August 17/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations
We speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts
First Letter to the Thessalonians 02/01-8: "You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, but though we had already suffered and been shamefully maltreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition. For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts. As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us."
Titles For The Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on August 16-17/18
STL Prosecution’s Final Brief Explains ‘Hizbullah Link’, Highlights Activities of Safa, Ghazaleh/Naharnet Newsdesk /August 16/1
Hezbollah to up the ante in Cabinet negotiations/Georgi Azar/Annahar/August 16/18
Hassan Nasrallah’s Drama/Salman Al-dossary/Asharq Al Awsat/August 16/18
Lebanon's government paralysis: Time to amend the Constitution/Bassem Ajami/Annahar/August 16/2018
The future of Lebanon's political dynasties/James Haines-Young/The National/August 16, 2018
German rail and telecom giants pull out of Iran over sanctions/Agencies/Arab News/August 16, 2018
What is rightful for Iran, is rightful for Iraq/Khairallah Khairallah/Al Arabiya/August 16/18
Will the Revolutionary Guards turn against Iran’s mullahs/Mohammed Al Shaikh/Al Arabiya/August 16/18
Osama bin Laden’s mother condemns the Muslim Brotherhood/Abdullah bin Bijad Al-Otaibi/Al Arabiya/August 16/18
Jordan pays price for advocating peace in Syria, defending Jerusalem identity/Shehab Al-Makahleh/Al Arabiya/August 16/18
New evidence to back UN’s finding about Tehran role in nurturing al-Qaeda/Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Thursday, 16 August 2018
Iranians’ anti-regime anger not limited to the economy/Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/August 16/18
Moment of reckoning for Idlib approaches/Sharif Nashashibi/Arab News/August 16/18
Trump vs. Turkey: U.S. Punishes Strategic Ally, but Is Erdogan Really Willing to Leave NATO?/Alexander Griffing/Haaretz/August 16/18
Iran Oil Sanctions Will Hurt More Than You Think/Julian Lee/Bloomberg/August 16/18
In Islam, Jerusalem is not Mecca/A. Z. Mohamed/Gatestone Institute/August 16/18
France: The Rise and Fall of Emmanuel Macron/Guy Millière/Gatestone Institute/August 16/18

Titles For The Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on August 16-17/18
Tenenti: Separate Meetings for Representatives of Lebanon, Israel in NY
Hariri's Office: Bogdanov Receives Shaaban
LF Says Hariri Threatened Resignation for Advocates of Syria Ties
Khalil: AMAL, Hizbullah Made Concessions Thinking Parties Would Follow Suit
Rahi: Set Individual Interests Aside for Govt. Lineup's Sake
Shorter: UK, US Will Continue to Support the Lebanese Army
Internal, Foreign Obstacles to Lebanon’s Government Formation
Roads Blocked after Journalist Zahran Insults Hariri
Sayegh: Lebanon Going Through a Phase of Distrust
STL Prosecution’s Final Brief Explains ‘Hizbullah Link’, Highlights Activities of Safa, Ghazaleh
Hezbollah to up the ante in Cabinet negotiations
Hassan Nasrallah’s Drama
Lebanon's government paralysis: Time to amend the Constitution?
The future of Lebanon's political dynasties

Titles For The Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on August 16-17/18
German rail and telecom giants pull out of Iran over sanctions
Iraq: Washington Confirms Abadi’s Commitment to Sanctions on Iran
Salvaging Idlib Hinges on Nusra’s Fate
Turkish Lira Rebounds after Qatar Pledges $15 Billion
Albayrak: Erdogan Son-In-Law and Turkey Finance Supremo
Turkey Seeks to Soothe Markets over Tensions with U.S.
Lira Crisis Piles Pain on Turkish Shoppers as Costs Soar
Saudi Forces Arrest Armed 'Extremist' after Gunfight
UN Palestinian Schools to Open On Time despite U.S. Freeze
Darfur Rebels Strengthen Foothold in Libya, Says UN Report
Russian Journalists Shot in C. Africa Targeted in Ambush
Gunmen Attack Intelligence Training Center in Kabul
Saudi minister Abdullatif Al-Sheikh: Muslim Brotherhood harmed Islam

The Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on August 16-17/18
Tenenti: Separate Meetings for Representatives of Lebanon, Israel in NY
Naharnet/August 16/18/UNIFIL spokesman Andrea Tenenti said in a statement the UN headquarters in New York has organized for “separate meetings” between the new UNIFIL head of mission Major General Stefano Del Col and permanent representatives of Lebanon and Israel to the UN, the National News Agency reported on Thursday. The meetings were held “to hear their views on UN Security Council Resolution 1701 aimed at maintaining stability along the Blue Line,” it added. The statement also said Del Col, has met with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and senior UN officials.

Hariri's Office: Bogdanov Receives Shaaban
Naharnet/August 16/18/The Russian Foreign Ministry announced that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister and Special Presidential Envoy for the Middle East and North Africa Mikhail Bogdanov received yesterday in Moscow the personal representative of Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, Georges Shaaban, Hariri’s media office said Thursday. Shaaban updated Bogdanov on the latest developments in Lebanon and the efforts to form a new government. They also discussed the situation in Syria and the ongoing work to secure the suitable conditions for the return of the displaced Syrians on Lebanese territories.

LF Says Hariri Threatened Resignation for Advocates of Syria Ties

Naharnet/August 16/18/The Lebanese Forces party said the formation of the Cabinet has been delayed because of “domestic obstacles,” noting that quests to include a clause in the ministerial statement calling for naturalization of ties with Syria was what prompted Hariri to raise the "red card," the Saudi Asharq al-Awsat daily reported on Thursday. “The major obstacles delaying the Cabinet lineup are still internal ones,” a senior LF source told the daily on condition of anonymity. He said Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri has “waved the flag of resignation” in the face of advocates calling for restoration of ties with Syria. Hariri’s remarks against restoration of ties with the neighboring country came “in answer to questions on a possibility to include the naturalization of ties with Syria in the ministerial statement,” added the source. The source stressed that Hariri “has conveyed a strong message and has drawn red lines for all political parties to make them respect their limits and apply (the agreed) dissociation policy.”On Tuesday, Hariri said he does not agree to restoration of ties with the neighboring country and that a new government “will not be formed” should the pro-Damascus camp “insist on that.”“If others insist on restoring Lebanese-Syrian ties from the gateway of the reopened Nassib border crossing, then the government will not be formed,” Hariri said, referring to a key border crossing on the Syrian-Jordanian border that has been recently recaptured by Damascus. Hariri “waved the red card, the government resignation, if anyone tries to restore those ties,” added the source. Pointing to remarks made by Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on Tuesday, the source said the man did not say “we want restorations of ties. He only said positions must not be rushed and that we better wait for the developments coming ahead,” in Syria. 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.

Khalil: AMAL, Hizbullah Made Concessions Thinking Parties Would Follow Suit
Naharnet/August 16/18/AMAL Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil on Thursday stressed Lebanon’s need for the "speedy" formation of a national unity government, urging political parties to make concessions “like we did” in order to reach that end. Khalil, speaking during a celebration in South Lebanon, said the new Cabinet should include the majority of political parties, where “calm and responsible rhetoric must be conducted away from individual interests.” Turning to the delayed formation process, he said: “AMAL (movement) and Hizbullah party have from the beginning vowed to facilitate the formation process. Today, we invite all parties to do the same because every moment of delay has an impact on the public finances, on the economy and lives and trust of people.”The Minister added: “We thought all political parties will follow suit when we facilitated the formation and made (political) compromises,” he added. Prime Minister-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.

Rahi: Set Individual Interests Aside for Govt. Lineup's Sake

Naharnet/August 16/18/Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rahi on Wednesday voiced calls on Lebanese politicians to “center attention on public interest” in order to ease the obstacles hampering the government formation. Rahi urged officials to set aside their “own individual interests and focus on the public and people’s interests.” He also invited them to “show allegiance to Lebanon, its sovereignty, dignity, positive neutrality and constructive relations with all countries.”“Only then, the government will quickly form and proceed with reforms in vital sectors,” stressed Rahi. Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri was designated to form a government on May 24, but his mission has since been delayed because of wrangling between political parties over shares and ministerial seats.
Shorter: UK, US Will Continue to Support the Lebanese Army
Beirut - Asharq Al-Awsat/Thursday, 16 August, 2018/British Ambassador to Lebanon Hugo Shorter has reaffirmed the support of the United Kingdom and the United States to the Lebanese Army as the sole defender of Lebanon. “It is a respected and professional Army that has shown its ability to protect Lebanon from the biggest regional and internal threats and challenges,” the diplomat said Wednesday. Shorter attended the High Level Steering Committee, with US Ambassador Elizabeth Richard and Lebanese Army Commander General Joseph Aoun at the new Land Border Training Center at Rayak. The discussions focused on the Lebanese Army’s efforts to secure 100% of the Lebanese-Syrian border by 2019, the British embassy said in a statement. During the meeting, Shorter inaugurated the Land Border Training Center at Rayak, it said. This Center will support the Land Border regiments deployed along the totality of the Lebanese borders with Syria. According to the embassy, the UK has committed over £60 million to this project in recent years, alongside significant contributions from the US and other international donors. It said Shorter congratulated Aoun on the upcoming anniversary of Fajr el-Jouroud military operation which saw the defeat of ISIS in Lebanon, and “reaffirmed the UK’s support to the Lebanese Army as the sole defender of Lebanon, providing security to all citizens including near-border communities.”“It has always been a privilege to meet the Commander of the Lebanese Army, General Joseph Aoun, and discuss progress on the UK’s Land Border Project. It has been a privilege to serve as ambassador to Lebanon for three incredible years,” he said. “I have seen firsthand how the Army has continued to transform over this period,” Shorter said. He described it as a “professional” Army that has been capable of protecting Lebanon from the biggest regional and internal threats and challenges. The diplomat said he was pleased that the UK and the US will continue helping the Lebanese Army construct and equip additional Protected Border Observation Posts and Forward Operating Bases to support the Land Border Regiments deliver their mission in maintaining security within Lebanon.
Internal, Foreign Obstacles to Lebanon’s Government Formation
Beirut - Youssef Diab/ Asharq Al Awsat/Thursday, 16 August, 2018 /Democratic Gathering Bloc Chief, MP Taymour Jumblat on Wednesday visited Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri at the House of Center, accompanied by MP Wael Abu Faour. Issues linked to the normalization of relations with the Syrian regime were seen this week as the main foreign obstacles hindering the formation of the Lebanese government. On Tuesday, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri said some parties have demanded to include the normalization of ties with the regime of Bashar Assad in the policy statement as a precondition for the formation of the cabinet. “Then the government will not be formed,” Hariri warned. However, speaking during a ceremony held by ‘Hezbollah’ at the Ashura Square in Beirut's southern suburbs to mark the 12th anniversary of the end of Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon, the party’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah advised Hariri not to take predetermined positions from the Syrian regime so that he doesn’t back off later. Member of the Mustaqbal movement politburo Mustafa Alloush told Asharq Al-Awsat that regional obstacles are hindering the government formation.
He accused some Lebanese political parties of owing favors to Assad. They are the March 8 alliance and some figures in the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), said Alloush. Although Lebanon has officially pledged to distance itself from the developments in Syria, Alloush said: “The Iranian team in Lebanon considers that the dissociation policy was only applicable during the phase of the war. This team believes that the Iranian axis has won and therefore parties in Lebanon should deal with these developments.” Despite the foreign factors causing the government deadlock, Alloush spoke of internal problems as well, including the number of ministries and the type of portfolios. He said each party is trying to clinch the highest ministerial representation possible to strengthen its role in the government. He said the FPM is still asking for 11 ministers while the Lebanese Forces are trying to secure five ministries including a sovereign portfolio. The same applies to the Druze and the Sunni shares. The Progressive Socialist Party has been trying to keep the three Druze ministries as part of its share to safeguard its power inside the government, Alloush explained.
Roads Blocked after Journalist Zahran Insults Hariri
Naharnet/August 16/18/Roads in Beirut and elsewhere were blocked on Thursday in protest at remarks by the journalist Salem Zahran against Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri.
In Beirut's Corniche al-Mazraa area, protesters blocked a vital highway with burning tires and garbage bins to condemn the “insult” against the prime minister.Roads were also blocked in the al-Saadiyat and Aramoun areas on the coastal highway that links Beirut to the South. Zahran, who is close to Hizbullah and Damascus, had on Wednesday night said that Hariri would “go to Syria with his leg over his neck” should Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman tells him to do so.Zahran voiced his remarks during a live talk show on MTV. Hariri had on Tuesday announced that the new government “will not be formed” should the pro-Damascus camp “insist on restoring Lebanese-Syrian ties.”“If others insist on restoring Lebanese-Syrian ties from the gateway of the reopened Nassib border crossing, then the government will not be formed,” Hariri said in a chat with reporters, referring to a key border crossing on the Syrian-Jordanian border that has been recently recaptured by Damascus. “I do not agree to a restoration of Lebanese-Syrian ties and this is nonnegotiable,” Hariri added. Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah commented on Hariri's remarks on the same day and advised him not to commit himself to stances that he “might be obliged to reverse in light of the regional developments.”

Sayegh: Lebanon Going Through a Phase of Distrust 16/18/Kataeb's Deputy-President Salim Sayegh on Thursday blamed political bickering for the constant stalemates plaguing Lebanon, saying that the country is going through a phase of total distrust.“The continuous attempts to outsmart each other have led to a permanent structural failure in the political system, thus resulting in disruption and obstruction as we have entered a stage of distrust towards the politicians and the system,” Sayegh said in an interview on MTV. “We are in need of a fundamental and structural solution to the government file formation crisis," he added. “Nothing is as sacred in Lebanon, expect for the National Pact," Sayegh affirmed. "The head of state must fulfill his role away from what we are witnessing nowadays."“The President is seeking to obtain a share in the government so as to help one team win over the other, whereas he is supposed to unite local factions rather than divide them."

