July 04/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations
I pray therefore that you may not lose heart over my sufferings for you; they are your glory
Letter to the Ephesians 03/01-13: "This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given to me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow-heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him. I pray therefore that you may not lose heart over my sufferings for you; they are your glory."
Titles For The Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on July 03-04/18
Aoun, Geagea agree road map to resolve Cabinet stalemate/Ghinwa Obeid/The Daily Star/July 03/18
Exclusive – Lebanese Security Sources to Asharq Al-Awsat: We Have Cut the Roots of Terrorism/Thaer Abbas/Asharq Al Awsat/July 03/18
Explosions Reported in Syrian, Iranian Weapons Depots in Southern Syria/Haaretz/July 03/18
Analysis Syria’s Assad Has Become Israel’s Ally/Zvi Bar'el/Haaretz/July 03/18
Once Enemies, Now Refugees: The New Reality Facing Soldiers on the Israeli-Syrian Border/Anshel Pfeffer/Moshav Keshet/Haaretz/July 03/18
Palestinians Beat Female Journalists; World "Sees No Evil"/Bassam Tawil/Gatestone Institute/July 03/18
Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan/A. Z. Mohamed/Gatestone Institute/July 03/18
Europe: "The Vision is an Islamic State"/Judith Bergman/Gatestone Institute/July 03/18
Israeli Defence Forces Appoints First Iran Project Director" As Northern Tensions Increse/Jerusalem Post/July 03/18
Merkel Engineers a Better Deal on Migration/Leonid Bershidsky/Bloomberg/Asharq Al Awsat/July 03/18
Is Trump Handing Putin a Victory in Syria/David Ignatius/The Washington Post/July 03/18
Does the West Actually Face a Migration Crisis/Ishaan Tharoor/The Washington Post/July 03/18
Time for Iran to Go back to its Borders/Ghassan Charbel/Asharq Al-Awsat/July 03/18

Titles For The Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on July 03-04/18
Aoun weighs in on Aqoura-Yammouneh spat
Aoun warns against tax evasion, says erodes trust in state
Sami Gemayel calls on Aoun to correct naturalization decree
Aoun Meets Kataeb Delegation, Talks Focus on Citizenship Decree
Riachi Meets Bassil, Agrees with Him on 'Pacification'
Geagea Calls Bassil after Talks with Aoun
Nasrallah Hails Outgoing Iranian Ambassador
Aoun, Geagea agree road map to resolve Cabinet stalemate
Exclusive – Lebanese Security Sources to Asharq Al-Awsat: We Have Cut the Roots of Terrorism

Titles For The Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on July 03-04/18
Explosions Reported in Syrian, Iranian Weapons Depots in Southern Syria
Trump Hails North Korea Talks, Says War Averted Because of Him
Pompeo Heads to North Korea Thursday as Doubts Cloud Kim’s Nuclear Intentions
Netanyahu Criticizes Media in Defense of his Beleaguered Wife
Merkel Last-Ditch Migrant Deal Reopens EU Deep Divisions
Syria Installs Barbwire in Border Area to Prevent Illegal Crossing
HRW Urges Help for Syrians Excavating Raqa Mass Graves
Coalition Hits Yemen Rebels Outside Hodeida as Push for City Paused
Leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador Sweeps to Victory in Mexico Presidential Elections

The Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on July 03-04/18
Aoun weighs in on Aqoura-Yammouneh spat
The Daily Star/July 03/18/BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun Monday called for the residents of two bordering towns in northern Lebanon that have been locked in a land dispute to “be like one family ... because they have done so throughout history.” Aoun discussed the disagreement with Military Prosecutor Peter Germanos, who affirmed that the President would pay special attention to the matter. Baalbeck’s Yammouneh and Jbeil’s Aqoura have been in a dispute over a piece of land that separates them. The issue was resolved in 1967 through a court ruling that defined and demarcated the municipal borders. However, tensions recently intensified following a string of security incidents that required the intervention of the Internal Security Forces and the Lebanese Army on a number of occasions. Yammouneh is predominantly Shiite while Aqoura is mainly Christian.

Aoun warns against tax evasion, says erodes trust in state
The Daily Star/July 03/18/BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun warned Tuesday against tax evasion, saying it negatively impacts trust in state institutions, according to a statement from the presidency's media office. "Such practices tamper with citizens’ confidence in all the state apparatuses," Aoun told a delegation of the newly-elected board of the Lebanese Association of Certified Public Accountants. Aoun also acknowledged the current economic crisis in Lebanon is a heavy burden on citizens but said that progress on this front would not happen overnight. He placed the onus for the worsening economic situation on conflict in neighboring countries and the resulting refugee crisis, noting that practical measures to relieve the burden of the refugee population on Lebanon have started to materialize.

Sami Gemayel calls on Aoun to correct naturalization decree

The Daily Star/July 03/18/BEIRUT: Kataeb Party MP Sami Gemayel Tuesday called on the president to correct a naturalization decree passed last month that granted citizenship to around 400 people, and remove the names of candidates who didn’t meet the necessary requirements.
“We asked President Michel Aoun to correct the mistakes in the naturalization decree, for which we do not hold the president responsible,” Gemayel told reporters after meeting Aoun at the presidential palace in Baabda. The decree had sparked outcry over the secretive nature of its passage, and as a result of the controversy, Aoun later tasked General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim with vetting the individuals named on the decree. Meanwhile, after the decree was publicized, Gemayel called for a meeting with officials from the Lebanese Forces and Progressive Socialist Party over the three parties’ opposition to the order. While the LF and PSP ended up filing appeals against the decree to the Shura Council, Gemayel said Tuesday that this was not the best way to move forward. “The easiest way is for the president to address the issue, by removing the names [of those who don’t meet the requirements], and in this way it preserves the powers of the president,” he said. Gemayel also spoke of the economic situation in Lebanon, which he said was in dire need of solutions. “If reform steps are not implemented on the economic level, there is a high risk for the Lebanese people and this phase requires extraordinary measures.”

Aoun Meets Kataeb Delegation, Talks Focus on Citizenship Decree
Naharnet/July 03/18/President Michel Aoun held talks on Tuesday with Kataeb delegation, led by its chief MP Sami Gemayel, where talks focused on the controversial citizenship decree and the general situation in the country, the National News Agency reported. “We wish the flaws in the citizenship decree are corrected, the ball is in his (Aoun) court now. We don’t think the President is responsible for these flaws,” said Gemayel from Baabda. He said the party chose not appeal the decree before the State Shura Council because “appeals in this file do not have guaranteed results.”“The easiest way for us is to speak with Aoun to achieve what we want and eliminate some (non-deserving) names while at the same time maintaining the powers of the President,” said Gemayel. Early in June, Lebanon revealed the names of hundreds of people including an Iraqi vice-president to receive Lebanese nationality under a controversial presidential decree. Kataeb expressed its reservations, noting that some 85 names included in the decree are “non-deserving” and do not meet conditions stipulated in the Constitution. However, they affirmed the President’s right to sign decrees granting Lebanese nationality to foreigners. Foreigners can only be naturalised by presidential decree, signed by the prime minister and interior minister. Lebanon’s interior ministry published the list after reports of the May 11 decree emerged in June and the names of wealthy Syrians close to the Damascus regime were leaked to the media. Critics slammed the secrecy of the decree in a country where thousands of people born to Lebanese mothers but foreign fathers remain unable to acquire citizenship. Kataeb had planned to appeal the decree before the Shura Council, but instead saw it better to ask Aoun to withdraw the citizenship from 85 individuals who have proven “non-eligible.”

Riachi Meets Bassil, Agrees with Him on 'Pacification'
Naharnet/July 03/18/Caretaker Information Minister Melhem Riachi of the Lebanese Forces held talks Tuesday with Free Patriotic Movement chief MP Jebran Bassil after which he announced that they agreed on “full pacification” between their two parties. “The meeting was to pacify the atmosphere and create a new one that befits (the LF-FPM relation) and the needed stability in the Christian arena,” Riachi said after the meeting, which was also attended by MP Ibrahim Kanaan of the FPM. “We have restored the channels of communication and agreed on full pacification between the two parties,” Riachi added. “We have turned the page and forgotten the distant past while the recent past must be discussed and addressed,” the minister went on to say. Noting that a meeting between Bassil and LF leader Samir Geagea “would be decided in due time,” Riachi said he did not pass on a “specific message” to Bassil.
The LF leader “decided to dispatch me to discuss the points of contention between the two parties,” the minister added, pointing out that the meeting was aimed at halting the mutual “provocation” between the two parties. “Bassil showed great keenness on reconciliation and on the importance of (the LF-FPM relation) for protecting Christians and the country,” Riachi said.
Geagea had met Monday with President Michel Aoun and announced that his party's “communication” with Bassil “will be resumed.” The two Christian parties are wrangling over shares in the new government and their ties were also strained during their participation in the previous government despite the landmark reconciliation agreement they signed in January 2016.Bassil and the FPM have accused the LF of being against Aoun's presidential tenure while the LF has stressed that its criticism of some FPM ministers does not mean that it is opposed to the presidency.

Geagea Calls Bassil after Talks with Aoun
Naharnet/July 03/18/Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea held phone talks overnight with Free Patriotic Movement chief MP Jebran Bassil, a media report said. “Geagea called Bassil overnight and asked him if he can dispatch (caretaker Information Minister) Melhem Riachi to him,” the FPM-affiliated OTV reported. Geagea had held talks in Baabda with President Michel Aoun earlier on Monday. After the meeting, Geagea announced that he agreed with Aoun on a “roadmap,” noting that the LF “differentiates between President Aoun and the Free Patriotic Movement.” He also revealed that his party's “communication” with Bassil “will be resumed.” The two Christian parties are wrangling over shares in the new government and their ties were also strained during their participation in the previous government despite the landmark reconciliation agreement they signed in January 2016. Bassil and the FPM accuse the LF of being against Aoun's presidential tenure while the LF has stressed that its criticism of some FPM ministers does not mean that it is opposed to the presidency.

Nasrallah Hails Outgoing Iranian Ambassador

Naharnet/July 03/18/Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon Mohammed Fathali has visited Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah to bid him farewell after the end of his tenure in Lebanon, Hizbullah said on Tuesday. Nasrallah thanked Fathali over his “blessed efforts and kind endeavors throughout the four years that he spent in Lebanon alongside the Lebanese people, state and resistance,” the party's media department said in a statement. “He was a great brother, friend and supporter and he represented the Islamic Republic in the best way possible, reflecting its principles and stances that are supportive of the region's peoples in the face of the threats of the nation's enemies,” Nasrallah added, according to the statement.

