November 25/17

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations
Do you gain anything if you win the whole world but lose your life?
Mark 08/31-38: "Then Jesus began to teach his disciples: “The Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law. He will be put to death, but three days later he will rise to life.” He made this very clear to them. So Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But Jesus turned around, looked at his disciples, and rebuked Peter. “Get away from me, Satan,” he said. “Your thoughts don't come from God but from human nature!” Then Jesus called the crowd and his disciples to him. “If any of you want to come with me,” he told them, “you must forget yourself, carry your cross, and follow me. For if you want to save your own life, you will lose it; but if you lose your life for me and for the gospel, you will save it. Do you gain anything if you win the whole world but lose your life? Of course not! 37 There is nothing you can give to regain your life. If you are ashamed of me and of my teaching in this godless and wicked day, then the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on November 24-25/17
Saudi Arabia’s Arab Spring, at Last/Thomas L.Friedman/New York Times/November 23/17
Muslim Brotherhood and the origins of terrorism/Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/November 24/17
Why Mugabe is still seen by some as a hero/Faisal al-Yafai/Al Arabiya/November 24/17
Democracy and secularism between Jabri and Tarabichi/Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran/Al Arabiya/November 24/17
Sochi Summit: Is the Syrian crisis nearing resolution/Shehab Al-Makahleh/Al Arabiya/November 24/17
Why UK-US divide on Iranian nuclear deal matters/Kasra Aarabi/Al Monitor/November 24/2017
IDF prepares for 'new' Syria/Ben Caspit/Al Monitor/November 24/2017
The Expanding Umbrella of Anti-Semitism/Nonie Darwish/Gatestone Institute/November 24/2017
Angela Merkel’s Failure May Be Just What Europe Needs/Ross Douthat/The New York Times /November 24/2017
Exclusive- Lebanon: Is Cheat-and-Retreat Back on the Menu/Amir Taheri/Asharq Al Awsat/November 24/17
40 years since Sadat visit: ‘Israel had snipers ready on the rooftops’/Adi Rosenberg, Amir Bogen/Ynetnews/November 24/17

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on November 24-25/17
Hariri is Back and So is Lebanon's Status Quo
Hariri: Pending Resignation an Opportunity to Realize that Dissociation Policy Protects Lebanon
Jumblat Replies to Jafari's Comments, Says Lebanon Rejects 'Iranian Dictates'
EU Ambassador Christina Lassen Meets Hariri
Saudi Arabia Invites Lebanon to IMCTC, Aoun Delegates Sarraf
Hizbullah Hails Hariri Moves Describes Them as 'Positive'
With Six Months to Go: Lebanon Needs Its Women
Lebanon's Jumblatt criticizes Saudi over Hariri
Arab Banking Conference Held in Beirut to Set Regional Reconstruction Strategy
Iran Admits Supporting Houthis, Holds onto 'Hezbollah’s' Arms
State Security: Ziad Itani arrested on charges of collaborating with Israeli enemy
Bassil contacts his Egyptian counterpart, underlines necessity to eradicate terrorism
Berri cables alSisi, deplores terrorist attack on Egyptian Sinai
Mashnouk: Crisis not over
Aoun cables alSisi, denounces terror attack on Egyptian Sinai

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on November 24-25/17
Toll in Egypt mosque bomb attack reaches 235
Saudi Crown Prince Condemns Egyptian North Sinai Mosque Attack as 'Cowardly'
Iran Slams Bin Salman's 'Scandalous Intervention in Lebanese Affairs'
U.S. National Security Adviser Tells Hariri U.S. Committed to Lebanon Stability
False Terror Alert Sparks Fear in London Shopping District
Satirist Ziad Itani Held on Charges of 'Collaborating with Israel'
Saudi Crown Prince Calls Iran's Supreme Leader 'New Hitler'
Palestinian Reconciliation Sessions Conclude, Avoid Thorny Files
Sisi: We will strongly respond to the massacre of Al-Arish Mosque
Mohammed bin Salman: Not reinterpreting Islam, but restoring it to its origins
Russia to reduce Syria presence by year’s end
National security topping the Sudanese agenda during Russia visit

Latest Lebanese Related News published on November 24-25/17
Hariri is Back and So is Lebanon's Status Quo
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/November 24/17/His shock resignation and mysterious stay in Saudi Arabia had sparked fears of chaos but Prime Minister Saad Hariri's homecoming appears to signal a return to what Lebanon's political class does best: the status quo.
The past three weeks saw an unprecedented episode in Lebanon's rocky political history that started with the premier popping up on television from Saudi Arabia to announce his resignation. He cited threats to his life, blamed Iran for the region's woes, and then he appeared again for a television interview days later with an exhausted and worried look that prompted rumors he was in fact being detained by the Saudis. Some Lebanese residents started packing their bags, fearing yet another institutional crisis or, worse, a devaluation of the currency and even a return to armed civil strife. When he returned late Tuesday, after what looked like an "exfiltration" by France, he hinted he was open to dialogue with Hizbullah and froze his resignation, with the blessing of the president, who is also a political rival. The circumstances of his trip to Saudi Arabia and almost three-week absence remain a mystery but Lebanon's fractious leaders now seem to be busy with the familiar task of seeking an often sterile but reassuring consensus. "We're back to one these wonky deals Lebanon knows so well, a compromise nobody is really happy with," said Paris-based analyst Karim Bitar. Even Iran-backed Hizbullah, whose military arsenal is central to the main rift in Lebanese politics, appeared pleased to have Hariri home and contemplate "a glimpse of a return to normalcy."
'Gaping vacuum'
French-Lebanese analyst Ziad Majed said the leadership in Beirut was now engaged in "a damage control exercise."Lebanon will find itself "in a state of waiting, on standby, to make sure things do not spiral out of control."The Saudi-backed 47-year-old Hariri, a prime minister for the second time, had formed a coalition government late last year that includes Hizbullah. Such deals can be crippling for reform but afford the small country some level of protection from flare-ups between the various political patrons of its different factions. "For now, the government is temporarily resuscitated. With its revival, the Lebanese people are getting back one gaping vacuum," the French-language Beirut daily L'Orient-Le Jour wrote in an editorial Friday. Hariri was among Lebanon's leaders celebrating Independence Day on Wednesday and there are now few visible signs that the former French colony just experienced one of the most outlandish sequences in its recent history. "Hariri has bought himself more time but none of the core issues are solved. In the coming months, he's going to be right in the crossfire," Bitar predicted. "One the one hand, he will have to lead this government that includes Hizbullah, and on the other he can't stray too far from the line imposed by Saudi Arabia," he said.
'Weak consensus'
A European diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Saudi Arabia probably realized they had gone too far by "forcing" Hariri to resign. "The Saudis have no strategy in Lebanon, the way they handle things is dictated by their outbursts and their frustrations," the diplomat said. "Lebanon is the kingdom of weak consensus, something the Saudis hate. "They want to contain Hizbullah but every time they try, they find themselves losing ground," he said. It remains unclear what the terms of Hariri's return were but analysts said that while the issue of Hizbullah's arsenal would remain non-negotiable, the group's involvement in foreign conflicts could be on the table. "Lebanon cannot bear the burden of Hizbullah's expansion," Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq said in an interview on Thursday, referring to the group's presence in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Hariri is resuming a tough balancing act but his recent emphasis on "disassociation" from regional power struggles and on giving priority to Lebanon sounds like wishful thinking, according to analysts. "Without a real Saudi-Iranian modus vivendi, it's hard to see how Lebanon can be fully sheltered from regional turmoil," Bitar said.

Hariri: Pending Resignation an Opportunity to Realize that Dissociation Policy Protects Lebanon
Naharnet/November 24/17/Prime Minister Saad Hariri stressed that his decision to put his resignation on hold paves way for political parties to realize that implementing the dissociation policy protects Lebanon from regional problems, Hariri's media office said in a statement on Friday. “The option of delaying (the resignation) allows somewhere for all political parties to make sure that distancing (Lebanon) oneself from everything that is happening around us is the basic policy that protects Lebanon from any problems in the region,” said Hariri. Stressing the need for dialogue, he added: “We have to sit for dialogue in order to reach the shore's safety and preserve the safety of Lebanon, the Lebanese and our brethren relations with the entire Arab states, which too have the right to protect their own safety. “We want to maintain the best relations with Saudi Arabia,” stressed the Premier. Hariri's remarks came during a meeting with Grand Mufti of the Republic Abdul Latif Deryan heading a delegation of muftis from different Lebanese regions on Thursday.

Jumblat Replies to Jafari's Comments, Says Lebanon Rejects 'Iranian Dictates'

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/November 24/17/Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat denounced on Friday what he described as “Iranian dictates” assuring that the Lebanese are well aware of their own interests and able to address their own affairs. “As the Lebanese have disapproved the unusual manner that some Saudi circles have used in dealing with (PM) Sheikh Saad, we reject this Iranian dictates by the commander of the Revolutionary Guards Mohammed Ali Jafari” said Jumblat in a tweet on Friday. “The Lebanese have the experience and know-how to deal with their issues through dialogue,” added the MP. On Thursday, Jafari said the issue of Hizbullah's arms is "non-negotiable." He said Lebanon remains Israel's first target, adding that therefore Hizbullah should be armed against it to maintain security in Lebanon. "It is natural that Hizbullah should be equipped with the best weapons for its security. This issue is not negotiable, and all of Lebanon, except a number of little puppets, support the arming of Hizbullah," he said, according to comments in the Iranian semi-official Fars news agency. Jumblat, head of the Democratic Gathering bloc, had met with Hariri Thursday evening at the Center House accompanied by MP Wael Abu Faour and in the presence of Culture Minister Ghattas Khoury. “We, the country and Sheikh Saad went through an exceptional situation but of course it was solved wisely and politically, thanks to the wisdom of Sheikh Saad and all parties in Lebanon, if not all at least the majority. Now we have a new start,” Jumblat had stated. Hariri, who returned from a mysterious nearly three-week-long stay abroad, had caused widespread perplexity on November 4 when he resigned during a TV broadcast from Saudi Arabia, citing assassination threats as well as the negative impact on Lebanon and the region of Hizbullah and its Iranian patrons. After a puzzling mini-odyssey that took him to France, Egypt and Cyprus, Hariri arrived back in his homeland on Tuesday and then announced that he was putting his decision to quit on hold ahead of negotiations.

EU Ambassador Christina Lassen Meets Hariri
Naharnet/November 24/17/European Union Ambassador to Lebanon Christina Lassen met on Friday with Prime Minister Saad Hariri and discussed the recent developments in the country and EU-Lebanon relations. Lassen welcomed Hariri's return to the country. She expressed hope for a constructive dialogue among political parties carried by a joint understanding of the importance of the stability, unity, integrity and sovereignty of Lebanon and its people. She also commended the Prime Minister for his efforts to safeguard the stability and security of the country. "Lebanon's independence and stability is a priority for the European Union amidst the regional turmoil," Lassen said. She underlined that the EU will continue to work together with Lebanon to build on the achievements accomplished, including the holding of timely parliamentary elections next year. "We will pursue our support to the Lebanese institutions, army, security agencies and to the people of Lebanon to respond to the current challenges in the spirit of our longstanding partnership with the country. Our commitment in support of Lebanon is firm and lasting," Lassen stressed.

Saudi Arabia Invites Lebanon to IMCTC, Aoun Delegates Sarraf
Naharnet/November 24/17/President Michel Aoun tasked Defense Minister Yaacoub Sarraf to participate in the Riyadh conference of the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC) of defense ministers at the invitation of Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz. Aoun has conveyed his thanks to the Saudi King for his invitation. The IMCTC is a 41-nation pan-Islamic coalition united in the fight against terror. IMCTC meeting will hold their first meeting in Riyadh on November 26 under the theme Allied against Terrorism, the Saudi Press Agency reported. It will be held in participation of the member states' defense ministers and the diplomatic missions accredited to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Hizbullah Hails Hariri Moves Describes Them as 'Positive'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/November 24/17/ Hizbullah has welcomed Prime Minister Saad Hariri's decision to suspend his resignation pending talks describing his move as “positive.”Hariri, who returned from a mysterious nearly three-week-long stay abroad, had caused widespread perplexity on November 4 when he resigned during a TV broadcast from Saudi Arabia, citing assassination threats as well as the negative impact on Lebanon and the region of Hizbullah and its Iranian patrons. After a puzzling mini-odyssey that took him to France, Egypt and Cyprus, Hariri arrived back in his homeland on Tuesday and then announced that he was putting his decision to quit on hold ahead of negotiations. Hizbullah's parliamentary group said in a statement Thursday that the party was "very satisfied with the political developments"."The return of the head of government, his positive comments and the consultations offer a glimpse of a return to normalcy," it said. Hariri, a 47-year-old Sunni politician whose family made its fortune in Saudi Arabia and whose Future Movement is supported by Riyadh, said upon his return that Lebanon should remain neutral in the region. His resignation had raised fears of a escalation between the region's Sunni and Shiite powerhouses Saudi Arabia and Iran. Hizbullah's arsenal outstrips that of Lebanon's own armed forces and the Shiite group is the only faction not to have laid down its weapons after the civil war that tore the country apart between 1975 and 1990. Many questions remain unanswered following the unprecedented scenario that saw Lebanon's prime minister resign in a foreign country suspected of keeping him under house arrest and return only after the apparent intervention of France. But while Hariri and his backers seemed on a collision course with Hizbullah only a few days ago, an apparent behind-the-scenes deal now appears to be restoring the status quo.

With Six Months to Go: Lebanon Needs Its Women
Naharnet/November 24/17/The National Democratic Institute (NDI), commemorating the 10th Anniversary of the “Win With Women” global initiative which supports action to achieve the full integration of women in political parties and independent movements, has held a conference in partnership with Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD), sponsored by the British Embassy in Lebanon.
British Ambassador to Lebanon Hugo Shorter delivered opening remarks.
“As the lists are drawn up in the next few months, I and the ISG (International Support Group for Lebanon) will continue to meet all parties to discuss the electoral benefits to them of appointing women candidates,” said Shorter. “Our internal polling and research in Lebanon – as well as our experience in the UK – show that younger and first-time voters will seek out lists containing women, and will reward parties that lead the way. There are votes in putting women on the ballot and so, with 6 months to go, Lebanon needs its ladies,” the ambassador added. Following Shorter’s remarks and remarks by Minister of Women’s Affairs Jean Oghassabian, an interactive panel addressed comparative opportunities for women in politics. The panel Discussion Speakers included Fatimazahra Barassat, Member of Parliament (Morocco), Clare Short, former State Secretary for International Development, Member of Parliament, House of Commons (UK), Colin Bloom, former International Secretary, Conservative Party (UK) and was moderated by Abir Chebaro, Ministry of Women's Affairs. Women and men across partisan lines gathered with their allies in civil society and government to consider what tangible steps each could take before parliamentary elections to further women’s participation. The group signed a pledge, committing to support one another. NDI is a non-profit organization working to “strengthen and expand democracy worldwide.” NDI “works with democrats in every region of the world to build political and civic organizations, safeguard elections, and promote citizen participation, openness, and accountability in government.”More information about its programs may be found at Westminster Foundation for Democracy “shares the full breadth of the UK’s democratic experience by bringing together UK expertise on parliaments, political parties and elections,” according to a British Embassy statement.“After 25 years cultivating relationships and evolving its programming, WFD has the institutional access and robust methodologies to strengthen democracies around the world,” the statement added.

