July 05/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations
You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas, the rock
John 01/35-42.: "The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God! ’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed).He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter). the rock"

Titles For The Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on July 04-05/18
Cabinet formation still in limbo following Aoun, Jumblatt meeting/Georgi Azar/Annahar/July 04/18
Lebanese journalist sentenced to prison in absentia, for ‘defaming’ foreign minister on Facebook/Hassan Chamoun/Global Voices/July 04/18
Iran and the Oil War/Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/July 04/18
Would the US Create a New Military Service/David Ignatius/The Washington Post/July 04/18
Germany: Migration Deal Keeps Merkel in Power, For Now/Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/July 04/18
Indonesia: Falling to Radicals/Lawrence A. Franklin/Gatestone Institute/July 04/18
Water crisis in Iran: Causes, consequences and perspectives/Ali Hajizade/Al Arabiya/July 04/18
Obama and his many shocking favors to Iran’s rulers/Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/July 04/18
Arab coalition and the Houthis’ maneuver/Khairallah Khairallah/Al Arabiya/July 04/18
Hamas’ incendiary toys fly as far as Jerusalem Hills. IDF remains passive/DEBKAfile/July 04/18
Ultra-Orthodox Lawmaker Blames Earthquake in Northern Israel on Reform Jews/Haaretz/July 04/18

Titles For The Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on July 04-05/18
Joumblatt meets Aoun, calls for 3 ministers
Aoun-Jumblat Meeting Fails to Tackle Druze Share Obstacle
Maronite Bishops Warn over Citizenship Decrees
Richard Says U.S. Wants to Help in Building 'Lebanese State'
Report: More Syrian Refugees Leave Arsal for Home this Week
Report: Hizbullah ‘Sending Fighters Back’ from Syria
Minister Qansou Dies after Battle with Illness, Hariri Mourns Him
ISF Arrests Gang Smuggling Drugs to Egypt in Livestock Skin
Bassil Urges 'Proportional' Govt., Slams LF's 'Attacks'
PSP Urges 'Respect for Vote Result', Aswad Says It Can't Get 3 Ministers
Cabinet formation still in limbo following Aoun, Jumblatt meeting
Lebanese journalist sentenced to prison in absentia, for ‘defaming’ foreign minister on Facebook

Titles For The Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on July 04-05/18
1 Dead, 5 Hurt as Car Hits Pedestrians in World Cup City Sochi
US Considers Designation of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as Terror Group
Austria to Revoke Immunity of Iranian Diplomat Linked to Bomb Plot
UAE Freezes Accounts of 9 Iranian Individuals, Entities as Part of Terror List
Cairo Invites Hamas for Talks over Reconciliation
Israeli Army Appoints First Iran Project Director
UN Security Council to hold emergency Syria talks
Syrian rebels say talks with Russia over south ‘failed’
Jordan’s foreign minister tells Russia ceasefire needed in southern Syria
Jordan to open 3 border crossings with Syria to facilitate entry of aid
Israel’s Netanyahu to meet Putin in Moscow next week
Iraq launches major offensive against ISIS after they executed abductees
Enforced security measures taken by The Iraqi government in Baghdad following the execution
Fears grow Israel set to raze west bank Bedouin village
ISIS Says Baghdadi's Son Killed in Syria
Two People Fall Critically Ill near UK Nerve Poisoning Town
U.N. Envoy Holds 'Fruitful' Talks with Yemen Rebel Chief
The Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on July 04-05/18
Joumblatt meets Aoun, calls for 3 ministers
The Daily Star/July 04, 2018/BEIRUT: After emerging from an ice-breaking meeting with the president Wednesday, former MP Walid Joumblatt told reporters that he was firm in his stance that it’s his right to name all three Druze ministers in the next Cabinet.But the Progressive Socialist Party leader said that his discussions with President Michel Aoun did not directly address the government formation process. “I appreciate the president’s concern about the unity of the mountains and his calls for calm and strengthening the coexistence between its children,” Joumblatt said. Mount Lebanon and the Chouf district are often referred to as “the mountains,” where bloody clashes between Christians and Druze took place throughout the Civil War. “The results of the parliamentary elections gave us the right to request three ministers,” Joumblatt said while speaking to reporters after the meeting. He also called on his supporters to ease their rhetoric and attacks on social media against political rivals. The Free Patriotic Movement - which was founded by Aoun - and the PSP waged a social media war against each other leading up to May's parliamentary elections. Tensions peaked last month when Joumblatt said that Aoun's term had "failed since its first moment." Joumblatt's demand to name all three ministers set to represent the Druze community has been seen as an attempt to prevent his Druze rival, MP Talal Arslan, from being named a minister. Aoun and current FPM leader Gebran Bassil have reportedly insisted on naming Arslan as a minister. The FPM are aligned with Arslan in a parliamentary bloc for Chouf-Aley.

Aoun-Jumblat Meeting Fails to Tackle Druze Share Obstacle
Naharnet/July 04/18/A meeting on Wednesday between President Michel Aoun and Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat anticipated to solve the Druze share obstacle and facilitate the government formation process did not come to fruition. Jumblat who met Aoun reportedly at the latter’s request, told reporters after the meeting at Baabda Palace that his talks with Aoun discussed the “general situation without addressing the government formation process,” or the Druze ministerial quota. Anxious reporters asking Jumblat why didn't he himself bring the subject up since Aoun has made the first initiative and called him for a meeting a day earlier, Jumblat answered: “He did not bring it up.”However, disappointed Jumblat reiterated that “the results of the parliamentary elections gave us the right to allocate three ministers.”Jumblat insists the three Druze ministerial seats be part of the PSP’s share. Meanwhile Druze MP Talal Arslan, of the Strong Lebanon bloc, also demands to get a portfolio. “I appreciate Aoun’s keenness on the Mountain’s unity. I wish everyone would alleviate political rhetoric,” concluded Jumblat. Earlier, LBCI television said Aoun had held phone talks with Jumblat on Monday to prepare for a meeting. Jumblat had recently described Aoun's presidential tenure as a “failure,” drawing a storm of fiery responses from politicians loyal to the president.

Maronite Bishops Warn over Citizenship Decrees
Naharnet/July 04/18/The Council of Maronite Bishops warned Wednesday over the “negative repercussions” of citizenship decrees, noting that some people of Lebanese descent are more eligible to obtain citizenship than others. “The fathers discussed the citizenship decrees that have been issued since 1994 until today and their breach of the law and negative repercussions on coexistence. Accordingly, they stress that citizenship is closely linked to the country's identity, dignity, sovereignty and higher interests, and the officials should not take it lightly under any excuse,” the bishops said in a statement issued after their monthly meeting in Bkirki. The meeting was chaired by Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi. “There are people of Lebanese descent in the diaspora, including personalities who have established their presence at the global level and in various fields, and they are more eligible than others to get citizenship,” the Council added. The Interior Ministry has recently revealed the names of hundreds of people including an Iraqi vice-president to receive Lebanese nationality under a controversial presidential decree. The interior ministry published the list after reports of the May 11 decree emerged 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. The list published on the ministry's website comprised more than 400 names of various nationalities, including a quarter of Syrians and just over a quarter of Palestinians. Its most notable include one of Iraq's two vice-presidents, Iyad Allawi, who is also British and whose mother was Lebanese, as well as his wife and three children. Foreigners can only be naturalized by presidential decree, signed by the prime minister and interior minister. Naturalisation is controversial in the tiny Mediterranean state, where power is shared according to religious parity. Fears of upsetting that fragile demographic balance are often cited as the reason Lebanese women cannot pass their nationality onto children born to foreign fathers.
Richard Says U.S. Wants to Help in Building 'Lebanese State'
Naharnet/July 04/18/U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Elizabeth Richard announced Tuesday that the United States wants to support the Lebanese in their endeavor to “build the Lebanese State.”“Two hundred and forty two years later, Americans still accept and embrace the courage that democracy requires. We are not the only democracy that understands this. I think that Lebanon showed courage this last year, by holding the first elections in nine years,” Richard said at a Awkar ceremony marking the 242nd anniversary of America's independence. “Your elected leaders will now have to continue to show courage as they work to form the next government,” the ambassador added. “As a U.S. Government, and the U.S. Embassy, we want to continue to support the important work of helping you build the Lebanese State,” she went on to say. Noting that Washington continues to invest in the “development and economic growth” of Lebanon, Richard said the U.S. has “robust programs in public health, agriculture, and small and medium business” in Lebanon. “We continue to invest in the future of Lebanon, with extensive programs in education, from primary school to university scholarships,” she added. “And we continue to invest heavily in the professionalization of the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Internal Security Forces,” Richard reassured. She added: “I believe that as long as we share a common vision of the future, the United States will continue to support the citizens of this country as they work to build a better future for Lebanon.”

Report: More Syrian Refugees Leave Arsal for Home this Week
Naharnet/July 04/18/Several hundred Syrian refugees residing in the northeastern border town of Arsal are expected to return on Saturday as part of a voluntary repatriation program joining several hundreds who returned last week, LBCI station said on Wednesday. Around 470 Syrian refugees have returned to neighbouring Syria last week as part of returns coordinated between both countries. The repatriations come amid a dispute between the Lebanese government and the U.N.'s refugee agency, which Beirut accuses of trying to discourage refugees from going home. UNHCR rejects the charges. The Syrian government on Tuesday called on refugees to return, saying it has successfully cleared large areas of "terrorists." The rare appeal reflects the Syrian government's growing confidence after more than seven years of war. While officials usually appeal to Syrians abroad to return during television appearances and interviews, this is the first formal appeal broadcast on official media. Lebanon hosts around 1 million registered Syrians — who account for roughly a quarter of the tiny country's population — and officials have said that Lebanon can no longer afford the strain on its fragile economy.

