August 20/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations
God's Will Is That No One Will Be Lost
Matthew 18/11-14: "What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.
Titles For The Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on August 19-20/18
Iraq, Lebanon must choose between voters’ will and Iran’s theocratic isolation'/Baria Alamuddin/Arab News/August 19/18
Bolton arrives to talk Iran, Syria with Netanyahu/Jerusalem Post/August 19/18
Putin and Merkel, Pushed Together by Trump, Talk Syria, Pipeline/Bloomberg/Sunday 19th August 2018
Putin Calls on Europe to Rebuild Syria so Refugees Can Return/AFP/August 19/18
Analysis/The Qatar Dilemma: When Even a Supporter of Terrorism Can Be an Israeli Ally/Zvi Bar'el/Haaretz/August 19/18
German Court: Bring Back Deported Jihadist/Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/August 19/2018
Mauritania: US Must Demand Immediate Release of Anti-Slavery Candidate Ahead of Elections/Ruthie Blum/Gatestone Institute/August 19/2018
The US Needs a Cyber Force More Than a Space Force/James Stavridis/Bloomberg/August 19/18
The US Becomes an Oil Economy/Justin Fox/Bloomberg/August 19/18
Erdogan is dragging Turkey into an abyss/Raghida Dergham/The National/August 18/18
The clear choices facing Iran/Eyad Abu Shakra/Al Arabiya/August 19/18
Yes, the ISIS threat in Iraq and Syria is still very real/Adnan Hussein/Al Arabiya/August 19/18
Iran: Sanction as you wish, but lay off carpets/Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady/Al Arabiya/August 19/18
The New Zealand Model: Unwavering international solidarity with Palestine/Ramzy Baroud/Al Arabiya/August 19/18

Titles For The Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on August 19-20/18
New Accusations against Lebanon’s Hezbollah of Running Secret Beirut Prisons
Nasrallah Meets with Houthi Delegation
UAE Warns of 'Consequences' after Nasrallah Meets Huthis
Aoun 'Convinced' Foreign Meddling behind Govt. Delay
Senior U.S. General Concludes Visit to Lebanon
Hariri Relying on 'Agreement with Putin' to 'Protect Country'
Jumblat: Upcoming Developments More Important than Futile Debates
Jreissati Says Govt. Can be Formed in Late August if Hariri Decides
Iraq, Lebanon must choose between voters’ will and Iran’s theocratic isolation'

Titles For The Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on August 19-20/18
Tributes Pour in for ex-U.N. Chief and Nobel Laureate Kofi Annan
Report: US Forces To Stay In Iraq As Long As Needed
Israeli PM meets with US National Security Advisor, John Bolton
Bolton arrives to talk Iran, Syria with Netanyahu
Top Trump Adviser Arrives for Talks in Israel
Court Doubles Sentence of Israeli Policeman who Killed Palestinian
Iran Says Europe Must 'Pay Price' to Save Nuclear Deal
Putin and Merkel, Pushed Together by Trump, Talk Syria, Pipeline
Putin Calls on Europe to Rebuild Syria so Refugees Can Return
In War-Torn Syria, Russian Aid Helps Families Survive
Egyptian Accused of Hijacking Plane Extradited from Cyprus
Italy Threatens to Send Stranded Migrants 'Back to Libya'
Egyptian monks sent to trial over killing of bishop

The Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on August 19-20/18
New Accusations against Lebanon’s Hezbollah of Running Secret Beirut Prisons
Al Arabiya/Sunday 19th August 2018
Hussein Mazloum, son of a founder of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, has accused the pro-Iranian party of running systematic operations of torture and kidnapping in Dahya, its stronghold suburb in the capital Beirut.
Mazloum accused the group of building a number of secret detention centers, away from the Lebanese government’s watch, saying that he was detained in one of these centers for nine months. Mazloum, also known as Hajj Wala, leaked pictures showing what he alleged were entrances to the secret Hezbollah prisons, saying he was subjected to the "worst forms of torture and humiliation" during his time there. According to Mazloum, the most prominent of Hezbollah’s secret detention centers is the central prison in Haret Hreik behind the Bahman hospital (Iranian Hospital), as well as the Bir al-Abd prison behind the Islamic Cooperation Center. Hezbollah also runs another investigation center near Qaim compound. According to Mazloum's claims, the most frightening prison is the Mujtaba compound prison behind Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV channel headquarters. Mazloum added that prisoners abducted by Hezbollah are held in a solitary confinement cell of no wider than two meters, and are prevented from seeing the sun for the duration of their detention period; subjected to various forms of physical and psychological torture. Mazloum said he will seek justice in front the Lebanese judiciary system against the pro-Iranian group. If this case goes to court against Hezbollah, it will not be a precedent. In 2011, the Lebanese Center for Human Rights published a report accusing Hezbollah of running secret prisons inside Beirut, but it is widely believed that Hezbollah's influence in the country led to the case being neglected.
Nasrallah Meets with Houthi Delegation 19th August 2018/Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah met with delegation from the political wing of the Yemeni Houthi group, known as Ansarullah, with talks featuring high on the latest developments in Yemen, as reported by Hezbollah’s media office.
The Yemeni embassy in the U.S. considered this meeting as a new proof of Hezbollah’s vital role in the Yemen crisis, adding that it indicates the group's involvement in destabilizing Yemen.

UAE Warns of 'Consequences' after Nasrallah Meets Huthis
Associated Press/Naharnet/August 19/18/An Emirati minister warned Sunday of “consequences” after Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah met in Lebanon with a delegation from Yemen's Huthi rebels. “How can the dissociation policy – which Lebanon needs for its political and economic balance and Arab and international position – correspond to Hassan Nasrallah's hosting of a delegation from the Huthi insurgents? This is a question which we call on Lebanon to deal with,” UAE State Minister for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said in a tweet. Warning that “Yemen's crisis and war are among the priorities that are fundamentally linked to the security and stability of the Arab Gulf” and accordingly are not a “secondary issue” for Gulf states, Gargash cautioned that “Lebanon cannot be a logistic or political hub for the Huthis.” “Neglecting the issue will aggravate its repercussions,” the minister added, addressing the Lebanese state. Hizbullah said earlier in the day that Nasrallah has met with a delegation from Yemen's Huthi rebels headed by the spokesman Mohammed Abdul Salam to discuss the “latest developments” in Yemen's civil war. Gulf states accuse Hizbullah of training and supporting the Iran-backed Shiite Huthi rebels, who are at war with a Saudi-led coalition allied with Yemen's internationally recognized government. Hizbullah, which is also an Iran-allied Shiite group, says the Huthis are fighting a war against Saudi and American imperialism.Iran supports the Huthis but denies arming them. Saudi Arabia and Iran are bitter regional rivals.

Aoun 'Convinced' Foreign Meddling behind Govt. Delay
Naharnet/August 19/18/President Michel Aoun has become “convinced” that “foreign interference” is behind the ongoing delay in the Cabinet formation process, sources close to him have said. In remarks to UAE's al-Khaleej newspaper published Sunday, the sources said the president believes foreign meddling is pushing Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and Progressive Socialist Party chief Walid Jumblat to show “inflexibility” in their demands. “President Aoun absolves PM-designate Saad Hariri of the obstruction accusation and believes that he is confused, seeing as he (Hariri) fears a clash with these foreign forces at this stage and is trying as much as possible to avoid a clash with Geagea and Jumblat,” the sources added. “President Aoun does not want to cause irreversible damage to his ties with Hariri and has not pressed him to accept a government format based on majority rule, but he is questioning the delay and regretting that foreign forces have interfered in the crisis,” the sources went on to say. Hariri was tasked with forming a new government on May 24. His mission is being hampered by political wrangling over shares, especially over Christian and Druze representation. Some parties such as Hizbullah and the Free Patriotic Movement have suggested that foreign countries, especially Saudi Arabia, are behind the ongoing delay. Hariri told reporters Tuesday that the new government “will not be formed” should the pro-Damascus camp “insist on restoring Lebanese-Syrian ties.” But pro-Hizbullah journalist Salem Zahran said Friday that the PM-designate has “informed Hizbullah” that his remarks were a “slip of the tongue.”

Senior U.S. General Concludes Visit to Lebanon
Naharnet/August 19/18/Major General Michael Langley, United States Central Command Director for Strategy, Plans, and Policy, visited Lebanon from August 15 to 18, the U.S. embassy said. Langley is responsible for Foreign Military Sales programs for Lebanon, including the A-29 Super Tucanos aircraft, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and Cessna aircraft, the embassy said in a statement. While in Lebanon, Langley met with the Lebanese Army Commander General Joseph Aoun. The U.S. general also attended a dinner in honor of Lebanese officers who recently attended training in the United States. He also visited a Lebanese Army Air Force base. The embassy statement stressed that “the U.S. government is committed to the Lebanese-American partnership and supports the Lebanese Armed Forces in their capacity as the sole defender of Lebanon.”

Hariri Relying on 'Agreement with Putin' to 'Protect Country'

Naharnet/August 19/18/Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri is increasingly “putting Russia in the picture of the Lebanese situation's developments” as well as “his stance on the file of the relation with the Syrian regime,” a media report said. Hariri is also “following up on the issue of the Syrian refugees in light of the Russian initiative,” political sources told Kuwait's al-Rai daily in remarks published Sunday. “By relying on an agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the PM-designate is trying to protect the country from any plunge into the conflict of axes in the region, especially that Moscow, with a green light from the U.S., is playing the role of the regulator of the Syrian file and its related issues,” the sources added. “This would provide further balancing elements for the Lebanese situation, which would prevent it from deviating from the constraints of political stability,” the sources went on to say.
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. The PM-designate told reporters Tuesday that the new government “will not be formed” should the pro-Damascus camp “insist on restoring Lebanese-Syrian ties.” But pro-Hizbullah journalist Salem Zahran said Friday that the PM-designate has “informed Hizbullah” that his remarks were a “slip of the tongue.”

Jumblat: Upcoming Developments More Important than Futile Debates

Naharnet/August 19/18/Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat on Sunday urged his party's members and supporters to avoid verbal clashes with rival parties, warning that “the country's problems and the upcoming developments are more important.”“Whatever the political problems may be, I urge party members and supporters not to lose nerve and engage in exchanges of tirades regardless of any remarks against us as a party or against me as a person,” Jumblat tweeted. “The country's problems and the upcoming developments are more important than futile debates that create tensions. This approach blocks the rhetoric of objective dialogue over unemployment, waste management, electricity and other issues,” Jumblat added.

Jreissati Says Govt. Can be Formed in Late August if Hariri Decides
Naharnet/August 19/18/The new government can be formed in late August should Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri take the decision to do so, caretaker Justice Minister Salim Jreissati said on Sunday. “August carries all victories, from 2006 to the Dawn of the Hills (army operation against the Islamic State group), and its end will carry a solution for the 'government's captivity' should Hariri make up his mind and take a brave decision,” Jreissati, who is close to President Michel Aoun, tweeted. Hariri was tasked with forming a new government on May 24. His mission is being hampered by political wrangling over shares, especially over Christian and Druze representation. Some parties such as Hizbullah and the Free Patriotic Movement have suggested that foreign countries, especially Saudi Arabia, are behind the ongoing delay. Hariri told reporters Tuesday that the new government “will not be formed” should the pro-Damascus camp “insist on restoring Lebanese-Syrian ties.” But pro-Hizbullah journalist Salem Zahran said Friday that the PM-designate has “informed Hizbullah” that his remarks were a “slip of the tongue.”
Gemayel Vows Steadfastness in Face of Iran's Expansionist Scheme 19th August 2018/Sunday 19th August 2018/Kataeb MP Nadim Gemayel on Sunday blasted Iran's scheme to subdue Lebanon and impose its leverage over it, adding that Tehran's practices and culture do not reflect Lebanon’s identity. During a ceremony commemorating the election of Martyr President Bachir Gemayel at the Kataeb’s Majdel office, Gemayel stressed on the importance of prioritizing Lebanon's interest over all else, affirming that past efforts to subdue the Kataeb party have all failed and will do so today if attempted as well. “Despite all the challenges and difficulties that faced the party since 1975, the Kataeb has remained in the forefront. Today, we must continue with this path despite the deplorable conditions we are living in. We must not forget that our ancestors built this country, its institutions, judiciary, and army," he said. "It is our responsibility to safeguard this country." Gemayel emphasized the need to have a sense of belonging to this nation, noting that the present situation is worse than all the misery previously experienced throughout wars and occupations. “We must acknowledge that our martyrs did not shed their blood for the purpose of lavishness or to gain posts, but rather to defend a culture and a civilization that’s based on freedom, sovereignty, and security,” he pointed out. “Our battle is against the ones who are trying to impose their culture and identity on us, while laying their grip over our Lebanese state institutions. We are the ones who opposed Palestinian and Syrian occupations, so we will not yield today to an invasion aimed at transforming Lebanon into another Iran or an Iranian proxy." “As Kataeb, we will continue to defend this country so that it would always mirror our real identity,” he affirmed.

