June 25/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


The Bulletin's Link on the lccc Site


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


Bible Quotations
The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest
Luke 10/01-07: "After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, "Peace to this house!" And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house.
Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on June 24-25/18
Hezbollah says social media accounts closed without notice/Ynetnews/Daniel Salami/June 24/18
In quest to form Lebanon cabinet, Aoun racks up enemies/Sami Moubayed/Gulf News/June 24/18
Analysis Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ for the Middle East Might Live or Die in Cairo/Zvi Bar’el/Haaretz/June 24/18
Bishop Graham Tomlin and the Demonization of Israel/Denis MacEoin/Gatestone Institute/June 24/18
Secret Weapon in the Afghanistan War/James Stavridis/Bloomberg/June 24/18
World Cup, Qatari 'Ugly' Power/Salman Al-dossary/Asharq Al Awsat/June 24/18
Turkey and the West: With or Without Each Other/Murat Yetkin/Asharq Al Awsat/June 24/18
Russian air strikes back Syrian southern offensive. US to Southern Front rebels: You’re on your own/DEBKAfile/June 24/18
Palestinians Slam Kushner , Accuse Him Of Incitement/Jerusalem Post/June 24/18
As sanctions bite, confused Western policies let Iran off the hook/Baria Alamuddin/Arab News/June 24/18
US can use North Korea to pressure Iranian regime/Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/June 24/18
Will the US withdraw from Afghanistan/Michael Kugelman/Arab News/June 24/18

Titles For The Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on June 24-25/18
Hezbollah says social media accounts closed without notice
'March 8 Sunnis' Won't be Represented in Government
Aoun Reportedly Rejects Hariri Suggestions on LF, PSP Shares
'Positive Impulse' in Govt. Formation Process 'Still Ongoing'
Saudi Envoy Says 'Lebanon Safe' for Tourism
Abillama Accuses Bassil of Violating Maarab Agreement
Rahi officiates over Mass service in Bkirki
ElKhalil honoring Swiss Ambassador: To help implement decisions of South liberation, restoration of Lebanon's entire occupied land
Riachi's representative on World Fair Trade Day: Agricultural sector witnessed difficulties, initiatives encourage production and export
Saudi sports initiative on International Day Against Drugs
Geagea: Authorizing women to drive in Saudi Arabia will lead to structural changes in society
Falha represents Riachy in honoring ceremony for Syndicate of Lebanese Press Directors and Graphic Designers
In quest to form Lebanon cabinet, Aoun racks up enemies

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on June 24-25/18
Syria: 5 Commanders, 20 Members of Regime Forces Killed East Daraa
Trump Adviser Questions Abbas Desire for Peace with Israel
First Russia Airstrikes Hit South Syria as Assault Looms
Israel Fires at Drone from Syria, Forces It to Retreat
U.S. Tells Syria Rebels Not to Expect Help against Army Assault
Celebrations, Tears as Saudi Arabia Overturns Ban on Women Driving
Jordan Says Unable to Host New Wave of Syria Refugees
Britain's Prince William in Jordan for Historic Middle East Tour
German Police: Dozens Injured in Building Explosion
Saudi-Led Coalition Ministers Discuss Strategies to Confront Iran in Yemen
Iraqi PM Warns Groups against Stockpiling Weapons
Qatar, Iran Share Tendencies for Regional Destabilization

Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on June 24-25/18
Hezbollah says social media accounts closed without notice
Ynetnews/Daniel Salami/June 24/18
The terror organization says Twitter and Facebook closed its social media accounts, a day after it posted a video showing 2006 kidnapping of IDF soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev; Hezbollah says social media followers can use backup pages; Facebook and Twitter have not commented on the issue.
Hezbollah said Saturday via Telegram that its Facebook and Twitter accounts have been shutdown without notice, informing its social media followers that backup and new social media pages were available for use. According to Hezbollah, Facebook and Twitter closed its accounts as part of their efforts to harm the Lebanese organization since social media plays a major role in Hezbollah's activities. This is not the first time Facebook and Twitter have pulled the plug on Hezbollah's accounts. The same Fcebook page was blocked at the end of 2017 and was later reopened. Facebook and Twitter have so far not issued a statement on the matter. The accounts were reported to have been shut down a day after Hezbollah posted a new video on its Twitter account showing the 2006 kidnapping of IDF soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. However, the Hezbollah-affiliated Twitter page on which the video was published is still active, indicating the shut down was not a result of the video published on Friday. In the video, the soldiers’ bodies can be seen near an IDF Humvee when several Hezbollah terrorists dressed in what resemble the Israeli military’s uniform run away from it before it explodes.The accounts were reported to have been shut down a day after Hezbollah posted a new video on its Twitter account showing the 2006 kidnapping of IDF soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. However, the Hezbollah-affiliated Twitter page on which the video was published is still active, indicating the shut down was not a result of the video published on Friday. In the video, the soldiers’ bodies can be seen near an IDF Humvee when several Hezbollah terrorists dressed in what resemble the Israeli military’s uniform run away from it before it explodes. In the first episode, fighters for the organization are seen training for the kidnapping in the summer and in the winter. Imad Mughniyah, Hezbollah's international operations chief who was assassinated in 2008 in a joint Mossad-CIA operation in Damascus, is present in the last training drill before the kidnapping in an area that was similar to the actual scene. He is filmed giving instructions to terror cell. First published: 06.23.18,

'March 8 Sunnis' Won't be Represented in Government
Naharnet/June 24/18/The Sunnis of the Hizbullah-led March 8 camp will not be represented in the new government, sources informed on the formation process and a top Mustaqbal Movement official said. In an interview with Asharq al-Awsat newspaper published Sunday, senior Mustaqbal official ex-MP Mustafa Alloush confirmed “the exclusion of the Sunnis of the March 8 forces from the new government.”Mustaqbal does not want them in the government because that would be “detrimental and not beneficial,” Alloush told the daily. “We have accepted Hizbullah because it is a de facto situation but we are not willing to accept parties that have been practically created by Hizbullah,” the ex-MP added. Political sources informed on the formation process also confirmed that March 8's Sunnis will not be represented. The Marada Movement of March 8 will meanwhile get a Christian seat in the government, the sources added. Ten Sunni politicians allied to Hizbullah became MPs in the new parliament after the May 2018 elections.

Aoun Reportedly Rejects Hariri Suggestions on LF, PSP Shares
Naharnet/June 24/18/President Michel Aoun has rejected Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri's suggestions on the cabinet seats that should be allocated to the Lebanese Forces and the Progressive Socialist Party, a media report said. “The obstacles of the size of the LF's ministerial share in the cabinet line-up and the issue of limiting the three Druze seats to those named by the Progressive Socialist Party are still the subject of disagreement between the president and the PM-designate,” al-Hayat daily quoted a source well-informed on the talks as saying in remarks published Sunday. “Aoun is still rejecting Hariri's proposal regarding these two obstacles, which involves giving five ministerial portfolios to the LF, including a sovereign portfolio, or giving it five portfolios that include a sovereign portfolio in addition to the deputy PM post,” the source added. Hariri had announced Friday that the negotiations have become “very close” to the final line-up “equation,” after talks with Aoun in Baabda.Hariri was tasked with forming the new government on May 24.

'Positive Impulse' in Govt. Formation Process 'Still Ongoing'

Naharnet/June 24/18/The latest “positive impulse” in the government formation process is “still ongoing,” political sources have said.“The possibility of finalizing the government file before Speaker Nabih Berri's travel in the middle of next week is still on,” the sources added in remarks published Sunday by Kuwait's al-Rai newspaper. Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri is “pressing on with his marathon efforts to resolve the obstacles through proposing a lot of formats and ideas behind closed doors and via the 'WhatsApp diplomacy,'” the sources went on to say. They said the efforts are aimed at reaching compromises regarding the shares of the Lebanese Forces and the Progressive Socialist Party. Hariri had announced Friday that the negotiations have become “very close” to the final line-up “equation,” after talks with President Michel Aoun in Baabda.Hariri was tasked with forming the new government on May 24.

Saudi Envoy Says 'Lebanon Safe' for Tourism

Naharnet/June 24/18/Saudi charge d'affaires in Lebanon Walid al-Bukhari has reassured that “Lebanon is safe” for tourism. “Saudi Arabia has a constantly renewing diplomatic thought and every ambassador who took part in today's event is sending a message that Lebanon is safe and has achieved security standards under which tourism in this country should be reconsidered” by any boycotting country, Bukhari said during a motorcycle tour sponsored by the Saudi embassy. Lebanese lawmakers also participated in the tour, titled 'Sport for a Better Tomorrow', which aims to promote awareness against drugs.The tour had started from Beirut's King Salman Avenue before reaching Mukhtara in Mount Lebanon's Chouf region.

Abillama Accuses Bassil of Violating Maarab Agreement

Naharnet/June 24/18/MP Eddy Abillama of the Lebanese Forces has accused Free Patriotic Movement chief MP Jebran Bassil of violating the LF-FPM Maarab Agreement. “Prime Minister-designate (Saad) Hariri is the only one entitled to distribute ministerial portfolios in coordination with the president and not that person who has given himself the right to distribute seats as he sees fit,” Abillama said in a TV interview, referring to Bassil. “He who is plotting against the LF's share is showing greed and the obstacle has not been created by the LF but rather by he who is standing in the face of the LF,” the MP added. He stressed that the issue is not about “splitting shares” but rather about “reflecting the popular representation.” “We are demanding the minimum and anything short of that would be a breach of (voters') trust,” Abillama went on to say. In an apparent reference to the FPM's Strong Lebanon bloc, the lawmaker said “some are adding and subtracting MPs within blocs as if they are assembling 'LEGO parts' to obtain ministerial seats.”“Some forces are being besieged, including the LF, and they think that they can succeed, but this era is long gone and this issue is nonnegotiable,” Abillama said. “I don't advise anyone to try us,” he warned. The MP added: “We are strong in politics and will be strong in the government and no one will be able to embarrass us to keep us out.”He also stressed that the Maarab Agreement “must be respected,” noting that “Bassil's remarks on cabinet shares do not comply with the agreement's text and spirit.”

Rahi officiates over Mass service in Bkirki
Sun 24 Jun 2018/NNA - Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rahi, called on Sunday for the formation of a government that includes technocratic and competent ministers, instead of mobilizing quotas and sharing interests. Rahi, whose fresh words came during a Mass service in Bkirki today, underscored that "the Lebanese people are not asking for a government that includes ordinary ministers or one in which quotas are mobilized and personal interests are shared, but they are rather asking for a technocratic government." Referring to the challenges that the next government will face, Rahi referred to the structural reforms that should be adopted in all sectors, mainly at the commercial, educational and housing levels.

ElKhalil honoring Swiss Ambassador: To help implement decisions of South liberation, restoration of Lebanon's entire occupied land
Sun 24 Jun 2018/ NNA - Member of the "Development and Liberation" Parliamentary Bloc, MP Anwar El-Khalil, expressed Sunday his hope that the United Nations would be able to implement its international resolutions related to Lebanon's restoration of its entire occupied national territories, namely Shebaa farms, Kfarshouba hilltops and the northern part of the village of Al-Ghajar. Honoring Swiss Ambassador to Lebanon, Monika Schmutz-Kirgoz, in a ceremony held in Dar Hasbaya earlier today in the presence of political officials, diplomats and prominent security, religious, social and media figures, El-Khalil said, "We appreciate Switzerland's unswerving solidarity with its national issues before international forums...and we call upon it and all friendly countries to stand by Lebanon in defending its right to safeguard its sovereignty by land, air and sea." El-Khalil praised Kirgoz's relentless support during her term of office in Lebanon, noting that the honoring ceremony comes a few days before the second anniversary of her diplomatic mission in Lebanon. "We will celebrate two years of intensive work to promote and deepen the friendly relations and cooperation between Lebanon and Switzerland and their peoples, and between the Lebanese and Swiss Parliaments," added El-Khalil. He indicated that the occasion is also "a tribute to the values that Switzerland embodies in democracy, human rights, humanitarian positions and international solidarity with developing and poor nations." "We in Lebanon have many examples of Swiss contributions in helping official Lebanon and supporting civil society institutions from their position as a partner in building a Lebanese citizenship free of any sectarian or factional contaminants," highlighted El-Khalil. He referred to Switzerland's encouraging initiatives for dialogue between Lebanon's political and social components, with the aim of creating a positive debate that would lead the interlocutors to frameworks of understanding. Additionally, El-Khalil commended Switzerland's contribution to healing the wounds of displaced Syrians in various areas of Lebanon, asserting that "the fundamental solution lies in the voluntary and safe return of refugees to their country, which necessarily calls for encouraging the peace process as a solution to the Syrian crisis and combating terrorism that threatens international security and stability." In turn, Ambassador Kirgoz stressed that Switzerland continuously stands by Lebanon and helps its institutions bear the burdens and challenges of pressing dossiers. She added that her country is "keen on the relations of cooperation with Lebanon," emphasizing MP El-Khalil's significant role in his capacity as Head of the Lebanese-Swiss Parliamentary Friendship Committee in promoting this relationship.

