September 04/17

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For Today
I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke 15/01-07/:"All the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’So he told them this parable: ‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, "Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost."Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.

Whoever knows God listens to us, and whoever is not from God does not listen to us. From this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error."
First Letter of John 03,23-24.04,01-06/:"This is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us. Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world. Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore what they say is from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and whoever is not from God does not listen to us. From this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error."

Question: "What does it mean that believers are to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16)?"

Answer: Jesus used the concepts of salt and light a number of different times to refer to the role of His followers in the world. One example is found in Matthew 5:13: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.” Salt had two purposes in the Middle East of the first century. Because of the lack of refrigeration, salt was used to preserve food, especially meat which would quickly spoil in the desert environment. Believers in Christ are preservatives to the world, preserving it from the evil inherent in the society of ungodly men whose unredeemed natures are corrupted by sin (Psalm 14:3; Romans 8:8).
Second, salt was used then, as now, as a flavor enhancer. In the same way that salt enhances the flavor of the food it seasons, the followers of Christ stand out as those who “enhance” the flavor of life in this world. Christians, living under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and in obedience to Christ, will inevitably influence the world for good, as salt has a positive influence on the flavor of the food it seasons. Where there is strife, we are to be peacemakers; where there is sorrow, we are to be the ministers of Christ, binding up wounds, and where there is hatred, we are to exemplify the love of God in Christ, returning good for evil (Luke 6:35).
In the analogy of light to the world, the good works of Christ’s followers are to shine for all to see. The following verses in Matthew 5 highlight this truth: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16, NASB). The idea here is similar—the presence of light in darkness is something which is unmistakable. The presence of Christians in the world must be like a light in the darkness, not only in the sense that the truth of God’s Word brings light to the darkened hearts of sinful man (John 1:1-10), but also in the sense that our good deeds must be evident for all to see. And indeed, our deeds will be evident if they are performed in accordance with the other principles which Jesus mentions in this passage, such as the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-11. Notice especially that the concern is not that Christians would stand out for their own sake, but that those who looked on might “glorify your Father who is in heaven” (v. 16, KJV).
In view of these verses, what sorts of things can hinder or prevent the Christian from fulfilling his or her role as salt and light in the world? The passage clearly states that the difference between the Christian and the world must be preserved; therefore, any choice on our part which blurs the distinction between us and the rest of the world is a step in the wrong direction. This can happen either through a choice to accept the ways of the world for the sake of comfort or convenience or to contravene the law of obedience to Christ.
Mark 9:50 suggests that saltiness can be lost specifically through a lack of peace with one another; this follows from the command to “have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.” And in Luke 14:34-35, we find a reference to the metaphor of salt once again, this time in the context of obedient discipleship to Jesus Christ. The loss of saltiness occurs in the failure of the Christian to daily take up the cross and follow Christ wholeheartedly.
It seems, then, that the role of the Christian as salt and light in the world may be hindered or prevented through any choice to compromise or settle for that which is more convenient or comfortable, rather than that which is truly best and pleasing to the Lord. Moreover, the status of salt and light is something which follows naturally from the Christian’s humble obedience to the commandments of Christ. It is when we depart from the Spirit-led lifestyle of genuine discipleship that the distinctions between ourselves and the rest of the world become blurred and our testimony is hindered. Only by remaining focused on Christ and being obedient to Him can we expect to remain salt and light in the world.
**Recommended Resource: Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul, Revised and Updated by J.P. Moreland

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on September 03-04/17
Bashar al-Assad has clung to power since the uprising in his country turned into a bloody war /Robert Fisk/Independent/September 03/17
The Hezbollah-Daesh deal is sponsored by Iran and Syria/Raghida Dergham/ArabNews/September 03/17
Don’t shoot the peacekeepers, they’re doing their best/Yossi Mekelberg/ArabNews/September 03/17
Europe: Jihadists Posing as Migrants/Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/September 03/17
Geert Wilders/The Europe We Want/Speech from the Ambrosetti Conference/
Gatestone Institute/September 03/17

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on September 03-04/17
Lebanon’s Free Patriotic Movement Renews Call for ‘Direct Dialogue’ with Damascus
Hariri Concluding Paris Trip: Backing Army Strengthens Lebanon’s Institutions
Ibrahim: Ain el-Hilweh Security File Must be Addressed Once and for All
Hariri to Visit Moscow for Talks with Putin, Lavrov
Grenade Explodes in Ain el-Hilweh after Islamists Clash over 'Firecrackers'
Slain Troops' Families Say DNA Result Tuesday, Urge Omar Miqati Execution
Hizbullah Slams U.S. over IS Convoy Stranded in Syria
Activists: IS Convoy Evacuated from Lebanon Border Treks Ahead despite U.S. Strikes Threat
Geagea sees Hezbollah's stance regarding Daesh convoy confusing

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on
September 03-04/17
Trump Says 'Appeasement' Will Not Work after N. Korea Nuke Test
Iran Tests Home-Grown Air Defense System
North Korea Says Tested Hydrogen Bomb with 'Perfect Success'
Sara Netanyahu Takes Polygraph Test over Graft Claims
IS Clashes with Syrian Regime Kill 150
Syria Refugees in Turkey Make Rare Trip Home for Eid
French leader says UN must react to North Korea
Saudi Arabia represents the heart of the Muslim world, strives to achieve solidarity, says King Salman
Fatah Condemns Granting Israeli Settlers Administrative Power in Khalil
20 Sailors Saved as Cargo Ship Sinks Off Oman Coast

Latest Lebanese Related News published on September 03-04/17
Lebanon’s Free Patriotic Movement Renews Call for ‘Direct Dialogue’ with Damascus
Asharq Al-Awsat/September 03/17/Beirut – Lebanese Foreign Minister and head of the Free Patriotic Movement Jebran Bassil reiterated on Saturday that there can be no resolution to Lebanon’s Syrian refugee crisis “without dialogue with the Syrian regime.”He therefore urged the Lebanese government to launch direct dialogue with the regime in order to return the refugees to their homeland. “We support their safe return to their country, whether in communication of the regime or not,” he added. “This is not a condition for their return. Some of them may return without contacting the regime. Syria will not mind that. The return of others may require contacting Syria…. This can be arranged during a time and through a mechanism that ensures Lebanon’s interest and unity,” he continued. “The remaining refugees require a longer time and better circumstances for them to return,” said the minister. “The return can be organized in phases, but it is important that this process begin,” stressed Bassil. “If the gunmen can return, why can’t the regular people?” he wondered. “Should we wait for an international green light? This will not happen any time soon,” he noted, saying that the refugee file “is a national, urgent and existential issue in Lebanon.”“Can such a pressing matter be linked to something that will not happen any time soon, such as the departure of regime head Bashar Assad?” Bassil asked.

Hariri Concluding Paris Trip: Backing Army Strengthens Lebanon’s Institutions
Asharq Al-Awsat/September 03/17/Beirut – Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri declared on Saturday that supporting the army strengthens the Lebanese state and “enables it to combat terrorism” that is threatening several countries. He hoped at the end of his two-day visit to Paris where he met French President Emmanuel Macron that a scheduled conference aimed at backing the army would garner the required aid.The conference is set to be held in Italy.Hariri also met a number of French officials during his trip, including Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and Defense Minister Florence Parly. The Lebanese PM said that Macron had asserted to him his country’s political, military and moral backing of Lebanon. “Macron is assured of his steps and he is a man of vision,” stated Hariri in an interview with local television. The French president will help encourage France and Europeans to attend conferences that support Lebanon, he continued in wake of the country’s hosting of 1.5 million Syrian refugees. One such form of support is a Paris conference that will be held soon and which will encourage investment in Lebanon, revealed Hariri. Another conference, whose date is tentatively set for early 2018, will also be held in order to tackle the refugee file. The Lebanese official also highlighted the military cooperation between Beirut and Paris, saying that the joint trainings are held between the two sides and that Lebanon’s army had received equipment from its French counterpart. Hariri is scheduled to travel to Russia on September 13 where he will meet with President Vladimir Putin. “Discussions between us are very frank. We will talks about stopping support to Syrian regime leader Bashar Assad,” said the Lebanese PM. Hariri had kicked off his visit to Paris at the end of August. He concluded it on Friday by meeting Parly at his Paris residence. The two officials addressed strengthening cooperation between Lebanon and France, especially in regards to backing the army and Lebanese security forces. Lebanese President Michel Aoun is meanwhile set to travel to Paris on September 25.
“Aoun’s visit will highlight the relationship between Lebanon and France,” stressed Hariri. It will mark the first foreign trip Aoun makes since his election as president last fall.

Ibrahim: Ain el-Hilweh Security File Must be Addressed Once and for All
Naharnet/September 03/17/General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim on Sunday called for a drastic solution for the security situation in the restive Palestinian refugee camp of Ain el-Hilweh. “It should be addressed once and for all, because it represents a security gap in the Lebanese and Palestinian entities,” Ibrahim told Radio Voice of Lebanon (93.3) when asked about the Ain el-Hilweh security file. Commenting on the removal of Islamic State militants from the Lebanese-Syrian border following separate but simultaneous operations by the Lebanese army and Hizbullah on both sides of the frontier, Ibrahim said: “Militarily, IS’ threat has become something of the past.” “But this does not negate the possibility of a security breach inside Lebanon,” Ibrahim added, while noting that “this has become more unlikely and can easily be exposed.” The restive camp had witnessed a week of deadly clashes last month between the secular Fatah Movement and small Islamist groups led by the militants Bilal Badr and Bilal al-Orqoub. By longstanding convention, the Lebanese army does not enter Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, leaving the Palestinian factions themselves to handle security. Ain el-Hilweh -- the most densely populated Palestinian camp in Lebanon -- is home to some 61,000 Palestinians, including 6,000 who have fled the war in neighboring Syria. Several armed factions including extremist groups have a foothold in the camp which has been plagued for years by intermittent clashes.

