April 19/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations
We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope
Romans 05/01-11: "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on April 18-19/18
What Happened In Beirut On April 18/1983/Walid Phares/Face Book/April 18/18
Hezbollah's War Of Wards Telegraphs Iran's Message To Jerusalem/Jerusalem Post/April 18/18
Revealed: Israel 'Struck Advanced Iranian Air-defense System' in Syria/Haaretz/April/ 18, 2018/
Israel Releases Maps, Photos of Iranian Military Locations in Syria/
Asharq Al Awsat/April 18/18
Trump fulfills Syria promise by showing what a ‘red line’ really means/Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/ April 18/18
Turkey’s rapprochement with Iran, tactical or strategic/Shehab Al-Makahleh/Al Arabiya/ April 18/18
Can Arab women set the cybersecurity agenda/Wayne Loveless/Al Arabiya/ April 18/18
Will Trump fire John Kelly/Ahmad al-Farraj/Al Arabiya/ April 18/18
Let Turkish Scholars Speak: See What Islamism Is About/Burak Bekdil/Gatestone Institute/April 18/18
Hamas "Press Office": Truth Finishes Last/Bassam Tawil/Gatestone Institute/April 18/18
Germany: Crackdown on Middle Eastern Crime Families/"The state must destroy the clan structures./Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/April 18/18
Iran's Real Enemy in Syria/The Atlantic/Karim Sadjadpour/April 1818

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on April 18-19/18
What Happened in Beirut On April 18, 1983?
Hezbollah's War Of Wards Telegraphs Iran's Message To Jerusalem
President Signs Budget Law, Refers Controversial Clause Back to Parliament
Aoun: Repatriation of Displaced Helps Social Stability
US Gen. Votel Expected in Beirut Current Week
Ruling Authority Seeking to Replace Constitutional Council Members Before electione
Kataeb's Deputy-President Salim Sayegh: Kataeb Party to Face Naturalization Scheme Once Again
Mashnouq, Bassil Say Expatriate Voting Most Important Reformist Item in Election Law
500 Syrian Refugees in Lebanon to Return to Syria
Election Fever Hits Lebanon, Nine Years since Last Legislative Vote
Electoral Clash Escalates into Gunfire in Dinniyeh
Lebanon: Jreissati Calls on STL President to Speed Up Trials
Mother Kills Daughter in Khalde over 'Family Honor'
Record Women Candidates in Lebanon Vote, but You Can't Tell from TV

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on April 18-19/18
Revealed: Israel 'Struck Advanced Iranian Air-defense System' in Syria
Israel Releases Maps, Photos of Iranian Military Locations in Syria
Israeli PM Announces More Countries to Relocate Embassies to Jerusalem
UAE forces capture Iranian drone loaded with explosives in Yemen
Trump on Israel: We Have No Better Friends Anywhere
Pentagon Denies Mattis Wanted Congress to Approve Syria Strike
Syria Chemical Probe Mission on Hold amid Security Fears
UN Praises Riyadh Effort to Fight Terrorism
Saudi King meets with top Vatican cardinal for inter-religious dialogue
Gargash: Iran continues to publish false news against UAE, Saudi Arabia
Saudi Renews Offer to Deploy Troops to Syria
Ahead of Summit, CIA Chief Secretly Meets with NKorea's Kim
Trump Confirms CIA Chief Met Kim Jong Un in North Korea
Inspectors Enter Douma amid Fears of Tampering with Chemical Evidence
Syria Regime Forces Shell Damascus Jihadist Bastion
More than 300 Sentenced to Death in Iraq for IS Links
Egypt Army Says Killed Jihadist Leader in Sinai
Five Palestinians Injured by Israeli Fire near Gaza Border
Former US First Lady Barbara Bush Dies at 92
Diaz-Canel Sole Candidate to Succeed Cuba's Castro
U.N. Security Council Postpones Visit to Iraq
Latest Lebanese Related News published on April 18-19/18
What Happened On April 18, 1983??
Walid Phares/Face Book/April 18/18
On April 18, 1983, a Hezbollah suicide bomber detonated 1/2 ton pickup truck laden with 2,000 pounds of TNT in front of the U.S Embassy Beirut, Lebanon, killing 63 people including 17 Americans. I've seen the destruction myself. It won't be forgotten. Justice should be served.
*Reports from civil society and opposition in Lebanon reflects different realities & assessments than those reported by the panel. Hopefully the subcommittee would widen the scope of the hearings 4 the US public to get the full picture

Hezbollah's War Of Wards Telegraphs Iran's Message To Jerusalem
Jerusalem Post/April 18/18
Israel and Iran are in “direct confrontation,” Naim al-Qassem, Hezbollah’s deputy secretary-general, warned on Tuesday. His comments should be interpreted as a message to Jerusalem that the gloves are coming off in Tehran and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is angry about alleged Israeli strikes on Iranian assets in Syria.
The strike on the T4 air base on April 9 was a blow to Iran, more than just an attempt to do what some Israeli experts have called “mowing the grass” to reduce threats. Efraim Inbar and Eitan Shamir argued in a 2014 paper that “Israel’s strategy in the 21st century against hostile non-state groups, reflects the assumption that Israel finds itself in a protracted intractable conflict.” Use of force is designed to weaken the enemy, not to achieve “impossible political goals.” An impossible goal would be to remove Iran entirely from Syria.
Why send the Hezbollah messenger? Because Tehran prefers to send mixed messages as part of its strategy. “Israel is trying to draw lines, limiting the ‘resistance axis’ and its freedom of action,” Qassem said. He claimed, as Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has in the past, that Israel does not want a real war. Hezbollah claims that its and the rest of Iran’s proxies and “axis of resistance’s” freedom of action will not be curtailed by Israel. Iran is still mourning the seven IRGC soldiers killed the air strike on its T4 base in Syria, including Col. Mehdi Dehgan, who led its drone unit. We know now that the February attempt by Iran to fly a drone into Israel was a greater threat than previously reported. It was armed with explosives and, according to reports, not meant to merely test or harass. Iranian regime media is playing up the Hezbollah comments. Press TV and Fars News both have it on their homepages, claiming “Israel won’t be allowed to set rules of engagement in Syria.” Press TV also is attempting to highlight Israel’s alleged violation of Syrian airspace and flouting Russian air defense in Syria, by claiming that Israel has said it will not have its actions limited in Syria.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said on Monday that “sooner or later” Tehran will respond to Israel’s “hostile policies.”Should all this be believed? Hezbollah keeps saying that Israel does not want a real war. Hezbollah says that limits must be set on Israel’s actions. Tehran reports that Hezbollah wants those limits put into place. It almost seems like each one is passing the buck to the other, hoping to goad the other into taking action. And if not Hezbollah or Tehran, then they want to encourage Russia to do something in Syria to curtail what they claim is Israel’s impunity.
President Signs Budget Law, Refers Controversial Clause Back to Parliament 18th April 2018/President Michel Aoun on Wednesday signed the 2018 budget law, but ordered that the Article 49, which grants a temporary residency for foreign nationals who buy properties in Lebanon, be referred back to the Parliament for a revision. In a statement issued by his media office, Aoun said that he will be sending the Parliament a letter in which he will elaborate on the reasons why this clause should be re-examined. Kataeb leader Samy Gemayel was the first to sound the alarm over said clause given that it will indirectly lead to the naturalization of Syrian and Palestinian refugees who will be entitled to claim Lebanon's citizenship after a certain period of holding a residency in the country. The controversial article allows any foreign national who acquires a real estate, starting at around $500,000 inside Beirut and $330,000 elsewhere, to obtain a Lebanese residency. Gemayel also criticized the amended version of the clause in which a "permanent" residency was replaced with a "temporary" one with a validity that extends throughout the ownership period. "This is absurd! Anyone can buy an apartment and keep it for life. That would mean that the buyer would practically have a permanent residency because he will most likely keep owning the apartment he bought," Gemayel told journalists earlier this month. "A temporary residency should be given for a definite period of time. By linking it to the ownership period, it becomes a permanent residency."
Aoun: Repatriation of Displaced Helps Social Stability
Naharnet/April 18/18/As hundreds of Syrian refugees left Lebanon returning back to safe zones in Syria, President Michel Aoun said the return of displaced people “contributes to Lebanon’s social stability,” the Presidency media office said on Twitter on Wednesday. “The return of displaced people contributes to return of stability. We rely on international assistance, especially American assistance to achieve this,” he was quoted as saying. On Wednesday, 500 displaced Syrians were voluntarily repatriated from Lebanon’s southern towns of Shebaa and Hasbya back to Syria. On the other hand, Aoun said that “Israel is pressing other religions to evacuate holy sites. Pressure will increase if the US embassy is moved to Jerusalem.”

US Gen. Votel Expected in Beirut Current Week
Naharnet/April 18/18/Gen. Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), is expected to arrive in Beirut on Friday leading a “large” delegation of senior aides, al-Joumhouria daily reported Wednesday. Votel’s visit carries a “special significance,” and comes after the Rome II conference that was held on March 14 and 15, dedicated to strengthening the capabilities of the Lebanese army, security and military services, said the daily. The visit also comes after the US-French-British triple strikes on Syria, it added. Votel is expected to meet with senior Lebanese officials, including the army chief, to assess developments in the region and discuss ways to enhance cooperation between the regional leadership and Lebanon.

Ruling Authority Seeking to Replace Constitutional Council Members Before electione 18th April 2018/The ruling authority is set to engage in a new scandal as Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil brought up the issue of appointing new members of the Constitutional Council, claiming that this must take place before the parliamentary polls. It is worth noting that the Constitutional Council consists of ten members, of whom half are appointed by the Parliament with an absolute majority while the others are named by the government with a two-third majority. Many observers have cautioned against such a step, deeming it as suspicious given that it can be regarded as a way to intimidate and pressure the council members. "At the present time, it is unacceptable to make any appointments that are related to the polls. When a ruling authority, which is totally involved in the elections, appoints new members of the Constitutional Council that will later look into the election-related challenges, that means that it is making sure that said body is catered to meet its interests," sources told Al-Joumhouria newspaper. Former Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi told the newspaper that such a move would prove that the ruling authority is using power to serve its own interests, adding that all the red lines are being crossed when it comes to the transparency and democracy of the elections.
Kataeb's Deputy-President Salim Sayegh: Kataeb Party to Face Naturalization Scheme Once Again 18th April 2018/Kataeb's Deputy-President Salim Sayegh on Wednesday affirmed that inequality and the use of state institutions as a platform for electoral campaigns will not prevent the party from fully engaging in the elections, assuring that the Kataeb will defend democracy despite the flawed electoral law and the violations being committed by the ruling authority. Sayegh warned that casting a blank ballot will only benefit the ruling authority, adding that voters will have to choose between electing candidates who will keep the current situation unchanged or electing those who can bring change. "We cannot pass over to a real state unless we foil shady deals and eradicate corruption," he said, adding that voters must remember that Hezbollah has been hijacking the state's decision-making power, encroaching on sovereignty and linking Lebanon to regional axes. Sayegh stressed that the Kataeb party will face the Article 49 of the budget "with all the available democratic means", affirming that it will confront naturalization schemes as it did once with the Palestinian refugees. "The party which paid the lives of 6,000 martyrs as a price so that Jounieh would not be turned into Haifa is not seeking the permission of anyone. We consider the Palestinian cause to be sacred in Palestine. They have no rights in Lebanon, except for those agreed on.""Those who will sign the budget law must realize well what their signature would mean," he said, warning that said clause will eventually foment sedition, disrupt stability and alter Lebanon's identity.Sayegh dismissed claims that the Article 49 was introduced so as to boost the real estate sector in Lebanon, saying that this is done by enabling the Lebanese themselves to acquire apartments in their country. "This article was tailored to meet the interests of refugees, not European nationals who don't care about buying apartments in Lebanon," he added, warning that global NGOs might start granting refugees soft loans to acquire houses in Lebanon. Sayegh deemed the objection voiced by FPM candidate Chamel Roukoz as a mere electoral "outbidding", calling on the latter to demand President Aoun to revoke the budget law if he truly means what he is saying.