Riachi's representative on World Fair Trade Day: Agricultural sector witnessed difficulties, initiatives encourage production and export
Sun 24 Jun 2018/NNA - Representing Caretaker Information Minister Melhem Riachi at the "Lebanon Trade Fair" Association's ceremony organized under his patronage on the occasion of the World Fair Trade Day at the Monastery of St. George in Roumieh-Qalayat, Advisor Alissar Naddaf Geagea said the Lebanese agricultural sector has been through many difficulties. She added that challenges are still in place while initiatives encourage Lebanese local production and export. "In Lebanon, the agricultural sector has undergone several shocks due to the deteriorating economic situation, the absence of loans, the lack of local production and the absence of control over imported materials," noted Geagea. Addressing the attending crowd, including United States Embassy Charge d'Affaires Edward White, MP Shawki Daccash and several other prominent figures, Geagea deemed that "the decline in this sector has led to the loss of employment and migration from the countryside to the city in search of more productive sectors.""Today, the challenges remain in light of the instability in the region and the prevailing economic crisis. Hence the importance of the initiatives of associations such as the Fair Lebanon Association, which encourages the Lebanese to invest in their lands and promotes production and export based on the capacities of specialized and highly-experienced young professionals," highlighted Geagea. It is to note that the Fair Trade Association's project aims at creating sustainable opportunities for fair trade activities in rural areas in the country.

Saudi sports initiative on International Day Against Drugs
Sun 24 Jun 2018/NNA - Several ministers, deputies and diplomats participated Sunday in a sports initiative under the theme, "For a Better future", launched by Saudi Charge d'Affaires in Beirut, Walid Al-Boukhari, marking the International Day Against Drugs, in cooperation with the Harley Davidson Club. Officials drove Harley Davidson motorcycles from King Salman Avenue in Zeituna Bay to the Shouf region, with the participation of outgoing Tourism Minister Avedis Guidanian and Ambassadors of Morocco, Mohammad Grinn, the United Arab Emirates, Hamad Saeed Al Shamsi, Algeria, Ahmed Bouziane, Yemen Abdullah Al-Deis, Australia, Glenn Miles, and Pakistan, Aktab Ahmad Koker, as well as UN Coordinator in Lebanon Philipe Lazzarini, alongside several Lebanese deputies, prominent figures and media professionals. In a word marking the occasion, Caretaker Minister Guidanian thanked the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in the person of its Charge d'Affaires for this great initiative, which ought to be supported by the Lebanese State for a drug-free Lebanon. He added that drugs are a deadly scourge at the ethical and moral levels, calling for strong awareness towards this phenomenon. Guidanian recalled that Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri had asked the Lebanese authorities and administrations to raise white flags, within the framework of the campaign against drugs led by the Ministry of Public Health. For his part, Saudi Charge d'Affaires Al-Boukhari explained that the campaign initiated by the Embassy is part of the guidelines of King Salman of Arabia in closely following-up on social affairs. He thanked the Lebanese ministers and deputies, as well as the diplomats who took part in the sports event, noting that the Embassy's initiative reflected the Saudi diplomatic vision that accords great importance to Man at any time and place.

Geagea: Authorizing women to drive in Saudi Arabia will lead to structural changes in society
Sun 24 Jun 2018/NNA - Lebanese Forces Party Leader Samir Geagea said in a statement on Sunday that the decision to allow Saudi women to drive a vehicle would result in profound structural changes in Saudi society. "For some, this decision can only have implications for the empowerment of women. For me, the implications of this decision are far beyond the empowerment of women," Geagea indicated, adding that the Kingdom is on the fast track of development and modernity in all fields and will generate vitality and structural changes in its society. "I think that the effects of this change on the ground will reach the issue of understanding Islam throughout the Islamic world and correcting the image of this religion, which some are deliberately trying to distort," he went on. Finally, Geagea congratulated the Kingdom, its new leadership and the Islamic world for the "New Saudi Arabia."

Falha represents Riachy in honoring ceremony for Syndicate of Lebanese Press Directors and Graphic Designers
Sun 24 Jun 2018/NNA - The Press and Graphic Designers' Alumni Association honored yesterday (Saturday) a number of veteran employees in the profession of "Graphic Design" in a ceremony held at the Conferences' Palace in Dbayeh, under the patronage of outgoing Minister of Information Melhem Riachy, represented by the Director General of the Ministry of Information Hassan Falha. Speaking at the ceremony, Falha described the media situation in Lebanon saying, "We have a very beautiful past and a very beautiful heritage, while the present is very modest, and the future is vague if we do not trust ourselves and unite to build the future."Falha also called on the new parliament and upcoming government to grant the media sector significant importance, especially that the print and audio-visual media are under threat. He shed light on preserving the rights of the employees working in the Information Ministry in all its departments. "If we are realistic and we want to respect our country and this profession, we must strengthen the conditions of social, professional, health, educational, financial and economic workers in this field," Falha noted. In this context, he stressed the need to grant the journalists their rights, particularly at the end of their service. Moreover, Falha called for organizing workshops to discuss the rights of the sector that constitutes the real capital and resources of Lebanon, patronized by Lebanon's President, House Speaker, Prime Minister and Minister of Information, and in the presence of the Press Syndicate. "If we want to preserve our history, we must look to our future while rejecting the present," he said, stressing the need for legislation to address the problems of the media sector.

In quest to form Lebanon cabinet, Aoun racks up enemies
Sami Moubayed/Gulf News/June 24/18
Under international pressure, Hezbollah using Aoun as a cover to appoint their proxies
Beirut: As President Michel Aoun tries to put together a cabinet following Lebanon’s May parliamentary elections, he is making a lot of enemies on the way. Most recently Aoun’s supporters have been quarelling with Druze leader Walid Junblatt who is head of the Progressive Socialist Party. It all started last weekend when Junblatt tweeted: “Our misfortune is in a tenure that has failed since its first moment.”
The veiled criticism intended towards Aoun made headlines across Lebanon, with the president’s supporters demanding a swift apology for the “insult”.
“The verbal escalation between Junblatt and Aoun supporters has to do with the current efforts to cobble together a cabinet,” Hilal Khashan, prominent political science professor at the American University of Beirut (AUB) tells Gulf News. “It is essentially driven by Aoun’s desire to allocate one out of three Druze cabinet seats to Talal Arslan,” he said. Arslan, a ranking Druze notable, is an ally of the powerful Iran-backed Shiite group Hezbollah. Meanwhile, Junblatt’s son Taymour, who was recently elected to parliament, is leading a campaign questioning the legality of a naturalisation decree signed by the president, giving Lebanese nationality to hundreds of Syrian figures, some notably close to the Syrian regime.
The relationship between Aoun and Junblatt was always stiffly cordial, but never warm. During the last stage of the Lebanese civil war back in 1989, they fought each other in the hills of Souk Al Ghareb, a town in Mount Lebanon. Aoun emerged a staunch opponent of the Syrian military presence in Lebanon, describing it as an occupation. He fought a “war of liberation” against Syrian troops, who eventually overran him at Baabda Palace, after which he was sent into exile in France. Aoun has long held a grudge against Junblatt, for supporting his exile.
When he returned to Lebanon in 2005 just after the assassination of ex-premier Rafik Hariri, Aoun did an about-face, emerging as an ally of the Syrian government.
He teamed up with Hezbollah and worked to discredit the anti-Syrian March 14 movement, which Junblatt was a part of along with Hariri’s son Sa’ad. Aoun was duly rewarded for his shift in allegiance and received the backing of Hezbollah to achieve his lifelong dream of becoming president in 2016.
The Lebanese president is already on thin ice with his former allies in the Christian Marada Movement led by Sulaiman Franjieh, who feels he was abandoned both by Hezbollah and the Syrians, in favour of Aoun, for the presidency. He is also on shaky terms with Nabih Berri, the leader of the Shiite party Amal and the Parliament Speaker, for signing a decree last year promoting officers in rank, and increasing their pay, without consulting with the Minister of Finance, or seeking his approval. Observers believe these fall-outs will result in a delay in cabinet formation. “Since coming to power Aoun has hardened his positions,” says Fadi Akoum, a Lebanese political commentator. He says Aoun sees little reason to grant concessions to anybody anymore, having firmly secured the presidency, which has been his lifetime dream. Although Aoun had previously positioned himself as a patriot representing all Lebanese, it has become increasingly evident that Iran, which backed him for the presidency, is coming to collect on their investment. “Iran played a major role in bringing him to power and is clearly trying to control his decisions,” he adds. “Of course with Hezbollah being boycotted internationally and under increasing sanctions by Washington, the ideal cover up for them is to appoint their proxies into the cabinet through Aoun’s FPM movement”.
Others believe that Aoun is not actually the one calling the shots but rather his son-in-law, Jibran Bassil.
Bassil, who currently serves as Lebanon’s foreign minister, could be posturing for a future presidential role. “Bassil’s combative positions are being done under the pretext of ‘defending Christian presence in Lebanon’”, prominent political analyst Ghassan Habbal told Gulf News.
Aside from making political enemies, Aoun’s administration is under fire for campaigning for the forced repatriation of Syrian refugees. Lebanese politicians critical of the Syrian regime have voiced opposition to forced returns of Syrians on political and humanitarian grounds. They argue that most of these refugees are wanted by Syrian security services or will be forced to enlist in the army. They believe that Aoun and his Iran-backed Hezbollah allies want them out because the majority are Sunnis, could tip the sectarian balance in the country out of their favour.
-With inputs from Layelle Saad GCC/Middle East Editor
Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on June 24-25/18
Syria: 5 Commanders, 20 Members of Regime Forces Killed East Daraa
Beirut, London – Asharq Al-Awsat/Sunday, 24 June, 2018/Five officers and 20 members of the Syrian regime forces were killed in battles in areas north-east of Daraa, which was bombed by the regime. On Tuesday, the regime began intensifying its bombardment on the eastern province of Daraa, threatening an imminent military operation against opposition factions in the southern province. Head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), Rami Abdul Rahman indicated that: “Regime troops made their first advance in the area since the military escalation on Tuesday, seizing the villages of al-Bustan and al-Shumariya in the eastern part of Daraa province.”According to Abdul Rahman, the regime's forces aim to separate the eastern countryside between the north and the south, "making it easier for their operations and increasing pressure on opposition factions and allowing them to move faster."On Saturday, state-owned Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported: “Army units on Saturday continued to target hotbeds and dens of the terrorist organizations in the area of al-Lajat in Daraa eastern countryside in the framework of the war against terrorism.”The southern region is important for its geographical location on the border Israel and Jordan, apart from its proximity to Damascus.
The shelling and clashes are currently focused on a part of rebel territory between eastern countryside of Daraa and the western part of the neighboring province Soweida, added SOHR. The army seems to want to separate the area into a northern and southern section, Abdul Rahman said, “to facilitate their operations and increase the pressure on rebel factions, allowing it to advance more quickly.”SOHR reported that Saturday clashes killed over 8 members and the army forces and injured 20 others, while at least 10 armed fighters of the opposition forces were killed. The Observatory also recorded the displacement of over 12 thousand civilian over three days, mostly from Daraa’s eastern countryside. Hmeimim Russian Air Base stated that 5 commanders and 20 members were killed in the clashes. The opposition factions control 70 percent of Quneitra's border with Israel, as well as Daraa, where all peaceful protests against the regime began in 2011. On Thursday, the United Nations issued a statement expressing its grave concern about “recent military escalation, including ground offensives and aerial bombardments, in southwestern Syria. The attacks have resulted in the displacement of thousands of civilians, the majority of whom are moving towards the Jordanian border.” Estimates indicate that there are about 750 thousand people in areas controlled by opposition factions south of the country. Joint Central Operations Room denied "unequivocally any progress made by the regime and its Iranian militias in the Syrian south." It pointed out that regime’s media is trying, through these allegations, to promote false victories in the south of Syria, after it failed to advance militarily, with several casualties among its ranks. Hmeimim Russian Air Base said that the leader of al-Omari brigades, Wajdi Abu Thalith, announced becoming member of the Syrian regime after negotiations between representatives of the Russian Reconciliation Center and the regime with the Free Syrian Army. Thus, the towns of Dama and Shiah and part of the village of Jadal, which were under Thalith’s control were transferred to the control of the regime. According to al-Dorar al-Shamiya opposition network, rebel factions have inflicted heavy losses upon regime forces and its militias, during the ongoing battles in eastern countryside of Daraa. Al-Lajat operations said its fighters foiled an attempt by Assad's forces and Iranian militias on the Dalafah and Harran axis, east of Daraa, and killed five of them. Meanwhile, field sources reported that violent clashes accompanied by heavy shelling have been taking place since early morning between Lajjat operations room on one hand and the Assad and Iranian militia on the other, on the outskirts of the towns of al-Shomra, al-Dama, Shiyah and al-Bustan in al-Lujat area northeast of Daraa.

