March 04/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations
Fouth Week Of The Lent/The Parable Of The Lost Son
Luke15/11-31/:"He said, “A certain man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of your property.’ He divided his livelihood between them.  Not many days after, the younger son gathered all of this together and traveled into a far country. There he wasted his property with riotous living. When he had spent all of it, there arose a severe famine in that country, and he began to be in need.  He went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed pigs.  He wanted to fill his belly with the husks that the pigs ate, but no one gave him any.  But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough to spare, and I’m dying with hunger!  I will get up and go to my father, and will tell him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight.  I am no more worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired servants.”’ “He arose, and came to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe, and put it on him. Put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat, and celebrate;  for this, my son, was dead, and is alive again. He was lost, and is found.’ They began to celebrate. “Now his elder son was in the field. As he came near to the house, he heard music and dancing.  He called one of the servants to him, and asked what was going on.  He said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and healthy.’  But he was angry, and would not go in. Therefore his father came out, and begged him.  But he answered his father, ‘Behold, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed a commandment of yours, but you never gave me a goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.  But when this, your son, came, who has devoured your living with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.’  “He said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But it was appropriate to celebrate and be glad, for this, your brother, was dead, and is alive again. He was lost, and is found.

Agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you
Second Letter to the Corinthians 13/5-13: "Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you? unless, indeed, you fail to pass the test! I hope you will find out that we have not failed. But we pray to God that you may not do anything wrong not that we may appear to have passed the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. For we rejoice when we are weak and you are strong. This is what we pray for, that you may become perfect. So I write these things while I am away from you, so that when I come, I may not have to be severe in using the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down. Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 03-04/18
The Lost Son Parable and Repentance/Elias Bejjani/March 03/18
Punished for Not Chanting "Death to America, Israel, Britain/Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Gatestone Institute/March 03/18
Artificial Intelligence in Policing/Noah Feldman/Bloomberg/March 03/18
Danger in the north: PM Netanyahu must push Trump to act‬/Ron Ben Yishai|/Ynetnews/March 03/18
Putin to America: ‘We have ascendance over you’/Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/March 03/18
Policymakers beware – It’s all about the narrative in the message/Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady/Al Arabiya/March 03/18
What justifies Russian veto against Iran’s supply of weapons/Sawsan Al Shaer/Al Arabiya/March 03/18
The UAE ranks first in several international indices and among hearts/Mohammed Al-Hammadi/Al Arabiya/March 03/18

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on March 03-04/18
The Lost Son Parable and Repentance
Hariri Meets Saudi Crown Prince after Strain
Selfie shows Saudi Crown Prince and Lebanese PM Hariri in Riyadh
ISF investigates senior officer for framing actor Ziad Itani
Ziad Itani's Case Under the Spotlight after 'Innocence' Declaration
Mashnouq Says Itani Innocent as al-Hajj Questioned over 'Fabricating' Case
Jreissati Replies to Mashnouq over Ziad Itani Case
President Aoun: To maintain investigation's confidentiality, keep dossiers away from any exploitation
Hariri: Let the judiciary and the security services handle the Itani case away from politicization
Machnouk's Apology Tweet Sparks Controversy
Jumblatt calls on Lebanese authority to resign
Geagea: Some are trying to isolate us, but we will succeed
State Security arrests Syrian on links with terrorist organizations
Khoury at Pierre Sadeq's awards' ceremony: Pierre Sadeq inspiring, resourceful man
Landmine explosion in Abbasieh, shepherd survives
Berri Affirms Timely Polls, Says Failure 'Wrecks' Country
Mashnouq Signs Decree on Full-Time Employment of Civil Defense Volunteers

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on March 03-04/18

US, Europe to 'Punish' Syrian Regime
Saudi Crown Prince Sets off on Maiden Foreign Tour
Iran Says No Missile Talks Unless West Gives Up Its Nuclear Weapons
Regime Forces Advance in Syria's Battered Ghouta
Bahrain arrests 116 suspects in counter-terror operations
UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs Gargash: Solution to Qatar’s crisis is Riyadh
US envoys to visit Gulf states in renewed attempt to resolve Qatar spat
Trump’s Team Releases Economic Report, Compares Him to Reagan, Kennedy
Libya: GNA Forms Committee to Conclude Truce in Sabha
Kurdistan Crossings With Turkey, Iran Await Political Agreement
Infantino: Rouhani Pledges Women to Get Access to Football Stadiums
Suspect in US University Shooting Apprehended
Latest Lebanese Related News published on March 03-04/18
The Lost Son Parable and Repentance
Elias Bejjani
Lent is a prime time for spiritual change through genuine praying, serious and in depth self-examination, return to the roots of faith, repentance and forgiveness.
Almighty God is ready and always willing to turn everything around and take the hands of those who seriously and honestly pursue His mercy with perseverance forgiveness and repentance. He, with love and extreme happiness leads their steps towards all virtues of righteousness. He who in the Cana Wedding changed the water into wine and cleaned the Leper is willing all the time also to transform our minds and consciences from wickedness to goodness and salvation if and when we call for His help.
In our Maronite Catholic Church’s rite, on the Fourth Lent Sunday we recall and cite the biblical Lost Son’s parable that is known also as The Prodigal Son. This impulsive, selfish and thoughtless son, as the parable tells us, fell prey to evil’s temptation and decided to take his share of his father’s inheritance and leave the parental dwelling.
He travelled to a far-away city where he indulged badly in all evil conducts of pleasure and corruption until he lost all his money and became penniless. He experienced severe poverty, starvation, humiliation and loneliness. In the midst of his dire hardships he felt nostalgic, came back to his senses and decided with great self confidence to return back to his father’s house, kneel on his feet and ask him for forgiveness. On his return his loving and kind father received him with rejoice, open arms, accepted his repentance, and happily forgave him all his misdeeds. Because of his sincere repentance his Father gave him back all his privileges as a son.
The Lost (prodigal) Son’s parable: Luke15/11-32: He said, “A certain man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of your property.’ He divided his livelihood between them. Not many days after, the younger son gathered all of this together and traveled into a far country. There he wasted his property with riotous living. When he had spent all of it, there arose a severe famine in that country, and he began to be in need. He went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed pigs. He wanted to fill his belly with the husks that the pigs ate, but no one gave him any. 15:17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough to spare, and I’m dying with hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and will tell him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight. I am no more worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired servants .”’ “He arose, and came to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe, and put it on him. Put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. Bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat, and celebrate; for this, my son, was dead, and is alive again. He was lost, and is found.’ They began to celebrate. “Now his elder son was in the field. As he came near to the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the servants to him, and asked what was going on. He said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and healthy.’ But he was angry, and would not go in. Therefore his father came out, and begged him. But he answered his father, ‘Behold, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed a commandment of yours, but you never gave me a goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 15:30 But when this, your son, came, who has devoured your living with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.’ “He said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But it was appropriate to celebrate and be glad, for this, your brother, was dead, and is alive again. He was lost, and is found.
This parable is a road map for repentance and forgiveness. It shows us how much Almighty God our Father loves us, we His children and how He is always ready with open arms and willing to forgive our sins and trespasses when we come back to our senses, recognize right from wrong, admit our weaknesses and wrongdoings, eagerly and freely return to Him and with faith and repentance ask for His forgiveness.
Asking Almighty God for what ever we need is exactly what the Holy Bible instructs us to do when encountering all kinds of doubt, weaknesses, stumbling, hard times, sickness, loneliness, persecution, injustice etc.
Matthew 7/7&8: “Ask, and it will be given you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives. He who seeks finds. To him who knocks it will be opened” All what we have to do is pray and to ask Him with faith, self confidence and humility and He will respond. Matthew 21/22: “All things, whatever you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”
We are not left alone at any time, especially when in trouble, no matter how far we distance ourselves from God and disobey His Holy bible. He is a Father, a loving, caring and forgiving Father. What is definite is that in spite of our foolishness, stupidity, ignorance, defiance and ingratitude He never ever abandons us or gives up on our salvation. He loves us because we His are children. He happily sent His only begotten son to be tortured, humiliated and crucified in a bid to absolve our original sin.
God carries our burdens and helps us to fight all kinds of Evil temptations. Matthew11/28-30: “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart; and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
God is waiting for our repentance, let us run to Him and ask for forgiveness before it is too late

Hariri Meets Saudi Crown Prince after Strain
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 03/18/Prime Minister Saad Hariri, on an official visit to Saudi Arabia, held a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Friday evening, Hariri's media office affirmed Saturday. 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 posted a selfie with Mohammed bin Salman and the kingdom's ambassador to the United States following their meeting in Riyadh late Friday at the end of a three-day visit. The three appeared in informal clothes and flashed wide smiles, apparently signaling relations have been normalized following last year bizarre sequence of events around Hariri's resignation. Hariri's resignation, announced while he was in Riyadh, was widely seen as orchestrated by his Saudi backers who complain that the Lebanese government is controlled by the Iran-backed Hizbullah group. Hariri reversed his resignation upon return to Lebanon following international mediation. His visit comes after a meeting Monday in Beirut with Saudi envoy Nizar al-Alula during which Hariri said he received and accepted an invitation to travel to Riyadh. Alula also met with President Michel Aoun, who told him of Lebanon's desire to "maintain the best relations" with the oil-rich Gulf state.
Selfie shows Saudi Crown Prince and Lebanese PM Hariri in Riyadh
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Saturday, 3 March 2018/Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz received on Friday in Riyadh the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri.According to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA), the Lebanese premier and Prince Mohammed Bin Salman reviewed the bilateral relations between the two countries and discussed developments in the region. Prime minister al-Hariri published on his account on Twitter a photo alongside Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, King Salman bin Abdul Aziz received Hariri on Wednesday in his office in Riyadh. Hariri arrived from Beirut on Tuesday evening, where he was received at the airport by a delegation led by Advisor to the royal court Nizar al-Alula and Minister Plenipotentiary Waleed al-Bukhari on the first visit to the Saudi capital since his resignation on November
ISF investigates senior officer for framing actor Ziad Itani
Annahar/March 03/18/Media reports said Major Susan Hajj Hobeiche, the former head of the Anti-Cybercrime and Intellectual Property Bureau, hired a hacker who “created fake accounts” to so that Itani appears to be communicating with an Israeli agent.
BEIRUT: The Information Branch of Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces is investigating the role of a senior officer in fabricating evidence against Lebanese actor Ziad Itani who was arrested last year on charges of "collaborating" with Israel. Major Susan Hajj Hobeiche, the former head of the Anti-Cybercrime and Intellectual Property Bureau, is suspected of hiring a hacker to frame Itani whom she blames for her ouster from her previous post, sources told Annahar. Itani had reportedly taken a screenshot of Hobeiche’s like of a twitter post by Lebanese film director Charbel Khalil ridiculing Saudi Arabia’s royal decree allowing women to drive. The social media incident led to Hobeiche’s removal from her post, though she had claimed to have accidentally liked the filmmaker’s tweet, believing that it held a positive connotation regarding women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. State prosecutor judge Samir Hammoud confirmed on Saturday to Annahar that Hobeiche was being investigated among other suspects for her alleged role in Itani’s case. Media reports said Hobeiche hired a hacker who “created fake accounts” so that Itani appears to be communicating with an Israeli agent. The hacker is reportedly an informant registered with State Security, the agency that detained and questioned Itani who was charged with collaborating with Israel in November 2017. Itani is expected to be released soon after Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouk took to Twitter Friday to announce his innocence.
Mashnouk said the Lebanese should apologize to Itani, describing him as an “honorable” man who “has never abandoned his Arab and Beiruti identity for a single day.”

Ziad Itani's Case Under the Spotlight after 'Innocence' Declaration
Naharnet/March 03/18/Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Saturday said the case of satirist Ziad Itani must not be exploited for “tarnishing” the role of the judiciary and competent security forces, Hariri's media office said. “To put things in the right perspective, the case of Ziad Itani must be withdrawn from political and media grappling, and stop using it for purposes that harm the role of the judiciary and security apparatuses,” said Hariri. Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq announced Friday that comedian Ziad Itani detained on spy charges is “innocent,” as reports said a former Internal Security Forces officer is being interrogated over “fabricating” the case of spying for Israel. “The case is in the hands of judicial and security bodies which assume their responsibilities in accordance with the laws away from any politicization,” the PM said. “The latest developments in Itani's case are in the judiciary's custody which alone has the right to decide and refer it to the competent security authority for investigation. Attempts to exploit and politicize the issue are unacceptable,” he added. Mashnuq also said the Lebanese should apologize to Itani “Innocence is not enough. Pride in him and his patriotism is the only firm truth,” he tweeted, slamming those who allegedly framed Itani as “spiteful, foolish and sectarian.”For his part, Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat lashed out at Mashnouq, he said: “The Lebanese have nothing to do with an apology. No one authorized the minister to speak on their behalf. The authority has to apologize to the Lebanese for the great corruption and chaos,” instead, said Jumblat in a tweet.TV networks reported that the ISF Intelligence Branch is interrogating Lt. Col. Suzanne al-Hajj over “fabricating the case against Ziad Itani.”
Itani was arrested in November 2017 on charges of collaborating with Israel and gathering information on political figures.

Mashnouq Says Itani Innocent as al-Hajj Questioned over 'Fabricating' Case
Naharnet/March 03/18/Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq announced Friday that detained comedian Ziad Itani is “innocent,” as reports said a former Internal Security Forces officer is being interrogated over “fabricating” the case of spying for Israel.
“All Lebanese apologize to Ziad Itani. Innocence is not enough. Pride in him and his patriotism is the only firm truth,” Mashnouq tweeted, slamming those who allegedly framed Itani as “spiteful, foolish and sectarian.”He also described Itani as an “honorable” man who “has never abandoned his Arab and Beiruti identity for a single day.” TV networks meanwhile reported that the ISF Intelligence Branch is interrogating Lt. Col. Suzanne al-Hajj over “fabricating the case against Ziad Itani.”Al-Hajj had been fired in 2017 over liking a tweet posted by controversial director Charbel Khalil. Khalil’s tweet was deemed insulting to Saudi women. Itani had posted a screenshot of al-Hajj’s like. According to MTV, al-Hajj hired a hacker who “created fake accounts to fabricate the case against Ziad Itani.”“Investigations will intensify and will target all those involved,” the TV network added. Investigative Judge Peter Germanos had in November 2017 charged Itani with collaboration with Israel and the possession of narcotics. The State Security agency had arrested Itani the same month on charges of collaborating with Israel and gathering information on political figures. Itani was detained "after several months of monitoring, follow-up and investigations within and outside" Lebanon, State Security said in a statement at the time. It said Itani confessed to having been "tasked to monitor a group of high-level political figures" and their associates. Itani had shot to prominence in recent years because of a series of comedy plays on Beirut, its customs and the transformations it has undergone in recent decades. The works -- particularly "Beirut Tariq al-Jdideh", which refers to a majority-Sunni neighborhood of the city -- have been very well-received. Before becoming an actor, Itani worked as a reporter with Lebanon's Al-Mayadeen television channel and with various regional newspapers.

Jreissati Replies to Mashnouq over Ziad Itani Case

Naharnet/March 03/18/Justice Minister Salim Jreissati said on Saturday the “Lebanese people shall make apologizes to no one,” following remarks made by the interior minister asking Lebanese to apologize for “false” spy accusations made against Lebanese comedian Ziad Itani. “The Lebanese shall make apologies to no one. It is not appropriate for any official to present electoral credentials by asking for such an apology. The declaration of innocence or conviction is the sole responsibility of the judiciary, which pronounces its verdicts alone,” Jreissati said in a tweet. On Friday, Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq declared Itani, detained on allegations of spying for Israel, “innocent” and said the Lebanese are to apologize. “All Lebanese apologize to Ziad Itani. Innocence is not enough. Pride in him and his patriotism is the only firm truth,” Mashnouq tweeted.
TV networks reported that the ISF Intelligence Branch is interrogating Lt. Col. Suzanne al-Hajj over “fabricating the case against Ziad Itani.”Itani was arrested in November 2017 on charges of collaborating with Israel and gathering information on political figures.

President Aoun: To maintain investigation's confidentiality, keep dossiers away from any exploitation
Sat 03 Mar 2018/NNA - President of the Republic Michel Aoun called Saturday for maintaining the confidentiality of investigations and keeping judiciary dossiers away from any exploitation. In an issued statement by the Presidency Information Bureau, Aoun deemed that what has been circulated by the media, and the various stances on the work of the security apparatuses related to the country's security and safety, falls outside the framework of the legal principles and rules that preserve the secrecy of investigation and pre-empts the judiciary's verdict. The President, thus, called for "complying with the confidentiality of investigations, avoiding any circulation of information before the completion of legal and judicial proceedings." Aoun also stressed "the need to keep judiciary dossiers far from exploitation for any objectives whatsoever."

Hariri: Let the judiciary and the security services handle the Itani case away from politicization
Sat 03 Mar 2018/NNA - In an issued statement by Prime Minister Saad Hariri's Press Office on Saturday, the Prime Minister called for "withdrawing the case of the artist Ziad Itani from political and media grappling, and to stop using it for purposes that harm the role of the judiciary system and the security services.""This case is in the hands of the judiciary and security services which assume their responsibilities in accordance with the laws, away from any politicization. This was done by State Security at some point and it carried out its duties in conducting the necessary investigations based on the information that was available. And this is currently being done by the Internal Security Forces and the Information Branch that handled this case at the request of the competent judicial authority," the statement indicated. "The latest developments in the case of Itani are in hands of the judiciary, which alone has the right to decide on it and direct the competent security authority to conduct the necessary investigations. All other calls and attempts to exploit and politicize are unacceptable and should stop. We should respect and trust the Lebanese judiciary and state security apparels," the statement concluded.

Machnouk's Apology Tweet Sparks Controversy 03/18/A tweet posted by Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk shortly after the arrest of ISF Major Suzan Hajj, who turned out to be the mastermind behind framing Ziad Itani, stirred ire as several politicians and Internet users lashed out at the minister's apology on behalf of the people.
"All the Lebanese apologize to Ziad Itani. Innocence is not enough. The only fixed truth is that we are proud of him and his patriotism. Woe to the malevolent, idiot and sectarian people who found no one to target other than this noble, authentic Beiruti man," Machnouk wrote on Twitter on Friday night.
Justice Minister Salim Jreissati said that the "Lebanese people do not apologize to anyone", adding that it is unacceptable for any official to garner support for the elections by forcing such an apology.
"It is up to the judiciary to rule if someone is innocent or guilty as it is the only authority allowes to issue verdicts and speak on behalf of the Lebanese people,” he stressed.
Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat said that the Lebanese have nothing to do with asking for forgiveness from Ziad Itani, adding that Minister Machnouk is not authorized to speak on their behalf. "It is the government’s duty to apologize for the corruption and chaos that are prevailing over its magnetic kitchen,” Jumblat tweeted as he hinted at the questionable adoption of the magnetic voting card that Machnouk had proposed to be included in the new electoral system.
Later, Jumblat deleted his post and replaced it with the following tweet: "The Lebanese have nothing to do with apologizing to Ziad Itani. You, the ruling authority, should apologize for this security and judicial scandal, and resign. The scandals that have been marring your portfolio are countless. But what is most dangerous about this issue is that it has helped create distrust towards security agencies; something that Israel will benefit from to a large extent."
Moreover, the candidate for the Maronite seat in the Keserwan electoral district, Nawfal Daou, also slammed Machnouk’s statement. “It is not the Lebanese people who should apologize to Ziad Itani. It is rather you and the government who should apologize to Itani and the Lebanese people, although an apology is not enough!” Daou said, demanding that security agencies which made the wrong judgement in this case, either intentionally or due to the lack of professionalism, must be held to account. "The government’s resignation is the least that it can do to apologize for such a scandal."

Jumblatt calls on Lebanese authority to resign
Sat 03 Mar 2018/NNA - Democratic Gathering Party Chief, MP Walid Jumblatt, staunchly criticized via Twitter on Saturday the Lebanese power officials in the case of acquitting Ziad Itani. "The Lebanese should not apologize to Ziad Itani. You, the people of authority, have to apologize for this security and judicial scandal, and have to resign," Jumblatt said in his Tweet. "The scandals are innumerable, but the most dangerous thing is that you have created a climate of skepticism about the security apparatuses that Israel will benefit from to the fullest; thus, endangering national security with your ignorance," he concluded.

Geagea: Some are trying to isolate us, but we will succeed
Sat 03 Mar 2018/NNA - Lebanese Forces Party Chief Samir Geagea considered that some sides are trying to isolate his Party in order to prevent the rise of the state in Lebanon, while stressing that LF shall succeed nevertheless. "Some are trying to isolate the Lebanese Forces...some do not want the establishment of a state in Lebanon...and some want to remain within a farm state while the rest want corruption to continue in institutions, and therefore, LF's performance is not suitable for their projects and goals...But in the end, the Lebanese Forces will succeed," said Geagea. Speaking during a dinner banquet he hosted in Me'rab for Bsharre's prominent figures on Friday, Geagea urged citizens of Bsharre to vote heavily in the upcoming elections, and to help as much as possible in the Baalbek-Hermel electoral battle. "The results of our work and our efforts may appear at a later stage, but ultimately, even if we are tired and have to wait a little, truth will be evident in the end because humans breathe freedom and dignity," said Geagea. "Bsharre can only be for the Lebanese Forces," he stressed. The LF Chief deemed that his Party is undergoing a huge electoral battle at the national level with two axes, namely the rise of the State on one hand and combating of corruption on the other hand.

State Security arrests Syrian on links with terrorist organizations
Sat 03 Mar 2018/NNA - The State Security General Directorate arrested on Saturday a Syrian national (with initials Ch.M.S), after receiving information about his association with terrorist organizations. During his interrogation, he admitted to what he was accused of, mainly that he belonged to the Chadi Mawlawi and Oussama Mansour terrorist groups. The arrested also admitted to having been in contact with a wanted Lebanese (of initials A.A.M), with whom he exchanged channels that incite for terrorism operations and fighting against the Lebanese Army. After the Battle of Bab al-Tabbaneh, he continued to communicate with the Lebanese (A.A.M), expressing his willingness to carry out security operations. He was commissioned to monitor the movements and the residence of a Lebanese army soldier with plans for assassinating him. During the year 2017, he began conspiring with the Lebanese (A.A.M) to monitor one of the Lebanese army checkpoints with the aim of targeting it with a double suicide attack, which was later postponed due to certain obstacles. Following the interrogation, the arrestee was referred to the concerned court for further measures while investigation continues to arrest other involved parties.

Khoury at Pierre Sadeq's awards' ceremony: Pierre Sadeq inspiring, resourceful man
Fri 02 Mar 2018/NNA - Culture Minister, Dr Ghattas Khoury, on Friday extolled the merits of the late renowned caricaturist Pierre Sadeq as a free, inspiring and resourceful man who strongly believed in the nobleness of his innovative artistic march. Minister Khoury's fresh words came during the Pierre Sadeq's awards' ceremony, held by the Pierre Sadek Foundation at the Sursock Museum under the patronage of Minister Khoury. The awards' distribution ceremony was attended by Information Minister, Melhem Riachi, former Ministers Tarek Mitri and Ziad Baroud, as well as jury members.
The ceremony included a documentary about the inventive march of late Pierre Sadek, followed by the distribution of awards to winners.

Landmine explosion in Abbasieh, shepherd survives
Fri 02 Mar 2018/NNA - A shepherd on Friday survived a landmine explosion near Al-Abbasieh Mosque in Al-Arqoub region while a flock of sheep were killed, NNA field reporter said. The unexploded landmine was left by the Israeli enemy in south Lebanon.
Instantly, a patrol of the Lebanese army and UNIFIL arrived at said scene and opened a probe into incident.

Berri Affirms Timely Polls, Says Failure 'Wrecks' Country

Naharnet/March 03/18/Speaker Nabih Berri has assured all parties skeptical about the country's elections that the polls “are going to be staged as scheduled,” al-Joumhouria daily reported on Saturday. Berri said failure to stage the elections would “wreck the country,” and make it lose its connections with other states. “We will not let that happen,” he stressed as telling his visitors. “I say decisively and definitively, the elections will take place, there is no force in the world to stop or disrupt it,” he concluded. Lebanon will stage its first national referendum in nine years on May 6. For the first time, Lebanese nationals living overseas will be able to cast ballots in early voting. The parliament has postponed elections several times over security reasons. Its term was supposed to expire in 2013 but lawmakers approved several extensions since then, the last one in June for another 11 months.

Mashnouq Signs Decree on Full-Time Employment of Civil Defense Volunteers

Naharnet/March 03/18/Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq on Friday said he signed a decree rendering the full-time employment for Civil Defense volunteers. During a celebration marking International Civil Defense Day, Mashnouq said: “I kept my promise, I have signed the decree that will open the door for rendering civil defense volunteers full-timers,” stressing that “the efforts exerted by civil defense elements over the past years have not been in vain.”He pointed out that “coordination between the Lebanese civil defense and its subordinates in the world has put it on the map.”“You symbolize one of the most important human values, which is volunteering to serve others in the face of the wrath of nature,” Mashnouq said. “I commit to the constant pursuit until the rights of civil defense members are attained and until the modernization of this apparatus is completed,” he concluded.
Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on March 03-04/18
US, Europe to 'Punish' Syrian Regime
London - Asharq Al-Awsat/Marchg 03/18/US President Donald Trump, his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel aim to pressure Russia to comply with Resolution 2401 on cease-fire and "punish" the Syrian regime for "chemical use" in Ghouta. A US aircraft carrier arrived to the Mediterranean Sea to participate in maneuvers with Israel. Asharq Al-Awsat learned from Western sources in New York that the United States is determined to hold the Syrian regime and ISIS accountable after it was proven they were involved in the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Trump's administration "is still working to achieve this goal through two draft resolutions", according to a Western source. One of the draft resolutions presented to UN Security Council earlier would establish the United Nations Independent Mechanism of Investigation (UNIMI) for a period of one year "to identify perpetrators of chemical weapons' attacks in" Syria. In this regard, Trump spoke in separate calls with Merkel and President Macron. Merkel and Macron both agreed with Trump that the Syrian regime, and its Russian and Iranian supporters, should immediately and fully implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 2401, which calls for an immediate ceasefire across Syria, stated the White House. The leaders called on Russia to stop bombing Eastern Ghouta, to compel the Assad regime to halt offensive operations against civilian areas, and also to hold Syria accountable for the deteriorating human rights conditions in Eastern Ghouta, which is caused by the Assad regime’s continued use of chemical weapons, attacks on civilians, and blocking of humanitarian aid. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad al-Hussein said on Friday Syrian regime airstrikes on besieged eastern Ghouta "probably constitute war crimes and must be prosecuted."Hussein began his speech by saying that people of Eastern Ghouta have been under siege for over half a decade where they have suffered airstrikes, shelling and on several occasions, civilians have reportedly died gasping for breath after toxic agents were released. "We have received reports of relentless airstrikes hitting hospitals, schools and markets in recent weeks. People living in what was once an ordinary suburb – humanbeings who share the rights and hopes of all of us here – are trapped and battered by bombs, and deprived of every human right – above all, the right to life," he told the commission. The Commissioner indicated that Syria must be referred to the International Criminal Court, adding that attempts to thwart justice, and shield these criminals, are disgraceful. Syria’s ambassador in Geneva, Hussam Aala described Hussein's report as “selective and biased” and that the debate was “politicized”. The Syrian army had taken every step to protect civilians and had opened “humanitarian corridors for the passage of civilians to separate them from the terrorists”, he said, referring to the insurgents in eastern Ghouta. An official at the military alliance supporting Assad stated that regime forces have significantly advanced on the western side of the opposition-controlled Harasta enclave. He told Reuters that they are gradually reclaiming the area as well as taking control of villages from the eastern side. Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said government forces had taken control of buildings in the area. However, opposition denied those reports.

Saudi Crown Prince Sets off on Maiden Foreign Tour
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 03/18/Saudi Arabia's crown prince lands in Egypt Sunday on the first leg of his maiden foreign tour as heir to the throne, a diplomatic charm offensive that follows his stunning rise to power. Prince Mohammed bin Salman's two-day visit to Cairo comes ahead of a scheduled trip to Britain on Wednesday for talks with Prime Minister Theresa May and the United States from March 19-22. The trips are aimed partly at courting investors and come after a tumultuous period that saw a major military shake-up and a royal purge, part of the prince's sweeping power play that has shaken business confidence. The son of Saudi King Salman is already seen as the country's de facto ruler controlling the major levers of government. His visit to Cairo, a key regional ally, comes before Egypt's presidential polls in late March, with incumbent Abdel Fattah al-Sisi expected to win a second four-year term.
"Prince Mohammed's visit will be interpreted as proof of Saudi support for Sisi to remain as the president of Egypt in the coming term," Mostafa Kamel al-Sayed, a political science professor at Cairo University, told AFP. Egypt is part of a Saudi-led military coalition which intervened in Yemen in March 2015 to fight Iran-backed Huthi rebels, a conflict that the United Nations says has engendered the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
Saudi Arabia and Egypt are also part of a bloc of nations that has boycotted Qatar since June over alleged ties to Islamic extremists and Iran. Qatar denies the accusations. A Saudi government source said Prince Mohammed's choice of Egypt for his maiden overseas trip as crown prince "reaffirms Saudi-Egyptian cooperation at the highest level". Talks would cover regional rival Iran, the conflict in Yemen, counter-terrorism and energy cooperation, the source said. The crown prince is also expected to visit France in the coming weeks.
- 'Uncertainty and turbulence' -The diplomatic offensive comes as Prince Mohammed, a self-styled moderniser who has sought to project a liberal image of Saudi Arabia to investors, consolidates power to a level unseen by previous rulers. A dramatic shake-up announced on Monday saw military top brass, including the chief of staff and heads of the ground forces and air defence, replaced. Prince Mohammed's reshuffle came after he sidelined political rivals to become heir to the throne last June and orchestrated a royal anti-corruption purge in November that saw princes, ministers and tycoons locked up in Riyadh's luxury Ritz-Carlton hotel for nearly three months. "His first trip as crown prince is symbolically a moment for the young Saudi ruler to try to put Riyadh's best foot forward on the world stage," Andrew Bowen, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told AFP. "It comes at a time of uncertainty and turbulence at home and he has an upward task of both selling to the business community that Saudi is a stable and safe place to do business and that he has a steady hand on foreign policy despite Qatar and Yemen. This certainly won't be an easy sell." The British government said Prince Mohammed's visit will help enhance cooperation in tackling challenges such as "terrorism, extremism, the conflict and humanitarian crisis in Yemen". But some protests are expected during his visit over the West supplying Saudi Arabia with arms despite the kingdom's role in the crisis gripping Yemen, said Mohamed Abdelmeguid, an analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit. - 'Competitive rivalry -The crown prince's visit to the United States in late March, which a Saudi government source said could include multiple cities, would highlight the Trump administration's efforts to sign a nuclear cooperation accord with Saudi Arabia. Riyadh is expected to announce this year who will build the first two of up to 16 reactors, and negotiations are under way with the United States for its agreement to export technology needed for their construction. Besides the US company Westinghouse, Russian, French, Chinese and South Korean firms have all been seeking the Saudi contracts. Another key focus could be the Aramco initial public offering. The kingdom is preparing to sell under five percent of its state-owned oil giant, the crown jewel of the Saudi economy, in what is expected to be the world's largest ever IPO.
"Prince Mohammed may seek to foster a competitive rivalry between a UK government desperate to attract Saudi investment to offset the Brexit chaos and his US hosts, particularly over the Aramco IPO," said Kristian Ulrichsen, a fellow at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University in the United States. US President Donald Trump hosted Prince Mohammed in March 2017, just weeks after taking office, and he chose Saudi Arabia for his first official overseas visit as president.
Saudi Arabia has grown close to its longtime ally Washington under Trump, whose harder line on Iran and softer stance on arms sales are a welcome shift in policy for Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia viewed Trump's predecessor president Barack Obama as too accommodating towards Iran -- particularly on negotiating a 2015 nuclear deal.

Iran Says No Missile Talks Unless West Gives Up Its Nuclear Weapons
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 03/18/Iran's armed forces spokesman said on Saturday that there can be no talks on the country's missile programme without the West's destruction of its nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. "What Americans say out of desperation with regards to limiting the Islamic republic of Iran's missile capability is an unattainable dream," Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri told the official IRNA news agency. "The condition for negotiations on Iran's missiles is the destruction of America's and Europe's nuclear weapons and long-range missiles."Jazayeri said US criticism of Iran's missile programme was driven by "their failures and defeats in the region." US President Donald Trump has threatened to tear up a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers unless more is done to curb Iran's missile programme. European governments have been scrambling to appease Trump and keep the deal intact, and have voiced increasing concern over Iran's missile programme. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who is due to visit Iran on Monday, said last month that its missile programme and involvement in regional conflicts needed to be addressed if Iran "wants to return to the family of nations".

Regime Forces Advance in Syria's Battered Ghouta

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 03/18/Naharnet/March 03/18/Syrian regime forces have advanced inside Eastern Ghouta, a monitor said on Saturday, as fighting intensifies on the ground to retake the battered rebel enclave east of Damascus. Russia-backed government forces on February 18 launched an assault of the besieged region, pounding the area with air strikes, killing more than 630 civilians. On February 25, clashes on the ground between the armed opposition and regime forces intensified on the edges of the enclave, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said. Since Thursday, regime forces have advanced inside the region, retaking an area in the enclave's southeast, as well as another and two military bases in the south from main opposition group Jaish al-Islam. "Regime forces and their allies have intensified their attacks on rebel positions in the past 48 hours," Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said. Government fighters are trying to advance inside Eastern Ghouta to cut off the main town of Douma and its surroundings in the north of the enclave, as well as isolate the southeastern area of Al-Marj, Abdel Rahman said. The Observatory says "Russian advisors" are taking part in the battles alongside regime forces in Eastern Ghouta, backed by heavy air strikes and shelling. Since February 25, 60 regime and allied fighters have been killed, while 34 rebels from Jaish al-Islam have also died, it said. Rebels today control only a third of the area they once held in Eastern Ghouta in 2012, as regime forces have gradually taken back territory from them. Eastern Ghouta's 400,000 residents have lived under regime siege since 2013, facing severe food and medicine shortages even before the latest offensive. The ground offensive coincides with the start of a five-hour daily "humanitarian pause" announced by Russia and in force since Tuesday. The bombardment has lessened but continued to claim lives since, and trucks loaded with desperately needed aid have remained unable to enter the enclave. Moscow said it would provide safe passage to non-combatants wishing to leave the enclave during the pause, but no Syrian civilians have left since Tuesday, according to the Observatory. The daily pause falls far short of a nationwide 30-day ceasefire demanded by the UN Security Council at the weekend. More than 340,000 people have been killed and millions have fled their homes since the start of Syria's civil war in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.
Bahrain arrests 116 suspects in counter-terror operations
Bahrain News Agency, Manama/Saturday, 03 March 2018/In-line with its commitment to combatting terrorism and external interference in Bahrain’s internal affairs, the security authorities have launched a series of successful counter-terror operations resulting in the arrest of 116 suspected terrorists. The individuals arrested are suspected of a range of terror crimes, including planning and executing terror attacks as well as manufacturing, storing and transporting explosive devices.
IRGC supported terrorist network
Comprehensive investigations have revealed that the suspected terrorists were members of a network formed and supported by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRGC). The network was planning to target Bahraini officials, members of the security authorities and vital oil installations, with the objective of disturbing public security and harming the national economy. As a result of the investigations, security forces were able to disrupt the network’s activities and limit the movements of terrorist operatives. By providing material, recruitment and training support to terrorists, the IRGC and its affiliates, including the Asaib Ahl al-Haq (League of Righteous People) in Iraq and Hezbollah in Lebanon, are directly responsible for the intensification of terrorist activity in Bahrain. The investigations revealed that terror cells within the network were operating under the supervision of IRGC-affiliated groups and fugitive terrorist leaders in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon.The main terrorist leaders include Aqeel Al Sari, Murtadha Al Sindi and Qassim Al Muamen. All are responsible for recruiting terrorists in Bahrain, arranging firearms and explosives training for terrorists, establishing secret warehouses and hideouts, and supplying terrorist groups with funding, firearms and explosives to carry out attacks.
Terrorist training locations
The investigation also revealed that 48 of the 116 suspected terrorists arrested had received training at IRGC facilities in Iran and their affiliated locations in Iraq and Lebanon.
The terrorist groups within the network were responsible for the following:
• Organizing warehouses to store weapons and explosives
• Monitoring potential locations for terrorist attacks
• Transporting and distributing cash and explosives
• Manufacturing explosives
• Executing terrorist attacks
The investigations also led to the discovery of a number of sites used to manufacture and store explosives intended to be used for terrorist attacks. The crime scene team classified the seized items, including:
• More than 757kg of urea nitrate
• Kalashnikovs, pistols, ammunition and detonators
• Magnetic bombs and grenades
• Anti-personnel explosives as well as devices which can pierce armoured vehicles
• Vehicles used for transporting explosives
• Four fragmentation bombs which can be launched through an RPG and used to destroy light armored vehicles. An examination by the forensic lab showed that three of the bombs matched the specifications of the PG7 manufactured by the Iranian ordnance factories
The General Directorate of Criminal Investigation and Forensic Science has referred the case to the Public Prosecutor.

UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs Gargash: Solution to Qatar’s crisis is Riyadh

Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Saturday, 3 March 2018/The UAE’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Anwar al-Gargash, said on Saturday that it has become very clear that the matter on Qatar solving its crisis is a Gulf one. Their gateway to the solution is Riyadh, he added. Making his statements on twitter, Gargash continued saying: “It is very expensive to uphold Qatar’s existing policy. If they steer clear from desperate actions and stop beating around the bush, their remaining options are clear.”“Stop inflicting harm or accept isolation,” added the minister.
Mohammed bin Salman efforts. On other regional matters, Gargash said: “From London, it is clear that the biggest and most important regional event is the visit of the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Britain. The minister described the visit as an important tour “bearing Saudi political weight and an ambitious program that will change the region positively.” In a separate tweet, Gargash continued to comment on the crown prince’s efforts saying: “Western decision-making circles realize that Saudi Arabia, the important regional pole, is strengthening its position by renewing and modernizing ambition.”Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to this site is the most important news of our region with all its positive outcomes,” he added.

US envoys to visit Gulf states in renewed attempt to resolve Qatar spat

Al Arabiya with Agencies/Saturday 03 March 2018/Two envoys from the administration of US President Donald Trump will launch a renewed bid to try to end the Gulf crisis in a tour of the region next week, according to the Associated Press. Trump wants to bring feuding Gulf leaders to Camp David for a show of solidarity with the United States. But there are strings attached: No breakthrough in the Qatar crisis, no Camp David, reported the news agency. A potential summit of the six-country Gulf Cooperation Council in May at the prestigious presidential retreat in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains will be scuttled unless Qatar and neighbors Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain are on track to resolve the nearly year-long spat. The visit by the envoys to the region may be the US’s last attempt to resolve the crisis. This comes as Doha continues to use international platforms to market the spat as a major crisis, according to a statement by the Arab quartet boycotting Qatar. The was seen in recent statements from Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani on the sidelines of the Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva. The minister used his presence at UN headquarters to repeat that his country was under an unjust blockade that contradicted human rights and that those responsible should be held accountable. (With the Associated Press)

Trump’s Team Releases Economic Report, Compares Him to Reagan, Kennedy
Washington - Heather Long/The Washington Post /March 03/18/
President Trump’s policies are driving an economic turnaround that puts him in the company of transformative presidents such as John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, White House economists said Wednesday as they unveiled their first “Economic Report of the President.”The report presents a highly optimistic view of the economy’s current condition and future course, with growth predictions that exceed most nonpartisan economists’ expectations. Economists also caution the White House’s efforts to juice growth could cause the economy to overheat and then careen into a downturn. But the White House argues Trump’s economy has already outperformed expectations, noting 2.3 percent growth in the US gross domestic product last year. And it argues the administration’s efforts to cut taxes and strip regulations can push growth rates far beyond recent levels. “The Trump Administration is the first since that of President Ronald Reagan to see positive economic growth exceed its first-year forecast,” the White House said when it released the 568-page report. Going forward, Trump’s team predicts 3 percent GDP growth for years to come. That’s short of the 4 percent growth Trump promised while campaigning, but it would still be a marked improvement from former president Barack Obama’s time in office. “We’ve restored economic policies to where a sensible, rational country would put them,” said economist Kevin Hassett, head of Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers. For now, however, the Trump economy is performing much as it did during Obama’s final years. Hiring during Trump’s first year in office was slower than the annual pace in Obama’s last several years, and the economic growth rate was similar in 2017 to what it was in 2014 and 2015. The one noticeable change has been a jump in business and consumer confidence since the election, according to nonpartisan economists. Trump’s report repeatedly casts the Obama economy as a period of “stagnation” where the former president “worsened the wound” of the crisis with his policies. In contrast, the Trump economy is described as “reinvigorating,” “pro-growth” and visionary.
Every president since Harry Truman in 1947 has put out an annual economic report laying out a vision for how to boost growth and lower unemployment and making projections of what’s ahead for the next decade.
Forecasting where the economy is headed is notoriously difficult, and both Republican and Democratic administrations have been way off. Predictions from George W. Bush and Obama proved too optimistic. In 2011, the Obama team predicted growth would soar to 4 percent a year in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Growth didn’t come close to that. Most independent economists think Trump’s forecast is also too rosy. The current expansion is already nine years old, making it one of the longest periods of growth in US history. Trump is projecting he can beat the 1990s expansion to usher in the longest expansion ever.
Economists warn that there’s been a dramatic change since the 1990s: America’s population is a lot older now. Many baby boomers are retiring, which is dragging down growth. On top of that, Trump wants to restrict immigration. With fewer workers in the economy going forward, the United States could struggle to match past growth rates. Macroeconomic Advisers, a top forecasting company, predicts 2.7 percent growth this year and 2.6 percent in 2019, but after that, growth is expected to fall back to 1.8 percent.“The pretty solid growth we’re showing over the next couple of years is in part the result of the boost from the Tax Cut and Jobs Act, but that’s only a temporary boost in growth,” said Ben Herzon, senior economist at Macroeconomic Advisers. “The only way to get to 3 percent growth on a sustained basis is faster growth of the labor force or faster growth of productivity. I just don’t see that happening.”
Productivity has been stubbornly low in the United States since the dot-com era, and that slowdown has occurred in Europe and Japan as well. The Trump team forecasts a large jump in productivity as businesses use their tax savings to invest more in new equipment, factories and technology. Business capital spending did rise in 2017, but it’s still nowhere near where it was in the 1990s. The Trump administration is relying on “faith-based economics,” said Ed Yardeni, head of Yardeni Research. Trump says he’s just getting going. The report touts the benefits of the tax cuts. Based on the latest totals, White House economists note “over 300 companies” have announced bonuses, wage increases and extra contributions to retirement accounts. More than 4.2 million workers are enjoying the benefits right now, economists said, and Americans are starting to see the tax savings in their paychecks.
Trump’s team said the economy could get a further boost from more favorable trade agreements and an infrastructure deal. The White House is pushing lawmakers to pass legislation that would revamp the country’s roads, waterways and other infrastructure, though it faces a difficult path through a divided Congress because there is no clear way to fund the plan, and deficits could hit $1 trillion as early as next year. The White House continues to argue that the tax cut will pay for itself with faster growth, but nonpartisan economists disagree. Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation estimates the tax bill would add at least $1 trillion to the debt over the next decade, even after accounting for some extra growth. A growing number of economists say a more likely course for the US economy is a boom in the next year or two and then a bust. They foresee all the extra spending in Washington and the deficit-financed tax cuts are likely to cause the US economy to overheat. “We are prepared to risk the whole economy for the sake of one point of extra GDP,” said economist Desmond Lachman at an event last week at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute. He sees rising risks, especially if inflation starts to rise rapidly, forcing the Federal Reserve to increase interest rates sharply in the next two years. The Trump administration pushes back on such grim forecasts, with officials saying they think inflation will remain low — around the Fed’s 2 percent — for years to come, even with all the extra stimulus from the tax cuts and higher government spending. Trump’s approach to the economy, much like Reagan’s, is meant to trigger businesses to spend and invest more, which his advisers say will cause wages to rise and growth to stay high for years to come.
“If you think about our policies, then they’re almost, across the board, supply-side policies,” Hassett said. “We think that the beneficial effects of the supply-side stimulus, especially that begin to accumulate after this year, take a lot of pressure off of inflation.”

Libya: GNA Forms Committee to Conclude Truce in Sabha
Cairo - Khalid Mahmoud/Asharq Al Awsat/March 03/18
UN Envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame has warned against maintaining the status quo in Libya and invited the country’s officials to launch initiatives to reach consensus. His comments came during his meeting with members of the Libyan parliament on Friday. Salame met on Thursday night with Libyan Army Commander Marshall Khalifa Haftar, with whom he discussed the political process and latest developments, according to statements issued separately by the two officials. They also admitted that the UN plan for holding presidential and parliamentary elections before the end of this year was facing many obstacles. Meanwhile, the United Nations Mission expressed its deep concern over the military escalation in Sabha, southern Libya, and said in a statement that the arbitrary use of weapons in densely populated areas must be stopped, noting that at least six civilians were killed and nine were injured in the city. In this context, the Government of National Accord, headed by Fayez al-Sarraj announced the formation of a committee that would also include representatives from the Parliamentary and State Councils, to conclude a truce in Sabha, which is witnessing severe tension since last week. The Presidential Council said in a statement that it “deeply regrets developments in the city of Sabha, and the clashes and fighting between Libyan brothers, in violation of their reconciliation agreement.” The Council added that it “stands at an equal distance from all parties, and urges them to resort to dialogue and understanding.”

Kurdistan Crossings With Turkey, Iran Await Political Agreement
Irbil- Ihsan Aziz/Asharq Al Awsat/March 03/18/Border crossings linking Kurdistan region of Iraq with Iran and Turkey were points of political disagreements between Baghdad and Erbil prior to the September 25 independence referendum, and even became a major obstacle before the normalization of political and administrative relations between the federal government and regional government. Baghdad still demands that the Kurdistan government hands over the five official crossings to the federal authorities as a condition to start the dialogue and political negotiation with the region. The federal government even sought to seize these crossings, that link the region and Iraq with Turkey and Iran, by military force, through coordination with Ankara and Tehran. However, this project seems to have been disrupted by the superpowers that pushed the federal government into resorting to a peaceful option and political dialogue to resolve the problem of the border crossings. Despite the prior agreement between Iran and Turkey in this regard, Tehran closed its three border ports with Kurdistan for 40 days, and then voluntarily re-opened them after Ankara procrastinated closing "Ibrahim Khalil" vital port, in an attempt to monopolize Kurdistan's markets. Kurdistan has five official main border crossings with the three neighboring countries: Ibrahim al-Khalil, that links the country with Turkey, Faysh Khabur crossing west of Dohuk, which links Iraq with Syria, Haj Omran crossing with Iran, and Bashmagh crossing with Iran, as well as the crossing Parvez Khan crossing with Iran. Kurdistan’s general director of customs, Samal Abdul-Rahman, told Asharq al-Awsat that Kurdistan’s main five border crossings remain under the control of the region’s authorities, noting that Baghdad had not sent its observers to partake in the management of those crossings as agreed. He revealed that revenues from operations at those crossings still go to the region’s government despite progress made in negotiations for the joint administration of those facilities. He explained that the agreement has not yet gone into action waiting for the broader political deal between Irbil and Baghdad. The federal government issued a resolution earlier this year to close non-official crossings between the region and neighboring countries, which are over 10 crossings that have already been closed. Abdul Rahman indicated that Kurdistan government considers all the crossings linking the region with neighboring countries to be official, however, Baghdad officially recognizes only five crossings: Ibrahim al-Khalil, Faysh Khabur, Haj Omran, Bashmagh, and Parvez Khan. Trade exchange between Kurdistan with Iran and Turkey reached about $10 billion with Ankara, and about $6 billion with Tehran, according to the general directorate of customs. Meanwhile, director of Haj Omran crossing, Masoud Bakeli announced that trade with Iran is gradually returning to normal, now that Winter season is almost over. The crossing was closed by Iranian authorities at the request of the Iraqi authorities, and it was reopened two months ago. Hajj Omran has not received any staff, observers or even administrative instructions from the Iraqi government, Bakeli told Asharq al-Awsat. The official denied that Iran has imposed specific conditions on the administration of the crossing in return for allowing the resumption of trade exchange. "Iran closed the crossing by a unilateral decision and reopened it by a unilateral decision. We did not yet know the motives behind such decision," he indicated. He also denied the export of crude oil to the Iranian side, but pointed out that a limited number of oil tanks transport black oil to the other side, based on official permits issued from the government.

Infantino: Rouhani Pledges Women to Get Access to Football Stadiums
Geneva - Asharq Al-Awsat/March 03/18/FIFA President Gianni Infantino said on Friday he had been told by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that there are plans to allow women to attend football matches in the country soon. Infantino said he met Rouhani during a visit to Tehran on Thursday where he also attended a derby between Esteghlal and Persepolis, one of the top fixtures in the Iranian season. “I was promised that women in Iran will have access to football stadiums soon,” he said during an event at FIFA headquarters in Zurich.“He told me that in countries such as (Iran), these things take a bit of time.” The Iranian group OpenStadiums, which is campaigning for the right of women to attend sports fixtures in the country, said that some women were arrested near Azadi stadium on Thursday during the Esteghlal-Persepolis match. “When Mr. Infantino was enjoying a football match in men-only stadium, Iranian female football fans were under arrest,” the group said on Twitter. The semi-official Iranian students news agency ISNA quoted Interior Ministry spokesman Salman Samani as saying the female fans were not arrested but rather transferred to a “proper place” by police. Infantino said he was aware of criticism of his visit but felt it was better to engage in dialogue with Iranian leaders. “I heard there were some incidents where some women were detained because they wanted to attend a football match and there was some criticism, obviously and rightly,” he said.“There are two ways to deal with this matter - either we criticize, we sanction, we condemn, we don’t speak and we cut relations. Or we go there and have a discussion and try to convince the leaders of the country that they should give (women) access to stadiums. I went for the second option.”There was no immediate Iranian comment on Infantino’s remarks. Rouhani’s office denied reports on Thursday that the ban on women attending matches had already been lifted. OpenStadiums said a similar promise over female access had been made in 2013 to Infantino’s predecessor Sepp Blatter.

Suspect in US University Shooting Apprehended
Asharq Al-Awsat/March 03/18/A 19-year-old student suspected of killing his parents at a Central Michigan University dormitory before running from campus was arrested without incident early Saturday following an intensive daylong search. James Eric Davis Jr. was apprehended after an individual spotted him on a train passing through the north end of campus shortly after midnight, according to a release posted on Central Michigan's Emergency Communication website.The manhunt for the student had included more than 100 police officers, some heavily armed in camouflage uniforms, authorities said. CMU President George E. Ross thanked the campus, surrounding community and law enforcement personnel "who came together to keep each other safe and apprehend the suspect," according to the university police website. Friday's shooting at Campbell Hall happened on a day when parents were arriving to pick up students for the beginning of a week-long spring break. The university identified the two dead as Davis' mother Diva Davis and father James Davis Sr., a part-time police officer in the Chicago suburb of Bellwood. The shooting occurred around 8:30 a.m. at a residence hall at Central Michigan, which is about 70 miles (112.6 kilometers) north of Lansing. "This has been a tragic day. ... The hurting will go on for a while," said Ross. Klaus said Davis was taken to a hospital Thursday night by campus police because of a drug-related health problem, possibly an overdose.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 03-04/18
Punished for Not Chanting "Death to America, Israel, Britain"

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Gatestone Institute/March 03/18
Some sympathizers with extremist Muslims even try to insist that these messages are merely examples of "cultural differences". The goal of these sympathizers seems to be to mislead a vulnerable populace into thinking that they should not worry about these chants or about the open and passionate threats against their communities.
This dumbing-down is especially intriguing because the same people who attempt culturally to explain, justify or minimize the meaning of "Death to America" and "Death to Israel" have never lived under Islamic rule or even studied those fundamentalist states. Yet they take it upon themselves to explain the meaning of these chants as if they know better than the people issuing them.
Ultimately this conditioning of the Western culture allows the extremist Muslims to expand their agenda slowly and covertly, while those who raise the alarm are shoved to edge of society and ostracized as "racists" or "Islamophobes," while the public remains lulled into a slumbering state.
One of the most astonishing misconceptions I have come across in the West is the habit that some people -- especially many media outlets -- have of attempting to trivialize radical Islamists chants such as "Death to America", "Death to Israel", and "Death to Britain". Even government officials tend to reduce these outbursts of hatred from the threats they really are to common banter.
Some of the so-called leftists, as well as agents of the extremist Muslim groups in the West, or spokesmen for the Islamic Republic of Iran, try to explain that these chants do not mean what they say, and what most people probably assume they say. Some sympathizers with extremist Muslims even try to insist that these messages are merely examples of "cultural differences". The purpose of these sympathizers is seemingly to mislead a vulnerable populace into thinking that they should not worry about those chants or about the open and passionate threats against their communities.
This dumbing-down is especially intriguing because the same people who attempt culturally to explain, justify or minimize the meaning of "Death to America" and "Death to Israel" have never lived under Islamic rule or even studied those fundamentalist states. Yet they take it upon themselves to explain the meaning of these chants as if they know better than the people issuing them.
The objective of these sympathizers seems clear: to coax Westerners into a false sense of security and encourage them not to take these threats seriously. These sympathizers stress the importance of not being alarmed by these chants, and try to convince the public that being afraid is a simply sign of ignorance. Ultimately this conditioning of the Western culture allows the extremist Muslims to expand their agenda slowly and covertly, while those who raise the alarm are shoved to edge of society and ostracized as "racists" or "Islamophobes", while the public remains lulled into a slumbering state.
I grew up being taught every morning in school to raise my fist and chant loudly "Death to America", "Death to Israel" and "Death to Britain". There was no confusion as to the meaning of those chants. If I did not do so, I was severely punished. Unfortunately, "Death to" means exactly what it says.
Where I grew up, chants were, and still are, one of the most powerful brainwashing tools utilized by extremist Muslim leaders to coerce their followers to fulfill the leaders' religious and political wishes. Chants and slogans served to mobilize, unite, and empower people in a way that almost no other tool has succeeded in doing.
"Death to" has both religious and political connotations in Islamism. As advocated and spread by leaders, many of whom are extremists, not only does the chant promote the desire for someone to die; it also instructs the populace to take matters into their own hands to fulfill a supposedly, good, noble and "Godly" duty.
The phrase was first coined by Ayatollah Khomeini, a Grand Ayatollah whose words are equal to Islamic laws and fatwas [opinions on Islamic law] that are mandatory for every Muslim to follow. If any Muslim resists, he is considered no longer to be a Muslim, and therefore subject to death for apostasy.
I remember one morning in the middle of school when our studies were suddenly interrupted by the Islamic school authorities. They arrived with gifts of chocolates and other sweets, which they distributed to everyone. The sweetness turned bitter when I realized the gifts were given to celebrate the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the former Prime Minister of Israel. When I refused to participate, I was punished.
Punishments included being ostracized by the community; unable to attend classes in that school, or any other school in the country and being forbidden to speak to any student from that school. If anyone dared to associate with me in any way, they would receive the same punishment. There was also physical violence: punches in the stomach or the backs of my hands beaten with a stick. While I was attacked, they would parade me in front of the students and teachers with demeaning insults such as dirty Zionist, dirty American or Westerner, and a disgrace to the Islamist rule of Iran.
The question is: if "Death to" does not mean what it says, why is it that when anyone in a targeted nation or group is killed, the extremist Muslims go out of their way to celebrate?
At first, when such extremist Muslim chants began, many took them lightly. It seemed foolish to believe that such threats were actually serious. But soon some Islamic groups, such as Iran, Al Qaeda and ISIS, and their followers, started transforming these chants from words into actions: crashing airplanes into buildings, slitting throats, ramming trucks into people, murdering people in restaurants, nightclubs or simply on the street.
Other examples of this behaviour include the Suicide bombing in Lebanon
that killed 241 American servicemen (220 Marines, 18 sailors, and three soldiers); the Khobar Towers bombing, the bombing of the USS Cole with the direct support and involvement of Hezbollah, Al Qaeda and Iran. Any scholar or policy analyst who has studied these matters even a little would be cognizant of the fact that there exists an abundance of evidence of the Islamic regimes and groups killing Americans, Israelis, and Westerners.
Moreover, such chants by leading imams and states serve to incite further global hatred and antagonism towards Christians, Americans, Jews, Israelis and people in the West. Such chants do lead to acts of terrorism and will again. They inspire the radicals and their strict followers to feel the urge to take matters into their own hands and kill "the enemy". By fulfilling the calls of Islamic these rulers, many followers believe that in the next world, they will receive "blessings", such as Allah (God) giving them 72 virgins in the afterlife.
There are countless examples of followers committing such acts: the Berlin Christmas market attack; The Los Angeles International Airport shooting; the murders of the staff of the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo or the Parisian kosher supermarket; the Little Rock recruiting office shooting by the jihadist Addulhakim Muhajid Muhammad; the Fort Hood shooting by a U..S. army psychiatrist, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, whose business cards read SoA: Soldier of Allah; the Boston Marathon bombings; the terrorist attack with a hatchet against four New York policemen on a subway; the San Bernardino attack, the mass shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, the Ohio State University attack, the United States embassy bombings in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi, and in 2017 the Lower Manhattan attack, just to name a few. That does not even start to mention the attacks in Israel, Australia, Canada or the Indian Subcontinent. How many more examples need to be added to the list? How many acts of terror and innocent lives lost are needed before everyone, and the mainstream media, begin to recognize that yes, these chants mean "Death to America", "Death to Israel, and "Death to Britain"? They are very literal threats, meant to incite followers into murderous action. Let us not to continue delude ourselves and be misled by those who attempt to advance these Islamist agendas.
Their calls are far more than words. They are deep intentions that, if we do nothing to stop them, will, without question, continue to grow.
**Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, is a business strategist and advisor, Harvard-educated scholar, political scientist, board member of Harvard International Review, and president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He has authored several books on Islam and US Foreign Policy. He can be reached at Dr.Rafizadeh@Post.Harvard.Edu
© 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.

Artificial Intelligence in Policing
Noah Feldman/Bloomberg/March 03/18
The revelation that the New Orleans Police Department quietly used a Silicon Valley company to predict crime raises dilemmas similar to those emerging from artificial intelligence in other spheres, like consumer behavior, medicine and employment. But what's uniquely shocking about the story of New Orleans's partnership with the national security company Palantir is that it has remained largely unreported before now.
As an article in The Verge details, James Carville, the well-known Democratic strategist and Bill Clinton adviser, did actually mention the partnership on a radio program back in 2014. He knew about it for a simple reason: It was his idea (at least according to Carville). By his account, Palantir was looking for “pro bono” opportunities, which is often code for a corporate dry run for untested technology. Carville connected Palantir to New Orleans, and the relationship was established on a “philanthropic” basis -- thus effectively circumventing disclosure requirements.
It should go without saying that experimenting with predictive AI in real-world law enforcement demands public oversight and awareness. The debate that is now beginning should have been had before the technology was used to build indictments, not afterward. Nevertheless, it would also be a mistake if the only outrage is over the failure to make public disclosures. The more important conversation must address the deeper issues this case raises. Law enforcement -- and criminal justice more broadly -- must be evaluated on two separate criteria: pragmatic effectiveness and legal justice. On the first criterion, it's important to note that there isn’t yet any clear evidence that the Palantir-New Orleans partnership works. Palantir would like to take credit for a New Orleans crime dip, but the data and the timing don’t necessarily support that. For now, the efficacy of machine-based crime prediction and protection must be treated as unproven at best. Of course, as advocates of big data analysis would surely point out, it takes time for predictive technologies to be refined (or in the case of machine learning, to refine themselves). The more data, the better. Translating prediction into prevention isn’t necessarily simple either. Our conversation could proceed on the assumption that someday, predictive machine learning tools with access to enough data might indeed be able to predict crime better than existing police tools do. After all, crime is a form of human behavior just like any other, and algorithmic AI models are getting better and better at predicting plenty of human behaviors in other realms.
So that brings us to the question of justice: What, if anything, is inherently worrisome about machine predictions of crime? The most obvious worry is that computers could get their predictions wrong and therefore encourage police to target people for investigation and surveillance who aren’t in fact going to commit crimes. This risk is real, and needs to be taken seriously. To be sure, in principle, machine predictions can’t and shouldn’t be used to charge anyone with a crime or convict them. The constitution still applies. Police and prosecutors would need non-statistical evidence of probable cause before violating suspects’ privacy or arresting them. If a case went to trial, the prosecution would have to provide evidence and the court would have to find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to convict. For these reasons, the procedural safeguards that we have already put in place provide some comfort to concerns about an algorithmic police state. Yet there are plenty of ways that police attention is undesirable even if it does not lead to a warrant, an arrest or criminal charges. The police are legally empowered to do all kinds of surveillance without a warrant, provided they are operating in public space. It's crucial in a democracy that the police choose their targets on the basis of reasonable suspicion -- not, say, racial bias or class prejudice.
Here is where things get very complicated. As we know, even without artificial intelligence, police use a range of statistical tools in identifying suspects and potentially dangerous locations. The tools popularized by former Boston, Los Angeles and New York chief of police William Bratton include, famously, a program called CompStat. That was a simple but powerful tool that enabled police to gather statistics of arrests and disturbance locations and use the aggregated data to deploy their investigative and preventive power. In other words, statistics have been used in crime fighting for at least a quarter century in many jurisdictions. Palantir's reliance on statistics is not what's controversial. What Palantir’s tools presumably do is to scrape publicly available data about crime and other police encounters and use them to build a model that’s supposed to individualize predictions. Given that police already use tools like the existence of an arrest record or a prior conviction to aid their investigation, how bad is it if a computer does the same, just more accurately?
In fact, if a computer can make more refined predictions than a person, wouldn't it eventually reduce the number of mistaken investigations and interrogations?
Great questions. Exactly the sort that need to be answered in broad daylight, with full transparency before and during the deployment of AI in policing.
We don't yet know enough about the process and outcomes of AI policing to know whether the New Orleans experiment is a step toward justice or toward an overreaching police state, but we do know the experiment was conducted with too much secrecy and too little accountability. The next steps need more scrutiny, more discussion and more transparency.

Danger in the north: PM Netanyahu must push Trump to act ‬‎
ياداعوت احرانوت: الخطر على إسرائيل هو على حدودها الشمالية والمطلوب من نتانياهو حث ترامب على التصرف
Ron Ben Yishai|/Ynetnews/March 03/18
Analysis: With the war in Syria winding down, all regional actors are stirring the pot: Iran is building bases, Russia is looking for money, Erdoğan is drawing the border and Kurds are on the hunt for a state; the only one absent is the US president, and the biggest casualty from that abstention is Israel; with all due respect to the Jerusalem embassy, it’s time for Netanyahu to bang on the desk in Washington.
While the Syrian civil war is apparently winding down, fighting will most likely not conclude in 2018, since the Russians or the United Nations—in their attempts to reach a political settlement to engender calm—have thus far failed in fostering accord between all of the disparate factors and interests involved. They can’t even get them all to sit down at the same negotiating table.
The military image on the ground is nevertheless coming into sharper and sharper focus, and it can be determined now that the military coalition supporting the regime of President Bashar Assad has prevailed. Russia, Iran and their proxies have succeeded in reinstating the president who butchered his own people across Syria’s land. Or what’s left of it.
It can also be determined that despite the fact that the Islamic State has suffered a mortal blow when it lost its self-proclaimed caliphate—or territory under its control in Syria and Iraq—the jihadist organization still perseveres, and continues fighting on the field and for the hearts of believers.
We may also determine that the Sunni Muslim rebel groups, which sparked the civil war to begin with, have long since lost any hope or chance of deposing Assad. They are still trying to defend a handful of enclaves they were able to hold onto from the war’s beginning and continue their infighting. Each of them is supported by a different regional patron—Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and so on—mostly to further their own interests.
Lastly, it can be safely said that the Syrian Kurd YPG militia, which has shown impressive capabilities at waging war, buttressed as it was by American advisers and Special Forces, has become a significant military and political factor in the Syrian arena.
Ceasefire collapsing in eastern Ghouta
YPG, in fact, was the only force on the ground that ran the Islamic State off from its main strongholds east of the Euphrates River (as both the Americans and Europeans bombarded from the air).
The Kurdish militia made no bones regarding displaying its intention to create a country—or at the very least an autonomous district—in northern Syria, with its capture of two enormous enclaves near the Turkish border, one east of the Euphrates and the other west of the river.
However, this pushed Turkey to invade and further widened the split between the two NATO allies—the United States and Turkey.
What’s Erdoğan afraid of?
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan considers the Syrian Kurdish moves a direct strategic threat to his country’s national security, mostly born of the fear that a country—or even Kurdish autonomy—in northern Syria will serve as a model and basis for the demands of the considerable Kurdish minority in southern Turkey.
That aside, the Turks well remember the tight, years’ long cooperation between the Syrian Kurdish YPG and the Turkish Kurdish PKK. On numerous occasions, PKK combatants left for terror attacks on Turkish soil from territory owned by Syrian Kurds and returned to same when Turkish security forces closed in on them.
The regime of Bashar Assad’s father and predecessor Hafez Assad turned a blind eye to this cross-border collaboration and, at times, even supported it, causing Turkey and Syria to reach the brink of war 20 years ago.
The Turkish streets, as well as the Ankara political opposition, well remember that. Erdoğan has thus been afforded wall-to-wall support when he flagrantly flaunted warnings from US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and sent the Turkish army, along with Free Syrian Army Sunni Syrian rebels groups loyal to him, to invade the Kurdish enclave in northwestern Syria.
The invasion’s main goal was to prevent the creation of an independent Syrian-Kurdish political entity on the Turkey-Syrian border (in addition to the Iraqi Kurd autonomous region near the Turkey-Iraq border). Another goal was to institutionalize a “buffer zone” ensuring the safety of southern Turkey residents from hostile forces and terror groups (such as Islamic State) that may attempt to carry out attacks against them from within the failed Syrian state.
The Syrian Kurds’ response to the invasion was also almost academic. They contacted Bashar Assad and invited forces loyal to him to enter Afrin in the enclave’s center to prevent the Turks and their allies from overtaking it.
While the Syrian Kurds have their own score to settle with the Assad family—which never recognized them as citizens with equal rights, neglected them and even slaughtered them on occasion—the Turks are much worse than the Alawites, who after all are themselves a minority in need of support from other minority groups such as Christians, Druze and, yes, Kurds as well.
PM Netanyahu obliged to rethink matters
It’s arguable whether the Turkish invasion of Syria is justified and whether it does not infringe on the norms of international law. What is clear, however, is that Erdoğan has taken such a drastic move to begin with because Ankara is genuinely fearful of the political and military settlement put together at the end of the Syrian civil war posing a real, strategic threat to Turkey’s national security.
Israel’s lots are not drastically different from Turkey’s in that regard. Jerusalem also fears—and rightfully so—that the coming days will set in stone facts on the ground in Syria that will adversely impact Israel’s national security and the safety of its people.
This isn’t to say that the IDF should invade the Syrian Golan Heights and the Damascus Basin to prevent entrenchment of Iran-affiliated militias and creation of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps missile bases (similarly to action undertaken by the Turkish army in its Operation Olive Branch underway against the Kurds in northwestern Syria).
The new situation forming in Syria and the international arena, however, necessitates the prime minister and Israel’s security chiefs to rethink—strategically and tactically, politically and militarily—the means and operating methods needed to prevent Syria becoming an Iranian puppet and launch pad for precision-targeted missiles and armed Shiite commando corps’ incursions into Israel.
Moreover, Iranian entrenchment in Syria will significantly increase the threat posed by Lebanon and also create a serious threat to aerial and maritime traffic both to and from Israel and its offshore gas rigs. In other words, the country’s economic well-being and energy independence are at stake here.
Qasem Soleimani’s entrenchment plan
An article published by the New York Times last week dealt with the entrenchment of foreign actors in Syria. A later Fox News report included a map showing Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah and Shiite militias (some 20,000 Iraqi, Afghan and Pakistani forces operating with direct Iranian funding and oversight) hold several dozen bases around Syria already.
The bases aren’t large, and most of them are far from the Golan Heights and are mostly used for incursions, intelligence collection and logistics in the fight against what rebel groups are still combating Assad’s regime.
If Commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force Qasem Soleimani had his way, however, Iranians will expand these “installations” to real air, land, sea and intelligence bases.
Soleimani also intends for the bases to be close enough to the Israeli border to enable forces to reach the Golan Heights boundary within a single night in order to steal across it and raid Israeli communities.
That won’t be happening tomorrow, nor will it happen all at once. The Iranians have a list of priorities as to what they wish to achieve in Syria. First, they wish for their client, Bashar Assad, to regain the maximal amount of land and stabilize his rule using Iranian and Russian help. The Iranians—together with Hezbollah, other Shiite militias and what’s left of the Syrian army—give Russians the “boots on the ground” needed to expand the territory the regime is attempting to retake.
Doing so enables Soleimani to break ground on an open land corridor from Tehran to Beirut through Iraq and Syria, which will enable Iran to become a strategic-military force to be reckoned with in the eastern Mediterranean, to expand the northern front against Israel and to move military assistance to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza through the sea.
This land corridor in effect already exists, but has several bottlenecks on the Iraqi-Syrian border, which the Americans and their Kurdish allies could snap shut at any moment.
Moscow, Tehran chasing money
The economy is at the very top of Iran’s priorities at the moment. Tehran has invested some $15 billion in Assad’s regime, its army and the fundamental needs of its people (such as fuel) throughout the civil war. The Iranian regime is eager to see a return on its investment, pressured as it is by public opinion.
To that end, Tehran is demanding Assad provide licenses to extract oil, gas and phosphates from the rich fields of the Euphrates Valley and eastern Syrian deserts, for the benefit of Iranian economic companies—most of which are either tied to the Revolutionary Guard or outright owned by them.
They are also demanding a portion of the port of Tartus, to export what they produce in the war-torn country, while also gaining a strategic naval foothold.
Assad’s no sucker, though, and has only massive debts in his state coffers. He also has a family that has gotten used to making a nice living and accruing vast sums of money in Swiss bank accounts at the expense of the Syrian man on the street and the country’s modest natural resources.
The Syrian president is therefore loath to give the Iranians what they’re asking, not least of which because Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is also demanding his cut of the shriveling pie.
The Kremlin knows full well no entity exists willing to foot the bill for the hundreds of billions required to restore Syria from its current ruins, and Russia therefore understands to look elsewhere for Russian economy’s salvation.
Nevertheless, Putin wishes to cover the expenses of his country’s military involvement in Syria and is therefore demanding licenses for prospecting for oil and phosphates.
This is in addition to the naval and air bases Russia was awarded in the Mediterranean’s basin. Assad knows well he can haggle with the Iranians, but that he shouldn’t even try with Putin.
IDF operating, but it isn’t enough
Putin isn’t the only one attempting to shape the Syrian “day after”, however, with the Iranians, Assad’s regime, Kurds and Turks all entering the fray. The Americans are also there, acting covertly to prevent Islamic State from returning to the land it has lost and to prevent the Iranian land corridor from forming.
The Pentagon is planning to create a coed force of 30,000 Kurdish Syrian combatants to that end, set to operate as a “border police” in northeastern Syria and on the border with Iraq. That’s at the top of the American defense establishment’s priorities list.
Generally speaking, it may be said that all of the entities involved in stirring the Syrian pot are smelling an impending political settlement and moving to promote their own political and economic agendas through same. Who’s looking after Israel’s interests, you may ask? Mostly the IDF, assisted by diplomatic lobbying by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Presidents Putin and Trump.
The IDF is operating on two channels: using covert inter-war operations it chips away at Iranian entrenchment in Syria and Hezbollah’s acquisition of quality weapons. It may also be assumed that humanitarian assistance to “local entities” in the Syrian Golan Heights, the Druze included, has produced several strategic benefits in intelligence and routine border security.
Netanyahu’s lobbying at the Kremlin, meanwhile, ensures Russian forces on Syrian soil stay out of those inter-war operations and that Putin declines to provide the Syrians and Iranians alike with weapons curtailing the Israel Air Force’s freedom of operation.
Both the Russians and Israel are operating according to the same guiding principle, which says that each side makes sure to not harm the other party’s vital interests.
As for the future, it appears pressures Assad has been exerting on the Syrians have narrowed down the Kremlin’s willingness to turn a blind eye to IDF preventative operations.
The White House, for its part, doesn’t even grant Israel that benefit, instead allowing the Russians to administer both all of the military moves and ceasefires and lead political settlement efforts.
As a result, Israel is not only absent from the political arena but also lacks a serious diplomatic leverage over future negotiations. Netanyahu’s lobbying in Moscow and inter-war operations, when it comes down to it, will fail to prevent the grievous harm that may come to our vital interests in the north if Iran is able to entrench itself there.
The conclusion is that Israel needs to bang on the desk in Washington and demand President Trump get his country heavily involved—both diplomatically and possibly militarily—in goings-on all across Syria and not merely east of the Euphrates.
Doing so will also serve Jordan’s strategic interests as well as those of other countries in the pro-Western Sunni Arab camp. Abandoning the Syrian arena to the Russians, however, will eventually allow the Iranians to reach their own strategic goals.
With all due respect, but the ceremonial opening of another bureau for the American ambassador to Israel in Jerusalem will do nothing to promote Israel’s existential strategic interests by even one millimeter. If Trump is a true friend of Israel, as he claims, he must prove it in Syria. And he must prove it now.

Putin to America: ‘We have ascendance over you’
Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/March 03/18
“An audacious display of power” is the least that can be said about the show President Vladimir Putin put on when he stood on a stage in front of a giant screen to unveil the “gems” of modern Russian weaponry. In his annual address to the Federal Assembly, Putin announced that Russia had started testing the Sarmat missile system which can carry intercontinental ballistic missiles to any part of the world. He also unveiled a supersonic, unmanned nuke-armed submarine. The missiles and the submarine have not been named, and so Putin asked the Russian people to propose names for them. His aim is to obviously involve the Russian people in this warmongering exercise. Who is Putin aiming these threats at? Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov gave the answer last Wednesday, while addressing the UN Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. “The presence of ready-for-use US tactical nuclear weapons in Europe is not just a rudiment of the Cold War, but clearly an aggressive stance,” Lavrov said. Washington’s response to Lavrov came when Pentagon’s chief spokesperson Dana White said: “We're not surprised by the statement. And the American people should rest assured that we are fully prepared,” adding that these Russian “weapons that are discussed have been in development a very long time. So no, our Nuclear Posture Review takes all of this into account.”
Is World War III imminent?
We are already witnessing US - Russia confrontation playing out across various theatres, such as in Syria.
The Cold War did not lead to World War III. It lasted about half a century, since the end of WWII in 1945. It wasn’t an open US-Russia confrontation involving their stockpile of dangerous weapons.
Is a major war imminent? We do not know but at least countries of the Middle East, particularly Syria, are embroiled in a war involving various political players and whose outcome may potentially have catastrophic consequences.
There’s probably no one in Washington or Moscow who appears ‘interested’ in launching a massive war between the two big powers. It is noteworthy how these statements sound as if we have returned to the 1960’s!
There isn’t anyone planning such a war because Russia and the US understand the disastrous consequences of direct military confrontation, which could potentially entail the annihilation of the entire human race or something close to that.
The situation may escalate due to the prevailing tensions. Syria and eastern Europe provide the arenas where the final human showdown might play out.
It’s become normal to hear the world’s two top leaders talk about what we once were scared to discuss.

Policymakers beware – It’s all about the narrative in the message
Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady/Al Arabiya/March 03/18
Central bank governors and OPEC chiefs have the same predicament – how to put out their message or narrative out without giving too much way and yet try to steer markets in the direction they want without spooking traders. If the new US. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell wanted the markets to take his maiden Semi-Annual testimony before the House Financial Services Committee yesterday as a first foray towards four rate hikes this year, he got what he was looking for, and then some. More specifically, Chairman Powell's "personal outlook" reply to the question about the March quarterly Summary of Economic Projections – a listing of a virtual cocktail recipe for an overheating economy -- sounded so jarringly bullish, if not outright hawkish that it leapt out from the otherwise more balanced remarks in the rest of the Q&A and the written testimony.‎
At minimum, it felt like a first small step towards a four hike path, and whether intended or not, Chairman Powell in that one response put a four hike market pricing just one or two stronger than expected data points away. The markets reacted by selling stocks and it took Powell the next day to resort to yet a more nuanced clarification to stave another sell off. Allaying fears that could have led to a new global banking contagion, according to Powell, the US banking system was "healthy", and that banks “ are better able to manage risk and failure. It's a good time in our system," he told the Senate Banking Committee. He also calmed fears that the pace of interest rate rises would accelerate. “There is no evidence the economy is overheating," Powell said. Although the current 4.1% unemployment rate was "at or near or even below" estimates of the full employment rate, "we don't see any evidence of a decisive move up in wages... Nothing in that suggests to me that wage inflation is at a point of acceleration." And so there it was – these new narratives saw Wall Street's main indexes overturn earlier losses to trade higher and eased some of the fears of faster interest rate hikes stoked by Powell's comments earlier this week about a strengthening US economy in his first appearance in Congress on Tuesday.
Market analysts will be somewhat cautious that the Fed will be moving too soon to a four rate hike scenario, preferring to see how inflation, and perhaps an early indication of investment spending look to be playing out this spring before signalling a fourth rate hike. That would put any upgrade in the pace of hikes this year more likely still into the June meeting. While the markets after an initial shock sell-off seem to have taken it in stride, we suspect a rates messaging that feels pre-emptive could nevertheless strain the Fed's ability to control its gradualist messaging if his remark is left alone The market, for instance, could go on alert for an even more hawkish Fed, pricing beyond four on every data point that comes in a bit stronger than expected in the months ahead. That could especially prove to be the case if the inflation prints show, as expected, an uptick this spring when last year's "transitory" downward pressures drop out of the year-on-year data. The main question for those waiting to see when to borrow is that despite all the upbeat data that we see coming out of the US, the main concern is going to be the pace of these rate hikes and how quickly is it going to happen.
A delicate balancing act
The US Fed will want to be a bit more cautious in the sequencing of its rates messaging, if that is the right way to describe it, as it is far easier transmission into the markets to modestly upgrade the economic and rates outlook as the data come in than it is go too soon to a more hawkish stance and then backpedal if the data should even modestly disappoint. It will, in any case, be a delicate messaging balancing act for the new Chairman in the next few months. US Fed officials are painfully aware that the balance they are seeking in the policy path between an overheating economy and nudging inflation up to mandate-consistent levels crucially first requires an equal balance in their policy signals. Ensuring a smooth transmission of the intended monetary policy into the real economy while at the same time containing speculative or excess reactions in the financial economy that could slow the economy's solid momentum too soon by too much could prove to be no mean feat. The same applies to those trying to ensure that oil prices are nudged to what is an acceptable level for the current OPEC and non OPEC producers, without "over heating" prices if stocks continue to rebalance much faster than anticipated, and once again inducing non participating oil producers to come in and redress balances and drive prices unintentionally down, thus going back to square one.
What the US Chairman says or does not say affects us all and both US and European bond yields - investments in fixed income as opposed to equities - have soared in recent months amid speculation that the Fed’s monetary policy will be tightened at a faster pace. But in the equity markets that possibility is increasingly testing nerves, as traders try to divine how many increases are coming. In the Gulf, these 3 or 4 expected rate increases could only lead to further interest rate hikes and domestic inflationary impulses affecting cost and productivity. The main question for those waiting to see when to borrow is that despite all the upbeat data that we see coming out of the US, the main concern is going to be the pace of these rate hikes and how quickly is it going to happen. At least though you have been warned as the narrative is out there for all to see but leaving each with his or her own take -away message of that given narrative.

What justifies Russian veto against Iran’s supply of weapons
Sawsan Al Shaer/Al Arabiya/March 03/18
The Security Council voted for a resolution that prevents Iran from providing the Houthis with weapons, but Russia vetoed this resolution. This implies that Russia opposes the resolution that prevents Iran from supplying Houthis with ballistic missiles that bombard our cities.
Leveraging economy for security
The question is how Russia justifies to Gulf countries the veto it exercised against the resolution that prevents Iran from supplying Houthis with weapons. I hope that GCC countries will deal seriously with this Russian decision. It is time to link our economic strength with our security interests, either by suspending our business deals, or by canceling them. What is important is that the international community should know that we will not accept what undermines our security. We cooperated with Russia to have a diversified security and prevent abuse of monopoly in our alliances. These were good decisions. Today, we must link these alliances with trade agreements as well. Interests should dictate our alliances, not friendships or commitments except for what aligns with our security interests. The world must take steps against countries like Iran for providing militias with weapons. Russia has such a strong bias towards Iran that it threatens the security of all the Gulf countries, despite apparent closeness between Gulf and Russia and the series of meetings held between the two sides. However, everyone knows that Iran is fighting us through its proxies, by continuously supplying weapons (especially those made in Russia or Iran) to its agents in Yemen. This means that the war will have no end.
Wantonness of militias
Iran does not raise ‘regular armies’, but musters irregular ‘militias’ that fight states, oppose decisions in their countries and forces their peoples to obey the militias — be it in Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen. Supplying these militias with weapons makes it impossible for them to merge with the state, which in turn makes it impossible for these countries to have stability. The threat to its neighbors is also heightened because these militias cannot be brought under the ambit of international conventions and treaties. Therefore, the world must take steps against countries providing militias with weapons.
Yemen is threatened by a militia that contravenes any form of legitimacy. Although Houthis are not a regular army, the state in Yemen has been overtaken by Houthi militia. Yemen has internal conflicts which threaten the entire region. Houthis launch missiles supplied by Iran in the direction of Saudi Arabia. Thus how can Russia justify this veto, which totally violates our security? Is the veto Russia used to thwart condemnation of the Syrian regime, when it bombed al-Ghouta, not enough? Russia now stands completely against our interests and our security. We should ask Russia to clarify its position towards us. It sells weapons to us even as it sells weapons through Iran to militias that threaten us. Then it torpedoes a move to prevent it from selling the weapons that threaten us, as if it seeks to benefit at the expense of our security! This is the rationale of a war trader and not of a state that builds international relations on a sound and sustainable premise.

The UAE ranks first in several international indices and among hearts
Mohammed Al-Hammadi/Al Arabiya/March 03/18
The ever-growing record of the UAE’s accomplishments and its distinction of standing first in many international indices is testimony to the fact that it has successfully achieved the goals it set up more than a decade ago. The Government of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai had set up a clear goal for itself back in 2007, in that the UAE should become ‘number one’ in every sphere and walk of life.
Taking on the ‘impossible’
The leadership, government and people of the UAE have realized that reaching the first place is not an easy task. Quite the opposite, it is a formidable goal because we live in a Middle East where all security, political and economic challenges converge and attaining greatness is a daunting prospect. It is difficult to aspire to be the first amid the surrounding violence, extremism and terrorism, as well as the pervading greed, hatred and envy. However, we live in the UAE and under a leadership that does not know the impossible. We are solving a difficult equation, in a difficult place and time just because we do not know the “impossible”. In the global competitive report for the year of 2017 - 2018, the UAE has succeeded in securing the first place in 50 international indices. Overall, the service sector that promote the interest of the community and the people have performed exceptionally, including the quality of government decisions that affect everyone and manifest in the lives of all individuals, as well as the government's capacity to adjust to variables, the efficiency of government spending, the absence of tax and its impact on potential investments, public-private partnerships, the growth and implementation of technology, the quality of roads and infrastructure for tourism, corporate digitization, gender equity, tolerance with foreigners, low rate of violent crime, and an electronic hope
Aim of achieving happiness
The UAE's first place does not mean that we should flaunt and brandish these accomplishments in the face of other people and countries in the world. It simply means bringing happiness to people because people are able to avail high quality services. It means that the government is efficiently working, that the economy is growing and that life is moving for the good of everyone. So when we see the happiness of a carpet merchant upon meeting the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, along with everyone in the market who were thrilled by this spontaneous meeting, it means that we are held dear in the hearts of everyone, in the heart of the simple man. This means that people are enjoying a better quality of life and harbour the prospect of a promising future. The recent government summit is testimony to the fact that the government of Sheikh Mohammed is always working to serve people, is preoccupied with the present and planning for the future. Hence, it has promised to itself that the UAE should always stand first.