March 20/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations
No one can serve two masters & you cannot serve both God and money
Luke 16/01-18:/Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions.  So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’“The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg—  I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ “‘Nine hundred gallons] of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’ “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’“‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’  “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.  I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.  So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?  And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?  “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus.  He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 19-20/18
St. Joseph's Day/Elias Bejjani/March 19/18
Saudi Crown Prince: We will eradicate Muslim Brotherhood elements in our schools/
Joyce Karam/The National/March 19/18
Saudi nuclear bomb justifications/Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya/March 19/18
The early disputes between al-Shirazi family and Iran - Part 2/Hassan Al Mustafa/Al Arabiya/March 19/18
Qatar, the worst is yet to come/Mohammed Al Shaikh/Al Arabiya/March 19/18
Kurdish Afrin Falls to Turkey...Turkish Government Official: "Europe Will be Muslim"/Uzay Bulut/Gatestone Institute/March 19/2018
France: Toward Total Submission to Islam, Destruction of Free Speech/Guy Millière/Gatestone Institute/March 19/2018
James Bond in Stalin’s Bed/Ghassan Charbel/Asharq Al Awsat/March 19/18

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on March 19-20/18
St. Joseph's Day
UNIFIL Force Marks Its 40th Anniversary
Aoun: No Victories, Defeats in Upcoming Elections
Interior Ministry over 70% prepared for elections: Machnouk
Lebanese cleric: Revoke Hezbollah leader's citizenship over Iran ties
Aoun-Mashnouq Talk Elections, Rome II Outcome
Berri: I Have No Enemies in Lebanon, Israel Is the Enemy
Arrest Warrant Issued against Ghabash for Framing Army Adjutant
Hamadeh: Parliamentary Elections Remain at Risk from Regional Developments
Hizbullah Official: Lebanese System Rotten, Can't be Radically Reformed
Jumblat Criticizes 'Privatization' Bids of Electricity Sector
Development Bank EBRD Upbeat on Lebanon, Seeks Continued Reform

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published 
on March 19-20/18
Abbas Calls U.S. Envoy 'Son of a Dog', Says Hamas Tried to Kill PM
Israel Accuses French Consulate Worker of Smuggling Guns from Gaza
Russian Poisoning Denials 'Increasingly Absurd', UK's Johnson Says
Syria Kurds Vow to 'Liberate' Afrin after Capture by Turkish Army
EU Criticizes Turkey's Offensive in Syrian Town of Afrin
Turkish forces will not remain in Syria’s Afrin
Paris Urges Tough EU Approach on Iran
Saudi Ambassador to US: Iran Wants to Form Another ‘Hezbollah’ in Yemen
Egypt, Sudan Stress Joint Work to Preserve Mutual National Security
Saudi Crown Prince leaves Riyadh on official visit to Washington
Thomas Friedman says Qataris are parading their power ‘like children’
Arab coalition to show new evidence of Iran arming Yemen’s Houthis
Egypt military says 36 militants, 4 soldiers killed in Sinai
Sisi: Egypt working with Sudan, Ethiopia regarding the Nile
Putin Wins Fourth Term with Record Vote
Trump Prepares for Visit by Saudi Prince Who Has Rocked the Kingdom
Israel Moves to Destroy Jerusalem Attacker's Home
Latest Lebanese Related News published on March 19-20/18
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.

UNIFIL Force Marks Its 40th Anniversary
Associated Press/Naharnet/March 19/18/The head of U.N. peacekeepers in Lebanon praised their contribution to peace efforts on Monday as the force marked 40 years since its establishment on the frontier with Israel. Maj. Gen. Michael Beary, commander of the force known as UNIFIL, said that the mission "works tirelessly to pre-empt a return to conflict, a return to turmoil and loss of life, a return to some of the dark days of the past" between Lebanon and Israel. His comments came amid new threats between Lebanon and Israel over several issues, including a wall Israel is building along the border that Beirut says may jut into Lebanese territories, as well as plans for oil and gas exploration in the Mediterranean. The oil and gas dispute dates back years, but recently resurfaced when Lebanon invited companies to bid for exploratory offshore drilling next year along the countries' maritime border. Israel says some of the drilling would be taking place in its territorial waters. The peacekeeping force was founded in 1978 after Israel invaded parts of southern Lebanon. Violence has broken out on several occasions since then, including major wars in 1982 and 2006. UNIFIL now has about 10,500 soldiers from 41 countries who are mostly deployed south of Lebanon's Litani river and along the border with Israel. The 2006 war was fought between Israel and Lebanon's Iran-backed Hizbullah group. Beary warned that conflict "can start in an instant, can take generations to find a permanent solution.""South Lebanon has enjoyed 11 years of calm since 2006, and the last two years in our areas of operations, in particular, have been among the quietest on record," Beary said. "UNIFIL works together with the parties to sustain this calm."

Aoun: No Victories, Defeats in Upcoming Elections

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 19/18/President Michel Aoun announced Monday that “there will be neither victories nor defeats” in the upcoming parliamentary elections, which will be held in May. “The new electoral law will regulate political life in the country and there will be neither victories nor defeats in the elections, but rather a selection of a majority,” Aoun told a delegation from the Metn town of Roumieh. “There might be confusion now because the parties and independent candidates do not know their real political weights, but they will eventually organize politically and choices will therefore become political rather than being based on individuals,” the president added. He also noted that “political commitment” should govern the selection of electoral lists and that “the preferential vote should go to the person whom every citizen favors at the personal level.”The May elections will be held under a complex proportional representation system for the first time in Lebanon's history.

Interior Ministry over 70% prepared for elections: Machnouk
The Daily Star/March 19, 2018/BEIRUT: Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said Monday that his ministry was 70 percent prepared for upcoming parliamentary elections, in comments made after a sit-down at Baabda Palace with President Michel Aoun.
Machnouk also said that heightened politicization was a natural part of the electoral process, but that it should not continue after the elections, which are scheduled for May 6. As officials from the country’s various political parties campaign – touring Lebanon and meeting with supporters – inflammatory comments have led to some bickering between parties. Machnouk said that during his meeting with Aoun he had briefed the president on the results of the recent Rome conference, which was held in support of the Lebanese Army and security forces. “The international community has demonstrated its interest in the stability of Lebanon,” Machnouk said, according to an official statement released by Aoun's press office. France, the United Kingdom and the European Union all made announcements of funding for Lebanon during the conference – pledges that appeared to have been hashed out in their respective capitals after numerous meetings were held between European and Lebanese officials in Beirut in the preceding weeks. Machnouk and Aoun also reportedly discussed the National Defense Strategy, which Aoun has announced will be discussed after the parliamentary elections are held.

Lebanese cleric: Revoke Hezbollah leader's citizenship over Iran ties
Jerusalem Post/March 19/18/"Nasrallah's declarations have harmed the Lebanese state, constitution, and law. This is clear collaboration of a Lebanese citizen with a foreign country."  Muhammad Ali Al-Husseini, a Shi'ite cleric, called last week for Lebanon to revoke Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah's citizenship over his ties to Iran. "Just like the proper action taken by Bahrain, when it revoked the citizenship of Iran's collaborators who were involved in tarnishing the image of Bahrain, I call upon the State of Lebanon to revoke the citizenship of Hassan Nasrallah," he said in an interview with Saudi-owned TV channel Al Arabiya, translated by MEMRI. "[Nasrallah's] declarations have harmed the Lebanese state, constitution, and law. This is clear collaboration of a Lebanese citizen with a foreign country," he emphasized. Al-Husseini's remarks came in response to a report by the Iranian Farda News website in which Nasrallah allegedly said Iran's Rule of Jurisprudent - giving Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei supreme political power - was above the Lebanese constitution. The report was later denied by Hezbollah's media office, according to MEMRI. Head of the Arab Islamic Council in Lebanon and a regular critic of Iran's regime, Al-Husseini, warned that "what is happening today in our nation is that Persian Iran is genuinely endeavoring to shatter our Arab nation to smithereens. Iran wants to divide and infiltrate our nation. "We started to have a problem in Lebanon when Iran founded Hezbollah, making it and its members guns for hire, fighting here and there in Lebanon, making threats against the UAE, Kuwait, and Yemen, and striking in Saudi Arabia." Hezbollah is backed by Iran and receives large amounts of military aid from the Islamic republic. The terror group is a crucial part of Iran's 'axis of resistance' against Israel.
Israel has been concerned about Iranian influence in the region for some time. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the Munich conference on February 18 that Iran was trying to change the status quo through nefarious moves in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Gaza. He emphasized that Israel will act not just against Iran's proxies, but against Iran itself. Reuters contributed to this report.

Aoun-Mashnouq Talk Elections, Rome II Outcome
Naharnet/March 19/18/President Michel Aoun held talks on Monday with Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq who assured that 70 percent of the preparations for the upcoming parliamentary elections are now complete. “I assured the President that serious progress has been made in preparations for the elections. We have completed 70 percent of the work,” Mashnouq told reporters after meeting Aoun at the Presidential Palace. He also said he briefed Aoun on “the outcome of the Rome II conference where the international community has expressed its interest in maintaining Lebanon's stability.”
“We discussed as well the issue of the defense strategy which reflects the Lebanese commitment to dialogue,” said the minister. To a question on the political bickering between political parties as they gear up for the polls, Mashnouq said: “Tense political atmospheres are part of the electoral process. They should not linger on after the polls.”Lebanon will stage its first national referendum in nine years on May 6. For the first time, Lebanese nationals living overseas will be able to cast ballots in early voting. The parliament has postponed elections several times over security reasons. Its term was supposed to expire in 2013 but lawmakers approved several extensions since then.

Berri: I Have No Enemies in Lebanon, Israel Is the Enemy
Naharnet/March 19/18/In light of Lebanon's dispute with Israel over Block 9 oilfield, Speaker Nabih Berri said his “insistence to adhere” to a gas field to the South of the country is meant to tell Israel that Lebanon's rights will not be wavered, stressing that “Israel is the only enemy.”After Israeli claims the gas field belongs to it, the Speaker said he meant to “give Israel a message that Lebanon will not abandon its rights.”Israel's defense minister said in a statement early this year the oil field “is by all accounts ours.”His remarks drew sharp condemnation from Hizbullah and Lebanese officials, including Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who described the Israeli minister's comments as a "blatant provocation that Lebanon rejects."Referring to the Resistance's role in “protecting Lebanon's oil wealth,” Berri said: “The Resistance is the only deterrent to Israel's attacks on Lebanon's oil wealth.”Berri, who was speaking to social media activists at his residence in Msayleh, told them he has no enemies and that his disputes with some officials was strictly political, “Israel is the only real enemy,” he stressed. He could have be hinting at his dispute with Free Patriotic Movement and Foreign Minister Jebran without naming him.

