March 02/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations
Lie not one to another, seeing that you have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him
Colossians/03/01-17/ If you then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitting on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For you are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things’ sake the wrath of God coming on the children of disobedience: In the which you also walked some time, when ye lived in them. But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that you have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long suffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.”
Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 01-02/18
Hezbollah releases alleged footage of explosion that killed Brig.-Gen. Gerstein/Ynetnews/February 01/18
Iran and Hezbollah's Terror in Argentina/Lawrence A. Franklin/Gatestone Institute/March 01/18
Free speech in Lebanon: Is it all down to Hezbollah/Martin Jay/Asharq Al Awsat/March 01/18/
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham: Israeli Leaders Warned Me of War With Hezbollah in Lebanon/Haaretz/March 01/18
Future of Saudi Arabia, Muslim World Depends on Success of Crown Prince
Boris Johnson/UK Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs/Asharq Al Awsat/March 01/18/
Palestinians: The "Ugly Crime" of a School Curriculum/Bassam Tawil/Gatestone Institute/March 01/18
Iran at the brink of an ugly civil war/Mohammed Al Shaikh/Al Arabiya/March 01/18
Why the Syrian ceasefire was doomed to fail/Dr. Azeem Ibrahim/Al Arabiya/March 01/18
The future of the Middle East peace process/Dr. Ibrahim Al-Othaimin/Al Arabiya/March 01/18

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on March 01-02/18
Israeli satellite pictures allegedly show new Iranian military base in Syria
Iran announces opening of another Islamic college in Syria
Syrian government ground forces attack Ghouta despite Russian truce plan
UN official: Hundreds killed despite Ghouta ceasefire, aid delivery “collapsed”
Aid convoy arrives in Syria’s Afrin
Egyptian army kills 13 armed men on day 21 of ‘Sinai 2018’ operation
Joint Western Condemnation of Iran in Response to Russian ‘Veto’
Egypt's President: Defaming Security Forces is 'High Treason'
Putin Boasts of Russian New Generation Weaponry that Can’t be Intercepted
Turkey’s Foreign Trade Deficit Soars 108.8 Percent
Ahmed Saleh Presents Himself as Successor to His Father, Criticizes 'Unjust' Sanctions against Him
Afghanistan's Ghani Offers Talks with Taliban 'without Preconditions'
Aramco to Supply Egyptian Refineries for 6 Months
US Competes with Russia Over Saudi Nuclear Reactors
Fear of Trade War Between China, US
Top Trump Aide Hope Hicks to Resign
Iraq MPs Call for Timetable for Foreign Troop Pullout

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on March 01-02/18
Saudi Seeking to 'Restore Balance' to Lebanon's Regional Policy
Report: UAE Mediation behind Riyadh's Hariri Invitation
Gen. Aoun: Army Ready to Confront Any Israeli Border Encroachment Attempt
Kataeb Reportedly Decides Not to Ally with LF in Elections
Syrian Arrested in Arsal for Belonging to al-Nusra Front
FPM, Mustaqbal to Ally in Mainly Christian North District
Lebanese Atomic Energy Commission Says No Radioactive Pollution in Ouzai
Acting U.N. Special Coordinator Visits the Bekaa
Berri Heard 'Very Positive Remarks' from Saudi Envoy
Hezbollah releases alleged footage of explosion that killed Brig.-Gen. Gerstein
Iran and Hezbollah's Terror in Argentina
Lebanon: Aoun’s Pledge to Families of Slain Soldiers Jeopardizes Amnesty Law
Free speech in Lebanon: Is it all down to Hezbollah
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham: Israeli Leaders Warned Me of War With Hezbollah in Lebanon
Latest Lebanese Related News published on March 01/18
Saudi Seeking to 'Restore Balance' to Lebanon's Regional Policy
Naharnet/March 01/18 /Saudi Arabia is seeking to restore balance to Lebanon's regional policy and to its "commitment to the dissociation policy," a media report said. Lebanese political sources who followed up on Saudi envoy Nizar al-Aloula's visit to Lebanon told al-Hayat daily that "Riyadh asked about what Lebanon is hoping from the international support conferences that are scheduled to be held in the next two months." The conferences will rally support for Lebanon's armed forces and economy and will discuss means to help it cope with the burden of the Syrian refugee crisis.
"This will be discussed during Hariri's visit to Riyadh," the sources added. Hariri met Saudi King Salman on Wednesday in his first visit to Saudi Arabia since his bizarre resignation announcement in the kingdom sparked a crisis between Beirut and Riyadh. Hariri announced on November 4 that he was stepping down in a televised address from Riyadh, only to rescind it the following month after France intervened. The shock resignation stirred tensions between Riyadh and Beirut, amid suspicions Hariri had been placed under house arrest. Hariri is also due to hold talks with powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose impact on the kingdom's policies has steadily expanded since his appointment as heir to the throne in June.

Report: UAE Mediation behind Riyadh's Hariri Invitation
Naharnet/March 01/18 /U.S. and European pressures as well as an Emirati mediation were behind Saudi Arabia's decision to "restore communication with Prime Minister Saad Hariri," a media report said. "Around a month ago, the head of UAE intelligence visited Lebanon secretly and met with Hariri for long hours," al-Akhbar newspaper quoted "highly informed official sources" as saying in remarks published Thursday. The Emirati intelligence chief also met with a small number of figures, among them Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq, the sources added. Hariri met Saudi King Salman on Wednesday in his first visit to Saudi Arabia since his bizarre resignation announcement in the kingdom sparked a crisis between Beirut and Riyadh. Hariri announced on November 4 that he was stepping down in a televised address from Riyadh, only to rescind it the following month after France intervened. The shock resignation stirred tensions between Riyadh and Beirut, amid suspicions Hariri had been placed under house arrest. Hariri is also due to hold talks with powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose impact on the kingdom's policies has steadily expanded since his appointment as heir to the throne in June. His visit comes after a meeting Monday in Beirut with Saudi envoy Nizar al-Aloula during which Hariri said he received and accepted an invitation to travel to Riyadh. Aloula also met with President Michel Aoun, who told him of Lebanon's desire to "maintain the best relations" with the oil-rich Gulf state.

Gen. Aoun: Army Ready to Confront Any Israeli Border Encroachment Attempt

Naharnet/March 01/18 /Army Commander General Joseph Aoun announced Thursday that the army “maintains its readiness on the southern border to confront any Israeli military aggression or any attempt to encroach on parts of the territorial and maritime borders.” “The army has the will to defend Lebanese rights through all the available assets and means, no matter how much the enemy’s threats and provocations may escalate,” Aoun said. Last month Lebanon signed its first contract to drill for oil and gas in a pair of offshore zones, including one that Israel says belongs to it. Lebanese officials have said the whole zone belongs to Lebanon while Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has insisted it is solidly in Israeli territory. Tensions between Lebanon and Israel have also mounted as Israel pursues the construction of a wall along the border. Lebanon says part of the wall follows the U.N.-demarcated "Blue Line" drawn up after Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, and insists some sections will cut into its territory. Israel has dismissed the claim and said the work is being carried out on Israeli territory. Israel began building the wall in 2012, six years after fighting a devastating war with Lebanon’s Hizbullah.

Kataeb Reportedly Decides Not to Ally with LF in Elections

Naharnet/March 01/18 The opposition Kataeb Party has decided not to ally with the Lebanese Forces in the upcoming parliamentary elections seeing as the LF is part of the ruling coalition, a media report said. "Kataeb has informed all parties concerned, topped by the LF, that its alliances will be political and based on clear stances against the policies and parties of the ruling class," a source informed on contacts between Christian parties told al-Joumhouria daily in remarks published Thursday. "Attempts for an LF-Kataeb alliance have reached a dead end, amid ongoing negotiations between the LF and each of the Free Patriotic Movement and al-Mustaqbal Movement over a number of electoral districts," the source added. Kataeb is meanwhile negotiating with MP Dori Chamoun's National Liberal Party and ex-MP Fares Soaid, al-Joumhouria said.

Syrian Arrested in Arsal for Belonging to al-Nusra Front
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 01/18 /The Internal Security Forces on Thursday announced the arrest of a Syrian man in the Bekaa border town of Arsal on charges of belonging to the jihadist al-Nusra Front group. “Through its round-the-clock monitoring of the activities of members of terrorist groups, especially those who fought against the Lebanese Army in Arsal’s outskirts, the ISF Intelligence Branch has managed to detect and arrest Syrian national A.Q., 23, in the town of Arsal,” an ISF statement said. ”During interrogation, he confessed that he had entered Lebanon along with his family in 2014 and that he joined the ranks of al-Nusra Front after residing in Arsal,” the statement added. The detainee also confessed to “undergoing basic military training with the Front” and “fighting among its ranks in the outskirts of the town of Flita.”

FPM, Mustaqbal to Ally in Mainly Christian North District
Naharnet/March 01/18 /The Free Patriotic Movement and the al-Mustaqbal Movement will be on the same electoral list in the Bsharri-Zgharta-Koura-Batroun electoral district, FPM sources have said. “It is not possible for us to ally with al-Marada Movement if it will back Najib Miqati in Akkar or Tripoli and the Lebanese Forces will not get our votes if it will back Ashraf Rifi,” the sources told the Kuwaiti al-Anbaa newspaper in remarks published Thursday. “There are standards that do not allow us to deal with each district separately,” the sources added.

Lebanese Atomic Energy Commission Says No Radioactive Pollution in Ouzai
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 01/18 / The Lebanese Atomic Energy Commission (LAEC) has ruled out any danger to the public from a metal cylinder containing a "radioactive substance" that was found on Ouzai’s beach. The LAEC said none of the substance escaped from the object. "Tests conducted in the field showed the radioactive substance was still isolated in the cylinder and did not cause any radioactive pollution in the area it was found," the LAEC said in a statement. The head of the LAEC has said that the cylinder contains radioactive material usually used in oil and gas exploration operations. The cylinder bore the inscription "USA DOT 7A TYPE A RADIOACTIVE MATERIAL". It was transported by the LAEC and the Lebanese Army before being stored according to international safety standards, the organization said. "Currently we do not have any information on the origin of this cylinder," said Environment Minister Tarek al-Khatib. "I asked the prosecutor yesterday to open an investigation about this which will be conducted by the military police," he told AFP. "If this container has come from the sea, we will have to make sure there are no other similar cylinders." Lebanon has struggled with a waste crisis that saw mountains of garbage pile up on streets in and around the capital in 2015. The country has more than 150 illegal dump sites where waste is burned, according to Human Rights Watch. "Lebanon's ongoing waste management crisis poses serious health risks for the country’s residents," the New York-based HRW has said. The waste crisis triggered mass protests, with many taking aim at politicians in a country that has suffered endemic corruption since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.

