February 21/2018
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 20-21/18
Rex Tillerson Babbles in Beirut While Middle East War Looms/Tony Badran/Tablet/February 20/18
Palestinians: Hamas and Fatah - United against Trump/Khaled Abu Toameh/Gatestone Institute/February 20/18
Macron and Islam: "Appeasement and Dialogue"/Yves Mamou/Gatestone Institute/February 20/18
The Spy Masters' Case Against Huawei Is Flimsy/Leonid Bershidsky/Bloomberg/February 20/2018
'It's not a war. It's a massacre': scores killed in Syrian enclave/Kareem Shaheen in Istanbul/The Guardian/February 20/18
Washington's Militia Problem in Syria Is an Iran Problem/Jackson Doering/The Washington Institute/February 19/18

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on February 20-21/18
Lebanon army chief vows to battle 'Israeli aggression' no matter the cost
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah boasted his group could shut down Israeli offshore plants within hours.
Iraqi president surprises Aoun with birthday cake
British Home Secretary in Lebanon to Discuss Airport Security, Visit Syrian Borders
Aoun holds joint press conference with al Abadi, says scope of cooperation with Iraq 'promising'
Aoun Meets Iraqi President, Premier in Baghdad
Yaacoub Meets Rahi: Saudi Arabia Will Always Back Lebanon's Legitimacy
Geagea Criticizes Nasrallah's Remarks on Gas Dispute with Israel
U.S. Man Gets Life without Parole for Killing Lebanese Neighbor
Lawyers for Hariri Assassination Suspect Call for Acquittal
French Envoy in Beirut in Preparation for Paris IV Investment Conference
Tashnag Says No Vetoes on FPM-Murr Electoral Alliance
Future bloc hails government's resolve to accomplish 2018 state budget
Abi Khalil after Change and Reform meeting: Oil and gas under protection of all Lebanese
Batroun's Women Association holds annual conference on women upcoming March
Ibrahim, Beary discuss border situation
Hariri discusses cooperation with Russian minister of Education
Rex Tillerson Babbles in Beirut While Middle East War Looms

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 20-21/18
Egypt adds Muslim Brotherhood party leader Abul Fotouh to terror list
Erdogan says Turkey will lay siege to Syria’s Afrin in coming days
Death toll rises to 100 in Assad regime raids on eastern Ghouta
Turkey Shells Pro-Regime Forces as They Enter Afrin
Abbas, in Rare U.N. Speech, Calls for Mideast Peace Conference
West Bank settlers grew twice the rate of Israel’s overall population last year
Larijani Accuses Ahmadinejad of 'Treason' for Attacking the Regime
'We will level Tel Aviv to the ground' senior Iranian official warns Israel
Lavrov issues rare rebuke of Iran for calling for Israel's destruction
UN issues blank statement on Syria, says it has run out of words
Abbas in Direct Confrontation with Washington at Security Council
Saudi FM: Qatar is Spreading Hatred and Terrorism
Resumption of Russia Flights to Egypt Postponed
Latest Lebanese Related News published on February 20-21/18
Lebanon army chief vows to battle 'Israeli aggression' no matter the cost
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah boasted his group could shut down Israeli offshore plants within hours.
Reuters/Jerusalem Post/February 20/ 2018/ Lebanon's army will use use every available means to confront any potential "Israeli aggression" no matter the cost, its commander said on Monday. "I affirm again our categorical rejection of the Israeli enemy infringing on Lebanon's sovereignty and its sacred right to exploit all its economic resources," the Lebanese army quoted General Joseph Aoun as saying on Twitter. "The army will not spare any method available to confront any Israeli aggression, whatever that costs." US diplomats have mediated recently between the two countries after a surge in tensions over a border wall which Israel is building and over Lebanon's decision to explore for offshore energy near disputed waters. On Friday Hezbollah urged Lebanon to stand firm in its offshore energy dispute with Israel and warned it could act against Israeli oil facilities if necessary. In a televised address, the leader of the heavily-armed, Iran-backed movement, Hassan Nasrallah, described the issue as a "battle for all of Lebanon.""If Lebanon's Higher Defence Council were to decide that (Israeli) offshore oil and gas plants...should be forbidden from working, I promise they would stop working within hours," he told a rally. The powerful Shi'ite Hezbollah is part of Lebanon's coalition government, which includes almost all the country's main political parties. Israel sees Hezbollah as the biggest security threat on its borders and the United States regards it as a terrorist group. But Washington also supports the Lebanese military, funding its forces partly as a counterweight to Hezbollah. Nasrallah said Lebanese officials should not fear Israeli military might, but should warn U.S. officials of Hezbollah's own strength. He also said the United States was not an honest broker, and that Lebanese officials should not be fooled by their mediation. "If the Americans come and say you must be responsive so that I restrain Israel from you, tell the Americans: they must accept (Lebanon's) demands so that we hold Hezbollah back from Israel," he said. "The oil wealth is for all the Lebanese."United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday he was worried about the possibility of a direct confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah, calling it a "nightmare" scenario. 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." "I am deeply worried about hard-to-foresee escalations in the whole region," Gutters 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."

Iraqi president surprises Aoun with birthday cake
The Daily Star/February 20/18/BEIRUT: Iraqi President Fouad Massoum Tuesday surprised President Michel Aoun with a birthday cake to celebrate Aoun's 83rd birthday. The surprise came at the end of a lunch that was held in Baghdad in Aoun’s honor. His birthday was on Sunday. The birthday cake was decorated with both the Lebanese and Iraqi flags. The Lebanese president is currently in Baghdad on an official visit.

British Home Secretary in Lebanon to Discuss Airport Security, Visit Syrian Borders
Beirut - Asharq al-Awsat/February 20/18/British Home Secretary Amber Rudd landed in Beirut on a brief visit to inspect the borders and the situation of Syrian refugees. Underlining the British government's commitment to support Lebanon's stability, Rudd told Minister of Interior and Municipalities Nohad Mashnouq: “Lebanon's security is that of Britain's.”Rudd discussed with the interior minister latest regional and international developments and valued “the efforts of the Ministry in preparing for the parliamentary elections.” She listened to a brief explanation of the logistical and administrative preparations, and asked about the representation of women in this year’s elections. Machnouq explained that the coming round would see a greater representation of women, which would encourage voters. On a different note, the British Home Secretary praised Machnouq’s endeavor to enhance aviation safety.
The minister, for his part, emphasized that enhancing airport’s safety and security has been a priority for the Ministry for more than three years, in cooperation with the Ministry of Public Works. Emphasizing British support and very fruitful cooperation with the Lebanese security forces, Machnouq told his British counterpart that the country’s security services have succeeded in fighting terrorism and eliminating dormant cells. In this regard, Machnouq underlined “three reasons for this success, namely the ability of the security bodies to collect and analyze information, vigilance and dedication of security officers, and the absence of an environment favorable to terrorism in Lebanon.”On the situation of Syrian refugees, the Lebanese minister stressed that the recent government’s decision to facilitate the registration of Syrian newborns in Lebanon would help organize a smooth return of the refugees to their country when the time is appropriate.
Aoun holds joint press conference with al Abadi, says scope of cooperation with Iraq 'promising'
Tue 20 Feb 2018/NNA - President Michel Aoun maintained that the scope of bilateral cooperation between Lebanon and Iraq was "promising," following talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Baghdad Tuesday. Aoun indicated that the two-pronged talks were "fruitful, " especially in terms of bilateral cooperation on the economic and developmental levels. "Now that Iraq is on the way of recovery, and that Lebanon has succeeded in anchoring the foundations of the state and in reinforcing people's support for the constitutional institutions, the horizons of cooperation are promising between Lebanon and Iraq," Aoun told a joint press conference. On the political level, Aoun reiterated Lebanon's support for the unity of Iraq, renewing rejection of jeopardizing the country and the future of its people. "We also discussed our achievements in the war on terrorism, after the recent months have witnessed tremendous victories against the terrorists, their rings, organizations, and resources, whether in Iraq or in Lebanon," he said. "Within this frame, we highlighted the importance of exchanging data and expertise to combat terrorism, as well as exerting international unified efforts during this confrontation," he added. "We also stressed on the obligation to close inter-Arab ranks and conduct effective reconciliations, while preserving the principle of non-interference in other countries' internal affairs," he underlined.

Aoun Meets Iraqi President, Premier in Baghdad
Naharnet/February 20/18/President Michel Aoun traveled on an official two-day visit to Iraq on Tuesday at the invitation of his Iraqi counterpart Mohammed Fouad Masum. Aoun arrived at Baghdad International Airport where he was welcomed by Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Culture Minister Firyad Rawanduzi and members of the mission, Lebanon's ambassador to Iraq Ali Habhab and Iraqi ambassador in Lebanon Ali Abbas al-Amiri, the National News Agency said. After the reception ceremony, the President and the accompanying delegation headed to al-Salam Presidential Palace where Aoun held bilateral talks with his Iraqi counterpart, followed by an extended meeting between the Lebanese and Iraqi sides.In a joint press conference with Masum, Aoun said: “I congratulated His Excellency President Masum on the achievements made by Iraq in recent months in the fight against terrorism which have restored the confidence of Iraqis in their security and future. “Lebanon had similar sufferings from the forces of darkness on its eastern border, but took the decision to confront it and we succeeded at defeating it in an honorable battle in autumn last year.”The President added saying that Lebanon and Iraq agree “on the need for joint Arab and international efforts to combat terrorism in an effective and definitive manner not only based on the elimination of terrorists but also on combating the reasons and factors facilitating the emergence of the ideology of terror.”On Lebanon's relations with Iraq, Aoun said the talks have “highlighted bilateral relations and the ways to promote them at various levels that fall in the interest of both peoples.”Aoun later held talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. “We held friendly and fruitful talks which will definitely push the bilateral relations between our two countries to new levels,” Aoun said during a joint press conference. The two leaders also stressed “the importance of exchanging information and expertise related to the fight against terrorism and the need to exert unified international efforts in this confrontation,” Aoun added. The delegation accompanying Aoun is 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 Tashnag party MP Agop Pakradonian. The Iraqi media tackled Aoun's state visit to Baghdad stressing the importance of enhancing bilateral relations and cooperation between the two countries and peoples at various levels, especially in the political, economic and security fields.

Yaacoub Meets Rahi: Saudi Arabia Will Always Back Lebanon's Legitimacy
Naharnet/February 20/18/Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi met with Saudi ambassador to Lebanon Walid al-Yaacoub in Bkirki on a protocol visit after receiving his duties, the National News Agency reported on Tuesday. “I was honored to meet His Eminence the Patriarch who affirmed that links between Saudi Arabia and religious and spiritual officials in Lebanon are profound and fundamental,” said al-Yaacoub after the meeting. “My visit today is a protocol visit and I will be honored to pay other visits as part of the Patriarch's historic trip to Riyadh to complete efforts aiming at establishing the sovereignty and independence of Lebanon," he added.He stressed saying that “SA fully stands by the Lebanese legitimacy emanating from the Constitution, the Taef Accord and supporting the Constitutional institutions in Lebanon."

