, Trump might ask Abbas precisely how he plans to cope with the threats by Hamas and Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian groups to destroy Israel and thwart any "treacherous" peace agreement with Israel. Under the current circumstances, when Palestinians are radicalized against Israel on a daily basis and Hamas's popularity is skyrocketing, the talk about a two-state solution and peace sounds downright delusional.
Abbas is a weak leader with precious little legitimacy among Palestinians. He would never survive any kind of real peace deal with Israel -- a reality that, ironically, he has done his very best to create.
Trump and his advisors might put aside the sweet talk of Abbas and his spokesmen, and listen instead for the unsettling truths voiced by other Palestinians such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Alternatively, the West can continue to fantasize about a new Middle East in which Arabs and Muslims accept Israel's right to exist -- while in reality many of them are totally consumed by their attempts to raze it to the ground.
At his scheduled meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem next week, U.S. President Donald Trump might put aside the sweet talk of Abbas, and listen instead for the unsettling truths voiced by other Palestinians such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Pictured: Trump and Abbas give a joint statement on May 3, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Image source: Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)
*Bassam Tawil is a scholar based in the Middle East.
© 2017 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

German Companies Boycott Breitbart, Not Ayatollahs
Stefan Frank/Gatestone Institute/May 17/17
Sadly, there seems to be no benefit in opposing this extortion: No one in Germany will praise anyone for protecting freedom of speech — on the contrary. As far as the American market is concerned, they seem to think: America is far away, no one will ever know about it.
For those who do not like self-appointed "morality police" entering the political arena and taking part in "boycott" actions against freedom of opinion, they themselves may consider boycotting those companies or reporting about them on Twitter.
The Breitbart boycotters seem to have no qualms about dealing with dictatorial regimes that habitually imprison and torture their citizens. In Iran, Daimler (owner of Mercedes-Benz) wants to become market leader in commercial vehicles. Lufthansa, which allegedly opposes "violence-glorifying, sexist, extremist as well as radical political content," not only offers flights to Tehran, but praises the torture- and stoning-metropolis on its website.
Reports in January noted how Gerald Hensel, a high-ranking employee of Scholz & Friends, one of the two largest advertising agencies in Germany, used his professional position to launch a private war against the freedom of expression, under the slogan "No Money for the Right Wing!"
"Right wing" websites — those which have criticized the German government for its policies on, for example, Muslim mass-migration, the euro rescue or climate policy — should, according to Hensel, be cut off from advertising revenues. If they have no more money, so the thinking goes, it will be more difficult for them to stay in business; perhaps they would give up, and opinions differing from the mainstream would not be put into circulation.
Hensel explained his strategy on his private blog, which featured a red Soviet star: Large conglomerates that want to advertise on the Internet usually do not directly contact specific websites. Instead, computer programs recognize who is interested in a particular product or service, based on the user's search behavior. The advertisement is personalized: a car maker will only approach users who are looking for cars. The advertisement, however, will not only appear on car websites, but on all sites the user visits in the following hours or days.
Hensel urged all of those who are disturbed by diverse views on the internet to exert pressure on companies, by branding particular websites as "right wing." This pressure alone, according to his calculation, would ensure that the company would block the website in question.
His strategy succeeded: Within a few days, the website "Achse des Guten" (Axis of the Good) — one of the most popular German political blogs, which daily exposes the insanity of German politicians and journalists from a common-sense point of view — lost its entire advertising business. Advertising agencies simply cut off the website from their ads.
Those who are leading this war against the freedom of expression often claim innocence: the standard argument is that a company must be able to choose where it wants to place its advertisements, and that this choice has nothing to do with censorship.
The censorship, in fact, takes place elsewhere: where the thought police put pressure on companies to block certain websites. The threat — implicit or explicit — is that if you do not do what we say, we will tell the public that you are advertising with the "right wing," and you know what that would mean for your business.
