July 19/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


The Bulletin's Link on the lccc Site


News Bulletin Achieves Since 2006
Click Here to enter the LCCC Arabic/English news bulletins Achieves since 2006

Question: "What did Jesus mean when He said, 'I am the way and the truth and the life' (John 14:6)?"
Answer: “I am the way and the truth and the life” is one of the seven “I Am” statements of Jesus. On the last night before His betrayal and death, Jesus was preparing His disciples for the days ahead. For over three years, these men had been following Jesus and learning from His teaching and example. They had placed their hopes in Him as the Messiah, the promised deliverer, yet they still didn’t understand how He was going to accomplish that deliverance. After the Last Supper, Jesus began speaking about His departure, which led to questions from His disciples.
In John 13:33, Jesus said, “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.” This prompted Peter to ask where He was going (verse 36). Peter and the others did not understand that Jesus was speaking of His death and ascension to heaven. Jesus’ response was, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” Peter was still misunderstanding and declared that he would follow Jesus anywhere and even lay down His life if necessary. As Jesus patiently continued to teach His disciples, He began speaking more plainly about heaven, describing the place He was going to prepare for them (John 14:2–3). Then Jesus said, “You know the way to the place where I am going” (verse 4). Speaking for the others, Thomas said they did not know where He was going, so how could they know how to follow Him there? It was in answer to this question that Jesus uttered one of the seven famous “I am” statements.
I am – In the Greek language, “I am” is a very intense way of referring to oneself. It would be comparable to saying, “I myself, and only I, am.” Several other times in the Gospels we find Jesus using these words. In Matthew 22:32 Jesus quotes Exodus 3:6, where God uses the same intensive form to say, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” In John 8:58, Jesus said, “Truly, truly I say unto you, before Abraham was, I am.” The Jews clearly understood Jesus to be calling Himself God because they took up stones to stone Him for committing blasphemy in equating Himself with God. In Matthew 28:20, as Jesus gave the Great Commission, He gave it emphasis by saying, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” When the soldiers came seeking Jesus in the garden the night before His crucifixion, He told them, “I am he,” and His words were so powerful that the soldiers fell to the ground (John 18:4–6). These words reflect the very name of God in Hebrew, Yahweh, which means “to be” or “the self-existing one.” It is the name of power and authority, and Jesus claimed it as His own.
The way – Jesus used the definite article to distinguish Himself as “the only way.” A way is a path or route, and the disciples had expressed their confusion about where He was going and how they could follow. As He had told them from the beginning, Jesus was again telling them (and us) “follow me.” There is no other path to heaven, no other way to the Father. Peter reiterated this same truth years later to the rulers in Jerusalem, saying about Jesus, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The exclusive nature of the only path to salvation is expressed in the words “I am the way.”
The truth – Again Jesus used the definite article to emphasize Himself as “the only truth.” Psalm 119:142 says, “Your law is the truth.” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminded His listeners of several points of the Law, then said, “But I say unto you . . .” (Matthew 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44), thereby equating Himself with the Law of God as the authoritative standard of righteousness. In fact, Jesus said that He came to fulfill the Law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17). Jesus, as the incarnate Word of God (John 1:1) is the source of all truth.
The life – Jesus had just been telling His disciples about His impending death, and now He was claiming to be the source of all life. In John 10:17–18, Jesus declared that He was going to lay down His life for His sheep, and then take it back again. He spoke of His authority over life and death as being granted to Him by the Father. In John 14:19, He gave the promise that “because I live, you also will live.” The deliverance He was about to provide was not a political or social deliverance (which most of the Jews were seeking), but a true deliverance from a life of bondage to sin and death to a life of freedom in eternity.
In these words, Jesus was declaring Himself the great “I Am,” the only path to heaven, the only true measure of righteousness, and the source of both physical and spiritual life. He was staking His claim as the very God of Creation, the Lord who blessed Abraham, and the Holy One who inhabits eternity. He did this so the disciples would be able to face the dark days ahead and carry on the mission of declaring the gospel to the world. Of course, we know from Scripture that they still didn’t understand, and it took several visits from their risen Lord to shake them out of their disbelief. Once they understood the truth of His words, they became changed people, and the world has never been the same.
So how do we follow Him today? The same way the disciples did long ago. They heard the words of Jesus and believed them. They took His words and obeyed them. They confessed their sins to Jesus as their Lord and God. They believed that He died to take the punishment of their sins and rose from the dead to give them new life. They followed His example and command to tell others the truth about sin, righteousness, and judgment. When we follow Him in “the way,” we can be assured of following Him all the way to heaven.


Bible Quotations
They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practise every kind of impurity
Letter to the Ephesians 04/17-24: "Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practise every kind of impurity. That is not the way you learned Christ! For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness."

Titles For The Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on July 18-19/18
Budding business: how cannabis could transform Lebanon/Richard Hall/The Guardian/July 18/18
Explained/Why Saudi Arabia and ‘Little Sparta’ Still Can’t Defeat Iran in Yemen/Alexander Griffing/Haaretz/July 18/18
Germany's Dysfunctional Deportation System/Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/July 18/18
How the World Really Views Israel/Shoshana Bryen/Gatestone Institute/July 18/18
Putin Needs America More Than It Needs Him/Alina Polyakova/The Washington Post/July 18/18
Facebook and Twitter’s Valuations Are Baffling/Shira Ovide/Bloomberg/July 18/18
How They Watched the Helsinki Summit/Ghassan Charbel/Asharq Al Awsat/July 18/18
Is Southern Syria Heading For 'Lebanonization'/Jonathan Spyer/Jerusalem Post/July 18, 2018
Congress calls on Trump to recognize Israeli sovereignty over Golan/Bryant Harris/Al Monitor/July 18/18
Muqtada al-Sadr and me: Chicago on the Tigris/Michael Flanagan/Al Arabiya/July 18/18/
Iraq, 60 years on/Khairallah Khairallah/Al Arabiya/July 18/18
Charity at home and poverty in the land of plenty/Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady/Al Arabiya/July 18/18
The incomplete pride of liberating Mosul/Adnan Hussein/Al Arabiya/July 18/18
The BBC exposes Qatar/Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/July 18/18
How to counter Iran’s sectarian and terrorist threat/Dr. Mohammed Alsulami/Arab News/July 18/18

Titles For The Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on July 18-19/18
Report: President ‘Criticism’ of Premier’s Formation Policy ‘Annoys’ Hariri
Report: ‘Terminating’ Premier's Formation Task Due to Delay ‘Unconstitutional’
Berri Says Lebanon Preparing to Legalize Medicinal Marijuana
Mashnouq Meets Saudi Counterpart in Jeddah
Berri to Call 'Consultative Session' if No Progress on Govt.
MP Geagea Meets Berri, Says Relying on 'Aoun's Wisdom'
President Aoun congratulates Macron on World Cup win
Raad Hails Berri's 'Political Role' after al-Sayyed's Remarks
Army leaders request Aoun head graduation ceremony
Israel Combs Area Close to Technical Fence with Lebanon
Amine Gemayel Meets with Outgoing UK Ambassador
MP Nadim Gemayel: Information Technology Committee to Establish Legislative Foundation for Infrastructure
Judge Halts Costa Brava Landfill Expansion for Now
Budding business: how cannabis could transform Lebanon

Titles For The Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on July 18-19/18
Iran Says Trump Asked Rouhani for Meeting 8 Times at U.N.
Preparations Start to Evacuate Pro-Regime Syria Towns
RSF Urges UN to Guarantee Safety of Journalists in South Syria
Trump: Iran in Turmoil Since US Withdrew from Nuclear Deal
Israeli Government Satisfied With Outcomes of Trump-Putin Summit
Israel Tells Hamas: Incendiary Kites or War
Mogherini Accuses Israeli Minister of Making ‘Unfounded’ Allegations against EU
UN Official Denies Putting Pressure on Syrian Refugees in Jordan to Return Home
Hungary's Orban Set for Controversial Visit to Israel
HRW Slams Morocco over Journalist's 3-Year Jail Term
In Iraq, Old Grievances Fuel Deadly Protests

The Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on July 18-19/18
Report: President ‘Criticism’ of Premier’s Formation Policy ‘Annoys’ Hariri
Naharnet/July 18/18/With the ongoing stalemate delaying the government formation, things have started to take a “negative turn,” especially over the "divergence" in opinion between President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri over the the approach adopted in addressing the issue, the Saudi Asharq al-Awsat reported on Wednesday. According to the newspaper, remarks made by the President “criticizing” Hariri's performance have “tensed out the political atmospheres.” Sources close to the Premier have reflected his “dismay,” said the daily. Free Patriotic Movement sources said that Aoun (FPM founder) “is annoyed by the delay in the government formation,” reportedly saying that Hariri “is not making enough initiatives as required to resolve the obstacles,” hinting at his “bias to the demands of some parties, while ignoring others.”The sources who spoke of condition of anonymity, added “the Christian obstacle has two sides, the Lebanese Forces and the FPM, but Hariri has held talks with the first party without doing the same with the second side.”Turning to the Druze obstacle between Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat and MP Talal Arslan, they said that Hariri has “met with Jumblat but not Arslan. Plus, he refuses to discuss the allocation of a Cabinet share for the Sunni opposition.”“These remarks did not go unnoticed among the prime minister’s sources,” said the newspaper, “the Premier expressed his dissatisfaction with Aoun’s remarks” stressing at the same time that the task of forming the government is “limited to him alone as Premier.”
Report: ‘Terminating’ Premier's Formation Task Due to Delay ‘Unconstitutional’
Naharnet/July 18/18/In light of “unfounded” reports that the parliament is capable of withdrawing the cabinet formation task from the premier because of the process delay, an expert in constitutional and international law, Shafiq al-Masri, stressed that the designation “is final and cannot be withdrawn,” the Kuwaiti al-Anbaa daily reported on Wednesday. Masri said in an interview with the newspaper: “The appointment of Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri to form a government is final and can not be withdrawn. The Parliament had named Hariri and tasked him with forming the government in line with the constitutional system which does not limit him to a deadline. “However he is committed to a one-month deadline to stipulate a ministerial statement after the government is lined up,” added Masri. Recent reports attributing remarks to the Free Patriotic Movement and Strong Lebanon bloc MP Elie Ferzli claimed that the “presidency can ask the parliament to withdraw the formation task from the premier because of the delay in lining up the Cabinet,” according to al-Hayat daily. “As much as these reports have triggered dismay among the Sunni authorities, it has also made Speaker Nabih Berri tell his visitors “I wish Ferzli has not spoken a word about the designation withdrawal,” describing the matter as “unconstitutional,” according to al-Hayat. “Only the PM-designate is capable of terminating the assignment task by either stepping down or apologizing for failing to pursue the task entrusted to him,” said Masri. In June, Hariri submitted a first draft of the country’s government formation to Aoun. But the formula has not met the approval of the President. 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.

Berri Says Lebanon Preparing to Legalize Medicinal Marijuana
Naharnet/July 18/18/The Lebanese parliament will soon review legislation to legalize medicinal marijuana, Speaker Nabih Berri announced on Wednesday, as authorities seek ways to jumpstart the country's struggling economy. With public debt at 150% of GDP, the third highest rate in the world, Lebanon charged consulting firm McKinsey & Company with setting out a vision to revitalize growth. McKinsey's proposal, submitted this month to President Michel Aoun, included a recommendation to legalize and regularize the production and sale of marijuana. Lebanese lawmakers may soon take action, Berri told the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, Elizabeth Richard. "Lebanon's parliament is preparing to study and adopt the necessary laws to legalize the growth and consumption of hash for medicinal purposes, like a number of European countries and some U.S. states," said Berri. Consuming, growing and selling marijuana are all illegal in Lebanon. But in the eastern Bekaa Valley, long marginalized by the central government, its widespread production has become a multi-million-dollar industry. That could be brought under the government's wing, said caretaker Trade and Economy Minister Raed Khoury. He told reporters this month that McKinsey's proposal included "establishing areas to grow cannabis for medical purposes, within a comprehensive legal, regulatory framework."Cannabis production blossomed during Lebanon's 1975-1990 conflict. Even when the chaos of conflict ended, authorities struggled to clamp down on the trade. Security forces regularly bust attempted drug exports at Beirut airport and have also gone to the source, destroying thousands of hectares (acres) of marijuana fields. Growers have fought back and farmers have protested of the lack of a viable alternative for their livelihood. In 2012, they fired rockets at army bulldozers trying to raze their product. The trade is mostly controlled by powerful families in the country's east, many of whom are well-connected enough to evade arrest warrants or jail time. Activists have called for the decriminalization of marijuana use, and Lebanon's Druze leader Walid Jumblat is one of the country's oldest legalization advocates. Cannabis is typically planted in the springtime in Lebanon and harvested in September, then sun-dried for three days, chilled and pressed. The economy has been in a downward spiral for years, with political divisions paralyzing the government and corruption draining resources. The outbreak of violence in neighboring Syria in 2011 added to those woes, keeping tourists away and triggering an influx of refugees that has strained public services.

Mashnouq Meets Saudi Counterpart in Jeddah
Naharnet/July 18/18/Caretaker Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq met with his Saudi counterpart Abdulaziz Bin Saud Bin Nayif in Jeddah where discussions touched on the Lebanese-Saudi relations and the latest developments in Lebanon and the region, LBCI station said on Wednesday. The Saudi Minister received Mashnouq at his summer Palace in Jeddah, where he was received by senior interior ministry officials and the Saudi National Security Council. Mashnouq and Nayif then held a closed-door meeting and discussed the bilateral relations between the two countries, in addition to the latest developments in Lebanon and the region. The Saudi official stressed the Kingdom's “keenness on Lebanon’s stability and on facing the Iranian expansion in the Arab world and Africa,” said LBCI. Nayif also discussed the convening of the Lebanese Saudi Council soon after the formation of the next government in Lebanon. The Saudi minister held a dinner banquet in Mashnouq honor. Mashnouq is expected to return Wednesday evening to Beirut.

Berri to Call 'Consultative Session' if No Progress on Govt.
Naharnet/July 18/18/Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri announced Wednesday that he would call for a parliamentary “consultative session” within a week should the government formation process fail to achieve progress. “So far, there has been no new development in the cabinet formation process. We've been waiting for two months and no progress has been made,” Berri told lawmakers during the weekly Ain el-Tineh meeting. “During this period, we critically need the presence of an active government in order to address the country's economic and social crises, and to pull it out of this paralysis and procrastination,” Berri added, calling for “regaining people's confidence and activating the work of state institutions.”Prime Minister-designate Saad 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.