Iraq, Lebanon must choose between voters’ will and Iran’s theocratic isolation'
باريا علم الدين: على العراق ولبنان الاختيار بين إرادة الناخبين والعزلة الإيرانية الدكتاتورية الدينية

Baria Alamuddin/Arab News/August 19/18
A decade ago, regional decision-makers breathed a sigh of relief at a deal that resolved yet another chronic bout of tension in Lebanon. However, this 2008 “Doha Accord” proved to be a poison pill, conferring upon Hezbollah a “blocking third” of the governing system — a political weight they never relinquished — enabling Tehran and Hezbollah to time after time put the political process in a chokehold until other parties eventually cave in. Hassan Nasrallah today behaves as if he has a God-given right to always obtain everything he demands — and to hell with the consequences for Lebanon.
Saad Hariri’s long-running efforts to form a government are being thwarted by Nasrallah’s insistence on normalized relations with Bashar Assad. This is the same Assad who colluded with Hezbollah to assassinate Saad’s father, Rafiq Hariri. And the same Assad who threatened to “break Lebanon” over Rafiq Hariri’s head if he didn’t submit to Damascus’ demands. Assad has devolved from regional strongman to Iranian puppet, so Saad Hariri is unsurprisingly unwilling to prostrate himself and humiliate Lebanon. We hope he stands his ground, but such aggressive brinkmanship over every issue has become exhausting and prohibitively costly for Lebanon.
Likewise, after each round of Iraqi elections Tehran dogmatically blocks all efforts at government formation until it obtains the Cabinet it wants. Iran’s paramilitary allies, Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi, won a miserable 48 out of 329 seats in the May elections — one wonders how they could hope to demand any influence at all. Yet all Iran needs is a sufficient parliamentary rump to block all alternative configurations until it has bribed, threatened and cajoled enough politicians into accepting its writ. Iraq and Lebanon are the only states I can think of where political life is routinely obstructed for months or years during wrangling over the choice of Cabinets and ministers.
A veteran diplomat warned me that a Tehran-aligned government in Baghdad could precipitate “economic war” between Iran and the West, with Europeans and Americans potentially shut out of Iraqi markets altogether. Hence Prime Minister Haider Abadi’s impossible situation: If Iraq wants to do business with the West, US sanctions must be respected. Yet Tehran’s ayatollahs would see Iraqis starve before allowing Baghdad’s leaders to compromise on this issue. This is one crisis Abadi can’t spin his way out of by smiling and telling both sides what they want to hear. US sanctions may thus paradoxically force Iraq even more tightly into Iran’s poisoned embrace, compelling it to suicidally distance itself from the global financial system.
We will soon see whether Iraq and Lebanon’s politicians have the foresight to open their nations to the international community — or bow to Iran and embrace dysfunctional, theocratic isolation.
Having grown up in Lebanon, I understand that this small nation will probably always be a playground for regional powers. However, not all foreign powers are equally malign. Post-war Germany was divided into American, British, French and Russian spheres of influence. The three Western powers exerted their influence with a lighter touch and West Germany was consequently transformed from bombed-out fascist dictatorship to modern miracle in two decades. East Germany, meanwhile, was the vanguard of the USSR’s aggressive efforts to expand communism, and consequently it stagnated and imploded.
Similar tendencies are obvious in Lebanon: After the civil war, certain areas enjoyed massive Gulf Cooperation Council and Western investment and became the luxuriant envy of the Middle East. Other areas went backwards under stultifying theocratic misrule, economic neglect, and the terrible impact of the narcotics trade. Yet it is the backwards-looking theocratic model that is in the ascendancy, particularly after Hezbollah waded through rivers of blood to portray itself as the victor in Syria.
The once-mighty, Arab, oil-rich Iraq is today a broken nation; no more able to avoid Iranian imperialism than tiny Lebanon. We would like to buy into Muqtada Al-Sadr’s rose-tinted vision of a sovereign Iraq rejecting all foreign interference, but in the real world Lebanon and Iraq require backing from benign regional powers in shaping their destinies away from the three evils of militancy, corruption and sectarianism.
Pro-Iranian parties in Baghdad — despite what is often said — are not unassailably popular or dominant. They aren’t even the leading force within the Shiite political constellation. Yet these proxies have won by exploiting Tehran’s muscle to force other parties into line and outmaneuver their rivals, sometimes by playing their cards more cleverly and sometimes by digging in their heels until others acquiesce.
Iran is not a dominant global player, despite how it is often portrayed. It is a second-rate regional pariah in terminal decline because of its leaders’ behavior. Iran wants to permanently drag Iraq and Lebanon into that growing cluster of outcast pariah states that are ostracized because they can’t and won’t play by the international rules. Why would any sane Iraqi want this for their nation? Lebanon has been partly shielded by its well-educated, diverse and liberal communities, who reject the writ of Wilayat Al-Faqih — but how long can they hold out? Rather than Hariri and Abadi being compelled to beat a lonely path to Damascus and Tehran, there are infinitely greater opportunities on offer by unambiguously re-engaging with the Arab heartland.
When Iran suddenly pulled the plug on electricity supplies to southern Iraq this summer — precipitating nationwide protests — it was Kuwait that stepped in, restoring light and air-conditioning to Iraqi homes. We have seen huge investments from the GCC and other Arab states in Iraqi reconstruction, infrastructure and the private sector. Donald Trump’s administration has, meanwhile, been seeking Russian support in curbing Iran’s regional influence.
In May, the vast majority of Iraqis voted for political parties opposed to Tehran’s agenda. Now we get to see whether Iraq and Lebanon’s politicians have the foresight to listen to voters and open their nations to the international community — or bow to Tehran and embrace dysfunctional, theocratic isolation.
**Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.

The Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on
August 19-20/18
Tributes Pour in for ex-U.N. Chief and Nobel Laureate Kofi Annan
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/August 19/18/From his native Africa to the United States, tributes poured in from top leaders around the world Sunday after U.N. chief, Nobel peace laureate, and "diplomatic rock star" Kofi Annan died at the age of 80. The Ghanaian national was a career diplomat who projected quiet charisma and was widely credited for raising the world body's profile in global politics during his two terms as head of the U.N. from 1997 to 2006. The first secretary general from sub-Saharan Africa, Annan led the United Nations through the divisive years of the Iraq war and was later accused of corruption in the oil-for-food scandal, one of the most trying times of his tenure. Annan "astutely guided the United Nations organization into the 21st century defining an ambitious agenda that had made the U.N. truly indispensable to peace, prosperity and human dignity around the world," Annan's successor as U.N. secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said in a statement. Annan's family said he had passed away peacefully on Saturday after a short illness. Annan, who lived not far from the U.N. European headquarters in Geneva, died in hospital in the German-speaking part of the country, Swiss news agency ATS reported.
- 'Guiding force for good' -
Current U.N. chief Antonio Guterres described his predecessor as "a guiding force for good.""In many ways, Kofi Annan was the United Nations," he said. "He rose through the ranks to lead the organization into the new millennium with matchless dignity and determination."
The U.N. said it would fly flags at half mast at all of its locations around the world through Tuesday. And Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo announced a week of mourning for "one of our greatest compatriots."In 2001, as the world was reeling from the September 11 attacks in the United States, Annan was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with the world body "for their work for a better organized and more peaceful world."Another Nobel laureate, retired South African archbishop Desmond Tutu, described Annan as "an outstanding human being who represented our continent and the world with enormous graciousness, integrity and distinction."
Diplomatic rock star'
Born in Kumasi, the capital city of Ghana's Ashanti region, Annan devoted four decades of his working life to the U.N. and was the first chief to rise from within the organization's ranks.In 1993, he took over as peacekeeping chief -- a position he held through two of the U.N.'s darkest chapters: the Rwandan genocide and the Bosnian war. His tenure as U.N. chief was tarnished by a 2005 investigation of Annan and his son over the oil-for-food scandal, seen by some as payback for his comments that the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was "illegal."An inquiry cleared Annan of any serious wrongdoing, but found ethical and management lapses linked to his son Kojo's ties with a Swiss firm that won lucrative contracts in the oil-for-food scheme. Annan later admitted the scandal had sorely tested his mettle not only as secretary general, but as a father. Despite the lows, he left the post as one of the most popular U.N. leaders ever, and was considered a "diplomatic rock star" in international diplomatic circles. After ending his second term as U.N. chief, he kept up his diplomatic work, taking high-profile mediation roles in Kenya and in Syria, and more recently leading an advisory commission in Myanmar on the crisis in Rakhine state. He enjoyed some success in ending post-election turmoil in Kenya in 2007, and on Saturday the two main players in that crisis, former president Mwai Kibaki and his opposition rival Raila Odinga celebrated his efforts. Annan resigned from the peace mission for Syria in 2012 after just a few months, saying a Security Council stalemate had turned it into a "mission impossible."He also set up his foundation devoted to conflict resolution and joined the Elders group of statesmen which speaks out on global issues.
'Embodied the U.N. mission'
But he had recently spoken of his despair at the state of global leadership and the lack of will to engage in resolving crises. "Honestly speaking, we are in a mess," he told AFP in an exclusive interview last December, warning that "today, leaders are going in the wrong direction... leaders are withdrawing." Despite his criticism, current and former world leaders voiced their admiration for Annan. Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed his "wisdom and courage", while German Chancellor Angela Merkel celebrated the "exceptional statesman in the service of the global community."President Donald Trump had yet to comment, but the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said Annan "worked tirelessly to unite us and never stopped fighting for the dignity of every person." Former U.S. president Barack Obama earlier said Annan "embodied the mission of the United Nations like few others." "Kofi Annan was a truly great U.N. Secretary-General," former U.S. president Bill Clinton and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton said in a statement.

Report: US Forces To Stay In Iraq As Long As Needed
Jerusalem Post/August 19/18
'The main reason, after ISIS [Islamic State] is defeated militarily, is the stabilization efforts and we still need to be there for that,' said Colonel Sean Ryan in Abu Dhabi.
ABU DHABI - US forces will stay in Iraq "as long as needed" to help stabilize regions previously controlled by Islamic State, a spokesman for the US-led international coalition fighting the militants said on Sunday. "We'll keep troops there as long as we think they're needed ... The main reason, after ISIS [Islamic State] is defeated militarily, is the stabilization efforts and we still need to be there for that, so that's one of the reasons we'll maintain a presence," Colonel Sean Ryan told a news conference in Abu Dhabi. The number of American soldiers could go down however, depending on when other forces from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation deploy to help train the Iraqi army, he said, adding that about 5,200 US troops are currently based in Iraq.
NATO defense ministers agreed in February to a bigger "train-and-advise" mission in Iraq after a US call for the alliance to help stabilize the country after three years of war against Islamic State. "Possibly, there could be a drawdown, it just depends on when NATO comes in and they help train the forces as well," Ryan said. Iraq officially announced victory over the militants in December, five months after capturing their stronghold Mosul.
The United States also has about 2,000 troops in Syria, assisting the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) clear pockets still under the control of Islamic State along the border with Iraq. "We're starting to see a lot of collaboration between the SDF and ISF [Iraqi Security Forces] because it used to be that they would just come to the coalition, but now, we have them talking to each other as well," said Ryan. The Iraqi military has carried out several air strikes against Islamic State in Syria since last year, the last of which a few days ago, with the approval of President Bashar Assad and the US-led coalition. SDF operations to finish off the militants on the Syrian side have been delayed by hundreds of explosive devices planted by Islamic State, according to Ryan.

