February 13/2018
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 12-13/18
Lebanon vows to prevent Israel from building concrete wall in 13 areas/Arab News/February 13/18
The next Iranian-Israeli engagement in Syria is due in late April, early May/DEBKAfile/February 12/ 2018
Syria: A Booby-Trapped Gift and Mischievous Partners/Ghassan Charbel/Asharq Al Awsat/February 12/18
The Diplomacy of Downing Jets in Syria/Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/February 12/18
Turkey's Operation in Northern Syria/Sirwan Kajjo/Gatestone Institute/February 12/18
Death of Democracy? - Part II/Denis MacEoin/Gatestone Institute/February 12/18
How China and Pakistan could lay the Road to Peace in Afghanistan/Syed Jawaid Iqbal/Al Arabiya/February 12/18
ANALYSIS: How Iran’s regime enters its 40th year as an Islamic Republic/Heshmat Alavi/Al Arabiya /February 12/18
Israel Signaling a Heavy Price for Iranian 'Entrenchment' in Syria/David Makovsky/The Washington Institute/February 12/18

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on February 12-13/18
Lebanon vows to prevent Israel from building concrete wall in 13 areas
Aoun Says Syria War Won't Affect Lebanon, 'No Winners, Losers' in Elections
Hariri after Baabda Summit: Lebanon United in Face of Israeli Violations
Aid Conference for Lebanon Scheduled Mid March
Berri Rules Out Escalation after Israeli Jet Downing; Says Lebanon Oil Rights 'Protected'
Lebanese Man Crosses into Israel, Again
Funding for Lebanon Response in 2017 Amounts to USD 1.68 Billion
Judge Dismisses Lawsuit against Sabhan to Protect 'National Interest'
Jean Aziz, close aide to Aoun, resigns
Berri Holds 'Positive, Very Good' Meeting with Hariri
Kataeb: 'Hizbullah Communications Grid' in Rmeileh Poses Security Risk

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 12-13/18

Iranian Professor Dies in Evin Prison, Leaves Community in Shock
Iran’s Rouhani Demands Referendum to End Internal Crises
Ahmadinejad Criticizes Poor Situation in the Country, Continues Attacks Against Officials
US Secretary of State says Washington backs Egypt in fight against terrorism
Egypt continues Sinai crackdown as 28 militants killed, 126 arrested
Egypt jails 17 for life over deadly 2014 unrest
US defense secretary: Iran is present everywhere we find trouble in Mideast
Turkey assails US over ties with Syrian Kurdish militia
Kremlin says US diplomatic help on Syria insufficient
Iraq says reconstruction after war on ISIS to cost $88 billion
Iraq militia commander Qais Khazali issues warning to American troops
French foreign minister visits Iraq to discuss reconstruction
Netanyahu Discussing Annexing Settlements with U.S.
Turkey Warns US to Make or Break Strained Ties
Investigators Hunt for Clues over Russian Passenger Plane Crash
A Night at the Ritz: Riyadh '5-Star Prison' Back in Business
Netanyahu Says Discussed Annexing Settlements with U.S.; White House Denies
Trump Daughter-in-Law Taken to Hospital after Receiving 'Suspicious' Mail
Syria Kurds Say 'No Problem' if Damascus Fights Turkey

Latest Lebanese Related News published on February 12-13/18
Lebanon vows to prevent Israel from building concrete wall in 13 areas
Arab News/February 13/18
BEIRUT: Lebanon's top officials vowed to prevent Israel from building a concrete wall in 13 areas when they met on Monday. The meeting at Baabda Presidential Palace brought together Prime Minister Saad Hariri, President Michel Aoun and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and they discussed defending Lebanon against "Israeli violations" ahead of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's visit to Lebanon on Thursday. Hariri did not say anything about the outcomes of the meeting, but stressed that the consultations will continue so that all Lebanese stances are unified with regard to any violation. On the decision made by the Supreme Council of Defense and the Cabinet, he explained that they aim to unify their stances against any Israeli violations. The Supreme Council vowed last Thursday to “face any act of aggression against Lebanon’s sovereignty and national dignity with determination.”
The Cabinet, which met on the same day, stressed “the importance of uniting for successfully overcoming this phase.”
During their meeting, Aoun, Berri and Hariri discussed Israel’s continuous threats, the concrete wall that Israel aims to build off the southern border, and its claimed ownership of Block 9 in Lebanon’s Exclusive Economic Zone. The meeting was attended by Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, head of Lebanon’s General Security, and Brig. Gen. Malek Shamas, coordinator of the Lebanese Government to the UNIFIL, who joined a few hours after attending a tripartite military meeting at the UN position in Ras Al-Naqoura. The press office of the Lebanese presidential palace said: “Shamas briefed the Lebanese officials on Israel’s stance regarding Lebanon’s objection to the concrete wall before eliminating Lebanon’s reservations in 13 areas along the Blue Line and demarcating Lebanon’s international borders.”
Hariri announced that they “have discussed the proposals made by David Satterfield, the principal deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, during his visit to Beirut.” After Satterfield’s departure from Lebanon, the Lebanese media quoted ministerial sources who attended his meetings with Lebanese officials, saying, “Lebanon has reservations about some of Satterfield’s proposals because of his bias toward Israel, which does not reflect an intention to provide balanced mediation.”Lebanese media outlets pointed out that “Satterfield called for preventing Hezbollah from transferring advanced weapons from Syria to Lebanon and storing them in the Bekaa Valley. He also demanded ruling out Hezbollah’s arms from any settlement because they violate international resolutions, especially 1701 and 1556.”
Satterfield said Washington was willing to mediate in the dispute over Block 9, according to the media outlets, and that the US looked forward to improving Lebanon’s conditions through proposing the former US mediator, Frederic Hof, who, in 2012, mediated in the maritime border dispute over a triangular area of sea of around 860 square kilometers that extends along the edge of Block 9, in which Lebanon prepares to explore gas and oil. Al-Markazia News Agency quoted political sources saying that “at the end of the tripartite meeting, Lebanon agreed to cooperate with any mediation provided Lebanon does not waive any of its oil rights. “In addition to that, it was agreed that the US secretary of state will be informed during his visit that Lebanon refuses to allow Israel to build its wall on the 13 areas at the southern border.”
Al-Markazia reported that the tripartite meeting in Ras Al-Naqoura, presided by the UNIFIL Commander Major General Michael Beary, “focused on the implementation of Resolution 1701, which regulates stability on both sides of the border,” and that “the Lebanese delegation, headed by Brig. Gen. Malek Shamas, supported their stand with pictures, maps, and documents that confirm Lebanon’s ownership over the 13 disputed areas.”
Aoun Says Syria War Won't Affect Lebanon, 'No Winners, Losers' in Elections
Naharnet 12 February/18/President Michel Aoun has reassured that Syria's raging war will not affect Lebanon, noting that there will be no “winners or losers in the upcoming elections.”“We have managed to create a situation in which losses and victories in Syria do not have an effect and Lebanon would maintain a state of stability and prosperity without getting entangled in conflicts,” Aoun said in an interview with Egypt's ON Live TV. “This has secured stability for the country and kept us away from the repercussions of what's happening in Syria,” the president added. “The international community also wants stability for Lebanon,” Aoun went on to say. Turning to the issue of the upcoming elections, the president said “there will be no winners or losers in the upcoming elections.”“We will have a parliament characterized with balance and the most correct representation that reflects Lebanon's pluralism,” Aoun added.

Hariri after Baabda Summit: Lebanon United in Face of Israeli Violations
Naharnet 12 February/18/Prime Minister Saad Hariri emphasized after a summit at Baabda Palace with President Michel Aoun and Speaker Nabih Berri that Lebanon will always have “unified stances to confront Israel's violations,” the National News Agency reported on Monday. “Our stances will always be united to confront Israel's violations against Lebanon,” assured Hariri. “We have reviewed the challenges we are facing and discussed the visit of Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for Middle East Affairs David Satterfield to Lebanon. We will continue consultation with the President and the Speaker to make our position united and national with regard to any encroachment on Lebanon,” said the Premier. Aoun has called for the summit at the Presidential Palace with the aim of tackling the Israeli threats and evaluating the situation in the wake of Saturday's major flare-up in Syria. NNA said General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim and coordinator of the Lebanese Government Brigadier General Malek Shamas have later joined the meeting. Reports have raised concerns over the weekend 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 Israel. 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.

Aid Conference for Lebanon Scheduled Mid March
Naharnet 12 February/18/A major international donor conference aimed at boosting support for Lebanon's army and security forces has been scheduled on March 15. Three meetings were held on Monday at the Grand Serail to prepare for the Rome II aid conference that will be held in Italy on March 15 as announced by the Italian ambassador to Lebanon. The meeting was held in the presence of Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashouq, Defense Minister Yaacoub al-Sarraf, a number of officials and technical experts and ambassadors of related countries, said the National News Agency. Italian ambassador to Lebanon Massimo Marotti announced that the conference will be held in on March 15th. Mashouq told reporters after the meeting: “At the Rome conference we see a historic opportunity to meet our needs for a secure future, not only in Lebanon but in the world as well.” “We look forward to the day when illegitimate arms become under the State's rule, and we look forward to the day when the army returns to its barracks to carry out its duty to protect the country's borders. The security forces are solely responsible for the security of the Lebanese,” he said. Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for Middle East Affairs David Satterfield had stressed to Mashnouq during a visit to Lebanon that he concluded Saturday that “the United States' insists on the success of the Rome II conference to support the internal security forces and the Lebanese army.”In 2014, an international donor conference was held in Rome to boost support for Lebanon's army and security forces. The 2014 meeting brought together 40 countries and international organizations, but did not offer more than logistical assistance, although some participant countries voiced readiness to “support the Lebanese Armed Forces during the capabilities building and reinforcement process.” Lebanon is gearing up for three international conferences in 2018 including the Rome II Conference, the Paris IV conference also known as the Cedar Conference and the Brussels Conference to rally support for its armed forces.

Berri Rules Out Escalation after Israeli Jet Downing; Says Lebanon Oil Rights 'Protected'
Naharnet 12 February/18/After the downing of an Israeli warplane by Syrian forces over the weekend, Speaker Nabih Berri said the incident “will create new rules of engagement” as he ruled out an escalation in the region, assuring that Lebanon's oil excavation rights are safeguarded, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Monday. “What happened is larger than a battle and a little less than a war. It will create new balances and rules of engagement in the region. This event is the first of its kind in tens of years. However, no escalation is expected. Things will end there, they will not develop into a comprehensive war,” the daily quoted Berri as telling his visitors. 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. On his “now-bettered” relations with President Michel Aoun, Berri said “things are fine”, pointing out that contacts are ongoing to follow up on the latest developments in the country mainly Israel's menaces. On Israel's threats against Lebanon and the controversial Israeli cement wall on the border between the two countries, Berri said a tripartite committee meeting would be held today in al-Naqoura to examine the Israeli response to Lebanon's position on the separation wall construed by Israel. Lebanon had informed Israel last Monday of its position in that regard and awaits its response today. “In this regard, Lebanon will adhere to the 1949 armistice line. The Blue Line imposed by UN Resolution 1701 is not the border of southern Lebanon. What applies to Lebanon's land borders should also apply to the maritime border,” stressed the Speaker.
As for the issue of Lebanon's oil and gas field, Berri said: “There is no fear for our oil rights. The president of (energy giant) France's Total told me two days ago that the alliance of oil companies that will be drilling on oil and gas will not be affected by the Israeli threats.”He added: "The importance of approving the prospect of exploration in Block 9 oil field lies in the fact that we have maintained our oil rights in the face of Israeli ambitions, and Lebanon's position in this regard is unified.”

Lebanese Man Crosses into Israel, Again
Naharnet 12 February/18/A Lebanese man on Sunday crossed the border fence into Israel from the Fatima Gate area in south Lebanon, the Lebanese National News Agency said. "After he crossed some distance inside the occupied territories, a van arrived and took him deeper into Israel," NNA said. The Lebanese Army, security forces and UNIFIL peacekeepers immediately encircled the infiltration area. "Investigations showed that the citizen who crossed the border fence is A.M., 25, who hails from (the southern town of) Habboush," the news agency said. "This is the second time that he crosses the border fence and he had been considered mentally disturbed after his first crossing," NNA noted. Al-Jadeed TV said Lebanese security agencies are communicating with UNIFIL in a bid to return the man to Lebanon. The man had been returned to Lebanon via UNIFIL after the first incident in April 2017. He had been identified back then as Ali Mrad. In a 2017 TV interview, the man's father said his son had psychological problems. Asked whether Ali had told him that he intended to cross into Israel, the father said: “Yes, my son had told me that.” “My son used to say that he is of Jewish origin. Can you imagine a normal person saying this?” the father added.

Funding for Lebanon Response in 2017 Amounts to USD 1.68 Billion
Naharnet 12 February/18/International funding for Lebanon in 2017 amounted to USD 1.68 billion, as shown by the funding update released by the Office of the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon. This amount includes a total of USD 1.37 billion disbursed by donors in 2017 and USD 309.6 million carried over from 2016 by implementing partners. UN agencies and NGOs reported a total of USD 1.24 billion received under the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan (LCRP) framework in 2017. This represents 45% of the overall 2017 appeal. The consolidated data shows a continued high-level donor support to Lebanon in 2017 in response to the impact of the Syrian crisis. Moreover, donors have also reported an additional amount of around USD 650 million committed for 2018 and beyond for Lebanon. UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon, Philippe Lazzarini, commended the strong solidarity with Lebanon. The generous support enabled partners to provide access to safe water to more than 1.3 million individuals, support more than 870,000 people to buy food in local shops and markets, and enroll more than 400,000 children in public schools. At the same time Lazzarini reiterated that the support has not been enough to turn the tide of refugees’ deepening poverty and vulnerabilities affecting both Lebanese host communities and refugees. “The situation is gradually eroding, and humanitarian and development needs are growing: 76% of Syrian refugee households live below the poverty line and more than 50% of Syrian households live in extreme poverty. And we should not forget that 1.5 million Lebanese live below the poverty line,” Lazzarini said. Lazzarini also stressed the importance for partners to not only maintain their support for Lebanon, but to also increase the predictability of their support, calling for support beyond the short-term emergency response in the country: “We have reached a point in the crisis where humanitarian assistance alone is no longer enough to turn the tide. It must be linked with development and peacebuilding efforts. This kind of approach requires multi-year funding and commitments by partners and donors in line with the commitments made at the previous London and Brussels conferences.”

Judge Dismisses Lawsuit against Sabhan to Protect 'National Interest'
Naharnet 12 February/18/A Lebanese judge on Monday dismissed a lawsuit filed against a Saudi minister, saying it would harm the country's “higher national interest.” “Beirut First Examining Magistrate Ghassan Oueidat has issued a ruling in which he decided not to proceed with the lawsuit filed by liberated captive Nabih Hussein Awada via his lawyer Hassan Bazzi against Saudi State Minister for Gulf Affairs Thamer al-Sabhan,” the National News Agency said.
The filed lawsuit “contradicts with the higher national interest and the state's policy and (Lebanese) courts do no have the jurisdiction to look into international disputes and relations,” the judge said in his ruling. Oueidat had on Tuesday accepted to look into the lawsuit. Al-Sabhan was in charge of the Lebanon file during Prime Minister Saad Hariri's resignation crisis. Media reports said he was replaced after the crisis. In the dismissed lawsuit, Awada, who had served time in Israeli prisons, accuses the Saudi minister of “sowing discord among the Lebanese, inciting them to strife and disrupting Lebanon's ties with a foreign state.” The fiercely anti-Iran minister has been suspected of playing a key role in the hurried and ultimately unsuccessful resignation of Hariri in November. For days before Hariri's surprise resignation, which the kingdom is widely believed to have orchestrated, al-Sabhan issued threats against Lebanon's government as well as Iran and its ally Hizbullah via Twitter, unnerving many Lebanese who feared being dragged into the forefront of the Saudi-Iranian rivalry. On Twitter, al-Sabhan had referred to the Iranian-backed Hizbullah — which means "Party of God" in Arabic — as the "Party of Satan." A few days before Hariri's resignation, al-Sabhan warned in an interview with Lebanon's MTV that there would be "astonishing" developments to “topple” Hizbullah. He also said that Lebanon's government — headed by Hariri — would be dealt with as a hostile government that's declared war against Saudi Arabia because of Hizbullah's power-sharing role. "It is up to (Lebanon's) leaders to decide whether it is a state of terror or peace," al-Sabhan wrote on Twitter two days after Hariri's resignation. Mediation by France, a close ally of both Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, helped reverse the resignation and return Hariri to his post.

Jean Aziz, close aide to Aoun, resigns
Georgi Azar/Annahar/12 February 2018/ This political infighting between two members of the same party led Aoun to request Aziz's resignation last week. BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun has accepted the resignation of one of his close aides, journalist Jean Aziz, two weeks after the latter launched a verbal attack on former Education Minister and current foreign affairs advisor to the president, Elias Bou Saab, accusing him of corruption. Aziz, who acts as the news director of OTV -- a TV channel founded by Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) -- used the introduction of a nightly news bulletin on January 28, 2018, to attack Bou Saab, alleging that he squandered public funds during his tenure as Education Minister. This political infighting between members of the FPM led Aoun to request Aziz's resignation as media advisor last week, a source told Annahar.

Berri Holds 'Positive, Very Good' Meeting with Hariri
Naharnet/February 12/18/Speaker Nabih Berri announced Monday that his latest dispute with Prime Minister Saad Hariri has ended, after talks between the two leaders in Ain el-Tineh. The Berri-Hariri meeting followed talks in Baabda with President Michel Aoun over the tensions with Israel in the wake of its large-scale air raids in Syria. The National News Agency said the Speaker threw a lunch banquet in Hariri's honor and that they discussed the current situations and developments. In remarks to MTV, Berri described the meeting with Hariri as “positive and very good,” announcing an end to a recent dispute with the premier. “He surprised me by saying that he has not finalized his electoral alliances and lists until the moment,” the Speaker said. Ties had been strained between Berri and Hariri after the latter, along with Aoun and the defense minister, signed a controversial decree granting one-year's seniority to a number of officers. Berri and his aides insisted that the decree should have also carried the finance minister's signature. That row was resolved after Aoun, Berri and Hariri agreed to let the finance minister sign a new decree merging the seniority decree with a promotions decree that Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil had refrained from signing as a response to Aoun and Hariri's move.

Kataeb: 'Hizbullah Communications Grid' in Rmeileh Poses Security Risk

Naharnet/February 12/18/The Kataeb Party on Monday warned that a reported military communications grid in the coastal town of Rmeileh near Sidon poses a “security risk to residents.” “The installation of a Hizbullah communications grid in the town of Rmeileh is a blatant attack on the state's sovereignty and it poses a security risk to residents,” Kataeb said in a statement issued after the weekly meeting of its political bureau. “The Kataeb Party is worriedly following up on reports coming from some of the area's figures about a cover-up by some ministries for these suspicious activities,” the party added. Turning to the latest flare-up in Syria, Kataeb cautioned against “entangling Lebanon in the inferno of the region's conflicts and axes or turning it into a proxy war arena.” “The Lebanese diplomacy should urgently communicate with the U.N. and the international community to confront Israeli attacks and the territorial, maritime and aerial violations of sovereignty, and to confirm the separation of the Lebanese and Syrian tracks,” the party added. It also urged the state to “regain the initiative and preserve the country's higher interest through monopolizing the decisions of war and peace and adhering to legitimate Lebanese forces to protect security inside the country and defend the border.”

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published
on February 12-13/18
Iranian Professor Dies in Evin Prison, Leaves Community in Shock
London - Asharq Al-Awsat/February 12/18/Iran's community was in shock over the death of environmentalist Kavous Seyed Emami, one of the country's most revered professors, who was detained only few days before authorities claimed that he had committed suicide. Judicial officials said he was involved in a spying case, while other government and parliament officials raised doubts and called on the judiciary to give out information and be transparent. An Iranian news agency quoted the judiciary as saying that an Iranian-Canadian activist had committed suicide during his detention because there were many revelations against him. Kavous Seyed-Emami’s son wrote on Twitter that his father, arrested on Jan. 24, had died in Evin prison. Environmental activist Seyed-Emami, 63, a dual national, was a sociology professor at Iran’s Imam Sadegh University. “The news of my father’s passing is impossible to fathom,” son Raam Emami wrote. “I still can’t believe this,” he added. The family has asked for an independent autopsy, he said, Reuters reported. Tehran's chief prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi told the ILNA news agency that Emami "was one of the accused and given that he knew there were many revelations against him and that he himself had made confessions, unfortunately he committed suicide in prison."Dolatabadi had said on Saturday that several people linked to environmental causes had been arrested on espionage charges.Emami's son said on Twitter that security officials had informed his mother on Friday that his father had committed suicide in prison. The Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), a non-profit group based in New York, said at least nine other staff members and executives of Seyed-Emami’s organization had been arrested on the same day as him, citing a relative of one of those detained.

Iran’s Rouhani Demands Referendum to End Internal Crises
London - Adel al-Salmi/Asharq Al Awsat/February 12/18/Iranian President Hassan Rouhani criticized on Sunday the authorities’ meddling in the personal affairs of the citizens and the interference in the presidential elections, saying that restrictions should be lifted against those aspiring to run in polls. He also proposed to political parties and blocs holding a popular referendum to end Iran’s political crises. The president made his remarks during a rally in central Tehran’s Azadi (Freedom) Square marking the 39th anniversary of the Iranian revolution. “There is no solution to preserving the revolution’s system and the country except through the participation of the people,” Rouhani went on to stay. "When the Revolution took place, we pushed some off the revolutionary train that we should have not," he added. "Today, we have to let them board the train again."On a possible referendum, he said that disputes among political blocs could be resolved through a vote. He referred to article 59 of the constitution that says that economic, political, social and cultural issues can be tackled through the people’s vote. A week earlier, Rouhani had addressed the recent anti-government regime protests, saying said that the people were not driven strictly by economic reasons, but by social, political and foreign policy concerns. On Sunday, he stressed that Iran today needed all of its conservatives, reformists and moderates who believe in the constitution. He added that the problem in the country lies in the “decision-making process” and that those in power “were not honest with the Iranians over the facts.”Furthermore, he underlined the need to respect all ethnicities, religions and sects in Iran. On the regional and international scene, Rouhani defended Iran’s role in Syria and Iraq, saying that it had defended its allies there and it led to the “victory against the evil of terrorism.” “With the help of the Iraqi and some regional countries, Tehran thwarted the conspiracy to partition Iraq into two states,” he continued. He also addressed the internal situation in Lebanon, accusing the United States of seeking to create unrest and long-term chaos and transform it into a war zone. Rouhani noticeably refrained from bringing up the recent Iranian-Israeli escalation over the weekend. He did however address the 2015 nuclear deal struck between Tehran and world powers, saying that the American administration had failed several times in this file. “We will commit to the agreement as long as the other side remains committed to its vows. They will be harmed if the United States withdraws from the deal,” he warned.

Ahmadinejad Criticizes Poor Situation in the Country, Continues Attacks Against Officials
London – Adil Al Salmi/Asharq Al Awsat/February 12/18/Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has continued his harsh criticism of senior Iranian officials, calling for dismissing those who lack legitimacy whatever their posts are. He also criticized the wave of arrests in the recent protests.
"The Iranian people have revolted so that the prison would not be the fate of young people protesting the poor conditions in the country,” Ahmadinejad said. He called on his executive assistant, Hamid Baghaei, to request summoning commanders of the Quds Force to the court "if the charges against him were correct," pointing out that he might be a victim of internal differences in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. Dolatebahar website, which speaks for Nejad, reported remarks made by the former president on Friday amid his supporters in the city of Rasht, north Iran. In a speech, marking the celebrations of the anniversary of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, Ahmadinejad said the judiciary has become “the main pillar of oppression” against the Iranian people and criticized the country’s situation. Ahmadinejad strongly criticized the poor administrative situation and the performance of decision-makers in the Iranian state, giving the poor situation lived by the Iranian people as an example several times. Notably, Ahmadinejad is the most prominent Iranian official who has been chased by the charge of "populism" in recent years, but his group claims to speak for the marginalized classes in the country. “No doubt the revolution has had great, unprecedented and valuable achievements for the Iranian people," Ahmadinejad said at beginning of his speech. "But when comparing the current situation of the country and the objectives of the revolution we find a a big rift, which is a source of concern for all."Ahmadinejad explained that “some believe the revolution is over while others still insist on turning the end of the revolution into a belief among the Iranians.”“Others want to view the revolution as unsuccessful and defeated, and in this way they declare that the revolution is the main cause of the unrest in the country and the reason behind the poor conditions and the decline in the performance of senior officials."Ahmadinejadn said all these signs require a "review of the 1797 revolution," which will complete its fourth decade next year. “The goal of the revolution was not to replace a team with another one while leaving the remaining administrative systems, structure and behavior or conditions worse than before,” he added.

US Secretary of State says Washington backs Egypt in fight against terrorism
Reuters, Cairo/Monday, 12 February 2018/US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Monday the United States supports Egypt’s fight against Islamic State but reiterated that it advocated free and fair elections in the Arab country. Speaking at a joint news conference with his Egyptian counterpart, Tillerson also said that Washington remained committed to achieving a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, despite President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Tillerson arrived in Egypt at the start of a regional tour amid heightened tensions between Israel and Syria after an Israeli F-16 aircraft was shot down. It also follows a major security operation by the Egyptian military to crush Islamist militants who have killed hundreds of people since 2013. “We agreed we would continue our close cooperation on counterterrorism measures,” Tillerson said. “The Egyptian people should be confident that the US commitment to continue to support Egypt in fight against terrorism and bringing security to Egyptian people is steadfast.”The Egyptian military campaign comes ahead of presidential election in March, in which President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is seeking a second term in office.
Asked about the Tillerson said the United States supports a credible, transparent election in Egypt and Libya. “We have always advocated for free and fair elections, transparent elections not just in Egypt but in any country,” Tillerson said. “The US is always going to advocate for electoral process that respects rights of citizens,” he told journalists, adding that the United States was also keen to continue supporting Egypt in its economic recovery.

Egypt continues Sinai crackdown as 28 militants killed, 126 arrested
Reuters, Cairo/Monday, 12 February 2018/Egyptian security forces killed 28 militants and arrested 126 in a continuing crackdown in Sinai, the army said in a statement carried by State TV on Monday. Egypt's air force also destroyed 60 militant targets, the statement said, part of a campaign to crush Islamist insurgents blamed for a string of attacks. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is seeking re-election in March, ordered the armed forces in November to defeat militants within three months after an attack on a mosque killed more than 300 people, the deadliest such incident in the Arab world's most populous country.

Egypt jails 17 for life over deadly 2014 unrest
AFP, Cairo/Sunday, 11 February 2018/A Cairo court on Sunday handed 17 people life sentences over unrest that saw the deaths of three civilians, including a journalist and a teenager, during anti-government protests in 2014. The court sentenced 16 others to prison terms ranging from seven to 15 years. Fifteen others were acquitted in the verdicts, announced live on state television. Mayada Ashraf, who worked for privately owned newspaper Al-Dustour, was shot in the head while she was covering clashes in Cairo’s northern Ein Shams neighbourhood on March 28, 2014. A Coptic Christian woman and a 13-year-old boy were also killed in the unrest. They were all killed as clashes broke out between security forces and supporters of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, who was ousted by the army the previous year. The 17 jailed for life were convicted of membership in an illegal organization – a reference to Morsi’s banned Muslim Brotherhood –possession of weapons and holding an illegal gathering. In 2015, the prosecution ordered the trial of 48 people in connection with the deaths of Ashraf and the two other civilians. A statement then said they were all members of the Brotherhood, which Egypt blacklisted as a “terrorist group” following Morsi’s ouster by the army. The 2014 protests broke out as then army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced he was running in that year’s presidential election.

US defense secretary: Iran is present everywhere we find trouble in Mideast
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/12 February 2018/US Secretary of Defense James Mattis said that Israel has an “absolute right to defend itself” against Iran in light of the Israeli strikes on Iranian targets in Syria on Saturday, Haaretz reported. Syrian air forces had shot down an Israeli F-16 fighter jet after Israel intercepted an Iranian drone launched from Syria. The US military had no involvement in these events, Mattis told reporters before flying to Europe. “Israel has an absolute right to defend themselves. They don't have to wait until their citizens are dying under attack before they actually address that issue,” he said, according to Haaretz. The Trump administration issued a few statements on the attack, supporting Israel and criticizing Iran’s actions. Mattis told reporters that the Iranian regime is behind the Middle East’s challenges.“It is interesting that everywhere we find trouble in the Middle East, you find the same thing behind it. Whether it be in Yemen or Beirut, or in Syria, in Iraq, you always find Iran engaged,” the newspaper reported Mattis saying. “If you're in Bahrain, and the police there have captured explosives and that sort of thing, clearly from Iran; if you're picking up debris in Saudi Arabia of Iranian missiles; or you've got explosive boats, remote-controlled boats, out in the Red Sea, you can see where Iran is either producing the wherewithal for the fight or actually leading the fight, in some case,” he added.

Turkey assails US over ties with Syrian Kurdish militia
The Associated Press, Ankara/Monday, 12 February 2018/Turkey’s foreign minister assailed the United States on Monday, claiming that American forces in Syria are intentionally stalling the fight against ISIS militants as an excuse not to cut ties with Syrian Kurdish militiamen as Ankara has demanded.
Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters in Istanbul that US forces are leaving “pockets” with ISIS militants intact to justify continued cooperation with the Kurdish militia.Speaking ahead of a visit by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson later this week, Cavusoglu said Turkey’s ties with the US are at a make-or-break stage and that Washington needs to take “concrete steps” to regain Turkey’s trust.“Our relations are at a very critical stage,” Cavusoglu said. “Either we will improve ties or these ties will totally break down.”Ankara is riled over Washington’s support for the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG - the top US ally in the fight against the Islamic State group. Turkey considers the YPG a “terrorist” group linked to Kurdish insurgents fighting within Turkey’s own borders. Turkey’s military launched a cross-border operation into the Syrian Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin in northern Syria to rout the YPG from the region. Ankara has also threatened to expand its offensive to the YPG-held town of Manbij, east of Afrin, where the US has a military presence, setting the scene for a potential showdown between the two NATO allies that back different sides in Syria’s complex and multi-layered civil war.

Kremlin says US diplomatic help on Syria insufficient
Reuters, Moscow/Monday, 12 February 2018/US support for the process of stabilizing Syria has been inadequate, the Kremlin spokesman Dmtiry Peskov said on Monday.“There is a shortage of this help,” he told a conference call with reporters, adding that the Kremlin would continue its diplomatic efforts in Syria.

Iraq says reconstruction after war on ISIS to cost $88 billion
Reuters, Kuwait/Monday, 12 February 201/ Rebuilding Iraq after three years of war with ISIS will cost $88.2 billion, with housing a particularly urgent priority, Iraqi officials told an international donors’ conference on Monday. Donors and investors have gathered in Kuwait this week to discuss efforts to rebuild Iraq’s economy and infrastructure as it emerges from a devastating conflict with the hardline militants who seized almost a third of the country. Iraq declared victory over ISIS in December, having taken back all the territory captured by the militants in 2014 and 2015. About $22 billion will be required in the short term and another $66 billion in the medium term, the director-general of the country’s planning ministry, Qusay Abdul Fattah, told the conference, without indicating any time frame. “Rebuilding Iraq is restoring hope to Iraq, and restoring the stability of Iraq is stabilizing the states of the region and the world,” said Planning Minister Salman al-Jumaili. Iraq has published a list of some 157 projects for which it is seeking private investments at the conference, which some 1,900 delegates representing foreign governments, private firms and NGOs have registered to attend. The projects include rebuilding destroyed facilities such as Mosul airport and new investments to diversify the economy away from oil sales, by developing transport, agriculture and industries based on the nation’s energy wealth, including petrochemicals and oil refining. Rebuilding homes, hospitals, schools, roads, businesses and telecommunications will be key to providing jobs for the young, ending the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people and putting an end to decades of political and sectarian violence. Around 138,000 housing units have been damaged and half of them are completely destroyed, Mustafa al-Hiti, who runs Iraq’s Reconstruction Fund for Areas Affected by Terroristic Operations, told the conference. About 2.5 million Iraqis remain displaced by the fighting, he added. Nations could help by acting as guarantors with lenders, allowing Iraq to take out soft loans to fund infrastructure projects, Mahdi al-Alaq, the Secretary-General of Iraq’s Council of Ministers, told the conference, adding that there were preliminary indications that some states would do so. But US officials said the United States, which leads an international coalition that provided Iraq with key air support in the fight against ISIS, does not plan to pledge any money at the Kuwait conference. Non-governmental organizations pledged $330 million in humanitarian aid to Iraq at a parallel NGO conference on the sidelines of the main reconstruction one, Kuwait’s state news agency KUNA reported. Baghdad has said it is determined to tackle the red tape and corruption that hamper investment. Iraq is the 10th most corrupt country in the world, according to Transparency International. Iraq reopened to foreign investment after the 2003 invasion but the vast majority of the billions of dollars invested went to increasing its oil and natural gas production.

Iraq militia commander Qais Khazali issues warning to American troops
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Monday, 12 February 2018/Qais Khazali, a Popular Mobilization militia commander, threatened to target American troops in Iraq and voiced rejection of America’s military presence in the country after they eliminated ISIS. Earlier this month, Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said there was a plan to gradually decrease the number of US-led coalition troops. “The battle against ISIS has ended, and so the level of the American presence will be reduced,” government spokesman Saad al-Hadithi told the Associated Press last week.

French foreign minister visits Iraq to discuss reconstruction

AFP, Baghdad/Monday, 12 February 2018/France's Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian visited Iraq on Monday to discuss the war-torn country's reconstruction with Iraqi officials after Baghdad declared victory against ISIS. "I have come to tell you of France's support and to accompany you. We will always be there. We were there to participate in the coalition. We will also be there in the reconstruction phase," Le Drian said. France has been a key member of the US-led military coalition fighting ISIS after the jihadist group seized large swathes of Iraq and neighboring Syria in 2014. Baghdad is looking to drum up funds at a reconstruction conference in neighboring Kuwait from Monday to Wednesday after announcing the defeat of ISIS nationwide at the end of last year. "We hope French expertise will be used for the reconstruction," Iraq's Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari replied. Le Drian, who previously visited Baghdad in August last year, is also to meet Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, President Fuad Massum and parliament speaker Salim al-Juburi. Iraq is still reeling from the rise of ISIS and the punishing fightback it took to crush the jihadists, with swathes of its territory in ruins and millions of people displaced. Authorities in the resource-rich nation say there has been a heavy toll on oil, electricity and manufacturing infrastructure, as well as basic services such as water and sanitation.
Baghdad needs to raise $100 billion to rebuild, Abadi has said, after the fight against ISIS and decades of sanctions and war.

Netanyahu Discussing Annexing Settlements with U.S.
Agence France Presse/Naharnet 12 February/18/Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday he has been discussing legislation with the United States that would effectively annex settlements in the occupied West Bank, a spokesman said. "Regarding the issue of applying sovereignty, I can tell you that I have for some time been speaking with the Americans about it," Netanyahu told lawmakers from his Likud party, according to comments relayed by a spokesman.The move would severely harm remaining prospects for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Turkey Warns US to Make or Break Strained Ties
Agence France Presse/Naharnet 12 February/18/Turkey on Monday warned the United States it was time to either make or break ties between the NATO allies that have strained badly over the Turkish operation in Syria, days ahead of key talks with Washington's top diplomat. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is due in Ankara later this week for talks aimed at finding a way forward as Washington expresses severe alarm over the campaign against Kurdish militia. "Our relations are at a very critical point. They will either be fixed or these ties will be completely damaged," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in televised comments in Istanbul. Ankara last month launched a military operation against the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia in the western enclave of Afrin in northern Syria. While Turkey views the YPG as a "terrorist" offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the US has been working closely with the militia against the Islamic State extremist group in Syria and giving it weapons. Turkey is also angry Washington has failed to extradite Pennsylvania-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, who it accuses of ordering the 2016 attempted overthrow of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The US has called for Turkey to show restraint in its Afrin operation. But Ankara has warned the US to remove its troops from the YPG-held Manbij town as it threatens to extend the operation towards the town east of Afrin. The US has more than 2,000 special forces and support troops inside Syria, mainly east of the Euphrates in an area also controlled by the YPG but separate from Afrin, which is west of the river. Cavusoglu called on the US to "do what is necessary in Manbij". He added the talks with Tillerson would discuss rebuilding the "broken trust", accusing Washington of making "serious mistakes" on Gulen and the YPG. "We have open and clear expectations which we have repeatedly shared," Cavusoglu said. "We do not want promises, we want concrete steps to be taken."US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster was in Istanbul this weekend to meet Erdogan's spokesman and foreign policy advisor Ibrahim Kalin, the Turkish presidency said on Sunday. The presidency said they reaffirmed "long-term strategic partnership relations between Turkey and the US" and "ways of developing a joint fight against terrorism in all its forms".

Investigators Hunt for Clues over Russian Passenger Plane Crash
Agence France Presse/Naharnet 12 February/18/Investigators will examine Monday numerous possible causes of one of Russia's worst ever aviation accidents that saw a passenger plane carrying 71 people crash near Moscow minutes after take off, killing everyone on board.
Russia's Investigative Committee said it would consider explanations including human error, technical failure and weather conditions, as the country has experienced record snowfall in recent weeks. But it did not mention the possibility of terrorism. The Antonov An-148 plane went down in the Ramensky district on the outskirts of Moscow at 2:48 pm (1128 GMT) on Sunday after taking off from Domodedovo airport in the capital. "Sixty-five passengers and six crew members were on board, and all of them died," Russia's office of transport investigations said in a statement
Three children were among the fatalities on a list published by Russian authorities. The flight was operated by the domestic Saratov Airlines and was headed for Orsk, a city in the Ural mountains. More than 400 people and 70 vehicles had been deployed to the crash site, the country's emergency ministry said. The site was enveloped in heavy snow, making it difficult to access, with emergency workers forced to park their vehicles and reach the wreckage by foot. Others used snowmobiles and drones to survey the scene.
Russian transport minister Maksim Sokolov said "genetic expertise" would be needed to help identify the victims, adding that it could "take two or three months".
- 'Shock wave' -"I felt a shock wave," Maria, a resident of a village near the crash site, told AFP. "The windows shook," she said . The transport investigations office said the plane disappeared from radar screens around four minutes after take-off. A regional official said the aircraft's black box had been retrieved. The Russian-made plane was reportedly seven years old and bought by Saratov Airlines from another Russian airline a year ago. Saratov was founded in the 1930s and flies to 35 Russian cities. Its hub is Saratov Central Airport in southern Russia.
The governor of the Orenburg region, where the plane was heading, told Russian media that "more than 60 people" on board the plane were from the region. Russian President Vladimir Putin offered "his profound condolences to those who lost their relatives in the crash," his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. Putin also cancelled plans to travel to Sochi to meet with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas. Instead, the meeting will take place in Moscow. - Grieving relatives -Local media website in the Orenburg region showed footage of distressed relatives at Orsk airport, where the plane had been due to land. Andrei Odintsov, the mayor of Orsk, told Russian state television that six psychologists and four ambulances with medics were working with the families in the small airport. Orsk is the second biggest city in the Orenburg region, near Russia's border with Kazakhstan. A crisis centre was also set up at Domodedovo, Moscow's second-largest airport in terms of passenger numbers. Russia has suffered numerous plane crashes, with airlines often operating ageing aircraft in dangerous flying conditions. A light aircraft crashed in November in Russia's far east, killing six people on board. In December 2016 a military plane carrying Russia's famed Red Army Choir crashed after taking off from the Black Sea resort of Sochi, killing all 92 people on board. The choir had been due to give a concert to Russian troops operating in Syria. Pilot error was blamed for that crash. In March 2016, all 62 passengers died when a FlyDubai jet crashed in bad weather during an aborted landing at Rostov-on-Don airport.

A Night at the Ritz: Riyadh '5-Star Prison' Back in Business
Agence France Presse/Naharnet 12 February/18/Leaping bronze stallions adorn the lobby, Western consultants hobnob over tea and scones and a sumptuous buffet is laid out —- Riyadh's Ritz-Carlton appears exactly as it was before it became a gilded prison. Guests trickled in after the palatial 500-room hotel reopened on Sunday to find few signs of the three-month incarceration of princes, ministers and business moguls in an unprecedented anti-corruption purge. "The only difference is that the front gates are open," a smiling hotel employee told guests checking in. "The guest list is also quite different I imagine," quipped a Western diplomat, sipping a cardamom latte in the ornate lobby as a traditional oud musician performed in the background. Many of the 381 suspects, including flamboyant billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal -- dubbed the Warren Buffett of Saudi Arabia -- have been released in recent weeks in exchange for what officials call financial settlements. Other high-profile detainees included former National Guard chief Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, construction magnate Bakr bin Laden and media mogul Waleed bin Ibrahim. Each detainee was given his own room -— with room service and television, but no internet or telephone access to prevent contact with the outside world, according to multiple business associates interviewed by AFP.  Sharp objects such as glass items and curtain chords were also removed to prevent suicide attempts, they said. All those services and items were available in an eighth-floor deluxe room that an AFP reporter checked into on Sunday. It was impossible to know whether a detainee had stayed there or the room had been refurbished. Many of the high-profile detainees are believed to have been kept in apartment-like royal suites, which comprise bedrooms, a kitchen, dining room and a living room, according to the hotel website. As service resumed at the hotel, staff appeared to have been instructed not to talk to journalists about the purge, launched by powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
'Too sensitive'
One staff member said he was away on holiday for the last three months. Another said he was present throughout the Kafkaesque ordeal, but declined to say anymore under the watchful gaze of his superiors. When asked how the crackdown had affected the brand of the hotel —- widely labelled a "luxury prison" —- a public relations manager declined to comment, calling the matter "too sensitive". Hotel authorities did not permit AFP to film inside the hotel. But the public relations manager gave AFP a tour of the hotel's bowling alley and extravagant indoor pool with a sky-blue ceiling painted with clouds. He also showed off the hotel's Italian, Chinese and Oriental restaurant, boasting a lavish seafood bar with poached mussels, shrimp and calamari. All the sites were largely empty. But the cafe in the lobby saw a handful of Saudi families, enjoying the novelty of taking selfies at the famous hotel. The hotel staff were also tight-lipped about occupancy. There were only a trickle of guests but the front manager apologized profusely for being unable to offer some guests a front-facing "fountain view" room. They included foreign businessmen who had been forced to decamp to other hotels on the night of November 4 when the detentions started. "We were suddenly told 'we have an event, you have to move,'" said a Western consultant, who like many people interviewed at the hotel were unwilling to be named. "It's good to be back."
'Fear bigger than resentment'
The hotel's reopening appeared to be as shrouded in secrecy as the crackdown itself. The government has not revealed all the names of the 381 suspects or the charges and nature of settlements, prompting alarm among international investors at the apparent lack of due process, observers say.
"As the Ritz re-opens with a lavish food buffet and an upgrade of services, it will take more than a fresh coat of paint to convince investors that Prince Mohammed's kingdom is completely safe to check-in to," Andrew Bowen, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told AFP.
"Ironically, by quickly re-opening the rather ostentatious hotel, the new glitz of the old Ritz illustrates how the sins of the past are still very present in the kingdom."But proponents of the crackdown say it reached its objective of prompting "behavioral change" among the once-untouchable elite —- seen widely as a living embodiment of corruption. "The crackdown has also succeeded in telling people to fall in line" with Prince Mohammed's so-called Vision 2030 program of reforms for a post-oil era, said the Western diplomat. "Fear is bigger than resentment I imagine."
As the night wore on, the hotel lobby was empty of guests. Around midnight, the only people around were liveried staff vacuuming and swabbing the intricately patterned marble floor.

Netanyahu Says Discussed Annexing Settlements with U.S.; White House Denies
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 12/18/Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday he has discussed legislation with the United States that would annex settlements in the occupied West Bank, but the White House denied it in a rare show of disunity. Netanyahu later issued a clarification somewhat backing away from the deeply controversial statement. Annexing settlements would severely damage remaining prospects for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and draw international outrage, but Netanyahu has been under heavy political pressure to support it.
"Regarding the issue of applying sovereignty, I can tell you that I have for some time been speaking with the Americans about it," Netanyahu told lawmakers from his Likud party, according to comments relayed by a spokesman. Netanyahu said he wanted to coordinate any such "historic" move with the United States because of the country's strategic importance to Israel, his spokesman said. Some Israeli media interpreted the comments as the first time Netanyahu expressed support for annexing the settlements.
But when it became clear the White House was not confirming the remarks, Netanyahu's office issued a clarification.
Netanyahu "did not present the United States with specific annexation proposals, and in any case the United States did not give its consent to the proposals," an Israeli official said on condition of anonymity. "Israel updated the United States on various proposals raised in the (parliament), and the United States expressed its clear position that it seeks to advance President Trump's peace plan."The official added that Netanyahu's position "is that if the Palestinians persist in their refusal to negotiate peace, Israel will present its own alternatives."White House spokesman Josh Raffel said "reports that the United States discussed with Israel an annexation plan for the West Bank are false.""The United States and Israel have never discussed such a proposal, and the president's focus remains squarely on his Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative." Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, had condemned Netanyahu's earlier remarks as amounting to "land theft" with U.S. complicity. A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warned such measures could only "lead to more tension and instability.""They will eliminate all international efforts to save the political process," said Nabil Abu Rudeina.
Limits to backing?
Netanyahu faces pressure from right-wing politicians to move ahead with legislation that would apply Israeli sovereignty to settlements in the West Bank. Two lawmakers, including one from Netanyahu's party, have proposed such legislation. Netanyahu blocked it from being advanced on Sunday, with officials citing the need to focus on security issues following a confrontation that led to Israeli air strikes in Syria at the weekend. Israel has sought to take advantage of Trump's strong support, highlighted by his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital in December, called "historic" by Netanyahu but denounced by the Palestinians and most of the rest of the world. Monday's episode showed there may be limits to Trump's backing as he pledges to reach what he calls the "ultimate deal" -- Israeli-Palestinian peace. While Israel would expect to retain certain settlements in any two-state peace deal, longstanding international consensus has been that their status must be negotiated. The same consensus has been in place for decades regarding the status of Jerusalem, with the Palestinians wanting the Israeli-annexed eastern sector of the city as the capital of their future state. Israeli settlements are located in what is known as Area C of the West Bank, which accounts for more than 60 percent of the Palestinian territory.
Annexing all settlements would leave little space for a Palestinian state.
Netanyahu heads what is seen as the most right-wing government in Israeli history, and prominent ministers openly oppose a Palestinian state. Those who oppose a Palestinian state advocate for Israel to annex most of the West Bank, citing Jews' historical ties to the land from the biblical era.
Netanyahu says he wants the Palestinians to govern themselves, but in recent months has declined to specify whether that would mean an independent Palestinian state or some lesser form of autonomy. He has stressed recently that Israel must retain security control in the Palestinian territories under any peace arrangement. While Trump has offered strong support of Israel, he said in an interview published Sunday that he was "not necessarily sure" the country was seeking to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians. "Right now, I would say the Palestinians are not looking to make peace," Trump said in the interview with right-wing Israeli paper Israel Hayom. "And I am not necessarily sure that Israel is looking to make peace." In a rare rebuke, he also said Israeli settlement building "complicates" peace efforts. Separately, Abbas met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Monday. Putin said at the start of the talks that he "just spoke" with Trump on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Trump Daughter-in-Law Taken to Hospital after Receiving 'Suspicious' Mail
Naharnet/February 12/18/U.S. President Donald Trump's daughter-in-law Vanessa was taken to a New York hospital Monday as a precaution after a "suspicious package" containing an unidentified powder arrived at her home, police said. The letter was sent to Donald Trump Jr, the president's eldest son, and contained a mysterious substance, according to police. "The powder was tested and was found to be not hazardous," a spokeswoman told the AFP news agency. U.S. media had reported the letter contained white powder. The Secret Service said "an active investigation" was underway of the "suspicious package addressed to one of our protectees received today in New York." NBC News said Vanessa Trump, a mother of five, was taken to New York Presbyterian-Weill Cornell Medical Center strictly as a precaution, saying there was no indication that anyone suffered any injuries and no sign that the substance was dangerous. Her husband and brother-in-law Eric Trump both live in New York and run the family real-estate business, taking over after their father took office in January 2017.

Syria Kurds Say 'No Problem' if Damascus Fights Turkey
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 12/18/Syria's Kurds said Monday they have "no problem" if the regime in Damascus intervenes on their side to help push back an assault by Turkey in the Afrin region. Ankara has been waging an offensive against Syria's Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia in the frontier region since January 20. While the United States has given armed support to the YPG against the Islamic State group in Syria, Turkey says the militia is a "terrorist" offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). "We don't have a problem with the entry of the Syrian army to defend Afrin and its border in the face of the Turkish occupation," YPG commander Sipan Hamo said at a press conference. Long oppressed by Damascus, the Kurds have taken advantage of the conflict that began in 2011 to secure de facto autonomy over Syria's northern regions. Kurdish authorities called in late January for the regime to intervene by sending its forces on the border with Turkey. Damascus has denounced the "aggression" by Ankara but did not react to the appeal as the Kurds rejected allowing the regime to redeploy troops in the region and reestablish state control. Any alliance between Damascus and the Kurds could prove tricky for Washington as it is strongly opposed to President Bashar al-Assad.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 12-13/18
The next Iranian-Israeli engagement in Syria is due in late April, early May
DEBKAfile/February 12/ 2018
It is then that Tehran will try to move a special Russian-backed Iraqi Shiite force from southern Iraq into Syria and so expand its anti-Israel war front.
Since the Israeli Air Force hit a dozen Syrian and Iranian military targets on Saturday, Feb. 10, certain Israeli leaders have been vying for the most belligerent anti-Iran speeches (“They will never forget their next lesson” – Transport Minister Yisrael Katz; “We won’t let Iran set up a forward command” OC IDF’s Northern Command, Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick”). However, the plans Iran has in store for the next round may tax them with making good on their warnings, although one at least comes after the fact. Iran is already running three forward commands in Syria – one in Damascus, one at Abu Kamal in the east and a third outside Aleppo.
Iran’s next challenge to Israel is likely to be more extensive than a lone Iranian drone intrusion and may start far from Israel’s northern border. Russia and Iran are trying to run a two-way, cross-border military movement between Iraq and Syria, which US forces in Syria have so far frustrated.
DEBKAfile’s military sources report that the United States is in the process of establishing a new “Border Security Force” in Syria, which is composed mainly of Kurdish fighters.
Iran and Russia are meanwhile building and training an elite “rapid deployment force” based on Iraqi Shiites. One of its functions will be to expand the front against Israel in both Syria and Lebanon. It is expected that the coming crossing into Syria of the Iraqi Shiite force may be used to detach a section for service on the Lebanese-Israeli border. Last month, an Iraqi Shiite militia chief traveled to Lebanon to inspect Israeli positions on that border. .
The Iraqi group is composed of 5,000 Shiite fighters, who are undergoing special training course for combat in Syria. They were handpicked from two high-performance Iraqi Shiite militias: One is the Nujaba of Kaabil (Movement of the Part of God), which is the Iraqi version of the Lebanese Hizballah and is headed by Sheikh Akram al-Kaabi. It has four sub-units, the Ammar Ibn Yasir Brigade, the Liwa al-Hamad – Praise Brigade, the Liwa al-Imam al Hassan al-Mujtaba – Imam Hssan the Chosen, and the Golan Liberation Brigade. The other militia is the Abud al-Fadl al-Abbas Forces.
This big difference between this elite Iraqi force and the other Shiite militias Tehran deploys in Syria is that it will be equipped with an air force, according to DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources. Russian and Iranian air force officers are setting up an aviation unit called the Combat Helicopters Directorates, to consist of dozens of Russian Mil Mi-17 assault and freight choppers as well as Iranian Shaed 285 attack choppers.
The bulk of the new force is expected to be ready to start moving west in the course of April and cross over into southeast Syria in the regions of Abu Kamal and Deir ez-Zour by early May at the latest. So far, the American forces deployed in western Iraq and southeastern Syria, centering in Al Tanf, have used live air force and artillery fire to push the vanguard back from the Syrian border.
A US special operations contingent also frustrated a move in the opposite direction by Syrian and Hizballah forces trying to cross the Euphrates to the eastern bank across a floating bridge laid by the Russians. They were heading to link up with the incoming Iraqi militias. (Read DEBKAfile’s exclusive report on Feb. 8). This major US operation that involved air force, artillery and commandos was somehow missed by the Israeli politicians and analysts who commented on how the US had abandoned the Syrian arena when they discussed the Israeli air offensive of last Saturday.
Despite every effort to block the Iraqi force from reaching Syria, it may find a small gap in the 1,000km long Iraqi-Syrian border and manage to slip through. Israel’s government and military leaders will then face a decision that is much harder than whether to destroy the command vehicle controlling an Iranian drone. Part of the difficulty will be that before actin, Israel will have to keep an eye on the state of relations between the US and Russia which are at a low ebb at this time and how this plays out on the ground.

Syria: A Booby-Trapped Gift and Mischievous Partners
Ghassan Charbel/Asharq Al Awsat/February 12/18
Months ago journalists used to hear realistic statements on Syria. “Practically, there can be no solution in Syria except through Russia” and “A ‘Russian Syria’ is better for the region than an ‘Iranian Syria’.” For some time, it appeared that the “Russian Syria” was accepted by the Americans, Europeans, the region and Arabs. It became clear that this acceptance depended on Russia devising a political solution that would reduce Iran’s influence in Syria. Some believed that any solution based on the redistribution of power among Syrian forces would inevitably diminish the possibility of the emergence of an “Iranian Syria.”
Vladimir Putin has not been hesitant in reassuring his visitors or those he met outside his country. Despite his habitual cautious rhetoric, he was giving out assurances. His visitors used to leave meetings with him assured that he had understood their fears and demands. The fear of ISIS, its brutality and concerns of its expansion pushed everyone towards preferring the Russian solution, especially after it became clear that Washington was in no way ready to use its military force to oust the Syrian regime or force it to accept “political transition.”
After ISIS was contained, the difficulties of the establishment of a “Russian Syria” began to emerge. The recent Israeli-Iranian clash in Syria and Turkey’s campaign in Afrin confirmed these difficulties.
Weeks ago, it became clear that a solution to establish a “Russian Syria” was losing ground. The ability of Russian jets to carry out heavy strikes in Syria was much more powerful than Sergei Lavrov’s ability to draft a solution for Syria. This solution should bring together the Syrian regime and opposition, the US, Europe, Israel, Iran, Turkey and the Arabs.
Had the “Russian Syria” had the first and final word in Syria, then the parties involved would not have acted in the way they did. They would not have crossed what were believed to be red lines drawn by Russia. The red lines include Iran sending a drone to fly over Israel and the latter’s retaliation that saw it carry out air strikes deep into Syrian territory and its announcement for the first time that it had struck Iranian positions there. The Syrian forces had employed their rocket arsenal to down an Israeli jet, a move that they had previously avoided.
The problem with Lavrov’s solution is that the Kremlin is trying to achieve coexistence between contrasting interests and opposing policies. It wants to imply that the solution is slowly being devised and that it is taking into account all the concerned players.
The Kremlin wants to cater to Israel’s demand that Iran and its allies be kept away from its borders, while also taking into consideration Tehran’s interests. There is no doubt that the Iranians are counting on time to demonstrate that the “Iranian Syria” runs much deeper than the advocates of the “Russian Syria” believe. Tehran is in no way willing to accept a solution that would weaken its Syrian link in the crescent that it has carved out for itself. If Tehran were to one day show flexibility over the presence of its militias and missile factories close to Israel, then it would rather use this card in its dispute with the US, which is preparing to impose painful sanctions on the Iranian economy.
Iran is not the only difficult partner. The Syrian regime, which was saved from collapse by Russia, can also be a very difficult partner. If during its days of weakness, the regime had refused to discuss the “political transition,” then what would its attitude be like now after overcoming this danger? Moreover, those who believe that the Syrian forces would ultimately prefer to rely on Russia’s presence to reduce Iranian hegemony may be mistaken. They seem to have forgotten that the Iranian presence in Syria is not recent and it is actually much more familiar with the country’s structure and regime.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is preparing to welcome both the Russian and Iranian presidents in Istanbul, is not an easy partner for anyone. His army’s presence in Kurdish Syria gives him the right to sit at the dialogue table later on and perhaps link his military withdrawal from Syria to the withdrawal of others as well. This possibility could gain ground if an improvement in ties between Ankara and Washington is achieved. The obsession to break up the Kurdish belt on the Syrian border is not Turkey’s sole concern, but it also realizes the meaning of the establishment of an “Iranian Syria” that complements Tehran’s decisive role in Iraq. Turkey’s invitation to sponsor the Sochi peace course obligates Moscow to understand Ankara’s demands, especially since Turkey is an important economic partner for Russia.
We should also not underestimate the importance Putin is placing on preserving good ties with Israel. The issue is not strictly linked to Russian Jews who immigrated to Israel, but it is also part of Putin’s realization that Israel is a mandatory path to ease tensions with the US, should ties with it not improve.
The US is meanwhile lying in wait for Russia to discover the challenges and problems of what it believed to be an unprecedented victory in Syria. It is waiting east of the Euphrates with all of its soldiers and advisors. It is hoping that this region will prosper and that it can be set as an example. It trusts that Russia will not be able to launch Syria’s reconstruction plan because it is incapable of coming up with a convincing solution to concerned countries. It believes that Moscow’s partners will ultimately become a burden on it.
An “Iranian Syria” is unacceptable and a “Russian Syria” is not easy to achieve. A “Syrian Syria” is not being considered at the moment. Putin will try to stop the clash of opposing countries over Syrian soil. The solution however does not appear within reach and the Syrian people’s suffering is likely to continue. At one point in the past Barack Obama had made light before his aides of the importance of Putin’s victory in Syria. He had ruled out the ability of the Syrian leader to reconcile all the contradictions in and outside his country. He did not rule out that the Kremlin would realize late that the Syrian gift is booby-trapped and expensive. Syria houses many problems. A booby-trapped gift and mischievous partners.

The Diplomacy of Downing Jets in Syria
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/February 12/18
In less than two weeks, Syrian fighters downed a Russian jet, Kurdish fighters downed a Turkish helicopter in Afrin and the Iranians downed two Israeli warplanes. So now what?
There are three degrees of power in Syria: the American versus the Russian, the Israeli versus the Iranian and the militant, i.e. Hezbollah and others, against the Free Syrian Army and other groups.
The possibility of an Israeli-Iranian clash is still the most important as Turkey will not escalate its operations or advance further and relations with it can actually be drawn in combat zones. The recent developments may have changed the rules of engagement as Israel directly struck Iranian targets and killed Iranians after it previously targeted their militias, such as Hezbollah and others.
The US also killed 100 members affiliated with militias that support Iran because they attacked US-backed Kurdish fighters. It seems Russia and Iran secretly planned to strike Israel within the context of drawing “the rules of engagement.” Israel got angry when an Iranian drone entered its airspace so it responded with air strikes on Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ posts. The IRGC responded and dared to bring down two Israeli jets. The Israelis then responded by directly targeting Iranian posts. Washington denied any prior knowledge of the attack carried out by its ally and Moscow denied that it had any role in downing the Israeli jets. This is completely unlikely.
Diplomatic efforts behind closed doors among Washington, Moscow, Israel and Iran ensued to organize the dispute and devise rules of engagement in order to avoid expanding the military confrontation or heading to a direct Iranian-Israeli confrontation.
It’s well-known that Iran is militarily weaker than Israel, and it cannot win; however, it can inflict harm as it uses an army of foreign recruits whom it’s willing to involve in its clashes. According to some estimates, this army consists of more than 50,000 fighters from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries.
Like Turkey, it took Israel a long time to intervene and it’s now paying the price of watching what’s happening from afar and observing the civil war in its neighbor Syria while thinking it will drain its rivals. Like Turkey, it let Iran expand, build bases, deploy militias and exploit the Russian cover. Now, Turkey and Israel are complaining that the war threatens their security and stability. It does not seem that the situation in Syria will calm down as confrontations among different powers are more likely to resume especially that it’s now difficult for any party to withdraw without accepting losses. Iran’s militias are deployed everywhere and they’re being further empowered as Tehran wants to govern Syria by exploiting the weakness of the Assad regime that lost most of its military and security capabilities.
Recent developments are not sudden like statements which followed downing the two Israeli jets imply. Let’s keep in mind that Tel Aviv has been studying, negotiating and preparing to address the Syrian situation under Iran’s occupation. This was the major topic during Israeli officials’ meetings with Russians and Americans in the past few months.
Regardless of all the statements made, what happened was no surprise and it must be put within the context of downing jets in the conflict between great and medium powers in Syria.
Everyone is denying any involvement but reality seems to be different. When the armed Syrian opposition downed a Russian jet above Idlib, a Pentagon official denied that the US was behind the move or that the US supplied their allies in Syria with surface-to-air missiles. The Russians denied having anything to do with downing the Israeli jets. Meanwhile, Iran denied that it sent a drone to Israel and claimed that the Syrian regime forces did and that it was the latter that confronted Israeli jets. Truth is, everyone is a partner in war. This is an important chapter that buried the Sochi plan. The solution in Syria lies in getting the Iranian regime forces and militias out and in devising a political solution acceptable to the two warring parties.

Turkey's Operation in Northern Syria
Sirwan Kajjo/Gatestone Institute/February 12/18
The evolving U.S.-Kurdish partnership has alarmed Turkey. Ankara fears that establishing a Kurdish-led entity on its southern borders would empower its restive Kurdish population, particularly PKK fighters.
Washington needs to ensure that its Kurdish partners on the ground are protected and not distracted from the main mission, which is defeating terror in Syria.
Turkey's offensive against Syrian Kurds will serve only to aggravate the multi-layered conflict in Syria, making it even harder for international interlocutors to bring an end to the seven-year civil war and secure a much-needed political settlement for the country.
A Turkish assault against Kurdish forces in Syria, such as the ongoing one, was expected by everyone, including the U.S.
Now, three weeks into its controversial offensive against a Kurdish enclave in northern Syria, Turkey's military is facing fierce resistance from the U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in the city of Afrin.
Observing the daily operations since they began on January 20, it is noticeable that the Turkish military and its allied Syrian rebels, backed by Turkish air support, have made little progress in taking control of Kurdish-held territory -- the main objective behind Ankara's decision to launch the offensive in Syria.
So far, Turkey's advances have not gone beyond seizing a number of villages along its border with Syria, according to local sources.
Since mid-2012, the Afrin region in northwestern Syria has been controlled by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG). That occurred after the withdrawal of Syrian regime troops, which then began to focus on fighting rebel forces elsewhere in the country.
Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), an insurgent group that has been fighting Turkish forces for autonomy in Turkey's Kurdish-majority southeast. Both Turkey and the U.S. regard the PKK as a terrorist organization.
The U.S., however, makes a clear distinction between the YPG and PKK. Since late 2014, the U.S. has backed the YPG in its fight against the terror group ISIS. Despite Turkey's objections, U.S. support for Syrian Kurdish forces expanded over the years, and the YPG played a pivotal role in ousting ISIS from the Syrian city of Raqqa, previously ISIS's de facto capital.
U.S. officials have repeatedly described the YPG as the most effective fighting force in the war on terror in Syria.
The evolving U.S.-Kurdish partnership has alarmed Turkey. Ankara fears that establishing a Kurdish-led entity on its southern borders would empower its restive Kurdish population, particularly PKK fighters. Hence, Turkey's offensive against Afrin was hurriedly -- and perhaps prematurely -- launched when Washington last month announced its plans to build a 30,000-strong border security force made up largely of YPG fighters.
The battle of Afrin will certainly not be easy for the Turkish army and its Syrian allies, and has already proven costly for the Turkish ground forces fighting in Syria. So far, more than 20 Turkish soldiers have been killed by Kurdish forces -- a relatively high figure for a Turkish military operation abroad. The YPG also downed a Turkish helicopter and destroyed several Turkish armored vehicles.
Syrian Kurdish fighters, benefiting from their advances on ISIS, have become battle-hardened in the past few years. Their fighting experience has allowed them to control more than a quarter of Syria's territory -- thereby making them the second-largest entity after the Syrian military in the war-torn country.
Unlike other Kurdish-held areas in northeast Syria, Afrin lies in mountainous terrain. This, Kurdish leaders say, is an advantage for the local fighters, who are familiar with their region.
Anticipating a Turkish incursion, the YPG has been preparing for this battle for a long time; they have built hideouts and underground bases. On the eve of the attack, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seemed to be confident that his military campaign in Afrin would be "swift." He was wrong.
There is also a lack of sympathy for the Turks among Afrin residents; they have been known to detest the Turkey military for its anti-Kurdish actions at home. So even if Turkey succeeded in dislodging the YPG from Afrin, it would be challenging for Ankara to "bring stability" to the region.
Turkey, when it launched Operation Euphrates Shield in August 2016, made clear that its objective was to eliminate both ISIS and the YPG in areas west of the Euphrates River. That campaign, which lasted five months, achieved its objective by separating Afrin from the rest of Kurdish-held areas, thus preventing Syrian Kurds from controlling a contiguous entity along the border.
That measure, however, clearly was not enough for Ankara to make certain that Kurds would not have the ability to consolidate their military gains and push forward with their political project to govern northern Syria -- a plan that would involve, to varying degrees, backing from Russia and America.
Many consider Afrin to be in Russia's sphere of influence, whereas the other two Kurdish enclaves of Kobani and Jazira, east of the Euphrates, have effectively become American bases.
Turkey's fears of Kurdish gains in Syria, however, are unreasonable. Since the outbreak of Syria's bloody civil war in 2011, the Kurds have controlled much of the border on the Syrian side, and largely managed to keep the havoc from spilling over into Turkey. If anything, Syrian Kurds have done a favor to Turkey by protecting its border for a few years. A more constructive approach by Ankara should, therefore, be to work with the Kurds, rather than antagonize them.
Most important, the U.S. maintains a growing military presence in Kurdish-controlled Syria, which has been instrumental in the war on terror. Washington needs to ensure that its Kurdish partners on the ground are protected and not distracted from the main mission, which is defeating terror in Syria.
The bottom line is: Turkey's offensive against Syrian Kurds will serve only to aggravate the multi-layered conflict in Syria, making it even harder for international interlocutors to bring an end to the seven-year civil war and secure a much-needed political settlement for the country.
Pictured: Turkish soldiers run through drills at a military outpost on the Turkey/Syria border on March 2, 2017 in Kilis, Turkey.
*Sirwan Kajjo is a Syrian-Kurdish Washington-based journalist and author.
© 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.

Death of Democracy? - Part II

Denis MacEoin/Gatestone Institute/February 12/18
The irony, of course, is that so many people, have adopted a way of interpreting human rights and liberal values in a manner that often undermines them.
It is time for some home truths. Islam has been at war with the West for some 1,384 years, with very little respite. When Muslim Arab armies invaded Syria in 634, went on to destroy all but a rump of the Christian Byzantine empire (which it finally defeated when the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453), took control of Spain, Portugal, Sicily and other lands on the north Mediterranean coast, it was the start of endless jihad wars.
Most importantly, we seem unable to understand that Islam is, above all else, a totalitarian project covering all aspects of human life from the spiritual to the material, from law to government to clothing to food to sex to taxation and more. This totalitarianism rejects democracy in the most basic way, as having come from mere humans rather than divinely, from Allah.
Unfortunately, concluding that modern terrorism "has nothing to do with Islam" or that "Islam is a religion of peace" visibly contradicts the historical record.
Much of the weakness we have identified in so many modern European states comes, ironically, from many of our strengths. We have much to be proud of. However imperfectly at times, we have replaced tyranny with democracy, guaranteed freedom of speech and the press, ensured rights for all citizens, provided legal and political foundations for the growing empowerment of women, struggled against racist and religious bigotry, brought homosexual men and women out of the closet, given protections to the environment and wildlife, extended healthcare provision to most people, abolished the death sentence in all European countries (and Israel), and instituted regulations to block and punish crimes such as people trafficking, slavery, and drug smuggling.
The best example of what this means is to be found in the state of Israel. It is precisely because Israel and a majority of Israelis have, from the beginning, combined Jewish ethical values with Western Enlightenment beliefs, that makes it stand out so sharply against all its neighbours. Human rights abuses in Iran, the Arab states, Turkey, and beyond guarantee that Israel, however much abused by international bodies and media, and however flawed, is, in fact, a bastion of democracy, human rights, equality under the law and the positive values that go with them.
The irony, of course, is that so many people, have adopted a way of interpreting human rights and liberal values in a manner that often undermines them. Political correctness, as it developed through the 1980s and 1990s began with good intentions. Words, political policies, and action that were either intended or inadvertently constructed to offend people on account of their race, disabilities, sexuality and so forth, must be replaced by "correct" terms that would not give offence. Much good was done by that, and today there are expressions that one would never find in respectable publications or hear on public broadcasts. They have rightly been set to one side in all decent discourse.
Many practitioners of political correctness, however, have taken matters to the point where even perfectly rational, well argued, and intelligent speech or behaviour was condemned. This could be, and evidently is, done to inhibit debate – a new type of censorship made vivid by faculty and students in most Western universities in which speakers offering alternative viewpoints (such as pro-Israel academics) are banned from coming onto campus, while students frightened of being upset by a lecture that presents a different viewpoint create "safe spaces" that will not exist upon their graduation to soothe their feelings. This has become so destructive of the very purpose of the university, that in December 2017 Jo Johnson, the UK Higher Education Minister, told universities to stop the practice of "no-platforming" speakers. Inevitably, student leaders attacked him for saying so.
As anti-establishment groups shifted from support for the working classes and moved to an emphasis on solidarity with those termed by Frantz Fanon "the wretched of the earth", their compassion for suffering people in the Third World was all but eclipsed by a conviction that all today's evils stem from imperialism and colonialism. Up until the 1970s, this same conviction was expressed in support for communist states, regardless of how oppressive they might be.
Concomitant with the belief that the world's sufferings go back to imperialist and colonialist states in Europe and America, there developed a growing contempt for white people who were citizens of those states. Even though Britain, France, and Portugal had abandoned their empires in Africa and elsewhere, they were still tainted with that description. Equally, even though Israel had never been a colonizing enterprise and had actually served as a refuge for some of the most persecuted people in the world, it was still attacked with the same slur.
This contempt for the West translated well into many causes, but nowhere more closely than with the growing strength of radical Islam. After the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, and a widespread perception that Muslims should now be regarded as the greatest victims of Western hegemony, Westerners in increasing numbers fell in line with an Islamic interpretation of history and hopes of an apocalypse to rectify the injustices of the past.
More than one radical who had been a thorn in the flesh of the Western democracies went so far as to convert to Islam and throw in their lot with the anti-Western firebrands of Iran and the Arab world. Roger Garaudy, a leading figure in the French Communist Party and a convicted Holocaust denier, became a hero for that denial in the Muslim world and converted to Islam in 1982. Carlos the Jackal (Ilich Ramirez Sanchez), who described himself as a Marxist-Leninist "professional revolutionary" and made himself a terrorist, did so around the year 2000.
Many others became enthusiastic supporters of Islamic terrorist groups such as Hamas. In 2010, Che Guevara's eldest daughter, Aleida, travelled to Lebanon to express her admiration for the radical Shi'i group Hizbullah. Judith Butler, a revolutionary American professor, stated that "understanding Hamas/Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the left, that are part of a global left, is extremely important". This from a woman who called herself a feminist and a supporter of gay rights. Calling Hamas and Hizbullah "progressive" should stick in the throat of anyone who knows how they disregard human rights, oppress women and murder homosexuals.
One man, Edward Said, did grave damage to public perceptions of Western values, including democracy. His 1978 book Orientalism was held -- mystifyingly -- in high esteem by many scholars who should know have known better, considering his manifold deceptions, as, for example, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. [1]
Of course, many people who also should have known better, believed in mirages such as Communism, and many still believe – despite such examples as the catastrophe of Venezuela -- in Socialism.
Said promoted the conceit that the West, with its history of imperialism and colonialism has left Middle Easterners and Muslims (especially the Palestinians) the world's victims. The Western democracies, according to him, are the greatest villains of history, with Israel the source of all evil in the Middle East and far beyond.
By ignoring the remarkable achievements of the West and whitewashing the many wrongs committed down the centuries by Muslims, not to mention the stark traditionalism that has mired all Islamic countries in most of the oppressive policies that liberals would normally condemn, Said tried to make anti-Western and pro-Islamic attitudes and policies respectable among the gullible. The only vocal kickback to this indulgence for Islam has, in yet another sad exercise of "shoot the messenger", come from people now accused -- often unjustly -- of being "racist" or "Islamophobic".
This "broad brush" defamation has created problems, as doubtless intended, for those who offer balanced criticisms of Islam but are frequently tarred with the same brush.
A blanket refusal to listen to serious concerns about Islam as an ideology and political enterprise stems from what is in many ways the most dangerous, yet unwitting, position taken by the middle ground. One loses track of the number of Western politicians and church leaders who blithely maintain that "Islam is a religion of peace" or who, when faced with jihadi terrorism, maintain that it "has nothing to do with Islam". A sort of paralysis engendered by a fear of being thought an "Islamophobe" makes it hard if not impossible for people in the public eye to admit that there is another truth, that has, unfortunately, been well known for centuries.
Perhaps the most vivid recent example of one version of Islam clashing with another is a letter posted online on Christmas Day last year. It is addressed to Pope Francis, who was on record saying that "Islam is a religion of peace, one which is compatible with respect for human rights and peaceful coexistence." The very intelligent and strongly argued letter was written on behalf of more than a thousand former Muslims who had converted to Catholicism and wanted to explain that they had known Islam at first hand, which was precisely why they had embraced Christianity instead. The quotations from Christian and Islamic scripture make abundantly clear just what the differences are between the two faiths.
It is time for some home truths. Islam has been at war with the West for some 1,384 years, with very little respite. When Muslim Arab armies invaded Syria in 634, went on to destroy all but a rump of the Christian Byzantine empire (which it finally defeated when the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453), took control of Spain, Portugal, Sicily and other lands on the north Mediterranean coast, it was the start of endless jihad wars. These wars did not end during the centuries of the Barbary slave trade during which Christians were routinely snatched by Muslim pirates and sold in markets in Algiers and elsewhere on the North African coast. Nor did attacks end when European countries colonized or created protectorates over Muslim states such as the Mughal empire of northern India, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt. By the 1920s, Britain controlled about half the Muslims in the world and had defeated the largest Muslim empire in history, that of the Ottomans. But this expansion of European power only served to foster resentment and encourage violence against the imperial powers. This Islamic offensive against Western power has given way to large, often international groupings such as the Taliban, al-Qa'eda, Islamic State, Hamas, Hizbullah, and hundreds of other Islamic terror militants or armies.
Unfortunately, concluding that modern terrorism "has nothing to do with Islam" or that "Islam is a religion of peace" visibly contradicts the historical record. It is this sort of thinking that deflates modern democracies. Most importantly, we do not seem able to understand that Islam is, above all else, a totalitarian project covering all aspects of human life from the spiritual to the material, from law to government to clothing to food to sex to taxation and more. This totalitarianism rejects democracy in the most basic way, as having come from mere humans rather than divinely, from Allah.
Modern Muslim radicals from Hasan al-Banna', Sayyid Qutb, Abu A'la Mawdudi to the currently jailed British radical, Anjem Choudary, all insist that, since only God can make laws, the idea that human beings can legislate through parliamentary democracies is abhorrent, as is the idea of freedom for all citizens. Choudary, for example, spelled this rejection out in no uncertain terms during a public address:
"No to democracy, No to freedom," Anjem Choudary shouted through a microphone. "No to liberalism, no to secularism. No to Christianity. No to Judaism. No to Sikhsm. No to Buddhism. No to Socialism. No to Communism. No to Liberalism. No to Democracy. Democracy, go to Hell! Democracy, go to Hell!"
Pictured: Anjem Choudary (right), a British Islamic radical who is currently in jail, speaks at a protest in London on March 21, 2011. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
You probably cannot get much more radical than that. When Western academics, however, such as John Esposito and Juan Cole defend extremists and pretend that they actually mean the opposite of what they say, their weakness spreads into the rest of society.
For example, here is Esposito on Sami Al-Arian, who pled guilty in 2006 for providing goods and services to terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad:
Sami is dedicated family man....Sami Al-Arian is a proud, dedicated and committed American as well as a proud and committed Palestinian. He is an extraordinarily bright, articulate scholar and intellectual-activist, a man of conscience with a strong commitment to peace and social justice.
And here he is again, this time on the 9/11 attacks: "September 11," he said, "has made everyone aware of the fact that not addressing the kinds of issues involved here, of tolerance and pluralism, have catastrophic repercussions."
And here is how he speaks of Palestinian suicide bombers:
Do not call them suicide bombers, call them shuhada [martyrs] as they have not escaped the miseries of life. They gave their life. Life is sacred, but some things like truth and justice are more sacred than life. They are not desperate, they are hopefuls.... [The Israelis] have guns, we have the human bomb. We love death, they love life.
Coole too bends over backwards not to call a spade a spade:
It is because both in Arabic and in other languages "Islamic" refers to the ideals of the Muslim religion that both Muslims and people with good English diction object strenuously to a phrase such as "Islamic terrorism" or "Islamic fascism".
According to A. J. Caschetta,
One of the preeminent tenured apologists for Islam, Cole is a great equivocator, always ready with an analogy of Western misconduct to downplay and offset Islamic wrongdoing. His go-to response is to blame Orientalism for all the Muslim world's ills.
In her 2016 article "It was Britain's hopeless tolerance which allowed Anjem Choudary's hate to thrive", British journalist Allison Pearson castigated our inability to arrest one of the country's most dangerous men for two decades.
Failures to acknowledge Islamic radicalism by many of the people elected or employed to protect European citizens from danger have exposed us to terrorist attacks that have killed and maimed hundreds. In a matter of some twenty years, we have all found ourselves living in security-focussed towns and cities, afraid to walk down our high streets, shop in our markets, attend rock concerts, or visit government buildings. Meanwhile, thousands of Jews are leaving Europe, driven out by fears sparked by a new wave of antisemitism that has been led in many places by Muslim fundamentalists. France, with its 750 no-go zones and its privileged Islamist population, is the worst affected, even though it had Europe's largest Jewish community in its midst.
Over the past three decades, Western societies have been rendered all but impotent in the face of ideologies that challenge their most basic values. Having rejected many expressions of political and religious extremism, bigotry, and cruelty; having abandoned imperialism and colonialism; and having enacted laws about hate crimes, Europeans and Americans are still condemned by activists who espouse the tenets of radical political correctness. To many in a wide range of US and European universities who seem like bigoted fanatics in their zeal to close down the free speech if anyone opposes their views, anything whatever that smacks of criticism of ethnic, gender, or religious minorities must be condemned outright. All too often, the only response to this hyper-sensitivity comes from other bigoted fanatics, many increasingly popular in European countries such as Hungary. [2]
In The Rape of the Masters: How Political Correctness Sabotages Art, the American author Roger Kimball explores the damage across the arts disciplines by post-modernist politically correct thinkers. In the preface (p. xix), he writes:
The second reason that the assaults on tradition... matter is that they represent one front in a much larger war, a war over the tenor and shape of our culture, over our shared understanding of what the Greeks used to call "the good life for man." "The rape of the masters" .... is part of... a process of de-civilization. In other words, what we are witnessing is not simply a betrayal of an academic discipline: it is an assault on a culture, on a way of looking at and valuing the world and our place in it.
"De-civilization." Yet here we go, led by a politically correct intelligentsia, churches, and political parties, effectively handing over our civilization to people who hate it.
Later, Kimball writes: It has often been noted that totalitarian ideologies exploit democratic freedoms precisely in order to destroy freedom and abolish democracy. Democratic societies preach tolerance, very well, the clever totalitarian loudly demands tolerance for his own activities while scrupulously obliterating the conditions that make tolerance possible. (p. 79).
That is exactly what we have allowed to take place in the Western democracies. A combination of these aspiring totalitarians and Muslims have criminalized one of the world's most democratic countries, Israel, and have been taking over the General Assembly of the United Nations, UNESCO, the UN Human Rights Council, UNWRA, and other bodies in order to do so. The Human Rights Council never ceases to condemn Israel, all the while seldom if ever denouncing the many Muslim tyrannies. If we are ever to save Western civilization and democracy, we must urgently rally our forces to stand up to all those who seek to trash it.
**Dr. Denis MacEoin is an Islamicist and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at New York's Gatestone Institute. He lives in the UK.
[1] Several writers have published critiques of Said and his work, emphasizing his duplicity and inaccuracies; among the best is Joshua Muravchik's short account, "Edward Said Conquers Academia for Palestine", chapter seven of his wider study Making David into Goliath: How the World Turned against Israel (Encounter Books, New York/London, 2014.)
[2] On Hungary, see Kirchik, The End of Europe, chapter 2.
© 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.

How China and Pakistan could lay the Road to Peace in Afghanistan
Syed Jawaid Iqbal/Al Arabiya/February 12/18
Referred to as an interminable and protracted war, the ongoing US-led war in Afghanistan is becoming a stalemate with no end in sight in the near or long term. Since the violence and bloodshed have been the most common phenomenon in an already war-torn region, the war is perhaps an inevitable part of the life being led by the Afghan people for the past decades, while any attempt to bring peace in the region is bound to meet rabid resistance owing to the conflict of interest among the concerned stakeholders who seem to be at odds with each other, following their own agenda or list of priorities under the guise of peace-building efforts.
Despite all its military might, the US war in Afghanistan, which has seen two phases (Operation Enduring Freedom 2001–2014 and Operation Freedom's Sentinel 2015 to the present), is yet to achieve a face-saving end, while Donald Trump’s particular style of achieving results is making it even more unlikely to bring the Afghan war to an acceptable end not only for the United States, but also for its key partners and other countries in the region. The US’s arm-twisting tactics against Pakistan to ‘do more’ are at its limits and the recent aid suspension to its tested ally has not paid off.
The US State Department, for instance, has informed Congress that the US government’s decision to suspend its security assistance to Pakistan has so far failed to achieve its objective: forcing Islamabad to change its policies. “There certainly hasn’t been any change that we would consider final and irrevocable. They have engaged in discussions with us, but there hasn’t been a sufficient amount of action yet that we would be lifting that suspension of security assistance.” say John Sullivan, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State.
Commander US Central Command (Centcom) General Joseph L Votel has candidly accepted the fact that Pakistan happens to be an important US ally when it comes to maintaining peace and security in South Asia and to ensure peace in the Afghan region, it is important that the strategy to bring the Taliban to the table be implemented speedily.
“We are very busily implementing our South Asia strategy, which is designed to bring the Taliban to the reconciliation table and end this very, very lengthy conflict (in Afghanistan),” says General Votel.
Short of options
With its flawed approach towards Pakistan, the US seems to be short of options at the moment. However, the initiation of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has emerged as a silver lining for the war-torn region. This is because China wants to extend the $57 billion CPEC to Afghanistan, and as per Afghan media, after the inclusion of Afghanistan, the name of the corridor will be changed into China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CAPEC), as part of China’s ambitious BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) linking China with Asia, Europe and beyond.
This is the time the Afghan leadership should come forward and decide how long a troubled Afghanistan can afford the ongoing war as well as the consistent loss of innocent lives.
According to Yao Jing, Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan, Kabul could become part of economic activities going on in the region and, for this reason, China is ready to play its role for resumption of a peace process for bringing stability in Afghanistan. “The recent terrorist attacks in Afghanistan are our concern and we are ready to play a role for resumption of the peace process. Both Pakistan and China are close neighbors and we desire a peaceful Afghanistan,” says Yao Jing.
Since both Pakistan and Afghanistan have been uneasy neighbors ever since the creation of Pakistan in 1947, China has tried to promote talks between Pakistan and Afghanistan. However, the diplomatic ties between both the countries have been severed, as Afghanistan accuses Pakistan for supporting Taliban militants who have been fighting the U.S. forces to limit the influence of India in Afghanistan.
Speaking after the first trilateral meeting, which was held between the foreign ministers of China, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Wang said the economic corridor connecting China, Pakistan and Afghanistan could benefit the whole region and act as an impetus for development the war-torn region needs desperately. He said Afghanistan has an urgent need to develop and improve people’s lives and hopes it can join inter-connectivity initiatives.
“So China and Pakistan are willing to look at with Afghanistan, on the basis of win-win, mutually beneficial principles, using an appropriate means to extend the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to Afghanistan,” according to Yao Jing, Chinese Ambassador.
If actualized into action, the extension of CPEC to Afghanistan will serve a long way in bringing about the much-needed stability in Afghanistan and will positively impact the socio-economic condition of the Afghan nation. However, it needs a paradigm shift the way the U.S. wants to see things taking place in the region, which seems unlikely at the moment, considering the ground realities. This is the time the Afghan leadership should come forward and decide how long a troubled Afghanistan can afford the ongoing war as well as the consistent loss of innocent lives. In Afghanistan, it is likely that the road to peace will now passing through CPEC.

ANALYSIS: How Iran’s regime enters its 40th year as an Islamic Republic
النظام الإيراني الجمهوري الإسلامي يدخل عامه الأربعين
Heshmat Alavi/Al Arabiya /February 12/ 2018
February 11 marked the beginning of the 40th year Iran's clerics are ruling over what they describe as an "Islamic Republic."
The fact that this regime is facing a whirlwind of domestic and foreign crises goes beyond doubt. While Tehran's state media boasts massive support among the populace, remarks heard recently from Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei portray a canvas of impasse, a weak entity and the road ahead being uphill, to say the least.
In response to increasing unrest across the country protesting political and economic corruption, Khamenei acknowledged the fact that "fighting cruelty and corruption is very difficult… it will not be resolved easily."
He is acknowledging the growing scope of systematic corruption riddling the ruling apparatus, and his regime's weakness in tackling such a demanding issue. Khamenei's words also indicate Iran's population will no longer tolerate discrimination, injustice and state-sponsored corruption.
Interesting is how in his latest remarks Khamenei refuses to discuss the 120-day ultimatum issued by U.S. President Donald Trump over the fate of the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. This further shows his weak hand, especially since Europe is cooperating with Washington's demands of taking on Tehran's meddling across the Middle East and ballistic missile program.
Khamenei's silence is very meaningful and will be devastating for his regime in the near future.
"Systemized corruption"
Political and economic corruption is now considered institutionalized in Iran's governing systems, ranking this country as one of the world's most corrupts states. Obviously, economic corruption is merely one result of political corruption, and after 40 years we have come to learn the very subject of corruption has become an inseparable aspect of Iran's regime.
Iranian Vice President Es'hagh Jahangiri says "termite corruption" is infecting every essence of Iran's political and economic infrastructure, while Ahmad Tavakoli, head of Iran's Expediency Council goes further.
"Unfortunately, corruption has become systematic. If measures are not taken, corruption will most definitely bring an end to the Islamic republic," he adds, cited by the semi-official Tasnim news agency.
Changing times
Once known for its chest-thumping in refusing to discuss its role in the internal affairs of countries across the Middle East and the so-called "defensive" ballistic missile program, Iran, sensing the changing times, is now signaling steps back in this regard.
In a public acknowledgment of increasing international pressures and Europe distancing away from Iran, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said in Paris how Tehran would be willing to discuss "other issues" if the West makes certain the JCPOA remains "a successful experience."
Although these remarks may seem rather harsh, those familiar with the language used by Iranian officials understand this is saber-rattling to save face, knowing discussions over "other issues" will be grueling and far more demanding than anything Tehran experienced during the Obama years.
Obvious is how Iran's hardliners fiercely oppose such talks, yet all parties of this factionalized regime are realizing there is no good option ahead, and only choosing from bad and worse.
With Trump providing a last chance for what he describes as "the worst deal ever," the Europe trio of Britain, France and Germany, all seeking to preserve the JCPOA due to their economic interests in Iran, are scrambling to blueprint a plan addressing Trump's concerns over Tehran's destructive role in the Middle East and ballistic missile drive.
Dirty money
Despite Araqchi's claim of there being no link between the Iran nuclear accord and its influence across the region, new evidence shows the U.S. government tracing portions of the $1.7 billion released by the Obama administration to Tehran – as part of the JCPOA signing – has found its way into the hands of Iran-supported terrorists.
Informed sources are indicating how Tehran has been allocating such funds to pay members of the Lebanese Hezbollah, known as Iran's main proxy group and provide the budget needed for the Quds Force, the Revolutionary Guards element described as Iran's leading foreign intelligence arm involved also in covert action.
The Houthis of Yemen should also be sending their gratitude to Team Obama as evidence shows they, too, have received dividends of the notorious cash load airlifted to Iran. Tehran is using the Houthis to exert pressure on Riyadh from its own backyard.
This is not good news for Iran as such findings will most likely further convince Trump in his effort against the JCPOA. As heard from Araqchi, Tehran understands perfectly well the scrapping of this accord and the return of crippling sanctions, coupled with ongoing domestic protests, are a recipe for disaster.
Troubling months
In another sign of the Trump administration's determination to take on the issue of Iran's belligerence, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in the region, paying visits to Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and Kuwait.
Iran is most definitely a major topic of his discussions and Tehran is bracing for possibly a new onslaught of regional pressure, similar to that of Europe, making costing demands.
With Iran protests taking a toll on the regime – as seen on Sunday with many cities witnessing people boycotting pro-regime rallies and protesters hitting the streets at night – and increasing word of banks going bankrupt, the months ahead look grim for Iran. This regime understands better than anyone that the public's increasing wrath will be demanding, and it is using the JCPOA, its regional influence and ballistic missile program to bargain with the international community.
The difference between now and 2015 is that the White House is not at all fond of Iran's bellicosity, and more importantly, the Iranian people are making serious demands of regime change.

Israel Signaling a Heavy Price for Iranian 'Entrenchment' in Syria
David Makovsky/The Washington Institute/February 12/2018
اشارات إسرائيلية للثمن المرتفع لتمدد إيران في سوريا
If Tehran keeps trying to increase its military foothold in Syria, Israel may ramp up its strikes, so Washington should consider a more active posture that reduces the risks of escalation.
By striking Syrian antiaircraft forces and installations where Iranian personnel are located this weekend, Israel seems intent on forcing key players to recognize its deep interest in limiting Tehran's military presence in Syria. If Iranian leaders ignore this interest, they risk triggering a rapid military escalation.
In Israel, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and various military leaders have repeatedly stated that their main concern is avoiding Iranian military "entrenchment" on their northeastern doorstep. During his speech to the UN General Assembly last September, Netanyahu warned that Israel will not accept Tehran's development of advanced missile production capabilities in Syria and Lebanon, and that it "will act to prevent Iran from establishing permanent military bases in Syria for its air, sea, and ground forces." At a time when the Islamic Republic's main proxy, Hezbollah, is pointing more than 100,000 rockets at Israel, fears of a joint Lebanon-Syria front are growing.
The weekend clashes attracted international attention for a variety of reasons. They marked the first time an Israeli fighter jet has been shot down over Syria since the early 1980s. Moreover, the jet in question was part of an operation targeting an Iranian command center at a Syrian base—an unusual move given that Israeli strikes in Syria typically focus on discrete Hezbollah forces. The command center strike came on the heels of an Iranian drone infiltrating Israel, so the exchange could lead to further escalation.
Whatever the case, Israel seems keen on sending messages to several players:
The Assad regime. Although an Iranian-backed Assad victory in Syria is not in Israel's strategic or moral interests, Jerusalem appears to understand that it cannot decisively affect the war's outcome. It has therefore focused more on altering Iran's role there. Toward that end, it wants Damascus to realize the price of allowing Iran to house military personnel at Syrian bases. A number of Israel's strikes this weekend targeted bases far from the site where the drone was launched, so deterrence was likely as much a part of the game plan as retaliation.
To be sure, Bashar al-Assad is deeply indebted to the Iranians for helping to salvage his rule, so he cannot simply dictate orders to them. Yet if Israel continues exacting a serious cost because of Iranian involvement, Assad may feel compelled to request—whether directly or via Russia—that they dial back their presence. The regime has already shown signs of trying to persuade Tehran in this regard; according to Israeli officials, the Iranian chief of staff had to cool his heels during a recent visit to Damascus while Assad delayed signing any long-term military commitments.
When signaling Damascus, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) seem to distinguish between the Assad regime's domestic military activities and Iran's role in backing them. Senior Israeli military officials have sent messages to Assad via third parties indicating that they do not oppose him extending his sovereignty in Syria on his own, but that they will view the situation very differently if he does so with Iran, Hezbollah, and Shia militias in tow.
Iran. The strikes were also intended as a warning that the IDF will not accept Iranian military activities or installations that threaten Israel. Contrary to some reports, such strikes are not a response to recent Iranian phosphate contracts or other economic moves in Syria. Rather, Israeli officials aim to hinder the development of major military infrastructure—seaports, airports, bases for Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps units, or precision-guided missile production facilities for Hezbollah.
Israel has launched other strikes in recent months to define specific cases of unacceptable entrenchment and emphasize its redlines. In September, it reportedly hit a facility near the northwest Syrian town of Masyaf that IDF officials say was used to dramatically upgrade old rockets. In December, it struck a barracks for Iranian-backed Shia militias at al-Kiswah, within fifty kilometers of the Golan border. And it has repeatedly retaliated against Hezbollah for violating the de-escalation zone in southern Syria.
The United States. Following the latest strikes, the Trump administration issued statements supporting Israel's right to self-defense, but it has not provided any military assistance (at least publicly) for operations against Iranian forces in Syria. Washington has announced that it will retain some 2,000 troops east of the Euphrates River in northern and eastern Syria, but their mission remains unclear beyond defeating the Islamic State. The administration has also focused on managing Turkish-Kurdish tensions, with both Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster visiting Ankara recently. In contrast, there are few tangible indications on the ground that Washington is actively trying to limit Iranian activity in Syria, apart from Tillerson's general statements that the continued U.S. military presence is partly designed to curb Tehran's local influence.
Some IDF officials have expressed hope that President Trump's frequent criticism of Tehran's regional ambitions presages a wider U.S. military effort against Iranian activity in Syria, but others remain skeptical. At the very least, a U.S. presence along the Syria-Iraq border could help prevent Iran from transferring weapons to Hezbollah and other actors by land. Due to array of political sensitivities, however, Israel will likely be careful not to goad Washington into direct military action against Iranian sites.
At the moment, it is unclear whether the risks posed by the weekend strikes will spur Washington to shift its policy in any way. For instance, will the threat of wider conflict between Israel and Iran make the administration more wary of escalation, more active in pursuing the Geneva peace talks toward a new political arrangement in Syria, and more willing to coordinate U.S. actions there with Turkey and Israel?
Russia. The author's recent meetings with political and security officials in Israel suggest that Jerusalem sees Russia as its best hope for constraining Iran's activities next door, at least in the short term. It is no coincidence that Netanyahu has visited President Vladimir Putin seven times in the two-and-a-half years since Moscow launched its intervention in Syria. Given Russia's own competition with Iran over Syria and its concerns about widening the war, Israeli officials hope that Moscow views IDF strikes as a welcome check on Iran's influence. They also believe that Damascus needs Russia more than it needs Iran, especially now that the objective of maintaining Assad's rule has been achieved.
Indeed, Russia has demonstrated a willingness to tolerate Israeli strikes, which offer a far easier means of constraining Iran's presence in Syria than doing so itself. Senior IDF officials are also very pleased that Moscow has not allowed Iran to build new military infrastructure near Russian facilities at Syria's Tartus port or Hmeimim Air Base—something Tehran has seemingly longed to do in order to deter attacks by Israel or other actors. In addition, Russia has refrained from using its advanced S-400 antiaircraft systems to prevent Israeli strikes.
Jerusalem does not publicly highlight these favorable steps, mainly to avoid embarrassing Moscow among its Iranian and Hezbollah partners. At the same time, however, Israel is sober about the limits of Russian influence. Although Putin seems willing to constrain Tehran's operations in Syria and deny its base requests, he has not taken any military actions against Iranian installations there. For now, the alliance with Tehran still serves Russia's regional interests, and the Kremlin's objectives are far more aligned with Iran's than with Israel's. The Islamic Republic has been a significant purchaser of Russian arms, and both countries have partnered with Hezbollah to keep Assad from being toppled.
Although Israel does not seek military escalation in Syria, it is determined not to let Iran develop the military capacity to change the equation on its northern borders. And Israeli officials will no doubt maintain this posture even if they have to keep acting alone, albeit with indirect assists from Moscow and Washington. This means that continued Iranian efforts to establish a military presence in Syria will likely be met with increased Israeli strikes. At a certain point, persistent Iranian efforts may convince Israel that deterrence has failed. Predicting that point is difficult, but if it is reached, the prospects of escalation in Syria and perhaps even direct Israeli-Iranian conflict will become far more likely.
*David Makovsky is the Ziegler Distinguished Fellow and director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at The Washington Institute.