MP Geagea Meets Berri, Says Relying on 'Aoun's Wisdom'
Naharnet/July 18/18/MP Sethrida Geagea of the Lebanese Forces announced Wednesday that the LF is “relying on President Michel Aoun's wisdom” as to the continuation of the landmark Maarab Agreement and the party's share in the new government. Stressing that the LF is keen on the Agreement, Geagea said: “We are relying on the wisdom of President Michel Aoun in addressing what is happening, seeing as this tenure is his presidential tenure and we are keen on it.”“May God prolong the life of the president and we are counting on his wisdom amid this critical situation that we are going through in Lebanon. He told LF leader Dr. Samir Geagea when he met him at the presidential palace that the Free Patriotic Movement is 'one eye' and the LF is the 'other eye,'' the MP added. Asked whether the LF was insisting on getting a so-called sovereign ministerial portfolio in the new Cabinet, Geagea said: “I will not talk about this issue and I will leave it to the president and PM-designate Saad Hariri.”“But I will tell the 'big brother' to take his 'other brother' into consideration,” she added. Geagea was speaking after a 30-minute meeting with Speaker Nabih Berri in Ain el-Tineh. She said she visited the Speaker to invite him to the Cedars International Festival.
President Aoun congratulates Macron on World Cup win
The Daily Star/July. 18/2018/BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun sent a cable Wednesday to his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, congratulating France on its second victory in the football World Cup.Aoun praised the determination and commitment shown by the team’s football players, “where they managed to overcome important football teams on their way to the world title,” a statement from the President’s office said. Lebanon is also sharing the joy of the achievement, Aoun said, wishing France “more victories.”Millions of French fans celebrated Sunday, as France beat Croatia 4-2 to win the World Cup in Moscow.

Raad Hails Berri's 'Political Role' after al-Sayyed's Remarks
Naharnet/July 18/18/The head of Hizbullah's parliamentary bloc has hailed the “political role” of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, amid a war of words between the speaker's AMAL Movement and controversial MP Jamil al-Sayyed. Al-Sayyed, a former chief of Lebanon's General Security agency, was elected as a representative for the Baalbek-Hermel region after running on an electoral list formed by both Hizbullah and AMAL. “This rotten regional, power-hungry and partisan fanaticism is a ploy to stir discord and everyone must confront it,” Raad says in a video distributed heavily on social networking websites.
“This issue will not go unnoticed,” he stresses. Raad adds: “The martyrs have united us and turned us into a respected force. We pride ourselves in our wise and courageous leadership and we pride ourselves in the political role that Speaker Nabih Berri is performing. It consolidates the unity of our people and we will not allow anyone to stir discord or to poison the relations, whether intentionally or unintentionally.”“No one, near or far, will be able to fragment this path or to create gaps from which the enemies can penetrate... Small incidents cannot drag us anywhere, seeing as we are seeking to protect our country against the threats and to preserve its sovereignty,” Raad went on to say. Al-Sayyed swiftly announced that the video “dates back to a few months ago and has been used out of its context.”“You can clearly hear the voice of the person who fabricated it saying 'Shiites of the state,'” the MP added.
In another tweet, al-Sayyed appeared to backpedal on his announcement that the video is old. “Hizbullah's media officer has confirmed to me that MP Raad's statement has been used out of its context and that it was not addressed against Maj. Gen. al-Sayyed... The phrase 'it dates back to a few months ago' was announced by mistake,” al-Sayyed added. A war of words has escalated between al-Sayyed and the AMAL Movement in recent days. Al-Sayyed accused some AMAL officials of accepting bribes and said the Movement's MPs have not sought to improve the developmental situation in the impoverished Baalbek-Hermel region contrary to what they did in the South. His remarks drew a violent response from the AMAL Movement, which issued an official statement accusing al-Sayyed of “launching accusations and fabricating stories to create a status for himself.” “We will not be dragged into the sedition that he wants to stir in the (Shiite) arena,” AMAL added.

Army leaders request Aoun head graduation ceremony
The Daily Star/July. 18/2018/BEIRUT: The Lebanese Army has invited President Michel Aoun to head its annual Army Day celebrations on Aug. 1. In a meeting with the president at the presidential palace on Wednesday, several senior Army leaders extended the invitation on behalf of Army command. The Army Day celebration will include the presentation of ceremonial sabers to the officers who are set to graduate from the Military Academy’s Fajr al-Joroud (Dawn of the Outskirts) training program, which was named after the military offensive undertaken by the Lebanese Army last August. The Army launched Fajr al-Joroud to drive out Daesh militants entrenched on the outskirts of Ras Baalbeck and Al-Qaa, near the Lebanese-Syrian border. The offensive represented the first full-scale operation that the Army conducted against terrorist elements in the country.

Israel Combs Area Close to Technical Fence with Lebanon
Naharnet/July 18/18/Israeli troops have combed the area close to the technical fence with Lebanon in al-Abbara region as part of preparations to resume the construction of a separation wall, the National News Agency reported on Wednesday. NNA said the troops have combed an area between the towns of Kfar Kila and al-Adayseh. Israeli troops have heavily deployed in the area, meanwhile UNIFIL troops of the Spanish contingent deployed on the opposite side, NNA said. Enemy forces have also piled up dirt barriers beside the technical fence opposite to the entrance to Mays al-Jabal.
Amine Gemayel Meets with Outgoing UK Ambassador 18th July 2018/Former President Amine Gemayel on Wednesday met with the UK Ambassador Hugo Shorter who paid a farewell visit to Bickfaya as he will be leaving his post as envoy to Lebanon at the end of the summer. Earlier this week, the United Kingdom's Foreign and Commonwealth Office announced the appointment of Chris Rampling as its new ambassador to Lebanon. He is set to assume his post in Beirut in September. Following the meeting, Shorter outlined the importance of forming a government based on a balanced formula that is fair to each of the local factions, noting that Lebanon is in urgent need of an effective and reformatory government. “We hope to see a government that sends to the world a positive message that Lebanon is standing in a balanced and neutral position, without being biased towards any axis or party,” Shorter said. As for the CEDRE conference, the ambassador stressed the need for Lebanon to adhere to the reform pledges as agreed with the donor countries, adding that reforms must be above all for the sake of Lebanon.

MP Nadim Gemayel: Information Technology Committee to Establish Legislative Foundation for Infrastructure 18th July 2018/Kataeb MP Nadim Gemayel on Wednesday said that a big responsibility has been bestowed on him by being elected as head of the Information Technology parliamentary committee, deeming it as a fundamental panel. “This committee will establish the legislative framework for the infrastructure of our modern economy,” Gemayel wrote on Twitter. The Kataeb lawmaker urged the Lebanese youth who work in both the public and private sectors to join forces to help lay the groundwork for the information technology infrastructure, and, therefore, contribute to boosting the economy.

Judge Halts Costa Brava Landfill Expansion for Now
The Daily Star/Wednesday 18th July 2018/The controversial Costa Brava landfill will not be expanded for now after a judge’s decision Tuesday ordering work to stop pending a report into its risks. Civil society group United for Lebanon had filed a lawsuit over the Cabinet’s expansion decision in June. “I’m so happily overwhelmed,” Dr. Rami Ollaik, prominent activist and lawyer with United for Lebanon, told The Daily Star shortly after Aley Court of Urgent Matters Judge Rola Chamoun’s decision was announced.
Budding business: how cannabis could transform Lebanon
الغاردين: تجارة الحشيشة الناشئة: كيف يمكن لتجارة الحشيشة الشرعية أن تغير لبنان

Richard Hall/The Guardian/July 18/18
Report proposes legalising billion-dollar cannabis industry to rescue ailing economy
The town of Brital, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, is a jarring contrast of poverty and ostentatious wealth. Busted-up old vans drive on potholed roads next to gleaming Bentleys and Range Rovers with no number plates and blacked-out windows. Unemployment is rife, and yet the landscape is dotted by large gated mansions. The town is home to some of Lebanon’s most powerful cannabis-growing families, who cultivate their crop openly in the fields nearby and possess a vast arsenal of weapons that has put them out of the reach of the law. Over the years, it has gained a reputation for being a no-go zone. But if economists and consultants are to have their way, Brital and the entire area will be transformed by the creation of a billion-dollar legal cannabis industry.
The Lebanese government will soon study proposals to legalise cannabis cultivation to export for medicinal purposes. The plan is part of a package of reforms proposed by McKinsey & Company – a global consultancy firm hired to come up with a five-year plan to rescue the ailing economy.
The decision to recruit outside help came in the wake of increasingly dire predictions about the country’s finances. Lebanon is the third most indebted country in the world, with a debt-to-GDP ratio of 153%. The civil war in neighbouring Syria made a bad situation even worse: economic growth has dropped from 9% before the conflict to about 2% today. In a 1,000-page report handed this month to the Lebanese president, Michel Aoun, McKinsey’s team of consultants recommended boosting tourism, creating a banking hub and investing in avocado production.
But it was the proposition to legalise cannabis cultivation that caught the most attention. The idea was given added weight when Raed Khoury, the caretaker economy minister, endorsed the plan.
“The quality [of cannabis] we have is one of the best in the world,” Khoury told Bloomberg, adding that the industry could be worth $1bn (£760m) to Lebanon.
Most cannabis production in Lebanon is controlled by a collection of powerful clans in the Bekaa. The wealth they have accumulated over the years has made them a power unto themselves – armed to the teeth and willing to challenge the police and army when their livelihood is threatened.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, they are sympathetic to calls for legalisation.
“They totally agree with it. It’s a serious step towards reforming the Lebanese economy,” says Qassem Tlaiss, a resident of Brital who acts as a representative of the powerful Bekaa clans known to farm cannabis.
Despite the military presence, the Bekaa Valley is one of the most fertile strips of land in the Middle East.
Tlaiss, who is not involved in cannabis production himself, says the region has been neglected by the government for decades, leaving people with little choice but to seek employment in the drug trade.
He blames the battle between farmers and the authorities for impoverishing the region further. The government makes periodic attempts to destroy the crop, which sometimes results in gunfights.
About 42,000 arrest warrants are outstanding for the district of Baalbek-Hermel – mostly for offences linked to the drug trade. Tlaiss heads a committee set up by the Bekaa clans to call for a general amnesty for the region.
“This is one of the reasons why the region is so poor. No one can work because there are so many arrest warrants out against us. Anyone who is suspected of anything cannot find a job,” he says.
Cannabis has been grown in the Bekaa Valley since at least Ottoman times. The industry reached its peak during the chaos of the country’s 1975-1990 civil war, when an estimated 2,000 tonnes a year was leaving by illegal ports on the coast.
The Syrian war, which erupted in 2011 just over the border, is today contributing to another boom for the growers. Farmers say their trade has grown by 50% since 2012, as Lebanese authorities have turned their attention to border security.
Today they bring in an estimated $175m-$200m a year, exporting to the Gulf, Europe, Africa and North America. Lebanon is the third largest exporter of cannabis resin in the world, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
It is unclear whether McKinsey’s plan calls for the government to work with established farmers in the Bekaa, or build an entirely new industry. Previous proposals put to Tlaiss by Lebanese officials suggested granting licenses to existing growers.
But while the expertise is there, the Bekaa has long been a complex web of competing interests, and the Lebanese state figures low down in the pecking order.
Tlaiss says the plan will face stiff opposition from Hezbollah, the Shia political party and militant group whose military strength rivals that of the Lebanese army, and for whom the Bekaa is a base of support and operations.
“Hezbollah is against it. They want to keep this region poor so they can attract young men to fight for them,” he says. “They are holding the joints of Lebanese politics and they can do whatever they want.”
Lebanon held its first elections in nine years in May, but it has still not formed a government. Decision-making here – especially involving big reform efforts – requires consensus among the country’s rival sects, which is rare.
“If you look at the history of reform attempts in Lebanon, it has been looked at from a purely political angle,” says Nassib Ghobril, the chief economist at Lebanon’s Byblos Bank. “If a reform is implemented and one side takes credit for it, it will be considered as a loss to their opponents. It’s a zero-sum game.”
And when things are agreed upon, rampant corruption tends to limit their effectiveness. Lebanon is ranked 143rd in the world in Transparency International’s index on corruption.
Walid Jumblatt, an MP who is the most vocal advocate for cannabis legalisation in the Lebanese parliament, questions the necessity of bringing in McKinsey. “I’m not going to read this bullshit report. I proposed this idea a long time ago. We did not need to pay a million dollars and a half to achieve a conclusion that we can legalise cannabis.”
Despite his reservations about the report, he still supports the idea. “It could be done, in theory. It could be one factor of improvement and development for the abandoned areas of Baalbek and Hermel.”
McKinsey declined to comment for this article.

The Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published
on July 18-19/18
Iran Says Trump Asked Rouhani for Meeting 8 Times at U.N.
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/July 18/18/The chief of staff to Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday that his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump asked for a meeting eight times during the U.N. General Assembly last year.
"During Rouhani's last visit to New York for the U.N. General Assembly session, Trump asked the Iranian delegation eight times to have a meeting with the president," Mahmoud Vaezi told reporters on Wednesday, according to the conservative Mehr news agency. He said the Iranian team had not responded to the requests, which came just after Trump announced he would no longer certify Iran's compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal -- setting the scene for his eventual withdrawal from the pact in May. "We have a transparent policy and clear position with regard to our relations with the U.S.... that (we) will not yield to pressure," Vaezi said. Tehran said back in October that Trump had requested a sit-down with his Iranian counterpart during the U.N. meeting, but the claim of numerous requests had not previously been made. Trump has said he is open to talks on a new deal with Iran that goes beyond its nuclear program to include its regional behavior and missile defenses. Iran has said there is no chance of a renegotiation and is working with European and Asian partners to find ways around U.S. nuclear-related sanctions that will be reimposed in the coming months as part of Washington's withdrawal from the 2015 agreement. A Trump-Rouhani meeting would have been the first between the presidents of the two countries since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution.

Preparations Start to Evacuate Pro-Regime Syria Towns
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/July 18/18/Preparations were underway on Wednesday to evacuate thousands of people from two pro-regime Syrian towns, an AFP reporter and state media said, after three years of encirclement by hardline rebels. No date has been set for the start of evacuations from Fuaa and Kafraya in the northwestern province of Idlib, but they could begin in the coming days. The Shiite-majority towns are the last remaining areas under siege in Syria, where government forces have also repeatedly used crippling blockades during the country's seven-year war. On Wednesday, barricades were lifted on the road leading into Fuaa and Kafraya, allowing 84 buses to enter, an AFP correspondent said. Official SANA news agency also said buses had arrived to evacuate people. "Dozens of buses and ambulances have entered the area of Fuaa and Kafraya to bring out the residents besieged by terrorists," SANA said. The towns are besieged by rebels and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a jihadist alliance led by Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a deal was reached Tuesday between regime backer Russia and rebel backer Turkey to evacuate the towns. It would see all residents ferried to regime-held territory in neighbouring Aleppo province, the Britain-based monitor said. A source from HTS on Tuesday said some 6,900 people -- including civilians and fighters -- were to be evacuated under the deal. The source said 1,500 people would be freed from government-run jails.The evacuation agreement reached Tuesday is not the first for the two tiny towns. In April 2017, thousands were bussed out of Fuaa and Kafraya in exchange for parallel evacuations from two towns near Damascus that were being besieged by the government. But a blast targeting a convoy of evacuees from Fuaa and Kafraya left 150 people dead, most of them civilians and including 72 children.

RSF Urges UN to Guarantee Safety of Journalists in South Syria
Damascus, Paris, London – Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 18 July, 2018/Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called on the United Nations to take all necessary measures to guarantee the safety and protection of dozens of journalists who have been exposed to extremely grave danger in South Syria. In a statement Tuesday, RSF said that because of the particularly “alarming situation of these journalists” trapped in this southwestern part of Syria since the regime retook Daraa, UN and countries that could receive the endangered journalists must take all necessary measures to guarantee their safety and protection. “Some of these journalists have told RSF they fear being executed or imprisoned as soon as the regime controls the entire province,” added the organization. It believes that the regime’s persecution of journalists for more than seven years justifies their fears as they risk being subjected to particularly severe reprisals. RSF stated that many of the journalists covered the uprising since the outset and have helped to document the regime’s human rights violations, and thus are in danger of being identified with the opposition. RSF revealed that a list of 69 journalists in grave danger in Quneitra and Daraa has been compiled by the journalists themselves. They are journalists working for the Syrian TV channels Orient News, Syria TV, al-Jisr TV and Halab Today TV, as well as employees of the international news agencies Agence-France Presse (AFP) and Reuters, and correspondents of local news networks and organizations, such as Yaqeen, Shahed and Nabaa. In a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, RSF chief Christophe Deloire suggested establishing a humanitarian corridor or discreet access to a “territory at peace in one of the adjoining countries.”In a related development, pro-regime SAMA TV reporter Mustafa Salamah was killed on Monday while covering regime operations against opposition factions in the Quneitra countryside, announced the state-owned SANA news agency. He was killed by a mortar shell in Tal Mashara in the eastern countryside of Quneitra, said SANA. According to RSF, Syria was the most dangerous country for journalists in 2017. Meanwhile, Palestinian photographer Niraz Saied died while in detention, according to his wife who accused the regime of killing him, AFP reported. Saied, an award-winning photographer, died after nearly three years in regime detention. He was arrested in October 2015. "There's nothing harder than writing these words, but Niraz doesn't die in silence. They killed my darling, my husband, my Niraz - they killed you, my soul. Niraz died in the Syrian regime's prisons," Lamis al-Khateeb wrote on her Facebook account. He was believed to be 27 years old.
Trump: Iran in Turmoil Since US Withdrew from Nuclear Deal
London, Brussels – Asharq al-Awsat, Abdallah Mustafa/July 18/18/US President Donald Trump asserted Monday that protests were ongoing in Iran since he pulled out of an international nuclear deal and that Washington supports the protesters. During an interview with Fox News, Trump said that Russia still supported the nuclear accord because it does business with the regime in Tehran, so the deal is in Moscow’s interest. "It is not good for us or for the world, but they have riots in all their cities," the US President added. Trump indicated that inflation is rampant, going through the roof and the regime wouldn't let the people know that the US is supporting them. "They are having big protests all over the country, probably as big as they have ever had before. And battles happened since I terminated that deal, so we will see," he added. In June, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed his support for Iranians protesting against their government, which he accused of "corruption, injustice and incompetence." Tehran's government has been facing growing discontent over economic turmoil since Trump withdrew in May from the nuclear deal and announced tougher US economic sanctions on Iran. In related news, Iran has filed a lawsuit at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against the United States alleging that Washington’s decision in May to impose sanctions after pulling out of a nuclear deal violates a 1955 treaty between the two countries. The ICJ, which is based in The Hague and is also known as the World Court, is the United Nations' tribunal for resolving international disputes. Iran’s filing asks the ICJ to order the United States to provisionally lift its sanctions ahead of more detailed arguments.
Iran said in its filing that Trump’s move “has violated and continued to violate multiple provisions” of the Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations and Consular Rights, signed long before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. In a lawsuit filed by Iran in 2016 based on the same 1955 treaty, Washington argued that the ICJ had no jurisdiction. The court has not determined any further steps. Iran filed a complaint with the International Court of Justice “to hold US accountable for its unlawful re-imposition of unilateral sanctions.” Iran determined that it is committed to the rule of law in the face of US contempt for diplomacy and legal obligations, stressing that it is imperative to counter its habit of violating international law. Iranian officials have repeatedly accused the US of violating the Iran Deal before pulling out in May, and imposing illegal sanctions thereafter.

Israeli Government Satisfied With Outcomes of Trump-Putin Summit
Tel Aviv- Nazir Majli/Asharq Al Awsat/July 18/18/The border between Israel and Syria in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights saw unprecedented moves on Tuesday. Syrian regime forces have withdrawn their heavy machinery and a section of their troops eastward, avoiding a clash with Israel in the Quneitra area. Meanwhile, scores of displaced Syrians, some waving white flags, briefly approached within 200 meters of the frontier fence along Golan Heights before Israeli soldiers ordered them to go back. The Israelis considered the move to be in line with the understandings reached by Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump at the Helsinki summit on Israel's support and the commitment of the Syrian regime to the terms of the agreements signed with it in 1974. Trump’s meeting with Putin resulted in a “really good” outcome for Israel, the president told Fox News of the Helsinki Summit. “We came to a lot of good conclusions. A really good conclusion for Israel. Something very strong,” Trump said of the summit. Trump also said that the Russian President was “a believer in Israel” and a strong supporter of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “He’s a fan of Bibi,” he said, using Netanyahu’s nickname. “Really helping him a lot and will help him a lot, which is good for all of us.”He made no reference to the future status of Iranian-backed troops inside Syria, but Trump said the “United States will not allow Iran to benefit from our successful campaign against ISIS”. Trump in his remarks said Israel’s security was preeminent both in American and Russian considerations of Syria. “We’ve worked with Israel long and hard for many years, many decades. I think we’ve never — never has anyone, any country been closer than we are,” Trump stressed. Putin, for his part, said that the south of Syria “should be brought to the full compliance with the treaty of 1974 about the separation of forces — about separation of forces of Israel and Syria.”“This will bring peace to Golan Heights and bring a more peaceful relationship between Syria and Israel, and it will also provide security to the State of Israel.”

Israel Tells Hamas: Incendiary Kites or War
Cairo, Ramallah- Mohammed Nabil Helmi and Kifah Zboun/ Asharq Al Awsat/Wednesday, 18 July, 2018/Israel has put Hamas before two choices; either putting an end to burning kites sent to Israel or starting a new round of battles that could include occupying Gaza Strip.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Tuesday that Israeli army knows what to do and when to do it, adding that it is ready and prepared for any mission. Lieberman made the statement while visiting a military drill for a possible war on the Strip. "If we have to launch a military campaign, we will be able to defeat any enemy,” he asserted. "We will determine the rules of the game, and no one else," he said in response to remarks made by Hamas chief of political office Ismail Haniyeh, who said during Saturday's clashes that resistance factions determine the rules of the game. The drill, which is to last until Thursday, simulates the capturing of Gaza City by Israeli troops. It sees troops from the armored, infantry, engineering and artillery corps train for a variety of scenarios inside enemy territory including handling the local civilian population.
The maneuvers are dubbed “Gates of Steel”, and a senior Southern Command official told Israel Hayom ‎Monday that most likely Israel will not go into war over incendiary kites and ‎balloons. "We don't want war. The desired situation is one ‎where we don't have to deal with incendiary kites, ‎balloons and drones, but we gauge our response ‎according to the situation on the ground. We will ‎intensify our response gradually until it all ‎stops," he added.‎
Lieberman’s threats came shortly after he decided to completely close Kerem Shalom crossing, banning fuel imports, and only allowing food and medicine to be sent if each shipment is individually approved. “In light of the continued terror attempts by the Hamas terrorist organization, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, in consultation with the chief of staff, has decided to close the Kerem Shalom crossing to imports of oil and gas until this Sunday,” statement published by Lieberman’s office said.
“The crossing will continue to transfer food and medicine [shipments] that are individually approved,” it added. The new restrictions are added to previous ones imposed by Israel last week, when exports of products from Gaza were suspended and most products were barred from entering the Strip. The army said the closure would continue as long as Palestinians continued to fire kites and balloons at Israel. A truce sponsored by Egypt last Saturday did not discuss incendiary planes, which have threatened the ceasefire agreement. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would not allow kites to continue under the cease-fire agreement, and Hamas responded that they were not included in the deal. Late March, Palestinians began using incendiary kites during the Marches of Return, causing the burning of about 30,000 dunams of Israeli farms in the vicinity of Gaza. Israel tried to stop the kites without any success, and then it announced in the latest round of escalation on Saturday, that the cease-fire in Gaza must include the kites or there won’t be one. Israeli officials agreed at a meeting of the Israeli cabinet to target and stop flaming kites any cost. In an attempt to spare Gaza a new war, Cairo pressed Hamas and gave it days to end or significantly reduce the phenomenon of burning kites and balloons from the Gaza Strip towards the adjacent Israeli areas.Meanwhile, Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported Hamas responded and informed the Egyptian intelligence service that it was actually working to reduce the number of burning balloons sent to Israel, but was unable to end it all at once. A source in the Gaza Strip told the newspaper that Hamas cannot stop sending the flaming balloons, because this will harm its credibility among the people of the Strip and its supporters in general, and therefore it will do so gradually. Indeed, the number of flaming kites and balloons launched from Gaza has been reduced over the past three days, following the announcement of a truce between Hamas and Israel. Egypt’s stance also came in line with that of UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov, who warned Hamas of a devastating war because of the kites. An Egyptian source familiar with the file of Egyptian relations with Palestine and Israel told Asharq Al-Awsat that Israel is trying to test Cairo by closing Kerem Shalom crossing, despite the heavy economic losses it causes to Tel Aviv. He added that Israel wants Egypt to permanently open Rafah crossing. The source explained that Cairo understands that "the understandings accompanying the ceasefire and truce in the Gaza Strip between Hamas and Israel, is not strong and may not last long." Over the coming ten days, Egypt will discuss with Fatah movement to get answers on what Hamas suggested during an earlier session of talks with Egyptian intelligence officials. A tripartite meeting is underway that will include representatives of the Islamic Jihad, Fatah, and Hamas. “Cairo will provide facilities for Gaza Strip, but without putting pressure on the Egyptian decision in any way,” he added. Hamas warned of "serious consequences" of Israel's recent decisions. “The Israeli occupation’s closure of the Kerem Shalom crossing and depriving Gaza of the most simple necessities of life is a crime against humanity that will be added to its list of crimes at the expense of the Palestinian people including those living in the Strip,” said Hamas announced in a statement posted on its official website. These vengeful measures reflect the degree of the oppression and the ugliness of the crime that Gaza is facing, that will have dangerous consequences for which the occupation will bear full responsibility, asserted the statement. In a similar situation, the Islamic Jihad warned that increasing pressure on Gaza would put the region on the “brink of an explosion”.

Mogherini Accuses Israeli Minister of Making ‘Unfounded’ Allegations against EU
Tel Aviv - Asharq Al Awsat/Wednesday, 18 July, 2018/EU high representative for foreign affairs Federica Mogherini sent a sharp-worded letter to Israel's Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, accusing him of making “unfounded and unacceptable” allegations that the bloc supports terrorist activities. In her letter, she responds to a report released in May by the Strategic Affairs Ministry that accuses the EU of giving millions of dollars to NGOs with terror ties and that promote the boycott of Israel. Mogherini said: “The EU has very strict rules to screen and vet the beneficiaries of EU funds. We take any allegation of misuse of EU funds very seriously and are committed to investigate all those presented with substantive evidence.”She asserted that EU funding has not been used to support the boycott of Israel or Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) activities and certainly not to finance terrorism.In a letter Erdan sent to Mogherini along with the report, he claimed: “An in-depth research study conducted by my ministry has revealed that in 2016 the EU funded 14 European and Palestinian NGOs, which openly and clearly promote BDS.”He charged that “several of the BDS-promoting NGOs that receive direct and indirect EU funding are linked to EU-designated terrorist organizations.”Erdan warned that such financing undermines the EU-Israel relationship and “also undermines the chances for peace.”In her letter, Mogherini stated that the report in question contained errors. “For example, of the 13 organizations listed in the report, six do not receive EU funding for activities in Palestine and none of them receive EU funds for BDS activity,” she wrote. She added that a number of the organizations referred to in the report also receive funding from other international donors, including the United States. Mogherini went on to explain that with regard to the alleged support for the BDS movement, the EU has not changed its position regarding the movement. While it upholds its policy of clearly distinguishing between the territory of Israel and the territories occupied by it since 1967, the EU rejects any attempts to isolate Israel and does not support calls for boycott, she stressed. She asserted that EU does not fund actions that are related to boycott activities. Erdan responded to Mogherini’s response, saying she has once again chosen to “bury her head in the sand and ignore the clear evidence that the BDS organizations” are linked to or cooperate with “terrorist” organizations like Hamas and the Popular Front.

UN Official Denies Putting Pressure on Syrian Refugees in Jordan to Return Home
Amman- Asharq Al Awsat/Wednesday, 18 July, 2018/United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Resident Representative in Jordan Stefano Severi denied that the reduction in aid to Syrian refugees "is linked to pushing them to return to Syria." "The reduction of aid is linked to the acute shortage of funding," al-Ghad newspaper quoted him as saying. "We are mid-year now and only a small portion of the appeal to meet the needs of the Syrian refugees has been provided, both in Jordan and in the region," Severi said. "A simple comparison with last year's figures shows a significant decline in the amount of funding that has been provided,” he explained. “We are trying to make the most of the funding available to meet basic needs, and our main focus is on protecting the most vulnerable."Severi also explained that the UNHCR has many camp health centers. "We may reduce the number of health centers in the camps, but the services and equipment in the remaining centers will be enhanced to meet the needs of all camp residents." As a result of the lack of funding, he said, "we urge refugees to make the most of the opportunities available, such as obtaining work permits."On the issue of the return of refugees to Syria, Severi said that the issue is not new. “In the course of 2016 and 2017, about 15,000 Syrian refugees returned to their homes,” he said, adding that this year the number decreased because of the security situation and the conflict in southwestern Syria. Regarding the current situation, Severi pointed out that 60 percent of the Syrian refugees in Jordan are from Daraa and southwestern Syrian areas in general. He explained that the Syrian regime has regained control over these areas, and the people should decide whether they want o return or not. "From our point of view, the return of refugees to their homes is the most appropriate solution, but it must be done when the country’s conditions allow them to do so,” Severi stressed.'

Hungary's Orban Set for Controversial Visit to Israel
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/July 18/18/Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrives for a controversial visit to Israel on Wednesday as he and his counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu find common cause in their right-wing views. Orban's visit has provoked concern in Israel over allegations he has stoked anti-Semitism in Hungary with nationalist rhetoric and a campaign against U.S. Jewish billionaire philanthropist George Soros. Netanyahu has brushed aside those concerns as he seeks closer ties with European nations willing to provide strong backing to Israel. He and Orban also both strongly support U.S. President Donald Trump. A year ago, Netanyahu made the first trip to Budapest by an Israeli prime minister since the fall of communism in 1989, thanking Orban for "standing up for Israel in international forums."He also denounced "absolutely crazy" EU demands of Israel, such as those related to Israel's occupation of the West Bank, in closed-door remarks picked up by a microphone and overheard by journalists. Netanyahu has extended his praise to all of the so-called Visegrad group, which includes Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, and whose nationalist stances have been a thorn in Brussels' side. Orban arrives later Wednesday and is due to hold talks with Netanyahu on Thursday, according to Israel's foreign ministry. He will tour the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial on Thursday afternoon and visit the Western Wall in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem on Friday before leaving.
In a break with protocol for EU leaders who usually meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah during such visits, he has no scheduled talks with Palestinian leaders. Orban, a virulent opponent of Muslim immigration who has been in power since 2010, has come under fire for his battle against Budapest-born Soros. Many in Hungary's 100,000-strong Jewish population -- one of Europe's largest -- have accused Orban of encouraging anti-Semitism. A government poster campaign last year, attacking Soros for his alleged support of mass immigration, drew heavy criticism over what some saw as its use of anti-Semitic imagery. Orban has stressed that the campaign was about Soros' political views and that Hungary has "zero tolerance" toward anti-Semitism. Netanyahu has also criticized Soros for backing human rights groups critical of the Israeli government. Orban's praise of wartime leader and Hitler ally Miklos Horthy as "an exceptional statesman" for rebuilding Hungary after World War I has also sparked criticism. "Netanyahu is going to honour Viktor Orban, who has hailed and praised the anti-Semitic leader who collaborated with the Nazis in the extermination of the Jews of Hungary. Shame!" said Yair Lapid, head of centrist Israeli opposition party Yesh Atid, on Twitter. Galia Golan, political science professor at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, spoke of an "informal alliance" of right-wing, nationalist governments. "These are the countries that support us and we have to go with the counties that are supporting us," she said. "But why are we in this category to begin with?"

HRW Slams Morocco over Journalist's 3-Year Jail Term
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/July 18/18/Human Rights Watch (HRW) criticized a Morocco court on Wednesday for sentencing a prominent journalist to three years in prison on a "dubious charge" relating to a northern protest movement. Hamid el Mahdaoui was sentenced in June for "not denouncing" attempts to harm state security after he received a call from a man who said he planned to create armed strife in Morocco. The court had rejected Mahdaoui's defense that as a journalist he often receives calls from strangers and that he felt the man's claims were "idle chatter," HRW said.
Well known for criticizing the Moroccan government on social media, Mahdaoui is already serving a one-year sentence for inciting protests. He received the call during the thousands-strong Al-Hirak al-Shaabi (Popular Movement) demonstrations that rocked the Rif region in 2016 and 2017. HRW's Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson said the charges against him "reek of an arbitrary use of the law on an outspoken journalist by authorities who have been radically reducing the space for critical reporting and commentary."
In Iraq, Old Grievances Fuel Deadly Protests
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/July 18/18/In the heat of battle against the Islamic State group, Iraqis united against a common enemy. But just a few months after Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory over the jihadists, social grievances that once simmered on the back burner have boiled over in a series of protests that have spread to several cities. After erupting in oil-rich Basra province on July 8, unrest has quickly spread, as people have vented their anger over unemployment, high prices, power cuts and a lack of usable water. From Basra to the capital Baghdad, the question on people's lips has been: "Where is the government?" That query is made all the more pertinent by the failure of May's elections -- thus far -- to produce a new administration, as a record abstention rate highlighted Iraqis' contempt for their political leaders.  Eight people have been killed during the demonstrations so far, multiple sources say, while there has been a brief internet blackout and the authorities claim over 260 security personnel have been wounded.
'Explosion of rage'
The protests represent "an explosion of rage at an entire system that has brazenly robbed Iraqis of the chance for a better life," says Iraq expert Fanar Haddad. With the jihadists in retreat, "the failings of the Iraqi political classes in all aspects of governance and economic management come into sharper relief," adds Haddad. For more than a week protesters have taken to the streets, questioning how a country that is the second largest producer in the OPEC oil cartel can leave its 38 million citizens so bereft of basic services. In some cases security forces have fired live rounds into the air, including to deter protesters who set fire to public property and political parties' headquarters. The authorities say troublemakers have turned peaceful protests violent. In an effort to restore calm, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi flew to Basra last week from Brussels, after a NATO meeting where the continued threat of IS was on the agenda. The premier announced investments of $3 billion (2.6 billion euros) for Basra province and pledged additional spending on housing, schools and services. And several cabinet minsters summoned powerful tribal chiefs in southern Iraq, urging them to use their clout to restore order in their provinces. When Abadi was elected in 2014, the prime minister pledged to tackle endemic corruption and vowed to rid Iraq of the jihadists, who at that stage held a third of the country. He has won plaudits for overseeing the war effort -- but the battle against corruption will take time, his supporters say.
Iraq is ranked the 12th most corrupt country in the world by Transparency International.
'Cosmetic concessions' -
The promises of investment for Basra will fail to satisfy the demonstrators who know Abadi may well not lead the next government, political analyst Hisham al-Hashemi says. The elections placed the premier's Victory Alliance third. And while his bloc tentatively allied itself with nationalist cleric Moqtada Sadr in June, the combined forces would still take only 96 out of 329 parliamentary seats. But despite the political chaos -- two months after the elections, even the fragmented results are subject to a recount in some areas -- Hashemi expects the protest movement to fizzle out. "They don't have a leadership, a political identity or media support (to further their) legitimate demands," he says. And alongside the offer of carrots, sticks are being deployed.The authorities have ordered the arrest of dozens of activists who encouraged others to take to the streets by posting pictures of the protests online.
On Saturday, the internet was cut across the country, as demonstrations threatened to spread. Authorities said the shutdown was due to maintenance work and Iraq was largely back online Monday. But Iraqis were still unable to connect on social networks. An end to the protests could lie in offering temporary solutions until political and meteorological temperates cool, Haddad says, noting that anger over public services has historically tended to boil over during the summer. It is "likely that the Iraqi political classes will bunker down and wait for the storm to pass while offering cosmetic concessions and promises of reform," he says. But the problems facing the country are long-term ones "that require far more than Iraq's self-interested political classes are likely to be able to offer."

The Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published
on July 18-19/18
Explained/Why Saudi Arabia and ‘Little Sparta’ Still Can’t Defeat Iran in Yemen
لماذا السعودية واسبارتا الصغير (الإمارات) غير قادرين حتى الآن على هزيمة إيران في اليمن

Alexander Griffing/Haaretz/July 18/18
The kingdom and the UAE are both modern military powerhouses, spending billions on arms every year, yet are being thwarted by a group of guerrilla fighters.
In the annual U.S. News & World Report “Power Rankings” that came out last week, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were ranked the ninth and 10th most powerful countries in the world, respectively. Yet these two military powers are currently embroiled in the fourth year of conflict in one of the world’s poorest countries, Yemen, against Iran-backed rebels whom they just can’t seem to defeat.
The Saudi and UAE militaries are two of the best funded and equipped in the world. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Saudi Arabia even surpassed Russia in 2017 with the world’s third-largest military expenditure, totalling $69.4 billion. The think tank also ranked Saudi Arabia as the second-largest importer of weapons in both 2015 and 2016, noting that such imports have increased by over 200 percent in the past six years.
However, the limitations of the Saudi military are well-known. Despite its massive budget and arms purchases, it suffers from a lack of experience, a reliance on U.S. refueling and resupplying, and from a human capital issue.
“They haven’t fought a war since 1991,” says Dr. Yoel Guzansky, a senior researcher at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, while on the other side the Houthi rebels have “decades of guerrilla-warfare experience and fighting on this terrain, which is difficult.”
The Arab coalition fighting in Yemen, led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, has been forced into a stalemate in recent weeks following an attempt to take the key port city of Hodeidah from the Iran-backed Houthis. Iran, which is fighting various proxy wars in the Middle East, has been accused by both the U.S. and Saudi intelligence agencies of arming the Houthis with weapons and rockets, which are currently aimed at Saudi Arabia’s Jizan Economic City, where Saudi Aramco, answering a call from U.S. President Donald Trump to help stabilize the global oil market, is building a 400,000-barrel-per-day refinery that is expected to become fully operational in 2019.
Riyadh and Abu Dhabi had promised a swift campaign in what has now become one of the fiercest battles in the devastating conflict.
The coalition claims its goal is to cut off the Houthis’ main supply line and force the group to the negotiating table. However, little progress has been made since the campaign was launched on June 12, as the Red Sea city is heavily defended by land and sea mines. The United Nations fears the campaign could trigger even more widespread famine, since the port is a lifeline for an impoverished state where 8.4 million are believed to be on the verge of starvation.
Heavy lifting
Guzansky notes that in Yemen it is actually the UAE, and not the Saudis, doing the heavy lifting. The Saudis are primarily providing aerial support, he says, while the UAE has actual troops on the ground – albeit many of them mercenaries from countries like Sudan – constituting a fighting force to be reckoned with. The UAE has even “earned itself the nickname ‘Little Sparta,’” in the U.S. military, says Guzansky, citing current U.S. Defense Secretary and former U.S. Marines Gen. James Mattis as having “an admiration for what they’ve done – and what they can do.”
The UAE, like the Saudis, is extremely well equipped with the most advanced weapons systems, purchased with its enormous financial resources. The Stockholm research institute claims the UAE should be listed among the world’s top 15 military spenders, but notes that the lack of publicly available data has resulted in the country’s absence from its survey.
Additionally, and unlike the Saudis, the UAE has gained extensive operational experience in countries such as Afghanistan, Somalia and Bosnia. Its forces are led, at least in part, by former Australian Gen. Mike Hindmarsh, who is currently commander of the UAE Presidential Guard – a military division that includes both conventional and special-ops units, which are active in Yemen.
Guzansky explains the extent of the UAE’s military reach, noting it is the only Arab country to have opened a military base outside of its borders with a naval and air force base in Eritrea - eyeing even more bases on the Red Sea and in Libya.
However, the UAE’s involvement in Yemen does have its domestic critics, which was highlighted last last week by reports of the May defection of an Emirati prince to Qatar, who feared for his life after criticizing the war and accused the UAE of hiding the true death toll of Emirati soldiers in Yemen. Last week the UAE announced it extended compulsory military service for Emirati men from 12 to 16 months.
The Saudi problem
The Saudi military has a highly centralized operational structure, a feature common in many nondemocratic countries, where command and loyalty come from the top. Princes and other royals do not serve as soldiers, according to Guzansky, although “maybe they will pilot a fighter jet, something with prestige” – an inequity that does not help to boost morale among the troops.
In February, Saudi King Salman, paving the way for his son Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to further consolidate power ahead of his ascension to the throne, fired all his top military commanders. The crown prince, who also serves as defense minister, has staked his reputation and rule on winning the war in Yemen and rolling back Iranian influence in the Middle East. As a result, the Saudis keep information regarding the conflict secret. Guzansky notes that Crown Prince Mohammed “is afraid of casualties, which is why in four years of war there has never been an official count from the Saudis.”
The ineffectiveness of the military mirrors deeper issues in Saudi society in general – particularly those involving the economy. The United States has been helping to equip and train Saudi armed forces since U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and Saudi King Abdulaziz Al Saud struck an oil-for-security alliance in 1945. To this day, the kingdom relies heavily on the United States for refueling and maintenance of its military assets.
In the 1970s, Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede created the Power Distance Index, which ranks how hierarchical a country is. Hofstede found that countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE are among some of the most hierarchical in the world, and as a result their flexibility in solving problems both large and small is limited, as is their ability to innovate.
Israel, which is lauded for its military prowess and innovative economy, ranks second-lowest of all countries on Hofstede’s Power Distance Index of 2009. However, Guzansky cautions that, despite its military advantages, adaptability on the battlefield and experience fighting an insurgency, Israel would face many of the same problems in Yemen as the Saudis and the UAE, and would not necessarily be more successful against experienced guerrilla fighters.
As a result, the Arab coalition’s inability to win or even to advance in Yemen has a two-pronged diagnosis: The fact that the Houthis are well-situated to repel foreign fighting forces; and the fact that the Saudi military suffers from its own systemic ineffectiveness – despite the UAE’s efforts to bring its power to bear in the fight war.