Geagea Criticizes Nasrallah's Remarks on Gas Dispute with Israel
Naharnet/February 20/18/Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea on Tuesday criticized Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah's latest remarks on Lebanon's gas dispute with Israel. “Yesterday, we heard in one of the speeches that the only strength that we can rely on is the resistance... This means that the State would cease to exist,” Geagea warned. Nasrallah had on Friday underlined that "the only force that the Lebanese have is the resistance." "If Israel threatens you, you can threaten it. If the Americans come tell you that you have to deal with them to hold Israel back, then tell the Americans: respond to our demands so we hold Hizbullah back from Israel," he said, addressing Lebanese officials. And in Hizbullah's strongest warning to Israel since the beginning of the gas row, Nasrallah threatened that “should the Higher Defense Council decide that Israel's offshore oil installations should cease to operate,” Hizbullah “can disable them within hours.”Lebanon this month signed its first contract to drill for oil and gas in a pair of offshore zones, including one that Israel says belongs to it. Hizbullah clashed with Israel in a month-long war in 2006 and is currently fighting alongside President Bashar al-Assad's forces in neighboring Syria.

U.S. Man Gets Life without Parole for Killing Lebanese Neighbor
Associated Press/Naharnet/February 20/18/A 63-year-old Oklahoma man convicted of murder and a hate crime in the fatal shooting of his Lebanese neighbor was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Stanley Vernon Majors was convicted earlier this month of gunning down 37-year-old Khalid Jabara outside of his Tulsa home in August 2016. The murder charge carried a life sentence, and the jury recommended that Majors never get the chance to go free -- a recommendation the judge followed Tuesday. The jury foreman, Randall Hardee, told The Tulsa World that the jury agreed that Majors was having mental problems, but that he also understood the consequences of his actions. Jurors also found it difficult to ignore that Majors had antagonized the Jabara family for years, he said. "I don't know how somebody could treat a whole other family like that," Hardee said. "At the end of the day, I thought Mr. Majors was just an incredibly unhappy man who just wanted to take it out on the world." According to prosecutors, Majors killed Jabara after bombarding him with racial insults in a feud with Jabara's family that lasted several years. It escalated to the point where the victim's mother, Haifa Jabara, obtained a protective order in 2013 that required Majors to stay 300 yards (275 meters) away and prohibited him from possessing any firearms until 2018. But prosecutors said Majors was undeterred, and that he struck Haifa Jabara with his car in 2015 and drove off. She suffered a broken shoulder, among other injuries. Officers who stopped him later reported that he was intoxicated. While awaiting trial in that case on assault and battery charges, a judge freed Majors from jail on $60,000 bond, overruling strong objections by prosecutors, who called him a substantial risk to the public and pleaded with the court to set a higher bond of $300,000. Authorities said Majors shot Khalid Jabara on his own front porch while out on bond. Defense attorneys argued that Majors showed signs of dementia and appeared to have problems with his long-term memory, and that these conditions interfered with their ability to prepare a defense. In addition to his convictions in Oklahoma, Majors has a 2009 felony conviction in California for threatening a crime with intent to terrorize.

Lawyers for Hariri Assassination Suspect Call for Acquittal
Associated Press/Naharnet/February 20/18/Lawyers for one of four alleged Hizbullah members accused of involvement in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri called Tuesday on judges at the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon to acquit him, saying prosecutors have not presented enough evidence for a conviction. "Even taken at its highest, the prosecution evidence is not sufficient" to convict Hussein Hassan Oneissi, his lawyer Vincent Courcelle-Labrousse told the STL. None of the four suspects is in custody and the trial at a courtroom just outside The Hague, Netherlands, is progressing in their absence. The Feb. 14, 2005, truck bombing in Beirut killed Hariri and 21 others and injured more than 220 passers-by. Earlier this month, prosecutors wrapped up their case after four years. They called more than 260 witnesses and showed judges some 2,470 exhibits as they laid out their case that the four suspects plotted together to blow up Hariri with a massive truck bomb. Defense attorneys have not yet presented any evidence. Lawyers for the three other suspects are not calling for acquittals at this stage of the trial. Hizbullah has denied involvement in Hariri's assassination. The case against a fifth suspect, Hizbullah military commander Mustafa Badreddine, was halted in 2016 after he was killed in Syria. Oneissi is charged as an accomplice and co-conspirator in the plot. Prosecutors accuse him of organizing a video-taped false claim of responsibility intended to shield the true perpetrators of the devastating bombing. No time frame has been given for judges to rule on Courcelle-Labrousse's motion for acquittal.

French Envoy in Beirut in Preparation for Paris IV Investment Conference

Naharnet/February 20/18/French envoy Pierre Duquesne in charge of ongoing preparations for the Paris IV investment conference aimed at jumpstarting Lebanon's economy has arrived in Beirut, media reports said on Tuesday. Duquesne is the interministerial delegate for the Mediterranean in charge of the preparations of Paris IV, also referred to as the Cedar Conference, which is set to be held on April 5 in the French capital. Duquesne will take part in a press conference at the Grand Serail on Tuesday announcing the launching of a conference on investment in Lebanon's infrastructure to be held on March 6 under the patronage of Prime Minister Saad Hariri. The conference will be attended by a number of representatives of economic bodies and development councils in Lebanon.

Tashnag Says No Vetoes on FPM-Murr Electoral Alliance

Naharnet/February 20/18/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.”

Future bloc hails government's resolve to accomplish 2018 state budget
Tue 20 Feb 2018/NNA - Future bloc on Tuesday held its periodic meeting at the Central House, chaired by bloc head Fouad Siniora. The meeting broached most recent developments in Lebanon and the broad region.The bloc underlined commitment to the positions and orientations proclaimed by Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, in his speech during the 13th commemoration of the martyrdom of late PM Rafic Hariri, in Biel. The bloc also emphasized the political position stated by PM Hariri based on the principles and values of independence, freedom, sovereignty and moderation, in addition to adherence to the Taef Accord and Islamic-Christian mutual coexistence. On the other hand, the bloc hailed the government's resolve to accomplish the 2018 draft state budget, saying such a matter restores financial regularity to the Lebanese state and emphasizes financial discipline which would boost economic growth rates, reduce budget deficit and strengthen Lebanon's implementation of reform measures at the economic and financial levels.

Abi Khalil after Change and Reform meeting: Oil and gas under protection of all Lebanese

Tue 20 Feb 2018/NNA - The oil and gas resources, as well as the land borders, are under our protection and that of all the Lebanese, Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil said following the Change and Reform bloc's meeting on Tuesday. "Our bloc was the first to fight for the oil, gas, and land borders; they are under our protection and the protection of all the Lebanese," he indicated. As to electoral coalitions, the Minister said that meeting with any party did not mean tailoring alliances. "We will not be ashamed of any alliance that we may form," he said.

Batroun's Women Association holds annual conference on women upcoming March

Tue 20 Feb 2018/NNA - Under the patronage of Minister of State for Women's Affairs Jean Ogasapian, Batroun's Women Association holds its annual conference upcoming March 3, at the Holy Family University in Batroun, entitled "Women in Public Life."Words will be delivered during the inaugural ceremony notably by the National News Agency Director, Laure Sleiman Saab, Batroun Maronite Parish Bishop Mounir Khairallah, and Minister Ogasapian. Consecutive panel discussions will follow the inaugural ceremony, the first entitled: "Women in Politics and Administration" and the second: "Women in Social and Educational Work."Recommendations will be issued by the Conference.

Ibrahim, Beary discuss border situation
Tue 20 Feb 2018/NNA - General Security Chief, General Abbas Ibrahim, on Tuesday met with UNIFIL General Commander, Major General Michael Beary, over the current situation along the southern borders, especially amid Israel's construction of a separation wall along the Blue Line. The pair also discussed the means to bolster cooperation and coordination between the agency and the UNIFIL to anchor stability in border regions.

Hariri discusses cooperation with Russian minister of Education

Tue 20 Feb 2018/NNA - The President of the Council of Ministers Saad Hariri received today at the Grand Serail the Russian Minister of Education Olga Vasilyeva, accompanied by the Russian ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin and Hariri's advisor for Russian affairs George Chaaban.
After the meeting, the Russian minister said: "The visit to Prime Minister Hariri comes in the framework of the first forum of the Arab-Russian universities federation currently held in Beirut. We discussed ways to develop the cooperation between the two countries in the fields of culture and education and we stressed the necessity of achieving a good level of cooperation in these fields. However, this needs to strengthen relations in light of the agreement that is under consideration regarding the recognition of Russian certificates in Lebanon and of Lebanese certificates in Russia. We also talked about the number of scholarships for Lebanese students in Russian university with Russian funding and agreed to increase them. We examined expanding Russian language courses in Lebanon and Arabic language courses in Russia, and we consider that the first step will be through opening a school in Beqaa that teaches some classes in Russian. We briefed the Prime Minister on the forum that held yesterday and today in Beirut for the Presidents of Russian and Lebanese universities. We also discussed the issue of establishing a Russian-Arab university and Prime Minister Hariri supported the idea. During the meeting the President of Moscow State University talked about the possibility of establishing a branch in Lebanon." Hariri also received the Nigerian ambassador to Lebanon Goni Modu Zanna Bura and discussed with him the situation and the bilateral relations.

Rex Tillerson Babbles in Beirut While Middle East War Looms
ثرثرة لتيليرسون في بيروت بينما الحرب في الشرق الأوسط تلوح في الأفق

