March 06/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?
Matthew 05/01-16: "Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him,  and he began to teach them. The Beatitudes He said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."
Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 05-06/18
The case of Lebanon’s Ziad Itani/Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/March 05/2018
Curbing and Containing Hezbollah Is a Key Focus/The National/ Monday 05th March 2018
Netanyahu Meets Trump at the White House/Noa Landau/Jerusalem Post/March 05/18/Do Western "Goodists" Really Care about Helping Syrians, Palestinians/Giulio Meotti/Gatestone Institute/March 05/18
Economics Needs a Few More Theories/Karl W. Smith/Bloomberg/March 05/18
Oil, a Curse or a Blessing/Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat//March 05/18
The Hour of the Strong Man/Ghassan Charbel/Asharq Al Awsat//March 05/18
Iran on fast forward thanks to nuclear deal/Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/March 05/18

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on March 05-06/18
Hizbullah-FPM Electoral Negotiations Reportedly Collapse
Saniora Says Won't Run in Parliamentary Elections
Khalil, FPM Ministers in New War of Words over Electricity
MTV Presenter Jessica Azar to Run in Elections on LF List
Reports: Suzanne al-Hajj Involved in Hacking of Govt. Websites
Saudi Envoy to Return to Beirut for More Talks
Hariri meets Jumblatt at Center House
Jumblatt, French envoy tackle latest developments
Shorter after meeting Geagea: Elections represent important opportunity to boost inclusion and representation of women
Duquesne visits Hariri: Elaborate at the CEDRE Conference the new social contract between international community and Lebanon
U.S. delivers batch of M16A4 rifles to Lebanese army
Bassil meets Brazilian counterpart, says solution to refugee crisis lies in their return
The case of Lebanon’s Ziad Itani
Housing loan funds depleted by demand: BDL head
MP Siniora rules himself out of upcoming elections
Doueihy: Clear Vision to Be Articulated Once Electoral Alliances Are Sealed
Salameh: Keserwan Became a Deprived Area Due to Unkept Promises
Minister Takes Pride in Obstruction of Bassil's Power Plant Project
Curbing and Containing Hezbollah Is a Key Focus

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on March 05-06/18
Netanyahu Meets Trump at the White House
Saudi Crown Prince, Egyptian President Inspect Projects in Ismailiya
Assad Advances Russian-Approved Military Reshuffle
Egyptian Army Announces Death of 10 ‘Takfiris’, Four Soldiers in Sinai
Egypt to Participate in Global Coalition Against ISIS in London
Saudi Arabia, Egypt Sign $10 Billion Deal on Mega-City
Rouhani Describes Critics as 'Naive'
Fresh Air Raids on Syria's Ghouta Kill 14
Aid Convoy Enters Syria Enclave as Regime Presses Offensive
French Foreign Minister in Tehran for Tense Talks
New Setback for Netanyahu as ex-Aide Signs State Witness Deal
Saudi Crown Prince visits Egypt’s Coptic Cathedral in Cairo
Saudi Crown Prince Discusses Economy on Egypt Trip
South Korean Envoys in Historic Trip to Meet North's Kim
Egypt State TV Presenter Held for 'Defaming Police' Released
Russia suggests Tillerson-Lavrov meeting in Ethiopia this week: RIA
Macron presses Putin to ensure Syria respects ceasefire: Elysee
Latest Lebanese Related News published on March 05-06/18
Hizbullah-FPM Electoral Negotiations Reportedly Collapse
Naharnet/March 05/18/Hizbullah and the Free Patriotic Movement may not be on the same electoral lists in the upcoming parliamentary elections, a media report said. “Negotiations over several districts have collapsed,” al-Liwaa newspaper reported on Monday. It said the dispute had started in the Keserwan-Jbeil district, “after Hizbullah nominated Sheikh Hussein Zoaiter, its top official in the Mount Lebanon and the North regions.”“The FPM, especially its leader Jebran Bassil and incumbent MP Simon Abi Ramia, were dismayed by the move,” the newspaper added. “When we are strong, no one can impose a candidate on us,” Bassil has said from the Jbeil district town of Lassa. Al-Liwaa said the “electoral divorce” between the two political allies is likely to affect most districts in Mount Lebanon, Baalbek-Hermel, Zahle and Western Bekaa. “The first indication of the electoral clash or competition was represented by a Hizbullah official's remarks that the party is inclined to hit back at Bassil by forming an independent list in Keserwan-Jbeil and nominating ex-MP Tarek Habshi in Baalbek-Hermel,” al-Liwaa added, quoting an unnamed Hizbullah official.

Saniora Says Won't Run in Parliamentary Elections
Naharnet/March 05/18/Ex-PM and Sidon MP Fouad Saniora on Monday announced that he will not run in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Saniora's announcement comes after an overnight meeting with Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Speaking at a press conference, Saniora said his decision does not mean that he is quitting al-Mustaqbal Movement. He revealed that Hariri had urged him in their meeting overnight to re-nominate himself for one of Sidon's two Sunni seats. Stressing that he belongs to “the heritage of late PM Rafik Hariri” and that he has faith in al-Mustaqbal Movement's “national and reformist vision,” Saniora underline that he will “continue on the same path.” The ex-PM also voiced pride that he had contributed to the decision that led to the establishment of the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon in order to “protect Lebanon's political future.”

Khalil, FPM Ministers in New War of Words over Electricity

Naharnet/March 05/18/A new war of words has erupted between the ministers of the AMAL Movement and the Free Patriotic Movement. The trading of barbs started overnight, when FPM chief and Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil accused Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil of blocking the construction of the Deir Amar power plant. “We did everything needed to provide 24/24 power supply by 2015, but a political group obstructed the project, especially Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, who blocked funds needed to construct the Deir Amar plant,” Bassil said in a TV program aired by MTV. Khalil hit back on Monday, saying: “I'm proud of blocking this project, because it contains an attempt at theft, public funds waste and corruption.”Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil of the FPM snapped back in a tweet, accusing Khalil of “falsifying the facts.”

MTV Presenter Jessica Azar to Run in Elections on LF List
MTV news presenter Jessica Azar on Monday announced that she will be running in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Azar said she will contest the Greek Orthodox seat in Northern Metn as part of the list that will be backed by the Lebanese Forces. “I submitted my nomination papers today for the parliamentary elections,” Azar tweeted. “The responsibility on my shoulders is huge but I trust the will of the Lebanese who want real change and who will give the opportunity to a generation that carries a lot of dreams and aspirations,” the young and telegenic presenter added. “My nomination by LF leader Samir Geagea proves that the LF's decision to support youths and women is not an electoral slogan but rather a challenge, and the LF is the party of challenges,” Azar went on to say. Azar is currently facing a lawsuit filed by ex-General Security chief Maj. Gen. Jamil al-Sayyed, who has accused her of defamation over Twitter remarks criticizing his parliamentary nomination.

Reports: Suzanne al-Hajj Involved in Hacking of Govt. Websites

Naharnet/March 05/18/Detained Lt. Col. Suzanne al-Hajj was involved in successful and unsuccessful attempts to hack websites belonging to several ministries and state institutions, media reports said. Al-Hajj and a hacker identified as E.Gh. are being interrogated by the Intelligence Branch of the Internal Security Forces on charges of “fabricating” a spying for Israel case for detained comedian Ziad Itani. “The initial interrogation period has been extended for another 48 hours,” al-Akhbar newspaper reported on Monday. Al-Hajj and the hacker “are also being interrogated on suspicion of fabricating cases for other innocent individuals some of whom were prosecuted by the judiciary,” the daily said. Quoting ministerial sources, al-Akhbar said the investigation also involves successful and botched hacking operations against websites belonging to the ministries of foreign affairs, culture and energy and accounts belonging to the interior minister and the OGERO authority. “The hacker claimed that al-Hajj had asked him to carry out the operations after she was sacked from her post in the bureau for combating cyber crime,” the sources said. “She wanted to give the impression that 'the country was in ruins' (on the cyber crime front) after she was fired,” the sources quoted the hacker as saying. Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq has announced that Itani, who has been in detention since November 2017, is innocent. According to media reports, al-Hajj hired the hacker E.Gh., a State Security informant, to create fake social media accounts with the aim of framing Itani. The hacker used Israeli IPs to carry out the plot. The reports said al-Hajj sought “revenge” against Itani after he posted a screenshot of a Twitter 'like' placed by her on a post for controversial director Charbel Khalil. Al-Hajj was sacked by the ISF command over the 'like'. Khalil's tweet contained insults against Saudi Arabia and Saudi women.

Saudi Envoy to Return to Beirut for More Talks
Naharnet/March 05/18/Saudi royal envoy Nizar al-Aloula will return to Beirut on Monday to resume his meetings with Lebanese officials, a media report said. An Nahar newspaper said al-Aloula would hold talks with political figures he did not manage to meet on his first visit last week. The Saudi official was obliged to cut short his visit and return to the kingdom to be part of Prime Minister Saad Hariri's meetings there. Hariri returned overnight to Lebanon after talks in Riyadh with Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Hariri meets Jumblatt at Center House
Mon 05 Mar 2018/NNA - Prime Minister Saad Hariri is currently meeting with MP Walid Jumblatt at the Center House.

Jumblatt, French envoy tackle latest developments
Mon 05 Mar 2018/NNA - "Democratic Gathering" head MP Walid Jumblatt on Monday evening welcomed at his Clemenceau residence the French inter-ministerial delegate to the Mediterranean, Pierre Duquesne, accompanied by the French ambassador to Lebanon, Bruno Foucher. Talks reportedly touched on most recent developments in Lebanon and the broad region. The meeting was attended by National Education and Higher Education Marwan Hamadeh and State Minister for Human Rights Affairs Ayman Choucair.

