February 12/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations
Those who rebelled against me the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.”
"Isaiah 66/01-24: " This is what the Lord says: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?” declares the Lord. “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word. But whoever sacrifices a bull is like one who kills a person, and whoever offers a lamb is like one who breaks a dog’s neck; whoever makes a grain offering is like one who presents pig’s blood, and whoever burns memorial incense is like one who worships an idol. They have chosen their own ways, and they delight in their abominations;  so I also will choose harsh treatment for them and will bring on them what they dread. For when I called, no one answered, when I spoke, no one listened. They did evil in my sight and chose what displeases me.”  Hear the word of the Lord, you who tremble at his word: “Your own people who hate you, and exclude you because of my name, have said, ‘Let the Lord be glorified, that we may see your joy!’ Yet they will be put to shame. Hear that uproar from the city, hear that noise from the temple! It is the sound of the Lord repaying his enemies all they deserve.  “Before she goes into labor, she gives birth; before the pains come upon her, she delivers a son.  Who has ever heard of such things? Who has ever seen things like this? Can a country be born in a day or a nation be brought forth in a moment? Yet no sooner is Zion in labor than she gives birth to her children.  Do I bring to the moment of birth and not give delivery?” says the Lord. “Do I close up the womb when I bring to delivery?” says your God. “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice greatly with her, all you who mourn over her.  For you will nurse and be satisfied at her comforting breasts; you will drink deeply and delight in her overflowing abundance.”  For this is what the Lord says:  “I will extend peace to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream; you will nurse and be carried on her arm and dandled on her knees.  As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.” When you see this, your heart will rejoice and you will flourish like grass;  the hand of the Lord will be made known to his servants, but his fury will be shown to his foes. See, the Lord is coming with fire, and his chariots are like a whirlwind; he will bring down his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For with fire and with his sword the Lord will execute judgment on all people, and many will be those slain by the Lord.
“Those who consecrate and purify themselves to go into the gardens, following one who is among those who eat the flesh of pigs, rats and other unclean things—they will meet their end together with the one they follow,” declares the Lord. “And I, because of what they have planned and done, am about to come and gather the people of all nations and languages, and they will come and see my glory. “I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations—to Tarshish, to the Libyans and Lydians (famous as archers), to Tubal and Greece, and to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations.  And they will bring all your people, from all the nations, to my holy mountain in Jerusalem as an offering to the Lord—on horses, in chariots and wagons, and on mules and camels,” says the Lord. “They will bring them, as the Israelites bring their grain offerings, to the temple of the Lord in ceremonially clean vessels.  And I will select some of them also to be priests and Levites,” says the Lord. “As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the Lord, “so will your name and descendants endure.  From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the Lord.  “And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.”

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 11-12/18
The open war with Iran has begun/Yaakov Katz/Jerusalem Post/February 11/18
The FBI Confronts Trump/Noah Feldman/Bloomberg/February 11/18
We are Witnessing a Democratic Nightmare/Charles Lane/The Washington Post/February 11/18
Six Steps on the Path to a Latin America Strategy/James Stavridis/Bloomberg/February 11/18
Why Are European Governments So Terrified of 'Fake News'/Judith Bergman/Gatestone Institute/February 11/18
The Opening Skirmishes Of A Catastrophic New Conflict/Baria/Alamuddin/Arab News/February 11/18
Who Will Hold Assad To Account For Chemical Weapons/Kerry Boyd Anderson /Arab News/February 11/18
Hollywood, movies, and the GCC: what is there in common/Diana Galeeva/Al Arabiya/February 11/18

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on February 11-12/18
Israeli Minister Urges against New Lebanon War
Former Lebanese MP Fares Souaid: Israel-Syria clash marks a new phase in the region
Lebanon Follows up Closely on Recent Syrian-Israeli Tensions
Tillerson to Tackle Hizbullah 'Subversive Role' in Beirut Talks
Aoun to Hold Summit with Berri, Hariri over Syria Flare-Up
Report: Satterfield Voiced Concern over Possible Transfer of Missiles to S. Lebanon
Hizbullah Hails Syrian Air Defenses for Downing Israel F16
Lebanese judge orders 3 Muslims to memorize Quran verses hailing Mary, Jesus
Bassil attends Saint Maroun's Mass in Cyprus
French Ambassador inspects Lebanese military units deployed in Arsal, alQaa
Human rights icon Asma Jahangir passes away in Lahore
Rahi presides over Grand Lenten Mass, launching of Lebanese Caritas Lent Campaign in Bkirki
Pharaoun: Lebanon's economic sectors are reforming to meet existing challenges
Israeli enemy patrols borderline area

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 11-12/18

Israeli, Iranian Confrontation in Syria, F16 Downed
Israel Raids inside Syria since 2013
U.N. Chief Calls for Immediate De-Escalation in Syria
Netanyahu Says Israel Won't Allow Iran 'Entrenchment' in Syria
Netanyahu Says Syria Raids 'Heavy Blow' to Iranian, Syrian Forces
Russian Plane Carrying 71 Crashes outside Moscow
U.S. Backs Israel over Syria Strikes, Blames Iran
11 Turkish Troops Killed in Deadliest Day of Kurdish Offensive
Syria Regime Strikes Kill Six Civilians in Ghouta
Egypt Continues with 'Operation Sinai 2018'
Russian jet 'crashes' after Moscow takeoff
Police shoot man during sword attack at Indonesian church
World Government Summit kicks off in Dubai with Lebanese participation
Canada/Patrick Brown says he can disprove sexual misconduct allegations against him
Trump Says Unsure Israel Wants Peace with Palestinians
Latest Lebanese Related News published on February 11-12/18
Israeli Minister Urges against New Lebanon War
Naharnet/February 11/18/Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett has warned that "any future battle with Lebanon will witness the launch of a large number of rockets at northern and central Israel.""Another battle in Lebanon will lead to damages to the (Israeli) domestic front on a scale not seen since the independence war," Bennett cautioned. He stressed the need to "do everything to prevent any future confrontation with Lebanon." Israel and Lebanon's Iran-backed Hizbullah fought a devastating war in 2006 that killed around 1,200 civilians in Lebanon. Bennett's remarks come in the wake of massive Israeli airstrikes against Syrian and Iranian targets in Syria. Hizbullah, which is backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his country's civil war, has hailed Syria's air defenses for downing an Israeli warplane during Saturday's flare-up, saying it marked the start of a "new strategic era." "This is the beginning of a new strategic era which puts an end to the violation of Syrian airspace and territory," Hizbullah said in a statement. Israel struck what it said were Iranian targets inside Syria on Saturday in "large-scale" raids after an Israeli warplane crashed under fire from Syrian air defenses, its military said. The confrontation was the most serious between arch-foes Israel and Iran since the civil war in Syria began in 2011. Israel said the raids came after it intercepted what it said was an Iranian drone entering its airspace from Syria. Israel has also launched dozens of airstrikes against Hizbullah targets in Syria since the eruption of the civil war there. It says the raids are aimed at blocking the delivery of advanced Iranian weapons to Hizbullah.
Former Lebanese MP Fares Souaid: Israel-Syria clash marks a new phase in the region
Arab News/February 11/18/BEIRUT: Former Lebanese MP Fares Souaid said that what happened in the early morning of Saturday between Syria and Israel “marks a new phase in the region, especially after the visit of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield to Lebanon.”
Souaid told Arab News: “Downing the F16 Israeli jet means that Iran says that it has the political decision to shoot the plane down, and this means that there is a change in the rules of engagement which will take the region to a new stage that could aim to improve negotiations of the new phase.”
“Iran says that it is capable of changing the balance of power. The Israeli side says that it is the victim, and the US has the role of deciding on the issue and will implement the new phase,” he said. As for the role of Russia, Souaid said: “I do not believe that the Russians have the ability to exert any influence.”
And as far as the effects of the events on Lebanon, he thinks that “Iran is targeting Israel from Syria and Lebanon, and the question is whether UN Resolution 1701 remains relevant and how it can be dealt with. Lebanon’s argument is weak on the issue of the construction of the Israeli concrete wall unless Israel builds it in the disputed points between Lebanon and Israel, and Satterfield’s visit to Lebanon was meant to prepare for US Secretary of State Tillerson’s visit to Lebanon. Tillerson is working on a settlement for the Middle East crisis, and the features of this settlement began with President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”“Since the US declaration on Jerusalem, two positions have emerged. The first of which came from Hezbollah in southern Beirut, when it called on the factions and fighters to prepare for the major war, as he called it, for the march to Jerusalem; and the second position was announced by the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas from Al-Azhar, where he said that there is no alternative to peace, and called upon Muslims and Christians to visit Jerusalem,” he said.

Lebanon Follows up Closely on Recent Syrian-Israeli Tensions
Beirut - Asharq al-Awsat/February 11/18/Lebanon's President Michel Aoun is leading consultations with the country's security and political officials to study the repercussions of the recent tensions between Syria and Israel, which have emerged when a Syrian anti-aircraft missile downed an Israeli warplane on Saturday. The Lebanese Foreign Affairs Ministry condemned in a statement on Saturday the Israeli air strikes on Syria, asserting the country's right to defend itself against any Israeli attacks. "The Foreign Affairs Minister instructed Lebanon's Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York to file a complaint with the Security Council against Israel, condemning and warning against its use of Lebanese airspace to launch attacks on Syria," the statement said. "Such an aggressive policy adopted by Israel threatens stability in the region," it added, calling on the concerned countries to exert efforts to end the Israel's practices and stop its attacks. The National News Agency (NNA) reported that remnants of missiles from the Israeli raid on Syria fell in the town of Saarin, while shrapnel fell in the town of Ali al-Nahri in the Bekaa (eastern Lebanon). A SAM anti-aircraft missile landed in the Hasbani Valley, south of Lebanon, which was fired at Israeli aircraft from the Syrian territories, according to the NNA. Aoun discussed the recent developments in Syria following the Israeli strikes early Saturday with Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, who is currently outside the country. He also received reports on the situation from Defense Minister Yaacoub Sarraf and Army Commander General Joseph Aoun. Well-informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Lebanese government has not put forward any plan for action, awaiting the return of Hariri to Beirut. The head of the Democratic Gathering parliamentary bloc, MP Walid Jumblatt, tweeted on Saturday: "It seems that there are major disturbances lurking in the horizon... It will not be useful to think of separating tracks since the Israelis have already linked them." Jumblatt called on "decision-makers in Lebanon" to stay away from "huge and costly projects.""The best thing is to apply reform and austerity while awaiting the storms. History repeats itself," he added. The Lebanese Army said in a statement on Saturday that four Israeli warplanes violated the Lebanese airspace over the sea west of Tyre, reaching the village of Kfarshouba at around 8:45 am on Saturday.
Four other Israeli warplanes later breached the national airspace, flying over the Lebanese territories, the LAF statement added.
Tillerson to Tackle Hizbullah 'Subversive Role' in Beirut Talks
Naharnet/February 11/18/U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will tackle "Hizbullah's subversive role in Lebanon and the region" during his upcoming visit to Beirut, a U.S. official said. Tillerson will meet President Michel Aoun, Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Saad Hariri and this "will represent a real opportunity to confirm our support for Lebanon, which is currently facing several challenges, including defending its borders against terrorists and coping with the huge refugee influx," a senior U.S. State Department official told Kuwait's al-Rai daily in remarks published Sunday. "This visit also highlights our keenness on Lebanese state institutions, topped by the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Internal Security Forces, who are fighting the Daesh and al-Qaida groups and safeguarding stability in Lebanon," the official added. "It is also obvious that Tillerson will raise the issue of Hizbullah, which is playing a subversive role in Lebanon and the region," the U.S. diplomat went on to say, noting that "it is unacceptable for such a party to continue to operate outside the authority of the Lebanese state." "This issue will represent the main topic of discussions between Tillerson and the Lebanese leaders," the U.S. official added.

Aoun to Hold Summit with Berri, Hariri over Syria Flare-Up
Naharnet/February 11/18/President Michel Aoun intends to invite Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Saad Hariri to a meeting in Baabda on Monday, media reports said. The meeting is aimed at evaluating the situation in the wake of Saturday's major flare-up in Syria, official Lebanese sources told al-Hayat newspaper in remarks published Sunday. "There are concerns that the military confrontation with Israel could spill from the Syrian front into the Lebanese front in light of the territorial and maritime border dispute with the Hebrew state," the sources said. Lebanon's Hizbullah has hailed Syria's air defenses after they downed an Israeli fighter jet during Saturday's incidents, saying it marked the start of a "new strategic era." "This is the beginning of a new strategic era which puts an end to the violation of Syrian airspace and territory," Hizbullah said in a statement. Hizbullah, which is backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's in his country's civil war, praised the "vigilance of the Syrian army" and said it had "bravely blocked Israeli warplanes and downed an F16." Israel struck what it said were Iranian targets inside Syria on Saturday in "large-scale" raids after an Israeli warplane crashed under fire from Syrian air defenses, its military said. The confrontation was the most serious between arch-foes Israel and Iran since the civil war in Syria began in 2011. Israel said the raids came after it intercepted what it said was an Iranian drone entering its airspace from Syria. Iran denounced Israeli "lies" and said Syria had the right to self-defense in response to Israeli strikes.

Report: Satterfield Voiced Concern over Possible Transfer of Missiles to S. Lebanon
Naharnet/February 11/18/Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for Middle East Affairs David Satterfield expressed during talks in Lebanon last week concerns over the possible relocation of Iranian missile bases and factories from Syria to south Lebanon, a media report said. Satterfield voiced his remarks in talks with Lebanese leaders as he reassured them that "the Israeli side does not want an escalation over the dispute on territorial and maritime borders," Lebanese ministerial sources told al-Hayat daily in remarks published Sunday. The U.S. diplomat left Beirut Saturday morning after a several-day visit to Lebanon.
He will join U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on his Middle East tour which will begin in Cairo and will also take him to Beirut.

Hizbullah Hails Syrian Air Defenses for Downing Israel F16
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 11/18/Hizbullah has hailed Syria's air defenses after they downed an Israeli fighter jet on Saturday, saying it marked the start of a "new strategic era.""This is the beginning of a new strategic era which puts an end to the violation of Syrian airspace and territory," Hizbullah said in a statement. Hizbullah, which is backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's in his country's civil war, praised the "vigilance of the Syrian army" and said it had "bravely blocked Israeli warplanes and downed an F16." Israel struck what it said were Iranian targets inside Syria on Saturday in "large-scale" raids after an Israeli warplane crashed under fire from Syrian air defenses, its military said. The confrontation was the most serious between arch-foes Israel and Iran since the civil war in Syria began in 2011. Israel said the raids came after it intercepted what it said was an Iranian drone entering its airspace from Syria. Iran denounced Israeli "lies" and said Syria had the right to self-defense in response to Israeli strikes. Separately, Iran issued a joint statement with the Syrian regime's other main allies -- Russia and Hizbullah -- denying Israel's account of the drone.

Lebanese judge orders 3 Muslims to memorize Quran verses hailing Mary, Jesus

Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Sunday, 11 February 2018/A Lebanese judge ordered three Muslim young men who insulted Christianity to memorize verses from the Quran’s Al-Omran surah which glorifies Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ. Instead of handing down a prison sentence over their contempt of religion, Joceline Matta ordered the men to memorize the verses to be released. While reading out the verdict in court in Tripoli, North of Lebanon, last week, Matta noted that her decision aims to teach the young men about Islam’s tolerance and love for Virgin Mary. “The law is a school and not just a prison,” she said. Prime Minister Saad Hariri commended the move on Twitter and saluted Matta for her decision which reflects justice and teaches mutual concepts between Muslims and Christians. State Minister for Combating Corruption Nicolas Tueni also praised Matta and said her decision paves way towards innovative judicial approaches that help resolve social problems and religious intolerance.

Bassil attends Saint Maroun's Mass in Cyprus
Sun 11 Feb 2018/NNA - Foreign Affairs Minister Gebran Bassil attended the Mass of Saint Maroun at "Notre Dame des Dons" Church in Nicosia, Cyprus, in the presence of Cyprus President Nikos Anastasiades. Also attending were Cypriot Minister of Foreign Affairs and Energy, Juanides Casolides, Maronites Representative in the Cypriot Parliament, John Moussa, and a number of deputies, diplomats and members of the Lebanese Diaspora. Cypriot Maronite Bishop Youssef Soueif, who presided over the Mass service, said that Minister Bassil's visit "serves to strengthen bilateral cooperation and friendship ties between both countries and people." He also called on Cypriot President to work for the return of Cypriot Maronites to the four Northern Lebanese villages from which they were displaced. Soueif praised the role and contributions of Lebanese expatriates in Cyprus across the years, stressing keen concern for maintaining the best spiritual and social relations with Lebanon where the Maronite Church was founded. For his part, Cypriot President welcomed Bassil's visit and called for "boosting relations between his country and Lebanon." He also referred to underway contacts to hold a meeting with the Lebanese President and Greek Prime Minister to discuss regional issues. After the Mass, Bassil met with members of the Lebanese expatriate community residing in Nicosia, followed by a meeting with Cypriot Maronites from the four villages in Northern Lebanon.

French Ambassador inspects Lebanese military units deployed in Arsal, alQaa

Sun 11 Feb 2018/NNA - France's Ambassador Bruno Foucher visited Sunday the localities of Arsal and al-Qaa on the Lebanese-Syrian borders, where he inspected the units of the Lebanese army deployed in the region. The French Diplomat seized the chance to praise the Lebanese Army for its victory against terrorist groups in the "Fajr al-Joroud" Operation in August 2017. According to a statement by the French Embassy, Foucher visited an army post at the borders overseeing the town of Arsal and the surrounding heights, accompanied by Ninth Brigade Commander, General Sami Hoayek, and a number of officers. Addressing military officers and soldiers during his tour, Foucher expressed France's support for Lebanon and its army, which denotes the backbone of the country. He concluded that his country wishes to boost said support through the international conference planned in Rome.

Human rights icon Asma Jahangir passes away in Lahore
Sun 11 Feb 2018/NNA - Prominent lawyer and human rights icon Asma Jahangir passed away on Sunday after suffering a stroke. She was 66 years old. Family sources said Jahangir's funeral will be held on February 13 as a family member is in London. Officials at the private hospital where Jahangir passed away said she was brought to the hospital unconscious after suffering brain hemorrhage resulting from a stroke. They added that despite several attempts to bring her blood pressure back to normal, she passed away in a state of unconsciousness. Jahangir’s sister, lawyer and human rights activist Hina Jilani, told Geo News that “the way she [Asma] lived, it’s not just the family’s loss but also of those who are voiceless and whose voices she raised”. Earlier, her daughter, broadcast journalist Munizae Jahangir, shared on Twitter that the family is awaiting relatives to return to Lahore before the funeral can be held. Bar associations across the country have said they will be observing three days of mourning and not partake in court proceedings. Pakistan People’s Party senator and advocate Aitzaz Ahsan on Jahangir’s demise, said that she was a very brave woman and always fought against patriarchy and oppression. Ahsan said that she never feared or backed down from saying what she wanted to say. Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf said her death came as a national loss and her work for women rights and democracy will be etched in history. Ex-president SC bar Ali Zafar said that the services rendered by Asma Jahangir for basic rights of people and struggle for the marginalised will never be forgotten. Jahangir remained the head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and the Supreme Court Bar Association. She was known for taking up court cases of victimised and marginalised sections of society, as well as speaking against human rights violations and her courageous stand against the military rule of General Zia-ul-Haq. An author and staunch activist of democracy, Jahangir also received several accolades for her work on human rights. Jahangir was also a vocal opponent of judicial overreach and would often confront the superior judiciary when it would extend its jurisdiction in her opinion. In the last post on her Twitter account, Jahangir cautioned the Supreme Court from selectively using the contempt of court law. --- Geo TV

Rahi presides over Grand Lenten Mass, launching of Lebanese Caritas Lent Campaign in Bkirki
Sun 11 Feb 2018/NNA - Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rahi, presided Sunday over the Grand Lenten Mass, which coincided with the launching of the Lebanese Caritas Lent Campaign, at the Chapel of the Patriarchal Seat in Bkirki. In his religious sermon, the Patriarch highlighted the importance of Lebanon's human resources, which are sustainable thanks to Lebanon's pluralistic and open environment. He deemed that these factors empower Lebanon to compete on both the regional and global levels, and in all areas. Al-Rahi urged Lebanese officials to invest in these human resources through establishing political and socio-economic stability, and promoting the financial, digital knowledge, oil and gas sectors. Referring to the areas in which the Lebanese have excelled on the local and foreign scenes, the Patriarch prayed for the development of man and society. At the end of the Mass, Patriarch Rahi honored Minister of Information, Melhem Riachi, as well as the foreign ambassadors attending the Mass and the former Caritas Presidents, by presenting them with honor shields as a token of appreciation for their contribution and efforts in serving humanity.

Pharaoun: Lebanon's economic sectors are reforming to meet existing challenges
Sun 11 Feb 2018/NNA - "The Lebanese sectors, especially the private ones, are doing their best to secure reforms in Lebanon and to implement economic and social policies to meet the existing challenges," Minister for Planning Michel Pharaoun said during his participation at the sixth World Government Summit held in Dubai on Sunday. The Minister added that the Syrian crisis negatively affects reforms in various sectors, especially the infrastructure, educational and health sectors, in addition to the security situation in Lebanon. Pharaoun, however, did not lose hope in implementing reforms in Lebanon. "Hope remains to help Lebanon through the convening of Paris 4, the exploratory offshore drilling for oil and gas, the law of partnership between the private and public sectors, and the active participation of the youth in the knowledge and economy sectors," he added. Pharaoun also noted that the "government has to face several challenges and burdens, most notably the fiscal deficit and the ratio of public debt to GDP." Our concern as well is to maintain the security and political stability through holding the upcoming parliamentary elections in May," Pharaoun concluded.

Israeli enemy patrols borderline area
Sun 11 Feb 2018/NNA - The Israeli enemy forces ran their patrols this morning along the Southern borderline area stretching between Odaissi Hills and Ballana, far-reaching Fatima Gate, National News Agency said Sunday.
Similar patrols in the orchards surrounding the settlement of al-Mtulla were also detected. The Lebanese Army and UNIFIL have established joint surveillance points to monitor the situation. Meanwhile, normal movement of citizens was witnessed on the Lebanese side.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published
on February 11-12/18
Israeli, Iranian Confrontation in Syria, F16 Downed
Tel Aviv, Moscow, London - Asharq Al-Awsat/February 11/18/
Israel launched on Saturday large-scale strikes targeting Iranian and Syrian sites in Syria, shortly after one of its F-16 fighter jets was downed and after intercepting an Iranian drone that was dispatched from Syria into its airspace. “The F-16, which was downed in northern Israel, was hit by an anti-aircraft missile,” an Israeli official said. The Israeli army announced that the fighter jet crashed in Jezreel Valley east of Haifa, and one of its two pilots was seriously injured. This is the first time the Israeli army clearly declares bombing Iranian targets in Syria. It is also the first in a long period of time, 30 years according to Haaretz newspaper, that Israel loses a fighter jet during its raids in Syria. Israeli Military Spokesman Jonathan Conricus warned that Syria and Iran were "playing with fire", but he stressed that his country was not seeking an escalation. However, he said Israel is ready for various scenarios and will let perpetrators pay heavy prices for such acts. "This is the most blatant and severe Iranian violation of Israeli sovereignty in the past years," he told journalists, referring to the Iranian drone that entered Israeli airspace. "So, our response came with such severity." The Israeli army announced that the latest escalation began on Friday night when an Iranian drone entered the Israeli airspace after being launched from Syria. The army confirmed that an Apache helicopter intercepted the drone and downed it. It added that Israeli fighter jet responded by raiding the sites from which the aircraft was launched, but it was hit by "anti-aircraft missiles."
For its part, the official Syrian news agency, SANA, announced that the Israeli raids targeted a military base in central Syria east of Homs, and that several Israeli aircrafts were hit. "The Israeli enemy started a new aggression at Friday night against one of the military bases in the central region, and our air defenses intercepted this aggression and hit more than one aircraft,” SANA quoted a military source as saying. Director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Rami Abdulrahman, for his part, announced that the Israeli raids targeted sites east of Homs in central Syria in an area where there are Iranian forces and elements of the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah. The Israeli warplanes launched a second wave of "large-scale" raids targeting 12 Iranian and Syrian targets, including three anti-aircraft missile batteries and four unspecified Iranian targets owned by the Iranian military in Syria, according to a statement issued by the Israeli army. Russia hastened to call on all sides to avoid escalation. "We urge all sides to exercise restraint and to avoid any actions that could lead to an even greater complication of the situation," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “It is absolutely unacceptable to pose threats to the lives and security of Russian servicemen who are in Syria,” it added.

Israel Raids inside Syria since 2013
Asharq Al-Awsat/February 11/18
On Saturday the Israeli military said it had carried out "large-scale" raids including against Iranian targets in Syria. Here is a recap of notable strikes inside Syria that are said to have been carried out by Israel:
- 2018 -
In a major increase in tensions, Israel on February 10 struck a dozen Syrian and Iranian targets.
The raids came after an Israeli fighter jet crashed under fire from Syrian air defenses, and Israel said it intercepted an Iranian drone entering its airspace from Syria.
The confrontation was the first time Israel publicly acknowledged attacking what it identified as Iranian targets in Syria since the civil war began in 2011.
- 2017 -
A huge explosion that sent a fireball into the sky near the Damascus international airport in April was blamed by Syrian state media on an Israeli missile strike.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said an arms depot that apparently belonged to “Hezbollah” was hit and exploded.
Damascus also accused Israel of bombing in January its Mazzeh military airport near the capital where air force intelligence services were based.
- 2016 -
Israeli aircraft repeatedly struck Syrian regime forces positions in September after a projectile fired from Syria hit the Israeli-held zone of the Golan. Missiles struck near Mazzeh in December.
- 2015 -
An Israeli strike on the Syrian side of the Golan killed six “Hezbollah” members and an Iranian general on January 18. “Hezbollah” retaliated by killing two Israeli soldiers.
In August Israel said it carried out strikes on the Syrian side of the Golan area after rockets were fired on its positions. Four or five of the men responsible were killed, it said.
- 2014 -
Israel staged retaliatory air raids on Syrian regime positions in June, following an attack from Syria, and in September downed a Syrian fighter jet as it tried to cross the Golan ceasefire line.
- 2013 -
In January Israeli planes hit a surface-to-air missile site and military complex near Damascus suspected of holding chemical agents. Israel said later it would not allow the transfer of weapons from Syria to “Hezbollah”.
Raids in May struck a scientific research center in the capital, a weapons depot and an aircraft unit, according to a diplomat in Beirut. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 42 soldiers were killed.

U.N. Chief Calls for Immediate De-Escalation in Syria
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 11/18/United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for an immediate de-escalation in Syria after Israel carried out raids inside the war-torn country. Guterres is "following closely the alarming military escalation throughout Syria and the dangerous spillover across its borders," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement. Israel targeted what it said were Iranian positions inside Syria after one of its warplanes was hit by Syrian air defences and crashed. The Israeli raids came after it intercepted what it said was an Iranian drone entering its airspace. Guterres stressed that all concerned in Syria and in the region must abide by international law. "He calls on all to work for an immediate and unconditional de-escalation of violence and exercise restraint," Dujarric said. It was the most serious confrontation between Iran and Israel since Syria's war began in 2011 and came amid growing alarm over Syrian government offensives against rebel-held Eastern Ghouta and Idlib. The Syrian people are suffering "though one of the most violent periods in nearly seven years of conflict," said the U.N. statement. "Over 1,000 civilian casualties from airstrikes were reported in the first week of February alone." Guterres urged the parties to move quickly toward a political solution to end the war. Israel's Ambassador Danny Danon called on the Security Council "to condemn this dangerous act and to put an immediate end to Iranian provocations." Diplomats, however, said there were no immediate plans to convene a council meeting despite the sharp rise in tensions. The council is due to discuss the crisis in Syria on Wednesday.

Netanyahu Says Israel Won't Allow Iran 'Entrenchment' in Syria

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 11/18/Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed not to allow Iran to establish a military presence in Syria, after Israel launched air raids on what it said were Iranian targets in its Arab neighbor. "Israel wants peace but we will continue to defend ourselves with determination against any attack on us and against any attempt by Iran to entrench itself militarily in Syria or anywhere else," he said. Netanyahu's remarks came as he convened his security chiefs for consultations on Saturday's confrontations which followed Israel's interception of what it said was an Iranian drone launched from Syria. Israel then launched air attacks on the drone's control systems, with Syrian anti-air fire bringing down an F16 fighter in northern Israel. The Israeli air force launched a further series of strikes targeting what it said were Iranian and Syrian military targets in Syria.
"Israel holds Iran and its Syrian hosts responsible for today’s aggression," Netanyahu said. "We will continue to do whatever is necessary to protect our sovereignty and our security." Iran, for its part, denounced Israeli "lies" and said Syria had the right to "legitimate self-defense" in response to air strikes launched by Israel. The Israeli leader said he had spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin whose country supports the Syrian regime. "I reiterated our right and duty to defend ourselves against attacks from Syrian territory," Netanyahu said, adding that the two leaders agreed to continue their coordination on Syria. Netanyahu also said he spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Netanyahu Says Syria Raids 'Heavy Blow' to Iranian, Syrian Forces
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 11/18/Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israeli air strikes in Syria the previous day were a "heavy blow" to Iranian and Syrian forces in the war-torn country. "We inflicted on Saturday a heavy blow to Iranian and Syrian forces," Netanyahu said at the start of a cabinet meeting, referring to major Israeli air raids in Syria. "We made clear to everyone that our rules of engagement will not change in any way. We will continue to harm anyone who tries to harm us. This was our policy and this will remain our policy." Israel said its raids were against both Syrian and Iranian targets in Syria. The raids came after an Israeli F16 fighter jet was shot down by Syrian air defenses. The pilots survived, but it was the first time Israel had lost a warplane in battle since 1982. The strikes began with Israel shooting down what it described as an Iranian drone that had entered its airspace from Syria -- calling it an "attack." Iran denied the allegations regarding the drone and said Syria had the right to defend itself against Israeli attacks.

Russian Plane Carrying 71 Crashes outside Moscow
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 11/18/A Russian passenger plane carrying 71 people crashed outside Moscow on Sunday after taking off from the capital's Domodedovo airport, Russian media reported. The Antonov An-148 plane operated by the domestic Saratov Airlines was flying to Orsk, a city in the Urals, and crashed in the Ramensky district on the outskirts of Moscow. Russian news agencies reported 65 passengers and 6 crew were on board. News agencies said witnesses in the village of Argunovo saw a burning plane falling from the sky. A source from Russia's emergency services told Interfax that the 71 people on board "had no chance" of survival. The same news agency reported that the wreckage of the plane was spread over a wide area around the crash site. The Russian-made plane was 7 years-old and bought by Saratov Airlines from another Russian airline a year ago. Russian media reported that the emergency services were unable to reach the crash site by road and that rescue workers walked to the scene on foot. A source at Domodedovo, Moscow's second largest airport, told agencies that the plane disappeared from radars within two minutes of take off. The Russian transport minister was on his way to the crash site, agencies reported. The transport ministry said several causes for the crash are being considered, including weather conditions and human error. The governor of the Orenburg region, where the plane was flying to, told Russian media that "more than 60 people" onboard the plane were from the region. Prosecutors opened an investigation into Saratov Airlines following the crash.

U.S. Backs Israel over Syria Strikes, Blames Iran
Naharnet/February 11/18/The United States has backed Israel for its strikes on what Tel Aviv called Iranian positions inside Syria, blaming Iran for escalating violence in the war-wracked country. Israel's raids came after it intercepted what it said was an Iranian drone entering its airspace from Syria, calling it an "attack." "The United States is deeply concerned about today's escalation of violence over Israel's border and strongly supports Israel's sovereign right to defend itself," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. Following the most serious confrontation between arch foes Israel and Iran since Syria's civil war began in 2011, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to prevent Tehran from establishing a threatening military presence in the Arab state. "Iran's calculated escalation of threat, and its ambition to project its power and dominance, places all the people of the‎ region -- from Yemen to Lebanon -- at risk," Nauert said. "The U.S. continues to push back on the totality of Iran's malign activities in the region and calls for an end to Iranian behavior that threatens peace and stability." The confrontation was the first time Israel has publicly acknowledged targeting what it identified as Iranian positions in Syria since the conflict started. Iran denounced Israeli "lies" and said Syria had the right to self-defense in response to the strikes.

11 Turkish Troops Killed in Deadliest Day of Kurdish Offensive
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 11/18/Eleven Turkish soldiers were killed on Saturday, including two military personnel when a helicopter was downed, in the bloodiest day in Ankara's offensive against a Kurdish militia in northern Syria. On January 20, Turkey launched a military operation against the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia in the Afrin region, backing Syrian rebels with air strikes and ground troops. "At this stage, we can say that one out of two helicopters was downed. We have two martyrs," Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said in televised remarks. The Turkish military later said nine more soldiers were killed in separate incidents but did not give details. Another 11 soldiers were injured after the offensive's bloodiest day for Turkish military personnel, the army said. Yildirim said the helicopter was on a mission in the Afrin region as part of Ankara's offensive dubbed Operation "Olive Branch". Ankara says the YPG is a "terrorist" offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade insurgency inside Turkey and is blacklisted by Washington and the European Union. Mustefa Bali, spokesman for the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces dominated by the YPG, said on Twitter that a helicopter had been hit in the Rajo area of northwest Afrin, near the Turkish border. But the state-run news agency Anadolu said the incident happened in the southern border province of Hatay, with the private Dogan news agency saying authorities were trying to reach the wreckage in the Kirikhan district. Earlier, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said a helicopter had been shot down without saying who was responsible. "Of course, these kinds of things will happen. We are in a war. We will have losses, but we will cause the other side to have losses as well," he said in a televised speech, vowing to make the perpetrators pay "a much heavier price."
Threat to Turkey'
The Turkish military said one of its helicopters crashed at 1300 (1000 GMT) killing two military personnel but did not give a reason for the incident, only saying that an investigation had been launched. Last Saturday, seven Turkish troops died in the second worst single-day loss of the operation so far, with five killed in a tank attack. Some 1,141 "terrorists" had been neutralized during the operation, Erdogan said, referring to those killed but also those captured or wounded. It was not immediately possible to verify this figure. Yildirim earlier said Turkey had not launched its operation in Afrin to enter into a war or because it had "an eye" on another country's territory. "Excuse me but no state would ignore a terror organisation growing like a tumor next to it," he said. "This is a threat to Turkey which Ankara has the natural right to fight under international and domestic law," Yildirim added.

Syria Regime Strikes Kill Six Civilians in Ghouta
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 11/18/Syrian regime air strikes killed six civilians including two children overnight in Eastern Ghouta after a day of respite from deadly bombardment of the rebel enclave, a monitor said Sunday. Since February 5, President Bashar al-Assad's regime has intensified its bombardment of the besieged region outside Damascus, killing more than 245 civilians including dozens of children. On Saturday, the Damascus government eased up its strikes on Eastern Ghouta as it faced Israeli air raids on what Israel said were regime and Iranian targets inside the country. But the regime raids picked up again on Saturday night, killing six civilians and wounding more than 50 others, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said. Five of those, including two children, were killed in the region's main town of Douma, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said. Western powers have expressed alarm over the government's campaign against Eastern Ghouta, where 400,000 people have been besieged since 2013, facing severe food and medicine shortages. The U.N. Security Council is considering a draft resolution demanding a 30-day ceasefire in Syria to allow for urgent deliveries of humanitarian aid, according to the text seen by AFP on Friday. Sweden and Kuwait presented the measure that would also demand an immediate end to sieges, including in Eastern Ghouta. Negotiations on the proposed measure are to begin on Monday, and diplomats said it could quickly come to a vote at the council. Syria's war has killed more than 340,000 people and displaced millions since it erupted in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

Egypt Continues with 'Operation Sinai 2018'

Cairo - Walid Abdul Rahman/Asharq al-Awsat/February 11/18
Egyptian Army announced that security forces launched an operation that involves thousands of troops and is unprecedented in terms of its scope, coordination and size. Army spokesman Colonel Tamer el-Rifai announced in a televised statement that the military and police forces initiated a large-scale security operation in the northern Sinai Peninsula, Nile Delta, central Sinai and the Western Desert along the porous border with Libya, ISIS strongholds. “Operation Sinai 2018” is targeting “terrorist and criminal elements and organisations”, el-Rifai said, which involves land, sea and air forces. The air force had launched attacks against militant hide-outs in north and central Sinai, and the navy had tightened control of the waterways to cut off supply lines, he said.
President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, ordered the armed forces in November to defeat militants within three months.
Security sources said the operation is unprecedented in its scope, coordination and size, and involves thousands of troops. On the ground, special forces, working with police, conducted raids inside cities in Sinai to seize militants, Rifai said. He explained that border guards and naval forces were securing the Suez Canal to make sure navigation through the international waterway was not affected. It gave no details on any casualties in the operation or any figures on the number of people arrested, but said the assault would continue. “The armed forces calls upon the Egyptian people in all parts of the country to closely cooperate with law enforcement forces to confront terrorism, uproot it and immediately report any elements threatening the security and stability of the country,” military spokesman added. Rifai said in a second statement the air force had targeted militant hide-outs in north and central Sinai, while the navy tightened its maritime control to cut off supply lines. State Security Investigations Services in Egypt ordered the arrest of 14 members of Hasam movement, the armed wing of Muslim Brotherhood group. They will remain in custody for 15 days on charges of committing terrorist crimes.
The prosecution accused the defendants of joining a group established contrary to the provisions of the law, with the purpose of disobeying the constitution and laws. It also accused them of endangering national unity and social peace, embracing the extremist ideas, calling to change the regime by force, and attacking the members of the armed forces and the police in order to disrupt the public order and endanger the safety and security of society. They were also accused of premeditated murder for terrorist purposes, possession of explosive devices, automatic weapons and ammunition, and using them in terrorist acts. The Interior Ministry announced on Saturday that three Hasam terrorists had been killed and 14 others arrested. The members were planning to carry out a series of simultaneous attacks on vital institutions, facilities, armed forces and police during the period leading up to the presidential elections.
Investigations revealed that extremists were from several governorates, especially Fayoum, near Cairo, who benefited from its geographical nature to set up camps and select members from the lake in the Egyptian Delta. The investigations also indicated that several Brotherhood members living abroad provide financial support Hasam terrorists to carry out schemes assigned to them, and purchase weapons and explosive materials to be used in wide-ranged terrorist operations. For its part, the second chamber of Tanta Criminal Court decided on Saturday to renew the detention of 18 members of Muslim Brotherhood for 45 days in the investigation, accusing them of joining a banned group established against the provisions of the law, and disturb the public peace.

Russian jet 'crashes' after Moscow takeoff
Sun 11 Feb 2018/NNA - A Russian airliner carrying 71 passengers and crew has crashed after vanishing from radar screens as it left a Moscow airport for the Urals, media say. The Saratov Airlines An-148 regional jet was en route to the city of Orsk when it went missing. An emergency services source has told Interfax news agency the plane crashed and there was "no chance" of survivors. It reportedly fell near Argunovo, about 80km (50 miles) south-east of Moscow. According to another news agency, the jet vanished from radar screens two minutes after it left Domodedovo Airport. --- BBC

Police shoot man during sword attack at Indonesian church
Sun 11 Feb 2018/NNA - Indonesian police shot and wounded a man who attacked a church congregation with a sword during Sunday Mass, seriously injuring four people including a priest and destroying Christian imagery. Around 100 people were attending the service in the town of Sleman in Yogyakarta province on Java island when a man barged in wielding a one-metre-long sword and began attacking terror-stricken people, seemingly indiscriminately. "Four people have been injured in the incident -- quite seriously -- but we still cannot determine the perpetrator's motive," Yogyakarta police spokesman Yulianto told AFP. Extremists in the world's most populous Muslim-majority country have mounted a series of attacks against Christians and other minorities. A few minutes after the service started, a congregation member ran into the church with a bleeding head chased by a young man holding a sharp weapon, said worshipper Andhi Cahyo. "Everybody started panicking and screaming. I was scrambling to save my wife and children," Cahyo told AFP. People fled through another door as the attacker ran amok inside the church. He destroyed some books and a Virgin Mary statue with his sword, said Cahyo, and attacked 81-year-German priest Edmund Prier who was standing at the altar. Prier, who has been living in Indonesia for decades, is now an Indonesian citizen. Police arrived soon after the attack and fired a warning shot but the attacker refused to surrender. "After the warning shot was fired, the attacker charged towards the officer with his sword. The officer then shot him below his stomach, but he managed to injure the cop before being subdued," Cahyo said. All victims have been taken to hospital for treatment. Police said the man was a university student in his early 20s but could not confirm if the incident was related to terrorism. "For now we cannot conclude this is related to terrorism. We need to dig out more details and question the perpetrator," said spokesman Yulianto. The man was currently being treated at Bhayangkara hospital and could not questioned, Yulianto said. Indonesia is home to significant numbers of Christians, Hindus and Buddhists. In 2016 several children were injured after a man threw Molotov cocktails at a church during a Sunday service. On Christmas Eve 2000 the Al-Qaeda-linked group staged coordinated bombings of churches in and eight other cities which killed 18 people and injured many more. --- AFP

World Government Summit kicks off in Dubai with Lebanese participation
Sun 11 Feb 2018/NNA - The sixth edition of Dubai’s World Government Summit started Sunday morning in the presence of Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. A delegation from Lebanon comprised of Vice Prime Minister, Health Minister Ghassan Hasbani, Minister of State for Planning Michel Pharaoun, and Director of the National News Agency Laure Suleiman attended the event. During the event, speeches were delivered by senior officials, which included the Chairperson of International Humanitarian City Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein and the French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe. Later, the award for the best minister of the world was announced and given to Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati. Sheikh Mohammad Ben Rached awarded her the prize.

Canada/Patrick Brown says he can disprove sexual misconduct allegations against him
The Canadian Press/February 12/18
TORONTO — The former leader of Ontario's Progressive Conservative Party, who stepped down from his position late last month amid allegations of sexual misconduct, said Sunday he can disprove the accusations. In a lengthy Facebook post, Patrick Brown wrote that he has been investigating the allegations reported by CTV News. He said specific details of the accusations from two unnamed women, which date back to when he was a federal MP, contain discrepancies that prove the accounts are false. Brown also alleged that both his accusers know CTV reporters socially, and the broadcaster left out a contradicting account from a witness. "I will clear my name," Brown wrote in a post that had been shared more than 2,000 times as of Sunday afternoon. "THIS STORY IS FALSE."The post echoed an interview Brown gave last week to the Postmedia news agency, which was published in the Toronto Sun and several other outlets, in which he proclaimed his innocence and said he was considering legal action.Following Brown's social media statement, CTV defended its reporting. "CTV is aware of the claims made in Patrick Brown's Facebook post (Sunday) and those reportedly made in his interview with the Toronto Sun. CTV News stands by its story," Matthew Garrow, communications director for the broadcaster, wrote in a statement. Brown, whose resignation came just months before a spring election, wrote on Facebook that he will continue to fight for his family and his constituents, as well as his name and reputation.
"The #metoo movement is important. I support it. I embrace it. My drive to public service includes creating a safer and more respectful world for women. The #metoo movement is too important to allow outrageous allegations like these to derail it," he wrote. The allegations reported by CTV have not been verified by The Canadian Press.
The broadcaster reported on Jan. 24 that one of the women, who is now 29, said she was still in high school when Brown allegedly asked her to perform oral sex on him. CTV reported the alleged incident happened in Brown's bedroom with the door closed, but Brown said in his Facebook post that at the time of the alleged incident, he lived in an open concept apartment and the bedroom didn't have a door. CTV also reported the second accuser was a university student working in Brown's constituency office when he allegedly sexually assaulted her at his home after an event she helped organize.
Brown alleged in his post that the accuser actually tried to kiss him that night, while the woman he was seeing romantically was in another room. "I stopped her immediately and offered to drive her home, which I did," he wrote. "There are at least three witnesses, one of whom even spoke to CTV, that refute the details of her allegations." He said CTV left that witness's account out of their report. Brown stepped down in late January, just hours after an emotional late-night news conference in which he vowed to fight the allegations. A few days later, he was asked to take a leave of absence from the PC caucus, and interim leader Vic Fedeli said he would not sign Brown's nomination papers if the allegations still stood at campaign time. A spokesman for the PCs did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Brown's Facebook post Sunday afternoon. Brown's resignation caused the PCs to launch a hastily planned leadership contest ahead of the June election. Votes will be placed online in early March, with the results announced on March 10. So far, three high-profile candidates — former Toronto city councillor Doug Ford, former Ontario lawmaker Christine Elliott and Toronto lawyer Caroline Mulroney — have entered the race. Elliott has said that if Brown can clear his name, he should be allowed to run for the party in the coming election.
Trump Says Unsure Israel Wants Peace with Palestinians
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 11/18/U.S. President Donald Trump said in an interview published on Sunday that he was "not necessarily sure" Israel was seeking to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Trump has previously denounced the Palestinians for what he sees as their unwillingness to negotiate, but he has largely refrained from criticizing Israel. Speaking to freesheet daily Israel Hayom, Trump noted that while U.S.-Israel relations were "great", peace with the Palestinians would make them "a lot better.""Right now, I would say the Palestinians are not looking to make peace. They are not looking to make peace," Trump said in the interview with the right-wing paper. "And I am not necessarily sure that Israel is looking to make peace. So we are just going to have to see what happens." Trump also expressed concerns about Israeli settlement building, although his administration has been far less critical of settlements than his predecessor Barack Obama. Trump's ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has in the past been a supporter of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. "The settlements are something that very much complicates and always have complicated making peace, so I think Israel has to be very careful with the settlements," he said. Trump has said he intends to bring the Israelis and Palestinians to the "ultimate deal" that would resolve the decades-long conflict, but in the interview he questioned whether negotiations were even possible for now. "I don't know frankly if we are going to even have talks. We will see what happens, but I think it is very foolish for the Palestinians and I also think it would be very foolish for the Israelis if they don't make a deal," Trump said. "It's our only opportunity and it will never happen after this." Relations between Washington and the Palestinians have been severely strained since Trump's December decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and move the American embassy there. Palestinian leaders say there can be no talks with the U.S. administration until the decision on the city that they also see as their capital is reversed. Trump is also withholding tens of millions of dollars from UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 10-11/18
The open war with Iran has begun
Yaakov Katz/Jerusalem Post/February 11/18
The "Shadow War" between Israel and Iran has been going on for years, bringing us closer and closer to today's events and what is to come.
On Monday, Hezbollah will mark the 10th anniversary of the death of Imad Mughniyeh, its legendary and ruthless military commander, whose absence, according to Israeli intelligence, is felt still today. Mughniyeh – the mastermind of the bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut (1983) as well as the attacks against the Israeli Embassy (1992) and the Jewish community center (1994) in Buenos Aires – was killed in Damascus on February 12, 2008, just after he finished a meeting with some of his Iranian patrons. The Mossad reportedly planted a bomb in the spare tire on the back of his Mitsubishi jeep.
The assassination of Mughniyeh as well as countless other operations and targeted killings attributed to Israel have been going on for years as part of the “Shadow War” between Israel and Iran and the proxies it funds and operates throughout the Middle East. For the most part, until now, this war has been fought behind the scenes. Who needs to know, knows, and while some details occasionally make their way to the public domain, most do not. What happened in northern Israel on Saturday is the beginning of the overt and direct war between Israel and Iran. The infiltration and interception of an Iranian drone over Israel, the downing of an Israeli F-16 and Israel’s retaliatory strikes against Syrian and Iranian targets that followed, are apparently just the opening scenes of a potentially wider conflict that could erupt if Iran continues trying to fortify its presence in the new Syria.
This was long in the making. Years ago, the Iranians came to the rescue of Bashar Assad in Syria and, together with Russia, ensured his survival. The problem is that they haven’t left. On the contrary – even though Assad is today in control of the majority of Syria, Iran is staying put and trying to establish an even greater presence within the country. On Saturday, we saw how determined it is to do just that.
It is too early to tell what lesson Iran has learned from the clash on Saturday. On the one hand, it succeeded in infiltrating a drone into Israel, even though it was ultimately intercepted. Its ally Syria succeeded in shooting down an Israeli fighter jet. On the other hand, Israel carried out its most widespread bombings in Syria since it destroyed almost all of Syria’s air defenses in 1982. Israel’s retaliation was important for two reasons – it needed to neutralize the Syrian batteries that were used to down the F-16, but also to exact a price from Iran by bombing the control center used to operate the drone as well as other Iranian targets in Syria – the nature of which we will likely learn over the coming days.
The question will be whether Israel succeeded in boosting its deterrence. That depends on what Iran decides to do next. Will it keep on building its presence in Syria? Will it attempt another violation of Israel’s sovereignty down the road? While the downing of a fighter jet is a heavy blow to Israeli morale, it was not totally unexpected and needs to be viewed through the wider context of what has been going on for the last five years. Israel has carried out more than 100 strikes in Syria, and in war there are always wins and losses. The fact that a plane hasn’t been shot down until now is the real story and speaks volumes of the IAF’s superior capabilities.
Finally, Israel needs to be concerned by Russia’s response to the events on Saturday. In Moscow, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling for restraint and for all sides to “respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria.”On the surface, it seems like Russia is taking Iran and Syria’s side and not Israel’s, despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s best efforts to win over Vladimir Putin and his countless meetings with the Russian president. Beyond the ministry statement’s rhetorical significance, it could have practical consequences if Russia decides to deny Israel operational freedom over Syria in the future.Israel will have to tread carefully and will not have a lot of choice but to accept Moscow’s directives. While Russia has allowed Iran to establish a presence in Syria it has – until now – prevented it from setting up large bases or a presence right along the border with Israel on the Golan Heights.
That could all still happen – and will depend on what Russia’s interests will be when it comes to the future of Syria and the wider Middle East.

The FBI Confronts Trump
Noah Feldman/Bloomberg/February 11/18
It’s highly unusual for the FBI director to confront the president publicly -- because technically, the director works for the president. That’s why Christopher Wray generated immediate attention and controversy Wednesday for the bureau’s open statement urging Donald Trump not to release the classified Republican House committee memo that reportedly criticizes efforts by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to obtain a surveillance warrant on a former Trump campaign adviser. Wray is no doubt trying to protect the bureau he runs. But his statement is significant far beyond that parochial interest. Wray is also resisting Trump’s efforts to politicize criminal investigation and prosecution, efforts that are being imitated and abetted by Representative Devin Nunes of California and other Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee. The FBI director is standing up for the unwritten constitutional norm that says the FBI and Department of Justice should act apolitically when it comes to crime -- and that the president should stand back and let them do their jobs without partisan political intervention. The circumstances of the FBI’s statement matter for understanding its purpose. Early on Wednesday, Bloomberg News reported that Wray had privately told the White House that the memo should not be released. The Bloomberg report paraphrased an anonymous source as saying that Wray objected to the House committee memo “because it contains inaccurate information and paints a false narrative.”There’s nothing especially unusual about the FBI director giving the president private advice about a decision affecting both the bureau and issues of national security. Trump has several more days to decide whether to invoke national security concerns and block release of the memo. It makes sense for Wray to have given Trump his opinion. That someone leaked Wray’s opinion to the news media is slightly more unusual, but not unheard of in hardball political circles. The leaker was presumably someone who wanted to pressure to Trump to listen to Wray and block the memo’s release. The leak might or might not have come with Wray’s tacit approval.
What was highly unusual was the FBI statement released to reporters Wednesday afternoon. In it, the bureau said it had “grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.” The statement presented itself as speaking on behalf of “the FBI,” whose interests were expressed in the first person plural. That’s serious business. The statement presents the FBI as a whole as telling Trump what to do. So remarkable was this that some reporters who brought the statements to the public were immediately attacked on Twitter for purveying “fake news.”
The FBI as an institution has a self-protecting reason to oppose the memo, of course. As the classified memo has been described, it alleges that the FBI misled the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court when seeking permission to spy on Carter Page, a Trump campaign adviser with close business ties to Russia. The apparent basis for the memo’s charge of obfuscation is the claim that the FBI request relied on information from the Trump-Russia dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele without saying that Steele’s firm had been paid for opposition research partially by Democratic sources.
No agency likes to be criticized, of course. But mere self-protection wouldn’t ordinarily justify taking the radical step of the FBI’s public statement. Something much more important is at stake.
Wray’s objection is specifically aimed at trying to maintain the norm of depoliticized criminal investigation and prosecution.
As I explained in this column just Tuesday, before any of this news broke, there’s a mismatch between the written Constitution, which puts the Department of Justice and the FBI under the president’s direction, and our unwritten constitutional norms about investigation and prosecution. Those norms emerged to modernize and update the rule of law. They demand that partisan politics be kept out of the operation of the FBI and the criminal operations of Justice Department. Trump has been trying to break the unwritten norms, for example by firing the previous FBI director, James Comey, and urging the resignation of Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe. Now Wray is fighting back on behalf of the unwritten norm against injecting politics into investigations. He understands that the whole point of the House Republican committee memo is to taint the whole Russia investigation by making it look partisan.
Attacking the FBI for misleading the special surveillance court is intended to make the public believe that the FBI, not Trump, is making this investigation political. That’s why Wray’s statement matters. At stake isn’t the reputation of the FBI but the whole principle of depoliticized criminal investigation. If Trump releases the House memo, that principle will suffer yet another blow at his hands. That result wouldn’t just be bad for the FBI. It would be bad for the country.

We are Witnessing a Democratic Nightmare
Charles Lane/The Washington Post/February 11/18
Some of the most effective intelligence agencies in history have served the most odious dictatorships. The Soviet KGB, the East German Stasi, Cuban state security — many American intelligence pros ruefully concede that these services ran rings around Western counterparts, even if some of the regimes they served eventually collapsed anyway. This is no accident. One-party states, as that descriptor implies, combine a certain unity of purpose with total insulation from democratic accountability. This gives their secret agents latitude to get the job done, through extortion, infiltration, assassination — whatever it takes.
In a multiparty democracy, by contrast, such methods go against the political grain. The government may resort to them, but its mandate is a bit tentative. The government depends, crucially, on an underlying, voluntary political consensus strong enough to support the inevitable moral trade-offs.
Israel is a fractious democracy, but with wide agreement about securing an embattled Jewish state; Mossad performs accordingly. And that brings us to the United States, where the current attacks on the Federal Bureau of Investigation by President Trump and the Republican Party raise the question of whether it’s possible to maintain an effective, and legitimate, intelligence establishment, while the elected leaders who are supposed to control it engage in open-ended, winner-take-all, partisan conflict.
Bipartisan consensus has played a crucial but underappreciated role in the history of U.S. intelligence.
The United States developed no real national intelligence agency in the 19th century, while European states such as France, Russia and Prussia did. Partly this was due to small-government constitutional norms on this side of the Atlantic; but mistrust between American political factions was another inhibiting factor.
Only when sectional and partisan battles gave way to new international responsibilities, and (relative) domestic harmony, in the 20th century could Republicans and Democrats define shared national interests and accept the need for permanent secret agencies to protect them.
This consensus almost broke down amid the revelations of major abuses by the FBI and CIA during the 1960s and 1970s. Bipartisan reforms — enhanced congressional oversight, coupled with limited judicial review of spying by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) — salvaged it.
Now Trump is consciously attacking the very concept of bipartisan consensus, recasting it not as a manifestation of healthy national unity but as an inherently corrupt bargain that spawns a “deep state.” He and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) might be doing so opportunistically, enacting a parody of congressional oversight in service of selfish short-term political interests. Still, they are tapping a deep vein of American thought — a suspicion of secret government whose roots go all the way back to the founding.
It’s the same vein that Edward Snowden and his supporters on the left tapped in their revelations about the National Security Agency, and Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee tapped when they brought out a damning report on the CIA torture that took place during President George W. Bush’s administration. What’s more, even paranoids have real enemies. Suppose a Democratic president’s Justice Department really did use Democratic-funded opposition research, unverified and insufficiently disclosed, to get a secret warrant from the FISC to spy on a former Republican campaign adviser. Would that be perfectly okay?
In short, the American national consensus about intelligence, and many other things, was already in deep trouble long before Trump came on the scene. If there were still a robust political center, Trump never would have been elected in the first place.
Acting on instinct as much as anything else, the president is now exploiting the instability and confusion to neutralize threats to his power, the most salient of which, in the short term, is the investigation by Robert S. Mueller III. Full co-optation of the intelligence community could be his grand prize later on.
It is futile to count on the FBI itself — a “pillar of society,” as a New York Times headline strangely called it — to check Trump, even though many people who should know better seem to be doing just that. When Phil Mudd, a former top official of both the CIA and FBI, warns on television that the FBI is “ticked” at Trump and preparing to “win” against the elected president, it only feeds Trump’s “deep state” narrative. “Those who would counter the illiberalism of Trump with the illiberalism of unfettered bureaucrats would do well to contemplate the precedent their victory would set,” Tufts University constitutional scholar Michael J. Glennon warns in a 2017 Harper’s article. We are witnessing a democratic nightmare: partisan competition over secret and semi-secret intelligence and law-enforcement agencies. And as Glennon notes, it would be unwise to bet against Trump; he has favors to dispense and punishments to dish out. Alone among all the others blundering about in the ruins of America’s shattered political consensus, he knows exactly what he wants.

Six Steps on the Path to a Latin America Strategy
James Stavridis/Bloomberg/February 11/18
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is a pragmatic Texan with plenty of experience in Latin America, gleaned over his decades in the oil business. As he wraps up a five-day tour of the vibrant world to the south, he would do well to remember the words of Jorge Ramos, the sharp-eyed and sharp-tongued Univision journalist, who said of its contributions to literature: “It's no coincidence that magic realism happens in Latin America, because for us dreams and aspirations are part of life.” Finding the right balance between realism and idealism is at the heart of developing strategy, and the US desperately needs one toward Latin America and the Caribbean.
Tillerson’s trip lands in a decidedly mixed set of circumstances. On the positive side, recent elections have delivered more pro-US, politically conservative governments in a variety of countries, notably Argentina and Brazil. The decades-long insurgency in Colombia is winding down, and the population of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has fallen to just 41 inmates, from a high of almost 800. The US finally has an embassy in Havana. Economically, the region is benefiting from US and global growth, and finally emerging from the 2008 recession.
On the other hand, the idea of a border wall between the US and Mexico is a significant negative, deeply resented throughout the region in general and in Mexico especially (news flash: they won’t pay for it). President Donald Trump’s decisions to keep Guantanamo Bay open and to slow down the opening to Cuba are regarded poorly. Mexico and other nations in the region continue to find Trump’s pronouncements about “bad hombres” and his portrayal of Latin American and Caribbean immigrants as criminals utterly offensive. The US market for drugs is widely regarded as the cause of narcotics-fueled violence. And the US decisions to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris climate agreement are extremely unpopular.
With all that in mind, what is the best approach for the US? Where should Secretary Tillerson place strategic emphasis?
First, we should recognize how important the region is to the US, and develop an interagency strategy for engagement, involving the departments of State, Defense and Homeland Security, plus the Central Intelligence Agency and other stakeholders. The countries of Latin America and the Caribbean have large populations with strong cultural and religious linkages to the US, are almost all democratic, enjoy vast natural resources, and represent the only region of the world that avoided war in the 20th century and are at peace today. We are lucky to be part of the Americas with partners like these.
Second, we have to prioritize our relationships with Mexico and Brazil. Mexico because it shares a 2,000-mile border with us, is culturally intertwined with the neighboring states, and is one of our top trading partners. Brazil because of its enormous size and global potential. Elections in both countries this year will drive our strategic relationships, but we should encourage high-level visits, diplomatic coordination on regional issues, academic and cultural exchanges, and even military-to-military exercises. Related to our relationship with Mexico, we must work hard to preserve the North American Free Trade Agreement -- partly to ensure that Canada remains deeply engaged in Latin America and the Caribbean. Nafta needs renegotiating, but our approach should value the idea of the treaty, and find reasonable compromises. Most experts put the chances of successfully doing so at less than even. We need to realize that in addition to the economic elements of the agreement, it is a crucial strategic tool.
Third, our long-term relationship with Colombia is crucial. The success of the bipartisan Plan Colombia in ending armed conflict is remarkable, and the nation represents a enormously important economic and security partner for the US We should be working with both Colombia and Mexico to address the drug problems in Central America. The violence levels in some countries are breathtaking (much higher than Afghanistan, for example). That directly affects the US and Mexico through illegal migration. Fourth, we need to elevate US-Caribbean relations, beginning, of course, with how Washington treats Puerto Rico. We have to help our fellow citizens by providing real assistance in recovering from this summer’s devastating hurricanes. China is moving not only into Central and South America, but also the Caribbean islands. So this relatively low-cost engagement needs to be a component of our strategy.
Fifth, our best strategic move in Cuba is to continue to engage. Over time, the rotten Castro regime will fall because of the allure of capitalism, the influence of tourism, and the access to the broader world through the internet. As happened in Eastern Europe and Ukraine -- and is happening today in Venezuela -- nonviolent resistance can overcome even the most entrenched dictatorships. Finally, on Venezuela, we need to talk softly and let our allies and partners in the region take the lead on visibly bashing Nicolas Maduro’s execrable regime. We should certainly be joining in sanctions, quietly encouraging them, and preparing for the possibility of a civil war and a wave of Venezuelan refugees. The international coalition approach has worked well for the US in the Balkans and against Islamic State. We need to use this strategic tack here in this hemisphere. When I was commander of US Southern Command, people would sometimes say to me, “You are in charge of an important part of the world, Admiral -- after all, that’s America’s backyard.” That expression, however, is wrong in so many dimensions, and perpetuates a sense that Latin America and the Caribbean are lesser partners than our allies across the Atlantic or the Pacific. Instead of a condescending attitude, we need a forward-looking strategy that recognizes the power in this vast hemisphere, from the Arctic Circle to the tip of Tierra del Fuego. Secretary Tillerson’s trip is a good start, but we have a long way to go.

Why Are European Governments So Terrified of 'Fake News'?
Judith Bergman/Gatestone Institute/February 11/18
When Swedish authorities representing a Swedish left-wing government and media announce a project to prevent "fake news" from "decisively influencing" the 2018 elections, this ought to set off loud alarm bells among Swedes. Who determines what constitutes "fake news" anyway? Is it not the very essence of "fake news" when a media outlet refuses to report mass sexual assaults, because the perpetrators happen to be foreigners from third world countries?
A British Cabinet Office spokesperson told Sky News: "The Government is committed to tackling false information and the Government Communications Service plays a crucial role in this". Perhaps their "rapid response fake news unit" should begin with Theresa May herself, who falsely and against all factual evidence continues to claim that Islam is a religion of peace and that ISIS is not Islamic.
Meanwhile, European citizens continue to face costly legal prosecution for refusing to accept the fake news about Islam propagated by people such as Theresa May.
"I also thought that Islam was just a normal religion, but then I read the Koran and became shocked by the hatred that exists there, the misogyny... The more Islam takes over, the more we compromise. Islam is a totalitarian ideology, which means dictatorship. So, I believe that our democratic system is in danger... I hate no people. What I hate is ideology, Islam. One can criticize fascism or Nazism, but why not Islam? Why should Islam have any protection status?" — Denny, on trial in Sweden for "incitement to hatred" for calling Islam "a fascist ideology" on Facebook. If found guilty, he faces up to two years in prison.
The Swedish government's innovation agency, Vinnova, is financing a project led by the combined forces of Swedish mainstream media to, in the words of Vinnova, "prevent fake news and unfounded statements from spreading and playing a decisive role in the Swedish elections in 2018". The next elections, which take place every four years, are scheduled to take place on September 9, 2018. The Swedish media giants involved in the project consist of Swedish State Television, Swedish State Radio, Bonnier, Schibsted Sverige, and NTM. Together, these media companies effectively own Swedish mainstream media in the form of newspapers, online news outlets, and state and private television and radio. The Swedish state is financing the technical aspects of the project with 1.9 million Swedish kroner ($240,000), while the Swedish mainstream media is financing the remaining project costs themselves. The "fake news" project was originally launched in October 2017.
According to Maria Rimpi, chief editor of Svenska Dagbladet, one of the main Swedish mainstream newspapers:
"There are several successful examples of editors who have collaborated on fact-finding in different parts of Europe. As a result, the people in the steering group, who have great faith in each other, began to discuss whether we can do something similar in Sweden.
"We have seen how false statements and apparent news have been widely spread and influenced elections in other countries. To go into the depths of an assertion, and, for example, trace sources of origin, are very resource-intensive. Through this collaboration, more voters can access correct information".
How adorable that Swedish media, which has been going out of its way to conceal and beautify news about Sweden – migrant rapes and other crimes, for example -- in its news coverage, suddenly and conveniently in election season, pretends to care about whether Swedish voters can access correct information. Correct information has not exactly been a priority until now: Swedish media never reports the ethnicity of rapists, for example, thereby not only making it harder for the public to help locate the perpetrators, but also refusing to depict reality as it is. Swedish media has even covered up entire news stories in order to protect migrants: In 2015, there were widespread sexual assaults by young men, mainly from Afghanistan and Syria, at a music festival in Stockholm. One of the largest Swedish newspapers, Dagens Nyheter, once it was informed of the national origin of the criminals, did not want to report the story. The story was only finally reported -- six months after the newspaper learned about it -- because of the obvious similarity to the sexual assaults in Cologne, Germany, which had just occurred.
Granted, it is not always easy to be a journalist in Sweden: Sexual assaults had been ongoing at this Stockholm festival for years, yet the Swedish police suppressed the information. "Sometimes," according to Svt Nyheter, "[the police] consciously choose to cover up incidents where the suspects have a foreign background". According to police chief Peter Ågren, "This is a sore spot; we sometimes do not dare to say it as it is, because we think it could play into the hands of the Sweden Democrats".
Swedish authorities thus have a history of joining forces with the media to keep Swedes from knowing what is going on in their own country, lest they vote the opposition into power. In fact, a 2002 survey from the University of Gothenburg revealed 70% of Swedish journalists to be left-wing and very loyal to the Swedish state, which in modern times has historically been dominated by Social Democrat Party. Therefore, when Swedish authorities representing a Swedish left-wing government and media announce a project to combat "fake news" from "decisively influencing" the 2018 elections, this ought to set off loud alarm bells among Swedes. Who determines what constitutes "fake news" anyway? Is it not the very essence of "fake news" when a media outlet refuses to report mass sexual assaults, because the perpetrators happen to be foreigners from third world countries?
Ultimately, the unholy alliance of government agencies and media giants to silence criticism of government policies in an election year in the name of "fake news", is not only indicative of an astonishing contempt for established democratic principles and the freedom of expression and information. It also reveals how truly terrified the political establishment is of falling from power, and just how far it will go in compromising democratic principles in order to be able to cling to that power.
Sweden, naturally, is not the only country with a political elite clinging to power at all costs and using the slippery slope of "fake news" to cover up the silencing of dissent and government criticism.
In France, President Emmanuel Macron has threatened to go as far as to block entire websites during election season in order to fight "fake news". He is expected to present new legislation on the topic in the near future.
In the UK, Prime Minister Theresa May is setting up a "rapid response fake news unit". The purpose is, according to a news report by Sky News, to "monitor social media and challenge false stories". The unit will be based in the Cabinet Office, according to Alex Aiken, the executive director of the Government Communication Service (GCS), the public-relations wing of the civil service. Aiken said that the civil service needed to "build a rapid response social media capability to deal quickly with disinformation and reclaim a fact-based public debate".
A British Cabinet Office spokesperson told Sky News: "The Government is committed to tackling false information and the Government Communications Service plays a crucial role in this". Perhaps the unit should begin with Theresa May herself, who falsely and against all factual evidence continues to claim that Islam is a religion of peace and that ISIS is not Islamic.
Meanwhile, European citizens continue to face costly legal prosecutions for refusing to accept the fake news about Islam propagated by people such as Theresa May.
In Sweden, for example, a 71-year old pensioner, Denny, who decided to read the Koran and was shocked to see what it said, is being prosecuted for "incitement to hatred" for calling Islam "a fascist ideology" on Facebook. According to Denny:
"A few years ago, I also thought that Islam was just a normal religion, but then I read the Koran and became shocked by the hatred that exists there, the misogyny... The more Islam takes over, the more we compromise. Islam is a totalitarian ideology, which means dictatorship. So, I believe that our democratic system is in danger... I hate no people. What I hate is ideology, Islam. One can criticize fascism or Nazism, but why not Islam? Why should Islam have any protection status?"
Denny's case will go to court in June. He could face up to two years in prison.
Sweden's government is leading an unholy alliance with media giants to silence criticism of government policies in an election year, in the name of "fake news". Pictured: Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven.
*Judith Bergman is a columnist, lawyer and political analyst.
© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

The Opening Skirmishes Of A Catastrophic New Conflict
Baria Alamuddin/Arab News/February 11/18
The world awoke on Saturday to an ominous new chapter in the escalating, multifronted war that is tearing the Middle East apart. The shooting down of an Israeli F-16 plane and a series of strikes against Syrian and Iranian targets (the “largest and most significant” Israeli action in Syria since 1982) bring us one step closer to an inevitable confrontation between Israel and Iranian proxy forces, fought across Arab soil. This is what global dereliction of duty looks like. When the international community shrugged its shoulders and walked away from the Syria conflict — having concluded that diplomatic or military solutions were too much effort — it became inevitable that this carnage would suck in neighboring states, ultimately reaping far-reaching consequences for these same world powers that had shunned their moral responsibilities.
For five years the world pretended not to notice as about 200,000 Iranian proxy forces were deployed across Iraq and Syria, all the way across to the Golan Heights. Meanwhile Hezbollah tightened its stranglehold on the Lebanese state and waded into Syria. As Israel reciprocally beefed up its own military posture, a titanic conflict became simply a matter of time.
The humiliating destruction of an IDF warplane by Syrian anti-aircraft installations (under Iranian and Russian “supervision”) is viewed by some Israeli hawks as a convenient pretext for crushing Iran’s proxies in Syria and Lebanon once and for all. Some Knesset members even accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of triggering these events to distract attention from the pending corruption probes against him. However, both sides appear hesitant to plunge off the precipice into all-out war. Israeli and Iranian statements have confusingly oscillated between pious aspirations to de-escalate the situation, and dire threats about consequences of further provocation.
Tel Aviv accused Iran of “playing with fire,” yet a spokesman was quick to assert that Israel was “not looking to escalate the situation.” Meanwhile, Netanyahu warned Putin that Israel would intervene to prevent further Iranian attempts to consolidate its position in Syria. Iranian officials studiously sought to distance themselves from these events, denying that an Iranian unmanned aircraft had entered Israel. Yet a military spokesman in Tehran crowed that downing the F-16 was a “clear warning” for Israel. Hezbollah declared that Israel’s actions had “swept away previous axioms,” forcing the conflict into a “new strategic phase.”
Israel has launched airstrikes inside Syrian territory on 26 previous occasions — each time followed by ineffectual admonitions from Assad’s regime that it would respond at “a time of its choosing.” All parties repeatedly declare their readiness for war: Israeli military officials threatened to send Lebanon “back to the Stone Age.” The Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah ranted about raining missiles down upon Tel Aviv and pledged to mobilize transnational Shiite militants for a confrontation launched from sovereign Lebanese soil. Iraqi paramilitaries scarcely disguise their enthusiasm about the prospect of attacking the “Zionist enemy.” Hezbollah even arranged guided tours to the Lebanon-Israel border for prominent militants such as Qais Al-Khazali. Last week a senior Iranian official, Ibrahim Raisi (seen by some as Ayatollah Khamenei’s successor), was also treated to such a trip, theatrically proclaiming that “Jerusalem’s liberation is near.”
That Saturday’s incidents on Israel’s borders failed to escalate into wholesale carnage is only a temporary stay of execution. One day soon we will be waking up to a massive new confrontation whose eruption was all too predictable.
Iranian and Israeli saber-rattling puts Russia in an uncomfortable position. Netanyahu recently made his sixth visit in a year to Moscow, demanding that Russia constrain Iran’s freedom of action in Syria. There have been indications of growing Tehran-Moscow tensions: Both sides still enjoy mutual tactical interests in combining forces to carve out Syrian spheres of influence, yet their strategic aims diverge. Moscow considers Israel a close ally and its statement on Saturday calling on both sides to exercise “restraint” was a doomed attempt to steer a neutral course.
Iran’s deployment of unmanned aircraft in Israeli airspace, and Syria’s “massive” use of anti-aircraft fire against Israeli warplanes, calculatedly seek to wrong-foot Russia, giving pro-Iran militants greater freedom of action to pursue their own agenda. Israel’s response was likewise a “shot across the bows” for Moscow, signaling readiness to act decisively if Tehran was not reined in. Russia has used the Syrian theater to project strength in the region, yet these events make Moscow look ineffective and indecisive — particularly as any escalation would probably necessitate a hurried drawdown of Russian forces.
Israel has expressed exasperation at recent Syrian status-of-forces agreements that allow Iranian proxies to base themselves just 5km away from the occupied Golan Heights. Israel will certainly use threats of force to press its demands for clearing these forces out of this sensitive region. Another factor is Lebanon’s recent agreement with a French-Italian-Russian consortium for offshore oil exploration in areas claimed by Israel. Tel Aviv’s potent mixture of legal arguments and military posturing appear designed to unnerve Beirut into making concessions.
The fact that no party exploited Saturday’s escalation to plunge into a full military confrontation is an encouraging sign that neither side yet feels ready for a devastating conflict. However, we know from bitter experience that the killing would be highly asymmetric against innocent Arab citizens caught in the crossfire. In the aftermath of a major war we cannot trust the international community to play a constructive role in conflict resolution and reconstruction. The Trump administration is short-sightedly refusing to fund reconstruction efforts in Iraq. Arab Gulf states played a dominant role in rebuilding Lebanon in 2006, but today have less ready cash available. Iran will look after its own, but would happily leave Lebanese and Syrian citizens to starve.
With Hezbollah’s arsenal of upgraded missiles swelling to 100,000 warheads, and with Israel having stepped up its own battle-readiness, a conflict in 2018 would make the bloody carnage of 2006 look like a walk in the park. This war would be fought over an expanded battlefront, with an array of paramilitaries contributing to the fight, and America happy to sell Israel all the military playthings it needs.
Provocative and belligerent policies by both sides have produced a situation in which, even if neither side desires war today, Tehran and Tel Aviv have locked themselves into an inevitable path of confrontation. Iranian proxies have ceaselessly used anti-Israel rhetoric to justify de facto annexation of Arab lands, swallowing up 100 times more territory in Iraq and Syria than Israel stole from the Palestinians! Meanwhile it is inconceivable that Israel would passively observe the paramilitary build-up around its northern borders without preparing to strike.
If Russia, America, Turkey, the GCC, UN and EU were to spring into action, there is perhaps time to force all sides to step back from the abyss, reignite Syrian peace efforts, and contain Iran’s expansionist policies. Yet these powers lack the foresight, unity of purpose, or political will to do what is necessary. The recent Turkish incursion against US-backed Kurdish forces represents the moment when the Syria conflict descended from tragedy into farce.
The horrors of the Syrian conflict produced a global refugee crisis, bloodthirsty new brands of global terrorism, and chemical and conventional weapons proliferation challenges. Can world leaders maintain the transparent lie that this expanding and mutating regional war is not their problem?
That Saturday’s incidents on Israel’s borders failed to escalate into wholesale carnage is only a temporary stay of execution. One day soon we will be waking up, not merely to trivial skirmishes and threats, but to a massive new confrontation whose eruption was all too predictable, and perhaps even preventable — if we’d only been willing to act.
Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.

Who Will Hold Assad To Account For Chemical Weapons?
Kerry Boyd Anderson /Arab News/February 11/18
As new cases of the Assad regime using chemical weapons emerge, there are growing questions about whether Syria’s actions and the lack of serious response by other countries are badly eroding the global consensus against chemical weapons — and perhaps damaging broader norms and institutions that underpin the international system. The Assad regime began using chemical weapons against its own people in 2012. In 2013, the US government, under Barack Obama, threatened military action against Syria for doing so. However, Obama was reluctant to engage in the Syrian war, and Moscow and Washington worked on a deal in which Syria joined the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), an international treaty that bans the possession and use of chemical weapons. Syria formally declared its stockpile, and the international community removed and destroyed those weapons. The deal noted that any future use of chemical weapons would have consequences, potentially including military force. The Assad regime quickly violated the agreement and has continued using chemical weapons. In most cases, it uses chlorine gas, which is not subject to CWC declarations since chlorine is a dual-use chemical with non-military purposes; nonetheless, the weaponization of chlorine violates the CWC. In other cases, the regime appears to have used nerve agents.
Syria’s flagrant violations — and disingenuous denials — pose a direct challenge to the global norm against the possession and use of chemical weapons. Norms are rules by which most states agree to abide. However, if rules are not enforced, they lose meaning and influence, and the international system lacks a clear enforcer. The primary institutional mechanism for enforcing global treaties and norms is the UN Security Council. However, Russia has used its veto power as a permanent member of the Council to protect Syria and impede the ability of investigators to establish who is responsible for using chemical weapons in Syria. Chlorine attacks on Syrian civilians raise pressing questions about the effectiveness of global rules in an age when it is unclear who will enforce them. When the UN system is paralyzed, enforcement lags. The US has struggled to determine its own role. Obama was criticized for setting a “red line,” then failing to act when Assad crossed it. In 2016, President Donald Trump authorized a US missile strike on a Syrian airbase in response to a chemical weapons attack against civilians, but it was too limited to persuade the regime to stop using chemical weapons. Various countries have imposed sanctions but with limited effect. What should the international community do? Rebecca Hersman, director of the Project on Nuclear Issues at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and previously US deputy assistant secretary of defense for countering weapons of mass destruction, told me: “The US has largely only looked at the use of force … but what we need is a much bigger menu of consequences.” If they can’t be imposed through the UN Security Council, they should still be implemented by several countries acting in concert, she said.
One potential example is a new effort led by France to gather and preserve evidence of chemical weapons use in Syria and “name and shame” individuals and entities linked to the chemical weapons program.
Meanwhile, Syria’s actions and the relative lack of consequences threaten to undermine the CWC and other global norms. “When you look at a system of arms control and nonproliferation that seeks to ban classes of weapons, if you continually face repeated use, it cannot help but call into question the efficacy of that ban and the normative underpinnings that support it,” Hersman said.
For now, most of the world continues to accept that chemical weapons should never be used. Syria is the only party to the CWC that is violating its prohibitions. CWC states have also made important progress in destroying the vast majority of the world’s declared chemical weapons stocks, said Alicia Sanders-Zakre, a researcher with the Arms Control Association. However, she said Russia’s defense of Syria had eroded the unity of CWC members. So far, Syria has used chemical weapons against its own people and not against other states. While this is a clear violation of the CWC, it is likely that other countries would act far more strongly against the Assad regime if it used such weapons against another state. The world is more likely to shrug its shoulders over a government’s actions against its own people. Syria poses a threat to the CWC but an even greater threat to the concept of “responsibility to protect.” The Syrian situation raises pressing questions about the effectiveness of global norms in an age when it is unclear who will enforce the rules. Kerry Boyd Anderson is a writer and political risk consultant with more than 14 years’ experience as a professional analyst of international security issues and Middle East political and business risks. Her previous positions include deputy director for advisory with Oxford Analytica and managing editor of Arms Control Today.
Twitter: @KBAresearch

Hollywood, movies, and the GCC: what is there in common?
Diana Galeeva/Al Arabiya/February 11/18
I would like to argue that the answer to the question ‘what do Hollywood, the BBC drama ‘McMafia’, and the GCC states have in common’ is the possibility of top-class movie production.
The idea of using the film or movie industry generally, or specific film industries such as Hollywood or Bollywood, is rooted in well-known concepts such as soft power and place branding, which are considered essential political tools for successful power. Soft power is ‘the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments’ (Nye, 2002:6).
The main elements of soft power are policies, political ideas, and culture. For America, for example, popular culture includes the production of movies by Hollywood studios. Nye presents a practical example of how movies assist the US to achieve political objectives in China.
As a result of watching American movies, Chinese activists will say: ‘We’ve seen a lot of Hollywood movies – they featured weddings, funerals and going to court. So now we think it’s only natural to go to court a few times in your life’. Thus, Nye explains that the US goal of solidifying the legal system in China and strengthening the rule of law will be achieved more effectively through the watching of movies than by the speeches of American ambassadors. The role of American movies is perceived as even more powerful than America economics or politics. For example, Wattenberg believes that while American popular culture contains elements of violence, vapidity and materialism, is also demonstrates American values of social mobility, openness, individualism and freedom. For Wattenberg, ‘that content is more powerful than politics or economics’ (1991:213). Similarly, Sandburg (2003) states that while Hollywood is ‘not as clean as Harvard’ its influence is ‘further reaching’.
One part of the soft power concept is place branding, focused on concepts such as values, norms and rules in worldwide politics (Ham, 2008). A place brand is intellectual property, which is ‘the totality of the thoughts, feelings, associations and expectations that come to mind when a prospect or consumer is exposed to an entity’s name, logo, products, services, events, or any design or symbol representing them’ (Lindsay, 2010; Ham, 2008:2). Ham suggests that anything can be branded, such as a credit card (American Express), computer components (Intel), or even a state. In other words, any state can be branded with symbols and meanings, and a government can create an attractive and positive global image for their state. In contrast, when governments do not consider branding seriously enough, not only do they miss the opportunity to promote a positive image of themselves, but they also leave open their identity to misappropriation. Counterparts in other nations can produce their own movies about another state or its citizens which play on the lack of knowledge about the target nation. This illustration of a state can forever stick in the memories of the worldwide community who are unfamiliar with a particular state, its history, or its traditions, and have received their first information about a state through this channel, and this negative perception can harm the image of state.
Borat and Mission Impossible
The success of the movie ‘Borat, Cultural Learning of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan’ was enormous. It was distributed by 20th Century Fox, and made $26.4 million on a limited release of 837 screens in the US in November 2006, before going on to further success in Western Europe. The film portrays a fictional Kazakh journalist travelling in the US to create a documentary for ‘benefit of glorious nation of Kazakhstan’, and generated significant controversy. According to Ham (2008:8) it presents Kazakhstan as a ‘backward and anti-Semitic country’. For an American audience, the main purpose of the movie was to demonstrate how easily Americans would along with the journalist’s homophobic, racist, and sexist jokes. For viewers in Kazakhstan, however, the movie was viewed as highly offensive. Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry proclaimed that the character’s behaviour was deemed ‘utterly unacceptable, being a concoction of bad taste and ill manner which is completely incompatible with the ethics and civilised behaviour of Kazakhstan’s people’, and threatened legal action against any similar pranksters. For people who know Kazakhstan, the story is clearly fictitious. However, as Ham suggests, although Kazakhstan is the size of Western Europe, ‘it was basically unknown to most people in the West, and their first ‘information’ about the country came from watching Borat’. This example is crucial for highlighting that, firstly, governments should seriously consider the development of film industries in their own states, able to produce movies of sufficient quality compete in the global market. Secondly, they should not rely on a Western film industry to create movies about their states, as this could just as easily be a damaging misrepresentation as a positive image.
The use of movies as tool of soft power has become an essential part of place branding for the GCC states. For example, scenes in movies such as Star Wars, Mission Impossible, and Fast and Furious, as well as the children’s series Sesame Street were made in the UAE. However, it seems that it is essential for the GCC states to not only use movie production in their place branding, but also as soft power. This soft power can be introducing their domestic unique values to the world or presenting the traditions and history of the GCC states, and for foreign policy objectives, such as competing with their rivals.
The use of movies as tool of soft power has become an essential part of place branding for the GCC states.
Let’s focus on usage soft power as demonstration of domestic uniqueness of the GCC states. There are plenty of Western movies that do not reflect realities of states, or show a nation little respect. For example, some movies produced by the West, such as ‘A Hologram for the King’, do not show Arabs in a positive light, and portray the Gulf mainly in association with oil and wealth. As Western movies are popular globally, this means that those cinema-goers who do not have a particular interest in the region will believe that this is all they need to know about Arabs from the Gulf.
While some Western movies misrepresent the image of the GCC states, most films created by GCC nationals are rooted in the demonstration of traditions and the uniqueness of their homelands. Representatives of GCC states, such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia, are among the most famous Arab directors. Most have developed a reputation for portraying stories of their countries and traditions, and presenting the social developments within the region. For example, ‘Nearby Sky’ (2014), from the Emirati director Al-Ghanem’s tells the story of the first woman in the UAE to enter her camels in Abu Dhabi’s male-dominated camel beauty contest. Two Saudi movies which demonstrate Saudi society and its distinctive characters and identity are Wadjda and Barakah Meets Barakah, both of which were submitted to the Oscars (Gulf News, 2016). It seems that supporting the film industry at the governmental level, aiming to produce top-quality movies and compete with Western counterparts, will increase the visibility of GCC states’ identities, and histories. It could also represent them differently from the Western perspective of events in the region, and could become one of the most economically profitable economic sectors in states that are looking for means of diversification their economies.
McMafia and the cure for Iranian expansion
Considering movies as foreign policy tool for dealing with its counterparts, we can examine the example of political outcomes from the popular BBC thriller ‘McMafia’, aired in early 2018. The drama presents the story of a Russian family living in the UK. Their son Alex Godman, having been educated at a British private school and graduated from Harvard, is trying to make a success of his investment fund without the financial assistance of his parents. However, after the murder of his uncle, he descends into a world of money laundering and drug smuggling, failing to escape from his family background. Most journalistic pieces have described the series only from this perspective. However, the drama also calls attention to a number of aspects of the life of Russian immigrants, their relations within the family, their understanding of family and family values, and their love for their country. For example, the father of the family, Dimitri, asks for soil from the cemetery of their family home to put in his brother’s coffin. Even before all eight episodes had been aired, the show had political outcomes. The Russian Embassy in the UK criticised BBC, saying that the programme was a clichéd and inaccurate portrayal of Russians’ contribution to the UK. The embassy’s Twitter feed commented that the drama ‘depicts Britain as a playground for Russian gangsters’ and asked its followers to guess how many Russians offenders were in UK prisons. Almost 60 per cent of respondents cited the correct answer of ‘fewer than 10’ (Guardian, 2008).
The Russian Embassy also commented: ‘Crime rate among Russians in UK is well below national average. Good that our followers are not buying into the clichés BBC is spreading’. The political fall out has not ended with highlighting that the series creates a cliché and harmful image of Russians, but also that it has led British officials to action. The security minister Ben Wallace stated that the success of ‘McMafia’ will be raise awareness of corruption, and he warned that Russian oligarchs might be targeted in the latest crackdown. Wallace highlighted the importance of the drama for understanding the finances of wealthy Russians, stating in an interview with the Times that: ‘McMafia is one of those things where you realise that fact is ahead of fiction’. As a result, British officials will apply new unexplained wealth orders (UWOs) to seize doubtful possessions until they have been accurately accounted for. UWOs permit the British authorities to freeze and recover possessions if individuals are unable to clarify how they obtained assets in excess of £50,000. It is surprising how a television series can generate such a reaction: ‘When we get to you, we will come for you, for your assets and we will make the environment that you live in difficult,’ Wallace said. This example shows how popular media can harm the image of a nation and launch a new political and legal actions against particular state-citizens.
Learning from this example, it is clear foreign policy objectives can be accomplished not only by diplomatic means but also by the production of movies and television shows aimed to resonate with the political actions of other governments and affect worldwide public opinion. One of the goals in the creation of popular culture can be its use as a political tool to engage with counterparts, and to create a ‘counterargument’ to a state’s competitors or enemies. For example, movies can be applied as soft power tool to counter Iranian destabilizing behaviour in the Middle East, focusing on the Iranian regime itself and Iranian-backed militias, for example high-quality movies based on true stories about how the Iranian regime has started to use sectarian policies to influence the region. Movies based on real stories about the operation of Hezbollah, the Houthis, or Hezbollah in Bahrain will cause these groups and events to be viewed in a new light by the worldwide community. Just as Nye cited that the US ambition of promoting the legal system in China was promoted more by movies than American speakers, by creating movies to global quality standards and with internationally famous actors, Gulf states will be better able to solve political problems in their region. Thus, movies can be used to break Western stereotypes about the GCC states, gain economic advantages from both movie production and tourism, and implement ‘power of discourse’ – telling the stories that the GCC governments would like to tell about their counter-parts and rivals in the political arena.