July 06/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me
Matthew 16,21-28: "From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? ‘For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’"

Titles For The Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on July 05-06/18
Waste Crisis Renews in Lebanon/Sanaa el-Jack/Asharq Al Awsat/July 05/18
The Smell Can Kill You’: Lebanon’s Toxic Disaster Is Only Getting Worse/The National/July 05/18
Italian Academic Delegation Meets Senior Hizbullah Official In Lebanon, Pledges To Tell The West 'The Truth' About Hizbullah/MEMRI/July 05/18
Hezbollah Reportedly Commanding Syrian Fighters Near Israeli Border - Exposing Limits of Israeli and U.S. Policy/Reuters and Haaretz/ July 05/ 2018
Hezbollah's Indefinite Presence in Syria/Sirwan Kajjo/Gatestone Institute/July 05/8
UN calls on Jordan to open the border/Moscow behaving like colonial power, spokesman tells Arab News/Arab News/July 05/18
Germany: 'Decapitating' Freedom of the Press/Stefan Frank/Gatestone Institute/July 05/18
A Conversation with French Writer Renaud Camus/Grégoire Canlorbe/Gatestone Institute/July 05/18
Is Facebook the problem with Facebook, or is it us/Nicholas Carr/Asharq Al-Awsat/Thursday, 05 July/18
The Saudi Oil Gateway to Global Stability/Salman Al-dossary/Asharq Al-Awsat/Thursday, 05 July/18
How to Shield Silicon Valley/Susan Shirk/Bloomberg View/July 05/18
Haaretz: Does Iran Really Want to Nuke Israel? Is Israel Stronger Than Iran? A Top Security Expert Explains/Ravit Hecht/Haaretz/July 05/2018
The prophecy of Rami Makhlouf/Hazem al-Amin/Al Arabiya/July 05/18
How China built strategic alliances with Iran and Turkey/Shehab Al-Makahleh/Al Arabiya/July 05/18
FIFA World Cup: Honor of the game vs politics of the day/Walid Jawad/Al Arabiya/July 05/18
Abadi left with no excuse for not arresting the corrupt/Adnan Hussein/Al Arabiya/July 05/18
Haftar's Play for Libyan Oil/Ben Fishman/The Washington Institute/July 05/18
The Problem of Landmine Proliferation in Yemen/Elana DeLozier/The Washington Institute/July 05/18
Mossad recovers Israeli spy Eli Cohen's wristwatch/Moran Azulay, Inbar Tvizer/Ynetnews/July 05/18
Russia resumes Daraa air strikes, calls Iran’s exit from Syria “absolutely unrealistic”/DEBKAfile/July 05/18
Those Who Have Emerged Victorious against the People of Syria/Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Al Awsat/July 05/18

Titles For The Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on July 05-06/18
Report: LF Says ‘Unwilling to Waiver’ Demand for Cabinet Seats
Bassil Urges 'Proportional' Govt., Slams LF's 'Attacks'
Geagea Says Banking Sector Keeping Lebanon’s Economy Strong
Report: Kataeb Calls for Russian Mediation in Refugees Crisis
Waste Crisis Renews in Lebanon
Hankache Slams Officials' Approach on Government Formation
Saba Reveals Scandal on Sidon Waste-Sorting Plant
Derian receives phone call from Hariri, says instructions given to Finance Minister to imburse Makassed issue
Geagea, Norwegian ambassador tackle local and regional developments
Karami calls for independent Sunni MPs' representation in government
Military court questions murderers of Bashaalani and Zahraman in Arsal outskirts
Warehouse near Defense Ministry free of explosives and narcotics: Army
The Smell Can Kill You’: Lebanon’s Toxic Disaster Is Only Getting Worse
Lebanon: President Receives Economic Plan
Italian Academic Delegation Meets Senior Hizbullah Official In Lebanon, Pledges To Tell The West 'The Truth' About Hizbullah
Hezbollah Reportedly Commanding Syrian Fighters Near Israeli Border - Exposing Limits of Israeli and U.S. Policy
Hezbollah's Indefinite Presence in Syria

Titles For The Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on July 05-06/18
UN calls on Jordan to open the border/Moscow behaving like colonial power, spokesman tells Arab News
Waves of Strikes Pound South Syria after Talks Fail
Israeli Ex-minister Goes on Trial for Iran Spying
Iran’s 'Revolutionary Guards' Threaten to Cut Oil Supplies
Retreating from threat, Iran says it does not intend to close Strait of Hormuz
Reacting to Iran’s threat, US Navy says will protect free flow of commerce
Israel ex-minister goes on trial on charges of spying for Iran
Gaza teen dies of wounds from Israel border clash
Iraqis say Russian missiles killed Baghdadi’s son
Assad’s bombings damage Roman theater in city mentioned by Pharaohs
For the First Time, an Israeli Will Head UN Human Rights Committee
UK Holds Emergency Meeting on New Nerve Agent Case
The Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on July 05-06/18
Report: LF Says ‘Unwilling to Waiver’ Demand for Cabinet Seats
Naharnet/July 05/18/The Lebanese Forces are not “willing to bargain or waiver” any of their demands for Cabinet seats and they insist on proper representation based on their success in the parliamentary elections, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Thursday. LF sources told the daily: “The party adheres to the outcome of the (May parliamentary) elections,” noting that voters have placed their trust in the LF which they in turn must not waiver. They pointed to attempts aiming at downsizing the party, in reference to Free Patriotic Movement chief Jebran Bassil, “it’s impossible. We made an equation that we will explain in detail to Bassil,” they added. On Wednesday, Bassil noted that according to a “nonnegotiable equation based on the elections results, the LF is only eligible to get three ministers.”Relations between the LF and FPM have been strained over the distribution of ministerial portfolios. The LF demands to allocate five seats which the FPM categorically rejects. “LF refuses to reduce its share. Negotiations are going to be long and arduous, but we will not backdown,” he added. On the Maarab Agreement between the Christian parties that eventually brought FPM founder, President Michel Aoun, to the post of presidency, the source stressed adherence to the accord. “We adhere to dialogue as much as we adhere to Maarab Agreement, and we will have to deeply explain this file to the FPM. We reject accusations that the party is against (Aoun’s) tenure,” he concluded.

Bassil Urges 'Proportional' Govt., Slams LF's 'Attacks'
Naharnet/July 05/18/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.

Geagea Says Banking Sector Keeping Lebanon’s Economy Strong
Naharnet/July 05/18/Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea hailed Lebanon’s banking sector saying “it is what’s keeping Lebanon’s economy standing” in light of the crises the country is facing, the National News Agency reported on Thursday, “Unfortunately only the banking sector is what is keeping Lebanon’s economy standing, otherwise our economy would have faltered at several other sectors more that it is faltering today,” said Geagea. His remarks came on Wednesday during the LF banking department dinner. Commenting on the CEDRE Conference, Geagea said: “Cedre conference will provide Lebanon with $11 billion dollars most of which are loans. If we can manage well and stop waste and corruption, we can provide $ 2 billion without imposing any new taxes.” In April, International donors pledged $11 billion in low-interest loans and aid for Lebanon at the CEDRE conference to try to avert an economic crisis in Lebanon hard hit by the fallout from the Syrian war.

Report: Kataeb Calls for Russian Mediation in Refugees Crisis

Naharnet/July 05/18/The Kataeb party said the delay in the formation of Lebanon’s Cabinet has a negative impact on the refugees crisis and urged for a “Russian mediation” between the Lebanese and Syrian governments in order to repatriate the displaced, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Thursday, “Delay in the formation of the government reflects negatively on the required solutions for many crises, including the problem of displaced individuals in light of the failure of Lebanon’s constitutional institutions to develop an integrated project to resolve it,” a senior Kataeb source told the daily. "The refugees crisis requires a state of political and diplomatic emergency and the mobilization of Arab and international potentials to help Lebanon cope with this dilemma," the source told the daily. He reminded of Kataeb’s calls to “officially demand that Russia assumes the role of mediator between the Lebanese and Syrian governments to return refugees to safe areas in Syria that Russia is involved in supervising,” he said.
Waste Crisis Renews in Lebanon
Beirut - Sanaa el-Jack/Asharq Al Awsat/July 05/18
A waste crisis at the dump of the coastal southern city of Sidon has resurfaced, possibly opening the door to renewed crises in other Lebanese regions in the coming months. The environmental disaster is inevitable in light of improper policies on dumping waste, an issue that came to the limelight in 2015 after anti-government street protests sparked a “social revolution.” After the streets of Beirut and Mount Lebanon witnessed heaps of rubbish, endangering the environment and people’s lives, around 100,000 citizens protested outside the Grand Serail, occupied the ministry of environment and forced the government of Tammam Salam to seek solutions. The cabinet then took a decision for the temporary establishment of dumps in Bourj Hammoud (North Metn) and Costa Brava (South Metn) after shutting down the Naameh landfill in the Shouf district. But such a solution wasn’t enough to end Lebanon’s waste crisis, which drew the attention of not only the local press but also international media outlets such as the CNN. Professor Habib Maalouf, an environmentalist, told Asharq Al-Awsat that on average, each individual generates more than one kilogram of waste on a daily basis, a rate higher than the global average, which ranges between 500 grams and one kilogram in both rich and poor countries. Addressing the crisis requires first and foremost a study on our production, consumption and commercial system, he said. There should be priorities such as the reduction of waste, mainly free plastic bags, he added. Maalouf stressed a strategy is required to benefit the treasury, “but no one wants that.” There should be a permanent and not a temporary plan to come up with laws and determine the roles of each side in waste treatment through environment-friendly and transparent measures. Environmental Engineer Ziad Abou Shaker told Asharq Al-Awsat that the government’s failure in finding solutions to the waste crisis started with the end of the Civil War in 1990. The reason lies in each influential politician seeking to lay his hands on the file for lucrative contracts. Abou Shaker added that those in charge with resolving the crisis are relying on advisers with limited levels of experience who seek swift and magical solutions.
Hankache Slams Officials' Approach on Government Formation 05th July 2018/Kataeb MP Elias Hankache on Thursday slammed the blatant procrastination in the government formation, criticizing the recklessness and indifference of the concerned officials."How do Lebanese officials who are in charge of the government formation rise up to an economic crisis and financial pressures that would lead to a social disaster and crises?" Hankache mockingly wondered on his Twitter account. “The answer: First, they fight over shares, and second they go on a vacation," he added.

Saba Reveals Scandal on Sidon Waste-Sorting Plant 05th July 2018/Coordinator of the Lebanese Corruption Monitor, Charles Saba, on Thursday revealed information related to the Sidon waste-sorting center, uncovering another scandal in the waste crisis issue. In an interview with Voice of Lebanon radio station, Saba said that waste was not being actually dumped at the Sidon plant, but was instead transferred to the Bekaa district. “During the garbage crisis in Beirut and Mount Lebanon, it was said that part of Beirut waste will be transferred to Sidon landfill for a sum of $90 per a truck transport. However, garbage was transported from the Sidon plant to Bekaa for $40,” Saba explained. “Where did the remaining $50 go?” he asked.

Derian receives phone call from Hariri, says instructions given to Finance Minister to imburse Makassed issue
Thu 05 Jul 2018/NNA - Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdullatif Derian on Thursday received a phone call from Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, who notified him that had given the necessary instructions to Caretaker Finance Minister, Ali Hassan Khalil, to imburse al-Makassed association.
Accordingly, Hariri explained to Derian that LBP 5 billion would be paid immediately to the institution. He also highlighted to the Mufti his keenness on resolving this issue.

Geagea, Norwegian ambassador tackle local and regional developments
Thu 05 Jul 2018/NNA - Lebanese Forces party leader, Samir Geagea, welcomed in Maarab Norway's ambassador to Lebanon, Lynn Lindh, with whom he discussed the latest developments at the internal and regional levels.

Karami calls for independent Sunni MPs' representation in government
Thu 05 Jul 2018/NNA - MP Faisal Karami on Thursday maintained that the independent Sunni lawmakers are seeking to be represented in the national unity government that is to be formed yet.
Karami hosted a meeting for the independent Sunni MPs, attended by lawmakers Abdul Rahim Mrad, Jihad Samad, Alwalid Succarieh, Qassem Hashem, and Adnan Trabolsi.
"The nation's best interest entails that all political forces are represented in the government," Karami said following the meeting.

Military court questions murderers of Bashaalani and Zahraman in Arsal outskirts
Thu 05 Jul 2018/NNA - The permanent military court headed by Brigadier General Hussein Abdullah ended the questioning of the accused in the incident of Al-Raayan area in the outskirts of Arsal, which led to the martyrdom of Lt. Col. Milad Bashaalani and Sergeant Ibrahim Zahraman on February 1, 2013, and the attempted murder of two soldiers, the seizing of their weapons and equipment and the sabotaging of their military vehicles, next to enticing against the Lebanese Army, the NNA correspondent reported. The defendants include former Arsal municipality head, Ali al-Hujairi, nicknamed "Abu Ajineh" and his son Hussein, as well as Sheikh Mustafa Al-Hujairi, nicknamed "Abu Taqiyeh" and his son Abada, questioned in the presence of their defense teams.
The court also questioned the rest of the defendants, arrested and released in this case, with verdicts to be issued tonight.

Warehouse near Defense Ministry free of explosives and narcotics: Army
Thu 05 Jul 2018/NNA - The Lebanese army clarified in a communiqué on Thursday that no explosives or narcotics were located inside the warehouse security forces had searched following a personal clash nearby the Ministry of National Defense. It added that only outdated smoke grenades and light ammunition were found. "Some media means circulated news on seizing a warehouse near the Ministry of National Defense, containing weapons, explosives, and drugs. The Army Command clarifies that following a land dispute between two individuals over the ownership of the said warehouse, an Internal Security Forces' unit interfered to end the clash and start investigations," the communiqué read."The Army Command calls media means for news accuracy," it said.
The Smell Can Kill You’: Lebanon’s Toxic Disaster Is Only Getting Worse
The National/July 05/18
The beaches of Jounieh, a popular Lebanese coastal city 16 kilometres north of Beirut, are typically reserved for laying in the sun, family days out, and watersports in the bay. But the bacteria levels in the waters around this former fishing village are more than 100 times the amount that would prompt the closure of a public beach in the state of New York in the United States. Farther south at Ouzai, a seaside neighbourhood of the Lebanese capital, a grey coat of raw sewage in the Mediterranean sea is clearly visible on Google Maps. “The smell can kill you,” says a 10-year-old boy from the neighbourhood.
“We swim over there, instead of here,” he continues, pointing to an inlet adjacent to the one where the sewage enters the sea. The toxic waters of Ouzai and Jounieh are both grim examples of Lebanon's waste disposal problem, which has left the coastline with ever-worsening pollution. In the 1960s and 1970s, Lebanon’s beaches were a destination for holidaymakers. But the issue of water safety in Lebanon has descended into such a crisis that authorities now advise against swimming in the sea anywhere along the country’s coastline. “The government must declare a state of emergency for water quality in Lebanon,” Michel Afram, head of the Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute, told The National. The environmental body says high concentrations of heavy metals have been found off the coast and it is now conducting an assessment of fish caught in the country’s waters. The sewage flow at Ouzai is unique only in that it is readily visible – submarine pipes do most of the direct dumping.
“Ninety per cent of Lebanon’s wastewater goes untreated to the sea,” says Ziad Abichaker, an environmental engineer specialising in waste management. An inlet at Ouzai is murky brown and opaque. Just metres away, men fish for their catch. The sand on the beach, strewn with garbage, has turned black in places. “It’s been like this for years,” says one resident. Lebanese Environment Minister Tarek Khatib has previously denied the country is experiencing a waste crisis. He could not be reached for comment. While some newly-elected members of parliament have drawn attention to the waste disposal issue in the past week, Mr Abichaker said he was not optimistic. “It seems this political class is unable to manage the country,” he says. “This is not rocket science, wastewater, treatment – it’s pretty basic. It just needs some integrity and some political willingness.”The mismanagement of Lebanon’s solid waste is an ongoing affliction that has only made the problem worse. Seaside landfills leach directly into the water around Beirut, and a recent ban on burning rubbish has placed greater pressure on the government to find ways to dispose of the trash. Dumping has turned most of Lebanon’s rivers into ecological disasters, far more polluted than the sea into which they flow. Mr Afram and others have warned about these problems for years. But one month into summer, they appear to have had little effect on beachgoers. Just four kilometres to the north of Ouzai, Beirut’s only public beach, Ramlet Al Baida, remains full of swimmers.
“We know the water is not clean, but the state doesn’t do anything,” says Hussein Bazzi, who lives in Beirut and had brought his five-year-old son to the beach. Mr Bazzi says his salary is not enough to be able to afford the entrance fees for a private beach, which could be located where the water is cleaner. “People can’t afford to go anywhere else. We only have this place,” he says. “We only stayed in the water for half an hour.”Government officials have been forced to acknowledge that pollution has taken a significant toll on public health in Lebanon, with reported cancers rising sharply in recent years. In a country faced with an array of threats, the most pernicious danger for the average Lebanese citizen now lies in the water they drink and the air that they breathe. “There is always something more important,” Mr Afram says. “But I feel my life is more threatened by pollution than security or what is happening in Syria.”

Lebanon: President Receives Economic Plan
Beirut - Asharq Al-Awsat/Thursday, 05 July/18/Lebanese President Michel Aoun called on the need for everyone to be united and work within one team to achieve the ambitious goals of the national economic plan, which will be reflected in various economic, social and living issues.
Aoun emphasized on Wednesday the need to implement the strategy for revamping the country's economy, prepared by consulting firm McKinsey & Company. "The strategy is very important especially that it provides a coherent and comprehensive study for all productive sectors in the country aimed at reaching sustainable economic development," Aoun was quoted as saying. President Aoun chaired a meeting attended by caretaker Economy and Trade Minister, Raed Khoury, Minister of Justice Salim Jreissati, Presidential Advisor Mireille Aoun Hashem, Advisor to the President of the Republic for Relations with the Gulf States, Dr. Fadi Asli, Advisor to the Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Nadim al-Munla, and members of the global advisory group McKinsey & Company. The President was briefed on the outlines of the "national economic plan" which has reached advanced stages. "We appreciate all the efforts exerted by the public and private sectors in addition to economists and academics to complete this strategy," the president said. He praised, in this regard, the efforts of those who contributed to the development of the study including officials from the public and private sectors, economic experts and academics, according to NNA.
He highlighted "Lebanon's ability, represented by its economic sectors and its young energies, to create an attractive business environment for direct foreign investments, and to activate competitive sectors capable of promoting economic performance indicators, especially since the study describes the economic situation and challenges in accordance with the current reality, and puts priorities in their proper context, while putting forward the formation of mechanisms to implement the plan and monitor economic performance."
After the meeting, Minister Khoury held a press conference, in which he said "the aim of this meeting was to inform the President about the latest developments in the Lebanese economic plan which reached its final stages, in implementation of the decision taken by the Council of Ministers within the set deadline.”
The study has been completed and will be presented to Prime Minister-designate Hariri, before approval by the new government. "The five-year strategy will start once it is approved," said Khoury, adding that the study focuses on productive sectors that will create more jobs in the country.
The Minister explained that the presidency's economic team and McKinsey crew worked closely with representatives from the public and private sectors and in coordination with parties, experts, economists and Lebanese academic and civil society members, so as to extrapolate from their experiences in their fields of work and their outlook for the achievement of sustainable development. The study also examines in depth the challenges and potentials of key productive sectors, agriculture, industry, tourism, knowledge economics, financial services, education, health care, real estate, construction, retail, trade, logistics, transport, communications, electricity, water and the role of expatriates in the economic performance as well as the effectiveness of urban planning. In addition, the plan discusses Lebanon's economic aspirations and means of achieving them through the adoption of the best international practices in terms of legislation and finance to reach a flexible economic environment capable of attracting foreign direct investment and unleashing the promising and sustainable sectors of production. The Economic Vision team also stressed that "the study will include recommendations on pivotal and urgent projects that will move the Lebanese economy forward and launch in the near future.” It also aims to turn Lebanon into a regional hub that provide outsourcing services of high quality. Khoury pointed out that Aoun expressed his support for this plan. The President also called for all parties concerned to work together and work as one team to achieve the ambitious goals of the plan, which are reflected on various economic and social issues that are of concern to citizens.

Italian Academic Delegation Meets Senior Hizbullah Official In Lebanon, Pledges To Tell The West 'The Truth' About Hizbullah
MEMRI/July 05/18
A delegation of professors from La Sapienza University of Rome visited Lebanon and met with Sheikh Ali Rizq, Head of the Foreign Relations Department of Hizbullah, according to a report broadcast by Al-Manar TV on June 30. Delegation head Dr. Rosella Castellano said that they had reached verbal agreements for cooperation with Hizbullah's Al Maaref University, among others, and that when they returned, they would "tell the West the truth about Hizbullah." Reporter: "Sheikh Ali Rizq, Head of the Foreign Relations Department of Hizbullah, met an Italian academic delegation, consisting of several professors from the La Sapienza University of Rome. The meeting dealt with the situation in Lebanon and in the region. The Italian delegation presented several proposals and plans for academic and scientific cooperation. They invited Sheikh Rizq to visit Italy, and open up channels of cooperation between the two sides." Dr. Rosella Castellano: "We are very happy about this meeting with Hizbullah. When we return, we will tell the West the truth about Hizbullah, which many are not aware of. We talked about establishing, as soon as possible, exceptional relations with Lebanese universities, especially Al Maaref University. We have reached verbal agreements during this visit, and will sign written agreements as soon as possible."

Hezbollah Reportedly Commanding Syrian Fighters Near Israeli Border - Exposing Limits of Israeli and U.S. Policy
تقرير من الهآررتس ورويترز: حزب الله يقود القوات السورية بالقرب من الحدود مع إسرائيل متحدياً خطوط السياستين الإسرائيلية والأميركية

Reuters and Haaretz/ July 05/ 2018
Hezbollah's role in the offensive near the border with Jordan and Israel's Golan Heights has also defied Israeli demands that Iranian proxies be kept away from its frontier
Hezbollah is helping to lead a Russian-backed offensive in southern Syria which has left over 250,000 people displaced, pro-Damascus sources said. The Iranian-backed militia's continued role in Syria exposes the limits of both Israeli and U.S. policy that hopes Moscow can get Iran and groups it backs out of the country.
Hezbollah's role in the offensive near the border with Jordan and Israel's Golan Heights has also defied Israeli demands that Iranian proxies be kept away from its frontier - a fault line of the decades-old Arab-Israeli conflict.
"Hezbollah is a fundamental participant in planning and directing this battle," a commander in the regional alliance that backs Damascus told Reuters. "Everyone knows this - the Israeli enemy, friends, and even the Russians."
Hezbollah's role includes directing Syrian forces, the commander said. It has also deployed its own elite forces.
But the Iranian-backed group is keeping a lower profile than in past Syria campaigns, acknowledging the risks of Israeli escalation.
A senior official in the regional alliance that backs Assad said Hezbollah was fighting "under the cover" of the Syrian army in the south. A European diplomat said Iranian-backed forces were not thought to be taking part "in strength"
For Assad, the campaign holds out the prospect of reopening a vital trade artery to Jordan, reestablishing his control over the Golan frontier, and crushing rebels once deemed a threat because of their proximity to Damascus.
The offensive has yet to face resistance from Assad's Western, Israeli or Arab foes. Washington has told rebels it once backed not to expect intervention. Some have surrendered.
Politically, the campaign has been one of the most complex yet for Assad. Israel has been pressing his Russian allies to keep Iranian-backed forces away from its frontier. Israel also wants them removed from Syria more widely, echoing Washington.
Recent Russian calls for non-Syrian forces to leave the south have been seen as partly directed at Iranian-backed forces.
White House national security adviser John Bolton said on Sunday President Donald Trump would discuss Syria with Russia's Vladimir Putin at a summit in Helsinki this month.
"There are possibilities for doing a larger negotiation on helping to get Iranian forces out of Syria and back into Iran, which would be a significant step forward," Bolton told CBS News "Face the Nation".
Seven years into the war which has killed hundreds of thousands of people, Assad now commands most of Syria with his allies' help, though most of the north and a chunk of the east remains out of his hands. The presence of Turkish and U.S. forces in those areas will complicate further gains.
As Assad seeks military victory, there seems little hope of a negotiated peace, with some 6 million Syrians abroad as refugees and 6.5 million more internally displaced. The southwest offensive has uprooted 270,000 people.
Critical support
Support from Iran and Hezbollah helped Assad survive rebel advances and plug manpower gaps early on, and then win back territory once Russia's air force arrived to help in 2015.
Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias have also been seen as critical in holding territory. On the ground, Russia has deployed some regular forces, military police and private contractors.
While Iran and Russia have worked closely together, differences have surfaced recently.
Notably, tension flared last month when Russian forces arrived unannounced in an area of Hezbollah deployment near the Lebanese border. The Russians withdrew the next day.
The official in the pro-Assad alliance said the United States appeared to be hoping to "substitute" Iranian influence with Russian influence, but this would be futile. Russia and Iran have an "understanding" in Syria, the official added.
The battlefield situation in Syria will not be reversed. The regime and its allies have very wide control," the official said. Assad has said Hezbollah and other allies will stay a long time.
Excluding Iran and Hezbollah from the southwest was one objective of contacts between the United States, Russia, Israel and Jordan that had sought - unsuccessfully - to stave off a government offensive, the European diplomat said.
"I suspect that a few Iranians will not cause the Israelis too much concern, but larger numbers of Iranians or Hezbollah would," the diplomat said. Israel was "broadly comfortable" with the Syrian army returning to the Golan frontier as long as groups such as Hezbollah stay away.
"I think the Israelis are reasonably comfortable and confident that they can continue to deter and enforce and agree an arrangement that keeps Iran away from the Golan at the moment," the diplomat added.
The temperature may however rise as the offensive moves from Deraa province towards Quneitra on the Golan, where tensions between Israel and Iran sparked a military confrontation in May. Israel beefed up its tank and artillery deployment on the Golan on Sunday.

Hezbollah's Indefinite Presence in Syria
تواجد حزب الله في سوريا اللامحدود زمنياً

Sirwan Kajjo/Gatestone Institute/July 05/8
After more than seven years of fighting alongside the Assad regime in Syria, the Iran-backed terrorist group Hezbollah is highly unlikely to make an easy exit from the war-torn territory, no matter what supposed agreements are reached or promises made.
Hezbollah fighters are now in control of much of Syria's border with Lebanon. In fact, the Shi'ite terrorist group is in charge of controlling the Lebanese side of the border, despite the presence of the Lebanese military, which is weak.
With no end in sight to Syria's seven-year war, Hezbollah will undoubtedly continue its military expansion, causing more instability in an already volatile region.
After weeks of shuttle diplomacy allegedly carried out by Russia and Israel, Iranian forces and allied militias -- including the so-called "military wing" of the Lebanon-based organization Hezbollah, all of which has been designated as a terrorist group by the US -- reportedly began to withdraw from parts of southern Syria, near Israel's border.
According to other reports, however, many Hezbollah fighters, disguised as members of the Syrian army, have simply remained on their bases to escape being targeted by the Israel Air Force. Since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Israel's air force has carried out sporadic strikes against Iranian and Hezbollah bases and convoys across its neighbor on the north. After more than seven years of fighting alongside the Assad regime in Syria, the Iran-backed terrorist group Hezbollah is highly unlikely to make an easy exit from the war-torn territory, no matter what supposed agreements are reached or promises made.
In a televised speech on "Quds Day" -- which Iran has marked every year since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 -- Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah addressed his supporters as follows:
"We are in Syria because we should be there. The Syrian leadership has asked us to be present there based on developments in the ground.... Gulf states and Israel must know that we will be happy when we return our men to Lebanon... we will be happy and we will feel victorious to complete our mission. So what keeps us in Syria is our duty and the Syrian leadership, but at the same time I would like to tell you even if the entire world decided to remove us from Syria, we will not leave."
Nor does it seem that the Syrian regime is in a rush to tell Hezbollah to leave the country. In a recent interview with an Iranian state-run news channel, Syrian President Bashar Assad said, "Hezbollah is an essential element in this war -- the battle is long and the need for these military forces will continue for a long time."
Having helped defeat anti-regime rebel forces in the suburbs of Homs, Aleppo and Damascus, Hezbollah fighters are now in control of much of Syria's border with Lebanon. In fact, the Shi'ite terrorist group is in charge of controlling the Lebanese side of the border, despite the presence of the Lebanese military, which is weak. The areas in which Hezbollah operates are of great importance to the group, which uses the mountainous terrain as a route to transport military equipment between Syria and Lebanon. So entrenched is Hezbollah in that region that it has managed to build multiple military bases within a small radius.
With those fronts of Lebanon and southern Syria already secured, Hezbollah fighters increasingly have moved to the oil-rich province of Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria to aid the Syrian military in its battle against Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists. Meanwhile, Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed militias – such as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) -- are largely in control of strategic areas along Syria's border with Iraq.
Not far from those frontiers, the U.S.-led coalition has been aiding Kurdish-led forces to push out ISIS from other parts of Deir Ezzor. The months-long campaign has liberated large strategic areas from ISIS. More than once, however, these two anti-ISIS campaigns have come head to head in Deir Ezzor, leaving the U.S. with no choice but to defend its local partners.
Once ISIS is completely defeated in these areas, Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed groups could be better positioned to wage attacks on U.S. interests there and elsewhere in Syria.
With no end in sight to Syria's seven-year war, Hezbollah will undoubtedly continue its military expansion, causing more instability in an already volatile region.
**Sirwan Kajjo is a Syrian-Kurdish Washington-based journalist and author.
© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

The Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on July 05-06/18
Southern Syria pounded as Jordan brokers fresh talks between rebels and Russia
UN calls on Jordan to open the border/Moscow behaving like colonial power, spokesman tells Arab News
Arab News/July 05/18
JEDDAH: Waves of air strikes pounded opposition-held areas of southern Syria on Thursday as Jordan scrambled to broker fresh talks between Russia and the rebels.
The bombing by pro-regime forces was the most intensive campaign yet in a two-week-old offensive in Daraa province. The renewed assault came as Jordanian mediation brought Syrian rebel negotiators back to the table with Russian officers to discuss ending the fighting Reuters reported. Earlier talks failed on Wednesday to bring an end to the fighting that killed dozens and forced tens of thousands from their homes. Bahaa Mahameed, a doctor working in Daraa’s western countryside, said that wounded civilians were streaming into his clinic after several days of calm. “The warplanes are bombing like crazy. We can’t even find a safe place to put the wounded,” Mahameed told Agence France-Presse. Syrians fleeing the fighting have gone towards Jordan’s border. Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi held talks on Wednesday in Moscow, where he warned of the humanitarian crisis threatening to unfold on the border and said a ceasefire was urgently needed. The UNHCR refugee agency urged Jordan to open its borders to Syrians fleeing the fighting, saying the total number of displaced now stood at more than 320,000, with 60,000 of them gathered at the border crossing with Jordan. Syrian opposition spokesman Ibrahim Al-Jabawi said rebel negotiators and Russian officers were expected to hold talks in the southern town of Busra Al-Sham later on Thursday, Reuters reported. Four rounds of talks have been held there since Saturday, without reaching agreement. Rebel officials said the main differences include whether the rebels surrender their weapons in one go or in phases, before handing over their areas to state control under Russian military police supervision. Jordan has played a leading role in persuading Free Syrian Army rebels, who are backed by Amman and Western powers, to reach a deal with Russia that could spare southern Syria more bloodshed. On Thursday, Russian planes hit areas close to the Jordanian border. A major battle was raging in an air base on the outskirts of Daraa city, only a few kilometres from Jordan's northern city of Ramtha, residents and diplomats said. Assad aims to recapture the entire southwest including the frontiers with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Jordan. The area is one of the last rebel strongholds in Syria after more than seven years of war.
Yahya Al-Aridi, spokesman for the opposition, blamed Russia for the failure of the previous talks and said that Moscow was behaving “like a colonizing power.”
He told Arab News: “They come to the meeting with diktats — you do this, you do that, otherwise our Sukhois (fighter planes) are ready to destroy Daraa.”They came with the condition of surrender, he said, adding: “They are using the logic of power, not the power of logic in order to achieve their goals with the regime being sidelined completely in the negotiations because it doesn’t exist. The party that exists is the Iranian and Hezbollah militias.” He said that the Russians wanted the opposition to be completely defenseless and to give a list of names of those who defected from the regime, apart from demanding other humiliating conditions. The UN Security Council is set to hold a closed-door emergency meeting on the offensive early Friday, but world powers have been able to do little to halt the onslaught. Bahia Al-Mardini, a UK-based human rights campaigner and founder of Syrian House, an organization that helps Syrians in the UK, told Arab News that Russia “sets impossible conditions aimed at humiliating the Free Syrian Army. This includes handing over all of its weapons and equipment, so that its pro-democracy position is weakened.” She told Arab News that Russia and the Assad regime continued a scorched-earth policy and that the killing of Syrian civilians remained unchecked. Throughout the day on Thursday, hundreds of missiles, crude barrel bombs and air strikes by Russia and Syria slammed into opposition-held towns. “From last night until now, Russian airplanes are pursuing a scorched-earth policy,” said Hussein Abazeed, spokesman for the joint opposition command for the south.

Waves of Strikes Pound South Syria after Talks Fail
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/July 05/18/Waves of air strikes pounded rebel-held areas of southern Syria on Thursday as pro-regime forces launched their most intensive bombing campaign yet in a two-week-old offensive. The renewed assault came after the failure on Wednesday of Russian-brokered talks to end the offensive in Daraa province, which has killed dozens and forced tens of thousands from their homes.An AFP correspondent on the edge of the rebel-held south of the city of Daraa, the divided provincial capital, said the bombing of rebel neighbourhoods was the most intensive since the launch of the Russian-backed offensive on June 19. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said hundreds of missiles and crude barrel bombs were unleashed by Syrian and Russian aircraft overnight. Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said the bombardment was an "attempt to make the rebels back down after they refused to subject themselves to the Russian terms for a ceasefire."Samer Homssi, who had fled to the outskirts of Daraa with his wife and four children, described a fierce onslaught of regime air strikes and shelling. "The bombardment has not stopped for one moment since the announcement that the negotiations failed," the 47-year-old, whose family was taking shelter in a grove of olive trees, told AFP. - 'Afraid of everything' -"We are living here in the olive trees, afraid of everything, the shelling, the insects, with no water to drink or any medical services nearby. The situation is very difficult." The Observatory said air strikes were ongoing, including on the town of Tafas in the northwest of Daraa province and on towns and villages near the Jordanian border. Six civilians, including a woman and four children, were killed in the town of Saida, which regime ground forces were trying to take, it said. The intensity of the bombardment allowed government forces to seize control of a security checkpoint on the Jordanian border for the first time in more than three years, it said. The intensified assault came after rebels said Wednesday that talks brokered by regime ally Russia on ending the offensive had failed. After retaking large parts of the country since Russia intervened in Syria in 2015, regime forces have set their sights on the southern provinces of Daraa and Quneitra, bordering Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Moscow has been brokering talks with rebel towns for negotiated surrenders in a carrot-and-stick strategy that Russia and the regime have used to retake swathes of territory including the Eastern Ghouta region near Damascus earlier this year. More than 30 towns in the south have already agreed to surrender, expanding the regime's control of Daraa province to around 60 percent, double what it held before the start of the offensive. - Failed negotiations -The talks this week focused on remaining rebel territory in Daraa province's western countryside and the southern half of the provincial capital. After meeting with a Russian delegation on Wednesday afternoon, the joint rebel command for the south said talks had failed over the issue of the rebels surrendering their heavy weapons. Rebel sources said Moscow had demanded rebels hand over all their heavy arms in one go but that opposition fighters wanted to do so in several phases. Moscow has also reportedly refused requests from some rebels for safe passage to opposition-held territory in other parts of Syria, as was done in Eastern Ghouta and Aleppo. Daraa is considered the cradle of the 2011 uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's rule that triggered Syria's devastating civil war. Nearly 150 civilians have died since the assault began, according to the Observatory. The southern offensive has also displaced between 270,000 and 330,000 people, according to the United Nations, many south to the border with Jordan or west to near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Both countries have kept their borders closed, despite mounting calls by human rights groups to let Syrians escape to safety. World powers have criticised the operation for violating a ceasefire announced last year by Washington, Amman and Moscow, but that has not halted the blitz. The UN Security Council will hold a closed-door emergency meeting on the offensive on Thursday.
Israeli Ex-minister Goes on Trial for Iran Spying
Asharq Al-Awsat/Thursday, 5 July, 2018/Former Israeli government minister Gonen Segev went on trial on Thursday on charges of spying for Iran. Segev, who served as energy and infrastructure minister from 1995 to 1996, is charged with "espionage against the state of Israel, assisting the enemy in time of war and passing information with the intention of harming state security." Journalists were excluded from the hearing, which was held behind closed doors, an AFP correspondent reported. Most of the detailed charge sheet has been redacted in its published version. Segev's defense lawyers have complained that most details of the charges were under a state-imposed blackout and the little which had been released gave a misleading impression. Segev is accused of providing Iran with "information related to the energy market, security sites in Israel, buildings and officials in political and security organizations, and more.”
He is accused of traveling to Iran to meet his minders. The Shin Bet said Segev met with his operators twice in Iran, and also met with Iranian agents in hotels and apartments around the world. He was given a "secret communications system to encrypt messages" with his operators. The Shin Bet said Segev was extradited from Guinea and arrested upon arrival in Israel in May. Segev, who served in the Labor government of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin after defecting from the far right to cast the decisive vote in favor of the Oslo II agreement with the Palestinians, has previously served prison time on criminal charges. In 2004 he was charged with trying to smuggle 30,000 ecstasy pills into Israel from the Netherlands, using a diplomatic passport with a falsified expiry date. The following year he admitted the charges as part of a plea bargain agreement. He has also been convicted of attempted credit card fraud.

