February 06/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations
As an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.  As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered.
James 05/07-12: " Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.  You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.  As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned."

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 05-06/18
Assad & Aoun in rare message to Israel: We won’t start war or let foreign forces control our borders/DEBKAfile/February 05/18
Hizbullah Expresses 'Utmost Keenness' on 2006 MoU with FPM/Naharnet/February 05/18
The “Brothers” Berri and Bassil/Elie Aoun/February 05/18
Sami Gemayel Launches Kataeb's Electoral Campaign: Be the Pulse of Change on May 6/ 05/2018
Assad slammed at UN for gas attacks on Syrians/Arab News/February 06/18
Houthis’ Ballistic Missiles: Triggering A Regional War Or Concealed Iranian Tests/Riad Kahwaji/INEGMA0/February 05/18
IRGC’s Generals and the New Generals/Ghassan Charbel/Asharq Al Awsat/February 05/18
US Shows Beginning of a Response to Muslim Brotherhood/Eli Lake/Bloomberg View/February 05/18
Three Steps to Avert an Accidental Nuclear War/Ernest Moniz and Sam Nunn/Asharq Al Awsat/February 05/18
Putin Wants Syria Talks to Last Forever/Leonid Bershidsky/Bloomberg View/February 05/18
The Cost of Illegal Immigration/Ruthie Blum/Gatestone Institute/February 05/18
Iran’s Worsening Treatment Of Religious Minorities/Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/February 05/2018

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on February 05-06/18
Assad & Aoun in rare message to Israel: We won’t start war or let foreign forces control our borders
US and Argentina to work together against Hezbollah
Lebanon tells Israel its border wall violates sovereignty
One Soldier, Militant Killed in Armed Clashes in Tripoli
Report: Applications for Parliamentary Elections Now Open
Hizbullah Expresses 'Utmost Keenness' on 2006 MoU with FPM
Mashnouq Says May Elections Historic as Candidate Registration Opens
UNIFIL Finds Old Grenades near Israel's Border
Hariri: Lebanese United over Stability, Security and Consensus is Clear, Significant
Aoun: Lieberman's Remarks Reflect True Israeli Intentions
Lebanon Kurds Protest Turkey's Syria Op near U.S. Embassy
Hasbani Sounds the Alarm over Lebanon Waste Burning
Fadlallah after Information committee meeting: For adhering to objectivity in addressing internal issues
The “Brothers” Berri and Bassil
Sami Gemayel Launches Kataeb's Electoral Campaign: Be the Pulse of Change on May 6!

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 05-06/18
Assad slammed at UN for gas attacks on Syrians
U.S. Accuses Russia of Holding Up U.N. Condemnation of Syria Chlorine Attacks
Syrians Suffer Breathing Difficulties after Regime Strikes
Iran urges Turkey to stop army offensive in northern Syria
Russia Doubts US 'Stinger' Was Used In Downing Jet
Erdogan Meets Pope as Rome Bans Protests
Kuwaiti Twitter User Jailed 5 Years for Insulting UAE
US Starts Iraq Drawdown, Dozens of Soldiers Transported to Afghanistan
Sultan Qaboos Receives Sisi on His First Visit to Oman
Russia Speaks of Huge Danger Amid Reported Orders for Syria Jets to Fly Higher
Rouhani Criticizes US Nuclear Strategy, Insists on Developing Deterrent Weapons
2 Killed as Japanese Military Helicopter Crashes in Residential Area
Latest Lebanese Related News published on February 05-06/18
Assad & Aoun in rare message to Israel: We won’t start war or let foreign forces control our borders/

ديبكا: عون والأسد وجّها رسالتين لنتنياهو.. وهذا دور باسيل

DEBKAfile/February 05/18/
Bashar Assad used a European go-between to send this secret message to PM Binyamin Netanyahu. A similar note came from Beirut.
DEBKAfile’s exclusive intelligence sources report that late last week, a personal Note from Syrian ruler Bashar Assad was secretly handed to Prime Minister Netanyahu by a European intermediary. “War is not what I am after. All I want now is to focus on reunifying Syria and rebuilding the ruins of war.” A key phrase followed: “We are a sovereign nation. We shall not hand our borders over to the control of any forces other than Syrian.”This phrase was taken as an assurance by the Syrian ruler that the Hizballah forces fighting in Syria would not be allowed to deploy on its borders with Israel, and came in response to Israel’s concerns It was sent out directly after Prime Minister Netanyahu visited President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Jan 29 and warned him that Israel would not stand by for the establishment of a Hizballah or Iranian troop presence on its northern border with Syria. It is presumed in Jerusalem that Assad acted on his own initiative in sending this note to Jerusalem.The day after it landed on Netanyahu’s desk, a second secret note arrived from the Lebanese President Michel Aoun, a reputed ally of Hizballah. This one was devoted to assuring Israel that there were no Iranian missile factories in Lebanon – nor would the Lebanese government allow them to be constructed in the country. Another European diplomat carried this note to Jerusalem. Aoun did not write it himself; he instructed the Lebanese foreign minister Gebran Bassil, his son-in-law, to sign it and pass it on. Bassil went on to emphasize that should the Lebanese president believe that operations by Hizballah did not serve the country’s national and security interests, he would not hesitate to say so loud and clear. It was impossible to confirm whether or not Assad and Aoun had acted in concert to cool the war fever hanging over the region in the wake of Israel’s widely broadcast concerns over the potential threats looming over its northern border. Netanyahu apparently gave his answer to the two presidents on Sunday, Feb. 4, when he opened the weekly cabinet meeting by saying: “We are not looking for war, but will do everything we have to, to defend ourselves.

US and Argentina to work together against Hezbollah
Ynetnews/AFP/February 06/18/US Secretary of State Tillerson and Argentine Foreign Minister Faurie agree to combat organized crime in Argentina, which raises funds for Hezbollah; 'We need to attack and eliminate' Hezbollah's terror activity in Argentina, Tillerson says. The United States and Argentina are to work together more closely to cut off Lebanese Hezbollah's funding networks in Latin America, both nations' top diplomats said Sunday. Argentina has a large Lebanese expatriate population and US authorities suspect groups within it of raising funds through organized crime to support the Iranian-backed armed movement. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in Buenos Aires for talks with his Argentinian counterpart Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie, and afterwards they confirmed that the issue had come up. "With respect to Hezbollah, we also did speak today in our discussion about all of the region about how we must all jointly go after these transnational criminal organizations–narcotics trafficking, human trafficking, smuggling, money laundering–because we see the connections to terrorist financing organizations as well," Tillerson said. "And we did specifically discuss the presence of Lebanese Hezbollah in this hemisphere, which is raising funds, obviously, to support its terrorist activities. "So it is something that we jointly agree we need to attack and eliminate," Tillerson said. Faurie, standing by Tillerson's side at a joint news conference, agreed, saying that South America had become a "zone of peace" and that outside groups must not be allowed to jeopardize this. "And, as Secretary Tillerson said, we need to intensify every possible exchange not only in terms of dialogue but also in terms of information on the actions of these groups, which take advantage of transnational crime to foster their interests, which Argentina certainly does not agree with," he said. In 1992, the violence of the Middle East erupted in Argentina, when bombers attacked the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29 people. Two years later, an attack on a Jewish community center (AMIA) in the city left 85 dead. None of the bombers were ever convicted, but international investigators followed a trail that appears to link them to Hezbollah–a group which Washington has designated a terrorist organization–and to senior Iranian officials. The bombings did not continue, but US experts believe that Hezbollah, working under close Iranian supervision, has built a fund-raising network in Latin America that profits from drug smuggling to fund its political and military activities.

Lebanon tells Israel its border wall violates sovereignty
Reuters/February 06/2018/
BEIRUT: Lebanon said a wall Israel intends to build at the border marks a violation of Lebanese sovereignty during a meeting of Lebanese and Israeli military officers chaired by UN peacekeepers on Monday.
Disagreement over the wall and Lebanon’s plans to explore for offshore oil and gas in disputed maritime waters have elevated tensions between Israel and Lebanon, which is home to the powerful Iran-backed Shiite group Hezbollah. The Israeli army has previously said the construction work is being done on sovereign Israeli territory. The Lebanese government says the wall passes through territory that belongs to Lebanon but which is located on the Israeli side of the UN-designated Blue Line, which demarcated Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000. The Israeli defense minister, addressing the dispute last week, accused Hezbollah of provocations, saying Israel had withdrawn to the recognized international border with Lebanon and was being challenged over a barrier in Israeli territory. The sides met under the supervision of the UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL in their regular tripartite meeting at UN positions in the Ras Al-Naqoura border area. “The Lebanese side reviewed the matter of the wall which the Israeli enemy intends to build ... confirming the position of the Lebanese government rejecting the construction of this wall as it violates Lebanese sovereignty,” the Lebanese army said in a statement after Monday’s meeting. Hezbollah and Israel last fought a major conflict in 2006. In a statement, UNIFIL said the meeting had received great attention “due to engineering works south of the Blue Line previously announced by the Israeli side.” UNIFIL force commander Major General Beary noted there had been a “period of relative calm” since the last tripartite meeting. “However, there has been a great deal of activity along the Blue Line. I would like to acknowledge the restraint exercised by both parties in decreasing tension and maintaining stability. No one wants to return to a period of escalating tensions and a breach of the cessation of hostilities,” he said.
In the meeting, the Lebanese side also rejected recent Israeli comments about Lebanon’s offshore energy exploration, the army statement said. On Wednesday, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman described as “very provocative” Lebanon’s first offshore oil and gas exploration tender and said it would be a mistake for international firms to participate. Lebanon has an unresolved maritime border dispute with Israel over a triangular area of sea of around 860 sq km (330 square miles) that extends along the edge of three of five blocks Lebanon put to tender early last year. Lebanon in December approved a bid by a consortium of France’s Total, Italy’s Eni and Russia’s Novatek for two blocks. One of the awarded blocks, Block 9, borders Israeli waters. “The block lies entirely within Lebanon’s territorial and economic waters,” the army statement said.

One Soldier, Militant Killed in Armed Clashes in Tripoli
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 05/18/Militants resisting arrest by the Lebanese army in the restive Tripoli neighbourhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh sparked clashes that killed one on each side, a statement said on Monday. The violence broke out late on Sunday when the army entered the Sunni stronghold with the aim of arresting wanted militants. "One soldier was killed and several others wounded" when the unit was targeted by militants, the army said, adding that hand grenades were used against its men. The army said "one terrorist" was killed and his brother arrested. Weapons and ammunition were also seized. Lebanon's second city has been directly affected by the violence raging in neighbouring Syria, where the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, who is from the Alawite minority, has been battling mostly Sunni groups since 2011. Recurring clashes pitting residents from Bab al-Tabbaneh against those of Jabal Mohsen, an adjacent and mostly Alawite neighbourhood, led the army to deploy in the area in 2014.

