March 19/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations
God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable
"Romans 11/25-32: "I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 18-19/18
St. Joseph's Day/Elias Bejjani/March 19/18
The Healing Miracle Of the Blind Beggar, Bartimaeus Son Of Timaeus/Elias Bejjani/March 19/18
Seven Ways Iran Spends its Money in the Syrian War/Amir Taheri/Asharq Al Awsat/March 18/18
Nigeria's Christians Today, Europe's Christians Tomorrow/Giulio Meotti/Gatestone Institute/March 18/18
Erdogan's Unrequited Arab Love/Burak Bekdil/Gatestone Institute/March 18/18
The Boy From Petersburg Who Became The Man From Moscow/Amir Taheri/Gatestone Institute/March 18/18
Is the Syrian regime ‘winning’ the war/Lina Khatib/Al Arabiya/March 18/18
Poisoning case explains why Putin is so brazen/Dr. Azeem Ibrahim/Al Arabiya/March 18/18
Putin re-elected: What is in it for the Gulf region/Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady/Al Arabiya/March 18/18
Is Turkey preparing to replace US military base in Qatar/Shehab Al-Makahleh/Al Arabiya/March 18/18

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published 
on March 18-19/18
St. Joseph's Day
The Healing Miracle Of the Blind Beggar, Bartimaeus Son Of Timaeus
Hizbullah Official: Lebanese System Rotten, Can't be Radically Reformed
LF Hits Out at Hariri: We Don't Need Protection against 'Evil Eye'
U.S. Reportedly Tells Hariri Veto Lifted on Attack Helicopters
Report: Mustaqbal, LF Tell Their Campaigns They Won't Ally in Elections
Qaouq: Saudi Arabia Intervening in Lebanon, Inciting Lebanese
AMAL Urges 70% Turnout in South Elections
Rahi, Bassil convene in Bkirki
Rahi calls on officials to make reforms, stop public waste expenditure
French Ambassador: France will always be loyal to Lebanon
Bassil: FPM represents all families in all Lebanese regions
Sitin by Islamic detainees' families to demand general amnesty

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published 
on March 18-19/18
Gaza Factions Announce Marches for the Palestinian Right of Return
Syria Kurds Vow to 'Liberate' Afrin after Capture by Turkish Army
Syrian President Assad visits army positions in Eastern Ghouta — state media
Israeli stabbed and wounded in Jerusalem's Old City, attacker shot: Media
Iran provides Houthis with European expert to prevent loss
Israel Destroys Hamas Tunnel in Gaza
3 Killed in Fire at Philippine Hotel
Russia’s Putin projected to win fourth term with 73.9 percent of vote
Trump Prepares for Visit by Saudi Prince who Has Rocked the Kingdom
Republican senator expects Trump to pull out of Iran deal
Russian diplomat hints UK lab could be nerve agent source
Five Indians killed in cross-border shelling by Pakistani troops
Latest Lebanese Related News published on March 18-19/18
St. Joseph's Dayعيد ما يوسف البتول
Elias Bejjani/March 19/18
The feast day of St. Joseph is celebrated annually on March 19/Our Bejjani family has proudly carried this name generation after generation for centuries and still do. May God and His angles safeguard our caring and loving son Youssef, and our grandson Joseph, who both carry this blessed name
It is worth mentioning that St. Joseph's Day is a Maronite and Roman Catholic feast day that commemorates the life of St. Joseph, the step-father of Jesus and husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary. People with very strong religious convictions among which are the Lebanese Maronites celebrate St. Joseph's Day on March 19 and believe that this day is St. Joseph's birthday too.
Back home, in Lebanon St. Joseph is considered the Family Saint and looked upon as a family and hardworking father role model because of the great role that Almighty God had assigned him to carry. His duty was to raise Jesus Christ and take care of Virgin Mary. God has chose him to look after His begotten son and Virgin Marry. He fulfilled his Godly assignment with love, passion and devotion. May Al Mighty God bless all those that carry this name.

The Healing Miracle Of the Blind Beggar, Bartimaeus Son Of Timaeus
Elias Bejjani
John 09:5: “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world”.
We become blind not when our two eyes do not function any more and lose our vision. No, not at all, this is a physical disability that affects only our earthly body and not our Godly soul. We can overcome this physical blindness and go on with our lives, while our spiritual blindness makes us lose our eternal life and end in hell.
We actually become blind when we can not see the right and righteous tracks in life, and when we do not walk in their paths.
We actually become blind when we fail to obey God’s commandments, negate His sacrifice on the cross that broke our slavery bondage from the original sin, and when we refuse to abandon and tame the instincts’ of our human nature, and when we stubbornly resist after falling into the evil’s temptation to rise to the Godly nature in which we were baptized with water and the holy spirit.
Meanwhile the actual blindness is not in the eyes that can not see because of physical ailments, but in the hearts that are hardened, in the consciences that are numbed and in the spirits that are defiled with sin.
Ephesians 4:29: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear”
When we know heart, mind and soul that God Himself, is LOVE, and when we practice, honour and feel LOVE in every word we utter and in every conduct we perform, we shall never be blind in our hearts, conscience and faith, even though when our eyes cease to perform.
In its spiritual essence and core, what does love mean and encompass? Saint Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians (13/01-07), answers this question: ” “If I speak with the languages of men and of angels, but don’t have love, I have become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but don’t have love, I am nothing. If I dole out all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but don’t have love, it profits me nothing. Love is patient and is kind; love doesn’t envy. Love doesn’t brag, is not proud, doesn’t behave itself inappropriately, doesn’t seek its own way, is not provoked, takes no account of evil; doesn’t rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails”
In every community, there are individuals from all walks of life who are spiritually blind, lacking faith, have no hope, and live in dim darkness because they have distanced themselves from Almighty God and His Gospel, although their eyes are physically perfectly functional and healthy. They did not seek God’s help and did not repent and ask for forgiveness, although they know that God is always waiting eerily for them to defeat the evil, get out his temptations and come to Him.
On the sixth Lenten Sunday, our Maronite Catholic Church cites and recalls with great piety Jesus’ healing miracle of the blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, Bartimaeus. This amazing miracle that took place in Jerusalem near the Pool of Siloam is documented in three gospels; Mark 10/46-52, John 9/1-41, Matthew 20/:29-34.
Maronites in Lebanon and all over the world, like each and very faithful Christian strongly believe that Jesus is the holy and blessed light through which believers can see God’s paths of righteousness. There is no doubt that without Jesus’ light, evil darkness will prevails in peoples’ hearts, souls and minds. Without Jesus’ presence in our lives we definitely will preys to all kinds of evil temptations.
The Miracle: Mark 10/46-52: ” They came to Jericho. As he went out from Jericho, with his disciples and a great multitude, the son of Timaeus, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the road. When he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out, and say, “Jesus, you son of David, have mercy on me!” Many rebuked him, that he should be quiet, but he cried out much more, “You son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still, and said, “Call him. ”They called the blind man, saying to him, “Cheer up! Get up. He is calling you!” He, casting away his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus. Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “Rabboni, that I may see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go your way. Your faith has made you well.” Immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the way. The son of Timaeus, Bartimaeus, the blind beggar who was born to two blind parents truly believed in Jesus. His heart, mind and spirit were all enlightened with faith and hope. Because of his strong faith he knew deep inside who actually Jesus was, and stubbornly headed towards him asking for a Godly cure. He rebelled against all those opportunist and hypocrites who out of curiosity and not faith came to see who is Jesus. He refused to listen to them when they rebuked him and tried hardly to keep him away from Jesus. He loudly witnessed for the truth and forced his way among the crowd and threw himself on Jesus’ feet asking Him to open his blind eyes. Jesus was fascinated by his faith, hailed his perseverance and gave him what he asked for. He opened his eyes.
John’s Gospel gives us more details about what has happened with Bartimaeus after the healing miracle of his blindness. We can see in the below verses that after his healing he and his parents were exposed to intimidation, fear, threats, and terror, but he refused to succumb or to lie, He held verbatim to all the course details of the miracle, bravely witnessed for the truth and loudly proclaimed his strong belief that Jesus who cured him was The Son Of God. His faith made him strong, fearless and courageous. The Holy Spirit came to his rescue and spoke through him.
John 9/13-12: “As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been born blind. 2 His disciples asked him, “Teacher, whose sin caused him to be born blind? Was it his own or his parents’ sin?” Jesus answered, “His blindness has nothing to do with his sins or his parents’ sins. He is blind so that God’s power might be seen at work in him. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me; night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light for the world.” After he said this, Jesus spat on the ground and made some mud with the spittle; he rubbed the mud on the man’s eyes and told him, “Go and wash your face in the Pool of Siloam.” (This name means “Sent.”) So the man went, washed his face, and came back seeing. His neighbors, then, and the people who had seen him begging before this, asked, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?”
Some said, “He is the one,” but others said, “No he isn’t; he just looks like him.” So the man himself said, “I am the man.” “How is it that you can now see?” they asked him. He answered, “The man called Jesus made some mud, rubbed it on my eyes, and told me to go to Siloam and wash my face. So I went, and as soon as I washed, I could see.” “Where is he?” they asked.“I don’t know,” he answered.
Sadly our contemporary world hails atheism, brags about secularism and persecutes those who have faith in God and believe in Him. Where ever we live, there are opportunist and hypocrites like some of the conceited crowd that initially rebuked Bartimaeus, and tried with humiliation to keep him away from Jesus, but the moment Jesus called on him they changed their attitude and let him go through. Meanwhile believers all over the world suffer on the hands of ruthless oppressors, and rulers and men of authority like the Pharisees who refused to witness for the truth.
But despite of all the dim spiritual darkness, thanks God, there are still too many meek believers like Bartimaeus who hold to their faith no matters what the obstacles or hurdles are.
Colossians 03:12: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience”
Lord, enlighten our minds and hearts with your light and open our eyes to realize that You are a loving and merciful father.
Lord Help us to take Bartimaeus as a faith role model in our life.
Lord help us to defeat all kinds of sins that take us away from Your light, and deliver us all from evil temptations.
In conclusion, let us never blind ourselves from knowing where is the light and who is the light: “I came into this world for judgment, that those who don’t see may see; and that those who see may become blind.” (John 09/39)