Germany's Dysfunctional Deportation System
Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/July 18/18
Aidoudi's asylum request was rejected in 2007 after allegations surfaced that he had undergone military training at an al-Qaeda jihadi camp in Afghanistan between 1999 and 2000. During his training, he had allegedly worked as a bodyguard for Osama bin-Laden.
The government in North Rhine-Westphalia confirmed that for years Aidoudi had been receiving €1,168 ($1,400) each month in welfare and child support payments.
"Salafists such as Sami A. have no business in Germany and should be deported. Germany should not be a retirement retreat for jihadists." — Alexander Dobrindt, Member of the German Bundestag.
A court in Gelsenkirchen has ruled that deporting a self-declared Islamist — suspected of being a bodyguard of the former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden — was "grossly unlawful" and ordered him returned to Germany.
The case has cast a spotlight on the dysfunctional nature of Germany's deportation system, as well as on Germany's politicized judicial system, which on human rights grounds is making it nearly impossible to expel illegal migrants, including those who pose security threats.
The 42-year-old failed asylum seeker from Tunisia — identified by German authorities as Sami A., but known in his native country as Sami Aidoudi — had been living in Germany since 1997. Aidoudi, a Salafist Islamist, is believed by German authorities to have spent time in Afghanistan and Pakistan before the al-Qaeda attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001. Since then, he was under surveillance by German intelligence for propagating Islamist teachings and attempting to radicalize young Muslims. He had "far reaching" relationships with Salafist and jihadist networks, according to an official report leaked to the German newsmagazine, Focus.
Aidoudi's asylum request was rejected in 2007 after allegations surfaced that he had undergone military training at an al-Qaeda jihadi camp in Afghanistan between 1999 and 2000. During his training, he had allegedly worked as a bodyguard for Osama bin-Laden. Aidoudi denied the charges and claimed to have been studying during that time in Karachi, Pakistan.
Sami Aidoudi (left) lived in Germany since 1997, until he was deported to his homeland of Tunisia on July 13, 2018. He is alleged to have undergone military training at an al-Qaeda jihadi camp in Afghanistan between 1999 and 2000. He had allegedly worked as a bodyguard for Osama bin-Laden (right) during his training. (Image sources: Aidoudi - SpiegelTV video screenshot; Bin Laden - Wikimedia Commons)
Despite rejecting Aidoudi's asylum application, German courts repeatedly blocked his deportation out of fears that he could be tortured or mistreated in his homeland.
In April 2017, for instance, a court in Münster ruled that Aidoudi faced "the considerable likelihood" of "torture and inhumane or degrading treatment" if he returned to Tunisia.
In April 2018, Aidoudi's continued presence in Germany sparked public outrage when it emerged that he had been living in Bochum for more than a decade with his German wife and their four children — at taxpayer expense — even though German intelligence agencies had classified him as a security threat.
In response to an inquiry from the anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany (AfD), the government in North Rhine-Westphalia confirmed that for years Aidoudi had been receiving €1,168 ($1,400) each month in welfare and child-support payments.
In May 2018, Germany's Constitutional Court ruled that another Tunisian jihadi — identified only as 37-year-old Heikel S., accused of involvement in the March 2015 jihadi attack on the Bardo museum in Tunis — could be deported to his homeland.
Interior Minister Horst Seehofer seized on this ruling and called on immigration authorities to make Aidoudi's case a top priority. "My goal is to achieve deportation," he said.
On June 25, Aidoudi was detained after Seehofer ordered immigration authorities to expedite deportation proceedings.
A few weeks later, on July 13, before dawn, Aidoudi, escorted by four federal police officers and a doctor, was placed on a specially chartered Learjet and flown from Düsseldorf to Tunisia. Aidoudi's deportation cost German taxpayers nearly €80,000 ($95,000), according to Focus magazine.
Although the Gelsenkirchen Administrative Court had blocked Aidoudi's deportation the night before, the decision was not passed on to immigration authorities until the next morning — after the plane was already airborne.
When the court learned of Aidoudi's deportation, it demanded that he be returned to Germany. The court said that Aidoudi's deportation had infringed upon "fundamental principles of the rule of law." The judges, apparently sensing that they had been duped, complained that German immigration authorities had failed to reveal to them the time of Aidoudi's flight and implied that those authorities had "knowingly" defied the court's order.
The next day, on July 14, Tunisian authorities added fuel to the fire by saying that they had no plans to return Aidoudi to Germany. "We have a sovereign justice system that is investigating him," a spokesperson for Tunisia's public prosecutor's office, Sofiene Sliti, told the DPA German news agency.
On July 17, Aidoudi claimed that his deportation was "pure racism" and implied that he would file a lawsuit against the German government. In an interview with Bild, he said:
"I was kidnapped from Germany. At three o'clock in the morning they simply took me away. I told the police: 'This is not possible. A court has blocked my deportation.' But they said the order had come from the top and that I could not do anything about it. I was not even allowed to see my lawyer. They also prevented me from contacting my wife and children."
Seehofer blamed the deportation on a "communication failure" but his critics accused him of knowingly trying to out-maneuver the German courts.
Justice Minister Katarina Barley, a Social Democrat, said:
"What independent courts decide, must apply. When the authorities choose which judicial decisions they will follow and which they will not, that is the end of the rule of law."
In an interview with Süddeutsche Zeitung, Greens leader Robert Habeck said:
"Either it is absolutely embarrassing chaos, or it stinks to high heaven, because the authorities at the interior ministry wanted to make an example [of Sami A].
"First and foremost, we need to clarify whether Interior Minister Horst Seehofer personally tried to circumvent the court's decision.
"In any event, the damage that has now been done is much greater than waiting for the court decision. The authorities are weak and stupid, especially in times when trust in institutions is dwindling."
By contrast, critics of Germany's deportation system called for changes to the existing laws. The CDU/CSU parliamentary group member Axel Fischer said that under the current system, "The personal rights of Islamists are given more weight than the security interests of the German people." He added that current legislation "gives the impression that it is virtually impossible to deport Islamist perpetrators to countries such as Tunisia, regardless of how dangerous they are."In an editorial published before Idoudi's expulsion, the newspaper Bild commented on Germany's dysfunctional deportation system:
"The deportation lunacy of ex-bin Laden bodyguard Sami A. is never-ending. German authorities still see no way to send the top Salafist back to his homeland — even though Tunisia's Minister for Human Rights, Mehdi Ben Gharbia, assured Bild that there is NO risk of torture in Tunisia.
"Since 2006, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) and the state government of North Rhine-Westphalia have been trying in vain to get rid of the former confidant of the mass murderer Osama bin Laden. "Although the al-Qaeda man (living in Bochum since 1997) is classified by the constitutional protection as a 'dangerous preacher,' he continues to be tolerated in Germany, and collects 1,100 euros in monthly support. "In the words of Alexander Dobrindt, a Member of the German Bundestag, 'Salafists such as Sami A. have no business in Germany and should be deported. Germany should not be a retirement retreat for jihadists.'"*Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute.
© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

How the World Really Views Israel

Shoshana Bryen/Gatestone Institute/July 18/18
The nations of the world want to know what Israel knows and have what Israel has -- whether they have formal diplomatic relations with Jerusalem or not.
Israel's expansive sharing of water, solar and agricultural technology is legendary, as is Israel's emergency rapid response team. But military cooperation underpins freedom of navigation in the air and on the seas -- the source of international prosperity through trade -- and secures people in their borders. Security makes everything else possible.
Israel and the Iroquois Nation came together this week -- In Israel -- at the Lacrosse World Championship. The Iroquois Nation team was subjected to enormous pressure to boycott, but they steadfastly refused to be swayed. The Iroquois, who invented Lacrosse in about 1100 CE, know a thing or two about indigenous peoples reclaiming their land. And they know a thing or two about Israel. Bravo to them.
There are those who insist that Israel is "isolated," that it lacks friends and allies. Israel's place in the larger world, however -- except, perhaps, in the halls of the UN -- is expanding, not only with the Iroquois Nation, but with the nations of the world that want to know what Israel knows and have what Israel has, whether they have formal diplomatic relations with Jerusalem or not.
The Iroquois Nation lacrosse team faces off against the Canadian team in Israel, July 16, 2018. Israel's expansive sharing of water, solar and agricultural technology is legendary, as is Israel's emergency rapid response team. But military cooperation underpins freedom of navigation in the air and on the seas – the source of international prosperity through trade – and secures people in their borders. Security makes everything else possible, and Israel is in the center of the universe of security cooperation.
Late last year, Israel hosted the largest aerial training exercise in its history – Blue Flag in the Negev Desert. There were 70 aircraft from around the world, hundreds of pilots, and air-support team members. Participants included the United States, France, Italy, Greece, Poland, Germany and India. It was the first time French, German and Indian contingents trained in Israel.
A Standing NATO Maritime Group (SNMG) is a force made up of vessels from various allied countries. In December, Britain's HMS Ocean, the flagship of the SNMG2, docked in Haifa to take part in several joint exercises with the Israel Navy and Air Force. "We are here today as a friend of Israel and a visible demonstration of NATO 's continued commitment to Israel," said Commodore James Morley. "Whilst we are here, we will engage with the Israel Navy leaders in order to create and build opportunities for us to work together. Israel is one of our closest partners and we are moving steadily closer together."
In March 2018, Israel joined in the exercise "Iniohos" in Greece. "Iniohos" is an annual exercise replicating a multi-threat environment for the air forces involved, in this case, the U.S., the United Arab Emirates, Greece, Italy, the United Kingdom and Cyprus.
The UAE? It wasn't a first. In the 2016 Red Flag exercise in the United States, Israel's partners were the UAE and Pakistan. Even Pakistan.
For the 2018 Red Flag exercise in April, Israel declined to bring its F-15 fighter jets, citing regional tension, but sent pilots and other personnel.
Juniper Cobra, the largest joint U.S.-Israeli air-defense exercise – and the largest joint exercise with the U.S. military's European Command – took place in Israel in March, with 2,000 IDF air-defense troops, 1,400 Marines and 1,100 American sailors. The USS Iwo Jima and USS Mount Whitney were there, as well as the Patriot missile-defense system, Aegis ballistic missile-defense system, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, TPY-2 radar, communication systems, 25 aircraft, and more. In late May, commissioned by NATO forces, the British HMS Duncan and Spanish frigate Victoria docked in Israel's Haifa Port ahead of joint exercises with the IDF. In June, Israeli paratroopers took part in their first combined European ground exercise not held in Israel when they trained with Swift Response in Germany, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. Thousands of soldiers from countries including Great Britain, the U.S., Spain, Italy, Poland and Portugal participated in airborne exercises; personnel and equipment drops; air-assault operations; force buildups; and civilian evacuation operations. "The objective of the exercise is to improve the ability for mutual cooperation between the participating armies," noted an IDF statement.Saber Strike, also in June, was led by the U.S. Army's European Command with 18,000 fighters from 19 countries, including Poland, Germany, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. An annual drill beginning this year in Latvia, Saber Strike focused on "training and drilling NATO's enhanced forward presence, focusing on promoting interoperability and improving joint operational capability in a variety of land missions," according to an Army source. From late June to early August, Israel is a participant in RIMPAC -- the Rim of the Pacific. RIMPAC includes Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, South Korea, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Tonga and the United Kingdom -- minus China, which was not invited, and Taiwan, which should have been. This month, as the Helicopter Carrier Dixmude docked in Haifa, French Ambassador to Israel Helene Le Gal noted that 11 French ships have docked in Israel this year – more than those of any other country's navy. "I am proud that the Dixmude is in Haifa. It demonstrates the quality of the cooperation between our countries and that there exists a strong amount of trust," she said. "We have practiced joint drills in the past and we will continue to do so in the future."
The Iroquois Nation, as another indigenous people, is a friend of the heart. In the larger picture, however, Israel is an integral part of the world's security system across the continents, from Europe to Asia to North America. In the Pacific Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, it has partnered with countries alphabetized from Australia to Vietnam in exercises on land, at sea or in the air. Not a single country pulled out of a single exercise because of the presence of the Israel Defense Forces.
*Shoshana Bryen is Senior Director of the Jewish Policy Center.
© 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.

Putin Needs America More Than It Needs Him
Alina Polyakova/The Washington Post/July 18/18
Since his reelection in March, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s public approval has slipped, according to a state-controlled polling service. This month, the Kremlin moved to raise the retirement age — a measure whose unpopularity even the World Cup fever in host nation Russia couldn’t conceal. Russia’s economy is stagnant, with low growth predicted through 2020. Western sanctions, imposed after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, have taken a toll by limiting Russian banks’ access to international financing. The Kremlin has had to dip into its foreign currency reserves, and the Russian central bank has had to shore up the nation’s banking sector, which increasingly looks like a Ponzi scheme.
Abroad, Crimea remains firmly under Russian control, but according to one Ukrainian poll, only 8 percent of Ukrainians have a positive view of Russia’s political leadership. Russian intervention has kept Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power but hasn’t produced peace in Syria’s civil war. Despite the West’s internal tensions — on display at the recent NATO summit, as President Trump traded barbs with European leaders — Russia’s position is insecure.
To appease his public, Putin needs Trump — and Russia needs the United States — more than Trump and the United States need him. But from the way Trump deals with Putin, you’d never know it.
In his book “The Art of the Deal,” in a section titled “Use Your Leverage,” Trump starts out with, “The worst thing you can possibly do in a deal is seem desperate to make it.” But in the past two weeks alone, he appeared to open the door to recognizing Crimea’s annexation, told a campaign rally crowd that “Putin’s fine, he’s fine, we’re all fine,” and said, in advance of his summit with Putin, “perhaps we’ll talk about” ending NATO military exercises in the Baltics. Trump’s heaping of praise on Putin, his stoking of an artificial crisis at NATO, and the interview with Britain’s Sun newspaper in which he undercut the authority of British Prime Minister Theresa May play right into Putin’s hands and suggest that he’s keen to gain Putin’s favor. On Friday, the Justice Department announced the indictment of 12 Russian military intelligence officers on charges of interference in the 2016 election, but this has not derailed the summit. Taken together, these moves look like an effort to approach Putin with a conciliatory tone belying the leverage Trump and his administration have in dealing with the Russian leader, if the president chose to use it.
Consider that in addition to sanctions, the United States has significant economic and military leverage at its disposal. At the NATO summit, Trump singled out Germany as “captive to Russia,” referencing Nord Stream 2 — a planned Russian pipeline project that would increase European dependence on Russia gas. The Nord Stream 2 pipeline would deliver Russian gas through the Baltic Sea, transiting through Germany. It would effectively allow Russia to bypass Ukraine as a transit route, cutting Ukraine off from billions of dollars in transit fees. Even before Trump railed against the project, Trump administration officials signaled that the United States would consider sanctioning companies involved in the project over concerns about European energy security. Such a move would effectively kill the pipeline, costing the main stakeholder — Russia’s state-controlled Gazprom — billions in investments and lost revenue. Russia’s vulnerable economy would feel the hit.
Trump is fresh from a NATO summit that, despite his fuming over European defense spending, made significant strides in deterring Russia. While only eight European countries currently meet the 2-percent-of-GDP benchmark for defense spending, according to the 2018 NATO communique, “two-thirds of Allies have national plans in place to spend 2% of their Gross Domestic Product on defense by 2024.” The communique, signed by all members, including the United States, contained strong language affirming NATO support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and condemning the “illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea,” which the allies vowed not to recognize. At the top of the Kremlin’s list of complaints is NATO’s growth and increased U.S. forward presence in the Baltic States and Eastern Europe. Putin will probably raise these grievances to Trump, but Trump should not bend: Ensuring European security through NATO is the greatest deterrent against Russian aggression. When he’s face to face with Putin, rather than entertaining his long-held concerns about NATO, Trump should emphasize NATO’s unity and the common transatlantic stance on Ukraine.
Putin knows that he needs to deliver a deal to Trump so that the president can declare the one-on-one summit a success. Probably with that in mind, Putin has stepped up efforts to mediate a deal on a pullback of Iranian forces from the Israeli border — a demand made by Israel and the United States. According to a Bloomberg News report, the agreement would replace Iranian militias with Syrian government forces, which is less objectionable to Israel. To broker the agreement, Putin met a top adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the day after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But Russia’s ability to enforce such a deal is limited, as Russia would probably have to commit ground troops to monitor and enforce the arrangement — something Putin will be unwilling to do at a time when his popularity is shaky.
Trump should remain skeptical of Russians bearing gifts. The Middle East deal looks less like a real deliverable and more like Kabuki theater. Rather than being taken in by Putin’s promises and repeating the mistake President Barack Obama made when he accepted Russian assurances on Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, Trump should be aware that Russia will not take any steps to endanger its alliance with Iran. Until that changes, US and Russian interests in the Middle East will be at odds.
Ultimately, Putin sees Trump as a potential gateway for achieving what has eluded him with past presidents: American acceptance of Russian influence in what it considers its “near abroad” and a return to business as usual, despite Russian occupation of Crimea, war in Ukraine’s Donbas region, interference in US and European elections, Russian violations of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, Russia’s cultivation of Syria as a client state, and other acts, such as the heinous, widely reported nerve agent attack in the United Kingdom for which NATO concluded the Russian Federation was “highly likely” responsible, with “no plausible alternative explanation.”
Business as usual would mean an end to sanctions, return of Russian diplomatic properties in the United States (some confiscated by order of Obama, some by Trump) and renewed bilateral dialogue on arms control and nuclear nonproliferation. Putin probably also dreams of the United States scaling back its security and defense commitment to Europe, which would leave the continent more vulnerable to Russian influence. These are all things that Trump has and Putin wants. With the Justice Department indictments adding extra political pressure on the summit, Putin is unlikely to get these concessions in Helsinki, but if he’s playing a long game, Helsinki is just the beginning. If he eventually convinces Trump that the US stance toward Russia should be softened to match the kind words the president has offered about him, he will be closer to extending Russian influence in Europe and weakening America’s.
And that is Putin’s motivation for the summit: Just meeting with Trump is already a win for him at home, showing Putin on an equal footing with the American president, making joint decisions about global affairs. With Russia’s continued information warfare against democracies, European allies have been frustrated with Trump’s solicitous behavior toward Putin. Despite the policy successes of the NATO summit, allies are nervous that Trump will be swayed by the warm relationship building between him and Putin and go back on his commitments to Europe.
Trump doesn’t appear to appreciate that Putin has to keep an eye on his own domestic politics. It might seem strange to think of someone in power for 18 years as either president or prime minister, widely seen as an authoritarian who wants to be president for life, as someone concerned about approval ratings. And, clearly, data is limited and not always reliable when it comes to public opinion in Russia. But the Kremlin has learned that aggressive foreign policy can deliver big wins at home: In 2014, Russia’s annexation of Crimea gave Putin a major boost in approval ratings. He was already at 84 percent before Russia’s Syria intervention in 2015, and he still got a 4 percent boost. When ratings start to slip — even slightly, as they have recently — many in Europe worry that another act of aggression will be quick to follow. Rather than trying to curry favor with Putin, Trump should realize that it’s Putin who needs to curry favor with him. Russia is in a weak position, and Trump should take advantage of this weakness — as he has done with European allies. At a minimum, he should avoid weakening his own position by encouraging Putin to grasp for more than he already has. We know Putin knows how to play this game. Trump calls himself the ultimate dealmaker. He should put some of his professed skill to use by withholding the concessions that Putin desires. It’s too late to withhold a face-to-face meeting, but he could double down on sanctions, increasing the cost to Russians of Putin’s Ukraine policy, and (though unlikely) he could confront the Russian president on election interference. If Trump treats this summit as transactional, it’s an opportunity to see what Russia, not the United States or its allies, is willing to do to, as he says, “get along.”

Facebook and Twitter’s Valuations Are Baffling
Shira Ovide/Bloomberg/July 18/18
Some smart analysts recently urged calm about the eye-popping stock market values of a handful of U.S. technology superstars, including Apple Inc. and Inc. The gist is that their lofty share prices don't indicate a worrisome, late 1990s-like overvaluation, but largely reflect these companies’ rapidly climbing earnings and cash flow. But just because the big tech stocks collectively aren't in a “B” word, that doesn't mean there aren't weird things happening with individual company valuations. I want to point out two oddities, Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc.
The short version: Investors have always paid more to own a share of Facebook's future profits than they did for a slice of Google parent Alphabet Inc. Now they're not. As for Twitter, its stock price has tended to be discounted to its more successful rival, Facebook. And now it's not.
Until recently, stock buyers were willing to pay a lot more for each dollar of Facebook's earnings than they were for Google's. There were good reasons. Facebook is growing twice as fast as Alphabet, and its profit margins are bigger. People are willing to pay a premium figuring that Facebook has more opportunity to grow revenue and earnings. This valuation gap started to shrink late last year, and briefly flipped during Facebook's Cambridge Analytica crisis in March — to the point where, for the first time, Alphabet's stock was consistently more expensive than Facebook's relative to the companies' profits. Different measures of earnings also show narrowing valuation gaps.
Facebook's ebbing valuation is due in part to concerns — encapsulated by the controversy over Facebook data harvested by Cambridge Analytica — that the company will have its wings clipped by regulators or that its profits will be crimped by the costs to clamp down on abuses of its social network.
Of course, one person's squeezed valuation is another person's buying opportunity, and the shrinking gap isn’t a secret to savvy tech investors. Slightly more of the analysts who follow Facebook recommend buying those shares today, versus the beginning of the year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Facebook’s valuation parity to Alphabet might in fact be a temporary blip. But if the company's earnings power or growth are diminished, its shrinking market appraisal might be proven correct in the future. This might be Facebook's new normal.
And that brings me to the other tech stock oddball. Twitter has always been pricey relative to its (until recently nonexistent) earnings, but the recent share recovery has made its valuation inexplicable.
Under generally accepted accounting principles, Twitter's enterprise value — or the market value of its stock minus cash plus debt— is 2,074 times its net income over the 12 months ended March 31, according to calculations derived from Bloomberg data. Allow me to provide a sophisticated analysis: That is bonkers. On the same measure, perennial crazily valued Amazon is trading at 221 times its trailing net income. Yes, Twitter doesn't tend to be valued on conventional metrics. Based on earnings excluding interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization — but including the cost of stock compensation for employees — Twitter's enterprise value is 55 times this measure. That's still nuts. Since Twitter went public nearly five years ago, its stock price relative to earnings generally has been lower than Facebook's. The discount was warranted. Twitter had far fewer users, advertisers didn't love it, there was no profit and revenue was significantly smaller. Now the roles have reversed. While Twitter trades at 55 times its Ebitda for the past 12 months, Facebook investors are paying 21 times.
Twitter's outsized valuation gets lost sometimes in the narrative about the company’s recovery. Twitter isn't an utter mess anymore. It is making genuinely smart changes to products for users and advertisers, and it slashed spending — including for its infamously high stock compensation.
Twitter's market cap has rebounded to the point where the company's promised turnaround may be baked in its share price
But the rapidly climbing stock means Twitter's market value already reflects expectations of the company becoming both significantly more profitable, and rebounding from the days of shrinking revenue. Even if Twitter gets there, how much more can its valuation, and therefore its share price, keep rising?
Short-term stock market quirks have a way of sorting themselves out. For Facebook, a return to normal valuation might be welcome. For Twitter, not so much.

How They Watched the Helsinki Summit
Ghassan Charbel/Asharq Al Awsat/July 18/18
A leader or an official cannot ignore the press conference convened by Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin at the end of their summit in Helsinki. The results of the summit concern all the inhabitants of this planet. The scene is also exciting. The image of the Kremlin master is reminiscent of James Bond’s adventures and talents. He, by the way, loves that agent who has long aroused the enthusiasm of the viewers. The master of the White House, on the other hand, has the image of a storm-maker as if he cannot live outside it.
Hassan Rouhani canceled his appointments to watch the event. Putin did not change his position on the nuclear deal with Iran and even praised some of its aspects. But his delight in the meeting was very clear. The emphasis on nonproliferation of nuclear weapons was explicit, as was Trump’s insistence that Tehran should not use the results of the war against ISIS.
Rouhani did not feel comfortable when the two leaders touched on Syria. It is true that the talk about the Geneva process and the “political transition” has completely disappeared, but it is also clear that the US recognizes Russia’s Syria, not Iran’s Syria. The two leaders’ agreement to take Israel’s security requirements into consideration in any solution clearly means that the Iranian militias are far from the line of contact with Israel. The survival of the regime of Bashar al-Assad will necessarily be at the expense of regional roles - specifically Iran and Turkey - on the Syrian territory.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan watched the press conference with interest. He had the feeling that the mere convening of the summit reminded regional powers of the need to return to a degree of humility in their vision of their roles and demands. He hoped that the Syrian crisis would end with the departure of his former “friend”, but the winds were not blowing in that direction. His insistence on striking the Kurds will leave them with no choice but to talk to the regime despite the bitterness of the past. He has long complained that America has failed him more than once. This time, Russia has deceived him in the “de-escalation” zones. Assad followed the summit with interest. The Syrian file was tackled from the perspective of controlling Iranian interventions and ensuring Israel’s security and humanitarian assistance to the displaced. The page of the Geneva process and the political transition is turned, but the regime will be required to reduce the presence of its allies, who sometimes do not hesitate to remind it that they saved it from an inevitable fate. The story is dangerous, not simple and will not be quick.
Benjamin Netanyahu watched the summit with satisfaction. Israel’s security is clear and constant. The two leaders did not mention the peace process. His friendship with Putin was added to his bond with Trump. The Russian president allowed him to penetrate the Russian umbrella over Syria to discipline the Iranian military presence. Security means keeping the Iranians away from the lines of contact. His experience taught him that the Syrian regime would not accept partners on its soil when it sensed the demise of danger. Deep inside, he believes that Damascus prefers the Russian pillow over the Iranian support.
The talk of the two leaders did not surprise the King of Jordan. He watched the press conference as if he already knew its outcome. Negotiations over the Syrian South showed him that the US has recognized that the Syrian file was in the hands of the Kremlin as long as Israel’s security is guaranteed. He felt that he had not made a mistake in the calculation despite the wind of change in the Syrian war. Since the fire broke out, he has not forgotten to keep the contact open with the Tsar.
Michel Aoun has no problem in the direction that events are currently taking. Developments may weaken the logic of both his opponents and allies. And who knows, everyone will discover that the tent of the Lebanese State, despite the many holes in it, remains more merciful than the other tents. The course of events may oblige the Lebanese forces to show some modesty after the inflation of roles in the past years.
It is hard to believe that Mahmoud Abbas was happy to see Israel reserve its position in the Syrian future arrangements with the approval of Trump and Putin. International preoccupation with Iranian meddling and Israel’s security has left little time for the peace process to heal. The same can be said of Massoud Barzani, an expert in bitterness. When ISIS emerged carrying death and destruction, the Kurds were called upon to fight against it. They did not hesitate to offer their blood. When ISIS receded, the big players allowed the map guards to discipline the Kurds and bring them back to pre-dream days.
The two presidents came and went. Putin left as calmly as James Bond leaves at the end of a successful mission. Trump departed as a mobile storm.
Fierce clashes await him in the US after he chose to believe the Tsar rather than trusting the US security institutions.
Journalists are harmful entities. In Helsinki, they completed the battle to settle accounts with the president who does not fear them. Journalists reprimanded Trump with questions until they incited a new fire in his country. They forgave the one sitting on the throne of Stalin and attacked the master of the White House. The two presidents left and Helsinki returned to its normal days. The Finnish driver did not follow the press conference. His country is not threatened and does not need to beg in the area of security and stability. Its memories with sisterly occupations have become history. The driver considered the summit “a good tourist promotion for our beautiful city, and hopefully would encourage the arrival of more tourists and investors.” I envied the Finnish driver.

Is Southern Syria Heading For 'Lebanonization'?
Jonathan Spyer/Jerusalem Post/July 18, 2018
The raid on the T4 base at Tiyas in southern Syria this week was, according to global media reports, the third such action by Israeli air power against this facility in the course of 2018. It is the latest move in an apparently ongoing campaign to prevent the entrenchment and consolidation (these are the words favored by Israeli officials) of the Iranian military infrastructure in Syria.
Meanwhile, the Assad regime is moving into the final stages of its offensive against the rebellion in Deraa province. Evidence has emerged of the presence of Iran-supported Shia militias among the forces operating on behalf of the regime in Deraa. The two forces whose commanders were photographed in the area are Liwa al-Zulfiqar and the Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas Brigade.
Haidar al-Jubouri, Zulfiqar’s commander, was photographed in the operations room of the Syrian Arab Army’s 4th Division in Deraa. Commanders of the Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas Brigade, meanwhile, were seen in the area of Tafas. Notably, the latter individuals were pictured in Syrian Army uniform and in conversation with Russian officers.
A number of Israeli commentators this week downplayed the significance of these revelations.
They argued that the apparently minor and limited presence of the Shia militias in the Deraa offensive was testimony to the success of Israeli diplomatic efforts to impress upon the Russians the importance of limiting the Iranian presence in the offensives in southwestern Syria.
The Israeli concern is not primarily with Deraa.
Rather, Jerusalem is watching carefully to see which forces will be involved in the regime’s advance on Quneitra province, adjoining the Israeli-controlled part of the Golan.
If the Quneitra offensive involves a mix of forces similar to that in Deraa, this will enable officials to claim that Russian pressure is working, while presumably restating Israel’s determination to continue efforts to expel Iran from Syria in its entirety.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said this week that “the fact Iranian forces are present in Syria at all is unacceptable, and we will act against any Iranian consolidation in the area.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, met this week with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Prior to the meeting, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement reiterating that “Israel will not tolerate a military presence by Iran or its proxies anywhere in Syria and that Syria must strictly abide by the 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement.”
So Israel makes clear its determination that Iran should quit Syria in its entirety, acts against specific Iranian targets, and appears to ignore or downplay those elements of the Iranian presence against which air action would have more limited or problematic application (such as pro-Iranian units integrated into the Syrian Army).
The Iranians, meanwhile, appear at present to be absorbing the blows with little apparent attempt at response, while maintaining their overall presence in Syria.
Where may all this be headed? First of all, it is important to understand the nature and dimensions of the Iranian project in Syria.
Iran’s deep alliance with Assad’s Syria goes back to the first days of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and to Hafez Assad’s support of Tehran in the Iran-Iraq War. Over the past seven years of civil war, however, the nature of the relationship has changed. Iranian provision of manpower and organization of paramilitary forces have been essential to the regime’s survival.
Tehran has invested upward of $30 billion in Syria. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has also recruited young Syrians into locally based IRGC-associated paramilitary groups (Quwaat al-Ridha, 313 battalion) and, of course, brought its paramilitary proxies onto Syrian soil, along with IRGC personnel.
This is a major, far-reaching process, resembling in its key particulars parallel projects in Lebanon and Iraq. The intention is to establish political-military structures that will serve to enable the projection of Iranian power over the long term. The Iranian expertise in this area is without parallel in the region. As a result of this approach, Tehran now dominates Lebanon and has the upper hand in Iraq. Assad’s Syria, which has an openly dictatorial system, is a different political context, of course, but the evidence suggests that the Iranians are digging in to stay.
Will the Russians act as the lever for the removal of this Iranian project? This appears to be the hope of Israeli policy-makers. But the facts would appear to indicate that Russia has neither the will, nor even the ability, to achieve this objective.
Regarding the former, on July 4, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described US and Israeli demands for a complete Iranian withdrawal as “completely unrealistic.”
The Iranian pro-regime media is full of fear and speculation at the prospect of Russian betrayal. The Russian agenda in Syria does not directly parallel that of the Iranians (Moscow seeks good relations with all interested parties, the better to make itself the essential arbiter). But Moscow also has no interest in seeing the Iranians humiliated or their project reversed, particularly because they remain essential to the viability of Assad’s regime.
In any case, the Russian intervention in Syria has been predicated on a modest ground presence.
It is thus not clear by which mechanism Russia could seek to induce such a withdrawal, even if it wished to.
So the Iranian project in Syria is likely to continue, and Iranian- associated forces in one guise or another are likely in the period ahead to be operating close to the border with Israel. Israel, meanwhile, is likely to maintain its intelligence domination across Syria, and to continue periodically to strike at Iranian and Iranian-associated targets, in order to build deterrence and prevent the consolidation of weapons systems and deployments.
Does this sound familiar? It ought to. It is in its essentials the situation that pertains in south Lebanon and (in a far less threatening way) the Gaza Strip.
What we see here is a contest between two systems with entirely different areas of expertise. The Iranians excel in establishing and utilizing political and paramilitary clients to build power within regional spaces. They are, however, sharply deficient in conventional military skills. Israel, meanwhile, is outstanding in the fields of air warfare and intelligence, and seeks to avoid being sucked into involvement in the complex and cutthroat world of proxy warfare within Arab societies (the now soon-to-beabandoned cooperation with the rebels of Quneitra represented only a partial exception to this rule).
The likely emergent picture in Syria, as in Lebanon, is therefore the ongoing consolidation of another IRGC project, in the framework of a weakened and truncated Arab state, along with an ongoing Israeli effort to deter the masters of this project from acts of aggression, or to confine such acts to the realm of rhetoric.
Such a state of affairs is, by its nature, precarious and potentially combustible. At the same time, the Israeli system has shown considerable skill in recent years precisely in the management of comparable situations.
**Jonathan Spyer is a fellow at the Middle East Forum and a research associate at the Jerusalem Center for Strategic Studies.

Congress calls on Trump to recognize Israeli sovereignty over Golan
Bryant Harris/Al Monitor/July 18/18
After President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, congressional Republicans are rallying around the Netanyahu government’s next big ask.
REUTERS/Ronen ZvulunAn Israeli soldier stands next to signs pointing out distances to different cities, on Mount Bental, an observation post in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights that overlooks the Syrian side of the Quneitra crossing, Israel, May 10, 2018.
President Donald Trump handed Israel a significant win when he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocated the US Embassy there.
Now Republican lawmakers from his own party are putting the pressure on the administration to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Israel captured the territory from Syria during the Six-Day War in 1967 and formally annexed it in 1981.
“It would recognize the reality that the Golan Heights is part of Israel and is vital to its national security,” said Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., during a hearing of the House Oversight panel on national security he convened today to muster support for the move. “This is a policy that the president should implement and all members of Congress should support.”
The move comes as Israel is raising concerns about international moves to return the Golan Heights to Syria as Bashar al-Assad’s foes gradually acknowledge that he is unlikely to be driven from power.
“What has changed today is that with the imminent victory of the forces of President Bashar al-Assad in the sector of south Syria, new diplomatic initiatives by outside actors cannot be ruled out,” Dore Gold, a former director-general of Israel’s Foreign Affairs Ministry and ambassador to the UN who now heads the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, wrote in his written testimony to the subcommittee. “US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights would constitute the fulfillment of a series of previous diplomatic assurances given to Israel by past administrations.”
US recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights would have little immediate impact on the ground. But some legal scholars and Democratic critics believe that recognizing the annexation would set a precedent for Israel to do the same in the West Bank.
“You cannot convert occupied territory and incorporate it into your national territory through occupation,” said Geoffrey Corn, an international law professor at the South Texas College of Law - Houston and a former army officer. “There has to be some peace agreement with settlement,” Corn added.
“There’s increasing momentum on the right in Israel to just give up on the two-state solution, annex the West Bank and allow the areas that are currently under Palestinian quasi-sovereignty to continue to function that way,” added Corn. “If that’s your ultimate goal in the West Bank, once the United States recognizes what you’ve done in the Golan Heights, it contributes to that momentum.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Trump to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights last year after former US President Barack Obama rebuffed his request in 2015. In recent months, the Israeli government has redoubled its efforts. Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz noted in May that the Golan Heights is currently “topping the agenda” with the United States.
When asked if Trump is open to recognizing the occupied territory as part of Israel proper, a White House spokesperson simply said, “There has been no change in our position on the Golan Heights.” The Israeli Embassy did not respond to Al-Monitor’s request for comment.
“At some point there’s nothing left to negotiate from the Israeli point of view, and I don’t know if that’s good for the Palestinians or the Israelis and I don’t think it’s good for US interests either,” Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., a House Foreign Affairs Committee member, told Al-Monitor. “I think it’s just another death blow to the peace process.”
However, Connolly also warned against returning the Golan Heights to Syria.
The annexed territory serves as invaluable strategic high ground a mere 40 miles from Damascus. As forces loyal to the Bashar al-Assad regime sweep up the remnants of the southwest Syrian opposition, the Golan Heights’ geostrategic importance has become even more prominent. The presence of Iranian-backed militias, including Hezbollah, fighting alongside regime forces has stoked fears of a direct confrontation with Israel.
“Just think how crazy it would be to say that Israel should give the Golan to Assad or some of its proxies,” DeSantis said at Tuesday’s hearing. “It would be absolute madness.”
But in 2010, before the outbreak of war in Syria, Israel contemplated doing exactly that. Netanyahu and Assad entered secret negotiations over the territory, and the Israelis were reportedly prepared to return the Golan Heights to Syria if Damascus ended its ties with Iran and Hezbollah.
“No political party in Israel could ever do it,” said Corn. “The Israeli population on the northern border suffered tremendously when Syria had the Golan Heights.”
Corn noted that Netanyahu’s renewed determination to secure US support for the Israeli annexation proves that the prime minister has abandoned the idea of abandoning the heights.
“It reinforces Israel’s position that this is not an issue that’s ever going to be on the negotiating table,” he said.
Despite the political implications, Trump’s decision is unlikely to significantly change the situation on the ground one way or the other.
“Realistically, I don’t see how it changes much in terms of the status quo,” a House aide told Al-Monitor. “Israel will just get more criticism from the international community at the UN and stuff like that because it is still the disputed territory. But I would think it would just be more of the same we saw with the [US] Embassy move.”
**Bryant Harris is Al-Monitor's congressional correspondent. He was previously the White House assistant correspondent for Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan's largest newspaper. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al Jazeera English and IPS News. Prior to his stint in DC, he spent two years as a US Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco. On Twitter: @brykharris_ALM, Email:

Muqtada al-Sadr and me: Chicago on the Tigris
Michael Flanagan/Al Arabiya/July 18/18/
When I requested that the State Department give me the post of Senior Rule of Law Advisor for Maysan Province during the reconstruction of Iraq, a wag there quipped that my being a politician originally from Chicago now living in Washington made me a natural expert in both financial corruption and vote fraud – you know, the perfect candidate.Last week, I allowed my enthusiasm for burgeoning Iraqi Nationalism expressed by Muqtada al-Sadr to override my usual cynicism. A mistake I will not allow again.
Al-Sadr has used and abused everyone supporting his stated dreams for Iraq just to gain power and has betrayed what could have been a huge success for Iraqis and for himself. He has all-but-discarded the members of his coalition and embraced the second largest vote bloc – the assortment of Iranian parties voting blocs and parties running under the banner Al-Fateh – and is seeking to form a pro-Iranian government. This is an express refutation of his platform while running. Al-Sadr says that he is doing this to avoid a civil war. This is quite convenient for him as the only party threatening civil war is the Sadrists. Just where exactly are we and how did we get here? If Sadr actually joins with the Iranian parties, his own coalition will likely desert him for the “old actors” as they are called and the State of Law Party and other associated parties will benefit from their defection
Dubious fire
It is a story that would make any Chicago pol giggle with admiration. First, the voter registration verification machines were destroyed. This act was accomplished by a very dubious fire just before the election having the impact of allowing everyone to cast an electronic ballot (or three if they liked!). Additionally, some of the actual physical ballot boxes in Sadr City were burned as well. Not since Emperor Nero has fire been so similarly “helpful.”The Sadr City electronic votes were so many that they almost reached the level of their previous election totals far surpassing the turnout totals for any other bloc in an otherwise very low-turnout election. The destruction of the verification machines and select ballot boxes also allowed for almost limitless fraudulent ballots from outside of Iraq including highly suspect ballots ostensibly from Peshmerga fighters. For example, one polling place in Lebanon, supposedly received over two thousand votes! The national commission empowered to make the actual count (the IHEC) is also under fire for suspected corruption and has been attacked publicly to such an extent that they have been removed from making the count and being replaced with a panel of judges to oversee the count.
With all of these rampant “irregularities” happening, the losers in the election successfully brought a bill to parliament, which will: 1) invalidate the electronic count entirely and requiring a paper ballot count to be made; and 2) make the paper ballot count to become the official count. There are several challenges to this act made by Sadr, both of the major Kurd parties and the Iraqi President among others. The decision will be handed down on Thursday of this week. Clearly, the Sadrists have never heard the political axiom: “Pigs get fat but hogs get slaughtered.” That is, small thieves will often get away with their crimes and grow fat but huge thieves will get caught and bad things will result. The Sadrist overreach here is so gross and careless that they are surely going to be caught and punished. If that were not enough, Sadr’s coalition partners make up 36 of the 54 seats his winning coalition.
Iranian parties
If Sadr actually joins with the Iranian parties, his own coalition will likely desert him for the “old actors” as they are called and the State of Law Party (al-Abadi, al-Mailiki) and other associated parties will benefit from their defection. This will leave Sadr with nothing near a majority of seats in Parliament and almost no chance to form a government. Sensing this eventual reality, current PM al-Abadi has called for all-party talks by all parties to form a government. It is certain that whatever that government is it will not have a majority in Parliament but be a consensual, grand coalition. Al-Sadr had a chance to be a great man. Instead he has chosen to be a meaningless and ridiculous pawn of secret, foreign forces. He has sold-out Iraqi Nationalism and has proven to be a thief and vote fraud. He should be prosecuted – not just for the vote fraud he and his followers have certainly committed but for betraying the love and trust of the Iraqi people. Iraqis voted for him and his coalition in droves because he promised honest leaders, an end to corruption, Iraqi Nationalism and complete freedom from foreign interests. Having procured his “victory” based on fraud, he can never deliver on these things. I am fairly certain that he never wanted to.

Iraq, 60 years on
Khairallah Khairallah/Al Arabiya/July 18/18
Iraq is currently paying the price of what was committed 60 years ago, on July 14, 1958. The current developments in South Iraq, which can expand to Baghdad cannot be separated from a history of six decades.
This history, Iraq’s modern history, began with the massacre in al-Rahab Palace where members of the royal Hashemite family were killed and it ended with the control of a group of men from the military. This paved way for the Baath Party, with all its backwardness, to attain power, then for the 2003 American invasion, which produced a system that’s failed, corrupt and backward in every field. What’s happening in South Iraq these days – on the anniversary of the 1958 military coup – is a culmination of continuous deterioration that has destroyed Iraq which has never witnessed a good day for 60 years now. The six decades since al-Rahab Palace massacre were tantamount to a nightmare that exposed what military coups can lead to and where it can take countries that were capable of being the best, and rather the best on all fronts in the region.
Shortage of electricity in Basra is only one aspect of the Iraqi tragedies which can be summed up in few simple questions: Where did the money which Iraq made from its oil go since 2003? How can all this money be spent without supplying Basra with electricity?
Iraq, thanks to its wealth and mainly its human resources, was qualified to be an economic tiger in the region if it had been allowed to develop normally away from slogans like the liberation of Palestine. However, what can be done when it had to pay the price for the Arab nationalist tide, which Gamal Abdelnasser laid the foundation for via his delusional victories?The 1958 coup was followed by military hegemony then came the wars, which Saddam Hussein caused. Afterwards there was the American invasion, which practically made Iraq under direct and indirect Iranian domination.
Years of tragedies
What can long years of consecutive tragedies lead to other than we currently see in Basra, Najaf, Nasiriyah and other cities and towns in the South? What can long years of governing by the ignorant, from the military and the Baath Party, and a corrupt regime that’s managed by sectarian instincts and militias controlled by Iran achieve? Shortage of electricity in Basra is only one aspect of the Iraqi tragedies which can be summed up in few simple questions: Where did the money which Iraq made from its oil go since 2003? How can all this money be spent without supplying Basra with electricity?
What’s happening today in Iraq is not a mere popular uprising of youths who demand electricity and job opportunities in a bankrupt country which situation deteriorates by the day. It’s a country whose voters are distributed among sectarian parties that do not possess any political or economic agendas. It’s a country where universities have become a place to practice religious rituals instead of being institutions that graduate doctors, engineers and scientists and that benefit from the technological revolution in the world.
Perhaps the most dangerous thing that Iraq witnessed in the past years is represented in tearing up whatever is left of its social fabric. Sectarian parties thus control all aspects of life and impose values that have nothing to do with what’s civilized in this world. In Iraq, there’s no longer a place for a head of a family who wants to raise his children right. There’s no longer a future except for the corrupt who work for religious parties and for hypocrites who accept that their country follows Iran.
How was Iraq 60 years ago? What has become of it now? The royal regime was definitely not perfect but it was a regime that could be developed. The Hashemite family had different values that did not include practicing violence. Back then, Iraq had values that relied on tolerance and openness to the world, specifically to the West. There were no values that were based on eliminating others just because their loyalty is doubted. The best Iraqi people were appointed to public posts regardless of their religion, sect or ethnicity. Does it make sense that a cleric who lacks political knowledge seeks to lead the country and organize its political life?
Iranian influence
There are two things which are perhaps the most dangerous in Iraq right now. The first one is the failure of the Kurds, in the light of the disastrous results of proceeding to carry out the independence referendum last September, to establish a region that’s a successful model to what Iraq can be in the future.
The second thing is Iran’s capability to use Iraq to influence oil supplies in the world. Therefore, it’s not strange that some Iraqi officials’ statements that there are “infiltrators” who are working to escalate the situation refers to people affiliated with Iran. What cannot be ignored is that Iran is going through a tough phase now amid fears of more US sanctions that will focus on its oil exports.
The hypothesis that Iran, which threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz if it was prevented from exporting its oil, wanted to direct a message to the Trump-Putin summit and that stipulates that if it’s incapable of blocking the strait then it can use the Iraqis to obstruct the export of Iraqi oil cannot be ruled out. This will greatly influence the global market and the price of the barrel of oil. Whatever the dimensions of the popular activity in South Iraq are and regardless of whether it’s in fact spontaneous, and it actually is in some parts, and regardless of whether it reaches Baghdad or not, there is a sad scene which we cannot avoid addressing. There has been a process of systematic destruction of Iraq during 60 years. It began with the mob that killed the members of the royal family, including King Faisal II. This mob later spoke of a “revolution.” How can spiteful officers, who are semi-illiterate and narrow-minded and who only believe in murder, carry out a revolution? This destruction process has not ended yet although Iran, which was the other partner in the American war on Iraq, avenged from every high-ranking pilot and officer who participated in the 1980-1988 war, worked on destroying every significant and vital Iraqi facility and directly supervised sectarian purging operations in all Iraqi cities and areas. It does not seem there is hope in the horizon for Iraq although there’s a general desire to get rid of Iranian hegemony, even among the Shiites. The worst thing is that Iran may be in a situation that enables it to exploit Iraq’s oil in its interest. It seems Iran has not yet quenched its thirst from Iraqi blood and from the gains it had made until now from the American invasion.

Charity at home and poverty in the land of plenty
Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady/Al Arabiya/July 18/18
The unequal divide between those that have and those that have not is widening across the world, putting under strain not only established political systems but endangering domestic and international security.
A rise in domestic violence levels and international refugee flows are some of the consequences of this growing wealth divide. It comes as no surprise that this widening poverty gap is not only the fate of mismanaged developing countries where kleptocracy is often rampant, but also in advanced economies.
The latest to come under scrutiny has been the United States, the world’s biggest economy and it has been an uncomfortable reading. Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, launched a scathing attack on the UN monitor on extreme poverty, by going on the offensive and dismissing the recent report on America that accuses Donald Trump of cruelly forcing millions of citizens into deprivation as “misleading and politically motivated”.Was Haley justified in her attack or a mere attempt to deflect attention? She accused the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, who according to her “categorically misstated the progress the United States has made in addressing poverty … in [his] biased reporting”.She added that in her view that “it is patently ridiculous for the United Nations to examine poverty in America” when he should be focusing on other countries, presumably those that are at political loggerheads with the United States, or easy to identify countries like Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which prompted puzzlement as Mr. Alston carried out his investigation at the formal invitation of the Trump administration and such missions of the UN Rapporteur are not randomly initiated but need the cooperation of the host countries. Apparently the world’s “freest and wealthiest country on the planet” (according to Ms Haley) had no such poverty issues.
Mr. Alston made his report to a Human Rights body where the United States chair was empty as Haley had previously announced that the US was pulling out of membership of the Human Rights Council, describing it as a “cesspool of political bias”.For the sake of social stability, effective political governance can only survive in long term if there is a large degree of fairness and compassion
Receptive ear
It marked the first time that any state has withdrawn from the council since its inception in 2006. Was there a receptive ear to the report from the United States establishment? Apparently so with Democrat party politicians like Bernie Sanders. The Vermont senator had led a joint plea on the back of the UN report from 20 prominent members of Congress, including the senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker and Georgia representative John Lewis, calling on Trump to work with them to tackle “massive levels of deprivation and the immense suffering this deprivation causes”.While Sanders agreed with Haley that Burundi and the Democratic Republic Congo faced far worse problems, he pointedly remarked that America’s poverty was taking place “in the richest country in the history of the world and a time when wealth and income inequality is worse than at any time since the 1920s”.
He cited even more damning statistics where apparently 40 million people in the US still live in poverty, more than 30 million have no health insurance, and, more surprising to many in the world, 40 percent cannot afford $400 in an emergency. To illustrate the poverty divide in the US, he pointed out that the United States was a nation in which the top three people own more wealth than the bottom half, and that the country “can and must do much better than that”. Was Alston methodology correct in obtaining this poverty data to highlight US poverty levels? The United Nations Rapporteur carried out a 10-day tour in December 2017 of poverty hotspots in the US, from California, though Alabama and West Virginia, to Puerto Rico.
‘Dramatic change of direction’
His report did not wholly lay the blame on the Trump Administration, something that Ms Haley should have picked up, but rather concluded that though levels of hardship had been high for decades within America before Mr Trump, the current President was taking it to another level by steering the country toward a “dramatic change of direction” that was rewarding wealthy Americans through tax changes while stripping vulnerable Americans of welfare protections. When asked whether this report was really the prime reason for the US decision to withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council rather than the so-called biases against Israel, Alston said he had “no idea” whether his investigation had reinforced or influenced the timing of the US government’s withdrawal, but pointedly added that the move was “highly regrettable. I think it’s significant that of the 47 members of the council, only one has chosen to leave.”
In the Gulf there is also a poverty gap, as the number of young citizens unemployed is an issue, despite social security payment nets being in place for citizens deemed to be at the poverty line. A major factor of the so-called Arab Spring uprisings was the economic and social deprivation of large segments of these societies and the gap between the rich and the poor.
The Gulf anti-corruption drive has also sent a message that ill-gotten gain through connections and bribery will not be tolerated and that such practices have been a major factor in fostering a class of mega rich citizens while many other fellow citizens are struggling to make ends meet.
For the sake of social stability, effective political governance can only survive in the long term if there is a large degree of fairness and compassion, while at the same time nurturing the spirit of entrepreneurship and self-motivation to succeed in life. Poverty among plenty has a short political shelf life.

The incomplete pride of liberating Mosul

Adnan Hussein/Al Arabiya/July 18/18
Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi always speaks more effectively than he acts. His latest statement was issued to mark the occasion of the first anniversary of liberating Mosul, which was almost going to be completely destroyed. Tens of thousands of its inhabitants are still living there in terrible conditions in the city, as if they never got rid of the ISIS occupation and its dire consequences. These citizens were not at all responsible for this, but the government and the powerful political elite bear full political and moral responsibility for what happened to Mosul and other cities. They are also responsible for what preceded or followed in other Iraqi cities and areas, and it’s all due to the flagrant lack of patriotism and the fierce conflict for money and power among those entrusted with the responsibility of ruling the state. What Abadi did not and will also never say or do if he gets a second term as premier is that he will not fulfill the promise he had made to himself and that he had publicly pledged several times to fight administrative and financial corruption the same way he fought ISIS
Word without actions
Abadi said in the statement: “Today we (mark) with pride and appreciation the first anniversary of Mosul’s liberation - that eternal epic that fills the hearts of our people and that defeated ISIS which (assaulted) Mosul.” Yes, exactly, we, the Iraqis, do recall Mosul’s liberation from terrorism with pride and appreciation, but at the same time we also remember – and this is something that Mr. Abadi did not say and would never say even in 10 years – that those who are responsible of the crime of handing over Mosul and other cities to ISIS and for the resulting national catastrophe, are still not being questioned or punished. They are still free and fear nothing and nobody. Some of them even still hold positions of responsibility at the highest civil, military and security levels and no one tells them anything! What Abadi did not and will also never say or do if he gets a second term as premier is that he will not fulfill the promise he had made to himself and that he had publicly pledged several times to fight administrative and financial corruption the same way he fought ISIS. The main reason behind the ISIS catastrophe was administrative and financial corruption. It’s been a whole year after liberating Mosul and Abadi has not taken and will not take any action against corruption.This is one example of what made the head of the Integrity Commission resign from his position as he, like the rest of us, only heard words from Abadi about fighting corruption, without seeing any action.

The BBC exposes Qatar

Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/July 18/18
What’s new about the latest BBC report about Qatar’s conscious and planned funding of an exquisite formation of terror groups, both Sunni and Shiite, in Iraq and Syria is that it’s issued by the BBC itself. There are also a few additional interesting details.
A total of $1 billion is the amount that the Qatari negotiator paid upon direct orders from Doha. The Qatari blessings were bestowed on a bunch of criminals from the sectarian Popular Mobilization that supports Khomeini’s Iran as part of a deal to release 28 Qataris, including members of the ruling family, who were kidnapped in Iraq in 2015. The British BBC’s report by Paul Wood included messages that he said he attained from governmental sources that confirm that Qatar received help from several parties in several countries to guarantee the release of the kidnapped.
It’s all linked together, Iran, Qatar, al-Qaeda, the Popular Mobilization, Hezbollah and the Houthis. The British BBC and the American Washington Post, and not Al Arabiya television channel or Asharq Al-Awsat daily or Alittihad daily, are who told us about the secret details of these Qatari deals
Before that, the Washington Post – this American daily, like the British BBC, is not accused of favoring Saudi Arabia or the UAE! –published the details of the deal in April 2018. BBC’s report added that Qatar’s authorities knew the identity of the terrorists they were dealing with back then, unlike what they had alleged.
Proof of terrorism funding
One of the funny details noted in the report is that a Kataib Hezbollah negotiator named Abu Mohammed took the ambassador aside and asked for $10 million for himself. The Qatari ambassador responded with Ahnaf ibn Qais’s slyness and said: "To motivate him, I also told him that I am willing to buy him an apartment in Lebanon." The Qatari generosity was not limited to the gangs of the general of Iranian terrorism Qassem Soleimani as it was rather fair and non-sectarian! The leaked documents proved that Qatar played the mediator role between the Army of Conquest (a fundamentalist Sunni faction) and Iran to implement the “four-town” agreement in Syria – the deal that’s a scandal to all its Sunni and Shiite parties and whose victims are Sunni and Shiite people in Syria’s Wadi Barada and Aleppo’s countryside. Not only that, but according to what was revealed, at some point, the kidnappers asked Qatar to leave the Arab Coalition against the Houthis in Yemen and secure the release of Iranian soldiers held prisoners by rebels in Syria. It’s all linked together, Iran, Qatar, al-Qaeda, the Popular Mobilization, Hezbollah and the Houthis. The British BBC and the American Washington Post, and not Al Arabiya television channel or Asharq Al-Awsat daily or Alittihad daily, are who told us about the secret details of these Qatari deals. We thus ask who, in general, funded the groups of strife and terror for the past 20 years in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt?
Channels like Al Hiwar Channel managed by Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood figure Azzam Al-Tamimi in London and similar figures like Sa'ad Al-Faqih: Who were watering their seeds? This question is directed to the intelligent and the rational.

How to counter Iran’s sectarian and terrorist threat
Dr. Mohammed Alsulami/Arab News/July 18/18
It is no exaggeration to say that the Iranian regime is currently surviving on two basic elements: Sectarianism and terrorism. The regime’s reliance on these two elements is not a baseless allegation or mere speculation, but a statement of fact, since both are enshrined as policy in several articles of the Iranian constitution, including articles 12 and 154.The Iranian regime is building its strategy through the use of its main tools — one of these is the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which operates on two fronts, internally and beyond Iran’s borders. Internally, the IRGC, represented by the Basij forces, terrorizes the Iranian people and quickly and ruthlessly crushes any dissent. The IRGC’s overseas forces, meanwhile, can be divided into two parts. The first is its Iranian-nationality forces represented by the Quds Force and troops from the regime’s regular army. The second is the multinational sectarian militias established in Pakistan, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Yemen, Nigeria and other nations to serve Iran’s interests wherever they are needed.
If we want to eradicate terrorism, reduce sectarianism and restore stability to the Middle East, we must present a comprehensive definition of terrorism that bypasses sectarian or doctrinal loyalties. Ignoring one source or perpetrator of terrorism while focusing on another can only strengthen both and increase resentment, sectarianism and terror in an endless, futile cycle of devastation.
Some describe the Iranian regime’s proxy militia Hezbollah as a state within a state. The same is true for the IRGC, which operates its own unofficial state within Iran with all the apparatuses of any state — controlling a massive military force, having de facto power over the economy and directing the country’s security forces and operations. While Hezbollah controls and supervises Beirut Airport, the IRGC controls all of Iran’s most important airports, most notably the Imam Khomeini International Airport in southern Tehran.
y address the Iranian regime, especially the IRGC and its lethal and malign activities in the region, political activists, campaigners, humanitarians and all decent people need to formulate an integrated strategy to counter the IRGC. This requires the participation of all countries interested in protecting their own interests and in supporting real regional stability and coexistence.
All nations must realize the urgent need to work together to help deactivate and eradicate Iran's terrorism and sectarianism.
The first measure is legal confrontation; raising legal actions against the Iranian regime to hold it accountable for all its violations of international treaties and conventions, and its support for terrorism and other illegal actions. The recent news of the alleged involvement of an Iranian diplomat in planning a terrorist attack in Europe is no surprise to Iranians, as the regime is regularly accused of carrying out similar assaults and assassinations of dissidents in exile — like the killing last year of the Ahwaz opposition leader Ahmed Mola, who was shot three times at point-blank range outside his home in the Netherlands. Although his killer has not been caught, the brutal murder was a textbook example of a regime assassination, with Mola regularly subjected to death threats for his political activism in exile.
Second is economic confrontation, so that Iran’s regime and Iranian companies are boycotted. The IRGC owns and controls hundreds of companies worldwide that are registered under civilian “dummy” front accounts to evade detection as part of a complex financial network. Experts suggest that these companies, which are routinely used for money laundering, should be catalogued and put under surveillance by international intelligence bodies, which should coordinate to track their illicit financial dealings and funding of terror activities. At the same time, the current contracts of international businesses with Iranian companies should be reviewed to ensure that these companies are civilian and not the economic arms of the IRGC.
Third should be a military confrontation, in which the terrorist organizations of the IRGC are targeted around the world. This specifically refers to those organizations and militias (non-state actors) associated with Iran in the Middle East and mercenaries recruited by the IRGC in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and other nations. It is necessary to emphasize that there is no difference between these militias and other extremist terror organizations such as Daesh, Al-Qaeda, and Boko Haram.
Finally, inter-state intelligence coordination and the exchange of information regarding the activities of the IRGC and its military, economic, intelligence and associated cells is needed. It is also important to closely monitor the movements of senior Iranian figures accused of involvement in terrorist operations worldwide, and to ensure that countries coordinate in extraditing those who evade justice. These figures include Ali Akbar Velayati, political adviser to the supreme leader of Iran, who was personally involved in a terrorist attack on Argentine territory in the 1990s, in which many people died.
Achieving these measures is not impossible but requires real international will and high-level coordination between the countries affected by Iran’s bloody terror activities and those not directly affected. It is essential for all nations to realize the urgent need to work together to help deactivate and eradicate terrorism and sectarianism and to eliminate non-state terror actors regionally and globally.
*Dr. Mohammed Alsulami is an expert in Iranian affairs. He received his Ph.D. from Leiden University in 2014. He is the founder and chairman of Rasanah: International Institute for Iranian Studies.