Mashnouq, Bassil Say Expatriate Voting Most Important Reformist Item in Election Law

Naharnet/April 18/18/Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq said in a joint press conference held with Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil, that "the most important reformist item that is totally undisputable in the new election law is the Lebanese expatriates voting from abroad.”"This reformist clause has all the security and moral conditions to ensure proper, flawless balloting from abroad," he said, applauding “Bassil and his team's efforts to make expatriates voting happen.”For his part, Bassil explained that "the authority in charge of implementing the law regarding expatriates' voting is the Ministry of Interior,” assuring constant coordination between the two ministries in that regard. Bassil said all electoral details and lists are now available through the ministries of interior and foreign and on their respective websites. Lebanon will stage its general elections on May 6 based on a proportional representation system in 15 electoral districts. Across the country, 917 candidates are running on 77 lists. In the past, voters could individually pick candidates for each seat in their district. Under the new law, they choose among the lists, but can also cast an extra preferential vote for a specific candidate. The law replaces a majoritarian system with a proportional one and allows Lebanese expatriates to vote abroad for the first time -- some 82,000 have registered to do so.

500 Syrian Refugees in Lebanon to Return to Syria
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 18/18/Several hundred displaced Syrians have gathered early on Wednesday at the southern edge of Shebaa town, waiting for buses that will take them back to Syrian towns of Beit Jinn and Mazraat Bit jin, the National News Agency reported. NNA said, 500 displaced people of different ages, have decided to return voluntarily. Al-Joumhouria daily reported that around 500 Syrian refugees will be evacuated, through the Masnaa border crossing in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa valley, from Lebanon’s southern towns of Shebaa and Hasbaya to “safe zones in Syria.”The repatriation was directly coordinated between the Syrian authorities and refugees themselves, in a first where Syrian refugees move from Lebanon to safe areas in Syria, said the daily. Sources following up on the eviction said it’s a “direct reflection of al-Ghouta battle, now that the surrounding area is safe and stable. It is a prelude to a series of successive operations under a Syrian-Syrian coordination, and has nothing to do with the Lebanese government.”The UNHCR has made direct contacts with the displaced persons making sure their return is voluntary of their own accord.
Lebanon’s General Security Service will supervise the transfer, said the daily, and will check their identity papers and accompany them with logistical and security measures. In a country of four million Lebanese nationals, the Government of Lebanon has estimated that there are 1.5 million Syrian refugees, in addition to more than 280,000 Palestine refugees.

Election Fever Hits Lebanon, Nine Years since Last Legislative Vote

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 18/18/As its first parliamentary vote in nearly a decade approaches, Lebanon has been swept into campaign fever: posters on every corner, televised debates, and neighbours bickering over new electoral procedures. Stakes are high in the long-awaited May 6 poll, the first test of Lebanon's 2017 voting law, that will carve out the country's political and economic trajectory for years to come. Voters and candidates alike are eager for polling to start, nearly ten years after the last parliamentary elections in June 2009. The 128 lawmakers elected back then have extended their mandate three times, citing potential spillover from the war in neighbouring Syria and an unsatisfactory voting law. But after years of deadlock, Lebanon's politicians agreed to elect a president, form a government and move towards a complex new ballot system, paving the way for next month's historic vote. "It's a new electoral experience for Lebanon," said Imad Salame, a professor of political science at Beirut's Lebanese American University.
The next parliament will select Lebanon's future prime minister and legislate on major social and economic issues, while attempting to keep sectarian tensions in check. "The stakes in this election are quite high due to the delicate balance of power between the different sectarian groups in the country," Salame said.
The country of just over four million is governed by a power-sharing agreement that leaves little to chance, with parliament equally divided between Muslims and Christians then further split among different sects. - Lebanon 'needs change' -But the new electoral system, the frustration of young voters and the candidacy of scores of independents have sparked hope for something different. "This country needs a change. I've been complaining about it for years, so not doing anything is not a solution," said Ingrid Hag, 25. The communications consultant, who will be casting her ballot for the first time, said she had yet to decide how she will vote, but wants a government that cares about environmental issues, women's rights and reliable public services. Across the country, 917 candidates are running on 77 lists, launching their campaigns with Oscars-style ceremonies and huge billboards dominating highways.
In every neighbourhood, images of the incumbent political elite, like Prime Minister Saad Hariri, stare down first-time hopefuls.
Television channels are offering candidates pricey media packages for up to $6,000 per minute of airtime and have launched slick shows to explain the new ballot-casting process. In the past, voters could individually pick candidates for each seat in their district. Under the new law, they choose among the lists, but can also cast an extra preferential vote for a specific candidate. The law replaces a majoritarian system with a proportional one and allows Lebanese expatriates to vote abroad for the first time -- some 82,000 have registered to do so.
'Pragmatic' list-making -The new list system has further ruptured Lebanon's bipolar political class, long split between the pro-Iran March 8 and pro-Saudi March 14 alliances. Now parties are being "pragmatic," said Salamey, reaching across the aisle to form mutually-beneficial electoral blocs in some districts whilst opposing each other elsewhere. "It's based on each candidate, how many votes he or she can get to the list and accordingly alliances are formulated," he said. The only party not to ally with rivals is the powerful Tehran-backed Hezbollah, popular across Lebanon's south and centre but considered a "terror" group by the US. "From a western perspective, there is a concern that Hezbollah may sweep electoral seats and turn the balance in its favour, making any government to be formed after the election a 'Hezbollah' government," said Salamey. But the new law has also prompted candidates outside Lebanon's traditional political class to join forces, and attracted a record number of women -- including writer and activist Joumana Haddad. Running on the Libaladi (For My Country) list, Haddad pledges to end religion's influence on issues like marriage and inheritance. "With the civil status law, there will be more justice, less sectarianism and more equality," she told AFP. "This new electoral law, despite its many flaws, allows a tiny percentage of independents to get to the parliament. This is the tiny percentage we are trying to work on," said Haddad, 47. That unpredictability unsettles Ibrahim Saleh, a former cleric who votes in the fiercely contested northern city of Tripoli. "Voters in general just don't get the new law. Half of Tripoli's voters are totally confused and could throw everything off," he told AFP. Candidates in Lebanon's north include Sunni millionaires, an all-female list and ex-military figures.
"There's no guaranteed result in these elections. I'm really afraid of instability," Saleh said.

Electoral Clash Escalates into Gunfire in Dinniyeh
Naharnet/April 18/18/An elections-related clash escalated into gunfire Tuesday in the northern town of Bakhoun in the Dinniyeh district. “A clash broke out between young men in Bakhoun's al-Saa Square in connection with the hanging and removal of candidates' posters,” the National News Agency said. “Gunshots were fired into the air during the incident and the army has since intervened to contain the situation,” NNA added. LBCI television meanwhile reported that the clash pitted supporters of al-Mustaqbal Movement and ex-MP Jihad al-Samad and that no casualties were reported. Al-Samad is running on a list led by ex-minister Faisal Karami in the Tripoli-Minieh-Dinniyeh electoral district.

Lebanon: Jreissati Calls on STL President to Speed Up Trials
Beirut- Asharq Al Awsat/Wednesday, 18 April, 2018/Lebanese Justice Minister Salim Jreissati called on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) to accelerate its work in order to reach the truth about former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination. Jreissati met on Tuesday with the STL president, Ivana Hrdličková, who was heading a judicial and administrative delegation from the tribunal. According to available information, STL Prosecutor Norman Farrell filed a new indictment for the crimes against Georges Hawi, Marwan Hamadeh and Elias al-Murr. Farrell reportedly accused new Hezbollah officials, other than the five members of the party, who are being tried in absentia for the assassination of Hariri. “Time is gold and the Tribunal has got to move forward; its harmonious work must prevail; which does not seem imminent,” Jreissati said following the meeting. The justice minister, on the other hand, stressed that the meeting with Hrdličková was very productive, highlighting strong cooperation between the STL and the Lebanese government. Last month, the Registrar of the STL, Daryl Mundis met with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri during a working visit to Beirut and discussed various matters related to the work of the Tribunal. He also met with the Prosecutor General Samir Hammoud and members of the diplomatic community in Lebanon.
Mother Kills Daughter in Khalde over 'Family Honor'
Naharnet/April 18/18/A young Syrian woman has been murdered by her mother in Khalde in an “honor killing” incident, the Internal Security Forces said on Wednesday. “At 10:00 pm Tuesday, the Aramoun police station received a phone call about a homicide inside a house in the Talaat Abu Dib street in Khalde,” the ISF said in a statement. “A patrol from the station immediately headed to the location and found the body of 19-year-old Syrian woman Th.H. Her mother H.H., a 38-year-old Syrian, was sitting near the bed in a state of confusion,” the statement added. During interrogation, the mother confessed to killing her daughter over “family reasons related to honor,” the ISF said. “She strangled her with her hands, electrocuted her and placed a pillow on her face,” the ISF explained. An investigation has since been launched under the supervision of the relevant judicial authorities.

Record Women Candidates in Lebanon Vote, but You Can't Tell from TV
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 18/18/A record number of women are running in Lebanon's upcoming parliamentary elections, but they are getting much less television air time than their male counterparts, a media monitor has said. A total of 86 women are seeking legislative office in Lebanon's May 6 vote, out of 597 candidates. A study by Maharat, a media monitor now closely following the elections, found television coverage of the elections rarely includes female candidates. From March 26 until April 8, it monitored talk shows, live programming, and news broadcasts, and one-on-one interviews on local television stations. Female candidates were featured as guests just 5.89% percent of the time, Maharat said, although they make up almost 15% of the candidates. The vote will be Lebanon's first in nine years, after the parliament formed in 2009 extended its mandate three times, citing security concerns and an unsatisfactory electoral law. The 128-member body agreed on a new voting system last year, paving the way for next month's elections. "The electoral law guarantees fair competition between the male and female candidates and says they could be granted equal opportunity," said Tony Mikhael, who heads Maharat's media monitoring team. Media organizations, he said, "should support gender equality and give women the same opportunities to put themselves forward as candidates."The country's media outlets have been providing round-the-clock coverage of Lebanon's elections, but Maharat says that comes with a price. The organization has noted that outlets are charging candidates thousands of dollars for air time and even more for interviews. Many candidates, particularly those coming from outside Lebanon's traditional political elite, say they cannot afford to pay for television coverage. Of the 86 women running, only 12 hail from Lebanon's conventional political parties. One party, Hizbullah, refused to put forward any female candidates. "We in Hizbullah don't have women for this job," said the group's head Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah in a televised speech in January. The 86 women candidates represent a more than seven-fold increase in female representation compared with the 2009 vote, when just 12 women ran for office.
Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on April 18-19/18
Revealed: Israel 'Struck Advanced Iranian Air-defense System' in Syria

Haaretz/April/ 18, 2018/
According to Wall Street Journal report, attack drones weren't the only target - Netanyahu conferred with Trump before ordering strike on Tor missile system at T4 base in Syria. The Israeli military targeted an advanced Iranian air-defense system at the T4 base in Syria last week and not just attack drone deployment, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. The report noted that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the strike after conferring with U.S. President Donald Trump, in hopes of preventing Iran from using the anti-aircraft battery against Israeli jets carrying out strikes in Syria. Haaretz previously reported that the strike apparently targeted armaments aside from the drones, which could have reduced the Israel Air Force's freedom of operation in Syrian airspace.  Earlier this week, a senior Israeli military official admitted to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman that Israel targeted T4, adding that "it was the first time we attacked live Iranian targets - both facilities and people." According to the Wall Street Journal, Iran began bolstering air defenses following an escalation triggered by Iran sending an armed drone into Israeli airspace. Israel shot down the drone and retaliated with strikes in Syria, during which an Israeli F-16 war plane was downed.  The Israeli official told the New York Times that the incident "opened a new period," adding that "this is the first time we saw Iran do something against Israel - not by proxy." The Wall Street Journal reported that Israel tracked an Iranian plane flying a Tor missile system from Tehran to T4 following the flare-up. The report notes that Israel moved quickly to destory Iran's new defense system before it could be set up, citing intelligence officials. Seven Iranian Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force members, including drone unit commander Colonel Mehdi Dehgan, were killed in the strikes on T4.
Israel Releases Maps, Photos of Iranian Military Locations in Syria

Asharq Al Awsat/Ramallah - Kifah Ziboun/Wednesday, 18 April, 2018
The Israeli military released on Tuesday maps and aerial footage of Iranian military positions in Syria, in what was interpreted as a new Israeli threat against Tehran. The release of the images came at a time when Iran was preparing for an anticipated retaliation to Israel strikes against Syria’s T-4 airbase in Homs last week. The strike left 14 people dead, including seven Iranians. Israel accused Tehran of taking up base in Syria and seeking all possible efforts to entrench itself there. “Iran is transferring to Syria several combat methods under the pretense of delivering humanitarian aid,” said an Israeli military official. The air force linked to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards has since 2015 been carrying out routine flights to Syria, he continued. Tehran is focusing in particular on air power in order to be able to directly confront Israel in case of an escalation, similar to what happened two months ago, he explained. In February, Israel downed an Iranian drone after it had infiltrated its airspace. Israel said last week that the aircraft was loaded with explosives and ready to carry out an attack against it. The images released by the Israeli military showed Iranian bases and airports in Aleppo, Deir al-Zour and Damascus. Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Russian aircraft are present at these facilities, said the army. They are dedicated to delivering rockets and ammunition to the Lebanese “Hezbollah” group, as well as launching drones operated by the Guards. Israel acknowledged on Monday that it had carried out the T-4 airbase strike, saying it was in retaliation to the February drone incident. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Monday: "We will not tolerate a significant Iranian military force in Syria in the form of military ports and airports or the deployment of sophisticated weaponry.”"We will maintain total freedom of action. We will not accept any limitation when it comes to the defense of our security interests,” he warned.

Israeli PM Announces More Countries to Relocate Embassies to Jerusalem
Ramallah - Kifah Ziboun/Wednesday, 18 April, 2018/Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said more countries will relocate their embassies to Jerusalem, noting that the US embassy would be open within weeks. “Relations with the US have resulted in an unprecedented diplomatic achievement, which comes in the form of an official recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” he said on Tuesday in a speech during a ceremony held by the Israeli Foreign Ministry to honor diplomats. “We will meet in this particular place after several weeks to host visitors on the occasion of the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem; not to mention the announcement of other countries to transfer their embassies to our capital,” he added. Netanyahu went on to say: “We have won political sovereignty with the support of the international community; we have been recognized by most of the world, and we have successfully confronted those who sought to isolate us. Today, we are making Israel a rising world power.”The prime minister’s remarks came as Israelis prepare to celebrate “independence day”, which also marks the Palestinian Nakba. Last week, the parliament of Honduras approved the transfer of its embassy from Tel Aviv to the occupied city of Jerusalem and referred the plan to the government. The parliament’s decision came at a time when Palestinians are calling on the US to go back on its decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Israel hosted 40 ambassadors to the United Nations on the eve of its celebrations, which begin on Thursday. The Palestinian Foreign Ministry described the hosting of UN ambassadors as a major misinformation campaign. “The Occupation state continues to carry out misleading campaigns and falsify the facts among international public opinion and officials, in order to conceal its grave violations of international law and its crimes against our people, land, property and sanctities,” the ministry said in a statement.

UAE forces capture Iranian drone loaded with explosives in Yemen
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Wednesday, 18 April 2018/The anti-aircraft defense unit of UAE’s armed forces was able to discover and control an Iranian-made Qusaf-1 aircraft loaded with explosives trying to sneak into positions close to Yemeni forces loyal to legitimacy and supported by the Arab coalition forces on the western coast of Yemen. During the examination of the aircraft, the competent teams on the ground discovered a large quantity of explosive material intended to be used against targets in Yemen. “The Arab coalition has continued to address these Iranian capabilities which pose a direct threat not only to the Yemeni forces and people, but also threaten the freedom of shipping routes in the Red Sea in the same way that it threatens civilian installations,” a statement on UAE state agency WAM read.

Trump on Israel: We Have No Better Friends Anywhere
Associated Press/Naharnet/April 18/18/U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday sent his “best wishes” to Israelis and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel marked 70 years since its creation. “Best wishes to Prime Minister @Netanyahu and all of the people of Israel on the 70th Anniversary of your Great Independence. We have no better friends anywhere,” Trump tweeted. He also announced that he is “looking forward” to moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem “next month.”Trump overturned decades of U.S. policy last year by announcing the U.S. would move its embassy to Jerusalem. The controversial step has infuriated the Palestinians, who claim part of Jerusalem for the capital of a future state and have now rejected U.S. mediation in efforts to resume long-stalled peace talks with Israel.

Pentagon Denies Mattis Wanted Congress to Approve Syria Strike
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 18/18/The Pentagon on Wednesday denied a report that President Donald Trump had rebuffed Defense Secretary Jim Mattis after the Pentagon chief urged him to seek congressional approval for last week's air strikes in Syria. Citing anonymous military and administration officials, the New York Times said Mattis had pushed Trump to get a green light from Congress ahead of launching last Friday's cruise missile barrage against three targets the Pentagon said were tied to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons program. According to the Times, Mattis met with Trump in a series of meetings and pushed him to get congressional authorization, stressing the need to link military operations to public support. But in a short statement, Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White's office said the article's claim about Mattis pushing Trump for congressional approval is "blatantly false."
A Pentagon official told AFP that there was no debate, and that "everyone" agreed Trump had the authority needed to launch the strikes. Chemical weapons inspectors are waiting to go into Douma, near Damascus, to probe allegations of a chemical gas attack on April 7. The following day, Trump tweeted there would be a "big price to pay" after a "mindless CHEMICAL attack" and later promised missiles would be coming. His remarks virtually ensured a speedy response to the alleged chemical attack, even though many U.S. lawmakers have expressed reservations over further military engagement in Syria unless Trump can articulate a long-term strategy for the country.

Syria Chemical Probe Mission on Hold amid Security Fears
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 18/18/The world's chemical arms watchdog froze its probe into an alleged chemical attack near Damascus Wednesday, demanding "unhindered access" after a U.N. reconnaissance mission came under fire. Four days after reaching the Syrian capital, OPCW inspectors had yet to begin their field work in Douma, where dozens were killed in a reported gas attack widely blamed on Syria's government. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said its fact-finding mission (FFM) would stay put in Damascus if its safety was not guaranteed.
Officers from the U.N. security agency (UNDSS) went on a reconnaissance mission Tuesday to Douma, a town that was controlled by rebels until Russian-backed regime forces fully retook it last week. At one of two visited sites, "the team came under small arms fire and an explosive was detonated," Ahmet Uzumcu, the chief of the Netherlands-based OPCW, said in a statement. He did not specify who might have opened fire on the UN reconnaissance mission on Tuesday, nor did any other official. Uzumcu said he would only consider deploying the team to Douma with UNDSS approval and if the inspectors had "unhindered access to the sites". "This incident again highlights the highly volatile environment in which the FFM is having to work and the security risks our staff are facing," he said. Uzumcu had earlier said Syrian authorities had offered the OPCW interviews with "22 witnesses who could be brought to Damascus" while security issues were worked out.Syria's U.N. ambassador Bashar Jaafari told the Security Council on Tuesday that the OPCW experts would begin their investigation once they received the all-clear from the U.N. security team. "If this United Nations security team decides that the situation is sound in Douma, then the fact-finding mission will begin its work in Douma tomorrow," Jaafari said.
Mission in limbo
Holdout fighters from the Islamist group Jaish al-Islam said an April 7 attack by the regime was carried out with chemical munitions and forced them to accept a transfer deal. That dashed their hopes of an agreement to remain in Douma and ended a six-year opposition presence in Eastern Ghouta, a semi-rural area within mortar range of central Damascus. The alleged chemical attack, grisly footage of which shocked the world, prompted a coordinated wave of unprecedented missile strikes by the United States, France and Britain against regime targets. Syria's ally Russia was given prior notice and the missiles struck mostly empty buildings, in what many analysts saw as a hollow move that allowed all sides to save face. The strikes were conducted on the day the OPCW inspectors arrived in the country with a mandate to determine the circumstances of the alleged chemical attack. Damascus invited the mission and has consistently denied using chemical arms that day. Moscow has relentlessly accused the West and medics in Douma of staging the attack. Now the future of the mission launched by the OPCW, which won the Nobel Peace Prize during earlier efforts to destroy Syria's chemical stockpile, looked more uncertain than ever. "At present, we do not know when the FFM team can be deployed to Douma," the OPCW chief said. Western ambassadors to the organization accused the Syrian regime of obstructing the mission. Several experts have said it was likely that the Russian and Syrian forces that have controlled Douma over the past week have tried to remove or tampered with any incriminating evidence.
Burial site
The head of the Syrian Civil Defense organization, known as the "White Helmets", said he was working closely with the inspectors. "We provided information on the burial place of those killed in the chemical attack," Raed Saleh told AFP. Another member of the White Helmets, whose volunteers were first responders during the deadly two-month bombardment of Eastern Ghouta, said he was concerned inspectors would not be able to conduct their investigation. "The regime is hiding all the evidence. It is essential they (the inspectors) visit the site of the attack -- all the evidence is there. Everything else is secondary," he said. "That is where we buried everyone who died in the chemical attack and other bombing," he added. Wresting back the Eastern Ghouta opposition stronghold on the doorstep of Damascus had been a priority for the resurgent regime of President Bashar al-Assad. His forces and their allies are now focusing on neighborhoods of southern Damascus still controlled by the Islamic State jihadist group. Regime forces on Wednesday shelled the Yarmuk neighborhood, which hosts what used to be the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria, for the second day running.

UN Praises Riyadh Effort to Fight Terrorism
Riyadh- Abdul Hadi Habtoor/Wednesday, 18 April, 2018/The United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, expressed his thanks and appreciation to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its generous support to the international organization and its strenuous efforts to fight terrorism. Guterres was speaking at the sixteenth meeting of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Center Advisory Board in Riyadh on Tuesday. “I want to express my deep gratitude to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its generous support to the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Center, a support without which the Centre would probably never have been able to be born,” he said. The UN Secretary-General noted that the meeting was an opportunity to look at means to enhance the center’s capacity-building assistance to Member States to counter the evolving threat of terrorism. Guterres said that while military and security measures against terrorism were essential, “the underlying conditions that are conducive to young men and women being lured by terrorism and violent extremism” must be addressed. “No one is born a terrorist, and nothing justifies terrorism, but we know that factors such as prolonged unresolved conflicts, lack of the rule of law and socioeconomic marginalization can all play a role in transforming grievances into destructive action,” he stated. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir underlined the role assumed by his country in countering terrorism and drying up its financial sources, pointing out that Saudi Arabia was a key partner of the UN and the international community in this fight at all levels. “Saudi Arabia is a major partner of the United Nations and the international community in the fight against terrorism at all levels. My country has contributed to the efforts and financing of many counter-terrorism initiatives worldwide, the most recent of which is an assistance worth 100 million Euros to combat terrorism in the Sahel countries in Africa; it has also established the Islamic alliance to combat extremism and terrorism, which includes more than 40 countries and is based in Riyadh,” Jubeir said. “The Kingdom continues to play an active role in the international coalition against ISIS,” he added.

Saudi King meets with top Vatican cardinal for inter-religious dialogue
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Wednesday, 18 April 2018/Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz received at al-Yamamah palace the President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue in the Vatican State, Cardinal Jean-Louis Pierre Tauran and his accompanying delegation. During the meeting on Wednesday, the importance of the role of followers of religions and cultures in renouncing violence, extremism, terrorism and achieving security and stability in the world was emphasized. It was attended by Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Naif bin Abdulaziz, Minister of Interior, Secretary General of the Muslim World League Dr. Mohammed bin Abdul Kareem Al-Isa and the Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir and a number of officials.

Gargash: Iran continues to publish false news against UAE, Saudi Arabia

Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Wednesday, 18 April 2018/The UAE’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Anwar al-Gargash, said on Wednesday that “false news against the UAE and Saudi Arabia continue to surface from Iranian sources.”Making the statement via his personal twitter handle, Gargash said: “Such news emanate from places such as the FARS news agency or other newspapers.”On the phenomenon of false news, the minister said: “Let us always corroborate the source to realize the magnitude of the corrupted campaign against us.”