An internet petition aimed at forcing Amazon to boycott Breitbart News, shows how these activists view freedom of expression:
"Breitbart's advertisers are dropping like flies. ... People power has already forced BMW, T-Mobile and Kellogg's and hundreds of other corporations to drop Breitbart — and now we are going to force Amazon to follow suit. Amazon is receiving loads of pressure already, and if we add our voices from across the planet together now, we can make sure Amazon cannot ignore us anymore."
Activists such as these are not consumers who appeal to a company to meet legitimate ethical demands; rather, they act like a mafia against a restaurant owner who refuses to pay protection money. They occupy the tables with aggressive behavior and scare away the guests — until the owner capitulates, because the economic damage is too great and out of fear of penalties still to come.
Questions to German Boycotters
Gatestone Institute asked some of the large German companies boycotting Breitbart what had caused them to do so: Are there internal guidelines? Are other websites or newspapers boycotted? The answers came quickly and were, in most instances, clearly prefabricated. Inquiries proved fruitless.
AXA, for example, a multinational insurance company based in France, wrote: "AXA Deutschland avoids sites with content that does not fit our brand. The website you mention is part of this."
When Gatestone asked about the criteria, and, with Breitbart, what was the decisive factor for the decision, the answer was: "Please understand that we do not disclose strategies and details of our advertising activities."
Deutsche Telekom / T-Mobile wrote:
"Deutsche Telekom does not advertise on ... Deutsche Telekom expressly only allows advertisements to be placed on established networks via 'white listings.' In addition, Telekom regularly defines and updates exclusion lists, so-called 'black listings' of internet pages with undesirable content. We react immediately if we are made aware of Telekom advertising on internet pages with undesirable content, or we ourselves notice Telekom advertising on such sites. I hope the information will be of help. Please understand that we do not comment on our media strategy."
A follow-up question regarding "undesirable content" was answered by a repetition of the previous sentence.
Daimler AG (owner of Mercedes-Benz) sent a "corporate statement," that looked pre-formulated, a kind of encyclical that defines the objectives of the politically correct automobile manufacturer:
"Daimler generally dissociates itself from all forms of discrimination and extremism. Mercedes-Benz has strict advertising guidelines, which are also adhered to by our market and media agencies. These advertising guidelines basically exclude platforms and channels which are not compatible with our principles. These include platforms with content that is extremist or politically polarizing, discriminatory, sexist or criminal in nature. Daimler has also called on its market and media agencies to demand compliance with the strict Mercedes-Benz advertising guidelines for the relevant ad networks."
Criminal content? Extremist? Has Daimler made a mistake? We asked:
"Are you sure that the classification as 'extremist' is not perhaps due to a misunderstanding or a translation error? Could you perhaps mention a few examples of Breitbart articles that spread extremist thought? This would help readers better understand your position."
As with the other companies, there was only a cut-and-paste type of response:
"As we have written, this includes platforms with content that is extremist or politically polarizing, discriminatory, sexist or criminal in nature.... Please understand that we will not name individual items."
The press officer of BMW, responding by telephone, explained that BMW does not have "blacklists" but rather "whitelists," which stipulate exactly where the group's advertising should appear (he mentioned the New York Times as an example of a publication where BMW advertises). When told that German- and English-language newspapers had reported that BMW was boycotting Breitbart, he explained: With respect to the "No Money for the Right Wing" campaign launched by Gerald Hensel, journalists had repeatedly called and asked whether BMW advertised on Breitbart. BMW denied this. The journalists might have interpreted this as a "boycott."
Lufthansa, when asked, responded:
"Our principles clearly exclude advertising on websites that represent violent, sexist, extremist and radical political content. The placement of Lufthansa advertising on Breitbart does not meet the stated principles. That is why we have blocked the page for banners that are automated through specialized agencies. The 'blacklist' also includes other websites that do not comply with the above principles."
Does this mean that there is "violent, sexist, extremist and radical political content" on Breitbart? And why is it that answers on the subject of Breitbart always come so fast that they seem to have been shot from a gun? Do journalists frequently ask them about this? Lufthansa's reply:
"We have defined these principles and decided that Lufthansa banners on Breitbart would not be appropriate. And your guess is correct, that your query was not the first on the subject."