Shorter after meeting Geagea: Elections represent important opportunity to boost inclusion and representation of women
Mon 05 Mar 2018/NNA - British Ambassador to Lebanon, Hugo Shorter, on Monday met with the leader of the Lebanese Forces Party Dr Samir Geagea. In a press release by the British Embassy in Beirut, Ambassador Shorter said on emerging: "I had a good meeting with the head of the Lebanese Forces Party, Dr Samir Geagea. Our discussions covered a range of issues including the upcoming parliamentary elections in May. I am hopeful that the Lebanese Forces are considering positively the inclusion of more female candidates on electoral lists." Ambassador Shorter added: "It is a symbolic year for women in the UK with the celebration of 100 years of women suffrage. I hope it will be a symbolic year for women in Lebanon, with the elections representing an important opportunity to boost inclusion and representation of women."

Duquesne visits Hariri: Elaborate at the CEDRE Conference the new social contract between international community and Lebanon
Mon 05 Mar 2018/NNA - The President of the Council of Ministers Saad Hariri received this afternoon at the "Center House" the French interministerial delegate to the Mediterranean, Ambassador Pierre Duquesne, in charge of the preparations of the CEDRE conference, accompanied by the French ambassador to Beirut, Bruno Foucher.
At the end of the meeting, Duquesne said: "We are pursuing the preparation of the CEDRE conference with a first step tomorrow March 6 which is the meeting of the enterprises. I remind you that theCEDRE conference means Economic Conference for Development through Reforms and with Enterprises, so the second E refers to the private sector since in the investment plan proposed by the Lebanese government there are many investments that are profitable and need to be conducted with the companies.
At the same time, these companies need to be reassured about the regulation of the sectors in which they operate, the modernization of texts that are sometimes very old, etc. So there is a lot of work besides investments, that is to ensure that these investments are put in place in the best possible regulatory environment. We talked about that, and we
talked in general about the preparation of the April 6 conference, in one month and one day, on which the government is working to present two sets of documents: the investment plan itself and I now believe that there is an agreement between the political forces but it must be concretized, and secondly its economic vision and the sectoral reforms that I talked about, in a broader macroeconomic way, which should be implemented since there is a time when this government has started to do things and must continue to do so.
The central idea is that at the Paris conference we can elaborate what I want to call the new social contract between the international community and Lebanon because we all want to help this country, that deserves it on one hand, and that plays a role of stability in the region on the other. And aat the same time for this aid to be effective and well used, it must come in an environment of reforms, not necessarily painful, but a modernization of the economic life of the country.
So that's it mostly, but when you say in any country the word reforms, people sometimes understand sacrifices, but they are not necessarily sacrifices, they are changes and updates that are necessary and from time to time you have to do this work and there is a moment in Lebanon to do them."
In response to a question, he said that tomorrow's meeting will be held at the Four Seasons Hotel in the presence of the prime minister, the governor of the Central Bank, more than 500 people and himself.

U.S. delivers batch of M16A4 rifles to Lebanese army

Mon 05 Mar 2018/NNA - The Lebanese army on Sunday received from the United States a batch of M16-A4 rifles, as part of the US aid program for the Lebanese military.
The delivery took place at the Rafic Hariri International Airport, in the presence of a number of army officers and US Embassy staff.

Bassil meets Brazilian counterpart, says solution to refugee crisis lies in their return
Mon 05 Mar 2018/NNA - Lebanon has suffered due to the Syrian displacement crisis, and the solution lies in the refugees' return to their country and the complete eradication of terrorism in Syria, Lebanon, and the entire region, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil maintained during a news conference he jointly held with his Brazilian counterpart Aloysio Nunes Ferreira on Monday.Bassil said talks with Ferreira featured high on the bilateral relations, especially on the economic level. "I explained to Minister Ferreira the dangerous reverberations of the Syrian displacement not just on Lebanon, but also on near countries, like Europe," he indicated. "We discussed the means to bolster mutual investments, considering the massive Lebanese Diaspora in Brazil that encourages the Brazilians to come invest in Lebanon, and to go from Lebanon to Syria to partake in the reconstruction process," he added. "I also explained the Israeli practices that are based on force and that flout the international legitimacy; these practices only lead to further tensions and to undermine the idea of establishing the Palestinian state and international peace," he said. He also thanked his guest for Brazil's support for Lebanon before the international stances and contribution to the UNIFIL. For his part, the visiting official described his meeting with Bassil as "cordial," haling the economic and political ties between Lebanon and Brazil. On the refugee crisis, he said: "Lebanon is not responsible for this displacement; it is up to the countries to share this responsibility."
The case of Lebanon’s Ziad Itani
Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/March 05/2018
The case of Ziad Itani, a Lebanese theatre playwright who was arrested by state security in November over accusations of collaborating with Israel, is the “perfect” case to expose the deficiencies in the core of Lebanon’s political life. Itani belongs to a renowned family, the largest Sunni family in Beirut. Interior Minister Nohad al-Machnouk, who is a Sunni figure in the Future Movement, highlighted the significance of the Itani family after it was reported that Ziad is innocent and that Suzan al-Hajj, the former head of cybercrime in the Internal Security Forces, fabricated the case against Itani. Hajj wanted to take revenge from him after he captured a screenshot of her liking a tweet that insults Saudi women following a Saudi royal decree lifting the driving ban on Saudi women. The tweet said that Saudi women should naturally only drive cars if they are booby-trapped. The decision to convict or clear Ziad or Susan of all charges is supposed to be limited to the judiciary. However, what’s supposed to happen is one thing, and what happens is something else. Hajj is being interrogated now, and magic has turned on the magician. Itani’s case sparked political and sectarian debates between Hajj’s and Itani’s supporters, i.e. between the supporters of Bashar al-Assad and Hassan Nasrallah, and between the allies of the Syrian people and people who admire Saudi Arabia in a division that may seem disruptive.
Attempts to exploit the case
President Michel Aoun intervened, stating the importance of not exploiting the case for any purpose and to leave matters to the judiciary. Aoun’s remarks make perfect sense. It would be great if everyone used this logic and did not jump to conclusions when Itani was first arrested!
Lebanese security forces had detained Itani over accusations of spying for Israel and coordinating with the Mossad “to promote Zionist thought among intellectuals.” This is the formal accusation. After recent reports on Itani’s innocence, Machnouk wrote on Twitter: “All the Lebanese people apologize to Ziad Itani.. the true Arab and true Beiruti.” However, Justice Minister Salim Jreissati, who is a member of the Free Patriotic Movement, slammed Machnouk’s Twitter post and wrote: “The Lebanese people do not apologize to anyone.”
Spying accusations
The decision to convict or clear Ziad or Susan of all charges is supposed to be limited to the judiciary. However, what’s supposed to happen is one thing, and what happens is something else. Accusations of collaborating with Israel are common in Lebanon as the ‘resistance’ parties always make such accusations against those who oppose them. Therefore, what’s dangerous here is that if it’s proven that Hajj fabricated this case, there will be plenty of suspicion regarding the accuracy of previous cases. It will thus be important to reopen cases of the rivals of Hezbollah and its allies in Lebanon. Reopening cases like those of al-Hujairi, al-Assir and others does not aim to clear charges against them - for instance Assir is certainly an extremist - but to examine whether politics has been kept out of the legal framework. The case of Ziad Itani and Susan al-Hajj should sound alarm bells to the entire Lebanese state.

Housing loan funds depleted by demand: BDL head
The Daily Star/March 05, 2018/BEIRUT: Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh said Monday that BDL's 2018 funds for housing loans had been depleted due to unprecedented demand. Salameh’s comments came during a meeting with President Michel Aoun, held at Baabda Palace, in which Aoun requested that the governor secure the housing loan funds that banks had formerly committed to disperse to applicants. Salameh said that BDL had provided banks with a fund worth $500 million in February, allocated for housing loans that would be used by members of the public to purchase apartments. This fund had been drained within a month, he said. In addition to the spike in demand, Salameh said, some banks had given pledges that outstripped their designated quotas, but were requested by BDL to make good on the promised loans. This took a quick toll on the fund. “We asked them to implement their commitments,” Salameh said, noting that the loans would be added to BDL’s 2019 funding program. The Central Bank has typically offered commercial banks subsidized housing loans to ease the financial pressure on borrowers seeking to buy houses. "This is what Banque du Liban can do, because the housing policy is not within its specialization – it is within the jurisdiction of the state. The role of the central bank is to inject liquidity to activate the economy,” the BDL head said. Salameh in February released a 20-page memo hiking the interest rates on bank housing loans by half a percentage point; thus anyone who now applies for these loans receives higher interest rates. The memo also tightened loan conditions to allow for only one housing loan to be taken out by each recipient, for one property. Buyers could previously take out loans for multiple houses, on the condition that the latest house they were buying was at least 20 kilometers away from any previously acquired property. In the Monday meeting, Salameh also informed Aoun of the results of his recent visit to Paris, and discussed ongoing preparations for the Cedre Conference – a donor conference scheduled for April 6 to garner international support for Lebanon’s economy, The two also discussed the country’s financial situation, with Salameh describing it as “stable.”

MP Siniora rules himself out of upcoming elections

Georgi Azar/March 05/2018/Siniora, who's held the Sidon seat since 2009, said during a news conference that he would not seek re-election despite Prime Minister Saad Hariri's efforts to persuade him otherwise.
BEIRUT: Future MP Fouad Siniora announced Monday that he will not be running in the upcoming parliamentary elections, yet stressed that his relationship with the Future Movement would not be jeopardized. Siniora, who's held the Sidon seat since 2009, said during a news conference that he would not seek re-election despite Prime Minister Saad Hariri's efforts to persuade him otherwise. On Sunday, Hariri met with Siniora after he returned to Beirut at the conclusion of his 4-day Saudi visit, the first since tensions between both countries simmered in the wake of his brief resignation.
The visit was seen as an attempt to mend ties between Hariri and the Kingdom ahead of the country's first parliamentary elections since 2009. Hariri's brief resignation was seen as a politically orchestrated move by Saudi Arabia, with President Michel Aoun accusing the Kingdom of holding him against his well. Siniora taking himself out of the running suggests that alliances in the Sidon and Jezzine districts, which have been merged into one electoral district following the new electoral law, have yet to be finalized, amid media reports hinting at a possible Free Patriotic Movement-Future alliance.
The former Prime Minister, who served from 2005 until 2008, underscored the failure to rid Hezbollah of "its illegal weapons" as one of the reasons for not running. Siniora was one the Future Movement insiders that opposed the political deal between Hariri, Hezbollah, and Aoun which elected the latter president.
Doueihy: Clear Vision to Be Articulated Once Electoral Alliances Are Sealed Monday 05th March 2018/Kataeb's candidate for the Maronite seat in Zgharta, Michel Doueihy, on Monday said that a clear vision will be articulated once electoral alliances are sealed in said electoral district, adding that it is still pending the outcome of contacts between Free Patriotic Movement chief Gebran Bassil and the Independence Movement leader Michel Mouawad. Doueihy told Al-Kalima Online website that he will be allying with whoever shares with him the same values and political viewpoints, describing his personal ties with the Marada Movement as "very good" despite differences.
"The preferential votes, not alliances, will be decisive this time as per the new electoral law. That's the criterion based on which a candidate is allowed to join a list or not."

