August 13/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations
We bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly. We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day
First Letter to the Corinthians 04/09-16: "For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, as though sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to mortals. We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honour, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless, and we grow weary from the work of our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly. We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day. I am not writing this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you might have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers. Indeed, in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. I appeal to you, then, be imitators of me."

Titles For The Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on August 12-13/18
Misreading Lebanon’s future/Mohamad Kawas/The Arab Weekly/August 12/18
Climate change takes its toll on Lebanon’s millennium cedars/Samar Kadi/The Arab Weekly/August 12/18
Analysis/Turkey’s Erdogan and Trump Are in a Chess Match, but Neither Has the Temperament to Play/Zvi Bar’el/Haaretz/August 12/18
Trump needs a regional policy beyond sanctions to check Iran’s designs/Khairallah Khairallah/The Arab Weekly/August 12/18/
Tehran’s ‘proxy model’ faces new constraints/Mark Habeeb/The Arab Weekly/August 12/18/
Deadly conflict brews within Coptic Church in Egypt’s Wadi al-Natroun/Sonia Farid/Al Arabiya English/August 12/18
Europe’s dangerous illusions about Iran/Amir Taheri/Al Arabiya/August 12/18
Iran’s mullahs and the orphan regime/Abdullah bin Bijad Al-Otaibi/Al Arabiya/August 12/18
Human development precedes democracy/Mohammed Al Shaikh/Al Arabiya/August 12/18
Ordinary people pay the price for Tehran’s support of Assad/Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/August 12/18
The media is wrong — Trump is not tough enough on Iran/Baria Alamuddin/Arab News/August 12/18
A choice between reform, adjustment and self-sabotage: Tehran considers its options/Raghida Dergham/The National/August 12/18

Titles For The Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on August 12-13/18
Dar al Fatwa declares Tuesday first day of Eid Adha
US Counterterror Center: Europe must boycott Hezbollah as a whole
Al-Rahi Slams Officials for 'Seeking Partisan Interests, Heeding Foreign Diktats'
Hariri's office denies Saudi Arabia's refusal to grant visas to Lebanese pilgrims
Derian inaugurates mosque in Ketermaya, urges politicians to facilitate government formation
Kanaan Sees 'Signs' that Govt. Formation is Near
Berri Says 'Shiite Duo' Not Vetoing 'Sovereign Portfolio' for LF
Gunmen Handed Over after Clash in Mieh Mieh Camp
Misreading Lebanon’s future
Climate change takes its toll on Lebanon’s millennium cedars

Titles For The Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on August 12-13/18
Four Jordanian security forces die raiding 'terrorist' cell
Ten People Hurt in 'Shooting' in UK's Manchester
Arab Israelis Rally against Jewish Nation-State Law
Netanyahu demands ‘total’ Gaza ceasefire
Iran arrests 67 in corruption crackdown approved by Khamenei
Russia downs drone near its Syria air base
Children among 39 Civilians Killed in Syria Arms Depot Blast
Iraq PM cancels visit to Iran after sanctions comments
Egypt detains another monk linked to abbot’s death
Egypt says 12 ‘terrorists’ killed in Sinai shootout
Egypt hands Muslim Brotherhood leader Badie another life sentence
NASA Blasts Off Historic Probe to 'Touch Sun'
The Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on August 12-13/18
Dar al Fatwa declares Tuesday first day of Eid Adha
Sun 12 Aug 2018/NNA - Dar al Fatwa announced in a statement on Sunday that Tuesday the 20th of August is the first day of Eid al Adha. The statement congratulated all Lebanese and wished Lebanon safety, security and stability.
US Counterterror Center: Europe must boycott Hezbollah as a whole
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Saturday, 12 August 2018/The US National Counterterrorism Center considered the classification of Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist organization insufficient, stressing the need for European countries to boycott the entire party as well as extended financial and diplomatic sanctions. The center which is affiliated to the US army called- in its report issued on August 10- upon the European Union to impose diplomatic isolation on Iran, after the arrest of Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi in Germany last month on charges of plotting to attack a gathering of opponents of the Tehran regime in Paris. The center pointed to new warning issued by US officials to European countries that Iran was planning further terrorist activities in other parts of Europe. The report also refers to the recent meeting of the Law Enforcement Coordination Group on Hezbollah activities, and which was held in Ecuador, calling on participating countries to develop a strong strategy to counter Hezbollah, based on close cooperation between Washington and Europe.

Al-Rahi Slams Officials for 'Seeking Partisan Interests, Heeding Foreign Diktats'
Naharnet/August 12/18/Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi on Sunday blasted the country's political leaders for the ongoing delay in the Cabinet formation process. “Why are things deadlocked in Lebanon? Isn't it because officials are running after their interests and calculations, and perhaps foreign diktats, without giving the least consideration to public welfare, the people or the state's interests?” al-Rahi said in his Sunday Mass sermon. “What justifies the delay in the government formation process other than personal and partisan interests and the bickering over the distribution of portfolios at the expense of public interest?” the patriarch added. He also lashed out at officials for “disregarding the aggravating economic and social situations without exerting any effort to lay out a salvation plan.”PM-designate Saad Hariri was tasked with forming a new government on May 24. His mission is being hampered by political wrangling over shares, especially over Christian and Druze representation. Some parties such as Hizbullah and the Free Patriotic Movement have suggested that foreign countries, especially Saudi Arabia, are behind the ongoing delay.
Hariri's office denies Saudi Arabia's refusal to grant visas to Lebanese pilgrims
Sun 12 Aug 2018/NNA - Prime Minister Saad Hariri's press office denied on Sunday the circulated news about Saudi Arabia's refusal to grant Lebanese pilgrims visas to perform Hajj in Saudi Arabia, presented by Prime Minister Saad Hariri and the Future Movement. "Some posted on social networking sites and electronic news false information about Saudi Arabia's refusal to grant Lebanese pilgrims a visa to perform Hajj in Saudi Arabia presented by Prime Minister Saad Hariri and the Future Movement," the statement said. "The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has granted 3,000 visas to the office of Prime Minister Saad Hariri, adding to 2,000 visas announced by the embassy," the communique clarified. The statement concluded by saying that Prime Minister Saad Hariri "salutes the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdul Aziz and his Crown Prince Prince Mohammed bin Salman in this regard."

Derian inaugurates mosque in Ketermaya, urges politicians to facilitate government formation
Sun 12 Aug 2018/NNA - The Grand Mufti of the Lebanese Republic, Sheikh Abdel Latif Derian, stressed this Sunday during the inauguration of a mosque in Ketermaya, Iklim el-Kharroub, the dire need for a government formation especially with the pressing socio-economic situation. The Mufti called on all political parties to "facilitate the cabinet formation process" and "to be realistic in their demands." He accordingly appealed to the politicians to facilitate Hariri's task in forming a new government, as "there is a need to get rid of the political instability and economic recession in the country." "We have an opportunity to rebuild our homeland and strengthen our unity through our cooperation with our Arab brothers," he concluded.
Kanaan Sees 'Signs' that Govt. Formation is Near
Naharnet/August 12/18/There are “incomplete signs” that suggest that the government formation crisis is “heading towards a breakthrough,” Strong Lebanon bloc secretary MP Ibrahim Kanaan has said. There are indications that the government “will be formed soon,” Kanaan added in a TV interview. He noted that all obstacles can be resolved according “because the national interest requires representing everyone according to their sizes while preserving diversity.”“We are inclined to form a government according to the sizes that were reflected by the elections. Period,” Kanaan emphasized. He also confirmed that President Michel Aoun will name the deputy premier. PM-designate Saad Hariri was tasked with forming a new government on May 24. His mission is being hampered by political wrangling over shares, especially over Christian and Druze representation. Some parties such as Hizbullah and the Free Patriotic Movement have suggested that foreign countries, especially Saudi Arabia, are behind the ongoing delay.

Berri Says 'Shiite Duo' Not Vetoing 'Sovereign Portfolio' for LF

Naharnet/August 12/18/Hizbullah and its Shiite ally AMAL Movement have no “veto” on the possibility of granting the Lebanese Forces a so-called sovereign ministerial portfolio in the new government, Speaker Nabih Berri has said. “Berri was totally clear in telling (caretaker Information) Minister (Melhem) Riachi (of the LF) that he is helping PM-desingate (Saad) Hariri in his mission and that he has nothing to do whatsoever in the issue of sovereign portfolios that will go to Christians,” An-Nahar newspaper reported Sunday. He said that “specifically AMAL Movement and Hizbullah are not vetoing the possibility of giving the LF a sovereign portfolio,” the daily added. “Do not blame it on us,” Berri emphasized. The Speaker also underlined that he will not accept a so-called majority government, warning that “the country cannot bear such a government” and voicing support for a “national unity and consensus government.”The LF's share is one of the main obstacles delaying the formation of the new government. The four so-called sovereign portfolios are defense, foreign affairs, finance and interior.

