June 03/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations
This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be
Luke 12/16-21: "Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, "What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?" Then he said, "I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry." But God said to him, "You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?"So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’"

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on June 02-03/18
Hariri: New government to be formed after Eid al-Fitr/Hussein Dakroub/The Daily Star/June 02/18
BDS fly Hezbollah flag at Israel-South Africa photo exhibition/By Ilanit Chernick/Jerusalem/June 02/2018
Israel and Hezbollah may be sleepwalking into war/Yossi Mekelberg/Arab News/June 02/18
NATO chief: We won't aid Israel if Iran attacks/Associated Press/Ynetnews/June 02/18
Has the countdown for the Iranian regime’s fall begun/Nadim Koteich/Al Arabiya/June 02/18
Iran and the Gulf: Let’s start with facts and then move forward/Faisal Al-Shammeri/Al Arabiya/June 02/18
Iraqi voters decide the next government’s identity/Adnan Hussein/Al Arabiya/June 02/18
The politicization of Mo Salah’s injury/Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/June 02/18
Is Russia waging war with ‘autonomous patriotic volunteers’ to deny responsibility/Dr. Azeem Ibrahim/Al Arabiya/June 02/18
British 'Justice': Poppycock/Bruce Bawer/Gatestone Institute/June 02/2018
UK: A New Drive for Islamic Blasphemy Laws/Judith Bergman/Gatestone Institute/June 02/2018

Titles For The Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on June 02-03/18
Uproar in Lebanon over ‘naturalization’ granting hundreds citizenship
Background Profiles of Naturalized Individuals Revealed
Presidency Denies Access to Controversial Decree
Naturalization Decree Sparks Controversy
Hariri: New government to be formed after Eid al-Fitr
Lebanon: Naturalization Decree to Face Challenges
Aoun calls for intel on eligibility of names in naturalization decree to be brought forward
BDS fly Hezbollah flag at Israel-South Africa photo exhibition
Report: Baabda Assures ‘New Govt to Isolate No One’
Abou Faour Criticizes Decree Granting Lebanese Nationality to Foreigners
Gulf Official Says ‘Difficult’ Stage Awaiting Lebanon
MP Jamil Sayyed to Stand Witness Before STL in June
Israel and Hezbollah may be sleepwalking into war

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on June 02-03/18
NATO chief: We won't aid Israel if Iran attacks
Egypt's Sisi Worn in for Second Term in Office
US-Led Coalition Raids Kill 12 Civilians in Syria's Hasakeh
US Vetoes UN Resolution on Protecting Palestinians
Saudi Arabia Reshuffles Cabinet with Eye on Culture
N. Korea Summit Back On, Trump Says after Meeting Kim Envoy
Palestinian Tries to Hit Israeli Soldiers with Car, Shot Dead
Mattis Accuses China of 'Intimidation and Coercion' in S. China Sea
Assad to go along with Putin’s request to disband militias
Pilots eject safely as Iran military jet crashes in Isfahan
Palestinian man shot dead by Israeli soldiers in West Bank
Juncker Calls for Respect for New Italy Govt
Sanchez Sworn in As New Spanish PM after Ousting Mariano Rajoy
No More Mr Nice Guy: Canada's Trudeau Gets Tough
US Troop Presence in S. Korea Not 'on Table' at Trump-Kim Summit, Says Mattis
Canada concerned by Syria’s recognition of Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia
Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on June 02-03/18
Uproar in Lebanon over ‘naturalization’ granting hundreds citizenship
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Saturday, 2 June 2018/A controversial decree granting citizenship to 375 foreigners has sent ripples across Lebanon in the last 48 hours after news emerged that President Michel Aoun signed the resolution along with Prime Minister designate Saad al-Hariri and caretaker Interior Minister Nouhad Mashnouq. While government officials kept silent, civil societies and activists took to social media to vent their anger and criticism. The decree, which was riddled with accusations of bribery, grants Lebanese citizenship to affluent applicants including Syrians, Palestinians, Iraqis and Iranian nationals. While MP Nadim Gemayel from Kataeb party was the first to announce the list of the names of those included in the presidential decree of naturalization, there was conflicting information as to whether the decree had already been signed. In an interview with Al Arabiya news channel, MP Gemayel confirmed the signing of the decree according to sources close to the presidential palace. Aoun’s office has yet to comment on the matter, with sources telling Annahar newspaper that the decree might have been drafted before the May 6 elections while the Cabinet was still fully operational. Both Hariri and Mashnouq have also refrained from commenting up to this point. But the caretaker Justice minister Salim Jreissati confirmed in a statement Friday the signing of the decree which sent waves of shocks to a lot of Lebanese citizens especially Lebanese women married to foreigners who cannot grant citizenship to their children due to religious considerations and others related to the issue of settling the Palestinians. These development draws a lot of questions whether if the law grants the Minister of the Interior, the President of the Republic with the approval of a majority of ministers, a naturalization decree.
The question now is about the “category” that has been naturalized, especially if it is true that they are rumored to be financiers who have paid about $ 200,000. If that is true the Lebanese are asking on social media: “Where did all that money go and in whose pocket it ended up?”

Background Profiles of Naturalized Individuals Revealed 02nd June 2018/Some of the individuals included in the naturalization decree, that was inked lately by President Michel Aoun and PM Saad Hariri, appear to be closely tied to the Syrian regime, as reported by LBCI channel. One of the individuals who have been granted Lebanese citizenship is Syrian businessman S.F. who had been described by the Financial Times as a man who "has direct ties to the Assad inner circle.” The Daily Beast website also depicted him as "a member of Syria’s wealthy family of international businessmen, which reportedly has close links to the Assad regime." Several people affiliated to the Aman Group, which is owned by S.F., notably the company's deputy chairman (Kh.Z.) are reportedly also among those included in the naturalization decree. Another man (M.M.) is believed to be the son of a former Syrian minister who is allegedly in charge of getting Iran's funds through to the Assad regime. One of the naturalized individuals (Aa.S.) has the same name of a Syrian businessman who served as the head of Syria's Sea Navigation Chamber. The Customs Directorate had seized the man's assets based on smuggling charges.
Iranian national (S.A.) also has the same name of a businessman who was involved in the Unaoil bribery scandal in Iraq. Unaoil was, according to the thousands of leaked emails, running an extensive network of shady middlemen who had connections to ministers and oil officials in Iraq, Libya, Iran, Nigeria, Kazakhstan, Syria, Azerbaijan, Malaysia and Algeria.

Presidency Denies Access to Controversial Decree 02nd June 2018/Kataeb leader Samy Gemayel on Saturday announced that the Presidency secretariat had refused to provide him with a copy of the naturalization decree, adding that he will be addressing the same request to the Interior Ministry next week.
"The Presidency has refused to give us a copy of the naturalization decree although it was the authority that issued it," he wrote on Twitter. Gemayel on Friday requested that the Presidency would provide a copy of the naturalization decree that was inked by the head of state, stressing that it is the lawmakers' right to know what was included in said law. In a letter addressed to the General Directorate of the Lebanese Presidency, Gemayel noted that his request is congruent with the provisions of the "Right to Access to Information” law which was passed by the Parliament in 2017.

Naturalization Decree Sparks Controversy 02nd June 2018/After news emerged that President Michel Aoun had inked a decree according to which several foreign nationals, notably Syrians and Palestinians, were granted citizenship, a number of Lebanese officials have condemned such a move as they deemed it as dubious. Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat announced that he is preparing an appeal to contest said decree before the Constitutional Council, demanding the competent authorities to clarify all the circumstances and motives behind this law. “This decree raises several questions whether in terms of its timing, content, significance and objectives,” Jumblat wrote on Twitter. "Some of those who are part of the ruling authority have been busy drafting a decree that grants citizenship to rich foreigners so as to get spoils and commissions." For his part, Caretaker Information Minister Melhem Riachi voiced the Lebanese Forces’ utter rejection of the naturalization decree, affirming that the party will be challenging it.MP Antoine Habchi voiced concern over the suspicious silence and the extreme secrecy that are overshadowing this issue, stressing that all necessary measures will be taken to foil it.
Former MP Fadi Karam deemed naturalization as a critical matter that cannot be overlooked, warning of the major demographic problems that it can lead to. MP Farid Al-Khazen called on the Interior Minister to declare an official stance concerning the naturalization decree as well as the criteria that were adopted in it.
Hariri: New government to be formed after Eid al-Fitr
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star/Jun. 02, 2018
BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri said Friday he expected a new government to be formed after Eid al-Fitr, maintaining his optimism despite hurdles that might hinder the Cabinet formation process by rival factions’ demands for key ministerial posts. Attempts to form a new government will pick up pace early next week following Hariri’s return to Beirut from a visit to Saudi Arabia, a source close to the premier-designate said Friday. Hariri is set to return this weekend from a few days’ visit to Saudi Arabia and will deliver a speech during an iftar at the Sea Side Pavilion (formerly BIEL) Sunday night outlining his position on the Cabinet formation efforts and other issues, the source told The Daily Star.Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of the holy Muslim month of fasting, falls either on June 15 or 16, depending on the sighting of the new moon. Hariri spoke with local news outlet MTV by telephone from his residence in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. Hariri, who has been in Riyadh since Tuesday night, said he was on a vacation his family, adding he had not and will not meet with any Saudi officials. Similarly, Hariri said he did not make any contacts with any Lebanese officials in Beirut during his stay in Riyadh on the Cabinet formation efforts. “When I return to Beirut, efforts will be resumed at a quick pace to form the government,” he was quoted as saying.
Commenting on rival parties’ demands for key ministerial posts, Hariri was quoted as saying that Hezbollah would get three ministers in a 30-member Cabinet. He did not say if any of the portfolios would deal with public services, as per demands by Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah. Asked about the Lebanese Forces, which was reported to be demanding key ministerial posts, having boosted its parliamentary representation from eight to 15 MPs in the elections, Hariri was quoted as saying: “There are no obstacles in this respect [of LF representation] on my part.” He expressed hope that the dispute between the LF and the Free Patriotic Movement over the Cabinet posts and other issues would be resolved. Caretaker Information Minister Melhem Riachi, one of three LF ministers in the outgoing Cabinet, said the LF was seeking a Cabinet share that corresponded to its parliamentary size. Asked in an interview with MTV whether the LF was demanding the Energy and Water Ministry that has been held for years by the FPM, Riachi said: “No, we did not demand it, but we will not refuse to take it. We are not talking about [ministerial] posts. But, of course, we want a [Cabinet] share that conforms to our political weight and parliamentary size. We will not talk about figures. But why should our share be similar to that of the Free Patriotic Movement?”
Hariri also appeared to be optimistic that a solution would be found to the problem of Druze representation in the next government.
His remarks came as former MP Walid Joumblatt, leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, seemed to be adamant that the PSP’s parliamentary Democratic Gathering bloc obtain three ministerial posts reserved for the Druze in a 30-member Cabinet. Joumblatt’s demand was seen as an attempt to prevent his Druze rival, MP Talal Arslan, from being named minister in the new government. Hariri’s visit to Saudi Arabia is his second since he announced his surprise resignation from Riyadh on Nov. 4, plunging Lebanon into political uncertainty. However, Hariri later rescinded his resignation following a Cabinet agreement on Dec. 5 on a fresh policy of dissociation from regional conflicts and noninterference in the internal affairs of Arab countries. Hariri, who has been prime minister since December 2016 and served his first term from 2009 to 2011, was designated for the third time with an overwhelming parliamentary majority on May 24 to form a new government. While Hariri was away, political rivals began traditional jockeying in a bid to grab a bigger share of Cabinet posts despite promises made by the leaders of major parliamentary blocs to help facilitate and accelerate the formation of a new unity government representing all the parties. President Michel Aoun Friday expressed his optimism that the new government would be formed soon. He said that carrying out reforms and fighting corruption in the public administration would be at the core of the new government. “The next stage that will follow the formation of a new government will deal with the economic and social situation facing Lebanon, with a focus on maintaining stable security and following up on the problem of displaced Syrians’ return to their country,” Aoun said during a meeting with EU Ambassador to Lebanon Christina Lassen at Baabda Palace. “Reforms will be at the core of the next government’s attention, in addition to completing the implementation of development projects, particularly those related to ensuring additional electric energy, and implementing water dams and the transport network,” Aoun said. He vowed not to be lenient with any corruption case. “All leaders agree on the need to combat corruption. What is required is to translate these stances into real commitment,” Aoun said. “I will not be lenient from now on in any [corruption] file presented to me or to supervisory agencies.”For her part, Lassen renewed the EU’s support for Lebanon in various fields, expressing hope that the new government would be formed soon.

