February 10/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations
What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses,“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy
Romans 09/07-29:  It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.  Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.  For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.”Not only that, but Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses,“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.  For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?”  But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? As he says in Hosea: “I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one, In the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’there they will be called ‘children of the living God.’ Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved. For the Lord will carry out his sentence on earth with speed and finality.” It is just as Isaiah said previously: “Unless the Lord Almighty had left us descendants, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.””

Question: "How can heaven be perfect if all of our loved ones are not there?" The word perfection carries the idea of wholeness and a lack of nothing. If something is perfect, then it’s complete. So how can heaven be perfect if some people are missing? Wouldn’t it be better if all our loved ones were there?
God is perfect (Psalm 18:30). God’s dwelling place is perfect. God’s plan of salvation is perfect. In God’s plan (which is perfect) He extends the righteousness of Christ to all who trust in Him. What happens to those who do not trust in Christ? They are rejecting perfection, rejecting God’s dwelling place, and rejecting God Himself. As John 3:18 says, “Whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” To force people to believe, to ignore their sin, or to bypass Christ would be to destroy the perfection of heaven.
When we arrive in heaven, our perspective will change. Our limited, earthly perspective will be replaced by a holy, heavenly perspective. Speaking of the eternal state, Revelation 21:4 says that God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Missing our loved ones would presumably fall under the category of pain or mourning. Perhaps we will have no knowledge or remembrance of them at all. Perhaps we will have come to understand how our loved ones’ absence glorifies God. “Now all we can see of God is like a cloudy picture in a mirror. Later we will see him face to face. We don’t know everything, but then we will, just as God completely understands us” (1 Corinthians 13:12, CEV). In the meantime, we accept by faith that what God says about heaven is true and that we will experience perfection for all eternity.
For a brief description of eternity, see Revelation 21—22. Everything is made new; everything is splendid, glorious, and blessed. That will include us. Our bodies, souls, and spirits will be completely blessed. Sin will no longer be a factor, and our thoughts will be in agreement with God’s (1 John 3:2). God has a plan to comfort His people (Isaiah 40:1), to perfect His redeemed (Hebrews 10:14), and to provide for them for all eternity (Psalm 23:6).
Right now, our focus should not be on how we can enjoy heaven or the eternal state without all of our loved ones there; rather, we should focus on how we can point our loved ones to faith in Christ—so that they will be there.

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 09-10/18
Syria and Lebanon: Confusion & Mixed Signals/Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Al Awsat/February 09/18
UN Warned to Stop Giving Hezbollah Free Rein in Lebanon/Fox News/February 09/18
Do We Allow Air India’s Request/Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/February 09/18
Iran: Speaking Swedish, Acting North Korean/Amir Taheri/Asharq Al Awsat/February 09/18
Invention of the term ‘preacher’ in Muslim societies/Salah al-Sayer/Al Arabiya/February 09/18
Tehran’s view of Turkey’s Afrin campaign/Giorgio Cafiero/Al Arabiya/February 09/18
Germany: Merkel Pays High Price for Fourth Term .. "This will not be long."/Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/February 09/2018

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on February 09-10/18
Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi i Presides St. Maroun Mass as Aoun, Berri Attend
Aoun: We hope to extract oil with no obstacles, so it would become an essential element of our economy
Lebanon Signs Offshore Drilling Deal amid Row with Israel
Report: Lebanon Defends Oil Rights, Turns to UNCLOS
Qabalan Calls for Campaign to Support Lebanon's Oil Extraction Rights
Several Lebanese, Syrians Injured in Koura Town Brawl
Bassil: Oil today, more achievements tomorrow!
Riachi announces Abi Lamaa's candidacy, urges citizens to vote for human dignity, freedom, combating corruption
One killed, two injured in Ain elHilweh clashes
Machnouk welcomes US mediation during talks with Satterfield: Lebanon upholds its right to land and sea
Sleiman Frangieh says his son's candidacy does not mean he will be away from politics
Geagea: Lebanese government must seriously contemplate US Envoy's solutions
Italy Mulls Postponement of Donor Conference for Lebanon
Ministry Provides Cover for Hezbollah's Illicit Activities
Syria and Lebanon: Confusion & Mixed Signals
UN Warned to Stop Giving Hezbollah Free Rein in Lebanon

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 09-10/18

More on US strike: Russians who laid Euphrates bridge among targets
Turkey resumes its strikes on Kurdish militia targets in Syria
Macron Urges Putin To Help End Civilian Suffering In Syria
Trump tells Israel peace means compromise; US envoy under fire
Iran’s Khamenei Calls on Officials to Combat Corruption
Arab League Calls for Support of Countries Hosting Syrian Refugees
Qaeda Trying to Regroup in Tunisia after ISIS Setbacks
France Calls for Humanitarian Corridors in Syria as Death Toll in Ghouta Mounts
Egypt begins security operation against ‘terrorists’, closes Gaza border
At least two killed, 37 wounded by twin mosque bombing in Libya’s Benghazi
Iraqi Kurds accused of carrying out ‘mass executions’ of ISIS members
India’s Modi heads to Palestinian territories to balance ties with Israel
Congress Passes Spending Bill, Sends to Trump to End Shutdown

Latest Lebanese Related News published
on February 09-10/18
Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi i Presides St. Maroun Mass as Aoun, Berri Attend
Naharnet /February 09/18/Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi held a mass on St. Maroun day at St. Maroun Church in Gemmayyze in the presence of President Michel Aoun and Speaker Nabih Berri. Prime Minister Saad Hariri did not attend the mass as he is traveling abroad. Senior political, security and religious officials met at the church in Gemmayze amid heavy security measures. Former President ex-Kataeb chief Amin Gemayel, Army Commander Joseph Aoun and current and former MPs and ministers also attended the mass. In his sermon, Rahi urged the State officials to make sacrifices “that help create a capable and productive State, and a country loved by its people.”He said the State should be able to confront the challenges it comes across mainly “the promotion of coexistence, and building a democratic state that protects the formula of coexistence and the harmony between citizenship for individuals and pluralism for the community.”Saint Maroun was a 5th century monk who after his death was followed by a religious movement that became known as the Maronites. His holiness and miracles attracted many followers. After his death in the year 410, his spirit and teachings lived on through his disciples. He is buried in Brad village, north of the Syrian city of Aleppo.

Aoun: We hope to extract oil with no obstacles, so it would become an essential element of our economy
Fri 09 Feb 2018/NNA - President of the Republic Michel Aoun congratulated Friday the Lebanese on the signing of the oil and gas exploration agreements in Blocs 4 and 9, saying in a tweet, "Congratulations, a huge dream has been achieved, and Lebanon has become an oil state...Hope we can extract oil without any hindrances so that it would become a key element of our economy."Aoun took part in the ceremony at the Biel this afternoon following the handover of both agreements to representatives of France's "Total", Italy's "ENI" and Russia's "Novatek".
The President also received at Baabda Palace a delegation from Total Company, who briefed him on the company's preparations and work program in the oil and gas fields in Lebanon.

Lebanon Signs Offshore Drilling Deal amid Row with Israel
Naharnet /February 09/18/Lebanon Friday signed its first contract to drill for oil and gas off its coast with a consortium comprising energy giants Total, ENI and Novatek, including in a block disputed by Israel. Israel says one of two blocks in the eastern Mediterranean where Lebanon wants to drill for oil belongs to it, and last week denounced any exploration by Beirut as "provocative". President Michel Aoun said at a signing ceremony that Lebanon has "entered a new chapter in its history and is now a member of energy-producing countries".Looking to tap potential oil and gas reserves after major offshore discoveries by neighbouring Israel and Cyprus, the Mediterranean country in December approved a bid on blocks four and nine. Block nine is the disputed block with Israel.Exploration is set to begin in 2019. French energy giant Total and Italy's Eni each hold a 40 percent stake in the consortium, and Russia's Novatek has a 20 percent stake. Total welcomed the deal, saying it stipulates that drilling will take place in "at least one well per block in the first three years" and that the "consortium's priority will be to drill a first exploration well on Block 4 in 2019". "As for Block 9, Total and its partners are fully aware of the Israeli-Lebanese border dispute in the southern part of the block that covers only very limited area (less than 8 percent of the block's surface). "Given that, the main prospects are located more than 25 km (15.5 miles) from the disputed area, the consortium confirms that the exploration well on Block 9 will have no interference at all with any fields or prospects located south of the border area," it added in a statement issued in English. Last week, Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman accused Lebanon of "provocative behaviour". "They issue a tender on a gas field -- including a bloc which by all accounts is ours -- to international groups that are respectable companies, which to my mind are making a serious mistake since it's against all rules and protocol in cases like this," he said. Lebanese Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil responded by saying Lebanon would defend its right to drill there. "Israel will do what it can to block us from taking advantage of our oil wealth, and we will do everything in our power to defend it," he said. Tensions between the two neighbours -- which are technically still at war -- have also mounted as Israel pursues the construction of a wall along the border. Lebanon says part of the wall follows the UN-demarcated "Blue Line" drawn up after Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, and insists some sections will cut into its territory. Israel dismissed the claim and said on Tuesday the work is being carried out on Israeli territory.
Israel began building the wall in 2012, six years after fighting a devastating war with Hizbullah.

Report: Lebanon Defends Oil Rights, Turns to UNCLOS
Agence France Presse/Naharnet /February 09/18/Lebanon's Foreign Ministry is taking steps to refute Israel's claim about Block 9 oil field reaching to the international law and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), al-Joumhouria daily reported on Friday.
“The ministry has issued a letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations in March, 2017 announcing that Block 9 is located within Lebanese territorial waters and that Lebanon affirms its right to launch the process of contracting, exploration and extraction without the prior consent of anyone," sources from the Foreign Ministry told the daily. "The Ministry has sent another similar letter in January, 2018,” they stressed on condition of anonymity. On Israel's construction of a cement separation wall, the sources said: “Lebanon stands against the construction of a separation wall between Lebanon and occupied Palestine especially that Israel is building it in 13 disputed points, pending the final demarcation of the borders by the United Nations,” the sources told the daily. “Lebanon holds its rights on its own land and sea," they emphasized. The Foreign Ministry insists that Lebanon adheres to its right assuring that there will be no compromises, “Lebanon retains the right to retaliate against any Israeli aggression by all available means,” even if it has to sue it, they said. Israel has in recent days escalated its threats against Lebanon over Lebanon's invitation for offshore gas exploration bids on the maritime border with Israel. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has described as "very provocative" Lebanon's exploration tender and suggested that Lebanon had put out invitations for bids from international groups for a gas field "which is by all accounts ours." Israel has also started to build a controversial separation border wall that Lebanon says would encroach on its territory. The Law of the Sea Convention defines the rights and responsibilities of nations with respect to their use of the world's oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources.

Qabalan Calls for Campaign to Support Lebanon's Oil Extraction Rights

Naharnet /February 09/18/The deputy head of the Higher Shiite Islamic Council, Sheikh Abdul Amir Qabalan voiced calls to launch vigorous campaigns to support Lebanon's right to extract its oil, preserve its borders and sovereignty following Israel's threats against the country, the National News Agency reported on Friday. “Israel's construction of a cement wall constitutes a new aggression against Lebanon adding to the series of repeated Zionist violations of Lebanon's sovereignty. Thereforeو the Lebanese at all levels are required to confront this arrogance and adhere to the golden formula (Army, People, Resistance) that protected Lebanon and liberated its land,” said Qabalan. He said the Lebanese must “launch a campaign” to support Lebanon's right to extract its oil and preserve its borders and sovereignty by “mobilizing Lebanon's international and regional relations to serve the interests of their homeland.”Qabalan also hailed the overall agreement between Lebanon's officials and their will to overcome difficulties in reference to a political spat between Foreign Minister Jebran and Speaker Nabih Berri. He said “national solidarity” between Lebanese politicians is necessary to be able to confront Israel's threats and preserve the country.

Several Lebanese, Syrians Injured in Koura Town Brawl
Naharnet /February 09/18/Several Lebanese and Syrian citizens were injured Thursday in a brawl in the Koura District town of Batroumine, the National News Agency said. “Clashes and fistfights erupted between them in the same building following acts of provocation,” NNA said. It added that an unknown individual had fired gunshots during the incident. Security forces have since intervened to contain the situation and arrest the culprits.

Bassil: Oil today, more achievements tomorrow!
Fri 09 Feb 2018/NNA - "Through faith in our heritage and our land, we have preserved our deep roots, which are further strengthened through belief in our wealth and energies. Oil today, more achievements tomorrow!" said Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Minister Gebran Bassil via Twitter on Friday.
He added that the lesson derived on Saint Maroun's Day is "past struggle, ongoing effort and future survival."

Riachi announces Abi Lamaa's candidacy, urges citizens to vote for human dignity, freedom, combating corruption
Fri 09 Feb 2018/NNA - Information Minister Melhem Riachi presented Friday Eddy Abi Lamaa as the Lebanese Forces Party's electoral candidate for the Maronite Seat in the Northern Metn District. In a meeting with media representatives at his Khenshara Residence this morning, Riachi pointed to the joint efforts exerted for a mutual national cause related to Lebanon and its liberties.Riachi highlighted Abi Lamaa's national attributes and long struggle for the sake of the nation, its freedom, liberty, and preserving citizens' right to differ while maintaining respect and reverence for one another.
The Information Minister seized the opportunity to call on the Lebanese to vote for combating corruption, and for preserving human liberty and dignity in the upcoming elections. In turn, Candidate Abi Lamaa stressed on the Lebanese Forces Party's main project of building an actual State with central authority and the exclusive right to weapons in the country.

One killed, two injured in Ain elHilweh clashes

Fri 09 Feb 2018/NNA - The armed clashes in Ain el-Helweh Refugee Camp this evening resulted in the death of Abdel Rahim Bassam al-Maqdah and the wounding of Mohammed Jamal Hamad and Ali Sleiman, while Lebanese-Palestinian contacts are underway to restore calm to the neighborhood, NNA correspondent reported.

Machnouk welcomes US mediation during talks with Satterfield: Lebanon upholds its right to land and sea
Fri 09 Feb 2018/NNA - Interior and Municipalities Minister Nuhad al-Machnouk welcomed Friday the United States' mediation to resolve Lebanon's maritime and land border dispute with Israel during a meeting with US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield, in the presence of US Ambassador Elizabeth Richard. Machnouk stressed Lebanon's right to its territorial waters and oil, rejecting any attempt by the Israeli enemy to take over any part of its land or sea. During the encounter, both men tackled the content of the US mediation and solution, whereby the Interior Minister welcomed "the American role in reaching a solution to this dispute," ruling out the possibility of a military confrontation. In turn, Satterfield stressed "the United States' insistence on the success of the Rome-2 Conference in support of the Lebanese Amy and Internal Security Forces."

Sleiman Frangieh says his son's candidacy does not mean he will be away from politics
Fri 09 Feb 2018/NNA - Marada Leader MP Sleiman Frangieh said that the candidacy of his son during the upcoming legislative elections does not mean that he will be away from politics. "Nominating Tony Frangieh for the upcoming parliamentary elections doesn't mean I will be distant from politics. I will always be by your side and at the head of this political responsibility," MP Frangieh said during the Party's annual dinner. Frangieh also noted that the new electoral law was quite complicated, but pledged to work to fill the gaps through good organization within his political group. "We will support our allies in a fair and well-studied manner, giving our preferential votes within our electoral list," he said. The MP deemed that the election results depended on the alliances. "We have allies in all regions, our situation is excellent and we are strong, thanks to you," he concluded, addressing Marada partisans and supporters.

Geagea: Lebanese government must seriously contemplate US Envoy's solutions
Fri 09 Feb 2018/NNA - Lebanese Forces Chief Samir Geagea and Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield met Friday in Maarab for nearly an hour and a half, during which they discussed the disputed maritime and land territories between Lebanon and Israel. "It is essential that the cabinet takes a serious look at the solutions proposed by the American Envoy, in order to reach an agreement that would safeguard our rights and open new horizons for the future," Geagea pointed out after meeting Satterfield. The LF Chief deemed that Lebanese parties should work to preserve the rights of Lebanon, whether on its soil or in its water, without giving the opportunity to a foreign party to take advantage of the controversial areas with Israel and use it in cases that have nothing to do with Lebanon.Geagea also noted that the U.S. Envoy proposed some solutions to the disputed issue during his talks with President Michel Aoun, Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil.

Italy Mulls Postponement of Donor Conference for Lebanon 09th February 2018/Italy is mulling the postponement of the conference that was set to take place this month in Rome in support of Lebanon, LBCI reported.The TV channel has learned that the Rome II conference, which is scheduled for February 28 and is aimed at providing support for the Lebanese Army and security forces, will likely be deferred as several Gulf donor countries, notably Saudi Arabia, have informed Italy that they will not attend.

Ministry Provides Cover for Hezbollah's Illicit Activities 09th February 2018/Residents of the Chouf town of Al-Rmeileh were surprised to find out that a technical team had been working to extend a telecoms network belonging to Hezbollah without informing or getting the auhorization of either the town's municipality or the region's dignitaries. According to information obtained by the Kataeb website, the Ministry of Energy was working on the installation of water pipes in said town when a second supply line was found extended. "When we sought clarifications about it, we were told that a party official had asked that this supply line won't be touched," Kataeb politburo member Rita Boulos said. "The Ministry of Energy is fully aware of this issue. Members of the technical team in charge of the water pipes installation confirmed that the second supply line belongs to Hezbollah and made it clear that it should not be touched as per instructions given to them by the Ministry," she added.
Syria and Lebanon: Confusion & Mixed Signals
Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Al Awsat/February 09/18
Several developments took place in the Arab World last week, reflecting the danger behind misreading both regional and international changes. That has been especially the case in Syria and Lebanon, where local players have been confused in reading the situations and positioning themselves… from Sochi to Beirut! To begin, the Syrian opposition was shocked by the UN’s official endorsement of the ‘Sochi Conference’ against the background of clear Russian ‘messages’. Regardless of the justifications for the endorsement through the attendance of the UN’s Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, it simply appears to undermine the ‘Geneva Peace Process’. We need to remember that Moscow started its attempts to wreck the Syrian uprising as well as all the international community’s initiatives through a series of ‘vetoes’. Those were soon followed by re-arming the Damascus regime, and later backing it by a de facto occupation and active combat engagement. Meanwhile, on the political front, after cowing and blackmailing Turkey, Moscow launched with Iranian and Turkish participation ‘The Astana Talks’ with an intention to marginalize the independent political opposition while giving more say to armed groups dependent on the talks’ three sponsors, i.e. Iran, Turkey and Russia.
Indeed, the talks became the first practical alternative to the ‘Geneva Peace Process’; and Moscow called for them after exploiting Tehran’s and Ankara’s common worries about Washington’s strong support of secessionist Kurds under the pretext of fighting ISIS. Later, noticing Washington’s turning against the Syrian uprising and the ‘Free Syrian Army’, while keener than ever to divide and destroy the Syrian opposition, Moscow decided to finish off the uprising in Sochi. This is the reality of what took place in Sochi where the UN, actually, conspired against its own Security Council resolutions.
So it has become absurd to continue talking of “Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”, not only in the light of uprooting, displacement and ‘demographic engineering’, but also as one looks as dividing the cake on Syrian soil. The coastal mountainous area is now under Russian control, and the border sector west of the Euphrates River extending from the borders of Turkey’s Hatay province to the town of Jarablus on the Euphrates is an area Turkey wants under its own wings; and while Washington continues to oversee with its Kurdish ‘allies’ the affairs east of the Euphrates, the Damascus regime – supported by Iran’s militias – controls the major cities, leaving ISIS and other small and dubious militias spread out in scattered places.
However, the fate of one part of Syria, which is the southern tip of the country, remains undecided. It is engulfed by an uneasy silence only broken by Israeli military operations or weirdly conceived and timed factional skirmishes, as well as hints by Israel that it will not allow Iran and Hezbollah to threaten its security.
As for Lebanon, it is well-known that the Syrian-Lebanese border has technically ceased to exist during the last couple of decades, which has allowed Hezbollah to fight in Syria. Two important factors have made the task of Hezbollah, which is Iran’s political and military wing in Lebanon, easy: 1- The fact that the Syrian regime is a vital link in Iran’s expansionist strategy, cutting through the Arab world towards the Mediterranean Sea. 2- That Hezbollah has been enjoying an effective Christian ‘cover’, represented by its alliance with President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, the most extreme of Lebanon’s Christian parties; as well as the expressed position of the Syrian and Lebanese Christian clergy that any alternative to Assad’s regime would be worse.
These two factors not only helped the cause of Hezbollah, but also Iran’s, especially after the ‘emergence’ of extremist terrorist groups like ISIS and Al-Nusra Front in many parts of Syria; and rush of some Sunni regional ‘players’ to back them before changing their mind. However, this change only took place after weakening the genuine moderate armed opposition groups.
Meanwhile, the picture in southern Syria was becoming increasingly complicated, following Israel’s threats of military action to prevent Iran from establishing itself in Syria, and thwarting Hezbollah’s attempts of turning south Lebanon into a ‘missile factory’. Still, this situation did not prevent Lebanon’s foreign minister Jebran Bassil from launching his own ‘war’ against Speaker Nabih Berri, the leader of Amal Movement which is Hezbollah’s main Shi’ite ally. The timing of this ‘war’ is understandable. Bassil, President Aoun’s son-in-law and the head of the FPM, is preparing for the coming parliamentary elections; noting that the ‘Aounists’ have always used the election season to outbid their Christian rivals and claim that they alone defend Christian rights and privileges. The ‘Aounists’ agitated and claimed ‘martyrdom’ in 2005, then incited against and ‘demonized’ the Future Movement in particular and Sunni Muslims in general in 2009. Then, since 2011, went even further by accusing them of being ISIS sympathizers, only as a means to justify their support for Hezbollah and Iran’s fighting in Syria.
What is new, however, this time around is the probable change in how the ‘Aounists’ are reading the local and regional situation. Washington now seems to be more serious about confronting Hezbollah than it was during the ‘Iran appeasement days’ of Barack Obama. Israel too, in its attempts to bury any peace deals with the Palestinians, looks as if it is willing to go to war against Iran; at least, with the objective of securing its own ‘sector of influence’ in the future map of Syria and the Fertile Crescent, keeping in mind that southern Syria remains the only part not yet reserved for any major power in the de facto partition of the war-torn country.
This area borders Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in the west, and further, across Mount Herman, South Lebanon that includes the ‘Shi’ite Corridor’ which connects Lebanon’s two major Shi’ite strongholds in the Bekaa and the South. Both Hezbollah and Amal know why the ‘Aounists’ – including Bassil – allied themselves with them; and in return, Hezbollah rewarded the ‘Aounists’ by imposing Aoun as president. The difference between the two major Shi’ite parties, in this regard is quite simple: Amal is basically a ‘Lebanese’ organization whose leader (Speaker Berri) is an ‘Arabist’ who has never trusted or liked Aoun; while Hezbollah which is merely an Iranian tool, has forged its alliance with the extreme Christian party in order to be Tehran’s cover and ‘Trojan Horse’ within the Christian communities in the Middle East. Last week, Mr. Bassil decided to incite the Christians again, and exploit an agitated Christian street against Speaker Berri, partly as a test for Hezbollah’s preferences and priorities; although, even before accusing Berri of being a thug and threatening to ‘break his head’ Bassil made some tacit media criticism against Hezbollah itself. Bassil, thus, may be trying to cut loose, and distance himself and the FPM from the two Shi’ite parties; but if this was his intention, he may be making a very risky and dangerous gamble, recalling that over-reliance on Washington and Tel Aviv is perhaps even more risky and dangerous.

UN Warned to Stop Giving Hezbollah Free Rein in Lebanon
Fox News/Friday 09th February 2018
A new warning on Iran’s destabilizing behavior in Lebanon was sent to the United Nations Secretary General and Security Council. The letter, which has been seen by Fox News, warned of the consequences of leaving Hezbollah’s actions unchecked by the U.N.  The letter was written by Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Danny Danon, and was shown to Fox News by a U.N. diplomat. It warns that continued inaction by the U.N. and the Lebanese government will lead to Iran and its U.S. designated terrorist organization, Hezbollah, further disrupting the region.
The two-page letter describes a recent visit by a senior Iranian official, Ayatollah Ebrahim Raisi, to the Lebanese/Israeli border where he was escorted by Hezbollah officials who were uniformed and armed — which is a blatant violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. The visit took place within a U.N. buffer zone free of any armed personnel. The letter refers to pictures on social media showing Raisi inspecting Hezbollah military sites.
The letter reports that he made provocative comments about the imminent liberation of Jerusalem, and thanked Hezbollah for its “stand against the Zionist regime.” The letter states in part, “ I write, once again, to alert you and members of the Security Council to the dangerous and destabilizing actions taken by Hezbollah, the internationally recognized terrorist organization that serves as an Iranian proxy in our region.”
The letter continues, “This visit by Raisi and these other instances are not only blatant violations of Security Council resolutions, but are also further proof of Iranian attempts to destabilize our entire region. These Iranian efforts not only threaten Israelis, but also directly endanger the citizens of Lebanon by putting them on the frontlines where they are sure to pay a painful price resulting from possible future escalations.”
Also mentioned in the letter are other visits by senior Iran-supported Shiite groups from Syria and Iraq, including a militia controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The letter makes the point that such visits seem to support a speech given by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah last summer where he stated that the next war with Israel “could see thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of fighters from all over the Arab and Islamic world (coming) to participate — from Iraq, Yemen, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.”Danon emphasizes in the letter that the visit by Raisi took place in an area controlled by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). The Israeli ambassador’s letter says that while Hezbollah violations continue, they’ve yet to see any response from UNIFIL. This despite the fact that the U.N. force is obligated under U.N. resolutions to report such violations. Danon’s letter lists 356 such violations between October 2017 and December 2017.
Ayatollah Sayyed Ebrahim Raisi, a member of Iran's Assembly of Experts who is thought to be the designated successor of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, visited Lebanon and Syria at the end of January 2018.
During the tour, Raisi stated that "Jerusalem's liberation is near.""Thanks to the resistance movement, Palestine has so far succeeded in withstanding Israel, and they [the Palestinians] have learned that it is fighting and steadfastness, not the negotiating tables, that determine the fate of their country," he was quoted as saying. Raisi also commended Hezbollah on its efforts to strengthen Islamic culture in Lebanon.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 08-09/18
More on US strike: Russians who laid Euphrates bridge among targets
DEBKAfile/February 09/18/US F-15 fighters, Apache helicopters, heavy artillery and special ops forces took part Thursday, Feb. 8 in the early morning attack against pro-Assad, Hizballah and Shiite forces who were crossing the Euphrates to eastern Syria. DEBKAfile’s exclusive sources report that the US special operations forces posted on the river’s east bank saw a Russian team of military engineers laying a floating bridge across the river 8km north of Deir ez-Zour. Around 500 Syrian commandos, Hizballah and Shiite militiamen, under Iranian command, were sighted about to make the crossing. US jets and helicopters went into action when the crossing began, destroying the bridge. US special operations waiting on the eastern bank wiped out the Syrian allied force as it landed, as well the the bridgehead they had started setting up. US-led coalition spokesmen estimated that up to 100 Syrian and Hizballah fighters lost their lives in the engagement, possibly including some Russians. There were no American casualties. Read the earlier DEBKAfile exclusive report on the two fronts opened up by US special operations forces in Syria.
Turkey resumes its strikes on Kurdish militia targets in Syria
Arab News/February 09/18/ISTANBUL: Turkish warplanes hit Kurdish YPG militia targets in Syria’s Afrin region, the army said on Friday, and a monitoring group reported that seven fighters and two civilians were killed in strikes. The overnight attacks came after a lull in Turkish air strikes following the shooting down of a Russian warplane elsewhere in Syria last weekend. The air strikes destroyed 19 targets including ammunition depots, shelters and gun positions, the armed forces said in a statement without specifying when the raids were conducted. The raids began at midnight, state-run Anadolu news agency said. Seven YPG fighter and two civilians were killed in the strikes, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based group that monitors the war in Syria. Turkey had halted air strikes as Russia worked on its air defense system in the wake of the shooting down by Syrian rebels of a Russian warplane in Idlib province on February 3, Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper reported. Ankara launched an air and ground offensive in Afrin on January 20 against the YPG, which it views as a terrorist group and an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that has waged a three-decade insurgency on Turkish soil. Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by telephone on Thursday and agreed to strengthen military and security service coordination in Syria, according to the Kremlin. The YPG and its allies have set up three autonomous cantons in the north, including Afrin, since the Syrian conflict began in 2011.Their territory has expanded since they joined forces with the US to fight Daesh militants — although Washington opposes their autonomy plans, as does Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government. US support for the Kurdish-led forces has infuriated Turkey, which views growing Kurdish power as a security threat along its frontier.

Macron Urges Putin To Help End Civilian Suffering In Syria
Arab News/February 09/18/JEDDAH: French President Emmanuel Macron urged his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Friday to help ease civilian suffering caused by Syrian regime attacks on opposition positions. In a telephone call, the French leader “asked Vladimir Putin to do everything so that the Syrian regime puts an end to the unbearable deterioration in the humanitarian situation in Eastern Ghouta and Idlib,” a statement said. The opposition blamed Moscow, President Bashar Assad’s most powerful ally, for playing a dubious role. “There are parties in the Syrian conflict that are not interested in finding any solution or any decrease in tensions. Russia has taken the UN Security Council hostage without permitting any sort of penalty or punishment for the regime or stoppage of its violent raids,” Yahya Al-Aridi, opposition spokesman, told Arab News. Russia, he said, is participating with its jets in attacks on markets and hospitals where civilians are being killed in their hundreds. “What we can do is once again call on the international community to stand up to the implementation of UN resolutions and stop aggressors from carrying out such brutal acts against civilians.” Russia has intervened alongside Syrian regime forces in the civil war and Putin is seen as the foreign leader with the most influence over Assad. Fresh airstrikes hit the opposition enclave of Eastern Ghouta on Friday, AFP correspondents reported, the fifth straight day in a bombing campaign that has killed more than 220 civilians. Macron added that he was “worried about indications suggesting the possible use of chlorine on several occasions against the civilian population in Syria these last few weeks.” Al-Aridi said: “With the situation turning into an international case, all sorts of conflicting interests are being settled in the Syrian arena. Russia is angry with the US. They just use the Syrian arena to settle such accounts with no attention being paid to civilians.”Diplomacy is making no progress toward ending a war that is approaching its eighth year, having killed hundreds of thousands of people and forced half the pre-war Syrian population of 23 million from their homes, with millions forced out as refugees. “We are very worried. The airstrikes need to end,” French Defense Minister Florence Parly said on France Inter radio. “Civilians are the targets, in Idlib and in the east of Damascus. This fighting is absolutely unacceptable.”
Russia said on Thursday a cease-fire was unrealistic. The UN called on Tuesday for a humanitarian truce of at least one month to allow for aid deliveries and evacuations of the wounded. In the north-western province of Idlib, Daesh terrorists clashed with Syrian insurgent factions on Friday, an opposition commander said, accusing pro-regime forces of opening a corridor for the radical militants to reach the region. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime forces had allowed the Daesh fighters to leave a besieged pocket of territory at the intersection of Aleppo, Idlib and Hama provinces, and to go to southern Idlib. Al-Aridi said: “We believe that the coordination between Daesh and regime forces has been going on for a long time.” He cited the example of Palmyra which was first taken by Daesh and then given back to the regime. “Many a time, Daesh fighters have been given protection or corridors by the regime to attack the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and civilians. This is done in order to reduce the degree of attention on the regime’s crimes, he said. “In Idlib too, the regime has opened a corridor in order to put the FSA face to face with Daesh and let the Daesh fighter do all sorts of atrocities against civilians.” Hasan Hajj Ali, commander of the Free Idlib Army, said his fighters were taking part in clashes with some 200 Daesh terrorists who had arrived in southern Idlib early on Friday. “This morning at dawn we were surprised by the joint treachery by the regime and Daesh,” he told Reuters. Al-Aridi said the opposition has been calling on the UN to stop the carnage in Eastern Ghouta. “The Syrian Negotiation Commission (SNC) had a meeting with Staffan de Mistura, UN special envoy (for Syria), on Feb. 7 where the issue was discussed and the Security Council will also be updated next week,” he said. “But every minute counts in Syria and Syrian time is blood.”

Trump tells Israel peace means compromise; US envoy under fire
Arab News/February 09/18/JERUSALEM: US President Donald Trump told Israel on Friday that it too would need to make “significant compromises” for peace with the Palestinians, even as they accused one of his Middle East envoys of bogging down diplomacy with what they see as pro-Israel bias.
The Palestinians were outraged by Trump’s Dec. 6 recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, a move overturning decades of US reticence on the city’s status, and say they are looking at additional world powers as potential mediators. In an interview with an Israeli newspaper that was excerpted ahead of its full publication on Sunday, Trump described his Jerusalem move as a “high point” of his first year in office. The language of Trump’s announcement did not rule out a presence in Jerusalem for the Palestinians, who want the eastern part of the city — captured by Israel in a 1967 war and annexed in a move not recognized internationally — as their own capital. “I wanted to make clear that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Regarding specific borders, I will grant my support to what the two sides agree between themselves,” he told the conservative Israel Hayom daily, in remarks published in Hebrew.
“I think that both sides will have to make significant compromises in order for achieving a peace deal to be possible,” Trump added, without elaborating. The interview coincided with fresh strains between the Palestinians and the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, following the killing by a Palestinian of a Jewish settler. After the settler was stabbed to death on Monday, Friedman tweeted that he had previously donated an ambulance to the slain man’s community and that he was praying for the next-of-kin, adding: “Palestinian ‘leaders’ have praised the killer.”That drew a rebuke from the Palestinian administration.
“The American ambassador’s statements make us wonder about his relationship with the occupation,” Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas, said in a statement. “Is he representing America or Israel?““Friedman’s recommendations and advice, which do not aim to achieve a just peace on the basis of international legitimacy, are what led to this crisis in American-Palestinian relations,” Abu Rdainah said. Friedman, among the top Trump advisers who promoted the Jerusalem move, is a former contributor to settler causes. In addition to East Jerusalem, Palestinians want the occupied West Bank for a future state and see Israel’s Jewish settlements there as a major obstacle. Israel disputes this. Most world powers deem the settlements illegal, but the Trump administration has taken a softer tack. A liberal Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, published a column criticizing Friedman’s stance and dubbing the settlement he had supported as “a mountain of curses” — a play on its Hebrew name, Har Bracha, which means “Mount Blessing.” The ambassador took the unusual step of firing back at the daily in another tweet on Friday: “Four young children are sitting shiva (Jewish mourning rite) for their murdered father .... Have they (Haaretz) no decency?“Haaretz’s publisher, Amos Shocken, responded over the platform with a critique that echoed Palestinian complaints. “As long as the policy of Israel that your Government and yourself support is obstructing (the) peace process ... there will be more Shivas,” Shocken tweeted.

Iran’s Khamenei Calls on Officials to Combat Corruption
Asharq Al Awsat/February 09/18/Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei described corruption in Iran as a “seven-headed dragon”, calling on Iranian officials to combat and cut off its head in the regime. Khamenei claimed that the reason why “enemies” are rounding up on Iran is to prevent it from reaping the rewards of the Iranian revolution. In defining the word “enemies”, he said that it included people whose governments were ousted by the revolution. The supreme leader made his statements in a speech before a gathering of the Iranian Air Force and Air Defense personnel. In addition, he defended his country’s role in the region, saying that the US attempted to eliminate the resistance, but it failed and will continue to fail. Khamenei criticized also criticized Washington’s claims that Iran was sending ballistic missiles to Houthis in Yemen. This marked the first time that he comments on accusations that Tehran was dispatching arms to its militias. Referring to US President Donald Trump’s admission that Washington itself had created and supported ISIS, Khamenei said that the terrorist group probably received training on violent and barbaric methods by US contractors, such as Blackwater. He also tackled the latest protests that swept more than 80 Iranian cities, saying that the “enemy is bent on confronting the regime by any means.”He noted that apart from the cyberspace, the enemy resorted to sanctions to impact the Iranian people’s lives. He stated however that they have failed to weaken their faith in the revolution.

Arab League Calls for Support of Countries Hosting Syrian Refugees
Asharq Al Awsat/February 09/18/The Economic and Social Council of the Arab League has urged the international community to provide the necessary support to Arab countries hosting displaced Syrians, saying the implementation of development projects could limit the burden of the refugees.It made a recommendation in this regard to the Council of the Arab League that is set to meet in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia next month. The Economic Council’s 10th round, which met at the Arab League headquarters under Sudan’s chairmanship in Cairo, said in its closing statement that Arab, regional and international funds should help the Arab counties that are hosting Syrian refugees. Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit told the Council’s opening session that the meeting came at a “sensitive time for the Arab nation.” “Challenges and threats are coming from everywhere,” he said.
The Arab region is suffering from a severe food shortage, he said, adding that “it’s the only region that witnessed a rise in famine and poverty in the past years.”“Arabs represent five percent of the world population, yet they only receive one percent of the world’s freshwater, and 40 percent of them live in areas of drought,” said Aboul Gheit. The current challenges should compel Arab countries to unite and move towards a more prosperous future for the generations to come, he told the Council.

Qaeda Trying to Regroup in Tunisia after ISIS Setbacks
Asharq Al Awsat/February 09/18/The killing of a senior Algerian militant by special forces soon after he slipped into Tunisia has raised concern that al-Qaeda is trying to regroup in the North African state as rival ISIS has suffered major setbacks, security sources say. Last month, Tunisian special forces killed Bilel Kobi, a top aide to Abdelmalek Droukdel, better known as Abu Musab Abdul Wadud, the leader of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), in a mountainous region along the Tunisian-Algerian border. Kobi was on an apparent mission to reunite splinter groups of al-Qaeda fighters in Tunisia, putting the army on alert for more infiltrations, a senior Tunisian security source told Reuters. AQIM was the dominant militant force in North Africa, staging several high-profile deadly attacks until 2013 when it fractured as many militants flocked to the more extremist ISIS as it seized territory in Iraq, Syria and Libya.
ISIS became a major recruiter for disaffected, often unemployed young men especially from Tunisia, where poverty has spread since the uprising that toppled Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 and induced protracted turmoil. But ISIS's appeal has waned since it lost all its territorial strongholds in neighbouring Libya as well as in Iraq and Syria to counter-offensives by security forces, with fighters returning home or looking for new causes to join. That has prompted AQIM to try to lure new talent from among ISIS veterans, two Tunisian security sources told Reuters. "Al-Qaeda wants to invest in a recent decline of ISIS to reorganize and re-emerge as it seeks to restructure especially in Algeria, Libya and Tunisia by naming new local leaders on the ground," one of the security sources said. Kobi was not the only senior militant sent to reorganize al-Qaeda in Tunisia. Hamza al-Nimr, an Algerian who joined al-Qaeda in 2003, was dispatched to lead a cell in Tunisia but was killed with Kobi in the same operation, Tunisian security sources say.Beefed up by Western countries, Tunisia's security forces have managed to pre-empt any major attack since an ISIS militant shot dead 39 foreigners on a Mediterranean beach in June 2015, but authorities remain on alert. Hundreds of Tunisians have joined militant groups abroad but it is unclear how many have returned as significant numbers of them were killed in Syria combat and elsewhere, officials say. AQIM has remained active in North Africa's largely desert and often scarcely governed Sahel region, such as in Mali where it focused its activities after ISIS emerged in force to the north in Libya and Tunisia. AQIM's Tunisian branch, called Okba Ibn Nafaa, is fractured into four groups based in the remote, northwestern Kasserine and Kef mountains region near Algeria. Their command structure is dominated by Algerians while a rival group loosely associated with ISIS based in the same region is run by Tunisians, Tunisian security sources say. Kobi, among others before, had been sent to bring the al-Qaeda spinoff groupings back together, they said. "Okba has dozens of fighters; each group is comprised of up to 20 terrorists," one Tunisian source said. Okba had targeted police and army forces, he said, unlike the ISIS focus on killing civilians, such as on the Sousse beach. Tunisia is monitoring the border in close cooperation with Algeria, which prides itself in having prevented any attack since a veteran AQIM commander, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, claimed a strike on a desert natural gas plant in 2013. There are indications of AQIM fighters trying to cross into Tunisia as Algeria's army has cracked down on AQIM in the past two weeks, killing eight militants east of the capital Algiers and then the group's media chief a few days later."AQIM is in decline (in Algeria), it can't restructure or redeploy here," an Algerian security source said. But a Tunisian security source said a regional AQIM commander remained in eastern Algeria intent on revamping the organization across North Africa, not just in Tunisia.

France Calls for Humanitarian Corridors in Syria as Death Toll in Ghouta Mounts
Asharq Al Awsat/February 09/18/France called on Friday for the opening of humanitarian corridors in Syria as a monitor announced that the shelling of the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta enclave has been the worst in three years. French Defense Minister Florence Parly demanded an end to air strikes, saying it was unacceptable that civilians were being targeted. “We are very worried. The air strikes need to end,” Parly said on France Inter radio. She highlighted the fighting in rebel-held areas of Idlib province and eastern Damascus, where waves of Syrian regime and Russian strikes have killed dozens of civilians in recent days. “Civilians are the targets, in Idlib and in the east of Damascus. This fighting is absolutely unacceptable,” she added. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights meanwhile said that Eastern Ghouta, a Damascus suburb, has suffered its bloodiest week since 2015 as a result of regime bombardment, with 229 people killed in the last four days. “During the past four days 229 people were killed in Eastern Ghouta villages, including 58 children and 43 women,” Rami Abdulrahman, the head of the Britain-based war monitor, told Reuters. The Syrian war, now entering its eighth year, has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven more than 11 million from their homes, while drawing in regional countries and global powers supporting client factions on the ground. Parly did not specify who was carrying out the strikes. Her comments came after the United Nations on Tuesday called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Syria of at least a month. UN war crimes experts have also said they are investigating several reports of bombs allegedly containing chlorine gas being used against civilians. Russia said on Thursday that a ceasefire was unrealistic. Standing beside Russian President Vladimir Putin last summer, French leader Emmanuel Macron said any failure to open humanitarian corridors in Syria represented a “red line”, as did the use of chemical weapons. France and the United Nations have repeatedly called in past months for the opening of aid corridors to alleviate the humanitarian crisis. The Paris government has also urged Moscow in private to consider ways to alleviate the crisis, but those efforts have not materialized into results on the ground.
France’s foreign minister is due in Russia before the end of February.

Egypt begins security operation against ‘terrorists’, closes Gaza border
Reuters, Cairo/Friday, 9 February 2018/Egypt on Friday launched a major security operation involving the army and police against “terrorist and criminal elements and organizations” across the country, the army spokesman said. The army spokesman said the operation covers areas in Sinai, the Delta and the Western Desert and it follows a three-month deadline set by President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi to crush a years-long Islamist insurgency. “The law enforcement forces began this morning implementing the comprehensive confrontation against the terrorist and criminal elements and organizations in northern and central Sinai,” an army spokesman said in a televised statement.
Operational and training maneuvers
The army spokesman said the operation will involve operational and training maneuvers to tighten state control on the country's crossing points with neighboring countries, and urged full cooperation with the law enforcement forces involved in the operation. Residents reported hearing extensive air activities above the Suez Canal city of Ismailia, which is close to the area of operations in northern and central Sinai. Security forces have for years battled an ISIS insurgency in North Sinai that has killed hundreds of soldiers and police. The militants have expanded their targets to include civilians over the last year or so.
Closing the Gaza border
Egypt closed its border on Friday with the Gaza Strip, Palestinian officials said, after Cairo launched a major operation against jihadists in the Sinai Peninsula. The head of Hamas, the Islamist group which runs Gaza, was however permitted to travel to Cairo for talks before the border was closed a day earlier than planned. Friday was supposed to be the final of a three-day border opening for humanitarian cases from Gaza, the first time the Rafah border crossing with Egypt had been open in 2018. “The Rafah border was closed today due to the security situation in Sinai, we were informed by the Egyptian authorities,” said Saleh al-Zaq, head of the civil affairs committee which controls the borders. Hamas leader Ismail Haniya crossed the border to Cairo for talks with Egyptian leaders before Rafah was closed, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said. He said the talks would include an Egyptian-brokered reconciliation deal between Hamas and rival Palestinian movement Fatah that has faltered, with multiple deadlines missed. It was believed to be Haniya’s first trip outside Gaza since the United States included him on its terror blacklist last month.- With AFP

At least two killed, 37 wounded by twin mosque bombing in Libya’s Benghazi
The Associated Press, Benghazi/Friday, 9 February 2018/Libyan officials say twin bomb explosions at a mosque in the city of Benghazi have killed at least two people and wounded 75 others. Motaz Agouri, an official at Benghazi security directorate's media office, said the explosion took place during Friday prayers inside the Saad Ibn Ibada mosque in Benghazi's busy Berka district. Agouri said the bombs were planted in separate rooms inside the mosque. The devices appear to have been activated remotely using a mobile phone, one military source said. In January, a twin car bombing near a mosque in Benghazi’s Salmani neighborhood killed at least 33 people. Benghazi has seen often seen fighting between forces loyal to the self-styled Libyan National Army and Islamist militia opponents. Libya descended into chaos after the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed ruler Muammar Gadhafi. The country has been since split between rival governments and militias. Earlier last month, Benghazi also witnessed a car bomb which led to the death of atleast 35 people and left more than 70 others wounded. The explosives-rigged vehicle blew up in front of a mosque in the central neighborhood of Al-Sleimani, a security source said. With Reuters. French Defense Minister Florence Parly on Friday called for an end to air strikes in Syria and the opening of humanitarian corridors, saying it was unacceptable that civilians were being targeted. Parly highlighted the fighting in rebel-held areas of Idlib province and eastern Damascus, where waves of Syrian government and Russian strikes have killed dozens of civilians in recent days. “We are very worried. The air strikes need to end,” Parly said on France Inter radio. “Civilians are the targets, in Idlib and in the east of Damascus. This fighting is absolutely unacceptable,” she added.
Hundreds killed
The Syrian civil war, now entering its eighth year, has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven more than 11 million from their homes, while drawing in regional countries and global powers supporting client factions on the ground. Parly did not specify who was carrying out the strikes.
Her comments came after the United Nations on Tuesday called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Syria of at least a month. UN war crimes experts have also said they are investigating several reports of bombs allegedly containing chlorine gas being used against civilians. Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad whose military support has helped government forces claw back territory, on Thursday said a ceasefire was unrealistic. Standing beside Russian President Vladimir Putin last summer, French leader Emmanuel Macron said any failure to open humanitarian corridors in Syria represented a “red line”, as did the use of chemical weapons. France and the United Nations have repeatedly called in past months for the opening of aid corridors to alleviate the humanitarian crisis. The Paris government has also urged Moscow in private to consider ways to alleviate the crisis, but those efforts have not materialized into results on the ground. France’s foreign minister is due in Russia before the end of February.

Iraqi Kurds accused of carrying out ‘mass executions’ of ISIS members
AFP, Baghdad/Friday, 9 February 2018/Human Rights Watch on Friday accused Iraqi Kurdish security forces of carrying out mass executions of detainees alleged to be members of ISIS. The watchdog said the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters detained Iraqis and foreigners at a school in Sahel al-Maliha, 70 kilometers northwest of Mosul, from which ISIS was expelled in July. “The evidence suggests that Asayish (Kurdish) security forces conducted mass executions of captured ISIS suspects night after night for a week, perhaps killing scores or even hundreds of male detainees,” said Lama Fakih, HRW’s deputy Middle East director. “Iraqi and KRG (Kurdish Regional Government) authorities should urgently and transparently investigate the allegations of mass executions and hold those responsible to account,” she said in a statement. The executions allegedly occurred between August 28 and September 3.
Questioned about the report by HRW, Iraqi Kurd government official Dindar Zebari denied the accusations. Zebari said that according to the head of the Asayish, the Peshmerga were battling IS on a 71-kilometre front line as the jihadists attempted to flee to Syria. During the clashes, many ISIS and Peshmerga fighters died, and “the corpses of the killed ISIS members in this fighting were probably brought in one place to be buried”, he was quoted as saying. The front line is located about 40 kilometers from the site at which the bodies were found, said HRW, casting doubt on his account. “This explanation does not match the state the bodies were found in, shot in the head” and buried “in a solitary desert area, far from where any fighting had occurred,” said the watchdog.

India’s Modi heads to Palestinian territories to balance ties with Israel
Reuters, The Associated Press, Amman, Jordan, New Delhi/Friday, 9 February 2018/Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is heading to the Palestinian territories and the Gulf countries on Friday to bolster long-standing political and economic ties. India was one of the earliest champions of the Palestinian cause but in recent years turned to Israel for high-tech military equipment and anti-terrorism cooperation. Modi made the first trip to Israel by an Indian prime minister last year followed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to India last month. But Indian officials said India continued to support the Palestinian cause and that Modi's visit is aimed at helping build up the Palestinians' capacity in the health, information technology and education areas. “We have de-hyphenated our relations with Palestine and Israel and now we see them both as mutually independent and exclusive and as part of this policy the prime minister is undertaking this visit,” B. Bala Bhaskar, a joint secretary in the Indian foreign ministry, said. The two sides are building a India-Palestinian technology park in Ramallah, the Palestinians’ seat of government, which will develop IT expertise and generate employment. PM Modi, Jordan king discuss Israeli-Palestinian conflict Modi arrived in Jordan on Friday and will travel to Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, on Saturday. Jordan’s King Abdullah II has discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and his role as custodian of major Muslim and Christian shrines in contested Jerusalem with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. A palace statement says the two met on Friday, a day before Modi’s first-ever visit to the West Bank. Modi tweeted on Friday that he is looking forward to talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and “reaffirming our support for the Palestinian people and the development of Palestine.”During his visit to Israel last year, he did not travel to the Palestinian headquarters as is usually the case with visiting leaders. India was among more than 120 countries to vote in favor of a resolution in December calling for the United States to drop its recent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. But the scale of India's security and commercial ties with Israel dwarfs the engagement with the Palestinians. Modi will also travel to the United Arab Emirates, and to Oman. The Gulf is home to nine million Indians who remit $35 billion home each year, sustaining millions of families. The UAE committed an investment of $75 billion in India when Modi visited in 2015 and the two sides will be looking to advance that goal, the foreign ministry said.

Congress Passes Spending Bill, Sends to Trump to End Shutdown
Associated Press/Naharnet /February 09/18/The US Congress passed a crucial federal spending bill Friday after hours of delay, sending the measure to President Donald Trump to end the nation's second government shutdown in three weeks. The House voted 240 to 186 in support of a bipartisan package that extends government funding until March 23 and lifts federal spending limits by nearly $300 billion over the next two years, after the Senate cleared the measure in the middle of the night. Congress had missed a midnight deadline when a conservative senator refused to allow an early vote on the compromise bill, but now a signature by Trump, who supports the deal, will reopen government offices.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 09-10/18
Do We Allow Air India’s Request?

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/February 09/18
Air India’s request to operate flights headed to the West to fly over Saudi Arabia and have a layover in Israel has been fodder for “enemy” media. The media accused Saudi Arabia of allowing the Indians to cross over to the old “enemy” Israel. The concerned side, the Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation, denied the claims and said that it has not approved the decision. Let us observe the situation with some pragmatism from the perspective of international interests and relations. The truth is, there is no strong motivation or political reasoning that would prevent all airlines from around the world, except those from Israel, Qatar and Iran, to fly over Saudi Arabia. The carriers of these countries should be barred from flying over the Kingdom until the dispute with them is resolved. Preserving sovereignty rights includes barring travel through an airspace or averting other forms of potential security disputes that may result from allowing an airline to travel over a country. Our ties with the rest of the countries of the world are good and their civil airlines should be allowed to fly over Saudi Arabia regardless of their destination. If Indian trips were headed to Athens, New York or elsewhere and wanted to stop at an Israeli airport, then why should we punish them with a ban? Israel, not another airline, will meanwhile be forced to shoulder the burden of the added two-hour flight time to take the convoluted route between India and Israel should the airspace ban be imposed..
At any rate, the dispute with Israel is very clear. A country, such as Qatar, which enjoys almost full ties with Israel, should not be dictating to us, through its propaganda machine, how to manage our airspace or territorial waters.
Arab countries have debated at length over the concept of boycott and their concerned institutions have agreed to distinguish between a boycott that harms Israel and a boycott that harms the Arabs. The old concept of a boycott is not limited to besieging Israel. Those who spoke of it were of the Arab left and they also partly advocated banning trade with the West. They had prevented us from importing a majority of electronics, such as Apple and Xerox products. The banned list was compiled by the boycott office in Damascus, which had control over trade in the Gulf. Corruption was rife in those procedures whereby negotiations in the past were limited to governments and institutions that had often abused their power for their own interests. A major campaign was recently successful in redefining the concepts of a boycott and refining blacklists.
When assessing Air India’s request, we should look at the issue as a whole. The Israeli carrier will benefit from the situation and the boycott, even if it will have to fly an additional 2,000 kilometers. No other international airline is willing to go the extra distance. In addition, political work that serves the Palestinians and their cause, loses its tools when it does not have anything to compromise in the crisis. Amid the disputes, wars and enmities, a certain logic always determines how relations and punishments should transpire. Why shouldn’t we therefore tackle each case separately instead of allowing the dogmatic and spiteful sides manipulate us?

Iran: Speaking Swedish, Acting North Korean
Amir Taheri/Asharq Al Awsat/February 09/18
For the past decade February, part of which coincides with the month of Bahman on the Iranian calendar, has been marked by febrile political activities in Iran under the Khomeinist regime. February 1 marks the anniversary of the late ayatollah’s return to Tehran after 16 years in exile. And February 11, regarded as the crescendo of the Iranian Revolution, marks the day that Shapour Bakhtiar, the last Prime Minister to be named by the Shah, went into hiding, leaving a vacuum quickly filled by Khomeini’s supporters visibly surprised by the ease with which they had won power.There were no revolutionary battles, no dramatic ups-and-downs, and, on a personal level, no opportunity for heroic shenanigans. The Khomeinist revolution took around four months to achieve victory, not long enough to allow a lot of people to conjure a heroic biography for themselves. Just a year before the “final victory” on 11 February some of the mullahs who emerged as grandees of the revolution, among them Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati who now heads the all-powerful Council of Guardians of the Islamic Constitution, were kissing the Shah’s hands during audiences for clerics. Other grandees of the revolution like Hojat al-Islam Morteza Motahari were on Empress Farah’s payroll as members of the “philosophical” boutique she had set up as solace from boredom.
The revolution had not lasted long enough to establish its ideological colors.
Pro-Soviet Communists along with kindred Maoists, Castroists, Trotskyites, and Titoists believed that this was their revolution, as did veteran Mossadeqists, westernized Third-Worldists, and mullahs of all shapes and sizes. For the first year the ideological vacuum was filled with the drama around the seizing of American diplomats as hostages. Once the embassy hostage drama had become as a boring as a second-rate TV soap opera, Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein rode to the rescue by invading Iran, helping fill the new Khomeinist regime’s ideological emptiness. In the first two years, the new regime kept the revolutionary temperature up by mass executions, purges of the military and civil service, the squandering of human lives in ineffective maneuvers on the battlefields of Iraq, and the assassination of men that Khomeini regarded as potential threats to his hold on power. Using the Lebanese branch of Hezbollah to seize Western hostages added spice to the bland dish the mullahs served.
With the end of the war and Khomeini’s death, the new regime found itself ideologically naked. Then “Jihad” against the United States was formally adopted as the regime’s core ideology. In that context, adopting an anti-Israeli position was inevitable, if only tangentially. The mullahs forgot that Israel had smuggled arms to them to fight Saddam Hussein, and, in an act of gargantuan ingratitude, called for the “elimination of the Zionist entity.” Once the anti-American and anti-Israel themes were established the regime tried to weave a cobweb of ideological mumbo-jumbo around them. Under Ali Khamenei, the Islamic Republic launched annual seminars with such titles as “The End of America” and “A World Without Israel.”
It also provided an annual platform, always in February, for Holocaust deniers from all over the world. Special prizes were offered for anti-Semitic cartoons, posters, photos, and sculpture. By 2013 Foreign Minister Muhammad-Javad Zarif could claim that the Islamic Republic was scoring one success after another in “exporting” its culture, whatever that meant. The new administration of President Hassan Rouhani felt confident that, thanks to support from US President Barack Obama, the Khomeinist regime could talk like Sweden but act like North Korea. However, it seems that the arrival on the scene of an unknown quantity named Donald J Trump has confused the mullahs, forcing them to ponder whether it is still possible to hoodwink the Americans and the rest of the world while pursuing repression in Iran and destabilizing policies abroad. Strictly speaking Trump hasn’t yet done anything concrete against the mullahs apart from expressing sympathy with recent mass protests in Iran.
However, the fact that Trump has kept the mullahs guessing about his intentions has already impacted their behavior. To start with Tehran has ended provocative naval acts in the Strait of Hormuz and its environs, winning praise from the Pentagon. Throughout the Obama presidency the Iranian navy operated “swarming sorties” against US naval units in the region with small speedboats approaching American battleships like so many gnats trying to sting an elephant.
Under Trump, however, the “gnats” are keeping away from the American elephant.
In another register, Tehran has also shelved its annual “End of America” and “A World Without Israel” shows.
Zarif has issued a few dozen visas for professional Holocaust deniers and anti-Americans, mostly from Europe and the US, but their comings-and-goings is to be kept away from the limelight. More importantly, perhaps, the Khomeinist regime, which has not passed a single day without holding some foreign hostages, has not seized any new American hostages. The most high-profile hostages still held are dual nationals who had lobbied in the US for the Islamic Republic under the control of Obama’s special adviser Ben Rhodes. In a bid to counter Trump’s chest-beating about human rights in Iran, the mullahs acted out of character when they chose not to massacre people in the streets during the recent nationwide uprising. More interestingly, all regime grandees, including Khamenei himself, dwelling on the “benefits of protest and criticism in Islam,” have donned their fake Swedish mask, hiding the North Korean face behind it. At regional level, too, the mullahs are trying to talk Swedish. They muse on reducing their footprint in Syria, claiming that they have already won the war for their protégé Bashar al-Assad. And last Sunday, Defense Minister General Amir Hatami even offered to give Afghanistan military aid to fight ISIS and its groups installed there. The next issue on which I expect Tehran to start singing Swedish concerns Trump’s demand for renegotiating the nuclear “deal”, concocted by Obama. The initial tune from Tehran was a “No! No! Nannette” number! with a harsh North Korean accent. Recently, however, I hear a “May be baby!” number with a soft Swedish accent.

Invention of the term ‘preacher’ in Muslim societies
Salah al-Sayer/Al Arabiya/February 09/18
Islam did not forbid slavery. According to Islamic law, a Muslim can own slaves, buy them and sell them as he wishes. Despite this fact, Muslim societies have stopped practicing slavery and the slave market has been banned for a long time. This is natural and logical progress, as human beings naturally respond to social and cultural development. Other nations and peoples have similarly given up many old practices because many of them are no longer in keeping with the times. One of the most important evidence is that Muslim societies stopped Sharia punishments such as hand cutting or stoning, as well as criminalizing the narrow understanding of jihad because it contradicts humanitarian principles. What about “religious institutions”, which continue to actively propagate in other countries? Is propagation suitable abroad in today’s age, which requires non-interference in the affairs of other countries? Despite the proliferation of “preachers” around us, our societies did not know the concept of a “preacher" before the rise of Sahwa movement
Stereotypical image
Does this activity fit the stereotypical image of Islam, which unfortunately has been tarnished and associated with terrorism, especially as aspersions have been cast against the funding of seminaries, which are believed to be promoting terrorism. We may all recall here the ‘preachers’ who incited the youth to join ISIS or those who flaunted their sins, their crimes and the killing of innocent people in Syria. Despite the proliferation of “preachers” around us, our societies did not know the concept of a “preacher" before the rise of the Sahwa movement as the title was coined for political purposes, particularly to promote divisiveness and intolerance. “Muslim” society does not need anyone to remind it about Islam. A few days ago, I witnessed a charity advertisement encouraging people to donate money to convert non-Muslims in China. Despite our “very, very, very” small size compared to China, which is a great nation, we seek to change the faith of its people, as if it is our legitimate responsibility to undertake this religious duties on behalf of Muslims in China. We might end up inviting the wrath of the Chinese dragon.

Tehran’s view of Turkey’s Afrin campaign
Giorgio Cafiero/Al Arabiya/February 09/18
The Middle East’s sectarian divisions have challenged Iran to overcome perceptions that it is inherently and exclusively committed to empowering Shi’ites at the Sunnis’ expense. Given that Shi’ites are minorities in most Arab countries, Iranian officials have long recognized the necessity of engaging Sunnis in the region to heighten Tehran’s influence beyond areas of Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and northern Yemen. By investing in closer relations with Sunni-majority Arab countries such as Algeria, Egypt (mainly during Mohammed Morsi’s presidency), Kuwait, and Qatar, and non-state actors such as Hamas, Iran has sought to garner support for its anti-status quo foreign policy agenda from political figures on both sides of the Arab world. Bringing Turkey into closer geopolitical alignment with Iran has been an important dimension of Tehran’s quest to enhance its set of alliances and partnerships with Sunni actors in the Middle East. As the failed coup plot of 2016 served to add new layers of friction to Ankara’s tense relationship with Washington, Iran most welcomed Turkey’s outreach to Tehran and Moscow amid the political fallout. Having long sought to capitalize on anti-American sentiments in Turkey to increase Iran’s influence in NATO’s only Muslim-majority member state, the rage felt by many Turks directed against US President Donald Trump following his controversial recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital late last year offered Iran further opportunity to exploit friction in US-Turkey relations.
Such an interest in taking advantage of Ankara and Washington’s conflicts of interest would suggest that Iran would have embraced the crisis in US-Turkey relations stemming from Operation Olive Branch.
Tehran’s interest in preserving the territorial integrity of Syria – in no small part due to the implications for Iranian Kurdistan of an autonomous Kurdish region, if not independent state, in northern Syria – might also imply that Iran would be keen to back Turkish efforts to deliver a blow to the forces of militant Kurdish nationalism that both Ankara and the Iranian-backed Damascus regime see as threatening the Syrian nation-state. Nonetheless, despite Iranian early efforts to avoid appearing too critical of Turkey’s military intervention in Afrin, Operation Olive Branch has raised major concerns in Tehran. By February 5, Iran’s President Rouhani called on Ankara to end its military operation in Afrin “at the earliest time”, citing risks of violence escalating and the fact that Damascus did not authorize Operation Olive Branch. Interestingly, Iranian diplomats’ expressed fears of the risks of Turkey’s military campaign offering Islamic State (ISIS or IS) and other Salafist-jihadists opportunities to regain territory in Syria have also been voiced by their counterparts in Washington.
Having invested much blood and treasure in the Syrian conflict, Iran has been seeking to promote a settlement to the crisis within the framework of the Iran-Turkey-Russian tripartite relationship
Operation Olive Branch
Part of Tehran’s position against Operation Olive Branch might be due to Iran’s interest in keeping the door open to better relations with certain elements of Syria’s Kurdish minority when the conflict winds down.
If the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), can reach an understanding with Iran whereby Tehran does not perceive the force as a threat to Iran’s fundamental interests in the Levant, there is potential for the US-backed Kurdish faction and the Islamic Republic to reach an accommodative relationship. Not lost in the equation is the possibility of Operation Olive Branch adding momentum to pan-Kurdish causes beyond Syria, giving Iran incentive to avoid supporting Turkey’s military operations against the PYD/YPG based on concerns about violence in Iran’s Kurdish territories manifesting consequently. Iran is alarmed by the prospects for Turkey expanding Operation Olive Branch beyond Afrin to carry to the campaign eastward to Manbij. Such a move on Ankara’s part would suggest that Turkey is seeking grander strategic gains beyond crushing the PYD/YPG.
The possibility of Turkey building on its military intervention in Afrin to establish a zone of influence stretching across territories south of the Turkish-Syrian border raises questions about Iran’s interests in these areas and how Tehran would respond to such an assertion of Turkey’s hard power.
Having invested much blood and treasure in the Syrian conflict, Iran has been seeking to promote a settlement to the crisis within the framework of the Iran-Turkey-Russian tripartite relationship. For all of Tehran and Ankara’s conflicting agendas in Syria, Iran understands that Turkey must be on board and behind all diplomatic efforts aimed at resolving the Syrian crisis. At this juncture, Iran is unsettled by the potential for further Turkish-Kurdish and Arab-Kurdish violence in Afrin and other parts of northern Syria to weaken Tehran, Ankara, and Moscow’s ability to build on their common interests in resolving the conflict while preserving the Syrian state’s territorial integrity. While calling on Turkey to end Operation Olive Branch yet also seeking to continue driving a greater wedge between Ankara and Washington, Iran finds itself in a difficult position vis-à-vis Afrin. With much at stake in northern Syria as well as in the future of Ankara-Tehran relations, Iranian diplomats must tread carefully when addressing Turkey’s military intervention against Syria’s armed Kurds, especially if Operation Olive Branch extends eastward.

Germany: Merkel Pays High Price for Fourth Term .. "This will not be long."
Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/February 09/2018
Merkel will govern...but her government will be under the heading 'this will not be long.' This refers to Merkel, and also to the fact that in many parts of the country there is the feeling that 'this' should not continue." — Kurt Kister, Editor-in-Chief, Süddeutsche Zeitung.
"The CDU retains control of the beautiful-sounding, but in fact powerless, Ministry of Economy, the unpopular Ministry of Health, the crisis-prone Ministry of Defense and the shadowy existence of ministerial posts in the Chancellery, for education and agriculture. That is little for the strongest faction in the Bundestag." — Editorial, Münchner Merkur.
"The CDU was transformed into Merkel's own personal political party. On the way, though, the competition of political ideas—the policy conflicts that are the lifeblood of democracy and which provide voters with direction—was lost." — René Pfister, head of the Berlin bureau, Der Spiegel.
Negotiators from Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), their Bavarian partners, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) have agreed in principle on a deal for a new "grand coalition" government—one that, in fact, is the same as the one that governed prior to the last election in September 2017.
The deal, if formally ratified by the SPD's rank and file members at a special party congress on March 4, would ensure that Germany has a new government by Easter—and that Merkel, already in power for 12 years, will remain in office for a fourth tenure as chancellor, albeit in a much-weakened position.
Unusually, the 177-page agreement, reached on February 7, is subject to review in two years, when the parties will reassess the coalition. Analysts have speculated that it may be an opportunity for Merkel finally to step down.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (center), stands with Martin Schulz (right), the leader of the Social Democratic Party, and Horst Seehofer (left), Governor of Bavaria and leader of the Christian Social Union, after government coalition negotiations on February 7, 2018 in Berlin, Germany.
To ensure the deal, the three parties made concessions to each other, all in an effort to prevent fresh elections, in which the anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany (AfD), riding high in the polls, would almost strengthen its position in the German parliament, where it already is the main opposition party.
Merkel's greatest concessions involved the allocation of cabinet positions. Her CDU relinquished control over the influential Interior and Finance ministries. The SPD will now control the three top ministries: finance, foreign affairs and labor. The CSU, which advocates a harder line on immigration than Merkel, will take over the Interior Ministry.
The key points of the deal included agreements on healthcare and housing reform; a commitment to international climate goals; a "billion-euro program" to ensure that all Germans, including those in rural areas, have access to a high-speed internet connection by 2025; and restrictions on German arms exports to all countries taking part in the war in Yemen. The restrictions would include Saudi Arabia, a key market for German defense companies.
With respect to the European Union, the CDU/CSU and SPD agreed to grant more powers to the European Parliament and to create a European Monetary Fund—presumably funded in large measure by Germany—to help protect the eurozone against future financial crises. More significantly, the agreement promises "more investment" for the European Union. The SPD said this amounted to "an end to austerity measures"—cuts to public spending—imposed on the European Union by Germany after the eurozone crisis.
On the most contentious issue, namely that of immigration, the CDU/CSU and SPD agreed to cap the number of asylum seekers coming to Germany at between 180,000 and 220,000 per year. Merkel has long resisted an upper limit on asylum seekers, as demanded by the CSU, but after a million CDU voters defected to the AfD in the last election, she agreed.
The coalition deal also caps the number of migrants brought to Germany through family reunification (Familiennachzug) visas at 1,000 per month for those with so-called subsidiary protection, a temporary protection that falls short of full asylum. The category usually involves migrants fleeing war-torn countries but who cannot prove that they personally face any immediate danger. "Subsidiary protection applies when neither refugee protection nor an entitlement to asylum can be granted and serious harm [torture or death penalty] is threatened in the country of origin," according to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees.
On closer examination, however, the compromise appears to be cosmetic: most of those under subsidiary protection in Germany are not married and do not have children; according to German law, they would not be allowed to bring extended family members in any case. Moreover, those under subsidiary protection involve a relatively small percentage of the migrants in Germany.
Only 200,000 of the more than two million migrants who have arrived in Germany since 2015 are under subsidiary protection, according to the Federal Employment Agency. Of those, between 50,000 and 60,000 have applied for family reunification.
In any event, the cap makes exceptions for "humanitarian grounds," prompting SPD leader Martin Schulz to describe the agreement as a "1,000-plus regulation."
In other words, the "compromise" that supposedly limits the number of family reunifications appears to be a public relations gimmick aimed at persuading German voters that the mainstream parties are taking a harder stance on migration, apparently in an effort to blunt voter appeal for the AfD.
The coalition deal was met with considerable skepticism from across Germany's political spectrum.
A poll conducted for Die Welt on February 8 found that 63%—almost two-thirds of voters—believe that Merkel was "weakened" or "clearly weakened" by the outcome of the coalition negotiations. Only 16% said the chancellor "strengthened" or "clearly strengthened" while 18% said she was neither strengthened nor weakened.
Many commentators said the agreement foreshadowed the beginning of the end of the Merkel era.
The Editor-in-Chief of Süddeutsche Zeitung, Kurt Kister, described Merkel's new cabinet as "a government with an expiry date." He wrote:
"Yes, there were no winners in these coalition negotiations—just as there was no clear winner in the Bundestag election. Maybe the CSU has done the best. Party leader Horst Seehofer, who has nothing left to lose, will be the most important minister [Interior Minister] of the CDU/CSU. Seehofer's upper limit for immigrants now stands as a corridor in the coalition paper: His party (and the CDU) will politically benefit from the upper limit, which corresponds to the ideas of a majority of Germans and also represents the limit of what important parts of the SPD will accept. The SPD has also achieved a lot in the short coalition negotiations, especially by gaining control over the major ministries.
"If a majority of SPD members do not oppose the coalition deal, Angela Merkel will have achieved her most important goal: there will be a (relatively) stable government. If the fourth Merkel cabinet comes about, it will be similar in some respects to the last cabinets of Helmut Schmidt and Helmut Kohl. Merkel will govern...but her government will be under the heading 'this will not be long.' This refers to Merkel, and also to the fact that in many parts of the country there is the feeling that 'this' should not continue."
The Berlin correspondent for Deutsche Welle, Volker Witting, wrote:
"Merkel knows that her fourth chancellorship will probably be the last. Even before the federal election, it had taken her long time to decide on running for a fourth term. And not only the opposition is pushing for renewal. Some in the CDU are counting on Merkel leaving—better sooner than later; even if the critics say that only behind closed doors.
"Above all, the right wing of her party cannot forgive Merkel for moving the once conservative CDU far in a liberal-social democratic direction. Conservatives have been grumbling for a long time, but few express their displeasure openly, even though they are thinking about an end to the Merkel era. For instance, Schleswig-Holstein Prime Minister Daniel Günther recently said: "A new government must include individuals who have a perspective for the post-Angela Merkel period."
The Münchner Merkur, in an article entitled, "CDU grumbles about Merkel: 'One could hardly have negotiated worse,'" wrote:
"The draft agreement could secure Merkel's political survival, but puts pressure on her internally. The price for the agreement with the SPD and CSU is relinquishing the most important ministries. Foreign affairs, finance, labor—all gone. The CDU retains control of the beautiful-sounding, but in fact powerless Ministry of Economy, the unpopular Ministry of Health, the crisis-prone Ministry of Defense and the shadowy existence of ministerial posts in the Chancellery, education and agriculture. That is little for the strongest faction in the Bundestag."
Germany's largest-circulation newspaper, Bild, in an article entitled, "Help, I have shrunk the CDU!," documented a growing rebellion against Merkel from within the CDU. Reaction to the coalition agreement included comments such as: "a political mistake," "completely unacceptable," "our own party is being wiped out," "it bears the handwriting of the SPD," "devastating," and "not good." Bild wrote: "The fact is: The CDU has lost more influence in the new government than it has gained. The Merkel critics in the CDU camp are getting louder."
In an essay entitled, "Why German Politics Can't Move Beyond Merkel," René Pfister, head of Der Spiegel's Berlin bureau, wrote:
"Ever since the German general election last September, there has been a whiff of farewell hovering over everything. In that vote, Merkel's conservatives suffered their worst result since 1949, and if indications aren't completely misleading, it looks as though Merkel is in the process of arranging for a successor to lead the Christian Democrats (CDU) once she's gone.
"Germans are strangely divided over the woman who has governed for so long; the younger generation can no longer remember a time when a male chancellor led the country. On the one hand, there is a desire for change, a Merkel fatigue that made itself apparent in the brief hype surrounding the launch of Martin Schulz's candidacy a year ago, but also in the rise of the anti-Merkel party, the Alternative for Germany (AfD). On the other hand, Germans seem to be afraid of the very change they long for, with 51 percent of voters in favor of Merkel remaining chancellor. Behind Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, she is the most popular politician in Germany.
"But it is completely unclear what will come after Merkel. One of the characteristics of the later Merkel years has been that all political impetus is derived entirely from her. It begins with the AfD, whose name itself is a reference to Merkel's famous declaration that there was no alternative to saving the euro.
"Depending on your perspective, the AfD is either the ugly child of the Merkel era or an expression of a healthy democracy. But there can be no doubt that there would never have been an AfD without Merkel. For the right-wing populist party, she is both a mother figure and the focus of hatred. The party rejects nobody as vehemently as it does Merkel. Indeed, the emotion inherent in the party's repudiation of the chancellor is reminiscent of a family feud.
"A popular question these days is what, exactly, will remain from the Merkel era once she is gone. Adenauer is known for anchoring the country in the Western community of nations. Kohl's legacy is the introduction of the euro. But one can make the argument that with her political style, Merkel changed the country more fundamentally than any of her predecessors.
"The dominant trend these days is that of the political movement...the established big-tent parties seem strangely outmoded, trapped in a corset of rituals and ideological constraints. But it was likely Merkel herself who first realized how potent it could be if the party leader emancipated herself from her own party's doctrine.
"Merkel has never had the kind of charisma possessed by [France's President Emmanuel] Macron. And she certainly didn't transform the CDU into a vehicle of her own ambition with the vehemence and speed that Sebastian Kurz transformed the ÖVP [Austrian People's Party]. But the persistence with which she relieved the party of everything that once distinguished it from the political competition had a similar effect over time: What ultimately mattered was no longer the common convictions held by the party, but the party chair's determination to cling to power. The CDU was transformed into Merkel's own personal political party.
"On the way, though, the competition of political ideas—the policy conflicts that are the lifeblood of democracy and which provide voters with direction—was lost. As was the CDU's identity. The result is a battle over the party's direction that has been raging for quite some time, but has less to do with policy than with the question: 'Where do you stand on Merkel?'"
Writing for Der Spiegel, columnist Jan Fleischhauer warned that with the SPD controlling the Finance Ministry, the new coalition government would further increase runaway government spending:
"The next government knows how to spend money without stopping. If there ever was a willingness to be modest, then it was lost in the coalition negotiations. One should withhold numbers in columns, one does not want to bore readers. But it has to be here. 1,392 trillion euros: this is the number of expenditures the federal budget plan will provide for the current legislative period. Because this fabulous sum is not enough for the leaders of the grand coalition, they have agreed to spend another 46 billion euros, so that really every wish can be fulfilled.
"Even before the new cabinet is sworn in, Angela Merkel can claim to be the most expensive chancellor of all time.
"I respect the Chancellor, really. I admire the perseverance and the conscientiousness with which she accepts every problem that arises. I do not know anybody who works so hard for our country. She never sleeps for more than four or five hours, then she starts all over again. Yet she never complains.
"I only think that Angela Merkel has too light a relationship to other people's money. That's my problem with her.
"Deciding for oneself how one wants to spend what one has earned seems to her to be a strange thought. Every human being can notice the imprints of childhood. The older you get, the more it emerges. Merkel now combines the rectory [of her father who was a pastor] and the former Communist East Germany. They call it evangelical frugality when they find the reference to socialism too hard: it amounts to the same thing.
"You only have to look at the range of services offered by the modern welfare state. There is nothing that does not matter. It provides discounted opera tickets and language courses in Tuscany as well as free marriage counseling. You can think that's social. I think it is frivolous.
"Chancellery head Peter Altmaier had hopes to follow Wolfgang Schäuble as Finance Minister. Like his boss, Altmaier has a rather loose way of dealing with other people's money. Basically, he is convinced that every euro that the citizens spend themselves is a betrayal of the Chancellor, who knows a thousand times better what is good for the country. Now the Ministry of Finance goes to the SPD."
The Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung, in a commentary article entitled, "Merkel IV," wrote:
"The result of the coalition negotiations can be summed up in one sentence: Angela Merkel saves her chancellorship, Schulz rescues himself into the Foreign Ministry, Seehofer saves himself to Berlin. It is an alliance of three politicians whose time has already expired."
On Tichys Einblick, a leading German liberal-conservative blog, Rainer Zitelmann argued:
"Actually, all opposition parties in the German Bundestag can be happy. From a broader perspective, the SPD is being crushed between the Left Party and the Greens and the CDU between [classical liberal] FDP and AfD. Merkel does not care. She knows that this is her last term."
In an essay entitled, "The Eternal Merkel," the Editor-in-Chief of the Westdeutschen Allgemeine Zeitung, Lutz Heuken, wrote:
"Angela Merkel has been chancellor since 2005—and has long since secured a place in the history books. For many citizens, the chancellor was a guarantor of stability for many years. But like so many real or supposedly great things in history, Angela Merkel made a crucial mistake: she missed the timely farewell with dignity.
"Maybe because she considers herself irreplaceable. Perhaps because no one in her environment dares to point out to her the obvious signs that she has long passed her zenith. Or perhaps because there really is no one in the CDU who could replace her in the short term because she did not allow anyone to, because of her drive for pure power.
"The SPD is now—forcibly—planning a change of leadership and generation from Martin Schulz to Andrea Nahles. At the CDU, such a change is currently unimaginable. This is not good for the Union and almost tragic for Angela Merkel."
If the SPD's 460,000 members fail to approve the coalition agreement, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier probably will call fresh elections. Polls indicate that the outcome would be largely the same as the elections held on September 24, 2017, when Merkel's CDU/CSU alliance won around 33% of the vote, its worst electoral result in nearly 70 years. Merkel's main challenger, Martin Schulz's SPD won 20.5%, the party's worst-ever showing.
According to the latest ARD poll "Germany Trend" (Deutschlandtrend) published on February 1, support for the CDU is at 33%, while support for the SDP fell to 18%, a record low, and only four points ahead of the AfD, which increased to 14%. Together, the two grand coalition parties barely scored 51%.
In the January 18 edition of the same poll, only 45% of voters said that another grand coalition was a good idea; 52% of respondents said it was not. The same poll showed that 53% of respondents think it would be very good or good if Merkel remains in office (a three-point decline compared to the previous month). Forty-nine percent of the respondents said that Merkel should complete a full term; 45% said she should leave prematurely.
**Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute.
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