Gunmen Handed Over after Clash in Mieh Mieh Camp
Naharnet/August 12/18/Two Palestinian militants were handed over to the Lebanese Army at midnight after an armed clash in the Mieh Mieh refugee camp in south Lebanon, the National News Agency said. “Palestinian forces handed over to Lebanese Army intelligence agents the Palestinians Saleh Ghali and Samer al-Masri, who were behind the armed clash in the Mieh Mieh camp yesterday,” NNA said. It said the handover process took place at an army checkpoint at the camp's entrance. Al-Masri belongs to the mainstream Fatah Movement while Ghali is a member of the pro-Hizbullah Ansarullah Islamist faction. The clash, which involved the use of machineguns and two shoulder-fired rockets, has been described as a “personal dispute” between the two men. The camp's so-called popular committee had announced overnight that “an agreement has been reached to withdraw all gunmen from the streets,” adding that “the cover will be lifted off any person who harms the camp's security and stability.”Senior Palestinian and Lebanese officials had carried out urgent contacts with the leaderships of the two parties in a bid to pacify the situation.
Misreading Lebanon’s future
Mohamad Kawas/The Arab Weekly/August 12/18
Some Lebanese leaders naively rush to Damascus without regard for the prevailing international mood or direction.
If it is clear that external forces are casting a heavy shadow on negotiations for a new government in Lebanon, it doesn’t necessarily mean those forces are directly intervening in the discussions about the quota system being used in the same way Damascus did when it had a grip on Lebanon.
Politicians in Lebanon practise politics according to what they make out of the developments in the region and internationally. Their understanding, however, is often clouded with wishful thinking that produces ready-made recipes they try to impose on this side or the other.
In the end, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri gets mixed views containing judicious and intemperate aspects. This is essentially why it is impossible for him to form a government in the present circumstances.
Hariri’s “steadfastness” in the face of pressure appears to be based on his awareness that the local political factors are affected by external developments, whether close by and in the short term in Syria or in Iran.
Some in Lebanon say US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal has revamped the Middle East, overturning the model prevailing in the region since the founding of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979.
For them, the United States’ imposition of sanctions on Iran will change the latter’s role in Middle Eastern countries. Therefore, the process of forming a government in Lebanon should consider the debilitation of Iranian influence in the Middle East and that the pro-Iranian coalition in decision-making circles will not make up for this loss.
This is not mere conjecture. Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani had given some time ago his take on the results of the Lebanese legislative elections, stating that Hezbollah and its allies had secured 74 out of 128 seats of the Lebanese parliament.
Soleimani’s reading suggests that Lebanese President Michel Aoun’s parliamentary bloc, led by Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, should be seen as part of Hezbollah’s overall legislative share. The line of conduct that Bassil has adopted, with full backing from Aoun, suggests that adhering to Soleimani’s reading is the cipher to the terms and conditions imposed on Hariri in exchange for supporting his suggested cabinet formations.
Aoun and Bassil are demanding a reduction of the ministerial portfolios allocated to the Lebanese Forces, preventing Druze leader Walid Jumblatt from assuming exclusive representation of the Druze in the new government and infiltrating the Sunni ministerial quota with pro-Hezbollah Sunni ministers. These demands reflect Soleimani’s readings and aim at making Lebanon part of Tehran’s sphere of influence.
To get an idea of how anxious the March 8 Alliance camp, led by Hezbollah, is to take shortcuts and quickly impose a de facto reality on the March 14 Alliance camp, all one has to do is look at the feverish campaign by Hezbollah to have Lebanon normalise relations with Damascus.
The impending political deadlock is justified by two contradictory readings. The first reading sees Trump as a harbinger of a new Middle East that would undo Iranian influence in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
The second sees in Russian President Vladimir Putin the sign of Syria’s impending fall within the Russian sphere of influence, an event that would rehabilitate Syrian President Bashar Assad and his regime and transform Lebanon into a Moscow satellite. This scenario feeds a nostalgic yearning in Lebanon for a renewed Damascene patronage over Beirut with solid connections inside Lebanon.
The first predicament in Lebanon is that this small country is attempting to anticipate outcomes that even the big boys have not reached. The problem relates to the fact that the Lebanese regard themselves as a mainstay in international politics. They refuse to accept they have no weight or effect in the greater picture.
Even though Washington and the European Union do not admit any political reality in Syria as valid without attaining an international consensus first, some Lebanese leaders naively rush to Damascus without regard for the prevailing international mood or direction.
Those counting on changes against Iran are relying on Trump’s hawkish policies, which would severely punish Iran. At the same time, the US president surprised the world with his willingness to engage in a no-strings-attached meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rohani.
However, Trump’s decisions to withdraw from the nuclear agreement with Iran and to reimpose sanctions were motivated entirely by American interests. Accordingly, any new agreement with Tehran would consider US interests first and Israeli interests second as they relate to Syria. Lebanese interests are the least of their concerns.
It was the interests of Washington and Israel that gave the green light to the late Syrian President Hafez Assad to invade Lebanon in 1976. So, the famous Syrian “guardianship” over Lebanon began when Washington deemed it fit and ended when it saw otherwise.
Still, the firm belief in “major forthcoming changes” in the region is based on the illusion that the United States would be keen to give Lebanon special attention and consider it as one of the cornerstones of American interests in the region.
The Pentagon is still providing the Lebanese military with armament, despite reports, mainly Israeli, of Hezbollah’s infiltration of the Lebanese military. The fact that the world agreed during the recent Rome conference to support the Lebanese Army reflects the international community’s belief in the importance of the role of the Lebanese state and its army following the waning of Iranian influence in the region.
Hezbollah sees this as well and is working along two parallel lines: not to publicly obstruct the government’s formation but hide behind its allies working to that end. Simultaneously, it is endeavouring to secure a comfortable share for itself and its allies in the next cabinet and relieve itself of the heavy burden of liberating the Palestinian territories and slaying the Great Satan.
*Mohamad Kawas is a Lebanese writer.

Climate change takes its toll on Lebanon’s millennium cedars
Samar Kadi/The Arab Weekly/August 12/18
BEIRUT - They have capped Lebanon’s mountaintops for thousands of years. The Phoenicians used their wood to build merchant ships and Egyptians used their resin to mummify the dead. Now the emblematic cedars of Lebanon (Cedrus Libani) are facing their biggest challenge -- climate change.
Cedar forests covered 5,000 of Lebanon’s highlands in ancient times. They have outlived invaders, empires and modern wars but centuries of deforestation have reduced the forests to 20
The trees, some 3,000 years old, thrive on moisture and cool temperatures and their seeds need a minimum amount of snow and rain for regeneration. However, with climate change, winters are shorter and there is less snow, a change that affects the cedar forests’ ecosystem.
“The effect of climate change is there. However, the cedar tree is a very resilient tree, which can adapt to all changes,” said Nizar Hani, director of the Cedar Biosphere in the Chouf Mountains.
“The natural regeneration conditions of the cedar forest are changing. The seedlings, which normally should stay buried in the snow for 2 to 3 months, are germinating in February instead of April because the snow is melting very early. That early germination puts them at a very high risk of dying in cold snaps,” Hani said.
Because of climate change, cedar forests, which now are at a minimum of 1,200 metres above sea level, would be found at higher altitudes in search for more suitable conditions, Hani said.
“This is a kind of mitigation in which trees will be growing in the right conditions to live and to regenerate,” Hani said. “Currently, the range of the cedar forest is 1,200-1,800 metres. For the past two years, we have been able to do reforestation at higher altitude, 1,900 metres. The treeline is different now.
“Those existing at lower altitude will survive because the trees can adapt. We are replanting trees on the higher slopes to make the ecosystem more resilient to climate change. We are enlarging the surface of the cedar forest because the bigger it is, the better it will be able to adapt to change.”
The most lethal enemy of the cedars are insects that are present in the forests’ ecosystem but have been developing at an increased rate because of climate change, said Nabil Nemer, of the agricultural sciences department at the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik.
“In Tannourine and Ehden cedar forests, a type of insect (Cephalcia tannourinensis) has been developing at a fast rate. The insects’ life cycle has changed. In the past, they used to hibernate between 3 to 7 years. They are now waking up every year because of warm and dry weather and causing harm to the trees. Such stress over three consecutive years leads to the death of the tree,” Nemer said.
The Tannourine Cedar Forest Natural Reserve has lost tens of trees to insect infestations unknown before the 1990s. Nemer has been breeding the predator of the insects, a type of fungi that exist naturally in the forest and can kill the larvae.
A national strategy for the preservation of green areas begun four years ago envisioned the planting of 30 million trees, including cedars, to increase the area of the forests in Lebanon from 13% to 20% by 2020.
“The strategy is primarily focused on reforestation but the solution is not by replanting trees,” Nemer said. “First, we need to take care of the health of the ecosystem in which the cedar trees and other trees are living. I am afraid that we will not be able to confront the climate change at the speed it is going on. We might also have new types of insects appearing because of warmer weather.”
In the 1960s and 1970s, Lebanon had a Green Plan that replanted many cedars but the plan was forgotten during the 15-year civil war.
“In the past ten years we have planted more than 300 hectares (in the Chouf biosphere),” Hani said. “These include other species of trees, like oaks and pines. When we do restoration it is not only with cedar trees but with all the species that exist in the cedar forest.”
Cedars grow slowly, bearing no cones until they are 40-50 years old. When they are young by cedar standards, they look much like other conifers but, after about 100 years, they develop their distinctive shape with branches stretching parallel to the ground.
The majestic tree that is emblazoned on Lebanon’s national flag, currency and national airline is seen as a unifying emblem by the Lebanese and a reflection of their country’s resilience to the mishaps of ancient and modern history.
*Samar Kadi is the Arab Weekly society and travel section editor.
The Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on August 12-13/18
Four Jordanian security forces die raiding 'terrorist' cell
The Arab Weekly/August 12/18/AMMAN - Jordanian security forces have killed at least three "terrorists" and arrested five others during a raid after an officer was killed in a bomb blast near the capital, the government said Sunday. Security forces had raided a partially-collapsed building in a search for those responsible for a bomb attack on a police van on Friday that was maintaining security near a music festival. Four security forces were also killed in the shootout. Government spokeswoman Jumana Ghneimat said the security forces had also seized automatic weapons in a "continuing operation." "The suspects refused to surrender and opened heavy fire toward a joint security force," Ghneimat said in a statement. The suspects also "blew up the building in which they were hiding, and which they had booby-trapped earlier", she said. She added that two other "terrorists" were arrested, bringing the total number of people detained in Salt since Saturday to five. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Friday's bomb blast, which also wounded six other members of the patrol in Al-Fuhais, a mostly Christian town west of Amman. The identities of the suspects were not known. One of the members of the security forces wounded during the raid was in "critical condition", Ghneimat said. "A clean-up operation is still under way," she said, adding that units of the civil defence were at the scene to assess the damage at the building and sift through the rubble. Ghneimat urged civilians to stay away, warning that "it could totally collapse at any minute”. Medical sources said that 11 people were wounded during the raid, including members of the security forces and civilians. Women and children were among those hurt, they said, without giving further details.
Crisis cell Jordanian television broadcast footage of the partially collapsed building and security forces conducting search operations. Ambulances, bulldozers and police cars were deployed around the building in the Naqab al-Dabour residential neighbourhood in Salt, the footage showed.
The government set up a crisis cell to follow the developments, the state-run Petra news agency reported. Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz, who chaired the meeting, vowed Saturday that Jordan would "not be complacent in the hunt for terrorists”. Jordan has played a key role in an international military coalition that helped push back the extremist group Islamic State in neighboring Syria and Iraq. Jordan is also considered to an important security ally, particularly by the United States and Israel which view any signs of unrest there with concern. The kingdom has cracked down on suspected militants in recent years, imposing prison terms of several years for suspected sympathizers, including those expressing support for militant ideology on social media. At the same time, hopelessness and alienation among some of the kingdom's young people, driven by high youth unemployment, have provided fertile ground for recruitment by militant groups.
Ten People Hurt in 'Shooting' in UK's Manchester
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/August 12/18/Ten people, including two children, were taken to hospital on Sunday with pellet-type wounds after reports of a shooting in Manchester in northern England, police said. Officers were called at around at 2:30am (0130 GMT) to the Moss Side neighborhood of the city, where a party had been held following a Caribbean Carnival nearby. "Nine people went to hospital, including two children, with pellet-type wounds that are not believed to be serious," a statement from Greater Manchester Police said. "A tenth person -- a man -- remains in a stable but serious condition in hospital with injuries to his legs."Police said they hoped the less seriously injured victims would begin to leave hospital during the course of the day. "This was a reckless act that could have had devastating consequences with families and friends losing loved ones," Chief Superintendent Wasim Chaudhry said.In a message to the local community, he added: "Guns have no place on our streets and we want to assure you we are doing everything we can to find the person or people responsible."