Tony Badran/Tablet/February 20/18
Trump’s envoy tries to make a distinction between Hezbollah and Lebanon’s government where there is none
Sec. of State Rex Tillerson visited Lebanon last Thursday, and let’s just say it wasn’t exactly a shining moment for U.S. diplomacy. Tillerson was made to sit alone in a room with no American flag in sight and wait, as photographers took pictures and video, before Hezbollah’s chief allies in Lebanon’s government, President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law the foreign minister, finally came out to greet him. Images of the U.S. Secretary of State fidgeting in front of an empty chair were then broadcast across the Middle East to symbolize American impotence at a fateful moment for the region.
The televised humiliation of Tillerson was accompanied by even more explicit evidence of American policy confusion in the face of Iran’s take-over of the Lebanese state and fresh attacks from Syria across Israel’s borders. After Iran launched a drone into the Israeli sector of the Golan Heights, the Israeli Air Force attacked the T-4 air base in the Homs governorate, the site of the Iranian mobile command and control center that launched the drone. The decision to destroy the Iranian control center came following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Russia last month, during which Netanyahu again expressed Israel’s rejection of Iran’s efforts to establish a military presence in Syria, and reiterated his government’s resolve to act against it. According to the Israelis, the second wave of strikes launched against the Iranians in Syria was the broadest single aerial attack against Syria since 1982.
As the military confrontation between Iran and its regional proxies on one hand, and Israel on the other hand, heats up, Lebanon has emerged as the nerve center of the Iranian camp. On the eve of Tillerson’s visit, Lebanon hosted Akram al-Kaabi, the leader of an Iraqi militia which operates under the command of Iran’s Qods Force. From Beirut, al-Kaabi stated his group would fight Israel alongside Hezbollah in a future war. The presence of al-Kaabi in Lebanon—his terrorist comrade Qais al-Khazali had dropped by late last year—underscored Lebanon’s role as a hub for Iran’s regional terrorist assets.
Yet none of this apparently deterred the U.S. Secretary of State from traveling to Beirut like Alice in Wonderland in order to play-act a fantasy in which Lebanon is a valuable American ally in the fight against terrorism. Tillerson compounded the bad optics of his visit with ill-advised and contradictory comments that shone a spotlight on the combination of confusion, wishful thinking and abject denialism that appear to be shaping the Trump Administration’s Lebanon policy, even as the National Security Adviser sounds the alarm over the growing capabilities of Iran’s network of Hezbollah-style proxies.
Prior to heading to Beirut, Tillerson gave an interview to the American Arabic language station al-Hurra, in which he emphasized that Hezbollah was a terrorist organization, and that the United States expected cooperation from the “Lebanon Government to deal very clearly and firmly with those activities undertaken by Lebanese Hizballah that are unacceptable to the rest of the world.” However nonsensical the distinction U.S. policy maintains between Hezbollah and the “Lebanese government,” this particular line from Tillerson at least raised the potential of serious demands from the Lebanese to address the terrorist group running their country.
But then, while in Jordan, Tillerson undermined any potential hints of firmness by reading from an entirely different script—one that encapsulates the confused nonsense that is U.S. Lebanon policy. Hezbollah is “influenced by Iran,” Tillerson said. But, he added, “We also have to acknowledge the reality that they also are part of the political process in Lebanon”—which apparently makes being “influenced by Iran” and being a terrorist group OK. Tillerson also lauded the Lebanese “government” for issuing a meaningless and duplicitous statement “dissociating” itself from the conflicts in the region—conflicts in which Hezbollah is a principal driver, and for which Lebanon serves as a launching pad and training ground. Not once did Tillerson mention the need to disarm Hezbollah, or reference UNSCR 1559 and 1701, which demand it.
Tillerson’s approach to the terror army that controls the Lebanese state is the inevitable endgame of a paradoxical policy predicated on pretending that the “Lebanese government” and Hezbollah are two distinct, even antagonistic entities. We support the “Lebanese government” and its “institutions,” the logic goes, because this will somehow, sometime in the indeterminate future, magically “undermine” Hezbollah. How? By “undermining” the terror group’s “narrative,” defenders of such nonsense usually explain. The suggestion that Hezbollah is a Twitter account that can be deterred by “sick burns” rather than an Iranian trained-and-financed army that has negated the legitimate political institutions of the Lebanese state through force while it brutally murders and ethnically cleanse people in Syria and keeps 150,000 missiles targeted at Israel is too ridiculous to engage with here. But that doesn’t keep it from being a pillar of U.S. government policy.
The reality on the ground in Lebanon is even worse. Hezbollah is not only a part of the Lebanese government, it controls it—along with all of the country’s illustrious “institutions,” including the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). By supporting “Lebanon,” or “Lebanese state institutions,” the United States is in fact supporting a government dominated by a U.S.-designated terrorist group. If a group of used car salesmen in Texas tried shipping $120 million of advanced U.S. military equipment to Hezbollah, they would be arrested and thrown in prison for providing material aid to a terrorist group. But when the U.S. government provides that equipment to an army that Hezbollah controls, that’s more than OK—in fact, it’s our entire Lebanon policy.
Behind the incoherence of this policy there is nothing clever—only more incoherence and fantasy. After Tillerson’s comments drew criticism, the State Department rushed in to do damage control, which of course only amplified the logical contradictions of the original statements, which perfectly accord with the policy documents from which they were taken. First, U.S. Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein tried to walk back what Tillerson said. Only he didn’t so much correct the Secretary’s words as to restate them, with barely a rearrangement of the word-order. Lebanon “would be better off without Hezbollah’s terrorism and malign influence,” Goldstein told journalists. But, he added, “We will continue our efforts at strengthening those institutions that bolster Lebanon’s sovereignty and stability.”
Right. That is to say, Hezbollah is a terrorist group, which is part of the Lebanese government. Naturally it would be better if this weren’t the case. But it is. And so, we will continue to support the Lebanese government, which is run by a terrorist group. Ta-daa!
Now in Beirut, Tillerson tried to correct his earlier comments by underscoring that the United States considers Hezbollah to be a terrorist group and makes no distinction between purported military and political “wings.” He added, “It is unacceptable for a militia like Hizballah to operate outside the authority of the Lebanese Government. The only legitimate defender of the Lebanese state is the Lebanese Armed Forces.”
What does any of this mean? Well, nothing, of course. Let’s start with the word “unacceptable.” If it is indeed “unacceptable” to the United States for Hezbollah to operate outside the authority of the Lebanese government, then what cost are we imposing on the “Lebanese government,” which continues to let Hezbollah do whatever it wants? But then again, Hezbollah is in fact part of the Lebanese government, and works hand in hand with its armed forces, which we finance. So in what way is Hezbollah operating “outside the authority” of the government, when it is the government? And if it is not, then what is the Lebanese Armed Forces—the illustrious “defender of the Lebanese state” on which we spend $120 million a year—doing to stop it?
The truth here is simple. Lebanon is another name for Hezbollah. Its “government” is a front for Iran, which gives Hezbollah its orders. How complicated is that?
But apparently these realities are too scary or complicated or unpleasant for the United States to acknowledge, when given the alternative of sending Rex Tillerson to Beirut to be humiliated by Hezbollah and the “Lebanese government.” The U.S. Secretary of the State told the Lebanese that there could be no talk of “stability” and “security” without addressing Hezbollah and its arsenal, which bring “unwanted and unhelpful scrutiny” to Lebanon (why such scrutiny is unwanted or unhelpful is unclear, but let’s leave that additional piece of incoherence alone for now). Yet in the same breath, Tillerson reiterated America’s unwavering commitment to preserving Lebanon’s stability. Enough already.
So where does this egregious incoherence come from? The answer is from trying to combine the regional policy inclinations of President Trump with those of his predecessor, Barack Obama. Yet where Trump and his generals have publicly trumpeted the need to stand up to Iran, Obama was pursuing an explicitly pro-Iranian policy—which gave Obama’s Lebanon policy the advantage of coherence. Obama’s pro-Iran position translated in Lebanon into U.S. intelligence-sharing with Hezbollah via the LAF. When the group’s involvement in Syria brought blowback in the form of car bombs in its strongholds and against the Iranian embassy in Beirut, the United States helped the LAF protect itself, and protect Hezbollah, in the name of preserving Lebanon’s “stability and security.” Aiding the LAF made sense, because U.S. policy was in fact aimed at securing what Obama called Iran’s “equities” in Syria, by providing a security umbrella for Iran’s position in Lebanon, which it used as a base for its Syrian adventure. The point of Obama’s Lebanon policy was to strengthen Iran’s position there.
Selling the Trump Administration on Obama’s pro-Iranian Lebanon policy might seem like a long shot, given Trump’s stated opposition to the Iran Deal and statements by tough-guy generals about the need to “counter” Iranian regional influence. In practice, however, it has proven surprisingly easy, in part because Hezbollah and the Lebanese “government” are running the con together.
And just as both parties want the United States to deepen its investment in the LAF in order to turn it into a constraint, if not deterrent, against Israel, they have seized on another American diplomatic mistake: offering to help mediate with Israel over maritime and land borders. Incredibly, from Beirut, Tillerson urged Israel to be constructive in these discussions. The United States, he signaled, was interested in “lowering tensions” on the border and in ensuring “Lebanon’s southern border remains calm”—as if the reason for such tensions was a newly-revived maritime dispute, rather than the large Iranian-controlled terror army that Hezbollah has positioned at Israel’s doorstep on Lebanese soil, with the support of Lebanon’s government and the Lebanese Armed Forces.
Enter Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah. No sooner had Tillerson left Lebanon than the terror group’s chief moved to press his advantage. The United States wants “calm” on the border with Israel? Let them get the Israelis to offer more concessions. “If the Americans come and say you must be responsive so that I restrain Israel from you,” Nasrallah addressed the Lebanese government in a speech on Friday, “tell the Americans they must accept (Lebanon‘s) demands so that we [i.e., the Lebanese government] hold Hezbollah back from Israel.”
With this, Nasrallah once again laid bare the con that his group and the “Lebanese government” are running together on the Americans. Hezbollah and the “government” ran the same play during their joint operations against Sunni militants on the border with Syria last summer. America was an easy mark then, and now appears to have come back for more. All of this was predictable from the minute the administration made the ill-advised decision to send a cabinet level official to be humiliated in what is little more than an Iranian satrapy.
What’s more, the larger strategic framework for this policy invests the United States in securing an Iranian realm on Israel’s border at a time of rising tensions being driven by Iran’s apparent perception of American confusion. The Israeli government has been trying to prevent a large scale war with Hezbollah and Iran in Syria and Lebanon. Simultaneously, it continues to target Iranian assets in Syria and prevent any upgrade to their capabilities there.
Israel’s tactical Syria-focused approach to the growing threat on its borders has kept the peace so far, but it has come at a cost. For one, it does not address the broader strategic factor of Iran’s growing position in Syria, and it leaves Iran’s other regional headquarters in Lebanon untouched. Also, it sets a pace that is more suitable to Iran’s interests. The Iranians can absorb tactical strikes so long as they are able to consolidate their strategic position in Syria and Lebanon. Not only have the Iranians been able to fly a drone into Israel, but also, their allies and assets have made gains on the ground near the northern Golan and in Mount Hermon. As Iran’s position strengthens, and as Israel’s military and political hand weakens, the Israelis will soon be left with little choice other than to launch a devastating war.
To avoid that outcome, the United States needs to adjust its policy—and fast. Rather than leave Israel to navigate around the Russians and go after Iran’s assets in Syria and Lebanon on its own, it should endorse Israel’s red lines regarding Iran in Syria, and amplify its campaign against Iranian assets. In addition, it should revise its Lebanon policy and end its investment in the Hezbollah-controlled order there.
**Tony Badran, Tablet magazine's Levant analyst, is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He tweets @AcrossTheBay.

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on February 20-21/18
Egypt adds Muslim Brotherhood party leader Abul Fotouh to terror list
Staff writer, Al Arabiya/EnglishTuesday, 20 February 2018/The Criminal Court of South Cairo added on Tuesday Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, head of “Powerful Egypt” party and the former Muslim Brotherhood member and presidential candidate along with 15 others to the terror list based on a memorandum submitted by the Attorney General. Attorney General Nabil Sadiq received a communication from lawyer Samir Sabri demanding that Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh and party members be added to the terror list. Sabri said that the Supreme State Security Prosecution office decided to imprison Abul Fotouh for 15 days under charges that include inciting masses against the state, disrupting the constitution, plotting to overthrow the regime, threatening national security and spreading chaos, impeding state institutions from exercising their role in establishing security and political stability, calling for boycotting the presidential elections, belonging to the international organization of the Muslim Brotherhood, and contacting the fugitive Brotherhood leaders abroad to coordinate the implementation of an anarchist plan targeting the stability of the country. Sabri said that according to Law No. 8 of 2015 on the formation of terrorist entities, all evidence against Abul Fotouh was available and therefore he must be included on the terror list. The Egyptian authorities arrested on Wednesday evening Abul Fotouh and members of his “Powerful Egypt” party. Huzeifa, the son of Abul Fotouh said that the authorities arrested his father and the party members Ahmed Abdel-Jawad, Ahmed Salem, Mohamed Osman, Abdel Rahman Haridi, Ahmed Imam, Tamer Gilani and all were referred to the Supreme State Security Prosecution Office.