Israeli PM meets with US National Security Advisor, John Bolton
Ynetnews/Itamar Eichner/August 19/18
Benjamin Netanyahu and John Bolton discuss a variety of topics, including Iran's aggression, over a dinner at the prime minister's official residence in Jerusalem on Sunday; Bolton: 'Iran nuclear weapons program is at the top of the list.'
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, met with US National Security Adviser John Bolton Sunday evening over dinner at the prime minister's official residence in Jerusalem. The meeting was also attended by US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer. At the start of the meeting, Netanyahu turned to the American adviser and said: "I look forward to discussing with you a whole array of topics, but the most important one is how to continue to roll back Iran’s aggression in the region and to make sure that they never have nuclear weapons."
The meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and John Bolton. Netanyahu complimented Bolton, the former US ambassador to the United Nations, and a right-wing member of the Trump administration, who pushed Trump to cancel the nuclear deal with Iran: "Ambassador Bolton, John, it’s a pleasure to see you." "We’ve been friends for many years, and I can testify that in and out of office, you’ve been a tremendous friend—tremendous friend of Israel, tremendous champion of the American-Israel alliance," he said. "It’s particularly momentous to welcome you here, after the momentous decisions of President Trump, to move the embassy to Jerusalem, and get out of the terrible Iran deal," The prime minister added. US National Security Adviser Bolton replied that "It’s a great honor to be here. It’s great to see you again and talk about the US-Israel relationship."
"It’s been an exciting year and a half in the Trump administration with some of the things you’ve mentioned. Obviously we’ve got great challenges, for Israel, for the United States and the whole world," said Bolton. The Iran nuclear weapons program, the ballistic missile programs are right at the top of the list. So I’m delighted to be here, and look forward to our discussions," Bolton added.
Bolton arrives to talk Iran, Syria with Netanyahu
Jerusalem Post/August 19/18
US National Security Advisor John Bolton arrived in Israel on Sunday for meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top officials, tweeting upon his arrival that he was “looking forward” to the talks on “bilateral concerns and a range of national security issues.”
This is Bolton's first trip to Israel since assuming his new position in April, though he has been in the country on numerous occasions in other capacities. Bolton is scheduled to meet Netanyahu Sunday evening for dinner at the prime minister's official residence in Jerusalem, and again at the Prime Minister's office Monday morning. Following his brief visit here, Bolton is scheduled to travel to Geneva for talks with Russian officials, including his counterpart Nikolai Patrushev, to follow up the summit last month between US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. He is also scheduled to travel to Ukraine for talks there as well. Bolton on "Face the Nation: No decision on withdrawal from Iran accord (Reuters). The situation in Syria was high on the agenda of the Trump-Putin talks last month. Israeli officials have said that Jerusalem is closely coordinated with Washington regarding its position on Syria, which is that ultimately Iranian forces and their Shia-backed militias must leave the country. The Russians say that they have moved the Iranian and Shia forces 85 kilometers from the border with Israel. Bolton is considered a strong supporter of Israel. He is a loud advocate of stopping what he has called Iran's “malign” influence in the region, a strong voice against what he terms the “horrible” Iranian nuclear deal, and adamantly in favor of renewed US sanctions on Iran to weaken its economy.

Top Trump Adviser Arrives for Talks in Israel
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/August 19/18/U.S. President Donald Trump's national security adviser arrived in Israel on Sunday for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a time of shared concerns over Syria, Iran and the Gaza Strip. John Bolton said on Twitter he was "looking forward to meeting with PM Netanyahu and other officials beginning today to discuss bilateral concerns and a range of national security issues."Bolton's trip will also take him to Ukraine and Geneva, where he will meet with his Russian counterpart Nikolai Patrushev. The meeting in Geneva is a follow-up to Trump's highly controversial July summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, according to the White House. Few details were released on Bolton's itinerary or his agenda for talks with Israeli officials. A meeting with Netanyahu was set for Monday morning. A U.S. embassy official said the discussions with Netanyahu and other Israeli officials would include "regional security issues." Israel and Trump's White House have shared concerns over Iran and its involvement in Syria, where Tehran is backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad along with Russia. Netanyahu has pledged to prevent his country's arch foe Iran from entrenching itself militarily in neighboring Syria, and a series of recent strikes that have killed Iranians there have been attributed to Israel. Israel has also lauded Trump's withdrawal from the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers along with the subsequent return of U.S. sanctions on Tehran. Netanyahu has held a series of recent talks with Putin on Iran's presence in Syria, pressing Moscow to guarantee that Iranian forces and their allies, such as the Lebanese group Hizbullah, will be kept far away from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Bolton's visit comes as speculation increases over efforts by Egypt and U.N. officials to secure a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip. Months of tension along the Gaza border have led to fears of a fourth war between Israel and Hamas since 2008. On Sunday, Israel closed its only crossing for people with the Gaza Strip over border clashes at the weekend, the latest tightening of its blockade of the Palestinian enclave. Despite the closure, the past week has been notably calmer along the Gaza border.
Court Doubles Sentence of Israeli Policeman who Killed Palestinian
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/August 19/18/Israel's top court on Sunday doubled the prison sentence of a police officer who shot dead a Palestinian teenager in 2014, an incident documented by video footage. The supreme court ruling said the original nine-month prison term handed to Ben Deri by the Jerusalem district court earlier this year did not sufficiently reflect the severity of his actions. Deri had admitted to fatally shooting Nadeem Nuwarah, 17, on May 15, 2014 during a day of clashes in Beitunia, south of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, between Israeli forces and Palestinian protesters. The clashes were on the anniversary of what Palestinians call the Nakba, or "catastrophe", when more than 700,000 fled or were expelled during the war surrounding Israel's creation. Footage recorded by U.S. broadcaster CNN captured a group of five or six border police officers in the area, one of whom could be seen firing at the time when the youth was hit. Some five minutes earlier, Nuwarah was seen on other CNN footage throwing stones at Israeli forces. But when Deri shot him, he was not engaged in any such action, simply walking in the general direction of Deri's force with his hands to his sides, the Sunday decision noted. Deri had said during his trial he had mistakenly introduced live ammunition into his M-16 instead of rubber bullets. But even the firing of rubber bullets was not justified at that point, the court said. The April district court sentencing had "not sufficiently given expression to the value of the human life severed by Deri," Sunday's ruling read. "The prison term sentenced by the district court is not close in expressing the severity of such an intentional deed, combined with the severe negligence that caused the deceased's death," supreme court justice Noam Solberg wrote in his decision, supported by another judge and opposed by one. Right-wing legal aid organization Honenu, which represented Deri, said the supreme court's ruling could "jeopardize the motivation and operational abilities of our soldiers." Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that while Deri's actions might have been wrong, "that doesn't mean his punishment should be increased.""Those fighting terror on a daily basis, exposed to provocations, have feelings too. They're not robots," he told Israel's public broadcaster Kan.
Iran Says Europe Must 'Pay Price' to Save Nuclear Deal
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/August 19/18/Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Sunday that Europe had not yet shown it was willing to "pay the price" of defying Washington in order to save the nuclear deal. Zarif said European governments had put forward proposals to maintain oil and banking ties with Iran after the second phase of U.S. sanctions return in November. But he told Iran's Young Journalist Club website that these measures were more "a statement of their position than practical measures.""Although they have moved forward, we believe that Europe is not yet ready to pay the price (of truly defying the U.S.)," Zarif said. U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal in May, and began reimposing sanctions earlier this month that block other countries from trading with Iran. A second phase of sanctions targeting Iran's crucial oil industry and banking relations will return on November 5. Europe has vowed to keep providing Iran with the economic benefits it received from the nuclear deal, but many of its bigger companies have already pulled out of the country for fear of U.S. penalties. "Iran can respond to Europe's political will when it is accompanied by practical measures," said Zarif. "Europeans say the JCPOA (nuclear deal) is a security achievement for them. Naturally each country must invest and pay the price for its security. We must see them paying this price in the coming months."

Putin and Merkel, Pushed Together by Trump, Talk Syria, Pipeline
Bloomberg/Sunday 19th August 2018
Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had long and detailed talks about Syria, Ukraine, Iran and other matters -- including U.S. tariffs -- when the pair met on Saturday, a Kremlin spokesman said.Merkel and Putin also agreed to take steps to protect the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project from threats by President Donald Trump, Dmitry Peskov told reporters before the Russian delegation departed for Moscow. The two leaders believe “it is absolutely wrong to politicize this project” and that it should be completed, he said. Earlier, Putin said at a joint appearance with Germany’s leader that he supports the return of Syrian refugees to their homeland, warning that Europe can’t afford another migration crisis. The remark, made before his first bilateral meeting with Merkel in Germany since 2013, hinted at the tension between the two leaders, even as Trump’s policies and disruption of the global order pushes them into alliances of convenience after years of antagonism.
Tariff Impacts
Merkel and Putin shared concerns about the “unpredictability of decisions, especially in the area of tariffs, taken by some states” and “the concern that such decisions may have in the end negative consequences for international trade economic relations system,” Peskov said -- a clear reference to Trump’s trade wars against China, Europe and others. The invitation to visit Germany by Merkel, Putin’s most implacable critic since he annexed Crimea in 2014, is a break from his isolation that also reaffirms the German leader’s pivotal role in Europe. Yet while Putin suggested humanitarian aid would pave the way for some Syrian refugees to return home, German officials say that’s unrealistic for now. “I remind you that there are a million refugees in Jordan and a million in Lebanon,” Putin told reporters alongside Merkel on Saturday before they met for about three hours at a chateau north of Berlin. “There are 3 million refugees in Turkey. This is potentially a huge burden on Europe, so it is better to do everything possible so that they can return home.” Putin and Merkel discussed the idea of a meeting on Syria involving the leaders of France and Turkey as well as Russia and Germany, according to Peskov. For all their differences, Merkel and Putin agreed that they want to preserve the nuclear accord with Iran after Trump withdrew U.S. support for the deal. They’re also pushing ahead with the Nord Stream 2 natural-gas pipeline from Russia to Germany over U.S. objections. Putin, standing alongside Merkel, cited the pipeline as a key economic bond. “Nord Stream 2 is a purely economic project,” Putin said, adding that the Ukrainian transit route should be economically viable. Merkel has said a certain level of gas transit through Ukraine must be ensured. Merkel opened her remarks by telling Putin that Moscow has an elevated responsibility to solve global crises. The German leader, who faces pressure from German industry to lift economic sanctions on Russia, said the leaders would discuss a possible United Nations peace mission for the conflict in eastern Ukraine between government forces and pro-Russian separatists. “We have a responsibility -- Germany, but mainly Russia as a permanent member of the Security Council,” Merkel said. “So we should work on finding solutions.” In Syria, Putin has used his military to tip the civil war in President Bashar al-Assad’s favor and Russia’s joined with Turkey and Iran in trying to engineer a settlement.
Kremlin Opening
In the years since Putin’s previous bilateral visit to Germany, he and Merkel have met at international events including the 2017 Group of 20 summit in Hamburg. Merkel has also visited Putin in Russia several times, most recently in May. She’s advocated engagement, principally to deliver blunt messages rather than being a bridge between the European Union and Russia. The Kremlin views divisions between the U.S. and Europe over trade and the Iranian nuclear deal as a chance for Russia to mend relations with Germany by presenting itself as a more reliable partner in negotiations. Trump last month slammed Germany as “totally controlled by Russia” because of its dependence on Moscow for natural gas supplies. Work on a new gas pipeline linking the two countries, the Gazprom PJSC-backed Nord Stream 2, began in May amid a U.S. threat of sanctions targeting the project. Merkel and Putin agreed to take steps to protect the project, Peskov said. Putin came to Schloss Meseberg after attending the wedding of Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl, at which he danced with the bride and brought along a Russian choir. Kneissl is an appointee of the far-right Freedom Party, which has long-standing ties with Russia. “It was very good trip and nice,” Putin said of the jaunt to southern Austria, near the border with Slovenia. “It was a private visit.”