Aoun, Geagea agree road map to resolve Cabinet stalemate
Ghinwa Obeid/The Daily Star/July 03/18
BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea Monday agreed to mend fences between the Free Patriotic Movement and the LF and to expedite the formation of a new Cabinet. The sit-down between Aoun and Geagea came amid a flurry of activity at Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’s downtown residence after Hariri’s plans to travel for a vacation were put on hold.
A source close to Baabda Palace told The Daily Star that the meeting was positive where the two discussed various topics and recent tensions over the Cabinet formation.
Speaking to reporters after the talks, the LF leader struck an upbeat note and said that the two men agreed on a road map for the government formation.
“The meeting was good and we spoke about the need for a quick government formation and this is something that we both agree on,” the LF leader said. “[We] also spoke in length about our [LF] relationship with the FPM.”
The meeting comes after tensions grew between the LF and the FPM, which was founded by Aoun, over the former’s share in the new Cabinet.
Since Hariri was tasked in May to form a government, his mission has faced numerous hurdles, mainly from the LF and Progressive Socialist Party.
The LF has been demanding key ministerial posts, including that of the deputy premier position, in order to reflect the results of the May 6 parliamentary elections that allowed them to garner 15 seats in Parliament. However, the LF’s request hasn’t been widely welcomed by Aoun or FPM head Caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil.
This issue was believed to have also caused friction between Hariri and Aoun, as Hariri reportedly supported the LF’s request for wide representation in Cabinet.
Aoun, on the other hand, had made it clear that it was his right to pick a deputy prime minister as well as other ministers through whom he monitors the Cabinet’s work.
“We tackled the Cabinet lineup as a whole and not only the FPM and LF issue, although it acquired the biggest part of the meeting. I presented Aoun with my opinion [with regards to] the formation,” Geagea said.
He added that once things calm down, “it will become clear that what we are suggesting isn’t far away from logic.”
Nevertheless, he refused to go into details on whether he discussed Cabinet shares with Aoun, saying that tackling this matter in the media will further complicate things.
“I didn’t veto anyone and at the same time, I don’t like anyone to veto us because this approach won’t lead anywhere,” he said, adding that he received assurances from Aoun that looks at both LF and FPM with equal importance.
The LF and FPM were former rivals before the two signed a memorandum of understanding in 2016 and that paved the way for Aoun to be elected as president later that year. Yet, since then the relationship between the two faced ups and downs over different approaches in governance.
The LF, nevertheless, attempted to distinguish its relationship between Aoun and Bassil.
“Of course, the LF differentiates in the relationship between the president and the FPM. The president is [no longer] the FPM’s head, rather he is the president of all Lebanese,” Geagea said. He added that if the LF supports the presidential reign.
“Contact with Bassil will definitely resume,” he added.
The Baabda source said that preparations for a meeting between Geagea and Bassil are in the making, which could take place this week.
In conjunction with the meeting that was being held in Baabda, caretaker Information Minister Melhem Riachi was at Hariri’s residence discussing the government formation.
Riachi is one of three LF ministers in the caretaker government.
“It seems that there is a positive development in the government formation process,” a source close to Hariri told The Daily Star. “The premier wants to follow up on the situation.”
Riachi’s visit was preceded by a Hariri-Bassil meeting Sunday.
“The atmosphere of the sit-down was positive, similar to the meeting between Geagea and Aoun,” Riachi told reporters after the meeting.
He added that a phone call between Geagea and Hariri was held to inform him about the Baabda gathering.
Later in the evening, Progressive Socialist Party MP Wael Abu Faour also discussed the government formation with Hariri, reiterating that Druze representation in the new Cabinet should reflect the results of the parliamentary elections.
“The PSP is still on its position toward the results of the parliamentary elections. The Druze representation, meaning the three Druze ministers, should be named by the PSP,” he said. “The party insists on that.”
PSP head Walid Joumblatt has insisted his bloc be allocated all three ministerial posts reserved for the Druze sect in a 30-member Cabinet – the number of ministers proposed by Hariri.
Joumblatt’s demand appears to be aimed at preventing his Druze rival, Talal Arslan, from being named minister.
Political sources previously told The Daily Star that Hariri took the lead in resolving the issue of Druze representation, proposing that the PSP receive two Druze ministers and the third go to an independent, which would annul Arslan’s chances of becoming a minister.
Abu Faour said that the PSP didn’t mind if Arslan’s bloc is represented in the Cabinet by a Maronite minister given that three of his four-bloc members are Maronites.
Abu Faour also lauded Hariri’s efforts to overcome the barriers in the Cabinet formation and hoped that the various meetings that have been held would lead to a positive outcome.
He told reporters that a meeting between Hariri and Joumblatt could be held at any time and that the two were in constant contact.
Abu Faour also said that Aoun and Joumblatt could hold a sit-down after Abu Faour last week described PSP’s relationship with the president as “cold.”
“There is no boycott with Aoun, at the end he is the president,” Abu Faour said. “We are ready for meetings to be held at any minute.”

Exclusive – Lebanese Security Sources to Asharq Al-Awsat: We Have Cut the Roots of Terrorism
Beirut- Thaer Abbas/Asharq Al Awsat/July 03/18
Last month, Lebanese Army Commander General Joseph Aoun, accompanied by the Director of Military Intelligence, Brigadier General Antoine Mansour, conducted separate visits to President Michel Aoun, Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
In the three visits, the two military officials entered with a black book of about 15 cm in thickness and left without it. The book represents, in fact, the summary of the security work of the Directorate of Army Intelligence and contains thousands of pages detailing terrorist networks that were stopped and dismantled during 2017.
The “black book” of terrorism in Lebanon is full of details and facts. Each cell is documented by the number of its members, its missions and objectives, the confessions of the detainees, their photographs, and often the pictures of the confiscated items, including weapons, military equipment and drugs.
Lebanese security sources confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat that Lebanon has completely cut the roots of terrorism.
These figures only represent the work achieved by the military intelligence directorate, the sources said, emphasizing efforts undertaken by other partners in counter-terrorism operations, especially by the General Directorate of General Security and the Information Division of the Internal Security Forces.
The sources, however, admit the possibility of sporadic terrorist acts that might erupt here or there, but stress that the foundation that the terrorists used to rely on to acquire their weapons, explosives and logistical support, was hit hard by the country’s competent institutions.
“They will try, and we will remain vigilant to prevent any breach of Lebanese security,” the sources said.
“I can assure you that Lebanon is among the safest countries in the world today,” they added.
The Syrian refugee crisis has put great pressure on the Lebanese security, according to the sources, which expressed regret that more than 90 percent of detainees were of Syrian nationality, “which necessitates more work on this file.”
While the sources acknowledged that political stability was not a basic condition in the security process, they indicated that incitement should not be part of the political rhetoric, pointing out that the Lebanese Army and other security forces were able to control the situation, but politicians should also contribute to reducing the tensions between the Lebanese people.
The figures mentioned in the “Black Book” showed that ISIS was the “feared beast” at the media and psychological level, but Al-Nusra Front, led by Abu Malik al-Tali was the most dangerous, after it turned out that the organization was responsible for the majority of attacks and attempted attacks on the Lebanese territory.
The total number of detainees arrested in 2017 by the Lebanese intelligence reached 3,743, including 1,496 who were referred to the Judiciary.
The number of those involved in terrorism reached 943, in addition to 290 people who entered the country clandestinely from Syrian territory, while 22 were detained on terrorism financing charges and 59 on charges of possession of arms and ammunition.
The largest terrorist cell was caught on January 3, 2017. It included 11 people associated with Shadi al-Mulawi. The group planned to send car bombs to the suburbs of Beirut, targeting civilians and current and retired Lebanese army officers. Large amounts of explosives, explosive belts, detonators and remote weapons with ammunition, were seized during the operation.
On January 22, Omar Hassan al-Assi, a member of ISIS, was arrested while trying to carry out a suicide attack at Costa coffee shop in Hamra, Beirut.
On June 6, the army was able to carry out another significant operation, arresting Faisal Hussein Mamluk, who was involved in encircling army posts, storming the building of the Internal Security Forces in Arsal and engaging with his partners in the events of Arsal in 2013.
The next day, the army arrested Mohammed Badreddine al-Karnabi, an ISIS member, who participated in the battle of Arsal against the army and was charged with transferring suicide bombers and booby-trapped cars, in addition to other crimes.
Ousama Al-Gosaibi revealed that over 400 specialists have been tasked with ridding Yemen of mines.
He stressed to Asharq Al-Awsat that this humanitarian project aims at clearing mines throughout the country, without discriminating between one region and another.
The 40-million dollar one-year project will be implemented over five phases. It will start with the equipping and training of the personnel, preparing the specialized demining teams, sending them to the field and later relaying their expertise to Yemeni cadres. MASAM is being implemented with Saudi and global expertise, stressed Gosaibi.
Saudi Arabia’s support for Yemen has been one of the Kingdom’s top priorities for decades, he said, underlining the neighborly, religious, social and familial ties that bind the peoples of both countries.
MASAM was funded by the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief), which has been offering and continuing to offer humanitarian projects for the war-torn country, he remarked. These efforts have exceeded 1.6 billion dollars.
MASAM seeks to clear the mines that have been arbitrarily planted by the Iran-backed Houthi militias throughout Yemen, most notably in Marib, Aden, Sanaa and Taiz, Gosaibi said. It also seeks to help the Yemeni people overcome the humanitarian tragedy that has resulted from the mines.
Preliminary statistics revealed by Yemeni officials showed that the militias planted nearly one million mines throughout the country.
Gosaibi highlighted in this regard the efforts of the KSRelief-funded prosthetics center in Marib that has so far provided prosthetic limbs to over 195 mine victims, who are often women and children.
MASAM field teams have been in Marib for two months to begin their mine clearance mission. Thirty-two demining teams consisting of over 400 people are operating in Yemen.
He underlined the close cooperation between MASAM and the national Yemeni demining project, saying that each one complements the other.
The Saudi project will focus on sensitive areas that have high populations. It will tackle the provinces of Marib, Aden, Taiz and Sanaa in its first phase, he told Asharq Al-Awsat.
After this phase is complete, MASAM will turn to mines planted in desert regions.
MASAM also boasts rapid intervention experts and others specialized in defusing explosives, Gosaibi said.
The Saudi project, he reiterated, does not discriminate between Yemeni regions. It launched its operations to achieve purely humanitarian goals regardless of the developments in Yemen.

The Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on July 03-04/18
Explosions Reported in Syrian, Iranian Weapons Depots in Southern Syria
تقارير عن انفجارات في مخازن اسلحة سورية وإيرانية في جنوب سوريا

Haaretz/July 03/18
Explosions reportedly emanating from weapons' facilities in the southern Syrian city of Daraa, which was heavily bombarded by the Assad regime last week
Explosions were heard in weapons depots belonging to the Syrian regime in Syria and Iranian militias, Al Jazeera reported on Tuesday afternoon.
The explosions were heard in the southern Syrian city of Daraa.
Last week thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing bombardments by the Bashar Assad regime in southern Syria headed in the direction of the Jordanian border and Israeli borders. A United Nations report put the number of those heading towards Jordan at 270,000.
In response to the crisis, the Jordanian government issued a statement saying that it would block entry to all Syrian refugees coming from Daraa to the Syria-Jordan border.
The Israeli army said last week that it transferred overnight humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees and to those currently living in makeshift encampments not far from the border with Israel.
The shipment was made to camps in the south and center of the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.

Trump Hails North Korea Talks, Says War Averted Because of Him
Washington- Asharq Al Awsat/Tuesday, 3 July, 2018/US President Donald Trump hailed on Tuesday "many good conversations" with North Korea as US officials seek to reach an agreement with Pyongyang over a denuclearization plan following last month’s summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Trump tweets Tuesday that "All of Asia is thrilled" that North Korea has halted missile testing and only the "Opposition Party" Democrats, including the "Fake News" is complaining. Trump also claims: "If not for me, we would now be at War with North Korea!" Trump's June nuclear summit with Kim yielded no specifics on how North Korea would achieve denuclearization. The White House has characterized ongoing meetings as positive but not commented on recent news reports of US intelligence assessments saying North Korea has been expanding its weapons capabilities. Yet, experts say there is no proof North Korea's halt of nuclear and missile tests means the North will take concrete steps to give up such weapons. They also say the US has an unrealistic and risky approach to North Korea's denuclearization. The rapid timeline proposed by national security adviser John Bolton contrasts with more measured, methodical strategies that most North Korea experts insist are needed to produce a lasting denuclearization agreement. On Monday, the White House said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would travel to North Korea this week to continue talks on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. A US delegation met over the weekend with North Korean counterparts at the border between North and South Korea to discuss the next steps to implementing the June 12 summit’s declaration, according to the US State Department.
“Many good conversations with North Korea-it is going well!” Trump said in his Twitter post, echoing his sentiments following the historic meeting with Kim in Singapore.