Lebanon: Naturalization Decree to Face Challenges
Beirut - Nazeer Rida/Asharq Al Awsat/Saturday, 2 June, 2018/A controversial naturalization decree signed by Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun opened a wide door for criticism by political forces that announced that they would challenge it as soon as it is published in the Official Gazette. Sources close to Aoun saw the campaigns as “politically targeted”, noting that all former presidents have signed similar decrees for individuals, without posing any risk to the Lebanese entity. concerned officials have until now kept silence over the details of the naturalization decree, available information on the number of those naturalized varied, ranging from 258 to 400 with different nationalities including Palestinians and Syrians, in addition to other Arab and foreign nationalities. On Friday, MP Nadim Gemayel published information on 52 persons included in the decree, some of whom were Palestinians. He also revealed that another decree to naturalize Syrian and Palestinian families was under preparation. “This is a preparation for a settlement project, which is unacceptable,” he said. Meanwhile, the Lebanese Forces (LF) and the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) announced they would challenge the decree before the Constitutional Council, immediately after it is published in the Official Gazette. Member of the Powerful Republic bloc MP Wehbeh Qatisha, described the naturalization of some 400 people at the beginning of Aoun’s term as “dangerous and intolerable.” He told Asharq Al-Awsat that the LF would challenge it “because it is illegal and unconstitutional.”The Democratic Gathering bloc, headed by MP Taymour Jumblatt, also announced that it was preparing to challenge the decree. The bloc questioned “the criteria adopted for the granting of Lebanese nationality to the persons listed in the decree and the basis of the decision-making.”
In response, a parliamentary source said that the anti-decree campaign had political targets. In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat, the source said: “Those, who target the president behind the decree… are facing the demands for a safe return of the Syrians to their country and they are trying to harm the image of the president.”Former President Michel Sleiman signed a decree to naturalize more than 600 people. “Most presidents have signed naturalization decrees for small groups or individuals, a right that the law grants to the president,” well-informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Aoun calls for intel on eligibility of names in naturalization decree to be brought forward
The Daily Star/Jun. 02, 2018/BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun Saturday requested that anyone with evidence of the ineligibility of members of a list of people to be granted Lebanese citizenship bring the information to General Security. Local media reported that Aoun met with General Security head Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim Saturday to discuss the controversial decree that would naturalize 375 people. The act was signed within the past month by President Michel Aoun, caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri and caretaker Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, but news of its passage only surfaced this week. While not a violation of the Constitution, the manner of the decree’s passage and its timing have raised hackles across the country. Naturalization has been a controversial topic since the outbreak of the 1975-90 Civil War, mainly due to its implication on the country’s sectarian balance. Of the 375 names on the latest decree, 260 were Christian and 115 were Muslim. It has also been reported that some of those on the list paid large sums of money to be included. Parliamentary sources told The Daily Star that the announcement comes ahead of the likely removal of a number of names. “During the meeting between Aoun and Ibrahim, it was agreed to revise the [decree] and to present the citizenship only to those who deserve it,” one parliamentary source said. The sources added that the announcement may even pave the way to rescinding the decree, as some of those slated for naturalization had not been vetted by General Security. Issues like this are traditionally agreed upon between politicians if, and only if, there is a balance between sects. But a political source previously told The Daily Star that this naturalization decree would be followed by other similar decrees during Aoun’s tenure. While it is not uncommon for outgoing presidents to sign naturalization decrees, Aoun diverged by doing so halfway through his second year.
BDS fly Hezbollah flag at Israel-South Africa photo exhibition
By Ilanit Chernick/Jerusalem/June 02/2018
Opening event major success despite anti-Israel protesters' attempts to disrupt.
JOHANNNESBURG - Protesters and supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement made several attempts to disrupt the opening of the #YallaYebo photography exhibition in South Africa on Thursday night.
Several scuffles broke out as the BDS supporters waved Hezbollah flags covered in red paint and compared Jews to Nazis, while hurling abuse in an attempt to provoke violence.
The Jerusalem Post witnessed first-hand as several protesters called Jews Nazis for attending the event.
“You [South African Jews] have done this to yourselves,” he said pointing at several guests waiting to get into the venue. “You can’t look at yourself in the mirror… because you know you’ve turned into a f****** Nazi.”
Another protester chanted that Israel was carrying out “the final solution.”
One guest told the Post that flying the Hezbollah flag at a Jewish event, “a terrorist organization that wants Jews dead, is as bad as flying the apartheid South African flag in front of me. “If it was me, I wouldn’t be standing here calmly like you are, I’d be getting in their faces and demanding to know what they think they’re doing,” he added. Another visitor said, “Perhaps they feared that the pictures contradicted their lies, and rather showcased both countries in their diversity and beauty.” The entire event is an initiative of the Israeli Embassy and the South African Friends of Israel, who embarked on a joint project with the aim of exploring South Africa and Israel’s diversities and similarities. Despite attempts by the two-dozen protesters to disrupt, threaten and intimidate guests, over a hundred art enthusiasts, together with dignitaries, community leaders and media attended.
Israeli Ambassador Lior Keinan and Deputy Ambassador Ayellet Black addressed the audience, focusing on the importance of creating a cultural space where people can experience a different side of both countries, enabling a neutral platform for dialogue and engagement. The event was the culmination of an artist exchange program which took place in October 2017. The concept of the exhibition is to showcase the beauty, diversity and similarities of South Africa and Israel, through the artist’s eyes and experiences. Two Israeli instagrammers came to South Africa to photo-document the country’s richly diverse cultures and impressive landscapes, and, in turn, two South African instagrammers went to Israel, mirroring this project. The South African instagrammers, student-Oscar nominated director Miklas Manneke, and famous photographer Alexi Portokallis - whom the Post spent time with while photographing Israel in November - expressed their pride and excitement about their exhibition, and that such a dream had become a reality. They showed the Post some of their favorite shots, which included women at the Western Wall and the diverse culture of Machaneh Yehuda market.
The photographs captured the essence and complexities of both Israel and South Africa.
During the event, protesters blocked the entrance and security was forced to stop guests from entering or leaving the art gallery out of concern that the protesters would try to storm the venue. As the Post attempted to leave through a back entrance escorted by security, several protesters came to the gate brandishing signs and shouted in an abusive and aggressive manner in an attempt to force the group back inside out of fear. The protesters were unsuccessful. In a statement, South African Friends of Israel co-chairman Ben Swartz said that “the event went ahead despite a frantic, last minute attempt to disrupt it by about two dozen anti-Israel protestors, who typically resorted to noisy abuse, intimidation and aggression.”“Flags representing the radical Islamist Hezbollah movement were brandished and curses and insults hurled at patrons wishing to access the venue, including Nazi and racist threats,” he said. “Despite this being an illegal picket, and being politely asked to leave the venue by police and mall security, the mob became confrontational, evidently bent on provoking a violent confrontation.”Swartz added that “most people, including a number of journalists, were baffled and disgusted at the way a neutral and cultural space such as an art gallery was being targeted, and people made to feel uncomfortable and unsafe by these hooligans.”Swartz encouraged all those who were prevented from entering the venue or couldn’t make it to visit the exhibition and not be discouraged by gross acts of intimidation.
“On the contrary, show your support to the artists for their incredible vision and talent,” he said.

Report: Baabda Assures ‘New Govt to Isolate No One’
Naharnet/June 02/18/Lebanon’s new government to be formed by PM-designate Saad Hariri will not “isolate” any political party, amid assurances that any obstacle threatening the formation process will be “overcome,” al-Joumhouria daily reported on Saturday. Sources of President Michel Aoun said: “The new government will not isolate anyone,” noting that the “Lebanese Forces are not targeted at all,” and that their concerns have been addressed during a meeting between the President and LF chief Samir Geagea. They said “Aoun and Hariri are keen on addressing everyone’s concern, and when it comes to the formation all obstacles will be thwarted.”Hariri is now tasked with forming a coalition cabinet -- typically a drawn-out process involving horse-trading among Lebanon's competing political forces.

Abou Faour Criticizes Decree Granting Lebanese Nationality to Foreigners
Naharnet/June 02/18/Democratic Gathering bloc MP Wael Abou Faour criticized on Saturday a decree reportedly signed by President Michel Aoun granting Lebanese citizenship to foreigners and Syrian businessmen. “Anyone who sells citizenship can not be entrusted to run a nation,” Abou Faour said in a statement. The controversial decree reportedly gives citizenship to some 300 people mostly including names of Syrian, Palestinian, Western and Gulf businessmen, as well as a number of stateless applicants. “What will be left of national claims when the Lebanese nationality has been put out for sale by non-eligible financiers,” he said. He criticised the contradiction between the decree and a Lebanese law that bans Lebanese women married to foreigners from passing their nationality to their children. “Who will protect the rights of deserving sons of fathers and Lebanese mothers who suffer before Lebanon’s courts and departments to prove their right to nationality?” said the MP in his statement. The controversial decree is expected to provoke criticism, especially since it will be issued by a caretaker government. Reports raised the possibility that the decree could be challenged in front of the Constitutional Council.

Gulf Official Says ‘Difficult’ Stage Awaiting Lebanon
Naharnet/June 02/18/A Gulf official said in remarks he made to the pan-Arab al-Hayat daily on Saturday that the results of the parliamentary elections in Lebanon represented a “significant decline in favor of Hizbullah,” and that the party has “strengthened” its presence in the country’s state institutions.
He said the Gulf should deal with Lebanon with the same “non-sectarian” logic of dealing with Iraq, “we deal with all sects similarly and not on a sectarian basis. Not all Shiites are pro-Iranian,” he said. Pointing to what he noted as “positive signs” represented in the elections results achieved by the Lebanese Forces, “LF results are encouraging because it indicates a Christian rejection of the large alliance between the mass of President Michel Aoun and Hizbullah. This is what should be built on,” he said. “Gulf states must continue to follow the situation and communicate with Lebanon in order to make some influence. It should be made on a non-sectarian basis with all groups that see the significance of the state, and don’t see Lebanon an Iranian platform. Lebanon must be independent,” he added. The official who declined to be named, added: “It was a mistake for (Prime Minister-designate Saad) Hariri to assume this position in such circumstances, although it was marketed that there were no options ahead but Hariri,” he concluded. Hariri’s al-Mustaqbal Movement lost a third of its seats on May 6, when Lebanon held its first legislative election in nine years and voters reinforced Hizbullah’s parliamentary weight.

