March 01/2018
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
Go and tell this people:“‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed
Isaiah06/01-13: "In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” He said, “Go and tell this people:“‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes.Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” Then I said, “For how long, Lord?”And he answered: “Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged,  until the Lord has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken. And though a tenth remains in the land,  it will again be laid waste. But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”
Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 01/18
Congress Bill Urges Designation of Hezbollah as a 'Foreign Narcotics Trafficker'/Joyce Karam/The National/February 28/18
An international crime in Ghouta implemented by Russia, Iran/Ali Al-Amin/Asharq Al Awsat/February 28/18
In The Shadow Of U.S. Demands For Disarming Hizbullah And For Compromise In Lebanon-Israel Border Conflicts, U.S. Secretary Of State Tillerson Is Insulted In Lebanon Visit And Meetings Yield No Results/MEMRI/February 28/18
U.N. report links North Korea to Syria’s chemical weapons program/Juliane Helmhold/Jerusalem Post/February 28/18
Report: Images reveal new Iranian military base outside Damascus/Anna Ahronheim/Jerusalem Post/February 28/18
Big Companies Are Getting a Chokehold on the Economy/Noah Smith/Bloomberg/February 28/18
How Russia is using Syria as a military 'guinea pig'/Jerusalem Post/February 28/18
Europe's Telling Silence on Polish Anti-Semitism/Inna Rogatchi//Gatestone Institute/February 28/18
Why Turkey Wants to Invade the Greek Islands/Uzay Bulut/Gatestone Institute/February 28/18
Iran Is Trying to Avoid a Clash but May Surprise Israel/Ephraim Kam/Haaretz/ February 28/18
UNRWA and Oxfam: Scandal and politics hit humanitarian organizations/Emad Eryan/Al Arabiya/February 28/18
Saad Hariri and ‘Sophie’s World’/Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/February 28/18

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on March 01/18
Congress Bill Urges Designation of Hezbollah as a 'Foreign Narcotics Trafficker'
Saudi Crown Prince Says Hariri in 'Better Position' Relative to Hizbullah
Hariri Meets Saudi King in Riyadh for First Visit Since Strained Ties
Aoun Says Won't Grant Amnesty to Persons Convicted of Soldiers' Murder
Acting U.N. Special Coordinator Visits the Bekaa
Berri Heard 'Very Positive Remarks' from Saudi Envoy
Hizbullah Launches Syria War Video Game
Jumblatt tackles situation with Lassen
Sarraf, European Parliament delegation tackle general situation
Kardel visits Bekaa, meets Syrian refugees in Qab Elias camp
Foreign Ministry: Death of student Hisham Mrad ruled not homicide
Hasbani chairs meeting of adhoc committee on 2018 draft state budget
Geagea at graduation of LF political cadre: LF electoral candidates are advocates of true change
Army Chief welcomes official at Geneva Center for Control of Armed Forces
Guidanian, Swiss Ambassador talk tourism exchange
LAEC Confirms Canister Found in Ouzai Is Radioactive
Lebanon PM Hariri meets with Saudi King Salman
Lebanon's highest judge briefs Aoun on judicial conferences
Aoun says will start investigating NGOs for special needs
An international crime in Ghouta implemented by Russia, Iran
In The Shadow Of U.S. Demands For Disarming Hizbullah And For Compromise In Lebanon-Israel Border Conflicts, U.S. Secretary Of State Tillerson Is Insulted In Lebanon Visit And Meetings Yield No Results

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on March 01/18
U.N. report links North Korea to Syria’s chemical weapons program
Report: Images reveal new Iranian military base outside Damascus
Abbas’ Advisor Says No Palestinian State Can Be Established Without Gaza, Jerusalem As Capital
Aid Convoy Blocked in Syria despite U.N. Ceasefire Order
Death Toll Tops 600 as Civilians Stay Put in Syria's Ghouta
Afghan President Unveils Plan for Peace Talks with Taliban
Theresa May: Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Visit to Bolster Bilateral Ties
Head of Khamenei’s guards mysteriously disappears, possibly arrested
US, Britain, France, Germany condemn Iran, warn to stop arming Houthi militia
Assad media accuses opposition of faking Ghouta child injuries with forged video
US general: Washington cooperating with Riyadh to secure Bab el-Mandeb navigation
Arab Affairs High Follow-Up Committee Asks for European Mediation Before US Reveals Peace Plan
Jubeir Stresses Convergence of Arab, European Views Over Jerusalem, Peace Process
Latest Lebanese Related News published on March 01/18
Congress Bill Urges Designation of Hezbollah as a 'Foreign Narcotics Trafficker'

أميركا: حزب الله أكبر شبكة للجريمة المنظمة بالعالم

Joyce Karam/The National/February 28/18
The US Congress is considering a bill that will give President Donald Trump the authority to designate Hezbollah “a significant foreign narcotics trafficker" or "a transnational criminal organisation”. It comes less than two months after the US Justice Department created the Hezbollah Financing and Narcoterrorism Team (HFNT) to investigate the Lebanese movement’s illicit activities. The bill, officially named the "Hezbollah Kingpin Designation Act”, is now being considered by the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, a spokesperson for Congressman Ted Budd who authored the legislation told The National.Budd, a Republican, introduced the bill — which has been co-sponsored by Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin — on February 15. If passed it will require the president “to determine whether Hezbollah should be designated as a significant foreign narcotics trafficker or a transnational criminal organisation, and for other purposes” within 120 days. Either designation by the president would lead to the Lebanese militant group and political party facing further US sanctions.
Both Congress and the Trump administration have ramped up pressure against Hezbollah in the past year with several bills and Treasury Department sanctions already targeting the movement. The bill references Hezbollah’s alleged links to drug cartels in Latin America — which it says date back to 2010 — and cites evidence from the US's Drug Enforcement Administration and its so-called “Project Cassandra” operation to identify the Iran-backed movement “as a major supplier of cocaine into the United States”. According to an investigation by the news site Politico last year, Project Cassandra was launched in 2008 after the DEA amassed evidence that Hezbollah “was collecting $1 billion a year from drug and weapons trafficking, money laundering and other criminal activities”.
Budd’s bill mentions the US indictment in 2011 of Ayman Saied Joumaa, a Lebanese-Colombian dual national with ties to Hezbollah, and accuses the movement of “using a global network of companies operating out of Latin America, West Africa, and Lebanon to launder as much as $200,000,000 a month in drug proceeds for Mexican and Colombian cartels”. The legislation will also require the Treasury to issue a report to several congressional committees within one year of the legislation being enacted “containing an estimate of the total assets under direct or indirect control by Hezbollah-linked leaders of political parties or movements who are located in the United States”.
Katherine Bauer, a former Treasury official and a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told The National that if the bill passes both chambers of Congress, “discussions will be ensued around the Kingpin Act requirements, and information as well as evidence needs to be compiled by the administration” to decide whether Hezbollah fits the categories of either "a significant foreign narcotics trafficker" or "a transnational criminal organisation". Since the "Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act" was signed into law in 1999, almost 2,000 individuals and organisations have been designated "significant foreign narcotics traffickers", allowing the Treasury to freeze any assets held by the parties in US jurisdictions and to prosecute Americans who help these parties handle their money.
For Hezbollah to be designated under the so-called "Kingpin Act", however, the Treasury would have to prove that the movement “materially assists in, or provides financial or technological support for or to, or provides goods or services in support of, the international narcotics trafficking activities of a specially designated narcotics trafficker”, or that it “owned, controlled, or directed by, or acts for or on behalf of, a specially designated narcotics trafficker", or “plays a significant role in international narcotics trafficking”. The president can designate Hezbollah a transnational criminal organisation, meanwhile, if he deems it to be either politically or economically destabilising to the US. Under a programme that began in 2011, such designation is followed by the freezing of assets and the prohibition of transactions with the entities or individuals in question, as well as those who "have materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for" them. If the "Hezbollah Kingpin Designation Act” passes the House Foreign Affairs committee, it will then go to a full vote in the House of Representatives, followed by the Senate. Passage in all three would then take the legislation to the desk of Trump who will then have 120 days to consider the legislation. A spokesperson for the House Foreign Affairs Committee contacted by The National said no information on when the body will consider the bill was currently available.
Saudi Crown Prince Says Hariri in 'Better Position' Relative to Hizbullah
Naharnet/February 28/18/Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in an interview to the Washington Post on Wednesday that Prime Minister Saad Hariri is in a “better position today” in Lebanon relative to Hizbullah. He said that he was “unjustly” criticized for pressuring Hariri to resign in November. Adding that the PM is “now in a better position in Lebanon."He did not elaborate on the Lebanese situation. Hariri traveled to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday for the first time since his resignation in the kingdom sparked a crisis. The November 4 resignation and his prolonged stay in Saudi Arabia stirred tensions between Riyadh and Beirut, amid suspicions he had been placed under house arrest, until France intervened and he returned to Lebanon where the announcement to quit was reversed. A source close to the prime minister said he would hold talks with Saudi King Salman and the Crown Prince. On Monday, Hariri received and accepted an invitation to visit Saudi Arabia during a meeting with an envoy from the kingdom, Nizar al-Alula. Relations between the two countries have been strained by the competing influences in Lebanon of regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran.The Saudi envoy's visit comes ahead of May 6 legislative elections, Lebanon's first since 2009 following three extensions of parliament's mandate.

Hariri Meets Saudi King in Riyadh for First Visit Since Strained Ties
Naharnet/February 28/18/Prime Minister Saad Hariri arrived in Riyadh at dawn on Wednesday three months after his abrupt now-reversed resignation from the capital. Hariri first met with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz where talks highlighted the bilateral relations between Lebanon and SA and the latest developments in Lebanon, according to Hariri's media office. The Premier is expected to hold talks later with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Hariri's visit is likely to boost relations with his Saudi backers. Counselor at the Royal Court, Nizar al-Alula, Saudi Embassy Charge d’Affaires Walid al-Bukhari and Lebanon's ambassador to Saudi Arabia greeted Hariri at the airport. A statement issued by Hariri's office on Tuesday said the PM left for Riyadh at an invitation from Saudi King Salman that was delivered to him Monday by Saudi royal envoy Nizar al-Aloula. The November 4 resignation and Hariri's prolonged stay in Saudi Arabia stirred tensions between Riyadh and Beirut, amid suspicions he had been placed under house arrest. France eventually intervened and the premier returned to Lebanon where the resignation announcement was reversed.

Aoun Says Won't Grant Amnesty to Persons Convicted of Soldiers' Murder
Naharnet/February 28/18/President Michel Aoun on Wednesday told a delegation from the families of Army martyrs that he would not sign any “general amnesty law clearing persons convicted or yet to be convicted of soldiers' murder,” the National News Agency reported.
The government is weighing a general amnesty expected to come ahead of the country's first parliamentary elections in ten years. The elections are scheduled for May. Lebanon had one general amnesty after the end of the civil war in 1990.

Acting U.N. Special Coordinator Visits the Bekaa

Naharnet/February 28/18/Acting U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Pernille Kardel on Wednesday visited the Bekaa and met with Syrian refugees at a tented settlement in Qab Elias where she heard their accounts of the challenges they faced, particularly those faced by women and youth, her office said. She also interacted with Lebanese municipal authorities, including the municipality of Qab Elias and the Union of Municipalities of al-Bohaira, which includes the municipalities of Qaraoun, Aaitanit, Baaloul, Saghbine, and Mashgharah. “I was impressed by the generosity I witnessed from Lebanese host communities and municipalities eight years into the Syrian conflict and it was moving to hear refugees’ stories, and their expressed desire to return home,” said Kardel. The Acting Special Coordinator added that until they can do so, the international community, including through the upcoming conferences in Paris and Brussels, will continue to offer necessary support and assistance. She said support for refugees as well as stabilization projects to the host communities remained a priority for the U.N. In Zahle, the U.N. official visited the Office of the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and a UNHCR registration/counselling center. She also visited the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) office, and UNDP’s irrigation project in Qab Elias, sewage treatment plant in Aaitanit and solar lighting systems in Qaraoun.

Berri Heard 'Very Positive Remarks' from Saudi Envoy
Naharnet/February 28/18/Speaker Nabih Berri told lawmakers on Wednesday that his meeting with Saudi royal envoy Nizar al-Aloula on Tuesday was "characterized by a friendly atmosphere."MPs who attended the weekly Ain el-Tineh meeting with Berri said the Speaker heard from al-Aloula "very positive remarks about Lebanon and its historic and cultural role."Berri also noted that the Saudi envoy will resume his meetings in Lebanon after returning from the kingdom. Al-Aloula has returned home to follow up on Prime Minister Saad Hariri's visit to Saudi Arabia. Al-Aloula on Tuesday had described Berri as a "national leader who is a source of hope and optimism in Lebanon."

Hizbullah Launches Syria War Video Game
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 28/18/Sidling down the mean streets of Syria with his rifle, he picks off his enemies relentlessly: Ahmed is the hero of the video game that Hizbullah launched on Wednesday. The Shiite armed group held a ceremony and news conference to unveil the latest production of its electronic media department, which it named "Sacred Defense - Protecting the Homeland And Holy Sites". "It reflects Hizbullah's experience in Syria," Hassan Allam, one of the game's developers, told AFP. With a life of 12 hours, the first-person shooter game is a low-cost spinoff of bestseller "Call of Duty" that glorifies the group's battles in the ongoing Syrian conflict. The scenario's introductory sequence has Ahmed in plain clothes visiting the Sayyeda Zeinab shrine, one of the holiest sites in Shiite Islam. The mausoleum comes under attack and Ahmed reappears wearing a military uniform in a room whose walls bear a poster of Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. The game allows for a series of different battles, including against the Islamic State jihadist group, in a variety of different locations, including Syria's border with Lebanon. Hizbullah, which is backed by Iran and is often considered to have more firepower than Lebanon's own regular army, deployed fighters in Syria in 2013.
'Real events'
They have since fought alongside the forces of President Bashar al-Assad, an intervention widely seen as a major factor in the regime's survival. Two years into the Syrian conflict, the Assad regime's grip on Damascus was tenuous and its days looked numbered, but it has since regained significant ground. "The idea took shape from real events on the ground, that took place in Syria, at the Syrian-Lebanese border and in Lebanon itself," Allam explained. The game, which will sell for $5 in gaming shops, is expected to be particularly popular in Shiite-dominated areas such as Beirut's southern suburbs, where the armed group's aura is immense. Allam said the aim was to make players understand "what really happened and what the fighters who made sacrifices were doing."Hizbullah has lost many hundreds of fighters, including senior commanders, since it deployed some of its forces to Syria. "To finish one level and move to the next, the player will suffer... He will see how difficult it is for the resistance fighters," Allam said. The battles a player has to win to complete the game include fighting in Qusayr against rebel groups in 2013, Hizbullah's first major military victory in Syria. "Sacred Defense" ends with the Ras Baalbek battle in Syria's mountainous border region with Lebanon during which Hizbullah and Lebanese Army troops fought on two separate fronts, which saw the jihadists defeated in the summer of 2017. In a gamer room in southern Beirut among the first to receive a copy, 25-year-old Hussein Mhanna is testing the new Hizbullah product. "I don't know where the shooting is coming from," said the young man, who is a video game fanatic but was stuck on level 2. "I loved it, I wanted to shoot everybody."

Jumblatt tackles situation with Lassen
Wed 28 Feb 2018/NNA - President of the Democratic Gathering, MP Walid Jumblatt, met at his residence in Clemenceau, with head of the European Union Mission in Lebanon, Ambassador Christina Lassen, and tackled with her the latest developments, according to a press release issued by the Progressive Socialist Party media office.

Sarraf, European Parliament delegation tackle general situation
Wed 28 Feb 2018/NNA - National Defense Minister Yaqoub Sarraf on Wednesday welcomed at his ministerial office a delegation of the European Parliament, with talks reportedly touching on the general situation in Lebanon and the broad region. The visiting delegation listened to Minister Sarraf's viewpoint on the overall situation especially concerning the displaced Syrians' crisis and its impact on Lebanon's various sectors, notably the social and economic spheres. The European parliamentary delegation also listened to Minister Sarraf's standpoint regarding the recurrent Israeli enemy's breach of Lebanese sovereignty and its allegations on oil block ownership. The Minister stressed Lebanon's unequivocal rejection of any attempt to tamper with Lebanon's rights and oil resources. Talks also dwelt on the Ministry's present and future planned and future planned projects, including the solar power generation project and a new military hospital. The delegation promised to discuss means of providing assistance for the implementation of a number of projects in Lebanon. The delegation also visited several towns in the south of Lebanon, where they expressed satisfaction regarding the security stability prevailing in the area. The delegation hailed the efforts by the Lebanese army in cooperation with UNIFIL to maintain such stability. The visiting parliamentary delegation also heaped praise on the tasks carried out by the army, which proved its high ability to control internal security and fortify the Lebanese borders after the great victory it has achieved over the terrorist groups during the Fajr Jouroud Battle.

Kardel visits Bekaa, meets Syrian refugees in Qab Elias camp

Wed 28 Feb 2018/NNA - Acting UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Pernille Kardel today visited the Bekaa, in east Lebanon. She met with Syrian refugees at a tented settlement in Qab Elias and heard their accounts of the challenges they faced, particularly those faced by women and youth. She also interacted with Lebanese municipal authorities, including the municipality of Qab Elias and the Union of Municipalities of Al-Bohaira, which includes the municipalities of Qaraoun, Aaitanit, Baaloul, Saghbine, and Mashgharah. "I was impressed by the generosity I witnessed from Lebanese host communities and municipalities eight years into the Syrian conflict and it was moving to hear refugees' stories, and their expressed desire to return home." The Acting Special Coordinator said that until they can do so, the international community, including through the upcoming conferences in Paris and Brussels, will continue to offer necessary support and assistance. She said support for refugees as well as stabilization projects to the host communities remained a priority for the UN. In Zahleh, she visited the Office of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and a UNHCR registration/counselling center. She also visited the UN Development Programme (UNDP) office, and UNDP's irrigation project in Qab Elias, sewage treatment plant in Aaitanit and solar lighting systems in Qaraoun.

Foreign Ministry: Death of student Hisham Mrad ruled not homicide

Wed 28 Feb 2018/NNA - The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates announced in a statement issued this Wednesday that "Lebanon's consul general in Marseille, Sonia Abu Azar, has reported that the police of the city of Grenoble published their report on the death of Lebanese student Hisham Salim Mrad, who reportedly fell off the balcony of his house," assuring that the young man’s death was “not deemed a homicide."The ministry called upon the media "to be careful and to make the necessary checks before publishing any news, out of respect for the feelings of the family of the deceased."

Hasbani chairs meeting of adhoc committee on 2018 draft state budget
Wed 28 Feb 2018/NNA - Deputy Prime Minister, Ghassan Hasbani, on Wednesday chaired at the Grand Serail the meeting of the Adhoc Committee to study 2018 draft state budget. The meeting was attended by Ministers Ali Hassan Khalil, Mohammed Fneish, Oadis Guidanian, Raed Khoury and Youssef Fenianos, as well as the Secretary General of the Council of Ministers, Fouad Fleifel. On emerging, Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil described the meeting as "fruitful" saying they finalized the budgets of several ministries, to hold another meeting tomorrow to finalize the remaining ministries' budgets.
Minister Khalil added that the meeting cut budget in certain aspects by more than 20%.

Geagea at graduation of LF political cadre: LF electoral candidates are advocates of true change

Wed 28 Feb 2018/NNA - Lebanese Forces (LF) leader Samir Geagea on Wednesday stressed that the LF candidates running for the upcoming parliamentary elections are true advocates of actual change and profound reforms. Geagea was speaking at the fourth graduation ceremony of LF affiliated political cadre held in Meerab, attended by the Party's central council members, coordinators and heads of branches.On the 24th commemoration of the 1994 bombing of Saydet al-Najat Church, Geagea vehemently denied the LF's connection to this bombing, saying that the authority at that time blamed the LF for the bombing in order to cover up for the real perpetrators. Geagea categorically refuted these accusations. Turning to the forthcoming legislative elections, Geagea noted that the LF reputed candidates are true promoters and advocates of true change and profound reforms, indicating that the upcoming elections shall determine the course of the country in the next four years. "Upcoming elections are very important since they are the key to change," Geagea corroborated, urging citizens to vote for the competent candidates who would best represent them at the Parliament. The LF leader also highlighted Lebanon as an utter democratic country.

Army Chief welcomes official at Geneva Center for Control of Armed Forces

Wed 28 Feb 2018/NNA - Army Commander, General Joseph Aoun, received at his office in Yarzeh the Head of the Middle East and North Africa office at the Geneva Center for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces, Arnold Leuthold, accompanied by his deputy Ayman Ayoub, with talks touching on the general situation and military issues of joint interest. The army commander also received the head of the General Labor Confederation, Bechara al-Asmar, and deliberated with him on various matter.

Guidanian, Swiss Ambassador talk tourism exchange
Wed 28 Feb 2018/NNA - Tourism Minister, Oadis Guidanian, on Wednesday welcomed at his ministerial office Swiss Ambassador to Lebanon, Monika Schmutz Kirg?z, with whom he discussed the bilateral ties between the two countries notably at the tourism level. Ambassador Schmutz informed the Minister of the number of Swiss tourists which exceeded 17,000 in 2017, with a 15% growth. The Swiss Ambassador also anticipated the number to increase this year. The pair agreed on steps to enhance means of bolstering touristic exchange between the two countries.

LAEC Confirms Canister Found in Ouzai Is Radioactive 28th February 2018/Head of the Lebanese Atomic Energy Commission (LAEC), Dr. Bilal Nsouli, announced on Wednesday that the canister found one day earlier on the Ouzai shore contains a radioactive material that is usually used in the petroleum industry, assuring that no radiation leakage had taken place. Speaking via Voice of Lebanon radio station, Nsouli said that the commission has transferred the canister to its laboratories to be safely preserved, while failing to determine where it came from in the first place. A red canister with a "radioactive material" label printed on it caused panic among local residents of the Beirut suburb on Tuesday. Shortly after it had been found, security forces cordoned off the area as the Army dispatched a team of experts to examine the canister. The Daily Star newspaper quoted an Army source as suggesting that it must have been washed up ashore after being thrown in the sea by some ship. Environment Minister Tarek Al-Khatib, who headed to the beach where the canister was found, requested that a probe would be launched into this matter. Meanwhile, political and civil activist Imad Bazzi shared his opinion on this issue, noting that his humble judgment stems from his previous experience as a Greenpeace Media Officer and his work with the United Nations mission in Libya. “This is not a gas canister, but a small container for radioactive and waste materials, Type A,” Bazzi wrote on Facebook, adding that what was found is the inner container of a radioactive canister which is usually covered with lead, cement and materials that absorb radiation and shocks. Bazzi warned of the threat that someone must have smuggled these materials into Lebanon, decomposed it and dumped the internal containment canister, noting that these containers are never exported empty. “Anyone who may have touched the canister or got close to it has to undergo immediate tests,” Bazzi alerted, pointing out that it is impossible to clean these canisters from radioactive residues which cause deadly cancers.
Lebanon PM Hariri meets with Saudi King Salman
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/ Wednesday, 28 February 2018/Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri arrived in Riyadh on Wednesday and met with King Salman for the first official visit to Saudi Arabia. According to a statement from his office, Hariri was received at the airport by Saudi royal court advisor Nizar al-Aloula, Advisor Waleed Abdullah Bukhari, Minister Plenipotentiary at the Foreign Ministry, and Lebanese Ambassador to the Saudi Kingdom Fawzi Kabara. Hariri is scheduled to meet during his visit, duration unannounced, with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Lebanon's highest judge briefs Aoun on judicial conferences
The Daily Star/February 28, 2018/BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun Tuesday discussed the work of the judiciary with Higher Judicial Council head Jean Fahed at the presidential palace in Baabda, a statement from his office reported. Fahed briefed Aoun on his planned participation in a conference in Senegal’s capital Dakar on March 1 and 2 that will deal with the role of supreme judicial bodies in combating terrorism. He also spoke to Aoun about his participation in the launch of the Global Judicial Integrity Network, held in Vienna in April 9 and 10. Fahed was quoted as saying that the Higher Judicial Council has fulfilled all of the steps aimed at enhancing the integrity of judges, in line with the United Nations Convention against Corruption. He also said the council would be holding celebrations for the centennial of Lebanon’s Court of Cassation this year, adding that the heads of Arab supreme courts and the heads of the highest courts in francophone countries would be invited. Separately, Aoun later met with Sidon MP Bahia Hariri, discussing the general situation in Lebanon, Sidon and the south, the statement reported. The president also met with Abdel-Halim Caracalla, who led a delegation from the Caracalla Dance Theatre group to Baabda Palace. Aoun congratulated Caracalla on the group's success as they were set to depart on a world tour including stops in China, France, Britain and the United States, the statement said. “Lebanon is rich in its artists, intellectuals and scientists. They are an image of a nation with roots across the world,” Aoun was quoted as saying.