Saudi Renews Offer to Deploy Troops to Syria
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 18/18/Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir reaffirmed on Tuesday the kingdom's willingness to deploy troops to Syria as part of US-led efforts to stabilise the conflict-torn country."We are in discussions with the US and have been since the beginning of the Syrian crisis (in 2011) about sending forces into Syria," Jubeir said at a press conference in Riyadh with UN chief Antonio Guterres. The comments were in response to a Wall Street Journal report on Monday that US President Donald Trump's administration was seeking to assemble an Arab force, including troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to replace a US military contingent in Syria. The report follows weekend strikes by the United States, Britain and France against Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad's government that hit targets they said were linked to a state chemical weapons programme. Jubeir emphasised that the proposal to send its troops as part of a broader international coalition was "not new". "We made a proposal to the (previous US) Obama administration that if the US were to send forces... then Saudi Arabia would consider along with other countries sending forces as part of this contingent," he said. Before the weekend's Western strikes, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had indicated that the kingdom would back an international military action in Syria. Guterres, who also met Saudi King Salman on Tuesday, emphasised the need for a political solution in Syria, free of foreign interference. Syria's war, the most tangled of the region's conflicts, is a key point of contention pitting Riyadh and its allies, who mainly back Sunni Muslim rebels, against regime backer Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah. Riyadh and Shiite rival Tehran also back opposing sides in other hotspots across the mainly Sunni Middle East, including Lebanon, Iraq and Saudi Arabia's southern neighbour, Yemen.

Ahead of Summit, CIA Chief Secretly Meets with NKorea's Kim
Associated Press/Naharnet/April 18/18/CIA Director Mike Pompeo recently traveled to North Korea to meet with leader Kim Jong Un, a highly unusual, secret visit undertaken as the enemy nations prepared for a meeting between President Donald Trump and Kim within the next few months.
Two officials confirmed the trip to The Associated Press on Tuesday. The officials were not authorized to discuss the visit publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. The Washington Post, which first reported Pompeo's meeting with Kim, said it took place over Easter weekend — just over two weeks ago, shortly after the CIA chief was nominated to become secretary of state. Trump, who was hosting Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his Florida estate, said the U.S. and North Korea were holding direct talks at "extremely high levels" in preparation for a possible summit with Kim. He said five locations were under consideration for the meeting, which was slated to take place by early June. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump and Kim had not spoken directly. Kim's offer for a summit was initially conveyed to Trump by South Korea last month, and the president shocked many by accepting it. U.S. officials indicated over the past two weeks that North Korea's government had communicated directly with Washington that it was ready to discuss its nuclear weapons program. It would be the first-ever summit between U.S. and North Korea during more than six decades of hostility since the Korean War. North Korea's nuclear weapons and its capability to deliver them by ballistic missile pose a growing threat to the U.S. mainland. The U.S. and North Korea do not have formal diplomatic relations, complicating the arrangements for contacts between the two governments. It is not unprecedented for U.S. intelligence officials to serve as a conduit for communication with Pyongyang. In 2014, then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper secretly visited North Korea to bring back two American detainees. At his confirmation hearing last week to become secretary of state, Pompeo played down expectations for a breakthrough deal on ending North Korea's nuclear weapons at the planned Trump-Kim summit, but he said it could lay the groundwork for a comprehensive agreement on denuclearization. "I'm optimistic that the United States government can set the conditions for that appropriately so that the president and the North Korean leader can have that conversation and will set us down the course of achieving a diplomatic outcome that America and the world so desperately need," Pompeo told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. After a year of escalating tensions, when North Korea conducted nuclear and long-range missile tests that drew world condemnation, Kim has pivoted to international outreach. The young leader met China's President Xi Jinping in Beijing in late March, Kim's first trip abroad since taking power six years ago. He is set to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in in the demilitarized zone between the rival Koreas on April 27.

Trump Confirms CIA Chief Met Kim Jong Un in North Korea

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 18/18/US President Donald Trump confirmed Wednesday that his CIA director had met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on a secret visit to Pyongyang, ahead of a planned summit between the two leaders. "Mike Pompeo met with Kim Jong Un in North Korea last week. Meeting went very smoothly and a good relationship was formed. Details of Summit are being worked out now," tweeted Trump. "Denuclearization will be a great thing for World, but also for North Korea!" he added. The tweet came after the Washington Post reported Tuesday that Pompeo made the trip over the first weekend of April. The meeting was part of an effort to prepare for a historic meeting in the coming weeks between Trump and Kim, the paper said, quoting two people with direct knowledge of the trip. The visit came shortly after Pompeo was nominated to be secretary of state, the paper said. Speaking on Tuesday in Florida where he was hosting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, Trump said he had given his blessing to discussions aimed at formally ending the Korean war. Setting the stage for a major breakthrough, he added that "a great chance to solve a world problem" was within reach on the Korean peninsula. Trump had also confirmed that Washington and Pyongyang had been in contact at "very high levels" and that "five locations" were being considered for his meeting with Kim.

Inspectors Enter Douma amid Fears of Tampering with Chemical Evidence
Paris, New York, Moscow - Michel Abou Najem, Ali Barda and Asharq Al-Awsat/April 18/18/Preparations are underway to extensively discuss the Syrian crisis during a conclave held by United Nations Security Council 15-member states with Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in Stockholm during the upcoming weekend, revealed diplomatic sources to Asharq Al-Awsat. Russia has meanwhile rejected to get involved in discussions concerning a new resolution on Syria, which was spearheaded by France and backed by the US and the UK. It instead called for an independent investigation into the Douma chemical weapons attack that prompted cruise missile strikes by the Western allies on Friday. In Syria, the official news agency SANA reported that inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) entered Douma. Security sources in the Syrian city told the German news agency that members of the Fact-Finding Mission entered the town on Tuesday afternoon under the protection of the Russian military police. OPCW inspectors first headed to the local hospital where the victims of the April 7 chemical attack were treated. The sources added that the mission would stay in Douma for three days to meet and interrogate hospital staff and to meet the victims of the attack. The French Foreign Ministry said it is “very likely” that evidence has disappeared from the location of the poison gas attack, adding it was essential that international inspectors be given full access to the site where at least 40 people were killed. Meanwhile, the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations, including the US, France, Britain and Germany, issued a joint statement early Tuesday in which they condemned the chemical attack.

Syria Regime Forces Shell Damascus Jihadist Bastion

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 18/18/Syrian regime forces shelled the last pockets in Damascus controlled by the Islamic State group, preparing the ground for a possible assault on the jihadist stronghold, a monitor said Wednesday.
After fully retaking the Eastern Ghouta region on the edge of the capital, the Syrian regime has turned its attention to other areas across the country that still escape its control. Among them are neighbourhoods in southern Damascus from which many civilians have fled but are still held by IS, including the Yarmuk area that hosts a Palestinian refugee camp. "Regime forces shelled several IS positions in Yarmuk camp and Hajar al-Aswad, killing one person and wounded several others," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Both sides had traded fire the previous night, the Britain-based monitor said, causing at least five deaths, most of them regime soldiers. "The regime is turning up the heat ahead of a big assault that would break IS's back and force them to evacuate the area," the head of the Observatory, Rami Abdel Rahman, said. IS still has a presence in Yarmuk, and the neighbouring areas of Hajar al-Aswad, Tadamon and Qadam. Yarmuk used to be the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria, with a population of 160,000, but only a few thousand people remain inside the devastated area. The Syrian army and its allies have focused their efforts on securing Damascus lately. They retook full control earlier this month of Eastern Ghouta, a large semi-rural area to the east of the capital that was held by rebels for six years.The state news agency SANA reported on Tuesday that a deal had been reached for rebels to quit Dumayr, a town further to the east, where a reconciliation agreement had kept a security status quo since 2016.

More than 300 Sentenced to Death in Iraq for IS Links
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 18/18/Iraqi courts have sentenced to death a total of more than 300 people, including dozens of foreigners, for belonging to the Islamic State group, judicial sources said Wednesday. The suspects are being tried by two courts, one near the former jihadist stronghold of Mosul in northern Iraq and another in Baghdad which is dealing notably with foreigners and women. Since January in the capital, 103 foreign nationals have been condemned to death -- including six Turks sentenced on Wednesday -- and 185 to life in prison, according to a judicial source. Most of the women sentenced were from Turkey and republics of the former Soviet Union. In January, an Iraqi court condemned a German woman to death after finding her guilty of belonging to IS while on Tuesday a French woman was sentenced to life in prison. At the court In Tel Keif near Mosul, 212 people have been sentenced to death, 150 to life in prison and 341 to other jails terms, Supreme Judicial Council spokesman Abdel Sattar Bayraqdar said in a statement. "It has been proven that they carried out criminal actions at public hearings conducted in accordance with the law during which the convicts' rights were guaranteed," he said. Iraq declared victory in December against IS -- also known as ISIS -- which at one point controlled a third of the country. On Monday the justice ministry said 11 people convicted of terrorism-related charges had been executed in Iraq, which according to New York-based Human Rights Watch is the world's number four executioner. "These executions follow rushed trials of ISIS suspects which are riddled with due process violations, including convictions based solely on confessions which are sometimes extracted by torture," said HRW senior Iraq researcher Belkis Wille. "Iraq's mishandling of the ISIS trials not only denies victims real justice, but also risks sending innocent Iraqis to their deaths."

Egypt Army Says Killed Jihadist Leader in Sinai
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 18/18/Egypt's military said Wednesday it had killed a jihadist leader in the Sinai Peninsula, where the Islamic State group is carrying out an insurgency. During an operation in mountainous areas, Egyptian forces "killed Nasser Abu Zaqul, the central Sinai commander of the terrorist group, after significant exchanges of fire," the army said in a statement. The military said it found a rifle, two grenades and a large quantity of ammunition with the slain insurgent leader. Egypt's army launched a major offensive against the jihadists on February 9 in the northern Sinai Peninsula, in an attempt to neutralise a local branch of IS. More than 100 of the rebels and at least 30 government troops have been killed since the operation, dubbed "Sinai 2018," was launched, according to official figures. Egypt has been hit by significant militant attacks in recent years, especially after the army toppled Islamist former president Mohamed Morsi in the summer of 2013, amid mass protests against his government. Hundreds of soldiers, police and civilians have been killed in the attacks. In late November, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi gave three months for his security forces to re-establish control in Sinai, a deadline since extended. Sisi secured a second term with an overwhelming victory in a presidential poll last month with 97.1% of the vote. On Saturday the president extended a nationwide state of emergency originally declared in April 2017 by a further three months. It is the fourth extension of the measure, imposed in the wake of attacks against Coptic Christian churches in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria, which killed 45 people. A regional state of emergency has already been in place in Sinai for several years.

Five Palestinians Injured by Israeli Fire near Gaza Border
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 18/18/Five Palestinians were injured by Israeli fire along the Gaza border Wednesday, the health ministry in the Palestinian enclave said, with tensions high over recent protests and clashes there. The five were injured by Israeli artillery fire east of Khan Yunis, the ministry said. It said the men were on a base belonging to the military wing of Gaza's Islamist rulers Hamas when they were struck. The Israeli army confirmed it had fired on five Palestinians it said had approached the border. In a statement, the army said at least one of the men was armed. It did not provide details on what type of fire its soldiers used. The Gaza border has seen protests and clashes since March 30. At least 34 Palestinians have been killed and hundreds wounded by Israeli fire since the protests began. There have been no Israeli casualties. Israel says it only opens fire when necessary to stop damage to the fence, infiltrations and attempts at attacks. Palestinians say protesters are being shot while posing no threat to soldiers, while the European Union and UN chief Antonio Guterres have called for an independent investigation. Israel has rejected calls for an independent probe, saying its open-fire rules are necessary to defend the border. Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008 and the Gaza Strip has been under an Israeli blockade for more than a decade.

Former US First Lady Barbara Bush Dies at 92
Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 18 April, 2018
Former US first lady Barbara Bush passed away on Tuesday, sparking a stream of condolences and praise for a figure, who was considered the rock at the center of one of America's most prominent political families. Barbara, 92, and George H.W. Bush were married for 73 years, and the widower "of course is heart-broken to lose his beloved Barbara," his chief of staff Jean Becker said in a statement. "He held her hand all day today and was at her side when (she) left this good Earth."The ex-president, who is 93 and has been in ill health in recent years, is "determined to be there" for his family while in mourning, Becker added. A funeral is planned Saturday at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Houston. Bush will lie in repose Friday at the church for members of the public who want to pay respects. Saturday's service will be by invitation only, according to the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation.
Bush was also survived by five of her children and their spouses, 17 grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren and her brother, Scott Pierce. She was preceded in death by her second child, Robin, who died of leukemia as a toddler. In honor of Bush's life, President Donald Trump ordered that the US flag be flown at half-staff until sundown on the day she is buried, at all public buildings and grounds, as well as military posts and vessels.
She first met her husband-to-be at the age of 16 when she was a schoolgirl and he was a student at an elite preparatory school in Massachusetts. They married in 1945 while he was on leave from wartime service as a naval officer. The couple had six children. As first lady, from 1989 to 1993, she embraced the cause of universal literacy, and founded a foundation for family literacy. The wife of the nation's 41st president and mother of the 43rd brought a plainspoken, grandmotherly style to buttoned-down Washington, displaying an utter lack of vanity about her white hair and wrinkles. "What you see with me is what you get. I'm not running for president — George Bush is," she said at the 1988 Republican National Convention, where her husband, then vice president, was nominated to succeed Ronald Reagan."I had the best job in America," she wrote in a 1994 memoir describing her time in the White House. "Every single day was interesting, rewarding, and sometimes just plain fun."The publisher's daughter and oilman's wife could be caustic in private, but her public image was that of a self-sacrificing, supportive spouse who referred to her husband as her "hero."In the White House, "you need a friend, someone who loves you, who's going to say, 'You are great,'" Mrs. Bush said in a 1992 television interview.
Tributes poured in from across the political spectrum to honor her life.
Trump hailed her as an "advocate of the American family." "Amongst her greatest achievements was recognizing the importance of literacy as a fundamental family value that requires nurturing and protection," Trump said. "She will be long remembered for her strong devotion to country and family, both of which she served unfailingly well."Her son Jeb wrote: "I'm exceptionally privileged to be the son of George Bush and the exceptionally gracious, gregarious, fun, funny, loving, tough, smart, graceful woman who was the force of nature known as Barbara Bush."And his son George P. Bush tweeted: "I will miss you, Ganny —- but know we will see you again.""Barbara inspired us all to be the best version of ourselves," said Orrin Hatch, America's longest-serving Republican senator. Trump's Democratic predecessor Barack Obama and his wife Michelle said "We'll always be grateful to Mrs. Bush for the generosity she showed to us throughout our time in the White House.""But we're even more grateful for the way she lived her life –- as a testament to the fact that public service is an important and noble calling; as an example of the humility and decency that reflects the very best of the American spirit," they added. Madeleine Albright, the first woman to serve as US secretary of state, remembered Bush as a "woman of incredible determination, wit and compassion who embodied America's best values." Bill Clinton, who succeeded her husband in office, added: "Barbara Bush was a remarkable woman. She had grit and grace, brains and beauty.
"She was fierce and feisty in support of her family and friends, her country and her causes. She showed us what an honest, vibrant, full life looks like. Hillary and I mourn her passing and bless her memory."Bush gained a reputation for toughness, wry humor and straight-speaking.
"She was smart, generous, kind, & a force to be reckoned with," said House Republican Steve Pearce. Asked in 2010 about former Alaska governor Sarah Palin -- who sought the vice presidency in 2008 -- she told an interviewer: "I sat next to her once, thought she was beautiful, and I think she's very happy in Alaska, and I hope she'll stay there."Senator John McCain, who is battling cancer and was at the top of the ticket with Palin a decade ago, recalled that "Barbara understood that the greatest joy in life comes from putting the needs of others before yourself."

Diaz-Canel Sole Candidate to Succeed Cuba's Castro
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 18/18/Miguel Diaz-Canel is the sole candidate to succeed Cuba's President Raul Castro, officials announced Wednesday on the eve of a vote in the National Assembly. Diaz-Canel, a 57-year-old Communist Party official and the country's current first vice president, is due to be confirmed on Thursday as the successor to Castro, whose departure will end his family's six-decade grip on power. The announcement came after the National Assembly began a historic two-day meeting to elect a successor to the 86-year-old Castro, and usher in a post-Castro era. Diaz-Canel has since last year been widely expected to take over from Castro, who made it clear his deputy was his personal choice. Diaz-Canel has spent decades climbing the party ranks, becoming Castro's right-hand man in 2013. At the two-day meeting, which began early on Wednesday, the 605-seat National Assembly is to vote in a new Council of State, which counts 31 members and whose head will automatically become president. Although the session was initially planned for Thursday, officials decided earlier this week to extend it across two days "to facilitate the procedures during an event of such significance."The session is closed to the press and no details have been given about the program. Although the vote could take place on Wednesday, the new president's name is not expected to be made public until Thursday, which is April 19 -- a date heavy with symbolism.  It falls on the 57th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, when the CIA tried to overthrow the leader of the 1959 revolution, Fidel Castro, an episode Havana has long proclaimed as American imperialism's first great defeat in Latin America. Raul Castro has been in power since 2006, when he took over after illness sidelined Fidel. Between them, the Castro brothers ruled Cuba for nearly 60 years, making the Caribbean island a key player in the Cold War and helping keep communism afloat despite the collapse of the Soviet Union.

U.N. Security Council Postpones Visit to Iraq
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 18/18/The U.N. Security Council has decided to postpone a planned visit to Iraq ahead of May elections at the request of the Iraqi government, diplomats said Wednesday. Iraq told the council in a letter this week that many officials will be busy with the election campaign, which kicked off on Saturday, and will not be able to meet with the ambassadors. "Given the start of the Iraqi election campaign on April 14, and that all political parties and constitutional authorities in Iraq are now involving (sic) in the campaign, which may not enable the council members to meet the Iraqi officials, the Iraqi mission kindly requests that the council defer its intended visit," wrote Iraqi Ambassador Mohammad Hussein Bahr Aluloom in the letter seen by AFP. The ambassador said the mission "looks forward to welcoming council members to Baghdad in the future." No new date for the visit was announced.
Iraq will be filling 329 seats in the national parliament in the May 12 election and choosing representatives to provincial assemblies, in the first poll held after the defeat of the Islamic State. The United States was set to lead the council mission with this month's president, Peru. Peruvian Ambassador Gustavo Meza-Cuadra told reporters this month that the council trip to Iraq would be to show support for the elections after three years of war against the Islamic State. Iraq "needs support from the international community for rebuilding the country and to ensure reconciliation" after Baghdad's successful campaign to re-take territory from the Islamic State group, he said.
Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on April 18-19/18
Trump fulfills Syria promise by showing what a ‘red line’ really means
Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/ April 18/18
US President Donald Trump did it and proved that he is not like his “soft,” if not to say the conspirator, predecessor Barack Obama. Trump has fulfilled his promise and showed what his ‘red line’ means on the Syrian map, the map of death and terrorism and international political vileness.
He struck Al-Shayrat airbase with several Tomahawk missiles after the Syrian regime’s chemical attacks last year. Still, Bashar and his protectors, Russia and Iran, were not deterred. They carried out another chemical attack in Douma and then feigned innocence along with some Arab and non-Arab groups from around the world, such as the heirs of the Latin Guevara hot temper that’s mixed with the comrades’ cigars, like Bolivia.
“We did not do it, you are defaming us, and you are violating international law,” Russian President Putin bellowed along with Iranian supreme guide Khamenei and Bashar al-Assad’s international speaker whom you can call Bashar al-Jaafari.
You cannot blame them for making such statements as they are the ones who committed the crime or tried to hide it, not just in Douma but in other places. There has been a sustained method of carrying out attacks, both chemical and non-chemical, ever since the Syrian crisis erupted in 2011.
The big moral disgrace is the stance taken by groups, figures and movements like Hamas in Palestine, other “progressive” Arabs and a few retired “nationalists.”
When it comes to death, the poor peasant in Daraa or Aleppo’s countryside will not tell the difference between dying by the attacks of the Sukhoi, Tornado, Rafale and F-16, or by Bashar’s barrels, Nasrallah’s Grad rockets, Al-Nusra’s mortar, ISIS’ explosives or the Sarin gas produced by Assad’s Jamraya lab.
They did not see Bashar’s crimes in Houla, Baba Amr, Zabadani, Madaya, Al-Qusayr, Idlib and Aleppo and in the evil perpetrated in the prisons of Sednaya, Mezzeh, Palmyra and Homs. They did not see the brutality and savagery of Assad’s officers, like Issam Zahreddine, Colonel al-Nemr, Suhail al-Hassan and Maher al-Assad. They appear oblivious to the forced displacement of millions of Syrians, the sectarian cleansing and the import of Shiite militias from Afghanistan, Lebanon and through Iraq. Last but not least, they did not take note of the chemical attack in Douma and in the entire of Ghouta and in Khan Shaykhun before that.
This reflects a scandalous lack of values and of conscience. Bashar Al-Assad has destroyed Syria, divided people, planted sectarian and national hatred and legislated the law of the jungle. When it comes to death, the poor peasant in Daraa or Aleppo’s countryside will not tell the difference between dying by the attacks of the Sukhoi, Tornado, Rafale and F-16, or by Bashar’s barrels, Nasrallah’s Grad rockets, Al-Nusra’s mortar, ISIS’ explosives or the Sarin gas produced by Assad’s Jamraya lab.
During his phone call with Rouhani, Putin described the US strikes as “an act of aggression against a sovereign state that is at the forefront of fighting terrorism!” This is what Putin said and he first bears the “logical” then the moral responsibility for these remarks.
Imagine a well-known writer from Gaza which wants the world’s sympathy with it against Israeli aggression is saying this when commenting on Assad’s strikes. Ibrahim Abrash, Professor of Political Science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, said in an article: “Regarding the use of chemical weapons, this is controversial.”We are faced with an incurable Arab and international leftist “cultural” disease, which is openly manifesting itself.

