January 26/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations
When you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty

Luke 17/01-10: "Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So watch yourselves. “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you. “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’?  Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do?  So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’"

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on January 25-26/18
British government under pressure to impose total ban on Hezbollah/Oliver Cuthbert & Richard Wachman/Arab News/January 26/18
Lebanon expects tougher US action on banking sector to curb Hezbollah funding/Najia Houssari/Arab News/January 26/18
In Lebanon, the military sends out an aggressive message about censorship/Michael Young/The National/January 24/2018
TWI Expert Hanin Ghaddar, Sentenced to Prison by Lebanese Court, Receives Global Media Coverage, Outpouring of Support from Free-Speech Groups/Washington Institute/January 24/2018
Turkey: Targeting Kurds In Syria Making Turkey Feel Imperial Again/Burak Bekdil/Gatestone Institute/January 25/2018
Germany: Return of the Stasi Police State/Judith Bergman/Gatestone Institute/January 25/2018
Time for Jordan's King Abdullah to Stop Tolerating Genocide from Temple Mount/Dexter Van Zile/Gatestone Institute/January 25/2018
How to Manipulate Migration Data? Take Belgium/Alain Destexhe/Gatestone Institute/January 25/2018
Trump and the American Soft Power/Albert R. Hunt/Bloomberg/January 25/2018
Davos Warms to Trumponomics/Ferdinando Giugliano/Bloomberg/January 25/2018
How Can Saudi Arabia and Egypt Help Confront Toxic Ideologies/Joseph Braude and Samuel Tadros/Washington Institute/January 25/2018
The blessings and curse of higher oil prices/Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady/Al Arabiya/January 25/18
Will Operation Olive Branch end the US-Turkey Alliance/Giorgio Cafiero/Al Arabiya/January 25/18
Nations which appease Iran open their doors to its spies/Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/January 25/18

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on January 25-26/18
Lebanon’s Parliamentary Elections: Hezbollah to Let Down Aoun in Jezzine
British government under pressure to impose total ban on Hezbollah
Lebanon expects tougher US action on banking sector to curb Hezbollah funding
Aoun talks German president's visit with the country's ambassador
Report: Kataeb, LF Electoral-Dialogue 'Brought to a Halt'
March 8 Seeks Winning 'One-Third' of Parliament Seats
Hariri Concludes Visit to Davos by Meeting Iraqi PM
Man Accused of Pickpocketing Worshipers at Mosques
MP Aoun: Ties with Kataeb Unlikely, Relation with Mustaqbal Won't Be at Expense of Other Ties
Loyalty to Resistance: US interference in Lebanon's banking system violation of sovereignty
International Human Rights Organization delegation visits Riachy, requests dissemination of awareness programs
Berri, interlocutors tackle current developments
Sarraf meets outgoing Turkish ambassador
Saudi Ambassador visits Chamoun
Mashnouq, interlocutors tackle current developments
Prosecution Sues Comedian Hisham Haddad over MBS Remarks
Khatib follows up on transport of trash from Chouf, Aley regions to Costabrava landfill
In Lebanon, the military sends out an aggressive message about
European Film Festival 24th edition opens at Cinema Metropolis Empire Sofil
TWI Expert Hanin Ghaddar, Sentenced to Prison by Lebanese Court, Receives Global Media Coverage, Outpouring of Support from Free-Speech Groups

Titles For
Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on January 25-26/18
Ontario's Progressive Conservatives to pick interim leader on Friday
Trump Takes 'America First' Mantra to Sceptical Davos Elite
Iran building ‘world’s largest military base’ in Syria: Israeli diplomat
US-Turkey Tensions Escalate over Syria Operation
U.N. Hosts 'Critical' Syria Peace Talks in Vienna
Ahmadinejad's Aides Request to Hold a Protest against Rouhani
US to Send 1st Aircraft Carrier Since War to Vietnam
Kabul hotel attack killed at least 25: official
Trump says Palestinians ‘disrespected’ US, aid on hold

Latest Lebanese Related News published on January 25-26/18
Lebanon’s Parliamentary Elections: Hezbollah to Let Down Aoun in Jezzine

Beirut - Paula Astih/Asharq Al Awsat/January 25/18/The Sidon-Jezzine constituency is one of the 15 most important electoral districts that will witness a battle of “settling accounts” between President Michel Aoun and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. This will put Hezbollah in an undesirable position, especially as it will have to direct its votes towards one of the two main lists: one supported by the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and the other by Amal Movement. The electoral district - which includes Sidon and Jezzine based on the new electoral law - has 5 electoral seats divided as follows, distributed among the Sunnis (2 seats), Maronites (2 seats) and the Catholics (1 seat). Election experts confirmed that the distribution of seats among the political forces was almost conclusive. However, only one Maronite seat would be subject to an electoral battle, which would renew the conflict between Aoun and Berri, as the latter publicly supports candidate Ibrahim Azar, while the former supports the FPM candidates Ziad Aswad and Amal Abu Zeid. The electoral battle between the two leaders ended in 2009 in favor of Aoun. Therefore, the Speaker of Parliament is exerting all his efforts to “retaliate against the previous loss and settle many accounts with the President.”Around 121 thousand voters are expected to cast their ballots in the Sidon-Jezzine district. They are distributed between 62 thousand in Sidon and 59 thousand in Jezzine. The Muslim weight is concentrated in Sidon, while the Christian weight in Jezzine. Researcher at Information International Mohammed Shamseddine said that the latest data indicated the formation of between five and six electoral lists, including a list formed of the Future Movement and the FPM, which will be able to secure three out of five seats, and a list gathering Secretary General of the Popular Nasserite Organization Osama Saad with candidate Ibrahim Azar - who is mainly backed by the Amal Movement - and will be able to win two seats. In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat, Shamseddine noted that MP Bahiya Hariri and one Maronite candidate were likely to win in the first list, while Saad will take over a seat in the other list. The battle will be confined to either the Catholic or Maronite seats, with Aoun and Berri focusing their attention on winning the Maronite seat, according to Shamseddine. In this district, attention is drawn to the likelihood that Hezbollah will be lined up alongside Amal in the face of the FPM. In other districts, the party has tried to avoid embarrassment by taking Aoun’s side, but it would not succeed to do the same in the Sidon-Jezzine constituency due to its complexity. In this regard, sources in the March 8 Forces, close to Hezbollah, say that the party has decided not to give its votes to any list that includes the Future Movement, even if it includes its FPM ally.

British government under pressure to impose total ban on Hezbollah
Oliver Cuthbert & Richard Wachman/Arab News/January 26/18
The British government is under renewed pressure to outlaw Hezbollah in the UK by making no distinction between its military and political wings.
In the House of Commons, Labour chair of the friends of Israel Joan Ryan moved a motion on Thursday that called for Hezbollah to be designated a terrorist organization and for Britain to impose a complete ban to bring it into line with Canada, the US, the Arab League and the Netherlands.
Currently, Hezbollah’s military wing is proscribed but not its political organization which is based in the Lebanon and supported by Iran. Ryan accused it of the “aiding and abetting the Assad regime’s butchery in Syria and helping to drive Iran’s expansionism throughout the region”.
Speaking in support of the motion, Conservative MP Theresa Villiers said Hezbollah had been responsible for numerous terrorist attacks around the world, with the “most notorious” at a Jewish center in Buenos Aries, Argentina where a bomb killed 85 and injured hundreds in 1994. An Argentinian inquiry pointed the finger at Hezbollah and Iran.
Villiers added that Hezbollah been a “deeply malevolence presence in the Syrian civil war”. The Ryan motion has not received support from the UK government or the Labour shadow cabinet and is unlikely to gain traction. But Ryan said: “Hezbollah is a terrorist organization, driven by an anti-semitic ideology which seeks the destruction of Israel. It has wreaked death and destruction throughout the Middle East. It makes no distinction between its political and military wings, and neither should the British government.”David Ibsen, the executive director of the Counter Extremism Project, said that Hezbollah itself does not recognize a distinction between these entities and emphasised the need for “a new realism in the UK about the nature of Hezbollah.”“There is no ‘military’ and ‘political’ wings of Hezbollah, it is one pernicious terrorist organization founded and bankrolled by Iran. Hezbollah’s top officials brazenly acknowledge this fact.”Arab governments have expressed mounting concern over Iran’s growing sphere of influence in the Middle East and its use of Hezbollah to engineer an expanded role in regional conflicts.
A statement released by the Arab League last November accused Tehran and its proxy of destabilising the region.
Ibsen said: “Thousands of Hezbollah fighters made the crucial difference in Syria for Bashar Assad and have trained Houthi rebels in Yemen on behalf of their Iranian benefactors.”A spokesperson for Syria Solidarity UK outlined the “extensive crimes against Syrian civilians” carried out by Hezbollah, which “took part in the mass displacement of hundreds of thousands” of people in Aleppo and other areas. “The failure of British MPs to come together to protect civilians in Syria has allowed Hezbollah to expand, has increased the threat of terrorism, and has worsened the refugee crisis,” the spokesperson said.
Pressure to extend the ban has intensified in recent weeks following a US crackdown on Hezbollah’s international financing networks with the launch of a new ‘narco-terrorism’ task force to investigate the group’s cross-border drug trafficking and money laundering activities. During a speech on Jan 12 in which he described the Iranian regime as “the world’s leading state sponsor of terror,” President Trump called on all US allies to re-classify Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization and take stronger steps to “confront Iran’s other malign activities.”Visiting Lebanon on Tuesday, the US Treasury’s Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing Marshall Billingslea “urged Lebanon to take every possible measure to ensure (Hezbollah) is not part of the financial sector,” according to a statement by the US embassy in Beirut. Hezbollah is one of 60 groups listed as foreign terrorist organizations by the US State Department.
In addition to bringing the UK’s position into closer alignment with Trump’s hard-line stance on Iran, a move to extend the ban would also answer voices from the Israel lobby, which has repeatedly called for a crackdown on the group. Michael McCann, director at the Israel Britain Alliance, described the UK’s designation of Hezbollah as “wrong headed” and said it “bears responsibility for the murder of innocents across the globe.”“Hezbollah’s operations breach the 2000 UK Terrorism Act and the group must be banned, it’s that simple,” he said.

Lebanon expects tougher US action on banking sector to curb Hezbollah funding
Najia Houssari/Arab News/January 26/18
BEIRUT: The US is taking a tougher line with the Lebanese banking sector on the funding of Hezbollah and Iran’s activities in Lebanon and the region.
A visit to Lebanon by Marshall Billingslea, US assistant secretary for terrorist financing, from Jan. 22-23, during which he met with political officials and bankers, indicated a new firmness by the administration. A statement issued by the US Embassy about Billingslea’s visit mentioned Hezbollah and Tehran by name for the first time: previous statements about Treasury officials’ visits merely referred to the “application of US anti-terrorist financing laws” in general. Dr. Ghazi Wazni, a Lebanese economist, told Arab News that a new penal code, which will be signed by President Donald Trump, is tougher than the previous law on monitoring and targeting. “It targets countries, companies, people and organizations outside Lebanon, which were not present in the previous law, that are linked to financing Hezbollah,” he said.
According to the statement from the US Embassy in Lebanon, Billingslea stressed “the importance of combating harmful Iranian activities in Lebanon, and the US commitment to helping Lebanon to protect the financial system from Hezbollah and Daesh and other terrorist organizations.”
Billingslea also urged Lebanon “to take all possible measures to ensure that Hezbollah is not part of the financial sector.”
“The statement of the assistant secretary of the treasury has two goals: To investigate the funding of Hezbollah activities because there are no reliable sources in the US Treasury for these activities, and the second is to exert political pressure by talking about Hezbollah’s involvement in illegal issues, including drug-trafficking or terrorist-financing,” Wazni said. Wazni said that the timing of the visit and the American position “coincided with the creation of an American body charged with combating drug-trafficking, money-laundering and terrorism-financing. The Trump administration considers that the administration of his predecessor, Barack Obama, was lenient regarding the penal code on drug trafficking,” he said.
As for the impact of this American firmness on the Lebanese banking sector, Wazni said that the position of Billingslea does not threaten the banking sector because the US Treasury is aware that no financial operations relating to drug-trafficking and money-laundering get through Lebanese banks.
“Each banking process is monitored by correspondent banks in New York, which scrutinize every process and either freeze, approve or report it to the US Treasury. There is scrutiny by the Central Bank of Lebanon through the Special Investigation Commission and the Banking Supervision Committee and a third scrutiny by the banking sector itself, which established an auditing department to scrutinize each process.”
Wazni stressed that “there is no need to fear for the Lebanese banking sector, especially since the Parliament passed legislations which comply with high international standards, and the banking sector is fully committed to the decision of sanctions and the Parliament legislations are in line with international legislations, and the Central Bank issues circulars in this regard.”Billingslea was keen, in a press conference held at the end of his visit, to note that “the law of preventing the international funding of Hezbollah does not target the Shiite community, but (it targets) the financial activities of Hezbollah all over the world, and it is important to distinguish between the Shiite community and the party and make sure that the (Shiite) community is treated fairly, and that its members can have banking services like everybody else.”Arab News asked Hareth Suleiman, a political science professor at the Lebanese University and a member of the Independent Shiite Group, about the possibility of distinguishing between the Shiite community and Hezbollah in Lebanon and about the effects of the American sanctions on Shiites.
“It is hard to say that the Shiites have nothing to do with the two Shiite political groups: Hezbollah and Amal. And I do not think there is a difference in the issue of money-laundering between Hezbollah and Amal, and I have enough information and allegations about this, because money-laundering is going on in full swing within these two Shiite groups, and the creation of a safe haven for Shiites, away from the two groups, has many constraints due to the scarcity of potentials and the sense that the third group of Shiites is left without allies or support, and therefore the identification between the Hezbollah and Amal on the one side, and the ordinary Shiite citizen will continue because it is the stronger image.”
“The Shiite community has experienced similar crises at the time of hostage-taking, and the Lebanese Shiites were treated differently by the countries of the world, starting from reaching the airports until crossing to other countries,” Wazni said. “The most dangerous thing now is if Hezbollah reaches a position, through the new electoral law, where it could hold the decision of the Parliament, the government, the security services, the Ministry of Justice and the military court. Then, the distinction between Lebanon and Hezbollah would be difficult.”“To be able to distinguish between Hezbollah and other Shiites, we need facts that will control the boundaries of Hezbollah dominance,” he said. “If it’s left unchecked, the crisis would be felt by any Shiite citizen who wants to deal with the world.”