Salameh: Keserwan Became a Deprived Area Due to Unkept Promises Monday 05th March 2018/Kataeb's candidate in the Kerserwan-Jbeil electoral district, Chaker Salameh, on Monday stressed that Keserwan has become one of the most deprived areas after so many promises made by the lawmakers who were elected in 2009 have been reneged on, pinpointing the unresolved problems that the region is still witnessing. Speaking to the Kataeb website, Salameh said that the subsequent energy ministers have failed to honor their pledge to reduce the levels of toxic emissions being emitted from the Zouk power plant, saying that area's residents are now subject to diseases due to the pollutants they have been breathing over the past years. He also pointed out to the lack of road safety, notably on the Ajaltoun-Farayya road which has witnessed many fatal accidents, as well as the unbearable traffic congestion along the Jounieh highway where motorists are trapped for hours on a daily basis.
“Many solutions have been proposed but none has seen the light of day." Salameh deplored the pollution of the Jounieh coast due to the rubbish that has been littering the sea off the notorious Dora landfill, adding that Keserwan's long-admired shore has been tarnished. The Kataeb's candidate also blasted the area's politicians for not providing jobs in both the Jeita Grotto and Casino du Liban, noting that the majority of employees who have been hired in both institutions do not hail from Keserwan. “No public hospitals were also established in the area, noting that the Bouar Hospital requires a drastic overhaul," he added. "Moreover, Keserwan's public schools are now in a deplorable condition as they have now become almost only for Syrians." Salameh stressed the need for a youthful and vigorous pulse of change that would mirror the aspirations of the people of Keserwan, deeming decentralization as key to the development of the area. "There are candidates who are being parachuted in, while claiming that they know the problems that the area is experiencing," he pointed out, lashing out at electoral bribery that a competing list is resorting to.

Minister Takes Pride in Obstruction of Bassil's Power Plant Project Monday 05th March 2018/Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil on Monday admitted the allegations made by FM Gebran Bassil on the obstruction of the Deir Ammar power plant construction, saying that said project implied corruption and embezzlement. Featuring on MTV's Dak El Jaras show on Sunday, Bassil was asked questions on a range of topics by a group of youngsters in a classroom. During the episode, Bassil held Khalil responsible for the ongoing electricity crisis in Lebanon, accusing him of halting the funding for the Deir Ammar plant project which the Foreign Minister had repeatedly claimed that its construction would have provided an electricity supply that runs 24 hours a day. "I am proud of foiling this project because it enclosed an attempt to steal and squander public funds," Khalil told reporters. "This same old platitude, that is being repeated over and over again to cover one's failure, has to stop; the Lebanese people should know who is really responsible for the electricity project’s fiasco,” Khalil stated.

Curbing and Containing Hezbollah Is a Key Focus

The National/ Monday 05th March 2018
If true, reports suggesting the US is encouraging Saudi Arabia to forge ties with Lebanon’s prime minister Saad Hariri should be seen as part of a bid to keep Lebanon out of the regional confrontation. However, it does not mean that Washington is about to reduce pressure on Hezbollah outside Lebanon, including militarily in Syria and Yemen. From the Israeli side, declarations that it will not accept the presence of Iranian bases in Syria are being coupled with speculation that the Israelis are planning a swift and devastating invasion of Lebanon that would not stop at Hezbollah’s positions but would also somehow affect Beirut. Yet this hypothetical escalation is inconsistent with assumptions that the decision for now is merely to contain Hezbollah, although they are not completely mutually exclusive. Indeed, there are no indications at present that the US is about to shift pressure on Iran from Syria and Yemen to Lebanon and Iraq; in the latter, the priority for now is the general elections of May 12 and in Lebanon, the legislative elections of May 6.
The visit by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to London then Washington this month will inexorably tackle the rivalry between the two western capitals for Saudi Aramco’s IPO, expected to be the largest in history. But US President Donald Trump will also be anxious to discuss with the crown prince ways to empower the Arab Gulf countries to better confront Iran’s destabilising activities and defeat terrorism and extremism. The relationship between Mr Hariri and Hezbollah in the framework of the consensus government had troubled Riyadh in the past but the question now is how the US and Saudi Arabia can work together to gradually stymie Hezbollah at a time when Mr Hariri has to co-exist with the powerful party. For this reason, Mr Hariri’s visit this week to Riyadh carries important implications for the coming stage.
Mr Hariri’s vision is known and includes, according to my source, suspending any conflict with Hezbollah and maintaining good relations with both the Lebanese President Michel Aoun and his rival Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea. Thirdly, Mr Hariri wants Saudi support at the donor conferences assisting Lebanon’s economy and shoring up its ability to cope with its refugee crisis. Fourthly, Mr Hariri, a Sunni leader, will not cave to any domestic blackmail or to oneupmanship from other Sunni politicians. Fifthly, Hariri wants excellent relations and a candid and trust-based understanding with Saudi Arabia.
This well-informed source insists that Saudi Arabia has no issue with any of these points. But how so, when Mr Hariri just wants to suspend the confrontation with Hezbollah at a time when the official Saudi position is to come down hard on the party? The source says that suspending the confrontation does not mean ending it; it means agreeing to disagree because the current regional conditions are not favourable for a confrontation with Hezbollah.
The new dynamic, then, will be about reaching a compromise. Now, the focus is on “isolating and containing, not confronting” Hezbollah, my source says. If there is a plan to isolate and curb Hezbollah, it will not happen through direct confrontation. If Saudi Arabia and the US want to tackle Hezbollah directly, it is possible they would do it in Syria instead but now they have shifted the confrontation away from Lebanon, according to the source.
In an interview with David Ignatius in the Washington Post, the Saudi crown prince said Mr Hariri is “in a better position” in Lebanon, relative to Hezbollah. He characterised his push against corruption and extremism as “the shock therapy” his kingdom needed. Interestingly, Mr Hariri had used a similar expression when he spoke from Riyadh in November to characterise his resignation.
How can this be reconciled with the priority assigned by Riyadh to Mr Aoun’s rival Mr Geagea, once a close ally of Mr Hariri? By keeping minimal and formal ties with Mr Aoun and seeking an alliance with Mr Geagea.
Perhaps Saudi Arabia has really substituted its accelerationist policy with a policy of reaching out in Lebanon. Riyadh is aware that the US decision on Iran and Hezbollah in the Trump era is to curb and contain them, while keeping Israel as the joker card.
Lebanon remains part of the regional equation that is in the process of being sorted. Iran remains the priority, in Syria and Yemen. Surprisingly Berlin, alongside Washington, London and Paris, has condemned Tehran for violating the UN-imposed arms embargo in Yemen. This counts as a new development in the Yemeni issue, the result of both US pressures and the backlash against Russia’s endorsement of Iran’s incursions in Yemen, in turn a new development. Indeed, Russia had hitherto remained outside the Yemeni equation and the new involvement highlights Moscow’s ire with the West because of its increasing pressures on its Syrian deployments.
The situation in Syria is becoming even more dangerous and complex, raising concerns about a deterioration in western-Russian relations and the tragic implications for the people of Syria. Moscow has made up its mind, deciding to put the alliance with Damascus and Tehran at the top of its priorities, expanding the scope of the Iran alliance to include protecting it from accountability in Yemen. In turn, Washington has made up its mind, deciding it will not allow Iran to hold military bases that could link Tehran to Beirut via Iraq and Syria.
In light of all of this, the de-escalation in Lebanon may be tactical but it is not a permanent strategy. All those concerned must therefore take stock of this with vigilance and
Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on March 05-06/18
Netanyahu Meets Trump at the White House
Noa Landau/Jerusalem Post/ (Washington) Mar 05, 2018/
WASHINGTON - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday for their fifth meeting in the last year. The two leaders are expected to speak to members of the media before their meeting in the White House.
The president and his wife Melania greeted Netanyahu and his wife Sara outside the White House. They have entered the White House, and are expected to deliver a joint statement momentarily.
Netanyahu and Trump are expected to discuss the U.S. ultimatum to the European powers on the Iran nuclear deal. In January, Trump announced that if the United States and the European countries failed to reach agreement on amending the deal, Washington would walk away from it.
Netanyahu is expected to raise the issue of Iran’s continuing entrenchment on the ground and the construction of factories for precision-guided missiles in Syria and Lebanon. The prime minister will thank Trump for his decision to accelerate the relocation of the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and invite the president to attend the opening of the new embassy.  Before boarding the plane Saturday night for his flight to the United States, Netanyahu said: “First of all, I will thank [President Trump] for the historic decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem on [Israeli] Independence Day. This is a very big present for our country.” He went on to add that Iran would be the focus of their meeting: “its aggression, its nuclear aspirations, and its aggressive actions in the Middle East in general and on our borders, all of [Israel’s borders], in particular.”
The meeting, however, will be held in the shadow of the the state's evidence agreement signed by a third Netanyahu confidant. Nir Hefetz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's "spin doctor" and confidant, reached a deal with police to turn state's evidence in the bribery case involving the Bezeq telecom giant and the Walla news site. He will hand over recordings of Netanyahu and his wife Sara as part of a deal with police to turn state's evidence in the bribery case involving the Bezeq telecom giant and the Walla news site. A senior White House official told Haaretz a few weeks ago that the investigations against Netanyahu were an “internal Israeli matter.” There has been one dark cloud in the otherwise blue sky that is Trump-Netanyahu relations since the U.S. president was inaugurated in January 2017. That came last month, after the Israeli premier said the two sides had spoken about a specific proposal regarding Israeli annexation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.  Within hours, the White House responded that such claims were false. “The United States and Israel have never discussed such a proposal, and the president’s focus remains squarely on his Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative,” White House spokesman Josh Raffel said. U.S. officials are expected to bring up with Netanyahu the “peace deal” that the Trump administration still hopes to put forth. Last month Trump said in an interview with Israel Hayom editor-in-chief Boaz Bismuth that he had doubts about the willingness of Israel and the Palestinians to reach a peace agreement. When asked what Israel would have to give, in the context of an agreement with the Palestinians, in return for U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as its capital, Trump said “both sides will have to make hard compromises.”
The president said Israel’s settlements “are something that very much complicates and always have complicated making peace, so I think Israel has to be very careful with the settlements.”
Something else that could have a dimming effect on the meeting is the reports in The Washington Post that officials in Israel and three other countries discussed ways to manipulate Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, “due to the family company’s financial needs and his lack of experience.” Kushner’s security clearance was recently lowered as a result of the affair. On Tuesday, Netanyahu will address the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) Policy Conference in the U.S. capital.
Noa Landau
Saudi Crown Prince, Egyptian President Inspect Projects in Ismailiya
Asharq Al-Awsat/March 05/18/Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, inspected on Monday projects in Egypt’s Ismailiya province. Prince Mohammed had kicked off on Sunday a three-day visit to Egypt. In Ismailiya, the two leaders inspected projects in the province’s main city and Suez area. Head of the Suez Canal Authority, Mohab Mamish stressed that the development project in Suez will transform Egypt into a global logistic trade hub. He said during a ceremony before Prince Mohammed and Sisi that the Suez Canal represents Egypt’s history, present and future. Speaking on the sidelines of the two leaders’ visit, presidential spokesman Bassam Radi addressed terrorism, saying that stability, security and combating terrorism will be achieved through the people and their leadership. He noted that Prince Mohammed and Sisi were paying a visit to Ismailiya while the security forces and military were still carrying out their campaign against terrorists in the Sinai region. “This proves the saying of ‘one hand builds and the other brandishes arms’. This is the slogan of the armed forces and political command,” he stressed. Furthermore, Radi explained that the visit reflects the strategic historic ties between Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Prince Mohammed chose Egypt as the first stop in an international tour, he remarked. This is significant in regards to coordination that can take place between Riyadh and Cairo ahead of his future meetings, he stated. On Saudi investments, he said: “The Kingdom is the greatest Arab investor in Egypt.” Investments have been covered in the talks between the Crown Prince and Sisi and they will be announced later, he revealed.
On Sunday, the two leaders oversaw the signing of several agreements that covered tourism and environment affairs.