Iran’s 'Revolutionary Guards' Threaten to Cut Oil Supplies

Vienna, Brussels - Bouthayna Abdel-Rahman, Abdullah Mustafa/Al-Awsat/Thursday, 5 July, 2018/Iran’s Revolutionary Guards threatened on Wednesday to cut regional oil supplies following similar statements delivered by President Hassan Rouhani, who said his country is ready to prevent oil. shipments from neighboring countries if Washington presses ahead with its goal of forcing all countries to stop buying Iranian oil. Echoing Rouhani’s position, Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander Major-General Qassem Soleimani said he was ready to implement such a policy if needed.
"I kiss your (Rouhani's) hand for expressing such wise and timely comments, and I am at your service to implement any policy that serves the Islamic Republic," Soleimani, commander of foreign operations for the elite Revolutionary Guards, said in a letter published by state news agency IRNA. In a related development, Rouhani informed Director General of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Yukiya Amano that Tehran might decrease its cooperation with the UN agency. After meeting with Amano, the Iranian President said, “Iran’s nuclear activities have always been peaceful,” adding that Iran would be responsible to set the level of its cooperation with the IAEA. Referring to the US withdrawal from the JCPOA, Rouhani said those responsible for the change in Iran’s cooperation with the Energy Agency are signatories that led to this new situation. “If our nation’s rights are not met, we will make a new decision,” he added. Separately, the Belgian State Security said on Wednesday that the Iranian man detained in Belgium with his wife over a suspected plot to bomb a meeting of Iran opposition activists are believed to have been a “sleeper cell.”According to Belgian media reports, the couple, which lived in the country for years, had been installed by the regime in Tehran for conducting intelligence activities in Europe.

Retreating from threat, Iran says it does not intend to close Strait of Hormuz
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Thursday, 05 July 2018/After the Iranian president Hassan Rouhani hinted on Tuesday during his visit to Switzerland that Tehran could obstruct oil exports from neighboring countries if sanctions were imposed on Iran’s oil exports, it retreated from its threat. This followed a swift response by the spokesperson of the United States military’s Central Command on Thursday when he said that the US and its allies in the region are ready “to ensure the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce wherever international law allows.” The Central Command spokesman Navy Captain Bill Urban said in an email to Reuters that the US Navy stands ready to ensure freedom of navigation and free flow of commerce. Meanwhile, the head of the Iranian parliamentary committee for national security and foreign policy MP Hashmatullah Flahat Bisha said on Thursday that Iran cannot close the Strait of Hormuz. On the underlying threat behind Rouhani’s statement t to close the Strait, which was later backed by the commander of the Quds Force in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Qassim Soleimani, Iranian MP Bisha said that Rouhani did not mean by these words, to close the Strait of Hormuz.
He also stressed that Iran does not intend to violate international treaties, adding that “American actions against Iran is an example of Washington’s lack of respect for international treaties,” as he puts it. On Wednesday, Qasem Soleimani said in a letter to President Rouhani that the Revolutionary Guard “is ready to implement a policy that hinders regional oil exports if the United States bans Iranian oil sales.” The Strait of Hormuz is a strategic artery linking Middle East crude producers to key markets in Asia Pacific, Europe, North America and beyond.

Reacting to Iran’s threat, US Navy says will protect free flow of commerce
Reuters, LondonThursday, 5 July 2018/The US Navy stands ready to ensure freedom of navigation and free flow of commerce, a spokesman for the US military’s Central Command said on Thursday, after Iran threatened to block oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz if Washington bans its oil sales. “The US and its partners provide and promote security and stability in the region. Together, we stand ready to ensure the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce wherever international law allows,” Central Command spokesman Navy Captain Bill Urban said in an email to Reuters. Meanwhile the head of the Iranian parliamentary committee for national security and foreign policy MP Hashmatullah Flahat Bisha said on Thursday that Iran cannot close the “Strait of Hormuz.” On the understanding of Rouhani’s statement as a threat to close the strait, and was later backed by the commander of the Quds Force in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Qassim Soleimani , Iranian MP Bisha said that Rouhani did not mean by these words, to close the “Strait of Hormuz.”

Israel ex-minister goes on trial on charges of spying for Iran
AFP, JerusalemThursday, 05 July 2018/A former Israeli government minister went on trial on Thursday on charges of spying for arch-foe Iran in a case, which has been kept under tight wraps on security grounds. Gonen Segev, who served as energy and infrastructure minister from 1995 to 1996, is charged with “espionage against the state of Israel, assisting the enemy in time of war and passing information with the intention of harming state security.” Journalists were excluded from the hearing, which was held behind closed doors, an AFP correspondent reported. Most of the detailed charge sheet has been redacted in its published version. Segev’s defense lawyers have complained that most details of the charges were under a state-imposed blackout and the little which had been released gave a misleading impression. Israel charges ex-minister Gonen Segev with spying for Iran -
Image copyright Reuters Image caption Gonen Segev is charged with “assisting an enemy during a time of war” and espionage Israel has charged a former cabinet minister with spying for Iran, the Shin...
Energy information
Segev is accused of providing Iran with “information related to the energy market, security sites in Israel, buildings and officials in political and security bodies, and more” while he was living in Nigeria between 2012 and his arrest at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport in May this year.
He is accused of travelling to Iran to meet his minders. Segev, who served in the Labor government of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin after defecting from the far right to cast the decisive vote in favor of the Oslo II agreement with the Palestinians, has previously served prison time on criminal charges. In 2004 he was charged with trying to smuggle 30,000 ecstasy pills into Israel from the Netherlands, using a diplomatic passport with a falsified expiry date. The following year he admitted the charges as part of a plea bargain agreement.
He has also been convicted of attempted credit card fraud.

Gaza teen dies of wounds from Israel border clash
AFP, Gaza/Thursday, 5 July 2018/A Palestinian teen shot by Israeli forces in May during major clashes on the Gaza border died of his wounds on Wednesday, the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory said. “Mahmud al-Gharabli, 16, died after being injured in the head east of Gaza City on May 14,” ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said. Gharabli’s death brings to at least 63 the number of Palestinians killed on that day, when thousands approached the heavily guarded border fence as the United States moved its Israel embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Since the protests and clashes broke out along the Gaza border on March 30, at least 139 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire. The majority were involved in protests and clashes but others were seeking to breach or damage the border fence. No Israelis have been killed. Israel says its use of live fire is necessary to defend its borders and stop infiltrations. It accuses Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas of seeking to use the protests as cover for attacks.

Iraqis say Russian missiles killed Baghdadi’s son
AFP, Baghdad/Thursday, 5 July 2018/Russian forces killed the son of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a missile attack on a Syrian cave in which he was hiding, Iraqi intelligence said Wednesday. ISIS’s propaganda outlet Amaq said Hudhayfah al-Badri was killed in an “operation against the Nussayriyyah and the Russians at the thermal power station in Homs”, in a statement published Tuesday alongside a photo of a young man holding an assault rifle. Nussayriyyah is the term used by ISIS for the Alawite religious minority sect of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Iraq’s Falcon’s intelligence cell said Russian forces on Monday fired three missiles at a cave in Homs that held 30 “terrorist leaders” and several of Badri’s bodyguards. It said 11 people were killed in the attack. Iraq’s Falcon’s intelligence cell said Russian forces on Monday fired three missiles at a cave in Homs that held 30 “terrorist leaders” and several of Badri’s bodyguards.
Psychological propaganda
“Badri wasn’t even a fighter... he was an icon that was moved from one place to another as a form of psychological propaganda for the rest of the organization,” the Falcons said on Wednesday. The Iraqi government declared victory over ISIS in December, but the military has continued regular operations targeting mostly desert areas along the porous Syrian border. The group’s leader Baghdadi, who has been pronounced dead on several occasions, remains alive in Syrian territory by the Iraqi border, an Iraqi intelligence official said in May. Originally from Iraq, Baghdadi has been dubbed the “most wanted man on the planet” and the United States is offering a $25 million reward for his capture. On June 22, Badri escaped an Iraqi air force raid that killed two of his bodyguards, including Saud Mohammed al-Kurdi, also known as Abu Abdallah, who was married to Baghdadi’s daughter Duaa.

Assad’s bombings damage Roman theater in city mentioned by Pharaohs
Aahd al Fadhel, Al, 5 July 2018/A Roman Theater at Bosra was destroyed in part by the bombardment of the city of Daraa by the Syrian army and the Russian air force. The theater is considered one of the most famous historical and cultural landmarks in the world. Reports from various media and social media sources stated that since late June the Bosra theater has been affected by a series of bombings by the Syrian regime's army, Russian planes and the heavy cannons used by Iranian militia fighting alongside the Assad army south of Syria. According to reports from various sources, Russian fighter jets targeted the fortress of the historical theater of Basra, as well as its steps, which have suffered extensive destruction to large pieces of stone seats that had stood for nearly 14 centuries without harm. The theater of Bosra is considered the only one that is best preserved among all Roman theaters in the world.
Unique historical theater hit
The bombing targeted different areas of the unique historical theater - its western side, and the section known as the Museum of Popular Tradition. A number of Syrian archaeologists and opponents of the Assad regime have at different times appealed to UNESCO, which has listed the city of Bosra, where the theater is located as a World Heritage site, to protect this unique human heritage from the continuous destruction caused by the bombing of the Assad army, which has affected it more than once, since the Syrian regime began bombing Syrian opposition areas. Anas al-Miqdad, a Syrian archaeologist and academic, said in a press statement to Zaman al Wasl that UNESCO did not intervene to protect the city of Bosra and its theater, and that despite the messages he sent to the international organization to protect the world heritage, they never responded to his appeals.
He pointed out that the bombing by the Assad regime’s army and the Russian aircraft, not only targeted the theater of Basra and the fortress, but also Omri Mosque, the Cathedral of Bosra, and other urban areas which are of priceless historical importance.
Various media sites, through published photos, confirmed that the theater of the Bosra was partially destroyed by Russian shelling and Assad's forces last week. The importance of this place, at the level of world history, makes its partial ruin, a historical and archaeological tragedy.
Although there is no consensus among archaeologists and historians about the exact time of the construction of the Bosra theater, it is believed that it was built between 117 and 138 AD, and shortly after the death of the Nabataean king, who had taken the city of Bosra as his capital.
Royal Pharaonic archive
According to Dr. Said Al-Hajji, Archaeologist and former professor at the University of Damascus, the city was mentioned in the correspondence of “Tel el-Amarna” in 1350 BC, which was revealed in 1885 AD, and is considered a royal Pharaonic archive written in cuneiform script.
The famous Egyptologist, Dr. Zahi Hawass, wrote in Asharq Al Awsat in London on June 14, 2012 that “it is a unique royal archive dating Egyptian diplomacy during the heyday of Pharaonic Egypt.”
The Bosra theater, carved out of basalt stone, can accommodate more than 15,000 spectators in an area 850 meters above sea level. It has witnessed human settlement since the ancient Bronze Age. It was the capital of the Roman Arab region, then the capital of the Nabataeans, a path for the Arab convoys, and then the facade of the Islamic conquest that was to come later.
For the First Time, an Israeli Will Head UN Human Rights Committee
JTA/July 05/18/Israeli law professor Yuval Shany was appointed head of the committee on Tuesday. An Israeli law professor has been chosen to head the United Nations Human Rights Committee, a body of independent experts that monitors the implementation of a rights pact by member states. The appointment of Yuval Shany, the Israel Democracy Institute’s vice president of research and the Hersch Lauterpacht chair in public international law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was announced Tuesday. He is the first Israeli to head the committee, on which he has served since 2013.
Israeli law professor Yuval Shany appointed head of UN Human Rights Committee .The Human Rights Committee is different from the more well-known Human Rights Council, which is generally hostile to Israel. The United States recently withdrew from the council.
The committee, which operates under the aegis of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, is a nonpolitical body that monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by its state parties. Currently, the UN’s Human Rights Committee faces several challenges, chiefly that we live in an international climate that no longer supports human rights,” Shany said in a statement. “As head of the committee, I hope to harness its positive and apolitical influence to secure human rights for all citizens of the world.”

UK Holds Emergency Meeting on New Nerve Agent Case
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/July 05/18/Britain is holding an emergency cabinet meeting on Thursday over a couple who were left critically ill after being exposed to the same nerve agent used on a former Russian spy earlier this year. Home Secretary Sajid Javid will be chairing the talks in London, as counter-terrorism police lead an investigation into the incident in Amesbury, a village in southwest England. The village is close to the city of Salisbury, where former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found slumped on a bench on March 4 in an incident that sparked a diplomatic crisis with Russia. "The possibility that these two investigations might be linked is clearly a line of enquiry for us," said Neil Basu, head of Britain's counter-terrorism police force. Police on Wednesday said that tests at Britain's Porton Down defence laboratory had confirmed that the substance was Novichok, which Britain says is a Soviet-made military grade nerve agent. "The priority for the investigation team now is to establish how these two people have come into contact with this nerve agent," Basu said. "We have no idea what may have contained the nerve agent at this time," he said, urging members of the public not to pick anything up if they did not know what it was. The police chief said it was the same nerve agent used against the Skripals but "whether we can ever tell if it's the same batch will be up to scientists to determine". Basu said there was no evidence to suggest that the man and the woman, named locally as Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess, "were targeted in any way".
- 'Low risk' to public -Basu said there was no evidence the man and the woman had "recently visited any of the sites that were decontaminated" after the poisoning of the Skripals.
"This remains a low risk to the general public," he said. "We're satisfied that if anyone was exposed to that level of nerve agent by now they would be showing symptoms." The 44-year-old woman collapsed first and an ambulance was called at around 0915 GMT, while the 45-year-old man fell ill later and an ambulance was called at 1430 GMT to the same house in Amesbury. Police had initially assumed that the two had consumed contaminated drugs. But samples from both patients were sent to Porton Down on Monday "due to concern over the symptoms the man and woman were displaying," Basu said.
Both are still in a critical condition and are at Salisbury District Hospital -- the same facility where the Skripals were treated. Local man Sam Hobson, 29, told AFP he was a friend of the pair and said he saw the man fall ill. "He was sweating loads, dribbling, and you couldn't speak to him, he was making funny noises and he was rocking backwards and forwards," Hobson said. "It's like he was in another world."- Helplines for residents -In Salisbury, local residents said they were "shocked" that their quiet area was again hitting the headlines. "I was shocked to hear that something had happened so soon after the last contamination scare," Patrick Hillman, 70, told AFP. The Skripal poisoning "really affected business and life in general in Salisbury" in recent months, he said.  "It is a bit of a scare," said John Reid, 84. Police launched two helplines for those worried about possible contamination.
"We cannot underestimate the impact the shocking news of a second major incident in this part of our county in such a short space of time will have," Wiltshire Police Chief Constable Kier Pritchard said in a statement.
Police called for calm but also said that anyone who had visited any of the five sites that the man and the woman went to on Friday and Saturday should wash clothing worn at the time and wipe down personal items. The sites, which have now been cordoned off, are a park and a homeless hostel in Salisbury, as well as a pharmacy, a church and the house in Amesbury. - 'Such a quiet place' -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. The police said local residents should expect to see officers in protective suits at "a number of sites" in the coming days.
Skripal, 67, and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia, who was visiting from Moscow, 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.
The police said they suspected the nerve agent may have been smeared on a front door handle in liquid form. 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.

The Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on July 05-06/18
Germany: 'Decapitating' Freedom of the Press?
Stefan Frank/Gatestone Institute/July 05/18
If it was indeed the authorities' plan to censor the news and keep the information of the beheading under wraps, then it backfired. Due to the reports about the raid, thousands of people have seen the video, and hundreds of thousands have heard about the botched censorship attempt.
Hamburg's government is still trying to conceal the beheading. Among other things, they [the AfD party] wanted to know whether the child had been beheaded. The administration -- in breach of its constitutional duty -- refused to answer. It also censored the questions by blacking out whole sentences.
Why the beheading should be kept a secret is anyone's guess. What has become clear is how easily authorities in Germany can censor the news and punish bloggers who spread undesired information. They have a vast toolbox of laws at their disposal. It does not seem to bother them that the law invoked in this case stipulates explicitly that it shall not be applied to the "reporting of contemporary events."
In an apparent attempt to sweep under the rug a recent double homicide in Hamburg, Germany, authorities there censored the story. They also raided the apartments of a witness who filmed a video describing the murder, and a blogger who posted the video on YouTube.
The murder, which made headlines worldwide, occurred on the morning of April 12. The assailant, Mourtala Madou, a 33-year-old illegal immigrant from Niger, stabbed his German ex-girlfriend, identified as Sandra P., and their one-year-old daughter, Miriam, at a Hamburg subway station. The child died at the scene; her mother died later, at the hospital. The woman's three-year-old son witnessed the murders.
According to the prosecutor's office, Madou -- who initially fled the scene, but then called the police and was arrested shortly thereafter -- acted "out of anger and revenge," because the day before the incident, the court had denied him joint custody of his daughter.
It later emerged that for months Madou had been threatening to harm Sandra P. and the baby. A senior public prosecutor told reporters that the police investigated the woman's charges, but had concluded that the "threats were not meant seriously" and did not pursue the case.
Furthermore, half a year earlier, in October 2017, a judge revoked a restraining order that Sandra P. had obtained against Madou two months earlier, on the grounds that he saw "no evidence" that Madou had threatened her. That was when Madou's threats increased and he explicitly announced: "I'm going to kill our daughter, and then I kill you!"
A detail of the murders that has never officially been revealed, is that Madou apparently attempted to decapitate the baby. This detail was mentioned by a commuter -- Ghanaese citizen Daniel J., a gospel singer at an evangelical church in Hamburg -- who happened to arrive at the subway station moments after the attack and filmed the scene on his phone. In the video, police officers can be seen questioning witnesses, and paramedics are surrounding what appears to be the baby girl. Daniel J. says, in English, "Oh my God. It's unbelievable. Oh Jesus, oh Jesus, oh Jesus. They cut off the head of the baby. Oh my God. Oh Jesus."
Police question witnesses to the double-murder in Jungfernstieg subway station in Hamburg, Germany. (Image source: Daniel J./Heinrich Kordewiner video screenshot)
Heinrich Kordewiner, a blogger from Hamburg who discovered the video on Daniel J.'s Facebook page, uploaded it to YouTube.
A few days later, a team of state prosecutors and officers of the cybercrime unit of the Hamburg police arrived at Kordewiner's apartment with a search warrant, and confiscated his computer, mobile phone and other electronics, allegedly to find "evidence" of the "crime". He was -- and still is -- accused of: uploading the video.
Kordewiner and his flatmate told Gatestone about the raid, which took place at 6.45 a.m. They recounted that when they first refused to open the door, police forced it open -- and even searched the flatmate's room, although it was apparently not covered by the search warrant.
"The police officer said that he could also search for SD (secure digital) cards," the flatmate told Gatestone. "While he fumbled through the books on my shelf, he suggested that he could turn my whole apartment upside down. He told me to relax."
According to the search warrant, Kordewiner is accused of having "invaded the private sphere" of the murder victim, in breach of §201a of Germany's Criminal Code. This so-called "paparazzi paragraph" -- the legislation of which was launched by Heiko Maas (currently Germany's Foreign Minister), who as Minister of Justice was responsible for Germany's internet censorship law -- is a barely known and rarely applied law, passed in 2015. Among other things, it makes it illegal to take pictures that "display someone in a helpless situation." Supposedly aimed at protecting victims of traffic accidents from being filmed by curious onlookers, the law was already highly controversial when it was debated in 2014, and journalist associations criticized it for jeopardizing freedom of the press.
When the German parliament debated the law, one of the 10 experts invited to give their opinions on the matter was Ulf Bornemann, head of the "Hate and Incitement" department of Hamburg's public prosecution office. A former MP and member of the East German civil rights movement, Vera Lengsfeld, wrote at the time that Bornemann was the only one to embrace the law without reservations: "Why," she reported he had said, "should the data of a supposed inciter be protected?"
In a written statement, Bornemann praised the censorship law for sending "a clear political message that the administration is willing to act against hate crime in social networks." Bornemann was also part of the team that raided Kordewiner's apartment.
The stated reason for the raid -- a breach of privacy rights -- is flimsy. Only the victim's feet can be seen in the video, and even those for only a brief moment. As the daily newspaper Hamburger Abendblatt pointed out, the footage "is blurred, taken from a distance and doesn't allow the identification of any person."
Meanwhile, the German publication Welt online posted a video that shows close-up footage of the victim -- something that did not spur state prosecutors into action. The main difference between the two videos seems to be the verbal comment on the beheading in Daniel J's video. The alleged breach of "privacy rights," then, would appear to be a pretext.
The "Beheading"
"We don't comment on this rumor," state prosecutor Nana Frombach said to Gatestone when asked about the beheading. All she was willing to acknowledge was that the child had suffered "severe neck injuries." When Gatestone said that §201a could not be applied to the video in question because it did not show anybody's face, she replied that this had "yet to be decided," and that the raid was based on an "initial suspicion." Gatestone then mentioned that Kordewiner, instead of uploading the video anonymously (which would have been easy for him to do), had uploaded it to his YouTube channel, along with his full name and address, rendering the raid's stated goal of "finding evidence" not merely disproportionate but entirely unnecessary. Frombach said that she was not allowed to "comment on details of an ongoing investigation," but that she could "guarantee" that the search warrant had been "approved by a judge."
How can any journalist, under such censorship, report the news? Would it be illegal to film the scene of a terrorist attack? Frombach said that she could "not tell" whether this would still be legal in today's Germany. "I can only judge specific cases, not ones that lie in the future," she said.
The libertarian website Achse des Guten (Axis of the Good) was the first media outlet to report the raid. Two days later, the daily Hamburger Abendblatt wrote:
"Hamburg's state prosecutor rabidly prosecutes a blogger who has published pictures of the tragedy at Jungfernstieg... The raid was based on paragraph 201a, a law that the council of the press and journalist associations view as being problematic with regard to free reporting."
The Abendblatt criticized the "nebulous phrasing" of the law and the "even more nebulous interpretation by the state prosecutor," stating, "The law stipulates that no pictures of helpless persons may be taken. However, the cell phone footage does not show such persons."
According to the Abendblatt, sources "from within the security apparatus" had been "surprised" by the raids of the homes of the blogger and Daniel J. The state prosecutor who ordered the raids had been "very hot on this case," these sources said, and was "shooting out of cannons into sparrows... it is surprising how quickly the search warrant was issued, given the high obstacles we face every day, even when dealing with serious crime."
In an accompanying comment, Abendblatt editor Matthias Iken called the raid "foolish," because "it supports the conspiracy theories of right-wingers." Where, he asked, "do the prohibitions start? And where do they stop?"
In the meantime, the incriminated video has been deleted from all German websites and YouTube channels (although it can still be found on websites that are out of reach of the German authorities).
Censorship Backfired
If it was indeed the authorities' plan to censor the news and keep the information of the beheading under wraps, then it backfired. Due to the reports about the raid, thousands of people have seen the video, and hundreds of thousands have heard about the botched censorship attempt. Even worse for the would-be censors, they unwittingly revealed the very detail that they wanted to keep from the public. This is because the search warrant -- a copy of which was handed to Kordewiner -- happens to provide a detailed account of the murders. It elaborates that Madou had "wanted to punish the mother of the child" and "enforce his claim to power and ownership." With an "intent to kill," Madou "suddenly" took a "knife from the backpack he was carrying, stabbed the child in the belly and then almost completely cut through the neck."
The office of the state prosecutor is under the authority of Hamburg's state government, a coalition of Social Democrats and the Green Party. The state's Minister of Justice, Till Steffen, is a member of the Green Party and has for years been accused of being behind many scandals in his ministry. Among these are that alleged murderers repeatedly have had to be released from pre-trial detention because their trials have taken too long. In 2016, Steffen prevented police from sharing pictures of the Berlin truck terrorist, Anis Amri when he was still at large, out of fear that sharing images of jihadist terror suspects could incite racial hatred.
Censorship in Parliament
Hamburg's government is still trying to conceal the beheading. This became clear when, in May, MPs of the anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany (AfD) made a parliamentary enquiry about the police raid and details of the murder case. Among other things, they wanted to know whether the child had been beheaded. The administration -- in breach of its constitutional duty -- refused to answer. It also censored the questions by blacking out whole sentences. The newspaper Die Welt noted: "That the text of an enquiry and the questions are blackened out without consultation" is something "that almost never happens."
When Gatestone contacted Alexander Wolf, one of the MPs who made the enquiry, to find out what exactly was censored, he sent the original enquiry (the first two pages from the left) as well as the senate's answer (pages 3, 4 and 5) in which parts of the questions were censored. Every hint of a beheading that might have taken place was blacked out, as was the link to the article that first broke the news about the beheading and the subsequent police raid. Wolf told Gatestone:
"In the session of the interior committee, the Senator of the Interior and the responsible state prosecutor both replied very evasively to the repeated questions of our speaker, Dirk Nockemann, and imputed a lack of respect [for the murder victim]. In my opinion, this was designed to cause indignation against the enquirer on the part of the other MPs. Apparently, the Senator wants to sweep the issue under the rug."
The speakers of the other opposition parties were also contacted by Gatestone: Dennis Gladiator of the Christian-Democrats (CDU) and Anna von Treuenfels-Frowein of the centrist Free Democrat Party (FDP). Treuenfeld-Frowein replied:
"Of course, the public has a right to information. But for us as a party committed to the rule of law, personal rights do not end with death. We therefore consider the decision to black out parts of the enquiry to be appropriate. Right now, there is no need to make details of the crime public."
Gladiator did not respond to Gatestone's repeated requests for comment.
Why the beheading should be kept a secret is anyone's guess. What has become clear is how easily authorities in Germany can censor the news and punish bloggers who spread undesired information. They have a vast toolbox of laws at their disposal. It does not seem to bother them that the law invoked in this case stipulates explicitly that it shall not be applied to the "reporting of contemporary events." The state prosecutor, however, argues that this murder case – which was reported, among others, in France, India, Pakistan, South Africa and the United States – does not constitute such a "contemporary event."
"For Hamburg's ministry of justice," the Abendblatt wrote, "the double murder is a crime of passion that must not be of any interest to the public."
*Stefan Frank is a journalist and author based in Germany.
© 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.

A Conversation with French Writer Renaud Camus
Grégoire Canlorbe/Gatestone Institute/July 05/18
"Europe persists in expiating, or believing they are expiating, the horrors inflicted on Jews during the last war by importing onto its territory millions of people who, as soon as they are here, have nothing more urgent than to inflict horrors on Jews. Racism turned Europe into a field of ruins; anti-racism is making it a hate-filled slum. In both instances, the first victims are the Jews." — Renaud Camus.
"Europe is a sort of a great Israel, threatened from all sides. Its peoples, alas, are far from showing the same attachment to their land, the same fidelity to their membership, the same spirit of resistance, as the Israelis.... The Israelis have great lessons to give us, as do the Hungarians, the Poles, the Czechs, and now the Austrians." — Renaud Camus.
Jean Renaud Gabriel Camus, co-founder and President of the National Council of European Resistance, is a French writer known for having coined the phrase "Great replacement" -- referring to the reported colonization of Western Europe by immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East.
Grégoire Canlorbe: "Replacement" is, you say, the ideology of the world superclass.[1] Do you see in Emmanuel Macron an agent of the "world superclass"?
Renaud Camus: Ah yes: the best. This is the man from Davos. Indeed, he sets in with great strides what I call the "Direct Davocracy," the direct management of the human park by the banks, the stateless financiers, and the multinationals.
One only has to observe the systematic and hasty neutralization of the middle political stratum: the return to their homes of all the French political figures who have been in the spotlight for thirty years; a government of hangers-on; a parliamentary majority of dazed puppets; the constant reduction in the advantages of a political career.... one would not be able to enumerate all, this is never-ending. The state is being destroyed stone by stone for the benefit of major investors.
Canlorbe: The assassination of Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll [2] is a testament to the threat weighing upon every Jew in France. Is the current government deceitful when it claims to fight anti-Semitism?
Camus: I do not know if it is deceitful, probably a little...Europe persists in expiating, or believing they are expiating, the horrors inflicted on Jews during the last war by importing onto its territory millions of people, who, as soon as they are here, have nothing more urgent than to inflict horrors on Jews. Racism turned Europe into a field of ruins; anti-racism is making it a hate-filled slum. In both instances, the first victims are the Jews.
Canlorbe: You are both a founding member and the President of the National Council of European Resistance. In the face of Macron's Europe, what do you do you intend to promote?
Renaud Camus: Mass-migrants are viewed as such only from the point of view of their native compatriots. Too often, for us, by their number, by their behavior, by their growing attachment to their cultures, manners and religion of origin, they have become, with a few exceptions, invaders, conquerors, and colonizers. One is released from a colonization only with the departure of the colonizers. Algeria in its time rather sharply made that clear to the French colonizers, who had been there for much longer than the Algerians, Maghrebis or Africans who are presently here.
Canlorbe: In fighting for the survival of the European civilization (against mass migration, multiculturalism, and the Great Replacement), do you envision a convergence of struggles between Israel and Europe?
Camus: It is certain there is much in common between the situation of Israel and that of Europe, and an alliance is extremely desirable. Europe is a sort of a great Israel, threatened from all sides. Its peoples, alas, are far from showing the same attachment to their land, the same fidelity to their membership, the same spirit of resistance, as the Israelis—perhaps because they have been persuaded, precisely, that they were not a race, hardly a civilization, just an idea, this poor thing, a right, and what is worse, a right of others, a right for others, a right of the other. The Israelis have great lessons to give us, as do the Hungarians, the Poles, the Czechs, and now the Austrians.
Canlorbe: The National Front (French: Front National) of the Le Pen family is often thought of as the equivalent in France of the so-called populist wave that brought Donald Trump to power. As such, Steve Bannon, former adviser to President Trump, came to greet the militants of the FN. Is the parallel justified?
Camus: I am afraid it is not justified. Steve Bannon goes astray. It is not the National Front that must be greeted; it is the forces of resistance to colonization and to the change of people.
Revolt, rise up, unite, regroup, go down the street, seize power. Stop letting yourself be led passively into the depths, and calling the few unfortunates who try to warn you nerds or paranoids or tin-foil hat guys. Support the National Council of European Resistance.
The National Council of European Resistance (French: Conseil national de la résistance européenne, officially abbreviated as CNRE) is a France-based political organization that was founded by Renaud Camus and Karim Ouchikh on 9 November 2017. The Council is intended to bring together qualified French and European personalities, who aspire to "work for the defense of European civilization"—and for the resistance against the Great Replacement.
This conversation of Renaud Camus with Grégoire Canlorbe, Vice President of the Parti National-Libéral, took place in March 2018. This is a translation, and an abridged version. The original was published on, in April 2018.
[1] The phrase "global superclass," an expression we owe to Samuel Huntington, and which owes its popularity to the political commentator David Rothkopf (who took it over), refers to a purported transnational network of uprooted and denationalized people, whose gestation dates back at least to the beginning of the twentieth century and whose constitution accelerated with the fall of the Soviet bloc.
[2] Mireille Knoll, an elderly and disabled Jew, was raped, tortured and murdered in her apartment by a Muslim extremist on 23 March 2018.
© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Is Facebook the problem with Facebook, or is it us?
Nicholas Carr/Asharq Al-Awsat/Thursday, 05 July/18
The only thing worse than being on Facebook is not being on Facebook. That’s the one clear conclusion we can draw from the recent controversies surrounding the world’s favorite social network.
Despite the privacy violations, despite the spewing of lies and insults, despite the blistering criticism from politicians and the press, Facebook continues to suck up an inordinate amount of humanity’s time and attention. The company’s latest financial report, released after the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the #DeleteFacebook uprising, showed that the service attracted millions of new members during the year’s first quarter, and its ad sales soared. Facebook has become our Best Frenemy Forever.
In “Antisocial Media,” University of Virginia professor Siva Vaidhyanathan gives a full and rigorous accounting of Facebook’s sins. Much of the criticism will be familiar to anyone who has been following the news about the company. What distinguishes the book is Vaidhyanathan’s skill in putting the social media phenomenon into a broader context — legal, historical and political.
He explains, for instance, why our discussions of data privacy have been so arid. Because the American view of privacy has been shaped by the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of “unreasonable searches and seizures,” we tend to see privacy in narrowly legalistic terms: What we do in secret is protected from prying eyes; what we do in public is open to examination. Now that the personal information people once kept in closets and file cabinets circulates through vast corporate clouds, the old legal distinction has been erased. Everything is subject to inspection.
Lost in the legalistic view is any sense of the ethical consequences of going through life under constant surveillance. We don’t consider that being watched, parsed and classified may be antithetical to human dignity. Our blindness to privacy’s moral dimension suits Facebook and other social networks. They can address privacy concerns through arcane contractual language and endless checkboxes, reducing the subject to a matter of consumer choice. We come to see privacy as something to be traded for apps and amusements.
Vaidhyanathan’s criticism is sharp but even-handed. He debunks some of the more extreme claims about the influence of social media on public opinion. He finds little evidence to support the popular idea that online voter-manipulation schemes run by outside agents had a decisive influence on the outcome of the Brexit vote in Britain or the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
But Facebook and its ilk are nonetheless debasing politics, he argues. The messages that grab the most attention on social media are tightly targeted, highly charged appeals to emotion, not reasoned arguments. It’s no longer necessary for a candidate to offer “a general vision of government or society.” In an era of brute-force micro-messaging, partisanship trumps statesmanship, pandering trumps policymaking. Facebook is “the worst possible forum through which we could conduct our politics,” laments Vaidhyanathan. But it is the forum to which we have flocked.
The problem is compounded by Facebook’s practice of dedicating staff members to political campaigns to ensure that candidates use its data and ads in the most effective ways possible. Vaidhyanathan argues that Facebook’s “embedded” consultants played a particularly central role in crafting Donald Trump’s online advertising during the 2016 presidential race. They steered the campaign toward the kind of inflammatory, visually striking messages that stir passions and get widely shared throughout the network. Facebook profited by selling more ads, and Trump profited by attracting more votes, more volunteers and more contributions. Through this “confluence of interests,” Vaidhyanathan posits, Trump gained a considerable advantage.
“Antisocial Media” is not a hopeful book. Vaidhyanathan doesn’t think Facebook can be reformed from within, however many times CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologizes and promises to do better. “The problem with Facebook is Facebook,” he writes. It’s not just that the company makes its money by pimping its members to advertisers. It’s that the network is now so immense that it has become impossible to weed out the scoundrels and creeps until after they’ve done their damage. “Facebook,” Vaidhyanathan concludes, “is too big to tame.” The company will always be cleaning up messes, begging our forgiveness.
If “Antisocial Media” is scholarly in tone, Jaron Lanier’s “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now” is cheeky. Lanier, a computer scientist who has become one of Silicon Valley’s best-known apostates, aims to convince us that Facebook, Twitter and other such platforms are so deeply corrupt, their effects so personally and socially destructive, that we need to ditch them, and fast. “Quitting entirely is the only option for change,” he writes.
Lanier sees social media as a manipulative system that demeans everyone it ensnares. The more information about ourselves we feed into it, the better it gets at steering our thoughts and opinions. The essential business of a company like Facebook, he argues, is behavior modification. Not only does it harvest incredibly detailed data about individuals’ habits and preferences, but it also runs myriad experiments aimed at determining which messages and other stimuli are most likely to grab attention, elicit strong reactions and trigger compulsive consumption of information. Needless to say, these kinds of sophisticated techniques for psychological engineering are extremely valuable to advertisers that want to sell us goods. They’re equally valuable to political operatives, legitimate or otherwise, who want to shape our views.
Because the techniques are hidden from us — the companies treat their algorithms as trade secrets — we’re rarely conscious of the ways we’re being manipulated. As the software exerts ever more influence over what we see and how we think, we begin to lose our free will and even our sense of individuality. Unable to think for ourselves, we drift toward tribalism. Giving in to one of the more primal forces of human nature, we establish our identity by subscribing to groupthink and pillorying those with different ideas.