Report: Applications for Parliamentary Elections Now Open
Naharnet/February 05/18/Prospective candidates planning to run in the upcoming parliamentary elections shall start submitting their applications Monday signaling the opening for the May 6, 2018 polls, al-Joumhouria daily reported. Everyone is waiting for political parties and major blocs to submit their nominations on the first day, but the process will reportedly be limited to individual candidates, who are still seeking alliances, or perhaps some independent MPs, added the daily. Interior Ministry sources told al-Joumhouria: “The ministry has completed logistical preparations and is anxiously waiting for the first day of nominations.”Lebanon's first parliamentary elections in nine years are scheduled for May 6. For the first time, Lebanese nationals living overseas will be able to cast ballots in early voting. The current parliament has postponed elections several times over security reasons. It was elected to a four-year term in 2009, but its tenure has been extended twice over security concerns and the civil war in neighboring Syria that spilled into Lebanon on several occasions.

Hizbullah Expresses 'Utmost Keenness' on 2006 MoU with FPM
Naharnet/February 05/18/
Hizbullah on Monday expressed “utmost keenness” on its 2006 memorandum of understanding with the Free Patriotic Movement, its main Christian ally. Marking 12 years since the MoU was signed, the party issued a statement stressing “the importance of this historic event.” The memorandum “carved a new path on the Lebanese arena and it has proved effective throughout all the stages that Lebanon has gone through – from the hostile July war in 2006 to the war on terror over the past few years to the various events that the country witnessed throughout more than a decade,” Hizbullah said. “This agreement, which brought together the hearts, minds and wills of two large and essential Lebanese groups, had a decisive impact in terms of achieving security, civil peace and political stability,” the party noted. It pointed out that the “Mar Mikhail agreement was not a mere meeting between political leaders but has rather proved over the past years that it was an opportunity for major rapprochement, engagement and confidence between the popular bases of Hizbullah and the FPM.”“This gives this understanding a greater importance and makes it a gateway for bringing together all Lebanese in a manner that turns Lebanon into an accord and understanding arena. That's why it is important to show utmost keenness on preserving this agreement and maintaining it in the face of foreign forces that sought and are still seeking to strike it and undermine it,” Hizbullah urged. And underlining its “full commitment” to the MoU, the party called for “continuing its implementation to achieve the grand goals and create a better future for Lebanon and its sons.”The landmark agreement was signed by Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and the FPM's founder, President Michel Aoun, during a Feb. 5, 2006 ceremony at the Mar Mikhael Church in the Beirut southern suburb of Shiyyah. In a recent interview with the Magazine weekly, FPM chief Jebran Bassil said “the alliance with Hizbullah is still ongoing” but this does not mean that the two parties “have become one and the same.”“We are in agreement on the foreign issues and we will remain a guarantee for Hizbullah inside Lebanon should the country face an aggression from Israel or terrorist groups. But unfortunately, in the domestic files we are encountering choices that do not contribute to building the state in Lebanon,” Bassil lamented. “Corruption is eating us up and we cannot keep it as it is. The MoU includes a key clause about building the state and we regret that this clause is not being implemented for strategic considerations. We care about the unity of Christians but not at the expense of the state,” Bassil added, in an apparent jab at Hizbullah's alliance with the Shiite AMAL Movement. Bassil's remarks were published amid skyrocketing tensions with AMAL sparked by his labeling of the movement's leader and parliament speaker Nabih Berri as a “thug” in a leaked video.  The FPM-AMAL tensions triggered three days of street protests and unrest that reached the extent of encircling the FPM's headquarters in Sin el-Fil's Mirna Chalouhi area. The FPM also accused supporters of AMAL of firing in the air in the town of Hadath, an FPM bastion.

Mashnouq Says May Elections Historic as Candidate Registration Opens
Naharnet/February 05/18/Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq noted Monday that the May parliamentary elections will be “unprecedented” in Lebanon's history, as the ministry started receiving candidate nominations. In a statement marking the opening of registration, the minister called on those who will take part in electoral campaigns to “show a spirit of national responsibility and endorse a rhetoric based on rationality, moderation and respect of the other opinion.”And urging women to “turn out heavily in terms of nominations and voting so that they prove their electoral weight and enhance their national role,” Mashnouq said the electoral process will be “special.”“It does not resemble the previous elections in the history of the Lebanese republic, ever since the State of Greater Lebanon was declared around 100 years ago,” the minister added. He explained that the polls are unprecedented “not only because they come after nine years of waiting and several term extensions, but also because they are part of an unprecedented modernization and improvement process.” Moreover, the minister noted that the elections will be characterized by several new elements: the new electoral law which for the first time in Lebanon's history will be based on proportional representation; expat voting; and the inclusion of civil society representatives among the ranks of the Electoral Supervisory Commission. He also reassured that “the elections will be held on time and this is a firm, definite and irreversible commitment.”
“Lebanon is on the correct democratic track,” Mashnouq added.

UNIFIL Finds Old Grenades near Israel's Border
Naharnet/February 05/18/Troops from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) on Monday found two hand grenades alongside the border fence in the southern town of Kfarkila, the National News Agency reported. “Army troops and security forces immediately arrived on the scene and prevented pedestrians and cars from approaching the area to preserve their safety ahead of the arrival of bomb technicians,” NNA said. A military expert who examined the grenades said they were old. The grenades were later taken to the Francois al-Hajj Barracks in Marjeyoun.

Hariri: Lebanese United over Stability, Security and Consensus is Clear, Significant
Naharnet/February 05/18/Prime Minister Saad Hariri noted Monday that the Lebanese have “united around stability and security and moved the country forward.”“We approved a budget and a new electoral law,” Hariri said, adding that “the consensus is clear and significant, and we will continue this for the sake of the country."Hariri, who was addressing the members of the honorary consular corps headed by Joseph Habis, whom he received at the Grand Serail, said: "We must try to do the best we can to serve Lebanon economically, politically and socially, especially that the country is living under the pressure of the Syrian displacement and the economic problem. But all will be fine as long as there is national unity.”Turning to economy, Hariri pointed out that Lebanon is “heading towards big projects such as the Paris conference, which will be a major breakthrough for the national economy and will focus on developing the infrastructure.”“There is also the Rome conference to arm and train the Lebanese Army and security forces. We will present strategies about this,” the premier added. “There is the Brussels conference on Syrian refugees, which we should also focus on,” Hariri went on to say. Also on Monday, Hariri received U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Elizabeth Richard and discussed with her the latest developments. He also met with visiting Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos and the accompanying delegation in the presence of Defense Minister Yaacoub Sarraf.

Aoun: Lieberman's Remarks Reflect True Israeli Intentions

Naharnet/February 05/18/President Michel Aoun on Monday warned that Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman's remarks on an offshore gas block dubbed Block 9 “reflect the true Israeli intentions.”Aoun voiced his warning during a meeting with visiting Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos. Thanking Greece for its “participation in the maritime force of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL),” the president noted that “the role of UNIFIL's maritime component has become more important in terms of protecting Lebanese territorial waters, especially the Exclusive Economic Zone.” “Israel has ambitions to control parts of it before Lebanon launches oil and gas exploration in it,” Aoun added. Lieberman had on Wednesday described as "very provocative" Lebanon's tender on exploring gas in Block 9. This gas field "is by all accounts ours," the Israeli minister claimed. Lebanon in December approved a bid for offshore oil and gas exploration off its Mediterranean coast -- a vision for years hampered by political instability and domestic wrangling. That deal was awarded to the only bidder, an international consortium including France's Total and Russia's Novatek. Lebanese officials say the country will start exploratory offshore drilling in 2019. A major finding in Lebanon's southernmost waters could raise the possibility of a dispute with Israel, which is developing a number of offshore gas deposits, with one large field, Tamar, already producing gas, and the larger Leviathan field set to go online next year. There are over 800 square kilometers of waters claimed by Lebanon and Israel, which are technically in a state of conflict. Israel and Hizbullah fought a fierce, monthlong war in 2006.

Lebanon Kurds Protest Turkey's Syria Op near U.S. Embassy
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 05/18/Hundreds of Kurds protested in Lebanon on Monday against Turkey's military offensive in Syria's Kurdish enclave of Afrin. Several demonstrations in support of Syria's Kurds have taken place in the Lebanese capital and across the world since Ankara launched its operation last month. The demonstrators, some of them refugees and others members of Lebanon's long-established Kurdish community, held their protest near the U.S. embassy on the outskirts of Beirut. They described feeling abandoned by Washington. "We brought an end to the Islamic State group in the world and now the entire world is against us," said one demonstrator, who gave his name as Rida and who was originally from Afrin. The Kurds in Syria were the main partner on the ground for the U.S.-led coalition that has carried out thousands of air strikes against the jihadists since 2014. They spearheaded a massive offensive that last year expelled IS from Raqa, the city that was the inner sanctum of its now-defunct "caliphate." Now many feel the United States and its allies in the coalition are doing little to protect them from neighboring Turkey, which is alarmed by the consolidation of Kurdish-held territory along its border with Syria. Turkey has carried out air strikes and used its Syrian rebel allies to attack the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), a group Ankara considers a terrorist organization linked to the Kurdish insurgency active on its own soil. Several of the protesters at the demonstration, which passed without any incident, were carrying olive branches and waving YPG posters. Some of them also held portraits of a Kurdish female combatant, Barin Kobani, whose corpse appeared in a shocking video last week. Her family and Kurdish officials have accused Turkish-backed rebels of "defiling" her body.

Hasbani Sounds the Alarm over Lebanon Waste Burning
Associated Press/Naharnet/February 05/18/Health Minister Ghassan Hasbani urged Lebanon's Cabinet on Monday to find an alternative plan for trash incineration plants pointing out to the dangers its entails on the environment and people. “We are raising voices and sounding the alarm in order to set a national priority to provide care for all those harmed by the State's failure and negligence in securing a healthy environment,” the deputy PM said in a joint press conference with Human Rights Watch organization. He urged the Cabinet to expedite a trash management plan assuring that random incineration directly impacts people's health and environment. Hasbanai pointed out that Lebanon has around “940 random trash dumps and more than 150 sites where open-air waste is burned weekly."Referring to a research study by the American University of Beirut he said: “The study has shown 77 percent of Lebanon's solid waste is either landfilled or improperly dumped. Burning waste in open air increases the risk of lung disease by 200 percent,” he stressed. "The number of patients diagnosed with lung cancer in Lebanon is about 1212 while those diagnosed with colon cancer are more than 1090,” the Minister said. Pointing to the rising cost of cancer medicines he said: “The drug cost for treating a lung-cancer patient is an average of $13000. The expense was $5000 in 2012, but advanced cancer drugs have increased the cost significantly.”Hasbani called on the government to allocate additional budget funds to treat cancer patients, stressing “more actions will be taken to avoid health risks of this environmental disaster.”In December, Human Rights Watch has warned in a report that open burning of waste in Lebanon poses serious health risks, blaming decades-old, across the board government failure. The New York-based watchdog said the crisis, which escalated in 2015 when waste management largely collapsed across Lebanon, was a particular threat for children and old people, and constituted a rights violation.It quoted research by the American University of Beirut that found 77 percent of Lebanon's waste is improperly dumped or landfilled when only 10 to 12 percent is considered impossible to compost or recycle. HRW said the "vast majority" of the more than 100 residents living near open dumps whom its researchers interviewed suffered from respiratory problems. The report said that besides its failure to set up a nationwide waste management program, the government was doing nothing to prevent open burning, to monitor its impact and inform the population of the risks. The watchdog said those combined failures "violate Lebanon's obligations under international law, including the government's duties to respect and protect the right to health".