Pompeo Heads to North Korea Thursday as Doubts Cloud Kim’s Nuclear Intentions
Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 3 July, 2018/US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will embark on a trip to North Korea Thursday to discuss an American plan that would lead to the dismantling of the Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs in a year. This will be his third visit to the country in three months and the first since the landmark June 12 Singapore summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, during which the North Korean leader agreed to “work toward denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” The joint summit statement, however, gave no details on how or when Pyongyang might give up its weapons. US officials have since been trying to flesh out details to produce an agreement that might live up to Trump’s enthusiastic portrayal of the outcome. Despite Kim’s pledge, doubts have been mounting about Pyongyang’s willingness to abandon its weapons program. The State Department said Pompeo would head on Saturday from Pyongyang to Tokyo, where he would discuss North Korean denuclearization with Japanese and South Korean leaders. In announcing Pompeo’s travel plans on Monday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the United States was “continuing to make progress” in talks with North Korea. She declined to confirm or deny recent media reports of intelligence assessments saying North Korea has been expanding its weapons capabilities. North Korea has been showering the US and South Korea with goodwill gestures in recent months, including the shutdown of its main nuclear testing site and the release of three American detainees. But many experts say nothing it has done is consequential enough to be seen as a sign that the country is willing to fully surrender its nuclear weapons. An NBC News report on Friday quoted US officials saying US intelligence agencies believe North Korea has increased production of fuel for nuclear weapons at multiple secret sites in recent months and may try to hide these while seeking concessions in talks with Washington. The Washington Post reported on Saturday that US intelligence officials had concluded that North Korea did not intend to fully give up its nuclear arsenal and is considering ways to hide the number of weapons it has. A US official told The Associated Press that the Post's report was accurate and that the assessment reflected the consistent view across US government agencies. An analysis of recent satellite photos also indicated that North Korea is completing a major expansion of a factory in the northeast that produces key parts of nuclear-capable missiles, two researchers at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California, said in a joint post Monday. "The expansion suggests that, despite hopes for denuclearization, Kim Jong Un is committed to increasing North Korea's stockpile of nuclear-armed missiles," Jeffrey Lewis and Dave Schmerler said. Nam Sung-wook, a professor at Korea University in South Korea, said the US officials or academics speaking out likely aimed to put pressure on both North Korea and Trump. "First, they would want to say that they have lots of intelligence on North Korea and that its relations with the US would go back to the past if it doesn't take practical disarmament steps," Nam said. "Secondly, they likely targeted (Trump), asking if he was deceived by North Korea because no progress has been reported in the three weeks after the summit." Analyst Hong Min at Seoul's Korea Institute for National Unification downplayed the significance of the new disclosures, saying Pyongyang and Washington have not yet agreed on detailed disarmament steps the North is obliged to take. US National Security Adviser John Bolton refused to comment on intelligence matters, but said the US was going into nuclear negotiations aware of Pyongyang’s failure to live up to its past promises.

Netanyahu Criticizes Media in Defense of his Beleaguered Wife
London, Tel Aviv - Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 3 July, 2018/Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered on Monday an impassioned defense of his wife ahead of her trial later this month for misusing public funds. He said she was "heroically" withstanding a media onslaught that has been "trampling her image."Netanyahu's comments to his Likud faction in parliament came after days in which unflattering transcripts from police investigations of Sara Netanyahu have been leaked to the media on a near-daily basis. "For 20 years, they have been trampling her image in the media every day and every night," the prime minister said, pounding his hand on the table. "Sara is an amazing woman, a wonderful mother, she was a perfect daughter to her parents and the media completely ignores all her public activity," AP quoted him as saying.
On June 21, the Public Prosecutor's Office of the Magistrate's Court in Jerusalem filed an indictment against Sara Netanyahu and former deputy director of operations and property in the premier’s office Ezra Saidoff, accusing them of manipulating public funds, exploiting state funds for personal purposes and other corruption charges. She was charged with fraud and breach of trust for allegedly overspending roughly NIS359,000 (about $100,000) on private meals at the prime minister's official residence, even when there was a full-time chef on staff.
According to the public prosecution, the delay in filing the indictment for five years was due to the difficulty of reviewing all the evidence and balancing all the circumstances of the case. The indictment said that Sara and Saidoff deliberately violated the procedures that prohibit the request of ready meals, forged invoices and prepared mock statements to the ministry despite the recruitment of cooks in the prime minister's house. Saidoff is also accused of committing additional acts and charges in the indictment, including obtaining items through fraud, dishonesty and forgery in regards to the employment of chefs in private meetings and celebrations and the recruitment of waiters at the official residence of the prime minister. Netanyahu slammed the indictment but said his wife was dealing with the criticism with dignity and was buoyed by public support.
Merkel Last-Ditch Migrant Deal Reopens EU Deep Divisions
Naharnet/Agence France Presse/July 03/18/German Chancellor Angela Merkel came under fire Tuesday from EU partners after she agreed to push back migrants in a last-ditch deal to save her fragile government, a move that also threatened to unleash a domino effect of European nations shutting refugees out. In high-stakes crisis talks overnight, Merkel put down a rebellion by Interior Minister Horst Seehofer with an agreement to tighten border controls and set up closed "transit centers" to hold migrants on the Austrian frontier. But the deal, which essentially amounted to an about-turn in Merkel's liberal refugee policy, immediately sparked resistance from Germany's neighbors as well as the third member of her shaky coalition, the Social Democratic Party (SPD). Austria vowed to "protect its southern borders" while Italy slammed Berlin for adopting the "wrong attitude that brings no solution" and warned that the plan risked running up against last week's hard-fought EU deal that sees the bloc working together to curb migrant arrivals. Vienna is "of course not ready to conclude deals that harms Austria," said Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. "Austria should not have to take on the legacy of a failed welcoming culture that is in Europe linked to some names," charged the country's far-right Interior Minister Herbert Kickl, in an attack against Merkel. Earlier Vienna's right-wing government had warned that if Germany pushes ahead with its plans, "we will be obliged to take measures to avoid disadvantages for Austria and its people." And it would be "ready to take measures to protect our southern borders in particular," it said referring to the frontiers with Italy and Slovenia. Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl also expressed anger that Vienna "was not consulted", in remarks quoted by Austrian media.
Erroneous attitude
Vienna's reaction raised the spectre of a domino effect in Europe, with member states taking increasingly restrictive measures to shut out refugees. Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, whose country has flatly refused to take in migrants under a controversial EU quota, leaped on the chance to urge Europe to close its borders."Germany has made it very clear that people who disembark in Italy or Greece do not have the right to choose to live in Germany. Hopefully Italy and Greece will understand and close their borders," he wrote in a tweet. Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte took aim at Merkel for seeking to tackle movements of migrants within the bloc, rather than stopping them from arriving in the EU in the first place."If we concentrate on the resolution of secondary movement, it's an erroneous attitude that brings no solution," warned Conte.
Internment camps
Under the pact both sides hailed as a victory, Merkel and Seehofer agreed to hold migrants in "transit centers" on the Austrian frontier to allow the speedy processing of asylum seekers and the repatriation of those rejected. They would either be sent back to EU countries that previously registered them or, in case arrival countries reject this, be sent back to Austria, pending a now questionable agreement with Vienna. Seehofer is due to travel Thursday to Vienna, in a bid to push his plan. CSU general secretary Markus Blume called the hardening policy proposal the last building block "in a turn-around on asylum policy" after a mass influx brought over one million migrants and refugees. The number of new arrivals has fallen dramatically over the last several months. The accord covers about one-quarter of them, with 18,000 already-registered people crossing the Germany border between January and May this year. But doubts were voiced quickly by other parties and groups, accusing Merkel of turning her back on the welcoming stance she showed toward asylum seekers at the height of the influx in 2015. Refugee support group Pro Asyl slammed what it labeled "detention centers in no-man's land" and charged that German power politics were being played out "on the backs of those in need of protection."Annalena Baerbock of the opposition Greens party spoke of "internment camps", accusing the conservatives of "bidding goodbye to our country's moral compass."Crucially, it remains uncertain if Merkel's coalition partner, the SPD, will rubberstamp the deal.SPD leader Andrea Nahles said the party still had "significant questions" on the deal. The Social Democrats are holding joint party meeting with the CDU/CSU bloc. Ahead of the talks, SPD deputy chairman Ralf Stegner voiced opposition to the transit centers, writing on Twitter: "We don't want any refugee families behind guarded fences." One of the SPD's migration experts, Aziz Bozkurt, was withering, charging that the proposed holding centers would be "impractical and fully on track with the AfD" -- the far-right party that has been most outspoken against immigrants.

Syria Installs Barbwire in Border Area to Prevent Illegal Crossing
Naharnet/Agence France Presse/July 03/18/The Syrian army has installed barbwire along the Lebanese-Syrian border next to the Matrabeh border crossing and the Lebanese town of al-Qasr, Lebanon's National News Agency said. NNA said the measure is aimed at preventing individuals from crossing the border on foot. “The movement of the residents of the neighboring towns has become restricted to the legal border crossings that are limited to the Joussiyeh crossing near the town of al-Qaa, which puts burden on Lebanese citizens residing in Syrian border towns,” NNA said. It noted that the Lebanese citizens who shuttle between Lebanon and Syria's border towns include “dozens of employees” who work in Lebanon. According to the agency, the region's dignitaries have renewed their call for setting up a legal border crossing in the area.

HRW Urges Help for Syrians Excavating Raqa Mass Graves
Naharnet/Agence France Presse/July 03/18/Human Rights Watch on Tuesday urged the international community to support Syrians excavating mass graves in Raqa after US-backed fighters ousted jihadists from the city. Fighters backed by US-led coalition air strikes expelled the Islamic State jihadist group from the city in October, leaving the Raqa City Council to run it. The New York-based group said council workers with little specialised equipment or experience in forensic analysis were struggling to tackle the mammoth mission of exhuming the dead. "Raqa city has at least nine mass graves, each one estimated to have dozens, if not hundreds, of bodies, making exhumations a monumental task," said HRW's Priyanka Motaparthy. "Without the right technical assistance, these exhumations may not provide families with the answers they have been waiting for and could damage or destroy evidence crucial to future justice efforts."IS jihadists carried out public executions and detained thousands of people during their rule of the city from June 2014 to October 2017. But local authorities estimate thousands of people were also killed in the battle to retake the city, either buried quickly or left under the rubble. HRW urged the international community, including the United States, and international organisations to support local authorities in their task. "International organisations with forensic expertise should provide technical support, including by sending in forensic experts," it said. Authorities should set up a civilian authority to liaise with the families of the missing, and create a digital database including photographs of those exhumed, HRW said. "Identifying missing people and preserving evidence for possible prosecutions will have implications for justice in Syria as a whole," the rights group said. Last month, the Syrian team finished uncovering 553 bodies from the first of these mass graves in a football pitch near the city's central hospital, it said. The team -- made up mostly of volunteers -- then reburied them after logging information such as hair colour, clothes and shoes, as well as any identifying marks on their bodies. They said they believed they found the remains of air strike victims, IS fighters recognised by their clothes and perhaps patients of the nearby hospital, HRW said. But, it said, "the team needs far more training and technical assistance in order to exhume the bodies and collect data without losing information crucial to identifying them". In April, an AFP correspondent visited the site of the mass grass in the football pitch and saw a young man step over blue body bags searching for his brother. Workers wearing white surgical masks and plastic gloves had retrieved around 60 bodies in a week since the grave was discovered, jotting down identifying details on a notebook. Ten of those remains had been recognised by relatives.