Lebanon's Jumblatt criticizes Saudi over Hariri
BEIRUT (Reuters) November 24/17/Lebanese Druze politician Walid Jumblatt on Friday criticized the way Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri had been treated by “some Saudi circles”, the first time he has appeared to direct blame at Riyadh over Hariri’s resignation this month.Jumblatt also condemned Iranian “dictates”, an apparent response to a statement by the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards this week that disarming of the Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah was out of the question. Lebanese officials say Saudi Arabia put Hariri under effective house arrest in Riyadh and forced him to declare his resignation on Nov. 4. Saudi Arabia has denied holding Hariri against his will or forcing him to resign. Hariri shelved his resignation on Wednesday after returning to Beirut this week following an intervention by France. His resignation had thrust Lebanon to the forefront of the regional tussle between the Sunni monarchy of Saudi Arabia and Shi‘ite Islamist Iran. “As Lebanese disapproved the unaccustomed way that Sheikh Saad was dealt with by some Saudi circles, we reject this Iranian diktat from Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of the Revolutionary Guards,” Jumblatt wrote. He appeared to be referring to Jafari’s comment that disarming the Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah was out of the question. “The Lebanese have enough experience and knowledge to deal with their affairs through dialogue. We do not want dictates from across the borders that go against their interests,” Jumblatt said. Announcing his decision to suspend his resignation, Hariri stressed Lebanon must stick by its stated policy of staying out of regional conflicts, a reference to Hezbollah whose regional military role is a source of deep concern in Saudi Arabia.
Writing by Tom Perry; editing by Ralph Boulton

Arab Banking Conference Held in Beirut to Set Regional Reconstruction Strategy
Asharq Al-Awsat English/Friday, 24 November, 2017/The annual Arab Banking Conference kicked off on Thursday in Beirut with the participation of senior Arab officials from the economic, financial and political sectors, to discuss reconstruction and development efforts in the region in the wake of economic challenges.Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said that the cost of destruction caused by conflicts, internal rifts and wars in Arab countries since 2011 has exceeded $640 billion, calling for “overcoming narrow interests and seizing the opportunity of Arab determination for reconstruction.”
Chairman of the Union of Arab Banks, Sheikh Mohammed Al-Jarrah Al Sabah, said that the aim of the conference was to adopt an integrated initiative for reconstruction and development in the Arab world with the participation of governments and the private sector. Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri participated in the conference and emphasized in his speech the importance of maintaining good relations between Lebanon and its Arab neighbors. He reaffirmed the need for Lebanon to stick by its policy of staying out of regional conflict “not just with words but with action as well.”“I want to stress that ... our main concern is stability, and this is what we’ll be working on,” he added. Lebanon’s Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh underlined the importance of implementing international standards to keep the Lebanese banking sector engaged in banking globalization. He noted that the sector “has a major importance in economic development,” pointing out that “Banque du Liban” is making great efforts to develop financial coverage. Salameh also said that the Lebanese banking sector had sufficient reserves to counter any economic slowdown.

Iran Admits Supporting Houthis, Holds onto 'Hezbollah’s' Arms
London - Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 24 November, 2017/Iran confirmed on Thursday that it was determined to support its Houthi ally in Yemen and stressed on refusing to discuss pulling out the arms of its other ally in Lebanon, “Hezbollah.”Iranian state television quoted chief commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari as saying that the republic provides "advisory assistance" for Yemeni Houthi militants. "Today, Yemen is ruled by Ansarullah movement, and Iran provides much-needed advisory and spiritual assistance to them. The republic will not withhold the assistance and will continue providing it,” Jafari said on Thursday. The Iranian general lauded Iran’s allies in the region, and praised what he called the “resistance front” that stretches from Tehran to Beirut. According to Reuters, Jafari said: “We directly deal with global arrogance and Israel, not with their emissaries... That is why we do not want to have direct confrontation with Saudi Arabia.” The term global arrogance refers to the US. He also said that Hezbollah must be armed to fight against the enemy of the Lebanese nation, which is Israel. “Naturally they should have the best weapons to protect Lebanon’s security. This issue is non-negotiable.”Commenting on the situation in Syria, the Iranian general said that the “Revolutionary Guards is ready to play an active role in achieving a lasting ceasefire in Syria and the reconstruction of the country.”“In meetings with the (Iran) government, it was agreed that the Guards were in a better position to help Syria’s reconstruction ... the preliminary talks have already been held with the Syrian government over the issue,” Jafari said. He reiterated Tehran’s stance concerning its disputed ballistic missile work, adding that the Republic’s missile program is for defensive purposes and not up for negotiation. “Iran will not negotiate its defensive program ... there will be no talks about it,” Jafari said.

State Security: Ziad Itani arrested on charges of collaborating with Israeli enemy
Fri 24 Nov 2017NNA - State Security arrested on 23/11/2017 the Lebanese Actor and Playwright, Ziad Ahmed Itani, on charges of collaborating and communicating with the Israeli enemy, State Security Directorate General said in a communiqué on Friday. After several months of monitoring, follow-up and investigations within and outside Lebanese territories, a specialized unit of the State Security, under direct instructions and orders from the Director General, Major General Tony Saliba, managed to virtually confirm the offenses against the suspect Ziad Itani. During interrogation, Itani confessed to his charges, and acknowledged the tasks he was assigned to implement in Lebanon. Itani acknowledged that he was tasked to monitor a group of high-level political figures, and consolidate relationships with their close associates, in order to get the most details about their lives and jobs and focus on their movements. He was also tasked to provide them with extensive information on two prominent political figures, whose identity will be disclosed in subsequent statements. The General Directorate follows up on this dossier under the supervision of the concerned judiciary.

Bassil contacts his Egyptian counterpart, underlines necessity to eradicate terrorism

Fri 24 Nov 2017/NNA - Foreign and Expatriates Minister, Gibran Bassil, on Friday contacted his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shukri, expressing condoleneces on the fallen victims of the terrorist attack that targeted al-Rawda mosque in the northern Egyptian Sinai, which left scores dead and wounded.
Bassil affirmed Lebanon's stand beside Egypt in this painful affliction, underlining the dire necessity of combating terrorism and drying up its resources.

Berri cables alSisi, deplores terrorist attack on Egyptian Sinai
Fri 24 Nov 2017/NNA - House Speaker, Nabih Berri, on Friday cabled Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, sternly deploring the "terrorist attack" that targeted al-Rawda mosque in the northern Egyptian Sinai, which left scores dead and wounded. Speaker Berri extended his sincere condolences on the fallen victims of the heinous attack, wishing the wounded a speedy recovery.Berri underlined in his cable "cooperation in the face of terrorism.""This massacre represents one of the highest levels of organized crime that targeted Egypt and targets its counterparts at the level of our Arab countries," Berri said, stressing that such matter necessitates the highest degree of coordination at the security levels and a unified confrontation to dry up terrorism resources and sources. Berri sent a similar cable of condolences to Egyptian House Speaker, Ali Abdel Aal, deploring such a heinous terror attack.

Mashnouk: Crisis not over
Fri 24 Nov 2017/NNA - The crisis in Lebanon is not over, Interior and Municipalities Minister, Nouhad Mashnouk, said on Friday. "The crisis in Lebanon is external rather than internal; it requires calm and serious treatment to strengthen stability and spare the country from any sort of external siege," the Minister said in a televised interview. Moreover, the Interior Minister stressed that the Arab world and the international community could no longer accept the idea of having Hezbollah continue playing roles outside Lebanon. Touching on his so-called secret visit to Cairo, Mashnouk said that it only paved the way for Prime Minister Saad Hariri's visit to Cairo. "The visit was not held in secret. I traveled from Beirut airport and did not travel in an underwater submarine. I went for hours to Egypt, whose president is balanced and wise, and whose policy supports the stability of Lebanon," Mashnouk explained. Furthermore, Mashnouk called on the Lebanese political sides to acknowledge the existence of a Lebanese-Arab political crisis over Hezbollah's policy outside of Lebanon. "Placing this issue on the table of negotiations has become substantial. The Prime Minister is keen on engaging in negotiations pertaining to self-dissociation, its strategy, and its rules in the concerned states," he added. The Minister went on to say that the Lebanese President and House Speaker were not far in thought pertaining to the means to discuss Lebanon's dissociation policy with the Prime Minister. Also, Mashnouk said that Saudi Arabia was not outside the framework of the Arab and international understandings that were currently taking place, and affirmed that the KSA also read between the lines of Hariri's decision to reconsider his resignation.

Aoun cables alSisi, denounces terror attack on Egyptian Sinai

Fri 24 Nov 2017/NNA - President of the Republic, Michel Aoun, on Friday cabled Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, sternly deploring the "heinous terrorist attack" that targeted al-Rawda mosque in the northern Egyptian Sinai, which left scores dead and wounded. President Aoun extended his sincere condolences to the families of fallen victims, wishing the wounded a speedy recovery. Aoun reiterated Lebanon's stand beside Egypt, its leadership and people, in the fight against terrorism and the need to eradicate it wherever it exists. "This cowardly act against citizens who were at a worship place proves beyond doubts that terrorism denies all heavenly religions, and it only believes in criminality and murder," Aoun said. On the other hand, Aoun met this afternoon at the Baabda palace with a delegation of the International Federation of Arab Bankers, following the end of the conference, who partook in the annual Arab Banking Conference 2017 in Beirut. Aoun deemed the holding of the Arab banking conference in Beirut as "a renewed confidence in Lebanon, especially in terms of the security and political stability it is enjoying for more than a year."The President stressed that "the priority remains in maintaining civil peace and national unity and the advancement of the economy in the various sectors." Aoun pointed out that Lebanon's victory over the terrorist organizations which attempted to destabilize the country was "an important development in the fight against terrorism."

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on November 24-25/17
Toll in Egypt mosque bomb attack reaches 235
Al Arabiya English/November 24/2017 /235 people have been killed, according to a statement by the Egyptian Attorney General, in a bomb expolosion and gunmen attack on a mosque in Egypt on Friday. Gunmen opened fire and detonated a bomb in the village of al-Rawda in al-Areesh in northern Sinai during Friday prayers. At least 109 people were injured in the attack, Egyptian state television reported. Eye witness reports say that the militiants were dressed in military uniforms and drove four 4x4 vehicles in the attack. Ministry of Health sources said that the attackers have also opened fire on ambulances carrying the injured. The Egyptian military is pursuing the gunmen in an operation that is led by the armed forces Chief of Staff. A state of emergency has been announced in Cairo. Eyewitnesses told Al-Arabiya that the terrorists set fire to cars after shooting worshippers at the mosque and then cut off the road leading to the village. President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi held an urgent meeting of the Security Committee, which includes the ministers of defense and interior and the head of the General Intelligence Service, to discuss the repercussions of the mosque incident and the security situation in Sinai in general. The Presidency of the Republic also declared mourning for 3 days in remembrance of the victims of the bombing of Al-Rawda mosque. The mosque in Rawda village where the attack took place on Friday.
A security source has told Al Arabiya that military and police are engaging the gunmen while residents of the village of Rawda have refused to provide shelter to the attackers. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has instructed the military and police to secure all religious sites in Sinai after the attack. Egyptian authorities earleir closed the recently opened Rafah border passage with Gaza after the attack citing security concerns. The Presidency of the Egyptian Republic condemned the attack and in a statement said: “Justice will meted out to all those who participated, supported, financed and instigated the attack of North Sinai.”“The treacherous work will not pass without decisive retaliation,” the statement read. The Presidency of the Republic added that Egypt will win the war it is waging with “honor and strength” against terrorism. Egyptian president Sisi with the security committee which includes the ministers of defense and interior and director of intelligence investigating the Friday attacck.
In July this year, at least 23 soldiers were killed when suicide car bombs hit two military checkpoints in the Sinai, an attack claimed by ISIS. Militants have tried to expand beyond the largely barren, Sinai Peninsula into Egypt’s heavily populated mainland, hitting Coptic Christian churches and pilgrims.In May, gunmen attacked a Coptic group traveling to a monastery in southern Egypt, killing 29. Jordan condemned the attack and described it as barbaric and cowardly. The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain also condemned the attack along with the Arab league and the Organization of Islamic Countries.
The US and Britain also affirmed their stance with Egypt against terrorism. Egypt’s two religious authorities also condemned the gruesome attack today with statements issued from the Azhar mosque and the Orthodox Church of Egypt.

Saudi Crown Prince Condemns Egyptian North Sinai Mosque Attack as 'Cowardly'

Riyadh - Asharq Al-Awsat English/Friday, 24 November, 2017/Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz sent a cable of condolences and consolation to Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on the victims of a terrorist attack on a mosque, in Northern Sinai. "I am deeply saddened by the cowardly terrorist act that targeted a mosque, in northern Sinai, and resulting deaths and injuries, the Crown Prince said. "I condemn this criminal act of terrorism which targeted lives of innocent worshipers, in a house of God, and as I convey to your Excellency, the fraternal people of the Egypt and the families of the dead, I offer deepest condolences and consolation, asking the Almighty Allah to bestow mercy on the deceased and to provide the injured, with speedy recovery", the Crown Prince's cable concluded. At least 235 people were killed and another 109 injured in an attack Friday on a Sufi mosque, Egyptian state-run media reported, in what appears to be the deadliest terror attack on Egyptian soil. After at least two explosions, gunmen who were waiting outside the mosque opened fire at worshipers as they fled Friday prayers, state-owned Ahram Online said.

Iran Slams Bin Salman's 'Scandalous Intervention in Lebanese Affairs'
Associated Press/Naharnet/November 24/17/Iran's Foreign Ministry on Friday took aim at Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, describing him as "adventurous" and accusing him of "scandalous intervention in Lebanese domestic affairs.""The mistakes by the adventurous Saudi crown prince, the latest of which is the scandalous intervention in Lebanese domestic affairs, have caused trouble even for their traditional allies," Iran's Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said, suggesting that MBS was behind Prime Minister Saad Hariri's surprising Nov. 4 resignation announcement, which the PM reversed on Wednesday. Ghasemi added that MBS' earlier remarks calling Iran's supreme leader the "new Hitler" were "immature, misjudged and worthless."Tensions spiked between two countries after a missile fired by Yemen's Shiite rebels, believed by Saudi Arabia to have been supplied by Iran, was intercepted outside Riyadh on Nov 4.

