July 23/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations
To love God with all the heart & with all the understanding, and with all the strength & to love one’s neighbour as oneself is much more important than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices
Mark 12/28-34: "One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’Jesus answered, ‘The first is, "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength."The second is this, "You shall love your neighbour as yourself." There is no other commandment greater than these.’Then the scribe said to him, ‘You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that "he is one, and besides him there is no other";and "to love God with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength", and "to love one’s neighbour as oneself", this is much more important than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.’When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ After that no one dared to ask him any question."

Titles For The Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on July 22-23/18
Hezbollah leaves Lebanon in murky waters/Claude Salhani/The Arab Weekly/July 22/18
Do or die for Lebanon’s failing economy/Makram Rabah/The Arab Weekly/July 22/18
Israel Evacuates 800 Members of White Helmets Rescue Organization to Jordan/Yaniv Kubovich, Jack Khoury and Noa Landau/Haaretz/July 22/18
A market without OPEC isn’t good for the US/Wael Mahdi/Arab News/July 22/18
Is the US Being Taken Advantage of/David Ignatius/The Washington Post/July 22/18
NATO’s Real Spending Emergency Is in Cyberspace/James Stavridis and Dave Weinstein/Bloomberg/July 22/18
Turkey: American Pastor Brunson in Prison; ISIS Terrorists Roam Free/Uzay Bulut/Gatestone Institute/July 22/18
It Was Like a War against the Church/Muslim Persecution of Christians, December 2017/Raymond Ibrahim/Gatestone Institute/July 22/18
What really happened behind closed doors at the US-Russia summit/Raghida Dergham/The National/July 22/2018
Leaked messages point to big Qatari ransom payouts to terrorist groups/Mohammed Alkhereiji/The Arab Weekly/July 22/18
Titles For The Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on July 22-23/18
Designated terrorist Hashem Safieddine says Hezbollah ‘will not leave Syria’
Lebanon Struggles with Power Cuts, Survives on Floating Power Plants
Legalizing Cannabis in Lebanon Raises Hopes of General Amnesty
Israeli Jets Bomb Syrian Position 'from Lebanese Airspace'
Al-Rahi Urges 'Technocrat Experts' in New Govt.
Geagea on Refugees: We All Support Bassil's Efforts
Riachi: We Won't Accept Less than 5 Ministerial Seats
Plagued by Cuts, Lebanon Survives on Floating Power Plants
Hezbollah leaves Lebanon in murky waters
Do or die for Lebanon’s failing economy

Titles For The Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on July 22-23/18
Hundreds of Syrian ‘White Helmets’ evacuated by Israel to Jordan
Israel Evacuates 800 Members of White Helmets Rescue Organization to Jordan
Canada supports the White Helmets
Israel Says to Reopen Gaza Goods Crossing Tuesday if Calm Maintained
War with Iran is the mother of all wars, Rouhani warns Trump
Russia downs two unidentified drones that attacked its Syria air base
Russian-backed Turkish Plan to Prevent Regime's Intervention in Idlib
Rebels reach north Syria after south evacuations
Iran jolted by moderate, light earthquakes; 26 injured
Iranian interference in Basra protests to blunt Trump sanctions
Israel to reopen Gaza terminal, extend fishing on Tuesday if quiet holds
The Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on July 22-23/18
Designated terrorist Hashem Safieddine says Hezbollah ‘will not leave Syria’
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Sunday, 22 July 2018/Hashem Safieddine, the head of Hezbollah’s executive council who was designated as a blacklisted terrorist by Saudi Arabia in 2017, said that his militias “will not leave southern Syria or Syria” while speaking at an honorary ceremony on Sunday.According to local media reports and Hezbollah’s media outlet, the al-Manar channel, Safieddine confirmed that Hezbollah fighters were heavily involved in the battles of Southern Syria, despite the Assad regime saying that there were no foreign militias in the area.
Safieddine was placed on Saudi Arabia and the US’s terrorist lists a few weeks ago for his involvement in several terrorist operations, and for his support of the Assad regime. This is considered the first time that an official Hezbollah leader admits to being involved in the war in Syria, more specifically in Daraa, following false rumors that stated that Hezbollah had withdrawn from the southern area. This development is also significant as the battle in the south extends to the area of separation of Israeli and Syrian forces under the Agreement of Disengagement concluded in 1974 between Syria and Israel. Iran’s ambassador to Jordan, Mojtaba Ferdowsi-pour, had confirmed in May that his country had no deployed troops in southern Syria, stressing that his country played no role in the battle. The ambassador’s remarks coincided with rumors of a withdrawal by Hezbollah from the southern region, especially following a statement by the Russian foreign ministry on the need to withdraw all non-Syrian factions from southern Syria. Safieddine’s statements coincide with several Iranian militias, like the Zulfiqar Brigade and the Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas militia, which operates under the Assad regime’s Republican Guard, also confirming their involvement in the battles in Daraa. Following a Russian-led brokered deal, Syrian rebels laid down their weapons and started evacuating their positions near the Golan Heights on Friday, paving the way for President Bashar Assad’s forces to retake their positions along the Israeli frontier for the first time since 2011. The deal would mark a major victory for President Bashar al-Assad, restoring his control over the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Lebanon Struggles with Power Cuts, Survives on Floating Power Plants
Asharq Al-Awsat/Sunday, 22 July, 2018/Lebanon has for decades struggled with daily power cuts, AP reported. Last week, Lebanon received its third floating power station — the 235-megawatt Esra Sultan, built and operated by the privately owned Turkish Karadeniz Energy Group. Lebanese Energy and Water Minister Cesar Abi Khalil billed it as a temporary but thrifty measure to reduce part of Lebanon's electricity deficit. It is the third so-called "power ship" to dock in Lebanon since 2013. Lebanon recently extended its contract with Karadeniz to ensure that at least two of the barges will continue serving the country for another one to three years, AP added. The outages are costing businesses and residents billions of dollars in private generation fees and lost productivity, says the energy minister. "We need emergency power," said Abi Khalil, who later added that "the influx of refugees from neighboring war-torn Syria has further strained Lebanon's power sector." According to AP, the UN has registered more than 1 million Syrian refugees since 2011, an estimated one-fifth of Lebanon's population. They draw approximately 500 megawatts of power from the grid, a study by the joint 2017 Energy Ministry and the UN. "I don't think any country in the world could have planned for such a dramatic burst in its population," said Abi Khalil. But analysts say the problems run deeper. Plans to reform the sector have been shelved and drawn up again with each successive government, says Lebanese economist Mounir Rached, who advises the Finance Ministry. "There's corruption in every process of the generation cycle," said Rached. In 2010, then-Energy Minister Gebran Bassil famously pledged to deliver 24-hours electricity by 2015.

Legalizing Cannabis in Lebanon Raises Hopes of General Amnesty
Beirut - Youssef Diab/Asharq Al-Awsat/July 22/18/Speaker Nabih Berri’s proposal to legalize cannabis in Lebanon has raised hopes in the country that thousands of the plant’s wanted cultivators could be granted general amnesty. The legalization of cannabis could ease the burden on security agencies, which pursue cultivators and drug smugglers day and night, often leading to armed clashes. A security source told Asharq Al-Awsat that there was a major difference between growing cannabis and the drug trade. “According to the current law, there is a major difference between those who trade and smuggle drugs abroad and between those who cultivate cannabis to sell it and make money. Its cultivation is, however, illegal,” he added. Several locals in the eastern Baalbek al-Hermel region rely on growing cannabis as their main source of income. The majority of these locals are fugitives and cannot hold any other profession due to their criminal records. They said that they will continue with their cannabis cultivation, whether or not it is eventually sanctioned by law, because it is more profitable than growing other plants, including tobacco. Concerned committees are preparing to study all aspects of the cannabis file, including outstanding arrest warrants linked to its farmers. MP Ayoub Hmeiyed, of Berri’s parliamentary bloc, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the main idea behind the speaker’s proposed law is to “end the current bitter reality for the residents or Baalbek Hermel and other regions” that do not share their bad reputation. The law will not be limited to growing cannabis, but it will also include an administrative aspect that would manage its cultivation, similar to how tobacco is managed by the Regie organization, he explained. The cannabis could be eventually used for medical needs. The legal issue of fugitives wanted on cannabis-related charges will also be tackled, he added. “The positive purposes of the cannabis project should be achieved. We must also compensate the residents of regions that boast the most fertile soil to grow this plant,” he remarked. Over 30,000 fugitives from the eastern Bekaa region are wanted on cannabis-related charges. They often demand general amnesty from the authorities in order to be able to open a new chapter in their lives. A legal source told Asharq Al-Awsat that the legalization of cannabis will not lead to the annulment of warrants against these fugitives. The proposed law will not have a retroactive effect, but it will go into effect once it is published in the official gazette. Warrants against the suspects can only be dropped by a general pardon, he said. Once legalized, cannabis cultivators will be barred from selling their product to drug traders, but they will be limited to the state, he revealed.
Israeli Jets Bomb Syrian Position 'from Lebanese Airspace'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/July 22/18/Israel on Sunday launched an air strike on a Syrian regime military target in the west of the country, Syrian state media reported, as Lebanese media reports said the Israeli jets fired the missiles from Lebanon's airspace. "One of our military positions in Masyaf was the target of an Israeli air aggression," Syria's official news agency SANA said quoting a military source. It was the fourth time this month that Syria has accused Israel of bombing a military position in the war-wracked country. An Israeli military spokesman declined to comment on the report. A war monitor, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, also reported the air strike and said it targeted a "workshop supervised by Iranians where surface-to-surface missiles are made.""Iranian forces and forces from Lebanon's Hizbullah movement are deployed in that sector," Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP. A government scientific research center is located in Masyaf and was hit by an Israeli air strike in September 2017. According to the United States sarin gas was being developed at that center, a charge denied by the Syrian authorities. Israel has carried out numerous raids inside Syria since 2017, targeting regime forces and their allies from Iran and Hizbullah. On July 15 SANA reported that Israeli missiles had hit near a strategic air base in the north of the country but said there were no casualties. According to the Observatory nine pro-regime fighters, including three foreigners, were killed in the mid-July raid.

Al-Rahi Urges 'Technocrat Experts' in New Govt.
Naharnet/July 22/18/Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi suggested Sunday that the new government should include “technocrat experts,” as he slammed what he called “shameful” wrangling over Cabinet shares. In his Sunday Mass sermon, al-Rahi urged politicians to “rise above their private interests, their illegitimate financial gains, their deals and their splitting of shares at the expense of public money.”“Isn't it shameful that the obstacle blocking the formation of the new government is focused on the distribution of shares instead of the formation of a government that comprises technocrat experts?” al-Rahi added. Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri was tasked with forming a new government on May 24. His mission is being hindered by political wrangling over the Christian, Druze and Sunni shares.

Geagea on Refugees: We All Support Bassil's Efforts
Naharnet/July 22/18/Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea announced Sunday that he stands behind caretaker Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil as Lebanon seeks to benefit from a Russian-U.S. plan to repatriate Syrian refugees. “The Russians and the Americans are preparing an arrangement to return around two million displaced Syrians to their country with Russian-U.S. guarantees and Russian arrangements on the ground in Syria,” Geagea said in a statement. “This is good news for us as Lebanese and it is very important for the Lebanese state to benefit from this opportunity so that Lebanon can benefit from this agreement as much as possible,” Geagea added. Noting that the development coincides with a visit by Bassil to Washington early next week, the LF leader said the minister “will have a major opportunity to negotiate with U.S. officials and then the Russians on giving Lebanon the priority in the repatriation of Syrian refugees living on its soil.”“It is very important that we don't waste this chance and the Lebanese Foreign Ministry must carry out all the needed contacts to achieve the sought objective,” Geagea went on to say. And despite the LF's strained ties with Bassil, Geagea added: “We all support Minister Jebran Bassil's efforts in order to achieve the needed breakthrough at an appropriate moment in a file that is one of Lebanon's priorities.”

Riachi: We Won't Accept Less than 5 Ministerial Seats
Naharnet/July 22/18/The Lebanese Forces will not accept less than five ministerial seats in the new government, caretaker Information Minister Melhem Riachi has announced. Commenting on the debate over “the vote percentage that the LF won in the parliamentary elections,” Riachi noted that the LF's numbers are different than those announced by “my friend Minister (Jebran) Bassil.”“Despite that, we will abide by his numbers, although we had agreed on equality from the very beginning,” Riachi added. He explained that “the LF's Strong Republic bloc won 31% and the Strong Lebanon bloc of the Free Patriotic Movement and its friends and allies won 50%.”“Thirty percent means one third and one third of 15 is five, so will not accept less than five ministers and we will not accept anything less than our right to representation,” Riachi emphasized.

Plagued by Cuts, Lebanon Survives on Floating Power Plants
Associated Press/Naharnet/July 22/18/Lebanon has for decades struggled with daily power cuts that leave residents sweating through their shirts summer after sticky summer.
The bankrupt national power company, unable to build new power plants, has been buying electricity from Turkish barges docked off-shore. Last week, Lebanon received its third floating power station — the 235-megawatt Esra Sultan, built and operated by the privately owned Turkish Karadeniz Energy Group. Caretaker Energy and Water Minister Cesar Abi Khalil billed it as a temporary but thrifty measure to reduce part of Lebanon's electricity deficit. It is the third so-called "power ship" to dock in Lebanon since 2013. Lebanon recently extended its contract with Karadeniz to ensure that at least two of the barges will continue serving the country for another one to three years. Blackouts have been a fixture of life in the country since the 1975-1990 civil war. Beirut residents set their routines around three-hour cuts that determine when they can turn on their air conditioning in the summer and water boiler in the winter. Outside the capital, the outages can last up to 12 hours or more. Electricity from the Karadeniz barges costs more than producing it on land but less than the fees private operators charge for backup power during the daily outages. George Chiha, an electrician, said he remembers when politicians promised to deliver 24-hour electricity in the 1990s. "Politics is a joke, at our expense," said Chiha, 35. The outages are costing businesses and residents billions of dollars in private generation fees and lost productivity, says the energy minister. "We need emergency power," said Abi Khalil.
In the Beirut suburb of Dekwaneh, the media production company Final Cut purchased a $10,000 generator to provide backup power through 10-hour daily outages. Chiha, who works at Final Cut, said the company spends at least $3,500 each month on fuel costs and maintenance. Residents usually turn to private operators during outages, who charge anywhere between four to eight times more than the state-owned electricity company. Their generators hum away in recommissioned parking lots and alleyways across the country, venting diesel fumes. This summer, generator providers raised their subscription fees, citing lengthier outages and the rising price of fuel. The hikes are pricing some regular subscribers out of the market, fueling resentment that's been directed at both the providers and politicians. Lebanon is consistently ranked among the world's most corrupt countries, and the sprawling black market for private power has created a perverse power structure that many say politicians have little incentive to reform. "The boss never wants us to get comfortable, so we keep needing him," said 24-year-old Ibrahim al-Masri. His building charges $150 in monthly power generation fees on top of the regular state company bill. To save money, the family only pays for the months when close relatives visit from abroad. During other months, they sit in the dark for 3 to 6 hours each day.
There are more than 7,000 private providers operating in Lebanon, according to the national syndicate Generateur du Liban, and many insist they're filling a vital gap in the country's services. "They call us mafias and thugs. But we have lawyers, we have engineers and we have technicians," said Hassan al-Yassin, who provides power to neighborhoods in Lebanon's Dahiyeh suburbs. Governments have come and gone, but none have been able to solve the energy puzzle. Lebanon's state-owned power company, Electricité Du Liban, is producing just 2,050 megawatts of electricity, or less than two-thirds of the summer demand, according to the energy ministry. Abi Khalil, the minister, said the influx of refugees from neighboring war-torn Syria has further strained Lebanon's power sector. The U.N. has registered more than 1 million Syrian refugees since 2011, an estimated one-fifth of Lebanon's population. They draw approximately 500 megawatts of power from the grid, according to a joint 2017 Energy Ministry and U.N. study. "I don't think any country in the world could have planned for such a dramatic burst in its population," said Abi Khalil. But analysts say the problems run deeper.
The state-owned electric company operates on a $1.5-billion deficit, owing to the below-market rates set by a 1990s law. The budgetary hole is filled by subsidies from the national treasury — the World Bank says transfers to Electricite Du Liban account for a staggering 40 percent of the debt the country has accumulated since 1992.
It's a predicament for politicians, who can't justify raising tariffs on consumers until the EDL generates more electricity, yet can't boost generation without spending more on investment. Plans to reform the sector have been shelved and drawn up again with each successive government, says Lebanese economist Mounir Rached, who advises the Finance Ministry. "There's corruption in every process of the generation cycle," said Rached. In 2013, the country contracted its first two power ships from Karadeniz as a stopgap measure to keep lights on until the country could build new power plants. The plants never materialized. A 500-megawatt generating station that was supposed to have been built by 2015 is now expected to go online in 2020. Instead, the barges, Fatmagül Sultan and Orhan Bey, were upgraded in 2016 to provide 37 percent more power. Then, this year, the Energy Ministry contracted with Karadeniz to keep the barges for another three years. As a "goodwill gesture," Karadeniz said, the company delivered the third barge, Esra Sultan. Together, the three Turkish barges provide a quarter of Lebanon's generation capacity. Two sit in the harbor in Jiye, a popular surfing spot south of the capital, their black soot exhaust polluting the sky. Karadeniz's barges can be powered by natural gas but Lebanon has been fueling them with cheaper but dirtier heavy fuel oil. The country is even buying emergency power from neighboring Syria, mired in its civil war and unable to generate enough energy for its own consumers. Abi Khalil said the electricity purchased from Syria is more expensive than power EDL procures, but never exceeds 100 MW per month. In 2010, then-Energy Minister Jebran Bassil famously pledged to deliver 24-hours electricity by 2015. Today's minister thinks 24/7 power is possible, but won't set a target date. "It all depends on completing the projects we have on time," said Abi Khalil.
Hezbollah leaves Lebanon in murky waters
Claude Salhani/The Arab Weekly/July 22/18
Lebanon’s primary export should be prosperity and neutrality, as had long been the case. The “Switzerland of the Middle East,” they used to say. Ah, but those days of political insouciance when the Lebanese would steer clear of regional politics are long gone.
The days when ousted prime ministers from neighbouring countries could find safety and refuge in Beirut no longer hold. Lebanon’s involvement in cut-throat regional politics has left the country in murky waters.
Just as Gulf countries rely on oil and natural gas for prosperity, so Lebanon relied on peace to sell its major source of revenue: hospitality. Lebanon’s major industry was tourism; an industry in which peace and serenity are prerequisites. Lebanon’s tourism was an industry that employed thousands of people and had a positive effect on the country’s economy.
Lebanon’s tourist industry kept the country’s many hotels, restaurants and nightclubs — along with a slew of not-so-kosher industries — busy but that served their purpose. They depended on a peaceful spring and summer to make up for the rest of the year.
Alas, it is practically impossible to promote tourism when terrorism is knocking at your door.
Add to that the fact that Lebanese politicians are their own worst enemies and have yet to draw lessons from the mistakes of their fathers and grandfathers. Despite a 19-year civil war that achieved nothing memorable, the country’s leaders continue to bicker, picking up where their fathers left off.
If “the more things change, the more they stay the same” is applicable to anywhere in the region, a quick glance at Lebanon’s parliament should underline the point I am trying to make. Indeed, that collection of one of the largest gatherings of political and social misfits in the greater Middle East can be found in Lebanon, where most of its members have no qualms in placing the interests of their political or financial supporters ahead of the interests of the country.
It does not help Lebanon that its leader is fully aligned with Iran. Lebanon, like all small countries in the region, bases its stability and prosperity on neutrality in regional conflicts. Lebanon and Iran are not politically compatible. They stand at opposing ends of the political spectrum. Much as Lebanon needs peace and stability to thrive, Iran, by the very nature of its constitution, is constantly looking to expand and export its Islamic revolution. For the revolution to survive and to thrive, Iran needs continued turmoil. Much as the residents of Lebanon enjoy their individual freedom, Iranians under the diktat of the mullahs have their basic rights denied.
The two countries run on opposite tracks and never the two shall meet, at least not in their current political incarnations. Lebanon’s Christians have praised Hezbollah for its success in pushing Israel out of southern Lebanon, giving the Arab world its first major military victory over Israel. Yet the Lebanese Christians also avoided any political alignment with Hezbollah.
As most Lebanese Christian leaders distanced themselves from Hezbollah, one leader — the country’s president — did exactly the opposite. Michel Aoun wanted to be president so badly that he was ready to sign on with the devil so he went into a memorandum of understanding with Hezbollah.
With tensions in the region mounting, this could mean agitated waters lie ahead for Lebanon.
Aoun is preaching on behalf of Hezbollah, telling the Americans that pulling out from the 2015 nuclear deal was wrong and will negatively affect the Middle East.
“The unilateral US withdrawal from the nuclear agreement (in May) will have negative repercussions for security and stability in the region,” Aoun wrote on Twitter on July 16, his first public comment on the accord.
“Lebanon considered (the deal) a cornerstone for stability in the region, helping make it an area free of weapons of mass destruction,” Aoun’s office said in a statement summarising a meeting between the president and Iranian Foreign Ministry official Hossein Jaberi Ansari.
Aoun said he welcomed the commitment of other countries to continue with the deal.
In Lebanon’s May elections, Hezbollah — along with groups and individuals politically aligned to it — won more than half of the seats in parliament, boosting the group politically. Militarily, its combat-tested militia, which experienced some of Syria’s toughest battles in supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad in that country’s civil war, is more powerful than Lebanon’s army.
Under the 2015 accord, Iran won a lifting of international sanctions in return for verifiable curbs on its disputed uranium enrichment programme. US President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from the deal in May, calling it deeply flawed and has reimposed stringent US sanctions, heaping pressure on other signatories, including major European allies, to follow suit.
European powers have reaffirmed their commitment to the accord and said they would do more to encourage their businesses to stay engaged with Iran, though many firms have said they plan to pull out to avoid US penalties.
While Iran beats its chest and “owns” a large segment of the Lebanese political scene thanks to its proxy militia Hezbollah, Lebanon and the Lebanese are left holding the broken pieces of the Lebanese political jigsaw puzzle.
*Claude Salhani is a regular columnist for The Arab Weekly.