Aoun says will start investigating NGOs for special needs
The Daily Star/February 28, 2018/BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun Wednesday said he has called for investigations over ‘fictional NGOs and institutions” for the handicapped, which he said are benefiting from the state funding at the expense of active institutions working in the field. Aoun said there are currently a total of 340 organizations, among which 103 are concerned with the care and assistance of handicapped people. Although 263 organizations received financial support from the Ministry of Social Affairs in 2017, Aoun said some of them were “made up and others are not completing the required tasks.”The proposed investigations will look into the status of all organizations and institutions attending to the handicapped. It will also monitor the capacity of their work, in order to designate the necessary support for them to receive. This, he said, will set them apart from the fake institutions, as well as those that do not do any work. “The situation won’t go on like it used to. I have asked to investigate into the status of associations and institutions contracted with the state Social Affairs Ministry.” Registered NGOs and organizations can access annual state funding to assist with their work. The president assured the community that attending to special needs and handicapped people and paying attention to institutions that deal with them is one of his top priorities. Aoun’s statements came during a meeting at Baabda Palace in the afternoon with a delegation from the National Union of Disabled Associations in Lebanon, which included representatives of institutions working with the disabled in Lebanon and the Civil Service Council. “We hope that strengthening the weak, integrating them into society and preserving their dignity and social security are within the priorities [of the government]," director of the Learning Center for the Deaf, Hussein Ismail, told Aoun during the meeting. While Ismail expressed his gratitude to Aoun and his government for interest in the community, he also criticized the pace of actions taken by official bodies to assist vulnerable communities. Although the Social affairs Ministry was cooperating with concerned ministries to designate an annual budget for the rehabilitation and education of people with disabilities and difficult social situations, there was a delay which postponed its implementation, Ismail said. Speaking on behalf of the handicapped community, Elie Touq said action is necessary “in order to keep these institutions able to work and provide services to handicapped people.”President Aoun also received the head of the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD), Colin Allen, at the palace Wednesday.
An international crime in Ghouta implemented by Russia, Iran
علي الأمين/سوريا وإيران يرتكبان جريمة دولية في الغوطة
Ali Al-Amin/Asharq Al Awsat/February 28/18
United Nations Resolution 2401, which calls for an immediate ceasefire in Eastern Ghouta and which does not apply to terrorists as it gives permission to shoot, besiege and starve them, is nothing but a mere deceptive decision. In fact, it does not include any details regarding the cessation of military operations or, to be more accurate, about the annihilation of half-a-million Syrian citizen residing in this eastern suburb of Damascus.The resolution calls for an ambiguous 30-day ceasefire. However, the Syrian regime’s military forces and its allies saw no harm in targeting civilians by using chlorine gas the very next day the UN resolution was supposedly adopted (24 February 2018). This reflects the extent to which the regime and its allies, Iran and Russia, are willing to go in order to commit genocide while being aware that killing Syrian civilians will not cause a stir in Arab or Western governments.
Over the past seven years, hundreds of thousands have fallen victim to this alliance. Ever since the regime used chemical weapons in Eastern Ghouta in 2013 and was not subjected to any international sanctions, it – along with its allies – realized that there are no international ‘red lines’ they cannot breach to carry out massacres and displace populations.
The annihilation and displacement of populations is the task which the sectarian regime in Syria wants to accomplish. The secularism claimed by the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party is merely a facade used for the Alawite minority rule and to commit these grave massacre Arabs have ever witnessed against their own people. Today, Syria might be paying the price for some countries’ stubbornness to get the Syrian tragedy which the Palestinians suffered from due to occupation, displacement and the revocation of identity. Indeed, the international silence over the on-going Syrian bloodshed, which started seven years ago, reflects a policy that unleashes the regime’s monstrosity in order to carry out a maximum number of organized crimes. This stripped the Syrian people, who seek a reasonable amount of freedom and a right to participate in determining the state policies, of international protection. It has even pushed them to give up their human identity, either by succumbing to the regime’s barbarity or being dragged into the madness which the regime uses to conceal – even if partially – some of its past and present crimes against its own people. Given this vicious equation, the regional and international vanguard has become a tool for the partition of influence at the expense of Syrian blood. Axis of the Resistance has simply opened the way for Israel toward Syria which was once called the beating heart of Arabism
Conspiracy of the Axis of Resistance
The savagery of the regime, to purge Syria of its people either via murder or displacement, is the reason behind its survival and the source of its regional and international protection. For seven years now, the regime did not feel this brutal task against its own people threatens its existence. This task is rather the very basis for its existence and continuity. What Syria has witnessed over the last few years is a regional and international operation to destroy the Syrian society. This task has been carried out by the so-called ‘Axis of Resistance’ which has resorted to all its sectarian ideologies to engage in this mission. One can further note Iranian and even Russian influence in Syria – via establishing military bases and dominance over large Syrian areas – was conditional upon displacing inhabitants by making living conditions insufferable due to the killings and massacres. In fact, regions under Iranian influence in Syria are the ones whose occupants were subjected to killing and displacement particularly in the areas extending over Damascus and its suburbs, Homs and its countryside and areas between Damascus and the eastern and northern Lebanese borders, as well as the Syrian south and Dera’a.
Ghouta is the last stronghold of the region that has escaped the influence of Iran, Russia and the regime in Damascus and its adjoining areas. Thus, the decision to target Ghouta by Iranian militias and regime forces aided by Russian air cover is irreversible. The destructive tendency adopted by the regime and its allies aims to destroy living conditions in these areas and displace the maximum number of inhabitants who embraced the revolution against the regime like the case was in Darayya and Yarmouk. The policy of displacement and demographic change is still ongoing and it has met no form of international objection. This shows that the machine of murder and sectarian cleansing is somehow not objected to or there is rather silence over a crime Assad, Iran and Russia volunteered to commit considering it’s a filthy task which influential countries are not willing to directly stain their hands with. Furthermore, the depravity of the Axis of the Resistance has extended to the attempt of covering crimes perpetrated in Ghouta under anti-Israeli slogans. As if Israel will be harmed if the Syrian people are displaced and murdered! The Syrian people are thus well-aware that the Axis of the Resistance’s increased murderous and destructive acts in Syria serve a strategic task to turn the page of hostility towards Israel.
Unspeakable tragedy
The Syrian population, who has suffered an unspeakable tragedy under the banner of a so-called American and Israeli resentment and whom Russian planes shell its children and Iranians shell its cities in the name of liberating Jerusalem, is a witness to how the Assad ravaged the country under the false pretense of hostility against Israel. All this will certainly have strategic results on the future of enmity towards Israel. The Axis of the Resistance has simply opened the way for Israel toward Syria which was once called the beating heart of Arabism. Ghouta is just a detail. The recent international resolution shows that the policy of killing, destruction and displacement will continue in favor of the regime of tyranny and resistance. The decision to destroy al-Ghouta will not stop, as long as the political and strategic results are in Iran’s favor and within Russia’s control and as long as they guarantee Israel’s stability on the long run and as long as Washington is reassured that all these parties, including Turkey, will not guarantee their shares without American legitimacy. The only real victim, which is paradoxically absent from this melee is the Syrian people. They are absent from all the policies that shape Syria’s future but is present front and center as the victim that daily suffers the slaughter of Syria and its future.
In The Shadow Of U.S. Demands For Disarming Hizbullah And For Compromise In Lebanon-Israel Border Conflicts, U.S. Secretary Of State Tillerson Is Insulted In Lebanon Visit And Meetings Yield No Results
MEMRI/February 28, 2018
On February 15, 2018, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Lebanon for an hours-long stopover, as part of his Middle East tour that included Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Kuwait, and Egypt. During his visit, he met with Lebanese President Michel 'Aoun, Prime Minister Sa'd Al-Hariri, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, and parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri. Tillerson's treatment in Lebanon was insulting; he was met at the airport by the Foreign Ministry's director of ceremonies, not by Foreign Minister Bassil, and, after arriving at the presidential palace for his meeting with President 'Aoun and Minister Bassil, he was kept waiting for several minutes until they arrived – and in the meeting hall the American flag was not displayed alongside the Lebanese flag.
The nature of Tillerson's reception may have been connected to the American demands that he brought with him in the matter of disarming Hizbullah and in the matter of the Lebanon-Israel dispute over gas drilling rights in the Mediterranean. These demands had been raised with the Lebanese several days previously by U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield.
Throughout his Middle East tour, Tillerson expressed conflicting positions vis-à-vis Hizbullah. The day before his Lebanon visit, he said, at a press conference in Amman, Jordan, that the reality of Hizbullah as part of the political process in Lebanon should be acknowledged. However, the next day, at the conclusion of his Lebanon visit, he clarified that the U.S. sees Hizbullah as a terrorist organization and does not differentiate between its political and military wings.
This report will review Tillerson's Lebanon visit, statements he made, demands he presented, and how he was received by the Lebanese leadership.
Tillerson In Amman, Before Arriving In Lebanon: We Must Recognize The Fact That Hizbullah Is A Political Power In Lebanon
At a February 14, 2018 press conference in Amman, Jordan with his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Al-Safadi, Tillerson discussed Hizbullah and its participation in Lebanese political life. In answer to a question about the anxiety over Hizbullah's increasing influence in Lebanon, he said: "We support a free, democratic Lebanon free of influence of others, and we know that Lebanese Hizbullah is influenced by Iran. This is influence that we think is unhelpful in Lebanon’s long-term future. We also have to acknowledge the reality that they also are part of the political process in Lebanon. I think Lebanon is taking positive steps with their law on disassociation[1] that was passed last year to send a signal as to their view that they do not want to see any of Lebanese Hizbullah involved in foreign conflicts and have asked that they bring all of their people back from the conflict in Yemen.
So I think it’s a long process... We support strengthening the LAF, the Lebanese Armed Forces, so that there is a legitimate security force under full control of the Government of Lebanon..."[2]
Tillerson's statement that the reality of Hizbullah as part of the political process in Lebanon must be acknowledged provoked the anger of several Arab and Lebanese writers, who saw it as a softening of the American position toward Hizbullah, which the U.S. designated a terror organization in 1990.
For example, Lebanese Shi'ite journalist Nadim Koteich, known for his opposition to Hizbullah, wrote in the London-based Al-Sharq Al-Awsat daily: "Before he arrived in Beirut, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that 'Hizbullah is part of the political process' in Lebanon. This declaration is formally correct. The Hizbullah militia is a parliamentary faction and its ministers are in the government and it has officials in the government, mayors, and more. However, what Tillerson and others are missing is the fact that this militia is not a political force of the political arena so much as a security and military force in the political arena. At least since 2005, since the assassination of [former] prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri, Hizbullah has been leveraging its security and military capabilities to attain political achievements... with the goal of taking control of the country, its institutions, its discourse, and its politics, and in order to exploit this control for Iran's grand plan. The truth is that it is more accurate [to say that] the Hizbullah militia is affiliated with the Iranian plan than that it is affiliated with Lebanese political activity, as Tillerson said..."[3]
Lebanese Hizbullah-Affiliated Daily Al-Akhbar: Tillerson Was Kept Waiting For Five Minutes For The President, And The Lebanese Prime Minister Deliberately Turned His Back On Him
Even though Tillerson appeared to have softened his tone vis-à-vis Hizbullah, he was humiliated by top Lebanese officials during his February 15 visit. First, as noted, he was not received at the airport by Foreign Minister Bassil, but by the Foreign Ministry's director of ceremonies; the latter also saw him off at the airport at the conclusion of his visit. The low point was when he came to the presidential palace to meet with President Aoun and Foreign Minister Bassil, and was forced to wait several minutes until they arrived. During the meeting with them, the American flag was missing. Later, the presidential spokesman explained that the president had not arrived late, but that Tillerson had arrived early.[4]
Tillerson waits for President Aoun, with no American flag (Source: Al-Akhbar, Lebanon, February 16, 2018.
The Hizbullah-affiliated Al-Akhbar daily published an article touting the insulting treatment of Tillerson during his brief visit to Lebanon, and stating that this set a precedent in U.S.-Lebanon relations, as Lebanon was unwilling to submit to U.S. dictates. It stated:
"[Upon his arrival at the Beirut airport], the American secretary of state found no head of state, minister, or ministry director-general to receive him. He arrived yesterday morning around 9:50 AM, and found on the ground at the Beirut airport, next to the steps of the private American plane, the Foreign Ministry's director of ceremonies, Assaf Dhomat, and U.S. Ambassador Elizabeth Richard, who accompanied her guest in the motorcade of the U.S. Embassy, which made its way directly to the presidential palace at Baabda. Next to the outside door of the palace, Tillerson and his delegation found the presidential palace's director of ceremonies, Dr. Nabil Shadid, who greeted him. The American guest entered the palace, under the lenses of the media – some of which broadcast this 'reception' live.
"Tillerson entered the ambassadorial hall, and shook hands with the people who there to receive him, that is, the members of the Lebanese delegation who participated in the official talks [with him]: presidential office general director Dr. Antoine Shaqir, general security secretary-general Abbas Ibrahim, [presidential] advisors Mireille 'Aoun Al-Hashem, Paul Matar, and Charbel Wahba, director of the foreign minister's office Hadi Hashem, and presidential spokesman Rafiq Shalala.
"[But] where are the president of the country, Michel 'Aoun and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil? That is the question that Tillerson's companions silently asked themselves again and again, as [Tillerson] stood before the chair set out for him, looking to the right and the left as he waited for either 'Aoun or Bassil. Both sides were embarrassed. Suddenly, Tillerson decided to sit down. He took a bundle of papers out of his jacket pocket, read them, put them back, smiled all around and for the cameras and those present, and waited. The waiting grew heavy. After five minutes, his Lebanese counterpart Gebran Bassil entered at a fast clip from the main door, his jacket unbuttoned, and shook his hand. A few seconds later, Aoun came in through the side door separating his office from the ambassadorial hall, and shook Tillerson's hand – but it was noticeable that he did not shake the hands of the members of the American delegation... The doors of the hall closed, and the talks began. Half an hour later, the American guest left, after writing a few words in the guest book. After meeting with his counterpart [Tillerson], Gebran Bassil deliberately turned his back on him and went to joke around with the journalists. And again, the director of ceremonies, Nabil Shadid, was in charge of [bringing] the American guest to the outer door of the palace and bidding him farewell.
"After the American delegation left Beirut, there was a media uproar. Some rebuked the U.S. Ambassador for poorly coordinating [the visit] with the Lebanese [director of] ceremonies. The embassy replied that what had happened [with Tillerson] at the presidential palace was only a small example of what happens at the [Lebanese] foreign ministry on a daily basis with most of the [foreign] guests and ambassadors, and that things are so [bad] that Ambassador Elizabeth Richard recently decided not to visit the foreign ministry unless officially summoned or dispatched there by her country.
"[So] what was the reason for the president's behavior? One of his advisors says that, during his visit to New York last year to attend the United Nations General Assembly, 'Aoun expressed displeasure about the 'difficulties' that had accompanied the reception held by the American President for the [foreign] presidents attending the General Assembly. 'Aoun did not attend the reception, [citing] 'a meeting with members of the Lebanese community in New York.' Others claimed that his behavior was meant to protest the fact that the Americans have not extended him an official invitation to visit the U.S. As for the official sources, they treated the affair as routine, explaining that 'Tillerson was [simply] early to arrive at the palace. Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil was caught up in traffic and the President entered the hall precisely on time.'
"Despite this, the incident constitutes a precedent in Lebanon-U.S. relations. [Tillerson's] was the first visit by an American secretary of state to Lebanon in four years. The last [secretary of state] to visit was John Kerry, who came during the period Lebanon had no president. During the term of [former president] Michel Suleiman, relations were normal. And during the term of [former president] Emile Lahoud, the Americans were appalled when he hung up the phone on [then U.S.] secretary of state Madeleine Albright. In his [biography], Lahoud wrote that, in May 2000, on the eve of the liberation [i.e., Israel's withdrawal from South Lebanon], his daily phone call with the American secretary of state lasted five hours; it was their last phone conversation. She called him that night, and when the argument between them became heated, she said to him: 'Do you realize who you are speaking to? You are speaking to the U.S. secretary of state. Do you know what that means, Mr. Lahoud?' Lahoud writes that he replied at once, 'It means that it is five in the morning. I am sleepy and want to go to bed,' and hung up on her."[5]
Lebanese Officials Refuse Tillerson's Demands
According to the Lebanese press, in his meetings with top Lebanese officials, Tillerson discussed several issues and presented a number of demands, which had already been presented to these officials by his assistant David Satterfield, who had prepared the visit. Chief among the issues discussed were a proposal for settling the disputes with Israel over the two countries' shared land and maritime borders; Hizbullah's disarmament and withdrawal from Syria, and the drying up of this organization's sources of funding; the preservation of calm on the Israeli border, and the continued U.S. aid for the Lebanese military.[6]
The Lebanese press reported that the officials refused all of Tillerson's demands. In the matter of the maritime border with Israel, Tillerson reportedly reiterated the proposal already presented to the Lebanese by U.S. diplomat Fredric Hof: to divide Block 9 (the offshore area in dispute) between the two countries so that Lebanon receives 60% of the territory and Israel 40%, but the Lebanese once again rejected the proposal. According to the Al-Akhbar daily, Foreign Minister Bassil told Tillerson that this proposal was "unacceptable to Lebanon."[7]
The reports claimed further that the Lebanese officials also rejected Tillerson's demands to disarm Hizbullah and end its military involvement in Syria. 'Aoun told him that "the role of the resistance's weapons will end when a just and comprehensive peace [with Israel] prevails and all the refugees return to their homes." As for Hizbullah's involvement in Syria, he said that it was part of the war on terror, which transcends the narrow interests of Lebanon, and added: "The more the peace efforts on the Syrian front and in the region advance, the more the situation in Lebanon and the area will improve, and [eventually] there will be no more need for weapons and they will be replaced by the language of dialogue."[8]
According to Al-Akhbar, Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri said that Tillerson had spoken to him at length about Hizbullah, and he had replied that Israel was an enemy occupying Lebanese land and this justified popular resistance against it. Berri also told Tillerson: "We cannot not remain silent in light of Israel's attacks on us. That is why the resistance took up arms to defend our land."[9]
Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah likewise rejected the suggestions presented by Tillerson and his assistant Satterfield, on the grounds that the Americans were trying to safeguard Israel's interests at the expense of Lebanon's. He said: "We must realize that the main dispute [with Israel] today is not about the land borders. That issue is easy to resolve. [The main dispute is over] the maritime border and the economic waters. The Americans and others want to give us [the land] to which we are entitled... in the disputed areas along the land border, and in return deprive us of our rights... in the sea, [rights pertaining to] oil, and we must be alert to this." It is very important, he added, "that the state, and with it the Lebanese people, address this issue from a position of strength, not weakness. If the Lebanese think of themselves as weak, they will begin to grow weak, and we will lose the battle...We must negotiate [from a position of] strength... The only strength you Lebanese possess in this battle for the gas and oil [in the sea] is the resistance [i.e., Hizbullah and its weapons], because the Lebanese military is not allowed to have surface-to-surface, surface-to-air or surface-to-sea missiles... for the Americans forbid this... [But, thanks to Hizbullah,] today Lebanon and every Lebanese can say [to Israel]: no way! Hold back! If you want to deprive us [of our oil and gas], we will prevent you [from having them]. If you bomb us, we will bomb you. If you attack us, we will attack you... We expect the state and its powerful [leaders] to take the decision, and we [Hizbullah] will carry it out... I promise you that, [if] Lebanon's Supreme Defense Council officially decides that the gas and oil rigs in the Palestinian sea, which is occupied by Israel, must stop functioning, a few hours later they will stop functioning..."
Nasrallah stated further: "The U.S. is not a fair mediator, and you [Lebanese officials] must treat the American mediators like Israel's attorneys. There are not three [parties] here. Lebanon is negotiating with Israel, which is represented by Tillerson or Satterfield... That is the truth, so this mediation cannot be trusted. The Americans are not interested in Lebanon's good, They are interested in the good of the Zionists... They came to give orders, to impose [terms] on us and to threaten us that if Lebanon does not agree to this or that, they will [punish it] – and I will not go into details."[10]
Tillerson At Conclusion Of Lebanon Visit: Hizbullah Is A Terrorist Organization, With No Distinction Between Its Political And Military Wings
Following his meeting with President 'Aoun, Parliamentary Speaker Berri, and Foreign Minister Bassil, Tillerson met with Prime Minister Hariri. In a joint press conference with Hariri after the meeting, he harshly denounced Hizbullah and stated unequivocally that the U.S. regards it as a terrorist organization. Possibly, this was an attempt to correct the impression made by his statements on the eve of the visit, in which he recognized Hizbullah as part of the Lebanese political process.
He said: "It’s impossible to talk about stability, sovereignty, and security in Lebanon without addressing Hizbullah. The United States has considered Hizbullah a terrorist organization for more than two decades now. We neither see nor do we accept any distinction between its political and its military arms. It is unacceptable for a militia like Hizbullah to operate outside the authority of the Lebanese Government. The only legitimate defender of the Lebanese state is the Lebanese Armed Forces. Hizbullah is not just a concern for the United States. The people of Lebanon should also be concerned about how Hizbullah's actions and its growing arsenal bring unwanted and unhelpful scrutiny on Lebanon. Hizbullah's entanglement in regional conflicts threatens the security of Lebanon and has destabilizing effects in the region. Their presence in Syria has perpetuated the bloodshed, increased the displacement of innocent people, and propped up the barbaric Assad regime. Their presence in Iraq and Yemen has also fueled violence, and the consequences of their involvement in these far-off conflicts – which have nothing to do with Lebanon – are felt back here at home.
That’s why we’re urging all Lebanese leaders during my visit to uphold the Government of Lebanon’s commitment to disassociating itself from foreign conflicts. The international community expects all parties in Lebanon to fulfill this commitment, including Hizbullah, which should cease its activities abroad in order to help reduce tensions in the region."[11]
[1] This was actually a government decision, passed in December 5, 2017.
[2], February 14, 2018.
[3] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 16, 2018.
[4] Al-Jumhouriyya (Lebanon), February 15, 2018; Al-Akhbar, Al-Liwa (Lebanon), February 16, 2018.
[5] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), February 16, 2018.
[6] Al-Akhbar, Al-Liwa (Lebanon), February 16, 2018; Al-Mudun (Lebanon), February 17, 2018.
[7] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), February 16, 17, 2018.
[8] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), February 16, 17, 2018.
[9] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), February 16, 17, 2018.
[10], February 16, 2018.
[11], February 15, 2018.
Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on March 01/18
U.N. report links North Korea to Syria’s chemical weapons program
Juliane Helmhold/Jerusalem Post/February 28/18
North Korea has been shipping materials to the Syrian government that could be used for the production of chemical weapons, according to a secret UN report, the New York Times reported on Tuesday. The report, which was written by a panel of experts, stated that the supplies, which included acid-resistant tiles, valves and thermometers, were part of at least 40 previously unreported shipments to Syria between 2012 and 2017.
Additionally, North Korean missile experts were spotted inside Syria, working at known chemical weapons and missile facilities. The UN report, which is more than 200 pages long, also emphasized the danger of such a cooperation between the two countries which would allow Syria to maintain its chemical weapons while providing North Korea with funding for its nuclear missile programs. As reported by the New York Times, it is unclear when the report will be released; and the authors and members of the United Nations Security Counsel refused to comment. However, a former member of the UN panel of experts on North Korea, William Newcomb, called it "an important breakthrough."
“We knew stuff was going on,” Mr. Newcomb said to the New York Times. “We really wanted to up the game on chemical weapons programs, and we just weren’t able to get what we needed to do so.”
On Wednesday, a senior US disarmament official blamed Russia for violating its commitments as guarantor of the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile and preventing the Assad government from using them.
Robert Wood, US disarmament ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, told reporters in Geneva shortly before Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov addressed the forum: "Russia is is on the wrong side of history with regard to chemical weapons use in Syria."Wood, when asked about a reported nexus of cooperation between North Korea and Syria, replied: "Clearly there has been a history of a relationship between North Korea and Syria with regard to missile activity, chemical weapons components."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergi Lavrov, addressing the UN-sponsored Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, responded that Syria has eliminated its chemical weapons stockpiles and placed them under international control, despite "absurd claims" against the Assad government.
The United States and its allies are "simply exploiting baseless allegations of toxic weapons use by Damascus as a tool of anti-Syrian political engineering."
Reuters contributed to this report.

Report: Images reveal new Iranian military base outside Damascus
Anna Ahronheim/Jerusalem Post/February 28/18
New satellite images purport to show base built to house missiles "capable of striking Israel."
New satellite images of an area near the Syrian capital of Damascus show a new permanent military base which may house missiles capable of striking Israel, Fox News reported Wednesday. According to Fox, the new base is operated by Iran’s Quds Force, a branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) responsible for operations in foreign countries, deployed to Syria to help embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad and is being used to store short and medium-range missiles.In November, the BBC news agency reported that Iran established another military base at a Syrian army site south of Damascus. It was destroyed in December by an alleged Israeli air-to-surface missile strike, according to foreign media reports.
According to the report, which was based on a western intelligence source, the Iranian base was some 50 kilometers north of Israel’s Golan Heights and had several buildings which likely would have housed soldiers and military vehicles.
Israeli officials have repeatedly voiced concerns over the growing Iranian presence on its borders and the smuggling of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah from Tehran to Lebanon via Syria, stressing that both are red-lines for the Jewish State.
Last week, a New York Times investigative report revealed the scope and depth of Iranian entrenchment in Syria, with a high concentration of outposts along the border with Israel, including administrative bases, logistical bases, control centers for UAVs (drones), training centers and more.
Former Israeli defense minister Amir Peretz said on Twitter Wednesday that the report of a new base demands determined diplomatic action by the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"The message must be made clear that Iranian military entrenchment constitutes a red line that must not be crossed. If need be, all options will be examined to prevent the entrenchment on the northern border," he wrote.
In early February, an Israeli F-16i fighter jet was downed by Syrian anti-aircraft missiles after it carried out retaliatory airstrikes following the infiltration of an advanced drone into Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu then warned at the Munich Security Conference that Israel could strike the Islamic Republic directly and cautioned Tehran not to “test Israel’s resolve.”“Israel will not allow Iran’s regime to put a noose of terror around our neck. We will act without hesitation to defend ourselves. And we will act if necessary not just against Iran’s proxies that are attacking us, but against Iran itself.”
On Tuesday, Gen. Joseph L. Votel, head of US Central Command, said that Iran was “increasing the number and quality” of its ballistic missiles deployed to the war-torn country as well as “enhancing” its funding to its proxy troops in the Middle East.
But despite that increased threat posed by Iran, Votel stated that “countering Iran is not one of the coalition’s missions in Syria.”