Putin Calls on Europe to Rebuild Syria so Refugees Can Return

AFP/Sunday 19th August 2018
syrian refugees crisis
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday called on Europe to financially contribute to the reconstruction of Syria to allow millions of refugees to return home. "We need to strengthen the humanitarian effort in the Syrian conflict," he said ahead of a meeting with his German counterpart Angela Merkel at the government retreat of Meseberg castle 70kms (45 miles) north of Berlin. "By that, I mean above all humanitarian aid to the Syrian people, and help the regions where refugees living abroad can return to." There are currently one million refugees in Jordan, the same number in Lebanon, and three million in Turkey, Putin said. Germany has accepted hundreds of thousands of migrants since 2015 -- the height of the migration crisis -- which has weakened Angela Merkel politically and split the European Union. "This is potentially a huge burden for Europe," Putin said. "That's why we have to do everything to get these people back home," he added, emphasizing the need to properly restore basic services such as water supplies and healthcare. Merkel said the priority in Syria was "to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe", but did not give any further details.
Ukraine stalemate
Also on the agenda for the two leaders is the Ukraine crisis, which "unfortunately does not advance at all," Putin said. The Minsk agreements, a peace process sponsored by Germany and France aimed at ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine, is at a standstill, Merkel said, pointing at the absence of a "stable ceasefire." A United Nations mission on the ground, which will be discussed during the talks, "could perhaps play a pacifying role" in the region, she said. Earlier, Germany's foreign minister Heiko Maas said he was "relatively optimistic about the chances of a United Nations mission," telling the Die Welt newspaper: "We want to give a new dynamic to the Minsk process." Russia is accused by Kiev and Westerners of militarily supporting the separatists in eastern Ukraine, which it denies. Economic cooperation, particularly over energy, was also billed as a central theme in the discussions. Russia and Germany are partners in the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, a project criticized by US President Donald Trump due to Berlin's reliance on Moscow. Ukraine worries that the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea pipeline from Russia to Germany will transport gas now flowing through its territory and deprive it of crucial transit fees.
Russia has shut off gas supplies to Ukraine in the past, having knock-on effects in the European Union. "Ukraine must, in my opinion, play a role in the transit of gas to Europe," even after the start of Nord Stream 2 in 2019, the German Chancellor said. Putin once again defended the project "which addresses the growing demand of the European economy for energy resources". "I want to stress here that Nord Stream 2 is only an economic project and it does not close the door to the continuation of gas transit through the territory of Ukraine," he said. In July, Putin assured that Russia was willing to keep Russian flowing through Ukraine after the pipeline was commissioned, but without going into details on volumes or tariffs.
In War-Torn Syria, Russian Aid Helps Families Survive
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/August 19/18/In regime-held central Syria, Suleiman Berber carried his son in his arms, anxiously observing Russian soldiers unload food parcels from a truck. His face suddenly lit up as his wife managed to grab one, while journalists on a media tour with Russia's army watched on. Seven years into Syria's civil war, some 6.5 million people in the country are unable to meet their food needs, the United Nations says. In the town of Rastan in the central province of Homs, 31-year-old Berber said he and his family depend on aid from government ally Russia to survive. Before the regime returned to Rastan, "it was really tough. We didn't have enough to eat or drink," said Berber, dark rings under his eyes. "Now there's this aid, it's better." Around him, dozens of Syrians and their children, many dressed in dusty clothes, gathered to receive parcels of rice, flour and condensed milk. Each package bore Russia's flag and the message "Russia is with you" in Cyrillic script. Backed by Russian warplanes since 2015, President Bashar al-Assad's regime has recovered large parts of Syria through a combination of deadly bombing campaigns, crippling sieges and surrender deals. Assad's forces took back control of Rastan in May, under an agreement that saw rebels and their family members bused out of the town and up to northern Syria.
Farming 'at a loss'
Russian army spokesman Igor Konachekov said the regime ally delivers food to the town once a day. "We will continue until the food situation in Syria improves," he said. "After the war is finished, it could still take several months."In July, the U.N.'s World Food Program distributed food assistance to more than three million people in Syria. "Soaring food and fuel prices, stagnant salaries, loss of livelihoods and reduced food production have led to widespread food insecurity across the country," it said. In the neighboring province of Hama, more than a dozen Syrians worked away on a farm. Ahmad al-Tawil, the owner of the land, said some had returned to work after they were displaced to other parts of Syria or abroad. Others had rented a plot to help feed their families, after the fighting between rebels and regime fighters subsided. "The fighting happened just five kilometers from here," Tawil explained, standing in an orchard where he said he has found landmines. "When the shooting got too intense, the workers couldn't come."His yield has been good this year, he said, after "lots of rain, which is perfect for potatoes and fruit." But due to low exports Tawil is selling them cheap and his farm is "working at a loss", he said, complaining about the high price of fertilizer. Regime forces now control 60 percent of the country, after earlier this year securing control of Damascus, the country's center and regaining most of its southwest. Syria's Prime Minister Imad Khamis this week said developing the agricultural sector was a priority in areas the government controlled. Measures are to include abolishing certain taxes for family agriculture projects, a cabinet statement said.

Egyptian Accused of Hijacking Plane Extradited from Cyprus
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/August 19/18/An Egyptian man accused of hijacking a plane and diverting it to Cyprus has been sent back from the Mediterranean island to his homeland after a two-year extradition battle, officials said Sunday. Seif al-Din Mohamed Mostafa, 61, allegedly used a fake suicide belt to seize an EgyptAir airliner from Alexandria to Cairo in March 2016. "Cypriot authorities yesterday handed over to the Egyptian authorities, Egyptian detainee Seif al-Din Mohamed Mostafa," a statement from Cyprus's justice ministry said. Officials at Cairo airport confirmed his arrival amid tight security late Saturday. Egypt's attorney general said that Mostafa was being handed over to prosecutors in the country for further investigations. Mostafa fought his extradition on the grounds he will not receive a fair trial in Egypt, but the Cypriot supreme court dismissed Mostafa's appeal against being sent home last year.
Mostafa's request for asylum was refused as Cypriot authorities deemed him a "perpetrator of serious crimes." During hearings, Mostafa described himself as a liberal who wanted democracy for an Egyptian people subjected to "abductions, disappearance, illegal detention and extrajudicial killings." Mostafa said his motive for hijacking the domestic Egyptian flight was to seek asylum in Italy and tell the world about the "repressive" Egyptian government. The justice ministry in Cyprus said Mostafa eventually "expressed the wish to go back to his own country" and withdrew an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights that stayed the extradition. "Egyptian authorities have given assurances that Mostafa will face legal procedures that comply with international standards," the ministry said. According to Cypriot police, Mostafa gave a voluntary statement admitting to the hijacking, which ended peacefully with his arrest. Most of the 55 passengers were quickly released after the plane landed, but some escaped only minutes before the six-hour standoff finished.
Italy Threatens to Send Stranded Migrants 'Back to Libya'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/August 19/18/Italy's far-right interior minister threatened Sunday to send "back to Libya" nearly 180 people stranded for three days on an Italian coastguard ship if the EU did not step in to resolve another migrant row with Malta. The 177 people have been sat off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa since Thursday after being saved by the coastguard's Diciotti vessel, and Italy is battling with Malta over who should take them in. "Either Europe decides to seriously offer Italy some concrete help, beginning with for example the 180 immigrants on board the Diciotti ship, or we will be forced to do what will definitively end the human traffickers' business. That means taking the people saved in the sea back to Libya," Salvini said in a statement. Numerous human rights abuses have been reported in detention centers that hold migrants hoping to make the perilous crossing of the Mediterranean and arrive in Europe. The Diciotti has been stood off Lampedusa while Italy's populist government, in power since June, demanded that Malta take in the passengers. Earlier on Sunday the Maltese government, which on Wednesday allowed 141 migrants aboard the Aquarius vessel to dock after an agreement to distribute them to a number of European countries, underlined its refusal of Italy's demands.
Not in distress
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that the migrants’ boat was not in distress and that they also refused help, while interior minister Michael Farrugia wrote on Twitter that "the only solution" was for the people, saved in waters between the countries, to be taken to Lampedusa or another Italian port. Farrugia added that the Diciotti picked up the migrants inside the Maltese search and rescue area "without any coordination from the competent RCC (Rescue Coordination Center), just to stop them arriving in Italian waters". "An interception of a boat that exercises its right to free navigation in the high seas is not considered a rescue operation," said Farrugia. Malta's refusal to take in the migrants has infuriated the Italian government, already angered by an operation that Salvini says was carried out by the Italian coastguard without the approval of Rome. "Malta's behavior is once again unqualifiable and deserves sanction," Italian Minister of Transport Danilo Toninelli said on Twitter on Sunday. "The EU needs to step forward and open its ports to solidarity, otherwise it has no reason to exist." The spat between Italy and Malta is the second in just over a month. It follows the battle over 450 people rescued from a fishing ship and taken aboard two EU border agency vessels who were eventually allowed to disembark in Italy after five European countries agreed to take 50 each. In June, Malta was forced to take the German NGO boat Lifeline carrying over 234 migrants, just days after a standoff between the island nation and Italy led to the French rescue ship Aquarius being diverted and taking 630 people to Spain.

Egyptian monks sent to trial over killing of bishop
Reuters, Cairo/Sunday, 19 August 2018/ Two Christian monks have been sent to trial over the killing of a bishop in an Egyptian desert monastery last month, Alexandria’s public prosecutor said on Sunday. Wael Saad and Ramon Rasmi Mansour, known by their monastic names Isaiah al-Makari and Faltaous al-Makari, were referred to the Damanhour criminal court for alleged involvement in killing Bishop Epiphanius, 64, the abbot of Saint Macarius Monastery, some 110 km northwest of Cairo in Wadi Natroun. Saad was defrocked this month over what church officials called violations of monastic life, and later detained. Judicial sources said he had confessed under questioning to killing the bishop. There has been no indication of a motive. The second monk, Mansour, threw himself from atop the monastery in an apparent suicide attempt this month. He has been treated in a Cairo hospital where he has also been questioned as part of the same investigation, judicial sources told Reuters. Sunday’s prosecutor’s statement said Saad had long had differences with his superiors, who had on one occasion investigated him for breaking monastery traditions. It said Saad was accused of striking the bishop three times in the back of the head with a 90-cm steel pipe while Mansour stood guard outside. Christians make up an estimated 10 percent of Egypt’s roughly 96 million population. Coptic Pope Tawadros this month ordered a freeze on accepting new monks, a ban on monks leaving monasteries without permission, and a ban on clergy using social media.

The Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on August 19-20/18
Analysis/The Qatar Dilemma: When Even a Supporter of Terrorism Can Be an Israeli Ally
زيفي برئيل من الهآررتس: معضلة قطر تكمن في أنها داعمة للإرهاب وفي نفس الوقت قادرة ان تكون حليفة لإسرائيل
Zvi Bar'el/Haaretz/August 19/18
It turns out that when there is political and military need, amazing elasticity can be applied to principles cast in concrete
“Arab countries that broke off relations with Qatar did not do so because of Israel or the Palestinian question, but because of their fear of radical Islamist terrorism,” Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in explaining the embargo imposed by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates on Qatar in June of last year. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also warned that Qatar supports terrorism, and four years ago, Shimon Peres, the late Israeli president, said that the Qataris support terrorism.
But Qatar, an ally of Turkey and Iran, is in the process of being rehabilitated after Israel and Egypt agreed that it would bear the burden of paying the salaries of tens of thousands of government employees in Gaza. And Qatar is also mediating a deal for the return of two Israeli civilians being held in Gaza as well as the bodies of two soldiers killed in the Strip in 2014. Israel is keeping officially mum regarding an agreement taking shape with Hamas over Gaza, denying the very existence of negotiations with the Islamist movement, and no one is asking why Israel is agreeing to Qatar being partner to this. It turns out that rising diplomatic and military needs can result in amazing flexibility even when it comes to principles that are cast in concrete.
But the issue of Qatar is more complicated than just its willingness to finance the first stage of an agreement with Hamas. Qatar became Egypt's enemy after the rise to power of the current Egyptian president, Abdel-Fatah al-Sissi. That was the result of Qatari support for the Muslim Brotherhood and the scathing criticism broadcast on Qatari-owned Al-Jazeera television following Sissi’s military coup. To this day Qatar does not recognize his legitimacy, and when the Saudis and the Emiratis imposed their embargo, Egypt was quick to join in, imposing an aerial embargo on Qatar despite the fact that 300,000 Egyptians work there.
Saudi Arabia views Qatar as an Iranian emissary in the Arab Middle East, and the Saudis also speak of “Qatar’s interference in the internal affairs of Arab countries," reflecting the aid that Qatar provides Hamas and radical Sunni militias in Syria. When it comes to the United Arab Emirates, Iranian companies are allowed to do business there, yet the U.A.E. has joined the boycott of Qatar as a result of the Qataris' close ties with Iran.
After the embargo was imposed on Qatar, Turkey and Iran became the main suppliers of goods to Qatar, allowing it to bypass the aerial blockade. And when U.S. President Donald Trump decided to withdraw from the nuclear accord with Iran, Qatar said it would not allow foreign forces to attack Iran from its territory and that it would not join any sanctions imposed on Iran by the United States.
The rift in relations between Qatar and the Gulf states and Egypt led officials in Jerusalem to believe that Israel had become a member, albeit not an active or official one, in the Arab coalition against Iran.
The anti-Iranian common front comprised of the Gulf states, Israel and the United States came on top of hostility between Saudi Arabia and Hamas. The situation led Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin-Salman to attempt to oust Lebanon’s prime minister, Saad Hariri, and surfaced against the backdrop of intervention by Iran and Hezbollah in the war against Saudi and Emirati forces in Yemen. The situation gave Israel the sense that leading Gulf states were on the verge of signing a peace treaty with it. Indeed, on paper, Middle Eastern coalitions are divided into pro-Western states, including Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., Bahrain and Egypt, and pro-Iranian countries, including Iraq, Lebanon, Qatar, Turkey and Oman, which represents itself as neutral.
But in the face of this mix, the United States finds itself in a quandary. On one hand, it is an important ally of Saudi Arabia, spearheading the global anti-Iranian campaign alongside Israel. On the other hand, the most important American military base in the Middle East is in Qatar. Trump first tried to reconcile Qatar and its rivals, but as in other conflicts, his efforts failed. Qatar launched a campaign to bolster its global standing, mainly in the United States itself. Qatari leaders met not only with senior Trump administration officials but also with leading Jewish leaders. Qatar understands that it must strengthen its ties with the Jewish community and Israel if it is to maintain the strength of its ties with Washington.
Israel’s commitment to coordinate policies with Egypt and to cooperate with the Egyptian military posed another dilemma for Israel. Qatar, as Israel defines it, supports terrorism but could also help bring about the return of the Israelis and the bodies of Israeli soldiers in Gaza. Qatar is Saudi Arabia’s rival but it is also an American protégé.
Moreover, negotiations with Hamas over a cease-fire and a longer-term agreement over the situation in Gaza require finding a source that will pay government salaries in Gaza after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas refused to have them paid out of the Palestinian Authority’s coffers. The “natural” sources could be Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. Six months ago, the United Arab Emirates announced that it would budget $15 million a month to resume the payment of the salaries, adding that it would also fund a new power station in Gaza. But the offer was conditioned on the establishment of a governing council made up of civilians, along with Hamas representatives, and headed by Mohammed Dahlan, the former head of preventative security in Gaza. Egypt agreed to the proposal but Hamas rejected it and the funds never arrived.
Two weeks ago, when the source of the funding seemed to be shifting to Qatar, the Saudis and the U.A.E. demanded that Qatar not be allowed a foothold in Gaza, although they offered no alternatives. It was clear to Israel that in the absence of financing, the cease-fire would not hold, which is why it was forced into an agreement with Egypt providing that Qatar would fund ongoing expenses, which were defined as “aid to civilians in Gaza”, not to Hamas.
No one in the Palestinian Authority is buying that distinction, and Qatar has become the target of harsh criticism recently for betraying the Palestinian cause by promoting Trump’s Middle East “deal of the century” through an Gaza diplomatic channel. It’s doubtful that aid to Hamas will lead to diplomatic progress, but it could restore the calm required for sustaining a cease-fire. The means and scope of the oversight for the transfer of funds is not clear, but these issues have become marginal in light of Israel's and Egypt’s desire to restore calm on the Gaza border and, down the line, to separate Gaza from the West Bank.
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, once called such contortions, born out of interest-driven necessity, heroic flexibility.