Report: Hizbullah ‘Sending Fighters Back’ from Syria
Naharnet/July 04/18/Hizbullah’s participation in the Syrian war has reportedly “exhausted” the party compelling it to “bring back to Lebanon almost half of its fighters” fighting alongside the government forces of President Bashar Assad, the pan-Arab al-Hayat daily reported on Wednesday. “According to information obtained by France, Hizbullah is withdrawing almost half of its fighters from Syria back to Lebanon and those are estimated at a few thousand fighters,” a senior French source told the daily. The total number of Hizbullah elements battling in the Syrian war ranges between 5,000 and 8,000, “half of which will be returning back to Lebanon,” added the source who spoke on condition of anonymity. Furthermore, he said that “Israel is not targeting Hizbullah in Syria, nor is the party attacking Israel. It is like a mutual understanding between the two not to attack, as between Syria’s Assad and Israel,” he added.
Contrary to what Israel believes, the source pointed out that Hizbullah’s involvement in Syria’s war has strengthened the party despite losing many of its fighters in battle. “Israeli strikes in Syria are limited to Iranian positions because Hizbullah has heavy weapons and has gained great military experience through the war in Syria. This is what Paris told Israel, which previously believed that the Syrian war would weaken Hizbullah militarily at a time when Paris saw that Hizbullah was strengthening itself even though it had lost many elements,” the source pointed out. Israeli officials have come to realize that any attack against Hizbullah would be “a disaster for Lebanon and for Israel alike.” He believed that Hizbullah was returning its fighters from Syria because their presence there has become a subject of controversy and resentment at its political and popular base because of the dead who were falling there.
Minister Qansou Dies after Battle with Illness, Hariri Mourns Him
Naharnet/July 04/18/Caretaker State Minister for Parliament Affairs Ali Qansou passed away at dawn Wednesday after a battle with illness. Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri mourned the late minister and extended condolences to his family and friends. “We have lost a dear colleague and a special personality who served in ministerial, political and partisan posts throughout decades,” Hariri's press office said in a statement. Noting that he got to know Qansou from the latter's participation in the government, Hariri described him as a “role model in kindness and cooperation,” adding that he “practiced his missions with all due competency and responsibility and always knew how to balance between his political affiliation and his public post.” Qansou, who died at 70, was a former chief of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party. According to a party statement, Qansou was an SSNP member for five decades.

ISF Arrests Gang Smuggling Drugs to Egypt in Livestock Skin
Naharnet/July 04/18/The Internal Security Forces smashed a drug-trafficking network operating between Lebanon and Egypt since 2013, arresting seven suspects who smuggled the drugs by sea in cattle skin shipments. ISF said they arrested seven Lebanese nationals, ranging between 30 and 54 years old, on June 27 following enormous raids and monitoring in the regions of al-Hammoudieh, Durus, Bekaa, Sidon, Bourj Hammoud and Ain al-Mrayseh. The network has been trafficking tons of cannabis and Captagon pills via sea cargo after hiding them in cattle skin. ISF confiscated two Kalashnikov rifles, HK combat rifle, Browning military pistol and a quantity of ammunition in one of the suspect’s houses in Beirut’s Sakiet al-Janzir. They also seized 4,320 dollars in cash, 1,315 Euros, 123,000 Russian ruble and 1,650,000 LBP. The suspects have admitted that since 2013, they have carried out 15 smuggling operations from Lebanon to Egypt by sea freight. Each shipment had weighed between 3 to 10 tons. They said they hid the drugs between layers of livestock skins and that a new shipment was being prepared for shipment in the next days before their detentions. It weighed around seven tons of cannabis and thirty boxes of Captagon, admitted the suspects. The packaging used to take place in Baalbek’s town of al-Sharawneh and Tal al-Abyad in Bekaa. The merchandise were then taken to a warehouse owned by one of the suspects in Bourj Hammoud and al-Ghazieh before being taken to the Port for shipping. Lebanon coordinated with the competent Egyptian authorities regarding the seizure of the last smuggled drugs shipment.

Bassil Urges 'Proportional' Govt., Slams LF's 'Attacks'
Naharnet/July 04/18/Free Patriotic Movement chief MP Jebran Bassil on Wednesday called for distributing the seats of the new Cabinet “proportionally” and according to the results of the May parliamentary elections, as he decried the Lebanese Forces' “attacks” on the FPM. “A nonnegotiable equation must be established, which is the distribution of seats according to the results of the polls that were held under a proportional representation system,” Bassil said in an interview with MTV. Turning to the strained relation with the LF, Bassil said the landmark Maarab Agreement “should not be implemented à la carte.” “Its political foundation is based on supporting the presidency and it included a bilateral agreement – which is nonbinding for others – over the government, the appointments and the parliamentary elections,” Bassil added. “According to the applicable distribution, the LF is only eligible to get three ministers, but we have not said that we do not accept that they get four. But should they demand five, our bloc should get ten, because our size is double theirs,” Bassil went on to say. Also referring to the Maarab Agreement, the FPM chief added: “You cannot unjustly accuse 'your brother' of corruption and then say that you are seeking partnership between us.” “We tried a lot not to publicize the dispute with the LF and we did not attack them out of keenness on the agreement, but their attacks in the recent period were only focused on the FPM's ministers,” Bassil went on to say.

PSP Urges 'Respect for Vote Result', Aswad Says It Can't Get 3 Ministers
Naharnet/July 04/18/The Democratic Gathering parliamentary bloc of the Progressive Socialist Party called Wednesday for “respecting the results of the elections” in the Cabinet formation process, hours after a meeting between PSP chief Walid Jumblat and President Michel Aoun.
In a statement issued after its periodic meeting under MP Taymour Jumblat, the bloc called for “resolving the obstacles, eliminating the hurdles, respecting the results of the elections, unifying the standards and taking into consideration the real representation of forces and parties.”
MP Ziad Aswad of the Free Patriotic Movement meanwhile took to Twitter to emphasize that the PSP should only get two ministers in the new government. “The election results gave you two ministers. Period. From now on, no one will be eliminated in Mount Lebanon,” Aswad said, addressing Walid Jumblat and apparently referring to allocating the third Druze seat to MP Talal Arslan, who was allied with the FPM in the elections. Speaking to reporters after his meeting with Aoun, Jumblat said their talks did not tackle the issue of the cabinet formation process. “No, we did not tackle this issue. The president did not raise the issue with me and I, in my turn, did not raise it,” Jumblat said. Asked whether he was still insisting that the PSP be allocated all three Druze seats in the government, Jumblat answered: “Yes, because this is the vote result. Popular and political voting gave us this right. We might all lose in the upcoming elections.” Druze representation and Christian representation are the two main obstacles hindering the formation of the new government. Another obstacle is the representation of the so-called Sunni opposition.
Cabinet formation still in limbo following Aoun, Jumblatt meeting
Georgi Azar/Annahar/July 04/18
Joumblatt met with Aoun at the Baabda Presidential Palace, with talks focusing on maintaining “national unity” and stability in the mountainous Chouf district in the wake of the recent armed clashes between PSP and Lebanese Democratic Party supporters. BEIRUT: Socialist Party leader Walid Joumblatt denied that his meeting with President Michel Aoun tackled the formation of a new Cabinet, which has failed to come to fruition ever since it entered its caretaker mode on May 21. Joumblatt met with Aoun at the Baabda Presidential Palace, saying that the “matter didn’t come up in our talks.”Talks instead focused on maintaining “national unity” and stability in the mountainous Chouf district in the wake of the recent armed clashes between PSP and Lebanese Democratic Party supporters. Following the conclusion of the May 6 parliamentary elections, clashes erupted between both sets of Druze supporters, killing one PSP member. The LDP, led by Talal Arslan, issued a joint statement with the PSP calling on their supporters to show restraint to avoid further escalation.  Touching on his recent comments labeling Aoun’s tenure as a failure for blaming his presidency's shortcomings on the plight of Syrian refugees, Joumblatt refused to “back down from his stance.”“If his tenure was partially a success, then a solution to the electricity issue would have been found and the deficit would not have increased by two billion dollars,” he said. The rift between the PSP and the Free Patriotic Movement, founded by Aoun in 2005, rests on Joumblatt’s demand to solely pick the three ministerial posts up for grabs, leaving Arslan out of the equation. Arslan aligned himself with the FPM during the parliamentary elections, which yielded a sizable win for the FPM and their allies after they increased their bloc to 29 MPs. Joumblatt doubled down further on his stance following the meeting, telling reporters that his demand is based on “the results of the popular and electoral votes which give us this right.”The PSP managed to secure nine seats across the 15 districts.
Lebanese journalist sentenced to prison in absentia, for ‘defaming’ foreign minister on Facebook
Hassan Chamoun/Global Voices/July 04/18
A Lebanese journalist was convicted in absentia of defaming acting Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants Gebran Bassil in a Facebook post.
A court in the western Lebanese city of Baabda sentenced Fidaa Itani to four months in prison and a fine of 10 million Lebanese lira (roughly USD $6660) on June 29, 2018.
Fidaa Itani is a journalist who focuses on Syria and the refugee crisis.
The Facebook post in question leveraged a complex critique of political and military actions by various powerful actors in Lebanon. Itani decried raids carried out by the Lebanese army in Arsal last year, which resulted in the death of Syrian citizens in detention. He also criticized the continuous nationalist push for the forced removal of refugees on Lebanese territories.
Itani went on to express concern about the Lebanese political party and militant group Hezbollah. Itani has publicly opposed Hezbollah's military intervention in Syria on behalf of the Assad regime.
Shortly thereafter, lawyers for the army and the presidency filed a lawsuit against Itani. On top of this, he began receiving direct threats from people associated with Hezbollah. In short order, he fled the country and sought exile in the UK.
In an interview with the francophone Lebanese newspaper L'Orient le Jour, Itani explained that the original suit, filed by lawyers claiming to represent the Lebanese president and the army, seems to have vanished and now been replaced by the case brought by Gebran Bassil.
Translation Original Quote
I don't know how the first legal action disappeared, nor what was cooked with the case between services of the military intelligence and the president of the republic, or even Hezbollah. Although it seems that Gebran Bassil volunteered to institute an action in their stead.
Itani also said that he had not received official confirmation of the sentence, and only heard the news from media reports. He also told Maharat Foundation, a free speech NGO, that acting Minister Bassil has filed a total of nine cases against him, including this one.
Reacting on both Facebook and Twitter, Fidaa Itani was unsurprisingly critical of the judge's decision. Sharing an article citing his prison sentence, he commented: “More repression and more robberies.”
The sentence of Itani was reported, criticized and denounced by some Lebanese and international organizations.
In an email sent to reporters, Bassam Khawaja, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch, said:
Sentencing a journalist to four months in prison for a critical Facebook post is an outrageous attack on free speech that lays bare the lack of meaningful protections for freedom of expression in Lebanon. Lebanon’s new parliament should act quickly to abolish laws that criminalize defamation, which are disproportionate, unnecessary, and violate international human rights law.
Indeed, Lebanon's penal code criminalizes defamation and makes special provisions against insulting the president, the flag, and other public officials. The country's military code criminalizes “insulting the flag or army”. These offenses all are punishable with fines and prison time, and offer no special exception for journalistic work.
According to Freedom House 2016 Report on Lebanon:
Lebanese journalists complain that media laws are chaotic, contradictory, and ambiguously worded. Provisions concerning the media, which justify the prosecution of journalists, can be found in the penal code, the Publications Law, the 1994 Audiovisual Media Law, and the military justice code.
Rising pressure on free expression in Lebanon
In Lebanon's legal landscape, court cases against journalists are not a new phenomenon, but such incidents have multiplied in recent months, with a smattering of charges against journalists, TV show hosts, and commentators.
On January 24, 2018, TV comedy show host Hisham Haddad was prosecuted for making jokes at the expense of Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Saudi crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman.
In March 2018, the owner of the website Lebanon Debate was sentenced to six months in prison and was ordered to pay 10 million Lebanese Lira, after being found guilty of libel in a case brought by the Director General of Customs.
In November 2017, prominent Lebanese TV host Marcel Ghanem was prosecuted for obstruction of justice after he resisted charges brought against two of his guests, both Saudi journalists, who denounced Lebanese President Aoun and Minister Bassil of being “Hezbollah's partner in terrorism.” The case against Ghanem was dropped.
In another article written by L'Orient Le Jour, Marcel Ghanem was reported saying that the arrests of journalists and their convictions was the result of “muzzling practiced by the ruling powers under the cover of the struggle against terrorism or Israel”.
But public prosecutors are not the only legal entities bringing charges of defamation and libel against media workers. On January 10, 2018, the Lebanon's notoriously harsh military court sentenced in absentia Lebanese journalist and researcher Hanin Ghaddar for defaming the Lebanese army at a conference held in the USA in 2014. Her sentence was later overturned.
Ten days later, military intelligence summoned human rights defender Ovada Yousef over Facebook posts. Yousef told Human Rights Watch that he was detained by the military and police for four days.
Maharat Foundation, a media and free speech NGO, has called for Lebanese judicial authorities to take into account the right of criticism against public persons:
Translation Original Quote
Maharat also calls on the new parliament to speed up the reforms it has introduced with the MP Ghassan Mukhaiber, notably the abolition of the prison sentence and the preventive detention of anyone expressing his opinion by any means, including the Internet, and broadening the concept of public criticism.
Time will tell if their initiative amounts to real change in the country's free speech environment.

The Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on July 04-05/18
1 Dead, 5 Hurt as Car Hits Pedestrians in World Cup City Sochi
Associated Press/Naharnet/July 04/18/A car veered onto the sidewalk and struck people near a bus stop in the Russian city of Sochi, killing one pedestrian and injuring five others. In a video shown by state news channel Russia-24, a black car traveling at high speed on a main street veers across two lanes of traffic and crashes into the pedestrians, then plows through a railing and collides with a car traveling on a cross-street. News reports said preliminary information suggested the driver had fallen asleep at the wheel. Wednesday's accident occurred in the Dagomys district of Sochi, one of the 11 cities hosting soccer World Cup matches.
US Considers Designation of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as Terror Group
Washington - Moaz al-Omari/Asharq Al-Awsat/July, 04/18/Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and its classification on the list of terrorist organizations was currently discussed by the US administration, CNN quoted US officials as saying. Sources close to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he supported the IRGC’s classification on the terrorism list. The sources pointed out that this move has been on the table of discussion for months, and was being studied intensively recently as part of the United States’ escalation in strategy towards Iran. According to CNN, the move would allow the US Treasury, Justice and State departments to freeze IRGC assets, target its leadership criminally and restrict its travel. Separately, a US human rights report revealed Iranian inhumane practices towards children, women and immigrants. The report classified Iran as one of the worst human rights and human trafficking countries of 2018. Syria, Myanmar and Yemen are also on the list. According to the US State Department report, a number of Iranian government officials are accused of complicity in human trafficking, such as forced recruitment of men and boys. The report also emphasized the recruitment of Afghans under the age of 13 in Iran, to fight with Iranian-backed militias in the Middle East. The Iranian government has also provided financial support to the militias fighting in Iraq, the report said, adding that Tehran continued to detain migrants, some of whom may be victims of human trafficking, in detention centers and prisons awaiting deportation. Some of the detainees were severely physically assaulted and sometimes killed, according to the report. Officials in international human rights organizations said they identified 800 women who had been victims of a smuggling network abroad for prostitution in countries neighboring Iran such as Iraq, Turkey and Pakistan, as well as Europe.

Austria to Revoke Immunity of Iranian Diplomat Linked to Bomb Plot
Asharq Al-Awsat/July, 04/18/Austria will seek to lift the legal immunity of an Iranian diplomat linked to a bomb plot against an Iranian opposition rally that was held in France over the weekend. The Iranian government was notified that the man's diplomatic status would be canceled within 48 hours unless Tehran does so first, Matthias Forenbacher, a spokesman for Austria's foreign minister, told The Associated Press. The diplomat, Assadollah Assadi, was detained Sunday near the German city of Aschaffenburg on a European arrest warrant after a couple with Iranian roots was stopped in Belgium and authorities reported finding powerful explosives in their car. The web site of the Austrian Foreign Ministry lists Assadi as a counselor at the Iranian Embassy in Vienna. Iran's ambassador was summoned to the ministry Monday and asked to "contribute to clarifying the situation," Forenbacher said. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is scheduled to travel to Austria on Wednesday for a long-planned visit. Belgian authorities accuse Assadi of being part of a plot to set off explosives at a rally of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) in neighboring France and want him extradited.
Munich prosecutors told the AP they are also investigating the diplomat in connection with the alleged plan. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamad Javad Zarif called the allegations of a foiled extremist plot a ploy Monday. Rouhani's visit to Switzerland and Austria was shaken by the diplomat’s arrest. Details of his arrest emerged as Rouhani began a European tour seeking assurances about the Iranian nuclear deal, which has been thrown in to doubt after the unilateral withdrawal of the US. The plotters were planning on targeting a meeting of the Paris-based NCRI - an umbrella bloc of opposition groups in exile that seek an end to clerical rule in Iran. The NCRI meeting, which attracted a crowd of thousands, took place on Saturday in Villepinte, just outside Paris, a three-hour drive from Brussels. US President Donald Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani and several former European and Arab ministers attended the meeting.

UAE Freezes Accounts of 9 Iranian Individuals, Entities as Part of Terror List
Abu Dhabi /Asharq Al-Awsat/July 04/18/The Securities and Commodities Authority (SCA) issued an order to freeze the funds and assets of nine Iranian individuals and entities on UAE’s terror list. The Authority issued a circular to all companies working in regulated securities and commodities about the required procedures to implement the Cabinet’s resolution, which relates to the list of terrorist organizations and individuals, reported the Emirati News Agency (WAM). SCA requires companies working in securities and commodities to identify and freeze any funds, securities, commodities belonging to the nine Iranian individuals and entities on the list. The procedures also require the companies to freeze funds linked to the listed individuals and entities, or persons related to them. The SCA does not require the companies to freeze any accounts, whether funds, securities or commodities, if the names and related details are not completely identical to those on the list, and in case of doubt, they should contact the SCA's Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Procedures unit. SCA urged related parties and investors in UAE-based financial markets to report any suspicious transactions as part of its ongoing cooperation and coordination efforts with government bodies and departments. In May, following the US decision, the UAE placed the nine Iranians on its list of terrorists and terrorist organizations for suspected connections with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

Cairo Invites Hamas for Talks over Reconciliation
Ramallah/Asharq Al-Awsat/July 04/18/Egypt’s intelligence service invited the head of Hamas Politburo, Ismail Haniyeh, to visit Cairo within the next few days to discuss various issues, mainly the stumbling Palestinian reconciliation. Several sources in Hamas confirmed that Haniyeh had received an invitation to visit the Egyptian capital along with a senior delegation from the movement. The sources expected the visit to take place as soon as possible, “perhaps next week.” The sources said the main aim of the invitation was to resume Egypt’s efforts to complete the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. Egypt decided to intensify its contacts with all parties in order to remove obstacles to the implementation of the agreement it sponsored on October 12 last year. Egyptian efforts came after the appointment of a new Egyptian intelligence chief. Before Hamas received an invitation to visit Cairo, Fatah Central Committee member Azzam al-Ahmad held talks with Egyptian officials in this regard. Al-Ahmad said that Egypt has started moving towards completing the reconciliation file. Sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that Egypt wanted to reach a specific agreement with Hamas on controversial issues with Fatah, such as security empowerment, as well as the possibility of forming a unity government to prepare for the general elections. Egypt has also asked Hamas to maintain peaceful “return marches” so as not to cause a deterioration of the situation that could lead to a new war. Abbas had announced his intention to take national and financial measures against the Gaza Strip after the assassination attempt on the Palestinian prime minister in Gaza last March. The assassination attempt froze all contacts on reconciliation that had already been stalled between the two movements.

Israeli Army Appoints First Iran Project Director

Tel Aviv- Nazir Majli/Asharq Al-Awsat/July 04/18/After Israel’s Security Agency, known as Shin Bet, revealed an “Iranian plot” to assassinate former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, military sources in Tel Aviv indicated that Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot has appointed Maj.-Gen. Nitzan Alon as the first director of a special Israeli project to coordinate all issues related to confronting Iran. Sources explained that Alon, who recently left his role as head of the military’s Operations Directorate, accompanied Eisenkot on his recent trip to the United States and participated in meetings with US military leaders, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Joseph Dunford. Military experts pointed out that this is the first time the Israeli army has appointed a project director for Iran issues, who will deal with Iran’s nuclear program, coordinating intelligence gathering with other countries and countering Iran’s presence in Syria.
In the past, Israel's national intelligence agency Mossad was responsible for the “Iran file” under prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert. Yet, since the war between Iran and Israel has come into the open, the appointment of a “special project head” underscores the overwhelming importance Israel sees for these developments. As per his part, Alon will also be responsible for coordination between the Israeli and US security establishments, knowing that both countries are in constant coordination regarding the Iranian file. Both US and Israel haven’t concealed their interest in changing the regime in Tehran. Based on Israeli reports, US pressures on Iran, especially the enforcement of additional sanctions, are having an unexpectedly significant impact. Part of this can be seen in the growing protests in large Iranian cities in the face of the worsening economic situation and critical water shortage. Alon was head of the Operations Directorate, and security sources estimate that he can be credited for what is called the “Israeli growing successes” on everything related to Israel’s “war between the wars” against Iran, Hezbollah and Shiite militias. He was also charged with maintaining the connection between the Israeli army, Military Intelligence and the Mossad and he reports directly to the chief of staff. In other news, head of Shin Bet domestic security service Nadav Argaman met last week former prime minister Ehud Barak to discuss the latter’s personal safety, amid reported concerns of Iran seeking to attempt to target him and other prominent Israelis traveling abroad. The unusual meeting which was only attended by Barak and Argaman took place at short notice. They discussed the safety and security of Barak who frequently travels abroad and does not have bodyguards assigned to him. He sometimes carries a sidearm. Both Barak and the Shin Bet refused to comment on the matter. Security reports have stated that Iran is planning to attack what it described as “Israeli targets” outside Israel in revenge after the T-4 army base in Syria was struck in an air raid killing at Iranian members. Security agencies indicate that Iran might target former Israeli military and political leaders who travel as businessmen.
UN Security Council to hold emergency Syria talks
AFP, US/Wednesday, 4 July 2018/The UN Security Council will hold an emergency meeting Thursday to discuss the Syrian army’s Russia-backed offensive against rebel groups that has forced some 300,000 people to flee, diplomats said. Sweden, which holds the rotating Security Council presidency, requested the closed-door meeting along with Kuwait, Swedish diplomats said Tuesday. The United Nations estimates that between 270,000 and 330,000 Syrians have fled since June 19 the ongoing bombings in the southwestern province of Daraa.
For Thursday’s meeting, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs will report to the 15 Council members about the humanitarian situation in Daraa, which borders Jordan.
Increasing violence
The increased violence “indicates yet another failure by the parties of the conflict to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure,” Sweden’s UN mission said. “Efforts must be intensified to de-escalate violence, also to enable the UN cross-border convoy from Jordan that is on standby at the border to deploy as soon as possible.” Jordan and Israel have said their borders would remain closed, even as tens of thousands of Syrians flee the government offensive. Jordan, which has recorded some 650,000 Syrian refugees to the UN on its soil, says it can no longer accept more. “Intense air and ground based strikes have reportedly continued in multiple areas in Syria’s Daraa Governorate, resulting in the death and injury of civilians and the largest displacement in the area since the conflict began,” UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters. “The situation of internally displaced people at the Jordanian border is precarious, aggravated by dusty desert winds and high temperatures of up to 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit).”He pointed to local reports of at least 12 children, two women and one elderly man who have died near the Jordanian border from scorpion bites, dehydration and disease spread through contaminated water. Haq said the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights had urged Jordan to open its border and for other countries in the region to welcome the civilian refugees. More than 350,000 people have been killed since Syria’s brutal civil war began in 2011, with millions more displaced. All international calls to halt the offensive in Daraa have so far fallen on deaf ears.