Hariri to Visit Moscow for Talks with Putin, Lavrov
Naharnet/September 03/17/Prime Minister Saad Hariri is expected to visit Russia in the coming days in the wake of his two-day visit to France, a media report said on Sunday. “Hariri will continue his foreign visits in the coming weeks to rally assistance and support for Lebanon in the face of the refugee crisis’ burden on the Lebanese economy, and to seek support for the Lebanese army,” al-Hayat newspaper said. Quoting “reliable sources,” al-Hayat said Hariri will travel to Moscow on September 10 for an official visit involving talks with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Grenade Explodes in Ain el-Hilweh after Islamists Clash over 'Firecrackers'
Naharnet/September 03/17/A hand grenade exploded by accident at 8:00 am Sunday in the al-Briksat neighborhood of the Ain el-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp, causing no casualties, the National News Agency reported. The camp had witnessed violence overnight after a dispute over “children playing with firecrackers” escalated into an armed clash between the Islamist Usbat al-Ansar and Jund al-Sham groups. The clash in the camp’s al-Tawari neighborhood resulted in the wounding of a relative of a senior Usbat al-Ansar official after he was shot at the hands of Jund al-Sham member Hassan M., aka al-Shibel, the agency said. The restive camp had witnessed a week of deadly clashes last month between the secular Fatah Movement and small Islamist groups led by the militants Bilal Badr and Bilal al-Orqoub. By longstanding convention, the Lebanese army does not enter Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, leaving the Palestinian factions themselves to handle security. Ain el-Hilweh -- the most densely populated Palestinian camp in Lebanon -- is home to some 61,000 Palestinians, including 6,000 who have fled the war in neighboring Syria. Several armed factions including extremist groups have a foothold in the camp which has been plagued for years by intermittent clashes.

Slain Troops' Families Say DNA Result Tuesday, Urge Omar Miqati Execution
Naharnet/September 03/17/The official results of DNA tests conducted to determine whether nine bodies found near the eastern border belong to Lebanese troops abducted and killed by the Islamic State group will be released on Tuesday, the soldiers’ families said. “The tests took some time due to scientific and medical reasons,” the relatives told al-Hayat newspaper in remarks published Sunday. A ministerial source meanwhile told the daily that by Saturday, “the bodies of seven out of nine soldiers had been identified.” Eight bodies had been recovered last Sunday while the body of a ninth soldier was located on Tuesday as part of a Hizbullah-led deal with IS. The jihadist group offered the information about the troops’ burial site in return for being allowed to withdraw to eastern Syria. Hussein Youssef, the father of slain soldier Mohammed, demanded “accountability for every person who took part in the kidnap operation and for anyone who decided not to liberate our sons the moment they were captured or shortly afterwards.”Youssef also demanded “the execution of the detainee Omar Miqati, who filmed the crimes of the execution of the martyr soldiers Ali al-Sayyed and Abbas Medlej.”Miqati has been described as a senior IS official.

Hizbullah Slams U.S. over IS Convoy Stranded in Syria
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/September 03/17/Hizbllah has accused U.S.-led forces of stranding a convoy of Islamic State fighters and civilians headed for Syria's Deir Ezzor province under an evacuation deal. The convoy carrying hundreds of IS fighters as well as civilians was meant to travel from the Lebanon-Syria border to jihadist-held territory in eastern Syria under a deal Hizbullah helped broker. But the U.S.-led coalition has pounded the road to Deir Ezzor with air strikes to prevent the convoy reaching the IS-held town of Albukamal on the Iraqi border. Hizbullah, which has defended the deal to remove IS fighters from the Lebanese frontier, said U.S.-led forces had effectively stranded most of the convoy's 17 buses in the Syrian desert, beyond government reach. "They are also preventing anyone from reaching them even to provide humanitarian assistance to families, the sick and wounded and the elderly," the Hizbullah statement said. The convoy left the Lebanon-Syria border region on Monday, but Hizbullah said six of the buses remained in Syrian government-held territory. The deal, brokered by Hizbullah with the support of its Syrian regime ally after a week-long offensive against IS, has been fiercely criticized by U.S.-led forces and the Iraqi government. The international coalition fighting IS has said it is unacceptable for jihadists to be transported to the border with Iraq, where pro-government forces this week ousted the extremist group from the northern city of Tal Afar.In a statement overnight, the coalition said it had sent a message to Damascus through Syria's ally Russia to say that "the Coalition will not condone IS fighters moving further east to the Iraqi border.""The Coalition values human life and has offered suggestions on a course of action to save the women and children from any further suffering as a result of the Syrian regime's agreement," it added, without providing further details.The coalition said it would not strike the convoy, but acknowledged hitting IS fighters and vehicles "seeking to facilitate the movement of IS fighters to the border area of our Iraqi partners." Hizbullah accused U.S. forces of hypocrisy, saying they had previously allowed IS fighters to flee territories in Iraq. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has described the deal as "unacceptable" and an "insult to the Iraqi people." In Lebanon some criticized it for allowing fighters suspected of killing Lebanese citizens to escape on "air-conditioned buses."
Deir Ezzor in Syria's east is one of the jihadists' last remaining strongholds, where they hold most of the province and parts of its capital of the same name.

Activists: IS Convoy Evacuated from Lebanon Border Treks Ahead despite U.S. Strikes Threat

Associated Press/Naharnet/September 03/17/Dozens of Islamic State group members and their families have crossed into areas controlled by the extremists despite U.S. threats to bomb the convoy days after they left the Lebanon-Syria border, Syrian opposition activists say.
The opposition activists' announcement came after the U.S.-led coalition fighting IS said the 17-bus convoy of IS militants and their families that left the Lebanon-Syria border six days ago is still stranded in the Syrian desert. More than 300 militants and their families are in the convoy after vacating the border area as part of a Hizbullah-negotiated deal to transport them to an IS-held town in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border. Hizbullah said in a statement Saturday that warplanes of the U.S.-led coalition are still preventing the convoy from moving east and barring anyone on the government side from reaching them warning that the wounded and elderly people could die. Hizbullah said that six buses are still in areas controlled by the Syrian government and warned that if they are hit civilians will be killed. It added that if aid does not reach the convoy because of the aerial imposed siege, "only the Americans will bear the responsibility" for what happens. "The so-called international community and international institutions should intervene to prevent the occurrence of an ugly massacre," the Lebanese group said. The U.S.-led coalition issued a statement Friday saying it has sought an unspecified solution that would save the women and children in the convoy from further suffering. Earlier this week, an airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition created a crater in a road that the buses had intended to take and destroyed a small bridge to prevent the convoy from moving further east. Rami Abdul Rahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said dozens of fighters and civilians left the buses and drove into IS-held parts of the eastern province of Deir Ezzor in 12 civilian vehicles. Opposition activist Omar Abu Laila, who is from Deir Ezzor and currently lives in Europe, gave an account similar to that of Abdul Rahman adding that most of them have crossed over. Abu Laila is with DeirEzzor 24, an activist group that has reporters throughout the eastern province.

Geagea sees Hezbollah's stance regarding Daesh convoy confusing
Sun 03 Sep 2017/NNA - "Hezbollah's position from Daesh convoy is ambiguous, raises questions, doubts and suspicions," Lebanese Forces Party chief, Samir Geagea, said on Sunday via Twitter. "Over the last 48 hours, I have tried to find an explanation for it, but I haven't found the answer," he added.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on September 03-04/17
Trump Says 'Appeasement' Will Not Work after N. Korea Nuke Test
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/September 03/17/U.S. President Donald Trump declared Sunday that "appeasement with North Korea" will not work, after Pyongyang claimed it had successfully tested a missile-ready hydrogen bomb. "North Korea has conducted a major Nuclear Test," Trump said. "Their words and actions continue to be very hostile and dangerous to the United States."His comments came hours after the US Geological Survey picked up a 6.3 magnitude "explosion" in North Korea, which Pyongyang confirmed was a nuclear test, its sixth. The isolated regime said this one was of a hydrogen bomb that could be fitted atop a ballistic missile, sharply raising the stakes in a U.S.-North Korea confrontation. Trump last month threatened North Korea with "fire and fury" if it continued to threaten the United States, but he refrained from direct threats in his latest tweets. "South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing!" he said. "North Korea is a rogue nation which has become a great threat and embarrassment to China, which is trying to help but with little success."

Iran Tests Home-Grown Air Defense System
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/September 03/17/Iran has tested its home-grown air defense system, designed to match the Russian S-300, the head of the Revolutionary Guards' air defense has said."In parallel with the deployment of the S-300, work on Bavar-373 system is underway," Farzad Esmaili told state broadcaster IRIB late Saturday. "The system is made completely in Iran and some of its parts are different from the S-300. All of its sub-systems have been completed and its missile tests have been conducted." Bavar (which means "belief") is Tehran's first long-range missile defense system, and is set to be operational by March 2018, he added. In 2010, Iran began manufacturing Bavar-373 after the purchase of the S-300 from Russia was suspended due to international sanctions.Russia resumed the sale following the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers which lifted sanctions, and Iran's S-300 defense system became operational in March. On Saturday, the new defense minister Amir Hatami said Iran has "a specific plan to boost missile power." He said he hoped "the combat capabilities of Iran's ballistic and cruise missiles" would increase in the next four years. The comments came amid increasing tensions with Washington, which has passed new sanctions against Iran's ballistic missile program.

