February 20/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations
Obey your parents as if you were their slave
Sirach (Apocrypha), chapter 03/01-16: "Children, listen to me; I am your father. Do what I tell you and you will be safe, for the Lord has given fathers authority over their children and given children the obligation to obey their mothers. If you respect your father, you can make up for your sins, and if you honor your mother, you are earning great wealth. If you respect your father, one day your own children will make you happy; the Lord will hear your prayers. If you obey the Lord by honoring your father and making your mother happy, you will live a long life. Obey your parents as if you were their slave. Honor your father in everything you do and say, so that you may receive his blessing. When parents give their blessing, they give strength to their children's homes, but when they curse their children, they destroy the very foundations. Never seek honor for yourself at your father's expense; it is not to your credit if he is dishonored. Your own honor comes from the respect that you show to your father. If children do not honor their mothers, it is their own disgrace. My child, take care of your father when he grows old; give him no cause for worry as long as he lives. Be sympathetic even if his mind fails him; don't look down on him just because you are strong and healthy. The Lord will not forget the kindness you show to your father; it will help you make up for your sins. When you are in trouble, the Lord will remember your kindness and will help you; your sins will melt away like frost in warm sunshine. Those who abandon their parents or give them cause for anger may as well be cursing the Lord; they are already under the Lord's curse.
Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 19-20/18
 Unprecedented Situation in Syria/Ghassan Charbel/Asharq Al Awsat/February 19/18
US-Russian Proxy War in Syria/Eli Lake/Bloomberg View/February 19/18
Israel...Corruption or Iran/Daniel Gordis/The Washington Post/February 19/18
International Community Must Unite to Save the Syrian Civilians/Sheikh Sabah Khalid al-Hamad Al Sabah and Margot Wallström/Asharq Al Awsat/February 19/18
Turkey Threatens to Invade Greece/Uzay Bulut/Gatestone Institute/February 19/2018
Germany: Meet Jens Spahn, Merkel's Possible Successor ..."I am a burkaphobe."/Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/February 19/2018
Successful investment gurus are made not born/Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady/Al Arabiya/February 19/18
Russia ‘hacking’ American elections/Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/February 19/18
How Qatari funding contributed to Arab destruction/Sawsan Al Shaer/Al Arabiya/February 19/18
The triumph of truth/Hussein Shobokshi/Al Arabiya/February 19/18

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on February 19-20/18
Assad’s forces, Hezbollah prepare for Iranian-Israeli confrontation in Syria
Lebanese Minister: We Cannot Ask for Donor Support without 2018 Budget
Lebanon: No Deal Yet Between Jumblat, Christian Parties
Aoun to head to Iraq, Armenia on official visit
Aoun to Visit Iraq and Armenia
Nasrallah Expects 'Paid Campaign' against Hizbullah Candidates
Berri Announces AMAL Candidates for Elections, Stresses Adherence to Constitution, National Pact
Cabinet Forms Hariri-Led Panel to Finalize Budget
Hariri Sponsors Launching of Business Support Unit
EDL Contract Workers Scuffle with Police
Tashnag Says No Vetoes on FPM-Murr Electoral Alliance
Jumblat Holds Talks with Emir of Kuwait
UK Minister Meets Mashnouq, Stresses Support for Lebanon Stability
U.N. chief warns of nightmare scenario if Israel, Hezbollah clash

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 19-20/18
Shin Bet Arrests Cell Plotting to Assassinate Defense Minister
Egypt: 3 Soldiers, 4 Militants Killed in Sinai Campaign
14 dead, 75 injured in latest Assad raids on eastern Ghouta
‘We do not work for you,’ Iraqi officials tell advisor to Iran’s Khamenei
Qatari envoy abused, thrown out of hospital in Gaza
Turkey welcomes Syrian forces entering Afrin
Three Egyptian troops killed in anti-militant operation in Sinai
Iranian rescuers find wreckage from plane crash
Khamenei Says Progress Needed on Justice
Kremlin: No Evidence that Russia Meddled in 2016 US Election
Abbas: Saudi Arabia Had No Hesitation in Supporting Us
77 Dead, 300 Hurt in Syria Regime Bombardment of Rebel Enclave
Three Police Killed in Sufi Protests in Iran
Israel Announces 'Historic' Gas Contract with Egypt
Pro-Regime Forces to Enter Syria's Afrin 'within Hours'

Detailed LCCC English News Bulletin For February 20/201
Latest Lebanese Related News published on February 19-20/18

Assad’s forces, Hezbollah prepare for Iranian-Israeli confrontation in Syria
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Monday, 19 February 2018/The Syrian regime and Hezbollah have begun military preparations in Quneitra’s countryside amid fears that Daraa and Quneitra will turn into an arena for an Israeli-Iranian confrontation. Activists said regime forces and Hezbollah fighters stationed in several areas in Quneitra’s countryside are on security alert. They’ve been arming with heavy weapons and monitoring the area 20 kilometers off the borders with the Occupied Golan Heights. According to analysts there are four possible scenarios. The first scenario, which is most likely, is that the Syrian regime and the opposition will reach some sort of reconciliation. The opposition will stay in the area as a guarantee to prevent Iran and Hezbollah from approaching the borders.The second scenario is setting a de-escalation zone in south Syria while choosing a third party to supervise the monitoring checkpoints. The third one is that the Syrian regime will control the entire area and Russia will play the role of the guarantor while UN peace troops return to the border area.The last scenario would be a direct confrontation between Israel and Iran where the former launches airstrikes on regime forces and Iranian militias.

Lebanese Minister: We Cannot Ask for Donor Support without 2018 Budget
Asharq Al-Awsat/February 19/18/Lebanese Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil stressed on Monday the importance of approving a new budget for 2018. “Lebanon cannot ask for support at an upcoming donor conference unless it first passes the 2018 budget,” he said after a cabinet meeting chaired by President Michel Aoun. Political tensions had left Lebanon without a government budget from 2005 until it passed one last year. The government must now agree a budget for 2018. Hassan Khalil said there was a commitment to finalizing the 2018 budget and referring it to parliament for approval by end of the month. If this is done within 15 days there is a possibility it will be approved before parliamentary elections scheduled for May 6, he told reporters at the Baabda presidential palace. “The 2018 budget will not include any new tax measures,” he stated. Lebanon is expected to ask donors at a variety of international meetings this year for support for its economy and army, and to help it deal with the approximately one million Syrian refugees it is hosting. Later on Monday, the cabinet formed a ministerial committee, headed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, to study the budget before referring its suggestion to the government. The committee will hold four meetings this week and a number of others next week, explained Hassan Khalil.

Lebanon: No Deal Yet Between Jumblat, Christian Parties
Asharq Al-Awsat/February 19/18/Discussions between head of the Democratic Gathering bloc MP Walid Jumblat and Lebanese Christian parties on a political alliance in the Shouf-Aley electoral district have reached a standstill although the Druze leader secured a deal with Prime Minister Saad Hariri in other areas where both sides enjoy large influence. A leading Democratic Gathering minister told Asharq Al-Awsat that talks held between Jumblat, the Free Patriotic Movement, the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb Party are running in a vicious circle, particularly in the Shouf-Aley district which is diverse politically and confessionally. Jumblat hopes to form an electoral alliance that involves all political factions, to consolidate consensus and ward off security and economic threats. Meanwhile, other sources described a meeting held lately between Jumblat and Hariri as positive, saying the two officials were able to agree on their electoral alliances. Jumblat also held talks with President Michel Aoun in a meeting described as “excellent.”In a related development, Asharq Al-Awsat learned that Jumblat’s son, Taymour, met with MP Sami Gemayel in Bikfaya as part of a “gathering that included several mutual friends.”Although the meeting tackled the next parliamentary elections, sources said that Gemayel and Jumblat have not yet agreed on the formation of any alliance. In the Shouf district, the Lebanese Forces (LF) refuses to support Naji Boustani, Jumblat’s candidate, while the Free Patriotic Movement insists on receiving a “fair share” of seats. Sources expect that Jumblat will soon send his two envoys, MPs Nehmeh Tohmeh and Akram Shehayeb, to Maarab for talks with LF leader Samir Geagea before agreeing on the latest electoral alliances. Tohmeh told Asharq Al-Awsat on Sunday that Jumblat has not shut his doors to any party. “Jumblat is keen on reaching out to all political entities. We do not want to eliminate any force, but on the contrary, we are keen on protecting the political diversity of the Mountains,” Tohmeh said.

Aoun to head to Iraq, Armenia on official visit
The Daily Star/February 19/18/BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun is set to leave Lebanon on Tuesday for official visits to Iraq and Armenia, where he will meet with the countries’ top officials. Aoun is expected to discuss bilateral relations with Iraqi and Armenian leaders, including ways to promote economic exchange and strengthen diplomatic ties with the two countries, according to a statement from the presidency. He is scheduled to meet with Iraqi President Fuad Masum, Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi and Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri. He is then expected to leave Baghdad for Yerevan on Wednesday for talks with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan and Parliament Speaker Ara Babloyan. Aoun will also meet with members of the Lebanese community living in Armenia. The Lebanese delegation accompanying Aoun on the visits will include Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, Industry Minister Hussein Hajj Hassan, Tourism Minister Avedis Guidanian, Minister of State for Combating Corruption Nicolas Tueni and the head of the Armenian Tashnag party, MP Hagop Pakradounian.
Aoun to Visit Iraq and Armenia
Naharnet/February 19/18/President Michel Aoun will kick start visits to Iraq and Armenia on Tuesday at the invitation of his Iraqi and Armenian counterparts where he will be heading a ministerial, administrative, parliamentary, and consultative delegation, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Monday. The accompanying delegation will be comprised of Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq, Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil, Industry Minister Hussein Hajj Hassan, Tourism Minister Avedis Kedanian, State Minister for Combating Corruption Nicolas Tueini and head of the Tashnaq party MP Agop Pakradonian, well-informed sources told the daily. In Iraq, Aoun will meet with President Mohammed Fuad Masum, Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi and Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri, it added. Aoun will travel on Wednesday to Armenia for talks with the President, PM and Parliament Speaker of Armenia. He will also meet with the Lebanese community living there. Economic and political issues will be discussed including bilateral relations between the two countries and the ways to promote economic exchange and strengthen diplomatic relations.
What distinguishes the visit to Iraq is compatibility in views on a number of pivotal issues on the Arab and regional arenas, especially in confronting terrorism and the crisis of the displaced and the call to confront the US decision to adopt Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, added the daily. Al-Joumhouria highlighted potentials of an “Iraqi aid and gift program” for Lebanon as a welcome gesture for the Lebanese president through which it will contribute to strengthening relations between the two countries, particularly at the “military and security levels.”

Nasrallah Expects 'Paid Campaign' against Hizbullah Candidates
Naharnet/February 19/18/Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah announced Monday the names of his party's candidates for the upcoming parliamentary elections, as he warned of a “paid” social media campaign against them. “Everyone knows that some are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to tarnish the reputation and image of Hizbullah and its leaders and officials. There are attempts to spread rumors about leaders from Hizbullah and nowadays the electronic armies of Israel and the Gulf are carrying out attacks on us in order to incite the public opinion against us,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech dedicated to announcing the names of the candidates. “As of tonight, we expect a certain electronic campaign against our candidates to tarnish their image. We are not claiming that we are offering people infallible candidates, but we have scrutinized our files and candidates very well,” Nasrallah added. He also announced that from now on, Hizbullah's MPs will not be nominated for ministerial portfolios. “Throughout the past period, our ministers have also been members of parliament, shouldering heavy ministerial and parliamentary responsibilities. Today we have preferred to distribute the responsibilities and to separate parliamentary posts from ministerial posts,” Nasrallah explained. He added that, accordingly, Sport and Youth Minister Mohammed Fneish “will be in the next government and will not be nominated for a parliamentary seat.”Nasrallah also revealed that MPs Hussein al-Moussawi and Bilal Farhat will not be among the party's candidates. He said Moussawi will be replaced because he personally “has decided to quit parliamentary work and resume his duties as a Hizbullah official.” Farhat will meanwhile be replaced by an AMAL Movement candidate in the Baabda district as per an agreement with the movement. Nasrallah also noted that Monday's announcement only involves the names of candidates who are members of Hizbullah and that the names of “friends backed by Hizbullah” would be announced at a later stage. Hizbullah deputy chief Sheikh Naim Qassem had recently announced that Maj. Gen. Jamil al-Sayyed – a controversial ex-General Security chief – will be on the party's electoral list in the Baalbek-Hermel district. Nasrallah concluded his speech by announcing Hizbullah's candidates as follows:
- Hussein al-Hajj Hassan, Ali al-Moqdad, Ibrahim Ali al-Moussawi and Ehab Hamadeh for the Baalbek-Hermel district
- Nawwaf al-Moussawi and Hussein Jishi for the second district in the South
- Mohammed Raad, Hassan Fadlallah and Ali Fayyad for the third district in the South
- Anwar Hussein Jomaa for the Zahle district
- Ali Ammar for the Baabda district
- Hussein Mohammed Zoaiter for the Jbeil-Keserwan district
- Amin Sherri for Beirut's second district

Berri Announces AMAL Candidates for Elections, Stresses Adherence to Constitution, National Pact
Naharnet/February 19/18/Speaker Nabih Berri announced in a press conference on Monday the names of the AMAL Movement candidates that will be running in the parliamentary elections, urging commitment to forthcoming electoral lists that will be gathering AMAL, Hizbullah and other allies.
Berri said the AMAL Movement's program is based on commitment to the Constitution and the Taef Agreement. “Committing to the Constitution and the National Pact is our foremost choice,” he stressed. He pointed out that “he will keep up efforts to eliminate political sectarianism in Lebanon and to adhere to the trilogy formula of Army, People and the Resistance.” Referring to Israel's threats against Lebanon's oil and land rights, he called for completing the “demarcation of the maritime Blue Line and to protect Lebanon's offshore excavation rights. Israel is our enemy, not Iran,” he said.
Berri said they will work on improving the representation of women in the parliament. Amal Movement's candidates are listed as follows:
-Tyre-Zahrani (second electoral district in the South): Ali Khreis, Inaya Ezzeddine, Ali Osseiran, Nabih Berri, Michel Moussa
-Nabatiyeh-Marjeyoun-Hasbaya (third electoral district in the South): Ayoub Hmayed, Ali Bazzi, Yassine Jaber, Hani Qobeissi, Ali al-Khalil, Anwar al-Khalil, Qassem Hashem
-West Bekaa (second electoral district in Bekaa) : Mohammad Nasrallah
-Baalbek-Hermel (third electoral district in Bekaa): Ghazi Zoaiter
-Beirut second electoral district : Mohammed Khawaja
-Baabda (Mount Lebanon): Fadi Alameh

Cabinet Forms Hariri-Led Panel to Finalize Budget
Naharnet/February 19/18/The Cabinet on Monday formed a ministerial panel headed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri and tasked with "studying the budget figures and returning to the Council of Ministers with final suggestions."The Cabinet meeting was presided over by President Michel Aoun at the Presidential Palace in Baabda. It was dedicated to discussing the State's 2018 budget. During the session, Hariri announced that he will "call for consecutive Cabinet sessions to finalize the 2018 State budget."Aoun for his part stressed the need to address the issue of housing loans, saying: “The recent house loans isse must be addressed in coordination with the Social Affairs Ministry and the Central Bank of Lebanon.”Before the meeting, Deputy PM and Health Minister Ghassan Hasbani voiced hope that the budget will be approved before May 6, the date set for the country's parliamentary elections. “We wish to approve the budget before the elections without inflated expenses or any reduction in investments,” said Hasbani. Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil assured that the figures of the budget will be thoroughly discussed. As for a suggestion of reducing 20 percent of the budgets of ministries, he said: “We will see this in the session.”“We will wait to see which reforms will be included in the budget,” Economy and Trade Minister Raed Khoury stated.

Hariri Sponsors Launching of Business Support Unit
Naharnet/February 19/18/Prime Minister Saad Hariri said on Monday the government will continue to work and implement vital projects despite the obstacles. The PM's remarks came during the launching ceremony of an investment fund for start-ups in the telecommunications sector and the Business Support Unit at the Investment Development Authority of Lebanon IDAL.“I would like to thank you all for establishing this fund. I would also like to thank IDAL, Alfa and Touch, because this is very important for the Lebanese youth and the entire Lebanese as well,” said Hariri. “Our priority in the government is to work to keep the Lebanese youth in their country, and it is our duty to find the means and work to lift all the obstacles and problems they face. We have a specialized unit in the Grand Serail working on the modernization of old laws, which date back to the fifties and sixties, and hopefully these laws will be presented to the Cabinet and included in the budget of 2018,” he added. “I also want to thank our Chinese partners working in the country, we want them to stay in Lebanon and hopefully this whole work will benefit the Lebanese citizen.”“We will continue to work. We hear racket and this racket will continue and will increase. I will not stop, and I will do what Martyr Prime Minister Rafic Hariri did, which was building hospitals, universities and developing the regions. No matter how loud the racket, this government will continue to work,” he concluded.

EDL Contract Workers Scuffle with Police
Naharnet/February 19/18/A violent brawl erupted on Monday between protesting Electricite du Liban contract workers and anti-riot police who prevented them from accessing the company's premises in Nahr Ibrahim area. The angry protesters have gathered outside the premises in solidarity with EDL contract worker Hassan Akel who was slapped in the face by a Security Forces officer during a protest last week.They briefly blocked the road in both ways outside the company's headquarters. Security forces have reportedly threatened to open the road by force if the protesters did not comply and reopen it. One of the campaigners tried to kill himself with a blade. The workers have long claimed their full time employment.

Tashnag Says No Vetoes on FPM-Murr Electoral Alliance
Naharnet/February 19/18/A meeting was held Monday at the headquarters of the Tashnag Party in Bourj Hammoud to discuss the electoral alliances in the Metn district. The National News Agency said the meeting was attended by Tourism Minister Avedis Guidanian of Tashnag, independent MP Michel Murr, ex-minister Elias Bou Saab of the Free Patriotic Movement, Tashnag Secretary-General MP Hagop Pakradounian and the FPM's candidate for Metn Eddie Maalouf. “For a while now, we have been seeking to bring together a Metn list comprising the FPM, (ex-)deputy PM Michel Murr and Tashnag. There are also other options to spare the Metn region and the Metn residents a fierce battle in these parliamentary elections,” Pakradounian said after the meeting. “We had held preparatory meetings with FPM chief Minister Jebran Bassil, MP Ibrahim Kanaan and (ex-)deputy PM Michel Murr, and we agreed to hold this meeting,” Pakradounian revealed. “This is the first official meeting and we can say that it was very positive,” he added. Asked whether there are vetoes on an FPM-Murr electoral alliance, Pakradounian said: “Not at all. There are no vetoes – neither from the FPM nor from (ex-)deputy PM Murr. We are seeking this alliance because our alliances are characterized by loyalty.”Pakradounian also noted that “there is a possibility to benefit from this alliance, even if we ended up on different lists.”

Jumblat Holds Talks with Emir of Kuwait
Naharnet/February 19/18/Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat held talks Monday in Kuwait with the Gulf emirate's ruler Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah. A statement issued by the PSP's press office said discussions tackled the situations in the region. Jumblat was accompanied by Democratic Gathering MPs Ghazi Aridi, Akram Shehayyeb and Wael Abu Faour. The meeting was held in the presence of Kuwaiti Minister of Emiri Diwan Affairs Sheikh Ali Jarrah al-Sabah

UK Minister Meets Mashnouq, Stresses Support for Lebanon Stability
Naharnet/February 19/18/British interior minister Amber Rudd stressed Monday her government's continued support for Lebanon's stability during talks in Beirut with Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq. Underlining keenness on security in Lebanon, Rudd lauded the ministry's preparations for the upcoming parliamentary elections and listened to a briefing from Mashnouq about the logistic and administrative mobilization. “This round will see the highest number of women candidates, which will encourage women voters,” Mashnouq told Rudd. And following discussions on the latest regional and international developments, the visiting British minister thanked Mashnouq over his “efforts to enhance aviation safety,” the National News Agency said. “Strengthening the airport's security and safety has been one of the ministry's priorities for more than three years now, in cooperation with the Public Works and Transport Ministry which is carrying out extraordinary efforts in this regard,” Mashnouq told Rudd. The Lebanese minister also thanked the UK visitor over “the very fruitful British support for the security forces that are under the authority of the Interior Ministry in Lebanon,” explaining to her “the importance of the achievements of Lebanese security agencies, especially the Intelligence Branch (of the Internal Security Forces), in the field of combating terrorism and eliminating sleeper cells.” Rudd for her part lauded Mashnouq over the stable security situation in the country and thanked him for the serious and instant follow-up that led to the speedy arrest of the suspected killer of British diplomat Rebecca Dykes, the National News Agency said. She also applauded the efforts of the Lebanese government and Interior Ministry regarding the Syrian refugee file. A statement issued by the British embassy in Beirut said talks addressed “a range of issues and what more we can do to further strengthen our countries’ bilateral relationship.” Rudd's visit “was an opportunity to see firsthand how the UK’s £628 million in assistance to Lebanon is helping the country maintain security and stability and supporting local communities coping with the Syrian refugee crisis,” the embassy added.

U.N. chief warns of nightmare scenario if Israel, Hezbollah clash
LISBON (Reuters) February 19/18/United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday he was worried about the possibility of a direct confrontation between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement. U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres gives a speech during a ceremony at Lisbon University where Guterres received his honoris causa degree, Portugal February 19, 2018. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante Guterres said the latest signals from Israel and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah showed the will to not let this happen but “sometimes a spark is enough to unleash this kind of a conflict”.
Hezbollah said last week it could act against Israeli oil facilities if necessary in an Lebanon-Israel offshore energy dispute. U.S. diplomats have been mediating between the two countries after a rise in tensions also involving a dispute over a border wall and Hezbollah’s growing arsenal.
U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres gives a speech during a ceremony at Lisbon University where Guterres received his honoris causa degree, Portugal February 19, 2018. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante “I am deeply worried about hard-to-foresee escalations in the whole region,” Guterres told reporters in his native Lisbon, also referring to Israel’s concerns about various militia groups in Syria approaching its borders..“The worst nightmare would be if there is a direct confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah...the level of destruction in Lebanon would be absolutely devastating, so there are major points of concern around this situation.”The powerful Shi‘ite movement is part of Lebanon’s coalition government. Israel sees Hezbollah as the biggest security threat on its borders. Hezbollah was formed in the 1980s as a resistance movement against Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon. The two remain bitter enemies but there has been no major conflict between them since a month-long war in 2006. Reporting By Andrei Khalip; Editing by Angus MacSwan

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published
on February 19-20/18
Shin Bet Arrests Cell Plotting to Assassinate Defense Minister
Ramallah - Asharq Al-Awsat/February 19/18/Israel's Shin Bet security service announced Sunday it had arrested members of a Palestinian cell who were plotting to assassinate Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman in a roadside bombing while on his way to his hometown Nokdim settlement in Gush Etzio.
According to the Shin Bet investigation, the group of Islamic Jihad sought assistance in carrying out the attack from activists in the Gaza Strip. But the agency said the group was “deterred” by Lieberman’s security detail and the plot was foiled. The statement did not specify when the arrests took place, but sources indicated it had been recent. To arrive in Nokdim, Lieberman passes through several Palestinian towns and his security detail combs the streets regularly. The statement said six suspects linked to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad were involved in the plot to detonate an explosive device underneath Lieberman’s car while it was traveling in the West Bank. The ringleaders of the cell were identified as Awad Mahmoud al-Asakra, 25, and Muhammad Ali Ibrahim al-Asakra, 32, who both live in Asakra town near Lieberman ’s house. Asakra had been jailed for two years between 2015 and 2017. The suspects told Shin Bet investigators they sought assistance from groups in the Gaza Strip to buy the materials for the bomb. When they were unable to purchase the materials or secure assistance from Gaza, the group built a homemade device. The bomb was confiscated during their arrest. This is not the first time Shin Bet uncovers a plot to kill Lieberman. In 2014, when Lieberman was foreign minister, Hamas sought to target his convoy on his way home with an RPG. The plot failed too, and the cell was arrested. Shin Bet also announced another Islamic Jihad cell was taken into custody following the arrest of the members operating in Bethlehem area villages in the West Bank. They had been recruited to carry out shooting attacks on Israeli residents and Israeli troops in the vicinity of the Gush Etzion settlement bloc south of Jerusalem. No further details were given on the second cell.

Egypt: 3 Soldiers, 4 Militants Killed in Sinai Campaign

Ramallah - Asharq Al-Awsat/February 19/18/Egypt said Monday three of its soldiers had been killed in the Sinai Peninsula during a wide-ranging operation against militants. It was the first report of military casualties since the army started its campaign on February 9.Four "extremists" were also killed, the military said in a statement. The army has killed about 60 militants and arrested hundreds of suspects since “Operation Sinai 2018” began. An Egyptian military spokesman said on Thursday that after crushing blows in Iraq and Syria, ISIS militants could be eyeing the Sinai Peninsula as a new home base.Operation Sinai 2018, which involves the army, navy, air force and police, targets "terrorist and criminal elements and organizations" in north and central Sinai, parts of the Nile delta and the western desert.

14 dead, 75 injured in latest Assad raids on eastern Ghouta
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Monday, 19 February 2018/Around 14 people were killed and over 75 injured in the latest air raids and artillery attacks by the Assad regime on eastern Ghouta, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported. The observatory added that among those killed many were women and children. The attacks came as an escalation by regime forces as a prelude to the large-scale military operation aimed at ending the control of opposition factions in eastern Ghouta. Regime forces targeted several towns with hundreds of rockets, according to the SOHR, where more than 270 rockets were fired within hours of the attack. The Assad regime sent military reinforcements surrounding Ghouta which indicates that an imminent attack will occur against the remaining opposition factions, the SOHR said. The latest wave of air raids came after a weary calm in Ghouta which coincided with talks between the Assad regime and the opposition that were mediated by Russia.

‘We do not work for you,’ Iraqi officials tell advisor to Iran’s Khamenei
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Monday, 19 February 2018/Iranian politician Ali Akbar Velayati’s statements that Tehran will not allow liberals or civil society activists or anyone who does not fit Tehran’s criteria to return to power sparked Iraqi officials’ outrage. National Coalition bloc MP Abdul Karim Abtan slammed Velayati and said Iraqis do not work for him. “We do not work for Velayati or anyone else. We are Iraqis and our national project is Iraqi. Velayati may have power over one or two Iraqi (politicians) but this power will not last,” Abtan told Al-Hadath television channel, adding that they will not allow Velayati to interfere in Iraqi affairs. He added that neither the Sunnis nor the Shiites will accept tutelage over Iraq. Meanwhile, Iraqi Communist Party leader Raid Fahmy said Velayati’s statements mark an interference in Iraqi affairs and violate the constitution. Fahmy also called on Velayati, who is an advisor of Iranian supreme guide Ali Khamenei, to clarify his remarks. Iraqi politician Izzat Shabandar called on Iraqi Shiites to condemn Velayati’s statements, adding that Velayati always makes statements that embarrass Iran and its Iraqi allies.

Qatari envoy abused, thrown out of hospital in Gaza
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Monday, 19 February 2018/The Qatari ambassador in Palestine was kicked out from a hospital by the staff and public images and video shared on Monday revealed. The video showed angry staff at the Shifa hospital in Gaza showing Qatari envoy, Mohammed al-Emadi, being forced out, throwing shoes at him and tearing up the flag of Qatar while chanting slogans against Qatar. Ambassador Al-Emadi planned to hold a press conference at the hospital before being attacked and thrown out by staff. The assailants justified their act by saying that Qatari aid was not genuine and aimed at strengthening the Palestinian divide.

Turkey welcomes Syrian forces entering Afrin
Reuters, Beirut Monday, 19 February 2018/Militias allied to the Syrian government will enter the Afrin region, Syrian media reported on Monday, after a Kurdish official said a deal had been struck with the Syrian army to help Kurdish forces end a Turkish offensive. Turkey said it would welcome any move by Damascus into Afrin to get rid of the YPG Kurdish militia, but if Syrian troops were entering to protect the Kurdish fighters, then the Turkish assault would go on. A second Syrian Kurdish official said no pro-government military forces were arriving in Afrin on Monday. While the deal was supposed to have been announced formally on Monday, the source said, external pressure might prevent it going ahead. Turkey began its operation last month with allied Syrian rebel groups to drive out the YPG, which Ankara regards as a terrorist group linked to an insurgency at home and sees as a security threat to its border. That offensive further complicated the web of rivalries and alliances in northern Syria among Kurdish forces, the Syrian government, rebel factions, Turkey, Iran, the United States and Russia. But on Sunday, a senior Syrian Kurdish official said Kurdish forces and the Syrian government had reached a deal for the Syrian army to enter Afrin, and that it could be implemented within two days. All deals between the Syrian government and the Kurds, which each hold more territory than any other side in Syria, are closely watched because they could prove pivotal for the future course of the war.
While President Bashar al-Assad’s government and the YPG espouse different visions for Syria’s future and their forces have clashed at times, they have mostly avoided direct conflict. “Popular forces will arrive in Afrin in the next few hours to support the steadfastness of its people in confronting the aggression,” state news agency SANA reported, citing its correspondent in Aleppo, 35 km (22 miles) from Afrin.

Three Egyptian troops killed in anti-militant operation in Sinai
The Associated Press, Cairo/Monday, 19 February 2018/Egypt’s military says three troops, including an officer, were killed in restive Sinai in fighting with militants. They are the first casualties Egypt has announced from an offensive Cairo launched on February 9. Military spokesman Tamer al-Rifai said Monday that two other officers and a conscript were wounded in the fighting, part of the sweep aiming to end a years-long insurgency by Islamic militants. He says four militants were also killed. The operation covers north and central Sinai and parts of Egypt’s Nile Delta and the Western Desert, along the porous border with Libya. It involves land, sea and air forces, and the army claims to have destroyed hundreds of targets and killed dozens of fighters. The army’s figures cannot be independently confirmed as journalists are banned from the area.

Iranian rescuers find wreckage from plane crash
AFP, Tehran Monday, 19 February 2018/Iranian search and rescue teams on Monday reached the site of a plane crash that authorities say killed all 65 people on board, Iran’s Press TV reported. The Aseman Airlines ATR-72, a twin-engine turboprop used for short-distance regional flying, went down on Sunday in foggy weather, crashing into Mount Dena in a remote area of southern Iran. The airliner said all on board Flight EP3704 were killed, including six crew members. The crash of the aircraft, brought back into service only months ago after being grounded for seven years, was yet another fatal aviation disaster for Iran, which for years was barred from buying necessary airplane parts due to Western sanctions over its contested nuclear program. Press TV said search teams reached the crash site before dawn on Monday. The station said the weather had improved, though it was still windy. The semi-official Tasnim news agency cited the military as saying Russia had helped locate the crash site. Russia and Iran are close military allies. The TV broadcast footage of a helicopter joining the search and showed ambulances and rescue vehicles preparing to reach the site on Mount Dena, which is about 4,400 meters (14,400 feet) tall. The site is reportedly at a height of 3,500 meters (11,500 feet). Other Iranian news outlets and officials did not confirm that the crash site had been reached. State radio said five helicopters and five drones are active in the search operation. Iran’s semi-official ISNA news agency said that more than 150 climbers have joined the operation. Transport Minister Abbas Akhoundi left Tehran on Monday to visit the site of the crash, state TV reported. Footage posted on independent news websites showed him in the cockpit of a plane taking part in the search. State TV quoted him as saying the cause of the crash was still “not clear.”High winds have made it difficult to fly helicopters and drones, hampering search efforts.
The cause of the crash
The 2015 nuclear accord with world powers lifted international sanctions on Tehran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear enrichment program, allowing Iran to purchase airplanes and airplane parts. The country has since signed deals to purchase tens of billions of dollars’ worth of new aircraft. However, President Donald Trump’s refusal to recertify the deal has injected uncertainty into those sales. The ATR-72 went down near its destination, the southern city of Yasuj, some 780 kilometers (485 miles) south of the capital, where it took off.
It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the crash, although weather was severe. Dense fog, high winds and heavy snow in the Zagros Mountains made it impossible for rescue crews in helicopters to reach the site in the immediate aftermath, state TV reported. Aseman Airlines spokesman Mohammad Taghi Tabatabai told state TV that all on board Flight EP3704 were killed. The plane had 59 passengers and six crew members, the state-run IRNA news agency reported late Sunday, lowering the initially reported death toll of 66. The US expressed condolences over the crash in a Farsi-language statement posted on social media Sunday.

Khamenei Says Progress Needed on Justice
Asharq Al-Awsat/February 19/18/Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has called for prioritizing foreign policy with the east rather than the west to improve the economy. He also admitted that the government needs to work on social justice, stressing that officials owe Iranians an apology. Addressing a group of people from Tabriz, Khamenei responded to the controversy that erupted in Iran after President Hasan Rouhani called for a popular referendum to overcome economic, political, social and cultural crises. Khamenei began his speech with hints to popular protests that took place recently in more than 80 Iranian cities. He said that criticism against him personally or targeting the government "does not mean opposition to the origin of the regime." “Progress has been made in various sectors in the real sense of the term; However, we admit that in the area of ‘justice’ we are lagging behind.”
His remarks came in the context of previous calls for the Iranian government to improve living conditions and combat discrimination. After Rouhani's re-election for a second term, Khamenei said that "the improvement of living conditions must become one of the new government’s top priorities."
Khamenei attacked Iranian officials who depend "on the affluent classes instead of attending to the underprivileged and the fragile strata."“Revolution means transformation, course change and movement toward lofty goals and if these objectives are forgotten, revolutions are meaningless," he warned.
Discussing foreign affairs, Khamenei stated: "In foreign policy, our top priority includes preferring the East to the West, preferring the neighboring countries ... and nations and countries that share our common goals." Khamenei's remarks reignited the debate on Iran's foreign policy priorities. Some officials like Rouhani and FM Mohammed Javad Zarif call for enhancing relations with Western countries, while others - including Iran's former Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi and Khamenei's advisor on international affairs Ali Akbar Velayati - want Tehran to strengthen ties with China, India, Russia and Central Asian countries. Iran should not depend on foreign countries, announced Khamenei. He stressed: "I am not against foreign funding; however, the leaders and managers should be Iranian. Work must not be trusted to foreigners. If too much work is entrusted to foreigners, Iranian managers will lose their grip on matters." With respect to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Khamenei stated: “We witnessed the result of relying on foreigners in the case of JCPOA, and achieved nothing from trusting them in nuclear negotiations.” He noted that officials are "fortunately" dealing with the issue well, and the foreign minister is adopting a strong approach to the deceits of the US and Europeans. “We must take advantage of the foreigners, but we should not trust and rely on them, because they would seek to dominate the country’s fate,” Khamenei added.

Kremlin: No Evidence that Russia Meddled in 2016 US Election

Asharq Al-Awsat/February 19/18/In first official comments since last week’s indictment, the Kremlin dismissed on Monday Washington’s accusations that Moscow had meddled in the 2016 US presidential election campaign. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that there was no proof for Washington to support its claims, saying the indictment centered on individuals rather than the Russian state. "They are talking about Russian citizens, but we have heard in announcements from Washington accusations about the involvement of the Russian state, the Kremlin and the Russian government," he told reporters on a conference call. "There are no indications that the Russian state could have been involved in this and nor can there be any. Russia did not meddle, does not have the habit of meddling in the internal affairs of other countries, and is not doing so now."
"As before, we insist that we consider such evidence groundless, we don't consider it exhaustive or fair at all and we cannot agree with it."The office of US Special Counsel Robert Mueller charged on Friday 13 Russians and three Russian companies with interfering in the election campaign. The indictment said that a Russian propaganda arm oversaw a criminal and espionage conspiracy to tamper in the 2016 US presidential campaign to support Donald Trump and disparage Hillary Clinton. It alleges that a campaign directed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, became focused on hurting Clinton and helping Trump swing the vote. The effort allegedly involved hundreds of people working in shifts and with a budget of millions of dollars. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Saturday dismissed the indictments as "blabber" and "fantasies," speaking at the Munich Security Conference.

Abbas: Saudi Arabia Had No Hesitation in Supporting Us
Asharq Al Awsat/February 19/18/Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas confirmed his commitment to the option of negotiations to achieve peace with Israel and his refusal to yield to pressure. He said that the peace he believes in is based on "the resolutions of international legitimacy and the Arab peace initiative."Abbas said his country has been carrying out consultation with the Saudi leadership, which is stressing that the solution should only be based on a guarantee that Jerusalem will remain Palestine’s capital. “We have talked and carried out consultations with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman since US President Donald Trump announced Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, also coordinated and discussed with them - along with the Arab brothers, the upcoming steps that should be taken,” Abbas said, in his interview with Arrajol Magazine. “Saudi Arabia has historically stood by our cause and our people,” Abbas added, pointing out that Saudi Arabia “has never intervened in our internal affairs and has never hesitated to support our rights and our people.” He explained that he has never rejected any offer to carry out talks aimed at achieving the two-state solution. “We insist on carrying out serious negotiations to achieve peace and for the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital on the 1967 borders,” Abbas said, adding that the negotiations require a partner “who believes in a two-state solution and not a party that imposes power.”He described Trump’s decision to consider Jerusalem as the capital of Israel as a "second Balfour Declaration," adding that it is contrary to the international law and challenges the feelings of Muslims and Christians. He said such measures would "encourage extremist groups to turn the conflict from political to religious one." Abbas said he called on EU foreign ministers to put "a new mechanism for sponsoring the negotiations, which is a multi-international mechanism that can include the international quartet and a number of other European and Arab countries as well." He refused the US administration to "remain the only sponsor for the political process after it declared Jerusalem as the capital of Israel."Regarding his statement about the death of Oslo Accords, which were signed with Israel 25 years ago, Abbas said “Israel has killed Oslo. It has terminated Oslo” through its denial and full and deliberate violation of the Oslo accords since 1994 until today. “Israel has imposed colonial facts instead of Oslo to consolidate its control and sovereignty over the land, resources and the Palestinian people in order to implement the project ‘Greater Israel in the historic land of Palestine,’ Abbas explained. "Today we count on any new mediation that is put forward for peace and we are with it." In his response to a question about possible alternatives to the work of the Palestinian Authority after the suspension of recognition of Israel and the end of Oslo accords, Abbas said that the Palestinian Central Council, which held its session mid-January, has adopted a new strategy. He told Arrajol magazine that this strategy focuses on “working to achieve independence and sovereignty of Palestine and move from the phase of self-governing authority to the phase of a state, in implementation of the resolutions of the National Council and United Nations, until the end of the occupation and the achievement of peace through a pluralistic UN framework.”

77 Dead, 300 Hurt in Syria Regime Bombardment of Rebel Enclave
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 19/18/At least 77 civilians were killed on Monday in heavy Syrian bombardment of the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta near the capital Damascus, a war monitor reported. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 20 children were among those killed in the assault, revising an earlier toll of 54 dead. Around 300 others were injured.

Three Police Killed in Sufi Protests in Iran
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 19/18/Three policemen were killed in "a vicious attack" in the Iranian capital during protests by a Sufi sect on Monday, a police spokesman told local media. "Three police officers were martyred in the street in a vicious attack using a bus," spokesman Saeed Montazer Almehdi told the official IRNA news agency. Footage shown on state television appeared to show the moment the bus plowed into a group of police officers in northern Tehran. Members of Iran's Gonabadi Sufi order, known as dervishes, were protesting the arrest of members of the sect, according to unconfirmed social media reports. Police said gunshots were fired to disperse the protests, and unverified footage on social media showed riot police running through the streets and clashing with black-clad protesters. "The law enforcement forces arrested a number of dervishes and ended the protest by firing tear gas," a witness told IRNA. The conservative-linked Fars news agency said several police officers were also wounded in the bus attack and had been hospitalized.  The Gonabadis are one of the country's largest Sufi sects, originating from Khorasan Razavi province in the country's northeast but with a presence in cities across Iran. The sect accuses the Iranian government of frequent harassment and discrimination. During the presidency of hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad between 2005 and 2013, there were multiple clashes between the Sufis and militias associated with hardline elements of the Iranian establishment.
Officials and the media routinely refer to Gonabadi Sufis as "deceived elements" and senior clerics have disavowed their teachings. There were unconfirmed reports in late January and early February that security forces had clashed with sect members outside the home of their leader, Noor Ali Tabandeh, in Pasdaran in northern Tehran. A website linked to the group said police were trying to set up checkpoints around the home to monitor visitors. Sufi worship is not illegal in Iran but the practice is frowned upon by many conservative clerics. The Islamic mysticism followed by an array of Sufi orders since the early centuries of the faith has always aroused suspicion among orthodox Muslims, whether Shiite or Sunni. In Shiite Islam, some Sufi orders have been further tarnished by the accusation of heresy because of their association with the unorthodox Alevi faith practised in parts of Syria and Turkey.
Israel Announces 'Historic' Gas Contract with Egypt
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 19/18/Israel has struck an "historic" contract for sales of billions of dollars' worth of natural gas to Egypt, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Monday. "This will bring billions of dollars to state coffers," he said in a statement announcing the deal with Egypt, which in 1979 became the first Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel. The Israeli energy group Delek said the value of the contract was $15 billion. It said agreements have been signed between Delek and its associate Noble Energy of the United States to supply 64 billion cubic meters (2.26 trillion cubic feet) of gas from Israel's Leviathan and Tamar offshore fields to the Egyptian firm Dolphinus over a 10-year period. In September 2016, Jordan struck a deal to buy 300 million cubic feet (8.5 million cubic meters) of Israeli gas per day over a 15-year term, in a deal estimated to be worth $10 billion. Tamar, which began production in 2013, has estimated reserves of up to 238 billion cubic meters (8.4 trillion cubic feet). Leviathan, discovered in 2010 and set to begin production in 2019, is estimated to hold 18.9 trillion cubic feet (535 billion cubic meters) of natural gas, along with 34.1 million barrels of condensate.
Israel hopes its gas reserves will give the country energy independence and the prospect of becoming a supplier for Europe as well as forging strategic ties within the region.

Pro-Regime Forces to Enter Syria's Afrin 'within Hours'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 19/18/Pro-government fighters were expected Monday to enter Syria's Afrin after talks with Kurdish forces, in a move that could pave the way for a settlement in a month-old Turkish assault on the northern enclave. "Popular forces will arrive in Afrin within a few hours to support its people's stand against the Turkish regime's attack on the area and its people," state news agency SANA said, citing its correspondent in Aleppo. SANA said the forces would "join the resistance against the Turkish aggression." "This comes in the framework of supporting residents and defending the territorial unity and sovereignty of Syria," the agency added. Even hours after the announcement, AFP correspondents on the outskirts of Afrin did not see any military forces arriving, although state media was present. The Syrian region of Afrin, which borders Turkey, is held by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) and has faced a month-old assault by Ankara and allied Syrian rebels. Turkey sees the YPG's presence on its southern border as a direct threat, and observers have noted it would be more comfortable with a regime force deployed there. The Afrin operation, dubbed "Olive Branch," has seen Ankara deploy ground troops and pound the region with air strikes and artillery fire, including on Monday. YPG spokesman Birusk Hasakeh could not immediately confirm the deployment of regime-affiliated forces on Monday. Syrian government forces withdrew from Kurdish-majority areas across the country's north in 2012, paving the way for Kurdish authorities to implement de facto self-rule. But negotiations have been ongoing for a potential return of government-affiliated forces to the enclave, officials have said.
Heve Mustafa, the co-chair of Afrin's executive council, told AFP on Sunday that talks on the subject were ongoing. "These talks are happening on the military level," she said.
- 'No problem' with forces -
Last week, YPG chief Sipan Hamo told journalists his forces would have "no problem" with Damascus intervening to help repel Turkey's assault.
"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," Hamo said. But Kurdish officials have remained vague on what kind of regime deployment they would accept in Afrin. Mustafa's co-chair in Afrin, Othman Al-Sheikh Issa, told AFP last month that Damascus should intervene to stop Turkish warplanes flying overhead. State media did not elaborate on the make-up of the "popular forces" due to enter Afrin on Monday and made no mention of regular army troops being deployed. Damascus has denounced Ankara's "aggression" but until Monday had not explicitly said it would intervene. Turkey and allied rebels launched the offensive on January 20 in a bid to clear the YPG from territory along the border. The assault has brought to the surface the complex and competing interests of world powers embroiled in Syria's seven-year conflict. Turkey has backed Syrian rebels to fight government troops, jihadists, and the YPG. Ankara sees the YPG as a "terror" group and the Syrian arm of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state. The United States -- Turkey's NATO ally -- has allied with the YPG elsewhere in Syria, providing it with arms and other support to fight the Islamic State jihadist group. Regime ally Russia had also directly supported the YPG in Afrin, training Kurdish forces there before withdrawing as Turkey announced its assault last month. On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin discussed the Afrin offensive in a phone call, the Kremlin said, without giving details. The contact came as Turkey said it would rather see regime troops in Afrin than the YPG. "If the regime is entering (Afrin) to oust the PKK, YPG, there is no problem. But if they are entering to protect the YPG, then no one can stop us and Turkish soldiers," Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said. Cavusoglu said the aim of the operation was "clear" and aimed at "removing terrorists" from its border.
Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 19-20/18
Unprecedented Situation in Syria
Ghassan Charbel/Asharq Al Awsat/February 19/18
Iraq has never witnessed such a situation despite all it has endured. Libya has never experienced it either despite its ongoing chaos. Lebanon, during the worst period of its wars, has also never seen such a reality. The same can be said of Somalia, Afghanistan and other countries whose unity and sovereignty fell victim to foreign meddling.
Syria’s story is different and unique. Never before have all these flags, interests, dangers, armies, militias, internal divisions and regional and international clashes come together on its territories. From the South to Idlib to Hmeimem to Afrin, Syria is like a powder keg. It is at the heart of a complex and vast geo-strategic conflict that is impossible to resolve with force and where losses and rewards will be difficult to predict. This is all unprecedented.
Those who knew Syria before its army withdrew from Lebanon in 2005 realize the calamity that it is experiencing. Prior to that, Syria was a major player in its immediate surroundings and throughout the Middle East. Diplomats tackling the region’s crises have long described it as the “complication and solution,” “the necessary route” and the “inevitable partner.” Resorting to Damascus was necessary when addressing the post-Saddam Iraq. It was necessary to discuss Lebanon’s future and it was indispensable to the Palestinian cause.
Syria became adept at gathering powerful cards. It hosted many opposition factions, whether Iraqi, Lebanese, Palestinian, Kurdish, Arab Gulf or even Pakistani. It hosted these factions and orchestrated their actions to serve its own interests. It often reaped the rewards of its success in reining in the demons that it hosted and sponsored. This is how Syria played in the territory of others and boasted of its upper hand or negotiated over it.
That Syria was Iran’s ally, but it also realized the importance of the Saudi-Egyptian-Syrian alliance that provided a balance to its policies and protected its stances. Syria was the ally of the Soviet Union without become a “Soviet proxy.” It sat on both Moscow and Washington’s laps. It assessed international developments and adjusted to them. When Hafez Assad sensed that the Soviet Union was weakening, he dispatched a unit to take part in the war to liberate Kuwait.
Another development demonstrated its skill. During the Iraqi-Iranian war, the Iranians requested surface-to-surface missiles from Syria. Assad did not reply despite his animosity to Saddam Hussein. History would later show that Iran bombarded Iraqi cities with rockets from Syria’s arsenal. The Syrian agencies advised Iran to refer their request to Tripoli where the rockets were eagerly provided for free by Abdessalam Jalloud and Moammar al-Gaddafi.
Another incident also proved its skill. One day, Iran failed to provide Syria with a full oil shipment, prompting Damascus to prevent the travel of Iranians to and from Lebanon through Syria. The message was clear: the key to Iran reaching “Hezbollah” was in Damascus’ hands.
Syria gathered the cards and used them at the opportune time. It boasted in closed-door meetings that its most powerful weapon was the foreign forces’ inability to possess and properly use cards in Syria.
The card-gathering game added to Syria’s strong geographic position and unwavering stability. Journalists who accompanied Assad on his meeting with Bill Clinton in Geneva in March 2000 sensed that Syria had succeeded in portraying itself as more powerful than its actual abilities.
The Syria of the past stands in stark contrast to the current reality. The Russian army is credited with saving the Syrian regime from collapse, according to Moscow. Russia enjoys legitimate and declared bases in Syria. The United States also has bases and airports east of the Euphrates River.
The most dangerous American factor in Syria is time, which is working against Russia. Russia has been unable to couple its saving of the regime with a political solution. The past few days have dealt a series of setbacks to Russia. A Russian jet was downed, the Sochi congress failed, and increasing differences have emerged between it and Iran and Turkey. Add to that the scandal of Russian mercenaries, who were killed by a US attack. This story gets more interesting when it was revealed that their superior is a man dubbed the “Kremlin’s chef” and their main goal was to secure oil or gas fields in exchange for a high commission. This greed spurred their last attack and gave the US the opportunity to discipline them and expose their role in Syria.
The situation is not limited to the Russian and American armies in Syria, which also has its allies deployed there. The regional aspect should be taken into consideration. Iran is present in Syria through its Revolutionary Guards and militias. It stresses that its presence there is legitimate and based on the regime’s request. The Turkish army is meanwhile waging battles in the Afrin region to fragment the Kurds and establish a safe zone on the Syrian side of the border. Ankara did not ask for Damascus’ request to enter Syrian territories. It is likely that it received Russia’s blessing to the incursion as a reward for its participation in sponsoring the Sochi talks. Add to that claims that Ankara proposed to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson American and Turkish military deployment in Manbij in return for the Turkish withdrawal there. Other claims said that Moscow suggested dressing up Kurdish fighters in Afrin in Syrian army uniforms to avert the Turkish attack. Unprecedented scenes. Israel announced for the first time that its jets targeted Iranian position on Syrian soil. Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu displayed parts of the downed Iranian drone that he said had infiltrated Israeli airspace. He threatened before the Munich Security Conference to target Iran itself and not just limit attacks to its proxies.
Throughout all this, we should not forget those who infiltrated Syria from neighboring and far-flung countries. Fighters from Kazakhstan came to kill the regime backers, while fighters from Afghanistan came to kill its rivals. This clash has its own clear sectarian flair.
The dangers of the Syrian fighter have gone beyond all others fires. Former French Ambassador to Syria Michel Duclos recently wrote in Asharq Al-Awsat that the Dayton Agreement that ended the Yugoslavia war should inspire solutions in Syria and bring all players to a single negotiations table. The regional and international circumstances do not appear ripe for such talks to happen. The Syrian tragedy is open to the most dangerous possibilities. For the first time, the Syrian is the weakest player in the current game that is unfolding on its land and the decisions that are being taken without him.

US-Russian Proxy War in Syria
Eli Lake/Bloomberg View/February 19/18
If you've been listening just to the Kremlin and the Pentagon, you probably didn't know that Russia attacked American forces and their allies in Syria last week, suffering heavy casualties.
Yes, all sides admit that there was an incident at a US base in Deir Ezzor. And that elements of the Syrian regime and Shiite militias participated in the assault. The Pentagon and Kremlin both acknowledge that Russian "mercenaries" participated, too. But the line for now is that those contractors had gone rogue, and Moscow didn't know anything about it. When reporters asked US Secretary of Defense James Mattis about the incident, he called the whole thing perplexing. "I have no idea why they would attack there, the forces were known to be there, obviously the Russians knew," he said. "We have always known that there are elements in this very complex battle space that the Russians did not have, I would call it, control of."
Now, it should be said that Mattis, a retired four-star Marine Corps general, is a very smart man. His perplexity in this case is probably what Plato called a "noble lie," a falsehood spoken by a leader to achieve a greater social good. If Mattis acknowledges the obvious -- that the Kremlin authorized a direct assault on a US-sponsored base by non-uniformed personnel -- he risks an escalation spiral in Syria. Better to express bewilderment and give Russian President Vladimir Putin a chance to back down and deny culpability, which he ended up doing despite the heavy casualties suffered by his mercenaries.
But make no mistake: There is overwhelming evidence that those Russian contractors were working at the behest of the Kremlin. What's more, the Russians knew US military personnel were in Deir Ezzor, which has been part of successive agreements to separate, or "deconflict," forces fighting in Syria.
Let's start with the fine reporting of my colleagues at Bloomberg News who discovered that the wounded mercenaries were flown out of Syria and treated at military hospitals in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
US officials who monitor Syria tell me that there is no doubt that the Russian military knew all about the attack in Deir Ezzor. Evelyn Farkas, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia during the Obama administration, told me Thursday: "Any Russian mercenaries, whether they are in Ukraine or Syria, work for the Russian government." This is not an accident, particularly for the contractor in question, Wagner. One of its leaders, Dmitry Utkin, is a former lieutenant colonel in Russia's military intelligence agency, the GRU. He and the firm have been closely tied to the oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, known as "Putin's chef" because he owns the Kremlin's food-service providers. Contractors like Wagner are a key part of Russia's broader strategy of "hybrid warfare," a mix of kinetic and information aggression to advance Russian interests -- such as the deployment of fighters without uniforms that helped take Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. "They help Russia obfuscate Russia's role in Syria," Matti Suomenaro, a researcher for the Institute for the Study of War told me last week. "In eastern Syria, the Russian Ministry of Defense can say, 'We don't know they were doing this.' But it's very likely this had some kind of direction from higher-ups in the Kremlin."
Finally, there is the strategic argument for why Russia would participate in the attack at Deir Ezzor. US policy at the moment is a bit confusing. When Mattis and other US officials publicly discuss the US mission in Syria, they say only that it is to fight ISIS. So far, there is no official policy on whether the US military's role includes countering Russian-Iranian efforts to help the Bashar Assad regime retake territory it lost in the civil war.
Add to this the mixed messages sent by the US last month when it failed to stop Turkey from bombing the Kurdish-controlled city of Afrin. While the US has attempted to end the Turkish assault through diplomacy, it has not offered to protect Kurdish fighters aligned with the People's Protection Group, or YPG, who remain in the city. The YPG are key US partners in the campaign against ISIS. Indeed, Kurdish fighters stationed in Deir Ezzor in recent weeks have traveled to Afrin for the fighting, making the enclave a more attractive target for the Russo-Iranian alliance in Syria.
For Putin, whose air force has bombed other enclaves of US-supported rebels in Syria, the inability of the US to stop a NATO ally, Turkey, from attacking another ally in Afrin is a sign of weakness. The assault last week on Deir Ezzor with mercenaries was a chance to again probe for a US response.
The good news is that the US response was swift and brutal. While there are no hard figures on casualties, some Russian press outlets reported that more than 200 Russian mercenaries were killed.
This brings us back to Mattis, and why he declined to directly blame Russia for the incident. "My guess is he said he was perplexed because he was sending a signal to the Russians: 'I am willing to give you a little time to cut this out, but don't do it again,'" Farkas told me. "And the Russians know they are playing with fire, if you look at how they are responding."There is a downside, though, to this kind of noble lying. Considering that mercenaries like Wagner are a key part of Russia's broader strategy and tactics, it's also important for the US to deny Moscow its plausible deniability. Russia needs to be told, going forward, that an attack by its mercenaries will be treated as an attack by its armed forces.

Israel...Corruption or Iran?

Daniel Gordis/The Washington Post/February 19/18
The phone alerts began to pop up early in the evening. The police, Israelis were informed, were about to reveal their recommendations as to whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should be indicted on accusations of fraud and bribery. Israelis were glued to their televisions and computers, waiting to hear what the police would say. Netanyahu had sought to block the police from making such public recommendations, but the Supreme Court overruled him and now the police were about to address the public.
The recommendations were clear. Netanyahu, the police said, should be charged with bribery and breach of trust in two matters. The first investigation, known as Case 1000, alleges that Netanyahu accepted lavish gifts from wealthy businessmen in exchange for influence. Case 2000, known as the Yediot Achronot affair, alleges that the prime minister offered the editor of that newspaper, Arnon Mozes, support for a bill that would weaken Israel Hayom, the newspaper owned by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and Mozes’s biggest competitor, in exchange for favorable coverage in the press. The police also recommended that Mozes be indicted. Attorney General Avihai Mandelblit will now consider the charges. Netanyahu, as expected, denied any wrongdoing, and equally predictably, the opposition in the Knesset called on him to resign immediately. Israeli law does not require a prime minister to step down simply because the police recommend he be indicted. He may not have to resign even if he is indicted, unless he is eventually convicted. The indictment could take a year to come; a conviction could take even longer.
What could bring Netanyahu down would be the collapse of his coalition. At least for now, though, his important coalition partners are sticking by him. Moshe Kahlon, head of the Kulanu (All of Us) Party, could topple the coalition by leaving it, but he has no plans to do so. Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing, nationalist Jewish Home party and Netanyahu’s primary political worry at the moment, agreed that Netanyahu did not have to resign, but seemed to leave his options open by chastising the prime minister for failing to serve as a model of ethical behavior.
And what about the public? If one were to judge by the morning papers, it would seem that large swathes have had enough. Yediot Achronot (the same paper Netanyahu allegedly sought to influence) ran a New York Post-style front cover with a photograph of the prime minister and the word BRIBERY in large letters. The paper’s columnists, many of Israel’s most-widely read, took care to praise their editor (also accused in the affair), but were clear that Netanyahu has lost their trust.
Is the prime minister thus headed to the political desert? It is far too early to know. Although there have been, in recent weeks, large protests in Tel Aviv in opposition to political corruption, the sad reality is that Israelis are no longer shocked by such accusations and the zero-tolerance culture that was (at least in theory) in effect has long since faded. When, in 1977, the press revealed that then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s wife, Leah, maintained a small overseas bank account (left over from their years when he had served as Israel’s ambassador to the United States), a practice then prohibited by Israeli law, the country exploded in fury. Rabin had to resign.
Since then, however, corruption has become widespread. Ehud Olmert resigned as prime minister in March 2009 after allegations of corruption. In February 2016, he became Israel’s first former prime minister to go to jail (he was released a few months ago). He joined Moshe Katsav, who had resigned as president in July 2007 after he was accused of raping members of his staff. Katsav was also convicted and entered prison in December 2011. Katsav shared a cell with Shlomo Benizri, former minister of labor and social welfare, who had also been convicted of fraud. Several dozen former ministers, members of Knesset and other public officials have been convicted of fraud or other crimes and a former chief rabbi is now on his way to jail -- a serious blow to the social ethos once prevailed in Israel. Although the country can still take some comfort in the fact that the judiciary has been successful in prosecuting even the country’s highest officials, the corruption trend has not been reversed.
Yet one major factor may well weigh in favor of Netanyahu, the ultimate political survivor. The Israeli version of “the urgent trumping the important” is security trumping everything else. This week, Israel shot down an Iranian drone that had entered its airspace, which led to an Israeli bombing raid on Syrian and Iranian installations in Syria in which an Israeli F-16 was shot down (the first since Ron Arad was shot down in 1986). Israel followed up with an intense attack on more Syrian and Iranian installations, which the army thinks took out nearly half of Syria’s air defense system.
As both pilots parachuted to safety (one suffered serious injuries but is in an Israeli hospital and expected to make a full recovery), the day ended with a sigh of relief. But a low level of dread prevails. In some of the Israeli press, the day is being called the first battle of an all but inevitable Israel-Iran war. The question on many Israelis’ minds is, “When will the next war begin?”
That may help Netanyahu, for Israelis want to know who will protect them best. And they trust Netanyahu to fight when needed, but not to do so recklessly. Ultimately, more than any other Israeli politician, in times of war (which have been few during his administrations), he proves to be the grownup in the room. In a country that has never known a day of peace since its founding in 1948, no matter how distasteful they may find the corruption allegations, having a strong but level-headed leader matters more to Israelis than anything else.

Exclusive - International Community Must Unite to Save the Syrian Civilians
Sheikh Sabah Khalid al-Hamad Al Sabah and Margot Wallström/Asharq Al Awsat/February 19/18
After seven years of war, the violence and intolerable suffering inflicted on the civilian population in Syria continues without respite. In fact, we are now witnessing some of the worst fighting since the conflict began. In the past few weeks alone, hundreds more people have lost their lives and tens of thousands have been driven from their homes. There are persistent reports of attacks directed at hospitals and schools, revealing complete disregard for human life and the duty to protect civilians.
Time is running out for the people of Syria. Even before the most recent escalation, the humanitarian situation in Syria was one of the worst in the world. The conflict has driven 11 million people, half of the Syrian population, from their homes, time and again. Many have found refuge in the region and beyond. Inside Syria, 13 million people are dependent on humanitarian assistance to stay alive. The worst affected are the 2.5 million people trapped in towns and cities that are cut off from the rest of the country by military sieges. As a result of this cruel tactic, humanitarian access to these communities is now almost non-existent. They cannot survive much longer. The current escalation of violence will undoubtedly push many over the edge. Children and young people make up more than half of the displaced, as well as half of those in need of humanitarian assistance.
Against this background, and in response to calls from the United Nations and its humanitarian agencies, Sweden and Kuwait have proposed a resolution in the UN Security Council. The draft resolution calls for an immediate pause in hostilities in Syria to enable regular aid convoys with food and medicines to all those in need, increased protection of civilians and the safe medical evacuation of the critically ill and wounded. Our message is clear: the international community can no longer stand idly by as this devastating human tragedy continues to escalate.
We must now show unity and put the lives of civilians first. The human toll of this conflict to date has been devastating and the unwillingness of the Security Council to act is putting its credibility at stake. However, the adoption of resolution 2393 in December 2017 shows that meaningful Council action to alleviate the suffering in Syria is possible. Resolution 2393 ensured the continuation of a vital humanitarian lifeline for three million Syrians in parts of the north and south of the country. It was the only resolution on Syria adopted within the Council last year. More must be done to address the needs of civilians right across the country. Although the tireless efforts of the humanitarian community are important, the only way to end the humanitarian crisis in Syria is through a sustainable political solution to the conflict. We know that a sustainable peace is more likely to be achieved when women are adequately represented and actively participate in the decision-making. We remain convinced that the only viable path to a just peace in Syria is through the UN-led political process. The UN Secretary-General and his Special Envoy, Staffan de Mistura, have our full support in their efforts.
In the absence of a political solution, civilians will continue to bear the brunt of the conflict. They need us to act now to save lives. We trust that all members of the Security Council will put their differences aside, engage constructively and adopt a purely humanitarian resolution that can make a real difference for people who have suffered through seven years of conflict. Surely, we can do at least this.

Turkey Threatens to Invade Greece
Uzay Bulut/Gatestone Institute/February 19/2018
Turkey's ruling party, and even much of the opposition, seem intent on, if not obsessed with, invading and conquering these Greek islands, on the grounds that they are actually Turkish territory.
"The things we have done so far [pale in comparison to the] even greater attempts and attacks [we are planning for] the coming days, inshallah [Allah willing]." – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, February 12, 2018.
The head of the state-funded Directorate of Religious Affairs, the Diyanet, has openly described Turkey's recent military invasion of Afrin as "jihad." This designation makes sense when one considers that Muslim Turks owe their demographic majority in Asia Minor to centuries of Turkish persecution and discrimination against the Christian, Yazidi and Jewish inhabitants of the area.
In an incident that took place less than two weeks after the Greek Defense Ministry announced that Turkey had violated Greek airspace 138 times in a single day, a Turkish coast guard patrol boat on February 13 rammed a Greek coast guard vessel off the shore of Imia, one of many Greek islands over which Turkey claims sovereignty.
Most of the areas within modern Greece's current borders were under the occupation of the Ottoman Empire from the mid-15th century until the Greek War of Independence in 1821 and the establishment of the modern Greek state in 1832. The islands, however, like the rest of Greece, are legally and historically Greek, as their names indicate.
Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), however, and even much of the opposition seem intent on, if not obsessed with, invading and conquering these Greek islands, on the grounds that they are actually Turkish territory.
In December, for instance, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main Turkish opposition CHP party, stated that when he wins the election in 2019, he will "invade and take over 18 Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, just as former Turkish PM Bulent Ecevit invaded Cyprus in 1974." He said that there is "no document" proving that those islands belong to Greece.
Meral Akşener, the head of the newly established opposition "Good Party," has also called for an invasion and conquest of the islands. "What is required must be done," she tweeted on January 13.
The most garish muscle-flexing has come from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, of course, who seems emboldened by his military invasion of the Afrin region in northern Syria having gone virtually unchallenged.
"We warn those who have crossed the line in the Aegean and Cyprus," Erdoğan declared, continuing:
"Their courage persists only until they see our army, our ships and our planes... Whatever Afrin is to us, our rights in the Aegean and Cyprus are the same. Do not ever think that the natural gas exploration in the waters of Cyprus and the opportunistic attempts in the Aegean Sea drop off our radar.
"Just as we disrupt the plots [in the region] through Operation Euphrates Shield and Operation Olive Branch [on Syria], and soon in Manbij and other regions, we can and we will disrupt the plots of those who engage in miscalculations on our southern border... Our warships and air forces are keeping an eye on the area closely to intervene in every way when required."
Referring to the days of the Ottoman Empire, Erdoğan went on:
"Those who think that we have erased from our hearts the lands from which we withdrew in tears a hundred years ago are wrong.
"We say at every opportunity we have that Syria, Iraq and other places in the geography [map] in our hearts are no different from our own homeland. We are struggling so that a foreign flag will not be waved anywhere where adhan [Islamic call to prayer in mosques] is recited.
"The things we have done so far [pale in comparison to the] even greater attempts and attacks [we are planning for] the coming days, inshallah [Allah willing]."
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently said: "We warn those who have crossed the line in the Aegean and Cyprus... Their courage persists only until they see our army, our ships and our planes." (Photo by Elif Sogut/Getty Images)
The Ottoman dynasty and empire was established by a nomadic Turkmen chief sometime around the year 1300. During the more than 600 years of the Ottoman period, the Ottoman Turks, who also represented the Islamic Caliphate, regularly launched wars of jihad, invading and occupying lands across five continents.
Neo-Ottomanists in Turkey still proudly embrace the concept of jihad (Islamic holy war) against the kafirs (infidels). The head of the state-funded Directorate of Religious Affairs, the Diyanet, has openly described Turkey's recent military invasion of Afrin as "jihad."
This designation makes sense when one considers that Muslim Turks owe their demographic majority in Asia Minor to centuries of Turkish Muslim persecution and discrimination against the Christian, Yazidi and Jewish inhabitants of the area. In the 11th century, Turkic jihadists from Central Asia invaded and conquered the Greek-speaking, Christian Byzantine Empire, paving the way for the gradual Turkification and Islamization of the region through methods such as murder, kidnapping, rape and forced conversions.
The greatest 20th century Turkish assault against Christians took place in the 1914-1923 genocide of Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians (Syriacs/Chaldeans) in Ottoman Turkey. This did not prevent Turkey, which continues to deny the genocide, from becoming a member of NATO in 1952. The assault also did not stop Turkey, three years after joining NATO, from committing a savage anti-Greek pogrom in Istanbul or from forcibly expelling the remaining Greeks from Turkey in 1964.
It is precisely because the Turks have never been held accountable for their criminal actions and aggression that they continue to threaten the security and sovereignty of their neighbors. It is high time for the West wake up and take Ankara to task.
*Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist born and raised in Turkey. She is presently based in Washington D.C.
© 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.

Germany: Meet Jens Spahn, Merkel's Possible Successor ..."I am a burkaphobe."
Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/February 19/2018
"What is clear at any rate: the financing [of imams] by foreign actors must stop." — Jens Spahn, Deutsche Welle.
"The message that 'If you reach a Greek island, you will be in Germany in six days,' not only encourages refugees from Syria, but also many people in Bangladesh and India. No country in the world, and no European Union, can withstand that if we give up control of our external borders." — Jens Spahn, Die Zeit.
"To anyone who makes their way to Germany, it must made be clear that their life here will be very different from that at home. They should think carefully about whether they really want to live in this western culture." — Die Welt.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has sparked a mutiny from within her own party over a controversial coalition deal that allows her to remain in office for a fourth term. The deal, in which Merkel agreed to relinquish control over the most influential government ministries, has led a growing number of voices from within her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) to say — publicly — that it is time to begin looking for her successor.
In a prime-time interview with ZDF television on February 11, Merkel, already in power for 12 years, rejected the criticism and insisted that she will serve another full four-year term. "I ran for a four-year term," she said. "I promised those four years and I'm someone who keeps promises. I totally stand behind that decision."
Merkel, who has been called the "Teflon Chancellor" because of her political staying power, may indeed manage to eke out another four years in office, albeit in a much-weakened position. Her decision in 2015 to allow into Germany more than a million migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East sparked a mass defection of angry CDU voters to the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD), now the third-largest party in the German parliament. As a result, in Germany's inconclusive election in September 2017, Merkel's party achieved its worst electoral result in nearly 70 years.
The coalition deal, reached on February 7 between her center-right CDU, their Bavarian partners, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), must still be formally ratified by the SPD's 460,000 rank and file members in a postal vote that begins on February 20. The outcome of that vote will be announced on March 4.
If the coalition agreement is not approved, Merkel may attempt to form a minority government, or German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier may call fresh elections. Either way, Merkel likely will face growing pressure to step aside.
A poll published by Focus on February 17 found that German voters are increasingly growing weary of Merkel. Nearly half (47.2%) of the respondents said that Merkel should step aside during the next legislative period; 38.5% said Merkel should to complete the full term.
The jockeying to succeed Merkel has intensified in recent days. At least half-a-dozen people are said to be in the running to assume leadership of the CDU if Merkel steps down.
A top contender, according to German political commentators, is Jens Spahn, a 37-year-old openly homosexual Roman Catholic with a reputation for straight talk. One of the rising stars of CDU's younger generation, he is viewed by many as a possible future chancellor.
Spahn, who hails from Ahaus, a small town near the German-Dutch border, was elected to parliament at the age of 22, before he was graduated from university. As deputy finance minister since 2015, he has been a vocal critic of Germany's healthcare and pension systems because of the massive financial burden they impose on future generations.
Spahn, a politically incorrect "liberal-conservative," appears determined to reverse some of the CDU's leftwards ideological drift, which occurred under Merkel's leadership. He has accused the CDU of being "too accommodating of a liberal elite that has become convinced of its own moral superiority." He has also said that he wants to win back disgruntled CDU voters who defected to the AfD.
Merkel may try to thwart Spahn's ambitions in retaliation for his public criticism of her policies. Spahn does not, however, appear easily intimidated.
Pictured: German Chancellor Angela Merkel (right) and Jens Spahn (left), a top contender for succeeding Merkel as leader of the CDU party. (Photo by Volker Hartmann/Getty Images)
The following is a brief compilation of Spahn's stated positions on issues related to Islam, immigration and integration.
Spahn has said that Germany needs an "Islam law" to regulate Muslim religious communities and ensure that what is being preached in mosques around the country is "transparent." He cited Austria as a precedent: "The Austrians have had an Islam law since imperial times and things there function better. We could learn from them."
Spahn has called for German language tests for imams, saying that many of the preachers who deliver sermons in German mosques come from abroad, cannot speak German and are paid by other countries: "Do we really know if their sermons are being made in accordance with our laws? And it's about more than that. Is it enough, just to ask that they don't break the law? Should they not encourage cooperation and integration?"
Spahn has demanded that mosques be registered, saying that authorities "do not know how many mosques there are in Germany, where they are or who finances them."
In addition, Spahn has called for the training of imams, teachers of religion and counselors to be paid for with taxpayer money. "That will be a hard debate, but I would rather we finance this than that the money comes from Turkey or Saudi Arabia," he said, noting that a "church tax" for Muslims was also a possibility: "If the Muslim communities want a tax law, we should talk about it." He added: "What is clear at any rate: the financing by foreign actors must stop."
Spahn has criticized Christian churches in Germany, accusing them of being "uncritical" with respect to Islam. "A friendly photo of fast-breaking, then each goes their own way; it can't go on like that."
In an interview with the Guardian, Spahn said: "Germany's dominant culture and lifestyle has become a lot more liberal in the last 10 years, whether you are looking at gays and lesbians or at immigration. But my biggest fear is that this new openness is under pressure—from a very conservative form of Islam and a rightwing backlash against immigration—and that we will have to fight very hard to preserve it."
Spahn recently asked: "What is our relationship to Islam? I would like to turn this question around: what is the relationship of Islam to us?"
Open Borders
Spahn has repeatedly criticized Merkel's open-door migration policy. He has described Merkel's failure to control mass migration as "a kind of state failure."
In an interview with Die Zeit, Spahn said he supports Hungarian President Viktor Orbán's decision to close the Balkan refugee route: "The protection of the EU borders is in the EU treaties. What Orbán is doing at the EU's external borders is EU law, whether that pleases you or not. The message that 'If you reach a Greek island, you will be in Germany in six days,' not only encourages refugees from Syria, but also many people in Bangladesh and India. No country in the world, and no European Union, can withstand that if we give up control of our external borders."
Spahn has said that all migrants should be required to adapt to German society. In an interview with the Financial Times, Spahn said: "For me what is decisive is that those who come here, understand, above all, that the values of the western world, this freedom, these basic principles, are different from those in Afghanistan, Syria, China or Bangladesh and that our society is therefore different.
"In essence, it is not only a matter of living by and recognizing the rules, but also of feeling that you belong to a community with a common future."
Spahn told Die Welt: "To anyone who makes their way to Germany, it must made be clear that their life here will be very different from that at home. They should think carefully about whether they really want to live in this western culture."
In an interview with Stern, Spahn said that German immigration policy must be revised: "Let us formulate common expectations for those who want to be part of our society, and then ensure that those expectations are complied with."
Spahn told Der Spiegel: "To anyone who considers our open society to be corrupt and effeminate, or who wants to live in a theocracy, I simply say: go and find another country."
Spahn has attacked those on the political left who, he said, have sought to justify honor killings and forced marriages as being culturally determined.
Spahn has demanded strict penalties for Muslims who refuse to send their children to school: "Anyone who does not allow his daughter to attend school must know that in the future the girl will be picked up at her home by government agencies and brought to school. If children are persistently truant, welfare benefits should be cut. We have not been consistent enough in the past, and this misunderstood tolerance has always been to the detriment of the children."
Spahn has called for punishing repeat offenders with tougher penalties: "The biggest problems we have with the lack of willingness to integrate is with migrants from the Arab region—unfortunately also in matters of crime."
Spahn has called for a burqa ban: "A ban on the complete veiling, of nikabs and burkas, is overdue, even as a signal to the world." He added that men who force their wives to wear the Muslim full veil are "wrong" to be in Europe. "I do not want to see a burka in this country," he said. "In this sense, I am a burkaphobe." On a television talk show broadcast by ZDF, one of Germany's main public broadcasters, Spahn said: "It is not particularly enriching to drive through streets where I don't see any women, and if I do, they are wearing headscarves."
Muslim Anti-Semitism
Spahn has repeatedly warned that Germany is "importing" anti-Semitism from the Muslim world, where, he said, the hatred of Jews is an "omnipresent part of everyday life." In an interview with Der Spiegel, said that Muslim immigrations were responsible for a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Germany: "Let's not fool ourselves: immigration from Islamic countries is changing the climate in our country."Spahn denounced pro-Palestinian demonstrators who in December called for the murder of Jews and burned Israeli flags at the Brandenburg Gate to protest the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. "Burning the Star of David in front of the Brandenburg Gate is unacceptable, whether by right-wing extremists or Arab fanatics. The response from our government must be resolute." He added: "We have been ignoring imported anti-Semitism for too long with shrugs of misunderstood tolerance."
Spahn appears to harbor no illusions about Palestinian nationalism. "Israel uses weapons to protect its civilians, Hamas uses civilians to protect its weapons," he wrote in a tweet.
Spahn has criticized the SPD for stirring up "cheap resentment" against the United States: "I find it impossible that [Foreign Minister Sigmar] Gabriel and [SPD chancellor candidate Martin] Schulz constantly show our American friends the middle finger." He said that the SPD's treatment of the United States, Germany's closest ally, was "irresponsible" and added: "There are transatlantic traditions that a Foreign Minister should not trample on." He also accused Schulz and Gabriel of setting "completely different standards" with regards to U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Future Plans
Spahn, who has said that politics are part of his genetic makeup, recently visited an elementary school in his electoral district, where a fourth-grader asked him: "Do you want to be chancellor one day?" Spahn replied: "Let's wait and see. I enjoy being part of making fundamental decisions. We'll see what jobs might await."
*Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute.
© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.
Successful investment gurus are made not born
Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady/Al Arabiya/February 19/18
In many coffee shops in the Gulf, discussion soon turns to how friends, lowly or otherwise, made millions in their investments, and to bragging about one’s own imaginary prowess in this field. The truth is often less glamorous with more stories of woes than riches. While there are very few globally recognized successful investors such as Warren Buffet, there are many smaller successful individual investors. What are the common factors that these smaller investors have in common and the secrets of their success? They might not be making 30 or 40 percent plus- returns every year, but they have been consistently successful and it is apparent that they share some common factors. Amongst these are some well-founded investment principles which our coffee shop loving friends should bear in mind. The first is simple – not accepting announced company financial figures without questioning but is the most difficult as it involves some hard research. Analysis of released company financial and other management information is a good place to start, as well as more research on the company from public sources, and this is why lazy but financially literate individual investors pay high fees to professional investment managers to do. A good researcher will be able to examine further items on the income statement (profitability statement) where investors should be aware of remarks noting “exceptional earnings” items such as in selling land that has not gained from operational activities of the listed company. Too many Gulf statements and reports are nothing but glossy PR documents and still lack fuller transparency. A second approach is technical by buying low debt-to-equity stocks. While some investors have their own target ratio, most of these successful investors seem to stick to companies with a debt-to-equity ratio of below 50 percent.
These investors felt uncomfortable with companies with a high debt ratio on a company’s balance sheet. They believe that during times of financial crisis and tough bank lending policies, companies with high debt were the ones most likely to be in trouble in their expansion plans or in meeting their debt obligations. Those in the Gulf with Islamic finance preference, also feel more comfortable with such type of companies.
While not every successful investor will be the same, yet there are common characteristics that successful investors share which could be easily adopted by any investor seeking long term returns
Key assets
Another tip is to concentrate portfolios in key assets. While portfolio asset management best practice is to have a more diversified portfolio, yet some of the successful investors chose to have concentrated portfolios based on a smaller number of stocks. This was only successful as it was based on some very detailed company research, and not on “tips” and guess-work. Another is avoiding a dividend trap. Paying out large dividend returns might be something that all investors look forward to receiving, but sometimes paying out large dividends might not necessarily be a good sign. The company could be setting a “dividend trap” to ensure their stock is in high demand, when careful analysis of their income statement and balance sheet reveals that this high dividend payment is not sustainable. Again, in the Gulf, some investors seem fixated on this short-term goal. Another well-established strategy and seemingly obvious is seeking out promising companies that are undervalued because of temporary operational problems. These successful investors did not follow the “herd mentality” and looked for investment opportunities that were either over priced because of irrational buying (they sold out), or were sharply sold due to irrational selling (they bought). Sometimes a temporary “negative” news about a company’s operations or a slowdown in its expected commercialization of a particular patent or investment plans gave some of these successful investors the opportunity to buy the company stock based on their long-term expectations of a turnaround in the negative news. This though requires nerves of steel and avoiding self-doubt. Too ‘greedy’. While some investors wait until their stocks have risen ten-fold before selling, others are content to sell after a few points have been gained. The key point here is that one should not get too “greedy” but take profits which are in line with achievable goals and targets. Setting achievable goals only comes about if there is a strategy in place which has clear asset-allocation and risk/reward portfolio parameters in place. Setting achievable goals also includes being disciplined savers, as savings will facilitate investment opportunities. The story of Warren Buffet and how he made his millions is an inspiration of a success story for all investors. Known as the “Oracle of Omaha” for his remarkable investment skills, Buffet has made a huge fortune but is also is a significant philanthropist giving billions to charity.
What is the basis of his success? In summary, Buffet’s investment philosophy was one based on the principle of buying stocks in well-managed and primarily under-valued companies. He was a long-term investor and not a short-term speculator which alas seems to be the majority of those individuals investing in the regional stock markets. He refused to be swayed by new investment “gimmicks” and did not enter the “” investment bubble and sat out the incredible run-up in technology stocks during the late 1990’s and is today wary of the Bitcoin craze.
He focused on basic industries serving the long term needs of the community such as health, food, telecommunication and transport. Buffet saved consistently and still remains frugal and low key in his personal expenditure. In conclusion, while not every successful investor will be the same, yet there are common characteristics that successful investors share which could be easily adopted by any investor seeking long term returns. Next time one meets with coffee shop investment guru friends, just remember some of the basics of successful investments and sit back and enjoy the coffee.

Russia ‘hacking’ American elections
Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/February 19/18
US special counsel Robert Mueller’s recent report which he discussed at a Congress hearing session frankly indicted Russian figures and exposed the depth of Russia’s infiltration of American affairs and not just of American elections. Mueller’s report accused 13 Russians of involvement in a conspiracy that aims to influence the results of the 2016 presidential elections by using Facebook and Instagram accounts.Mueller’s report and American media reports have spoken about frantic Russian activity over the past few years to create social media content that serves the Russian scheme all the way from Moscow or Saint Petersburg. The issue, which is only in the beginning, is alarming. We are before a new chapter of the Russian-American war where Russian youths or American agents who are skilled in software programming are used to manipulate ordinary Americans. Some parties in our Arab world are doing what the Russian intelligence is doing. Online pages and websites have been created by the Brotherhood and its sympathizers to attack certain states. Countries that sponsor the Brotherhood in the region have also spent a lot of money to create content that serves the Brotherhood’s propaganda – as seen via Qatar’s media platforms and websites. Fake Twitter and Facebook accounts and YouTube channels are created every hour to confuse the public opinion, particularly that of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE
Fake accounts
Al-Jazeera television channel often cites strange websites that are depicted as skilled and professional. Fake Twitter and Facebook accounts and YouTube channels are created every hour to confuse the public opinion, particularly that of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE. Let’s go back to Russia’s cyberattack on the US and the West as even France was not spared of these attacks. The Russians have been very successful at this new war, and we are all familiar with the story of Russian-American spy Snowden. Commenting on social media networks which have become an arena for recent Russian operations, like Facebook, Ann Ravel, a former member at the US Federal Election Commission, said internet companies may have to resort to bank practices to identify their customers and periodically exchange information with the authorities. Meanwhile, Facebook said it will make “major investments” to look out for future cyberattacks and will cooperate with US security apparatuses. The Russians were quick to make use of their youths’ sense of adventure and turned them into global commando operatives. For example, in 2016, the University of St. Petersburg won a software programming championship for five times in a row. During a ceremony honoring students, the Russian defense minister said: “We must work with these youths, one way or another, because we desperately need them.”
We are truly in a world of deadly illusions.

How Qatari funding contributed to Arab destruction
Sawsan Al Shaer/Al Arabiya/February 19/18
Recent reports and investigations have exposed Qatar’s role in funding rebels in Arab countries under the excuse of “supporting persecuted people” and showed that the Arab Spring was neither spontaneous nor random. Evidence which has been hidden for years eventually came to surface exposing how the so-called Arab Spring was schemed in the dark. Qatar’s role in the Tunisian Jasmine Revolution was concealed for years in an attempt to make the latter look like it was spontaneous. However, movements that oppose political Islam and Ennahda Movement insist not to let the “crimes” which the latter committed pass without punishment. Some prohibitions have been permitted and some crimes have been justified such as high treason that’s represented in accepting money from foreign military parties. Such crimes would not have been allowed if there hadn’t been a “legitimate cover.”Qatar’s friends in Tunisia attempted to conceal Doha’s role in dubious funding in North Africa; however, these attempts have failed as al-Hurra parliamentary bloc MP Sahbi Ben Faraj revealed that Tunisian military officials and civilians benefited from Qatari funds for unknown purposes. Qatar’s role in the Tunisian Jasmine Revolution was concealed for years in an attempt to make the latter look like it was spontaneous
A retired general
According to a document cited by Faraj, suspicious money transfers were made by a “retired general in the Qatari armed forces to some Tunisian banks.” The account included funds derived from an account under the name of the Qatari Armed Forces, which is part of the bank account of the Embassy of the State of Qatar in Tunisia. The suspicious funds and cash withdrawn from the account amounted to $2 billion. The commission tasked with investigating the matter examined semi-high officials, including military personnel, who benefited from these funds. Then-Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa was informed of the matter on November 17, 2014. The Ministry of Defense questioned the suspected Qatari general on December 4, 2014, before referring the case to the military court. On April 4, 2015, then-Prime Minister Habib Essid took legal action that led to issuing a judicial order to hand over the case file to a department that looks into terror crimes. On July 24, 2015, the bank accounts of the Qatari general in question were frozen based on a judge order. The frozen amount is estimated at 3 million Tunisian dinars. After four years of investigation and not announcing who’s involved and who’s responsible, whether in the defense or justice ministries or at the Central Bank, MP Marwan al-Falafel told Al Arabiya that Al Hurra parliamentary bloc, will “set up a committee for investigation and follow-up in the framework of its oversight and parliamentary responsibilities.”
Tunisia’s security
He added that no one was above the law “especially when it comes to Qatar’s infiltration of Tunisia’s security and when dealing with foreign parties that want to destabilize the country and the region.”For four years, Qatar’s friends who benefited from Qatar’s funds tried to dismiss the matter but free Tunisian parties rejected doing so and insisted on exposing facts and on informing the public opinion all about Qatar’s and traitors’ role in harming Tunisia and leading it into the dark. National principles and values have been tampered with in favor of so-called cross-border parties which must be strictly confronted and exposed to all those who have been misled by their lies. Those who prohibited groups in Bahrain to accept any Iranian funds must also reject any Qatari funding of a Tunisian, Egyptian, Algerian or Moroccan movement. Principles are principles and they can neither be fragmented nor amended.

The triumph of truth
Hussein Shobokshi/Al Arabiya/February 19/18
Barring the renowned businessman Michael Bloomberg who later became the mayor of New York City, the most important and famous mayor in the history of the great city was Edward Irving Koch. He was known for his very unique management style. He always went to the streets and walked among the people and asked them without any introductions: “What do you think of my performance?” His philosophy and justification for this behavior is that the city’s residents are his “clients” or “customers” and he must know directly and without any intermediary about their satisfaction with his performance, as they are the only one concerned. I remembered all this. I was talking to a distinguished Arab minister who I met recently by chance. The talk was about the administrative methods that must be adopted and how he is “different” from his predecessors. He said his purpose is development and progress, but the people “did not absorb” the purpose and began to explain detailed challenges faced by, no one else can face it, and no one can appreciate that task. And when he found me, I did not comment on what he was saying, so he said: Why do not you join me in the talking? I said to him that you cannot tolerate the other opinion and consider any criticism as an objection and denial. However, I am from the school that believes that any decision should lead to the public good, and it is not harmful as we know the purposes of the Shariah that the law does not come only fine and what causes harm is not lawful. You are required to open clear, transparent and respectable lines with your “customers” and listen to them with depth, respect, seriousness and non-transcendence, considering that they “did not understand your aim” and therefore be “the defect in them”, I told him remember well our dialogues before you and get this position? Direct communication is the shortest way between the official and people and honesty is always saved
The last meeting
You were very understanding and very convinced of many of the same points I mentioned to you in our last meeting about the challenges. He tried to object. I told him that meant we had one of two things, you change your opinion, or the second possibility is that you were not convinced enough and was not a principled position or did not understand and absorb it and in both cases, the defect remains with you. We ended the conversation cordially and left the place and I have a growing conviction that the problem of ministers in the Arab world is the result of the communication gap between decision-making and “decision-receivers”. There is contempt for the media by the ministers in addition to considering the right of the citizen to question is a kind of curiosity, by itself. This automatically creates a very embarrassing and negative situation of mistrust and thus constant skepticism about declarations and promises. This never helps to instill confidence and build a spirit of hope amidst a climate full of rumors, noise, negativity and pessimism. Direct communication is the shortest way between the official and people and honesty is always saved. It is a new old wisdom and what was applied yesterday is also valid for the day.