Syrian rebels say talks with Russia over south ‘failed’

AFP, Beirut/Wednesday, 4 July 2018/Syrian rebels said Wednesday that talks with regime ally Russia on handing over their remaining territory in the southern province of Daraa had failed, as they opposed giving up their heavy arms. “Negotiations with the Russian enemy in Busra al-Sham have failed, after they insisted on the surrender of heavy weapons,” the rebels’ Central Operations Room in the South said in a tweet. “This round of negotiations didn’t produce any results... The session ended and no future meetings have been set,” spokesman Ibrahim Jabbawi said. Earlier on Wednesday, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told Russia that political dialogue and a ceasefire were priorities for southern Syria where he said a humanitarian catastrophe risked unfolding. Safadi made the comment after holding talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow.

Jordan’s foreign minister tells Russia ceasefire needed in southern Syria

Reuters, Moscow/Wednesday, 4 July 2018/Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told Russia on Wednesday that political dialogue and a ceasefire were priorities for southern Syria where he said a humanitarian catastrophe risked unfolding. Safadi made the comment after holding talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow.He said the situation in southern Syria was a cause for serious concern and needed to be resolved as soon as possible. The Russian-backed Syrian government has mounted a campaign to recover southwestern Syria from rebels. Syrian rebel negotiators began a new round of talks with Russian officers on Tuesday over a peace deal in southern Syria under which they would hand over weapons and allow Russian military police to enter rebel-held towns.

Jordan to open 3 border crossings with Syria to facilitate entry of aid

Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Wednesday, 4 July 2018/The Jordanian government announced on Wednesday the opening of three border crossings with Syria to hasten operations of delivering humanitarian aid to displaced Syrians from Southern Syria. “The government decided to open the three border crossings on Wednesday in order to facilitate the transit of humanitarian aid to displaced Syrians,” the Ammon news agency cited Jordanian government spokeswoman Jumana Ghunaimat as saying. Ghunaimat did not elaborate on which border crossings will be opened, but she said that 36 trucks carrying humanitarian aid crossed in the direction of the Syrian territories. Earlier, the Jordanian army expressed in a statement its concern that ISIS and other radical groups will take advantage of the displacement crisis in the Daraa province south of Syria. In an interview with the al-Hadath news channel, Jordanian army general Awda al-Shudeifat said that Jordan will hold on to its decision not to open its border to let in more displaced Syrians, expressing the country’s concern about the infiltration of terrorists among the refugees. On another development, Jordanian government spokeswoman Ghunaimat revealed that negotiations between Russia and Syrian opposition have resumed with the help of Jordanian mediation. The spokeswoman said “a Jordanian mediation has finally resulted in the return of negotiations between the two parties” adding that this mediation also resulted in “the formation of an expanded negotiating committee representing the whole south, in order to reach to an agreement that preserves the blood of innocent people and ensures the safety of the people to create the conditions for a final political solution.”

Israel’s Netanyahu to meet Putin in Moscow next week
Reuters, Jerusalem/Wednesday, 4 July 2018/Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow next week, Netanyahu’s office said in a brief statement on Tuesday. The meeting is set for Wednesday, July 11. Netanyahu and Putin meet periodically and discuss regional issues, particularly concerning mutual interests in the civil war in Syria and to avoid accidental clashes between Israeli and Russian forces that both operate in Syria. The two leaders last met in Moscow in May. Israel is also concerned that Iran is establishing a military presence in Syria, and it has attacked Iranian targets there. Backed by Russia, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad launched an offensive last month to regain the southwestern Deraa region, driving thousands of refugees toward neighboring Jordan and Israel. On Sunday, Israel beefed up its tank and artillery deployment on the Golan Heights frontier with Syria, cautioning Damascus’ forces to keep a distance as they sweep rebel-held areas over the border. “We have a separation of forces agreements with Syria since 1974, this is a fundamental arrangement. We will follow it meticulously and it is incumbent on all others to do the same,” Netanyahu said on Tuesday in a veiled warning that Israel will not accept any breach of the frontier. Putin and Netanyahu held a phone conversation last month and agreed to strengthen coordination on Syria and discussed joint efforts to ensure security in the area of the Syrian-Israeli border, the Kremlin said.

Iraq launches major offensive against ISIS after they executed abductees
Enforced security measures taken by The Iraqi government in Baghdad following the execution

AFP, IraqWednesday, 4 July 2018/Iraqi forces launched a major operation against remnants of ISIS on Wednesday following public anger over the extremists’ murder of a group of abducted civilians. Dubbed “Vengeance for the Martyrs”, the operation will see army, special forces, police and Kurdish peshmerga fighters hunting down ISIS cells in the center of the country, Iraq’s Joint Operations Command (JOC) said in a statement. It comes after the bodies of eight ISIS captives were found late last month along a highway north of Baghdad. Some of the abductees had appeared in a video in which ISIS threatened to execute them unless Baghdad released female prisoners. The JOC statement said army, federal police, special forces, peshmerga fighters and the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force had launched “a vast operation to clear out the region east of the Diyala-Kirkuk” highway. The operation was being supported by the Iraqi air force and the US-led coalition that intervened against ISIS in Iraq and Syria after the extremists seized control of large parts of both countries in 2014. One extremist had already been killed and eight captured, the JOC said, and equipment including vehicles and bombs destroyed.
The operation marked the first time that federal Iraqi forces and the peshmerga were working together since clashes following last year’s Kurdish independence referendum. Iraq declared victory over ISIS in December after expelling the jihadists from all major towns and cities in a vast offensive. But the Iraqi military has kept up operations targeting mostly remote desert areas from where jihadists have continued to carry out attacks. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had vowed to avenge the eight civilians killed by ISIS and ordered the execution of hundreds of convicted jihadists. Thirteen extremists on death row were executed last week.

Fears grow Israel set to raze west bank Bedouin village

AFP/Wednesday, 4 July 2018/Residents and activists voiced concern on Wednesday that Israel is set to raze a Bedouin village in a strategic part of the occupied West Bank ignoring international calls for a reprieve. Activists said the Israeli military issued a warrant to the 173 residents of Khan al-Ahmar on Tuesday authorizing it to seize access roads to the village. Heavy equipment, including at least one bulldozer, were seen around the village on Wednesday, leading to speculation a road was being prepared to facilitate its evacuation and demolition. “Today they are proceeding with infrastructure work to facilitate the demolition and forcible transfer of residents,” Amit Gilutz, spokesperson for Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, told AFP. Israeli authorities say the village and its school were built illegally and in May, the supreme court rejected a final appeal against its demolition. But activists say the villagers had little alternative but to build without Israeli construction permits as the documents are near impossible for Palestinians to obtain for that part of the occupied West Bank. Israel authorities say they have offered villagers a relocation site. They did not immediately responded to a request for comment on Wednesday. Britain’s minister of state for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, visited the village in May and called on the Israeli government to show restraint. He warned that any forced relocation “could constitute forcible transfer of people as far as the United Nations is concerned.”Forcible transfer is considered a violation of the Geneva Conventions. Khan al-Ahmar is located east of Jerusalem near several Israeli settlements along a road leading to the Dead Sea. Activists are concerned continued Israeli settlement construction in the area could effectively divide the West Bank in two.

ISIS Says Baghdadi's Son Killed in Syria
London/Asharq Al Awsat/July 04/18/Hudhayfah al-Badri, son of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was killed in the central Syrian province of Homs, the ISIS propaganda agency Amaq announced Tuesday. Al-Badri was killed in an operation “at the thermal power station in Homs,” the group said in a statement alongside a photo of a young man holding an assault rifle. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch said that a local group working to uncover mass graves in the area of northeastern Syria once controlled by ISIS needs international support and technical assistance to preserve evidence of possible crimes and identify the remains. With an unknown number of mass graves in the city of Raqqa and surrounding areas and thousands of bodies left to be recovered, local authorities affiliated with the Raqqa Civil Council are struggling to cope with the logistical challenges of collecting and organizing information about the bodies recovered and providing it to families searching for missing or dead relatives, the US-based organization said in a report. “Raqqa city has at least nine mass graves, each one estimated to have dozens, if not hundreds, of bodies, making exhumations a monumental task,” said Priyanka Motaparthy, acting emergencies director at HRW. “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.” Members of the international community now providing recovery and stabilization support, most prominently the United States, should support local authorities in developing and maintaining a more precise system for storing information on missing persons and identifying exhumed remains, HRW added.