Arab Israelis Rally against Jewish Nation-State Law

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/August 12/18/Tens of thousands of Arab Israelis and their supporters have chanted against "apartheid" and for "equality"in central Tel Aviv at a rally protesting a law that declares Israel the nation state of the Jewish people. Israeli Jews also joined the demonstration, the second since last Saturday, when thousands from Israel's Druze minority took to the streets in Tel Aviv to denounce the law they say makes them second-class citizens, AFP reporters said. Protesters waved Palestinian and Israeli flags at the rally, which Israeli state television said drew a crowd of more than 30,000 people. Several clauses contained in the law that passed last month are sources of concern, especially since the text is part of Israel's so-called basic laws -- a de facto constitution. It makes no mention of equality or democracy, implying that Israel's Jewish nature takes precedence -- something for which Israel's far-right religious nationalist politicians have long advocated. One section refers to Israel as the historic homeland of the Jews and says they have a "unique" right to self-determination there. Others define the establishment of Jewish communities as in the national interest and make Hebrew the sole official language, downgrading Arabic to special status. Israeli Arabs, the descendants of Palestinians who remained on their land when Israel was created in 1948, make up around 17.5 percent of the Israeli population. They are concerned the new law could allow for open discrimination against them in everything from housing to budgeting and land allocation. Members of Israel's 130,000-strong Druze community -- who serve in the police and military -- have been among those strongly denouncing the legislation.
'Apartheid regime'
At Saturday's rally, protesters accused the Israeli government of being an "apartheid regime", shouting in Hebrew and in Arabic, "equality, equality" and "apartheid will not pass", AFP reporters said. The rally was organized by groups representing the Arab Israeli minority, while the one that took place last Saturday had been organized by the Druze. Yael Valia, a 45-year-old woman who works for a start-up, waved an Israeli flag and described herself as a "Zionist", adding that "this is why we must guarantee equality for all the citizens of this country."Next to her, an Arab Israeli psychologist and mother of two, Watan Dahleh, carried one of her children on her back and held the hand of the other.She said she brought them to the rally "because their future is at stake." Members of the Druze community also took part in Saturday's rally. At least five court challenges have been filed against the nation-state law, and it will now be up to judges to decide whether to limit its interpretation.
"It is a racist law that reminds us of what happened in South Africa during apartheid," said Mohammed Barake, who heads an Arab Israeli committee that filed one of the five court challenges. Amos Shoken, publisher of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, was also present at the rally and urged Arab Israelis "not to despair" and to continue to mobilize against the controversial law. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, has remained defiant. "The state of Israel is the national state of the Jewish people. Israel is a Jewish and democratic state. Individual rights are anchored in many laws," Netanyahu said Sunday. "Nobody has harmed -- and nobody intends to harm -- these individual rights but without the Nation-State Law it will be impossible to ensure for (future) generations the future of Israel as a Jewish national state," he said.
Netanyahu demands ‘total’ Gaza ceasefire
AFP, Jerusalem/Sunday, 12 August 2018/Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday demanded a “total” ceasefire from Gaza’s Hamas rulers in his first public comments on another deadly flare-up between the two sides. There have been efforts by UN officials and Egypt to secure a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas, though Israeli officials have not commented on them. Since July, there have been three major flare-ups of violence. “We are in the midst of a campaign against terror in Gaza,” Netanyahu said at the start of a cabinet meeting. “It will not end with one blow. “Our demand is clear: a total ceasefire. We shall not be satisfied with less than that,” he added. “Until now we have destroyed hundreds of Hamas military targets and with every round of attacks the Israel Defence Forces exact another heavy price from Hamas.” Netanyahu has come under political pressure to act more strongly against Hamas, though both sides are reluctant to start a fourth war between them since 2008. Israel has also sought an end to kites and balloons carrying firebombs over the Gaza border fence to burn Israeli farmland. An informal truce reached on Thursday night has largely held despite the deaths of three Palestinians since then from Israeli army fire during border protests and clashes. Thursday saw extensive Israeli air strikes in retaliation for the launching of more than 180 rockets and mortar rounds by Hamas and its allies beginning on Wednesday night. Three Palestinians were killed in the Israeli strikes, including a mother and her 18-month-old daughter, while seven Israelis were wounded by Palestinian rocket fire as hundreds took refuge in bomb shelters. It was one of the most serious escalations since the 2014 Gaza war and followed months of rising tensions. At least 168 Palestinians have been killed since Gaza border protests and clashes began on March 30, with most succumbing to Israeli fire during demonstrations. Others have died in air strikes. Over the same period, one Israeli soldier has been shot dead by a Palestinian sniper.

Iran arrests 67 in corruption crackdown approved by Khamenei
AFP, Tehran/Sunday, 12 August 2018/Iran’s judiciary said Sunday that 67 people have been arrested in recent weeks as part of a corruption crackdown approved by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. More than 100 government employees have also been barred from leaving the country, spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejeie said, according to the judiciary-linked Mizan news agency. “Our enemy America has decided to put pressure on people and it intends to put our economy under pressure, but to no avail,” Ejeie said. “There are individuals who try to use this opportunity and hoard basic goods and increase pressure on people by hoarding and smuggling,” he added. On Saturday, Khamenei approved a request from the head of the judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, to set up special revolutionary courts to try people for economic crimes. “The goal is that the punishment of convicts of economic corruption be carried out urgently and justly,” Khamenei wrote in a response published on his website. Increased pressure from the United States, including its withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal and re-imposed sanctions, have exacerbated long-standing public anger over mismanagement and corruption in the economy. A disastrous attempt to fix the falling value of the rial in April added to the anger after the government revealed that politically-connected importers were hoarding the cheap dollars or selling them on the black market. Earlier this month, the head of the central bank was sacked and his deputy in charge of foreign exchange arrested. Corruption is deeply entrenched in Iran, where an opaque business environment provides huge opportunities for embezzlement and market manipulation. With protests and strikes taking on a political edge in many places, pressure has mounted from all sides to take more concerted action against corruption.

Russia downs drone near its Syria air base

Reuters, MoscowSunday, 12 August 2018/Russia’s military said it had shot down a drone that came close to its Syrian air base at Hmeimim on Saturday and was launched from the Idlib “de-escalation” zone controlled by what Moscow calls “illegal military groups”, TASS agency reported. The drone caused no casualties or damage, and the Hmeimim air base is operating as normal, the agency said. The recent incident is the second in less than 48 hours. Late on Friday night, Syrian air defenses engaged an “enemy target” near the border with Lebanon west of Damascus, state news agency SANA reported early Saturday.
“Our air defenses confronted an enemy target that penetrated airspace above the area of Deir al-Ashair in the Damascus countryside,” SANA said.
Children among 39 Civilians Killed in Syria Arms Depot Blast
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/August 12/18/An explosion at a weapons depot in a rebel-held town in northwest Syria killed at least 39 civilians including a dozen children on Sunday, a monitor said. An AFP correspondent at the site in Sarmada in Idlib province near the Turkish border said the explosion of unknown origin caused two buildings to collapse. Rescue workers used a bulldozer to remove rubble and extract trapped people, the correspondent said. Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor, said a previous toll of 12 civilians killed increased after more bodies were retrieved from the rubble. "The explosion occurred in a weapons depot in a residential building in Sarmada," said the head of the Britain-based monitor, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria. But the cause of the blast was "not yet clear," Abdel Rahman added.
He said most of those killed were family members of fighters from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an alliance led by jihadists from Syria's former al-Qaida affiliate, who had been displaced to the area from the central province of Homs. A rescue worker carried the motionless body of a small child from the wreckage to an ambulance, the AFP correspondent said. Behind mounds of rubble, the facade of a building was scorched black, due to a fire after the blast. A civil defense source told AFP that women and children were among the dead. But rescue workers had pulled out "five people who were still alive", the source said.
Most of Idlib is controlled by rebels and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, but the Islamic State group also has sleeper cells in the area. The regime holds a small slither of southeastern Idlib. In recent months, a series of explosions and assassinations -- mainly targeting rebel officials and fighters -- have rocked the province. While some attacks have been claimed by IS, most are the result of infighting since last year between other groups. In recent days, regime forces have ramped up their deadly bombardment of southern Idlib and sent reinforcements to nearby areas they control. President Bashar al-Assad has warned that government forces intend to retake Idlib, after his Russia-backed regime regained control of swathes of rebel-held territory elsewhere. Around 2.5 million people live in the province, half of them displaced by fighting in other parts of the country. More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since Syria's civil war started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

Iraq PM cancels visit to Iran after sanctions comments
Arab News/August 12/18/BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi has canceled a visit to Iran, his press office said Sunday, as the premier came under strong Iranian criticism over his stand on renewed US sanctions against Tehran. Abadi will still go ahead with a planned visit to Turkey on Tuesday but has scrapped the Iran leg of the trip “because of his busy schedule,” his office said. An Iraqi official had said Saturday that Abadi would visit both neighboring Turkey and Iran to discuss economic issues. According to Iraqi political sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, Iran initially agreed to the visit but changed its mind because it was unhappy about Abadi’s remarks. The premier said last Tuesday that Iraq — which relies on neighboring Iran as a source of cheap imports — would reluctantly comply with US sanctions against Tehran that took effect the same day. “We don’t support the sanctions because they are a strategic error, but we will comply with them,” said Abadi, whose country is an ally of both Tehran and Washington. “In general, sanctions are unjust.”On Sunday, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s representative in Baghdad lashed out at Abadi as the Tehran visit was called off. “These irresponsible remarks have already been condemned by many people. It’s a disloyal attitude toward the honest position of Iran and the blood of the martyrs this country has spilt to defend the land of Iraq” against militants, said Moujtaba Al-Hussein. “We are saddened by this position which shows he has been defeated psychologically in the face of the Americans,” he said. The US sanctions were reimposed after President Donald Trump withdrew from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.In Tehran, the foreign ministry was more guarded about a possible visit by Abadi. A ministry spokesman said he had “so far not received any official news or information whatsoever about this trip,” the semi-official ISNA news ag
Egypt detains another monk linked to abbot’s death
AP/August 12/18/MENA said he is under police guard after an attempted suicide
CAIRO: Egyptian authorities have detained another monk as part of their investigation into the death of an abbot in a monastery north of Cairo last month. The state-run MENA news agency identified the 33-year-old monk by his monastic name, Valtos, and said Sunday that he is under police guard after an attempted suicide. Word of the arrest came a day after prosecutors said a detained and recently defrocked monk, identified as Isaiah, confessed to collaborating with others to kill Bishop Epiphanius, abbot of St. Macarius Monastery. The bishop was found dead on July 29.
His funeral was attended by Pope Tawadros II, the spiritual leader of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Christians, one the world’s oldest Christian communities.
Egypt says 12 ‘terrorists’ killed in Sinai shootout
AFP, Cairo/Sunday, 12 August 2018/Egyptian security forces have killed “terrorists” in a shootout in the north of the Sinai Peninsula, where ISIS is active, an interior ministry source said Sunday. The Egyptian army has since February been conducting a major operation focused on Sinai to wipe out ISIS extremists. The deadly exchange of fire took place in the coastal city of El-Arish after the authorities received information that “terrorist elements” were hiding in the area, the source said. Twelve militants were killed in the shootout, the source said, without reporting any casualties among security forces or specifying when the incident took place. Guns, ammunition and explosive devices were discovered at the scene, the source said. Extremists launched an insurgency in Sinai after the 2013 military overthrow of Egypt’s Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, who was forced out by the military in the face of mass protests against his rule. The military says that over 250 suspected extremists and at least 35 soldiers have been killed in its “Sinai 2018” operation.

Egypt hands Muslim Brotherhood leader Badie another life sentence
The Associated Press, Cairo/Sunday, 12 August 2018/An Egyptian court has sentenced five people, including the head of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, to life in prison on violence-related charges. It’s the latest of several life sentences for Mohammed Badie, who has also been sentenced to death in separate trials since his 2013 arrest. Charges have included inciting violence and planning attacks against the state.The Cairo Criminal Court on Sunday sentenced four others to 10-15 years imprisonment on the same charges, related to the killing of seven people in 2013.
The verdicts can be appealed.

NASA Blasts Off Historic Probe to 'Touch Sun'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/August 12/18/NASA on Sunday blasted off a $1.5 billion spacecraft toward the Sun on a historic mission to protect the Earth by unveiling the mysteries of dangerous solar storms. "Three, two, one, and liftoff!" said a NASA commentator as the Parker Solar Probe lit up the dark night sky aboard a Delta IV-Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 3:31 am (0731 GMT).The unmanned spacecraft aims to get closer than any human-made object in history to the center of our solar system. The probe is designed to plunge into the Sun's atmosphere, known as the corona, during a seven-year mission. It is protected by an ultra-powerful heat shield that can endure unprecedented levels of heat, and radiation 500 times that experienced on Earth.
Strange veil
NASA has billed the mission as the first spacecraft to "touch the Sun."In reality, it should come within 3.83 million miles (6.16 million kilometers) of the Sun's surface, close enough to study the curious phenomenon of the solar wind and the Sun's atmosphere, known as the corona, which is 300 times hotter than its surface. The car-sized probe is designed to give scientists a better understanding of solar wind and geomagnetic storms that risk wreaking chaos on Earth by knocking out the power grid. These solar outbursts are poorly understood, but pack the potential to wipe out power to millions of people.
A worst-case scenario could cost up to two trillion dollars in the first year alone and take a decade to fully recover from, experts have warned. "The Parker Solar Probe will help us do a much better job of predicting when a disturbance in the solar wind could hit Earth," said Justin Kasper, a project scientist and professor at the University of Michigan. Knowing more about the solar wind and space storms will also help protect future deep space explorers as they journey toward the Moon or Mars.
Heat shield
The probe is guarded by an ultra-powerful heat shield that is just 4.5 inches (11.43 centimeters) thick, enabling the spacecraft to survive its close shave with the fiery star.
Even in a region where temperatures can reach more than a million degrees Fahrenheit, the sunlight is expected to heat the shield to just around 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,371 degrees Celsius). If all works as planned, the inside of the spacecraft should stay at just 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The goal for the Parker Solar Probe is to make 24 passes through the corona during its seven-year mission. "The sun is full of mysteries," said Nicky Fox, project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab.
"We are ready. We have the perfect payload. We know the questions we want to answer."
91-year-old namesake
The spacecraft is the only NASA probe in history to be named after a living person -- in this case, 91-year-old solar physicist Eugene Parker, who first described the solar wind in 1958.
Parker said last week that he was "impressed" by the Parker Solar Probe, calling it "a very complex machine."NASA chief of the science mission directorate, Thomas Zurbuchen, said Saturday that Parker is an "incredible hero of our scientific community," and called the probe one of NASA most "strategically important" missions. Scientists have wanted to build a spacecraft like this for more than 60 years, but only in recent years did the heat shield technology advance enough to be capable of protecting sensitive instruments. Tools on board will measure high-energy particles associated with flares and coronal mass ejections, as well as the changing magnetic field around the Sun. A white light imager will take images of the atmosphere right in front of the Sun. When it nears the Sun, the probe will travel rapidly enough to go from New York to Tokyo in one minute -- some 430,000 miles per hour, making it the fastest human-made object.
The Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on August 12-13/18
Analysis/Turkey’s Erdogan and Trump Are in a Chess Match, but Neither Has the Temperament to Play
زيفي بارئيل من الهآررتس: اردوغان وترامب يتواجهان في مباراة شطرنج، ولكن ليس عند أي من منهما مزاج للعب
Zvi Bar’el/Haaretz/August 12/18
Trump and Erdogan don’t have the patience or temperament to patch up relations diplomatically, but they share critical interests that could force a reconciliation.
At around 2 P.M. on Black Friday, Turkish Finance and Treasury Minister (and son-in-law of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan) Berat Albayrak finished speaking at a press conference to which he had invited a number of businesspeople. Albayrak, who was sworn in barely a month ago, promised his listeners that he planned to implement a new economic program, to preserve the independence of the central bank and to strengthen the Turkish lira.
Albayrak is not an inspiring public speaker, in contrast to his father-in-law. The businesspeople nodded slightly; it appeared as if the lira was willing to give him a chance when it nudged above the depths of the abyss into which it had fallen. But then, with timing that was anything but random, U.S. President Donald Trump fired the cruel tweet announcing the doubling of tariffs on imports of Turkish steel and aluminum, to 20 and 50 percent, respectively. The lira couldn’t withstand the new pressure and plunged to the vicinity of 6 lira to the dollar. World currency markets soon followed.
Just two days before, Erdogan tried to encourage citizens who had purchased dollars in a panic to convert them back into the local currency, saying, “If [the Americans] have their dollar, we have the people, we have Allah.” Allah, so it would seem, was busy elsewhere.
After another tub-thumping speech on Friday and Trump’s tweet, Erdogan made an urgent phone call to the only person who might be able to help: Russian President Vladimir Putin. The purpose of the widely reported conversation was not to trigger a flow of rubles or dollars into Ankara’s coffers, but rather to demonstrate Erdogan’s willingness to make good on his threat “to start looking for new friends and allies” if the United States continued to disrespect “our long-standing friendship,” as Erdogan wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times on Friday.
At the same time, a high-ranking Turkish delegation in Washington was laboring to repair the damage to the alliance caused by the personal sanctions levied by the administration on August 1 against Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, which came over their alleged role in the continued detention of Andrew Brunson. These sanctions carried the message that the United States has no intention of negotiating over the terms of release for Brunson, who was arrested over two years ago and accused of collaborating with the conspirators behind the failed coup in July 2016. Washington is demanding the immediate and unconditional release of Brunson and other U.S. citizens being held by Turkey. The Trump administration gave Turkey until August 15 to meet its terms or face new sanctions.
But the Brunson affair is only the tip of the iceberg in the cooling relations between Turkey and the United States in recent years. Turkey is still upset over what it sees as then-President Barack Obama’s failure to denounce the coup attempt and the continuing U.S. refusal to extradite the American-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan accuses of planning and initiating the coup.
Erdogan was sure that Trump, a man after his own heart whom he was quick to congratulate after his November 2016 election win, would give him what he wanted. That didn’t happen. The split widened when Trump began supporting the Kurdish militias in northern Syria, correctly seeing them as a critical force in the war against the Islamic State. Erdogan’s threats and supplications fell on deaf ears. The Kurdish militias continued to be the primary military plank of U.S. policy in Syria, enjoying monetary and military support.
Erdogan, in contrast, views the militias as terror organizations that joined up with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK — which is classified as a terror organization in Turkey. It was only after Turkey invaded Syria and captured the Kurdish province of Afrin that Ankara and Washington reached agreements on control of Manbij, after the Kurdish forces withdrew from the town and ceded it to a local council under the rule of the Turkish-sponsored Free Syrian Army.
Turkey’s announcement of its imminent purchase of Russian-made long-range S-400 ground-to-air missiles further exacerbated its relations with the United States. According to reports based on U.S. and Turkish sources, Ankara already signed the deal, worth over $2.5 billion, and the first of the missile defense systems is slated for delivery in 2020.
The diplomatic message the deal sends – that Turkey, a member of NATO, will be the first country to include Russian weapon systems in its armed forces, a move that could affect the military coordination capabilities of the alliance’s other members – overshadows its strategic significance. The U.S. pressure on Turkey to cancel the deal in favor of buying Patriot missiles from it has not yielded results so far. Turkey does not want to leave NATO, although it’s not an impossibility. Rather, it seeks to prove that it’s not in anyone’s pocket, whether it’s the Russians, the Americans or the European Union.
That’s where Erdogan’s latest terror attack on Trump’s policy comes in. The Turkish president announced that his country would not be joining the new economic sanctions against Iran that went into effect this month in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear agreement. “We buy oil from Iran and we purchase it in proper conditions. What is the other option?” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said. Turkey purchases around half of its petroleum from Iran; switching suppliers would mean increasing the amount it buys from Russia, which could end up providing some 60 percent of Turkey’s petroleum imports.
The fraught relations may resemble a chess game, but the two primary players, Trump and Erdogan, don’t have the patience or the temperament required of chess players. At the same time, they still have critical shared interests that could force a reconciliation.
Erdogan proved in his relations with Russia that he can apologize and renew ties when necessary, and Trump is known for his phenomenal ability to reverse policy decisions within days of announcing them. But reconciliation with the United States is no substitute for a Turkish economic program that could rescue the country from its financial crisis. Erdogan has the necessary political authority and backing to declare an economic emergency or to raise interest rates, as the central bank wants. The question is the degree to which he can rely on the public’s support, in light of the deep lack of confidence in the lira.
Turkey is not Iran, but the images of protests in the streets of Tehran and other cities in the wake of the fall of the rial ought to keep the president who would be king from sleeping soundly at night.