Acting U.N. Special Coordinator Visits the Bekaa

Naharnet/March 01/18/ 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/March 01/18 / 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."

Hezbollah releases alleged footage of explosion that killed Brig.-Gen. Gerstein
Ynetnews/Liad Osmo/February 01/18
Al-Manar TV network, owned by Shiite terror group, publishes footage it alleges showed explosion that killed top IDF commander in Lebanon Gerstein, 3 others exactly 19 years prior; footage could not be independently verified. Hezbollah's Al-Manar television network aired Wednesday footage allegedly showing the incident that claimed the life of Brig.-Gen. Erez Gerstein, who was killed when an explosive device detonated near his vehicle in Lebanon on February, 28, 1999—precisely 19 years before the footage was released. The Al-Manar report claimed that Hezbollah terrorists would place explosive devices on the sides of roads where IDF forces were known to travel. The video—whose reliability could not be independently verified—showed smoke plumes coming from the vehicle in which Gerstein allegedly traveled. The documentation, the Hezbollah-affiliated network said, was published for the first time almost two decades after the incident. The explosion on February 28, 1999, occurred at about noon near an IDF disguised vehicle convoy traveling near the southern Lebanese village of Kaukaba. Brig.-Gen. Gerstein, then head of the Lebanon Liaison Unit, was traveling at the front of a vehicle convoy returning from visiting the home of a slain South Lebanon Army (SLA) fighter. Soldiers reaching his Mercedes, thrown to the side of the road by the explosion, could do nothing. Apart from Gerstein, Warrant Officer Imad Abu-Rish, Staff-Sergeant Omar El-Kabetz and Kol Israel northern region correspondent Ilan Roeh were also killed. The four left from the Israeli city of Metula, which straddles the Lebanese border, to the Lebanese village of Hasbaya, where they visited combat soldiers from the IDF's Druze battalion. The convoy then proceed to village of Kfarchouba for a condolences visit at the home of an SLA military man. The IDF convoy was making its way back to Israel at around noon when only 300 meters away from a United Nations position near Kaukaba a powerful explosive device disguised as a rock was set off. Extracting casualties was exceedingly difficult as Hezbollah booby-trapped the surrounding area. Engineering Corps forces were rushed to the scene, and discovered two additional devices that had failed to detonate. Extraction finally took place under heavy Hezbollah mortar fire. Then-GOC Northern Command and later chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi said, "We have lost four combat soldiers, four friends. You know them all—Brig.-Gen. Erez, beloved by all, an infantry commander and soldier, one of the best the IDF has ever known. "Driver and security guard Imad, always at Erez's side. Signal operator Omer, and reporter—and our friend—Ilan Roeh, which we were all so used to seeing in briefings."

Iran and Hezbollah's Terror in Argentina
إرهاب حزب الله وإيران في الأرجنتين
Lawrence A. Franklin/Gatestone Institute/March 01/18
If efforts to expose Iran's and Hezbollah's roles in the Argentinean bombings are successful, the information will elucidate for regional leaders the dark side of Iran's ties to sub-state terrorist groups to increase even further its influence in Latin America.
For decades, Iran has seemingly been employing both normative diplomatic ties and criminal links to export its Islamic revolution to the Western Hemisphere. By using similar methods of subversion, Iran appears already to have penetrated other Latin American nations, including Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil and some island countries in the Caribbean.
Iran's activities in Latin America are a direct challenge to U.S. primacy in the Western Hemisphere. Iran, it seems, wants to replace the U.S. as the power ally of Latin American countries.
While Iran's nuclear, ballistic missile, and expansionist policies in the Middle East are well known, most of the Islamic Republic's operations in Latin America appear to have been proceeding underway, below the radar, for several decades.
During a joint news conference on February 4 in Buenos Aires with Argentina's Minister of Foreign Affairs Jorge Faurie, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pledged to combat Hezbollah's fundraising in Latin America, which is used to finance its terrorist operations. This indicates that U.S. intelligence and enforcement agencies could be closely following Iranian and Hezbollah incursions into Central and South America. The Department of Justice, for instance, recently announced that it had established a Hezbollah Financing and Narcoterrorism Team (HFNT) to monitor and prosecute the criminal activities of Hezbollah, Iran's allied terrorist network in the region.
One model to study how Hezbollah and Iran appear to be working in tandem in Latin America is the July 18, 1994 terrorist bombing in Buenos Aires, Argentina, allegedly carried out by Hezbollah under the guidance of Iran. This terrorist act was executed when a van packed with 600 lbs. of explosives detonated outside the Jewish center there, the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA). When the building collapsed, 85 people were killed and at least 300 more wounded.
Declassified Argentine intelligence reports also clearly show that Hezbollah had carried out a previous bombing, in 1992, of the Israeli Embassy -- an attack in which 29 were killed and around 200 wounded.
Last month marked the third anniversary of the murder of Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who claimed to have evidence that would expose the role Argentina's former president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, in obscuring Iran's alleged responsibility for the attack. Nisman had been leading an investigation into both Iran's potential role in the AMIA bombing and its possible cover-up by Kirchner.
Initially, Nisman's death seemed to doom any chance that those who had committed this act of terror would ever be prosecuted. Argentinian protestors, however, questioned initial reports that he had committed suicide and demanded that his death be investigated.
Nisman, who had publicly accused Kirchner of treason, was murdered by unknown assailants one day before he was officially to present his allegations against her.
Thousands of Argentinians protest on February 18, 2015 in Buenos Aires, with signs demanding "Truth and Justice," on the one-month anniversary of the murder of special prosecutor Alberto Nisman. Nisman was murdered by unknown assailants one day before he was officially to present allegations of treason against then-President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
In late 2015, after his election as President of Argentina, Mauricio Macri declared void his predecessor's agreement with Iran to establish a "truth commission" to determine responsibility for the bombing. The panel would have consisted of five commissioners, none of whom would even have been from Argentina or Iran.
To some, the Kirchner administration's decision to establish a truth commission with Iran, the possible perpetrator country of the terrorist bombing, may have appeared naïve or perhaps even treasonous. What could have motivated President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to reach a deal with a rogue state such as Iran's Islamic Republic? Reportedly, the Islamic Republic of Iran agreed to a mutually beneficial bartering arrangement whereby in exchange for Argentine grain, Argentina would receive Iranian oil -- if Argentina decided to bury the investigation.
The U.S. National Counterterrorism Center wrote that it believes Hezbollah is responsible for the bombing, and therefore by extension, that Iran may be as well.
At least one of the Hezbollah terrorists possibly responsible for the actual bombing may have come from Argentina's tri-border region with Brazil and Paraguay -- an area that has apparently long hosted a principal Hezbollah headquarters in South America.
Iran, for its part, is believed to have facilitated the execution of the AMIA bombing in 1994 by giving intelligence and logistical support to the Hezbollah agents through its embassy and an Iranian front organization in Buenos Aires. Mohsen Rabbani, thought to be in charge of target selection and surveillance of the bombing target, was Iran's cultural attaché at the Islamic Republic's Embassy in Buenos Aires at the time, and believed to have served as a financier and logistician of terror operations. Another Iranian diplomat, Ahmad Asghari, was an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) official attached to the Iranian embassy and may have assisted in the terrorist attack against AMIA. Abolghasem Mesbahi, an Iranian intelligence defector, testified that he was at a meeting in Mashhad, Iran on August 14, 1993, where senior Iranian government officials discussed the bombing plans.
President Macri's efforts to pursue justice regarding these acts of terror and the subsequent cover-up have recently been given a nudge by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. While visiting Buenos Aires, Netanyahu commemorated the 25th anniversary of the 1992 bombing of Israel's Embassy as well as the 1994 AMIA bombing. Netanyahu said: "Iran stood behind these events," and "It is time to hold Iran fully responsible in a public and a final way. It is time to do justice to the victims."
Iran has employed the same pattern of networking with sub-state terrorist groups, in Yemen with the Houthis; in Lebanon, with Hezbollah; and in the Gaza Strip with Hamas.
So far, all of the major Iranian players in these expeditions remain free from justice, even though specific Iranian officials were named by the IRGC defector Mesbahi and lead prosecutor Alberto Nisman as the primary decision-makers at least in the Argentine bombing plot.
Nisman's findings, in fact, convinced Interpol to issue a red notice -- the names of persons wanted for extradition -- for several Iranian officials. These included Iran's former Minister of Intelligence and Security, Ali Fallahian; Foreign Policy Advisor to Khamenei, Ali Velayati; and deceased former Iranian President Ali Akbar Rafsanjani.
This "Argentina Model" is a case study on how Iran may be using its diplomatic missions, foreign and domestic intelligence agencies, front organizations and Hezbollah-infested Lebanese diaspora in Latin America to establish not only terrorist networks and conduct terrorist operations, but also formidable business, economic and commercial relationships.[1] Those activities could also be nurturing criminal financing networks and anti-American and anti-Israeli political coalitions.[2]
For decades, Iran has seemingly been employing both normative diplomatic ties and criminal links to export its Islamic revolution to the Western Hemisphere. By using similar methods of subversion, Iran appears already to have penetrated other Latin American nations, including Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil and some island countries in the Caribbean.[3]
If efforts to expose Iran's and Hezbollah's roles in the Argentinean bombings are successful, the information will elucidate for regional leaders the dark side of Iran's ties to sub-state terrorist groups, which increase even further its influence in Latin America.
*Dr. Lawrence A. Franklin was the Iran Desk Officer for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. He also served on active duty with the U.S. Army and as a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve.
[1] Iran's Strategic Penetration of Latin America by Joseph Humire and Ilan Berman, p.26. Lexington Books, London, 2014.
[2] Ibid., p.27.
[3] Ibid., preface pp. 3-5.
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Lebanon: Aoun’s Pledge to Families of Slain Soldiers Jeopardizes Amnesty Law

Nazeer Rida/Asharq Al Awsat/March 01/18
A pledge made by Lebanese President Michel Aoun not to grant amnesty to those involved in the murder of Lebanese soldiers was an indication that there could be “exceptions” in the amnesty law, which would lead to a dispute with Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Earlier, Hariri announced that the amnesty will include individuals who did not have blood on their hands in the events of Abra and Tripoli. During a meeting with a delegation from the families of army martyrs, Aoun listened to them, including their call for the general amnesty law, which is to be approved by the Parliament before the end of its term, not to include those who killed soldiers. The Lebanese President stated that he is following up this matter out of his loyalty to the troops who lost their lives to maintain the country’s independence, sovereignty and dignity. “I would not sign any general amnesty law for persons convicted or yet to be convicted in killing soldiers,” Aoun affirmed. Muslim Scholars Committee deputy president Sheikh Salem al-Rafei stated to Asharq Al-Awsat that the families won’t approve any exceptions unless three conditions were met: “First, the ability of the judiciary to summon everyone involved in the Abra battle against the army, noting that there is a third party that fought in Abra i.e. “Hezbollah”, in addition to prosecuting the drug smugglers who had a hand in killing soldiers during raids made by security forces.” Rafei continued with the second condition which is “ensuring fair trials and accelerating them so that innocent people won’t remain in prison. Third, the murderers of soldiers and civilians who were enrolled in South Lebanon Army, which was an ally of Israel, should not be exempted.”Families of Islamist detainees quoted Hariri as saying in December that the general amnesty law includes the largest number possible of Islamists.

Free speech in Lebanon: Is it all down to Hezbollah?
هل حرية الرأي في لبنان متروكة فقط لحزب الله
Martin Jay/Asharq Al Awsat/March 01/18/
Talk show hosts, comedians, journalists and even poets are now being charged by Lebanon’s autocratic Hezbollah-led government, since Michel Aoun took office as president in October 2016, for so-called defamation crimes. What was once a beacon of liberty and free speech revered by the entire Arab world has now become a third world country in every sense. In the cases of some of the TV hosts, some might argue it’s encouraging that the state is taking some responsibility for them mocking top figures in neighbouring countries (as was the case with one leading talk show), given Lebanon’s track record of loose talk – and how this plunged this tiny country into the darkest depths of its recent failing economy, with public debt now in excess of 150c percent of its GDP. When regional powers encroach themselves so much on the day-to-day running of the country, this measure might seem reasonable. In the past, Lebanon was always a country which prided itself on being an offshore media hub which could chastise other countries in the region without fear of state opprobrium, let alone regional super powers turning up the heat.
It was also a country where politically-installed journalists were given free rein to slander rival groups and their leaders. But now, with pressure on it to show that it is taking steps to try, even symbolically, to remove itself from regional conflict, plus also to stifle all accountability of its establishment, running up to parliamentary elections, there is a clear crackdown which is gaining pace, according to Human Rights Watch.
It’s as though the state powers don’t believe that fair elections, followed by peace in Lebanon, can be achieved if the normal liberty afforded to the country’s editorialists is allowed leading up to the polls. And yet, there is a dichotomy of logic and paranoia at play here, which, despite a recent sentencing against a DC-based anti Hezbollah Lebanese hackette shocking many, leads me to suspect that it is not Hezbollah who is leading this latest subterfuge. If these legal cases continue, a “new media group” of insurgent commentators will establish themselves outside of Lebanon
High quality journalism
Lebanon’s media is also at fault. Once, considered to be a kaleidoscope of high quality journalism, in just a period of a little over a decade, the giants of Lebanon have become a joke. In just ten years, the leading titles – some who have prominent buildings which drape philosophical messages for a captive audience of those stuck in downtown traffic – have become a parody of journalism.
Checkbook journalism run by the political blocks, the rapid emergence of internet and to some extent the Syrians pulling out of Lebanon in 2005 have all lead to their demise. They too, like the elite which this new group of commentators are targeting, have become a target of vociferous ridicule.
Annahar newspaper, which once called itself the ‘New York Times of the Middle East’ is these days not even a leading newspaper in Lebanon itself – not even in the Christian belt. Assafir, a Hezbollah-leaning broadsheet, not wishing to go the click bait route with tawdry sex stories or copy/pasting high traffic articles from Buzzfeed or Huffington Post, did the decent thing and shut down altogether.
Interestingly, because these giants sunk to such low levels in recent years, in particular Annahar, which was run like a political party – corrupted by owners with no media savvy who indulged themselves in an almost crack addiction to nepotism and towing the party line – a new generation of political commentators emerged. Talk show hosts, bloggers, comedians, poets took over and did the job which media should have done. And did it better. Subsequently, Lebanon’s media has reached an all time low, with a President who has such a contempt for local journalists that he refuses to be interviewed by any, which, arguably, is replicated by the general public, who have long since migrated to this new group – or reading reports about their own country from foreign reporters based there, such is the disdain for Lebanon’s press.
The wholesale failure of Lebanese broadsheets to adopt higher standards and to break away from the political model has given birth to this new cabal of commentators. Moreover, the security services and the elite of Lebanon have become increasingly aware that unlike disciplined media – where a respected dialogue can take place and articles can be corrected, if inaccurate – the new generation of feral commentators are beyond the control of traditional state tools. Their strength, subsequently has woken up Michel Aoun’s increasingly autocratic government to how powerful they can be when their style and message can have such an edge to it – the same edge that Lebanon’s own broadsheets lost in 2005.
A broader audience
And being raw just makes them even more attractive to a broader audience, hence the recent arrest of poets posting messages on Facebook about religious icons or an Islamist who allegedly ‘defamed’ the President. The chat show host, who shamelessly copies the Jon Stewart format, is essentially a comedian. Yet satire is a dangerous thing to a paranoid elite who for years controlled what journalists write about them and who don’t really understand the tenet of how a western democratic model of state [-verses-media functions. In fact, Lebanon’s elite doesn’t even really understand what defamation law is as the country’s leaders, not content with cracking down on free speech, believe that the real fly in the ointment is “free thinking”.
The Lebanese analyst in DC who was charged with defaming the Lebanese army is a bit of a joke, legally speaking. In defamation law in the UK for example, it is impossible to defame an institution and so belittling the Lebanese army doesn’t even register. The case against her has just made her a bigger hitter in Washington and will make her a legend when, inevitably, her six-month prison sentence is dropped and she can visit her own country. But increasingly, since Mr Aoun took office, we are witnessing Lebanon dangerously veering towards a vile media crackdown which is more akin to Sisi’s Egypt and it is Lebanon’s media who I blame for not stepping up to the mark and setting the example when it had the opportunity. The danger is that a younger generation of establishment journalists don’t know any better.
In 2016, when Mr Aoun was sworn in as President, I was kindly warned by journalists who supported him for referring to him as a “war lord” in an Oped, pointing out that special laws protect the president from journalists’ criticism. There was no sense of irony or embarrassment from them, when they told me this which speaks volumes about how naive and ignorant media is here and is really the last institution to talk about free speech.
And an ignorant media which has taken the king’s shilling will only encourage the state to exploit its hold even more. Recently, the New York Times asked the justice minister here to comment on the crackdown, a triumph of futility akin to asking a blind man for directions, many would argue, as he dismissed the assertion outright. Others might go further and salute the minster for even agreeing to be interviewed in a country where government ministers steer clear of unscripted interviews altogether. In Lebanon journalists proudly declare themselves “political activists” on their twitter bios as well as “journalist” with no shame. What we are witnessing now is a crackdown which will only backfire on those who conceived it. If these legal cases continue, a “new media group” of insurgent commentators will establish themselves outside of Lebanon and then it will be down to the state to inevitably block website URLs.
And for the ones who do jail time, they will be made iconoclasts beyond their wildest dreams. It may well be that the hundreds of millions of dollars that were rumoured to be put aside for a giant media subsidy for Lebanon’s failed media giants, could be dusted off after all by Mr Aoun after the elections. But then wouldn’t that place those two failed broadsheets in his pocket for keeps?