Two People Fall Critically Ill near UK Nerve Poisoning Town
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/July 04/18/Two people are critically ill in hospital after suspected exposure to an "unknown substance" near the English town where a former Russian spy was poisoned with a nerve agent, officials said Wednesday. Counter-terrorism police, who the led the investigation into the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, said they were assisting local police in the investigation which has been declared a "major incident" by the emergency services. Scientists at Britain's defense laboratory at Porton Down are carrying out tests to try and establish if there is any connection between the two incidents, British media reported. The couple, a man and a woman in their 40s, were discovered unconscious at a house in a quiet, newly-built area in Amesbury, a village near the prehistoric monument of Stonehenge. Local man Sam Hobson, 29, told AFP he was a friend of the pair, identifying them as Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess. He said that Sturgess fell ill first then Rowley later on. "He was sweating loads, dribbling, and you couldn't speak to him, he was making funny noises and he was rocking backwards and forwards. It's like he was in another world," Hobson said. Amesbury is about 12 kilometers (eight miles) from Salisbury, where the Skripals were found slumped on a bench in March in an incident that sparked a bitter diplomatic crisis with Russia.
PM 'regularly updated'
Prime Minister Theresa May's Downing Street office said the incident was being treated "with the utmost seriousness" and that she and top ministers were being kept "regularly updated."Officials also held an emergency meeting at the Cabinet Office "to receive updates on the facts and the situation on the ground," May's spokesman said. "The position we're at is as was set out by Wiltshire police overnight... it's important that we let them get on with their work."The two patients "are both currently receiving treatment for suspected exposure to an unknown substance at Salisbury District Hospital," a police statement said. "They are both in a critical condition."The hospital is the same one where the Skripals were treated. The pair were found on Saturday with police saying they initially suspected they had fallen ill after using "heroin or crack cocaine from a contaminated batch of drugs.""However, further testing is now ongoing to establish the substance which led to these patients becoming ill and we are keeping an open mind."
'Such a quiet place'
Security cordons have been set up around the areas where the pair went before they fell ill with security boosted in both Amesbury and Salisbury. A spokesman for Public Health England (PHE) said "it is not believed that there is a significant health risk to the wider public."
Local resident Natalie Smyth, 27, told AFP she saw fire engines and ambulances arrive at the house on Saturday. "They shut the road. They said it was a chemical incident and then that it was drug-related. "It is so strange, it is such a quiet place," she said, indicating that the emergency services personnel were wearing protective suits. Robert Yuill, a local councilor, said the emergency services reaction to the incident was "far less intense" than after the Skripal poisoning.
Police 'containing any risk'
One of the areas cordoned off was Amesbury Baptist Church, where the pair had attended a party on Saturday. "We understand this may well be the last event this couple went to in public," church secretary Roy Collins told reporters. "We are all quite puzzled and shocked -- naturally the connection with Salisbury and recent events there mean there is a heightened public interest," he said. Collins said around 200 people had attended the event but "nobody else has suffered any ill effects". Wiltshire's Police and Crime Commissioner Angus Macpherson said there was "no reason to think it's connected" to the Skripal case. Skripal, 67, and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia, who was visiting from Moscow, collapsed on March 4 in Salisbury and were treated for an extended period of time before being released from hospital. A police officer who came to their aid, Nick Bailey, was also taken to hospital.
Moscow has rejected British accusations of involvement in the Skripal poisoning, which sparked a diplomatic crisis that saw Russia and the West expelling dozens of diplomats in tit-for-tat moves. Britain said a Soviet-made nerve agent dubbed novichok was used on the Skripals.

U.N. Envoy Holds 'Fruitful' Talks with Yemen Rebel Chief
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/July 04/18/The U.N. envoy for Yemen said Wednesday he had held "fruitful" talks with rebel leader Abdulmalik al-Huthi in his bid to avert all-out fighting for the strategic port city of Hodeida. "I'm greatly reassured by the messages I have received, which have been positive and constructive," Martin Griffiths told reporters at Sanaa airport after two days of talks in the rebel-held capital. "All parties have not only underscored their strong desire for peace, but have also engaged with me on concrete ideas for achieving peace," he said. "I'm especially thankful to Abdulmalik al-Huthi, whom I met yesterday, for his support and the fruitful discussion we held."Griffiths said he would brief the U.N. Security Council on Thursday on his latest talks in Yemen, where a brutal war between the rebels and the Saudi-backed government threatens to engulf Hodeida, the entry point for desperately needed humanitarian aid. In the coming days, the U.N. envoy is to meet President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, whose loyalists have reached the southern outskirts of the Red Sea port city with support from Emirati troops. On June 13, the government and its allies in a regional coalition, led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, launched a major assault on Hodeida, sparking U.N. fears of a fresh humanitarian crisis in a country on the brink of famine. Griffiths, who was appointed to the post in February after his predecessor threw in the towel, said finding a solution to the Hodeida conflict could create "positive conditions" for the "rapid and urgent restart of political negotiations in the coming days." Hodeida is the latest battleground in the Yemeni conflict, which has killed nearly 10,000 people since 2015, 2,200 of them children. The Red Sea port provides a lifeline for the 22 million Yemenis dependent on humanitarian aid and is also the point of entry for three-quarters of the country's commercial imports. The government and the Saudi-led alliance accuse the Iran-backed rebels of receiving smuggled weapons through Hodeida and have demanded their unconditional withdrawal from the city, which they have held since 2014.

The Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on July 04-05/18

Iran and the Oil War
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/July 04/18
We can attribute most of the region’s wars, whether directly or indirectly, to the conflict over oil. Today, we are in the midst of a major regional oil war, which Iran wants to use against the West and which its adversaries want to use to stifle it.
Iranian Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri had threatened Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf, without naming them, when he said: “Anyone trying to take away Iran’s oil market (share) would be committing great treachery against Iran and will one day pay for it.”
His statement came shortly after a telephone call between the Saudi king and the US president in which they agreed to support the stability of the oil market. President Donald Trump said Saudi Arabia will support the stability of the market and raise output by 2 million barrels per day if needed.
The drop in oil prices, however, is the least of the Iranian regime’s concerns, especially given that its oil production capacity has been weakened after a series of blows dealt to it by the American administration. Washington has prevented American oil companies and other firms from carrying out drilling, production and shipping operations.
Pressure on Tehran increased with the foreign tours by the US Secretary of State and the retreat of major markets, like India, from buying Iranian oil. The Iranian rial hit an all-time low with Trump’s launching of his economic war on Tehran. This reignited rallies in Iranian cities in protest against the poor economic situation.
The rapid economic sanctions are very effective and are certainly better than military confrontation, which may erupt as a result of the Iranian regime’s expansion and foreign wars. With the dwindling of the government’s sources of income, Iran has indeed started to decline in what may end with its collapse if it does not garner the approval of the supreme leader to make major concessions. We can rule out this option at the moment and until the end of the year.
The Iranian VP’s threats are directed at Saudi Arabia because it ruined its ability to resist the boycott, while meeting the needs of Iran’s markets, like India. By increasing production, Iran will also fail in playing its only card against Washington, which is that the lack of supply could have forced the Trump administration to back down on its oil embargo against Iran.
Iran can sell its oil, but in small amounts and for cheap prices. It will immediately lose its main revenues, which it is using to fund its war in Syria, Yemen, and, of course, Lebanon. It is unlikely to stop paying the wages of its employees and finance subsidies of the citizens’ essential products, because this will quicken the demise of the regime, which has been sitting in a precarious position for nearly a year and a half now.
The oil game is important in the American-Gulf-Iranian war. Perhaps it’s the strongest weapon in the strategy to pressure Iran to back down and accept the US’s 12 conditions or it may later lead to the collapse of the regime. Let’s not forget that it’s through oil that Ayatollah Khomeini reached power when the movement that opposed the Shah succeeded in halting work at refineries and stopped oil exports, and the Shah’s departure became a domestic and foreign demand.

Would the US Create a New Military Service?
David Ignatius/The Washington Post/July 04/18
President Trump has hurled so many thunderbolts recently that people may have missed the one that could have the greatest long-term impact on America’s national security — his directive to the Pentagon last week to start creating a new military service that he dubbed the “Space Force.”
It’s certainly a Trumpian idea: big and bold, with a Hollywood glitz factor; highly disruptive of the status quo; and lacking in any detailed planning about implementation. But many experts say the idea of revamping space defense makes some sense, though they caution that it requires a serious public debate about how to get maximum benefit at minimum cost.
Trump was emphatic in a June 18 speech to the National Space Council: “I’m hereby directing the Department of Defense . . . to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces . . . separate but equal” from the Air Force. Knowing that the Pentagon resists the idea, Trump then turned to Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and said: “Got it?” Dunford answered: “We got it.”
The Pentagon fears that launching a separate space contingent would set off one of the epic turf wars that have been a regular feature of US military history. These rivalries often follow the advent of new technologies. The Air Force emerged from the cocoon of a jealous Army only after World War II. When missile technology advanced in the 1950s, the Army argued that it was a form of artillery that should be controlled by its ballistic specialists, while the Air Force insisted it was part of the aeronautical domain. The Air Force had assumed space was its responsibility, until last week.
“This will mean nonstop bureaucratic arm-wrestling for the next five years,” warns John Hamre, a former deputy defense secretary who heads the Center for Strategic and International Studies. While recognizing the infighting that’s ahead, Hamre, like many other Pentagon veterans, believes that some changes could enhance space-warfare capabilities that have been badly botched by the Air Force.
“We have squandered our advantage in space; the Air Force went for a decade with no defense systems for satellites, after the military threat to them was clear,” argues Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), who joined Rep. Mike D. Rogers (R-Ala.) last year in a bipartisan House move to create a semi-autonomous space “corps” within the Air Force, much as the Marines are part of the Navy Department.
The Pentagon helped shoot down the “corps” idea a year ago. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis wrote congressional leaders last October: “I oppose the creation of a new military service and additional organizational layers at a time when we are focused on reducing overhead and integrating joint warfighting functions.”
But Trump continued to push his pet space project. One advocate was Vice President Pence, chairman of the National Space Council and a rocket enthusiast who’s said to have brought his family to Florida to watch NASA launches. Another was Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker who, like Trump, enjoys promoting controversial ideas.
“If Trump can break through the bureaucracy, all this will happen within a decade,” even by 2020, Gingrich predicted in a phone interview Tuesday. Gingrich, who informally attends Space Council meetings, says he has talked with Trump about the idea but that the passion for it is the president’s.
The Air Force had been hoping this proposal would go away. When I traveled in April to a space conference in Colorado Springs with Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein and Secretary Heather Wilson, they dismissed any suggestion that their service’s control of space defense might be challenged. After so many months in denial, the Air Force is now “largely out of the loop” in planning, but “it’s going to happen without them,” says Todd Harrison, director of aerospace studies at CSIS.