German Court: Bring Back Deported Jihadist
Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/August 19/2018
Aidoudi's asylum request was rejected in 2007 after allegations surfaced that he had undergone military training at an al-Qaeda jihadi camp in Afghanistan between 1999 and 2000. During his training, he had allegedly worked as a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden.
"What we are currently experiencing is not a struggle for the rule of law, but a power struggle between an obviously ideologically oriented judiciary and unpopular political representatives." — Tomas Spahn, writing for Tichys Einblick.
"Confidence in the rule of law is not undermined by a ruling such as that of the Gelsenkirchen Administrative Court, but by the fact that it took almost twelve years for Osama bin Laden's 'alleged' bodyguard finally to be deported." — Henryk Broder, columnist, Die Welt.
A court in Germany has ruled that the recent deportation to Tunisia of a failed asylum seeker — an Islamist suspected of being a bodyguard for the former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden — was unlawful and that, at taxpayer expense, he must be immediately returned to Germany.
The ruling has cast yet another spotlight on the dysfunctional nature of Germany's deportation system, as well as on Germany's politicized judicial system, one in which activist judges are now engaged in a power struggle with elected officials who want to speed up deportations.
On August 15, the North Rhine-Westphalian Higher Administrative Court (Oberverwaltungsgericht, OVG) in Münster said that immigration authorities in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), Germany's most populous state, deliberately deceived the courts in the run-up to the deportation of Sami Aidoudi, who had been illegally living in Germany for more than a decade.
The court ordered federal authorities to issue a visa for Aidoudi — referred to in Germany as Sami A. for privacy reasons — to facilitate his return to Germany. The court also ordered Bochum, a city in NRW where Aidoudi lived until his deportation, to pay for his flight back to Germany.
It remains unclear how officials in Bochum can comply with the order, as Tunisian officials have repeatedly said that they have no intention of returning him to Germany.
Aidoudi was deported on July 13, after years of legal maneuvering which allowed him to stay in Germany — on the grounds that in Tunisia he might face torture. Between 2006 and June 2018, Aidoudi's case was heard 14 times in NRW courts, according to NRW's Ministry of Justice.
Aidoudi, a Salafist Islamist, first arrived in Germany in 1997, and is believed by German authorities to have spent time in Afghanistan and Pakistan before the al-Qaeda attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001. Since then, he has been under surveillance by German intelligence for propagating Islamist teachings and attempting to radicalize young Muslims. He had "far reaching" relationships with Salafist and jihadist networks, according to an official report leaked to the German newsmagazine, Focus.
Aidoudi's asylum request was rejected in 2007 after allegations surfaced that he had undergone military training at an al-Qaeda jihadi camp in Afghanistan between 1999 and 2000. During his training, he had allegedly worked as a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden. Aidoudi denied the charges and claimed to have been studying during that time in Karachi, Pakistan.
Despite rejecting Aidoudi's asylum application, German courts repeatedly blocked his deportation out of fear that he could be tortured or mistreated in his homeland:
In April 2017, a court in Münster ruled that Aidoudi faced "the considerable likelihood" of "torture and inhumane or degrading treatment" if he returned to Tunisia.
In April 2018, Aidoudi's continued presence in Germany sparked public outrage when the NRW government confirmed that for more than a decade Aidoudi had been receiving €1,168 ($1,400) each month in welfare and child-support payments, even though German intelligence agencies had classified him as a security threat.
On May 1, Tunisian Minister for Human Rights Mehdi Ben Gharbia provided a verbal guarantee that Aidoudi would not be tortured upon his return to Tunisia:
"I can assure you and I can guarantee: There is no torture here! We are a democratic state and our courts act according to the law. Those who return to us are treated democratically. It is absurd that a German court claims that a Tunisian citizen could face torture here."
On May 9, Germany's Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) ruled that another Tunisian jihadi — identified only as 37-year-old Heikel S., accused of involvement in the March 2015 jihadi attack on the Bardo museum in Tunis — could be deported to his homeland. Interior Minister Horst Seehofer seized on this ruling and pledged to make Aidoudi's deportation a top priority.
On June 25, Aidoudi was detained in Bochum after Seehofer ordered immigration authorities to expedite deportation proceedings.
On July 13, before dawn, Aidoudi, escorted by four federal police officers and a doctor, was placed on a specially chartered Learjet and flown from Düsseldorf to Tunisia. Aidoudi's deportation cost German taxpayers nearly €80,000 ($95,000), according to Focus magazine.
Although the Gelsenkirchen Administrative Court had blocked Aidoudi's deportation the night before, the decision was not passed on to immigration authorities until the next morning — after the plane was already airborne.
When the court learned of Aidoudi's deportation, the judges accused German immigration authorities of "deliberately withholding" information about the timing of Aidoudi's flight in order to ensure that the deportation would be carried out.
The court said that Aidoudi's deportation had infringed upon "fundamental principles of the rule of law" and ordered the City of Bochum to return him to Germany by July 31, 2018.
On August 3, the Gelsenkirchen court fined the City of Bochum €10,000 ($11,500) for failing to retrieve Aidoudi by the July 31 deadline.
On August 13, the NRW Criminal Police Office banned Aidoudi's reentry to Germany after he was placed on an EU blacklist known as the Schengen Information System (SIS).
On August 15, the Münster court overturned the reentry ban and ordered Bochum officials to immediately retrieve Aidoudi. The ruling can only be appealed at the Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht), Germany's highest court.
Tunisian authorities reacted to the ruling by saying that they had confiscated Aidoudi's passport to prevent him from returning to Germany. Sofiane Sliti, the spokesman for the Tunisian terrorism prosecutor, in an interview with the newspaper Bild, insisted that the matter was an issue of Tunisian sovereignty:
"This ruling has no consequences for us. I have said it several times: In Tunisia, Tunisian law is valid and nothing else! That there are problems between ministries and courts in Germany is not our problem. The process here in Tunisia is not yet completed, so he [Aidoudi] has no ID card with which he could travel."
Sami Aidoudi (bottom right) lived in Germany since 1997, until he was deported to his homeland of Tunisia on July 13, 2018. He is alleged to have undergone military training at an al-Qaeda jihadi camp in Afghanistan between 1999 and 2000. He had allegedly worked as a bodyguard for Osama bin-Laden during his training. (Image sources: Aidoudi - SpiegelTV video screenshot; Learjet - Ruido/Flickr; Tunisia - Faris knight/Wikimedia Commons)
NRW Integration Minister Joachim Stamp (FDP), who has accepted personal responsibility for the decision to deport Aidoudi, said that the ruling left him between a proverbial rock and a hard place:
"The court leaves us at a loss, because it itself acknowledges current obstacles that prevent a retrieval, but still demands that Sami A. be promptly returned."
Other members of North Rhine-Westphalia's conservative state government also criticized the verdict. NRW Interior Minister Herbert Reul (CDU), in an interview with Rheinische Post, said that the ruling was out of touch with the public's demand for security:
"Judicial independence is a highly valuable good, but judges should always bear in mind that their decisions should correspond to the public's sense of justice. I doubt if that is the case with this ruling. If the citizens no longer understand judicial decisions, that is pouring water over the mills of extremists."
Judge Ricarda Brandts of the Westphalian Higher Administrative Court shot back:
"The case of Sami A. raises questions about democracy and the rule of law, especially about the separation of powers and effective legal protection. In this case, the limits of the rule of law were tested...."The courts have to judge independently of the majority opinion. And everyone should be aware that a constitutional state is working to protect the rights of minorities, even the rights of those who do not respect the rule of law.
"The case of Sami A. is about determining the fine line between ensuring the security of the population and the rights of those who jeopardize or even violate security. The rule of law must assert itself to the extent that even perpetrators, offenders and terrorists are entitled to effective legal protection and respect for their human dignity."
Writing for Tichys Einblick, a leading classical-liberal and conservative German blog, Tomas Spahn captured the essence of the issue: "The case of the Tunisian Sami A., whose real name Wikipedia does not even dare to write, will enter the lecture halls of future lawyers as one of the absurdities of German legal history. Because no 'case' like this farce reveals the insurmountable discrepancy between jurisprudence (Rechtsprechung) and sense of justice (Rechtsempfinden), between law and politics....
"I would have liked to have these worries about the separation of powers when a federal minister of justice shifted the finding of a crime such as incitement to hate from the courts to legally unqualified employees of any Internet corporation.
"However, when [former Justice Minister] Heiko Maas had his censorship law passed, with the name of 'Network Enforcement Act,' that shift of original judicial tasks to private individuals even had the approval of the judiciary. As a result, this increases the suspicion that in the case of Sami A., in the end it is not about the law but about power....
"What we are currently experiencing is not a struggle for the rule of law, but a power struggle between an obviously ideologically oriented judiciary and unpopular political representatives."
Commentator Henryk Broder, in a column — "Sami A.: Even the Rule of Law Can Sometimes be Wrong" — for Die Welt, concluded:
"That Bin Laden bodyguard Sami A. of Tunisia could be brought back to Germany is considered by many to be evidence of the functioning of the rule of law. That is wrong. The real scandal here is another one....
"The scandal begins when an administrative court declares the deportation of a 'perjurer' is inadmissible because he could face torture in the country to which he was deported.
"I do not share the view of colleagues that the verdict in the case of Sami A. is 'a sign that our constitutional state is working.'
"Even in a constitutional state, there can be wrong judgments. A judgment, right or wrong, does not allow conclusions to be drawn as to the rule of law, whether it works or does not work. Not even judges consider themselves infallible.
"That is why there is a system of instances [trial and appellate courts], that is why judges overturn the judgments of other judges, so the law is adapted to the changed circumstances of life and not vice versa....
"Confidence in the rule of law is not undermined by a ruling such as that of the Gelsenkirchen Administrative Court, but by the fact that it took almost twelve years for Osama bin Laden's 'alleged' bodyguard finally to be deported."
*Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute.
© 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.