Trump needs a regional policy beyond sanctions to check Iran’s designs
Khairallah Khairallah/The Arab Weekly/August 12/18/
That US President Donald Trump reintroduced economic sanctions on Iran should be considered a turning point on regional and international levels. What’s more important, however, is for Trump to synthesise a comprehensive US approach to the entire region.
Trump has taken the right step, especially if it turns out that it wasn’t an isolated move focusing on just the situation inside Iran and not taking into account Iran’s expansionist project. We should keep in mind that this project is part of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s original Shia plan for the entire region and particularly for Iraq.
If regime change in Iran has become an urgent necessity for the Iranians themselves, it is even more urgent to change Iran’s policies in the region. When Trump invited the Iranian regime to bilateral negotiations without preconditions, it was a smart move. Tehran could only refuse the offer because it realised it had two conditions of its own for any dialogue with the United States. The first such condition is related to Hezbollah, which Iran considers its best achievement since 1979.
Hezbollah is not just another political party in Lebanon. It is also a self-contained standing army in the service of Iran. Hezbollah made Beirut an Iranian media base. Most of the satellite channels used by Iran to pursue its objective of destabilising the region broadcast from Beirut. One example is Al Masirah, which belongs to the Houthis in Yemen but broadcasts from Beirut.
What is required of Iran is necessarily to change its state regime. To conclude that there are positive signs from Tehran, all Iran has to do is become a “normal” state concerned with its internal affairs and leave those of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen alone.
What we’re talking about represents the challenge facing the Trump administration. Trump should have gone beyond economic sanctions and pressured Iran into changing its policies on the regional level.
Some in Washington might say that there is no need to waste effort to counter Iranian influence outside Iran itself and that it is better to choke it from inside. They say there will be no need for further steps on the regional level since Iran is going to be kept busy limiting damage caused by the sanctions.
Such a view belittles the Iranian regime’s capacity to resist and counterattack. For that regime, the first line of defence in ensuring its survival is to foray head first outside Iranian borders.
There is a need for a comprehensive American approach to the problems in the region stretching from Bab el Mandeb Strait north to Iraq and east to the Gulf region. To understand how the United States had come to giving Iran leeway in the region, return to the periods of US Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.
The United States stood helpless when the Iranian revolution held its diplomats hostage for 444 days starting in November 1979. Iran’s appetite for more American shame grew out of proportion and led to a series of suicide bombings of US facilities in Lebanon. The US Embassy in Beirut was bombed in April 1983 and the US Marines’ headquarters near Beirut’s International Airport was hit in November that year. Battered and bruised, the Americans withdrew their troops from Beirut and Iran had a field day in Lebanon.
Since that fateful year, Iran has been chipping away at Lebanon, its people and its institutions. We have reached conditions in Lebanon such that Iran could boast through its al-Quds Force Major-General Qassem Soleimani that Tehran controls a comfortable majority in the Lebanese parliament.
Soleimani claimed that 74 out of the 128 representatives in the parliament were loyal to Iran. None of those individuals dared contradict him and Iran continues to block the process of forming a new government. So, considering the economic crisis choking the country, is Lebanon doomed?
Lebanon is not alone in suffering from Iranian hegemony. Iraq has seen worse. Nobody knows how long Iraq will last without a government. There, too, the Iranians were given a free hand by the Americans who pulled out militarily from the country in 2010. At that time, US President Barack Obama was obsessed with accomodating Iran.
Everywhere in the Middle East, the Americans backed down to Iranian hegemony so Iran decided to reach all the way to Yemen. Its proxy agents there, the Houthis, are threatening international sea lanes through Bab el Mandeb Strait.
The Americans also backed down in Syria and allowed pro-Iranian militias to come and go as they wished. Nobody really knows if Iran will give in to the Russian-Israeli demand to keep 100km off the Golan Heights.
The US sanctions on Iran will have an effect but when? As everybody awaits regime change in Iran, which will come sooner or later, more damage will be inflicted on Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
As a superpower, the United States will eventually beat Iran at this waiting game but there will always be this nagging question: Why doesn’t the United States have a comprehensive approach to the Middle East and its repetitive crises and to its confrontation with Iran?
A comprehensive approach to the problems of the Middle East would spare the local populations many a hardship, especially in Syria where Iranian hatred to everything that is Arab is destroying the country.
*Khairallah Khairallah is a Lebanese writer.

Tehran’s ‘proxy model’ faces new constraints
Mark Habeeb/The Arab Weekly/August 12/18/
Ever since the Iranian revolution in 1979, Tehran’s leaders have employed proxy forces — often insurgent groups and terrorist organisations — to advance the Islamic Republic’s regional objectives. Initially, the Iranian Revolution advocated “Muslim unity” and attempted to position itself as the leader of all Muslims in the anti-US and anti-imperialistic struggle.
However, Alex Vatanka, a senior fellow at Washington’s Middle East Institute, said that following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and Iran’s subsequent involvement in the civil wars in Iraq and Syria, Tehran increasingly has pursued a sectarian agenda by supporting primarily Shia proxies. Vatanka details his findings in “The Emergence of Iran’s ‘Proxy Model,’” a study released by the Middle East Institute.
Iran’s use of proxy forces since 1979 has not been a consistent practice. Vatanka said that after the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989, Tehran reconsidered the proxy model and the 1990s saw an Iranian retrenchment in the region.
Then, in 2003, came the US-led invasion of Iraq and overthrow of Saddam Hussein, which “catalysed a sudden power vacuum in that country.” This created a tempting opportunity, especially for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). “After 2003,” Vatanka writes, “Iran’s IRGC stepped quickly in to identify and cultivate what is in Persian referred to as the ‘goro-haaye vije,’ or ‘special groups’ — Arabs and other non-Iranians — who would become the Islamic Republic’s foot soldiers.”
When civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, Tehran applied the template it developed in Iraq as it “bolstered local non-state militant actors as its foot soldiers in the broader fight for influence,” Vatanka said. In Syria, Tehran also had the advantage of being on the same side as the regime and, later, of Moscow.
There was one key difference in Iran’s involvement in Syria compared to Iraq, writes Vatanka: “The major departure in Syria, when compared to the situation in Iraq, was the need for Iran to bring in droves of non-locals — such as Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis and Hezbollah from Lebanon — to fight under Iranian leadership to keep the Assad regime from collapse,” he said.
Vatanka suggests that Tehran has had a harder time selling to the Iranian people why Syria is a national security issue, which was a much easier argument to make when the fighting was in neighbouring Iraq. As a result, Iranian leaders have been careful to limit Iranian casualties and rely even more on proxy forces to do the fighting.
Because both the Iraqi and Syrian civil wars quickly took on a sectarian nature, Iran has found itself no longer posing as the revolutionary vanguard for all Muslims. Its proxies are almost solely Shia forces or at least non-Sunni forces such as the Houthis in Yemen.
As a result, Iran’s broader revolutionary message has diminished. Tehran is no longer viewed, for example, as a key supporter of the Palestinians’ struggle against Israel.
Vatanka said he does not believe that Iran purposefully chose to express its revolutionary fervour in sectarian terms. Rather, the situations in Iraq and Syria, along with broader instability throughout the region after the “Arab spring,” created an environment in which “Tehran’s reliance on Shia militant groups is where it has found the most return for its investments.”
Vatanka argues that “Tehran will continue to look for ways to break its image as a ‘Shia power,’ which inherently limits its ability to manoeuvre.” However, outside of on-and-off again support for Hamas, it is hard to see how Iran can retreat from the sectarian fight.
The forecast, Vatanka said, was for more of the same: “The proxy model approach has overall been successful for Iran. Unless its costs outweigh the benefits, no major shift in this policy can be expected while Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei remains the decisive voice in policymaking in Tehran.”
It is yet to be seen whether the Trump administration’s resumption of harsh sanctions on Iran will put a brake on its ability to conduct war by proxy.
If Vatanka is correct, the sectarian dimension of regional conflicts in the region will continue and perhaps even grow. In the meantime, Vatanka counsels Iran’s Sunni competitors, especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, “to continue to appeal to non-Islamist Shia Arabs. The policy of treating all Shia, regardless of their political persuasions, as Iranian proxies badly backfired.”
*Mark Habeeb is East-West editor of The Arab Weekly and adjunct professor of Global Politics and Security at Georgetown University in Washington.