Coalition Hits Yemen Rebels Outside Hodeida as Push for City Paused
Naharnet/Agence France Presse/July 03/18/Yemeni government forces backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have bombarded rebel positions outside Hodeida after pausing their push into the strategic Red Sea port city, government sources said on Tuesday.
Hospital sources said 11 civilians and 43 rebel fighters had been killed on Sunday and Monday as the rebels came under fire south of Hodeida and in some cases retaliated. The rebels have held Hodeida since 2014 but in a major offensive last month government forces backed by the United Arab Emirates and other coalition troops captured the disused airport on its southern outskirts -- a major stepping stone for any drive into the city. On Saturday, the government and the UAE announced a pause in their advance. This week's deadly bombardment targeted rebel positions in Tohayta, Beit al-Faqiya and Zabid, to the south of Hodeida, the government military sources said. Three civilians were killed in their car in a coalition air strike against rebel military vehicles on a road near Zabid, residents said. Eight civilians, including four children, were killed by rocket fire in Tohayta, witnesses said. Residents blamed the rebels.
In both incidents, hospital sources confirmed receiving the bodies. Hodeida is the latest battlefront in a war that has killed nearly 10,000 people since 2015, most of them civilians, and pushed the impoverished country to the brink of famine. Desperately needed relief supplies and three-quarters of Yemen's commercial imports pass through the city's port. UN envoy Martin Griffiths arrived in the rebel-held capital Sanaa on Sunday in a new bid to reach a deal to avert an all-out battle fo Hodeida that could cause major casualties in the city's streets and damage to its docks. Griffiths has said a proposal to grant the UN a major role in managing the port is under study. The government and the UAE have demanded the rebels withdraw unconditionally from the whole city, not just the port, something the rebels have rejected.
The UAE says the rebels' departure from Hodeida, whether voluntary or by force, is necessary to stop them smuggling in weapons.

Leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador Sweeps to Victory in Mexico Presidential Elections

Asharq Al-Awsat/Monday, 03 July, 2018/Leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador won a landslide victory in Mexico’s presidential elections, vowing to crackdown on corruption and criminal violence and pursue responsible economic policies. The sharp-tongued, silver-haired politician known as "AMLO" won 53 percent of the vote, according to an official projection of the results. That would be the biggest share of the vote since the early 1980s, and would give Lopez Obrador a strong platform both to address Mexico’s internal problems and face external challenges like the threat of a trade war with the United States. It is the first time in Mexico's modern history a candidate has won more than half the vote in a competitive election, and a resounding rejection of the two parties that have governed the country for nearly a century. Speaking to reporters after his win, Lopez Obrador identified corruption as the “principal cause” of inequality and the criminal violence that has bedeviled Mexico for years, and said he would spare no one in his commitment to root it out. “Whoever it is will be punished, I include comrades, officials, friends and family members,” the 64-year-old said. “A good judge begins at home.”"This is a historic day, and it will be a memorable night," Lopez Obrador said in a victory speech in Mexico City's Alameda park, as thousands of ecstatic supporters flooded the capital's central district, chanting "Yes we did!" and partying to mariachi music. He sought to downplay fears of radicalism, after critics branded him a "tropical Messiah" who would install Venezuela-style policies that could wreck Latin America's second-largest economy. "Our new national project seeks an authentic democracy. We are not looking to construct a dictatorship, either open or hidden," he told cheering supporters, promising to respect private property, guarantee individual liberties and work to reconcile a divided nation. The election was a crushing defeat for the ruling centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which governed Mexico from 1929-2000 continually and again from 2012. Public anger over corruption scandals, which have shattered the PRI’s credibility, was a defining feature of the campaign, alongside nationwide discontent over soaring levels of violence and years of lackluster economic growth. Lopez Obrador, a former Mexico City mayor, was greeted with rapturous cheers by supporters in the capital’s Zocalo central square around midnight, while friends celebrated in his tiny hometown of Tepetitan, in the poor southern state of Tabasco. The victory was a vindication for Lopez Obrador, who was written off by many critics after narrowly failing to capture the presidency at his first bid in 2006. He paid tribute to the role in the campaign played by outgoing President Enrique Pena Nieto and the media, both of which have felt the bite of his scorn in the past.
Mexican presidents are limited by law to a single term.
Lopez Obrador will take office in December facing a US government that has been openly antagonistic to Mexico over trade and migration under President Donald Trump. He vowed to pursue a relationship of "friendship and cooperation" with the US, Mexico's key trading partner -- a change in tone from some comments during the campaign, when he said he would put Trump "in his place."The newly elected president has said he wants to make Mexico more economically independent of the US. At the same time, he also hopes to persuade Trump to help develop Mexico and Central America in order to contain illegal migration. Trump, whose anti-trade, anti-immigration policies have infuriated Mexico, appeared ready to start off on the right foot. "I look very much forward to working with him," he tweeted. "There is much to be done that will benefit both the United States and Mexico!" Canada's Justin Trudeau echoed the congratulations while emphasizing his country's work with Mexico to renegotiate the NAFTA trade pact -- an effort that has stalled over attempts to satisfy Trump's demands. "Canada and Mexico are close friends and longtime partners," Trudeau said in a statement. "We share common goals, strong people to people ties, and a mutually beneficial trading relationship that is the envy of the world -- reflected in our joint effort to update the North American Free Trade Agreement for the 21st century."

The Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on July 03-04/18
Analysis Syria’s Assad Has Become Israel’s Ally
زفي برال من الهآررتس: سوريا الأسد أصبح حليفاً لإسرائيل

Zvi Bar'el/Haaretz/July 03/18
Israel wants Assad to remain in power. Both Israel and the Syrian president now depend on Russia, and when Israel threatens Syria over Iran, it should know it's threatening Putin, too
Early in 2012, the year after the outbreak of the civil war in Syria, the Foreign Ministry drafted recommendations on Israel’s position regarding Syrian President Bashar Assad.
As Haaretz reported at the time, the ministry said Israel should denounce the slaughter in Syria and call for Assad’s ouster. It argued that Israel shouldn’t be the only Western country not to condemn Assad, since that would feed conspiracy theories that Israel preferred the mass murderer to remain in power.
The Israeli foreign minister at the time, Avigdor Lieberman, accepted this recommendation, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposed it. Netanyahu denounced the slaughter and the Syrian army and charged that “various leaders have no moral qualms about killing their neighbors and their own people as well.” But he never mentioned Assad as the person responsible or demanded his ouster. Israel’s UN ambassador during that period, Ron Prosor, said Assad has “no moral right to lead his people,” but that was it.
These diplomatic acrobatics and the Lieberman-Netanyahu dispute only fed the conspiracy theories, and Syrian rebel leaders were convinced that Israel wanted Assad to remain in power. They were right.
Now that Assad has regained control of most of Syria and is waging a final battle against rebels in the south, Israel is acting as if it is now reformulating its policy and becoming “reconciled” to Assad’s continued rule. Several weeks ago, Israel reportedly told Russia it wouldn’t oppose that, as if the decision were in its hands or as if Israel even had any leverage over what kind of government is in power in Syria after the war ends.
But Israel isn’t merely “reconciled” to rule by Assad. It also feared the prospect that the various rebel militias might succeed in ousting him, sparking a new civil war among the rebels themselves.
Position papers drafted by the Israeli army and the Foreign Ministry over the past two years didn’t actually voice support for the Syrian president, but their assessments show that they viewed his continued rule as preferable or even vital for Israel’s security. Israel’s close cooperation with Russia, which gave Israeli forces a free hand to attack Hezbollah and Iranian targets in Syria, added the Israelis to the unofficial coalition of Arab states that support Assad’s continued rule.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, who met with the head of Syrian intelligence in 2015, said that same year that “Egypt and Syria are in the same boat.” Egyptian delegations visited Damascus despite Syria’s ouster from the Arab League, and in a 2017 interview, Al-Sissi even said that “Egypt supports the armies of states like Iraq, Libya and Syria.”
King Abdullah of Jordan was one of the first leaders to denounce Assad and demand his ouster. But he later reversed himself, thereby angering Saudi Arabia. And following conversations between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Russian officials, even Riyadh is no longer publicly opposing Assad’s continued tenure.
Russia’s military intervention in Syria, which began in 2015, was initially viewed by Israel as ineffective and doomed to fail. But in reality, it bolstered Assad’s status domestically, created a coalition with Iran and Turkey and neutralized the intervention of Arab states such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. And since the United States had withdrawn from the arena even before that, Israel ostensibly had to make do with the lesser evil.
But the Russian coalition is no love affair. Tehran and Moscow are at odds over control of the de-escalation zones. Turkey, which invaded Kurdish areas of northern Syria, threatens Russia’s desire for a united Syrian state.
Therefore if Israel’s goal is to oust Iran from Syria, Russia — rather than the United States or the Arab states — is the only power capable of limiting Iran’s operations there and perhaps even getting it to leave.
Assad is deeply dependent on Russia, even more than on Iran. And that’s convenient for Israel, because it means Syria’s foreign policy, including its future policy toward Israel, will be vetted by the Kremlin, thereby at least ensuring coordination with Israel and a reduction in the threat from Syria. In exchange, Israel has committed not to undermine Assad’s rule.
Moreover, Israel has insisted that the 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement that followed the Yom Kippur War remains in effect, meaning Israel won’t accept Syrian forces in parts of the Golan Heights demilitarized under that agreement. Officially, UN observers oversee the agreement’s implementation. But in practice, it was the Assad regime that ensured that Syria upheld the agreement and that kept the border quiet for decades. Israel, which has a low opinion of UN observers, also used its military deterrence to persuade Assad that upholding the agreement served his interests.
Now Russia is effectively joining this supervisory force, and it sees eye to eye with Israel about the need to keep the border quiet. Therefore Israel ought to wish Assad sweeping success and a long life. And when Israeli ministers threaten his continued rule if he lets Iranian forces set up shop near Israel’s border, they should know they’re also threatening Russia — as well as Israel’s new strategic partner in the presidential palace in Damascus.
Once Enemies, Now Refugees: The New Reality Facing Soldiers on the Israeli-Syrian Border
هآررتس: الأعداء الآن لاجئين: الحقيقة الجديدة التي تواجه جنود اسرائيل على حدودها مع سوريا