U.S. National Security Adviser Tells Hariri U.S. Committed to Lebanon Stability

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/November 24/17/Prime Minister Saad Hariri received Friday evening a phone call from U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Hariri's office said. The U.S. official assured the premier of “the American administration's commitment to Lebanon's stability and its support for the state and its legitimate institutions,” Hariri's office added. The talks come after Hariri announced Wednesday that he was suspending his resignation pending talks with the Lebanese parties, after he returned from a mysterious, nearly three-week-long stay abroad. Hariri had caused widespread perplexity on November 4 when he resigned during a TV broadcast from Saudi Arabia, citing assassination threats as well as the policies of Hizbullah and Iran in Lebanon and the region. His resignation had raised fears of an escalation between the region's Sunni and Shiite powerhouses Saudi Arabia and Iran. Many questions remain unanswered following the unprecedented scenario that saw Lebanon's prime minister resign in a foreign country suspected of keeping him under house arrest and return only after the apparent intervention of France. But while Hariri and his backers seemed on a collision course with Hizbullah only a few days ago, an apparent behind-the-scenes deal now appears to be restoring the status quo.

False Terror Alert Sparks Fear in London Shopping District

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/November 24/17/Armed police rushed to London's busy Oxford Street shopping district on Friday after reports of shots fired sparked fears of a terror incident, but authorities said it was a false alarm.
There was panic around Oxford Circus and in its underground station shortly after 4:30 pm (1630 GMT), as police said they were responding "as if the incident is terrorist-related."Crowds ran from the scene, many rushing into already packed shops for safety, reflecting the nervousness in a country that has seen five terror attacks since March. But just over an hour later, the Metropolitan Police said: "To date police have not located any trace of any suspects, evidence of shots fired or casualties. "Officers continue to work with colleagues from British Transport Police in the area of Oxford Circus."A short time later, they tweeted: "Our response on #OxfordStreet has now been stood down. "If you sought shelter in a building please now leave, and follow the direction of police officers on the ground if you need assistance."
Numerous emergency calls
Oxford Circus, the junction of London's Oxford Street and Regent Street, was packed with shoppers seeking to take advantage of "Black Friday" bargains. The British Transport Police said they had received one report of a woman sustaining a minor injury when leaving the station. Shopper Ahlam Ibrahim told AFP she was pushed into a shop when people started shouting. "We didn't know what was going on, it was really a nightmare. I am glad nobody was hurt," she said. Transport authorities said Oxford Circus station was reopened, as was nearby Bond Street, which had been closed amid fears of overcrowding. Trains were stopping at both. In the first statement, police said they were called at 4:38 pm "to a number of reports of shots fired on Oxford Street and underground at Oxford Circus tube station... Police have responded as if the incident is terrorist related."They later said there were "numerous 999 (emergency) calls" reporting shots fired in a number of locations in the area. British security forces are on high alert after a string of attacks this year, which have left scores of people dead.The most recent involved a bomb on a packed London Underground train in south-west London in September, which injured 30 people. A teenager is facing trial for attempted murder.

Satirist Ziad Itani Held on Charges of 'Collaborating with Israel'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/November 24/17/Prominent satirical actor and playwright Ziad Itani has been arrested on charges of “collaborating with the Israeli enemy,” Lebanon's State Security agency confirmed on Friday evening. In a statement, State Security said Itani was arrested in a “special preemptive counter-espionage operation” after “several months of surveillance, follow-up and investigations inside and outside Lebanon.”“During interrogation, and after being faced with proofs and evidence, he confessed to the charges and to the missions he was tasked to carry out in Lebanon,” State Security added. It said the tasks involved “monitoring a number of senior political figures and deepening ties with their close assistants with the aim of obtaining from them the largest number of details pertaining to their lives and tasks with an emphasis on their movements.”According to the statement, the Israelis also asked Itani to provide them with “extensive information about two prominent politicians, whose identities will be revealed in later statements.”The detainee had also been tasked with “working on the formation of a Lebanese network that paves the way for advancing the principle of normalization with Israel and promoting Zionist thought among intellectuals” in addition to “submitting reports about the responses of all components of Lebanese society after the political developments of the past two weeks in the Lebanese arena.”“The Directorate General of State Security is following up on the detainee's case under the supervision of the competent judicial authorities and further details will be disclosed to the Lebanese public opinion in due time,” State Security added. Itani's brother, Riad, confirmed to An Nahar newspaper in a phone call that “Ziad has been detained since yesterday and is undergoing interrogation.”“The family has not been able to contact him to know the reasons behind his arrest,” Riad added. A security source meanwhile told al-Jadeed television that Itani has “confessed to contacting a female Israeli officer in Turkey who asked for information related to a plot to assassinate Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq and ex-minister Abdul Rahim Mrad.” “Itani confessed to receiving money transfers from the Israeli officer, who was supposed to meet him in Lebanon after entering the country using a foreign passport,” the source added. Journalist Joseph Abu Fadel told MTV that the Israeli officer was supposed to stay at the al-Bustan Hotel in Beit Mery. “Itani confessed to the charges and State Security chief Maj. Gen. Antoine Saliba communicated with the president, the premier and a number of security chiefs to brief them on the details of this case,” Abu Fadel added. The actor, writer and comedian has shot to prominence in recent years because of a series of comedy plays on Lebanese capital Beirut, its customs and the transformations it has undergone in recent decades. The works -- particularly "Beirut Tariq al-Jdideh", which refers to a majority-Sunni neighborhood of the city -- have been very well-received. Before becoming an actor, Itani worked as a reporter with Lebanon-based, pan-Arab al-Mayadeen television channel and with various regional newspapers.

Saudi Crown Prince Calls Iran's Supreme Leader 'New Hitler'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/November 24/17/Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has denounced Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the "new Hitler of the Middle East", as tensions simmer between the regional rivals. Saudi Arabia and its arch-rival Iran have traded a bitter war of words after a missile fired from Yemen was intercepted near Riyadh airport on November 4. The missile was claimed by Yemen's Tehran-backed Huthi rebels. Iran's "supreme leader is the new Hitler of the Middle East", Prince Mohammed told The New York Times in an interview published Thursday. "We learned from Europe that appeasement doesn't work. We don't want the new Hitler in Iran to repeat what happened in Europe in the Middle East."Tehran has strongly denied supplying any missiles to the rebels, and President Hassan Rouhani has warned Saudi Arabia of Iran's "might".
The spike in tensions coincides with Prince Mohammed's new anti-corruption purge, which saw around 200 elites including princes, ministers and business tycoons arrested or sacked earlier this month. The prince described as "ludicrous" reports equating the crackdown to a power grab, saying that many of those detained at Riyadh's opulent Ritz-Carlton hotel had already pledged allegiance to him. "A majority of the royal family" is behind him, the prince said, dismissing longstanding rumours of internal opposition to his meteoric rise. He said 95 percent of those detained agree to a "settlement", or handing over ill-gotten gains to the Saudi state treasury. Saudi Arabia's attorney general estimates at least $100 billion has been misused in embezzlement or corruption over several decades. Authorities have frozen the bank accounts of the accused and warned assets related to the alleged graft cases would be seized as state property, in what they describe as a top-down approach to battling endemic corruption. "About one percent are able to prove they are clean and their case is dropped right there. About four percent say they are not corrupt and with their lawyers want to go to court," the prince said. "We have experts making sure no businesses are bankrupted in the process," he added. The purge has triggered uncertainty among businesses that could lead to capital flight or derail reforms, experts say, at a time when the kingdom is seeking to attract badly needed investments to offset a protracted oil slump.

Palestinian Reconciliation Sessions Conclude, Avoid Thorny Files
Gaza- Asharq Al Awsat/Friday, 24 November, 2017/Palestinian factions left Cairo on Thursday, after concluding a session of reconciliation talks with a joint statement on the need to hold general elections by the end of 2018.
In a statement issued on Thursday, Palestinian factions avoided addressing the thorny issues impeding the implementation of the reconciliation agreement, such as controlling security in the Gaza Strip or removing the punitive measures imposed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Hamas. Fatah and Hamas signed the reconciliation agreement on October 12, when the Palestinian Authority took over ministries and crossings in the Gaza Strip after being under Hamas’ control for 10 years. After two days of meetings at the Egyptian General Intelligence headquarters, representatives of 13 factions and groups issued a joint statement on Thursday, which included six main items, mainly the recognition of the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians and the government exercising its full functions in the Gaza Strip. Participants agreed to call on the Central Electoral Commission and the concerned parties to complete all preparatory works in order to conduct the presidential and legislative elections and the elections of the National Council concurrently by the end of 2018. It was also agreed to request President Mahmoud Abbas to set the date of the elections after consulting all national forces. In this regard, Naji Sharrab, a professor of political science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, said that the statement of the factions “was vague and general”. He stressed that the joint declaration “showed the great disparity in the concept of empowering the government.” In earlier remarks to Asharq al-Awsat, sources said that the issue of empowering the government was a major dispute between Fatah and Hamas representatives. While the former wanted to ensure greater authorities for the cabinet at the level of ministries and security services, Hamas said it had offered everything it had in this regard. In this context, Azzam al-Ahmad, head of the Fatah movement delegation for the reconciliation talks, noted that the majority of ministers faced great difficulties in taking over their duties, adding that there were “real obstacles impeding the work of the government.”He added that a meeting would be held on the first of December in Cairo to discuss with Hamas the issue of empowering the government and the need for the Palestinian Authority to fully control the Strip.

Sisi: We will strongly respond to the massacre of Al-Arish Mosque
Al Arabiya/November 24/2017/Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said televised address to the nation, Friday, that the Massacre of Sinai mosque, which claimed the lives of 235 people and 109 injured, is a real reflection of the efforts exerted in the face of terrorism, stressing that Egypt will respond strongly to attack."Egypt is facing terrorism on behalf of the world," he said in a speech on Friday evening. "What is happening is aimed at stopping our efforts to confront terrorism. It is aimed at destroying our will and shaking the confidence of the Egyptians. But we are steadfast and will continue to fight terrorism." Sisi stated that this violence and terror will increase the determination and will to respond with brute force, calling on the Egyptians to unite in the face of terrorism, and vowed to avenge the perpetrators of the attack and restore security and stability. He said that a terrible terrorist plot to demolish the rest of our region, and we would face it with all force. In addition, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi gave his instructions to the government to pay 200,000 Egyptian pounds to the families of each deceased victim and 50,000 pounds for each injured person.

Mohammed bin Salman: Not reinterpreting Islam, but restoring it to its origins
Al Arabiya English, Dubai/November 24/2017/Mohammed bin Salman, in his interview to the New York Times, raised explained his position on several issues that have regional and global ramifications. One of the more fundamental subject he tackled was that of the interpretation of Islam, which has been a matter of debate in recent times. The article suggests that Mohammed bin Salman is on a mission to bring Saudi Islam back to the center. According to the article, he has not only curbed the authority of the once feared Saudi religious police, he has also taken the hard-liners on ideologically unlike any Saudi leader before him. Friedman quotes a 28-year-old US-educated Saudi woman who says that Mohammed bin Salman “uses a different language. He says, ‘We are going to destroy extremism.’ He’s not sugar-coating. That is reassuring to me that the change is real.”To Friedman himself, Mohammed bin Salman said: “Do not write that we are ‘reinterpreting’ Islam — we are ‘restoring’ Islam to its origins — and our biggest tools are the Prophet’s practices and [daily life in] Saudi Arabia before 1979.”He said that at the time of the Prophet Muhammad, there were musical theaters, there was mixing between men and women, there was respect for Christians and Jews in Arabia. “The first commercial judge in Medina was a woman!” So if the Prophet embraced all of this, Mohammed bin Salman asked, “Do you mean the Prophet was not a Muslim?”
Saudi of the 1950s
Friedman writes that one of his ministers got out his cellphone and shared with him pictures and YouTube videos of Saudi Arabia in the 1950s when it was still a traditional and modest place, but not one where fun had been outlawed, which is what happened after 1979. “If this virus of an antipluralistic, misogynistic Islam that came out of Saudi Arabia in 1979 can be reversed by Saudi Arabia, it would drive moderation across the Muslim world and surely be welcomed here where 65 percent of the population is under 30,” the article reads. One middle-age Saudi banker told Friedman: “My generation was held hostage by 1979. I know now that my kids will not be hostages.”
Music in Riyadh
Another 28-year-old Saudi woman social entrepreneur said 10 years ago when they talked about music in Riyadh it meant buying a CD. “Now it is about the concert next month and what ticket are you buying and which of your friends will go with you.”According to him, this reform push is giving the youth a new pride in their country, almost a new identity, which many of them clearly relish. Now they have a young leader who is driving religious and economic reform, who talks the language of high tech, and whose biggest sin may be that he wants to go too fast. Most ministers are now in their 40s — and not 60s. And with the suffocating hand of a puritanical Islam being lifted, it’s giving them a chance to think afresh about their country and their identity as Saudis, says the article.
BBC, Juhayman and the Grand Mosque

Russia to reduce Syria presence by year’s end
AFP, SochiFriday, 24 November 2017/Russia’s military plans to reduce its involvement in Syria this year as it is nearing the completion of its goals there, the General Staff chief told journalists Thursday. “Of course, there will be a decision taken by the commander in chief and the group (working in Syria) will be decreased,” said Valery Gerasimov when asked whether Russia would be scaling back its forces in Syria by the end of the year. “When we complete our tasks, military tasks. There is only a little left,” Gerasimov said. Asked about the extent of the pull-out, Gerasimov said it would be “extensive,” though it was not clear if he was also referring to this year or a later date.
Bombing and combat
He said some military will be left behind even after Moscow scales back its involvement in bombing and combat. “We will leave the Center for Reconciliation, our two military bases (in Tartus and Hmeimim) and several necessary structures to maintain the state which has developed at this time,” said Gerasimov. Putin this week hosted a round of diplomacy meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as well as the leaders of Turkey and Iran as he declared the Syrian crisis was entering “a new stage” after the country “has been saved as a state.”Moscow stepped into Syria’s multi-front war in September 2015, sending planes to back the Assad regime and turning the military situation around in his favor.