Abbas’ Advisor Says No Palestinian State Can Be Established Without Gaza, Jerusalem As Capital
Ramallah- Kifah Zboun/Asharq Al Awsat/February 28/18/Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Advisor for International Affairs Nabil Shaath said that the Palestinian Authority has fully engaged in a confrontation with the United States, in the wake of its decision to consider Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Speaking during a gathering at the Palestinian Embassy in Cairo, Shaath said: “President Mahmoud Abbas is in a position of full confrontation with the United States and Israel in the wake of the Israeli government’s intransigence and the recent US Administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and transfer its embassy to it.”“We will not establish our state but on our national soil. No state in Gaza, no state without Gaza, no state without Jerusalem as the capital, not a capital in Jerusalem, but Jerusalem is the capital,” Shaath stressed. He criticized the absence of a unified Arab position to protect the Palestinian project, but said the world would change. The Palestinian president’s advisor went on to say that within three years, “the world ruled by the United States will end and a multilateral leadership will be established.”“We will be part of this new world,” he said. Shaath’s remarks came in response to the United States, which announced earlier this month that it was about to offer the “deal of the century”, disregarding a plan by Abbas to hold an international peace conference to set up a multilateral mechanism for the peace process. The Palestinians refuse to deal with the United States as the sole sponsor of the negotiations, saying they are ready to accept the US as part of a multilateral mechanism within an international quartet that would also include European and Arab states.The relationship between the PA and Washington severely deteriorated after US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and decided to move the US embassy to it.

Aid Convoy Blocked in Syria despite U.N. Ceasefire Order

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 28/18/About 40 trucks are loaded and ready to ferry relief supplies to Syria's bomb-and-siege shattered Eastern Ghouta, but there has been no let up in fighting despite a U.N. ceasefire resolution, a top U.N. official said Wednesday. Mark Lowcock, the U.N. under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said there has been no change in the situation around the rebel-held enclave in the Damascus suburbs despite a ceasefire resolution Saturday. "When will your resolution be implemented?" he asked, staring fixedly at members of the U.N. Security Council, who listened in complete silence. Lowcock said trucks loaded with supplies have been poised to go to 10 besieged areas including Douma, the main town in the enclave, since Saturday. But he said there has been no access for humanitarian convoys, nor authorization by the regime to go into the besieged areas, nor medical evacuations since the Security Council resolution was passed. On the contrary, the bombings have continued, and deaths and wounded have mounted, he said, speaking at a monthly Security Council meeting devoted to the Syrian conflict. The U.S. representative Kelley Currie accused the Syrian regime of violating the ceasefire, while Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia accused the rebels.Carl Skau, the deputy Swedish ambassador to the United Nations, demanded "immediate access" for the humanitarian aid. "There is no time to lose," he said. Before the meeting began, French ambassador Francois Delattre recalled that the rebels in Ghouta had said Tuesday they were ready to observe a ceasefire, but the Syrian regime has given no sign it is ready to do the same. "It is the collective credibility of the Security Council and the responsibility of each of its members that today is heavily at stake in the Syrian drama," he said. Jeffrey Feltman, U.N. under secretary-general for political affairs, expressed frustration over the council's inaction. "What we need is implementation of (resolution) 2401 and that is not happening," he said. After a night of intense fightng on the periphery of Eastern Ghouta, Syrian aviation early Wednesday bombed several localities in the rebel enclave, where an estimated 600 civilians have died since February 18, about a quarter of them children, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Death Toll Tops 600 as Civilians Stay Put in Syria's Ghouta

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 28/18/Civilians in Syria's Eastern Ghouta enclave shunned Russia's offer of safe passage for a second day Wednesday, as rebels and Moscow blamed each other for the humanitarian deadlock. The bombardment that killed 600 civilians in 10 days largely stopped but not one of the battered region's 400,000 residents left to board the buses provided by the regime. AFP reporters saw no movement at the Wafideen checkpoint through which would-be evacuees were told to exit Eastern Ghouta, which the government lost in 2012 and has besieged almost ever since. "The humanitarian corridor is open to all those who wish to return to the fold of the homeland, but so far nobody came and this is the second day," said a military officer at the checkpoint. Russia on Monday announced a "humanitarian pause" in the bombardment of the enclave that would provide five hours every day for civilians to flee safely. The move was welcomed inside and outside the enclave as respite from one of the bloodiest assaults in Syria's seven-year-old war. But the hundreds of civilians in need of medical evacuation were not coming out nor were any aid convoys going in. The Syrian regime has accused the Islamist and jihadist groups inside Ghouta of sabotaging the initiative by shelling the designated humanitarian corridors to hold civilians as human shields. "The terrorists are impeding those who want to cross, either by putting pressure on them or by firing on the humanitarian corridors," the military officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Three days only?
The first five-hour "pause" on Tuesday passed with only two killed in regime bombardment, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor. No casualties at all were reported when Wednesday's humanitarian window closed at 2:00 pm (1200 GMT) but warplanes were back in the sky moments later. "During the truce, the ceasefire is almost enforced," said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman, adding that eight civilians were killed in strikes before and after on Wednesday. The officer at Wafideen checkpoint warned that if Thursday was equally fruitless, the measure may be dropped, raising fears that the kind of bombardment that killed dozens of civilians every day this month would resume. "The truce was meant to last three days. It could be extended but why go on if there are no results," he said. Inside Eastern Ghouta, the residents AFP spoke to were distrustful of a measure put in place by Russia, whose warplanes rained munitions on them alongside Syrian aircraft. The three main armed groups inside the territory, which lies within mortar range of Damascus, said they wanted more international guarantees.In a letter sent to the United Nations on Tuesday, they said they were willing to expel the jihadist factions that also have a footprint in Eastern Ghouta. But they demanded that any evacuations be conducted under the supervision of a U.N. mechanism. Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose portrait was featured alongside Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad's at the Wafideen checkpoint, blamed the crisis on the rebels' "constant shelling." "Shells even crash into the grounds of the Russian embassy and the economic mission. Should we continue to tolerate this? Of course not," he said. While it has stemmed the bloodshed, the "pause" declared by Russia, which is Assad's main supporter, falls short of the 30-day ceasefire voted on Saturday by the U.N. Security Council.
Ground fighting
U.N. agencies and the International Committee of the Red Cross said it did not meet the requirements for delivering an efficient aid response to the crisis inside Eastern Ghouta. "Humanitarian corridors need to be well planned and must be implemented with the consent of parties on all sides," said Robert Mardini, the ICRC's Middle East director. "That's the only way people leave safely, if they choose to do so," he said, in a statement issued on Tuesday. Civilians spent days hiding in their basements in the scattering of towns that make up the enclave, which is far from any other rebel-controlled area in Syria. Another military officer at the deserted checkpoint said ground fighting on the edges of Eastern Ghouta, where most anti-regime fighters are deployed, may change the dynamic. The Observatory said regime forces had made limited advances in Eastern Ghouta's Shaifuniyeh and Hosh al-Zawahira districts. The head of the monitoring group said 38 regime and allied fighters were killed in three days of fighting in the al-Marj area on the southern edge of the enclave. At least 18 fighters from Jaish al-Islam, Eastern Ghouta's dominant anti-regime faction, were also killed, the Observatory's Abdel Rahman said.

Afghan President Unveils Plan for Peace Talks with Taliban
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 28/18/Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Wednesday unveiled a plan to open peace talks with the Taliban, including eventually recognising them as a political party, days after the militants called for direct negotiations with the US. Civilian casualties have soared in recent months as the Taliban increasingly targets towns and cities in response to a new and more aggressive US military policy ordered by President Donald Trump. Ghani disclosed the framework at a regional conference in Kabul on bringing peace to his country. He called for a truce, after which the Taliban could become a political party and contest elections. "A ceasefire should be held, the Taliban should be recognised as a political party and trust-building process should be initiated," said Ghani, in remarks similar to past offers. "Now the decision is in your hands, accept peace... and let's bring stability to this country," he added. In return, Ghani said the militants should officially recognise the Afghan government and the constitution, a perennial sticking point in past attempts to open talks.  On Monday the Taliban said it was prepared to enter direct talks with the US to find a "peaceful solution" to more than 16 years of war.
Its statement however made no mention of negotiating with the Afghan government -- a condition which the US has long stated was vital to any peace process. Pakistani journalist and Taliban expert Rahimullah Yusufzai said the insurgents' leadership remained committed to the US-only position, but others in the movement were less dogmatic about talking with Kabul. "There are some people among the Taliban who believe that they will have to negotiate with the Afghan government," said Yusufzai.He added that the militants have suffered heavy casualties under the new US strategy of increased airstrikes and commando raids. Despite the losses, Yusufzai said the group would continue the insurgency. "They derive their power from their ability to keep fighting," he said. Kabul is hosting the second round of the peace conference at which representatives from 25 countries will discuss counter-terrorism and conflict resolution strategies. US officials have described the current situation in the war as a stalemate.

Theresa May: Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Visit to Bolster Bilateral Ties
Asharq Al Awsat/February 28/18/Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will start on March 7 a visit to London, which British Prime Minister Theresa May described as an opportunity to strengthen bilateral relations. The visit by the Saudi crown prince is a platform for strengthening bilateral ties and will include talks on economic and security partnership, May’s office said in a statement. During the visit, Prince Mohammed is expected to hold talks with the premier and meet with British government ministers. “The partnership between the UK and Saudi Arabia already helps make both of our countries safer through intelligence-sharing which has saved British lives, and more prosperous, with thousands of jobs created in the UK and substantial opportunities for British companies in Saudi Arabia,” the statement added. The British premier also stressed that the visit of the crown prince would establish “the platform for that relationship to become even stronger.”“Saudi Arabia is changing. We have seen recent decisions to allow women to drive from June this year, a target for women to make up one-third of the Saudi workforce by 2030, and a move to develop sectors such as health, education, infrastructure, recreation and tourism," May stated. "These are all sectors where the UK leads the world and where there are new opportunities to work together,” she added. The British premier went on to say that Britain was a country open to the outside, by strengthening its relationships around the world and defending its values.
“The visit of the Crown Prince is an opportunity to do so precisely for the benefit of our people and the Saudi people,” she said. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said in a tweet that he was eager to welcome Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He described the visit as an opportunity to hold constructive dialogue on foreign policy and support the reform program. The visit will be the crown prince’s first to the UK since his appointment in June 2017.

Head of Khamenei’s guards mysteriously disappears, possibly arrested
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Wednesday, 28 February 2018/Iranian sources have reported the disappearance of General Vahid Haghanian, the commander of Iran's Supreme Leader guards nearly about a month ago, amid speculations that he might have been detained or placed under house arrest. The disappearance of Haghanian, who also serves as a political assistant in the private inspection office of Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, has since Jan. 31 raised questions and speculations that there are confusions in the house of the Supreme leader. The news was reported on Tuesday on "Saham News" of the "National Trust party (Etemad Melli)," led by Mehdi Karroubi, the leader of the Green Movement who is under house arrest. Haghanian is described as “the supreme leader’s right hand," and there is a possibility that he was arrested, but no confirmation so far. General Haghanian last appeared in a video spread on social media sites and Iranian websites, in which he insulted Iranian Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri during his visit to the earthquake-affected areas in Sarpol-e Zahab and the Qasr-e Shirin in the Kermanshah Province. Jahangiri said that the former President Ahmadinejad was responsible for the houses that were destroyed as they were constructed during his reign.
The Supreme Leader’s shadow figure
On various occasions, Haghanian, a leader in the Revolutionary Guard, appears behind the Supreme Leader and accompanies him in the most important meetings. He was also called the Supreme Leader’s shadow figure.Haghanian served for long time as an assistant to Khamenei's chief of staff and as a personal secretary who had strong influence and impact on Iran, especially after the Green uprising in 2009.Some Iranian activists suspected that Haghanian was arrested for being involved in corruption cases, while others believed that he was arrested because of his differences with Ali Asghar Hejazi, the director of the private security office of the Supreme Leader Khamenei’ office

US, Britain, France, Germany condemn Iran, warn to stop arming Houthi militia
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Wednesday, 28 February 2018/The United States, Britain, France and Germany have condemned Iran on Tuesday in a joint statement for breaking UN law prohibiting supply of arms to Yemen. Their statement comes a day after Russia vetoed a resolution put forward by Britain condemning Tehran. The resolution would also condemn Iran for arming Houthi militias. Following the Russian veto, the Security Council unanimously adopted a technical resolution which renews the current arms embargo without any reference to Iran. For months now, the United States has been pressurizing to condemn Iran and to enforce sanctions upon the country after Houthi militia fired ballistic missiles towards Saudi Arabia in 2017.

Assad media accuses opposition of faking Ghouta child injuries with forged video
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Wednesday, 28 February 2018/Pro-Assad media outlets shared a video of children being painted with red blood claiming that they were Syrian opposition factions in eastern Ghouta trying to fake child injuries.
However, the video turned out to be from an art workshop which creates this health exercise annually in Gaza.The goal of the workshop is to recreate child injuries sustained in warzones so that doctors can get familiar with them and learn how to care for injured children, the owner of the workshop, Abd al-Baset al-Loulou, said. He added that clips from his workshop’s video were edited together and shared by pro-Assad media outlets as coming from eastern Ghouta. Al-Loulou said that he was then forced to release a statement clarifying that the video was from his annual workshop centered around using special effects makeup to recreate child injuries. “It’s sad that the Syrian regime used art for political reasons,” al-Loulou said, adding that doctors and health care professionals worldwide use special effects makeup artists to train their staff. Russian media has also attempted to show forged victories by Russian soldiers in Syria by using fictional images and scenes. According to the Washington Post, Russian media used scenes from a videogame called Arma purportedly showing Syrian war footage, and a

US general: Washington cooperating with Riyadh to secure Bab el-Mandeb navigation
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English /Wednesday, 28 February 2018/The US is worried about Yemen’s Houthi militia threatening international navigation in Bab el-Mandeb, Joseph Votel, the commander of the United States Central Command, said speaking to a House of Representatives Armed Services Committee hearing. The US general said that Washington is cooperating with Riyadh in order to secure navigation in the area, adding that sly Iranian activity poses a real threat on its long term stability. Votel also clarified that the US’s intervention in Syria is solely to fight ISIS after the Syrian regime showed a lack of seriousness in fighting the extremist organization. He accused Russia of playing a destabilizing role in Syria as “both arsonist and firefighter”, saying Moscow had failed to rein in its Syrian ally. “Diplomatically and militarily, Moscow plays both arsonist and firefighter, fueling tensions among all parties in Syria... then serving as an arbitrator, to resolve disputes, attempting to undermine and weaken each party's bargaining positions,” Votel said. "I think either Russia has to admit that it is not capable, or it doesn't want to play a role in ending the Syrian conflict. I think their role is incredibly destabilizing at this point," he added.

Arab Affairs High Follow-Up Committee Asks for European Mediation Before US Reveals Peace Plan
Paris- Michel Abu Najm/Asharq Al Awsat/February 28/18/Arab League Chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit and High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Affairs officials met with their European counterparts to discuss the Palestinian-Israeli issue, seeking European Union assistance amid rising fears of bias highlighting the upcoming United States peace roadmap.The meetings came in an effort to face Washington’s recent decision to recognize Jerusalem as the official capital of Israel—based on which it will be relocating its embassy next May. EU foreign ministers' meeting with the Arab ministerial committee to follow up the Jerusalem issue in Brussels on Monday stressed the need to save the two-state solution.This comes a month after a meeting between the Palestinian Authority and European ministers and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas calling for an international conference mid-year and a multilateral mechanism to be found to break away from the American monopoly over Palestinian-Israeli mediation efforts. However, the importance of the recent Brussels meeting is that it conveyed a strong message to the European side to action before the US administration announces its plan for peace in the Middle East—citing that leaked information clearly is rooted in what cannot be accepted by the Palestinian side. Therefore, the Arab delegation stressed the need for “immediate action” with the American side on the grounds that if Washington commits to its plan, it will be difficult for them to later reverse or modify some of its items.
Nevertheless, the Arab League ministers hastened to say that "they do not want to exclude the American role, which remains essential, but balance it at a party level overseeing the peace process, namely the Arab peace initiative. Abbas spoke to the Arab ministers last month asking them to recognize the Palestinian state quickly. However, US-Western pressure weighs in heavily against the recognition with Europeans arguing it’s not time yet. Their shy support comes at a time when the European Union exploits every opportunity to show its distancing and rejection of US positions—such as the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the embassy transfer. But one of the Arab-Palestinian goals is for Europe to remain “a united bloc that refuses to follow Washington's initiatives” which is deemed wrong. The other European argument inhibiting the recognition of a Palestinian state is that Washington must unveil its plan clearly before taking any further actions. Moreover, Europeans still hold on to the US role in the peace process. According to a European diplomatic source, the EU “does not see that they are capable of replacing Washington, given its close connection to Tel Aviv, and therefore their role is reduced”.
The EU believes that Washington is really able to pressure the Israeli leadership to soften their positions and accept needed determinants for a solution. On that note, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said that Washington’s plan was “almost ready” and that it included compromises for both sides.However, diplomatic sources in Paris have revealed that the most “troubled party” in the upcoming Washington plan will certainly be the Palestinian side.

Jubeir Stresses Convergence of Arab, European Views Over Jerusalem, Peace Process
Brussels- Abdullah Mustafa/Asharq Al Awsat/February 28/18/A joint meeting between Arab and European ministers reaffirmed consensus over the need to maintain efforts to achieve peace according to the internationally agreed framework, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told Asharq Al-Awsat.
Ministers have also highlighted the necessity to preserve communication with the United States - as an indispensable partner - to restore the peace process in accordance with the relevant international resolutions, the minister added. Statements made by other ministers from Arab and European countries on the sidelines of the joint meeting hosted by Brussels to discuss the future of the peace process underlined a similarity in the positions and views between the two sides. This was confirmed by Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir, who addressed reporters on Tuesday, saying that the meeting was an opportunity to explain the Arab position to the EU foreign ministers, emphasizing that the gathering was fruitful and constructive. The Saudi minister noted that views were identical on several matters, including Jerusalem, the revival of the peace process and the need to assist UNRWA’s work.
Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, for his part, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The Arab stance on Jerusalem is well-known; East Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine and an occupied territory, the status of which must be resolved through direct negotiations and on the basis of the resolutions of international legitimacy.”EU foreign ministers expressed their commitment to achieving a two-state solution through negotiations to end the conflict in the Middle East. They also noted that EU countries would not transfer their embassies to Jerusalem, emphasizing that the city must be the capital of the two states. In a statement to Asharq Al-Awsat, Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl said: “We do not accept the transfer of the embassy, and there is a European stance that emphasizes the two-state solution and respect for Jerusalem as the capital of both Israel and Palestine.”

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published
on March 01/18
Big Companies Are Getting a Chokehold on the Economy
Noah Smith/Bloomberg/February 28/18
A recent report by Goldman Sachs’ global research team highlights a new study showing that large, dominant superstar companies are paying lower wages and earning higher profits. I’ve flagged that research myself, but when Goldman says it’s worried, you know things have really gotten serious. American industry is increasingly dominated by a shrinking handful of giant companies: Why is Goldman complaining about the trend? After all, the big bank presumably has many ways to make money off of corporate behemoths. Oligopoly raises profits, which sends stocks higher, contributing to fatter fees for financial companies like Goldman that do things like asset management, brokering and market-making. Goldman also handles mergers and acquisitions, which are a key way that markets become more concentrated.
Of course if market concentration gets out of hand, it could start to cut into the bottom lines of even big financial firms. One reason is that concentration reduces idiosyncratic volatility in markets, meaning individual stocks don’t go up and down as much. That means traders have less reason to trade, since there are fewer bargains to be had under those conditions. Less trading means less profit for brokers, dealers and market-makers. In a recent paper, economists Söhnke Bartram, Gregory Brown and René M. Stulz show that the increasing domination of public markets by large old companies -- the superstars that economists are warning about -- is responsible for the increasing correlations between stocks.
Stulz also has another new paper, along with Craig Doidge, Kathleen Kahle and G. Andrew Karolyi, illustrating just how much the US public markets are devoid of small, fast-growing companies. The days when a new company such as Inc. -- which went public in 1997 at a market value of just $438 million -- would rush to list itself on the exchanges are long gone. Uber Technologies Inc., for example, is still private, but is valued at about $50 billion. It’s not just tech startups, though -- smaller companies in general are moving off of the exchanges. This is one big reason why the public markets are shrinking. So far, that hasn’t been bad for the public markets. Even after the recent selloff, the rising stock market has steadily set new records during the past few years. Profit margins -- which companies with market power can extract by holding down wages and hiking prices -- are probably driving the higher valuations. So pension funds and 401(k) savings plans are doing well (though much of the gain will be siphoned off to management fees).
The biggest threat from the increasing dominance of big companies isn’t to Goldman Sachs, or even to retirement plans; it’s to workers and consumers. When companies squelch wages and raise prices, it reduces economic activity. It pushes workers out of the labor force entirely, sending them home to play video games on the couch as their job skills and work ethic rot. And it can result in lower output too -- fewer plane rides, fewer people buying broadband internet, few people buying new cars.
In past eras, the government acted to stop companies from getting too big. It could do the same now by strengthening antitrust enforcement, preventing big mergers and reviewing them after the fact. Some politicians, such as Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, have declared their desire to open up a new era of trust-busting. And to his credit, President Donald Trump did block AT&T’s attempted takeover of Time Warner, though his decision may have been driven by personal bias. But the fact that the stock market increasingly depends on dominant companies may stop the government from ever really cracking down. If monopoly profits are the main thing keeping upper-middle-class Americans’ retirement accounts afloat, most politicians will be very reluctant to do anything that fosters greater competition. The risk is that economy becomes trapped in a toxic cycle. As industries grow more concentrated, dominant companies become a bigger piece of the stock market, and their profit margins push stock valuations higher. Politicians naturally will be less willing to take steps to make markets more competitive, allowing superstar companies to become even more powerful. All the while, retirement accounts do OK, but workers’ wages and the economy suffer from decreasing competition. It’s important to reverse this vicious cycle before the problem becomes too severe. A bit of antitrust now would go a long way toward preventing oligopoly from turning into oligarchy.