Anshel Pfeffer/Moshav Keshet/Haaretz/July 03/18
'I still remember fighting the Syrian army in Lebanon and eyeballing them here on the Golan. Now there are no soldiers in sight – only Syrian civilians'
MOSHAV KESHET – The Israel Defense Forces maintains dozens of fortified positions and observation posts the length of the Golan border with Syria.
On Sunday, however, as thousands of Syrian refugees streamed toward the border, escaping the relentless bombardment of rebel-held Daraa, the IDF reinforced its units on the Golan Heights, tanks and infantry sections overlooking the new refugee camps that had sprung up just a few hundred meters from the border fence on the southern Golan.
Every few seconds on Monday, dull explosions of artillery fire could clearly be heard from the Israeli side and mushrooms of smoke arose from the low ridge across the border in Syria.
But it was clear that the Assad regime’s gunners were making sure, as they shelled the refugees’ escape route, not to risk hitting too near the Israeli positions. All the shells seemed to be landing at least 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) from the border, and the soldiers in the observation posts confirmed that none had come close.
And still a steady trickle of refugees continued to arrive. Some on foot, others on motorbikes, and the occasional car. The United Nations has assessed that over 250,000 civilians have been displaced in recent days by the concerted push by the Assad regime and its Russian allies on the Daraa region.'
The great majority of these have fled either eastward or toward the nearby Jordanian border. Some, though, have made the longer and more dangerous journey to the Golan.
The incentive is that once they arrive near the Israeli border, they are relatively safe. Lt. Col. E., the commander of the IDF’s humanitarian assistance operation on the Golan, said Israel had not officially created a safe buffer zone, but that “during the last few years, these villages [on the border] were attacked less often than other places in Syria.”
The villagers do indeed seem accustomed to life with bombardments on the near horizon. As refugees milled around the two camps of orange and white tents transferred across the border by the IDF last Thursday night, local shepherds continued grazing their sheep, all the way up to the fence.
“We haven’t seen any refugees try and get close to the fence,” said an armored corps officer, sitting with his tank crew at one of the observation posts near Moshav Keshet. “I don’t believe they will try. There are minefields on the border and they won’t take any risks. At least, I hope they won’t,” he added.
The soldiers’ orders are to prevent any unauthorized breaches of the border – if necessary by firing warning shots on the ground near the refugees.
Infantry reinforcements are on alert nearby for crowd control, should the need arise. Unlike the Gaza border, though, no one here expects to be using deadly force to prevent anyone from crossing.
“The Syrians have been educated their entire lives to see Israel as their enemy. I think that for many of them that remains a psychological barrier,” says an officer of the regional Bashan Division.
No risks are being taken, but the operational assessment is that the refugees will not try to cross the border and instead will make do with taking shelter near the fence, living for the time being off the food supplied by the IDF, donated in part by Israeli, American and Arab NGOs.
Another reason for making the journey to the Israeli border is the guarantee of medical treatment.
Israel has allowed some 4,000 wounded Syrians to pass through the border over the last five years, where they have received medical aid. And they continue to arrive at the small locked gateways at the border. “Last night, a young man who had lost a leg was brought here,” recounts a tank crew member. “The UN observers let him through and an IDF ambulance took him to hospital. We were on alert to make sure it wasn’t an ambush, but it all ended very quietly.”
The Assad regime, with the crucial help of its Russian and Iranian allies, has now retaken much of the lost territory. Yet despite overwhelming firepower, much of the Daraa and Golan regions still remain outside of its grasp.
As the regime’s forces have become bogged down once again, the Russians and Jordanians are trying to broker an agreement with Daraa’s rebels. But one of the last strongholds of the civil war that broke out over seven years ago is reluctant to surrender. Like millions of refugees of this war, those who have just arrived on Israel and Jordan’s borders have no idea when, if ever, they will be allowed to return home.
For the last 50 years, the entire topography of the border has been built to accommodate two large conventional armies, warily watching each other. Every few hundred meters, the landscape is dotted with military communications masts, communications trenches, bunkers and tank positions, built from dark-brown earth and black basalt rocks.
For decades, the Israeli and Syrian armies practiced bringing brigades of tanks or armored personnel carriers to the frontline. But for the past seven years, since the civil war broke out, there has been just one army on the border.
The Syrian military has dwindled and its remnants are now split into regime forces and rebel groups, busy fighting each other and killing civilians. For now at least, instead of facing an enemy army, Israel is dealing with the human detritus of the war.
“It’s a strange sensation,” says a senior officer who arrived from General Staff headquarters in Tel Aviv to inspect the preparations on the border.
“I still remember fighting the Syrian army in Lebanon and eyeballing them here on the Golan,” the officer continued. “Now there are no soldiers in sight and our main operation here is with Syrian civilians.”

Palestinians Beat Female Journalists; World "Sees No Evil"
Bassam Tawil/Gatestone Institute/July 03/18
Had an Israeli soldier hit these female journalists, representatives of Western human rights organizations and major newspapers would have banged on their doors long ago, demanding that they justify physically abusing peaceful women who were just doing their job. It is harder, however, to make sense of the behavior of the foreign media and international human rights groups, who essentially champion Abbas's fiefdom by ignoring its brutality.
The truth is that the Palestinian Authority is a body that has long been functioning as a dictatorship that suppresses freedom of speech and imposes a reign of terror and intimidation on Palestinian journalists and critics.
It is only a question of time before a Western journalist is beaten on the streets of a Palestinian city. When that happens, the international media and human rights groups can look to themselves and their own biased and unprofessional behavior for answers.
Two female Palestinian journalists were beaten during protests in the West Bank in the past week. The two women, Lara Kan'an and Majdoleen Hassona, were assaulted by Palestinian Authority security officers while covering Palestinian demonstrations calling on President Mahmoud Abbas to lift the economic sanctions he imposed last year on the Gaza Strip.
The physical assaults on Kan'an and Hassona are seen by Palestinians as part of the Palestinian Authority's continued effort to silence critics and intimidate journalists who fail to "toe the line." The beatings, which took place separately in the West Bank cities of Nablus and Tulkarem, mark a new high in the Palestinian leadership's crackdown on public freedoms: assaulting an Arab woman on the street is considered a humiliation of the highest order to her and her clan.
While such assaults spark protests among Palestinians, the international community and Western correspondents covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continue to play their game of "See No Evil." When the perpetrators are Palestinians, they can get away with -- literally, murder -- from the perspective of International human rights organizations and groups ostensibly concerned about freedom of the media. What would have been the response on the part of the international community and press, one wonders, had the two Palestinian women even been roughed up by Israeli soldiers.
Kan'an and Hassona, however, are unfortunate. Their plight will not be splashed onto the front pages of the New York Times or the Guardian because the men who beat up them are Palestinian, and not Israeli. Had an Israeli soldier hit these female journalists, representatives of Western human rights organizations and major newspapers would have banged on their doors long ago, demanding that they justify physically abusing peaceful women who were just doing their job.
Now for the details of the assaults. The first incident took place in Tulkarem on June 28, when Hassona arrived to report about a Palestinian demonstration calling on Abbas to lift the sanctions against the Gaza Strip. Videos posted on social media show Palestinian security officers in civilian clothes physically assaulting Hassona while attempting to stop her from recording or filming the anti-Abbas protest.
A Palestinian Authority police officer raises his baton as he approaches Majdoleen Hassona in Tulkarem. (Image source: Mohamad Kheiry/Facebook video screenshot)
One of her friends, Ahmed Al-Dabash, described the attackers as "thugs belonging to [Mahmoud Abbas's presidential compound] the Mukata in Ramallah."
Hassona later recalled her experience in an interview with a Palestinian news site:
"At the end of the demonstration, there were some problems between the protesters and the police. I was among a group of journalists who tried to approach the area to find out what was going on. A man who I believe was a police officer in civilian clothes then walked up to me and told me to stop filming. I told him I'm a journalist and I continued to film. Then another man came up to me and tried to snatch the camera from my hands. He then started beating me and threatening me."
Hassona, who is a veteran freelance investigative journalist, said she was not surprised by the assault. She says that she has been under surveillance by the Palestinian security forces since June 12, when she was briefly detained and interrogated upon her return home from a visit to Turkey.
"They questioned me about my journalistic work, they wanted to know why I was frequently visiting Istanbul. I told them that it was normal for a journalist to travel and that I was studying in Turkey. But since then I have been subject to a smear campaign on social media by people associated with the Palestinian security forces in the West Bank. They have accused me of participating in the anti-Abbas protests and some even went as far as claiming that I was a Hamas agent. This, of course, is not true."
The second incident took place in Nablus on June 30, also during a protest against Abbas's sanctions against the Gaza Strip, Lara Kan'an. Her experience was not much different than that of her colleague, Hassona. Videos posted on Facebook showed the moment Kan'an and other protesters were attacked by men in civilian clothes believed to be security officers or activists belonging to Abbas's ruling Fatah faction. They also seized her mobile phone and returned it only after deleting the video and photos she had taken during the protest.
Kan'an recounted that when she initially refused to hand over her mobile phone to a security officer, she was approached by a policeman who hit her on the arm and violently pulled the device out of her hand. She said that another two men in civilian clothes attacked her from the back, with one pulling her from the hair and the other hitting her left shoulder. Kan'an was taken to the local Rafidiyeh Hospital, where x-rays showed she was suffering from bruises to the neck and shoulder.
Some Palestinian human rights groups were quick to condemn the assaults and call on the Palestinian leadership to stop targeting journalists.
The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) condemned the attacks and expressed deep concern over the "increasing assaults on journalists [by the Palestinian security forces] in a manner that is particularly alarming and disturbing to women journalists." The group pointed out that the same scenario has recently been repeated in several Palestinian cities. "MADA demands all official bodies to investigate all the attacks and to publish the results thereof and to hold accountable the perpetrators and those responsible and to take measures to prevent their continuation," the group said in a statement.
The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate in the West Bank, a body dominated by Fatah loyalists, also issued a statement condemning the assaults and calling on the Palestinian leadership to hold accountable the perpetrators. Palestinian journalists, however, have become used to lip service from this institution, which is openly supportive of Abbas and his associates and serves as a mouthpiece for the Palestinian Authority.
The hypocrisy of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate is easy to understand.
It is harder, however, to make sense of the behavior of the foreign media and international human rights groups, who essentially champion Abbas's fiefdom by ignoring its brutality.
The truth is that the Palestinian Authority is a body that has long been functioning as a dictatorship that suppresses freedom of speech and imposes a reign of terror and intimidation on Palestinian journalists and critics.
Today, it is the Palestinian journalists who are victims of the repression and violence. Tomorrow, it will be foreign journalists, who see these assaults but refuse to utter a word. It is only a question of time before a Western journalist is beaten on the streets of a Palestinian city. When that happens, the international media and human rights groups can look to themselves and their own biased and unprofessional behavior for answers.
*Bassam Tawil, an Arab Muslim, is based in the Middle East.
© 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.

Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan
A. Z. Mohamed/Gatestone Institute/July 03/18
Many extremist Muslims are aiming at even more government submission to sharia through intimidation and terror.
Christians and Ahmadis continue to raise concerns regarding the government's failure to safeguard minority rights, as well as the government's persistent discrimination against religious minorities.
Pakistan is also where Muslim militants, such as the Pakistani Taliban, carry out assassinations and terrorist attacks. It seems no one is there to stop them.
On May 6, Ahsan Iqbal, Pakistan's Minister of the Interior, was shot during a rally in his own constituency, in the province of Punjab. Fortunately, he survived the attack, but the bullet in his abdomen could not be removed. "The bullet lodged in my body... will keep reminding me of the impending need to remove the seeds of hatred sowed in the country," Iqbal said.
An initial report suggested that the main suspect, Abid Hussain, 21, had carefully planned the attack; recently, Pakistan's Anti-Terrorism Court issued an 8-day judicial remand of four possible accomplices.
On May 6, Pakistan's Minister of the Interior, Ahsan Iqbal (pictured at left), was shot and wounded by an Islamist extremist during a rally in Punjab. (Image source: USAID Pakistan/Wikimedia Commons)
According to other reports, Hussain is linked to Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) -- also known as Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah ("Movement of the Prophet's Followers"). TLP is a new Sunni extremist party known for aggressively calling for enforcing Pakistan's blasphemy laws, which can carry the death penalty, and for opposing any relaxation of these laws.
Many fear that this assault is not an isolated incident and that other members of the cabinet are on the TLP's hit list. This apprehension, however, does not mean that the government is against sharia or blasphemy laws, or is even thinking of reforming them. Many extremist Muslims are aiming at even more government submission to sharia through intimidation and terror.
Extremist Muslims in Pakistan have been successful in achieving their objectives. according to the U.S. Department of State's 2017 Report on International Religious Freedom:
"The [Pakistani] courts continued to enforce blasphemy laws, the punishment for which ranges from life in prison to the death sentence for a range of charges, including 'defiling the Prophet Muhammad.'"
According to reports from civil society organizations, in 2017, there were at least 50 individuals imprisoned on blasphemy charges, at least 17 of whom had received death sentences, In addition, the report added, the police registered at least 17 new cases under the blasphemy laws against still other individuals.
Pakistan's TLP party activism is just one example of how extremist Muslims and official complicity combine to perpetuate sharia and blasphemy laws. TLP itself was apparently inspired by a "blasphemy killer." The party "was born out of a protest movement supporting Mumtaz Qadri, a bodyguard of the governor of Punjab who gunned down his boss in 2011 over his call to relax Pakistan's draconian blasphemy laws," Reuters reported.
In October 2017, Pakistan's president, Mamnoon Hussain, signed into law a bill that changed an electoral oath which affirmed the belief that the Prophet Muhammed is the final prophet of Islam to a "declaration" and abolished separate voter lists for Ahmadi Muslims, whom many Muslims consider non-Muslim, as Ahmadis regard Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908) as their Mahdi (Messiah). In 1974, a constitutional amendment introduced by the prime minister at the time, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, had declared the Ahmadiyya community a non-Muslim minority; and in 1984, President Zia-ul Haq issued Ordinance XX which makes it a criminal offense for Ahmadis to call themselves Muslims, and to practice or propagate their faith.
In any event, the law sparked weeks of protests, led by Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan members, against the government. The TLP accused then-Minister for Law and Justice, Zahid Hamid, of blasphemy and demanded his resignation. The government succumbed to pressure by extremist Muslims, and attributed the change in the oath to "clerical error." Parliament reversed the provisions; Hamid was forced to resign and the government gave assurances that Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five with a highly questionable blasphemy conviction, would not be sent abroad. Notably, Qadri had apparently also murdered governor Salman Taseer for speaking against a death sentence on Asia Bibi.
More appalling is what the U.S. Department of State report said: that government officials -- under pressure from the extremist Muslims' protests of October 2017 -- and probably to deny any support to Ahmadis -- had engaged in anti-Ahmadi rhetoric and attended events that Ahmadis said incited violence against members of their community. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community leaders and human rights organizations "continued to express concerns about the government's targeting of Ahmadis for blasphemy, and Ahmadis continued to be affected by discriminatory and ambiguous legislation that denied them basic rights," the report added.
Christians and Ahmadi Muslims are not by any means exceptional: members of all religious minority communities in Pakistan are distressed that the government submitted to Tehreek-e-Labbaik party and other Islamists' pressure. Christians and Ahmadis continue to raise concerns regarding the government's failure to safeguard minority rights as well as its persistent discrimination against religious minorities. Authorities have also often failed to intervene during episodes of violence against religious minorities, and the police have often failed to arrest perpetrators of these abuses.
In his condemnation of the assassination attempt of the Minister of Interior, Rizvi, TLP's leader, emphasized that his party is waging an unarmed struggle to bring "the Prophet's religion to the throne," in a way that clearly identifies his party role in achieving Islamists' ultimate goal of al-hakemyah of Allah (the sovereignty of God and sharia law), a role that consists in spreading narratives such as the supremacy of Islam, the supposed religion of truth, over all other world religions (Quran 3:19); the supposed supremacy of sharia over all man-made laws, and that the Christians and Jews are supposedly conspiring against Islam and Muslims (Quran 2:109). Extremist Muslims, like Tehreek-e-Labbaik, have been able to plant seeds of intolerance, hatred and fear, lionize terrorists and lead protests to impose sharia and blasphemy laws.
Within this context of Islamists' "unarmed struggle," the goal of bringing "the Prophet's religion to the throne" is likely to take place in a country where the government, under religious pressure, was unable to defend an electoral reform bill enacted by the president last October. The government also has not followed most of the instructions issued four years ago by Pakistan's Supreme Court to protect religious minorities after a terrorist bomber murdered 127 innocent people at a church. Pakistan is also where Muslim militants, such as the Pakistani Taliban, carry out assassinations and terrorist attacks. It seems no one is there to stop them.
*A. Z. Mohamed is a Muslim born and raised in the Middle East.
© 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.

Europe: "The Vision is an Islamic State"
Judith Bergman/Gatestone Institute/July 03/18
"The growing religiousness is not an expression of marginalization. We are talking about people who are well-integrated, but who want to be religious". — Professor Viggo Mortensen.
"The vision is an Islamic state -- Islamic society... Muslims will prefer sharia rule. But the vision for twenty years from now is for sharia law to be part of Germany, that sharia will be institutionalized in the state itself". — "Yusuf", in a documentary series, False Identity.
"I will pick them one by one -- I will start with people around me... If every Muslim would do the same in his surroundings, it can happen with no problem... you don't confront him [the German] with force; you do it slowly... There will be clashes, but slowly the clashes will subside, as people will accept reality." — "Yusuf", in a documentary series, False Identity.
Europe will still exist but, as with the great Christian Byzantine Empire that is now Turkey, will it still embody Judeo-Christian civilization?
A Dutch government report published in June showed that Muslims in the Netherlands are becoming more religious. The report, based on information from 2006-2015, is a study of more than 7,249 Dutch nationals with Moroccan and Turkish roots. Two thirds of the Muslims in the Netherlands are from Turkey or Morocco.
According to the report, 78% of Moroccan Muslims pray five times a day, as do 33% of Turkish Muslims. Approximately 40% of both groups visit a mosque at least once a week. More young Moroccan women wear a headscarf (up from 64% in 2006 to 78% in 2015) and large majorities of both groups eat halal (93% of Moroccan Muslims and 80% of Turkish Muslims). 96% of Moroccan Muslims say that faith is a very important part of their lives, whereas the number is 89% for Turkish Muslims. The number of Dutch Moroccan Muslims who can be described as strictly adhering to Islam has increased from 77% in 2006, to 84% in 2015. For Turkish Muslims, the numbers have increased from 37% to 45%. There are few secular Muslims -- 7% among Turkish Muslims, 2% among Moroccan Muslims.
In Denmark, the trend of Muslims becoming more religious was apparent as early as 2004, when a poll showed that Muslims were becoming more religious than their parents, especially "young, well-educated and well-integrated women". At the time, Professor Viggo Mortensen said, "The growing religiousness is not an expression of marginalization. We are talking about people who are well-integrated, but who want to be religious".
A more detailed Danish poll from 2015 showed that Muslims had become more religious since a similar poll taken in 2006: In 2006, 37% prayed five times a day, whereas the number had gone up to 50% in 2015. In 2006, 63% believed that the Koran should be followed to the letter; in 2015, it was 77%. Brian Arly Jacobsen, a sociologist of religion from the University of Copenhagen, was surprised by the results. "With time we would expect [that Muslims] would become more like the rest of the Danes, who are not particularly active in the religious sphere," he said. Jacobsen thought that a possible explanation might have been the 20-30 new mosques that were built in the decade preceding 2015.
The trends expressed by these polls are corroborated by studies and polls showing that many Muslims in Europe want to live under sharia law. According to a 2014 study of Moroccan and Turkish Muslims in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Sweden, an average of almost 60% of the Muslims polled agreed that Muslims should return to the roots of Islam. 75% thought there is only one interpretation of the Koran possible, and 65% said that Sharia is more important to them than the laws of the country in which they live. A 2016 UK poll showed that 43% of British Muslims "believed that parts of the Islamic legal system should replace British law while only 22 per cent opposed the idea". In a 2017 study, which included a poll of 400 Belgian Muslims, 29% said they believe the laws of Islam to be superior to Belgian law, and 34% said they "would definitely prefer a political system inspired by the Quran".
According to a 2014 study of Moroccan and Turkish Muslims in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Sweden, an average of almost 60% of the Muslims polled agreed that Muslims should return to the roots of Islam, and 65% said that Sharia is more important to them than the laws of the country in which they live. Pictured: Friday prayers at the IZW Mosque in Vienna, Austria. (Photo by Thomas Kronsteiner/Getty Images)
The more than two million predominantly Muslim migrants that have arrived in Europe in recent years are only reinforcing the trend of growing Muslim religiosity on the continent. A 2017 study of predominantly Afghan asylum seekers in the Austrian city of Graz showed that the asylum seekers, mostly men under the age of 30, were all in favor of preserving their traditional Islamic values with 70% going to the mosque every Friday for prayers. The women were even more religious, with 62.6% praying five times a day, notably more than the men (39.7%). In addition, 66.3% of the women wore a headscarf in public. Half of the migrants said that religion now plays a larger role in their daily lives in Europe than it did in their native country, and 51.6% of the interviewees said that the supremacy of Islam over other religions was undisputed.
The tendency of many Muslims to become more religious once they arrived in Europe was also on display in a new documentary series, "False Identity," by Arabic-speaking journalist Zvi Yehezkeli, who went undercover to report on the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe and the US. In Germany, he encountered two young Muslims from Syria, who came to Germany via Kosovo, where they received help from a "British Islamic organization". They had left Syria as secular Muslims, but on the way to Germany they lived for a year in Pristina, Kosovo, where, according to Yehezkeli, "Muslim Brotherhood organizations are active in helping refugees while turning them into devout Muslims. Ahmed and Yusuf arrived [in Germany] already praying five times a day".[1]
According to Ahmed:
"When I left Syria, mentally I felt more relaxed. The Islamic charity organization played an important role in this. Look, the first time you meet them they start helping you. You sit, you stare at them, they pray in front of you and here I am a Muslim, studied the Quran, yet don't pray. Suddenly I find myself alone asking, Why shouldn't I pray like all others?"
Yehezkeli asked them what their dream is. "The vision is an Islamic state -- Islamic society," said Yusuf, "Muslims will prefer sharia rule. But the vision for twenty years from now is for sharia law to be part of Germany, that sharia will be institutionalized in the state itself".
In contrast to the growing religiousness of Muslims in Europe, Christians are becoming less religious. In a study of young Europeans, aged 16-29, published in March and based on 2014-2016 data, the author, Stephen Bullivant, a professor of theology and the sociology of religion at St Mary's University in London, concluded:
"With some notable exceptions, young adults increasingly are not identifying with or practicing religion... Christianity as a default, as a norm, is gone, and probably gone for good -- or at least for the next 100 years".
According to the study, between 70% and 80% of young adults in Estonia, Sweden and the Netherlands categorize themselves as non-religious. Between 64% and 70% of young adults consider themselves non-religious in France, Belgium, Hungary and the UK. The most religious youths were to be found in Poland, where only 17% of young adults defined themselves as non-religious, followed by Lithuania with 25%.
Young Muslims like Yusuf and Ahmed from Syria say they want to spread Islam by converting Europeans, also known as dawa. They are themselves perfect examples of having been at the receiving end of dawa -- becoming devout Muslims through the Islamic organization in Kosovo and now engaging in dawa themselves. "I will pick them one by one -- I will start with people around me. They will listen. If every Muslim would do the same in his surroundings, it can happen with no problem," said Yusuf. Asked if the Germans might resist dawa, he said:
"You don't confront him [the German] with force, you do it slowly... There will be clashes, but slowly the clashes will subside, as people will accept reality. There is no escape; every change involves clashes".
Given young Europeans' lack of a religious identity and the vacuum left by the departure of Christianity from the lives of the majority, one has to wonder how sturdy their ability will be to withstand such attempts at proselytizing. Europe will still exist but, as with the great Christian Byzantine Empire that is now Turkey, will it still embody Judeo-Christian civilization?
*Judith Bergman is a columnist, lawyer and political analyst.
[1] The quote begins at 21:24 in the documentary. The statements by Yusuf and Ahmed follow immediately after.
© 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.