National security topping the Sudanese agenda during Russia visit
Majid Mohammed Ali/Al Arabiya/November 23/2017
Sudan is looking towards Russia as national security discussions take prominence during President Omar al-Bashir’s ongoing visit to Moscow. Retired Major General Hasballah Omar, who served as an intelligence officer and national security advisor to the president between 1993 and 2009, told Al Arabiya English that Sudan’s national security concerns would be discussed by President al-Bashir in Moscow.On Wednesday, the Sudanese president arrived for a four-day official visit, accompanied by a large economic and military delegation of 50 officials. Omar stressed that Sudan has become concerned with its national security in light of the regional shifts and power balance changing rapidly. He added that to achieve security the country is looking towards economic agreements and political alliances with Moscow. Omar said that Sudan has “lost the national security system under which it survived”, represented by the Arab League and the African Union. “The role of the Arab League has been weak in Syria, Iraq and Libya, and will still need time to regain its balance, while the African Union is unable to intervene to resolve the continent’s conflicts and problems in places like Somalia, South Sudan, Libya, Central Africa, Mali and Burundi,” he said. “The Sudanese state was required to look in two directions: patching its tattered wall while looking for new options,” he said. The former Minister of Finance and Economy, Chairman of the Economic Committee of the Sudanese Parliament, Dr Ali Mahmoud, said that the visit will open new economic horizons between Sudan and Russia. Mahmoud said that Sudan has opened the way to Russia, which “has supported it in various forms and at different times” and now offers a number of projects in the fields of mining, oil and gas, industry and other fields. This development in relations with Russia, however, raises questions about the progress achieved in Khartoum’s relationship with Washington after lifting the economic sanctions, according to the professor of international relations at Omdurman University, Dr Salah Abdul Rahman al-Domah. In October, the US lifted economic sanctions imposed on Sudan since 1997 for its alleged support of terrorism. Al-Domah said the visit to Russia comes only six weeks after the sanctions lift. “How will Khartoum balance relations between Washington and Russia under the current regional and international situation, which are at odds?”
He says the size of the visiting Sudanese delegation to Russia reflects Khartoum’s desire “to continue its relations with Russia as far as possible.”

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on 
November 24-25/17
Saudi Arabia’s Arab Spring, at Last وأخيراً ربيع عربي في السعودية
The crown prince has big plans to bring back a level of tolerance to his society.
Thomas L.Friedman/New York Times/November 23/17
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — I never thought I’d live long enough to write this sentence: The most significant reform process underway anywhere in the Middle East today is in Saudi Arabia. Yes, you read that right. Though I came here at the start of Saudi winter, I found the country going through its own Arab Spring, Saudi style.
Unlike the other Arab Springs — all of which emerged bottom up and failed miserably, except in Tunisia — this one is led from the top down by the country’s 32-year-old crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and, if it succeeds, it will not only change the character of Saudi Arabia but the tone and tenor of Islam across the globe. Only a fool would predict its success — but only a fool would not root for it.
To better understand it I flew to Riyadh to interview the crown prince, known as “M.B.S.,” who had not spoken about the extraordinary events here of early November, when his government arrested scores of Saudi princes and businessmen on charges of corruption and threw them into a makeshift gilded jail — the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton — until they agreed to surrender their ill-gotten gains. You don’t see that every day.
We met at night at his family’s ornate adobe-walled palace in Ouja, north of Riyadh. M.B.S. spoke in English, while his brother, Prince Khalid, the new Saudi ambassador to the U.S., and several senior ministers shared different lamb dishes and spiced the conversation. After nearly four hours together, I surrendered at 1:15 a.m. to M.B.S.’s youth, pointing out that I was exactly twice his age. It’s been a long, long time, though, since any Arab leader wore me out with a fire hose of new ideas about transforming his country.
We started with the obvious question: What’s happening at the Ritz? And was this his power play to eliminate his family and private sector rivals before his ailing father, King Salman, turns the keys of the kingdom over to him?
It’s “ludicrous,” he said, to suggest that this anticorruption campaign was a power grab. He pointed out that many prominent members of the Ritz crowd had already publicly pledged allegiance to him and his reforms, and that “a majority of the royal family” is already behind him. This is what happened, he said: “Our country has suffered a lot from corruption from the 1980s until today. The calculation of our experts is that roughly 10 percent of all government spending was siphoned off by corruption each year, from the top levels to the bottom. Over the years the government launched more than one ‘war on corruption’ and they all failed. Why? Because they all started from the bottom up.”
So when his father, who has never been tainted by corruption charges during his nearly five decades as governor of Riyadh, ascended to the throne in 2015 (at a time of falling oil prices), he vowed to put a stop to it all, M.B.S. said:
“My father saw that there is no way we can stay in the G-20 and grow with this level of corruption. In early 2015, one of his first orders to his team was to collect all the information about corruption — at the top. This team worked for two years until they collected the most accurate information, and then they came up with about 200 names.”
When all the data was ready, the public prosecutor, Saud al-Mojib, took action, M.B.S. said, explaining that each suspected billionaire or prince was arrested and given two choices: “We show them all the files that we have and as soon as they see those about 95 percent agree to a settlement,” which means signing over cash or shares of their business to the Saudi state treasury.
“About 1 percent,” he added, “are able to prove they are clean and their case is dropped right there. About 4 percent say they are not corrupt and with their lawyers want to go to court. Under Saudi law, the public prosecutor is independent. We cannot interfere with his job — the king can dismiss him, but he is driving the process … We have experts making sure no businesses are bankrupted in the process” — to avoid causing unemployment.
“How much money are they recovering?” I asked.
The public prosecutor says it could eventually “be around $100 billion in settlements,” said M.B.S.
There is no way, he added, to root out all corruption from top to the bottom, “So you have to send a signal, and the signal going forward now is, ‘You will not escape.’ And we are already seeing the impact,” like people writing on social media, “I called my middle man and he doesn’t answer.” Saudi business people who paid bribes to get services done by bureaucrats are not being prosecuted, explained M.B.S. “It’s those who shook the money out of the government” — by overcharging and getting kickbacks.
The stakes are high for M.B.S. in this anticorruption drive. If the public feels that he is truly purging corruption that was sapping the system and doing so in a way that is transparent and makes clear to future Saudi and foreign investors that the rule of law will prevail, it will really instill a lot of new confidence in the system. But if the process ends up feeling arbitrary, bullying and opaque, aimed more at aggregating power for power’s sake and unchecked by any rule of law, it will end up instilling fear that will unnerve Saudi and foreign investors in ways the country can’t afford.
But one thing I know for sure: Not a single Saudi I spoke to here over three days expressed anything other than effusive support for this anticorruption drive. The Saudi silent majority is clearly fed up with the injustice of so many princes and billionaires ripping off their country. While foreigners, like me, were inquiring about the legal framework for this operation, the mood among Saudis I spoke with was: “Just turn them all upside down, shake the money out of their pockets and don’t stop shaking them until it’s all out!”
But guess what? This anticorruption drive is only the second-most unusual and important initiative launched by M.B.S. The first is to bring Saudi Islam back to its more open and modern orientation — whence it diverted in 1979. That is, back to what M.B.S. described to a recent global investment conference here as a “moderate, balanced Islam that is open to the world and to all religions and all traditions and peoples.”
I know that year well. I started my career as a reporter in the Middle East in Beirut in 1979, and so much of the region that I have covered since was shaped by the three big events of that year: the takeover of the Grand Mosque in Mecca by Saudi puritanical extremists — who denounced the Saudi ruling family as corrupt, impious sellouts to Western values; the Iranian Islamic revolution; and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
These three events together freaked out the Saudi ruling family at the time, and prompted it to try to shore up its legitimacy by allowing its Wahhabi clerics to impose a much more austere Islam on the society and by launching a worldwide competition with Iran’s ayatollahs over who could export more fundamentalist Islam. It didn’t help that the U.S. tried to leverage this trend by using Islamist fighters against Russia in Afghanistan. In all, it pushed Islam globally way to the right and helped nurture 9/11.
A lawyer by training, who rose up in his family’s education-social welfare foundation, M.B.S. is on a mission to bring Saudi Islam back to the center. He has not only curbed the authority of the once feared Saudi religious police to berate a woman for not covering every inch of her skin, he has also let women drive. And unlike any Saudi leader before him, he has taken the hard-liners on ideologically. As one U.S.-educated 28-year-old Saudi woman told me: M.B.S. “uses a different language. He says, ‘We are going to destroy extremism.’ He’s not sugar-coating. That is reassuring to me that the change is real.”
Indeed, M.B.S. instructed me: “Do not write that we are ‘reinterpreting’ Islam — we are ‘restoring’ Islam to its origins — and our biggest tools are the Prophet’s practices and [daily life in] Saudi Arabia before 1979.” At the time of the Prophet Muhammad, he argued, there were musical theaters, there was mixing between men and women, there was respect for Christians and Jews in Arabia. “The first commercial judge in Medina was a woman!” So if the Prophet embraced all of this, M.B.S. asked, “Do you mean the Prophet was not a Muslim?”
Then one of his ministers got out his cellphone and shared with me pictures and YouTube videos of Saudi Arabia in the 1950s — women without heads covered, wearing skirts and walking with men in public, as well as concerts and cinemas. It was still a traditional and modest place, but not one where fun had been outlawed, which is what happened after 1979.
If this virus of an antipluralistic, misogynistic Islam that came out of Saudi Arabia in 1979 can be reversed by Saudi Arabia, it would drive moderation across the Muslim world and surely be welcomed here where 65 percent of the population is under 30.
One middle-age Saudi banker said to me: “My generation was held hostage by 1979. I know now that my kids will not be hostages.” Added a 28-year-old Saudi woman social entrepreneur: “Ten years ago when we talked about music in Riyadh it meant buying a CD — now it is about the concert next month and what ticket are you buying and which of your friends will go with you.”
Saudi Arabia would have a very long way to go before it approached anything like Western standards for free speech and women’s rights. But as someone who has been coming here for almost 30 years, it blew my mind to learn that you can hear Western classical music concerts in Riyadh now, that country singer Toby Keith held a men-only concert here in September, where he even sang with a Saudi, and that Lebanese soprano Hiba Tawaji will be among the first woman singers to perform a women-only concert here on Dec. 6. And M.B.S told me, it was just decided that women will be able to go to stadiums and attend soccer games. The Saudi clerics have completely acquiesced.
The Saudi education minister chimed in that among a broad set of education reforms, he’s redoing and digitizing all textbooks, sending 1,700 Saudi teachers each year to world-class schools in places like Finland to upgrade their skills, announcing that for the first time Saudi girls will have physical education classes in public schools and this year adding an hour to the Saudi school day for kids to explore their passions in science and social issues, under a teacher’s supervision, with their own projects.
So many of these reforms were so long overdue it’s ridiculous. Better late than never, though.
On foreign policy, M.B.S. would not discuss the strange goings on with Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon coming to Saudi Arabia and announcing his resignation, seemingly under Saudi pressure, and now returning to Beirut and rescinding that resignation. He simply insisted that the bottom line of the whole affair is that Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, is not going to continue providing political cover for a Lebanese government that is essentially controlled by the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah militia, which is essentially controlled by Tehran.
He insisted that the Saudi-backed war in Yemen, which has been a humanitarian nightmare, was tilting in the direction of the pro-Saudi legitimate government there, which, he said is now in control of 85 percent of the country, but given the fact that pro-Iranian Houthi rebels, who hold the rest, launched a missile at Riyadh airport, anything less than 100 percent is still problematic.
His general view seemed to be that with the backing of the Trump administration — he praised President Trump as “the right person at the right time” — the Saudis and their Arab allies were slowly building a coalition to stand up to Iran. I am skeptical. The dysfunction and rivalries within the Sunni Arab world generally have prevented forming a unified front up to now, which is why Iran indirectly controls four Arab capitals today — Damascus, Sana, Baghdad and Beirut. That Iranian over-reach is one reason M.B.S. was scathing about Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Iran’s “supreme leader is the new Hitler of the Middle East,” said M.B.S. “But we learned from Europe that appeasement doesn’t work. We don’t want the new Hitler in Iran to repeat what happened in Europe in the Middle East.” What matters most, though, is what Saudi Arabia does at home to build its strength and economy.
But can M.B.S. and his team see this through? Again, I make no predictions. He has his flaws that he will have to control, insiders here tell me. They include relying on a very tight circle of advisers who don’t always challenge him sufficiently, and a tendency to start too many things that don’t get finished. There’s a whole list. But guess what? Perfect is not on the menu here. Someone had to do this job — wrench Saudi Arabia into the 21st century — and M.B.S. stepped up. I, for one, am rooting for him to succeed in his reform efforts.
And so are a lot of young Saudis. There was something a 30-year-old Saudi woman social entrepreneur said to me that stuck in my ear. “We are privileged to be the generation that has seen the before and the after.” The previous generation of Saudi women, she explained, could never imagine a day when a woman could drive and the coming generation will never be able to imagine a day when a woman couldn’t.
“But I will always remember not being able to drive,” she told me. And the fact that starting in June that will never again be so “gives me so much hope. It proves to me that anything is possible — that this is a time of opportunity. We have seen things change and we are young enough to make the transition.”
This reform push is giving the youth here a new pride in their country, almost a new identity, which many of them clearly relish. Being a Saudi student in post-9/11 America, young Saudis confess, is to always feel you are being looked at as a potential terrorist or someone who comes from a country locked in the Stone Age.
Now they have a young leader who is driving religious and economic reform, who talks the language of high tech, and whose biggest sin may be that he wants to go too fast. Most ministers are now in their 40s — and not 60s. And with the suffocating hand of a puritanical Islam being lifted, it’s giving them a chance to think afresh about their country and their identity as Saudis.
“We need to restore our culture to what it was before the [Islamic] radical culture took over,” a Saudi woman friend who works with an N.G.O. said to me. ”`We have 13 regions in this country, and they each have a different cuisine. But nobody knows that. Did you know that? But I never saw one Saudi dish go global. It is time for us to embrace who we are and who we were.”
Alas, who Saudi Arabia is also includes a large cohort of older, more rural, more traditional Saudis, and pulling them into the 21st century will be a challenge. But that’s in part why every senior bureaucrat is working crazy hours now. They know M.B.S. can call them on the phone at any of those hours to find out if something he wanted done is getting done. I told him his work habits reminded me of a line in the play “Hamilton,” when the chorus asks: Why does he always work like “he’s running out of time.”
“Because,” said M.B.S., ``I fear that the day I die I am going to die without accomplishing what I have in my mind. Life is too short and a lot of things can happen, and I am really keen to see it with my own eyes — and that is why I am in a hurry.”

Muslim Brotherhood and the origins of terrorism
Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/November 24/17
In his weekly column published in Ash-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper, Dr. Abdelmonem Saeed said that the origin of terrorist ideology in our Muslim world finds itself in the Brotherhood’s fertile soil. This is what he stated as he summed up the conclusion he made after reading the Abbottabad documents which reveal details about al-Qaeda’s founder Osama bin Laden. “What’s interesting in these papers is that the origin of terrorist ideology which dominated the man’s ideas came from studying the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology,” Saeed wrote.After introducing the Brotherhood’s history and how they misled others particularly to monopolize the Muslim voice in western countries – which is really dangerous – Saeed concluded: “The Brotherhood is the first incubator of terrorist groups and their major and global school. Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are not the first men to graduate from the Brotherhood’s school and they are probably not the last.”There is no doubt about Bin Laden’s Brotherhood ties as he himself spoke about them, whether in the Abbottabad documents or in his secret and public statements.
Case of Bin Laden, Zawahiri
American author Lawrence Wright provided valuable insight about al-Qaeda in his rich book ‘The Looming Tower’. Wright’s book provided evidence to how Bin Laden was raised based on the Brotherhood’s principles. Wright even noted that Bin Laden’s true relations are linked to the Brotherhood and not the Salafists. As for Zawahiri, it’s actually clearer. Zawahiri’s ties are linked to the Brotherhood and Qutb. No one can argue about that as he himself addressed this in his famous book ‘The Bitter Harvest’.The Brotherhood’s pedantic fans have always repeated the same cold excuse that the groups which took up arms, accused others of infidelity and killed them are not part of the Brotherhood as the latter’s members “are preachers not judges.” These are deceiving excuses. Al-Hudaybi, for instance, the second “general guide” of the Brotherhood was actually the secret supporter of all secret murder groups in Egypt.
If you take a look at these figures and groups and look into some incidents, such as Sayyid Qutb’s 1965 organization, the Military Academy Group, Sadat’s murderers, Mustafa Bouyali’s group in Algeria, Marwan Hadid in Syria, Youssef al-Qardawi, Saad al-Faqih, Wajdi Ghoneim, Ali Benhadj, Abdelhakim Belhadj and Ali al-Sallabi, you will realize they are all connected to the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood’s pedantic fans have always repeated the same cold excuse that the groups which took up arms, accused others of infidelity and killed them are not part of the Brotherhood as the latter’s members “are preachers not judges.” These are deceiving excuses. Al-Hudaybi, for instance, the second “general guide” of the Brotherhood was actually the secret supporter of all secret murder groups in Egypt. Researchers are well-aware of that. The Brotherhood simply provides one with the ability to be like Sayyid Qutb, Shukri Mustafa and Muhammad Abed Al-Salam Faraj. If it hadn’t been for the Brotherhood’s environment, these figures would not have emerged. Saeed is right. The origins of terrorism go back to the Brotherhood.

Why Mugabe is still seen by some as a hero
Faisal al-Yafai/Al Arabiya/November 24/17
“All political lives end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs.” Robert Mugabe, until Tuesday the longest-serving head of state in the world, now heading into retirement and possibly exile, may well be pondering how his long political career has been reduced to a political aphorism.
The man who coined that aphorism came to be seen in much the same way as Mugabe. Enoch Powell, a British politician of the 1950s and 1960s, is today considered a byword for racism. But his supporters would have called him a patriot, even after he declared his dislike for the African and Asian immigrants to Britain and advocated a re-conquest of India. Similarly Mugabe, on his long political journey, has moved from fighting white supremacy to stripping Zimbabweans of their farms simply because of the color of their skin, all while declaring himself a nationalist. And yet Mugabe is still, even today, even in Zimbabwe, seen as a national, even African, hero. Despite ruling for nearly four decades, despite immiserating his people, massacring thousands of them and bringing the country to the brink of financial ruin, he is still remembered by some as a revolutionary hero for his part in Zimbabwe’s independence, even by millions who were not born at the time. With more than half of Zimbabwe’s population under the age of 30, few remember the day in 1980 when Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party swept to power, overturning white rule in what was then Rhodesia. But the memory has lingered.
Mugabe sought to invest in himself the power of the revolution; only he, by dint of his personal history, could lead the country
Vast and unequal
Rhodesia at the time was a vastly unequal country. There were seven million black Zimbabweans but the approximately 100,000 white Zimbabweans owned fully half of the country’s arable land. To see Mugabe drive through the gates of the governor’s mansion was a triumph for the country and for the ideas of African independence. The celebrations were incredible, overwhelming and deeply emotional: Zimbabweans believed they finally had their country back. Many of Mugabe’s sins have been forgiven because he led that revolution. If that sounds familiar to readers in the Middle East, it should, because the Arab world has had its own share of leaders who first brought change to their countries and then long outstayed their welcome. Like Mugabe, Libyans under Muammar Qaddafi and Iraqis under Saddam Hussein were familiar with the cruelty of their rule, the extravagance of their wealth and the corruption of their inner circles. Yet both, in life and in death, found supporters willing to excuse their mistakes, in large part because of how they came to power. The comparison with Qaddafi is particularly apt. Like Mugabe, Qaddafi led a coup against a government widely seen as a puppet of the West. Like him, he sought to portray himself as a revolutionary leader whose anti-Western stance allowed some of his countrymen to overlook many ills of the regime.
Anti-West rhetoric
Mugabe’s anti-Western rhetoric was popular in African countries, and even among some of those in power. Like Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein at the Arab League, he would often take to the stage at the African Union to denounce the west in fearsome language that more moderate African leaders would never use, but which played well with parts of the public.
Like Qaddafi in particular, his cultivated image as a revolutionary unafraid to speak truth to power masked the fact that his policies were making the country poorer, without external interference. Like both those Arab leaders, Mugabe sought to invest in himself the power of the revolution; only he, by dint of his personal history, could lead the country. Even when it looked as if he had lost the 2008 election, Mugabe refused to step aside. Like Qaddafi at the beginning of the Arab Spring revolution, it mattered little that the challenge to his rule came from within the country not without; it was the mere fact of opposition that outraged both leaders. In the years after their deaths, both Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi have found the cruelty of their rules forgotten. The chaos that followed the American invasion of Iraq and the revolution in Libya meant that the enforced stability that came before is viewed through rose-tinted glasses. Even after everything, some Iraqis and Libyans look back with nostalgia. That process has not yet begun in Zimbabwe, but it almost certainly will. The image of revolutionary leaders always lasts longer than their rule. For now, Zimbabweans are celebrating. If Mugabe was watching television on the day he resigned, he would have seen scenes of unbridled joy from Zimbabweans, who took to the streets to sing, dance and wave the country’s flag, akin to those heady days of 1980. Once again, Zimbabweans feel they have their country back. What a political failure that the man who pried it from the hands of white supremacists had to have it pried from his own grasp by his people.

Democracy and secularism between Jabri and Tarabichi
Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran/Al Arabiya/November 24/17
The concept of secularism with all its details and how it was translated into Arabic remained a controversy on the ideological level in terms of the necessity of linking any political measure to “Islamic governance.” It was also controversial among modern Arab intellectual movements.
There have been long discussions among thinkers regarding the relationship of secularism with the concept of democracy. The debate began in the end of the 1980’s between prominent thinkers Hassan Hanafi and Mohammed Abed al-Jabri via the magazine Youm7 (The Seventh Day) and it lasted for ten weeks between March and November 1989. In their book “East-West Dialogue,” Hanafi rejected secularism because “we do not need and it comes from the West,” while Jabri rejected it because “there are no churches in Islam” to call for separating religion from governance but as the Muslim Brotherhood put it “Islam is a religion and it’s governance.” Democracy was proposed as an alternative to secularism by Jabri in a series of articles which he later published in a book entitled “Religion, the state and implementation of sharia.”Without an environment that includes secularism, democratic process cannot have any civil efficiency. Democracy is a tool, and this tool requires secularism
Rationality and secularism
In the article entitled “Democracy and rationality instead of secularism,” he wrote: “I think it’s a duty to distance the slogan of secularism from the dictionary of Arab intellect and replace it with the slogans of democracy and rationality. Secularism in the Arab world is fake, meaning it reflects needs with contents that do not match the former needs.”Jabri said secularism is propaganda by the “Christians in Sham” who submitted to Ottomans’ control, noting that secularism was not proposed in Maghreb countries or the Arabian Peninsula; therefore, democracy does not need the secular formula. His opinions provoked Georges Tarabichi who understood him well and often responded to his opinions. In the first part of his book “Heretical Thoughts, on Democracy, Secularism and Modernity,” Tarabichi analyzes Jabri’s random opinion about secularism. It’s a long critique but in brief he says: “When Jabri needs more logical ideas to support his belief that secularism is not needed, he resorts to the logic of fundamentalists but all he takes from their reasoning is what he needs for his small introduction, specifically the weak one. He says he is completely convinced that Islam is religion and governance. However he keeps silent over many things… such as the fact that the man who said this statement on Islam is the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood Hassan al-Banna.”Tarabichi further criticizes Jabri’s ideas and says: “As for the major introduction, it’s actually built on a formal trick as it’s not true that the definition of secularism is the separation of the church from the state. The church is a part of something whole which is religion. Secularism may not carry harm to Islam as a religion as much as it prepares an atmosphere to be free of the captivity of political authority and to develop as a religion. This is what happened to Christianity which after years of resistance realized that secularism benefitted it in restoring its spiritual dimension after it was confiscated for centuries. In the end, secularism does not look forward to liberate the society from religion. However when the state stays out of the social and religious fields, it guarantees more religious freedom to individuals and groups. It’s only through secularism that religious freedom reaches its maximum and only through secularism that religion restores its efficiency in society.”
Intruder to the society
Jabri’s rejection of the concept of secularism is due to the fact that the concept is an intruder to the Arab society and is one of the Christian results that Islam does not need. Jabri’s aforementioned book reminds of Abdel Wahab El-Messiri’s books that oppose secularism and their basis.
In his book “Identity and Islamic movement, Messiri wrote: “I must note that the term ‘reforming religious rhetoric’ is sometimes used to mean reformulating it in a way that pleases the West, i.e. turn religion into a spiritual self-experience so religion is separated from politics and life and the jihadist tendency and the desire to achieve justice turn into terrorist tendencies, i.e. reform here means cancelling what I call the resisting Islam and basically establishing a practical, pragmatic, peaceful and compromising Islam that pleases foreigners. This is what I satirically call touristic Islam.”In brief, democracy cannot be an alternative to secularism as each concept has its task. Without an environment that includes secularism, the democratic process cannot have any civil efficiency. Democracy is a tool, and this tool requires secularism. All the fuss caused by leftist thinkers, radical fighters and Islamists like Messiri and Garaudy did not take into consideration the possibility of dealing with the concept as an idea “that is fair to the presence of religion” instead of viewing it as a western product that stirs panic.
Proposing instrumental democracy as an alternative to secularism inaugurates a fundamentalist phase.

Sochi Summit: Is the Syrian crisis nearing resolution?
Shehab Al-Makahleh/Al Arabiya/November 24/17
What has been the outcome of the summit between the leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran in the Russian city of Sochi? What is the significance of the timing of President Putin’s meeting with Bashar Al-Assad in Sochi on November 21? Has the path towards a political settlement of the Syrian crisis opened? Will we see Putin in Damascus celebrating the victory of his forces soon?
Turkey’s compromise
The final communiqué released after the summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish leader Rejjep Teyyep Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani calls for the peaceful resolution of the Syrian conflict and makes recommendations for the upcoming Geneva Summit, without abandoning the current Syrian regime of Bashar sl-Assad. Preparations have already begun for the convening of a “Syrian peoples’ congress” in Sochi in early December. Putin announced a few days ago that its military operation in Syria is nearing its end and that the Syrian government is currently in control of over 98 percent of Syrian territories, which suggests it has gained the upper hand in any negotiations with the opposition or with other countries that oppose Al Assad as president. Wait and watch game in Syria has reached its final countdown and the players are convinced that any further delay would escalate the crisis
It seems that Turkish demands for Al-Assad to step down have fallen into abeyance because Ankara seeks the support of Tehran and Moscow for its aim of demilitarizing Syrian Kurds. This seems to be the deal. The future of Bashar al-Assad is left for the Syrians to decide in the upcoming presidential elections, as Russia and the US finished drafting the constitution by August and some issues pertain to minor details that won’t affect the decision on al-Assad. During the press conference in Sochi, Putin said that that the presidents of Turkey and Iran played a “special role” in bringing about cessation of hostilities in Syria and the establishment of de-escalation zones. Putin added that a ‘new stage’ had been reached in the Syrian crisis but achieving a political solution would require compromise on all sides, particularly from the Syrian government. The name of Farouk Al-Shara’a, former vice president of Syria, is being proposed to represent the Syrian regime at the upcoming Sochi Congress, as he is accepted by both the government and the opposition.
Assad’s fate
On the other hand, observers regard the visit of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to Russia – during which he met President Putin – to imply that after the demise of ISIS and the defeat of all armed opposition, the road towards a comprehensive political settlement is now open and regional states will be involved in the final settlement deliberations. The Syrian president was offered a potential peace initiative drafted by Russia, Iran and Turkey as Moscow has started to scale down its troop levels and military equipment in the war-torn country. Russian Defense Ministry announced that Russian, Iranian and Turkish chiefs of military staff have agreed upon the mechanisms for increased coordination in Idlib province in order to reduce military tensions and escalation. Al-Assad paid a surprise visit to Sochi, which was disclosed by Moscow only after his return to Syria, was received as president and the statement from the Kremlin proves that Putin had briefed Assad on the deliberations at the tripartite Sochi meeting on 22 November. Following the meeting with Assad, Putin said: “It is now important to reach a political settlement in Syria, and Assad is ready to work with anyone who wants peace.” This indicates that Putin still supports Assad as president and that he will not accept any alternative for him. The second proof that the Russian president seeks Assad to be the new president of Syria is when Putin introduced al-Assad to the senior officials of the Russian Defense Ministry and the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces.
The third indication to this effect is the resignation of Riyad Hijab, head of Syria’s main opposition bloc and the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), just a few days before the kick-off of the Syrian opposition meeting in Riyadh due to pressure of external powers on him against talking about the future of Bashar al-Assad. The meeting in Sochi, which lasted three hours, came ahead of a summit at the same place between the Presidents of Iran, Russia and Turkey. Iran and Russia have been Assad’s main supporters, while Turkey backs the opposition. The wait and watch game in politics in the case of Syrian conflict has reached its final countdown and the players, both regional and international, are now convinced that any further delay in achieving a political settlement on this issue would escalate the crisis to neighboring countries including Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and Turkey.