Deadly conflict brews within Coptic Church in Egypt’s Wadi al-Natroun
Sonia Farid/Al Arabiya English/August 12/18
In the early hours of July 29, Bishop Epiphanius, Abbot of Saint Macarius the Great Monastery in Wadi al-Natroun, was found dead in a hallway inside the monastery.
The 64-year-old bishop was lying in a pool of blood and investigations revealed he was hit on the head with a heavy object.
Coptic monk Isaiah al-Makari was accused of the murder has been detained and will remain in custody for four days pending investigations into the suspicious death of a bishop, his lawyer said on Saturday.
On August 2, the Coptic Orthodox Church issued a number of decrees concerning monastic life. These included giving monks one month to close all their accounts on social networking websites—the Pope starting by closing his Facebook page—and not accepting new monks for one year in all monasteries across the nation. The church also warned monks of appearing in the media, being involved in any financial interactions or taking part in any projects without the prior approval of their respective monasteries, getting out of their monasteries without reason, or receiving visitors without permission.
The 64-year-old bishop was lying in a pool of blood and investigations revealed he was hit on the head with a heavy object. (Facebook)
On August 5, the church announced the defrocking of Makari, a young monk at the same monastery, for “committing inappropriate behavior that contradicts monastic behavior,” yet no further details were released. On August 6, a young monk called Fatlaous al-Makari slit his wrist and jumped off a high building also in the same monastery and was taken to hospital. Finding it hard to dismiss a connection between the three incidents, questions about a conflict within the Coptic Orthodox Church seem rather inevitable.
Father Boulos Halim, the spokesman of the Coptic Church, said that no one inside or outside the monastery has been officially charge and denied that the defrocking is related to the murder. “Isaiah al-Makari was questioned by the Monastic Affairs Committee at the Holy Synod early this year and a decision to send him away from the monastery was issued because of issues pertaining to monastic laws,” he said. Halim added that several of Makari’s fellow monks signed a petition that requested forgiving him and they pledged that his behavior would change. “The petition was submitted to the late Bishop Epiphanius, who in turn submitted it to the pope recommending that he accepts it. Makari was forgiven and stayed at the monastery, yet unfortunately his behavior did not change, which drove the committee to finally defrocking him.” Halim did not, however, specify what this “behavior” was.
Past conflicts
However, it was hard for many to overlook the possible link between past conflicts within the Coptic Church, in which the monastery of Saint Macarius the Great featured prominently, and the current developments. Journalist Maged Atef comments on the latest incidents bring back to the surface the long disagreement between the late Pope Shenouda III and Father Matta al-Meskin, the late abbot of the monastery.
“The two men adopted different views on the role of the church. While Shenouda worked on consolidating ties between the church and the state, al-Meskin believed that the church’s role should only be spiritual,” he wrote. “Al-Meskin was also more open to reconciliation with other sects than Shenouda who was quite hostile to the West, hence its churches, and was more affected by Gamal Abdel Nasser’s nationalist discourse.” While the conflict started at an earlier stage, it escalated remarkably after Shenouda had taken office as the Patriarch and started launching a campaign against al-Meskin.
“This campaign, carried out by Shenouda’s supporters, focused on accusing al-Meskin of heresy and discrediting all the studies he conducted on Coptic Orthodoxy and monastic life,” Atef explained, adding that al-Meskin’s books were banned from all libraries affiliated to the church. Matta al-Meskin, on the other hand, retired to the monastery and there attracted a large number of disciples who subscribed to his views. “This drove Shenouda to send more of his supporters to the monastery, which therefore became the center of the conflict.”
It is noteworthy that Bishop Epiphanius was among the supporters of Matta al-Meskin while both Isaiah al-Makari and Fatlaous al-Makari belong to the more conservative school led by Pope Shenouda.
Conflicts within the monastery
According to journalist Tamer Hendawi, the circumstances surrounding the murder of Bishop Epiphanius link it to the conflicts within the monastery. “The bishop was killed on his way from his room to the church, which makes it more likely that the killer is from inside the monastery,” he wrote. Hendawi added that in monasteries only monks are allowed in and a very limited number of workers. “As for visits, they are preplanned and are not frequent.” Hendawi added that for years that monastery has been divided between supporters of two different schools and the disputes escalated in the years between the death of Matta al-Meskin in 2006 and the death of Shenouda in 2012. “When Pope Shenouda visited the monastery in 2009, then Abbot Bishop Mikhail submitted his resignation. During this visit, Pope Shenouda made the monks wear a coif and Matta al-Meskin was against that and spent all his monastic life without wearing one.”
Hendawi notes that the escalation of tension in the monastery drove Bishop to go back to managing the monastery. “Yet as soon as Pope Tawadros II took office, Mikhail asked to be relieved of his duties and this is when Bishop Epiphanius was chosen.” Hendawi also points out the decision to close all monks’ accounts on social media is another proof that the conflict is related to recent developments. “Closing those accounts was obviously a means of avoiding further tension between the two camps in the monastery and preventing this tension from coming out to the public.”
Writer Shadi Luis notes that the monastery of Saint Macarius the Great has always been a symbol of rebelling against the authorities since Byzantine times and argues that while there is no proof that the latest incidents are linked to past disputes, they at least highlight the fact that the monastery of Saint Macarius the Great is still a center of such conflict.
“And regardless of what investigations would prove, the church is likely to use the murder as a pretext for subjugating all forms of rebellion and for which the monastery has for years been a symbol,” he wrote, adding that the monastery on the other hand will try as hard as it can to maintain the independence it managed to gain throughout the years.
Despite the fact that Pope Tawadros II is considered a reformist who to a great extent subscribes to many of Matta al-Meskin’s ideas, Luis argues that he is more likely to continue the work of his predecessors as far as centralizing the power of the Coptic Church is concerned. “The pope will work on becoming the sole representative of the Copts on both the spiritual and political levels and will be supported in that by the state as well as by the general political atmosphere,” he added. “If this happens, it will put an end to a history of rebellion within Coptic Christianity, one that actually goes back to the fourth century AD and that was always epitomized by the monastery of Saint Macarius the Great.”

Europe’s dangerous illusions about Iran
Amir Taheri/Al Arabiya/August 12/18
It was an almost surrealistic scene the other day when the European Union’s foreign relations spokeswoman Federica Mogherini traveled halfway around the world to New Zealand to lobby for “continued trade with the Islamic Republic of Iran” in defiance of sanctions re-imposed by US President Donald Trump.
Here was an official of a bloc of democracies supposedly allied to the United States not only criticizing an American policy, something quite legitimate, but inviting others to oppose it with full resolve. Almost on the same day Alistair Burt, the minister in charge of the Middle East in the British Foreign Office, told BBC Radio 4 that the United Kingdom, still part of the EU, was adopting a similar position against Trump’s move.
By re-imposing some of the sanctions imposed by four of his predecessors, Trump may have been impolitic or provocative. But he has betrayed no signature and violated no treaty. All he has done is refusing to continue suspending some sanctions as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama had done before him
Other European Union officials have also expressed similar views. The problem is that they don’t really know what they are talking about.
Illegitimate intervention
To start with, they all insist that the so-called “nuke deal” concocted by former US President Barack Obama is inviolable because, in Mogherini’s words, the EU must “honor its signature.” However, the EU never signed the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), nor did anyone else. There is no signature to honor or not.
In any case, though hovering on the sidelines like a ghost, the EU was never part of the negotiations that took place between Iran on one hand and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany on the other.
Moreover, the so-called 5+1 group that negotiated with the Islamic Republic was an informal group with absolutely no legal existence and certainly no legally binding mission and no mechanism for enforcing its decisions and answerability.
If Mogherini and Alistair Burt are serious in their campaign in favor of the JCPOA they should re-write it in the form of a treaty signed by EU members and ratified by their respective parliaments or at least the EU’s Council of Ministers. Even then, for JCPOA to acquire some legal dignity it would have to be re-written in the form of an act of parliament and submitted to the Islamic Majlis in Tehran for proper ratification according to the Iranian Constitution, something that the Islamic government is loathing to do.
All of that would require an agreement on a single official version of the deal, which means discarding the various English and Persian versions in circulation.
By re-imposing some of the sanctions imposed by four of his predecessors, Trump may have been impolitic or provocative. But he has betrayed no signature and violated no treaty. All he has done is refusing to continue suspending some sanctions as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama had done before him.
Other factors point to EU’s hypocrisy in this matter.
With the re-imposition of American sanctions, thousands of firms trading with both Iran and the US would face a dilemma: which of the two markets do they choose? It is not in the EU’s mandate to resolve that dilemma for them. So far, and at least two years after the ”nuke deal” was unveiled, European firms are not quite sure how or even if they can treat the Islamic Republic as a normal trading partner. Nor has the EU’s lobbying for the mullahs persuaded them to free a dozen European Union citizens still held hostage in Tehran about whom neither Mogherini nor Burt ever make a noise.
If sincere, the EU could use a range of tools at its disposal to encourage at least some firms to continue trading with Iran in areas affected by the re-imposed sanctions. Four-fifths of Iran’s trade with the EU bloc is with Germany, France, the UK and Italy. All those countries have well-established mechanisms for export protection but none is prepared to use them in support of trading with Iran. Interestingly, some of the sanctions that the EU is still keeping in place against Iran are tougher than those re-imposed by Trump.
Leaving all that aside, the EU’s Trump-bashing on the issue will not change some facts. Even supposing the EU did something to render the re-imposed American sanctions less painful or utterly ineffective the concerns that Trump has raised about aspects of Tehran’s behavior would remain worthy of consideration by Europeans.
Shouldn’t one try to persuade or force Tehran to stop “exporting revolution” i.e. terror? Doesn’t peace and stability in the Middle East benefit from an end to Tehran’s meddling in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain, not to mention Afghanistan and Pakistan? Would it not be a good thing if the present rulers in Tehran allowed the Iranian people a greater space for self-expression and participation in shaping their nation’s destiny?
The EU could play a positive role by acting as a broker between Iran and the US rather than go for empty diplomatic gesticulations. The EU should seek to persuade Iran that its traditional cheat-and-retreat strategy peaked out under Obama and its pursuit would only lead to disaster.
Obama encouraged the mullahs in their reckless strategy by supposedly granting them “the right to enrich uranium” as Islamic Foreign Minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif goes around boasting. However, all nations have the right to enrich uranium if they so wish or even to build nuclear weapons.
The mullahs wanted another “victory over the Infidel” and Obama gave them the illusion of one through secret negotiations in Oman. Obama’s behavior persuaded the mullahs that regardless of what mischief they may make at home or abroad no one would make them pay a price for it.
Even better, a faux anti-American profile might give a morally bankrupt and repressive regime some prestige in parts of the world where anti-Americanism is the last refuge of every scoundrel. In a talk in New York in 2016, Zarif noted that without its “anti-Imperialist” profile the Islamic Republic would be “just another Pakistan”, which in his world view means a nobody.
Trump isn’t repeating Obama’s mistake by getting involved in secret shenanigans favored by the mullahs; he is playing above board. His message is, behave differently and you shall be treated differently.
That may or may not be the right policy, but it is at least a policy. The EU, on the other hand, has no policy on Iran apart from using it as an excuse for a little bit of Trump-bashing, a favorite global sport these days.

