July 29/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations
Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless
James01/19-27: "My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."
Titles For The Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on July 28-29/18
Lebanese Christian Politicians Ignore Every Thing That Is Christian/Elias Bejjani/July 28/18
Fate of Cabinet formula hinges on Bassil/Hussein Dakroub/The Daily Star/July 28/18
Turkey, US relations can be saved, presidential spokesman says/Arab News/July 28/18
Iran’s Saviz “cargo” ship set up Red Sea attack on Saudi tankers/DEBKAfile/July 28/18
Australia: A Model for Curbing Immigration/Giulio Meotti/Gatestone Institute/July 28/2018
Analysis/Instead of Crafting a Strategy on Iran, Trump Plays With the Lion's Tail/Zvi Bar'el/Haaretz/July 28/18
Iran’s regime will do anything to survive/Camelia Entekhabifard/Arab News/July 28/18

Titles For The Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on July 28-29/18
Lebanese Christian Politicians Ignore Every Thing That Is Christian
Mamlouk Likely to Become Part of Joint Refugee Return Committee
Aoun hopes U.N. will back Russian plan
Aoun calls on UN to support Russia's refugee initiative
Lebanese president honours Qatar envoy
Fate of Cabinet formula hinges on Bassil
Arsal Recovers a Year After Battle to Oust Terrorist Groups
Trump 'Extends Lebanon Sanctions Because of Hizbullah'
900 Syrian Refugees in Shebaa Prepare to Return Home
Jumblat Condemns Attack at Druze-Majority Syria Province, Lashes Out at Russia
Bukhari: Lebanon's stability will always remain a priority
Claudine Aoun partakes in campaign to collect 'empty bullet shells' in Aqoura, calls for implementing sound environmental policy
Hasbani: Initiating presidential battle from today impedes current mandate
Raad for resuming warm relations with Syria to solve many problems, opening doors for Lebanese contribution to Syrian reconstruction
Okais: If we agree to 4 ministries to facilitate cabinet formation, we demand Deputy PM Seat or main, sovereign ministerial portfolio
Reception marking Chinese Liberation Army's 91st founding anniversary
Syrian refugees mount their buses in preparation for heading back to Syria
Ibrahim from Shebaa: Upcoming period will witness the return of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees to their homeland
Inauguration of Michel Aoun Street in Akkar
U.S. Probes Web of Businesses for Ties to Alleged Hezbollah Supporters
Titles For The Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on July 28-29/18
Kurds Eye Decentralized Syria in Talks with Government
Turkey, US relations can be saved, presidential spokesman says
Trump and Putin Raise Possibilities of another Meeting
'Blood Moon' Dazzles Skygazers in Century's Longest Eclipse
Gaza Teen Dies of Wounds from Israeli Border Fire
Russia at UN Makes Case for Syria Reconstruction Aid
Iran’s Saviz “cargo” ship set up Red Sea attack on Saudi tankers
Khamenei-linked cleric to head German Islamic centre
Egypt: 75 Muslim Brotherhood Death Sentences Referred to Mufti
ISIS Spreads Influence through Libyan Mosques
Libya: Concerns over Lack of Quorum to Pass Election Laws
Jordan Condemns Israeli Violations against Al-Aqsa
The Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on July 28-29/18
Lebanese Christian Politicians Ignore Every Thing That Is Christian/أصحاب شركات الأحزاب المسيحية اللبنانية وتجار الهيكل
Elias Bejjani/July 28/18
Practically speaking, the owners of the so falsely called Christian political parties in Lebanon are extremely detached and strayed from all Christian values. In their every day practices they are much worse than the scribes and Pharisees, and practise the derailed deeds of the evil merchants whom Jesus Christ condemned, reprimanded and expelled from the Temple.

Mamlouk Likely to Become Part of Joint Refugee Return Committee
Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday 28th July/ 2018/Lebanon will be faced with a predicament should Syrian national security chief Ali Mamlouk become part of a Russian-Lebanese-Syrian committee aimed at ensuring the return of Syrian refugees back to their homeland. Mamlouk is wanted by the Lebanese state for his involvement in the case of former Minister Michel Samaha, who was sentenced to 13 years with hard labor for plotting to assassinate anti-Syrian Lebanese lawmakers, politicians and clerics at Damascus’ bidding. The judiciary had accused Mamlouk and the manager of his office, a colonel known only by his first name Adnan, of conspiring with Samaha in 2012 to transport 25 explosives from Damascus to Beirut. The explosives were to be detonated at Ramadan banquets in northern Lebanon that were going to be attended by anti-Syria officials. “A warrant for Mamlouk’s arrest had been issued and he has been indicted on terrorist charges," a legal expert told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. “His entry into Lebanon requires the security agencies to arrest him based on the warrant. He should then be referred to the military court that is tasked with examining the criminal charges against him,” he went on to say. “Should the committee meetings be held in Syria, then Mamlouk cannot be arrested because the Lebanese state has no jurisdiction there,” added the legal expert.
Aoun hopes U.N. will back Russian plan
The Daily Star/July 28/18/BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun Friday voiced his hope that the United Nations would support the recent Russian initiative looking to set out a plan for Syrian refugees to return to their homeland. Among the topics discussed between Aoun and U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Pernille Dahler Kardel was Moscow’s charge to head a solution, which would potentially see more than 800,000 refugees return to Syria. “We hope that the Russian initiative to return Syrian refugees to their country will get the support of the U.N. in order to put an end to their suffering,” Aoun told Kardel.
The president reiterated his welcoming of Russia’s recent activity “because it secures the return of some 890,000 Syrian refugees from Lebanon to Syria.” Aoun informed Kardel that Lebanon would form a committee to coordinate with the Russians “to study the technical details concerning the mechanism of refugees’ return.”In return, Kardel assured Aoun of the U.N.’s commitment to cooperating with Lebanon to maintain the country’s security and stability and to keep it from being adversely affected by regional developments. After their meeting Kardel tweeted: “I had a very good meeting with #Lebanon President Michel Aoun this morning. We discussed the recent Security Council session on #Resolution1701 and international support for #Lebanon.” As for the Russian delegation that left Beirut for Turkey late Thursday evening, Lebanon will now wait for the “complete plan,” according to George Shaaban.
Shaaban, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’s adviser on Russian affairs, said the Russians would come back at a later time to discuss a finalized plan over the return of refugees. “They heard the Lebanese, Jordanian and Syrian feedback and they’re in Turkey today [Friday],” he told The Daily Star. He added that the Russians would now wait for the input of Europe and the United States. “They’ll then put together a complete plan and return [to Lebanon] to propose it,” Shaaban said, adding that there is no timeline for this. Separately, Speaker Nabih Berri hailed Russia’s moves as “important” in solving the Syrian crisis. Also Friday, Aoun met with French Ambassador to Lebanon Bruno Foucher where the two discussed Russia’s ideas. Foucher discussed the issue with General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim as well. This meeting came after Ibrahim reviewed the Syrian refugee crisis with Damascus’ envoy to Beirut. A source previously told The Daily Star that Ibrahim will “be the main component of a committee” between Russia and Lebanon’s General Security. Among those saluting Russia’s mediation in the refugee crisis was Kataeb MP Sami Gemayel. “[We] hope the Lebanese government will benefit from [the initiative] and to present a unified, clear Lebanese stance for a solution in the higher interests of Lebanon,” a statement from Gemayel’s office said. He also called for this solution to remain distant from personal or foreign interests “which do not serve Lebanon or its stability.”A high-level Russian diplomatic and military delegation met Thursday with Lebanese officials to discuss the Russian initiative. This came after Aoun and Hariri agreed on a unified position regarding the refugee returns.

Aoun calls on UN to support Russia's refugee initiative
The Daily Star/July 28/18/BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun asked the United Nations for its support for Russia’s proposal to facilitate the return of Syrian refugees, during a meeting held Friday with U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Pernille Dahler Kardel at Baabda Palace.
"We hope that the Russian initiative to return the Syrian refugees to their country will receive the support of the United Nations, to put an end to [the refugees’] suffering," Aoun told Kardel, according to a tweet from the presidency’s account.
Lebanon will also form a committee to coordinate with Russia to study the technical details of the return mechanism, he added. "We welcomed the Russian initiative because we believe in the return of 890,000 Syrian refugees from Lebanon to Syria," a separate tweet said.
In return, Kardel expressed the U.N.'s commitment to cooperating with Lebanon to maintain the country's security and stability and to keep it from being adversely affected by regional developments.

Lebanese president honours Qatar envoy
Gulf Times/July 28/18/Lebanese President Michel Aoun met with the ambassador of Qatar to Lebanon, Ali bin Hamad al-Marri, on the occasion of the end his term of office in Beirut on Friday. The Lebanese president presented the ambassador with the National Decoration of the Cedar, Grade of Great Officer, which is the highest award granted by the country to personalities other than presidents. President Aoun praised the role played by ambassador al-Marri to develop relations and co-operation between the two countries during his term of office and wished him success in his new duties. For his part, ambassador al-Marri thanked the Lebanese president and his government for their support for the performance of his duties during his tenure.