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham: Israeli Leaders Warned Me of War With Hezbollah in Lebanon
Haaretz/March 01/18
The U.S. lawmaker says Israeli leaders told him during his recent Israel visit that the country needed more ammunition to fend off Hezbollah rockets provided by Iran
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham said Tuesday that Israeli officials warned him and other lawmakers during his visit to the Jewish state that should Hezbollah continue to taunt Israel with its threats to assault the country with its growing arsenal of long-range missiles, Israel would have to go to war.
"They've told us in no uncertain terms that if this threat continues — they keep making rockets that can hit the airport and do a lot of damage to the State of Israel — they are going to have to go in," Bloomberg News quoted Graham as telling reporters earlier this week.
"Southern Lebanon is where the next war is coming," Graham said at a press conference following the bipartisan trip to the Middle East that he had participated in. Graham had referred to a report in January that revealed that Hezbollah, backed by Iran, has been constructing a precision weapons factory in Lebanon despite continued Israeli calls for the group to disarm. The U.S. charged that a lack of a regional strategy to counter Iran, that is considered to be a staunch supporter and funder of Hezbollah, is accountable for the Shi'ite terror organization's ability to have amassed a significant amount of ammunition to the point that it boasts of a rocket factory capable of launching missiles that threaten the Israeli home front. "They are testing Trump," Graham said. "They are testing the international community," he said of Tehran's entrenchment in the region. Speaking of his interaction with Israeli officials, Graham related that they had two major requests for American lawmakers: The first one was military support in the form of "ammunition, ammunition, ammunition," and the second was the U.S.'s backing should Israel have to resort to striking civilian targets in Lebanon, where it believes Hezbollah is operating. Nonetheless, the U.S. isn't rushing to launch a full-out offensive against Iran, General Joseph Votel, head of the U.S. Central Command, said in an address to the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. He did acknowledge that "Iran's malign activities across the region pose a long-term threat to stability in this part of the world." The Israeli military warned last month that Iran has resumed building the precision weapons factory in Lebanon. According to the Israeli assessment, Iran wants to step up its efforts to improve the accuracy of Hezbollah's missiles and rockets and, as foreign media have reported, the Israeli Air Force has attacked some of the convoys smuggling precision weapons from Syria to Lebanon. This is something that Israel has indirectly admitted on several occasions. As a result, the Iranians have been seeking to get around this obstacle by transferring production facilities to Lebanon itself.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on March 01-02/18
Israeli satellite pictures allegedly show new Iranian military base in Syria
Staff Writer, Al Arabiya EnglishThursday, 1 March 2018/According to Israeli satellite pictures, Iran has built another permanent military base in Damascus with hangars used to store short to medium range missiles, Fox News reported. The news channel obtained the images from the Israeli company, ImageSat international, which show two white hangars, about 30 meters by 20 meters each. According to Fox news, the base is operated by the Quds Force, an Iranian faction operating in Syria under the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. A similar Iranian base was destroyed in Syria by the Israeli military in December.
Meanwhile, an official from Russia’s Security Council said on Thursday that the US has set up around 20 military bases in Syria on territory controlled by the Kurds, the RIA news agency reported. The official, Alexander Venediktov, an aide to Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, also said Washington was supplying the Kurds with the most advanced weapons, according to RIA. The comes amidst wide criticism of Russia and Iran’s continued support for the Assad regime, and their raids of eastern Ghouta which has killed hundreds of civilians, including women and children. The duo has received backlash from UN officials and security council members, including Kelley Currie, the US ambassador for economic and social affairs. “Russia, Iran and the Assad regime are not even trying to hide their intentions,” Currie told the council in their last meeting. “They are asking civilians to leave eastern Ghouta on the false premise that they can then attack anyone left in the area as much as they would like.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly stated that Israel will not tolerate an Iranian foothold on its northern border with Syria.
Earlier this month, an unmanned Iranian aircraft was shot down by Israeli forces after entering Israeli airspace.- With Reuters

Iran announces opening of another Islamic college in Syria
Staff Writer, Al Arabiya EnglishThursday, 1 March 2018/Tehran announced on Wednesday that they will be opening the ‘College of Islamic Schools’ in Damascus, approximately a month after announcing the opening of several branches of the Iran-based Islamic Azad University across Syrian cities. According to the Iranian Tasnim news agency, the head of strategic council on foreign relations, Kamel Kharrazi, announced the opening of the college during a meeting with the Syrian Minister of Religious Affairs Mohammed Abdul Sattar. Kharrazi, who was also Iran’s foreign minister until 2005, reaffirmed the need to hold forums for scholars of “different Islamic sects”. According to Tasnim, Abdul Sattar praised Iran’s role in Syria, and their support of the Syrian regime, announcing the date of the opening of the college in the Syrian capital in cooperation with the World Assembly for the Reapproachment of Islamic Sects. This comes after Ali Akbar Velayati, the head of Islamic Azad University board of founders, announced that the university will be opening branches across Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. Many saw the move as a soft power strategy by Tehran to promote their ideological and political agendas, in addition to heavy military involvement in these countries as well.

Syrian government ground forces attack Ghouta despite Russian truce plan
Reuters, Beirut, Geneva/Thursday, 1 March 2018/Syrian government forces launched a ground assault on the edge of the rebel-held eastern Ghouta enclave on Wednesday, seeking to gain territory despite a Russian plan for five-hour daily ceasefires, a war monitor and sources on both sides said. Hundreds of people have died in 11 days of bombing of the eastern Ghouta, a swathe of towns and farms outside Damascus that is the last major rebel-controlled area near the capital. The onslaught has been one of the fiercest of Syria’s civil war, now entering its eighth year. The UN Security Council, including President Bashar al-Assad’’s strongest ally Russia, passed a resolution on Saturday calling for a 30-day countrywide ceasefire. But the measure has not taken effect, with Moscow and Damascus saying they are battling members of terrorist groups excluded from the truce. Russia has instead called for daily five-hour local ceasefires to establish what it calls a humanitarian corridor so aid can enter the enclave and civilians and wounded can leave. The first such truce took place on Tuesday but quickly collapsed when bombing and shelling resumed after a short lull. There were no air strikes during Wednesday’s five-hour ceasefire, but heavy bombardment resumed in the afternoon, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group reported. There has been no sign of aid deliveries to the besieged area. President Vladimir Putin said that Russia had managed to evacuate “quite a big group” of civilians and that Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan had helped broker the evacuation. He did not say when the civilians had managed to leave. Moscow and Damascus have accused rebels of shelling the corridor to prevent people leaving. Rebels deny this, and say people will not depart eastern Ghouta because they fear the government. Wednesday’s ground assault targeted the Hawsh al-Dawahra area at the eastern edge of the enclave.
Advances by the government forces
The Observatory reported advances by the government forces in the area, describing it as the resumption of an assault that first began on February 25. It said rebels had inflicted heavy losses on government forces. An official with one of the rebel groups in eastern Ghouta said fighters were battling to repel an attempted incursion, and characteriized the battle as “back and forth”. A commander in the military alliance that backs Assad said an elite unit of the Syrian army, the Tiger Force, was taking part in the assault and advances had been made. France’s foreign ministry called on Russia and Iran, Assad’s other military ally, to exert “maximum pressure” on the Syrian government to implement the 30-day ceasefire. But with no sign of decisive international pressure to stop the attack, eastern Ghouta appears on course to eventually meet the same fate as other areas won back by the government in lengthy, punishing assaults, where rebels and civilians who oppose Assad were finally evacuated in negotiated withdrawals. Damascus appears to be applying tried and tested military means, combining air strikes and bombardment with ground assaults, as it did to recapture eastern Aleppo in 2016. A senior Western diplomat said Russia appeared intent on a repeat of Aleppo in eastern Ghouta by evacuating the area and then killing “the terrorists even if it’s not just Nusra”, a reference to a militant group with al Qaeda links. A senior US general on Tuesday accused Moscow of acting as “both arsonist and firefighter” by failing to rein in Assad.

UN official: Hundreds killed despite Ghouta ceasefire, aid delivery “collapsed”
The Associated Press, UNThursday, 1 March 2018/Russia and Syria clashed with the US and its Western allies Wednesday over responsibility for the failure of a cease-fire to take hold in Syria as the UN said humanitarian convoys are ready to head to 10 locations including besieged eastern Ghouta near the capital Damascus. The contentious Security Council meeting four days after members adopted a resolution demanding a cease-fire “without delay” for at least 30 days throughout Syria to deliver humanitarian aid and evacuate the critically ill and wounded reflected frustration and anger on both sides at the continued fighting and bombing. UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock asked council members: “When will your resolution be implemented?”Lowcock said convoys are ready to go to 10 besieged and hard-to-reach locations including 45 trucks with aid for 90,000 people in Douma in eastern Ghouta. He said that since February 18, over 580 people are reported to have been killed and well over 1,000 injured in air and ground strikes in Damascus, home to about 400,000 people. Lowcock also warned that delivery of aid across conflict lines to millions of people in besieged and hard-to-reach areas throughout Syria “has totally collapsed.”“Unless this changes,” he declared, “we will soon see even more people dying from starvation and disease than from the bombing and the shelling.”Russia ordered a five-hour daily humanitarian pause starting Tuesday to allow civilians to exit eastern Ghouta. But no civilians have left, and no humanitarian aid has entered. Russia asked council members to support a presidential statement asking all countries to ensure that armed groups support the Russian humanitarian corridors. The US, supported by other Western nations, objected because the statement didn’t reflect the resolution’s demands, according to diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity because consultations were private. Lowcock reiterated the International Committee of the Red Cross’ assessment that it is impossible to deliver humanitarian aid in five hours, noting that it often takes convoys with all the required clearances a day just to get through checkpoints. Kelley Currie, the US ambassador for economic and social affairs, called a five-hour pause “cynical, callous, and in flagrant defiance of the demands” for a cessation of hostilities “for at least 30 days - every day, all day.” “Russia does not get to unilaterally rewrite the terms of the resolution they negotiated and they sat here and voted for,” she said. “Russia, Iran and the Assad regime are not even trying to hide their intentions,” Currie told the council. “They are asking civilians to leave eastern Ghouta on the false premise that they can then attack anyone left in the area as much as they would like.”Syria’s UN Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari echoed Russia’s criticism of the West telling the council “the main responsibility for ceasing hostilities is on groups that have influence on terrorist groups.” “We are supportive of the cease-fire, the cessation of hostilities with some conditions,” he told reporters later. “We cannot do it alone. ... You need to have a commitment by the supporters of these terrorists in eastern Ghouta to implement the resolution, meaning stopping sending weapons.”

Aid convoy arrives in Syria’s Afrin
Reuters, GenevaThursday, 1 March 2018/An aid convoy carrying humanitarian supplies for 50,000 displaced people has arrived in Afrin in Syria, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Thursday, as Turkey wages an offensive in the area. The spokeswoman, Iolanda Jaquemet, said it was the first time this year that the ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent had got the agreement of the warring sides for such a convoy. The ICRC is concerned that the fighting between Turkish forces and the Kurdish YPG militia is moving closer to a dam and water treatment facility that are vital for water supplies to people in the area, Jaquemet added. The 29-truck convoy was carrying 430 tonnes of food, daily essentials, water purification materials and medical supplies, she said. Jaquement dismissed as untrue reports that the convoy had come under attack during the journey. The United Nations has estimated 30,000 people may have been displaced in Afrin since the Turkish offensive began, but there is little information available. Jaquemet said 30 percent of the population of Afrin district was thought to be displaced, but she did not have any other figures. “The majority are living in dire conditions and are hosted in communities and collective centers. The ongoing fighting has forced thousands more to flee. What we are doing now is to meet the most pressing needs of the most vulnerable,” she said. Ankara launched its offensive in January against the US-backed YPG militia, which it regards as a terrorist group linked to Kurdish militants who have been battling Turkish forces in southeast Turkey for more than three decades. Commenting on the proximity of the dam and water treatment area to the fighting, Jaquement said: “Were they to be damaged it would deprive at least 200,000 people of water.”There are only four hospitals thought to be still operating and in some areas of Afrin people in dire need of medical care were not able to reach the nearest medical center, she said.

Egyptian army kills 13 armed men on day 21 of ‘Sinai 2018’ operation
Staff Writer, Al Arabiya English/Thursday, 1 March 2018/Egypt's armed forces announced the death of 13 armed men in northern Sinai on Thursday on day 21 of operation ‘Sinai 2018’ aimed at eliminating terrorist factions in Sinai. In their official statement aired on Egypt’s state-run television and on their official Facebook page, the army said that Egyptian air forces targeted and destroyed a number of terrorist factions after receiving information on their whereabouts. “Two armed vehicles that are prepared to target armed forces in areas of operation were also destroyed,” they said in the statement.
They added that 100 terrorist shelters and warehouses were found and destroyed, including a number of trenches equipped with pistols, while ammunition, binoculars and military uniforms similar to those of the armed forces were found in several mountainous areas.
86 wanted terrorists were arrested following the gun battle, according to the armed forces’ statement, and legal procedures are being taken against them. Six plantations of marijuana and poppies (used to make morphine and codeine) were also seized along with more than 5650 kilograms of narcotics. Naval forces are securing vital locations along the coasts of Sinai, cutting off supply lines and attempts to smuggle terrorists out of the peninsula, the armed forces said. ‘Sinai 2018’ is a major operation against militants across swathes of territory, including the volatile region which has been at the heart of a persistent ISIS group insurgency. The security sweeps in the Sinai, Nile Delta and Western Desert near the border with Libya comes as the country prepares for polls in which President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is seeking re-election.
Joint Western Condemnation of Iran in Response to Russian ‘Veto’
London -Asharq Al Awsat/March 01/18/One day after Russia vetoed a western bid for the United Nations Security Council to call out Tehran for failing to prevent its weapons from falling into the hands of Yemen’s Houthi rebel group, the United States and three European allies condemned Tehran’s role in Yemen.Britain, France, Germany and the United States urged Iran to "immediately cease all activities that are inconsistent or would violate" the UN resolution that established the arms embargo in 2015. The joint condemnation came a day after Russia vetoed a British-drafted resolution renewing sanctions on Yemen and citing "particular concern" about a report's findings on Iran. The report by a UN panel of experts in January concluded that Iran was in violation after determining that missiles fired by the Houthis at Saudi Arabia last year were made in Iran. Russia, however, questioned the findings and blocked the resolution, saying the report did not contain conclusive evidence of Iran's violation of the arms embargo. "We condemn Iran's non-compliance, as described by the panel, which poses serious risks to peace and stability in the region," said the joint statement released by the US mission.
For his part, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani told a gathering of people in the southern province of Hormozgan on Wednesday: “We appreciate Russia for taking right stances at the UN Security Council. We denounce the US and the UK, who sought plot against the Iranian nation.”Rouhani on Wednesday said his government is ready to discuss regional security issues with its GCC neighbors as long as foreign powers are kept out of any potential talks. “We don't need foreigners to guarantee the security of our region,” Rouhani said in a speech broadcast on state television. “When it comes to regional security arrangements, we are ready to talk to our neighbors and friends, without the presence of foreigners,” he added. The United States has failed to harm Iran, said Rouhani. Iran will not ask for permission to build its own missiles, aircraft, tanks and other military equipment to protect itself and the entire region, according to the Iranian President.

Egypt's President: Defaming Security Forces is 'High Treason'
Asharq Al Awsat/March 01/18/Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi warned on Thursday that any defamation of the country's security forces would be considered as "high treason."His warning came as security forces enter the fourth week of a campaign against militants centered in the northern Sinai Peninsula. It also came one day after Egypt's chief prosecutor Nabil Sadeq said "forces of evil" have recently been trying to "undermine the security and safety of the nation through the broadcast and publication of lies and false news."Prosecutors should take legal action against media outlets that disseminate "false, news, statements or rumors" that could instill "terror" in society, hurt the public interest or disrupt peace. Media regulatory bodies must notify prosecutors of violations by media outlets, he said in a brief statement. His call for measures come amid a controversy over a BBC report on alleged forced disappearances in Egypt. The State Information Service, which accredits foreign media representatives and monitors their coverage, wants the BBC to publish a statement to say the report contained inaccuracies. The report included a claim that a woman had been arrested by Egyptian security forces. But the woman appeared on TV to deny she had been jailed, and saying she lives with her husband and that she had delivered a baby two weeks ago.

Putin Boasts of Russian New Generation Weaponry that Can’t be Intercepted
Asharq Al Awsat/March 01/18/President Vladimir Putin boasted Russia has developed a new generation of hypersonic missiles in his state of the nation address on Thursday, marking a technological breakthrough that could dramatically increase Russia's military capability. Putin, who is standing for a fourth Kremlin term in March, displayed a series of hi-tech video montages of weaponry maneuvering across mountains and oceans, even heading over the Atlantic. The president quoted a speech he gave back in 2004 saying that Russia would develop a new generation of weaponry, a promise that he said has now been fulfilled. "No one really wanted to talk to us basically. No one listened to us then. Listen to us now," Putin said, prompting a standing ovation from the audience of top officials including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Putin showed tests of a new missile complex of a type that he said is not owned by any other country. The hypersonic missile system can fly at 20 times the speed of sound and maneuver up and down, he said, "This makes it absolutely invincible for any forms of air and missile defense," he boasted, calling it an "ideal weapon". Russia has also began experimental use of a new small air-launched missile system called Kinzhal, or Dagger, that flies at 10 times the speed of sound with an unpredictable trajectory towards its target, Putin said. This allows it to "overcome all existing and, I think, prospective air and missile defense systems," Putin said. In addition, Russia has developed unmanned underwater devices that move much faster than submarines and torpedoes and can carry nuclear warheads, Putin said, adding: "It's just fantastic!"He said an underwater drone has an operational depth and high speed that would make it immune to enemy intercept. He also showed tests of a new cruise missile and an intercontinental ballistic missile complex called Sarmat and video footage of a laser weaponry system, before telling the audience: "That is enough for today."  Russia has developed weaponry that is no longer simply continuing the Soviet legacy, he said.
Turkey’s Foreign Trade Deficit Soars 108.8 Percent
Ankara - Saeed Abdelrazek/Asharq Al Awsat/March 01/18/Turkey’s exports witnessed a 10.7 percent increase year-on-year in January reaching $12.5 billion, while the country’s foreign trade deficit soared 108.8 percent compared to the same month of 2017. According to data from the Turkish Statistics Institute (TÜİK) and the Customs and Trade Ministry, the rise in exports came amid a 38 percent increase in imports, reaching $21.5 billion. The trade deficit reached $9.06 billion, the Institute and the Ministry said. Data showed that exports to the European Union’s 28 countries, Turkey’s main trading partner, climbed 23.1 percent to $5.2 billion. While trade between Turkey and African countries increased sixfold in the past 15 years, reaching $17.5 billion. Turkey has increased cooperation with African states and many Turkish businessmen have invested in them. The country has in the past 15 years signed trade and economic cooperation agreements with 45 African countries. Turkey’s Foreign Direct Investment in Africa has also increased from $100 million in 2003 to around $6.5 billion in 2017.

Ahmed Saleh Presents Himself as Successor to His Father, Criticizes 'Unjust' Sanctions against Him

Asharq Al Awsat/March 01/18/Ahmed Saleh, the eldest son of late former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, described UN sanctions against him as “unjust”, in his first official response to a recent decision by the Security Council to extend the sanctions. Although Saleh's son’s statement was mainly devoted to thanking participants in the campaign that called for lifting the sanctions, it carried other concealed message that he was seeking to succeed his father to lead the General People’s Congress party and to join the Yemeni legitimate authority and the Arab Coalition in the battle against of the Houthi rebels. Ahmed vowed to follow his father’s path, saying: “The right choice for Yemen is to assume its role alongside its brothers and neighbors in the region and the world through positive partnership and effective brotherly cooperation.”Commenting on the UN decision to extend the sanctions against him, he said: “Everyone knows for sure that [sanctions] were not based on any fair criteria. They were imposed under Chapter VII of the sanctions, in response to the wishes of the political conspiracies and abuse.”The Houthi militia launched a sharp attack that included harsh insults to the former United Nations envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, in response to his recent briefing to the UN Security Council at the end of his international mission. The governor of state-institutions that are currently under Houthi control in Sanaa and other provinces, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, described the envoy as the “nightmare of the United Nations.”On his Twitter account, al-Houthi accused Ould Cheikh Ahmed of committing “major sins” and legalizing an “economic war” against his people. In his briefing to the Security Council, Ould Sheikh Ahmed said the pro-Iranian group has refused, at the last minute of the Kuwait negotiations meeting in 2016, to sign a comprehensive agreement to achieve peace in Yemen. The UN envoy went on to say that the Houthi rebels were not ready for peace and represented a fundamental dilemma in reaching a consensual solution.

Afghanistan's Ghani Offers Talks with Taliban 'without Preconditions'

Kabul -/Asharq Al Awsat/March 01/18/Afghan President Ashraf Ghani offered recognition of the Taliban as a legitimate political group on Wednesday as part of a proposed political process that he said could lead to talks aimed at ending 17 years of war. “We are making this offer without preconditions in order to lead to a peace agreement,” Ghani said in opening remarks to the second conference attended by officials from around 25 countries involved in the so-called Kabul Process. “The Taliban are expected to give input to the peace-making process, the goal of which is to draw the Taliban, as an organisation, to peace talks,” he said, adding that he would not “pre-judge” any group seeking peace. Reuters said his comments represented a change in tone for Ghani, who has regularly called the Taliban “terrorists” and “rebels” although he has also offered to talk with parts of the movement that accepted peace. "A ceasefire should be held, the Taliban should be recognised as a political party and trust-building process should be initiated," said Ghani, AFP reported. "Now the decision is in your hands, accept peace... and let's bring stability to this country," he added. In return for Ghani’s offer, the Taliban would have to recognise the Afghan government and respect the rule of law, including the rights of women, one of the priorities for Afghanistan’s international partners. Taliban officials have acknowledged that they have faced pressure from friendly countries to accept talks and said their recent offers to talk to the United States reflected concern that they could be seen to be standing in the way of peace. The United States last year stepped up its military assistance to Afghanistan, notably through a sharp increase in air strikes, with the aim of breaking a stalemate with the insurgents and forcing them to the negotiating table.
While the US military says the strategy has hit the Taliban hard, they still control or contest much of the country and continue to inflict severe casualties on Afghan forces. They also claimed responsibility for two major attacks in Kabul last month that killed or wounded hundreds of civilians.

Aramco to Supply Egyptian Refineries for 6 Months
Asharq Al Awsat/March 01/18/Egypt’s Petroleum Minister Tarek El Molla said Thursday that his ministry agreed with Saudi Aramco for the oil producer to supply Egyptian refineries with crude oil for six months, starting January 2018. Aramco will supply 500,000 barrels per month of crude oil, Molla told Reuters. Saudi Aramco had supplied crude oil to Egyptian refineries in November and December 2017.

US Competes with Russia Over Saudi Nuclear Reactors
Kuwait- Wael Mahdi/Asharq Al Awsat/March 01/18/It seems that competition will be fierce on building Saudi nuclear reactors, in which the United States shows great interest after Russia has applied an official tender to build them. US Energy Secretary Rick Perry will travel to London to discuss the Saudi nuclear energy project with his Saudi counterparts, primarily Saudi Arabia's Oil Minister Khalid al-Falih, reported Bloomberg on Tuesday. Perry scrapped a trip to New Delhi to accommodate meetings at the White House this week, creating an opening for him to lead an inter-agency delegation to London. The administration is considering permitting Saudi Arabia to enrich and reprocess uranium as part of a deal that would allow Westinghouse Electric Co. and other American companies to build nuclear reactors in the Middle East kingdom. Some American agreements with other countries have prohibited the enrichment and reprocessing of uranium in exchange for the use of nuclear technology, and that had scuttled negotiations for Saudi projects during the Obama administration. Two weeks earlier, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak announced, during a joint news conference with his Saudi counterpart, that the state-owned nuclear company Rosatom had applied for a tender to construct two power plants in Saudi Arabia. Media reports quoted a source from King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy as saying that the kingdom received tenders from five international companies from China, France, US, South Korea and Russia to carry out engineering and construction works of the two nuclear reactors. Constructions are anticipated at the beginning of next year, with a joint funding from the Saudi government and the executing company. The two reactors are expected to have a capacity of 2.8 gigawatts

Fear of Trade War Between China, US
Asharq Al Awsat/March 01/18/China has expressed “strong dissatisfaction” with the United States imposing antidumping and countervailing duties on Chinese aluminum foil, the Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) stated. The US Commerce Department said it would levy antidumping and countervailing duties on a number of Chinese firms, with dumping margins ranging from 48.64 percent to 106.09 percent and anti-subsidy rates of 17.14 percent to 80.97 percent, Reuters reported. “The US has disregarded the WTO rules and seriously damaged the interests of China’s aluminum foil exporters. China is strongly dissatisfied with this,” Wang Hejun, the head of MOFCOM’s Trade Remedy and Investigation Bureau, said in a quick statement. Trade relations between US and China is one of the most pressing issues that the administration of President Donald Trump concentrates on. Trump describes trade deficit with China was as "bad" and "embarrassing," and further blames previous administrations "for allowing this trade deficit to take place and to grow." The Commerce Department reported recently that the US trade deficit in goods and services rose 12 percent to $566 billion last year, biggest since 2008. US statements came the same week as Liu He, China's top economic advisor, visits Washington for a discussion on trade relations between the two countries. The US, Europe and other Asian nations share concerns that China’s excess industrial capacity is distorting prices on the global markets, Bloomberg reported. The administration in November took the rare step of initiating an anti-subsidy and anti-dumping investigation into Chinese aluminum alloy on behalf of the domestic industry, a move that companies usually lead. US imports of aluminum foil from China were an estimated $389 million in 2016, according to Commerce.
Top Trump Aide Hope Hicks to Resign
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 01/18 / Trump's longest-serving aides and perhaps his most trusted confidante, has announced her resignation in the latest of a string of departures from the embattled White House.
The 29-year-old former model and PR operative took her first job in politics as spokesperson for the Republican's victorious campaign, before joining him in the White House where she was named communications director last September. While she cut a discreet figure in the White House -- refusing all interviews -- the former advisor to Ivanka Trump was known around the West Wing for her close relationship with the president's family and as a keen defender of his image. She was well known to have the ear of the president, who never publicly voiced even the slightest criticism of her. "There are no words to adequately express my gratitude to President Trump," the 29-year-old Hicks said in a statement on her departure. Trump paid tribute to Hicks' "outstanding" contribution over the past three years, calling her "as smart and thoughtful as they come, a truly great person."
"I will miss having her by my side but when she approached me about pursuing other opportunities, I totally understood," he added. "I am sure we will work together again in the future."White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said Hicks had "served her country with great distinction.""To say that she will be missed, is an understatement," Kelly said. Hicks' announcement came a day after she testified before a Congressional intelligence committee about the Russia election meddling investigation. She reportedly told lawmakers she had told "white lies" for Trump in the course of her duties, but never over the Russia probe. The White House said Hicks had informed Trump she wished to leave in order to explore other opportunities. Trump's spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said no timeline had been set for her departure, adding that her exit was not linked to her testimony to Congress. In a sign of the high turnover in Trump's administration, Hicks was the fourth person to head the communications team -- her immediate predecessor, the brash Anthony Scaramucci, having lasted just 10 headspinning days in the role.
Thrust into spotlight
Hicks' departure follows that of a succession of senior administration figures: from national security advisor Michael Flynn, to Reince Priebus as chief of staff, Sean Spicer as press secretary and Steve Bannon as the president's chief strategist. As communications director she was responsible for shaping the administration's message, but Hicks was far less visible to the public than the press secretary Sanders, and before her Sean Spicer. But she was brutally thrust into the spotlight in early February when another top Trump aide with whom she had become romantically involved was accused of domestic abuse by an ex-wife. Former White House staff secretary Rob Porter -- who denies the claims -- resigned following the allegations. Hicks had helped craft the official response to the scandal, despite her personal involvement with Porter. Sanders denied any link between Hicks' decision to leave, and her questioning Tuesday by a congressional panel probing Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. During her appearance before the House Intelligence Committee, Trump's communications director had stuck to answering pre-approved questions, and refused to answer many of the other questions put to her. That meant avoiding questions about her work and White House contacts with Russia, according to lawmakers present at the closed session.

Iraq MPs Call for Timetable for Foreign Troop Pullout
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 01/18/Iraq's parliament called for the government to draw up a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country in a resolution passed on Thursday, the speaker's office said. "The Iraqi parliament expresses its gratitude to all countries which have supported Iraq in its fight against Daesh (the Islamic State group) and calls for the government to draw up a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops," it said in a statement. Washington in October 2014 forged a 74-country coalition, as well as international organizations such as NATO, to assist Iraqi forces in a fightback against IS which at the time had seized swathes of the country and posed a military threat to Baghdad. On February 5, the coalition announced it was "adjusting" its force levels in Iraq downward as it shifted away from combat operations following the jihadists' expulsion from all Iraqi urban centers. Brigadier General Jonathan Braga, the coalition's director of operations, said "an appropriate amount of capabilities" would be kept in Iraq in addition to the forces needed to train, advise and equip the Iraqis. Such a presence would be coordinated with the Iraqi government, said the coalition, whose main force is made up of 5,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