North Korea Says Tested Hydrogen Bomb with 'Perfect Success'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/September 03/17/North Korea declared itself a thermonuclear power on Sunday, after carrying out a sixth nuclear test more powerful than any it has previously detonated, presenting President Donald Trump with a potent challenge. The North has tested a hydrogen bomb with "perfect success," a jubilant newsreader announced on state television, adding the device could be mounted on a missile. The test was of a bomb with "unprecedently large power," she said, and "marked a very significant occasion in attaining the final goal of completing the state nuclear force." The broadcaster showed an image of leader Kim Jong-Un's handwritten order for the test to be carried out at noon on September 3. The announcement came after monitors measured a 6.3-magnitude tremor near the North's main testing site, which South Korean experts said was five to six times stronger than that from the 10-kiloton test carried out a year ago. Hours earlier, the North released images of Kim inspecting what it said was a miniaturised H-bomb that could be fitted onto an ICBM, at the Nuclear Weapons Institute. Hydrogen bombs or H-bombs -- also known as thermonuclear devices -- are far more powerful than the relatively simple atomic weapons the North was believed to have tested so far.Whatever the final figure for test's yield turned out to be, said Jeffrey Lewis of the armscontrolwonk website, it was "a staged thermonuclear weapon" which represents a significant advance in its weapons program. Chinese monitors said they had detected a second quake shortly afterwards of 4.6 magnitude that could be due to a "collapse (cave in)," suggesting the rock over the underground blast had given way. Pyongyang has long sought the means to deliver an atomic warhead to the United States, its sworn enemy, and the test will infuriate Washington, Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing and others. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said ahead of the announcement that a test would be "absolutely unacceptable." South Korean President Moon Jae-In summoned the National Security Council for an emergency meeting and Seoul's military raised its alert level.
'Super explosive power' . Pyongyang triggered a new ramping up of tensions in July, when it carried out two successful tests of an ICBM, the Hwasong-14, which apparently brought much of the U.S. mainland within range. It has since threatened to send a salvo of rockets towards the U.S. territory of Guam, and last week fired a missile over Japan and into the Pacific, the first time it has ever acknowledged doing so.Trump has warned Pyongyang that it faces "fire and fury," and that Washington's weapons are "locked and loaded." Analysts believe Pyongyang has been developing weapons capability to give it a stronger hand in any negotiations with the U.S. "North Korea will continue with their nuclear weapons program unless the U.S. proposes talks," Koo Kab-Woo of Seoul's University of North Korean Studies told the AFP news agency. He pointed to the fact that Pakistan -- whose nuclear program is believed to have links with the North's -- conducted six nuclear tests in total, and may not have seen a need for any further blasts. "If we look at it from Pakistan's example, the North might be in the final stages" of becoming a nuclear state, he said. Pictures of Kim at the Nuclear Weapons Institute showed the young leader, dressed in a black suit, examining a metal casing with a shape akin to a peanut shell. The device was a "thermonuclear weapon with super explosive power made by our own efforts and technology," KCNA cited Kim as saying, and "all components of the H-bomb were 100 percent domestically made."
Actually mounting a warhead onto a missile would amount to a significant escalation on the North's part, as it would create a risk that it was preparing an attack.
Failure of sanctions 
The North carried out its first nuclear test in 2006, and successive blasts are believed to have been aimed at refining designs and reliability as well as increasing yield. Its fifth detonation, in September last year, caused a 5.3 magnitude quake and according to Seoul had a 10-kiloton yield -- still less than the 15-kiloton U.S. device which destroyed Hiroshima in 1945. The North Korean leadership says a credible nuclear deterrent is critical to the nation's survival, claiming it is under constant threat from an aggressive United States. It has been subjected to seven rounds of United Nations Security Council sanctions over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, but always insists it will continue to pursue them. Atomic or "A-bombs" work on the principle of nuclear fission, where energy is released by splitting atoms of enriched uranium or plutonium encased in the warhead. Hydrogen or H-bombs, also known as thermonuclear weapons, work on fusion and are far more powerful, with a nuclear blast taking place first to create the intense temperatures required. No H-bomb has ever been used in combat, but they make up most of the world's nuclear arsenals.

Sara Netanyahu Takes Polygraph Test over Graft Claims
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/September 03/17/Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's wife has taken a voluntary lie detector test to try and dispel allegations she misused public funds, her lawyer said on Sunday. National fraud squad detectives questioned Sara Netanyahu last month on suspicions she routinely claimed state payments for personal housekeeping expenses at the couple's official and private residences. Private broadcaster Channel Two reported at the weekend that the attorney general was expected to announce charges against her by September 10. "She took the test," Netanyahu family lawyer Yossi Cohen told Israeli public radio. "It's a very tough test. It's humiliating and she did it wonderfully." He did not give details of the questions she was asked or the test results. He said the decision to undergo the examination, at a privately operated polygraph facility, was taken "following the horrible mudslinging against her and after we heard that she is going to be put on trial."Results of polygraph testing are not admissible as evidence in Israeli criminal trials. Netanyahu himself is also under investigation on suspicions of corruption, and last month his former chief of staff signed a deal to turn state's witness in probes involving the premier. One is based on suspicions Netanyahu unlawfully received gifts from wealthy supporters, including Australian billionaire James Packer and Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan. Also under investigation is a suspicion that Netanyahu sought a secret deal with the publisher of top-selling daily Yediot Aharonot. The proposed deal, which is not believed to have been finalized, would have seen Netanyahu receive positive coverage in return for him helping to scale down the operations of Israel Hayom, Yediot's main competitor. Netanyahu has been questioned about both cases.The investigations have have stirred Israeli politics and led to speculation over whether Netanyahu will eventually be forced to step down, which he is not formally obliged to do unless convicted.

IS Clashes with Syrian Regime Kill 150
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/September 03/17/Fierce clashes between the Islamic State group and pro-regime forces in central Syria have left over 150 fighters dead in 24 hours, mostly jihadists, a monitor said Sunday. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 120 IS fighters "were killed in clashes in and around the town of Uqayribat in the eastern Hama countryside... along with at least 35 regime troops and loyalist militiamen."The town is the jihadist group's last bastion in the central province apart from a handful of small villages.  Pro-government forces seized Uqayribat on Friday night, but IS responded with a counter-offensive on Saturday that left it in control of most of the town, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said. An intense barrage of artillery fire and Syrian and Russian air strikes on jihadist positions allowed pro-regime forces on Sunday morning to push the jihadists back out of the town and advance on villages to the west that remain under IS control. IS has controlled Uqayribat since 2014, using it to launch attacks on regime-held areas and a strategically vital road Abdel Rahman described as "the only lifeline for the regime between Aleppo and central and southern Syria."Regime forces, backed by heavy Russian air strikes, launched a major assault on IS-held parts of Hama in June. "By consolidating their control of (Uqayribat) and ousting IS from the surrounding villages, regime forces could oust the organization from the whole of Hama province," Abdel Rahman said. Other rebel groups still control parts of the province's rural north. Hama, which borders on six other Syrian provinces, is strategically vital to the Assad regime, separating opposition forces in Idlib from Damascus to the south and the regime's coastal heartlands to the west.
IS has suffered multiple defeats across Syria and neighboring Iraq in recent months, notably in its main Syrian base of Raqa. On Friday a U.S.-backed Kurdish-Arab coalition seized Raqa's Old City and was advancing on the jihadists in the heavily defended city center. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) began their offensive in May, capturing the city of Tabqa and a key dam nearby before entering Raqa city in early June. Meanwhile, pro-regime forces have advanced against IS in the eastern part of Homs province and western Deir Ezzor, where they have come to within 19 kilometers (12 miles) of the provincial capital.
Syria's conflict has killed more than 320,000 people and displaced millions since it started with anti-government demonstrations in 2011.

Syria Refugees in Turkey Make Rare Trip Home for Eid

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/September 03/17/Syrian refugee Mohamed Hajj Steifi hasn't been home for a year, but this week he made the trip across the Turkish border to celebrate the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha. He is one of over 40,000 Syrian refugees living in Turkey who have taken advantage of a rare chance to return to their war-torn homeland for the holiday. "I haven't seen my family for more than a year," Steifi said, sitting in the garden of his home in Binnish, a town in Syria's northwestern Idlib province.
Seated around him, his parents and brother chatted with relatives visiting to celebrate Eid al-Adha, one of the Islamic calendar's biggest festivals. From time to time, they were interrupted by phone calls from the family's daughters, who live in the Gulf. Almost three million Syrians have taken refuge in Turkey since the conflict in their country began in 2011 with anti-government protests. But the border crossings between the countries are mostly closed except to aid convoys, meaning the chance to return for Eid is a rare opportunity.
Those taking advantage of the window had to register on a dedicated website, and must return to Turkey by October 15. Some headed to towns like al-Bab and Jarabulus in Aleppo province, targets of a Turkish-led operation launched in mid-2016 against the Islamic State group. Others crossed into Idlib province, now largely controlled by a jihadist group formerly affiliated with al-Qaida. While Steifi was delighted to be home, he said he would soon return to the Turkish town of Reyhanli, where he works for an internet company.
'Calm is not enough' "I'm definitely going to stay where I have a livelihood, which is in Turkey," Steifi said. "If the work situation improves and the state comes back, I would certainly prefer to return to my country."The grinding violence of Syria's civil war, which has killed over 330,000 people, has dropped off in recent months after the tentative and partial implementation of local ceasefires. But Steifi says the relative calm hasn't tempted him to move back home just yet. "Calm is not enough," he said. "If institutions, universities and order are not restored, and life doesn't goes back to normal, we'll be living in chaos."The International Organization for Migration said last month that more than 600,000 displaced Syrians had returned to their homes this year. Most of those were internally displaced, but 16 percent were refugees returning from exile in neighboring Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.While some returnees said they were motivated by improved security and economic conditions, the IOM warned that many were struggling to access clean water and health services in a country ravaged by over six years of fighting.
'Everyone's dream is to return'
Yaman al-Khatib, a 27-year-old journalist, moved with his wife and child to the Turkish province of Antakya last year after leaving a rebel-held part of Aleppo city before it was captured by regime forces. He travels into Syria clandestinely for his job, but has no plans to move his family back there for now.
"There's nowhere safe for us to live after we left Aleppo," he said. "Syria in general is a war zone, so Turkey is the safest place I've found for my family."But he too dreams of returning."The flood of Syrian families from Turkey to Syria is proof that everyone's dream is to return home," he said. "But the lack of security, along with the lack of basic necessities like water and electricity, make it impossible."Rahaf, 19, was overjoyed to be visiting family in Binnish to mark Eid. But she too planned to return to Reyhanli at the end of the festival. Wearing a black tunic and new jeans bought to mark Eid, she said she fled to Turkey five years ago along with her mother and sister, and plans to start university there. She said the family fears returning to Syria before the conflict ends. "I would definitely think about going back to Syria if security returned and the situation went back to how it was before the war," she said.
"There's nothing better than a person's country, it will always be better than any other country."
Climate Change & Environment
Suicide bombers dressed as members of the Iraqi security forces killed seven people and wounded 12 in an attack on a power plant north of Baghdad on Saturday, officials and a survivor said. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack.
Wearing military uniforms and armed with grenades, three attackers entered the facility in Samarra, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of the capital, said General Qassem al-Tamimi, head of a police unit charged with protecting vital installations. A police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said one of the bombers detonated his explosives belt and the two others were shot dead by security reinforcements who rushed to the scene. He said seven people were killed and 12 wounded in the attack. "At 2:00 am we were woken up by shots being fired," Abdel Salam Ahmed, one of the employees who was hit by gunfire in the legs, told the AFP news agency from his hospital bed. He recalled running with colleagues away from the shooting. "We ran into one of them (the jihadists). Some of us hid while two others kept running towards the exit, shouting 'we are employees', but they (the attackers) shot them dead," he said. Prefabricated houses where employees were sleeping were destroyed as explosions rang out in the power plant, an AFP reporter said.
Several tanker trucks were also damaged and the remains of one of the suicide bombers lay on the ground, the reporter said.
The police official said security reinforcements evacuated the employees.
The attack comes as Iraqi Shiites mark the first day of the Eid al-Adha feast.
The jihadist Islamic State group, which frequently carries out suicide bombings in Iraq, claimed responsibility for the attack. In 2014, IS captured almost a third of Iraqi territory in a lightning offensive. It now holds just two pockets of territory in the country.

French leader says UN must react to North Korea
Sun 03 Sep 2017lNNA - French President Emmanuel Macron has condemned "in the strongest possible terms" North Korea's sixth nuclear test. In a written statement, Macron "calls on the members of the United Nations Security Council to quickly react to this new violation by North Korea of international law."He also calls for a "united and clear reaction of the European Union."He says the international community "must treat this new provocation with the utmost firmness" to bring North Korea back to the path of dialogue and give up its nuclear and missile programs. North Korea's nuclear test Sunday was apparently its most powerful yet. State-controlled media say it was a hydrogen bomb. South Korea's weather agency says the detonation set off a magnitude 5.7 earthquake. ---AP

Saudi Arabia represents the heart of the Muslim world, strives to achieve solidarity, says King Salman
ArabNews/September 03/17/JEDDAH: King Salman on Saturday held the annual reception at Mina Palace for heads of state, Islamic dignitaries, guests of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, guests of government bodies and heads of delegations and pilgrim affairs offices who performed Hajj rituals this year.At the outset of the reception, King Salman shook hands with Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir; Gambia’s President Adama Baro; Comoros President Osman Ghazali; Yemen’s Vice President Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmr; Egypt’s Prime Minister Sherif Ismail; Egypt’s Grand Mufti Shawki Allam; Princes Hashem and Hamzah bin Al-Hussein of Jordan; Iraq’s Representative Council Speaker Salim Al-Jubouri; Jordan’s House of Representatives Speaker Atef Tarawneh; Nigeria’s Senate President Bukola Saraki; Niger’s National Assembly President Ousseini Tinni; Mauritius Vice Prime Minister Showkutally Soodhun; Bangladesh’s former President Hussain Mohammed Ershad; Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation Ilyas Umakhanov; Afghanistan’s former Vice President and current Chairman of High Peace Council Mohammed Karim Khalili; Comoros Vice President Abdallah Sarouma; Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Najib Mikati; and senior officials from a number of Islamic countries.
“I welcome you from these holy places to which the hearts of all Muslims are inclined. I congratulate you on the blessed Eid Al-Adha, praying to Allah Almighty to accept pilgrims’ Hajj and prayers, praising Him that pilgrims perform their Hajj rituals in tranquility, security and ease,” said the king.
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has utilized all its human and material potentials to enable pilgrims to easily perform Hajj. We are determined — with Allah’s help — to proceed in achieving the highest level of services for the Two Holy Mosques and the holy sites within an integrated system aiming to increase the facilitation of Hajj performance and the safety of the visitors of the Grand Holy Mosque and the Prophet’s Holy Mosque. We are completing in our works the gigantic efforts exerted by the kings of this blessed country since the era of its founder late King Abdul Aziz (May Allah bestow mercy upon his soul),” he added.“The arms of terrorism have sought to harm the holy sites without any consideration to their sanctities. However, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia — with Allah’s help and in cooperation with the Kingdom’s brothers and friends — have achieved great successes in eradicating terrorism and drying up its sources firmly and persistently,” the king continued. “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia represents the heart of the Muslim world. Therefore, it senses the hopes and pains of Muslims everywhere, strives to achieve unity, cooperation and solidarity in our Muslim world, and achieves security and peace in the whole world. I pray to Allah Almighty to help our brothers the pilgrims of the Grand Holy Mosque to complete Hajj rituals and return home safely. I wish that you are well every year. May Allah’s peace, mercy and blessings be upon you.” Minister of Hajj and Umrah Mohammed Salih Bentin, delivered a speech in which he congratulated King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the Arab and Islamic nations on Eid Al-Adha, praying to Allah Almighty to repeat it to all in peace, progress and prosperity. He said: “The leadership of our blessed country since the era of the founder, the late King Abdul Aziz, and thus far bears with all honesty, faithfulness and sincerity the honor of the responsibility of serving the Two Holy Mosques and their care, as well as serving pilgrims, Umrah performers and visitors to enable them perform their ritual easily and comfortably.” Minister of Islamic Affairs and Traditional Education of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, Ahmed Ould Ahl Dawood, delivered a speech on behalf of the guests and heads of delegations of the Islamic countries participating in this year’s Hajj season, during which he congratulated King Salman and the crown prince on the occasion of Eid Al-Adha and the great facilities and services being provided to the pilgrims.

Fatah Condemns Granting Israeli Settlers Administrative Power in Khalil
Asharq Al-Awsat/September 03/17/Ramallah – The Palestinian Fatah movement condemned on Saturday the Israeli authorities’ granting of Israeli settlers administrative power to manage their own affairs in the al-Khalil area in the southern West Bank. Spokesman for Fatah’s Shura council Oussam al-Qawasimi said described during a press conference Israel’s decision as “very dangerous.” “This is a violation of all international agreements and an application of a discriminatory system,” he declared. He said that the measure is aimed at separating al-Khalil city from its old town in an attempt to “Judaize” the old town. He therefore demanded immediate and urgent official, popular, legal and diplomatic action against this move, “which paves the way for a real catastrophe against al-Khalil city, its residents and history,” reported the German Press Agency (dpa). Qawasimi also urged the international community to “act immediately to thwart the discriminatory and destructive measures that violate international law and agreements.”Some 800 settlers alongside 250,000 Palestinians reside in al-Khalil. Israeli authorities granted the settlers the rights to manage their municipal affairs. The Israeli army explained in a statement that the settlers were managing their daily affairs through a local council that did not have legal status. Through the latest decree, the settlers will be able to form a council that represents the Jewish settler quarter in al-Khalil. International law bars settlement building in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. A Palestinian official deemed the latest Israeli measure as the “most dangerous one since 1967.”Al-Khalil governor Kamil Hamid said that the procedure paves the way for establishing Israeli sovereignty in the area, which will ultimately hinder any settlement in the region. “This violates everything that the peace process stands for and attempts to establish a Palestinian state,” he added. He warned that the new power granted to the settlers will destabilize all districts in Palestinian territories.

20 Sailors Saved as Cargo Ship Sinks Off Oman Coast
Asharq Al-Awsat/September 03/17/Twenty sailors were saved on Sunday after their cargo ship sank off the coast of Oman. Authorities in Oman said that the ship was loaded with construction material, consisting of steel bars and sand. Police and Oman’s Transportation and Communications Ministry said that the boat sank off the coast of Lakabi, a town some 620 kilometers (385 miles) southwest of the sultanate’s capital, Muscat. The ministry in a statement carried by the state-run Oman News Agency said seawater poured into the ship through a leak, sinking it.
A nearby fisherman saved the sailors. The ministry said the Tanzanian-flagged ship was heading from the United Arab Emirates to Eritrea in East Africa. The Royal Oman Police on Sunday posted pictures online of sailors on a boat after being rescued by the local fishermen, their sinking ship slipping beneath the waves of the Arabian Sea. The concerned naval authorities, police and coast guard are keen on preserving marine security and the Sultanate’s environment and marine wealth, said the Oman News Agency.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on
September 03-04/17
Bashar al-Assad has clung to power since the uprising in his country turned into a bloody war

Robert Fisk/Independent/Published on Thursday 31 August 2017
When Nikolaos van Dam was a young diplomat in Damascus, he knew Syria better than many Syrians. A fluent speaker of Arabic, this Dutch scholar’s first book on Syria’s modern history was so well researched that even members of the Baath party would reportedly turn to its pages to understand the history of their institution and the nature of the regime for which they worked.
Precise, polite, his analysis as cool and lethal as a sword, Van Dam also possesses a cynical – perhaps sarcastic – attitude towards the diplomatic elite that other officials might secretly admire. “It is better to do nothing than to do the wrong thing with terrible results,” he told me a few days ago. “But Western democracies feel they have to do something … If there had not been any Western influence, there would have been a tenth of the violence, the country would not be in rubble, so many would not have died, you would not have had so many refugees.”
It’s not that Van Dam blames the Syrian West for the war, but he holds it to account for the influence and interference it exercised so promiscuously. And his new book, Destroying a Nation: The Civil War in Syria, is perhaps the only one so far published about the conflict that attempts to set out coldly what the opposition as well as the Assad government did wrong.
Van Dam has never avoided talking about the torture and suppression that the regime has used to maintain power. He stated in the very early weeks of the 2011 demonstrations – in The Independent – that Syria’s crisis might well end in a bloodbath. He acknowledges the cruelty and stupidity with which the Syrian security apparatus turned to guns and humiliation and torture to suppress a largely peaceful mass protest movement inspired (or seduced) by the Arab revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. But he also notes how early the “peaceful” opposition turned to violence once the crisis began.
On the Syrian border with north-eastern Lebanon, inside Lebanese territory but in sight of the plain of Homs in the spring of 2011, I listened to a fierce gun battle being fought only a few hundred metres across the frontier – at a time when only the Syrian army and the security police were supposed to be using weapons against unarmed demonstrators. A week later, an Al Jazeera camera crew – working for the Qatar-funded channel whose ruling family would soon fund the Nusra-al Qaeda fighters in Syria, as even its royal family acknowledged – asked to meet me in Beirut. They showed me footage also taken near the north-eastern border of Lebanon. Their tape clearly showed armed men shooting at Syrian troops. Al Jazeera, adhering to the “soldiers-shoot-down-unarmed-demonstrators” story, had refused to air their film. They had resigned. Later, Syrian state television itself showed – all too real – film of armed men among the crowds of protestors in Dera’a. Van Dam dismisses reports that these men were government “provocateurs”.
He does not dispute the Assad government’s killing of the innocent – though he suggests this came about through the inherent and untamed brutality of the regime’s security apparatus rather than a policy decision by Bashar al-Assad himself. Faisal Mekdad, the deputy foreign minister whom Assad sent to Dera’a (the minister’s home town), after the torture of children and killing of demonstrators, admitted to me that “bad mistakes” had been made there. But such “discoveries” were useless. Within months, the public’s demand for “reforms” had turned into an uprising determined to overthrow a regime that then resorted to all out-war against its enemies. Early reports of a massacre of Syrian troops by armed men at Jisr al-Chagour, dismissed by government opponents as the killing of army deserters by the regime, were, Van Dam concludes, true. The soldiers were murdered by those whom we would soon call “rebels”.
Exactly when – and, more important, why – peaceful protest turned to armed uprising and then, inevitably, to an Islamist insurgency against the supposedly “secular” rule of the regime is one of the most important historical questions about Syria’s war. And it remains largely unanswered. There are clues enough. Van Dam is scalpel-sharp in his condemnation of Western policies, which breathed fire into the bosom of the opposition – the American and French diplomats who travelled to Homs to join the demonstrators immediately lost their neutrality, he says – and then left them to the mercy of their enemies. Van Dam praises the work of my colleague Patrick Cockburn, who has often pointed out how those two ambassadors told the protestors not to negotiate with the Assad regime on the basis that it would soon collapse.
But the West closed its embassies, abandoning its new opposition friends. “Had they remained in Damascus, the ambassadors might have been a kind of last contact through whom attempts might have been made to influence the regime,” Van Dam says.
Instead of serious political advice, the West, especially the US and their proxy Arab allies in the Gulf, then poured weapons into Syria – enough arms to destroy Syria but not enough to overthrow the regime, as one ex-rebel told me – and tried to direct the armed groups from Turkey and Jordan. And all the while, they and the UN encouraged talks between the regime and the opposition which had no chance of success – because the rebel groups would only settle for the overthrow of the Assad government and because the Assad regime would never negotiate for its own overthrow.
When the rebellion turned largely Islamist, there was no one to explain to us why this had happened. Journalists who had arrived in Aleppo with the rebels, en route for the “liberation” of Damascus along the lines of the “liberation” of Tripoli in Libya, justifiably retreated when the warriors of Isis took to beating, imprisoning and chopping off their heads – but largely without telling us what had happened to the revolution. The “good guys” in our stories, after all, are not supposed to turn into the “bad guys”. Van Dam asks why, in all the later reports on the bombardment by the regime of eastern Aleppo, the world never saw film of the Islamist fighters there, nor their weapons, nor their armed control of the streets. “If you look at the media reports,” he says, “it’s as if the bombs only fell on schools and hospitals.”
The people of Aleppo did not invite the armed opposition into their streets, according to Van Dam – he is right – and the fighters then, eventually, failed to win their battle. They lost. The declarations of horror by Western nations helped to obscure this defeat. All along, both the original demonstrators and the fighters and the West “miscalculated the ruthlessness of the regime”.
Van Dam hasn’t visited Syria since the war began, and it sometimes shows. He gives too much credit to the slovenly and undisciplined regime gangs for military victories. When an Alawite militia tried to persuade me they were now a disciplined force – their “commander” speaking in his Lattakia office under a vast metal two-edged Shia sword – the demonstration turned to farce when some of his men turned up in brand new Mercedes with smoked windows and no registration plates. And Van Dam believes that the Syrian army, in 2011, was at its lowest operational capacity in years. In fact, the Syrian military, corrupted by a quarter century in Lebanon, became a fighting machine in the war, took on Isis (despite Washington’s claims to the contrary), lost 75,000 of its men but – with Russian military help – turned on its armed enemies and is now pushing the Islamists from much of the country.
Van Dam, an expert on the Alawis of Syria, slightly overstretches their influence on the army – where perhaps 80 per cent of the soldiers are Sunni Muslims, the same sect as their enemies – but accurately emphasises the enormous casualty figures among the families in the Alawi mountains.
When Assad called his ministers a “war cabinet” – Van Dam takes the evidence for this from a defecting official – and it was clear that there would be no government punishment for its own operatives’ murder or torture, it was clear, he says, that “reforms” were no real part of government policy. He talks of the disastrous pre-war harvest that drove a million rural poor to the cities following the worst drought for 500 years – a unique contribution to the Syrian revolution by global warming – and writes that war crimes should be recorded for future “justice”. But who will ensure such justice is implemented? Without any Western desire for real military intervention (save that of Vladimir Putin), Western “humanitarian corridors” and “safe zones” were a nonsense.
Van Dam speaks mournfully of the continuation of the Assad government, which might win “95 per cent in the negotiations” and in which the opposition might gain the right to hold “the ministries of tourism and culture”. It’s not a prediction. But Van Dam’s expertise shows all too painfully how ignorance and stupidity governed the reflexes of Western politicians who preferred moral correctness to the realities of finding a solution: they sent weapons instead. In some ways, Van Dam concludes, the situation was similar to that in 1991 “when the United States and others encouraged the Shia community to rise up against ... Saddam Hussein, but did nothing to help them when their uprising was bloodily suppressed”. And we all know what happened then.

The Hezbollah-Daesh deal is sponsored by Iran and Syria
Raghida Dergham/ArabNews/September 03/17
The deal that allowed hundreds of Daesh fighters and their families to leave the Lebanese-Syrian border in air-conditioned buses towards Daesh-held areas near the Syrian-Iraqi border is suspicious in many ways. In equal measures, Iraqi reactions, wavering between sharp criticism of the deal by Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi as an insult to the Iraqi people, and a warm welcome for what happened from his pro-Iranian predecessor Nouri Al-Maliki, who rejected the notion that the deal undermines Iraq’s national security, are confusing and confused.
What is interesting here is the near complete silence from Russia regarding the suspicious dealings of its allies in Syria, bearing in mind that any negotiations with terrorists and any deal that would spare them from being crushed are anathema to the Kremlin, a position similar to that of the White House. The US-led coalition fighting Daesh in Syria intercepted the Daesh convoy, making it appear as though the roles had been coordinated in advance, while the messages Washington was sending to Beirut were full of contradictions.
Indeed, some of these signals included expressions of regret over what Washington deemed to be the Lebanese state’s sanctioning of the deal between Hezbollah and the Syrian regime over the eviction of Daesh militants from Lebanese territory under their protection. Yet other American messages were congratulating the Lebanese army for pushing Daesh out of Lebanon. As usual, Lebanon’s political leaders spiraled down into endless differences bearing little relation to what happened during the battle to liberate the barrens in Ras Baalbeck and Al-Qaa border regions from terror groups, before Hezbollah’s deal with Daesh prevented the Lebanese army from taking credit for the liberation and regaining its political prestige.
Beyond the suspicious deal, what is even more intriguing is the role played by the major sponsors and its implications. This is not just about who is behind that terrible international cocktail of intelligence services behind the “joint stock company” that created Daesh and their true motives, but also the nature of the objectives of those pushing for deals at the expense of accountability, and those pushing for crushing groups such as Daesh at the expense of any political promises and pledges of accountability for those responsible for the massacring of Arab peoples and the destruction of their cities.
In Lebanon, any official who had previous knowledge that Daesh murdered the Lebanese soldiers kidnapped in 2015, and deliberately misled their families, is a hypocrite who has committed a moral crime. Accommodating their feelings is one thing, but misleading them is another. Misleading people for political gain is a national insult. The death of soldiers in the line of duty is part and parcel of military life, meanwhile.
Blaming Hezbollah for striking a duplicitous deal with Daesh is on the mark, without argument. But claiming that Hezbollah and its ally the Syrian regime struck this unprecedented deal without the knowledge of the Lebanese government is an insult to our intelligence.
True, Hezbollah’s deal headed off the Lebanese army, which was ready to regain its sovereignty on the Lebanese-Syrian border if it managed to complete the offensive against Daesh in the Lebanese borderlands. It is also true that Hezbollah deliberately prevented the army from achievement that, because it wants the armed forces to appear weak and unable to impose their authority and finish the job. Hezbollah wants to have exclusive rights over “liberation” and not have to share its investments and prestige with others.
However, none of this contradicts the fact that Hezbollah’s deal with Daesh has spared the Lebanese army from fighting a battle that may have caused a large number of casualties in its ranks. What happened in the end is not a disgrace for the Lebanese army. What happened was a deal between two militant groups that fought each other in Syria. The deal for Daesh’s surrender was conditional upon the provision of safe passage for its fighters and their families out of Lebanese territory through Syrian territory to Daesh-held positions along the border with Iraq. It is a deal between two parties to the militia wars in Syria sponsored by the Syrian and Iranian governments, not the Lebanese government.
The deeply suspicious agreement to allow fighters safe passage from the Lebanese-Syrian borders to eastern Syria was hatched in Tehran and Damascus, and criticizing the Lebanese government is futile.
The Lebanese government has played the role of facilitator for a deal that drove the terrorists out of its territory. Some have criticized the settlement, arguing that Lebanon should have sought to try the terrorists who abducted and executed Lebanese army soldiers instead of facilitating their escape. Others have supported the government’s actions, which ultimately led to liberating Lebanon from Daesh, even if through negotiations and deals rather than military operations.
There is no need to outbid Hezbollah in the bazaar of “victories,” and no need for knee-jerk criticisms of a settlement between Hezbollah and Daesh to which the Lebanese government was not a party. What Hezbollah did not achieve is to drag the Lebanese government into directly and publicly coordinating with the Syrian government, the sponsor of the militia deal. What Hezbollah achieved, rather, is to secure the exit of terrorists from Lebanese territory to Syrian territory in suspicious arrangements that are reminiscent of the accords between Daesh, the regime in Damascus and the pro-Iranian government of Nouri Al-Maliki under whose tenure Daesh emerged and almost overnight defeated the Iraqi army, seized its equipment and looted the banks in Mosul.
Perhaps the use of Daesh to crush moderate Syrian rebels was always one of the tasks assigned to that suspicious organization. It is no secret that Daesh fighters had been released from Iraqi and Syrian prisons, to carry out the task of eliminating the rebels and turn the Syrian uprising into a war on terror.
But there is another striking dimension: The alternating between Daesh and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Iraqi Popular Mobilization, and Lebanese Hezbollah in the same territory in Iraq and Syria. This territory is represented in the arc dubbed the Persian Crescent.
Daesh emerged with a view to thwart the Persian Crescent project in the geographical area linking Iraq and Syria, and Iran and Lebanon. The IRGC took it upon themselves to become the key partner of Washington and Moscow in eliminating Daesh, whose name and deeds have become synonymous with appalling terrorism. Daesh has occupied the geographical area of that crescent for the past few years, but now, Iran and its proxies have all the military and political justifications they need to seize the territory seized from Daesh, without much objection. This is a terrifying proposal behind which stands a patient long-term strategy that characterizes the carpet weavers of Iran.
Daesh will slowly fade away, having now completed the task of destroying ancient Arab cities and moderate rebels, and stoking sectarian wars, not to mention looting wealth and using children as weapons in dirty wars following the devastating ideology of this sick group. But Daesh may be called upon to continue to operate in the Arab region, especially in the Gulf, which that “joint stock company” wants to weaken and dismantle. Some may have the idea to use the remnants of the group in Europe, to spur a panicked isolationism similar to America’s current mood.
So far, the weakening of Daesh seems to directly benefit Iran and its proxies, just like the emergence of the group in Iraq and Syria had served the purpose of creating a special partnership between the IRGC and Washington and Moscow in the name of combating terror. By contrast, the Arab partnership that first fostered and then fought Daesh has always been arbitrary, politically naive and strategically chaotic. Indeed, no one is innocent in the manufacturing of Daesh, and everyone is a partner in the “joint stock company.”
Now, the Arab parties must undertake an honest and comprehensive post-mortem into the Daesh phenomenon and its Arab cost and implications. Daesh was created to pose an existential threat to the Gulf countries as well as the Levant and North Africa. It may be fading, but it has not yet disappeared, and its threat remains existential.
• Raghida Dergham is a columnist, senior diplomatic correspondent, and New York bureau chief for the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper since 1989. She is the founder and executive chairman of Beirut Institute. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and an honorary fellow at the Foreign Policy Association and has served on the International Media Council of the World Economic Forum. Twitter: @RaghidaDergham

Don’t shoot the peacekeepers, they’re doing their best
Yossi Mekelberg/ArabNews/September 03/17
There is not much of a novelty these days in someone bashing one UN institution or another. There is an international consensus that the organization, in its eighth decade, is far from fulfilling its founders’ expectations. Yet the US ambassador Nikki Haley’s criticism of the Irish commander of the UN peacekeeping force (UNIFIL) in Lebanon last week was something of an exception in its accusatory and brash manner. Haley leveled against Maj Gen Michael Beary the charge that he is “blind” to the “massive flow of illegal weapons” to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, echoing longstanding Israeli sentiment.
Gen Beary’s protestation that his force has no evidence of weapons being illegally transferred and stockpiled in the area under his control did not satisfy the American envoy. Whoever is right, their exchange lends itself to a wider discussion of the role of peacekeeping operations in maintaining peace and stability.
First, is not the notion of peacekeeping a complete misnomer? There are currently 16 UN peacekeeping operations deployed on four continents, in places such as Darfur, Cyprus, Kosovo, Congo and India–Pakistan. In some of these areas there is actually no peace to keep. Israel and Lebanon are formally in a state of war; not to mention the war of words between Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah and Israeli leaders, which constantly leaves both sides on the verge of fresh hostilities. UNIFIL is often more of a buffer zone between two sides preparing for war rather than heading for peace. UNMOGIP in Kashmir oversees the cease-fire between India and Pakistan, but a peaceful solution is nowhere in sight. In cases such as Cote d’Ivoire or Haiti the objective is one of preventing civil war, protecting civilians and promoting political dialogue, rather than averting a war between countries.
When these operations fail, or at least are not fully successful, it is not necessarily due to military failure. It is mainly the result of a vague and restrictive mandate, or of inadequate resources given to peacekeeping operations. The end of the Cold War brought with it an end to the stalemate between the two superpowers and hence an increased readiness to deploy peacekeeping operations. Tragically, there have also been increasing numbers of civil wars and extreme cases of state violence toward civilians which have triggered international intervention.
Nevertheless, this hasn’t resolved the problem of the interests of individual members of the UN versus those of the international community as a whole. In the aftermath of the Cold War when peacekeeping operations began to mushroom, a US Presidential Policy Directive by Bill Clinton made it clear that his country would participate in UN peace operations only when they served US national interests. This gives some insight to the reason behind the reluctance of the US, among other countries, to respond positively to the pleas by Gen Romeo Dallaire, commander of the UN forces in Rwanda at the time of the genocide, for urgent support, desperately needed to stop the worst atrocities committed since the Second World War.
US ambassador Nikki Haley’s attack on UNIFIL shines a light on the difficulties facing UN forces with vague mandates and inadequate resources, often in places where there is no peace to keep.
Since the first UN peacekeeping mission in 1948, more than 70 peacekeeping operations have been deployed, a number of them still in place decades after they were first commissioned. This is unfortunate testimony to the failure to deal with the root causes of these conflicts and build a lasting peace. These missions are aimed and designed as an interim measure in the process of peace making and peacebuilding. In quite a few cases they have become a permanent fixture that at least indirectly contributes to the perpetuation of the conflict.
One of the inherent difficulties for peacekeeping missions to accomplish their goals is that their mandate and formation are hurriedly decided in response to an urgent crisis. Consequently the commanders on the ground are unclear about what they are expected to accomplish; the size of the force sent doesn’t reflect the magnitude of the challenges; and the soldiers are not necessarily trained or equipped for the mission assigned to them. Those troops are thrown into an unknown and uncertain political, cultural and physical terrain, and as a result are set to fail, spending much of their time shielding themselves from danger rather than fulfilling their task.
Furthermore, there is also a huge discrepancy between those who provide troops for peacekeeping and those who fund it. The three biggest contributors to the UN peacekeeping budget are the US, China and Japan, and together the top 10 countries contribute 80 percent of the budget. However, because the UN pays countries $1,330 a month for each soldier they send, it is mainly attractive for poor nations to send troops. Their armies, however, are not necessarily the best trained to deal with the adverse and complex challenges of peacekeeping, especially when civilian populations are involved.
Nikki Haley took a swipe at UNIFIL, which plays nicely to the way the Trump administration and certain constituencies in the US perceive the UN. However, a more constructive approach would be for a diplomat in her position to ensure that all peacekeeping operations have a clear mandate with full political backing. It is for those at UN headquarters in New York and those who send them to ensure clear command-and-control arrangements, adequate resources and, most importantly, a clear exit strategy. If this were ever to happen, Haley’s criticism of the troops on the ground would gain some credibility.
• Yossi Mekelberg is professor of international relations at Regent’s University London, where he is head of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program. He is also an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. He is a regular contributor to the international written and electronic media. Twitter: @YMekelberg