How Russia is using Syria as a military 'guinea pig'
كيفية استعمال روسيا لسوريا كحقل تجارب حربية
Jerusalem Post/February 28/18
High-ranking Russian officials claim countries are lining up to purchase battle-tested hardware.
Russia’s deputy defense minister claimed Thursday that Moscow has tested over 600 new weapons and other military equipment in Syria since intervening in the conflict in 2015. "The chance to test in real combat can’t be overestimated," Yuri Borisov asserted, adding that "customers have started queuing up for the arms that have proven themselves in [battle].”
The comments came on the same day that the head of the powerful defense committee in Russia’s Duma, the lower house of parliament, contended that 200 of the items were next-generation systems.
"It’s not an accident that today they are coming to us from many directions to purchase our weapons, including countries that are not our allies,” Vladimir Shamanov declared. "Today, our military industry made our army look in a way we can be proud of."
According to Mathieu Boulegue, a Research Fellow in the Russia and Eurasia Program at the London-based Chatham House think-tank, "many analysts in Moscow view the Syria campaign as a 'Revolution in Military Affairs,' which is an American term that derives from the US experience mostly during the First Gulf War. Russia sees Syria as a theater for learning how to use [cutting-edge] technology and command and control techniques in modern warfare.
"They are also getting similar experience in Ukraine," he elaborated to The Media Line, "and it is impossible to separate between the two campaigns as the lessons gained in both arenas are fed into the same beast."
The Russian hardware being tested reportedly includes advanced aircraft, cruise missiles and precision-guided munitions in addition to armory, battlefield drones and electronic warfare systems, among many others.
One prominent example is the introduction into Syria of the Sukhoi Su-34 and Su-35 fighter jets, twelve of the former reportedly having soon thereafter been sold to Algeria. Other countries such as Indonesia, India and Nigeria have likewise expressed interest in the plane since it became battle-tested, allowing for tangible evaluation of its performance.
Similarly, purchase agreements for the Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile defense system have been forged with Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Overall, Middle East and North African countries from Egypt to Qatar to Bahrain, Morocco and Tunisia are lining up to purchase Russian-made equipment; this, as Moscow has renewed its regional influence through the projection of its military after years of US domination.
In March of last year Russia's top defense official, Sergei Shoigu, told parliament that ninety percent of the weapons tested up to that point had met the Kremlin's expectations. Months later, Dmitry Shugayev, head of Russia's Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation, revealed that foreign orders for Russian weapons amount to almost $50 billion. Notably, he claimed that Moscow is poised to acquire about thirty percent of the global military aircraft market, surpassing the US' share.
"Russia has come up with the 'Combat-proven Label,' which is used by officials and businesses to enhance military sales," Boulegue explained to The Media Line. "It is very hard to quantify how much this will speed up the commercial prospects but it does go hand-in-hand with a very aggressive policy from the state-owned Rosoboronexport. [Other private companies are also] really reaching out to foreign buyers and so far they have had some good returns.
"This also applies to Latin America and Africa," he concluded, "because a lot of the contracts that have been signed recently could have originated up to five years ago. There is a focus on countries that could buy some of the older models of Russian systems in bulk—those that can be [incorporated] into the militaries of less wealthy nations."
Nevertheless, the timing and nature of the statements by high-ranking Russian officials suggests that they may also be intended for domestic consumption, amid a growing realization that Moscow may not easily be able to extricate itself from the Syrian quagmire.
"This sounds like propaganda as six hundred weapons is very high," Zvi Magen, a former Israeli ambassador to Russia and an expert on its Middle East foreign policy, explained to The Media Line.
In this respect, it is noteworthy that Moscow last week deployed to Syria two fifth-generation Su-57 stealth fighters, Russia's answer to the US’ F-22 Raptor and F-35. That the jets are non-operational, however, supports the notion that their transfer abroad is at least partially a "show" mimicking strength.
"They are stuck over there and that is why they need excuses," Magen expounded. "The Russians need to finish this war and they have not been able to arrive at an agreement to end it. Instead," he continued, "Moscow declared victory [prematurely] and Putin visited Syria. But since then there have been battles and the Russians have suffered casualties. This leads to domestic pressure."
Indeed Moscow's beating of the military drums come on the heels of a major clash between Russian "contractors" and US forces on February 7, in which up to 300 mercenaries—employed by the shadowy Wagner PMC (Private Military Company) whose owner is a Putin associate—were killed or injured by American airstrikes and artillery fire during a failed attack on a Kurdish-controlled base in the Deir ez-Zor region.
While Russia publicly denied any involvement in the incident, it is well-known that Moscow has agreed to the deployment to Syria of as many as 2,500 for-hire fighters in order to avoid casualties among its official troops. As such, the Kremlin at the very least has a public relations problem back home, especially given its less-than-satisfactory explanation of the event which was described by US Defense Secretary James Mattis as "perplexing."
Redirecting the focus to supposed successes in Syria—by hyping its military achievements, real or imagined—might therefore constitute a concerted effort to downplay the loss of its citizens while appealing to a largely nationalistic Russian populace. This, in turn, ties into the second possible explanation for the seemingly coordinated comments; namely, that they come just weeks ahead of the Russian presidential election and it may be that Putin is fending off legitimate criticism of Russia's entanglement in Syria by rallying the support of his patriotic, if not militaristic, voter base.
The revelations that Russia is effectively using Syria as a testing ground for military hardware also raises moral questions, especially as they come on the background of the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Eastern Ghouta.
More than 500 locals have been killed and some 2,500 others wounded over the past week, as Syrian forces allied with Moscow pounded the rebel-held area from the air and ground in the one of the fiercest offensives in the seven-years-long war. An estimated 400,000 civilians remain trapped in area, with rights groups warning of a major humanitarian catastrophe unless aid is allowed to reach the enclave.
Moscow's support for Syrian President Bashar Assad has once again brought into stark focus its paramount role in prolonging the war, to the detriment of an already devastated civilian population. That Russian leaders are concurrently trumpeting Moscow's advancement of its military-industrial complex by using Syria as a "guinea pig" sheds light on their underlying intentions and priorities.

Europe's Telling Silence on Polish Anti-Semitism
Inna Rogatchi//Gatestone Institute/February 28/18
Given Western Europe's open aversion to the rise of right-wing parties in Eastern Europe, the EU's silence in the face of Poland's behavior politically makes no sense.
Ever since Poland's far-right Law and Justice Party (PiS) took control of both the presidency and the parliament in November 2015, and quickly changed the rules for public media, the secret service, education, and the military, the European Parliament has been claiming that Warsaw is putting the "rule of law and democracy" at risk.
When it comes to the issue of Polish anti-Semitism, Europe is suddenly at a loss for words. This suggests that it is not merely ineptitude at work.
Implementation of the controversial Holocaust bill, passed by the Polish Senate on February 1, was "frozen" temporarily, due to the toxic rift it caused in Warsaw-Jerusalem relations. The bill, proposed by the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), makes illegal any suggestion that Poland was complicit in the Holocaust, particularly the Nazi death camps, which were German, but located on Polish soil.
Criticism of the bill in Israel and among diaspora Jews has been loud and forceful across the political spectrum. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the bill an attempt to "rewrite history," and a Polish diplomatic delegation is arriving in Israel on February 28 to discuss the diplomatic crisis.
Although Jewish outrage over such a law -- which would fine and even jail anyone who dared to implicate Poland in the Nazi genocide -- is probably no surprise, the crashing silence from the rest of Europe is shocking.
To his credit, European Council President Donald Tusk, a former prime minister of Poland, made two public statements against the bill -- one on Twitter and the other during a press conference in Brussels. His sentiments were echoed by members of the world media and intelligentsia, who have protested Poland's move.
In the face of Poland's implementation of the controversial Holocaust bill, the crashing silence from the rest of Europe is shocking. To his credit, European Council President Donald Tusk, a former prime minister of Poland, made two public statements against the bill.
With the exception of France, whose foreign minister called the bill "ill advised," the European Union countries, the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe have been avoiding the controversy. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, saying she did not want to "wade into Poland's internal affairs," declined to comment.
Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel released a statement assuring Poland that "every form of historical falsification such as the term 'Polish concentration camps' runs into clear rejection on our part and will be sharply condemned." Unfortunately, this is the same Gabriel who told a group of Muslim community leaders in December that what he saw when he visited Israel many years ago "reminded him of apartheid."
Poland's move is nothing short of a moral fiasco, particularly as it comes amid an anti-Semitism in Europe so rampant that, in 2015, the European Commission appointed a "coordinator on combating anti-Semitism." Katharina von Schnurbein, who holds the position, appears to have done little on the job. About the Polish bill, she has not uttered a word. She also failed to call out a Polish TV host for snidely remarking that the Nazi concentration camps should be called "Jewish camps;" and she did not react when Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that the Holocaust had involved "Jewish perpetrators," as well as Polish ones. She also said nothing about Morawiecki's laying a wreath on the memorial of a Polish underground movement that collaborated with the Nazis; and she ignored the demand by a Polish education official that only Poles should be guides to Auschwitz. She has, however, been heard condemning the daily anti-Semitic incidents in Poland, the largest recipient of EU subsidies, and she did make a point of saying, during a 2016 trip to Israel, "We don't see anti-Semitic violence from the refugees at the moment, thank God."
Given Western Europe's open aversion to the rise of right-wing parties in Eastern Europe, the EU's silence in the face of Poland's behavior makes no sense politically. Ever since Poland's far-right Law and Justice Party took control of both the presidency and the parliament in November 2015, and quickly changed the rules for public media, the secret service, education and the military, the European Parliament has been claiming that Warsaw is putting the "rule of law and democracy" at risk.
When it comes to the issue of Polish anti-Semitism, however, Europe is suddenly at a loss for words. This suggests that it is not merely ineptitude at work, but a far more worrisome trend. It is high time for the EU and its sister bodies to take a moral stand against anti-Semitism and the rewriting of history, lest Europe's distasteful history repeat itself.
*Inna Rogatchi, co-founder and president of the Rogatchi Foundation, is an author, scholar, political analyst and filmmaker. Her soon-to-be-published book, A View From the Cattle Wagon, is a collection of essays on the post-Holocaust period.
© 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.

Why Turkey Wants to Invade the Greek Islands

Uzay Bulut/Gatestone Institute/February 28/18
Turkish propagandists also have been twisting facts to try to portray Greece as the aggressor.
Although Turkey knows that the islands are legally and historically Greek, Turkish authorities want to occupy and Turkify them, presumably to further the campaign of annihilating the Greeks, as they did in Anatolia from 1914 to 1923 and after.
Any attack against Greece should be treated as an attack against the West.
There is one issue on which Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its main opposition, the Republican People's Party (CHP), are in complete agreement: The conviction that the Greek islands are occupied Turkish territory and must be reconquered. So strong is this determination that the leaders of both parties have openly threatened to invade the Aegean.
The only conflict on this issue between the two parties is in competing to prove which is more powerful and patriotic, and which possesses the courage to carry out the threat against Greece. While the CHP is accusing President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's AKP party of enabling Greece to occupy Turkish lands, the AKP is attacking the CHP, Turkey's founding party, for allowing Greece to take the islands through the 1924 Treaty of Lausanne, the 1932 Turkish-Italian Agreements, and the 1947 Paris Treaty, which recognized the islands of the Aegean as Greek territory.
In 2016, Erdoğan said that Turkey "gave away" the islands that "used to be ours" and are "within shouting distance." "There are still our mosques, our shrines there," he said, referring to the Ottoman occupation of the islands.
Two months earlier, at the "Conference on Turkey's New Security Concept," Erdoğan declared: "Lausanne... has never been a sacred text. Of course, we will discuss it and struggle to have a better one." Subsequently, pro-government media outlets published maps and photos of the islands in the Aegean, calling them the territory that "Erdoğan says we gave away at Lausanne."
To realize his ultimate goal of leaving behind a legacy that surpasses that of all other Turkish leaders, Erdoğan has set certain objectives for the year 2023, the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Turkish Republic, and 2071, the 1,000th anniversary of the 1071 Battle of Manzikert, during which Muslim Turkic jihadists from Central Asia defeated Christian Greek Byzantine forces in the Armenian highland of the Byzantine Empire.
The idea behind these goals is to create nationalistic cohesion towards annexing more land to Turkey. To alter the borders of Turkey, however, Erdoğan must change or annul the Lausanne Treaty. Ironically, ahead of his two-day official visit to Greece in December -- touted as a sign of a new era in Turkish-Greek relations -- Erdogan told Greek journalists that the Lausanne Treaty is in need of an update. During his trip, the first official visit to Greece by a Turkish head of state in 65 years, Erdoğan repeated his mantra that the Lausanne Treaty must be revised.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said that Turkey "gave away" Greek islands that "used to be ours" and are "within shouting distance". "There are still our mosques, our shrines there," he said, referring to the Ottoman occupation of the islands.
The following month, Erdoğan targeted CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, again accusing the party that signed the Lausanne Treaty of giving away the islands during negotiations. "We will tell our nation about [this]," Erdoğan said. What this statement means is that Erdogan accepts that the islands legally belong to Greece. Yet, at the same time, he calls the Greek possession of the territory "an invasion" -- apparently because the islands were once within the borders of the Ottoman Empire -- and he now wants them back.
Meanwhile, the CHP has been equally aggressive in its rhetoric, with Kılıçdaroğlu telling the Turkish parliament that Greece has "occupied" 18 islands. When Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos was described as "uncomfortable" with this statement, CHP's deputy leader for foreign affairs, Öztürk Yılmaz, responded, "Greece should not test our patience." Yılmaz also reportedly stated that "Turkey is much more than its government," and that any Greek minister who provokes Turkey, will be "hit with a sledgehammer on the head...If [Kammenos] looks at history, he will see many examples of that."
History is, in fact, filled with examples of Turks carrying out murderous assaults against Anatolian Greeks. In one instance, the genocidal assault against Greek and Armenian Christians in Izmir in 1922 was highlighted in a speech before the parliament by Devlet Bahceli, the head of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP):
"If they [the Greeks] want to fall into the sea again -- if they feel like being chased after again -- they are welcome. The Turkish nation is ready and has the faith to do it again. Someone must explain to the Greek government what happened in 1921 and 1922. If there is no one to explain it to them, we know how to stick like a bullet on the Aegean, rain from the sky like a blessed victory, and teach history to the couriers of ahl al-salib [the people of the cross] all over again."
Turkish propagandists also have been twisting facts to try to portray Greece as the aggressor. Ümit Yalım, former secretary-general of the Ministry of National Defense, for example, said that "Greece has turned the Greek-occupied islands into arsenals and military outposts that Greece will use in its future military intervention against Turkey."
Turkish politicians all seem to have their own motivations for their obsession with the islands: Traditional Turkish expansionism, Turkification of Hellenic lands, neo-Ottomanism and Islam's flagship of conquest -- jihad. There are also strategic reasons for their wanting to invade the islands, which can be understood in a statement made by Deputy Prime Minister Tuğrul Türkeş about Turkey's control of Cyprus since 1974:
"There is this misinformation that Turkey is interested in Cyprus because there is a Turkish society there... Even if no Turks lived in Cyprus, Turkey would still have a Cyprus issue and it is impossible for Turkey to give up on that."
The same attitude and mentality apply to the Aegean islands. Although Turkey knows that the islands are legally and historically Greek, Turkish authorities want to occupy and Turkify them, presumably to further the campaign of annihilating the Greeks, as they did in Anatolia from 1914 to 1923 and after. The destruction of any remnant of Greek culture that existed in Asia Minor, a Greek land prior to the 11th century Turkish invasion, is almost complete. There are fewer than 2,000 Greeks left in Turkey today.
Given that Turkey brutally invaded Cyprus in 1974, its current threats against Greece -- from both ends of Turkey's political spectrum -- should not be taken lightly by the West. Greece is the birthplace of Western civilization. It borders the European Union. Any attack against Greece should be treated as an attack against the West. It is time for the West, which has remained silent in the face of Turkish atrocities, to stand up to Ankara.
*Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist born and raised in Turkey. She is presently based in Washington D.C.
© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Iran Is Trying to Avoid a Clash but May Surprise Israel
إيران تحاول تجنب الحرب من إسرائيل ولنها قد تفاجئ الدولة العبرية