Hizbullah Official: Lebanese System Rotten, Can't be Radically Reformed
Naharnet/March 18/18/A senior Hizbullah official announced Sunday that the Lebanese political system is “rotten” and cannot be “radically reformed.”“We in Hizbullah will be honest with our people in the upcoming parliamentary elections and we will say things as they are. We will not promise them things that we cannot achieve,” Sayyed Hashem Safieddine, the head of Hizbullah's Executive Council, said. “When we call on people to vote for our candidates and the lists to which we and our allies belong, we do so because we are convinced that these lists serve the interests of our people, nation and residents, but this does not mean that these lists can achieve all the hopes and aspirations,” Safieddine said. “We must be realistic and the elections must not push us to slogans, illusions and fantasies that cannot be achieved,” the Hizbullah official added.
Noting that “the Lebanese system is rotten and cannot be radically reformed,” Safieddine said “mistaken are those who believe they can achieve radical change to get rid of the rampant corruption in Lebanon.”“Those who promise people to achieve this are promising them something that they have no ability to achieve, as long as there is a sectarian Lebanese system that is based on the splitting of shares and the production of corrupt leaders who legitimize corruption and have always insisted on it,” the senior Hizbullah official added. He also stressed that “we should set objective goals and we should talk to people in a very frank manner.”

LF Hits Out at Hariri: We Don't Need Protection against 'Evil Eye'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 18/18/The Lebanese Forces on Sunday hit out at Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his al-Mustaqbal Movement without naming them, which indicates that the two parties will not be allied in the upcoming parliamentary elections. “We are facing several risks and it seems that we are heading to a situation that we do not want – a situation of economic collapse and threats against health and environment,” Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Ghassan Hasbani of the LF said. Hasbani was delivering LF leader Samir Geagea's speech at a ceremony to announce the LF's electoral list in the Zahle district. “We do not need a Moroccan fortuneteller to know where the country is heading and we do not want methods that protect us from the evil eye because we have failed in everything. We have to rescue this country through our efforts,” Hasbani added, in an apparent jab at Hariri. Hariri has recently quipped that “the LF need a Moroccan fortuneteller” who can explain their demands regarding the electoral alliances. His Mustaqbal Movement has meanwhile chosen a blue eye-like symbol -- which in popular culture is used to repel the so-called “evil eye” – as its electoral logo and slogan.
The evil eye is a curse believed to be cast by a malevolent glare. Many cultures believe that receiving the evil eye will cause misfortune or injury. Talismans created to protect against the evil eye are also frequently called "evil eyes."Hasbani lamented that Lebanese citizens “are being besieged daily by burning garbage whose effect is much worse than the wars around us.”“We're fed up with words and promises. We want to develop state institutions through building a real state, in cooperation with the people, and through choosing non-corrupt individuals to build the state,” Hasbani added. “They tell us, 'You either accept our ways or else there will be no electricity,' and we say, 'You either abide by the law or you go,'” the deputy PM went on to say. Quoting informed sources, Kuwait's al-Jarida newspaper reported Sunday that Mustaqbal and the Lebanese Forces have told their electoral campaigns that the two parties will not ally in the upcoming parliamentary elections. “The two parties told their electoral campaigns to start working on the basis that there will no agreement between the LF and Mustaqbal,” the sources said. Relations between the long-time allies were strained after some Mustaqbal officials accused the LF of inciting Saudi leaders to press Hariri to resign. The premier announced his controversial resignation in November from the Saudi capital but eventually rescinded it after reaching a deal with the Hizbullah-led camp.

U.S. Reportedly Tells Hariri Veto Lifted on Attack Helicopters
Naharnet/March 18/18/U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield told Prime Minister Saad Hariri during their meeting in Rome on Thursday that the U.S. Congress had lifted a veto on providing the Lebanese Army with attack helicopters, a media report said. The Congress' move came a day before the Rome II Conference that was aimed at rallying support for Lebanon's army and security forces, al-Hayat newspaper quoted an unnamed source as saying. The U.S. decision to grant Lebanon attack helicopters was first disclosed during a December visit by the head of U.S. Central Command Gen. Joseph Votel to Lebanon. American Ambassador Elizabeth Richard said a new assistance package, valued at more than $120 million, includes six new light attack helicopters, six unmanned aerial vehicles and communication and night vision devices. She said the equipment will help the army "build on its steady strong capability to conduct border security and counterterrorism operations." According to a U.S. Embassy statement, the U.S. will grant Lebanon "six new MD 530G light attack helicopters and associated equipment and training, valued at more $94 million.”Washington has been a major supporter of Lebanon's army, and has provided more than $1 billion in military assistance to Lebanon since 2006.

Report: Mustaqbal, LF Tell Their Campaigns They Won't Ally in Elections
Naharnet/March 18/18/Al-Mustaqbal Movement and the Lebanese Forces have told their electoral campaigns that the two parties will not ally in the upcoming parliamentary elections, media reports said. “The two parties told their electoral campaigns to start working on the basis that there will no agreement between the LF and Mustaqbal,” informed sources told Kuwait's al-Jarida newspaper in remarks published Sunday. “This has spread relief among the popular bases of Mustaqbal, seeing as it will be able to hold onto a number of seats that would have gone to the LF,” the sources added. The sources noted that a “decisive meeting” will be held Monday evening at the Center House and that Information Minister Melhem Riachi will visit Prime Minister Saad Hariri to take a final decision.

Qaouq: Saudi Arabia Intervening in Lebanon, Inciting Lebanese

Naharnet/March 18/18/Senior Hizbullah official Sheikh Nabil Qaouq accused Saudi Arabia of “interfering in Lebanon's affairs and inciting the Lebanese against each other,” the National News Agency reported on Saturday. “Saudi Arabia's latest interference in Lebanon's internal affairs is embodied in interference in the country's upcoming parliamentary elections. Saudi interventions are inciting the Lebanese against each other and restoring divisions and political tension among them,” claimed Qaouq. In remarks he made at a memorial service in South Lebanon, he added: “Saudi Arabia wishes to change the internal political equations by interfering in the elections, in the formation of electoral lists and in supporting candidates to confront Hizbullah.”Turning to the Resistance's capabilities in confronting the Israeli enemy, Qaouq said: “The great maneuver being carried out these days between the Israeli army and the United States, officially documents Israel's recognition that the Resistance can reach the depth of Israel, and that Israel has no ability to confront the Resistance's rockets, nor to confront Hizbullah alone.”He stressed saying “the Resistance today is the main obstacle to the expansion of the Israeli project in the region, which is frightening the Israeli enemy.”

AMAL Urges 70% Turnout in South Elections
Naharnet/March 18/18/An AMAL Movement lawmaker on Sunday urged a 70% turnout in the electoral districts of the South in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
“We are all invited to take part in the upcoming parliamentary vote to say that all people of the South are representatives of this political project,” MP Hani Qobeissi of the Development and Liberation bloc said, referring to the AMAL-Hizbullah political alliance.
“Should 55% of voters take part in the upcoming elections, conspirators will say that the 45% who did not vote are against our project. Some are conspiring against this country and sending some feudal figures to form lists,” Qobeissi added. “We are invited to defend our project and martyrs,” the MP went on to say. Urging a “70 percent” turnout, Qobeissi noted that “90% of the people of the South support the resistance culture and the AMAL-Hizbullah alliance.”