Erdogan says Turkey will lay siege to Syria’s Afrin in coming days
AFP, Ankara/Tuesday, 20 February 2018/Turkey will lay siege to Afrin in northern Syria, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday a month after Ankara launched an offensive against Kurdish militia in the region. “In the coming days, swiftly, we will lay siege to the center of the town of Afrin,” Erdogan told parliament. His remarks came as Turkey’s operation “Olive Branch”, a ground and air offensive against the People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia which Ankara brands “terrorists”, entered its second month. While some analysts say Turkey and pro-Ankara Syrian rebels have made slow advances, Erdogan defended the operation’s progress, saying it was to avoid putting the lives of both its troops and civilians needlessly “at risk”.“We did not go there to burn it down,” he said, insisting the operation’s aim was to “create a safe and livable area” for the Syrian refugees inside Turkey, who fled across the border since the conflict began in 2011 and who now number more than three million. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said at least 94 civilians have been killed during Turkey’s offensive.
But Ankara has repeatedly insisted there have been no civilian casualties, saying its armed forces are showing utmost care not to harm civilians. Turkey says the YPG is a “terrorist” offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984. The PKK is blacklisted as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies. But the YPG has been working closely with the United States against the Islamic State extremist group in Syria. Both Washington and Brussels have urged Turkey to show restraint in its operation, with the US warning the offensive could detract from the fight against jihadists in Syria.

Death toll rises to 100 in Assad regime raids on eastern Ghouta
AFP/Tuesday, 20 February 2018/At least 100 civilians, 20 of them children were killed in a Syrian army bombardment of the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta, a war monitor reported in a new toll Tuesday. Syrian Observatory for Human Rights chief Rami Abdel Rahman said the civilian death toll from Monday's bombardment of the enclave outside Damascus was the heaviest since early 2015. The White Helmets, a group of local search and rescue volunteer workers in Syria, shared a video on their Twitter account of a man rescuing a baby from the wreckage caused by the raids. The United Nations warned on Monday that the heavy Syrian bombardment must stop immediately. "It’s imperative to end this senseless human suffering now. Such targeting of innocent civilians and infrastructure must stop now," Panos Moumtzis, the UN’s Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis said in a statement.
Several days of bombardment on Eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, has killed hundreds of people, with one monitor of Syria’s seven-year conflict saying that at least 77 people had died there on Monday alone. Held by rebels since 2012, Eastern Ghouta is the last opposition pocket around Damascus and President Bashar al-Assad has dispatched reinforcements there in an apparent concerted effort to retake it. Moumtzis, whose organization has repeatedly called for a cessation of fighting in Eastern Ghouta to allow in desperately needed food and medical aid, said the humanitarian situation in the rebel enclave was "spiraling out of control"."The recent escalation of violence compounds an already precarious humanitarian situation for the 393,000 residents of East Ghouta, many of them internally displaced," he said. Fresh air strikes hit the Syrian rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta on Tuesday killing 45 civilians as a ferocious regime bombardment entered its third day, a monitor said. Twelve children were among the dead, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor of the war. This brings the total death toll since the air strikes began to over 150 people.

Turkey Shells Pro-Regime Forces as They Enter Afrin
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 20/18/Turkey fired at Syrian pro-regime forces as they entered Tuesday the Kurdish-controlled enclave of Afrin, Syrian state media said. The shelling marks a major escalation in the month-old assault Turkey and allied rebels are waging on Afrin. "Turkish regime forces targeted the locations of popular forces with artillery fire as they arrived to the Afrin region," state news agency SANA reported.  Turkey said they it fired "warning shots" at Syria pro-regime forces in Afrin. "Pro-regime terrorist groups that are trying to advance towards Afrin retreated to about 10 kilometers (six miles) from the town because of the warning shots," Turkish state news agency Anadolu said. Hundreds of pro-government fighters arrived on Tuesday afternoon to Afrin, to take a stand against a Turkish-led offensive on the region. Their deployment marks the first time since 2012 that regime forces take up positions in the area, which is held by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG). In a statement on Tuesday, YPG spokesman Nuri Mahmud said the Kurdish forces had called on the Damascus government to help fend off Turkey's assault. "The Syrian government responded to the invitation, answered the call of duty and sent military units today, February 20, to take up positions on the borders, and participate in defending the territorial unity of Syria and its borders," the statement said. AFP correspondents said the forces did not appear to have entered Afrin city itself. The YPG has controlled Afrin since Syrian government forces withdrew from Kurdish-majority areas in the country's north in 2012. But on Monday, Syria's state media said that pro-Damascus forces would head to Afrin to "join the resistance against the Turkish aggression.""This comes in the framework of supporting residents and defending the territorial unity and sovereignty of Syria," news agency SANA said. The Afrin region lies in Syria's northern province of Aleppo. An AFP correspondent in government-controlled Aleppo city told AFP that the convoy, made up of pick-up trucks carrying armed men, had left earlier Tuesday en route to Afrin.

Abbas, in Rare U.N. Speech, Calls for Mideast Peace Conference
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 20/18/Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday called for an international conference to be held by mid-2018 to launch a new, wider Middle East peace process and pave the way to Palestinian statehood. In a rare address to the U.N. Security Council, Abbas presented what he called a "peace plan" to revive the comatose Israeli-Palestinian talks with a new international mediation -- in which the United States would play less of a predominant role. President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital infuriated the Palestinians, who declared that Washington could no longer play a role as lead mediator in the Middle East peace process.
"To solve the Palestine question, it is essential to establish a multilateral international mechanism emanating from an international conference," Abbas said. Abbas put the blame for the failure of peace efforts squarely on Israel, saying it was "acting as a state above the law" and had "shut the door on the two-state solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  He said the conference would be attended by Israel and the Palestinians, regional players, the five permanent Security Council members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- and the diplomatic Quartet comprised of the European Union, United Nations, Russia and the United States. The gathering should lead to full U.N. membership for the state of Palestine, mutual recognition of Israel and Palestine, and the creation of a new international mechanism to reach a final settlement, he said. The Palestinian leader immediately left the council chamber following his address, leaving Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon to complain that he was once again "running away" from dialogue. "You have made it clear, with your words and with your actions, that you are no longer part of the solution. You are the problem," Danon said.
Path to 'nowhere
Taking the floor, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley warned that turning to the United Nations and rejecting the U.S. role in peace talks "will get the Palestinian people exactly nowhere toward the achievement of their aspirations."
Haley was accompanied to the council meeting by Jason Greenblatt, the U.S. envoy for Middle East peace and Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in law and adviser on Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. "Our negotiators are sitting right behind us, ready to talk," she said, before adding: "But we will not chase after you. The choice, Mister President, is yours."The Israeli-Palestinian peace process has been deadlocked since a major push by the administration of Trump's predecessor Barack Obama ended in failure in April 2014. The Trump administration is preparing a new peace plan even though chances for agreement appear dim. The Palestinians hope that greater international involvement in the peace process will serve to counter what they see as a US stance biased in favor of Israel. Israel, which often accuses the European Union and the United Nations of bias against it, is reluctant to accept any other mediator than the United States. France, which hosted a Middle East peace conference in Paris last year, said it was ready to examine Abbas' proposal for a revamped approach. Such an approach "would not cast doubt over the role of the United States, whose engagement in support of the peace process is indispensable," said French Ambassador Francois Delattre.
The Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state and U.N. resolutions call on countries to refrain from moving their embassies to the city until its status is resolved in an Israeli-Palestinian deal. In December, the General Assembly voted 128-9, with 35 abstentions, to reject the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem. That vote in the 193-nation assembly came after 14 of the 15 council members voted in favor of a similar measure. The United States vetoed that draft resolution. Tensions have also flared over the US decision to cut funding to the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).The United Nations granted Palestine the status of a non-member observer state in 1992, but an upgrade to full membership would require unanimous backing from the Security Council -- an unlikely outcome, given the near-certainty of a U.S. veto.

West Bank settlers grew twice the rate of Israel’s overall population last year
The Associated Press, Jerusalem/Tuesday, 20 February 2018/The number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank grew at nearly twice the rate of Israel’s overall population last year, a settler leader said Monday, predicting that settlement growth would surge even more in the coming years thanks in part to the Trump presidency. Yaakov Katz said that President Donald Trump, backed by a Mideast team dominated by settler supporters, has created a friendly new atmosphere conducive to settlement growth after eight contentious years with the Obama White House. “This is the first time, after years, that we are surrounded by people who really like us, love us, and they are not trying to be objective,” Katz said. “We have to thank God he sent Trump to be president of the United States.” Katz is founder of “West Bank Jewish Population Stats,” a report sponsored by “Bet El Institutions,” a prominent settler organization that has ties to Trump’s closest Mideast advisers. He said the figures are based on official data from the Israeli Interior Ministry not yet available to the public. According to his figures, the West Bank settler population reached 435,159 as of Jan. 1, up 3.4 percent from 420,899 a year earlier. The settler population has grown 21.4 percent in the last five years. In comparison, Israel’s total population grew 1.8 percent to 8.743 million last year, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. Katz said the rapid growth of the settlements should put to rest the idea of a two-state solution favored by the Palestinians and most of the international community. Based on recent growth patterns, he said the West Bank settler population could approach 500,000 by the time Trump leaves office. His study did not include the more than 200,000 Israelis now living in east Jerusalem, the Palestinians’ hoped-for capital. “We are changing the map,” he said. “The idea of the two-state solution is over. It is irreversible.” The Palestinians seek the West Bank, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, for a future independent state. Israel captured the territories in the 1967 Mideast war, though it withdrew from Gaza in 2005.
Two-state solution
A string of US presidents, both Republican and Democrat, have endorsed the idea of a two-state solution and have joined the international community in opposing settlements as obstacles to peace. But after years of failed US-led peace efforts, Trump has taken a different line. He says he would support a two-state solution only if both sides agree to it. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s nationalist coalition is dominated by settler allies who oppose Palestinian independence. Trump also has taken a softer stance toward the settlements, urging restraint at times but avoiding the strong condemnations of his predecessors. His ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is a former president of Bet El Institutions. His chief Mideast adviser, son-in-law Jared Kushner, has donated to the group, and even Trump once sent a donation. These deep ties to the settlements have helped fuel Palestinian suspicions of the White House. Those suspicions deepened after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December, prompting the Palestinians to say the US can no longer be an honest Mideast broker. Trump’s team has been working on a peace proposal, though it is not clear when it will be released. Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said the figures reflect an Israeli policy of building settlements to destroy the two-state solution. He said Trump’s muted response encourages more settlement building. “What is required of the world, including the American administration, is to condemn the settlements as illegitimate and illegal and to recognize the principle of two states on the 1967 borders,” he said. “if they want to keep hope in any future peace process, they must stop these plans.”Brian Reeves, spokesman for Peace Now, an anti-settlement monitoring group, said it could not corroborate Katz’s figures but that they are in the “ballpark” of its own estimates. Katz said the settlement growth has been fueled both by natural growth of the population, which is heavily religious and tends to have larger families, as well as the attraction of cheaper housing in the West Bank.
He predicted even faster growth in the coming years, claiming that the Trump White House has given Netanyahu a “green light” to advance construction. “Bibi is less afraid of what the president will say about him,” he said. “We are very, very, very happy with the Trump administration.”

Larijani Accuses Ahmadinejad of 'Treason' for Attacking the Regime
London- Asharq al-Awsat/February 20/18/Head of Iranian judiciary, Sadiq Larijani, criticized former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his recent statement against Iran's Religious Leader Ali Khamenei. Ahmedinejad accused Khamenei of betraying the revolution to subvert the regime by trying to evade judicial rulings issued against him. Without naming him, Larijani asked Ahmadinejad to resort to legal methods to challenge verdicts issued against him. Ahmadinejad criticized Khamenei for his direct role in appointing Larijani. The president of the judiciary is not accountable to the government or parliament because according to the Iranian constitution, the Religious Leader is the only person who can hold the Head of Iranian judiciary accountable. "To whom we complain, even the leader says that Larijani cannot be held accountable for the judiciary and says he is not interfering in his work," Ahmadinejad said earlier. Last week Ahmadinejad said in a statement posted on his website that brothers Ali and Sadiq Larijani, presiding the judiciary and the parliament, are seeking to attain the positions of supreme leader and president. Larijani accused the former Iranian president of attacking the judiciary, regime and Religious Leader after judicial rulings that were not in his favor. He called on Ahmedinejad to resort to courts to protest the verdicts. Larijani indicated: "We do not say that the judiciary is not subject to criticism, but vandalism is different than criticism." He pointed out that those who "destroy the regime are betraying Islam and revolution." Larijani asked officials on the Ahmedinejad case to "stand firm and pursue the legal process". He also said that the judiciary system will publish some details about the accusations against Ahmadinejad later. Larijani warned of "Western attempts, especially the US and its regional allies" of infiltrating into Iran. Based on these warnings, Larijani revealed a new approach of the Iranian judiciary in attempts to contain civil activists when he warned against "espionage under the guise of civil activity."
Last week, following the controversy over the death of environmental activist and sociology professor Kavous Seyed Emami, Iranian authorities announced that he had been detained by Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) intelligence for spying on Iran's missile activities.
The death of Emami at the Evin prison sparked controversy in Iran, where parliamentarians called for an investigation into the circumstances of his death. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced that three officials had been assigned to investigate the case. Tehran's prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi criticized reports doubting the "suicide" of Emami. "The Revolutionary Guard cannot be held accountable for the case of Emami," Deputy Speaker Ali Mutahri said on Saturday. Former chief of staff Hassan Firouzabadi said the arrests of environmental activists happened because they sent samples of lizards in Iran. "We found out that their skin attracts atomic waves and that they were nuclear spies who wanted to find out where inside the Islamic Republic of Iran we have uranium mines and where we are engaged in atomic activities," he claimed. Political activist Saeed Hajarian criticized Firouzabadi saying he does not know the most basic security standards because he provides an excuse for the West and Israel that Iran is carrying out nuclear activities in the deserts of central Iran, including nuclear tests.

'We will level Tel Aviv to the ground' senior Iranian official warns Israel
"The US and Israeli leaders don’t know Iran and don’t understand the power of resistance and therefore, they continuously face defeat."
Juliane Helmhold/Jerusalem Post/February 20/ 2018/ Any attacks carried out against Iran will result in the destruction of Tel Aviv, Mohsen Rezaei, secretary of Iran's Expediency Council, warned Israel on Monday, according to the Fars News Agency.Quoted by Iran's semi-official government news site, Rezaei, in response to Netanyahu's comments at the Munich Security Conference, asserted that "If they [Israel] carry out the slightest unwise move against Iran, we will level Tel Aviv to the ground and will not give any opportunity to Netanyahu to flee." "The US and Israeli leaders don't know Iran and don't understand the power of resistance and therefore, they continuously face defeat," he was quoted as saying in an interview with Lebanese Hezbollah-affiliated Al Manar News. "Today, the situation of the US and Israel indicate their fear of the Zionist regime's collapse and the US decline," he added in the interview.
Israel came in direct conflict with Iran on February 10, when an IAF attack helicopter shot down an Iranian operated drone, and later took out its command center in Syria.According to the Iranian Mehr News Agency, Rezaei also highlighted that, while it is true that Iran supports what it calls the "Resistance Front" which stretches from Tehran to Gaza, the regime does not interfere in the Palestinian Territories and Lebanon but merely offers advisory help. He added that Iran never wants to dominate the countries in the region, it wants them to stand on their own feet. Rezaei's pointed comments came in response to Netanyahu's speech at the Munich Security Conference on Sunday where the Israeli prime minister warned Iran, "not to test Israel's resolve." Netanyahu said at the conference, which was attended by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, that Israel "will act not just against Iran's proxies that are attacking us, but against Iran itself." Commenting on the Islamic Republic's influence in region, Netanyahu emphasized that through nefarious moves in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Gaza, Iran is trying to change the status quo. If they do change the status quo, he said, the rule he will follow is one established by the early Zionists when dealing with problems: "They said nip things in the bud, stop them before they get big. That's basically what our policy is." Zarif, who addressed the conference later in the day, dismissed Netanyahu's presentation as a "cartoonish circus, which does not even deserve a response."
Lavrov issues rare rebuke of Iran for calling for Israel's destruction
"We have stated many times that we won’t accept the statements that Israel, as a Zionist state, should be destroyed and wiped off the map."
By Herb Keinon//Jerusalem Post/February 20/ 2018/Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov chastised Iran on Monday for calling for Israel’s destruction during a panel discussion in Moscow where Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was sitting with him on the dais. “We have stated many times that we won’t accept the statements that Israel, as a Zionist state, should be destroyed and wiped off the map. I believe this is an absolutely wrong way to advance one’s own interests,” Lavrov said in Moscow at the Valdai International Discussion Club conference entitled “Russia in the Middle East: Playing on All Fields.”The two-day conference brought together heads of think-tanks throughout the Middle East, from Libya to Iran, including Dore Gold, head of the Jerusalem Center of Public Affairs, and Amos Yadlin, who heads the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. Gold, a former director-general of the foreign ministry, was in the audience for Lavrov’s statement, and deemed it – being said in the presence of Zarif – as very significant, “because it is blatant criticism by the foreign minister of Russia of their Iranian ally.” Asked how Zarif responded, Gold said the Iranian diplomat just smiled, adding that, “he is very good at smiling.”“By the same token” Lavrov continued, “we oppose attempts to view any regional problem through the prism of fighting Iran.” According to Lavrov, the US position on issues such as Syria, Yemen, and “even the latest developments around the Palestinian issue – including Washington’s announcement of its decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital – are largely motivated by this anti-Iranian stance.”Zarif, in his comments, referred to last week’s incident on the northern border where the incursion of an Iranian drone led Israel to shoot it down and attack Syrian and Iranian installations inside Syria. An Israeli F16 was shot down during those attacks. “Israel has violated Syrian sovereignty. So for the first time in 36 years, Syrian defense forces managed to bring down an Israeli plane. Is this a catastrophe? Is this a strategic complication, or is the fact that Israel violated the airspace of a sovereign state a strategic catastrophe?” Zarif asked. He continued: “Israel has to put a stop to its aggression. Don’t look for excuses, such as drones. We need to stop this aggression, and if anyone takes such an action against another country, it is possible to react.”On Sunday at the Munich Security Conference, which Zarif also attended, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu displayed a piece of the downed drone and confirmed that Iran has been denying that it sent the unmanned aerial vehicle. “Well, here’s a piece of that Iranian drone, or what’s left of it after we shot it down,” Netanyahu said. “I brought it here so you can see for yourself. Mr. Zarif, do you recognize this? You should – it’s yours.”

UN issues blank statement on Syria, says it has run out of words
Reuters/Jerusalem Post/February 20/ 2018/GENEVA - The UN children's fund UNICEF issued a blank "statement" on Tuesday to express its outrage at mass casualties among Syrian children in the besieged enclave of Eastern Ghouta and neighbouring Damascus. "No words will do justice to the children killed, their mothers, their fathers and their loved ones," the release from UNICEF's regional director Geert Cappalaere began.There followed 10 empty lines with quote marks indicating missing text, and an explanatory footnote."UNICEF is issuing this blank statement. We no longer have the words to describe children’s suffering and our outrage," it said. "Do those inflicting the suffering still have words to justify their barbaric acts?"Forces loyal to President Bashar Assad have been besieging almost 400,000 civilians trapped inside Eastern Ghouta for years, but the siege has tightened this year and attacks on the enclave have intensified. Siege tactics and indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas contravene the internationally-agreed "rules of war". Pro-government forces carried out air raids on Eastern Ghouta overnight on Monday and early on Tuesday, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. More than 100 people were killed in air raids, rocket strikes and shelling of the area on Monday, it added.
Abbas in Direct Confrontation with Washington at Security Council
Ramallah- Kifah Zboun/ Asharq al-Awsat/February 20/18/Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will be directly confronting the United States today at the UN Security Council, when he will declare, once again, that he would not accept Washington as a mediator in any peace negotiations.
Despite pressure exerted on Abbas - by his friends in Washington and officials from the former US Administration - to soften his tone towards their country, and attempts to convince him that it was still possible to make peace sponsored by Washington, the Palestinian president did to relax or amend his rhetoric. Sources close to the matter told Asharq Al-Awsat that Abbas’ speech on Tuesday before the Security Council will be a direct blow to Trump’s administration. They added that the speech, which was subject to many amendments, would emphasize that Jerusalem was the key to peace in the region and a natural right for Palestinians, Muslims and Christians. Abbas will again stress that neither the US nor any other country had the right to determine the fate of the city and get it out of the negotiating table, like other files, including refugees. But the Palestinian president is not only targeting the United States in his speech but wants to embarrass the Security Council itself by recalling its previous resolutions. In this regard, he will request the establishment of a Palestinian State and will reiterate the need to implement the UN Security Council resolution that calls for a two-state solution, according to the Palestinian representative to the UN, Ambassador Riad Mansour. Abbas’ speech comes amid heated tension with Washington after the US president’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Abbas arrived in New York on Monday to deliver his speech at the special session of the UN Security Council. Fatah Movement has asked Palestinians to watch Abbas’ important speech at 5 o’clock Jerusalem time. The movement says Abbas has proved to be an exceptional leader who said “no” to the United States.

Saudi FM: Qatar is Spreading Hatred and Terrorism
Asharq al-Awsat/February 20/18/Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir stated on Tuesday that Qatar had still not altered its behavior and is still supporting terrorism. He said from Vienna: “Qatar is spreading hatred and terrorism and it is doing so in several countries.”He made his remarks after meeting his Austrian counterpart Karin Kneissl. “If Qatar stops financing and supporting terrorism, then the boycotting countries will be ready to resume normal ties with it,” continued the Saudi minister. Turning to Yemen, Jubeir said that the Kingdom was exerting the greatest possible efforts to make progress there. To that end, he highlighted Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates’ announcement of the comprehensive humanitarian plan for the war-torn country. “Yemen is a neighboring country and we are working on improving the situation there. We also support the mission of United Nations envoy to Yemen,” he added. He stressed that the majority of Yemeni territory has been recaptured from the Iranian-backed Houthi militias, blaming it for the deterioration of conditions in several regions. The Houthis must also be held responsible for recruiting child fighters, targeting civilians and committing several violations, including firing ballistic missiles towards Saudi Arabia, Jubeir said. For her part, Kneissl described as “solid” ties Vienna enjoys with Riyadh.

Resumption of Russia Flights to Egypt Postponed
Asharq al-Awsat/February 20/18/The resumption of flights from Russia to Egypt has been postponed to April, Cairo airport officials said on Tuesday. They blamed the postponement on delays in reopening offices of the countries' national airlines. The officials explained that modern baggage-scanning equipment has been installed and Russian security men will be allowed to oversee operations in Cairo as part of the reopening of the route, initially planned for February. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to talk to reporters. Moscow suspended flights to Egypt after the crash of a Russian airliner over Sinai in October 2015, killing all 224 people on board. President Vladimir Putin on a visit to Cairo in December said the deal on the resumption of flights could be signed "in the nearest time."
Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 20-21/18
Palestinians: Hamas and Fatah - United against Trump

Khaled Abu Toameh/Gatestone Institute/February 20/18
The two rival parties, Fatah and Hamas, are prepared to lay aside their differences and work together to foil US President Donald Trump's plan for peace in the Middle East, the details of which remain unknown. Thwarting Trump's peace plan has become a top priority.
Although the details of the Trump plan still have not been made public, Palestinians across the political spectrum say they will never accept any peace initiative presented by the Trump administration.
The Palestinians know that no US peace plan would comply with their demands. Abbas's Fatah is demanding 100% of the territories Israel secured in 1967, namely the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Hamas, for its part, is demanding 100% of everything, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. As Hamas leaders repeatedly affirm, the goal is to "liberate all of Palestine," meaning all of Israel.
Hamas and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's ruling Fatah faction are continuing to contest control of the Gaza Strip.
However, the two rival parties are prepared to lay aside their differences and work together to foil US President Donald Trump's plan for peace in the Middle East, the details of which remain unknown.
Thwarting Trump's peace plan has become a top priority for Hamas and Fatah. This is a mission that seems to be much more important than alleviating the suffering of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, where 65% of families live under the poverty line.
Although the details of the Trump plan still have not been made public, Palestinians across the political spectrum say they will never accept any peace initiative presented by the Trump administration. Whatever the peace plan will be, the answer is No.
In the eyes of the Palestinian leaders, the US administration has shown unprecedented "hostility" towards the Palestinians.
The Palestinians are not only voicing strong opposition to Trump's plan, which is known as the "deal of the century." Hamas and Fatah are now saying that they will do their utmost to thwart it.
They say they see the plan as being as a "conspiracy aimed at eliminating the Palestinian cause and national rights." It is not clear why the Palestinians are opposed to a plan the details of which have not yet been made public.
The Palestinian rejection to the plan is evidently based on unconfirmed media reports and rumors.
In any event, the Palestinians know that no US peace plan would comply with their demands.
Abbas's Fatah is demanding 100% of the territories Israel secured in 1967, namely the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
Hamas, for its part, is demanding 100% of everything, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. As Hamas leaders repeatedly affirm, the goal is to "liberate all of Palestine," meaning all of Israel.
The Palestinians have not presented precisely how they intend to foil Trump's plan, if and when it is made public. At the very least, street protests and strong condemnations of the US, Israel and any Arab country that accepts the peace plan can be expected.
Hamas and Fatah, however, are still quarreling over the "reconciliation" agreement they signed in Cairo in November 2017.
According to Hamas, the agreement has failed because of Abbas's refusal to lift the sanctions he imposed on the Gaza Strip last year.
The sanctions include the forced retirement of thousands of Palestinian Authority civil servants and the suspension of social assistance to hundreds of families. In addition, Abbas has refused to pay Israel for electricity and fuel supplies to the Gaza Strip.
Turning the tables, however, Abbas and his government hold Hamas responsible for hindering the implementation of the "reconciliation" accord, which was achieved under the auspices of Egypt.
Hamas's refusal to disarm and cede military and political control of the Gaza Strip is the main obstacle threatening to sabotage the agreement, they charge.
Evidently, Hamas and Fatah care more about their wrangling for power than about the well-being of their people in the Gaza Strip.
The arm-twisting between the two rival parties is spurring intense suffering in the Gaza Strip, where a number of hospitals have been forced to close down as a result of severe shortage in medicine and generator fuel.
While Fatah and Hamas are continuing to hurl abuses at each other, however, they see eye to eye on the issue of Trump's "deal of the century."
Hamas and Fatah are willing to support each other and join forces in the war on the US administration's plan.
Former Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal has gone so far as to praise Abbas for his staunch opposition to the "deal of the century." The former Hamas leader said that his movement would even support Abbas in a standoff with the US administration.
In statements published on February 17, Mashaal said that Abbas was "the strongest party that is obstructing" Trump's plan. The Palestinians, Mashaal added, will be the only ones to stand against the plan.
Mashaal said that he was even prepared to forgive Abbas for punishing the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip -- all for the sake of thwarting the US peace plan.
"In spite of the measures he's imposing against the Gaza Strip and Hamas, the best solution would be to support Abbas in his opposition to the plan," he said. "Trump's 'deal of the century' won't pass as long as the Palestinians categorically reject it."
Mashaal's remarks echo those of Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other radical Palestinian groups that have also emphasized that Trump's peace plan "won't pass." His remarks are also compatible with those made by Abbas and Fatah, who in the past few weeks have used every platform to express their rejection of the plan.
Take, for example, a recent statement issued by Fatah regarding the plan:
"Without Palestinian compliance, the 'deal of the century' won't pass. The Palestinians reject it. They (the Trump administration) won't find one Arab who will agree to betray Jerusalem and the Palestinian people."
In recent weeks, Abbas himself has also come out against Trump's plan – a move that has clearly earned him the backing of the former Hamas leader. Abbas says that he sees the plan as an attempt by the US administration to "impose dictates" on the Palestinians.
"We don't take instructions from anyone," Abbas was quoted as saying. " We have said 'no' to Trump and we won't accept his plan. We say 'no' and 1,000'no-s' when it comes to our fate, cause and people. We don't accept the US as a broker between us and Israel."
The Palestinian patients in the Gaza Strip who are dying for lack of proper medical treatment care little about Trump -- or about any peace plan. Neither do the thousands of employees who have been deprived of their salaries or the students who are unable to leave the Gaza Strip because of the continued closure (by Egypt) of the Rafah border crossing. For them, this is a battle of survival.
Hamas and Fatah leaders, meanwhile, are engaged in a rather different battle of survival: that of their leaders to retain their power.
They are prepared to continue fighting each other to the last Palestinian. It may be true that the Egyptians, in the "reconciliation" their brokered, failed to achieve Palestinian unity. The Trump administration has apparently succeeded where the Egyptians failed: in uniting Hamas and Fatah against an initiative for peace.
*Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist, is based in Jerusalem.
© 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.

Macron and Islam: "Appeasement and Dialogue"
Yves Mamou/Gatestone Institute/February 20/18
When French President Emanuel Macron recently said that "We are working on the structuring of Islam in France," it was only one part of a message, to prepare Muslims and non-Muslims for the big project: transforming Islam in France into the Islam of France.
Prison guards tried to explain that every day, their lives are in danger. In late January when the strike ended, Macron said privately that the danger was not radicalized Muslim prisoners but radicalized guards, and claimed that one of the main unions for prison guards had become "infiltrated" by undercover militants from the right-wing Front National party.
When US President Donald Trump announce the transfer of the American Embassy from Tel Aviv in Jerusalem, Macron immediately tweeted, "France does not approve the US decision. France supports the two-state solution, Israel and Palestine, living in peace and security with Jerusalem as the capital of the two states. We need to focus on appeasement and dialogue." The last sentence is a resumé of Macron's Islam policy: appeasement and dialogue -- in other words, submission.
During Emmanuel Macron's election campaign, and even after he became president, he carefully avoided France's two most dodgy topics: migrants and Islam. It did not take long, however, before Macron found himself caught up in both of them.
On February 11, 2018, however, Macron gave an interview to Journal du Dimanche: "We are working on the structuring of Islam in France and also on how to explain it, which is extremely important," Macron told the French weekly newspaper. Of course, nothing significant came out of the interview; it was only one part of a message, to prepare Muslims and non-Muslims for the big project: transforming Islam in France into the Islam of France. Although its contents are still unclear, the frame is usually the same: Muslims are supposedly victims, and a reform of France is necessary to make them peaceful and happy.
One wonders if the Islam of France will be really different from what it is today.
With Islam, an unbridled anti-Semitism in France has continued to soar. On January 29, 2018, an 8-year-old Jewish boy wearing a Jewish skullcap was attacked in the suburb of Sarcelles, near Paris. For a long time, Sarcelles was a suburb where Jews and Muslims once lived peacefully side by side. That has changed. In 2014, a pro-Palestinian demonstration escalated into an anti-Jewish pogrom, complete with shops burned and civilians attacked. On January 10, 2018, also in Sarcelles , an unidentified assailant armed with a knife slashed the face of a 15-year-old Jewish girl. On January 9, in the suburb of Creteil, a kosher grocery store that had been covered with swastikas days earlier was gutted in a fire. The police said they suspected arson.
Macron reacted strongly against the anti-Jewish violence. "It's the republic that is attacked," he said. Like all presidents before him, he took great care not to name the Islamist attacker.
In France, small groups of Muslims and Salafists have undertaken ethnically to purify territories that they see as their own. Every time an area is shared with Jews, the violence against them builds up. Between 30,000 and 60,000 Jews have already migrated from their homes -- generally in the eastern suburbs of Paris -- to other, safer parts of Paris.
As for asylum seekers, in 1981, there were 20,000 asylum seekers in France. In 2017, the number of economic migrants disguised as "asylum seekers" reached a historic mark of 100,000, announced the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (OFPRA) on January 8, 2018. That 100,000 represents an increase of 17% from the year before.
As the government seems unable to control the situation, violence is soaring. On February 1, 2018, extremely violent clashes between Afghan and African migrants broke out in several parts of the coastal city of Calais, where a growing number of migrants go to try to cross the Channel to Great Britain. Twenty-two people were injured, four of them by gunfire. Those four are still in hospital and still in critical condition. The Minister of the Interior Gérard Collomb deplored "a degree of violence never seen before" in modern France.
Macron now knows that he will have to confront the issue of Islam and migrants. Since his election, he has had access to sensitive, disorienting information. Collomb has informed him about the state of the terrorist threat and the radicalization of young Muslims, aged 15-25 (25% of the Muslim population), who say they want to establish sharia law in France. Macron, apparently, is hesitating.
In December 2017, he delayed a speech he was about to deliver on the coexistence between the secular Republic and "monotheistic religions". Instead, Macron brought representatives of the six main religions (Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist) for a "nearly two hour" meeting, assisted by Collomb and Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer, in the president's Elysée Palace. Part of what was discussed has filtered out. Macron evidently reaffirmed that the "Republic is secular" but that "society does not have to be secular". In other words, in society, all religions must feel free to express themselves. Macron also said that he will be "vigilant" against an eventual "radicalization of secularism".
None of the clerics around the president pointed out that secularism has never killed anyone, while since 2015, Islamist terrorism has seen the murder of hundreds of citizens.
In January 2018, when a protest by prison guards erupted, the government was taken by surprise. For two weeks, television and radio airwaves were filled with testimonies about the terror that Islamist detainees were sowing throughout the whole prison system. Prison guards tried to explain that every day their lives are in danger.
In late January, when the strike ended, Macron said privately that the danger was not radicalized Muslim prisoners but radicalized guards. One of the main unions for prison guards, according to him, had become "infiltrated" by undercover militants from the right-wing Front National party. French politicians, as usual, mistake the effect for the cause. If prison guards are joining Front National, it is probably because they feel abandoned by politicians who are not doing their essential work: keeping dangerous people away from society.
Another headache for Macron are the 1,500 French jihadists who reached ISIS in Syria: what France should do about them. On December 9, 2017, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, disclosed that 500 French fighters who had joined the Islamic State were still in the Iraqi-Syrian area. In late December, 30 were arrested in northern Syria. Among them was Thomas Barnouin, a convert to Islam and close to Mohamed Merah, the killer of seven French citizens in 2012, and Emilie König, who recruited jihadists for ISIS. Many of these Frenchmen were requesting to be tried in France: in Iraq and Syria they would risk the death penalty.
Macron, apparently, is hesitating. In November 2017, he had declared on Channel 2 that the situation of jihadi women and children would be examined "on a case-by-case basis". He had sad that most of them would receive a humanitarian treatment; not be brought to court, and that jihadi women would receive "medical and psychiatric treatment." This "case by case" treatment -- no court, no prison, but medical care as well as money for gradual social rehabilitation -- is a solution that could in the end be worth it for all the French jihadists arrested in Iraq and Syria" the French daily Ouest-France explained.
In January 2018, the French Minister of Justice issued a public statement: "We will not let 'death penalty sentences' against French jihadists by Iraqis happen in Syrian courts". Maybe these killers will next be considered victims of intolerance by the discriminatory French.
On the diplomatic level, at first glance, Macron adopted a tough stance against "Islamic terrorism". In August 2017, in front of all of France's ambassadors, he said, "The fight against Islamist terrorism" must be "the first" priority, to "ensure the safety of our fellow citizens".
This martial announcement, however, targeted only ISIS, by now almost defeated. When a few Islamic states such as Turkey behaved like terrorist states, the official tone of the French president varied significantly. When Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan launched a military offensive against the Kurds in Afrin (in Syrian Kurdistan), Macron immediately distanced himself from the Kurds. He considered publicly as "potential terrorists" these Kurdish Peshmergas whom the French military had been training in Iraq to fight ISIS.
The reason for this betrayal could well be the important Turkish population in France (between half a million and 800,000) as well as the growing influence inside the French Turkish population of a Muslim Turkish party, the Parti Egalité Justice ("Equality and Justice Party," PEJ). The PEJ is the French element of a network of political parties built by Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), to influence each country in Europe, and to influence Europe as a whole through its Muslim population.
Recently, in Lyon, large numbers of Turkish Islamists demonstrated in front of the city hall to support Erdogan's war against the Kurds, while pro-Kurdish demonstrators were blocked by the police.
Macron seems to ignore that each Islamist victory in the Middle East has a euphoric effect on French jihadists (Turkish and non-Turkish) and brings them out of the woodwork.
Regarding Israel and the Palestinians, Macron seems to be positioning himself along the traditional arc of French diplomacy: "appeasement" resulting from the strong Muslim population living in France. When US President Donald Trump announced the transfer of the American Embassy from Tel Aviv in Jerusalem, Macron immediately tweeted:
"France does not approve the US decision. France supports the two-state solution, Israel and Palestine, living in peace and security, with Jerusalem as the capital of the two states. We need to focus on appeasement and dialogue."
The last sentence is a resumé of all Macron's Islam policy: appeasement and dialogue -- in other words, submission.
Like his predecessors, Macron is on his way to search for an imaginary amicable solution. Like his predecessors, he will fail -- and will have been president for nothing.
*Yves Mamou, author and journalist, based in France, worked for two decades as a journalist for Le Monde. He is completing a book, "Collaborators and Useful Idiots of Islamism in France," to be published in 2018.
© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

The Spy Masters' Case Against Huawei Is Flimsy
Leonid Bershidsky/Bloomberg/February 20/2018
The US government's persistent dislike of Chinese smartphone makers Huawei and ZTE surfaced again this week at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, with six intelligence community chiefs testifying that they would advise Amercians not to buy these companies' products for security reasons. There's even a Republican-sponsored bill in Congress to prohibit the government from using any Huawei or ZTE equipment. Huawei's latest attempt to break through to the carrier-dominated US market failed earlier this year as AT&T abruptly canceled a planned deal -- possibly after coming under political pressure.
US consumers should treat these warnings more as politicking and thinly veiled protectionism rather than concern for the security of their communications. There are three reasons to be skeptical of the warnings.
The first one is technical. Spyware included in apps or operating systems is relatively easy to detect, and if the Chinese government decided to spy on Americans through, say, Huawei phones, there's a good chance cybersecurity experts, or even the US spy agencies themselves, would have discovered the exploits and told the general public. Of greater concern are so-called "out-of-band" exploits sewn into the firmware of various phone components or even hardwired into them. These can remain undetected for years, like the recently discovered Spectre and Meltdown flaws -- unintentional, it seems -- in pretty much all modern processors, which spies, Chinese and otherwise, could have exploited, for all we know.
There's not a mobile phone today that doesn't use at least some Chinese-made components. If a Chinese government mass surveillance plan existed, it wouldn't rely just on Chinese-owned handset makers -- it would also exploit Apple, Samsung and other phones. For all we know, China -- and the US , and the UK, where some widespread chipsets are designed -- already do that. If you're paranoid about it, throw away your mobile phone whatever the brand.
The second reason has to do with the selectiveness of the warnings. The US government has been after Huawei and ZTE since 2011, when the House Intelligence Committee began an investigation of these two firms as telecommunications equipment suppliers. It ultimately found their cooperation with the Chinese authorities suspicious, though no specific backdoors in the equipment were discovered. Since the damaging report came out, however, Lenovo, a Chinese firm, acquired Chicago-based Motorola Mobility from Google -- and, despite periodic noises from the Pentagon as well as US and allied intelligence agencies that Lenovo devices pose a security risk, there is no visible pressure on carriers to stop selling Lenovo and Motorola phones. In the last three months of 2017, Lenovo held a 4.1 percent share of smartphone unit shipments in the US , compared with 0.3 percent for Huawei, which has only been selling unlocked phones.
Motorola is a venerable US name, and, despite massive staff cuts in the US since the Lenovo deal, it's still technically a US company. Protectionist instincts are the only logical reason it's not lumped with Huawei and ZTE.
The third reason to be skeptical is that Huawei and ZTE are under no pressure in Europe. In the last quarter of 2017, the company was the third biggest smartphone seller by volume in Western Europe after Samsung and Apple, achieving a 13.5 percent market share. Without the need to protect domestic smartphone makers -- there aren't any to speak of -- privacy-obsessed European countries are fine with both US and Chinese suppliers, though if they found out with any certainty that either spied on them, consumers would be upset. This is similar to the situation in antivirus software, where the US government bans Russian-developed Kaspersky products on its networks but most EU governments (the U.K. is a notable exception) remain agnostic about their danger, using Russian and American security solutions alike.
Stephanie Pell of West Point and Christopher Soghoian of the American Civil Liberties Union succinctly explained the political side of the Huawei/ZTE case in a 2014 paper dealing with phone surveillance:
The companies that made the mistrusted products are Chinese and thus subject to ready and politically safe (indeed, politically rewarding) demonization by the intelligence community and their allies in Congress. Moreover, the national security threat posed by Chinese government exploitation of backdoors in Chinese telephony equipment, unlike many other threats, offered the inherent political benefit of being legally amenable to public discussion without putting any US government intelligence sources and methods at risk.
Now, however, Lenovo's different treatment adds to this the element of market protection. There is no reason why the American smartphone market should look different from the global one, in which Huawei is, like in Europe, the number three brand with a 7.9 percent share of unit shipments. The reason the Chinese company has achieved this enviable position is that it sells reliable, well-designed phones with top specifications -- some of them unique, such as embedded Leica cameras -- significantly cheaper than the competition. The flagship Mate 10 Pro sells for $799 unlocked on Amazon, compared with at least $1,100 for an iPhone X. Consumers will be free to judge for themselves, but this looks a lot more like market competition than a Chinese effort to infiltrate the US and steal Americans' private messages and jogging data. Not even China does that with US phone brands such as Apple, although it could easily cite similar concerns.

'It's not a war. It's a massacre': scores killed in Syrian enclave
مجزرة في الغوطة الشرقية وليست حرباً