STL Prosecution’s Final Brief Explains ‘Hizbullah Link’, Highlights Activities of Safa, Ghazaleh
ملخص اتهام المحكمة الدولية الخاصة بلبنان تشير إلى ربط لحزب الله بفربق اغتيال الحريري

Naharnet Newsdesk /August 16/18
The Prosecution of the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon has submitted a “Final Trial Brief” that explains the links between Hizbullah and the supposed assassination squads who murdered ex-PM Rafik Hariri and draws attention to meetings and phone calls between senior Hizbullah and Syrian officials prior to the February 2005 attack.
The report says slain Hizbullah commander Mustafa Badreddine was “the leader of the three-man team that coordinated the Attack.”
“He was a senior military commander in Hizbullah with the necessary skills, expertise and access to resources. He used to communicate with (Accused Hizbullah operative Salim) Ayyash and (Accused Hizbullah operative Hassan) Merhi in order to coordinate the actions of separate teams carrying out the preparation and execution of the Attack. This is acknowledged (by Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah) to be a Hizbullah network, reported to be used by its security apparatus,” the Prosecution's report says.
“Considered holistically, the exceptional activity of these inter-connected phone groups in areas relevant to Hariri, the crime scene and the false claim of responsibility, lead to the inexorable conclusion that the users of these phones were responsible for the preparation and execution of the Attack and the false claim of responsibility,” it adds.
Noting that it is “not necessary for a conviction,” the Prosecution says its evidence “demonstrates the links between the Accused and Hizbullah and explains the political context in which the Attack occurred.”
“Independent of their links through the mobile phones, the evidence establishes that each of the Accused and Badreddine were further connected through their common support for Hizbullah. Moreover, Hizbullah's Secretary-General acknowledged that the covert Green Network was a Hizbullah network used by its security apparatus. He also referred to a number of the Accused and Badreddine as 'honorable resistance men' and previously asserted that an Indictment had been issued against 'brothers in the resistance,'” the report points out.
It also noted that “the Accused's actions alone demonstrate their participation in the conspiracy and their criminal responsibility.”
“The Chamber need not find that they were acting on the behalf or at the behest of any organization, leader, state or entity; nor is the Prosecution requesting this finding. However, the Accused's political affiliations, coupled with the surrounding political context, assist in understanding the Accused's common interests. The fact that those interests aligned with maintaining the status quo, which HARIRI threatened, is relevant in understanding the timing and motivations behind the Accused's actions,” the Prosecution's report adds, addressing the STL's Trial Chamber.
The Prosecution's report reveals that the telecom data used in the case is based on so-called "CDRs" (call data records) provided by the Alfa and MTC Touch mobile phone operators to the Prosecution and to the UNIIIC (U.N. International Independent Investigation Commission).
“CDRs are contemporaneous, automatically-generated records of mobile phone communications. Their main purpose is for billing customers, though they also serve other marketing or statistical business purposes. Given the CDRs' primary purpose in billing and other business purposes, mobile service providers have an interest in ensuring their integrity,” the report notes.
The report sheds light on Badreddine's private life and businesses under the aliases 'Sami Issa' and 'Badr Safi'.
“Badreddine, using the alias Sami Issa, was the owner of three jewelery shops
named 'Samino', with branches in Mar Elias, Furn el-Shebbak and Bourj Hammoud,
where he employed managers, employees and bodyguards. Two of the three Samino
managers, or 'insiders', were in a position to know Badreddine and his real identity,” the report says.
“Badreddine's death in Syria was announced by Hizbullah on 13 May 2016. Eight witnesses were interviewed after the announcement, all of whom recognized photographs of Badreddine as being the person they knew as Sami Issa and/or Safi,” it adds.
"Hey mr. ISSA, or is it badr;)", the report quotes a Dec. 2004 SMS sent to one of Badreddine's numbers as saying.
“Eight witnesses from Sami ISSA' s university and Samino circles recognized photographs of Badreddine as being the person they knew as Sami Issa and/or Safi, and as the user of (phone numbers) PMP 354 and PMP 663,” the report says.
Turning to the Accused Salim Ayyash, the report notes that the man “did not travel to the KSA in January 2005.”
“There is evidence that suggests an individual using the name 'Salim Jamil Ayyash' traveled to the KSA during the period of 15 to 28 January 2005, to perform the Hajj pilgrimage (the '2005 Hajj Period'). Although Ayyash initially intended to travel to the KSA during the 2005 Hajj Period, he later canceled his travel plans and remained in Lebanon,” the report says.
It added: “Sometime between 11 January 2005, when he requested his leave, and 15 January 2005, his intended date of departure for Hajj, Ayyash canceled his leave to attend the Hajj. The reason provided by Ayyash for this cancellation was that he had not been granted a visa to KSA. This justification was untruthful, as a KSA visa had indeed been issued in Ayyash's name.”
More importantly, the report highlights Ayyash's presence in Haret Hreik “before and during” the famous 2004 meeting between Nasrallah and Hariri and how he allegedly monitored Hariri's movements and followed him back to Qureitem.
“The fact of the meeting was known only to those in the tightest inner circles of the former Prime Minister and Hizbullah. The precise location of the meeting between Hariri and Nasralllah in Haret Hreik on the night of 21 December 2004 was unknown to Hariri, his security personnel and (his adviser) Mustafa NASSER. Despite this, Ayyash and other members of the Assassination Unit were able to position themselves in order to conduct surveillance and follow Hariri back to Quraitem Palace after the meeting,” the report reveals.
Explaining the link between the political tensions in Lebanon and the activities of the four alleged assassination phone networks, the report says “significant steps taken by the opposition coalition and ultimately by Hariri, their powerful ally, to resist, defy and challenge the Syrian regime's hegemony corresponded with a reaction of the four phone networks.”
“When put in context with these events, the rationale and motivation behind the behavior of the networks become evident. This rationale, its intimate connection to the behavioral and contact patterns of senior Syrian and Hizbullah officials, such as (former Syrian security chief in Lebanon) Rustom Ghazaleh, (Hizbullah security chief) Wafiq Safa and Badreddine, and the corresponding reaction of the covert networks, reinforces the conclusion that the networks were operated by a single entity co-ordinated by Ayyash and overseen by Badreddine, which pursuant to a common political interest was dedicated to a common purpose: the assassination of Hariri,” the report concludes.
It reveals that the pattern of Ghazaleh's visits to Haret Hreik after contact with Safa began immediately after the First Bristol Group Meeting of the Lebanese opposition.
“In the evening and over the week that followed the First Bristol Group meeting, Hariri met Nasrallah twice on 22 and 27 September 2004. These meetings were closely mirrored by the first of Ghazaleh's visits to Haret Hreik after contact with Wafiq Safa on 22 and 28 September 2004,” the report explains.
It describes Safa as “a figure of significant seniority and influence within the Hizbullah security apparatus.”
“He was a regular but not frequent contact of Badreddine in the months preceding the assassination and, significantly, formed part of a call flow with Badreddine and Ayyash that immediately preceded the final preparatory activity in the early hours of the morning of the Attack,” the report reveals.
It also noted that these visits by Ghazaleh to Haret Hreik after contact with Safa formed part of a pattern of behavior that occurred immediately after key events that challenged ongoing Syrian control in Lebanon prior to the assassination:
“1) Second Bristol Group Meeting [13 December 2004];
2) Hariri's refusal to accept Syrian deposits (pro-Syria MPs on his electoral lists) during a meeting with Ghazaleh [9 January 2005];
3) Hariri's confirmation of that refusal during a meeting with (ex-MP Nasser) Kandil [ 4 February 2005].”
“This pattern had been absent during the previous 9 months of 2004,” the report notes.
“The second meeting on 16 December 2004 followed an almost identical dynamic: (1) Ghazaleh again traveled from Anjar to Haret Hreik, while in contact with SAFA; (2) he contacted the Syrian Presidential Palace for a three minute call, in the vicinity of
the Hizbullah General Secretariat; 1419 and (3) there, his phone was inactive for a period of time between one and two ours,” the report says.
Describing January 9, 2005 as “the day that Hariri told Rustom Ghazaleh he would no longer bow to the will and constraints imposed by the Syrian regime, and rejected the imposition of pro-Syrian deposits on his electoral lists,” the report says “this was an event of real significance that led to an immediate, sustained, and coordinated acceleration in Mission Phone activity.”
The report also reveals that on February 4, 2005 at the Qureitem Palace, Hariri personally informed Qandil of his decision to not include him on his electoral list.
“Immediately after he left the Palace, Qandil engaged in a close sequence of calls with Ghazaleh and then, unusually, Safa. Later that same evening, (Hizbullah secretary general's aide Hussein) Khalil invited the journalist (Nassir) al-Assaad to a meeting in Dahyieh to convey an angry message warning Hariri to cooperate with Ghazaleh and accept the Syrian deposits,” the report says.
Turning to the eve of the assassination attack, the report says “Safa's and Badreddine's phones converged in the same area.”
“Badreddine left his personal phone (PMP 663) at home. His last call from the Ouzai area, at 01:57, was to the Great Prophet Hospital. Upon his return home, by 02:31, Badreddine sent a SMS text from his personal phone to a close female friend, saying: 'If you know where I have been, you would be so sad',” the report adds.
“This penultimate Green Network call to Ayyash on the eve of the Attack was the immediate precursor to unusual activity through the early hours of 14 February 2005 between Ayyash and his deputy, S6, and in turn others within the Assassination Unit,” the report concludes.
Below are the links to the full report as published on the STL's website:

Hezbollah to up the ante in Cabinet negotiations
Georgi Azar/Annahar/August 16/18
After years of standing on the "sidelines," Hezbollah is steadfast in its aim of becoming a major political player with profound domestic influence, the sources say.
BEIRUT: Hezbollah is threatening to reconsider its demand for a modest share of portfolios in the upcoming Cabinet if the formation process stalls, sources close to the Iranian-backed militant group told Annahar. The sources cautioned Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri against delaying the Cabinet formation process pending a shift in the regional power dynamics that would tip the local power balance in favor of the pro-Saudi camp, in a bid to downsize the share of Hezbollah and its allies in the government. Banking on a shift in the regional power dynamics to curb the influence of Hezbollah and its allies in the Cabinet, sources say, would fail in light of the recent parliamentary elections results that granted the Shiite group and its allies an absolute majority in parliament. After years of standing on the "sidelines," Hezbollah is steadfast in its aim of becoming a major political player with profound domestic influence, the sources say.
Hezbollah's Secretary-General said it best during a speech last month when he suggested that prolonged negotiations over the Cabinet formation would prompt the party and its Shiite ally, Speaker Nabih Berri's Amal Movement, to up the ante.
"Our bloc secured 30 seats in parliament and is asking for six ministries while others secured 20 seats and are demanding seven, everyone should show some humility," he said. Hezbollah's sense of "humility" seems now to be coming to an end, evident in Nasrallah's speech on Wednesday, during which he alluded to the fact that the size of his bloc, alongside that of the Amal Movement, far outweighs their proposed ministerial portfolios in the upcoming government. If delays continue hampering the formation of the Cabinet, sources say Hezbollah, which has accepted a share of three ministries including a service portfolio, namely the Health Ministry, is likely to raise the stakes by demanding a larger share of ministries. The recent developments suggest a shift in Hezbollah's domestic policies, after years of focusing on its regional role, mainly vis-a-vis Israel, while leaving its longstanding ally Berri to deal with internal politics.
Despite gaining representation in Lebanon's Parliament in 1992 in the wake of the Taef accord, Hezbollah abstained from taking part in the executive branch until 2005 when the party was allotted the Ministry of Energy in a Cabinet that brought together the main political factions except the Free Patriotic Movement then headed by current President Michel Aoun. What is certain, is that the party, who greenlit Hariri's designation as prime minister following the May 6 parliamentary elections, will not relinquish its demand for the Ministry of Health under any circumstances .
Hassan Nasrallah’s Drama
Salman Al-dossary/Asharq Al Awsat/August 16/18
From his secret basement, and with the same loud tone, Hassan Nasrallah came out again. He attacked, misled, falsified and accused others of treason. And because he understood everything, he stuck his nose into every issue, and also involved Lebanon, which he said has been adopting a dissociation policy. From Syria to Canada, passing by Qatar, Yemen, Iraq, the GCC, Turkey, Malaysia, the United States, and of course Iran.
He hoped that “the bet on overthrowing the regime in Iran or changing its course through blockade and sanctions would not be achieved.” He defended Iran, of course, describing it as “stronger than ever, the strongest in the region, and its regime is strong, firm and stable.”
Yes, Iran is the strongest in Nasrallah’s wishes. It is the same language as Khamenei’s, the same logic, the same lies, the same opponents, and of course the same result. As usual, Nasrallah enumerates in his speeches, that no one else can prepare, his victories but without explaining how they are achieved.
He is proud of the passing of 12 years since the war during which he destroyed Lebanon. The master of contradictions forgot that he once said: If I knew that all this damage would happen to Lebanon, I would not have started the war. At the same time, he claims that “Hezbollah is stronger than the Israeli army.” He continues to destroy Lebanon by sabotaging its relations with its neighbors and friends, ignoring the damage resulting from his interference in the affairs of Lebanon’s friendly countries.
He sheds crocodile tears on the Syrians, forgetting that his deputy in the parliament, Mohammad Raad, is the one who said that Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon were a "time bomb".
He practices what he personally condemns. On one hand, he claims that “political conflicts, insults and accusations do not achieve development and services in Lebanon.” But Nasrallah does not change. He is the great man of contradictions, who leads his country into unwanted political conflicts, cursing, throwing accusations and offending. So does what he says achieves development and services in Lebanon?!
Nasrallah’s speeches have no taste and no color even to his audience, which follows him only on screens. He repeats the same words and phrases, the same attack on the friends of Lebanon, and the same defense of the interests of Tehran. Who else would benefit from reciting the lie of the Saudi intervention in Lebanon except the Iranian regime?! Didn’t Nasrallah himself admit that Iran is spending on Hezbollah?
Tehran itself is providing evidence of its interference. In remarks made in October 2017, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that it was not possible at present to take what he considered a decisive action in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, North Africa and the Gulf region, without Iran.
Saad al-Hariri responded in a Tweet: “Rouhani’s saying that no decision could be taken in Lebanon without Iran is rejected and returned to its owners.” Nasrallah, at the time, could not disagree with his political and spiritual authority. Hezbollah only misled the public opinion and said that Rouhani’s statements were "misunderstood".
Hassan Nasrallah’s speeches have slowly turned into a drama, which nobody cares about and does not affect anyone. Lebanon alone suffers from the consequences of blatant interventions, with salt being added to the state's open wounds. As for Nasrallah and his party, they are only interested in marketing the Iranian model, which is now more isolated than ever, and certainly, Hezbollah and Nasrallah are in the midst of the growing Iranian suffering.