MP Jamil Sayyed to Stand Witness Before STL in June
Naharnet/June 02/18/MP Jamil al-Sayyed is set to stand as witness before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in the assassination case of ex-PM Rafik Hariri and companions, Naharnet sources said on Friday. According to the sources, former General Security head Sayyed will stand before the tribunal on June 5, 6 and 7. Hariri was assassinated in a massive car explosion on February 14, 2005 in Beirut which killed 21 others, and injured 226 more. Al-Sayyed was one of four generals ordered jailed by the STL in connection with the assassination of Hariri, father of Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri. The four generals were eventually released due to lack of evidence. Al-Sayyed has accused so-called “false witnesses” of framing him and the other three generals. Sayyed, elected lawmaker in Lebanon’s May 6 elections, has demanded that the justice ministerial portfolio be allocated to his pro-Damascus March 8 political camp.
Israel and Hezbollah may be sleepwalking into war
Yossi Mekelberg/Arab News/June 02/18
In the unrelenting pace of events that involves Israel and its neighbors, one can be forgiven for losing focus on where the next menacing crisis may emerge. Much attention has been diverted, with great justification I hasten to say, to events on Israel’s border with Gaza, to the opening in Jerusalem of the relocated US embassy, to the decision by President Trump to opt out of the Iran nuclear deal, and to Israeli airstrikes in Syria. This is a busy enough agenda to occupy decision makers, and the public, around the clock.
However, tensions between Lebanon, or more accurately Hezbollah, and Israel have somehow fallen off the radar, even though a devastating war between the two is not beyond the realm of possibility and would have horrendous consequences for both. In the internal logic of blunt threats between Israel and Hezbollah, the worse the rhetoric of war becomes, the more obvious it is that neither side is interested in renewing hostilities, because they are deeply worried about the consequences. Nevertheless, it remains a real possibility that they may talk themselves into war, or that one would be triggered by events elsewhere, especially in Syria where there is growing military friction between Israel and Iran, Hezbollah’s main ideological inspiration, political guide, paymaster and weapons supplier.
In the triangle of Israel–Lebanon–Syria relations, it is Iran that connects the dots, trying to advance its interests by destabilising the region, expanding into weakened areas and imposing its own agenda. For years Israeli decision makers have perceived Iran and its proxy militia in Lebanon as an existential threat, although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his political allies are happy to exploit Iran as a convenient diversion from other complex issues that they are either unable or unwilling to address.
For Israel, Iran is the arch pantomime villain in the Middle East theater, and Hezbollah is its frontline arm.
The full impact of the surprise success of Hezbollah and its allies in last month’s Lebanese parliamentary elections has yet to be felt. Will political responsibility encourage relative moderation? Or will we see exactly the opposite, with the election outcome seen by its leadership as a mandate for a more militant approach, including the movement’s deep involvement on the side of the Assad regime in Syria, and an escalation of its actions aimed at provoking Israel?
Logic dictates that there is enough bitter experience and tragic memories on both sides of the border to avert another military conflict. But there is no guarantee that rational decision-making will prevail. One of the worst perceptual and operational fiascos in Israel’s military history was the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, with the tacit objective of regime change in Beirut. The president designated by Israel, Bashir Gemayel, was assassinated by the Syrian intelligence service within days of coming to power and being forced to sign a peace agreement with his southern neighbor. And instead of peace, Israel left a trail of destruction, including thousands of civilians and hundreds of its own soldiers dead, and a new enemy, Hezbollah. It took it 18 years to leave the country with its tail between its legs. Nearly a quarter of a century later the experience of another war between Hezbollah and Israel produced no conclusive result, and was based on another unsubstantiated Israeli assumption that hurting Lebanon as a whole in a conflict with Hezbollah would lead to pressure on the latter to yield to Israeli will. This plan was also a failure, and the 2006 war ended in another stalemate, although Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s secretary-general, has been in hiding ever since.
For Israel, Iran is the arch pantomime villain in the Middle East theater, and Hezbollah is its frontline arm. It is not only the belligerent statements from Nasrallah that are a major cause for concern; more importantly, it is the capabilities accumulated by the organization over a more than a decade, since the last major round of hostilities with Israel. Close work with Russian and Iranian commanders has improved the organization’s fighting capabilities. Its military force has more than doubled to 45,000 since the last time it met Israel on the battlefield. Its troops have suffered severe losses during the years of involvement in the Syrian conflict, but they have also gained operational experience in a complex and intense military environment. Moreover, Hezbollah now possesses about 120,000 rockets and missiles, 10 times more than in 2006, with a range that covers the entire state of Israel, not to mention hundreds of drones that can carry explosives and SA-22 anti-aircraft missiles.
Israel has invested immense efforts, with limited success, in attempting to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons and ammunition from Iran to Lebanon, via Syria. Its growing nervousness about Hezbollah’s increasing military capability is evident from the ever-increasing frequency of attacks on Iranian installations and arms convoys heading to Lebanon. If the presence of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and other military personnel in Syria is a longer-term threat to Israel, a war with Hezbollah is perceived as a more immediate danger which, should it materialize, could end with the worst civilian casualties in Israel’s history. Consequently, both senior government officials and generals in Israel are claiming in no uncertain terms that if such a scenario were to become reality, Israel would literally destroy Lebanon; or, as others put it, turn it into a country of refugees. There is no appetite for this on either side, but their demagogues and deeds might lead to it regardless.
*Yossi Mekelberg is professor of international relations at Regent’s University London, where he is head of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program. He is also an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. He is a regular contributor to the international written and electronic

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on June 02-03/18
NATO chief: We won't aid Israel if Iran attacks
Associated Press/Ynetnews/June 02/18
Jens Stoltenberg tells Der Spiegel that while Israel is a partner, it is not a member and therefore NATO's 'security guarantee' doesn't apply to it.
NATO's secretary-general said Saturday the alliance wouldn't come to Israel's defense in case of attack by arch enemy Iran.
Jens Stoltenberg told the magazine Der Spiegel that Israel is a partner, but not a member and that NATO's "security guarantee" doesn't apply to Israel.
Stoltenberg noted NATO isn't involved in Mideast peace efforts or in conflicts in the region.
Stoltenberg's comments in the wake of recent clashes between Israel and Iran in the Golan Heights, and amid Israeli efforts to remove the Iranians and their Shiite allies, including Hezbollah, from the Israel-Syria border area.
Israel and Russia have reportedly reached an agreement that would see the withdrawal of Iranian and Hezbollah forces from the Golan, while troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad will take over the area.
According to a report in the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, the Iranian and Hezbollah forces will initially pull back its forces to within 20 kilometers of the border, and later to a range of 60 to 70 kilometers, with Russia underlining the fact that this was a gradual process.
Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly wanted Israel to allow Assad's army to move southwards to the Jordanian border and secure all of the Syrian Golan Heights.
In return, the Russian president is willing to promise Israel that Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps and Iran-affiliated militias will not be present in the territories Assad's army takes.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, reported on Thursday that Iranian troops and members of Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah group are getting ready to withdraw from southern Syria.
A Syria-based official with the Iran-led axis of resistance denied the report.
Assad himself has rebuffed claims of an Iranian military presence in his country, while accusing Israel of launching attacks on his territory and of propagating “lies” about its massive aerial offensive launched earlier in May.
The embattled Syrian president told Russia Today that Iran's presence in his country was limited to officers who were assisting the Syrian army. Apparently referring to the May 10 attack by Israel, Assad said "we had tens of Syrian martyrs and wounded soldiers, not a single Iranian" casualty.

Egypt's Sisi Worn in for Second Term in Office
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/June 02/18/Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was sworn in on Saturday for a second four-year term in office during a special parliament session broadcast live on state television. Sisi took the oath in a packed house and in front of members of his government, after winning 97 percent of valid votes in the March presidential election.

US-Led Coalition Raids Kill 12 Civilians in Syria's Hasakeh
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/June 02/18/At least 12 civilians -- members of the same family -- have been killed in US-led coalition raids on the Islamic State group in northeastern Syria, a monitor said Saturday. "The air strikes and artillery fire (Friday night) by the international coalition on the village of Hidaj, held by IS in the southern sector of Hasakeh province, killed at least 12 people," the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The civilians -- including two women and their children -- belonged to the same family, it added. The deaths bring to "20 the number of civilians killed by the coalition in 24 hours east of the Euphrates River", said the Observatory, which relies on a network of sources across Syria for its reports. On Thursday, eight other civilians were killed in coalition strikes in Deir Ezzor province, south of Hasakeh. IS jihadists have lost most of the self-proclaimed "caliphate" they once controlled in large parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq since 2014. Today, the jihadists hold less than three percent of Syria, according to the Observatory said. In Deir Ezzor, the mainly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces -- supported by the US-led coalition -- are trying to dislodge jihadists from the east bank of the Euphrates. The coalition said Friday its airstrikes in Syria and Iraq had "unintentionally" killed 892 civilians since its bombing campaign began nearly four years ago. More than 350,000 people have been killed in Syria's war since it started in 2011 with a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests. It has since spiralled into a complex conflict involving world powers and foreign jihadists.

US Vetoes UN Resolution on Protecting Palestinians
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/June 02/18/The United States vetoed Friday an Arab-backed UN draft resolution calling for measures to protect the Palestinians but failed to win any backing for its own text condemning Hamas for the violence in Gaza. The two failed votes at the Security Council came a few hours after a young Palestinian woman was shot dead by Israeli soldiers near the Gaza border fence. At least 123 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since the protests began at the end of March. No Israelis have been killed. US Ambassador Nikki Haley declared that "it is now completely clear that the UN is hopelessly biased against Israel," saying council members were "willing to blame Israel, but unwilling to blame Hamas." Ten countries, including China, France and Russia voted in favor of the draft put forward by Kuwait on behalf of Arab countries. Four countries -- Britain, Ethiopia, the Netherlands and Poland -- abstained. Kuwait's Ambassador Mansour al-Otaibi said the US veto "will increase the sense of despair among the Palestinians," fuel further violence and "feed the sentiments of hatred and extremism." The Kuwait-drafted text had called for "measures to guarantee the safety and protection" of Palestinian civilians in Gaza and the occupied West Bank, and requested a UN report on proposals for an "international protection mechanism."Haley told the council the measure was "wildly inaccurate in its characterization of recent events in Gaza" by condemning Israel for the violence and failing to mention Hamas, which rules Gaza. "The terrorist group Hamas bears primary responsibility for the awful living conditions in Gaza," she told the council ahead of the vote.
No support for US draft
During a second vote, the United States failed to win support for its own rival measure calling on Palestinian militants to halt their protests in Gaza and condemning Hamas. Eleven countries abstained, while Russia and two others opposed it. A draft resolution requires nine votes to be adopted in the 15-member council and no veto from the five permanent members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States. The outcome deepened the deadlock at the top UN body over how to respond to the flareup of violence in Gaza that a UN envoy has warned is close to the brink of war. "This session was another missed opportunity for this council," French Ambassador Francois Delattre said, deploring an "increasingly deafening silence" from the United Nations on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. A barrage of rocket and mortars into Israel from Gaza on Tuesday was followed by Israeli strikes on 65 militant sites in the Gaza Strip in the worst flareup since the 2014 war. Israel has fought three wars in Gaza against Hamas, which the United States considers a terrorist organization. After the failed votes, Arab diplomats said they were considering turning to the UN General Assembly to win adoption for the US-vetoed resolution. It was the second time that Haley has resorted to US veto power to block a UN measure on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In December, Haley vetoed a draft resolution that rejected President Donald Trump's decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem after all 14 other council members supported it.

Saudi Arabia Reshuffles Cabinet with Eye on Culture

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/June 02/18/Saudi Arabia announced another cabinet reshuffle Saturday with a heavy focus on culture and religion, as the kingdom undergoes a major image overhaul. This is the second significant government change since the appointment of Prince Mohammed bin Salman, son of the king, as heir to the region's most powerful throne. The crown prince serves as deputy prime minister under his father, King Salman. State news agency SPA announced King Salman had replaced the country's labour and Islamic affairs ministers -- and named a prince linked to the purchase of a Leonardo da Vinci painting of Jesus as culture minister. Saudi Arabia for decades has combined its culture and information ministries. The decree announced the culture ministry was now a separate entity under Prince Badr bin Abdullah, the man named by the New York Times as the mystery buyer of Da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi" for a record-breaking $450 million at auction last year. The Wall Street Journal later reported that he was acting on behalf of Prince Mohammed. The Louvre Abu Dhabi has said the religious painting was "acquired" by the Emirati authorities and would be put on display there. Non-Muslim worship is banned in Saudi Arabia, but the kingdom has hosted high-ranking Christian clerics in recent months, notably from Lebanon and France. In April, the Vatican signed a memorandum for a meeting with Saudi officials every three years. Ahmed bin Suleiman al-Rajhi, an engineer and private sector businessman, was on Saturday named labour and social development minister. Sheikh Abdullatif bin Abdulaziz Al-Sheikh was named the new Islamic affairs minister. Prince Mohammed, who has steadily consolidated his grip on power since sidelining his cousin as crown prince last June, has spearheaded a string of policy changes in ultraconservative Saudi Arabia, including reinstating cinemas and allowing women to drive.
Often referred to by his initials, MBS, the prince pledged a "moderate, open" Saudi Arabia in a televised keynote speech in October, telling international investors his country wanted "to live a normal life." Saudi Arabia has been dominated by a harsh strain of conservative Islam since the 1979 seizure of the Grand Mosque of Mecca by around 400 extremists, a reaction against what they saw as Saudi society's plunge into immorality with entertainment, including cinema and television, and women taking jobs. A bloody military assault dislodged them two weeks later, leaving scores dead on both sides. Their influence, however, has remained. Over the past year, Prince Mohammed has steered a modernisation campaign that aims to sell the country to foreign audiences and investors, with hundreds of billions of dollars pledged to projects that will boost tourism and entertainment. On Friday, the crown prince earned a warning from Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the jihadist group's Yemen-based branch, over his "sinful projects", which AQAP said included a WWE wrestling event hosted by the kingdom in April. Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy, will welcome millions of Muslim faithful on their annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Islam's holiest city, come August. The kingdom on Saturday announced it had set up a royal commission for Mecca, to be chaired by Prince Mohammed. No further details were made available. The cabinet reshuffle comes as many activists remain behind bars, after at least 11 of them were detained last month. They have been identified by rights groups as mostly veteran women campaigners for the right to drive -- and to end Saudi's male guardianship system, under which women must still secure the approval of their fathers, brothers or husbands to travel or study. At least four activists have been released, according to Amnesty International. The fate of the others remains unclear. Prince Mohammed is also seen as the driving force behind the detention of 200 royals and businessmen at the Ritz Carlton in November in what the government said was a crackdown on corruption. Most have since been released, after reaching settlements with the state.

N. Korea Summit Back On, Trump Says after Meeting Kim Envoy
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/June 02/18/US President Donald Trump said Friday he will meet North Korea's Kim Jong Un as originally scheduled on June 12 for a historic summit after extraordinary Oval Office talks with a top envoy from Pyongyang. After more than an hour of discussion with Kim Yong Chol, Trump told reporters that denuclearization -- and a formal end to the decades-old Korean war -- would be on the table in Singapore. But the US president warned that he did not expect to immediately sign a deal to bring a halt to the reclusive regime's nuclear program. "I never said it goes in one meeting. I think it's going to be a process, but the relationships are building and that's very positive," he said, after waving farewell to the North Korean leader's right-hand man.
Ending the war
The Korean War has been largely frozen since an armistice ended hostilities, but not the underlying conflict, in 1953. Since then, there have been occasional clashes on the divided peninsula. "We talked about ending the war," Trump said. "Historically it's very important, but we'll see. We did discuss that, the ending of the Korean War. Can you believe we're talking about the ending of the Korean War?" Washington is determined that Kim should agree to what US officials call the "complete, verifiable and irreversible" end of North Korea's nuclear weapons and intercontinental missile programs. Kim says he is committed to "denuclearization" in some form, but he is expected to demand security guarantees in return. Most expert observers are skeptical that even an unprecedented summit between the two leaders can lead to a rapid breakthrough, and Trump admitted it would be a long and difficult process. "We're not going to go in and sign something on June 12. We never were. I told him today, 'Take your time'," he said, adding nevertheless that he expects "a really positive result in the end." Kim Yong Chol, the most senior North Korean to visit the United States in 18 years, spent almost 90 minutes in the Oval Office. Afterwards, Trump and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo walked the North's small delegation to their cars, smiling and shaking hands in front of the media before the motorcade pulled away.
Security guarantees
North Korean officials said Kim Yong Chol was expected to return to Pyongyang shortly. Meanwhile, discussions between US and North Korean officials continue in Singapore and in the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. On Thursday, Kim Jong Un told Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that his commitment to denuclearization remains "unchanged and consistent and fixed," but experts warn he will seek concessions from Washington. In addition to an end to the war, he is likely to want international recognition as well as guarantees against any strike by the US forces stationed in South Korea. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, however, said Saturday that the presence of American troops in South Korea is not "on the table" at the Trump-Kim summit. Pyongyang has insisted that it needs nuclear weapons to defend against a US invasion, and has offered to negotiate over them in exchange for such guarantees in the past. For the North, denuclearization has long been code for the withdrawal of US troops from the peninsula and the end of its nuclear umbrella over the South -- something unthinkable in Washington.
But it remains to be seen if either side has changed its position in the whirlwind diplomacy of the last few weeks. As expected, Kim Yong Chol handed Trump a letter from Kim that may clear up some of the questions. The US leader said the missive was "very nice" -- but then admitted he had not yet read it. An aide later confirmed he did after the talks. It came only a week after Trump threatened to consign the entire process to history, abruptly cancelling the summit in a sharply worded letter, only to revive preparations shortly afterwards. Trump said that, after Friday's talks, the parties are "totally over that and now we're going to deal and we're going to really start a process."
Since the short-lived boycott threat, diplomats from both countries have conducted an intense flurry of talks, culminating this week when Pompeo sat down in New York with Kim's envoy.
'Their decision'
Pompeo said on Thursday that, after what have now been two meetings with Kim Jong Un and three with Kim Yong Chol, he believes the North is at least ready to consider addressing US demands for denuclearization. "I believe they are contemplating a path forward. They can make a strategic shift. One that their country has not been prepared to make before. This will obviously be their decision," he said. There has also been a recent rapprochement on the Korean peninsula, with the two Koreas holding high-level talks Friday at the border truce village of Panmunjom. The meeting followed two landmark summits between the leaders of North and South Korea in the last five weeks. Seoul welcomed Trump's meeting with Kim Yong Chol at the White House. "The delivery of a letter from Chairman Kim Jong Un to President Trump has apparently broadened and consolidated the road to the North Korea-US summit," said Kim Eui-gyeom, spokesman for South Korea's presidential Blue House. "We will calmly, and with expectation, watch the historic meeting in Singapore."Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meanwhile said his country "is determined to make utmost efforts so that it will be a historic summit," according to the Kyodo news agency.

Palestinian Tries to Hit Israeli Soldiers with Car, Shot Dead
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/June 02/18/A Palestinian man who tried on Saturday to hit Israeli soldiers with his car in the southern occupied West Bank city Hebron was shot dead, the army said. "A terrorist attempted to run over IDF troops located at the site with his vehicle. In response, the troops fired towards the terrorist, killing him. No IDF troops were injured," an army statement said. A military spokesman told AFP the alleged attacker was a Palestinian. On Friday a 21-year-old Palestinian woman was shot dead by Israeli soldiers near the Gaza border fence, where clashes were taking place. Razan al-Najjar was a volunteer with the Gaza health ministry, wearing the white uniform of a medic when she was shot in the chest. According to the health ministry in Gaza, another 40 Palestinians were wounded by Israeli gun fire in Friday's clashes. The Israeli army said on Saturday that cases such as Najjar's, "in which civilians are allegedly killed by IDF fire, are thoroughly examined by the relevant levels of command and are checked by the General Staff Fact Finding Assessment Mechanism".

Mattis Accuses China of 'Intimidation and Coercion' in S. China Sea
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/June 02/18/China's military build-up in the South China Sea and its deployment of high-end weapons systems in the disputed waterway is designed to intimidate and coerce neighbours, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Saturday. Speaking at a high-profile security summit in Singapore less than two weeks before President Donald Trump is due to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the Pentagon chief also said the US military continues to support diplomats pushing for the "complete, verifiable and irreversible" denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.
Mattis said Beijing had deployed a range of military hardware including anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles and electronic jammers across the South China Sea, where it has built islets and other maritime features into hardened military facilities. Beijing has also landed heavy bombers on Woody Island in the Paracel Islands. "Despite China's claims to the contrary, the placement of these weapon systems is tied directly to military use for the purposes of intimidation and coercion," Mattis told the Shangri-La Dialogue. He also blasted Chinese President Xi Jinping for reneging on a 2015 promise made at the White House that Beijing would not militarise the island features in the South China Sea. Mattis' address in Singapore was the second time he had attended the summit since becoming Pentagon chief. He returned to a theme that he and other senior US officials have hammered home since Trump took office -- that America is here to stay in the Asia-Pacific region and that allies should stick with Washington instead of aligning with Beijing.
Tariffs on close allies
But the message of inclusivity, cooperation and working with allies might be a tougher sell for Mattis, who is generally popular on the international scene, after his boss this week imposed metals tariffs on some of America's closest allies in the name of "national security".
Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin asked Mattis whether he thought it was unproductive for Trump to pick fights with allies on trade. "Certainly we have had some unusual approaches, I'll be candid with you," Mattis replied. "But I'm reminded that so long as nations continue dialogue, so long as they continue to listen to one another and to pay respect to one another, nothing is over based on one decision."Lynn Kuok, a senior research fellow at the University of Cambridge, said the US approach was a "risky gamble". "The United States seems to think that it can antagonise partners in certain areas, whilst expecting cooperation in others," she told AFP. In a dig at China, which the Pentagon has accused of using "predatory" economics to exploit neighbours, Mattis said the US supports the peaceful resolution of disputes, "free, fair and reciprocal trade and investment" and adherence to international rules and norms. Despite frequent warnings from Washington about China's rising might and the pitfalls of its "Belt and Road" global infrastructure initiative, Beijing has faced few consequences for its South China Sea build-up and sweeping territorial claims. One modest exception came last week when the Pentagon disinvited China from biennial maritime exercises in the Pacific. Mattis characterised this action as an "initial response". But "there are much larger consequences in the future when nations lose the rapport of their neighbours", he warned. "They believe that piling mountainous debts on their neighbours and somehow removing the freedom of political action is the way to engage them. Eventually these things do not pay off."Delegates hoping for clarity on Trump's intentions for a scheduled June 12 summit with North Korean leader Kim did not get much from Mattis, though he said the issue of the permanent deployment of about 28,5000 US troops in South Korea will not be "on the table". Mattis has tried to avoid weighing in on the summit, deferring questions to the State Department and Trump's national security team. "On the Korean peninsula, we hold the line with our allies, supporting our diplomats who lead this effort," Mattis said. "Our objective remains the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula."

Assad to go along with Putin’s request to disband militias
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Saturday, 2 June 2018/Preparations are under way for the issuance of a decree by the Syrian regime were eventually it will disband all pro-regime militias after a Russian request by President Putin during their last meeting in Sochi. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights described this development as unprecedented and will be applied over all Syrian territories. The source pointed out that Putin’s request not only included the disbanding of pro-regime militias, but included an annex to the disbanding of the Iranian-backed militias financed by Tehran, and which triggered anger among these militias. The source said that Bashar al-Assad regime will resort to two options: either to demobilize the militias loyal to him or to officially annex them to the regime military. The Russian request came after a series of violations committed by the militias in the past few months, which led to the looting of thousands of houses and robbing civilians of their belongings both at checkpoints and in the towns recently controlled by the regime. Walid Muallem defends Iranian presence in Syria. Meanwhile, the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem defended on Saturday the Iranian presence in Syria, describing it as legal. In a press conference held in the capital Damascus, al-Muallem said that the American troops should withdraw from al-Tanaf base on the Syrian-Jordanian border. He added that Syria “has not been in any negotiations related to the southern front”, defending the Iranian presence in Syria and describing it as “legal” as it came at the request of the Syrian government “unlike the illegal presence of the Turkish and American troops in Syria.”Al-Muallem said that the Syrian regime has communicated with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is backed by the United States, but negotiations have not started as yet.

Pilots eject safely as Iran military jet crashes in Isfahan
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Saturday, 2 June 2018/An Iranian military jet crashed on Saturday in the central Isfahan province, but the two pilots ejected safely before it came down in a desert area. The semi-official Fars news agency reported that the F 7 fighter jet crashed in Hassan Abad desert in the province of Isfahan. “The fighter jet ran into technical problems after departing the Shahid Babaei Air Base in Isfahan on a training flight and crashed mid-way near Hasanabad village” the air force said in a statement published by Fars. Emergency teams arrived at the crash site, Fars said, and the pilot and co-pilot of the F 7 jet were taken to a hospital. -With Reuters

Palestinian man shot dead by Israeli soldiers in West Bank
AFP, Jerusalem/Saturday, 2 June 2018/A Palestinian man who tried on Saturday to hit Israeli soldiers with his car in the southern occupied West Bank city of Hebron was shot dead, the Israeli army said.
“A terrorist attempted to run over IDF troops located at the site with his vehicle. In response, the troops fired towards the terrorist, killing him. No IDF troops were injured” an army statement said.
A military spokesman told AFP the alleged attacker was a Palestinian. On Friday a 21-year-old Palestinian woman was shot dead by Israeli soldiers near the Gaza border fence, where clashes were taking place. Razan al-Najjar was a volunteer with the Gaza health ministry, wearing the white uniform of a medic when she was shot in the chest. According to the health ministry in Gaza, another 40 Palestinians were wounded by Israeli gun fire in Friday’s clashes. The Israeli army said on Saturday that cases such as Najjar’s, “in which civilians are allegedly killed by IDF fire, are thoroughly examined by the relevant levels of command and are checked by the General Staff Fact Finding Assessment Mechanism.”