Turkey’s rapprochement with Iran, tactical or strategic?
Shehab Al-Makahleh/Al Arabiya/ April 18/18
At a time when relations between the traditional rivals of the US and Russia do not seem well with so many complicated files including the Syrian cause, Turkish President Recep Teyyip Erdogan has been trying to walk on the Russian and American tight ropes, in an attempt to achieve Ankara’s interests.
Washington supports Ankara in its opposition to the Syrian regime, bringing Turkey closer to the Gulf capitals and Tel Aviv, while Moscow provides Ankara with support against the Kurds. However, the question that arises is the following – the current Iranian-Turkish rapprochement tactical or strategic?
At present, following the 14th of April tripartite missile strike against Syria, it seems that Erdogan’s dance on Russian music may not be beneficial, especially after Turkey hailed the strikes against Damascus, which is rejected by Moscow and Tehran.
Erdogan has tried to play with the two superpowers in the absence of a consensus and full understanding between Ankara and Moscow regarding Afrin, Manbij and Idlib as well as some other Syrian opposition fighters.
Between Washington and Moscow
Today, Turkey is reaping from the conflicting interests of Moscow and Washington. In 2013 and early 2014, Turkish border cities became a chief logistical hub for foreign fighters seeking to enter Syria and Iraq to join ISIS and other rebel groups. By August 2015, Turkey did eventually tighten up security on its borders. Though the Russians are dealing with the Turkish government at the top levels; yet, Moscow is not fully satisfied with Erdogan’s attitude and his perspective toward the Syrian conflict. Erdogan described as “very wrong” the approach of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to the future of Syria’s Afrin, where Turkey carried out an offensive to drive out the Kurdish YPG militia. The lack of Arab presence and its inability to formulate new parameters for national and regional security have allowed Turkey and Iran to balance their regional roles within the Arab world. The following are the most important regional determinants. It seems rapprochement between Ankara and Tehran is just a tactical move driven by regional and global developments and circumstances
Politically and strategically
Turkey moves according to an ideology based on exporting itself as a democratic state that sponsors its principles and supports them as an excuse to intervene in the internal affairs of Arab countries under the guise of supporting democracy. The opportunity of the Arab Spring was the elixir of life for the Turkish project in passing its expansionist policy aimed at returning to the region by supporting demonstrations in some Arab countries including Syria and Egypt. Turkey has been surrounded by enemies, and this has forced the Turkish government to play a role through intervention in internal affairs of the Arab countries on the basis that Arab countries’ instability is of interest to Turkey. Therefore, Turkey considered Arab revolutions or Arab Spring as a way to play an important role in shaping the security of the Arab region to suit its aspirations.
Economic and military
Turkey and Iran have given the military dimension an important role in shaping their regional role. Turkey used pre-emptive military intervention in its movements in the Arab region after adopting a defensive military approach based on protecting the borders. Turkey is also using its economic growth by branding itself as a country with Islamic economy to serve the Arab and Muslim countries. In addition, Turkey does not cease to declare its right to the Ottoman historical heritage in the city of Mosul, which was part of Turkey for four centuries until WWI, which Turkey lost after the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 and the Ankara Agreement of 1926 between Turkey, the UK and Iraq. Turkey has always declared its historical and international rights to be the area extending from Aleppo to Mosul.
Rapprochement with Tehran
The main idea with regard to the external political motives behind the Turkish-Iranian rapprochement is Turkey’s difficulty in achieving the goal it sought to bring about, driving Ankara to strive to lead the region by supporting Islamic groups, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, in Egypt and in some other Arab countries. However, the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has been deemed a blow to Turkey’s regional ambitions. In this regard, it is possible to refer to Ankara’s efforts during the entire year of the rule of Mohammad Morsi to support Egypt politically and economically in order to overcome the difficulties it has faced and ultimately to consolidate the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule in Egypt. Since the situation seems more complicated for Syria, Ankara was quick to support the Syrian revolution and worked in many positions to overthrow Bashar al-Assad’s regime. However, the recent developments in Syria were tectonic, especially in light of the Russian-US misunderstanding and the launch of a massive “military strike” on Syria. The Syrian crisis showed the overlap of issues in the region and that no file can be resolved without resolving the other and that the regional players should be involved with super powers to bring solutions to these questions politically. Thus, the Syrian dilemma is looking more and more difficult to solve and radical Islamists have become the common enemy of all. Economic motives have played an important role in stimulating Turkey’s rapprochement with Iran, especially in light of the problems that the Turkish economy. It seems that the rapprochement between Ankara and Tehran is just a tactical move driven by regional and global developments and circumstances. In general, there is a state of division between the observers and analysts on characterizing the nature of the Turkish move towards Iran. The Turkish move came as a tactical step by which Ankara is trying to absorb the negative repercussions it has suffered as a result of developments in the region, whether in Egypt or Syria. Turkey, which was presenting itself as the spearhead of the project to topple President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, is suffering internal crises and the backlash of terrorist groups in Syria.

Can Arab women set the cybersecurity agenda?
Wayne Loveless/Al Arabiya/ April 18/18
The digital future presents one of the greatest challenges to global security that world has ever faced. Cybersecurity has moved from being a back office team of a few people trying to protect a few databases and applications from disruption to being at the forefront of every government agency, multinational company and leading economic sectors. With this rapid growth of the digital landscape and increasing cyber threats, organizations across the globe are struggling to recruit, retain, train, build, and supply a qualified cyber security workforce. By 2022, the Center for Cyber Safety and Education have predicted there will be 1.8 million unfilled cybersecurity positions. Much of this is in part due to globally low number of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) oriented graduates and exaggerated by a significant gap in individuals seeking to join the cybersecurity ranks.
Further, the global cybersecurity labor supply is negatively impacted by a continued perception that only candidates with ten years of experience in the field can be of any value. While some of the issues are more about perspectives on building a cyber workforce, the real world problem lies with developing human capital in cyber security. The opportunity for MENA based organizations and governments to set the global pace and trend for inclusion of women in the cyber workforce remains readily apparent
Women in cyber
A golden opportunity lies in capturing the potential of women STEM candidates in MENA to address the workforce shortage in cybersecurity. Over the past few years, there has been a steady increase in the number of women in STEM aligned cyber educational background.
According to data compiled by researchers from New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD), the percentage of women graduates in engineering related degrees in the Middle East is very high, compared with the US and Europe. In Saudi Arabia, for example, the number of women with degrees in Computer Sciences reaches thousands each year and many universities have introduced academic programs and degrees in network security specialties. Data from a leading Saudi university indicates that 20 percent of all local computer science graduates over the last five years are female.
With so many potential technically qualified candidates being produced by the academic systems in MENA, organizations and governments should develop and implement programs of mentorship, apprenticeship, training, development, and internship that can set a foundation for building a qualified and locally sourced cyber security workforce. These initiatives and campaigns to attract and further develop cyber skills present an ideal solution to the cyber workforce challenge by expanding into previously untapped resources.
In the MENA region in particular, organizations and government entities have the prospect of countering misplaced international perspectives of women’s rights in the region, and demonstrating through action how these perceptions can be changed, all while securing their national and regional future in the advancing digital economies.
STEM-qualified women
With the confluence of the global shortage of qualified and skilled labor and leadership in the cybersecurity field, the higher percentage of STEM qualified women in the MENA region, and the cultural evolution that is embracing women as an integral part of the workforce, the MENA region could be a leading example of best practice for women in cybersecurity. Leaders in organizations are beginning to identify this untapped resource as a key element to building a strong, diverse, and technically proficient workforce. While further work is yet to be done, the opportunity for MENA based organizations and governments to set the global pace and trend for inclusion of women in the cyber workforce remains readily apparent. Leaders should capitalize on this opportunity and demonstrate to the world that not only can women participate in greater numbers within the cyber security ranks, but they can also represent the future of the field and lead the way across the digital landscape to ensure a secure future for MENA.
**Wafa Al Showaib and Nora Alosaimi of EY Cybersecurity Advisory contributed to this piece.
*Wayne Loveless is cybersecurity leader at EY Saudi Arabia.

Will Trump fire John Kelly?
Ahmad al-Farraj/Al Arabiya/ April 18/18
In mid-2017, President Donald Trump realized that his appointments for important posts of his administration were not good because he lacked political experience. Sentiments dominated while making these appointments and he initially chose those close and loyal to him.
However, he soon realized that leading a state the size of the US is radically different from managing a private company. So, he began to decide who to keep and who to fire. Among those fired were Reince Priebus, the White House Chief of Staff.
Priebus was the chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC) when Trump was still a presidential candidate. He had supported Trump and strongly stood by him against some Republicans who tried to oust him as he was not the favorite candidate of the Republican party, which takes pride in the fact that it’s the party of Abraham Lincoln — one of the country’s greatest presidents.
After Priebus was fired, Trump made one of the most important decisions which helped calm the situation. He appointed retired General John Kelly as the new White House chief of staff. Back then, I had said in an article that appointing a military figure to this post was uncommon, but Trump who had faced cases of leaks to the media thought the appointment of a dignified military figure would control the situation within the White House. Eventually, the number of leaks decreased and serenity gradually returned to the White House. Trump has realized that leading a state the size of the US is radically different from managing a private company
Homeland Security
Before his appointment as chief of staff, Kelly was secretary of homeland secretary – a post which Trump had nominated him for after winning the elections. The Homeland Security Department is a new ministry which was established during the presidential term of George W. Bush following the September 2001 terror attacks. General John Kelly, whose soldier son was killed in Afghanistan, has an impeccable military record and has studied in prestigious universities. He has served as commander of the US Southern Command which is in charge of the US army’s operations in Central America, South America and the Caribbean. A conservative in his political views, he sees eye to eye with Trump on almost all issues. However, his work at the White House has not been void of mistakes as he once positively spoke about Robert E. Lee, commander of the army of the Confederate States which separated from the US in 1860 because it opposed the abolition of slavery. This is a very sensitive subject for Americans as it is considered having racist undertones. Today, there is speculation that Kelly may be fired soon as part of the recent wave of firings, which included that of Rex Tillerson, the former Secretary of State and H. R. McMaster, the National Security Advisor. If Kelly is fired, Trump would have removed the most important pillars of his administration in a very short time, which is unprecedented. Let’s wait and watch the upcoming developments.

Let Turkish Scholars Speak: See What Islamism Is About
Burak Bekdil/Gatestone Institute/April 18/18
In a 2016 fatwa, the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), Turkey's highest religious authority, ruled that it was not forbidden in Islam if a father felt lust for his own daughter "on condition that the daughter is older than nine."
According to celebrity Islamist scholar Nureddin Yıldız, Allah allows men to beat their wives not to torture them or hurt them but only to relax.
Yıldız's sermon on "what would the ummah lose if women work" is a must-read piece to understand the typical Islamist thinking on gender equality, family and tribal ambitions to grow still more numerous.
The word ulama in its Arabic context denotes scholars of almost all disciplines. In the context of Sunni Islam, however, ulama are regarded as "the guardians, transmitters and interpreters of religious knowledge." With the rise of Islamism as the dominant, state-sponsored ideology, the Turkish ulama have gained prominence: talk shows, books, newspaper columns, sermons and fatwas come in abundance. Devout Turks take them seriously. Secular Turks often mock them. Yet the Turkish ulama provide a rich context for those who want to understand Islamic piety as interpreted by religious scholars.
Now, according to the Global Gender Gap Report published by the World Economic Forum, Turkey ranks 130th among 144 countries measured. This embarrassing score does not go without good reason. Ironically, women's rights marchers in Ankara were met with tear gas and arrests on March 5 as they gathered for a protest ahead of International Women's Day (March 8). After the marchers ignored calls to disperse, Turkish riot police fired tear gas and detained about 15 women. That was how Turkish women "celebrated" Women's Day.
Child abuse is also increasingly visible in Muslim Turkey. According to the Turkish Statistical Institute, the number of child sexual abuse cases–- just those actually reported to law enforcement -- rose from over 11,000 in 2014 to nearly 17,000 in 2016. Experts say of course that many more cases are not reported.
Against that backdrop, Turkish Islamic scholars remain largely mute but preach on matters that do not quite look sane to secular observers. One such celebrity scholar is Nureddin Yıldız, author of 35 books on Islamic practices. Yıldız is the darling of Islamist media and has literally millions of followers. In his student years, he was a member of the National Turkish Students' Union, the hardline Islamist student group which also had among its members Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
In a 2012 sermon on television Yıldız said:
"Jews are the greatest enemies of Muslims. Some say some of the Jews can be innocent. I cannot believe that. I believe in the Quran. It is not possible to know the devil without knowing the Jew. Jews are traitors. They kill children."
Racism aside, the fatwas [opinions] of Turkey's ulama are often jaw-dropping. In a 2016 fatwa, the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), Turkey's highest religious authority, ruled that it was not forbidden (haram) in Islam if a father felt lust for his own daughter "on condition that the daughter is older than nine". Enter Yıldız, again: In 2016 the prominent theologian ruled that girls who are older than five should not be present in front of male visitors at their homes.
In 2017 Yıldız said that it was permissible in Islam to marry a six-year-old girl, sparking a public controversy. Journalist Mustafa Hoş called Yıldız "pedophilic," and Yıldız sued Hoş for insulting him. At the second hearing of the case at an Istanbul court, Yıldız's lawyer called journalists "enemies of Islam." In this pervert's thinking, one has to be an enemy of Islam if he thinks that marrying a six-year-old girl would be pedophilic.
More recently Yıldız advised fellow Muslims that a man and a woman should not share the same elevator alone; otherwise, "they might sin." "If a man takes the elevator alone the woman should wait," he ruled.
Yıldız's sermon on "what would the ummah [community] lose if women work" is a must-read piece to understand the typical Islamist thinking on gender equality, family and tribal ambitions to grow still more numerous:
"Each working woman means a [sexually] unsatisfied man. Her husband will then [sexually] abuse other women, paving the way to prostitution. If women work, they will give no or fewer births. It will be murderous if the population of ummah declines. If women work, chastity and moral values will fade away."
According to Turkish celebrity Islamist scholar Nureddin Yıldız (pictured), Allah allows men to beat their wives not to torture them or hurt them but only to relax.
A few years ago Yıldız made headlines when he described how good Muslim men should beat their wives. The Islamic jurisprudence, he said, allows men to beat their wives. But, he cautioned, women should not be punched on the face, on the chest or on the belly. When beating their wives men should not use sticks longer than a ruler. Allah, Yıldız said, allows men to beat their wives not to torture them or hurt them but only to relax.
These days Yıldız is on the headlines again, with his "elevator" and other fatwas. Some Turks shrug him off, saying he is just another devout clown. Perhaps he is. But his teachings, embraced by millions, show exactly why Turkey, not yet a shariah state, is at the bottom of international rankings on gender equality.
**Burak Bekdil, one of Turkey's leading journalists, was recently fired from Turkey's leading newspaper after 29 years, for writing what was taking place in Turkey for Gatestone. He is a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.
© 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.