Mauritania: US Must Demand Immediate Release of Anti-Slavery Candidate Ahead of Elections
Ruthie Blum/Gatestone Institute/August 19/2018
The arrest of Abeid -- a prize-winning human rights activist whose latest "crime" was being a candidate in an election -- should sound alarm bells in Washington.
The Trump administration needs to demand Abeid's immediate release and make any further financial aid to Mauritania conditional upon proof of concrete moves to eradicate slavery and indentured servitude.
To state that Mauritania is engaged in the kind of "reform" that is "needed to improve people's living standards" is both false and unconscionable. Not only are Mauritania's minorities so impoverished that being enslaved is often their only perceived alternative to starving, but its deceitful government is responsible for perpetuating the situation.
Although referred to as the "world's last country to abolish slavery," it actually remains "slavery's last stronghold."
On August 7, the Islamic Republic of Mauritania arrested Biram Dah Abeid, the founding head of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA), a human rights organization dedicated to eradicating slavery in the west African nation. Abeid described the police waking him in his home in the capital city of Nouakchott, and taking him into custody without charges.
Abeid and those petitioning for his release have good reason to suspect that his arrest – one of many over the past few years -- is related not only to his persistent anti-slavery activism and critique of Islamic texts, but to the fact that he is running for a seat in parliament in the legislative elections slated for September 1.
Abeid, a member of the Haratin, Mauritania's largest minority group, established the IRA in 2008, the year in which Mauritania's first democratically elected president, Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, was ousted in a coup led by General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who has been in power ever since. Abeid has been described as a "thorn in the side" of Aziz, particularly when he challenged Aziz in the 2014 presidential election, and came in a "distant second."
Abeid, as described in a 2014 profile in The New Yorker, has long been a crusader against slavery. The practice was formally abolished in Mauritania in 1981, criminalized only in 2007, but is still practiced with virtual impunity there to this day. Regarding the use in Mauritania of Islamic teachings to justify slavery, Abeid says:
"My problem is not with religion. It's with the interpretation of religion as the origin, the justification, and the legitimatization of slavery. The use of Islam, not Islam."
In 2012, Abeid led a demonstration during which he and other protesters burned texts of the Maliki codes of Islamic jurisprudence, which "codify slavery, racism, and the oppression of women." He and others present were arrested on charges of "apostasy."
As The New Yorker's Alexis Okeowo described the incident:
By eight o'clock on the evening of the book burning, local news Web sites had begun calling Abeid a heretic. "When I went to bed, I was satisfied," he told me. "But I had a feeling something would happen tomorrow. When I woke up, it was a war—in the media, in the mosques." Newspapers were calling for his death. His phone and Internet had stopped working. Activists flocked to his home, and a steady stream of reporters came for interviews....
The police came at nine-thirty and put him in a squad car. "It was dark, and we didn't know where we were going," Abeid said. At the police station, Abeid's cell was filthy, full of mosquitoes, and cramped; five other activists were also imprisoned. Policemen brought a television to the cell, and Abeid watched Mauritanians calling for his death on the news. Hundreds of people had gathered in the streets to protest. Abeid recalled watching as President Aziz appeared onscreen and promised to administer the death penalty.
The police asked Abeid to state on camera why he had burned the books. He refused, suspecting that they would manipulate the video. During his time in prison, the authorities spread a rumor that he was an Israeli agent. "They said I work for the Jews," he recalled. "It's a way to make the Mauritanian people turn against me."
A 2015 piece in Front Page Magazine, by Stephen Brown, which chastised America's Black Lives Matter movement for ignoring the genuine plight of blacks in Africa, described the race-based nature of Mauritania's rigid caste system:
Mauritania's slaves are all black Africans and their owners are Arabs or Berbers, called "whites," who constitute about 20 percent of the population. Both slaves and masters are Muslim.
The "whites," like Mauritania's president, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, make up almost all of Mauritania's political, business and military elite class that controls the country. And therein lays the problem. It is very difficult to get the elite class that makes the laws to take any meaningful action against slavery when many of them are reported to own slaves themselves. But this inaction is also based on a pronounced, anti-black racism that African-American writer Samuel Cotton noticed when he travelled to Mauritania in the 1990s to explore the slavery issue.
"The problem is that Mauritania's Arabs sincerely believe that blacks are born to be slaves," wrote Samuel Cotton in his book Silent Terror: A Contemporary Journey Into Contemporary African Slavery. "They believe that a black man, woman or child's place in life is to serve an Arab, and does not matter whether that black is a Christian, or a fellow Muslim."
The state's ongoing racism and widespread practice of slavery sparked the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) to demand in August 2017 that Mauritania be removed from the eligibility list of countries benefiting from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), legislation enacted by Congress in 2000 that "significantly enhances market access to the US for qualifying Sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries."
To qualify and remain eligible for AGOA benefits, each African country "must be working to improve its rule of law, human rights, and respect for core labor standards." Yet, Mauritania was nevertheless deemed eligible for AGOA benefits as soon as the law was passed. In 2006, its eligibility was removed. Stunningly, in spite of its appalling human rights record, Mauritania's eligibility for AGOA benefits was restored in 2009.
In September 2017, a month after the AFL-CIO requested to testify before the US Trade Representative to defend its petition, an anti-slavery delegation from the US, which had intended to meet with Mauritanian government officials, was denied entry into the country when it landed at the Nouakchott airport. According to a report in the North Africa Post, this was part of Mauritania's "blackout on the practice of slavery in the country by denying access to international civil rights organizations."
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) nevertheless continues to provide Mauritania with huge sums of money to support its "economic reform" efforts. At the end of January, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde met in Morocco with Mauritanian officials and issued the following statement:
"I had a constructive meeting with Governor Abdel Aziz Ould Dahi and Minister Ould Djay, during which we discussed Mauritania's recent economic developments and prospects. I welcomed the launch of the Mauritanian authorities' economic reform program supported by the IMF's $163.9 million Extended Credit Facility (ECF).
"I reiterated that the IMF stands ready to continue to support Mauritania in its reform efforts. I also highlighted that Mauritania should take advantage of the current favorable external environment to accelerate reforms and transition to stronger growth, which is needed to improve people's living standards in a sustainable manner."
To state that Mauritania is engaged in the kind of "reform" that is "needed to improve people's living standards" is both false and unconscionable. Not only are Mauritania's minorities so impoverished that being enslaved is often their only perceived alternative to starving, but its deceitful government is responsible for perpetuating the situation.
Thus, according to CJA News Africa, six members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to Lagarde asking that the IMF cease providing loans to Mauritania. The March 5 letter, dubbed the "Mauritania Memo," was reportedly signed by Mark Meadows of North Carolina, Thomas Garret of Virginia, Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, Lee Zeldin of New York, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and Gus Bilirakis of Florida. No response has been reported.
This brings us to the issue of Washington's leverage. Mauritania is considered an American ally. According to a recent State Department fact sheet:
"The United States engages with Mauritania on a wide array of issues, including counterterrorism, food security, trade promotion, and efforts to strengthen human rights and the rule of law. The Departments of State, Defense, USAID and Justice are represented at the U.S. Embassy in Nouakchott... Assistance other than humanitarian assistance to Mauritania was suspended after the 2008 coup. Following certification of the 2009 election by foreign observers, bilateral assistance restrictions were lifted. Mauritania is a member of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP) and receives security assistance to support its counterterrorism efforts... [a] key mission in Mauritania is to advocate for a democratic and peaceful transfer of power in 2019 from one elected president to another for the first time in Mauritania's history. ."
The arrest of Abeid -- a prize-winning human rights activist whose latest "crime" was being a candidate in an election -- should sound alarm bells in Washington. The Trump administration needs to demand Abeid's immediate release and make any further financial aid to Mauritania conditional upon proof of concrete moves to eradicate slavery and indentured servitude. Although referred to as the "world's last country to abolish slavery," it actually remains "slavery's last stronghold."
*Ruthie Blum is the author of "To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama and the 'Arab Spring.'"
© 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.

The US Needs a Cyber Force More Than a Space Force
James Stavridis/Bloomberg/August 19/18
Sadly, the proposal for a new US Space Force is has become a punchline on late-night TV. It is being battered as a needless new bureaucracy, a competitor for the private sector, and an idea that will lead to a vicious militarization of space. None of these arguments is correct.
Many of those denigrating the idea are under-informed and spring-loaded to dislike the idea because it is proposed by President Donald Trump. I have plenty of policy disagreements with the Trump administration, but on this issue it is boldly going in the right direction.
And while the idea of a space force is smart, the new service component we really need is a Cyber Force. And it makes a lot of sense to bring both of these small, elite, high-tech branches to life right now.
The idea of a space force — a new service branch like the Army or Navy, not merely a combatant command — has been around for decades, but the entrenched military services have vigorously fought it. Each has some space expertise, and likes having some level of control over “its” space assets. But the Air Force has the most to lose in terms of bureaucratic resources, and it has been predictably the most resistant to the concept.
This is ironic: In the mid-20th century, the Army and the Navy fought tooth and nail to prevent the creation of … the Air Force. The arguments at the time were much like those we hear today: We don’t need to create another bureaucracy; we are doing this just fine with the Army and Navy each having its own operations; this isn’t really a new theater of operations, only a zone in which maritime and land strategies achieve their objectives. Those were faulty arguments then, and today.
We need a space force because we will be safer with true specialists who are completely focused on that important zone of operations. Combining the various service space bureaucracies into one branch would create a streamlined single point of focus, likely saving manpower and money. And space deserves its own strategy, especially given the competition from Russia and China.
None of this means space has to be any more militarized than it already is (there is a huge amount of military and intelligence activity already). A space force would be capable of military operations, both defensive and offensive, in space itself. It would also support and reinforce operations here on earth from space. Both are crucial.
And with a single command driving policy in the heavens, there might actually be better opportunities for long-term cooperation with other nations, along the lines of the International Space Station.
Still, as important as a space force is, there is a greater necessity for focus on different unique zone of operations: cyberspace. Military activity in the cyber realm is currently a pick-up game, with each of the services offering a small cadre of cyber warriors on a temporary basis to the Pentagon’s newest combatant command, US Cyber Command. Its leader, General Paul Nakasone, and his predecessors have done a good job of marshalling these individual service contributions, but it is a cumbersome process and those assigned to the command usually return to their parent service after their tour of duty at the National Security Agency headquarters in Maryland.
Not only do the same arguments for a space force apply in cyber, but the threats we face there are currently larger. The digital world is already highly militarized; the size of a cyber force would be tiny compared to the vast bureaucracies of the Army, Navy and Air Force; and the individual armed forces do not have adequate incentives to pay attention to the job — they are very busy training, equipping and organizing their force to do the traditional warfighting tasks in the land, sea and air.
China and Russia have huge offensive cyber-capabilities. We’ve watched Russia use these tools in attacking Georgia in 2008 — which will go down in military history as the first nation attacked not only kinetically but simultaneously in cyber — and Ukraine, paralyzing part of the electric grid. Other nations, notably Iran and North Korea, also have significant offensive cyber capability. North Korea hacked Sony Pictures in 2014, an American corporation that made a film that mocked the dictator Kim Jong Un. Iran has made several forays against the S. in cyberspace, including attacks on utilities, and was behind the large-scale attack on Saudi Aramco in 2012, forcing the world’s largest oil company to shut down its internal computer network.
So it would make a great deal of sense to create the space and cyber branches at the same time: the technological synergies between these two cutting-edge initiatives would be significant.
Trump is right to warn that we might be attacked from space someday, and of the need to be ready for it. But we are being attacked from cyberspace right now, and that demands an immediate response.

The US Becomes an Oil Economy

Justin Fox/Bloomberg/August 19/18
The oil market has changed a lot over the past decade. Here, for example, is the latest data on US imports and exports of crude oil and petroleum products, released by the Energy Information Administration at the end of last month:
The US has gone from a big-time net importer of oil to a small-time one. The latest base-case forecast from the EIA is that it will be a “modest net exporter” from 2029 through 2045. Neither the EIA nor anyone else (that I know of, at least) foresaw a huge increase in US oil production over the past decade, though, so let’s leave the forecasts aside. What has already happened is momentous enough. Here, for example, is the long view (going back to 1870) on US crude oil exports:
Oil’s role in the US economy has changed so much and so fast thanks to hydraulic fracturing and other new methods of getting oil out of shale that it’s worth pausing from time to time to consider what this entails. I’ve written before about the oil and gas boom’s role in keeping the trade deficit from exploding, and in making it harder for this country “to take the leading role in shaping the post-fossil-fuel energy landscape.” Now let us consider the domestic oil boom’s impact on the business cycle.
The standard story about oil and the US economy, as University of California at San Diego economist James D. Hamilton laid out in a 1983 paper, a 1996 follow-up and a paywall-free 2005 summing-up, is that sharp oil-price increases have a habit of causing recessions. “The key mechanism whereby oil shocks affect the economy,” Hamilton wrote in 2005, “is through a disruption in spending by consumers and firms on other goods.”
Because the US produced far less oil than it used, past oil-price increases not only took money out of Americans’ pockets, but also shipped much of it overseas. Booming US oil production and a shrinking trade deficit in oil ought to change that equation, at least a little.
There hasn’t been a major price spike since the US oil boom began (in part because the US oil boom has precluded it), but there was a major collapse in the latter half of 2014, with the price of crude falling 59 percent in dollar terms in just six months. “This decline produced a stimulus of about 0.7 percentage points of real GDP growth by raising private real consumption,” economists Christiane Baumeister of the University of Notre Dame and Lutz Kilian of the University of Michigan concluded in 2016. “This stimulating effect, however, has been largely offset by a reduction in real investment by the oil sector.”
Since early 2016, oil prices have recovered somewhat, but not rapidly enough to put a big crimp in consumer or business spending. Real investment in the US oil and gas sector, meanwhile, bottomed out in the fourth quarter of 2016 and, while it’s still not back to the levels of 2012 through 2014, appears to have been a major driver in the pickup in economic growth last year and so far this year. CNBC’s Steve Liesman talked to several economists in May who had concluded that rising oil prices were now a “wash” for the US economy; I wouldn’t be surprised if, as long as the increase is gradual enough, they’re actually a net positive. After all, the energy intensity of the US economy — the amount of energy consumed per dollar of real gross domestic product — has been declining steadily since the early 1970s. On aggregate, at least, we can afford somewhat higher energy prices.
That’s not to say that a sharp spike in oil prices would be great news for the US economy. The disruption for households and non-oil businesses might well outweigh the profits of and increased investment by the energy industry. The share of economic activity accounted for by oil and gas extraction and refining is higher than it was in the 1990s and early 2000s, but that still leaves more than 95 percent of the economy in the hands of oil consumers.
The best economic situation all around, in fact, would seem to be prices that are high enough to allow oil drillers to turn a profit but still stable. For the past half century, interestingly enough, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries has been trying (and often failing) to keep oil prices profitably high and stable through production quotas and other means. While it has often been assailed by US politicians — including President Donald Trump — for this uncompetitive, anti-free-market behavior, OPEC actually got the idea from the US, where the Texas Railroad Commission regulated and restricted oil production from the 1930s through the 1960s. Before that, in the late 1800s, John D. Rockefeller had tempered the nascent oil industry’s boom-bust tendencies by seizing control of most of it. Now that the US is a major oil power again, don’t be too shocked to see similar attitudes and efforts resurface here.

Erdogan is dragging Turkey into an abyss
/راغدة درغام: أردوغان أمام خيارات العظمة والبراغماتية

Raghida Dergham/The National/August 18/18
The only way to de-escalate the current crisis with the US is for him to descend from his neo-Ottoman ivory tower, writes Raghida Dergham
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has placed his country in the heart of a storm, taking US-Turkish relations to a cliff’s edge as a result of his military and economic policies, which seem to benefit Russia more than Nato member Turkey itself. Mr Erdogan has already antagonised Europe, playing the card of refugees flocking to the West through the Turkish gateway. Not long ago, Turkey had normal relations with Saudi Arabia but Mr Erdogan today has lost that important relationship that brought together two major powers. Instead, he prefers to align himself with Qatar amid the Gulf dispute with Doha, pitting himself against the Arab quartet.
Mr Erdogan is also bargaining over his country’s interests in Syria with the Russians, becoming a secondary player in the Russian-led Astana process alongside Iran. He also dragged down Palestine when he chose to back Hamas over the Palestinian Authority, helping drive a wedge between Palestinians, only for Hamas to now turn its back on him as it seeks a deal with Israel with US and Egyptian blessing. His relations with Iran, meanwhile, are based on short-term calculations and a shared dislike of Nato ally US, pitting himself not only against Donald Trump but also the US Congress, which distrusts him for his dealings with Russia and Iran. In short, Mr Erdogan is dragging himself and Turkey into the abyss, unless he climbs down from his stubbornness and neo-Ottoman delusions. He has surrounded himself with enemies and given both Washington and Moscow a rope to hang him with.
Mr Trump’s policy, which uses sanctions targeting the economy and currency as a means to coerce politically, is not solely responsible for the collapse of the Turkish lira. Rather, this was the result of the economic policies of Mr Erdogan and his son-in-law, the finance minister Berat Albayrak. US sanctions on Iran meanwhile have struck at the heart of the regime and will take an even more fateful turn when they expand into the oil sector on November 4. The new sanctions Washington threatened this week against Turkey unless it releases the American pastor Andrew Brunson will affect infrastructure and would not be mitigated by any kind of support like that pledged by the emir of Qatar after a visit to Ankara last week.
What is new and significant in the recent regional developments is the radical shift in the geography of crises here. In recent years, the Arab region was the chosen theatre for both Iran and Turkey to implement their regional projects. But today the regime in Tehran faces the possibility of implosion from within, a shift from the erstwhile exportation of its agenda, revolution and proxies into Arab countries – just as Mr Erdogan’s Turkey faces implosion.
The White House is not interested in Mr Erdogan’s ultimate fate but in the fate of Turkey’s Nato membership. Mr Erdogan’s shenanigans have long irked US administrations and Congress. Some question his ulterior motives, saying Turkey is no longer a strategic ally.
Consequently the US has taken measures to reduce reliance on Turkey’s Incirlik airbase. US aircraft carriers will for the time being be the de facto alternative until Turkey’s Nato credentials are settled.
The US resentment with Turkey has multiple reasons, from the differences over the Kurdish question and Ankara’s insistence on acquiring the Russian-made S-400 air defence system, to the Turkish anti-American discourse and its bid to circumvent US sanctions on Iran.
By insisting on purchasing the S-400 system, he has triggered a bill in Congress to block the delivery of US F-35 fighter jets to Ankara. Turkey does not need the Russian system and the US military establishment would never allow a loophole through which the Russians could learn the secrets of the F-35. It is in Russia’s interest for Turkey to exit Nato, regardless of how that happens. But there is a bloody history between Russia and Turkey, which makes a Russian-Turkish alliance against Nato a dangerous idea, most notably because it would provoke both Europe and the US.
The issue of oil and gas might be instrumental in the development of Russian-Turkish relations, based on Turkey’s strategic position linking Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan and Qatar, the world’s top producers of gas, to the consuming countries in Europe. Iran and Qatar’s projects to export their gas to Europe through Syrian territory have been hindered by developments on the ground but also Russia’s dominance over the future of pipelines to Europe. Turkey was part of Qatar’s project to export gas through Syria but with the collapse of the Qatari project, Turkey shifted to alternative relations with Russia, which is developing its gas export policies to circumvent Ukraine.
The shortest route for Russian oil and gas experts to Europe is Ukraine but this is no longer an option following the Russian intervention there. Moscow has been looking to offset Ukraine and Turkey has offered its services. The US is angry because that is another Turkish policy that it considers provocative and incompatible with its interests.
Mr Erdogan’s wager on Vladimir Putin is risky and not just because of the two men’s arrogant and authoritarian personalities. What if a deal had been secretly struck between Mr Putin and Mr Trump at their summit in Helsinki? In that scenario, Mr Putin would not risk such an accord for the sake of an anti-Nato alliance with Mr Erdogan.
And what would Mr Erdogan do if Turkey left or was made to leave Nato? His strategic vision has made him an untrustworthy member of the alliance. Turkey does not have any friends that can mediate to contain the tensions with the US. The only way to de-escalate would be for Mr Erdogan to descend from his neo-Ottoman ivory tower and get in touch with reality.

The clear choices facing Iran
Eyad Abu Shakra/Al Arabiya/August 19/18
The change of occupants in the White House, following the 2016 US Presidential elections, has affected the whole world; but for Iran, specifically, it has truly been significant.
Today mass demonstrations in the streets of major Iranian cities coincide with the countdown of escalating American sanctions. Last week, the sanctions announced by President Donald Trump against Iran took effect. They include banning governments and companies from using the US dollar in transactions with Iran, stopping all bank transfers in the US currency, forbidding any business in the Iranian rial, as well as forbidding banks from lending money to Iran, and US banks from dealing with their Iranian counterparts.
Furthermore, the US sanctions ban trading in various materials and goods with Iran, including iron, Iranian carpets and food items; and within three months, the sanctions will include petroleum and petrochemical products too. So the scene in Washington has changed dramatically since the very long American – Iranian “honeymoon” during Barack Obama’s presidency. It is obvious that the change that came with Trump’s election was to a large extent “ideological”. Actually, it is not what we have been accustomed to in a “superpower”, where one rarely finds radical ideological differences between its two “establishment parties”. Barack Obama’s winning the White House was somehow “revolutionary” in many ways in America’s political life; and within eight years the first African-American president practically apologized to several “Third World” regimes for the policies of the “American Establishment” and what he might regard as its “imperialism”.
However, all this was upended with Trump’s election. Now, Washington does not apologize to anybody. There is no special treatment to Western “allies”. No preferential consideration or “good neighborly” relations with Canada and Mexico, the only countries with which the US shares land borders. Thus, if one would describe Obama’s election as a “revolution”, then Trump’s surely deserves to be thought of as a “counter revolution” that has bulldozed all the assumptions, equations and concessions of the previous eight years.
Turning the page of animosity with Iran’s “mullahs”, and diligently working to develop the relations with Tehran was the cornerstone of Barack Obama’s vision for Middle East. This vision was, basically, translated since 2011 by Washington’s encouragement of “regime change” targeting pro-US leaders (in the context of the so called “Arab Spring”); and on the other hand, signing a nuclear agreement that temporarily delays Iran becoming a nuclear power, but gives the “green light” to dominate the region without the need of a nuclear arsenal.
Writing about the Iranian political scene, and Washington’s change of position vis-a-vis Iran under the presidency of Trump, my Iranian colleague, Amir Taheri, recently raised the issue of “To resist or not to resist?”
He went on to say: “In Tehran’s political circles these days that is the question. The prospect of fresh sanctions to be imposed by the United States and its allies has helped intensify the debate which has marked Iranian politics since the mullahs seized power in 1979.”
Political Islam and nationalism
Indeed, during the last few decades, we have become familiar with this? Political rhetoric, some of which sounds contradictory to those who do not know much about the complexity of Iran’s socio-political culture. It is a culture that accommodates on one side the extraordinary coexistence, if not marriage, between Shiite “political Islam”, and on the other Aryan nationalism. It is the latter that President Hassan Rouhani boasted in a message to Trump that it goes back around 7,000 years! On one side, electoral democracy whose “seasons” Tehran uses in impressing the World and distract its masses, and on the other the “Vilayet-e-Faqih” which is above elections. On one side the regime’s various “councils” and government ‘institutions’, and on the other a political-financial militia that has its tentacles in everywhere and in every sector called the “Iranian Revolutionary Guards” (IRGC).
On one side the “revolution” with its slogans and popular “purity”, and on the other the sway of the “bazaar” with its rich turbaned and non-turbaned tycoons.
On one side, those we are told are “reformists” and “pragmatists” who understand the world and talk to each of its capitals in the language it understands and likes, and on the other those who are known to be “conservative”, “hardliners” and “militarists” who boast about threatening Iran’s neighbors, destroy their cities, and take over the politics of the countries they dominate.
This is Iran that is protesting these days.
It is the Iran of young man and women, and of the future, that – like every country – desires to be part of the world. Desires to enjoy its wealth rather have it spent by “dogmatic” extremists on fatal, destructive, and costly adventures and expansionist foreign projects, either under the banners of “exporting the revolution” or using the pretext of defending “holy shrines”. It the Iran that possesses one of the world greatest, human, economic, cultural and artistic treasures. Today, Iran whose population exceeds 82 million (18th in the world), live on a land with an area of around 1,650,000 km2 (17th in the world). It has 10 percent of the world’s oil reserves, 15 percent of the world’s natural gas reserves (2nd in the world). Furthermore, despite of its bad governance and rulers’ adventurism, it is the world’s 7th largest oil producer and second exporter among OPEC members.
Given the above, the Iranian society seems to have had enough; its youth is angry as it feels deep national and cultural alienation. Burning the portraits of “The Supreme Guide”, demonstrating against him and his authority is not an ordinary development. One must not make light, either, of the bitterness deeply felt by millions, and is expected to get worse, as American sanctions bite, considering that they are intended to remind the Iranians that their country’s resources must be used to improve their lives rather than spent in military adventures oversees. The suppression of “The Green Revolution” and imposing restrictions on all forms of protests or oppositions are well-known to Iranians. They are also aware – especially, the young men and women – that the IRGC organizations are both largely responsible for suppressing their freedom and ambitions, protecting financial and political corruption, and directing foreign military adventures.
It is true that sanctions may for a while increase the people’s suffering, but they are expected to encourage those with a vested interest in change, and prompt them to make a stand.
Iran’s great resources belong to its people, not to its “generals” and their projects. So if the suffering is clear, so are the choices.