Why UK-US divide on Iranian nuclear deal matters
Kasra Aarabi/Al Monitor/November 24/2017
European powers, most notably Britain, have rebuffed US President Donald Trump’s Oct. 13 refusal to certify that the landmark nuclear agreement with Iran meets congressional requirements. Issuing a joint statement almost immediately afterward, UK Prime Minister Theresa May and her French and German counterparts reasserted their commitment to the nuclear deal, expressing concern over Trump’s new Iran strategy.
Since then, the British government has continued its staunch defense of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Speaking at the Chatham House London Conference on Oct. 23, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson praised the JCPOA’s achievements in curbing Tehran’s path to a nuclear weapon. While expressing apprehension over Iran’s regional behavior, Johnson prescribed further engagement with Tehran and warned against disrespecting the Iranian population — a subtle reference to Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric. Given May’s emphasis on maintaining good relations with Trump, not least to secure a trade deal with the United States following Britain’s departure from the European Union, the UK’s vocal support for the JCPOA is particularly significant, marking a shift from the prime minister’s previous Trump strategy and the making of an independent British foreign policy toward Iran.
Britain’s support for the JCPOA is justified. The global nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has repeatedly verified that Tehran is fulfilling its nuclear obligations. IAEA chief Yukiya Amano on Oct. 30 yet again confirmed that the “nuclear-related commitments made by Iran under the JCPOA are being implemented.”
Unable to critique Tehran on the implementation of its commitments under the nuclear deal, Trump has cited Iran’s regional behavior as the primary reason for his decision to decertify that Iranian compliance with the JCPOA meets congressional requirements.
However, the JCPOA relates only to Iran’s nuclear program and nothing else. Under the deal, Tehran agreed to scale back its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions. The JCPOA is simply irrelevant to other outstanding issues between the West and Iran such as Iran’s regional behavior, missile testing or domestic human rights violations. This explains why sanctions relating to non-nuclear issues remain in place. In an interview with this reporter earlier this year, Sir Simon Gass, the UK lead negotiator during the nuclear talks with Iran and former British ambassador to Iran, strongly emphasized that Tehran’s regional policy was “completely off the table” during the nuclear talks, stressing that the JCPOA was exclusively about Iran’s nuclear program.
Addressing the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Iran on Oct. 24, Middle East Minister Alistair Burt reiterated Gass’ remarks, saying, “The UK never took the view that this was an all-encompassing deal that dealt with every article of disagreement between the UK and Iran.” Speaking in the House Commons, Burt underlined that although the UK shares concern over Iranian behavior in the Middle East, Tehran’s regional policy was “not part of the JCPOA,” adding that the nuclear deal presents an “opportunity” to work on other disagreements with Iran.
As expected, Trump has hit back at the European defense of the JCPOA. Tweeting shortly after the Oct. 13 joint statement issued by Britain, France and Germany, the president accused the supporting parties of the nuclear deal of “making lots of money on trade with Iran.” Contrary to Trump’s claim, however, major trade deals between Britain and Iran have been few and far between. This is primarily because, despite the lifting of international sanctions, major banks are still reluctant to handle Iran-related transactions. In July, Parliament member Richard Bacon, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Iran, told me that senior officials at the Bank of England had made it clear to him that “at present, no major Western bank seeks to facilitate trade with Iran due to primary US sanctions that still remain in place.”
Moreover, in late October, former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw underlined to me that “virtually none of the Department for International Trade’s 500 million pound line of credit for Iran has been used, almost certainly due to US pressure on the banks.”
The absence of banking facilities has prevented Iran from enjoying the full benefits of sanctions relief in the way agreed to under the terms of the JCPOA. Therefore, as Straw says, while there is “not a shred of evidence” that Iran is not implementing its side of the deal — as confirmed by the IAEA — it is the West that is failing to implement its side of the bargain by not providing adequate banking provisions to facilitate trade with Iran. This argument is beginning to gain resonance in both Westminster and among frustrated city businesses, which view Iran as a key target economy.
Beyond this point, however, the lack of trade between the UK and Iran since the JCPOA proves that contrary to Trump’s assertion, Britain’s defense of the nuclear deal is not about economic interest; rather, it is grounded in principle.
With all this in mind, the UK’s support for the JCPOA should not go unnoticed — not least by Iran’s leaders. Iranian hard-liners often blame the failure of the 2003-2005 nuclear talks between Iran and the EU3 on Britain’s reluctance to diverge from then-US President George W. Bush’s hawkish position on Tehran. This may be unfair, but at least Iran should acknowledge that now the UK has not only split with the US position but is also proactively challenging it.
Sir Peter Westmacott, former British ambassador to the United States, told me late last month that British diplomats were again lobbying Congress to dissuade it from reimposing nuclear sanctions on Tehran, which would de facto kill the JCPOA; the diplomats are doing so just as the six world powers that negotiated the deal with Iran did two years ago when there were strong moves on Capitol Hill — encouraged by the Israeli government — to strangle the deal at birth. Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson also traveled to Capitol Hill on Nov. 8, where he urged congressional Republicans to stick to the agreement. Johnson is now preparing to visit Tehran to discuss the release of a dual citizen imprisoned in Iran. While there, it is likely that he will reiterate the UK’s commitment to the nuclear deal.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has frequently referred to the nuclear agreement as a test to see if Iran can trust the West. And while it is true that the Trump administration has broken this trust, Britain, France and Germany have kept to their word. Given the nature of the special relationship between the UK and the United States, however, it is London more so than Paris and Berlin that could prove essential in determining the fate of the JCPOA.
*Kasra Aarabi works as a coordinator and researcher for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Iran at the office of UK Parliament member Richard Bacon. He previously worked as a parliamentary researcher for former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. Kasra holds a bachelor's degree international politics and a master’s in international relations, both from King’s College London. On Twitter: @KasraAarabi

IDF prepares for 'new' Syria

Ben Caspit/Al Monitor/November 24/2017
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman surprised everyone by dropping a bomb on the Cabinet table this week. Back in 2015, then-Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot had agreed to Israel's defense budget as part of a multi-year plan to cover defense costs up until 2020. Liberman now insists that he needs an urgent injection of another 4.8 billion shekels ($1.4 billion). The official reason given for this is "new threats" in the region. The unofficial reason being discussed by critics of Israel's defense establishment is that Israel has invested the lion's share of its money and efforts over the last few years contending with strategic threats in a third, more distant circle, while neglecting its first circle of defense. Israel's security doctrine is based on different strategies vis-a-vis the three circles of threats according to closer/more distant enemies.
Israel's working assumption has been that there will be no real land-based threats along the northern border (first circle) in the foreseeable future. But that assumption is now falling apart right in front of the country's leaders. As an earlier Al-Monitor article claimed, Israel was premature in delivering a eulogy for President Bashar al-Assad's Syria. Now, Syria is back, and it is not alone. It comes with a stronger, reinvigorated, better trained and more experienced Hezbollah, and the movement is more determined than ever. It also comes with Shiite militias, which accumulated combat experience under Iranian influence and also, apparently, under Iranian command. And we haven’t even mentioned the factories to manufacture missiles with precision accuracy that Iran is trying to set up in the region or the port and land bases that it is trying to build for itself in Syria and Lebanon.
As one Israeli Cabinet member told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, "We discovered that while we were all focused on the third circle, the first circle has come back to life." The main problem is that according to quite a few sources in the Israeli defense establishment, our land forces are ill-prepared to deal with the old-new challenges piling up against it.
Liberman's demand is based on a clause in the multi-year plan for defense funding: "This agreement will not be open to further negotiations unless there is an economic or security shift described by the relevant ministries [Finance and Defense] as major."
According to Liberman, the changes taking place around us are major-plus. "Assad won, and he now controls about 90% of Syria's populated territory," Liberman said in a briefing for military correspondents on Nov. 20. "He is starting to build up new divisions and brigades, including aerial defenses. The Syrian army is training more. They are better prepared, and there are more attempts to signal to us that they are ready to face us. They have SA-22 batteries, which are very effective weaponry, but they don't know how to use them yet."
There are several main concerns behind the Finance Ministry's stubborn opposition to Liberman's demands. In the past few years, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) invested huge sums to prepare itself for the strategic threat posed by Iran. Deals such as the acquisition of F-35 stealth fighter jets consumed a large part of available resources, but they are irrelevant to the current situation. No one in Israel thought that the war in Syria would be over or even die down quickly in 2017, with a clear winner in the person of Assad, or that Assad would bring Iran, Hezbollah and the Shiite militias along with him.
The IDF is late in acquiring Namer APCs (armored personnel carriers) and equipping Israeli tanks with "Windbreaker" defenses to deflect the threat posed by 9M133 Kornet missiles. These missiles were responsible for numerous casualties in the Israeli Armored Corps during the Second Lebanon War in 2006. All in all, Israel's attitude toward Hezbollah has undergone a significant transformation over the past two years. It once considered Hezbollah to be a guerrilla movement that could do little more than annoy Israel with massive rocket attacks on the home front. In the last two years, however, Hezbollah has become a well-trained and hostile regular army with accumulated experience in important battles in Syria. Hezbollah is now capable of operating offensively and even of capturing territory on the Israeli side of the border.
The IDF has been keeping a tense watch on Hezbollah's Radwan commando units and on many developments in the group such as the short-range Burkan rocket — a sort of hybrid rocket with a warhead of 0.5-1 ton. In the past few years, Hezbollah also obtained unmanned aircrafts and even a small number of tanks and armored vehicles. The group is still light-years behind a real matchup with Israel's military might, and particularly with the Israeli air force. Still, Israel's superiority on the battlefield is no longer quite as absolute as it once was. The IDF may yet miss the days when Hezbollah fighters avoided real contact with Israeli forces, preferring guerrilla warfare from a distance as they did during the Second Lebanon War.
The second concern behind Liberman's demand for an immediate budget increase is the fact that the nuclear deal with Iran is no longer as stable and safe as it was under former President Barak Obama. Israel is paying the price for its success in convincing President Donald Trump to challenge the agreement and gnaw away at it. Right now, this is mostly verbal, but the Israeli defense establishment is no longer convinced that the agreement will last until its scheduled expiration date. There are other scenarios, including the collapse of the agreement or having one of the parties — either Iran or the United States — rebuffing it. If that happens, the strategic Iranian threat against Israel would immediately reappear on the list of current threats. Liberman believes that Israel must prepare itself and be ready to provide a response for this scenario, too.
It can be assumed that the main motivation behind Liberman's demand for additional funding can be found in the first reason above. Israel's failure to prepare for the victory of Assad and the Shiite axis is contributing to a loss of self-confidence. Furthermore, Israel also failed to convince the Americans not to abandon the region and not to cede it to the mercy of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Jerusalem has been voicing serious disappointment now that Trump is allowing Putin to do whatever he wants in the new Syria. The warm embrace between Putin and Assad in Sochi on Nov. 21, the statement by Russia's foreign minister that an Iranian presence in Syria is legitimate, and the clear victory of the Shiite axis, which now stretches from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea, are resulting in a chain of powerful responses from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem —Israel's defense and political echelons.
According to one of his associates who spoke on condition of anonymity, Liberman regularly jokes that "nothing good is threatening us." As 2018 approaches, the joke is on him. His tongue-in-cheek remark is coming true right before his eyes.