Assad Advances Russian-Approved Military Reshuffle
Damascus- Asharq Al Awsat/March 05/18/Syrian regime head Bashar al Assad appointed on Sunday Brigadier General Riad Abbas as commander of national military police, after having already assigned Brigadier Suhail al-Hassan as commander of the military operations in Eastern Ghouta.
Both appointments share Russian approval, bringing Brig. Hassan’s ‘Tiger Forces’ troopers to Damascus’ countryside. Brig.Gen. Abbas enjoys a high approval rate with having already been honored by Russian leaders at the Hmeimim Air Base in Syria for his performance as head of the military police in Aleppo and then as head of the political security branch. The appointment of a new commander of the Syrian military police has been accepted by Russia, at a time when the attack on Eastern Ghouta in the countryside of Damascus, amid the insistence of Russia to restore order to control it.
Brig. Gen. Abbas is popular among pro-regime loyalists in Aleppo because of his contempt for dissidents-- his units rely heavily on informants and spies. He was also named in a list prepared by the Human Rights Bureau documenting violations on 30 regime commanders responsible for carrying out “crimes against humanity” in Syria. Since the start of the Russian military intervention in Syria in 2015, Assad’s regime has been intently concerned with the military police, which is responsible for regulating military behavior.
Military police are also responsible for holding persons who have avoided joining the draft and reserve accountable. But in light of the current national security situation, security services and civil police interfere with the military police’s mission. It is noteworthy that after regime forces reclaimed control over Aleppo, the need arose for military police to take control of the security situation and reduce pro-regime factions and allied militias’ violations. Russian military police, which spread in Aleppo from the end of 2016, returned 393 Chechen fighters into their country. Its presence has reduced, as it began gradual withdrawal in 2018. During the past few months, the Syrian regime has strongly reshuffled its military and security apparatus. General Ali Abdullah Ayyoub was appointed defense minister early this year. The heads of military security in Aleppo, Hama, Tartous and Idlib were also changed.

Egyptian Army Announces Death of 10 ‘Takfiris’, Four Soldiers in Sinai
Cairo - Asharq Al-Awsat/March 05/18/ The Egyptian army announced Sunday that 10 "Takfiris" were killed during confrontations with elements of the armed forces and police in northern Sinai while two officers and two soldiers died during the same operations. Egyptian Military Spokesman Col. Tamer Rifai has issued statement No. 14 since the beginning of the counter-terrorist “Comprehensive Operation Sinai 2018” (COS 2018), on behalf of the armed forces that was launched mid-February. The army said in a statement that its forces "continue to defeat the forces of evil and terrorism and uproot its roots from all over Egypt."It added that “the air forces have targeted and destroyed six sites for terrorist elements and two booby-trapped cars designed to target our forces in areas of operations.”The statement pointed out that the army has received information saying that 10 militants were hiding in one of the abandoned buildings in the city of Arish, and that "they were killed during the clash with the army and police forces, who seized from them six automatic rifles and quantities of ammunition.”The army explained that four of its elements were killed during the operations and three others were wounded. Speaking at a military ceremony attended by President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, Egyptian Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Mohamed Farid called for the operation to be extended, saying troops needed more time to dismantle militant fortifications and clear explosives out of residential neighborhoods. On the other hand, the Egyptian army announced arresting 245 suspects in an ongoing clampdown on extremists in the Sinai Peninsula, and it destroyed 145 shelters and warehouses in the mountainous region along with trenches used by terrorists. The army added that a workshop used to manufacture improvised explosive devices (IEDs) was also discovered along with an underground storehouse containing more than 10,000 liters of petrol. They also destroyed 39 IEDs, which were planted to target the security forces. Meanwhile, 12 cars and 28 unlicensed motorcycles used to carry out militant attacks were also found. The air force discovered and destroyed 11 vehicles laden with explosives and ammunition as they attempted to infiltrate into Egypt across the nation's western borders. The army and police have conducted 609 patrols and security checkpoints on main roads and routes nationwide, according to the statement.

Egypt to Participate in Global Coalition Against ISIS in London

Cairo- Asharq Al Awsat/March 05/18/Egypt will participate in a meeting of the strategy group of the Global Coalition against ISIS to be held on Tuesday in London, according to Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid, who will head the delegation. Prior to the delegation's departure to London, Abu Zeid indicated that the meeting is important especially after ISIS has been defeated in Syria and Iraq. The spokesperson stated that the meeting will be held amid the international consensus on defeating ISIS and an agreement that the terrorist organization can only be fully eradicated once its extremist ideas are wiped out. Abu Zeid added that the meeting will discuss an intellectual and media plan to confront ISIS and other terrorist organizations by discussing the ways to face extremist dialogue in social media or on the dark web or secured information networks used by them to recruit, fund or obtain weapons. The meeting also will focus on how different religious institutions can provide information networks with ideas and dialogue to refute and correct the misconceptions spread by ISIS about Islam. It will highlight the responsibility of the media and the different roles of journalism to counter terrorism and attend to media coverage that promotes ISIS and other terrorist content.He concluded that the delegation will discuss during the meeting Egypt's efforts in facing terrorism, referring to the 2018 Sinai comprehensive operation, as well as the role of al-Azhar institution and Dar al-Iftaa to confront extremist ideas.
The meetings will include senior officials from the member states and will discuss the communication strategy regarding combating extremism and all important developments with regard to global terrorism, concluded Abu Zeid.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt Sign $10 Billion Deal on Mega-City
Riyadh- Asharq Al Awsat/March 05/18/Saudi Arabia has signed with Egypt an investment agreement to develop Egyptian lands south Sinai to become part of a planned mega-city and business zone unveiled by Saudi Arabia last October. The two countries have set up a $10 billion joint investment fund (Egyptians' share of this fund include the long-term leases) to invest in lands located on the Egyptian side as part of the mega-city project, as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo. Reuters reported a Saudi official as saying that Egypt has committed more than 1,000 square kilometers of land in the southern Sinai Peninsula to NEOM project. Prince Mohammed previously announced plans for the 26,500 square km zone, known as NEOM, at an international investment conference in Riyadh. Officials said public and private investment in the area was eventually expected to total $500 billion. The mega-city, with its own judicial system and legislation designed to attract international investors, is to focus on industries such as energy and water, biotechnology, food, advanced manufacturing and tourism, according to officials.
It is part of bold moves by the 32-year-old heir apparent to wean the world’s top crude exporter off oil revenues. Riyadh and Cairo also signed an environmental protocol on Sunday aimed at preserving the Red Sea’s coral reefs and preventing“visual pollution”, the official said. Riyadh’s part of the new joint investment fund will be cash to help develop the Egyptian side of NEOM, which was conceived as spanning across Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. Saudi Arabia plans to set up seven maritime tourist attraction areas in the Red Sea, as part of NEOM, including cities and tourism projects.
Moreover, Saudi Arabia will establish more than 15 seafront and hundreds of resorts. And on the Jordanian side, Jordan will focus on developing Aqaba as part of Jordanian-Saudi investments. In Egypt, however, the project will focus on two attracting areas, which are Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada, and Egypt will work on developing them and setting up new attraction areas. In cooperation with Jordan and Egypt, Saudi Arabia will work on attracting European cruise and tourism companies operating in the Mediterranean, during the summer season, in order to work later on the Red Sea project. The Red Sea Project, made up of some 50 islands, will offer a nature reserve, diving on coral reefs and heritage sites. Authorities have said it would break ground in 2019 and complete its first phase by late 2022. Notably, the Kingdom is currently negotiating with more than seven tourism and cruise companies and planning to build yacht marinas. According to studies, flight requests for most Mediterranean tourism companies and cruises operating in the Mediterranean decrease after summer, and some close until the following summer or move to the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean, where they face stiff competition and divergence.
Based on the plans, the distance between attraction areas in the Red Sea will not exceed a three-hour trip, in excellent conditions during the winter.

Rouhani Describes Critics as 'Naive'
London - Asharq Al-Awsat/March 05/18/Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addressed his critics describing them as naive, at the 50th annual meeting for the General Assembly of the Central Bank of the Republic of Iran. He considered that slamming the government is an attempt to undermine its “achievements” and is a war on national interest and public trust – the parliament responded in a quick warning while the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee spokesperson stated that it is inappropriate that the president offend his critics. Rouhani, again, defended his government policies, considering that it has achieved the “big dreams” of the Iranian economy throughout the past two decades with the inflation dropping from 40 percent to less than 10 percent. The parliament is preparing for the first probe with Rouhani due to two prosecution requests that were signed by parliament. The first request was signed by 76 deputies on Feb. 7 and it aims to question him regarding the bankruptcy of financial and investment institutions. The second request was signed by more than 100 on Feb. 22 and it included topics such as smuggling, unemployment and increase in prices. Rouhani didn’t comment on the investigation requests, which might cause a political deterioration of his government and his role – he might be obliged to compensate and change his economic team formation and the central bank governor in order to maintain the minister of economic affairs and finance, said observers. Rouhani's defense coincided with protests held in different Iranian cities by investors who have lost their money due to the bankruptcy of financial and investment institutions. The latest protest was on Saturday in which dozens of Iranians shouted “death to Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani”.

Fresh Air Raids on Syria's Ghouta Kill 14
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 05/18/Fresh air raids by the Syrian regime on the besieged rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta killed at least 14 civilians overnight, a monitor said Monday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said barrel bombs -- crude, improvised munitions that cause indiscriminate damage -- were used, including on the town of Hammuriyeh, where 10 people were killed. The latest deaths brought to 709 the number of civilians killed since regime and allied Russian forces intensified their campaign against Eastern Ghouta in February. According to Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Britain-based Observatory, at least 166 of them were children. The deadly raids, as well as other strikes and rocket fire elsewhere in Eastern Ghouta Monday, came as the battered enclave awaited a convoy of humanitarian aid from the United Nations.

Aid Convoy Enters Syria Enclave as Regime Presses Offensive
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 05/18/A U.N. convoy entered Syria's Eastern Ghouta on Monday to deliver much-needed aid as regime forces seized more ground in a fierce offensive to retake the battered rebel enclave.
The United Nations said 46 trucks had entered Eastern Ghouta and were headed for the main town of Douma, in the first aid delivery since the start of the regime assault last month. The aid arrived after fresh air strikes hit Eastern Ghouta and regime troops were reported to have retaken a third of the enclave in a rapidly advancing offensive. Western powers have piled pressure on Damascus and its Russian ally to end the offensive on Eastern Ghouta -- one of the bloodiest assaults of Syria's nearly seven-year civil war -- but President Bashar al-Assad warned there would be no let up. More than two weeks of air strikes, artillery and rocket fire have left more than 700 civilians dead and three quarters of housing damaged in the enclave. More bombs, including crude improvised munitions known as "barrel bombs", were dropped in overnight raids on Monday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group. At least 10 people were killed in the town of Hammuriyeh, said the Britain-based Observatory, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria. Another four died in the towns of Hazeh and Jisreen, the monitor said, bringing to 709 the number of civilians killed since the assault began.
Advancing at high pace
Regime troops and allied forces pushed into the enclave from the east in recent days and by early Monday had retaken a third of Eastern Ghouta, according to the Observatory. "Regime forces are advancing at a high pace because operations so far are mostly conducted in farmland," Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said, adding that they had pushed to two kilometers (1.2 miles) southeast of Douma. The armed groups there, one of which is made up of fighters from al-Qaida's ex-affiliate, have been lobbing mortar rounds and firing rockets on adjacent neighborhoods of Damascus, killing around 20 civilians in two weeks. The latest ground offensive sent hundreds of civilians fleeing from their homes to other areas farther from the moving front line, compounding a humanitarian crisis which has drawn comparisons with the devastating 2016 battle of Aleppo. Over the years, Eastern Ghouta's estimated 400,000 inhabitants have depended for their survival on smuggling, local farm and rare aid deliveries. Monday's convoy was delivering "health and nutrition supplies, along with food for 27,500 people in need," the U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs (OCHA) in Syria said. An OCHA spokesperson however said "the U.N. and partners were informed that many of the planned health supplies intended for Douma were not allowed to be loaded and not permitted to be replaced with other life-saving items." "The items included trauma kits and other life-saving supplies," Linda Tom told AFP. The U.N. has said it has approval to deliver aid to a total of 70,000 people among the most needy in Eastern Ghouta. The United States issued a statement Sunday condemning the assault and accusing Moscow of ignoring a U.N. resolution calling for a 30-day cessation of hostilities. It said Russia has killed "innocent civilians under the false auspices of counterterrorism operations." U.S. President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May said Russia and Syria were responsible for "heart-breaking human suffering" in Eastern Ghouta. Moscow has offered safe passage to non-combatants wishing to leave Eastern Ghouta during daily "humanitarian pauses", but no Syrian civilians have left the enclave since the first break in fighting took effect on Tuesday, the Observatory says. Damascus and Moscow have accused rebels of preventing civilians from leaving to use them as human shields. In remarks broadcast on state television on Sunday, Assad said his forces would push forward with the offensive. "The majority (of people) in Eastern Ghouta want to escape the embrace of terrorism. The operation must continue," he said.

French Foreign Minister in Tehran for Tense Talks
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 05/18/French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was in Tehran Monday to push for pledges on Iran's ballistic missile program in a bid to preserve the country's historic nuclear deal. It is the first visit by one of the European signatories to the 2015 nuclear agreement since U.S. President Donald Trump set an ultimatum that he would abandon it in May if it was not "improved."Le Drian arrived early Monday in Tehran and held talks with officials including Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. He was due later to meet President Hassan Rouhani. Tensions were already surfacing ahead of the talks, with Zarif accusing the Europeans of pandering to Washington. "In order to keep the United States in the Iran nuclear deal, European countries are suffering from extremism and this will ultimately undermine Europe's policy," Zarif told reformist newspaper Etemad.
Trump in January set a 120-day deadline for U.S. lawmakers and European allies to "fix" his predecessor Barack Obama's major foreign policy achievement or face a U.S. exit. He is concerned that parts of the deal start to expire from 2026 and that it fails to address Iran's missile program and its regional activities. A U.S. exit could kill the nuclear deal, which the Islamic republic has refused to re-negotiate. European countries have voiced increasing concern over the missile program, which Iran says is purely defensive and not up for negotiation. Le Drian said last month that the missile program and Iran's involvement in regional conflicts needed to be addressed if Tehran "wants to return to the family of nations."
'Trump's Parisian lackey'
Iran has insisted it is abiding by the deal, which saw Tehran curb its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of crippling international sanctions. Western powers say the deal prevents Iran from developing nuclear weapons, though Tehran has always said its atomic program is for peaceful purposes only. In an interview ahead of the visit, Le Drian told newspaper Journal du Dimanche that Tehran was "exposing itself to new sanctions" if it did not rein in its missile program. Conservative media in Iran hit back on Monday, with daily Kayhan writing: "French foreign minister insults people of Iran before visit to Tehran". Daily Javan headlined its story: "Trump's Parisian lackey in Tehran". Ahead of the visit, Le Drian's team told AFP the minister had made it clear to Tehran that he is no "emissary of Donald Trump". "We want to preserve the nuclear deal because it is working, it's robust and because the Iranians are respecting it," Le Drian's team said. Le Drian also early on Monday met Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and a close ally of Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei. After his talks, he was due to inaugurate a new exhibition with works from the Louvre Museum in Tehran. Le Drian will also be pushing in his talks to have Tehran put pressure on the Syrian regime, a key ally, to end its devastating assault on the rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus. Despite their differences, Iran has welcomed French efforts to re-engage economically and politically.
Last year, Iran signed a $5 billion gas exploration deal with French energy giant Total, Tehran's biggest since the nuclear accord.

New Setback for Netanyahu as ex-Aide Signs State Witness Deal
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 05/18/An ex-aide to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has signed a state witness deal in a corruption probe linked to his former boss, Israeli media reported Monday, dealing a new setback to the premier.
News of the agreement broke ahead of Netanyahu's meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House later Monday. The widely reported agreement between Israeli authorities and Nir Hefetz, a former spokesman for the Netanyahu family, comes as corruption investigations into the prime minister intensify. Israeli police provided no details on the reported agreement. Hefetz would be the third Netanyahu associate to sign a state witness deal in recent months. An aide to Netanyahu immediately denounced the reports and proclaimed the long-serving prime minister's innocence. "When there's something there, it doesn't take even one state witness," the aide said. "And now, even a thousand state witnesses will not help." On Sunday, an Israeli court released Hefetz and telecoms mogul Shaul Elovitch and put them under house arrest after 14 days in custody. Hefetz is alleged to have acted as a messenger between Netanyahu, Elovitch's telecoms group Bezeq and news website Walla!, media reports say. Police suspect Bezeq was given regulatory breaks in return for Netanyahu receiving positive coverage on Walla!, a news website owned by the telecoms group. Hefetz is also suspected of trying to bribe a retired judge to block a probe into the prime minister's wife, Sara Netanyahu, over alleged misuse of public funds, according to the reports. Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Hefetz had agreed to hand over recordings of Netanyahu and his wife as part of the state witness deal.
Early elections?
Last month, Israeli police recommended Netanyahu's indictment on two other cases of alleged bribery. The attorney general is now considering how to move forward in those cases. In one case, Netanyahu and family members are suspected of receiving one million shekels ($285,000, 230,000 euros) in gifts, including luxury cigars, champagne and jewelery, from wealthy figures in exchange for financial or personal favors. In the other case, investigators suspect the premier of trying to reach an agreement with the owner of Yediot Aharonot newspaper for more favorable coverage. Israeli media reported that Hefetz could also provide testimony in those two investigations. The building investigations into Netanyahu's affairs have raised questions over whether the 68-year-old will eventually have to step down. He has been prime minister for a total of around 12 years. The probes have also led to speculation in the Israeli media that he may opt for early elections in the coming months in a bid to bolster his standing before a decision on indictments is made. Polls have suggested Netanyahu could remain prime minister in fresh elections despite the corruption investigations hanging over him. He is also set to reap further political benefits in May when the United States relocates its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the disputed city of Jerusalem, a move popular among Israelis even though it has been denounced across the world. Before boarding the plane for the United States on Saturday night, Netanyahu said he did not want to call early elections and hoped his right-wing coalition would survive its entire mandate, which expires in November 2019. However, politicians across the board sense elections may be on the horizon and have hardened their approach. A dispute that has arisen within the coalition in recent days could prove to be its undoing. Ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties want a law passed to allow religious students to continue to be exempted from military conscription. Other members of the coalition oppose such a law, but the ultra-Orthodox have threatened to block a 2019 budget that Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon wants to see approved this month.

Saudi Crown Prince visits Egypt’s Coptic Cathedral in Cairo
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Monday, 5 March 2018/Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has arrived at the St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo in an historic visit to the church. Prince Mohammed was met by Pope Tawadros II, 118th and current Pope of Alexandria. Earlier in the day, the prince visited the office of the Al-Azhar Sheikh. In the evening, the Saudi Crown Prince and Sisi will see an improvisation theater show at Cairo’s Opera House focused on correcting destructive ideas and fighting terrorism.

Saudi Crown Prince Discusses Economy on Egypt Trip
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 05/18/Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman continued a visit to Egypt on Monday focused on economic cooperation, with Riyadh agreeing a $10 billion investment with Cairo for a futuristic mega city project. Prince Mohammed accompanied Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to review construction projects near the Suez Canal before boarding a boat with the president to tour the waterway. A Saudi government source said the two countries had agreed to set up a joint $10 billion fund to develop areas of Egypt linked to the NEOM project. The $500 billion NEOM mega city, unveiled by Prince Mohammed last year, is planned to be a biotech and digital hub spread over 26,500 square kilometers (10,000 square miles) in an area facing Jordan and Egypt. The Saudi government source said the joint fund, which involves leased land for the Egyptian share, would be used to develop lands in the south of the Sinai Peninsula as part of NEOM. Prince Mohammed, who landed in Cairo on Sunday, is to fly to Britain on Wednesday and later this month to the United States, in his first forays abroad as crown prince. His visit to Egypt deals with "economic and investment cooperation," Egyptian presidency spokesman Bassam Radi told state television. Prince Mohammed and Sisi agreed in talks to bolster economic ties and launch joint projects, "particularly in the tourism sector on the Red Sea," Radi said. Later on Monday Prince Mohammed met Egypt's top cleric Ahmed al-Tayeb of the Al-Azhar institution, whose historic mosque in Cairo is being renovated with Saudi funding.
He will also meet Coptic Pope Tawadros II. Saudi Arabia views Egypt as a cornerstone of regional stability, after former army chief Sisi overthrew his Islamist predecessor Mohamed Morsi in 2013. Riyadh viewed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood with suspicion and at one point briefly recalled its ambassador from Cairo during his turbulent year in power. It has since showered Cairo with aid to prop up the country's economy, in a relationship that has led to some controversy in Egypt. In 2015, during a visit by King Salman to Cairo, the two countries agreed on the transfer of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, sparking protests in Egypt. Sisi ratified the deal last year, and Egypt's top court annulled lower court rulings for and against the treaty on the eve of the crown prince's arrival. Prince Mohammed's visit comes ahead of Egypt's presidential polls in late March, with Sisi expected to win a second four-year term. The visit would be "interpreted as proof of Saudi support for Sisi to remain as the president of Egypt," Mostafa Kamel al-Sayed, a political science professor at Cairo University, told AFP. Cairo and Riyadh have maintained close ties, although Egypt has signaled a lack of enthusiasm for Saudi regional policy, both on the Yemen war and a potential escalation with Iran. But it is among a bloc of Arab nations that joined a Saudi-led boycott since June of Qatar. The crown prince's tour also aims to court investors and comes after a tumultuous period that has seen a military shake-up and a royal purge in Saudi Arabia. Prince Mohammed is already seen as the country's de facto ruler controlling the major levers of government.

South Korean Envoys in Historic Trip to Meet North's Kim
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 05/18/The most senior South Koreans to travel North for more than a decade arrived in Pyongyang Monday to meet leader Kim Jong Un, the latest step in an Olympics-driven rapprochement on the divided peninsula.
The delegation, who traveled as envoys of the South's President Moon Jae-in, are pushing for talks between the nuclear-armed regime and the United States, after Kim sent his sister to the Pyeongchang Winter Games. "It was agreed... that they would attend a meeting and dinner with Kim Jong Un," said Moon's spokesman. Kim Yo Jong's trip was the first visit to the South by a member of the North's ruling dynasty since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, and her appearance at the Games' opening ceremony -- where athletes from the two Koreas marched together -- made global headlines. Moon has sought to use the Pyeongchang Games to open dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang in hopes of easing a nuclear standoff that has heightened fears over global security. In Seoul, Kim Yo Jong invited him to a summit in Pyongyang on her brother's behalf. But Moon did not immediately accept, saying the right conditions were necessary first. Before leaving for Pyongyang, the South's national security adviser Chung Eui-yong said: "We plan to hold in-depth discussions for ways to continue not only inter-Korean talks but dialogue between North Korea and the international community including the United States."It is a challenging task -- in defiance of U.N. sanctions, the isolated and impoverished North last year staged its most powerful nuclear test and test-fired several missiles, some of them capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. U.S. President Donald Trump dubbed Kim "Little Rocket Man" and boasted about the size of his own nuclear button, while the North Korean leader called Trump a "mentally deranged U.S. dotard."They traded threats of war and sent tensions soaring before a thaw in the run-up to the Winter Olympics. "We will deliver President Moon's firm resolution to denuclearise the Korean peninsula and to create sincere and lasting peace," delegation leader Chung told reporters. Chung is one of five senior officials who flew to Pyongyang on Monday. It was the first ministerial-level South Korean visit to the North since December 2007, when Seoul's then-intelligence chief traveled to Pyongyang.
Conservative Lee Myung-bak was elected the South's president the following day and took a markedly harder line on relations with the North.
Washington connection
Monday's delegation included spy chief Suh Hoon, who is a veteran in dealings with the North. He is known to have been deeply involved in negotiations to arrange two previous inter-Korean summits in 2000 and 2007. The North's official Korean Central News Agency also announced their impending visit in a one-paragraph dispatch. The 10-member group -- five top delegates and five supporting officials -- will return to Seoul on Tuesday. Other members include Suh's deputy at the National Intelligence Service as well as Chun Hae-sung, the vice minister in Seoul's unification ministry which handles cross-border affairs. The delegation will fly to the U.S. on Wednesday to explain the result of the two-day trip to officials in Washington, according to the South's presidential office. Moon, who advocates dialogue with the North's nuclear-armed regime, said last week that Washington needs to "lower the threshold for talks" with Pyongyang. But the U.S. has ruled out any possibility of talks before the North takes steps towards denuclearization, and imposed what Trump hailed as the "toughest ever" sanctions on Kim's regime late last month.

Egypt State TV Presenter Held for 'Defaming Police' Released
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 05/18/Egyptian authorities on Monday released on bail a prominent state television talk show presenter after he was briefly held on accusations he insulted the police, officials said. Pro-government Khairy Ramadan had been ordered detained late Sunday after he last month discussed the alleged low salaries of police officers on his show "Egypt Today" on the public Channel 1. Citing a policeman's wife, Ramadan had presented a breakdown of the officer's monthly gross salary of 6,890 pounds ($390, 320 euros), with which he has to provide for his family. He was released on Monday on a 10,000-pound bail (about $560), officials said. His detention came after authorities warned they were keeping a close eye on media and would take action against anyone spreading "false" news. Egypt is currently gearing up for presidential elections on March 26-28 that President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi looks certain to win. The state prosecution said Wednesday that it would monitor news outlets and social media "in light of recent observed attempts to harm the security and safety of the homeland by publishing lies and false news." Prosecutors were ordered to "take the necessary measures under the criminal law" against "false statements, news and rumors that harm public safety or bring terror into the hearts of individuals."

Russia suggests Tillerson-Lavrov meeting in Ethiopia this week: RIA
Mon 05 Mar 2018/NNA - Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Monday that Russia had suggested a meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Ethiopia this week, the RIA news agency reported. Both men are expected to make Africa trips this week and Ryabkov was cited as saying that Moscow had proposed they hold talks in Ethiopia at the end of the week.Ryabkov also commented on the situation in Syria’s eastern Ghouta rebel-held enclave. The Interfax news agency cited him as saying that the U.S. assessment of the situation there “did not correspond to reality.” ---Reuters

Macron presses Putin to ensure Syria respects ceasefire: Elysee
Mon 05 Mar 2018/ NNA - Emmanuel Macron urged Russian President Vladimir Putin in a telephone call Monday to ensure Syria accepts "without any ambiguity" a U.N. resolution calling for a 30-day ceasefire, the French president's office said.
"Acknowledging that armed opposition groups have accepted the humanitarian truce, and the inadequacy of the five-hour humanitarian "pause" decided by Russia, President Emmanuel Macron stressed that humanitarian convoys must be able to reach all populations in need unhindered and without further delay," the Elysee Palace said in a statement. ---Reuters
Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 05-06/18
Do Western "Goodists" Really Care about Helping Syrians, Palestinians?
Giulio Meotti/Gatestone Institute/March 05/18
The West is drowning in a sea of double standards and moral relativism in which murderers and tyrants are allowed to wallow in their crimes, while global indignation is turned only against the sole democracy in the Middle East: Israel.
Israeli hospitals have never stopped treating Palestinians, even during wars in Gaza. In Syria, by comparison, Bashar Al-Assad continues to bomb the country's hospitals.
Instead of scapegoating Israel, perhaps these "goodists", if they really care about helping oppressed people, as they claim, will finally promote a freedom flotilla to liberate Gaza from Hamas's tyranny and Syria from Assad's butchery?
It all happened around the same time, 200 kilometers apart. In one photo, Israeli schools were involved in a national drill in the event of a missile attack. In the other photo, a real missile attack in Syria caused 200 deaths, many of which were of children. On one side, you have Israel, a democracy forced to protect its children. On the other side, you have Syria, a brutal dictatorship where the civil war has caused more than 400,000 deaths.
Last month, an Israeli plane was shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft fire. If the Syrian regime, backed by Iran and Russia, is willing to kill 200 innocent Syrians, just think what they would do to other countries' citizens, if they had the means. Yet, going by media reports of the incident, one would think that Israel had been the aggressor.
How many resolutions has the United Nations dedicated against Syria the last year? Two. How many resolutions against Israel? 21. Both accurate reporting and international law have become distorted into serving as the enemies of humanity and civilization.
The West is drowning in a sea of double standards and moral relativism: murderers and tyrants are allowed to wallow in their crimes, while global indignation is turned only against the sole democracy in the Middle East: Israel. Photo-opportunities must not be ruined by a row of bodies in a Syrian morgue; better to cover the story of a 17-year-old Palestinian Arab girl punching and kicking an Israeli soldier.
Israeli children running to bomb shelters periodically become a scene of ordinary life in Israel. Four-year-olds, such as Daniel Tragerman, are killed if they do not reach the shelter in time. Palestinian terrorists launch missiles into Israel from Gaza's schools and the world sides with the terrorists -- and condemns the Jewish State. The American website Salon recently called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "the most dangerous man in the Middle East". And here you thought it was Bashar al-Assad -- the poison-gasser in Damascus -- or perhaps Iran's tyrants at home, in Yemen and Lebanon, who were destabilizing the Middle East?
Israeli soldiers were just wounded on the border of the Gaza Strip; Hamas missiles hit Israeli homes. And the world lectures Israel, under direct attack from its neighbors, about morality?
On September 11, 2005, after Israel totally disengaged from the Gaza Strip, CNN announced: "The Israeli flag has been lowered over Gaza, symbolizing the end of 38 years of Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory two weeks ahead of schedule". All the same, since then, "the Israeli occupation of Gaza", sometimes called a "siege", is promoted as a myth, even though Israel ships massive amounts of food, medicine and humanitarian supplies to Gaza every day, while Egypt, except for rare occasions, keeps its border with Gaza shut. Israel, even now, is working with Qatar, an emirate that does not recognize the Jewish State, to allow aid into Gaza.
Israeli hospitals have never stopped treating Palestinians, even during wars in Gaza. Last year, one single Israeli hospital in Gaza treated 400 children from the Gaza Strip. Even the daughter of Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas's leader in Gaza, was admitted to a Tel Aviv hospital.
In Syria, by comparison, Assad continues to bomb the country's hospitals.
Since 2011, 454 attacks have targeted 310 medical facilities in Syria. So, which country does the World Health Organization single out to probe for healthcare "abuse"? Israel, of course.
According to both Israeli and Palestinian estimates, Hamas spends $100 million a year on military infrastructure in Gaza, of which $40 million of the annual total goes to digging its terror-attack tunnels. According to another estimate by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, that money could instead have built 1,500 homes, 24,000 hospital beds, six medical clinics and three water facilities. Rather than manufacturing missiles to launch against Israel, Hamas could build a water-desalination plant. But Hamas continues to use its imported cement to reinforce its terror tunnels, rather than, as promised, building homes, schools and hospitals; and it continues using Palestinian schools as launching-pads for rockets they fire at Israeli kindergartens.
With the Marshall Plan after the Second World War, America distributed $60 billion (in today's inflation-adjusted dollars) to rebuild all of Western Europe. According to the World Bank, the Palestinians have received more than half that amount, $31 billion, in aid since 1993. The money has largely ended up funding terrorism and corruption.
Instead of scapegoating Israel, perhaps these "goodists", if they really care about helping oppressed people, as they claim, will finally promote a freedom flotilla to liberate Gaza from Hamas's tyranny and Syria from Assad's butchery?
**Giulio Meotti, Cultural Editor for Il Foglio, is an Italian journalist and author.
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Economics Needs a Few More Theories
Karl W. Smith/Bloomberg/March 05/18
A lot of my economist colleagues are enthusiastic about the promise of the empirical revolution in our field. They acknowledge the methodological problems of the young movement, but see the solution as more and better empirics. I, on the other hand, think that what’s needed is a larger dose of theory.
The benefits of the empirical revolution are clear. Prior to the 1980s, researchers spent most of their energy erecting an edifice of clever but untested theories. The advent of cheap desktop computers gave the next generation the power to put those theories to the test.
The edifice cracked. In 1997, the scholars David Card and Alan Krueger presented research showing that minimum-wage increases did not lead to lower employment, as prevailing economic theory would have predicted. The subtext was clear. Theory was fiction. Empirics were fact.
At roughly the same time, worries had been cropping up about the techniques of empirical science. These concerns first arose in the field of nutrition, where researchers typically used widely accepted double-blind placebo trials to test their theories. Subjects were randomly assigned to say take, say, a fish oil supplement or a placebo. Neither the subjects nor the doctors studying them would be told who received the real fish oil.
Over the course of the study, doctors would measure cardiovascular risk factors like blood pressure or cholesterol count. Any differences that emerged between the groups could plausibly be attributed to the nutritional effects of the fish oil.
Studies similar to this were indeed performed. The fish oil groups were found to have improved risk factors and fish oil supplements were heralded as a new wonder treatment for heart disease. Only they weren’t. Subsequent trials repeatedly revealed no significant effect of fish oil on health.
One might argue that this disappointing result actually showed that the scientific system was working. Faulty early results were contradicted by subsequent research. The problem of emprics was cured by more empirics.
Except it’s not always so simple. Brian Wansink of Cornell University has been one of the most successful food researchers in history, studying what worked and didn’t work to change eating behavior. His papers have been cited over 24,000 times and he was appointed by the administration of President Barack Obama to oversee the production of 2010 agriculture department dietary guidelines.
His reputation as a researcher was spectacular, as measured by his h-index, a statistic used to gauge how influential a scholar has been. Wansink’s rating at the time was over 70; by comparison, the London School of Economics estimates that the average professor of economics has a score of 7.6 and that the highest feasible score in economics is probably 45 to 50. Few people were more influential in nutrition policy or research. Yet in March of last year, the Netherlands-based researcher Tim van der Zee released the Wansink Dossier, a list of errors and improprieties in Wansink’s published work. The list alleges a variety of infractions in at least 50 of Wansink’s papers, which were collectively cited 4,000 times.Van der Zee’s investigation began not because Wansink’s work was refuted by later work, but because Wansink wrote a blog post in 2016 praising a young researcher for refusing to give up in her attempt to confirm his discoveries. Reporting later revealed that Wansink coached her to parse and re-parse her data, running statistical experiment after statistical experiment until she produced the finding he expected.
She compiled and published four papers based on that work, all of which cited and supported Wansink’s claims. What makes this such a crucial case is that Wansink wasn’t intentionally ginning up bad science. He was bragging to the world about what he thought was good science.
Experts in scientific methodology have called Wansink’s work “storytelling rather than science.” Indeed, Wansink had a story to tell. Almost all dedicated scientists do. And while Wansink is an extreme outlier, it’s quite common for researchers to report findings consistent with their favored stories. This is how schools of thought grow up.
It’s also why theory performs such an important function. The purpose of theory is to lay one’s story bare; to present it to the world in a common, often mathematical framework that any other trained theorist can interpret and criticize. Those criticisms help refine the theory, but eventually they lead to disputes that can only be settled by empirical investigations.
The effort to confirm or disprove a theory is what drives the most powerful empirical investigations. For example, quantum theory posited the existence of an elusive subatomic particle dubbed the Higgs boson. Efforts to demonstrate its existence inspired construction of the world’s most powerful particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider. In 2012, the particle was indeed discovered.
Card and Krueger’s type of findings have been reproduced by one school of economists. An opposing school led by David Neumark of the University of California at Irvine has argued for the opposite conclusion, that a minimum wage does result in job losses. The camps continue to pump out research, mostly confirming their respective points of view.
What’s needed is a solid new theory to replace the conventional wisdom that was upended by Card and Krueger. It would outline how the two schools’ methods are consistent with the results that they find, and derive a third test that could theoretically distinguish between the two. The next generation of empirical researchers could dedicate their talents to making that test a reality.

Oil, a Curse or a Blessing?
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat//March 05/18
There are two important dates in Saudi Arabia: the day when King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman established the kingdom and the date when the American company Standard Oil discovered oil on in the newly-established kingdom.
It’s been 80 years since the day that changed the future of Saudi Arabia following five years of failure. Their attempts to find resources finally yielded results when they discovered well no.7 which released a huge fountain of black oil in the sky.
If King Abdulaziz had not unified this huge country, there would have been smaller states fighting in the Arabian Peninsula. If oil hadn’t been discovered, the country would have suffered due to its weather conditions and rare water resources and pastures.
Before the Americans dug for oil, the British were in the kingdom exploring. However they were convinced there was no oil there so they left and gave up on cooperation with the king. Britain’s viceroy in India responded to the king’s letter himself after the latter proposed cooperation. He said Britain does not desire to cooperate with him and he must handle his affairs on his own, adding that all that concerns the British Empire is that no one obstructs its fleet’s navigation activity in Gulf waters.
After this harsh reply, the king went to the Americans who had nothing to do with the region. The Americans came from the end of the world to try their luck. It’s said that the Americans did not want to upset Britain for working in their traditional areas of influence so they told the British that they went to Saudi Arabia to help find water for the locals.
Although oil was discovered in Saudi Arabia in the 1930s, it was not exported and it did not become a financial resource until around 20 years later. This was due to international economic circumstances and World War II.
We are now entering a new phase as there are plenty of doubts regarding oil as a reliable economic resource. The state’s official policy is based on searching for other options that decrease reliance on oil. Those devising the new policy believe that resuming work according to the old logic – that oil is the only resource – may lead to the collapse of the entire national economy if it makes modest incomes due to dangerous shifts in the oil alternatives market. No one can assert anything yet but relying on oil is not a solution.
The true 'curse'
Some believe oil has been a curse on the region due to fighting over oil-rich areas and exporting it and because it brought superpowers from across the world and they ended up competing to provide it for their own markets. However, oil could have been a blessing for those who used it right. The region, and not just Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries, is lucky because around half of its countries are rich in oil and make easy incomes out of it. Unfortunately, the problem has always been related to how its wealth is managed.
There is no “curse of oil” but a curse due to the people whose lands are rich in oil as they squandered the greatest opportunities in the history of their countries. When we recall what Saddam Hussein did to oil revenues in Iraq and what Muammar Gaddafi did to oil revenues in Libya and what Qatar is doing now with its oil revenues, we feel sorry for what ignorant people have done to their countries’ resources.
These are depleting resources which lucky ones get the chance to make use of once in their history. If they use them wisely, they will change their sons’ future and their countries’ future for generations to come, and if they misuse them, they will destroy them and impoverish them making them poorer than they were before discovering oil!

The Hour of the Strong Man
Ghassan Charbel/Asharq Al Awsat//March 05/18
The belief has been that the age of the strong leaders ended with the past century. Their emergence was linked to extraordinary developments in the fabric of wars of independence or world wars. Observing latest developments demonstrate that the challenges of this century are no less demanding than the previous one, even if the circumstances and factors have changed.
It appears that our time is awaiting a strong man. One who is able to open the windows of hope, garner good will, bridge distances and make initiatives when others hesitate. A man who breaks the paralysis and dares to think outside the box. We need people of vision, decision-makers and those with a strong will to overcome the difficult challenges.
Sometimes the emergence of an extraordinary man prevents a country from falling into the abyss it was headed towards. This man reawakens the dreams of the youth and allows them to take part in deciding a country’s fate. He averts bloody conflicts and fatal collapses.
The West is no longer able to produce a “strong man”. Democracy fears the powerful, who harbor a deep-rooted dream for unlimited power. This is why the West has grown adept at devising formulas that can rein in their dreams. Unforgiving constitutions. The minute he celebrates a victory, he is aware of the date of his departure. Parliament will not hesitate in putting obstacles in his way. The public will not hesitate in pouncing on any slip-up. The traps of the opposition and journalists will bleed the president’s reputation. Blood will be shed on a daily basis on social media. It is clear that democracies are banking on the role of institutions and their continuity, not on an all-powerful leader.
The West, however, despite its advancement and enlightenment, is not the whole world. Wrong are those who believe that the global village will scramble to adopt the example that declared victory after the fall and suicide of the Soviet Union. We are now witnessing the confusion of the global arena at the rise of boxers who are difficult to be labeled as democratic, at least in the western sense.
The situation in the West is well-known. The United States and the world are hanging on the words of a tweeting president. The German chancellor was able to remain in her post, but election results tarnished her image. The honeymoon between the man in the Elysee and the French people is coming to an end. The lady in 10 Downing Street is struggling in leading the divorce from the European Union.
The situation in China is completely different than the one in the global village. We are witnessing the birth of the Mao Zedong of the 21st century. There are some who believe that China is preparing to live under the reign of a new emperor. It is wrong to believe that the development there does not concern us. We are speaking here about a country of 1.4 billion people and the world’s second strongest economy.
A few days ago, the Communist Party of China surprised the world when it removed the two-term limit clause in the constitution. The party also proposed introducing President Xi Jinping’s thought into the constitution. This is an honor that none of Mao’s predecessors enjoyed. This simply means that Xi’s voyage with China will be open-ended. The 2023 end date of his current term is now just a stop in a lifelong presidency that is envied by President Donald Trump, who admires Xi.
It is clear that Xi succeeded in the past five years in paving the way for an open-ended stay on Mao’s throne. He tamed the army generals and barons of war. He led a strict campaign against corruption that toppled major and stubborn figures. Whoever is observing the situation in China realizes the significance of this coup. In 1982, the party forced the leader to leave after he completed two terms. It sought to avoid the emergence of a strong figure. It avoided the emergence of a man, who enjoys freedom to act as he wished, similar to Mao, especially in wake of the cultural revolution that led to major human and economic losses.
The prevalent belief in the West was that Russia, which was rising from the rubble of the Soviet Union, would follow in the footsteps of western countries and be inspired to establish a democracy despite a long stay under single-party rule. This did not happen. Since the beginning of the century, Russia has been ruled by a man who succeeded in forming a Russian version of democracy. A guaranteed parliament and press. An ongoing crackdown on civil society and a lack of independent public opinion that can express opposition and demand accountability.
A strong leader called Vladimir Putin was born. He reshaped the internal scene, his country’s image abroad and its standing among major powers. The man holds all the strings and running in election is a cakewalk for him. He has regained Crimea and destabilized Ukraine. He intervened militarily in Syria and imposed his role on the regional and international scenes.
China is also headed towards unprecedented challenges. Its rise sparks concerns among countries near and far. The Belt and Road initiative is a clear demonstration of its aspiration to play an exceptional role in the global economy, and eventually the political arena. The position of the world’s most powerful economy for decades to come makes it a viable rival in major tussles with the US.
On the internal scene, the challenges are not simple. Preserving a high development rate. Preserving stability in a society that is witnessing demands for improvement among millions of its people, who want to take part in drawing the future of their country. This is not possible however within the current party rules. The process of modernity and catching up with the successive technological revolutions. Dealing with the digital revolution and transforming each citizen into a journalist, publisher and witness.
Given these factors, the Communist Party in China pave the way for the “strong leader” phenomenon. Perhaps it sensed that a permanent leader was necessary on the internal and foreign scenes for the upcoming phase. The need to preserve prosperity and stability combined. The need to advance China towards the position of major player on the international scene. Perhaps this is why some believe that Putin’s latest war speech that was directed to the West was not a stance. The primary competitor to the strong man in the Kremlin is the strong man sitting on Mao’s throne, which is not very far from Russia.
Iran on fast forward thanks to nuclear deal
إيران تسير قدماً بكل برامجها العدائية والتسليحية بسبب الاتفاق النووي غير السوي معها

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/March 05/18
The Iranian regime has significantly expanded its investment and spending on terrorist and militia groups. Gen. Joseph Votel, who is in charge of US Central Command, recently told lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee that Iran has made “an enhanced investment in their proxies and partners.”
There are several factors behind the Iranian regime’s increased capability for financing terrorist and militia groups across the Middle East in the last few years, but the key issue is the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), known as the Iran nuclear deal.
When the multiple rounds of United Nations sanctions were in place against the Iranian regime, Tehran was still supporting militias and terrorist groups but at a much slower pace. For example, it took the Iranian regime decades to empower Al-Qaeda to carry out attacks, or to train and create a proxy in Lebanon. But, since the nuclear agreement was reached in 2015, Iran-backed groups have proliferated, are much more empowered and have become major players across the region.
In Iraq, the Iranian regime currently supports at least 40 militia groups under the banner of the Popular Mobilization Forces. Some of these militias are known for committing war crimes, serious violations of international laws, and egregious crimes against humanity. After the nuclear deal, the Iranian leaders have even pushed and succeeded at making the Iraqi government officially recognize these militias and incorporate them into its political and security establishment.
And consider another proxy of Iran, the Houthis. It was after the JCPOA that Iran significantly increased its financial and military assistance to the militia. And it was after the nuclear agreement that the Houthis became empowered and emboldened to such a level that they became capable of destabilizing the country on such a large scale, as well as involving the nation in a bloody war.
Since the JCPOA was signed in 2015, Tehran-backed militias have proliferated, are much more empowered and have become major players across the region.
Since the JCPOA, Tehran’s increasing military, intelligence, advisory and economic assistance to Bashar Assad’s regime has also fundamentally strengthened the hold on power of the Syrian regime.
One major byproduct of the nuclear agreement is an economic boost, as Tehran is allowed to reap profits from its increased integration in international markets. Iran’s oil revenues have more than doubled in the last three years, and the trade between the regime’s state-owned firms and European countries has brought Tehran rewards worth billions of dollars.
It is also worth noting that the latest protests in Iran were clear evidence of the fact these increased revenues have not been distributed among the Iranian people. Instead, the budgets for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Quds Force, which is in charge of extraterritorial operations, and their affiliated groups have increased significantly. The IRGC is considered the godfather of many militias and terrorist groups in the region and it was after the nuclear deal that President Hassan Rouhani increased its budget by at least 145 percent.
Another byproduct of the nuclear deal that is helping Tehran increase its support for militias and terrorist groups is the issue of global legitimacy. Enhanced diplomatic ties with the EU, rising trade and business deals, and the JCPOA have brought Tehran out of isolation and considerably enhanced its legitimacy in the international arena.
Global legitimacy is crucial due to the fact that it is providing the Iranian regime with some kind of impunity in violating international laws. Global powers will be less likely to hold the Iranian regime accountable and responsible when it enjoys enhanced legitimacy. This legitimacy has facilitated Tehran’s logistical, military and illegal connections with terrorist groups.
In conclusion, the Iranian regime has increased its support and spending on terrorist militia groups across the region to an unprecedented level. The goals that the Iranian regime wished to accomplish over decades seem to have been achieved in the few years since the nuclear agreement. Thanks to the nuclear deal, Iran is continuing to pursue its regional hegemonic ambitions and achieve its objectives, but at a much faster pace.
*Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh