April 11/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations
I desire mercy and not sacrifice
Matthew 12/,01-14/:"At that time Jesus went through the cornfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, ‘Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.’ He said to them, ‘Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, "I desire mercy and not sacrifice", you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.’He left that place and entered their synagogue; a man was there with a withered hand, and they asked him, ‘Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath? ’ so that they might accuse him. He said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.’ Then he said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and it was restored, as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him."

In the last days distressing times will come
Second Letter to Timothy 03/01-09/: "You must understand this, that in the last days distressing times will come. For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid them! For among them are those who make their way into households and captivate silly women, overwhelmed by their sins and swayed by all kinds of desires, who are always being instructed and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth. As Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these people, of corrupt mind and counterfeit faith, also oppose the truth. But they will not make much progress, because, as in the case of those two men, their folly will become plain to everyone."

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on April 10-11/18
History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes/Yossi Mekelberg/Arab News/April 10/18
Turkey’s major dilemma in Syria/Yasar Yakis/Arab News/April 10/18
Syria now the center of a major international face-off/Osama Al Sharif/Arab News/April 10/18
Syria: Fighting over the Corpse/Shoshana Bryen/Gatestone Institute/April 10/18
Europe's Civilizational Exhaustion/Giulio Meotti//Gatestone Institute/April 10/18
Killing people as if they are insects/Abdulrahman al-Rashed//Al Arabiya/April 10/18
The Saudi Crown Prince’s message to the world/Sawsan Al Shaer/Al Arabiya/April 10/18
OPEC and non-OPEC pact exit strategies: Saudi, Russia alliance is ‘thicker than oil’/Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady/Al Arabiya/April 10/18
The impact of Pyongyang-Washington talks on Tehran/Shehab Al-Makahleh/Al Arabiya/April 10/18

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on April 10-11/18
Macron Invites Hariri to MBS Talks, Voices 'Common Desire' to Back Lebanon
Investigation Unveils Hezbollah Operations in Colombia
Aoun to Travel to Riyadh for Arab Summit
Report: Electoral Battles 'Revive Confrontation' between Druze Leaders
Lebanon to Lodge UN Security Council Complaint over Israeli Violations
Military Court Drops Six-Month Jail Term for Journalist
Aoun: Lebanon Bearing Impact of Middle East Wars
Hariri Meets Saudi Crown Prince in Paris
Kanaan following Change and Reform meeting: Cedre conference laid underpinning for fruitful economy
Army commander discusses military cooperation with Kuwaiti Defense Minister
Riachi receives invitation to LAAS annual conference
Army commander bound for Kuwait on official visit
Machnouk announces setting up of special operations room for elections
Sami Gemayel Blasts 'Unconstitutional' Budget Clause as Prelude to Naturalization
Kataeb Leader Meets Beirut I Candidates

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on April 10-11/18
Moscow turns against Israel, suspects its air strike in Syria was a feeler for a US offensive
Russian Foreign Ministry Summons Israeli Ambassador for Talk Following Syria Strike
UN says more than 130,000 have fled Syria’s Ghouta in four weeks
Senior Iranian Official: 'Israel's Crime' of Syria Strike 'Will Not Remain Without Response'
Global Watchdog Sending Team to Probe Alleged Syria Gas Attack
Russia Vetoes U.N. Bid to Set Up Syria Chemical Weapons Probe
Macron Says a French Strike Would Exclusively Target Syria Chemical Facilities
Trump's Top Homeland Security Advisor Resigns
U.S. Requests Evening U.N. Vote on Syria Chemical Inquiry
UN Chief Calls for Unfeterred Probe of Alleged Syria Attack
Israel Says Won't Accept Iranian Entrenchment in Syria
Damascus Invites Global Watchdog to Douma to Probe Chemical Claims
Paris Says Syria Allies Bear 'Particular Responsibility' for Alleged Toxic Attack
Erdogan Hits Back at Russia's Lavrov over Syria
Trump Slams FBI Raid on His Lawyer's Offices as a 'Disgrace'
Macron Sparks Uproar with Plea to Restore 'Bond' with Catholics
Saudi Arabia and France sign economic MoUs worth over $18 billion
Latest Lebanese Related News published on April 10-11/18
Macron Invites Hariri to MBS Talks, Voices 'Common Desire' to Back Lebanon
Agence France Presse/Naharmet/April 10/18/French President Emmanuel Macron invited Prime Minister Saad Hariri to join him for talks and dinner Tuesday at the Elysee Palace with visiting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Macron's office said. "Before the official dinner, the three leaders will briefly discuss subjects linked to stability in the Middle East, the fight against terrorism, and economic and cultural cooperation," the French statement said. Speaking at a joint press conference with Bin Salman, Macron said: "We have a common desire with Saudi Arabia to support Lebanon."
Investigation Unveils Hezbollah Operations in Colombia
Agencies/Tuesday 10th April 2018/Undercover Hezbollah operations in South America have been uncovered in an extensive investigation carried out jointly by the United States and Colombia. According to Colombian media outlet Infobae, Hezbollah has been present in the country under the cover of a legitimate organization called the External Security Organization (ESO), which is essentially Unit 910, Hezbollah’s foreign operations arm. ESO was founded and headed by Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh until his assassination in 2008. It is now led by Talal Hamiyeh. The three-year-long investigation, carried out in coordination with the US Drug Enforcement Agency, identified commercial entities and platforms that Hezbollah has been using to cover its activities including drug dealing, selling and exporting stolen vehicles and money laundering. Hezbollah was found to be ensuring the safety and secrecy of its members by settling them in cities such as Cartagena, Barranqilla and Maicao using forged identification documents. The group also established businesses dealing in textiles, meat products and coal. According to Colombian intelligence sources, 80% of the income generated by these businesses are channeled through European banks on their way to Beirut and are used to support Hezbollah. The remaining 20% of revenus are re-invested in Colombian and Panamanian enterprises. Investigators also found that agents are recruited at local mosques and community centers before sending them to Lebanon with “scholarships.”The group also uses social networks in Colombia and Panama to identify supporters it can brainwash and tries to get them to convert to Islam. Colombian authorities found that orders are issued in Iran, passed to Lebanon and from there to local affiliate ESO. One of the senior members of the network was Abdullah Rada Ramel, a Lebanese man who is responsible for Hezbollah operations in Panama. He travels between many countries including Venezuela, Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Switzerland and the United States. About a year ago, he was expelled from Colombia after being indicted for drug smuggling and money laundering.
Aoun to Travel to Riyadh for Arab Summit
Naharnet/April 10/18/President Michel Aoun is expected to travel to the Saudi capital on Saturday to partake in the upcoming Arab summit. Aoun will head a Lebanese delegation to the summit which will be held mid-April in Dhahran. The President received an official invitation early in April to participate in the meet. The last Arab summit was held in Jordan in March 2017.

Report: Electoral Battles 'Revive Confrontation' between Druze Leaders
Naharnet/April 10/18/Battles for Lebanon's parliamentary elections have brought back political confrontations between the two Druze leaders in Mount Lebanon, leader of the Progressive Socialist Party MP Walid Jumblat and head of the Lebanese Democratic Party, Minister of the Displaced Talal Arslan, Asharq al-Awsat daily reported Tuesday. The two men traded jibes on Twitter over the weekend. Arslan accused Jumblat of “monopolizing the decision of the Druze community,” while PSP leader said “there is no need to engage into a dialogue with the Emir of preaching, eloquence and governance,” hitting at Arslan. Electoral talks between the two parties in the Chouf-Aley district reached a dead end. This has imposed a confrontation through an alliance struck by Jumblat with al-Mustaqbal Movement and the Lebanese Forces Party on one hand, while Arslan on the other struck an alliance with the Free Patriotic Movement, declaring that his party would join the FPM parliamentary bloc, said the daily. In his message to Jumblat through social media outlets, Arslan said he had not received any alliance proposal from Jumblat. But sources familiar with the negotiations said the PSP leader has "made an electoral offer to Arslan giving him a candidate, former MP Marwan Abu Fadel, for the Orthodox seat in the district of Aley in an effort to calm electoral conflicts. But Arslan struck an alliance with the Free Patriotic Movement instead.” Failure to form coalition between the two Druze leaders has opened the door on “electoral confrontations” that were occasionally paralleled with “security problems around Aley.” But these were contained by the security forces, according to the daily. An electoral standoff is expected between “the Jumblatis” and “Arslanis,” and of course with the latter's FPM ally. Ties between Jumblat and the FPM –political party of President Michel Aoun-- “have been nothing but bad” since the return of Aoun from his French exile. In Chouf-Aley district, several electoral lists will be competing for the May 6 elections: The Jumblat-Mustaqbal-LF list; Arslan-FPM-Syrian Social Nationalist Party(SSNP) list, supported by Hizbullah; former minister Wiaam Wahhab's list; and an incomplete list joining the Kataeb and National Liberal Party; in addition to two lists comprising members of the civil society.

Lebanon to Lodge UN Security Council Complaint over Israeli Violations
Naharnet/April 10/18/Lebanon's foreign ministry issued a statement on Tuesday condemning Israeli violations of Lebanon's airspace, saying a complaint will be filed at the UN Security Council. “The Foreign Ministry condemns the air raids launched at the Syrian Arab Republic and affirms its previous position that Lebanon's airspace should not be used to attack Syria. Lebanon will make a formal complaint with the UN Security Council,” said the statement. On Monday, Israel launched a dawn attack on a major air base in central Syria. The Israeli fighter jets have reportedly launched missiles from Lebanon's air space. The Army Command-Orientation Directorate released a statement saying four Israeli warplanes have breached Lebanon's airspace. According to the army’s statement, the warplanes violated the Lebanese airspace at 3:25 a.m. flying over the sea to the west of Jounieh, adding that they had flown east over the city of Baalbek and then left the country’s airspace at 3:35 a.m.

Military Court Drops Six-Month Jail Term for Journalist
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 10/18/The Military Court on Tuesday dropped its six-month prison sentence against a journalist accused of criticizing the Lebanese Army. Hanin Ghaddar, a writer known for her criticism of Hizbullah, was sentenced in absentia on January 10 for "defaming the Lebanese Army." During a conference in Washington in 2014, Ghaddar alleged that Lebanon's Sunni Muslims were "being clamped down by Hizbullah and the Lebanese Army." On Tuesday, the same court recanted its decision after an appeal by Ghaddar's lawyer, saying it "did not have jurisdiction" over her because she is a reporter. But the accusation of defamation still stands, with the military tribunal saying it would transfer the file to Lebanon's publications court. Ghaddar on Tuesday confirmed that the six month sentence had been canceled but said the case "hasn't been dropped." "This is not only a personal victory, it's a victory for free press," she told French news agency AFP. The military courts in Lebanon have a very broad jurisdiction over civilians. Rights groups have voiced concern that could be used as a tool for intimidation against free speech and activism. "In no case should authorities detain people for peaceful criticism," Human Rights Watch warned in January.

Aoun: Lebanon Bearing Impact of Middle East Wars

Naharnet/April 10/18/President Michel Aoun warned Tuesday that Lebanon is “bearing the impact of the ongoing wars in the Middle East as well as their economic repercussions.”Aoun also cited “the outcome of the global economic crisis and the burden of hosting Syrian refugees, after their numbers reached the 1.85 million mark.”The president was speaking in Baabda during a meeting with Monaco's Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Gilles Tonelli who was accompanied by an official delegation. Addressing the visitors, Aoun expressed his appreciation of “Monaco's support for Lebanon in the health, education and humanitarian fields.”

Hariri Meets Saudi Crown Prince in Paris
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 10/18/Prime Minister Saad Hariri met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Paris during a visit to the French capital on Monday. Hariri tweeted a picture of himself with Saudi Crown Prince and Moroccan King Mohammed VI without any comment. The Crown Prince wraps an official visit to France on Tuesday where he held “cultural talks” with French President Emmanuel Macron. The Prince, widely known as MBS, held talks with Hariri during the latter’s presence in the French capital for the CEDRE conference for boosting Lebanon's economy. Hariri tendered his resignation on live television from Riyadh in November, reportedly under a pressure from Prince Mohammed. Macron waded into a regional crisis and invited Hariri to Paris for talks and he later rescinded his resignation, a development that analysts say exposed the limits of the prince's authority.

Kanaan following Change and Reform meeting: Cedre conference laid underpinning for fruitful economy
Tue 10 Apr 2018/NNA - MP Ibrahim Kanaan on Tuesday said that the grants and credits earmarked for Lebanon at Cedre conference must be coupled with a bundle of necessary reforms, adding that the Paris IV forum laid the underpinning for a fruitful and productive economy. Speaking following the Change and Reform parliamentary bloc's weekly meeting, Kanaan maintained that the endorsement of the 2018 state budget had bolstered the international confidence in Lebanon, as manifested in Paris. "The money we received at Cedre conference are supposed to be coupled with reforms, and this is what the Change and Reform is calling for," he said. "The conference practically laid the foundation for a fruitful and productive economy," he added. Moreover, Kanaan explained that granting residence permits to foreigners did not mean granting them citizenship, warding off concerns over settlement plans. On a different note, the lawmaker highlighted the necessity to monitor the transparency of the looming electoral process. "We will not allow any pressure on any citizens under the term of President Michel Aoun, and the judicial system will protect the citizens," he underlined. "We shall protect citizens' freedom and opinion; the old days are gone forever. Let us turn May 6 into a model of democracy," he concluded.

Army commander discusses military cooperation with Kuwaiti Defense Minister

Tue 10 Apr 2018/NNA - Army Commander General Joseph Aoun, currently on an official visit to Kuwait, met with Acting Deputy Prime Minister and Kuwaiti Defense Minister Sheikh Nasser Sabbah al-Ahmad al-Sabbah, in the presence of Kuwaiti Chief of Staff Mohammad al-Khoder. Military relations and bilateral cooperation featured high on their talks.

Riachi receives invitation to LAAS annual conference
Tue 10 Apr 2018/NNA - Information Minister, Melhem Riachi, on Tuesday welcomed at his ministerial office the President of the Lebanese Association for the Advancement of Science (LAAS), National Education Minister's Advisor, Naim Ouaini, who extended to him an invitation to attend the Association's Scientific Conference "Science, Social Justice and Sustainable Development." The Association's 24th annual international scientific conference is jointly organized with the University of Balamand and the National Council of Scientific Research.
The Conference will be held on April 25 and 26, 2018, at the University Campus in the Kura region. Around 300 researchers participate annually in the LAAS conference, deemed to be the first of its kind in the Arab world including all fields of knowledge ranging from the sciences of environment, chemistry, physics and mathematics to engineering, medical sciences, renewable energy, educational and social sciences to the humanities and arts.

Army commander bound for Kuwait on official visit
Tue 10 Apr 2018/NNA - Army Commander General Joseph Aoun left Beirut on Tuesday, heading to the State of Kuwait on an official visit upon an invitation by Kuwaiti chief-of-staff. Major General Aoun is accompanied by a military delegation. The army commander will meet with a number of military officials to discuss means of strengthening cooperation relations between both countries' armies.

Machnouk announces setting up of special operations room for elections

Tue 10 Apr 2018/NNA - Interior and Municipalities Minister, Nouhad Machnouk, on Tuesday announced in a statement the setting up of a central operations room for the forthcoming parliamentary elections on May 6. The central operations' room was established on temporary basis at the Ministry. The operations room was set up in the aim of coordinating amongst the various operational rooms affiliated to the army, internal security forces, general security and state security, following up on the electoral process on the ground, and receiving complaints to ensure the integrity of the electoral operation in accordance with the provisions of the law.The operations room is located at the Ministry's Major General Wissam al-Hasan Hall. The Room is to kick-start its operations on April 26 and ends on May 7, 2018.

Sami Gemayel Blasts 'Unconstitutional' Budget Clause as Prelude to Naturalization
Kataeb.orgTuesday 10th April 2018/Kataeb leader Samy Gemayel on Tuesday blasted the Article 50 of the 2018 state budget according to which any foreign national who invests in a real estate starting at around $500,000 inside Beirut and $330,000 elsewhere would obtain a permanent Lebanese residency. “This is a crucial issue that cannot pass unnoticed,” Gemayel said in a press conference held at the Kataeb's headquarter in Saifi. “The state is making it much easier for foreigners to settle in Lebanon while the Lebanese themselves are now finding it very hard to buy apartments in their own country.” “This article dashes the Constitution and the Lebanese people's right to acquire real estates in their homeland,” Gemayel stated. "The government and all the parliamentary blocs which approved this article are to be held responsible for the consequences."Gemayel deemed it as unacceptable to approve such a clause amid the presence of 1.5 million refugees in Lebanon, vowing to keep on speaking against this provision given the repercussions it will entail on Lebanon's demography. "By granting a permanent residency, we are altering Lebanon's identity and contributing to the implicit naturalization of refugees," he warned. "For us, the Article 50 is dangerous and reflects the ruling authority's approach towards the Lebanese."As he met the members of the "Together for Baabda" list, Gemayel called on citizens to make the right choice on May 6, urging them to vote conscientiously. “People must help us so that we can keep on defending their rights, the country’s sovereignty and the state's arms exclusivity,” Gemayel affirmed.

Kataeb Leader Meets Beirut I Candidates
Kataeb.orgTuesday 10th April 2018/Kataeb leader Samy Gemayel on Tuesday met in Saifi with the members of the "Beirut Is First" list which is running for the parliamentary seats in Beirut's first electoral district. The slate comprises candidates from the Kataeb Party, Lebanese Forces, Ramgavar as well as independent figures. The full eight-member list includes State Minister for Planning Affairs Michel Pharaon for the Catholic seat, current MP Nadim Gemayel for the Maronite seat, Imad Wakim for the Orthodox seat, Riad Aakel for the minorities seat, Jean Tolouzian for the Armenian Catholic seat, as well as Eline Kolonsian, Carole Babikian and Afidis Daksian for the three Armenian Orthodox seats.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on April 10-11/18
Moscow turns against Israel, suspects its air strike in Syria was a feeler for a US offensive
Debeka Files/April 09/18
Moscow’s tone towards Israel turned hostile on Monday, April 9, after its claim that the IDF conducted an air strike on the Syrian T-4 airbase that morning. This claim was in itself a departure from the Kremlin’s longstanding line of letting Israel’s military operations pass without comment. Stepping away from this custom, the Russian Defense Ministry reported that two Israeli F-15 fighter jets carried out a guided missile air strike on the T-4 air base in Homs from Lebanese air space. Syria was said to have shot down 5 out of the 8 missiles fired, while three landed in the western part of the base. The Moscow statement stressed: “There were no Russian advisers among those injured” – 14 in all, according to some sources. It was next announced that the Russian defense and foreign ministries asked their Israeli counterparts to provide “explanations” for air strikes on a “Syrian military facility.” And then, Russian foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters that the “air strike carried out on Sunday on a Syrian air base was a dangerous development.” A few hours later, the Russian Foreign Ministry criticized what it described as Israel’s “indiscriminate use of force against the civilian population” in the Gaza Strip, calling it “unacceptable.”
DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources say that Moscow’s ire was prompted by five causes and more hostile steps against Israel may be coming: Israel’s reported military strike in Syria hit President Vladimir Putin at a highly vulnerable moment, when the US and its Western allies were holding him directly accountable for chemical weapons attacks in Syria and the United Kingdom. Putin never imagined that the nerve agent attack on the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter would be tied in with allegations that the Russian-backed Assad regime was using poison gas against Syrian civilians in Douma near Damascus. The Russian president suspects that Israel struck the T-4 airbase, a shared Syrian-Russian-Iranian air facility, as an advance foray on behalf of the US for testing Moscow’s reaction to a larger operation. He is therefore pushing back strongly against the Israeli attack to ward off a US sequel.
After Israel’s wide-ranging air offensive on Feb. 10, which ended in one of its F-16 jets being shot down, Putin warned Jerusalem to desist from further attacks on Syrian targets, else the Russian air force would hit back. Israel complied for two months. But then, the compulsion became pressing to take out a key Iranian target, even at the risk of Russian disfavor. Of deepest concern to Israel now is that the Russian president may make a complete turn against Jerusalem to the extreme point of supporting a war of attrition which Syria, Iran and Hizballah are planning to wage against the Jewish state.

Russian Foreign Ministry Summons Israeli Ambassador for Talk Following Syria Strike
Noa Landau/Haaretz/April 10/18/Officials in the Israeli Foreign Ministry told Haaretz that Israel was in constant communication with the Kremlin and that Gary Koren would meet today with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov The Russian Foreign Ministry has summoned Israel's ambassador to Moscow for a conversation on the attack of the Syrian air base which occurred Sunday overnight, officials in the Israeli Foreign Ministry confirmed Tuesday. Officials told Haaretz that Israel was in constant communication with the Kremlin and that Gary Koren, Israel's ambassador in Moscow, would meet today with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov. The Russian military said on Monday that two Israeli F-15 war planes carried out airstrikes on a Syrian air base near Homs on Sunday, the Interfax news agency reported. 14 people were reportedly killed in the strike, at least seven of them Iranians.
Interfax cited the Russian Defense Ministry as saying the Israeli war planes had carried out the strikes from Lebanese air space. The Russian ministry said that Syrian air defense systems had shot down five of eight missiles fired, while the other three landed in the western part of the base. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday that the strike was "a dangerous development. Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Putin, told reporters on Monday that Israel had not spoken to the president ahead of the air strike even though there may have been Russian military advisers at the base, which he described as "a cause for concern for us."

UN says more than 130,000 have fled Syria’s Ghouta in four weeks
Reuters/April 10, 2018/GENEVA: The United Nations voiced alarm on Tuesday at “spiralling new displacement” from the Syrian enclave of eastern Ghouta, after more than 133,000 people were estimated to have fled in four weeks, and where UN aid agencies still do not have access.About 45,000 of those displaced are staying in eight collective shelters in the Damascus countryside. Roughly the same number of women, children and elderly men have left the overcrowded shelters after screening by government authorities.“We are aware of screening taking place as civilians are leaving eastern Ghouta, but as you know we are not part of current evacuation deals or its implementation,” Andrej Mahecic, spokesman of the UN refugee agency UNHCR, told a briefing.

Senior Iranian Official: 'Israel's Crime' of Syria Strike 'Will Not Remain Without Response'
Reuters/Haaretz/April 10/18 /Ali Akbar Velayati, top adviser to Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, arrives in Damascus as Iranian death toll in strike rises to seven. The top adviser to Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, on Tuesday described a strike on a military airbase in Syria as "Israel's crime" and said it "will not remain without response," the Lebanese al-Mayadeen channel reported. Ali Akbar Velayati was speaking upon his arrival in the Syrian capital Damascus, reported al-Mayadeen, which is well connected in government-held parts of Syria.  Seven Iranian military personnel were killed in Sunday’s air strike on a Syrian air base, Tasnim news agency said, almost double the number originally reported. Iran's Fars news agency previously reported that four Iranians were killed in the air strike. Media outlets associated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps named the four dead, which included a senior officer in Iran's unmanned aerial vehicle program. The bodies of the Iranians, described as military advisers, had been flown back to Iran and funerals would take place later on Tuesday, Tasnim said. Earlier Iranian media reports said four personnel were killed. The attack took place hours after U.S. President Donald Trump warnedthere would be a “big price to pay” following the reports of a poison gas attack on the Syrian rebel-held town of Douma. Syria’s government has denied any involvement in that attack. “It seems the U.S. government is looking for an excuse for military intervention,” Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said as he arrived in Brazil early on Tuesday, according to state media. “Iran’s stance on chemical weapons is clear and we condemn any use of them against any target,” Zarif added.

Global Watchdog Sending Team to Probe Alleged Syria Gas Attack
Agence France Presse/Naharmet/April 10/18/The global chemical weapons watchdog said Tuesday it will "shortly" deploy a fact-finding team to the rebel-held Syrian town of Douma to probe an alleged poison gas attack.Both Syria and its ally Russia have called on the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to investigate after first responders said more than 40 people died in the suspected chemical arms attack on Douma on Saturday. "The OPCW technical secretariat has requested the Syrian Arab Republic to make the necessary arrangements for such a deployment," the OPCW said in a statement. "The team is preparing to deploy to Syria shortly," it added, saying the OPCW's director general Ahmet Uzumcu wants the team "to establish facts surrounding these allegations."The OPCW has maintained a presence in Syria since it first set up its fact-finding mission in 2014 following repeated allegations of chemical weapons use. But the deployment to Douma will be the first time an OPCW team has moved outside Damascus since early 2014, when their convoy was attacked en route to Kafr Zita. The lead vehicle hit a home-made roadside bomb, and as the team was being rescued they were ambushed and two people were briefly detained. One person was slightly injured, but the attack left the organization, mainly made up of scientists and technical experts, badly shaken. The Russian embassy in The Hague said Tuesday it had passed along a proposal to the OPCW from Moscow "to immediately launch the investigation." "The Russian Federation is fully committed to provide all necessary assistance" to ensure the mission's success as well as its "safety and security," it told the OPCW. "Any delay of such inspection will play on the side of those seeking to use rumors about the incident as a 'Casus Belli' (justification for military action) for their irresponsible actions in Syria thus pursuing their geopolitical interests," the embassy added. U.S. President Donald Trump has stepped up his warnings about possible U.S. military action after the suspected weekend attack. News of the OPCW mission to Douma also came as the U.N. Security Council was due to vote later Tuesday on rival U.S. and Russian draft resolutions in response to the alleged attack.

Russia Vetoes U.N. Bid to Set Up Syria Chemical Weapons Probe
Agence France Presse/Naharmet/April 10/18/Russia on Tuesday vetoed a U.S.-drafted United Nations Security Council resolution that would have set up an investigation into chemical weapons use in Syria following the alleged toxic gas attack in Douma. It was the 12th time that Russia has used its veto power at the council to block action targeting its Syrian ally.

Macron Says a French Strike Would Exclusively Target Syria Chemical Facilities
Agence France Presse/Naharmet/April 10/18/France will target the Syrian government's chemical weapons capabilities if it decides to strike the regime after a suspected chemical attack in an opposition stronghold, President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday. Speaking after talks with visiting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, Macron said he would decide "in the coming days" on his response, in conjunction with the U.S. and Britain. "Our decision will not target allies of the regime or attack anyone but rather attack the regime's chemical capabilities," he told a press conference, insisting he did "not want an escalation." Macron said France's information had shown "that chemical weapons were indeed used and that the regime could clearly be held responsible." His remarks came as U.S. President Donald Trump prepared to announce whether he would carry out strikes over Saturday's suspected attack in which at least 40 people are thought to have been killed. On Monday, Macron promised that the "heinous attack on innocent Syrians with banned chemical weapons" would be "met forcefully." Asked Tuesday in Paris if Riyadh could also take part in strikes against the Syrian regime, Prince Mohammad said: "If our alliance with our partners calls for it, we will step up."

Trump's Top Homeland Security Advisor Resigns

Agence France Presse/Naharmet/April 10/18/Donald Trump's White House was hit with a fresh resignation Tuesday as his top homeland security advisor, Tom Bossert -- once a presidential favorite -- announced his departure from the West Wing. "The president is grateful for Tom's commitment to the safety and security of our great country," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said of the top aide's departure. The announcement came a day after John Bolton took over as Trump's fourth national security advisor. Bossert had been Trump's pointman on issues from counterterror to national disasters to cyberattacks. His polished appearance and articulate TV style had made him a Trump favorite. During a visit to hurricane-struck Puerto Rico last October, Trump singled out the 43-year-old for glowing praise: "Great job. Great job." As recently as last weekend, Bossert had represented the administration on television to talk about the the White House response to an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria.

U.S. Requests Evening U.N. Vote on Syria Chemical Inquiry
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 10/18/The United States has asked the U.N. Security Council to vote Tuesday on its proposal to set up an inquiry to investigate chemical weapons attacks in Syria, but the measure is likely to face a veto from Russia, diplomats said. The U.S. push for a vote expected at 3:00 pm (1900 GMT) comes amid warnings from President Donald Trump of possible military action in response to an alleged toxic gas attack in the Syrian rebel-held town of Douma. On Monday, the U.S. presented a draft resolution that would set up a panel tasked with identifying the perpetrators of chemical attacks in Syria. Russia put forward its own proposal for such an inquiry in January. U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley told the council that Washington wanted a vote on the measure, even though Moscow said it contained "some unacceptable elements.""We have reached the moment when the world must see justice done," Haley said Monday. "History will record this as the moment when the Security Council either discharged its duty or demonstrated its utter and complete failure to protect the people of Syria," she added. "Either way, the United States will respond." Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia warned that U.S. military action in Syria could trigger "grave repercussions." "From what we hear now, I am afraid they are looking for a military option, which is very, very dangerous," Nebenzia said. A draft resolution requires nine votes to be adopted in the 15-member council and no vetoes from the five permanent members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States. Russia has used its veto power 11 times at the council to block action targeting its Syrian ally. The United States is proposing to establish the new panel for one year to work with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to identify perpetrators of chemical attacks. Russia killed off a previous U.N.-led probe in November by vetoing the renewal of its mandate. That panel, known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), had found that the Syrian air force had dropped sarin on the village of Khan Sheikhun in April of last year.

UN Chief Calls for Unfeterred Probe of Alleged Syria Attack
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 10/18/The UN Secretary General on Tuesday called for international investigators to have unfettered access after an alleged chemical attack in Syria. Rescuers and medics in the town of Douma say more than 40 people died after the alleged poison gas attack in the last rebel-held pocket of the one-time opposition stronghold of Eastern Ghouta. "Any confirmed use of chemical weapons, by any party to the conflict and under any circumstances, is abhorrent and a clear violation of international law," Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement. "The seriousness of the recent allegations requires a thorough investigation using impartial, independent and professional expertise," he said. Guterres reaffirmed his full support for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and its fact-finding mission which "should be granted full access, without any restrictions or impediments to perform its activities," Guterres added. US President Donald Trump was poised Tuesday to decide on possible military action against the Syrian regime, after vowing to respond "forcefully" to the latest alleged chemical atrocity in the country's civil war despite strong warnings from Damascus-ally Russia.Russia, a major Syrian ally, said Tuesday it will propose a UN resolution to investigate the alleged attack.

Israel Says Won't Accept Iranian Entrenchment in Syria
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 10/18/Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Tuesday that Israel would not accept Iranian entrenchment in Syria after missile strikes on a Syrian regime air base blamed on Israel. "We will not allow Iranian entrenchment in Syria no matter the price to pay," he told journalists. "We have no other option. Allowing Iran to strengthen itself in Syria is like accepting that the Iranians strangle us."Lieberman did not confirm Israel carried out Monday's deadly strikes, which Syria and Russia blamed on Israel. Israel has sought to avoid direct involvement in Syria's civil war, but it acknowledges carrying out dozens of air strikes there to stop what it says are advanced arms deliveries to Hizbullah, the Iran-backed Lebanese group that is backing President Bashar al-Assad's regime. It has also repeatedly warned it will not accept its arch-foe Iran entrenching itself militarily in neighboring Syria. On Monday, Israel accused Syria of "crimes against humanity" over an alleged chemical attack on a rebel-held town, saying Assad's regime was responsible.

Damascus Invites Global Watchdog to Douma to Probe Chemical Claims
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 10/18/Syria's government has invited the global chemical watchdog to visit the rebel-held town where an alleged toxic gas attack killed dozens at the weekend, state media said Tuesday. Syria has denied accusations it unleashed a gas attack on the town of Douma, the last opposition town in the battered enclave of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus. Citing a foreign ministry source, state news agency SANA said Syria was ready to cooperate with a fact-finding team. "The ministry sent a formal invitation to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to send a team from its fact-finding mission to visit Douma and investigate claims linked to the alleged use of chemical weapons there," it said. The letter said Syria was ready to "provide all necessary assistance to the mission." The OPCW's fact-finding mission for Syria was established in 2014 to confirm chemical weapons use, but it does not have the mandate to establish who is responsible. Syria's letter came hours ahead of a United Nations Security Council meeting on rival proposals by Russia and the United States on chemical weapons use. Regime ally Moscow said it would propose a U.N. resolution on a "transparent and honest" investigation with the OPCW's involvement. It said Syrian government troops could ensure the safety of OPCW experts if they were to travel to the scene, he added, criticizing previous investigations for having been conducted from a distance. The OPCW already says it is investigating but that so far only a "preliminary analysis" had taken place.

Paris Says Syria Allies Bear 'Particular Responsibility' for Alleged Toxic Attack
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 10/18/French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Tuesday that allies of the Syrian regime bore "particular responsibility" for a recent suspected chemical attack that has sparked international outrage.
"The use of these weapons is not neutral, it says things about the regime and our reaction to the use of these weapons will say things about who we are," Philippe told parliament. "It reveals the capacity and the will to use weapons which are outlawed by international law," he said. "The allies of the regime bear a particular responsibility in this massacre," he said of alleged use of toxic gas against the rebel-held enclave of Douma on Saturday, which first responders said killed more than 40 people. "There can be no credible diplomacy if such atrocities are not met with a strong, united and resolute response from the international community," Philippe said. Russia and Iran, the main backers of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in more than seven years of civil war, have dismissed the claims, with Tehran calling them a "conspiracy." Syria's government has invited the global chemical arms watchdog, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, to visit Douma, state media said. Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he would propose a "transparent and honest investigation" of the claims, involving the OPCW, at a U.N. Security Council meeting on Tuesday. Moscow had previously denounced the claims as "fabrications", with its U.N. envoy warning Monday that the possibility of military action was "very, very dangerous." France has repeatedly warned that evidence of the use of chemical weapons in Syria is a "red line" that would prompt French strikes on Syrian government forces. French President Emmanuel Macron discussed the attack with U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday night, with Trump later warning that "we have a lot of options militarily and we'll be letting you know pretty soon."

Erdogan Hits Back at Russia's Lavrov over Syria
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 10/18/Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday slammed Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's comments that the Syrian town of Afrin, seized from Kurdish militia by Ankara, should be handed over to Damascus."This is a very wrong approach," Erdogan was quoted as saying by the official Anadolu news agency. "We know very well to whom we will give Afrin," he said. "We will give Afrin back to its inhabitants when the time comes but we will determine the time, not Mr Lavrov." The comments were among the toughest yet by Erdogan against Moscow since Turkey and Russia formed a fragile alliance aimed at bringing peace to Syria, a long-time ally of Moscow.  Turkey in January launched an operation into Syria to root out the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia in the Afrin enclave and drove the group from the city on March 18. Many analysts said at the time the Turkish offensive could not have gone ahead without consulting Russia because it required the Turkish air force to enter Syrian airspace. Russian air support for Damascus has been a keen factor in driving back rebel forces. At a press conference on Monday, Lavrov said the simplest way to normalize the situation in Afrin would be for the territory to be "returned to the control of the Syrian government." He noted that Erdogan believed that the United States had started to "flirt" with Kurdish militia was a threat to Turkey's interests. But he added: "Erdogan never said Turkey wanted to occupy Afrin." Turkey and Russia are on opposite sides in Syria, with Moscow remaining the chief ally of President Bashar al-Assad's regime and Ankara backing rebels seeking his ouster. However, both countries have worked closely in recent months despite their differences to achieve a political solution. In a further source of tension, Erdogan on Monday expressed concern to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin over attacks in Eastern Ghouta after an alleged chemical attack there killed dozens of people. Erdogan last week hosted Putin and President Hassan Rouhani of Iran, another ally of the Syrian regime. The three presidents vowed to work for a lasting ceasefire in Syria.

Trump Slams FBI Raid on His Lawyer's Offices as a 'Disgrace'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 10/18/A furious Donald Trump blasted the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller as a "disgrace" and a "witch hunt" Monday after FBI agents raided the New York offices of the president's longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen. Agents seized files relating to Cohen's work, which included making a $130,000 payment before the 2016 election to an adult film actress who says she had a tryst with the Trump a decade earlier. Cohen's own attorney Stephen Ryan said agents were working in part on the request of Mueller, the independent prosecutor investigating links between Russia and the Trump campaign. At the White House, Trump angrily denounced the raid on "good man" Cohen. "It's a disgraceful situation. It's a total witch-hunt, I have been saying it for a long time," he told reporters."It's an attack on our country in a true sense. It's an attack on what we all stand for."
The raid came as Mueller's probe intensifies its focus on Trump's inner circle. Mueller's team is examining possible collusion between Trump's campaign and Moscow, as well as allegations of corrupt behavior by Trump campaign lieutenants and of White House efforts to obstruct the investigation.
So far, 19 people have been indicted, including the chairman of Trump's campaign and his former national security advisor. Trump accused Mueller of overseeing a biased investigation staffed by Democrats, "a pure and simple witch-hunt."  But the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, said it was a Trump-appointed prosecutor who had sought the search warrant, which was in turn approved by a judge. "That's no witch hunt. That's the rule of law," Schiff tweeted. "As Trump floats firing Mueller, all Members must speak out — or stop feigning devotion to the Constitution."The special counsel is also probing a $150,000 payment Ukrainian billionaire steel magnate Victor Pinchuk made during the US presidential campaign to Trump's foundation for the American real estate developer to give a 20-minute speech via video link, according to The New York Times.
Mueller in firing line?
After having turned over what he called a million pages of documents, Trump said the investigation is "now getting ridiculous. They found no collusion whatsoever with Russia." "This is the most biased group of people, these people have the biggest conflicts of interest I've ever seen. Democrats all, or just about all," the president added. Asked if he wants to fire Mueller, Trump replied: "Many people have said you should fire him. Again they found nothing and in finding nothing that's a big statement," he said. "So we'll see what happens." The veteran prosecutor, a former FBI director, is seeking to interview Trump, but has not said the president is a target in the investigation. The raid on Cohen though takes the probe close to the Oval Office. Cohen has been Trump's personal lawyer and confidant for years, helping him on real estate and personal matters, as well as informally advising him since he became president.
He is also known as a rough-and-tumble "fixer" for Trump, dedicated to protecting his boss's interests.
Raid tied to alleged affair
Porn actress Stormy Daniels says that Cohen's surreptitious payment aimed to keep her quiet about her earlier relationship with Trump. The attorney representing the stripper -- real name Stephanie Clifford -- said his client had faced "death threats" over the case. "The amt of courage and fortitude that my client @StormyDaniels and her family have shown over the last 6 weeks has been remarkable," Michael Avenatti tweeted. "It takes special people to withstand death threats, turmoil and personal attacks, all in the interest of a search for the truth. #gratitude #justice." The Washington Post reported that Cohen is under examination for possible bank fraud and campaign finance violations. Clifford is among several women who claim to have had affairs with Trump in the past and were pressured or paid to keep quiet about them. Last month, Clifford told 21 million TV watchers that she had unprotected sex with Trump after meeting with him at a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe, California in July 2006. That was shortly after Trump's wife Melania gave birth to their son. Trump has skirted questions about the relationship, and last week denied any knowledge of Cohen's payment to secure Clifford's October 2016 signature on a secret agreement to keep quiet about the affair.  But since then, media reports have made it public, and last month she sued in a California court to have the hush deal annulled. Cohen countersued, demanding some $20 million in penalties for her violating the non-disclosure pact. Cohen has said that neither the Trump Organization, the president's real estate group nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Daniels. "Neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly," Cohen said. Cohen's attorney accused prosecutors of seizing privileged communications between Cohen and his clients in the "completely inappropriate and unnecessary"
Macron Sparks Uproar with Plea to Restore 'Bond' with Catholics
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 10/18/President Emmanuel Macron drew a flurry of criticism from leftwing politicians Tuesday after he called for stronger ties with the Catholic Church, with many saying he was flouting France's strict law on secularism. The Church and the state were for centuries virtually indistinguishable in France, but the 1789 Revolution marked the first step by republicans to exclude religion from government affairs, codified in a 1905 law separating the two. But tensions have persisted, with conservative politicians often accusing officials of denying France's cultural heritage -- as seen in efforts to install nativity scenes at town halls during Christmas. Macron, who prides himself on tackling difficult issues head-on, told a meeting of bishops on Monday that he hoped to repair relations with the Church through a "dialogue of truth." "We intuitively share the feeling that the bond between the Church and the state has been damaged, and that both you and I need to repair it," Macron said. Acknowledging that such comments could draw criticism, Macron said: "Secularism is not meant to deny the spiritual in the name of the temporal, nor to uproot from our society the sacred element which nourishes so many of our fellow citizens."He added: "At a time of great social fragility... I consider it my responsibility to stop the erosion of confidence among Catholics with regards to politics and politicians."The unusual foray by a French leader onto religious territory sparked outrage among critics, not least since they come at a time of heightened tensions with France's Muslim population after a series of deadly jihadist attacks in the country. "Macron in full-on metaphysical delirium. Outrageous. One expects a president, one gets a little priest," Jean-Luc Melenchon, head of the leftwing France Unbowed party, said on Twitter. "Secularism is the jewel in our crown. That is what a president of the republic should be defending," newly installed Socialist Party leader Olivier Faure said in a tweet.
Chipping away at secularism?
Even some rightwing leaders reacted coolly, with some accusing Macron of pandering to the conservative voters being courted by Laurent Wauquiez of the Republicans opposition party. "If it's about acknowledging the Christian heritage of our civilization, that's a historical and cultural fact. If it's actually a strategy for winning back voters, that's something else," top Republicans lawmaker Bruno Retailleau told France Inter radio. Far-right leader Marine Le Pen called his comments the start of an attack on strict secularism enshrined by the 1905 law -- hinting it would give religious authorities of all stripes more influence in French society. "In reality this is aimed at changing the law of 1905, and I can tell Catholics that it won't be them who will benefit from such a change," she told RTL radio. But Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, who is responsible for government relations with religious groups, said Macron's remarks simply reflected the need for greater spiritual awareness. "What he is saying is that for human beings, there is not only the material world but also the search for absolute values, for spirituality, to find meaning in life," he said. "It is perhaps a new tone but in no way does it break with the great tradition of secularism."Opinion polls show the French roughly split between believers and non-believers in a country where the role of religion is a source of frequent public debate.

Saudi Arabia and France sign economic MoUs worth over $18 billion
Arab News/10 April 2018/DUBAI: Twenty memorandum's of understanding (MoUs) in energy and transportation sectors worth over $18 billion were signed between France and Saudi Arabia on Monday, Saudi state-news channel Al-Ekhbariya reported. The companies involved in the MoUs were Saudi Arabia’s SABIC and France’s Schneider Electric and Orange, as well as Saudi Arabia’s Nas Air and France’s Safran.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on April 10-11/18
History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes
Yossi Mekelberg/Arab News/April 10/18
For those who lived through or studied the period of the Cold War, there is now an inescapable and increasing feeling of deja vu. Poisonings, the expulsion of diplomats, and the demarcation of rival interests between Russia and the West are only the tip of an iceberg that is fast developing into a new Cold War.  In a quite unexpected turn of events, both father and daughter Sergei and Yulia Skripal are recovering well after the attempt on their lives last month via a toxic nerve agent. It is just a matter of time, and doctors’ permission, before a very eager British secret service will try, with the assistance of the two victims, to further piece together the jigsaw puzzle of this crime. Regardless of that, the UK government is already convinced that Moscow was involved in what appears to be an audacious violation of British sovereignty. Consequently, in a matter of just a few weeks, fault lines have reappeared between Russia and the West, the discourse has become radically adversarial and public diplomacy, instead of more discreet behind-closed-doors talks, has come to characterize these relations. All the signs are that, for the time being at least, the sides involved are ready to let the situation escalate without necessarily setting boundaries to this fast deterioration in relations.
The rhetoric has intensified to such a level that Boris Johnson, the British foreign secretary, compared participating in this summer’s football World Cup in Russia with taking part in the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany — in other words, he equated Vladimir Putin with Adolf Hitler. The Kremlin’s response was anything but appeasing, calling Johnson’s statement “utterly disgusting” and “unworthy of a foreign minister of any country.” This slippery slope of miscalculated, reactive behavior on both sides could well presage a lengthy period of extreme international tension, with the danger of it spilling over to other regions of the globe in a manner reminiscent of the Cold War rapidly growing.
Following the poisoning of the Skripals, there is something in the fiery reaction of the British government, including its expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats, to suggest there is strong evidence connecting the Putin regime with this hideous crime. The almost instant solidarity shown by more than 20 member states of the European Union and NATO, which gave more than 130 Russian diplomats their marching orders, also indicates that those countries may be privy to convincing evidence of high-level involvement by the Russian government and maybe even Putin himself.
Moscow’s robust response in terms of denying any involvement in the crime, and its retaliation by expelling equal numbers of diplomats from those countries that sent back its own, makes this incident a test case in the rapidly worsening relations between Russia and what is traditionally regarded as the West. Even the Trump administration, which is seen as Putin-friendly, has expelled Russian diplomats and, in a further step, Washington announced it would close the Russian consulate in Seattle. Moscow’s tit-for-tat response in announcing that it would close the US consulate in St. Petersburg smacks once again of a new Cold War, with all the hallmarks of the old one.
Yet concentrating on this most recent assassination attempt and its repercussions gives us just part of the picture. The international actions we have seen are more a response to a wider perception and fear that Russia under Putin is becoming a threat to world stability; some sort of reincarnation of Soviet-style expansionism minus the communism. Russia’s involvement in Georgia, Ukraine and Syria, and its annexation of the Crimean peninsula, let alone Putin’s growing authoritarianism, provides ample evidence to those who support this vision of Russia. Its cooperation with Iran and Turkey, two revisionist powers that are threatening stability in the Middle East and beyond, exacerbates the suspicions over Moscow’s intentions. Russia, on the other hand, on top of the humiliation it experienced with the collapse of the Soviet Union, has subsequently seen itself becoming increasingly surrounded by NATO and the European Union — its military, political and economic rivals, whose constant drive to expand has taken them to the country’s doorstep.
Putin — however seasoned and unsavoury a politician he is — senses the social and political turmoil in Europe and the US, which to a large extent is the result of weak, divided and incompetent leadership, and is taking full advantage.

Turkey’s major dilemma in Syria
Yasar Yakis/Arab News/April 10/18
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week hosted his Russian and Iranian counterparts, Vladimir Putin and Hassan Rouhani, for a summit in Ankara. No tangible result may have come out of this encounter, but it might still become a major turning point in the Middle East. But that will depend on other developments taking place in the fluid environment of the region.
Turkey’s position in this equation is more sensitive than the other two actors because it has to make certain adjustments in its Syria policy in order to achieve a concrete result in this trilateral cooperation. It is a member of NATO and an important actor in the US-led coalition to fight Daesh, providing logistical support by letting US jet fighters use Incirlik Air Base in its territory, while it is also acting in Syria together with the main opponent of NATO, Russia.
An important conclusion of the summit is the emphasis that the leaders have put on Syria’s territorial integrity. Russia and Iran have been doing so since the beginning, while Turkey only started to refer to Syria’s territorial integrity after the Kurds’ aspirations for autonomy began to be voiced more loudly. But Turkey’s commitment has now become more binding since it was reaffirmed at a summit. It is also an indirect commitment by Ankara that it will withdraw — once the situation in the country is stabilized — from the Syrian territories where it has a military presence. This is a welcome development, which increases the predictability of Turkey’s Syria policy.
Despite their agreement on Syria’s territorial integrity, these three countries follow different paths on several other issues.
Turkey and Iran are against the emergence of a Kurdish belt in the north of Syria. However, their positions are not identical. Turkey is strongly opposed to any initiative that will promote the Kurdish cause, while for Iran an arrangement that facilitates its transit to Lebanon is more important than other targets. Russia continues to support the Kurdish cause within the framework of the territorial integrity of Syria, but it has also disclosed its preference for a federal structure in Syria. This is a nightmare scenario for Turkey. Therefore, the present solidarity will be difficult to uphold if Russia does not come up with a solution that will satisfy Turkey.
Turkey faces a tricky balancing act if it is to make trilateral partnership with Russia and Iran work.
A similar difference exists in their attitude toward the US. They are all unhappy with one chapter or another of US policy in Syria. Turkey is furious about the support that Washington provides to the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the military branch of the strongest Kurdish political party in Syria, but it follows a parallel path with US policy by not considering any role for Bashar Assad in the future of Syria. Turkey insistently implores the US to fulfill its Obama-era promise to withdraw YPG fighters from the Manbij district to the east of the Euphrates. So far, the US has managed Turkey’s demands with half-promises. A confrontation cannot be discounted if these two NATO allies fail to reach a compromise.
Turkey slightly toned down its narrative on Assad, but its attitude on this particular issue is far from that of Russia and Iran. It remains to be seen how these controversies will be eliminated.
Russia’s attitude on US policy in Syria is a classic example of rivalry between two superpowers for the regional hegemony. Iran, meanwhile, considers the US presence as a direct threat to its own national security.
Turkey’s present Syria policy has several facets that the trilateral cooperation has to sort out. On the news of the latest chemical attack in Douma, Eastern Ghouta, Turkey’s reaction was more strongly worded than those of its NATO allies. The general tone of the comments by Western countries, including the UK, France and the “establishment” in the US — not President Donald Trump — was that “if it is confirmed that the attack was carried out by the Syrian government, it will suffer the consequences.” Turkish leaders, including Erdogan and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim used language that presupposes it has already been confirmed the attack was carried out by the Assad regime. This hasty attitude distances Turkey from Russia and Iran, with whom it is cooperating in the Astana process, and puts it in a position that is closer to its NATO allies. This is a contradiction that Turkey now faces and may also face more often in the future.
Meanwhile, after being ousted from various pockets of resistance, several opposition factions, including those in Eastern Ghouta, have moved to areas where Turkey has to secure the observance of the de-escalation. If Syria’s territorial integrity has to be maintained, these factions must be eliminated or incorporated one way or another into the future Syria. Turkey will have to assume the very difficult task of persuading these factions either to give themselves up or assume a role under the Syrian regime that it was trying to overthrow.
Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkey and founding member of the ruling AK Party. Twitter: @yakis_yasar