Israeli Defence Forces Appoints First Iran Project Director" As Northern Tensions Increse
Jerusalem Post/July 03/18
The appointment underscores the overwhelming importance that Israel places on the developing military confrontation between the countries.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot has appointed Maj.-Gen. Nitzan Alon, who recently left his role as head of the military's Operations Directorate, as the first director of a special IDF project to coordinate all issues related to Israel's battle against Iran.
Alon accompanied Eisenkot on his recent trip to the United States last weekend and participated in meetings with American military leaders, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford.
This is the first time that the IDF has appointed a "project director for Iran issues," who is meant to coordinate all areas of Israel's battle against the Islamic Republic: with respect to its nuclear program, coordinating intelligence gathering with other countries, and in countering Iran's presence in Syria.
In the past, the head of the Mossad Meir Dagan was responsible for the "Iran file" under Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, but at that time the battle was restricted to intelligence spheres.
Now that the war between Israel and Iran has come into the open and includes military confrontation, the appointment of a "special project head" underscores the overwhelming importance that Israel sees for these developments.
Within the framework of the role, Alon will also be responsible for coordination between the Israeli and American security establishments. The United States and Israel are in close contact and, on the Iran issue, the two countries are not concealing their interest in overthrowing the regime of the Ayatollahs.
Israeli media recently reported that renewed American pressure on Iran, especially the enforcement of additional American sanctions, are having a significant impact within Iran -- much more so than was foreseen.
Part of this effect can be seen in the growing protests in the large Iranian cities in the face of the worsening economic situation and critical water shortage.
The appointment of Alon, who is in a cooling-off period and is vying for appointment as the deputy IDF chief of staff, illustrates the trust that the IDF leadership places in him, including Eisenkot and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.
Alon was head of the operations division until a little more than a month ago, and he can take part of the credit for the accruing Israeli successes on everything related to Israel's "war between the wars" against Iran, Hezbollah, and Shi'ite militias.
Now, as as a general-in-waiting, he is coordinating the IDF's overall Iran efforts and reporting directly to the chief of staff. Alon is also charged with maintaining the connection between the IDF and military intelligence and the Mossad.
Does this appointment strengthen the position of Alon in the battle over the next chief of staff, or at least over the appointment of the next deputy chief of staff? At this point, there is no clear answer to this question.
Alon has been labeled as a "leftist," which has made him a target of extremist settlers in the West Bank while he served as head of the Central Command. At the same time, settlers spread a rumor that Alon's wife was an activist with the Israeli left-wing NGO Checkpoint Watch.
Nevertheless, Alon has won considerable and consensual professional acclaim that grew over the course of his appointment in the projects division.
The IDF chief of staff and defense minister, who now have only a few weeks before having to make a decision on the identity of the next chief of staff, are faced with a glut of options: a clear favorite whose fitness and readiness for the position cannot be impinged (Deputy Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi); another particularly high quality candidate who has failed in public statements in the past (former deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan), and two younger generals, Gen. Nitzan Alon and Gen. Eyal Zamir, who recently finished a successful stint in the southern command.
Liberman is expected to make his decision after the fall holidays.

Merkel Engineers a Better Deal on Migration
Leonid Bershidsky/Bloomberg/Asharq Al Awsat/July 03/18
For all the premature political obituaries, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has not lost her ability to hammer out compromises that please no one but somehow work for everyone. The European Union national leaders’ joint statement on migration, worked out in Brussels in the pre-dawn hours of Friday, reconciles the interests of countries with the most contradictory of positions — Germany, Italy and the Eastern European nations — and does just enough to make further rebellion by Merkel’s Bavarian coalition partners look unreasonable.
Parties in the migration debate went into the EU summit on Friday with positions that appeared hard to bridge. Merkel needed agreement from countries where undocumented immigrants first show up in Europe, such as Greece, Italy, Spain and, to a lesser extent, Hungary, to take back asylum seekers who try to move to wealthier Germany while their cases are being considered. The intra-EU migration of potential refugees is a pet peeve of German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, whose Bavaria-based Christian Social Union is part of Merkel’s governing coalition. The CSU faces a tough election in October, and is trying to draw nationalist voters away from the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.
By contrast, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who presented his own European migration solution last Sunday, insisted that intra-EU migration would cease to be a problem once Europe agreed that the entry countries shouldn’t bear sole responsibility for the immigrants who land there after sailing across the Mediterranean from Africa. So far this year, Spain has received almost 18,000, Italy more than 16,000 and Greece 13,000; it’s only fair that the rest of Europe should help, Conte has argued.
For their part, the Eastern Europeans, led by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, insisted they shouldn’t be forced to accept refugees from other countries in the name of solidarity because it was an imposition on their sovereignty.
In the end, everyone got what they wanted, if not all they wanted.
Conte’s prize involved “controlled centers” set up in EU members states with “full EU support” to “distinguish between irregular migrants, who will be returned, and those in need of international protection, for whom the principle of solidarity would apply.” This is a rather specific promise to alleviate Italy’s financial and bureaucratic burden, which enabled Conte to say as he left the talks that Italy was “no longer alone.”
The Eastern Europeans made sure that the “controlled centers” would not be forced on any countries that don’t want them. The wording, clearly the result of much heated back-and-forth, is clumsy but unambiguous: “All the measures in the context of these controlled centers, including relocation and resettlement, will be on a voluntary basis.”
Merkel got the paragraph she needed, too. It states that “secondary movements of asylum seekers between member states” undermine the European asylum system and the Schengen borderless travel accord, so “member states should take all necessary internal legislative and administrative measures to counter such movements and to closely cooperate amongst each other to that end.”
That may appear unspecific at first sight, and the CSU was momentarily stumped. “We must happily confirm that the common European asylum policy is moving in the right direction,” Hans Michelbach, a member of the party’s leadership, said after learning of the Brussels statement. “The question is what it means for national borders and the admission of people now and in the next few months.”
Yet the statement means no unilateral action is needed; the prime ministers of Spain and Greece, who took a conciliatory stance in the talks, have already agreed informally to take back any of “their” asylum seekers found in Germany. Conte hasn’t quite said so, but he did sign off on the call for cooperation in stopping “secondary movements” in exchange for the “controlled center” promise.
The CSU should also consider the stance of Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. With his firm stance on immigration, he is the Bavarians’ political idol, and the state’s prime minister, CSU member Markus Soeder, even invited him — and pointedly not Merkel — to help the party campaign ahead of the October election. But Kurz has clearly come out in favor of negotiated solutions within the EU and threatened to take countermeasures if Germany unilaterally tried to push back asylum seekers across the Austrian border.
The Brussels statement presents Seehofer and his party with a good opportunity to claim victory — after all, “secondary movements” wouldn’t have been tackled so quickly on a European level had they not put pressure on Merkel — and climb down. Further confrontation would be counterproductive. The CSU has failed to gain in the Bavarian polls since it got into the public fight with Merkel, and though Germans overwhelmingly support sending back asylum seekers registered elsewhere, a recent nationwide poll by Infratest Dimap showed that three quarters of Germans would welcome a European solution to migration issues over a unilateral German one.
Political divisions appear to have been stitched up, if not healed. The question is whether the solutions being hammered out under heavy political pressure will actually work, both from a practical and a moral standpoint.
The EU is now intent on building all kinds of refugee camps — in North Africa to prevent crossings and in Europe to process asylum applications. This is essentially a detention system for people whose “crime” is seeking a better, safer life; it’s hardly likely to help the integration of those who will ultimately be allowed into Europe. Besides, the North African camps create an enormous potential for abuses, from corruption to various strains of inhumanity. Europe could be compromising on its values as it seeks consensus among its member states, some of which have strong nationalist, anti-immigrant parties.

Is Trump Handing Putin a Victory in Syria?

David Ignatius/The Washington Post/July 03/18
The catastrophic war in Syria is nearing what could be a diplomatic endgame, as the United States, Russia and Israel shape a deal that would preserve power for Syrian President Bashar al -Assad in exchange for Russian pledges to restrain Iranian influence.
Checking Iranian power has become the only major Trump administration goal in Syria, now that ISIS is nearly vanquished. President Trump appears ready to embrace a policy that will validate Assad, an authoritarian leader who has gassed his own people, and abandon a Syrian opposition that was partly trained and supplied by the United States.
Trump’s Syria policy has bounced back and forth like a ping-pong ball. The most consistent feature has been his mistrust of Middle East military commitments made by his predecessors George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Step by step, he seems to be undoing them.
The diplomatic discussions about Syria come as Trump prepares for a July 16 summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Foreign diplomats and administration officials are unsure just what will be on the agenda, but the Syria package will probably be in play.
An intriguing aspect of the possible Syria deal is that it’s driven by close cooperation between Russia and Israel. The Israeli agenda, like Trump’s, is narrowly focused on blocking Iran — and Israelis seem to have concluded that Putin is a reliable regional partner.
Israeli, European and US experts outlined some likely elements of the framework. In exchange for US withdrawal of its demands for a political transition in Syria, Russia will support various measures to contain Iranian power, including:
● Iranian-backed forces will stay at least 80 kilometers from the Israeli border on the Golan Heights.
● Israel will have tacit Russian permission to attack threatening Iranian targets in Syria, so long as Russian troops aren’t harmed. Israel has exercised this freedom of action in recent weeks to strike secret Iranian bases and block Tehran’s attempt to open a Syrian “second front” against Israel that would complement "Hezbollah" in Lebanon.
● Assad’s army, backed by Russian air power, will consolidate control in southwest Syria and retake posts on the Jordanian border. Jordan favors Assad’s control of the border because it might allow truck traffic to resume, boosting the cash-strapped Jordanian economy. Opposition forces in the southwest apparently will be left to fend for themselves. As thousands of new Syrian refugees flee toward a closed Jordanian border, a new slaughter of trapped civilians is possible.
● Russian military police will patrol areas of southwest Syria and perhaps other regions, in an effort to stabilize those zones. But a European diplomat cautions that any expectation that Russian power will mean security is “based on wishful thinking rather than reality.” The United States, for now, will retain its garrison at al-Tanf, in southern Syria.
● The Assad regime will expand its outreach to Syrian Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria, in areas where the Kurds have partnered successfully with US Special Operations forces to defeat ISIS and restore stability. US commanders hope American troops can remain for 18 more months or so. But Trump has voiced his impatience with this mission.
Syrian opposition leaders are bitterly disappointed at the deal that’s taking shape, and one warned me that the American “betrayal” will be an incubator for future militant movements. European countries, which have been key covert allies in Syria, are deeply skeptical that the anti-Iran plan will work. “Britain and France have warned the US that it’s highly improbable that Russia has the presence on the ground to get the Iranians to shift out” of areas they now dominate, a European diplomat told me.
Trump’s willingness to accede to Russian power in Syria — and to give up hard-won US gains — troubles many Pentagon officials, but they seem to be losing the argument.
As Putin makes his way toward the summit stage, it’s worth pausing a moment to appreciate how deftly he has played his hand. Russia is becoming the indispensable regional balancer, playing a role once proudly claimed by the United States. Russia somehow maintains good relations with both Iran and Israel; it has growing ties with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates; it talks with Syrian Kurds and their bitter rivals in Turkey.
Putin has subdued the enemy without fighting. He has taken a decisive position in Syria at minimal cost — with a deferential Trump now seeming ready to confirm his victory.