Do or die for Lebanon’s failing economy
Makram Rabah/The Arab Weekly/July 22/18
Lebanon’s ruling elite has shown neither vigour nor foresight in addressing the challenges.
With the FIFA World Cup over and French victory secured, people can go back to discussing the mundane topics of weather and other worldly affairs. For the Lebanese, this means a return to politics and, principally, the economy, which, many observers say, stands on the point of crashing.
Not one usually wary of accusations of scaremongering, Gebran Bassil, caretaker foreign minister and son-in-law of Lebanese President Michel Aoun, said: “Lebanon’s economy was on the verge of collapsing.”
While Bassil’s economic prophecies are largely more to do with his strategy of demonising Lebanon’s Syrian refugees and blaming them for the country’s problems, the fear of an economic failure is not unfounded
As it stands, Lebanon’s public debt is $80 billion, the third highest globally as a percentage of GDP (150%) with more than one-third of the annual budget dedicated to servicing the country’s debt, making — without significant change — economic recovery impossible.
Discussion of potential collapse brings back memories of the 1986 crash, which saw the value of the Lebanese pound plummet, leading to inflation and resulting in the loss of savings for most Lebanese.
Despite the civil war, the pound had been stable against the dollar, trading at around 3 pounds. However, the crash saw it reach 2,825 pounds to the dollar in 1992. The Lebanese Central Bank (BDL) intervened by fixing the exchange rate, a measure that remains in effect.
While pegging the currency to the dollar might work as a protective measure, it is not without constraints, hindering growth and placing an additional burden on Lebanese state coffers.
“The main problem today is that fiscal policy is almost non-existent, which forced the BDL to go beyond its mandate of monetary policy and do things it should never do,” said Walid Marrouch, associate professor of economics at the Lebanese American University
Marrouch said approximately 80% of Lebanon’s budget goes to public sector salaries and benefits, plus the cost of servicing the debt. The remaining 20% is allocated for fiscal policy. However, “the corruption of the ruling elite is making this meagre 20% smaller and their refusal to pass policy reforms draws the fiscal crisis even closer,” he said.
Only recently did the effects of the government’s persistent failure reach the housing sector when the government suspended subsidies on housing loans, which will cause dire repercussions for first-time homeowners.
However, the true tragedy of the housing crisis is beyond straightforward economics and speaks to the years of corruption and abuse of the real estate market, because politicians and lawmakers manipulated circumstances to keep prices artificially high.
Many of those responsible for the country’s government are developers or heavily invested in real estate projects. As such, they have gone out of their way to thwart taxes or legal measures that would benefit rentals at the expense of the housing market, leading to the current crisis.
Despite the alarming symptoms of Lebanon’s deteriorating economy, the ruling elite has shown neither vigour nor foresight in addressing the challenges. Instead, it has continued its game of thrones.
Caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri, selected to form a new cabinet, has failed to put forth a lineup that would be instrumental for adopting promised reforms.
The $11 billion grant and loan package, which the international community earmarked at the CEDRE conference in April to help Lebanon overhaul its infrastructure, hinges on Hariri’s ability to form a cabinet, a process that seems to have become bogged down by internal bickering and corruption.
Though the auguries appear grim, there may be hope. A capital market expert, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “A lot of alarmism exists now in Lebanon, some based on inaccurate economic numbers. Nevertheless, the economic environment is worrying and if the trends continue, (it) will be alarmingly so.”Despite this, he said Lebanon’s banking sector provides cause for qualified optimism. It plays a vital role in maintaining the economy and is sure to be critical to any resurgence.
The Lebanese have always gambled that, whatever dark political and economic clouds gather overhead, they will be blown away by the winds of regional political change. Such gambles have borne out, with Lebanon’s central role within the Middle East ensuring a reliable supply of Gulf funds.
Unfortunately, those days are gone. The Lebanese failed to capitalise on any lifeline extended to them, betting on a fairy-tale ending to grim economic times without undertaking fundamental reform.
The Lebanese are becoming increasingly apprehensive about losing their savings and their livelihoods. However, they only received what they voted for, a valuable lesson to not be forgotten.
**Makram Rabah is a lecturer at the American University of Beirut, Department of History. He is the author of A Campus at War: Student Politics at the American University of Beirut, 1967-1975.

The Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published
on July 22-23/18
Hundreds of Syrian ‘White Helmets’ evacuated by Israel to Jordan
Reuters/July 22/18/US officials say the United States is finalizing plans to evacuate several hundred Syrian civil defense workers and their families from southwest Syria as Russian-backed government forces close in on the area.
Israeli military said it had completed “a humanitarian effort to rescue members of a Syrian civil organization and their families ... due to an immediate threat to their lives”The evacuation came at the request of the US and several European countries. JERUSALEM: About 800 members of Syria’s White Helmets civil defense group and their families were evacuated via Israel to Jordan on Sunday from southwest Syria, where a Russian-backed Syrian government offensive is under way, media said. In a statement, the Israeli military said it had completed “a humanitarian effort to rescue members of a Syrian civil organization and their families ... due to an immediate threat to their lives.”It said they were transferred to a neighboring country, which it did not identify, and that the evacuation came at the request of the United States and several European countries. Israeli media identified the Syrians as belonging to the White Helmets organization. Officially called the Syrian Civil Defense but known by their distinctive white helmets, the group has operated a rescue service in rebel-held parts of Syria. Jordan’s official Petra news agency said on its website the kingdom “authorized the United Nations to organize the passage of about 800 Syrian citizens through Jordan for resettlement in Western countries.”The agency identified the Syrians as civil defense workers who fled areas controlled by the Syrian opposition after attacks there by the Syrian army. Petra said they would remain in a closed area in Jordan and that Britain, Germany and Canada had agreed to resettle them within three months. The Syrian military, backed by a Russian air campaign, has been pushing into the edges of Quneitra province following an offensive last month that routed rebels in adjoining Daraa province who were once backed by Washington, Jordan and Gulf states.
The offensive has restored Syrian government control over a swathe of the southwest, strategic territory at the borders with Jordan and Israel.
Israel Evacuates 800 Members of White Helmets Rescue Organization to Jordan
Yaniv Kubovich, Jack Khoury and Noa Landau/Haaretz/July 22/18
Israel calls move an 'exceptional humanitarian gesture' that was done at the request of the U.S. and its European allies due to 'an immediate threat to Syrian lives'
Israel rescued some 800 members of the humanitarian organization "White Helmets" from Syria overnight Saturday, allowing them across the Syrian-Israeli border and then transporting them to Jordan. The operation was confirmed by both the Israeli army and the Jordanian Foreign Ministry. "Following an Israeli Government directive and at the request of the United States and additional European countries, the IDF recently completed a humanitarian effort to rescue members of a Syrian civil organization and their families," a statement from the Israeli military said. On Saturday, Israeli security forces closed down roads in the Golan Heights, on the Syrian frontier, ahead of the evacuation operation.
"The civilians were evacuated from the war zone in Southern Syria due to an immediate threat to their lives. The transfer of the displaced Syrians through Israel is an exceptional humanitarian gesture," the statement continued, adding that "the civilians were subsequently transferred to a neighboring country. Israel continues to maintain a non-intervention policy regarding the Syrian conflict and continues to hold the Syrian regime accountable for all activities in Syrian territory."
A few weeks ago, United States, Canada, France and Britain appealed to Israel political officials to try to assist the evacuation of some 800 activists and civilian members of the White Helmets from Syria. A few weeks ago political officials instructed the army to prepare for an operation during which some 800 activists and civilians would be evacuated. The army had been given a list of the names of all the people to be evacuated.
Under the tightest secrecy, the organization began to bring its people together; the activists were told to come to two points along the fence – one at the northern Golan Heights near Quneitra and the other at the Israel-Golan Heights-Jordanian border. They traveled to those points on foot and by other means. At 11 P.M. Saturday night, the army began opening the border crossings, closely guarding the evacuees for fear they would be attacked as they crossed into Israel. The Syrian activists and civilians were put on buses, and IDF soldiers gave them food on the bus as it traveled to the crossing point with Jordan. No stops were made.
The Jordanians were waiting, as planned, on their side of the border. By 6 A.M. Sunday, all 800 had been moved to Jordanian buses. Most of the people were children, some of them relatives of the activists and others orphans that had been injured in the battles. The IDF’s Bashan Division was in charge of the operation, especially its security aspects, while the National Security Council handled the political coordination. The White Helmets are sponsored by humanitarian groups mainly in the United States and Canada and works in Syria to provide food, psychological support and other assistance.
A Jordanian foreign ministry spokesman confirmed on Sunday that Jordan had "allowed the UN" to arrange the entry and passage of 800 Syrian civil defence workers whose lives were in danger. The kingdom agreed to a request by Britain, Germany and Canada to give the White Helmet workers temporary asylum in the kingdom before settlement in the West on humanitarian grounds, Mohammad al Kayed the spokesman said. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled toward the Israeli and Jordanian borders recently, after forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad embarked on a campaign to regain the province of Daraa in southern Syria.
In recent months Assad’s forces have regained the area surrounding the Syrian capital of Damascus and pushed the rebels northward, toward Idlib. Assad has also gazed southward, wanting to regain control over Syria’s border with Jordan and Israel. Given that the rebels are not being given logistical support, overrunning their zones is considered to be relatively easy for the Assad regime. According to the United Nations and human rights organizations, 270,000 have fled their homes in southern Syria during the latest regime offensive, mostly heading for the Jordan border and some toward Quneitra in the Syrian Golan Heights. Some went to existing refugee camps and some to new tent compounds that Israel and Jordan helped establish.
When encampments started to be visible across the border of the Israeli Golan, Israel said it would provide humanitarian aid but not allow entry to the refugees. Since the beginning of the civil war, Israel allowed Syrian refugees in to receive medical treatment.
**Reuters contributed to this report

Canada supports the White Helmets
July 21 2018 - Ottawa, Ontario - Global Affairs Canada
The Honourable Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs, today released the following statement:
‘‘The White Helmets are courageous volunteers and first responders who risk their lives to help their fellow Syrians who have been targeted by senseless violence. When children, women, and men in Syria flee for their lives, the White Helmets run towards danger, towards the rubble, to save the innocent and the wounded. The White Helmets have witnessed vicious atrocities committed by the Assad regime and its backers.
‘‘Canada, working in close partnership with the United Kingdom and Germany, has been leading an international effort to ensure the safety of White Helmets and their families.
‘‘Canada has been unequivocal about its support for the White Helmets. At a meeting of Foreign Ministers on the occasion of the NATO leaders’ summit in Brussels a week ago, I called for global leadership to support and help these heroes.
‘‘Canada has been a key partner of the White Helmets and is proud to have provided funding to support their emergency training and to increase the number of women White Helmets. We feel a deep moral responsibility towards these brave and selfless people.
‘‘Canada will continue to provide significant humanitarian assistance to the people affected by this conflict in Syria.’’

Israel Says to Reopen Gaza Goods Crossing Tuesday if Calm Maintained
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/July 22/18/Israel will reopen its only goods crossing with the blockaded Gaza Strip on Tuesday if calm is maintained, the defence minister said, after having closed it July 9 partly over kites carrying firebombs. "If today and tomorrow the situation continues as it was yesterday, then on Tuesday we will allow Kerem Shalom to return to normal activity and the fishing zones will return to the same distances as before," Avigdor Lieberman told journalists on Sunday, referring to the name of the crossing. However, Lieberman stressed that calm also meant an end to months of kites and balloons carrying firebombs over the border fence from the Palestinian enclave run by Islamist movement Hamas to burn Israeli farmland. Israeli authorities say hundreds of fires have been started by the firebombs since April. Lieberman's comments came after a ceasefire was reached following a major flare-up of violence between Palestinian militants in Gaza and Israel on Friday. The escalation -- the second in as many weeks -- followed months of tension that have raised fears that a fourth war since 2008 could erupt between Hamas and Israel.
Israel announced on July 9 that the goods crossing was being closed to most deliveries partly in response to the firebombs and other incidents along the border fence. On July 17, it further tightened the restrictions to also prevent fuel deliveries while reducing the fishing zone Israel enforces off Gaza to three nautical miles from six. The crossing has remained open for food and medicine on a case-by-case basis.

War with Iran is the mother of all wars, Rouhani warns Trump
Reuters/July 22/18/DUBAI: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday cautioned US President Donald Trump about pursuing hostile policies against Tehran, saying “America should know ... war with Iran is the mother of all wars,” but he did not rule out peace between the two countries, either.
Iran faces increased US pressure and looming sanctions after Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from a 2015 international deal over Iran’s nuclear program. Addressing a gathering of Iranian diplomats, Rouhani said: “Mr Trump, don’t play with the lion’s tail, this would only lead to regret,” the state-news agency IRNA reported. “America should know that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars,” Rouhani said, leaving open the possibility of peace between the two countries which have been at odds since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
“You are not in a position to incite the Iranian nation against Iran’s security and interests,” Rouhani said, in an apparent reference to reported efforts by Washington to destabilize Iran’s Islamic government. In Washington, US officials familiar with the matter told Reuters that the Trump administration has launched an offensive of speeches and online communications meant to foment unrest and help pressure Iran to end its nuclear program and its support of militant groups. Current and former US officials said the campaign paints Iranian leaders in a harsh light, at times using information that is exaggerated or contradicts other official pronouncements, including comments by previous administrations. Rouhani scoffed at Trump’s threat to halt Iranian oil exports and said Iran has a dominant position in the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping waterway. “Anyone who understands the rudiments of politics doesn’t say ‘we will stop Iran’s oil exports’...we have been the guarantor of the regional waterway’s security throughout history,” Rouhani said, cited by the semi-official ISNA news agency. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Saturday backed Rouhani’s suggestion that Iran may block Gulf oil exports if its own exports are halted. Rouhani’s apparent threat earlier this month to disrupt oil shipments from neighboring countries came in reaction to efforts by Washington to force all countries to stop buying Iranian oil. Iranian officials have in the past threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation for any hostile US action. Separately, a top Iranian military commander warned that the Trump government might be preparing to invade Iran. “The enemy’s behavior is unpredictable,” military chief of staff General Mohammad Baqeri said, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported. “Although the current American government does not seem to speak of a military threat, according to precise information it has been trying to persuade the US military to launch a military invasion (of Iran),” Baqeri said. Iran’s oil exports could fall by as much as two-thirds by the end of the year because of new US sanctions, putting oil markets under huge strain amid supply outages elsewhere. Washington initially planned to totally shut Iran out of global oil markets after Trump abandoned the deal that limited Iran’s nuclear ambitions, demanding all other countries to stop buying its crude by November.
But it has somewhat eased its stance since, saying that it may grant sanction waivers to some allies that are particularly reliant on Iranian supplies.
Russia downs two unidentified drones that attacked its Syria air base
Reuters, Moscow/Sunday, 22 July 2018/Russia’s military said it had shot down two unidentified drones that attacked its Syrian air base at Hmeimim on Saturday and Sunday, Russian agencies reported. The attacks caused no casualties or damage and the Hmeimim air base is operating as normal, Interfax said.

Russian-backed Turkish Plan to Prevent Regime's Intervention in Idlib
Ankara - Saiid Abdulrazzak/Asharq Al Awsat/July 22/18/Turkey announced that the border with Syria will be a “security zone” for 15 days. It also said it decided to increase the militarily and security patrols along the border until August 3. A statement by Gaziantep, south Turkey, attributed the new procedure to the fact that the Turkish Army had dispatched military reinforcements to the existing forces in Syria and had enhanced the protection of the border. The Turkish announcement coincided with the escalation of worrisome towards possibilities of the de-escalation zone being subject to attacks by the Syrian regime and its allies, like other regions in Ghouta, Homs and the south-west. Ankara confirmed that it doesn’t wish for this to happen, and warned from its impact on Astana discussions in case such violations take place. The Turkish army held 15 checking points in Idlib and Hama within an agreement that was signed in September last year with Russia and Iran in Astana. These points are in charge of ceasing fire between the regime and the Iranian-affiliated militias from one side and the fighting factions from another side. The closest checkpoint is 500 meters away from the Turkish border, and the most far is in Tall Sawwanah and is 88 kilometers away from the Turkish border. In the same context, press reports revealed that Turkey has submitted a white card to Russia regarding the final solution in the fourth de-escalation zone that consists of villages extending between Lattakia, Hama, Aleppo and the majority of Idlib countryside and Idlib city. According to these reports, Turkey submitted to Russia a card of several clauses and called it, the 'white card' for the solution in Idlib. It coincided with implementing clauses of Kefraya and Al-Fu'ah that led to lifting the siege that lasted for years. Turkey called on all the factions and authorities in the north of Syria to take part in a general conference to be held during two weeks to discuss the future of Idlib in light of the latest developments in the south of Syria, in Kefraya and Al-Fu'ah.

Rebels reach north Syria after south evacuations
AFP/Sunday, 22 July 2018/Hundreds of rebels and their families evacuated from southern Syria after a deal was struck with the regime arrived Saturday in the country’s northwest, an AFP correspondent said. The evacuations from Quneitra, which borders the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, came after a Russia-brokered agreement was reached earlier this week to see rebels hand over the territory to the Syrian regime. Around 50 buses transporting fighters and their families reached the Morek transit route in the north of Hama province, which links regime and rebel-held territories, an AFP correspondent at the scene said. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said the first convoy to reach Morek transported around 2,800 people. They were to be transferred to other buses run by local NGOs, before travelling further north to temporary camps in rebel-held areas in Idlib and Aleppo provinces, the Britain-based monitor said. “More than half of the evacuees are women and children,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman. “A second wave of departures is expected from Quneitra,” he added. The evacuations follow a deadly regime offensive on Quneitra, a thin, crescent-shaped province that lies along the buffer zone with the Israel-occupied Golan to the west. The rebel surrender negotiated by Russia, a vital regime ally, also saw fighters hand over heavy and medium weapons and return government institutions to the area.

Iran jolted by moderate, light earthquakes; 26 injured

The Associated Press, Tehran, IranSunday, 22 July 2018/Iran was jolted by a series of moderate and light earthquakes on Sunday and there were reports of 26 people sustaining slight injuries in one of the locations. The first temblor, measuring a magnitude of 4.6 rocked the town of Ruydar, in Hormozgan province, earlier in the day. The town is located some 940 kilometers south of the capital, Tehran. It was followed shortly after by a 5.4 magnitude aftershock, according to the United States Geological Survey. Iran’s semi-official news agency had initially reported the magnitude at 5.7. In the afternoon, a 5.9 magnitude quake rocked an area in western Iran near the border with Iraq in Kermanshah province. All three earthquakes were shallow at under 10 kilometers, or 6 miles, deep, making them likelier to cause damage than casualties. The governor of Karmanshah, Houshang Bazvand, told state television that 26 people had been reported injured in the earthquake and they received outpatient treatment, and that some houses suffered partial damage. The head of the country’s agency that handles responses to emergencies and natural disasters, Pirhossein Kolivand, told state television helicopters were surveying the mountainous region, and that hospitals in nearby cities and emergency centers were standing by in case more injured people were found. Iran sits on major fault lines and is prone to regular earthquakes. A magnitude 7.2 quake hit western Iran in November, killing more than 600. In 2003, a 6.6 magnitude quake flattened the historic city of Bam, killing 26,000 people.
Iranian interference in Basra protests to blunt Trump sanctions
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Sunday, 22 July 2018/ Suddenly, July (the month of revolutions and coups in modern Iraq), witnessed protests in Basra demanding water, electricity and jobs in oil companies. It then spread to some cities in southern Iraq and to areas in Baghdad, the capital. The Arabic and international news agencies have featured images and video clips of protesters burning signs in Khomeini street in Basra and attacks against the headquarters of the parties loyal to Iran, which are Badr organization, Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, National Wisdom Movement. The former deputy of Basra governorate, Wael Abdul Latif, said about that new phenomenon on the political scene in Iraq: “Burning the image of Khomeini and Khamenei, attacking the parties’ headquarters, political forces and armed factions clearly indicates the huge popular rejection of Iranian influence in Iraq in general,” as quoted by Al Hurra US channel. The irony is that at the beginning of the movement many people considered the attack on the oil companies’ headquarters in al-Qurnah north of Basra, a part of an Iranian plan aimed at hindering the plan of US President Donald Trump to boycott Iranian oil exports.
Qassem Soleimani’s confirmation. Most of the analysis in this regard was based on a confirmation published by Russia Today website, that the Iranian General Qassem Soleimani said that, in case the US impedes Iran’s oil exports, the Revolutionary Guard is ready to implement a policy that hinders regional oil exports. According to what the Iranian President Hassan Rowhani said: “If Iran could not export its oil, then the oil exports would stop in the whole region. If you want to do so, try it and you will bear the consequences.”In this regard, Sasapost website, quoted the economic expert Khaled Mohammed Jaafar: “Iran hopes that the protests would reduce the Iraqi oil production; so that the oil prices would rise globally. If this happened, this would be considered as a gift for Iran as a response for the US sanctions imposed by the US President Donald Trump on Iranian oil exports.”

Israel to reopen Gaza terminal, extend fishing on Tuesday if quiet holds
Reuters, Jerusalem Sunday, 22 July 2018/Israel will reopen Gaza’s main commercial crossing and expand its fishing zone on Tuesday if a lull in cross-border tensions holds after a truce with the enclave’s dominant Palestinian group Hamas, the Israeli defense minister said. Israel shut the Kerem Shalom border terminal and reduced the fishing zone to 11 km from 17 km on July 9 in response to fire-starting kites and helium balloons flown over by Palestinians as part of weeks of border protests. Hostilities escalated last week, with Palestinian gunfire killing an Israeli soldier and Israel’s military killing three Hamas fighters and a fourth Palestinian. The violence subsided on Saturday after Egypt and the United Nations mediated a truce. “We saw, yesterday, what might have been the calmest day since March 30,” Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told reporters on Sunday. In weekly Gaza protests since then, at least 140 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli army in what it called border protection. “If today and tomorrow see a continuation of the situation as it was yesterday, then on Tuesday we will resume routine activity here at Kerem Shalom (border terminal) and return the fishing zone to the ranges previously in place.” Kerem Shalom is the main export-import conduit for the 2 million Palestinians of Gaza, which also borders Egypt. During the terminal’s closure, humanitarian aid was still allowed through Lieberman said traffic slowed to about 140 trucks a day from some 1,000 to 1,100 trucks per day.
The Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on July 22-23/18
A market without OPEC isn’t good for the US
Wael Mahdi/Arab News/July 22/18
It’s no surprise to see US politicians in an open confrontation with the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
Since 2000, the US Congress has discussed various forms of a legislation called “No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act,” or NOPEC. If this becomes a law then it could open OPEC up to antitrust lawsuits by the US government on charges of manipulation of world’s energy prices.
The House of Representatives introduced a version of the bill in May. The Senate earlier last week also brought up a draft of the legislation, which would amend the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 that was used more than a century ago to break up the oil empire of John Rockefeller.
There is always political pressure on OPEC whenever there is an election in the US and gasoline pump prices are making voters unhappy. So what’s new this time? The last two US presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama threatened to use their veto power to prevent NOPEC becoming law. This time there is a President, Donald Trump, who is very unhappy with OPEC as he accuses the producer-group of being a cartel that keeps oil prices high.
There are many misconceptions about OPEC in US political circles and these misconceptions are here to stay as long as the US is unable to increase its own production significantly. First, OPEC has no price targets. They favor certain prices just like any consuming nation of oil but prices these days are determined by the market and traders in London and
New York. This is an established fact that everyone knows. OPEC has its vices, but whether US politicians love it or not, it will stay the safety valve and lender of last resort in the industry. And a reformed OPEC is better than no OPEC.
Second, OPEC only pumps one third of
the world’s oil supply today and that is not enough for the group to control the market or prices. Actually, since 2014, oil prices are more responsive to developments in US local market than to what happens in OPEC. A good example of that is the premium of geopolitical risks. In 2011 and 2012, oil prices rose sharply by tens of dollars after 1 million barrels a day of Libyan supply went off the market. Today, Libyan output can go down sharply like just what happened this month after some ports closures and oil prices only added few dollars.
What has differed? The market is awash with crude from outside of OPEC and traders think that can replace any supply from anywhere else.
Third, in most cases, marginal producers of oil are the ones who push prices on the margin and not big producers especially when the latter are pumping at their maximum. Most of the marginal producers now days are in shale oil plays in the US and in some other areas of the world like in Russia, Brazil and Canada. Fourth, there was a time when Saudi Arabia and OPEC were the swing producers of the world, but now days shale oil producers share some of that role to some extent, although not fully as they are not coordinated and they don’t act unilaterally. Therefore, even if OPEC wanted to become
an influential cartel today, it can’t. But the US government wants OPEC to be a cartel and president Trump keeps asking OPEC to lower oil prices and this is a very contradictory approach. What’s more confusing is that the US pressure isn’t helping OPEC and Saudi Arabia to plan for long or medium terms. The US government and politicians focus is narrowed on the short-term price movements. OPEC can’t think like that.
For instance, there is some uncertainty over demand in the second half of this year due to various reasons among them the concerns over the impact of US trade war with China over economic growth of the country, and China is biggest importer of crude oil today. Also, with current oil prices, there are fears that demand maybe dampened in coming months. In such circumstances OPEC must plan for the next six months and must calculate output based on supply-demand factors to keep the market well-balanced. If OPEC to follow the American model, it must pump more crude every month to keep gasoline prices lower.
That may result in mismatch between supply and demand and if oil prices collapsed, the US shale oil industry is the first to suffer before anyone else as they are among the high-cost producers in the world and not OPEC. Saudi Arabia has a sound policy of producing crude based on customers lifting. The country doesn’t dump crude into the market and don’t store crude on barges without a clue what to do with it. In some months, some production goes to storage but these don’t make up a big chunk of its daily output. In fact, Saudi crude stockpiles has been declining since last year. It went down from 258.8 million barrels in May 2017 to 235.4 million barrels in May 2018, according to data by Joint Organizations Data Initiative. And yet American policy will impact the market further. A shortage is expected sometime at the end of this year due to the US sanctions on Iranian oil exports. So it’s premature for OPEC to pump an additional 2 million barrels a day that Trump wants as gasoline prices aren’t the indicator that OPEC uses. What US politicians should focus on is the state of the investments in the oil market and the right oil price for promoting them. And they should stop political moves against OPEC that will result in a mismanaged oil market. OPEC can’t do the job alone today and certainly not Saudi Arabia. And the US needs 
to coordinate its energy policy constructively with OPEC in the same way Trump wants to coordinate it now with Russia as both countries announced last week. OPEC has its vices, but whether US politicians love it or not, it will stay the safety valve and lender of last resort in the industry. And a reformed OPEC is better than no OPEC.
• Wael Mahdi is an energy reporter specializing on OPEC and a co-author of “OPEC in a Shale Oil World: Where to Next?”

Is the US Being Taken Advantage of?
David Ignatius/The Washington Post/July 22/18
Watching President Trump’s diplomatic maneuvers — in Singapore last month and during the run-up to his meetings over the next week in Brussels and Helsinki — I wonder whether analysts have been making a mistake explaining his bargaining style in terms of the brash young personality described in his 1987 memoir, “The Art of the Deal.”The Trump we’re watching is a much needier person than the youthful tycoon who vaulted to the top of the world. The current version of Trump sees himself as chief executive not of a thriving enterprise but of one that has nearly been run into the ground by his predecessors. Rather than warmly embracing longtime partners in Europe, he resents them and their success.
Trump is looking for new friends and investors. It’s almost as if he is ready to fold what he sees as a losing hand and draw a fresh set of cards — ones in this case bearing the faces of North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
Perhaps the Trump book to read these days is his 1997 memoir of life as a near-bankrupt, “The Art of the Comeback.” The author is feisty. In the book, he’s already hanging out with Russian and Chinese big shots who may be able to recapitalize his business.
“I took tremendous punishment as I watched my empire collapsing around me. . . . It crushed my ego, my pride,” he says of his 1990 risk of personal bankruptcy. He warned his lenders that he could tie them up for years with lawsuits and bankruptcy proceedings. But instead, he offered the bankers a deal: If they provided an additional $65 million line of credit and backed off for five years, he’d pay them all back. They agreed, and Trump floated back to prosperity during the boom of the 1990s.
The idealistic, generous national self-image that sustained America through a century of global dominance doesn’t seem to resonate with Trump. He sees the country as exhausted, played out, bled financially by its allies and manipulated by its trading partners.
Trump’s core pessimism goes against the American grain, in my view, but perhaps it’s understandable in a man who almost went bankrupt. This bleak vision has shaped his presidency ever since he spoke of “American carnage” in his inaugural address. That speech included a line that may be the Rosetta Stone of his foreign policy: “We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon.”
He continued his remarks as he headed for Brussels, claiming, “We’re being taken advantage of by the European Union,” and that US support for NATO “helps them a lot more than it helps us.
Meanwhile, Trump is investing in a new set of friends and forgiving past transgressions to build a new portfolio. The president expresses this slate-clearing agenda: “I think that getting along with Russia, getting along with China . . . is a good thing.” Who could disagree, but at what cost, and with what benefit?
Trump’s diplomacy with Kim is the most interesting test of where his reshuffle-the-deck strategy is headed. Trump wanted success in Singapore so badly that he staged the triumphal handshake first, against a backdrop of inter-furled North Korean and American flags, and left the actual negotiations on denuclearization for later by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
North Korea’s rebuke of Pompeo for “gangster-like” demands on denuclearization got the headlines last week. But perhaps a more telling part of the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s statement was its plea for concessions. Before Pyongyang delivers an inventory of weapons to begin denuclearization, for example, it seems to want a formal declaration ending the Korean War. “We still cherish our good faith in President Trump,” said a fawning passage in the otherwise snarling statement. It must be said, they know the embattled, wounded, hungry-for-new-partners man.

NATO’s Real Spending Emergency Is in Cyberspace
James Stavridis and Dave Weinstein/Bloomberg/July 22/18
As we saw again at last week’s NATO summit, virtually all of President Donald Trump’s focus on NATO has been over its members not living up to spending pledges. Here he is right: The U.S. shoulders far too much of NATO’s overall defense spending, although most of the allies are getting better. But lurking under the broad debate over what percentage of GDP should be spent on the military is a more important and nuanced metric. The most pressing concern for the alliance in today’s world is overall cyber-defense readiness. After all, it is highly unlikely that Vladimir Putin will choose to cross a NATO border with tanks, troops and jets. But he has shown again and again a willingness to attack digitally. Last week, the Ukrainian government confirmed that Kremlin-sponsored hackers targeted its water sanitation infrastructure. Days later, special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s grand jury indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers for their involvement in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee. Earlier this year, the U.S. and U.K. jointly published an alert detailing the technical nature of Russia’s efforts to gain a foothold in Western critical infrastructure.
What should the alliance be doing to counter Moscow? Unlike conventional defense from kinetic threats like missiles and submarines, defending against cyber-threats isn’t best measured in dollars and cents, but in action. There are four clear areas of cybersecurity to which each NATO member should increase its contributions — all without requiring digging too deeply into their pockets.
The first is sharing intelligence on threats. Each NATO member possesses a unique perspective on its particular cyber-threat landscape. But in most cases, the dangers are not unique to one country or another, yet shared awareness is stifled by each member’s posture on restrictions in sharing. The alliance pledged last year to spend more than $3 billion to protect itself from hacking, but a paltry $100 million has actually been spent on defenses. NATO’s 10-year-old Cyber Defense Center of Excellence in Tallinn, Estonia, does good work, but it is focused completely on policy and governance, not operational issues.
By fusing together threat-intelligence sources from each of the NATO countries, the alliance would be uniquely positioned to connect the dots and gain a common operational picture of cyber-threats on a global scale that doesn’t exist today. Here NATO can take a page out of the U.S. financial sector’s playbook. While each of America’s large banks has its own threat intelligence apparatus, they all participate in the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center, which was created under a 1998 presidential directive. By exchanging threat intelligence with each other and contributing to an aggregated pool of diverse data sets, the sector becomes “stronger together” (the motto of the U.S. European Command when I led it a few years ago and saw firsthand our weaknesses).
Second, the alliance must take a global lead when it comes to establishing international norms of behavior for cyberspace. NATO has already contributed a great deal of thought leadership to this field in the form of the Tallinn Manual — the most comprehensive analysis to date on how existing international law applies to cyberspace. But greater contributions from each member are needed to achieve broader consensus and adoption.
For starters, NATO should define precisely what technically constitutes a "use of force" in cyberspace, and most importantly, what nations should expect if that threshold is reached. This is crucial because the NATO treaty has specific definitions for what constitutes a traditional “attack” that rises to the level of the Article 5 mutual-defense threshold. There is still considerable ambiguity among allied nations about how to measure non-kinetic force. One thing is clear: a cyberattack need not result in physical harm or real-world effects to rise to the level of force projection, much less violation of sovereignty.
Third and closely related, the alliance must get contributions from all members to establish a credible cyber-deterrence regime. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg added some teeth to the NATO stance by saying publicly that a cyberattack could trigger Article 5. But this isn’t enough. Unlike nuclear deterrence during the Cold War, cyber-deterrence unfortunately will probably require at some point an actual use of offensive cyber-weapons for it to be deemed credible. NATO needs to draw up and agree on a shared set of contingency plans should going on the offensive be called for. Many details of these plans, by the way, need not be secret. Finally, all NATO members should join forces to develop defensive countermeasures and to research cyber-threats and vulnerabilities. The best model is to leverage existing capacity and resources within NATO member-states, especially some of the former Soviet bloc countries like Estonia that are particularly advanced in this field. There is a model for this: the NATO Special Operations Command in Mons, Belgium — right next to my former headquarters when I was the alliance’s supreme allied commander. The pooling and sharing in special-ops is a good model for doing the same in cyberspace. In addition to the U.S., both the U.K. and France are exceptional in cyber.
We’ve also witnessed the military benefits and cost saving of jointly developing and maintaining conventional weapons platforms with allies in partnership with industry — on NATO’s Alliance Ground Surveillance system and Awacs airborne-warning system, for example. But countries have been slow to do the same with cybertools. As the NATO commander, I was unable to bridge this divide because each country wants to protect its “crown jewels” in both offensive and defensive cyber, even though they are willing to share on air defense, special operations, strategic airlift, unmanned vehicles and many other areas.
In this respect, NATO should bring together the research and development of all members to not only establish a common operational infrastructure, but also to examine vulnerabilities and hunt for threats to the benefit of organizations and users throughout alliance countries. The Tallinn cyber center just does not “do” operations or research in that regard. Of course, contributing to all of these areas will cost money — but the economic commitment pales in comparison to traditional defense spending. Last year NATO committed only $72 million to upgrading cyber-defenses and around $200 million to secure mobile communications for personnel in the field. Yet the collective defense budget of the alliance nations is north of $900 billion. More spending on cyber is a no-brainer.
Still, if NATO is going to get serious about cybersecurity, bigger budgets alone are not the answer. Members need to learn to work together, or Russia will make them pay.

Turkey: American Pastor Brunson in Prison; ISIS Terrorists Roam Free
Uzay Bulut/Gatestone Institute/July 22/18
"Incredibly, the indictment now admits that Turkey considers 'Christianization' to be an act of terrorism" – The American Center for Law and Justice
Meanwhile, there are ISIS sleeper cell houses in seventy cities across Turkey, according to a 2015 "confidential" note by a Turkish chief of police.
Turkey's arbitrary arrests of Brunson, Erdem and many other innocent individuals expose Erdogan's regime as a brutal dictatorship that invades its neighbors, does not tolerate diversity, and that targets Christians and peaceful dissidents who oppose jihad – actions that run counter to the US State Department's minimum requirements for membership in NATO.
A Turkish court has decided to continue holding American Pastor Andrew Brunson in prison, to await a fourth hearing on October 12. Brunson, who has been in jail in Turkey since October 7, 2016, is accused of "membership in an armed terrorist organization." His first court hearing took place on April 16 this year, after 18 months in detention.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) condemned the charges and is calling for Brunson's immediate release. In a statement released on July 18, USCIRF Vice Chair Kristina Arriaga excoriated the Turkish government, which she accused of "continu[ing] to make a mockery of justice in its treatment of Pastor Brunson."
Denouncing Brunson's case as a "miscarriage of justice," Arriaga added, "Turkish authorities still have not provided one good reason for depriving Pastor Brunson of his liberties. The Trump Administration and the Congress should continue to apply pressure, including using targeted sanctions against officials connected to this case, until Pastor Brunson is released."
Brunson was charged with terrorism (including "Christianization") and espionage, which carry a sentence of up to 35 years' imprisonment. According to the lengthy indictment, the pastor is linked to the movement of Fethullah Gülen -- an Islamic cleric who has lived in self-exile in the United States for three decades – and whom the Turkish government accuses of plotting the failed coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in July 2016.
The American Center for Law and Justice, which has been advocating Brunson's release, began circulating a petition a few months ago that states, in part:
"The 62-page indictment, wholly lacking merit, provides no evidence regarding criminal action by Pastor Andrew, which comes as no surprise... Incredibly, the indictment now admits that Turkey considers 'Christianization' to be an act of terrorism... Now, more than ever, we need to remind Turkey that the eyes of the world are watching this case closely and the world is demanding Pastor Andrew's release."
Erdogan is apparently using Brunson's detention as a bargaining chip to seek the extradition of his ally-turned-foe, Gülen, in exchange for the pastor's freedom.
Brunson, who for more than 20 years served the Izmir Diriliş (Resurrection) Church, a small evangelical Presbyterian congregation, is now demonized by the pro-government Turkish media as a "terrorist supporter" and a "spy" hostile to Turkey.
American Pastor Andrew Brunson, held in a Turkish prison on baseless charges of "terrorism" and "espionage." (Photo: The American Center for Law and Justice)
The practice of targeting and arresting peaceful individuals or dissident citizens for political reasons is nothing new in Erdogan's Turkey; since the failed coup, it has increased. Take the case of Eren Erdem, for example, an author, journalist and former MP of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), and now in jail on doubtful charges of "aiding terrorists." Many say that his real "crime" was to expose how members and supporters of Islamic State (ISIS) have been operating freely in Turkey – a charge that raises the issue of how actual jihadist terrorists are treated by Ankara.
In a parliamentary speech in 2016, Erdem gave examples of ISIS members who were released after being arrested:
"Yunus Durmaz [an ISIS official] said to the police that they [his cell along with another sleeper cell] carried out the Suruc massacre in Antep but he was released.... Yunus Emre Alagoz [Ankara suicide bomber] was arrested in 2011 and then released. All the people in the Adiyaman ISIS cell were arrested and then released. These men have killed around 300 to 400 of our people.
"This man [showing the photo of ISIS official, Halis Bayancuk] is mentioned in three investigations. He is accused of sending militants from Turkey to al Qaeda in Afghanistan. In another investigation he is confirmed to have sent militants from Turkey to the ISIS headquarters in Raqqa in Syria. Weapons, ammunition and a car filled with explosives were found during a police raid on his house. And this person is still free. But journalists, academics and students are put behind bars the moment they make a statement... Is there anyone here who could name this type of a regime?"
In November 2015, Erdem submitted a parliamentary question to Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Berat Albayrak about "foreign press reports" according to which documents were found in the computer of an ISIS official in charge of oil smuggling, indicating that Turkey "transfers 40 million dollars every month to ISIS."
"How much money does Turkey transfer to ISIS in oil smuggling?" Erdem asked. "Has our government ever attempted to stop money transferring to ISIS?"
In August 2016, the minister issued a strong denial. "The allegations that Turkey is buying oil from is a dirty propaganda war."
In December, 2015, Erdem submitted another parliamentary question to then-Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. The text read, in part:
"The press covered that the South Korean police and intelligence service (NIS) opened investigation two weeks ago against the South Korean firm DaeKwang, which produces pepper spray for Turkey, for supplying explosive materials for ISIS and that its Turkish partner companies, Meydan and Mercan, are also mentioned in the investigation. It is alleged that DaeKwang delivered DK-3M hand grenades to the Mercan and Meydan companies to be transferred to ISIS."
Among the questions Erdem asked was whether Turkey had "opened an investigation into the Mercan and Meydan companies, and if it was true that [they] operated as intermediaries in the transfer of ammunition to ISIS." The government has yet to provide a response.
The government has also not responded to any of the many additional questions Erdem continued to submit – on issues such as the activities of an ISIS-affiliated association in Istanbul; the 2016 ISIS bombing attacks and sleeper cells in Gaziantep; the government's imposing publication bans about terrorist attacks across the country; and allegations concerning the Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters selling Turkish armored vehicles to ISIS.
At the same time, an American pastor who has lived and worked in Turkey for 23 years without a mishap, and a former MP who has dedicated his career to exposing ISIS activities, are behind bars on totally false charges of "terrorism." Meanwhile, there are ISIS sleeper cell houses seventy cities across Turkey, according to a 2015 "confidential" note by a Turkish chief of police.
Turkey became a NATO member in 1952. "NATO enlargement has furthered the U.S. goal of a Europe whole, free, and at peace," according to the U.S. Department of State. However, Turkey's actions appear to make the region a more unstable, un-free and violent place.
Turkey's arbitrary arrests of Brunson, Erdem and many other innocent individuals expose Erdogan's regime as a brutal dictatorship that invades its neighbors, does not tolerate diversity, and targets Christians and peaceful dissidents who oppose jihad – actions that run counter to the US State Department's minimum requirements for membership in NATO.
Uzay Bulut, a journalist from Turkey, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute. She is currently based in Washington D.C.
© 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.

It Was Like a War against the Church/Muslim Persecution of Christians, December 2017
قائمة بحوادث اضطهاد المسيحيين لشهر كانون الأول 2017