Kareem Shaheen in Istanbul/The Guardian/February 20/18
Aid groups warn situation in eastern Ghouta could unfold into worst atrocity of war so far
Almost 200 civilians have been killed in dozens of airstrikes and shelling by forces loyal to Syria’s Bashar al-Assad in eastern Ghouta over two days of “hysterical violence”, which has led to warnings of a humanitarian catastrophe that could eclipse past atrocities in the seven-year war.
The surge in the killing in the besieged region came amid reports of an impending regime incursion into the area outside Damascus, which is home to 400,000 civilians. More than 700 people have been killed in three months, according to local counts, not including the deaths in the last week.
This is eastern Ghouta, where hundreds are being killed and injured by Assad's forces. Amnesty International said “flagrant war crimes” were being committed in eastern Ghouta on an “epic scale.”
Diana Semaan, the charity’s Syria researcher, said: “People have not only been suffering a cruel siege for the past six years, they are now trapped in a daily barrage of attacks that are deliberately killing and maiming them, and that constitute flagrant war crimes.”Seven hospitals have also been bombed since Monday morning in eastern Ghouta, which was once the breadbasket of Damascus but has been under siege for years by the Assad government and subjected to devastating chemical attacks. Two hospitals suspended operations and one has been put out of service.
“We are standing before the massacre of the 21st century,” said a doctor in eastern Ghouta. “If the massacre of the 1990s was Srebrenica, and the massacres of the 1980s were Halabja and Sabra and Shatila, then eastern Ghouta is the massacre of this century right now.”
He added: “A little while ago a child came to me who was blue in the face and barely breathing, his mouth filled with sand. I emptied it with my hands. I don’t think they had what we do in any of the medical textbooks. A wounded child breathing with lungs of sand. You get a child, a year old, that they saved from the rubble and is breathing sand, and you don’t know who he is.
“All these humanitarian and rights organisations, all that is nonsense. So is terrorism. What is a greater terrorism than killing civilians with all sorts of weapons? Is this a war? It’s not a war. It’s called a massacre.”
The Syrian civil defense, a search and rescue organisation, said 61 people were killed on Tuesday alone, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitor, said 194 people had died in the last 48 hours– a toll that encapsulated the unbridled violence of the war in Syria. After seven years and interventions by regional and global powers, the humanitarian crisis has heightened instead of abating, as forces loyal to Assad’s regime and his Russian and Iranian backers seek an outright military victory instead of a negotiated political settlement.
Exact death tolls were difficult to obtain owing to ongoing rescue operations and because some families buried their dead without taking them to local hospitals.
Rebel groups responded with a wave of artillery bombardment targeting Damascus, killing 12 people and wounding 50 in government-controlled areas, according to the Observatory.
Aid workers said the latest violence in eastern Ghouta, where 1,300 people died in 2013 after the Assad regime deployed sarin gas, has included the use of notorious barrel bombs. The weapons are so inaccurate that their use is seen as a war crime by human rights watchdogs. The regime has also used fighter jets and artillery bombardment, on top of the punishing siege.
“The situation in eastern Ghouta is akin to the day of judgment,” said Mounir Mustafa, the deputy director of the White Helmets, the volunteer group that rescues people from under the rubble of bombed buildings.
The White Helmets said one of its volunteers, Firas Juma, died on Monday while responding to a bombing.
In Geneva, the UN children’s fund issued a blank “statement” to express its outrage at the casualties among Syrian children, saying it had run out of words.
Medical organisations said at least five clinics and hospitals, including a maternity centre, were bombed on Monday, some of them multiple times. An anaesthetist was killed in the attacks. Another two facilities were hit on Tuesday.
“The bombing was hysterical,” said Ahmed al-Dbis, a security official at the Union of Medical and Relief Organisations (UOSSM), which runs dozens of hospitals in areas controlled by the opposition in Syria. “It is a humanitarian catastrophe in every sense of the word. The mass killing of people who do not have the most basic tenets of life.”
Mark Schnellbaecher, the Middle East director for the International Rescue Committee, said: “Once again we are seeing civilians in Syria being killed indiscriminately. Once again we are seeing medical facilities attacked. We have long feared eastern Ghouta will see a repeat of the terrible scenes observed by the world during the fall of east Aleppo and these fears seem to be well founded.”
Sonia Khush, an official with Save the Children, described the situation as “absolutely abhorrent.”“The bombing has been relentless, and children are dying by the hour,” she said. “These families have nowhere left to run – they are boxed in and being pounded day and night.”Elsewhere in Syria on Tuesday, pro-government fighters started entering the northern Kurdish enclave of Afrin, where Turkish troops have been on the offensive for a month. The development came a day after Turkey said it would hit back at the troops if their goal was to protect the Kurdish fighters.
Syrian state media said Turkish troops fired on the pro-government militiamen, a development that risks widening an already complicated war.

Washington's Militia Problem in Syria Is an Iran Problem
Jackson Doering/The Washington Institute/February 19/18
While Assad may nominally hold reclaimed areas in the south, he will never truly control them so long as Tehran tells its militia proxies to secure that corridor for its own purposes.
For the majority of Syria's war, militias have formed an important part of Bashar al-Assad's forces. Yet while Syrian nationalist militias roughly follow the regime's priorities by fighting to protect core population centers like Damascus, Aleppo, and Hama, Iranian-backed militias tend to focus on Tehran's interests—mainly its effort to build a land bridge between Iran and Lebanon. Additionally, Iranian militias in the south are keeping the territory they conquer instead of handing it over to the regime. If Assad is still in power by war's end, he will be beholden to Iran because of his army's frequent inability to secure territory on its own. In fact, barring an unexpected shift in U.S. policy, Syria may be on the way to becoming like Lebanon under Emile Lahoud: perpetually beholden to a greater power.
Using militias became a necessity for Assad when his army shrank to a fraction of its former size within the first two years of the war. In 2013, Lebanese Hezbollah publicly acknowledged its role in fighting for the regime, while the presence of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has grown from an estimated 700 personnel to around 3,000 since the Russian intervention began in September 2015. Hezbollah and other militias have borne the brunt of conquering territory for at least the past five years, with Syrian militias mainly taking the north and west while Iranian-backed brigades focus on the south (though Hezbollah and certain other foreign factions have joined major battles in the north when needed to preserve the regime, including in Aleppo).
The Syrian militias that answer to Assad include "Qalamoun Shield" and "Shield of the Homeland." Most of their campaigns have focused on Aleppo, Idlib, the Damascus countryside, and smaller operations such as the battle for al-Qaryatain.
As for the militias that are supplied, funded, and commanded by Iran, they include Hezbollah, Liwa Fatemiyoun, Liwa Zainabiyoun, and elements from the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) such as the Imam Ali Brigade. The IRGC also has a significant presence, not so much as frontline combatants but rather as a command structure and connective tissue for Tehran's allies in Syria, including militias made up of locals (e.g., Liwa al-Imam al-Hussein, which took part in the recent Beit Jinn offensive).
Some militias occupy a middle ground—for instance, the National Defense Forces are under the Assad regime's command and follow its interests, but they are subject to significant Iranian influence as well. The NDF are currently fighting rebel forces in the opposition stronghold of Harasta northeast of Damascus.
The total number of Iranian-backed forces is difficult to estimate, and information on them is released only intermittently. In September 2017, the Times of Israel cited a Hezbollah commander claiming that the group had 10,000 fighters in southern Syria. And on January 17, 2018, an Iranian official noted that 2,000 Liwa Fatemiyoun fighters had died and 8,000 more had been injured since their arrival in Syria; other estimates place the total deaths around 865. Of course, there are political incentives for either exaggerating or downplaying casualty numbers. For example, Lebanese audiences do not like to hear that large numbers of Hezbollah soldiers are dying for an Iranian cause, even when their communities are normally sympathetic to that cause. In contrast, Iran may have reason to play up the death toll among Liwa Fatemiyoun and Zainabiyoun, perhaps assuming that it will mobilize the Afghan and Pakistani communities from which they draw their fighters (see more on this issue below).
Regarding motives, pro-Assad militias have obvious political and economic incentives to fight, as Syria is their homeland. Iranian-backed forces have more diverse motivations, concentrating on three primary objectives: (1) protecting Sayyeda Zainab, the prominent Shia shrine near Damascus, and fighting the Sunni jihadist threat before it reaches Iran; (2) keeping Assad in power as a useful but dependent client; and (3) establishing a land route across Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon in order to cultivate strategic depth and create multiple supply lines for dependent militias.
To this end, the forces under Iran's command are not particularly interested in Assad's declared goal of conquering "every inch of Syria." Liwa Fatemiyoun is motivated by a mix of ideology and carrot/stick incentives; for example, some Afghan residents of Iran can obtain full citizenship if they promise to sign up for the brigade, while others are forced to join through conscription. And while Hezbollah, the IRGC, and other Iranian forces can still be found throughout areas not immediately important to the land bridge, their efforts tend to serve the first objective of keeping Assad in power. During the December offensive in Beit Jinn, for instance, Iran's militias were present but did not focus on eliminating opposition fighters; instead, a deal was struck allowing the rebels to transfer to their last remaining northern stronghold in Idlib. Hezbollah took part in the assault as well but did not put troops on the frontline for fear of sacrificing too many for nonessential territory.
Indeed, one of the most glaring signs that Iranian-backed militias are uninterested in continuing the fight against rebel collectives like the Free Syrian Army and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham is the fact that they are increasingly withholding their forces from the frontlines. Once the regime launched its campaigns to retake the Euphrates towns of Abu Kamal and Deir al-Zour last October, few of Iran's proxies were seen around Idlib, Aleppo, Hama, or Quneitra; instead, they seemed to concentrate on actions along the M20 highway connecting Palmyra and Deir al-Zour, and along desert roads leading to the T2 pumping station.
Moreover, once the Euphrates campaigns wound down, death announcements for Hezbollah, IRGC, and Fatemiyoun fighters slowed to a trickle. Ali Alfoneh, an Atlantic Council researcher who monitors such announcements, pointed out the large reduction late last month, tweeting that only seven Hezbollah fighters had been killed in January (in comparison, his total estimate from September 2012 to mid-January 2018 was 1,214). Such numbers indicate that while militias are still willing to assist the Syrian army where necessary, they are mostly content to secure their recently conquered territories and cement Iran's land bridge through southern Syria rather than return to major operations and frontline battles in rebel strongholds such as Idlib. In a telling acknowledgment of this shift, a video released after the frontier town of Abu Kamal was retaken shows Qassem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC's Qods Force, stepping across the Iraq-Syria border and symbolically uniting the Shia communities of both countries.
This explains how Tehran's priorities could be aligned with Assad's during the Euphrates campaigns, but less so since those offensives ended. For example, in the December-January battle for the northwestern town of Abu Duhur, Iranian-backed militias served mainly as support troops instead of frontline fighters. They occasionally intervened when a Syrian army advance stalled, as seen in the northeast portion of the Abu Duhur campaign and in al-Fua. Likewise, analyst Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi noted last month that there was little evidence to indicate major Hezbollah battlefield participation in the December fight for Beit Jinn, apart from a single death announcement regarding an alleged commander. Even so, the town could become more important to Iran down the road as a potential base for harassing Israeli troops in the Golan Heights.
Meanwhile, now that the fighting in the southeast has decreased significantly, scraps of information have emerged indicating that Iranian-backed militias may be trying to embed themselves there. Various videos and photos show soldiers in Abu Kamal holding Iranian and Iraqi PMF flags alongside Syrian and Hezbollah flags. Yet the best evidence of Tehran's intentions in the southeast is the number of public appearances that Iranian and militia personnel made during the Euphrates offensives. From September to December, militias issued or appeared in multiple photos, videos, media statements, and death announcements, with the latter serving as a major source of information on their whereabouts. Similarly, brazen displays of Iran's support for its militia network and Assad appeared on social media and news broadcasts.
The Trump administration has made two high-profile announcements about Syria in the past month. On January 17, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that diminishing Iranian influence and denying Tehran's "dreams of a northern arch" were among Washington's five integral goals in the war, and that the 2,000 U.S. troops already deployed in Syria would remain there in order to further that goal. One week later, Defense Secretary James Mattis released a National Defense Strategy document that made only one reference to Syria, but correctly treated the issue as an Iranian problem, noting, "Inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security." The document did not mention militias in Syria, and the administration's overall response to that problem has been tepid at best. By reorienting U.S. defense strategy toward major power competition involving China, Russia, and the Iranian nuclear program, the administration implied that it will not prioritize a given entity unless it poses a direct threat to the homeland.
Going forward, America faces the same set of real but limited interests in Syria. The downsides of direct military action seem to outweigh the potential benefits, and many significant U.S. diplomatic posts in the region remain vacant. The administration has committed to keeping troops in Syria, but if their resources and numbers remain the same, they are unlikely to change the course of the war.
Even so, U.S. officials should realize that just because a given militia seems to act in Assad's interests, this does not necessarily mean it is beholden to the regime indefinitely. Most of the militias inside Syria have additional benefactors besides Damascus and will align their actions accordingly. Most important, Iranian-backed forces will follow Tehran's emphasis on securing a corridor to the Mediterranean Sea. Therefore, while Assad may nominally hold the reclaimed territory in the southeast and southwest, he will never truly control it so long as Iran's interests require those lands.
**Jackson Doering is a former research assistant at The Washington Institute.