Europe: Jihadists Posing as Migrants
"More than 50,000 jihadists are now living in Europe."
Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/September 03/17
More than 50,000 jihadists are now living in Europe. — Gilles de Kerchove, EU Counterterrorism Coordinator.
Europol, the European police office, has identified at least 30,000 active jihadist websites, but EU legislation no longer requires internet service providers to collect and preserve metadata — including data on the location of jihadists — from their customers due to privacy concerns. De Kerchove said this was hindering the ability of police to identify and deter jihadists.
German authorities are hunting for dozens of members of one of the most violent jihadist groups in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, but who, according to Der Spiegel, entered Germany disguised as refugees.
The men, all former members of Liwa Owais al-Qorani, a rebel group destroyed by the Islamic State in 2014, are believed to have massacred hundreds of Syrians, both soldiers and civilians.
German police have reportedly identified around 25 of the jihadists and apprehended some of them, but dozens more are believed to be hiding in cities and towns across Germany.
In all, more than 400 migrants who entered Germany as asylum seekers in 2015 and 2016 are now being investigated for being members of Middle Eastern jihadists groups, according to the Federal Criminal Police (Bundeskriminalamt, BKA).
The revelation comes amid new warnings that jihadists are posing as migrants and arriving from North Africa on boats across the Mediterranean and onto Italian shores. In an interview with The Times, Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj said that jihadists who had been able to pass undetected into his country were almost certainly making their way into Europe.
"When migrants reach Europe they will move freely," said al-Sarraj, referring to the open borders within the European Union. "If, God forbid, there are terrorist elements among the migrants, any incident will affect all of the EU."
Independent MEP Steven Woolfe said:
"These comments show the problem to be two-fold. Firstly, potential terrorists are using the Mediterranean migrant trail as a way of entering Europe unchecked. Secondly, with Europe's lack of borders due to Schengen rules, once in Europe, they are able to move from one country to another freely. Strong borders are a necessity."
Around 130,000 migrants arrived in Europe by land and sea during the first eight months of 2017, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The main nationalities of arrivals to Italy in July were, in descending order: Nigeria, Bangladesh, Guinea, Ivory Coast and Mali. Arrivals to Greece were from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Congo. Arrivals to Bulgaria were from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Turkey.
In recent weeks, traffickers bringing migrants to Europe have opened up a new route through the Black Sea. On August 13, 69 Iraqi migrants were arrested trying to reach the Romanian Black Sea coast, having set off from Turkey in a yacht piloted by Bulgarian, Cypriot and Turkish smugglers. On August 20, the Romanian Coast Guard intercepted another boat carrying 70 Iraqis and Syrians, including 23 children, in the Black Sea in Romania's southeastern Constanta region.
A total of 2,474 people were detained while trying to cross the Romanian border illegally during the first six months of 2017, according to Balkan Insight. Almost half of them were caught while trying to leave Romania for Hungary. In 2016 only 1,624 migrants were detained; most were found trying to cross from Serbia to Romania.
Meanwhile, more than 10,000 migrants reached Spanish shores during the first eight months of 2017 — three times as many as in all of 2016, according to the IOM. Thousands more migrants have entered Spain by land, primarily at the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on the north coast of Morocco, the European Union's only land borders with Africa. Once there, migrants are housed in temporary shelters and then moved to the Spanish mainland, from where many continue on to other parts of Europe.
Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, has warned that jihadists are using the migration crisis to enter Europe and plot attacks across the continent. Frontex It has also conceded that it does not know the true number of migrants who have crossed into Europe and has no way of tracking them. In its annual risk analysis for 2016, Frontex wrote:
"The Paris attacks in November 2015 clearly demonstrated that irregular migratory flows could be used by terrorists to enter the EU. Two of the terrorists involved in the attacks had previously irregularly entered through Leros [Greece] and had been registered by the Greek authorities. They presented fraudulent Syrian documents to speed up their registration process.
"False declarations of nationality are rife among nationals who are unlikely to obtain asylum in the EU, are liable to be returned to their country of origin or transit, or just want to speed up their journey. With a large number of persons arriving with false or no identification documents or raising concerns over the validity of their claimed nationality — with no thorough check or penalties in place for those making such false declarations, there is a risk that some persons representing a security threat to the EU may be taking advantage of this situation."
In an August 31 interview with the Spanish newspaper El Mundo, Gilles de Kerchove, the EU's Counterterrorism Coordinator said that more than 50,000 jihadists are now living in Europe:
"Three years ago, it was easy to identify someone who has become radicalized. Now, most fanatics disguise their convictions. We do not have exact figures, but it is not difficult to do approximate calculations. United Kingdom, it is not a secret, it has been published, it has 20,000. France, 17,000. Spain much less, but more than 5,000, I suppose. In Belgium almost 500 have gone to Syria and there are about 2,000 radicals or more. I would not venture to a specific figure, but tens of thousands, more than 50,000."
Masked Spanish policemen in Madrid arrest a man suspected of recruiting jihadists to fight for the Islamic State, June 16, 2014. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
In an interview with the Belgian daily Le Soir, de Kerchove warned that even if the Islamic State is militarily defeated, it will continue to thrive as a "virtual caliphate." He also said that Europol, the European police office, has identified at least 30,000 active jihadist websites, but that EU legislation no longer requires internet service providers to collect and preserve metadata — including data on the location of jihadists — from their customers due to privacy concerns. De Kerchove said this was hindering the ability of police to identify and deter jihadists: "On metadata, I confess that we pull our hair out."
**Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute.
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© 2017 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Geert Wilders/The Europe We Want
Speech from the Ambrosetti Conference
Geert Wilders/Gatestone Institute/September 03/17
September 3, 2017 at 5:00 am
Thank you for having me here today. I applaud the fact that you invite someone who does not share your enthusiasm for the European Union. Or your European dream, as Euro commissioner Frans Timmermans just called it. To be honest: his dream is my nightmare.
I realize that my views are different from those of the many members of the European establishment in our midst, but I am an optimist.
I believe in a positive future for Europe as a community of independent, sovereign and democratic nations -- working together without a supranational political union -- a Europe without the European Union.
I believe that true democracy can only exist and flourish within a nation state. National sovereignty combined with domestic culture gives us our identity. As does control over our own borders and budget and the right to decide how to use it ourselves as a nation.
Unfortunately most of our governments have transferred ever more powers to the EU, undermining many important things we Dutch have achieved over the past centuries and hold very dear.
Our forefathers have fought for a democratic Netherlands. That is a Netherlands where the Dutch electorate and nobody else decides on Dutch matters. Democracy means that a people can decide its own legislation.
Democracy equals home rule. But owing to the transfer by our governments of powers to Brussels, the EU institutions and other countries are now deciding on issues which are vital to our nation state: our immigration policy, our monetary policy, our trade policy and many other issues.
A huge part of our legislation has been outsourced to Brussels. Our national parliaments have become implementing bodies of the EU. Many people object to that.
In the 2005 referendum, the Dutch voted against the European Constitution, but a few years later a slightly altered version under a new name was forced down our throats.
Last year, a large majority of the Dutch voted in a referendum against the EU Association Treaty with Ukraine, but the treaty was pushed through anyway. Very few people can still take the EU seriously as a democratic institution after experiencing this.
Another extremely important thing the Dutch have achieved over the past centuries were clear and defined borders. Borders are important. Because they protect us and define who and what we are. Thanks to our governments who gave away sovereignty we are now no longer in charge of our immigration policy and even our own borders.
And the result is devastating.
If you give away the keys of your own house to someone who leaves the doors unlocked you should not be surprised when unwelcome guests force their way in. I believe every nation should be in charge of its own borders and decide themselves who is welcome and who is not. The Netherlands is the home of the Dutch people. It is the only home we have got. And we should regain control over its border and immigration policy.
One of these things we, Dutch, hold dear as well is our national identity. The Dutch have their own identity. And so do the other nations of Europe.
But there is NO single European identity.
The EU is characterized by cultural relativism and enmity towards patriotism. But patriotism is not a dangerous threat, it is something to be proud of.
It means defending a nations sovereignty and independence, and not selling it out in shabby compromises to the EU and its bureaucrats.
As the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said -- I quote -- "Europe is a community of Christian, free and independent nations. The main danger to Europe's future comes from the fanatics of internationalism in Brussels. We shall not allow them to force upon us the bitter fruit of their cosmopolitan immigration policy." End of quote.
I couldn't agree more.
The European Commission has recently started procedures against Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic because they refused to take in immigrants. Two years ago, Mrs Merkel invited millions of immigrants to come to Germany.
A historical mistake. She didn't just let millions in, her policy encouraged them.
Her "Wir schaffen das" ("We can do it") call was one of the greatest pull factors in Europe's migrant crisis. It is impossible to preserve your identity if you are inundated with millions of newcomers from an entirely different culture. A culture that -- as is the case with the Islamic culture -- aims to dominate and refuses to assimilate.
The EU resembles a cartel of governments dominated by Germany and France. These two powerful nations decide almost everything.
But the Poles, the Hungarians, the Dutch, the Italians, they did not elect Mrs Merkel, nor did they elect Mr Macron.
They did not elect Mr Juncker, and we, Dutch, in last March general elections have decimated the most pro-EU and pro-Islam party of The Netherlands: the social-democratic party of my fellow countryman Mr Timmermans, sitting next to me here this morning, his party lost 75% of its seats. My party, the most anti-EU and anti-Islam party of The Netherlands won 33% of its seats.
Out of the 13 party Lower House of Parliament of The Netherlands we are number 2 now for the first time ever. And next time we will be number 1.
Another thing we, Dutch, hold dear is our safety and security. In our streets today, as in many other European cities, we can see what the EU together with pro-EU national leaders have brought us. We are confronted in our inner cities with places that no longer look and feel like the Netherlands, and where Dutch people are no longer safe. We have people in our country, who were born in our country, but who do not share our basic values and it even gets worse.
Parts of Europe even resemble war zones. The EU did not prevent war. There have been horrible murderous attacks in Barcelona, London, Manchester, Berlin, Brussels, Nice, Paris, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Madrid, Amsterdam.
Terrorists have entered Europe among the flow of immigrants which the EU and the national governments allowed in. Meanwhile home-grown terrorists are already one of the biggest problems our nations are currently facing. There are thousands of them, all over Europe, able to travel around unhindered and strike wherever they want.
This morning in a Belgian newspaper the European anti-terrorism coordinator Gilles de Kerckhove says that there are 50,000 radical Muslims in Europe today. They can commit a terror attack any moment as already happened so many times recently.
Brussels together with the pro-EU leaders in the national capitals created the conditions which made these horrible events and attacks possible by allowing millions of immigrants to enter Europe -- often unchecked, by making no assimilation demands whatsoever, by refusing to impose a leitkultur, a dominant culture, by being politically correct and because of a total lack of leadership.
In my office in The Hague, there is a huge portrait of Sir Winston Churchill. In 1946, he held a speech advocating what he called -- I quote -- "a kind of United States of Europe." But by this, he did not mean at all what the Europhiles meant. He referred to the British Commonwealth as an example: a loose federation of nations, economically cooperating and bound by a set of principles.
But when he became Prime Minister in the 1950s, Churchill did not apply for membership of the precursor of the EU. He was horrified by the idea of giving up national sovereignty. Because he knew that this would lead to the end of democracy, identity and safety for his people.
And neither does the EU care much about the preservation of the Judeo-Christian culture.
On the contrary, it facilitates Islamization.
Our European civilization, based on the legacy of Jerusalem, Athens and Rome, is the best civilization on earth. It gave us democracy, freedom, equality before the law, the separation of church and state, and the notion of sovereign states to protect it all. The remedy to all the misery and terror, is clear: We have to reassert what we are. Only then will we be able to ensure a future for our children in a safe, strong and free Europe.
The problems Europe faces today are existential. Not economics but Islamization, terrorism and mass-immigration are our main problems. Existential indeed, it determines who we are, what we are and if we will exist as free people in the future.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I believe in free speech. I pay a very heavy price for it. I am on the death list of Al-Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban and other Islamic groups. I live in a safe house provided by the Dutch state and I am under 24/7 police protection for 13 years now. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. So am I.
And I think that Islamization is the greatest threat to our European future. I am not talking about all individual Muslims, many of whom are moderates, but I am talking about the Islamic ideology which is incompatible with freedom and democracy and that we are importing massively.
The European Commission voices its concern about the so-called threat to democracy in countries like Poland and Hungary, but it totally ignores the devastating effect Islamization has on the security and freedom of Europe.
For all these reasons -- protection of our democracy, our borders, our identity, our safety and our freedom -- we want a Europe without the EU. Sovereign democratic nations are perfectly capable of working together where there are common interests - without needing a supranational political institutional like the EU. But, despite all the bad news, as I said at the beginning, I am an optimist. All over Europe, ever more people are becoming proud patriots.
And know that the patriots will win. And so will the nation-state.
Nations that of course will be willing to work together closely where they see a common interest. There is nothing wrong with economic cooperation, on the contrary. We can also work together to fight terrorism. But all on a voluntary basis, as sovereign nations.
And without a political union. Without the EU.
The future belongs to the Europe of sovereign nations.
Thank you.
This speech was delivered at the Ambrosetti conference, Italy, Villa d'Este, September 2, 2017 and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.
© 2017 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

