March 28/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations
Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin
Romans 06/015-23/: "What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness.  When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!  But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord".

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 27-28/18
A 'Duty to Hate Britain'/Douglas Murray/Gatestone Institute/March 27/18
ISIS: Surging Again in Syria/Sirwan Kajjo/Gatestone Institute/March 27/18
Iranian Missiles on the Anniversary of the Yemen war/Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/March 27/18
John Bolton and the Policy of Confusion/Lina Khatib/Asharq Al Awsat/March 27/18
Iranian people are ready to usher in a ‘new day’/Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/March 27/18
GCC should now lobby US over Turkey’s Red Sea military ambitions/Martin Jay/Al Arabiya/March 27/18
Qatar takes one step forward, two steps back/Sawsan Al Shaer/Al Arabiya/March 27/18
Defeating Iran's Roadside Bombs in Yemen/Michael Knights/The Washington Institute/March 27/18
Anti-Saudi propaganda revisited/Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi/Al Arabiya/March 27/18

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on March 27-28/18

Aoun reprimands ministers over lack of electricity
Calls for EU to open its markets to exports from Lebanon
Education, employment key areas of support: EU official
Saudi Ambassador to US: Iran Killed Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri
Gemayel Vows to Carry on Kataeb's Struggle in New Parliament
Wakim Announces Withdrawal from Electoral Race
Aoun to Govt.: 'Give People Electricity, I Don't Care How You Get It Done'
Cyprus to Provide Military Aid for Lebanon during FM Visit
Raad Calls on State to 'Perform Its Duties in Defense Strategy'
Lebanese Suspect Charged with Kuwait Murder of Filipina Maid
Kanaan: Parliamentary Finance Committee Has Approved State Budget
Report: Nasrallah to Push Voting 'In Person' in Baalbek-Hermel 'if Needed'
77 Electoral Lists, 917 Candidates to Run in Legislative Elections
Civil Society Announces Electoral Coalition in Nine Districts
Jumblat: We've Become Part of 'Greater Syria', U.S. Reshuffle 'Alarming'
Karami Announces Tripoli Alliance with al-Ahbash, Marada, al-Samad
Geagea to Aoun: Transparent Tendering is Solution to Electricity Problem
Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on March 27-28/18
Saudi Arabia: Iran is still breaking arms embargo, supplying Houthi militia with ballistic missiles
UAE says civilian flight paths will not change after fighter jet incident
Saudi crown prince meets with heads of major American companies
World unites in anger at new Houthi missile attack on Saudi Arabia
Tripartite Committee to Confront Iran’s Malign Influence
Saudi Ambassador to US: Iran’s Record is One of Death and Destruction
Iran Warns of Dire Regional Consequences if Nuclear Deal is Canceled
Bahrain: Military Court Examines Appeals on Army Chief Assassination Attempt
Turkey Pushes 10 km Deep into Iraqi Kurdistan Territory
Regime Forces Carry Out Field Executions in Syria’s Ghouta
Russia Plays Dual Role in Rebel Exit from Syria's Ghouta
Biggest Convoy Yet Evacuates Rebel Pocket of Syria's Ghouta
Israel to Speed Up Process for U.S. Embassy Move to Jerusalem
Israel Detains Palestinian Infiltrators Armed with 'Grenades, Knives'
Trump Urges Closer Cooperation with Turkey on Syria
Speculation on Kim Visit to China Rife as Train Departs

Latest Lebanese Related News published on March 27-28/18
Aoun reprimands ministers over lack of electricity
The Daily Star/ March 27, 2018 /BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun rebuked ministers Tuesday for not doing more to solve the country’s electricity crisis despite previously asking them to present suggestions."I am obliged to tell the Lebanese people because I promised to be honest with them. All the debate, every time, does not lead to any result. I want to provide electricity to the people and I don’t care how you bring it," Aoun said at the beginning of Tuesday's Cabinet session at the Baabda Palace, according to tweets from his official account. "No one said Lebanon was forced to use power barges, but no one has proposed an alternative and I am not marketing this option," he added, referring to the electricity plan proposed by the Free Patriotic Movement to lease two additional power barges as an interim measure. "Do any of those present [today] not want electricity," Aoun asked Cabinet ministers.Prime Minister Saad Hariri also spoke of the importance of finding a solution to the electricity crisis. “It’s important to look at the electricity file in a different manner, away from politics, with a focus on the interests of Lebanon and the state’s treasury,” he said. The prime minister also called for a cabinet session solely focus on solutions to the electricity crisis, asking anyone who has solutions to raise them at that cabinet session. The contentious proposal by the FPM has been met with opposition from other ministers and parties who claim that it is an expensive stop-gap and doesn’t solve the underlying structural causes of the crisis. Lebanon has not had 24 hour power since the civil war and current price of power for consumers in the country as well as the large number of users who do not pay their bill leaves a large hole in the budget of the state-owned Electricity du Liban. The deficit is made up by the state each year at a cost of over $1 billion. The president also said that Cabinet will turn into a caretaker government after May 20 so it was on "ministers to decide on issues relating to the urgent needs of citizens regardless of their regions or political background." Aoun opened Cabinet's Tuesday meeting, which was set to agree to sign a military cooperation agreement with Russia, official sources said Sunday. It represents the government’s latest effort to reinforce the Lebanese Army’s capabilities. The Cabinet agenda consisted of 45 items, including those left from last week’s session. The agenda included loans to implement a number of projects, an official source said. “The most important topic on the agenda is the signing of a military cooperation agreement between Lebanon and Russia,” the source told The Daily Star. Defense Minister Yaacoub Sarraf will look for Cabinet to approve his visit to Moscow in April to sign the agreement with his Russian counterpart, the source added. There were no immediate details on what such an agreement would entail and what kind of weapons or support Russia might provide to Lebanon.Aoun and Hariri met prior to the Cabinet session as is customary for the president and prime minister.
Calls for EU to open its markets to exports from Lebanon
Middle East Monitor/March 27, 2018/Lebanese President Michel Aoun called for the European Union to open its markets to Lebanese exports, the Anadolu Agency reported yesterday. During a meeting with the Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn, Aoun said that the Lebanese government had launched a package of reforms and reinforced anti-corruption measures. Lebanon faces economic hardships, mainly regarding exports. Local mass media reported Aoun saying that “the country is bankrupt”. While speaking with Hahn, the Lebanese president discussed the issue of the Syrian refugees, “which has become an existential threat” as Lebanon is not able to continue hosting them for unlimited periods, he explained. “The need for displaced Syrians to return to safe areas has become urgent as we are unable to wait until the achievement of a political solution to start their return.” Read: Draft law in Lebanon allows women to grant citizenship to their children. For his part, Hahn hailed the increase of Lebanese exports, which he said meet the EU standards and specifications. He also expressed his appreciation for Lebanon as it has hosted the Syrian refugees and recognised that the aid offered to the country in help it deal with this issue is not enough. He pledged to highlight this issue during the conference to be held in Brussels next month. Belgium is to host a conference entitled “Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region” in Brussels on 24-25 April. The second of its kind.

Education, employment key areas of support: EU official
The Daily Star/March 27/18/BEIRUT: Education projects in Lebanon are and will remain a key area of support for the European Union, a high ranking official from the block said at a conference in Beirut Monday. EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn delivered a speech at the SPARK regional “Bridging the Gap: Higher Education and Beyond” conference at the American University of Beirut. He said that “we believe that they [students and higher education institutions] are the actors of change in the quest for a more prosperous era and a peaceful region.”Education Minister Marwan Hamadeh, as well as other local and international officials, attended the conference, according to a statement from the EU. “Beyond education and skills development, additional measures are needed to allow for more jobs to be created and to increase the employability of graduates,” Hahn said. “Entrepreneurship and startups are new tools to be used. An enabling environment and policies to allow the reduction of inequalities, the increase of the number and competitiveness of SMEs and the promotion of sustainable growth are key.”In the wake of the Syrian refugee crisis, SPARK – an independent development organization – awarded almost 7,700 scholarships to vulnerable young people in the region under its Higher Education program, out of which 2,484 are funded by the European Union. The conference Monday was organized to look at next steps after education for young people, including displaced people, to boost employment opportunities as well as benefit host communities and reconstruction
Saudi Ambassador to US: Iran Killed Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri
Agencies/Tuesday 27th March 2018/Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the United States, Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, on Tuesday spoke out against the Iranian regime following a series of Houthi missile attacks on Saudi Arabia. “The Iranian regime continues to violate international laws as it tests the world’s resolve. It is still supporting terrorism in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain and Yemen," Prince Khaled wrote on Twitter. “It provides the terrorist Houthi militias with missiles in violation of UN Security Council resolutions,” he added. "In the past, they have tried to assassinate my predecessor here in Washington, and they have killed Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. They assassinated political opponents in European capitals, and bankroll terrorist militias and provide them with dangerous weapons."“Iran’s record is one of death and destruction. They plotted terrorist bombings in Buenos Aires in 1994, the Khobar attacks in 1996, and the Riyadh bombings in 2003,” he tweeted.

Gemayel Vows to Carry on Kataeb's Struggle in New Parliament 27th March 2018/Kataeb leader Samy Gemayel on Tuesday vowed that the party will carry on its struggle for sovereignty and reforms in the new Parliament to be elected by the Lebanese on May 6, pledging to pursue what the Kataeb has been fighting for throughout the past 8 years."We will enter the Parliament to pursue our sovereignty and reform battle as well as to defend the Lebanese people's rights," Gemayel wrote on Twitter. "We won’t allow anyone to embarrass us and force us out of the electoral race."

Wakim Announces Withdrawal from Electoral Race 27th March 2018/The Kataeb's candidate in the Tyre-Zahrani district, Mira Wakim, on Tuesday announced that she has withdrawn from the electoral race, stressing that one's credibility and values are more important than a parliamentary seat. In a video posted on her Facebook page, Wakim said that she wanted to take part in the elections alongside people that dream of the same project as she does, adding that transient and momentary alliances do not serve Lebanon's interest. "I don't compromise because Lebanon cannot afford more compromises, settlements and concessions," she said. "Unfortunately, we didn't find someone whose platform is similar to ours, or even one that complements it.""Knowing that the new electoral law prevents a candidate from running for the elections alone and compels that he/her joins a list, and because the competing slates and the electoral race itself do not meet my aspirations, I have decided to pull out with a clear conscience.""On May 6, vote for an electoral program so that you would be able to hold the candidate to account based on it after 4 years. Each vote counts," Wakim urged the Lebanese. "I assure those who have dreamed of a new pulse with me that this is not the end. This is just the beginning."

Hakim Says Already-Indebted Lebanon Must Not Opt for More Debts 27th March 2018/Former Economy Minister Alain Hakim on Tuesday said that Lebanon’s economic situation cannot be described good, noting that the state's deficit has increased by $2.3 billion since the current government became in charge. In an interview on Voice of Lebanon radio station, Hakim blasted the government's plan to impose new tax hikes, wondering how citizens are supposed to handle more levies while they still can't afford the current ones. Hakim said that the reforms being made are very minor, accusing the Finance and Budget parliamentary committee of concealing the truth instead of taking action. "Lebanon is in urgent need of a comprehensive economic plan, and this must be the goal of the next government to be formed following the elections. That's why it is very important to make the right voting choice." Hakim pointed out that Lebanon is not eligible to more debts given that it is already one of the top indebted countries in the world, warning against receiving funds so as to keep the Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

Aoun to Govt.: 'Give People Electricity, I Don't Care How You Get It Done'
Naharnet/March 27/18/President Michel Aoun on Tuesday pressed the government to resolve the country's chronic electricity problem, as Prime Minister Saad Hariri said a special ministerial session will be held to address the issue. “Anyone here does not want electricity?” Aoun asked ministers at the beginning of a Cabinet session in Baabda, noting that he was not trying to “promote any idea.” “I want to provide the Lebanese with electricity,” he stressed. The president added: “The issue of power ships was raised in the past and we heard a lot of responses. No one has that Lebanon is obliged to rent ships but meanwhile no one has suggested an alternative source... I'm obliged to be frank with the Lebanese about this truth because I've promised them to be honest with them.” “All the previous debate has not led to a result. I want to provide people with electricity and I don't care how you get it done,” Aoun went on to say. An agreement was then reached, at Hariri's request, on holding a special ministerial session to discuss the Energy Ministry's report on the electricity file. “We must address the electricity issue differently and in a non-politicized way while focusing on Lebanon's interest and the state's treasury,” Hariri said. “If the ministers have suggestions or practical solutions, they can send them to me for scrutiny and deliberations during the session that will be held on the electricity file,” he added. “A lot of studies have been laid out regarding the electricity file... but they have not been implemented,” the premier went on to say. He lamented that owners of neighborhood power generators “are benefiting from the electricity crisis while the state is not getting any revenues.” “The previous approach towards the electricity issue was neither technical nor practical. The interim solutions have not been approved and we're still searching for solutions. These solutions are possible and they require a decision,” Hariri added. He also asked the energy minister to distribute his report to the ministers in order to set a date for the special ministerial session.Several government components have rejected a plan to rent power generating ships, citing cost and voicing concern over suspected corruption. Chronic power shortages since the end of Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war have been a main source of grievance among Lebanese who have had to put up with daily cuts.

Cyprus to Provide Military Aid for Lebanon during FM Visit
Naharnet/March 27/18/Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulidess is expected to arrive in Beirut on Tuesday to announce his country's first military aid for the Lebanese army and security services, al-Joumhouria daily reported. He will meet with senior Lebanese officials including President Michel Aoun, Speaker Nabih Berri, PM Saad Hariri and his Lebanese counterpart Jebran Bassil. Unnamed sources told the daily the donation includes support for the navy in addition to advanced weapons and ammunition. It is one of the first grants decided at the Rome 2 conference held on 15 and 16 March in the Italian capital. Discussions between the Cypriot diplomat and Lebanese officials will also focus on ongoing negotiations to delineate the final borders of the exclusive economic zone disputed between Lebanon and Israel. The discussions will take into consideration the fact that territorial waters of Cyprus constitute a common border between Lebanon and Israel in the south, and Syria to the north. The one-day talks will also discuss means of enhancing economic, commercial, tourism and financial cooperation between the two countries. A number of agreements concerning Mediterranean countries will be signed, said the daily.

Raad Calls on State to 'Perform Its Duties in Defense Strategy'
Naharnet/March 27/18/The head of Hizbullah's Loyalty to Resistance parliamentary bloc MP Mohammed Raad called on the Lebanese state on Tuesday to “perform its duties in the defense strategy.”“As for the defense strategy, we are ready for it,” Raad said, referring to President Michel Aoun's call for defense strategy talks after the elections. “We hope the state will perform its duties in the defense strategy, seeing as we are offering the lives of our young men to protect the country. This is our religious and national duty and no one can prevent us from defending our country through all means should we face danger,” the lawmaker said. “This is a right for every citizen in Lebanon,” Raad emphasized. The issue of Hizbullah's huge arsenal of weapons has long been a thorny issue in Lebanon. Since 2006 several national dialogue meetings have failed to make progress on the topic.

Lebanese Suspect Charged with Kuwait Murder of Filipina Maid
Associated Press/Naharnet/March 27/18/Lebanon's state-run news agency reported Tuesday that a Lebanese man has been charged with murdering a Filipina maid whose body was found stuffed in a freezer in Kuwait. The agency said a south Lebanon prosecutor charged 40-year-old Nader Essam Assaf and that Assaf confessed to the crime. Assaf and his Syrian wife are suspects in the death of Joanna Demafelis. The agency said Assaf's wife is at large. Assaf faces a possible death sentence and is expected to go on trial soon, the agency added. Last month, the Philippine foreign secretary said the suspect was under arrest in Lebanon.

Kanaan: Parliamentary Finance Committee Has Approved State Budget
Naharnet/March 27/18/The Parliamentary Finance Committee has approved the 2018 state budget and referred it to Parliament, Committee chairman MP Ibrahim Kanaan announced on Tuesday. “We kept the government's reductions because they respected the principle that we have endorsed in the Finance Committee since 2010,” Kanaan said. “The state is serious about combating the waste of public money,” the lawmaker added. “Lebanon has proved that it can resume the approval of budgets. We have started reformist steps and we tell the world that change is possible,” he went on to say. Kanaan also reassured that “there are no new taxes in this budget.”

Report: Nasrallah to Push Voting 'In Person' in Baalbek-Hermel 'if Needed'
Naharnet/March 27/18/‎Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah reiterated that he will “personally” motivate people on election day into casting their ballots in Hizbullah's stronghold of Baalbek-Hermel district shall he sees a low turnout, An Nahar daily reported on Tuesday. “Shall I see a low turnout on election day, I will personally go to the villages and towns in Baalbek and Hermel in order to support the lists of Hope and Loyalty,” the daily quoted Nasrallah as saying at a “special” meeting. “I am not joking, and my words are not out of encouragement,” he said. Nasrallah said the party is looking forward for the upcoming elections, “we have done everything we can for our allies,” he said. Refusing to reply to “campaigns and provocations”, he said: “You will only hear insults against us from al-Mustaqbal Movement and other parties because they only want to please Saudi Arabia, the United States and other states. They have nothing to tell their audience.”Nasrallah usually makes his speeches in televised addresses, and has rarely been s
een in person since Hizbullah battled Israel in a month-long war in 2006.

77 Electoral Lists, 917 Candidates to Run in Legislative Elections
Naharnet/March 27/18/Registration of electoral lists has closed at midnight and the interior ministry said a total of 77 lists, the largest in the history of parliamentary elections, and 917 candidates will run in the upcoming legislative elections. The registration of lists was accompanied by individual withdrawals, where 58 candidates were not included into any of the lists and decided to pull back, said the ministry. Media reports said that areas where al-Mustaqbal Movement has the greatest influence, have witnessed the biggest number of lists.In Beirut second district nine lists were registered, in Tripoli-Menieh-Denieh eight lists compared to only two in the Tyre-Zahrani district. In the district of Nabatieh, Bint Jbeil, Marjayoun and Hasbaya, where AMAL and Hizbullah have the greatest influence, six lists were registered. The lists were distributed as follows:
Beirut first electoral district 5 lists
Beirut second electoral district 9 lists
Akkar 6 lists
Tripoli-Menieh, Denieh 8 lists
‏Batrroun-Bsharri-Zgharta 4 lists
Zahle 5 lists
West Bekaa-Rashaya 3 lists
Baalbek-Hermel 5 lists
Sidon-Jezzine 4 lists
Tyre-Zahrani 4 lists
Nabatieh-Bint Jbeil-Hasbaya-Marjayoun 6 lists
Keserwan-Jbeil 5 lists
Metn 5 lists Baabda 4 lists
Chouf-Aley 6 lists
According to Lebanon's new electoral law approved in 2017, candidates are not allowed to run individually. They are supposed to be included in lists.
Lebanon will stage its May elections based on a new complex representational system that replaces a majoritarian 1960 winner-takes-all system.

Civil Society Announces Electoral Coalition in Nine Districts
Naharnet/March 27/18/Civil society groups and the Sabaa Party on Monday announced an electoral coalition spanning nine districts for the upcoming parliamentary elections. The coalition, dubbed 'Kollona Watani', is the result of “more than a year and a half of serious work,” the groups said in a statement.
“The lists comprise 66 candidates from all sects across the country... This is the biggest electoral coalition in Lebanon's modern history. Through this move, the civil society is sending a powerful message that the citizen now has a serious alternative to the ruling class,” the groups added. This coalition “can become a parliamentary majority that can assume power if citizens want this,” the Kollona Watani coalition said. “The coalition will announce its candidates in a unified mass rally within days,” it added. According to the statement, the coalition comprises seven candidates from the Mouwatenoun-wa-Mouwatenat group, 20 from Sabaa, one from 'You Stink', five from Li Baladi, one from the Identity and Sovereignty Gathering, two from Mutaheddoun, five from Li Haqqi, five from Sah, three from We Want Accountability and 17 independent candidates.

Jumblat: We've Become Part of 'Greater Syria', U.S. Reshuffle 'Alarming'
Naharnet/March 27/18/Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat announced Monday that Lebanon has become “a part of greater Syria,” as he voiced alarm over U.S. President Donald Trump's latest reshuffle of his top officials. “The Syrian regime has managed to expand its control over greater Damascus due to Russian and Iranian support,” Jumblat said in an interview with France 24 television. “Today the regime, backed by its allies, has improved its situation in greater Damascus, and therefore Lebanon will become increasingly encircled,” Jumblat added. “The great friend and scientist, Professor Antoine Kurban who teaches at the Saint Joseph University, says we have become a part of the Latakia province,” the PSP leader went on to say. “According to this grand equation – from Homs to the (Syrian) coast in addition to the international equation in the presence of Russia and Iran – we have become a part of greater Syria,” Jumblat pointed out. Turning to the new appointments in Washington, the PSP leader warned that “the U.S. developments are alarming, because they point to a confrontation.” “The confrontation will not be in Iran but rather in Lebanon, at least politically, and we will pay the price,” Jumblat said. He warned any Lebanese party against “betting on the new hardline and pro-Zionist U.S. team,” noting that “the changes might also target the U.S. defense secretary.” “I'm talking politics, because militarily, we have become used to America's policies and its support for Israel. In the event of a military strike, Lebanon will be destroyed, but they will not win, because there is a popular, national, Islamic resistance – call it what you want – that is stronger,” Jumblat said. He added: “I warn against Lebanese alignment with the new U.S. team under the excuse of fighting Iran or fighting Hizbullah's influence, because we cannot withstand a conflict of axes in Lebanon.”

Karami Announces Tripoli Alliance with al-Ahbash, Marada, al-Samad
Naharnet/March 27/18/Former minister Faisal Karami on Monday announced an electoral alliance in the Tripoli-Minieh-Dinniyeh district with the Association of Islamic Charitable Projects (al-Ahbash), the Marada Movement and ex-MP Jihad al-Samad.The young ex-minister is the son of late PM Omar Karami and the nephew of slain PM Rashid Karami. “What we need in parallel with reform plans is quick and urgent rescue initiatives aimed at backing the resilience of Lebanese individuals and families, in order to prevent any imminent social explosion,” Karami said at a Tripoli rally. “A blue evil eye cannot protect the country from the repercussions of such an explosion,” Karami added, referring to al-Mustaqbal Movement's electoral logo. The electoral list led by Karami also comprises Jihad al-Samad, Taha Naji (al-Ahbash), Saffouh Yakan, Abdul Nasser al-Masri, Ahmed Omran, Ayman al-Omar, Adel Zureiqa and Rafli Diab (Marada).

Geagea to Aoun: Transparent Tendering is Solution to Electricity Problem
Naharnet/March 27/18/The solution for the country's chronic electricity problem lies in conducting a “clear and transparent tendering process,” Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said on Tuesday. He was responding to remarks voiced earlier in the day by President Michel Aoun. “President Michel Aoun's sympathy with people and his understanding of the magnitude of the electricity problem have caught my attention,” Geagea said in a statement. “Mr. President, I fully share your opinion on the need to provide electricity in a temporary capacity pending the construction of power plants. As for the solution, it is very easy and I hope Your Excellency will personally endorse it, because this is the only way to achieve it,” Geagea added. “The solution is to task the Public Procurement Management Administration (PPMA) with introducing the necessary amendments to the book of terms that had been devised by Elecrticite du Liban (EDL) and consequently carrying out a clear and transparent tendering process,” the LF leader explained. He noted that the PPMA has “demonstrated, on several occasions, its technical professionalism and effectiveness as well as its full keenness on public money, transparency and uprightness.” Geagea also pointed out that such a solution “can be achieved within a few weeks.” Aoun had earlier in the day pressed the government to resolve the country's long-running electricity crisis. “The issue of power ships was raised in the past and we heard a lot of responses. No one has said that Lebanon is obliged to rent ships but meanwhile no one has suggested an alternative source... I'm obliged to be frank with the Lebanese about this truth because I've promised them to be honest with them,” the president told Cabinet. “All the previous debate has not led to a result. I want to provide people with electricity and I don't care how you get it done,” Aoun added. Several government components have rejected a plan to rent power generating ships, citing cost and voicing concern over suspected corruption. Chronic power shortages since the end of Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war have been a main source of grievance among Lebanese who have had to put up with daily cuts.
Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on March 27-28/18
Saudi Arabia: Iran is still breaking arms embargo, supplying Houthi militia with ballistic missiles
Arab News/March 27/18/RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s cabinet has condemned Iran-backed Houthi militia attacks on the Kingdom. The cabinet statement read by the Saudi Minister of Information, in a session led by King Salman, thanked allies for standing in solidarity with the Kingdom after Saudi air defense units intercepted seven ballistic missiles launched toward Riyadh. King Salman reiterated his country’s willingness to stand firm and defend the Kingdom from any attacks aimed at citizens, residents, and the security and stability of Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, the Saudi government statement said that Houthi militia attacks are “clear evidence of Iran’s meddling and its destructive role” in the region. The cabinet meeting also discussed the continued attempts to attack Saudi Arabia, and the statement blamed Iran for being behind the missile attacks on the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia’s government paid tribute to the air defense systems and their ability to intercept and destroy incoming missiles launched by the Houthis from Yemen . The government said it sees in the continued attacks by Houthi militia a “clear Iranian involvement in supplying Houthi with advanced ballistic missiles in clear defiance of United nation security council resolutions 2216 and 2231.”

UAE says civilian flight paths will not change after fighter jet incident
Reuters/Arab News/March 27/18/ DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates will not change its civilian flight paths, the chairman of its General Civil Aviation Authority said on Tuesday, a day after the UAE accused Qatari fighter jets of flying dangerously close to two of its civilian planes. Asked if any changes would be made to civilian routes, Sultan bin Saeed Al-Mansouri said: “We have no plans at the present time.”The UAE called the incident — which Qatar denied — a “provocative action,” and said it had already reported two similar events to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the United Nations’ aviation agency. Speaking on the sidelines of a conference in Dubai, Mansouri said the UAE would now complain to the ICAO again. Two Qatari fighter jets flew dangerously close to two civilian aircraft from the United Arab Emirates while they were in Bahraini airspace on Monday, UAE state news agency WAM quoted its civil aviation authority as saying. WAM said the General Civil Aviation Authority had condemned the “provocative action,” which it said followed two similar incidents that had been reported by the UAE to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the United Nations’ aviation agency. The UAE, along with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt, imposed travel, diplomatic and trade sanctions on Qatar last June, accusing it of supporting extremists.Bahrain’s civil aviation authority confirmed the incident took place, saying two Qatari fighter jets flew under a UAE Airbus A320 en route from the emirate of Fujairah to Rome, forcing the UAE aircraft to fly at a higher altitude. Bahrain said this was the second such incident to take place on the same day. The airline involved was not specified. The Bahraini agency said in a statement carried by state news agency BNA that the Qatari jets entered airspace managed by Bahrain without prior authorization, and that the necessary measures had been taken to file a complaint with the ICAO.

Saudi crown prince meets with heads of major American companies
SPA/March 27/18/NEW YORK: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met in New York on Monday with a number of CEOs and directors of major American companies in which the SoftBank Vision Fund invested. During the meeting, a number of investment opportunities were reviewed.

World unites in anger at new Houthi missile attack on Saudi Arabia
Arab News/March 27/18/RIYADH: JEDDAH: World leaders joined a chorus of anger and condemnation on Monday after Houthi militias in Yemen launched a barrage of Iranian-supplied ballistic missiles at civilian areas of four cities in Saudi Arabia. Three of the seven rockets fired on Sunday night targeted Riyadh, two were aimed at Jazan, and the others were launched toward Khamis Mushayt and Najran. Saudi air defenses intercepted all seven. An Egyptian civilian worker was killed by falling debris, and two others were injured. The Saudi-led coalition supporting Yemen’s internationally recognized government said the attacks all targeted populated areas. In Riyadh on Monday, the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen displayed wreckage from the missiles, which analysis indicated were supplied by Iran. The coalition “reserves the right to respond against Iran at the right time and right place,” spokesman Col. Turki Al-Maliki said. Condemnation of the attack was led by the United Nations and the United States, followed by the Arab League, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan, Pakistan, Russia, Italy, Algeria and Sudan. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “strongly condemns the launch late yesterday of a series of missiles claimed by the Houthis toward cities in Saudi Arabia, including Riyadh, as he does consistently with all attacks against civilians,” the UN said. Guterres will meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at UN headquarters in New York on Tuesday to discuss Yemen. The US confirmed its support to Saudi Arabia in defending the Kingdom’s borders. “We continue to call on all parties, including the Houthis, to return to political negotiations and move toward ending the war in Yemen,” the State Department said. Kuwait's Permanent Representative to the UN, Mansour Al-Otaibi, callled on the UN Security Council to intervene to stop the Houthi missile attacks on the Kingdom. He added Houthi militias undermine all opportunities for peace in Yemen and their attacks are a dangerous escalation. The United States joined in strongly condemning the dangerous Houthi missile attacks. "We support our Saudi partners' right to defend their borders against these threats. We continue to call on all parties, including the Houthis, to return to political negotiations and move toward ending the war in Yemen," said spokesperson for the US Department of State Heather Nauert. Algeria also strongly condemned the attack and affirmed its solidarity and full support to King Salman, the Saudi government and its people in the face of any attempt to target its security and stability. It called for the immediate cessation of hostilities that will deepen the crisis and increase the escalating tension in the region. Leading analyst Oubai Shahbandar told Arab News: “Officials in Tehran seem intent on escalating the Yemeni conflict into wider regional instability. That makes the prospects for a negotiated peace settlement in Yemen under UN auspices that much more difficult to attain.” Senior analyst and columnist, Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, said: “This reveals that the Iranian regime is determined to destabilize the region and expand its influence through its proxies and by smuggling and supplying the Houthis with weapons.” “These acts are in violation of two UN resolutions: 2216, which imposes an arms embargo on Yemen’s Houthi militia, and 2231, which bans Iran from transferring weapons and advancing its ballistic missile program in specific instances," he added. Rafizadeh called on the UN and EU to impose targeted sanctions on Iran.
War crime
The human rights group Amnesty International said the Houthi missile attacks could be a war crime.
“Launching indiscriminate attacks is prohibited by international humanitarian law,” said Amnesty’s Samah Hadid. “A high death toll may have been averted, possibly due to the missiles being intercepted, but that doesn’t let the Houthi armed group off the hook for this reckless and unlawful act.
“These missiles cannot be precisely targeted at such distances, so their use in this manner unlawfully endangers civilians.” Amnesty did not say it had independently documented evidence of the attacks. In Rome, Italy’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Angelino Alfano pledged his country’s full solidarity with Saudi Arabia, saying: “The Houthi rebels’ provocative behavior undermines security and stability in the region and contributes to the deterioration of the political and military situation in Yemen.” Alfano added that ending the conflict in Yemen “must be the main priority” as it “is also essential for addressing the civilians’ urgent humanitarian needs.” “Italy is ready to offer its assistance to the UN new special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, in hope that he will push forward the negotiations aimed at ending this conflict,” Alfano said. UK to Iran: Stop arming Houthis  Britain had earlier called on Iran to “stop sending weapons” to the Houthi militias and use its influence instead to end the conflict, Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported on Sunday. In a joint statement on the occasion of the three-year anniversary of the start of the Saudi-led Arab military intervention against the Houthi militias in Yemen, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt said that “if Iran is sincere in its commitment to support a political solution in Yemen, it must stop sending weapons that prolong the conflict, fuel regional tensions and pose a threat to international peace and security.”“We are wondering why Iran is spending a lot of money in a country with which it has no real historical ties or interests, rather than using its influence to end the conflict for the benefit of the Yemeni people,” the ministers said in their statement. In September 2014, the Houthis expelled pro-government forces from Sanaa and took control of the capital and several parts of the country. “We support the efforts of the Saudi-led coalition to restore legitimacy in Yemen, as approved by the UN Security Council,” the British ministers said in a statement. A report by UN experts concluded that Tehran was involved in arming the Houthis. The United Nations is making a fresh push for talks after Iran sent signals that it would be willing to help turn up the pressure on the Houthis to take part in negotiations, UN diplomats said. New UN envoy Martin Griffiths was in the rebel-held capital Sanaa this week for talks on kick-starting the political process, following a first round of meetings in Riyadh. About 10,000 Yemenis have been killed and 53,000 wounded since the coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015.
Tripartite Committee to Confront Iran’s Malign Influence
Washington - Heba El Koudsy/Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 27 March, 2018/The National Security Advisers of the US, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have discussed at the White House efforts to counter Iran’s provocative behavior. The White House said on Monday that the meeting took place last Friday “to discuss issues of strategic importance to the three countries, including joint efforts to counter the Iranian regime’s malign influence and provocative behavior.”“Senior officials from the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the Department of the Treasury, and the intelligence community participated in the meeting,” it said in a statement.“The leaders agreed to meet trilaterally on a regular basis to develop and implement joint frameworks to mitigate threats to regional security and to bring greater peace, stability, and prosperity to the Middle East,” it added. A Trump Administration official said that the announcement on the formation of the tripartite committee came on the sidelines of the visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the US. The National Security Adviser of Afghanistan joined one of the sessions focused on discussing ways the US, Saudi Arabia, and UAE can partner with Afghanistan to support the Afghan government and set conditions for an enduring peace settlement. White House sources said that discussions also dealt with the ongoing war on terrorism, and the officials agreed on several joint measures to deal a blow to terrorist groups.
Saudi Ambassador to US: Iran’s Record is One of Death and Destruction
Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 27 March, 2018/Saudi Ambassador to Washington Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz has slammed Iran’s record of “death and destruction,” urging the international community to holding it accountable over its support for terrorist groups. “The only way to prevent further conflict in the region is to hold Iran accountable for its violations of all international laws. Friends and enemies are watching for the world’s reaction; it will shape the behavior of countries in region on the long term,” he said in a tweet. Iran-backed Houthi insurgents, who have fired seven ballistic missiles at four cities in Saudi Arabia, including Riyadh, “continue to kill thousands of innocent Yemenis while they refuse any political settlement and continue to escalate,” he tweeted. Tehran provides the terrorist militias with missiles in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, Prince Khalid said on his official Twitter account.In the past, Iran has “tried to assassinate my predecessor here in Washington,” the diplomat said. He also accused it of killing Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. The Iranian regime has assassinated political opponents in European capitals, and bankrolled terrorist militias and provided them with dangerous weapons, Prince Khalid said. “Iran’s record is one of death and destruction. They plotted terrorist bombings in Buenos Aires in 1994, the Khobar attacks in 1996, and the Riyadh bombings in 2003,” he tweeted. He added that Tehran continues to violate international laws, testing the world’s resolve. "It is still supporting terrorism in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain and Yemen."

Iran Warns of Dire Regional Consequences if Nuclear Deal is Canceled
London - Adel Al-Salmi/ Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 27 March, 2018/Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Abbas Araghchi said that the international community would “pay the price of any flaw in the nuclear agreement,” adding that attempts by the United States and its allies to contain Iran’s regional role were “false hopes.” “The JCPOA is a security agreement and is directly involved with the regional and international security. In case of any setbacks in the nuclear deal, the consequences will be severe for the entire international community,” Araghchi said in an interview with ISNA on Monday.
The US president agreed to extend the nuclear sanctions on Iran in January for the last time, after he refused to ratify them for the first time in mid-October, and called for amending the gaps in the nuclear deal. The US Treasury then tightened sanctions on the Revolutionary Guard, which is responsible for developing the ballistic missile program. “All the US plans to contain Iran’s regional role have failed,” Araghchi said. “For over a year, Trump has been trying to destroy the JCPOA or make some changes in it in order to what he calls ‘fixing’ it, but he has been unable to achieve any results,” he added. The deputy foreign minister went on to say: “We are definitely well-prepared to respond quickly to any decision made by Trump or others. We will fully defend the interests of the Iranian people.” Araghchi’s remarks came after the spokesman for the Committee on Foreign Policy and National Security in the Iranian parliament, Hossein Naghavi Hosseini, called on the Iranian Foreign Ministry to take “more revolutionary and influential” positions, warning the diplomatic corps against making concessions to the US administration, in reference to the ongoing US-European consultations on the stance towards the nuclear agreement.

Bahrain: Military Court Examines Appeals on Army Chief Assassination Attempt
Manama - Obeid al-Suhaimi/Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 27 March, 2018 /Bahrain's Military Court of Cassation on Monday examined appeals submitted by convicts earlier on different charges including formation of a terrorist cell and committing several terrorist crimes. The military appellate court adjourned on the terrorist cell case 1/2017 to April 11 to allow the defense attorneys to present their oral appeals against the High Military Appeals Court ruling, issued on December 25, 2017, in the sentence pertaining to the execution of six convicts including a recruiter in what was known as Army Chief assassination attempt. The court also convicted seven others to seven years in prison. All 13 convicts were stripped from their Bahraini nationality. In the case of the 13 persons, 10 persons were present for trial, five of which were acquitted. Bahraini security forces continue to hunt down 8 members of the cell who fled inside and outside Bahrain to Iran and Iraq. Bahrain has granted military judiciary the jurisdiction over cases linked to terrorist acts targeting the defense force, its personnel and property or crimes against state security. Manama also extended the authority of the military judiciary to include investigation and sentencing in cases of terrorism given that they are organized acts of war and supported by terrorist organizations and regional states to destabilize the security of Bahrain and the Gulf region. Verdicts delivered by Bahrain’s military court of cassation, the military establishment’s highest appellate court, are final and cannot be challenged. Representatives of human rights organisations, media channels and defendants’ relatives, also attended the court session.

Turkey Pushes 10 km Deep into Iraqi Kurdistan Territory
Baghdad, Erbil – Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 27 March, 2018 /Kurdish officials announced on Monday that Turkish infantry forces going 10 kilometers into Iraq’s Kurdistan region of Iraq and took control over 30 villages, with Baghdad announcing that any foreign incursion into Iraqi territory is hostile.
Border protection commander in Dohuk province, Col. Delir Zebari said that the Turkish army “has been present in the area since November and has set up bases in the Amidiya district.”“They (Turkish troops) are 10 kilometers into Kurdistan region territory in the Amadiya region.” Iraqi government spokesman Saad al-Hadithi said that “any incursion or uninvited military action from any country within the territory of Iraq is a violation of sovereignty and an unacceptable hostile act.”Hadithi also denied Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s claim of a security meeting between the two sides taking place on the problem in Kurdistan Sinjar. On Sunday, Erdogan declared a military campaign against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Shingal, two days after the group announced its withdrawal from the area. The Turkish President warned that should Iraq fail to secure the border area, Ankara would send troops across the border, vowing “to fight terrorists inside and outside Turkey.” “It’s our job to clear the area,” an Iraqi military spokesperson responded. Yazidi figures demanded international protection for Sinjar. “We have called for a long time now that the United Nations through a joint operations room and in coordination with the federal government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government to protect Sinjar,” Sinjar public representative Mahma Khalil told Asharq Al-Awsat. “Most Yazidis seek UN protection, but we have not received any response from the international organization so far,” he added.
“Turkey and the PKK are directly responsible for the Sinjar crisis, and both the Iraqi and US governments must take full responsibility for the sovereignty and prestige of the Iraqi state," Khalil said. “Turkish forces have not moved so far towards Sinjar, and the PKK, which is composed of about 1,200 fighters, mostly Yazidis, is still present despite officially announcing withdrawal,” he added. Khalil did not rule out an imminent attack by the Turkish forces on Sinjar. Yazidi Member of the Iraqi Parliament Vian Dakhil has warned the UN that the situation in Sinjar remains unstable for thousands of families in the area as Turkey threatened to carry out military operations in northern Iraq.

Regime Forces Carry Out Field Executions in Syria’s Ghouta
Beirut - London - Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 27 March, 2018/Evacuations of Syrian opposition fighters and their families from Eastern Ghouta continued on Wednesday amid reports that Syrian pro-regime forces carried out field executions and arbitrary kidnappings of civilians. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that regime forces have intensified their operations in eastern Ghouta affecting 90 percent of the area. Not only did regime forces carry out arrests, but also conducted executions against civilians who chose to remain in its areas of control. Regime forces have executed at least five farmers in Kafr Batna, which was controlled by the anti-regime Faylaq al-Rahman. Another two women were abducted and taken to an unknown location. The fate of the wives of two of the farmers who were executed remains unclear. The Observatory added that “pro-regime popular committees have executed 18 citizens from the town of Kafr Batna and the city of Saqba, raising fears for the lives of about 37,000 remaining civilians.” On February 18, the regime, its ally Russia and loyalist militia launched an all-out assault to corner rebels in three isolated pockets.More than 1,600 civilians have been killed in the operation, according to the Britain-based Observatory. To help the regime capture the rest, Moscow began talks with the rebels in each area. The first agreement, with Ahrar al-Sham, saw more than 4,500 people including rebels leave the town of Harasta last week.The deal with Faylaq al-Rahman on Friday has so far seen 6,400 people leaving. The convoy of 81 buses that left late Sunday began arriving at a staging ground on the edge of opposition territory in northwest Syria on Monday afternoon. Dozens of people had been waiting since early morning for the arrival of relatives and friends who were bussed out of Ghouta. "I'm waiting for my wife's parents who were besieged. We've missed them so much," said Abu al-Laith, who himself was evacuated 10 months ago from another Damascus district. As the buses pulled in, long-lost relatives broke into tears and hugged each other emotionally. As for Douma, 10 km northeast of the center of Damascus, residents were also torn apart by the effects of a possible evacuation. A third set of talks over the final pocket -- controlled by Jaish al-Islam and including the largest town in the area, Douma -- may not end in evacuation. "The ongoing negotiations with Russia are to stay in Douma, not to leave it," said Jaish al-Islam spokesman Hamza Bayraqdar, without providing further details. As for locals, Abu Ayman, 30, said: “I've spent my whole life here and lived the revolution. My father died here. How could I abandon his grave?”“But I could never live alongside regime forces,” he added. A potential "reconciliation deal" would see Jaish Al-Islam disarm but stay in Douma, according to the Observatory. It would also provide for the deployment of Russian military police and the return of regime institutions and basic services like water and electricity. Syrian forces, however, would not enter. About 16,000 people have fled Douma. Some 200,000 people, including many who fled other parts of Ghouta, are estimated to remain in the town.

Russia Plays Dual Role in Rebel Exit from Syria's Ghouta
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 27/18/Through a combination of military pressure and deal-making, Syrian regime ally Russia has played a crucial role in helping the government gain the upper hand against rebels being evacuated from Eastern Ghouta. Russian warplanes have been spotted soaring in the skies above the battered former rebel bastion near Damascus and stand accused of hitting a school and using incendiary weapons during the five-week assault. Moscow's military personnel have also directly overseen evacuations of rebels and civilians from two encircled opposition zones in the enclave, and they are now locked in talks over the third and final pocket.
Syrian troops and their allies launched their all-out assault on Eastern Ghouta on February 18, seeking to oust the armed opposition from its strategic perch on the edge of the capital. More than 1,600 civilians have been killed in the assault, and tens of thousands of people have fled. Long a backer of Syria's regime, Russia has played two essential roles in the onslaught, said Nawar Oliver, military analyst at the Omran Institute.
"That of the attacker at the start of the campaign, as it worked to accelerate the regime's victory and help it achieve its military goals," Oliver said.
"Then, the role of the negotiator, the guarantor, protecting itself from international pressure and stopping the regime forces from bleeding out," he added.
Since its air force intervened in Syria's war in September 2015, Moscow has helped its ally President Bashar al-Assad win back large parts of the country.
On February 20, two days after a volley of rocket fire on Ghouta announced the launch of the regime's offensive, Russia reportedly carried out bombing raids on the enclave.
Incendiary weapons
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said the air strikes hit a key hospital in the rebel-held town of Arbin and were the first Russian raids in three months on Ghouta. The Kremlin says it has been helping Syria's government "finish off" fighters in Ghouta, but has denied carrying out air strikes against civilians. The Observatory also said Russian warplanes were suspected to be behind a deadly raid on a school on March 19 and another using "incendiary weapons" on March 22, also in the Arbin area. The Kremlin denied it targeted residential areas or used such munitions. As international outcry mounted over the regime's onslaught, Moscow announced a daily five-hour "humanitarian pause" in the area from February 27 to allow civilians to leave through "corridors" to regime-held territory. Russian military police deployed at a checkpoint just outside of the enclave, AFP reporters said, where posters of Russia's President Vladimir Putin appeared next to images of his Syrian counterpart Assad.
The enclave's terrified and hungry residents did not take up the offer at first, but after regime troops advanced and bombardment intensified, they starting fleeing by the thousands.
Military police
Moscow implemented a similar strategy in late 2016 in second city Aleppo, setting up such "corridors" to encourage civilians to empty the rebel-held eastern half.
Just like then, Russia has set up live feeds of the corridors showing people fleeing Ghouta. Since mid-February, the regime air and ground assault has whittled down opposition-held territory in Eastern Ghouta to three pockets, each held by different rebel groups. Surrounded in their last holdouts, opposition fighters in two of these agreed to Russia-brokered evacuation deals for the town of Harasta and a southern pocket including Arbin.Since March 22, Russian military police -- dressed in khaki camouflage and matching headgear -- have been overseeing hundreds of fighters, their relatives, and other civilians leave these areas. Before buses of evacuees set off, Russian soldiers register the names of passengers and look on as Syrian troops inspect bags and rebels' weapons. Some of the Russians communicate in a broken mixture of Arabic, Russian and English, AFP correspondents have said. Others chat away with passengers in fluent Arabic. Russian military vehicles then accompany them on their way to the northwestern province of Idlib, the last to remain largely outside regime control. Talks are ongoing for a third pocket around Ghouta's main town of Douma, the Observatory has said, and could see rebels put down their weapons and stay, while Russian military deploy in the town.

Biggest Convoy Yet Evacuates Rebel Pocket of Syria's Ghouta
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 27/18/The largest convoy yet of rebel fighters and civilians evacuated from Eastern Ghouta arrived Tuesday in northwestern Syria, further emptying the onetime opposition bastion. Government troops, backed by Russia and loyalist militia, launched a ferocious assault more than a month ago to retake the enclave on the outskirts of Damascus. They have recaptured more than 90 percent of it and are draining the last rebel-held pockets through negotiated withdrawals brokered by Russia. Two such deals have already seen thousands of rebels, their relatives and other civilians bused out of bombed-out Ghouta districts to Idlib, a northwestern province most of which still escapes government control. The largest numbers have quit the towns of Arbin and Zamalka, and the adjacent district of Jobar, all controlled by the Faylaq al-Rahman Islamist faction.The group reached a deal with Moscow on Friday and its implementation began the following morning with nearly 1,000 people boarding buses and leaving. The numbers have grown steadily since, with the biggest convoy yet departing in the early hours of Tuesday with more than 6,700 people aboard. They arrived Tuesday afternoon to the Qalaat al-Madiq area of central Hama province, a staging ground frequently used in such deals, AFP's correspondent there said. That convoy brought the total number of evacuees from areas under Faylaq al-Rahman's control to 13,165 people.
Arrests in recaptured areas
The group's spokesman, Wael Alwan, has said as many as 30,000 people could be evacuated in all. The evacuations were continuing on Tuesday, with more than a dozen buses entering the Faylaq-controlled pocket, said state news agency SANA. President Bashar al-Assad has used such evacuation agreements to recover swathes of territory since the uprising against his rule began seven years ago this month. They have usually begun with the military encirclement of an area, followed by bombardment and a ground operation before a deal is reached. Eastern Ghouta lies within mortar range of Damascus, and rebels had repeatedly used it as a launchpad for rocket attacks on the capital. The regime responded with a crippling half-decade siege of the enclave's 400,000 residents, sealing off access to food, medicines and other goods. On February 18, the regime, its ally Russia and loyalist militia launched an all-out air and ground assault that killed more than 1,600 civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Britain-based monitor said it had also documented the detention of more than 40 men and boys by Syrian troops in recaptured areas. Devastating air strikes and artillery fire have reduced large parts of Ghouta to ruins, forcing their residents to abandon them. Some 110,000 people have fled into government-held territory, most of them on foot or motorbike, through corridors opened up by the army and its Russian allies, according to state media. The United Nations says around 55,000 of them are housed in very basic conditions in regime-run temporary shelters on the edge of Ghouta.
Rebel prisoners released
Moscow has brokered talks with the rebel groups that control the three remaining pockets of the enclave. The first agreement, with hardline Islamist group Ahrar al-Sham, saw more than 4,500 people, including rebel fighters, leave the town of Harasta last week. Under the second deal, rebels from Faylaq al-Rahman are being given safe passage to the northwest, along with thousands of civilians, in exchange for releasing prisoners they were holding. Eight were freed on Sunday and another 26 the following day, SANA said. A third set of talks is underway over the final pocket -- controlled by Jaish al-Islam and including the enclave's largest town Douma. Tens of thousands of people are estimated to remain in Douma, including many who fled other parts of Ghouta as regime forces advanced. Jaish al-Islam spokesman Hamza Bayraqdar has said the negotiations are focused on the rebels staying, not evacuating. Jaish al-Islam would lay down its heavy weapons in exchange for government-provided water and electricity returning to the town. Russian military police, but not Syria's army, would deploy there. Syria's pro-government Al-Watan daily reported on Monday that the parties had three days to study the proposal. But divisions within opposition ranks were holding up the talks with some hardliners seeking to sabotage the proposed deal, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

Israel to Speed Up Process for U.S. Embassy Move to Jerusalem
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 27/18/Israel said Tuesday it would not allow bureaucratic red tape to delay the controversial transfer of the U.S. embassy to the disputed city of Jerusalem scheduled for May. The construction of a security wall and an emergency exit route both need planning permission, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said in a statement. "We will not allow bureaucracy needlessly to delay the transfer," he said. Kahlon said the move was of "strategic" importance to Israel and that his staff would "do everything that is needed to respect the timetable."Breaking with decades of U.S. policy, President Donald Trump in December officially recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital and pledged to move the embassy from Tel Aviv. The United States has said it will relocate its embassy in May, bringing forward the contested move to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the creation of Israel. Both Israel and the Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital. The embassy move could destroy prospects of a two-state solution to the decades-old Middle East conflict, the Palestinians have warned. The move has prompted deadly protests and 128 states condemned it in a U.N. General Assembly vote in December. Only seven smaller countries aligned themselves with Washington. Until now, the U.S. embassy has been located in Tel Aviv with a separate consulate general located in Jerusalem that represents U.S. interests in the Palestinian territories. The new embassy is to be housed initially in a U.S. consular building in Jerusalem while Washington searches for a permanent location.

Israel Detains Palestinian Infiltrators Armed with 'Grenades, Knives'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 27/18/Israeli soldiers on Tuesday detained three Palestinians who slipped across the border with the Gaza Strip in possession of knives and grenades, officials said, as tensions rise along the volatile frontier. The Israeli military said the trio were apprehended some 20 kilometers (12 miles) inside Israel near an army base, while police distributed pictures of hand grenades, knives and wire cutters found on them. "We don't know who sent them and what their purpose was," an army spokeswoman told AFP. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, on an inspection tour of southern Israel near the Gaza border, said he had ordered a probe and expected the results on Thursday. The detentions come as Israel braces for the annual Palestinian Land Day protests, commemorating the killing of six unarmed Arab protesters in Israel in 1976, set to begin on Friday in Gaza and the West Bank. This year's demonstrations appear especially combustible as Palestinian anger is already high over U.S. President Donald Trump's decision in December to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Gazans are being called to march en masse toward the Israeli border fence that seals off the coastal territory from Israel. There have already been several incidents along the border in recent days. A number of Palestinians on Saturday breached the frontier and tried to torch heavy equipment, following which Israeli jets attacked positions of Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza. A day later gunfire from Gaza set off Israel's Iron Dome air defense system and in response an army tank fired at a Hamas position. Israeli Construction Minister Yoav Gallant, a member of the security cabinet, warned Tuesday against attempts to breach the southern border as part of the Land Day events. "The temperature is literally rising," he said. "The motivation is greater than in the past.""If they want to behave peacefully inside the Gaza Strip, this is their own business," Gallant said. "But if we see the motivation to cross the border, we will not act only in the last second when thousands of people are destroying the fence."

Trump Urges Closer Cooperation with Turkey on Syria
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 27/18/The United States and its allies must work more closely with Turkey in Syria, President Donald Trump said Tuesday in a call with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron. Washington has previously expressed concern about Turkey's decision to plunge itself more deeply into Syria's civil war with an offensive against Kurdish-held border areas. But according to the White House, in conversation with Macron, Trump "stressed the need to intensify cooperation with Turkey with respect to shared strategic challenges in Syria." In January, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered an assault against the enclave of Afrin in northern Syria to root out the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) there. Turkey views the YPG as simply an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is fighting an insurgency inside Turkey and whose fighters Ankara and Washington brand "terrorists."But the U.S. military has worked closely with the YPG inside Syria, making the Kurdish fighters the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), set up to fight the Islamic State group. U.S. officials have repeatedly complained that Turkey's battle against the YPG is a distraction from the anti-IS fight, but Trump's remarks Tuesday suggest growing sympathy for his NATO ally. In addition to discussing Turkey and Syria, Trump and Macron touched on the allied response to Russia's alleged attempt to assassinate a double-agent in a nerve agent attack on British soil. "Both leaders expressed support for the West's strong response to Russia's chemical weapons attack in Salisbury, United Kingdom, including the expulsion of numerous Russian intelligence officers on both sides of the Atlantic," the White House said. This marked Trump's first personal, public comment on the Western response after he allowed his spokeswoman to announce Washington's unprecedented decision to expel 60 alleged Russian agents.

Speculation on Kim Visit to China Rife as Train Departs
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 27/18/Speculation that Kim Jong Un visited Beijing on his first-ever foreign trip as North Korea's leader was rife Tuesday after Japanese media reported the arrival and departure of a special train met by an honor guard. Heightened security at possible venues for a high-level meeting, motorcades driven under police escort, and a non-denial from Chinese authorities also fueled the belief that Kim had come to pay his respects to President Xi Jinping. If confirmed, it would mark Kim's first trip abroad since coming to power in 2011 and signal an intriguing twist in a rapid diplomatic thaw that has opened the door to separate summits between Kim and the presidents of South Korea and the United States. Japan's Kyodo news agency reported the train's departure from a Beijing station but said it was not clear if Kim was aboard, a day after its arrival sparked rampant speculation about the mystery passenger's identity. Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying sidestepped a request to confirm if Kim or another high-level North Korean official was visiting, saying she was "not aware" of the situation. "If we have information, we will publish it," Hua said, while adding that China was willing to work with North Korea to "continue to play a positive and constructive role in order to realize the denuclearization of the peninsula." Some analysts had suggested China -- the North's only major ally -- had been sidelined by Pyongyang's approaches to Seoul and Washington, but a visit by Kim would put Beijing firmly back at the center of the diplomatic scrum. Bill Bishop, publisher of the Sinocism China Newsletter, said Xi likely wanted to meet Kim before a possible summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in May. "They're concerned about being left out, with the North Koreans directly cutting a deal with the Americans that doesn't necessarily reflect Chinese interests," Bishop told AFP. At the Diaoyutai guest house, where Kim's late father Kim Jong Il stayed during his visits to Beijing, there was an unusually heavy police presence with officers stationed every 50-100 meters in front of the imposing compound. An AFP photographer saw a motorcade of limousines leave the guest house under a police escort on Tuesday morning. There was also heightened security at two possible venues for a high-level meeting -- the Great Hall of the People and Zhongnanhai, the central leadership compound next to Beijing's Forbidden City.
South Korea's biggest-selling newspaper Choson Ilbo cited a senior Seoul intelligence official as saying that Kim had been the visitor. Other media speculated it might have been Kim's sister Kim Yo Jong or the country's ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam.
Official silence
The mystery began after Japanese broadcaster Nippon TV showed footage of a train -- similar to that used for foreign visits by Kim Jong Il -- pulling in to Beijing Station and being met by a military honour guard and a convoy of black limousines. China's Weibo micro-blog was censoring searches for Kim Jong Un's name and variations on it Tuesday. Beijing often tightens news controls during sensitive political periods. South Korean broadcaster SBS TV said guests at a hotel in the border city of Dandong, overlooking the railway from China to North Korea, had been asked to leave and curtains were drawn across the windows. Kim Jong Il, who was known to be fearful of flying, visited China several times on his private armored train. His visits were confirmed by Chinese and North Korean state media only after he had left the country. The younger Kim has not undertaken any official trip abroad since taking power following his father's death in December 2011. And he has yet to host a single head of state, having snubbed the president of Mongolia who visited Pyongyang in 2013. In Washington, the White House said it was unable to confirm Kim's presence in Pyongyang and the government in Seoul said only that it was closely monitoring the situation. For decades Beijing has been Pyongyang's key diplomatic protector and main source of trade and aid, but their relationship has soured in recent years. Kim broke with tradition by not traveling to Beijing to pay his respects to Xi after the Chinese leader came to power, and Beijing has become increasingly frustrated with its neighbor's nuclear weapons program -- showing a new willingness to agree to, and enforce, tougher U.N. sanctions. At the same time, Beijing fears the collapse of the regime in Pyongyang and the instability it would bring, potentially sending waves of refugees into China and the possibility of U.S. troops stationed on its border in a unified Korea. High-level inter-Korean talks are scheduled for Thursday to pave the way for a summit between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in late April. Discussions have also begun on a possible summit with Trump in May.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 27-28/18
A 'Duty to Hate Britain'
Douglas Murray/Gatestone Institute/March 27/18
At Brooklands College in July 2017, Ahmed Hassan was awarded a prize as "student of the year". He used the £20 Amazon voucher he received to purchase the first of the ingredients he needed to build his bomb.
Mr Justice Haddon-Cave seems almost to suggest that "violating" the law of the Quran and Islam is an offense in itself -- one worth noting alongside the crime of putting a bomb on a packed commuter train.
That the judge's pronouncement was superfluous is obvious. That it is incorrect is at least equally so. But worst is that it will further erode the belief of the citizenry in their lawmakers.
Last week, Ahmed Hassan was sentenced to a minimum term of 34 years in prison. The previous September, he had stepped onto the District line of the London Underground and left a homemade bomb on the train. At Parson's Green tube station, the device detonated. Fortunately for the commuters, which included many children on their way to school, only the detonator of the bomb went off. On its own, it created a fireball which ran along the roof of the carriage, singeing the hair of many passengers and causing an immediate stampede away from the blast and a number of injuries. The main explosive material the of bomb, however, which was packed with shrapnel, including bolts, nails and knives, failed to detonate. Had it done so, the United Kingdom would have seen -- for the fourth time in a few months -- dozens more dead victims, including school children, carried out in body bags.
London police outside Parsons Green Underground station, following the Ahmed Hassan's terrorist bombing there on September 15, 2017. (Image source: Edwardx/Wikimedia Commons)
All this happened because of a young man of Iraqi origin, who should never have been in the UK in the first place. Hassan moved into Europe among the migrant flows of 2015. He ended up at the "Jungle" migrant camp in Calais -- a place to which celebrities in the UK consistently go in order to implore the British people to take in the people who are living there. A particular cry of these celebrities (figures such as the actress Juliet Stevenson) is that the "child migrants" in particular should be taken in by the UK. The call is flawed, not least, in that it suggests that anybody who breaks the existing asylum procedures of the European Union and simply pushes their way to the front of the queue is somebody who will be rewarded for this act.
At the Calais camp, Hassan did not bother to wait for the British government to invite him. Most likely aided by the anti-borders NGOs who work in the camp, Hassan found out how to get around the system. In 2015, smuggled in the back of a lorry, Hassan arrived in the UK. If he had been a genuine asylum seeker, he could have -- and should have (under the terms of the Dublin Treaty) -- applied for asylum in the first European country where he set foot. Certainly, if there had been any legitimate reason for him to gain asylum, there was no reason why he should not have applied for asylum in France.
Once he arrived in the UK, it took some time for the British authorities to catch up with him. When they eventually did, and he was questioned by Home Office officials, he told them he had been a member of ISIS and had been trained by the group to kill.
He claimed to be 16 years old, although the authorities believed he was probably older. The open-borders NGOs are able to advise people in Calais and elsewhere that claiming to be a "child migrant" increases the likelihood of being able to stay.
A week later, housed at a Barnado's children's home, he was seen by a member of the staff looking up ISIS videos on his phone, and later, to be listening to extremist songs (nasheed).
Nevertheless, the British authorities helped him find a school. At Brooklands College, a teacher observed him reading a WhatsApp message which said "IS has accepted your donation." He told a teacher that it was his "duty to hate Britain". The state also placed him with a foster family, whom they failed to inform about his ISIS past.
Every effort continued to be made for this young man who had broken into the country. At Brooklands College in July 2017, he was even awarded a prize as "student of the year". Hassan used the £20 Amazon voucher he received to purchase the first of the ingredients he needed to build his bomb.
At every stage, the British state helped Hassan in every way it could. It took in a person who had no right to be in the country -- who indeed had entered the country illegally. It housed him, fed him, educated him and encouraged him. He repaid this by building a bomb at the home of his foster parents and trying to bring carnage to the rush-hour commuters on the London Underground.
Now that Hassan has been tried, convicted and sentenced for his crime, the British people may be surprised at the priorities of the authorities who are meant to keep them safe. But at the final stage of that process, the state produced one final insult against the people of the country.
This is how The Honourable Mr Justice Haddon-Cave concluded his sentencing on March 23:
Finally, Ahmed Hassan, let me say this to you. You will have plenty of time to study the Qur'an in prison in the years to come. You should understand that the Qur'an is a book of peace; Islam is a religion of peace. The Qur'an and Islam forbid anything extreme, including extremism in religion. Islam forbids breaking the "law of the land" where one is living or is a guest. Islam forbids terrorism (hiraba). The Qur'an and the Sunna provide that the crime of perpetrating terror to "cause corruption in the land" is one of the most severe crimes in Islam. So it is in the law of the United Kingdom. You have, therefore, received the most severe of sentences under the law of this land. You have violated the Qur'an and Islam by your actions, as well as the law of all civilized people. It is to be hoped that you will come to realise this one day. Please go with the officers.
First, what business is it of a judge to make such a statement? Why should Mr Justice Haddon-Cave think that being a judge in a British court also permits him to expound on Islamic theology? And what if he is wrong in his theological pronouncements? What if it is not the case that Islam "forbids anything extreme"? What if a lot of British subjects who are not Muslims discover that this judge is telling an untruth? What if he is wrong, and that the cure for a jihadist like Ahmed Hassan is not in fact confinement with the Quran and Sunna?
Mr Justice Haddon-Cave seems almost to suggest that "violating" the law of the Quran and Islam is an offense in itself -- one worth noting alongside the crime of putting a bomb on a packed commuter train. That his pronouncement was superfluous is obvious. That it is incorrect is at least equally so. But worst is that it will further erode the belief of the citizenry in their lawmakers.
In his sorry and violent life, Ahmed Hassan had already proven the incompetency of Britain's border-police and the ignorance or naivety of its Home Office officials. His final gift to the state that allowed him in was to bring about the over-reach -- and presumption and lack of awareness -- of its judiciary.
*Douglas Murray, British author, commentator and public affairs analyst, is based in London, England. His latest book, an international best-seller, is "The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam."
© 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.

ISIS: Surging Again in Syria?
Sirwan Kajjo/Gatestone Institute/March 27/18
Two days after the Turkish military and allied jihadist forces took control of the Kurdish city of Afrin in northwestern Syria, Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists launched a major attack on Syrian regime forces in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor. The ISIS terrorists killed at least 25 soldiers and seized a large oil field.
Around the same time, ISIS militants captured a strategic district in the suburb of Syria's capital, Damascus, where they killed more than 60 government troops.
In the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in southern Damascus, ISIS enjoys a rising popularity among local residents. The group also maintains a significant presence near the Israeli border, where it has at least one dangerous affiliate, the Khalid bin al-Walid Army.
Two days after the Turkish military and allied jihadist forces took control of the Kurdish city of Afrin in northwestern Syria, Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists launched a major attack on Syrian regime forces in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor. The ISIS terrorists killed at least 25 soldiers and seized a large oil field. Around the same time, ISIS militants captured a strategic district in the suburb of Syria's capital, Damascus, where they killed more than 60 government troops.
These two recent advances signal a possible return by the extremist group that only months ago was thought to be largely defeated.
Since Turkey, a NATO ally, launched its Afrin offensive against the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) -- a main U.S. ally in the fight against ISIS -- U.S. officials have been warning that the fighting between two U.S. allies is distracting from the main mission, which is defeating ISIS.
"We are very concerned about the effect fighting there has had on our defeat ISIS efforts and would like to see an end to the hostilities before ISIS has the opportunity to regroup in eastern Syria," said Pentagon spokesman U.S. Army Colonel Rob Manning, referring to the Turkish offensive against Kurds in Afrin.
The U.S. State Department is already convinced that the terror group has been rebuilding itself in some places in Syria.
"The fighting in western Syria over the last two months, including in Afrin, has distracted from the defeat ISIS campaign and provided opportunity for ISIS to begin reconstituting in some areas," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a recent statement.
The Turkish-led attack on Afrin has forced more than 2,000 Kurdish and Arab fighters deployed against ISIS frontlines in eastern Syria to withdraw, in order to defend the area. U.S. officials have voiced concerns that such changes in battlefield priorities would take pressure off ISIS, and thus allowing the extremists to regroup and re-strategize their attacking capabilities along the Euphrates River Valley. More Kurdish fighters are expected to pull back from the battle against ISIS as Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has threatened to invade more Syrian Kurdish-held areas after Afrin.
The Turkish-led attack on Afrin has forced more than 2,000 Kurdish and Arab fighters deployed against ISIS frontlines in eastern Syria to withdraw, in order to defend the area. Pictured: Kurdish YPG fighters near a check point at Kobane, Syria on June 20, 2015. (Photo by Ahmet Sik/Getty Images)
After more than three years of almost daily U.S.-led airstrikes and ground operations against ISIS targets in Syria, the terrorist group has lost most of the territory it once held since it declared its so-called caliphate in 2014 -- including its de facto capital in Raqqa.
However, ISIS still controls around 5% of Syria's territory, particularly in the east and pockets near Damascus. In the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in southern Damascus, ISIS enjoys a rising popularity among local residents. The group also maintains a significant presence near the Israeli border, where it has at least one dangerous affiliate, the Khalid bin al-Walid Army.
Around 1,500 ISIS militants are estimated to be present across Syria, some of them moving about mostly freely as the U.S.-led air campaign has significantly decreased, especially after the liberation of Raqqa.
Unlike in Iraq, where a U.S.-backed government -- regardless of its weaknesses -- has largely managed to keep a grip on areas retaken from the terrorists, ISIS continues to benefit from the seven-year civil war raging in Syria. In many parts of the country, ISIS has hundreds of sleeper cells and Sunni rebel groups that are poised to pledge allegiance to the terror group at any moment.
ISIS as we knew it may not exist anymore, but it can certainly morph into an insurgency and attempt to reestablish itself in other parts of the Middle East and North Africa, while still using war-ravaged Syria as its command center.
Even the once-optimistic U.N. Special Envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, now believes that ISIS could make a comeback, exploiting the lack of a political settlement in Syria. The longer the stalemate drags on in Syria, the better it is for ISIS -- and other terrorist groups, for that matter -- to feed off the chaos and to continue posing a danger to regional and global security.
**Sirwan Kajjo is a Syrian-Kurdish Washington-based journalist and author.
© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Iranian Missiles on the Anniversary of the Yemen war
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/March 27/18
The seven ballistic missiles launched at four Saudi cities by the Houthis underscore the correctness of waging the war against them and the soundness of the warnings about Iran’s role in the region. It is Iran that smuggles the missiles and orchestrates their launching into Saudi Arabia.
On Sunday night we witnessed the first major attack on Saudi Arabia since the start of Iran’s efforts to control Yemen three years ago. But despite the large number of missiles launched and the distance they crossed, the operation remains a mere show, and the four missiles in the skies over Riyadh were no more than fireworks.
It is no coincidence that they were launched on the third anniversary of the war against the coup staged by the Houthi militias and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
While the missiles failed to hit any vital target, they succeeded in enabling the Saudi government to remind everyone that the war against the Houthis and their allies was and continues to be war of necessity.
Currently, the Houthis control about a quarter of Yemen — with great difficulty, even in their stronghold Saada governorate. There was a time when they controlled all of Yemen, including the city of Aden in the south, to the extent that the legitimate government led by President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi had to flee through Oman to Saudi Arabia.
Thus, had the military campaign not been launched, Yemen as a whole, not just a quarter of it, including its ports and airports, would have been under Iranian influence; and the Iranians would have been able to fire thousands of ballistic missiles and conventional rockets into Saudi territory.
Those who denounce the military solution, on the third anniversary of the war, should imagine what would have happened had Yemen, or most of it, still been under the control of the Houthis and other rebels.
The situation would have been frightening; much worse and more serious for both Yemen and Saudi Arabia, and would have caused a wider war than the one we have witnessed in the past 36 months. The launch of the seven missiles was a propaganda show, but it does not demonstrate a superior capability on the part of the Houthis; rather, it proves their inability to use missiles as they would wish.
It also proves that the quarter of the country that they still hold in the north of Yemen requires military liberation, instead of relying solely on political action. However, the area that the Houthis control is rugged, mountainous and densely populated; moreover, the rebels are using civilians there as human shields to prevent aerial bombardment.
The missile attack on Riyadh, which killed one person and injured two, confirms that Saudi Arabia and the Coalition it leads must complete the journey to Sanaa, liberate Yemen from Houthi control, and restore it as a state with a central authority headed by the legitimate government.
In the past, all efforts to persuade the Coalition to halt military operations and attempt a political solution proved to be misguided; and could have led, indeed, to serious consequences. At present, however, the Houthis and the Iranians are struggling to smuggle their missiles into the country, and their numbers have been limited by the continuation of the fighting.
Even the seven missiles launched on Sunday, and the ones launched before, were mostly fired at random as a result of the Coalition’s military activity, which is hunting the Houthis down in the areas under their control.
Hence, any suggestion that political negotiation could reduce or stop military action would only achieve what the Houthis desire — which is to reorganize their forces on the ground and obtain more supplies of arms and fuel.
Iran, through its Houthi agents, has now condemned itself in front of the new international envoy, Martin Griffiths. Met by the multiple missile attack on Saudi Arabia, Griffiths can see that a political solution cannot be based on granting the Houthis any political concessions outside the framework of the original political project; which calls for participation under the exclusive framework of the legitimate government, and the need to withdraw all weapons from the warring parties “outside” that legitimate government. There is no political solution that can justify granting the Houthis, and others, a mandate over some areas, allowing them to keep their weapons, or giving them a greater role in the political process.

John Bolton and the Policy of Confusion
Lina Khatib/Asharq Al Awsat/March 27/18
The appointment of John Bolton as US National Security Advisor by President Donald Trump came as a shock to many observers, resulting in the proliferation of commentary by his opponents arguing that bringing back Bolton to power risks pushing the United States in the direction of war. There appears to be consensus over whether it would be war with North Korea or war in the Middle East, but there are certainly echoes of the Iraq war that was spearheaded by the George W. Bush administration in 2003 in much of what those critical of Bolton are saying. Even the timing of Trump’s announcement about Bolton came within a couple of days of the 15-year anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq.
Reviewing Bolton’s statements over the years is a reminder of his ultra-conservative stance towards a number of issues. However, looking at the behavior of the Trump administration so far, it is unlikely that Bolton’s words will always translate into action. But Bolton's presence in the administration plays the role of a latent threat in certain cases, such as those of North Korea and Iran. Understanding this role requires a comprehensive view of Trump's performance in power.
Trump’s presidency is characterized by unpredictability, whether regarding who is actually in his inner circle (as demonstrated by the sacking of most people he had originally appointed to key positions), or of what he might do vis-à-vis rival countries. Much of the latter uncertainty emanates from what appears to be a disconnect between his words and his actions. On North Korea, Trump made strong public statements about its leader Kim Jung-un, but he surprised the world by announcing that he would hold a face-to-face meeting with the North Korean leader.
Trump critics see this behavior as a negative indicator for the US administration, on the basis that ambiguity in international relations is sometimes very destructive, as it can push policymakers to make decisions based on incomplete facts. Ambiguity can also facilitate the manipulation of facts. In the Iraq war of 2003, ambiguity was used to push for an illegal invasion whose price Iraq is still paying till today.
But in the case of North Korea, ambiguity and unpredictability have played in Trump’s favor. The various sackings in his administration send a clear message that almost no one is immune, while his taunts of Kim Jung-un were so over the top that they probably caused the latter to become unsure whether Trump was being serious about containing North Korea or just exaggerating for impact.
The appointment of Bolton, with his well-document calls for attacking North Korea, comes at a delicate time for American-North Korean relations because of the announced historic meeting between the two countries’ leaders. Bolton’s presence can only add to Kim Jung-un’s confusion about Trump’s intentions towards North Korea: Does he want war or peace? This gives Trump the upper hand in this relationship.
Things are less ambiguous for Trump regarding Iran. Trump has been consistent in speaking out against the 2015 nuclear deal, and Bolton is yet another voice in the administration’s new line up supporting Trump’s stance. The appointment of Mike Pompeo, another vocal critic of Iran, as Secretary of State is another indicator that there is growing harmony regarding Iran within the current US administration.
Of course, the United States’ concerns about Iran are not limited to the nuclear deal. Iran’s actions in the wider Middle East are alarming Israel as well as the United States’ Arab allies, and calls for containing Iran are becoming louder both within and outside the United States. Trump’s administration appears to be heading in the direction of seeking to annul the nuclear deal but also limit Iran’s influence in strategic locations in the Middle East, such as northeast and southern Syria.
The question, however, is how exactly the United States going to implement this containment. If Bolton’s words from three years ago are to be taken at face value, the US would replace the nuclear deal with a bombing campaign targeting Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.
In this regard, might John Bolton’s appointment achieve for US-Iranian relations what Trump so far appears to be on track to achieving with North Korea? In other words, could a hawkish indicator in the United States like having Bolton in power heighten anxiety and confusion within Iran and push it to agree to some sort of settlement on Yemen for example or Syria?
Bolton does not take up his position till April, so it is too early to tell where the United States might go next. But by appointing him and appointing Pompeo, there is an opportunity for Trump to change the course of American foreign policy towards the Middle East away from the line set by former President Barack Obama, especially since the latter unfortunately did not benefit from the opportunity of confusion that was brought within the Syrian regime by his announcement about a “red line” for the use of chemical weapons in 2013. The separation between words and deeds lost Obama’s credibility to his adversaries and allies. In spite of what may seem at first glance as a similarity between that separation and what we see in the present US administration, the fundamental difference between the two administrations lies in the possibility of using tactical confusion.
Strong words do not necessarily lead to strong military action. Often, just putting a serious threat of harsh actions on the table, in parallel with working to create a degree of confusion within an opponent, may achieve the desired results.

Iranian people are ready to usher in a ‘new day’
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/March 27/18
For many of Iran’s democratic activists and for much of the expatriate community, there was a growing sense of optimism as they celebrated the Iranian new year last week. Specifically, there are signs that the coming year could herald an era of freedom from the theocratic regime that has been ruling the country for 39 long years.That optimism is being built, in large part, on the foundation of mass protests that quickly spread throughout the country in late December and January. Every major town and city was affected, and the movement represented an expansion of pro-democratic actions to demographics that were once thought to be inert and either disinterested in politics or even supportive of the clerical regime.
The uprising conclusively debunked that myth. Not only did farmers and the rural poor participate in the demonstrations, they also helped to popularize much bolder slogans than those which characterized the urban middle class movement in 2009. Protesters in the past few months have risked execution by chanting “death to the dictator” and telling both factions of the Iranian political establishment that “the game is over.” And some did indeed pay the ultimate price, with approximately 50 people having been killed in the streets by security forces, with several others tortured to death while in police custody.
But, as many experts have observed, these acts of repression only serve to make a renewed uprising more likely, and more imminent. Iran’s pro-democratic resistance movement continues to drive protests and global outreach aimed at exposing the government’s abuses, securing the release of political prisoners, and keeping alive the promise of regime change. Consequently, the clerical establishment is feeling the heat, and its chances of suppressing the next mass uprising seem increasingly slight.
Insofar as the demonstrations in December and January gave rise to explicit calls for a change of government, they also gave voice to popular support for the resistance movement, as led by the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK). In the face of that challenge, the regime’s violently repressive response was highly predictable. What was surprising, however, was its uncharacteristic admission of vulnerability when Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei acknowledged the leading role that the PMOI had played in planning and carrying out the nationwide protests.
With support from the free world, Iran’s citizens and the organized resistance movement could soon have an unprecedented opportunity to realize the promise that is inherent in the literal translation of Nowruz.
The relevant statement on January 9 exposed a kind of anxiety that remains pronounced in the regime’s establishment to this day. On March 11, Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, admitted that Khamenei’s main concerns included the persistence of domestic unrest and the internal situation of the IRGC in the days and months ahead. Although funding for the hardline paramilitary group has been greatly expanded in recent years, even during the tenure of the supposedly moderate President Hassan Rouhani, the IRGC and other repressive forces have proven incapable of keeping ahead of popular demands for change.
Even before January’s uprising, thousands of protests and other instances of activism were recorded throughout the Islamic Republic over the past year. Since then, there has been a series of long, confrontational labor protests, and bold calls by the PMOI for mass gatherings in the run up to the new year celebration of Nowruz.
In her new year message, the president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), Maryam Rajavi, gave voice to the growing recognition of the regime’s vulnerability and the chances of a democratic transformation of Iranian society. Rajavi said: “Last year ended with the season of uprising, and the coming year can and must be turned into a year full of uprisings. And this is going to be an uprising until victory.” According to Rajavi: “The critical situation of the mullahs’ regime is a product of the Iranian people’s historic resistance. The Iranian people have never accepted this regime. The time is up for protecting this decadent regime and the uprising will continue until final victory.”
The NCRI president called attention to Khamenei’s admission that “the force inciting protests in Iran is the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran.”
Meanwhile, the optimism has been spreading across the globe, not only among Iranian expatriates but also among their supporters in Western policy circles. The PMOI has a large and growing network of non-partisan supporters, and this fact testifies to the real threat the organization and its affiliates pose to the clerical regime. A number of those supporters attended a major event in Tirana, Albania, that was attended by thousands of PMOI members on the occasion of Nowruz. Rudy Giuliani, former Mayor of New York and advisor to the US president on cyber security, said in a speech at that event: “You are the vision for the future of Iran. You are Madame Rajavi. I have a very simple message for the Iranian regime. Their future is in hell.” He added: “The right policy on Iran by any decent government in the world is regime change in Iran.”
It remains only for Western governments as a whole to set policy in accordance with these sentiments.
It is all but certain that the Iranian people will rise up again in opposition to the clerical regime. The international community must be ready to stand on the side of the Iranian people and the resistance and to make certain that those people retain access to the internet and social media, which were so instrumental in the astonishingly rapid and expansive spread of the January uprising. This will in turn make it easier for the world to recognize the abuses that the regime visits upon its restive population, and to hold Iranian officials accountable.
With this type of support from the free world, the Iranian people and the organized resistance movement could soon have an unprecedented opportunity to realize the promise that is inherent in the literal translation of Nowruz: A “new day” for an ancient civilization — one that has long been ready to enter an age of secular democracy and civic freedom.
*Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated, Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh

GCC should now lobby US over Turkey’s Red Sea military ambitions
Martin Jay/Al Arabiya/March 27/18
How long will Trump’s patience hold out with Turkey particularly with the appointment of John Bolton who is clearly not a fan of President Recep Erdogan? Until now, GCC states, as well as Iraq have all been remarkably despondent to Turkey’s intervention in the region, despite reports that Qatar backed Turkey, with rumours of other neighbours supportive of Kurdish YPG forces in Afrin. Then there is the more recent somnolent stand by Iraq against Erdogan’s forces possibly moving into Sinjar region in pursuit of escaping PKK militants there.
Yet there are other plans by Turkey, which, if they don’t agitate America’s allies in the region, will certainly stir a hornet’s nest in Washington and finally place Turkey on a collision course with the Trump administration.
Since Afrin fell neatly into Erdogan's palm, the Turkish leader is making moves now to go ahead with his dream of being a regional power with its own hegemony - which of course is a dangerous thing – with Qatar as a key partner.
In recent months western press has little mentioned Turkey’s deal with Sudan, to effectively lease the historical Ottoman island of Suakin back to Turkey which has great plans for it to be a Red Sea military base – angering neighbouring Egypt which accuses Qatar of harbouring Muslim Brotherhood members. Qatar, it was always expected, would be a military partner on the Island and has already signed a $4bn deal with Sudan to develop and manage a port on the island, with a naval dock also planned to be constructed by Turkey.
With John Bolton about to take the post of national security adviser, a hawk sceptical about Turkey’s manoeuvres in the region, perhaps it’s time for Suakin Island to be raised
Flexing its muscle
But this grandiose plan will also, in time, irritate neighbours when Turkey starts to flex its muscles in the Red Sea and starts to act as a regional power. Not only could such a move threaten to destabilize the Red Sea and Egypt’s Suez Canal but it will also create a problem for the Trump administration.
Turkey believes that it can use the location to leverage itself against both Egypt and Saudi Arabia – its regional foes who are weary of Ankara’s relations with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Yet Bolton's appointment of national security adviser might skupper such plans. His hatred of Turkey might push this issue up the agenda.
But equally, one might also ask is it time now for GCC countries to make their case to Washington to stop Turkey preparing to expand in the region? Should Washington intervene and derail Turkey’s plans of building its own military base on Suakin Island (which belongs to Sudan – a recipient of US aid) which can only, once operational, threaten Saudi Arabia and the entire region?
Turkey’s recent tumultuous period of Trump’s period in office has not stood it in good stead. There was the arrest of US consulate employees and the request from Erdogan that the US extradites Fethullah Gulen, Turkey’s prime suspect in the July 2016 attempted coup. In New York, a trial reached a guilty verdict against Turkish banker for evading US sanctions on Iran, which some say had Erdogan’s tacit approval. Turkey also leaked the secret locations of US forces in Syria, and when visiting the US in 2017 to meet President Trump, the Turkish leader’s personal guards clashed with protesters in Washington DC. Then there was the veiled threat by Erdogan to give US forces an “Ottoman slap”.
Not exactly a great impression for Trump’s people who never trusted Erdogan from the beginning anyway and now with Bolton – considered an extreme hawk among hawks – will all be aggregated negative collateral, perhaps contributing towards his recent comment against Erdogan.
Of course there are still questions over whether Iran will join Qatar and Turkey in its new foray into Red Sea superpower war games. But Iran and Russia are responsible for Erdogan’s new virility in the region as both allowed Turkish forces to take Afrin so as to tactically prevent Syria’s Assad from capturing one more inch of soil back, in a bid to clip his wings.
That same strategy may well be what is happening now in the Red Sea. Or perhaps Iran and Russia are playing a wait-n-see game. Certainly Russia has huge ambitions in the region and might consider being part of the Suakin gambit, or certainly supporting it as a counterweight to US hegemony in the Middle East in general. Yet Bolton’s admission in earlier articles that the US administration under Trump was confused about the YPG’s role in Syria and not seeing the problem with Turkey (which sees it as the PKK) is a clue that he will be a security adviser who wants to make corrections to Trump’s erroneous first year in office, which in the Middle East had to take on Obama’s strategies. But the Suakin Island was not part of that plan and Arab leaders should not dilly dally and hope Erdogan’s dream of restoring a modern Ottoman state in the region will vanish like mist over the Bosporus.

Qatar takes one step forward, two steps back
Sawsan Al Shaer/Al Arabiya/March 27/18
The Gulf will never allow Qatar to be ripped from it, regardless of its behavior and how astray it goes. The Gulf will always embrace Qatar.
The shortest way to get somewhere is through a direct route. My advice is to seize the opportunity and not further complicate the matter for itself.
Qatar has recently acknowledged that it shelters 20 terrorists and 8 terrorist entities on its territories. Then it said that this list is nothing new but publishing it is! When did Qatar ever say that ISIS-Sinai Province (ISIS-SP) is a terrorist group? This is the first time that Doha describes the groups which are practicing terrorism in Egypt, and in Sinai in particular, as terrorists. The list is thus new but Doha continues to play arrogant.
Then through a tweet by Hamad bin Jassim, he hinted that the acceptance of the solution might be in Riyadh and we don’t know how he would later retract from his statement. Will he also claim that his account was hacked?
Why take this long route? Haven’t the Qatari regime learned audacity, frankness and direct talk? Hasn’t it realized that our problem with is originally due to it endless elusive tactics? If Doha has kept its word and committed to it, there wouldn’t have been any problems.
Why does it think that being devious can succeed? Why is Doha overcomplicating this for itself and its people? Hasn’t Qatar realized that it no longer poses a problem for the Anti-Terror Quartet after it decided to boycott it to “shut the door from which the wind blew”?
Now, after the dismissal of Rex Tillerson as secretary of state and the appointment of John Bolton as national security advisor, Qatar will not be included in any agenda or discussed in any meeting between US officials and any officials from the quartet.
Qatar widened the gap with the quartet after Azmi Bishara tempted it to resume its policies. Bishara managed the crisis for Qatar while taking his own agenda – which Doha has not yet realized – into account.
The Qatari regime’s trial balloons to observe reactions to the possibility of "a partial solution" are a waste of time. They actually show that the regime hasn’t learnt anything and also prolong the crisis. There is no difference between this time and previous tricks, including their “pledge” to implement and this ended in 2014. Hamad bin Khalifa said it himself that it was over after King Abdullah died and gave himself the right to betray the pledges made. So how can we guarantee or respect any future pledges Qatar makes? After violating signed agreements, what sort of verbal reassurances can Doha offer us?
Qatar cannot resolve this crisis via partial solutions such as by buying cattle, buying Neymar and football clubs, or pasting posters on cabs in London or even buying votes in the congress and pursuing planes and threatening navigation. Qatar spent billions on these deceitful approaches and it was all in vain. The solution has, since day one, been to implement all the demands of the anti-terror quartet and then sit down in Riyadh.
Very simple, easy solution
Qatar widened the gap with the quartet after Azmi Bishara tempted it to resume its policies. Bishara managed the crisis for Qatar while taking his own agenda – which Doha has not yet realized – into account. He kept Doha away from us and separated it from its embrace. He drowned Qatar and complicated its process of swimming back to the surface.
The solution was actually very simple and easy, and it would have greatly benefitted Doha and rectified the deteriorating situation caused by those who had managed to convince Qatar that it will one day rule the Arab order. At the beginning, the quartet was still lenient while addressing its disputes with Doha but Bishara advised the latter to expand the circle of dispute and gave it hope that Donald Trump will be removed. He also misguided Qatar into thinking that its money can solve the crisis. Days went by, Qatar has wasted billions and it has now found itself back to square one!
One last advice to Qatar: Do not wait any longer to resolve the crisis because this will only widen the gap. Do not expect that there will be negotiations and verbal commitments. They’ve tried this before but it didn’t work. Wise men once said: The shortest distance between two points is a straight line

Defeating Iran's Roadside Bombs in Yemen
Michael Knights/The Washington Institute/March 27/18
To save lives and speed the war's end, the United States and UN should make urgent use of their expertise and evidence on countering advanced Iranian munitions.
Yemeni government forces backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are slowly but steadily advancing toward the key rebel-held cities of Sana and Hodeida. To blunt this advance, the Houthis are increasingly using advanced antiarmor roadside bombs known as explosively formed penetrators (EFPs)—a technology provided by Iran via its proxy Lebanese Hezbollah. Given the preponderance of evidence on the matter, the international community urgently needs to expose this link and provide support to minimize the effectiveness of deadly EFP munitions.
The Houthis depended on landmines throughout their six previous wars against the government, but these were simple devices that used pressure plates to detonate. Over the past three years, however, a different kind of munition suddenly entered their arsenal: EFPs, which use an explosive charge to shape a concave copper or steel "liner" into a hyper-velocity molten slug that can cut through the best-armored vehicles in the world. In Iraq, for example, 1,526 EFPs killed a total of 196 U.S. troops and injured 861 others between November 2005 and December 2011.
When EFPs first showed up in Yemen, they were not experimental versions developed indigenously by the Houthis—rather, they have been professionally integrated weapons systems from the outset. Earlier this month, a report by Conflict Armament Research (CAR) described EFPs captured in Yemen as bearing all the characteristics of the most advanced arrays that Hezbollah deployed for years and gave to Iraqi militias after 2003. Houthi EFP arrays are encased in foam, then shaped and painted to look like rocks. They include one to three warheads; a radio-controlled arming switch turns on the device, and a passive infrared firing switch detonates the EFP when a vehicle enters the sensor's field of view. This is precisely the configuration used by Iranian-backed networks in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
In addition to this very strong circumstantial evidence of Iran's influence, Tehran has a proven track record of evading UN arms sanctions on the Houthis. On January 26, the UN Panel of Experts on Yemen found that Iran "failed to take the necessary measures to prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale, or transfer" of ballistic missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles to the Houthis. It is hardy a stretch to surmise that Iran and its proxies are also bringing advanced roadside bomb components into Yemen, as they have done in Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia.
Although such findings are sufficient cause to take action on their own, the CAR report goes beyond purely circumstantial evidence. The EFPs discovered in Yemen include electronic components that point to a common point of origin linking the Houthis, Iranian-backed militants in Bahrain, and the Iranian arms smuggling vessel Jihan 1, which was intercepted off northern Yemen in January 2013 carrying a huge consignment of Iranian-made C4 explosives, Iranian-made surface-to-air missiles, and EFP components. Key components investigated by CAR include:
Circuit boards. The CAR report includes imagery of identical circuit boards used in Houthi EFPs seized this January and in magnetically attached bombs seized from Iranian-backed Bahraini militants in July 2017. CAR emphasized that the components were exactly the same "in design, construction, and materials employed."
Power relays. Other CAR imagery shows that the power relays in the Houthi and Bahraini devices are identical as well. Moreover, large stocks of this power relay were found on the Jihan 1.
Heat-shrink wire covering. Further imagery in the CAR report shows identical heat-shrink wire used in the Houthi and Bahraini devices. Produced by the Chinese company WOER, this brand of wire has also been found inside two other types of Iranian-smuggled equipment in Yemen: Qasef-1 unmanned aerial vehicles and missile fuel tanks.
As noted previously, Iranian EFPs killed many U.S. personnel in Iraq, not counting the casualties among British forces and other coalition partners. Yet the threat did not simply disappear after the 2011 withdrawal of most U.S. forces. On October 1, 2017, yet another American soldier was killed when an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia planted an EFP near Tikrit. EFPs have also shown up in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, and now they threaten to kill U.S. allies in the Yemeni and Gulf militaries seeking to restore the UN-recognized government to the capital. These weapons could extend the war and its associated humanitarian suffering, so the need for prompt action is paramount.
First, Washington, Britain, and other partners should deploy specialists to Yemen to assess the threat from EFPs and other improvised explosive devices and landmines. Quick-impact courses should be offered to Yemeni, Saudi, and UAE military officers and engineers covering safety awareness and pattern analysis for IEDs and mines—capabilities that are almost entirely lacking at present. Some such assistance is already being given, but it needs to be drastically strengthened and accelerated. Recognizing that this assistance is defensive and humanitarian in nature, Congress should fence it off as a separate budgetary priority from its broader consideration of American support to the war.
Second, the Yemeni, Saudi, and UAE armed forces need accelerated deployment of U.S. counter-IED technology. After the huge campaigns in Iraq, the United States has plenty of low-tech counter-IED equipment that could be provided quickly on a low- or no-cost basis. For instance, Yemeni forces and their Gulf allies lack simple tools such as the Rhino boom, a metal bar lowered ahead of a vehicle to prematurely trigger an EFP's passive-infrared firing switch, making it miss. And very few Yemeni or coalition vehicles have anti-IED jammers, making them vulnerable to radio-controlled devices.
Third, the United States and UN should ensure that Yemeni and Gulf forces have all the data they need to both defeat IEDs and prove where the technology is coming from. This means training their engineers to document weapons intelligence and secure forensic data from seized roadside munitions. Small private-sector training programs are already underway to improve weapons intelligence collection and retention, but these efforts need to be accelerated.
Finally, the Yemeni government and its partners need to share any relevant intelligence they obtain on IEDs and the importation of IED components. When three boats full of weapons were seized off Yemen in February-March 2016, Australia and France quickly released full details of the arms onboard two of the vessels, but the United States continues to withhold its own findings. Washington's partial release of data from other seizures has allowed authorities to link weapons found in Yemen to Iran (e.g., the Shark 33 drone boat captured by UAE forces in 2017), so withholding such information can impede the case against Iranian proliferation.
The Gulf coalition likewise needs to grant the UN faster and more complete access to evidence, including the onboard computer they retrieved from the Shark 33. Perhaps most important, UN member states should demand access to the detailed weapons intelligence captured on Jihan 1 in 2013, which may prove vital to tracking weapons and IED components back to Tehran. All of the relevant players in the conflict hold pieces of the puzzle, so the United States should expend more effort on gathering them together in order to highlight the full scope of Iranian arms smuggling.
**Michael Knights, a Lafer Fellow with The Washington Institute, recently returned from a visit to Yemen's battlefronts, where he examined EFP warheads and spoke with explosive ordnance technicians.

Anti-Saudi propaganda revisited
Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi/Al Arabiya/March 27/18
The problem with the Iranian-Qatari anti-Saudi media and PR blitz is its lack of originality, logic and creativity. My counterparts in heated debates — on a Russia Today program — were repeating the same questions and accusations over and over again. So, I thought that maybe, just maybe, if I explain away all these issues, I might, once and for all, put an end to the misunderstanding that their audience may have. As for them, they have no reason to stop their propaganda machine. In fact, as long as Saudi Arabia is on the rise, they'll escalate their shooting in the hope that, somehow, a bullet might hit the Saudi rocket! Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman’s achievements during his recent visits to Egypt, the United Kingdom and the United States, have pushed their propaganda machine into top gear and at full speed.
Here are their major points of contest and my responses:
Saudi Arabia has given its fortune away to US President Donald Trump, exactly as he promised in his election campaign.
Unlike what Iran did to Iraq — stealing its oil and giving back only to its Iraqi militia and corrupted politicians — no one in the world, let alone constitutional governments like the US and Saudi Arabia, are taken or given money just like that! There are business and governmental deals to go through complicated procedures before being realized. F15 fighter jet deal with Boeing, for example, must be approved first by different US departments, including the Executive Office, Pentagon and the Congress, before negotiations with the manufacturer. Such tedious process takes years to be agreed, and more to be delivered. Therefore, the above deal was negotiated ten years ago but the first jets were delivered recently.
Saudi Arabia has always insisted in all its deals that a good part of them are invested locally. Our Crown Prince has taken this further, by inserting a condition that 50 percent of any military deal must be manufactured locally. This means jobs and training for Saudis, transfer of technology and the establishment of profitable, exporting, sophisticated defense industry.
Investment in the future
Therefore, a $400 billion deal may sound a waste of money on weapons we might not need, at a cost we cannot afford, on a short notice. However, it is actually a good investment in the future of Saudi Arabia as a high-tech industrial nation. It will take at least ten years to pay (at an average of $20 billion a year) and half of that would be invested locally in the new defense industry.
Why not investing and aiding Arab countries instead, including Saudi Arabia itself?
Fortunately, we can afford to do all the above, at once. Saudi is, by far, the greatest investor and donor in the Arab and Muslim world. The latest public and private investments in Egypt alone is close to $100 billion. We invested in and supported Yemen, Palestine, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Sudan, Tunisia, Morocco, Somalia, in addition to our investments in the Gulf states. In the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, for example, we are the biggest international investors.
In addition, Saudi Arabia is a founder and the largest shareholder of the Islamic Development Bank, funding projects in 57 Muslim nations.
Whenever an Arab or Muslim country, including Iran, is devastated by war or hit by natural disasters, Saudi Arabia is always there to help. In Yemen alone, we provided $13 billion in humanitarian help and development, recently.
At home, the Saudi Vision2030 not only increases public investments, but also brings in hundreds of billions from foreign investors to modernize infrastructure, building brand new cities and establishing new-age industries.
Iran is not a danger to Saudi Arabia, and political solutions are possible. The West is exploiting the conflict to milk our treasury.
If we were to support Iranian militias and provide them with missiles to attack Iranian cities, train and equip them to terrorize the nation and bomb their holiest shrines in Qom and Shiraz, would Tehran deal with such aggression diplomatically?
Iran is doing much more than that. It is encircling us with threats and dangers, via their agents in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. It supports terrorist groups, Sunni and Shiite, from Al-Qaeda and Daesh (the so-called IS) to Hezbollah and Houthis. It incites people against each other, and against their governments. And it conducts terrorist attacks even in the holiest Muslim city, Makkah. Are we supposed to face all the above with pure diplomacy? We tried that for forty years — it never worked.
We cannot depend on others to protect our nation. The US was about to withdraw from the region in Obama era — a good lesson to remember. A well-equipped army is our dependable shield. Then come allies and friends.
In short, we know what we do. Rest assured dear Arabs that we won’t be distracted from helping you. In fact, we are protecting our Arab and Muslim nation from the Nazis of Tehran.