Does the West Actually Face a Migration Crisis?
Ishaan Tharoor/The Washington Post/July 03/18
On Thursday, European leaders will convene in Brussels for a showdown over migration. The question of how the European Union will handle the migrants and asylum seekers in its midst has shadowed continental politics since an influx of Syrian refugees dominated global headlines in 2015. While the numbers of arrivals steadily dropped in the years since, the right-wing backlash in Europe has only escalated. Now, even the political future of German Chancellor Angela Merkel hangs in the balance, with mutinous allies to the right threatening to end her 13-year rule over what they view as her soft, permissive stance.
"Immigration policy is the central battleground in Europe’s deepening political divide," wrote the Wall Street Journal. "A centrist, pro-European Union establishment is seeking to reassure voters that cooperative measures can curb migration flows while spreading the burden of taking in refugees fairly. Anti-establishment political insurgents, particularly on the far-right, are denouncing EU efforts as a failure and seeking to sweep away longtime incumbents such as Merkel."
There is general agreement on reinforcing the bloc's frontier security and working to boost aid to nearby African nations in a bid to curb migrant flows across the Mediterranean. But beyond that, the fault lines run deep. "Merkel is seeking a way to redistribute across the continent the migrants who have already arrived," wrote my colleague Michael Birnbaum. "Italy, a front-line state to asylum seekers and migrants coming from North Africa, is more focused on the initial arrivals and on avoiding what it says is an unfair burden that has been placed on it by countries to its north."
Far-right parties in coalition governments in Italy and Austria are pushing for all new arrivals to be turned away at the border, while illiberal nationalists in Hungary, Poland, and other countries in Eastern and Central Europe balk at Merkel's proposals for all EU members to accept a quota of asylum seekers. As my colleagues reported, Merkel and other European centrists are being steadily challenged by more hard-line leadership on the right, including Austria's youthful chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, and Italy's new interior minister, Matteo Salvini, a far-right firebrand.
Both Kurz and Salvini have elicited parallels to President Trump, who has cheered the cracking of Europe's liberal consensus. In his time in power, Trump has borrowed the talking points of Europe's far right, casting any influx of migrants as an existential threat, while scare-mongering over Muslim arrivals from a vast sweep of the globe. While Salvini leaves vessels carrying hundreds of migrants stranded in the Mediterranean, Trump has pushed for draconian treatment of migrants illegally entering the country, and prioritized both an expensive border wall and a travel ban on a number of Muslim-majority nations — neither of which national security experts believe is necessary.
While these policies galvanize right-wing sentiment, they don't reflect the migration trends, as my colleagues note. "New arrivals of migrants and asylum seekers to Europe via the Mediterranean have dropped by more than half this year compared with the same period in 2017, according to the UN migration agency: 40,944 people as of Wednesday. The decline is even starker compared with 2016: It equals just 19 percent of the same period in that year." (As has always been the case, the real human crises are outside the West, whether in squalid temporary camps in the Middle East housing millions of Syrian refugees, impoverished and gang-dominated corners of Central America, or the perilous smuggling networks disappearing and brutalizing myriad migrants in North Africa.)
Trump, argued Wonkblog's Christopher Ingraham, grandstands over a border crisis that does not exist (see his chart below). The vast majority of immigrants who enter the United States do so legally. According to one account, visa overstays comprise two-thirds of those joining the American undocumented population every year. “The number attempting to get across the Southern border is probably the lowest it's been since at least the 1970s,” said Robert Warren, a demographer with the Center for Migration Studies, to Ingraham. “I'm surprised the [Trump] administration hasn't really focused on overstays. That's where the action is.” The White House is indeed also seeking ways to curb legal immigration, but the vision it propagates of a dangerous horde of barbarians massing at the gates is both inflammatory and overblown.
Of course, when it comes to questions over immigration, feelings almost always trump facts. Because it undermined Trump's position on limiting refugees, the White House rejected a study conducted by the administration itself last year that found that refugees had brought in $63 billion more in government revenue over the past decade than they cost. More broadly, experts warn of the negative economic impact the United States now faces because of an apparent decline in low-skilled migration. In Europe, too, demand for low-skilled labor will only increase as the continent's population ages and, in some cases, shrinks.
Nevertheless, opinion polling in numerous Western societies consistently finds that significant numbers of people overinflate the size of the migrant population in their midst and the scale of their demographic impact. "The overestimates are largest among particular groups: the least educated, workers in low-skill occupations with lots of immigrants, and those on the political right," noted the New York Times, citing a recent survey of public opinion in the United States and other European countries. "They overstate the share of immigrants who are Muslim and understate the share of Christians. They underestimate immigrants’ education and overestimate both their poverty rate and their dependence on welfare. Almost a quarter of French respondents, as well as nearly one in five Swedes and about one in seven Americans, think the average immigrant gets twice as much government aid as native residents do. In no country is this true."
These misunderstandings have real political effects, as the Times reported, including "eroding support for Europe’s social democratic model as well as for the United States' more limited social safety net."
Europe's centrists and liberals, including Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and a new center-left government in Spain, call for pragmatism and calm, urging burden-sharing within the continent and diplomacy across the Mediterranean to further reduce the numbers attempting to make the dangerous sea passage. But the passions of the moment do not sit well alongside this measured approach. Over the weekend, a frustrated Macron called on his peers to "not forget our values" of openness and tolerance. "We are living through a political crisis more than a migratory crisis today," he said.

Time for Iran to Go back to its Borders

Ghassan Charbel/Asharq Al-Awsat/July 03/18
Europe has enjoyed decades of stability because it derived the necessary lessons from bitter experiences. It has recognized that the only way for the future is for each country to respect the borders of others despite the differences between their people and affiliations. Europe has accepted coexistence based on the principle of respecting the differences between countries. It has also committed to fortifying international borders and stood against violating them.
In this new Europe, a country no longer has the right to meddle in the affairs of or destabilize its neighbor. A country no longer has the right to form a militia on the other’s territory and usurp their decision-making power. Germany, for example, no longer has the right to consider the fate of Germans living in abroad as its responsibility and as justification for its violations of country borders.
Countries now have to pass through legitimate gates and methods that are approved by international laws and norms. Roles are no longer determined by the sizes of armies, but by the success of an economy. This is demonstrated in the prominent role Germany is playing in the European Union.
These countries believe that international borders present opportunities for cooperation, not walls for isolation. They believe that governments must prioritize education, job opportunities, the environment, comprehensive development and the daily lives of the people. A country no longer has the right to invade the other under the excuse of defending a cause, imposing an ideology or changing the way of life. In other words, you no longer have the right to speak on behalf of others and usurp their voice and will.
Over the past decades, the countries of the Middle East were not the arenas of a destructive world war. However, if we look at the outcomes of the Iraqi-Iranian war, invasion of Kuwait and Iraq, explosions of the “Arab Spring,” particularly in Syria, and Palestinian and Kurdish struggles, then we will find that they are not too dissimilar to a scene out of World War II.
The turbulence in the Middle East has harmed coexistence between and within nations. International borders came under terrible violations, at times by groups that do not even believe in boundaries and at others by countries whose rulers harbor projects greater than their own borders and who consequently led armies or militias on to other people’s land.
Despite the political and demographic changes caused by the conflicts in some countries, it is clear that we are not headed towards the redrawing of maps or emergence of new nations. Proof of that are Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, who may all differ on several issues, but always agree, during extreme moments, to dash the dreams of the Kurds.
Perhaps the first lesson that can be derived from the experiences of the past few years is that meddling in the affairs of others has exacerbated ongoing conflicts and led to others, even if it appeared that it may have temporarily succeeded in saving a regime or stifled a coup.
There is no doubt that any serious step to steer clear from the edge of the abyss starts with respecting the borders of countries and ceasing policies that seek to fragment and alter demographics. The “Baghdadi State” is no more. It was never destined to last. ISIS did, however, increase instability and sectarian divisions and stoke coup attempts that harmed ties between and within borders. The necessary and fateful battle to destroy ISIS led to the launch of the spring of foreign and militia meddling combined.
Now, after everything we have seen in Syria, can the time for respecting borders begin? Given the Russian military intervention in Syria, the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki would not have been scheduled had this presence been such a source of annoyance to the United States. It is most likely that the majority of countries prefer to see a Russian Syria than an Iranian one.
In other words, can Iran go back on the major coup that it staged under the claim of “exporting the revolution” and which it intensified after the collapse of the barrier that was the Saddam Hussein regime?
Some believe that Iran is afraid of going back to its border, not because it prefers to wage conflicts on other people’s lands, but because some of its own citizens, especially those born after the 1979 revolution, are asking the regime what it has presented to them. They are wondering why the regime has invested so much in “exporting the revolution” at the expense of improving their livelihoods. This was clearly demonstrated in the recent protests in Iran. It is hard to believe that Trump is behind these movements.
Can Iran build normal ties with Iraq that are based on mutual respect? Can it withdraw from Syria and establish normal relations? What about its role in Lebanon and backing of the Houthi adventure in Yemen? Can General Qassem Soleimani be persuaded to deploy the Quds Force within Iranian territory alone and not roam maps and capitals?
There is no doubt that Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement dealt a heavy blow to Tehran. Iran achieved major gains from the pact that saw it neutralize the US and avoid sanctions, as well as reap funds and continue with its agenda to “export the revolution” through experts, advisors, missiles and a destabilization policy. The greatest success for Tehran was keeping its regional behavior off the nuclear negotiations table.
Trump’s decision returned this behavior back to the forefront and Washington has kicked off a series of pressure moves against Iran, such as targeting its oil exports.
The news of the Helsinki summit likely did not sit very well with Tehran. Russia’s interests with the US are ultimately greater and more important than its interests with Iran. This does not mean that we are approaching a crossroads between Moscow and Tehran. It is certain, however, that the imminent end of the Syrian conflict and Syria’s hand over to Russia will remind Iran that it will soon be faced with having to return to the confines of its own borders.
The Iranian deployment in the region is too great for its economy to withstand. It is too great for the region and the world to tolerate. The region and the world indeed have an interest in seeing a stable and prosperous Iran that respects the borders of others, while the other option would be a long and costly conflict.