March 14/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations
Those who guide this people mislead them, and those who are guided are led astray
Isaiah 09/01-21: "Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan— The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder.  For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.  For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. The Lord’s Anger Against Israel  The Lord has sent a message against Jacob; it will fall on Israel.  All the people will know it—Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria—who say with pride and arrogance of heart, “The bricks have fallen down, but we will rebuild with dressed stone; the fig trees have been felled, but we will replace them with cedars.” But the Lord has strengthened Rezin’s foes against them and has spurred their enemies on. Arameans from the east and Philistines from the west have devoured Israel with open mouth. Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised. But the people have not returned to him who struck them, nor have they sought the Lord Almighty. So the Lord will cut off from Israel both head and tail, both palm branch and reed in a single day; the elders and dignitaries are the head, the prophets who teach lies are the tail. Those who guide this people mislead them, and those who are guided are led astray.  Therefore the Lord will take no pleasure in the young men, nor will he pity the fatherless and widows, for everyone is ungodly and wicked, every mouth speaks folly. Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised. Surely wickedness burns like a fire; it consumes briers and thorns, it sets the forest thickets ablaze, so that it rolls upward in a column of smoke. By the wrath of the Lord Almighty the land will be scorched and the people will be fuel for the fire; they will not spare one another.  On the right they will devour, but still be hungry; on the left they will eat, but not be satisfied. Each will feed on the flesh of their own offspring: Manasseh will feed on Ephraim, and Ephraim on Manasseh; together they will turn against Judah. Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised."

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 13-14/18
Hezbollah-linked drug dealers tried to sell narcotics on streets of UAE/Nawal Al Ramahi/The National/March 12, 2018
What Trump Can Learn from Madeleine Albright About North Korea Talks/Eli Lake/Bloomberg/March 13/18
History According to the Former Emir of Qatar/Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/March 13/18/
Turkish Diplomacy: Take Hostages/Uzay Bulut/Gatestone Institute/March 13/18
The Palestinian Peace Plan/Bassam Tawil/Gatestone Institute/March 13/18
Is the Syrian Regime 'Winning' the War/Lina Khatib/Al Arabiya/March 13/18
Deep Divide Between Copts In Egypt And In U.S. Over Introduction Of Bill In U.S. Congress 'Expressing Concern Over Attacks On Coptic Christians In Egypt'/C. Meital/MEMRI/March 13/18
A Survey of the Near East: Implications for U.S. National Security/David Cattler/The Washington Institute/March 13/18
Why Tillerson wasn’t the secretary of state Trump needed/Faisal J. Abbas/Arab News/March 14/18

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on March 13-14/18
Ziad Itani Freed as Arrest Warrant Issued for Suzanne al-Hajj
Lebanese actor accused of spying for Israel freed
Lebanon releases actor accused of collaborating with Israel
Hezbollah-linked drug dealers tried to sell narcotics on streets of UAE
Lebanese President: ‘Hezbollah’ Arms Will Be on Negotiations Table after Elections
Draft state budget arrives to Parliament
Aoun Says Budget Approval Puts Govt's Financial Management on Right Track
Raad: As Long As Israel is an Enemy, the Resistance Remains a Need
Two Held for 'Surveilling' LF Ceremony Venue
Aoun Signs Decree for Extraordinary Legislative Session, Berri Says 'Unnecessary'
Beirut Nightclub Shut Down over Explicit Show
Report: Oil a Deterrent Weapon of Israeli Hostility against Lebanon
Mustaqbal Lauds Aoun's Call for Post-Polls Defense Strategy Talks
Partial Building Collapse in Beirut Neighborhood after Gas Explosion
Hariri receives Saudi Charge d'affaires, French MPs and Friedrich Naumann delegation
Pharaon: We need further reform to reassure investors at Paris conference
Change and Reform bloc deems government's budget approval achievement
Mashnouk from Itani's house: Whoever made a mistake must apologize

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on March 13-14/18
Trump Fires Tillerson, Appoints Former CIA Chief as Secretary of State
Trump Fires Top Diplomat Tillerson, Names Pompeo Successor
Bomb Targets Palestinian PM's Convoy in Rare Gaza Visit
Palestinian Authority Blames Hamas for Failed Assassination Attempt against PM
Iran’s famous Festival of Fire turns into anti-regime demonstrations
Ahmadinejad's Assistant Calls on Soleimani to Refute Charges Against IRGC
Turkish Forces Begin Besieging Syria’s Afrin
Latest Lebanese Related News published on March 13-14/18
Ziad Itani Freed as Arrest Warrant Issued for Suzanne al-Hajj

Naharnet/March 13/18/18/Lebanese comedian Ziad Itani was released on Tuesday after 109 days in detention, as an arrest warrant was issued for Lt. Col. Suzanne al-Hajj who is accused of “fabricating” a spying for Israel case against him. Speaking to reporters after his release, Itani thanked President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq and the Intelligence Branch of the Internal Security Forces. “I'm a theater artist. How can I be charged with the ugliest accusation?” Itani added, noting that “the heroes of the Intelligence Branch have rescued the new presidential tenure from the scandal of the century.” “No one has faced the injustice that I have faced,” Itani decried. Asked whether he was tortured, the comedian nodded yes. Itani then arrived at the Center House where he met with PM Hariri before heading to his home in Beirut's Tariq al-Jedideh neighborhood.
During his meeting with Itani, Hariri defended the State Security agency and noted that any other security agency could have acted the same had it been fed false information. Military Examining Magistrate Riad Abu Ghida has earlier on Tuesday ordered the release of Itani and issued an arrest warrant for al-Hajj, the former head of the ISF anti-cyber crime bureau. Itani received a hero's welcome outside his home in Tariq al-Jedideh, where he was received by his family and the neighborhood's residents. “What are you waiting for?! Meet me in Tariq el-Jedideh and bring sweets and juice... Come on, I miss you,” Itani had tweeted upon his release. Earlier in the day, Abu Ghida interrogated al-Hajj and the hacker Elie Ghabash in a joint session at the Military Court. Al-Hajj's lawyer, ex-minister Rashid Derbas, announced after the session that his client had denied all the charges and that “there is no conclusive evidence to incriminate her.” Judge Germanos meanwhile allowed al-Hajj's husband, the lawyer Ziad Hbeish, to meet her three times a week. Itani had been detained since November on charges of “collaborating with Israel” while al-Hajj and Ghabash were arrested around two weeks ago on suspicion of fabricating electronic evidence to “frame” Itani. Media reports said al-Hajj had asked the hacker to fabricate a case against Itani to take revenge on him for posting a screenshot of a 'like' she had placed on a tweet by controversial TV director Charbel Khalil. The 'like' cost al-Hajj her job as head of the ISF anti-cybercrime unit. In the 2017 tweet, Khalil had quipped that “Saudi women are only allowed to drive if the car is booby-trapped.” Media reports have said that al-Hajj and Ghabash are involved in other hacking attacks. Itani has shot to prominence in recent years because of a series of comedy plays on Beirut, its customs and the transformations it has undergone in recent decades.The works -- particularly "Beirut Tariq al-Jedideh", which refers to a majority-Sunni neighborhood of the city -- have been very well-received.
Before becoming an actor, Itani worked as a journalist with Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen television and with various regional newspapers.

Lebanese actor accused of spying for Israel freed
Arab News/March 14/18/BEIRUT: Actor Ziad Itani has been released by the Lebanese military judiciary without bail after being confined for 110 days on a charge of spying for Israel. His arrest shocked the Lebanese public, and there was further upset when an Internal Security Forces officer and a hacker were arrested for fabricating the case against Itani. Itani was first held by Lebanese State Security and then by the Information Department of the ISF. As soon as he was released from prison, a tearful Itani said: “The guys at the Information Department are heroes — thorough investigations were conducted with precision, and they saved the era from a big scandal.”He also thanked President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk and said: “They knew that such a case won’t go unsolved. “I am a stage actor who works for the people’s theater and was accused of the gravest crime. We don’t wish to go back to the outdated systems,” he added. When asked if he had been tortured, he replied: “Yes.”Less than two hours following the release order, Itani’s Twitter account was activated and, as he waited in prison for his attorney to finish the release proceedings, he tweeted: “What are you waiting for? Meet me in Tariq El Jdideh and bring sweets and juice with you. I’ve missed you.”Itani’s lawyer Rami Itani, said after the prosecutor issued the release order: “A huge reception will await Ziad near his house in Tariq El Jdideh.”Itani’s mother, who waited for him at her house in Tariq El Jdideh, said: “My son is innocent. “I will never forgive those who were behind Ziad’s arrest, and I won’t forgive his acquaintances who believed the charge against him,” she added. The Lebanese flag and Future Movement banners were raised on balconies In Tariq El Jdideh to welcome Itani.
Military Investigative Judge Riad Abu Ghaida issued two arrest warrants against the security officer, Lt. Col. Suzan Hajj (Hobeiche), who was interrogated on Tuesday in the presence of her defense lawyer, former minister Rashid Derbas, and the hacker, Elie Ghabash, who was questioned on Monday.
During her three-hour investigation, conducted by Judge Abu Ghaida, Hajj was brought face-to-face with Ghabash, and both stuck to their statements. According to judicial sources, Hajj insisted on denying the charge and Ghabash’s confessions.
For his part, Ghabash confirmed that Hajj had requested that he hack Ziad Itani’s online account in revenge. While being interrogated by Judge Abu Ghaida, Ghabash had confirmed the confessions he made to the Information Department, where he said that “the case had been fabricated against Itani at the request of Hajj.”Gabash had recorded all phone calls received from Hajj when she asked him to frame Itani for collaborating with a Mossad spy, Colette, who was later found to be fictitious. Hajj wanted revenge on Itani for exposing a ‘like’ she had placed on a social media post by TV director Charbel Khalil, in which he mocked the Saudi decision to lift the driving ban on women. Even though she quickly withdrew the ‘like’, she lost her job as head of the ISF anti-cybercrime unit as a result of the tweet. Judge Abu Ghaida is to close the investigation and refer the case to the Military Tribunal for review it before he hands down his indictment, under which he refers the two detainees, Hajj and Ghabash, to the Military Court. The criminal charges they face carry a maximum sentence of 10 years.
Lebanon releases actor accused of collaborating with Israel
Ynetnews/Associated Press/March 14/18/After being accused of collaborating with Israel and in wake of findings pointing to a former cyber security official framing him out of vengeance, Lebanese actor and director Itani is released from jail. A Lebanese stage actor was released on Tuesday and cleared of charges of collaborating with Israel and drug possession, while the officer who built the case against him was ordered detained. Ziad Itani, a stage actor from a prominent Sunni family in Beirut who was arrested in November, told reporters after his release that his indictment was a "scandal" and responded affirmatively when he was asked if he had been tortured into confessing. Lebanon and Israel are formally at war and collaborating with Israel can be punishable by death. "I am a theater person, people! Why should I be accused of the worst crime ever?" he said. Itani's arrest and subsequent exoneration were heavily covered by local media, amid a struggle among political rivals with links to the country's various and often competing security agencies. The case was withdrawn from one security agency and passed on to another after irregularities emerged earlier this month. Lebanon will hold its first parliamentary elections in a decade later this year, pitting prominent Sunni families in Beirut against political rivals. A large poster near Itani's house showed a picture of him with a caption reading: "Beirut with you." Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a Sunni, hugged Itani after his release from prison, airing their meeting on his official Twitter account. The office of the chief military prosecutor released a statement Tuesday saying it had ordered the release of Itani. It didn't say why the security officer, Lt. Col. Suzan Hobeiche, the former head of the anti-cybercrime unit, had been arrested. Local media reported that Hobeiche had fabricated the case against Itani based on his public social media profile and contacts. Hobeiche has been held for interrogation for days.

Hezbollah-linked drug dealers tried to sell narcotics on streets of UAE
تجار مخدرات مرتبطين بحزب الله حاولوا بيع مخدرات في شوارع دولة الإمارات
Nawal Al Ramahi/The National/March 12, 2018
Dubai forum told how drugs are fuelling the purchase of weapons and terrorism
Lt Gen Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, Deputy Chairman of Police and General Security in Dubai, tells the Hemaya International Forum on Monday that a drug trafficking gang had been arrested trying to bring narcotics into the UAE and a link to Hezbollah was identified. Satish Kumar for The National
Drug traffickers linked to Hezbollah were arrested trying to bring narcotics into the UAE in an attempt to fund the militant group's activities, a senior security official has said.
Lt Gen Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, Deputy Chairman of Police and General Security in Dubai, told a summit in Dubai on Monday that the gang had been arrested and a link to the Iran-backed Lebanese network was identified.
In addition to raising funds for the militia, which has been accused of undermining and destabilising Lebanon's government, dealers working for radical groups have also tried to corrupt young people in GCC states, he said.
Dubai's most senior security official was speaking at the annual Hemaya International Forum and Exhibition on Drug Issues, which is attended by law enforcement personnel and academics from around the world.
“Top officials from Hezbollah who were involved in drugs trafficking were among those arrested in last year," he said, without elaborating. He said the case was the result of "intensive investigation … and intelligence information".
"This group was sent to our country by Hezbollah from Lebanon," he said.
“Sources in Lebanon have informed us that GCC countries are being targeted by extremists."
US law enforcement agencies have been investigating Hezbollah's fund-raising activities in recent years and last month the US Congress began considering a bill that will give President Donald Trump the authority to designate Hezbollah “a significant foreign narcotics trafficker."
Hezbollah has been widely linked to the cocaine trade and South American cartels.
More broadly, a total of 515 drug suppliers, 1,235 drug dealers and 4,689 drug addicts were arrested across the UAE in 2017.
Lt Gen Khalfan said: “We are facing a major issue. Can you believe that those people are paid to insert drugs in their stomachs in an attempt to smuggle huge quantities of drugs?"
Hassan Harak, from Egypt's Addiction Treatment and Abuse Fund, said drugs are paying for extremist groups to wage war on governments.
“Money generated from drug trade has been used to buy weapons. We are facing this issue in North Sinai. Forces in our country are fighting against drug cultivation and narcotics trafficking," he said.
“Extremists distribute drugs to gain money illegally, destroy our young people and enhance the strength of their group."
In January, the US Department of Justice assigned a team of prosecutors to form a Hezbollah financing and narco-terrorism team, and last month's Congress bill accused the movement of “using a global network of companies operating out of Latin America, West Africa, and Lebanon to launder as much as $200,000,000 a month in drug proceeds for Mexican and Colombian cartels".
Michelle Spahn, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Country Attaché in Dubai, said that drugs are commonly used to fund and even fight wars in the Middle East and Africa.
“Tramadol has been used as form of tip or currency in Egypt – and this type of drug is preferred as a source of payment. Prices of tramadol increased in Egypt due to the increasing demand," she told the Hemaya event.
On the ground, she said that “terrorist groups use Captagon to stay awake and tramadol to calm their nerves before missions."
The event in Dubai on Monday was told of the concern that drug suppliers are managing to manufacture or find strong prescription drugs and sell them to addicts before governments can ban them.
The trend is most evident in the alarming opiate epidemic that has swept North America in recent years.
Almost 64,000 people in the US died from drugs in 2016, up from 52,000 in 2015.
Andrew Cunningham, head of crime reduction at European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, said: “Recently, we have heard about drones being used to supply drugs across borders and into prisons and using technology to distribute drugs.
“Profit is driving the drug trade. A total of €24 billion (Dh109bn) is the estimated minimum retail value of the illicit market for the main drugs in Europe.
“Criminals try to come up with new chemicals which are not controlled, so called 'black swans',” he said.
In other developments, Lt Gen Khalfan went on to criticise courts in the UAE that he claimed allow drug 'suppliers' and 'traffickers' to get away with sentences usually given for possession or personal use.
“The current law needs to be modified and stringent penalties must be handed over to those involved in smuggling and dealing with drugs," he said.
“In one court case, a man was sentenced to three years in jail for possessing three million Captagon pills – is it possible that this person possessed this amount of drugs for personal use?” he said.
“Sentences should not be reduced, and those convicted must not be released on national or religious occasions.”

Lebanese President: ‘Hezbollah’ Arms Will Be on Negotiations Table after Elections
Beirut - Nazeer Rida/Asharq Al Awsat/March 13/18
Lebanese President Michel Aoun will place the file of “Hezbollah’s” arms on the negotiation table following the May 6 parliamentary elections. On Monday, the President said his country demands “the necessary international support for the Lebanese armed forces so that they are able to carry on assuming their duty of preserving security and stability nationwide through the national defense strategy. The strategy will also be placed on the table after the legislative elections, he added. Lebanon is sending several positive messages to assure the international community ahead of the Rome II conference, expected on Wednesday in the Italian capital. On Monday, the cabinet approved the 2018 draft state budget, referring it to parliament for endorsement. Prime Minister Saad Hariri said all ministries have committed to reducing the budget by 20 percent, thanking Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil and his team for their tireless efforts in accomplishing state budget.
 The budget’s approval comes around 20 days prior to holding the Paris IV conference, expected on April 6 to garner more economic support for Lebanon. Acting UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Pernille Dahler Kardel welcomed the measures, saying: "I am very encouraged to see that preparations for the budget are underway. I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Lebanese government for its preparations ahead of the May 6 elections.”
State Minister for Combating Corruption Nicolas Tueni told Asharq Al-Awsat on Monday that the government measures “assert the presence of a national will to fight corruption.”
Draft state budget arrives to Parliament
The Daily Star/March 13, 2018/BEIRUT: Parliament has received the 2018 draft state budget following Cabinet’s endorsement of the document, the head of the Finance and Budget Committee said Tuesday afternoon. Committee head MP Ibrahim Kanaan told local media outlet LBCI that he was preparing to schedule the extraordinary parliamentary session focused on discussing the budget, which he said will start on Friday. President Michel Aoun signed a decree Tuesday morning, calling an extraordinary session of Parliament, to go into effect immediately and last until March 19, to discuss the 2018 state budget and other draft laws. The draft budget was endorsed by Cabinet Monday before being referred to Parliament for final ratification. If Parliament’s budget committee fails to refer the draft budget to the General Assembly by March 19, a regular parliamentary session will commence regardless on March 20, providing Parliament the opportunity to endorse the budget. Aoun's call to hold an exceptional meeting is intended to expedite the budget’s ratification. Lebanese officials have been hurrying to finalize and ratify the 2018 budget ahead of upcoming donor conferences in Europe, held to boost support for Lebanon’s security apparatuses and economy.
Aoun Says Budget Approval Puts Govt's Financial Management on Right Track
Naharnet/March 13/18/18/After the Cabinet approved the draft 2018 State budget, President Michel Aoun said on Tuesday “the most important process of managing the State's finances has been achieved.”“With the budget approval by adjusting revenues and expenditures, and start reducing the deficit, the most important process of managing the State's finances has been achieved,” said Aoun in a tweet. On Monday, the Cabinet approved the state budget sending it to Parliament for ratification. Budgets of ministries have been slashed by 20%. Prime Minister Saad Hariri said the “budget includes reforms and incentives for all sectors and it will achieve a surplus in all ministries.”

Raad: As Long As Israel is an Enemy, the Resistance Remains a Need
Naharnet/March 13/18/18/Loyalty to the Resistance bloc MP Mohammed Raad stressed on Tuesday that adherence to the so-called army-people-resistance equation is a necessary, pointing out that the Resistance will “remain a need” as long as there is an Israeli enemy and terrorist threats, the National News Agency reported. “It is not possible to confront crises and challenges unless we firmly adhere to the equation of army-people-resistance that made the whole world stand stunned in front of Lebanon's small capacity in geographical area, but great by the will of its people,” said Raad.
“Israel, supported by the majority of the world's powerful nations, was defeated by our people, our army and our resistance,” he added. “The resistance, the cornerstone of the equation of strength and defense of this homeland, remains a need as long as there is an Israeli enemy and terrorist threats to our existence and identity,” said the Hizbullah MP.

Two Held for 'Surveilling' LF Ceremony Venue
Naharnet/March 13/18/18/Two young men were arrested Tuesday for “surveilling” the area around a venue where the Lebanese Forces will hold an electoral ceremony on Wednesday, the National News Agency said. “An Internal Security Forces patrol tasked with protecting the general headquarters of the LF party in Maarab arrested Lebanese young men Ali Mohammed Hassan and Hussein Abbas Yassine, who hail from the Nabatieh district town of Qsaybeh,” NNA said. “They were detected surveilling the vicinity of the Platea theater in Keserwan's Sahel Alma area, on the eve of a major ceremony that the LF will hold at the theater to announce its candidates for the parliamentary elections in the presence of LF leader Samir Geagea,” the agency added. “The detainees were handed over to the Jounieh police station at the request of the relevant judicial authorities as their cellphones were confiscated,” NNA said.

Aoun Signs Decree for Extraordinary Legislative Session, Berri Says 'Unnecessary'
Naharnet/March 13/18/18/President Michel Aoun on Tuesday signed a decree calling Parliament to an extraordinary legislative session from March 13 to March 19, a move described by Speaker Nabih Berri as “unnecessary.”According to the decree, the session is dedicated to discussing the 2018 state budget and a number of draft laws. The decree was also signed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

Beirut Nightclub Shut Down over Explicit Show
Naharnet/March 13/18/18/A Beirut nightclub has been shut down on Tuesday by the interior ministry after explicit footage on the dance floor circulating on social media. Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq ordered the nightclub to be closed after viewing a video posted on social media showing half-naked women dancing. “After viewing the video in a nightclub in Beirut on social media showing pornographic show, the Interior Minister asked the Internal Security Forces to investigate the matter and close the nightclub and turn those responsible to the competent judicial authorities,” Mashnouq's media office said on twitter. The video has circulated over the weekend and drew sharp criticism on social media. The name of the club was not revealed.

Report: Oil a Deterrent Weapon of Israeli Hostility against Lebanon
Naharnet/March 13/18/18/The chances of an Israeli aggression against Lebanon have become “minimal” due to the “political confusion” Israel is witnessing internally, and due to its will to protect its oil excavation platforms adjacent to Lebanon from any possible strike in case of an assault, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Tuesday. “One of the Western ambassadors has asserted that Lebanon should not fear any Israeli military action, or more precisely the chances of Israeli aggression is very weak,” a political source who spoke on condition of anonymity told the daily. He said “this is due to several reasons. First, is the political confusion Israel is witnessing, and secondly and most important is the oil weapon which has become a deterrent weapon. “Since Israel started the excavation of oil from fields adjacent to Lebanon, it fears its oil platforms might be targeted in case of an assault against Lebanon. A Katyusha rocket worth 10,000 dollars could disrupt oil platforms worth 200 million dollars,” he added. Israel has major gas fields off its northern coast and is building valuable infrastructure to get the fuel out of the ground and onto land, all within range of Hizbullah rockets.

Mustaqbal Lauds Aoun's Call for Post-Polls Defense Strategy Talks
Naharnet/March 13/18/18/Al-Mustaqbal parliamentary bloc on Tuesday lauded President Michel Aoun for saying that national defense strategy talks will be held after the parliamentary elections. “This declaration is a step towards bolstering the state and its institutions and resolving the issue of (Hizbullah's) arms within the framework of national consensus that can preserve both sovereignty and stability,” the bloc said in a statement issued after its weekly meeting. Aoun said Monday that “Lebanese leaders will discuss the national defense strategy after the parliamentary elections that will be held in May.”The defense strategy has long been a thorny issue in Lebanon.

Partial Building Collapse in Beirut Neighborhood after Gas Explosion
Naharnet/March 13/18/A late night explosion in Beirut's neighborhood of Sabra-al-Rihab led to the fractional collapse of a building causing no casualties, the National News Agency reported on Tuesday. NNA said two gas canisters have exploded shortly after midnight which caused the partial collapse of an old building close to the site of the explosion. Damages were strictly material, it added. No further details were provided by NNA.
Hariri receives Saudi Charge d'affaires, French MPs and Friedrich Naumann delegation
Tue 13 Mar 2018/NNA - The President of the Council of Ministers Saad Hariri received today at the Grand Serail the Saudi Charge d'Affaires in Lebanon Walid al-Bukhari. Hariri also received a delegation from the Friedrich-Naumann Foundation headed by Mr. Manfred Richter. After the meeting, Richter said: "We talked with the Prime minister about the question of creating stability in this region. Europeans are well aware that this is a complicated task and the role that Lebanon and the government of the Prime Minister play, is an important one. We got some information that are very helpful for the future process in Germany and in Europe. We also liked to emphasize the activities that we did, as a German foundation here in Lebanon. We do some cooperation with the Future Movement which we want to continue and I think that we are on a very good way."Hariri met with a French Parliamentary delegation. After the meeting, the MP representing French residents in Switzerland and Liechtenstein, Joachim Son-Forget said: "As a French MP, I was very happy to meet with Prime Minister Hariri, I have been trying to come to Lebanon for a long time and I really wanted to meet with him. He is a unifying element and France is very attached to Lebanon and to all the work that is done. Prime Minister Hariri expressed particular attention to the upcoming conference in Paris and all the economic development aspect that will result. We are very receptive to this idea, we are also both attached to the development of relations under the banner of Francophonie, which is a tool of soft power that must be promoted, because beyond the cultural artifice, it unites peoples and that's really what we want to continue doing. Moreover, I am very interested in the Levant. I also wished to reaffirm to the Prime Minister our sincere commitment to the solidarity that Lebanon has shown with the refugees, all the work that has been done for their integration, all the economic and social work that is done in this context. I want to praise this sense of responsibility and the work of humanity that has been done."

Pharaon: We need further reform to reassure investors at Paris conference
Tue 13 Mar 2018/NNA - Minister of State for Planning, Michel Pharaon, said that "approving the budget by the government is positive for the Paris conference, especially after the absence of the budget for 10 years." "We need more reform to reassure markets and investors at the conference," he told the Free Lebanon radio station. He stressed "the need to privatize major files that suffer corruption, and to apply the law in that regard, thus contributing to the success of the conference because it will provide confidence." "We are in a very difficult economic situation and we need a political and administrative team that is expert in such matters," Pharaon said. "We must commit ourselves to dissociation and resume dialogue on the defense strategy so as to restore confidence to Lebanon and save it from bankruptcy," he concluded.

Change and Reform bloc deems government's budget approval achievement
Tue 13 Mar 2018/NNA - "The expatriates are a wealth to the country and a human resource for Lebanon because of their patriotism, their absolute loyalty and their commitment to all its causes," Minister of Justice, Salim Jreissati, said after the weekly meeting of the Change and Reform bloc. "The trips made by president of the Free Patriotic Movement, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, to countries where Lebanese expats reside have given their desired fruit," he said. Tackling the budget, Jreissati pointed out that "the budget is a government achievement, and it is owing to the effort of President of the Republic, Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Minister of Finance Ali Hassan Khalil and ministers, especially those of the FPM who never ceased to call for reform budgets." Pertaining to the parliamentary elections, Jreissati pointed out that "Bassil informed the bloc members that the FPM's electoral program will be announced on March 24, and called upon them to make their observations when necessary."

Mashnouk from Itani's house: Whoever made a mistake must apologize
Tue 13 Mar 2018/NNA - "I have adopted this issue with the full support of Premier Saad Hariri. (...) I have been treated with injustice once and I know what that means. Whoever made a mistake must apologize," said Minister of Interior Nuhad Mashnouk while visiting Ziad Itani.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on March 13-14/18
Trump Fires Tillerson, Appoints Former CIA Chief as Secretary of State
Asharq Al-Awsat/March 13/18/US President Donald Trump has sacked Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, he announced in a tweet on Tuesday. He said that former CIA chief Mike Pompeo will be his replacement. Pompeo is to be replaced by Gina Haspel, his deputy at the CIA, Trump tweeted. She would be the first woman in that role. "Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State. He will do a fantastic job! Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service! Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!" Trump said on Twitter. A White House official said Trump wanted to have a new team in place ahead of upcoming talks with North Korea and various trade talks. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly.
There had been longstanding rumors throughout most of Tillerson's tenure of friction between Trump and his secretary of state, a former Exxon Mobile Corp. CEO. Tillerson had just returned from a shortened trip to Africa hours before Trump's announcement. Trump offered no explanation for the change. The resignation represents the biggest shakeup of the Trump cabinet so far and had been expected since last October when reports surfaced about a falling out between Trump and Tillerson, 65, who left his position as chief executive of Exxon Mobil to join the administration. Trump publicly undercut Tillerson's diplomatic initiatives numerous times, including on Monday when the former secretary of state's comments about Russia appeared to be at odds with those of the White House. Tillerson also appeared out of the loop last week when Trump announced he would meet with North Korea's leader and become the first sitting US president to do so.

Trump Fires Top Diplomat Tillerson, Names Pompeo Successor
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 13/18/Donald Trump on Tuesday sacked his top diplomat Rex Tillerson and named current CIA chief Mike Pompeo to succeed him, ending a rocky tenure by the Texas oilman who had frequently been at odds with the mercurial U.S. president. A senior White House official said Trump wanted to reshuffle his team with a view to launching talks with North Korea, following last week's spectacular announcement that he plans to meet Kim Jong Un by the end of May. While Trump thanked Tillerson "for his service," he was sparing in his praise of the 65-year-old former Exxon chief, long rumored to be on the way out. Before leaving on a trip to California, Trump spoke openly of their differences -- singling out the Iran nuclear deal -- as he explained the rationale for the latest departure from his chaotic White House. "We got along actually quite well but we disagreed on things," Trump told reporters. "When you look at the Iran deal, I thought it was terrible, he thought it was okay." "I wish Rex a lot of good things," the president added. "I think Rex will be much happier now."The outgoing secretary of state, who returned overnight from a trip to Africa, did not address reports he only learned of his sacking when Trump tweeted the decision, saying only he had since spoken to the president. In his farewell remarks Tuesday, he said Washington must do more to respond to Russia's "troubling behavior" -- one day after slamming Moscow for its alleged involvement in an attempted assassination using a nerve agent in Britain. Tillerson will pass authority at midnight to Deputy Secretary John Sullivan, remaining at the department for handover purposes until March 31. In announcing the reshuffle, Trump lavished praise on Pompeo, a former U.S. army officer and congressman who led the CIA for nearly 14 months, calling him "the right person for the job at this critical juncture."
"He will continue our program of restoring America's standing in the world, strengthening our alliances, confronting our adversaries, and seeking the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," Trump added. But Democrats quickly pounced on the news. "There's a pattern and practice to dismiss anyone with whom this president has a policy difference, and that appears to be the case with Secretary Tillerson," Senator Dianne Feinstein said. To succeed Pompeo at the Central Intelligence Agency, Trump nominated Gina Haspel, a controversial career intelligence officer who is the first woman tapped for the post. Haspel has been reported to have overseen a CIA "black site" in Thailand where Al-Qaeda suspect Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded after the 9/11 attacks.  Both Pompeo and Haspel require Senate confirmation to assume their new posts. A hearing for Pompeo is expected in April.
'Exceeded expectations'
Adding to the day's drama at the State Department, Steve Goldstein, the undersecretary for public affairs and public diplomacy, was also shown the door after issuing a statement supportive of Tillerson. Goldstein wrote that the secretary "had every intention of remaining because of the tangible progress made on critical national security issues," indicating he was caught off guard by Trump's move. Within hours, Goldstein himself was fired. Tillerson's sacking caps a tumultuous tenure at the State Department. He was repeatedly forced to deny he had fallen out with Trump -- vowing to remain in post despite a sensational report that he once dubbed the president a "moron." A respected businessman, his tenure drew scorn from Trump's opponents and the Washington policy elite. During his time in the job, he was faced with an extraordinary array of foreign policy challenges -- from North Korean nuclear threats, to Russian intervention in Ukraine, Syria and Western elections, to attacks on US diplomats in Cuba. But his efforts were often overshadowed by Trump's decidedly un-diplomatic style and streams of taunting tweets that have stirred international tensions. Tillerson was thousands of miles away in Africa when Trump made the snap decision to meet Kim, suspending his schedule on grounds he was "unwell" before cutting short his trip. In a cruel twist of fate, one of Trump's most public clashes with Tillerson came when the president accused his top diplomat of "wasting his time" pursuing contacts with North Korea. But in his farewell comments, Tillerson talked up his achievements in the standoff -- suggesting the prospect of talks with Kim was made possible by the hard work of his State Department and allies. The pressure campaign on Pyongyang "exceeded the expectations of almost everyone," Tillerson said, noting it was he who had declared on his first trip to Asia as secretary that the "era of strategic patience is over."

Bomb Targets Palestinian PM's Convoy in Rare Gaza Visit

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 13/18/A bomb blast targeted Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah's convoy during a rare visit to the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, leaving him unhurt but provoking outrage over what officials called an assassination attempt. The attack is likely to further increase tensions between Hamas -- which denied any involvement -- and president Mahmud Abbas' Fatah, with a reconciliation agreement between the two all but dead. Palestinian intelligence chief Majid Faraj was also in the convoy but was not injured in the explosion, which occurred shortly after they entered the territory.
At least six people were wounded, with none of their injuries believed to be life-threatening. A security source in Gaza said the convoy was also fired on by unknown gunmen at the time of the explosion, before Hamas security forces sealed off the area. After the attack, Hamdallah briefly appeared at the opening of a wastewater treatment facility in Gaza before cutting short his visit and returning to the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where his government is based. "It was a very well-planned attempt. It was a roadside bomb about two meters into the ground," Hamdallah said at his office upon his return.
A statement on official Palestinian media said Abbas considered it a "cowardly targeting" of Hamdallah's convoy and held Hamas responsible. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Radical Islamists opposed to Hamas also operate within the Gaza Strip and have regularly been behind unrest. The Hamas interior ministry said they had arrested three suspects and begun an investigation.
Same hands
A statement from Hamas condemned the attack, saying it was done by the "same hands" responsible for the assassination of one senior Hamas figure, Mazen Faqha, and the attempted assassination of another last year. Hamas blamed the killing of Faqha on Israel. The second attack, an explosion targeting Hamas' head of security in Gaza, is widely believed to have been the work of radical Islamists. Hamas criticized Abbas' accusation, saying it "achieved the goals of the criminals."Another senior official, Tawfiq Abu Naim, said "whoever who did this only serves the (Israeli) occupation and is doing what the occupation demands."The explosion came a few hundred metres (yards) after Hamdallah's convoy crossed through the Palestinian Authority-run checkpoint into Hamas-controlled territory. Two cars with blown-out windows were being removed from the scene of the explosion shortly afterwards, an AFP correspondent reported. The visit came as reconciliation efforts between Hamas and Abbas' Fatah party have faltered. Hamas seized Gaza from the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA) in a 2007 near civil war and multiple attempts at reconciliation have since failed. Hamas and Fatah signed a deal in October that was supposed to see the Islamists hand back power in Gaza, but it has all but collapsed. While Hamas did hand over control of Gaza's borders to the PA, it maintains full control of the rest of Gaza, with its police force and armed wing still operating throughout the territory. The future of that armed wing, which has fought three wars with Israel since 2008, has proved one of the largest sticking points in implementing the reconciliation agreement.
Risks exploding
Hamdallah's government is recognized by the international community, while Hamas is blacklisted as a terrorist organization by the European Union and the United States. The prime minister called for Hamas to allow his government to take control in Gaza. "We are talking about internal security -- the police and the civil defense," he said. "Without security there won't be a government." The U.N. envoy to the Middle East peace process, Nickolay Mladenov, condemned the attack and said "Hamas has the responsibility to ensure that the government is able to carry out its work in the strip without fear of intimidation, harassment and violence." Mladenov has warned of the consequences of the desperate humanitarian suffering in the strip, saying in January that Gaza "risks exploding in our face again."The White House is due to hold a conference on the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza on Tuesday, but no Palestinian officials are expected to attend despite an invitation. The Palestinians were enraged by President Donald Trump's decision to break with longstanding U.S. policy by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and have refused to meet with his peace envoys since.
Israel has maintained a blockade of Gaza since 2007, which it says is necessary to isolate Hamas, while Egypt has also kept its border with the enclave largely closed. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on Twitter that "Palestinians in Gaza need a real government that will provide basic services -- not today's attack on PA officials trying to inaugurate a water treatment plant desperately needed in Gaza."
Palestinian Authority Blames Hamas for Failed Assassination Attempt against PM
Asharq Al-Awsat/March 13/18/The Palestinian Authority (PA) blamed on Tuesday Hamas for a failed assassination attempt in Gaza against Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.
The official, on a rare visit to Gaza, survived a bombing that targeted his convoy. Three of the vehicles in Hamdallah's convoy were damaged, their windows blown out. One had signs of blood on the door. He survived unharmed and delivered a speech at the inauguration of a waste treatment plant in the Gaza Strip, live TV footage showed. He confirmed in the address that three cars were damaged. He declared that the attack will "not deter us from seeking to end the bitter split. We will still come to Gaza."The PA said it held the Gaza’s dominant Hamas group responsible for the attack, stopping short of directly accusing it of carrying out the assault, but suggesting it had failed to provide adequate security. “The Palestinian Presidency holds Hamas responsible for the cowardly targeting of the Prime Minister’s convoy in Gaza,” the official Palestinian news agency WAFA reported. Hamas has since condemned the attack.
Gaza’s Hamas-run interior ministry said the explosion hit as the prime minister’s convoy passed near the northern town of Beit Hanoun. No one was injured and security services had begun an investigation, ministry spokesman Eyad Al-Bozom said.
The prime minister is based in the occupied West Bank and traveled overland, via Israel, to the Gaza Strip. Police said the explosion came shortly after Hamdallah’s convoy passed by, and one witness said it appeared two cars at the end of motorcade sustained damage. Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s PA are still divided over how to implement an Egyptian-brokered reconciliation deal, signed in late 2017. “The attack against the government of consensus is an attack against the unity of the Palestinian people,” said Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Abbas.
The rival Palestinian factions have been trying to reconcile since 2007 when Hamas seized control of Gaza from Fatah forces and have suffered several setbacks in their efforts since. The takeover left the Palestinians with two rival governments, Hamas in Gaza and the Western-backed PA governing autonomous enclaves in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. In November, Hamas handed over control of Gaza's border crossings to the PA. It was the first tangible concession in years of Egyptian-brokered reconciliation talks. But negotiations have bogged down since then. Hamdallah's visit comes amid a time of crisis in Gaza. On Tuesday, the White House is hosting a special meeting to discuss Gaza's devastated economy.

Iran’s famous Festival of Fire turns into anti-regime demonstrations
Saleh Hmeid, Al, 14 March 2018/Iran’s famous Festival of Fire, also known as Chaharshanbe Suri, has turned from a festival into protest gatherings in Tehran and several other cities according to videos shared by Iranian activists on social media. Activists had been calling for people to take to the streets on the day of the festival, which features fire displays in public streets, under the slogan ‘the dictator is in the fire’. Several Iranian officials had warned that festival celebrations may turn into demonstrations where the public prosecutor’s office released a statement warning against any ‘unruly, illegal behavior’.In the statement shared by the Arna news agency, the public prosecutor added that security forces and judicial authorities will intervene against anyone who tries to take advantage of the festival to create any disorder.

Ahmadinejad's Assistant Calls on Soleimani to Refute Charges Against IRGC
London- Asharq Al Awsat/March 13/18/Former Iranian Vice President Hamid Baghaei sent a letter to Commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Quds Force General Qasem Soleimani demanding that he "refutes" charges from the Revolutionary Guards' judiciary and intelligence regarding his embezzlement of 3.5 million euros, which were presented by Quds Force to African leaders. He said last month that accusing him of confiscating the funds of the Quds Force proves the involvement of IRGC commanders, calling for bringing them to court. Quds Force, for its part, did not comment on this request.
In a letter to Soleimani, Baghaei accused Head of Revolutionary Guards Intelligence Hussein Taib of lying. He was accused of stealing 3.5 million euros and $570,000 of IRGC’s money. "The charge of handing over money in foreign currency after the end of the tenth government's mission, in order for the intelligence to give it to the leaders of African countries, in fact exposes you and your group to accountability, which means you are offering money illegally to people who have no legal responsibility,” Baghaei told Soleimani. The past months have seen a sharp verbal attack between Ahmadinejad and the Iranian judiciary, headed by Sadiq Larijani. The parties threatened to prosecute each other. In an unprecedented move in Iran, Ahmadinejad last month sent a letter to Khamenei, urging him to carry out his responsibilities, hold urgent presidential and parliamentary elections, dismiss head of the judiciary, and amend the Iranian constitution. The IRGC intelligence said that, on August 5, 2013, Baghaei got the money that it was planning to offer as a gift to African leaders, pointing out that he was not in any legal position at the time.
Turkish Forces Begin Besieging Syria’s Afrin
Asharq Al-Awsat/March 13/18/Turkish forces have begun the siege of the Syrian city of Afrin, nearly two months after launching an offensive in the region against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), announced the military on Tuesday.
The military said in a brief statement that the siege of Afrin, the main town in the enclave, had begun Monday. The forces also captured “areas of critical importance” in the region as of Monday, it added.Thousands of people had started to flee Afrin on Monday as the Turkish troops got closer to the town, heading toward nearby Syrian regime-controlled areas. Afrin city is home to around 350,000 people, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says. Turkey launched a military offensive into the border enclave on Jan. 20 to drive out YPG forces that it considers to be "terrorists" and an extension of Kurdish rebels fighting inside Turkey. Ankara has threatened to push further east to Manbij, where YPG troops are stationed. The Turkish foreign minister said on Tuesday that Turkey and the United States have reached an agreement on a plan to jointly station Turkish and US forces in Manbij. Washington has not confirmed any such plan — and a small contingent of US forces is already in Manbij. Hurriyet newspaper quoted Mevlut Cavusoglu as telling Turkish reporters during a visit to Moscow that the "YPG will leave Manbij, US and Turkish soldiers will joint ensure its security." Cavusoglu revealed that he and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would discuss the issue further when they meet in Washington on March 19.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 13-14/18
What Trump Can Learn from Madeleine Albright About North Korea Talks
Eli Lake/Bloomberg/March 13/18
The next few episodes of the Donald Trump show should be riveting. This week, the South Korean national security adviser announced North Korea's dictator Kim Jong Un invited Trump to meet to negotiate his nuclear weapons. The "dotard" may face off against "little rocket man" face-to-face. Stay tuned.
If indeed the unprecedented meeting comes to pass, it will be historic. That does not mean though that it will be wise. And unless Trump comes to these talks to negotiate the terms of Kim Jong-Un's surrender and abdication, the cost America will pay in legitimizing the warden of the Korean prison state will outweigh whatever empty promises are offered. But given that Trump is a man who adores distraction and adulation, we should brace ourselves for the upcoming spectacle.
So Trump should prepare. This does not mean late-night wonk sessions where Trump masters the details of North Korean medium-range missiles and past diplomatic agreements. Rather, the president should get in touch with the last senior American official to travel to Pyongyang, Madeleine Albright, to learn from her mistakes.
I was on that trip with Albright in the last week of October 2000. It was a low moment for American diplomacy, where a secretary of state, whose family fled the Iron Curtain, flattered an imitator of Josef Stalin. She ended the visit by handing over a basketball signed by Michael Jordan. Her delegation enjoyed elaborate multi-course banquets with North Korean officials who only a few years earlier had presided over a famine.
As secretary of state for President Bill Clinton, Albright traveled to Pyongyang in a last-ditch effort for an administration that had watched its main foreign policy priority -- a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians -- unravel. This was a chance in the final months of the Clinton presidency for a legacy.
Needless to say, it didn't work. Albright had hoped to finish the work the Clinton administration had begun in 1994 with an interim agreement on North Korea's nuclear program, by getting a follow-on pact on missiles. The U.S. offered security guarantees, fuel and food shipments, help on building peaceful reactors. The North Koreans kept developing and testing their missiles and, U.S. intelligence agencies would later learn, built a uranium enrichment facility in secret.
You wouldn't have known this from the pageantry in Pyongyang back in 2000. We were all crowded into buses for a special performance at May Day stadium. In a near-perfect metaphor for life in a totalitarian state, hundreds of North Koreans gathered on the field, and in military precision flipped picture cards to create a series of tableaus depicting North Korea's founding hagiography. At one moment, a tableau depicted the 1998 launch of the Tae-Po-dong missile. Albright wrote in her memoir the "dear leader," Kim Jong Il (the father of Un) turned to her in this moment and said this "was our first missile launch and our last." He lied.
My most vivid memory of the trip was during a routine grip and grin for Albright. She visited a school for students, something she did on many of her trips. At the event the children sang a song for their distinguished guest. My minder translated the lyrics to mean roughly that the children hoped to grow up and fight against the wicked imperialists who threaten their happy land.
There is an argument that says Albright's visit in the end was worth it. Even if there was a slim chance North Korea would agree to more limits on nuclear weapons, a confident world power like America could absorb some of the humiliation that attended Albright's flattering of a monster. Why not take every chance to make the world safer?
That however misses a broader point. Eighteen years later, we don't remember Albright for her failed trip to Pyongyang. Her legacy was made in her tough fight with cautious European leaders to help drive Serbia's dictator, Slobodon Milosevic, from power. In the end Milosevic fell because Serbian citizens would not allow him to steal the 2000 election that U.S. pressure in part forced him to hold. But Albright's tough diplomacy, her pressing for a war-crimes tribunal against Milosevic while he was still in power, helped set the stage for his exit.
There is a lesson for Trump in all of this. If he is looking for a legacy himself, he shouldn't waste his time negotiating with the dictator of North Korea. Who honestly believes Kim has any intention of abandoning his nuclear weapons? He is buying time.
Instead Trump could go back to his instincts from the State of the Union speech this year when he told the story of dissident Ji Seong Ho's heroic escape from Kim's gulags. Trump said Ji's journey to freedom was "a testament to the yearning of every human soul to live in freedom." Helping North Koreans achieve this basic human yearning is much harder than meeting with their tyrant. It's also more promising -- and less nauseating.

History According to the Former Emir of Qatar
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/March 13/18/
For some, truth is not that important; what is more important is what can be presented to people. This is what Doha is trying to do, presenting fiction as fact, such as a documentary it has produced that fabricates the story of former Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani’s coup against his father, and claims that there was a plot to bring the father back to power. Because of the coup’s scandal, and since it detracts from the current government’s legitimacy, I never expected Qatar, which has the worst reputation in the Gulf, to talk about its recent history in the first place.
The story of the coup is so bad that it cannot be whitewashed with fabricated documentaries and false testimony. Its history is still fresh, most of its witnesses are still alive, and given its alliance with Iran, Hamas, “Hezbollah”, Al-Qaeda and Al-Nusra Front, Doha’s reputation is now even worse.
The tragedy began when Sheikh Hamad, who still rules Qatar from behind the scenes, overthrew his father in 1995 and shook the entire Gulf society. Sheikh Hamad’s "new version of history" claims that three countries conspired against him and tried to stage a coup the following year.
But in 1996, and for seven consecutive years, Qatar was guarded only by a small defense force, along with its police. Qatar was still a city-state whose population at the time did not exceed half a million, only a quarter of them locals. Thus, it would not have been difficult for a big country such as Saudi Arabia, which shares land and sea borders with Qatar, to intervene if it wanted to, but it did not, neither did the other Gulf states.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Treaty governs the six geographically and tribally interrelated states. Had they really desired regime change then, they could have done that easily and legally, because the legitimacy was with the father, Sheikh Khalifa, who was betrayed by his own son and ousted from power. Yet the Gulf states did not intervene, except by trying to contain the conflict between the father and son, and end the dispute amicably. Indeed, when Abu Dhabi hosted the deposed Sheikh Khalifa, it asked him to respect its laws and refrain from political activity. Riyadh did the same. I actually met the angry and hurt father in his hotel suite in Abu Dhabi at the time when I was working on a film about the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, whose liberation he had a role in. I recall then that Abu Dhabi did not want us to talk about the coup during our interview.
No one should ever think that overthrowing Sheikh Hamad in 1996 would have been difficult had the Gulf states wanted to do so. They could have considered his coup-government illegitimate, maintained the legitimacy of his father as ruler, entered Doha with him and seized it in one day. The capital’s residents would not have resisted the return of their deposed emir, who was not known for using violence against or mistreating his citizens. His son, on the other hand, has expelled 5,000 citizens from Al-Murrah tribe and stripped them of their nationality only because some of them did not support the coup.
The truth is that Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain committed a historic mistake when they trusted Sheikh Hamad, hosted his father and the 5,000 expelled Qataris, and only tried to bring about reconciliation. They should have returned Sheikh Khalifa to power. Perhaps this is what prompted him to attempt a weak counter-coup that failed because his son was informed about it by his spies within Sheikh Khalifa’s inner circle.
Had Riyadh sought to overthrow Sheikh Hamad, it would have succeeded because it had the legitimate ruler on its side. There was no US base and no large Qatari forces protecting Sheikh Hamad and the distance between the Saudi border and Doha is only 94 km. Sheikh Hamad did not dare falsify the truth at the time. He did not accuse his neighbors, as he does now, because he knew that Saudi forces could have returned his father to his palace in Doha within hours, and most governments and Qataris would have supported the return of legitimacy. But the Kingdom did not do that because the Gulf states usually avoid interfering in the disputes of royal families.
But why has Sheikh Hamad, hiding behind his son Tamim, the current emir, decided to produce a documentary claiming that he was the target of Saudi-Emirati-Bahraini intrigues? The reason is that he has no other way to justify to his people why he is plotting against regional countries except by inventing fairy tales. It is pity that Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain did not conspire and intervene to bring back Sheikh Khalifa to power. Had they done so, they would have changed the region’s history for the better. Obviously, ever since Sheikh Hamad’s coup, the region has been suffering from extremism and chaos.

Turkish Diplomacy: Take Hostages
Uzay Bulut/Gatestone Institute/March 13/18
Ankara's detention of the two Greek soldiers appears to be the latest instance of what has come to be called Turkey's "hostage-taking diplomacy." Other examples include a German-Turkish journalist, Deniz Yücel; a French journalist Loup Bureau, and an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, among others. All were imprisoned in Turkey on trumped-up terrorism-related charges. Pastor Brunson has been behind bars since October 2016, but the Turkish judiciary has yet to produce an indictment spelling out the charges against him.
"Turkish hostage-taking has become one of the most pressing problems in relations between Ankara and its Western allies. It is something that everyone knows is happening, but political leaders and diplomats are reluctant to call it by its name." -- Nate Schenkkan, project director, Freedom House.
It is high time the West had a serious discussion about whether Turkey's aggressive and illegal actions in the region really comply with the principles of NATO and the EU.
Turkey's arrest on March 2 of two Greek soldiers on suspicion of espionage, after the pair entered a "prohibited military zone" along the border, should be cause for alarm in the West. When they were arrested – in the small space between Turkish and Greek guard posts -- Angelos Mitretodis and Dimitris Kouklatzis explained that they had simply strayed by a few meters in the thick forest, due to the poor weather conditions. They had difficulty seeing where they were going, and so followed tracks in the snow.
Their lawyers' plea for their release was rejected by a court in Edirne, on the grounds that "images were found in the cell phones of the soldiers, who intended to send the footage to their superiors."
In Brussels, to urge European intervention on the matter, Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos responded by saying that as member states of NATO, Turkey and Greece need to resolve the incident peacefully, "after negotiations between the two armed forces." European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini expressed the EU's "full hope that there will be a swift and positive outcome."
The former chief of Greece's armed forces, Manousos Paragioudakis, was less diplomatic. He accused Turkish special forces of "ambushing" the soldiers and called the arrests a "set-up." Paragioudakis also stressed that patrols from both Turkey and Greece frequently cross each other's borders unintentionally, but when this happens, the issue is "resolved on the spot," through communication between Greek and Turkish commanders in the field. Until now, he said, there have been no arrests as a result of such incidents.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, for his part, urged Turkey "to apply the provisions of international law and not turn a routine procedure into a major legal and political problem."
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, however, dismissed his call, and insisted that the "judiciary will do what it must." He also pointedly remarked, "It has turned into a habit to take all issues relating to Turkey to the European Union and seek support there. This issue and other similar attempts will neither advance nor downgrade our relations with the EU in the slightest degree."
Ankara's detention of the two Greek soldiers appears to be the latest instance of what has come to be called Turkey's "hostage-taking diplomacy." Other examples include a German-Turkish journalist, Deniz Yücel; a French journalist Loup Bureau, and an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, among others. All were imprisoned in Turkey on trumped-up terrorism-related charges.
In 2017, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan openly used Brunson's detention as a bargaining chip. In exchange for Brunson's freedom, Erdoğan demanded the return to Turkey from the United States of self-exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom he has accused of being behind the failed coup against him in the summer of 2016.
"America wants us to return a priest," Erdoğan said.
"You also have a priest. You should give him to us too. Then we will try and return the one here. But you then say, 'Don't mix them up.' What is that supposed to mean? That you have judiciary and we don't? In fact, the one here is tried. But the one over there [Gülen] is living in a palace in Pennsylvania. It would be much easier for you to return him to us."
It should be noted that Pastor Brunson has been behind bars since October 2016, but the Turkish judiciary has yet to produce an indictment spelling out the charges against him.
American Pastor Andrew Brunson, pictured with his wife Norine, has been jailed in Turkey since October 2016 on spurious charges of "being a member of an armed terrorist organization". The Turkish judiciary has yet to produce an indictment spelling out the charges against him. "He is being held simply because of his Christian beliefs and is facing grave danger in a Turkish prison," according to the American Center for Law and Justice.
According to Freedom House project director Nate Schenkkan, "Turkish hostage-taking has become one of the most pressing problems in relations between Ankara and its Western allies. It is something that everyone knows is happening, but political leaders and diplomats are reluctant to call it by its name."
Given the recent arrest of the two Greek soldiers, Turkey's hostage-taking appears now to be directed at Athens, as well. It is possible that the pair will be used as leverage against Greece to extradite eight Turkish military personnel who sought asylum in Greece during the failed coup. Although they deny involvement in the coup attempt, the Turkish government has accused them of "treachery" and "terrorism." Greece has thus rejected Ankara's demand to return the officers, on the grounds that they would not receive a fair trial in Turkey, and that their lives would be at risk.
This latest act of potential "hostage-taking diplomacy" comes at a time when tension is already high between Greece and Turkey, with Erdoğan and other leading Turkish politicians repeatedly threatening to invade Greece and take back the Aegean islands.
Last month, a Greek coast guard vessel was rammed by a Turkish patrol boat off Imia. Turkish warships also recently violated the natural gas drilling rights of Cyprus -- whose northern part has been illegally occupied by Turkey since 1974 -- by preventing an Italian exploratory gas rig from drilling there.
It is high time the West had a serious discussion about whether Turkey's aggressive and illegal actions in the region really comply with the principles of NATO and the EU.
*Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist currently based in Washington D.C.
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The Palestinian Peace Plan
Bassam Tawil/Gatestone Institute/March 13/18
Opposing a peace initiative because you do not like its content is one thing. Opposing a peace initiative designed to improve the lives of your people is another thing entirely.
Palestinian leaders do not care about their own people, so why should they care about peace with Jews?
They will never accept another plan, even if it comes from Prophet Muhammad.
It is easy to see why Palestinians would be opposed to the US administration's upcoming plan for peace in the Middle East. The Palestinians do not like what they are hearing about the plan, which has not yet been made public.
Opposing a peace initiative because you do not like its content is one thing. Opposing a peace initiative designed to improve the lives of your people is another thing entirely. The latter defies logic and reveals the disappointing aspects of human nature.
Palestinian hatred of the US administration and President Donald Trump is so intense that the Palestinians are prepared to prolong the misery of their people.
Palestinian leaders care nothing for their people's ongoing suffering. Give those leaders jobs, money and power, and their people be damned.
Once again, the two million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip have fallen victim to their leaders' greed, carelessness and idiocy.
Last week, we witnessed another example of how Palestinian leaders are prepared to fight for their own interests, at the expense of their people, all in order to remain in power and keep the funds flowing to their secret (and sometimes public) bank accounts.
US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, in an op-ed in The Washington Post, announced that the White House would soon host a meeting of "key countries and stakeholders to find real solutions to the problems has caused" in the Gaza Strip.
In other words, the US administration is telling us that it cares about the situation in the Gaza Strip and wants to work with other parties to improve the living conditions of the Palestinians, who for the past 10 years have been suffering under the corrupt and ruthless regime of Hamas.
The US initiative to help the two million Palestinians of the Gaza Strip should have been welcomed by Palestinians leaders. The administration of President Donald Trump is doing something that no Palestinian or Arab leader has done in recent memory: to convene a special meeting on the Gaza Strip in an effort to solve what many Palestinians are calling the "humanitarian and economic crisis" there.
When was the last time the Palestinian Authority and its president, Mahmoud Abbas, convened such a meeting to discuss the plight and suffering of their people in the Gaza Strip? Not only does Abbas not care about his people in the Gaza Strip, he also bears responsibility for the crisis. In the last year, Abbas and his PA government have been imposing a series of sanctions on the Gaza Strip, further aggravating the crisis and suffering of the people. These sanctions, which are aimed at undermining Abbas's Hamas rivals, include halting payment to electricity supplied by Israel to the Gaza Strip, cutting salaries of thousands of PA civil servants, suspending social assistance to hundreds of families and forcing thousands of public employees into early retirement.
Abbas is hoping that the crisis in the Gaza Strip will drive Palestinians to revolt against Hamas. Abbas still can't overcome the humiliation he experienced when Hamas expelled his PA and violently seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. Abbas wants revenge for being humiliated at the hands of Hamas. He also wants revenge because he believes that Hamas had plotted to assassinate him while he was still living in the Gaza Strip. A former Hamas official who defected is said to have warned Abbas about the alleged assassination attempt. So Abbas wants to fight Hamas to the last Palestinian in the Gaza Strip. Unsurprisingly, Hamas also appears to be prepared to fight Abbas to the last Palestinian in the Gaza Strip. Hamas, which for the past 10 years has been holding hostage the two million Palestinians of the Gaza Strip (although many of them voted for the Islamic terror movement in the January 2006 Palestinian parliamentary election), is not prepared to make any concessions to Abbas and his PA government to ease the crisis.
Hamas is not prepared to dismantle its military wing or relinquish security control over the Gaza Strip. Hamas is not prepared to distance itself from Iran and its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah. Hamas is not prepared to renounce terrorism and violence nor is it prepared to recognize Israel's right to exist. Hamas has one course of action, which it follows with full force and energy: to destroy Israel and kill as many Jews as possible.
Let's return to the American initiative to seek ways to alleviate the anguish of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Who were the first to repudiate this humanitarian initiative?" Could it be Israel? Nope. Israel was and remains the only country that has been seeking solutions to the crisis in the Gaza Strip. Hint: it was Abbas's PA and Hamas, each of whom rejected it for its own purposes and interests.
While Israel's top Ministry of Defense official, Major-General Yoav Mordechai, has been holding meetings with United Nations Special Coordinator for Peace in the Middle East, Nikolay Mladenov, to discuss ways of reducing the suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza Strip, Abbas and his Hamas rivals continue to launch accusations about each side's responsibility for the suffering. Abbas blames Hamas for the "humanitarian crisis," while Hamas says it's Abbas and his government that are inflicting the suffering because of the sanctions they imposed on the Gaza Strip.
Not only are Hamas and Abbas wholly shirking their responsibility to their people, they also are prepared to foil any attempt by outsiders, in this case the US, to work towards ending the crisis in the Gaza Strip. Why would any Palestinian or Arab reject an offer by anyone, even if it were the devil himself, to extend an arm of help to Palestinians in dire need?
The answer, again, is twofold: First, Hamas and Abbas are too busy ripping each other to shreds over money and power to take notice of their people's misery. Second, the two Palestinian parties actively desire a continuation of the crisis: it enables them to rake Israel over the coals at various international forums. The relationship between Abbas and Hamas is bad on an epic scale, but when it comes to incitement against Israel, they are best buddies.
The Hamas and PA officials are even spelling this argument out in their rejection of the US initiative to improve the lives of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
Not only are Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas wholly shirking their responsibility to their people, they also are prepared to foil any attempt by outsiders, in this case the US, to work towards ending the crisis in the Gaza Strip. Pictured: Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority.
Dismissing the initiative, Ahmed Majdalani, a top Abbas aide in Ramallah, said: "The US knows very well that Israel is the main reason behind the Gaza tragedy."
Majdalani deserves an award for being a professional liar. This is the man representing the president and government that continue to impose severe sanctions on the Gaza Strip and its residents. Yet, it's more comfortable for Abbas and his cronies to continue blaming Israel and lying to the international community. Unfortunately, we are facing an international community that is often quick to swallow any lie or fabrication coming from the Palestinians.
So the PA does not want to resolve the crisis, nor does it want anyone else -- like the Americans -- to help. The PA doesn't like Trump or his ideas for peace in the Middle East. But what does that have to do with the "economic and humanitarian crisis? Why should this hatred or dislike prompt the PA to reject any attempt by Westerners to help its own people?
Consider, for a moment, what Hamas and Islamic Jihad are also saying about the US initiative on the Gaza Strip. The position of the two terror groups is strikingly similar to that of Abbas and his PA; they too want to continue using the crisis to rally the world against Israel. In separate statements, the groups said that Washington's effort to help the Palestinians was designed to "exempt" Israel from its responsibilities.
These are the same terror groups that have turned the lives of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip into hell. These are the groups that have brought war and death and destruction upon the people of the Gaza Strip by attacking Israel again and again and again. These are the groups that prefer to import weapons rather than food and medicine into the Gaza Strip. These are the groups that are suppressing and killing Palestinians in the Gaza Strip whose only crime is to demand reform and democracy and a better life.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad are no different from Abbas when it comes to their hatred of the US. Their hatred runs so deep that they would rather die than accept a remedy from the US. Not to mention the massively useful pawn that suffering Palestinians are in the popular and longstanding game of tarring and feathering Israel for the Palestinian leadership's own crimes against its people.
All these Palestinian parties share a common goal: to see Israel removed from the face of earth. In their eyes, the incitement against Israel falls into the general framework of delegitimizing Israel. They believe that this process serves their goal of eliminating Israel. Meanwhile, babies and other patients in the Gaza Strip continue to die because of lack of medicine.
More than half of the Gaza population lives under the poverty line. But, for the Machiavellian Palestinian leadership, the end justifies the means: tens of thousands of Palestinians can and will be sacrificed on the way to killing Jews and destroying Israel.
Palestinian leaders don't care about their own people so why should they care about peace with Jews?
The only peace plan the Palestinians would ever accept is one that facilitates their mission of destroying Israel and killing all the Jews living in the region. They will never accept another plan, even if it comes from Prophet Muhammad.
*Bassam Tawil is a Muslim based in the Middle East.
© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Is the Syrian Regime 'Winning' the War?
Lina Khatib/Al Arabiya/March 13/18
The Syrian regime has managed to split Eastern Ghouta into three zones, in a tactic aimed at preventing the different rebel groups fighting in the area from coordinating against it. This development is widely seen as another step forward for the regime in its efforts to regain control across Syria. Many in the West have started arguing that the Syrian regime is approaching “victory” in the conflict and that policymakers and international agencies should position themselves accordingly.
But the notion of “control” that is used to talk about Syria in the public domain in the West is often reduced to military matters. This is problematic because it overlooks the non-military dimension of what “control” encompasses, such as economics and governance. Overlooking these two aspects skews the reality of on-the-ground dynamics in Syria as they pertain to the different actors involved in the conflict, as well as dynamics related to the involvement of foreign actors.
A scan of the Syrian conflict landscape reveals divergences between military, economic and governance dynamics in different areas. In the north west for example, many interpreted Hayat Tahrir al-Sham’s military presence as all-encompassing control. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham managed to exert military control in Idlib at a level higher than that of other military groups for a significant period of time, but its attempts at laying its hands on governance there have not been as successful. Its establishment of a “civil administration” was met with resistance by civil society groups, and many local councils also rejected its efforts at infiltration.
Economically, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham took over the provision of electricity and water in Idlib to use service distribution as a source of income. It also imposed taxation on goods, especially lucrative ones like cement and fuel, being transferred into areas under its oversight from areas ruled by other armed groups. Although Hayat Tahrir al-Sham was fighting some of those armed groups, it was engaging economically with them. The same dynamic applies to other groups in the north west that would often fight and trade with one another at the same time, such as al-Jabha al-Shamiya and the YPG.
In Eastern Ghouta, the Syrian regime imposed a siege of almost five years on the area but pro-regime groups were also engaging economically with rebel groups inside Eastern Ghouta like Jaysh al-Islam. The groups inside dug up tunnels through which goods were smuggled into Eastern Ghouta, but often the entities supplying those goods to the smugglers were pro-regime elements that were benefitting economically from this trade with their opponents.
While the regime might eventually take over Eastern Ghouta after a bloody and fierce battle, this will not necessarily lead to the provision of services by the state to the area. If the case of Eastern Aleppo is taken as a comparable example, Eastern Ghouta is likely to continue to be deprived of vital services and will be run by pro-regime militias that engage in looting and extortion of local residents.
Even in areas that have remained under regime oversight, such militias are already engaging in economic activities based on looting and extortion without much intervention from the state. This is partly because the Syrian state has reduced capacity when it comes to its security and military institutions and has become dependent on these militias for survival, but also because it is not entirely able to control their activities. Moreover, pro-regime elements like some of its business elites have been engaging in facilitating the smuggling and sale of fuel produced in areas under ISIS rule to Iran.
At the state level, the Syrian regime has been offering trade and investment contracts to Russia and Iran that are sometimes based on promises to deliver the same resource to both, when the size of the resource on offer is too small to be delivered at a substantial level to more than one foreign player.
What these dynamics show is that it is simplistic to interpret any military takeover of geographical spaces in Syria as an all-encompassing “victory” for any side.
For the regime, military control does not mean restoring the authority of the Syrian army, because it often relies on militias to hold areas it has taken back, such as in the case of Eastern Aleppo. It also does not mean the restoration of services; military control is not automatically coupled with reinstating governance in its pre-war terms. Military control also does not mean that the state will be in charge of areas economically, or that it will benefit from them fully in this regard. The proliferation of non-state actors that the state needs to keep satisfied will translate into a strain on its resources. The clientelistic relationship that the Syrian regime has established with Russia and Iran will also hold the state hostage to them economically.
Turkey’s military campaign on Afrin and the expansion of its own influence on the ground in Syria also means that the Syrian regime will find it difficult to extend its military control in the north west because that would put it in direct confrontation with Turkey. This further challenges the notion that the Syrian regime is “winning” the war in Syria.
Even if the Syrian regime eventually takes over the north west, the medium-term projection for the Syrian state is that it will face pressure from below and from above: from the pro-regime non-state actors it has created directly and indirectly, and from its external patrons. Military “victory” for the regime then is not going to restore state sovereignty in Syria.

Deep Divide Between Copts In Egypt And In U.S. Over Introduction Of Bill In U.S. Congress 'Expressing Concern Over Attacks On Coptic Christians In Egypt'
By: C. Meital/MEMRI/March 13/18
The December 21, 2017 introduction, in the U.S. House of Representatives, of a bill calling on the government of Egypt to enact reforms ensuring that Egypt's Coptic Christians have "the same rights and opportunities as all other Egyptian citizens" and that it "end the culture of impunity for attacks on Christians"[1] has prompted deep disagreement between Egyptian Copts residing in the U.S. and Egypt's political Christian establishments. The bill, H.Res.673 – Expressing concern over attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt is strongly supported by the U.S.-based Coptic Solidarity organization.[2] It was introduced by Rep. James French Hill (R-AR), For Himself, For Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Rep. Dave Trott (R-MI), Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), And Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY).
H.Res.673 presents the history of the Coptic minority in Egypt, notes that "approximately 15 percent of Copts have emigrated from Egypt over the past few decades to escape discrimination," lists actions by Egyptian President Al-Sisi to benefit Copts but notes that Egypt's church construction law passed in August 2016 "has not lifted significant burdens on the ability to build a church,"[3] and notes the "severe discrimination in both public and private employment" in Egypt and the persecution and violence against Copts by both Egyptian citizens and the Islamic State (ISIS). It states that the "United States diplomatic leadership contributes meaningfully and materially to the international protection of religious minorities and their faith-based practices and places of worship," and emphasizes that "religious freedom and human rights are an essential cornerstone of democracy." Acknowledging "the central and historic importance of the United States-Egypt partnership in advancing the common interests of both countries," it expresses appreciation for "Egypt's regional role as a partner in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism," and "urges the Government of Egypt to enact serious and legitimate reforms to ensure Coptic Christians are given the same rights and opportunities as all other Egyptian citizens," recognizes "the necessity for Egypt’s leaders to take steps toward education reform that prioritizes impartial instruction of all religions, and political reform that prioritizes human rights, fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law," and to "take additional steps to end the culture of impunity for attacks on Christians and to continue to undertake the arrest, prosecution, and conviction of individuals who carry out attacks on Copts and other Christians in Egypt." [4]
In response to the introduction of the bill, Coptic Solidarity, the influential organization of Egyptian Copts in the U.S., published on its website its detailed explanation of the bill, and added: "Coptic Solidarity urges Members of Congress to cosponsor and rapidly pass H. RES 673 providing much needed moral support to an increasingly marginalized Coptic population in Egypt, and providing accountability to the el-Sisi administration for its mistreatment of the Coptic minority."[5]
On his Facebook page, Coptic Solidarity member and activist Magdi Khalil explained the essence of the bill and wrote: "Today, Friday, December 22, 2017, while the rabble attacked the Coptic church in Giza, outside Cairo,[6] Congress discussed a new bill supporting the Copts in Egypt. For years, Coptic Solidarity has been working with American lawmakers to shed light on the suffering of the Copts and to call for support for them. In the past year, the organization managed to introduce [sic] a series of bills in Congress, for the first time in the history of the Coptic issue, among them the bill [introduced] today... The bill [presents] the massacres of the Copts in Egypt and describes their status as second-class citizens. The bill calls on the Egyptian government to instate equality between Muslims and Copts in Egypt in all aspects [of life], and sheds light also on the failed Church Construction Law in Egypt that has made the situation worse."[7]
H.Res.673 has been harshly criticized in Egypt, by Copts – including by Orthodox Church institutions, activists, and ordinary citizens – and by lawmakers and media in Egypt, both Copts and Muslims, who have argued that the U.S. Congress's tackling of this matter constitutes gross interference in Egypt's internal affairs and that the problem of the Copts must be solved by Egypt alone.
Egyptian writers, both Copts and Muslims, also weighed in, expressing their resentment at the "betrayal of the homeland" by the Copts in the U.S. by encouraging Congress to step in on matters that do not concern it. They praised the Church's opposition to the bill, but at the same time criticized the Egyptian Foreign Ministry for failing to oppose the bill. Another argument widely voiced was that the bill is a response to Egypt's actions against the U.S. at the U.N, following U.S. President Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.[8]
Illustration from, December 29, 2017
This report will review the main points of the divide between Copts in the U.S. and Copts and Muslims in Egypt over H.Res. 673.
Copts In Egypt Oppose H.Res.673: We Want Aid Only From Our Muslim Brothers In Egypt; The Bill Is A Response To Egypt's Move In The UN Against Trump's Jerusalem Announcement
The Coptic establishment in Egypt expressed its opposition to H.Res.673, and to what it termed the interference of foreign elements in Coptic affairs. On December 27, 2017, Egyptian Orthodox Church Patriarch Tawadros II, during a meeting with Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, at which the latter extended his good wishes for the upcoming Orthodox Christmas, refuted accusations that the Copts in Egypt were being aided by foreign elements: "We are aided only by God and by our Muslim brothers on the soil of the homeland."[9]
Also on December 27, Egyptian priest and Coptic Orthodox Church spokesman Boulos Halim told the Egyptian Al-Dustour daily: "History is a witness to the fact that the Church has been patriotic throughout its history... and that it is aided solely by God and by the homeland." He also emphasized: "The Church opposes discussion of its affairs by any element outside Egypt."[10]
Salib Mata Sawiris , member of the Coptic Church's General Congregation Council, told the Egyptian TV channel DMC in a December 27 interview that he opposed the discussion in the U.S. Congress of any internal matter concerning the situation of the Copts in Egypt, adding: "The Christians in Egypt are under the protection of God and of their Muslim brothers in Egypt. The Muslims in Egypt are under the protection of God and of their Christian brothers, because we are a single bloc, for better and for worse."[11]
Criticism of the bill also came from everyday Coptic citizens in Egypt, many of whom posted on their Facebook pages the message: "I, Egyptian citizen [name], announce on my own behalf and on behalf of my Christian family my opposition to the false bill introduced in the U.S. Congress on the pretext of 'supporting the Egyptian Copts' and which was introduced by the Coptic Solidarity movement [sic] ... This move constitutes gross interference in Egypt's internal affairs and exploitation of events in Egypt that the U.S. is trying to leverage politically, in order to spark division and uproar, after [the U.S.] lost its mind following Egypt's vehement response in the matter of Jerusalem... [This bill] clearly constitutes scheming against Egypt on the part of the American administration, in light of [Egypt's] clear position on U.S. policy... and against Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel." They also emphasized in their announcements the unity of Egypt and stated that the Copts in Egypt enjoyed equal rights and obligations and that the Egyptian leadership was handling their problems perfectly well.[12]
Egyptian Politicians: H.Res.673 Is A Response To Egypt's Moves Against Trump's Recognition Of Jerusalem As Israel's Capital
Criticism of the bill also came from Egyptian lawmakers, both Copts and Muslims, who argued that there are those who seek to damage the unity of the Egyptian people. This bill, they added, is an expected response to steps taken by Egypt in the UN against President Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and is also a means of pressuring Egypt.
For example, on December 22, 2017, Free Egyptians Party chairman Essam Khalil, a Copt, said that his party was closely monitoring the new bill's progress and Congress's activity regarding it,[13] and added: "It appears that the reaction towards Egypt, which came out against the U.S. decision to move its embassy [in Israel] to Jerusalem, has come quickly. We expected [a reaction] and we are absolutely ready to fight it."[14]
Member of Parliament Sa'id Hasassin likewise connected the bill with Egyptian moves against the U.S.'s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital: "The American Congress has gone mad, like the American president Donald Trump, after Egypt succeeded in obtaining the UN's agreement to cancel Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the Zionist occupation authorities." He continued: "All the American politicians, particularly members of the American Congress, have become mentally ill, and are nearly untreatable."[15]
Coptic parliamentarian Margaret 'Azer also discussed the issue. In a December 26 interview with Egyptian TV, she said: "The law for protecting Copts introduced by American representatives in Congress is blatant interference in Egypt's affairs... The Copts are Egyptian [citizens] and have the same rights and obligations [as the Egyptian Muslims do]." She added that the Copts' problems are undeniable, and stem from [Islamic] religious streams that put wrong ideas into the heads of simple folk, and that now Egypt is working on rectifying the problems and President Al-Sisi always stresses that the state belongs to everyone." About the recent attacks in Egypt, she said that they were aimed at both Muslims and Christians.[16]
On December 27, the Egyptian parliament's Foreign Relations Committee and National Security Committee met to discuss the bill. Foreign Relations Committee chairman Tareq Radwan spoke out against foreign intervention in solving the problems of the Copts in Egypt, saying that it was an internal Egyptian matter. National Security Committee chairman Kamal 'Amar said: "There are hostile forces that seek to weaken Egypt and impact its stability... No one has managed to overcome the national unity of the Egyptians, from within or without, throughout history." He added that some want to use this issue of the Copts to pressure Egypt, and underlined Egypt's strategic relations with the U.S. and the interests shared by the two countries in a wide range of areas. Also at the meeting, it was proposed that the U.S. representatives who had introduced the bill be invited to talk with Egyptian MPs in order to hear the positions of all sides.[17]
It should be noted that following the December 29, 2017 attack on Mar Mina Church in Helwan district, in which nine Egyptian civilians were killed, a number of MPs said that the U.S. was responsible for every attack on Copts because of the bill. MP Ayman Abu Al-'Ala said that there were many question marks about the bill... and wondered if it was being used as a pretext by terror organizations to carry out the recent attacks on churches in Egypt.[18]
Foreign Relations Committee secretary MP Tareq Al-Khouli said that the committee was drawing up a response to Congress criticizing its failure to invite Egyptians to the hearing held on the issue, at which the problem of the Copts in Egypt was presented one-sidedly. He promised to clarify "the truth about the state's treatment of Copts in Egypt." He added that the parliament intended to send a delegation to Congress to clarify Egypt's position on the bill.[19] A memo sent to Congress by the Egyptian parliament in January 2018, titled "Egypt Is Not A Country That We Live In But A Country That Lives Within Us," set out the treatment of Copts in Egypt since the January 2011 revolution, the political achievements in legislation pertaining to the Copts, and details about how they were treated under the Muslim Brotherhood regime, that attempted, according to the parliament, to spark sectarian enmity in the country. The memo also detailed President Al-Sisi's commitment to the Copts, as expressed in his meetings with them and by his participation in their holidays and his approval of the law for building and reconstructing churches. It also stated that the Copts held senior public positions, noting as proof that 39 MPs were Copts.[20]
Egyptian Writers: The Copts In The U.S. Are Betraying Their Homeland
Egyptian writers, both Coptic and Muslim, attacked the Copts in America, and especially the U.S.-based Coptic Solidarity organization, for strongly supporting the bill, and argued that by doing so this organization was betraying the Egyptian homeland by encouraging Congress to interfere in matters not its own, and that the organization was leveraging the current U.S.-Egypt tension to do so.
Coptic MP 'Imad Gad: The Problems Of The Copts In Egypt Must Be Solved By The Egyptians Themselves – Not By The American Congress
Dr. 'Imad Gad, Coptic MP and columnist for the Egyptian daily Al-Watan, stated in his December 24 column that the Copts in the U.S., first and foremost Magdi Khalil, were taking advantage of the rising U.S.-Egypt tension to play up the problems of the Copts in Egypt and make them appear worse than they really are. He wrote: "Egypt-U.S. relations are at a new stage of tension, after the stage of improvement [in relations] that was expected [following the election of President Trump] did not yield new American decisions that were any different from those that had continued [since the presidency of] Bush Jr... through the [presidency] of Barack Obama, who left office on January 20, 2017.
"Hope prompted us in Egypt to expect that the American policy would change with the arrival of Republican President Donald Trump... but his moves after he took his seat in the White House were very different than what he had declared and said [before the election]. His tour of the region did not include Cairo. Trump's decision to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and to recognize occupied Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel was a move that exposed the truth about future interactions in Egypt-U.S. relations. Accordingly, Egypt acted forcefully as a member of the UN Security Council, and proposed a resolution against the American decision, to which all the [UNSC] member states agreed but the U.S., which used its veto to prevent the passage of the resolution. Furthermore, when there was an appeal to the UN General Assembly [to oppose the U.S. move], the U.S. representative declared that the countries that would vote against U.S. wishes would receive no aid from it. Egypt, and with it 123 countries, voted for the resolution, while only nine countries voted with the U.S., among them the Marshall Islands, Trinidad, and Micronesia.
"There are signs of future tension in Egypt-U.S. relations, and this may explain the move by Coptic Solidarity, which is headed by Magdi Khalil [sic], vis-à-vis the [U.S.] Congress aimed at advancing a bill dealing with the situation of the Copts in Egypt and their problems, and with the issue of building churches. Here it should be noted that we have real problems in Egypt, and it is indeed difficult to build churches, and Copts are indeed kept out of public posts. These problems stem from social and cultural reasons, and from the way in which security institutions and apparatuses function. However, I fully believe that these are Egyptian problems that will be solved among the Egyptians themselves, and we absolutely oppose our problems in Egypt being discussed in the American Congress...
"My statements have not been well received by Mr. Magdi Khalil, who has in the past accused me, in a number of articles, of being an agent of the Egyptian security apparatuses, because he simply wants to internationalize the issue and considers himself a divine emissary for solving the problems of the Copts and ending their suffering... [Khalil] maintains that the Copts are persecuted in Egypt and that my opposition to his logic and to his modus operandi and my vehement opposition to any foreign intervention in the problems of my land... have caused him to accuse me of being an agent [of the Egyptian] security [apparatuses]... "[21]
Coptic Politician To U.S. Congressmen: The Copts In Egypt Are Not A Foreign Minority And Will Solve Their Problems On Their Own
In her January 15, 2018 column in the Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram, Egyptian politician Dr. Layla Takla, who is a lecturer in law, criticized the House members who introduced the bill, saying that in their dealing with the Copts' affairs they are distorting facts and relying on sources that are not credible – and thus are not helping Copts in the U.S. She argued that while the Copts in Egypt have problems, they are not a "foreign minority" in Egypt and that Egypt is a country that respects the rights of the other. She wrote:
"When some members of the American Congress published an inaccurate report on the Coptic institutions in Egypt [sic, apparently a reference to the bill], they were either not meeting their responsibilities towards the citizens they are supposed to defend, rather than harming them by publishing reports that reflect negatively on the U.S., or they were not examining the facts before publishing reports [based on] sources that are not credible...
"Egypt is a country whose modern foundations were completed even before most of the countries in the world today existed, and it respects these [countries'] sovereignty, as well as the rights of the other, and all religions.
"Christianity entered Egypt from the beginning of its path... and after that came Islam, that some Egyptians believed in and adopted. All Egyptians [Christians and Muslims] are citizens who have lived together for centuries. [The Copts] are not a foreign minority, a separate group, or a community of foreign immigrants. This situation is apparently misunderstood by some, because it is different from [the situation] in the countries that emerged [based on] groups of immigrants from various countries that came seeking freedom or money [hinting disparagingly at the U.S.] ...
"Throughout its long history, Egypt has been subjected to many attacks, and overcame all of them, and today it is confronting a terror attack that harms all its citizens, who oppose it unanimously. The police and military defend all [Egyptian citizens] and furthermore they defend the region and the world against the crimes and evil of these many [terror] organizations, while your honorable council [i.e. Congress] has not dared to even publish a resolution designating these organizations as terrorist [a reference to Congress's failure to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terror organization].[22]
"You [in the U.S.] declare that you are fighting terrorism and helping Egypt in its war against it, but the best path to defend Egypt... is not criticism and publication of reports, but seriousness and willingness to support those who are fighting terrorism, particularly in Egypt which has sacrificed lives, efforts, and funds to protect the world from the evil of terrorism and its crimes and to call to account the countries that support it...
"No one is denying that the Copts in Egypt, whom the organizations of evil are harming, are dealing with many problems and are acting to reduce or eliminate them, through ongoing contacts and coordination of efforts with the government and the office of the president. The Copts in Egypt who live within it know their problems better than anyone, and only they are capable of tackling them.
"What is incredible is that the Copts in Egypt... suffered from ostracism, humiliation, and violence during the theocracy [i.e. the Muslim Brotherhood regime headed by Mohamed Morsi]. Sixty churches were destroyed, but wonder of wonders, you [Americans] did not publish a report or criticism, and not a word was heard from you, not even a whisper of opposition – while today you attack the regime that is rebuilding [the churches and], erecting a splendid Coptic cathedral, [under] a president who sees [all Egyptians] as equal and loves them all.[23]
"The Copts in Egypt love their homeland, and most of them will not go along with attempts to create a schism or to incite them against the president and the regime...
"Most of the members [of Congress] who published the report never visited Egypt, and their sources are not accurate. One of these sources is a video by ISIS in Syria and Iraq threatening the Christians – we know what is in it, and we have suffered from it, and the criticism should have been directed against those who disseminated [the video], not against Egypt.
"The title of the report is inaccurate, and refers to the 'Coptic institutions' [sic] while in several places the Copts [themselves] constitute a target for worse crimes, including murder, denigration, and expulsion – these are crimes that all Egyptians oppose and against which the state has firmly come out... You [Americans] revealed that 15% of the Copts have emigrated from Egypt. We don’t know where you got this number, but we know that Egypt gives its citizens freedom of movement and travel, and that there are more Muslims who emigrated – some to seek work, and some because they are terrorists in search of another refuge in countries that support them, and we hope that [the U.S.] is not one of these...
"As a Christian who knows and respects her religion, I demand [that the Americans] adhere to the New Testament guidelines that explicitly state 'Do good to all' and 'The people of God is all the peoples of the world,' and to deal with protecting all Egyptians, not only the Christians, but also the police, military, judicial system, citizens, and children, and even the Islamic institutions.
"For your information, we in Egypt and in other [countries] call on you to save the holy places in Palestine from those who deny Jesus, harm Christianity and its symbols, and mock its directives. This report [of yours] does not harm Egypt as much as it harms those who published it, in your Congress and among your people. Good luck with your next decisions and reports."[24]
Coptic Journalist: The Church In Egypt Was The First To Oppose The Bill
Maged Habta, Coptic journalist and columnist for the Egyptian government daily Al-Dustour, likewise linked the bill to Egypt's moves in the UN against President Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and also linked the terror attacks against the Copts in Egypt with the bill. He argued that the Egyptian Foreign Ministry had not done enough to oppose the bill, as the Church had. He wrote:
"It is certainly no coincidence that the slap, the slap of the century,[25] that Egypt landed [on the face of] the U.S. in the matter of Jerusalem came at the same time as the discussion in the American Congress on the bill calling on the Egyptian government to ensure equality between Muslims and Copts in Egypt, claiming that [the rights] of Egypt's [Coptic] citizens were being violated and that they are treated like second-class citizens because of their religion. It is also no coincidence that the same day, the rabble and criminals were utilized to carry out crimes such as the ones at [the church in] the village of Al-Waslin [in Giza]..."[26]
In another column on the subject, Habta wrote: "Our Church opposes all the methods that are still being cooked up in Uncle Sam's Congress to internationalize the problems of the Copts. This [kind of scheming] is an approach from which [the Coptic Church] has refrained, even during lengthy occupations, for centuries, throughout which [Copts and Muslims] lived [together] and participated enthusiastically in creating the culture of the glorious homeland to which they belong. [This] is because [the Copts] demand nothing but actualizing the rules of justice that are in the law, assuring full civil rights [to all] and nondiscrimination according to the principles of the constitution."[27]
Egyptian Columnist: The Copts In U.S. Sold Out Egypt For Money
As stated, criticism of the bill and of the U.S.-based Copts who are promoting it was also voiced by Muslim writers in Egypt. Hamdi Rizq, a columnist for the Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm, wrote a scathing denunciation of the American Copts, calling them "the American Judas" and accusing them of selling out their homeland and delivering it into the hands of "the Jews of the U.S. Congress". He wrote: "Judas Iscariot agreed with the Jewish head priests that he would hand over the Messiah [Jesus] in return for 30 pieces of silver... Judas Iscariot is the forefather of the one who came out against us in a despicable manner, the one who is selling out his homeland for 30 [pieces of] silver, handing it over to the Jews of Congress and publically admitting his treason, unlike Judas Iscariot...
"[Despite] his evil inclinations, Judas's conscience abhorred [the act of] betraying his master for a price, and therefore he sentenced himself to death by hanging. The American Judas is an evil, greedy moneylender... He did not hang himself. In fact, he stiffened his thick neck, boasted to people about his betrayal, became even crazier and happily tweeted away. Satan entered [this] Judas's heart, and never left.
"The devil to whom the American Judas sold his soul tempted him to believe that the Christians in his homeland would listen to him, which is utterly impossible, since everyone knows that good souls abhor the stink of treason. [The Copts] therefore described him as a traitor, cursed him... and renounced his depraved act...
"[Coptic Egyptian MP] Margaret 'Azer shouted in the face of the frowning Judas, 'Egypt is a single body and a single national fabric, like the heart of a single man.' The woman Margaret 'Azar is the equal of 1,000 men... She did not remain silent in the face of falsehood, and the self-righteous voices defending Judas did not scare her...
"As long as we have deeply-rooted Christians like Margaret 'Azer, we will never have to fear for Egypt. Margaret and all other Egyptian Christians stood up to defend the Egyptian regime, in a spirit of patriotism, flowing with love for the soil of this homeland. They silenced the American Judas and his cronies, and lifted the mask from his face, exposing his villainy and filthiness.
"Jesus always knew Judas would betray him, but no Egyptian disciple of Jesus imagined that the American Judas would betray his homeland and sell it out for a meager price... They never imagined that Judas would [conspire] with the Jews of Congress and deliver the homeland into their hands... How was [the American] Judas tempted to sell the homeland to the priests of Congress for 30 pieces of silver?"[28]
Magdi Khalil In Response: As Long As The Persecution Of Copts Continues, We Will Continue Our Activism Against It Throughout The World
Replying to his critics in several posts on his Facebook page, Magdi Khalil stated that the Egyptian security apparatuses were behind people like Hamdi Rizq who denounce him and the Coptic Solidarity organization of which he is a member. In a December 25, 2017 post he wrote: "Hamdi Rizq received instructions to slander the Coptic diaspora, and he chose [to do so using] the twisted logic of the Islamists. For him, anyone who defends the Egyptian Christians is Judas, and anyone who follows the orders of the security apparatuses is [a saint, like] one of Jesus's disciples..."[29] In another post, he wrote: "As long as the persecution of Copts continues, we will continue our activism throughout the world in order to end it, while exposing the lies of the Egyptian government, its racism and the racism of its security apparatuses and media." [30]
In a January 7, 2017 post, he slammed the Egyptian authorities, saying that they invest funds in sprucing up Egypt's image in the U.S. and in denying the Copts' problems, instead of in solving these problems: "[It is] a farce by any standards. Covering up the Copts' problems benefits nobody. We have said dozens of times that if Egypt had invested half the efforts it invests in lying, and half the funds it invests in covering up the Copts' problems, in [actually] addressing these problems, it would have solved many of their chronic problems. Sadly, however, it insists on repeating the same mistakes it has been making for decades. The state has built a cathedral in the new administrative capital... [This] is a cosmetic move that does nothing to address the root of the problems. The state builds a church as a false message to the world, and at the same time closes hundreds of [other] churches...
"In June 2014, the state dispatched [a delegation of] 14 parliament members [to the U.S.] to spread lies about the situation of [Egypt's] Copts, while the Coptic Solidarity organization was holding a conference. [The delegation's] shame was exposed to all when the purpose of its visit was revealed. Following the introduction of the U.S. bill on the Copts, the Egyptian parliament decided to send [another] delegation of Coptic MPs [to the U.S.], to carry out a new Goebbels-style mission of lying about the state of the minority to which they belong...
"Since 2013, the Egyptian state has invested tens of millions [of dollars] in the U.S. to spruce up its image and to deny that the Copts are being persecuted. But the more money it spent, the more its failure and its disgrace became apparent, because reality and the truth speak for themselves. We say again and again that these cover-up measures will never work, because, the more the role of the new media gains significance, the clearer [true face] of the Egyptian government becomes. We advise [the government] to work on solving the Copts' problems instead of carrying out these Goebbels-style tricks."[31]
It should be noted that Khalil has clashed in the past with Coptic activists and journalists living in Egypt, including 'Imad Gad, and has accused them of serving the Egyptian security apparatuses and of acting against human rights and pro-democracy activists outside Egypt, and against anyone else who criticizes the Al-Sisi regime. For example, in March 2017 Khalil wrote that, before every visit by an Egyptian president to the U.S., writers associated with the Egyptian regime and its security apparatuses always slam the Copts living outside Egypt: "Since the days of Mubarak, every time an Egyptian president is about to visit the U.S., writers [close to] the security apparatuses, especially Coptic writers, attack the Copts in the diaspora and demonize them, on the instructions of their sponsors in the security [apparatuses]... On March 5, 2017, Dr. Imad Gad gave a long interview on the Sada Al-Balad [TV] channel, [which is close to the] security [apparatuses], launching an impudent attack and leveling a series of lies against Coptic activists outside Egypt. He called them 'a gang of extremists!!', and 'people who make a living attacking Egypt'... and then continued his boastful lies, accusing me, by name, of 'threatening to throw eggs and tomatoes at President Al-Sisi and his entourage' during [Al-Sisi's] visit to the UN in September 2016..." Khalil claimed further that "a central theme in [Gad's] writing is attacks on human rights and pro-democracy activists outside Egypt, as well as on anyone who criticizes the regime's political or security policy or Al-Sisi [himself] – because, for [Gad], Al-Sisi is like the long-awaited Messiah or a hero arriving [directly] from heaven."[32]
* C. Meital is a research fellow at MEMRI.
[1], December 26, 2017.
[2], December 26, 2017. It should be noted that in September 2016, H.R.5974 – Coptic Churches Accountability Act (, regarding "efforts to restore or repair" Christian property in Egypt "that was burned, damaged, or otherwise destroyed during the sectarian violence in August 2013," was introduced in the U.S. House. At that time, many elements in Egypt, including the Egyptian Foreign Ministry and the Coptic Church, expressed opposition to Congress's intervention in Egypt's internal affairs. See, December 28, 2016; Al-Watan, Egypt, December 28, 2016.
[3] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1273, Egyptian Regime Approves Church Construction Law, Satisfying Coptic Church; Interfaith Conflict Continues, October 6, 2016; MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1355, Articles In Egyptian Press Condemn Security Forces For "Extremist" Anti-Copt Measures, October 31, 2017.
[4], December 26, 2017.
[5], December 26, 2017.
[6] On the mob attack on a church in Giza, see, December 24, 2017;, December 23, 2017.
[7], December 22, 2017.
[8] A reference to Egypt's submission of a resolution proposal to the UN Security Council against President Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, which was supported by 14 UNSC members and was vetoed by the U.S. See Al-Ahram (Egypt), December 19, 2017.
[9] Al-Yawm Al-Saba' (Egypt), December 27, 2017.
[10] Al-Dustour (Egypt), December 28, 2017.
[11], December 27, 2017.
[12] See, for example,, December 28, 2017.
[13] Al-Ahram (Egypt), December 24, 2017.
[14], December 22, 2017.
[15] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), December 23, 2017.
[16] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), December 26, 2017.
[17], December 30, 2017.
[18] Al-Misryoun (Egypt), December 30, 2017.
[19], December 30 and 31, 2017 and January 8, 2018. For more about a possible visit in May 2018 by an Egyptian parliamentary delegation to the U.S. to discuss the bill and the reduction of economic aid to Egypt, see Al-Hayat (London), January 24, 2018.
[20] Al-Yawm Al-Saba' (Egypt), January 22, 2018.
[21] Al-Watan (Egypt), December 24, 2017.
[22] See for example, June 20, 2017.
[23] For more on President Al-Sisi's attendance at Orthodox Christian celebrations in Egypt, held for the first time in the Coptic cathedral build in the new administrative capital in Cairo, see Al-Ahram, Egypt, January 7, 2018.
[24] Al-Ahram (Egypt), January 15, 2018.
[25] Wordplay in Arabic – "the slap of the century" in Arabic sounds very similar to "the deal of the century," i.e. President Trump's Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal.
[26] Al-Dustour (Egypt), December 24, 2017.
[27] Al-Dustour (Egypt), December 28, 2017.
[28] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), December 26, 2017.
[29], December 26, 2017
[30], December 23, 2017
[31], January 7, 2018.
[32], March 10, 2017.

A Survey of the Near East: Implications for U.S. National Security
David Cattler/The Washington Institute/March 13/18
The national intelligence manager for the Near East discusses the post-ISIS 'peace dividend,' the intelligence facets of Syria's humanitarian crisis, the sectarian hurdles to Iraq's reconstruction, and more.
On March 13, The Washington Institute hosted a Policy Forum with David Cattler as part of its long-running Stein Counterterrorism Lecture Series. Cattler serves as National Intelligence Manager for the Near East in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The following are his prepared remarks.
Thanks to Matt Levitt for that kind introduction, and to everyone at The Washington Institute for inviting me to speak. WINEP continues to be an indispensable institution at a time when assessing our interests in the Near East could not be more complex or challenging. I am truly grateful for this opportunity, and for your commitment to "Improve the Quality of U.S. Middle East Policy."
As the National Intelligence Manager for the Near East, I share this same goal. I serve as Director of National Intelligence Coats' principal advisor on this critical region. Every day, the "NIM-Near East" team works to ensure that our partners and consumers in the White House and across the interagency have access to the best possible intelligence.
We do this by directly supporting the development and implementation of national policies and strategies. We also integrate the intelligence community—managing and guiding all aspects of the intelligence cycle. This means (1) working with policymakers to identify and articulate their needs; (2) managing and directing collection; (3) assessing the quality of the Intelligence Community's analysis; (4) ensuring that our products—information and assessments—reach consumers, often at "the speed of war"; and (5) helping determine and mitigate risk by providing unvarnished assessments of what intelligence we can and can't do to illuminate a situation.
This also means setting expectations and balancing demands for increased emphasis in emerging hotspots while ensuring we have adequate coverage in areas of ongoing concern. This is particularly important in the Near East, where there is an abundance of both, representing some of the hardest choices facing U.S. policymakers. Matt and I were just talking about the fact that I could easily fill my allotted time by discussing just one of the fourteen countries my team covers, not to mention the Palestinian territories.
What I would like to do is provide an overview of key political, security, and humanitarian developments in the Near East, and then use the balance of our time to answer questions. But let me emphasize two initial points. First, given the open nature of this forum, some of my responses may be limited due to classification considerations. Second, while I previously served as a policymaker at the White House, my current position is in the IC. As such, I will probably need to defer any policy questions that are not intelligence related.
Let's begin with the so-called "Islamic State." Due to the tremendous efforts and sacrifices of the U.S.-led coalition, ISIS has lost more than 98 percent of the territory it once controlled in Iraq and Syria. It has lost thousands of its fighters and is a fraction of its former self. The myth of its "caliphate" has been exposed. However, as Secretary of Defense Mattis has emphasized, "the fight is not over." U.S.-assisted forces are continuing to clear the remaining pockets under ISIS control. But at least in Iraq and Syria, the group's trajectory is headed downward.
Given this, can we expect a "peace dividend?" What are the implications of ISIS's strategic defeat as a quasi-conventional force?
While this news is welcome, we should resist assessing outcomes in a vacuum. And we must always be mindful of second- and third-order effects.
For example, although ISIS has been decimated in Iraq and Syria, its ideology still resonates globally, which has serious implications for U.S. national security. While travel has proven difficult, many ISIS fighters will likely attempt to return to their countries of origin, including in Europe and the United States, to conduct attacks, or will travel to new theaters such as the Philippines. Its affiliates outside the Levant are continuing to plot and conduct attacks. And ISIS will likely redouble its efforts to inspire adherents to commit attacks where they are, even if they never joined the fight overseas.
One notable trend we have witnessed is the shift in ISIS's online propaganda following its territorial losses. Previously, ISIS's narrative emphasized building the caliphate and included themes on governance, adventure, and victory. Its recent video titled "Answer the Call" focuses on revenge and indiscriminate killing, and is particularly gruesome even by ISIS's standards.
The key takeaway? ISIS is evolving and adjusting.
In Iraq, ISIS has already begun shifting tactics and returning its form to a clandestine insurgency—much as its predecessor AQI did. While ISIS was never above preventing civilian noncombatants from fleeing combat zones and making them human shields, its new approach means it will likely seek to blend in with civilians to an even greater extent.
This in turn will likely force a competent but weary Iraqi military to develop an entirely new counterinsurgency approach. While different in nature and scope, their fight will continue.
Beyond security, Iraq also faces enormous reconstruction and governance challenges. Most of the 2.6 million Iraqis displaced from their homes are in the Ninawa governorate and are Sunni. With the upcoming elections scheduled for May, it is unclear whether these internally displaced persons will be able to vote in their home locations, a point Sunni leaders—fearing further political marginalization—have made repeatedly. On reconstruction, it's been eight months since the liberation of Mosul, Ninawa's capital, yet its Old City still remains without electricity or running water, and billions will be required to rebuild the city.
And many Iraqi Sunnis remain fearful of the intentions of the Shia-dominated national government and militias, who allege that they supported ISIS. Recall that during its rise, ISIS exploited Sunni fears of Shia domination. Even if these do not lead to the group's resurgence, fears of reprisals and Sunni grievances due to political marginalization, discrimination, and delays in reconstruction may hamper the reconciliation necessary for a sustained peace, which is a key U.S. objective.
My intention is not to take anything away from what has proven to be a successful military campaign. An eventual victory against ISIS should yield a dividend to the United States and our allies.
But the fight against ISIS is not a traditional, binary conflict. The United States, Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia are all combatting ISIS. We are fighting the same enemy as our adversaries. As such, they too will likely reap the benefits of a "peace dividend."
Take, for example, the Iranian-supported Shia militants, who until recently were primarily focused on ISIS. These groups are now free to expand their influence and consolidate political and territorial gains, which could further inflame tensions with Sunni communities.
Iran and its proxy Lebanese Hezbollah are also potential beneficiaries who can now expend resources and attention elsewhere. As stated in the Worldwide Threat Assessment we released last month, Iran remains the most prominent state sponsor of terrorism and is seeking to expand its influence across the region.
This is consistent with the President's remarks from October of last year, when he announced the Iran Strategy: "The [Iranian] regime remains the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism, and provides assistance to al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terrorist networks. It develops, deploys, and proliferates missiles that threaten American troops and our allies. It harasses American ships and threatens freedom of navigation in the Arabian Gulf and in the Red Sea. It imprisons Americans on false charges. And it launches cyberattacks against our critical infrastructure, financial system, and military."
In Iraq, Iran has sent hundreds of Revolutionary Guard Corps officials to help direct tens of thousands of members of Shia militia groups, and will likely seek to manipulate Iraqi affairs by leveraging these nodes of influence. Through their campaign in Syria and Iraq, Iranian military personnel and Hezbollah fighters have acquired battlefield experience and have had the opportunity to field-test military tactics and procedures. And with the ISIS fight largely over, they now have an opportunity to redirect their efforts.
For Hezbollah, this means refocusing on Lebanon and—together with Iran—spending increased resources and attention against Israel, either directly or by supporting militant groups in the Palestinian territories. The result? Increased instability in Lebanon and a potential war with Israel.
For Iran, this means consolidating its gains and establishing a so-called "Shia Crescent" that will connect its network of proxies and allies across the Near East, and which could threaten a range of U.S. interests.
Consider Yemen, where Iran has supported Houthi forces that are embroiled in a military conflict with the Saudi-led coalition, which U.S. forces are advising and assisting. The U.S. government recently displayed Iranian-origin ballistic missile parts, which evidence Iran's support to the Houthis in violation of international sanctions.
To date, the Houthis have threatened a civilian airport in Saudi Arabia, fired missiles at Emirati tankers in the Bab al-Mandab strait, and threatened to cut off shipping in the Red Sea, which could cause dire economic consequences across the globe.
There is no military solution to the conflict in Yemen. Any increased Iranian military support and assistance to the Houthis would only further dim prospects for a political solution, which the United States and our partners in the international community are actively seeking.
Meanwhile, the Yemeni people continue to suffer. According to recent estimates, approximately 21 million people in Yemen need some kind of humanitarian or protection support, with some 10 million in acute need of assistance. The estimated number of cholera cases has crossed one million, which we expect to rise given the upcoming rainy season. And an estimated 17 million people—60 percent of the total population—are food insecure, while seven million are at risk of famine.
Of course, Yemen is only one of a number of humanitarian crises facing the Near East. Sadly, another potential beneficiary of the post-ISIS "peace dividend" is the Syrian regime, which—with Russian support—has indiscriminately killed civilians, including by using chemical weapons. The regime's current campaign in the Damascus suburb of East Ghouta has trapped 400,000 people with little to no food or medicine and has resulted in over 1,000 civilians deaths.
More broadly, the Syrian conflict has resulted in the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. More than 11 million people have died or have had to leave their homes. According to the United Nations, there are currently 13.1 million people in need in Syria, 6.1 million internally displaced persons, and 2.98 million people in hard to reach and besieged areas.
Let me emphasize one point here. When people think of the Intelligence Community, the image that often comes to mind is our sensitive intelligence activities, or the support we provide to our political or military efforts. What is often is forgotten is the emphasis we place on humanitarian and human rights issues.
Highlighting this brutality is not only in our strategic interest, it's also our moral obligation. There is a tendency to become numb, given the numerous unfolding tragedies across the region. It is important to remember that every one of these statistics represents a life that has been lost or is suffering. Simply, the people of this region, who have dealt with the ravages of war for too long, deserve a better future—and a better present.
Sadly, this encompasses millions of Syrian refugees, including those who have fled to Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. These countries have demonstrated tremendous generosity by taking in Syrians, but this has come with a steep economic price and increased societal tensions, particularly in locations where public resources and jobs are scarce.
Regarding a peace dividend, the defeat of ISIS in Syria is essential to resolving that country's civil war. While this shows no signs of ending, a conclusion of hostilities and the eventual return of refugees would likely ease pressure on all three countries.
But this is not the only challenge they are facing. In addition to economic instability, the Hashemite kingdom is facing an unprecedented level of public anger and complaints about political reform, corruption, and unemployment.
Facing spillover violence from terrorists based in Syria, Lebanon is also grappling with increased Iranian influence via Hezbollah, which has further exacerbated sectarian tensions.
And citing their links to the PKK, Turkey has initiated a campaign in Afrin against the Syrian Kurds of the YPG, who in turn have withdrawn numerous fighters battling ISIS in the Middle Euphrates River Valley. In contrast to the campaign against ISIS, which we share with our adversaries, this is an example of two U.S. allies fighting each other.
I have provided an overview of some of the key dynamics facing the Near East, but due to time constraints, I have not touched on a number of other crises and challenges relevant to U.S. national security. These include (1) the ongoing GCC rift, which pits the Saudi-led coalition against Qatar; (2) Egypt's upcoming election and its campaign against ISIS in the Sinai; and (3) prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians and the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Like I said, there is no shortage of hotspots in the Near East.
Before answering your questions, let me leave you with three basic thoughts. First, this is perhaps the most dynamic region on the planet. The IC devotes a tremendous amount of resources and energy to assess intentions and potential outcomes, but the very nature of the region makes this task extremely difficult. As I mentioned, U.S. interests in the Near East align with both our adversaries and our allies.
Second, the same factors that gave rise to both the Arab Uprisings and ISIS remain. These include political instability, weak economies, corruption, and sectarianism. Until these underlying factors are addressed, we will likely be grappling with the same or similar issues well into the future.
Finally, the Near East matters and is directly relevant to a range of U.S. priorities, including (1) countering terrorism and protecting the homeland; (2) maintaining our broader economic and security interests and those of our allies; and (3) protecting human rights and addressing humanitarian crises. While determining how to address or resolve these challenges is ultimately a policymaker function, success requires accurate, timely, and relevant assessments of the region's economic, political, and security dynamics.
In this respect, it is an honor and privilege to lead the IC's Near East mission and work with colleagues who strive, every day, to provide our consumers the information they need to protect and advance our nation's interests in this critical region. Thank you very much.

Why Tillerson wasn’t the secretary of state Trump needed

Faisal J. Abbas/Arab News/March 14/18
President Trump’s decision to let Rex Tillerson go came as no surprise to anyone; in fact, perhaps the only surprise was that the decision took this long.
Tillerson was never the right man for the job of the top diplomat in an administration that is so determined to make things happen; indeed, his professional failings are strange for someone who spent his business career mining for deals and negotiating with governments.
At his office, Tillerson locked himself behind closed doors and wasted his time cutting costs and “restructuring” the State Department. One by one, career diplomats resigned in protest at his management style, and he did nothing to stem this leakage of the most important resource of all — human capital.
However, this is only a small part of why Tillerson will probably go down in history as one of the worst secretaries of state the US has ever had; not all diplomats can be great managers, but at the very least they must be good diplomats.
For Tillerson, a former oil executive who had extensive dealings with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar, the Middle East should have been his playground; instead, his mishandling of almost all related portfolios turned the region into his political graveyard.
To start with, you don’t sit in your office while the Palestinian/Israeli conflict is about to reignite. Tillerson barely made any effort to calm the tension in Jerusalem. Perhaps he thought it wasn’t his mess to clean up, or to defuse. However, this is not TV’s “House of Cards”: This is a real-life crisis, and regional stability is on the line.
Furthermore, moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem could have been used by a pragmatic diplomat as leverage to force the Israelis to the negotiating table, and to secure acceptable terms for the Palestinians. But that can’t be discussed over the phone from an office in Washington; Tillerson needed to be there, talking to the parties involved.
The Middle East should have been his playground; instead, he turned it into his political graveyard
Then, despite the clear and present danger that Iran represents to Washington and its allies in the region, Tillerson sat on the fence while the White House took a more hawkish approach toward Tehran.
When the Anti-Terror Quartet (ATQ) — Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt — announced last year that they were boycotting Qatar over its terror ties and political meddling in the affairs of its neighbors, the former ExxonMobil executive proved to be “full of gas” more than anything else.
Despite initially toeing the White House line and warning Doha that it needed to act quickly on its support for terrorism (which would have been in the US and global interests), Tillerson quickly softened his position. While Qataris continued sipping champagne and revving their sports cars through the streets of Knightsbridge, and Paris Hilton performed at a Doha nightclub, Tillerson was busy preaching to the ATQ about the holiness of the month of Ramadan and how their boycott of Qatar was causing food shortages.
What he should have done was use his excellent connections to the ruling family in Doha to convince them to hand over wanted terrorists, and pledge to respect their neighbors’ sovereignty. Would he have been able to do so? Yes, for two reasons. First, these wanted terrorists put American lives in danger; and second, the Qataris would have listened to him because he played an important role in helping them to accumulate their enormous wealth. During his time at ExxonMobil in the 1990s, Tillerson helped to bring liquid-gas technology to Doha, and to develop the liquefaction plant at Ras Laffan in northern Qatar. By 2010, Qatari gas accounted for 30 percent of the global market.
Of course, while many people perhaps did not possess this information about Tillerson, the ATQ certainly did — and probably never accepted him as an unbiased mediator.
Is there reason to believe Doha had influence over Tillerson? Was he really biased toward Qatar? Or was he surrounded by so many State Department officials still stuck in the Obama era that they undermined his ability to act? None of this matters now.
With a former CIA chief taking the helm, one would hope that Qatar’s and Iran’s terror ties would be obvious — and the danger of ignoring the plight of the Palestinians would be a given. For the sake of regional stability, we wish Mike Pompeo all the best.