A Grim Portrayal of Syria at War
by Amir Taheri/Gatestone Institute/September 03/17
The blurb of Destroying a Nation: The Civil War in Syria presents the author, Nikolas Van Dam, as an experienced Dutch diplomat with a direct knowledge of the Middle East.
Having served as Holland's Ambassador to Egypt, Turkey and Iraq, Van Dam also had a stint (in 2015-16) as his country's Special Envoy for Syria. In that last assignment Van Dam monitored the situation from a base in neighboring Turkey.
Van Dam's diplomatic background is clear throughout his book as he desperately tries, not always with success, to be fair to "all sides" which means taking no sides, while weaving arguments around the old cliché of "the only way out is through dialogue".
Thus he is critical of Western democracies, which according to him, deceived the Syrian opposition by making promises to it, including military intervention, which they had no intention of delivering. He is especially critical of former US President Barack Obama who launched the mantra "Assad must go" and set "red line" which the Syrian despot ended up by crossing with impunity.
The first half of the book consists of a fast-paced narrative of Syrian history before the popular uprising started in the spring of 2011. The picture that emerges is that of a Syria in the throes of instability and frequent outburst of violence including sectarian conflict. Van Dam then juxtaposes that with Syria as it was reshaped under President Hafez al-Assad, who seized power in 1970, and his son and successor Bashar al-Assad.
"Under Hafez and Bashar, Syria experienced more internal security and stability than ever before since independence," Van Dam asserts.
But isn't Van Dam confusing terror with security and stagnation with stability?
Leaving aside the past six years that, according to Van Dam, have claimed almost half a million Syrian lives, the previous four decades of rule by the two Assads were anything but a model of security and stability. In all those years, Syria lived under Emergency Rules while thousands were imprisoned and/or tortured and executed. The absence of genuine security and stability meant that the Ba'athist regime was unable to build the durable institutions of a modern state. That's why Syrian society at large saw its creative energies stifled, something that none of the previous dictators, from Hosni a-Zaim onwards, had managed or, perhaps, even intended to do.
In other words, contrary to Van Dam's assertion, the two Assads destroyed chances of Syria building the political, not to mention the ethical, infrastructure of genuine security and stability.
Van Dam tries to portray Syria as a society that had always been ridden by sectarian violence, and frequently refers to "the killing of Alawites" by Arab Sunni Muslims. However, the only example he cites is that of the mass murder of Alawite military cadets in Aleppo which took place during Hafez al-Assad's rule. The biggest "mass killing" of that epoch was the week-long carnage of unarmed civilians by Assad's troops in Hama in 1982 which, according to Van Dam, claimed up to 25,000 lives, almost all of them Arab Sunni Muslims.
Those familiar with Syrian history would know that while sectarianism did play a role in almost all events in that unhappy lands, it was never the dominant factor.
What Syria experienced, and to some extent is experiencing today, is a war of sectarians, not a sectarian war.
The fight today is not between Syrian Sunnis and Alawites, and it would be wrong to see the Assad dictatorship as ruled by the Alawite community as such. The fight is between the mass of disenfranchised Syrians of all sects against a despotic regime determined to go to any length to preserve its hold on power, or as we increasingly note, the illusion of power. To that end, the Assad regime has focused on dominating the coercive organs of power, the army, the police and at least 15 security organizations, with the appointments of individuals loyal to Assad rather than any particular sect or even the supposedly ruling Ba'ath Party. Van Dam cites estimates of the number of Alawite officers in the Syrian army at around 86 percent. However, the key in that was loyalty to the Assad clan rather than adherence to a religious sect the tenets of which are kept secret even from its followers.
Van Dam estimates support for the Assad regime at around 30 per cent of the Syrian population. This roughly coincides with the percentage of Alawite, Christian, Ismaili and Druze communities in that country. However, to translate the statistics of a census, and even then one based only on estimates, into facts of political support for a regime requires a giant leap of imagination. One might prefer the estimates offered by Sami Khiyami, one of Syria's most experienced diplomats now in exile, whom Van Dam quotes as well. According to Khiyami the Assad regime and its armed opponents together enjoy the support of no more than 70 per cent of Syrians, the rest disliking, even hating both, for different reasons.
According to Van Dam, the demand advanced by the Syrian opposition and more than 100 countries that Assad must go was a big hurdle on the road to a negotiated end of the conflict. Instead, Van Dam argues, the opposition and its Arab and Western democratic backers ought to have demanded Assad's cooperation in forging transition. Van Dam may not know this but this is precisely what was attempted in 2012-13 when a Track-II plan under which Assad would "step aside" rather than "step down" was advanced with European and, to some extent, American support. It failed because Assad refused its basic tenets while Obama, even believing that Assad would fall in any case, also withdrew US support.
One may wonder about the book's title and sub-title. What is happening in Syria is not about "destroying a nation", nor is Syria likely to be destroyed as a nation. In fact, one may argue that, once the dictatorship is brought down, Syria may emerge from its current ordeal stronger as a nation than ever. The theme of "destruction" is used by Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers as a prop in a campaign of psychological terror to cow the Syrian people into submission. The slogan "Either Assad or We Shall Burn the Country" is openly used by diehard pro-Assad thugs including the Shabbihah.
The description of the conflict in Syria as a "civil war" may also be problematic. From ancient times in Rome, say between Marius and Sula or Caesar and Pompey, the term civil war applied to armed contest over power between two local camps of roughly the same strength at the starting point. This is not the case in Syria where the conflict was initially one between unarmed demonstrations and heavily armed security machine controlled by Assad. The parallel conflict that later developed between anti-Assad armed groups and the remnants of the regime's army did not morph into a civil war either, if only because foreign elements, and powers, became heavily involved on both sides.
Van Dam cites estimates that put the current strength of what is left of Assad's army at over 65,000. At the same time, General Qassem Soleimani, the man who leads Tehran's "exporting the revolution" campaign, has just boasted that he has over 60,000 men in Syria, including "volunteers for martyrdom" from Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. In other words almost half of those fighting to keep Assad safe in his last hideout in Damascus are not Syrians. At the same time, it is clear that without carpet-bombing by the Russian air force, Assad would have had no chance of making even a symbolic return to such places as Aleppo.
On the armed opposition side, too, foreign intervention is significant. According to Western estimates, more than 30,000 non-Syrians, many of them European passport-holders, are fighting on the side of ISIS, the various militant groups and even Kurdish armed bands in Syria. The financial, political and training support given by more than 50 countries to the Syrian opposition may be "too little, too late", as Van Dam asserts, but it makes it difficult to underestimate the non-Syrian element of this tragic conflict.
In other words, the proxy aspect of this conflict, something that Van Dam acknowledges, vitiates its descriptions of a classical civil war.
Despite its obvious shortcomings, Van Dam's book is a welcome contribution to the international debate on the Syrian crisis if only because it offers a glimpse into thinking in European diplomatic circles.
What some of us might find hard to accept is Van Dam's deep pessimism as to the future of Syria. He writes: "There is no good future for Syria with Bashar al-Assad in power, but without al-Assad, future prospects for Syria do not look promising either."However, regardless of what happens next the Assad terror machine has been broken and, even with Russian and Iranian support, cannot be restored to its previous strength.
If only for that, "future prospects" need not look so grim. Well. We shall see.
The Assad terror machine in Syria has been broken and, even with Russian and Iranian support, cannot be restored to its previous strength. Pictured: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is greeted in Moscow by Russian President Vladimir Putin, October 20, 2015.
Amir Taheri, formerly editor of Iran's premier newspaper, Kayhan, before the Iranian revolution of 1979, is a prominent author based on Europe. He is the Chairman of Gatestone Europe.
This article first appeared in a slightly different form in Asharq Al Awsat and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.
© 2017 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.