Trump Adviser Questions Abbas Desire for Peace with Israel
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/June 24/18/U.S. President Donald Trump's adviser Jared Kushner on Sunday questioned the ability and willingness of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to make concessions for a peace agreement with Israel. Kushner's remarks, made in a rare interview with Palestinian newspaper Al Quds, came as he and special envoy Jason Greenblatt were in the region to advance efforts to renew the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The U.S. duo have not met with Palestinian officials, who froze all contact with U.S. officials following the Trump administration's December recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. "President Abbas says that he is committed to peace and I have no reason not to believe him," Kusnher said. "However, I do question how much President Abbas has the ability to, or is willing to, lean into finishing a deal." "He has his talking points which have not changed in the last 25 years. There has been no peace deal achieved in that time," Kushner said. "To make a deal both sides will have to take a leap and meet somewhere between their stated positions. I am not sure President Abbas has the ability to do that."Kushner and Greenblatt met on Friday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss "advancing the diplomatic process, developments in the region and the security and humanitarian situations in Gaza", according to the premier's office. They held a second meeting Saturday night "to continue their discussions," the White House said. The visit comes after a flare-up of hostilities between Israel and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Israel pounded Hamas targets in response to a barrage of rockets and mortar shells, while troops have killed over 130 Palestinians taking part in clashes on the fringes of demonstrations. Speaking at his Sunday cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said the U.S. officials "fully supported our position and actions to ensure the security of Israel and its civilians around Gaza."The Palestinians have been infuriated by Trump's policies and see east Jerusalem as their future capital, insisting the status of the disputed city is an issue to be negotiated between them and the Israelis. Senior Palestinian official and chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said Sunday that Kushner's interview showed "there's nothing of substance" coming from the Trump Administration. "Kushner represents a policy of dictation rather than negotiations. It is the Trump Administration that has walked away from the negotiations, from international law and U.N. resolutions," Erekat said. Trump has called peace between Israel and the Palestinians the "ultimate deal" and has tasked Kushner with formulating a plan to that end. Kushner -- who has also visit Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia on the trip -- told Al Quds they were "almost done" preparing the plan, which could be presented without Palestinian consent "If President Abbas is willing to come back to the table, we are ready to engage; if he is not, we will likely air the plan publicly," he said.

First Russia Airstrikes Hit South Syria as Assault Looms

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/June 24/18/Russia bombed rebel-held parts of southern Syria late Saturday for the first time since brokering a ceasefire there nearly a year ago, a monitor group said, as allied regime troops prepare a ground assault. Southern Syria is a strategic prize for local and global players involved in the country's convoluted seven-year war. After securing the capital Damascus, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appears keen to recapture the southern provinces of Daraa and Sweida, still mostly held by rebels. He has sent military reinforcements there for weeks, dropped fliers demanding rebels surrender, and escalated bombardment in recent days. Late Saturday night, his Russian allies bombed rebel-held towns in Daraa for the first time since the summer of 2017, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. "Intense Russian air strikes are hitting towns in Daraa's eastern countryside for the first time since the ceasefire was agreed in southern Syria last year," said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman. The Observatory said the warplanes used Saturday -- based on type, location, munitions and flight patterns -- had come from the Russian-operated Hmeimim base in coastal Syria. The Britain-based monitor said at least 25 Russian strikes hit the rebel zones but did not have any casualty figures.
Regime takes two villages
Russia, the United States, and Jordan agreed in July of last year on a de-escalation zone in rebel-controlled parts of southern Syria that would tamp down hostilities there. Since then, Moscow's warplanes -- active in Syria since 2015 -- had refrained from bombing rebel positions in the south. But violence has been ratcheting up this week as Syrian government forces look to retake the south militarily. Forces loyal to Assad began ramping up their air strikes and artillery fire on the zone on Tuesday. At least 19 civilians in rebel-held zones have died since then, according to the Observatory. Several civilians have also been killed in opposition fire on government zones, with state news agency SANA reporting Saturday that two civilians were killed in Daraa city in rebel shelling. Some 12,000 people have been displaced from Daraa province in recent days, the Observatory said, with many seeking refuge in poorly-equipped displacement camps further west. The United Nations has warned that growing violence is putting the lives of 750,000 people in rebel parts of the south in danger. On Saturday, regime forces took two villages in Daraa province, their first ground gains after days of bombardment, the Observatory said.
Steady thud of strikes
"The Russian strikes started around 10:30pm local time (1930 GMT) and stopped after midnight," said Ibrahim Mohammad, a media activist in the battered rebel town of Busr al-Harir in Daraa. He said he and other residents had taken to their basements and bomb shelters as soon as they heard the planes, describing a steady thud of bombardment for nearly two hours.In an effort to avoid a deadly offensive, international powers are holding talks aimed at reaching a negotiated settlement for Syria's south. "All sides should seize the opportunity to negotiate a deal for the conditional return of the Syrian state to the south west and avert a military conclusion that, for all sides and the local population, would be a worse outcome," wrote the International Crisis Group think tank last week. "The U.S., Russia and Jordan, which brokered a south-western ceasefire in 2017, should urgently extend that truce in preparation for a broader settlement," the report added. Earlier this month, Assad said contacts were ongoing between Russia, the United States and Israel over the southern front. "We are giving the political talks a chance, but if they fail, there will be no choice but liberation by force," he said. The regime has retaken large parts of Syria from the opposition since Russia intervened militarily on its side in 2015.

Israel Fires at Drone from Syria, Forces It to Retreat

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/June 24/18/The Israeli air force on Sunday fired a missile at a drone approaching its northern border from Syria, causing it to turn back, the army said. "A Patriot aerial defense system missile was launched towards an unmanned aerial vehicle approaching the Israeli border from Syria," the army said. "As a result, the vehicle retreated from the border. A hit was not identified," it said in a statement, noting the drone had not crossed into Israeli territory. In February, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) identified by Israel as Iranian was launched from Syria into Israel, setting off an escalation during which an Israeli F16 fighter was downed. The army did not provide further details on Sunday's UAV. Israel has warned of growing Iranian military presence in neighboring Syria, which it sees as a threat to its safety. Its military has been carrying out strikes on Iranian and Iran-affiliated targets in Syria, with a U.S. official saying it was Israeli forces that carried out a deadly strike against an Iraqi paramilitary base in eastern Syria on June 17. Israeli seized a large swathe of the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it, in a move never recognized by the international community.

U.S. Tells Syria Rebels Not to Expect Help against Army Assault
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/June 24/18/The United States has warned rebels in southern Syria that they should not expect military intervention if government troops launch an assault against them, a rebel commander told AFP Sunday. Russian-backed government forces are preparing an offensive to retake Syria's southern provinces of Daraa and Sweida, still mostly held by rebels who had been backed by the U.S. for years. The U.S. warning, contained in an Arabic-language message seen by AFP, came as Syrian troops this week stepped up air strikes on the southern provinces. "We must clarify our position: we understand that you must make a decision (to fight) based on your interests, the interests of your people and your faction as you see them," the message read. "You should not base your decision on an assumption or expectation of military intervention from our side," it said, according to a copy provided to AFP by one of the rebels." The U.S. did not immediately confirm the letter's contents. On Saturday, Syrian regime forces made their first gains on the ground against rebel fighters in Daraa province after several days of intensified air strikes, according to a war monitor. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported that Russia late Saturday carried out its first air strike on Daraa since brokering a truce there in mid-2017. That "de-escalation" deal for southwest Syria was agreed with the United States and Jordan and initially brought some respite to the area, though violations continued. Those same powers are in talks now to reach a negotiated settlement for the south that could head off a bloody regime assault. United Nations chief Antonio Guterres on Friday called for "an immediate end to the current military escalation" while Nikky Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the world body, urged Moscow to pressure its Syrian ally to respect the ceasefire. "We in the U.S. government understand the difficult circumstances you are now facing, and we are still advising the Russians and the Syrian regime not to conduct any military action that will violate the de-escalation zone in southwest Syria," said the U.S. message to rebels.
The opposition commander who received it said it was not in response to a request for help by anti-regime factions. "We knew anyway that they weren't going to intervene, so we weren't disappointed," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "The letter's contents mean that America will not be able to help the south -- in other words, they are saying 'you're on your own.'" Earlier this month, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad acknowledged talks over the south but said if they failed loyalists would have "no choice" but to take it by force. Government forces this year have already recaptured two other areas that were declared "de-escalation zones" in 2017, including Eastern Ghouta outside Damascus and parts of the central Homs province.

Celebrations, Tears as Saudi Arabia Overturns Ban on Women Driving
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/June 24/18/Saudi women celebrated taking the wheel for the first time in decades Sunday as the kingdom overturned the world's only ban on female motorists, a historic reform expected to usher in a new era of social mobility. The much-trumpeted move is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's plan to modernize the conservative petrostate -- but it has been dented by the jailing of female activists who long opposed the driving ban. Women in Riyadh and other cities began zipping around streets bathed in amber light soon after the ban was lifted at midnight, with some blasting music from behind the wheel. "I feel free like a bird," said talkshow host and writer Samar Almogren as she cruised across the capital. Television presenter Sabika al-Dosari called it "a historic moment for every Saudi woman" before driving a sedan across the border to the kingdom of Bahrain. The lifting of the ban, long a glaring symbol of repression, is expected to be transformative for many women, freeing them from dependence on private chauffeurs or male relatives. Euphoria was mixed with disbelief as women across the kingdom flooded social media with videos of their maiden car rides, with a heavy presence of policemen, some of whom distributed flowers to the first-time drivers. "This is a great achievement," billionaire Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal said as his daughter Reem drove a family SUV, with his granddaughters applauding from the back seat. "Now women have their freedom," he added in a video posted on Twitter. Many Saudi women ebulliently declared plans online to drive for coffee or ice cream, a mundane experience elsewhere in the world but a dazzling novelty in the desert kingdom. "The jubilance, confidence and pride expressed by Saudi women driving for the first time in their country, without fear of arrest, brought tears to my eyes," tweeted activist Hala al-Dosari, while lauding the jailed campaigners. "I'm happy and relieved that... girls in Saudi will live a bit freer than their mothers."But many women are keeping away, testing reactions in a society torn between tradition and social change -- and bracing for a possible backlash from hardliners who have long preached that allowing female motorists would promote promiscuity and sin.
'Be gentle to women'
The decision to lift the ban was catalyzed in large measure by what experts characterize as economic pain in the kingdom owing to a protracted oil slump. The move is expected to boost women's employment, and according to a Bloomberg estimate, add $90 billion to economic output by 2030. For now, the women taking to the roads appear mainly to be those who have swapped foreign licences for Saudi ones after undergoing a practical test. Some three million women in Saudi Arabia could receive licenses and actively begin driving by 2020, according to consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. A handful of female driving schools have cropped up in several cities, training women to drive cars as well as Harley Davidson motorbikes -- scenes unimaginable even a year ago. But many women fear they are still vulnerable to sexist attitudes in a nation where male "guardians" -- their fathers, husbands or other relatives -- can exercise arbitrary authority to make decisions on their behalf. The government has preemptively addressed concerns of abuse by outlawing sexual harassment, and authorities have sternly warned against stalking women drivers. "To all men I say, be gentle towards women" drivers, popular Saudi singer Mohammed Abdu said in an online video. Prince Mohammed, appointed heir to the most powerful throne in the Middle East a year ago this month, has also lifted a ban on cinemas and mixed-gender concerts, following his public vow to return the austere kingdom to moderate Islam.
'Unrelenting crackdown'
However, much of the initial optimism over his reforms appears to have been knocked by a major crackdown on women driving activists. Authorities have said nine of 17 arrested people remain behind bars, accused of undermining security and aiding enemies of the state.
The detainees include 28-year-old Loujain al-Hathloul -- also held in 2014 for more than 70 days for attempting to drive from neighboring United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia -- and Aziza al-Yousef, a retired professor at Riyadh's King Saud University. State-backed newspapers have published front-page pictures of some of the activists with the word "traitor" stamped across them in red. Human Rights Watch last week said the kingdom has arrested two more female activists and many others have been barred from traveling outside the kingdom, in what it denounced as an "unrelenting crackdown." Even some of the crown prince's ardent supporters have labeled the crackdown a "mistake." It has been seen as a calculated move both to placate clerics incensed by his modernization drive and also to send a clear signal to activists that the prince alone is the arbiter of change. "If the authorities give credit to the women who championed lifting the driving ban, it means conceding that reforms can be won through activism, and then the Saudis may demand more," said HRW researcher Rothna Begum. "Saudi Arabia's crown prince wants it both ways: to be lauded as a reformer on the world stage, and to ensure his status as the only reformer at home."

Jordan Says Unable to Host New Wave of Syria Refugees
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/June 24/18/Jordan said Sunday it would be unable to host a new wave of Syrian refugees, as troops loyal to Damascus prepare an offensive for the war-torn country's rebel-held south. "The large number of Syrians we're hosting in terms of financial resources and infrastructure does not allow for the reception of a new wave of asylum seekers," Jumana Ghanimat, minister of state for media affairs, told AFP. Some 650,000 Syrian refugees have registered with the United Nations in Jordan since fleeing their country's seven-year war which was sparked by peaceful anti-government protests in 2011. Amman estimates the actual number is closer to 1.3 million people and says it has spent more than $10 billion (8.5 billion euros) hosting them. "Jordan has not and will not abandon its humanitarian role and its commitment to international charters, but it has exceeded its ability to absorb (more refugees)," said Ghanimat, who also serves as a spokeswoman for the government. "Everyone should cooperate to deal with any new wave of displacement within Syria's borders," she said, adding Jordan would work with "concerned organizations" to find an arrangement for the displaced inside Syria. Her comments came as Syrian government forces ready an offensive to retake the southern provinces of Daraa, Quneitra and parts of Sweida, still mostly held by rebels. Southern Syria is a strategically vital zone: it borders both Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, and also lies close to Damascus. After neutralizing rebel strongholds on the edge of the capital earlier this year, President Bashar al-Assad is now turning his attention to the south. In recent weeks regime forces have dropped leaflets over Daraa and Quneitra, warning of impending military operations and calling on the rebels to surrender. "Jordan is in close contact with Washington and Moscow to maintain an agreement to reduce the escalation in southern Syrian," Ghoneim said. She said the kingdom was "following the current developments in southern Syrian to reach a formula that protects Jordanian interests along the border and the waves of asylum seekers."The U.N. on Thursday warned escalation in Syria's south could have dangerous repercussions for the estimated 750,000 civilians in the rebel-held area.

Britain's Prince William in Jordan for Historic Middle East Tour

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/June 24/18/Prince William arrived in Jordan on Sunday at the start of a Middle East tour that will see him become the first British royal to pay official visits to both Israel and the Palestinian territories. He was greeted at Amman's Marka military airport by Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah, who is hosting William for the two-day visit in Jordan. The 36-year-old Duke of Cambridge's Royal Air Force plane touched down at the small airport in eastern Amman, where he was given a red-carpet welcome by the heir to the Jordanian throne. Royal guards carrying rifles fitted with bayonets and wearing traditional red-and-white checkered keffiyeh scarves stood to attention as the prince, in a dark suit, descended from the plane. Amman's Mayor Youssef al-Shawarbeh and foreign diplomats based in Jordan were also present at the airport to greet William. The second in line to the British throne will spend two days in Jordan for a visit billed as a chance to bond with 23-year-old Prince Hussein, a fellow graduate of Britain's Royal Sandhurst Military Academy. Later Sunday, he will attend a birthday party in honor of his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, at the residence of the British ambassador in Amman. On Monday, William will visit the ancient Roman ruins of Jerash, north of the capital, as well as a vocational training college for young Jordanians and Syrian refugees. That evening, he will head to Israel to begin his history-making visit to the Jewish state and occupied West Bank. He will hold talks with both Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Kensington Palace has underlined the "non-political nature of His Royal Highness's role -- in common with all royal visits overseas". But the region is a minefield of sensitivities. The visit comes at a particularly volatile time after U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as capital of Israel and moved Washington's embassy there, sparking Arab outrage and deadly clashes. Seeds of conflict -Britain governed the region under a League of Nations mandate for almost three decades until Israel's independence 70 years ago, and is still blamed by both sides for sowing the seeds of a conflict that continues to wrack the region. Ahead of William's arrival, the official schedule's reference to east Jerusalem as "in the Occupied Palestinian Territories" sparked anger among right-wing Israeli politicians. Official visits by British royals take place at the request of the UK government, but statements from the prince's household have given little explanation for the timing of this trip. Israel has long pushed for an official visit by a member of the British monarchy. Other members of William's family -- including his father Prince Charles -- have made unofficial visits to Israel and east Jerusalem in the past. During the trip, William will have plenty of reminders of Britain's role in the region. In Jerusalem he will stay at the King David hotel, which was Britain's administrative headquarters during its rule of Palestine prior to Israeli statehood in 1948. In 1946, militant Jews waging violent resistance against British rule bombed the building, killing and wounding scores of people, many of them British civil servants or military personnel. Whilst in Jerusalem, William will lay a wreath at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial.
He will also visit the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem and pay tribute at the tomb of his great-grandmother Princess Alice of Greece, who was honored by Israel for sheltering Jews during World War II. In the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah he is also set to meet Palestinian refugees and young people.

German Police: Dozens Injured in Building Explosion
Asharq Al-Awsat/Sunday, 24 June, 2018/Up to twenty-five people were injured after an explosion destroyed an apartment building in the western German city of Wuppertal, police said Sunday. Four of the injured are in critical condition, AP reported. Police said the explosion destroyed the several-story building right before Saturday midnight Saturday. The detonation was so severe it destroyed the building's attic and the top three floors, according to the German news agency (DPA). Firefighters had trouble turning the flames off because parts of the building kept collapsing, however, they rescued four who were severely injured inside the building and sent them to the hospital. According to AP, another 21 people were slightly injured and treated by emergency staff at the scene. Police said Sunday they were still trying to get the fire under control and were investigating the cause of the explosion.

Saudi-Led Coalition Ministers Discuss Strategies to Confront Iran in Yemen

Jeddah - Asmaa al Ghaberi/Asharq Al-Awsat/Sunday, 24 June, 2018/Ministers of information of the member states of the Arab Coalition Supporting Legitimacy in Yemen discussed during their first meeting in Jeddah Saturday the development of media plans for the coalition states to confront the Iranian infiltration in Yemen and the region. They also called for specifying the needs of the legitimate Yemeni government to confront the media machinery of the Houthis and Iran in the region and the world. Saudi Information Minister Dr. Awwad al-Awwad stressed in his opening speech, before his counterparts from 13 different countries, the necessity to confront "misleading media" by intensifying efforts to expose the crimes of the Iranian-supported Houthi militias, joint coordination and standardization of media discourse among the Saudi-led coalition countries. In his speech, Awwad said that the coalition's efforts are not only limited to military, political and humanitarian aspects but also extends to "media support in all its traditional and modern means, with a high level of quality in content and adherence to general professional standards based on press and media codes of ethics."“You are aware of what media stations hostile to the coalition countries and the legitimate government in Yemen are doing to falsify, deceive, fabricate stories, propagate rumors, broadcast distorted information, influence minds and emotions and downgrade Yemeni army and coalition forces’ success in diplomatic and various fields,” he told the ministers. The ministers discussed in a closed session the development of media plans through reviewing and determining Iranian media policies, studying mechanisms to deal with Iranian infiltration in Yemen and the region and developing media campaigns and plans for this penetration. The meeting called for publishing the statements of the spokesman and the joint forces in the news agencies of the Saudi-led coalition states, broadcasting the weekly press conference in the official news of the coalition states and standardizing the media messages, in addition to arranging visits of the media officials to Yemen and the border areas and holding meetings with coalition leaders from different countries. It also recommended monitoring the successful experiences in research centers and specialized studies in the field of combating extremism and terrorism and establishing a mechanism to benefit from the results of studies of centers of research and specialized studies in the same field.

Iraqi PM Warns Groups against Stockpiling Weapons

Baghdad - Hamza Mustafa/Asharq Al-Awsat/Sunday, 24 June, 2018/Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi accused on Saturday several parties of stockpiling weapons under the pretext of war against ISIS, saying that they want to use these weapons to be stronger than the state. A military expert said that the issue of arms control is essentially a political issue, while a security expert confirmed that the procedures to end weapons’ proliferation outside the control of the State will begin next week. "There are groups who have taken advantage of the war against (ISIS group) to stock up weapons in order to threaten the state," Abadi said at a conference at Baghdad's Defence University for Military Studies. Abadi emphasised the importance of preserving the neutrality and professionalism of the Iraqi Security Forces excluding the influence of the parties. "The military establishment is based on the best interest and protection of citizens," a statement from the Abadi’s office indicated, of which Asharq Al-Awsat received a copy. The PM went on to say that the country faced a great existential challenge from groups that want to tear it apart, and “we have faced this challenge and won it with the unity of our people."On the issue of limiting weapons to the State, Abadi stated that certain groups wanted to be “stronger than the state in order to blackmail civilians," asserting that: “this we will not allow."
"We will not tolerate that and we've solid plans to combat it," said Abadi while not referring to any one group. "There are people who have had weapons in the past for self-defense and that's different from these armed groups. There must be no weapons outside the control of the state,” he went on to say. The PM addressed other economic challenges facing the country and how to properly manage financial resources to provide the best services, stimulate the economy and provide jobs, adding that this needs security, which is one of the fundamentals to stimulate the economy. "There is no corruption allowed and corruption is not allowed and we all have to stand against it," Abbadi said. Security expert Fadel Abu Ragheef told Asharq Al-Awsat that the procedures for limiting arms to the state have not yet begun, as much as they are instructions to the joint operations and leadership of the operation responsible for the security of Baghdad. Abu Ragheef explained that over the next few days, several operations will be revealed in addition to raids carried out by Baghdad operations during the past period of raids to many areas in the eastern outskirts of Baghdad, adding that there will be more stringent measures in this direction. For his part, military expert Brigadier Diyaa al-Wakil said that proliferation of arms is in fact a political issue and its solution requires a political will to recognize the state as the sovereign, constitutional and legal power of possessing weapons. Wakil stated that the absence of such will means politics had failed to reach realistic solutions to this sensitive issue. "Security services should not be held accountable because their role is executive, while the responsibility lies with politicians because politics is responsible for the administration of the state and its institutions, including the weapons issue, which is one of the pillars of its sovereignty," he concluded.

Qatar, Iran Share Tendencies for Regional Destabilization
Jeddah- Mohammed Al Ayed/Asharq Al-Awsat/Sunday, 24 June, 2018/Doha’s actions speak louder than words, leaving it ridiculous to believe Qatari claims on seeking Gulf and Arab stability and security. Qatar’s hefty support for Iran-aligned militias in Yemen is but one of many other regional moves played by the gas-rich peninsula to undermine regional security. Many Gulf-related policy experts and analysts concluded that time-to-time statements made by Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed Al Thani on his country's keenness to support stability in Yemen give rise to suspicions on the true nature of Qatar’s role in the war-torn country. Bahrain's Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa had made comments backing suspicions on logistic and material support provided by Qatar to Iran and Yemeni Houthi militia to fight against the Arab Coalition—a package which has contributed to a fight that cost the life of 10 UAE soldiers. Removing Qatari forces from the Saudi-led Arab Coalition backing the internationally-recognized government in Yemen against a coup staged by Houthi militias sponsored by Iran gave a clear signal of the close ties joining Doha and Tehran, head of the International Institute of Iranian Studies Dr. Mohammad al-Salami told Asharq Al-Awsat. However, the Iranian-Qatari alliance is old and not recent, he explained.  “There is diplomatic, political and military coordination between the parties—actually, there is a joint Doha-Tehran political committee which met more than once—we strongly remember the 2014 meetings,” he adds. Exposed by the current crisis in Yemen and the Arab boycott against Qatar, evidence on Qatari efforts spent on strengthening Houthi coupists in Yemen in coordination with the Iranian regime is overwhelming. There is also a joint effort between Tehran and Doha on forming of a united front for lobbying in the West to place pressure on the Arab Coalition. “The picture is now clear to all Arab societies that Doha and Tehran stand in a single trench, against the Arab Coalition and against the stability of the Arab states,” concluded the head of the International Institute of Iranian Studies. On the other hand, military and strategic expert Brigadier Dr. Ali Touati said that Qatari support for Iranian interest is not surprising. Doha has long been working against Gulf and Arab interests in Yemen since it first supported coup agents there. "We have been accustomed to Qatari politicians that what they say is something, and what appears on the ground is something else, especially in secret, we allow the words and sentences that appear to be in favor of Arab and Gulf states, but what is happening in secret is against the Arab interests and serves the Iranian agenda completely,” said political researcher Dr. Fahd Al-Shlaimi.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on June 24-25/18
Analysis Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ for the Middle East Might Live or Die in Cairo
هآررتس/ صفقة العصر التي يسوّق لها ترامب نجاحها وفشلها يعتمد على موقف مصر