Germany: Migration Deal Keeps Merkel in Power, For Now
Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/July 04/18
"No country in the world can take in refugees indefinitely. Successful integration can only succeed with a limitation of immigration. This is the core message of the coalition agreement...." — Introduction to Interior Minister Horst Seehofer's 63-point "Migration Masterplan," leaked to the public on July 2, 2018.
"There is a pattern to European Union summits about subjects on which governments cannot agree. First, leaders stay up all night to signal their commitment. Second, they issue a statement sufficiently vague and contradictory to allow everyone to declare victory. Third, officials charged with implementing the agreement argue endlessly over how to interpret it...." — The Economist.
"The summit communique may say that the issue is one for Europe 'as a whole,' but the practical reality is that differences were papered over, not resolved." — The Guardian.
In an extraordinary last-minute reversal, Chancellor Angela Merkel, facing the imminent collapse of her coalition government, agreed late on July 2 to reinstate border controls with Austria.
Interior Minister Horst Seehofer had threatened to resign from Merkel's cabinet unless she agreed to a plan by July 3 to reduce so-called irregular secondary movements. The plan to which Merkel agreed entails holding refugees at detention camps to be established along Germany's southern border, the main gateway for refugees to the country, and turning back those who have already claimed asylum in other EU countries.
Seehofer's resignation would have called into question the continued viability of a 70-year-alliance between Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and his Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU). Bundestag President Wolfgang Schäuble warned that the two parties were "standing at the edge of the abyss."
A CDU/CSU divorce would have deprived Merkel of her majority in parliament and possibly triggered new elections in which the anti-immigration party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), would have been the biggest winner, according to recent polls.
By acquiescing to Seehofer's demand, Merkel has secured the near-term continuity of her government. The dispute, however, has exposed Merkel's loss of authority over her own parliamentary group and, according to some observers, has ushered in the beginning of the end of the Merkel era.
Still in charge, for now. Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel (right) has acquiesced to the demand of Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (left) to reinstate border controls with Austria, in order to save the alliance between Merkel's and Seehofer's political parties and secure the near-term continuity of Merkel's government. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
The CDU/CSU agreement reads:
"We agree to limit and to improve the control and management of secondary movements:
"We are agreeing to a new border regime at the German-Austrian border, to ensure that we prevent asylum seekers whose asylum procedures are the responsibility of other EU countries are prohibited from entering the country.
"We will establish transit centers from where asylum seekers will be directly returned to the relevant countries (rejection based on a fiction of non-entry). We want to act in a coordinated manner and will conclude administrative agreements with the countries concerned or to establish procedures.
"In cases where countries refuse administrative direct rejection agreements, the deportation will take place at the German-Austrian border on the basis of an agreement with the Republic of Austria."
The so-called transit centers would have an extraterritorial legal status similar to an international airport, so that German authorities can accelerate the deportation of illegal migrants without lengthy administrative procedures. For the deal to work, however, Germany will have to reach bilateral deportation agreements with other EU countries. Austria and Italy, for example, have expressed skepticism about the German plan.
In any event, the agreement is likely to have a deterrent effect as migrants will be reluctant to be indefinitely interned at makeshift camps along the German border until they are deported.
Seehofer's demands were first outlined on June 22, when he announced a 63-point "Migration Masterplan" to restore order to Germany's chaotic migration policy. Details of the document were kept secret from the general public until leaked to the media on July 2. The introduction reads: "The challenges of global migration require a system of order. This masterplan is based on the conviction that our country can only assume its external responsibility if at the same time internal cohesion is maintained.... No country in the world can take in refugees indefinitely. Successful integration can only succeed with a limitation of immigration. This is the core message of the coalition agreement....
"We want to prevent people from going underground during or after an asylum procedure or disguising their true identity. The request for humanitarian protection and the committing of criminal offenses is ruled out in principle....
"People without right of residence must leave our country. A deportation order must be followed by an actual departure...."
Of the 63 points, Number 27 was considered to be the most contentious. It called for the reestablishment of border controls with Austria, and the "refusal of entry to anyone who has already applied for asylum in another EU member state."
Merkel said that she was vehemently opposed reinstating German border controls out of concerns that other European governments would do the same, thereby triggering a domino-effect that would effectively end the free movement of people within the so-called Schengen Area. Currently, the Area comprises 26 European states that have abolished passport controls at their mutual borders.
Seehofer responded to Merkel's concerns by giving her time to find a European solution. An EU Summit in Brussels on June 28-29, described as the "mother of all summits" because of its impact on Merkel's political future, attempted to bridge the differences among EU member states over migration policy. After a marathon negotiating session, EU member states agreed to a series of vague promises that there should be "a shared effort" on migration but "only on a voluntary basis."
The Economist, in an editorial entitled, "The EU argues till dawn on migration, and achieves little," wrote: There is a pattern to European Union summits about subjects on which governments cannot agree. First, leaders stay up all night to signal their commitment. Second, they issue a statement sufficiently vague and contradictory to allow everyone to declare victory. Third, officials charged with implementing the agreement argue endlessly over how to interpret it.... "The leaders battled into the pre-dawn hours on June 29, but the tortuous phrasing of their conclusions — one sentence contained 12 commas — betrayed their inability to find meaningful compromises on the issues that continue to bedevil them.... As ever, the trickiest discussion was on how to share responsibility among governments for migrants who arrive in Europe."
The Guardian wrote: "Whether the deal will last, or will work, or will begin to draw the sting of the migration issue are all profoundly doubtful, however. It is very hard to be confident that any of these things will happen. The summit communique may say that the issue is one for Europe 'as a whole,' but the practical reality is that differences were papered over, not resolved. The EU's much-vaunted principles of solidarity were conspicuous by their absence in words of studied vagueness."
In the end, Seehofer said that the agreement Merkel reached at the EU summit in Brussels had failed to meet his demands.
Reaction to Merkel's last-minute deal with Seehofer, which must still be approved by her other coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), was mixed, with some questioning the legality of the agreement. Some commentators said the deal was unlikely to be effective, while others said that Merkel has been weakened by the dispute. Most German commentators agree that Merkel's open-border migration policies may be her political undoing.
Bild, in an editorial entitled "Toxic Solution," wrote:
"The CDU and CSU have now agreed on something they could have agreed on three years ago. It is possible that the solution works. It is certain that the climate in the coalition has probably never been so poisoned as now."
The President of the German Institute for Economic Research, Marcel Fratzscher, said:
"A breakup of the German government, just 100 days after taking office, was prevented for the time being, but the tensions within the government remain. This is a pity not only for Germany but also for Europe, as it undermines the credibility of the German government and the Federal Chancellor."
The chairman of the DPolG police union, Ernst Walter, praised the agreement and said that he was "very happy" that Seehofer "showed courage, has not resigned and continues to be our interior minister."
The vice president of the GdP police union, Jörg Radek, noted that the CDU/CSU agreement is limited to the German border with Austria. In 2017, he said, there were 16,312 unauthorized entries on the border with Austria, but 33,823 unauthorized entries along Germany's other borders, including those with Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland and Switzerland. "The borders with Belgium and the Netherlands are as open as a barn door," he said. Radek accused the state government of North Rhine-Westphalia of resisting effective controls along its border.
Matthew Qvortrup, the author of the recent book, "Angela Merkel: Europe's Most Influential Leader," concluded:
"After almost 13 years in power, time is rapidly running out for the German chancellor.
"Nowhere was her diminishing influence more evident than at last week's EU leaders' summit. Where once Merkel commanded the floor and had other leaders practically queuing up to kiss her hand, this time it was she who came with the begging bowl, and all but implored her colleagues to find a solution to the immigration problem that could save her political skin. Gone was the confident chancellor, usually front and center in photographs in her usual pose: eyes straight ahead, hands clasped in front of her. Instead, she looked away....
"She might yet survive as chancellor. She might try to engineer a transfer of power to her preferred successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the CDU general secretary. But this could be difficult. Once, Merkel controlled the party and politicians were seeking to be anointed by her. That was then. This is now. It might well be time to say, 'Auf Wiedersehen, Mutti' (Goodbye, Mom)."
*Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute.
© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Indonesia: Falling to Radicals
Lawrence A. Franklin/Gatestone Institute/July 04/18
If Indonesia's repatriated foreign fighters have their way, all of the country's churches will be destroyed.
If the repatriated foreign fighters are able to radicalize Indonesia's Muslims, all of the country may eventually resemble Aceh Province, where, after a lengthy reign of terror by Islamic militias, most Christians have been driven out.
An Indonesian family of six, repatriated from former Islamic State (ISIS)-controlled territory in Syria, separately targeted three Christian sites in Surabaya, Indonesia, in May. The suicide bombings killed at least 11 people, as well as all of the attacking family members. Indonesian authorities suspect the bombers are affiliated with Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), the Congregation of the Islamic State. While anti-Christian incidents are common in majority-Muslim Indonesia, until now, suicide bombings by Islamists were not often seen there.
The same day, May 14, a second family, affiliated with the same terrorist JAD cell, also staged a suicide attack at Surabaya's police headquarters. A third family was killed in a town outside Surabaya when bombs prematurely exploded inside their home. All three families met regularly for radical Islamic religious sessions.
Indonesia's National Police Chief, Tito Karnavian, indicated that the suicide family that attacked the churches were among an estimated 500 people who had been deported from former ISIS-occupied land in Syria back to Indonesia.
A sizeable Indonesian terrorist group, JAD, designated a terrorist entity by the U.S. Department of State, has already pledged loyalty to ISIS, which, through their Amaq News Agency, claimed responsibility for the Surabaya attack. A JAD terrorist cell was also behind the May prison riot in Jakarta, an incident that claimed the lives of five policemen. JAD's leader, Aman Abdurrahman (a.k.a. Oman Rochman), is currently in prison, facing the death penalty for urging his followers to attack a Starbucks and a police post in Jakarta in 2016.
Indonesian author and counterterrorism expert Al Chaidar believes that some of Indonesia's ISIS volunteers to Syria are legacy terrorists, following in the paths of their Jihadi fathers. He also claims that some of these jihadists favor the al-Qaeda linked Al-Nusra, while others favor ISIS. Police Chief Karnavian describes JAD as even more radical than Indonesia's al-Qaeda-affiliated Jaamah Islamiyah (JI/Islamic Congregation), the terrorist group responsible for killing 200 people in Bali in 2002.
On another ominous note, Suhardi Alius, Indonesia's Chief of Counterterrorism Operations, said that about 40 JAD volunteers who joined the Jihad in the Philippines in 2017, gained combat experience in the process. These Indonesian JAD terrorists had evidently joined with Filipino terrorists to fight against Philippine army troops who were trying to liberate the town of Marawi in the southern Philippines from terrorist control. JAD's decision to dispatch some of its members to fight in the Philippines indicates that, like its predecessor, Jaamah Islamiyah, it might be interested in re-establishing the 15th century Sulu Islamic Sultanate throughout the archipelagos of Southeast Asia.
Other mostly non-violent but conservative Indonesian Muslim organizations groups -- such as the Islamic People's Forum and the Islamic Defenders Front -- can simply count on Indonesia's restrictive religious legislation to block Christian interests. These include the 2006 JOINT Decree on Houses of Worship, which requires the signatures of 60 neighboring households of non-Christian families to approve initiating church construction. Occasionally, however, the Islamic Defenders Front, through vigilante action, harasses Muslims who it accuses of not being sufficiently orthodox.
Both Christians and moderate Muslims are also often accused of violating Indonesia's blasphemy law. However, Islam's watchdog agency for doctrinal unity, the Council of Indonesian Ulama, continues to stir up intolerant feelings by issuing restrictive religious judgments concerning the rights of minorities. These judgements include helping convicting people who convert from Islam to Christianity of blasphemy despite Indonesia's civil Constitution, which pledges to protect the interests of minority religions.
Only one of Indonesia's provinces, Aceh is governed by Sharia law. In Aceh, Koranically approved physical punishments are meted out to "sinners" -- Christians and Muslims alike.
Nevertheless, both of Indonesia's largest Islamic organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, roundly condemned JAD's murderous assault on Christians.
JAD might not be successful in attracting many Indonesian Muslims to join its ranks; suicide bombings may be too extreme for most Indonesian Muslims. As more Indonesian foreign volunteers navigate their way back to this Southeast Asian nation, however, acts of terror, like these recent attacks, may become the new normal. Because of JAD's affiliation with ISIS and its global resources, the terrorist group is likely to have a much larger impact than its numbers indicate.
Finally, Indonesian General Gatot Nurmantyo predicts a dark future for the Indonesian state's rendezvous with terrorism. He says there are sleeper terrorist cells in virtually every one of Indonesia's provinces except Papua. If Indonesia's repatriated foreign fighters have their way, all of the country's churches could well be destroyed. If the repatriated foreign fighters are able to radicalize Indonesia's Muslims, all of the country may eventually resemble Aceh Province, where, after a lengthy reign of terror by Islamic militias, most Christians have been driven out.
*Dr. Lawrence A. Franklin was the Iran Desk Officer for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. He also served on active duty with the U.S. Army and as a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve.
© 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.