Aoun talks German president's visit with the country's ambassador
The Daily Star/January 25, 2018/BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun met German Ambassador to Beirut Martin Huth Thursday to discuss the German president’s anticipated official visit to Lebanon, set to take place next Monday. During their meeting, Huth briefed Aoun on preparations for President Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s visit, stressing the importance Germany places on developing the relationship between the two countries, a statement from the Presidential office said. Steinmeier will be in Lebanon for three days, along with the First Lady and a German delegation, to discuss Lebanese-German relations and future co-operation with Aoun. The presidents will also discuss regional and international situations. The German president is also scheduled to meet Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Saad Hariri, as well as other representatives from religious parties. He will also inspect the German contingent of the UNIFIL peacekeeping naval force.The German First Lady Elke Büdenbender will also meet her Lebanese counterpart Nadia al-Shami, and in light of recent femicide incidents, have a panel discussion with a group of Lebanese women judges about their experience in the judicial field, especially in terms of working towards gender equality and women's rights.

Report: Kataeb, LF Electoral-Dialogue 'Brought to a Halt'
Naharnet/January 25/18/The “electoral-dialogue” between the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb party has “abruptly stopped” after Gemayel's request that the LF stands “unconditionally” on its side regardless of its Christian reconciliation agreement with the Free Patriotic Movement, the pan-Arab al-Hayat daily said on Thursday. “The electoral-dialogue between the LF and Kataeb has stopped without prior warning. Gemayel was the one to halt the talks over disagreements about the political agenda. Gemayel has asked the LF to choose between standing by the ruling authority and its political components or to align with the popular aspirations of Kataeb,” said the daily. The LF --which had an agreement with the Free Patriotic Movement that brought its founder to the presidency post-- said Gemayel wants them to stand “flatly” by the Kataeb side which they totally refuse because it would strain relations with the FPM and will reflect negatively on the Christian reconciliation. LF sources said the Party is “brave enough to direct criticism at the government’s performance on a number of files, but it is also keen on protecting the Christian reconciliation which preserves national coexistence.”Lebanon's elections are scheduled on May 6.

March 8 Seeks Winning 'One-Third' of Parliament Seats
Naharnet/January 25/18/The March 8 alliance camp has a specific goal to reach in the country's looming parliamentary elections which is embodied in winning one-third of the parliament's seats, al-Akhbar daily reported Thursday.
March 8 sources told the daily that the alliance's “second goal is to win one-third (43 seats out of 128) of the parliament seats, while the first end they seek is to win 27 Shiite seats out of 27.”The source added the Shiite allies, Hizbullah and AMAL Movement, “strive for that.”Al-Akhbar said the mission “seems easy to accomplish” in the Shiite-majority districts of Zahrani-Tyre, Nabatieh- Bent Jbeil- Marjeyoun-Hasbaya. It would be enough to only record-raise the level of voting to ensure that no competitor list has enough electoral votes to represent one deputy, according to the daily.In the districts of Baabda, Beirut, the Western Bekaa, Zahle and Jbeil, Shiite seats are guaranteed for both, it added. The expected battle will take place in the districts of northern Bekaa where parliamentary seats are divided as follows: 10 seats: 6 Shiite, 2 Sunni, 1 Catholic and 1 Maronite; with more than 310,000 voters including 225,000 Shiites, 44,000 Sunnis and 42,000 Christians). Hizbullah and AMAL want to do everything in their power to ensure that they win all the Shiite seats in the first place, while seeking to secure as many other seats as possible, pro-March 8 newspaper al-Akhbar reported. Reports said on Wednesday that March 8 forces have decided to form a unified electoral alliance to confront the lists of al-Mustaqbal Movement and the Lebanese Forces in the elections. They said the March 8 lists will seek local alliances with the Free Patriotic Movement where there is a mutual interest for both parties. They will however confront the lists of Mustaqbal and the LF.

Hariri Concludes Visit to Davos by Meeting Iraqi PM
Naharnet/January 25/18/Prime Minister Saad Hariri held a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi concluding his visit to Davos where he participated in the World Economic Forum, Hariri's media office said on Thursday. Discussions highlighted the latest regional developments as well as the bilateral relations between the two countries. The meeting was attended by Lebanon's ambassador to Switzerland Rola Noureddine and Hariri's chief of staff Nader Hariri. Hariri also held talks with President of the World Economic Forum. On Wednesday, Hariri met with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, his first with a senior Saudi official since the November resignation crisis.Earlier on Wednesday, he held separate talks with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, King Abdullah II of Jordan, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, Swiss President Alain Berset and International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde.

Man Accused of Pickpocketing Worshipers at Mosques
Naharnet/January 25/18/The Internal Security Forces nabbed a man accused of pickpocketing people and worshipers at mosques while practicing their religious rituals, the ISF said in a statement on Thursday. The statement said the suspect, a Syrian identified as Sh. M., was arrested on 23/1/2018 at the entrance of Bahaa Eddine al-Hariri mosque in Sidon. It added “the suspect, in accomplice with his brother, took advantage of crowds of worshipers and people in mosques during prayer times and funerals where they snatched the money.”The amounts stolen ranged between LL300,000 and 500,000.The detainee has a criminal record and is wanted on several charges including drug dealing, it added.

MP Aoun: Ties with Kataeb Unlikely, Relation with Mustaqbal Won't Be at Expense of Other Ties

Naharnet/January 25/18/MP Alain Aoun of the Free Patriotic Movement on Thursday said the FPM's relation with al-Mustaqbal Movement “would not be at the expense of its ties with other parties.”"The FPM is carrying on contacts and consultations with various political sides before settling on its electoral lists," Aoun told VDL (93.3) in an interview on Thursday. "Any alliance with the Marada Movement before the legislative polls has become unlikely now; besides, our relation with Mustaqbal will not be at the expense of our ties with other parties," he underlined. On the FPM ties with Speaker Nabih Berri, Aoun said: "The tension is high. In case we don't overcome it, it will certainly impact the electoral cooperation."

Loyalty to Resistance: US interference in Lebanon's banking system violation of sovereignty
Thu 25 Jan 2018/NNA - "Loyalty to Resistance" on Thursday categorically deplored the work of the American investigation committee in Lebanon and its interference in the Lebanese banking system, saying this constitutes a "violation of Lebanese sovereignty."The bloc's fresh stance came in a statement in the wake of its weekly regular meeting at its headquarters in Haret Hreik, chaired by MP Mohammed Raad. The bloc took up an array of matters on the local arena. On the other hand, the bloc considered the recent Israeli assault against Lebanon, namely the recent explosion that targeted one of Hamas officials in the City of Sidon, a serious indication of the enemy's undeterred, continual violation of Lebanese sovereignty and destabilization of Lebanon's security and stability. "This matter necessitates the highest degree of alert to address this new path in confrontation," the bloc corroborated. Loyalty to Resistance stressed the paramount importance of continuing the efforts of the Lebanese security and judicial services to uncover the whole circumstances of this assault. The bloc underlined the dire need for firmness in combating Zionist sabotage networks, deeming such a matter "a priority for the Lebanese national security."The bloc also called on the Lebanese people to reject and deniunce all sorts of normalizing ties with the Zionist enemy, calling on the State to respect its obligations and commitments in this regard.

International Human Rights Organization delegation visits Riachy, requests dissemination of awareness programs
Thu 25 Jan 2018/NNA - Minister of Information, Melhem Riachy, welcomed at his ministerial office on Thursday Ambassador of the International Human Rights Organization, and its Head in Lebanon and the Middle East, Dr. Ibtisam Merhi, who visited him with an accompanying delegation. The delegation requested of Riachy to introduce awareness programs on human rights issues through Lebanon's audio-visual media, sounding the alarm on ill-mannered shows that harm human values. The delegation also seized the occasion to address the issue of successful candidates in the Civil Service Council and the need to preserve their rights by appointing them in relevant departments and administrations. Merhi bestowed upon Minister Riachy a shield in honor of his "reform and humanitarian efforts".

Berri, interlocutors tackle current developments
Thu 25 Jan 2018/NNA - House Speaker, Nabih Berri, on Thursday met at his Ain Tineh residence with the United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon Pernille Dahler Kardel, and the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Miroslav Jenca, with talks reportedly touching on most recent developments in Lebanon and the broad region. Speaker Berri also met with General Security chief, General Abbas Ibrahim, with whom he discussed the general security situation in the country. This afternoon, Berri met with the Independent Commission charged with verifying the legality of administrative objection procedures on telephone calls, led by the head of the Supreme Judicial Council, Jean Fahed, and members Henry Khoury, head of the Shura Council, and Ahmad Hamdan, head of the Auditing Department. The delegation submitted two reports on their work from the year 2011 to 2016. On the other hand, Berri received outgoing Turkish Ambassador to Lebanon, Cagatay Erciyes, who came on a farewell visit at the end of his diplomatic mission in Lebanon.

Sarraf meets outgoing Turkish ambassador
Thu 25 Jan 2018/NNA - National Defense Minister, Yaacoub Riad Al-Sarraf, on Thursday met at office outgoing Turkish Ambassador to Lebanon, Cagatay Erciyes, who came on a farewell visit at the end of his diplomatic mission in Lebanon. The visit was a chance to dwell on most recent developments in Lebanon and the region, as well as the bilateral ties. Minister Sarraf thanked the outgoing Ambassador for his efforts during his diplomatic term in Lebanon, wishing him success in his new mission.

Saudi Ambassador visits Chamoun
Thu 25 Jan 2018/NNA - Nationalist Liberal Party head MP Dany Chamoun on Thursday met at the Party's Central House with Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon, Walid Al-Yaacoub, as part of his visits among the political leaderships and dignitaries. Chamoun described the visit as utterly cordial, deeming Lebanese-Saudi relations as deeply entrenched in history. Chamoun also indicated that talks touched on the forthcoming parliamentary elections. Ambassador Al-Yaacoub, for his part, denied that Saudi Arabia interferes in the internal Lebanese affairs, stressing that the Kingdom works for the welfare of Lebanon and the Lebanese and for the reconstruction of the Lebanese regions.

Mashnouq, interlocutors tackle current developments
Thu 25 Jan 2018/NNA - Interior and Municipalities Minister, Nouhad Mashnouq, on Thursday met with outgoing Turkish Ambassador to Lebanon, Cagatay Erciyes, who came on a farewell visit at the end of his diplomatic mission in Lebanon. Talks reportedly touched on the general situation in Lebanon and the broad region. Minister Mashnouq thanked the outgoing ambassador for his efforts in strengthening bilateral relations, expressing appreciation of the Turkish authorities' cooperation and rapid response in the file related to the extradition of one of the suspects in the assassination attempt of Hamas Movement official Mohammed Hamdan in the city of Sidon. On the other hand, Minister Mashnouq met with Canadian Ambassador to Lebanon, Emmanuelle Lamoureux, with talks reportedly touching on preparations underway for the forthcoming legislative elections in Lebanon and means for bolstering cooperation between Lebanon and Canada. Talks also dwelt on Rome 2 Conference in support of the Lebanese army and the Internal Security Forces. Mashnouq also met with Beirut Governor Ziad Shbib, with whom he discussed issues related to the capital Beirut.

Prosecution Sues Comedian Hisham Haddad over MBS Remarks
Naharnet/January 25/18/The public prosecution has filed a lawsuit against the comedian Hisham Haddad, the host of 'Lahonwbas', Lebanon's most watched satirical TV show. “At the request of State Prosecutor Judge Samir Hammoud, Mount Lebanon attorney general Judge Ghada Aoun has referred a lawsuit against the journalist Hisham Haddad to the Publications Court on charges pertaining to Article 23 of Law 104/77,” the National News Agency said. “The referral is linked to Haddad's mentioning of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Lahonwbas show,” NNA added.
LBCI television, the channel that airs Haddad's show, said the lawsuit is also linked to satirical remarks about Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Kataeb Party chief MP Sami Gemayel voiced solidarity with Haddad via Twitter.“We have lost count of the number of lawsuits they have filed against journalists. Even the shows that bring laughter into our homes have become under scrutiny,” Gemayel lamented, referring to the ruling class. Arab Tawhid Party leader and ex-minister Wiam Wahhab said he “advises” the state prosecutor not to sue Haddad “if he cannot sue those who insult Syria and the rest of the brotherly countries.”“The law should be implemented on everyone, or else selectivity is prohibited,” Wahhab added in a tweet. In the episode that caused him trouble with authorities, Haddad comments on a “prediction” by Lebanon's famous fortune teller Michel Hayek that MBS will be told by doctors to reduce his consumption of fast food. “Amidst everything that is happening in the region, you are advising him to stop eating hamburgers! I advise him to stop 'fast arrests', 'fast policies', 'fast campaigns' and 'fast military strikes',” Haddad says sarcastically. “I don't care if he gets fat or not! I have nothing to do with the crown prince's cholesterol! What do I have to do with the prince's triglyceride?” Haddad adds.

Khatib follows up on transport of trash from Chouf, Aley regions to Costabrava landfill
Thu 25 Jan 2018/NNA - Minister of Environment, Tarek Al-Khatib, met on Thursday with "Blue City" General Manager, Milad Moawad, with whom he followed up on arrangements for transporting garbage from Chouf and Aley regions to Costabrava landfill, in accordance with a decision by the Council of Ministers. The Minister also discussed with his visitor the waste accumulated in trash containers in the aforementioned regions and the possibility of treating it and transporting it to the landfill.