Rahi, Bassil convene in Bkirki
Sun 18 Mar 2018/NNA - Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Beshara Boutros al-Rahi, met Sunday evening in Bkirki with Foreign Affairs Minister Gebran Bassil, with talks centering on the current situation. The Patriarch later met, in the presence of Bassil, with electoral candidates: Brigadier General Shamel Roukoz, Roger Azar and Syndicate Head Sharaf Bou Sharaf, accompanied by a number of Free Patriotic Movement officials.

Rahi calls on officials to make reforms, stop public waste expenditure

Sun 18 Mar 2018/NNA - Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rahi, Sunday called on Lebanese officials to show responsibility in carrying out the necessary reforms and putting an end to wasting public funds. Rahi, who presided over a Mass service at Saint-Joseph School in Aintoura, urged officials "to cease public waste expenditure and corruption in the administration," adding that "Lebanese officials must plan for an economic growth in all sectors and shift the Lebanese economy from a consumption economy to a productive one." Commenting on the education crisis, the Prelate affirmed that "the State is in charge of preserving private schools in Lebanon."He said that the State should support private schools by incurring the cost of rising teachers' salaries; otherwise, it would hold the blame for the closure of many Catholic schools in Lebanon. Finally, Rahi hoped for the "success of the Paris Conference scheduled on April 6 to promote economic recovery and the Brussels Conference scheduled on April 25 to alleviate the burden of the presence of one million and seven hundred thousand displaced Syrians in Lebanon."

French Ambassador: France will always be loyal to Lebanon

Sun 18 Mar 2018/NNA - French Ambassador to Lebanon, Bruno Foucher, affirmed that France will always be loyal to Lebanon and will maintain its commitments in preserving strong relations with Lebanon. Speaking during the annual ceremony organized by members of the Legion of Honour association in Lebanon, the diplomat recalled that France was a role model of its allies in supporting of the Lebanese armed forces. He added that his country provided 400 million Euros for the Lebanese army during the Rome Conference and will soon call on its partners to support the investments and reforms needed to develop the Lebanese economy during Paris Conference.

Bassil: FPM represents all families in all Lebanese regions
Sun 18 Mar 2018/NNA - Free Patriotic Movement Chief, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, stressed Sunday that his Movement works to bridge and not divide between people, adding that it represents all families in all Lebanese regions. Bassil's words came as he toured the areas of Kfardebian, Hrajel and Ajaltoun in the district of Keserwan today, with crowds of citizens and supporters warmly welcoming him at each stopover. "We wish to continue with the power factors that we have, and the component of our strength today is the Presidency, for you have seen the difference in having a strong president," said Bassil. "We are in the stage of power and we want to increase the force to achieve projects that we are prevented from achieving because we are a minority," he added. He urged the people of Keserwan to vote heavily in the upcoming elections in favor of FPM's candidates, so that they can pursue the march towards a better future for the country at all levels.

Sitin by Islamic detainees' families to demand general amnesty
Sun 18 Mar 2018/NNA - Families of the Islamic detainees staged a sit-in on Sunday in front of the Mohammed al-Amine Mosque in Central Beirut, demanding general amnesty for their sons, NNA correspondent reported.
Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on March 18-19/18
Gaza Factions Announce Marches for the Palestinian Right of Return
Asharq Al-Awsat/March 18/18/A national high committee, assembled by Palestinian factions in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, announced on Saturday that it was coordinating a number of events that would culminate in a major a protest march that would demand the right of return for Palestinians. The events and demonstrations aim to reject any attempts to eliminate the Palestinian cause. It also seeks to lift the siege on the Gaza Strip, which Israel imposed 11 years ago. Member of the Central Committee of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) Hussein Mansour said in a press conference held near the Karni crossing east of the Gaza Strip that there will be activities and mass movements. They are aimed at confronting the occupation forces and breaking away from the security situation Israel is trying to impose on the Palestinian people. He pointed out that the major rally will coincide with a broad regional and international political move, with the participation of individuals, institutions and Palestinian, Arab and international bodies supporting the cause. He added that preparations are underway for millions of Palestinians to participate from Gaza, the West Bank and diaspora. “We are facing a new stage in which our people decided to regain the initiative, armed with their rights and principles… to break the state of national stalemate and confront all circumstances and challenges," the PFLP leader said. He stressed that “the main message of the march is the struggle to achieve the return of refugees according to the UN resolution 194.” The resolution defined principles for reaching a final settlement and returning Palestinian refugees to their homes. It resolved that “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so…and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.” Mansour said that the march also aims at “achieving tactical objectives on confronting the American decision concerning Jerusalem, ending the siege on the Gaza Strip and addressing the targeting of refugees by stopping UNRWA support.” He called on the Palestinian masses to join in mobilizing mass movements and national events, sending a strong message that the people are united and steadfast where it concerns their rights. He called on the diaspora to also stage mass support campaigns. He also called on the official and non-official international institutions and the UN to shoulder their responsibilities by enforcing resolutions against Israel and end of the suffering of the Palestinian people.

Syria Kurds Vow to 'Liberate' Afrin after Capture by Turkish Army
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 18/18/Syria's Kurds vowed to fight to retake the Kurdish enclave of Afrin after Turkey-led fighters on Sunday seized control of its main city two months into a offensive. "Resistance... will continue until every inch of Afrin is liberated and the people of Afrin return to their villages and homes," authorities in the semi-autonomous canton of Afrin said in a statement. Turkish forces and allied Syrian rebels on January 20 launched an operation against the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia in the enclave. As of Sunday afternoon, the whole of the Afrin enclave was in the hands of Turkey-led forces, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor that relies on sources on the ground for its information. "In all of Afrin's sectors, our forces will become a permanent nightmare" for pro-Ankara forces, the statement said. "Our war against the Turkish occupation... has entered a new phase: a switch from direct confrontation to hit-and-run attacks," it said. Turkey considers the YPG to be "terrorists", but the Kurdish militia has also been a key U.S. ally in the fight against the Islamic State jihadist group in Syria.

Syrian President Assad visits army positions in Eastern Ghouta — state media
Arab News/March 18/2018/BEIRUT: Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad on Sunday visited army positions in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta, the president’s Telegram account said.
“In the line of fire in Eastern Ghouta ... President Assad with heroes of the Syrian Arab army,” a caption said.
It is the Syrian leader's first trip to the former rebel enclave outside Damascus in years.
Syria state television broadcast photos of the president dressed in a shirt and jacket surrounded by soldiers, some perched on a tank behind him, in an unspecified part of Eastern Ghouta. The photographs were taken in a street lined with damaged building fronts with a couple of parked tanks. Rebels have held out in Eastern Ghouta since 2012, but a regime assault in the last month has retaken more than 80 percent of the former opposition bastion, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor says.

Israeli stabbed and wounded in Jerusalem's Old City, attacker shot: Media
Arab News/March 18/2018/JERUSALEM: An Israeli was stabbed and later died of his wounds in Jerusalem's Old City on Sunday and an Israeli television station said the suspected attacker was shot dead. The report on Channel 10 television said Turkish identity papers were found on the body of the alleged assailant. Israel's Magen David Adom ambulance service said one person was stabbed in the upper body and was in critical condition. An Israeli police spokesman confirmed the attack, near the Western Wall, and said the assailant was "neutralised" but gave no further details. Tensions have risen in Jerusalem since U.S. President Donald Trump recognised the city as Israel's capital on Dec. 6. The latest incident followed an attack on Friday in the occupied West Bank in which the Israeli military said a Palestinian motorist rammed and killed two Israeli soldiers guarding a road near a Jewish settlement.

Iran provides Houthis with European expert to prevent loss
Arab News/March 18/2018/DUBAI: The Yemeni military intelligence agency revealed on Sunday that an Iranian expert of European nationality was sent to the Houthi militia to help draw up military plans aimed at protecting its fronts, especially in Saada province, from collapse, Saudi state-news channel Al-Ekhbariya reported. “The Iranian expert presented a plan that includes the restructuring of the militia on the ground and the rearrangement of their positions,” an intelligence source told the national army’s official news site September 26. This comes at a time when militia losses have increased as the Yemeni army continues to make daily advances.

Israel Destroys Hamas Tunnel in Gaza
Asharq Al-Awsat/March 18/18/The Israeli military announced on Sunday that it destroyed a tunnel dug by the Palestinian Hamas group in Gaza that was aimed at carrying out cross-border attacks. “On the basis of quality intelligence and groundbreaking technology, Israel is destroying Hamas tunnels one-by-one,” Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in a statement. The tunnel had been cut off during the 2014 Gaza war and Hamas had tried to put it back into operation, a military spokesman said. It had been dug inside the Hamas-controlled enclave several hundred meters away from Israel’s border fence. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum called the Israeli action a further escalation that would not achieve its goals. The Israeli forces did not cross the border to render the tunnel inoperable but used a new technique, Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus told reporters. “We did not use explosives. It (the tunnel) was filled with a certain material, with a certain compound,” Conricus said. He said Israel has been following Hamas' progress for some time and that the targeted tunnels will now be impossible to rebuild. Conricus called it a "futile effort" by group and a waste of resources that could be used to aid Gaza residents. "Hamas has invested billions in its tunnel project and now it is sinking in the sand," Lieberman added. "I suggest Hamas invest its money in the welfare of the people of Gaza because by the end of the year its entire tunnel project will be destroyed." Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but still maintains tight control of its land and sea borders. Israel has placed a high priority on halting the tunnel threat since Hamas infiltrated Israel during the 2014 war. Although they did not manage to reach civilian areas, the infiltrations caught Israel off guard, with one attack killing five soldiers, and terrified the local population. Since then, Israel has been working on advanced counter-measures including a sensor-equipped underground wall along the 60-km (36-mile) Gaza border, a $1.1 billion project it aims to complete by mid-2019. This marks the fourth such tunnel Israel has destroyed over the past four months. Israel last went public with an operation against a Gaza tunnel in the area in January, saying that the secret passage had also run through neighboring Egypt.

3 Killed in Fire at Philippine Hotel
Asharq Al-Awsat/March 18/18/Three people were killed on Sunday in a fire that broke out in a hotel in the Philippine capital, Manila. Nearly two dozen people were injured in the blaze at the Manila Pavilion Hotel, said police and rescue officials. The death toll had been reduced from four to three, said Johnny Yu, chief of the Manila Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office. "The smoke is very heavy and, second, there's the wind that we're trying to overcome," Yu said. "Our firefighters are having a lot of difficulty." Two employees of a casino at the hotel were missing and rescue operations were ongoing, Manila Police District spokesman Erwin Margarejo told Reuters. Police said it remains unclear if the fire at the hotel, which was still raging after seven hours, started in the casino in the lower floors or in an area of the hotel that was under renovation. TV footage showed dark gray smoke billowing from the first and second floors of the hotel as rescuers brought people out of the building. Police and firefighters blocked off the areas around the hotel, which lies in the heart of Manila's tourist district, to allow dozens of firetrucks to approach and help fight the blaze.

Russia’s Putin projected to win fourth term with 73.9 percent of vote
AFP, Moscow/Sunday, 18 March 2018/Vladimir Putin is projected to win the Russian presidential election with 73.9 percent of the vote, securing a fourth Kremlin term, according to an exit poll by state-owned pollster VTsIOM.The exit poll from 1,200 polling stations around Russia gave second place to Communist candidate Pavel Grudinin with 11.2 percent. VTsIOM said in a statement that over 37 percent of those polled refused to say who they voted for.

Trump Prepares for Visit by Saudi Prince who Has Rocked the Kingdom
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 18/18/Donald Trump will host Saudi Arabia's crown prince in Washington Tuesday, giving the president a receptive audience to denounce rival Iran and a chance to take stock of significant changes the prince is engineering in the kingdom. Ten months after the last face-to-face meeting between Trump and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in Riyadh, the 71-year-old president and the 32-year-old strongman prince are expected to deepen an already warm and congenial relationship. But they are also expected to take up major developments for Saudi Arabia, both internally and externally: the end of a ban on Saudi women driving, the unprecedented detention of dozens of people that was billed as a high-level anti-corruption purge, Saudi involvement in the war in Yemen, and the crisis with the Gulf state of Qatar. "It's jaw-dropping how many policy changes the Saudis have pursued at home and in the region since that last meeting," said Lori Plotkin Boghardt, a former CIA analyst now with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "Many of these changes have touched U.S. security interests."
One example is the summit that the administration had hoped to host this year with the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which could be difficult to arrange given the continuing crisis with Qatar. In June, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) began an air and sea boycott against Qatar, which they accuse of financing terrorism and being overly friendly with Iran. Prince Mohammed, known by his initials MBS, was named crown prince that month by his father, King Salman. Early on, the prince announced an ambitious "Vision 2030" initiative to build an economy less dependent on oil, while luring more foreign investment. Toward that end, Riyadh wants to greatly accelerate the pace of its civilian nuclear energy program. The goal: to build 16 reactors over the next 20 years, at a cost of some 80 billion euros ($98 billion), according to officials and analysts. As the Saudis pursue the technology needed to undertake the ambitious project, they are expected to play potential rivals against one another, reminding their American counterparts that China, Russia and France are also capable of filling their needs. "It would be virtually impossible for the Saudi government to accept terms that are less than what Obama gave the Iranians -- the possibility of future enrichment,” a source close to the Saudi government told AFP, referring to the nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers that was completed when Barack Obama was still president.
Bloody war in Yemen The United States and Saudi Arabia are historic allies. Ever since Franklin Delano Roosevelt met with King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud on a US naval ship in the Suez Canal in 1945, every American president has carefully nurtured relations with the Saudi royal family. But the unstinting support Trump offered when he chose Riyadh as the destination of his first overseas trip as president brought the relationship to a new level.
While Barack Obama said in 2015 that it was important "not to perpetuate any long-term confrontation with Iran, or to even marginalize Iran," Trump, who has repeatedly threatened to withdraw from the nuclear deal reached that year with Tehran, has chosen a very different path. "Everywhere we go in the Middle East it's Iran, Iran, Iran," he said a few days ago. "Every problem is Iran." Even before setting foot on American soil, Prince Mohammed struck a scathing tone toward Iran in an interview with CBS, comparing the territorial ambitions of that country's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to those of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany. And he warned that if Iran were to develop a nuclear bomb, Saudi Arabia would do the same "as soon as possible." But critics are cautioning the White House not to blindly embrace every stance taken by the Saudi prince, particularly as concerns its role in the bloody civil war in Yemen. Fighting between the Huthi movement, supported by Iran, and Yemeni government forces, backed by the Saudis and the UAE, has claimed nearly 10,000 lives and left the country on the verge of a disastrous famine. In an opinion column early this month in the New York Times, Thomas Friedman, writing in the form of an open letter to Trump, urged the president not to give in to Prince Mohammed's "bad impulses" as he seeks to modernize Saudi Arabia's "economy and religious/social structure."
He then adds: "If you think you can just applaud his anti-Iran stance and religious reforms and all will work out fine, you're wrong."

Republican senator expects Trump to pull out of Iran deal
Reuters, Washington/Sunday, 18 March 2018/Republican US Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Sunday he expected President Donald Trump to pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement in May. “The Iran deal will be another issue that’s coming up in May, and right now it doesn’t feel like it’s gonna be extended,” Corker said on the CBS “Face the Nation” program. Asked if he believed Trump would pull out on May 12, the deadline for the president to issue a new waiver to suspend Iran sanctions as part of the deal, Corker responded, “I do. I do.”

Russian diplomat hints UK lab could be nerve agent source
The Associated Press, London/Sunday, 18 March 2018/Russia’s ambassador to the European Union has suggested a nerve agent that poisoned a former spy in England could have come from a British lab. Vladimir Chizhov says Russia has no chemical weapons stockpiles and was not behind the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. In comments broadcast Sunday, Chizhov told the BBC that the UK chemical weapons research facility, Porton Down, is only eight miles (12 kilometers) from Salisbury, where the Skripals were found earlier this month. Asked whether he was saying Porton Down was responsible, he replied: “I don’t know.” The British government says Chizhov’s suggestion is “nonsense.” Meanwhile, Russia’s ambassador in London, Alexander Yakovenko, called for “cooler heads.” He told the Mail on Sunday that the dispute is “escalating dangerously and out of proportion.”