U.S. Senate Passes Bill Promoting Ties with Taiwan
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 01/18/The United States Senate Wednesday passed a bill promoting U.S.-Taiwan relations -- legislation likely to infuriate China. The Taiwan Travel Act, intended to encourage visits between the United States and Taiwan "at all levels" was passed by unanimous consent, having passed the House of Representatives in January. The bill adds that it should be U.S. policy for high-level Taiwanese officials to enter the United States, meet with U.S. officials and conduct business in the country. President Donald Trump's signature is now all that is needed for the bill to become law -- something that is not likely to be an obstacle, given that the bill was passed unanimously. Washington cut formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 1979, recognizing the Communist mainland rulers in Beijing as the sole government of "One China."
But, under the terms of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, Washington maintains an ambiguous approach to the island, maintains trade relations and sells Taipei weapons. Trump sparked protest from China shortly after his election in 2016 by accepting a phone call from Taiwan's leader Tsai Ing-wen, an action seen as breaking the protocol of the One China policy. He made amends by vowing to uphold the One China policy shortly before Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to his Florida Mar-a-Lago resort -- but infuriated Beijing again last summer by approving a $1.3 billion arms sale to Taiwan.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 01-02/18
Future of Saudi Arabia, Muslim World Depends on Success of Crown Prince
Boris Johnson/UK Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs/Asharq Al Awsat/March 01/18/
It was 73 years ago — almost to the day — that Winston Churchill travelled to Fayoum Oasis in Egypt for a meeting with the king of Saudi Arabia.
“His own cup-bearer from Mecca offered me a glass of water from its sacred well, the most delicious that I had ever tasted,” wrote Churchill of this encounter with King Abdulaziz al Saud.
If that meeting in the desert was an early chapter in relations between Britain and Saudi Arabia, then we will turn a new page on March 7 when his grandson, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, visits London.
There will be those who would object to engaging with a kingdom that is a powerhouse of the Middle East and, incidentally, one of Britain’s oldest friends in the region.
If you have any sympathy with such views, then let me highlight a few salient facts.
In the eight months since Mohammed bin Salman became crown prince, Saudi Arabia has introduced exactly the kind of reforms that we have always advocated.
The ban on women driving has been overturned. Gender segregation has been relaxed. The kingdom has adopted an official target for women to account for 30 per cent of the workforce: in February women were allowed to register their own businesses. Women now attend sporting events and from next month cinemas will open their doors to everyone.
If you are inclined to dismiss these advances, then I will respectfully suggest that you are making a profound mistake. Change does not come easily in Saudi Arabia. In a matter of a few months, genuine reform has taken place after decades of stasis.
And that fact tells an important story. The crown prince and his father King Salman have together embarked on the social and economic renewal of Saudi Arabia, launching a national programme known as Vision 2030. In October the crown prince said that the overarching goal was to build a “country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world”. He also promised to “eradicate promoters of extremist thoughts”.
If you are tempted to brush off those phrases as platitudes aimed at outsiders, consider that the crown prince was speaking not in English in some western capital but in Arabic to an audience in Riyadh. His words have been given meaning by the establishment in his capital of a new centre to counter the financing of terrorism.
What conclusion should we draw? I believe that the crown prince, who is only 32, has demonstrated by word and deed that he aims to guide Saudi Arabia in a more open direction.
The worst response would be for Britain to criticise from the sidelines or shun the kingdom altogether; instead our role must be to encourage him along this path.
Be in no doubt: the future of Saudi Arabia — and indeed the region and the wider Muslim world — depends on his success.
Hence the importance of the crown prince’s visit to London. This will be a chance to strengthen our relationship with Saudi Arabia, both as an end in itself and as the best means of promoting reform.
I will not minimise Britain’s differences with the kingdom. I want Saudi Arabia to do more to protect human rights. But we cannot deliver these messages or resolve our disagreements unless we meet the kingdom’s leaders.
Nor can we uphold the British national interest. Remember that tens of thousands of British jobs depend on our exports to Saudi Arabia, which climbed to £6.2 billion in 2016, a 41 per cent rise since 2010. When it comes to keeping Britain safe, intelligence from Saudi Arabia has been crucial in the struggle against terrorism. The simple truth is that British lives have been saved and attacks prevented because of our security cooperation with Saudi Arabia.
This relationship has long been important for global security. Saudi Arabia was a firm ally during the Cold War and, amid all the turbulence of the Middle East, the kingdom has generally acted as a force for stability and moderation. It was the late King Abdullah who threw his diplomatic weight behind a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict by proposing the bold Arab Peace Initiative.
Today Britain and Saudi Arabia are working together to counter Iran’s disruptive behaviour in the Middle East and bring the war in Yemen to an end. Last year King Salman took the far-sighted decision to pursue a rapprochement with the Shia-led government in Iraq, something that will help to stabilise the country after the defeat of ISIS.
You might reply that far more needs to be done to reach a peaceful settlement in Yemen and ensure that aid gets through to everyone in need. I agree. That is exactly why we need to discuss these vital matters with the crown prince during his visit to the UK.
Our foreign policy is designed to promote the safety and prosperity of the British people while upholding our values as a force for good. We cannot achieve any of these goals unless we meet the leaders of Saudi Arabia on equal and friendly terms.
That was true when Churchill drank the spring water of Mecca with Ibn Saud in 1945, and it remains true today.
**Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs of the United Kingdom

Palestinians: The "Ugly Crime" of a School Curriculum
Bassam Tawil/Gatestone Institute/March 01/18
A recent study of Palestinian textbooks found that Palestinian children are being taught to glorify and value terrorism and violence. The Palestinian Authority and its Minister of Education, Sabri Saidam, want Arab schools in Jerusalem to teach the students why Muslims should be killing Jews.
Within the pages of the textbooks, children are being taught to be expendable. Messages such as: 'The Volcano of My Revenge'; 'The Longing of my Blood for my Land'; and 'I Shall Sacrifice My Blood to Saturate the Land' suffuse the [Palestinian] curriculum. Math books use numbers of dead martyrs to teach arithmetic. The vision of an Arab Palestine includes the entirety of what is now Israel, defined as the '1948 Occupied Territories.'" — IMPACT-se.
How come the Arab citizens of Israel have never complained about the Israeli educational system? The answer is because they evidently like the education that Israel has been offering them. It teaches them to value life, freedom of speech and democracy, and Arab Israelis admire it. They love the education Israel offers them because it does not demonize any race or group of people. They love it because it does not teach them to kill Jews, but to live with them in peace and security. This is the truth that the Palestinian Authority does not want to hear. This is the truth that it does not want the rest of the world to hear.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) Minister of Education, Sabri Saidam, is worried these days. He is not worried, he says, because Palestinian schoolchildren are being taught to hate Israel. He is not worried because Palestinian schoolchildren are being goaded by their leaders to carry out terror attacks against Jews, from stone-throwing to stabbings to ramming cars.
The PA minister of Education is worried, he says, about a "crime" that is about to be committed against Arab children in Jerusalem schools. The "crime," in his view, is that the children will be taught according to an Israeli, and not a Palestinian, curriculum.
Saidam sees the decision to apply the Israeli curriculum to Arab schools in Jerusalem as an "ugly crime of counterfeit." These are the exact words he used to denounce the decision to introduce the Israeli curriculum into Arab schools.
Why are the minister and the Palestinian Authority so truculently opposed to Arab schoolchildren studying according to the Israeli curriculum? Is this curriculum really an "ugly crime of counterfeit," as the minister says?
The main reason the PA leadership is opposed to the Israeli curriculum is because it does not promote hatred. The curriculum also does not demonize Arabs in parallel to the way the Palestinian curriculum demonizes Jews.
A recent study of Palestinian textbooks found that Palestinian children are being taught to glorify and value terrorism and violence. The study, called "Palestinian Elementary School Curriculum 2016-17: Radicalization and Revival of the PLO Program," was conducted by the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education.
The Palestinian curriculum teaches students to be martyrs, demonizes and denies the existence of Israel, and focuses on a "'return' to an exclusively Palestinian homeland," according to the study.
Within the pages of the textbooks, children are being taught to be expendable. Messages such as: "The Volcano of My Revenge"; "The Longing of my Blood for my Land"; and "I Shall Sacrifice My Blood to Saturate the Land" suffuse the [Palestinian] curriculum. Math books use numbers of dead martyrs to teach arithmetic. The vision of an Arab Palestine includes the entirety of what is now Israel, defined as the "1948 Occupied Territories."
While Islam is not used as a radical political tool for this age group, negative messages linger regarding non-Muslims. And though Christian education is provided, Jewish roots are ignored. Arabs continue to be presented as original dwellers of the land. Palestinian identity, as conveyed to these children, is now more realistically based on Levantine-Palestinian folklore alongside Arabism, Islam, and the struggle against Israel.
"Within the pages of the [Palestinian Authority] textbooks, children are being taught to be expendable. Messages such as: 'The Longing of my Blood for my Land'; and 'I Shall Sacrifice My Blood to Saturate the Land'". (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
The Palestinian minister of education, then, is worried that Arab children in Jerusalem will no longer be exposed to the poison and brainwashing of the Palestinian curriculum. He is even worried that the Arab children will not be taught about the 1974 PLO's Phased Plan to conquer Israel in stages. Phase one (Article 2) is to create a Palestinian state on any territory vacated by Israel. The next phase (Article 8) is to use that territory to "foment an allied Arab assault against a truncated Jewish state."
This PLO Phased Plan is still an integral part of the Palestinian curriculum.
Saidam and his Palestinian Authority want Arab schools in Jerusalem to teach the students why Muslims should be killing Jews. Take, for example, the religious textbooks for the upper grades in Palestinian Authority schools, which include genocidal messages such as the following hadith (a record of the traditions or sayings of Prophet Mohammed), from Hadiths, Bukhari, Book number 4:
Fighting the Jews and victory over them: The Messenger [Mohammed] already announced [the good news] of the end of the Jews' oppression upon this Holy Land and the removal of their corruption and of their occupation thereof. [It is told] by Abu Hurayrah [one of Mohammed's Companions] that the Prophet said: "The End of Days will not take place until the Muslims fight the Jews, and the Muslims will kill them to a point that a Jew will hide behind a rock or a tree, and then the rock or the tree will say: 'O Muslim, O God's servant, there is a Jew behind me, so come and kill him, except the salt bush (Gharqad), for it is one of the Jews' trees." Faith, (Sharia Studies) Grade 11, 2003, p 94.
The Palestinian Authority and its Ministry of Education are angry because this hadith has been removed from the textbooks in the Arab schools of Jerusalem.
The removal of the hadith, they argue, is an "ugly crime." In other words, the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah is fighting for the right of students to be taught that Jews are "corrupt" and "occupiers" and should be killed, even as they try to hide behind a rock or a tree.
Now has come a fatwa (Islamic religious decree) recently issued by Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohammed Hussein, prohibiting schoolchildren from studying in accordance with the Israeli curriculum.
"Teaching the Israeli curriculum in Palestinian schools is dangerous and abusive," the fatwa determined. "The Israeli curriculum consists of matters that contravene the Islamic faith, the Arab identity, and Palestinian values and traditions."
Conspicuously missing from the fatwa was even a single example of how the Israeli curriculum was dangerous and abusive to schoolchildren. The reason: there is nothing there -- in the Israeli curriculum -- that can poison the hearts and minds of the Arab students.
What the Palestinian Authority is failing to tell its people and the rest of the world is that there are hundreds of thousands of Arabs who do study according to the Israeli curriculum. These are the Arab citizens of Israel, who for the past 70 years have been studying in accordance with a curriculum set by successive Israeli governments.
Why is it all right for those Arab children to be studying according to a curriculum that does not contain bigotry and racism, while it is wrong for Arabs living in Jerusalem? Why is it alright for tens of thousands of Arabs to attend Israeli schools, universities and colleges and study according to Israeli curricula, while it is banned for Arabs in Jerusalem to do so?
The Arab citizens of Israel who studied in Israeli educational institutions are probably the most peaceful, pragmatic and moderate Arabs living in the Middle East. They are among the country's leading professors, lawyers, businessmen and physicians; they have their own political parties, members of parliament and sit on Israel's Supreme Court. This is what happens when a student gets a good education, free of indoctrination, incitement and messages of hate.
If the Israeli curriculum is as bad and dangerous as the Palestinian Authority claims, why are thousands of Arabs continuing to enroll in Hebrew University, Haifa University, Tel Aviv University and even the "settler" Ariel University in the northern West Bank? How come the Arab citizens of Israel have never complained about the Israeli educational system?
The number of Israeli Arabs pursuing bachelor's degrees at Israeli universities and colleges, has, in fact, jumped 60% over the last seven years to 47,000 in 2017, according to the Council for Higher Education in Israel. In just the past seven years, the number of Arab students studying in Israeli universities and colleges has climbed 78.5%, the council said.
The answer is because they evidently like the education that Israel has been offering them for the past 70 years. It is an education that teaches them to value life, freedom of speech and democracy, and Arab Israelis admire it. They love the education Israel offers them because it does not demonize any race or group of people. They love it because it does not teach them to kill Jews, but to live with them in peace and security.
This is the truth that the Palestinian Authority does not want to hear. This is the truth that it does not want the rest of the world to hear. Instead, the PA leadership in Ramallah wants to continue to teach children to hate Israel and Jews and prepare to destroy Israel.
The Palestinian minister of education can continue to talk about resisting the Israeli curriculum, but the good news is that the Arabs residents of Jerusalem and the Arab citizens of Israel will continue to knock on the doors of Israeli educational institutions to seek a good education.
The true intention of the Palestinian Authority, namely to raze Israel to the ground and wage jihad against the Jews, has once again been exposed. If one is seeking "ugly crimes," one need look no further.
*Bassam Tawil is a Muslim based in the Middle East.
© 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 at the brink of an ugly civil war
Mohammed Al Shaikh/Al Arabiya/March 01/18
In all probability, Iran will eventually succumb to popular demonstrations and protests, simply because it doesn’t have the solutions to its growing economic problems, unless it abandons its costly expansionist practices. Most of Iran's revenues are siphoned off by militias raised in pursuit of its expansionist goals.
Furthermore, a large portion of this funding is spent on developing advanced weapons’ programs, particularly ballistic missiles. When it finally gives up these programs, it will become clear that all of its political and expansionist agendas — be they in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen have been complete failures.
Thus, I truly believe that Iran will have no choice but to snuff out protests, which subside in one place but erupt somewhere else, via the Revolutionary Guards and by adopting the practices of the SAVAK which the deposed Shah utilized to govern the country with. Such practices may be successful only for some time, but eventually they would yield to the will of the protesters, just like they protested against the Shah and toppled him.
The IRGC are as brutal as the ISIS militia, the only difference between the two being their sectarian divergence
More pernicious than Shah’s repression
The difference between the revolution against the Shah and the revolution against the theocracy is that the claws of the repressive clerical power, in the form of the Revolutionary Guards, are far more pernicious and dreadful than those used by the Shah’s army and security forces in their time.
The Shah’s security and army were not ideologically driven and their military tactics had nothing to do with religion. Their aim was to defend Iran, the nation. However, Iranian Revolutionary Guard militia are religiously driven, are deeply embedded in Vilayat-e-Faqih doctrine and by what the clerics say.
They do not ponder for a second before striking down anyone who faces them, and remain adamant even if they may have to wipe out half of the Iranian people. In fact, they are as brutal as the ISIS militia, the only difference between the two being their sectarian divergence.
Plagued by hunger, poverty and corruption, the floundering economy of Iran and the ineptitude of the regime in improving economic conditions gives me the confidence to firmly predict that Iran will, in the next two to three years, witness a civil war, especially if the United States persists with its sanctions against the regime and diminishes Iran’s ability to become part of the global economy.
Such measures are tantamount to adding fuel to fire. This would worsen Iran’s domestic situation and would stoke the flames of popular resentment which will spread until it exhausts the Revolutionary Guards.
The IRGC will make it violent
In contrast, the Revolutionary Guards will never tolerate the downfall of the 1979 revolution, which they deem their doctrinal duty to protect and preserve. Hence, they will certainly try to suppress protests at all costs.
Therefore, all the objective indicators point that if hungry people revolt en masse, the Revolutionary Guard can only confront them with the force of arms. If we look at Bashar's experience in Syria as a case in point, then we can see that he was only able to withstand the ire of Syrian masses with the help of Russians. If the hungry masses come out to revolt, their revolution will likely turn into a bloody civil war, just as the one that took place in Syria. All I want to say is that economic failures that stare in the face of the theocracy will always be the cause and trigger for civil wars.

Why the Syrian ceasefire was doomed to fail

Dr. Azeem Ibrahim/Al Arabiya/March 01/18
Last week, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution for a 30-day ceasefire in Syria. A rare achievement for the divided assembly. Except that it is no achievement at all. Russia used the threat of their veto power to exclude operations targeting terror groups such as ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham from the resolution. And under that cover, all actors in the conflict can go on to bomb whatever they please. Since the resolution has been passed, the Assad government has carried on the brutal siege bombardment of Eastern Ghouta which has resulted in hundreds of dead civilians. Iran, and by extension Hezbollah, have taken the position that the groups they have been targeting all along would fall under the exception, so the resolution does not apply to their situation. And Turkey has declared that it will continue its attacks on the YPG in Afrin as before.
Seeing as all the major players and regional players involved in the conflict are adamant that they will continue to pursue their military aims as before, what exactly was the point of the UN effort? In the Syrian civil war, the diplomatic overtures at the UN or the Geneva process have a well-established tactical use particularly for the Assad government and Russia. Moves toward a peace process have always been hinted by them, whenever they wanted to lower the defences of the rebels and prepare for a renewed offensive. But of course, this tactic has long since lost its usefulness. The YPG, for example, have said that they are prepared to respect the ceasefire “while reserving the right to retaliate ... in case of any aggression by the Turkish army”. In other words, nobody is going to lay any weapons down.
If ceasefires had been an acceptable proposition for either side, they would have been agreed long ago. Both Syrian sides in this conflict see this as a fight for survival
The power to enforce
The problem with UN resolutions is that the UN does not have the power to enforce its decisions on its own. It requires that members respond to resolutions, for example by becoming the enforcers, or, if they are the members under censure, to cease their activities.
The West has long washed its hands off the Syrian disaster. There is hardly any expectation or credible threat from us to the Assad regime. As for the regime, the Russians and the Iranians censuring themselves for their activities? That has not been a credible proposition since before the first chemical weapons were deployed in the conflict. The UN passes resolutions because that is what it does. And it is all it can do. But it nevertheless used to have a clear and powerful role in international politics, as a foundation of political legitimacy, of international law, and of universal human rights.
Yet as the global power system continues to unravel, these things seem to matter less and less in the chaotic power scramble left by the void of America’s military and moral failures over the past 15 years. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the Syrian conflict at this point in time is that it still rages on. Almost three years since Russia has become involved, the various factions of the Syrian opposition continue to hold important territory, and continue to resist the combined might of the Assad government, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. If ceasefires had been an acceptable proposition for either side, they would have been agreed long ago. Both Syrian sides in this conflict see this as a fight for survival, and do not trust their opponents enough for a ceasefire agreement to be able to get off the ground. Diplomats in faraway cities can agree whatever they want.
The people on the ground will fight to the last. After the United States and the West failed to enforce their chemical weapons “red line”, things were always going to go this way. And it seems we are yet far from the end of the killing.

The future of the Middle East peace process
Dr. Ibrahim Al-Othaimin/Al Arabiya/March 01/18
In an earlier article, I argued that the Palestinian cause is absent at all levels including the media and politics, as well as public opinion because of the so-called Arab Spring.
I attributed this absence to three factors: Arab countries are busy with their internal issues in light of deteriorating economic conditions and high prices; the emergence of “terrorism” has echoed throughout the media at the expense of developments in Palestine and a Palestinian internal division occurred after 2007.
However, the recent announcement of US President Donald Trump acknowledging Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem brought the Palestinian cause back to the forefront of the media and the political scene. The decision highlighted the fact that the Palestinian cause in general and Jerusalem in particular remain a central issue in the hearts and the minds of Arabs and Muslims.
Trump’s decision was to enforce the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 by the US Congress (23 October 1995) issued during the presidency of Bill Clinton. The Act calls for the substitution of the existing US embassy in Tel Aviv with a new one in Jerusalem.
In recent times, US presidents including Bill Clinton, George Bush, and Barack Obama have issued resolutions, every six months, to postpone the transfer of the US embassy to Jerusalem.
Nevertheless, Donald Trump, who also postponed the transfer of the embassy once last June, justifying that decision by saying that it made room for reaching a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, has finally decided to enforce the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995.
The question remains as to what might have made Trump, and not any former president, proceed to the enforcement of the Act. There has been much speculation and analysis, but I think there are two main reasons for Trump’s decision.
Trump administration believed that the influence and impact of the opposition of the Arab world would be extremely weak
Meetings at the White House
Firstly, pressure from Evangelical Christians, who represent a segment of his popularity. A group of hardline fundamentalist Christians from within the Republican Party, the party through which he ran for the presidency, put constant pressure on the president through his advisors during ordinary meetings at the White House. Spokesperson for the Evangelical Advisory Board at the White House, Johnnie Moore, said that he had no doubt of the key role played by the Advisory Board in the decision having been taken. He believed that it could not possibly have been made without them. Therefore, the constant pressure on the president pushed him to move forward with his decision. Secondly, distractions in the Arab world. As has been argued above, as a result of the Arab Spring, the Arab world is busy with civil wars in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen, and with issues of reconstruction, state-building, security, development and reform in Tunisia and Egypt. In addition, the emergence of “terrorism” and “extremism” and the issues of combating terrorism have dominated the agenda of the Arab world. Thus, the Trump administration believed that the influence and impact of the opposition of the Arab world would be extremely weak. Finally, I think the decision aborts the peace process, inflames the region and justifies the operations of terrorist organizations. Therefore, the US administration must reverse their decision and intensify international efforts aimed at the settlement of the Palestinian cause within the framework of the Arab Peace Initiative, which represents an Arab-approved roadmap for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.