Hamas "Press Office": Truth Finishes Last
Bassam Tawil/Gatestone Institute/April 18/18
Finally, the Hamas "Press Office" instructed Palestinian journalists to focus on the "humanization" of the stories of the Palestinians who are killed or injured during the mass demonstrations. Translation: If the "victim" is a Hamas terrorist, the journalists are to avoid mentioning that and instead report about his having been a beloved husband, father and community member.
Aren't Fatah and Abbas receiving financial aid from the US and EU because of their presumed support for a peace process with Israel? Why should the Americans and Europeans be supporting a Palestinian faction whose journalists openly incite against their Israeli colleagues?
Three weeks after the beginning of the mass demonstrations along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, which are being held as part of the so-called "March of Return," Hamas is trying to intimidate journalists into covering the events in a way that distorts the truth and reality.
Hamas, one of several Palestinian groups responsible for the anti-Israel demonstrations, does not want the world to see pictures of Palestinians throwing stones, firebombs and explosive devices at Israeli soldiers.
Hamas does not want journalists to use the words "clashes" and "confrontations" when reporting about the demonstrations.
Hamas does not want journalists to report the fact that some of the demonstrators killed during the "March of Return" were actually members of its armed group, Izaddin Al-Qassam.
In other words, Hamas wants journalists to report as if they were working for its propaganda machine. Any journalist who dares to challenge the Hamas narrative is denounced as a "traitor" and punished.
To ensure that Palestinian journalists comply with its wishes, Hamas's "Press Office" earlier this week issued directives to reporters as to how they should cover the "March of Return."
The first order that Hamas requires the journalists to obey is to refrain from focusing on the actions of individuals participating in the demonstrations.
This means that a photographer who sees a Palestinian protester engaged in violence, such as hurling a stone, firebomb or explosive device at Israeli troops, should look the other way. Why? Because, according to Hamas, such pictures refute its claim that the "March of Return" is a "peaceful and nonviolent uprising by unarmed civilians."
Hamas, according to its "Press Office," also instructed Palestinian journalists to stop using the words "clashes" and "confrontations" in their stories about the demonstrations. These words, Hamas argues, create the impression that the Palestinian demonstrators are engaged in violence. The pictures and videos from the scenes of the demonstrations, of course, depict just that.
Several videos even show masked Palestinian demonstrators trying to destroy the security fence and barbed wires along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel. This is part of the plan of the organizers of the "March of Return" to infiltrate the border and flood Israel with hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.
Palestinian journalists, in the words of Hamas's "Press Office," are to portray the events at the border with Israel as "an assault by the occupation army and its snipers on a peaceful and nonviolent civilian uprising." Hamas wants journalists to show only one side of the story by solely focusing on Israel's response to the violent demonstrations. The violence that triggered the response is, for Hamas, inadmissible evidence.
Pictured: Palestinians in Gaza attempt to break through a section of the border fence with Israel, under cover of a smokescreen, March 30, 2018. (Image source: Ateya Bahar video screenshot).
In line with Hamas's own fictitious narrative about its bloody behavior, it wants the coverage of the "March of Return" to be along the lines of "it all started when Israel fired back." Nothing new here: this is exactly the tactic Hamas has used during its previous wars with Israel. Hamas has never allowed journalists to show its members in the process of firing rockets at Israel. The only stories journalists were allowed to report where those of Palestinian casualties resulting from Israeli military strikes against people launching the rocket attacks from schools and populated areas of the Gaza Strip.
Hamas's "Press Office" additionally warned Palestinian journalists against quoting or relying on Israeli media in their reporting about the events in the Gaza Strip. This means that the journalists are not allowed to inform the Palestinian public of what Israel is saying about the "March of Return," especially concerning violent attacks on Israeli soldiers.
In this regard, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS), a body dominated by Hamas's rivals in Fatah, seems fully to agree with Hamas. In a statement published in Ramallah, the PJS accused Israeli journalists of being "complicit in crimes and killings." It also claimed that Israeli journalists were part of the Israeli army's propaganda machine.
Such incitement against Israeli journalists should be taken with utmost seriousness. It endangers the lives of reporters who cover Palestinian issues and often travel to Palestinian cities and villages.
Hamas's incitement against Israeli journalists is predictable. But when the incitement originates from a Fatah-affiliated institution in the West Bank, and controlled by President Mahmoud Abbas's loyalists, it gives pause. Isn't Fatah supposed to be the "moderate" Palestinian faction that ostensibly believes in the two-state solution and peace with Israel? Isn't Mahmoud Abbas supposed to be the "moderate" and "pragmatic" Palestinian leader with whom Israel is supposed to make peace? Aren't Fatah and Abbas receiving financial aid from the US and EU because of their presumed support for a peace process with Israel? Why should the Americans and Europeans be supporting a Palestinian faction whose journalists openly incite against their Israeli colleagues?
The incitement by Fatah and Hamas is an attempt to intimidate and silence not only Palestinian journalists, but their Israeli colleagues as well. It is an attempt to force Israeli journalists to toe the line and endorse the Hamas and Fatah narrative not only regarding the "March of Return," but also the entire Palestinian cause. Apparently in agreement with Hamas and Fatah, international human rights organizations and advocates of free media around the world do not seem bothered at all by the life-threatening attacks on Israeli journalists.
Finally, the Hamas "Press Office" instructed Palestinian journalists to focus on the "humanization" of the stories of the Palestinians who are killed or injured during the mass demonstrations. The journalists are required to highlight the "various personal and social aspects" of the Palestinian victims. Translation: If the "victim" is a Hamas terrorist, the journalists are to avoid mentioning that and instead report about his having been a beloved husband, father, and community member.
Again, this is part of Hamas's effort to lie to the world and present the Palestinians killed and injured during the riots as unarmed innocent civilians. The truth, however, is that Hamas has sent hundreds of its militiamen to take part in the demonstrations disguised as civilians.
Since the Palestinian journalists covering the "March of Return" are unlikely to ignore Hamas's new instructions, this will affect the reporting of the international media. Most international media outlets and correspondents employ Palestinian producers and translators and "fixers" to assist in covering Palestinian issues.
A Palestinian journalist who is afraid to defy the Hamas instructions will not tell his employers everything he sees and hears. Some of the Palestinian journalists will also be doing that of their own volition and not necessarily out of fear of Hamas or any other Palestinian group. These journalists see themselves as foot soldiers of the "revolution" and are convinced that their loyalty should be, first and foremost, to their people and cause. And the truth? Well, the truth finishes last.
The 'March of Return" is scheduled to continue until May 15, the Gregorian date for Israel Independence Day. More protests are planned along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel in the coming weeks. The Palestinians say that the real goal of the protests is to achieve the "right of return," by which they would return to "all of Palestine, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River."
The planned demonstrations will parallel those which took place the past three weeks. Those demonstrations, too, will involve Palestinians throwing rocks, firebombs and explosive devices at Israeli soldiers. Those demonstrations, too, will see Palestinians chanting slogans calling for the annihilation of Israel and see Hamas terrorists dressed in civilian clothes participating in the "peaceful" demonstrations.
Given the threats made by Hamas and Fatah, the question is: Will we see all these things, or will the cover-up continue? And, will the international media allow itself to be used as a platform for disseminating Hamas's lies? The Hamas "Press Office," for its part, is working overtime to cover the ravenous wolf in sheep's clothing.
*Bassam Tawil is a Muslim based in the Middle East.
© 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.