Juncker Calls for Respect for New Italy Govt
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/June 02/18/European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker called Saturday for the new eurosceptic Italian government to be treated with respect, having told Italians to work harder and stop blaming the EU for the country's problems. "We should show respect towards Italy," Juncker said in an interview with the German press group Funke Mediengruppe. Italy's new anti-establishment government took power on Friday promising an end to EU-inspired austerity and a harder line on relations with Brussels, especially on immigration and the role of the euro single currency. Juncker caused a stir on Thursday when he had said: "Italians have to take care of the poor regions of Italy. That means more work, less corruption, (more) seriousness." Italy should not "play this game" of holding the EU responsible, he added. Asked about Italy's massive debt mountain and the new government's plan to increase public spending, Juncker said in the interview that he was "not at all in favour of giving lessons to Rome"."That was what happened too much with (thrice bailed-out), Greece, especially by the German-speaking countries (of the EU)," he said. Germany under Chancellor Angela Merkel has been a strict enforcer of EU fiscal rules, insisting member states restore their public finances to balance, including the use of stinging cuts to government spending if necessary. Juncker said that Greece had suffered as a result of this approach, with "the dignity of the Greek people trodden under foot" when left-wing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras took office in 2015. "That must not happen again in the present case with Italy," he said, stressing: "I absolutely do not want to get involved in questions of domestic Italian politics."
"Italians have a clear understanding of what is good for their country. They will sort it out."

Sanchez Sworn in As New Spanish PM after Ousting Mariano Rajoy
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/June 02/18/Spain's Socialist chief Pedro Sanchez was sworn in as prime minister on Saturday, a day after ousting Mariano Rajoy in a historic no-confidence vote sparked by fury over corruption woes afflicting the conservative leader's party. Sanchez, a 46-year-old economist with no government experience who has made a spectacular comeback to the frontline of politics, took the oath of office before King Felipe VI in the Zarzuela Palace near Madrid. "I promise to faithfully fulfil the duties of the post of prime minister with conscience and honour, with loyalty to the king, and to guard and have guarded the constitution as a fundamental state rule," he said in the presence also of Rajoy, without a Bible or crucifix -- the first to do so. The Socialist leader must still name his cabinet and it is only when their names are published in an official government journal in the coming days that he will fully assume his functions.
Comeback kid
His ousting of EU-friendly Rajoy, a 63-year-old veteran politician who had been in power since 2011, comes at a time of political instability in Europe as Italy brings in a new eurosceptic anti-establishment government. But even if he will head up a minority government with support of a hodgepodge of disparate parties like far-left Podemos and Catalan separatists, Sanchez has promised his "main priority" will be to respect Madrid's deficit reduction commitments to the European Union.He has also vowed to implement the 2018 budget designed by Rajoy's conservative Popular Party (PP) government. His arrival at the prime minister's office represents an astounding comeback for the man who led the Socialists to two crushing general elections defeats in 2015 and 2016, and was forced out by the party apparatus. That was short-lived, though, as party activists re-elected him as party head in primaries in May 2017, but even then the Socialists were often sidelined as Podemos, centre-right Ciudadanos and Rajoy's PP took centre stage in politics. That all changed on May 25 when the Socialists filed a no-confidence motion against Rajoy, a day after a court found former PP officials guilty of receiving bribes in exchange for awarding public contracts in a vast graft scheme between 1999 and 2005.Other opposition parties lined up against Rajoy, who was abandoned by his allies too. An absolute majority of 180 lawmakers voted for the motion on Friday to loud applause and shouts of "Yes we can"."It's been an honour -- there is none bigger -- to have been Spain's prime minister," Rajoy told parliament minutes before.
Tough road ahead
In his first comments after winning the no-confidence motion, Sanchez, a former basketball player, vowed to tackle "all the challenges which the country faces with humility". But he will struggle to govern as his Socialists have just 84 seats in the 350-seat parliament. All of his allies in the no-confidence motion stressed their vote against Rajoy was not a blank cheque for Sanchez. "Our 'Yes' to Sanchez is a 'No' to Rajoy," is how Joan Tarda of Catalan pro-independence party Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) put it in parliament. Sanchez will only be able to implement policy initiatives "that allow him to obtain an easy majority" in parliament, said Fernando Vallespin, political scientist at the Autonomous University of Madrid. PP lawmaker Rafael Hernando said Sanchez would be entering the prime minister's office "through the back door" after failing to win any general elections. Sanchez has already tied his hands by promising to respect Rajoy's 2018 budget, which includes generous concessions to the northern Basque region. He has also said he wants to "build bridges" with Catalonia's new separatist government, headed by Quim Torra, which will take office on Saturday. The parties that supported Sanchez will make demands he will not meet, predicted Pedro Fernandez, a 68-year-old pensioner, outside of parliament. "When he does not do what they want, they will remind him that they brought him to power. And in five or six months we will either have fresh elections or they will oust him," he added.

No More Mr Nice Guy: Canada's Trudeau Gets Tough
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/June 02/18/Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has a reputation for playing it safe on burning political issues, showed a new level of grit in the face of two crises, and it may help him win re-election in 2019. On Thursday, Trudeau hit back at punishing US tariffs on steel and aluminum with Can$16.6 billion (US$12.8 billion) in duties on US goods, and accused American President Donald Trump of lacking "common sense." His actions and words were in stark contrast to the charm offensive he launched after Trump's inauguration in 2016.
The amateur pugilist traded in his "sunny ways" for fighting words. He also launched the largest trade action that Canada has taken in eight decades. Canadians, industry and even opposition parties applauded the prime minister's unusually pointed rebuke of Trump and retaliatory tariffs.
"Trudeau uttered some of the harshest words a prime minister has directed at an American administration in decades," said Toronto Star columnist Chantal Hebert, calling this a "watershed moment in the Donald Trump-era Canada/US relationship." "It is not every day that a Canadian head of government pointedly notes that he is dealing with a US administration that is short on common sense" or "that a prime minister uses a news conference to dig in his heels in a trade negotiation," she noted. Two days earlier the prime minister stuck his neck out to save an oil pipeline project, likely alienating environmentalists but picking up broader support with his defense of the energy sector. University of Ottawa professor Patrick Leblond said in an interview with AFP that Trudeau's newfound swagger "will help the Liberals in the next election.""I think people understand that this (trade row) is not the Liberals' fault in any way," he said. "I think the Canadian government did as much as they could to avert this outcome, they've tried engagement and continue to do so. It's Donald Trump's failure to understand the implications for the US and world economy of his isolationist policies."
Punching back
If the Canadian economy tanks as a result of a trade row, however, that may change. "We know that the incumbent party suffers (at the ballot box) when the economy is bad," Leblond said. Since 2016, Canada and the United States have sparred over softwood lumber and aircrafts, while also endeavoring to negotiate, along with Mexico, a revamp of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Washington had granted Canada and Mexico an exemption on the metals tariffs to give the parties time to successfully renegotiate the 1994 continental trade pact. But those talks are now bogged down. On Thursday, the US announced tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum from Canada and others, from Friday. Canada responded with duties of 25 percent on US steel and aluminum, and 10 percent on consumer goods such as ketchup, orange juice, sailboats and washing machines, which will take effect July 1. "The government of Canada is confident that shared values, geography and common interests will ultimately overcome protectionism," Trudeau told a news conference on Thursday. "We have to believe that at some point common sense will prevail, but we see no sign of that in this action today by the US administration." He said Ottawa would try to convince Washington to repeal the tariffs, but the Trump administration has so far stood firm. In a Twitter message, the American president lashed out at Canada for treating US farmers "very poorly for a very long period of time." "If President Trump thinks this move will give him leverage in the NAFTA negotiations, I think Canada's response shows he's wrong," Leblond opined. "Canada has negotiated in good faith, but at some point if you punch us in the face, we'll punch back," he said. In the end, "this fight is not going to be resolved through diplomacy or at the G7 next week; it's going to be political developments in the United States," he added, noting that Canadian tariffs on US consumer goods aimed to sway voters in key districts in the upcoming US mid-term elections.

US Troop Presence in S. Korea Not 'on Table' at Trump-Kim Summit, Says Mattis
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/June 02/18/The issue of US troops stationed in South Korea will not be "on the table" at a summit between President Donald Trump and North Korea's Kim Jong Un, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Saturday. "That issue is not on the table here in Singapore on the 12th (of June), nor should it be," he said at the Shangri-La Dialogue, a security summit in Singapore, referring to the scheduled date of the Trump-Kim meeting. There are currently some 28,500 US forces based in the South.
Trump said Friday he will meet Kim for the historic summit as originally scheduled after extraordinary Oval Office talks with a top envoy from Pyongyang. Trump told reporters that denuclearisation -- and a formal end to the decades-old Korean war -- would be on the table in Singapore. However, Mattis stressed that "any discussion about the number of US troops in the Republic of Korea is subject to... the Republic of Korea's invitation to have them there, and the discussions between the United States and the Republic of Korea, separate and distinct from the negotiations that are going on with DPRK (North Korea). "That issue will not come up in the discussion with DPRK." But he added: "Obviously if the diplomats can do their work, if we can reduce the threat, if we can restore confidence building measures with something verifiable, then of course these kinds of issues can come up subsequently between (South Korea and the US)." South Korean Defence Minister Song Young-moo also told the Singapore summit that the presence of "US forces in Korea is a separate issue from North Korea's nuclear issue". Last month, South Korea's President Moon Jae-in dismissed claims that US troops stationed in the country -- based on Seoul's alliance with Washington -- would have to leave if a peace treaty was signed with the North.
Canada concerned by Syria’s recognition of Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia
June 02, 2018 - Ottawa, Canada - Global Affairs Canada
Global Affairs Canada today issued the following statement regarding Syria’s recognition of Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia:
“Canada strongly condemns the Syrian regime’s recognition of the Russian-occupied regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia. Russia’s occupation of these regions is a clear violation of international law that infringes on Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Syria’s actions challenge the rules-based international order and compromise the chances of achieving a peaceful resolution of this conflict.
“Canada unreservedly supports Georgia’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders.
“Canada calls on Russia to abide by its obligations under the Ceasefire Agreement of August 12, 2008, and the Agreement on Implementing Measures of September 8, 2008. All states must respect their international obligations under the UN Charter.”
Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on June 02-03/18
Has the countdown for the Iranian regime’s fall begun?
Nadim Koteich/Al Arabiya/June 02/18
The courage in facing Iran and countering its policies is no longer just measured by the decisions taken outside it. Some states decided to directly confront national security challenges posed by Iran’s policies in the region and elsewhere — namely Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, the United States, European Union and Great Britain. In Yemen, there are popular and tribal elites, parties and blocs that support the legitimate power and confront Iran and its project. In Iraq, Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr re-established the country’s political identity in a manner that opposes Iran’s project that aims to dominate over Mesopotamia. Lebanon might be the weakest link in the confrontation as it’s where Iran has its most deep-rooted wing via Hezbollah’s militias, yet Beirut is resisting even if in its own way. All this is important but what is even more important is the domestic confrontation of the Iranian project or the direct consequences of this confrontation on the Iranians’ life, welfare and security. There is now growing internal discord between the rhetoric of the revolution and its dire outcomes.
Student outwits Supreme Leader!
Using very simple words, Iranian student Sahar Mehrabi delivered a detailed indictment of the revolutionary regime while addressing the supreme leader face-to-face in an unprecedented manner at a seminar held by the “leader’s office” during the month of Ramadan. Mehrabi went beyond the classic flaws related to unemployment, economic decline and civil liberties in their broader sense. With intelligence and tact and under the headline of deepening democracy, she raised the issue of political tutelage of the supreme leader and his problematic position vis-à-vis the Iranian regime, in terms of the fact that institutions which fall under his jurisdiction are not held accountable — like the Revolutionary Guards, the judiciary and some media outlets that have mastered the game of defamation and accusing others of treason. Mehrabi’s speech caught Khamenei off-guard. Khamenei later tweeted that he “understood the feelings of the young lady who said the situation is very bad, but I completely disagree with her.” The speech and the tweet are oceans apart revealing a profound trust deficit and disconnect that is worsening between the leader of the revolution and the people. The distance that separates both parties is expanding like a black hole swallowing all the revolutionary rhetoric, future promises and whatever is left of the Iranians’ trust in the revolution, its future and their future in its shadow. While Mehrabi was making her speech in the presence of the supreme leader, Iranian truck drivers were continuing with their ongoing strike, which did not receive any media coverage except through social media networks. The truck drivers have been protesting the rise in their expenses due to spike in fuel prices, the hike in insurance policy costs, soaring price of spare parts and increase in road taxes. This is the latest manifestation of the deterioration in the country’s general economy. Iran’s national currency has been suffering continuous losses in its value that reached around 60% and no monetary solution appears in sight. The withdrawal of the US from the nuclear deal is also impacting heavily on Iran’s overall economic situation due to the departure of the shipping giant Maersk. Other companies are also preparing to withdraw, most notably the French company Total.
Mudslinging by top leaders
The flight of foreign capital from Iran has become a major topic of discussion in the parliament. According to MP Mohammad-Reza Pour-Ebrahimi, head of the parliament’s economic affairs committee, the flight of capital has been estimated at around $30 billion in the last months of the Iranian year which ended on March 20. There is no doubt that the underlying factors behind the economic decline are quite complex and are related to political and environmental issues, sanctions and reasons related to the reality of the global economy. However, average Iranian citizens, whose suffering is increasing, do not possess the ability to have a more complex understanding of the situation. They would blame what they see, mainly the enormous cost of Iran’s political and military project outside the country, along with the fierce political infighting among different branches of the regime. It is not a minor matter that former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is accusing Khamenei of stealing more than $100 billion in public money and for the Revolutionary Guard leaders to accuse President Hassan Rouhani of being an agent or for Rouhani to respond by addressing the Guards’ mafia-like economic role. In democracies, such allegations are finalized by conducting serious investigations and by resorting to institutions, accountability and change but in the rigid system of the Iranian revolution, it is the regime’s reputation, prestige and ability to win people’s trust that are affected. The Iranian citizen is Sahar Mehrabi and her outcry. The Iranian citizen is the cyber activists who hacked the screens in Mashhad’s airport a few days ago and displayed slogans supporting workers on strike and criticized Iran’s wasted resources in Lebanon, Gaza and Yemen. Mashhad is the city which witnessed the most violent and largest protests in the end of last year since the Green Movement in 2009 was suppressed. Something is unraveling within Iran and is no longer hidden — it is the belief in tomorrow and in the regime’s ability to continue. On May 7, Financial Times correspondent Najmeh Bozorgmehr began her report from Tehran with the question: “Has the countdown to the collapse of the Islamic Republic of Iran begun?”
Sahar Mehrabi will not wait long to make sure of the answer.

Iran and the Gulf: Let’s start with facts and then move forward
Faisal Al-Shammeri/Al Arabiya/June 02/18
Contrary to commonly held perceptions, the US withdrawal from Iran nuclear deal has been well received in many capitals. The perspective of the Middle East — particularly the sentiments and interests of Arabian Gulf region, which is situated close to the Khomeinist regime — should always be taken into serious consideration. The signatories of the deal with Iran live at a great distance from the region, whereas we are in the neighborhood. For decades, the most immediate security threat to the stability of The Middle East has emanated from Tehran.
Region united against Iranian nukes
There is an absolute consensus in the region that under no circumstances should the clerical regime possess or acquire material required for the production of nuclear weapons. Not one country in the Middle East is indifferent to the prospect of the clerical regime building a nuclear arsenal.
One simply has to look at Iran’s current behavior, even if one were to overlook the nearly four decades of its activities since the establishment of the Khomeinist regime, to see that it would only serve to permanently embolden, if not intensify the policy of redesigning The Middle East into a Khomeinist fiefdom. The stance of the clerical regime and its pursuit of a radical agenda are more destabilizing now to the global order than at any other point since 1979. Two subjects that fall outside the purview of nuclear weapons, but have equal strategic importance are rights of navigation and ballistic missile proliferation.
Maritime threat
The rights of navigation are now threatened in two of the most vital arteries of the global economy, Bab Al Mandeb and Hormuz. These threats emanate from Tehran. It is not simply nations of The GCC who use these channels, but the entire world’s commercial fleets. In Yemen, US-led coalition ships have been targeted that are fighting Iranian proxies and terrorists. Bab Al Mandeb links the Mediterranean and The Red Sea to The Arabian Ocean/Bay of Bengal/Malacca Straits transit which then stretches to Indonesia, Australia, Asia and The Western Pacific. Hormuz provides a parallel starting point on the same waterway. The most populated regions, fastest growing economies, and the fastest growing middle class lie on these routes. The policy objectives of the Khomeinist regime do not benefit the peoples who depend on the free and unimpeded trade passing through Bab Al Mandeb and Hormuz.
There can be no nuanced defense of the Iranian crime of supplying missiles to a proxy asset other than the sole intention of it being used against another country.
Capping Iran’s missiles
Ballistic missile proliferation is another major concern, wherein Tehran has flagrantly and with apparent relish, spectacularly demonstrated that it sits with North Korea as the most profligate provider of ballistic missiles.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was never targeted by ballistic missiles from Yemen prior to Iranian involvement in the country. It is known that missiles used by Houthis (is probably a North Korean variant developed in Iran) were smuggled as disassembled parts into Yemen, where operatives of the IRGC then reassembled and fired them into The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. There can be no nuanced defense against the crime of supplying missiles to a proxy asset other than the sole intention of it being used against another country. It is perhaps here where Khomeinism is most in display. What interests does Iran have in Yemen? Does it want to turn Yemen into another Lebanon on The Arabian Peninsula? Why is it taking actions that delay the destruction of Al Qaeda? What arrangements the clerical regime has with Al Qaeda throughout the Hadramuth, where it is able to set up a network for smuggling ballistic missiles through a stretch leading to the north? Why does the clerical regime knowingly engage in behavior that endangers the lives of civilians throughout the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in spite of the fact that Riyadh has never done the same to Tehran?
What Iran needs to do
Moving forward, there is only one path ahead. Should Tehran continue with its current behavior in Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq and be a rogue proliferator of ballistic missiles, while pursuing nuclear weapons, then only a Soviet Union-Cold War style policy of containment is acceptable.
Any trade or commercial activities by multinational corporations with the clerical regime will only allow it to continue to function in its present manner. For those from outside the Middle East who insist on providing billions of dollars through trade to the clerical regime, only strengthen the IRGC, Quds Force and terrorist operations. They are literally subsidizing the missiles that target Riyadh, the death squads in Iraq, the butcher in Damascus, and the violation of freedom of the Lebanese people.
The days of casual indifference are over and those who continue to pursue them will not last unless there is an immediate suspension of all nuclear related activities verified by inspection teams, a complete cessation of all ballistic missile proliferation, the removal of all sectarian and proxy assets from Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, the severing of all ties to terrorist groups.
These measures are not aimed at the people of Iran but directed at the clerical regime that rules in an iron-fisted manner over their right to live as free people. For the people and countries of the region, the status quo is no longer tolerable.

Iraqi voters decide the next government’s identity
Adnan Hussein/Al Arabiya/June 02/18
For one hundred dollars or less, Iraqi academic Dr. Mohammed Ali Zinni — a graduate from Colorado State University — bought a seat in Iraq's new parliament which term begins on the first of July. As the oldest Member of Parliament, Zinni will preside over the inaugural session. Parliamentary seat for sale!Don’t be surprised by the word “bought,” as seats in the Iraqi parliament have become similar to the “shares” on the stock exchange, and they are traded every four years. There is also “the stock exchange” for the seats in the provincial councils and for other higher positions, such as the post of an undersecretary, the head of an institution or a body or a director general etc. Each seat comes with a figurative price tag and can amount to even millions of dollars, as has been disclosed by a judicial investigation as well as by many others who deal in these “markets.” Being a member in the parliament or a provincial council or being the head of an institution or body in Iraq is like possessing Aladdin’s lamp or magic ring, as wealth can flow to an MP just like it flows on the minister or his deputy or any director general who intends to exploit his influence and position for personal gain. Using sectarian, national and party quotas in the distribution of Iraqi state posts is no longer acceptable, nor viable . Apart from the salary, allowances and other privileges – which are a source of income unmatched in Iraq and many others countries – the MP also receives more money through bribes he takes from companies and businessmen whose work he facilitates at the minister or the relevant director. A current MP has already clarified this in more than one live television interview. He said that “all” his colleagues at the parliament had received “commissions” in exchange of services they offered. In fact, he did not exclude himself and publicly admitted that at one point in time he had received $1 million for mediating on a certain case. Not a single MP objected or complained about these remarks, and the parliament did not even take any disciplinary or punitive measures against him although he confessed to receiving a bribe. Likewise, neither the Public Prosecutor’s Office nor the Commission of Integrity probed him.
Sign of hope
The $100 which Dr. Zinni bought his parliamentary seat with was used to print small and colorful pamphlets to promote himself as a candidate in the elections. These were distributed on his acquaintances and he posted a photo of them on his Facebook page. The pamphlet is small and very simple. On top, it included the name of the electoral list which Zinni was nominated for, the Civil Democratic Alliance, the number of the list and his sequence in it. It also features a picture of him next to the map of Iraq covered by the Iraqi flag. It also mentioned his academics degrees (Ph.D. in Petroleum Economics, a Master’s in the same specialty along with a Bachelor degree in Electrical Engineering and another in Law). The pamphlet also had the slogan: "The Iraqi people are now in desperate need of patriots with integrity and competence to stop the march of banditry and destruction in order to rebuild the country and look after people.”With this small modest amount of money, Zinni won 7,351 electoral votes in the capital Baghdad thus winning him a parliamentary seat although he is not really well known in Iraq because he has been living abroad for a very long time. Others spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on television ads and billboards that took over the city of Baghdad, its streets, yards and buildings. Some of those who spent a fortune lost in the elections while others won. The latter, who spent huge sums of money and won, will of course do their best to gain what they had spent. An MP’s salary and all allocations throughout the period of four years do not amount to $1 million. This means that their eyes will be on other illegal sources of income, which have been exposed in investigations and in the confessions of aforementioned MP. Iraqi electors voted for many people like Dr. Zinni who didn’t spend a lot of money on their electoral campaigns and refrained from giving their voices for candidates who spent a lot of money so they failed them. An example of voting regardless of sectarian and religious identity is Christian candidate Ammar Francis Boutros who won a parliamentary seat representing the Shiite province of Wasit (Al-Kut) southeast of Baghdad, where the number of Christian families can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Boutros was nominated with the Sairoon list and won more than 5,300 votes. Dr. Zinni, Boutros and others have won because of their reputation as honest and competent figures. Those who lost despite the large amounts of money spent on their electoral campaigns have lost also because of their reputation as sectarian or corrupt or unqualified figures who failed in performing their parliamentary duties or because of all the of the above.
Maturing electorate
Most of the current MPs whose terms are about to end had contested in the last elections, but voters only trusted 97 out of a total of 329. Among those who lost are prominent figures like the parliament speaker, his first deputy, heads of electoral blocs, ministers and MPs who were very vocal with their sectarian rhetoric. Electing people like Dr. Zinni, Boutros and others like them, sends a message by the Iraqi people to the political class that has been controlling their fate since 2003 and which stipulates that sectarian, national and partisan quotas in distributing state posts is no longer acceptable and no longer viable.
Supposedly, the government that is being discussed by the main political forces who won the elections will reflect this non-sectarian approach which was embodied by the results of the elections. The Iraqis now want a government of national honest competencies and it does not matter if it has a majority of Sunnis or Shiites or Muslim or Christian or Yezidi or Mandeans or Arab or Kurdish or Turkmen. Otherwise, it is very likely that Iraq will witness political and social unrest that is nothing like the protest movement that carried on from mid-2015 until the eve of the last elections.