Zvi Bar’el/Haaretz/June 24/18
Disagreeing with the Saudis, Egypt insists that East Jerusalem be the Palestinian capital, making it clear that any economic plan for Gaza is no substitute for a diplomatic plan accepted by the Palestinians.
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, has no doubt about the goal of the American “deal of the century.” “Its purpose is to bring down the Palestinian leadership and replace Mahmoud Abbas,” he told a newspaper over the weekend. Erekat is also certain that the Americans plan to bypass the UN refugee agency, the UNRWA, so that money earmarked for refugees goes directly to the countries hosting them. In this way, they would pull the rug out from under the refugee problem, one of the toughest issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
As a senior PA official told Haaretz, “the Palestinian Authority’s fear is what Palestinian officials call the Israeli, American, Saudi and Egyptian conspiracy, whose goal is to divide Gaza from the West Bank and provide an economic solution for Gaza while strengthening Hamas, thus avoiding diplomatic negotiations over the future of Palestine.”
This fear is apparently justified. Based on reports in the Egyptian media that rely on Western diplomats, the American plan seeks to establish a free-trade zone between the Gaza Strip and El-Arish in Sinai where five large industrial projects will be established. In accordance with the Israeli demand, these projects will be established in Egypt, which will oversee operations and the passage of workers from Gaza to Sinai.
Two-thirds of the workers will come from Gaza and one-third from Sinai. Later, a joint Egyptian-Palestinian port and solar-energy station will be built, and if everything goes as planned, an airport will be built. The government in Gaza will remain under Hamas’ control but be in full coordination with Egypt, which in recent months has been in intense talks with Hamas on control procedures at the border crossings.
Egypt, which opened the Rafah crossing in mid-May in honor of Ramadan, will keep the crossings open for two more months until the Id al-Adha holiday, with the intention of leaving it open indefinitely. The crossing is now open not only for people but also for goods and construction materials, against Israel’s wishes. Thus Egypt is making clear to Israel that the closure policy on Gaza might collapse if Israel doesn’t agree to make things considerably easier for the Gazans.
A bit of reconciliation
This is also a clear message to the PA that if President Abbas continues to hinder reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, Gaza will be cut off from the West Bank and this will end the unification process for the two parts of Palestine.
It seems that the Egyptian message has been heard, and according to a senior Fatah official in the West Bank, Yahya Rabah, the PA will begin paying the salaries to Gaza officials that it had suspended. Also, in coordination with Egypt, Fatah-Hamas reconciliation talks will resume with the goal of reviving the national-unity government in Gaza.
Meanwhile, Egypt, which is particularly worried about developments in Gaza, doesn’t fully accept the U.S. initiative. On Thursday, after a meeting between Egyptian President Abel-Fattah al-Sissi, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and intelligence chief Abbas Kamel, who’s in charge of the Palestinian issue, presidential spokesman Bassam Radi announced: “Egypt supports all efforts and initiatives to reach a comprehensive agreement, based on international resolutions made in the past and on the principle of two states for two peoples in the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine.”
This position makes clear that Egypt doesn’t support the Saudi idea of Abu Dis as the Palestinian capital, and that any economic plan for Gaza won’t be a substitute for a diplomatic plan accepted by the Palestinians. Thus Egypt divides the continuation of the process into two parts: assistance to Gaza and development of its economy as part of bolstering the border between it and Gaza, and comprehensive diplomatic negotiations independent of Gaza’s economy.
Abdullah’s angst
King Abdullah of Jordan, who also met with U.S. envoys Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, is worried mainly about the Saudi intent to remove Jordan’s patronage at the holy places in Jerusalem, which it was promised in the Israel-Jordan peace agreement. Jordan is also worried about Israeli control over the Jordan Valley as part of a peace agreement. In the short term, Abdullah doesn’t oppose the separate economic development of Gaza, but he supports the traditional Arab position that Gaza and the West Bank not be separate entities.
According to Arab sources, Saudi King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, seem to disagree over this issue. While Mohammed is an enthusiastic supporter of the American plan and the separation of Gaza from the West Bank, his father is concerned about the criticism he could expect if he relinquished the principles of the 2002 Saudi peace initiative by splitting the “Palestinian problem” into two parts and abandoning the position that East Jerusalem be the capital of Palestine.
But it’s not only the “deal of the century” that’s a source of dispute among Arab leaders. President Donald Trump’s statement that he will ask Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar to share in funding new projects in Gaza has encountered stiff opposition from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The two countries have made clear to U.S. envoys that Qatar’s involvement will mean Iran entering Gaza by the back door. They say they can handle the funding – an estimated $1 billion – on their own if Egypt and Israel agree.
The UAE announced last year that it’s willing allocate $40 million for a power station, and that it would contribute some $15 million to fund the administration in Gaza.
While the Arab-American dispute over the final resolution of the Palestine problem is playing into Israel’s hands, Israel will have to decide about Gaza. Focusing a solution in Gaza on economic projects supposedly plays into Israel’s hands in that it makes Gaza a humanitarian issue and not a diplomatic one. But political wrangling in Israel might torpedo this move in a way that puts Israel into a military confrontation with Gaza, while also pitting Israel against Washington.

Bishop Graham Tomlin and the Demonization of Israel
Denis MacEoin/Gatestone Institute/June 24/18
If Israel plays a part in the persecution of Christians, it must be doing a very bad job indeed.
"Shortly after the [1967] war, [Israeli Defense Minister] Dayan met with officials of the Muslim Wakf, who governed the holy site, and formally returned the Mount to their control.... the Wakf would determine who prayed at the site, an arrangement that would effectively bar non-Muslim prayer." — Yossi Klein Halevi, The Atlantic.
It should be clear from the above that Israel is one of the least likely countries in the world to persecute the followers of any religion. A well-educated and thinking man, Bishop Tomlin ought to have known this or have been able to check the facts for himself. None of the above is remotely secret.
"[A]re the world Christian bodies denouncing the Islamic forces for the ethnic cleansing, genocide and historic demographic-religious revolution their brethren are suffering? No. Christians these days are busy targeting the Israeli Jews." — Giulio Meotti, Italian journalist.
Anglican Bishop Graham Tomlin, heads the diocese of Kensington in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which has many of London's most expensive residential properties, is undoubtedly a man of brains and good works.[1]
On May 26, 2018, however, he published in The Times an article, entitled, "If this rich vein of wisdom disappears, a part of us dies". The "rich vein of wisdom" to which he refers is the long tradition of Christian thought and experience in the region where the religion first appeared, and was handed down through centuries of Islamic rule. For the most part, the article is a well-argued defence of Christians in the Middle East:
The systematic persecution of Christians in the Middle East is a serious threat. The number of Christians in Middle Eastern countries has fallen from about 20 per cent to 4 per cent in recent years and regular bomb attacks on Christians in Egypt are becoming part of a deadly pattern.
So far so good. Tomlin's heart is surely in the right place. But immediately after that he goes on:
Even in Jerusalem, new regulations are threatening to tax the Christian churches out of existence, prompting the recent unprecedented closure of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as an act of protest. The buildings from ancient times will still stand, but if Christians are hounded out of the Middle East, driven to emigrate by radical Islam, or, in the case of many Palestinian Christians, by the lack of opportunities to thrive in Israel, this rich source of wisdom will disappear just like the ruins of Palmyra.
The "ruins of Palmyra" is, of course, a reference to the widespread destruction of the famous Syrian site, one of the wonders of the ancient world, by Islamic State in 2015 and again in 2017. Referring to this desecration, however vaguely, implies some sort of moral contiguity between ISIS and Israel.
Now, there is no question that ISIS at its height and even today has played a heavy-handed role in the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, notably in Iraq, where one of the oldest Christian communities in the world is under threat of extinction. In Mosul and elsewhere, Islamic State fighters painted the Arabic letter nun (n) on the doors and walls of Christian houses to indicate that the inhabitants were Christians (nasara, nasrani ­-- Nazarenes). Given that such Islamic persecution is overwhelmingly real, one has to ask what the bishop is doing by referring twice in this context to Israel. Does Israel really persecute Christians, "systematically" or any other way?
Tomlin is broadly correct in saying that "The number of Christians in Middle Eastern countries has fallen from about 20 per cent to 4 per cent in recent years". That is true across the board, but Israel is the only country in the Middle East and beyond where the actual numbers of Christians have risen. In 1947, when the UN General Assembly created Israel as a state, some 143,000 Christians lived in the Palestine region to the West of Transjordan. That was a percentage of 7% of the population. But of those 143,000, only 34,000 remained within the state of Israel, a mere 3%. Since then, the number of Christians in Israel proper has risen to 130,000 (just over 2%, given the growth in numbers of Jews and Muslims), while many have been leaving Gaza and the West Bank, largely because of Islamic persecution.
In Israel, Christians, like the followers of several other religions, are given the full protection of the law, their holy places, including churches, are guaranteed security under the 1967 "Protection of Holy Places Law". This protection applies, not just to the major denominations (Judaism, Islam, Christianity), but to numerous minority groups. For Christians, it applies broadly to the officially recognized churches (Catholic, Orthodox, Monophysite, and Protestant, which together make up around 20 very old institutions (many indigenous and reaching back to the earliest Christian years), with another 30 denominations. Outside of Israel, Muslim states across the Middle East ban, restrict or actively persecute indigenous churches, such as the Copts in Egypt or Christians in Turkey, where Pastor Andrew Brunson is currently facing 35 years in jail, seemingly for preaching Christianity. Christian churches are banned outright in countries such as Saudi Arabia, and conversion of Muslims to Christianity is forbidden. Muslims who do convert suffer severe consequences as apostates, sometimes death. Thirteen Muslim-majority countries sentence apostates to death. In the Maldives, just owning a Bible is punishable by death. In a list of the 25 most dangerous countries for Christians, 18 Muslim states are listed.
In 2014, Duane Andrew Miller published a long study of the status of Muslims who convert to Christianity in the Catholic St. Francis Magazine. Commenting on the situation in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel, he describes how converts in the West Bank may be banished or killed by their families and those in Gaza executed. Further down, he writes:
In Israel, the situation is different. Muslims in Israel have the freedom to convert, and Christians in Israel have the freedom to openly incorporate Muslim converts into their churches. I estimate that there are about 300 or so CMB's (Christians of Muslim Background) in Israel, and perhaps a few hundred more in the West Bank. Nonetheless, this rarely happens. In Israel, persecution will not originate from the state, but according to a Catholic priest in Jerusalem (where, independent of Occupation, citizens are under Israeli law) they can welcome Muslim converts, but they will often be persecuted and even killed by their families.
When such conversions are accepted by the church authorities, documents certifying this change of religion are submitted to the state of Israel to make the shift legal.
If Israel plays a part in the persecution of Christians, it must be doing a very bad job indeed when it even protects the rights of Muslim apostates -- something that could well lead to friction with the Arab-Israeli Muslim community. In other countries, Muslim mobs sometimes attack churches where converts worship, as in Egypt. But Israeli security forces have so far prevented such attacks.
Israel protects not just the rights of Jews, Muslims and Christians, but those of many other religious communities, including some who are bitterly opposed by Muslim fundamentalists or others. Two stand out: Ahmadi Muslims and members of the Baha'i faith.
Ahmadis are followers of a 19th-century Indian leader (Mirza Ghulam Ahmad), who tried to reform Islam by, for example, abolishing the law of jihad and expressing tolerance for other faiths. They number around 10 million and are hated and persecuted in several Muslim countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, and, above all, Pakistan, where they number between 500,000 to 4 million. In 1974, under President Zia-ul-Haq's Islamization of the country, Ahmadis were declared non-Muslims and are still treated as the worst people, worse than Shi'I Muslims, Jews or Christians.
Ahmadis arrived in Mandate Palestine in the 1920s, and many settled there when Israel was established in 1948. Around 2,200 are concentrated in the Kababir District of Haifa, where they have a large mosque and other institutions. They play a small but significant role in social relations, emphasizing interfaith activity and ways of conflict resolution. Israel is the only country in the region which gives this inoffensive yet despised community the right to worship, preach, and go about its daily life without fear of molestation.
Just down the road from Kababir, along the front side of Mount Carmel going straight up from Haifa's famous harbour is an even more astonishing religious site – the world center of the Baha'is. The Baha'i faith is another religion that emerged (and broke away) from Islam in the mid-nineteenth century, in this instance from Shi'ism in Iran. Today, its followers, from almost every nationality and race, number around 5 million, with a presence in almost every country, literature in over 800 languages, and eight major Houses of Worship around the globe, the best-known of which is the astonishing Lotus Temple in New Delhi, which has been described as the most visited building in the world, more than the Taj Mahal. Baha'is in most Muslim countries keep their adherence secret. Their belief in two prophets after Muhammad, the truth of all major religions, and a religious law that has abolished the Islamic shari'a make them universally hated by Muslims.
This hatred is particularly fierce in Iran, where Baha'is are the largest religious minority, and where they are severely persecuted. Many have been executed, others killed by mobs, their leaders are in prison, Baha'is are forbidden to attend universities, and all the Baha'i holy sites and cemeteries have been razed to the ground. International calls by the UN (on numerous occasions), the United States, Human Rights Watch, large numbers of intellectuals, and other states to end the persecution have gone unheeded by Iran's regime.
In Israel, the Baha'is are supported fully by the state. They have built their two holiest shrines in Israel (one in Haifa, the holiest near Acco), and on the slopes of Mount Carmel their World Center: vast terraced gardens, an arc of white marble buildings, including the seat of their international governing body, the Universal House of Justice, central archives, and more. They have other sacred sites in Acco and its surroundings as well.
Protected by Israel's freedom of religion, Baha'is have built their two holiest shrines in Israel, and on the slopes of Mount Carmel their World Center (pictured): vast terraced gardens and white marble buildings, including the seat of their international governing body, the Universal House of Justice, and central archives. (Image source: US Embassy Israel/Wikimedia Commons)
Israel's openness to religious freedom is shown in many other ways, all of which portray a society in which even its enemies are treated well. When Israeli forces entered eastern Jerusalem in 1967, at the end of the Six Day War, a unit of Lt. Gen. Mordechai Gur's Brigade 55 took the Old City from the occupying Jordanian troops who had been based there but had slipped away the night before. What followed was, by any standards, one of the most profound moments in religious history.
For centuries, Jews had prayed to return to Jerusalem and to possess the Temple Mount, the site of the first and second Jewish temples. When Gur and his men took control of the Mount, centuries of longing came to a glorious end in this spectacular triumph over the latest effort to destroy the new Israeli state. With the Mount in Jewish hands, the Brigade's Communications Officer brought out an Israeli flag and was given permission to hoist it from the Dome of the Rock. The Dome and the nearby al-Aqsa Mosque are two of the most sacred Islamic sites and had rested on the Mount for centuries. Climbing with the Intelligence Officer onto the Dome itself, he attached the flag to a pole.
Within moments, an order came to lower the flag. Israel's Defense Minister, Moshe Dayan, watching through binoculars from Mount Scopus some distance away, urgently radioed Colonel Gur and demanded that the flag be removed.
Author and journalist Yossi Klein Halevi summarized the significance of this act and what followed shortly after:
It is, in retrospect, an astonishing moment of religious restraint. The Jewish people had just returned to its holiest site, from which it had been denied access for centuries, only to effectively yield sovereignty at its moment of triumph. Shortly after the war, Dayan met with officials of the Muslim Wakf, who governed the holy site, and formally returned the Mount to their control. While Israeli soldiers would determine security and stand at the gates, the Wakf would determine who prayed at the site, an arrangement that would effectively bar non-Muslim prayer. The Temple Mount was no longer in Gur's hands.
As an expression of religious tolerance and a gesture towards avoiding bloodshed, this concession to Israel's enemies must surely be unparalleled in history.
It should be clear from the above that Israel is one of the least likely countries in the world to persecute the followers of any religion. A well-educated and thinking man, Tomlin ought to have known this or have been able to check the facts for himself. None of the above is remotely secret. Yet he lumps Israel in with the Muslim states which carry out the "systematic persecution of Christians in the Middle East".
As for his statement that "even in Jerusalem, new regulations are threatening to tax the Christian churches out of existence", he is exaggerating the true story and is massively out of date: the taxation that was to have been introduced has been cancelled across the board.
By February 27, the Israeli government and Jerusalem's Mayor Nir Barkat agreed to suspend the taxation plan in its entirety, even though many Israeli citizens felt that this involved a concession too far. After all, this exempted Christian institutions from paying taxes on commercial enterprises such as hotels, shops and other businesses; and the same taxes were already made payable by synagogues. In April 2017, Tel Aviv's historic Great Synagogue was forced to close because it could not pay taxes for its financial activities. Yet Israeli authorities felt it important to forego an appreciable and legally justifiable sum of money rather than to dismay the country's Christians. Despite this gesture (which was not extended to Jewish places of worship), a full three months later, an Anglican bishop somehow felt the need to cite the abandoned tax plan as an example of Middle Eastern persecution of Christians.
Tomlin further compounded his antagonism by claiming that "Palestinian Christians" lack opportunities to "thrive in Israel" and that this is a further example of this "persecution". "Palestinian Christians" do not even live in Israel -- at all. They are based in the West Bank (in dwindling numbers), Gaza (also close to disappearance), and some in East Jerusalem. The rest, who live in Israel are Israeli citizens and, as such, entitled to exactly the same rights as Jews, Muslims, atheists and all other citizens. Arab Israelis are entitled, for example, to enter university (20% of students, to match the 20% of the general population), to enter parliament if elected, have their own political parties, serve as Supreme Court and lower court judges, and to enter any profession they wish for which they are qualified. Why, then, say they lack opportunities to thrive? There may be discrimination, which exists, as it does in every other country -- but not as a result of official mistreatment, and certainly not as a consequence of "persecution". In fact, the Israeli government has taken strong measures to punish anti-Arab actions and to improve the situation for both Israeli citizens and Palestinian Arabs in East Jerusalem.
There are indeed restrictions on Arabs living in East Jerusalem, including the Old City. Of the 300,000 Arabs living there, 20,000 are Israeli citizens -- but they are not by any means denied basic rights, and many of the limitations they face are self-imposed:
As permanent residents, east Jerusalemites are entitled to receive assistance from the National Insurance Institute and other welfare services that Israelis are entitled to, and the free education system is open to them. They also have freedom of movement, to move freely throughout the entire country (unlike West Bank Palestinians, who are required to obtain a permit to enter into Israel).
As permanent residents, east Jerusalemites are not eligible to vote in the national election for the Knesset. However, they have the option to vote and to run in the municipal election to the Jerusalem City Council. A very low percentage of the residents chose to exercise this right, as part of the ongoing ban on Israeli institutions. Among many of the east Jerusalem's Arabs, taking part in these sorts of activities was perceived as normalization of ties with Israel.
It is important to note that, although not in large numbers, many Arabs have achieved high office in Israel's government, judicial system, premier hospitals, universities and more. Salim Joubran was the first Arab to serve on Israel's Supreme Court. Oscar Abu Razeq served as deputy director of the Tax Authority and director general of the Interior Ministry. Khaled Kabub was recently nominated to serve on the Supreme Court but withdrew for personal reasons. George Karra, a Christian Arab, joined the Supreme Court in 2017. He had previously acted as the presiding judge in the trial for rape of Israeli President Moshe Katsav, sending him to jail. Even if the situation is not perfect, failure to note Israeli efforts to allow its Arab citizens to thrive is defamatory and far from helpful.
How does Tomlin not even mention the dire situation of religious persecution in Iran, one of the worst in the world, where Christians suffer alongside Baha'is, notably those who are converts from Islam, something that can incur the death penalty? Or Saudi Arabia, where Christians are denied most of their human rights, including the right to worship freely? In fact, why include Israel at all?
One can only conclude that Tomlin shares the negative attitudes to Israel -- often seen as anti-Semitism -- that are fostered in many Christian churches worldwide, including those in the West Bank. These attitudes have been recorded many times by the present writer, here, here, here, and here.
The problem Israel faces from churchmen who attack the Jewish state has never been better summed up than by the Italian journalist, Giulio Meotti:
Christianity is dying in Syria and Iraq. Christian churches are demolished, Christian crosses are burned and replaced with flags of the Islamic State, Christian houses are destroyed, entire Christian communities are displaced, Christian children are massacred, and everything is done in plain sight. Islamists proclaim on a daily basis that they will not stop until Christianity is wiped off the face of the earth. So, are the world Christian bodies denouncing the Islamic forces for the ethnic cleansing, genocide and historic demographic-religious revolution their brethren are suffering? No. Christians these days are busy targeting the Israeli Jews.
Denis MacEoin (PhD, Cambridge) has lectured in the Department of Religious Studies at Newcastle University. Among much other academic work, he has authored many books and articles on the Baha'i religion, which is a reference point in the present article. He lives in the UK and is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at New York's Gatestone Institute.
[1] Tomlin is the author of numerous articles and several mainstream theological texts. As well as his episcopal status, he is the president of one of the UK's leading theological colleges, St. Mellitus. He is a learned man with a reputation as an evangelical intellectual, yet also a man of principle and compassion. On June 14, 2017, for instance, occurred Britain's worst fire in over a century, a fire in which 72 people died when a 24-storey block of social housing, Grenfell Tower, burned rapidly. On the morning of the fire, Bishop Tomlin immediately set out to organize the churches in his diocese to provide help for firefighters, survivors, and others involved in the tragedy.
© 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.