Arrest Warrant Issued against Ghabash for Framing Army Adjutant
Naharnet/March 19/18/First Examining Magistrate of Beirut Riad Abu Ghida on Monday issued an arrest warrant for the hacker Elie Ghabash on charges of “fabricating a spying for Israel case for army adjutant Ishaq Dgheim.”The National News Agency said the arrest warrant was issued after Ghabash “confessed to all the charges.”The hacker was arrested a few weeks ago on charges of framing the comedian Ziad Itani in a similar case. He has claimed that he had acted on instructions from Lt. Col. Suzanne al-Hajj, the former head of the anti-cyber crime bureau. Itani was freed around a month ago as arrest warrants were issued for al-Hajj and Ghabash in the case. According to media reports, Ghabash's wife has told interrogators that al-Hajj had offered her a bribe to convince her husband to retract his confession that he had acted on instructions from the sacked lieutenant colonel.
Media reports say al-Hajj had asked the hacker to fabricate electronic evidence against Itani to take revenge on him for posting a screenshot of a 'like' she had placed on a tweet by controversial TV director Charbel Khalil. The 'like' cost al-Hajj her job as head of the ISF anti-cybercrime unit. In the 2017 tweet, Khalil had quipped that “Saudi women are only allowed to drive if the car is booby-trapped.”Media reports say al-Hajj and Ghabash are also involved in other hacking attacks.

Hamadeh: Parliamentary Elections Remain at Risk from Regional Developments
Naharnet/March 19/18/Education Minister Marwan Hamadeh on Monday said the parliamentary elections in Lebanon remain at risk shall major developments in the region take place, noting that political dispute over the electricity file could bring everything to a halt including the upcoming polls. “The parliamentary elections remain threatened by any major development in the region, but the scenario of a “great war” is ruled out. What is happening in Syria in Afrin and in al-Ghouta is more indicative of deals than wars,” Hamadeh told VDL (93.3) in an interview. On the controversial electricity file, Hamadeh said: “It is better to decide on the electricity file under a new government and after the elections are staged. Disagreements over it could bring everything in the country to, even the elections.”Lebanon will stage its first national referendum in nine years on May 6.
For the first time, Lebanese nationals living overseas will be able to cast ballots in early voting. The parliament has postponed elections several times over security reasons. Its term was supposed to expire in 2013 but lawmakers approved several extensions since then.

Hizbullah Official: Lebanese System Rotten, Can't be Radically Reformed

Naharnet/March 19/18/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.”

Jumblat Criticizes 'Privatization' Bids of Electricity Sector
Naharnet/March 19/18/Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat urged the energy ministry on Monday to implement “confinement” against Debbas Group, an Electricite Du Liban contractor, after failing to pay the salaries of its employees for over three months. “Amidst the indifference of EDL officials and of Debbas Group, the staff have arrived at a state of hunger due to unpaid salaries for three months. I call on the Ministry of Energy to put the company in confinement,” said Jumblat in a tweet. Jumblat, head of the Democratic Gathering bloc, added: “This is the policy of privatization they preached about.” Contract workers have repeatedly protested against lack of long-term contracts, working conditions and late salary payments. Calls for the privatization of electricity production in Lebanon in a bid to increase energy generation have all went in vain.

Development Bank EBRD Upbeat on Lebanon, Seeks Continued Reform
Asharq Al Awsat/March 19/18/The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development sees enormous prospects in Lebanon, but potential investors need to see progress on reform and, over the border, a process towards a settlement of Syria’s war, the bank’s president said. On his first visit since the EBRD began operating in Lebanon in September, EBRD President Suma Chakrabarti said he saw a role for the bank in financing small and medium-sized enterprises and renewable energy, energy efficiency and infrastructure projects, reported Reuters. On Thursday Lebanon agreed its first two EBRD deals: a 2.51 percent equity investment in Lebanon’s largest lender Bank Audi and a $50 million trade finance line with Fransabank, the third-largest. “I think the prospects for the EBRD in Lebanon are enormous,” he told Reuters, and added that the bank has not set an upper limit on investment in Lebanon. “It depends on the demand we get from private sector players.”
While the war in Syria continues, Lebanon’s biggest challenge will remain regional risk.
“Providing (Lebanon) continues with that (economic) reform process, provided there is a process towards a settlement in Syria, I think the prospects are really good,” Chakrabarti said. Set up by governments in 1991 to invest in the ex-communist economies of eastern Europe and owned mainly by developed countries, the EBRD has expanded its mandate in the last decade to operate in almost 40 countries. Lebanon joins Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia in the EBRD’s southern and eastern Mediterranean (SEMED) region, where it has invested more than 6.5 billion euros ($8 billion) in 170 projects since 2012, said Reuters. Lebanon has one of the highest debt-to-GDP ratios in the world at about 150 percent. Growth and state revenues have been low for years, undermined by war in neighbor Syria and domestic political inertia.
To help stimulate the economy, Lebanon is seeking up to $16 billion for infrastructure this year from investors and donors. Fundraising will begin with an April 6 conference in Paris.
Chakrabarti said the EBRD will voice support for Lebanon in Paris and is keen to invest further, especially in public private partnership (PPP) projects. “The $16 billion cannot be financed unless there are more PPPs,” he said. Chakrabarti said the EBRD and other lenders will be “very much focused” on how Lebanon implements promised reforms and projects. “No-one should believe that just having a conference in Paris is a success in itself.” After agreeing a president and prime minister in late 2016 after years of political paralysis, Lebanon has passed its first budget since 2005, signed it first offshore oil and gas deals and signed a long-awaited PPP law.
Chakrabarti said these developments have made him more confident “than I would have been a couple of years ago”. “Conversations we’ve had ... suggest there actually is a consensus building that more reform is going to be required.”
Lebanon is due to hold its first parliamentary elections since 2009 in early May. They will be held under a new electoral law, making it harder to predict the outcome.
“People are talking very openly that they don’t think the parliamentary elections will derail this process. Even after the election we can expect a continued push in the right direction.” Through equity in its investment in Bank Audi, Chakrabarti said the EBRD hopes to establish itself in Lebanon’s banking sector where it wants to help banks reach new customers. “If Lebanon is to achieve the rates of growth economic growth that it can do, lending has to increase in the medium term without a doubt,” he said, according to Reuters. A group of customers Chakrabarti is passionate about reaching is women entrepreneurs. “We have our Women in Business programs in 17 countries. We have learned how to do this really well,” he said. Chakrabarti said the EBRD can work well with Lebanon’s entrepreneurial spirit and its move towards a private sector-focused development model. Lebanon’s capital investment plan also focuses on EBRD strengths: energy, infrastructure and SMEs. Lebanon has hosted over a million refugees fleeing Syria’s conflict, straining public services around the country. Chakrabarti said the bank has been talking to the Lebanese government about projects to help host communities and refugees. But this will require donors to contribute funds alongside the EBRD’s market-based loans.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published
on March 19-20/18
Abbas Calls U.S. Envoy 'Son of a Dog', Says Hamas Tried to Kill PM
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 19/18/Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas labeled the U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman a "son of a dog" on Monday during a scathing attack on Donald Trump's policies.
"The U.S. ambassador in Tel Aviv is a settler and a son of a dog," Abbas said in comments to Palestinian leaders in Ramallah. Relations between Abbas' government and President Trump's U.S. administration have broken down since the White House recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital in December. The Palestinians also see the disputed city as the capital of their future state. Friedman, who was Trump's personal lawyer before being appointed last year, is a longstanding supporter of settlement building in the occupied West Bank, considered illegal under international law. On Monday, Friedman referred to an attack in the West Bank as "in the north," raising questions over whether he views it as part of Israeli territory, and accused Abbas' Palestinian Authority (PA) of failing to condemn it. "Such brutality and no condemnation from the PA!" he tweeted, referring to a Friday car ramming that killed two soldiers and a Sunday stabbing in Jerusalem that left an Israeli dead, both carried out by Palestinians. Israel has militarily occupied the West Bank since 1967 but Abbas' government has limited autonomy in parts of it.
Separately, Abbas directly accused Hamas of carrying out a bomb attack against prime minister Rami Hamdallah in Gaza last week, threatening fresh sanctions against them. Abbas had previously said the Islamist group was responsible as it controls security in the Palestinian enclave, but Monday evening said they were "behind the attack." Hamdallah was uninjured in the March 13 attack, which saw a roadside bomb explode as his convoy entered Gaza in what Palestinian officials have called an assassination attempt.  Six of his security guards were lightly hurt. Speaking to Palestinian leaders in Ramallah, Abbas said if the attack had succeeded it would have "opened the way for a bloody civil war."
He said the incident would "not be allowed to pass" and announced he would take unspecified "national, legal and financial measures."Hamas did not immediately respond to the comments. The Islamists and Abbas' secular party Fatah have been at odds since 2007 when Hamas seized control of Gaza in a near civil war. Abbas controls the internationally-recognized Palestinian government, based in the occupied West Bank which Hamdallah leads. Abbas has previously taken a series of measures, including reducing electricity payments for Gaza's two million residents, in what analysts said was an attempt to punish Hamas. Hamas and Fatah agreed a reconciliation agreement in October but it has collapsed.
Israel Accuses French Consulate Worker of Smuggling Guns from Gaza
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 19/18/A French consulate worker has been arrested on accusations of using an official car to smuggle dozens of guns from the Gaza Strip to the occupied West Bank, Israeli authorities said Monday. The French citizen was accused of being part of a gun-running network with Palestinian suspects that eventually sold the weapons on to arms dealers, Israel's Shin Bet domestic security agency said in a statement. It said Romain Franck, in his mid-20s, had taken advantage of reduced security checks for consular vehicles to transport the weapons out of the Palestinian enclave. The Shin Bet said he acted on his own and was motivated by money. His superiors were not aware of his actions, the statement said. "The consulate employee smuggled the arms on a number of occasions in recent months while using the French consulate's consular car, which underwent a more lax security inspection at the border crossing, as is the case with this type of car," the statement said. "The consulate employee transferred arms on five occasions, during which he transferred some 70 pistols and two automatic rifles." A total of nine suspects have been arrested and six were to be charged in court later Monday, including Franck. Gaza, run by Islamist group Hamas, has been under an Israeli blockade for over a decade but weapons have been smuggled in through tunnels from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