The politicization of Mo Salah’s injury
Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/June 02/18
The way Egyptians as well as many Arabs reacted to the injury of Mo Salah, Liverpool's star striker, during the Champions League final with Real Madrid on Sunday reveals an aspect of our flawed thinking and understanding. The story is well-known. This final game represented a dream for the talented Mo Salah just like it was the dream of both Real Madrid’s and Liverpool’s players especially those who hail from third world countries. However, Mo Salah was painfully injured by Real Madrid’s violent defender Sergio Ramos and he left the game in agony, Millions of people in Egypt and other countries were angry as a result.So far, it’s reasonable and within the expected but afterwards the story transformed into a political debate and random statements were made. The agenda of the Brotherhood, Qatar, Turkey and “a bunch of revolutionaries” became active in an attempt to ride the wave of the Egyptian and Arab “spontaneous” popular sympathy with the talented Salah or Abu Salah. They said there was a conspiracy to neutralize Salah and that Ramos is behind it and maybe other western and Arab countries are behind it and I don’t know what!
Religious debate
Things did not end here but this incident at the final match also became a religious debate! Bigoted and long-time controversial Kuwaiti activist Mubarak al-Bathali wrote on Twitter that Salah’s injury was God’s punishment because he broke his fast to play the game with his club Liverpool. In another tweet, he wrote: “May Allah guide you Mohamed Salah. Perhaps [the injury] is good for you.” Al-Azhar Fatwa Global Center responded to the “instigator” Bathali saying a hardship may be a sign of God’s love to the worshipper and of the worshipper’s closeness to God. It added that Bathali must worry about himself and leave people alone, or in other words “let us be!”Dr. Mohamed Abdelati, the head of the Islamic Studies Department of the Faculty of Education in Al-Azhar University, said Salah broke his fast during the final game with Real Madrid according to a legitimate permit granted to him by God Almighty.
The jurisprudential reasoning as to why Salah was permitted to break his fast during Ramadan, and whether it’s due to travelling or due to performing a difficult job, does not matter. What matters is that this incident and all its details revealed to us how our “receptors” – and I am not referring to the Egyptians in particular – are flawed and programed to politicize everything and tackle everything from a religious angle no matter how distant they are from politics and religion.
The Mo Salah incident is such a revealing example.

Is Russia waging war with ‘autonomous patriotic volunteers’ to deny responsibility?
Dr. Azeem Ibrahim/Al Arabiya/June 02/18
One of the nightmare scenarios of the Syrian Civil War has been the prospect of direct military clashes between Russian and American forces. Now we know that this has happened at least once, with as many as 200 Russian citizens killed by American airstrikes. The good news: WW3 has not started as a consequence. The bad news: we can expect such clashes to become more common in the future, with the possibility that things between the two countries may yet escalate out of control. On 7 February this year, about 500 hundred pro-Assad forces attacked a US-held position near the oil fields of Deir ez-Zor, defended by 30 elite American soldiers later backed up by another 16 from another nearby position. The result of the clash was what one might expect: no US casualties, but 2-300 of the attackers dead, mostly from US air support. The twist: the majority of the attackers, as well as the majority of their casualties, were Russian citizens. The US and Russia maintain active channels of communication in Syria in order to prevent just this kind of scenario. But according to the Russian military command in the region at the time, the attack had nothing to do with them, and they could not order the Russians to stop their assault on the American position. That Russian citizens are involved in testing American positions and capacity in Syria without the knowledge or involvement of the Russian government at some level is hard to believe.
Russia has figured that using military strength to pursue its strategic interests while denying responsibility is a winning strategy
Circumstantial evidence
But we must concede that the evidence is only circumstantial: the Russians in question are members of a private military operator known as the Wagner group whose leader, Dmitry Utkin, last served in a special forces brigade of the Russian military intelligence agency, the GRU.
And the mercenaries themselves are trained at the Russian Defence Ministry’s bases. And they purportedly receive military awards from the Kremlin, on occasion. Regardless, this brings us to an interesting point in the geopolitical arena: the two most-powerful nuclear states in the world can kill each other’s citizens in direct warfare without nuclear consequences – at least so far. And this is likely to alter quite a few strategic calculations for all global and regional powers. For one, Russia has figured that using military strength to pursue its strategic interests while denying responsibility is a winning strategy. It has worked well enough in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, why not extend that to Syria. Or, indeed, to Libya, Sudan or the Central African Republic.
Acting in self-defense
For another, if Russia denies ownership of these troops and their actions, it would seem that they also cannot complain if mishaps were to befall these troops. At the Deir ez-Zor debacle, the Americans acted purely in self-defence. But now that the taboo is broken, there is no obvious reason why American, Western, Iranian or any other regional power could not proactively target and kill Russian “shadow military” troops and operations, when they become a nuisance. If Wagner group troops move around Libya, we must assume that the Kremlin would not mind if a French jet would drop a bomb or two on them. What is more, if Russia can have “autonomous patriotic volunteers” waving weapons around all over the world, why would other countries not expect to find that they too have a considerable pool of patriotically minded, violent and well armed people around? And surely the Kremlin would not falsely accuse Washington, Paris or London if some of these “rogue groups” were to actively engage official Russian military personnel. In a sense, these developments are to be welcome. We are now at a point in human history where the big nuclear players can do their conflicts and their wars without the risk of nuclear escalation. In an odd way, this is a sign of geopolitical maturity. The downside, however, is that this model of conflict risks proliferating all over the Middle East and the Sahel, and further destabilise the region, exacerbating already tragic levels of human suffering, and accelerating global migration trends. Though a positive development from the point of view of nuclear risk, in the end it is still the world’s poorest and most vulnerable who will pay the price. As always.
British 'Justice': Poppycock
Bruce Bawer/Gatestone Institute/June 02/2018
Instead of arresting rapists, the police, in at least a couple of cases, actually arrested people who had done nothing other than to try to rescue their children from the clutches of rapists.
So much concern – legitimately so – about the sacred right of the rapists to a fair trial, including the presumption of innocence and an opportunity to retain the lawyers of their choice – but so much readiness to excuse the denial of the same right to Robinson.
These decades of cover-ups by British officials are themselves unspeakable crimes. How many of those who knew, but who did nothing, have faced anything remotely resembling justice? Apparently none.
As any viewer of British TV news knows, a "trained professional journalist" in Britain observes all kinds of rules of professional conduct: he calls Muslims "Asians," he describes any critic of Islam, or anyone who attends a rally protesting the unjust incarceration of a critic of Islam, as a member of the "far right," and he identifies far-left smear machines as "anti-racist groups."
The coverage here during the last few days of the Tommy Robinson affair in Britain appears to be having at least a small impact in certain circles in Merrie Olde England. Dispatches have come in from some of the tonier addresses in the UK explaining, in that marvelous tone of condescension which no one from beyond the shores of England can ever quite pull off, that those of us who sympathize with Robinson have got it all wrong; that we simply do not grasp the exquisite nuances of British jurisprudence, specifically the kingdom's laws about the coverage of trials – for if we did understand, we would recognize that Robinson's summary arrest and imprisonment did not represent an outrageous denial of his freedom of speech, his right to due process, and his right to an attorney of his own choosing, but were, in fact, thoroughly appropriate actions intended to ensure the integrity of the trial he was covering. Those of us outside the UK who think that British freedom has been compromised and that the British system of law has been cynically exploited for ignoble purposes are, apparently, entirely mistaken; on the contrary, we are instructed, Britain's police are continuing to conduct themselves in a responsible matter, Britain's courts are still models of probity, and Britain's real journalists (not clumsy, activist amateurs like Robinson) persist in carrying out their role with extraordinary professionalism and propriety, obeying to the letter the eminently sensible rules that govern reportage about court cases in the land of Magna Carta.
"It is true," acknowledged one correspondent, "that in previous years the UK police wrongly hesitated to prosecute Muslim grooming gangs. And it was a shocking scandal, which the Daily Mail did much to expose and excoriate. But that has changed."
Hesitated? Changed? Talk about English understatement. For decades – not years – police, social workers, local politicians, and journalists all over Britain knew that thousands of non-Muslim girls throughout the country were being repeatedly raped by Muslim gangs. The perpetrators were not arrested – partly because police and others in authority were apparently terrified of being called racists.
British police. While U.K. authorities go out of their way to avoid arresting Muslim criminals, they are quick to take into custody Britons, such as Tommy Robinson, who criticize Islam. Photo: Wikipedia.
In addition, they might have feared a massive explosion of Muslim outrage. Also, in a country where class still plays a crucial role, most of the victims were from working-class families, and may thus have been seen by at least some officials who cherish Islamic cultural enrichment as the spawn of lowbrows.
Instead of arresting rapists, the police -- in at least a couple of cases -- have actually arrested people who did nothing other than to try to rescue their children from the clutches of rapists.
To be sure, the Daily Mail finally began to break the news about all this, thereby forcing the hands of police departments and courts. But to suggest that the policies that made these atrocities possible have changed – or that anywhere near all of the Muslim rapists are now facing trial or already behind bars – is an absurd and grotesque lie.
These decades of cover-ups by British officials are themselves unspeakable crimes. Yet how many of those who knew, but who did nothing, have faced anything remotely resembling justice? Apparently none. Clearly, all too many Britons who should be furious not only at the grooming gangs, who have committed monstrous acts on a scale that staggers the imagination, but also at the civil servants who looked away, are instead in high dudgeon over Tommy Robinson, one of the few people who have dared publicly to call the brutal, violent abuse of children by its proper name and to react to it in a manner proportional to its villainy. One Englishman explained that all those upstanding police and courthouse personnel in his country have "thoroughly investigated" the grooming-gang cases, and their efforts have involved "great resources of police time and great expense." By reporting live on Facebook from outside the courthouse, he stated, Robinson risked destroying all their hard work by broadcasting information of which, by law, jurors in this trial, and potential jurors in other rape-gang trials, should be kept unaware.
Poppycock. Robinson did not do anything outside this courthouse that other reporters do not do on a regular basis. The information he supplied, including the names and ages of the defendants, came straight off the BBC website. The critic who expressed such tender concern about "police time" actually argued that Robinson, by reading off all those Muslim names, might have formed unfortunate "preconceptions" in the minds of potential jurors that would make it impossible for them to give future Muslim defendants a fair trial. Is he suggesting that in order for any of these thugs to get tried fairly, the entire British public should be kept in the dark about the reality of Muslim grooming gangs? "Robinson was not just on the street, he was sending a running commentary to the internet," complained one correspondent. "If any other journalist was found doing that, he or she may also have been sent to prison under a gag order until the trial ends."Does anyone truly believe that some well-known BBC or Sky News talking head would ever have been plucked up from outside the courthouse in Leeds, shoved into a paddywagon, dragged before a judge, and tossed unceremoniously into the clink without so much as being allowed to phone a lawyer? So much concern – legitimately so – about the sacred right of the rapists to a fair trial, including the presumption of innocence and an opportunity to retain the lawyers of their choice – but so much readiness to excuse the denial of the same right to Robinson! "A trained professional journalist," we hear, does not report information about a trial live from outside a courthouse "but sends a report to the newspaper, whose editors and/or lawyers can then check it before it is published." More poppycock. Granted, as any viewer of British TV news knows, a "trained professional journalist" in Britain observes all kinds of rules of professional conduct: he calls Muslims "Asians," he describes any critic of Islam, or anyone who attends a rally protesting the unjust incarceration of a critic of Islam, as a member of the "far right," and he identifies far-left smear machines as "anti-racist groups."
Some British correspondents also expressed concern that reckless rhetoric about the Robinson case might end up causing "an insurrection" in Britain, which "would lead to immense casualties." News flash: there have already been immense casualties. Question for these critics: Are those child rape victims unreal to you? What about the countless UK victims of female genital mutilation, "honor" killings, and other "honor"-related punishments, not to mention various less-than-neighborly activities by Muslim gangs? Yes, there have been casualties, and if Britain keeps on in the direction it is currently going, the number of casualties will only rise. "Demography is destiny," as the saying has it.
One note dismissed the statement by Robert Spencer, quoted by yours truly, that "the darkness of Sharia-compliant totalitarianism" is descending upon Britain. "Someone who utters such a sentence," we are told, "immediately loses the respect of most Britons that I know. In the UK, such lurid rhetoric is seen as characteristic of nutters."
Interesting to bring up the concepts of luridness and respect. Should one still respect the people who covered up child rapes for decades? If there is "lurid rhetoric," well, perhaps lurid events call for lurid rhetoric – especially for events which the powers that be have swept under the rug for years. As for the reference to Roert Spencer, a brave and learned scholar, as a "nutter": well, if head-in-the-sand aplomb amounts to sanity, then count me as a nutter.
One British observer complained that those of us who have criticized Robinson's treatment in recent days are guilty of "ignorantly malign[ing] the authorities." What is this species of Briton who appears to be more exercised by frank criticism of public officials than by mass child gang rapes? I have also been told that "an experienced English lawyer...would have advised" against publishing some passages of my recent articles. Mercifully, not everyone is subject to Britain's increasingly frightening laws.
Another note from the UK flatly denied that freedom in Britain today is on the decline: "Let's be clear, there has been no clampdown on free speech by the British judiciary, government or press in the Tommy Robinson affair." On the contrary, as demonstrated by any number of articles over the last several years, the UK has imposed an increasingly stringent clampdown on free speech about Islam by anyone.
"Reading some of your contributions," charged one communiqué, "you would think the UK has become an Islamist state." No, not yet. It is on its way, though, thanks to complacent people who are more worried about "scare stories," as one man put it, than about the real-life scary actions that these "scare stories" recount. "It's all becoming too hysterical and extreme," the missive charges, and accuses us of "whip[ping] up hatred." Ah yes, let us not rattle the teacups while the barbarians are raping our children. Let us not report honestly on a rape crisis – which often the rapists themselves say is rooted in the teachings of Islam -- lest it turn some readers against the religion.
Yet another letter-writer, while offering a number of similar criticisms, calls Tommy Robinson "a genuine racist." Of course, calling people racists is weapon #1 in any serious campaign to shut down criticism, including of Islam. All of us who have been writing critically about Islam for any length of time are accustomed to being called racists. One gets used to it. But apart from being a shabby card to play -- there are, after all, real racists in the world -- by all appearances, Tommy Robinson is not one of them. He has often pointed out that he grew up in a racially mixed community and that his lifelong friends include Africans, Caribbean blacks, and blokes with Muslim and Hindu backgrounds. His best friend is black. Race simply seems not to have been an issue for him. He left the English Defence League because of its racism.
If there is any bigotry here, it would seem to be on the part of those who view Robinson – whose courage, love of country, and sense of civic responsibility they are incapable of recognizing – as a boorish rabble-rouser who should leave the business of governance to those who possess the requisite breeding, education, manners, and wisdom.
The bottom line here is simple. The claims by these high-toned correspondents to the contrary, Britain is in serious trouble. While foreign truth-tellers are banned from entering the country, jihad preachers are still welcome. While authorities still go out of their way to avoid arresting, prosecuting, or jailing a Muslim criminal, they are quick to take into custody, or at least pay an intimidating visit to, any ordinary Britisher who dares to criticize the Religion of Peace. If people took the trouble to write letters of complaint in response to articles that are sympathetic to Tommy Robinson, it may be because they recognize that the news about the erosion of British freedom is finally getting out – not just to a relatively small circle of people in the U.S. and elsewhere, but to millions -- and they do not like it at all.
**Bruce Bawer is the author of the new novel The Alhambra (Swamp Fox Editions). His book While Europe Slept (2006) was a New York Times bestseller and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. His other books include A Place at the Table (1993), Stealing Jesus (1997), Surrender (2009), and The Victims' Revolution (2012). A native New Yorker, he has lived in Europe since 1998.
© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