Secret Weapon in the Afghanistan War
James Stavridis/Bloomberg/June 24/18
After a few days of hopeful cease-fire for the Eid holiday -- and remarkable images of Taliban and government security forces embracing -- Afghanistan seems headed back to the insurgency that has plagued it for 15 years.
America’s longest war grinds on with little hope, with neither side able achieve a lasting victory. What could break the deadlock? Where should the U.S. focus its efforts to find a path to a negotiated ending to a violent civil war, such as we saw in the Balkans in the 1990s and in Colombia this decade?
Two vital fronts of this challenge are closely linked: addressing the endemic problem of corruption and finding a viable economic model for the country. And a key source of both potential wealth and ongoing corruption is Afghanistan’s abundance of minerals, thought to be worth as much as $1 trillion by some sources. Yes, instability is adding to the difficulty of attracting initial investment, but over time there is every possibility for large-scale mining of lithium, gold, iron, copper, lead, rare earths, gemstones and talc.
But right now, that wealth is more likely to do harm than good. For example, consider talc, an unglamorous industrial mineral used in everything from baby powder to plastics. The U.S. and Europe are the ultimate markets for much of Afghanistan’s talc production. Yet new research from Global Witness, an international nonprofit that monitors links between natural resources and corruption, reveals that almost all Afghan talc producers pay a tax to insurgents.
While the report focuses on the talc deposits in Nangarhar Province along the Pakistan border, it more broadly illuminates how the ISIS branch in Afghanistan now controls many mineral-rich areas and is fighting hard for others. There is a real threat that mining could help fund their expansion across Afghanistan.
As for the Taliban, Global Witness estimated they are raking in $300 million a year from the nation's mineral bounty. Indeed, mining is thought to be the second-largest source of revenue for the insurgency after narcotics. Militias supposedly on the side of the government and corrupt provincial strongmen also benefit. These various groups often find themselves in bloody confrontations over the mines.
Unlike illegal drugs, mineral resources could be generating major revenue for the Afghan government. Instead, they are fuelling conflict and corruption.
And that directly relates to one of the key weaknesses of the U.S. mission since 2001. Afghanistan’s mines powerfully illustrate how governance problems like corruption and illegal mining are not just about development -- they are hard-edged issues of national security.
Yet U.S. efforts to improve governance have consistently fallen short of the mark. Since 2001, the U.S. has invested hundreds of millions in developing the mining sector -- but the money was spent with inadequate coordination and oversight, and had very little impact, as a 2016 report from the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction documented.
When I was the supreme commander of the 150,000 international forces there, we concentrated on getting new contracts off the ground. This was a laudable goal, but was always likely to fail without strengthening oversight and addressing the massive abuses that have held back the sector.
At one point, I hired a highly regarded Army one-star general, H.R. McMaster, to do precisely that. Even someone as talented as McMaster was unable to significantly dent the problem, although he set in place some policies that have helped. He probably found service as national security advisor in the Trump White House tame by comparison. In the end, the point of military action is to create space to deal with the underlying drivers of the conflict. Corruption, along with a wider lack of justice and rule of law in politics and the economy, is among the most important.
By one estimate, there are about $3.3 billion in bribes passed every year in Afghanistan. This weakens the already fractured Afghan government, holds back development and increases support for the insurgency. Unfortunately, short-term security challenges tend to take priority over longer-term reforms.
Corruption is a weapon system in the hands of the Taliban -- and increasingly ISIS -- who use it to fund their military offensives, undermine the democratically elected government, and harm the people they once ruled with astonishing cruelty.
It is also at the heart of America's failure to stabilize this war-torn nation and ultimately find a path to a negotiated peace.

World Cup, Qatari 'Ugly' Power
Salman Al-dossary/Asharq Al Awsat/June 24/18
States are working on exploiting the concept of soft power as one of the diplomatic and political tools to influence the public opinion. As this concept grows, the exploiting appeared in a manner that contradicts with the concept immorally and illegally.
Iran used the soft power to destabilize the Arab nations’ confidence in their current regimes, Qatar did the same through its TV channels network Al Jazeera which aimed to promote concepts linked to extremism and terrorism.
However, the worst exploiting was made by Qatar when it established its sports channels, belonging to its mother channel, in 2003, and allocated a budget of more than $25 billion to achieve this purpose – this included rights to broadcast world cups of 2018 and 2022, UEFA European Championship, AFC Asian Cup, Africa Cup of Nations, UEFA Champions League, AFC Champions League, CAF Champions League, national, regional, continental and international championships and Olympics until 2022 with a financial amount that exceeded $10 billion.
This was before the Qatari network started to commit unprecedented practices of any sports channel in the world through manipulating broadcasting the global competitions to promote its political agenda, in a violation to the Olympics' concepts.
While the Qatari violations through its media tools are not new, what Doha did through its sports channels through inserting politics has turned into a snowball that the Arab viewer can no longer tolerate.
Just like it did following Russia-Saudi Arabia game when beIN did huge violations against the kingdom and citizens. This is only one example, as many Arab states were subject to such violations. BeIN Sports changed its previous name Al Jazeera Sports due to the sports federations rejection to deal with it for it is links to terrorism. According to Arab States Broadcasting Union, the total of Arab world residents is more than 390 million and the number of households is 89 million – only five million households have subscriptions that permit them to follow the events broadcast on the coded channels in the Arab region. These figures show that 93 percent of citizens in the Arab world are deprived from following the huge championships due to the high subscription prices that can’t be afforded by the medium-income level and not only the poor.
Due to the coding and exaggerated prices, the devices’ prices in some Arab countries exceeded the annual individual income – not to mention that the channels are being used to promote the agendas of the Qatari government and its continuous abuse of other states. This aggravates the problem and gives no hope in a real change in this disaster caused by Qatar but through resorting to the judiciary just like the Europeans did.
Clause number seven from organizing the TV broadcast in the EU stipulated that every member state of the EU can take procedures according to the union law that guarantee not manipulating sports events by any TV commission or channel.
Qatar has a fierce legal battle to face against a long list of countries that refuse the concept of manipulation. The aim is to enact legalizations that protect rights of the Arab viewer just like what happened with the European citizen. Who believes that only seven percent of Arab viewers can watch their favorite game due to the 'ugly' Qatari power concept?