Russian Poisoning Denials 'Increasingly Absurd', UK's Johnson Says
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 19/18/Moscow's denials over its involvement in the nerve agent poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain are growing "increasingly absurd", British foreign minister Boris Johnson said Monday. The Kremlin has rejected allegations by London and its allies that Russia was behind the March 4 attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury as "nonsense". As international chemical weapons experts were due to arrive in Britain to investigate the incident, European Union foreign ministers voiced their support for Britain as they gathered for a meeting in Brussels on Monday. "The Russian denials grow increasingly absurd," Johnson said as he arrived for the meeting. "This is a classic Russian strategy of trying to conceal the needle of truth in a haystack of lies and obfuscation." London says the Soviet-designed military grade nerve agent Novichok was used to target Skripal and on Thursday Britain, France, Germany and the United States issued a joint statement blaming Russia for the first offensive use of chemical weapons in Europe since World War 2. "What really strikes me, talking to European friends and partners today, is that 12 years after the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko in London, they're not fooling anybody any more," Johnson said. "There is scarcely a country round the table here in Brussels that has not been affected in recent years by some kind of malign or disruptive Russian behaviour."Russian dissident Litvinenko was poisoned with radioactive agent polonium in London in 2006 in an attack Britain also blamed on the Kremlin. Johnson will update his European counterparts on the investigation, but Monday's meeting is not expected to agree any measures targeting Russia, which is already under heavy EU sanctions over its annexation of Crimea and meddling in Ukraine. The EU's diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said the bloc stood in "full solidarity" with Britain over the incident, which she called "completely unacceptable". EU leaders are also set to discuss the issue at a summit in Brussels on Thursday. Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday announced the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats and suspended high-level contacts, including announcing that British royals and ministers would boycott this summer's football World Cup in Russia. Moscow has expelled 23 British diplomats in a tit-for-tat measure and said it would halt the activities of the British Council in Russia.

Syria Kurds Vow to 'Liberate' Afrin after Capture by Turkish Army
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 19/18/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.

EU Criticizes Turkey's Offensive in Syrian Town of Afrin
Associated Press/Naharnet/March 19/18/The European Union's top diplomat criticized Turkey on Monday over its military offensive in a northern Syrian town, calling on Ankara to ensure that fighting eases in the conflict-torn country. The appeal came as looting was widely reported in the town captured a day earlier by Turkish troops and allied Syrian fighters, according to residents and monitors. Meanwhile, Turkey's state-run news agency said 11 people — seven civilians and four Turkish-backed Syrian fighters — were killed in an explosion in a building in Afrin town center as it was being cleared of booby traps. Anadolu News agency said the bomb was reportedly left by Syrian Kurdish fighters. On Sunday, Turkish troops and Syrian opposition fighters allied with Ankara marched into Afrin, nearly two months after Turkey began its offensive on the enclave. Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish militia in Afrin a "terrorist" group and an extension of its own Kurdish insurgency within Turkey. "I am worried about this," Mogherini told reporters in Brussels on Monday, in reference to Turkey's offensive in Afrin. She said that international efforts in Syria are supposed to be "aiming at de-escalating the military activities and not escalating them." Turkey views the local Kurdish militia, the People's Defense Units or YPG, as a threat to its national security and has vowed to push it out of the district and away from its borders. The YPG retreated amid the swift Turkish offensive on Afrin's town center, and vowed to start a "new phase" of fighting against the Turkish troops and allied fighters. Meanwhile, Afrin residents and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported widespread looting and pillaging soon after Turkish troops and allied Syrian fighters marched into the town center. The Observatory said the pillaging began on Sunday. Images have emerged of torched stores, men in uniforms and others in civilian clothes walking out of homes with full loads of bales, while others were seen driving away with tractors and agriculture supplies. A Syrian commander with the Free Syrian Army, which captured the district along with Turkish forces, blamed "thieves" for the looting. Moataz Raslan, a commander with the FSA, said a unit for protection of property has been formed to prevent further theft. Thousands of Afrin residents, many of whom had earlier fled from the villages near the border with Turkey to the town center, streamed out of Afrin before the Turkish troops entered. Lines of vehicles and civilians on foot headed toward Syrian government-controlled areas to the south or other Kurdish-controlled areas. Jiwan Mohamed, a doctor who worked at Afrin hospital, said the news from inside Afrin and images of looting were disturbing. The central Afrin hospital was bombed before the town center was captured, he said. The doctor said learned from contacts with those still inside Afrin that that more buildings were being burned. Azad Mohamed, an Afrin resident who arrived Sunday in a region in the east of Syria after two days on the road, said looting began even before they entered the town center, in adjacent villages. "If they have not yet stolen my things, they will in an hour," he said. "We knew they would only leave the walls." Mohamed blamed the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia for failing to help people evacuate the town earlier with their belongings. Syrian Kurdish officials have said that more than 800 YPG fighters have been killed in the 58 days of fighting for Afrin, and estimated that 500 civilians were killed. The Observatory puts the number of casualties at over 280 civilians, adding that more than 1,500 Kurdish fighters have been killed since Jan.20. Turkey says it has taken all measures to avoid civilian casualties. Turkey says 46 of its soldiers were killed in the offensive.

Turkish forces will not remain in Syria’s Afrin
Reuters/Monday, 19 March 2018/Turkish forces will not remain in Syria’s Afrin and will leave the region to its "real owners", Ankara’s main spokesman said on Monday, after Turkey’s military and its Syrian rebel allies stormed the town over the weekend. Bekir Bozdag, a deputy prime minister, also told reporters that Turkey had significantly reduced threats to its borders after capturing the town of Afrin. He said Turkey had collected "most" of the weapons given to Kurdish fighters by the United States, after the YPG left weapons behind as they fled the town. More than 200,000 people displaced from Afrin by Turkey-led assault have no shelter, need aid, a Kurdish official said. (With AFP)
Paris Urges Tough EU Approach on Iran
Asharq Al Awsat/March 19/18/French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian urged the European Union on Monday to consider new sanctions on Iran over its involvement in Syria's civil war and its ballistic missile program. US President Donald Trump has given the European signatories a May 12 deadline to "fix the terrible flaws" of the Iran nuclear deal, which was agreed under his predecessor Barack Obama, or he will refuse to extend US sanctions relief on Iran. In response, the three European signatories – France, Britain and Germany - have proposed new EU sanctions targeting Iranians who support Syria's regime and Tehran's ballistic missile program, according to a confidential document seen by Reuters. "We must not exclude (from consideration) Iran's responsibility in the proliferation of ballistic missiles and in its very questionable role in the near- and Middle East,"Le Drian told reporters on arrival for talks with his EU counterparts. "That must also be discussed to reach a common position." The confidential document cites "transfers of Iranian missiles and missile technology" to Syria and allies of Tehran, such as Houthi rebels in Yemen and Lebanon's “Hezbollah.”

Saudi Ambassador to US: Iran Wants to Form Another ‘Hezbollah’ in Yemen
Asharq Al Awsat/March 19/18/Saudi Ambassador to the United States Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz stated on Monday that Iran wanted to form another “Hezbollah” in Yemen through its support of the Houthi militias. He stressed to CNN that Tehran was the greatest sponsor of terrorism.
The problem with Iran is its behavior and desire to expand, he added. It does not only want to destabilize Saudi Arabia, but the entire region, said the ambassador.

Egypt, Sudan Stress Joint Work to Preserve Mutual National Security
Asharq Al Awsat/March 19/18/Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi received in Cairo on Monday Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, stressing the need for cooperation between the two neighbors to serve each other’s security. Sisi said: “We agreed during our meeting on greater cooperation and coordination in various fields.”Talks also focused on bilateral ties and ways to bolster them, while “completely” respecting each country’s sovereignty, he told reporters at the Itihadiya palace. The two leaders also stressed the need for joint efforts to preserve their country’s national security. This will help raise cooperation between them in a manner that reflects the importance Cairo and Khartoum place on their relations. Sisi and Bashir agreed to activate various joint committees between them, which covered a range of issues, such as trade, the Nile River and border crossings.
The Egyptian president said that he agreed with Bashir on holding regular meetings for these committees in order to bolster the interests of Cairo and Khartoum. Addressing concerns over the Nile and the Nahda dam, Sisi said that Egypt and Sudan were determined to work together with Ethiopia to reach a partnership that will benefit all concerned sides. For his part, Bashir said that Egypt and Sudan are witnessing a historic moment given the unrest in the region. He stressed that there was a strong political will for cooperation to resolve any dispute that may emerge between their neighboring countries.

Saudi Crown Prince leaves Riyadh on official visit to Washington
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Monday, 19 March 2018/Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud left Riyadh on Monday on an official visit to the United States, during which he will meet with the President Donald Trump and a number of officials to discuss bilateral relations and discuss issues of common concern. The official visit to Washington will be the final leg of his maiden tour as Saudi Arabia’s crown prince after he visited Egypt and Britain during the past month. The meeting between Trump and Crown Prince Mohammed on Tuesday will focus on all issues of concern beginning with the agreement to confront Iran and its meddling in the affairs of the region’s countries. Other topics on the agenda of talks include amendment to the Iranian nuclear deal, forcing the Houthi militias to accept negotiations in Yemen, finding a solution to the Syrian crisis, reviving the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and combating terror and those supporting and funding it.

Thomas Friedman says Qataris are parading their power ‘like children’

Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Monday, 19 March 2018/American author Thomas Friedman has said he believes that Qataris are trying to “showcase their power like children do with their toys,” as they are population of around 300,000 with $300 billion in funds. During a panel on the Saudi Crown Prince’s upcoming US visit at the Arabia Foundation last week, he said that Qatar will not be able to change the Middle East. Friedman also said that the region needs peace between Sunnis and Shiites and noted that it’s enough to compare graduation photos from Cairo’s University in the 1960s and now to see how the Islamic revolution in Iran and the Juhayman al-Otaybi incident in Mecca affected the region. Meanwhile, Princeton University Professor Bernard Haykel said Qatar funds most of those who oppose Saudi Arabia and wants to overthrow the regime in Riyadh. He added that Qatar feels empowered because it is home US army base there and therefore acts freely and “sets fire” in regional countries.

Arab coalition to show new evidence of Iran arming Yemen’s Houthis

Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Monday, 19 March 2018 /The Arab Coalition spokesperson, Colonel Turki al-Maliki, said the coalition will hold a press conference on Monday to reveal new evidence that exposes Iran’s involvement in smuggling ballistic missiles and weapons to the Houthis. The press conference, which will be held at 16:10 KSA time, will show the ballistic missiles which Iran smuggled to militias in Yemen and detail how Iran threatens regional and international security and spreads chaos. The coalition has several times confirmed that Iran was arming the Houthis and that it threatens international and regional navigation. Iran, however, has repeatedly denied arming the Houthis as for instance in February it accused US Ambassador Nikki Haley of presenting “fabricated” evidence that a November 4 missile fired at Riyadh airport was Iranian-made.

Egypt military says 36 militants, 4 soldiers killed in Sinai
AFP/Monday, 19 March 2018/Egypt’s military said Monday that 36 militants, an officer and three soldiers were killed over five days during a sweeping operation against ISIS group militants in Sinai. The army launched the campaign on February 9 after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is standing in elections this month for a second term, gave it a three-month deadline to crush ISIS in the Sinai. Security forces "eliminated 30 armed elements during a shootout with raiding forces" in the northern and central Sinai Peninsula, the military said in a statement. A police shootout also left six dead and destroyed "an extremely dangerous terrorist cell," it added. Over the past five days, soldiers also arrested 345 people "including a number of extremely dangerous militants and fugitives," it said. An officer and three soldiers were killed in the fighting, while three officers and five soldiers were injured, it said. Sisi issued his ultimatum in November after suspected ISIS gunmen massacred more than 300 worshippers at a Sinai mosque. Security forces have sought to quell attacks by an Egyptian militant group that later declared allegiance to ISIS. The group has killed hundreds of soldiers, policemen and civilians, mainly in its North Sinai stronghold but also elsewhere in Egypt. The militants have also killed scores of Christians in church bombings and shootings. ISIS claimed the 2015 bombing of a Russian airliner carrying tourists from the South Sinai resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, which killed all 224 people on board

Sisi: Egypt working with Sudan, Ethiopia regarding the Nile
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Monday, 19 March 2018/Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi told a joint press conference in Cairo, on Monday, with his Sudanese counterpart Omar al-Bashir, that Egypt intends to work with Sudan as well as with Ethiopia for the sake of the collective benefit of the Nile River. Al-Sisi announced the efforts to enhance cooperation between Egypt and Sudan in various fields and activate the joint efforts between the two countries as represented in a number of bodies and committees. Bashir stressed Sudan’s will to settle any differences between Cairo and Khartoum. He said that Sudan is keen on the security of Egypt, referring to the historical relations between the two countries and people. "We reiterate the eternal brotherly relations and common links that unite the two peoples of the Nile valley," Sisi said in a televised news conference following a meeting with Bashir. In turn, Bashir said as "Egypt is now going through an election period", his delegation "timed our visit now to reiterate our support for Egypt's stability and to support President Sisi." The Sudanese president arrived in Egypt earlier on Monday to discuss the means to strengthen relations and issues of common concern. Al-Bashir was received at Cairo airport by the Egyptian President al-Sisi.
"The Sudanese president is paying a visit to Egypt within the framework of continuing consultations between the two presidents and discussing ways to strengthen bilateral relations in all fields," Egyptian Presidential Spokesman Bassam Radhi said Sunday. A handout picture released by the Egyptian presidency on March 19, 2018 shows Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) during his meeting with his Sudanese counterpart Omar al-Bashir at the presidential palace in Cairo. (AFP) This comes a few days after the visit of Major General Abbas Kamil, the acting Egyptian intelligence chief to Sudan, and his meeting with Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour and Sudanese officials to discuss all outstanding issues and resolve any differences as well as pave the way to return the relations between the two countries to the right track. The two leaders met recently on the sidelines of the African summit in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, and asserted Egyptian-Sudanese relations and the historical ties between the two countries. The meeting was followed by a joint statement on efforts to achieve and promote common interests, take into account the concerns of both countries, respect internal affairs and maintain their national security.
The two presidents mentioned future cooperative steps over Nile water discussions, without providing much detail. "We agreed to start preparing to hold the joint committee (meeting), to be chaired by the two countries' presidents, during this year in Khartoum," Sisi said.
Bashir responded that the two countries "don't have any choice but to cooperate, because truthfully this is the interest and confirmed demand of our peoples." During the meeting, it was agreed on the importance of working towards looking for broader horizons for the cooperation between the two countries in various fields, exploring opportunities and activating the various joint committees including the consular committee, the trade committee, the border crossings committee, political consultation mechanism at the level of foreign ministers, and any other joint committees the two parties agree upon while overcoming any difficulties or challenges before those committees. (With AFP)

Putin Wins Fourth Term with Record Vote
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 19/18/Vladimir Putin was Monday set for another six years in power after winning a record victory in Russia's presidential election but so far only allies have congratulated him as Moscow's relations with the West disintegrate. Putin, who has ruled Russia for almost two decades, recorded his best ever election performance with 76.67 percent of the vote but rejected the possibility of staying in power indefinitely. The opposition said the results were rigged but Putin's supporters said Western pressure on Putin including Britain's accusations in a spy row prompted Russians to close ranks behind their leader. Opposition and independent monitors reported ballot stuffing and other cases of alleged fraud as the Kremlin pushed for a high turnout to give greater legitimacy to Putin's historic fourth term. Putin, who is now set to extend his rule until at least 2024 and is already Russia's longest-serving leader since Stalin, ruled out remaining president for life.
"Listen to me. It seems to me that what you are saying is a bit funny," he told reporters Sunday night when asked if he saw himself running for president again in 2030. "What, am I going to sit here until I am 100 years old? No." The Russian strongman ran against seven candidates, but his most vocal opponent Alexei Navalny was barred from the ballot for legal reasons and the final outcome was never in doubt. "I see in this (result) the confidence and hope of our people," a beaming Putin told supporters on a square next to the Kremlin Sunday night. Putin's relaxed mood stood in stark contrast to the 2012 election night when a teary-eyed Putin claimed victory despite huge protests against his Kremlin comeback. - 'Demonisation of Putin' -Spokesman for Putin's campaign Andrei Kondrashov said that at more than 67 percent, turnout was 8 to 10 percentage points higher than expected. "Britain should be thanked for that," he told Russian journalists. "They once again started piling pressure on us when we needed to mobilise.""The demonisation of Putin in the West has had an opposite effect in Russia," tweeted senator Alexei Pushkov. Putin received more than 92 percent of the vote in Crimea, annexed from Ukraine in 2014. Most of the voters AFP spoke to said they voted for Putin despite a litany of problems like poverty and poor healthcare, praising his foreign policies. Russia faces increasing global isolation over its interventions in Ukraine and in Syria with a fresh round of US sanctions over election meddling in 2016.
In the runup to the vote, a new crisis broke out with the West as Britain implicated Putin in the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal with a Soviet-designed nerve agent. Authorities also used both the carrot and the stick to boost engagement in the polls.
Selfie competitions, giveaways, food festivals and children's entertainers were laid on at polling stations in a bid to entice voters. "People went to polls in festive moods and brought kids along -- like in the old days" in the Soviet era, wrote Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper. But employees of state and private companies and students reported coming under pressure to vote.
According to central election commission data with 99.8 percent of ballots counted, Putin took 76.67 percent of the vote, well ahead of his nearest competitor Communist Party candidate Pavel Grudinin, who was on 11.79 percent. Ultra-nationalist firebrand Vladimir Zhirinovsky took around 5.66 percent, former reality TV presenter Ksenia Sobchak was on 1.67 percent, while veteran liberal politician Grigory Yavlinsky received just over 1 percent of the vote. 'Demand justice' -Navalny -- who called on his supporters to boycott the "fake" vote and sent more than 33,000 observers across the country to see how official turnout figures differed from those of monitors -- said there had been "unprecedented violations". Navalny's opposition movement and the non-governmental election monitor Golos reported ballot stuffing, repeat voting and Putin supporters being bussed into polling stations en masse. Navalny said his team planned to stage protests but released few details. The electoral commission dismissed most concerns, saying monitors sometimes misinterpret what they see. Runner-up Grudinin said the elections had been "dishonest." NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who has lived in Russia since leaking classified information about the US government's surveillance programmes, tweeted a video apparently showing ballot stuffing in a Russian school. "The ballot stuffing seen today in Moscow and elsewhere in the Russian election is an effort to steal the influence of 140+ million people," he said. "Demand justice; demand laws and courts that matter."
- Putin's last term? -Among the few leaders to congratulate Putin so far was Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has just been handed a second term himself and has gained a path to indefinite rule after presidential term limits were lifted last week. "China is willing to work with Russia to keep promoting China-Russia relations to a higher level, provide driving force for respective national development in both countries, and promote regional and global peace and tranquility," Xi said. In Latin America, the presidents of the leftist regimes in Venezuela and Bolivia both effusively congratulated Putin on his "overwhelming" victory. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro also commended "the glorious Russian people for its display of civic duty," while Bolivia's Evo Morales said Putin's victory "guarantees geopolitical equilibrium and world peace before the onslaught of imperialism".Since first being elected president in 2000, Putin has stamped his total authority on the world's biggest country, muzzling opposition, putting television under state control and reasserting Moscow's standing abroad. The 65-year-old former KGB officer used an otherwise lacklustre presidential campaign to emphasise Russia's role as a major world power, boasting of its "invincible" new nuclear weapons in a pre-election speech. Putin's previous Kremlin term was marked by a crackdown on the opposition after huge protests, the Ukraine conflict, military intervention in Syria and the introduction of Western sanctions that contributed to a fall in living standards.
"There is no feeling that another six years will become Putin's last in power," liberal newspaper Vedomosti said in an editorial.

Trump Prepares for Visit by Saudi Prince Who Has Rocked the Kingdom
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 19/18/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 US 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.
In an interview with CBS broadcast on Sunday evening, the prince defended at length his anti-corruption purge which saw many of the kingdom's princes detained for several weeks inside Riyadh's luxurious Ritz-Carlton hotel. "What we did in Saudi Arabia was extremely necessary" and legal, he said. One goal of the operation, which was marked by physical abuse according to a New York Times investigation, was to recover an amount exceeding $100 billion. "But the real objective was not this amount or any other amount," he said. "The idea is not to get money, but to punish the corrupt and send a clear signal that whoever engages in corrupt deals will face the law." - 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."

Israel Moves to Destroy Jerusalem Attacker's Home
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 19/18/Israeli forces are preparing to demolish the West Bank home of a Palestinian who murdered a Jewish man in Jerusalem's Old City before being shot dead, the army said Monday. Abdul Rahmani Faddal, 28, stabbed Adiel Kolman in the torso on Sunday evening before being shot by police. Kolman died of his wounds a few hours later in a Jerusalem hospital. "Following the stabbing attack yesterday in Jerusalem in which Adiel Kolman was killed, troops... surveyed the terrorist's house in Aqraba before demolition," the army said. "In addition, the terrorist's family members were questioned." Kolman, 32, was a father of four from Kokhav Hashahar settlement. He will be buried on Monday at 11:00 am (0900 GMT). The attack came after a Friday car ramming by a Palestinian near Jenin in the northern West Bank that the army said killed two Israeli soldiers and wounded two others.
Tensions were high after Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas called for a day of rage on Friday to mark 100 days since US President Donald Trump's controversial recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. In Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, suspected Jewish extremists punctured tyres on Palestinian-owned cars and scrawled religious and anti-Arab graffiti on vehicles and homes, police said Monday. Images released by the police showed slogans including "there's no room in Israel for foreigners and enemies of God" and "the Arabs of Jerusalem are terrorists who should be expelled or killed". The incident, near the Pisgat Zeev settlement neighbourhood, was being investigated, police said.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 19-20/18
Saudi Crown Prince: We will eradicate Muslim Brotherhood elements in our schools

ولي العهد السعودي:سوف نجتث ونستأصل كل عناصر الإخوان المسلمين من مدارسنا
Joyce Karam/The National/March 19/18
Mohammed bin Salman said it is Saudi women’s choice whether to wear an Abaya or Hijab
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman offered a strong defence of his economic and social reforms in the Kingdom in his first interview with a US television outlet, vowing to continue a transformative agenda that “only death” can barricade.
Prince Mohammed, 32, in a wide-ranging interview with CBS’ 60 minutes aired on Sunday night, offered a new vision for Saudi Arabia that turns the page on the harsh interpretation of Islam practice in the Kingdom since 1979. He called citizens of his generation, “victims” that “suffered from this a great deal.”
The Saudi Crown Prince was particularly critical of the Muslim Brotherhood ideology, of extremism and the schism with the West created by Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden through orchestrating the 9/11 terror attacks.
Asked by journalist Norah O’Donnell about education reforms in the country toward espousing a more moderate form and curriculum about Islam, the Saudi Crown prince said: “Saudi schools have been invaded by many elements from the Muslim Brotherhood organisation, surely to a great extent.”
“Even now, there are some elements left. It will be a short while until they are all eradicated completely.”
He added that “no country in the world would accept that its educational system be invaded by any radical group.”
The counter-extremism push was vivid in how he approached the subject of women’s rights. The Crown Prince who ended his country’s ban on women driving, reopened film theatres and allowed families and women to attend sports stadiums, spoke in sentimental terms about Saudi Arabia pre-1979.
“We were living a very normal life like the rest of the Gulf countries. Women were driving cars," he explained. "There were movie theatres in Saudi Arabia. Women worked everywhere. We were just normal people developing like any other country in the world until the events of 1979.”
1979 was a seminal year for the region, with the Islamic revolution in Iran, and the siege of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Both events triggered a hard turn to the religious right in the Kingdom.
“We have extremists who forbid mixing between the two sexes and are unable to differentiate between a man and a woman alone together and their being together in a work place” the Saudi leader told CBS. “Many of those ideas contradict the way of life during the time of the Prophet and the Caliphs.”
Prince Mohammed embraced the Saudi woman’s right to wear “what type of decent and respectful attire she chooses to wear.”
He said: “The laws are very clear and stipulated in the laws of Sharia: that women wear decent, respectful clothing, like men. This, however, does not particularly specify a black abaya or a black head cover.”
Ritz Carlton
The Saudi Crown Prince defended the Ritz Carlton hotel arrests of Princes, high ranking ministers, and businessmen that were made between November and February in anti-corruption campaign “What we did in Saudi Arabia was extremely necessary. All actions taken were in accordance with existing and published laws.”
He said the money that the government restored, exceeded $100 billion. “But the real objective was not this amount or any other amount...but to punish the corrupt and send a clear signal that whoever engages in corrupt deals will face the law.”
Asked about his personal fortune, he said “as far as my private expenses, I’m a rich person and not a poor person. I’m not Gandhi or Mandela.” “I’m a member of the ruling family...we own very large lots of land, and my personal life is the same as it was 10 or 20 years ago. But what I do as a person is to spend part of my personal income on charity.” He also said that he spends 51% of his fortune on people and 49 per cent on himself.
Foreign policy
The foreign policy part of the interview was mostly focused on Yemen, where Saudi led coalition is engaged in a war against the Houthi militias, and the country has seen atrocious civil war since 2015. Asked about the humanitarian toll, Prince Mohammed said “it is truly very painful, and I hope that this militia [Houthis] ceases using the humanitarian situation to their advantage in order to draw sympathy from the international community. They block humanitarian aid in order to create famine and a humanitarian crisis.”
He said that the “Iranian ideology penetrated some parts of Yemen” and justified Saudi’s military involvement in the war. “I can’t imagine that the United States will accept one day to have a militia in Mexico launching missiles on Washington DC, New York and LA while Americans are watching these missiles and doing nothing” he said.
Prince Mohammed accused Iran of playing a destructive role in Yemen. “The Iranian regime is based on pure ideology. Many of the Al Qaeda operatives are protected in Iran and it refuses to surrender them to justice, and continues to refuse to extradite them to the United States” he said accusing Iran of harbouring the son of Osama bin Laden. “He lives in Iran and works out of Iran. He is supported by Iran.”
In comments aired before the interview, the Saudi Crown Prince stood by his comparison of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to Adolf Hitler.
He said: “Iran is not a rival to Saudi Arabia. Its army is not among the top five armies in the Muslim world. The Saudi economy is larger than the Iranian economy.”
On a more personal side on what he learned from his father King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, Prince Mohammed said the love of history. “The King always says “If you read the history of a thousand years, you have the experience of a thousand years.””
Asked if he would run the country for 50 years or if anything can stop him, Saudi’s Crown Prince answered in two words: “only death”.
Prince Mohammed is due to arrive in the United States on an official visit on Monday. He will meet Donald Trump on Tuesday, and convene with senior cabinet members of the administration as well as Congressional leaders in Washington. Later in the week he will head to Boston, then New York then the West Coast (Washington State and California), where he will meet the major heads of tech and film industries. The Saudi Crown Prince is expected to end his two and half week long trip in Houston, Texas.

Saudi nuclear bomb justifications
Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya/March 19/18
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman dropped a bombshell when he said Saudi Arabia will develop nuclear weapons if Iran builds a nuclear bomb. Before this week, Saudi Arabia’s strategy was either based on not letting Iran develop nuclear weapons, via international negotiations and pressure, or depending on the international community – which we know is not reliable – to deter it. Saudi policy has now changed. Prince Mohammed bin Salman chose CBS to announce the kingdom’s new policy before meeting with US President Donald Trump. His statements had tangible consequences in Washington whose stances are usually divided. The crown prince’s task to convince legislators in the Congress and the different political powers in Washington will be difficult.
Washington’s approval to let Saudi Arabia develop nuclear weapons is almost impossible especially that some countries, like Israel, oppose this. However, the prince linked this to Iran’s attempt to build its own nuclear weapons. This resembles the Pakistani scenario with India.
The new Saudi policy conveys to the Europeans and the Americans, particularly those who seem lenient towards Iran, that they must understand that Riyadh will not settle with any guarantees if Iran develops its nuclear weapons and that it will do the same within the context of balance of deterrence.
First of all, we must ask, is Saudi Arabia capable of building a nuclear bomb?
No one can confirm that. However, the kingdom does have scientific competencies. This year, it will set up projects related to reactors, factories and infrastructure to develop its nuclear capabilities for peaceful purposes. What distinguishes Saudi Arabia from Iran here is that it has uranium in its desert. Therefore, the kingdom does not need to buy it, and it has actually adopted a plan to extract it for development projects that are part of Vision 2030.
The second question is how will Saudi Arabia confront international opposition and possible political risks?
I do not think Riyadh will take this step to develop nuclear weapons without the approval of the concerned superpowers which cannot ignore the fact that Iran targets Saudi Arabia and that the former has reached an advanced stage of readiness to build nuclear weapons. If Tehran decided to enrich uranium and resume its nuclear project for military purposes, the crown prince’s statement will thus be justified.
Those who oppose the crown prince are not just in Iran but also in Washington itself. US Senator Ed Markey, also member of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, immediately responded to the prince’s statements and said: “Saudi Arabia’s crown prince has confirmed what many have long suspected—nuclear energy in Saudi Arabia is about more than just electrical power, it’s about geopolitical power,” adding: “The United States must not compromise on nonproliferation standards in any 123 agreement it concludes with Saudi Arabia.” Opponents have noted that Saudi Arabia refuses to sign the “gold standard” or the “123 agreement” which guarantees that it does not enrich uranium and does not reproduce plutonium.
It’s worth noting that a week before the crown prince kicked off his tour in the US, the kingdom announced that it approved its national policy of the atomic energy program and confirmed its commitment to international agreements and the principle of transparency while emphasizing the program aims to serve peaceful purposes. The prince’s recent statements ahead of his travel to Washington prepared everyone there to understand that keeping silent and being lenient with Iran, thus allowing it to produce nuclear weapons, will mean that Saudi Arabia will do the same and possess a nuclear bomb. His statements may be looked at from two angles. The first one is that Saudi Arabia does not intend to develop nuclear weapons if Iran commits not to, and the second one is that the prince is warning of being lenient with Tehran because he will thus develop nuclear weapons to defend his country and create “a balance of terror.”
Everyone takes Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s statements seriously. In addition to announcing its national policy of the atomic energy program, Saudi Arabia held talks with China around six months ago to establish a nuclear infrastructure for peaceful purposes. This will probably be among the topics he will address in Washington. Discussing these matters will not be easy due to all those skeptics who doubt Saudi Arabia’s aims and intentions. These skeptics have two choices, to either work seriously to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons – in this case Saudi Arabia and the world will not sense nuclear threats – or approve Saudi Arabia’s right of readiness to possess weapons like Iran’s. Iran is headed by an extremist fascist and religious regime which may use any nuclear weapons it builds to attack its rivals. Even if it does not directly use these weapons, it will exploit them to blackmail the region and the world and it will threaten to use them to achieve its expansive activities it’s currently endeavoring.

The early disputes between al-Shirazi family and Iran - Part 2
Hassan Al Mustafa/Al Arabiya/March 19/18
Part 1 of this article can be read here.
More than five years ago, Sayyid Ahmed Shirazi’s statements about “the desirable during the month of Rabi’ al-Awwal” stirred controversy and many condemned them especially as Ahmed’s father Ayatollah Sayyid Sadiq Shirazi was one of the most prominent Shiite references. Ahmed Shirazi’s statements were based on an extremist sectarian stance. In January 2013, Doctor Tawfiq Alsaif commented that Ahmed was “a young cleric” – meaning he had little knowledge and experience. Alsaif added that Ahmed’s remarks “were void of wisdom and righteousness and full of superstition and hatred.”
Alsaif, who was the secretary general of the Reform Movement in Saudi Arabia, had strong ties with late Shiite reference Ayatollah Sayyid Mohammed al-Shirazi, who is Ahmad’s uncle. Commenting on this relation, Alsaif said: “I knew Ayatollah Sayyid Mohammed al-Shirazi for years and very closely. I never heard him say a bad word or make any statements that reflect hatred towards anyone. His late son, and my friend, Sayyid Mohammed Reza Shirazi, was also like that.” Alsaif’s remarks reflect the difference between Ahmed and his nephew. Alsaif believes that Ahmed’s attitude “harms the status of his father Ayatollah Sayyid Sadiq Shirazi and harms all Shiite.”During the 1980s, a group from the Organization for the Islamic Revolution in the Arabian Peninsula was visiting Sayyid Mohammed al-Shirazi in his house in the Iranian city of Qom. One of the members complained and said: “The reactionaries are restraining our activity and work.” A participant at the meeting told me that Sayyid Shirazi, who was well-known for his calm character, got upset and angry. “This was the first time I saw him angry. It was nothing like him. He rebuffed our friend who made the complaint and described others as reactionaries and said he must do his work and let others do their work and that the arena is enough to fit everyone,” he said.
Pharoah-like behavior
Sheikh Abdolkarim Haeri, a teacher at the religious hawza (seminary) in Iraq’s Karbala, who had attended Ayatollah Mohammed al-Shirazi’s lessons for around 18 years, criticized the behavior of some members of the Shirazi Movement. In a lecture posted on YouTube, he said: “The school which is well-known for its morals collapsed in some aspects as some of the (Shirazi Movement members) resorted to insults.” Haeri wondered why people see others’ flaws but not their own, adding that this was a “pharaoh-like” behavior in an indirect reference to Sayyid Hussein Shirazi’s comments comparing Ayatollah Khamenei to a “pharaoh.”“How can we say we abide by the shurat al-fuqaha when we act upon the guardianship of the jurist like others do? We only make statements opposing the latter but we act upon it!,” Haeri said and called on Al-Shirazi leaders not to solely make decisions or take stances that reflect on the entire movement. “Consult your movement members as three fourth of them are not okay with this,” he added. Haeri’s stance upset Al-Shirazi “hawks.” Other Al-Shirazi members agreed with him and voiced their discontent with how Al-Shirazis as a reference changed as in the past it was a pioneering reference unlike other classical religious ones. Most of those who voiced their discontent belong to the first generation of Shirazis, who were engaged in the religious and political work with founder Sayyid Mohammed Shirazi. The problem here, however, is that those figures do not form a movement on their own and their critical voices are still not heard.
Al-Shirazis not identical
The different points of view reflect a reality that goes back to the 1960s. Truth is, Al-Shirazis are not one identical movement but a group of followers with different opinions and political, ideological and jurisprudential stances. They are an “unbalanced” and contradictory bunch of people – a combination of awareness and backwardness like a former member of Al-Shirazis once told me. Let’s go back to the beginning when there were two points of view, one adopted by Sayyid Hassan al-Shirazi and another adopted by Ayatollah Sayyid Mohammed Taqi al-Modarresi. Sayyid Hassan al-Shirazi, who was assassinated in Beirut in 1980 by Iraqi Ba’ath gunmen as his supporters claim, believed that the reference must be in direct contact with the “ummah” (people). He believed that they can manage people’s affairs and spread ‘dawah’ without having to establish Islamic organizations and parties to perform this role. In his book Islam’s Word, he criticized the parties and laid the basis for a reference that’s linked to followers without organizational means. Modarresi, however, believed that parties and organizations are important and that they must work under the umbrella of the religious reference which in turn will implement its Islamic program among people. Modarresi further detailed this opinion in his book The Islamic Leadership. Modarresi’s perspective produced the “Movement of the Vanguard Missionaries” which included three major parties:
1. The Islamic Action Organization which was mainly concerned about Iraq. Its secretary general was the late Sheikh Qassem al-Assadi and its spiritual father was Modarresi.
2. The Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain whose secretary general was Sheikh Mohammed Ali al-Mahfouz. After he returned to Bahrain, Mahfouz formed the Islamic Action Society, also known as the Amal Party. The authorities then dissolved the party and arrested some of its leaders following protests in February 2011. The spiritual father of the front was Hadi al-Modarresi, who was well-known for his enthusiastic and revolutionary rhetoric. 3. The Organization for the Islamic Revolution in the Arabian Peninsula which was led by Sheikh Hassan al-Saffar. Its name was changed to the ‘Reform Movement’ and it was later dissolved and its members returned to Saudi Arabia in 1993.
The several references
Ayatollah Mohammed al-Shirazi, who founded the Shirazi Movement, was highly respected by his supporters. He had a strong, attractive and persuasive figure as he was good at controlling differences among his followers. However, after his death in 2001, the movement suffered from a leadership void. His brother Sayyid Sadiq could not fill this void, although he assumed Sayyid Mohammed’s role as a reference. Meanwhile, Sayyid Mohammed’s followers remained loyal to his memories.
This legacy of Al-Shirazis is currently dispersed as such:
1. The reference of Ayatollah Sayyid Sadiq Shirazi represents the traditional movement that’s distant from renewal. Most of those who imitated late Sayyid Mohammed Shirazi in Iran, the Gulf, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries refer to it. This reference however lacks modernity and relies on stories of the Prophet Mohammed and Ahl Al-Bayt without making any thorough examinations. This is in addition to its “sectarian” or even “insulting” attitude. However, it does not go as far as accusing others of infidelity.
2. The reference of Ayatollah Sayyid Mohammed Taqi al-Modarresi represents around 10%-15% of Al-Shirazi supporters. This movement is closer to “political Islam” movements. It does not insult those who oppose it or accuse them of infidelity. It works within the context of Islamic unity. However, it has lost its ability to present new ideas or develop its theories about life and jurisprudence.
3. The movement of ideologist “hawks” includes both Kuwaiti cleric Yasser Al-Habib and Sayyid Mujtaba Hussaini Shirazi, although they disagree on some religious matters. This movement lacks religious depth, and is quite shallow. It adopts a sectarian and insulting rhetoric which is uncommon among Shiite scholars. They do not hesitate to make judgements against Sunni or Shiite symbols or even against Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) companions and go as far as accusing them of infidelity and of misguiding people.
4. A group of figures have left The Shirazi Movement and became independent. These figures abided by the reference of Sayyid Mohammed Shirazi for years. Some left the movement at an early stage, while others did so when Sayyid Mohammed passed away and decided to engage in new experiences that are more open and modern. Some of these prominent figures are: Sheikh Ahmad al-Kateb, Sheikh Sadiq al-Abadi, Sheikh Hassan al-Saffar, Doctor Tawfiq Alsaif and Sheikh Qassem al-Assadi. Some of these figures became moderate and enlightened, while others adopted a liberal and civil approach and voiced critical views. This diversity among the Shirazis means one must not deal with them as if they are one homogenous movement or representatives of one phenomenon. There are real differences among them – differences that deepen every day in the wake of contentious developments and conflicting opinions.
Iranian authorities’ detention of Sayyid Hussein Shirazi stirred a debate among Shirazi leaders and their followers. Most of them agree on opposing ‘the Guardianship of the Jurists’. However they disagree over the time and the approach. Following Sayyid Hussein Shirazi’s arrest, Al-Shirazi followers voiced their objection via media outlets and social media networks. This raises several questions about their relation with the media and their historical experience in this field. I will discuss this in my next topic.

Qatar, the worst is yet to come
Mohammed Al Shaikh/Al Arabiya/March 19/18
There are attempts, particularly by some Qatari media outlets, to make some helpless Qataris hope that the American authorities will support them and save them from the crisis which their regime has put them in.
This is wishful and naïve thinking that has nothing to do with the logic and standards of political interests. It would be stupid to believe that the Americans would sacrifice their relationships with major countries in the region, like the quartet (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE), and stand with a very small state, like Qatar, which is marginal in terms of influence and impact. This may have been possible during Barack Obama’s term; however, the rules of the game have changed during Donald Trump’s term. Today’s standards are different from the past as the anti-terror quartet intends to continue boycotting Qatar until the crisis is resolved - even if this lasts for 10 years. Qatar’s problem will only be resolved via deeply rooted solutions that revolve around expelling the main source of the problem: Hamad bin Khalifa from Qatar. The other solution is for destiny to intervene and take its toll on this spiteful man
Qatar’s art of treachery
Boycotting Qatar does not cost the quartet anything worth mentioning. However, it costs Qatar a lot. This cost only increases with time. The crisis with Qatar is also not a priority for us at all. When Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said that the Qatari issue is minor and not among his priorities, he meant it. The same applies to the three other countries that came together with Saudi Arabia to “discipline” this harmful neighbor that only knows the art of conspiracy, treachery and deception. Qatar only embraced the Muslim Brotherhood and terrorists to be its arm that implements its wicked conspiracies. This is what Trump implied to in one of his tweets when the decision to boycott Doha was first made. This made the Qataris turn to Turkey and Iran to protect their palaces in Doha.
The Americans, who occupy one third of Qatar's territory in the al-Udeid Air Base, may remain neutral in case the Qataris took action, like the rational members of the al-Thani ruling family, to curb this unjustified insanity. By the way, this is a possible scenario that cannot be ruled out especially that popular anger is increasing by the day. Qatar’s problem will only be resolved via deeply rooted solutions that revolve around expelling the main source of the problem: Hamad bin Khalifa from Qatar. The other solution is for destiny to intervene and take its toll on this spiteful man. As for the poor Tamim bin Hamad, he does not make any decisions and only obeys his father who insists to rule from behind the scenes.
Jeopardizing the 2022 World Cup
The question now is: What if the Qataris insist to be stubborn and do not submit to the boycotting countries’ conditions and do not expel Hamad bin Khalifa? The answer is simple: Everything will remain as it is. Boycotting Doha does not cost the quartet anything, however, it’s exhausting the Qataris and it will continue to exhaust them. The FIFA World Cup which the Qataris aspire to host and which they spent a lot of money on, is now at stake due to the current crisis. Qatar’s place as a host for the 2022 World Cup is in jeopardy as it may be stripped of holding the tournament if the country’s isolation lasts till then. Holding the tournament is thus linked to the boycotting countries. I do not think there will be any solutions soon. When the Qatari regime began to interfere in the neighboring countries’ internal affairs, I thought it would have a plan to retreat if faced by any firm decision, like the boycott. However, the crisis which it’s going through now, and which it does not know how to solve, shows that this is an adventurer regime that developed its policies based on wrong calculations. In politics, those who do not cautiously and carefully foresee the future and who burn their bridges when taking risks will put themselves through a catastrophic crisis like the one which the Qatari regime has led the country and its people to.

Kurdish Afrin Falls to Turkey...Turkish Government Official: "Europe Will be Muslim"
Uzay Bulut/Gatestone Institute/March 19/2018
Turkey Islamized northern Cyprus through a military invasion in 1974. To Islamize the much more powerful European continent, however, Turkey has been promoting demographic, rather than military, jihad.
"The places where you work and live are your homelands and new countries now... Drive the best cars. Live in the most beautiful houses. Make five children -- not just three. For you are the future of Europe." — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, 2017.
Yesterday, while many Europeans are still pilloried for viewing mass migration from Muslim-majority countries as a threat to Western culture -- and are still accused of "xenophobia," "Islamophobia" and "fear-mongering" -- the city of Afrin, in the Kurdish area of Syria, fell to Turkey.
At the same time, a prominent Turkish government official has been openly and proudly declaring that the demography of Europe is changing in favor of Muslims.
MP Alparslan Kavaklıoğlu, a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the head of the parliament's Security and Intelligence Commission, recently stated:
"The fortune and wealth of the world is moving from the West to the East. Europe is going through a time that is out of the ordinary. Its population is declining and aging. It has a very old population. So, people coming from outside get the jobs there. But Europe has this problem. All of the newcomers are Muslim. From Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. Those who come from these places are Muslim. It is now at such a level that the most popular name in Brussels, Belgium is Mohammed. The second most popular name is Melih [Malih] and the third one is Ayşe [Aisha]."
According to Kavaklıoğlu, if this trend continues,
"the Muslim population will outnumber the Christian population in Europe. This... has increased the nationalistic, xenophobic and anti-Islam rhetoric there. Hence, marginal, small parties have started to get large numbers of votes... But there is no remedy for it. Europe will be Muslim. We will be effective there, Allah willing. I am sure of that."
Kavaklıoğlu is not the first Turkish official to stress the importance of population growth. In 2009, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was prime minister at the time, called on the public to have at least three children per family. The greater our numbers, he said, "the stronger we will be." Since then, Erdoğan has been trying to encourage Turkish nationals to multiply. In 2013, he reiterated his plea:
"We need a young and dynamic population... Right now, the West is in trouble. But we do not want to put Turkey in the same trouble. I am calling on my country through mothers: Do not take this sensitivity of ours lightly. We need to make this widespread, in waves. We need to make this happen. The [value] of this cannot be measured with money or any other physical wealth."
In 2017, Erdoğan called on Turks residing in Europe to have even more children:
"The places where you work and live are your homelands and new countries now. Lay a tight claim to those places. Open more businesses and enroll your children in better schools. Live with your families in better neighborhoods. Drive the best cars. Live in the most beautiful houses. Make five children -- not just three. For you are the future of Europe."
Pictured: Thousands of supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan rally, waving Turkish flags, in Cologne, Germany, July 31, 2016. (Photo by Sascha Steinbach/Getty Images)
Erdoğan is now also saying the same thing to Turks in Cyprus. During a recent meeting with the prime minister and deputy prime minister of the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" (recognized only by Turkey), Erdoğan reportedly said, "Economic growth happens in parallel with population growth. The population of Greek Cypriots is more than one million. Just make your own population grow."
Turkey already largely Islamized and Turkified northern Cyprus through a military invasion in 1974. The Turkish military terrorized the indigenous Greek Cypriots, causing them to flee to the south. The Turkish government then imported thousands of illegal settlers from Turkey to northern Cyprus, to change the demographic structure of the illegally occupied territories. To Islamize the much more powerful European continent, however, Turkey has been promoting demographic, rather than military, jihad. This attempt by Ankara to guarantee that Muslims outnumber Christians globally has been accompanied by the erection of mosques – "from Europe to Africa, from the Balkans to the Central Asia" -- by Turkey's government-funded Diyanet (Religious Affairs General Directorate).
Whose assessments, then, are liberal Europeans to believe regarding unfettered immigration? Those who consider the mass influx from Muslim countries a threat to liberty and security, or the honest planners and perpetrators of demographic replacement and Islamization?
One only needs to look at Afrin, Cyprus and the appalling human rights record of Muslim-majority societies.
**Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist born and raised in Turkey. She is presently based in Washington D.C.
© 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.

France: Toward Total Submission to Islam, Destruction of Free Speech

Guy Millière/Gatestone Institute/March 19/2018
The French government and the French justice system claim to treat all religions equally, but they treat Islam as if it were "more equal than others" -- able to enjoy special privileges. Those who criticize Islam -- or who just show the results of Islamic terrorism -- are victims of fierce prosecution, while hate-filled, racist organizations are never touched.
"Who has the right to say that in thirty to forty years, France will not be a Muslim country? No one in this country has the right to extinguish our right to hope for a society that is globally faithful to Islam ". — Marwan Muhammad, spokesman of the "Collective against Islamophobia in France".
President Macron recently said he wants a law against "fake news". If the law is adopted, all online magazines in France that do not broadcast what the government defines as "true news" could be subject to immediate government suspension. If they are located outside France, access to them would be blocked. Islamic online magazines and websites are not on the list of "fake news" providers. What online magazines and websites top the list? Those that question Islam.
After the murders of much of the staff at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris on January 7, 2015, the hostage-taking and slaughter at a kosher supermarket two days later confirmed what was already obvious: France was a target of Islamic terrorism. A huge demonstration, organized in Paris on January 11, brought together a million and a half people, with politicians from around the world in attendance.
For a brief moment, France seemed to be the country where the multitudes were ready to stand up for freedom of speech, and the government was ready to fight for Western values.
Unfortunately, that impression did not last long.
For years, freedom of speech in France has been in the process of being crushed, particularly regarding Islam and Islamic terrorism. Journalists who said that Islam often did not look much like a religion of peace but more like a religion of war were systematically and harshly prosecuted. Charlie Hebdo's new director and editor-in-chief were also not spared: they were sued as early as 2006, the year the magazine republished the Danish Mohammed cartoons. They were sued again in 2007, 2012 and 2013. The writer Michel Houellebecq was summoned to court in 2010 for saying that Islam is a "stupid" religion. The first judicial sentence against the polemist Éric Zemmour dates from 2011. The website Riposte Laïque was established in 2007 to fight censorship, defend secularism, and preserve the right to criticize Islam. Lawsuits against its founder, Pierre Cassen, immediately became overwhelming.
Judicial harassment against those who still dared to speak "incorrectly" about Islam did not stop after the murders at Charlie Hebdo: rather, they intensified. The terrorist attacks that took place in France in November 2015 and in July 2016 did not lead to any demonstrations; merely to displays of sadness, fear and resignation. French politicians used empty words, spoke of the dangers of "fanaticism" and said that France was "at war" -- but they never named an enemy. Journalists and writers who said that terrorists attacking France were Muslim, and that "Islamism" was not foreign to Islam, had to answer for their words in court and were fined thousands of euros.
Both Éric Zemmour and Pierre Cassen have spent hours on trial providing conclusive evidence -- in vain.
Since the election of President Emmanuel Macron a year ago, the situation has become worse. On June 20, 2017, at the end of a post-Ramadan iftar dinner he shared with Muslim leaders, President Macron stated that " one should make believe that Islam is not compatible with the Republic"; that " no one should say that France reject Muslim faith" and that "attempt to give Islam the image of a religion condoning murder and terror" must be condemned. Most French critics of Islam got the message and cautiously chose silence. Riposte Laïque did not, but here were consequences.
On January 20, 2018, Pierre Cassen was convicted of "incitement to hatred against Muslims" and a fine of $12,000 was imposed on him. He was also given a three-month suspended prison sentence. He will soon be tried again for repeating the same "crime", and could be sent to prison.
Several European governments have made it clear that criticizing Islam may lead to prosecution and conviction. Recently, British, Danish and German citizens have been handed suspended sentences. If Pierre Cassen is imprisoned, it will be the first time that someone in a Western democracy is sent to jail for criticizing a religion.
Worse, Cassen is not even the author of the article targeted by the judges, and the article only says what is obvious: that extremist Muslims are at war with France and the West, and that incitement to kill infidels is present in the Qur'an. Cassen was sentenced as the editor of Riposte Laïque; since 2012, however, Riposte Laïque has been hosted by Switzerland and has a Swiss editor. Pierre Cassen no longer even has an official role in the organization. He is just easy prey because he lives in France. Pierre Cassen, clearly a victim of prosecutorial abuse, is planning to apply for political asylum in Switzerland.
Two members of the French National Assembly, Gilbert Collard and Marine Le Pen, a former presidential candidate who secured 35% of votes in the May 2017 run-off, were also recently charged with "inciting violence". They did not even publish texts criticizing Islam. After a journalist compared their party (National Front) to the Islamic State, they tweeted photos showing atrocities committed by the Islamic State, and added under the photos: "This is the Islamic State". They are also facing serious fines and prison sentences. The photos they tweeted are not even secret: they are widely available on the internet.
Originally, Collard and Le Pen were protected by parliamentary immunity. Their parliamentary immunity, however, was revoked by an almost unanimous vote in the French National Assembly. This is the first time that members of a democratic Western government risk being imprisoned for publishing widely available photos of Islamic crimes.
French laws are being used more and more often by the French justice system to suppress any criticism of Islam. Furthermore, in a dangerous inversion of reality, critics of Islamic terrorist violence are now systematically presented by French judges as examples of incitement to hatred and violence. The threat of jail time is added to the threat of fines.
Consequently, those who criticize Islam -- or who just show the results of Islamic terrorism -- are victims of fierce prosecution, while hate-filled, racist organizations are never touched. The Islamic "Natives of the Republic" movement, for instance, regularly publishes texts saying that " greedy Jews control the global financial system" and that "Zionists kill Palestinian children for pleasure" but are never condemned. Houria Bouteldja, the spokesperson for the movement, published a book describing Jews as vicious supporters of "Islamophobia", and stating that the Holocaust is "infinitely less than a detail" of history. She recently took part in anti-Israel demonstrations where flags of Hamas and Hezbollah were waved and portraits of murderers of Jews were held up. Jewish organizations expressed their indignation and filed complaints -- to no avail.
The French government and the French justice system claim to treat all religions equally, but they treat Islam as if it were "more equal than others" -- able to enjoy special privileges.
In France, attacks against Islam are benign and rare, but lead to severe convictions: in January 2016, a man dropped slices of ham in front of a mosque. He was immediately sent to jail for several weeks. Attacks against Christianity, however, are countless, sometimes violent, but almost never lead to any conviction. French theaters produce anti-Christian shows almost every year. In a play called "On the Concept of the Face of God," currently on tour throughout the country, for almost two hours, a large portrait of Jesus Christ is insulted and covered with matter that is supposed to be feces. The French Ministry of Culture subsidizes the tour. No theater director, however, would imagine producing an anti-Islam show.
Six to eight million Muslims live in France, and the number is increasing. France's 400,000 remaining Jews have not yet left France, but every year their the numbers shrink. Practicing Christians vanish; churches are often empty.
Polls show that a significant proportion of the French population thinks that Islam is a threat, but French authorities choose to harass those who speak of this threat.
In 2005, the situation was already serious. Muslim riots took place throughout the country. French President Jacques Chirac asked imams to restore calm and began to abandon the French government's sovereignty over many districts. A few years later, President Nicolas Sarkozy claimed to organize an "Islam of France", based on a structure he had created in 2003 when he was Minister of the Interior. He asked French Muslim leaders to call for "moderation". He failed: French Muslim leaders said unanimously that "Islam is not violent" and "does not need moderation". He promised to end "no-go zones" and to take back the districts abandoned under Jacques Chirac. He also failed; in 2006 there were already 751 no-go zones in France, and "as of last count," that number is no different. President François Hollande did nothing and let the situation rot. President Emmanuel Macron now speaks of the need to "reorganize the Islam of France" but instead appears to surrender.
In 2005, Muslim riots took place throughout France. President Jacques Chirac began to abandon the government's sovereignty over many districts. Pictured: Riot police watch as a warehouse burns in the Paris suburb of Aubervilliers on November 4, 2005, on the eighth consecutive night of rioting. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
Macron recently said he wants to create the post of "Grand Imam of France", a man who would be the "spiritual leader" of Islam in France. He added that he would like to see the construction of large "cathedral mosques" in every important French city. He also wants the Arabic language to be taught in every high school, to maintain a relationship between Muslims and the language of their religion. He promises affirmative action in favor of Muslims and a more resolute fight against "those who attack Islam". He never uses the words "radical Islam". He speaks of "radicalization", but says that the main danger is the "radicalization of secularism". He does not hide that those who defend secularism -- and a clear separation between the government and Islam (Riposte Laïque, for example) -- are an obstacle on the path he intends to follow. Clearly, the fight against "radicalization of secularism" is in high gear!
Marwan Muhammad, spokesman of the "Collective against Islamophobia in France" said in 2011:
"Who has the right to say that in thirty to forty years, France will not be a Muslim country? No one in this country has the right to extinguish our right to hope for a society that is globally faithful to Islam ".
Every day in France, men such as Marwan Muhammad have more reason to hope.
Prominent Islamic preacher Tariq Ramadan is presently being held at the Fleury-Mérogis prison near Paris: judges could not dismiss the overwhelming charges against him of rape. Some French Muslims still claim he is being unfairly accused. Many others say he is an impostor and seem ready to get rid of him. They say it is urgent to create "authentic French Islamic institutions" fully "recognized by the French government". President Macron could not have said it better. The Islamization of France will not stop.
President Macron recently said he wants a law against "fake news". If the law is adopted, all online magazines in France that do not broadcast what the government defines as "true news" could be subject to immediate government suspension. If they are located outside France, access to them would be blocked. Islamic online magazines and websites are not on the list of "fake news" providers. What online magazines and websites top the list? Those that question Islam.
**Dr. Guy Millière, a professor at the University of Paris, is the author of 27 books on France and Europe.
© 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.

James Bond in Stalin’s Bed
Ghassan Charbel/Asharq Al Awsat/March 19/18
If British intelligence officer Ian Fleming were fated to live during our time, he would have discovered that he did not exaggerate much when he came up with the character of James Bond. He would have certainly rejoiced had he known that the current Russian czar is a fan of his books, which have sold 100 million copies around the world. Fleming would have likely crowned his career with an amazing book called “James Bond in Stalin’s Bed.”
Fleming was a spy, journalist and author. There are close similarities between spies and journalists. They both go after secrets, but each in his own way. The former writes in invisible ink and sends his report to his handler at the intelligence agency. The latter writes in visible ink and sends his report to the reader. They both seek to prove the credibility of their reports to their superiors. They are both dreary professions. The spy ends up being anonymous and his tale winds up in the drawers of the agency. The journalist ends up disappointed after his work ends up being forgotten. This is why both of them, if given the chance, would seek to bring their story to the light through a book. The game is all about delusions and more delusions.
Vladimir Putin’s “take over” of the Kremlin at the beginning of the 21st century doubled my passion for stories about intelligence agents, especially the KGB. Putin came from this agency, which was more like an empire of spies that produced more than one James Bond. The name of that empire is associated with a man who ran it for a long time, Yuri Andropov, who headed the party and later the state, before he was quickly betrayed by his health. One cannot understand Putin’s behavior without returning to Andropov, who acted as his mentor, guide and inspiration.
My work in journalism allowed me over the years to get closer to this mysterious and intriguing world. I knew spies and men who managed spies. I occasionally befriended those men, whom I felt came right out of the pages of espionage books.
A few years ago, I had the chance to meet a man, who was part of the inner circle of Palestinian leader Dr. Wadi Haddad, whose name has been linked to an infamous plane hijacker and James Bond-like figure. I am here talking about Venezuelan terrorist Carlos. I urged the man to divulge to me a secret that was never published in the newspaper and had evaded nations and their agencies. After some hesitation, he told me: “The great secret that we kept from everyone is that Yuri Andropov had covertly met with Wadi Haddad in a castle in a forest in the suburbs of Moscow in 1974. During the meeting, Wadi requested arms, ammunition and time. Two weeks later and six miles off the coast of Aden, we received the complete list.”
It is from this world that is wrapped in secrets, ambushes, puzzles and mysterious blows that Putin emerged from and arrived in the Kremlin. He carried with him a deep wound that was the collapse of the Soviet Union, or what he called “the worst geo-political catastrophe of the 20th century.” Weeks ago, he revealed that he had hoped that he could have been able to prevent this fall.
Recent years revealed many indications that the Soviet spirit still controls the behavior of the master of the Kremlin as demonstrated in the disciplining of Georgia, annexation of Crimea and destabilization of Ukraine. He adopts a mixture of rapprochement and intimidation when dealing with countries that were quick to take off their Soviet cloak. He practically considers them traitors for opting for the divorce and establishing ties with the West. They are like spies who are sent out on a mission before later revealing themselves to be double agents. Intelligence agencies are not in the habit of being forgiving with those who sell their secrets for money, a nationality or a safe haven. Whoever commits this sin deserves the “final solution” or being silenced once and for all.
The West did not open up Putin’s record after former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko was killed through polonium poisoning in London in 2006. Britain responded to the incident, but it did not go so far as to drag Putin himself into the case. Much uproar was made over the issue, but it was neither a turning point nor a reason for a wider confrontation. The West was still banking on the smile of the man who protected Russia from fragmentation and protected the world from the possible repercussions of that fragmentation. The crisis took place and then a mediator called time came in and treated the issue with forget and relations went back to normal.
The assassination attempt against former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Britain earlier this month took place at a time when Putin’s record has grown much longer. It includes his military intervention in Syria, success in steering developments in the regime’s favor and his fighter jets’ violent bombardment of opposition factions that have nothing to do with ISIS and al-Nusra Front. The hopes that a Russian Syria will weaken the possibility of the emergence of an Iranian Syria have waned. Pro-regime factions, accompanied by Russian mercenaries, clashed with US forces in Syria, prompting Washington to discipline the perpetrators and killing over a hundred Russians. Putin’s escalatory speech towards the West where he demonstrated the latest advances in the Russian missile arsenal, while using terms taken right out of the Cold War dictionary.
Many have wondered what prompted the Russian agencies to attempt to poison Skripal only weeks before the Russian presidential elections, which saw Putin succeed Putin for a fourth term. What prompted them to do so during the year that Russia is hosting the football World Cup. The British agencies have concluded that the poison used was Soviet-made and Prime Minister Theresa May severely retaliated to what she considered a hostile military act on British soil.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson meanwhile threw the ball in Putin’s court. He declared: “Our quarrel is with Putin’s Kremlin and with his decision, and we think it overwhelmingly likely that it was his decision to direct the use of a nerve agent on the streets of the UK, on the streets of Europe, for the first time since the Second World War.” The Kremlin spokesman responded by saying: “Any reference to, any mentioning of, our president in this context is nothing else but a shocking, unforgivable breach of diplomatic proprieties.”
The United States, Germany and France showed solidarity with Britain in also accusing Russia. Washington took measures against Moscow as part of its investigation that it meddled in the US presidential elections.
The Cold War have been awakened and the West senses that the real problem lies with Putin and his aggressive approach. The problem is that Russia lives in the shadow of a Soviet president. Weeks ago, a Siberian ice blast attacked and conquered western capitals. The media called it the “Beast from the East.” After Skripal’s assassination attempt, talk once again centered on the “danger coming in from the East.”
The West had long forgotten that Putin originally emerged from under Andropov’s umbrella. The most important skill the KGB recruits are trained on is misdirection and hiding real intentions and purposes. They are truly confronting a Russian James Bond.
Had Ian Fleming been alive today, he would have written an amazing novel called “James Bond in Stalin’s Bed.”