UK: A New Drive for Islamic Blasphemy Laws?
Judith Bergman/Gatestone Institute/June 02/2018
It is reasonable to assume that the planned report and the ensuing work on finding a definition of "Islamophobia" is meant effectively to destroy the little that remains of free speech in the UK.
The Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group has as its top priority "tackling the far right and counter jihadists". It seems a peculiar government priority to "tackle" people who are opposed to jihad; one would assume that the British government is also against jihad.
According to British government logic, then, after Muslims stabbed and beheaded British Army soldier Lee Rigby in broad daylight in London, Muslim institutions needed protection -- not British ones.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims[1] has formally begun work on the establishment of a "working definition of Islamophobia that can be widely accepted by Muslims, political parties and the government".
The AAPG on British Muslims, according to its website, was established in July 2017. It is chaired by MPs Anna Soubry and Wes Streeting and is meant to build on the work of a former AAPG: the AAPG on Islamophobia. The latter came into existence as the result of a meeting at the House of Commons in March 2010, hosted by, among others, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) -- the largest Muslim organization in the UK, which claims to be representative of British Muslims -- which is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood[2]. The purpose of the meeting was "to discuss the growing spate of attacks in all its forms against British Muslims". The meeting, which was attended, among others, by parliamentarians, police and public servants called for the establishment of an APPG on Islamophobia. By November 2010, the AAPG on Islamophobia had been formed, and was described by its chairman, the Conservative Kris Hopkins, as a "momentous occasion" the purpose of which was to "propose considered, evidence based policies to tackle Islamophobia wherever it exists". However, the newly established AAPG quickly ran into trouble. It turned out that the Muslim organization appointed as its secretariat was the Muslim extremist organization iENGAGE, which has since changed its name to MEND.[3]
Meanwhile, the work against "Islamophobia" instead continued in other forums. In 2012, Minister of State for Faith and Communities, Baroness Warsi -- who was the co-chair of the AAPG on Islamophobia and is now the treasurer of the AAPG on British Muslims -- helped form a government working group against Islamophobia, named the "Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group".
The Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group is made up of "representatives from the Muslim community, independent experts, academics, and government departments" including, among others, the Attorney General's Office, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the National Police Chiefs' Council.
The Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group has as its top priority "tackling the far right and counter jihadists". It seems a peculiar government priority to "tackle" people who are opposed to jihad; one would assume that the British government is also against jihad.
One member of the Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group, Akeela Ahmed, who represents the organization "Hope not Hate" has said:
"One successful initiative of the [Anti-Muslim Hatred Working] group was petitioning the Home Office for funding to protect mosques from attacks around the UK. There had been a sharp spike in incidents as the result of Lee Rigby's murder in 2013 by Islamist extremists. The Home Office agreed to allocate £2 million over three years for the protection of faith institutions".
According to British government logic, after Muslims stabbed and beheaded British Army soldier Lee Rigby in broad daylight in London, Muslim institutions needed protection -- not British ones.
Other priorities of the "Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group" are "public transport awareness campaign to encourage reporting of anti-Muslim hatred incidents [one such campaign took place in October 2017], anti-Muslim bullying in schools, [and] Muslim literacy in the media".
Prime Minister Theresa May last year described "Islamophobia" as "extremism", and compared it to Islamic terrorism:
"...terrorism, extremism and hatred take many forms; and our determination to tackle them must be the same whoever is responsible... there has been far too much tolerance of extremism in our country over many years – and that means extremism of any kind, including Islamophobia."
Despite the government's focused activity on fighting "Islamophobia", the AAPG for British Muslims remained dissatisfied. In October 2017, Baroness Warsi declared that "it is high time to have a definition of Islamophobia, and that to fundamentally challenge the hate that underpins hate crime, we need to define what that hate is". Warsi therefore invited the British Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, "to meet with a cross-section of community organisations and individuals, led by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims, to work towards a definition".
Lord Bourne responded that he would be happy to meet with the group but that he did not accept the need for a definitive definition of Islamophobia. According to Bourne, the government "does not currently endorse a particular definition of Islamophobia. Previous attempts by others to define this term have not succeeded in attracting consensus or widespread acceptance".
"It [Islamophobia] is clearly recognised, and we have very effective monitoring of race-hate crimes... considerable work is done by Tell MAMA and the Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group in these areas. We do that while understanding and being able to recognise Islamophobia, but perhaps not being able to define it precisely."
The APPG on British Muslims was not discouraged by the minister's response. In April 2018, it released a "call for evidence" -- a call for input to the upcoming report on defining "Islamophobia"-- that Baroness Warsi sent directly to a number of organizations, including Muslim Brotherhood linked Muslim Council of Britain and the extremist MEND.
At the end of the "call for evidence," the AAPG's letter briefly mentioned free speech as a question that is "possibly outside the scope of this report".
It is reasonable to assume that the planned report and the ensuing work on finding a definition of "Islamophobia" is meant effectively to destroy the little that remains of free speech in the UK, where the authorities already vigorously pursue and prosecute claims of "Islamophobia".
The Palace of Westminster in London, meeting place of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. (Image source: Mike Gimelfarb/Wikimedia Commons)
*Judith Bergman is a columnist, lawyer and political analyst.
[1] APPGs are informal, cross-party groups composed of Members of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. They have no official status within Parliament.
[2] A 2015 UK government report found that the Muslim Brotherhood "played an important role in establishing and then running the Muslim Council of Britain".
[3] MEND is also known as an extremist Muslim organization.
© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

The Recession Is Long Gone. Where Are the Babies?
Christine Emba/Asharq Al Awsat/June 02/18
We may be running a bit low on babies.
Last week, the National Center for Health Statistics reported that US fertility had fallen to a record low — for the second straight year. The fertility rate declined to 60.2 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age, down 3 percent from 2016. The number of births in the United States fell 2 percent to 3.85 million, the lowest in 30 years. In fact, the only group for whom birthrates have risen this year is women over 40.
This slump began, somewhat predictably, during the Great Recession. Birthrates tend to drop during periods of economic distress as people put off having babies, but potential parents usually get back to business once the economy rebounds. What’s worrying now is that the recession has more than ended but the baby numbers haven’t picked back up.
It’s hard to know how to gauge a change like this. Alarms about a coming “baby bust” have been sounding for years, while reasonable demographers have cautioned that we shouldn’t jump to conclusions — even though the decline has continued, more or less unabated, for nearly a decade.
Still, even though it may not quite be time to panic, we might want to start thinking about what exactly is going on.
What is holding up the stork? The theories range from the personal to the political. One dourly amusing possibility blames screens: Researchers such as University of Virginia sociologist Brad Wilcox have hypothesized that those of baby-making age are having “too much Netflix, not enough chill.” Young adults may be displacing in-person activities — including forming relationships and getting married— with time on computers, phones and tablets. They are posting incessantly on social media, and gaming, or Tinder-swiping through all possible matches to find an always-elusive perfect match.
It’s too early for hard evidence on this theory to have emerged, but it does make a certain amount of sense. One wonders whether the lately media-famous “incels,” for instance, would be as “involuntarily” celibate if they spent less time complaining online and more time out in the real world.
Another possible explanation is a new set of scruples around financial stability and pace of life. Yes, the economy has improved. But the recession and its aftermath have changed the outlook of the most fertile generation in meaningful ways.
Much has been made of millennials not buying houses and not setting up their 401(k)s, but many of them are postponing other parts of their lives, too, including childbirth and family formation. It’s an understandable choice, considering the distinct lack of parental benefits and profamily policies in most US workplaces. But while postponing children may leave more time to secure a career, there’s less time afterward for securing a family. An uptick of interest in advanced maternal-age fertility treatments and late-in-life motherhood blogs suggests that this may not be the outcome that all would prefer.
One final reason for our latest fertility low may be a newly rekindled political stinginess. The United States’ fertility levels have been below replacement level — the level at which a given generation can exactly replace itself, usually 2,100 births per 1,000 women — since 1971. So why hasn’t America’s population been falling? Because for years, immigrants have been propping up our ranks.
Some would prefer this were not the case. “We can’t restore our civilization with someone else’s babies,” Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) opined last year, to a deservedly outraged response. In fact, that’s exactly what we have been doing for years, to our country’s great social and economic benefit. Today, however, our political conversation and harsh immigration policies clearly are making relocating to the United State a less attractive proposition. We may want to reconsider our rhetoric before it’s too late — just in case you’re reading, President Trump.
But say we decide not to. The above arguments all assume that falling or plateauing fertility is a bad thing. What if it’s not?
Well . . . it is. The overpopulation doomsday scenarios have long since failed to pan out. Meanwhile, countries that are further along each of these causal trajectories (think Japan, which has the world’s lowest birthrate and has lost 1 million people over the past five years) are facing grim consequences. Not just the economic impact of higher numbers of retirees and fewer young workers but also a distinct sense of social decline — a lack of meaning, an increase in loneliness and a disinterest in the future.
We’re not there yet. But as it turns out — surprise! — having children is generally a good thing. If we’re starting to turn away from it, we should start trying to figure out why.