Turkey and the West: With or Without Each Other
Murat Yetkin/Asharq Al Awsat/June 24/18
Regardless of the results of the early elections in Turkey, it is likely to have certain changes or fine tunings in its foreign policy including its relations with the West which have experienced a number of downs, further downs but not that much of ups in the last few years.
After being established through a War of Independence between 1918 and 1923 against the Western invaders following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, the Turkish Republic has opted for a Western system in a dominantly Muslim society.
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who led the Independence War initiated a series of reforms to orient the new Turkish system according to the Western values of the time.
First of all the Caliphate was abandoned to separate government from religion. Then it was followed by changing the measurements to metric system, scripture from Arabic to Latin, civil code and election law to impose gender equality, education not based on Quranic teaching and economic reforms to attract foreign investment which was necessary to be in good relations with the West.
Having good relations with the West was necessary for the young Turkish Republic also for security reasons, especially when its northern neighbour and historical rival Russia was run by Stalin’s Communist Party. After managing to stay out of the Second World War with a lot of manoeuvring Turkey was first taken under the solidarity provided by the U.S. President Harry Truman’s Truman Doctrine and after sending troops to the 1950 Korean War into the Western defence alliance NATO.
But that relationship has never been without problems. Those observers, especially the Middle Eastern observers tend to see the current rift between Turkey and the U.S. as an unprecedented one, forgetting that the U.S. has actually imposed an arms embargo on Turkey in 1975, at the heat of the Cold War which in return Turkey had closed its bases, including the strategic air base of Incirlik for the use of Americans for three years.
Yet, today it is a bit different because there are now three main reasons of rift, not one with the U.S. all of them being agitated since the break of the Arab Spring and especially during the civil war in Syria. Those are; the American pick against the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) as the People’s protection Units (YPG) which is the Syria extension of Turkey’s arch enemy the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK); the U.S. resident Islamist preacher Fethullah Gülen who is accused of masterminding a military coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2016 (which is related to the arrest of an Evangelic pastor, Andrew Brunson in Turkey; and Turkey’s choice to buy Russian made S-400 air defence missiles which is not NATO interoperable and alien to NATO weapon systems, due to reluctance of the American administration to sell Patriot air defence systems to Turkey.
The relations with the Europe are full of problems as well. Turkey is one of the founding members of the Council of Europe (CoE) for Western democratic standards as set by the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights. Yet, Turkey is under heavy fire from both the CoE and the European Union (EU) which Turkey wants to be a member for more than half a century now with little improvement.
There are reasons sourcing from EU and sourcing from Turkey for that. The EU is accusing Turkey to lag behind the democratic standards, especially after the declaration of the State of Emergency by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government right after the July 15, 2016 coup attempt, particularly under the areas of court independence and freedom of expression and media.
President Erdoğan who once was the most favoured Turkish politician as seen as the flag bearer of democracy in a Muslim society by those who thought the only problem against more democracy was the military. But nowadays he is among the most despised world leaders by the Western media and many Western politicians.
Erdoğan in return slams the European governments for not showing necessary solidarity when it comes to Turkey’s security concerns, for example by harbouring PKK and providing asylum to those (former) Turkish military officers who fled following the coup attempt; Germany and Greece are particularly criticized for that.
On the other hand the democratic standards in the West is in a regression as well. Donald Trump administration in the U.S. is both shaking the world with an aggressive unilateralism and escalating populism in his own country. A number of EU governments are criticised within because of deviating from the standards that unite them. The Brexit has caused the EU to shrink for the first time since its foundation, setting an example to other countries having problems with Brussels.
Under the circumstances, the membership prospects of Turkey to EU seems not possible. But neither of the sides want to cut the relations and even to be the one to pronounce it first. It’s not only because of the trade between Turkey and the EU and Turkey hosting the production base of many European brands. It’s not only the key geography that Turkey holds at the juncture of many strategic transport routes. It’s not only the vital role Turkey plays for security of Europe. But it’s a combination of all imposing the necessity of Turkey and the EU, Turkey and the West in general to stay anchored to each other.
For example those who thought the Turkish U.S. relations are coming to a point of no return until a few weeks ago, especially when some senators has asked the administration to exclude Turkey from the joint production of the F-35 jet fighters are surprised to see that first two batch were delivered to Turkish Air Forces on June 21. Also when Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu announced that, as they had agreed with the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the withdrawal of the YPG from the Syrian town of Manbij would start on July 4.
They might be surprised more when they see Turkey as a part of a new NATO project which is planned to be on the table in the coming Summit on July 11-12.
Actually both the West and Turkey have seen that the current situation is not sustainable and it is not in the advantage of neither of them.
The opposition campaign carried out by the Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate Muharrem İnce, promoting better relations with the West for better democracy has found echo in society. And not only with the West. Almost in all opposition campaigns candidates have called for better relations with the Middle East countries starting from Syria.
It seems there is a ground for fine tuning in Turkish foreign policy for a more reconciliatory line which we might witness in near future.

Russian air strikes back Syrian southern offensive. US to Southern Front rebels: You’re on your own

الطيران الروسي يساند الأسد في هجمومه على الجنوب السوري وواشنطن تقول للثوار في الجنوب بأنها لن تساندهم
DEBKAfile/June 24/18
After the breakdown of Russian-Israel talks, the Russian Air Force on Saturday night, June 23, bombed Syrian rebel targets in support of Assad’s southwest offensive. This was contrary to Russian promises to Israel. The Russian bombers taking off from the Hmeimim air base in Latakia, launched 25-30 sorties over the small town of Busr al-Harir in Daraa province bordering on Jordan, one of the locations which fell to the Syrian army last week. In their talks with Israel, the Russians said that while giving Assad the nod to go for Daraa and Quneitra opposite Israel’s Golan border, they would withhold air support. Their bombardment also ignored stern American warnings: Last week, the State Department warned Assad and his Russian allies of “serious repercussions” for violating the de-escalations arrangement reached last year between Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. Then, on Saturday, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley condemned the Syria attack on the southern Syrian borders with Israel and Jordan as “unambiguously violating” that arrangement. “Russia will ultimately bear responsibility for any for escalations in Syria,” Haley said.
At the same time, on Sunday, social media reported that the US through its embassy in Amman had sent this message to all Southern Front (rebel) leaders: Make your own decision, but “you should not base your decision on the assumption or expectation of military intervention by us.” There is no official confirmation from Washington of this message. DEBKAfile: If the Trump administration has indeed backed away from supporting the southern front rebel leaders against Syrian army, Russian-backed attack, this may be interpreted as signifying President Donald Trump’s decision not to allow the contest over southwest Syria and Jordanian and Israel borderlands stand in the way of an early summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Israel would then be left to cope on its own with fending off the drive of the Syrian army and its allies, Hizballah and the pro-Iranian Shiite forces, up to its borders. In this eventuality, the IDF has two options:
Non-intervention like the US and acceptance of a Syrian military presence along its northern border.
Intervention by air and ground-to-ground missile strikes against Syrian military and allied targets to halt their advance. There is no sign of the Israeli government or military chiefs gearing up for such an operation.
But meanwhile, a Syrian refugee problem is building up on its Golan border. Some 12,000 refugees are reported to have fled their homes since the Syrian army captured small towns and villages in the Daraa province. Thousands are gathering on the Israeli border and setting up tents.

Palestinians Slam Kushner , Accuse Him Of Incitement
جيرازولم بوست: الفلسطينيون ينتقدون كوشنر ويتهمونه بالتحريض
Jerusalem Post/June 24/18
The PA Ministry of Information also accused him of engaging in “deception” against international law and “promoting normalization” between Arabs and Israel.
Palestinian officials denounced US envoy Jared Kushner on Sunday over remarks he made
de during an interview with a Palestinian newspaper, and accused him of “incitement” against Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
The officials reiterated their opposition to US President Donald Trump’s yet-to-be-announced plan for peace in the Middle East.
They claimed the fact that Kushner had to address the Palestinian public through a newspaper was an indication the US administration had failed to win Arab support for the plan.
According to unconfirmed reports in several Arab media outlets, Egypt and Jordan have expressed strong reservations about the proposed peace plan.
Kushner’s direct appeal to the Palestinians – through an interview with the Palestinian Al-Quds newspaper published on Sunday – drew sharp criticism from several senior Palestinian officials. The officials said Kushner’s statements had failed to convince “even one Palestinian” that the US administration was capable of playing any role in a peace process.
The PA Ministry of Information accused Kushner of “incitement” against the Palestinian leadership. It also accused him of engaging in “deception” against international law and “promoting normalization” between Arabs and Israel.
“Washington is not an honest or acceptable mediator,” the Ramallah-based ministry said in a statement, in response to Kushner’s interview with Al-Quds.
Noting Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to the city, as well as US support for Israel at the United Nations Security Council, the ministry said neither Kushner nor anyone else in the White House team was “authorized to talk about the specifications of peace.”
Kushner, in his first interview with a Palestinian newspaper, said Washington would be willing to engage with Abbas if he returns to negotiations with Israel, but if he is not willing, the US will likely announce its peace plan with or without the PA president.
Al-Quds, which publishes in east Jerusalem with an Israeli license, is the largest and oldest Palestinian newspaper.
Although it is privately owned, Al-Quds regularly serves as a mouthpiece for the Palestinian Authority. The other two major Palestinian newspapers, Al-Ayyam and Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda, are based in Ramallah and serve as official representatives of the PA leadership.
“If President Abbas is willing to come back to the table, we are ready to engage; if he is not, we will likely air the plan publicly,” Kushner said in the interview. “However, I do question how much President [Mahmoud] Abbas has the ability to, or is willing to, lean into finishing a deal. He has his talking points which have not changed in the last 25 years.”
A senior journalist with Al-Quds told The Jerusalem Post that the interview was initiated by the Americans, and not by the newspaper editors.
“What Kushner did is outrageous and totally unacceptable,” a senior Palestinian official in Ramallah told the Post. “He and his boss, Trump, are mistaken if they think that such tactics will work. The Trump administration thinks it can incite the Palestinians against their leaders.”
The official described Kushner’s direct appeal to the Palestinian public as a “desperate attempt by a frustrated merchant to convince people to purchase his goods.”
Wasel Abu Yusef, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, claimed the US has failed to win the backing of some Arab countries for its peace plan. He said Arab leaders who met with US envoys Kushner and Jason Greenblatt during their recent tour of the region had expressed reservations about the proposed Trump plan.
“The Arab countries made it clear that their position remains clear, namely that a two-state solution should be based on international resolutions [pertaining to the Israeli-Arab conflict],” he added.
Nabil Sha’ath, a former PA foreign minister who currently serves as an “international affairs adviser” to Abbas, accused Kushner and Greenblatt of “working on behalf of Israel in the White House.”
Kushner’s interview, Sha’ath said, “was the best proof that the deal of the century has failed.”
He added: “Kushner tried to address our people directly [through the Al-Quds interview] because he could not find anyone who would listen to him in the Arab countries.”
PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat said Kushner’s interview “again illustrates the US refusal to talk substance, to mention Palestinian rights or a Palestinian state.”
Erekat accused the US administration of attempting to “push forward a plan that consolidates Israel’s colonial control over Palestinian land and lives while telling the Palestinian people that money will compensate for our inalienable rights. Plain and simple: Palestine and Palestinian rights are not for sale.”
Meanwhile, former PA information minister Nabil Amru criticized the PA leadership for cutting its ties with the US administration.
Amru, who is a senior official with the West Bank-based ruling Fatah faction, said the PA leadership could have rejected what was leaked about Trump’s peace plan without cutting its ties with the US administration. “No one knows why the Palestinian leadership did that because the situation remains unclear until now,” Amru told the Palestinian news agency Sama.
Amru, who in recent years has openly criticized Abbas and the PA over various issues, said the present Palestinian leadership is too weak to bear the consequences of its rejection of the “deal of the century.” The PA leadership, he added, does not have the ability to face any sanctions the US could impose on the Palestinians once they reject the American peace plan.