European Film Festival 24th edition opens at Cinema Metropolis Empire Sofil
Thu 25 Jan 2018/NNA - The following is the speech of Christina Lassen, Ambassador of the European Union, during the opening of the 24th edition of the European Film Festival at Cinema Metropolis Empire Sofil - on Wednesday 24 January 2018:
"Minister of Culture Ghattas Khoury,
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to the opening of the European Film Festival in Beirut. It is the 24th time we host this festival here in Lebanon which we - in all modesty - think has become an essential part of the cultural calendar here.
2018 is special for us because it is the European Year of Cultural Heritage. We celebrate this year under the headline "Our heritage: Where the past meets the future". Throughout the year, we will honour our diverse cultural heritage across Europe. Cultural heritage is not just an expression of our past. It is what helps us understand the present and look forward to the future. Cultural heritage takes many shapes and forms. Films are obviously one important art form that lets us express our heritage and share it across borders. But it is also a form of expression that has the ability to touch upon every aspect of our lives, both as individuals and as communities.
This is why we are proud this year to present 32 movies from 20 different European countries. Sad movies and happy movies, difficult and more light movies, scaring and touching movies, but all of them have in common that they illustrate aspects of Europe's varied and diverse societies and the cultural heritage we bring with us. Many of the films shown during the festival have earned prizes and praise in important festivals in Europe and internationally in the past year. I will not mention all of them, but just say that two of the films we are screening during the Festival - Sweden's 'The Square' and Hungary's 'On Body and Soul' - were yesterday nominated for an Oscar for best foreign movie.
As in Europe, Lebanon is a country with a rich and diverse cultural heritage. This is expressed in many ways every single day, but not least in this country's creative and dynamic film industry. Take 2017 for example where many acclaimed movies were released, some films made it to international festivals and others were nominated for some of the most prestigious film awards. But the biggest news came yesterday, when the Lebanese film The Insult by Ziad Doueiry was nominated for an Oscar for best foreign film. And I don't think I need to remind anyone here that this is the first time a Lebanese film has been nominated for the Oscars. We want to see the Lebanese film industry continue to flourish. We are, therefore, happy to continue the tradition of honouring two prizes to short films produced by talented students from Lebanese audio-visual schools and hopefully give them a gentle push into the limelight. We are also excited to close the festival with the Lebanese Film "Heaven without People" by director Lucien Bourjeily, who was the winner of the Special Jury Prize at the Dubai International Film Festival.
I would like to thank H.E. the Minister of Culture Dr. Ghattas Khoury for his patronage of the festival and his presence with us tonight. Also, the embassies of the European Union Member States, and this year's special guests, Switzerland and Serbia. Without their support, the Festival would not have been possible. A special tribute goes to l'Institut Français du Liban for their invaluable cooperation in organising the screenings in eight cities outside Beirut in coordination with local European and Lebanese partners. Also, a big praise to Metropolis Cinema for their great work with the EU Delegation organising this festival and to the LBCI for once again promoting the festival. On first of January, Bulgaria took over the rotating Presidency of the European Union. I am therefore thrilled that we open this year's festival with the film 'Monkey' from Bulgaria. I have not yet had a chance to see it myself, but I have been told that it fits all the categories I mentioned before, funny and sad, strange and moving. That is exactly what a good movie should do and why we are proud of our strong European cultural heritage as the world's most diverse film producing continent.
Enjoy the movie!"

In Lebanon, the military sends out an aggressive message about censorship
Michael Young/The National/January 24/2018
The country's political class seems oblivious to the consequences of this rising tide, writes Michael Young
Last week, Lebanon’s military tribunal sentenced Hanin Ghaddar, a Lebanese journalist working at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, to six months in prison, in absentia. Ms Ghaddar was accused of “insulting” the Lebanese army, because at a panel discussion in 2014, she had said that the army was clamping down on Lebanese Sunnis, thereby “creating injustice.”The decision was remarkable for two reasons. The military tribunal’s decision to condemn Ms Ghaddar for statements made abroad sent a worrisome message that Lebanese citizens could be pursued legally wherever they might be, for whatever they might say that displeased the state. Rarely has the military sought to engage in such a broad interpretation of its censorship power. And second, it represented a further expansion of the tribunal’s power to matters not of its remit. The military tribunal must deal solely with military affairs.
The tribunal’s decision was not only outrageous, it was also reckless, inasmuch as it sent a very bad message to the United States about a privileged partner, namely the Lebanese military. This is paradoxical, because the legal action against Ms Ghaddar may have been taken because her comments criticised the military in the one place where it counted most. Lebanon is highly dependent on US military aid, and the last thing the military leadership wants is to see Lebanese citizens condemning its behaviour in American policy circles. If there is any doubt about the message arriving in Washington, one of Ms Ghaddar’s colleagues at the Washington Institute, David Schenker, was recently appointed assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. He has long defended US aid to the Lebanese military. However, what happened to Ms Ghaddar is not likely to make his task easier.
Ms Ghaddar, a Shia from southern Lebanon, has also long been a critic of Hizbollah, but it’s not clear whether the party was directly involved in pushing for her prison sentence. However, often the unknowns behind a particular decision have much more of a freezing effect on free speech than anything else. Ms Ghaddar, a single mother of a young boy, has just been prevented from seeing her family in Lebanon, a severe punishment for a few words of disapproval.
Ms Ghaddar’s case is only the latest in a series of similar cases in Lebanon. Several weeks ago, a leading talk show host, Marcel Ghanem, was taken to court because of comments made by two of his guests on his weekly programme. His case provoked much indignation too, suggesting someone could be held legally responsible for statements he or she did not make. The logical conclusion was that Mr Ghanem was being used to intimidate all talk show hosts and ensure that they invited only guests deemed acceptable by the state.
More recently, Lebanon’s general security directorate censored the new film by director Steven Spielberg, The Post, because he is a supporter of Israel. All of Mr Spielberg’s films have been shown in Lebanon, so this was another attempt to narrow the parameters of free speech. The decision was received with such disdain in Beirut, that the prime minister, Saad Hariri, ordered that the ban be reversed. However, this led Hizbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, to publicly express his opposition to the film being shown. While it is now being projected, Mr Nasrallah’s comments will doubtless scare some people away. These ham-fisted efforts to curtail free speech are leading to an angry backlash in society. The Lebanese don’t like to see their country behaving like a banana republic. However, the mere fact that such measures are being carried out is worrisome. If the recent cases signal a new aggressiveness on the part of the state, it cannot bode well. That said, Lebanon is not an easy place to censor. The fragmented sectarian system makes it far more likely that government overreach will prompt a wide range of negative reactions from political forces not in tune with those in power. That was the case of Ms Ghaddar, whose sentence was condemned by a former prime minister as well as a former justice minister. Repression is much more difficult in divided societies such as Lebanon than in more centralised states.
What is equally disheartening is that Lebanon’s political class seems so oblivious to the consequences of this rising censorship. The government cannot afford to push the Trump administration into cutting off military aid to the Lebanese military. Ms Ghaddar’s case will not do that on its own, but at a time when Lebanon is already viewed by many people in Washington as being controlled by Hizbollah, her case can only add to calls that such aid be terminated. One parliamentarian made a very pertinent observation in talking about the risks to the Lebanese armed forces. “They just cut military aid to Pakistan, do you really think that they might not choose to do so for Lebanon?” He had a point. There is nothing sacred or eternal in US military aid to Lebanon, nor will the United States long remain silent about Lebanese attempts to prevent free speech. The decision to sentence Ms Ghaddar should be tossed out, like the one to ban The Post was. The country has been maligned enough by outsiders not to have to foolishly contribute to that endeavour itself.
**Michael Young is editor of Diwan, the blog of the Carnegie Middle East programme, in Beirut.

TWI Expert Hanin Ghaddar, Sentenced to Prison by Lebanese Court, Receives Global Media Coverage, Outpouring of Support from Free-Speech Groups
Washington Institute/January 24/2018
Washington, D.C. – The conviction by a Lebanese military court of Hanin Ghaddar, the Washington Institute's Friedmann Visiting Fellow, on charges of "defaming" Lebanon's armed forces has triggered an outpouring of attention from world media as well as support and solidarity from a broad range of human rights and free-speech groups. Newspapers, radio and television around the world — including virtually every major wire service — have reported on the closed trial and six-month sentence meted out in absentia to Ms. Ghaddar, the Institute's expert on Hezbollah and former editor of Lebanon's NOW Media. This press scrutiny has, in turn, earned her the strong backing of groups committed to civil liberties.
The Beirut-based SKEyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom issued a statement in support of Ms. Ghaddar saying: "The Lebanese authorities are increasingly mirroring the behavior of authoritarian regimes in the region that use military justice as a weapon of repression on the basis of weak arguments. This trend will continue as long as those in power who claim to defend freedom of expression, allow military sanctions to be imposed on journalists participating in conferences."
"We express our full support to Hanin and call on the authorities to drop this unfair sentence," declared the Arab Reform Initiative. "We will always stand up for the values that ARI upholds and in solidarity with all those who face threats for expressing their opinion."
Non-Middle East-focused institutions took notice, too. PEN America, the largest chapter of the celebrated international organization that defends free speech, featured news of Ms. Ghaddar's conviction on its home page.
Commenting on the case, Washington Institute Executive Director Dr. Robert Satloff stated: "Hanin Ghaddar is a brilliant journalist, insightful analyst and courageous Lebanese patriot, who had the temerity to speak truth to power in her country. Readers in Washington and around the world have benefitted greatly from her research into Hezbollah and Shiites politics in the Levant and we at Washington Institute are proud to have her as a colleague.
"Over the years, the U.S. government has provided Lebanon with substantial assistance to advance our common interests and to support the hope, however faint, that Lebanon could some day regain its reputation for tolerance and diversity. Indeed, the Lebanese military will receive $120 million in U.S. aid this year and has been the recipient of over $1.5 billion in aid over the past decade. However, the fact that a military court convicted Ms. Ghaddar of a crime for speaking in Washington about the political situation in her native land and sentenced her to prison, without even a lawyer present, speaks volumes about the current state of freedom and justice in that sad country."
Ms. Ghaddar's prosecution arose following her appearance at the 2014 Washington Institute Barbi Weinberg Founders Conference in which she stated during a panel discussion that the Lebanese military targets Sunni groups while showing preference to Shiite groups, such as Hezbollah.
Speaking on behalf of The Washington Institute, Dr. Satloff thanked global media for raising public awareness about Ms. Ghaddar's case as well as the U.S. and Middle East-based nongovernmental organizations that have issued statements of solidarity.
The Washington Institute will continue to monitor the situation and release updates when available.
**About the Washington Institute: The Washington Institute is an independent, nonpartisan research institution funded exclusively by U.S. citizens that seeks to advance a balanced and realistic understanding of American interests in the Middle East and to promote the policies that secure them. Drawing on the research of its fellows and the experience of its policy practitioners, the Institute promotes informed debate and scholarly research on U.S. policy in the region.
Media Contact: Ian Byrne, 202-452-0650, email.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on January 25-26/18
Ontario's Progressive Conservatives to pick interim leader on Friday
The Canadian Press The Canadian Press/January 25/18
TORONTO — Ontario's Progressive Conservatives say they will select an interim leader on Friday to replace Patrick Brown, who stepped down amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
The party's deputy leaders would not say, however, whether the person they choose would lead them in the scheduled June election or if a leadership race would be held before then, saying only that caucus members would need to have those discussions.
Deputy leader Sylvia Jones told a news conference Thursday that the party is moving on and is focused on getting ready for the campaign.
"Four months out from an election, we appreciate, we understand, that you cannot have these allegations out there. We dealt with that last night. Now let us deal with what we need to do moving forward tomorrow," she said.
"We are prepared, we are ready and we will have a plan when we meet tomorrow."
She called the allegations against Brown "a shock," and said caucus unanimously supported his decision to step down. It will be up to caucus and the party's interim leader to decide if Brown can run in the upcoming election, Jones said.
Brown announced he was stepping down in a statement issued early Thursday morning, following a hastily called news conference in which he "categorically" denied what he called "troubling allegations" about his conduct and his character.
The allegations, which have not been verified by The Canadian Press, were made by two women who spoke to CTV News.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, meanwhile, said she will not seek a snap election, noting that it's too early to know what impact Brown's resignation will have on the province's political landscape.
The premier would not comment specifically on the allegations levelled against Brown but broadly denounced sexual assault and harassment.
"This is not about politics," Wynne said. "I think that many of us feel very shaken by what we heard last night ... There are obviously lots of political questions that are going to come forward. I honestly feel that right now I'm thinking about this in my role as a mother, as a daughter, as a community leader."
"It is really, really important that we understand how deeply troubling this is to human beings, to people," Wynne said. "This is a human problem...this is about creating safety."
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath also said there was more at stake than the upcoming election.
"This is not about me and it's not about my campaign," she said. "This is about women coming forward and calling out behaviour that they experienced and I have to say I was pretty disgusted by what I heard in terms of their story."
Shawn Jeffords and Paola Loriggio , The Canadian Press

Trump Takes 'America First' Mantra to Sceptical Davos Elite
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 25/18/The world's political and business elite headed Thursday into a compelling encounter with President Donald Trump as the United States bids to carve out a competitive edge in trade, taxes and currency rates. Trump, who has made "America First" the touchstone of his year-old administration, touched down in the Swiss city of Zurich aboard Air Force One en route to the World Economic Forum in Davos. Other government leaders and business tycoons in Davos are agog at the tempestuous course of US policy under Trump, who is due to close the forum on Friday with an eagerly awaited speech days after turmoil engulfed the dollar on currency markets. A day after appearing to cast aside decades of US support for a strong currency, Trump's Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday said he was relaxed about the dollar's short-term value, doing little to help the reeling unit recover on foreign exchange markets. "I thought my comment on the dollar was actually quite clear yesterday... we are not concerned with where the dollar is in the short term, it is a very liquid market and we believe in free currencies," Mnuchin told reporters in Davos. Having said on Wednesday "a weaker dollar is good for us", by promoting US exports, Mnuchin's comments were taken as reinforcing a broad offensive in trade as part of the "America First" platform. - 'Race to the bottom' -New tariffs imposed this week that have angered China and South Korea, and big cuts to the US corporate tax, are accentuating foreign concern that the United States is abandoning its role as protector of the global trade order. Business leaders in Davos have this week given a broad welcome to Trump's controversial tax reforms, but European political leaders fear a "race to the bottom" as the United States gains in appeal to foreign investors. International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde earlier Thursday urged Mnuchin to "clarify" his stance on the dollar, but the US administration is making it clearer that it means business with "America First". - Scouring the valleys -Aides say Trump will use his surprise maiden appearance in Davos to play salesman-in-chief, making the case for investment in a revitalised America.
The president's security and logistical teams scrambled to prepare the trip at short notice, scouring the valleys around Davos for limited hotel space, battling snowstorms and finding themselves briefly hamstrung by a US government shutdown. Aside from his speech, Trump will hold meetings Thursday with the British and Israeli prime ministers, both of whom are due to address the forum, as well as Rwandan President Paul Kagame. With Kagame, who currently chairs the African Union, Trump will likely try to turn a page on his reported derogatory comment about "shithole" African countries. For her part, British leader Theresa May will encourage activist investors to pressure social media firms into clamping down on fake news, hate speech and sexual harassment, according to excerpts of her speech released by Downing Street. Trump, who is travelling with six cabinet ministers, is the first sitting president to attend Davos since Bill Clinton in 2000. The decision by Trump -- the self-styled anti-globalist president -- to attend the world's most notable gathering of globalists, and at an exclusive Swiss ski resort no less, has left some scratching their heads. - Nice or nasty? -A year ago, the Davos spotlight was claimed by China's communist leader Xi Jinping, who took up the torch of global trade to the delight of the well-heeled audience then anxious about Trump's impending inauguration. Davos is "not exactly a sympathetic audience" for Trump, according to William Allen Reinsch of the Center for International and Security Studies. "Walking into the lion's den is an apt metaphor."Indeed, other government leaders attending Davos have lined up to poke holes in the Trump approach this week. Picking up the threads of arguments outlined by the Indian, Canadian and German premiers, French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday acknowledged that globalist policies need to adapt to help those left behind.But opponents to globalisation should not hold everyone else back, he said, while welcoming Trump's imminent arrival in an interview with Swiss radio. "We spoke on the phone and I urged him to come to Davos, to explain his strategy and swim in these waters, to confront other ideas," he said. The Davos elite are keen now to see which version of Trump will show up -- the business-friendly tycoon or the leader who berated the rest of the world at the UN General Assembly last September. "It is hard to predict whether the president will seek to reassure or provoke his audience in Davos," said former treasury secretary Larry Summers, a Democrat.