Five Indians killed in cross-border shelling by Pakistani troops
Reuters, Srinagar/Muzzafarabad Sunday, 18 March 2018/Five members of an Indian family were killed and two injured by shelling from Pakistani troops on Sunday along the Line of Control, the de facto border between India and Pakistan, according to army and police officials. Both sides were engaging in heavy shelling despite a 15-year-old ceasefire between the nuclear-armed rivals in the area, the officials said. Nine people were also wounded across the border in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir due to the shelling from India that began late Saturday night, Pakistani officials said on Sunday. Tension has been running high since an attack on an Indian army camp in India-controlled Kashmir last month in which six soldiers were killed. India blamed Pakistan for the attack and said it would make its rival pay for the ‘misadventure”.
The South Asian neighbors have fought two of their three wars since independence in 1947 over Muslim-majority Kashmir, which they both claim in full but rule in part. Civilian areas targeted Indian Defence spokesman Lt Col Devender Anand said on Sunday that Pakistani troops started the shelling around 7:45 in the morning. ‘They are specifically targeting civilian areas,” Anand said. ‘Army troops retaliated strongly and effectively to silence Pakistani guns.”Director General of Indian Police in Kashmir, S P Vaid said the five people were killed in the village of Devta Dhar when a shell hit the house of Choudhary Mohammad Ramzan. Ramzan, 45, his wife Malka Bi, 45, and three sons - Muhammad Rehman, 19, Muhammad Rizwan, 18, and Muhammad Razaq, 8 all died, Vaid said. Two of Ramzan’s daughters - Nooren Akhtar, 14, and Marin Akhtar, 7, were critically injured in the incident and were airlifted to a hospital in Jammu, Vaid said.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 18-19/18
Seven Ways Iran Spends its Money in the Syrian War
Amir Taheri/Asharq Al Awsat/March 18/18
“Get out of Syria! Think about our plight!” This was one of the slogans canted during last December’s nationwide protests in more than 100 Iranian cities.
Seven years ago when Iran started getting involved in the Syrian conflict the narrative promoted by the authorities was that Iran was going there to protect “the Shi’ite holy shrines” against attacks by “Sunni extremists”, a defensive strategy, and would not become involved in the broader struggle for power between regime leader Bashar al-Assad and his opponents. Falling victim to mission creep, however, Iran was quickly re-cast as the chief guarantor of the survival of the regime, an objective labeled as “vital” for Iran’s own security.
Russia’s involvement two years after the Syrian conflict had started, and President Vladimir Putin’s quick emergence as the key setter of agenda in Syria, punctured the myth of Iran as the key player in Syria. That, in turn, has inspired complaints, at first sotto voce, but more recently openly, about the reasons for what Islamic Majlis member Mahmoud Sadeqi in Tehran has dubbed “our Syrian adventure.”
President Hassan Rouhani has tried to re-tell the Syrian story by claiming that Iran was showing a high degree of altruism by helping “our Syrian brothers in need.”
“Even in harsh circumstances we cut our own needs in order to help our Syrian brothers,” he said last month.
With the high number of human losses sustained by Iran and “allies” including Lebanese, Pakistani and Afghan mercenaries admitted officially, the question that people now ask is focused on the financial cost of “our Syrian adventure.”
Iran’s financial commitments in Syria could be divided into seven categories.
The first consists of the value of arms and other military materiel supplied by Iran to forces supporting Assad. These include Iranian-made surface-to-surface missiles modeled on the Chinese Silkworms originally developed for use at sea. Another major item consists of armored cars of which Iran is reported to have delivered over 400 to replace losses sustained by Assad’s elite 4th Armored Division. According to estimates by researchers in Iran, Iran has also supplied Assad with over 500 pieces of Russian-made heavy artillery for use against urban centers.
Because of many of the arms supplied to Syria come from Iran’s own stocks, often dating back to years, it is hard to put a price on them. It is even possible that Iran has tried to recycle its old arms as part of a broader plan to renew its arsenal of weapons.
However, some analysts, including Reza Saberi, claim that arms supplied by Iran could be valued at around $1.2 billion.
The second item on Iran’s expenses’ list in Syria consists of delivery of oil and petroleum products to Assad forces. This is done in the context of a credit line that Iran has opened for Syria. The most credible figure cited by the Iranian media puts the size of that “line” at between $2-3 billion a year. The total “credit line” allows for up to $6 billion a year and includes food and medical supplies which Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif has put at around $2.5 billion a year.
The third item in Iran’s “Syria expenses” list consists of what the central Bank of Iran calls “transfer funds”. This means Iran exporting a certain quantity of its own oil on behalf of Syria with the understanding that Syria will repay in due course in an interest-free arrangement.
According to Jesse Shahin, spokesman for the office of Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations’ Special emissary on Syria, the “transfer funds” amounts to Iran giving the Assad regime an average of $6 billion a year, sums largely spent on paying civil servants and the forces still more or less loyal to the regime.
The fourth item in Iran’s expenses consists of “emergency funds” made in 2012 and 2103. According to Nadim Shehadah, professor at the Tufts University in the US, cited by BBC researcher Ali Qadimi, that amounted to $14-15 billion.
Tehran sources say the “emergency funds” were disbursed with the help of Austrian and Italian private banks over 30 months in tranches of $300 to $1.2 billion.
The fifth item of Iranian expense consist of funds needed to maintain several paramilitary forces made up of “volunteers for martyrdom” from Afghanistan, Pakistan and, in much smaller numbers, Iraq. The umbrella organ for these forces is the so-called Fatemiyoun Division, formerly a brigade, which was built up to 12,000 men in 2016.
At the time, General Qasem Soleimani, Commander of the Quds Corps, the organ that is supposed to coordinate Iranian operations in Syria, claimed that “volunteers for martyrdom” received no more than $100 a month in cash.
However, several Majlis members, speaking on condition of anonymity, claim that the payment is closer to $1,000 a month as Quds Corps also pays “subsistence pay” to families of the “volunteers for martyrdom.” All in all, the Fatemiyoun Division and ancillaries cost Iran around $1 billion a year. That does not include the $800 million paid annually to the Lebanese branch of “Hezbollah” led by Hassan Nasrallah.
A sixth source of income to finance the war on Assad’s side is provided by what Tehran terms bilateral trade. Much of this, of course, is more in the nature of transit trade with Iranian companies selling Syria’s oil and gas and phosphate to third countries. According to General Yahya Rahim Safavi, a military adviser to “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei, in addition to that trade Iran has won a major mobile phone contract in Syria with the prospect of creating a major new source of income to finance the war.
A major source of income for Assad consisted of money spent by over 1.2 million Iranian pilgrims, who visited Syria each year prior to 2011. However, the flow of pilgrims has almost completely dried up with Iranians preferring to visit “holy shrines” in Iraq. Meanwhile, some of the infrastructure, including over 100 hotels, built with Iranian money have either been badly damaged or left abandoned in previously peaceful areas turned into battlefields.
According to some studies, Iran’s losses on that score could be put at over $2 billion as much of the infrastructure may no longer be recoverable.
A seventh source item of cost for the Syrian war is represented by what Iran spends on keeping around 13,000 of its own troops, often presented as advisers or technicians, in Syria. No official figures are available. But if Iranian troops in Syria receive the same treatment as comparable military ranks inside Iran itself the annual cost could be around $3 billion in salaries and upkeep, not taking into account the cost of weapons and materiel used. The most conservative estimate would see Iran spending an average of $12.7 billion a year in Syria of which less than $2 billion may be recovered in trade deals using Syrian energy and raw material.
According to Tehran sources, part of the funds needed is raised through a special one per cent tariff imposed on all car imports in Iran with the proceeds credited to a special “Resistance Account” controlled by the office of the “Supreme Guide”.
Another source of funds is provided by “voluntary donations” supposedly for the defense or rebuilding of “shrines ”. Under that scheme 26 of Iran’s 31 provinces are assigned quotas to fulfill by raising funds from local businesses and through donations collected at mosques and bazaars. Provinces with a Sunnis majority are excluded from the scheme. As these “donations” are collected by local Friday prayer leaders, it is hard to know what percentage is actually transferred to the central fund and how much is kept by the involved clerics themselves.
Tehran University Professor Sadeq Ziba-Kalam recently invited the leadership in Tehran to review involvement in Syria. He was rewarded with a prison sentence of 18 months.
Nevertheless, many Iranians are beginning to realize that Syria is a costly war, both in terms of human losses and financial burden. And that, some analysts, believe is already encouraging a re-think of what some Iranians regard as a losing strategy.

Nigeria's Christians Today, Europe's Christians Tomorrow

Giulio Meotti/Gatestone Institute/March 18/18
It is in Nigeria that the balance between Islam and Christianity in Africa will be decided, according to Philip Jenkins, a leading expert of Christianity. That is why the Islamists have been killing the Christians en masse.
"If the Islamists should overrun Nigeria, it will be a steppingstone [sic] to conquering smaller countries. If Nigeria falls to Islamic extremists, all of Africa will be at risk". — Catholic Bishop Hyacinth Egbebo, Nigeria.
Wole Soyinka's "horde" will not be confined to the Nigerian borders, but will try to strike Western Europe as well. We are lucky to have survived as many attacks as we have in Madrid, London, Paris and Berlin, to recall just a few. But how many more? And for how long?
Usually, Africa only breaks through to the West when Western targets are attacked by terrorists. First, two US Black Hawk helicopters were shot down in Somalia in 1993. Then Al Qaeda attacked US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Then, only a few days ago, Islamic State published a video purporting to show an ambush in Niger in which four US soldiers were killed last October. The West was silent. The West does not seem to care about the ongoing Islamic terrorist genocide on Africa's biggest Christian population in Nigeria.
A few days ago, the Coliseum in Rome was lit up red to protest the persecution of Christians. Italy's most famous landmark was illuminated at the behest of "Aid to the Church in Need" to draw attention to the intense and enormous massacres Christians are suffering.
Writing for The Spectator, Douglas Murray rightly asked: "Who will protect Nigeria's northern Christians?". In the last attack, 15 Christian villages were ethnically and religious "cleansed". First, extremist Muslims ransacked Christian towns and cleared them of Christian religious symbols, and then murdered 19 Christians . In just one month, more than 80 Christians have been murdered, often hacked to death with machetes.
Not a day passes in Nigeria without Christians being torn to pieces, in schools, churches and homes. It is a project of ethnic cleansing on a level with the terrible news coming out of Syria.
The "African Taliban" seem dedicated to exterminating Christians and imposing Islamic law (sharia) throughout the country. In the diabolical logic of political Islam, Christians are considered "unworthy of living."
Nigeria, among all the post-colonial African states, was once regarded as the "model country", where black magistrates administered justice in the same white wig as their British colleagues. Today, this country lives under a bloody apartheid of faiths, while suffering a war declared by a "horde" that aims to "Islamize the nation", as Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian Nobel laureate for literature, said of the terrorists.
Bishop Joseph Bagobiri, of the Diocese of Kafanchan, gave an accounting of Islamist attacks in only his area: "53 villages burned down, 808 people murdered and 57 wounded, 1,422 houses and 16 churches destroyed". 1.3 million Christians also fled to safer regions in the country. This is indeed ethnic and religious "cleansing."
According to Philip Jenkins, a leading expert on Christianity, it is in Nigeria that the balance between Islam and Christianity in Africa will be decided. The "religious fate of Nigeria could be a political factor of immense importance in the new century", Jenkins wrote.
That is why the Islamists have been killing the Christians en masse. Nigeria tops the blacklist of countries for the number of Christians murdered for their faith: more than half of the 7,000-plus murders across the globe in 2015 alone. Last February, U.S. President Donald Trump and his counterpart, Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria, were told that at 16,000 Christians have been murdered in Nigeria since June 2015. A report by International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law revealed:
"The estimated 16,000 deaths are specifically composed of 2,050 victims of direct State violence, 7,950 victims of police custody or captivity killings through racial profiling and unprofessional crime detection management, 2,050 victims of Boko Haram insurgency and 3,750 victims of terror Fulani Herdsmen killings".
Extremist Muslims not only butcher Christians; they also destroy their places of worship. At least 2,000 Christian churches have been razed to the ground by Boko Haram in their campaign to drive all Christians out of northern Nigeria.
In 1987, extremist Muslims had started chanting "Islam only!" while attacking churches and Christians shops. The goal of these massacres by Muslims seems to be to change the religious and demographic geography of the African continent by erasing the historic dividing line that cuts horizontally across central Africa at its widest part from the Islamic Senegal to Somalia. All that remains of the "Dar al Harb" ("the land of war") is supposed to become "Dar al Islam" ("the land of Islam"). Nigeria, the largest patchwork of faiths in the world, is at the center of this project. Extremist Muslims therefore are repeatedly attacking the Christian faithful, often during their religious services.
Nigerian Catholic bishop Hyacinth Egbebo warned, "If the Islamists should overrun Nigeria, it will be a steppingstone [sic] to conquering smaller countries. If Nigeria falls to Islamic extremists, all of Africa will be at risk".
The West truly needs to care about the daily carnage suffered by this poor, black, Christian and abandoned population. Wole Soyinka's "horde" will not be confined to the Nigerian borders, but will try to strike Western Europe as well. It already happened with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian terrorist sentenced to life in prison for having tried to bomb a US-bound flight on Christmas Day 2009. We are lucky to have survived as many attacks as we have in Madrid, London, Paris and Berlin, to recall just a few. But how many more? And for how long?
**Giulio Meotti, Cultural Editor for Il Foglio, is an Italian journalist and author.
© 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.

Erdogan's Unrequited Arab Love
Burak Bekdil/Gatestone Institute/March 18/18
Apparently for Turkey's extremist Muslims, this is a war between "us good Muslims" and "those infidels."
First, Turkey is running a military show in Arab Syria: targeting Muslim Kurds who it claims are terrorists. Erdogan has vowed that after Syria, the military campaign will target northern Iraq.
In the meantime, Erdogan's "Arab friends" are showing signs of hostility, one after the other.
The events in the last couple of weeks seem to confirm that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ambitions for a Turkey-led ummah (Muslim community) are not welcome in the Arab world. This emerging divide among Sunni Islamists -- Turkey, Saudi Arabia et al -- is important for the West.
In Turkey, a hysteria has set in. It appears a national competition of patriotism has captured the Turkish imagination. Screams of martyrdom and jihad can be heard echoing across the country. Even children are not spared from the ugly "death talk."
There is a story behind this jihadist euphoria. In 2016, Turkey's Religious Affairs General Directorate (Diyanet), the ultimate religious authority in the country, issued comic books to the nation's children telling them how glorious it is to become an Islamic martyr. One cartoon was a dialogue between a father and his son. "How marvelous it is to become a martyr," the father says. Unconvinced, the son asks: "Would anyone want to become a martyr?" "Yes" the father replies, "one would. Who doesn't want to win heaven?"
In 2016, Turkey's Religious Affairs General Directorate (Diyanet), the ultimate official religious authority in the country, issued comic books to the nation's children telling them how marvelous it is to become an Islamic martyr.
Students, including kindergarteners, have been asked to conduct military marches and recite ultranationalist poems at schools . Some state schools have replaced their recess bells with Ottoman military marches.
In a recent political show, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, at a party congress, spotted a weeping six-year-old girl in a military uniform. He brought her onto the stage to tell her that if she died as a martyr, her coffin would be covered with the Turkish flag she held in her pocket. "You are ready for anything, aren't you?" Erdogan asked. The terrified child, through her sobs, hardly managed to utter "yes."
Erdogan's Islamist militarism, in a nation that lost an empire a century ago, still finds millions of followers. At another party congress on March 11, thousands of fans in blue commando berets greeted Erdogan. The president lamented the loss of the Ottoman Empire: "Our (Turkey's) land is 780,000 square kilometres. We came down to this from 18 million square kilometres". "Take us to Afrin," the crowd said to Erdogan, referring to the Kurdish enclave in northern Syria, now the target of a vicious Turkish military campaign.
Parliament Speaker İsmail Kahraman, one of Erdogan's oldest political allies, had declared a jihad against the Syrian Kurds. "Look, we are now in Afrin. We are a big country. Without jihad, there can be no progress," Kahraman said on Jan. 29, nine days after the Turkish military started its "Operation Olive Branch". Apparently for Turkey's extremist Muslims, this is a war between "us good Muslims" and "those infidels."
All the same, the Middle East is more complicated than Erdogan thinks it is. Erdogan's powerful Islamist ideology has prompted him to reverse the prevailing anti-Arab stereotypes in the Turkish society. While the Arabs are proud of their revolt against the Ottoman Empire in alliance with Western powers at the beginning of the 20th century, Erdogan claimed that "Arabs stabbed us in the back was a lie". The reality is much different than what Erdogan wishes to believe.
First, Turkey is running a military show in Arab Syria: targeting Muslim Kurds who it claims are terrorists. Erdogan has vowed that after Syria, the military campaign will target northern Iraq.
In the meantime, Erdogan's "Arab friends" are showing signs of hostility, one after the other. Amid growing tensions between Turkey and Egypt, Egyptian authorities are revising street names in Cairo in view of calls to change historical Ottoman-era street names. The move came after an Egyptian academic branded the Ottoman rulers "colonizers" and a street named after Ottoman Sultan Selim I was changed. Cairo's deputy governor, Mohamed Ayman, said: "It is totally illogical that our streets be called after Ottoman figures when our country has people who deserve this honor much more". In recent weeks, public and social media initiatives in Egypt began calling on consumers to stop buying Turkish products.
At the beginning of March, the Dubai-based, Saudi-owned MBC, the largest private media network in the Middle East, decided to ban popular Arabic-dubbed Turkish television series' from all channels.
The Arab blow to Turkish drama had an explanation. Saudi Arabia's crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, created a new "axis of evil" identifying his country's top three enemies: Iran, Turkey and Islamic militant groups including Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, both of which Erdogan embraces. Salman is now the Kingdom's top diplomat, defense minister and heir to the crown.
All that echoed in the Gulf, as well. A senior United Arab Emirates (UAE) official said that Turkey's policy toward neighboring Arab states was not reasonable and advised Ankara to respect their sovereignty. UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash tweeted:
"It is no secret that Arab-Turkish relations aren't in their best state. In order to return to balance, Ankara has to respect Arab sovereignty and deal with its neighbors with wisdom and rationality".
There is more than enough evidence that Erdogan should take into consideration if he intends to enjoy his fake love affairs with his Arab neighbors. But his ambitions to make Turkey leader of the ummah seem to have blinded him. Unfortunately, there is little evidence he will adopt reason instead of regional bullying.
Comparing Erdogan to Zia ul-Haq, Pakistan's military dictator between 1978 and 1988, Husain Haqqani, the former Pakistani ambassador to Washington, said:
"Erdogan has taken the Pakistani formula of mixing hard-line nationalism with religiosity. Zia imposed Islamic laws by decree, amended the constitution, marginalized secular scholars and leaders, and created institutions for Islamization that have outlasted him. Erdoğan is trying to do the same in Turkey."
*Burak Bekdil, one of Turkey's leading journalists, was recently fired from Turkey's leading newspaper after 29 years, for writing what was taking place in Turkey for Gatestone. He is a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.
© 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.

The Boy From Petersburg Who Became The Man From Moscow
Amir Taheri/Gatestone Institute/March 18/18
Today Russians go to the polls to elect their president, and, if opinion polls are right, they will re-elect the incumbent Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.
When recruited by President Boris Yeltsin as an aide, Putin was regarded as a rising star reflecting the Russian mood of the 1990s which favored rapid westernization. Putin was a boy from Saint Petersburg, the city built by French and Italians for Peter the Great, the westernizing tsar.
In the first phase of his career as Prime Minister and then President, Putin reflected that mood with great gusto, forging close ties with Western leaders, notably President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair.
More importantly, through G-8 he coordinated policy with Western powers on a number of major international issues, including the fitting of China's rising economic power into the global system, Iran's nuclear ambitions and the global war on terror.
That phase in Putin's career ended in the first decade of the new century as he and his entourage felt that the Western powers did not give Russia the status it deserved.
More importantly, they feared that the "soft regime change" or "velvet revolution", successfully tried in Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine, may be used against them in Moscow. Anyone familiar with Russian thinking at this juncture would know that, bordering on paranoia, that fear inspires many of Putin's more controversial policies including his surprising decision to forge an alliance with the Islamic Republic of Iran.
In the second, still current, phase of his career President Putin has jettisoned his Petersburg sensitives to become a man of Moscow, the heart of Slavophilism which includes a deep suspicion of Western powers.
Conscious that the limits of the old Slavophile scenario, Putin tried to recast it in a new form dubbed "The Eurasian Initiative" option. Put simply, that "option" is aimed at creating a new bloc of Asian and European powers capable of developing an economic, cultural and military counterweight to what Putin sees as Western, especially American, hegemony.
So far, however, Putin's "Eurasia" has attracted only Belarus and Kyrgyzstan. Iran is also keen to join but has been kept at the door by Russia, albeit in a friendly way.
The advent of Barack Obama's presidency provided Putin with a golden opportunity to foster his "Eurasian" baby. Very quickly, Obama showed that one of his key policy aims was to restrain American power, which he had always regarded as a force for evil in many parts of the world.
That policy led to the creation of the Russian phase "fortochka Obama" or the Obama window of opportunity, in Persian translated as "panjereh Obama".
The idea didn't make headway in China because the Beijing leadership knew that the continuation of the Chinese economic miracle depended on good relations with the US and access to its market.
For Russia and Iran, traditional foes since the 18th century, the United States remained a common enemy.
In a speech in Sochi in 2014, Putin claimed that the United States regards "Russia, because of its military might, China because of its rising economic power and Iran because of its nuclear program as enemies."
Putin has tried to blame his government's mounting difficulties on "a dangerous drop in revenues" largely thanks to the fall in energy prices."
Since 2015, Russia's gross domestic product (GDP) has fallen by 9.8 percent, with a fall in industrial production of 8.2 per cent. With inflation hovering close to 13 per cent and unemployment edging above 12 percent, the Russian economy is in its worst shape for more than a decade.
The situation is no better in the Islamic Republic of Iran, where the dire state of the economy is illustrated by the continuous fall in the value of the national currency, the rial.
Putin tried to persuade China to transform the so-called Shanghai Group, set up to fight terrorism, into a military alliance that would also include Iran. When the Chinese wiggled out of the scheme, Putin focused his attention on "closer cooperation" with Tehran.
Russia and Iran share a number of grievances against the United States and its allies.
Both have been subjected to sanctions that have already hit their economies, compounding the effects of global recession. Both claim that the fall in oil prices represents a conspiracy by Washington and its oil-rich Arab allies to push Russia and Iran, both heavily dependent on export revenues, to the wall.
Analysts in Moscow believed that Russia and Iran could use the remainder of Barack Obama's presidency to create "irreversible realities" in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia. They believed that America's next president, who turned out to be Donald Trump against expectations, might not be as pliable as Obama.
Thus, Tehran and Moscow tried to use the "fortochka Obama" to achieve a number of goals.
First among these was to drag out talks on Tehran's nuclear program long enough for Iran to reach the so-called "breakthrough" stage, which some experts believe was reached in 2015.
The next goal was to prop up what's left of Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria, to ensure that no alternative government structure could emerge there. Even if Assad controls what is known as "useful Syria," that is to say 40 percent of territory with half the population, that would be enough.
The next goal was to reduce the effect of sanctions. Russia agreed to market $20 billion worth of crude oil on behalf of Iran, circumventing the US-led scheme to freeze a good part of Iranian oil revenues. More importantly, Russia also agreed to help speed up Iran's nuclear program. In 2014, an agreement to build two more reactors in Bushehr was signed in Moscow as part of an accord to double bilateral trade within the five years.
After a decade of delays, Russia also delivered S-400 missile systems to Iran.
Moscow and Tehran also launched joint plans to modernize facilities in the Syrian ports used by both Russian and Iranian navies.
However, a Russo-Iranian alliance remains inherently unstable. A history of deep enmity can't be dissipated overnight, especially when the two putative partners are rivals for domination in the Caspian Basin and Central Asia. More importantly, a 19th-century-style alliance may prove ineffective in the 21st century.
Heading for a new term, Putin is almost certain to realize that his "Eurasian" version of Slavophile sentiments is a pie in the sky. There are also signs that the mood in Russia is again changing, with the westernization option supported by new voices. The good news is that Putin is an opportunist, not an ideologue, and he is open to persuasion, engagement and give-and-take.
*Amir Taheri, formerly editor of Iran's premier newspaper, Kayhan, before the Iranian revolution of 1979, is a prominent author based on Europe. He is the Chairman of Gatestone Europe.
*This article first appeared in Asharq Al Awsat and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.
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Is the Syrian regime ‘winning’ the war?
Lina Khatib/Al Arabiya/March 18/18
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.
It is simplistic to interpret any military takeover of geographical spaces in Syria as an all-encompassing “victory” for any side.
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.
Promises to Russia and 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.

Poisoning case explains why Putin is so brazen
Dr. Azeem Ibrahim/Al Arabiya/March 18/18
Britain’s MI5 and MI6 have declared they are astonished by the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, his daughter Yulia, as well as first responders in Salisbury last week. The most remarkable aspect of the attempted execution of the former agent is the use of an exotic nerve agent which indicates beyond reasonable doubt that the attack was orchestrated by a state actor, and makes Russia the most obvious candidate. Indeed, by all accounts, the British government is preparing to point the finger unequivocally at Russia and Vladimir Putin. So why would Putin have done something quite so obvious? Why would Russian state television actively seek to give credence to the speculation that the Kremlin is behind the attack by warning “traitors” that they would not be safe in Britain? This is not the usual Putin M.O. Normally, the Kremlin would do hits that were highly visible, but also easily deniable. Not so in this case.
One side of the story might be that the West has consistently failed to respond adequately to Russian assertiveness in recent years, whether in Syria, or in Crimea, or in their ongoing cyber and intelligence efforts to undermine the social and political structures of the West. Seemingly the only response has been sanctions, and though they have done considerable damage to the Russian economy, they have done nothing to undermine Putin’s domestic political position. Quite the opposite.
So in effect, the West are rewarding Putin with increased domestic political support by helping him rally popular nationalist support in defiance to Western pressure for his increasingly ostentatious behavior. In effect, the West are rewarding Putin with increased domestic political support by helping him rally popular nationalist support in defiance to Western pressure for his increasingly ostentatious behavior Another side of the story . Another side of the story might be that Putin is not expecting that the UK could do much more in response, even if they wanted to. Sure, there will be a strongly worded letter from Theresa May and Britain’s allies in the West. But as far as Russia’s international standing goes, that’s hardly going to change anything. The West is already taking a pretty dim view of the Putin government as it is – with Trump the only notable exception.
And if Britain did want to take matters beyond condemnation, and perhaps a new round of sanctions, what could that actually look like? Can Britain realistically pose a military challenge to Russia? Hardly. Can they inflict further economic pain on the country? Perhaps, but that avenue is already near exhaustion. Anything else? Then Putin will likely be able to turn around and spin that as an act of British aggression – once again with a positive effect for Putin’s domestic position.
That said however, if Theresa May and her government were serious about retaliation, they do in fact have an avenue to respond. Putin may be the keystone of the Russian political system, but he is not floating on air. He needs the support and loyalty of the oligarchs to remain in power.
And most, if not all, of those oligarchs have huge investments and flourishing money laundering operations running, primarily, out of London. What is more, the British government has the legal authority to freeze assets and crack down on the loosely-regulated vehicles used for money laundering in the city.
The British government does, therefore, have the power to do serious damage to the Russian plutocracy, and can use that leverage to pit Putin’s power base against him. Putin is not stupid. He knows this. But he is betting that this will not happen. And he may have a point. If Downing Street goes for the “nuclear option”, that creates a dangerous precedent: suddenly, Chinese billionaires, Gulf billionaires, or African Presidents find that London can take an interest in their assets and can usurp them for political reasons.
Even if the city’s status as the world’s foremost financial centre for dubiously wealthy individuals and companies was not already threatened by the spectre of Brexit, this would definitely be a huge blow all by itself. So why not goad London a little bit more? After all, when have they ever put principle before the interests of the City before?

Putin re-elected: What is in it for the Gulf region?
Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady/Al Arabiya/March 18/18
As expected, President Putin has cruised to a fourth term in the March 18 elections.
Once again a leader with far reaching ambitions and penchance for strong man rule has joined China’s President Xi and Germany’s Angela Merkel to continue providing political certainty for these global economic and political powers, with President Trump looking on enviously as he wishes for a life time US style presidency to cement his own brand of vision. Vladimir Putin relied on a deep well of support based on two main factors: the huge rise in living standards over his 18 years in office and Russia’s triumphant return to the world stage tinged with a resurgent nationalism and a feeling that the world is ganging up on Russia. When he came to power, he warned “for the first time in the last 200–300 years, Russia is facing the real danger of winding up among the second or even third-tier of nations in the world.”His actions since then have been to reverse this decline by rebuilding Russia’s military power and using a new found partnership with OPEC, and particularly with Saudi Arabia, to re-energize global oil prices and creating a mutually beneficial energy nexus with the Gulf oil producers. As such it behoves the Gulf to try to manage the opportunities as well as the risks for closer Russian relations without upsetting other established geo political alliances. Russia is now very much in the top league, but how long will that last? Already, its economic progress has slowed relative to other nations, and the prospects of more tit-for-tat retaliations and sanctions by Western powers enraged at what they see Russian attempts, real or otherwise, to carry out assassination and destabilization actions in other countries might bring about a new Cold War. For Gulf oil producers, the pact with Russia to curb production to prop up oil prices has established a mutually beneficial economic relationship
Interlocking threats
As he prepares for his next six-year term — which could be his last, given constitutional restrictions and his age of 65, unlike China’s President for Life Xi — Putin faces interlocking threats to his economic promises and his geopolitical ambitions. Analysts agree that in the short term he will continue to make gains but long term costs, if unresolved, could mount and can Russia afford this new stand-off with the West? The energy equation seems to be one of the few bright spots for Mr Putin as oil prices surged in the years after Putin came to office in 2000, powering an economic boom that transformed Russia. But the oil resource curse and dependency on this natural resource, although to a much lower degree than the Gulf countries, has also resulted in erratic economic growth. Russia was hit in 2014 by the one-two punch of falling oil prices and Western sanctions imposed over its annexation of the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine. Adding to the pain of cheaper oil, the Russian rouble fell sharply, but the economic weakness has helped the central bank bring inflation to record lows and Russia recently saw its credit rating upgraded out of the junk category, thanks to Putin’s tight budget policies.
Putin’s economic woes may not hamper his global reach in trying to re-establish Russia’s old glories and he has been a master tactician, knowing when to play his cards.
Geopolitical surprises
He’s shown he can pull off major geopolitical surprises such as the alleged meddling in the 2016 US presidential election or the 2015 military operation in Syria, both done without great expense but at the same time ensuring that Russia has new found allies in doing so like Turkey in Syria and with the EU signatories to the Iranian nuclear deal. Putin now faces a Western world on guard for his next moves led by the UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May who seems to have been politically energised by taking a tough anti-Russian line following the attempted assassination of former Russian double agents or the bizarre deaths of Russian business exiles. For the Gulf oil producers, the pact with Russia to curb production to prop up oil prices has established a mutually beneficial economic relationship when both sides needed it as falling oil prices to under $ 30 per barrel in 205 put fiscal strain on oil economies, with large depleting rates of their foreign exchange reserves and introduced austerity measures. Diversification of resource based economies became more problematic, but the 2016 OPEC and non-OPEC agreement gave these economies a boost . There is now a new sense of optimism that the additional oil revenues can be channelled to domestic job generating ventures as well as higher yielding international investments. The additional revenues also allow the Gulf countries to play a more assertive foreign policy role to protect their national interests abroad.
The current OPEC plus agreement is due to expire at the end of 2018 and there is now much speculation on whether Russia, following Putin’s re-election, will be tempted to continue with the pact in 2019 or agree to a new form of mechanism to avoid oil prices collapsing.
This implies that Gulf-Russian cooperation, at least in the vital energy sector, will still continue in one form or another. Maybe there are more surprises in store if and when President Putin takes up on the invitation to make an official visit to Saudi Arabia given the new personal bond established between him and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman which made the current OPEC plus pact possible over objections from the Russian part privatized national oil companies.

Is Turkey preparing to replace US military base in Qatar?
Shehab Al-Makahleh/Al Arabiya/March 18/18
Few days ago, Qatar signed an agreement with Turkey to establish a naval base which will include a training center for maritime patrols and monitoring. In addition, 60,000 Turkish soldiers will be deployed across four military bases abroad in accordance with a new 2022 military plan set by the Turkish ministry of defense. Two of these bases are in Qatar. What is the purpose of these bases and why Turkey is interested in Qatar at this time?
Moving the base
Though there are some unequivocal political and security extents to Turkish foreign policy in the Gulf region, the overall motivation is economic after Qatar had shown a major challenge against the US. Once Washington started to abandon Doha after the June 2017 political rift, some figured out that the Americans would move their al-Udaid Base in Doha to another country. This has been the opportunity for Turkey to restore its military presence in the region at the expense of others. The real justification is to protect Qatar from any external threats and to secure economic and investment interests for Turkish companies.
Whether Turkey would survive any political turmoil or near its borders, this is mostly likely based upon a number of factors. The first is if the Kurds in Syria resist the Turkish troops and cooperate with the Syrian army, the Turkish dream to have a foothold in Syria will fail.
The second is the military bases in Qatar, which were announced by both Ankara and Doha. The significance of the bases depends on the developments in the region. When Qatar announced that it has intentions to host World Cup 2022, Turkey announced its military and security presence in Qatar accordingly since 2015.
The reinforcement of Turkish army in Doha is viewed as a means to fill the vacuum of the American army when Washington takes the decision to leave the base .In the meantime, American military experts do believe that the US could have already begun to abandon Qatar, close the Air Force base, and started thinking of moving other countries in the Middle East region. Some believe that these countries would be Jordan, Oman or the UAE. The reinforcement of Turkish army in Doha is viewed as a means to fill the vacuum of the American army when Washington takes the decision to leave the base. That is why the American Army built a military base in Nejev desert last year.
As Turkey has helped the US to expand and strengthen the al-Udaid base, this would facilitate the Turkish mission to replace the Americans when they leave. Since Qatari officials are increasingly cognizant that the US cannot pardon Qatar’s actions, Turkey has started paving the way for its forces to take the lead in Qatar. Back in 2003, Qatar welcomed the headquarters to al-Udaid Airbase after the US Central Command vacated Prince Sultan Airbase in Saudi Arabia. Since al-Udaid is deemed the largest American overseas airbase, this justifies the big number of Turkish troops to be deployed in Qatar to replace the Americans as the base has two active runways.
Turkey seeks economic benefits
In November 2017, during his visit to Qatar, Turkish President Recep Teyyip Erdogan reiterated his country’s support for Doha militarily, politically and economically including the participation of the Turkish private sector in the implementation of the 2022 World Cup projects in Qatar.
Thus, the main reason behind Turkish military expansion in the region, chiefly the deployment of its troops in Qatar, is to undertake future projects as there are 30 Turkish companies carrying out projects in Doha in the construction sector. Because both Ankara and Doha have been mutually isolated, they are speeding up their bilateral relations, mainly in economic fields. Turkish companies have won $8.5 billion tenders to construct infrastructural projects for World Cup 2022. Therefore, for the World Cup’s preparations that are under way, Ankara seeks more economic and investment opportunities in Qatar. Its military presence is the only a means that can secure Ankara gains these bids. Qatar has earlier announced that Turkish commercial corporations will be given priority for businesses during the World Cup.
However, the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) has its Plan B if Qatar fails to meet the criteria set by the federation, granting the country the right to organize tournament for three countries that have already applied for hosting the 2026 World Cup, namely the United States, Mexico and Canada. The decision about Plan B is expected to be taken in the end of June or September, according to reports.
In conclusion, the Turkish military presence in Qatar is not for the sake of bolstering bilateral relations, it is partly for fighting "any potential enemies" and also for economic benefits for the Turkish economy which is facing many hardships due to state of isolation of Turkey from many countries.