The Expanding Umbrella of Anti-Semitism
Nonie Darwish/Gatestone Institute/November 24/2017
Islam did not trick Western nations; the West brought itself to the embrace of Islam.
The center of the original Islamic message seems to have been to convert, kill or drive away Christians and Jews, rather than to meet the spiritual needs of Muslims. To this day, the central preaching of Islam still appears to be an intolerance of non-Muslims.
What made America great is being discarded together with America's imperfect past, without acknowledging that America has taken -- and is still taking -- steps to correct its injustices, as many Middle Eastern nations have not.
There is a good possibility that, with the impact of Islam -- and the replacement of the active values of personal responsibility and "pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps" by the passive values of victimhood for blackmailing, redistribution and abdication to "government" -- the West's humanistic values, which welcomed Islam in the first place, may not survive.
The famous expression "Never Again" was coined after the world, during World War II, almost exterminated its Jewish population. But instead of anti-Semitism being eradicated, a worldwide rebellion against the people who gave us the Ten Commandments continues today, and has now expanded to include other groups.
While the Jewish people are still at its center, there are now also violent protests, hatred and rejection cleverly camouflaged as demonstrations against supposed "bigots," and "hate groups" -- meaning not only those who support Israel and the Jewish people, but also against those who are patriots, who love God, family and country and who want to protect their nation's sovereignty from the world's hostile forces. These individuals are now often viewed as evil, mean-spirited or racist.
Anti-Semitism is a bit more complicated than just hating Jews. Much of the world seems always to have been challenged by the values of the Torah, the Gospel and the Ten Commandments. Living according to Biblical standards of good and evil, and treating one's neighbors as oneself, is not easy for most people. There is a rebellious, dark side of human nature that every generation needs to conquer if we are to maintain a way of life based on the values set forth by the Ten Commandments and the Bible. But in the West's secular, popular culture of today, generations are being brought up believing that these values stand in the way of "progress," however that is variously defined.
Many people seem to think that the values of the Ten Commandments and the Bible are universal; that most people happily agree with them and are eager to adopt them. There seems, on the contrary, to be no shortage of individuals -- largely in the worlds of politics, entertainment and academia -- eager to find excuses to violate them while at the same time judging others by standards they would not dream of applying to themselves.
After the Holocaust against the Jews and others, some Europeans appear to have begun a rebellion against their own Biblical roots -- those that helped to create Western civilization. Many in Europe -- both wittingly and unwittingly -- not only brought Islam into Europe, but also gave it a special status of protection against criticism from their own people by calling those who criticize it "Islamophobes." Islam did not trick Western nations; the West brought itself to this embrace of Islam.
The dilemma regarding the acceptance of Judeo-Christian values has existed since the beginning of Jewish history. The Jews' commitment to valuing life as precious, not bowing to tyrants and striving for excellence -- and treating children, animals, slaves and even fields with deference and respect -- has brought them much envy. When Jews achieved success, anger against them intensified even further. Centuries before Hitler, the challenge of Jewish values seems to have threatened an Arabian notion of supremacy.
The cultural clash between Islamic values and Biblical values did not start between Europe and the Middle East, but from inside the Arabian Peninsula and directed against Christians and Jews, the "people of the book." Arabia was the last area of the Middle East to be introduced to Biblical values. Proud Arabia, however, was never going to be just another municipality of Byzantium. Arabia was not going to follow in the footsteps of Egypt and the rest of the Christian Byzantine Empire, and adopt Biblical values. A rebellion against the Bible and its values was the alternative Muhammad clearly chose.
Islam became the driving force to stop the sweeping impact of the Byzantine Empire, as well as Jewish tribes in the region. Islam found, it sometimes appears, nearly any means acceptable when it came to countering its non-Muslim enemies -- lying, terrorizing, killing, stealing the property of kafirs [unbelievers] and raping their women. The center of the original Islamic message seems to have been to convert, kill or drive away Christians and Jews rather than to meet the spiritual needs of Muslims. Muhammad won. He conquered Byzantium, chased away Christians and Jews, and left them to take their Biblical values not to Arabia but to Europe. To this day, the central preaching of Islam still appears to be an intolerance for non-Muslims.
It is not a coincidence that Adolf Hitler collaborated with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, in their mutual wish to eliminate Jews. Hitler even lamented belonging to the wrong religion:
"'It's been our misfortune to have the wrong religion,' Hitler complained to his pet architect Albert Speer. 'Why did it have to be Christianity, with its meekness and flabbiness?' Islam was a Männerreligion — a 'religion of men' — and hygienic too. The 'soldiers of Islam' received a warrior's heaven, 'a real earthly paradise' with "houris" and 'wine flowing. This, Hitler argued, was much more suited to the 'Germanic temperament' than the 'Jewish filth and priestly twaddle' of Christianity."
Hitler also said, "The Mohammedan religion too would have been more compatible to us than Christianity," and complained:
"Had Charles Martel not been victorious at Poitiers . . . then we should in all probability have been converted to Mohammedanism, that cult which glorifies the heroism and which opens up the seven Heavens to the bold warriors alone. Then the Germanic races would have conquered the world. Christianity alone prevented them from doing so."
Adolf Hitler meets with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, on November 28, 1941. (Image source: German Federal Archive)
Today the Western and feminist alliance with Islam -- the non-Muslim defense of Islamic law, sharia, and importing millions of Muslims -- seems to have become the secularists' solution to putting an end to the West's Biblical past and the revolution in ethics that founded Western civilization. The West's liberal media has made it a daily routine to support this effort.
What made America great is being discarded together with America's imperfect past, without acknowledging that America has taken -- and is still taking -- steps to correct its injustices, as many Middle Eastern nations have not.
There is a good possibility that, with the impact of Islam -- and the replacement of the active values of personal responsibility and "pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps" by the passive values of victimhood for blackmailing, redistribution and abdication to "government" -- the West's humanistic values, which welcomed Islam in the first place, may not survive.
Nonie Darwish, born and raised as a Muslim in Egypt, is the author of the book "Wholly Different; Why I Chose Biblical Values Over Islamic Values".
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Angela Merkel’s Failure May Be Just What Europe Needs
Ross Douthat/The New York Times /November 24/2017
In an unpredictable world, it’s always a pleasure to claim vindication for one’s own prophetic powers, and the political crisis in Germany — the inability of Angela Merkel to form a coalition government that keeps her country’s far right sidelined — could easily inspire an “I told you so” from those of us who have criticized the German chancellor and doubted her leader-of-the-free-world mystique.
That mystique is undeserved because it is too kind to her decision, lauded for its idealism but ultimately deeply reckless and destabilizing, to swiftly admit a million-odd migrants into the heart of Europe in 2015.
No recent move has so clearly highlighted the undemocratic, Berlin-dominated nature of European decision making and the gulf between the elite consensus and popular opinion. And no move has contributed so much to the disturbances since — the worsening of Europe’s terrorism problem, the shock of Brexit and the rise of Trump, and the growing divide between the E.U.’s Franco-German core and its eastern nations.
So it’s fitting that the immigration issue has finally come back to undercut Merkel directly, first costing her votes in Germany’s last election, which saw unprecedented gains for the nationalist Alternative for Germany party, and then making a potential grand coalition impossible in part because the centrist, pro-business Free Democrats now see an opportunity in getting to Merkel’s right on migration policy.
Yes, thanks to the continued fallout from her rash decision, and just as her critics predicted, Germany stares into the abyss of …
… well, actually, no, it doesn’t really stare into the abyss at all. It just has to choose between a new election, which would probably deliver the same divisions but would still leave the nationalists stuck at 10-15 percent of the vote and Merkel’s party with a plurality, and a minority government led by Merkel herself, which would be a novelty in Berlin but which is normal enough in other stable Western countries.
Both options promise problems that Germany hasn’t had to deal with in its modern and unified shape, but also problems that are quite routine for developed-world democracies. Neither option is going to suddenly elevate the AfD to power, unravel the European Union, or bring National Socialism lurching back to life. As political crises go, the one Merkel has brought upon her country isn’t exactly a Weimar moment, or even a Trump-scale shock. And for all the pleasures of “I told you so,” those of us who never bought into the Merkel mystique should not pretend that she’s delivered some sort of catastrophe just yet.
Instead, what she’s delivered is an opportunity for leaders in Germany and in the wider West to learn from her mistakes. For all the understandable talk about the crisis of Western liberalism, the political chaos of the last few years has also demonstrated that many supposed agents of post-liberalism are unready to really push the liberal order to the breaking point.
President Trump is a political weakling, not a Caesar; Marine Le Pen can’t break 35 percent of France’s presidential vote; ISIS has all-but-fallen. Which means that the custodians of the liberal order, the kind of people wringing their hands over Merkel’s present struggles, still have an opportunity to prove their critics wrong, to show that their worldview is more adaptable to changed circumstances than it has seemed.
I’m not sure they’re ready for that adaptation; instead, my sense of the state of Western elites after Trump and Brexit is similar to the analysis offered recently by Michael Brendan Dougherty in National Review.
Dougherty has been circulating in high-level confabs since Trump’s election and reports a persistent mood of entitlement and ’90s nostalgia — a refusal to take responsibility for foreign policy failures, to admit that post-national utopianism was oversold, to reckon with the social decay and spiritual crisis shadowing the cosmopolitan dream.
Indeed, all the high-level agita surrounding Germany’s political crisis — good heavens, not a minority government! — suggests a basic deficiency of elite imagination that will be one of the things that brings down the liberal order if it does eventually fall.
But while it’s possible that a Bourbon Restoration scenario awaits, in which our overclass learns nothing and forgets nothing during the Trumpian disruption, there is something mildly encouraging in the willingness of Merkel’s competitors in the political center, not just on the extreme right, to act as though they’ve learned lessons from her high-minded blunder, and to campaign and negotiate as if the public’s opinions about migration policy should actually prevail. Better that kind of crisis-generating move by far, in fact, than a grand coalition of parties united only in their anti-populism, and perfectly designed to ratify the populist critique that all the elites are in cahoots.
What will save the liberal order, if it is to be saved, will be the successful integration of concerns that its leaders have dismissed or ignored back into normal political debate, an end to what Josh Barro of Business Insider has called “no-choice politics,” in which genuine ideological pluralism is something to be smothered with a pillow.
In Angela Merkel’s Europe right now, that should mean making peace with Brexit, ceasing to pursue ever further political centralization by undemocratic means, breaking up the ’60s-era intellectual cartels that control the commanding heights of culture, creating space for religious resistance to the lure of nihilism and suicide — and accepting that the days of immigration open doors are over, and the careful management of migrant flows is a central challenge for statesmen going forward.
But a necessary first step, in the country that really rules the continent, would be for more people to recognize that if Merkel’s long rule is threatened it need not be a sign of liberalism in crisis, but rather an indicator that it could yet be restored to health.

Exclusive- Lebanon: Is Cheat-and-Retreat Back on the Menu?
Amir Taheri/Asharq Al Awsat/November 24/17
The Arab League holds an emergency meeting on Lebanon. France and the United States agree to work together to contain the Lebanese “Hezbollah.” Russia indicates support for compromise. Iran’s official government invites everyone to “joint diplomatic efforts” while the unofficial government promises fire and brimstone against attempts at curbing “Hezbollah.”These recent Middle East headlines remind me of “The Adventures of Emir Arsalan The Famous”, a popular Persian picaresque novel written in the 19th century. At one point the eponymic hero, searching the world for the great beauty Farrokh-Laqa who may be nothing but a fantasy, feels as if his life has become a constant repetition of exactly the same events and images. The novel’s conceit echoes the Pythagorean theory of “eternal recurrence” according to which whatever is going to happen has already happened again and again.
In the case of “Hezbollah” the “eternal recurrence” started at the moment of its birth in 1982 when then Iranian Ambassador to Damascus Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Mohtashami informed his masters in Tehran that he had created “a structure” to dislodge the network of Palestinian gunmen loyal to Yasser Arafat, who, until the Israeli military intervention, had turned parts of southern Lebanon into “Fatahland”.
At the time, Iran and Israel were both happy to see the back of Arafat’s fighters. Israel regarded their presence close to itself as a threat while Tehran sought the destruction of the PLO because of Arafat’s support for Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran.
Soon, however, it became clear that Tehran meant to use its new branch of Hezbollah as a Trojan horse to turn Lebanon into a satrapy in all but name. The scheme scandalized and frightened many in Lebanon, including the then one-star General Michel Aoun who emerged as a champion of the campaign against the creation of a parallel army in Lebanon. A promise to disband the armed section of Hezbollah became a major item in the secret negotiations that the late Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini’s government held with the Reagan administration in Washington in 1985-86.
However, eight years later Tehran was trying to sell the same bill of goods to a new US administration under President Bill Clinton. In an 180-minute meeting in Damascus in 1993, Clinton’s Secretary of State Warren Christopher made a deal with then Syrian President Hafez Assad who assured him that Tehran was also on board. The supposed “deal”, sold by Christopher to the Israelis as a major achievement, persuaded Israeli leaders not to take military action against “Hezbollah.”
However, the belauded “deal” soon proved meaningless as “Hezbollah” continued pinprick attacks against Israel’s Lebanese allies while also seizing more Western hostages on command from Tehran. Three years later, Christopher was back in Damascus demanding that Assad put the previous “deal” in writing in exchange for Israel ending its “Operation Grapes of Wrath” without destroying “Hezbollah’s” armed structures.This time, other actors became involved in the charade. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, an old expert on the region, embarked on a shuttle diplomacy to save “Hezbollah” from destruction in exchange for a promise to dissolve its armed units. France went further by inviting then Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Velayati to Paris where he signed an accord with his French counterpart Herve de Charrette to guarantee the continued existence of “Hezbollah” in exchange for giving up its arms.
The tactic that Tehran used is known in diplomacy as “cheat-and-retreat”: When your back is to the wall you sign whatever your adversaries want. And, because your adversaries do not have the same attention span, they will soon forget what you had signed. Then you can resume your shenanigans until the next crisis. In the past three decades the tactic has worked several times in saving “Hezbollah”.
The only concession that Iran has given is that, since 2006, it has not used “Hezbollah” for attacking Israel. This may be because Tehran understands that it might not be possible to deceive the Israelis a fifth time and that the next round may force Israel to ignore “diplomatic initiatives” and UN “resolutions”, and go full Monty in removing “Hezbollah” from the equation. Tehran has been using “Hezbollah” in other theaters, including Iraq, Syria and Yemen as part of a strategy to dominate Arab states already weakened by civil war and/or foreign intervention. “We’re fighting away from our borders so that we won’t have to fight along them,” says Gen. Pour-Dastan, who was Commander of the Iranian Ground Forces until last month. Hezbollah may not be the sharpest knife in Tehran’s drawer, but it certainly is an element of instability in the region. As far as Iran is concerned this is a low-cost strategy, requiring around $800 million a year only, according to an analysis of Iran’s budgetary allocations. “Hezbollah’s” primary victim remains Lebanon, a country that risks becoming an ungoverned space because its state institutions are becoming shadows while real power is exercised by “Hezbollah.”
We shall soon see whether “cheat-and-retreat” will once again deceive the Arabs and the Western powers into refraining from meaningful action to restore the authority of the Lebanese state. For Lebanon to regain its dignity as a nation-state “Hezbollah” must become a normal political party not a Mafia-style armed group holding the nation to ransom on behalf of foreign paymasters.  The absence of strong state structures has been singled out by many Muslim scholars as the principal reason for the historic weakness of Islamic nations and their domination by Western powers from the 19th century onward.
In 1883, Jamaleddin Assadabadi, known to Arabs as al-Afghani, gave a lecture in Paris’ Sorbonne University in which he argued that Muslim nations would remain “vulnerable” for as long as their state structures could not exercise authority in the face of non-state forces controlled by interest groups or foreign powers.

40 years since Sadat visit: ‘Israel had snipers ready on the rooftops’
بعد 40 سنة على زيارة الرئيس السادات لإسرائيل
Adi Rosenberg, Amir Bogen/Ynetnews/November 24/17
On November 19, 1977, an Egyptian Air Force plane landed at Ben-Gurion Airport, carrying the person who—until that moment—had been Israel’s bitter enemy: Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. The people who were there recount the historic occasion and the events that led up to it. ‘It was clear to both sides that we had reached a deadlock in the wars,’ says former Cabinet Secretary Aryeh Naor.
On Saturday evening, November 19, 1977, a Boeing 707 aircraft adorned with Egyptian Air Force symbols landed at Ben-Gurion Airport. Tensions were high on the runway. Until the very last moment, there were some people in the defense establishment who had warned that it was all a trick, or maybe even a major terror attack in the heart of Israel.
But then the door opened, revealing the person who—until that moment—had been Israel’s bitter enemy: Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
The next day, Sadat visited the Knesset and delivered his historic speech, declaring: “I come to you today on solid ground, to shape a new life, to establish peace. We all, on this land, the land of God; we all, Muslims, Christians and Jews, worship God and no one but God.”
Exactly 40 years after that historic occasion, we spoke to the people who were there.
“It was an extremely exciting event,” says Roni Milo, who served as a Knesset member and as chairman of the Likud faction at the time. “He was the first Arab leader to arrive, and not just any Arab leader, but the leader of the biggest Arab country. Egypt is not some small country, it’s a country we had a horrible war against, the Yom Kippur War. Making peace with them was a historical vision.
“The image of Knesset Speaker Yitzhak Shamir, Prime Minister Menachem Begin and the Egyptian president sitting together at the Knesset sends shivers down my spine to this very day. It’s a key event in Israel’s history by any measure. Two years after he was elected prime minister, it was Begin, who everyone had said would lead to war, who hosted Sadat at the Knesset, and a peace agreement was eventually signed with Egypt.”
Sadat was received with great enthusiasm by the Israeli public. Prime Minister Begin, President Ephraim Katzir and the state’s top officials were there to greet him, including the person who served as his aide-de-camp during the visit, Menahem Milson, a professor of Arabic language and literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
“Sadat’s visit to Israel was one of the most important events in the history of the state,” Milson says. “When I was Informed of my appointment as the aide-de-camp for the visit, I was very happy. It’s an event which changed Israel’s status in the region. I saluted Sadat and greeted him in Arabic. He was very surprised by my Arabic, raised his hands and shouted, ‘Bravo!’ It was a very exciting moment for me, and it’s a memory that lives in my heart to this very day.
“I had to shape the position. I composed the wording of the greeting myself, because the IDF didn’t have an Arabic version that was acceptable in Arab states, so I had to decide on my own how to fill the role.”
Charlie Biton, who served as an MK on behalf of the Hadash party at the time, recalls the historic occasion too. “I supported Sadat’s arrival in Israel,” he says. “We believed wholeheartedly that we were kicking off an important and serious process that would lead to peace between all of the region’s people. Egypt was the most important thing. The entire nation was excited, not just we.”
“Sadat’s visit didn’t come out of the blue and didn’t happen one bright day,” says Aryeh Naor, the cabinet secretary at the time. "The ground was prepared, and people worked very hard on it. With all due respect to the visit, the goal was to make peace. It was clear that the visit had to be formal and friendly, like two countries with peaceful and friendly relations rather than enemies. But while the atmosphere is important, what really determines historic moves is decisions and things that are conducted in secrecy”
‘Begin chose peace over Sinai communities’
Six months earlier, the political upheaval and the hawkish Begin’s election victory, raised concerns in the Arab world and in the United States over the possibility of peace in the region. Begin was against a withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, for example, and saw them as part of the State of Israel. He also quit the unity government in 1970 in protest of its decision to accept the Rogers Plan and United Nations Resolution 242, which called on Israel to withdraw from the territories it occupied in 1967. Despite his views, however, Begin did see it fit to negotiate with the region’s countries in a bid to reach peace agreements.
“Begin and Moshe Dayan’s opinions changed,” Naor adds. “Immediately after the Six-Day War, Dayan said that if he had to choose between peace with Egypt and controlling Sharm el-Sheikh, he would choose Sharm el-Sheikh. After Sadat arrived, he declared: ‘If I have to choose between peace and Sharm el-Sheikh, I choose peace, and if you ask me what made me change my mind, I have two answers. The first is that only a donkey doesn’t change his mind, and the second is that when I said I preferred Sharm el-Sheikh over peace, peace wasn’t at arm’s length.’ Begin was known as a great hawk, and suddenly he gave up Sinai. These people went through an interesting conceptual process, and it led to results.”
The change in the Israeli and Egyptian governments’ state of mind is attributed to the Yom Kippur War. “It was clear to both sides that we had reached a deadlock, and that the wars weren’t ending with an unequivocal defeat of the enemy,” Naor adds. “While the IDF won from a military perspective, it became clear to us that the wars were taking a heavy toll and that we could not rely on a miracle to happen again, like in the Six-Day War.
“The ground had been prepared, and the people were more mature. Begin realized that the only way to prevent the creation of an Arab coalition that would threaten the state’s existence was by removing Egypt from the circle of war. To do that, there was a need to reinforce Sadat’s tendency to disconnect from the Soviet Union and team up with the US, and to present a peace initiative that would satisfy the Egyptian desires, and that’s what Begin did.
“He linked the whole process to the US, and it wasn’t simple. There was an opposition within the government too. Defense Minister Ezer Weizman believed that the deal should be finalized face-to-face with Sadat alone. But Begin insisted and wanted the Americans in the picture so that the peace, if achieved, would also last.
“At first, they tried to leave the Sinai communities out of it and searched for all kinds of solutions and legal deals, and when it turned out that there was no choice and that he had to choose between the communities and the agreement with Egypt, Begin chose the agreement.”
The evacuation of the Sinai communities produced difficult images. IDF soldiers were documented being attacked by the evacuees, and the settlers’ pain stirred up emotions among the Israeli public. Begin defended the peace by saying: “We are fighting for peace today. We are blessed to have reached this point. Yes, there are difficulties in peace, there is pain in peace, there are victims for peace. They are all preferable to the victims of war.”
On March 26, 1979, Israel and Egypt signed the peace treaty. The Israeli Embassy in Cairo was opened in February 1980.
‘Sadat initiative pushed talks in wrong direction’
Stuart Eizenstat, who served as US President Jimmy Carter’s political advisor, and Prof. William Quandt, who was a National Security Council member and the administration’s envoy on Middle Eastern affairs, were both personally involved in the negotiations that led to the Camp David Accords in 1978. Forty years after the Sadat visit, they reveal a completely different picture from the Israeli and global public’s perception of the Egyptian president’s gesture. According to them, the historic visit nearly thwarted the efforts for a dialogue between the two countries.
The importance of the visit, Eizenstat says in a special interview to Ynet, was to clear the air in regards to the continuation of the peace process. “Sadat broke a major taboo in the Arab world—a visit to Jerusalem. It showed everyone that he was willing to talk. Personally, I thought the visit would be an event that would change the rules of the game, but I didn’t share the euphoria.”
Indeed, from the American point of view, Sadat’s initiative pushed the talks in the wrong direction and almost led to a complete halt.
Sadat’s visit, Eizenstat and Quandt say, was actually a subversive defiance of the White House and the comprehensive peace initiative that was being devised there, which aimed to bring together representatives from Israel, Egypt, Syria, Jordan and the Palestinians in Geneva.
Despite the difficulties concerning the Palestinian representation at the conference, Carter managed to enlist Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev to support the initiative. On October 1 1977, the US and the Soviet Union issued a joint statement on their diplomatic vision for the Middle East—a memorandum of understanding which put the Israeli government and Sadat under pressure.
While the Jewish community expressed its resentment and got Carter to declare his unconditional support for Israel, Egypt had no hold on the American public. That was when Sadat decided to make an unequivocal move, out of a desire to get closer to the US and avoid an international conference that would make it difficult for him to accomplish his most important task: Returning Sinai to Egypt—a matter he favored over the Palestinian problem and other issues on the Arab world’s agenda.
“Sadat watched all this from the side, and decided about the visit because he believed the Geneva conference had no chance of succeeding. He didn’t want to give (Syrian President) Hafez Assad a right to veto Egypt's moves. He understood that he had to take a one-sided initiative,” says Eizenstat.
Quandt reveals that Carter tried to include Sadat in the plans and sent him a personal telegram in his handwriting, asking for his help in jumpstarting the process: “This is where his idea to do something dramatic in Jerusalem was raised, but his proposal was groundless and impractical—to hold a summit of Arab leaders and the UN Security Council in Jerusalem.”
Quandt believes Sadat was annoyed by the Americans’ negative response and broke off contact. The next time he was heard was on November 9, when he addressed the Egyptian parliament and announced his willingness to visit Jerusalem. “The hint was that if we failed to cooperate with his initiative, he would make his own move.”
Quandt, the author of “Camp David: Peacemaking and Politics,” is a professor emeritus in the Department of Politics at the University of Virginia. Sadat’s speech, he notes, was preceded by a dialogue brokered by the king of Morocco between Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan and Egyptian Deputy Prime Minister Hassan Tuhami—talks which led nowhere, he says.
Nevertheless, many in the American administration were shocked by Sadat’s willingness to travel to Jerusalem. A phone call from the Egyptian foreign minister assured them that it was merely propaganda and nothing else, but Sadat spoke to US Ambassador to Egypt Hermann Eilts and admitted that his intentions were serious. Ten days later, he landed in Israel, surprising the Americans and the entire world.
‘Carter has no choice’
“We didn’t know a thing about the visit. It took us completely by surprise,” Eizenstat recalls. “Carter was angry about this initiative because it affected his plan for a comprehensive peace initiative. But he realized that it really was a historic occasion, and he had no choice but to join the initiative. He was determined, however, to leave an opening in the agreement for the incorporation of a solution for the Palestinian problem.”
Quandt agrees: “Carter was disappointed by this move. He found it difficult to accept the fact that his original initiative was being violated and that he had to change his approach. The surprised Carter’s first response wasn’t positive, but he quickly realized that this was an important message from Sadat, which we had to leverage in favor of the process. It led to a substantial change in our strategy. We had to decide whether to join his initiative or to try to convince him to slow down. Eventually, we had no choice. We had to support Sadat, knowing that he was endangering his position in the Arab world and that we were the compensation for that. He trusted us.”
The Israelis were less surprised, as the visit had been secretly coordinated with them. Nevertheless, there were suspicions.
“We knew the Israelis were ready with snipers on the airport rooftops, because they were afraid Sadat was deceiving them and that he had Egyptian commando soldiers on the plane with him, who would attack and assassinate the Israeli leadership,” Quandt says. “But at the point Sadat was the air, they knew everything was in order. Barbara Walters herself informed the Israelis in advance that there was no cause for concern.”
“It was a bloodcurdling moment,” Eizenstat recalls. “Some thought it was a trap, but Begin had no hesitations. He knew it was a necessary step.”
Quandt says the Israeli leadership was at odds over the proper response to the gesture: “Dayan was impressed by Sadat, but he didn’t get emotionally carried away. He was willing to meet Sadat halfway, but he doubted he would have the courage to turn his back on the Arab world.
“Ezer Weizman was the optimist one among them. He thought the visit was a fantastic move and that Sadat was the real thing. He believed it was a breakthrough and acknowledged the fact that Sadat had taken a big risk and that Israel should reward him by returning Sinai and finalizing the deal. Aharon Barak (the cabinet secretary at the time) estimated that an agreement was possible too, but insisted on embedding the speech in a legal infrastructure.
And what about Begin?
“Begin was difficult to read. He kept his cards close to his chest. He wasn’t excited about the visit and didn’t feel it had any meaning as part of the negotiations. He told us it was a good thing that Sadat had come, but he didn’t see it as any concession on his part. We were impressed by Sadat’s move, but every time we got carried away, Begin was there to curb our enthusiasm. He made sure to declare that he had no intention of returning all of Sinai to Egypt. We knew he was holding onto his last card, and we assumed he would let go of it eventually. It did happen, but only on the last day at Camp David.”
On the personal level, what was supposed to be Sadat and Begin’s first date ahead of a love story, eventually left the Egyptian president brokenhearted.
“Sadat wanted to break the psychological barrier and show the Israelis that he was willing to talk peace. We thought he was ready, but we never imagined he would cause such a fundamental change in the Israeli public opinion and improve his image. I remember watching the live broadcast of him getting off the plane, smiling, hugging Golda Meir and shaking Ariel Sharon’s hand. It was unbelievable, but the visit failed to create a friendly relationship between Sadat and Begin. It didn’t happen there,” Quandt clarifies.
Begin’s stubbornness and his unwillingness to meet Sadat halfway shattered the Egyptian president’s dream and almost shattered the dream of peace in the Middle East.
“The negotiations that followed the visit, before Camp David, were very inefficient,” says Eizenstat. “Begin wouldn’t compromise and Sadat was very, very frustrated about it. He said, ‘Here’s me making a huge historic gesture and putting my political career and my life at risk, while this man—meaning Begin—isn’t ready for a full withdrawal from Sinai.’ He was unable to understand this refusal.”
Sadat repeatedly referred to Begin as “this man” during the period that followed the visit. “The visit was misleading, because it created a false feeling that Israelis and Egyptians could sit down and solve the problems themselves, but it was quickly revealed that this wasn’t the case,” says Quandt.
“When Sadat returned from Jerusalem, he told associates that he never wanted to meet ‘this man’ again. ‘I did what I had to do, I offered them peace,’ he asserted. Sadat thought his gesture was a significant move, but Begin saw it as merely a first step in long and complex negotiations. Sadat expected a declaration on Israel’s willingness to withdraw from all the occupied territories, and when that didn’t happen he felt betrayed.”
So after the euphoria of the visit, the next morning arrived, and it was particularly grim as far as Sadat was concerned. Suddenly, he lost interest in the process he had initiated, and tried to avoid further meetings with Begin.
“We told him he couldn’t do that. Begin is a man of small details and he would want to discuss everything, apart from the Palestinian problem. But he said he couldn’t bear the thought of meeting with him again,” says Quandt, adding that Egyptian leader was shocked when the Americans asked him to invite the Israeli prime minister to make a reciprocal visit to Cairo. Having no other choice, he agreed to host him in Ismailia.
“Immediately after the elation of the Jerusalem gesture, everything faded away. The meeting in Ismailia, which was successful as far as Begin was concerned, left Sadat disappointed. He actually entered a state of depression after it. Everything fell apart. We knew that without American mediation it wouldn’t work.”
And so, several weeks after he defied Carter and his comprehensive peace plan, and launched his own one-sided initiative, Sadat was forced to return to the American president, helpless. In February 1978, Carter invited Sadat on an intimate weekend at Camp David in an effort to cheer him up and restart the negotiations.
“When we came into the picture, we saw a very sad Sadat smoking a pipe. He was really depressed. He really hated Begin,” Quandt recalls.
Eizenstat says everything seemed hopeless until Carter came in as mediator: “As a matter of fact, Sadat and Begin met just twice at Camp David, in the beginning and in the end. Begin nearly walked away from the talks following another unreasonable demand made by Sadat, and Carter realized that if he wanted the negotiations to succeed, he had to take matters into his own hands with Weizman and Dayan’s help.”
Sadat was highly appreciated by the Israeli public for his initiative and courage, but the Egyptian leader did not enjoy the same appreciation in his own country.
“Sadat was a very special leader. When he came to Jerusalem, the Egyptian public was in shock,” says Quandt. “He took a huge risk and he couldn’t afford to fail. It’s a step of to be or not to be.
“Most people around him thought that Sadat—like the Americans see Trump—was unpredictable. They always made it clear that it was his own initiative and that he didn’t ask them what to do. There was always a lot of support for an agreement among the public, but the expectations for prosperity in in Egypt weren’t realized. The feeling was that Israel had gained much more from the deal. So when Sadat was murdered, he wasn’t mourned by many people. We’ll likely still see no celebrations in Egypt to mark the visit’s anniversary.”
So did Sadat’s visit, which was a groundbreaking move, leave any political legacy? Quandt believes it was a one-sided initiative, which is a rare thing in the Arab world, and not many people are willing to follow in his footsteps.
“Sadat made his move without any preconditions, and without any promise for a reward. That’s what happened to Yasser Arafat too, because Yitzhak Rabin never promised him anything in advance. You have to be a self-confident leader to take such a huge step without any promises. That was the difference between them and Hafez Assad, for example, who was unwilling to enter negotiations without preconditions. The leaders of the Arab world feel vulnerable when it comes to the internal arena. Sadat was willing to break the rules and pay a price for it, while others look beyond their shoulder for their political survival.”,7340,L-5047042,00.html