July 13/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations
Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation
Mark 16/15-20: "‘Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.’ So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.
Titles For The Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on July 12-13/18
Netanyahu: Israel Has No Problem With Assad, but Cease-fire Agreements Must Be Upheld/Noa Landau/Haaretz/July 12/18
Trump at NATO Summit: Iran Is in Pain, They Will Call Me and Ask for a Deal/Haaretz and Reuters/Jul 12, 2018
Israel Strikes Three Syrian Posts Following Drone Infiltration/Jerusalem Post/July 12/18
Israeli-Syrian armed duel over Quneitra has begun/DEBKAfile/July 12/18
Don't Get Out of Syria/Jennifer Cafarella/Foreign Policy/July 12/18
Israeli official: 'There's realistic opportunity to push Iran out of Syria'/Itamar Eichner/Ynetnews/July 12/18
Ethiopia-Eritrea: A New Hope for Peace/Ahmed Charai/Gatestone Institute/July 12/18
Why Do Palestinian Leaders Oppose Helping Their People/Bassam Tawil/Gatestone Institute/July 12/18
Religion, Politics and Investing/Barry Ritholtz/Bloomberg/July 12/18
Germany Blames the Locusts Again/Chris Bryant/Bloomberg/July 12/18
This Is What Democracy Looks Like/Jonathan Bernstein/Bloomberg/July 12/18
The Daraa battle that has no horizon/Khairallah Khairallah/Al Arabiya/July 12/18
Beyond borders: Rise of the global citizen/Marco Gantenbein/Al Arabiya/July 12/18
Challenging times for the Iranian regime/Michael Flanagan/Al Arabiya/July 12/18
Europe and immigration/Hazem Saghieh/Al Arabiya/July 12/18
Iran’s ‘moderates’ have been forced to show their true colors/Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/July 12/18
Erdogan's growing influence ominous for Turkey's future/Diana Moukalled/Arab News/July 12/18
Titles For The Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on July 12-13/18
Lebanon’s Courts suffer from Power, Water Shortage, Lawyers Resorting to Phone Lights
Al-Rahi Meets Kanaan, Riachi, Stresses Importance of 'Historic Reconciliation'
Aoun: No Fear of Bankruptcy in Presence of Lebanon Oil Wealth
Jumblat Meets Hariri, Calls on Bassil Not to 'Destroy Economy'
Cabinet formation crucial to alleviate economic woes, says Hariri
Arslan, Abi Khalil Hit Back at Jumblat with Blistering Attacks
Hankache Deems Humility as Key for Political Breakthrough
Jumblat Advises Comrades to Avoid 'Futile' Debate with FPM
MP, Samy Gemayel: Road to Democracy Is Hard and Filled with Sacrifices
Shakira arrives to Lebanon
Bassil meets US Ambassador
Lebanese League for Women in Business honors Directors of NNA, Economy Ministry
Hariri at AUST graduation: Sectarianism is the worst curse in our political system
Bassil launches Central Committee for Return of Displaced
Titles For The Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on July 12-13/18
Netanyahu: Israel Has No Problem With Assad, but Cease-fire Agreements Must Be Upheld
Putin Hosts Khamenei Aide amid Syria Talks
Trump at NATO Summit: Iran Is in Pain, They Will Call Me and Ask for a Deal
Trump Stokes Britain's Brexit Turmoil at Start of Visit
Trump Says Putin is a 'Competitor', Not an 'Enemy'
Israel Strikes Three Syrian Posts Following Drone Infiltration
Syria Army Enters Rebel-Held Areas of Daraa City
Israeli-Syrian armed duel over Quneitra has begun
US State Secretary Pompeo urges EU to get tough on Iran
Iraq’s Sadrist Movement says alliance with Maliki is ‘out of the question’
Syrian regime prepares to raise flag over rebel-held Daraa city
Canada supports further efforts in Iraq and Syria to empower women and girls and to stabilize the region

The Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on July 12-13/18
Lebanon’s Courts suffer from Power, Water Shortage, Lawyers Resorting to Phone Lights
Beirut - Youssef Diab/Asharq Al-Awsat/Thursday, 12 July, 2018/The courts of justice in Lebanon have been witnessing power and water shortage for several weeks, which has caused the suspension of court sessions several times, due to lack of air conditioning and ventilation and the difficulty of reading files and conducting interrogations. Moreover, dozens of detainees in the cells of the underground justice palaces are suffering from lack of ventilation and water disconnection in the toilets, in addition to unpleasant odors in their cells, leading to suffocation cases among many of them. This situation is critical at the Palace of Justice in Baabda (Mount Lebanon), which is already lacking the lowest health and sanitization standards, forcing the security personnel entrusted with surveillance to aid the detainees by primitive means.
Complaints are rising in the corridors of the courts, beginning with the judges - the so-called "Guardians of Justice" - who are fed up with the continuation of the crisis. A judicial source bitterly asked: “If the judiciary is incapable of redressing itself, how can it judge people?”
The source emphasized that water shortage and lack of hygiene in the lavatories and toilets could lead to a serious spread of diseases. Lawyers are complaining about the delay of their clients’ trials and rely on their mobile phone lights to track files and review them in the courts and interrogation chambers. The Ministry of Justice is responsible for managing the courts of justice at the administrative, financial, and logistical levels. But sources at the ministry told Asharq Al-Awsat that the crisis was mainly due to a severe damage of the internal power networks in courts of Beirut and Baabda (Mount Lebanon), which were no longer able to withstand the enormous pressure on the electricity supply, because of the increase in the number of offices of judges and court chambers. The sources pointed out that the maintenance teams of Electricite Du Liban (EDL) have failed to repair the faults, because the internal network needed to be changed completely, which required a long time and very high financial costs. They added that the ministry “opened the door to tenders with specialized companies to extend new networks and solve the problem.”

Al-Rahi Meets Kanaan, Riachi, Stresses Importance of 'Historic Reconciliation'
Naharnet/July 121/18/Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi held talks Thursday with MP Ibrahim Kanaan of the Free Patriotic Movement and caretaker Information Minister Melhem Riachi of the Lebanese Forces, after which he stressed the importance of “the historic reconciliation between the LF and the FPM.”“Any political disagreement between them should not be turned into a rift,” al-Rahi added, addressing the leaderships of the two parties, in a message recited by Bkirki spokesman Walid Ghayyad. The two parties should “put an end to the media rhetoric that creates polarization and tension at the various political and media levels, including all social networking websites,” the patriarch urged. He also called on the two parties to “devise a work plan and engage in communication in order to organize a sustainable political relation between them that does not hinge on temporary junctures.”Riachi for his part emphasized that LF leader Samir Geagea is “keen on consolidating the reconciliation.”Kanaan meanwhile described the reconciliation as a “sacred red line,” while noting that the LF and the FPM have become a “single party.”“We are two parties, and the same as you can sometimes find various opinions in the same party, it is normal to find various opinions in two parties,” Kanaan added. Kanaan and Riachi, who arrived in Diman in the same car, held a brief meeting before their talks with the patriarch, al-Jadeed TV said. “Kanaan and Riachi stressed to the patriarch that the reconciliation will continue and that there is no turning back, adding that the political implementation of the agreement is marred by flaws that need common evaluation,” the TV network added. It said the two guests noted that they are not seeking a bilateral confessional alliance but rather a “pluralistic reconciliation.” “The main objective behind the visit is to reassure the patriarch that there are no disputes and that the issue is only about political competition,” al-Jadeed reported. The renewed FPM-LF bickering comes as the two parties wrangle over the Christian ministerial shares in the new Cabinet. Free Patriotic Movement chief MP Jebran Bassil has recently announced that the FPM's landmark Maarab Agreement with the Lebanese Forces “no longer exists.”

Aoun: No Fear of Bankruptcy in Presence of Lebanon Oil Wealth
Naharnet/July 121/18/President Michel Aoun on Thursday slammed “those who voice stances that weaken confidence in the Lebanese economy and the national currency,” reassuring that Lebanon cannot go bankrupt in the presence of its “oil wealth.”“No one will manage to halt the campaign of reform and combating corruption that I started upon assuming the presidency and this reform path will continue with the efforts of all those who believe in Lebanon, no matter how much those annoyed by it try to obstruct it... whether they are politicians or anyone else,” Aoun said. Wondering about “the real objectives of those who voice stances that weaken confidence in the Lebanese economy and the national currency,” Aoun said “Lebanon has an oil wealth that will be extracted and there is no fear of bankruptcy in its presence/”He added: “We are working on reviving the economy, but this cannot happen overnight. It rather requires further patience and as much resilience as possible from all sectors because we have inherited a heavy burden.”

Jumblat Meets Hariri, Calls on Bassil Not to 'Destroy Economy'
Naharnet/July 121/18/Progressive Socialist Party chief Walid Jumblat on Wednesday held talks with Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri after which he lashed out at caretaker Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil. “There is not a single country in the world... in which an official declares that this country is facing economic collapse due to the presence of refugees or other issues. This is a dangerous disease when one manipulates people's sentiments. It is dangerous to hold TV or radio interviews to attack the Lebanese economy and preach that the economy is on the verge of collapse,” Jumblat said. Turning to the issue of the cabinet formation process, Jumblat said Hariri is exerting utmost effort to reach the “right formula.” “We did not discuss portfolios. We only discussed our political and popular right to be represented,” he added. Asked about offering possible concessions, Jumblat said he told President Michel Aoun that he cannot “make settlements” over the “Druze share” in the new government. Responding to a question about Bassil's performance, especially regarding the cabinet formation process, Jumblat said: “It would be better if Minister Bassil would focus on foreign affairs instead of talking about the economy and destroying the economy.”

Cabinet formation crucial to alleviate economic woes, says Hariri
Georgi Azar/Annahar/12 July 2018/Hariri's comments came during Arab Economic Forum held Thursday at Beirut's Four Seasons Hotel, where he expressed hope in "Lebanon's political class putting citizens' interest first."
BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri remained "optimistic" of Lebanon overcoming its economic woes while maintaining that the formation of the Cabinet would pave the way for prosperity. Hariri's comments came during Arab Economic Forum held Thursday at Beirut's Four Seasons Hotel, where he expressed hope in "Lebanon's political class putting citizens' interest first." The Prime-Minister-designate highlighted the problems the country has faced in recent years, mainly from the "repercussions of wars and conflicts which have taken a toll on our economic and social conditions," adding that the Syrian refugee crisis has hindered Lebanon's "ability to attract investments." Touching on the recent CEDRE donor conference which took place in Paris, Hariri asserted that a "clear roadmap is in place to diversify sources of growth by implementing a $17 billion investment spending program, spanning 10 years, to modernize and develop our infrastructure."

Arslan, Abi Khalil Hit Back at Jumblat with Blistering Attacks
Naharnet/July 121/18/Lebanese Democratic Party chief MP Talal Arslan and caretaker Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil of the Free Patriotic Movement on Thursday launched scorching verbal attacks on Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat. Jumblat is “insisting on his crippling demand about monopolizing Druze representation in the government,” Arslan tweeted. “He always makes false claims about being very keen on the rights of the Druze, which he has forfeited or sold for personal interests and in return for fortunes for him and some of his cronies who have built castles at the expense of the rights of the Druze and their endowment assets,” Arslan added. “May God have mercy on Kamal Beik Jumblat, who had called for a law asking officials to declare the sources of their fortunes more than 60 years ago. The son (Walid Jumblat) and some of his thugs should honor this principle more than anyone else,” Arslan went on to say. Abi Khalil meanwhile tweeted in response to remarks Jumblat had voiced overnight against FPM chief MP Jebran Bassil. “Jumblat should take care of himself and his party and should leave this country to honorable politicians such as his son. It would be better if he rid the country of himself and of his hatred,” Abi Khalil added. Jumblat had on Wednesday said that “it would be better if Minister Bassil would focus on foreign affairs instead of talking about the economy and destroying the economy.”

Hankache Deems Humility as Key for Political Breakthrough 12th July 2018/Kataeb MP Elias Hankache on Thursday called on politicians to be humble, saying that this would help solve many of the problems that the citizens are suffering from.“The reason behind the government formation obstruction is greed and bickering; there are some sort of obduracy and arrogance,” Hankache said in an interview with Voice of Lebanon radio station. "Everyone wants to sit in the control cabin while the ship is sinking."Commenting on the Maronite Patriarch's meeting with MP Ibrahim Kanaan and caretaker Minister Melhem Riachy, Hankache noted that past experiences prove that dual and tripartite alliances are useless, saying that no political spoils should have been sought after the reconciliation. “My only concern is to remain in this country with my Muslim compatriot. As a Christian, I expect from the two largest Christian parties to guarantee our children’s future, and not to live in a state of anxiety,” he said.

Jumblat Advises Comrades to Avoid 'Futile' Debate with FPM 12th July 2018/Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat on Thursday called on his comrades not to engage in a futile debate with the Free Patriotic Movement following a series of heated tweets against the backdrop of the government formation process.“I advise my PSP comrades not to engage in a futile debate with this absurd group which insists on adopting a cheap rhetoric, instead of a reasonable and objective one,” Jumblat wrote on Twitter. Tensions erupted between the two parties when the PSP lashed out on the FPM for supporting the Lebanese Democratic Party, headed by MP Talal Erslan, in the parliamentary polls, and claiming that FPM is trying to undermine Jumblat’s power. Bickering intensified when Jumblat demanded that his party gets to represent all the Druze seats in the new government.
Previously, Erslan had attacked Jumblat for "selling" Druze community's rights to serve his personal interests and for accumulating wealth at their expense. As for the PSP and the FPM, Jumblat criticized caretaker FM Gebran Bassil’s negligence when it comes to introducing reforms and reducing Lebanon’s budget deficit, and also for not standing against Syria's new property law, which hinders the return of the Syrians back to their country, and, instead, blaming the refugees for Lebanon's economic crisis. “The deficit is a direct result of the electricity services being provided to the Syrian refugees, which account for $333 million, and are expected to increase this year with the rise in fuel prices,” Caretaker Minister Cesar Abi Khalil wrote on Twitter to defend Bassil's stance.

MP, Samy Gemayel: Road to Democracy Is Hard and Filled with Sacrifices 12th July 2018/Kataeb leader Samy Gemayel stressed that all the assassinations and assassination attempts that Lebanon witnessed almost a decade ago show that the road to democracy is long, hard and filled with sacrifices."It seems that it is still long and difficult despite the fact that 13 years have passed now since the beginning of that ominous dark cycle," Gemayel wrote in an article published in Al-Joumhouria newspaper to mark the assassination attempt of former Minister Elias Murr. "There’s no difference between political and security assassination as both aim at eliminating democracy and replacing it with injustice, oppression and tyranny," he said. "There’s no difference between physical liquidation of leaders and elites, and political abolition of democracy, the Constitution and the laws. "It is true that assassinations through car bombs, explosives and shootings have stopped a few years ago, but attempts to target free people and the Lebanese Republic’s values are ongoing in the name of a sham democracy, an abandoned Constitution that is undermined by greed and lust for power, and heresies that have replaced the normal work mechanism of state insitutions with settlements and partitioning deals," Gemayel wrote.

Shakira arrives to Lebanon
Thu 12 Jul 2018/NNA - Award-winning singer Shakira has arrived to Lebanon to perform at the inauguration of Cedars International Festival tomorrow, National News Agency correspondent reported on Thursday.

Bassil meets US Ambassador

Thu 12 Jul 2018/NNA - Caretaker Foreign Minister, Gebran Bassil, on Thursday held talks with US Ambassador to Lebanon, Elizabeth Richard, over the Lebanese-US bilateral ties, with both sides agreeing on preserving them at their best level. Accordingly, the pair highlighted the necessity to resume the provision of aids to Lebanon and to "permanently seek to solve any potential issue, whether of a political, consular, or diplomatic nature." Bassil and Richard also dwelt on the Syrian refugee crisis.

Lebanese League for Women in Business honors Directors of NNA, Economy Ministry
Thu 12 Jul 2018/NNA - The Lebanese League for Women in Business organized its annual ceremony under the auspices of president of the Council of Arab Businesswomen Sheikha Hossa Saad al-Abdallah Salem al-Sabah, at Beirut municipality, in presence of Mrs. Ramda Yasir representing Caretaker State Minister for Women Affairs Jean Oghassapian. During the event, Director General of the Ministry of Economy and Trade Alia Abbad, and Director of the National News Agency Laure Sleiman, were granted the LLWB golden card award, in honor of their achievements and role. In her speech, Sheikha al-Sabah heaped praise on the accomplishments of the LLWB, stressing that the honored directors, Abbas and Sleiman, have succeeded in their field of work. She also hoped that in the new future, more Lebanese women would be honored in turn.
For her part, Mrs. Sleiman thanked the LLWB for their recognition. "Throughout the last century, women have made scores of achievements on the political, media, economic, healthcare and educational levels," she noted, stressing that women are key partners in society.
"Reinforcing the role of women is our responsibility and we are all invited to find solutions to the critical situation our society is facing," she added. In turn, Mrs. Abbas maintained that women were capable of enhancing their role and presence if they found open doors.

Hariri at AUST graduation: Sectarianism is the worst curse in our political system
Thu 12 Jul 2018/NNA - Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri said that any citizen has the right to be surprised by the lack of agreement on forming the government, at a time when everyone is aware of the negative impact of the delay, adding: “Everyone is wondering when will the government be formed and when will the workshop start to save the country? When will the state respect the promises of political, administrative and economic reform? And when will the graduates celebrate employment opportunities and not just receiving the certificate of graduation from university?”Premier Hariri’s words came during his sponsorship of the graduation of AUST University students at the Seaside. He said: “It is not strange for AUST University to be called the university of hawks in Lebanon. This university has risen 30 years ago and has been able to take a leading position in the front lines of universities as a result of the efforts of its founders, teachers and graduates. Today we celebrate the graduation of a new class of hawks, and we see the joy in the eyes of young men and women, in the eyes of Dean Hiam Sakr and all the professors, and above all in the eyes of the families who have been waiting for this moment for years.
July is usually the month of graduates from all Lebanese universities and schools. The class of today is similar to the rest of the classes that include thousands of graduates from different disciplines. I read on their faces questions addressed to the decision makers in Lebanon.
When will the government be formed and when will the workshop start to save the country? When will the state respect the promises of political, administrative and economic reform? And when will the graduates celebrate the existence of employment opportunities and not just receiving the certificate of graduation from university?
I want to tell you frankly that these questions are legitimate. They have existed for fifty years, and you and your families are asking them. But now there can no longer be excuses, and it is no longer possible for young people to cover any failure or accept any justification.Yes, these questions are legitimate, because any citizen has the right to be surprised by the lack of agreement on forming the government, at a time when everyone is aware of the negative impact of the delay. These questions are legitimate, because everyone has the right to take his certificate and know where he is headed, in which country he will work, and the responsibility of the state in securing jobs. Everyone has the right to know why the rights of the communities should prevail over the rights of the state and why the quota policy should prevail over the norms and the constitution. This is why I do not see today’s celebration as an occasion to give advice to graduates. I do not want to play this role and I do not want to give you a list of promises that we are used to hear at graduation ceremonies. But I would like to honestly tell you that if you are looking for ways to break the sectarian chains in Lebanon, it is my job to look with you, because all the experiences in the country have shown that sectarianism is the worst curse in our political system. My wish is to be one of you, to think like you, work with you and stand before you. My wish is to dream of the Lebanon you dream of, the Lebanon where you want to work and live and that you want to consider the most beautiful country in the Levant. I always say that my confidence in the country, after my belief in God, is unshakable. With you, Lebanon has to progress and succeed in passing from the state of sects to the state of institutions. Congratulations for your graduation and to all the parents with whom we share the joy of celebration. In conclusion, I would like to tell you that the father of Martyr Prime Minister Rafic Hariri was a farmer who had nothing. He worked in the land and educated his children. Each one of you is capable of doing the same. Rafic Hariri studied and worked, and founded the Hariri Foundation because he wanted to see in each person who needed help another Rafic Hariri. Each one of you will hopefully be Rafic Hariri. I thank you and I thank Mrs. Hiam for giving me the chance to be with you and I wish the graduates, the administration and faculty success. I will always serve this country and its interest”. At the end of the ceremony, the President of the University presented Premier Hariri with a shield, and the fashion design students presented him with a cloak specially designed for him

Bassil launches Central Committee for Return of Displaced

Thu 12 Jul 2018/NNA - Free Patriotic Movement head, Caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil launched the Central Committee for the Return of the Displaced, in an event at Tayyar Center, Sinn-el-Fil, on Thursday. "The goal of the committee if to encourage and facilitate the return of the displaced and to prevent any clash between the Lebanese and Syrian people," Bassil said, explaining that the committee will work with the municipalities and then with the state institutions on top of which the General Security agency. "The next government's key mission is to secure a safe and sustainable return of refugees," he added, highlighting the necessity of an inter-Lebanese strategic decision in that respect, to be included in the state policy.

The Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published
on July 12-13/18
Netanyahu: Israel Has No Problem With Assad, but Cease-fire Agreements Must Be Upheld
نتانياهو: لا مشكلة اسرائيلية مع الأسد ولكن يجب الإلتزام باتفاقيات وقف اطلاق النار

Noa Landau/Haaretz/July 12/18
'We haven't had a problem with the Assad regime, for 40 years not a single bullet was fired on the Golan Heights,' the prime minister says before taking off from Moscow
MOSCOW - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that Israel does not object to Syrian President Bashar Assad reexerting control over the country and stabilizing his regime’s power, but Israel will act to protect its borders against the Syrian military if necessary – as it has in the past.
“We haven't had a problem with the Assad regime, for 40 years not a single bullet was fired on the Golan Heights,” Netanyahu told reporters before leaving Moscow to return to Israel, after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I have set a clear policy that we do not intervene and we have not intervened. This has not changed. What has troubled us is ISIS and Hezbollah and this has not changed. The heart of the matter is preserving our freedom of action against anyone who acts against us. Second, the removal of the Iranians from Syrian territory,” he added.
Netanyahu's comments come hours after Israel's air force attacked three military positions in Syria in response to a Syrian drone that infiltrated Israeli airspace on Wednesday. Israel shot down the drone.
According to Syrian media reports, Hezbollah positions were hit in the Quneitra province in Syria's Golan Heights. The attack took place in the village of Khan Arnabeh and in another city in Quneitra, Syrian media reported.
Netanyahu was in Moscow for two days to meet with Putin – and watch a semi-final match of the World Cup soccer tournament.
On Wednesday, Israeli sources told Haaretz that Russia has been working to push Iran away from Israel's border with Syria. While Russia is working on this, Israel has avoided intervening and disrupting stabilizing efforts by Assad’s regime as he retakes Syria’s south.
Netanyahu clarified Thursday that the Iranians have not left the region completely but they have moved back a few dozens of kilometers from the Golan border. Israel's policy, he said, remains the same: Complete withdrawal of Iranian forces – and at the same time, or in return, Israel will interfere with Assad's efforts to retake the border regions, which is important to the Russians.
Israel’s main goals in dealing with Russia now include removing the missiles aimed at it from Syria, the withdrawal of Iranian forces and the preservation of the 1974 disengagement agreements with Syria on the Golan Heights.
In addition, Israel wants Russia to ensure that Syrians living on the Golan near the border who received humanitarian aid from Israel in recent years will not be harmed. “They do not need to be punished for starving,” said an Israeli official.
Netanyahu made it clear, ahead of the upcoming summit between U.S President Donald Trump and Putin next week in Helsinki, that he is fully coordinated with Washington. “We act with full transparency with the United States.”
As for the criticism of his attending the game, Netanyahu said: “Putin invited me to the games and we decided to meet, and then we moved up the meeting in light of the planned summit with Trump too.”
Putin Hosts Khamenei Aide amid Syria Talks
Associated Press/Naharnet/July 121/18/Russian President Vladimir Putin has received the Iranian leader's top adviser hours after conferring with the Israeli prime minister about Iran's presence in Syria. The Kremlin said Thursday that Putin has met with Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but wouldn't offer any details of the talks. Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that Velayati handed Putin letters from Khamenei and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Peskov said in a conference call with reporters that the letters dealt with bilateral relations and the situation in the region, but refused to elaborate. Velayati's visit came hours after Putin hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who reaffirmed the Israeli demand for the Iranian withdrawal from Syria. "Our opinion is known that Iran needs to leave Syria — that is not something new for you," Netanyahu said at the start of Wednesday's talks in the Kremlin. Moscow has teamed up with Tehran to shore up Syrian President Bashar Assad's government, but their interests do not always converge. Russia also has maintained warm ties with Israel and demonstrated a readiness to take its security interests into account. The Iranian presence in Syria is expected to top the agenda of Monday's summit in Helsinki between Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump. Both the United States and Israel want Iran to pull out from Syria, but Russia has warned it would be unrealistic to expect Iran to fully withdraw from the country. A possible deal could see Syrian troops replacing Iranian forces and Hizbullah fighters in the areas near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Trump at NATO Summit: Iran Is in Pain, They Will Call Me and Ask for a Deal
ترامب في مؤتمر النايتو: ايران في وضع صعب ومؤلم وسوف يتصل قادتها بي من أجل عقد صفقة
Haaretz and Reuters/Jul 12, 2018
Amid 'Syria for Ukraine' rumors, Trump says he is 'unhappy' with Russian control over Crimea - but blames Obama for it
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday that he expects Iran "at some point" to ask the United States for a deal.Trump was taking questions at a press briefing on the second day of the NATO allies summit in Brussels.
When asked about Iran, Trump said the Iranians are "treating the U.S. with a lot more respect right now.
"Iran at some point will call me and ask for a deal, and we'll make a deal," he said. "They are feeling “a lot of pain right now,” he added.
In May, Trump announced the withdrawal of the United States from the Iran nuclear deal, saying he will reinstate economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
Asked, “Does NATO help protect the U.S. from Russia?” Trump responded that NATO is a strong ally. He continued, “We go into meeting with Putin not looking for so much; we want to look for info on Syria and election meddling.”
Trump was also asked about Russia's annexation of Crimea, and whether he will bring it up during his meeting next week with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. In his response, Trump did not mention sanctions that were imposed by the United States on Russia following the annexation, but said, “President Obama allowed that to happen. The Russians then built a bridge to Crimea, and a submarine port.”
Trump said he cannot say what will happen next. But he is “not happy” about the annexation of Crimea.
Trump's remarks come amid reports that Israel and Saudi Arabia pressured the U.S. to broker a deal with Russia, to trade U.S. sanctions relief on Russia for Moscow using its influence to remove Iranian troops from Syria.
The New Yorker reported Tuesday that shortly before the U.S. elections in 2016, the UAE’s crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, met with an American mediator and told him Putin might be interested in solving the Syrian crisis in exchange for an end to sanctions on Russia.
Israeli diplomatic sources told Haaretz Wednesday that Russia has been working to push Iran away from Israel's border with Syria. While Russia is making this effort, Israel has avoided intervening and disrupting stabilizing efforts by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime as he retakes Syria’s south.
The sources said that while Iranian forces have not completely been ousted from the border area, Moscow is currently acting to advance the process.
Moscow has a clear interest in seeing the Syrian regime stabilized as well as distancing Iran from Israel’s border, the sources said. This attempt may coincide with Israeli interests, but it just might work, the sources said.
Also Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Putin in Moscow. "Our opinion is that Iran should leave Syria, this is not something new for you," the prime minister told the Russian President.
On Thursday, Putin met in Moscow with Ali Akbar Velayati, a top adviser to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The two discussed the situation in Syria and bilateral relations in a meeting in Moscow on Thursday, the Kremlin said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call that Velayati had passed messages from Khamenei and from Iran's president to Putin.
"The messages touch on bilateral relations most notably," Peskov said.

Trump Stokes Britain's Brexit Turmoil at Start of Visit
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/July 121/18/Donald Trump began a protest-laden trip to Britain Thursday by questioning whether Prime Minister Theresa May will deliver on UK voters' intentions when they decided to quit the European Union. Ignoring all diplomatic niceties, the convention-shredding U.S. president set up the four-day visit with a rebuke of his beleaguered host as she battles to stop her government falling apart over Brexit. Shrugging off the plans for mass protests, which on Friday will include a giant baby-shaped blimp bearing Trump's features, he said in Brussels: "They like me a lot in the UK. I think they agree with me on immigration. "I think that's why Brexit happened," he told a news conference before flying to Stansted Airport north of London. He said Britain was "a pretty hot spot right now with a lot of resignations". "The people voted to break it up (Britain's ties with the EU)," Trump said. "So I would imagine that's what they will do, but maybe they will take a little bit of a different route. I don't know (if) that is what they voted for," he added. "I'd like to see them be able to work it out so it could go quickly." When asked about Trump's remarks, May said in Brussels: "What we are doing is delivering on the vote of the British people... that's what our proposal does."
77 percent unfavorable
Trump is doing his best to avoid the mass protests planned for his controversial trip, which will include talks with May, tea with Queen Elizabeth II and a private weekend in Scotland.
Some 77 percent of Britons have an unfavorable view of Trump, according to a poll by YouGov with 1,648 respondents. The poll conducted this week said 63 percent found Trump racist, and 74 percent said he was sexist. London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who signed off on the so-called "baby Trump" blimp, defended the decision Thursday, arguing the protests were not anti-American but emblematic of free speech. "Now more than ever we have a responsibility to stand up for our values and ensure our voice is heard around the world," he wrote in London's Evening Standard newspaper. Despite a series of diplomatic spats between Britain and Trump, the British government is hoping for a quick trade deal with the United States after it leaves the European Union. "There is no stronger alliance than that of our special relationship with the U.S. and there will be no alliance more important in the years ahead," May said ahead of the visit. But Brexit champion Nigel Farage predicted there would be a "real clash" on Brexit. "I would love to say that I think this is going to be a hugely successful visit but I think it’s going to be very difficult," he said at a pro-Trump gathering in parliament.
Dinner at Churchill's birthplace
Trump flew in after a fraught NATO summit in Brussels where he piled pressure on allies to double their defense spending. He is due to leave Britain on Sunday for talks in Helsinki the following day with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose government stands accused by May's of unleashing a lethal nerve agent in the city of Salisbury. Russia has strongly denied the charge. Britain "is in somewhat turmoil", Trump said before departing Washington, remarking that dealing with Putin might surprisingly be the easiest part of the European trip. That turmoil includes the resignations of May's Brexit and foreign ministers over her plan to retain close ties with the EU after leaving the bloc in March. The U.S. president's brash style and hardline "America First" policies have caused consternation across Britain's political spectrum and society. May will seek to put the tensions behind her when she hosts Trump later Thursday for a black-tie dinner with business leaders at Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of World War II prime minister Winston Churchill. He is due to stay overnight at the ambassador's Winfield House residence in London's Regent's Park, where demonstrators plan to play recordings of migrant children held in U.S. detention centers. On Friday, May and Trump will hold talks on Brexit, relations with Russia and trade ties at the prime minister's Chequers country residence followed by a press conference. Trump next heads to Windsor Castle later Friday for tea with the queen, as protesters stage a mass demonstration in London. He then travels north to Scotland where he and his wife Melania will spend the weekend privately. His late mother hailed from Scotland, and he owns two luxury golf courses there.
Trump Says Putin is a 'Competitor', Not an 'Enemy'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/July 121/18/U.S. President Donald Trump said Thursday that he sees his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin as a "competitor," not an "enemy," days before they meet for a high-stakes summit."Someone said 'is he an enemy?' No, he's not my enemy. Is he your friend? No, I don't know him well enough, but the couple of times I've gotten to meet him we got on very well. "But ultimately he's a competitor. He's representing Russia, I'm representing the United States," Trump added. "Hopefully some day he'll be a friend, I just don't know."
Trump said he would be discussing the civil war in Syria, the conflict in Ukraine, as well as allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election. "I will be asking about meddling, your favorite question," he told reporters during a press conference on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Brussels. "All I can do is say 'did you?' and 'don't do it again'. He may deny," Trump added. The U.S. president was also asked if he would be prepared to recognize Crimea as part of Russia after it was annexed from Ukraine by Moscow in 2014. Some news reports and analysts have suggested Trump might be prepared to concede the territory to Putin in exchange for cooperation in Syria. "What will happen to Crimea from this point on? That I can't tell you, but I'm not happy about Crimea." Trump blamed his predecessor Barack Obama "who allowed it to happen."
"That was on Barack Obama's watch, that was not on Trump's watch. Would I have allowed it to happen? No, I would not." He also said that he expected to discuss NATO military exercises near the Russia border in the Baltic Sea, which Moscow considers provocative. European nations are desperate for the U.S. to maintain its military commitment to continue defending the continent under the NATO military alliance. "We'll be talking about it," Trump said.

Israel Strikes Three Syrian Posts Following Drone Infiltration
Jerusalem Post/July 12/18
The Israeli military struck three Syrian military targets overnight on Wednesday in retaliation for a Syrian drone that infiltrated into northern Israel hours earlier.
"The IDF holds the Syrian regime accountable for the actions carried out in its territory and warns it from further action against Israeli forces," read a statement released by the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit. Footage released by the Israeli military showed missiles hitting a hut, a two-story structure and a five-story structure. The official Syrian news agency SANA reported that Israeli jets “fired a number of missiles towards some military posts” near the Druze town of Hadar and Tal Kroum Jaba in Quneitra countryside, causing only material damage. Another strike by rockets and mortar shells targeted the village of Jaba causing significant damage to the houses. With Syrian government forces continue to advance in an offensive to retake the strategic Syrian Golan Heights from rebels groups, the IDF has stressed for the 1974 separation of forces agreement between Israel and Syria to be upheld and the demilitarized buffer zone along the border be respected. On Wednesday a Syrian drone flew some 10 kilometers into Israel before being intercepted by a Patriot missile. “The aerial defense systems identified the threat and tracked it,” read a IDF Spokesperson’s Unit statement, which added that “the IDF will not allow any violation of Israeli airspace and will act against any attempt to hurt its civilians.” According to Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin, the strikes were a message by Israel which wants to make it clear to the Syrian regime that any violation of the 1974 agreement will have a price. “The agreement is becoming more relevant now that the Syrians are coming back to the border and Israel wants to make a point that they are seen as being responsible to keep the 1974 agreement,” Yadlin said on a call organized by The Israel Project. According to the army the drone, which was unarmed, was tracked before it entered Israel. Calls were also made to Russia and neighboring Jordan to make sure the drone did not belong to them before shooting it down.
“We carried out a number of checks before the interception and the missile was fired only when the conditional were optimal for it. The aircraft carried out a mission in the Golan Heights, including among our neighbors before it entered Israeli territory. We wanted to know which country it belonged to,” the army said. The incident came as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, his ninth visit this year. Israel is concerned that the Assad regime will allow Iran and its Shiite proxy militias and Hezbollah to entrench themselves near Israel’s Golan Heights. “When a drone comes from Syria these days it could be Syrian, Russian, Iranian, or from Hezbollah,” Yadlin said. “The grand strategy is to remove Iran but in this case Iran wasn’t involved.”“Israel will not let any cross the border but the significant of who it belongs to is important-Israel doesn’t want to shoot down a Russian drone and that is why there was a 15 minute delay before it was shot down,” he continued. “When Bibi is landing in Moscow he doesn’t want to have to explain to Putin what happened.”
Syria Army Enters Rebel-Held Areas of Daraa City
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/July 121/18/Syria's army on Thursday entered rebel-held parts of the southern city of Daraa for the first time in years, state media said, raising the national flag in the cradle of the revolution. "Syrian army units enter Daraa al-Balad and raise the national flag in the main square," the official news agency SANA said, a day after a deal was announced for that rebel-held neighborhood and others in the city.

Israeli-Syrian armed duel over Quneitra has begun
DEBKAfile/July 12/18
Israel’s official accounts of the critical events around Quneitra of Wednesday, July 11, shifted ground, with bearing on the Netanyahu-Putin talks in Moscow. The Syrian drone shot down over the Sea of Galilee was first attributed to an errant UAV from the Daraa battles 100km away. The IDF spokesman said it was tracked for 15 minutes by 4 Israeli jets and 2 choppers until the Patriot interception was ordered. DEBKAfile: The Syrians, Iranians and Hizballah have now learned from this incident that it takes the Israeli high command at least 15 minutes to use the red line to the Russian command at Khmeimim and obtain clearance. Meanwhile, although the UAV was not yet known to be unarmed, sirens were not activated to warn the thousands of holidaymakers at Sea of Galilee resorts of a possibly dangerous hostile drone overhead. The sirens only sounded when the Patriot missile blew the intruder up.
Then, after midnight, it was decided after all to retaliate for the purportedly “stray” drone intrusion. Three Israeli air strikes were conducted against Syrian army posts in the Quneitra region. DEBKAfile: The IDF seemed to have borrowed the tit-for-tat strategy long used against Palestinian terror emanating from the Gaza Strip, whose only material consequence has been the steady erosion of Israel’s military deterrence. The immediate purpose of the overnight IAF strikes against Syria was to accentuate Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s message to President Vladimir Putin, that Israel is not budging from its demand for the full expulsion of Iranian and its proxies’ from all parts of Syria. After their talks in the Kremlin, an “Israeli official” stated: “They (Russia) have an active interest in seeing a stable Assad regime and we in getting the Iranians out. These can clash or can align.” This formulation underlined the absence of common ground between Putin and Netanyahu. It is obvious to both parties, as well as to Bashar Assad and Gen. Qassem Soleimani, that wherever the Syrian army is to found, so too are Iranians and Hizallah.
Wednesday therefore produced three pivotal consequences:
1-Nothing new was achieved in the Putin-Netanyahu talks aside from reaffirming their ongoing liaison in Syria to avoid military clashes between them.
2-Nothing was settled regarding the Iranian and Hizballah presence in Syria.
3-The military showdown between Israel and Syria over Quneitra has begun.

US State Secretary Pompeo urges EU to get tough on Iran
AFP, Brussels/Thursday, 12 July 2018/US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged European powers to get behind American measures to cut Iran off from world energy markets Thursday, during talks in Brussels. While debate at the nearby NATO summit was marked by President Donald Trump’s attacks on Germany’s close energy ties with Russia, his top diplomat had another target. Pompeo peeled off from Trump’s summit entourage and joined US Energy Secretary Rick Perry and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini at the EU-US energy council. Pompeo made no statement going into the talks, but his Twitter account showed what was on his mind. “Iran continues to send weapons across the Middle East, in blatant violation of UN Security Council resolutions,” he wrote. “Iran’s regime wants to start trouble wherever it can. It’s our responsibility to stop it.”Then, just before the talks started, he added: “We ask our allies and partners to join our economic pressure campaign against Iran’s regime. “We must cut off all funding the regime uses to fund terrorism and proxy wars,” he warned. “There’s no telling when Iran may try to foment terrorism, violence and instability in one of our countries next.”Alongside the tweet he posted a map of Europe purporting to show the locations of 11 “terror attacks” US officials believe Iran or its proxy Hezbollah have carried out since 1979. Washington dismayed Europe in May when Trump pulled out of the 2015 accord under which Iran agreed to controls on its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. US sanctions have now “snapped back” into place and US officials have begun to hope that the economic pressure is fueling domestic discontent against the Tehran regime. European companies are reluctant to resume trade with Iran at the risk of being hit by US secondary sanctions, but the main EU capitals want to protect the accord. They are thus resisting a US threat to impose sanctions on any entity trading in Iranian oil or dealing with the Iranian central bank after a November 4 deadline.

Iraq’s Sadrist Movement says alliance with Maliki is ‘out of the question’
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Thursday, 12 July 2018/The political bureau of Sadrist Movement leader Muqtada al-Sadr said an alliance with leader of the State of Law Coalition Nouri al-Maliki in order to form a new government was “out of question.” Sadr’s office said Maliki bears legal responsibility for what happened in Mosul and other Iraqi cities when they fell in ISIS’s hands since he was prime minister and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. They added that selecting ministers is subject to specific regulations and mechanisms, and hinted that the decision to hand over Maliki a ministerial portfolio in the upcoming cabinet will not be the decision of the Sairoon Alliance. Earlier this month, Sadr called on political blocs via Twitter to cut all discussions on the election results and the cabinet formation process with the US and other countries as this process is purely an Iraqi affair. He also called on political blocs to keep away from forming sectarian and ethnic alliances and voiced his willingness to create an atmosphere of cooperation to form an alliance that goes beyond partisan and sectarian quotas. Sadr also called for holding discussions with neighboring countries regarding providing essential services like water and electricity especially amid the heat wave Iraq is going through and the power cuts in most governorates, instead of holding political talks to form the cabinet.

Syrian regime prepares to raise flag over rebel-held Daraa city
Reuters, Amman/Thursday, 12 July 2018/Syrian state vehicles, accompanied by Russian military police, entered an area of Daraa city on Thursday to raise the national flag over an area held by rebels for years, witnesses said, leaving President Bashar al-Assad poised for another big victory in the seven-year-long Syrian conflict. Cranes from the state-run Daraa municipal council erected a flag pole near the mosque where the eruption of large protests in March 2011 was widely seen as heralding the start of the conflict. Government forces backed by Russia have recovered swathes of rebel-held Daraa province at the border with Jordan in a major offensive that got underway last month and has forced many rebels to give up territory in negotiated surrender deals. Rebels holed up in part of Daraa city are still in talks with Russian officers, with many of them aiming to secure safe passage to opposition-held areas of northern Syria, rebel officials said. The talks were expected to resume on Thursday. A large convoy of Russian military police was expected to enter the devastated area later. Some 2,000 rebel fighters are holed up in the opposition-held part of Daraa city, along with their families. Many want to leave due to fear of how the government will treat them.

Canada supports further efforts in Iraq and Syria to empower women and girls and to stabilize the region
July 12, 2018 - Brussels, Belgium - Global Affairs Canada
Canada is committed to the Global Coalition Against Daesh and to achieving lasting peace in Iraq and Syria.
Today, in Brussels, Belgium, the Honourable Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs, participated in the Foreign Ministers Meeting of the Global Coalition Against Daesh. During the meeting, the Minister announced $26.7 million in funding to improve the livelihoods of women and girls. The funding will be used to provide women and girls with access to sexual and reproductive health services, increase women’s roles in decision making in their communities and give them economic opportunities such as small business grants. All of these projects are focused on supporting a more peaceful and prosperous future in the region.
Today’s funding will also support projects aimed at helping to remove improvised explosive devices planted by Daesh in public buildings, such as hospitals, schools and water treatment plants, and projects seeking accountability for Daesh crimes in Iraq and Syria.
At the meeting, the Minister reinforced the need for all coalition members to put gender equality, including initiatives surrounding women, peace and security, at the centre of all their operations in Iraq and Syria.
Canada also recently announced that it will expand its leadership role in NATO and assume command of a new NATO training and capacity-building mission in Iraq for its first year. Canada’s leadership and contributions will help strengthen Iraqi security forces and create the foundations for longer-term peace and stability in the country.
“Today’s announcement reflects Canada’s unwavering support for the Global Coalition Against Daesh and for the stability of Iraq and Syria. We believe that gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls are vital to achieving and sustaining peace and security in both countries.”
- Hon. Chrystia Freeland, P.C., M.P., Minister of Foreign Affairs
Quick facts
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a new NATO mission during the Our Shared Global Values engagement event on July 11, 2018, just before the NATO Summit. Under Operation IMPACT, the Canadian Armed Forces are already providing training and assistance to the Iraqi security forces and helping regional forces build their capacity.
Canada is also currently contributing mobile training teams to NATO’s counter-improvised explosive device capacity-building efforts for Iraq. This initiative builds on that effort.
The Government of Canada is contributing more than $2 billion over the course of three years toward security, stabilization, and humanitarian and development assistance in response to the crises in Iraq and Syria and their impact on Jordan and Lebanon.
In 2016 to 2017, with support from Canada and other donors, 1.5 million women and girls in Iraq and Syria received reproductive health services; in addition, nearly 294,000 women survivors of gender-based violence, and women at risk of such violence, received prevention and response services.
With Canadian support, 5.2 million square metres of land in Iraq were cleared of landmines in 2016 to 2017, and hundreds of families displaced by Daesh were able to return home safely.
Canada is one of 74 members of the Global Coalition Against Daesh and contributes to all five of the coalition’s lines of effort: supporting the coalition’s military operations in Iraq, tackling Daesh’s financing and economic infrastructure, preventing the flow of foreign terrorist fighters across borders, supporting stabilization and the restoration of essential public services to areas liberated from Daesh and countering the group’s propaganda.

The Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published
on July 12-13/18
Don't Get Out of Syria/من الفورن بوليسي: على أميركا أن لا تنسحب عسكرياً من سوريا
Jennifer Cafarella/Foreign Policy/July 12/18
Assad's Victory Will Only Lead to More Chaos
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has not won his country’s civil war; rather, the war is entering a more dangerous phase. Forces fighting on his behalf have made important gains in recent years, capturing Syria’s second city, Aleppo, in 2016 and securing his capital, Damascus, in 2018. They are currently attacking the rebel stronghold in the southern provinces of Quneitra and Daraa, where the revolution began. Together, these victories have changed the trajectory of the war, weakening the moderate opposition and suggesting to many international observers that the fight for Syria is all but over.
But although the regime’s advances are impressive on a map, they will not end the war. Assad is weaker than he seems. His rule depends on the backing of foreign patrons, such as Iran and Russia, and the exhaustion of states that once opposed him, such as Jordan. His decision to internationalize the war will lay the foundation for future wars, and his tactics of mass slaughter threaten to fuel a long-term, global jihadist insurgency that will keep combat raging in Syria for years to come.
The United States must accept that ignoring Syria will lead not to a clean victory for Assad that establishes a stable peace but to more chaos down the road. To avoid that, the United States should invest now in building leverage for future decisive action by strengthening the military and governance capabilities of its partners on the ground, regaining the trust of Syria’s rebelling population, rebuilding rebel forces, and denying Assad the international legitimacy he so desperately craves. The United States still has options to constrain Assad and his backers—all it needs is the will to use them.
Assad’s victories in the recent stages of the Syrian war have depended heavily on the support of Iran and Russia, which have combined to provide him with tens of thousands of ground troops, airpower, financial aid, and (in the case of Russia) diplomatic cover, without which his regime likely would have toppled. Although these interventions have stabilized the Assad regime in the short term, they are redrawing the power map of the Middle East in a way that will lead to further instability.
The first problem is that Iran and Russia will now be able to use Syria as a springboard for their international aggression. Russia has reportedly already begun to use its Syrian air base to support the operations of Kremlin-backed mercenaries in the Central African Republic and Sudan. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ability to project force from Syria will aid his efforts to erode the NATO alliance and undermine the U.S.-led world order, allowing him to exploit the seams between the United States and its allies and partners. Iran, meanwhile, is establishing bases and creating Syrian proxies in order to open a second front against Israel in a future war. Israel will not tolerate this and could escalate to a ground operation in southern Syria to prevent it.
A further problem is that Assad’s depopulation of rebel communities is destabilizing neighboring states and driving regional instability in a way that will prolong the war. Jordan is possibly on the brink of collapse owing to the unsustainable number of Syrian refugees it has absorbed and has closed its border to 59,000 Syrians that fled Assad’s latest offensive in mid-2018. These populations may now be forced to live under a regime they sought to escape, creating a ripe environment for terrorists to exploit. Refugee flows are also incentivizing Turkish escalation. Ankara’s 2016 invasion of northern Syria was meant in part to check the Kurds but had the additional goal of relieving Turkey’s refugee burden by force. Turkey is now resettling refugees in northern Syria and building a rebel proxy force to govern them. But by sustaining anti-regime forces and populations, it is likely to prolong the war. Ignoring Syria will lead not to a clean victory for Assad but to more chaos down the road.
Despite its support for rebel proxies, Turkey is pragmatically aligned in the short term with Assad and his backers to fight the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)—the United States’ main partner in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS)—because of its links to a Kurdish insurgency against the Turkish state. As the Syrian Kurds retaliate against Turkish forces and proxies in Syria and contemplate expanding their operations into Turkey, the Turkish-SDF war threatens to become a regional one. The United States has engaged Turkey to de-escalate this conflict but has taken no serious action to reform the SDF—for instance, by strengthening the Arab elements and constraining the Kurdish ones—in a way that might allow for a more conclusive deal. And after winning reelection last month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is more dependent than ever on political support from Turkish nationalists, which could drive him to further escalation.
A U.S. retreat from eastern Syria, where it currently has some 2,000 troops, would create a vacuum that various belligerents would compete to fill. Assad and his backers, Turkey, and jihadist groups such as al Qaeda and ISIS all hope to gain control of the areas that the U.S.-SDF alliance seized from ISIS. A U.S. withdrawal will only accelerate this conflict.
In addition to the game of geopolitical chess now being played in eastern Syria, the region is a potential base for a resurgent al Qaeda and ISIS. Al Qaeda operated across eastern Syria before the rise of ISIS in 2014 and likely still has networks there. And ISIS, although weakened, is not defeated in Syria. It retains sleeper cells and forces in small pockets across the country, which continue to fight both Assad and the SDF. On June 22, ISIS claimed its first attack in its former capital, Raqqa, now held by the SDF, demonstrating its continued ability to inflict damage.
Assad’s gains on the battlefield will not end the jihadist insurgency, because it is Assad’s brutality that drives the insurgency. His tactics—chemical weapons, mass executions, starvation, torture—have broken the will of many rebel communities but hardened the resolve of tens of thousands of jihadists who will continue to fight him for decades to come.
In all likelihood, al Qaeda will lead that insurgency. It has the most capable forces among all the remaining Syrian rebel groups in western Syria. Its suicide bombers are decisive in overcoming Assad regime defenses that other Syrian rebels cannot penetrate. And while the group is building its Syrian fighting force, it is also recruiting foreign fighters in order to use Syria as a launch pad for future global attacks.
Currently, al Qaeda’s forces are concentrated in northwestern Syria and remaining rebel-held areas of southern Syria, but the group likely retains capable networks in regime-held areas. Periodic attacks against regime targets in the provinces of Aleppo, Hama, Homs, and Latakia throughout 2017 and early 2018 have demonstrated that al Qaeda and linked groups can penetrate areas ostensibly under Assad’s control. Similar attacks will likely occur in Damascus and southern Syria after Assad’s gains this year. (ISIS, too, has claimed attacks in regime-controlled areas.) Turkey, meanwhile, is allowing fighters with jihadist links into the areas it controls and ignoring the creation of an al Qaeda governance project in Idlib Province, on its borders in northwestern Syria.
A future in which Assad reimposes control and prevents jihadist threats to the West is a fantasy. He deliberately fueled the rise of both ISIS and al Qaeda in order to use them to hold the West hostage while he destroyed what threatened him most: the moderate rebels that wished to negotiate a peace. His conquest of the areas of southern Syria held by formerly U.S.-backed rebels would eliminate the last true bastion of moderate resistance to his rule, removing Western options and neutralizing the international diplomatic process by eliminating the rebels willing to negotiate. The defeat of moderates does not win Assad the war, however. It paves the way for groups such as al Qaeda to redefine the nature of the Syrian fight from a pro-democracy rebellion to a global jihad.
How, then, should the United States respond? The most effective approach remains to build moderate groups that are willing to reunify the country via a negotiated settlement. Assad’s military gains have not won him back the support of rebelling populations. The most significant obstacle to building a partnered rebel force remains the absence of U.S. will and commitment. Previous U.S. efforts to build rebel partners were doomed to fail because Washington attempted to prevent them from fighting Assad. A concerted U.S. effort to rebuild the fighting ability of moderate rebels without such constraints could fundamentally change the course of the war.
The United States should salvage forces from moderate groups in southern Syria, such as the First Army, that wish to continue fighting Assad. Under considerable military pressure, these groups have begun to surrender to the regime. Some will likely be relocated to Turkish-held areas of northern Syria, but those that stay may turn to supporting a future jihadist insurgency as their only way to resist. The United States should offer these rebels another option.
The south will likely fall to forces allied with the regime unless the United States acts immediately, but even if it does, Washington still has options. It can leverage the SDF against Assad and his backers and rebuild rebel capability over time.
The SDF controls large portions of Syria’s oil resources, which the United States should continue to deny to the regime. But the SDF is a problematic partner. Its Kurdish leaders are implementing a repressive form of governance to eliminate political competition in the areas it controls, and the group lacks the necessary resources and bureaucratic capabilities to govern the Syrian populations under its rule. If it is allowed to continue, the mismanagement of SDF-held areas threatens to fuel a resurgence of ISIS and the rise of an anti-SDF insurgency that could be exploited by al Qaeda. Washington should commit additional resources toward transforming the SDF into an effective governing structure and military force. The United States should condition its support of the SDF on good governance and take steps to hold the group accountable by, for instance, bringing human rights monitors into SDF-held areas to inspect internally displaced persons camps and prisons and by enabling locals to file complaints directly with the United States.
The United States will also need to regain credibility with the Syrian population. Reforming the SDF and investing in the stabilization and recovery of areas under SDF control would help. So would helping refugees and internally displaced persons to return to areas under U.S. and SDF control. These steps can enable the United States to recruit rebel fighters from the returning populations, which will remain opposed to Assad’s continued rule.
Finally, Washington should recognize the failure of the international diplomatic process and walk away. Doing so would block a renewed effort by Russia to hijack the diplomatic process by spurning the UN-backed talks while hosting its own efforts in Sochi, thus building goodwill with Syria’s rebelling population. Washington will also need to reach a deal with Turkey that ends its war with the SDF and aligns Ankara with the United States against the Assad regime and its backers. The deal would likely entail concessions that allow acceptable Turkish-backed forces and proxies to help secure Arab-majority areas in eastern Syria currently under SDF control.
The steps outlined here would neither solve the Syrian war nor force Assad to negotiate. They would, however, provide the United States with leverage and begin a U.S. pivot toward engagement in Syria after the nominal defeat of ISIS. These steps are costly and difficult, but they reflect the best way forward in a vicious war that, far from drawing to a close, will morph into new—and potentially more deadly—conflicts.

Israeli official: 'There's realistic opportunity to push Iran out of Syria'
يديعوت أحرونوت/مسؤول إسرائيلي: فرصة اخراج إيران من سوريا هي واقعية
Itamar Eichner/Ynetnews/July 12/18
'Russia, too, is not fond of Iranian presence in Syria, and even Assad understands that the Iranians are exploiting him to promote their own interests in the area,' says high-ranking Israeli official following Netanyahu-Putin meeting.
A "realistic opportunity has been created to push Iran out of Syria," a high-ranking Israeli official said Wednesday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, their third meeting over the last six months.
“It’s not wishful thinking. Russia, too, is not fond of Iranian presence in Syria, and even (Syrian President) Assad understands that the Iranians are exploiting him to promote their own interests in the area. Therefore, it is important to coordinate with the Russians and others involved in this conflict,” explained the source. The main focus of the meeting between the two leaders was the tensions along Israel's border with Syria amid the ongoing civil war in the neighboring country.
he two also discussed the World Cup currently taking place in Russia and Sunday’s upcoming final and later watched the England-Croatia semi final game together.
Only hours after the IDF intercepted a drone which approached the Israeli border from Syria, Netanyahu stressed to Putin Israel’s position against Iranian military entrenchment in the area.
He also underlined that Israel will continue to act against any attempt to undermine its sovereignty.
“Several hours ago, a Syrian drone approached Israel’s airspace. We intercepted it, and we will continue to act firmly against any infiltration into Israel's airspace or territory. We expect that everyone will respect our sovereignty and Syria strictly adhere to the separation agreement,” stated the prime minister.
Putin is set to meet with US President Donald Trump in a few days, and it was important for Israel to clarify its position on the issue before these talks take place.
“We’re operating in a very crowded space, and not only do we not clash with the Russians, we coordinate militarily, these days as well,” said the prime minister after the meeting.
“We are operating against Iranian and Hezbollah targets and we’ll maintain our freedom of action,” Netanyahu concluded.
Immediately after the meeting, Netanyahu, along with his wife Sara, hurried to the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, to watch a World Cup semi-final between Croatia and England. He was also accompanied by two Israeli teenagers suffering from terminal illnesses.
“I haven’t been this happy in a long time,” said Alon Isreyev, one of the teenagers who suffers from cancer. He was born in Russia and undergone a heart transplant from a Croatian donor.
“It’s very exciting to be able to make their dream come true,” added the prime minister.
First published: 07.12.18, 22:18/,7340,L-5308957,00.html

Ethiopia-Eritrea: A New Hope for Peace
Ahmed Charai/Gatestone Institute/July 12/18
By renegotiating the U.S. African Growth and Opportunity Act, [US President Donald J. Trump] can strengthen American exports, create new export-related jobs and foster development-oriented investment on the continent. By reforming U.S. humanitarian aid to Africa, he can cut considerable bureaucratic waste, and effectively increase assistance without increasing the cost.
Washington can also take advantage of the close relationships between them and one of its biggest allies, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed, Crown Prince of UAE, who has a strong ties with many African leaders and who has played an important role during the different negotiations between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
UAE's Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, has welcomed the reestablishment of cordial relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea. He has stressed that such an agreement will positively reflect on boosting security and stability in both countries, the Horn of Africa and the MENA region.
Making America great again, as Trump's campaign slogan goes, means helping Africa rise and stabilize.
The leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea signed a declaration on July 9, ending a state of war between the two countries. It was a major step toward resolving one of post-colonial Africa's bloodiest and most protracted conflicts.
The U.N. Security Council said the peace declaration signed by Ethiopia and Eritrea after 20 years as enemies "represents a historic and significant development with far-reaching positive consequences for the Horn of Africa and beyond."
The council commended Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki for signing the agreement and welcomed their commitment "to resume diplomatic ties and open a new chapter of cooperation and partnership."
A statement by the governing party of Ethiopia, the second-most populous country in Africa, said it would "fully accept and implement" the agreement with Eritrea, a former province of Ethiopia, which was signed but never honored.
The countries also fought a war from 1998 to 2000 over their border dispute, which left about 80,000 people dead. They signed a peace agreement in 2000, but the Ethiopians never accepted the findings of a boundary commission established by the agreement.
The border has been a deadly point of contention ever since, and the dispute had been widely regarded as a diplomatic stalemate.
A thawing relationship between Ethiopia and Eritrea could bring economic revival to the Horn. The countries are natural economic partners; peace would create access to ports, cross-border trade and jobs. But creating lasting peace will not just be about forging diplomatic ties between Addis Ababa and Asmara; it will be about demining and demilitarizing the border and restoring the livelihoods of communities that have long lived near each other.
For the United States it is a good opportunity, as it will allow for increased stability. The Trump administration can try to disown the old policies and get a fresh start.
U.S. President Donald J. Trump has the opportunity to make a historic course correction, and to do so in a manner consistent with his administration's stated goals. By renegotiating the U.S. African Growth and Opportunity Act, he can strengthen American exports, create new export-related jobs and foster development-oriented investment on the continent. By reforming U.S. humanitarian aid to Africa, he can cut considerable bureaucratic waste, and effectively increase assistance without increasing the cost.
Meanwhile, Trump's commitment to strengthening U.S. military capacities can and must include due attention to AFRICOM. All these measures — in benefiting Americans, winning goodwill among Africans and strengthening U.S. military capacities in the area — will, in turn, challenge China's dominance of Africa, gaining America leverage as it moves to challenge Beijing in other ways.
President Trump with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed at the White House. Washington can use its alliance with the UAE to strengthen ties with Africa.
Washington can also take advantage of the close relationships between them and one of its biggest allies, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed, Crown Prince of UAE, who has a strong ties with many African leaders and who has played an important role during the different negotiations between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
UAE's Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, has welcomed the reestablishment of cordial relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea. He has stressed that such an agreement will positively reflect on boosting security and stability in both countries, the Horn of Africa and the MENA region.
Sheikh Abdullah voiced the UAE's aspiration to ensure a durable peace between the two nations.
Workneh Gebeyehu, Ethiopian Foreign Minister, said the historic accord between his country and Eritrea was a result of the extensive efforts made by His Highness Shaikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and thanked him for the seminal role he played in the diplomatic breakthrough.
Dr Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, said the UAE has become a key partner in the Horn of Africa, ahead of all other Arab nations that have a presence in such a vital region.
In a series of tweets, Dr Gargash said: "Maintaining political communication with the Horn of African countries has both risks and opportunities, but it is essential because the Horn of Africa is important for the security and progress of our Arab world. The long term policy the UAE is pursuing is gaining respect in the Horn of Africa and internationally."
Strangely, America's first African-American president turned a blind eye to the continent of his father's birth. Trump again has an opportunity to promote peace, prosperity and development while calming waves of violence. Making America great again, as Trump's campaign slogan goes, means helping Africa rise and stabilize.
President Trump will find that helping Africans achieve their dreams is a cause that constructively complements his plans and goals to benefit the United States.
Ahmed Charai is a Moroccan publisher. He is on the board of directors for the Atlantic Council, an international counselor of the Center for a Strategic and International Studies, and a member of the Advisory Board of The Center for the National Interest in Washington and the Advisory Board of Gatestone Institute in New York.
© 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.

Why Do Palestinian Leaders Oppose Helping Their People?

Bassam Tawil/Gatestone Institute/July 12/18
Mahmoud Abbas and his West Bank-based government seek to prolong the suffering of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. They want the international community to continue to believe that Israel is responsible for the ongoing, intense suffering of the Palestinians. They are hoping to use the crisis there to pursue their campaign to delegitimize Israel.
Palestinian leaders would prefer to see their people starve than make any form of concessions for peace with Israel. Yet Al-Aloul and Abbas are not the ones who are facing starvation. There is nothing more comfortable than sitting in your fashionable house in Ramallah or Nablus and talking about starvation and humanitarian aid.
The Palestinians of the Gaza Strip, who are desperate for jobs and a better life, do not really care about Trump's upcoming peace plan. They also do not really care about a settlement or a checkpoint in the West Bank.
This is the essence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: The Palestinians' number one priority -- the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinians in general -- is destroying Israel. They would rather die than give up their dream of destroying Israel.
For years, Palestinian leaders have been complaining that the Gaza Strip was "on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe." Time and again, they have warned that unless the world helps the Palestinians living there, the Gaza Strip will "erupt like a volcano."
Israel and the US are now offering to help improve the living conditions of the Palestinians living under Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip. But guess who is fiercely opposed to any attempt to resolve the "humanitarian and economic crisis" in the coastal enclave, home to some two million Palestinians? Answer: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his ruling Fatah faction.
In the past few weeks, both Israel and the US administration have come up with different ideas to help the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip.
US envoys Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, who recently visited the Middle East, are said to have presented initiatives that included providing necessities such as electricity, desalinating drinking water, employment opportunities and reviving the industrial zone in the Gaza Strip.
Israel, for its part, has asked Cyprus to consider the possibility of establishing a seaport on the island for shipping goods to the Gaza Strip. According to reports, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has reached an understanding with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades to pursue the port plan. Liberman's office said that Israel is working internationally in a number of ways to try to "change the reality" in the Gaza Strip.
One would think that the Palestinian leaders would be extremely happy about these initiatives to alleviate the suffering of their people in the Gaza Strip. The plans to improve the living conditions of the residents of the Gaza Strip should be music to the ears of the Palestinian Authority leadership, right? Wrong.
What, exactly, is behind this mystifying desire on the part of the Palestinian leaders to deny their people a shot at a decent life? Why does the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, which claims that it cares about the well-being of all Palestinians, vehemently oppose any plan to create job opportunities and other forms of aid for its people?
Let us take it step by step.
First, Abbas and his West Bank-based government seek to prolong the suffering of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip so that they can continue damning Israel for the crisis. They want the international community to continue to believe that Israel is responsible for the ongoing, intense suffering of the Palestinians. Difficult as it appears to for the global community to grasp, however, Israel's maritime blockade on the Gaza Strip is aimed solely at preventing the smuggling of weapons into the coastal enclave. The border between the Gaza Strip and Israel remains open for delivering food and humanitarian and medical aid into Gaza. The border between Israel and the Gaza Strip remains open for delivering food and humanitarian and medical aid into Gaza.
Second, the Palestinian Authority and its leaders are opposed to any humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip because they fear that this would embolden Hamas by encouraging it to maintain its tight grip on the Gaza Strip and absolving it of its responsibilities towards the residents living there. Once others start providing the residents of the Gaza Strip with aid, Hamas would be able to continue investing millions of dollars in building tunnels to attack Israel and smuggling more weapons into the Gaza Strip. Hamas would no longer have to worry about paying salaries to Palestinians or purchasing medicine and food.
The Palestinian Authority is hoping that conditions in the Gaza Strip will get so bad that the Palestinians there will rise up against Hamas. It is worth noting that the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah itself has imposed severe sanctions on the Gaza Strip in the past year.
These punitive measures include halting payments to thousands of civil servants and suspending social welfare assistance to hundreds of families. The sanctions have triggered a wave of protests throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip in recent weeks, prompting Abbas's security forces to use force to disperse the protesters.
Third, the Palestinian Authority leadership are assuring us that the Israeli and US plans to help the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip are part of a wider "conspiracy" to force the Palestinians to accept US President Donald Trump's yet-to-be-unveiled plan for peace in the Middle East.
Abbas and his senior officials are using this issue to whip up anti-American and anti-Israel sentiments among the Palestinian population. They are telling the Palestinians that the economic and humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip are primarily designed to extract "political concessions" from the Palestinians. Their argument: The Palestinians would be required to give up their "national rights," including the "right of return" for refugees and their descendants to their former homes in Israel proper, in exchange for improving their living conditions.
Palestinian Authority leaders are inciting their people by telling them that the US and Israel are seeking to "blackmail" the Palestinians. Consider, for example, what Abbas's prime minister, Rami Hamdallah, said on July 5: "We won't accept any plan to turn our national rights into humanitarian or financial rights. We have fixed political, historical and legal rights that are non-negotiable."
Another senior Abbas loyalist, Mahmoud Al-Aloul, was quoted on July 2 as saying: "We don't want your flour and wheat; we don't want your humanitarian aid."
And note another recent statement, made by Al-Aloul, who serves as Abbas's deputy in Fatah and is touted as the next Palestinian Authority president: "We are prepared to starve, but we can't, in return for resolving our humanitarian issues, give up Jerusalem and our basic rights."
The message should be obvious – after all, it is being broadcast loud and clear: Palestinian leaders would prefer to see their people starve than make any form of concessions for peace with Israel.
Yet Al-Aloul and Abbas are not the ones who are facing starvation. Life in Ramallah and the rest of the West Bank is pretty good for Abbas and his senior entourage. Unlike the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian Authority leaders enjoy freedom of movement and live in luxury apartments and villas. There is nothing more comfortable than sitting in your fashionable house in Ramallah or Nablus and talking about starvation and humanitarian aid.
When Al-Aloul and other senior Palestinian leaders talk about the harsh conditions in the Gaza Strip, they conveniently forget to mention that it is, in part, their own sanctions that have aggravated the crisis there. But the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip, who are desperate for jobs and a better life, do not really care about Trump's upcoming peace plan.
They also do not really care about a settlement or a checkpoint in the West Bank. Abbas and his officials seem dead-set to pursue their jihad against Israel and the US at the expense of the last surviving Palestinian. They go on selling their people old slogans about "national rights and principles and Jerusalem" while watching them die in the streets.
The final lesson to be drawn from the statements of the Palestinian Authority leaders against plans to improve the living conditions of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not about economic or humanitarian issues.
By insisting on all Palestinian " national rights," including the "right of return," and by refusing to recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, the Palestinians are in fact signaling that their true goal is to see Israel removed from the Middle East. How do we know that they want to destroy Israel? Abbas says he sees Israel as a "colonialist project that has nothing to do with Judaism."
This statement means that he does not see Israel as a legitimate state. Abbas and his officials do not care about the suffering of their people in the Gaza Strip because they are hoping to use the crisis there to pursue their campaign to delegitimize Israel. Hamas, for its part, is clearly stating that it will not give up its dream of "liberating Palestine, from the river to the sea," even if that means the starvation and death of its people. Both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas could have ensured a better life for their people a long time ago, but this is not what is on their mind. They care less about their people and more about finding ways to undermine and delegitimize and demonize Israel and Jews.
Abbas and his loyalists are saying in easy-to-understand language: "You can give us as much money as you want, we will not change our stance towards Israel and we will not give up any of our demands." In this regard, at least, they are telling the truth.
This conflict is not about money or economic aid. It is about the existence of Israel, whose presence the Palestinians refuse to tolerate in the Middle East.
This is the essence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: The Palestinians' number one priority -- the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinians in general -- is destroying Israel. They would rather die than give up their dream of destroying Israel.
**Bassam Tawil is a Muslim Arab based in the Middle East.
© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Religion, Politics and Investing
Barry Ritholtz/Bloomberg/July 12/18
I have no problem with people wanting to feel good about their investments, but I also want them to realize what their choices potentially do to their returns. Today, I want to see how well the Inspire Global Hope Large Cap ETF, with the ticker symbol BLES, has done in terms of returns and otherwise.
First, the benchmark: Finding a suitable one isn’t easy, as the fund’s holding are made up of 50 percent US-based securities, 40 percent in developed-nation foreign securities and 10 percent in emerging markets. It invests in companies with market capitalizations of $5 billion or more. The closest comparable indexes are either the BlackRock Inc.’s iShares MSCI World ETF or perhaps State Street Corp.’s SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust.
The fund lags both indexes in terms of returns at three months, six months, one year and since inception on Feb. 28, 2017.
The cost of the Inspire fund is another factor, at 0.61 percent, which is more than twice as much as the BlackRock product, which is 0.24 percent, and it is more than half a percentage point higher than the State Street product, at 9.5 basis points. That’s a pretty substantial drag on returns over a longer period of time.
My investment philosophy is that most of your portfolio should be in low-cost indexes. You should feel free to have some of your portfolio in non-indexes, but only if you can come up with a sound reason why you are moving a few percent away from what looks like a sure thing into something that might or might not be a better substitute. My preferences have been toward the Fama-French factor model focused on value, size and quality. If you want to deviate from that, well you should have a defendable reason.
Feel free to use 5 percent of your portfolio for your mad money, i.e., speculative or themed investments. But the bar for moving away from beta, or market-matching returns, in your pursuit of either above-market alpha or other factors is very high. Things get complicated when the portfolio shift is based on issues other than performance — ethics, politics, sustainable investing, corporate governance and social motivations. These all come with compromises.
One such non-financially motivated portfolio I noticed recently is named the Point Bridge GOP Stock Tracker ETF. Its clever stock symbol is what caught my eye: MAGA. GOP Stock Tracker’s slogan is “invest politically,” a strategy many will tell you is counterproductive. As Bloomberg News reported, this ETF only invests in companies that are loyal to President Donald Trump and the Republican Party:
Not necessarily the most profitable companies, or the fastest-growing, or the ones with the most attractive price-earnings ratios—or any of a number of metrics a typical investor would use. Instead, it selects companies based on public information about donations to Republican candidates by their employees and political action committees.
To me, this is a very strange basis for making an investment — it might satisfy an emotional need, but not a financial one. In fact, as we showed earlier this year, the companies that Trump trashed did much better than the ones he liked.
The knee-jerk response will be, What about environmental, social and governance investment products. The short answer is that the first and third parts of ESG, environmental and governance, have a correlation with better performance. The underlying basis of environmental investing is that companies with less exposure to environmental volatility and associated costs tend do better; on governance, diverse leadership is associated with less groupthink and better decision-making. No such correlation has been shown for social investing; similarly, an inverse correlation seems to exist for political investing.
If you want to invest from a political angle, the closest thing I have found to a rational basis is the Life + Liberty Emerging Markets Index, which says it incorporates “human and economic freedom metrics as primary factors in our investment selection process.” The idea behind the Life + Liberty index, which will introduce an ETF in 2019, is that “freer” markets experience more sustainable growth, and attract, retain and allocate capital more efficiently than countries with unfree.
Politics and religion are both unavoidably emotional. That is why they tend to be bad for your investment returns. If you are worried about your mortal soul, try to be a nicer person, and pick up karma points where ever you can — preferably not when making investment decisions.

Germany Blames the Locusts Again
Chris Bryant/Bloomberg/July 12/18
Within hours of Heinrich Hiesinger stepping down as ThyssenKrupp AG chief executive last week amid pressure from activist investors, the talk turned to “locusts,” Germany’s catch-all term for the evils of Anglo-Saxon capitalism.
A “locust-style” breakup must be resisted, ThyssenKrupp’s chief labor representative warned, no doubt in reference to Cevian Capital and Elliott Management Corp, who’ve been pushing for change. Blaming hedge funds for the unraveling of a once-mighty industrial conglomerate feels misplaced though.
If a business cannot consistently generate a return in excess of its cost of capital, it might as well pack up and go home. ThyssenKrupp has been failing to do that for years. Similarly, it’s reasonable to ask whether a company that spans submarines, industrial plants and auto parts has become too complex to manage. The recent poor performance of ThyssenKrupp’s industrial solutions division and the relatively weak margins of its elevators business — compared to rival Kone Oyj — suggest this is indeed the case.
Of course, the German giant’s problems run far deeper than its spread of assets. It’s important to remember where Hiesinger started out from when he took the reins. ThyssenKrupp’s former management team spent about 12 billion euros ($14.1 billion) on a pair of steel plants in the U.S. and Brazil, whose business model and construction was fundamentally flawed. Massive writedowns followed, leading led to roughly 7 billion euros of losses between 2011 and 2013 and almost forcing the company into bankruptcy.
It fell to Hiesinger too to revamp a culture benighted by price-fixing allegations and reports of directors living the high life. ThyssenKrupp used to have several hunting grounds. It’s a little rich to accuse activist funds of being locusts when this is the recent company history.
To his credit, Hiesinger also initiated a wrenching shift away from the company’s cyclical steel activities, culminating in the combination last week of its European flat steel business with that of Tata Steel Ltd.
Yet he resisted a full-scale breakup, arguing that there was an industrial logic to keeping the various businesses together. Unfortunately, that logic isn’t apparent in the company’s operating profit margins, which have averaged less than 3 percent in the past four years.
Indeed, even modest changes might unlock a lot of value. With its own stock-market listing, the elevator unit might be worth as much as the parent’s entire market capitalization. A breakup certainly looks more likely now Hiesinger is gone.
None of this is to decry his staunch defense of the German model of capitalism— which balances the interests of investors and employees. The strength of the country’s economy owes much to huge manufacturers such as Siemens AG, Daimler AG and Volkswagen AG, where workers have a powerful voice.
More than one-third of ThyssenKrupp’s employees are based in Germany, where most earn good wages and have decent pensions. There’s something to be said for that. Airbus SE’s threat to quit Britain in the event of a hard Brexit is a stark reminder of the dangers to a country of not fostering large industrial champions. The gig economy of Uber drivers and food delivery is hardly an adequate replacement.
But activist funds can be useful stakeholders too. The more patient investment approach of Sweden’s Cevian is hardly in the locust category, and all companies that want to be around for the long run need to earn their keep and take their shareholders seriously. Siemens, for example, has stayed a step ahead of the activists by separately listing its wind power and healthcare units — though admittedly with mixed results so far.
Germany should recognize that not all activists are out to wreck its industrial base. Hiesinger’s predecessors made a pretty good stab of that already.

This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Jonathan Bernstein/Bloomberg/July 12/18
The Boston Globe’s Jeff Jacoby reminds us that we’re approaching the 70th anniversary of a landmark event in U.S. history: Hubert Humphrey’s speech on civil rights at the 1948 Democratic National Convention and the subsequent vote on a civil rights platform.
Humphrey’s 1948 triumph wasn’t the first important step the Democrats took in the shift from their Jim Crow past and toward their civil rights future — that would probably be the end of the two-thirds rule in 1936, which ended the Southern veto over Democratic presidential nominations. And it was hardly sufficient: The Democratic presidential candidate in 1952 and 1956, Adlai Stevenson, ran as a moderate at best on the issue. Yet it was certainly important. Some Dixiecrats who walked out on the party in 1948 never returned, and as they and their successors moved to the Republican Party, the bigotry faction of the Democrats became smaller and smaller.
It’s an important story in the history of the civil rights movement, but it’s also an excellent example of how U.S. democracy can work.
For one thing, it demonstrates that internal party decisions are crucially important. Not all such decisions come to a vote within formal party organizations, the way this one did. Sometimes the decisions that matter involve a consensus reached within the informal party network. Sometimes, instead of a platform battle, it turns out that the crucial decisions are made between different candidates, backed by different coalitions, for a presidential nomination — such as Barry Goldwater’s nomination by Republicans in 1964, marking the initial triumph of the conservative coalition in that party. Or it may involve pressuring candidates to accept the party’s priorities — think of how Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards all supported (with minor variations) the basic framework that became the Affordable Care Act, or the way Republican candidates for office take a pledge against raising taxes.
However they are made, those decisions are how new policy options appear and become plausible governing options. And the ability of party actors to propose new directions and have a meaningful chance to get them adopted is absolutely essential to U.S. democracy. That doesn’t mean that intraparty democracy must follow a plebiscite model in which voters have to decide the party’s direction through primary elections or other such mechanisms. It does mean, however, that some form of intraparty democracy is necessary if the nation as a whole is to be democratic.
The march toward civil rights also demonstrates why the vote is absolutely essential. The Democrats’ choice to move toward civil rights wasn’t just about Northern politicians gaining a conscience as they looked at white supremacy in the South. What mattered overall was black citizens moving north and starting to vote in their new cities.
What that shows is that the vote is what really matters — more, in some ways, than whether any particular vote is enough to swing an election (although it certainly helped that the black vote was often seen as a swing vote). Politicians try to represent their districts. But without the vote, constituents are largely invisible to their elected officials. Of course, it also mattered that some of those voters began electing black politicians, who then fought within the Democratic Party for what their constituents wanted — for themselves, and for other black citizens.
Democratic processes don’t always work in the U.S. But without the vote — and without robust political parties — they don’t have a chance.

The Daraa battle that has no horizon
Khairallah Khairallah/Al Arabiya/July 12/18
Syria’s Daraa battle proved that there is a deep agreement between Russia, Israel and the US regarding South Syria. This agreement has allowed troops affiliated with Iran to participate in the battle that aims to reach the Jordanian borders and reopen the Nasib border crossing. They managed to participate by dressing Iranian Revolutionary Guard members and other members of Lebanese and Iraqi militias the military uniform of the Syrian army, which now lacks human resources. This agreement, which Jordan that is concerned over not hosting more Syrian refugees does not seem far from, is based on new arrangements that divide South Syria into two areas. One of them is called southwest Syria, and this is where Iranian militias are allowed to operate to support the remaining Assad forces under Russia’s aerial cover, which has destroyed towns and neighborhoods on the heads of women, children and civilians. This has left the opposition there with one option, which is reaching settlements that apparently serve the interest of the Syrian regime. Russia combines between the beneficial and the enjoyable while managing this game. The beneficial is represented in providing personnel to the regime via the sectarian militias affiliated with Iran while the enjoyable is in going far in cooperating with Israel and working on achieving a deal with the Trump administration
The Israeli stance in Syria
In brief, there is a game being played in South Syria. One of the game rules is not to come near Israel which believes that the issue of the Syrian Golan that’s been occupied since 1967 is a finalized issue; hence the separation between one area and another in South Syria. They have also prohibited anyone from coming near the southwestern area and the Golan front. This front has always been the reason behind the presence of the current Syrian regime ever since Hafez al-Assad was minister of defense during the 1967 war. The Trump-Putin summit will be held on July 16 right after the World Cup, which Russia is hosting and which it used to enhance its global status. As we wait for this summit, it seems the only truth that has actually surfaced is Israel’s frank announcement that it is sticking by the Syrian regime. This does not mean ending the strikes that target Iranian posts in Syria.
On the contrary, there were still strikes in the past few weeks while Iranian-linked militias were sacrificing victims to serve the Syrian regime that believes it emerged victorious from the Daraa battle. Meanwhile, Russia proved that it’s the only party capable of managing a game that’s extremely complicated. This game is based on an agreement with Israel and the Trump administration before anything else, and on using Iranian militias to secure the shortage of personnel in the Syrian army. Russia combines between the beneficial and the enjoyable while managing this game. The beneficial is represented in providing personnel to the regime via the sectarian militias affiliated with Iran while the enjoyable is in going far in cooperating with Israel and working on achieving a deal with the Trump administration which, as it’s well-known, does not reject any of the Hebrew State’s requests.
Can one say the Syrian regime has a future? Before engaging in the issue of the future of the Syrian regime, which has been carrying out what is required from it, i.e. divide Syria and displace the largest number of citizens, we must note that Iran which sought to be the party with the first and final word in Damascus has been the victim of the idea that it can use others to achieve its aims. Yes, Iran can use Lebanese sectarian militias as a tool. It can use Iraqi militias to serve its ambitions. However, this is one thing and using Russia to save Bashar al-Assad is something else. Vladimir Putin saved Assad when he sent his fighter jets to Khmeimim in late September 2015. He did not make this move before getting a green light from Iran. It’s no secret that before Russian bombers were sent to the Khmeimim base that’s located on the Syrian coast near Latakia, General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Brigade of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, visited Moscow.
The importance of Daraa
Everything has a price in the Syrian war. There is a price which Iran must pay in exchange for Russian intervention. This price includes acknowledging Israel’s interest on one hand and the deep relation between it and Russia on another. Israel passes through Russia before Iran.
What’s more important than all this is the future of Russian-American relations. The Russians know, before anyone else, that if it the US hadn’t directly informed the opposition that it must surrender in Daraa and it must not rely on any help from Washington, the battle in the southwest would not been a simple walk in the park. What Russia, Iran and the Syrian regime ignore is that Daraa and its surroundings will not be a bite that’s easy to swallow on the long run. Daraa is where the Syrian revolution erupted. Daraa is where the regime which Hafez al-Assad established was first shook and from where he began relying on Sunnis in the countryside. Hafez al-Assad really hated the Sunnis in larger cities. At the same time, he was concerned in covering his regime’s Alawism with the Sunnis in the countryside and with the minorities, like Christians and Ishmaelites.
It will be difficult to imagine the regime’s future in an area like Daraa where familial ties still dominate over everything else. There is a tribal society in Daraa and its surrounding, and this society has extensions towards Jordan as well. Most families in this area have branches in Jordan. These families are not only known for the ties between them, but also for the revenge customs.
The regime will flash the signs of victory in Daraa. This victory against the Syrians was achieved thanks to the Iranian militias, the Russian aerial shelling and American and Israeli collusion. A victory has been achieved against citizens in Daraa. There is no horizon for this victory, which only resembles victories that were achieved during the Cold War via Soviet tanks against eastern European countries. What is left of the Soviet occupation of countries like Hungary, Poland, East Germany, Romania, Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia which has now become two states?
Who remembers that the tanks which were sent from Moscow crushed the Budapest uprising in 1956 and the Prague Spring in 1968 and that they suppressed the revolution of the Polish people in the 1980s? These are only few examples that show there are limits to what a tank or a jet can do. There is simply a regime that has ended in Syria. The regime will not rise again regardless of all the Russian planes and Iranian militias and despite the American and Israeli support provided to Bashar al-Assad during the Daraa battle.
Something broke in Syria, and it is the regime whose main problem is that it can destroy the Syria we’ve known but it cannot eliminate the entire Syrian people even if Israel combines all contradictions for it and provides it with all it needs in terms of American coverage.

Beyond borders: Rise of the global citizen
Marco Gantenbein/Al Arabiya/July 12/18
When the first modern citizenship-by-investment programs were developed in the mid-1980s and early 1990s, the investment migration industry was largely unformed, unknown, and unregulated.
Today, by contrast, the market is an established and evolving feature of the economic landscape, and is growing faster in the Middle East than in any other part of the world.
Thousands of people now apply for citizenship and residence each year, and by the end of 2017, there were over 30 active and successful programs in existence. But what benefit do nations get from administering citizenship-by-investment programs, and why are individuals so eager to get their hands on a second passport?The boom in the global citizenship market over the past decade has seen the industry gain widespread credibility and acceptance. The European island of Cyprus legalized citizenship-by-investment in 2011. Two years later, both Antigua and Barbuda and Grenada in the Caribbean launched citizenship programs. In 2014, EU member state Malta introduced its Individual Investor Program, which is the only one of its kind recognized by the European Commission.
The primary benefit for states that administer citizenship-by-investment programs is significant financial investment in their domestic economies. The cost and design of each program vary, but most involve an up-front investment into the country. These inflows of funds are considerable, and the macroeconomic implications for most sectors can be extensive.
rect investment brings capital both into a country’s public sector — in the form of donations to the government, tax payments, or treasury bond investments — and the private sector, in the form of investments in businesses, start-ups, or real estate.
Countries are able to use citizenship-by-investment funds to finance infrastructure development and improve their people’s standard of living, and those that save their inflows may be able to improve their fiscal performance, minimize any dependence on international aid, and reduce national debt.
While citizenship-by-investment offers rewards to investors and the host nation, there are also mutual benefits to be obtained simply by removing the barriers to visa-free travel
Intangible benefits
Apart from these economic gains, successful applicants also bring intangible benefits to receiving countries, such as scarce skills and rich global networks. They add diversity and uplift host nations through their demands for improved and novel services, which in turn creates new employment and entrepreneurial opportunities. As the number of successful applicants increases each year, host countries often gain international prominence on account of their increased competitiveness. This results in other benefits to the country, including growing publicity and media attention and a boost in tourism, which may encourage more potential citizenship-by-investment applications. For applicants, a second or third passport does not just mean increased travel freedom. Having an alternative passport also grants its holder the right to do business and settle in an expanded set of countries and regions, as well as allowing access to all the benefits enjoyed by other citizens. It also eliminates a great deal of the inconvenience surrounding visa applications and passport renewal or replacement processes.
Most importantly, though, an additional passport can literally save a person’s life in times of political unrest or under heightened terrorism risk, or in other delicate political situations. At such times, a second citizenship can be an escape route, allowing people to secure a safe future and an improved quality of life for their families. While citizenship-by-investment offers rewards to investors and the host nation, there are also mutual benefits to be obtained simply by removing the barriers to visa-free travel. While the advantages are not as significant as those received through citizenship-by-investment programs, many governments have adopted this approach. Earlier this year, for example, the UAE allowed Chinese passport holders to enter the country without a visa, which led the Emirati hospitality and tourist industries to report a 70 percent growth compared to 2017, as Chinese travelers took advantage of their newfound access to the Middle East’s main hub.
Another benefit for the UAE is that like many such visa arrangements, the agreement with China was reciprocal, and in fact UAE passport holders can now visit 158 destinations visa-free. This year alone, they have gained access to Ireland, Burkina Faso, Uruguay, Guinea, Tonga, Honduras, Canada, Brazil, Guyana, and Barbados. Thus, eliminating visa requirements is a helpful step along the path to borderless travel, even if it cannot provide the same advantages to countries or individuals as citizenship-by-investment programs.
For the privilege of fully comprehensive global mobility and flexibility, alternative citizenship is by far the best solution, and for this reason it is consistently sought after by high-net-worth individuals who are willing to spend significant sums in order to secure it in the hope of better opportunities.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, it is becoming increasingly popular in the Middle East, where instability in countries such as Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon means that many people in the region find their movement and opportunities constrained by their passports.
The Future
In recent years, the global citizenship-by-investment industry has experienced unprecedented growth, with thousands of people applying for alternative citizenship and residence each year. Nonetheless, there are still many countries where it makes sense to start new programs, and the industry looks set to continue to thrive as global demand for alternative citizenship solutions increases. However, as the industry grows in visibility and breadth, so too does the cloud of public dissent and opposition regarding the perceived ‘marketization’ of citizenship, as does concern from multilateral organizations about tax and money-transfer practices. Accordingly, a strong culture of self-regulation and due diligence is essential to the industry’s continued success and sustainability. The challenge for the industry, then, is to build longevity and future-readiness while carving out its place in the global community as a beacon of innovation, collaboration, professionalism, and responsible investing. The global citizenship-by-investment industry matters and, by all accounts, it is here to stay.

Challenging times for the Iranian regime
Michael Flanagan/Al Arabiya/July 12/18
Last month, I attended a convention of the Coalition of Iranian Opposition Groups (CIOG) at George Washington University. This was an assemblage of the top exiled groups from Iran.
Some have been working here as long as their escape and exile after the revolution in Iran in 1979. While, it was a collection of septuagenarians calling for change and reliving their past triumphs, it was also a truly representative gathering for regime change in Iran.
They had participants and members from all ethnic, religious and racial minorities in Iran. For the first time in my experience these disparate groups spoke with one voice. This convocation is distinguished from the annual meeting in Paris last month of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich and others from the United States appeared and spoke of their personal support and of the support of the Trump Administration’s call for an end to the regime. The NCRI has been the international focal point for Iranian resistance. However, it is an imperfect messenger. The Paris meeting lacked representation from the ethnic minorities in Iran and the NCRI has its origins in a checkered past.
The new is better than the old but both have the same goal and should find a way to work together. Both meetings stressed that it appears that the Trump Administration has made the decision that this is the time to support the dissidents abroad and the protesters inside Iran.
Regime change is the obvious goal and more and more public meetings of dissidents should be expected working toward the end of the theocracy in Tehran. A bombing plot against the Paris NCRI meeting was thwarted in Europe and was apparently planed with some assistance from government functionaries in Iran. Such a desperate act may point to a greater weakness in the hold that the regime has on power than we otherwise understand. It is possible that the regime is more brittle that we understand and that talk among dissidents is actually dangerous to their otherwise precarious position.
Regime change is the obvious goal and more and more public meetings of dissidents should be expected working toward the end of the theocracy in Tehran
Pompeo’s attack
Over the past few months, Secretary Pompeo has attacked the “criminal regime” for its external activities in directing the Revolutionary Guards’, Hamas’ and Hezbollah’s activities abroad. At the same time, protests against the regime have markedly shot up recently in both number and intensity.
Notably, the Arab minority in Southwestern Iran arose because of a lack of water for consumption and for irrigation and has had continuous protest demanding radical change in the provincial leadership and a proper response to their need from Tehran.
Their response in Tehran is weak (and a little insane). An Iranian General was sent forth to accuse Israel of controlling the clouds and stealing the rain.
Sad attempts like this to divert the attention of the protesters from their thirst will fail and will erode credibility for the regime. In short, it will embolden the protestors and lead to more and bigger protests.
Unrelated but constant protests have spread throughout Iran – not just in the Arab Southwest. The protests are no longer merely sporadic events usually occurring in opposition centers like Iran’s large cities.
Troubling for the regime, the renewed protests are in rural areas and have real demands. These rural areas are the stronghold of the Ayatollahs, which provide the base of their most ardent supporters. In almost every province of the Islamic Republic, people are protesting the regime.
The regime in Tehran is facing new and challenging times internally as well as externally. They would do well to put their own houses in order first before trying to export the revolution. I doubt that they can – or even want to.

Europe and immigration
Hazem Saghieh/Al Arabiya/July 12/18
The EU summit that was recently held in Brussels, which mainly discussed immigration and asylum, is considered to be one of Europe’s most complex and difficult summits. It was not only difficult to organize as it’s equally difficult to implement its decisions, which observers described as extremely vague.
Views expressed at the summit widely differed from each other, with some calling to give financial support for countries receiving immigrants, like Italy and Greece. Other views focused on possible locations for establishing secure migrant centers. France insisted on establishing these centers in countries where migrants first arrive in the EU, which was of course rejected by Italy. This is in addition to differences between Spain and Greece over dealing with granting asylum, Italy’s extreme and harsh approach and some Central European countries’ abstention from participating in European commitments and obligations.
The problem of migration and asylum amid poor economic circumstances has the components that play a role in the strategy of attacking Europe given the ability to incite less developed and less prosperous segments of the population against ‘strangers’
Exploiting immigration issues
There is a more important and disconcerting fact behind this scenario. According to official European figures, the number of illegal refugees in the EU has dropped from over 1 million recorded in 2015 to 56,000 in 2017.This means that the differences are worsening even as the problem itself is dissipating! This shows that the asylum and migration issue, which is very significant indeed, is being exploited as national and populist pretexts to weaken intra-European ties and perhaps to later dissociate the EU by basing this on the Schengen agreement over free travelling between its countries. The anti-EU governments that now run countries like Italy and Austria in the west and Poland and Hungary in the east strengthen such a possibility. If we take a wider look, we would notice that the rise in populist and nationalist sentiment in Europe sweeps across nation states from Russia under Vladimir Putin to the US under Donald Trump. If the Washington Post’s story that the US President encouraged his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron to quit the EU, promising him with dual agreements between the two countries in return is true then expecting bad intentions is valid.
Trump has talked about European allies as selfish little parties that benefit from military protection provided by America and from trade with it. As for Moscow, it has also done its best to support anti-European powers, in every election event in the continent.
Targeting European unity
Targeting the project of European unity has several aims as, for the first time in history, it seeks to democratically violate the ideal of the nation-state. This clashes with the extreme nationalist tendencies in each country while liberalism and human rights would run contrary to populist sentiments sweeping through the world these days. Thus, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has become the favorite target of criticism from various quarters. The problem of migration and asylum amid poor economic circumstances has the components that play a role in the strategy of attacking Europe given the ability to incite less developed and less prosperous segments of the population against ‘strangers.’ Some may take things further as this immigrant ‘stranger,’ who is exploiting Europe’s naiveté as nationalists and populists claim, can be blamed as the reason for European tragedies and hardships.
This could also provide a chance for opportunistic politicians to exploit and rake up arguments and bring them down to the meanest levels, by establishing secure migrant centers, according to what the Brussels summit called for and which human rights organizations viewed as inhumane prisons.

Iran’s ‘moderates’ have been forced to show their true colors
الدكتور مجيد رفيع زاده: المعتدلون في إيران عليهم أن يعلنوا عن مواقفهم

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/July 12/18
The so-called moderate political party of Iran, the Moderation and Development Party, which is led by President Hassan Rouhani, came to power by promoting a clear distinction between themselves and the Principlists (Osolgarayan), as well as the hard-line factions of Iran’s politics, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Ministry of Intelligence, and the judiciary.
The moderates advocated for employing diplomacy, using a softer tone on the international stage, and refraining from using harsh, incendiary rhetoric and threats. Many Western politicians and mainstream media outlets bought into the regime’s fabricated binary narrative of Iran’s moderates versus the hard-liners.
But the reality on the ground is that Rouhani and his political party never were moderates, but rather insiders. Nevertheless, for almost four years, Rouhani and his technocrat team, including the Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, succeeded in hiding their actual intentions, policies and positions. This has recently changed, as the moderates appear to be showing their true colors.
For example, Rouhani has recently been making serious threats, which, if implemented, could have catastrophic results and grave geopolitical and strategic implications for the region and the international community. He pointed out: “The Americans have claimed they want to completely stop Iran’s oil exports. They don’t understand the meaning of this statement because it has no meaning for Iranian oil not to be exported while the region’s oil is exported.” Rouhani is threatening to block the Strait of Hormuz.
Rouhani further escalated his threat by stating: “If you can do such a thing, do it and see the result.” In addition, Zarif also recently threatened that Iran is prepared to “vigorously” resume its nuclear enrichment program. He said: “We have put a number of options for ourselves and those options are ready, including options that would involve resuming at a much greater speed our nuclear activities.”
Serious threats such as these are increasing. Where are the so-called moderates and the “diplomat sheikh” of Iran, who appeared to be respecting international laws and norms and promoting peace and stability in the region?
Although the moderate political party projects itself to be different from the hard-liners, such as former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, recent policies and incendiary and provocative statements issued by the ruling politicians are strikingly similar to those of the hard-liners.
In fact, Iran’s hard-line politicians, including the commander of the Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, as well as the state-controlled conservative media outlets, have praised Rouhani for his recent posturing and statements. In other words, the so-called moderates are joining the hard-liners and reiterating the same core agenda of the regime.
Another major question to address is why are the moderates now coming out of the closet and adopting these positions?
The moderates advocated for employing diplomacy, using a softer tone on the international stage, and refraining from using harsh, incendiary rhetoric and threats.
Although this might appear to be a tactical shift, the moderates have been forced to reveal their true faces. It is important to note that the true mandate of Iran’s ruling moderates is to pave the way and to facilitate the revolutionary agenda of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the IRGC, both in the region and on the international stage. This agenda is anchored in increasing the IRGC’s influence in the region, exporting the extremist revolutionary ideals of the mullahs abroad, and pursuing the regime’s hegemonic ambitions through military adventurism and aggressive and expansionist policies.
For almost the first four years after assuming power, the “moderate” politicians were more effectively capable of advancing the supreme leader’s agenda through a softer tone on the international stage, smiles, and a misleading facade. They sealed a flimsy and one-sided deal in their favor, labeled as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action but commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal. They received unjustified economic and geopolitical concessions, and gained billions of dollars in extra revenues, which helped the IRGC and its elite branch, the Quds Force, increase their influence in Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon. They created more Shiite militias in the region. They escalated their ballistic missile activities, launching more than 20 missiles in a few years. In other words, the moderates successfully duped the international community, specifically Western powers.
But, with the election of Donald Trump as president, the political dynamics in the United States and the balance of power has changed. The Iranian regime lost its leverage over the global superpower, which previously offered it significant appeasements during Barack Obama’s presidency. Now that the Iranian regime’s moderates observe that the Trump administration cannot be deceived by the shrewd “diplomat sheikh,” the moderates versus hard-liners narrative, and tactical phony smiles and softer tones, they have no option other than to reveal their true hard-line stances.
In sum, by threatening to further destabilize the region and by reiterating the hard-liners’ messages, Rouhani and Iran’s moderates are finally showing their actual hard-line face. There are no genuine moderates in Iran’s politics: The so-called moderates, hard-liners and Principlists all serve Khamenei’s rule.
*Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh

Erdogan's growing influence ominous for Turkey's future

Diana Moukalled/Arab News/July 12/18
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan achieved a long-awaited dream when he became president with sweeping new powers in a country he has dominated for 15 years and for which he has introduced a new identity. In the past few days, the first signs of the election results emerged as Erdogan stepped into his new presidential term. He has issued presidential decrees that sacked more than 18,000 civil servants and soldiers, in addition to shutting down three newspapers and a television channel.  Erdogan’s reign will continue for five years and see him have sweeping powers under a presidential system repeatedly denounced by critics and described as an authoritarian regime. Such accusations have been especially forceful since the unsuccessful coup attempt of 2016, which was followed by massive purges of the military and the police and the arrests of tens of thousands of others for allegedly playing a part in the conspiracy. These charges were mocked by many people inside and outside Turkey because a coup is known to be planned by a limited number of people, yet tens of thousands of people have been punished for their alleged part in a conspiracy. This latest crackdown conveys the message that Erdogan’s authoritarian and exclusionary approach will continue — and with even more dominance this time.
Erdogan now enjoys institutional and legal support to control almost every area of power, with the post of prime minister being abolished following last month’s elections. The victories of the likes of Erdogan, which are many, leave us all concerned as to what the future might hold.
What is happening in Turkey is the most dramatic change to the ruling system since the modern republic was founded on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire almost a century ago. Between 1960 and 2002 — before the Islamic Justice and Development Party came to power — Turkey witnessed the following ruling pattern: A life of parliamentary democracy interrupted approximately every decade by military coups that shook political life and maintained a role for the army. After these coups and after the army announced the elimination of “extremists,” Turks went back to their normal lives. These “extremists” were sometimes leftist and sometimes Islamist, Kurdish or Alawite.
However, the Islamists and Erdogan have exacerbated these contradictions and announced the rule of religion and nationalism in the face of Europe — the continent they wished to join but which they failed to embrace. Erdogan has held on to the military behavior from which he suffered before he defeated it. He is now adopting the same approach in his foreign policy and with the media and his opponents. He has cleansed the political arena of his opponents, whether Kurds, dissident theologians (Islamists) or liberals. After the elections, the new presidential system entered into force to completely contradict the parliamentary system, which dates back to the establishment of the Republic of Turkey. The new system can be called “the second republic.”The victories of the likes of Erdogan, which are many, leave us all concerned as to what the future might hold. This kind of victory is considered a loss for everyone dreaming of a better future, and this has been proved by the outcomes we have already begun to witness.
*Diana Moukalled is a veteran journalist with extensive experience in both traditional and new media. Twitter: @dianamoukalled