Water crisis in Iran: Causes, consequences and perspectives

Ali Hajizade/Al Arabiya/July 04/18
If the 20th century can be called “the Age of Oil” the 21st century can become “the Age of Water”. As the population grows and agricultural development expands, water consumption also increases. And while certain countries suffer from floods, a number of countries, in particular, in the Middle East region, suffer from the water shortage. Drought and water shortage in the Middle East countries can lead to economic and consequently political instability. In this regard, the most vulnerable country is Iran. Unlike the Gulf countries, Iran couldn’t develop an effective system of water supply and use.
Even though the Iranian regime is trying to convince its people and the whole world that the US and Israel “want to destroy Iran”, in fact, drought poses a bigger threat for the future of Iran than US and Israel taken together. According to the recent joint research of Iranian and American scientists, drought and water shortage in ancient times were causes of the collapse of ancient Empires in this region. Right now the situation is quite different. Firstly, the population has grown; secondly, agriculture needs an enormous quantity of water. That means that processes, which could take ages in ancient times, can fit in 40-50 years nowadays. Iran has been suffering from drought for quite a long time; rivers and lakes in the country dry up and groundwater become depleted.
There are two main causes of this process. The first one is the decrease in precipitation in Iran. According to estimates, the rate of precipitation has reached its lowest point in more than 40 years. Precipitation decrease had a negative impact on the groundwater, lakes and rivers level.
It is wrong to say that the Iranian authorities don’t take any measures to fight the crisis, however, mostly the measures taken by them are either belated or half-hearted
Evaporation rate
In addition, evaporation rate also has a negative impact on the water reserves of Iran. The evaporation rate in the country is above the global norm – an estimated two-thirds of rainfall evaporates before it can replenish rivers - and domestic use of water is 70 percent higher than the global average. Another cause is the human factor, namely, disproportionate, unplanned and illiterate use of water in agriculture. After the revolution in 1979, many educated people, professionals in various industries, including those few specialists in land reclamation who lived in Iran, left the country.
Agriculture, water management, and planning have been under the supervision of incompetent and corrupted persons, whose decisions were taken on the basis of political, not economic incentives. Taking into account the growing population, low-income level, and international sanctions, Iranian government sought to the total self-reliance of the food supply. They needed much cheap and available food as soon as possible. That’s why the Government started to build a large number of dams on rivers.
They needed these dams to irrigate fields, but on the other hand, the dams were violating the ecosystem, which was developed for ages. Furthermore, artesian wells were randomly dug and groundwater was pumped out in large amounts. Iranian farmers were receiving concessional loans and grants from the Government. It had a positive impact on the Iranian economy, but only for a short period. Rural population had the opportunity to earn and city-folk could buy relatively cheap food.
However, that couldn’t last forever, uncontrolled consumption of water and increased planting of crops, requiring more irrigation water together with the drought in Iran, led the country to the verge of environmental and economic catastrophe.
Consequences of the water crisis can be witnessed in various parts of the country. For example, as a result of total desiccation of Lake Hamun, near the Afghan border, the population of 124 surrounding villages were forced to leave this area. This happened in 2001, the situation in Iran has only worsened since that time. Another major environmental disaster is taking place in the North-West of Iran in Southern Azerbaijan. The desiccation of the largest salt lake in the Middle East has already caused environmental and economic catastrophe, merging into the political arena. Although the lake began to dry up in the middle of 1990s, the central government didn’t take serious measures to save it. The main cause of the desiccation is dams on the rivers, which once were feeding the lake.
According to local activists, water passes mainly to large farms, whose owners are people close to the regime. Such attitude led to conspiracy theories that the central government drains the lake intentionally to force people to migrate to the interior of Iran, where they can be easily assimilated and will stay far from separatist objectives.
The authorities’ inaction and their appeals to resettle Azerbaijanis to other parts of Iran create the conditions for such theories. Moreover, the authorities are hunting Azerbaijani environmental activists, who protest the inaction of the authorities. Areas around the lake are suffering from sandstorms. In 2016, a famous actor Leonardo Di Caprio posted a picture of drying Urmia Lake in his Instagram to draw the attention of the world to this environmental catastrophe. However, the Lake has dried up even more since that time.
Harmful effects of the water crisis in Iran are also witnessed in the south-west of the country in the Ahwaz region. This area is settled by Arabs and gives a lion’s share of the Iranian oil. Despite that fact, the population of the region is faring poorly. The Ahwaz region was badly affected during the Iran-Iraq war. Not recovered from the previous war, the region faced a new serious water crisis. Millions of palm trees, traditionally cultivated in this region, have faced a threat of total elimination, due to lack of irrigation water.
Citizens of the Ahwaz region also suffer from severe salt and sandstorms, caused by the water crisis. It is noteworthy that Ahwazis suffer not only from the drought and poverty; they also face serious consequences of the industrial pollution of agricultural fields and orchards.
According to the scientific report prepared by young Iranian specialists in 2017, only a small part of Iranian land is suitable for intensive agricultural activities. Here is how the land’s suitability is classified according to the report:
Iran’s land suitability for cropping as (million ha): very good 0.4 percent (0.6), good 2.2 percent (3.6), medium 7.9 percent (12.8), poor 11.4 percent (18.5), very poor 6.3 percent (10.2), unsuitable 60.0 percent (97.4), and excluded areas 11.9 percent (19.3). However, it is worth knowing that amount of lands, suitable for agriculture will decrease every year, as a result of the drought. According to a report prepared by the Trade Council of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark (The agriculture and food market in Iran - Opportunities and challenges for Danish companies, March 2017) in March 2017 – despite all efforts at nutritional self-sufficiency, Iran is still dependent upon the import of food. It is about significant import from India.
In addition, there is a significant import of red meat, butter, fish, fruit, and wheat, and self-sufficiency regarding these products is not expected to be realized in any near future. It should also be noted that approximately 70 percent of the raw materials for animal fodder is imported from abroad. Of course, the import dependence, that eventually affects the cost of food.
Rural-urban migration
The water crisis spurs rural-urban migration. Many villagers swell the masses of the urban poor. In most cases, this is poorly educated and unskilled workers, who can hardly find a job in already suffering from unemployment in Iranian cities. Such migration increases the risk of social upheaval. Expressions of social discontent caused by the water crisis are already seen. Isfahan is a province that has faced the lack of water and protests are taking place in the province. One of the biggest cities of Iran – Isfahan, once famous for its rivers and gardens is now suffering from the water crisis.
Certain experts think (it is hard to disagree with them) that “climate refugees” were the driving force during the mass protests in Iran 2017-2018. It is wrong to say that the Iranian authorities don’t take any measures to fight the crisis, however, mostly the measures taken by them are either belated or half-hearted.
Iranian officials often complain about the lack of finances, due to international economic sanctions, however, it is hard to believe in it because, despite the sanctions, the Iranian authorities are able to find funds to finance pro-Iranian proxies all over the region, the war in Syria and lobbying activity in the West.
In addition to the internal instability, the water crisis also puts a strain on relations with neighboring countries, in particular with Turkey and Afghanistan. The Iranian Government is not happy with Turkey’s and Afghanistan’s plans to build dams on their territory. Moreover, the Government of Afghanistan accuses IRGC of supporting Taliban, to sabotage the building of dams on Afghanistan’s territory.
Every year Iran is approaching the point of no return with regard to the water crisis. Today, the Iranian Government is not able to handle the consequences of the crisis; the pressure will only get higher. In the near future, this can lead to major social and political upheavals, then can totally change the current geopolitical landscape of Iran.

Obama and his many shocking favors to Iran’s rulers

Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/July 04/18
Day after day, month after month, year after year and scandal after another, expose further the depth which former American President Barack Obama descended to via his dangerous amity towards the Khamenei regime.
Following the shocking reports that the Obama administration “covered up” Project Cassandra which pertains to Hezbollah’s drug network that is active in Latin and North America, amid his “Sufi” love in the huge deal with Iran and after his destructive role in the Syrian disaster - due to his hypocrisy in favor of the Khamenei regime - the former American president stands exposed. We are now looking at a new scandal that pertains to Obama’s flirtatios scandals with the Khamenei regime. There’s talk that a large number of the children of Khamenei regime leaders attained US citizenship during Obama’s term. Many of them were now active in Iranian lobbies in America via think tanks, universities, organizations, media outlets and others.
Trump tweet
American President Donald Trump commented on this via Twitter saying: “Just out that the Obama Administration granted citizenship, during the terrible Iran Deal negotiation, to 2,500 Iranians - including to government officials. How big (and bad) is that?”
Trump was commenting on a Fox News report that said: “Several children of current and former Iranian officials live in the United States, including Ali Fereydoun, whose father Hossein Fereydoun is the brother of and special aide to Rouhani; and Fatemeh Ardeshir Larijani, whose father Ali Larijani, parliament Speaker.”The report cited the statement of Iranian Member of Parliament Hojjat al-Islam Mojtaba Zolnour who revealed that while negotiating the Iran nuclear deal, the Obama administration granted citizenship to 2,500 Iranians, including family members of government officials
Many of these young men and women who are the children of the “elite” of Iran’s ruling regime have, as we said, become an active propaganda machine in favor of the Obama deal and to serve the purpose of intensifying the black propaganda against Arabs and Saudi Arabia in particular. Truth however has now been revealed thanks to the Conservatives in America, regional and international sanctions and by confronting Iran in exposing the dark face of the Khamenei monster.
Obama’s friend and the dove of Khameneism, Hassan Rouhani, recently spoke before a crowd of Iranians in Switzerland and said: “Iran spending its income on those whom the Americans call terrorists is mere allegation.”
Oh really? Where were we, and where are we now?