Germany: Crackdown on Middle Eastern Crime Families/"The state must destroy the clan structures."
Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/April 18/18
Middle Eastern crime clans now control large swathes of German cities and towns — areas that are effectively lawless and which German police increasingly fear to approach. The crime families, which have thousands of members, have for decades been allowed operate with virtual impunity: German judges and prosecutors were unable or unwilling to stop them, apparently out of fear of retribution.
"The police cannot win a war with the Lebanese because we outnumber them." — Criminal clan members to Gelsenkirchen Police Chief Ralf Feldmann.
Peter Biesenbach, now Justice Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, had repeatedly called for an official inquiry to determine the scope of clan activity. Those pleas had been rejected by his predecessor, because such a study would be politically incorrect.
German authorities have launched a crackdown on Middle Eastern crime families in Essen, a city in North Rhine-Westphalia where some 70 Turkish, Kurdish and Arab-born clan members regularly engage in racketeering, extortion, money laundering, pimping and trafficking in humans, weapons and drugs.
Middle Eastern crime clans now control large swathes of German cities and towns — areas that are effectively lawless and which German police increasingly fear to approach.
The crime families, which have thousands of members, have for decades been allowed operate with virtual impunity: German judges and prosecutors were unable or unwilling to stop them, apparently out of fear of retribution.
The nascent crackdown comes nearly a year after the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) won regional elections in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) and replaced the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), which, apart from one legislative period, has ruled the region since 1966.
Observers say that the clans have become so powerful and ruthless that the government's only solution is to wage all-out war to utterly annihilate the clans. If the initial raid in Essen is any indication, however, the Middle Eastern crime families in Germany have little to fear.
On April 12, more than 300 police officers, accompanied by dozens of customs, tax and anti-money-laundering agents, searched nearly 100 commercial businesses, hookah bars, gambling halls and betting offices in downtown Essen. After questioning 600 individuals and searching 60 vehicles at checkpoints, police arrested eight people, most of whom were wanted on open arrest warrants. Another 20 people were charged with drugs and immigration violations.
Many of the so-called Lebanese clans actually consist of ethnic Kurds from Southeastern Anatolia who migrated to Lebanon in search of work, and then moved to Germany during Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war. In Germany, they built parallel societies based on tribal and clan customs and Islamic honor codes.
Many clan members receive unemployment benefits while they launder profits from illegal activities through bars, restaurants and the used-car trade.
Police have been no match for the clans, whose members use cellphones to summon backup support. Within moments, dozens of clan members form mobs to insult and intimidate law enforcement officers.
"Respect for the police tends towards zero with these clans," said Arnold Plickert, head of the GdP police union in NRW. "These people live in their own parallel society and have no regard for the German constitutional state."
Focus magazine described the brute-force methods used by the clans to gain control over the sports betting sector in Essen:
"Five years ago, three leading clan members harassed the operator of several betting shops. They demanded 10,000 euros per month in protection money. In addition, he was told to open two new betting offices for blackmailers and pay another 150,000 euros. Moreover, he was told that he could not operate any business in Essen without participation by the clans. If he refused to comply, he would be killed.
"The businessman turned to the police for help but the investigation dragged on. After a while the police stopped the telephone monitoring. The judge took three years before scheduling the trial. In the end, the accused were found not guilty for lack of evidence.
"Abdou Gabbar, the victim's lawyer, has now appealed the verdict: 'The experience with the Essen police and justice in matters regarding the Al-Zein clan was frustrating. The district court did not even want to translate the incriminating telephone calls properly, and simply pronounced the defendants free.'"Further charges against the protagonists, including for insulting police officers, were also dropped. The judge deemed the risk was too high that clan members would riot in the courtroom."
Police guard the scene of a shooting murder in Essen, Germany, on April 9, 2016. The murder was part of a bloody feud within a Lebanese clan.
In nearby Gelsenkirchen, Kurdish and Lebanese clans are vying for control of city streets, some of which have become zones that are off-limits to German authorities. Senior members of the Gelsenkirchen police department have held secret meetings with representatives of the clans to "cultivate social peace between Germans and Lebanese."
According to a leaked police report, clan members informed Police Chief Ralf Feldmann that "the police cannot win a war with the Lebanese because we outnumber them." They added: "This applies to all of Gelsenkirchen, if we so choose."When Feldman countered that he would dispatch police reinforcements to disrupt their activities, the clan members laughed and said: "The government does not have enough money to deploy the numbers of police necessary to confront the Lebanese." The police report concluded that German authorities must be realistic about the actual balance of power: "The police would be defeated."
In Duisburg, a leaked report prepared for the NRW state parliament revealed that Lebanese clans do not recognize the authority of the police and have divided up neighborhoods to pursue criminal activities. Their members are males between the ages of 15 and 25 and "nearly 100%" of them are known to police.
The report described the situation in Duisburg's Laar district, where two large Lebanese families seem to have taken over control: "The streets are actually regarded as a separate territory. Outsiders are physically assaulted, robbed and harassed. Experience shows that the Lebanese clans can mobilize several hundred people in a very short period of time by means of a telephone call."
Police say they are alarmed by the aggressiveness and brutality of the clans, which are said to view crime as leisure activity. If police intervene, hundreds of clan members are mobilized to confront the police.
"If this is not a no-go area, then I do not know what is," said Peter Biesenbach (CDU), now NRW Justice Minister. Before assuming his current post, he repeatedly called for an official inquiry to determine the scope of clan activity. Those pleas were rejected by the previous NRW Interior Minister Ralf Jäger (SPD) because such a study would be politically incorrect:
"Further data collection is not legally permissible. Both internally and externally, any classification that could be used to depreciate human beings must be avoided. In this respect, the use of the term 'family clan' (Familienclan) is forbidden from the police point of view."
The new NRW Interior Minister, Herbert Reul (CDU), has pledged a course correction: "We will not tolerate any illegal activities or parallel justice. We have a zero-tolerance-strategy. We will use all means of the rule of law to fight crime." How effective his strategy will be remains to be seen.
Ralph Ghadban, a Lebanese-German political scientist and a leading expert on Middle Eastern clans in Germany, said that the only way for Germany to achieve control over the clans is to destroy them. In an interview with Focus, he explained:
"In their concept of masculinity, only power and force matter; if someone is humane and civil, this is considered a weakness. In clan structures, in tribal culture everywhere in the world, ethics are confined to the clan itself. Everything outside the clan is enemy territory.
"I have been following this trend for years. The clans now feel so strong that they are attacking the authority of the state and the police. They have nothing but contempt for the judiciary.... The main problem in dealing with clans: state institutions give no resistance. This makes the families more and more aggressive — they simply have no respect for the authorities....
"The state must destroy the clan structures. Strong and well-trained police officers must be respected on the street. In addition, lawyers and judges must be trained. The courts are issuing feeble judgments based on a false understanding of multiculturalism and the fear of the stigma of being branded as racist."
An Emnid poll published by Bild on April 14 found that 51% of those surveyed were worried about German no-go zones, areas where the state is unable or unwilling to enforce the law; 77% said that they wanted the state to take more forceful action against the clans.
"The state has not managed to get the problem under control," said Ghadban, the clan expert. The reason for this is the prevailing political ideology: "The police can only act as politicians allow. The multicultural atmosphere, in which everything is to be tolerated, leads in practice to the fact that the clans are not pursued."
**Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute.
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Iran's Real Enemy in Syria
The Atlantic/Karim Sadjadpour/April 18/2018
“What kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women, and children?” President Trump asked Russia and Iran Friday night after launching air strikes against the Syrian regime. “The nations of the world can be judged by the friends they keep.”
Despite his speechwriters’ best efforts, if there is one thing Donald Trump and Iran share it is an inability to be shamed. Over the last seven years no country has done more, financially and militarily, to back the Bashar al-Assad regime’s mass murder of Syrians than the Islamic Republic of Iran, a theocracy that claims to rule from a moral high ground. Within hours of joint American, French, and British targeted military strikes in Syria, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani called Assad to pledge his solidarity.
At a time of great economic hardship in Iran, Tehran has provided billions of dollars to arm, train, and pay tens of thousands of Arab, Afghan, and Pakistani Shia militants help Assad crush Sunni Islamist rebels. Tehran, the victim of heinous chemical weapons attacks by Saddam Hussein three decades ago, has provided Assad the means to deliver these same weapons, while simultaneously denying that he uses them. The question is why?
Distilled to its essence, Tehran’s steadfast support for Assad is not driven by the geopolitical or financial interests of the Iranian nation, nor the religious convictions of the Islamic Republic, but by a visceral and seemingly inextinguishable hatred for the state of Israel. As senior Iranian officials like Ali Akbar Velayati, a close adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have commonly said, “The chain of Resistance against Israel by Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, the new Iraqi government and Hamas passes through the Syrian highway. … Syria is the golden ring of the chain of resistance against Israel.” So long as the 78-year-old Khamenei remains in power, this hatred will justify Tehran’s continued commitment of blood and treasure to support Assad’s use of all means necessary—including chemical weapons—to preserve his rule.
Though Israel has virtually no direct impact on the daily lives of Iranians, opposition to the Jewish state has been the most enduring pillar of Iranian revolutionary ideology. Whether Khamenei is giving a speech about agriculture or education, he invariably returns to the evils of Zionism. “The Zionist regime is a true cancer tumor on this region that should be cut off,” Khamenei said in a 2012 speech. “We will support and help any nations, any groups fighting against the Zionist regime across the world.” Given Israel’s military superiority, Khamenei’s stated strategy is not Israel’s short-term annihilation, but its long-term political dissolution. “If Muslims and Palestinians unite and all fight,” he commonly says, “the Zionist regime will not be in existence in 25 years.”
In ostensibly trying to avenge what he portrays as one injustice, however, Tehran has helped Assad perpetrate a far greater one. The number of Syrian deaths since 2011 (an estimated 500,000, though the UN has stopped counting) is more than five times greater than the approximately 90,000 Arabs (roughly 20-30 percent of them Palestinian) killed in the last 70 years of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, while more than twice as many Syrians (12 million) as Palestinians have been displaced.* Indeed since 2011 far more Palestinians have been killed by Assad (nearly 3,700) than by Israel, including by chemical weapons. “If their way to return Palestinians back home is displacing millions of Syrians,” said my friend Kassem Eid, one of around half a million Palestinian refugees who grew up in Syria, and a victim of one of Assad’s chemical weapons attack, “I don't want to go back to Palestine.”
The Iran-Assad alliance is a study in contradictions. While Iranian advocates for secularism are viciously repressed, Assad routinely says, “The most important thing is that Syria should be secular.” Iranian women who defy the mandatory hijab are subject to violence and imprisonment, while Hezbollah fighters celebrate military victories in Damascus nightclubs alongside scantily-clad escorts. While nude Renaissance art is censored in Europe so as not to offend the religious sensibilities of visiting Iranian officials, Assad’s forces have deliberately used rape as a tool of repression against opponents. Khamenei implores his subjects to buy Iranian products to boost economic self-sufficiency, while Tehran’s largesse has helped subsidize Assad’s wife Asmaa—an unveiled fashionista—sustain what looks like her primary passion: shopping in London.
From the outset of the Syrian uprising in 2011, Assad and Iran assiduously sought to crush moderate opposition and indulge radical Islamists in order to engineer a no-win proposition for the West: Assad or jihadists. Yet Tehran has tried to portray its role in Syria as an existential battle for Iran, against the forces of Sunni radicalism. “Syria is Iran’s 35th province,” said Mehdi Taeb, a head of the Revolutionary Guards intelligence wing and a close advisor to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. “If we lose Syria we won’t be able to hold Tehran.” While Assad’s collapse would undoubtedly be a strategic blow to the Islamic Republic, Iran has been a nation-state for virtually 2,500 years before now without the benefit of a Syrian vassal state. Just as Russia outlived the USSR, so will Iran outlive the Islamic Republic.
Today the Tehran-Damascus axis has come to resemble a mutually exploitative love affair: Iran likes Syria for its body (which borders Israel and serves as Tehran’s waystation to Hezbollah), and Syria likes Iran for its money. In exchange for Iranian largesse, Assad has forsaken his sovereignty. “Syria is occupied by the Iranian regime,” said former Syrian Prime Minister Riad Hijab. “The person who runs the country is not Bashar al-Assad but [Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commander] Qassem Suleimani.” As for the other half of the couple, Tehran’s staggering expenditures in Syria—estimated to be several billion annually—have become a growing cause of popular resentment amidst deteriorating economic conditions in Iran. During anti-government protests last January in Iran, residents of Mashhad—a large Shiite Shrine town—chanted “Leave Syria alone, think about us.”
Though Iranians feel the financial costs of the Syria war, Tehran has outsourced the human costs. Iran’s 40,000-strong Shia foreign legion—composed of Lebanese, Afghans, Iraqis, and Pakistanis—have endured five times more casualties in Syria than Iranians. Afghan militias—known as the Fatemiyoun Division—have paid the highest price. Most are not enthusiastic holy warriors but undocumented manual laborers, some underage, whom the Iranian Revolutionary Guards present with an offer they can’t refuse: 10-year residency permits in Iran—mitigating the risk of forced deportation—and $800 per month to go to Syria, purportedly to protect the Shiite shrine of Sayyida Zainab, a granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad, outside Damascus. Lacking basic training and often illiterate, these Afghan troops are instead used as initial assault cannon fodder. "Sometimes we had no supplies,” said one former Afghan fighter, “no water, no bread—hungry and thirsty in the middle of the desert.” For Palestine.
The burden of defending Iran’s role in Syria to Western audiences has fallen on the shoulders of Tehran’s U.S.-educated Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Among Zarif’s considerable talents is an ability, and willingness, to tell brazen untruths with tremendous conviction. Shortly after Zarif insisted Iran had “no boots on the ground” in Syria, for example, the Revolutionary Guards announced their 1,000th casualty. In the aftermath of each chemical weapons attack by Assad, Zarif has systematically absolved Assad of responsibility by following the same playbook:
First, remind everyone that Saddam Hussein—backed by Western powers—used chemical weapons against Iran during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war. In other words, Syrian children are not the victims; Iran is still the victim. Second, ambiguously condemn chemical weapons use "by anyone." This allows Zarif’s Western allies to acknowledge his humanity. When pressed, however, Zarif has always claimed that it was the Syrian opposition—backed by American and Israel—that has used chemical weapons, not Assad. Zarif has paid little reputational cost for this whitewashing; the Nobel Peace Prize committee continues to mention him as an annual nominee.
After seven years, and with billions of dollars of sunk costs, an assertive Russian partner, and a U.S. president that aspires to withdraw from the region, Tehran feels vindicated in Syria. It is alleged to be building permanent military bases outside Damascus, with armed drones capable of reaching Israel. Periodic, limited U.S. military strikes against Assad’s weapons depots are not likely to change this calculus. Hopes that Assad’s mass repression or use of chemical weapons would compel Tehran to reassess its support have been proven wrong. Just as Iranians today frequently evoke how Saddam used chemical weapons against Iran over three decades ago, Syrians will have similarly long memories of Iranian complicity.
While Friday night’s missile shower illustrated the clear power asymmetry between Washington and Tehran, the last seven years have also illustrated the two countries’ asymmetry of commitment in Syria. In contrast to Donald Trump—who did not care about Syria last week and will likely not care about Syria next week—Ayatollah Khamenei’s opposition to Israel, and his commitment to Syria, has not wavered for four decades. Like Captain Ahab chasing Moby Dick, the 78-year-old Khamenei will take this pursuit to the grave with him.
In the 1998 movie American History X, a vivid portrait of America’s neo-Nazi movement—America’s Islamist equivalent—Edward Norton’s character is a young radical sent to prison for committing a hate crime. When a sympathetic former teacher visits him in prison to try to talk sense, he remains intransigent. The teacher’s simple parting comment, however, was powerful enough to cause Norton to reflect. “Just ask yourself one thing,” said the teacher. “Has anything you’ve done made your life better?”
Amidst all the carnage and destruction in Syria, a similar question could be posed to Khamenei. Has anything that Iran has done in Syria, or elsewhere for that matter, advanced its goal of destroying Israel and liberating Palestine? Khamenei appeared to contemplate this question recently. “Today the body of Muslim world is severely wounded,” he said. “Enemies of Islam have managed to baffle the Muslim world by staging war and discord, giving the enemy more security in the region. In Western Asia, the Zionist regime thrives in a safe haven, while Muslims are posed against one another.” Long live Palestine.