Raymond Ibrahim/Gatestone Institute/July 22/18
According to the well-known Conditions of Omar, which are believed to have been promulgated by the second caliph of the same name, churches may not have bells or visible crosses.
"The attack on Christians was simply because of the pariah status they have in Pakistan.... A consequence of years of hate ideology having been inculcated in the minds of young people in Pakistan, through the use of media and a national curriculum that demonizes minorities." — A human rights activist, Pakistan.
"They sent me warnings through friends, telling me to stop talking about Jesus or risk getting killed. They said they knew it was easy to kill Christians because [Christians] don't have any weapons. They can simply be slaughtered." — A man in Mali, World Watch Monitor Mali, December 11, 2017.
Christian Carnage and Attacked Churches in Egypt
As a reflection of the enmity that Christmas provokes in the Islamic world, "Egypt's interior ministry... said it would be allocating 230,000 security personnel to secure the country's Christmas celebrations," the Egyptian newspaper al-Ahram reported, "to protect 2,626 churches nationwide during the celebrations." Security measures were further "updated to ensure the safety of CCTV and metal detectors systems at all churches across the country."
Despite these precautions, Muslim assailants managed to slaughter Christians and terrorize churches: On December 9 in Cairo, two Islamic terror attacks claimed a total of eight Christian lives and wounded several others.
In the first attack, Muslim militants raided a Christian-owned appliance store and killed two Christian brothers.
A little later, and in the same area, two armed terrorists opened fire on the Mar Mina Coptic Orthodox Church as its members were leaving the service. The death toll might have been significantly higher had church security not been present. At least six worshippers were killed (earlier and conflicting accounts said as many as 12); one security officer was also killed in the shooting. One of the perpetrators was wearing an explosives belt and had a machine gun with 150 rounds, suggesting that the terrorists had plans for a more spectacular suicide attack that would have claimed many more lives.
A Sunday school teacher present during the church attack described the incident: There was a situation of terror among all the people inside the yard: they all were screaming and running. The situation was terrible, the sound of the shooting was very dense and lasted more than 20 minutes.... it was like war against the church... Another church congregant added: "These terrorists arranged the attack of the church with precision. They knew everything about the church and the time of the ending the mass... One of them was wearing [a] suicide vest under his clothes and tried to enter the church while the worshippers were leaving the church to explode himself and kill many of them... but the police managed to shoot him and prevent him from storming the church."
Separately, a young Christian boy was randomly targeted for torture, mutilation, and murder by three Muslim men, in part "to intimidate Copts ahead of Christmas," said his pastor. More than a week after he disappeared, the body of 14-year-old Ishak (Isaac) Nashaat Birwan was found in a canal on December 20. Based on the post-mortem, Samir Fekry, the slain's cousin, said "Ishak's body had facial deformities, it had no eyes and there were signs of torture on different parts of his body." The family eventually learned from local sources that three men had asked the young teen for a lift on December 9: "Ishak then disappeared and there was no word from him. We tried to call him many times but his mobile phone was turned off. We searched for him everywhere in our village and the villages nearby, but we couldn't find him." Although the family had gone to police on the same day the youth disappeared, "none of them did anything to help us investigate the matter," added Samir. "Ishak had no enemies ... After kidnapping him, none of the kidnappers contacted us demanding any ransom for his return. So why was he killed? Was it because he is a Christian?"
The church's pastor, Rev. Adel Rafaat, had no doubts: "Ishak was targeted and killed because of his faith, because he is Christian. They wanted to spoil the joy of our coming Christmas. Extremists chose a young man from our village specifically because our village is a big Christian village and their aim was to turn Christmas joy of the villagers to sadness."
Rev. Rafaat added that "Ishak was a very good young man" who "was loved by all of us and he loved everybody. He always had a smile."
Also separately, on December 22, after Friday prayers, a mob consisting of hundreds of Muslims chanting hostile Islamic slogans stormed a church in Giza. According to the report"
The incident itself was sparked by the circulation of a rumor within the village's Muslim population that church officials were installing a bell. This led to villagers with extremist views to incite the village's Muslims to attack the church.... The mob smashed chairs, destroyed much of the church's interior contents, and assaulted Christians who were present, before security forces were able to step in.... [T]he church was established in 2002 after an agreement between the village's Muslim and Christian populations, on the condition that it would be a small building for prayer, without a crucifix on display, not a dome, a bell, or a beacon....
According to the well-known Conditions of Omar, which are believed to have been promulgated by the second caliph of the same name, churches may not have bells or visible crosses. Discussing this incident, the Associated Press wrote: "The church ... is yet to be sanctioned by the state but has been observing prayers for 15 years. The diocese said it had officially sought to legalize the building's status... Local authorities often refuse to give building permits for new churches, fearing protests by Muslim conservatives. That has prompted Christians to illegally build churches or set up churches in other buildings. In contrast, building a mosque results in few restrictions."
Although security arrested 14 Muslims—both to portray the incident as a "sectarian clash" and to pressure Christians to "reconcile" with their persecutors — authorities, as usual, also arrested three Christians who fought back the Muslims.
Some of these attacks are thought to have been incited by the Islamic State. On December 4, it issued the following message through its satellite affiliates: Oh you Muslims in Egypt, the Christians have been insolent toward you. They cursed our prophet and called each other to fight you, and you are sitting! Oh you, have you forgotten who you are? Do you not know that you are their masters and they are the ones [who should be] humbled and subdued? [a reference to Koran 9:29]. By Allah... if you do not rise up [against them] Allah will increase your humility. So go forth, oh worshippers of Allah, blow up their churches and monasteries, kill their priests and monks, do not show mercy toward any Christian for they are all belligerent toward Allah's religion. 'They will never approve of you until you follow their religion.' [Koran 2:120] So blood for blood, killing for killing. Revive the raids of heroes in Abbasiyah, Tanta and Alexandria [references to earlier Coptic church bombings that left about a hundred worshippers dead] until they know who the Muslims are.
In a different incident, and despite conflicting initial reports, the motive behind a 19-year-old Muslim man's public slaughter of a Christian priest was confirmed on December 3: the man had been looking for "any priest" to kill. He came upon his victim, Samaan Shehata — whom the murderer repeatedly struck with a cleaver on the head, neck, and torso — in the streets of Cairo on October 12. Discussing this incident, Coptic Bishop Angaelos of the United Kingdom, said: "Another day in Egypt with another Coptic Christian murdered. Why should a priest not be able to walk safely down a street?... Coptic Christians, who have endured injustice, persecution, and loss of life for centuries without retaliation, repeatedly forgiving unconditionally, deserve to live with respect and dignity in their indigenous homeland."
Another report that appeared in December notes that, since December 2016, Egypt's Christian minority has been targeted by Islamic militants in a series of attacks—including the suicide bombings of two churches on Palm Sunday and another during the previous Christmas season—that have left at least 115 dead and hundreds wounded.
Christian Carnage in Pakistan
On Sunday, December 17, two Islamic suicide bombers attacked a Methodist church in Quetta during church service; at least nine worshippers were killed and 50 injured, some critically, from the blast. Stationed police managed to shoot and kill one of the attackers outside the building, though the second was able reach the main entrance of the church and detonate himself. Because the attack occurred so close to Christmas, nearly double the amount of congregants that usually attend were present, making it ripe for a suicide attack. According to an official, "if the terrorists had succeeded in their plans more than 400 precious lives would have been at stake." One man, who was shot in his right arm, said he heard a blast during the service and heavy gunfire: "It was chaos. Bullets were hitting people inside the closed hall." Video footage shows blood-splattered floors, destroyed pews and musical instruments.
Earlier, on Sunday, December 3, Islamic terrorists hurled a hand grenade at the gates of a Christian neighborhood. Three Christians — including a 7-year-old boy — were killed in the explosion. Others, including another child, were injured and homes damaged. A human rights activist said, "the attack on Christians was simply because of the pariah status they have in Pakistan.... A consequence of years of hate ideology having been inculcated in the minds of young people in Pakistan, through the use of media and a national curriculum that demonizes minorities." He also accused the state media of deliberately suppressing the incident for the same reason—that Christian lives are un-newsworthy.
Another also Christian died in prison.
He is the sixth Christian to die under mysterious circumstances while in captivity since 2009. Although his brother, who had visited the prisoner five days before his death, had described him as "perfectly healthy," authorities claimed that the 29-year-old Usman Shaukat died of a "heart attack" on December 9. According to one report, however, the deceased's "body was littered with bruises and welts, creating suspicion around the reasons behind his death." A Christian activist acquainted with the case said: "Negligence and violence has led to the death of a man believed to be totally innocent by the Christian community." He was one of hundreds of Christians tried — and severely tortured — over the lynching of two Muslims involved in the simultaneous suicide attacks on two packed churches in Lahore in 2015 that left many dead and wounded. Earlier Usman and other Christian prisoners rejected a pardon offer on condition that they convert to Islam.
Christian Carnage in Nigeria
Two days before Christmas, a gunman invaded a Christian village as its residents were singing Christmas carols and opened fire; four revelers were killed and up to ten others wounded. The murderer is believed to have been one of the Muslim Fulani herdsmen, who Christian leaders in Nigeria say are waging a jihad against Christians. According to the local pastor, the attack occurred during "an interdenominational carol that comes every Christmas with Bible quiz, drama, songs and preaching." Local authorities issued a statement adding, "We have once again come under unprovoked and gruesome attack two days before Christmas. This has left us wondering why people who had gathered peacefully for joyful Christmas carols in their village should be gunned down for no reasons."
More generally, and in what many are describing as a concerted genocide against Christians, Muslim Fulani herdsmen slaughtered more than 100 Christians just in the month of December. Among other atrocities, according to a report, the Muslim "herdsmen raped and killed a pregnant woman on her farm," When her husband and brother tried to intervene, they too were slaughtered. Fulani raids have led to the slaughter of "an estimated 60,000 people since 2001 in Nigeria alone."
Nigeria's government, when not responding with apathy, appears also to be participating in these ongoing raids on Christians. The report noted that one of the December "attack[s] razed several villages in the southern part of the state, and a military jet bombed a Lutheran church and other targets... Some people suspect the jets were deployed in collaboration with the terrorists because their bombs hit villagers." Femi Fani-Kayode, former Minister of Aviation, was even more direct in his accusation against Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari: "Hundreds of indigenous Numan Christians in Adamawa state were attacked and killed by jihadist Fulani herdsmen. When they tried to defend themselves the Buhari govt. sent in the Airforce to bomb hundreds of them and protect the Fulani aggressors. 'Is this fair? WORLD TAKE NOTE!' he tweeted."
Muslim Threats and Attempts against the West During Christmas
In the days leading up to Christmas, as people were "getting into the Christmas spirit with lights and trees being put up in many parts of the world," explains a report, ISIS supporters shared "a propaganda image, in which the group threatens to attack NYC at Christmas time." Santa Claus appeared on the roof of a building overlooking Times Square; next to him was a box of dynamite. The caption on the poster read: "We meet at Christmas in New York... soon." Other posters depicted crowds of revelers at Christmas markets in France, Germany, and the UK, with captions written in their respective languages, saying, "Soon on your holidays." Another poster showed a jihadi holding a rocket launcher and overlooking Saint Peter's Square in the Vatican. As there have been several jihadi strikes around Christmas time in the West, including the Christmas market attack in Berlin, 2016 — various nations went into high security alert.
In the United States of America, on December 11, 27-year-old Akayed Ullah, a Muslim immigrant from Bangladesh and Islamic State sympathizer, partially detonated a pipe bomb during rush hour in a crowded New York City subway. Four people and he were injured in the failed terrorist attempt. According to one report, Ullah "chose to bomb one of New York City's busiest subway corridors because of its Christmas-themed posters," and in emulation of previous terror "strikes in Europe against Christmas markets." Had the low-tech bomb detonated properly, officials said, many could have been killed.
In Germany, a "600-year-old school in Germany has ditched Christmas celebrations during class time after a Muslim pupil said that carols were incompatible with Islam," stated a report. As a result, the headmaster said the school would henceforth take "a sensitive approach" to the festive season, including by postponing and making voluntary its annual Christmas party, in which everyone had traditionally participated. The headmaster also explained that music lessons at the school would no longer incorporate songs with Christian themes or lyrics in order to "show consideration to pupils from minority faiths." Bianca Schöneich, a local authority, agreed with these decisions, adding that "religious content in schools should be done in moderation," and that "a Christmas party should not have the character of a church service." Others, including Auxiliary Bishop Nikolaus Schwerdtfeger rejected this "overly sensitive approach". "The fact that a school Christmas party cannot take place during class time, I find a pity and also a bit absurd," he said. One student similarly wondered why "Something that was never a problem before is now being made into one."
The Johanneum Gymnasium in Lüneburg, a 600-year-old high school, "ditched Christmas celebrations during class time after a Muslim pupil said that carols were incompatible with Islam," according to a report. (Image source: Stonecello/Wikimedia Commons)
Finally, there would likely have been even more attacks in around the Muslim world if not for the implementation of unprecedented security measures. Reuters reported in an article entitled, "Armed guards posted at Christmas church services in majority Muslim countries," that "Christmas church services and other celebrations are being held this weekend under the gaze of armed guards and security cameras in many countries..." In "Indonesia, the world's biggest Muslim-majority country, police said they had stepped up security around churches and tourist sites, mindful of near-simultaneous attacks on churches there at Christmas in 2000 that killed about 20 people." In Pakistan, "where an Easter Day bombing in a park last year killed more than 70 people," police "said every church would be monitored with CCTV cameras as part of security measures."
Muslim Attacks on Christian Freedom
Indonesia: On December 8, members of the nation's second largest Islamic organization, "Muhammadiyah," filed a police complaint accusing a Protestant pastor, Reverend Abraham Ben Moses, 52, of committing blasphemy against Islam's prophet Muhammad. According to the report: "It is the first time a Christian cleric has been accused of blasphemy in the predominantly Muslim country.... [He] was arrested after a video featuring a conversation involving him and a taxi driver went viral on social media. In the video, Rev. Moses is heard quoting the Quran on marriage and claiming that the Prophet Muhammad was inconsistent with his teachings. He is also heard asking the taxi driver to convert to Christianity."
Moses was subsequently sentenced to four years in prison.
Uganda: An apostate from Islam who has been persecuted by local Muslims since he converted to Christianity more than two years ago—they took his wife and three young children from him—was beaten unconscious. Mulangira Ibrahim, 27, was walking toward his pastor's home when an unknown person called him and said the pastor wanted to meet him behind the church. Ibrahim recalled:
"On my way to the church premise, four people stopped me and then got hold of me and started threatening me that if I do not recant Christianity and return to Islam, then they were going to kill me. I did not answer them, and one began slapping me, while another hit me with a blunt object. As I started screaming for help, I received more blows and from there I lost my consciousness."
He awoke to find his pastor, several church members, and police standing over him. "Ibrahim suffered backache, head and leg injuries, and we found him in a pool of blood," said his pastor. "The attack was so severe that it will take more than a month for Ibrahim to recover from the multiple injuries."
Algeria: Police arrested three Christians for being "in possession of Christian literature, and took them to the police station where they were investigated at length by the national gendarmerie," a report says.
"A local newspaper, known for its hostility to Christians, described the incident as a 'foiled evangelism attempt,' falsely accusing the Christians of working under the cover of humanitarian activities and of alluring young Muslims to convert by means of financial and travel inducements. The three believers were released but may face charges of proselytism."
Iran: On December 12, authorities disrupted a house church gathering; they arrested four Christian men and took them to an unknown location. According to a human rights activist acquainted with the case, the four likely endured "a period of interrogation at this stage. Usually, they'll be called upon to giveaway more information on other house churches and other Christian leaders. So it's a difficult time." He continued:
A great many Iranians have been coming to Christ and it's something which the authorities are clearly very unhappy about. So there are periodic arrests, detentions, [and] imprisonments. There have been a lot of charges lately which are suggesting an even greater clampdown—sentences of 10-15 years in some cases for Christians. And usually, the authorities will suggest that this [is] the result of undermining the state or seeking to collaborate against the state and will use more political charges than say apostasy or blasphemy laws.
Mali: The situation for Christians continues to deteriorate. According to one report, "Despite a 2015 peace deal with the government, self-proclaimed jihadist armed groups continue to pose a threat to Christians and other minority groups..." One Christian man, Sory, said:
"I started to face serious problems when the Islamists heard about me and the conversion of some of the people [from Islam to Christianity]. They sent me warnings through friends, telling me to stop talking about Jesus or risk getting killed. They said they knew it was easy to kill Christians because [Christians] don't have any weapons. They can simply be slaughtered."
Not long after that, the jihadis launched a nearby raid and killed one security officer. "Neighbours warned me that they were also looking for me. I did not waste a moment, but fled immediately." Because he did not even wait to put on his shoes, "I was in so much pain [from thorns in his feet] that I couldn't walk any further. In the end, I tore some fabric from my trousers and tied that around my feet to continue going." He eventually returned to find his wife and children, who had taken refuge with neighbors. "They were badly traumatised by the incident. One of my daughters still struggles to forget what happened and whenever she hears a vehicle outside the house, she flees indoors and clings to us."
*Raymond Ibrahim, author of the new book, Sword and Scimitar, Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West, is a Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute and a Judith Rosen Friedman Fellow at the Middle East Forum
About this Series
While not all, or even most, Muslims are involved, persecution of Christians by Muslim extremists is growing. The report posits that such Muslim persecution is not random but rather systematic, and takes place irrespective of language, ethnicity, or location.
© 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.

What really happened behind closed doors at the US-Russia summit?
Raghida Dergham/The National/July 22/2018
They reached accords, drew roadmaps and put forward mechanisms for co-operation, even as they donned fencing gear, before they went for their secretive solitary meeting to avoid unwanted disclosure and potential accountability. However, the ex-businessman Donald Trump embarrassed the office he represents in the presence of the ex-KGB officer Vladimir Putin. That was his first mistake. But the almost unforgivable sin for the majority of Americans came when he failed to defend US judicial and intelligence institutions while standing beside the Russian president, after refusing to confront him over Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Instead, Mr Trump chose to chip away at the credibility of the US investigation into the meddling, which had hours earlier issued indictments against 12 Russian operatives for their role in disrupting the democratic process.
The storm of controversy forced him to issue a non-apology apology, during which Mr Trump said he “misspoke” and claimed he meant the opposite when he said he didn’t see why Russia would have interfered in the 2016 US election.
In truth, Mr Trump sees the allegation as undermining his election victory and believes his base’s support for him is unwavering, no matter what happens. Mr Trump in reality does not regret his actions in Helsinki, whether in the closed room or at the conference, the proof being his plans to go ahead with inviting Mr Putin to the White House, even if Congress refuses to welcome him. Some kind of deal was reached between the two men but the details are known only to them, much to the chagrin of the US intelligence and political establishment.
What did Mr Trump give Mr Putin? Did he enlist him in his grand strategy or did he agree with him on strategic accords and deals from China to Syria, marking a real shift in US-Russian relations, away from rivalry and closer to alliance? If so, where would that leave the US’s traditional allies, especially in Nato? And what would be the implications for our region, especially if the supposed deal was a grand bargain for sharing influence and the mutual guaranteeing of interests? The biggest winner from the summit is Israel, whose prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu obtained a public commitment from both leaders for Israeli security, especially through Syria’s gateway.
This week Mr Netanyahu summed up Israel’s current position when he said that this was “a pivotal moment in the annals of Zionism and the State of Israel”, in reference to the Knesset’s passage of the new Jewish State law. The law states that Israel is the national state of the Jewish people and that the right to self-determination there only applies to Jews. The international silence to this radical shift in the history and identity of Israel, with the exception of some passing condemnations, is tantamount to endorsing the racism of a state that has long marketed itself as an exceptional democracy.
In truth, this law might be the first step towards ethnically cleansing Israel of its 1.5 million Palestinian citizens. The law upgrades Jewish citizens to a special status while demoting Palestinians to second-class citizens. Neither Russia nor the US has expressed reservations. The Europeans and even world media have fallen for this moral hypocrisy. As for the Arab world, helplessness and passivity has often been its trait, to the point that their interest in what was once called the Palestinian issue has reached historic lows.
The “pivotal moment”, however, comes on the heels of a US-Russian presidential pledge towards Israel’s priorities. Furthermore, the new law, which anoints a “unified Jerusalem” as the capital of Israel, comes just weeks after Mr Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
What matters is that the “deal of the century” prepared by Mr Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner includes plans to make Gaza the basis of the Palestinian state, combined with cantons in the West Bank. That plan has effectively led to the besieging of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who refused to negotiate the plan and has empowered Hamas, which is negotiating with Israel under the table.
The fact of the matter is that it is not the Arab world or international policies that are responsible for the situation in Palestine. Palestinian leaders and their divisions have also done their part. This does not invalidate the role of international parties, led by Russia, once a friend of the Palestinians in the Soviet era but which today rivals the US when it comes to appeasing Israeli priorities in Palestine as in Syria.
All indications suggest that the Israeli question therefore had the priority in the accords between Mr Trump and Mr Putin.
Mr Trump did not utter the name of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad during the press conference with Mr Putin, nor make demands regarding political transition or other issues. The conclusion one can draw here is clear: Mr Putin was able to convince Mr Trump to silently consent to Mr Al Assad remaining in power indefinitely because he is an important element in the strategy of weakening Iran in Syria.
Logically speaking, since the accords appear to have endorsed Israel’s security interests in Syria and Mr Al Assad’s survival with US-Russian-Israeli blessing, Mr Trump must have obtained Russian concessions regarding his Iran agenda. Most likely, Mr Putin has agreed to downgrade the relationship with Tehran from an alliance to a friendship, where he can advise, pressure and flex his muscles if needed. The goal, as Mr Trump said in the press conference, is to prevent Iran from benefiting from the anti-ISIS campaign by dominating the areas recovered from the militant group. This would prevent Iran from implementing its project to expand via Syria as part of the Iranian crescent project, linking Iran to Lebanon via Iraq and Syria.
Containing Iran’s regional ambitions seems to have been approved by Russia in return for the US agreeing not to jump into a major confrontation or attempt at regime change in Iran. In other words, Mr Putin would help manage Iranian presence in Syria while working to achieve its gradual withdrawal while Mr Trump would agree to a gradual strategy of partnership with Russia on issues covering everything from oil to grand strategy, including the question of China.
Indeed, Mr Trump suggested China was part of the discussions prior to the meeting with Mr Putin. Perhaps Mr Trump is convinced now of the view held by a faction in the administration that believes US strategic interest lies in a radical shift in relations with Russia, from a foe to an ally, because the real main long-term foe is China, as they see it. This faction has in its ranks Steve Bannon and perhaps this explains the fact that John Bolton and Mike Pompeo have taken a backseat with regard to Mr Trump’s workings in Helsinki.
What did Mr Trump and Mr Putin do during their closed meeting in Finland? Did Mr Putin really devour Mr Trump, or did the latter head to the Finnish capital with a clear plan that he has now enlisted Mr Putin into?
We will not know the answer for sure but history will reveal one day whether there was collusion, or a grand bargain.

Leaked messages point to big Qatari ransom payouts to terrorist groups
Mohammed Alkhereiji/The Arab Weekly/July 22/18
LONDON - Private correspondence between top Qatari officials indicates that Qatar paid more than $1 billion to terror groups to release 26 people kidnapped in Iraq. The ransom amount is likely to be the highest ever paid to terrorist groups.
Text and voice messages obtained by the BBC purportedly show Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim al-Thani and Qatari Ambassador to Iraq Zayed al-Khayareen engaged in drawn-out negotiations involving large sums of money with designated terror groups to secure the release of prominent Qatari hostages. The hostages, including members of the Qatari royal family, were kidnapped by Kata’ib Hezbollah, an Iraqi Shia paramilitary group supported by Iran, during a falconry excursion in southern Iraq in December 2015.
The messages suggest Qatar paid more than $1 billion, plus $150 million in kickbacks, to various terror groups to have the hostages released. The recipients of the payments included Kata’ib Hezbollah, Lebanese pro-Iranian Hezbollah militia and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a renamed al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, as well as individuals acting as mediators. It was also revealed that Qatar helped facilitate a deadly “four-towns deal” in Syria, mediated by Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, who was a central player in the hostage negotiations. That arrangement saw thousands of Syrian citizens forcibly uprooted and resettled as part of an Iranian plan to shift the country’s demographics.
The ransom deal, and Qatar’s suspicious dealings with Soleimani, widened the rift between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, analysts said.
“The payment of the largest ransom sum to terrorist groups took place about a month and a half before Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt severed their ties with Qatar,” wrote Saudi commentator Salman al-Dossary in Asharq Al-Awsat. “The ransom deal could have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.” “Members of the Saudi-led quartet have waited for too long and tried to change the behaviour of Qatar but to no avail. Blatantly financing terrorist groups, however, sent a clear message to the four countries that Qatar will not end its destructive behaviour,” he wrote.
Qatar has denied funding extremist groups and said the presumed hostage payments were made to the Iraqi state but the BBC report contradicts that stance.
In one leaked message, Khayareen points out specific terror groups that expected payment: “The Syrian, Hezbollah Lebanon and Kata’ib Hezbollah Iraq all want money and this is their chance,” the ambassador texted the foreign minister.
“Soleimani met with the kidnappers yesterday and pressured them to take the $1b[illion],” the ambassador said in another message. “They didn’t respond because of their financial condition… Soleimani will go back.”
In addition to detailing recent ransom payments, the leaked recordings hint at a longstanding pattern of Qatari support for terror.
In one voicemail for a Kata’ib Hezbollah leader, Khayareen references a payment to the terror group signed off by the country’s former emir: “You should trust Qatar, you know what Qatar did, what His Highness the Emir’s father did,” Khayareen said. “He did many things, this and that, and paid 50 million and provided infrastructure for the south.”