As sanctions bite, confused Western policies let Iran off the hook

Baria Alamuddin/Arab News/June 24/18
With the reimposition of US sanctions, Iran’s economy is once again in freefall, particularly as a cluster of European companies that entered Iranian markets after the 2015 nuclear deal flee this uncertain climate. The riyal’s plunge has caused the nominal cost of certain imports like cars to double in just 12 months. However, it remains to be seen whether the economic pain borne by Iranian consumers translates into genuine political pressure upon the regime; particularly in the face of contradictory policies by global powers.
Pressure upon Iran proved effective when the international community was united. Prior to Barack Obama, even Russia and China reluctantly approved UN Security Council sanctions against Iran — an inconceivable scenario today. American and European politicians previously took pains to speak with one voice toward Iran. However, with Donald Trump and John Bolton jettisoning multilateral diplomacy altogether, the Europeans are today tying themselves up in strategic knots. German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week called for urgent solutions to Iran’s “aggressive tendencies” in the region. Yet EU leaders are trying to pull off the impossible feat of simultaneously offering protection from US sanctions for European businesses (which nevertheless appear resolved on departing the Iranian marketplace), while futilely attempting to keep both Trump and Hassan Rouhani interested in a possible successor deal. The absence of international consensus means that the departure of the European companies simply heralds an influx of inferior Chinese goods into Iranian bazaars, making it unlikely that America can impose the stranglehold it desires.
The recent airstrike (thought to have been Israeli) that killed 22 Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi militants fighting inside Syria against the express orders of Iraq’s prime minister highlights the destabilizing impact of transnational proxy militias; undermining the sovereignty of regional states and consolidating an Iranian zone of control spanning the entire Middle East. Is Trump serious about containing Iran? Instead of nurturing an anti-sectarian coalition in Baghdad, American Ambassador Douglas Silliman has been attending Al-Hashd iftar events, rubbing shoulders with Nouri Al-Maliki, and letting it be known that he views the Iran-backed Badr Brigades as a “good” militia. Badr leader Hadi Al-Amiri was even criticized by paramilitary colleagues for becoming too friendly with Silliman.
Although the US singled out Al-Hashd forces, Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq and Harakat Hezbollah Al-Nujaba for sanctions, their agenda differs little from Badr, the dominant Al-Hashd force. I’m sick of being told by Western officials that Al-Amiri is an Iraqi nationalist, just because he spent the last six months telling interlocutors what they want to hear. This man spent much of his life in Iran waging an insurgency on behalf of a foreign government against his own country, while being deeply complicit in the post-2005 sectarian bloodshed.
It's time the West came up with an aggressive and all-encompassing strategy that puts the ayatollahs of Iran firmly back in their box.
Instead of regarding Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi as an existential threat to Iraq’s future as a unified and democratic state, Western nations fatalistically view such proxies as permanent elements of the regional environment, to be appeased and bargained with. This defeatist attitude was expressed in a new British Foreign Office research paper on “Elite Bargains and Political Deals,” which concluded that it is necessary to “engage effectively with underlying configurations of power and processes of elite bargaining in conflict-affected states.” Yet in states like Yemen and Syria, dominated by alien proxies, this is a green light for Iran to pursue its subversion and destabilization.
In Syria after 2011, the West cheered on the rebels from the sidelines, and was consequently left out while Iran, Hezbollah and Russia waded in to the carnage. Diplomats complacently informed us that intervention was unnecessary because “Assad will be gone in six months.” The same head-in-the-sand policy of denial is manifested today in a reluctance to acknowledge the consequences of Iran’s untrammeled regional dominance. Instead of an unambiguous commitment to block further Iranian expansion across Syria, Trump repeatedly expresses his desire to absolve himself of military responsibilities there altogether, presumably defeating Iran through the power of bluster and hyperbole alone.
The battle for Hodeidah may become one of the most traumatic phases of the Yemen war, and coalition forces should facilitate humanitarian access and minimalize civilian impact. Yet this operation could be decisive in cutting Houthi terrorists off from an unceasing flood of Iranian weapons that have devastated this tragic nation, while allowing Iranian missiles to directly menace Saudi Arabia. Western states should demonstrate support for such necessary operations.
The US’ withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council and UNESCO highlights the glaring shortcomings of this administration’s approach: Theatrical but vacuous gestures that appeal to a far-right fringe are no substitute for intelligible policies. Disengagement from the global human rights infrastructure due to intolerance of criticism toward Israel prevents America taking the moral high ground elsewhere. The gutting of the US State Department furthermore begs the question of whether America retains the expertise, capacity and vision to properly contain Iran.
The blunt instrument of sanctions, bereft of a holistic and vigorous containment strategy, empowers Iran’s hardliners vis-a-vis the reformists, while enriching the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, whose smuggling, crime and money-laundering networks profit from sanctions-evading activities — all of which may make Iranian expansionism yet more aggressive.
Schizophrenic and polarized Western policies toward Iran represent the worst of all possible worlds: US sanctions impose pain on ordinary Iranians, but will only force the regime to change course when imposed by a united international community. Conversely, the EU’s aspiration to sell an expanded deal to Iran can only happen with unambiguous American support.
Instead of trying to undermine each other, both these approaches are required within an aggressive and comprehensive program of regional containment. Enough of grandstanding and denial; let’s see global leaders showing real leadership with an aggressive and all-encompassing strategy that puts the ayatollahs of Tehran firmly back in their box.
• Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.

US can use North Korea to pressure Iranian regime
بامكان أميركا الإستفادة من كوريا الشمالية للضغط على النظام الإيراني
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/June 24/18
The agreement signed between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un this month was indeed historic, but it should not be confined to Pyongyang’s nuclear program or US-North Korea diplomatic ties. Washington ought to view the start of a new relationship between North Korea and the US as a perfect opportunity to pressure the Iranian regime and its militias.
It is worth noting that North Korea enjoys a formidable and multilateral relationship with Tehran. The most significant area is related to nuclear activities. Iran has long been dependent on North Korea’s technological capabilities to advance its nuclear program. This is due to the fact that other nuclear states have been reluctant to unreservedly assist the revolutionary and ideological state of the mullahs in achieving its nuclear ambitions.
Between the Islamic Republic and North Korea, there have been several governmental agreements to set up joint operations, such as creating laboratories and exchanging technology, information, experts and scientists in the area of nuclear science. Although the Iranian regime’s lobbyists argue there is no relationship between Tehran and Pyongyang in the nuclear field, evidence shows otherwise. Iran’s chief nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi, reportedly traveled to North Korea to witness a nuclear test. In addition, the UN Security Council has previously released a report pointing out that North Korea continued “to market and export its nuclear technology to certain other states.”
It is also claimed that the centrifuge structure that the Iranian regime uses shares striking commonalities to the ones utilized by North Korea. Centrifuges are an integral part of the process of enriching uranium to develop nuclear weapons or to fuel nuclear power plants.
Trump ought to make any US deal with North Korea be based on the condition that Pyongyang halts its nuclear activities with Iran.
To address these concerns, Trump ought to make any deal with Kim be based on the condition that Pyongyang halts its nuclear activities with Iran’s ruling clerics. In addition, due to the long-term relationship between Iran and North Korea, Pyongyang can be a key source for obtaining details about Iran’s clandestine nuclear activities.
For example, one of the most controversial issues that the International Atomic Energy Agency has long failed to resolve is whether or not Iran’s nuclear program has a military dimension. Iran has banned inspectors from visiting its Parchin military site, which is believed to be the location where Iran’s nuclear weapons program is based. If the US president cannot persuade North Korea to disclose such information, Congress can refuse to lift any sanctions or ratify any treaties until Pyongyang opens Iran’s nuclear file.
The second critical area is linked to military cooperation, including the provision of submarines and ballistic missile technology. It has been claimed that if it were not for North Korea’s assistance, Iran’s ballistic missile program would not have advanced to the current level. Iran currently has the largest ballistic missile arsenal in the Middle East. Although the Iranian regime refuses to shed light on its ballistic missile activities with North Korea, the two countries enjoy sophisticated cooperation when it comes to short, medium and long-range missiles. Both the Iranian regime and North Korea have yet to sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, which bans the development of short, medium and long-range missiles.
North Korea has also helped Iran to obtain Yono-class submarines, which are difficult to detect when operating in shallow water and running on batteries, and are only utilized by Tehran and Pyongyang. The Pentagon last year revealed that Iran test-fired missiles from a Yono-class submarine in the Gulf and Strait of Hormuz. It should be noted that, based on the latest reports, alleged Tehran-Pyongyang ballistic missile and technological cooperation has escalated since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly labeled as the Iran nuclear deal, was reached in 2015. The close similarities between Iran’s ballistic missiles, such as EMAD, and the North Korean Rodong missiles are compelling.
The US has the opportunity to use the sanctions relief card to push North Korea into discontinuing its ballistic missile collaboration with the Iranian regime. Having been hit by crippling unilateral and multilateral sanctions, one of the major reasons that North Korea has been cooperating with Tehran is most likely to obtain hard currency. The US can pledge to lift economic sanctions against North Korea in exchange for Pyongyang halting its ballistic missile collaboration with the mullahs. The lifting of sanctions is better applied gradually in order to verify the process.
Another issue is that, if North Korea is genuine about improving its ties with the US, it must refuse to join the Islamic Republic in promoting an anti-American agenda, destabilizing the region and promoting its militias.
The latest historic developments between the US and North Korea provide a ripe opportunity for the Trump administration to pressure Pyongyang into halting its military ties with the Iranian regime — which would compel Tehran to stop its aggressive behavior in the region — and revealing the nuances and military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh

Will the US withdraw from Afghanistan?
Michael Kugelman/Arab News/June 24/18
In recent days, Afghanistan has experienced some hopeful moments. A three-day Taliban ceasefire to coincide with the Eid holiday resulted in an unprecedented respite from a war that has ravaged the nation for nearly 17 years. Afghans around the country staged rallies calling for a more permanent peace, and Kabul asked the Taliban to extend its ceasefire. Unfortunately, the insurgents chose to return to the battlefield and have now resumed their attacks on Afghan forces.
Meanwhile, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and, even more significantly, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have issued statements indicating that foreign forces can be a topic of negotiation in any talks with the Taliban. This is a huge development. For years, the Taliban has insisted that it will not lay down its arms until US troops stop fighting and leave the country.
So does this mean that Washington is now open to discussing a troop pullout with the Taliban in order to bring America’s longest-ever foreign war to a close? The answer is that a pullout is a very real and understandable possibility — not now, but further down the road. However, a withdrawal, regardless of when it may happen, would pose major risks for regional stability and US interests.
In reality, for nearly a decade, the US government has not been comfortable staying in Afghanistan. In 2009, President Barack Obama made the extraordinary decision to announce an eventual phased troop withdrawal from Afghanistan at the very moment he called for a surge. By the end of 2014, the US had ended its combat role in Afghanistan, and most of the 100,000 soldiers in country at the height of the surge had long departed.
Then came Donald Trump. When he announced his Afghanistan strategy last August, he admitted that he was initially uncomfortable with the idea of maintaining a military presence, which he ultimately decided not only to keep in place but also to modestly expand. In fact, the “conditions-based” approach that guides the Trump administration strategy — one that will let the situation on the ground, not artificial timelines, determine the fate of the US military presence — gives the White House an opportunity to withdraw.
Let’s assume the administration, sometime down the line, undertakes an appraisal of conditions on the ground. If the White House determines that increased battlefield pressure isn’t turning the tide of the war and that the Taliban still isn’t inclined to talks, then the US could decide to withdraw. Trump has never been comfortable about staying, and he surely knows that his core political base also doesn’t support extended and expensive military commitments abroad.
This is not to say, however, that a withdrawal is forthcoming anytime soon, and certainly not in response to a Taliban demand. If a pullout happens, the US government will do it on its own terms and at a time of its choosing.
There are compelling arguments both in support of and against a withdrawal.
Stay or withdraw? When it comes to the Afghanistan quagmire, there are simply no good options for the US.
On the one hand, a 17-year military presence hasn’t prevented the Taliban from expanding its reach and areas of outright control; it now holds more territory than at any time since 2001. It also hasn’t prevented the arrival and consolidation of Daesh fighters. The US military effort in Afghanistan has cost America the lives of nearly 2,500 soldiers, not to mention hundreds of billions of dollars — including, according to one estimate, a whopping $4 million per hour.
And yet a withdrawal is also fraught with risk.
The Taliban insists it would stop fighting after the departure of foreign forces. However, it would actually have a stronger incentive to take up rather than lay down arms in the event of a US withdrawal. The departure of US troops would gift the Taliban an immense battlefield advantage and put it in a strong position to achieve its long-standing goal of overthrowing the Afghan government.
And, even if it doesn’t achieve that goal, the Taliban would still be able to deliver devastating blows to Afghan security forces, take over much more territory, and further fritter away at the already-tenuous writ of the Afghan state. The consequences could include rampant destabilization, an expansion of lawless spaces, and civil war. Resilient Al-Qaeda forces, resurgent Daesh fighters and other international terror groups based in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region could exploit these ugly conditions and establish new sanctuaries.
In effect, a US military withdrawal from Afghanistan could produce the very problems that the initial American intervention was meant to — and, in some cases, did — eliminate. Indeed, US forces, in relatively short order after their arrival in 2001, destroyed the Al-Qaeda sanctuaries used to help plot the 9/11 attacks.
For the US, the inconvenient truth is that staying and going are both problematic. When it comes to the Afghanistan quagmire, there are simply no good options.
• Michael Kugelman is deputy director of the Asia Program and senior associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Twitter: @michaelkugelman