Lebanon's government paralysis: Time to amend the Constitution?
Bassem Ajami/Annahar/August 16/2018
So long as Lebanon maintains its parliamentary political system, reconciling the various demands of different political groups - impossible as that might seem - remains unavoidable. The confusion surrounding the formation of a new government demands innovative thinking if it is to be resolved. It is evident that forming a government entails overcoming two main obstacles. The first is reconciling the conflicting demands of various political groups. The second is meeting the demands of the president whose signature is needed to form a new government; giving him in effect the power to veto any cabinet proposal. It was in anticipation of such difficulties that the constitution gave the designated prime minister an unlimited period to form his government.
Today, there are demands to limit the time allowed to the prime minister-designate. And in the wake of previous experiences, such demands seem logical. Yet if such a proposal is to be taken seriously, it must be preceded by removing one of the two hurdles that confront the formation of governments.
So long as Lebanon maintains its parliamentary political system, reconciling the various demands of different political groups - impossible as that might seem - remains unavoidable. It is vital not only to the democratic process but also to bring together the diverse religious factions in the country.  Moreover, the constitution does not give the president the prerogative to have a "share" in the cabinet. Yet that has been the practice since 2005. It was based on the fact that since then, successive presidents did not have a political base in parliament, and thus each was "given" the right to appoint three cabinet members.
President Michel Aoun now insists that such practice has become an established precedent and, as such, it is constitutionally binding. But according to jurists, a precedent only becomes binding if it is practiced repeatedly with universal approval. In this case, the "share" of the president in a cabinet has always been met with resistance. Its most vocal opponent was President Aoun himself; he is on record as having voiced his objection in 2009, describing such a "presidential share" as unconstitutional. A solution might lie in a double-edged constitutional `amendment. The proposed amendment would, on the one hand, limit the period allowed to the designated prime minister to form his government, and on the other hand, abolish the veto power that the president now has over the shape and form of the government.
The designated prime minister would have a limited period of time to take his proposed cabinet directly to parliament seeking a vote of confidence. If the proposed government fails to win such a vote, the president would dissolve parliament and call for general elections.
Of course, such a proposal would immediately provoke the argument that it limits the powers of the president. That is true. But it also diminishes the powers of the prime minister-designate, while restoring the president's prerogative to dissolve parliament.
This is a more meaningful prerogative than having a "share" in the cabinet.  Still, the practice of viewing the president as a "referee" among the various political players in the country is unrealistic and absurd. He should be viewed as an active political player like all others with the right to have his own parliamentary block, with representation in the cabinet according to its weight. This is how it is with the speaker and with the prime minister. Why should it be different with the president?
*Mr. Ajami is a freelance researcher, writer, and contributor to The Arab Weekly, London. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Annahar.
The future of Lebanon's political dynasties
James Haines-Young/The National/August 16, 2018
On the surface, Lebanese politics can appear static. The same men who led militias through the 15-year civil war still lead many of the largest parties in parliament and, some waxing and waning of influence aside, a small group of people still hold most influence in the country.
However, Lebanon is facing the start of a new era as many of its ageing political leaders look to their legacies and begin passing on the reins to the first post war generation.
While those in power have on most counts governed poorly – the economy is stagnant, unemployment is high, crumbling infrastructure fails to provide even basic services and anything but the most straightforward decisions can be bogged down for years in bickering and back and forth – they have largely managed to preserve a semblance of stability.
Many put this down to the excellent training in self-preservation and brinkmanship hard-learned in the bloody decade and a half civil war that ended in 1990.
A concern for some and a major relief for others is that senior politicians are giving up their seats in parliament.
But the extent to which the next generation will have the skills to prevent disputes spilling onto the streets is questionable. Some fear that inexperience and having been born close to or just after the end of the war could lead to political or violent escalation.
“Lebanon is set up as a consociation democracy and, in such political systems, elite cooperation [and] deal-making is essential for sustaining stability,” said Firas Maksad, Director of Arabia Foundation. In Lebanon, comprised of diverse ethnic, religious and sectarian groups, consociationalism is a power sharing system that divvies up key positions between factions to ensure a theoretically equal voice. The downside to this is “nepotism and corruption, which has now reached unprecedented levels [in Lebanon].”
However, added Maksad, this wheeler-dealing means that self-interest is built-in and could therefore avoid escalation to a renewed conflict
“Presumably, these new generations of political elites who have inherited power have a built-in motivation in maintaining the system and stability - if only for their own interest,” he said. “This includes trimming back dangerous excess and precluding future armed conflict, irrespective of whether they’ve experienced the war or not.”
Lebanon has also long been buffeted by the interests of outside powers, often pushed and pulled in different directions. Alongside the well-established regional forces, Western states have been particularly active in Lebanon in recent years. Their focus – as seen through military support and the billions of dollars in loans and aid pledged earlier this year for development projects – is aimed at stability and taking the country out of the doldrums.
Western governments will watch the shifting sands of Lebanese politics with interest and they will hope the groups can continue to function. “Whatever [Western countries] may think of these groups, they understand that they function like governments and have some degree of stability and accountability,” said professor at Randolph-Macon College in the United States, Michael Fischbach.
With these major challenges in mind, The National breaks down the fortunes and favours of Lebanon's top players.
The FPM is riding high. One of the two biggest Christian parties, it has been a consistent force in cabinet and parliament since 83-year-old founder Michel Aoun’s return from 15-years in exile in 2005. Mr Aoun won the 29-month battle of attrition to be crowned president of the republic in 2016. The party's current leader – Mr Aoun’s son in law Gebran Bassil – managed to win a parliamentary seat in May’s election after previously failing twice.
That said, there are many signs its days at the forefront of decision-making could be numbered.
The fight for leadership of the party in 2015 happened largely behind closed doors – Mr Bassil won unopposed but only after his father in law’s intervention. The decision was a bitter pill to swallow for other senior party members - many of whom are also Mr Aoun’s immediate family.
The rifts simmer below the surface and while Mr Bassil is still young at 48, Mr Aoun is not. When he dies - he is rumoured to have suffered several small strokes - the party could be torn apart from the inside by score-settling and resentment.
Mr Aoun’s nephew, MP Alain Aoun, and other son-in-law, MP Chamel Roukoz, are also widely popular among the FPM.
Lebanon's Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil gestures as he speaks during a news conference in
Alain Aoun was tipped as the next head of the FPM before Mr Aoun senior asked him to withdraw in favour of Mr Bassil. Whether he will seek to redress this after Mr Aoun is gone is a major question mark over the FPM’s future.
The most recent parliamentary elections in May showed a wide split within the party. Many of its candidates were not official party members. “To what extent can Bassil ensure the FPM remains intact, this is not going to be easy, especially with the competition within the Aoun family making a potential breakup also high,” Lebanese American University professor, Imad Salamey says.
Initially, a secular social democratic party founded by Druze leader Kamal Joumblatt, the PSP has enjoyed an oversized role in internal politics for two generations.
After Mr Joumblatt senior’s assassination in 1977, current PSP leader Walid Joumblatt took over and maintained the party’s influence. But again the party’s future is uncertain. The 68-year-old Mr Joumblatt has begun the party’s third transition of power to his 36-year-old son, Taymour Joumblatt. “He [Walid Joumblatt] wanted to give Taymour a soft-landing into the political scene,” one PSP source said. Until now, Walid is still calling the shots and holding the big meetings with high-ranking officials.
But this comes at a delicate time, as the party faces increased competition - Mr Aoun's fight to ensure the Joumblatts cease to have a monopoly over the Druze and a shift to proportional representation at the last election saw their share of parliament slide.
The younger Joumblatt will be unable to manoeuvre in the same capacity as his father – jocularly referred to as the weather vane of Lebanese politics for his stunning volte-faces - to give the Druze a powerful political presence but they are likely to remain a crucial, if somewhat diminished, component of the political tapestry for some time.
The powerful Christian LF is one of the few parties that has less to worry about when it comes to survival and influence.
During Samir Geagea’s time in prison for war crimes, his wife and long-time MP Strida Geagea led the party. Having no children, if Samir – also a past and future presidential candidate – becomes Lebanon’s leader, it is believed that Strida will once again lead the party.
However, unlike many of Lebanon’s parties, the LF is more institutionalised than most. A robust, internal hierarchy for party positions and an active and eager support base will see smooth transitions for any future ruler of the party.
Continued close ties with Riyadh and Washington will ensure the party remains influential whether as an opposition voice or participant of the government.
“The two parties that will not be affected too much by whoever takes over its leadership are Hezbollah and the Lebanese Forces because of their strong political, religious viewpoints that won’t change,” a former Lebanese diplomat said.
Once perhaps the most powerful militia in the 1975-1990 civil war, the Kataeb transitioned into a Christian political party. Despite producing three Lebanese presidents from the prominent Gemayel family, its influence has been in near terminal decline. Abrupt transitions at the top have happened on several occasions after party heads and family elders have been assassinated, including president-elect Bachir Gemayel in 1982. But today’s party head, MP Sami Gemayel, is struggling for relevance. He has pivoted his position into a self-styled opposition to the government in a bid to attract young, apathetic voters at the risk of alienating his long-term loyalists from the civil war days.
While Mr Gemayel tries to team up with the civil society and give an image of youth and combatting corruption, the Kataeb’s bloody history will make it difficult for such a method to be successful.
Najem Najem, a Kataeb supporter from north Lebanon, says he originally backed Mr Gemayel’s attempt to inject young blood into the party. “But he went too far and tried to go against everyone in power including [our allies] the Lebanese Forces and Future Movement,” Mr Najem said. He thinks Mr Gemayel is now realising this wasn’t a huge success, the party lost two seats in May’s election leaving them just three.
Since then, Mr Gemayel has brought back once powerful party men he had previously pushed away. One of those is a former leader of the Lebanese Forces, Fouad Abu Nader, who re-joined the Kataeb in December 2017. After the parliamentary elections, Mr Gemayel appointed Abu Nader as his top advisor.
Becoming a minor force and monitoring the government’s progress or lack thereof will now become the bread and butter of the Kataeb. The new-but-old leadership will also look to patch up ties with its former pro-western allies.
Another Christian militia-cum-political-movement, the Marada is a semi-feudal party from the mountains of north Lebanon. Much of its future influence hinges on whether or not its current head, Sleiman Frangieh, can become the next president – like his grandfather. Fifty-two-year-old Mr Frangieh has passed on the rains of the parliamentary bloc to his son, 30-year-old Tony Frangieh, to free him up for the looming battle for the top office.
Tony studied in the United Kingdom and will carry on the party’s consistent political stance - devout Christian nationalism and a close alliance with Syria and the Assad regime.
The Frangieh’s close personal connection with Syrian President Bashar Al Assad could give it a boost if the regime can bring its own civil war to a close and reassert some of its former influence in Lebanon. The party will likely survive in its current form thanks to its isolated, geographical Christian support base in a string of villages full of voters that are unlikely to ever turn their backs on the local Frangieh family. Being held lock, stock by the family, the clear succession of father-to-son staves off the question of leadership challenges and if Sleiman Frangieh can become president, the party will place itself squarely at the centre of political decision making.
Having the young Saad Hariri as its leader, the party will remain a stable force in politics for the time being – barring a similar fate to his father, former prime minister Rafik Hariri who was assassinated in 2005.
Although he has lost a significant share of his once vast wealth after shakeups in his regional backer Saudi Arabia and a more distant relationship with Riyadh, he is still one of the wealthiest men in the country. The hits to his fortunes – political and financial – have dented his support but his base still back him. Mr Hariri’s growing image as the plucky underdog fending off a tide of attacks on him and his Sunni supporters hasn’t hurt his favour either. He will continue to break out of the shell as being the “son of Rafik Hariri” and stamp his own mark to become “Hariri 2.0,” as one source close to the prime minister put it.
Led by the powerful Speaker Nabih Berri who controls Parliament like a circus master and has the country’s Finance Ministry firmly in the hands of his top political aide, the Amal movement has long been the political representative of the Shiite sect.
Mr Berri is the man responsible for the party’s rise to the very top of Lebanon’s government today.
It stands in lock-step with the Iran-backed Hezbollah but it is Mr Berri that largely fights the two party’s political battles. Known as a master of finding impossible breakthroughs to political conundrums, the 88-year-old speaker will be hard to replace and therein lies the main problem for Amal.
Mohammad Kanso, a long time Amal supporter, says he’s concerned: “we’re a bit worried as to who is going to take over after him [Mr Berri].”
“He said he doesn’t want his sons taking over, so let’s see … God help us.”LAU’s Mr Salamey also says the situation isn’t ideal for the party. “With the situation of the Amal Movement, … [it] is more shaky as there hasn’t been much thought as to who will inherit - unless Abdullah [Berri’s son] is in line for succession,” he said, adding that there hasn’t been much talk of this. Caretaker Finance Minister Ali Khasan Khalil is Mr Berri’s closest aide and could take over when it’s time. The current head of Lebanon’s General Security Abbas Ibrahim is also close to Mr Berri, but he could be poised to be the next parliament speaker rather than party leader.
Amal has long been seen as a principal participant in state corruption and if Hezbollah’s recent anti-corruption calls are serious, it could impact the pair’s relations – although it would likely take more than this for the two to part ways. If succession plans are not formed, or at least tacitly communicated to supporters, the huge question mark over the party’s future post-Mr Berri will linger.
Lastly, Hezbollah has the ability to act largely as it chooses internally and has a large influence regionally. As the only militia that did not disarm post-civil war, it has the ability to dictate its will. Short of a regional and international agreement to disarm Hezbollah, the party will continue to enjoy dominance. The only short-term impediment to the party could come from pressure on Iran through US sanctions. The party needs significant amounts of cash to maintain its wide social network, well-trained and numerous militias, keep up preparations for a future war with Israel, to say nothing of its heavy involvement in the Syrian war or other regional conflicts from Yemen to Iraq.
The party is well-run at the top and is known for discipline across its ranks of supporters. The party’s internal Shura Council and other leadership bodies have sway on the decisions of the secretary general and Iran maintains a say in key issues. This stops the party’s power and therefore fate being wrapped up into one individual.
Leader Hassan Nasrallah has a dangerous job and he is rarely seen in public due to the threat of Israeli or US assassination. As such, it’s unlikely the party hasn’t got robust leadership contingencies to handle the abrupt – or otherwise – exit of Mr Nasrallah.
But Mr Berri’s succession problems could pose a problem for the Shiite sect as a whole.
If it assumes the political mantle of Amal after Mr Berri leaves politics, Hezbollah is likely to lose a key conduit to the West. Although European states largely differentiate between political and military arms of Hezbollah, Mr Berri enjoys much more regular contact with the West as well as the ability to travel freely, unlike many of his Hezbollah colleagues.
Western states too will lose Berri and his party as a messenger to Nasrallah. In this instance, only Hezbollah disarmament will abolish the need for Amal but it is unlikely that this alone would be enough to spur such a dramatic change.

The Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on
August 16-17/18
German rail and telecom giants pull out of Iran over sanctions
Agencies/Arab News/August 16, 2018
LONDON: Leading German firms from the transport and telecom sectors are pulling out of their projects in Iran as new US sanctions take a toll on foreign investors in the country.
Rail operator Deutsche Bahn and Deutsche Telekom said they would end their involvement because the American measures state that firms investing in Iran would be barred from doing business with the United States. The German firms are the latest European companies to suspend investments in Iran after the sanctions came into effect last week. Oil giant Total, as well as carmakers PSA, Renault and Daimler, have already said they will withdraw from projects in Iran.Harvard scholar and Iranian affairs expert, Majid Rafizadeh, said the Iranian regime is in deep trouble at home as the sanctions are working.
“More companies and firms are halting — and will continue to halt — their business deals with Iran,” he told Arab News. “Foreign investors are also withdrawing. This is significant due to the fact that many foreign investors have invested billions of dollars in Iran’s debt market as Tehran’s economy is cash-strapped. “On the surface, Iran’s leaders are brushing aside the sanctions as trivial, but Tehran is significantly wary as the sanctions are affecting its economy negatively. ”If the Iranian regime does not alter its destructive behavior, the sanctions will cripple its economy,” Rafizadeh added. Washington introduced the sanctions after Donald Trump decided earlier this year to pull the US out of the international agreement with Iran to curb its nuclear program in exchange for an easing of sanctions. The US president said that while the deal has been in place, Tehran has continued to develop its ballistic missiles and pursued an aggressive foreign policy of supporting militias in countries across the Middle East. The first raft of sanctions have focussed on stopping Iran from purchasing US dollars and precious metals as well as targeting the automotive sector among others.
A second wave planned for November will target the energy sector — the main source of state revenues. European leaders have insisted on trying to save the nuclear deal but firms have already acted to avoid being caught up in the sanctions.
State-owned Deutsche Bahn is involved in two projects in Iran via its subsidiary DB Engineering&Consulting, a spokeswoman told Reuters on Thursday.
“Both projects will be ended in August and September 2018 respectively,” she said. “Due to the altered banking practice we have sought to bring the contract to an amicable and timely conclusion.” Deutsche Bahn signed a memorandum of understanding with the Iranian rail operator Bonyad Eastern Railways (BonRail) in May 2017 for the first project, which aimed to identify and address potential in rolling stock and organization, she said. The second project, which started around one-and-a-half years ago, was a consulting contract for Iranian state railway RAI that included restructuring the company, the spokeswoman added. Separately, Detecon, a subsidiary of T-Systems — Deutsche Telekom’s IT services arm — has terminated its business in Iran. Detecon offers consulting services to companies in the telecommunications industry. “Until the decision to stop operations was made, sales in Iran in 2018 amounted to around 300,000 euros,” he told Reuters. “Given the sensitivity in relations with Iran worldwide, Detecon ended its business in Iran with immediate effect in mid-May 2018.”

Iraq: Washington Confirms Abadi’s Commitment to Sanctions on Iran
Baghdad, Washington- Asharq Al Awsat and Mouaz al-Omari/Thursday, 16 August, 2018/In its first statement on the debate on whether Iraq will commit to US sanctions on Iran, the American embassy in Baghdad issued a clarification on Wednesday to assert that Iraq will abide by them. It deemed as inaccurate claims attributed to State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert in which she was quoted as saying that the violators of the sanctions would be sanctioned themselves. The statement said that Nauert explained “countries that violate sanctions will be held accountable."Washington last week re-imposed sanctions on Iran’s purchase of US dollars, its trade in gold and precious metals and its dealings with metals, coal and industrial-related software. Meanwhile, Director General of Financial Operations in the Central Bank, Mahmoud Dagher explained in press statement that Iraq has for “a long time now” not been carrying out transactions in dollars with Iran. He asserted that no Iraqi bank or banking system uses the dollar in trade exchanges between the two countries. Leader at Dawa Party, Jassem Mohammad Jaafar, said that the United States is sending a warning to the Iraqi leadership that it must abide by the sanctions against Iran. Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, he admitted that the US is sending a warning to Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, who is facing great pressure from the US and Iran, both of which are demanding that he support them. When asked about the position of other parties and political blocs on the sanctions, Jaafar said they have abandoned Abadi during this difficult stage. It seems that everyone was looking for a way to replace the current PM with their own nominee. Political powers in Iraq have been scrambling to form a parliamentary majority in the legislature. This majority will then hold sway over who gets nominated as premier, who will in turn form a new government. Abadi will not take part in any injustice against the Iranian people, but he will not compromise his country’s interests, stressed Jaafar. “I think he is able to overcome the crisis... US-Iranian escalation does not serve Iraq in any way," he stressed. Member of Fatah coalition Amer al-Fayez said on Wednesday that the State Department’s threat to Iraq to commit to the sanctions against Iran was flagrant interference in Baghdad's foreign policy. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with Abadi and Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani of the Kurdistan Regional Government. Pompeo expressed appreciation for the two leaders’ progress in resolving outstanding Baghdad-Erbil disputes according to the Iraqi constitution’s framework for dialogue. He emphasized the importance of forming a new moderate Iraqi government, pursuant to the constitutional timeline, that is responsive to the expectations of the Iraqi people.