Fate of Cabinet formula hinges on Bassil

Hussein Dakroub/The Daily Star/July 28/18
BEIRUT: Emboldened by his fresh accord with President Michel Aoun on a formula for the distribution of Cabinet shares among the country’s key blocs, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri is waiting to see caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, whose support was perceived vital for the success of any Cabinet lineup, before holding another meeting with Aoun, political sources said Friday. “Bassil’s nod to the Cabinet formula approved by Aoun and Hariri holds the key to breaking the two-month government deadlock,” a political source familiar with the government formation process told The Daily Star. “In addition to meeting with Bassil, Hariri is also set to hold talks with Lebanese Forces officials to get their endorsement of the proposed Cabinet formula before holding another meeting with Aoun over the weekend,” the source said.
Bassil, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, returned to Beirut Friday from a few days’ visit to Washington after attending a conference on religious freedom and meeting with U.S. officials. He is at the center of a bitter struggle between the FPM and the Lebanese Forces over Cabinet shares for the Christian community. Bassil heads the FPM’s parliamentary Strong Lebanon bloc which comprises 29 lawmakers including allies, making it the largest bloc in the newly elected Parliament. Local media outlets said Friday that during Aoun and Hariri’s meeting at Baabda Palace Wednesday, the president gave his approval of Hariri’s proposal to allocate four ministerial portfolios, excluding any sovereign ministry, to the LF, and assign the three ministries reserved for the Druze sect in a 30-member Cabinet to former MP Walid Joumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party.
One of the three ministers representing the Druze sect will have to be endorsed by both Joumblatt and his Druze rival, MP Talal Arslan, who is an ally of the FPM, MTV reported.
In the face of Joumblatt’s insistence on naming the Druze three ministers, Bassil and other FPM lawmakers have supported Arslan’s request to be named a minister in the new government.
Hariri’s proposal was aimed at resolving the problems of Christian and Druze representation, the two major hurdles blocking the formation of a new government.
A source at Baabda Palace had told The Daily Star that the proposed Cabinet formula would allocate 10 ministries, including two sovereign portfolios, to the FPM and Aoun’s share.Falling short of a draft Cabinet lineup, the formula agreed upon by Aoun and Hariri distributes Cabinet shares among the key blocs, but avoids assigning portfolios or naming potential ministers.
During their meeting at Baabda Palace Thursday, after holding talks with a Russian delegation on a Russian proposal for the return of Syrian refugees, Aoun, Speaker Nabih Berri and Hariri agreed on the need to accelerate the government formation process and agreed that Hariri should intensify his meetings during the next 48 hours.
LF chief Samir Geagea said Thursday that his party maintained its right to appoint at least five ministers, and that the FPM, including the president’s share, should have eight.
Caretaker Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Ghassan Hasbani, one of three LF ministers in Hariri’s outgoing Cabinet, defended the LF’s demand for a significant Cabinet share based on the results of the May 6 parliamentary elections, when the party boosted its representation from eight to 15 MPs. He rejected accusations that the LF was delaying the process by raising its demand for representation. “We must not forget that the [new] government will be a national partnership government that must represent the aspirations of the Lebanese people. What the people are aspiring for, they have put it in the ballot boxes in the parliamentary elections,” Hasbani told reporters after meeting with Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai at the religious leader’s seat in Bkirki.
“On this basis, we must take into account what the people want and what they put in the ballot boxes in order to form a government that represents the aspirations of everyone and also represents all components with their real [parliamentary] sizes that resulted from the elections,” he added. Asked to comment on the LF’s demand for five ministers, Hasbani said: “The LF has presented its proposals in a very clear manner for participation in this government.
“Today, we are making our demand based on the principle of actual partnership rather than the principle of sharing [of spoils].”
But Bassil has shown no signs of softening his opposition to the LF’s demands. LF ministers and lawmakers have blamed Bassil for the delay in the government formation, accusing him of seeking to prevent the LF from obtaining a Cabinet share proportionate to its parliamentary size. The LF’s demand for key portfolios, including the position of the deputy prime minister, has been rejected by Aoun and Bassil.
Caretaker Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk blamed the early opening of the “presidential battle” between the FPM and LF leaders for the Cabinet stalemate.
“The Free Patriotic Movement speaks of [political] power every day. What power? I think the primary reason for the delay in the Cabinet formation is the presidential battle that was opened early,” Machnouk said in an interview published Friday in the Saudi newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, implicitly blaming Bassil.
“The ambitions of political inheritance or presidential ambitions have plunged the country into a tug of war and [raised] questions that no one has the answers to. Therefore, we are in a vicious circle,” he said.
Bassil, the son-in-law of Aoun, the FPM’s founder, has inherited Aoun’s leadership of the party. Bassil has not concealed his ambitions to succeed Aoun at the end of his six-year term in 2022. Geagea, a long-standing presidential aspirant, was previously a candidate for the presidency before he pulled out of the 2016 race and endorsed Aoun after the FPM and LF signed the 2016 Maarab understanding.
Two newly elected members of Parliament made a contradictory assessment of the Cabinet crisis. MP Dima Jamali, a member of Hariri’s parliamentary Future bloc, sounded optimistic about the formation of the government soon. “The government will be formed soon. The [political] atmosphere is positive,” Jamali told the Voice of Lebanon radio station. She said she expected the new government to include five women, including one from the Future Movement. Jamali, an MP for the northern city of Tripoli, called for the formation of “a government whose priorities would be to find solutions to the economic and social problems.” But MP Mohammad Nasrallah from Berri’s parliamentary Development and Liberation bloc was skeptical about an early breakthrough in the Cabinet standoff. “Cabinet consultations are at a standstill. There is no progress or retreat. The obstacles still exist and everyone knows where they are without any signs of a solution in the offing,” Nasrallah told the Central News Agency. He said that the delay in the government’s formation stemmed largely from the fact that each side was placing “representation criteria according to its benefit.” “Once we unify these criteria, the government’s birth will become imminent and easy,” he said.
Arsal Recovers a Year After Battle to Oust Terrorist Groups
Beirut - Paula Astih/Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 28 July, 2018/Bus drivers sit together in Jroud Arsal, near Syria-Lebanon border, August 13, 2017. The Lebanese town of Arsal, located on the eastern border with Syria, has never experienced a more difficult phase than the one that it has witnessed in the past seven years, as confirmed by its residents. The series of rapid events that began with the hosting of about 120 thousand displaced Syrians since 2011, the stance in favor of the Syrian opposition accompanied by logistical support at certain times, in addition to the abduction of a number of Lebanese soldiers in the summer of 2014 by ISIS and Al-Nusra Front, have all exhausted the town and its inhabitants and made them look forward to return to the calm and tranquility they enjoyed before the outbreak of the crisis in Syria. A year after the battle carried out by the Lebanese Army in the eastern border area to end the presence of extremist organizations, whose elements have been kidnapping young men from Arsal and terrorizing the population, the town is trying to recover and rearrange its papers to serve the interests of its people. Arsal residents are optimistic about the return of the first batch of displaced Syrians to their villages in the region of Qalamoun, hoping that such move would reduce social and economic burdens and would limit the competition on employment opportunities, although there are those who consider that the departure of all Syrians would negatively affect the economy. The son of Arsal, Future Movement MP Bakr al-Hujairi, described the phase since 2011 as the most difficult of all, pointing out that regional forces “considered that our town is located at an inappropriate geographical point and its people must be forced to leave.” Al-Hujairi did not deny that Arsal supported Syrian opposition fighters as a “revolutionary movement” in Syria and formed a “rear base” for the opponents of the Syrian regime, and specifically for those who were fighting in Syrian areas bordering Lebanon. “But when rebel opposition groups have turned into gangs that attack the safe population of our town, our actions have changed completely,” he said. He noted that as Russia took control over the Syrian areas bordering Lebanon, residents were somehow reassured and were currently seeking to solve Arsal’s problems, mainly the infrastructure and the sewage network. The majority of displaced Syrians still living in Arsal are eager to return to their neighboring towns and villages on the opposite side of the border. This is confirmed by Deputy Mayor of Arsal Rima Karnabi, who pointed out that the Lebanese residents were reassured with this fact. In contrast to the consensus of the majority of the people of Arsal that the return of displaced people to Syria would ease the economic and social burden on the town, a 45 year-old restaurant owner from the town said that the departure of the displaced would likely have negative repercussions on the economic cycle. He told Asharq Al-Awsat that the funds received by the displaced from the United Nations and many associations were currently being spent in the Lebanese town. “Moreover, tasks carried out by the Syrian workers in Lebanon are not carried out by the young Lebanese, in addition to the wages that will be doubled if works are carried out by local workers,” he added.
Trump 'Extends Lebanon Sanctions Because of Hizbullah'
Naharnet/July 28/18/US President Donald Trump has reportedly extended sanctions imposed on Lebanon since 2007 for another year, the White House announced on Saturday. The White House explained in a statement that Trump made the decision because “Iran continues to supply arms to Hizbullah.” In a letter to the US Congress, Trump said “Iran was supplying its allies in Lebanon with increasingly sophisticated weapons.”Washington says “these sanctions were imposed on those who undermine sovereignty and democracy in Lebanon, organize violence for political reasons and contribute to Syria's influence on Lebanese territory.”Under Executive Order 13441, Washington announced in 2007 that sanctions would be imposed on Lebanon as a result of “international threats posed by Hizbullah,” according to the United States. The latest sanctions imposed on Hizbullah by the United States and six Gulf states last May included party leaders, including Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. Hizbullah is fighting alongside the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad.

900 Syrian Refugees in Shebaa Prepare to Return Home
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/July 28/18/The National News Agency said on Saturday that some 900 Syrian refugees in the border towns of Shebaa and al-Arqoub have started preparing for their repatriation to neighbouring home country in Syria which will take place later on Saturday. Displaced men, women and children of all ages in Shebaa and the rest of the Arqoub villages have gathered early on Saturday in the courtyard of the town's public school, as they waited for Syrian buses provided by the Syrian government to take them to their hometowns, said NNA. The buses are expected to arrive through the Masnaa border crossing to Shebaa, it added. Security forces checked the identity papers of those about to make the journey back to Syria. General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim arrived to Shebaa on a surprise visit to supervise over the repatriation process, as he “lended a listening ear” to the refugees and their needs before they returned, said NNA. “The coming phase will witness the return of hundreds of thousands of refugees to their homes in coordinated efforts between Lebanon and the Russian initiative,” he said. “For our part, we always strive to facilitate a safe return for all, and we are working to resolve any problems they face with the Syrian authorities so that they return with all comfort and security,” he added. Seven years into Syria's war, Lebanon hosts around 1.5 million Syrian refugees, compared with a local population of 4.5 million. Over the past few months, more than 800 Syrians have left Lebanon in similar operations organised by the governments of Beirut and Damascus. Several thousand have also independently left in recent years. Syria's ally Russia has also put forward plans to the United States to cooperate for the safe return of refugees to Syria. Moscow has proposed the establishment of working groups in Lebanon and Jordan, to where many refugees have fled, a Russian defence ministry official said on Friday.

Jumblat Condemns Attack at Druze-Majority Syria Province, Lashes Out at Russia
Naharnet/July 28/18/Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat lashed out at Russia condemning a deadly Islamic State attack in the Druze-majority province of Sweida in Syria that killed more than 250 people. “We don't want the Druze to be sacrificed, nor do we accept that they pass on our dead bodies in Lebanon or in Syria, we are not Chechnya. This is my letter to my Russian friends,” said Druze leader Jumblat in remarks on Friday. The death toll in coordinated Islamic State group attacks in Syria's Sweida passed 250 on Thursday, the heaviest loss of life of the seven-year civil war. The PSP leader’s remarks came in the wake of a Russian initiative to return the Syrian refugees from Lebanon and Jordan back to Syria. A senior Russian delegation, led by special presidential envoy Alexander Lavrentiev, met at the Baabda Palace on Thursday with President Michel Aoun, Speaker Nabih Berri and Premier-designate Saad Hariri to discuss the plan. “A Russian messenger came to Lebanon yesterday. We want our relationship with Russia to ensure that the people of the mountain remain in the mountain and that Bashar Assad does not use them as fuel for his personal ends,” added Jumblat. Russia, Syria’s ally has put forward plans to the United States to cooperate for the safe return of refugees to Syria. Moscow has proposed the establishment of working groups in Lebanon and Jordan, to where many refugees have fled, a Russian defense ministry official said last week.
Bukhari: Lebanon's stability will always remain a priority
Sat 28 Jul 2018/NNA - Saudi Chargé d'Affaires in Beirut, Walid Al-Bukhari, stressed Saturday that Lebanon's stability has always been and will remain a priority. "The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia harbors a sole concern that Lebanon remains an independent, sovereign, free, secure and prosperous Arab country, and to continue marching towards being a pioneer, characterized by openness, creativity, culture, arts and media," said Al-Bukhari. The Saudi Diplomat's words came at the "Third Coffee Cup" Forum, entitled "Visual Media and Coexistence," held under the patronage of Caretaker Information Minister, Melhem Riachi, at "Beit Beirut" in Sodeco this afternoon. Al-Bukhari said that the Forum provides an opportunity for reviewing together "the joint responsibility of a number of heads of diplomatic missions and academic specialists in media affairs and the role of the visual media, in an effort to enhance the gains of coexistence and address all threats that aim at undermining our Arab nation and seek to divide us on the basis of races, ethnics and sects.""From within this architectural masterpiece, which Lebanon turned into a museum documenting the civil war, we inaugurate the 'Third Coffee Cup', stressing the importance of coexistence in Lebanon characterized by pluralism and sectarian diversity, freedom of opinion and expression, and we are thankful to all those who contributed to this initiative," Al-Bukhari concluded. In turn, Caretaker Minister Riachi addressed the attendees saying, "It is Beit Beirut, home of war and peace...If man knows that every war would end in peace, he would not resort to war as a means of communicating with his human brother...But unfortunately, we are going through situations of mental disorder that make us resort to war, perhaps because peace needs two, while one is enough for war!"
"The media shoulders a responsibility that must not be borne in most cases because its actual mission is to portray public well as to create public opinion, which is an honorable duty of the media, particularly mass media or visual media," Riachi explained. He deemed that the media, despite its shortcomings, cannot be held responsible for compromising coexistence in any way. "The Taef Accord, which we all agreed to, is what fosters coexistence, and visual media, as well as media in general, must address this guardianship from different approaches that protect freedom, which is one of the basic pillars of this nation," Riachi underlined. Among the prominent figures attending the "Third Coffee Cup" Forum this afternoon were: Caretaker State Minister for the Displaced Mouin el-Merehbi; Caretaker Culture Minister Ghattas al-Khoury; MP's Tarek el-Merehbi and Walid al-Baarini; Beirut Governor, Judge Ziad Shbib, and a number of Arab Ambassadors and Consuls and Lebanese media representatives.

Claudine Aoun partakes in campaign to collect 'empty bullet shells' in Aqoura, calls for implementing sound environmental policy
Sat 28 Jul 2018/NNA - Head of the National Commission for Lebanese Women (NCLW), Claudine Aoun Roukoz, participated Saturday in an environmental campaign aimed at collecting empty bullet shells left behind by hunters in the region of al-Aqoura. This campaign is in line with the voluntary campaign launched by the Commission in collaboration with the "Live Lebanon" UNDP Project and the "Live the Love of Lebanon" Association, to collect empty bullet shells that cause pollution of nature, groundwater and soil. The Goodwill Ambassador of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Saada Fakhri, and Aqoura's Municipality Head, Mansour Wehbeh, took part in the campaign along with representatives of the Fatal Group, volunteers and citizens from the region. In her word on the occasion, Aoun Roukoz said that the campaign "aims to contribute to the implementation of global trends that aspire to achieve the goals of sustainable development within 2020, including target 15, and to implement a sound environmental policy in Lebanon." She referred to the draft law submitted by the Commission to the Ministry of Environment, which aims to "compel hunters to collect depleted bullets in order to protect the environment against the damage they inflict." Aoun Roukoz hoped that "this law would be endorsed by the Parliament Council as soon as possible, to avoid further damages and environmental disasters in Lebanon."

Hasbani: Initiating presidential battle from today impedes current mandate
Sat 28 Jul 2018/NNA - Caretaker Deputy Prime Minister, Public Health Minister Ghassan Hasbani considered Saturday that starting the presidency battle from now would impede the current presidential mandate. "The President of the Republic is at an equal distance from everyone and the success of the current mandate denotes the success of each and everyone...and we are keen on that," Hasbani reassured in an interview with "Radio Free Lebanon - Ashrafieh" this morning. Touching on the Lebanese Forces Party's representation in the next government, Hasbani indicated that "LF's reform role has upset some sides in the country, which has triggered a desire to undermine its presence within cabinet."He referred herein to "a plotted campaign" against him that aims at distorting his image as minister, which is "a reflection of the image of all ministers of the Lebanese Forces Party," leaving it up to the Lebanese people to judge their performance."We believe in continuity and the rotation of power. If the Ministry of Public Health remains with the Lebanese Forces, then let it be...However, we do not attach to any ministerial portfolio, since what is important to us is to have an active and positive role in the government and to ensure that partnership is safeguarded," Hasbani emphasized. "We will not accept that our capabilities be limited within government after being largely represented in parliament...The popular vote was high for the Lebanese Forces, exceeding 15 deputies, but the law did not permit its translation," he explained.
"We hope that the new cabinet will be formed as soon as possible and that the obstacles will be dissolved," Hasbani went on, disclosing that the LF Party is conducting continuous deliberations with Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri through Caretaker Information Minister Melhem Riachy, and that the PM-designate is "working to ensure that the government is balanced.""The relationship with House Speaker Nabih Berri is always positive, and he is open to a relation that leads to stability...We are keen on ensuring a good implementation of the Constitution and maintaining the real balances in the country," Hasbani underscored.

Raad for resuming warm relations with Syria to solve many problems, opening doors for Lebanese contribution to Syrian reconstruction
Sat 28 Jul 2018/NNA - "Loyalty to Resistance" Parliamentary Bloc Head, MP Mohammad Raad, called Saturday for establishing the return of warm relations with Syria as a prelude to solving many problems in the country, and opening doorways for Lebanese contributions to post-war reconstruction in Syria. Speaking at a ceremony organized by Al-Mahdi Secondary School in Nabatieh to honor its graduating students, Raad deemed that the Syrian army's achievements against the Takfiri groups, especially after liberating its southern lands of terrorists, reflect positively on Lebanon in terms of allowing the return of Syrian refugees to their homeland and securing the transport of Lebanese goods to the Arab region through the Syria-Jordan Gateway. Over the new cabinet formation, Raad said, "In Lebanon, the dilemma of forming a government has one clear reason which needs not be puzzling, namely that as long as the PM-designate does not adopt clear criteria for forming the government, proposing discretionary formations, this will have repercussions on different parties and political forces in Lebanon.""We are calling for a national solidarity government in which the various Lebanese parties are represented in accordance with their respective sizes, and in line with the recent parliamentary elections results," Raad emphasized.

Okais: If we agree to 4 ministries to facilitate cabinet formation, we demand Deputy PM Seat or main, sovereign ministerial portfolio
Sat 28 Jul 2018/NNA - Member of the "Strong Republic" Parliamentary Bloc, MP George Okais, said in an interview with "Radio Free Lebanon" this morning that if his Party agrees to be represented by only four ministers in the new cabinet to facilitate the government's formation, then it demands a principle, sovereign ministerial portfolio or the "Deputy Prime Minister" cabinet seat. "The Lebanese Forces will not accept less than its right and does not wait for any signals from abroad. The Maarab Agreement and the outcome of the recent elections have given it [the LF Party] a percentage in government representation. If this ratio is taken into account, we are ready for ministerial action and to meet the challenges that lie ahead," Okais underscored. Over the events in Syria, Okais hoped that the Syrian war would really be approaching its end, adding, "The international decision to return the displaced Syrians has been adopted, leaving it to Russia and General Abbas Ibrahim, commissioned by the Lebanese State, to follow-up on their return dossier."On Lebanon's stance regarding relations with the Syrian regime, Okais said, "The Lebanese position is not important, but rather the international stance towards said regime is what's significant."

Reception marking Chinese Liberation Army's 91st founding anniversary

Sat 28 Jul 2018/NNA - Marking the 91st anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Liberation Army, the Military Attaché at the Chinese Embassy in Beirut, Col. Haicheng Ouyang, held a reception at the Central Military Club, attended by Brigadier General Nawaf Al-Jabbawi, representing Defense Minister Yacoub Sarraf, and Army Commander, General Joseph Aoun, on head of a military delegation, alongside several other prominent military and security officials and members of the Chinese contingent operating within UNIFIL in South Lebanon.
In his word on the occasion, Colonel Ouyang said, "Today marks the 91st anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Liberation Army, 91 years of ongoing difficulties and we will never forget why we began...The many twists and turns witnessed by the People's Liberation Army made it stronger than ever, especially in recent years led by President Xi Jinping and the Central Military Commission.""Following the reform of the PLA, these armed forces have become active in every aspect in confronting the international challenges and the complex security environment," he added.
"The Chinese People's Liberation Army is ready to carry out any mission at any time, and China will always be a peace-loving country and we will forever be a steadfast force to maintain peace and justice in the world," Ouyang underlined. "China is taking on more international responsibilities, playing important roles in the United Nations peacekeeping operation," the Chinese Military Attaché went on. He noted that his country "is among the permanent members of the UN Security Council and ranks first in the number of troops sent to peacekeeping missions and second in the financing of peacekeeping expenses."Col. Ouyang confirmed that "China will surely adopt a more open approach and will try to build a common future society for mankind with all nations." "We would also like to cooperate with all countries and peoples of the Middle East, except for the various negative factors, to work on development and promote peace, and urge all parties to be more comprehensive and conciliatory to achieve a mutually beneficial outcome," Ouyang emphasized.

Syrian refugees mount their buses in preparation for heading back to Syria
Sat 28 Jul 2018/NNA - Displaced Syrians in the Southern town of Shebaa began to board their buses Saturday afternoon, as per a list of names prepared by the Lebanese General Security. The Syrian buses, assembling in the vicinity of Shebaa High School, are expected to head to Syrian territories in a short while, taking the Shebaa-Rashaya Valley-Masnaa route, NNA correspondent in Shebaa reported.

Ibrahim from Shebaa: Upcoming period will witness the return of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees to their homeland
Sat 28 Jul 2018/NNA - "The coming period will witness the return of hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians from Lebanon to their homeland, in accordance with the Russian initiative," Lebanese General Security Chief Major General Abbas Ibrahim said, following a surprise visit to the town of Shebaa this morning. Ibrahim called on the refugees to "heavily visit the General Security centers in all Lebanese regions to register their names, in a bid to facilitate the safe return of all." "The General Security works to solve any arising problems with the Syrian authorities so that the refugees can return to their homeland in a comfortable and safe manner," he concluded.

Inauguration of Michel Aoun Street in Akkar
Sat 28 Jul 2018/NNA - The Municipality of Chadra in Akkar celebrated the inauguration of a street in the name of resident Michel Aoun, in the presence of Caretaker Minister, Pierre Raffoul, who represented the President of the Republic. In a speech delivered during the event, Raffoul felicitated the Lebanese Armed Forces on Army Day, saying, "I salute the army and all the armed forces, for the army is the shield of the homeland, dignity, independence and freedom," Raffoul said. Raffoul also hailed the Lebanese Army for maintaining security and stability in the country.

U.S. Probes Web of Businesses for Ties to Alleged Hezbollah Supporters
Ian Talley in Washington,/Nazih Osseiran in Beirut and Asa Fitch in Dubai/The Wall Street Journal/July 28, 2018
Report points to a broad network of associates tied to the Amhaz brothers potentially operating in violation of U.S. sanctions
U.S. intelligence officials are probing a transcontinental network of real-estate, weapons and electronic firms for ties to two Lebanese men blacklisted for their alleged support of terrorist group Hezbollah, according to people familiar with the matter.
The U.S. Treasury probe of the Lebanon-based network comes as the Trump administration ramps up pressure against Iran and its proxies like Hezbollah.
Under scrutiny are individuals and companies tied to two men sanctioned in 2014 for purchasing sophisticated electronics for Hezbollah to develop military drones. The Obama administration accused the two Lebanese brothers, Kamel Mohamed Amhaz and Issam Mohamed Amhaz, of using Stars Group Holding company of Lebanon and its subsidiaries to buy drone technology.
Public and private documents gathered by a nonprofit advising the U.S. on national security threats point to a broad web of associates tied to the Amhaz network, potentially operating in violation of U.S. sanctions.
Washington-based C4ADS, the nonprofit, documented the broader Amhaz-linked network in a report last month, mapping out connections through corporate registries, real-estate records and other documents.
The report is being reviewed by Treasury officials and other national-security officials, according to people familiar with the matter, raising the possibility of additional sanctions and other legal action against the network.
Previous reports by C4ADS, whose board and staff include several former U.S. national security officials, have been followed by U.S. action. For example, the group detailed in 2016 how Chinese conglomerate Dandong Hongxiang Industrial Development Co.was likely aiding North Korea’s nuclear program. Three months later, the U.S. sanctioned the company.
Asked about the case, a Treasury official said the department “does not telegraph sanctions or prospective actions, and does not comment on investigations.”
The latest C4ADS report zeroes in on five individuals, Mohammad Al Barghouthy, of the United Arab Emirates; Ali Abu Adas, of Jordan; and three Lebanese men, Achraf Assem Safieddine, Hussein Fahd Rahal and Jihad Hussein El Anan. It estimates their collective real-estate assets are worth more than $100 million.
“There is compelling evidence the wider Amhaz network had the infrastructure to move substantial amounts of money, as well as market access to small electronics and arms procurement, while also maintaining a significant property and commercial footprint,” said C4ADS. “Individual partners are also connected to a potential Hezbollah operation, as well as corruption schemes in Liberia and money laundering activity in Lebanon and possibly the U.S.,” the group said.
C4ADS noted its report doesn’t definitively determine illicit activity, but rather shows “how sanctioned entities and individuals may be able to use corporate and real estate-related obfuscation to evade and adapt to sanctions.”
According to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, Mssrs. Abu Adas and Barghouthy are founders and longtime owners of Amhaz companies sanctioned in 2014. Mr. Barghouthy was the majority shareholder of a sanctioned subsidiary of the Stars Group, Dubai-based Unique Stars Mobile Phones LLC, until at least late 2017. Official Lebanese documents also list both men as founders and directors of Fast Link SAL, another sanctioned firm whose name was changed earlier this year.
While the U.S. Treasury won’t comment on the case, department officials say engaging with blacklisted entities is a violation of U.S. law that can incur sanctions and enforcement action.
Sanctioned Ties
A network of individuals, companies and real estate linked to two Lebanese brothers sanctioned by the U.S. is being scrutinized by the U.S. Treasury.
Mr. Abu Adas, in an interview from Lebanon, denied partnering with the Amhaz brothers or Hezbollah. Responding to allegations in the C4ADS report, he provided copies of official Lebanese documents stating neither he nor Mr. Barghouthy were shareholders in two companies with names similar to the sanctioned firms. Another letter he provided from an international accounting firm said a separate Dubai-based business Mr. Abu Adas owns had no shareholding in the sanctioned Lebanese companies.
C4ADS said it didn’t make any of the claims Mr. Abu Adas disputed with the documents.
An executive at Mr. Abu Adas’s Dubai-based mobile-phone distributor, Fast Telecom, said Kamel Amhaz had been a customer when Mr. Amhaz had a company in Dubai several years ago and might have created false links between his Lebanese business and Fast Telecom to make his business appear more legitimate.
Repeated attempts to reach Mssrs. Amhaz and Barghouthy directly and through their companies were unsuccessful.
Corporate records show the three Lebanese men C4ADS connected to the Amhaz brothers—Mssrs. Safieddine, Anan and Rahal—have been involved in firms founded or run by the blacklisted men, including an arms-importing company. Recent corporate records for Lebanese firm Liban Stars SAL, for example, list Mssrs. Safieddine and Anan as the primary owners alongside Kamel Amhaz.
In interviews, the three men said they had never sold arms to Hezbollah or supported the group.
“It’s stupid to think that there is a company in Lebanon importing weapons and selling them to Hezbollah,” Mr. Safieddine, who co-founded two of the companies sanctioned in 2014, said in an interview from Lebanon. “We did not do it,” he said, adding that the partners closed the weapons firm in 2015.
Mr. Safieddine also owns U.S. real estate. Mr. Safieddine, along with a man named Bill Jamal—who is registered in state records as managing several companies linked to the Lebanese businessman—is associated with more than 30 U.S. property deals.
“He is a wonderful human being and he pays his taxes year after year,” Mr. Jamal said of Mr. Safieddine.
*Write to Ian Talley at, Nazih Osseiran at and Asa Fitch at

The Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on July 28-29/18
Kurds Eye Decentralized Syria in Talks with Government
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/July 28/18/A US-backed Kurdish-led alliance said on Saturday that it is seeking a roadmap for a decentralised Syria in talks with the government which opened in Damascus this week. The Syrian Democratic Forces alliance, which controls a swathe of the north and northeast, said it had agreed with the government to form joint committees to discuss the major issues after a first round of talks on Thursday and Friday. The SDF's political arm, the Syrian Democratic Council, said the aim was to "clear the way for a broader and more comprehensive dialogue" and forge a "roadmap leading to a democratic and decentralised Syria". Before civil war erupted in 2011, Syria had a highly centralised form of government which provided no constitutional recognition for the rights of the Kurds and other minorities. But after government forces pulled out of Kurdish-majority areas in 2012, the Kurds seized the opportunity to set up their own administrations and implement longstanding demands such as Kurdish-language education. The SDF formalised the new administrative arrangements in 2016 with the creation of autonomous cantons in areas under its control that it regards as a model for a federal system nationwide. The Damascus government has opposed the scope of the self-rule sought by the Kurds but late last year Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said a "form of autonomy" was "negotiable". In late May, President Bashar al-Assad said the government was prepared to open talks with the SDF but stressed that it remained ready to use force if necessary to ensure the return of government troops and state institutions to SDF-held areas. The SDF did not give a date for any new round of talks. Between them, Assad's Russian-backed government and the US-backed SDF control around 90 percent of Syrian territory following major defeats for the rebels as well as the Islamic State group over the past two years. An umbrella group representing most of the rebels has said it wants to hold talks with the government on reform demands of its own. But its bargaining power has been greatly reduced by its loss of territory in recent months.
Turkey, US relations can be saved, presidential spokesman says
Arab News/July 28/18
Turkey and the United States can save their relationship, President Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman said on Saturday
The two countries are at odds over a number of issues including Washington’s policy in Syria
ISTANBUL: Turkey and the United States can save their relationship, President Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman said on Saturday after President Donald Trump threatened to slap sanctions on Ankara in a deepening of tensions between the NATO partners. The two countries are at odds over a number of issues including Washington’s policy in Syria, Ankara’s quest for the extradition of a Muslim cleric blamed for failed coup in 2016 and Washington’s concerns about US citizens and embassy staff detained in Turkey. “The relationship can be saved and improved provided that the US administration takes Turkey’s security concerns seriously,” Ibrahim Kalin wrote in a column in pro-government Daily Sabah newspaper. Trump directly warned Turkey this week of possible sanctions if it did not free Andrew Brunson, a US Christian pastor detained in Turkey who Washington has described as a hostage. Brunson was transferred to house arrest this week after being kept in a Turkish prison for more than 20 months during his trial on terrorism charges continued. The Trump administration escalated a campaign to free Brunson after the court decision, which had been seen by many as a step that could help reduce tension between the NATO allies. “The United States will impose large sanctions on Turkey for their long time detainment of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a great Christian, family man and wonderful human being,” Trump wrote in a tweet. “President Trump may have good intentions for relations with President Erdogan and Turkey. This will certainly be reciprocated when the relationship is based on mutual respect and shared interest,” Kalin said. Threats against Turkey will not work, Kalin wrote, adding that they would only harm the relationship between Ankara and Washington. Brunson has become the most public and recent focus of US anger with Turkey, once one of its closest Middle East allies, but trust between the countries has been eroding for years.
Trump and Putin Raise Possibilities of another Meeting
Associated Press/Naharnet/July 28/18/Rarely has an RSVP been so complicated. President Donald Trump is open to visiting Moscow — if he gets a formal invitation from Vladimir Putin, the White House said. Russian President Putin said he's game for a trip to Washington — but his answer came only after Trump retracted his invitation for a fall sit-down. The awkward back and forth is the latest round of summit drama flowing from the two leaders' controversial first meeting in Helsinki this month. It underscores Trump's eagerness to forge a warmer relationship with Putin, though the Russian does not appear to share the urgency and Trump's allies in Washington are watching with frustration. Trump's tentative yes to a Moscow trip comes even as lawmakers are still pushing for details about what he and Putin discussed in Helsinki. The president has been widely criticized for failing to publicly denounce Russia's interference in the 2016 U.S. election and appearing to accept Putin's denials of such activity. Trump's response to the criticism — an abruptly announced invitation for a second meeting in Washington in the fall — got an ice-cold reception from Republicans in Congress facing tough elections in November. Moscow was lukewarm and did not immediately accept.
Then National Security Adviser John Bolton said Wednesday that plans for a fall visit would be delayed until 2019. He cited special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election meddling as the reason, using Trump's favorite term for the probe: "witch hunt."
But the possibility of a Trump trip to Moscow emerged Friday after Putin said he was ready to invite Trump — or to visit Washington if conditions are right. "I understand very well what President Trump said: He has the wish to conduct further meetings," Putin said while traveling in Johannesburg. "I am ready for this. We are ready to invite President Trump to Moscow. By the way, he has such an invitation, I told him of this. I am prepared to go to Washington, but, I repeat, if the appropriate conditions for work are created."White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded that Trump "looks forward to having President Putin to Washington after the first of the year, and he is open to visiting Moscow upon receiving a reciprocal formal invitation."
But it's just talk at this point.
It's part of "a power game between Putin and Trump," said Dr. Alina Polyakova of the Brookings Institution. She said the Kremlin basically drove the entire process in Helsinki, and "we're seeing that again now." Trump is hardly in a strong position because "the Helsinki summit was such a fiasco," said James Goldgeier of the Council on Foreign Relations. A Putin visit to Washington between now and January "could have a lot of poor optics," he said, and "it's really hard to see the upside" of a Trump trip to Moscow. The spectacle of Trump in the Russian capital — the site of unproven salacious allegations in an anti-Trump dossier compiled by a former British spy — was likely to raise eyebrows and alarm on Capitol Hill. Just two days earlier, lawmakers from both political parties unsuccessfully demanded details of the Helsinki meeting from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who stonewalled nearly all those inquiries at a contentious hearing by maintaining that the president has a right to private conversations. Since Helsinki, Trump has tried to walk back at least some of his comments. And Pompeo told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that despite Trump's public statements that allegations of Russian interference are "a hoax" he accepts that Russia did meddle in the 2016 election. Trump met Friday with his national security team to discuss threats to the 2018 congressional midterm elections, the first such session he has convened amid warnings from intelligence officials that Russia is again intent on interfering in the U.S. democratic process. The White House released a statement saying Trump "made it clear that his Administration will not tolerate foreign interference in our elections from any nation state or other malicious actors."Republican lawmakers have made it clear they are not eager to see Putin, who intelligence officials say was aware of the 2016 interference, just weeks before Election Day 2018. Putin "will not be welcome" at the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters. House Speaker Paul Ryan said such invitations are reserved "for allies."
The Republican leaders appear to be increasingly relying on public signals, rather than private phone calls or Oval Office chats, to catch the White House's attention and communicate with Trump — especially when they are at odds with the president's approach or policies.
Ryan has said he did not speak to the president in the days after the Helsinki summit. Moscow has portrayed its tensions with Washington as a result of Trump being hobbled by domestic political disputes and a widespread "Russophobia" perpetrated by holdovers from the Obama years - echoing Trump's penchant to blame his predecessor for many problems. By saying that he's willing to go to Washington if conditions are "appropriate," Putin underlines that stance and effectively puts pressure on Trump to try to stamp out opposition. His invitation for Trump to come to Moscow - whether the invitation has been formally tendered or is only in spirit - also appears to pressure Trump to show whether he is bold and disruptive enough to buck intense criticism at home.

'Blood Moon' Dazzles Skygazers in Century's Longest Eclipse
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/July 28/18/The longest "blood moon" eclipse this century dazzled skygazers across the globe Friday, coinciding with Mars' closest approach in 15 years in a thrilling celestial spectacle. As Earth's constant companion slowly sailed across the skies, crowds gathered around the world to catch a glimpse of the rare phenomenon. Beside Lake Magadi, 100 kilometres (60 miles) southwest of the Kenyan capital Nairobi, young members of the Maasai community watched the eclipse through a high-powered telescope provided by a local couple. "Until today I thought Mars, Jupiter and the other planets were in the imagination of scientists," Purity Sailepo, 16, told AFP. "But now I've seen it I can believe it and I want to be an astronomer to tell other people." Unlike with a solar eclipse, viewers did not need protective eye gear to observe the rare display. For about half the world, the moon was partly or fully in Earth's shadow from 1714 to 2328 GMT -- six hours and 14 minutes in all. The period of complete eclipse -- known as "totality", when the moon appears darkest -- lasted from 1930 to 2113 GMT. At the same time, Mars hovered near the moon in the night sky, easily visible to the naked eye. Amateur astronomers in the southern hemisphere were best-placed to witness the rare sight, especially in southern Africa, Australia, and Madagascar, though it was also visible in Europe, South Asia and South America. More than 2,000 people including many children armed with binoculars gathered in the Tunisian capital of Tunis. "I hope this eclipse will bring us happiness and peace," said Karima, 46, without taking her eyes off the sky. However, bad weather thwarted the cosmic display in several parts of the world. Widespread monsoon rainstorms and thick clouds hid the moon across much of India and its neighbours, which should have had a prime view. Similarly, eager observers who had assembled on cliffs and beaches in the English county of Dorset were left in the dark due to an overcast sky. "It's disappointing," Tish Adams, 67, told AFP. "I took a few photos but there was nothing but a streak of pink in the sky."
Meanwhile frustrated crowds of would-be moon admirers gathered on a hill in cloudy north London consoled themselves by breaking into a rendition of Welsh singer Bonnie Tyler's 1983 hit "Total eclipse of the heart". Those in Brazil's Rio de Janeiro had more luck, snapping the red moon in the clear night sky with their phones and cameras. "I thought it was very pretty and I liked the planet Mars even more, which you could see right next to the moon," said Talita Oliveira, 34.
Celestial bodies align
Mars appeared unusually large and bright, a mere 57.7 million kilometres (35.9 million miles) from Earth on its elliptical orbit around the sun. A total lunar eclipse happens when Earth takes position in a straight line between the moon and sun, blotting out the direct sunlight that normally makes our satellite glow whitish-yellow. The moon travels to a similar position every month, but the tilt of its orbit means it normally passes above or below the Earth's shadow -- so most months we have a full moon without an eclipse. When the three celestial bodies are perfectly lined up, however, the Earth's atmosphere scatters blue light from the sun while refracting or bending red light onto the moon, usually giving it a rosy blush. This is what gives the phenomenon the name "blood moon", though Mark Bailey of the Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland said the colour can vary greatly. It depends partly on "how cloudy or transparent those parts of the Earth's atmosphere are which enable sunlight to reach the moon", he told AFP. "During a very dark eclipse the moon may be almost invisible." The long duration of this eclipse was partly because the moon made a near-central passage through Earth's umbra -- the darkest, most central part of the shadow. "For those alive today, it's a unique event," said Sven Melchert, head of a local society of astronomy enthusiasts in Heppenheim, western Germany, cited by the DPA news agency.
'Eerie and beautiful'
The moon was also at the farthest point on its orbit from Earth, making its movement across the sky slower from our perspective, thus spending longer in the dark. NASA, meanwhile, called out social media hoaxers claiming that Mars would appear as big as the moon during the eclipse. "If that were true, we'd be in big trouble given the gravitational pulls on Earth, Mars, and our moon!" the NASA website stated. Mars instead appeared as a very bright star. "In the middle of a lunar eclipse it can look as if a red planet has taken up residence near the Earth -- they are both eerie and beautiful," said Robert Massey of the Royal Astronomical Society in London.

Gaza Teen Dies of Wounds from Israeli Border Fire
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/July 28/18/A Gaza teenager died of his wounds on Saturday after being shot by Israeli troops during protests along the border, the health ministry in the Hamas-run Palestinian territory said. A ministry statement identified him as Mohmen al-Hams, 17, and said he was shot in the chest during protests near the southern Gaza town of Rafah on Friday. There has been persistent violence between the Israeli army and Palestinian protesters along the Gaza-Israel border since late March in which at least 157 Palestinians have been killed. Troops shot dead two Palestinians during Friday's protests. The Gaza health ministry said that one of them was a 12-year-old boy, shot east of Rafah. It also reported the killing of Ghazi Abu Mustafa 43, and said he was shot in head by Israeli soldiers east of the southern city of Khan Yunis. The Israeli military did not comment directly on the deaths but said about 7,000 Palestinian "rioters" threw rocks and rolled burning tyres at soldiers, and at the fence itself, at several locations along the border. "Troops are responding with riot dispersal means and firing in accordance with the rules of engagement," an English-language statement said Friday evening, without elaborating. Hamas has pledged revenge after Israeli air and artillery strikes on the coastal enclave killed a number of its members in recent weeks. Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008. A week ago a Palestinian gunman shot and killed an Israeli soldier at the border, sparking a fierce wave of Israeli bombing that ratcheted up fears of a new conflict. A degree of calm was restored until Wednesday when Israel said its troops came under fire again, with one soldier wounded. It hit back with artillery fire which killed three Palestinians at a Hamas military base, east of Gaza City. In response, the Hamas military wing warned that "the enemy shall pay a high price in blood for the crime which it commits daily against the rights of our people and our fighters".

Russia at UN Makes Case for Syria Reconstruction Aid
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/July 28/18/Russia on Friday urged world powers to help Syria's economic recovery and the return of refugees as its Damascus ally pressed on with a campaign to re-take territory in the seven-year war. Russian Deputy Ambassador Dmitry Polyansky appealed for an end to unilateral sanctions against Syria and said countries should not link aid to political demands for changes to President Bashar al Assad's regime. Moscow's 2015 military intervention in support of Assad was widely seen as a turning point in the war, which has killed more than 350,000 people and displaced millions. Addressing the UN Security Council, Polyansky said the "revival of the Syrian economy" was a "critical challenge", with Syria facing an acute shortage of construction material, heavy equipment and fuel to rebuild areas destroyed by war. "It would be wise for all international partners to join assistance in Syrian recovery efforts, to eschew artificial linkages to political momentum," Polyansky told the council meeting on Syria. France, however, made clear there will be no reconstruction aid for Syria unless Assad agrees to a political transition that would include a new constitution and elections.
No EU aid
Eight rounds of UN-sponsored peace talks on Syria have failed to yield a breakthrough while a new Russian-backed committee to rewrite the Syrian constitution has yet to begin work. Since the last round of peace talks broke down in December, Assad's forces have retaken Eastern Ghouta, near the capital Damascus, and brought most of Daraa province in the south under their control. French Ambassador Francois Delattre told the council that Assad was scoring "victories without peace" and that political talks were needed on a final settlement. "We will not take part in the rebuilding of Syria unless a political transition is effectively carried out with constitutional and electoral processes" conducted "in a sincere and meaningful way," said Delattre. A political transition is a "sine qua non" condition for stability, he said, adding that without stability, "no reason can justify France and the European Union's financing of reconstruction efforts."Russia this month presented the United States with proposals for the return of refugees from Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Egypt that would involve international financial support. New legislation, known as law number 10, would allow the Syrian government to confiscate the property of refugees and displaced Syrians unless they register ownership with the authorities in 30 days. Polyansky shot back at criticism of the new law, saying the measure was the target of an "information campaign" and that Syrian authorities were ready to hold talks with UN experts on the issue. Refugee return will be discussed at a meeting next week in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi between Russia, Iran and Turkey.
Iran’s Saviz “cargo” ship set up Red Sea attack on Saudi tankers
موقع دبيكا/سفينة الشحن الإيرانية "سافيز" تتولى شن الهجمات على ناقلات النفط السعودية في البحر الأحمر
DEBKAfile/July 28/18

The attack on two Saudi supertankers on the Red Sea on Wednesday, July 25, was orchestrated by the Iranian Saviz, a weapons-carrying spy ship, DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources report.
Disguised as an Iranian-flagged cargo vessel, the 16,660-ton ship carries containers aboard and below decks filled with advanced surveillance gear for tracking commercial and military shipping on the Red Sea. Western and Middle East naval sources have for some weeks been watching the Saviz in a holding pattern between its home base on the Eritrean Dahlak archipelago and the Bab al-Mandeb Straits of the Red Sea.
Before the first Saudi supertanker Arsan was attacked, Saudi and United Arab Emirates intelligence intercepted signals from the Saviz informing Houthi coastal bases of the Arsen’s projected route opposite Yemen’s Red Sea coast with a timeline for when the tanker would come within range of the Yemeni rebels’ shore-based missiles. Our military sources estimate that the Houthis used Iranian C-801 or C-802 shore-to-ship missiles against both the Saudi super tankers they attacked. Only one achieved a direct hit to the Arsen’s stern almost certainly near the water line, but its warhead only partially detonated, causing a 2-3m hole in the hull. Had it penetrated any deeper and reached the 2 million barrels of oil in ship’s hold, one of the worst environmental disasters ever would have ensued. Several other Houthi missiles exploded in the water.
The day after the attacks, Iran’s Quds force chief Qassem Soleimani gloated: “The Red Sea is not secure with the presence of American troops in the area,”
Although the damage to the Arsen was indeed minimal as the Saudis claimed, they decided not to take any chances and immediately announced the suspension of oil shipping through the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandeb until conditions were secure. Oil prices shot up by one percent on the world markets. An estimated 4.8 million barrels of oil are shipped daily through the Straits of Bab al Mandeb, which is only 20km wide. Any move to block this Red Sea strait would virtually halt oil shipments from the Gulf through Egypt’s Suez Canal to the Mediterranean that are destined for Europe and the Far East.
Since October 2016, there have been eight Iranian-instigated attacks on US, Saudi and UAE warships and tankers sailing through the Red Sea. They were conducted by Houthis, who were trained in weapons and assault tactics by Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hizballah instructors. They taught the Yemeni insurgents how to use anti-ship missiles, fast explosive boats, speedboats equipped with RPG launchers, drones and sea mines. The Houthi missile strike on a pair of Saudi tankers differed from the preceding attacks in that for the first time, Iranians were directly involved.
The US only reacted once before to this aggression: A Houthi missile base on the Red Sea shore was smashed on the orders of President Barack Obama after striking the USS Mason warship on Oct. 9, 2016.
On Friday, July 27, sources in Washington reported that the Trump administration was weighing possible military action, including expanded intervention in the Yemen war, to keep the Red Sea oil shipping route open against Iranian threats to the waterway. Administration officials denied these reports saying that any military action would be taken by US regional allies such as Saudi Arabia, and not American troops. The Iranian naval spy ship Saviz has therefore got away with threatening a key international oil route, while Tehran has proved willing to perpetrate an unimaginable environmental calamity.
Khamenei-linked cleric to head German Islamic centre
Mohammad Hadi Mofateh was controversially awarded a visa earlier this month
Gareth Browne/The National/July 27, 2018
An Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) linked-cleric is to head one of Germany's largest Islamic centers, after being controversially awarded a visa this month. Ayatollah Mohammad Hadi Mofateh was awarded a three-month visa by German authorities earlier this month, and will take charge of the Hamburg Islamic Centre, one of the oldest mosques in Germany. German tabloid BILD reported that Mofateh had arrived in Germany in the past few days with his family, and was scheduled to take over management of the center in August. The manager of the center is considered one of Ayatollah Khamenei’s principle representatives in Europe. A CV of Mofateh’s posted to the internet openly proclaims his affiliation to the IRGC, it also lists him having worked for Voice of the Islamic Republic, a state news channel the head of which is appointed directly by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. A number of figures heavily involved in the revolution of 1979 spent time in residence at the center whilst in opposition to the Shah, including Mohammad Khatami who served as President of the Islamic Republic until 2005.The revelations came as US Treasury officials revealed that Iran had been using German companies to acquire advanced printing equipment in order to print counterfeit currency that was being used to finance the group’s war-efforts in Yemen. American officials said German companies “were being used as a cover by the Iranians to finance the world’s worst humanitarian conflict.”The IRGC was outlawed as a terror organization by the United States in 2017, but Germany has refused to pass similar legislation. In October 2007, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the IRGC had "played a pivotal role in making Iran the world's largest state terror sponsor".
The IRGC has played a major role in supporting Syrian President Bashar Al Assad in fighting opposition forces, and an increasing role supporting Houthis rebels in Yemen.

Egypt: 75 Muslim Brotherhood Death Sentences Referred to Mufti
Cairo - Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 28 July, 2018/The Cairo Criminal Court on Saturday sentenced 75 people to death, including top figures of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, for their involvement in the 2013 sit-in by supporters of former president Mohammed Morsi in Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya Square. The court’s decision was referred to Grand Mufti Shawqi Allam for his non-binding opinion on the sentences. He usually approves the court's decision. Sentencing for more than 660 others was set for Sept. 8. The case involves 739 defendants. Charges range from murder to damaging public property. The 2013 sit-in supported Morsi who was ousted following mass protests against his one-year rule. Morsi hailed from the Brotherhood. The sit-in was violently dispersed. Hundreds of Brotherhood members and supporters, and dozens of police were killed.

ISIS Spreads Influence through Libyan Mosques
Cairo - Waleed Abdul Rahman/Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 28 July, 2018/Libyan mosques have fallen victim to the ISIS terrorist group which has turned them into centers for the recruitment of militants, an Egyptian study said. “The organization has worked on recruiting some imams” so that they lure young men into the fight alongside the extremist group in Syria and Iraq, it said.An imam has been recently arrested in the Libyan capital Tripoli on such charges. The report, headlined “How ISIS Took Advantage of Mosques in Libya,” said that since chaos spread in the country in 2011, extremist groups have taken control over several regions, which has resulted in mosques being run by such organizations. The researchers said that ISIS began influencing the minds of young men, mainly in the eastern city of Derna, which is seen as the stronghold of extremist groups. The main aim of the organization was not just to recruit fighters locally, but also to send them to Syria, they said. ISIS also resorted to the distribution of fliers in areas that fell under their control to inform residents on the importance of mosques in encouraging and facilitating the travel of young men to Syria. The report quoted a woman as saying that ISIS sought to recruit her sons through one of Libya’s mosques. She told the researchers that she had sent her children to the mosque to learn the Quran because schools had shut down due to the deteriorating security situation in Derna. But her sons ended up being recruited by the organization. The report made some suggestions on how to limit ISIS’ influence through mosques, saying the authorities should raise awareness among the people on the dangers of extremist practices. It also said that the Libyan government should have full supervision over mosques.

Libya: Concerns over Lack of Quorum to Pass Election Laws
Cairo - Khaled Mahmoud/Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 28 July, 2018/The Tobruk-based Libyan parliament is preparing to vote on the new constitutional referendum and to adopt a series of laws on the anticipated parliamentary and presidential elections, amid concerns that the legislature will fail to meet the necessary quorum to complete the voting process.During the sessions on Monday and Tuesday, the parliament needs 120 votes in favor of the constitution out of 200. Members who had previously boycotted the parliament, including Misurata deputies west of the country, will attend the sessions as part of an unprecedented attempt to win the needed support to adopt a draft-law on the referendum and to pave the way for elections. Meanwhile, a number of parliamentarians were invited to take part in a dialogue organized by a European center in the Netherlands on the same day of the referendum on the constitution. Parliament member Abu Bakr Saeed described the move as “an attempt to hinder the constitutional events in Libya”. This is considered “a suspicious intervention”, he revealed in statements on Friday. Deputy Special Representative for Political Affairs in Libya, United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Stephanie Williams continued her meetings with the Government of National Accord in Tripoli where she held talks with Libyan Minister of Interior Abdulsalam Ashour. According to a brief statement, Williams confirmed UN commitment to coordinate rebuilding and unifying security institutions in Libya along with the international community. Justice and Construction Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, denied charges made by LNA spokesman Ahmed al-Mesmari during a news conference regarding what he called the “financial violations of the party leadership”. The party described Mesmari’s statements as “baseless lies and fabrication”. Meanwhile, in an escalation of the French-Italian dispute on the possibility of holding the elections in Libya by the end of the year, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte stated, "I have told Emmanuel Macron (France's President) that Italy is not in favor of forcing the situation and will not back any ill-considered moves in Libya - elections should only be held after the country's rival factions have reconciled.”He added that his government is seeking to return centralization to the Mediterranean Sea, after it was marginalized due to the European Union’s expansion to the north and east.

Jordan Condemns Israeli Violations against Al-Aqsa
Amman/Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 28 July, 2018/Jordan has condemned the Israeli violations and provocations against Al-Aqsa mosque after Israeli police entered the compound and assaulted worshipers and the staff of the Awqaf authority in Jerusalem. Jordan's Minister of State for Media Affairs Jumana Ghunaimat said: “Such reprehensible practices violate the sanctity of this holy place and provokes worshipers and Muslims around the world.”The Israeli measures also violate its legal obligations, as an occupying force in East Jerusalem, under international law and international humanitarian law, she said. Israel, Ghunaimat said, should respect all laws and norms and the historic status of Jerusalem and stop such provocations. The statement condemned the "ongoing violations and provocations against the holy Al-Aqsa mosque, especially the Israeli police storming the mosque today and its aggression against the worshipers". Israeli troopers entered Al-Aqsa mosque after worshipers began chanting anti-Israeli slogans following Friday prayers to condemn the violations committed by the Israeli occupation in Jerusalem. Jordan is recognized as the custodian of religious sites in disputed Jerusalem.
The Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on July 28-29/18
Australia: A Model for Curbing Immigration
Giulio Meotti/Gatestone Institute/July 28/2018
"Europeans think it's easy in Australia to control our borders, but they're just making up excuses for doing nothing themselves." — Major General (Ret.) Jim Molan, co-author of Australia's asylum policy.
"We have got hundreds, maybe thousands of people drowning in the attempts to get from Africa to Europe... [The] only way you can stop the deaths is in fact to stop the boats". — Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
"My long experience in Australian politics has been that whenever a government is seen to have immigration flows under control, public support for immigration increases, when the reverse occurs hostility to immigration rises." — Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard.
It must be crushing to live in a country where governance might be questionable at best, and economic opportunities limited, if that. People know they are risking their lives in search of a better break. But if the West is not to be overwhelmed, these problems seriously need to be addressed.
Four years ago, the Australian government sparked criticism after it ran an advertisement aimed at discouraging asylum seekers from traveling illegally to the country. "No Way", the poster read. "You will not make Australia home. If you get on a boat without a visa, you will not end up in Australia. Any vessel seeking illegally to enter Australia will be intercepted and safely removed beyond Australian waters".
It was an extremely tough message, but it worked. "Australia's migration rate is the lowest it's been in 10 years", said Peter Dutton, Australia's Home Affairs Minister. Speaking last week on the Today Show, Dutton added that the drop was about "restoring integrity to our border". The Australians are apparently happy about that. A new poll just revealed that 72% of voters support Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's immigration policy. Australia, a Western democracy, has for years, tried to deal with a migration crisis from the sea.
"Europeans think it's easy in Australia to control our borders, but they're just making up excuses for doing nothing themselves," said retired major general Jim Molan, co-author of Australia's asylum policy.
In 2013, Tony Abbott was elected Prime Minister under the slogan "Stop the boats". "Stop the boats" is now also the slogan of the new Italy's new Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, who, since the formation of a new government last month, has been totally focused on curbing immigration from "the world's most lethal" route: across the Mediterranean.
It would seem that the best possible model for Europe to implement is a skills-based immigration system to curb the illegal one.
Last year, EU officials came to Australia for help. At a recent summit, European Union member states agreed to copy the Australian model of turning back the migrant boats and sending them to third-countries, to centers there run by local authorities, on the model of the Manus Regional Processing Centre in Papua New Guinea, which was used to house migrants turned away from Australia. Italy is now looking to create similar reception centers on the southern border of Libya.
François Crepeau, the U.N. special rapporteur on migrant human rights, urged Europe not to view Australia as a model; he labelled the idea "cruel, inhuman and degrading". Stopping migrants from dying at sea, however, is the opposite of cruelty; it is humanity. "We have got hundreds, maybe thousands of people drowning in the attempts to get from Africa to Europe", Abbott said. The "only way you can stop the deaths is in fact to stop the boats".
Australia's Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, explained that "we are not going to accept people who have sought to come to our country illegally by boat". Humanitarians, as Abbott put it, were helping them in the name of a "misguided altruism".
Under the government of Australia's former Prime Minister Julia Gilliard, in May 2013, Australia excised even the mainland from its migration zone. This meant that migrants might be sent to the detention facilities abroad even if their ships landed.
The Australian model is not only based on keeping the borders safe and prioritizing highly-skilled immigrants. It also revolves around the idea of a cultural legacy that migrants have to embrace. Prime Minister Turnbull says he wants a test, for immigrants, of "Australian values", including questions on whether it is acceptable to strike your spouse, ban girls from education, or carry out female genital mutilation (FGM). In multicultural Europe, the same test would be taboo. Turnbull has called to "defend" these Australian values. Preserving the nation-state and its cultural Western tradition, he says, is necessary to assimilate the migrants. "My long experience in Australian politics has been that whenever a government is seen to have immigration flows under control, public support for immigration increases, when the reverse occurs hostility to immigration rises" former Australian Prime Minister John Howard wrote.
As Italy is now dealing with boats from Africa trying to reach its shores, it might be helpful to remind the public that Australia also started with the "Tampa Affair": In 2001, Australia prevented a Norwegian boat, which had rescued hundreds of asylum-seekers in the Indian Ocean, from bringing them to Australia. It is called, "the boat that changed it all". The immigration minister at the time, Philip Ruddock, warned Australians that 10,000 people from the Middle East were preparing to embark boats from Asia to Australia. The Australian government ignored a request by the United Nations to let the refugees set foot on their island. Public opinion stood behind the government. Since, several decades ago, the first wave of "boat people" from Vietnam (1976–81) was received by the Australian public with sympathy, new arrivals quickly became a matter of increasing concern, as is happening now in Europe. Since then, Australia's policy to solve its own migration crisis has been, "no resettlements, no boats".
Following the Tampa Affair, the defining elements of Australia's future policy were put into place: "Islands were excised from the Australian migration zone to prevent asylum seekers lodging visa applications; detention centres were set up on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island and the tiny and bankrupt republic of Nauru; and a reluctant Navy was engaged to intercept and turn back vessels containing asylum seekers".
Italy faces a new potential wave of 700,000 migrants currently in Libya. The Italian government should now follow Australia's example.
It is with a heavy heart that I am making these suggestions. It must be crushing to live in a country where governance might be questionable at best, and economic opportunities limited, if that. People know they are risking their life in search of a better break. But if the West is not to be overwhelmed, these problems seriously need to be addressed.
Illegal immigration is bad for Europe -- and bad for migrants, as well.
**Giulio Meotti, Cultural Editor for Il Foglio, is an Italian journalist and author.
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Analysis/Instead of Crafting a Strategy on Iran, Trump Plays With the Lion's Tail
زيفي باريل من الهآررتس: بدلا من صياغة استراتيجية خاصبة إيران، يلعب ترامب مع ذيل الأسد

Zvi Bar'el/Haaretz/July 28/18
In his battle of wits with Rohani, Trump blinked first. Like Israel, Washington mistakenly believes that tactical strikes on Iranian targets and threats on Twitter can get Iran out of Syria
Donald Trump and Hassan Rohani behaved this week like two youths from rival gangs. “Don’t play with the lion’s tail,” the Iranian president warned his American counterpart. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter: “We’ve been around for millennia & seen fall of empires, incl our own, which lasted more than the life of some countries.” Zarif added: “BE CAUTIOUS!” — repeating advice given by Trump a few hours earlier.
All that’s missing is an argument about who started it, not to mention a “hold me back” (a popular phrase in Israel), to understand that the mutual threats are a new diplomatic language. Summing up the week, it seems Trump was the one to blink when he made clear he was willing to discuss a “real deal” with Iran, “not the deal that was done by the previous administration, which was a disaster.”
This followed the revelation that Rohani had rejected eight requests from Trump for a meeting. Earlier Rohani had said that Iran had the means to fight sanctions; it could, for example, close the Strait of Hormuz.
It’s doubtful whether Rohani really means it or whether he’s just quoting Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in order to ease the tremendous pressure the conservatives are putting on him. Lots of the back-and-forth is coming on Twitter, but however you interpret the tweets, tweets aren’t negotiations and don’t start wars, at least not yet.
What’s clearer is that Washington has no practical policy on Iran or any strategy for achieving its goals. The dream of destroying the Iranian regime and turning it into a democratic country — as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo likes to market as the ultimate goal — doesn’t go into detail.
Who’s supposed to remove the regime in Tehran, Iran’s citizens or the United States? Who will replace the regime, the Iranians in U.S. exile, the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq group that receives pats on the back from senior members of the neoconservative administration? Or maybe the Iranian liberals who are about to suffer from new American sanctions?
The enthusiasm that has gripped Washington over the protests and strikes that have erupted in Iranian cities ignores that the protester numbers this year have been dramatically lower than in the giant protests of 2009, which also didn’t manage to stir a counterrevolution.
It remains to be seen if the economic sanctions being imposed on Iran next week will force the regime to its knees. Many European companies have left Iran or frozen their operations, but this week Zarif said that there had been progress in talks with the European Union, allowing for a channel to let Iranian banks operate via the European Investment Bank.
The economic angle
This announcement still has no practical application because the president of the European Investment Bank, Werner Hoyer, has said the bank can’t be directly involved in operations in Iran or bypass sanctions; after all, if it boycotted by the United States, it would have a hard time raising the capital for projects it’s responsible for in other countries. Russia said last week it intends to invest $50 billion in Iranian infrastructure, and has already signed a $4 billion deal. Buy it’s unclear if this is a new agreement or the renewal of a deal signed in 2015 before sanctions were lifted.
Washington agreed to exempt from sanctions several European companies, but if Trump thought the sanctions would hermetically seal the Iranian economy, he has a surprise coming. After all, like Russia, China doesn’t intend to stick to a U.S. sanctions policy and will also increase imports from Iran.
And a few days ago Turkey’s foreign minister said his country wouldn’t implement any sanctions because, as he put it, Turkey buys oil from Iran on good terms, and what other options are there? So what will Trump do if such big gaps hurt his sanctions policy?
On other Middle East fronts too, the United States acts as if this part of the world had no bearing on it. The “deal of the century” is being dwarfed by the deal with Hamas. Freezing aid to the Palestinian Authority is the only item on display in Trump’s empty shop.
The absurdity is that while the United States is operating to undermine the PA, it’s pressing to help the Hamas government in Gaza. Here it finds a loyal partner in Jerusalem and its raft of contradictions. Israel opens the Kerem Shalom crossing while doing battle in Gaza. It subtracts tax revenue to the PA for any money paid to Palestinian prisoners and families of terrorists, but encourages the Gulf countries to contribute to rehabilitating Gaza. These contradictions seem essential to preventing a military operation in Gaza, but there’s no policy in it.
Meanwhile, the Washington that aspires to shrink Iran’s influence in the Middle East doesn’t contribute anything toward ending the war in Yemen, where the United Arab Emirates and the Saudis are fighting the Houthis backed by Iran. From a local war that erupted after the Arab Spring, Yemen has turned into an Arab-Iranian arena where the only country ready to provide mediation is Iran.
The Saudi and UAE failures, even after their capture of the port city of Hodeida, have led to the deaths of more than 10,000 people, half of them civilians, including many children — and including from disease, thirst and hunger. Washington doesn’t consider the numbers of victims in its policy, but what about the strategic interest of preserving a Yemen that sits at a vital naval crossroads outside Iran’s sphere of influence?
Yemen and Syria aren’t the only conflict zones beyond the realm of U.S. involvement. Take Iraq. It enjoys American aid; Washington is also trying to raise $3 billion from donor nations for Iraq, a country that has overcome Islamic State domination thanks to the United States. But it isn’t necessarily pro-American.
The Iraqi government pays the salaries of militias trained and armed by Iran, Iran is Iraq’s third most important trading partner after Turkey and China, and some of the Shi’ite parties that won the latest election support coordination and partnership with Iran. Even half the Kurdish region enjoys close trade ties with Iran and takes care to maintain good relations with a country where eight to 10 million Kurds live, half of them in four Kurdish districts in the country’s northwest.
In recent weeks there have been protests in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, and there have been calls to get Iran out of Iraq, while the Iraqi government blames Iran for damaging its water sources. But the Iraqi regime can’t give up Iranian economic involvement or cut itself off politically from Tehran.
Iraqi and Syrian differences
In May, Pompeo said pro-Iranian militias and terrorists have been sent to Iraq by Iran to undermine the Iraqi security forces and erode Iraqi sovereignty. And what does the administration do? Tweet and make speeches.
The assumption is that the moment Iranian or pro-Iranian forces establish themselves in another country, there will be no way to get them out. Because of this there are fears that pro-Iranian forces in Syria will mix with the Syrian army and become a permanent military arm.
The same assumption may be put forward regarding Iraq, but the differences between the governments in Syria and Iraq make it difficult to believe this. The pro-Iranian Shi’ite militias are based on Iraqi civilians, just as Hezbollah in Lebanon is built on Lebanese citizens and not foreigners.
The Shi’ite leadership in Iraq, as opposed to the leadership in Syria, has a strong religious leaning toward Iran. The Syrian Alawites are considered a deviant Shi’ite stream. Syrian economic dependency on Iran was almost negligible before the war, as opposed to the Syrian debt to Iran after the war estimated at $35 billion.
Also, it’s doubtful whether the Syrian army could or would want to absorb pro-Iranian foreign units, especially since these forces will always be seen as disloyal to the regime. It is also doubtful whether once the war is over, Syria would permit Iran to establish separate military bases that would provide convenient targets for Israeli attacks such as what's taking place now.
With the Syrian regime’s resumption of control over wide swaths of Syria and life returning to normal in many districts, and mainly amid the general agreement that there is no alternative at the moment to the Assad regime, an active American policy would be needed to restore Syria to the Arab circle. Such a policy would require coordination with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Russia and countries seeking to help rebuild Syria.
But the U.S. administration, like Israel, is still captive to the concept that tactical strikes against Iranian targets and threats on Twitter will be enough to get Iran to withdraw from Syria. This is a classic tactic of playing with the lion’s tail, creating the illusion that some strategy will turn up at the tail’s edge.

Iran’s regime will do anything to survive
Camelia Entekhabifard/Arab News/July 28/18
It is not clear why Iranian politicians are looking for more headaches with the United States. While no one is threatening Iran’s national security, President Hassan Rouhani — apparently angry about the currency crisis in Iran, and the heightened potential for an explosion of public anger over the collapsing economy and high inflation — suddenly opened verbal fire on the US. He threatened “the mother of all wars” if the Trump administration maintained its harsh economic sanctions against Iran.
Finally, Iranians had a taste of Donald Trump’s famous Twitter diplomacy. He tweeted back to Rouhani, advising him never to threaten the US, again, or Iran would “suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before.”
The odour of confrontation rose in the region, and worried Iranians, who were already concerned over Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and the return of sanctions. But confrontation with the US is a function of the diplomacy being pursued by the Iranian regime, not by the Iranian people.
Maybe the regime is looking for a new headache to conceal its mismanagement, systematic corruption and lack of legitimacy. In such a critical situation, appealing to the public’s nationalistic sentiments is often the best tool for the totalitarian regime to survive. Interestingly, however, the public reaction in Iran was not one of support for confronting Trump; instead, anger against the system increased.
With Rouhani having failed to provoke the Iranian public against the US, it was the turn of Gen. Qasem Soleimani, commander of the elite Quds Force, to write to President Trump - it did not make Iranians proud, only more upset.
With Rouhani having failed to provoke the Iranian public against the US, it was the turn of Gen. Qasem Soleimani, commander of the elite Quds Force, to write to President Trump. “As a soldier, it is my duty to respond to your threats,” he wrote. “If you want to use the language of threat, talk to me, not to the president. It is beneath our president’s dignity to respond to you.”
Far from making Iranians proud, Rouhani’s remarks and Soleimani’s letter made them more upset. Simply, Iranians have lost their trust in the current system and are seeking fundamental change.
It is probably too late for Rouhani or anyone else in the regime to fix the problems, but it is also too soon for them to realize they have to give power back to the people to choose the type of the government they want.
Iranians no longer care whether it is Trump’s policy to talk the clerics into a better nuclear deal, or block their financial resources with tough sanctions to curb their regional meddling. Instead, they are looking for their own path to make the necessary changes in Iran, with or without anyone’s support.
Maybe years ago such a letter from the commander of the Quds Force to the US President could have persuaded the public to admire his patriotism — but not today, when Iranians see so many of his soldiers fighting for Assad in Syria, or alongside Hezbollah. People are asking why their wealth has been squandered on the regional ambitions of the regime and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The myth that the US may attack Iran is an old trick that no longer fools anyone.
Neither the Iranian people nor anyone else in the region wants another war; they understand that the consequences would reach far beyond Iran’s borders, and would draw the whole Middle East into a conflagration.
No one on this planet hopes for war — except perhaps the Iranian regime, who see it as a survival option. And interestingly, issuing threats to the US has brought about a sudden unification between the “moderate” government of Rouhani and the extremists in the military. Each needs the other to survive, and they know it.
**Camelia Entekhabifard is an Iranian-American journalist, political commentator and author of Camelia: Save Yourself By Telling the Truth (Seven Stories Press, 2008). Twitter: @CameliaFard​