Arab coalition and the Houthis’ maneuver
Khairallah Khairallah/Al Arabiya/July 04/18
The delay in restoring the Hodeidah Port comes within the context of a clear plan that aims to achieve the goals without inflicting heavy losses on civilians. The fact that Hodeidah is not just a port but a large city whose population is around 800,000 cannot simply be ignored.
What also cannot be ignored is the fact the people of Hodeidah and the surrounding areas are peace-loving who have nothing to do with the arms spread among the North’s tribes.
The people of Hodeidah will thus not fight the Houthis because fighting isn’t their trait. All they can do is be patient and wait for the day when they restore their freedom after the sectarian militias which raise Iranian slogans wreaked havoc in their city.
Above all, there are two factors which delay military decisiveness. The first one is that the continuity of war is a source of profit for several parties in Yemen and outside it.
The second one is that the national Yemeni army and the Arab coalition cannot but take into consideration UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths who insists to give the Houthis a chance. The Houthis and the party that stands behind them, Iran, exploit this situation to maneuver things.
Fortunately, the Arab coalition and the forces on the ground do not buy this maneuver as they know well that the only language the Houthis understand is the language of military decisiveness.
But what can be done when there is a UN envoy who doesn’t want to benefit from the past experiences, especially from the experience of the phase when the Houthis entered Sanaa and seized control over it on September 21, 2014.
The day is not far when the UN envoy becomes aware of the size of humanitarian tragedy in Yemen and discovers that the Houthis do not keep their word and do not respect the pledges they sign.
If the Houthis respect any deals, they would not have staged a coup on the Peace and Partnership Agreement, which they signed with other Yemeni parties, including with Interim President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, after seizing Sanaa. Back then, the deal was signed under UN sponsorship, which was represented by then-UN envoy Jamal Benomar. The current UN envoy is supposed to remember this.
There is no other option except closing all Yemeni ports in the face of the Houthis who will then be forced to retreat to the north and wait for the battle of Sanaa
Peace and partnership
The ink was barely dry on the Peace and Partnership Agreement when the Houthis arrested the interim president, placed him under house arrest and imposed the constitution they want.
Alright, if there are some who do not want to recall what Ansar Allah did to Hadi who found himself under house arrest and forced to resign before he fled Sanaa to Aden, then what about what happened with Ali Abdullah Saleh? Doesn’t what the Houthis did to the former president, who became their ally and signed a series of agreements with them, represent the epitome of treachery?
There are no middle-ground solutions with the Houthis. Everything they are proposing now regarding handing over the Hodeidah Port to the UN only aims to gain time. Ansar Allah desperately needs this port even if it is under the UN supervision.
What matters for them is to stay in the city and in the port one way or another to guarantee their interests. What does guaranteeing these interests mean? It means collecting fees and charges on goods passing through the port and using the port to smuggle weapons from Iran.
Sooner or later, the legitimate government will reclaim Hodeidah. There is no other option except closing all Yemeni ports in the face of the Houthis who will then be forced to retreat to the north and wait for the battle of Sanaa.
Reaching an agreement with them is not possible because they do not respect their word. They invaded Sanaa via equivocation and played all their cards to achieve their aim. They wanted Sanaa to be the starting point to control all of Yemen.
Liberating Hodeidah will be another step toward a fatal blow to the Iranian project in Yemen. If the Hodeidah Port is not important, Hezbollah’s secretary general would not have emphasized what’s happening in Yemen. Hassan Nasrallah said he was “ashamed” that he is not among the Yemeni fighters on the west coast.
It is clear that this talk which aims to raise the morale of the Houthis will not yield any results. Truth is, there’s a horizon to the Yemen battle and this horizon goes beyond Yemen because it aims to confront all of the Iranian project.
Nasrallah gives significance to the battle of Yemen and then says “it has no horizon,” which suggests that he says one things and then the opposite. This is just one of the series of battles that are currently fought in the region to preserve whatever is left of it, whether in the Arab Gulf, Iraq, Syria or Lebanon…etc.
Decisive Storm
What’s important now is that the Arab coalition which launched the Decisive Storm Operation and the forces that are fighting the Houthis on the ground do not buy what the UN envoy buys.
“Legitimacy” will return to Hodeidah in the right time and the UN envoy, whose good intentions cannot be doubted, will find out that the Houthis master the art of maneuver and that their only goal is to implement what Iran directs, i.e. transform Yemen into a thorn in the side of every Arab Gulf state.
In the end, what the Houthis want to accomplish for Yemen? It is certain that the universities which they will establish – that is if they ever build one – will not be any better than Al-Iman University which Abdul Majeed al-Zindani founded during the days of Ali Abdullah Saleh and which graduated extremists whose only concern was spreading strife across the region.
Awareness of what is on stake in Yemen is essential or rather very essential. If it hadn’t been for this awareness, the Decisive Storm Operation, which has left the Houthis with only one naval passage which is Hodeidah, would not have been launched.
If it hadn’t been for this awareness, the Houthis would have been in Mukalla, Aden and the Port of Mocha which controls Bab-el-Mandeb, the strait which all ships heading to the Suez Canal pass through.
Once again, the humanitarian motives of the UN envoy are understandable. However, despite the size of the Yemeni tragedy, it is a requirement to be convinced that it is not possible to look into a new formula for Yemen amid the current balance of powers.
No one wants to eliminate the Houthis. They are part of the Yemeni fabric but at the same time no one wants to deal with them like they’re half of Yemen or more. Eliminating them is not the need of the hour. What’s required is to put them in their place beginning with liberating Hodeidah.

Hamas’ incendiary toys fly as far as Jerusalem Hills. IDF remains passive
DEBKAfile/July 04/18
Hamas’ latest terrorist ploy is proliferating. On July 2, a record 50 fires were ignited by exploding balloons and kites, which reached Beit Shemesh in the Jerusalem Hills for the first time.
DEBKAfile: The IDF has suspended its counter-terror operations in the Gaza Strip ever since June 27, when Hamas and its allies declared its “bomb-for-bomb” strategy, meaning that IDF air strikes in reprisal for Hamas or other groups’ rocket and mortar attacks on Israel would meet violent Hamas retaliation.
The IDF has also halted its drone attacks and gunfire against the Hamas vehicles used for the transfer of incendiary kites and balloons from Gaza across the border into Israel. The infiltration of four Palestinian terrorists from southern Gaza on Monday, July 2, for torching an IDF sniper post, would not too long ago have brought forth Israeli aerial bombardments of Hamas military compounds. Not this time.
Monday saw the most devastating number of kites and balloons to land in Israel in the nearly three months of this offensive – 45-50 fires were ignited. Heads of the overtaxed fire brigade were forced to warn the government that the firefighting system is on the point of collapse.They also warned that the emergency reinforcements of manpower and equipment diverted to the Gaza district from other parts of the country were creating dangerous shortages elsewhere.
These warnings coincided with signs that Hamas is expanding its successful terror-by-arson project to other parts of the country. Whereas the communities adjoining the Gaza Strip suffered the worst damage – 47,000 acres of orchards, crops, woods and natural preserves reduced to smoking, black wasteland – the bane is spreading from the south to central Israel. The dangerous toys, having become a daily threat in Netivot, Ofakim, KIryat Gath and Lachish, landed over the weekend in Gan Yavne, Gedera and Rehovot and on Monday, were discovered for the first time outside Beit Shemesh in the Jerusalem Hills.
The heavily wooded hill region around Jerusalem, the capital, presents a constant fire menace in arid summer conditions. The forests were targeted last year by arsonists who set eight fires which came close to residential districts in Jerusalem before they were brought under control. Police have warned the public not to touch or go near any kites or balloons before calling emergency services, because they are likely to be booby-trapped.

Ultra-Orthodox Lawmaker Blames Earthquake in Northern Israel on Reform Jews

Haaretz/July 04/18
In a Knesset debate on the egalitarian prayer space in the Western Wall, Lawmaker Yinon Azoulay suggests Reform Jews take the money they invest in Israel and 'build a Kotel in the U.S.'
Lawmaker Yinon Azoulay (Shas) said Wednesday that Reform Jews "are not Jews" and blamed the minor quakes in the Galilee Wednesday morning on the lobby to build an egalitarian prayer space in the Western Wall. Speaking at a Knesset debate on the contested mixed-gender prayer space in the Western Wall, Azoulay said: "Today we heard there was some kind of earthquake, maybe we should do some soul-searching that this earthquake was because someone is trying to touch that which is sacred to us? Hear our pain, they are not Jews.""What do you have to do with the ancient stones of the Kotel?" Azoulay asked, suggesting that Reform Jews "take the money you invest in the State of Israel and build a Kotel in the U.S." Azoulay also went on to criticize Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for failing to recognize the "disaster" that is the Women of the Wall and the Reform Jews.
On Sunday, Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev addressed Reform Jews by saying: "I've met reforms in Argentina. They were very nice, but they should be reform in Argentina. Here in Israel they should behave" like they're in Israel. Following Regev's statement, Executive Director of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism Gilad Kariv said: "The rabbinical institution and national Haredi factors who invaded Likud are laying siege to the Israeli government and turning its ministers into collaborators in an organized campgain of unjustified hatred."The ministers' conduct, Kariv said, resembled that of the wise men of Jerusalem from the Jewish parable Kamsa and Bar Kamsa, whose silence and lack of leadersip led to the zealots' victory and the fall of the second temple. Regev resigned as head of the comittee last week, saying her conscience does not allow her to convene the committee and approve the work to prepare the historic archeological site for mixed-gender prayer, and that she doesn't want to see women wearing prayer shawls in the Western Wall. Before becoming minister, Regev was a staunch supporter of "every citizen's right to pray in the sites holy to the," as she wrote in a Facebook post in 2013. Once a minister, she also voted in favor of the egalitarian prayer space, which the Knesset approved and later rescinded.