July 18/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations
Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit
John 12/20-25: "Among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life."

Titles For The Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on July 17-18/18
St.Charbel & the ISIS Like Christians/Elias Bejjani/July 16/18
They are all alienated from the Virtues Saint Charbel represented and Personified/July 17/18
Relics of Saint Marina Arrive in Lebanon/ 17/18/
Access to Information in Lebanon/Ghassan Moukheiber/Executive Magazine/July 17/2018
Trump's Appalling Display in Helsinki Shows Netanyahu Was Right All Along to Invest in Putin/Daniel B. Shapiro/Haaretz/July 17/18
Iran’s democratic resistance: Closer to realizing regime change/Lord Maginnis of Drumglass/Al Arabiya/July 17/18
Besieging Iran’s Mahan Air/Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya/July 17/18
The victories of the little Croatian man/Turki Aldakhil/Al Arabiya/July 17/18
Helsinki Summit aftermath: Domestic discord for Trump or ‎end of Cold War/C. Uday Bhaskar/Al Arabiya/July 17/18
Iraqis angry at vicious cycle of failure/Diana Moukalled/Arab News/July 17/18
Helsinki summit heralds the dawn of a new world order/Cornelia Meyer/Arab News/July 17/18
Palestinians' Latest "Apartheid Fatwa"/Bassam Tawil/Gatestone Institute/July 17/18
Is Russia "Buying" the West/Peter Huessy/Gatestone Institute/July 17/18
Opinion/Helsinki Fiasco Proves That Netanyahu’s Adulation for Trump Is a Miscalculated Risk for Israel/Chemi Shalev/Haaretz/July 17/18
Did Trump Just Absolve Putin's Deadly Record in Syria/Haaretz and The Associated Press/July 17/18
Trump: Putin Is a Great Believer in Israel, He Is a Fan of Bibi/Haaretz/Jul 17/18

Titles For The Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on July 17-18/18
St.Charbel & the ISIS Like Christians
They are all alienated from the Virtues Saint Charbel represented and Personified
Relics of Saint Marina Arrive in Lebanon
Lebanon: Stormy Hariri-Bassil Relationship
Parliament Elects Members of its Parliamentary Committees
Kanaan: No Veto on Giving LF 'Sovereign Portfolio'
Al-Sayyed-AMAL War of Words Flares Up, Jreissati Steps in
Aoun: U.S. exit from Iran deal a threat to Mideast stability
Parliament Elects Members of its Parliamentary Committees
Berri on Cabinet Formation ‘I Don’t See Anything Positive’
Jumblat Says FPM Has ‘Taken Over the State’
Chris Rampling Appointed New UK Ambassador to Lebanon
Bukhari Says SA Encourages Expedited Cabinet Formation
Activists Hail Lebanon Ruling that Could Protect Gay Rights
Access to Information in Lebanon

Titles For The Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on July 17-18/18
Trump Returns from Summit with Putin to Forceful Criticism
Air Strikes Kill 15 Civilians in Southern Syria
Israel Tightens Gaza Blockade as Arson Kites Raise Fears of War
Iran Lodges Complaint against US over Renewed Sanctions
Israel Places New Limitations on Cargo Crossing into Gaza
Palestinian Dies after Being Shot in Gaza Clashes
Four members of suspected ISIS cell arrested in Iran

The Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on July 17-18/18
St.Charbel & the ISIS Like Christians
Elias Bejjani/July 16/18
St. Charbel did not assign anyone to defend him against any body because Christianity is love, forgiveness, tolerance and not insults, barbarism and racism. Christianity has nothing to do with ISIS like Christians who are totally alienated from its core and essence.
They are all alienated from the Virtues Saint Charbel represented and Personified/هم في غربة عن كل ما يمثله مار شربل
Elias Bejjani/July 15/18
Are our religious and civil Lebanese leaders who are today celebrating Saint Charbel's Day actually practising in their own private lives and in their dealings with others certain virtues that the Saint adored and devoted his life for such as love, tolerance, honesty, humility, asceticism and transparency?
Relics of Saint Marina Arrive in Lebanon 17/18/
The relics of Saint Marina, one of the first Christian saints who lived in Lebanon, returned home to the famous Qadisha Valley where they are set to be displayed until July 23. The relics were brought from Venice where they have been kept and venerated by the Catholic Church for around 200 years.
Marina was born in a wealthy family in north Lebanon in the 6th century. Her mother died when she was still very young. Her father, Eugenius, was a pious and devout Christian man. As Marina reached marriage age, Eugenius decided to marry her off and live in the monastery of Qannoubin in the Qadisha Valley to dedicate his life to God. When Marina learned of her father's plan, she asked him why he intended to save his own soul and destroy hers. "What shall I do with you? You are a woman", her father answered. Then, Marina decided that she would renounce women's clothing and live as a monk "in the grab of a man". Eugenius, seeing his child’s strong determination, gave all his possessions to the poor and headed along with Marina to the Qannoubin monastery, where they hid the daughter's identity from the monks with her living under the name "Marinos". Ten years later, Marina’s father died. One day, Marinos was sent to a neighboring town on a mission for the monastery. As the journey was long, he was forced to spend the night at the house of a friend of the monks named Paphnotius. Paphnotius had a young girl who had fallen into adultery and got pregnant. Upon finding out, her father was enraged and demanded the name of the perpetrator. His daughter told him that Marinos the Monk had raped her the night he spent in their house. Her father went straight to the Monastery to report what happened. When scolded by his superior, Marinos said nothing to defend himself and, therefore, was expelled from the monastery. When the girl who accused Marinos of rape delivered, her father brought the child, a boy, to the Monastery and demanded that the alleged father raises his son. Marinos, who lived in a place near the monastery after his expulsion, took the boy and began raising him as monks brought him their food leftovers.When Marinos died, the monastery's Superior ordered that his body be prepared for burial. It was then that the monks found that Marinos was actually a woman.

Lebanon: Stormy Hariri-Bassil Relationship
Beirut - Caroline Akoum/Asharq Al Awsat/July 17/18/The deal struck between Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) more than 18 months ago to bring Michel Aoun into the presidency has been shaken over differences on the formation of the next government.
Officials from both Hariri’s al-Mustaqbal Movement and the FPM, which has been founded by Aoun, asserted on Monday that the deal would not collapse. On Monday, Hariri made an indirect response to reports about disputes between him and FPM leader Jebran Bassil. “Nothing prevents me from meeting with Jebran Bassil,” Hariri said, adding that he was optimistic that the government formation impasse could be solved in one or two weeks. “I am optimistic. My contacts with all parties will soon produce a government,” he said. The PM-designate said he was trying to calm all sides, adding that both al-Mustaqbal and the FPM were keen on preserving their relationship.“I am committed to forming a national unity government representing all parties. I am responsible for the formation of the government, in consultation with the President and nobody else. All those who think the opposite are wrong.”
However, the optimism expressed by Hariri does not reflect the situation on the ground. The cabinet formation process continues to face several obstacles, including demands on the shares of the Christian and Druze sects. FPM deputy Salim Aoun told Asharq Al-Awsat that Hariri’s mission is to form the government and the role of Bassil lies in demanding a ministerial share, which he sees suitable for the FPM, similar to any other party. “We completely reject accusations that our party is responsible for the delay in the cabinet formation,” Aoun said. On the other hand, Mustaqbal official and former deputy Mustafa Alloush said that the FPM is requesting 11 Christian ministers in the new cabinet in addition to a Druze minister, a demand not only rejected by the PM-designate but by most parties, including the Progressive Socialist Party, the Lebanese Forces, the Kataeb and Speaker Nabih Berri’s Amal Movement. He said Hariri suggested that the FPM and Aoun get 10 ministers, including a Druze minister who is not from the share of the PSP, while the other Christian ministers would be distributed among the LF (four ministers), the Marada Movement (one minister) and al-Mustaqbal (one minister) in return for giving one Sunni cabinet seat to President Aoun. But according to Alloush, this proposal has not pleased Bassil, who is now mainly responsible for deciding whether the cabinet’s formation would be delayed further.
Parliament Elects Members of its Parliamentary Committees
Naharnet/July 17/18/The Parliament elected on Tuesday its 17 parliamentary committees and is expected to elect the presidents and rapporteurs later during the day, the National News Agency reported. Held in Nejmeh Square, the session was chaired by speaker Nabih Berri.
NNA added that the elected members of the committees are expected to meet later today to elect the presidents and rapporteurs. Speaker Nabih Berri pointed out that in line with the internal system the presidents and secretaries should be elected within three days, but according to norms, they will be elected on the same day, said NNA.

Kanaan: No Veto on Giving LF 'Sovereign Portfolio'

Naharnet/July 17/18/The Free Patriotic Movement-led Strong Lebanon bloc announced Tuesday that it does not have a “veto” on allocating a so-called sovereign ministerial portfolio to the Lebanese Forces. The four portfolios labeled in Lebanon as sovereign are defense, foreign affairs, finance and interior. Speaking after the bloc's weekly meeting, MP Ibrahim Kanaan added that “the Strong Lebanon bloc is not forming the government and does not want a role in the formation process.”Rejecting accusations that the bloc is obstructing the process, Kanaan said: “Constitutionally, this is the responsibility of the prime minister-designate and the president.”Turning to the issue of giving one of the three Druze seats to MP Talal Arslan, Kanaan added: “We have explained our vision for the electoral equation that gave us four MPs in Chouf and Aley and we are demanding that that be respected.”“We are not inventing rules and we are demanding equality among everyone under the same constitutional rule,” the lawmaker went on to say.

Al-Sayyed-AMAL War of Words Flares Up, Jreissati Steps in

Naharnet/July 17/18/The war of words between Speaker Nabih Berri's AMAL Movement and Bekaa MP Jamil al-Sayyed escalated on Tuesday, as caretaker Justice Minister Salim Jreissati jumped into the fray by ordering a probe into accusations launched by the former General Security chief. “For the sake of truth, he might oblige us once again to remind him of his record in launching accusations and fabricating stories to create a status for himself. But we will not be dragged into the sedition that he wants to stir in the (Shiite) arena that has protected Lebanon and its unity,” AMAL Movement said in a statement. “To the person claiming to have military honor, we dare him to present his fabricated accusations to the public prosecution so that the truth can be discerned. He and others know that only honorable people work alongside Speaker Berri and they will not be shaken by falsehoods,” the movement added.
During a press conference earlier in the day, al-Sayyed had called on Berri to “eliminate the person who is sowing sedition from the ranks of his group.”“Speaker Berri does not need to enroll officer cadets to garner popularity in the Bekaa,” al-Sayyed added. “As for the appointments in security agencies, especially the latest State Security recruitment round, they tried to incite the Bekaa against the South and we foiled this objective, knowing that 10 out of 17 paid a bribe to get recruited,” the major general added. “One of Speaker Berri's good characteristics in politics is that he does not have sons-in-law or sons in politics and he has said that no one will inherit him in politics,” al-Sayyed went on to say. Accusing an AMAL official of “waging an insults and obscenities campaign” against him on social media to “protect his thugs,” al-Sayyed called on Berri to “expel” the official, noting that “part of the negative results of the elections in the Bekaa was caused by the approach of this person and those who are like him.”“Eliminate those who are sowing discord between the South and the Bekaa,” the controversial major general added, addressing Berri. Minister Jreissati meanwhile ordered State Prosecutor Samir Hammoud to launch a probe into al-Sayyed's remarks during the press conference. Jreissati noted that, if verified, the allegations made by al-Sayyed constitute criminal offenses that require prosecution. He accordingly asked Hammoud to seek to “identify the culprits, partners, instigators and anyone involved in crimes of bribery, power abuse and misconduct that may have marred the recruitment process of officers, non-commissioned officers and personnel in all branches of the armed forces.”

Aoun: U.S. exit from Iran deal a threat to Mideast stability
The Daily Star/July 17/18/BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun said Monday that the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal would have “negative repercussions on security and stability in the region.”Aoun’s comment, made via Twitter, came after a meeting with Hossein Jaberi Ansari, senior assistant to the Iranian foreign minister, who met with several top Lebanese officials on a visit to the country. “Lebanon considered [the deal] a cornerstone of stability in the region that contributes to making it a zone free of weapons of mass destruction,” Aoun was quoted as saying in a statement from the presidency after his meeting with Ansari. While Aoun expressed his regret at the unilateral U.S. withdrawal from the agreement, he welcomed other nations’ continued commitment to the deal. U.S. President Donald Trump announced the U.S.’s withdrawal from the deal in May and reimposed sanctions on Iran. European powers have reiterated commitment to the agreement. Aoun went on to praise the “efforts exerted by Iran to help end the Syrian crisis,” and said this would facilitate the return of Syrian refugees to their country. Iran is one of the major forces on the ground in the conflict, now in its eighth year. Some Lebanese officials’ estimates put the number of Syrian refugees residing in Lebanon at around 1.5 million, while just fewer than 1 million are registered with the UNHCR. Ansari said he had come to Beirut for several reasons, but, “The first issue is focused on explaining the efforts [made by] the Islamic Republic of Iran and the rest of its partners in the nuclear agreement to confront the U.S.’ unilateral policy,” he was quoted as saying in a statement from Speaker Nabih Berri’s office after their meeting. Ansari called on countries in the region to unite and converge “in order to defend their future.”The Iranian envoy said his country wanted greater stability and unity for Lebanon. “We hope that after the successful parliamentary elections, the Lebanese government will be formed through a political consensus among all parties.” After sitting with Aoun and Berri, Ansari met caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, after which Ansari said the Syrian crisis could not be considered definitively resolved until Syrian refugees returned to their homeland. “It is a priority for us to resolve the file of the displaced Syrians and ensure their safe return to their country.”

Parliament Elects Members of its Parliamentary Committees
Naharnet/July 17/18/The Parliament elected on Tuesday its 17 parliamentary committees and is expected to elect the presidents and rapporteurs later during the day, the National News Agency reported. Held in Nejmeh Square, the session was chaired by speaker Nabih Berri.
NNA added that the elected members of the committees are expected to meet later today to elect the presidents and rapporteurs. Speaker Nabih Berri pointed out that in line with the internal system the presidents and secretaries should be elected within three days, but according to norms, they will be elected on the same day, said NNA.

Berri on Cabinet Formation ‘I Don’t See Anything Positive’
Naharnet/July 17/18/Despite the so-called Druze obstacle delaying the Cabinet formation, Speaker Nabih Berri said “it is not difficult to solve,” meanwhile describing the conflict between the Lebanese Forces and Free Patriotic Movement over Cabinet shares as the ‘“mother of all obstacles,” al-Akhbar daily reported on Tuesday. Pointing to several attempts to solve that problem, Berri said “they have all failed.”On Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’s Monday remarks that the government will be lined up within one or two weeks, Berri said: “I wish it is formed today before tomorrow. What is important is that it be lined up in the near future. “No agreement has been reached so far. I don't see anything positive because we have not made any progress in the last two weeks.” Hariri was tasked with forming the new government on May 24. Several obstacles are hindering his mission, especially political wrangling over the Christian and Druze shares.

Jumblat Says FPM Has ‘Taken Over the State’
Naharnet/July 17/18/Political bickering intensified between Free Patriotic Movement chief, Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil and Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat with the latter accusing the FPM of “taking power over the State,” al-Joumhouria daily reported Tuesday. The conflict between the two expanded from the share of the Druze community in the new Cabinet, to the controversial issue of Syrian refugees’ return to their homeland, said the daily. Jumblat believes the return of the majority of refugees is impossible under the so-called Decree No. 10 issued by the Syrian government, warning of the “traps that some are setting.”Bassil recently said that political and economic life will soon be resumed between Lebanon and Syria. The Urban Renewal Law, commonly known as Decree 10, allows the Syrian government to take private property to create zoned developments, compensating owners with shares of the new projects. Under Decree 10, once Syria's government designates a development zone, authorities have one month to publicly notify landowners of the shares option. Those with deeds in government registries automatically receive shares, but those without must prove ownership within 30 days. On Bassil’s announcement on the “imminent resumption of political and economic life between Lebanon and Syria,” Jumblat has said “those who took this position are taking advantage of the circumstances that helped Bashar Assad regain Daraa, in order to return to the days of the past, and then ironically talk about sovereignty and independence.” Asked whether he believes the upcoming Lebanese government should engage in dialogue with the Syrian government, Jumblat said: “The FPM is not waiting for the government to take such a step. It has long been sending ministers to Damascus each Monday. They have seized the Lebanese State.”Relations between Lebanon and Syria had been strained, especially with the 29-year Syrian Occupation of Lebanon, accusations of Syrian intervention within Lebanese politics before and after withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, and suspicions of Syria assassinating Lebanese political figures like former prime minister Rafik Hariri. Syria officially recognized Lebanon's sovereignty in 2008.

Chris Rampling Appointed New UK Ambassador to Lebanon

Naharnet/July 17/18/Chris Rampling MBE has been appointed as British ambassador to Lebanon, replacing Hugo Shorter who has served as the kingdom's envoy since 2015, the British embassy said on Tuesday. Shorter “will be transferring to another Diplomatic Service appointment. Mr Rampling will take up his appointment in September 2018,” the embassy said in a statement. Rampling has served as UK Permanent Representation to the EU’s Political and Security Committee, and Foreign, Defense and Development Counselor. He has also occupied several Foreign and Commonwealth Office posts and served as Deputy Head of Mission of British Embassy Amman and Political and Press Officer of British Embassy Tripoli.

Bukhari Says SA Encourages Expedited Cabinet Formation
Naharnet/July 17/18/Saudi Arabia encourages Lebanon to expedite the formation of the government in order to maintain security and stability, Saudi Charge d'Affaires in Lebanon Walid al-Bukhari said on Tuesday. Bukhari noted the “serious” efforts of President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri to lineup a new Cabinet. His remarks came during a visit he paid to Lebanon’s Fouad Chehab Museum. He said that Saudi Arabia encourages Lebanon to “accelerate the formation of the Cabinet in a balanced manner to achieve national unity in order to achieve the security and stability of Lebanon.”

Activists Hail Lebanon Ruling that Could Protect Gay Rights
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/July 17/18/Lebanese activists have celebrated a court ruling they say paves the way towards decriminalizing homosexuality in the country. On Thursday, a Lebanese appeals court upheld the 2017 acquittal of nine people prosecuted over being gay. A lower court had found in January that year that their homosexuality was "a practice of their fundamental rights." Under a controversial article of the Lebanese penal code, sexual relations "against nature" are outlawed and punishable by up to one year in prison. On Thursday, the Mount Lebanon appeals court found that, with this article, "legislators had not intended to criminalize homosexuality but rather offense to public morals." The ruling means that "homosexual relations are not a crime, as long as they are between two adults and do not occur in a public space," said Karim Nammour, a lawyer and member of non-governmental advocacy organization Legal Agenda. The verdict was the fifth of its kind, Nammour said on Tuesday, but the first by such a high-ranking court. "The appeals court has a certain authority... It's higher in the hierarchy," he told AFP. The ruling is "much more than symbolic. It could have repercussions on the way that lower court judges rule," he added. Rights group Helem also celebrated the landmark ruling in a Twitter post on Friday. "Congratulations for the LGBTQI+ community in Lebanon," wrote the group defending the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community. "The court of appeal endorses for the 1st time ruling by judge: Homosexuality is not a crime," it said in English. While Lebanon is considered more tolerant of LGBT issues than other Arab states, police still stage raids on gay nightclubs and other venues. Homosexuality is also often ridiculed on television shows.
Access to Information in Lebanon
Ghassan Moukheiber/Executive Magazine/July 17/2018
The same questions come up often: “How can I use the Access to Information Law (A2I)?” or “Can I use it at all, or has it joined the ranks of the dozens of good laws that are not enforced in Lebanon?” Lebanese citizens, once hopeful that transparency in the country would be heightened with the passing of the A2I Law on February 10, 2017—after years of preparation—are now disappointed by the many unfortunate examples that show how difficult, or seemingly impossible, it is to actually enforce. The latest in the series of such disappointments was the delay in releasing a copy of the naturalization decree, ultimately published after significant pressure on the website of the interior ministry. So, is the A2I Law dead? To all such citizens, take comfort that the A2I Law is alive, but requires a stronger will and better means for enforcement. The law is an important milestone on the road to preventing and fighting corruption in Lebanon, but not an end of the road by itself—it requires citizens to monitor and promote its full enforcement. Below are some facts to illustrate issues that are not always well understood:
The A2I Law is in full force and effect. It does not require any implementation decree to become obligatory, as is falsely believed in good or in bad faith, by citizens and administration alike. All entities listed in the law, collectively referred to as “the Administration,” must abide by all its provisions without false excuses, such as waiting for an implementation decree that is in the making. However, all should make sure that such a decree—albeit useful if properly drafted and enacted—should not modify or limit the very broad and powerful rights provided by the law.
Enforcement remedies are available. Many administrations responded positively to requests for information. Others, unfortunately, did not. In such cases, in addition to the legitimate, if not necessary, political blaming and shaming—and until the National Anti-Corruption Commission is established by law—the reluctant administration can be subject to a judicial injunction passed by the judge of urgent matters of the Shura Council. This was successfully done in the past and citizens are encouraged to seek such remedy in the future.
The law is about more than just access to information. Many, including politicians and lawyers, overlook the fact that the law also provides new provisions: to protect private personal data and to mandate a written rationale for all individual administrative decisions, under the sanction of annulment. Both subjects were in debate over the naturalization decree. The following caveats must be noted: First, the protection of personal data should not be an excuse for not providing access to personal decrees; and second, judges and lawyers should be encouraged to strike down non-motivated administrative decisions using the A2I Law in order to force a change in behavior of reluctant administrations.
Automatically published information is more important than access to information upon request. This includes; annual activity reports, regulatory administrative decisions, and, most importantly, information about funds, within 15 days of their expenditure. The challenge remains to have all the above appropriately written and published on dedicated webpages for each administration. Many supportive initiatives are underway. The law further exposes the counter-trend decision of the government to put the electronic version of the Official Gazette behind a paywall. This measure is in violation of the general principle of transparency underpinning the A2I Law, and therefore requires a reversal through the development of a free, fully-fleged legal web portal. Also, the same general legal principle of transparency, and article 56 of the constitution, mandate that all administrative decrees and decisions be automatically published in the Official Gazette, including, but not limited to the so-called individual decrees, such as naturalization and pardon decisions. As the saying goes in the legal world, “You win your case twice: once when the judgment is passed, and then again when it is enforced.” The same applies to laws. We won first, after many years of effort, when the A2I Law was enacted. The challenge now, for citizens and politicians alike, is to keep-up the efforts of another nature, to win again, by making sure that the law is properly enforced by all concerned administrations.

The Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on July 17-18/18
Trump Returns from Summit with Putin to Forceful Criticism
Associated Press/Naharnet/July 17/18/In an extraordinary embrace of a longtime U.S. enemy, President Donald Trump openly questioned his own intelligence agencies' firm finding that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. election to his benefit, seeming to accept Russian President Vladimir Putin's insistence that Moscow's hands were clean. The reaction back home was immediate and visceral, among fellow Republicans as well as usual Trump critics. "Shameful," ''disgraceful," ''weak," were a few of the comments. Makes the U.S. "look like a pushover," said GOP Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee. Trump's meeting with Putin in Helsinki was his first time sharing the international stage with a man he has described as an important U.S. competitor — but whom he has also praised a strong, effective leader. His remarks, siding with a foe on foreign soil over his own government, was a stark illustration of Trump's willingness to upend decades of U.S. foreign policy and rattle Western allies in service of his political concerns. A wary and robust stance toward Russia has been a bedrock of his party's world view. But Trump made clear he feels that any firm acknowledgement of Russia's involvement would undermine the legitimacy of his election. Standing alongside Putin, Trump steered clear of any confrontation with the Russian, going so far as to question American intelligence and last week's federal indictments that accused 12 Russians of hacking into Democratic email accounts to hurt Hillary Clinton in 2016. "I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today. "He just said it's not Russia. I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be," Trump said. His skepticism drew a quick formal statement — almost a rebuttal — from Trump's director of national Intelligence, Dan Coats. "We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security," Coats said. Fellow GOP politicians have generally stuck with Trump during a year and a half of turmoil, but he was assailed as seldom before as he returned home Monday night from what he had hoped would be a proud summit with Putin. Sen. John McCain of Arizona was most outspoken, declaring that Trump made a "conscious choice to defend a tyrant" and achieved "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory." House Speaker Paul Ryan, who rarely criticizes Trump, stressed there was "no question" that Russia had interfered. Even staunch Trump backer Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, called Trump's comments "the most serious mistake of his presidency" and said they "must be corrected — immediately."Former CIA Director John Brennan, who served under President Barack Obama, called Trump's words "nothing short of treasonous." Brennan tweeted: "Not only were Trump's comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???"In a Fox News Channel interview after the summit, Putin pronounced the meetings "the beginning of the path" back from the West's past efforts to isolate Russia. "I think you see for yourself that these efforts failed, and they were never bound to succeed," he said.
As he flew home to Washington aboard Air Force One, Trump tried to clarify his position via tweet, saying: "As I said today and many times before, 'I have GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people.' However, I also recognize that in order to build a brighter future, we cannot exclusively focus on the past - as the world's two largest nuclear powers, we must get along!"In an interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity that aired later Monday, Trump said "it's a shame" that he and Putin were being asked questions about the Russia probe while they were trying to discuss issues like Syria and nuclear proliferation. "We've had a phony witch hunt deal drive us apart," he said. In their totality, Trump's remarks amounted to an unprecedented embrace of a man who for years has been isolated by the U.S. and Western allies for actions in Ukraine, Syria and beyond. And it came at the end of an extraordinary trip to Europe in which Trump had already berated allies, questioned the value of the NATO alliance and demeaned leaders including Germany's Angela Merkel and Britain's Theresa May. The two leaders' long-awaited summit began with a private face-to-face sitdown — just the leaders and their interpreters — that lasted more than two hours, before additional meetings joined by senior aides. The pair had held lengthy talks before — on the sidelines of world leader meetings in Germany and Vietnam last year — but this was their first official summit and was being watched closely, especially following the announcement Friday of new indictments against 12 Russian intelligence officers accused of hacking Democratic emails to help Trump's campaign.
Asked about the indictments, Putin suggested that Moscow and Washington could jointly conduct the investigation, inviting special counsel Robert Mueller's investigators to come to Russia to interview the 12 people — an idea Trump hailed as an "incredible offer."
Putin said he'd expect the U.S. to return the favor and cooperate in the Russian probe against William Browder, a British investor charged with financial crimes in Russia. Browder, an outspoken Putin critic, was a driving force behind a U.S. law targeting Russian officials over human rights abuses. The summit began just hours after Trump blamed the United States — and not Russian election meddling or its annexation of Crimea — for a low-point in U.S.-Russia relations. "Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse," Trump tweeted Monday morning, blaming "many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!" The Russian foreign ministry responded by liking Trump's tweet and then replying, "We agree."Asked whether Russia was responsible at all, Trump said "we're all to blame" for the soured relations. However, "that changed," he said, "as of about four hours ago."
Putin ridiculed as "sheer nonsense" allegations that Russian intelligence agencies had collected compromising information on Trump during his visit to Moscow years before the election, saying that he had no idea Trump was even visiting. Trump also dismissed the idea in his interview with Hannity, adding, "If they had it, it would have been out."Still, Putin said he had indeed wanted Trump to win the election — a revelation that might have made more headlines if not for Trump's performance — but had taken no action to make it happen. "Yes, I wanted him to win because he spoke of normalization of Russian-U.S. ties," Putin said. "Isn't it natural to feel sympathy to a person who wanted to develop relations with our country? It's normal." At the closing press conference, Putin, riding high after hosting a successful World Cup, unveiled a gift he'd brought for Trump: a red and white soccer ball, which he tossed to Trump at the neighboring lectern. Trump passed it over to his wife, and said they'd give it to their soccer-loving 12-year-old son, Barron. Out on the streets, the summit attracted a grab-bag of protesters, with abortion-rights activists wearing artificially bulging bellies and Trump masks, anti-fascist protesters bearing signs with expletive-laden insults, and free traders, anti-war Ukrainians and gay rights supporters making their voices heard.

Air Strikes Kill 15 Civilians in Southern Syria
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/July 17/18/Air strikes on Tuesday killed more than a dozen civilians in parts of Syria's south near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, a war monitor said. The Damascus regime has been pounding the southwestern province of Quneitra since Sunday in a bid to retake it from rebels, after winning back most of the neighbouring governorate of Daraa in less than a month. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said air strikes killed 14 civilians in the village of Ain al-Tina on Quneitra's border with Daraa on Tuesday morning. "They were all displaced from other areas. They included five children and three women," Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said. It was not immediately clear whether the strikes were carried out by the regime or its Russian ally, the Britain-based monitor said. The monitor determines who carried out strikes based on the type of aircraft and munitions used, locations and flight patterns. The civilians had reportedly been taking shelter in a large building in Ain al-Tina. Activists shared images of the strikes' reported aftermath, showing motionless children with greyish skin wrapped in blood-stained blankets. In the west of the adjacent province of Daraa, Russian air raids also killed one civilian near the village of Al-Aliya, the Observatory said. "Since Tuesday morning, heavy Russian air strikes and barrel bombs dropped by the regime have been targeting an area straddling Quneitra and Daraa," Abdel Rahman said. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a group led by Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate, is present in that area, he said. HTS jihadists are not included in a ceasefire between regime and rebels in Daraa announced earlier this month, which has allowed the regime to retake control of more than 90 percent of the province. President Bashar al-Assad's regime has advanced in Daraa thanks to a deadly bombardment campaign since June 19, along with Russia-brokered deals between opposition fighters and the regime. In Quneitra on Monday, rebels in at least five towns raised the national flag, seeking a similar agreement with the regime, Abdel Rahman said. "Rebel factions in these towns have stopped fighting to avoid bombardment and destruction," he said. In two days since Sunday, at least 43 regime fighters have been killed in both Daraa and Quneitra, while 48 jihadists and rebels have lost their lives, the Observatory said. More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions displaced by Syria's war since it started in 2011 with a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.

Israel Tightens Gaza Blockade as Arson Kites Raise Fears of War
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/July 17/18/Israel tightened its blockade of the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, partly over kites carrying firebombs to set alight Israeli farmland, as concerns mounted over whether the rudimentary devices could spark another war. Days after the heaviest exchange of fire between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza since a 2014 conflict, Israel said it was blocking until Sunday fuel deliveries to Gaza through its only goods crossing with the enclave. The fishing zone enforced by Israel off the Gaza Strip was also reduced from six nautical miles to three. The goods crossing, known as Kerem Shalom, will remain open for food and medicine on a case-by-case basis. It had already been closed to most deliveries since July 9, partly in response to the firebombs. The move followed months of tension that has raised the possibility of a fourth war between Israel and Gaza militants since 2008. Beyond the kites and last weekend's exchange of fire, mass protests and clashes along the Gaza border since March 30 have seen dozens of Palestinians shot dead by Israeli soldiers. Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip, was further backed into a corner by the Israeli closure, with humanitarian conditions in the enclave of two million people already badly deteriorating. - 'Playing with fire' -Gaza's only other border crossing, with Egypt, was also closed on Tuesday, an AFP journalist reported, but there was no official statement explaining why. That prompted speculation that Egypt, which has mediated between Israel and Hamas, had closed it to add to pressure on the Islamists to clamp down on the arson kites. The crossing, known as Rafah, has been largely closed in recent years, though Egypt had kept it mostly open since mid-May.
Israel has in recent days pledged a firmer response to the hundreds of arson kites and balloons that Palestinians have flown over the border fence since April. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, under political pressure over the issue, has ordered the military to stop the firebombs -- raising the question of how that can be achieved. The issue reportedly led to a debate between Israel's military chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot and far-right Education Minister Naftali Bennett during a security cabinet meeting on Sunday. Israeli media reports cited Bennett, a Netanyahu rival with ambitions to be prime minister, urging the military to open fire on anyone launching the kites. Eisenkot was quoted as telling him there was a risk of firing at children, and that even in the case of adults, such an approach ran against his "operational and moral position".
Hamas has slammed Israel's closure of the goods crossing as a "crime against humanity" and accused Israel of exaggerating the threat from arson kites. Palestinians in Gaza see the devices as legitimate resistance against Israel's more than decade-long blockade."The Israeli occupation would be playing with fire if its warplanes targeted kite flyers," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in a statement. - Can Hamas stop them? -Israel's fire service says around 750 fires have burned some 2,600 hectares (6,400 acres), estimating the damage at millions of shekels (hundreds of thousands of dollars or euros). The firebombs have mostly been transported by kites and balloons, but Israel's nature authority said a falcon was found on Monday with flammable material tied to its legs. Israel's military signalled how it may try to stop the firebombs Monday when an aircraft struck two Hamas posts it said were near people launching them. From Israel's perspective, Hamas can halt the kite launches if it chooses. "Nothing happens in Gaza without the consent of Hamas," said Gabi Siboni of Israel's Institute for National Security Studies think tank. Asked if the arson kites could lead to a military escalation, he said: "of course". Jamal al-Fadi, a political science professor in Gaza, agreed that Hamas could stop the firebombs, but said it wants to use them to pressure Israel to ease its blockade. The Islamist movement is however limited in how it can respond militarily, he said. "It does not have an interest in a (military) confrontation because the people don't want a war," Fadi said. On Saturday, Israel carried out air strikes partially in response to the fires, but also over the border protests and clashes. It accuses Hamas of seeking to use the protests as cover for attacks. Palestinians and rights groups say protesters are being shot by Israeli snipers while posing no real threat. Israel hit dozens of sites it said belonged to militants in the Gaza Strip in Saturday's strikes, killing two Palestinian teenagers. The same day, around 200 rockets and mortars were fired at Israel from Gaza and four Israelis were wounded when a rocket hit a house in the nearby Israeli city of Sderot.

Iran Lodges Complaint against US over Renewed Sanctions
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/July 17/18/Iran has lodged a complaint with the International Court of Justice against the United States' reimposition of sanctions, the foreign ministry said on Tuesday. The complaint was registered the previous day, spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said on the ministry's website. The goal is "to hold US accountable for its unlawful re-imposition of unilateral sanctions," Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter. "Iran is committed to the rule of law in the face of US contempt for diplomacy and legal obligations. It's imperative to counter its habit of violating (international) law," he added. The complaint came in response to Washington's decision in May to abandon the 2015 nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions on Iran. Tehran says the action violates international obligations, including the 1955 US-Iran Treaty of Amity -- an agreement signed well before Iran's 1979 revolution, but which is still invoked in ongoing legal battles. Iran and the US have not had diplomatic relations since 1980 when American embassy officials were held hostage in Iran. Nuclear-related sanctions will be reimposed by Washington in two phases in August and November, seeking to bar European and other foreign companies from doing business with Iran and blocking its oil sales abroad. The ICJ is already due to hear a complaint on October 8 that Iran lodged two years ago against the United States for freezing around $2 billion (1.7 billion euros) of its assets held abroad.

Israel Places New Limitations on Cargo Crossing into Gaza
Associated Press/Naharnet/July 17/18/Israel placed new restrictions on its only cargo crossing with the Gaza Strip on Tuesday in response to continued Hamas hostilities, even after it agreed to a cease-fire ending 24 hours of intense fighting. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Israel will cease transferring gas and fuel through the Kerem Shalom crossing until Sunday but will allow food and essential medication to cross. Commercial cargo was suspended last week. Lieberman also said Israel was tightening its naval blockade to limit Palestinians from sailing beyond three nautical miles off Gaza's coast. Israel previously allowed sailing up to six nautical miles. Even after Hamas, Gaza's militant rulers, agreed to a cease-fire late Saturday, incendiary kites and balloons have continued to float from Gaza into Israel setting off damaging fires to farmlands. Israel has stepped up it strikes since then to signal its new threshold for engagement after months of largely refraining to act. Israel pounded Hamas targets on Saturday in its most massive bombardment since the 2014 war, while militants fired dozens of rockets toward Israel that halted daily life in the area. Two Palestinian teenagers were killed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, while four Israelis were wounded from a rocket that landed on a residential home in Sderot. Israel says it has no interest is engaging in another war with Hamas, but says it will no longer tolerate the Gaza militant campaign of flying incendiary kites and balloons across the border that have ignited fires damaging Israeli farms and nature reserves. Israel says some 2,500 acres of nature reserves and parks close to Gaza have been burnt thus far and it is reported to have delivered messages to Hamas that if the fires continue, it risks sparking a full-fledged war, like the three they have waged over the past decade. "The Israeli army is prepared and ready for any mission we give it," Lieberman said during a visit to the border area Tuesday. "If we are required to launch a campaign we can overcome any enemy. The army knows what to do, how to do it and when to do it. We will dictate the rules of the game and no one else."Speaking at the same border visit, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said "the Israeli military is prepared for any scenario."
On Sunday, Israel said it discovered a falcon to which Gaza militants tied an incendiary device meant to set fires. Israel's Nature and Parks Authority said it found the common kestrel hanging in a tree with its legs tied to a wire that had flammable material. It appeared to be the first case of Gaza militants using birds to attack Israel and authorities said they were considering filing a complaint — under the appropriate international treaties — about the use of animals for militant activities. Israel and Egypt have maintained a blockade on Gaza for over a decade in an attempt to weaken Hamas. The blockade has caused widespread economic hardship. Israel says the naval blockade is necessary to protect its citizens from weapon smuggling. The weekend's violence came after months of near-weekly border demonstrations organized by Hamas aimed in part at protesting the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza. Over 130 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since the protests began on March 30. Israel says it is defending its sovereign border and accuses Hamas of using the protests as cover for attempts to breach the border fence and attack Israeli civilians and soldiers.

Palestinian Dies after Being Shot in Gaza Clashes
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/July 17/18/A Palestinian has died days after being shot by Israeli forces in clashes along the Gaza border, the enclave's health ministry said Tuesday. Sari al-Shobaki had been transferred to Jerusalem for treatment after being shot several days ago east of Gaza City, the ministry in the Hamas-run territory said. A ministry spokesman said the 23-year-old died at the St Joseph Hospital in Jerusalem. There was no immediate confirmation from the hospital. At least 144 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since protests and clashes broke out along the border on March 30. No Israelis have been killed. Israel says its use of live fire is necessary to defend its borders and stop infiltrations. Critics accuse it of disproportionate force against protesters.

Four members of suspected ISIS cell arrested in Iran
Reuters, Beirut/Tuesday, 17 July 2018/Security forces in southwest Iran have arrested four suspected ISIS operatives who were planning attacks, Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi was cited as saying by the Tasnim news agency on Tuesday. Last year, ISIS members carried out attacks on the parliament in Tehran and the mausoleum of the founder of Iran’s revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, killing at least 18 people. “This team had the intention of sowing destruction in certain areas but the operations were not carried out because of the timely intervention of security forces,” Alavi said, according to Tasnim. The group was led by a man whose brother was killed while fighting for ISIS in Syria, Alavi said. Separately, three suspected militants and one member of the Iranian security forces were killed when they clashed on Saturday in northwestern Iran, according to the Revolutionary Guards.

The Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on July 17-18/18
Opinion/Trump's Appalling Display in Helsinki Shows Netanyahu Was Right All Along to Invest in Putin
دانيال شابيرو في الهآررتس: عرض ترامب المروع في هلسنكي يظهر أن نتنياهو كان على حق في مراهنته على بوتين

Daniel B. Shapiro/Haaretz/July 17/18
Israel is prepared for the post-Helsinki reality: With Trump so beholden to Putin, for whatever reasons, Russia alone is calling the shots in Syria – and alone will decide whether to take Israel’s interests into account.
You’re Israel. You count on the United States as your chief ally and supporter in the world. When the United States is strong and respected, it adds luster to Israel’s own impressive abilities to defend its interests and its security.
And then you witness the President of the United States in a joint press conference with the President of Russia, promoting Russian interests, adopting Russian narratives, and wholly unable or unwilling to defend the United States against a major attack. And your head spins.
Not everything Israel heard in Helsinki was negative. Not by a long shot. Both U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke plainly about the importance of Israel’s security, and their desire to ensure that Israel is not harmed by events in Syria.
There is no doubt that President Trump is genuine in his commitment to Israel’s security. And Putin himself, wily though he may be, seems to take Israel’s security concerns seriously.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has to be given considerable credit for his ability to maintain a respectful dialogue with Putin over the past three years, enabling Putin to understand Israel’s security red lines in Syria and its determination to enforce them.
When Russia deployed its military to Syria in 2015, and the Israel-Russia dialogue began in earnest, I was still serving as U.S. Ambassador to Israel. I occasionally received inquiries from colleagues in Washington, some puzzled, others irritated, asking why Netanyahu was "cozying up" to Putin at a time when Russia was killing Syrian civilians and engaging in aggression against Ukraine.
My answer was quite simple: Israel is a small regional power, and all of a sudden, it found that it had a superpower operating in its backyard. Under such circumstances, Israel had no choice but to develop and sustain a productive dialogue with Russia, to ensure that Russia would not do harm to Israel’s security or curtail its freedom of action, as it surely could if it wanted to.
I assured by colleagues that Netanyahu was not the least bit naive about who Putin was, and that the relationship he was building was utilitarian in nature, ensuring Israel would be able to act to defend its security in Syria. No more, no less.
I still believe that today. But the atmosphere in which Israel must navigate its superpower relationships is changing dramatically.
Following Helsinki, it is unmistakable that we are experiencing something unprecedented: a U.S. president who identifies more closely with Russian interests and promotes Russian narratives than with those of the United States. The leverage that gives Putin is overwhelming.
Putin must think he died and went to heaven.
There is room for criticism of previous administrations’ handling of Russian affairs. President George W. Bush vouched for Putin after looking into his eyes and "getting a sense of his soul" and was unable to prevent Russian aggression against Georgia. President Obama, after some success improving relations during the Presidency of Dmitry Medvedev, was similarly stymied by Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and aggression in Eastern Ukraine, and found it difficult to counter Russia’s dominant intervention in support of Assad’s regime in Syria.
But there is a qualitative difference between those two administrations’ approach, which struggled to find tools to counter Russian actions against U.S. interests, and President Trump’s, which wholeheartedly embraces long-held Russian goals, like the dismantling of NATO or the break-up of the European Union.
Most clearly, whereas Obama confronted Putin about Russia’s interference in the U.S. elections, and imposed sanctions after U.S. intelligence agencies confirmed the charges, Trump is determined to dismiss the issue out of hand. In Helsinki, in an appalling display, he made clear that he accepted Putin’s ludicrous denials over the consensus, and recently reiterated, views of his top intelligence officials.
Game, set, and match to Putin.
None of this is primarily Israel’s problem. Israel understandably prioritizes the outcomes of the Helsinki summit that can most directly affect its security, chiefly relating to Iran and Syria. Netanyahu met with Putin in Moscow last week and spoke to Trump over the weekend to ensure Israel’s views were taken into account. He dutifully expressed appreciation to both leaders for their supportive words spoken at the press conference.
It is not known what Putin and Trump discussed in their private meeting. But in the joint press conference, there was little offered on Iran, and only general expressions of a desire to cooperate on bringing stability to Syria, with no mention of the expulsion of Iranian troops and an absurd description of Russia as the protector of Syrian civilians.
Unless there were more detailed secret understandings, Israel will have much more work ahead to ensure its interests are protected. From what we know so far, the Helsinki discussions will likely lead to continued suffering of the Syrian people, and continued threats against Israel by Iranian forces.
But in the light of the post-Helsinki dawn, Israel must also adjust to the reality that Russia alone is calling the shots, and the United States looks diminished as an ally. Trump has shown himself to be so beholden to Putin, for whatever reasons, that it is nearly impossible to imagine him asserting a separate U.S. policy on Syria.
He may yet go further, following through on his expressed desire to remove the 2,000 U.S. forces who support operations to complete the counter-ISIS campaign, over Israeli objections.
But regardless of the U.S. approach, what Helsinki confirmed is that Netanyahu was right all along to invest in his relationship with Putin. More than he knew.
For what he could not have envisioned was the neutering of the United States as a partner on the same set of issues, through its president’s adoption of Russian interests as his own.
**Daniel B. Shapiro is Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. He served as U.S. Ambassador to Israel, and Senior Director for the Middle East and North Africa, in the Obama Administration. Twitter: @DanielBShapiro

Iran’s democratic resistance: Closer to realizing regime change?
Lord Maginnis of Drumglass/Al Arabiya/July 17/18
Iranian affairs was a significant priority during the NATO Summit given the divergent American and European attitudes regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran and the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
In recent days, the US administration has seen fit to emphasize the global security threat posed by the Islamic Republic. That emphasis is all the more realistic in the wake of reports that European authorities thwarted an Iranian plot to plant a bomb at the June 30 gathering of Iranian expatriates and international supporters near the Paris headquarters of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). This foiled plot highlights the extent to which the existing regime recognizes Iran’s democratic Resistance movement as a threat to its hold on power and underscores Tehran’s ongoing commitment to terrorism.
It is, sadly, a reality that that movement continues to be largely ignored and marginalized by Western Governments – not least the UK in order to placate the regime in Tehran. This is despite the reality that in recent years the Free Iran gathering has tended to attract approximately 100,000 supporters from around the world
Protests ignored by the West
The June 30 gathering titled “Free Iran 2018” called attention to the massive popular protests that have been ongoing throughout Iranian society since January, and especially since the start of the Iranian calendar year in March, when NCRI President-elect Maryam Rajavi issued a call-to-action urging all pro-democracy activists to turn the year ahead into “a year full of uprisings” against the regime. But inspite of the regime’s repressive response including 8,000 arrests, 50 demonstrators being shot dead, protests have continued unabated across the country with the same uncompromising slogans, like “death to the dictator” and “our enemy is right here [in Iran], they lie and say it is the US”. In light of the fact that the Iranian regime was prepared to resort to terrorism on European soil as part of its effort to stamp out the organized resistance movement, it is, sadly, a reality that that movement continues to be largely ignored and marginalized by Western Governments – not least the UK in order to placate the regime in Tehran. This is despite the reality that in recent years the Free Iran gathering has tended to attract approximately 100,000 supporters from around the world.
This year, hundreds of prominent political dignitaries from Europe, the US, and much of the world joined the Iranian expatriates in Paris to support the democratic aspiration of the Iranian people. It should also be noted that these delegations tend to be distinctly non-partisan, which bodes well for their ability to bring the recent successes of the Iranian Resistance movement to a much larger audience of policymakers within their home countries.
This is arguably more important today than ever before, not least of all because of the possibility of the NCRI and its constituents assisting the Iranian people in bringing about comprehensive change to their nation. The nature of that prospective change was outlined once again in this year’s gathering, and it remains on permanent display in the form of Mrs. Rajavi’s ten-point democratic platform for the future of Iran. That plan envisions all of the essential features of modern, Western-style democracy, calling for pluralist governance, free and fair elections, and explicit safeguards on the rights of women and minorities.
International pressure
The platform is exemplary for the Middle East and thus is due serious attention by the democracies in the West. Yet, it has been ignored for decades by European governments in the mistaken belief that there is no viable indigenous alternative to Iran’s revolutionary Islamist government. That fallacy is rebutted by the regime’s constant efforts to exert diplomatic pressure on the French Government to stop the annual Free Iran gathering in Paris and on other Western governments to not allow members of parliament to attend the event. It is even more conclusively rebutted by the fact that Tehran put its fragile relationships with Europe at risk by planning to bomb the June 30 gathering. European leaders’ inability to recognize the Iranian alternative has resulted in years of misplaced policies and a certain level of willingness to overlook Iran’s history of terrorism and human rights abuses. It has also caused the international community to lift pressure from the Islamic Republic at a time when greater levels of assertiveness might have impeded the regime’s repressive capabilities and emboldened the popular uprising for regime change.
The recent increases in activism and public expressions of dissent by the Iranian people has prompted Washington under the new US administration to increase pressure on the regime in Tehran. Now, the time is ripe to encourage Western and Gulf partners to contribute to that pressure, on the understanding that it is vital for their national security as well as being in the interests of the Iranian people. The ongoing protests in Iran make it clear that the people of Iran recognize that the regime is ultimately responsible for the penalties imposed upon them. More than that, Western leaders must understand that both economic and diplomatic pressure will further inspire Iran’s democratic activist community and organized Resistance movement to continue with their protests, which have stretched the regime’s repressive institutions to their breaking point and have brought the nation in sight of liberation from the theocratic dictatorship.
Any Western leader who turns away from this opportunity to finally bring modern, secular democracy to Iran, and by extension to the Middle East, will be on the wrong side of history.

Besieging Iran’s Mahan Air
Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya/July 17/18
To confirm the seriousness of the blockading of Iran, a Malaysian travel and tourism agency was sanctioned because it is an agent for the Iranian Mahan Air. The US Treasury Department thus sanctioned the agency placing it on the list of companies that are internationally prohibited to do business with, and it publicized this sanction to intimidate others who interact with it. What about Mahan Air itself? It has been categorized as a suspicious company for years and blacklisted 10 years ago. After the beginning of American-Iranian negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program, pressure on the company decreased and it even managed to keep one of the airplanes that Britain had asked to be returned when it was revealed that the company had bought it using fake invoices to hide the identity of the buyer. Now that sanctions have been re-instated, the siege has been activated and American security and financial authorities reiterated their warning to companies and governments across the world regarding dealing with Mahan Air. Like other private companies in Iran, Mahan Air is just an arm of the Revolutionary Guards who have been using it for more than 20 years to transport fighters, weapons and carry out secret activities. To avoid being pursued and to camouflage its activity, it was established as a private airliner
A tool for the Revolutionary Guards
Like other private companies in Iran, Mahan Air is just an arm of the Revolutionary Guards who have been using it for more than 20 years to transport fighters, weapons and carry out secret activities. To avoid being pursued and to camouflage its activity, it was established as a private airliner owned by a charity organization. With time, it turned out to be an apparatus of the Revolutionary Guards, which became a massive power that controls multiple services and that’s become a state within the state.
The Revolutionary Guards owns oil refineries, banks and factories. Its expansion inside Iran worried other institutions and powers that compete with it within the state. Mahan is only one of its institutions that has played a dirty role in shipping weapons and transporting thousands of fighters from around the region to fight in Syria. Like any other “civilian airliner,” it’s not allowed to transfer weapons or armed men as this violates the agreements signed with other parties like Airbus which has jets that operate within the company’s fleet that has over 40 planes.
Sanctioning the Malaysian travel agency may seem like a small step, but it actually serves as a warning to everyone who works in the aviation sector that they will be sanctioned if they supply the Iranian company with services. This includes selling them spare parts or transporting passengers, even if this is in areas like Malaysia that are far from the Middle East.
In my opinion, activating the economic and financial boycott against Iran is what will expedite the regime’s end unless it understands its situation and backs down and announces its approval of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s 12 conditions. Pompeo explained his country’s policy on May 12 when he said: “Iran will be forced to make a choice: Either fight to keep its economy off life support at home or squander precious wealth on fights abroad. It will not have the resources to do both.”
The most important two weapons in the boycott are preventing the regime from using the dollar currency in its business dealings, thus making it difficult for Iran to sell its oil or buy what it needs from foreign countries, and pursuing those who buy Iranian oil in the global market and pressuring them not to buy it anymore. This is in addition to refusing to grant them insurances, suspending tanker companies and preventing oil traders from using the dollar currency.  have heard Iranian friends complain that the situation has become worse than the previous boycott phase as they cannot transfer even a few thousand dollars to their accounts in Iran as a result of this complete prohibition. We are witnessing a bloodless war on Iran and it’s more harmful and dangerous on the regime that’s become incapable of even providing drinking water to its people in several areas across the country.

The victories of the little Croatian man
Turki Aldakhil/Al Arabiya/July 17/18
“Best player of the tournament” is not the last of the titles of the little shepherd. Croatia whose team has not been beaten in any match that Luka Modric scored in is waiting for him with open arms and, perhaps, a jail sentence of five years!
Modric, whose features resemble those of a man who just landed from the mountain, with his sunken eyes and silent lips, controls the rhythm of the game and the field with the calmness of a man who’s accustomed to victory even after 90 minutes are over. He has the patience of a ploughman and the forbearance of a shepherd who knows the way back home no matter how long the road is. The man who’s won everything possible, the skinny man who advanced before his national team to take the best player award in the most important tournament in the world, went up to the stage in cold blood, bent legs and a short stature that boasted the bruises that brought his team this far. The world today sees Modric embracing the best player award but the world’s rules do not understand the details of difficult beginnings and do not know about the early beginning of the shepherd in the cold Croatian mountains
A team of massacre survivors
Croatia, which made it to the World Cup through the small European window as it was the last to qualify, has now risen to be the last to leave. Croatia, whose team is made up of massacre survivors, was only defeated by the team of handsome immigrants: France. The stories of the French immigrants are well-known thanks to Zidane and others who arrived from faraway French colonies or through dilapidated sailing boats. However, the Croatian team is the team of those who survived a massacre. Modric deserves to be the team’s captain, not because he used to play for Real Madrid and Tottenham. The man who played with the Bosnian team once said: “Someone who can play in the Bosnian league can play anywhere.” And it wasn’t his sad features that remind us of the war massacres in his country during the 1990s.
It is because he is a skinny man who met several coaches’ rejections rejection with continuous training and determination that is not the kind to rejoice with simply winning second place after France. What he’s achieved in his short life – he was born on September 9, 1985 – gives him the right to always dream of the best.
Modric grazed sheep in his small town. You can find a video of that if you just type in an online search ‘Modric’s childhood’. The video is part of a documentary by a director who is obsessed with wolves. Fate took him to Modric’s hometown to document for us Modric’s walk that has not changed.
Modric was dressed in a heavy coat given the cold weather and he was chasing his small sheep and protecting them from the wolves, similar to the wolves who are now greedy for his talent. “You must give a little to keep the rest,” that is what shepherds teach their sons about the laws of the wilderness.
Fraud accusations
Meanwhile, Zagreb’s former Dinamo Director Zdravko Mamic is charged with fraud and corruption. Modric is a victim in the eyes of his fans and is accused of possible perjury by the judiciary. Croatia’s golden boy, Modric, is accused of signing a long-term agreement with the man whom he described as a “cash machine” before he backed down on his testimony. Middlemen were necessary for him to reach Tottenham and move to the strongest league. His life became better and he went to play with Real Madrid. The world today sees him embracing the best player award but the world’s rules do not understand the details of difficult beginnings and do not know about the early beginning of the shepherd in the cold Croatian mountains.
He learnt how to weave attacks from his loving mother, the textile worker. You cannot make it to the finish line before you put effort in weaving the details, which are insignificant if the whole weaved map isn’t complete. His father was a skillful military mechanic who fixed the Croatian army’s vehicles, and Modric may have inherited this great physical strength, which is not visible to the eyes, from him. Everyone knows that when he moved to Real Madrid, he achieved all the possible titles. However, only one man believed in him, and saw the beauty of football between the feet of this short young boy. It was Tomislav Basic, head of the youth academy at NK Zadar. He adopted Modric’s talent until Dinamo Zagreb, the most famous team in Croatia, signed a deal with the little man in 2001.
Modric would later meet Mamic in Zagreb, the head of the club who supported him well in exchange of signing a deal to get a percentage of any contract he later signs. Modric wasn’t the only one to attain all this, but the amounts of money which will be paid to him later will be the largest, perhaps among all Croatian footballers from his generation. In 2015, Modric confessed that he transferred several millions of dollars to his former boss, but in 2017 he retracted this testimony and said he does not know anything about it. He was then ridiculed as a result in Croatia.
Modric the legend
But let’s go back to football. Modric said: “Nothing changes if we play well. We will always be a dangerous team.” This is his conviction in the field. Those who watched the matches of the Croatian team, which was never beaten in the World Cup, will realize that this team is a group of ordinary, but very serious men! Croatia has not only won second in the World Cup but it stole the limelight with the discipline of its ordinary players and the fighting spirits of men who want to overcome a difficult past, beginning with a harsh childhood in the socialist Croatia and up until the Russians’ resentment of the sentence “Glory to Croatia.”The reality of these players who were defeated by the elegance of the sons of France’s back alley’s did not make Modric forget his childhood as a refugee who once escaped war. On World Refugee Day, Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) invited a group of celebrities who were refugees when they were younger to form one team and celebrate World Refugee Day. The small grazer was the first to arrive in loyalty to his grandfather Luka whom he carries his name, and who was killed with six others before the family fled their home which the victors later burnt so the grazer does not return to the mountains. Will little Luka be a national hero in Croatia or will he be the second most hated man there after the World Cup has ended? I do not know, for wolves do not only exist on the tops of mountains, laughing at the little shepherd’s victories.

Helsinki Summit aftermath: Domestic discord for Trump or ‎end of Cold War?
C. Uday Bhaskar/Al Arabiya/July 17/18
The much awaited summit meeting between US President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin held in Helsinki on Monday (July 16) has led to a predictable result - surprise and unpredictability - which is in keeping with the Trump track record over the last year. The Helsinki deliberations that are in the public domain (there is one part that is ‘secret’ and totally one-on-one between the two presidents) have caused dismay, consternation and uncertainty among US allies and partners about the orientation of the world’s most powerful nation in relation to its external interlocutors. The dismay is within the USA. The most significant Trump policy statement was the assertion that Russia is not an adversary but a competitor – and on occasion a foe. The conjecture that follows is that for this White House incumbent at least, Helsinki 2018 may well mark the formal end of the Cold War, whose seeds were sown in Yalta in February 1945. An improvement in US-Russia relations is a desirable global objective for the two nations have the largest WMD (weapons of mass destruction) arsenals and discord between them can have corrosive security implications globally - as for instance in relation to Afghanistan, Syria, Iran and North Korea. However, this may be a premature reduction of the strategic outcome of Helsinki, for President Trump will have to deal with the mounting domestic discord and anger that his Helsinki remarks have triggered within the USA.
An up and down relationship
In the media interaction, the US President appeared to repose more trust in his Russian counterpart than in his own intelligence chief over the allegation that Moscow had interfered in the 2016 US election. The investigation by the US special prosecutor has been dubbed a political witch hunt by Mr. Trump and he was embarrassingly boastful about his election victory over Hilary Clinton. The Trump penchant to disparage his political opponents in a foreign land was on full display and he blamed the ‘stupidity’ of his predecessors for the souring of the US-Russia bilateral relations.
Trump’s policy is often filtered through his tweets and in this case, his late night Helsinki tweet read: “Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of US foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” The Russian Foreign Ministry response was swift: “We agree.”
The Helsinki visit was preceded by the Trump tour through Europe where he attended the NATO summit and later met with UK Prime Minister Theresa May. The Trump wrecking-ball was in full throttle and in one visit to Europe, the US President was able to shake the foundations of NATO; humiliate the closest US ally and ‘cousin’ – the UK, and cozy up to the strongman in Moscow.
An improvement in US-Russia relations is a desirable global objective for the two nations have the largest WMD (weapons of mass destruction) arsenals and discord between them can have corrosive security implications globally - as for instance in relation to Afghanistan, Syria, Iran and North Korea.
While President Putin has described his talks at Helsinki as “very successful and useful” – the discerning US citizen will want to know at what cost has this rapprochement been effected? What has the US dealmaker mortgaged?
Domestic opinion in the US is scathing and the more critical comments including that from former CIA chief John Brennan have described the Trump Helsinki performance as ‘treasonous and shameful.’
Mixed thoughts
In a thoughtful assessment of the Helsinki summit, Dov Zakheim, a former Bush cabinet member and a respected columnist noted: “It may be premature to assert that Donald Trump, America’s wrecker-in-chief, is determined to undermine the Western alliance. Yet his behavior throughout his European visit points in that direction. Should he succeed, he will have accomplished what Putin and his Soviet predecessors could only have hoped for in the wildest of their dreams.”
But will the US be able to sustain this Trump policy petulance, where he castigates his allies (Merkel and May) and is almost unctuous to authoritarian leaders (Putin and Xi) among other personal aberrations?
While the security framework is still intact – NATO has not been diluted in the manner that the TPP was – the trade and economic domain will worry corporate USA and adversely impact the US way of life. The US is the world’s largest single-nation economy and its top six export destinations for 2017 were: Canada, Mexico, China, Japan, UK and Germany. The Trump policy whether over trade tariffs, defense spending or immigration has successfully roiled the bilateral with all these nations – and there are others in the wings. Whether the US and its electorate will subscribe to this ‘America alone’ strategy is moot. There is greater likelihood that the major powers will soon get into a huddle to review their options in a ‘world order minus the USA.’The US mid-term elections in November will provide an indication of how the world’s oldest democracy will tilt – with the Pied Piper wielding the wrecking-ball? Or will the American voter hew back to a more familiar policy orientation where the commitment to the liberal, democratic, rule-based order is substantively renewed. For President Putin, Helsinki is the icing on the World Cup cake that Moscow has deservedly earned.

Iraqis angry at vicious cycle of failure
Diana Moukalled/Arab News/July 17/18
Demonstrations and protests in Iraq have escalated in recent days due to the state of frustration over a lack of electricity, water and jobs. Iraqis have vented their outrage by setting fire to political and partisan headquarters and government buildings, raising fears about the fragile political future of the country. The government responded by cutting off internet services from most of the country in a bid to control public anger and prevent it from escalating, adding to the confusion.
The protests come at a critical time for the Iraqi government, which has been paralyzed by the elections that were held more than two months ago and which were marred by irregularities that have yet to be resolved. Iraq is currently recounting votes after claims of fraud.
The demonstrations were sparked by a power outage in the hot summer months, particularly in southern Iraq, where the population has been forced to suffer the high temperatures without fans or air conditioning. Conditions have worsened this year due to a severe drought that has led to water scarcity, as well as Iran’s decision to cut off the electricity it exports to Iraq due to a dispute over the payment of debts.
Iraqis have been angry since the country’s leaders, under US and Iranian sponsorship, decided to transform a major state into a playground for regional conflicts.
The recent demonstrations appear to be more widespread and have taken on a political and angry character against Iran, which has been evident in the slogans heard in different regions. But it should not be forgotten that the explosion of the Iraqi scene is not outside the context of current events. Opposition to the accumulation of political and economic failure and the giant machine of corruption had to be expressed.
Iraqis are really angry. They have been angry since the country’s leaders, under US and Iranian sponsorship, decided to transform a major state into a playground for regional conflicts. They have been angry since the writing of the constitution, at the rigging of elections, the theft of oil money, the failure to solve the electricity shortage, the inability to improve the struggling economy, and the spilling of the blood of unemployed youths on the battlefields of absurd conflicts.
Iraqis are exhausted from the war on Daesh, and fatal political mistakes have been repeated. Some people simply jumped into conspiracy theories to talk about Iran’s choice of the hottest month of July to disconnect electricity supply from Basra, where the protests started. At the same time, Turkey started to fill the Ilisu dam, threatening the city’s last source of pure freshwater. Moreover, it is the time chosen by the Iraqi government to give the green light to oil companies to seize farms containing oil wells. Crucially, the Iraqi government has failed to provide electricity and basic services after wasting tens of billions of dollars on corrupt and unproductive projects — schemes that could have produced enough energy for most of the Middle East — and that alone is enough to stir anger.
For Iraq — despite its fertile territory, two major rivers and the sea of oil that it sleeps on — to witness a “revolution of the hungry” would not be surprising news, even if we do not hear about it today. It might become a reality tomorrow, in light of the continuing inability of its impotent state mechanisms to break the vicious cycle of failure.
**Diana Moukalled is a veteran journalist with extensive experience in both traditional and new media. Twitter: @dianamoukalled

Helsinki summit heralds the dawn of a new world order
Cornelia Meyer/Arab News/July 17/18
The press conference following the Donald Trump-Vladimir Putin summit in Helsinki was easily the most unusual one any US president has given since World War II. After a tour of Europe, where Trump met NATO leaders in Brussels, British Prime Minister Theresa May and the Queen in the UK, and then Russian President Putin in Helsinki, we can safely say that the Western world and its alliances will never be the same again.
Trump had lambasted NATO leaders for not paying their promised 2 percent of GDP on defense. He had a point there. He went on to pillory German Chancellor Angela Merkel for importing gas from nearby Russia rather than US liquefied natural gas, which did not make sense as the US does not yet have the export capacity needed to satisfy the huge Western European demand. While in Brussels, he also gave an ill-fated interview to The Sun newspaper, heavily criticizing May’s Brexit plans. He stopped short of endorsing former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson as better suited to the office of PM than May. As if all of this was not cringeworthy enough, it was topped off by the press conference he gave together with Putin after a two-hour, one-on-one meeting (with interpreters) and a working lunch meeting together with their delegations.
The run-up to the meeting was somewhat amusing and proved that “boys will be boys.” The one-upmanship was nothing short of cute: Putin arrived late in Helsinki, but Trump would have none of that and waited until Putin had arrived at the Presidential Palace (the meeting venue) before he set off, ensuring that the Russian president had to wait too. Putin also brought his new car along: A Russian-made presidential limousine, which is a smidgeon bigger than “The Beast” (the nickname for the limousine of US commanders-in-chief). This is where the amusing part of this summit ended.
In his defense, Trump did get a few things right. It is always better to engage with adversaries than to refuse to talk. In that sense, it was right for the US president to engage with a nation that has been at the center of much controversy and animosity. Trump is also right when he points out that the US and Russia are the two dominant nuclear powers and that their arsenals dwarf those of any other nuclear power.
After Trump's controversial tour of Europe, we can safely say that the Western world and its alliances will never be the same again.
Russia is a significant country and too many Western leaders have belittled its importance. Despite only ranking 12th in the world in terms of GDP, Russia is a nation with a centuries-old tradition and sphere of influence, which long precedes the Soviet Union. The country also has a landmass that stretches over 11 time zones and boasts the world’s largest natural gas reserves and the eighth-largest reserves of oil.
That is where the sympathy with Putin ends. It would have been important to discuss START (the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), which is due to expire in 2021. Russia was also accused by the US of violating the INF (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces) Treaty when Putin announced his “unstoppable missiles” during a big national address earlier this year. There were other issues to discuss, including Syria, Ukraine and Crimea. There were the 12 indictments handed down by the Mueller investigation to Russian operatives for meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.
Given where Russia currently stands in the hierarchy of nations, it was already going to be a huge win for Putin to score a meeting with the US president. Trump could have easily left it at that and pressed a lot harder on the above mentioned issues, especially disarmament, Syria and election meddling.
Instead, Trump gave the shop away, emphasizing he believed Putin’s statements that Russia did not meddle in the US election. In other words, the US president believed the head of a rival nation over and above his own intelligence apparatus. Trump stood there and listened to Putin musing about supporting US investigations by sending his own investigators to jointly establish what happened. It would be interesting to know how Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton felt at that point — they are known for their hawkish positions as far as Russia is concerned.
Putin’s elaborations on Syria were outright heartbreaking. He assured that Russia and the US should work together to end human suffering, ignoring that it was Russia that propped up Bashar Assad’s regime and supported its violations of human rights. Of the four safe zones that were agreed on last year, two have been obliterated, one is currently shelled and starved, and the fourth is probably awaiting a similar fate — all of this with the tacit approval, if not support, of Russia.
On disarmament, Putin was far more specific than Trump when he cited what could be done under the various agreements.
Putin was quite blatant when he asserted there were many methods of potential economic cooperation, saying that more than 500 US business leaders had attended the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum earlier this summer. It was as though the Russian president had never heard about the Western sanctions. The reason for the sanctions — Ukraine and Crimea — were not mentioned at all.
After lambasting his allies and even putting the EU on top of a list of foes, Trump gave in to Putin. The latter is a former KGB agent and a skilled operator. He is also a patriot with a steely determination to score all the points he can in favor of Russia: That is his job. One could also argue that it is Trump’s job to secure all the advantages for the US he can on behalf of his allies. He seemed uninterested in that. He has a personal preference for autocrats over multilateral agreements and old established Western alliances. If the US president is not careful, he risks serving his allies on a silver plate to Russia and, as far as trade is concerned, to China. A word of warning to all those who believe in democracy, a liberal world order, free trade, multilateral alliances and agreements: Fasten your seat belts, the ride is about to get very bumpy.
Cornelia Meyer is a business consultant, macro-economist and energy expert. Twitter: @MeyerResources

Palestinians' Latest "Apartheid Fatwa"
Bassam Tawil/Gatestone Institute/July 17/18
The mufti's position parallels that of a US Supreme Court judge. If the mufti issues a legal opinion or religious decree, his people and leaders are expected to abide by it.
With the new fatwa, Abbas can go to President Trump and other world leaders and tell them, "I would truly like to make peace with the Jews; however, I am prevented from doing so by this fatwa, which bans Muslims from doing real estate transactions with Jews. Sorry!"
One can only imagine the response of the international community had the Chief Rabbi of Israel issued a decree banning Jews from doing business with Muslims. But in the instance of the Palestinian mufti and his superiors in Ramallah, everything seems to be fine -- once again, the international community turns a blind eye to the Palestinian leaders' apartheid and their terrorizing of their own people.
If anyone wanted further proof that no Palestinian leader would ever be able to recognize Israel's right to exist, it was provided recently in the form of yet another religious decree, or fatwa, issued by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohammed Hussein. It is a fatwa that basically tells Muslims: "We will kill you, punish you in many ways, if we catch you selling land or homes to Jews."The fatwa makes it clear that no Muslim is entitled to sell his or her land -- or transfer ownership over it -- to "enemies," a reference to Jews. The implications are extremely serious. Anyone who violates this religious opinion or decree will face various forms of punishment, ranging from being boycotted to the death sentence.The fatwa, which was published by the mufti on July 10, has attracted no attention from the international media or those parties that keep telling us how keen they are about achieving peace between Palestinians and Israel. Human rights organizations around the world do not seem to be bothered at all by such threats against Muslims.
According to the fatwa, it is considered a "betrayal of Allah, His Messenger and Islam" to sell land to the "enemies" or accept compensation for it. The Muslims, it states, are obligated to boycott anyone who violates the ruling, refrain from marrying the "sinners" or doing any business with them. Taking matters to their most extreme, Muslims are prohibited from attending the funeral of -- or even burying in a Muslim cemetery -- anyone who dares to sell land or a house to a Jew.
In his statement, the mufti reminded all Palestinians that the Supreme Fatwa Council in east Jerusalem had already issued a similar decree back in 1996.
It does not come as a surprise that Muslim leaders forbid their followers from doing any business, including real estate transactions, with Jews. Palestinians themselves have long been aware of this ban, which dates back to the beginning of the last century.
In the past few decades, scores of Palestinians suspected of being involved in real estate transactions with Jews have been abducted, tortured and brutally murdered. Many of the murders took place shortly after the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. According to Israeli sources, some of the victims were kidnapped and murdered on instructions from the PA security forces (which are funded and trained by Americans and Europeans).
Arguably, then, there is nothing new about an Islamic religious leader issuing what can be described as a death sentence against Palestinian land-dealers and land-brokers. Nonetheless, it is important to remind all those who seem to have forgotten about such fatwas and why they cannot be dismissed as mere rhetoric.
First, let us consider who is behind the latest fatwa: the mufti of the Palestinian Authority in east Jerusalem. That figure is an official representative of the PA and its president, Mahmoud Abbas. So it is safe to assume that the Mufti receives his salary, directly and indirectly, from the financial aid provided to the Palestinians by the international community, first and foremost the US and EU. Pictured: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (right) meets with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohammed Hussein, in Ramallah on April 5, 2010.
Second, the mufti serves as the highest religious authority for the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah and has the final say on most religious and non-religious issues. In other words, the mufti's position parallels that of a US Supreme Court judge. If the mufti issues a legal opinion or religious decree, his people and leaders are expected to abide by it. Third, the Palestinian mufti often issues his fatwas after consulting with Islamic religious leaders throughout the Arab and Islamic countries. This means that his rulings regularly represent the consensus among leading Islamic figures in the Arab and Islamic world. Here it is worth noting that no senior Islamic religious leader has challenged or questioned the fatwa prohibiting Muslims from doing business with Jews. In other words, the same fatwa applies not only to Palestinian Muslims, but to Muslims worldwide.
Fourth, the fatwa shows that the Palestinian Authority is no different from its rivals in Hamas when it comes to recognizing Israel's right to exist. If, as the fatwa rules, it is forbidden for a Muslim to give up or transfer the ownership of "any part of Jerusalem or Palestine to the enemies," then it is echoing the official position of Hamas.
Hamas has one redeeming feature: it is honest about its murderous ideology. Hamas's long-standing position has been that all the land of Palestine, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, is Muslim-owned land. As such, according to Hamas, no Muslim is entitled to give up one inch of this Muslim-owned land to non-Muslims. For Hamas, the land of Palestine is Waqf (Islamic trust) land, whose ownership cannot be transferred to a non-Muslim. This, by the way, is the same phrase the Palestinian Authority used in the mufti's July 10 fatwa, where he says that the land of Palestine and Jerusalem belongs to the Islamic trust. We see, therefore, that there is no difference between the opinions of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas when it comes to accepting the presence or sovereignty of non-Jews over what they perceive as Muslim-owned land.
Fifth, the mufti's ruling contradicts Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's public stance claiming to support a two-state solution and recognizing Israel's right to exist. Is it possible that Abbas has not heard of his mufti's fatwa banning Muslims from transferring the ownership of Muslim land to Jews? Or is Abbas playing dumb and pretending that the rulings of his mufti and the Supreme Fatwa Council in east Jerusalem are non-binding? More likely, however, Abbas is playing his usual double game, having his mufti send one message to Muslims while he, the Palestinian president, continues to send a totally different message to Westerners. Abbas's message to the West: "We are ready for compromise and concessions."
Sixth, this fatwa, whether Abbas takes it seriously or not, serves as a warning to all Palestinians of the punishment that awaits them if they sell a piece of land or a house to a Jew. For some Palestinians, by the way, the shame of being ostracized and disowned by their own people and clan is worse than the death penalty. There have been a number of cases in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip where people were denied burial in Muslim cemeteries because they were accused of selling land to Jews or having other dealings with them. This is something that is considered extremely humiliating not only for the individual, but for his entire clan. Seventh, Abbas and Palestinian leaders can always use this fatwa to justify their refusal to make any concessions in return for peace with Israel. They can tell world leaders that according to Islam, it is forbidden for them to allow non-Muslims control over any part of the Holy Land. This is why the latest fatwa serves the interests of Abbas and his associates, allowing them to appear as if their hands are tied for religious reasons.
Eighth, it is also important to note that the fatwa was issued against a backdrop of reports suggesting that the US administration is about to publish a new plan for peace in the Middle East. The Palestinians fear that the plan, which is known as the "deal of the century," would require them to make territorial concessions to Israel, including recognizing Israel's right to exist. So, the fatwa is Abbas's pre-emptive strike against President Donald Trump's plan. Abbas has already condemned the yet-to-be-announced peace plan as a US-Israeli "conspiracy" to eliminate Palestinian rights. With the new fatwa, Abbas can go to President Trump and other world leaders and tell them, "I would truly like to make peace with the Jews; however, I am prevented from doing so by this fatwa, which bans Muslims from doing real estate transactions with Jews. Sorry!"
The Palestinian fatwa is yet another declaration of war (jihad) on the presence of Jews in the Middle East. It is also a declaration of war on any Muslim who dares to think about peace with Israel. Moreover, the fatwa proves that the Palestinians are openly practicing apartheid, prohibiting the sale of property and homes to Jews. Moreover, this is happening at a time when Muslims in Israel are accustomed to purchasing homes from Jews and moving to Jewish neighborhoods and towns. The mufti's stance represents the true apartheid in this region. One can only imagine the response of the international community had the Chief Rabbi of Israel issued a decree banning Jews from doing business with Muslims. But in the instance of the Palestinian mufti and his superiors in Ramallah, everything seems to be fine -- once again, the international community turns a blind eye to the Palestinian leaders' apartheid and their terrorizing of their own people.
*Bassam Tawil is a Muslim Arab based in the Middle East.
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Is Russia "Buying" the West?
Peter Huessy/Gatestone Institute/July 17/18
It is wrong to view Russia's political warfare as merely a kind of "competition" that lacks the seriousness of an actual military confrontation. As the Center for Strategic and Budget Assessments (CSBA) report -- detailing Russia's political warfare -- indicates, politics is war by other means.
Since then, however, the Czech Republic seems to be moving in the opposite direction, with an openly pro-Russian leader, President Milos Zeman. As one colleague of mine put it: "Could the land of the Velvet Revolution be slowly falling under the spell of Putin's propaganda?"
Jakub Janda, director of the European Values Think-Tank in Prague, worries that one measure of the success of Russian propaganda is that four out of ten Czechs blame the U.S. for the Ukrainian crisis, although there are Russian troops occupying part of the territory of Ukraine. And only 20% of Czechs believe that Russian-organized troops are not operating in Ukraine, a view held by President Zeman.
That countries with such promise as the Czech Republic are possibly sacrificing all that they gained after the end of the Cold War for the Russian government is a sad commentary on the condition of European societies. The good news is that there are brave elements within these societies who seek to push back and reclaim their freedom and sovereignty. Their efforts deserve not only our praise, but our full support.
With the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the official dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991, NATO assumed that the newly freed countries of Eastern and Central Europe (commonly referred to as the ECE) would join with Western Europe and become both free and prosperous. It was not an entirely reasonable assumption, however: the Russians did not want to accept the end of the Soviet empire; nor were they ready to jettison decades of deep suspicion about the aims of the West, particularly the United States and NATO.
Although the Russians sought economic influence throughout Eastern Europe after the end of the Cold War, they were nevertheless supportive of Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev's full acceptance of the reunification of Germany and independence for the former members of the Soviet bloc.
Today, Russian "interference" in Eastern and Central Europe -- is often described as the invasion of eastern Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula, with little, if any, attention paid to Russian military incursions and cyber-attacks against both Moldova and Georgia. Bad as these attacks are, since further Russian military incursions have not occurred in other areas of Europe, a number of Russia "experts" in the West, such as The Nation's Stephen F. Cohen, have been arguing that the threat from Moscow is not all that serious. According to such assessments, Russia's aggression has served to intimidate its neighbors, but not much more than that.
This notion, however, is not accurate. While Russia's military "adventures" certainly have succeeded in intimidating its neighbors, its behavior is part of a more extensive campaign of "active measures" against Eastern and Central Europe. These "active measures" are well-documented in a study released at the end of May by the Center for Strategic and Budget Assessments (CSBA), detailing Russia's political warfare – involving systematic subversion and bullying -- which some emerging democracies in are ill-equipped to handle.
It is wrong to view Russia's political warfare as merely a kind of "competition" that lacks the seriousness of an actual military confrontation. War may indeed be what Carl von Clausewitz called "politics by other means." But, as the CSBA report indicates, politics is war by other means.
Forty years ago, the Reagan administration surveyed the landscape, rejected "détente" with the Soviets, and campaigned to end a very aggressive, offensive element in Soviet behavior, termed by the intelligence community at the time as "active measures." Today, it is almost with relief that analysts point to Russia's "failure" to invade all of Ukraine as somehow evidence of overall Russian restraint in Eastern and Central Europe and as a reason for the United States and its NATO allies not be too concerned.
At a panel discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. in June, author Seth Jones said that the Reagan administration correctly sought to "diagnose the problem" of Soviet active measures, a key part of which was Moscow's support for the nuclear-freeze movements in the United States and Europe. The Soviets in particular were trying to stop U.S. deployment in England, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands of Pershing II and GLCM or ground-launched cruise missiles, all intermediate-range ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads, as a counter to the massive Soviet deployment of SS-20 missiles in Europe and Asia. This Soviet missile deployment was bad enough, but its political disinformation campaign was critical to its overall campaign against the West. Understanding the danger of this campaign, the Reagan administration thankfully waged "counter-information warfare," a key part of its successful strategy to stop the Soviet measures, and in so doing help precipitate the eventual collapse of the U.S.S.R.
Given Moscow's behavior today, why is the U.S. not engaging in a similar counter-information campaign? After all, it is not as if Washington has been unaware of what Russia is up to. Early in the term of the previous administration, a group of central and eastern European leaders wrote an open letter to President Barack Obama warning that "Russia was using overt and covert economic means, as well as disinformation, to change the transatlantic orientation of NATO members."
In early 2018, the Bulgarian think tank, the Center for the Study of Democracy, examined Russian economic pressure and influence on five Balkan states -- Latvia, Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Serbia -- over a 10-year period. The question studied was whether Russia was changing the geostrategic politics of these countries. The conclusion was that Russian "investment" in energy and media companies had an important impact, as did Russian involvement in real estate and infrastructure projects.
Such Russian "active measures" – noted CSIS panelists, using the Reagan model as an example of what should be done today -- are poorly understood and rarely countered by Western governments. Take, for example, the Czech Republic.
After the Cold War, the Prague Security Studies Institute (PSSI), established in 2002, symbolized the blossoming of free thought in the former Warsaw Pact countries. Guided by a Reaganesque worldview of "peace through strength" and "free enterprise," it has done important work on Russian "dezinformatsiya" (disinformation), and highlighting the Russian economic and financial warfare being waged against vulnerable post-communist states.
This threat and how best to deal with it was brought home when the ambassadors to the United States from Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania spoke at an energy seminar in 2014, and declared their total support for bringing U.S. natural gas supplies to their countries as a means of transforming Russia "from an energy bully into an energy supplicant." They expressed hope that the U.S. would end its 1975 ban on the export of natural gas, so that their countries could have an alternative to the Russian monopoly on their energy supply – a coercive factor in the Baltics' relationship with Moscow. They got their wish in December 2015, when Congress voted to lift the 40-year-old export ban.
Since then, however, the Czech Republic seems to be moving in the opposite direction, with an openly pro-Russian leader, President Milos Zeman. As one colleague of mine put it: "Could the land of the Velvet Revolution be slowly falling under the spell of Putin's propaganda?"
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) meets with Czech Republic President Milos Zeman in Sochi, Russia, on November 21, 2017. (Image source:
Particularly worrisome is the distribution of Russian disinformation through the outlet Parlamentni Listy (Parliamentary Letters). This site is routinely used by the Czech arms company CSG for the dissemination of pro-Russian information. Incidentally, CSG is President Zeman's largest political donor. It is also an important supplier of weapons to the Czech military. Meanwhile, it has reportedly been buying up defunct arms manufacturers in the former Yugoslavia, and selling unused, often inferior, weaponry.
In a recent column in the Washington Post, foreign policy analyst Anne Applebaum wrote:
"Nowadays, when the Kremlin makes a covert effort to exert political influence and undermine democracy, it has far more tools available — big companies, rich oligarchs, both of which need to keep in with the government. Instead of the brotherhood of mankind and the unity of the proletariat, modern Russia can appeal to a much simpler instinct: greed."
RWR Advisory Group LLC, headed by Roger W. Robinson – Chairman of the Prague Security Studies Institute -- possesses detailed data on all Chinese and Russian transactions worldwide collected on a daily basis.His firm differentiates those transactions that are strategic and security-related in nature versus those that are more benign and commercial. Robinson told this author that there are offers of $10 billion by each of China's CGN and Russia's Rosatom to build two (and possibly three) new nuclear reactors for the Czech Republic at its Temelin and Dukovany NPP power complexes. In the case of CGN, the company was indicted in the U.S. in 2016 for "stealing Westinghouse technology."
In 2015, the Czech government claimed that such Russian behavior severely destabilized the European security architecture and showed a lack of respect for international law and for the "territorial integrity and sovereignty" of the Czech Republic. Jakub Janda, director of the European Values Think-Tank in Prague, mentioned to this author that a past Czech assessment had been, "Declining security and stability in Europe's flank regions and immediate neighborhood could pose a direct threat to NATO."
He also explained the results of his think tank's Kremlin Watch Reports, and how his organization and others had become leaders in countering Russian disinformation and coercive economic efforts. For example, he noted, while membership in NATO has strong popular support in the Czech Republic, the building of a NATO alliance infrastructure in the country is rejected by more than half the population. He worries that one measure of the success of Russian propaganda is that four out of ten Czechs blame the U.S. for the Ukrainian crisis, although there are Russian troops occupying part of the territory of Ukraine. And only 20% of Czechs believe that Russian organized troops are not operating in Ukraine, a view held by President Zeman.
During his first public speech after recently becoming the head of the British Army, General Mark Carleton-Smith said, "Russia today is not a status quo power, it's in revisionist mode and its intent is now matched by a growing arsenal of long-range precision capabilities."
One analyst, Jakub Janda, said that making tough speeches on the Russian threat is relatively easy. But coming up with a "full-government approach" similar to that which the Baltic states undertook -- understandable in light of their geographical proximity, historical experience and significant Russian minorities within their societies -- takes a much greater effort. This effort entailed taking harsh measures, such as restricting Russian pseudo-media, targeted investment and other means of misinformation and influence.
According to the CSBA study, the West needs to adopt such a strategy – one that goes beyond America's current National Defense Strategy, which consistently talks about "strategic competition" in relation to Moscow and Beijing. CSBA analyst Tom Mahnken emphasized, "[T]he fact that Russia and China are waging coherent political warfare strategies is a clear contrast with the United States and the West, where attempts to understand Russian and Chinese political warfare is still a work in progress and efforts to counter it nascent at best."
Even more disturbing, as Shoshana and Stephen Bryen recently wrote, is that the West is allowing Russia access to influence:
"...Germany, in particular but not only, stays warm in the winter with Russian natural gas meeting about 40% of its requirements.
"This is an old story. The Reagan administration objected to Russian-European plans to build the natural gas Yamal Pipeline from Siberia to Germany from which gas would be distributed to much of Western Europe. The American position was that, In the middle of the Cold War, having the USSR control a majority of the supply of natural gas to Germany's industrial heartland would make it difficult for Germany to resist Russian political and military demands. But the Europeans wanted to sell Russia the machinery for the pipeline, making money as they mortgaged their energy future to Moscow.
"After a bitter fight, the Yamal pipeline was partially blocked and only one strand of two was built. Post-Soviet, the Russians were able, with European support, to build the second strand. In the early 2000's Europe bought into yet another Russian-originated pipeline -- an undersea project called Nord Stream -- again providing manufacturing jobs and pipeline work for Europe as well as gas.
"Early in 2018, Bloomberg reported, "Russia, which shipped some $38 billion of gas to its most lucrative markets in Europe last year, has diminished thoughts that other suppliers could ensure supplies in Europe anytime soon." Nord Stream, and its successor Nord Stream 2, will give Russia the same influence its predecessor, the USSR, would have had."
In other words, decades after the arduous and successful effort by the West and its allies around the world to bring down the Soviet Union, Moscow continues to rear its head. That countries with such promise as the Czech Republic are possibly sacrificing all that they gained after the end of the Cold War for the Russian government is a sad commentary on the condition of European societies. The good news is that there are brave elements within these societies who seek to push back and reclaim their freedom and sovereignty. Their efforts deserve not only our praise, but our full support.
**Dr. Peter Huessy is President of GeoStrategic Analysis, a defense consulting firm he founded in 1981, as well as Director of Strategic Deterrent Studies at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.
© 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.

Opinion/Helsinki Fiasco Proves That Netanyahu’s Adulation for Trump Is a Miscalculated Risk for Israel
كامي شالف في الهآررتس: خيبات قمة هلنسكي تؤكد أن تزلف نتنياهو لترامب يشكل حسابات ومخاطرة خاطئة بالنسبة لإسرائيل

Chemi Shalev/Haaretz/July 17/18
A U.S. president who shames his country in public won’t hesitate to stick a knife in the back of its ally in the Middle East.
A few minutes after the end of the press conference with Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement of unqualified support. He praised Trump for his “deep commitment” to Israel’s security and added, as he usually does, that “the friendship between Israel and the United States has never been stronger.” He put in a good word for Putin as well, even before hearing that the Russian president was “a fan,” as Trump told Fox News. The reports and analyses in Israel were ecstatic: The summit’s outcome showcased Netanyahu’s strong statesmanship and unrivaled diplomatic skills.
From reading the headlines, one might have concluded that we are living in a normal world and that the Helsinki meeting was just another point on the continuum of summits between the leaders of the world’s two superpowers. Since Trump’s election, however, the world is far from normal and the United States is going off the rails: The Helsinki summit will be remembered as one of the most disturbing and grotesque events in modern American history. Most of the world, including many Trump supporters in the U.S., watched aghast as the U.S. president trashed his country and defended its enemy. Netanyahu’s quick support portrayed Israel as living on another planet. As Israel’s famous poetess Rachel wrote, “I only know to tell of myself/ my world is as narrow as an ant’s.”
Never mind that the link between Netanyahu and Trump isn’t just a matter of simple expediency, but a deep-rooted emotional and ideological bond. Trump’s election released the last pent-up remainders of Netanyahu’s nationalism, authoritarianism, populism and self-victimization. It accelerated the depletion of his sense of shame, from the odious laws Netanyahu pushes in the Knesset to his war on the police and law authorities to his shameful courtship of arguably anti-Semitic leaders in Hungary and Poland. Small wonder that Trump often uses Netanyahu as an advocate and human shield, deploying him to remove doubts among wavering U.S. supporters.
There’s no denying, of course, that Netanyahu is responsible for Israel’s security, not world peace. And it’s understandable that he would play up his close ties to Trump, his frequent dialogue with Putin and the advantages that Israel accrues from both. But there’s a limit to everything and sometimes enough is enough: The plaudits for Trump immediately after his dismal showing in Helsinki are perceived as assistance for a disgraced friend. They depict Israel as a country oblivious to the world and blind to troubles just beyond its nose. It casts Israel as a central cog in the deviant Putin-Trump axis, the true nature of which has yet to be revealed.
The obvious precedent, of course, is Richard Nixon, who provided vital assistance to Israel during the Yom Kippur War and was rewarded with the undying admiration of its leaders, despite the Watergate scandal swirling around him. But unlike 1973, Israel isn’t waging an all-out war with empty arsenals. And Nixon, with all due disrespect, wasn’t viewed as a compulsive breaker of U.S. alliances and as an epitome of arrogance, ignorance and personal corruption. Netanyahu could have maintained close ties to Trump and safeguarded Israel’s vital interests while maintaining a safe distance nonetheless. Instead, the prime minister goes out of his way to kowtow to the U.S. president.
His total identification with Trump is a moral stain on Israel in and of itself. It tarnishes Israel’s good name among the large swaths of the U.S. and world public opinion that abhors the American president. When the time comes and Americans will be rid of their president - at the ballot box, in the courts or through impeachment proceedings - they will hold his enablers to account as well. First and foremost, Israel’s infatuation with Trump is a miscalculated risk: An American president who is willing to sell out his own country in public, as Trump did in Helsinki, won’t think twice about sticking a knife in the backs of his groupie Netanyahu, and of America’s “greatest ally” in the Middle East.

Explained/Did Trump Just Absolve Putin's Deadly Record in Syria?
هل قام ترامب بتبرئة سجل بوتين القاتل في سوريا؟

Haaretz and The Associated Press/July 17/18
Putin said Russia and the U.S. reached common ground on Syria at Monday’s talks but gave few details.
Russia’s Defense Ministry says it’s ready to boost cooperation with the U.S. military in Syria, following talks between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The ministry said in a statement Tuesday that it’s ready for “practical implementation” of agreements reached by Trump and Putin.
It said Russia’s military leadership is ready to augment contacts with U.S. counterparts on “cooperation in Syria” and extending the START arms control treaty, but gave no details.
Putin said Russia and the U.S. reached common ground on Syria at Monday’s talks but gave few details. Critics of the Trump's embrace of Putin in Helsinki accuse Trump of absolving Putin of Russia's role in the disastrous Syrian conflict.
Since the beginning of the war, it is estimated that over half a million people have been killed in Syria, and over 13 million refugees, including 6.6 million internally displaced persons, 5 million in neighbouring Arab and African countries, and around 1 million in Europe. 8.1 thousand people are still thought to be living in besieged locations.
Russia's role
The U.S. and Russia have backed opposite sides of Syria’s war, but U.S. and Russian officials are working toward an eventual deal on the balance of regional power in post-war Syria.
Russian military intervention in Syria officially began on the 30th of September 2015, after Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad wrote to Vladimir Putin asking for help in securing the country back.
Russia and Syria are not only long time friends in terms of arms trade, which goes back to the time of the Soviet Union, but Russia also has vested interests in keeping Assad in power, and the Islamists at bay. Russia’s only naval base outside of the former Soviet Union is located on the Mediterranean Sea in the Syrian city of Tartus.
Russia began striking Syria on September 30th, 2015 around Homs and Hama. The airstrikes have caused tremendous amounts of civilian deaths – the British non-profit organization and watchdog, Airwars, has drawn the average from various reports and found that around 6,196 civilians have been killed by Russian airstrikes since the beginning of its involvement in 2015 in until January 2018. The Kremlin, however, continues to deny that any civilians have been killed by Russian airstrikes.
While Russia officially claims to only engage in airstrikes, there is evidence that they have also deployed troops on the ground, albeit as privately contracted soldiers through third parties based outside of Russia. However, it seems to be that these privately contracted soldiers receive all the same benefits as regular Russian army soldiers.
Russia’s unwavering support for Assad’s regime has also manifested at the UN where they have vetoed every resolution at the Security Council that expresses its concern for the Syrian Republic, and in particular condemning the use of chemical weapons by Syrian government forces against its own people.
Only after intense negotiations at the UN did the Russians allow for aid convoys to access the Eastern Ghouta region, which government forces bombarded for a month from February to March 2018. The total number of dead was estimated at 1,700 people. They later allowed for around 994 people to leave Eastern Ghouta by bus to rebel-held Idlib.
Lastly, Russia’s involvement in Syria has allowed them to showcase and test their new weapons arsenal, much of which they would like to sell - and at that, to Middle Eastern countries. Russia has reportedly tested over 200 different types of military equipment in Syria, including tanks and aircraft. In 2017, Putin boasted that Russia’s arms sales in 2016 topped $5 billion.

Trump: Putin Is a Great Believer in Israel, He Is a Fan of Bibi
ترامب: بوتين من المؤمنين الكبار بإسرائيل وهو من المعجبين بنيتانياهو

Haaretz/Jul 17/18
The U.S. president says Russian counterpart 'helps Israel and will continue to help Israel. This is good for all of us' and claims Putin is a 'great believer in Israel, a fan of Bibi'
U.S. President Donald Trump said that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin "reached a very good conclusion regarding Israel" during the pair's meeting in Helsinki on Monday.
The American president, who gave an interview to Fox News' Sean Hannity, said that he was under the impression that Putin was "a great believer in Israel, he is a fan of Bibi."
Trump also said that Putin "helps him [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] a lot and will continue to help a lot, which is good for all us." The two men mentioned Israel during the press conference and expressed their readiness to continue their support for the peace agreement between Israel and Syria signed in 1974. "It will help us calm the situation on the Golan Heights," Putin said.Trump added that "We have worked with Israel for decades - there has never been a country closer to us, and Putin is also very close to Israel, we have both talked to Benjamin Netanyahu, and both countries want to help Israel defend itself."
Prime Minister Netanyahu congratulated the two presidents on their words.
In the interview with Fox following the summit, Trump also said that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election has "driven a wedge between us and Russia."
Trump claimed that Putin told him: "It's really a shame, because we could do so much good" on the FBI investigation.
At a joint press conference following their meeting, Trump said he had no reason to believe that Russia intervened in the elections. Putin denied Russian interference at the press conference, and in an interview he gave to Fox News' Chris Wallace, he called the allegations "utterly ridiculous." Putin also denied claims that he or his government had "incriminating material" about Trump and his family.
At the press conference, the Russian president also referred to the indictment of 12 Russian intelligence operatives accused of cyberattacks on Democratic organizations during the elections. Putin made a proposal in which Mueller would work with Russian officials to investigate cybercrimes against American political organizations. Trump told Hannity that he was "fascinated" by Putin's proposal but said he dismissed it because he thought Mueller and his team "probably won't want to go."
North Korea's nuclear weapons program also came up in Trump's interview. The president noted that Putin is interested in helping on the matter, but added: "There's no rush, it has been going on for many years."
Trump said that the United States and Russia account for "90 percent" of the world's nuclear weapons "and we've had a phony, witch hunt deal drive us apart." Trump accused several senior US intelligence officials of his persecution.
In the interview, Trump said that his meeting with Putin was "very long, a good meeting." Trump added that before the meeting, he thought that the U.S. has a problem with Russia, but now the relations between the two countries are good.