Salvaging Idlib Hinges on Nusra’s Fate
Beirut - Paris - Caroline Akoum and Michel Abou Najm/Asharq Al Awsat/Thursday, 16 August, 2018/Syria’s opposition is awaiting the outcome of the Russian-Turkish talks to settle the fate of Idlib as the regime continues to deploy military reinforcements in a sign that the battle for the province is shaping up. Sources from both the opposition and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights agreed that efforts are being exerted for Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (previously Jabhat al-Nusra) to either dissolve or avoid a regime attack on Idlib. Director of the SOHR Rami Abdel-Rahman told Asharq Al-Awsat on Wednesday that Russia and Turkey are mulling two options before the regime launches its military operations in Idlib - to force Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham to dissolve or move away from the province. Abdel-Rahman said one of the options is for the group’s fighters to be taken to the countryside of northeastern Aleppo, pending its dissolution. He added that the “principle problem with Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham is to determine the fate of the group’s leaders and foreign militants.” The head of the politburo of Mu'tassim Brigades, Mustafa Sigari, and a military source in Idlib said the best solution is for the group to dissolve and therefore remove any pretext for an upcoming battle in the province. Sigari told Asharq Al-Awsat that regime forces have already violated the Idlib truce, prompting opposition factions to respond to their attack. He said the start of a battle in Idlib hinges on the Russian-Turkish agreement. Separately, the French Presidency said Wednesday that President Emmanuel Macron spoke with King Abdullah II of Jordan about the latest developments in the region. During the phone conversation, Macron proposed helping Jordan secure its border with Syria and to further cooperate in the fight against ISIS within the framework of the international coalition. Petra news agency said the King and the French President spoke about efforts to combat terrorism in line with a comprehensive strategy. The Elysee also said Jordan's king would visit Paris in the coming months at the invitation of the French president.
Turkish Lira Rebounds after Qatar Pledges $15 Billion
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/August 16/18/The Turkish lira is rebounding from record losses a day after Qatar pledged US$15 billion in investments to help Turkey's economy. The currency strengthened some 3 percent against the dollar on Thursday, trading at around 5.75 per dollar, hours before Turkey's treasury and finance minister were scheduled to reassure international investors about the economy. The lira had nosedived in recent weeks, hitting a record low of 7.24 last week, amid a diplomatic and trade dispute with the United States. Washington imposed sanctions and tariffs over the continued detention of an American pastor, while Turkey retaliated with some US$500 million of tariffs on some U.S. imports and said it would boycott U.S. electronic goods. The currency recovered after authorities took steps to help bank liquidity and limit swap transactions.

Albayrak: Erdogan Son-In-Law and Turkey Finance Supremo

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/August 16/18/Berat Albayrak, the youthful son-in-law of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is just one month into his new job of Turkish finance minister but faces the colossal task of convincing markets Ankara is serious about resolving its economic woes. The 40-year-old husband of Erdogan's eldest daughter, Esra, was on July 9 sensationally named as finance and treasury minister, heading a newly expanded ministry, in an appointment that received a suspicious welcome from markets. Previously minister of energy, Albayrak is now in the frontline of dealing with one of the biggest crises of Erdogan's one-and-a-half-decade rule after the Turkish lira crashed in value over a dispute with the United States. On Thursday, he was to hold a teleconference with some 3,000 investors to explain Turkey's battle plan for grappling with the crisis. He will be hoping to make a stronger impression than last Friday when he made a long-planned presentation on Turkey's growth strategy in Istanbul's Dolmabahce Palace at the very moment the lira was in freefall. Sweating profusely on an intensely humid day, Albayrak did not once directly address the fall of the lira, bewildering observers.
- The 'damat' -The rise of Albayrak to be a member of Erdogan's inner circle and one of the most powerful men in the country has been meteoric. He first won a seat in parliament in June 2015 and was handed the key job of energy minister in November that year. Critics say his rise smacks of the claims of nepotism and favouritism that have long surrounded the Erdogan family. But observers close to the authorities describe Albayrak as one of the most capable figures in government. A European official who has met Albayrak told AFP he found the fluent English speaker to be courteous and an attentive listener but hard to pin down on the most critical issues. He is often simply known in Turkey as the "damat" -- the son-in-law.
Some compare him to Jared Kushner, the similarly-aged son-in-law of US President Donald Trump who is a senior White House adviser with key responsibilities, albeit with the difference that Albayrak began his career by being elected to parliament. In a sign of Albayrak's proximity to Erdogan, he was holidaying with the president and closest family in the southern resort of Marmaris during the attempted coup of July 15, 2016. He then accompanied the president on a potentially dangerous flight back to Istanbul, sitting at his side at a news conference at the city's main airport that marked the turning of the tide that night. And even before being named finance minister, Albayrak was accompanying Erdogan to critical meetings such as with Russian President Vladimir Putin. And in the latest sign of his importance, Albayrak was the only other Turkish official present at a lunch meeting Wednesday in Ankara between Erdogan and Qatar Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani that resulted in a promise of $15 billion direct investment in Turkey from the emirate. Some reports have pointed to tensions within the cabinet over Albayrak and, in particular, with Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, an outspoken favourite of the ruling party faithful whose fiery rhetoric contrasts with the finance minister's quiet demeanour. Earlier this month, footage went viral of Soylu ahead of a ceremony appearing to barge into Albayrak's shoulder and then turning his head with a grin as the minister walked by.
Days later, the ministers were seen at another ceremony warmly shaking hands in an encounter played up by state television.
Rapid rise -Until late 2013, Albayrak was chief executive of the Calik Holding conglomerate which has interests in textiles, energy, but also notably media, and owns the pro-government Sabah daily and the A-Haber TV channel. He has a Master's degree from New York's Pace University. Erdogan is considered very close to the Albayrak family, in particular to Berat Albayrak's father Sadik, a prominent Turkish journalist and author. Several world leaders attended Albayrak's marriage to Esra Erdogan in July 2004. At the peak of the crisis with Russia after Turkey shot down one of its warplanes in November 2015, Moscow explicitly accused Albayrak and Erdogan's close family of participating in illicit oil smuggling trade in Syria. The claims were vehemently denied by Erdogan and Turkish officials. And any bitterness was soon forgotten when Albayrak smilingly signed an agreement on the construction of a Russian gas pipeline to Turkey in October 2016, a symbol of the two countries' reconciliation. It was also Albayrak who held a crucial first ice-breaking meeting with an Israeli minister, his then counterpart Yuval Steinitz, after an agreement with the Jewish state to normalise ties. Observers are now watching the career of Erdogan's second son-in-law Selcuk Bayraktar, who in 2016 married the president's youngest daughter Sumeyye and is a top executive at the company that has made Turkey's first domestically-produced drone.

Turkey Seeks to Soothe Markets over Tensions with U.S.
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/August 16/18/Turkey's finance minister Berat Albayrak will seek to soothe the markets about the lira's dramatic fall in the wake of escalating tensions with the United States via a conference call with foreign investors, his ministry announced Thursday. Some 3,000 investors from the United States, Europe and Asia registered to join the conference call scheduled for 1300 GMT, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported. Albayrak, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's son-in-law, was appointed last month, and faces a tough task in getting the economy in order. The lira was being traded at 5.7 against the dollar and 6.5 against euro -- after it lost nearly a quarter of its value on Friday and Monday. The slight rebound comes after the Turkish central bank took a raft of measures to keep financial stability and ensure Turkish banks have sufficient liquidity. However, analysts say such measures are not enough and call for a sharp hike in interest rates -- strongly opposed by Erdogan's government which sees economic growth as its top priority. The tensions between Ankara and Washington have been increased after Turkey refused to free US pastor Andrew Brunson detained in October 2016 on charges of terror and espionage and who is currently under house arrest. US President Donald Trump tweeted last Friday that Washington was doubling aluminium and steel tariffs for Ankara, a move that sent the lira into freefall.  In response, Erdogan has called for a boycott of US electronic goods such as the iPhone and Ankara has sharply hiked tariffs on some US products, in a move called "regrettable" by the White House.

Lira Crisis Piles Pain on Turkish Shoppers as Costs Soar

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/August 16/18/"Look at this, I have sold nothing!" said Cemile Baykal, sitting in front of piles of vegetables untouched on her Ankara market stall. Traders like Cemile, who are suffering as Turkish shoppers shun their produce, say they know what is behind their pain -- the fall in value of the local currency the lira caused by diplomatic sparring between Turkey and the United States. Consumers have been buffeted by surging costs and economic uncertainty, with the Turkish currency sinking 20 percent in a month and 40 percent since the start of the year. The lira's plunge has piled pain on to an economy already roiled by high inflation, which is approaching 16 percent and has affected the most basic sectors of life such as transport. For Cemile and her fellow traders that means higher costs to even bring their produce to the covered market in Ankara, where a thinning stream of customers is increasingly wary of opening their wallets. "We are not selling but we are obliged to come to earn our daily bread," said Cemile, casting a glance at her unsold sacks of potatoes.
Affecting every family
Fruit seller Ilhan Gecgel said that while his sales have continued, he and his customers are feeling the sting of rising prices. "I sell my fruit, but I suffer when I sell them. A kilo of figs at 10 lira ($1.73), is that possible? It's absurd, they should be four or five lira," he said, adding that ballooning costs are stifling daily life. "People are not even able to organize the marriages of their children." Altay Gultekin, a pensioner shopping at the market, said he has had to lower his quality of life as a consequence of the price rises. "There is not a family who is not talking about this at home," he said. The standoff with Washington has snowballed into one of the worst Turkey-U.S. crises in ties in years over Ankara's detention of an American pastor. U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted last Friday that Washington was doubling aluminum and steel tariffs for Ankara, a move that sent the lira into freefall, although it has recovered slightly since then. In response, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called for a boycott of US electronic goods such as the iPhone and Ankara has sharply hiked tariffs on some US products. Economists warn that the lira's plunge, which will have a direct impact on produce that Turkey imports, risks further increasing consumer prices. Food costs rose 19.4 percent in the year to July, according to the latest figures, while transport rose 24 percent. At his fruit stall, trader Yakup Kurdi said that even the price of plastic bags has doubled recently and he has been forced to nudge up prices for his customers.
Gold rush?
Erdogan has slammed the fall of the lira as a "plot" aimed at bringing Turkey to its knees and urged Turks to exchange dollars into lira to support the local currency. That idea had some support among Ankara's shoppers. Housewife Ayse Celiktas, outraged that turmoil on international markets can affect her shopping so much, said she would also put her faith in a traditional safe haven. "Gold also has some value, let our jewelers earn something!" she said. The precious metal is often given as a gift in Turkey and is a long-established investment. But jewelers in Ankara's old city said business was far from brisk. "When the price of gold or the dollar increases (against the lira), this immediately slows down our activity," he said. "People panic and worry about what might happen," he said. "Everyone is waiting."

Saudi Forces Arrest Armed 'Extremist' after Gunfight
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/August 16/18/Saudi forces have arrested a heavily armed "extremist" after wounding him in an exchange of gunfire in the kingdom's conservative central heartland, the interior ministry said early Thursday. The man had embraced the Islamic State group's "ideology" and was found to be in possession of a machine gun, a pistol and multiple rounds of ammunition, the ministry said in a statement. The man in Al-Bukhariya city was also wearing what appeared to be an explosives-laden belt, state-run Al-Ekhbariya television reported. The incident comes as the kingdom prepares to host the annual hajj pilgrimage from August 19-24. The kingdom has seen numerous attacks in recent years by jihadists, including Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group, against security forces. It has also seen clashes between Shiite militants and security forces in the eastern provinces. In July, a drive-by shooting against a checkpoint in central Saudi Arabia and an ensuing gunfight left a security officer, a Bangladeshi civilian and two attackers dead, according to the interior ministry. And in April, four Saudi policemen were killed and four others wounded in an attack targeting a checkpoint in the southwestern province of Asir.

UN Palestinian Schools to Open On Time despite U.S. Freeze

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/August 16/18/Hundreds of UN-run schools for Palestinian refugees will open on time after fresh funding temporarily staved off a financial crisis triggered by a US contributions freeze, the United Nations said on Thursday. The UN agency for Palestinian refugees said all 711 schools it runs for 526,000 pupils in the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria would open for the coming school year. There had been warnings from UN chief Antonio Guterres and others that the schools might not be able to open due to funding shortages provoked by US President Donald Trump's decision to withhold aid to the Palestinians. The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) said it had mobilised an additional $238 million since the start of the year, but added that it currently only had enough cash to keep its services operating through September. "We need a further $217 million to ensure that our schools not only open but can be run until the end of the year," the agency said in a statement. The schools are due to open over a staggered time period between August 29 and September 2. UNRWA has faced a $300 million freeze in funding from the United States as Trump demands changes to the agency and seeks to pressure the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table.
Other countries have since provided additional contributions but UNRWA says it is not enough. The agency provides services to more than three million Palestinian refugees and their descendants across the Middle East and employs more than 20,000 people, the vast majority Palestinians. Last month, UNRWA announced it was cutting more than 250 jobs in the Palestinian territories due to the funding crisis. UNRWA was set up after the 1948 war that accompanied the creation of Israel, during which more than 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes. Israel argues the agency is biased against it and perpetuates the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. UN officials and others say that the agency provides vital services to the vulnerable communities under its mandate.

Darfur Rebels Strengthen Foothold in Libya, Says UN Report
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/August 16/18/Rebel groups from Sudan's Darfur region are strengthening their foothold in Libya, building up their military strength in a bid to return to Sudan and fight on, according to a confidential report seen by AFP on Wednesday.
The report by a UN panel of experts said Sudan was continuing to pour weapons into Darfur to support its military campaign there, in violation of a UN arms embargo. "In recent months, most of the Darfur rebel groups have consolidated their presence in Libya," said the 53-page report sent to the Security Council this month. Many of them have joined Libyan armed groups and are "reportedly building up their military capabilities in order to be ready to return to Sudan when the environment becomes more conducive." South Sudan, once a key backer for the rebels fighting Khartoum, has lost sway as "Libya has emerged as an important source of financing for Darfuri armed groups." The report confirmed that renewed heavy clashes in Darfur's mountainous Jebel Marra area after nearly a year-long lull have resulted in a "significant number of casualties on both sides and among civilians."Fresh fighting in Jebel Marra since February has forced thousands to flee, with many taking refuge in caves and valleys with no access to food, water or proper shelter, said the report. "The situation has been uniformly characterized as a dire humanitarian situation," it said. - One rebel group left in Darfur -The only rebel group remaining in Darfur, the SLA-AW, has about 1,000 fighters who are "well-versed in guerrilla, mobile tactics" in the mountainous terrain. All of the major Darfur armed groups are present in Libya, many of whom have joined the ranks of military strongman Khalifa Haftar, the head of the Libyan National Army which controls the east. The experts traveled to Sudan twice, in April-May and again in June-July, for talks with the government, which stressed that there were no military operations in Darfur but rather security sweeps against bandits. Sudan's government "continues to transfer military materiel to Darfur in support of the various security forces deployed there in violation of the arms embargo," the report said. The independent experts report to the council every six months on Sudan. The United Nations is drawing down its huge joint peacekeeping mission with the African Union, known as UNAMID, and has put in motion steps that could lead to its closure in two years. In Libya, the United Nations is pushing for elections to be held this year, possibly in December, to turn the page on years of chaos since the 2011 ouster of Moamer Kadhafi. The conflict in Darfur erupted in 2003 when rebels took up arms against Sudan's government. The United Nations says that over the years the conflict has killed about 300,000 people and displaced more than 2.5 million, with many having set up home over the last decade and a half in sprawling semi-permanent camps.

Russian Journalists Shot in C. Africa Targeted in Ambush

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/August 16/18/Three Russian journalists killed in Central Africa last month as they reported on Russian mercenaries there were targeted in an ambush, a media organization that was backing them said Thursday. The claim contradicts the version of events put forward by the Kremlin, which said initial evidence suggested the journalists were killed after resisting robbers. The men -- reporter Orkhan Dzhemal, director Alexander Rastorguyev and cameraman Kirill Radchenko -- were killed on July 30 shortly after arriving in the war-torn country to report on a private army known as Wagner Group. "The version of a simple theft as the criminals' main motive is contradicted by many factors," said the MBK media organization, owned by exiled former oligarch and Kremlin foe Mikhail Khodorkovsky. "The criminals were waiting...for the very car carrying Dzhemal, Rastorguyev and Radchenko," the organization said in a statement on its website, after sending investigators to the region. MBK said it "does not exclude the involvement of Russian mercenaries" in the alleged ambush. "A group of about ten people waited for several hours for the journalists' car", which had made a detour at the last moment, leading them to the spot of the killing. Another car carrying "three armed white people, resembling mercenaries, and two Central Africans" passed through the same checkpoint as journalists shortly before them, the statement said. The vehicle returned in the other direction an hour later. In an earlier interview with CNN, Khodorkovsky rejected the theft-gone-wrong theory. Wagner's soldiers have fought in conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, according to Western and independent Russian media reports as well as foreign governments. Russia officially has military and civilian instructors in CAR to train local troops and experts have suggested they could be part of Wagner.

Gunmen Attack Intelligence Training Center in Kabul
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/August 16/18/Gunmen attacked an intelligence training centre in Kabul on Thursday, officials said, as families buried loved ones killed by a suicide bomber a day earlier in the war-weary Afghan capital. The attack on the training facility was the latest incident in a blood-soaked week that saw militants deliver crippling blows to government forces across Afghanistan. "Clashes are ongoing and the area is cordoned off by the Afghan security forces," said Kabul police spokesman Hashmat Stanikzai. The firefight erupted near a training centre overseen by the National Security Directorate -- Afghanistan's intelligence agency -- with the gunmen holed up in a construction site near residential buildings, an official at the scene said. Live television footage showed the area cordoned off with gunfire echoing through the empty streets, while humvees patrolled and a helicopter circled above. Commandos were also deployed to the scene to help contain the fighting, according to another security official. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the incident. - Bloody week -The attack comes just hours after a suicide bomber detonated explosives inside an education centre in a predominantly Shiite area of western Kabul, where students were studying for college entrance exams, killing at least 37 people. Loved ones and families of the dead held a mass funeral Thursday where mourners wept and clutched the wooden coffins. An industrial-sized digger helped soften the arid ground for the fresh graves as men removed rocks from the soil with pickaxes. Mourners decried the unrelenting bloodshed, while others dismissed murmurings of possible ceasefires and peace negotiations between the government and the Taliban. "Death to your ceasefire and death to your ghost peace talks," cried one of the funeral attendees. "They are killing our educated people and everyday they are killing us." The surge in violence comes just weeks after Afghans marked an unprecedented country-wide ceasefire between the Taliban and government forces in June, giving some temporary relief to civilians. The brief respite sparked hopes the truce could clear the way for talks to end the nearly 17-year-old conflict. However the devastating attacks across the country in recent days have led many to question how such negotiations could move ahead amid the bloodshed. "Everyday we are witnessing deadly attacks in Kabul and other major cities. So, I believe the Taliban do not believe in peace talks," said shopkeeper Shahenshah Shahin in Kabul. Analysts have suggested the Taliban may be trying to shore up its position before any potential negotiations by proving they can hit government installations at will. "The Taliban will try to have an upper hand during talks, so we can't rule out more attacks until a ceasefire," said Taliban expert Rahimullah Yusufzai. "It's the fighting season and the Taliban will want to rack up victories before winter."While it has been months since The Taliban have claimed a major attack in Kabul, the group has been conducting blistering attacks on security forces across Afghanistan, including a massive, days-long onslaught on the eastern city of Ghazni during the past week. Afghan forces appeared to have finally pushed Taliban fighters from the strategic provincial capital, as the UN warned that reports suggested up to 150 civilians might have been killed in the fighting. Militant attacks and suicide bombings were the leading causes of civilian deaths in the first half of 2018, a recent UN report showed. Small pockets of Ghazni began opening up to humanitarian aid Thursday, while partial mobile service returned after telecommunications infrastructure and government buildings were destroyed during the onslaught.

Saudi minister Abdullatif Al-Sheikh: Muslim Brotherhood harmed Islam
Maryam al-Jaber, Al Arabiya English/hursday, 16 August 2018/Saudi minister of Islamic Affairs, Call and Guidance Abdullatif bin Abdulaziz al-Sheikh stressed that Muslim Brotherhood inflicted injustice and harmed Islam and Muslims, as it is a proof of destruction and devastation in some of the neighboring countries. In a press conference he held in Mina after a tour checking preparations for Hajj performance, the minister said: “The Muslim Brotherhood tried to enter Saudi Arabia to ignite sedition, but God protected us, as citizens could sense and knew the evil advocates who mislead people. Our scholars united with the leadership and the citizens, and we were able to move beyond that stage to stability and maintain unity.”Al-Sheikh added: “We have suffered in the past from some of the advocates of the call “Dawah” who took the platforms in some places, and passed on extremist ideas, as well as the radical proposal contrary to the Quran and Sunna, inciting people and harming them.”The Saudi minister stressed that no one can politicize the Hajj and take it away from its Sharia’a goals and Saudi Arabia won’t allow that. Al-Sheikh stressed that every Muslim should defend this holy land and that what Saudi is doing for the Two Holy Mosques and other holy sites is heartwarming. He said that the attack on Saudi Arabia is an attack on Islam and the correct doctrine, explaining that those who deny the Kingdom’s efforts to serve the guests of the Rahman, are either a hateful enemy or someone ignorant. Minister al-Sheikh revealed that the ministry is going to introduce technology in all its activities, as monitoring cameras will be installed at mosques, so that the activities are under the ministry’s supervision until the platforms are controlled and protected from extremism.

The Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published
on August 16-17/18
What is rightful for Iran, is rightful for Iraq
Khairallah Khairallah/Al Arabiya/August 16/18
Iranian anger against Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi provides him with a patriotic record. It’s no longer unlikely that Abadi’s political future has become linked to the extent of Iranian influence in Iraq.
Abadi’s stance towards the American sanctions on Iran elevates his worth as there has been a negative view of him because he belongs to the sectarian party, the Islamic Dawa Party, which is considered a Shiite version of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Abadi, who did not reside in Iran while opposing the Saddam Hussein’s regime, took a brave stance when he announced that Iraq will commit to the American sanctions against Iran. He made many reservations about the sanctions and described them as “unjust” and as a “strategic mistake”, but he eventually confirmed that Iraq is committed to implementing them.
It’s not possible to underestimate what the Iraqi prime minister did where Tehran refused to receive him in protest of his announcement that Iraq will implement American sanctions. When Abadi confronts Iran in a sensitive matter like sanctions, he knows well that he’s engaged in a fateful battle
He thus revealed that he has minimal patriotism and a low desire to protect Iraq’s interests. He, like everyone else, knows that the US may reconcile with the Iranian regime tomorrow. The honeymoon phase, which reigned before the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 or during the eight years when Barack Obama was in the White House, would thus return.
US relations
Does Iran have the right to establish the best types of relations with the US while at the same time blackmail it on a daily basis, whether in Syria or Iraq or Lebanon or Yemen, while Iraq cannot ask itself where its interests and its citizens’ interests lie, and work on defending these interests?
If George W. Bush handed over Iraq to Iran on a silver plate, then Obama completed this handover process in an unofficial manner in 2010. Why does Iran have the right to fully coordinate with the Americans, all the way to agreeing over who Iraq’s prime minister will be, but Iraq doesn’t? Is it Iraq’s fate to just be a follower of Iran and sacrifice itself for its sake?
Once again, it turns out that Iraq refuses to completely surrender to Iran. What Abadi did is an expression of the Iraqi desire to resist. He justified his stance via simple statements about the desire “to not subject the Iraqis to harm and protect our people.” He added: “We cannot depart from the international system.”
Following the years he spent in power, Abadi now knows what American sanctions on Iran means and he knows the nature of the American role on the international level. He is perhaps particularly aware of the US’s economic weight as its economy is a quarter of the world’s economy.
It’s not possible to underestimate what the Iraqi prime minister did where Tehran refused to receive him in protest of his announcement that Iraq will implement American sanctions. When Abadi confronts Iran in a sensitive matter like sanctions, he knows well that he’s engaged in a fateful battle.
The statements issued by Ayatollah Mujtaba Hussaini, the representative of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in Iraq, are enough to confirm this. Hussaini, who lives in Najaf, went as far as accusing Abadi of “being involved with America and submissive to its conspiracies on Iran which is Iraq’s neighbor and which is unified with the Iraqi people in religion and stances.”
Attempts to conjoin Iraq and Iran
According to Khamenei’s representative in Iraq, “the Iraqi and Iranian people embody the concept of ‘your flesh is my flesh and your blood is my blood’ and they are one people.” His remarks are a reminder of the statements made by late President Hafez al-Assad during the Syrian tutelage over Lebanon, which stipulated that the Syrian and Lebanese people “are one people in two countries.”
The Iraqi prime minister’s stance gives an idea about the seriousness of the American sanctions on Iran and shows the Trump administration’s obvious desire to go far in implementing them. What’s certain is that the man has special calculations imposed by the difficulties which face his return to the post he’s been occupying since 2014 as successor to Nuri al-Maliki. Maliki is the hero of the scandal pertaining to ISIS’s invasion of Mosul and the Iraqi army’s retreat against this terrorist group in a manner that is reminiscent of Arab defeats in the 1967 War.
The question which will sooner or later surface is how will Iran work on exploiting Iraq to get around the American sanctions which will become harsher in November?
It’s clear that Iran will work on forming a government that supports it in Iraq. It will one way or another work on getting rid of Abadi as soon as possible. If Iran decides to confront, it does not have plenty of options, especially in Iraq. It also does not have plenty of other options other than forming a Lebanese cabinet that’s wrapped around its finger.
This to a great extent explains the fierce attack on Abadi on one hand, and on another, the insistence to prevent the establishment of a “national consensus” government in Lebanon by Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, who wants to form this cabinet in a balancing way while taking into consideration Lebanon’s interest in fortifying itself against the major shifts in the region.
In all cases, if Abadi’s stance towards Iran signifies anything, it actually signifies that there is a general popular desire in Iraq to avoid falling into Iran’s complete tutelage. The results of the recent elections held on May 12 reflect this desire. The recent popular activity in Iraqi cities and areas also express some sort of Iraqi awakening, although there are plenty of statements that Iran is not distant from this unrest in Iraq. Those making such statements said there is an Iranian hand in the attempt to halt the product of Iraqi oil in the future in case America prevents it from marketing its own oil.
There is one last question. What is the stance that the American administration will take towards Abadi in particular and towards the Iraqi situation in general? Will it support the current prime minister and push to his return to his post after he proved that’s ready to be an Iraqi patriot although he belongs to a party like the Dawa Party?
In the next few months, America will be preoccupied with Iran which will as much as possible delay its decision to engage in a dialogue with Washington without preconditions. Iran will in the next few weeks work on testing the extent of seriousness of Trump and his team, primarily of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton. Iran will seek to make the American administration understand that it has plenty of cards in the region, especially in Iraq where there are sectarian militias affiliated with it and which operate under the name of the Popular Mobilization.
What’s certain is that Abadi will be in an unenviable position during the next phase, unless the US decides – even for once – to decisively stand with those who stand by it and show that it’s in fact a party that can be relied on in difficult times and that Iraq remains Iraq and Iran remains Iran. What is Iran’s right is also Iraq’s right, and the relation between Washington and Baghdad does not necessarily pass through Tehran!

Will the Revolutionary Guards turn against Iran’s mullahs?

Mohammed Al Shaikh/Al Arabiya/August 16/18
After the first round of US sanctions against Iran came into effect, US President Donald Trump expressed his willingness to negotiate with Iran. It is obvious that he will set new conditions for a new agreement, or so he hopes, which will fill the gaps that caused him to withdraw from the nuclear agreement, which was signed by his predecessor President Obama. Trump’s most important concerns regarding the previous agreement has been that it does not address two crucial points related to Iran’s political activities in the region.
The first pertains to ballistic missiles, and the second pertains to its hostile behavior towards the region’s countries. This is in addition to stopping the development of nuclear reactors in a way that prevents Iran from possessing nuclear weapons.
Although they do not express this explicitly, they exalt Khomeini’s rank as being equal to that of the prophets or a purging angel. I have no doubt that Trump knows this and he also knows well that the clerical Iran cannot change these peremptory constitutional articles
Khamenei's dilemma
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei can probably stop the country’s activities related to ballistic missiles – even if tactically. As for its activities pertaining to interfering in the region’s affairs and playing the role of supporting the vulnerable, which is sometimes described by the Iranians as exporting the revolution, then this is a peremptory constitutional article that Khamenei has inherited from the founder of the Khomeini revolution. According to Iran’s clerics, amending Khomeini’s constitution is like changing religion or in a jurisprudential language is like changing the constant in religion.
Although they do not express this explicitly, they exalt Khomeini’s rank as being equal to that of the prophets or a purging angel. I have no doubt that Trump knows this and he also knows well that the clerical Iran cannot change these peremptory constitutional articles.
Thus, this is behind Trump’s request, which I think is an intelligent tactic and a maneuver to draw sections of the Iranian people towards the US stance and show that Khamenei’s regime is in a critical dilemma. If it accepts to abandon the constitution and order amending it, it will be hammering the first nail in the coffin of the Khomeini republic and if it refuses the proposal, the sanctions will suffocate the regime and lead to its inevitable collapse.
Iran’s mullahs, both the hardliners and the reformists, cannot blend with the era and the conditions of survival. The aggressive tendency they adopt will not be accepted by today’s world by any means. The transformation of the regime in Iran from “the revolution” to the “state” is almost impossible – that is if it’s not exactly what is impossible. Intellectuals in Iran are fully aware of this, but the Revolutionary Guard’s dominance over Iran’s political decision makes such a decision tantamount to a suicide operation for this military institution, which has grown so strong to the extent that all the Iranians are wary of it, including the clerics themselves as well as Ali Khamenei himself. A round of US sanctions on Iran has come into effect. The second round and other rounds that will be imposed after three months will be the most dangerous ones and are the ones, which will suffocate the Iranian economy to death. The Iranians cannot face their fate unless by abandoning their hostile attitude and by adopting a political approach that abandons violence and riots and that does not ignite strife and problems in neighboring countries.
Thus the mullahs are now in trouble, and even their best options are extremely bitter. That’s why I do not believe that the Iranians are capable of exiting this dark tunnel they’ve found themselves in unless the clerics are removed from power by a military coup and the Revolutionary Guard generals take over, otherwise Khomeini’s republic will inevitably collapse.

Osama bin Laden’s mother condemns the Muslim Brotherhood

Abdullah bin Bijad Al-Otaibi/Al Arabiya/August 16/18
For the first time in many years, the mother of Osama bin Laden has broken her silence and spoken about her relationship with her son. As a mother, she doesn’t believe anything bad about her son even if he was the leader of Al-Qaeda, the man who spread terrorism and destruction.
The most important feature of Mrs. Aliya Ghanem’s talk relates to how the Muslim Brotherhood recruited her son when he was studying at the King Abdul-Aziz University in Jeddah, specifically by Palestinian Brotherhood member Abdullah Azzam, the spiritual father of the Arab Afghans, and the leader and mentor of bin Laden. She believes that her son was “brainwashed in his twenties and became a different person”. What Osama’s mother does not know is that Abdullah Azzam wasn’t the only bad influence, but this transformation was also brought about by Ikhwan al-Hijaz (the Brotherhood of the Hijaz), the most active branch of the two other organizations affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood in Saudi Arabia which are ‘the Brotherhood of Riyadh’, or the so-called ‘General Command’ as well and the ‘Az-Zubayr Brotherhood’.
Muslim Brotherhood’s brainwashing
The interview by bin Laden's mother have been carried out by the British newspaper The Guardian and was translated by many Arab media outlets. It is an important confession because his mother watched him as a young boy and later as a young man and witnessed the extent of the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence over him and of brainwashing him and the degree of emotional isolation he underwent because of the radical teachings about "Hakimiyyah" and "Jahiliyyah, the alleged Western conspiracy against Islam and other dubious ideas which first mentally brainwashed him and then made him establish Al-Qaeda, the most dangerous terrorist organization in the last three decades. Bin Laden’s mother witnessed the extent to which the Muslim Brotherhood influenced her son and the degree of emotional isolation he underwent because of the radical teachings.
Many have written about bin Laden's relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood; his relationship with Abdullah Azzam and the Brotherhood of the Hijaz is well-known. He was later ousted from the organization after he dared go to Afghanistan and stay there although the orders were to deliver aid and return. Ayman al-Zawahiri mentioned this in a series of video-broadcasts following the assassination of bin Laden.
After Al-Qaeda became stronger and attracted more followers. Mustafa Mashhur, the Muslim Brotherhood’s general guide, who is also a prominent student of Sayyid Qutb, met bin Laden and told him: “You left your brothers and you shall return to your brothers”. However, bin Laden refused the offer because he believed that he was more influential than the Brotherhood.
Source of distorted beliefs
It is important for researchers and experts to acknowledge the dissimilarities between political Islam groups and violent religious organizations, but the most important point is to realize that they all derive from the Muslim Brotherhood's discourse, which is the founding basis for all misinterpretation of Islam for the last nine decades. The spread of the Muslim Brotherhood’s rhetoric has been the greatest threat to Islam as a religious that guides and exploited the latter as a tool to attain power, while only focusing on their selective interpretation of ‘Sharia’ and abolishing the other foundations of the religion and its branches.
Al-Qaeda's alliance with Iran has been an extension of the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology which glorifies Khomeini’s revolution. Al-Qaeda also allied itself with Qatar and Turkey's fundamentalist project in the region. Al-Qaeda was keen over hiding this alliance from ideological and extremist followers but after it was exposed, it began to issue lengthy explanations via the Sururist Movement in Saudi Arabia and others.
For example, most recently there has been the book, ‘Muslims and Western Civilization’, supposedly written by Safar Al-Hawali. I believe that this is the work of a different Sahawist group, for it appears that Safar al-Hawali and Nasser al Omar targeted the Shiites and Sufism inside Saudi Arabia to provoke sedition and chaos within the country, while they remain convinced of bin Laden’s alliance with Iran.
Mrs. Aliya Ghanem finally appeared in the pictures wearing high-end clothes that reflect a fine taste while giving a testimony to history and the world about the Muslim Brotherhood and the ideology that brainwashed her son at an early age and deceived him, which is the method of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Jordan pays price for advocating peace in Syria, defending Jerusalem identity
Shehab Al-Makahleh/Al Arabiya/August 16/18
Many Jordanians believe that what has happened thus far in Al-Fuhais and Al-Salt is to dissuade Jordanian leadership from proceeding further with advocating a peaceful solution to the Syrian conflict and to deter Jordan’s leadership from defending the right of Arabs and Muslims in Jerusalem.
The rising militancy in Jordan accompanied by ISIS and Nusra Front spillover into the country poses a major threat to Jordanian security forces and intelligence personnel. Since 2006, Jordan has been facing terrorisations from extremist groups. In 2016, the country faced terrorism in Irbid, Karak, Al-Baqaa Refugee Camp for Palestinians, Al-Rukban Refugee Camp for Syrians, and recently Al-Fuhais town and Al-Salt city. The astonishing operation of Fuhais against security and the subsequent ramifications which were prelude to latter confrontations and manhunt in the city of Salt confirm that terrorists’ target is not a civilian, but security men who hamper these radicals from perpetrating their agendas on the Jordanian soil, using improvised explosive device (IED). The IED planted in Fuhais have not targeted civilians although there were many amongst the fans attending the concert which was part of the town’s Festival. The terrorist’s message is clear: The direct enemy is security services. Thus, this terrorist bid proves that ISIS has taken a decisive decision to act against Jordanian security and military forces for some political and media gains, mainly at this time which is quite sensitive for all Jordanians as their country is undergoing hard economic and financial predicaments.
It is natural for Jordan to find itself today countering repercussions of post-ISIS era. The contemporary phase is regarded as a movement of ISIS members and followers to jointly work in a “decentralized” manner against what the Jordanian security forces would have been readying themselves to counter. Terrorists managed to trap a number of security in Fuhais Festival without targeting civilians. This is an indicator that they don’t want to target civilians, but rather security forces to convey a strong message that they are ready to face only armed forces to dissuade Jordanian leadership from siding by a peaceful solution to the Syrian conflict.
When Jordan coordinated with Russians, Americans and Syrian to demilitarise South West of Syria from ISIS fighters, and when Jordanian armed forces shot at a number of ISIS in the Yarmouk River area in July 2018, that has been a motive for ISIS to take revenge on Jordanian security and army
The outcome was a number of officers killed; the level of destruction and death toll amongst civilians would have been in dozens if terrorist tactic was not nipped in the bud in the first few hours as their plan was not Salt alone, but rather other places to cause as much destruction and as many fatalities as possible.
Jordan faces internal and external challenges and threats that pose a high risk to its security and stability. Such challenges are very hazardous that they cannot be unheeded by political, strategic and security apparatuses and decision-makers without being duly addressed. On August 10, 2018, an IED under a police vehicle which was guarding a music festival in Fuhais has changed the mood of Jordanians. When security had stormed a building in Salt which was a shelter for a number of terrorists, a number of security officers were killed as these terrorists were having all types of arms.
Homeland security
Terrorism hit Jordan four times in 2016. The worst was in mid-December when a terrorist cell targeted Karak Castle. The attack death toll rose to four Jordanian tourists, seven security personnel, two civilians and one Canadian tourist. Comparing the 2016 incident with that in Salt City, there is one similarity: security were trapped into a booby-trapped building where terrorists initiated shooting at security and gendarmes to incur as many death toll amongst them. The security officers sacrificed themselves to decrease the number of lives amongst civilians near who reside near the booby-trapped building. One should recall that about 4,100 Jordanians joined ISIS in Syria and Iraq and hundreds joined Al Nusra Front.  Generally speaking, the incidents of Fuhais and Salt are not different from previous confrontations with terrorist groups in Jordan. The IED in Fuhais led security services with a record speed to locate the whereabouts of the mother cell of the terrorists in Salt. They encircled the building which was a repository of explosives and weapons of all kinds. Initial information about Salt security operation reveals that the terrorists are all Jordanians, who fortified themselves in a residential neighborhood to ward off suspicions and to better plan for their crimes without drawing security attention. The bombing of Fuhais may have been an initial process of drawing attention and launching lethal attacks in other vital locations; however, security and intelligence instant response has thwarted the plan to target other areas.
Terrorism spillover
When Jordan coordinated with Russians, Americans and Syrians to demilitarise South West of Syria from ISIS fighters, and when Jordanian armed forces shot at a number of ISIS in the Yarmouk River area in July 2018, that has been a motive for ISIS to take revenge on the Jordanian security and army. Some Jordanians have returned home already after fighting in Syria, but they pledged to respect Jordanian laws and rules. The question would be: If ISIS shrunk due to continued battle losses at all fronts, will its members and followers be able to use their previous experiences against their homeland? The answer is simply yes. Such radicals do not believe in homeland security, but they believe in combating governments to sustain their caliphate. Of course, Jordan has aborted other attempts in 2017 and thanks to General Intelligence Department for their comprehensive counterterrorism and countering violent extremism strategies through the National Policies Council. In 2014, a National Strategy for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism was formed to prevent radicalism and to counter extremism.
Terrorists’ new tactic
Terrorists’ new tactic may not be easy to deal with in the coming period as their next step would be to have hostages or even to target civilians to exercise more pressure on Jordanian leadership to change its regional policies.
Terrorist tactical shift is new and no security and intelligence service can abort it in spite of tight security measures being taken. The entreaty of security men to the booby-trapped building where these terrorist were sheltering to incur many losses amongst security forces should be addressed.
The recent terrorist incidents in Irbid, Karak and Salt have something in common: ISIS which is still capable of moving cross borders to carry out terrorists’ acts through its members and followers who believe that change cannot be achieved without military power and death toll.

New evidence to back UN’s finding about Tehran role in nurturing al-Qaeda
اثباتات جديدة تدعم تقارير الأمم المتحدة الخاصة بدور إيران في تقوية واحتضان القاعدة
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Thursday, 16 August 2018
A United Nations report mentioned that ISIS still has as many as 30,000 members distributed almost equally between Syria and Iraq and is supported by the al-Qaeda organization, which has become much stronger in some places due to increased Iranian support.
According to the Associated Press, the report which was prepared by UN experts on Monday, and presented to the UN Security Council, reveals that despite the defeat of ISIS in Iraq and most of Syria, it is likely that a “secret copy” of the extremists group will exist in both countries, with supporters in Afghanistan, Libya, Southeast Asia and West Africa.
Experts said the global al-Qaeda network is much stronger than in some locations, including Somalia, Yemen, South Asia and the African Sahel area.
Experts said al-Qaeda leaders in Iran had become more capable and working with al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri, and they were highlighting his authority more effectively than before, particularly with regard to events in Syria.
Iran increases support for al-Qaeda
The report by UN experts on Iran’s increased support for al-Qaeda reinforces several documents and reports that Iran is working to bring together ISIS and its pockets in Syria to rehabilitate and build al-Qaeda by using its strategic and historical ties with the organization’s leaders.
A report published in the Sunday Times in January by both writers Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clarke said al-Qaeda today has rebuilt itself to the point where it can summon tens of thousands of elements with the help of Iran.
Tehran is working to annex al-Qaeda remnants, coordinating with al-Qaeda military leaders who have traveled to Damascus to assemble the ranks of ISIS fighters and establish a “new base” similar in to its Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah militias.
Appropriating credit for ISIS defeat
Since controlling the last strongholds of ISIS group in Syria and Iraq, Iran’s media machine has been trying to appropriate the defeat of the extremists group to Tehran, its allies and militias, and has tried to diminish the role of the US-led international coalition in defeating ISIS.
It also tried to falsify the facts by appropriate credit for the defeat of ISIS, where Iranian propaganda ignored the role of the Revolutionary Guards and its militias in the emergence of ISIS, as a result of suppressing the peaceful Syrian revolution and the release and feeding of extremist groups.
Iran lost more than 3,500 fighters according to semi-official statistics and tens of billions of dollars to save Assad in 2012 in battles against the Syrian opposition.
Al-Qaeda leaders in Iran
Adrian Levy and Kathy Scott-Clarke have confirmed that the commander of the elite Quds force, affiliated to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, Qassim Suleimani, has played the most prominent role in managing the relationship with al-Qaeda since he provided refuge for the family of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda leaders after they fled Afghanistan in 2001 and built a residential complex at the heart of a Revolutionary Guard training camp in Tehran.
Iranian support and funding played an important role in reviving al-Qaeda, which had only 400 members when it carried out the September 11 attacks in the United States in 2001. The organization was fragmented because of the US invasion of Afghanistan, but it recovered with the emergence of ISIS group in 2013.
Suleimani playing al-Qaeda card
According to the Sunday Times, Qassim Suleimani, who uses his relations with al-Qaeda in his maneuvers, is used to play on all sides of the conflict to keep Iran at the forefront by using all extremist groups cards.
According to the report, among the evidence, unpublished notes and interviews with senior members of al-Qaeda and the Osama bin Laden family show how Suleimani is mastering the relationship with the Sunni extremist organization, described by Iranian official circles as “a terrorist takfirist.”
He added that al-Qaeda’s military leaders had been stationed in Tehran until 2015, when Suleimani sent five of them to Damascus, including Mohammed al-Masri, with the task of contacting fighters and leaders of ISIS, to encourage them to split and unite al-Qaeda according to US intelligence reports.
The reports confirmed that al-Masri was “the most experienced and capable operational planner among non-detainees in the United States or in any allied country.”
The information adds that the coordination between al-Qaeda leaders and ISIS is through the military commander of ISIS Saif al-Adl, a former Egyptian army colonel who entered into a major row with al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who wanted to unify al-Qaeda and ISIS to fight in Syria, but Saif al-Adl ordered his fighters to wait until ISIS is defeated.
An ideological meeting
Experts believe that Iran’s relationship as an extremist Shiite religious ruling regime with extremist Sunni organizations such as al-Qaeda and even Tehran’s political and military ties with both Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood, is not seasonal, as some imagine.
The ideology of Khomeini’s regime is influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood scholar Sayyid Qutb, from whom pro-Tehran Shiite groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the rest of the militias in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen have adopted the concept of “jihad”, hence it is an ideological and historical as well as the confluence of political interests, which makes the relation between the Iranian regime and Sunni extremist groups a permanent relationship.
Bin Laden documents
The Abottabad documents obtained by US forces from the hideout of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden following his killing in 2011 in Pakistan and published by the CIA last November revealed details of part of Iran’s relationship with al-Qaeda.
Of the 470,000 documents obtained from Bin Laden’s cache, 19 were devoted to this large archive of al-Qaeda’s high profile ties with the Iranian government.
A senior member of al-Qaeda said in a letter that Iran was ready to provide all that al-Qaeda needed, including funds and weapons, and training camps for Hezbollah in Lebanon in return for the terrorist group attacking US interests in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, according to an investigation by Thomas Jocelyn and Bill Rajev of the Institute for the Defense of Democracies about the 19-page details of al-Qaeda's links to Iran, from the Abottabad documents.
According to the document, the Iranian intelligence services, in some cases, facilitated the issuance of visas for the elements of the al-Qaeda in charge of carrying out operations, and at the same time has housed other groups.
“Iran’s intelligence services agreed to provide al-Qaeda operatives with visas and facilities and to harbor other members of al-Qaeda,” said another document, which was negotiated with Abu Hafs al-Mauritani, an influential al-Qaeda member, before the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Iran fined
Last year, a US court in New York fined Iran for co-operating with al-Qaeda in the September 11 attacks with $ 10.7 billion and other fines of $21 billion for the families of American victims of bombings in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Kuwait carried out by Iranian Revolutionary Guards cells.

Iranians’ anti-regime anger not limited to the economy
الدكتور ماجد ربيزاده: غضب الإيرانيين على نظام الملالي ليس مقتصراً على الإقتصاد

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/August 16/18
Some policy analysts and news outlets have been characterizing the Iranian people’s disaffectedness with the political establishment as a result of economic hardship. It goes without saying that economic austerity is a critical factor behind people’s frustration with the theocratic regime, but arguing that this is the sole reason for the discontent is simplified and unsophisticated, and fails to accurately describe the nature of people’s dissatisfaction with the regime.
If one meticulously examines the social, religious, political and economic landscapes in Iran, it becomes evident that the reasons behind the widespread unhappiness are multi-faceted.
First of all, many people are indeed suffering financially. For the last 10 years, Iran’s unemployment rate has been in the double digits. Although Iran has an educated youth population, which constitutes more than 60 percent of the population, almost 30 percent of them were without jobs in the fourth quarter of 2017. Also, more than 40 percent of the population, which is approximately 32 million citizens, live below the poverty line.
Even those who are lucky enough to have a job are still struggling to make ends meet. The average rent exceeds the salaries many full-time workers earn, let alone other basic necessities such as food, medicine, transportation, school fees, etc. Darioush, a full-time teacher who has been working in public schools in Tehran for more than 10 years, pointed out: “The average teacher’s salary is around IR12,000,000 ($250) a month. The rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the suburbs of Tehran is about IR20,000,000 a month. A normal doctor visit will cost you about IR1,100,000 (approximately 10 percent of the salary).”
But this is not the whole story. People’s disenchantment includes a religious character because many people do not want to have a Shiite theocracy imposing its extremist beliefs and teachings on society. In other words, the targets are the ruling mullahs, and that is why protesters have been attacking religious seminaries, according to Iran’s semi-official Tasnim News Agency.
Although Iran has an educated youth population, which constitutes more than 60 percent of the population, almost 30 percent of them were without jobs in the fourth quarter of 2017
Young men and women have been demonstrating their resistance to the regime’s religious laws by defying the state’s rules through various platforms in both public and private spheres. Movements or actions, such as taking off headscarves in public or dancing, do not mean that ordinary people dislike religion, but they are different modes of resistance against Iran’s theocracy.
In addition, there exists a human rights dimension, which is clear by the role that human rights activists, defenders and lawyers have been playing in disclosing violations in the country. The Islamic Republic remains one of the worst human rights abusers in the world. The situation is continuing to worsen, even under the leadership of the so-called moderate administration of Hassan Rouhani. The Iranian regime is responsible for carrying out more than half of all executions in the world, according to the latest report by international human rights watchdog Amnesty International, which is based in the UK. Surpassing China, Tehran is ranked top in the world when it comes to the number of executions per capita.
More recently, the regime’s forces have escalated their crackdown and suppression of the people due to nationwide protests. The judiciary and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps wield significant power in Iran and thousands have been arrested and imprisoned without due process, and many have also been killed. Amnesty International last week released a statement demanding the release of all detainees, stating that: “Reports and videos on social media have also shown the use of unnecessary and excessive force by security forces to disperse demonstrations.” Instead of releasing the detainees, the Iranian leaders threatened that protesters and dissidents could face the death penalty.
Finally, the political nature of people’s dissatisfaction with the regime should not be disregarded. People are robustly opposing authoritarianism and despotism. That is why many were risking their lives when they chanted “Death to Khamenei” — a crime that can be punishable with the death penalty in Iran. Many others chanted “Death to Rouhani,” “Death to the Islamic Republic,” “Shame on you Khamenei, step down from power,” and “Death to the Dictator.” People are risking their lives by continuing to tear down the banners of Iran’s Supreme Leaders, Ruhollah Khomeini and Ali Khamenei.
In addition, many people appear to vehemently stand against the regime’s foreign policies, as they made the following chants popular in the country: “Forget about Palestine, forget about Gaza, think about us,” “Death to Hezbollah,” and “Leave Syria alone, think about us instead.”
In summary, what highlights the complexity of Iran’s crisis is that the Iranian people’s disenchantment with the regime is not solely due to economic reasons, but also due to political, social, human rights, and religious factors.
**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

Moment of reckoning for Idlib approaches
Sharif  Nashashibi/Arab News/August 16/18
Tuesday’s press conference held by the Turkish and Russian foreign ministers displayed two very different stances on the rebel-held Syrian province of Idlib, which the Assad regime has stated is its next target in its campaign to retake the whole country.
Turkey’s Mevlut Cavusoglu said he hoped Ankara and Moscow could find a solution. In contrast, Russia’s Sergey Lavrov said the Assad regime has “the right to defend itself” against attacks from Idlib, and “we have to support” its operations to that end.
The timing of their meeting may have determined its bleak outcome. It took place amid a further and unprecedented deterioration in relations between Washington and Ankara, subsequent economic troubles in Turkey, a ramping up of the Assad regime’s rhetoric and bombardment of Idlib, its recent victory over rebels in southwest Syria, and ongoing talks between Damascus and Syrian Kurds, who control around a quarter of the country.
Lavrov’s remarks at the press conference are being seen as a green light for the Assad regime to launch its threatened ground assault on Idlib regardless of Turkey’s position on the province and its presence there (specifically its 12 military posts that monitor the “de-escalation zone” agreed by Ankara, Moscow and Tehran). But that is not necessarily the case.
Moscow is likely using the extra leverage that it has gained over Ankara from the crisis in US-Turkish relations. “Washington must… come to terms with the fact that Turkey has alternatives,” said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Russia knows it is the obvious and primary alternative, and so can pressure Ankara regarding Idlib.
But Moscow cannot completely ignore the position and interests of a regional powerhouse with which it has markedly improved ties since 2016. And sanctioning and backing an all-out assault by the Assad regime on Idlib, while Turkish forces are still present there, would likely rupture those ties, particularly if it resulted in Turkish casualties.
Erdogan values rapprochement with Moscow, but the nationalist leader values his strongman image at home above all else. Russian President Vladimir Putin knows this as he is cut from similar cloth. So, rather than facilitating the possibility of direct clashes between pro-regime and Turkish forces, Moscow is likely angling to force Ankara’s acceptance of a face-saving formula that will eventually see Idlib’s return to state rule.
To avoid direct clashes between Syria and Turkey, Russia is likely trying to force Ankara’s acceptance of a face-saving formula that will eventually see Idlib’s return to state rule.
This would suit the Assad regime, as a Turkish withdrawal from the province would weaken rebel forces and avoid the potential for direct conflict with Ankara, which did not hesitate to strike at pro-regime convoys that tried to come to the aid of Kurdish forces during the Turkish-led military operation in the Syrian canton of Afrin.
Ankara has proposed working with Syrian rebels in Idlib to take on certain extremist groups as a means to stave off an assault by the Assad regime. But that will only delay such an offensive, as Damascus will not accept the province being outside its control in the long term, particularly with the war’s tide now decidedly in its favor. As such, the efficacy of Turkey’s proposal is questionable, as it would be undertaking a major military operation for the ultimate benefit of the Assad regime, which would make its move after the operation’s completion.
Finding a face-saving formula will be no easy task. Turkey’s leverage at present may be weakened, but Erdogan will need to be convinced that he can sell it domestically as something other than a major climb down. After all, developments in northern Syria are not viewed in Turkey as simply a foreign policy affair, but as an important domestic matter, given its massive refugee burden and the Kurdish issue, which transcends national borders.
But the Assad regime and its allies must tread very carefully. An assault on Idlib without Turkey’s acquiescence — no matter how reluctant — and with its army still present in the province would be a major military and diplomatic risk for a side that presently has the upper hand in the Syrian conflict. That risk would have domestic, regional and even international repercussions.
• Sharif Nashashibi is an award-winning journalist and commentator on Arab affairs. Twitter: @sharifnash

Trump vs. Turkey: U.S. Punishes Strategic Ally, but Is Erdogan Really Willing to Leave NATO?
اليكسندر كرفينك من الهآررتس: ترامب بمواجهة أردوغان: الولايات المتحدة تعاقب حليف استراتيجي ولكن هل أردوغان حقيقة ينوي ترك حلف الناتو

Alexander Griffing/Haaretz/August 16/18
As the U.S.-Turkish relationship continues to deteriorate, the key question is how far can Trump push Erdogan before Turkey leaves NATO.
With Turkey’s economy in a downward spiral and U.S. President Donald Trump vowing to enforce punishing tariffs and sanctions, one of America's oldest and most strategic military alliances in the Middle East is being put under even more severe stress – with immense political and regional implications for both countries.
As the Turkish lira hit record lows earlier in the week, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Trump in The New York Times of stabbing him in the back. Turkey, the defiant president warned, would “start looking for new friends and allies.” The statement was a thinly veiled reference to Russia, which has called for dropping the dollar as the main international currency, a move that could help bolster the lira.
However, ties between Turkey and the U.S. may not be so easily upended – thanks largely to NATO. Turkey has been a key U.S. ally since 1946 and the Incirlik Air Base, which the two countries share and which houses U.S.-controlled nuclear weapons, serves as the key staging ground for the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition in the Middle East.
Aaron Stein, a Middle East and Turkey expert at the Atlantic Council, argues that “there is no indication Turkey wants to blow this up yet,” emphasizing the fact that Erdogan is all but out of leverage in this current spat.
“Turkey’s primary leverage is to end the anti-ISIS coalition from operating out of Incirlik,” Stein says. Turkey has been a NATO member since 1952 and Incirlik can only be used for NATO missions. “But it’s an empty threat, as the operation is winding down anyways; much of it is now out of Jordan and Erdogan doesn’t want to be seen as aiding ISIS.”
Trump hitting Turkey with metal tariffs was “low-hanging fruit” designed to create “maximum pain” to push Turkey to release the imprisoned American pastor Andrew Brunson and leave Erdogan with few options.
In March this year, the Wall Street Journal reported the U.S. military was already scaling back its presence at Incirlik, quoting an official who linked the drawdown to U.S.-Turkish tensions over Trump’s Syria policy. Stein cautions, however, that the base will not shutter so quickly, given its international status; he notes that Spain, for example, has a Patriot missile battery there for Syrian operations.
After the failed coup in 2016, anti-American rhetoric and anger spiked within the Turkish government, leading to public discussion of the U.S. removing its nuclear weapons from Turkey – especially as Turkey unilaterally shut down the air space over the base during the coup. “Does it seem like a good idea to station American nuclear weapons at an air base commanded by someone who may have just helped bomb his own country’s parliament?” asked Jefferey Lewis in Foreign Policy in July 2016.
However, Stein argues that any threat of kicking the U.S. out of Incirlik or limiting operations is overblown; operations out of Incirlik are governed by multinational agreements, including NATO, and require parliamentary approval within Turkey. The bigger issue here, Stein notes, would be if Erdogan threatens to limit NATO operations out of Incirlik, which doesn’t appear to be on the table yet.
Additionally, the nuclear weapons in Turkey can only be used with NATO consensus and any drawdown of that arsenal would require not only a NATO consensus but also Russian involvement – making them largely a non-issue.
A NATO exit?
Against the background of the current U.S.-Turkey spat, Erdogan has actually been committing to an increased role in NATO. He has proposed using the Turkish army’s military headquarters in Istanbul for the new land command structure of NATO, and Turkey will likely send a deputy commander and military advisers to NATO’s newly-launched training mission in Iraq.
Turkey is also set to take command of NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) in 2021. At the NATO Summit in Brussels in July Erdogan said Turkey is doing well in terms of military spending, with 1.8 percent of its GDP going to defense. He also backed Trump's push to up the 2 percent goal to 4 percent – a clear move away from Russia.
However, Erdogan’s new NATO commitments are not necessarily the whole story, he’s playing a double game, also taking Turkey away from the alliance while Trump publicly criticizes NATO and questions its relevance.
Turkey has been willing to ruffle its NATO allies for a while now, with plans for a $2 billion purchase of Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air missiles. NATO has clearly said the purchase is incompatible with allied systems and NATO restrictions on the use of Incirlik. Fears persist that the S-400 radar could capture the stealth signature of the F-35 and help Russia to thwart that technology.
Turkey's future in NATO in doubt?
New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen said in the U.S. Senate in July, while trying to block the delivery of U.S. F-35s to Turkey: "NATO partners need these F-35s to counter Russian activity. We would be handing this technology over to the Kremlin if we granted Turkey these planes, and Congress will not stand for it."
On Monday, Trump signed a sweeping defense bill that blocked delivery of those F-35s, which Turkey has already largely paid for – until Brunson is returned.
However, Jacob Funk Kirkegaard of the Peterson Institute for International Economics points out to Bloomberg, that Erdogan may simply be following Trump’s lead with public moves that appear to defy NATO conventions. "For an administration or a president that doesn’t give much value to NATO, the value of Turkey as a staunch NATO ally also has declined,” claims Kirkegaard. “The Trump administration isn’t going to walk an extra mile to save an organization it doesn’t value.”
Erdogan too appears to harbor an anti-NATO sentiment. Therese Raphael adds, “Erdogan never quite recovered from his anger at the way his allies seemed to sit on the fence in the hours after an attempted coup was announced in July 2016.” Erdogan, with typical bluster, has been pushing a plan, which Russia backed on Monday, to dump the dollar in retaliation to U.S. sanctions and begin bilateral trade using local currencies.
“Shame on you, shame on you,” Erdogan declared at a rally last week in response to Trump. "You are swapping your strategic partner in NATO for a pastor.” The question now is whether or not Turkey will be willing to split with NATO and further wreck its own economy in order to keep a pastor in jail.

Iran Oil Sanctions Will Hurt More Than You Think

Julian Lee/Bloomberg/August 16/18
The first US sanctions have been reimposed on Iran with little sign of either side softening its position. Curbs on oil exports will follow in early November and the effect will be bigger and swifter than last time around. Oil forecasters don’t seem to have grasped that yet.
There’s no doubt that President Donald Trump will be tougher on Iran than Barack Obama was, with no gradual ratcheting-up of pressure. Importers are expected to have tapered off Iran oil purchases by Nov. 5, when the curbs come into effect.
Any waivers granted to buyers will still require much bigger cuts than they did last time, when a 20 percent reduction every six months was enough to win exemption from retaliation. And this time, Iran’s exports of condensates, a light form of crude extracted from gas fields, will be covered by the sanctions.
It doesn’t matter that European governments oppose Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. Politicians and bureaucrats may work on "the continuation of Iran’s exports of oil and gas," but it’s companies, not governments, that buy Iran’s oil. The threat of exclusion from the US market and banking system is enough to stop them buying it, international shipping companies from moving it and insurers from covering that trade.
So what would the loss of Iranian oil exports look like?
In July, crude and condensate exports were already down by 430,000 barrels a day, or 15 percent, from their levels in April, the month before Trump announced the start of the sanctions process — and the curbs haven’t even come into effect yet.
Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Total SA have stopped buying. Other European refiners will surely follow. By July, EU crude imports from Iran were down by around 220,000 barrels, or 41 percent, from April. Don’t be surprised to see them drop to zero by November.
shows a similar split between politicians and companies. While Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci says US sanctions aren’t binding, imports of Iranian crude by Tupras Turkiye Petrol Rafinerileri AS are down 45 percent from April.
While Iran's biggest buyers boosted purchases ahead of sanctions, others made large cuts.
In Asia, Iran’s biggest market, South Korea has stopped buying both crude and condensate since late June. This is critical, because the Koreans are the top buyers of its condensate, accounting for more than 50 percent of shipments over the 12 months through June.
Condensate deliveries to the United Arab Emirates also appear to have stalled. Emirates National Oil Co., the Dubai-based buyer, has been sourcing supplies from places as distant as Algeria, Equatorial Guinea, the US and the Russian Arctic.
Japan won’t defy the US, either. Its imports of Iranian crude plunged under the Obama sanctions and rebounded only modestly when they were relaxed in 2016. Although officials are still talking to their US counterparts, companies don’t expect to receive waivers and imports could fall to zero before November.
That leaves India and China. Neither has cut purchases yet — indeed, India has boosted them, with much of the extra apparently going into storage at Mangalore. This may be temporary, though, if refiners are building stockpiles ahead of anticipated shortages. Hindustan Petroleum Corp. is unlikely to buy any more Iranian oil until India gets a waiver from the US, and the oil ministry has asked refiners to tread carefully.
Indian officials still hope for at least partial relief, arguing that cutting imports to zero isn’t feasible.
China has said that while it won’t cut purchases, it won’t boost them either. July shipments of crude and condensate were up by 105,000 barrels a day, or 14 percent, compared with April, but they may decline now that US crude has been removed from a list of good targeted by Chinese tariffs.
Where does all this leave us? Under Obama, Iran’s crude and condensate exports fell by around 1.2 million barrels a day over a period of about two years. Under his successor it looks like the decline will be bigger and faster, even without the political support of US allies.

In Islam, Jerusalem is not Mecca
A. Z. Mohamed/Gatestone Institute/August 16/18
When the time for the Muslim prayer came, Omar declined the invitation by Sophronius, the patriarch of Jerusalem, to pray inside the Church and instead prayed outside. Omar's fear was that that Muslims who would come after him might establish a mosque in place of the church if he would pray at the site. Omar, then, was conscious of what belonged to the Muslims and what belonged to the Christians.
Naming the Jerusalem mosque Al-Aqsa was an attempt to say that the Dome of the Rock was the very spot from which Mohammed ascended to heaven, thus connecting Jerusalem to divine revelation in Islamic belief. The problem however, is that Mohammed died in the year 632, which was 73 years before the first construction of the Al-Aqsa Mosque was completed.
Intriguingly, only when non-Muslims are in control of Jerusalem do Muslims seem to remember the city. Otherwise, as history shows, Muslims have never attached real significance to it. They never claimed Jerusalem as the capital of any country or empire. In fact, Muhammad instructed his people not to pray toward Jerusalem, as they had done previously, but to Mecca:
"And We did not make the qiblah which you used to face except that We might make evident who would follow the Messenger from who would turn back on his heels. And indeed, it is difficult except for those whom Allah has guided. And never would Allah have caused you to lose your faith." — Quran 2:143, Sahih International.
Certain Quranic verses, moreover, emphasize Jerusalem's connection to the Jews and contradict its Islamization. The Quran does not promise Muslims to enter or rule Jerusalem. In fact, one of its verses quotes the Prophet Moses instructing the Jews to enter the Holy Land (al-ard al-muqaddesa) that God has given to them — including Jerusalem. This is a verse, however, that the majority of Arabs and Muslims choose to ignore:
"O my people, enter the Holy Land which Allah has assigned to you and do not turn back [from fighting in Allah 's cause] and [thus] become losers." — Quran 5:21, Sahih International.
An interpretation of the verse identifies al-ard al-muqaddesa as Beit al-Maqdis, or Jerusalem and its surroundings (here, here), or the region stretching from Egypt to Euphrates river (here).
In another verse, God Himself instructs the Children of Israel to dwell in the land:
"And We said after Pharaoh to the Children of Israel, "Dwell in the land, and when there comes the promise of the Hereafter, We will bring you forth in [one] gathering." — Quran 17:104, Sahih International.
Again, "the land" in this verse is al-Sham (Levant), a region on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea and north of the Arabian Peninsula and south of Turkey.
"It was for the British that Jerusalem was so important — they are the ones who established Jerusalem as a capital," said Professor Yehoshua Ben-Arieh, a historical geographer at Hebrew University, to the New York Times. "Before, it was not anyone's capital since the times of the First and Second Temples," Ben-Arieh added.
In December 1917, the British general Edmund Allenby seized control of Jerusalem from its Ottoman Turkish rulers.
In December 1949, the State of Israel decided to hold its Knesset sessions in Jerusalem and declared Jerusalem its capital. Then, In 1980, its Knesset passed the Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel and declared Jerusalem, complete and united, to be Israel's "eternal and indivisible capital."
Jerusalem was not even mentioned in the original Palestine National Charter (1964) or in the 1968 amended Palestinian National Charter. In the 1996 amendment, Jerusalem (Al-Quds) was only mentioned in the context of talking about UN resolutions relating to the status of the city.
Only in the transitional constitution of the Palestine authority (the Palestine Basic Law, approved by PLC in 1997, signed in 2002), does one find an article stating that Jerusalem is the capital city of "Palestine."
It is remarkable that in spite of almost 1,200 years of Muslim rule, Jerusalem "never served as capital of a sovereign Muslim state, and it never became a cultural or scholarly center. Little of political import by Muslims was initiated there." Islam and Muslims' real connection to Jerusalem only came about six years after Prophet Muhammed's death, when in 638 CE, the Caliph Omar and his invading armies captured Jerusalem.
Upon his arrival in Jerusalem, Omar was given a tour of the city, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. When the time for the Muslim prayer came, Omar declined the invitation by Sophronius, the patriarch of Jerusalem, to pray inside the Church and instead prayed outside. Omar's fear was that that Muslims who would come after him might establish a mosque in place of the church if he would pray at the site. Omar, then, was conscious of what belonged to the Muslims and what belonged to the Christians.
Jerusalem's Temple Mount and the Rock (or "Foundation Stone") located there have been sacred to the Jews for millennia in their daily lives. According to Jewish tradition, the Rock is where Abraham, the progenitor and first patriarch of the Hebrew people, had prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac. The Temple Mount was also the site of Solomon's Temple and its successor, the Second Temple (also known as Herod's Temple). Since the Temples' destruction -- the First Temple at the hands of Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II in 587 BCE, and the Second Temple at the hands of the Romans in 70 CE -- the "Western Wall" of the Temple Mount (a retaining wall) is all that remains of the Temples, and the Temple Mount has since been the the direction towards which Jews face when praying.
According to al-Tabari [1] and Ibn Kathir [2], when Omar arrived at the Temple Mount, he prayed with his back to the Rock, facing Mecca in the southern corner of the platform, where the Al-Aqsa Mosque was later constructed.
Omar was therefore the first Muslim to pray on the Temple Mount. However, he clearly showed that the Mount and the Rock were no longer Muslims' Qibla (the direction that should be faced when a Muslim prays). The Mount was the direction of Muslim prayers till 622 CE, when it was changed to the Kaaba in Mecca for eternity (Quran 2:142–145). However, the Mount and Rock were still sacred, and supposedly Islamic, because in 621 CE Prophet Muhammad told his followers that he had ascended into heaven from the site of the Rock.
In an attempt to transform Jerusalem into an Islamic sanctuary, or to Islamize it, the Dome of the Rock shrine was built over the Rock in 691-692 CE, and Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in 705 CE by the Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwān, some 55 and 70 years respectively after Muslim armies captured Jerusalem.
Although the Dome of the Rock structure (Arabic: Qubbat al-Ṣakhrah) is "the oldest extant Islamic monument," it is not a mosque and does not fit easily into other categories of Muslim religious structures. The Dome's "grand scale and lavish decoration," as well as the extravagant services to its visitors, prompted some Muslim historians, such as Ibn Kathir and Ibn Taymiyyah to report that the Damascus-based Abd al-Malik built the Dome in an attempt to divert Muslims away from the Kaaba and toward Jerusalem while Mecca was under the control of rebels led by Abdullah Ibn al-Zubayr. That was probably the first time the Muslims had used Jerusalem in an internal political rivalry.
Scholars have also argued that Abd al-Malik built the Dome to proclaim the emergence of Islam as a supreme new faith. According to Encyclopedia Britannica:
"The Dome's grand scale and lavish decoration may have been intended to rival that of the Christian holy buildings of Jerusalem, especially the domed Church of the Holy Sepulchre. According to this view, the message of Islam's supremacy was also conveyed by the Dome's Arabic inscriptions, which present a selection of Quʾrānic passages and paraphrases that outline Islam's view of Jesus—i.e., denouncing the Christian doctrines of the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus, while emphasizing the unity of God and affirming Jesus' status as a prophet."
Notably, Ibn Taymiyyah decried not only the lavish decoration, but also the construction of the Dome itself as a kind of bidaa (heresy).
In a further Islamization of Jerusalem, the Temple Mount mosque was named Al-Aqsa, meaning in Arabic, "the farthest mosque", the same phrase used in a key passage of the Quran called "Al-Israa, the Night Journey":
"Exalted is He who took His Servant [Mohammed] by night from al-Masjid al-Haram to al-Masjid al-Aqsa, whose surroundings We have blessed, to show him of Our signs. Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Seeing." — Quran 17:1, Sahih International.
Naming the Jerusalem mosque Al-Aqsa was an attempt to say that the Dome of the Rock was the very spot from which Mohammed ascended to heaven, thus connecting Jerusalem to divine revelation in Islamic belief. The problem however, is that Mohammed died in the year 632, which was 73 years before the first construction of the Al-Aqsa Mosque was completed.
For Muslims, Jerusalem's significance is dependent upon political and religious rivalries; its importance appears evident when non-Muslims (including the Crusaders, the British, and the Jews) control or capture the city. Only at those phases in history did Islamic national leaders claim Jerusalem as their holiest city after Mecca and Medina.
Unsurprisingly, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas once decried Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Zahar, claiming that the latter had minimized Jerusalem's significance by saying that "Jerusalem is not Mecca," when Abbas had insisted on 2006 legislative elections being held in Jerusalem. If Al-Zahar had said that "Jerusalem is not Mecca and is not sacred," he would have said the truth.
In Islam, Jerusalem is only blessed, but not sacred. Mecca it is not.
*A. Z. Mohamed is a Muslim born and raised in the Middle East.
[1] The History of al-Tabari Vol. 12: The Battle of al-Qadisiyyah and the Conquest of Syria and Palestine A.D. 635-637/A.H. 14-15, pages 194-195. Published by State University of New York Press, Albany, 1992.
[2] Ibn Kathir (in Arabic, Bidaya), published by Maktabit AlMaaref, Beirut, 1966, II, page 96; VII, pages 54-56.
© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

France: The Rise and Fall of Emmanuel Macron
Guy Millière/Gatestone Institute/August 16/18
France's Justice Department is not independent of the government; no judge will seek to know more about Macron's scandal. No thorough and deep investigation will take place. The French media are largely subsidized by the government and no more independent of the government than the Justice Department is.
Even the French media that are not funded by the state self-censor what they report, because they are supported by businesses that depend on government contracts. No French journalist will try to discover a thing.
The economist Charles Gave recently used statistical data to demonstrate that if nothing changes, the non-Muslim population of France could be a minority in 40 years. He added: "What happened to Spain or Asia Minor in the 10th and 11th centuries will happen to Europe in the 21st century, that is a certainty."
When Emmanuel Macron was elected president of France in May 2017, he was portrayed as a reformer who was going to change everything in France and beyond.
Fourteen months later, illusions are gone. The reforms carried out have been essentially cosmetic and failed to slow France's sclerotic decline. Economic growth is close to zero: 0.2 per cent in the second quarter of 2018. Unemployment, at around 8.9%, remains high. French public spending as a percent of GDP is, at 56.4%, still the highest in Europe. The country is still frequently paralyzed by public transportation strikes. No-go zones continue to spread, and Macron himself recently admitted his helplessness by asking for a "general mobilization" of the population. Riots are frequent; large-scale public events lead to looting and arson. The night after the French team's victory at the soccer World Cup, hundreds of thugs mingling with the crowds broke windows, vandalized banks and ATMs, destroyed street signs and torched cars.As most economic activity in France stops in July and August, Macron might have thought he could enjoy a summer break. He could not.
On July 19, the daily Le Monde published a video from May 1 showing a man in a police helmet brutally assaulting two people in the center of Paris. A description accompanying the video explained that the violent man was "Alexandre Benalla, in charge of the head of state's security."
Benalla was, in fact, Macron's personal bodyguard. He protected Macron at all times, including during private trips to a ski resort or on the beach. Documents were made public showing that Benalla claimed to be "deputy chief of staff of the President"; however, on any official list of staff members, his name never appeared. Benalla also obtained secret security clearance without apparent justification, and although he did not pass the exam to become a gendarme, he magically received the title of lieutenant-colonel of the Gendarmerie -- the same title as Arnaud Beltrame, a hero with more than two decades of exemplary service, crowned by exchanging himself for a woman held hostage by an Islamic terrorist who then slit Beltrame's throat.
Benalla enjoyed all sorts of perks, from a chauffeur-driven car to a 2,000-square-foot apartment in a sumptuous state-owned building. He also was not prosecuted for a recent hit-and-run.
Macron's political opponents, left and right, asked for a parliamentary commission of inquiry. The Minister of the Interior said he was aware of the May 1 assault but added that he only learned Benalla's name by reading it in the newspapers. The Paris police chief spoke of "unhealthy friendships" but refused to give any details. The secretary-general of the main police officers' union (SGP Police FO) spoke up about the presence in the president's entourage of shady security guards "acting beyond any legal control" and clashing with members of the official protection services.
Macron remained silent for six days. Then, at a private meeting with parliamentarians and ministers from his party, he said that he "takes responsibility" for the Benalla affair. At the same time, he blasted the media, saying "We have a press that is no longer pursuing the truth... What I see is media power that wants to become judicial power."
It seemed he was hoping to intimidate critics and impose silence. He did not succeed.
The anger of his opponents only intensified. They called Macron's reaction to the scandal insulting and inappropriate. They insisted that many details looked strange, and that a thorough investigation was indispensable. A rival politician spoke of the scandal as rising to "the level of Watergate."
But the Justice Department in France is not independent of the government; no judge will seek to know more. No thorough and deep investigation will take place. The French media are largely subsidized by the government and no more independent of it than the Justice Department is. Even the media that are not funded by the state self-censor what they report, because they are supported by businesses that depend on government contracts. No French journalist will try to discover a thing.
As the French Constitution does not provide for impeachment, French Presidents enjoy almost complete immunity.
Macron knows that his predecessors were able to stay in power despite their many scandals. Charles de Gaulle created a highly questionable militia that existed for thirty years: the SAC (Civic Action Service). François Mitterrand dissolved the SAC after several of its members were involved in a bloody killing near Marseilles. Mitterand then created a "counter-intelligence" unit -- based at the Élysée [Presidential] Palace -- in charge of intimidating those who might reveal the existence of his hidden second family. In 2005, nine years after Mitterrand's death, members of the unit were tried in court for illegal wiretapping during Mitterrand presidency. Only in 2011, four years after his second term was completed, was Jacques Chirac given a lenient two-year suspended prison sentence for having diverted public funds and abused public trust during his presidency.
The columnist Ivan Rifoul, in a recent book, described Macron's victory as a "masquerade" organized by "socialists in decline", "EU apparatchiks", supporters of the Islamization of Europe, and crony capitalists.
Macron will remain president. He will nevertheless be a diminished president. Macron pretended to embody an "exemplary Republic"; he will not be able to do that anymore.
While Macron had previously been able to marginalize his political opponents, those days seem to be over. His opponents have already been criticizing the absence of results of his economic policy -- slight income tax cuts but many new regulations, and small changes in a very rigid labor code – as well as his weak response to the rise of burglaries, car- jackings, rapes and social unrest.
Now all Macron's decisions will be treated with suspicion and scrutinized without mercy. He has already postponed a reform of the constitution that was supposed to strengthen presidential power (namely, his own). Other projects he began -- such as mass civil-servant layoffs and early-retirement buyouts and unemployment insurance reform -- will likely be abandoned. His approval rates are falling.
The deterioration of France rolls on.
A violent fight recently broke out between the residents of Calais and illegal migrants living in a vast slum encampment -- home to approximately 6,000 migrants -- that reporters call the "Calais Jungle". The government has promised many times to take care of the situation, but has not solved the problem. Meanwhile, Calais, with 75,000 inhabitants, is a ravaged city: home prices have collapsed, shops and restaurants have closed their doors, and people are moving away.
In May, some members of parliament published a report on the situation in the Paris suburb of Seine Saint Denis. According to the report, 20% of the area's population consists of people similar to those living in the "Calais Jungle"; hundreds of businesses are on the verge of bankruptcy and the police are too frightened to do effective work.
The same situation exists in other parts of the country. Riots recently erupted between Muslim gangs in Nice, on the French Riviera, as well as near Porte de La Chapelle, inside Paris.
The demographic changes in France's population that began several decades ago are not easing. A few months ago, the economist Charles Gave used statistical data to demonstrate that if nothing changes, the non-Muslim population of France could be a minority in 40 years. He added: "What happened to Spain or Asia Minor in the 10th and 11th centuries will happen to Europe in the 21st century, that is a certainty."
Polls show that if a presidential election were held now, no other French politician could replace Macron, even though Macron won only 23.8% of votes in the first round of the 2017 election. The majority of those who voted for him in the second round seemed to be voting more against his opponent than for Macron. He never had popular support.
As for the rest of the continent, Macron is one of the main defenders of a multicultural, post-national, post-democratic and post-Christian Europe. A growing number of Europeans see that trend as leading to the destruction of their own civilization and have been voting for leaders who resist it.
Politicians who support the same vision of Europe as Macron have, in recent months, been eliminated from the political scene or reduced to faltering positions. Italy's Matteo Renzi was badly defeated in the 2018 elections. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, once described as "the most powerful leader in Europe", now survives in office only because she agreed to measures aimed at limiting further immigration to Germany.
Macron may not fall as abruptly as Renzi, but his position at the moment looks as precarious as Merkel's.
Leaders embodying resistance to post-national multiculturalism, on the other hand, have been gaining ground. Hungarian President Viktor Orbán won reelection in April and is currently serving his third consecutive term. He had campaigned for defending Europe's Judeo-Christian roots, for national sovereignty, and against Muslim immigration. Austria's new Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, has a program similar to Orbán's. The Polish and Czech governments also hold positions similar to those of Kurz and Orbán. Matteo Salvini, leader of The League (an anti-mass-migration party), is now Minister of the Interior and Deputy Prime Minister of Italy.
Macron recently revealed what he thinks of "populists" such as Orbán, Kurz and Salvini: "a leprosy all across Europe," and called on Europeans to "fight" them.
*Dr. Guy Millière, a professor at the University of Paris, is the author of 27 books on France and Europe.
© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.