Yes, the ISIS threat in Iraq and Syria is still very real
Adnan Hussein/Al Arabiya/August 19/18
The UN has issued a fresh warning on the still lingering threat posed by ISIS. In its latest report, it estimates that the number of the terrorist organization members left in Iraq and Syria is between 20,000 and 30,000 fighters, spread almost equally between the two countries.
The report issued by UN sanctions monitors indicates that most of the present ISIS members are nationals of Iraq and Syria, and only few of them are from other countries. The latter point is what’s really dangerous. Foreigners can be exposed but this does not apply to local citizens. The report highlights that the terrorist militia is still capable of launching attacks inside Syria. Although it does not have completely control over any Iraqi territory, it remains active via sleeper cells that consist of hiding agents in the desert and other areas.
These 10,000-15,000 members and their strength cannot be underestimated as four years ago, ISIS has managed to invade Mosul and seize control of it with fewer fighters than at present. From its base in Mosul, it expanded to over the third of the country, committing horrific massacres and causing an ordeal to millions of the Iraqi people, an ordeal which chapters have not yet ended.
What’s also dangerous is that these ISIS members in Iraq and Syria can with time find supporters who provide them with a safe haven and support. Truth is the conducive environment is still present since Iraqi cities and villages destroyed in the war against the terror group have not been rebuilt yet and even basic amenities of life are not available to most of their inhabitants. The problems faced by residents are still not being addressed by the civilian, military and security authorities in a way that might prevent the resurgence of a terrorist ideology and of terrorist members among them. The frequent incidents that recently forced the commander in chief of armed forces to withdraw some of the troops from areas in Nineveh Governorate and others confirm this.
The final victory over ISIS has not been achieved yet, and it will not be achieved as long as the problems facing the inhabitants of the areas freed from ISIS’ control are not addressed and as long as the authorities are not interested in restoring life to normal. This requires fighting administrative and financial corruption in state institutions dealing with these areas and their citizens as just like plenty of the money allocated for the displaced in camps was stolen, the return of the displaced and reconstruction of their areas have now been hindered also due to administrative and financial corruption.
The UN report comes as a strong and timely warning for us. The influential political parties are now completely preoccupied in their struggle and conflict over power, influence and money at the onset of the new parliament and government formation, and it’s unlikely that they will abandon these conflicts and competitions to consider the still extant threat posed by ISIS.

Iran: Sanction as you wish, but lay off carpets
Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady/Al Arabiya/August 19/18
The first phase of US sanctions against Iran were rolled out on August 6 and it includes sanctions on Iran buying or acquiring US dollars, trading gold and other precious metals, sale, supply or trade of metals such as aluminium and steel, as well as graphite, coal and certain software for "integrating industrial processes."These also included sanctions on "significant" sales or purchases of Iranian rials, or the maintenance of significant funds or accounts outside the country using Iranian rials, sanctions on issuing Iranian debt and, for good measure, Iranian auto sanctions.
The US also revoked certain permissions, granted to Iran under the JCPOA deal. These include halting Iran's ability to export its carpets and foods into the US, as well as ending certain licensing-related transactions. The energy markets are also nervously awaiting the second phase on November 4, which aims to cut back on all Iran oil exports to zero. The likelihood that energy dependent countries like China, India and Turkey will fully comply on this is uncertain, given the current state of trade tariff spats and open animosity between some of them and the USA.
The Trump administration’s immediate objectives is to ensure maximum economic pressure and pain on the Iranian regime and starve it of much needed foreign currencies which the United States believes Iran has been using to sponsor its “malign activities” in the region and reign in its ballistic missile program.
However, the issue of sanctions on Iranian carpets has greater and far longer-term significance than energy sanctions. This involves art and culture and putting at risk the skills of ordinary weavers, passed down over generations to make Iranian carpets one of the most sought out possessions of the rich and the discerning buyers of hand weaved carpets all over the world. In homes and offices, whether in the Gulf, Europe, Asia and the USA, one of the most prized possessions is one or more Persian carpet. The most discerning collectors are spoilt with choice from amongst the many varieties such as Afshar, Heriz, Kerman, Shiraz, Isfahan, Hamadan, Bidjar and Mashad to name but a few.
Heritage and culture
The country's carpet making industry employs hundreds of thousands of skilled weavers and earns hundreds of millions of dollars in export revenue with funds mostly going to private individuals and companies, unlike oil revenues, which are state controlled. President Donald Trump's decision to quit the Iran nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions threatens to kill that carpet market. If no resolution on the nuclear deal is found, these weavers will have to find other means of earning a living, whether it's other handicraft or something entirely different, putting at risk the acquired and unique skills and knowledge of generations. The consequences will be felt across the Iranian economy and further afield. The Iranian carpet economy is important as historically it has been very strong and has a quite a large degree of local employment, whether in the cities or by nomadic women in rural areas. Putting pressure on governments and sanctioning state operations is one thing, but putting heritage and culture at risk is another.
The Iranian weavers and their families had gone through sanctions before and had hoped for a brighter future after the JCOPA nuclear agreement was signed. Following the lifting of sanctions on Iran by the Obama administration in 2016, carpet exports rose sharply. Between March 2017 and January 2018, carpets worth $336 million were sold for export — according to the Iran National Carpet Centre — with the United States being the leading destination. All this is now at risk.
For lovers of Persian carpets, irrespective of nationalities and political differences, the loss of this unique heritage would be a sad loss to the world, for as a saying by Rumer Godden goes, “If books were Persian carpets, one would not look only at the outer side, because it is the stitch that makes a carpet wear, gives it its life and bloom.”In the short term, as every freshman economics student knows, the law of supply and demand will kick in and the price of existing Persian carpets will sky rocket whether in the official or black market, putting many carpets out of reach to those that want to own one, but making it a possession of the very rich and art connoisseurs. The exquisite Persian carpet has seen many different rulers and governments come and go over the centuries in its homeland, and let us hope it continues to thrive and not go the way of others, as we have seen by the decimation of skilled Syrian copper and silver metal workers livelihood in the bazaars of Damascus in the on-going civil strife. It will be a pity if we end up with artificially manufactured mass-produced copycat Persian carpets.

The New Zealand Model: Unwavering international solidarity with Palestine
Ramzy Baroud/Al Arabiya/August 19/18
Although the Israeli navy intercepted and hijacked boats that sailed to Gaza in July as part of the Freedom Flotilla, activists in the Palestine solidarity campaign seem determined to continue their work until the Israeli siege is lifted.
What the Israeli government may not realize is that the international push to break the Israeli-imposed isolation of Gaza does not hinge on the success or failure of the boats to land at the Gaza shores. The solidarity campaign has thus far served to galvanize the efforts of countless people to challenge Israeli defiance and violations of international law.
The outreach of solidarity with Palestine, and Gaza, in particular, has, in fact, reached all corners of the globe, harnessing the support of people from all backgrounds, politics and religions, who are now involved in unprecedented, direct action demanding freedom and justice for the Palestinian people.
One of these spaces that are now considered a major hub for Palestinian support is New Zealand.
Last May, I began a book tour that took me to many countries. However, in New Zealand, a relatively small Pacific island with a population that does not exceed five million people, the solidarity with Palestine was exceptional. The mobilization for justice for the Palestinian people in an island located thousands of miles away from Gaza was so powerful and effective that it puzzled me.
I asked about the strong Palestine solidarity work in New Zealand, from the coordinator for ‘Kia Ora Gaza’ and organizer with the New Zealand ‘Palestine Solidarity Network’, Roger Fowler who, at the time, was busy with final preparations for the Freedom Flotilla.
In New Zealand, he said, “for many years support for the Palestinian struggle lingered, often perceived as being too distant, and falsely portrayed as being 'too complicated'. But the global outrage at Israel's murderous attack on the ‘Mavi Marmara’-led humanitarian flotilla to Gaza in 2010 was a major turning point that changed all that.”
Fowler, along with other New Zealand activists, joined the ‘Lifeline to Gaza’ convoy soon after the attack on the ‘Mavi Marmara’, reaching Gaza with three ambulances, packed with desperately-needed medicine, as the Israeli siege also deprived the Strip of hospital equipment and medicine. Coordinating this was not a simple task as it also needed to be streamlined with the global efforts for the convoy which included the dispatching of 140 other ambulances and 300 activists arriving from 30 countries.
Like the horrific Apartheid regime in South Africa, the Israeli Apartheid will collapse because Palestinians continue to resist and because millions of people are standing by their side.
“There were many moving scenes as Palestinians learned how far we had come to offer solidarity – the Israeli overlords had told Palestinians that nobody cared about them,” Fowler told me. The unprecedented global convoy which included six Kiwi activists arriving from ‘as far away as one can be', “proved (the Israeli claim) to be a big lie.”
When Mike Treen, the National Director of the ‘Unite Union’ in New Zealand arrived at the airport in Auckland, on August 1, a group of people was anxiously waiting for him at the terminal with Palestinian flags and flowers. They were a mixed group of New Zealanders which included native Maori, Palestinians and others. They hugged him, chanted for Palestinian freedom and performed the customary native Haka dance.
For them, Mike, as all of those who set sail aboard the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza last July, were heroes. But the truth is, Mike Treen and his comrades were not the only heroes braving the sea with the aim of breaking the hermetic Israeli military blockade on the impoverished and isolated Gaza Strip. Without those who were present at the Auckland airport upon Mike’s arrival, and without the thousands of supporters all across the world who mobilized as a community, having held numerous meetings, raised funds, created a powerful media discourse, and so on, Treen’s attempted trip to Gaza would not have been possible.
Of course, legitimate questions were and continue to be asked, such as: are whether such attempts, aimed at breaking the Gaza siege are of any value if they are constantly disrupted and foiled by Israel. If all such boats are intercepted by the Israeli navy, and hijacked and hauled to some Israeli port along with their passengers and cargo, does this not qualify as a failure for the Palestine solidarity movement?
A historic moment
The first boats to successfully break the Gaza siege in October, 2008, were the ‘Free Gaza’ and the ‘Liberty’. They carried 44 people from 17 countries. The diversity of the group, in terms of nationalities and backgrounds, reflected the fact that they championed a higher cause than themselves, their own politics and ideologies. These activists determined to push their countries to acknowledge the illegality of the Israeli blockade on Gaza and to eventually challenge the siege.
Their triumphant arrival in Gaza ten years ago marked a historic moment for the international solidarity movement, a moment that was probably unparalleled. Since then, Israel has launched several massive and deadly wars on Gaza. The first took place merely weeks after the arrival of the first boats, followed by another war in 2012 and, the deadliest of them all, in 2014. The siege grew tighter, and what started as a political siege to break the will of Palestinians following the 2006 elections, became one of the world’s most perpetual and painful acts of collective punishment and humanitarian disasters.
Since then, many attempts have been made at breaking the siege. In fact, between 2008 and 2016, 31 boats have sailed to Gaza from many destinations, all intercepted, their cargo seized and their passengers mistreated. The most tragic of these incidents was in May 2010 when the Israeli navy attacked the ‘Mavi Marmara’ ship - which sailed alongside other boats - killing 10 activists and wounding scores more.
‘Mavi Marmara’ was attacked in international waters. In any other political context, such a ruthless attack would have triggered an international crisis, a war even. Thanks to American blind support of Israel and western silence, Israel literally got away with murder.
Even then, the stream of solidarity boats continued to arrive, not only unhindered by the fear of Israeli retribution, but also stronger in their resolve. Palestinians consider the murdered activists ‘martyrs’ to be added to their own growing list of martyrs. Suddenly, solidarity with Palestine grew in meaning, beyond slogans and political convenience.
However, none of the boats made it to Gaza, so why keep on trying?
I spoke with Mike Treen upon his return from his Gaza sea journey. Treen is a seasoned activist who works daily at defending the rights of workers from across the country. Included in his view of global solidarity is his struggle for workers’ rights in New Zealand.
“In my role as part of the union movement in this country, I was also able to explain (to New Zealanders) that innocent working people (in Gaza) are the victims of this siege and that Israel has driven unemployment to over 50% for working people - one of the highest rates in the world,” he told me.
Treen, like Fowler, understands that the mission of the Freedom Flotilla is not merely an issue of providing badly needed supplies, but is also a well-coordinated effort at exposing the evils of the Israeli blockade.
“Unless Israel is directly bombing Gaza, the siege and its hideous human implications simply drop off the radar of public consciousness because the media outlets serving the powerful and wealthy of the world don’t want us to be reminded of it,” he said.
This is precisely the real mission of the Gaza flotillas - they are a glaring reminder of the Israeli atrocities in Gaza. While Israel wants to normalize the Gaza siege just as it is currently normalizing its Occupation and Apartheid regime, the solidarity movement has created a counter-discourse that constantly foils Israeli plans. In other words, whether the boats arrive on the Gaza coast or are hijacked by the Israeli navy, makes little difference – the mission is accomplished either way.
The power and effectiveness of this kind of solidarity go even beyond Gaza and Palestine. “Our involvement in international solidarity endeavors, such as the Freedom Flotillas has, in turn, sparked a resurgence in other important elements of building the strength of the worldwide movement for justice”, Fowler told me, soon after Treen’s return to New Zealand. Mike Treen also has his work cut out for him as he is engaging the media and various communities in his own country, sharing his experiences on the boat, which led to his arrest, beating, tasering and deportation.
“Working people and their unions worldwide must be in the vanguard of those taking action in solidarity, like we did in New Zealand during the days of apartheid South Africa,” is Treen’s message to his fellow activists internationally.
And like the horrific Apartheid regime in South Africa, the Israeli Apartheid will collapse because Palestinians continue to resist and because millions of people, like Mike and Roger, are standing by their side.