Iran’s mullahs and the orphan regime

Abdullah bin Bijad Al-Otaibi/Al Arabiya/August 12/18
Has US President Donald Trump’s position on Iran changed? Has he demolished his stated strategy as well as the statements of his senior administration officials, abandoned the conditions set by his foreign affairs minister and set closed doors and dead-end paths before the Iranian regime, the biggest sponsor of terrorism in the world?
These questions were raised by some observers in the past phase.
The answer to these questions is simple; no such thing has happened. President Trump’s recent offer is part of his strategy and vision in dealing with the Iranian regime. The Iranian regime is required to change its evil behavior, either under the threat of force or through sanctions that make it conform to international laws. The extent of these sanctions’ strength and cruelty will specify the time needed to subjugate the regime, and this is what Trump has said more than once, that the Iranian regime should change its behavior, and that sanctions will force it to change and the Iranians will want to negotiate sooner or later.
Common stand
The truth is that this is a desire shared by Saudi Arabia and its allies in the region in their confrontation of the Iranian regime and its destructive policies in the region. The Iranian regime should end its illegitimate interference in four Arab countries: Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and should also look after its people’s interests, and if it does not, it would be forced to do so, as was famously stated by the Saudi Crown Prince.
Despite its statements of defiance, the Iranian regime is desperately seeking to communicate with Washington. The US also welcomes any communication as long as it leads to the Iranian regime’s compliance. Messages are exchanged, some of which have been made public while others were not. However, all of them are in the same direction. The Iranian regime uses ideology and sectarianism in its expansionist project in the region but it had previously dealt with the country it calls ‘Great Satan’ and other countries which it opposes via its slogans so why would it be different this time?
The Iraqi people have risen up against Iran and its agents in the country, on politicians, parties and militias in all parts of the country and mostly in the south
The popular discontent against the mullahs’ regime has reached an unprecedented level. The Supreme Leader and the Revolutionary Guards — the two most powerful bodies in the Iranian regime — are unable to see the strength, depth, and expansion of this discontent which is increasing and which will further increase due to the new sanctions.
The imposed sanctions and the sanctions which will be imposed in the coming months all aim to weaken the regime’s economy and its ability to meet internal commitments and resume external adventures. The Iranian regime would thus have two options. The first one is reverting to the concerns of the Iranian people and looking after their interests, not out of its desire to serve its people or make them happy but out of fear of a major revolution that it cannot confront and which may lead to its fall. The second one is to continue spreading destruction in the region and the world and this will subject it to more sanctions and increase the world’s awareness about the past 40 years during which this radical regime supported all kinds of terrorism – and in the end it will lose and suffer on several counts.
Iran’s proxies suffer
After North Korea’s bid to make a historical reconciliation with the world, the Iranian regime will become an orphan in the world with no one like it. The evil regime that’s internationally been outcast will have no supporters. All its tricks are exposed, and it would not benefit from playing the game of vacillating between the so-called reformists and hardliners. The world now knows very well that the Iranian regime does not have any moderates, as they are all hardliners with varying degrees.
Iran’s wings in the region are also suffering. The Iraqi people have risen up against Iran and its agents in the country, on politicians, parties and militias in all parts of the country and mostly in the south. This uprising is supported by the traditional reference in Iraq which represents the opposite of the reference of Vilayat-e Faqih which has been modernized at the hands of Khomeini and Khamenei after him. Iran’s militias in Syria are suffering a lot from the repeated Israeli targeting, from the regime’s desire to abandon them and from the ability of any Russian-American understandings to undermine them and lead to their expulsion from Syria.
Similar reversals now face the terrorist Hezbollah militia in Lebanon, which has hijacked the Lebanese state and which commits murder and massacres against the Syrian people. The party’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah admitted that the group’s wages, expenses, food and drink come from the regime in Tehran. Drug trafficking will not be enough for Hezbollah to cover the financial shortages that may happen after sanctions are fully re-instated on the Iranian regime.
The Houthi militia in Yemen might be the foremost of these Iranian affiliates to succumb from this pressure because it will face what similar militias are facing in the three mentioned countries and it’s also confronting an Arab alliance that has already regained legitimate control over large tracts of Yemen and which is winning every day and not losing. The Houthi militia is only holding on to what it has but it’s not regaining any liberated land. It’s facing a strong Yemeni army, an effective Yemeni resistance and a victorious Arab alliance on all fronts. All its practices are internationally condemned, while it keeps killing civilians and bombing markets as it did in Hodeidah earlier this month.
There are two clear military approaches in Yemen since the launch of ‘Operation Decisive Storm’. The first approach is that of the Yemeni state, the Yemeni army and the alliance and which is fully committed to the international law in all respects. The second approach is that of the Houthi militia and which violates international laws and commits crimes and atrocities. Any observer of what is happening in Yemen since the beginning of the war can easily see who is responsible for incidents like the Hodeidah bombing, the murder of civilians and the use of civilians as human shields.
The Iranian currency has fallen to its worst level. This is drastically affecting the Iranian economy. This fall has occurred before all sanctions are fully re-instated. The regime is incapable of waging a military war to escape from internal problems and is incapable of convincing its people that it cares for their interests or defends their rights.
These are two major failures that would make a huge impact in forcing the regime to obediently return to the international community and force it to fully comply with international laws and end its major adventures of sabotage and destruction and permanently betting on terrorism, whether Sunni and Shiite, and which it has done ever since the mullahs’ revolution in 1979 until today.
In the end, no one thinks that the Iranian regime will change overnight but after the strict sanctions, it will find itself obliged to change its behavior and policies and it will reluctantly give up its ambitions and delusions. It’s only a matter of time.

Human development precedes democracy
Mohammed Al Shaikh/Al Arabiya/August 12/18
Democracy is not always the perfect solution in relations between government and the people and as long as societies do not have their most important elements in place: individualism and abandoning sectarian and tribal affiliations.
Sectarian voting
When sectarian and tribal people vote for a candidate, they don’t choose him because they think he is the best and the most capable of politically and economically leading the country. They vote to whoever represents the group, whether on a religious sectarian level or an ethnic and tribal level. I am totally convinced that societies which believe in tribal or sectarian affiliations as a primary identity before individualism will most likely lead to social unrest where the majority, whether sectarian or tribal, deprives the minorities that are different from them of their rights.
This may develop into a civil war, which only God knows its duration. That’s why I fully believe that human development and freeing an individual of his or her inherited sectarian or tribal affiliations are an essential condition which democracy cannot be achieved without.
Failed states
The Arab revolutions, which President Obama called the Arab Spring and appointed Qatar to foment through its funds and media led to a lot of bloodshed, massacres and human and financial disasters, which continue till today.
Qarar is a small state that’s limited in population and geography and if we take it as an example and if Hamad bin Khalifa – who sponsored the so-called Arab Spring – establishes democracy there as the media he backs demands and holds elections, tribal affiliations will play a key role in empowering this or that tribe. This would be for reasons based on the candidate’s tribal affiliations and not on his competence. In fact of all Gulf countries, Qatar is the one where the majority of its small population has tribal affiliations.
Libya is another example. The war that broke out there after the fall of President Gaddafi is going on between different tribes and groups with different religious ideologies. They seek with the force of arms to possess power either for religious reasons, like the Muslim Brotherhood, or for tribal motives. I do not think that Libya would end up democratic even if the war continues for another 100 years unless one of the contenders imposes himself by the power of arms and exclude others.
Corruption in democracies
The West along with some Arab intellectuals still believes that democracy offers the best solution for Arab countries. They overlook the mindset of Arabs who give priority to sectarian and tribal loyalty over national loyalty. All experiences which tried a democratic solution have failed drastically, and many such states have ended up among the most corrupt countries, as is confirmed by Transparency International.
Iraq which is an oil-rich country that enjoys resources which other countries do not have and which also has a proud historical heritage is an example. It is suffering form from corruption, insecurity and several more of the era’s maladies. On the other hand, Gulf countries, primarily Saudi Arabia and the UAE, had never claimed to be democratic and despite that their people are reconciled with their leaders. These countries also enjoy security, stability and relative welfare especially when compared to Iraq that has similar economic resources. If things are measured in terms of outcomes, why have Gulf States succeeded without democracy, while states that imported democracy from the West failed?
Thus, we must be convinced of a truth which stipulates that human development, educating the individual and strengthening individualism come first. When Arabs get rid of sectarian or tribal tendencies, then it may be possible for one to think of the democratic solution as a way to regulate the social contract between the government and the governed.

Ordinary people pay the price for Tehran’s support of Assad
الدكتور ماجد ربيزاده: الناس العاديين هم من يدفع ثمن مساندة إيران للأسد

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/August 12/18
It is ironic how history can surprise many historians, scholars, politicians and policy analysts. When the uprising began in Syria in 2011, many world leaders and experts predicted that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime was on the verge of collapse. They most likely drew their conclusions from the historic developments that occurred in other Arab countries such as Egypt, Libya and Tunisia during the Arab Spring.
World leaders such as the former US President Barack Obama, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former British Prime Minister David Cameron appeared to contend that Assad’s fall was “only a matter of time.” Hence, they famously called for the Syrian president to step down. But, after more than seven years of civil war, the Syrian regime has survived and it is widely perceived that Assad has come out of the conflict triumphant. In fact, in the last few months, after Assad recaptured the last major stronghold of the rebels in the suburbs of Damascus, and after their surrender in the city of Daraa (which was the birthplace of the popular uprising), Israel recently announced that the Syrian civil war had effectively came to an end. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told reporters last week: “From our perspective, the situation is returning to how it was before the civil war, meaning there is a real address, someone responsible, and central rule.”
Nevertheless, it is worth noting that suppressing most of the rebellion, recapturing major cities and rebel holdouts, and maintaining control in Damascus was not simply a result of luck for Assad and his loyalists.
The external dimension of the Syrian civil war played a far-reaching role in the Assad regime’s fate. To put it simply, the hesitation, lack of coordination and unification, in addition to the reluctance of Assad’s external enemies to enact a firm policy against the Syrian regime, combined with the commitment, determination and political willpower of Assad’s allies to sustain his grip on power, ultimately tipped the balance of power in favor of Assad’s Alawite-dominated state. A game-changer for Damascus was the extensive role that its staunchest geopolitical, ideological and strategic ally — the Iranian regime — has fulfilled.
At the beginning, Tehran only provided advisory assistance and moral support to the Syrian regime. Subsequently, specifically during 2012 and 2013, when Assad’s forces showed weakness and lost several major battles and territories to the opposition and rebel groups, Iran ratcheted up its involvement. At this point, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei instructed the government to provide military, intelligence and economic assistance to Assad. Iranian leaders across the political spectrum — moderates, hard-liners and principlists — also reached a consensus by unanimously calling for more robust support to defend their ally.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its elite branch, the Quds Force, which conducts military and ideological operations in foreign countries, dispatched low-level soldiers as well as senior military generals to Syria. In addition, Iran used Hezbollah, Shiite militias from across the region, and recruited fighters from other countries such as Afghanistan to fight in Syria alongside Assad’s forces.
From both the Iranian leaders and Assad’s perspectives, they have finally emerged as winners of the seven-year-old civil war, although violence and brute force was deployed and nearly half a million of people, including thousands of children, have been killed
More importantly, as inflation skyrocketed in Syria and the regime lost revenue due to the war, as well as regional and international sanctions, Iran did not hesitate to open the doors of its nation’s treasury to fulfill Assad’s economic needs. Iran spent roughly $16 billion a year to support Assad. Tehran also opened a credit line for Damascus and continued to extend it — it has now reached over $3 billion. With such strong financial and military support, Iran has deeply infiltrated the political, military and security structures of Syria.
From both the Iranian leaders and Assad’s perspectives, they have finally emerged as winners of the seven-year-old civil war, although violence and brute force was deployed and nearly half a million of people, including thousands of children, have been killed. The Iranian regime celebrated accomplishing its mission as Assad regained control of most territories.
But what Iran’s leaders did not predict was the unintended consequences of their unequivocal support for Assad and his forces. As the Tehran regime hemorrhaged $100 billion of the nation’s wealth in order to keep Assad and his Alawite-dominated state in power, its own citizens suffered dramatically. The financial situation for ordinary Iranian people became unbearable; the unemployment rate increased, inflation rose, and millions of people could no longer make ends meet.
If the Iranian leaders had invested the billions of dollars that they used to save Assad on creating jobs at home and improving the economy, they would not be facing nationwide protests.
The irony is that Assad may have won the civil war with the assistance of Iran, but now Tehran is in deep turmoil. But the difference is that Assad is not in a position to reciprocate Tehran’s favor and come to its aid, since he is presiding over a battered and war-torn country.
*Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh

The media is wrong — Trump is not tough enough on Iran
Baria Alamuddin/Arab News/August 12/18
Sometimes the world’s media resembles a giant echo chamber. A high proportion of the liberal media is consumed by endless criticism of President Donald Trump’s divisive policies — often justifiably. So with Trump reimposing sanctions on Tehran, this vast media machine has steamrolled ahead, thoughtlessly denouncing Trump’s “tough” position against Iran. We are treated to TV debate shows without any debate: Participants simply take turns repetitively and tediously arguing that the nuclear deal seemed to be working fine, and “Trump’s approach will only undermine Iran’s moderates.”
Meanwhile — instead of working with America to create a workable successor deal — Europe is vigorously trying to appease Tehran and subvert US efforts, dreaming up a bizarre framework for conferring anti-sanctions protection for Western firms who have mostly been smart enough to interpret the wind direction and exit the Iranian economy as fast as possible.
The fundamental problem is what the nuclear deal didn’t cover: Namely, the ballistic program, the long-term future of Iran’s nuclear program, and the unleashing of paramilitary hordes across the region to sabotage the governing systems of Middle Eastern states. Why is the latter point consistently ignored by the Western media?
Iran’s paramilitary proxies strategy is arguably an outgrowth of Western pressure on the nuclear program. During the 1980s, revolutionary Iran bankrolled paramilitary forces almost literally everywhere: Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, etc. However, after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s death, it was the “pragmatists” – Ali Khamenei and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani — who curtailed this activity, allowing Iran to rebuild after the catastrophic war with Iraq.
Sanctions are necessary. Yet, despite the accumulation of international sanctions after 2005, Iran’s paramilitary spending similarly mushroomed; partly because the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps filled its coffers through monopolizing sanctions-evading networks in oil, heavy arms, narcotics and basic goods
We now know that Supreme Leader Khamenei, the “pragmatist,” spent the 1990s quietly pursuing breakout nuclear capacity so Tehran could menace its enemies — America, Israel, Europe, and the Gulf Cooperation Council states — with nuclear holocaust. When this program was discovered in 2003, Khamenei was forced to shelve his frenzied ambitions for nuclear apocalypse. So, in order to retain his warmongering abilities, Khamenei dusted off Khomeini’s revolutionary blueprint for a transnational proxy army of brainwashed militants based on the hugely successful model of Hezbollah, which today outguns the Lebanese state itself.
Within a couple of years, Khamenei’s lieutenant, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, had armed and trained Iraqi Shiite militants for staging thousands of attacks against American, British and Iraqi forces, causing hundreds of fatalities. Then came the Syrian uprising, where around 60,000 proxies have retained Bashar Assad in power as an Iranian puppet. Iran, likewise, armed various parties in Afghanistan, while cashing in on the lucrative opium trade. In Yemen, Houthi terrorists rain down Iranian missiles upon Saudi Arabia and menace the globally crucial Bab Al-Mandab Strait. Iran, meanwhile, has sought to exacerbate religious and political tensions throughout the Middle East and North Africa, while its arms smuggling networks penetrated deep into the African continent.
Sanctions are necessary. Yet, despite the accumulation of international sanctions after 2005, Iran’s paramilitary spending similarly mushroomed; partly because the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps filled its coffers through monopolizing sanctions-evading networks in oil, heavy arms, narcotics and basic goods. The IRGC reinforced its stranglehold on the economy while ordinary Iranians suffered.
During the 1980s, the Western media portrayed Khomeini as a deranged, bloodthirsty demagogue, while Khamenei was widely viewed as a pragmatic voice of reason. Today we have Hassan Rouhani and Mohammed Javad Zarif providing the “reformist” facade. Yet, from the earliest days of the revolution, Rouhani, alongside Khamenei, was a quintessential regime insider. Instead of meeting America halfway, Rouhani is today escalating his anti-Western rhetoric and winning plaudits from Soleimani and Khamenei.
What would be the point of negotiating with Rouhani, when the so-called president isn’t sufficiently senior to be properly briefed about Khamenei and Soleimani’s bellicose regional strategy? The presidency is a smiling facade for a repressive and hated terrorist regime. Let’s not kid ourselves.
By trying to honor a deal that is already dead, Europe is undermining any hope of a holistic and enforceable containment program against Iran. Meanwhile, China, Russia and India will happily circumvent American efforts and provide Iran’s economy with back-door funds.
Yet Trump himself lacks a coherent Iran containment strategy. I doubt he clearly understands who the Hezbollah Brigades, Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq and the Houthis are, despite these factions threatening to attack American assets. Nevertheless, some officials driving Trump’s policies comprehend Iranian meddling all too well. Defence Secretary James Mattis was on the ground in Iraq when US troops were being slaughtered by Iranian munitions. Mattis spent the past decade having his stark warnings of Iranian aggression being completely ignored by the Obama administration.
Sanctions ratchet up the pressure, but they are a blunt instrument that often produce perverse results — not least enriching the IRGC and paramilitary factions. If Trump has the stomach for confronting this militia menace, he must stop hinting about quitting Syria and block their further expansion, while working with allies to ensure that militants cannot dominate Iraq’s forthcoming government. He must assist the GCC coalition in halting Iran’s pipeline of heavy munitions to the Houthis. Trump likes quick, easy wins — but there is no cheap win against Iran. Tehran is patient, tenacious and single-minded in building up its war-making assets across the region, until one day we wake up and it is the sole dominant force on the field.
Instead of castigating Trump for being mean to nice Mr. Rouhani, the world’s media must take a hard look at what Iran is actually doing — and then criticize Trump for not going far enough in devising an all-encompassing strategy to stop Tehran in its tracks. Only this can prevent the Arabian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean from becoming Iranian zones of control, from which Iran can menace the global economy — with equally catastrophic consequences to the ayatollahs having been allowed to possess a nuclear bomb in the first place.
*Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.

A choice between reform, adjustment and self-sabotage: Tehran considers its options

Raghida Dergham/The National/August 12/18
What will Iran do now? It is difficult to answer this question, not only because its leadership has been left scrambling by US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal and the re-imposition of crippling sanctions but also because it has very limited and costly options, which all carry fateful implications for the future of the Iranian project – from its insistence on exporting its revolutionary ideology to the geographical consolidation between Tehran and Beirut, through Baghdad and Damascus.
Clearly the US president’s policy of bringing Iran to its knees with economic pressure has started to succeed. But what is less clear is whether this policy will tame the regime and convince its leaders to change their behaviour or whether it will lead to new deals that were not possible before Mr Trump’s painful blow.
The statements coming out of Iran suggest its seasoned leaders have understood the gravity of Mr Trump’s renouncement of his predecessor’s policy and that they have taken stock of the need to rein in their expansionism in the region, especially in Yemen. For the Trump administration, targeting the stability of the US’s allies in the Gulf has become a red line, contrary to the equation under Barack Obama, who made overtures to Tehran at the expense of those alliances.
Experienced diplomats and politicians in the Iranian regime have thus started to indicate they might be willing to mend relations. However, these pragmatists in the Iranian regime do not fully control the decision-makers and have to contend with the hardliners, who fear existential challenges that threaten the survival of the regime and its core ideology. They believe that any concessions today will wipe out yesterday’s gains and preclude the ambitions of tomorrow.
Other hardliners are driven by the pulse of the people, whose protests have so far not formed a critical mass. For now, demonstrations remain confined to the middle classes, intellectuals and women.
If we were to simplify things, we would say first that the Iranian domestic crisis could become a fateful showdown for the regime and second, that the internal conflict is not between reformists and hardliners but is in fact within each of these two camps. There are calls for the reformist president Hassan Rouhani, a cleric, to step down, including by former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian parliament impeached the minister of labour, Ali Rabiei, as unemployment soared and living standards fell. It was a clear blow to Mr Rouhani. Mr Rabiei blamed the government, parliament and the judiciary for the country's economic collapse, clashing with parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani.
Meanwhile, the Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is facing questions and mounting criticism regarding the vast sums of money it is spending on its ventures in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. People are on the verge of panic as the currency collapses and major companies flee to avoid US sanctions, with a large share of wealth in Iran set to evaporate as the nation returns to regional and international isolation.
Yet the impression we get from Iran is that no one has a solution. The IRGC cannot pretend to have the keys to the government in Iran, not simply because Qassem Soleimani is no longer a national hero but because even his Quds Force cannot disobey the government’s orders.
If the IRGC and the hardliners decide to turn against the reformists in power, this could bring about the implosion of the regime. And if they decide to attack US interests and invite a military response, for instance, by shutting down maritime corridors vital for energy supplies, it is unlikely Iran’s civilian infrastructure can bear the consequences. Indeed, the result would be self-immolation.
Astonishingly, Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas cited Iran’s options for sabotage and proximity to Europe, to implicitly warn the US. Mr Maas said anyone who's hoping for regime change “must not forget that whatever follows could bring us much bigger problems”, adding that “isolating Iran could boost radical and fundamentalist forces”. That came on the heels of a warning by cybersecurity experts that Iran’s huge electronic warfare capabilities give it the ability to mount a devastating attack, to dissuade Europeans from adopting US sanctions.
Iran’s options for reprisal attacks are not limited to the cybersphere, where the US has identified Iran as the fourth most serious cyber threat to US national security. The reformist foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, was quoted by Iranian media as making thinly veiled threats, in response to questions about the second round of US sanctions coming into effect in November targeting oil exports, saying: “They can’t think that Iran won’t export oil and others will export.”
In other words, Iran is prepared to shut down international maritime corridors including the Strait of Hormuz and Bab Al Mandeb to block the oil exports of the Gulf states.
Mr Zarif used duplicitous language that same week, with the Fars agency quoting him as saying that Tehran was interested in the stability and security of the region. Was this a climbdown from his extreme position or was he really beginning to implement a bold new move to open up to Iran’s neighbours?
One expert on Iranian affairs stresses the significance of the appointment of Mohammad Alibak in the Iranian foreign ministry. An Iranian official spokesman described the move as a “breakthrough”. But is this a tactical move designed to prompt a seeming change in Iranian behaviour for damage limitation purposes?
Many in the Iranian regime understand that the key to a real breakthrough is Yemen, where they can end their intervention – through arming and funding the Houthis – construed to threaten Saudi national security. Such a qualitative and serious shift in Iranian policy would de-escalate the situation and buy enough time to produce a lasting accord. However, it falls to Iran's top leaders to decide whether the Iranian setbacks so far warrant sacrificing their project in Yemen.
Most likely, the Iranians will want to reach a deal. Washing their hands of Yemen could be accompanied by assurances about Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The quality of these assurances not only depends on mending relations with the Gulf states but also on the negotiations with Washington, Moscow and the bargaining taking place between the US and Russia.
Now is the phase for sorting options, crafting bargains and the tug-of-war to prevent collapse in Iran, secure reconstruction in Syria, end the bloodletting in Yemen and bolster the states of Iraq and Lebanon. It is too early to jump to conclusions, however, because decision-makers are still considering their options between reforming, adjusting and self-immolation.