The Saudi Oil Gateway to Global Stability
Salman Al-dossary/Asharq Al-Awsat/Thursday, 05 July/18
Some two and a half years ago, oil prices dropped to around $28, a matter which raised panic worldwide and left everyone rushing in to save the markets from any collapse. Run down rates are not something oil producing countries or consuming countries consider favorable.
Gradually, oil rates recovered, seeing the price per barrel touch on $75.Today, despite the hike in oil rates, the very same alarm is haunting global markets once again. Oil markets function on strange and complex grounds, because they depend on a bendy commodity that is unique to itself. Soaring rates are undesirable as they could predicate a major global economic crisis, affecting not only buyers, but even producing countries. On the other hand, a steep decline stirs reluctance among exporters to invest in oil, therefore drying up the markets. Globally, there is an overwhelming consensus on oil having to be tied to fair pricing so that it balances the interests of both consumers and producers alike. Buyers do not look for a significant drop in prices, as it is harmful to them, just as much as pricey rates.  Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s top oil produces, paved the way for an unprecedented oil deal between Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and non-OPEC producers to roll back production by 1.8 million barrels a day, the measure which helped rebalance the market over the past 18 months and raised oil to around $75 a barrel, compared to $27 in 2016. Riyadh, once again, announced its willingness to step in and compensate for any shortage in market supply, for its extraordinary ability to bridge the gap dug up by countries like Venezuela and Iran. Venezuela’s capacity for oil production has been slashed by internal problems, while Iran faces inhibiting economic sanctions that will see the world market lose up to 900,000 barrels a day. Not to mention that neither Libya nor Angola’s production is stable. All of which has practically reduced global supply to about 2.8 million bpd in recent months.
Over the last three weeks, oil production has dropped daily, with half a million barrels being lost in Libyan oil, 325,000 barrels from Canada and 300,000 from Venezuela, leaving Saudi Arabia as the sole gateway to make up the gap. Saudi Arabia aims to balance the oil market, and not set a specific price for what is modernly known as black gold. The kingdom’s capacity to produce 12 million barrels per day makes it all the more integral factor in stabilizing the market.  Even as Russia and other Gulf countries increase their production rate to compensate for the shortfall, Saudi Arabia is the only country that can dispel fears of emerging countries, and ensure that oil will not register jacked up prices that the world simply cannot afford. As a leader in the oil market, Saudi Arabia has always demonstrated its skillful ability to wisely use its national stockpiles in a way which balances the oil market.
In the aftermath of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, about 5 million barrels of Iraqi and Kuwaiti oil suddenly disappeared from the market. During the invasion’s early days, prices shot up to about $26 and then to $28 per barrel, worryingly reaching $46 in October that very year. Such rates at the time were considered a disaster for global economy. However, Saudi Arabia played the largest and most important role in restoring stability to the oil market, forcing OPEC countries—despite them expressing a strong desire to exploit the situation and keep inflated prices-- to listen to reason and pump oil supplies into the market to compensate for what was missing. It personally undertook replacing about 60 percent of lost production. Surely no one can tell whether prices go up or down. Global economies may even witness a barrel standing at a $100 in the next few months, a hike in rates just as unpredictable as 2016’s staggering drop to $27 dollars a barrel.Nevertheless, some producers and buyers are capable of controlling and stabilizing markets. Undoubtedly, Saudi Arabia comes across as the most reliable country for the task, given its solid strategy to strike a balance between supply and demand, and save the world from dire economic crises brought about by a volatile oil market.

How to Shield Silicon Valley
Susan Shirk/Bloomberg View/July 05/18
President Donald Trump thankfully appears to have backed off his threat to block all Chinese investment in critical US technologies, looking instead to Congress to develop a more robust investment screening system. But the risk of this technological cold war spinning out of control, to the detriment of both countries, remains. Lawmakers must strike a balance between preserving economic openness and protecting national security, which means thinking both smaller and bigger than they seem to be doing thus far.
A bill making its way through Congress, the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act, is meant to enhance scrutiny of investments that could lead to potential foreign government control over key US technologies. An interagency body known as the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) is tasked with deciding which investments look problematic, on a case-by-case basis. Giving too much discretionary power to CFIUS is a mistake. A clearer standard is needed both to reduce uncertainty and, just as importantly, to limit the damage in this mutually destructive rivalry. The US doesn’t want to harm its own economy and make bilateral relations more hostile by excluding more Chinese investment than necessary.
To achieve that balance, legislators should adopt a “small yard, high fence” approach, to borrow a concept proposed some years ago by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates in reference to export controls. In a nutshell, CFIUS should focus on a highly detailed list of technologies that could threaten US national security, narrowly defined — the “small yard.” These might include military technologies such as advanced turbofan engines, long-range radars, high-powered lasers and solid propellant motors. Beyond this list, all foreign investors, Chinese or otherwise, should be allowed to invest in America’s technology sector.
To surround this “small yard,” Congress should erect a taller fence. It’s not enough to worry only about Chinese state-owned companies looking to invest in the US. For one thing, the Chinese government increasingly controls firms through capital investment rather than direct administrative oversight. An ostensibly private Chinese company, for instance, may have one of the myriad national or provincial innovation funds as a major shareholder. Or it may turn out to be a partial, many-times-removed subsidiary of a state-owned enterprise whose executives are appointees by the Communist Party.
With the proliferation of cross-investments, shell companies and special purpose vehicles in China, ownership has become very difficult to trace. Private companies that have trouble obtaining financing from the state-controlled banking system and stock exchanges often partner with government firms with better access to capital.
In recent years, too, the Communist Party has exerted more and more influence on corporate governance. Even companies that are under private ownership on all accounts are at the mercy of government whim. Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. Chairman Jack Ma wasn’t being facetious when he said that if the state needed his e-payments company Alipay, Alipay would belong to the state. To help evaluate these relationships, then, US regulators should keep in mind three things. First, companies investing in technologies that could threaten national security should be required to self-report ownership stakes. Direct and indirect government ownership should both be considered. A threshold equity ownership, say 20 percent, could serve as a marker for substantial government control. uld examine each company’s governance structure, regardless of ownership. Is the firm’s top executive a government appointee who holds a corresponding rank in the state hierarchy? Does the Party have a seat in the board of directors? Is the company required to submit regular business-related reports to government agencies, not just to shareholders?
Third, regulators should evaluate each firm’s commercial dependence on the state. If a company sells its products and services almost exclusively to the government, it may be deemed to be under state control even if it’s a bona fide privately owned company on all other counts.
These conditions should be spelled out as specifically as possible to prevent them from being politicized. If implemented strictly and transparently, such an approach would allow the US to ensure its security, while leaving most of its economy open as always for investment.