Iran building ‘world’s largest military base’ in Syria: Israeli diplomat
/Arab News/January 25/18 /UNITED NATIONS: Iran is turning Syria into the “world’s largest military base”, spending up to $35 billion on missile factories and an 82,000-strong deployment in the country to threaten the region, Israeli diplomat Danny Danon said on Thursday. Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, said he was disclosing classified intelligence to the UN Security Council to show how Tehran’s “tentacles of terror” were spreading and posed a danger to Israel, the rest of the Middle East and beyond. “Iran’s military is actively training these militant extremists from all over the world and using Syria as its strategic base,” Danon told UN diplomats in New York. “It is also building missile factories in Syria, in effect turning the innocent people in the surrounding area into human shields. Iran is turning the entire country of Syria into the largest military base in the world.”Iran’s UN ambassador was set to speak later at the same meeting. Tehran asserts that its military operations in Syria are against Daesh and other groups in support of the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Tehran commands 82,000 fighters in Syria – 3,000 from its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, 9,000 from its proxy militia Hezbollah, 10,000 Shiite recruits from Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan and some 60,000 local fighters, Danon said. The Islamic Republic has spent as much as $35 billion on bases, troops and missile factories in Syria, he said. It spends $800 million annually on Hezbollah, and $100 million each on proxy militias in Yemen, Gaza, Syria and Iraq, Danon added. Sanctions relief under the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran, the US and other world powers unfroze cash now being spent by Iran’s generals, he said. Such spending grew from 17 percent of the government’s budget in 2014 to 22 percent in 2017. “That’s $23bn spent on missiles, arms and other weapons of war,” he said. “The Shiite Crescent searches far beyond Israel, and it is larger and more powerful than ever, and it is aiming for the whole world.” Syria’s eight-year-old war has claimed 500,000 lives and forced 5.5 million Syrians to flee the country. Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf countries, the US and Israel have repeatedly warned of Iranian aggression in the region, which Tehran denies. Saudi Arabia was also set to address the UN Security Council on Thursday.

US-Turkey Tensions Escalate over Syria Operation
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 25/18/Tensions between Ankara and Washington over the Turkish army's operation in Syria escalated further on Thursday as Turkey accused the White House of misrepresenting a phone call between Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Donald Trump. The assault by Turkish troops against a Kurdish militia in northern Syria has seen Washington's fellow NATO member Ankara attacking a US-allied force, even raising fears of military confrontation between the two Alliance powers. Turkey says it has made gradual progress in the offensive against Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia but has refused to give any time limit for the campaign. After the Turkish and US presidents spoke late on Wednesday, the White House said Trump had urged Turkey to "to de-escalate, limit its military actions", expressing concern that the assault could harm the fight against jihadists. But a Turkish official said the US statement did "not accurately reflect the content" of the call, adding that Trump did not share any concerns regarding "escalating violence". Turkey launched an offensive against the YPG militia on Saturday in their enclave of Afrin, supporting Syrian rebels with air strikes and ground troops. Ankara views the YPG as a terror group linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) inside Turkey. The PKK is blacklisted by Ankara and its Western allies. But the YPG is still working closely with Washington against the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, in defiance of Turkey's warnings. In a move that could further raise the stakes, Erdogan on Wednesday raised the prospect of an operation on Manbij, a YPG-held town to the east, where there is a US military presence.
- 'Risks giving life to IS' -On Thursday, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim hit out at the US "support for terror organisations", which "could not be accepted".
"The country we call an 'ally' in NATO is in cahoots with terror organisations," he said in a speech in Ankara. "This is a grave and very painful situation. For a country like America to work with terror organisations is really very humiliating," Yildirim said. Following the Erdogan-Trump telephone talks, the US envoy to the coalition against IS, Brett McGurk, said on Twitter the "prolonged operation risks giving life to ISIS (IS) as it's on verge of defeat". "The US (is) now engaged intensively to urge restraint and de-escalation. We are prepared to work with Turkey on legitimate security concerns," he added.
Washington has more than 2,000 special forces and support troops inside Syria, mainly east of the Euphrates in an area also controlled by the YPG but separate from Afrin, which is west of the river. In response to Erdogan's call on the US to stop supplying weapons to the YPG, Trump told the Turkish leader that "his country no longer supplied the group... and pledged not to resume" weapons delivery, the official said. Trump also expressed concern about "the destructive and false" anti-American rhetoric emanating from Turkey, the White House said. But the Turkish official said Trump "did not use the phrase 'destructive and false rhetoric coming from Turkey'", adding Trump said "open criticism" of the US "raised concerns".
- '300 neutralised' -As the operation entered its sixth day, an AFP correspondent saw tanks on the Turkish side of the border and soldiers ready to go into Syria amid tight security. Turkish artillery fire pounded the Afrin region, state-run news agency Anadolu said. Two people, a Turk and a Syrian, were killed on Wednesday after two rockets fired from Syria by the YPG landed in the border town of Kilis, province governor Mehmet Tekinarslan said.
Three Turkish soldiers have been killed since the start of the offensive while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said 48 Ankara-backed Syrian rebels and 42 US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and YPG fighters had been killed. The SDF is an umbrella grouping composed mainly of YPG.
Yildirim said over "300 terror organisation members were neutralised". He vowed Turkey would not allow a "terror structure on its southern border... whether it is east or west of the Euphrates". The Observatory has said at least 30 civilians have been killed but Ankara strongly rejects such claims, saying that it is doing everything to avoid civilian casualties.

U.N. Hosts 'Critical' Syria Peace Talks in Vienna
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/January 25/18/The United Nations embarked on fresh efforts Thursday to jump-start Syrian peace talks that Western countries and the opposition fear are being undermined by a separate Russian diplomatic push. The two days of talks in Vienna come after eight previous rounds in Geneva, during which the two sides failed to even meet each other. The previous attempts stumbled in particular over the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, with the government delegation refusing to meet the opposition face-to-face until they drop demands that he leaves office.
The Syrian government's top negotiator Bashar al-Jaafari made no comment as he arrived at the U.N. in Vienna to meet the world body's special envoy Staffan de Mistura. The main opposition group, the Syrian Negotiations Commission (SNC), said it would sit down for separate talks with the envoy at 4:00 pm (1500 GMT). De Mistura said on Wednesday that the negotiations came at a "very, very critical moment."Nasr al-Hariri from the SNC said the discussions would be "a real test for all the sides."
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said meanwhile in Paris that the talks were the "last hope" for reaching a political solution to a seven-year conflict that has claimed more than 340,000 lives. He highlighted a "considerable worsening of the humanitarian situation" in Afrin -- where Turkey has launched an operation against Kurdish fighters -- as well as in Idlib and Eastern Ghouta. The Turkish intervention, its second in a conflict that has drawn in multiple world powers, has heightened tensions with Ankara's NATO ally the United States, which has backed the Kurdish militants in their battle against the Islamic State group. Ankara, in contrast, views the Kurdish YPG fighters as a Syrian offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state.
Parallel peace talks
The Vienna talks come ahead of a separate peace conference next Tuesday in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, backed by Russia, Iran and Turkey. The three key regional players have been sponsoring parallel peace talks since the start of last year, which have fuelled concerns that the Kremlin is looking to sideline the U.N. "The Russians have done everything to weaken the Geneva process. They want to short-circuit it and be the only sponsor of the diplomatic process," said Hasni Abidi from the CERMAM think-tank in Geneva.
The focus in Sochi will be on hammering out a new constitution, according to the opposition, something that de Mistura also wants discussed in Vienna. While Assad's government has said it will go to Sochi, the SNC has not yet decided, even after a recent visit to Moscow.
Russia under pressure
A Western diplomatic source said that if Moscow wanted its own peace talks in Sochi to be successful, it must push its ally Assad into accepting the need for a political transition, as agreed by the U.N. Security Council in 2015. "This is the moment for the Russians to be banging their fists on the table," the source told AFP. "The opposition has no reason to go to Sochi if the Russians don't win any commitments from Damascus."A suspected chemical weapons attack by the regime on the rebel stronghold of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus left at least 21 people with breathing problems on Monday, prompting a sharp U.S. warning to Russia to rein in its ally. But the war has turned in Assad's favor since Russia became involved militarily in September 2015. Russian-backed Syrian forces have also dealt severe blows to IS, whose self-proclaimed "caliphate" in Iraq and Syria has largely collapsed.

Ahmadinejad's Aides Request to Hold a Protest against Rouhani
Asharq Al Awsat/January 25/18/A number of senior officials at the former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's administration sent a letter to Iranian Interior Minister Abdul Ridha Rahmani Fadhli requesting the permission to organize a sit-in protest against the current situation in the country and deteriorating economic conditions. The letter also mentioned several gatherings during the past months protesting policies, performances, poor economic situations, and mismanagement. The letter criticized recent popular protests in Iran describing misconduct in recent weeks, such as "vandalism and the burning of public places, as well as the Iranian flag, which led to clashes between some of the protesters and the arrest of a large number of them."However, Ahmadinejad's aides demand is based on differentiating between the right to assemble and protest and chaos and sabotage of public areas. The seven officials referred to Articles 8 and 27 of the Constitution, adding that they will ask people to protest calmly and legally. "The protest is a response to the performance of the three authorities (legislative, executive, and judicial) and some policies and behaviors, especially in terms of economic, legal and social affairs," the seven officials said in another part of the letter.
Former president’s top aide, Ali Akbar Javanfekr published on his Telegram channel the letter sent to the interior minister and signed by Ahmadinejad's special adviser Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Hamid Baghaei, former Labor Minister Abdul Reza Sheikholeslami, Ahmadinejad's economic adviser Morteza Tamaddon, and former president's chief of staff Hassan Mousavi. Ahmadinejad aides' letter came less than a week after the former president participated in the last meeting of the Expediency Council, when several newspapers reported anonymous sources saying that he was under house arrest for his involvement in recent protests. Two days after the protests, the Interior Ministry called on political parties to submit requests for demonstrations, as part of its first attempts to contain the protests, and Bahram Sarmast, director general of the political department at the Interior Ministry, said that it is not the ministry’s approach to restrict legal rallies or refrain from issuing permission in this respect. But, if the party requested a demonstration, the ministry will consider it positively.
On Tuesday, Deputy Interior Minister for security affairs Hussein Zulfiqar disclosed details of a security report presented by the Iranian interior ministry to Iranian President Hassan Rowhani about the protests. The report points to three reasons for the outbreak of protests: the first is the decline of public confidence, the second "mismanagement of public" and the third "continued activity of foreign enemies led by US". The report included the age groups and the education level of the participants in the protests.
About 59 per cent of the protesters have a high school diploma or less, while 15 per cent are university graduates, and the education level of education of the remaining 26 percent is unclear, according to the report. In response to the report, reformist activist Said Hajarian wrote in the reformist newspaper Etemad accusing members of the opposition to cause the protests. "Those who promoted pessimism and despair into their religious speeches on the radio and television, and those who wanted to say that Rouhani lacked competence issued orders (No to Rouhani) and chanted (Death to Rouhani)," Hajarian added.
According to Hajarian, Iran "witnessed three events over two decades, the first in June 1999, the second in May 2009 and the third in December 2016." He explained that the first event had a clear goal, and the students wanted to achieve their political demands, but they were repressed by the government. In the second, people protested calmly but security forces fired at them. But during the last demonstrations, the security forces were not as fierce as previous protests. Reformist media was angered by the publication of the the details of the letter of Ahmadinejad's team. ILNA news agency published interviews of spokespersons of labor and teachers' unions who discussed the ban on protests during Ahmadinejad's presidency. ILNA quoted an activist at the teachers' union, Reza Musallami as saying that Ahmadinejad's government dealt in the worst manner with trade union activists during his presidency.
Hussein Habibi, secretary-general of the Tehran Workers' Union, said that when these people (Ahmadinejad's aides) were in power, did not issue a single permit for any peaceful protest.

US to Send 1st Aircraft Carrier Since War to Vietnam
Asharq Al Awsat/January 25/18/A US Navy aircraft carrier will port in Vietnam in March, a first for the allies and former foes, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Thursday. The announcement came as Mattis visited Vietnam following a stopover in Indonesia on a brief Asia tour aimed at drumming up defense cooperation. On his two-day trip to Vietnam, where he met with his counterpart Ngo Xuan Lich and President Tran Dai Quang on Thursday, Mattis zeroed in on freedom of navigation in the resource-rich South China Sea, a thorny issue between Hanoi and Beijing. China claims most of the waterway -and has built up islands and military installations in the sea. Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei also have claims in the waterway. Vietnam and US defense officials have submitted requests for the aircraft carrier to visit, according to Vietnam's ministry of defense on Thursday. Mattis thanked Vietnam for the "increasing partnership with our aircraft carrier coming into Danang in March". Though smaller US ships have docked on Vietnamese shores, Mattis spokesman Jeff Davis confirmed it will be the first time a US aircraft carrier will port in Vietnam. US aircraft carriers neared Vietnamese shores during the Vietnam War which ended in 1975, but this will be the first time for a carrier to port in the country, Pentagon officials said. Mattis joined the Marine Corps Reserves in 1969, while the decade-long Vietnam War was ongoing, but did not serve in Vietnam. Next week will mark the 50th anniversary of the Tet Offensive, in January 1968, when the Communist North launched synchronized, simultaneous attacks on multiple targets in US-backed South Vietnam, including the city of Hue. The offensive was a military failure, but it turned out to be a pivotal point in the war by puncturing US hopes of a swift victory. The war dragged on for another seven years before the US completed its withdrawal.

Kabul hotel attack killed at least 25: official
Thu 25 Jan 2018/NNA - An Afghan official said Thursday at least 25 people were killed in the attack on a Kabul hotel, as confusion reigned over the true toll with conflicting figures given and Afghan media reporting higher numbers. The health ministry official said at least 25 people had been killed, including 13 foreigners. But AFP has independently verified that 15 foreigners -- seven Ukrainians, four Americans, two Venezuelans, one German and one Kazakh -- died in the massacre. "We have 25 deaths from the Intercontinental Hotel attack in Kabul -- seven Afghans, 13 foreigners and five suspected attackers," health ministry spokesman Wahid Majrooh told AFP. That was hours after he gave a different toll, telling AFP that 25 Afghans had been killed and that "we don't know about the foreign fatalities." An Afghan security official also said 25 people had been killed in the 12-hour attack on Saturday night but that figure included three badly burned bodies "which we believe are of foreigners". "To be honest I am not very sure about the final death toll yet," he said on the condition of anonymity. Adding to the confusion, the interior ministry told AFP that the official death toll still stood at 22 but suggested that figure could change in the coming days. "The fact-finding mission and investigation work will be finalised today and... the interior minister will have a press conference on Saturday where he will give the new details," interior ministry deputy spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said. "There could be some new information and changes." Afghan media outlets have reported significantly higher death tolls. Tolo News previously quoted the interior ministry as saying 29 people had been killed, but also cited "reliable sources" as saying the number was around 43. Afghan officials have a long history of understating death tolls in high-profile attacks and there is widespread speculation in Kabul that the true death toll in the hotel attack is far higher than what they have said. "The government is concerned about the inevitable repercussions that this and yesterday's attack (in Jalalabad) are going to have," an Afghan media source told AFP. "Businesses are going to think twice about coming in, foreigners are going to leave. We have seen in the past - specifically after last year's truck bombing and previous hotel attacks -- that a lot of foreigners leave. "It's almost a given that this happens, as a result government tends to keep information under wraps."
The attack comes at a bad time for President Ashraf Ghani whose government was already facing criticism over its failure to improve security in the war-torn country. Investigators are still looking into how the militants were able to get past privately-owned Kabul Balkh Safety and Security guards and launch the assault with guns and grenades. Visitors to the upmarket hotel, which sits on a hilltop overlooking the Afghan capital, have described glaring security breaches before the assailants went on a bloody rampage targeting guests. Bags were not checked, scanners did not work and body searches were non-existent, according to witnesses.--AFP

Trump says Palestinians ‘disrespected’ US, aid on hold
Thu 25 Jan 2018/NNA - US President Donald Trump insisted Thursday that Palestinians had "disrespected" the United States and that he would withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in aid until they agree to US-brokered peace talks. "They disrespected us a week ago by not allowing our great vice president to see them," Trump said during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Davos, Switzerland. "We give them hundreds of millions," Trump added. "That money is not going to them unless they sit down and negotiate peace."--AFP

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on January 25-26/18
Turkey: Targeting Kurds In Syria Making Turkey Feel Imperial Again
Burak Bekdil/Gatestone Institute/January 25/2018
"Operation Olive Branch," the ironic code name the Turkish military has chosen for its incursion into northern Syria, has catered well to the Turkish psyche that craves shows of force of every possible flavor.
In practice, ironically, NATO member Turkey's Operation Olive Branch targets the main ground force allies of its NATO ally, the U.S.
The area Erdogan targets is effectively home to most of Syria's two million or so Kurds, who seek an autonomous entity that Turkey fears may further provoke separatist Kurdish sentiments among Turkey's 10 million to 15 million Kurds.
In Turkey these days, there is every sign of collective hysteria in a once glorious nation that fell from grace, then longed for power and grandeur for nearly a century. Turks are dizzy with joy over their army's incursion into Afrin, a Kurdish enclave in neighboring Syria.
It is almost a sin not to join the celebrations: "We are witnessing the lynching of anyone who dares to speak against it. Opposing the operation has become a death wish," Nevsin Mengu, a prominent Turkish journalist, wrote in Sigma Turkey, an independent news outlet.
"Operation Olive Branch," the ironic code name the Turkish military has chosen for its incursion into northern Syria, has catered well to the Turkish psyche that craves shows of force of every possible flavor. Headlines in the national press since the launch of Operation Olive Branch speak for that psyche:
National Squad Makes History
Heroes in Afrin
Celebrities Pray for Our Army
We'll Crush Them All
No One Can Overcome Turkish Nation
Time for Victory
God Is with Us
Muslim Ulama Support Turkey
Academics Support Afrin Operation in Five-Language Statement
Animals Sacrificed for Olive Branch Martyrs
Prayer in Somalia for Turkish Soldiers
African Children Pray for Turkish Soldiers
Muslims Pray in Mecca for Turkey's Victory in Afrin
Armenian, Jewish Minorities Voice Support for Afrin Operation
Military Hits, Turkey Rises
There is colorful fanfare reflecting the glory-deprived, conquest-hungry Turkish sentiment that blends neo-Ottoman nationalism with political Islam. Turkey's religious authority (Diyanet) called on all clerics in Turkey's more than 90,000 mosques to read the Quran's Al-Fath (Conquest) chapter in their Friday sermons and ask communities to pray for the Turkish troops during the military operation on Syrian soil. All that prayer was apparently not sufficient to boost morale: A replica Ottoman military band, known as mahtar -- the type of military ensemble in the Ottoman army that played martial tunes during military campaigns -- gave a concert to the Turkish soldiers at the Turkish-Syrian border for Operation Olive Branch.
According to Mengu:
"We are almost having a collective catharsis. Triumphant cries of bullies are echoing everywhere. Pro-government media is drunk with victory. Information is flowing in, whether... true or false, with random videos of those embedded in the war. So much so that, the media can get away with inserting scenes from the movie Rambo and claiming they are taken from Afrin. The government has long been using a discourse based on the failures of the Republic.... The policy is solidly built around discrediting the 'timid' approach of the past and is pursuing a much more aggressive approach by simply bullying whoever is around. The Afrin operation is nothing more than this policy in practice."
The Turkish military headquarters announced on January 23 that at least 260 terrorists had been killed in the first three days of Operation Olive Branch. But there is a long way to go: Turkey claims the Afrin region is home to more than 10,000 terrorists that are linked to the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG, in its Kurdish acronym), the main guerrilla force that helped the United States and its allies to defeat the radical jihadist Islamic State in northern Syria. In practice, ironically, NATO member Turkey's Operation Olive Branch targets the main ground force allies of its NATO ally, the U.S.
For Turkey's security czars, the idea of an autonomous or independent Kurdish entity stretching from northern Iraq to Turkey's southern Hatay province bordering northwestern Syria is the top security challenge and an existential nightmare. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has already threatened that Operation Olive Branch could expand into the two other Kurdish enclaves to Afrin's east, Menbij and Kobane, then further east toward the Syrian-Iraqi border.
The area Erdogan targets is effectively home to most of Syria's two million or so Kurds, who seek an autonomous entity that Turkey fears may further provoke separatist Kurdish sentiments among Turkey's 10 million to 15 million Kurds. No matter how gratifyingly the limited Turkish military incursion into a small Kurdish enclave makes Turks feel imperial again, a Kurd-free, Turkey-controlled northern Syria -- stretching from the Turkish border province of Hatay in the west to the Iraqi border in the east -- will be, militarily and politically, a mission impossible for Ankara.
Despite its deceptive domestic festive mood, Operation Olive Branch looks more like a Pyrrhic victory with no practical chance of becoming a long-term strategic triumph.
**Burak Bekdil, one of Turkey's leading journalists, was recently fired from Turkey's leading newspaper after 29 years, for writing what was taking place in Turkey for Gatestone. He is a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.
© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Germany: Return of the Stasi Police State?
Judith Bergman/Gatestone Institute/January 25/2018

Germany's new law requires social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, to censor their users on behalf of the government. Social media companies are obliged to delete or block any online "criminal offenses" within 24 hours of receipt of a user complaint -- regardless of whether the content is accurate or not.
Social media platforms now have the power to shape the form of current political and cultural discourse by deciding who will speak and what they will say.
Notice the ease with which the police chief mentioned that he had filed charges to silence a leading political opponent of the government. That is what authorities do in police states: Through censorship and criminal charges, they silence outspoken critics and political opponents of government policies, such as Beatrix von Storch, who has sharply criticized Chancellor Angela Merkel's migration policies.
While such policies would doubtless have earned the German authorities many points with the old Stasi regime of East Germany, they more than likely contravene the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) to which Germany is a party, as well as the case law of the European Court of Human Rights.
Germany's new censorship law, which has introduced state censorship on social media platforms, came into effect on October 1, 2017. The new law requires social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, to censor their users on behalf of the German state. Social media companies are obliged to delete or block any online "criminal offenses" such as libel, slander, defamation or incitement, within 24 hours of receipt of a user complaint -- regardless of whether the content is accurate or not. Social media companies are permitted seven days for more complicated cases. If they fail to do so, the German government can fine them up to 50 million euros for failing to comply with the law.
The new censorship law, however, was not fully enforced until January 1, 2018, in order to give the social media platforms time to prepare for their new role as the privatized thought police of the German state. Social media platforms now have the power to shape the form of current political and cultural discourse by deciding who will speak and what they will say.
On January 1, 2018, however, the law was immediately enforced. Twitter began by suspending the account of the deputy leader of the Alternative for Germany party (AfD), Beatrix von Storch, for 12 hours, after she tweeted the following in response to a New Year's greeting issued in Arabic by the Cologne Police:
"What the hell is happening in this country? Why is an official police site tweeting in Arabic? Do you think it is to appease the barbaric, gang-raping hordes of Muslim men?"
(During New Year's Eve of 2015/16, over 1,000 mainly Muslim men sexually assaulted around 1,200 women in Cologne.)
Von Storch also had her Facebook account suspended for repeating her tweet there. Facebook told her that her post contravened German law, as it constituted "incitement to hatred".
It did not stop there. Cologne police filed charges against von Storch for "incitement to hatred", which is punishable under section 130 of the German Criminal Code. According to the Cologne police chief, Uwe Jacob, multilingual tweets at major events are an important part of the police's communication strategy:
"The campaign was really well received by most people – however, some were bothered by the fact that we tweeted in Arabic and Farsi – they were very prominent right-wingers, who then felt that they had to make tweets that incited to hatred. We simply filed charges".
Notice the ease with which the police chief mentioned that he had filed charges to silence a leading political opponent of the government. That is what authorities do in police states: Through censorship and criminal charges, they silence outspoken critics and political opponents of government policies, such as von Storch, who has sharply criticized Chancellor Angela Merkel's migration policies.
While such policies would doubtless have earned the German authorities many points with the old Stasi regime of East Germany, they more than likely contravene the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) to which Germany is a party, as well as the case law of the European Court of Human Rights. Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights states:
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers...
2. The exercise of these freedoms... may be subject to such... restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.
In its case law, the European Court of Human Rights has stated that Article 10
"...protects not only the information or ideas that are regarded as inoffensive but also those that offend, shock or disturb; such are the demands of that pluralism, tolerance and broad-mindedness without which there is no democratic society. Opinions expressed in strong or exaggerated language are also protected".
Even more important in the context of charges against politicians is the fact that according to the European Court of Human Rights' case law:
"...the extent of protection depends on the context and the aim of the criticism. In matters of public controversy or public interest, during political debate, in electoral campaigns... strong words and harsh criticism may be expected and will be tolerated to a greater degree by the Court".
When leading politicians are criminally charged for questioning the actions of the authorities, such as in this case the actions of the police, we are no longer dealing with a democracy, but with a regular police state.
Several other accounts on Twitter and Facebook were also suspended under the new censorship law in the first days and weeks of January. One such Twitter account was the satirical magazine, Titanic, which was blocked for parodying von Storch's tweet about the "barbaric hordes" of Muslim men. The privatized Twitter thought police, in their eagerness to censor, had overlooked that Titanic was just poking fun. The suspension of the Titanic account alerted some politicians -- a mere three months after the law went into force -- to the problematic nature of the law. Leader of the Green party, Simone Peter and Secretary-General of the FDP, Nicola Beer were both critical of the law. "The law is messed up and must be replaced by a decent one", Beer said.
Another politician, Martin Sichert, AfD member of the Bundestag for Nürnberg and state Chairman for the AfD, had a Facebook post deleted for violating "community standards". In the post, which he substantiated with links to factual sources, he drew attention, among other things, to the way women are treated in Afghanistan. He also drew attention to the sexual abuse of small children in Afghanistan:
"It is scary and at the same time shameful that our state is preventing the enlightenment of citizens by simply censoring factual opinions, publicly available citations and links to reputable sources."
Sichert and von Storch are just the most famous people to have their speech shut down on social media. There are countless others, whose stories never reach the media.
Under the censorship law, anyone can ask a social network operator to delete postings, even if the post does not affect him personally in any way. If the social network provider does not respond within 24 hours, the person wishing to have a post deleted can involve the Federal Office of Justice; there is even a form for this purpose on the homepage of the Federal Office of Justice. This office is responsible for the prosecution of violations, and the district court of Bonn is the sole authority permitted to examine disputes about the criminal liability of comments made on social media and to impose fines on the social media companies for failing to delete those comments within the required 24 hours.
It is regrettable that Germany, which can barely keep up with the terrorism threat and the wave of violent crime, is spending such vast resources on shutting down the free speech of its citizens on social media. The Federal Department of Justice has rented additional offices in Bonn to house approximately 50 new lawyers and administrators to implement the new law and ensure that the social media providers delete "offending posts" within 24 hours. "It was also important that we created a new file management system," explains Thomas W. Ottersbach of the Federal Office of Justice in Bonn.
"This is the only way to ensure that deadlines are met and that a statistical evaluation can be carried out. Because it is important that we keep an eye on which [social media] operator's complaints are piling up and where they are just isolated cases."
The old German police state is back.
Pictured: Detention cells in the basement corridor of the former prison of East Germany's Ministry of State Security (Stasi) at Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen, Germany. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
**Judith Bergman is a columnist, lawyer and political analyst.
© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Time for Jordan's King Abdullah to Stop Tolerating Genocide from Temple Mount
Dexter Van Zile/Gatestone Institute/January 25/2018
Not only is rhetoric like this from Jordan-approved Imams a clear-cut violation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (which makes incitement to genocide a crime), Jordan's tolerance for anti-Jewish and anti-Western rhetoric at the site is a violation of the treaty signed between Israel and Jordan in 1994.
"Allah called them 'infidels' so why should I be ashamed to call them that?... There is only one kind of punishment for those people: to stop them, to wreak vengeance upon them, and to teach them a lesson. This is not achieved through tolerance, negotiations, or kindness." — Palestinian Imam Issam Amira, using the Al Aqsa Mosque, June 18, 2016.
In the United States, landlords who allow their tenants to use a property for criminal enterprises, such as the sale or manufacture of drugs are liable to having their property seized in a process called "asset forfeiture." Maybe a similar process needs to be applied to Jordan's custodianship of the Temple Mount, for clearly, the Hashemite Kingdom is not serious about preventing the site from being used for criminal incitement against Jews and Westerners.
When ISIS put a Jordanian Air Force pilot into a cage, poured gasoline on him, set him on fire and broadcast a video of the gruesome murder on the internet in February 2015, the Jordanian government responded decisively. It hanged two jihadists affiliated with Al Qaeda and broadcast images of Jordan's monarch, King Abdullah II, wearing military fatigues to highlight Jordan's participation in an American-led coalition that engaged in bombing raids against the terror organization. The Jordanian press office also publicized the king's promise to exact revenge on ISIS for the murder of the pilot, Mouath al-Kasaesbeh, via a statement that was quoted in countless outlets.
To further solidify Jordanian support for the war on ISIS (which, prior to the murder of the Jordanian pilot, had been a source of controversy in the Hashemite Kingdom), Abdullah's wife, Queen Rania, led a rally in Amman condemning the group.
The strategy was a success. After the images of King Abdullah wearing military fatigues appeared on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, some bloggers and journalists falsely reported that the monarch had led the bombing sorties himself, and in some places, King Abdullah was declared a "badass." The Jordanian public relations campaign successfully promoted the notion that the Hashemite Kingdom was at the forefront of the war against ISIS and jihad.
The reality was a bit different. Yes, the Jordanian government and its monarch will pull out the stops to take revenge when a Jordanian citizen is killed by Muslim extremists, but when the hostility is directed at Jews, Israel or the West, the Hashemite Kingdom is not quite so forceful.
The Kingdom's ambivalent role in the war against Islamic extremism and the violence it causes can be seen in the Jordanian refusal to extradite Ahlam Tamimi to the United States to face prosecution for her role in the Sbarro Pizza suicide bombing attack that took place in Israel in 2001. The U.S. is seeking to prosecute her for the murder of several Americans who died in the attack; Jordan will not hand her over.
Jordan's tentative, half-hearted role in the war against jihad is also highlighted by its failure to stop or even curb the hateful rhetoric that is broadcast at the Temple Mount, or Al Haram Al Sharif in Jerusalem —presently under the Custodianship of the Hashemite Kingdom. The kingdom, which appoints and accredits the speakers in the Al Aqsa Mosque and which employees more than 200 guards to maintain order, has failed to stop the site from being used as a tool to promote genocidal hostility toward the Jewish people, not just in Israel, but throughout the world.
In October 2015, for example, Sheikh Khaled Al-Mughrabi declared from a pulpit in the Al Aqsa Mosque that in a final battle between Jews and Muslims, "The children of Israel will all be exterminated ... and the Muslims will live in comfort for a long time." (Al-Mughrabi, whose speech was captured and translated by Palestinian Media Watch, was arrested by Israel and the following month, charged with incitement.)
Not only is rhetoric like this from Jordan-approved imams a clear-cut violation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (which makes incitement to genocide a crime), Jordan's tolerance for anti-Jewish and anti-Western rhetoric at the Temple Mount is a violation of the treaty signed between Israel and Jordan in 1994, which among other things affirms the "special role" that Jordan plays at the Temple Mount.
Article Nine of this treaty states quite clearly that Israel and Jordan "will act together to promote interfaith relations among the three monotheistic religions, with the aim of working towards religious understanding, moral commitment, freedom of religious worship, and tolerance and peace."
On this score, the Hashemite Kingdom has failed miserably, allowing the Temple Mount to be transformed into a volcano of hostility not only against Jews, but against non-Muslims in general. Under Jordanian Custodianship, the Temple Mount, which Muslims call Al Haram Al-Sharif or "The Noble Sanctuary," Muslims regularly sow hatred of the West and call for its destruction.
For example, on June 18, 2016, Palestinian Imam Issam Amira used the Al Aqsa Mosque to declare that "friendship and tolerance toward infidels are unacceptable" and that "the strategy in Islam is hostility toward non-Muslims." In his Ramadan sermon, which was recorded and translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), Amira reported the following:
Once I took part in a discussion, in which we were talking about global politics and about our relations with America and Russia, and the word "infidels" came up. After the discussion, somebody objected. He said, "Brother, say 'America' and 'Russia,' but do not say, 'infidels.' Allah called them 'infidels' so why should I be ashamed to call them that?
They want to water down these forceful and powerful terms, which embody the loftiness and the might of the Muslims. They want to degrade Muslim might and turn it into cheap tolerance toward those who plundered our land, attacked our homes and destroyed them, killed [Muslims], and violated the honor of the women. What kind of tolerance is possible with these people? There is only one kind of punishment for those people: to stop them, to wreak vengeance upon them, and to teach them a lesson. This is not achieved through tolerance, negotiations, or kindness. It is achieved through might.
In this same Ramadan sermon translated by MEMRI, Amira also condemned Egyptian President Anwar Sadat for declaring that he did not want to send his children to their deaths. "Do you think you are doing them a favor?" Amira asked, "by preventing them from reaching Paradise, and by keeping them here, where they live as half-men? There should be hostility toward infidels."
Amira's Ramadan sermon is only one of many examples of this type of rhetoric. In November 2017, Sheikh Abu 'Umran Al Barq declared in a sermon documented by MEMRI that Muslims are required to wage jihad against non-Muslims so that "Islam will triumph over all other religions."
Sermons like this have set the stage for periodic acts of violence against Israeli Jews since Haj Amin Al Husseini, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and subsequently a close ally of Adolf Hitler, came on the scene in the late 1920s to tell Muslims in the Middle East that the Jews were going to destroy Al Aqsa Mosque. The goal of such demonizing rhetoric is to enshrine the notion of Muslim supremacism over non-Muslims, (Jews especially) in the minds of its target audience. That the Temple Mount/Haram Al Sharif is used to further the cause of Muslim supremacism in the 21st century is an intolerable outrage that needs to come to an end. Unfortunately, the problem is going to get worse, a lot worse, before it gets better. The preachers who are accorded the privilege of broadcasting their anti-Jewish and anti-Western hate on Judaism's most holy site set a terrible example for Muslim imams throughout the world, even in places such as the United States, where anti-Semitic incitement is supposed to be taboo, and a clear violation of the rules of American civil society. Just recently, imams have shocked the interfaith community in the United States by speaking in rhetoric similar to what we have been hearing from the Temple Mount.
In July 2017, Ammar Shahin, an imam preaching at a mosque in Davis, Calif., invoked an anti-Semitic hadith (saying of Muhammed) to incite hostility against Israel after the Netanyahu government shut down the Al Aqsa Mosque and installed metal detectors in response to a murderous attack on Israeli guards at the site earlier that month. In a sermon translated by MEMRI, Shahin called on God to "liberate the Al Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Jews" and to "annihilate them down to the very last one."
"Do not spare any of them," he said. Two other imams have made similar statements in the U.S. in recent weeks — one in Texas and one in North Carolina. The one common thread in these sermons is that they all invoke the "Al Aqsa Is in Danger" narrative broadcast by imams speaking under the authority of the Jordanian government in the Noble Sanctuary. This narrative, which was first used by Haj Amin Al Husseini to incite hostility against Jews in the 1920s and 30s, is currently being used to undermine interfaith relations between Jews and Muslims, not only in the Middle East, but in the West as well, most notably the United States and Europe.
The upshot is this: The failure of Jordan -- which appoints and accredits the imams who speak in the Al Aqsa Mosque -- to live up to its obligation under its 1994 treaty with Israel and put an end to this type of propaganda is harming interfaith relations in the United States. This is intolerable. The time is long overdue for the Hashemite Kingdom to stop promoting the patently false narrative that the "Al Aqsa Is in Danger."
The Hashemite Kingdom has effectively abandoned its responsibility to prevent the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary from being used as a focal point of anti-Jewish and anti-Western hatred, even as it continually reaffirms its role as Custodian of the site.
In the United States, landlords who allow their tenants to use a property for criminal enterprises, such as the sale or manufacture of drugs are liable to having their property seized in a process called "asset forfeiture." Maybe a similar process needs to be applied to Jordan's custodianship of the Temple Mount, for clearly, the Hashemite Kingdom is not serious about preventing the site from being used for criminal incitement against Jews and Westerners.
This was made perfectly clear during a talk presented by Wasfi Kailani who spoke at a conference about the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary mentioned above. Kailani, manager of Jerusalem Affairs at the Royal Hashemite Court, spoke extensively at this conference about the legitimacy of the Jordanian monarchy's Custodianship over the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary. Jordanian monarchs, Kailani reported, have given substantial sums to help maintain and restore buildings on the site since 1948.
Successive monarchs have also had their custodianship over the Temple Mount affirmed by Palestinian leaders over the years, including President Mahmoud Abbas in a 2013 agreement. And in 1994, this custodianship was affirmed by Israel in the previously mentioned treaty.
Apparently, however, Custodianship does not really mean all that much. When asked what obligation the Hashemite Kingdom had over the incitement taking place on the Temple Mount, Kailani declared that in light of Ariel Sharon's controversial visit to the site in 2003 and Israel's decision to "unilaterally administrate the affairs of the entry of non-Muslims" at the Temple Mount, "our Waqf has lost the control over the behavior and the actions of the Waqf guards and the Muslims inside the site."
In response to a follow-up question from conference organizer Harvard Law Professor, Noah Feldman, Kailani reported that the speakers who give the Friday sermons at Al Aqsa Mosque are nominated by Palestinian leaders in Jerusalem, but accredited and approved by the Jordanian government. The nominations for new speakers at the mosque comes from Jerusalem sheiks, Kailani said, but they are appointed by Jordan's Ministry of Awqaf Islamic Affairs and Holy Places.
So there you have it. While the Hashemite Kingdom appoints the imams who give Friday sermons at the Temple Mount, by its own admission, it has lost control over what happens at the site. Predictably, the Hashemite Kingdom blames Israel for these circumstances, but the question remains: If King Abdullah II can stand up to ISIS when it kills a Jordanian pilot, why is the Hashemite Kingdom unable (or unwilling) to put a stop to anti-Israel and anti-Western incitement on the Temple Mount?
*Dexter Van Zile is Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.
© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

How to Manipulate Migration Data? Take Belgium...
Alain Destexhe/Gatestone Institute/January 25/2018
An honest report for this demographic forecasting should be called, "We shall soon be a million more, most of whom will be Muslims". But this kind of headline would invariably create a public debate on demography, population density and Muslim integration -- and that would be out of the question for European elites: that would make people super-anxious and worried.
Tricky surveys are only used for migration numbers; never for unemployment rates, literacy rates or GDP growth.
Unless there is rapid awareness about the exponential consequences of chain migration and arrivals from across the Mediterranean, mass migration will continue. Concealing this fact is pursued everywhere in Europe.
It should probably not come as a shock that statistics can be, and often are, presented and manipulated by elites. In Belgium -- and in all of Western Europe except Austria -- they form an informal multiculturalist lobby, which dominates universities, NGOs, public institutions and the media, in order to promote a pro-migration agenda.
In a relatively short time, Belgium has changed dramatically. Without any public debate, it has become a massive migration state. In just 15 years, Belgium has seen an increase of one million in its population -- from 10.2 million in 2000 to 11.3 million in 2015. These numbers represent a 10% rise over a very short period.
From 2000 to 2010, net immigration was nine times greater than in the Netherlands; four times greater than in France or Germany and even greater than in the United States, a country historically open to immigration.
Yet, this statistical reality has been hidden from the Belgian population. The elites and the media decide what people can talk about and what should be hidden. To force people to accept immigration as a given, data has to be hidden to avoid worrying the citizenry.
This is no grand conspiracy, no "Big Brother" masterpiece, but -- at best -- an honest enthusiasm for the multiculturalist ideology, or -- at worst -- the strong defensive mechanisms of Freudian psychology such as sublimation, denial or repression.
Information on flow but not on stock
Migration statistics are presented as annual flow. If this number goes down compared to the preceding year, it will be greatly emphasized; otherwise, it will be downplayed. A 10- or 20-year statistic would never be used. In looking at the scale of a country, annual flows are rarely subject to concern; but over a 10-year period, they could be alarming. We usually, for instance, talk about 40,000 naturalizations a year but none of these would remind us that there were also 200,000 naturalizations in three years and 608,322 in 12 years.
Those numbers represent 6% of Belgium's population. Additionally, no one writes that in just a few years, a million migrants arrived in a country of ten million, from 10.2 million in 2000 to 11.3 million in 2015.
Europeans move back to their country of origin, the others stay
In Belgium, a small country, open to its neighbors and host to the "capital of Europe," always has a procession of lobbyists and bureaucrats who have migrated from within Europe. This number is always larger, in terms of flow, than those arriving from other continents. The French and Dutch have the largest number of yearly migrants to Belgium, but after a few years they move back to their countries of origin. Turks, Moroccans and newcomers from other continents, do not.
So, the false impression is created that immigrants to Belgium are mostly Europeans, but in reality they are not. This incorrect statement is always reassuring and heavily emphasized, but there is never an analysis conducted over a period of 10 or 20 years. Also, a large number of European expatriates, according to emigration records, move back to their home countries. Moroccans, Algerians, Turks, and citizens of many other countries, apart from Americans, usually stay in Belgium... forever.
Demographic forecasts are not linked to migration
With the help of official forecasts, the media regularly note that the Belgian population is growing, and that this increase will continue. However, no one seems to be linking this rise in population to migration, even if, since 2000, that has been the driving factor.
During the coming decades, the Belgian State – already one of the most densely populated countries in Europe -- will again acquire one or two million more inhabitants, and will be confronted with numerous issues linked to this density, such as housing, education, healthcare, transportation, the environment, and so on. This projected increase in population is never emphasized or presented in relation to the number of Muslims in Belgium, which is expected to double (to 1,250,000, meaning 11.1% of the population) or even triple (to 2,580,000, meaning 18.2% of the population) before 2050, according to the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life. An honest report for this demographic forecasting should be, "We shall soon be a million more, most of whom will be Muslims". But this kind of title in the press would invariably create a public debate on demographics, population density and Muslim integration -- and that would be out of the question for European elites: that would make people super-anxious and worried.
Choice of words, and concealment of problems
The population increase continues in Brussels at an average of 1% per year. It is always characterized, though, as a demographic boom and never as a migration boom. Yet, migration and the higher birth rates of women coming from abroad are equivalent to this increase and might well account for it. Social issues are prominent. For instance, 90% of the people claiming social welfare benefits in Brussels have a migrant background. There have been tensions in public services, such as the administration of migrants by the civil service, hospitals and public transport, with a doubling of travelers in 15 years. More space is needed at schools: more than 40,000 additional pupils have been added to classrooms over 10 years. Moreover, the related costs are never debated or addressed. Those topics are just swept away as if they were totally disconnected to migration.
Disdain for the concerns of citizens
One of the surest means to dismiss the legitimate worries of a population is to ridicule people as if the major part of the population were ignorant. One can, for example, make use of a popular opinion poll asking, say, the number of Muslims in the country and then laugh at a popular exaggeration in the numbers. If Belgians (or Europeans) were just better informed or less stupid, the commentary on the poll results would say, people would stop worrying about migration, and everything would be shiny in the Brave New World again. These kind of tricky surveys, however, are only used for migration numbers; never for unemployment rates, literacy rates or GDP growth. No one is even trying to take into account this popular anxiety, even as it reveals intensifying societal unease.
Spillover effect of family reunification
In Belgium, around 50% of immigration is linked to family reunification. That number represents a higher level than those of our European neighbors and more than for most of Europe, even though all of western Europe has been hit by mass migration. A problem is that the type of mass migration Europe has seen is, by definition, exponential and without any end. There are marriages in name only, polygamy, marrying only within one's community for many Turkish and Moroccan weddings, and apparently often fraud.
The consequences on demographics of family reunification (chain migration) are never explained or taken into account.
Even Eurostat, the official statistics agency of the European Union, mixes data and ideology: that "immigration" is "good for Europe". In the very first lines of the latest report on migration (March 2017), Eurostat writes:
"In destination countries, international migration may be used as a tool to solve specific labour market shortages. However, migration alone will almost certainly not reverse the ongoing trend of population ageing experienced in many parts of the EU".
So, let us have more immigration!
Unless there is rapid awareness about the exponential consequences of chain migration and arrivals from across the Mediterranean, mass migration will continue. Concealing this fact is pursued everywhere in Europe. If we want to control and slow down immigration, according to the will of the majority of Europeans, the European people need at least to be aware of the gravity of the situation. Asking for an honest description of the migration crisis is vital if we wish to preserve the freedom of speech in democratic countries.
Turkey's then Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu (left) clasps hands with European Council President Donald Tusk (center) and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (right) during a "migration deal" summit, in Brussels, Belgium, on March 18, 2016. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
Alain Destexhe is a Senator in Belgium, Former Secretary General of Médecins Sans Frontières and Former President of the International Crisis Group.
© 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.

Trump and the American Soft Power
Albert R. Hunt/Bloomberg/January 25/2018
Donald Trump's tirade a week ago against non-white countries may be tearing the final fiber off American soft power. Witness the worldwide reaction in the time since the president of the United States called African and Latin American countries "s---holes." This is the latest in a series of offensive actions or assertions by the president that undercuts the appeal of America and American values.
"Trump has been a disaster for American soft power," says Joseph Nye, the distinguished diplomat and academic who coined the phrase three decades ago. It is the ability, short of using force, to influence or coerce others through diplomacy, ideals and assistance. Soft power should complement military power or economic pressure. For 70 years, from the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after World War II, this has been a staple, if not a priority, of American foreign policy. This is neither a modern concept nor a partisan one. "Even the Romans understood the importance of soft power," Nye notes. "Reagan, the Bushes, Clinton, Obama -- all understood this."Meghan L. O'Sullivan, a top foreign policy official in the George W. Bush Administration, warned in these pages about the dangers of Trump surrendering America's soft-power advantages, citing withdrawal from the Paris climate accords and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact. That was in June 2017; it has gotten worse.
The administration is downsizing and denigrating the diplomatic corps. Foreign-service officers are resigning on principle, and there are scores of vacancies. The expertise gap will take years to address. The White House proposed to slash foreign assistance, although Congress restored some cuts.
Trump continually inflames passions against immigrants, whether it's the message he sent with his proposed ban on visitors from certain Muslim countries or his charges that incoming Haitians "all have AIDS" or that if we let in Nigerians they'll "never go back to their huts." Of course, last summer he seemed to equate white nationalists and neo-Nazis who created violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, with those who were protesting racial injustice. The fallout of this behavior has been devastating. The Gallup poll last week found that in 134 nations only 30 percent of people approve of US leadership today, an all-time low and down from 48 percent a year ago when Barack Obama was president. A Pew survey last year suggested an even wider gap (Russia was one of the few countries where approval of the US had increased.)
The respected Soft Power 30 survey that measures the most effective use of soft power found that the US in 2017 slipped from first to third place, behind France and the UK. China is coming up on the outside.
Trump and most administration insiders brush such measures aside. Budget director Mick Mulvaney boasted of his "hard power budget." And United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, in defending the president's record, noted the way he "hit back at Syria," or "finally put North Korea on notice."
The reality is that after the US cruise-missile attack last April on an airbase in Syria, the dictator Bashar al-Assad is still in charge, and Russia and Iran remain influential there. And Kim Jong Un may have been put on notice, but unfortunately the North Korean "rocket man" doesn't seem intimidated.
A few top officials in the Trump administration get the import of soft power. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis warns without more diplomats and diplomacy, we'll have to buy more bullets. It's a lonely crowd. The prime beneficiary of the US abdication is China. Xi Jinping is spreading Chinese influence all over. A recent New Yorker piece on this by Evan Osnos should be required reading in the White House. America still enjoys huge advantages over China and most places. Our culture, our artists and athletes are the most recognized and often revered in the world.
Even here Trump complicates. He's the first president to stiff the Kennedy Center honors for America's finest artists. The two most celebrated US athletes around the globe are basketball stars LeBron James and Stephen Curry, who both engaged in hostile exchanges with the president.
Joe Nye, by nature an optimist, believes that America's advantages will continue to resonate and that the push-back against Trump from civil society sends a message. "Trump has done enormous damage," he says, "but there will be life after Trump. Soft power will recover." I hope he's right.

Davos Warms to Trumponomics
Ferdinando Giugliano/Bloomberg/January 25/2018
Have criticisms of Donald Trump’s economic policy gone too far? Whisper it quietly, but 12 months after the beginning of the Trump presidency, several economists and business leaders appear willing to give Trump and his tax reform a chance. It may be down to the stock market highs, or perhaps to the announcements by companies like Apple and Wal-Mart that they are willing to invest in the US and pay workers higher wages. Still, the apocalyptic fears that accompanied Trump’s arrival at the White House could not seem farther away.
The danger, however, is that this early revisionism will go too far. The US economy has the winds of the global recovery in its sail. The tax reform has clearly encouraged talk of investment and a pickup in growth, but it is far too early to quantify the effects. Yet the dangers are all too clear: The US is boosting demand at a time when the recovery is mature. The risk is that such a sugar rush will push up the deficit, public debt and inflation, while having only a modest impact on growth.
The rising optimism on the US economy was visible in the latest set of forecasts from the International Monetary Fund, which were presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Monday. The Fund revised up its growth projections for the US, saying that in 2020 national income would be 1.2 percent higher than it would have been in the absence of the tax plan. Of course, there would be some payback later on, with growth slowing down for a few years from 2022 onward. The IMF isn’t the only one seeing the bright side. The 2018 PwC survey of CEOs found the highest-ever jump in optimism, with the biggest increases in optimism toward North America.
The Davos elite seem more open-minded about the president than when I was here just a year ago. Of course, Trump’s protectionist instincts are not popular among a crowd that remains firmly committed to free trade. But at a high-level panel discussion on Tuesday morning headed “Global Markets in a Fractured World,” several executives found it hard to hide their enthusiasm for the tax changes.
Stephen Schwarzman, the CEO of Blackstone who led the president’s Strategic and Policy Council before it was dismantled last summer, said there would be “a lot” of financial inflows into the US. “There are companies from all around the world who are looking at the US and saying this is the place to be,” he added. Adena Friedman, CEO of Nasdaq, was also supportive, saying the tax cut could initiate a virtuous circle of investment, employment and a greater willingness to train workers.
Of course, there were some who expressed reservations over the sustainability of the tax measures. Frank Appel, CEO of Deutsche Post DHL Group, expressed a typically German concern for the state of public finances. “If a tax reform leads to a higher budget deficit, it will be good for the next 12 months, then there is a bill to pay,” he warned. Others, however, were less concerned. Tidjane Thiam, CEO of Credit Suisse, noted that foreign investors would continue to be willing to fund US deficits. “The way you think about economics, it’s very different for the US,” he said.
The enthusiasm of some business leaders appears convincing until you think about one fundamental problem. Even if you assume that the tax changes will somewhat trickle down to the real economy thanks to higher investment and wage growth (which is hardly certain), the timing of the fiscal stimulus remains awkward. The US economy has now recovered for more than 100 months while the unemployment rate has fallen to nearly 4 percent. This is hardly the moment to provide fiscal stimulus, adding to the deficit in the hopes that growth will become faster still.
In his intervention at Davos, Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America, touched on some of these problems when he said there was a risk that businesses may find skills shortages as they tried to hire more workers. Deutsche Post’s Appel agreed: “The tax reform will be good short-term. But it doesn’t fix the fundamental problem” which is about boosting productivity through training and infrastructure spending. Addressing these supply-side bottlenecks will require more than a tax cut. When he lands in Switzerland, Trump will certainly find a more favorable ear than he would have just 12 months ago. But it’s unclear whether the benign effects of Trumponomics will endure, or simply melt away, just like the Davos snow.

How Can Saudi Arabia and Egypt Help Confront Toxic Ideologies?
Joseph Braude and Samuel Tadros/Washington Institute/January 25/2018
Two experts discuss how Washington can use its warming relations with Cairo and Riyadh to foster soft-power reform campaigns.
On January 18, Joseph Braude and Samuel Tadros addressed a Policy Forum at The Washington Institute. Braude is an advisor to Al-Mesbar Studies and Research Center and a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. Tadros is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom and a distinguished visiting fellow in Middle Eastern studies at the Hoover Institution. The following is a rapporteur's summary of their remarks; video of the full event is available above.
Some Saudis outside the government, primarily media figures, have been trying to counter extremist ideologies in their midst for some time. In recent years, they have expressed optimism about Riyadh's new policies and are very interested in international partnerships to improve their effectiveness. These are not dissidents; they are establishment voices pushing the boundaries of the small space they have been given.
For instance, some of these individuals produced a comedy show called Tash ma-tash, which roughly translates to "Either you get it or you don't." In one skit, women call the police to alert them of a burglar entering their house, but when the officers realize that the women's father is away, they say they cannot enter unless a man is present. The satirical skit was even broadcast on an official government channel. Introducing new ideas has not been easy, of course—four out of every ten scripts the producers submitted to the Ministry of Information were rejected. Over time, however, things that were once controversial became more mundane, and such programs were able to make a bit of a dent.
New ideas were also introduced by turning news developments into teachable moments. In 2014, Mansour al-Nogaidan—a former hardline preacher who had become more liberal—was asked what he thought of the government's effort to prevent teachers from recruiting for the Muslim Brotherhood. He replied that the policy should be accompanied by greater efforts to foster tolerance in the kingdom; in particular, he criticized the penetration of Salafi-jihadist ideas in Saudi schools and urged educators to promote inclusiveness toward Shia.
Although the Saudi figures responsible for such initiatives are not policymakers, they are capable of affecting the informational climate in which policies are made. Saudi liberals are especially successful at appealing to the individualistic desires of their society, since many modern Saudis are deeply interested in expanding personal freedoms.
Against this backdrop, the kingdom's new leaders have made a number of decisions that could prove crucial to countering extremism and promoting tolerance. First, the government has been pursuing a major economic overhaul and a more liberal social agenda. Second, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman has acknowledged that 1979 marked the beginning of a long period of broad, problematic government support for extremist ideologies. Third, he has shown a willingness to use security measures to clamp down not only on violent fringe elements, but also on their sympathizers within the clerical establishment.
Yet the challenge lies in changing not just government policies, but popular opinion as well. In a past clip from Wesal TV, a channel funded by Kuwaitis but largely staffed by Saudis, the narrator bashes Shia Islam and Iran's regional expansion, saying "O Arabs, Iran wants to turn your home into hell." The Saudi government banned the network in 2014, and Bahrain and Kuwait soon followed suit. Two years later, however, a reformist member of the Saudi Shura Council posted a poll on Twitter and found that 82 percent of respondents opposed the closure.
Regarding outside assistance, each agenda item pursued by Saudi liberals includes a role for international players. The first item is a more well-rounded religious education, which entails making textbooks more tolerant and inclusive, training teachers from a more open-minded point of view, and giving space to multiple interpretations of Islam, with the aim of encouraging moderation. The second is the creation of an inclusive Saudi nationalism based not on claims of ideological supremacy, but rather on the success of a national project in which all citizens are vested, including historically marginalized communities. Third is the fostering of a unified Gulf identity, building on Saudi-Emirati cultural osmosis and expanding to the other Gulf Cooperation Council states. At a time when the U.S.-Saudi relationship is improving and a critical mass of Saudis welcome international partnership, Washington has ample opportunities to directly engage reformists on confronting toxic ideologies.
For several decades now, America's understanding of the Middle East has waned even as its military has become more involved there. This knowledge gap was partly the result of an academic assault in which serious studies of the region were often accused of fostering a colonialist agenda. Today, political science dominates the conversation about the Middle East, and Westerners know very little about the region's actual residents—their cultures, their lives, or their concerns. This includes top area scholars, many of whom do not know what the people are reading, watching, or listening to.
For example, at a time when Middle Eastern youths are increasingly willing to question social taboos, more than a dozen novels have been published about Jews who lived in the Arab world. There is also a sense of cultural nostalgia about cosmopolitan Alexandria, as seen in numerous books, films, television shows, and songs. Meanwhile, the term "Arab world" is becoming less and less useful—the region has many different societies with different identities, and what is popular in one culture may not be in another.
To be sure, certain states have been instrumental in spreading ideas across the Middle East over the years, especially Gamal Abdul Nasser's Egypt and the Sunni clerical establishment in Saudi Arabia. This may be why Washington tends to believe there is a lever Riyadh can pull to reverse the spread of radicalism in the region. In reality, though, toxic ideas are much more difficult to contain.
Middle Eastern governments have a crucial role to play in any effort to address this problem. Given their well-established regional influence, Riyadh and Cairo need to take the lead in this endeavor; after all, Egyptian Arabic used to be the most common dialect in Arabic media, and the new Saudi leadership seems keen to play a more assertive role. The United Arab Emirates could also provide robust support for anti-extremist discourse at home and abroad.
In January 2015, Egyptian president Abdul Fattah al-Sisi publicly called for a religious revolution, and Washington hailed his remarks. Three years later, no such revolution has taken place, but this is hardly surprising when one considers that Sisi lacked a plan, the means to enact it, and a base to support it. Fortunately, the opportunity to enact some change in Egypt still exists. Islamists retain many advantages, including a comprehensive worldview and way of life that competing ideologies cannot offer. Yet many Middle Easterners have lived under the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic State in recent years, and they did not enjoy their experience. This has caused people to reexamine their notions about the role of religion in society.
Social media has a crucial role to play as well. Even as the Sisi government attempts to control the traditional news media, alternative outlets like YouTube are having an impact. Many parodies of Islamic State videos have gone viral, serving as a powerful tool against the group's Islamist narrative. Wider use of alternative media could provide a serious means of countering toxic ideas.
This summary was prepared by Erika Naegeli.

The blessings and curse of higher oil prices
Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady/Al Arabiya/January 25/18
The nightmare for OPEC oil producers and those that joined them in the production cut agreements in November 2016 is that high oil prices are a blessing and a curse. The blessing is obvious – many are still fiscally stressed and need high oil revenues to sustain their oil dependent economies until they can start a meaningful transformation and diversify their economies away from oil.
That will take time and in the short term they have to wrestle with policy decisions on whether to continue with their production cuts, drain away surplus oil inventories but at the same time see non participating oil producers, whether states or individual shale companies in the USA, come back with a vengeance and pump more oil and take up market share lost to those in the agreement club.
It is a fine tuned balancing act and, as the Saudi Oil Minister Khaled Al Falih recently said at the Davos World Economic Forum, there is still some way to go before some sort of stability in global supply and demand can be reached and the the current OPEC- non OPEC agreement will continue in one form or another into 2109. Some are now predicting that this agreement will take a life of its own and continue well past 2019 but metamorphose into some other energy – economic strategic partnership nexus, especially between the two heavyweights in the agreement, Saudi Arabia and Russia.
In the meantime, OPEC officials sound like central bankers these days, referring to a $60 "equilibrium" crude oil price and referring to the long period of "undershooting" that equilibrium price when pushing back on whether there might be a policy response any time soon to spot oil prices reaching up into a $63 to $70 range. Some OPEC states, especially those in the Gulf, are for now quite willing to tolerate a crude oil "overshoot" of the $60 target price. Crude prices have only recently risen above the $60 mark, making it "premature" to talk about adjustments to the current quota framework. The reason is simple - the output cuts are only now starting to drain away some of the global supply surplus although the various estimates from OPEC and the International Energy Agency differ.
For the time being, there is no chance of changes to the formal quotas and agreed upon output cuts before the June 2018 Ministerial meeting. Extensive negotiations will be needed to work out what the OPEC officials suggest will be a quarterly, possibly monthly, "reverse taper" in which participating oil producers will be allowed to gradually increase their output under a formula still to be worked out. Key to its success would be what is understood to be a Saudi willingness to assume a "first in/last out" role in the reverse taper, that is, just as it front-loaded the bulk of the output cuts that led to the November 2014 Vienna agreement, it will likewise be the last of the 24 agreement participants to fully recover its output cuts. The objective is to bring OECD crude inventories, now at around 2.91 billion barrels, to their five-year historical average of 2.73 billion barrels, and which is likely to require a six-month assessment period to gauge to what degree prices are in line with demand and consumption trends. That would put any changes in the quotas closer to the November 2018 meeting than June.
The headache until then is to continue instilling discipline amongst countries that see the current high oil prices as a bonanza and cheat on their quotas, especially from Iran which is fearful of more economic sanctions, putting the agreement into jeopardy and another free for all market share rush. But whatever cheating there may be is likely to be offset by falling output from other oil producers such as Libya or Nigeria, and especially Venezuela. If this happens, then Russian oil company incentive to remain in the pact will be sorely tested as Russian oil companies are clamouring to be released from their output constraints before year-end, but for now Saudi Arabia especially is confident Russia President Vladimir Putin will enforce Russia's agreed 300,000 bpd cuts in output until the details are worked out for an agreement to the envisioned gradual "reverse taper" of the existing quotas.
The headache for those in the agreement is that current high oil prices will once again bring out the cat in the bag, the U.S shale producers, as well as Canadian and Brazilian production, with estimates of another 1.1 million barrels per day of U.S. shale alone coming into the market in 2018. Some believe that this is a blessing in disguise as too high prices – once again going north of $ 80 per barrel – might cause global economic growth to slow, and kill off incremental oil demand. So next time you see oil prices reach such levels, take pity on those oil producers in the Vienna agreement trying to juggle their desire for high oil prices, but not too much please…

Will Operation Olive Branch end the US-Turkey Alliance?
Giorgio Cafiero/Al Arabiya/January 25/18
Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch is a combined military and political effort to reverse gains that armed Kurds have achieved in northern Syria. Launched on January 20, the campaign marks a turning point in the Syrian crisis and adds new layers of dangerous friction to Turkey-US relations, which reached rock bottom during the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency. Officials in Washington are concerned that Turkey’s military offensive will undermine international efforts to eradicate Islamic State (ISIS) and other Salafist-jihadist militants from northwestern Syria. The Ankara-Washington alliance has likely reached a make-or-break point as the Turkish military wages strikes against US-backed Kurdish forces while President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vows to extend Operation Olive Branch east of Manbij.
Although Turkey and the US have coordinated past efforts against the Damascus regime via the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, and the two NATO allies’ militaries fought together against ISIS in Syria, since 2015 Washington and Ankara have never seen eye to eye on the dominant Kurdish militia in Syria. Both the Obama and Trump administrations (especially the latter) have supported the People’s Protection Unit (YPG), the armed wing of the Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Democratic Union Party (PYD), in the fight against ISIS. Viewing the YPG/PYD as a terrorist organization, Turkey has been infuriated with Washington for arming and financially supporting this entity under the banner of countering violent extremism.
Friction between Ankara and Washington reached new heights this month when US officials proposed a plan to recruit and train a security force with 30,000 members—the majority being Syrian Kurds—just south of the Turkish-Syrian border. Turkish officials condemned the “terror army” proposal, maintaining that it would severely damage the two Ankara-Washington alliance. Yet the US has already trained and armed the YPG-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is currently considering plans for sending more reinforcements to Afrin to further fend off the Turkish military offensive on top of the YPG’s firing of rockets at Turkish towns along the border in immediate retaliation to Operation Olive Branch.
The first major victim
Much of the tension that the Syrian crisis has recently added to Turkey-US relations derives from the reality that Ankara and Washington have different priorities and incompatible agendas in the war-torn country. Three main objectives drive the Trump administration’s approach toward the Syrian crisis: 1) Undermining Tehran’s ability to consolidate Iranian influence in Syria; 2) Keeping the Syrian regime weak, and thus as minimal a threat to Israel as possible; 3) Preventing Salafist-jihadist entities such as ISIS or al-Qaeda from usurping control of territory and using Syria as a launch pad for acts of international terrorism. In pursuit of these aims, the Trump administration sees the YPG/PYD as having a critical role to play and has clearly signaled its view that the US-YPG/PYD partnership was to be more than a short-term transactional relationship that expired once ISIS lost its strongholds in Iraq and Syria last year.
Yet it is evident that the first major victim of the Trump administration’s approach to Syria’s Kurds is the US-Turkey alliance. Furthermore, odds are good that Washington’s continued arming of Syria’s Kurds will push Turkey closer to Russia. From Ankara’s perspective, the US has been indifferent to, what Turkey perceives as, an existential threat to Turkey’s security and territorial integrity, leaving Ankara with no choice but to seek greater support from Moscow. The Trump administration’s opposition to Operation Olive Branch will further reinforce Ankara’s conviction that the US cannot be trusted when it comes to issues of Turkey’s vital interests, adding to the growing mistrust stemming from the failed coup attempt in 2016, which certain officials in Ankara and voices in the Turkish media allege that Washington backed.
If Turkey and the US fail to diplomatically sort out their differences vis-à-vis northern Syria, the two countries’ alliance may near its final days. Should dialogue between Ankara and Washington not produce a mutual understanding and shared strategy for countering terror menaces in Syria, there is a growing risk of a direct clash between Turkish and US forces in northern Syria. Such an escalation in Afrin and nearby areas of the war-torn country would tragically end recently expressed hopes for 2018 being the year that peace returns to Syria.

Nations which appease Iran open their doors to its spies
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/January 25/18
Nations which appease Iran open their doors to its spies
After an investigation by Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the federal prosecutor’s office last week ordered the German police to carry out raids around the country on properties linked to suspected Iranian spies. The Iranian agents are believed to have spied on persons and organizations “on behalf of an intelligence unit associated with Iran.”
The Iranian authorities have declined to comment on this critical issue in order to evade responsibility. The regime has successfully escaped accountability since its establishment in 1979.
Espionage poses a threat to Berlin’s and the EU’s security. The EU and Germany should take this issue extremely seriously and reconsider their full support for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal. In addition, Germany ought to reconsider its increasing business deals and trade with the Iranian regime. These policies only strengthen the regime’s institutions, which are behind such heinous and illegal acts.
It is also worth noting that Germany’s appeasement policies and increasing trade with the regime make it much easier for Iranian spies to infiltrate Berlin.  Iran’s espionage in the West highlights the fact that appeasing the Iranian leaders with trade and sanctions relief only empowers them, making them stronger and more destructive as they pursue their hegemonic and ideological ambitions. This causes further instability and conflicts. There are two major Iranian institutions that plan and orchestrate espionage in foreign countries. First is the Quds Force — an elite branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The second institution is the Ministry of Intelligence under the leadership of hard-line cleric Mahmoud Alavi, who was appointed by the so-called “moderate” president, Hassan Rouhani. Offering Tehran trade and sanctions relief only empowers the regime to carry out espionage operations, making it stronger and more destructive as it pursues its hegemonic and ideological ambitions.
Iranian spies and agents do not solely target political institutions to get information or change their policies. They also target universities, schools, journalists, scholars, and civilian institutions for several reasons. Iran carries out espionage through people or cyber-attacks. Often journalists and professors are targeted in order to bribe them or persuade them to write articles and books in favor of the Iranian regime. Universities are often targeted in order to detect the direction of their research and influence their syllabuses. On the other hand, some mainstream outlets have projected Iran’s espionage in Germany as a surprise. But it is important to point out that the regime has a long history of spying and has been linked in the past to assassinations of dissidents and the targeting of those who are considered “enemies.”For example, earlier this month Germany summoned Iran’s ambassador in Berlin after a 31-year-old Pakistani student was convicted of spying for Tehran on Reinhold Robbe, a German Social Democratic Party (SPD) politician. The American Jewish Committee in Berlin has urged Germany’s Foreign Ministry to expel the Iranian ambassador.
Previously, federal prosecutors filed charges against two men suspected of spying for the Iranian regime on opposition group the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK).
Iran’s spies operate heavily in Arab countries as well. Last August, Kuwaiti authorities arrested 12 people who were convicted in absentia of spying for the Iranian regime and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah. In October, a Bahraini court found a group of 19 people guilty of leaking information to the IRGC and Hezbollah in exchange for receiving “material support” from the Iranian regime. And, in late 2016, a court in Saudi Arabia found 15 people guilty of spying for Iran. The International community must hold the Iranian regime accountable and bring charges against the Quds Force and the Ministry of Intelligence. Countries that find themselves victims of Iran’s espionage should halt diplomatic and economic relations with Tehran, as well as expel the regime’s ambassadors. Iran’s embassies are often used as important sites for such networks, so these policy recommendations will send a robust message to the Iranian regime to respect international norms.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business.