Syria now the center of a major international face-off
Osama Al Sharif/Arab News/April 10/18
A week is a long time in politics, as recent events in Syria have underlined once again. First US President Donald Trump shocked and confused both allies and foes when he announced, off-script, that he wanted to pull the US military out of Syria “very soon.” That statement took the Pentagon and the State Department by surprise. A few days later, however, the White House said the president was now in favor of staying in Syria for the short term.
But, in the wake of various reports that the Assad regime bombed the besieged suburb of Douma with chemical gas on Saturday, resulting in the deaths of at least 70 civilians, President Trump — who a year ago ordered missile strikes against a Syrian airbase in retaliation for a similar chemical attack in Idlib — found himself on the offensive once more. Blaming Russia and Iran for supporting “animal Assad,” the president vowed to take action, promising that the regime would pay a “big price.”
By Monday evening, Trump had again promised to deliver a “forceful” response against all those involved, including Russia and Iran. He said that response would come within the next 48 hours. At the UN Security Council, US ambassador Nikki Haley said the US would respond to the attack, while Russia’s envoy warned that the repercussions would be grave.
France has also condemned the chemical attack and indicated it was ready to take action. Russia warned against targeting the regime on the basis of what it said was fake news, denying that Damascus had used banned agents in Douma. Less than 24 hours later, Russia and Syria accused Israel of striking an air base near Homs, killing dozens, including Iranians. The Pentagon was quick to deny involvement. Israel did not comment, but its Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the Israeli air force was once again active in Syria. Less than two months ago, Israel struck a number of targets in Syria following the downing of an F-15 by Syrian anti-aircraft missiles. Trump’s threats, the Israeli strike and Russia’s stern warnings have reshuffled the cards in Syria once more.
Israel was rattled by Trump’s earlier statement on pulling out from Syria. The Israeli media reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a “tense” phone call with the US president on the issue.
The coming hours will be crucial. Whether the US president will order another strike against Syrian targets, probably with the French and even the British joining in, remains to be seen. The odds are that he will follow his threats through with deeds. Such a development would certainly test the Russians and the Iranians. What the response of the Kremlin would be is now the bigger question.
Israel was rattled by Trump’s earlier statement on pulling out from Syria. The Israeli media reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a “tense” phone call with the US president on the issue, while Lieberman hinted Israel was not consulted on the matter. It is no secret that Israel is alarmed by Iran’s growing presence in Syria and it has never hesitated to take pre-emptive action against Hezbollah and Iranian targets there.
Sunday night’s raid was the latest in a series of strikes that Israel has carried out in recent years. The possibility of a major confrontation between Israel and Iran in Syria is becoming greater every day, especially now that President Bashar Assad and his allies are closer than ever to declaring victory. But the unfolding events of the past week raise many more questions that require answers. For starters, why would the Syrian regime risk drawing an international backlash and US wrath by using chemical weapons in Douma when it had already scored a decisive victory there? And why commit such a foolish act less than a week after the US president announced that he was looking for a speedy withdrawal from Syria? In addition, why would Assad put himself in such a position when the world has come to the realization that the Syrian president has won and will remain in power? Furthermore, it is known that Israel coordinates with Russia over its military operations in Syrian airspace. Were the Russians warned of Sunday’s Israeli strike? If they were — it now appears that Israel told the US of its strike in advance — why would Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov describe the attack on the T-4 air base as a “very dangerous development?” What are the ramifications of the Israeli attack on relations between Moscow and Tehran, a week after the leaders of the two allied nations met in Ankara to define each party’s scope of influence in Syria? And will the Russians end their coordination with Israel as a result of the raid?
Regardless, the Douma incident and the retaliatory Israeli strike have forced a new agenda onto key players. The clash in Syria and over Syria between various players, especially the US and Russia, will further complicate relations between Washington and Moscow. A punitive US strike against Assad would force Russian President Vladimir Putin to retaliate in some measure. Syria is now the center of a major international face-off — but maybe this is what Israel wanted all along.
*Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. Twitter: @plato010

Syria: Fighting over the Corpse
Shoshana Bryen/Gatestone Institute/April 10/18
The aggressive partition of Syrian territory by Russia, Iran, Turkey and ISIS, has security implications for the United States and our regional allies that cannot be ignored.
The U.S., its allies and its adversaries should understand that President Trump intends to push back on Syria's criminal behavior, Iran's regional threat posture, and Russia and Turkey's delusions of empire.
The Syrian government's chemical attack on civilians in the rebel-held suburb of Douma this weekend is the complete responsibility of the war criminal Bashar Assad, his Russian bedfellows, and his Iranian bankers. However, the fact that President Trump had announced that the U.S. is nearly finished its mission to defeat ISIS (which is questionable) and wants to leave Syria quickly may have encouraged the others to speed up their efforts to divide Syria's corpse.
An independent country for only two years longer than the State of Israel, Syria has reverted to its prior status as space across which the competing interests of bigger empires and armies are played out. President Trump claims to be uninterested in who rules Damascus -- which is wise of him -- but the aggressive partition of Syrian territory by Russia, Iran, Turkey and ISIS has security implications for the United States and our regional allies that cannot be ignored.
Syria -- as land -- has had many masters:
Persia's Cyrus the Great beginning in 539 BCE.
Macedonia's Alexander the Great in 333-332 BCE.
Rome's Pompey the Great captured it in 64 BCE.
The Byzantine Empire in 395 CE.
The Muslims arrived in the mid-7th century -- the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates, the Ayyubid, Zingid and Hamdanid Dynasties.
Crusader states followed by Assassins, Mamluks, and Mongols until the Ottoman Empire conquered the space in 1516 CE.
The French after WWI.
The only ever independent Syria was established in 1946.
Today, Russia claims that the Syrian government controls 85% of the country, but although it can (with cover from its allies) drop poison chemicals on civilians in much of the country, Damascus does not and cannot govern 85% of anything.
Russia props up and abets the criminality of the Assad regime, maintaining positions along the northeastern part of the coast where it has two naval bases and an airbase in generally secure Alawite territory. According to White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders, "It is also now clear that Russia has betrayed its obligations to guarantee the end of the Syrian regime's chemical weapons program."
Russia props up and abets the criminality of the Assad regime in Syria. Pictured: Syrian President Bashar Assad is greeted in Moscow by Russian President Vladimir Putin, October 20, 2015.
Turkey occupies a slice of northern Syria as part of its effort to kill as many Kurds as possible. The Kurds had two unconnected areas in which they are the majority -- Turkey now pretty much controls one; the Kurds hope the U.S. will protect them in the other, or they may turn to Iran for help against Turkey.
Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) manages 80,000+ militiamen in Syria, partially comprised of Syrians but with large Lebanese Hezbollah units and Shiite mercenary groups of Pakistanis and Afghans. Iran is said to control more Syrian soldiers than the Syrian government. And there are still Sunni anti-government forces, whether the U.S. supports them or not.
ISIS still has about 3,000 fighters straddling the area between Syria and Iraq -- enough to do damage.
The triumvirate of Russia, Iran and Turkey met last week to assert their interests, announcing that their troops would remain in the country for the foreseeable future in what is most appropriately known as imperial occupation.
President Trump has been clear that Iran's land-grab across Iraq and Syria -- plus its proxy state in Lebanon governed by Hezbollah -- poses a threat to American interests and allies. Defense Secretary James Mattis declined to rule out retaliation for Syria's weekend chemical strikes. Israel has been explicit about its determination to prevent Iran from creating a permanent presence in Syria, and backed it up with an airstrike this weekend. (It was reported that Washington, but not Moscow, was notified in advance.)
As the U.S. has no designs on the control of Syrian territory, although the U.S. might change its mind, it should limit its interference on the ground to:
Punishing Syria for violating the international consensus against the use of CW;
Protecting its Kurdish allies;
Helping Israel ensure that Iran cannot establish a "Shi'ite crescent" by physically linking its presence in Iraq to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hezbollah bases close to the Israeli border should be treated as if they are Iranian bases.
This is not the time for the United States to be suggesting that its interest in the ramifications of Syria's demise has flagged. Rather, the U.S. its allies and its adversaries should understand that the president intends to push back on Syria's criminal behavior, Iran's regional threat posture, and Russia and Turkey's delusions of empire.
**Shoshana Bryen is Senior Director of the Jewish Policy Center.
© 2018 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.

Europe's Civilizational Exhaustion
Giulio Meotti//Gatestone Institute/April 10/18
Islam is filling the cultural vacuum of a society with no children and which believes -- wrongly -- it has no enemies.
In Sweden, by 2050, almost one in three people will be Muslim.
The European mainstream mindset now seems to believe that "evil" comes only from our own sins: racism, sexism, elitism, xenophobia, homophobia, the guilt of the heterosexual white Western male -- and never from non-European cultures. Europe now postulates an infinite idealization of the "other", above all the migrant.
A tiredness seems to be why these countries do not take meaningful measures to defeat jihadism, such as closing Salafist mosques or expelling radical imams.
Muslim extremists understand this advantage: so long as they avoid another enormous massacre like 9/11, they will be able to continue taking away human lives and undermining the West without awakening it from its inertia.
In a prophetic conference held in Vienna on May 7, 1935, the philosopher Edmund Husserl said, "The greatest danger to Europe is tiredness". Eighty years later, the same fatigue and passivity still dominate Western European societies.
It is the sort of exhaustion that we see in Europeans' falling birth rates, the mushrooming public debt, chaos in the streets, and Europe's refusal to invest resources in its security and military might. Last month, in a Paris suburb, the Basilica of Saint Denis, where France's Christian kings are buried, was occupied by 80 migrants and pro-illegal-immigration activists. The police had to intervene to free the site.
Pictured: French police eject some of the 80 migrants and pro-illegal-immigration activists who occupied the Basilica of Saint Denis, on March 18, 2018. (Image source: Video screenshot, YouTube/Kenyan News & Politics)
Stephen Bullivant, a professor of theology and the sociology of religion at St Mary's University in London, recently published a report, "Europe's Young Adults and Religion":
"Christianity as a default, as a norm, is gone, and probably gone for good – or at least for the next 100 years," Bullivant said.
According to Bullivant, many young Europeans "will have been baptised and then never darken the door of a church again. Cultural religious identities just aren't being passed on from parents to children. It just washes straight off them... "And we know the Muslim birthrate is higher than the general population, and they have much higher [religious] retention rates."
Richard Dawkins, an atheist and the author of The God Delusion, responded to the study's release by tweeting to his millions of Twitter followers:
Before we rejoice at the death throes of the relatively benign Christian religion, let's not forget Hilaire Belloc's menacing rhyme:
"Always keep a-hold of nurse
For fear of finding something worse."
Dawkins is apparently concerned that that after the demise of Christianity in Europe, there will not be an atheistic utopia, but a rising Islam.
That is the major point of what Philippe Bénéton in his book The Moral Disorder of the West ("Le dérèglement moral de l'Occident"): Islam is filling the cultural vacuum of a society with no children and which believes -- wrongly -- it has no enemies.
According to Radio Sweden, fewer newborns in that country are being baptized due to the demographic shift. By 2050, almost one in three people in Sweden will be Muslim, according to a recent Pew report
The European mainstream mindset now seems to believe that "evil" comes only from our own sins: racism, sexism, elitism, xenophobia, homophobia, the guilt of the heterosexual white Western male --and never from non-European cultures. So Europe now postulates an infinite idealization of the "other", above all the migrant. The heritage and legacy of Western civilization gets sectioned off piece by piece so that nothing remains; our values are mocked and our survival instinct is inhibited. It is a process of decomposition that Europe's political authorities seem to have decided to mediate, as if it were inevitable. Now, the European Union waits to receive the next surge of migrants, from Africa.
In German Chancellor Angela Merkel's major speech in the Bundestag after the unprecedentedly long and difficult process of forming a new government, she struck a conciliatory tone on immigration while offering an inclusive message on Islam. "With 4.5 million Muslims living with us, their religion, Islam, has also become a part of Germany", she said.
The most powerful politician in Europe capitulated: she evidently forgot (again) the difference between the civil rights of individuals, which Muslim citizens enjoy in Germany, and the sources of a national identity, on which Europe is based: humanistic, Judeo-Christian values. This realization may why a week earlier the new German Interior minister, Horst Seehofer, said that "Germany has been shaped by Christianity" and not by Islam.
Europe's tiredness can also be seen in a generational conflict embodied in the alarming rise of public debt. In Italy, the political establishment was recently shaken up by the election of two major populist parties. It is a country with a public debt of 40,000 euros per capita, and a tax burden equal to 43.3% of GDP. The average age of the population is the third oldest in the world, together with one of the lowest birthrates on the planet, one of the lowest retirement ages in Europe and the highest social security spending-to-GDP ratio in the Western world. It is also a country where pensions account for one-third of all public spending and where the percentage of pensioners in proportion to workers will rise from 37% today to 65% in 2040 (from three workers who support one pensioner to three workers who support two pensioners).
An Islamist challenge to this tired and decaying society could be a decisive one. Only Europe's Christian population is barren and aging. The Muslim population is fertile and young. "In most European countries—including England, Germany, Italy and Russia, Christian deaths outnumbered Christian births from 2010 to 2015," writes the Wall Street Journal.
Terrorist attacks will continue in Europe. Recently, in Trèbes, southern France, a jihadist took hostages in a supermarket and claimed allegiance to ISIS. It seems that Europe's societies consider themselves so strong and their ability to absorb mass immigration so extensive, that nothing will prevent them from believing they can assimilate and manage terrorist acts as they have automobile fatalities or natural disasters. A tiredness also seems to be why these countries do not take meaningful measures to defeat jihadism, such as closing Salafist mosques or expelling radical imams.
Muslim extremists understand this advantage: so long as they avoid another enormous massacre like 9/11, they will be able to continue murdering people and undermining the West without awakening it from its inertia. The most likely scenario is that everything will continue: the internal fracture of Europe, two parallel societies and the debasement of Western culture. Piece by piece, European society seems to be coming irreparably apart.
**Giulio Meotti, Cultural Editor for Il Foglio, is an Italian journalist and author.
© 2018 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.

Killing people as if they are insects
Abdulrahman al-Rashed//Al Arabiya/April 10/18
This is not the first or second or even tenth time that chemical attacks target people in Syria and suffocate them like insects.
The life of thousands of Syrians may be of no value for those who are indifferent towards what’s happening; however, the entire world is in danger due to these precedents which have become familiar and acceptable due to keeping silent and not holding criminals accountable. Silence over what the three regimes are doing in Syria will make all of the region’s cities an open arena for murder using chemical gases as wars expand and given the world’s cold reaction to using them.
Mass murder against Syrian civilians has been ongoing for four years now. The first time we heard of it was on March 19, 2013 in Aleppo’s suburbs. It was followed by another chemical attack on April 29 in Saraqeb and by another on August 21 in Ghouta. Three days later, Jobar was attacked and a day later, on August 25, a chemical attack also targeted Sahnaya. All these consecutive attacks were carried out in the same year. No one was held accountable although these attacks were many. The Syrian regime continued to deny these attacks were chemical in nature despite the mounting evidence and it kept saying it was a mere media charade and an exaggeration of events. The Syrian opposition, in cooperation with the UN, had to transfer a body of someone who was killed by Sarin gas to examine it and run tests thus proving that a prohibited nerve agent was used.
Three criminal regimes
The problem is not about the availability of evidence as there is many, and it’s not about the three criminal regimes. The problem is in the international community and its institutions which, in alarming manner, ignore crimes that are usually viewed as an attack against them and as a threat to the human race. The three regime’s boldness, i.e. the Syrian, Iranian and Russian, to use chemical weapons against civilians in Syria and keeping silent over these practices encourage governments and organizations to resort to chemical weapons because they are cheap, easy to use and efficient and they achieve the aim of psychologically terrifying people. Like the Syrian regime, Iran does not mind sacrificing its citizens and does not hesitate to carry out mass murder against those it is hostile towards.
Let’s compare between this and the reaction to the attempt to assassinate the Russian agent in Britain and which was only carried out as a result of underestimation and submissiveness. This was not the first time this happens but no one was held accountable for the crimes which preceded this recent incident. For example, a Russian man died while jogging in 2012 and the case was closed although there were suspicions he was poisoned. The recent incident in Britain about a month ago targeted a Russian double agent and his daughter who both fell ill following a mysterious attack which is believed to be a nerve-agent attack. Britain deemed this a dangerous attack on its soil and expelled a large number of Russian diplomats and said it will boycott this year’s World Cup in Russia. The British measures alone did not have enough weight and Moscow mocked them; however, several countries stood in solidarity with Britain, imposed sanctions on Russia and expelled a large number of diplomats too. We haven’t witnessed such reactions since the Cold War. Moscow now wants dialogue because it sensed the gravity of what happened and of what was attributed to it, whether it is in fact involved or innocent.
Like the Syrian regime, Iran does not mind sacrificing its citizens and does not hesitate to carry out mass murder against those it is hostile towards. Like Iran, it will not hesitate to resort to its chemical weapons to kill thousands of people everywhere it fights. Wars are ever-increasing and tools of mass murder and mass destruction no longer know any boundaries.

The Saudi Crown Prince’s message to the world
Sawsan Al Shaer/Al Arabiya/April 10/18
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has sent a strong message to the world that Saudi Arabia is capable and intent on eliminating terrorism. This message constitutes a new language for Saudi Arabia in its relations with the international community.
There is also the message he conveyed in his interview with The Wall Street Journal, where he said that the international community must keep pushing Iran economically and politically to avoid a direct military confrontation in the region, adding that “sanctions will create more pressure on the regime.”
“We have to succeed so as to avoid military conflict,” the royal said. “If we don’t succeed in what we are trying to do, we will likely have war with Iran in 10-15 years.”
No holds barred
We can see here a man who doesn’t speak in vague terms, nor issues statements he has does not intend to take action on. Prince Mohammed bin Salman has warned that it is necessary that the international community bears its moral responsibility and takes a position against Iranian terrorism, which is directed against the whole world and not just against Gulf or Arab countries, to avoid a war which although it seems direct between Saudi Arabia and Iran, it’s actually a war that will take place in a vital region that concerns the entire world.
This war as everyone knows — if it, God forbids, breaks out — would not take place between just two countries or just harm these two countries but would harm the whole world which depends on Gulf and Iranian oil and relies on using sea and air routes in the region – passages that are controlled by the two countries’ geographical and economic location.
Iran has already launched a proxy war against Gulf and Arab countries for more than 30 years by arming Shiite militias in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and Kuwait after smuggling medium and heavy weapons to them. These militias have launched war against their own people at the behest of Iran. We have been facing these militias for decades and have scarified lives to prevent them from controlling and dominating our capabilities and resources.
The Saudi crown prince issued a warning to the international community that we are engaged in an actual war with an expanding and hegemonic country that threatens international security. We are the only ones confronting this while the world sits and watches. Iran’s nefarious attempts would never stop, as long as the international community seems to be interested in cutting its commercial deals which Tehran exploits to serve its interests.
Sanctions on Iran
Prince Mohammed bin Salman said succinctly, if terrorism was an island, he would isolate it. He said that this proxy war cannot last forever, and that Saudi Arabia and its brotherly countries, like Bahrain and the UAE, cannot defend the interests of the international community on its behalf. The crown prince called on the international community to stop this proxy war before it develops into a direct war as by then it would be too late. Pressure on Iran today will inevitably halt its terrorism and prevent war tomorrow. The Iranian regime cannot bear the consequences of a re-imposition of international sanctions especially as the Iranian people are holding it accountable for pursuing an expansionist policy that has come at the expense of their welfare and have been protesting, escalating their rebellion and refusing to keep silent.
What European or Asian countries may lose as a result of joining the decision to boycott Iran in order to sanction it would be much less than what they would have to bear later in case such a war erupts in the region.
Saudi Arabia does not fight and protect regional water only for its interests but also for the security of the international sea routes, which are used by all countries. Everyone sees the amount of weapons that Iran exports to conflict areas through these routes. Actually, plenty of these weapons have been confiscated several times by foreign patrols, European, Australian and others. However these incidents have not pushed European countries to take a firmer position, instead of just issuing statements which are not followed by serious action.

OPEC and non-OPEC pact exit strategies: Saudi, Russia alliance is ‘thicker than oil’

Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady/Al Arabiya/April 10/18
The recent announcement by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during his recent US visit that the Kingdom is looking at a long term relationship between Saudi Arabia and Russia, extending from 10 to 20 years, has taken the markets by surprise. Everyone’s attention had been fixed on whether the current full year 2018 OPEC and non OPEC production cut agreement will be renewed in 2019, or reversed or a new short term mechanism is put in its place.
The Saudi Prince’s comments seems to have dispelled a short term, year by year approach and has opted for a longer lasting energy relationship with Russia giving credence to the saying that the existing relationship between the two countries is deeper and the alliance or confluence of self interest is indeed “thicker than oil”. Any so-called “exit strategy” from the November 2016 Vienna agreement for the 24 OPEC and non OPEC oil output cuts is going to be a crucial policy decision that carries far larger implications than just for Saudi Arabia, Russia, or OPEC, but the global economy and the monetary policies of both the European Central Bank and the US’s Federal Reserve: what would be the impact of another oil price collapse or spike, as opposed to a measured, gradual increase in the price of crude oil that more or less is aligned with a balance between supply and demand?
Getting it right is crucial for all sides to avoid another bout of economic recession or high inflation and this is where the Crown Prince’s statement becomes more important.
The fine tuning of a successful exit strategy is also important for the next stage of the energy geo- political relationship built between Russia and Saudi Arabia and how both sides see the exit game of the current OPEC plus agreement due to expire at the end of 2018.
The questions are many and the answers are still few and sketchy – will the agreement be extended or not? If not, how will a successful exit mechanism be set in motion with success defined more broadly to take account of both consumer nations and producer nations agendas.
Will it be first in – last out type of scenario for the major oil producers like Russia and the Gulf states that allows the smaller fiscally stressed oil producers to start ramping up production, if they have the spare capacity and have invested in this spare capacity over the past few years? These are big ‘ifs’. Again, the Crown Prince’s statement for a long term vision of the energy market has set a new marker for the OPEC plus alliance.
OPEC producers and others who have joined the production agreement can learn from the experience of Central Banks in managing their own policy exit strategies
Learning from experience
OPEC producers and others who have joined the production agreement can learn from the experience of Central Banks in managing their own policy exit strategies. Indeed, it is striking how much Saudi and other oil policy officials sound like central bankers these days when they talk about “rebalancing” the supply and demand of crude oil or an “equilibrium” price. As Saudi Energy Minister Khaled al-Falih recently remarked, a willingness to “overshoot” the crude oil equilibrium price for a while; that sounds an awful lot like Fed officials describing their willingness to tolerate a “temporary” overshoot of the Fed’s 2 percent inflation target, as this was the main target matrix for a successful Fed policy , just like one of OPEC’s success targets is to ensure that oil prices remain within “reasonable levels” and do not erratically overshoot.
Much of the thinking going into devising a successful OPEC exit strategy is in fact borrowed straight out of the USA’s Federal Reserve playbook with the famous “taper” when it exited its Quantitative Easing (QE3) Large Scale Asset Purchase Program beginning in 2014.
Looking back over the period, the Fed successfully achieved its exit from QE, despite the difficulties of crafting a policy consensus among 19 members of the Federal Open Market Committee who held widely differing views on the economic outlook, the nature of inflation dynamics, and indeed the merits of QE itself. But its most pressing challenge was in communicating the policy of the taper convincingly to the markets. The Fed learned its lesson when the reverse tapering back fired – that communications and the “signal” was as or more important than the actual tapering of the bond purchases – and OPEC may do well to heed the same lesson. This however will not be as easy as the problems faced by the Fed in having to deal with an internal constituency as there are 23 OPEC and non-OPEC members to the pact, but in reality there are only two that matter – Russia and Saudi Arabia and how these two manage the exit, if any, will set the agenda for the others despite some Iranian reservations.
The appointment of an anti -Iranian neo -con hawk John Bolton as the new US National Security Advisor adds another dimension. If the Iran Nuclear agreement is abandoned and fresh sanctions are imposed on Iran, or a military clash takes place between the USA and Iran, given Bolton’s public statements of favouring bombing Iran, then the current pact could well unravel if oil prices go well beyond the $ 70 per barrel or $80 levels. Any tapering of the output cuts, essentially a reverse taper, is likely to come only after a long period of messaging its framework and some of its operational details to ensure as smooth an effect on crude prices as possible. That would suggest first discussing the Exit at the 2018 June OPEC meeting to begin shaping the internal consensus, followed by several months of preparing the markets, and perhaps its formal adoption at the November OPEC Ministerial meeting for a taper that begins in 2019. The Crown Prince’s statement has added a bit more certainty of long-term intentions.

The impact of Pyongyang-Washington talks on Tehran
Shehab Al-Makahleh/Al Arabiya/April 10/18
From March 25 to 28, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un paid a sudden visit which surprised the world; however, some world leaders and heads of states have lauded the visit as a step towards defusing tension between North Korea and the US.
The United Nations hailed the trip: “The latest positive developments are the beginning of a longer process of sincere dialogue, leading to sustainable peace and denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula, while the White House said: “We’re going to be cautiously optimistic, but we feel like things are moving in the right direction.”Whether the trip was a signal to the Americans or not, the coming few weeks will reveal that North Korea will not talk about its ballistic capabilities and nuclear powers at a time Washington imposes new taxes on China.
The talks are mere political to give the US a signal not to tamper with the current trade status between Washington and Beijing as the key to Kim is in China and not in the US. The general picture of Chinese-North Korean leaders’ talks have left no qualm that Beijing has mediated between Pyongyang and Washington.
Signals of Kim-Xi meeting
Observers do believe that the talks between Kim and the Chinese President People's Republic of China Xi Jinping aimed to give Washington a signal that only Beijing’s efforts can bring peace to the Korean Peninsula as China has the upper hand for the projected meetings with the leaders of South Korea (end of April) and the US (in May). Regardless of the North Korean desire for denuclearization, the Chinese have benefitted from the timing of the visit to give various messages to the US and to the West that only China can have an influence on Kim and that whoever seeks to negotiate with him should first talk to China. The visit has helped China to have a leverage in a sense on the North Korean issue. This is clear when Xi proposed talks about some points during his meeting with Kim to settle the issue on the Korean Peninsula.
The first point which was proposed by Xi was that diplomacy is the breakthrough of the American-North Korean conflict. Beijing has been insisting to bring all talks under the United Nations Security Council’s umbrella and to bring the parties concerned to the negotiations table. As both considered this option, the pivotal role China is playing regarding the denuclearisation is based on what Kim has pledged if the Americans and South Koreans respond positively to his initiative with good will.
The second is that China and North Korea agreed to resume their long-time traditional relationship, including state-to-state and party-to-party ties, giving American side that the Chinese can proceed further to cement their ties with the North Korean if the US fails to accept the Chinese proposal to settle the issue peacefully. To improve the Sino-U.S. relations, Beijing finds a way to solve the issue between Washington and Pyongyang in peaceful means and to disarm North Korea from its nuclear technology.
Regardless of the North Korean desire for denuclearization, the Chinese have benefitted from the timing of the visit to give various messages to the US and to the West. Though the Americans did not copiously appreciate what the Chinese are doing as they don’t like others to twist their arm, especially Beijing which attributes to itself the laurels of convincing Kim to reconsider peace talks with South Korea and with the Americans to avoid any nuclear escalation in the region, the Chinese are cautiously addressing means to exercise excessive pressure on North Korea, which Beijing uses as a card against Washington, Japan and other enemies in the region.
The visit of the North Korean leader comes at a time the American President Donald Trump reshuffled some leading positions at his administration which included the appointments of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton to reinforce the hawkish stance against China and Russia. The Xi-Kim meeting demonstrates that China is forming stronger ties with North Korea, demonstrating that any meeting between Trump and Kim will be a meeting with a North Korean president backed by China. In other words, the US will not be able to deprive Pyongyang of its most lethal weaponries because both Pyongyang and Beijing will ask for serious guarantees that the Americans will not deceive them.
Thus, both will ask for concessions from the American administration first and after that they will consider disarming North Korea from its strategic weapons gradually. Russia, of course, backs China and North Korea in their demands.
Impact on Tehran
The North Korean status quo would have also an impact on the Iranian weaponry and ballistic missiles as well. Iran is expecting that Trump will rip up the nuclear deal in May; the North Koreans are also watching closely to see how the Americans are dealing with their deals with other countries and how this would affect any future deal between Pyongyang and Washington to settle the military threat North Korea poses on other countries. Despite the fact that the Americans are still a key player in the Pacific Ocean, the Chinese are the only ones who can have the big say on Kim to dissuade him from his nuclear ambitions by militarily securing North Korea from external threats. What applies to North Korea applies to Iran. The only guarantor to the security and stability of Iran will be its allies: Russia and China. Thus, the talk about another deal with Iran goes through Moscow and Beijing before it goes to Tehran.
The issue of North Korea is its proximity to the American territory and its Pacific fleet at a time China considers North Korea as one of its provinces. Iran is deemed another threat as it has the North Korean ambitions which are a source of threat to the stability of the Greater Middle East. In both cases, China has a big say.