Haaretz: Does Iran Really Want to Nuke Israel? Is Israel Stronger Than Iran? A Top Security Expert Explains
الهآررتس: هل حقيقة ايران تريد ضرب إسرائيل ذرياً؟ وهل إسرائيل هي أقوى من إيران؟..خبير أمني مميز يشرح ويجيب
By Ravit Hecht/Haaretz/July 05/2018
Israel is closer than ever to war with Iran, warns former deputy national security adviser Eran Etzion – an exceptional voice among Israel’s security experts
On one of the days I met with Eran Etzion, an attack in Syria, which was attributed to Israel, reportedly killed more than 50 pro-Iranian militiamen. The target was on the Syria-Iraq border, further and deeper than previous attacks attributed to Israel. For the first time in our talks, which took place during the latter half of June, Etzion, former head of policy planning in the Foreign Ministry and former deputy head of the National Security Council, and one of the Israeli experts who dealt with Iran in a variety of tasks, expressed concern.
Etzion’s views represent a striking and resolute departure from the conventional wisdom of Israel’s diplomatic and security community, whose members generally toe the line asserting that the nuclear agreement signed by President Barack Obama with Iran was a “bad deal.” Instead, Etzion asserts from every platform that President Donald Trump’s brutal abandonment of the agreement is likely to draw Iran closer to a nuclear bomb and has the potential to plunge the region into war. But that’s not where the near and substantial threat lies, he says.
“The most volatile place at present is Syria, where we are already in a sort of low-intensity war, which can definitely deteriorate further, because what’s separating us from that situation is the Russians. [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is constantly harping that our goal is to remove the Iranians from all of Syria, and everyone involved is echoing him. That goal is simply not within our power, and insistence on it is liable to generate a war in what is a very unstable environment, involving Iranians, pro-Iranian militias and Hezbollah, with Turkey also meddling. The end solution will be formulated by the Russians, who boast that they are the actor who speaks to everyone, but who tell one story to the Iranians and a different one to the Israelis. The only sure thing is that the United States is withdrawing its forces. Something dramatic is happening in Syria: For the first time, there is direct military friction between Israel and Iran. There is now a higher probability than ever before of deterioration into an open war, which could take all kinds of different forms.”
Meaning what?
“Meaning that if Hezbollah enters the campaign, the destruction and devastation that will be inflicted on Tel Aviv and on other urban centers in Israel will be on a scale we’ve never before seen. And we have no way to stop it. We have a way to respond, but I don’t know who exactly it will console if Beirut is destroyed in the wake of Tel Aviv being destroyed. And if a war between Israel and Hezbollah is something we haven’t yet experienced, then a direct war between Israel and Iran is something I don’t want to imagine, though unfortunately, in the posts I held I did have to imagine it. The useful reference point is the Iran-Iraq war: Eight years and a million people killed.”
Isn’t Israel stronger than Iran?
“The question is how you measure strength. There’s a key term called ‘strategic depth,’ which the Iranians used not long ago, precisely in the context of this friction. A senior Iranian figure said that Israel should be careful, because it has no strategic depth. You really have to go to the basics and look at the geography, the demography and the history. Israel possesses military power, but Iran has tremendous geography, a population of 80 million and a history going back thousands of years. It’s a civilization. A onetime Canadian ambassador to Israel told me about a meeting that took place between a senior official from the Canadian Department of Global Affairs [its foreign ministry] and the Iranian ambassador to Canada. The Iranian ambassador enters, glances at the carpet in the room and says, ‘Iran is a Persian carpet that has been woven across 5,000 years; Canada is a speck of dust on that carpet.’
“There’s something megalomaniacal in the Iranians’ self-perception, and there’s a sense of historical deprivation. They feel that now, with the Arabs weak and the Middle East breaking apart, they have an opportunity to restore their standing. When they plan their strategic moves, their plans extend to Gibraltar. So it’s not by chance that until now, we were careful not to become entangled with Iran directly, and the smart policy is to go on being careful. I am concerned at what’s happening now, because I see a slackening in that regard.”
All in all, the Israeli public doesn’t appear to share your assessments. Many here feel that Israel is all-powerful and that nothing will happen.
“I disagree completely. If you remember, there was a day when Netanyahu announced a special security cabinet meeting [which turned out to be when he presented intelligence material seized in Iran]. In the hours that passed between that announcement and the declaration, whose import was, ‘Relax, it’s nothing,’ the amount of anxiety and the amount of rumors that circulated here reflected the healthy instinct of the public, which will tell you endlessly how good our situation is but understands very well that we are walking on thin ice.”
Stabbed in the back
Etzion, 51, whose foreign service assignments included serving as consul in San Francisco, and who was slated at one point to become be the number-two officer in the Washington embassy, but was not appointed in the end (a peculiar episode to which we’ll return), began his Foreign Ministry career in 1992, when Uri Savir, the director general, appointed him his assistant after Etzion completed the ministry’s cadets course. He’s cut from the natural cloth of the old foreign affairs and security elite, which in recent years has been under attack by the political arena. He grew up in Rehovot in a Labor Party home and did his army service in Shaldag, the air force’s elite special ops unit. The father of three children, he lives in Moshav Shoresh, west of Jerusalem. In the system, he was always known as a liberal with a left-wing orientation. At the same time, a senior source in the Foreign Ministry who knew his work points out that, “Eran always presented a number of alternatives with arguments for each possible side, whether right-wing or left-wing. He didn’t say that there was only one line to follow, but put forward options across a broad spectrum. He’s a pro.”
“He’s super-intelligent,” Uri Savir, his godfather in the Foreign Ministry, says of him. “When I conducted the negotiations on Oslo and on Syria, he was at my side, and he stood out with his brilliance and his ability to keep a secret. He’s not a yes-man, which didn’t make him popular in our governmental realms.”
None of the dozens of his erstwhile colleagues I spoke to – some of whom liked him enthusiastically, others far less so – doubted his high intelligence, his creativity and his outstanding personal character. But there were some who called him arrogant, even a “politician” and a “meddler.” A former very senior Foreign Ministry source recalled, “When I checked about him, everyone told me he was very political, that he leaked stuff. I was told: to have a person like that in your court is to have a snake in your court. I was warned that he would try to undermine me.”
You were always something of a rugged individualist in the system, right?
“Yes. Sometimes it was part of the mission and sometimes it was part of my personality, and sometimes both. I remember that on the first day of the cadets course, Channel 1 [state TV] came to do a report on us and did a short interview with me. I said something like, ‘Look, I’m here now, yes, but I won’t be here until retirement.’ That’s a mindset that others usually don’t have.”
Were you hassled because of your character or your opinions?
“I don’t like self-victimization. I’m not some poor wretch. But I will tell you a story. One day, the Foreign Ministry’s directorate brought in a management guru, someone who advises Putin, presidents, like that. One of the first questions he asked was: How do you spot an agent of change in a bureaucratic organization? It’s very simple – by the number of knives in his back. And then everyone looked at me and burst out laughing. So that’s the answer.”
During his early years in the Foreign Ministry (in about 2000, Etzion went to work for the NSC for several years, before returning to the ministry), Etzion took an active part in negotiations with the Palestinians and the Syrians. It was a period of great optimism, when ministry officials, as Etzion himself attests, were fantasizing about what the Israeli embassy building in Damascus would look like. In the Netanyahu era, the Palestinian issue gradually faded and Iran took center-stage.
“I dealt with that subject a great deal,” Etzion says, “both in the National Security Council and when I was in the Foreign Ministry. There are things I can’t talk about, but if my wife were sitting here, she would tell you how many sleepless nights I had. And not because I was in the office working. Simply from deep concern.” (Etzion is referring primarily to the 2009-2013 period, when the idea of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities was under discussion.)
What frightened you?
“I’ll explain indirectly. It’s a classic issue in which there needs to be close integration between the diplomatic and the military, and I, as a citizen and as a professional, demand that the system give expression to both elements. But the system doesn’t manifest the diplomatic side, and if it does, then it’s done in distorted, unprofessional ways. The political and the diplomatic have become intertwined. The people who deal with this think they understand the diplomatic side, but they don’t, and the public interest suffers. And these are issues of life and death. At a relatively early stage, we in the Foreign Ministry reached the conclusion that there was a high probability of an agreement between the United States and Iran. Long before anyone else said so. Moreover, others said there was no chance of that and no point talking about it. Can you imagine how frustrating it is to understand something but not to get the backing of the political side?”
The “political side” in that period included Benjamin Netanyahu and in large measure Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who pressed for an attack contrary to the opinion of the professional defense hierarchy.
Ehud Barak. Ofer Vaknin
I asked Etzion whom he held in the highest regard among the many prime ministers he’d come into contact with in the course of his different tasks. “There’s a certain difference between the while-it’s-happening and the in-retrospect,” he replied. “While it was happening, probably Ehud Barak. But the in-retrospect is different, and it relates to the way he comported himself as prime minister, but also to things I saw afterward, when he was defense minister. I have a great many fears when it comes to that man.”
What do you fear?
“His judgment. There’s something of a touch of megalomania there.”
Do you say that in the wake of the pressure he exerted for an attack on Iran?
“Yes. I saw him in decision-making meetings. He’s always the smartest person in the room, he always knows that and behaves accordingly, and that’s also the way people behave with him. Including Netanyahu. After a few decades of being treated like that, apparently it does something.”
There’s a consensus in Israel, thanks mainly to Netanyahu, that the nuclear agreement is bad.
“The agreement, in my view, as is the view of the overwhelming majority of experts on the subject, is not bad. Netanyahu labeled it a bad agreement and launched a war around the headline, ‘Better no agreement than a bad agreement.’ But the good agreement, in which Iran abandons its entire nuclear capability and closes all its nuclear studies faculties, etc., just doesn’t exist.”
Does Iran really want to annihilate us, as we are told?
“That’s more a political slogan. They know they can’t, so to think that there is actually an Iranian strategy to destroy Israel is not to give them credit. There are some there who have adopted this rhetoric, but the prevailing opinion among many experts is that even if the Iranians succeed in developing or obtaining a nuclear weapon, there is faint prospect that they will target Israel specifically. In fact, like most of the regimes who aspire to nuclear arms, they have no intention of targeting anyone. They aren’t out to commit suicide.”
What about the other things that don’t appear in the agreement, such as Iranian aggression in the region and funding terrorism?
“There are a number of elements to consider in regard to the Iranian issue. There is the nuclear element and the terror element and there is the element of regional subversion; there’s the element of the missiles and the element of the ideology-theology. There was a theory to the effect that it was possible and right to face up to the Iranians on a broad front and try to conduct negotiations with them. That was known as the ‘grand bargain,’ in which we would bring in all those issues and reach an agreement, in the framework of which we give a bill of legitimacy to the Iranian regime. [The logic of that approach was that] the Iranians’ great fear all these years, and justly so from their viewpoint, is regime change. They already have experience with that, and they’re right.”
Then why does the agreement lack all those issues?
“The idea of the ‘grand bargain’ came up back in the early stages of the European negotiations with the Iranians, in 2003, but at the critical junctures, where it might have been possible to take that direction, both the Israelis and the Americans said no. They said that of all those issues there’s one that is truly critical, which is the nuclear issue, and all the rest can wait.”
Which Israelis?
“Both Netanyahu and other people from within the system. In itself, that’s a reasonable approach. But the problem with it is that after you do what you want, you can’t do an about-face and say, how about the missiles and how about the terrorism, and why aren’t they in the agreement?”
In other words, the 12 demands that [U.S. Secretary of State] Mike Pompeo made of Iran with Netanyahu’s vigorous backing, which include that range of issues, are the wisdom of hindsight?
“That’s putting it kindly. It’s a lie. It was originally meant to screw up Obama, when it was clear that he was going for an agreement. And then all the arguments are valid, and the hell with history. Actually, I have a problem with Israeli leaders, both Netanyahu and other prime ministers, who are critical of the Americans’ negotiating skills. Who exactly is the Israeli prime minister or Israeli foreign minister or Israeli defense minister who can boast of an achievement in negotiations? Not one. Not Ehud Barak and not Ehud Olmert and certainly not Netanyahu, who was and remains poor at conducting negotiations. At Wye River Plantation, in his first term [in 1998], he reached agreements and then returned to Israel, panicked in the face of the right wing, and recanted. And during the Obama period, he conducted negotiations with Hillary Clinton. She pressed him to declare a temporary settlement freeze in return for a pretty insane promise [from the American point of view] of another squadron of F-35s. At first he told her yes, and then returned to Israel and backtracked again, because he was afraid of his [electoral] base. That happened again not long ago with the United Nations plan regarding the asylum seekers. In short, in negotiations, he’s a catastrophe. But he and others have no problem criticizing the Americans’ negotiating skills.”
Etzion, who crossed paths with Netanyahu in several of the posts he held, can be highly complimentary in describing his talents (“He’s very sharp, extremely knowledgeable, I also saw how he gradually gained confidence over the years”). However, as he also says he took part in the demonstrations in Petah Tikva, urging the attorney general to indict the prime minister, and now holds quite negative views about the system of the rule of law in Israel and the way the investigative cases against Netanyahu have been handled, it’s hard to label him a fan of the prime minister.
“My first experience with Netanyahu was not a good one,” he recalls. “We met when he was finance minister and I was in the National Security Council. We went to him – myself and another senior NSC official – and he’s sitting there with his feet up and with a cigar, and the whole discussion was like, ‘Okay, how much do you need? Two million? Three million? You’ve got it.’ I don’t think he’s the only one who behaves like that, but it wasn’t especially pleasant.
“But what struck me most forcefully about Netanyahu happened in 2011, with the story of the social protest. I went to demonstrate on Saturday evenings, and then I would go to security cabinet meetings and see the effect it had had on him. It simply undermined his sense of being in control. Completely threw him for a loop. And then he started to come up with all kinds of conspiracy theories – that it’s financed and organized – because, after all, there’s no way there could be a civil protest against him. And then he did all the things he did to crush it. Suddenly I understood how little congruence there is between the decision-making process and the public interest and the public will. The two just don’t converge.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Eliyahu Hershkovitz
What’s his vision, according to your impression? What does he want?
“I’ll tell you what I think his legacy is, as distinct from his vision. The first thing is the burial of the Oslo accords and the removal of the idea of a Palestinian state from the agenda – which he has in large measure accomplished. The second thing is the replacement of the ‘elites,’ which is also progressing well. And the third thing is the Iranian issue, where he really had incredible luck with Trump. Without Trump, his legacy would be one of a serious failure, from his point of view.”
To Etzion’s credit, it can be said that he’s consistent in his lack of esteem for Israel’s political echelon, and is unsparing in his criticism of all the prime ministers he’s come in contact with. Who was the most problematic of all, in his view? “With regard to Olmert, it’s easy for me to say that I had reservations about him in real time and also in retrospect. He always seemed to me to be too full of himself and not really attentive, quite smug.”
Who was the most cooperative, or the most attentive?
“No one was cooperative and attentive. That’s part of the problem. Because the system doesn’t support cooperativeness and attentiveness. Many times the discussion is just for the record and it’s often a platform for personal or organizational ego fights – army-NSC-Mossad-Shin Bet – and it almost never reaches the level of strategy or policy.”
So in which forum are decisions made?
“Between the prime minister and one or two people who have his trust. Let’s say, with [Ariel] Sharon, it was [attorney Dov] Weissglas. With Olmert, it was Turbo [attorney Yoram Turbowicz, his chief of staff]. With Netanyahu, it’s an interesting question, but I don’t think there’s a specific person today. The prime minister convenes the security cabinet when they already know what the outcome will be. There are also all kinds of forums that prime ministers convene so they can choose who participates and who doesn’t. It’s generally called a ‘security consultation,’ which is usually a code for ‘Let’s talk about diplomatic-policy issues without the Foreign Ministry being present.’”
“Because they don’t want the Foreign Ministry. They don’t trust it. It’s considered an organization that doesn’t really have anything to contribute to the discussion. The diplomatic realm has effectively been expropriated from the Foreign Ministry in favor of others. The prime minister increasingly carries out diplomatic activity by himself, through what’s known as the Political-Military Affairs Bureau in the Defense Ministry, which has taken control of Israel’s relations with Jordan. The Mossad, which was always somehow in the state’s gray region, now feels more comfortable about entering that realm. Besides that, the Foreign Ministry isn’t trusted not to leak things, it has the image of leaking material – which is in large measure unjustified – and the image of being a left-wing bastion.”
Justly so?
“As with every perception, there’s a grain of truth here, but in the end the professional ethos in the Foreign Ministry is stronger than any tendency. Moderation and statesmanship are translated directly as leftism. I see a steady trend over the years: When the alternatives are between preparing for the next war as though it’s inevitable, and trying to prevent it, including by paying a price and through diplomatic mechanisms and agreements, the default of Israel’s governments across the generations has been to go to war, because it’s a lot cheaper politically. Many times we wage the campaign, pay its price, including victims, and arrive at something that could have been achieved without the bloodshed. That’s true of the Gaza Strip campaigns, with the understandings we reach with Hamas and deny every time we reach them, even though we have reached them. And it’s also true today in Lebanon against Hezbollah, and it’s also true for the offensive line against Iran – though I agree that that’s a far more complicated and complex case. On every front, there’s an agreement we could have entered into but didn’t want to.”
What agreement could be made?
“In Gaza there’s the hudna or the tahadiyeh [traditional Muslim concepts of short- and long-term cease-fire or truce]. In Lebanon, for example, there were periods when Israel demanded that Hezbollah disarm completely as a condition for any agreement, which of course is not going to happen. What is possible, for example, is for Hezbollah to be integrated into the Lebanese army, with its capabilities and political responsibility. In that case, a state army will be formed, not a militia. And we will be able to sign an agreement with that state, with all that this implies. There’s a certain risk involved, but on the other hand, it can help prevent a disaster. In order to try these things you need to have statesmen around the table and you need creativity and you need readiness, and at the very least a genuine discussion – but there’s none of that.”
But people will say to you that we left southern Lebanon and got 100,000 Hezbollah missiles aimed at our soft underbelly; we left Gaza and got ‘Hamastan,’ which is making the lives of the nearby Israeli communities miserable.
“But that’s the difference between unilateral moves and agreements. I remember that when I was in the NSC during the period of the disengagement [from Gaza, in 2005], Sharon called in [NSC head Maj. Gen.] Giora Eiland and said, ‘Listen, I’ve decided that I’m getting out, now tell me how.’ We carried out an unprecedented process, a classic example of policy planning. We sat, we constructed alternatives. In the end we recommended going for an agreement and under no circumstances to leave unilaterally. But Sharon didn’t want to listen. At the suggestion of his advisers, he acted contrary to the recommendation. He feared a precedent of admitting to a withdrawal to the 1967 lines and the implications of that for the West Bank. And for that we are paying a price to this day.”
Whitewashing Trump
Etzion is one of those figures whose American counterparts President Trump is now shooting down (only metaphorically so far). Knowledgeability, judgment and rationality are assets that are rapidly losing value globally in the Trump era. “I speak today with people in the U.S. State Department or in organizations such as the FBI and the CIA. Trump is simply destroying those institutions systematically and violently. People are being kicked our or being made to leave. There are many slots for ambassadors and senior appointees in the State Department that Trump is leaving unfilled.”
Most Israelis believe that Trump is a good president for us.
“Israel is apparently the only country in which Trump could be reelected. That says something sad about us, and it says something sad about the degree to which the government controls the dialogue in Israel. Trump is being whitewashed here in the same measure that Obama was besmirched. Netanyahu and people like Sheldon Adelson wielded very great influence on Trump, and you could see that even before the election.”
Was Obama a better president for Israel?
“I think he was, but in order to define that you have to ask what Israel is. He was bad for the Netanyahu government, but in my opinion the Netanyahu government doesn’t reflect the Israeli interest. As I see it, Obama’s path – to deal first with the Palestinians and then form a coalition against Iran – is more correct for the Israeli interest. And Obama wasn’t the only one who thought so. My counterpart in the Republican [George W.] Bush administration told me that in the transition period between administrations, Condoleezza Rice told Hillary Clinton: Don’t count on the Gulf states at the expense of the Palestinians, don’t make that mistake. And today Trump and Netanyahu are doing just that.”
Maybe Trump understands something that you and your colleagues, with all your forecasts, papers and talk, don’t understand?
“Trump is marketing himself as a dealmaker, but he’s never made any deal. Either he breaks something that exists, or he comes up with some proposal, but in any case it’s not a negotiating process. What was the transfer of the embassy to Jerusalem, for example? At one stage Trump seemingly tried to tell Netanyahu, ‘I’ll exact the price from you,’ but it doesn’t look to me as if he’s going to exact any price at all, certainly not anything that was agreed upon in advance. He is unilateral and anecdotal – he touches something and goes on to the next thing.”
He won’t get back to Iran? He withdrew from the agreement and that’s that?
“He won’t get back. It’s done. Unless he absolutely has to: If Iran really does acquire the bomb and a dilemma arises of what must be done. He talked to North Korea, and that too was only a grazing [on the topic], and I absolutely don’t believe his dumb declaration that the North Korean threat has been removed, because they won’t denuclearize, as has been confirmed by intelligence estimates made public recently. And then he will put forward a diplomatic initiative on the Palestinian issue and will drop that, too. I’m sure that Netanyahu, too, knows that there is no stability in Trump’s policy.”
But around Trump you see quite serious and consistent people who are leaving their mark – conservative Republican hawks, of the Netanyahu type.
“There’s a difference between Trump, who of course doesn’t have a systematic doctrine but has instincts, and John Bolton, for example, the national security adviser. Bolton is a hawk of the old school, in the sense of American global domination. In that sense, Netanyahu is more Bolton. In the end, they are engaged in doing a reduction of Netanyahu’s policy; Netanyahu wants the United States to do the work for us.”
Meaning to attack Iran?
“Yes. And the same is true regarding Syria and the Palestinians.”
And is that likely to happen, do you think?
“No, because the time frames in which Iran thinks, plans and acts are far longer. I think that the Iranian assessment is that the regime in the United States will change long before the regime in Iran. And the minute Trump goes, a new game will begin. And they have patience. I think that in the end some sort of balance will be reached that will not include either an attack on the nuclear facilities, or the production by the Iranians of a bomb. The Iranians are too smart for such a dumb move.”
Change of plan
As he himself predicted, Etzion did not remain in the Foreign Ministry until retirement age. In fact, the episode of his surprising departure, at the end of 2013, is one of the more mysterious episodes in the ministry’s recent history. Etzion was about to become the number-two in the Israel Embassy in Washington. According to sources in the Foreign Ministry, his children were already registered in schools there and he had even chosen a house. But then everything was canceled and Etzion disappeared from the Foreign Ministry.
It’s very difficult to arrive at the truth in this peculiar episode, not least because according to many sources, an agreement was signed between the sides requiring Etzion’s silence on the subject in return for not having measures taken against him (an agreement whose existence Etzion and the Foreign Ministry neither confirm nor deny). Among senior officials in the Foreign Ministry, various explanations have made the rounds, and what they have in common is suspicion of a leak by Etzion.
The Etzion incident occurred against the background of a previous storm in the Foreign Ministry, in which two senior officials were accused (in 2009-2011) of having confirmed to a journalist the existence of a joint U.S.-Israel body for blocking Iran’s nuclear project. In that episode, Alon Bar, the deputy director general for strategic affairs, was subjected to a disciplinary hearing, but the Shin Bet investigation in his case found that he did not provide any classified information and did not harm state security; he was later appointed Israel’s ambassador to Spain. Dan Arbel, a highly regarded diplomat in the ministry, was removed as the charge d’affaires in Washington and was reprimanded in a disciplinary hearing, even though the investigation into his case also turned up no criminal findings attesting to either intentional or unintentional harm to state security.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Marc Israel Sellem
Most of those who were involved in that episode continue to point a finger at the then-foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, as being instrumental in the injustice done to two esteemed diplomats. One of the former Foreign Ministry directors general with whom I spoke did not wish – like the rest of his colleagues – to comment on the subject, but remarked, “The only thing I can say is that it’s very possible that Eran Etzion himself was a victim of the great anxiety about leaks that then reigned in the ministry.”
“Eran is an amazing person – smart, high-quality and judicious,” says Giora Eiland, who brought him into the NSC. “I don’t know the specifics of that incident, but it’s hard for me to believe that he did anything that could be termed as bad for Israel.”
Eran, what happened there?
“I am prohibited [from saying]. I’d be happy to, but I can’t.”
Were you wronged?
Eran Etzion, a former Israeli deputy national security adviser. Tomer Appelbaum
“I don’t want to put myself in that position. I am not a victim.”
It’s not a question of victimhood. When you were taken off the plane, as it were, on the way to a coveted post, were you wronged?
“I don’t know how to answer that. To begin with, I’m obviously not objective. I said at the time that it wasn’t unconnected with processes being undergone by the Israeli society.”
Were you framed for leaking?
“I wouldn’t put it like that, and what was reported on the subject is incorrect. There’s no question of a leak here. But what there is, I am not allowed to say. A great many things came together for me in that episode, and I said I’ll take early retirement, things have run their course and that’s it.”
Did you have a personal dispute with Lieberman, the dominant minister in your final years there?
“I can tell you a story. In fact, two episodes that come to mind. In the first episode, Aharon Abramovich, a wonderful person who was the director general [of the ministry], asked me, as part of the briefings for the incoming minister, to do a presentation on Iran. I had this secret laptop, with a presentation on the Iranian issue. Everything you wanted to know but were afraid to ask. We take our seats in the room, a very small forum, and Abramovich says, Eran will make the presentation. Then Lieberman asks, What do you have here? So I say, It’s the complete mapping of all the possible scenarios on the Iranian issue. And then he says, Not interesting. And that was the end of the meeting. Now, that is a sort of signal, of a message.
“A few weeks later, he reconvenes the small forum of senior Foreign Ministry officials, in a hotel in Mamilla [adjacent to the Old City in Jerusalem]. And then Lieberman says to us: Tell me what Israel’s interest is with regard to Egypt. And I, as the outstanding apprentice who came from the NSC, raise my hand and say, ‘Preserving the peace agreement.... ’ And Lieberman goes into a fit of laughter and says to me, ‘Boy, oh boy, what a leftist you are.’ And all my friends laugh with him. So you understand that you have a choice: Either you conform or you’re tossed to the sidelines. I received the appointment of the charge d’affaires in Washington after I tried to get an ambassadorial post in all kinds of places and was torpedoed each time. And they even tried to torpedo the Washington posting.”
Who are they – Lieberman and Netanyahu?
“I don’t want you to write that.”
From the office of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the following response was received: “We would expect from Mr. Eran Etzion to make it clear under what circumstances, against which background and why he was forced to resign from the Foreign Ministry and only then to hurl mud in every direction. To remove all doubt, we shall emphasize that Etzion was forced to leave the Foreign Ministry in a period in which Lieberman was an MK and the chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and was not serving as foreign minister.” (Lieberman is referring to the months in which he suspended himself from the position of foreign minister in the wake of his 2013 trial – and subsequent acquittal – on charges of fraud and breach of trust, in the "ambassador affair.")
From Prime Minister Netanyahu office, Haaretz received this response: “Eran Etzion attests of himself that he went to demonstrate against the government at a time when he held a senior government post in the Foreign Ministry and in the NSC. To demonstrate against yourself? That says it all about his mendacious and unfounded allegations, which are totally unrelated to reality. It’s regrettable that officials who find themselves inactive outside the system, after not having been found worthy for promotion, are quick to hurl lying garbage with the aim of scrounging a media interview.”
Etzion is currently active in a number of strategic forums and organizations, and provides consultation and training services to various governmental bodies. When I ask him which governmental bodies he works with, he declines to say, because some of them unabashedly want to play down the connection with him because of his left-wing image. He is also involved in a democratic-promotion initiative, about which he doesn’t want to divulge details at this time, but which in his view will reflect the big bang that is already occurring in the political system worldwide.
“I think there is a substantive problem in the political system, not only in Israel but globally,” he says. “The mechanism of representation is broken – they no longer represent us but other things. It sounds trivial, but I saw it up-close. There are two possible answers to the problem. One is to move in the direction of authoritarian leaders of the Trump, Erdogan and Netanyahu type. The other side of the spectrum is citizens who say: We understand that the system doesn’t represent us, but we are not willing to give them that power, we want to take it for ourselves. I think that, in the big picture, we have to reinvent democracy.”
Ravit Hecht/Haaretz Contributor

The prophecy of Rami Makhlouf

Hazem al-Amin/Al Arabiya/July 05/18
Israel has accepted the Syrian army’s entrance into Daraa. This happened via a Russian-Syrian agreement with the approval of the United States! What hasn’t been announced is that the Moscow-sponsored agreement included Russian guarantees that Iranians and their loyal militias, including the Lebanese Hezbollah, would stay away from Syrian-Israeli borders. Observers believe it is very likely that the Russians have guaranteed the exit of Iranians from all the regions in the south of Syria. The Syrian regime's army advancement towards Daraa to the border with Jordan and Israel couldn’t have happened without the approval of Israel. Only a month ago, the advancement of this army would mean to Tel Aviv the advancement of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which was impossible to occur. All of a sudden, the daily Israeli assaults stopped and the Syrian regime’s army started its advancement. It’s a very clear scenario and there is no doubt regarding the guarantees that have been presented to Israel. Of course, the first victim of this agreement is the armed Syrian opposition factions in southern Syria, as all the forces surrounding them have conspired against them. Once again, these factions pay a high price that reaches the point of extracting them from the equation and turning them into a small figure in the hands of regional powers that they had relied on. Tehran has achieved its goal of expanding in Syria and moving away from the border with Israel is part of a deal that keeps its dominance over Damascus
One incident
However, there is one incident that has lost its status in our Syria-related memory. In early 2011, during the first year of protests in Syria, late New York Times correspondent Anthony Shadid interviewed Bashar al-Assad’s cousin, Syrian businessman Rami Makhlouf who said: “If there is no stability here, there’s no way there will be stability in Israel. No way, and nobody can guarantee what will happen after, God forbid, anything happens to this regime.” The same day, the press loyal to the regime launched an attack on Makhlouf. It’s probable that the “transparency” of the man was why he was reprimanded by the regime. But what is happening today is one of the chapters that Makhlouf had “prophesized.” In the framework of the collapse of the regime’s defenses, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and its militias came to Syria to protect the regime. The Revolutionary Guard, backed by the arsenal of the resistance, acknowledges that protecting the regime can only be secured through launching regional war horns that raise fear worldwide. The regime realizes that the world’s fear for Israel is stronger than its aspirations to support the Syrian uprising against it. In light of this information, the Revolutionary Guard and its militias approached the border with Israel, and the latter launched daily raids on their positions. These raids were the start of an all-out war. The Russians allowed Israeli aircraft to bomb Iranian positions daily through Syrian airspace without any reaction from Tehran and its allies until it was time for the deal as the Iranians’ point of coming so close to the borders has never had anything to do with launching a war with Tel Aviv.
As for Israel, it is not interested in the future of the regime if the latter does not respect its conditions of not coming close to the borders, as such it is prone to give the regime a lease of life if it secures its borders as it has done for 40 years in the Golan Heights. Tehran has achieved its goal of expanding in Syria. Moving away from the border with Israel is part of a deal that keeps its dominance in Damascus, far away from these borders. “The liberation of Palestine”can wait for centuries as long as there are sectarian chains that have been secured by the conflict with the "enemy.”Rami Makhlouf’s prophecy has come true in the literal sense of the word. The resistance has excelled in using Palestine to protect tyrannical blood thirsty regimes again. And once again, the forces of civil war, called the “Syrian opposition factions,” revealed that they were nothing more than a small tool in the hands of regional and international operators who do not take the Syrian interest into consideration. Tel Aviv has secured its borders, Tehran has received a sectarian payout, Moscow has promoted the crooked deal, and the regime's army has advanced to Daraa. Rami Makhlouf did not lie when he said what he said.

How China built strategic alliances with Iran and Turkey
Shehab Al-Makahleh/Al Arabiya/July 05/18
Thanks to war in Syria, which turned Turkey from the state of rivalry to Iran to be a friend not only to Tehran and Beijing but also to Moscow, playing a pivotal Middle Eastern role.
To diagnose how Turkish-Iranian ties affect Turkish-Chinese and Iranian-Chinese relations, due attention should be given to the strategic cooperation amongst the three. Turkish-Chinese diplomatic relations were established more than four decades ago.Diplomatic relations between China and Turkey were established on August 4, 1971. The two countries have worked on strengthening bilateral relations as announced in October 2010 in the Turkish capital Ankara. In March 2013, China announced it had bid to build Turkey’s second nuclear power plant, estimated at $20-24 billion. In October 2013, a Chinese company won a Turkish military tender for the purchase of a long-range missile system, the first time China has sold missiles to a NATO member state. What is Turkey seeking to achieve with China? Turkey has traditionally sympathized with the Uygurs’ demands, inter alia, for race, religion and cultural roots. In July 2009, a crisis broke out between China and Turkey due to the deaths and injuries of the Uygurs in clashes with some Chinese extremists. Turkey demanded that the matter be presented to the Security Council, which China rejected, describing it as interfering in other country’s “internal affair.”
Since then, Turkey and China sought to strengthen their bilateral relations as Ankara realized that due to the Syrian issue and terrorism in Iraq, oil and gas supplies will be badly affected, having huge impact on Turkish industries. Thus, Turkey planned to benefit from the economic strength and industrial and technological progress of China in all fields. On the other hand, China would like to take advantage of Turkey’s active regional and international role in various issues, mainly at the Gulf level and of Turkey’s strong relations with neighboring Central Asian countries. On the other hand, with the election of Chinese president, Xi Jinping, in March 2013, the new leadership of China has been expected to give further impetus to efforts to strengthen the strategic partnership between the two countries. Although Turkey has been a member of the NATO since 1952, this has not prevented the development of Turkish relations with China
Strategic cooperation
China’s foremost foreign policy in the Middle East was non-interference in domestic affairs of other sovereign states. This justifies why China focused on business and trade relations with other countries, mainly in the Middle East region by establishing cordial ties without any bid of interventionism. However, through its allies such as Iran and Turkey, China started having a bigger influence at economic, political and military levels, chiefly Iran and Turkey: Iran as an arm to the Gulf and Africa, and Turkey as another arm to southern Europe and Central Asia. Although Turkey has been a member of the NATO since 1952, this has not prevented the development of Turkish relations with China. During the visit of the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to Ankara in October 2010, China and Turkey issued a statement on the establishment of strategic cooperative relations between them where Wen met with then Turkish President Abdullah Gul. The two sides voiced readiness to boost economic and trade cooperation, enhance trade exchanges between the two countries and to promote joint ventures in the fields of energy, education, culture, sports, tourism, media, security and national defense. At that time, Iran was in very good ties with both countries and every accord was welcomed by Tehran as this helps nourish the Iranian economy through trade activities between China and Turkey via Iran to bail out the sanctioned Iranian economy. In the economic sphere, the two countries agreed to increase their annual trade volume to $50 billion by 2015 and $100 billion by 2020. Some of these deals benefited the Iranian economy indirectly through pro-Iran businessmen based in Turkey.
Nuclear cooperation
When Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the then prime minister, visited China in 2012, the first by a Turkish premier to China in 27 years, he discussed with his Chinese counterparts the Iranian nuclear activities and other regional issues of concern to both Ankara and Beijing.
What was remarkable on that visit is the nuclear cooperation agreement signed between China and Turkey. In March 2013, China announced it had tendered a bid to build Turkey’s second nuclear power plant.
Military cooperation
Military experts point out that the beginning of military relations between China and Turkey dates back to 1973 when Ankara appointed Ismael Gurgen as a military attaché in Beijing. This history was significant. In the course of deterioration of Israeli-Turkish relations due to war on Gaza in 2008, Washington refrained from participating in air force drills in the absence of Israel. The Turkish Air Force conducted joint exercises with the Chinese in 2010 in which Washington expressed concern.
Missile deal
The recent military cooperation between China and Turkey has attracted attention. In October 2013, China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation (SPMIEC) won a $4 billion Turkish military tender, the first time China has sold missiles to a NATO member state. The deal is a long-range FD-2000 long range air defense missile system. China won the deal to compete with the United States, France, Italy, Germany and Russia, the main arms importers to Turkish army. The deal raised objections from the US as the S-400 is raising many questions on the relationship between Turkey and the other NATO members.
Washington has informed Ankara that this has been a surprise from a NATO member to choose the deal with a Chinese company that has been subject to US sanctions for being accused of violating the Non-Proliferation Treaty with both Iran and North Korea and to give consent to the deal with Russia for the S-400 which is also under sanctions. According to military experts, the importance of Turkey’s new missile system is that for the first time Turkey will have a long-range defense system, even though it has been a NATO member since 1952. In addition to the fact that Turkey preferred Chinese missiles to American and Western weapons, these Chinese missiles cannot be operated within the NATO defense system or within the collective framework of military cooperation with Western countries. This makes it hard to orchestrate a defense system for the NATO with Turkey.
Turkish support for Uygurs
The points of disagreement between China and Turkey on some issues, a difference of views and dissimilarities in the management of some files, does not reach the stage of hostility or affect the course of good relations between the two countries. We recall that among the most prominent of these issues is the Turkish support for the Uygurs in China. Turkey sympathizes with Muslims of the Xinjiang region in northwestern China, especially the Uygurs, who reside in East Turkistan (about 1.828 million square kilometers). This explains why China has opened channels with the Turkish government to contain the Muslims in China as 90 per cent of them have Turkish roots. Chinese-Turkish cooperation and Chinese-Iranian collaboration stem from reports that 10,000 to 20,000 Uygur militants are living in Idlib province in Syria fighting in the ranks of the Ahrar al-Sham. China is concerned about their return to China as they would be a high security threat. Thus, China is coordinating with both Turkey and Iran as well as Russia to prevent these Chinese militants from returning back home as they are dangerous extremists.

FIFA World Cup: Honor of the game vs politics of the day
Walid Jawad/Al Arabiya/July 05/18
Which team do you cheer for when your national team isn’t a contender in the FIFA World Cup? Each game is different, yet I find myself excited for Samba dancing on the pitch.
The Brazilian team has been able to capture the imagination of football/soccer fans over consecutive World Cups; a constellation of star players lead by a legendary playmaker.
Though this week in its match against Mexico, I was cheering for Mexico to pass through to the quarterfinals. It was not about how the team played, although they did exceptionally well in the first half, it was because of geopolitical reasons.
Viva Mexico
The political climate between the US and Mexico has been increasingly precarious; NAFTA, tariffs/trade war, illegal immigration, human trafficking, and drug smuggling across the 2000 mile border taint the otherwise beneficial economic relation both countries enjoy.
According to the Wilson Center, the border economy amounts to $3.8 trillion annually. The disparity of the $20 trillion economy to that of Mexico’s $1 trillion translates to GDP per capita of $8,200 for Mexico compared to the $57,500. While the numbers tell a story of potential dependency, the real story is of interdependency. Legal and illegal Mexican immigrants have been willing to do jobs fewer and fewer Americans are willing to do. The American economy wouldn’t function as it does without their willingness to overcome all of the obstacles the US puts in their way. In a way, these workers are paying for the opportunity cost that Americans are not willing to bear, freeing them to pursue higher education, more technical jobs, and higher pay. The US should be thankful to them by facilitating an easier way for them to be here instead of erecting more border walls. Those who are out of options will continue to risk their lives to cross where it is impassible. Since 2009, more than 580 miles out of the almost 2,000-mile border has had a barrier. It is troubling when the politics of the day colors the sport, but it is the reality of the game
Cultural influences
In addition to the gratitude they are owed for picking up the slack for Americans, Mexicans are spicing up America with their cultural influences. You notice the “Spanish” influence on TV and in movies, but that influence is much more prevalent in daily life in metropolitan areas and border states. Although the Spanish speaking population includes other nationalities, Mexicans are the archetypal representative for most people south of the border. Personally, walking in Washington, DC metropolitan area I hear Spanish spoken more than any other language after English (and these days Russian and Arabic come third and fourth). This influence is embraced by all social strata including a weekly reminder at the prestigious National Press Club as they hold a Friday Taco night to socialize over the quintessential Mexican food.
History of football
Football is a political game when and if governments choose to utilize it for their own ends. An opportunity to extend an olive branch in a grand gesture on the global stage, like the 1998 Iran-US game where flowers were extended. Or it can ignite war as it did in 1969 between El-Salvador and Honduras. The Football War, as it was called, is an extreme example of a rivalry turned into an actual war between neighboring countries. This 100-hour war saw the El-Salvadoran army invading Honduras after the last of the three matches resulting in El-Salvador qualifying to the 1970 World Cup and bloodshed in the stands.
The game itself didn’t cause the war, but it was the catalyst for military action as the rising tensions between the two neighbors over land resources, and immigration disputes reached a crescendo. Other times, the World Cup stage was used to assert ideological posturing. Benito Mussolini showcased Fascism as Italy hosted the 1934 World Cup. Mussolini dubbed the tournament as Coppa Del Duce (Cup of the leader) after himself and fashioned a special cup to replace the official Jules Rimet World Cup at that time. The Italian national team won the championship that year amidst swirling accusation of game fixing.
It also offered players an opportunity to take a political stance. During their county’s war for independence, in 1958, a group of Algerian football players were called to play for the French national team in the World Cup held in Sweden that year. Forgoing the opportunity, they ran away escaping the French authority. They refused to end up on the wrong side of their nation’s history.
Cheering the Home Team
I don’t know about you, but I sympathize with host nations, mostly because of the proud fans. That tendency is still there, but I am unable to embrace the Russian team fully. You might dismiss my feeling because my Saudi squad lost in a humiliating fashion to the host team in the opener, but you would only be half-right. The other half of my discontent is Russia’s continued global bullying; from Karamea, Syria’s Assad, Hezbollah, and Iran to Moscow’s interference in the 2016 US presidential elections. It is troubling when the politics of the day colors the sport, but it is the reality of the game. Although the next World Cup to be held in Qatar 2022 is four years away, I am worried that the politics of the day will spoil the honor of the competition. One thing to remember, the politics will change and the priority of decision-makers will morph depending on fluid variables. As the NAFTA neighbors are able to weather today’s politics by coming together to co-host the 2026 World Cup, so should the Gulf states for the sake of the sport. The 2022 World Cup will offer an opportunity for brothers to exchange flowers on the field scoring a win for their blood bonds and shared history.
Families do squabble, and although the current situation is challenging the limits of what is forgivable, leaders should be guided by the wisdom of respect for the next generation, sparing them from any decisions that might create historical regret or shame.

Abadi left with no excuse for not arresting the corrupt

Adnan Hussein/Al Arabiya/July 05/18
Prime Minister of Iraq Haider al-Abadi has no excuse for ignoring the implementation of judicial orders to summon and arrest members of parliament whose term ended last week and other senior state officials whom lawsuits pertaining to administrative and financial corruption as well as terrorism have been filed against. In fact, there can be no legitimate excuse as the accused are no longer members of parliament and they do not enjoy parliamentary immunity. The political powers, which had great influence in parliament and which Abadi feared “harassing” their MPs, ministers and corrupt chiefs or sponsors of terrorism are no longer capable of threatening to overthrow his government. Upholding people’s rights and the country’s destiny is now the responsibility of Abadi and his government, until the counting and sorting of the election results are complete and the results are ratified, followed by the formation of the new parliament and government. Over the past four years, Abadi had promised much, but little was achieved as even the promise to defeat terrorism was not completely kept. ISIS is still active and committing its crimes in cold blood in many places across the country. Abadi is not being asked to hang the corrupt or terrorists in public squares as was the norm during the rule of the Ba’ath Party. All that is to be done is for judicial orders and summons to be executed and those wanted to be brought before the court. Abadi has no excuse for ignoring the implementation of judicial orders issued to summon and arrest former members of parliament
Parliamentary immunity
This includes those who have fled the country, including former MPs who escaped just a few days before the end of their parliamentary immunity. It is not difficult for Abadi and his government to bring them back through the Interpol. Abadi can do a lot in this regard, from now till the formation of the new government, if he really means what he has claimed several times in the past to combat corruption and terrorism. His authority on this issue is no longer threatened by the powers to which the corrupt and terrorist belong. I can draw the attention of Mr. Abadi to what Mahathir Mohamad, who became Malaysia’s prime minister for the second time, did. The first action he took after being sworn in as premier was issue arrest orders against his predecessor, the former prime minister, and a number of his family members and followers because they’re involved in corruption as they had stolen billions of dollars worth of Malaysian public money. All what Abadi needs to do is to be honest with himself and his people, take the due and delayed decisions which he probably was not capable of taking earlier, as he was afraid of the response of the previous parliament whom the end of its term is not unfortunate!
So what will Abadi do after today?

Haftar's Play for Libyan Oil
Ben Fishman/The Washington Institute/July 05/18
To preserve Libyan unity, the United States should threaten to block any oil shipments not authorized by the country's internationally recognized government.
On June 21, Gen. Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the Libyan National Army, reclaimed two of Libya's largest terminals after the militia leader Ibrahim Jadhran had seized them earlier in the month. Haftar then upped the ante on June 25 by declaring that he would not return the facilities to Libya's National Oil Corporation (NOC) but instead to its eastern-based rival, which reports to the unrecognized eastern-based government. Then on June 29, he prevented two additional terminals in the east from offloading oil. According to the NOC, these moves have reduced total exports by around 850,000 barrels per day from an average of about 1 million b/d. The longer exports remain offline, the more Libya will lose significant revenues critical to sustaining its struggling economy.
This latest move by Haftar, who returned to Libya in late April after an apparently serious health scare, poses the greatest threat to the country's fragile unity since the 2014-15 civil war. Moreover, just a month after Haftar joined French president Emmanuel Macron and three other Libyan political leaders in Paris to jump-start the country's dormant UN-led political transition, the general has chosen to hold the country hostage through an economic siege. Unless the United States and its allies act strongly to preserve the authority of the Government of National Accord (GNA) over the country's oil, Haftar's power play could return Libya to a civil war or a de facto east-west split, not to mention ending prospects for a political solution. For a man recently rumored to have died, Haftar has undertaken an especially aggressive maneuver.
To be sure, Jadhran's aggression provoked the most recent instability, with his seizure of the central ports taking nearly 400,000 b/d offline. After Haftar reclaimed the terminals, however, he exacerbated the crisis by announcing that he would not return them to the NOC. He then removed another 450,000 b/d when he blockaded the eastern ports, leaving the much lower-producing western terminals as the only ones working at capacity. The NOC warned that these losses will cost $67.4 million a day, prevent domestic supplies to two major power plants in the east, and create major environmental damage.
Oil and other hydrocarbons exports indeed fund the vast majority of the Libyan government's budget and serve as the core of an otherwise dysfunctional national economy. The NOC coordinates the production and sale of oil, from which revenues go to the Central Bank of Libya (CBL), which in turn funds government services and an inflated public-sector payroll. Libya's recent increases in oil production, paired with rising global oil prices, helped the country avert an economic crisis owing to declining central bank reserves. In other circumstances, the oil-rich country would have been forced to take on significant debt, with its already weak government compelled to initiate unpalatable cuts to the public-sector payroll while eliminating fuel and other subsidies.
In Libya's flawed current economy, a cash shortage together with high subsidies on fuel and other products have stimulated a parallel black market and smuggling economy. But as long as oil exports remained close to 1 million b/d, Libya was not at risk of financial collapse. Likewise, consistent exports preserved enough stability so that a political solution could be entertained and advanced by the international community.
Once Haftar reclaimed the central terminals on June 21, he decided, as intimated before, to return them not to the NOC but to an alternative "national oil corporation" based in the east. That entity, which includes former NOC employees, may have some contacts and technical ability to arrange sales, but it would have to deposit and then distribute the proceeds with help from a similarly vague alternative "central bank" in the east. Such actions would clearly violate UN Security Council Resolution 2146, which provides member states with Chapter VII authorization to intercept illegal oil shipments from Libya and return them to control of the Libyan government, currently recognized as the GNA. On July 2, NOC chairman Mustafa Sanalla appealed to the UN's Libya sanctions committees to sanction his rival corporation in Benghazi and more than forty additional individuals and entities for illegally appropriating oil sales.
These challenges to the status quo from Haftar and his eastern-based allies occurred just a month after the May 29 conference in Paris, when Macron brought together the general with House of Representatives head Aguila Saleh, Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, and High State Council head Khaled al-Mishri. Macron aimed to persuade these political actors to agree to advance the UN Action Plan for Libya through presidential and parliamentary elections conducted by December 10. Perhaps ironically, the French timeline set up Haftar for a presidential run, in which victory would have granted him his long-sought title of commander-in-chief of Libya's armed forces. The Paris joint statement also indicated that elections would have to be conducted on a "constitutional basis." If the current draft constitution or its core articles are adopted, this would transform Libya from a weak parliamentary system into a strong presidential one.
Despite his apparently favorable stance—buoyed by his name recognition and the absence of an alternative candidate—Haftar chose not to wait until a potential December election that could be postponed for any number of technical or political reasons. Riding high after his May victory over Islamist forces in Darnah, Haftar has now seized the engine of Libya's economy. He may be using his control of oil resources to seek greater influence over Libya's central institutions—the CBL and NOC—or he may be gearing up for an offensive in the west using the improved capabilities he demonstrated in his Darnah offensive. In either circumstance, he is challenging the international consensus behind the UN Action Plan as the path toward Libya's stabilization.
If Washington wants to end this crisis as quickly as possible, it should state clearly that it will act to prevent unauthorized sales of Libyan oil, just as it did in March 2014 when U.S. Navy SEALs intercepted a tanker carrying 200,000 barrels of illegally seized crude and transported it back to Tripoli. Such a reaffirmation of the U.S. commitment to enforce UNSCR 2146, together with a statement urging Libyans to resolve the situation swiftly, would deter prospective buyers, test Haftar's will, and align with the Trump administration's efforts to increase global oil production in order to reduce prices.
Together with its allies, the United States can also amplify a message detailing how the closure of oil facilities in any part of Libya damages the country's entire population, while specifically highlighting the domestic impact of closing refineries.
Haftar may not have a next step planned after gaining control over most of Libya's oil terminals. But unless he feels significant pushback from the international community—especially from France, whose conference he has just upstaged—he will continue to ignore a political track in favor of one premised on force.
*Ben Fishman, an associate fellow with The Washington Institute, served as director for North Africa at the National Security Council from 2011 to 2013.

The Problem of Landmine Proliferation in Yemen

Elana DeLozier/The Washington Institute/July 05/18
The United States should take the lead in preventing the spread of landmine use beyond the Arabian Peninsula, thereby upholding decades of norm-building efforts.
In early June 2018, as UAE-led coalition forces were gearing up for anti-Houthi operations in Hodeida, a delegation from Yemen was detailing the challenges it faces from landmines at the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention in Geneva. Since then, the Yemeni government has signed an agreement with a British company to conduct de-mining operations; Saudi Arabia has launched a new project for landmine clearance in Yemen; and the UAE has been conducting mine-awareness seminars in Hodeida. The renewed focus on landmines marks a response to the Houthis’ mass production and deployment of their own landmines, thus raising the possibility that landmine clearance—an issue championed in the 1990s and resulting in the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty—will again need to be on the international community's radar.
Landmines have plagued Yemen for decades. In the 1960s, they were laid during the civil war in North Yemen and during an uprising in South Yemen. More were planted during conflicts in the 1970s and 1980s, on the border between North and South Yemen before unification in 1990, and again during the 1994 civil war. A de-mining authority in Yemen claims Houthi supporters laid mines in 2010 during the Saada wars, and that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) used mines in the south in 2011. Mines were also laid north of Sana during the 2011 protests against the government of Ali Abdullah Saleh. To hint at the breadth of the problem, a landmine impact survey conducted in 2000 found 1,078 mine sites in nineteen of Yemen's twenty governorates.
In addition to the sheer number of landmines in Yemen, the country faces the challenge of their disarray. Conventional forces typically lay mines in a pattern so that they can be collected post-conflict. In Yemen, however, mines have been laid by hand often with no discernible pattern or record. Moreover, cyclones, floods, and other natural disasters can scatter them from their initial locations. As a result, they are found along key roads and battlefields but also in houses, wells, and even toilets. Across the country, tracts of land are made uninhabitable by mines.
The Houthis may not be the first warring party to use landmines in Yemen, but they are using them at an astonishingly high rate. Landmines differ slightly from the more commonly known improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Unlike IEDs, which are defined by how they are made (i.e., “improvised”), landmines are defined by their mode of activation. They are “victim activated,” meaning they are detonated by the presence or contact of a person or vehicle. These definitions can overlap and occasionally do in Yemen, but many of the landmines in Yemen are mass produced, not improvised.
During the course of the current war, the Houthis have laid landmines along the coast, along the border with Saudi Arabia, around key towns, and along transport routes linking back to Sana to create defensive perimeters or set the stage for retreat. Among other examples, Houthi-planted landmines impeded the coalition's progress in Marib in 2015, in Midi and Harad in early 2016, along the border in Saada governorate in 2016, and in Taizz and Hodeida in early 2017. The Houthis also left a trail of landmines as they retreated from Aden, Lahij, al-Bayda, and Marib governorates in 2015 and 2016. Numbers are notoriously difficult to verify in Yemen, but to give a sense of magnitude: a Yemeni de-mining official claims the Houthis have laid 500,000 mines since 2015; de-mining teams have reportedly removed 300,000 landmines; and the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, an initiative that checks compliance with the Mine Ban Treaty, reported about three thousand casualties in 2015-16.
The sheer scale of Houthi landmine use raises questions about their source and supply. Yemen is not supposed to have domestic stockpiles of landmines; after all, in 2002, the Saleh government declared that it had destroyed its stockpiles of four types of antipersonnel mines under its Mine Ban Treaty obligations. Those four types are not generally found in Yemen, but several other types are common, suggesting either the Saleh government kept secret stockpiles of mines or it acquired new ones after 2002. The coalition, for its part, has not laid mines, but it has used cluster munitions.
The Houthis' initial landmine supplies likely originated from these domestic stockpiles. In an April 2017 report, Human Rights Watch refers to the PPM-2, a black, plastic-cased, 5.2-inch-diameter antipersonnel mine made in former East Germany. PPM-2s found in Taizz in October 2015 were marked with manufacturing dates in the early 1980s, suggesting the Saleh government did not destroy them as part of its treaty obligations. Another mine likely from domestic stockpiles is called the TM-57. It is an olive-colored, 12-inch-diameter antivehicle mine made in the former Soviet Union and used frequently by the Houthis, according to Conflict Armament Research (CAR), an independent arms research organization.
Although PPM-2s, TM-57s, and several other mines are common, current rates of replenishment suggest the Houthis may also be mass producing their own mines. According to CAR, the Houthis frequently deploy three mines that are not serialized or otherwise denoted as originating in another country. The first is a mine that resembles the TM-57, although the color and metal type vary from the original and the casing includes a large three-digit Arabic number on the side instead of a proper serial number. These near-replicas are standardized, suggesting they are mass produced in a workshop. Lending further credence to this theory of domestic mass production, the Yemen Observer released pictures purportedly showing a top Houthi leader, Saleh al-Sammad, touring a weapons-manufacturing facility in April 2018. (Sammad was killed that same month.) One photo shows dozens of landmine casings that resemble the near-replicas described by CAR.
According to CAR, the two other nonserialized mines frequently deployed by the Houthis are tall and cylindrical in shape. The smaller one is made of PVC pipe and the larger one of metal. Like the TM-57 replicas, these mines are standardized and identical, suggesting mass production, and often marked with the same type of three-digit number. Photos of these mines allegedly collected by the coalition in Hodeida have begun to appear on social media.
It is not clear how the Houthis are acquiring the components necessary to make thousands of identical landmines. They may have sourced basic materials, like PVC piping or metal cylinders, from local Yemeni factories. They also may be getting an external supply from a benefactor like Iran. Tracking the origin of the components could help the coalition ultimately cut off the supply.
Metal Casings
Landmines will remain a formidable challenge in the postwar era. As a result, de-mining will be a key issue in peace negotiations, just as it was in Saudi-Houthi talks in 2016. De-mining talks with the Houthis would likely focus on the northern provinces and the Saudi-Yemen border. Separate de-mining talks may also be needed for the south, especially since landmine-removal processes often get tangled up in the controversial politics of landownership there. The United States should encourage these talks.
Although it is a nonsignatory to the Mine Ban Treaty, the United States has led international efforts to disarm mines in conflict zones since the 1990s and should continue to do so. Ignoring landmine proliferation could seriously weaken decades of norm-building work and encourage copycat efforts in other areas, where the United States has troops deployed. In Yemen, removing landmines could also aid counterterrorism efforts by ensuring groups like AQAP cannot collect them for future use or repurpose them for other types of explosives. Investing in landmine removal—an area where relatively little spending can have a large impact—could also help the United States assert itself as an ally of Yemen with an interest in the well-being and security of civilians in the postwar period. The United States has already given Yemen more than $27 million in de-mining aid over two decades. In the future, Washington should continue to financially support de-mining operations, call for a new landmine impact survey, and help ensure landmine removal continues to be prioritized even as other urgent challenges arise in the war's aftermath.
**Elana DeLozier, a Yemen specialist and political analyst, is the founder of the Sage Institute for Foreign Affairs.

Mossad recovers Israeli spy Eli Cohen's wristwatch
Moran Azulay, Inbar Tvizer/Ynetnews/July 05/18,7340,L-5304738,00.html
In special operation, the Mossad retrieved the wristwatch of Israel's spy in Damascus, Eli Cohen, who was caught by the Syrians and executed in 1965; watch was apparently sold to the Mossad by grandchildren of woman who kept it all these years.
The Mossad, Israel's Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations, has recently retrieved a wristwatch that belonged to spy Eli Cohen, it was cleared for publication on Thursday.
Eli Cohen, Israel's spy in Damascus was caught and hanged by the Syrians in 1965.
His wristwatch was recovered in a recent special Mossad operation.
"After Eli Cohen's execution on May 18, 1965, the wristwatch was held by an enemy state. Upon the watch's return to Israel, special research and intelligence operations were carried out which culminated in the unequivocal determination that this was indeed Eli Cohen's watch," the Mossad said.
During an annual service in Cohen's memory in May, Mossad Director Yossi Cohen presented the wristwatch to the spy's family.
"There was great excitement, because it is essentially the only item of dad that came back, we have nothing else besides that," said Cohen's daughter Sofi Ben-Dor.
She said the watch "was not kept in pristine condition, but it's moving to know dad touched it. We haven't touched it yet, it's in a frame at the lobby outside the Mossad director's office."
The wristwatch is now on display at the Mossad headquarters "as a badge of honor and in memory of the legendary fighter," the agency said in a statement.
It will be given back to the family on Rosh HaShana.
Ben-Dror said the grandchildren of the woman who held onto the wristwatch after Cohen's capture wanted to sell it. "They knew all of these years that it belonged to him, and only when their grandmother was old enough, the grandchildren took advantage of the opportunity to make money," she explained. "They approached Israeli officials, because they knew they could get more out of them."
She said photos and DNA analysis were used to confirm the wristwatch indeed belonged to her father.
Nadia Cohen, the Israeli spy's widow, told Army Radio that "a few months ago, the Mossad shared with us that they had tracked down the watch, which was on sale. We don't know where, in what place, in what country. And of course the Mossad bought it and carried out all of the tests to make sure it was the right watch."
"I decided the watch would remain in the Mossad. I felt like it was part of his body, that some of his skin and some of his blood was in that watch," she added.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the Mossad for "the determined and courageous operation, the sole objective of which was to return to Israel a memento from a great fighter who greatly contributed to the security of the state."
Mossad Director Yossi Cohen added that "We remember Eli Cohen and do not forget. His heritage—of dedication, determination, courage and love of the homeland—is our heritage. We remember and have maintained a close connection over the years with his family, Nadia and the children."
"This year, at the conclusion of an operational effort, we succeeded in locating and bringing to Israel the wristwatch that Eli Cohen wore in Syria until the day he was captured. The watch was part of Eli Cohen's operational image and part of his fabricated Arab identity," the Mossad chief added.
Our man in Damascus
Eli Cohen was born in 1924 in Egypt and was a member of the Zionist youth group in Alexandria from a young age. He started engineering studies at the university in Alexandria, but had to quit due to the rise in hatred towards Jews in Egypt following the 1948 War of Independence.
In the early 1950s, Cohen was part of a spy network of young Egyptian Jews, which was operated by Israeli intelligence. After the network was exposed in 1954 by Egypt's intelligence agencies—in what was later known as the Lavon Affair—he was questioned and eventually released.
Cohen made aliyah to Israel in 1957. Shortly after that, he began talks with the IDF's Intelligence Directorate, but those talks did not bear fruit. In 1960, Cohen was recruited by Israeli intelligence services. Later he was sent to Argentina to establish a fictitious identity of a Arab businessman, a former Syrian, named Kamal Amin Ta'abet.
In 1961, Cohen entered Syria and began his undercover activity. Over time, he moved up the social and political ranks and formed close ties with the top echelons in the Syrian leadership. At the height of his activity, Cohen was nominated for the role of Syria's deputy defense minister.
Taking advantage of his extensive connections, Cohen transferred high-value intelligence to Israel about the Syrian army's deployment in the Golan Heights.
He also reported on different military and political moves, before being caught in 1965 and executed.
First published: 07.05.18,

Russia resumes Daraa air strikes, calls Iran’s exit from Syria “absolutely unrealistic”
روسيا تستأنف قصفها لدرعا وتقول بأن المطابلة بانسحاب إيران من سوريا أمر غير منطقي بالكامل

DEBKAfile/July 05/18
Russian and Syrian air bombardment of Daraa resumed late Wednesday, July 4, after a short pause, with the collapse of Russian ceasefire talks with rebel leaders and Jordan.
DEBKAfile reports: Rebel leaders continued to stand out against Russia’s proposal to give up their heavy and medium arms, while Jordan opposed the deployment of Syrian troops along its northern border. The final stumbling-block for a ceasefire was spelled out by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov: “Iran is one of the key powers in the region and it would be absolutely unrealistic to expect it to abandon its interests,” he stressed.
Before the Russians put their foot down on the Iranian issue, there was a pause in the Syrian Daraa offensive amid hopes that the negotiations would lead to a cessation of hostilities in southwestern Syria.
DEBKAfile reporter earlier on Wednesday: The Syrian Daraa offensive has by and large fallen silent and preparations to attack Quneitra are on hold. The outflow of refugees has slowed.
DEBKAfile’s military sources disclose that the Syrian army’s Tigers Force and 4th Division, which spearheaded the Daraa thrust to impose Bashar Assad’s rule on southwest Syria, have downed arms for the moment, along with Hizballah’s elite Radwan fighters. Also suspended are Syrian preparations to go next for the Quneitra region opposite Israel’s Golan border.
Our sources disclose that the lull in fighting was ordered by the Russian commanders due to their low opinion of the Syrian-Hizballah forces’ ability to successfully conclude the Daraa-Quneitra operation in time for the Putin-Trump summit on July 16 in Helsinki.
This Syrian offensive was cut short for two reasons:
Extraordinary military actions launched on the quiet by the US and Israel, as will be revealed in the coming DEBKA Weekly issue out on Friday, July 6. (click here to subscribe).
Russian diplomatic feelers with Washington – and secret approaches to Israel and Jordan for an accommodation – have come to nothing. Neither was a breakthrough reached in the phone conversation on Tuesday, July between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The US is adamantly opposed to Putin’s drive to forcibly assert the Assad regime’s authority in the two southwestern provinces on the Jordanian and Israeli borders, knowing that this will open the door to Iranian and Hizballah forces.
An attempt to achieve Israeli flexibility on Iran’s presence in Syria, in the hope of indirectly persuading the Trump administration, was also made on Tuesday in a conversation between Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ribakov and Israel’s ambassador to Moscow, Gary Koren. Putin invited Binyamin Netanyahu to Moscow on July 11, to try again. Meanwhile, the fate of the Syrian front hangs fire as an unsolved issue between Washington and Moscow – largely over Putin’s acceptance of the Iranian and Hizballah presence in Syria.

Those Who Have Emerged Victorious against the People of Syria
Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Al Awsat/July 05/18
المنتصرون على شعب سوريا
إياد أبو شقرا/الشرق الأوسط/
Arabic is one of the world’s most beautiful languages; it is exceptionally rich in meanings, eloquence and insinuations.
It is quite capable to portray defeats as victories, submission as shrewdness, treason as farsightedness, and lying and delusion as mainstays of politics, being the ‘art of the possible’.
Recently, in some of our bereaved ‘Mashreqi’ Arab countries, we have limited extremism and terrorism to one sect over another which is no less extremist and is as prone to engage in acts of terror. We have also accepted in neighbouring countries a tacit foreign occupation whereby the henchmen who provide its façade outbid patriots with claims of ‘liberation’!
Thus, in a gloomy, sinister and risky atmosphere, from where there is no way back; foreign collusion added to misreading the situation; lies were being peddled as negotiations, and conspiracies took the shape of peace initiatives. Here we are today facing a new demographic reality. This demographic, actually, came as a surprise only to our naïve Arab public which is still fooled by fake, glittering slogans. Worse still, some continue to justify the justifiable after the emergence of sad truths, and deals tied up over rivers of blood and fractured homelands.
The accelerating pace of events in southern Syria clearly points to how the international community is destroying an uprising of a people who revolted to defend their dignity.
It has taken the international community 7 full years to annihilate an honourable uprising against a regime the US State Department - in particular - kept accusing, one year after another, of supporting terrorism. This same regime is now openly ‘the solution’ in Syria. It has become a security partner that “guarantees stability and moderation” against terrorism!
Now it is, openly, not just a ‘mailbox’, but a strong link between the regional powers. As a result, submission has now become the only option left to the people who rose against its murderers in the name of ‘reconciliation’ in new, yet old, political vocabulary.
In its issue dated Thursday June 28th, The Economist, the respectable British magazine, published a brilliant report under the title “How a victorious Bashar al-Assad is changing Syria”.
This report sums up the reality that the “Sunnis have been pushed out by the war. The new Syria is smaller, in ruins and got more sectarian”.
The magazine published figures and information about destruction, displacement and population exchange. About the city of Homs, where Al-Assad’s regime achieved, thanks to the international collusion, its first demographic ‘victory’ against its people, the report says: “Homs, like all of the cities recaptured by the government, now belongs mostly to Syria’s victorious minorities: Christians, Shias and Alawites (an esoteric offshoot of Shia Islam from which Mr Assad hails).
These groups banded together against the rebels, who are nearly all Sunni, and chased them out of the cities. Sunni civilians, once a large majority, followed. More than half of the country’s population of 22m has been displaced—6.5m inside Syria and over 6m abroad. Most are Sunnis”.
Although, this may be just one little part of the report, it nevertheless gives a clear idea of the overall picture. It also tacitly hints that the international community may not be unhappy about what has been going on in Syria. At least, some leaders of Western Europe would rather accept a dictator than deal with another flood of refugees.
Well, personally, I think the issue is much bigger than this, and that Al-Assad regime - of Hafez and later Bashar - has never changed. I also think that the international community’s negative position, particularly, towards the political Sunni Islam, has not changed much between that of William Gladstone in the 19th century and Barack Obama’s in the 21st century.
There is a firm belief that the problem lies in Sunni Islam, specifically, its demographic and political ‘weight’, as well as its geographical area. Sunni Muslims make up around 75 % of the World’s Muslims, and they are the geographic neighbours of populations of other faiths.
It is the ‘scarecrow’ in the non-Muslim religious conscience, and the ‘invading Islam’ against who threat the Crusades to ‘free the Holy Land’ were launched. It is the Islam that attacked Europe twice: the first through Spain and France in the 8th century; and the second with the conquest of Constantinople in the 15th century followed by advancing to attack Vienna (in 1529), and more than a century later fighting the Battle of Vienna (1683). Finally, it is the “suicidal” Islam – to quote Barack Obama – that was accused of being responsible for the September 11th attacks in America.
As such, the notion of ‘The Alliance of Minorities’ may not be an empty slogan after all. Indeed, this is what all the major global powers seem to agree on.
China has a problem with the Sunni Uighurs seeking the independence of Xinjiang (East Turkestan); and India’s hard line Hindu Prime Minister Narendra Modi has built his legitimacy and popularity on fighting the Sunni Islam of the sub-continent in the country that lived under Gandhi’s tolerance and Nehru’s democracy. In the West, Europe - and recently America - have had a history of confronting it in Asia and Africa, while one must not forget Russia’s old and new tsars who fought long wars against Sunni Islam in the Volga basin, the Caucasus and Central Asia, the latest being the Chechen War.
So, Obama has not been the only leader who has justified siding with Iran’s mullahs, although he may be the first to claim that their regime was not “suicidal” like Al-Qaeda and ISIS. Such a view is shared by many, although only Vladimir Putin has managed to become a major global decision maker among them.
Incidentally, few years ago, a former British cabinet minister visited Asharq Al-Awsat offices in London, and during the visit we discussed on the Syrian crisis with her. The former minister was one of the leading sympathizers with the Kurds during their war with the ex-Iraq president Saddam Hussein; and later she was among the leading supporters of toppling Saddam’s regime, and fundraisers during the blockade imposed on Iraq before 2003. However, the moment we raised with her the issue of Syria, she strongly defended Al-Assad; refusing any comparison between the Iraqi and Syrian scenarios. In fact, she insisted that the Syrian refugees “must go back home, because they will be safe under the regime”.
Such inverted logic has been parroted by many Western political and religious leaders.
These are the ones who are not only letting down the Syrian people, but also defeating their uprising.
These are the ones who are preparing a fertile ground for dangerous, destructive and hateful future radicalisms, the whole world – including the Muslim populations – are better off without.