Lufthansa, which has Breitbart News on its advertising blacklist, claims to oppose "violence-glorifying, sexist, extremist as well as radical political content." However, Lufthansa not only offers flights to Tehran, but praises the torture- and stoning-metropolis on its website. (Image source: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
The answer from Volkswagen was:
"Volkswagen of America does not place advertisements on However, our Volkswagen trading companies in the USA are privately owned. Our dealers therefore decide independently where they place advertising."
That sounded reasonable. The press officer of Audi (a Volkswagen subsidiary) with whom we also spoke was almost unintelligible:
"Audi of America has in the past not directly placed any advertising on Breitbart. However, the online banner of our American subsidiary was apparently on Breitbart. This happened by means of customer-specific targeting measures. They involved individual users whose surfing behavior resulted in a high degree of automotive interest, and were not bound to specific websites. Audi of America then blocked Breitbart from implementing the targeting measures."
Gatestone: "You said that Audi targets users with high automotive interest. What about someone who shows a strong automotive interest, but who is also a reader of Breitbart News? Can one say that Audi would rather sell fewer cars than to advertise on Breitbart?"
Audi: "The question you asked does not arise for us."
Gatestone: "What can I write in my article about why Audi has blocked the website Breitbart News?
Audi: "I can only refer to our previous statements. We generally do not communicate details of our advertising and communication planning."
Boycott Hysteria and Censorship
Even some left-wing activists have now turned against the boycott hysteria that is spreading among major German conglomerates. On a pacifist site, "War Reporting" (Kriegsberichterstattung), a blogger named "Tom" warned: "Advertising boycott against Trump's Breitbart portal" is "nonsense and dangerous for Daimler AG":
"More than 36 million Americans read as a news and debate forum — actually, almost every tenth American. To reduce the Breitbart portal to 'racism' or to brand it as 'reactionary,' 'right-wing' or 'extremist,' as some on the left, including advertising specialists, advertising portals and journalists are currently trying to do, misses the point."
With regard to the statement by Daimler, which indirectly accuses Breitbart as a "platform with extremist or politically polarizing, discriminating ... content," the blogger wrote: "It is absurd to dismiss 36 million Americans as being polarized." It is not clear where his number originated.
A commentator at the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) wrote about the German boycott:
"It is currently in fashion to brand and denounce people with incorrect views as being 'right wing.' Companies do not want anything to do with that label and immediately reverse course — as you can follow on Twitter — if they are accused of supporting the wrong sites with their advertising... An advertising boycott is, by the way, not only a measure against allegedly dangerous [opinion] blogs and web portals, but above all against critical press coverage. Anyone who relies on such a thing, especially as a strategist of an advertising agency, positions economic power against the diversity of opinion and freedom of the press."
That German companies immediately comply when someone asks them to boycott an American website is not only because they are accustomed to dance to the whistle of the "left," but also due to German anti-Americanism and the German media campaign against Donald Trump — which is based on precisely that anti-Americanism.
Counter-Pressure is Necessary
It appears that none of the German corporations that have committed themselves to boycotting Breitbart understands what is at stake — protecting freedom of speech. It is highly probable that none of their decision-makers has ever read a single article on Breitbart. The only thing they appear to know is that this is an American website that has something to do with Trump and is unpopular with left-wing German journalists. From there, it is a simple business decision: with a few mouse-clicks, opponents of Breitbart — or of any policy with which they might disagree — can harm the image of a brand and thereby sales in Germany. To many, this might seem a bit too close to what Germany did in the 1930s and early 1940s.
Sadly however, there seems to be no benefit in opposing this extortion: No one in Germany will praise anyone for protecting freedom of speech — on the contrary. As far as the American market is concerned, they seem to think: America is far away, no one will ever know about it.
The only thing that could cause them to surrender to the pressure from activists is counter-pressure — people saying to them, "We are not pleased that you, without even informing yourselves, are submitting to activists who believe they have the right to determine which opinions may be published." If there were such pressure, the decision to boycott would not be so pleasant. For those who do not like the self-appointed "morality police" entering the political arena and taking part in "boycott" actions against freedom of opinion, they themselves may consider boycotting those companies or reporting about them on Twitter.
"Have fun in Tehran"
The Breitbart boycotters, incidentally, seem to have no qualms about dealing with dictatorial regimes that habitually imprison and torture their citizens. During an annual meeting of Daimler AG, a shareholder asked the board of directors to which countries the company was exporting military vehicles. The answer was: Abu Dhabi, Algeria, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, among others.
In Iran, Daimler wants to become market leader in commercial vehicles. In January 2016, Daimler Trucks CEO Wolfgang Bernhard arrived in Tehran "just a few hours" after the official lifting of sanctions against Iran. According to the Iranian news agency IRNA, Daimler paid 42 million euros in compensation to the Iranian state company Khodro because Daimler was no longer able to manufacture vehicles in Iran, as a result of sanctions imposed in 2010. Has Daimler never heard of the Iranian regime being rather "extremist, politically polarizing, discriminatory, sexist, and criminal"?
Similarly, Lufthansa, which allegedly opposes "violence-glorifying, sexist, extremist as well as radical political content," not only offers flights to Tehran, but praises the torture- and stoning-metropolis on its website with the words: "The hustle and bustle on the streets has everything you expect from a megacity. ... Have fun in Tehran before you have to catch your Lufthansa flight back home."
*Stefan Frank is a journalist and author based in Germany.
© 2017 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Sweden: A Qatari Protectorate
Judith Bergman/Gatestone Institute/May 17/17
At the opening of the mega-mosque, Malmö City Councilor Frida Trollmyr gave a speech in which she continued to use the term "cultural center", never using the word "mosque", as if -- Soviet-style -- the use of certain words could alter reality.
The mega-mosque was never supposed to be a mosque, according to the Wakf's own application for building permits, but merely a "cultural center" (the application talks about "an activity center for youth and families in Malmö with a focus on Rosengård").
When the journalist asked Khaled Assi whether his organization was in fact building a mosque, he told her that "there already is a mosque in Malmö" and that the "cultural center" would just contain a "small prayer room".
On April 28, the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs of the State of Qatar opened the Umm Al-Mu'minin Khadijah Mosque in Malmö, Sweden. Qatar -- the epicenter of Muslim Brotherhood and the base of its proselytizing megaphone, Al Jazeera -- paid more than 3 million euros to build the mosque, which is almost 2,000 square meters and accommodates up to 2,000 people, making it the largest mosque in Scandinavia.
One astonishing fact about this new mega-mosque is that, according to Swedish mainstream media, the opening never happened. Not a single Swedish news outlet mentioned the opening. Swedish authorities were also completely silent on the topic. On her Facebook and Twitter accounts, Malmö's Mayor, Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh, wrote about the opening of a new office for army recruits in Malmö and the Swedish coast guard moving its activities to Malmö harbor, but failed to mention the opening of the largest mosque in Scandinavia. The website of Malmö municipality was also silent on the topic.
For information on what goes on in Sweden, therefore, one has to turn to Qatar News Agency, which reported:
"Director of the Islamic Affairs Department at the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs Khalid Shaheen Al Ghanim said that the mosque was built and furnished by the State of Qatar at a cost of over 3 million euros, under the supervision of the Ministry of Awqaf and in collaboration with the Wakf of Scandinavia in Malmo, Sweden
"He added that the Umm Al-Mu'minin Khadijah Mosque is the largest mosque in Scandinavia and is located on the first and second floors of the four-story building of the Wakf of Scandinavia in Sweden. The mosque is equipped with facilities for people with special needs to perform prayers and others for children and women.
"The opening ceremony was attended by representatives of Swedish local authorities, representatives of Islamic institutions in Sweden and Denmark, as well as a number of businessmen."
The organization in Sweden behind the mega-mosque is the Swedish Wakf, better known as the Islamic Community of Malmö. In its statutes, the Swedish Wakf describes itself as a "religious and cultural community, registered as an ideal institution", and "politically independent".
The neighbors of the mega-mosque, which was never supposed to be a mosque, according to the Wakf's own application for building permits, but merely a "cultural center" (the application talks about "an activity center for youth and families in Malmö with a focus on Rosengård"), protested when they learned of the plans in 2010. The Malmö municipality brushed them off. "It is like any congregational activity, and I find it hard to see that there should be anything to worry about", said Dick Johansson, representing Malmö municipality, at the time.
As it turns out, there is a great deal to worry about.
Several of the Swedish Wakf's members come from the Swedish Islamic Cultural Association, whose spokesman and front figure, Ammar Daoud, was described by Swedish newspaper Sydsvenskan in an article from 2006, as the "apprentice" of the Danish imam Abu Laban. Laban, who died in 2007, was known for his jihadist connections and for instigating riots in the Muslim world against Denmark after the 2005 publication of the Mohammed cartoons in Denmark's Jyllands-Posten. He led his own Danish Wakf -- Danish Islamic community -- in Copenhagen.
Laban declared Sayid Qutb, the Muslim Brotherhood's chief ideologue, to be his role model, and was a frequent guest preacher at one of the basement mosques of the Swedish Cultural Association in Rosengård (a crime-ridden, infamous no-go zone in Malmö).
Already in 2006, Abu Laban told the daily Sydsvenskan that he wanted to "help" his Swedish Muslim friends establish a new mosque. Abu Laban and Ammar Daoud were unhappy with the existing mosque in Malmö, Islamic Center Mosque, which Abu Laban derisively labelled "Islam-light".
In 2010, Khaled Assi, head of the Swedish Wakf (a position he still holds today), told a Swedish journalist that he was "inspired" by Abu Laban and his Wakf in Denmark. When the journalist asked Khaled Assi whether his organization was in fact building a mosque, he told her that "there already is a mosque in Malmö" and that the "cultural center" would just contain a "small prayer room". Asked about the financing of the project, Assi said that the Wakf was "unassociated with any organization" and that all financial contributors were "individuals from Malmö and Skåne", although they would also approach "individuals" abroad.
At the opening of the mega-mosque of the Wakf on April 28, Malmö City Councilor Frida Trollmyr gave a speech in which she continued to use the term "cultural center", never using the word "mosque", as if -- Soviet style -- the use of certain words could alter reality:
"In many ways, this cultural center is unique but at the same time it is one of many meeting places that has contributed to the diversity that has made Malmö into the city it is today. We Malmöites know what this diversity entails and all its strength -- it is that which has made Malmö into the city it is today."
Trollmyr's speech will go down in history as the moment Malmö municipality finally submitted completely to Islam.
When the Swedish independent news site, Samtiden, tried to reach Trollmyr for comment on how the new gender-separated mosque corresponds to Swedish values about gender equality, about Trollmyr's views on the financing of mega-mosques by foreign dictatorships, and what this entails for Malmö with regards to radicalization, Trollmyr's secretary informed Samtiden that the politician did not have time to answer the questions.
In the former democracy of Sweden, politicians are no longer answerable to the citizens, and can apparently cover up whatever topics they choose, no matter how detrimental to the people who elected them. The mainstream media willingly collude with the authorities by uniformly ignoring the issue.
One would have thought, however, that at least one mainstream Swedish journalist would be interested in uncovering the cover-up of the Swedish authorities. Here are some of the many unanswered questions:
How did a project that the Malmö municipality approved as a "cultural center" end up as the largest mosque in Scandinavia?
How did an organization, the Swedish Wakf, which is supposed to be "politically independent", and which said it was collecting its financing from local Muslims, end up having its mosque bought and paid for by Qatar, the primary exporter -- along with Saudi Arabia -- of Wahhabism in the world?
When did Sweden become a province of the dictatorship of Qatar, where the presence of Qatari government officials at the opening of a Qatari-funded mosque in a major Swedish city does not elicit the slightest media attention, let alone criticism, as if this kind of occurrence were the most routine order of the day? Instead, the only Swedish reaction is an embarrassingly sycophantic speech by a representative of the Malmö municipality.
In short, when did the Swedish population vote to become a Qatari protectorate?
*Judith Bergman is a writer, columnist, lawyer and political analyst.
© 2017 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.