Ephraim Kam/Haaretz/ February 28/18
The latest confrontation between Israel and Iran on the northern front was predictable. We can assume that neither side wanted the clash, but with Tehran having sent substantial Iranian and Shi’ite combat forces to Syria while arming Hezbollah with advanced weapons, and with Israel determined to check the danger, a clash was almost inevitable.
On top of that is the consensus among Israel’s leaders that Iran presents the most serious threat to Israel. This perception is based on a number of elements: Hezbollah and its huge missile system, Iran’s large and improved missile system, and Tehran's policy of encircling Israel with radical Shi’ites, marked by the anti-Israel front in Syria and Lebanon.
Clearly if Iran goes nuclear some day this threat will increase to an unprecedented level. But the balance of powers is more complex. The main tool used by the Israel Defense Forces in Syria is the air force, and Iran has no answer to it; its own air force is based on planes 30 to 40 years old and clearly can’t cope with its Israeli rival.
In addition, Iran has to operate forces hundreds of kilometers from its borders without any real defense when they’re subject to Israeli attacks and provocations by Sunni groups in Syria. Weapons convoys to Hezbollah and arms plants in Syria are exposed to attacks.
The United States also poses a threat to Iran. The Trump administration has defined Iran as a threat of the highest order to the United States and its allies due to its use of terror, intervention in other countries, construction of a large missile system, and above all its attempt to produce nuclear weapons.
The U.S. administration hasn’t yet taken any practical steps to stop the threat, and it’s not clear whether it will, but Iran isn’t certain it won’t, and the last thing Tehran wants is a confrontation with the United States. Meanwhile, the declaration by Washington that it will leave a military force in northern Syria for an indefinite period to check Iranian influence should worry Tehran.
Although Russia – currently the most influential player in Syria – stands alongside Iran and recognizes Iran’s right to maintain forces in Syria, there are differences of opinion, conflicts of interest and suspicions between Tehran and Moscow. As a result, Iran fears that if an overall agreement in Syria is achieved, Russia won’t insist on leaving Bashar Assad’s regime in place if it receives a promise that it can continue to use its air base and naval base there.
If the Assad regime is ousted in the context of an agreement, Iran’s influence in Syria will suffer a serious blow. Iran thus hasn’t yet responded with fire to attacks against weapons convoys and factories in Syria.
Even when Iran challenged Israel in the most recent clash, it did so with a drone, not by opening fire. Since early 2015, Hezbollah has also refrained from responding to what could be perceived as Israeli provocations. This reluctance to respond apparently stems from a recognition of Israel’s significant military advantage in the north.
The Iranians are also likely to fear that a confrontation with Israel would give Israel a chance to attack the nuclear weapons sites in Iran. Moreover, Iran apparently doesn’t seek a confrontation because its top priority is to stabilize the Assad regime and exploit its standing in Syria to strengthen its influence in Iraq and Lebanon. An entanglement with Israel could block these goals.
Iran’s supreme regional goal is to entrench itself in Syria and its neighbors for the long term. It has already paid a high price for this in blood and money, and there’s no reason to assume that it will give this up. Israel, meanwhile, must prevent Iran from leaving its forces and the Shi’ite militias in Syria – including Hezbollah – for the long term. This basic conflict could lead to a confrontation again – and there’s no evidence yet of a responsible adult among the great powers to ease the conflict of interests.
The bottom line is that Iran is trying to avoid a confrontation with Israel, but will find it hard to remain silent for long if Israel strikes Iranian targets. Thus we must take into account that at some stage Iran will take a military action to deter Israel. Iran will want to surprise Israel – with the timing, weapons or method. For that purpose it will prefer to activate Hezbollah and other Shi’ite militias so as not to get involved itself.
Iran may instruct Hezbollah to use its missile system, despite the risks involved both to it and its emissaries. Iran would probably try to exploit an opportunity when Israel is preoccupied with another crisis – the main candidate is a conflict with Hamas in Gaza. And of course there’s also the possibility of a mistake in judgment that would get Iran embroiled in a conflict with Israel.
**Ephraim Kam is a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies.

UNRWA and Oxfam: Scandal and politics hit humanitarian organizations
Emad Eryan/Al Arabiya/February 28/18
Is it possible to accuse all international humanitarian organizations of indulging in immoral acts on a large scale in the wake of recent scandal that has struck UK-based Oxfam group?
Is it possible to point figures at all these institutions or organizations because of just a few incidents, abuses and attacks committed by some of these organizations? Can we not consider these as isolated incidents and not the norm?
Reviving old doubts
Although these are isolated instances, they remain quite serious offences and are quite disconcerting. They raise doubts about the work of NGOs and international charities, regardless of the humanitarian efforts they provide to the world’s poor and helpless. Moreover, such scandals also revive some of the past charges leveled against these organizations. International nongovernment organizations have often been accused of being a front for intelligence services and for carrying out hidden and illegal tasks for invisible forces. Western authorities in general, particularly America, seem defensive about the work and penetration of these organizations in societies of developing countries, and are accused of carrying out motivated, hideous agendas. Many developing countries even face sanctions because they oppose the violations committed by these organizations. They demand that the work and funding of these organizations should come under local supervision. In the past, these organizations have faced many accusations of having breached their mandate and of being involved in shameful practices, incompatible with their stated objectives. Even international peacekeepers have been found involved in such practices over the decades, such as in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
NGOs have often been accused of being a front for intelligence services and for carrying out hidden and illegal tasks for invisible forces
Today, Oxfam’s ‘immoral’ scandal — which has also tainted the organization Doctors without Borders — show how employees of these organizations take advantage of their authority, particularly on people who are in desperate need of humanitarian aid in crisis-afflicted areas. According to some of the parties that oppose such NGOs, the concept of helping people in need in crisis-hit areas remains vague because those who provide assistance have power, and some of the people who provide help take advantage of their power. International reports have confirmed that the staff of Oxfam did not hold the ‘lewd parties’ after the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010, but such parties may have been held during relief operations in Chad in 2006.
UNRWA targeted
Certainly, this is not the first “immoral” expose to have shaken the international aid community. It has been found that the staff of some relief organizations has been indulging in such crimes against the local citizenry for a long time. Thus, Doctors without Borders disclosed 24 cases of sex abuse or blackmail in 2017, while the ICRC acknowledged three cases of abuse during relief operations in Congo. Aid providers are reported to have misbehaved during the Yugoslav war in the 1990s. In order to assist abused women, German women’s rights organization, Medica Mondiale supported traumatized women in Bosnia during the conflict in Balkans. The NGOs in Cologne continue to help girls and women in war zones and crises till date. If one of the managers of these organizations finds it difficult to enforce checks on all their employees or their behavior, then it would be an even more serious issue. Again, many of these organizations receive aid or support from their governments, which allows security institutions to have a role in managing such organizations, even from behind the scenes, which are greater crimes.
In this regard, we can talk about the brutal campaign against the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) led by the US, Israel and other Western countries. What is interesting here is that UNRWA is exposed to this unjust campaign, while it is in dire need of all possible international and regional support, for the great humanitarian work it is providing to Palestinian children, particularly in health and education fields.
There is no doubt that the American-Israeli attitude towards UNRWA is in itself a major international scandal that requires condemnation, even as embarrassing scandals and abuses committed by famous Western relief organizations continue without any word of condemnation.

Saad Hariri and ‘Sophie’s World’
Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/February 28/18
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri participated in the first episode of a television show in which children ask whatever questions pop up in their minds. Hariri answered questions, which reminded us of the simple origins of matters much more than the questions of “presumptuous” journalists do.
The program, which airs on the Lebanese MTV channel, is called The Bell Has Rung. It’s the Lebanese version of a foreign show in which students aged between 10 and 12 meet with public figures and ask them questions. The conversation with the students, both male and female, was longer than an hour. They asked all sorts of questions including personal questions about the premier’s Iraqi mother, step-mother, his late brother Hussam, whom he was closest to, and about his late father Rafiq whose death continues to influence the Lebanese scene although it’s been more than 10 years since he was assassinated by those who accused him of treason.
Are there politicians in Lebanon brave enough to confront children’s unplanned questions, other than Saad Hariri who did not fully give up the politician’s trait of answering questions without revealing too much?
They also asked him about his relation with Saudi Arabia (Hariri has Saudi nationality) and with Lebanon where he’s originally from and how he entered the world of politics after his father was killed.One of the most interesting questions was by a student named Leya Qassab who is around 10 years old. “Do you have a minute to explain to us the difference between Sunnis and Shiites?” she asked the prime minister. Hariri tried to answer this “basic” question and said: “There is no difference between Sunnis and Shiites.” He wrote on the board in an attempt to explain this to them and concluded: “To me.. it’s a political dispute.”
The most difficult question
Truth be told, the most difficult questions are those of children because the latter have not been “tamed” yet within the social framework. Therefore, they can ask and inquire all they want. Family magazines always include tips on how mothers should deal with children’s embarrassing questions. From a philosophical perspective, children’s questions constitute a special field of research. A real philosopher is he who maintains the child’s continuous astonishment. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says: “The philosophy of childhood has recently come to be recognized as an area of inquiry analogous to the philosophy of science, the philosophy of history, the philosophy of religion, and the many other ‘philosophy of’ subjects that are already considered legitimate areas of philosophical study.” The book Sophie’s World by Norwegian author Jostein Gaarder, which was translated into several languages, is about a child protagonist exploring philosophy thanks to her continuous amazement with the universe and man. Amazement is the first childhood trait.
Are there politicians in Lebanon who are brave enough to confront children’s unplanned questions, other than Saad Hariri who did not fully give up the politician’s trait of answering questions without revealing too much?