Fadlallah after Information committee meeting: For adhering to objectivity in addressing internal issues
Mon 05 Feb 2018/NNA - The head of the Information and Communication committee MP Hasan Fadlallah on Monday underlined keenness on media liberties within set controls, calling for adhering to objectivity in addressing internal issues. MP Fadlallah's fresh words came in the wake of the meeting of the Information House committee at the Parliament, attended by Information Minister, Melhem Riachi, and Justice Minister, Selim Jreissati. The meeting was also attended by Public Prosecutor Judge Samir Hammoud, Editors' Syndicate Dean Elias Aoun, Head of the Audio Visual Media National Council Abdel Hadi Mahfouz, and Board Chairmen of TV channels in Lebanon. The meeting was devoted to discussing the whole media status in Lebanon and all the circumstances witnessed recently in the country- from the parliamentary and political aspects- and the role of the judiciary in this regard.
Fadlallah also stressed the paramount importance of firming up the media law- which was accomplished by the Information house committee and forwarded to the General Body- saying such a law, once implemented, would avert many of the existing flaws, and would accord mediamen full liberties within legal confinements.MP Fadlallah also called for sticking to unity of standards and non-discretionary approach in tackling topics in media, calling for the development of investigative journalism in Lebanon. The Lawmaker also stressed the need to avoid shifting problems to TV screens or to streets. Fadlallah said agreement was reached during the meeting on holding a national media workshop, whose date to be announced later. Minister Riachi, for his part, underscored the supreme importance of protecting media and its liberties, drawing attention to the thin line that separates between repression and freedom.
Riachi highlighted Lebanon the message of free media, emphasizing the need to swiftly work on attaining an Editors' Syndicate which includes a disciplinary board for media professionals. The Minister also pointed out that media is sustaining injustice in view of the discretion of court summons, affirming his keenness to protect media liberties. In reply to a question whether the Information Ministry shall take certain measures in this regard, Riachi disclosed that the Ministry is in the process of installing a new hierarchy to amend such a reality. Minister Jreissati, for his part, refused to dwell on any pending dossier in the custody of the judiciary.
The “Brothers” Berri and Bassil
Elie Aoun/February 05/18
With regard to the recent “quarrel” between Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and the Foreign Minister Gibran Bassil, it is never sufficient to look at the political aspects and the spoken rhetoric. We must always analyze the root causes.
Mutual forgiveness and apologies for a staged “fight” may relieve temporary political symptoms but does not cure the disease. Those who truly rule Lebanon and rule both Berri and Bassil are certain clergymen and secret societies.
Berri is a member of Freemasonry. Bassil is a member of the Rotary Club, which is nothing more than a Freemason branch – as evidenced by the Freemason logo placed (on certain occasions) within the Rotary logo.
Therefore, Berri and Bassil are “brothers” in the “Brotherhood,” leading us to conclude the following:
Firstly, although these groups pretend to have humanitarian and business objectives, their role is more sinister than what is declared in public.
Politically, they elevate certain individuals to political power, at the expense of other more qualified individuals, and then “guide” them and use them to advance their own agenda.
The Freemason and Rotarian politicians take an oath of loyalty to their own “club.” That oath supercedes any loyalty to a political party, a country, or a constitution.
Berri and Bassil can say whatever they want against each other, but none of them will produce any evidence that would expose the corruption of the other. Now you know the reason why.
Secondly, both Freemasonry and Rotary are involved in “dark” spirituality.
From an Islamic perspective, the Islamic Fiqh Council considers the Rotary as a branch of Freemasonry which aims for “destruction,” and “whoever associates with it, knowing its reality and objectives, is an unbeliever.”
From a Catholic perspective, there is a 1738 papal bull that bans Catholics from entering Freemasonry (and, technically, a prohibition that includes all of its branches).
These prohibitions would not have been issued if Freemasonry and Rotary Club were solely humanitarian and business in nature. Said prohibitions reflect a reality of these societies’ involvement in “dark” spirituality.
In a recorded video of a Freemasonic initiation ceremony held in a Turkish Freemason lodge, the new recruits are told that they will be taken into “the dark zone” and not to tell anyone of what they see or hear.
— at 1:38 of the following video:
A sword is held to the initiates’ chest as a reminder of the severe punishment that would befall on them if they do not keep their promises.
— at 2:47 of the video:
Later in the video, a ritual exposes Freemasons sacrificing a goat in a lodge.
— at 6:08 of the video:
Pursuant to the Code of Cannon Law 685(§2), relating to separation or transfer of members from one religious institute to another: “Through profession in the new institute, the member is incorporated into it while the preceding vows, rights, and obligations cease.”
As a result, and from a religious perspective, neither Berri is a Muslim nor Bassil is a Christian. By taking vows in the new spiritual institute (Freemasonry or Rotary), their preceding vows (in Christianity or Islam) ceased.
It should be noted that at least 100,000 Lebanese belong to Freemasonry, including half of the Lebanese parliament and half of the Cabinet.
Do we still wonder why the country’s situation does not improve and a multitude of problems with available solutions are never resolved? Do we still wonder why the real truth behind assassinations or corruptions is never exposed? The participants are members of the same club and cannot by oath expose one another.
The root cause of Lebanon’s problems is not political, but spiritual: Many of those who are in government and various political parties belong to the “dark zone” – and we should not expect light from darkness.
In conclusion, there are those who pretend to be defending “Christian rights” while their conduct has nothing to do with being a Christian: They alienate true patriots, make no meaningful contribution to their community, and select certain individuals on their parliamentary list that make no meaningful contribution to their community or the country.
At other times, these same individuals pretend to support a “secular state.” Whatever that means, in practice they do not pursue viable policies to resolve many of Lebanon’s problematic issues.
All sides are eloquent in making promises and pointing out faults of other political parties, while they themselves deliver noting meaningful to the Lebanese population. They only offer delusions of being different, when in reality they are all members of the same “club” and belong to the same “dark zone.”
In Matthew 7:6, we are told: “Don’t give that which is holy to the dogs, neither throw your pearls before the pigs, lest perhaps they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”
That is exactly what has been taking place for generations in Lebanon: Good-hearted Lebanese dedicate their time, money, energy, and efforts behind this or that political party — only to be betrayed and their sacrifices are trampled upon, and the leadership of these parties work against all the ideals it once claimed to uphold.
In an election year, vote for truly independent sovereign individuals, stay away from the major political parties, and do not throw your votes…
N.B: The Site does not carry any legal responsibility for any posted opinions. The writes of the opinions are solely responsible for their pieces.
Sami Gemayel Launches Kataeb's Electoral Campaign: Be the Pulse of Change on May 6! 05/2018
Kataeb leader Samy Gemayel on Sunday stressed that the outcry on which the party’s campaign is based is that of people who got fed up with the current status quo, saying that it mirrors the concerns of angry citizens who are suffering from the state's recklessness and negligence.
“The rift in Lebanon is no longer based on sects and regions; the country has become rather divided between upright and dishonorable people,” Gemayel said during the ceremony marking the launch of the Kataeb's electoral campaign at the Forum de Beyrouth.
“The country is now divided between people who believe in the state, and others who believe in statelets and the law of the jungle,” he noted. “They resort to sectarian incitement whenever they want to boost their popularity and find that people no longer believe them."
“Our duty is to give upright and honorable people a new pulse in the elections.”
“We chose to be the pulse that would make the change that we are all aspiring to,” he noted. “We chose to work on restoring the confidence of people after they had lost hope in politics and politicians.”
“We made sure that our performance is flawless and unquestionable by basing our opposition on facts, figures and technical studies,” he added.
Gemayel stressed that the political life in Lebanon is based on personal interests that ended up relinquishing the nation's sovereignty and the state's decision-making power, saying that what they call "political pragmatism" has brought nothing but detrimental concessions made at the expense of the country.
"Political pragmatism is the pretext they use to justify all their violations and concessions."
“They call it the 'political game' because managing the country's affairs is nothing but a game to them,” Gemayel deplored. “The policy of 'You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours' has been ruling the country over the past years."
“The Kataeb had to choose between three options: engage in their political game, surrender or confront and stand firm for the sake of our martyrs who sacrificed their lives for a free and sovereign nation,” he said.
The Kataeb leader noted that the taxes that the authority has imposed have eliminated the society's middle class whose presence is key to the economic independence and democracy of any country, saying that they wanted to turn it into a poor class so that it would be more prone to blackmail and bribery.
Gemayel said that the authority keeps blaming the Kataeb for its own failures and holding it responsible for its mistakes, adding that the Judiciary has been used to intimidate the party, as well as all the free people who are speaking up against the erroneous practices of the ruling class.
“However, they forgot that we don't fear anything,” he affirmed.
“They attempted to tarnish our image by labeling us as "populist"; yes, we have openly stood on the people's side without being ashamed of anything."
Gemayel stressed the Kataeb's steadfastness despite all the pressure, reiterating that the elections serve as the opportunity to make a change and refuse the current policy and performance.
“Our goal is to build a country that resembles us and mirrors our aspirations,” he pointed out.
“We have almost everything to build the country we dream of; what we need is a sovereign and democratic state which is based on a good political system, and lives in peace and security,” he said.
"We have a historical and cultural wealth that no other small country as ours has."
The Kataeb chief affirmed that it is time that the Lebanese take a break from stalemates and crises, saying that it is their right to build the country they dream of.
“To build a real state, we must have full trust in our army and regard it as the sole defender of the country,” he said. “There won't be peace unless non-state arms are laid down.”
Gemayel stressed that social security and a healthcare system are highly needed in Lebanon, saying the people's basic needs are being used as electoral bribes as the authority is seeking to further impoverish the Lebanese so as to subdue them.
The Kataeb chief reached out to political and civil society groups who believe in the Kataeb's principles and values, calling on them to join forces and work hand in hand to make a change.
"Let's put our differences aside and turn the page so as to eradicate the worn out mentality that is ruling the country," he stated. "I call on whoever believes in Lebanon's sovereignty to join us to achieve a victory for the Lebanese people in 2018."
“We are enduring the same suffering and share the same aspirations. Do not allow anyone to foment sedition and sow discord among us. Let us keep in mind that we have to build this country together while respecting the cultural identity and characteristics of each other,” he said in an address to the Lebanese.
“In 2009, you voted right, but it was them who disappointed you by taking the wrong way and altering their stances,” he added. "What matters now is to hold them accountable in the coming elections."
“Make your electoral decision based on the performance you saw over the past years,” he pointed out. “Liberate yourselves from all constraints and vote for the ones you are convinced they will do something for Lebanon."
Gemayel also told the Lebanese who have lost hope and don't want to vote that it is up to them to either surrender and do nothing or elect people who can bring the change they want.
“You are free from all constraints given that you live outside the country. Thus, you can play a big role in helping your constrained compatriots who live here to get out of this bitter reality,” he said in an address to Lebanese expats who are set to cast their ballot overseas.
Gemayel also told noted that the youths who will be voting for the first time are expected to make up 20% of the polls turnout, asking them to set an exemplary model by voting in accordance with their conscience.
“Be the pulse of change on May 6," Gemayel urged. "Others will be using money, arms and bribes to fight the electoral battle, whereas we will fight it with our pure hearts."
“The moment you will cast your ballots is the one thing that separates you from the Lebanon you are all dreaming of," he conclude. "It is up to you to choose to either spin the wheel in the right direction or keep the situation unchanged."

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 05-06/18
Assad slammed at UN for gas attacks on Syrians
Arab News/February 06/18
JEDDAH: The Assad regime was accused on Monday of new chemical gas barrel bomb attacks on civilians in Idlib province in northern Syria and the Eastern Ghouta enclave on the outskirts of Damascus. In New York, Russia blocked UN Security Council condemnation of the gas attacks, despite what US Ambassador Nikki Haley described as “obvious evidence from dozens of victims.” “We have reports that the Assad regime has used chlorine gas against its people multiple times in recent weeks, including just yesterday,” Haley said. The US has proposed a draft statement condemning the use of chemicals as a weapon. “Russia has delayed the adoption of this statement — a simple condemnation of Syrian children being suffocated by chlorine gas,” Haley said. Two barrels containing chemical gas were dropped from helicopters in Idlib on Sunday night, said Radi Saad of the White Helmets civil defense group. The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), a charity that supports hospitals in Syria, said its doctors in Idlib reported 11 patients with symptoms indicating the use of chlorine gas.“The Assad regime has launched an unrestricted spree of chemical warfare attacks against civilians across Syria in recent days,” Oubai Shahbandar, a Syrian-American analyst and fellow at the New America Foundation’s International Security Program, told Arab News. “The footage of victims who have been hit by Assad’s chlorine gas attacks is horrific and should raise alarm bells in the world’s capitals. The fact that Moscow in November vetoed efforts by the UN to send inspectors into Syria is further encouraging Assad to launch more chemical attacks. “The UN is woefully deadlocked. The real question now is whether the US will take action.”Syrian opposition leaders condemned the latest attacks. “The bloody campaign launched against Idlib and its countryside proves yet again that the regime and the Iranian axis are insisting on the continuation of the military solution, impeding any efforts to reach a political solution,” the Syrian Negotiations Commission (SNC) said. The Assad regime, protected by Russia, had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria, the SNC said. “We demand urgent intervention and immediate action by the Security Council to … hold accountable the perpetrators of such crimes, and all other crimes, against the great Syrian people.”
The target for the chemical gas attacks in Idlib was the town of Saraqeb, near where militants shot down a Russian warplane on Saturday and killed its pilot. A hospital in Kafranbel, another town in Idlib province, was also bombed on Monday morning. Another hospital, in Maaret Al-Numan, was struck three times on Sunday night and put out of service. An apartment building in the city of Idlib, the provincial capital, was destroyed. “It’s just punishment,” said Wissam Zarqa, an activist in Idlib. “When you are targeting hospitals, targeting Idlib city, it’s just to say ‘I am here, and I can hurt you’.”
In Eastern Ghouta, the opposition-held suburb of Damascus that has been designated a de-escalation zone, at least 28 civilians died in dozens of regime air strikes on Monday. The deadliest raids hit a market in the town of Beit Sawa, killing 10 civilians, two of them children. According to news agencies, another nine civilians, two of them children and one a local rescue worker, were killed in Arbin. Nine more civilians died in strikes across the rest of the besieged region, and dozens more were wounded. In Arbin, the lifeless bodies of young children were laid out on the floor of a hospital, said AFP. One of the dead was a member of a volunteer rescue force in the town, and a group of his colleagues wept over his body. Outside, a man sat sobbing silently on top of a pile of rubble after having lost two of his family in the raids.

U.S. Accuses Russia of Holding Up U.N. Condemnation of Syria Chlorine Attacks
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 05/18/The United States accused Russia on Monday of delaying the adoption of a U.N. Security Council condemnation of reported chlorine gas attacks in Syria that left many injured in recent days, including children. U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley told the council that there was "obvious evidence from dozens of victims" to corroborate the chlorine attacks in rebel-held Eastern Ghouta. "Now we have reports that the Assad regime has used chlorine gas against its people multiple times in recent weeks, including just yesterday," Haley said. Russia hit back and accused the United States of waging a "propaganda campaign" aimed at falsely blaming President Bashar al-Assad for chemical attacks. "It's completely clear to us the goal is to basically accuse the Syrian government of chemical weapons use where no perpetrators have been identified," said Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia. The United States has proposed a draft statement condemning the use of chemicals as a weapon but Russia requested that adoption be delayed to provide comments, diplomats said. "Russia has delayed the adoption of this statement -- a simple condemnation of Syrian children being suffocated by chlorine gas," said Haley.
Three reported chlorine attacks
The draft statement, obtained by AFP, condemns "in the strongest terms" the reported February 1 chlorine attack in the al-Malab neighborhood of the town of Douma that injured over 20 civilians including children. The council expresses grave concern over three reported chlorine attacks in Eastern Ghouta in recent weeks and asserts that those responsible for using chemical weapons must be held accountable, according to the draft. The Russian ambassador said that while Moscow was ready to condemn chemical weapons use, it could not support the draft statement "in its current form" because it pointed the finger of guilt to Damascus. The council met to discuss chemical weapons use in Syria after Russia used its veto power twice in November to block the renewal of a U.N. investigative panel tasked with identifying those responsible for the deadly gas attacks. Russia last month put forward a draft resolution to establish a new investigation but Western diplomats have raised questions about the impartiality of the proposed panel. "This is not an impartial mechanism. It is a way to whitewash the findings of the latest investigation that Russia desperately wants to bury," Haley told the council. The previous probe, vetoed by Russia, had found that Syrian forces were responsible for the April 2016 sarin attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun, that killed scores of people. The panel, known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), also found that President Bashar al-Assad's forces used chlorine in two attacks on rebel-held villages in 2014 and 2015. It also found that Islamic State (IS) jihadists had used mustard gas in 2015.

Syrians Suffer Breathing Difficulties after Regime Strikes
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 05/18/Five people were treated for "suffocation" Sunday after Syrian regime air strikes on the northwestern town of Saraqeb, a monitor said, adding that 10 civilians were killed in southern Idlib province. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported a "foul smell after regime helicopters struck several areas of the town in Idlib province, causing five civilians to suffer from suffocation". It quoted residents and medical sources as saying "toxic gas" was used in the attack, without elaborating. Syrian regime air strikes also killed six civilians in the town of Kafr Nabi, near Maaret al Numan in the southern countryside of Idlib province, the Observatory said. Four other civilians were killed in regime bombing on Maaret al Numan and Maasarin. The Observatory also said that “airplanes believed to be Russian hit the main hospital in Maaret al Numan causing damage”.
The facility shut down until repairs could be carried out, the war monitor said. The latest developments come as the United States this week accused the Syrian regime of using chemical weapons on opposition forces near the capital Damascus. The Syrian foreign ministry denied the accusations as "lies".
US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters on Friday his government was concerned sarin gas may have been recently used in Syria, citing reports from NGOs and rebel groups. These reports said toxic gas has been used.Mattis however said the United States has no proof to support these accusations.Last month, 21 people were treated for respiratory problems after rockets were fired on the rebel bastion of Eastern Ghouta outside Damascus.

Iran urges Turkey to stop army offensive in northern Syria
Reuters/February 06/2018/LONDON: Iran urged Turkey on Monday to stop its military offensive in Syria, saying the operation in the northern Afrin region breached Syrian sovereignty and would increase tension in the war-damaged country. Turkey last month launched an air and ground campaign, dubbed Operation Olive Branch, against the Kurdish YPG militia in Afrin. "Turkey should stop its operation and respect Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity," Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA. "Turkey’s actions can bring back insecurity, instability and terrorism to Syria," he added. Qasemi said any solution to the Syrian crisis should be discussed in talks in the Kazakh capital Astana that are sponsored by Russia, Iran, and Turkey.
He said Iran was in continuous talks with both Turkey and Russia about the latest developments in Syria. Russia and Iran back Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey supports Assad's opponents. Ankara considers the U.S.-backed YPG, which controls Afrin, to be a terrorist group and an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has fought an insurgency in Turkey's largely Kurdish southeast since 1984.

Russia Doubts US 'Stinger' Was Used In Downing Jet
Asharq Al-Awsat/February 05/18/Russian military circles currently discuss the possibility that the anti-aircraft missile used in downing a jet over the Idlib de-escalation zone town days ago, could be a US-made “stinger.”Washington had lately provided Kurdish forces in Syria with such kind of man-portable air defense missile, according to observers. Diplomatic and military observers in Moscow believe that the latest development “requires an in-depth study and a decisive response.”Syrian regime forces and Russian warplanes heavily attacked on Sunday night the countryside of Idlib, leaving several casualties. In Turkey, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said on Sunday that if the People’s Protection Units terror group does not leave Syria's Manbij, Turkey will move there and towards east of Euphrates River. He threatened that if US troops wear “terrorists’ clothes” and find themselves among “terrorists” of the Kurdish YPG forces attacking the Turkish troops, “there is no chance that we [will] make a distinction at this point.”On Jan. 20, Turkey launched operation Olive Branch against the Syrian Kurdish YPG forces. Manbij is a Syrian town that was captured from ISIS in 2016 by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a YPG-dominated ground force. “We are clearly saying that we do not want to confront our ally, the United States. I am sure that they do not want to face Turkey and Turkish armed forces,” Bozdag added. Separately, a western diplomat told Asharq Al-Awsat that the US is expected on Monday to ask for a UN Security Council session to discuss the use of chemical weapons by the regime of Bashar Assad. The diplomat uncovered that a resolution in this regard could be placed under “Article 7” to prevent the use of chemical weapons through all available means.

Erdogan Meets Pope as Rome Bans Protests
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 05/18/Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met Pope Francis on Monday while police enforced a protest ban in central Rome as feelings run high over Turkey's offensive against Kurdish militia inside Syria. For the first such visit by a Turkish leader for 59 years, the Italian authorities have imposed a 24-hour ban on demonstrations which covers Erdogan's arrival late Sunday to his departure on Monday evening. A total of 3,500 police have been deployed for the visit. Nevertheless a sit-in protest by 200 people, organised by a Kurdish association in Italy, was scheduled to take place on Monday not far from the Vatican. Turkey on January 20 launched its "Olive Branch" operation against Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia which Ankara sees as a terror group and a threat to Turkish territory. The Turkish army and allied Ankara-backed Syrian rebel forces are seeking to oust the YPG from its western border stronghold of Afrin but the operation has faced fierce resistance. "In Afrin, a new crime against humanity is under way," the Kurdish association said. The pope, who has railed against the horrors of war and weapons of mass destruction, was likely to raise the Afrin issue during his meeting with Erdogan.Ahead of the meeting, Erdogan's convoy arrived at a deserted Saint Peter's Square, which was under heavy police protection. The YPG, while considered a "terrorist" group by Ankara, is allied to the United States in its battle against Islamic State group jihadists.
Thousands of Kurds gathered in Syria's Afrin on Saturday to mourn fighters and civilians killed in a blistering Turkish assault on the region. Those killed included female combatant Barin Kobani whose mutilated body appeared in a shocking video, prompting accusations by her family and Kurdish officials that she was "defiled" by Turkish-backed rebels.
Erdogan for his part will probably thank the pontiff for opposing the decision by US President Donald Trump to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. "We are both in favour of the status quo and we have the will to protect it," Erdogan said in an interview published Sunday.
- Armenian 'genocide' spat -Erdogan's flying visit to Italy will also include a meeting with his Italian counterpart Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, with illegal immigration, defence and EU membership likely on the agenda. Pope Francis, a strong proponent of inter-faith dialogue, visited Turkey in November 2014, holding friendly talks with Erdogan, a devout Muslim.While in Istanbul the pope acknowledged that current global crises had made Muslims vulnerable to being stigmatised. Francis denounced those who said "all Muslims are terrorists". Relations were not so cordial in June 2016 when the pope, during a visit to Armenia, referred to the 1915-17 mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman forces as "genocide". The Vatican was then forced to refute claims from Turkey that Pope Francis had showed a "mentality of the Crusades" over his use of the term. Turkey -- the Ottoman Empire's successor state -- argues that it was a collective tragedy in which both Turks and Armenians died. On Sunday, Erdogan also insisted in a newspaper interview that Turkey wants "full membership of Europe" and did not rule out joint Italian-Turkish action in Libya.

Kuwaiti Twitter User Jailed 5 Years for Insulting UAE

Asharq Al-Awsat/February 05/18/Kuwait’s Criminal Court sentenced on Sunday Writer and Activist Abdullah Al-Saleh, to five years in prison over charges of slandering the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Kuwaiti Twitter user, who is residing in London and loyal to Qatar, is known for his attacks against Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, which have all severed relations with Doha since June 5, due to its support to terrorism. Al-Saleh is also sentenced in other cases to total of 31 years in prison. Last month, the same criminal court in Kuwait sentenced him to five years in prison over “defaming Saudi Arabia.”In its latest sentence, the Kuwaiti Court ruled that Al-Saleh had insulted the UAE through a tweet on his account. As soon as the sentence was issued on Sunday, Al-Saleh tweeted that the new ruling would not harm him, “even if the sentence was 100 years… because I am in London.”

US Starts Iraq Drawdown, Dozens of Soldiers Transported to Afghanistan
Asharq Al-Awsat/February 05/18/US forces have begun reducing their numbers in Iraq after Iraqi authorities declared "victory" over ISIS, an Iraqi government spokesman said on Monday, athough he stressed it was still in its early stages and doesn't mark the beginning of a complete pullout of American troops. "The American forces have begun reducing their numbers as victory has been achieved over ISIS," Spokesman Saad al-Hadithi told several news agencies. "Coordination continues, to maintain (US) assistance to the Iraqi forces in accordance with their requirements." Al-Hadithi spoke just hours after AP reported the American drawdown — the first since the war against ISIS was launched over three years ago. Iraqi forces backed by a US-led international coalition last year captured all the territory that fell under ISIS control in 2014 and 2015, including the northern city of Mosul, which served as the militants' de facto capital. Dozens of American soldiers have been transported from Iraq to Afghanistan on daily flights over the past week, along with weapons and equipment, according to Western contractors at a US-led coalition base in Iraq. An AP reporter at the Al-Asad base in western Iraq saw troop movements reflecting the contractors' account. A Pentagon report released in November said there were 8,892 US troops in Iraq as of late September. The US first launched airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq in August 2014. At the time the military intervention was described as "limited," but as Iraq's military struggled to roll back the extremists, the US-led coalition's footprint in the country steadily grew. "We've had a recent change of mission and soon we'll be supporting a different theater of operations in the coming month," US Army 1st Lt. William John Raymond told the AP at Al-Asad.

Sultan Qaboos Receives Sisi on His First Visit to Oman
Muscat - Mirza al-Khuwaildi/ Asharq Al-Awsat/February 05/18/
Sultan Qaboos bin Said, Sultan of Oman, received at Muscat, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who started his first state visit to Oman on Sunday. In a rare public appearance, Sultan Qaboos greeted his guest at Muscat Gate when his motorcade arrived from the airport. The Sultan accompanied Sisi in a procession surrounded by cavalry to the gate of the al-Alam Palace. Sisi's visit to Oman comes as part of a Gulf tour that also includes United Arab of Emirates (UAE) and will last for three days. The Omani Sultan held talks with the Egyptian president, in which they reviewed bilateral relations and cooperation in various fields that serve both countries' common interests, according to the Oman News Agency (ONA). Upon their arrival, Sisi and his accompanying delegation were received at the Royal Airport by Deputy Prime Minister for the Council of Ministers Sayyid Fahd bin Mahmoud Al Said, Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, and Ambassador of Egypt and members of the Egyptian Embassy in Muscat.A statement issued by the Royal Court said that the visit of the Egyptian president is an extension of the established relations between the Sultanate and Egypt, and reflects the keenness of both leaderships to support common interests in various fields. Egyptian television said on its website that Sisi discussed recent Arab, regional and international developments. Oman's Minister of Foreign Affairs Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah said that Oman views Egypt as the supporter of the Arab nation, and it is currently the platform that brings together the Arab nation. Speaking to Oman News Agency, the minister stated that this is the President's first visit to Oman, describing it as a happy occasion during which he will exchange views with Sultan Qaboos, and means to enhance cooperation between the Sultanate and Egypt in all fields. He pointed out that the Sultanate and Egypt are in constant coordination on recent developments, adding that a new platform is being discussed to deal with the remnants of the problems in the region. The Minister indicated that the future of Arab solidarity is based on new principles that deal with different global paths. On his agenda, Sisi will hold a session with businessmen in the Sultanate to enhance economic and trade relations between the two countries. Trade between the Sultanate of Oman and Egypt reached $300 million last year. Cairo seeks to boost its economic cooperation with Oman and attract more investments as Oman's investments in Egypt amount to $77 million.

Russia Speaks of Huge Danger Amid Reported Orders for Syria Jets to Fly Higher
Asharq Al-Awsat/February 05/18/The Kremlin said on Monday that shoulder-launched missiles obtained and used by rebels in Syria were a huge danger to all governments amid a report that Moscow ordered its warplanes in Syria to fly higher to avoid being shot down. Russia's Defense Ministry has said that an aircraft, a SU-25, was downed in Syria's Idlib Province on Saturday and its pilot killed on the ground after he ejected. Speaking to reporters on a conference call, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday it was too early to say who had supplied the weapons system which rebels had used to shoot down the plane, but that it was extremely worrying that such rockets were falling into the hands of "terrorists." The Izvestia daily said a decision had been taken that such planes would in future only fly above a ceiling of 5,000 meters in an effort to keep them safe. It said that such a policy had previously been in force, but that the SU-25s had for some reason started flying at lower altitudes in recent days.

Rouhani Criticizes US Nuclear Strategy, Insists on Developing Deterrent Weapons
London - Asharq Al-Awsat/February 05/18/Iranian President Hassan Rouhani criticized Sunday the US administration's strategy to develop new low-yield atomic weapons in the framework of its deterrent policy against nuclear threats.“The Americans are shamelessly threatening Russia with a new atomic weapon,” Rouhani said in a televised speech. “The same people who supposedly believe that using weapons of mass destruction is a crime against humanity are talking about new weapons to threaten or use against rivals,” he added. "How can they then say this is a time of peace, brotherhood and coexistence, and we don't need defensive power? We will always be in need of a defensive power."  Rouhani also announced Tehran's refusal to negotiate with any foreign party over its "defensive" capabilities, stressing the continuation of Iran's weapons program as part of its deterrence policy against foreign threats. "Our nation and authorities do not and will not need to negotiate with anyone or reach a deal with any power over their defensive capabilities," he said. "Our national power is for peace, we gain power for deterrence. Deterrence is the same as dignified peace. We should be ready to remove and thwart threats against the people," he said. Rouhani said Iran was ready to answer any possible questions but stressed that the country would not negotiate over its defense capabilities. "If any authority comes and asks a question, we will give a firm and strong answer. Our response is clear. But we will procure any weapon or capability which we need within the framework of rules and regulations and the fatwas of our leader," he added. Rouhani reiterated that Iran is not after weapons of mass destruction according to a fatwa by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Rouhani spoke about the importance of the legitimacy of defense in parallel with the Iranian weapons program, in an implicit reference to the Iranian opposition to the regime's adopted policies on regional and international levels. “You will not be able to explain that the other party is attacking and we are defending. We did not start any war, and we want to defend our land, our people, our dignity and our independence,” Rouhani said.

2 Killed as Japanese Military Helicopter Crashes in Residential Area

Asharq Al-Awsat/February 05/18/A military helicopter crashed in a residential area in southwest Japan on Monday, leaving its two crew dead. Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera confirmed the crash in the town of Kanzaki and said the two crew on board were retrieved "in a state of cardiac and respiratory arrest," Jiji news agency reported. The language is often used by Japanese officials before deaths are officially confirmed. The crash ripped the top floor off a house and set it on fire, officials said. The four residents of the damaged house were believed to have been away at the time of the accident, said Masaki Endo, a disaster official at the Saga prefectural government. No one else on the ground was believed to have been hurt, he added. Local firefighters could be seen running through the streets with red firehoses as people were evacuated from the area. The local fire authority said it had dispatched 14 fire engines and three ambulances to the site. "I heard something like a rumbling of the earth," a woman living near the crash site told Japan’s NHK television. "I rushed out there and saw a blaze and black smoke. It's impossible that this happens in such a place."Onodera earlier told reporters the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter had gone down in Japan's Saga region and "burst into flames." He said the cause of the accident is under investigation. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered the grounding of all 12 helicopters of the same type for safety checks, Kyodo News agency reported. The incident raised memories of a 2016 crash in which a Japanese air force jet with six people aboard went missing in mountainous terrain. Four bodies were later recovered. There has also been a string of accidents involving US military helicopters that have fueled opposition to their presence in the country. The latest was a UH-1 helicopter that was forced into an emergency landing last month on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa. No one was hurt in that incident, which officials blamed on a faulty rotor blade. Japan's Self-Defense Forces (SDF) have been banned from waging any kind of combat beyond defense of the nation since the US-imposed constitution of 1947 that followed the carnage of World War II. They have been deployed overseas in peacekeeping missions, some of which have proved controversial at home. And while the SDF is strictly limited in terms of the scope of its military activity, Japan nonetheless boasts an impressive array of weaponry with highly trained personnel.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 05-06/18
Houthis’ Ballistic Missiles: Triggering A Regional War Or Concealed Iranian Tests?
Riad Kahwaji, CEO, INEGMA0/February 05, 2018
Ballistic missiles repeatedly fired by the Houthi rebels in Yemen against Saudi Arabia might be more than a mere retaliation against the Kingdom for leading an Arab coalition against them to restore the legitimately elected Yemeni government to power, according to observers and diplomatic and military sources in the Arabian Gulf. “The Houthi ballistic missiles could be an attempt by the party (Iran) providing them to the rebel militia to either trigger a bigger regional conflict or to test the missiles’ performance and efficiency against U.S.-supplied missile defense systems deployed in Saudi Arabia,” according to a Western diplomat based in the region.
Houthis have increased in the past couple of months the frequency of firing the ballistic missiles against Saudi Arabia in an apparent reaction to the big advances the Saudi-led coalition has made on the ground in the same period, progressively edging towards the capital Sanaa and the Houthi stronghold of Sa’adah.
According to the Saudi-led Arab Coalition and press reports the Houthis have fired at least 90 ballistic missiles against targets in Yemen and Saudi Arabia over the past three years of the Yemeni war. In the past, Houthi fired ballistic missiles were limited to ranges of around 350 kilometers but since November 2017 the Houthis have been launching ballistic missiles with ranges of up to 800 kilometers – placing the Saudi capital, Riyadh, within reach.
The United Nations is conducting an investigation into the allegations made by the representatives of the United States and Britain at the Security Council that Iran was the source of ballistic missiles being used by the Houthis. The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley presented at a presser in December 2017 fragments of a ballistic missile that crashed near Riyadh stating they constituted a solid proof that Iran was smuggling weapons to the Houthis in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions that forbade Tehran from exporting such weapons. Iran has denied the charges.
However, a growing number of observers and officials in the region and the West have asserted that Iran has indeed been supplying Houthis with various types of weapons. Several ships carrying Iranian weapons to the Houthis have been intercepted by Arab and Western naval ships in the Red Sea and in Gulf waters over the past two years. Moreover, Iranian officials have boasted about aiding Houthis and supplying them with missiles like the Zilzal-3.
“Why has Iran supplied more advanced ballistic missiles with a longer range to the Houthis knowing the possible consequences of such a move?” asked a Western diplomat in the region. “Tehran knows that if these missiles do hit a strategic target in Riyadh, the Saudis might retaliate against Iranian targets. So why take such a chance?” In November 2017, Houthis claimed to have launched a cruise missile against the United Arab Emirates’ capital, Abu Dhabi. but the missile fell some distance short of its target.
According to a senior military official in the Saudi-led coalition, messages were passed to Tehran via diplomatic channels that if any of the Houthis’ ballistic missiles hit strategic targets in any of Arab Gulf capitals they will retaliate against Iran directly.
Some Western diplomats worry that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards might be seeking to widen the conflict in Yemen into a limited regional confrontation with the Arab Gulf States in order to escape growing domestic turmoil, push oil prices dramatically upward and improve the position of their Houthis allies in Yemen.
“An exchange of missiles with Arab Gulf States will increase nationalist feelings in Iran and subdue current internal unrest, and will also push oil prices close to $100 a barrel which will suit the ailing Iranian economy and ease pressure on the Houthis and improve their bargaining position vis-à-vis the Yemeni government and the Saudis,” the diplomate said. “Besides, getting a foreign party to trigger the war will give Tehran plausible deniability of starting it.”
However, the senior Arab military official believes that Iran is actually using Yemen as a testing ground for its missiles. “The Iranian advisors who are helping the Houthis fire these missiles are basically testing their accuracy and efficiency as well as their performance against the missile defense systems the Arab Coalition has deployed in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.” Saudi Arabia and the UAE are both operating the Patriot Pac-3 missile defense system as the main line of defense against ballistic missiles.
Iran has an advanced ballistic missile program that is now a serious cause of concern to the United States and other countries in Europe and the Middle East region. Iran continues to conduct missile tests despite a U.N. Security Council ban on the testing of missiles believed to be capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Iran is believed to have conducted some 23 missiles tests since the signing of the nuclear agreement better known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with the five permanent representatives to the U.N. Security Council plus Germany. Many regional officials and observers do not discount the possibility of Iran using Yemen as a testing ground for its missiles, which in such a case means Iran has actually conducted way much more than the recorded 23 official missile tests on Iranian territories.
The U.S. Administration of Donald Trump is now demanding a full review of JCPOA to add clauses imposing restrictions on Iran’s advancing ballistic missile program. Washington has threatened to walk away from JCPOA if the agreement is not amended. It is not yet clear whether Iran has agreed to renegotiate the agreement but so far that appears to be the only way to salvage a deal that ended international sanctions against Iran and eased huge pressure on its economy.
**Riad Kahwaji, is the founder and director of INEGMA with a 28 years of experience as a journalist and a Middle East security analyst.
*N.B: Any party interested in publishing or quoting this study is welcomed to do so but with the condition of giving full attribution to the author and INEGMA. All Copy Rights reserved.

IRGC’s Generals and the New Generals
Ghassan Charbel/Asharq Al Awsat/February 05/18
On the 11th of February, the Iranian Revolution will celebrate the 39th anniversary of its victory and commence its 40th year. We can imagine the map of the region wide open on the table of current and former Revolutionary Guard generals; General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jaafari, commander of the Guards, General Rahim Safavi, military adviser to the spiritual leader and former IRGC chief, General Mohsen Rezaee, secretary general of the Expediency Discernment Council and former commander of the Guards.
If it is possible to avoid describing the Guards as the “ruling party”, one cannot ignore the overwhelming presence of the “IRGC State” at the core of the Iranian regime and its decision-making process.
The four generals are likely to be relieved if they look at the map. Iran has the leading role in Iraq. Through its militias and in partnership with Russia, it has prevented the collapse of the Syrian regime. In Lebanon, there are those who believe that the parliamentary elections scheduled for May would consolidate, through legitimate means, the country’s presence within the Iranian Crescent. As for Yemen, the Houthis continue to assume their role in the Iranian program, undaunted by the terrible adventure into which they have driven the country.
The Guards Generals’ boasting of the Iranian influence in the four Arab capitals does not eliminate the bad conditions witnessed in the respective countries. Iraq, where Iran is strongly present in the decision-making process, is unfortunately a broken country confused between Sunnis and Kurds, despite its significant victory over “ISIS”, with the support of the “International Alliance”.
Syria, where Moscow and Tehran have managed to salvage the regime, has turned into a jungle of flags of states and militias in a rare and unprecedented abuse of a fractured country. It is certain that any viable political solution in Syria will lead to a decline in the role of Iran, which was completely dominant before the outbreak of confrontations in this country. It is hard to believe that Lebanon is at its best. As for Yemen, nothing suggests that this challenging country will be an easy celebration for the Houthi adventure.
In contrast to breakthroughs and achievements, it is difficult for the four generals to ignore the fact that recent days have revealed that the Iranian Revolution is beginning to suffer from the symptoms of turning forty. The open letter addressed by prominent opposition figure Mehdi Karroubi to the spiritual leader is very significant. He said: “I urge you, before it is too late, to make room for structural reforms of the regime with accurate diagnosis of the country’s political, economic and foreign situation, and through the evaluation of policies adopted in recent years.”
One day later, the regime received a new warning; this time from President Hassan Rouhani. “All the leaders of the country must listen to the demands and wishes of the people. The former regime lost everything, because it did not hear the voice and criticism of the citizens,” he stated.
It is clear that Rouhani and Karroubi are aware of the growing resentment in the Iranian street and the disappointment of new generations with domestic policies and regional adventures that drain the energies of the country and put them in constant conflict with the people of the region and most of the world.
The two men realize that the nuclear deal was not a final salvation for the regime; and that the US administration is preparing to impose a painful package of sanctions that will deprive Tehran of reaping the fruits of the Obama agreement, because it will convince investors that the time to return to Iran has not come yet. The sanctions are aimed at making Iran pay the price of violating countries, disrupting stability, supporting terrorism, manufacturing ballistic missiles and threatening the security of waterways.
Time is the fiercest enemy of revolutions. It caresses them and later entangles them. It sympathizes with them and then attacks them. It tests them and destroys their auras. Time is ruthless. It separates fantasies from dreams and drags them into the Court of Numbers. The peculiarity of a revolution is not enough to immunize it against fixed rules. Change is the only salvation. Refusing to reconcile with time is the shortest way to collapse, no matter how late it is.
There are no ideas that fit all times and places. The ideas are the fruit of their time and carry with them the features of the place as well. Time, like a river, carries with it new and different ideas, and question marks. The “KGB” Empire was unable to protect Lenin’s revolution from committing suicide. The massive Communist Party of China (CPC) was unable to protect Mao Zedong’s revolution from the needs and winds of the times. Nothing suggests that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards will succeed where others have failed.
In this month, 40 years ago, the Iranian Revolution achieved victory, reverberating across the region and the world; a revolution that was born from outside the ideology of these two camps. Back then, Lenin’s party resembled Lenin himself, and Mao’s party reflected Mao’s beliefs. But time has changed, and here is Khomeini’s revolution facing the troubles of turning forty, in a world very different from the one in which it was born.
The IRGC generals must know that there are new generals, who represent more threat to the Iranian regime than US generals. Generals, who came from scientific, technological and digital revolutions… Generals, who cannot be intercepted at the border, nor can they be faced by rockets and the mobilization of militias. The Iranian youth is more likely to be turning towards these generals they see in their smartphones. They want to be neutral citizens in a normal country busy with investment and stability. Here I mean Google Gen. Larry Page, Microsoft General Satya Nadella and his predecessor Bill Gates, Amazon General Jeff Bezos, Facebook General Mark Zuckerberg, Apple General Tim Cook and Telegraph General Pavel Durov.
If the Iranian revolution fails to capture the deep meaning of the pains of turning 40 in a world of change, Khamenei must truly reflect on what time has done with the revolutions of Lenin and Mao.

US Shows Beginning of a Response to Muslim Brotherhood
Eli Lake/Bloomberg View/February 05/18
A year ago it looked like Donald Trump was going to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. Some of his closest advisers pushed for it. US allies like Egypt quietly made the case too. Many Republicans in Congress also believed the movement that created political Islam should be treated like al-Qaeda. It didn't happen. Trump administration officials tell me the initial proposal last year to designate the entire Muslim Brotherhood, which includes chapters and offshoots in countries all over the world, stalled out. By the time the White House approved its national security strategy in December, it didn't even mention the Muslim Brotherhood by name. Instead the Trump administration has settled on a more refined approach, seeking to designate violent chapters of the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorists, but not going after the entire organization. As the national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, told reporters in December: "We will be evaluating each organization on its own terms. The organization is not monolithic or homogeneous."
In some ways this approach is not new. The Obama administration managed to reach out to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt after the Arab Spring in 2011, and nonetheless treat its Palestinian wing, Hamas, as terrorists. There are no plans for the Trump administration to attempt to find common ground with the Muslim Brotherhood, US officials tell me. But the administration is getting more aggressive against the Brotherhood's violent affiliates.
On Wednesday, the US ambassador for counterterrorism, Nathan Sales, gave some specifics on this new approach at the annual conference for the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.
Hamas was first designated as a terrorist organization by the US government in 1997. But in Obama's second term, the pace of designations against Hamas slowed to a trickle.
Jonathan Schanzer, the senior vice president for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies told me this week, "There was a reluctance in the last three years of the Obama administration to designate Hamas guys." Part of this is because of Israel. After the 2014 rocket war with Hamas in Gaza, Israel reached an understanding with two principal supporters of Hamas -- Qatar and Turkey -- to allow more approved goods into Gaza, loosening the blockade Israel imposed after 2007 when Hamas took over Gaza and ousted the Palestinian Authority. Schanzer told me that at the time, he had heard from his contacts at the Treasury Department that they did not want additional sanctions to undermine those nations' understanding with Israel.
"It's interesting that the US is signaling it does not see a difference between the political leadership in Gaza, the politburo and the military leadership," Schanzer said. This approach is evident in the State Department's announcement of the new designation for Ismail Haniyeh.
Another reason the Haniyeh designation is important is because it signals the US will not support efforts at a reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.
Trump has already threatened to cut off aid to the Palestinians. President Mahmoud Abbas responded in January with a deranged speech declaring the peace process a dead letter. Now Sales is making clear the US will not encourage a Palestinian unity government either.
Sales also announced the designations of two relatively new organizations, Liwa al Thawra and Harakat Sawa’d Misr. The groups, formed in 2016 and 2015, are led by former members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Both groups have taken responsibility for acts of terror.
Operatives for Liwa al Thawra last year claimed responsibility for a bombing outside of an Egyptian police training facility. In 2016, the group was responsible for the assassination of Brigadier General Adel Ragai, who commanded the Egypt's Ninth Armored Division.
Harakat Sawa’d Misr also has a violent past. It attempted the assassination of Egypt’s former Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, and killed Ibrahim Azzazy, an officer with Egypt's National Security Agency. In 2017, the group claimed responsibility for an attack on the Egyptian embassy in Myanmar.
Egypt's president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has pressed the US to designate the entire Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. He will likely view these designations as a half measure. But of course, Egypt's government, which has expanded its domestic crackdown well beyond the Muslim Brotherhood, does not dictate US policy.
America must draw a distinction between nonviolent Islamists and those who turn to terror. The designations announced last Wednesday are important in this respect. But it's no substitute for a coherent policy on the Muslim Brotherhood. For that the Trump administration must devise a strategy.

Three Steps to Avert an Accidental Nuclear War
Ernest Moniz and Sam Nunn/Asharq Al Awsat/February 05/18
The world has crossed over to a new nuclear era, where a fateful error -- rather than intentional aggression -- is the most likely catalyst to nuclear catastrophe.
American leaders have been warned more than once of incoming Russian missiles -- in each case, it was a false alarm resulting from technical or human error. Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin was mistakenly alerted to a possible US missile strike after the launch of a Norwegian scientific rocket.
After every incident, we deceive ourselves that we can solve the problem with better technology and training -- or we reassure ourselves that the combination of diligence and good luck we experienced during the Cold War will continue. But do we really believe we can prevent a nuclear catastrophe indefinitely in a world with nine states with nuclear weapons and significant suspicion and hostility in many of their mutual relationships?
The risks of human error involving nuclear weapons are compounded by the potential for deliberate cyber-threats to warning and command-and-control systems. Hackers could insert a false warning of a nuclear attack into national warning and alert systems and falsely attribute that attack to an innocent country. At a time of heightened global tensions -- with too little communication or cooperation between nuclear rivals, and only minutes of decision time -- how would leaders of states with nuclear weapons respond? The Donald Trump administration recently declared plans to broaden the role of nuclear weapons in US defenses beyond deterring nuclear attacks on the US and our allies. Its new National Security Strategy states that the arsenal is now “essential" to preventing not just a nuclear attack but also "non-nuclear strategic attacks, and large-scale conventional aggression.” A leaked draft of its forthcoming Nuclear Posture Review has similar language.
Expanding the range of threats against which nuclear weapons might be used -- which implies, for example, “strategic” cyberattacks -- will greatly increase the risks of miscalculation or blunder. If a cyberattack took out a major part of our electrical grid, would we be able to quickly and confidently identify the attacking country?
If Russia, China, India, Pakistan and others adopt similar policies, are we moving down a path where nuclear use becomes highly probable?
Every country with nuclear weapons perceives its geopolitical circumstances differently, but we all face substantially increasing nuclear risks. Individually where necessary, and together where possible, they must move with urgency on policies that can reduce these risks for all nations. We recommend three initial steps. First, countries with nuclear weapons should continuously review and protect against the vulnerability of their nuclear warning and command systems to cyber-threats. The focus should be on correcting current weaknesses and instituting a process of continuing assessment and updates. Some findings and conclusions could be shared with other nuclear powers -- reducing risks for all. Each should recognize that a cyberattack against nuclear warning and command systems is a prescription for global disaster.
Second, despite significant disagreements on many global issues, the US, Russia and other nuclear-armed nations must work together on areas of existential common interest -- chief among them, reducing the risk of a nuclear error. Once fired, a nuclear ballistic missile unfortunately cannot be recalled before it reaches its target. Removing US and Russian nuclear weapons from Cold War-era “prompt-launch” postures -- where they are ready to launch and hit their targets within minutes -- would eliminate “hair-triggers” and increase decision time for leaders. In doing so, Washington and Moscow would set an example for all states with nuclear weapons. Military experts in each of these countries should be mandated by their leaders to explore this and other options that would give them more time to make fateful decisions about nuclear use.
Third, the US and Russia should reinforce the principle -- articulated eloquently by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev -- that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. Have the two largest nuclear powers already forgotten this powerful historical breakthrough that was essential to ending the Cold War? The most immediate priority should be to structure and posture US and Russian nuclear forces to deter nuclear use and reduce the risk of an accidental, mistaken or unauthorized launch. Against this backdrop, the current Russian concept of “escalate to de-escalate” -- —i.e., limited nuclear use designed to create a pause in the conflict and open a pathway for a negotiated settlement on Moscow’s terms -- and US calls for more “usable” nuclear weapons taken together make the world a vastly more dangerous place.
The US must have a safe, secure and reliable nuclear deterrent as long as nuclear weapons exist. But in today’s nuclear era it is not enough. There is still time for the world to come together to reduce and ultimately eliminate nuclear threats -- most urgently by taking action to reduce the risk of an accident, mistake or miscalculation. This should be a core principle and key objective shaping the Trump administration’s nuclear policy.

Putin Wants Syria Talks to Last Forever
Leonid Bershidsky/Bloomberg View/February 05/18
A Syrian opposition group that flew to the Russian resort of Sochi for a peace conference last week saw the gathering's logo -- the flag of Bashar al-Assad's regime unfurled between the wings of a dove -- and flew back to Ankara without even going through passport control. That must've pleased the Russians, who didn't really want Assad's opponents to attend.
It was the latest example of the game Russia is playing in Syria: It isn't interested in any kind of resolution to the conflict even as it plays along with the peace process.
Russia's official position is to back Syria's territorial integrity and a United Nations-sponsored political solution to end the country's civil war. The Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi ostensibly served that purpose. But Russia knew ahead of time that the Syrian opposition's UN-recognized negotiators wouldn't come, and the organizers did their best to scare away everybody else who wanted to speak up against Assad. It didn't quite succeed -- Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was heckled as he opened the conference -- but, for the most part, the gathering allowed pro-Assad delegates to have some nice meals and load up on souvenirs.
What Russia really did at Sochi is put on a show for the UN's special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, who initially worried that Russia, Turkey and Iran -- the three countries behind the congress -- were trying to set up an alternative to the official Syria talks in Geneva. The Sochi congress officially decided to hand off talks on a new constitution to a new Geneva-based committee representing all sides. De Mistura was, at least outwardly, satisfied, thanking the delegates and organizers for backing the UN-led process.
But de Mistura probably won't be surprised if the new committee is deadlocked from the start. The Russian government isn't rolling out a red carpet for the Assad supporters because it wants to point them toward Geneva. Rather, it wants them to feel like valued long-term allies.
In July 2017, the Russian parliament ratified an agreement with the Assad regime allowing Russia to keep its air force base in Khmeimim for at least another 49 years, with subsequent extensions every 25 years. A similar deal has also been made for the naval base in Tartus, which swelled significantly from a modest resupply facility during the Syrian war and is undergoing further expansion. Russian President Vladimir Putin clearly regrets his earlier moves to shrink Russia's overseas military presence, and the two Syrian bases are valuable to him as Russia's only strongholds in the Middle East.
Putin, however, would be unlikely to keep the bases under a plan like the one proposed by the US, the UK, France and other regional countries whose representatives met with the UN-recognized Syrian rebels in Vienna last week. The idea of that plan is to devolve much of Assad's authority to the parliament and to regions. That body, however, would have few reasons to recognize Assad's agreements with the Kremlin. Indeed, no one but Assad and his loyalists have a deep-seated interest in maintaining them. And the only way Assad and his loyalists can hang on to undiluted power is if Syria remains partitioned, with all the meddling foreign powers in de facto military control of their own areas.
Whatever Russian officials, including Putin, say about a political solution, what they really want is for Syrian constitution talks to go on for 49 years, and then for another 25.
The US is in a very different position in Syria, where it has about 2,000 troops. While its presence there is characterized as open-ended and focused on the "strategic threat" from Iran and countering terrorist groups, the US already has enough bases in the Middle East. A political solution in Syria, especially one along the Vienna lines, would mitigate those threats. It might be enough for the US to retain a presence in neighboring Iraq.
Similarly, Turkey is only involved in Syria as long as the chaos there creates a threat to its borders. But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan doesn't appear to believe in a lasting political solution, and he appreciates Russia's acquiescence to his action against the Syrian Kurds.
A de facto partition and a semi-frozen conflict (in which, like in eastern Ukraine, people keep dying every day but no major military action occurs) is the only viable option for Russia, the best one for Iran since it retains influence on Assad, an acceptable second-best scenario for Turkey and an unnecessary nuisance for the US. But since Russia isn't likely to believe any Western guarantees that it can retain its bases indefinitely under any alternative arrangement, none of the alternatives are feasible.
That makes de Mistura's position unenviable. He'll be forced to attend more Russian-produced circuses as the pro-Assad side stalls further talks.

The Cost of Illegal Immigration

Ruthie Blum/Gatestone Institute/February 05/18
"At the federal, state, and local levels, taxpayers shell out approximately $134.9 billion to cover the costs incurred by the presence of more than 12.5 million illegal aliens, and about 4.2 million citizen children of illegal aliens." — Matt O'Brien and Spencer Raley.
It is also rather more than the single payment of $25 billion that it will cost to build a wall -- five and a half times more, and every year.
"Undocumented immigrants are at least 142% more likely to be convicted of a crime than other Arizonans. They also tend to commit more serious crimes..." — John R. Lott.
In 2015, included in the DEA's drug-threat assessment was the fact that drug overdoses killed more people in the United States than car accidents or guns. Many of these drugs [were] smuggled in large volumes by drug cartels."
In his State of the Union address on January 30, US President Donald J. Trump referred to the brutal murder of two 16-year-old girls from Long Island in December 2016 by members of the "savage MS-13 gang," responsible for a spate of other gruesome killings in the area, as well.
Many of these gang members, he explained, had entered the United States illegally. "For decades, open borders have allowed drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities," he said.
Calling on Congress "to finally close the deadly loopholes that have allowed... criminal gangs to break into our country," he listed the four pillars of his immigration-reform proposal:
A path to citizenship for 1.8 million illegal immigrants who were brought to America by their parents.
The construction of a "great wall on the southern border" and enforcement by agents patrolling and securing the border.
Ending the visa lottery, "a program that randomly plans out green cards without regard for skill, merit, for the safety of American people."
Ending the "current, broken system" of chain migration of distant relatives, and limiting sponsorships to spouses and minor children.
Although he did not specify this in his speech, Trump reportedly is seeking $25 billion from Congress to fund the wall. Opponents of the wall have been arguing that illegal immigrants do not commit crimes at a higher rate than legal immigrants or native-born Americans; that illegal immigration has been a boon to the economy, rather than a drain on it; and that the cost both of deportation and a wall far exceeds the benefits of both. These claims are repeatedly voiced by the Trump administration's detractors, as part of their campaign to accuse the president of racism; but what are the facts?
To set the record straight, let us take a look at a number of those that have been obscured or ignored by the media.
As far as the cost of the wall is concerned, a study released in September 2017 by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) reveals that, "At the federal, state, and local levels, taxpayers shell out approximately $134.9 billion to cover the costs incurred by the presence of more than 12.5 million illegal aliens, and about 4.2 million citizen children of illegal aliens." This, the report says, is a nearly $3 billion increase in the cost since 2013. It is also rather more than the single payment of $25 billion that it will cost to build a wall – five and a half times more, and every year.
Pictured: The US-Mexico border fence near San Diego, California. (Image source: US Customs and Border Protection)
The same goes for the cost of deporting illegal immigrants. According to Steven A. Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies,
"...The average cost of a deportation is much smaller than the net fiscal drain created by the average illegal immigrant," in part due to the fact that "illegal immigrants overwhelmingly have modest levels of education — most have not completed high school or have only a high school education...creating more in costs for government than they pay in taxes."
The question of the rates of criminality among illegal aliens vs. those of legal immigrants and American-born citizens has been examined by John R. Lott, Jr., president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, using Arizona's prison population as a microcosm for study. According to Lott, the ability to measure the crime-rate among illegal immigrants in the U.S. has been difficult, due to many factors, including the lack of a national data base and "primitive" methodology – such as "simple, cross-sectional analysis to see whether areas with higher immigrant populations have higher crime rates," and "a purely time series approach... look at the United States as a whole and note that crime has decreased since 1990 as immigration has increased." The advantage of the Arizona Department of Corrections study, Lott says, is that
"over our 32.5-year period, we know each prisoner who entered the prison system, their criminal convictions history, and whether he is a documented or undocumented immigrant. The only mystery is why this type of data has not been utilized until now."
Peter Kirsanow wryly solved the mystery in National Review, writing:
"Unfortunately, almost every public official not named Jeff Sessions guards against disclosure of illegal-immigrant crime data more tenaciously than disclosure of nuclear launch codes."
According to Lott, whose research spans 1985-2017:
"Arizona's prison population data allow us to compare undocumented immigrants' share of the prison population with their estimated share of the state population...For the first time, we break down the data to examine differences between US citizens, undocumented immigrants, and legal permanent residents. One advantage of using convictions rather than just reported crimes is that convictions depend on a 'beyond a reasonable doubt' standard of evidence and thus are much less likely to count innocent people."
The findings are unequivocal, as the following summary illustrates:
"Undocumented immigrants are at least 142% more likely to be convicted of a crime than other Arizonans. They also tend to commit more serious crimes and serve 10.5% longer sentences, more likely to be classified as dangerous, and 45% more likely to be gang members than U.S. citizens...There are dramatic differences between in the criminal histories of convicts who are U.S. citizens and undocumented immigrants...
"[Y]oung undocumented immigrants commit crime at twice the rate of young U.S. citizens. These undocumented immigrants also tend to commit more serious crimes. If undocumented immigrants committed crime nationally as they do in Arizona, in 2016 they would have been responsible for over 1,000 more murders, 5,200 rapes, 8,900 robberies, 25,300 aggravated assaults, and 26,900 burglaries."
These numbers do not even include the cost to American taxpayers of the toll taken on America's children by illegally imported drugs. Although available information on this is at best spotty, the key finding from the DEA's 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment is that the "most commonly reported greatest drug threat was heroin, at 44.1 percent of law enforcement responses... This was followed by 29.8 percent of respondents indicating methamphetamine was their greatest drug threat, 9.3 percent reporting controlled prescription drugs..."
This tells us something about the extent of the problem, but not enough. The 2010 drug-threat assessment, released a year after the previous administration took office, revealed that,
"From January through November 2009, U.S. seizures of illegal drugs in transit exceeded 1,626 metric tons, indicating that DTOs succeed in moving several thousand tons of cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana, heroin, and MDMA into the United States annually. There are unique smuggling and transportation methods..."
In 2015, included in the DEA's drug-threat assessment was the fact that drug overdoses killed more people in the United States than car accidents or guns. As was noted by the BBC at the time, "Many of these drugs are smuggled in large volumes by drug cartels..."
The late Democrat Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said, "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts." His successors in Congress would do well to remember this while debating the issue of illegal immigration. They certainly need to keep it in mind when voting on the administration's proposed plan.
*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.

Iran’s Worsening Treatment Of Religious Minorities
أسوأ معاملة إيرانية للأقليات الدينية
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/February 05/2018
The Iranian regime boasts about respecting religious freedom and being tolerant towards religious minorities, and President Hassan Rouhani has frequently promised them equal rights. Nevertheless, reports from human rights organizations such as Amnesty International reveal a different story. The rights of the Iranian people to enjoy religious freedom continue to be violated and many are facing systematic persecution and discrimination on a daily basis.
One specific example of the ongoing harassment and persecution by the Iranian authorities is linked to the regime’s targeting of Sunni religious leaders. Sunnis constitute the largest religious minority — roughly 5 to 10 percent of the population — in the Shiite-majority nation.
Molavi Abdolhamid Ismaeelzahi is considered Iran’s highest-ranking Muslim Sunni cleric and is regarded as a “spiritual leader for Iran’s Sunni minority.” He is the head of the council of Sunni religious schools in the Sistan and Baluchestan Province and is a member of the International Union of Muslim Scholars. The Iranian regime has intensified its harassment of Ismaeelzahi. He has attempted to find a middle ground with Iran’s ruling Shiite clerics, but his attempts have failed.
The Iranian regime targets leaders of religious minorities in a shrewd attempt to impose fear collectively from the top of the group, in order to restrict the activities of its members.
Ismaeelzahi is facing an “ongoing climate of intimidation and fear” and the regime has barred him from traveling within the country, let alone abroad. In a recent interview with the Center for Human Rights in Iran, he pointed out: “We know that if we don’t ask for permission before we travel, the authorities will create problems for us.” He highlights the complexities of the issue by adding: “We understand the situation and the pressures that exist. So we have decided to coordinate our plans with the authorities. We wanted to go to Mashhad but they didn’t allow it. We said thousands of people go to Mashhad every day. They said those people are different because, if I go to Mashhad, the people will come to see me. Then we wanted to go to Kerman and we talked about it with the authorities, but they didn’t give us permission.”
The country’s Sunni population and its religious leaders are viewed through a prism of suspicion and are regarded as an opposition group, or even as outsiders though their homeland is Iran.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
From the perspective of the Iranian regime, the country’s Sunni minority and religious leaders are viewed through a prism of suspicion and are regarded as an opposition group, or even as outsiders though their homeland is Iran.
In addition, since one of the major revolutionary and religious principles of Iran’s ruling clerics has been to export Shiite ideology, non-Shiite groups are considered rivals, conspirators or threats to achieving such an ideological goal. No Sunni has been appointed to a high-level government position since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979.
The Iranian regime mainly utilizes the Ministry of Intelligence (Etela’at), the Basij and the judiciary to intimidate and control the country’s Sunnis.
Sunnis have not been successful in invoking the Iranian Constitution, which guarantees rights to Islamic traditions other than Shiite. Article 12 stipulates: “Other Islamic schools, including the Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki, Hanbali, and Zaydi are to be accorded full respect, and their followers are free to act in accordance with their own jurisprudence in performing their religious rites. These schools enjoy official status in matters pertaining to religious education, affairs of personal status (marriage, divorce, inheritance, and wills) and related litigation in courts of law.”
This failure is due to the lack of fairness and due process in Iran’s judicial system, as well as the regime’s trumped-up and ambiguous charges against many Sunnis. Such articles in Iran’s Constitution that guarantee the rights of Sunnis are only a facade to delude the international community into believing that Iranian leaders respect religious freedoms and the human rights of all groups, irrespective of their ethnic or religious backgrounds.
Iran’s treatment of the country’s largest religious minority, the Sunnis, and their leaders continues to deteriorate under the second term of Hassan Rouhani’s presidency.
Iran’s Sunnis have the right to exercise their religious faith. It is incumbent on human rights groups and the international community to pressure the Iranian regime to halt its intimidation, persecution and harassment of the Sunnis and their religious leaders.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh