May 12/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations
Jesus touched their eyes and said, ‘According to your faith let it be done to you & their eyes were opened
Matthew 09/27-35: "As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, crying loudly, ‘Have mercy on us, Son of David!’ When he entered the house, the blind men came to him; and Jesus said to them, ‘Do you believe that I am able to do this?’ They said to him, ‘Yes, Lord.’Then he touched their eyes and said, ‘According to your faith let it be done to you.’And their eyes were opened. Then Jesus sternly ordered them, ‘See that no one knows of this.’But they went away and spread the news about him throughout that district. After they had gone away, a demoniac who was mute was brought to him. And when the demon had been cast out, the one who had been mute spoke; and the crowds were amazed and said, ‘Never has anything like this been seen in Israel.’But the Pharisees said, ‘By the ruler of the demons he casts out the demons.’Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness."

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on May 11-12/18
Aoun: New representation cements stability/Ghinwa Obeid/The Daily Star/May 11/18
Unpicking the results of Lebanon's elections/Asma Ajroudi/Aljazera/May 11/18
Was Hezbollah really the winner of Lebanon’s elections/Joe Macaron/Al Minitor/May 09/2018
Lebanon’s elections and the region’s challenges/Randa Takieddine/Al Arabiya/May 11/18
John Bolton: The Iran deal was betrayed by its own abysmal record
John Bolton/U.S. national security adviser./Washington Post/May 11/18
Which Side Are You On: Iran or Israel/Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/Friday, 11 May, 2018/
Iraq Election: Weak Government, Strong Society/Amir Taheri/Asharq Al Awsat/Friday, 11 May/18
A Month of Islam and Multiculturalism in Germany: April 2018
Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/May 11/18
Iran deal ignored Gulf concerns/Hasan Al-Hasan/Arab News/May 11/18
The tactics behind Iran’s dual response to US withdrawal/Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/May 11/18
Who are the winners and losers from US oil sanctions on Iran/Wael Mahdi/Arab News/May 11/18
Iran and Israel on the brink: What will stop them/Yossi Mekelberg/Arab News/May 11/18
Disputes over Iraq and Syria: Strategies and ramifications/Shehab Al-Makahleh/Al Arabiya/May 11/18
12 phone calls from Theresa May to Trump/Mamdouh AlMuhaini/Al Arabiya/May 11/18
Iraq’s Elections: Red Flags and Opportunities for Inclusion/Bilal Wahab/The Washington Institute/May 11/2018
Iran will quit nuclear deal, restart enrichment, ramp up military tension/Debka File/May 11/18

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on May 11-12/18
UN Says Lebanon-Israel Border 'Quiet' After Syria Flare-up
Elections Observation Group Registers More Than 3000 Violations
Hariri supports Berri as new Parliament Speaker
Attempts to Contain Druze Strife After Escape of Man Accused of Choueifat Crime
Outgoing MP Moukheiber hands term report to Aoun
Israel Tells Lebanon Not Seeking Escalation amid Syria Tensions
ISG Urges Lebanon to Agree 'Defense Strategy', Abide by 'Baabda Declaration'
UNIFIL Says Lebanon-Israel Border 'Quiet' after Syria Flare-Up
Hariri Meets Aoun: We Want to Preserve Security, Stability in Lebanon
New Parliament to 'Re-Elect Berri on May 22'
Berri to be elected Speaker once again
Aoun: New representation cements stability
Unpicking the results of Lebanon's elections
Was Hezbollah really the winner of Lebanon’s elections?
Lebanon’s elections and the region’s challenges
Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on May 11-12/18
Lieberman to Assad: ‘Get Rid of the Iranians’
Washington: Iran Nuclear Inspections Must Continue
Iran Does Not Want 'New Tensions' in Mideast, Says Rouhani
Iran FM to Visit Russia, China and Meet with European Powers in Brussels
Russia Seeks Mediator Role between Israel and Iran
Golan Heights: A 50-year flashpoint for Israel and Syria
Iran and Israel: From allies to foes
UN chief asks for halt to ‘all hostile acts’ in Middle East
'Projecting Power': U.S. Carrier Truman Assumes Anti-IS Syria Role
Iran Says Israel Launched Syria Strikes on False 'Pretexts'
Calls for Restraint after Israeli Raids on 'Iranians' in Syria
Erdogan, Putin Say U.S. 'Wrong' to Abandon Iran Nuclear Deal
Putin, Merkel Reaffirm Commitment to Iran Nuclear Deal
Nasr Hariri to Asharq Al-Awsat: Iran’s Presence Hampers Syria Settlement
Protests within Fatah Movement, Factions Due to Measures against Gaza
Official: Pakistani Officer Killed in Bomb Blast, Several Wounded
Kenya Burst Dam Toll Climbs, Search Continues

Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on May 11-12/18
UN Says Lebanon-Israel Border 'Quiet' After Syria Flare-up
AFP/ Friday 11th May 2018/United Nations peacekeepers in Lebanon said Friday they were keeping a close eye on the southern border with Israel, but the area was "quiet" after strikes on suspected Iranian positions in Syria. The Israeli raids in the early hours of Thursday had prompted concern that Iran's powerful ally Hezbollah could retaliate from its positions in southern Lebanon. "We are monitoring the overall situation, but in relation to our area, the situation has been quiet," said Andrea Tenenti, spokesman for the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). Tenenti told AFP that the UN force had not increased its patrols in the south, which number around 450 per day. On Thursday morning, Israel carried out unprecedented strikes against what it said were Iranian logistics and intelligence targets in Syria. It said the strikes were in response to rocket fire towards its forces in the occupied Golan Heights, which it blamed on Iran's Quds Force. Iranian forces are deployed in Syria to back the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, whose fighters have also received a boost from Iraqi and other foreign militias as well as Hezbollah. Israel, which has vowed to prevent any entrenched Iranian military presence in southern Syria, is suspected of carrying out several rounds of strikes against Tehran-backed forces. It has also targeted what it says are arms deliveries to Hezbollah in Syria. There was no immediate comment from Hezbollah on the latest Israeli strikes or how it might respond. Israel and its US ally believe the Lebanese Shiite militia is amassing weapons on Lebanon's southern border in preparation for a new war, after a deadly conflict with Israel in 2006. Set up in 1978, UNIFIL was beefed up after the 2006 war and tasked with guaranteeing a ceasefire and Israeli withdrawal from a demilitarised zone on the border. UNIFIL now has 10,500 troops on the ground, monitoring the truce and helping Lebanese troops secure the borders.

Elections Observation Group Registers More Than 3000 Violations 11th May/2018/Member of the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE), Zeina Al-Aawar, said that the observers have registered more than 3000 violations in the general elections, stressing that the type of these violations, not the number, is what is really shocking about them. "Several violations were made when it comes to the voting secrecy as the delegates of some candidates stood behind the voting booth along with the electors under the pretext that the electoral process is hard to be understood by everyone," she told the Voice of Lebanon radio station. Al-Aaawar also noted that the voting booth was not well placed in all polling stations, which disrupted the voters' privacy. "No one committed to the electoral silence, whether the media outlets or the candidates. This has affected the voters' freedom to choose the candidates they want," she said, adding that the voters were also subjected to a direct pressure inside the polling centers. "In Beirut's first district, the observers and candidates' delegates were not allowed to oversee the vote count for more than two and a half hours. In Baalbeck, the observers were not allowed to take part in the vote count at all."

Hariri supports Berri as new Parliament Speaker
The Daily Star/May 11, 2018/BEIRUT: Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced Friday that the Future Movement will back current Speaker Nabih Berri to retain his role in the new Parliament. "Berri is our candidate for Parliament speaker,” Hariri told reporters in televised remarks, after meeting with President Michel Aoun at Baabda Palace to evaluate the election period and to set the stage for the coming two weeks. The meeting was the first sit-down between Aoun and Hariri since the country held its first parliamentary elections in nine years on May 6. "We congratulated Aoun for the success of the electoral process," Hariri said. "We are heading towards a better period and more vibrant Parliament."Hariri also said that the final Cabinet session before the government enters caretaker status on May 21 will be held Wednesday. Parliament's term ends on May 20. Hariri noted that another Cabinet session could be held if needed. The premier also indirectly responded to Berri's assertion that the Finance Ministry should continue to be held by a Shiite in the new government. The Speaker has insisted that this was agreed to in the 1989 Taif Accord that ended the 1975-1990 Lebanese Civil War. "The issue of customs [in the accord] include the three leaderships [President, Speaker and Prime Minister]," Hariri said. "As for the government, it is formed after consultations are held. There is no need to talk about any pre-conditions.
Attempts to Contain Druze Strife After Escape of Man Accused of Choueifat Crime
Beirut- Asharq Al Awsat/Friday, 11 May, 2018/The Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) announced that the suspect in the death of one of its members in Choueifat, a security official of the Lebanese Democratic Party, has fled the country, at a time when political and religious efforts were continuing to prevent an escalating crisis and a possible Druze strife in the Chouf Mountain. While the available information indicated that the suspect, Amin al-Souqi, has escaped to Syria, Marwan Abi Faraj of PSP’s Choueifat department accused the president of the Democratic Party, former Minister Talal Arslan, of facilitating the escape of the accused. In comments on Wednesday, Arslan said: “Those who are with me, I handed over, those who aren’t with me, it’s not my job to go find them…” Alaa Abu Faraj, a civil defense volunteer and a PSP member, was killed on Tuesday in a clash over parliamentary elections results. The dispute in the Choueifat region erupted between supporters of the rival PSP and Lebanese Democratic Party, and escalated into a shootout and a hand grenade was thrown at a PSP center in the area. The Lebanese Army continued on Wednesday the arrest operations of those involved in the dispute. The head of the PSP Walid Jumblatt tweeted in this regard: “I commend the work and efforts of the military intelligence in arresting the perpetrators of the crime of Choueifat, and I condemn all irresponsible voices that call for incitement.” Arab Tawhid Party Chief and Former Minister Wiam Wahhab on Thursday held phone talks with Jumblatt and expressed his readiness to contact authorities in Damascus in a bid to hand over Souqi. “Some are saying that the criminal Amin al-Souqi has fled to Syria. If this is true, I will mediate with the Syrian state to extradite him and hand him over to the Lebanese state in order to prevent bloodshed, as bloodshed is prohibited in Mount Lebanon,” Wahhab said.

Outgoing MP Moukheiber hands term report to Aoun
The Daily Star/May. 11, 2018/BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun Friday met with MP Ghassan Moukheiber, who handed in a written report on his work during during the parliamentary term that ends on May 20. Aoun received Moukheiber at Baabda Palace, where the two discussed the May 6 parliamentary elections, focusing on the Metn district, where the 2009-elected MP ran on Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement list. Moukheiber was unsuccessful in his bid for reelection this year “I assured President [Aoun] that I am exiting from Parliament, but I am not leaving my commitment to public service,” Moukheiber said after the meeting, according to a presidential statement.
Israel Tells Lebanon Not Seeking Escalation amid Syria Tensions
Naharnet/May 11/18/Lebanon has been informed by Western diplomatic sources close to Tel Aviv that Israel is not seeking an escalation on Lebanon's southern border, a media report said. "It will not retaliate in Lebanon as long as the confrontations remain confined to the Syrian front," al-Joumhouria daily quoted the sources as saying in remarks published Friday. The sources also revealed that "intensive contacts are underway inside and outside the country in a bid to keep Lebanon out of the escalation in the region."
"We hope the coming days will witness a de-escalation," the sources added.
The Western diplomatic message comes after the most serious military confrontation between Israeli and Iranian forces in Syria. Israel carried out an intense wave of airstrikes against Iranian bases in Syria overnight Wednesday in retaliation to what it described as an Iranian rocket attack on its forces in Syria's occupied Golan Heights.
The raids also targeted posts for Lebanon'd Hizbullah in Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Iran-backed Hizbullah has deployed thousands of fighters to neighboring Syria to aid President Bashar al-Assad regime in the face of an Islamist-led uprising that has been largely quelled.

ISG Urges Lebanon to Agree 'Defense Strategy', Abide by 'Baabda Declaration'

Naharnet/May 11/18/The International Support Group for Lebanon has congratulatd the Lebanese people and authorities for the completion of parliamentary elections on May 6, urging the country to agree a "defense strategy" and abide by the Baabda Declaration.
Noting that the polls were held in "a generally calm and peaceful climate," the ISG said the elections "have been essential in renewing the democratic mandate of the Parliament strengthening Lebanon’s institutions.""We note the preliminary findings of the EU Electoral Observation Mission and other observer missions, and call on all parties to continue working in a spirit of calm and unity as results are confirmed, as electoral disputes are resolved and violations and recommendations followed up, and as consultations for government formation get underway," the group added in a statement.
The ISG noted in particular "the enthusiastic participation of women in this election," urging "the incoming Parliament and Government to take every possible step to ensure that women can play a full part in Lebanese politics."
It added: "We take this opportunity to encourage the swift formation of a new government that can sustain the positive momentum created by recent legislative gains, and by the ambitious agenda for international support to Lebanon set out at the Paris ISG Conference of 8 December 2017 and carried forward during 2018 at the Rome II, CEDRE and Brussels II conferences."
The international group, which represents major world powers, also said that it looks forward to "working with the new government as it follows up on its international commitments, including under resolutions 1559 (2004) and 1701 (2006) to extend the authority of the Lebanese state across all of its national territory and to ensure its monopoly over the legitimate use of force."
"In this regard, we look forward to the resumption of a Lebanese-led dialogue towards a National Defense Strategy in the post-elections period, as set out by the President of the Republic in his statement of 12 March. It will also be critical to Lebanon’s stability for the new government to continue to take tangible steps in implementing Lebanon’s policy of disassociation in accordance with the Baabda Declaration (2012)," the ISG urged. On the economic front, the group said that Blbuilding on this election, it will be important for a new government and legislature to "move swiftly to enhance the economic climate in Lebanon by implementing structural and sectoral reform measures that would enhance investments in Lebanon’s vital infrastructure and services, consistent with the agenda set out during the CEDRE conference."Recognizing the ongoing challenges posed to Lebanon by the temporary presence of Syrian refugees in the country, we reiterate our commitment to our partnership with Lebanon in supporting both host communities and refugees," it added. The International Support Group has brought together the United Nations and the governments of China, France, Germany, Italy, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States, together with the European Union and the Arab League. It was launched in September 2013 by the U.N. Secretary-General with former President Michel Suleiman to help mobilize support and assistance for Lebanon’s "stability, sovereignty and state institutions and to specifically encourage assistance for the Lebanese Army, Syrian refugees in Lebanon and host communities and government programs and public services impacted by the Syrian crisis."

UNIFIL Says Lebanon-Israel Border 'Quiet' after Syria Flare-Up
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 11/18/United Nations peacekeepers in Lebanon said Friday they were keeping a close eye on the southern border with Israel, but the area was "quiet" after strikes on suspected Iranian positions in Syria. The Israeli raids in the early hours of Thursday had prompted concern that Iran's powerful ally Hizbullah could retaliate from its positions in southern Lebanon. "We are monitoring the overall situation, but in relation to our area, the situation has been quiet," said Andrea Tenenti, spokesman for the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). Tenenti told AFP that the U.N. force had not increased its patrols in the south, which number around 450 per day. On Thursday morning, Israel carried out unprecedented strikes against what it said were Iranian logistics and intelligence targets in Syria. It said the strikes were in response to rocket fire towards its forces in the occupied Golan Heights, which it blamed on Iran's Quds Force. Iranian forces are deployed in Syria to back the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, whose fighters have also received a boost from Iraqi and other foreign militias as well as Hizbullah. Israel, which has vowed to prevent any entrenched Iranian military presence in southern Syria, is suspected of carrying out several rounds of strikes against Tehran-backed forces. It has also targeted what it says are arms deliveries to Hizbullah in Syria. There was no immediate comment from Hizbullah on the latest Israeli strikes or how it might respond. Israel and its U.S. ally believe Hizbullah is amassing weapons on Lebanon's southern border in preparation for a new war, after a deadly conflict with Israel in 2006. Set up in 1978, UNIFIL was beefed up after the 2006 war and tasked with guaranteeing a ceasefire and Israeli withdrawal from a demilitarized zone on the border. UNIFIL now has 10,500 troops on the ground, monitoring the truce and helping Lebanese troops secure the borders.

Hariri Meets Aoun: We Want to Preserve Security, Stability in Lebanon

Naharnet/May 11/18/Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Friday visited the Baabda Palace for talks with President Michel Aoun. This marked the first meeting between the two leaders since the parliamentary elections that were held on Sunday. "We want to preserve security, safety and stability in Lebanon," Hariri said after meeting Aoun. "We are about to enter a better period and a more vigorous parliament," the premier added. As for the issue of Speaker Nabih Berri's nomination for a new term as head of the legislature, Hariri said: "If Speaker Nabih Berri is nominated for the speakership then we will support him." Referring to the post-electoral security incidents, the premier emphasized that the army and the security forces "will act in the interest of the Lebanese citizen should instability erupt in any region." Asked about Berri's insistence on the finance ministry portfolio for the incumbent Ali Hassan Khalil, Hariri said: "There is only one norm in the state and it is related to the presidency, the speakership and the premiership. As for the other norms, I have not heard of them and I'm not willing to recognize them." Speaking at a Center House rally to celebrate the results that were achieved by al-Mustaqbal Movement, Hariri boasted that his movement "is still the cornerstone of the national equation." "It still has the biggest partisan bloc in parliament," Hariri added. The Aoun-Hariri talks come in the wake of the most serious military confrontation between Israel and Iran in Syria. Lebanon's Iran-backed Hizbullah has sent thousands of fighters into the neighboring country to bolster Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

New Parliament to 'Re-Elect Berri on May 22'
Naharnet/May 11/18/The new parliament will hold a session on May 22 to re-elect AMAL Movement leader Nabih Berri to a sixth term as Parliament Speaker, a media report said."The Parliament Bureau will soon convene under the most senior MP, Michel Murr, to make the necessary preparations ahead of a session to elect a new speaker," al-Joumhouria newspaper reported on Friday, noting that "there are confirmed indications that Berri will be re-elected.""The election session will likely be held on May 22," the daily added. Berri himself told al-Joumhouria that he has called Murr and consulted with him over the issue. "The date of the session falls under the responsibility of the most senior MP, who will assume his duties on May 21 in coordination with Parliament Secretary-General Adnan Daher," Berri clarified. "MP Murr will chair the parliament in the period between May 21 and the date of the election session, and some of his rivals must prepare themselves psychologically for this," a smiling Berri quipped. Hailing Murr, the Speaker noted that he has never disagreed with the senior lawmaker since 1991. "We have always been in the same alignment, with the same approach towards political and national junctures," Berri added. Asked whom he prefers for the post of Deputy Speaker, said "political common sense" obliges him to say that "the Free Patriotic Movement possesses the advantage to name the Greek Orthodox deputy speaker," seeing as it has the biggest Christian bloc.
Berri to be elected Speaker once again
Georgi Azar/Annahar/11 May 2018/Speaker Nabih Berri, who's headed Lebanon's Parliament since 1992, is expected to be sworn in once again on May 22 before the deputy speaker and Parliament Secretariat are elected.
BEIRUT: Lebanon's new parliament was elected less than a week ago, with many familiar faces reelected to serve for the next four years. Speaker Nabih Berri, who headed the Parliament since 1992, is expected to be sworn in once again on May 22 before the deputy speaker and Parliament Secretariat are elected. The Secretariat would be comprised of a President, Vice President, two secretaries and three commissioners. The Parliament will meet under the presidency of the oldest member, and the two youngest members will serve as secretaries. The President and the Vice President are elected by secret ballot after gaining an absolute majority of votes. If a third ballot is required, a relative majority would be sufficient. Should the votes be equal, the oldest candidate would be considered elected. The Chamber will also elect two Secretaries by secret ballot according to the majority stipulated in the first part of Article 44 of the constitution. During his meeting Friday with President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Saad Hariri said that he would nominate Berri for another term. "If Speaker Berri is a candidate then I'll support him," he said. Lebanon held its first parliamentary elections in nine years last week, with the the Shiite coalition of Hezbollah-Amal reaping the benefits of the newly implemented electoral law by augmenting their parliamentary bloc to 29 MPs, while Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), an ally of the Iranian-backed militant group, secured 29 seats along with its allies. The Lebanese Forces (LF) Christian party, a key opponent of Hezbollah, pulled off a surprisingly big win after securing 15 seats while Saudi-backed Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement parliamentary bloc lost over a third of its members, capturing only 20 seats.

Aoun: New representation cements stability
Ghinwa Obeid/The Daily Star/May 11/18
BEIRUT: Lebanon’s stability will be secured through the political representation ensured by the new electoral law, President Michel Aoun said Thursday, as winners from the weekend’s elections started preparing for the formation of a new government. While Lebanon has cleared one hurdle with the completion of long-delayed parliamentary elections, it now faces the next challenge of allocating blocs the various portfolios. Jockeying has already begun, reflected in Speaker Nabih Berri’s assertion that his Amal Movement would retain the Finance Ministry portfolio, despite opposition from other groups.
Aoun struck a positive tone during the Lebanese Diaspora Energy conference in Beirut, by assuring that “the true representation that the proportional law provides affords the political stability that Lebanon needs to confront the challenges awaiting it on all levels.”Lebanon’s first parliamentary elections in nine years were held under a new proportional system to replace the majoritarian one. “Parliament will be the stage for differences in opinions – and the conflicting approaches to solutions where all opinions and political powers will be represented. Those powers will all take responsibility to work together to combat those challenges,” Aoun added. He referenced external challenges as well, namely regional conflicts and international tensions impacting Lebanon.
“Lebanon is suffering from the consequences of a war that it has no part in,” he said, referring to the neighboring Syrian conflict and resulting influx of refugees into Lebanon. “The burden [Lebanon] is under as a result overcomes its ability to endure,” Aoun said.
Lebanon hosts the most refugees per capita in the world, with around 1 million Syrian refugees registered in the country. Aoun has long called for the return of refugees to Syria and reiterated in his speech his concerns that the international community would tie the refugee return to reaching a political solution to the conflict. Aoun also called on the diaspora to engage in the economic development of Lebanon after taking part in their historic first-time participation in the elections. “Work on the economic plan will soon be completed and it will set a vision to resolve the current problems,” the president said.
Aoun’s speech came as the country is setting the stage for May 20, when the current Parliament’s term ends. Cabinet will then become a caretaker government as of May 21 until a new government is formed following negotiations.A source close to Prime Minister Saad Hariri told The Daily Star that a Cabinet session will likely be held next week, but that a date had not been set.
There are indications that the negotiations for portfolios will be charged, having intensified with Berri’s insistence that the Finance Ministry be led by a Shiite. The alliance of Berri’s Amal Movement and Hezbollah took all but one Shiite seat in Parliament in the elections. In an interview with local Al-Akhbar newspaper, Berri said the Shiite control of the ministry was agreed to in the 1989 Taif Accord that ended the 1975-90 Lebanese Civil War. The Amal Movement currently holds the Finance Ministry through Ali Hasan Khalil. The speaker noted that certain powers have taken issue with Khalil retaining his position. Berri said he is open to offering other candidates, but not without proof that Khalil did his job poorly. Hariri is reportedly opposed to the monopoly of any ministry by any sect, favoring instead a rotation of the key ministerial portfolios: The Defense, Interior, Finance, Foreign Affairs and Public Works ministries. Berri signaled that although he supports Hariri’s reappointment as prime minister, he won’t back down from his request. A source close to Baabda Palace told The Daily Star that there is no comment yet from the presidential palace regarding the allocation of ministries.
The source said that Aoun thinks it is still too early to talk about this. “Once the actual preparation [to form a new government] begins, then we can start looking at the different points of views,” the source said. “The current government is still functioning and there will be a session next week,” the source added, noting that Berri may have expressed his point of view, but that no final decision on the matter has been set. Separately, the Lebanese Forces bloc held its first meeting Thursday evening after its strong showing in the elections, taking at least 15 seats, a jump from the eight it previously held. The parliamentary bloc will be called “The Strong Republic.”
Speaking after the meeting, LF leader Samir Geagea laid out the bloc’s three-point plan for the future. One is to “work to reach an actual state with full jurisdiction that can extend its sovereignty on its national soil without any conflicting partner,” Geagea said, referring to Hezbollah’s arsenal. He also addressed Hezbollah’s “golden” tripartite equation of the Army, people and the resistance. “There is only one equation in our dictionary and that is the people, state and Army. The Cabinet should address Hezbollah’s arms as a top priority.” Hariri received Egyptian Ambassador to Lebanon Nazih al-Najjari, who congratulated the premier on the result of the parliamentary elections, calling Hariri a leader of “moderation in Lebanon and the whole region.”The International Support Group for Lebanon also issued a joint statement congratulating the Lebanese people and authorities on the elections.
The ISG, formed in September 2013, brings together the United Nations, the governments of China, France, Germany, Italy, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States along with the European Union and the Arab League. “The elections have been essential in renewing the democratic mandate of the Parliament strengthening Lebanon’s institutions,” the statement said. “We take this opportunity to encourage the swift formation of a new government that can sustain the positive momentum created by recent legislative gains.”“And by the ambitious agenda for international support to Lebanon set out at the Paris ISG Conference of Dec. 8, 2017, and carried forward during 2018 at the Rome II, CEDRE and Brussels II conferences.”

Unpicking the results of Lebanon's elections
Asma Ajroudi/Aljazera/May 11/18
Analysts dispute significance of Hezbollah's gains at the expense of Saad Hariri's party as poll fever cools. Beirut, Lebanon - The dust has finally settled in Lebanon's parliamentary election, after most of the 128 winning candidates were announced on Monday.
Yet, as election fever cools in the country, analysts continue to dispute the significance of the results, especially when it comes to Hezbollah's gains. Until Sunday's vote, the country had not held a general election since 2009, due to regional crises, security concerns and internal political wrangling.
Overseen by security forces, the vote was largely peaceful, yet monitors reported some 7,000 "documented violations". Just under 50 percent of Lebanon's approximately 3.8 million eligible voters cast ballots - a drop from the last election's 54 percent turnout, which observers have attributed to "voter apathy" and politicians blamed on a "confusing" new electoral system. Unofficial results calculated by parties' electoral machines began to emerge on Monday morning amid silence from the interior ministry, which had planned to release final numbers at dawn. By the time Nouhad Machnouk, the interior minister, announced the official results after 8pm on Monday, political leaders had already held press conferences in which most declared "victory
Early analysis of these preliminary figures indicated that Hezbollah and the Amal were the biggest winners, along with their allies.
The morning after, pro-Hezbollah newspaper Al Akhbar declared the election a "slap" against Prime Minister Saad Hariri's Future Movement (FM) on its front page.
FM lost seats in its three strongholds of Beirut, Tripoli and Sidon, to Hezbollah-backed Sunni candidates. In a televised speech on Monday, aired hours before the official results, Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, called the result a "very big political, parliamentary and moral victory for the choice of resistance".
Israeli officials were also quick to weigh in - commenting on Twitter on Monday, Naftali Bennett, a hawkish member of the Israeli cabinet, said: "Hezbollah = Lebanon," signalling that Israel will not differentiate between the state and Hezbollah in any future war. Official results were largely consistent with preliminary numbers, which only called a few seats incorrectly.Lebanon's leading English daily, The Daily Star, broke down the outcome as follows:  Hezbollah and Amal, which ran unified lists as Al Amal Wal Wafa (Arabic for Hope and Loyalty) but also ran joint lists with parties and political figures across the country, took 28 seats, 13 and 15 seats respectively. Hezbollah and Amal currently hold 13 seats each. President Michel Aoun's Christian-majority Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) increased its numbers from 18 MPs up to 22 seats, including allied independent candidates
Geagea to the fore
To the surprise of some, Samir Geagea's Lebanese Forces (LF), traditionally Hezbollah's biggest critic, nearly doubled its number of MPs from eight to 14.
That puts the Christian-majority LF party in a position to challenge FPM.
The Azm Party, led by former PM Najib Mikati, also made gains, electing four MPs up from a single seat. Mikati said on Monday that he was "most definitely a candidate for premiership" in the new cabinet. The Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) and Tashnag, the leading party in the Lebanese Armenian community, both won an additional seat. SSNP now has two, and Tashnag has three MPs. A veteran journalist, Paula Yacoubian, was the sole victorious candidate who ran with a coalition of civil society groups named Kollouna Watani (Arabic for We Are All for the Nation).
Another Kollouna Watani candidate, Joumana Haddad, was announced a winner in the preliminary results only to be overturned later on Monday, when the seat was called for an FPM candidate.The news provoked an immediate protest, staged by anti-establishment activists and voters
Biggest losers
Hariri's Sunni-majority FM party saw a drop from 33 seats to 21. FM's biggest symbolic loss was in the capital Beirut, a long-time stronghold of the party, where pro-Hezbollah candidates gained a few traditionally Sunni seats for the first time.
Another establishment party, Walid Jumblatt's Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), the largest in Lebanon's Druze community, lost two seats, dropping from 11 MPs to nine. The Kataeb Party, a family-dominated party also known as the Phalanges Party, currently headed by Samy Gemayel, dropped from five MPs to three. The Marada Movement, led by Sleiman Frangieh Jr, maintained its three seats.
Based on this count, 14 seats remain, seven of which the Daily Star identified as "pro-March 8", four as "pro-March 14" and the remaining three as independent. Following the assassination of the late PM Rafik Hariri in 2005, widely attributed to pro-Syrian elements, two major protests in the country's capital marked a split of the political arena into two broad camps: the pro-Syrian, Hezbollah-led March 8 bloc and the anti-Syrian, Western and Saudi-backed March 14 bloc.

Was Hezbollah really the winner of Lebanon’s elections?
Joe Macaron/Al Minitor/May 09/2018
Despite suggestions by the media, Hezbollah does not have the clear upper hand in Lebanon after the May 6 legislative elections.
REUTERS/Aziz TaherA supporter of Lebanon's Hezbollah gestures as he holds a Hezbollah flag in Marjayoun, Lebanon, May 7, 2018.
The prevailing assessment among Western media is that Iranian-backed Hezbollah emerged the winner from the Lebanese parliamentary elections held May 6. There are, however, nuances that should be taken into consideration when interpreting the electoral outcome.
First, as recent days have demonstrated, Hezbollah loyalists can resort to coercion at any time to intimidate rivals and remind those concerned that with or without elections, the movement controls the ground. As seen in the May 2008 clashes in Beirut between Hezbollah and forces associated with the Future Movement, however, Hezbollah’s ability to thoroughly trample rivals is limited and comes with high risks. Foremost, an unstable Lebanon jeopardizes Hezbollah’s safety net at home, hence the goal of the Shiite armed group is to manage the political system rather than to subjugate it. The 2018 elections are not expected to alter these dynamics.
Second, while it is true that the newly elected parliament is in some ways “Hezbollah friendly,” this comes with a caveat. In the big picture, the principal Lebanese political figures will not likely raise the issue of Hezbollah’s weapons, because they all are focused on the domestic power struggle. The caveat is that to avoid a backlash, the Shiite group has to remain neutral in the political battle among the ruling class.
More than half of the current parliament — the Future Movement, Free Patriotic Movement, Lebanese Forces and Progressive Socialist Party — has in the past few years either been critical or not publicly supportive of Hezbollah’s regional agenda. The Shiite coalition of Hezbollah and Amal and their core allies now have a one-third blocking vote of 43 seats, which allows them to veto any legislation that goes against Hezbollah’s interest.
Third, Lebanese politics no longer revolves around the Western-backed March 14 and pro-Syrian March 8 coalitions. Independent figures from the March 14 coalition were mostly eliminated from parliament in the vote this month, and although Hezbollah revived the remnants of the March 8 alliance, there is little it can do. The new dividing line in Lebanese politics is the 2016 deal that elected Gen. Michel Aoun president — those who were part of it, and those who continue to challenge it.
Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the leader of the Future Movement, have recently kept Samir Geagea, the leader of the Lebanese Forces, at arms’ length, although he had been expecting to reap benefits from endorsing the 2016 deal. Geagea won 15 seats in the May vote, so the Aoun-Hariri alliance will have to accommodate his demands, which include heading the Energy Ministry, which oversees gas exploration and has for years been controlled by the Free Patriotic Movement, founded by Aoun. Meanwhile, there is growing opposition to the 2016 presidential deal led by Amal leader and parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, Sunni leader Najib Mikati and Maronite leader Sleiman Frangieh.
Fourth, the next constitutional steps — electing a parliament speaker, nominating a prime minister and forming the Cabinet — will test and most likely reinforce these alliances. While Berri and Hariri are expected to retain their posts, there will be some rope-tightening.
Hezbollah might have to intervene once again to manage disputes between Amal and the Free Patriotic Movement. The preconditions have already been announced. Berri made it clear that he wants the Finance Ministry to stay in Amal's hands as a Shiite veto against the Maronite-Sunni alliance, since the finance minister will have to sign most major decisions by the president (a Maronite) and the prime minister (a Sunni). Aoun has hinted that if there is no consensus on forming the Cabinet, that is, no agreement with the opposition, the government will be formed with the minimum threshold of 65 votes to gain the parliament’s vote of confidence.
Unlike the opposition camp, the Aoun-Hariri-Geagea alliance can secure this threshold and has the upper hand in the Cabinet if Geagea remains on their side. That said, no single coalition can rule the country alone, so the two camps will have to reach an agreement on forming the Cabinet.
Fifth, the math will be different if this parliament ends up electing the next Lebanese president. There is a five-month difference between the expiration of the parliament's term, in May 2022, and the presidential election, in October 2022, and it is not clear whether Lebanese leaders will once again extend the term of the parliament to elect the next president. Nonetheless, the anti-2016 deal camp have the one-third obstruction vote to prevent a quorum and delay legislative sessions until an agreement is reached on a consensus candidate. Hence, it is harder for the Free Patriotic Movement leader, Gebran Bassil, to succeed his father-in-law, Aoun, if this parliament decides the presidency in four years. Moreover, the anti-2016 deal camp got one of its main presidential candidates, Jean Obeid, into parliament in preparation for a possible election battle in 2022. The Free Patriotic Movement will therefore not break from Hezbollah to increase Bassil’s presidential chances.
Assessing the winners and losers of the May 6 elections is not a simple task. The popular vote reflected not only the flaws of the new electoral law, but also the inherent deficiencies of the political system. What has preserved Lebanon’s stability in recent years is the international umbrella in place since 2014, when the United States and Iran entered into a tacit rapprochement. This umbrella is now at risk after President Donald Trump’s rejection of the Iranian nuclear deal and Israeli-Iranian confrontations next door in Syria.
If Riyadh inspires Geagea to withdraw support for the Aoun-Hariri alliance or the United States pressures Aoun to completely break with Hezbollah, Hariri will be undermined with no better options for surviving politically. An unlikely alliance in the new parliament with former March 14 allies Geagea and Jumblatt will not give Hariri the simple majority of 65 votes. Hezbollah might emerge as a clear winner if external pressure forces Lebanon back to the pre-2016 political divide.

Lebanon’s elections and the region’s challenges
Randa Takieddine/Al Arabiya/May 11/18
The recent elections have not changed the balance of power in Lebanon. Everyone knows that Hezbollah dominates decision-making in the country and the proof is that it never commits to the “policy of dissociating” the country from the region’s crises.
The regional arena and international developments following Trump’s decision on the nuclear deal with Iran has raised plenty of questions as to how Lebanon and its new government, which will probably be headed by Saad Hariri, will deal with various issues — primarily those pertaining to Syrian refugees, the country’s relations with the Syrian regime, the stance towards Iran’s activities in the region and the implementation of the conditions of the Cedar Conference.
Hariri’s stance against Syrian regime
President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil have repeatedly said it is important that Syrian refugees return to Syria. Hariri agrees to the principle that they must return to Syria, but only when the security situation is conducive for their return. At a meeting in Brussels, Hariri asked the international community to help Lebanon bear this burden.
The Syrian regime wants Hariri to negotiate this matter with it and wants to force him into giving up his stance against talking with Bashar al-Assad. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem visited New York and asked his Lebanese counterpart, who did not hesitate to meet him without getting an approval from the cabinet and the prime minister first, not to say that it’s important to negotiate with the Syrian regime regarding the issue of the refugees and to leave this task for Hariri to force him to speak with the regime.
The Syrian regime wants Hariri to negotiate with it and wants to force him to give up his stance against talking with Bashar al-Assad
So will Hariri, if he heads the government that will include several ministers affiliated with Hezbollah, negotiate with a regime that’s fighting with its Sunni citizens, displacing them and forcing them to become refugees in neighboring countries? Before killing its Sunni citizens, the Syrian regime has killed plenty of Lebanese figures of whom the most important was its Sunni leader Rafiq Hariri.
There is no doubt that addressing the issue of ties with the Syrian regime will be one of the most difficult matters that Hariri will confront because Bassil, who aspires to succeed his father-in-law, will stand with Hezbollah, the actual decision maker in this case, which never cared about the government’s dissociation policy.
Hezbollah-Israel clash
In addition, how will Hariri confront the threat of escalation between Hezbollah and Israel after Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal and if Iran escalates its destructive activities in the region, from Syria, Yemen to Lebanon, via Hezbollah? After winning in the elections, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah said Beirut is part of “the Resistance.”
Meanwhile, an Israeli official said after elections ended that “Lebanon meant Hezbollah” – as if this harmonizes with Hezbollah’s stance. If Israel continues to escalate the situation with Iran in Syria, the question will be: Will Iran drag Hezbollah to involve Lebanon in a war since Nasrallah thinks Beirut stands for the “Resistance”? It’s not in Hezbollah’s interest to open another front in Lebanon but it may find itself forced to do so to serve its Iranian guardian.
Will the 2006 scenario repeat in Lebanon? In this case, the promises made at the Cedar Conference will come to an end. However, when it comes to the economic aspect, the Lebanese president — like the prime minister — showed he wants the path of the Cedar Conference to succeed, unlike Hezbollah and its media outlets which have been skeptical about it.
Hariri has an ally in this matter, the president and his governing family – although Bassil’s ambition to become a president makes him stand with Nasrallah all the time as seen in the statements he made during the electoral campaign.
The results of Lebanon’s elections did not carry huge surprises but they raise plenty of questions during a very critical period of time in the Middle East considering there is a confrontation between the Iranian regime and its proxy Hezbollah, which are destabilizing the region, and an impulsive American president and his Israeli allies. We pray to God that what’s next is not worse for a region that has been enduring many wars and destruction.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on May 11-12/18
Lieberman to Assad: ‘Get Rid of the Iranians’
Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 11 May, 2018/Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman urged on Friday the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar Assad, to rid Syria of Iranian forces, warning their presence endangers his country. "Assad, get rid of the Iranians ... they are not helping you ... their presence will only cause problems and damages," Lieberman said. Speaking while touring the Israeli side of the occupied Golan Heights, Lieberman said Israel does not "look for friction ... we did not come to the Iranian border, they came here."Israel attacked dozens of Iranian targets in Syria this week in response to an Iranian rocket barrage in the most serious military confrontation between the two bitter enemies to date. Israel has warned it will not tolerate its archenemy Iran establishing a military presence on its doorstep. But Iran, which is fighting alongside Assad’s forces in the Syrian war, on Friday condemned Israel's air raids, saying they had been launched under “fabricated and baseless excuses.”"Iran firmly condemns the attacks by the Zionist regime on Syrian territory," said foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi, cited by semi-official news agency ISNA. "The repeated attacks by the Zionist regime on Syrian territory were carried out under pretexts that were fabricated by themselves, and are baseless," he added.

Washington: Iran Nuclear Inspections Must Continue

Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 11 May, 2018/The White House wants intrusive inspections of Iran's nuclear sites to continue despite President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the 2015 agreement on Tehran's atomic program, US officials have told Agence France Presse. Known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the deal between Tehran and major world powers forces Iran to open any site to inspectors within 24 days at most and introduced 24-hour remote surveillance at some sites. The White House is demanding the existing inspection regime, however imperfect, continue under the aegis of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog. "We expect Iran will continue to implement the Additional Protocol and cooperate with the IAEA whether or not the JCPOA remains in place," one senior administration official told AFP. A second official confirmed to the news agency on Thursday that Washington still wanted the inspections. Speaking at a rally in Indiana on Thursday Trump stressed tough inspections were still needed. "We must be able to go to a site and check that site. We have to be able to go into their military bases to see whether or not they're cheating," he said. Trump announced on Tuesday that he was pulling out of the deal curbing Iran's nuclear program, reintroducing sanctions on the Iran and those who trade with it.

Iran Does Not Want 'New Tensions' in Mideast, Says Rouhani
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 11/18/Iran does not want "new tensions" in the Middle East, President Hassan Rouhani has told German Chancellor Angela Merkel, after Israel carried out strikes against what it called Iranian targets in Syria.
"Iran has always sought to reduce tensions in the region, trying to strengthen security and stability," Rouhani told Merkel in a telephone call, according to a statement on the website of Iran's presidency. Rouhani did not mention Israel's strikes early on Thursday in Syria, or those against the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, also on Thursday. Israel has said its strikes in Syria were in response to the attacks against the Golan Heights, which it blamed on Iran. But the chairman of Iran's parliamentary committee on foreign affairs condemned Israel for carrying out the strikes in Syria. "Israel has entered a dangerous game," Allaeddine Boroujerdi said during a visit to the Portuguese capital Lisbon. "The main purpose of these attacks, supported by the United States, is to divert public opinion from the behavior of the American president (and) his decision to leave the agreement," added Boroujerdi, referring to President Donald Trump's decision this week to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear accord.

Iran FM to Visit Russia, China and Meet with European Powers in Brussels
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 11/18/Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will visit China, Russia and Europe over the coming days for talks on salvaging the nuclear deal after the U.S. withdrawal, his spokesman said Friday. Zarif is due to depart late on Saturday for a whistlestop tour taking in Beijing, followed by Moscow, and finally Brussels for a joint meeting with Britain, France and Germany, foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi told AFP.

Russia Seeks Mediator Role between Israel and Iran
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 11/18/Following Israeli strikes on Iranian targets in Syria, Russia has positioned itself as a mediator between the Middle Eastern rivals as it has maintained good relations with both countries. "The Kremlin is sitting on two chairs," Russian analyst Alexei Malashenko told AFP. "It is a complex and difficult situation for Russia that has links with both of the sworn enemies." Israel carried out raids on dozens of Iranian military targets on Thursday after it said around 20 rockets were fired from Syria at its forces in the occupied Golan Heights. Russia was quick to call for restraint, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying on Thursday that "all issues should be solved through dialogue."He added that Russia had warned Israel to avoid "all actions that could be seen as provocative" the day before the strikes, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Moscow for talks with President Vladimir Putin. Russian analyst Fyodor Lukyanov said relations between Putin and Netanyahu were "very good" and that the meeting, on the eve of the strikes, showed Russia could play a major role in the Israel-Iran dispute.
"Moscow could use its good relations with the two countries to help them communicate and make sure confrontation does not exceed certain limits," Lukyanov said.
Major player
Russia has become a major player in the Middle East since intervening in the Syrian war on the side of the Damascus regime in September 2015. Analysts also highlight its role as mediator in other conflicts in the area. "The role of Russia as a mediator is strongly appreciated in the region. This role will be reinforced if the crisis between Israel and Iran worses," said Alexander Krylov, a foreign policy expert at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. Krylov told AFP that Russia's "additional value" is that it has good relations with forces that other actors refuse to speak to such as with Hamas, Hizbullah, Iran and the Kurds. Russia's good ties to Israel were demonstrated by Netanyahu's visit, he said. "I do not rule out the idea that Israel gave some clues to Russia about the strikes," Krylov said. But even if Russia considers Israel's security concerns over Iran legitimate, Lukyanov said, it sees Iran as an "indispensable partner on many issues, especially in Syria". Russia, Iran and Turkey regularly meet to discuss the regulation of the Syrian war, where the three countries have positioned themselves as major players. Unlike Turkey, Iran and Moscow are unflinching allies of the Bashar al-Assad regime and often maintain a united diplomatic front. Analyst Alexei Malashenko said Russia would do everything possible to maintain relations with both Israel and Iran without taking a stand, especially since Israel's strikes "do not threaten" Moscow's position in Syria. "If Israel were to defy Russia's dominant role, Russia would react and take a stand. This is unlikely to happen because Israel knows Russia defines the rules in Syria," said Lukyanov.
Anti-Iranian sentiment'
But if escalation continues, Moscow will find it difficult to keep playing a mediator's role.
"Even with the best intention, nobody can bring Iran and Israel to the same table," said Malashenko. He added that Russia is also closely watching Washington's exit from the Iran nuclear deal, which the Kremlin has opposed. On Thursday Moscow said it would continue a "close collaboration" with Iran on the agreement. Lukyanov said it may not have been coincidental that the Israeli strikes took place shortly after U.S. President Donald Trump announced his country's withdrawal from the deal. "Iran's enemies can only be inspired by this decision: there is a very strong anti-Iranian sentiment," Lukyanov said. "Increased U.S. pressure on Iran has certainly helped Israel fulfill its agenda."

Golan Heights: A 50-year flashpoint for Israel and Syria
AFP/Arab News/May 11/18/Israel seized the strategic plateau from Syria nearly 50 years ago and still occupies nearly 70 percent of it.
During the Israel-Syria wars of 1967 and 1973, more than 150,000 people — most of them Syrians — fled the area.JERUSALEM: The strategic and disputed Golan Heights sits between Israel and Syria and is a vital source of water in the arid region. Israel seized the strategic plateau from Syria nearly 50 years ago and still occupies nearly 70 percent of it. With tensions flaring in the highlands this week after a salvo of rockets were fired across the frontier at Israeli forces in the occupied Golan, here is some background. Syrian forces used the Golan Heights to fire on Israeli forces during their 1967 war, leading the Israeli army to enter and seize 1,200 square kilometers (460 square miles). Israel occupied an extra 510 square-kilometer chunk of territory during the next war in 1973, but it was returned a year later in a deal that drew a cease-fire line and created a demilitarised buffer zone monitored by a UN observer force. In 1981 Israel formally annexed the occupied area, a move never recognized by the international community. During the Israel-Syria wars of 1967 and 1973, more than 150,000 people — most of them Syrians — fled the area. Around 18,000 Syrians from the Druze sect — most of whom refuse the Israeli identity card — remain in the occupied Golan. Around 20,000 Israeli settlers have moved in, spread over 33 mostly agriculture-based settlements.The fertile volcanic plateau is also key to the region’s water supply, an important issue in stalled peace talks between Israel and Syria, which remain technically at war. Three tributaries — the Banias, the Dan and the Hasbani — cross the highlands and help form the headwaters of the Jordan River. The river system, which flows into the Sea of Galilee, provides about 40 percent of Israel’s water supply. Syria has demanded a return to the pre-1967 border, which would give it a foothold on the shore of Galilee and rights to the lake’s waters. Israel wants guarantees over its control of the vital water source. After a fairly quiet period, tensions flared in the Golan Heights with the start of the 2011 uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime. That year, on the anniversaries of the creation of Israel and the 1967 war — in May and June respectively — Israeli troops fired on Palestinian refugees living in Syria who had rushed the cease-fire line, killing around 30 people, according to the UN. The area has since witnessed fierce fighting between Syrian rebels and the regime, with fire occasionally landing in occupied territory and prompting Israeli retaliation. In 2014 UN monitors were caught up in the conflict when 45 observers were held hostage for two weeks by Al-Nusra Front, then Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate. Clashes have occasionally erupted between Israel and the Syrian regime with its Iran-backed ally Hezbollah in the Golan Heights. Israel is concerned that Tehran and the Lebanese militia are embedding themselves along its frontier. In January 2015 an Israeli strike targeted Hezbollah on the Syrian side of the demarcation line, killing Lebanese fighters and Iranian troops, including a general. Earlier this week, tensions in the Golan boiled over. On May 10, dozens of rockets were launched across the frontier into the occupied Golan after Israel bombarded the Syrian-held town of Baath across the demarcation line, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Israeli officials said 20 rockets were fired and blamed the Quds force of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards. In response, Israel launched strikes on dozens of alleged Iranian military targets across Syria.

Iran and Israel: From allies to foes
AFP/Arab News/May 11/18
On the creation of Israel in 1948, the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, established close ties with the new country.
The special relationship ends with the 1979 revolution that topples the Shah, and Israel does not recognize the new Republic of Iran. In 1982, Hezbollah sets up in southern Lebanon, from where it wages a campaign against Israeli forces.
PARIS: They were allies when Iran was ruled by the shah but became foes after its Islamic revolution in 1979, and now Israel considers Iran an “existential threat.” After Israeli strikes on Iranian targets inside Syria this week sent regional tensions soaring, here is a recap of their volatile relationship in the past half century.On the creation of Israel in 1948, the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, establishes close ties with the new country. At the time, Iran is home to the biggest Jewish community in the Middle East. Israel sets up a major diplomatic mission in Tehran and imports 40 percent of its oil from the country in exchange for weapons, technology and agricultural produce. Iran’s feared Savak secret police is created in 1957 with the help of the CIA and eventually Israel’s Mossad. The special relationship ends with the 1979 revolution that topples the Shah, and Israel does not recognize the new Republic of Iran.
For the new authorities in Tehran, Israel becomes an “occupier” of Jerusalem and responsible for the “genocide” of Palestinians. Informal commercial links remain in place, however. In 1982, Israel invades the Lebanese capital Beirut to put an end to attacks from Palestinian groups based there. It leads to the creation of the militant group Hezbollah at the initiative of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards.
Hezbollah sets up in southern Lebanon, from where it wages a campaign against Israeli forces. Israel blames Hezbollah for attacks on its interests abroad including in Argentina where the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy kills 29 people and a 1994 attack on a Jewish community center leaves 85 dead.
In 1998, Iran says it has successfully tested for the first time its Shahab-3 missiles, whose 1,300-kilometer (780-mile) range means it could reach Israeli territory. It announces another succesful test in 2000, alarming Israel which fears its enemy is developing a nuclear capacity.
In 2005, new hard-line Iran president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says Israel is doomed to be “wiped off the map” and that the Holocaust was a “myth.” This chimes with statements by Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who refers to Israel as a “cancerous tumor” that should be cut out of the Middle East. When Iran resumes uranium enrichment activities at Ispahan the same year, Israel calls on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the United Nations to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons. When the Iran nuclear deal is brokered by world powers in 2015, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slams it as an “historic mistake.” He gives his full backing to US President Donald Trump’s decision to retreat from the nuclear deal in May 2018. Officially still at war with Syria, Israel claims to be trying to keep out of the conflict since it broke out in 2011. But from 2013 it becomes wary of the role played by Hezbollah and Iran on the side of Syrian President Bashar Assad against rebels and militants. “We will not allow Iranian entrenchment in Syria no matter the price to pay,” Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman says in April. On Thursday this week, Israel launches strikes on suspected Iranian positions in Syria, prompting concern that Hezbollah could retaliate.

UN chief asks for halt to ‘all hostile acts’ in Middle East
Arab News/May 11/18/BEIRUT: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is urging an immediate halt to “all hostile acts” to avoid “a new conflagration” in the Middle East after Israeli forces bombed Iranian targets inside Syria.
Israel says the strikes were retaliation for an Iranian rocket barrage on its positions in the Golan Heights and has called on the UN Security Council and secretary-general to immediately condemn Iran’s attack.
The Security Council, deeply divided over Syria, is highly unlikely to issue a statement and as of Friday morning no council member has asked for a meeting. Israel and Iran have long fought each other through proxies, and with the new exchange each seemed to be sending a warning that a direct clash between them could swiftly escalate.

'Projecting Power': U.S. Carrier Truman Assumes Anti-IS Syria Role
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 11/18/On the edge of a thunderstorm somewhere in the eastern Mediterranean, the U.S. carrier Harry S. Truman rumbles as its fighters launch into the darkening sky. With lightning bolts flashing in the distance, the 95,000-ton nuclear-powered vessel named after the 33rd U.S. president is waging a war thousands of miles away in Syria. "It's a pleasure to see a year's worth of training in action," Rear Admiral Gene Black, commander of the carrier strike group, notes from the ship's bridge as the deadly choreography unfolds on the flight deck below. Trailing fire and smoke, F-18 Super Hornet fighters blast off towards classified targets in rapid succession, alternating with refuelling planes and E-2D Hawkeye flying radars. Sailing out from Norfolk, Virginia in April, the Harry S. Truman has been supporting attacks on Islamic State targets in Syria under Operation Inherent Resolve -- a role it last played in 2016. Ships this size are designed to "project American presence and power off any coast" according to the U.S. navy.
"This is the biggest (strike group) to sail from the east coast in quite some time," Black notes.
The carrier's group currently includes a cruiser and four destroyers. A Russian warship hovers on the horizon. The strike group's presence is an implied message to Moscow too.
"It's a pretty potent force, with some of the latest capabilities the navy can put to sea," the admiral adds. Almost as long as the Empire State Building is high at close to 1,100 feet (335 meters), the flight deck teems with 'rainbow warriors' -- sailors in brightly coloured shirts that designate their specific role in a system that, given the hazards, needs to run like clockwork.
Purple shirts fuel up the planes. Red shirts load the bomb and missile ordnance. Green shirts handle maintenance. Yellow shirts direct aircraft launch and recovery. Working together, they can fire off two planes every 40 seconds during daylight, or 60 seconds at night. "We're planning on a seven-month deployment… we could go home in a month, we could extend for a year," the admiral says.
See the world'
Below the deck hums a small city of over 5,500 people, many of them on their first deployment abroad. "I came from a low-income home. I wanted to see the world... meet new people, get a free education basically," says parachute rigger Caitlin Schumacher, a 25-year-old mother-of-three from Cleveland. "It's the most exciting thing that I've been a part of ... it's eye-opening," says Dewayne 'Hula' Hooper, a 26-year-old pilot from Huntingtown, Maryland. Hooper has been training for this role for three years. He has just flown his first mission over Syria -- no details are forthcoming -- yet still finds landing on a moving carrier daunting. "It's always scary, especially at night, but you want to come home," he says.
Home, indeed. For months to come, the 70-aircraft behemoth will be the nearest thing for those on board. "Deployment forces us to be a unit. We rely heavily on each other," says Naomi L Goodwyn, chief of the officers' mess hall. "We become a real family. That's what deployment does, it creates lasting memories, lasting friendships," she stresses.
After a daily shift that can be as long as 12 hours, sailors unwind by watching movies, playing video games, and staying fit. Workout machines abound on the ship, even on the navigation bridge. The number of staircases on the carrier alone, however, make it a "floating stairmaster", a crew member jokes.
17,000 meals a day
To keep up morale, there are also karaoke nights, fitness classes, Lego building and the Truman Show -- a homemade weekly TV show made by the sailors combining comedy and hard news.Then there is the food. If an army is known to march on its stomach, this holds for sailors, too. "We like to reward these guys every chance that we can," says Brandi Royal, a 26-year-old galley officer from Denver, chopping bacon for the salad bar. Every day, four meals are served across seven galleys -- around 17,000 meals in all. This includes 1,600 pounds of chicken, 160 gallons of milk, 30 cases of cereal and 350 pounds of lettuce, says Goodwyn, the mess hall chief. And for anyone who has a birthday, they can look forward to a special meal that calendar month, she notes. "Tablecloths, wine glasses, nice music, specialised meals like prime rib or lobster," says Goodwyn. "Everything in life is surrounded by food," she says. Everyone is also on a pretty tight leash. Loose lips sink ships. Hooper, the pilot, is shut down by the navy press team just as he's about to reveal what he fears most when in the air. A question about drones and civilian casualties in the Syria bombings is also blocked. "I don't really think that's, ah, his field of expertise," the press officer interjects.

Iran Says Israel Launched Syria Strikes on False 'Pretexts'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 11/18/Iran on Friday condemned Israel's air raids in Syria, saying they had been launched on "invented pretexts.""Iran firmly condemns the attacks by the Zionist regime on Syrian territory," said foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi, cited by semi-official news agency ISNA. "The repeated attacks by the Zionist regime on Syrian territory were carried out under pretexts that were invented by themselves and are without foundation," he added. "They are a violation of Syria's national sovereignty and territorial integrity, and contrary to international law." Israel claims it struck dozens of Iranian and Syrian targets in Syria early on Thursday in response to a salvo of rockets fired by Iran into the occupied Golan Heights.

Calls for Restraint after Israeli Raids on 'Iranians' in Syria

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 11/18/Unprecedented clashes between Israel and Iran over Syria have sparked calls for restraint from world leaders worried about the risk of all-out war, even as both sides say they want to avoid a regional conflict. All eyes will be on any fresh military activity Friday after Israel carried out widespread deadly raids against what it said were Iranian targets in Syria on Thursday in response to rocket fire towards its forces that it blamed on Iran. The reported exchange of fire came after weeks of rising tensions and followed U.S. President Donald Trump's decision Tuesday to withdraw from the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear deal, a move Israel had long sought. The bombardment led to calls for calm from Russia, France, Germany and Britain and the European Union, while the United States put the blame squarely on Iran and stressed Israel's right to "self-defense."Germany and Britain joined the United States in denouncing the rocket fire towards the Israel-occupied Golan Heights they also said was carried out by Iran, while France reiterated its "unwavering support for Israel's security." Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Iran had "crossed a red line" and that the resulting bombardment against targets in Syria "was a consequence." Iran's President Hassan Rouhani told German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a telephone call that he did not want "new tensions" in the Middle East. Rouhani did not mention Israel's strikes in Syria, or those against the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. But the chairman of his country's parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, Allaeddine Boroujerdi, condemned the strikes, warning that "Israel has entered a dangerous game. The Israeli raids in Syria, which a monitor said killed 23 fighters, were one of its largest military operations in recent years and the biggest such assault on Iranian targets, the Israeli military said. "We hit nearly all the Iranian infrastructure in Syria," Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said. "I hope we've finished this episode and everyone understood."Israel carried out the raids after it said 20 rockets, either Fajr or Grad type, were fired from Syria at its forces in the Golan Heights at around midnight. It blamed Iran's Quds force, adding that Israel's anti-missile system intercepted four while the rest did not land in its territory. There were no Israeli casualties. If confirmed, it would be the first time Iran has sought to directly attack Israeli-controlled territory aside from an alleged attempted drone assault in February.
'New phase'
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor reported that dozens of rockets were fired from Syria towards the Israeli-occupied Golan, without saying who fired them.
A senior pro-regime military source in Syria confirmed the salvo of rockets, insisting Israel had fired first. Later, in the early hours of the morning, explosions were heard in Damascus, while live images were broadcast on television showing projectiles above the capital and several missiles destroyed by anti-aircraft systems. Syrian state media said Israeli missile strikes had hit military bases as well as an arms depot and a military radar installation, without specifying where. The official SANA news agency said "dozens of missiles were shot down by anti-aircraft systems in Syrian airspace", acknowledging a number had reached their targets. Israel's military later confirmed it had carried out the raids, saying some 70 military and intelligence targets had been struck and all of its aircraft had returned safely. Syrian air defences, which fired dozens of times on Israeli jets, were also targeted, he said. Syria said it was the Israeli strikes that marked a "new phase" of direct involvement in the country's seven-year conflict. Its army said three people had been killed. In a rare if not unprecedented move for an Arab country, Bahrain backed Israel's right to "defend itself" after the strikes.
Russia hotline
Bahrain is a close ally of Saudi Arabia and the two countries, whose foreign policies are often in lockstep, view Iran as the chief threat to the region. Israel has long warned it will not accept Iran entrenching itself militarily in neighbouring Syria, where the Islamic republic is supporting President Bashar al-Assad's regime in the civil war. It has been blamed for a series of recent strikes inside Syria that have killed Iranians, though it has not acknowledged those raids. The Jewish state says it has conducted dozens of raids in Syria to stop what it says are advanced arms deliveries to Iran-backed Hizbullah, another key foe of Israel.Israel had been preparing itself for weeks for possible Iranian retaliation. Trump's withdrawal from the nuclear deal has added to tensions and led to a new level of uncertainty over how Iran will respond. At a rally in Indiana on Thursday Trump said he still wanted intrusive inspections of Iran's nuclear sites to continue despite his decision to withdraw from the pact. European allies are scrambling to save the hard-fought deal but have found themselves increasingly critical of Washington's stance. In an interview with the French daily Le Parisien, France's foreign minister condemned Washington's decision to reimpose sanctions on Iran as "unacceptable" move that unilaterally punished European companies for trade with Iran.

Erdogan, Putin Say U.S. 'Wrong' to Abandon Iran Nuclear Deal
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 11/18/Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin agreed it was "wrong" for the United States to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, a Turkish presidential source said late Thursday. U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday defied the wishes of world powers when he announced that Washington would pull out of the historic nuclear accord and impose new sanctions on Tehran. Calling Trump's decision "wrong", Erdogan and Putin pointed out that the nuclear accord "was a diplomatic success which actually should be protected" during a telephone conversation on Thursday evening, the Turkish source said. The Kremlin said in a statement that the two strongmen "emphasized that the safeguarding of the JCPOA (the formal abbreviation for the accord) is very important for international and regional security as well as the nuclear non-proliferation regime." The two leaders "confirmed their determination" to continue to cooperate to this end with the other signatory countries of the agreement, the Kremlin added. After long negotiations, Iran agreed in July 2015 to freeze its nuclear program in return for the lifting of punishing international sanctions. The deal had been negotiated between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- plus Germany. Erdogan also congratulated Putin on the start of his fourth term as president after the Russian leader was sworn in on Monday. Ankara has been working closely with Moscow and Tehran over the past year on the Syrian peace process despite being on opposing sides of the conflict and having a sometimes troubled relationship with Iran. According to Russian newspaper Kommersant, in the final year of Putin's third term as president, he spoke to Erdogan 20 times, double that of other world leaders. Relations between Turkey and the U.S. are strained over multiple issues including Washington's support for Syrian Kurdish militia which Turkey views as terrorists and the continued imprisonment of an American pastor in Turkey.

Putin, Merkel Reaffirm Commitment to Iran Nuclear Deal
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 11/18/Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a telephone conversation Friday reaffirmed their commitment to preserving the Iran nuclear deal after the U.S. pulled out of it, the Kremlin said. "The situation around the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action following the unilateral withdrawal of the U.S. was discussed. The importance of preserving the deal from a point of view of international and regional stability was highlighted," the Kremlin said in a statement following the call. The two leaders also discussed the situation in Syria as well as Merkel's planned working visit to Russia next week, the Kremlin said. U.S. President Donald Trump this week defied the wishes of world powers when he announced that Washington would withdraw from the historic nuclear accord and impose new sanctions on Tehran. Merkel has previously said Germany and its European partners would "do everything" to ensure Iran remains in the landmark 2015 nuclear deal, while Putin has voiced "deep concern" at the U.S. decision. The Russian president also spoke with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier Friday, with the pair saying Trump was "wrong" to pull out of the accord, according to a Turkish presidential source. After long negotiations, Iran agreed in July 2015 to freeze its nuclear program in return for the lifting of punishing international sanctions.The deal had been negotiated between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- plus Germany.

Nasr Hariri to Asharq Al-Awsat: Iran’s Presence Hampers Syria Settlement

London - Ibrahim Hamidi/Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 11 May, 2018/The head of the Syrian Negotiation Commission (SNC), Nasr Hariri, said that Iran has made eight concrete steps to strengthen its presence in Syria, including the establishment of permanent military bases and the rejection of a political solution. He described raids on Syrian territories on Wednesday night as “settling of account between two occupying powers.”“What is happening is a settling of accounts between two regional states - occupying powers - and the Syrian people is paying the price,” he stated. In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat in London, Hariri said that both Iran and Israel were “occupying states”, adding: “Iran has taken eight measures to establish a foothold in Syria.” “First, blocking the political solution because it’s not in its interest... Second, naturalizing militias and controlling Syrian property; third, bringing tens of thousands of foreign militias into Syria; and imposing decision-making in institutions,” he explained. As for the four remaining measures, they include according to Hariri, establishing Iranian military bases in Syria, building arms depots and factories, holding economic contracts for strategic wealth, and inciting sectarian mobilization among the poor youth, who are exhausted by the dire economic conditions, to become ammunition for fighting. “All this has made the head of the Quds Brigade in the IRGC Qassem Soleimani a ruler in Syria,” the Syrian opposition official said. Hariri held the Syrian regime responsible for the situation in the country.
“We don’t want Syria to be an arena for settling accounts between regional and global countries, because the Syrian people are paying the price with their blood, civilization, heritage and economy. This leads us to the need to reach a political solution, which will include the departure of foreign and Iranian militias, and a political transition that will guarantee Soleimani’s exit from Syria,” he said. Asked about his meeting on Wednesday with the British Foreign Secretary, Hariri noted that Boris Johnson spoke about the “brutality of the regime and the targeting of civilians.”He quoted the British official as saying that the US-French-British strikes in April were a response to the regime’s use of chemical weapons, and were not a means of interference with the military equations between Damascus and the opposition. Hariri also said that Johnson told him no military solution was possible in Syria.
“The only place for a political solution is the Geneva negotiations to achieve the implementation of UN Resolution 2254,” Johnson said, according to Hariri, and that in the long term Assad cannot stay in power, and stability will not be achieved in Syria and the region with Assad’s presence. Commenting on the new mechanisms he discussed with British officials, the SNC chief said: “Discussions are underway on how to provide an international understanding to activate the peace negotiations according to the existing mechanism, namely the Geneva Declaration, and the negotiations on the four packages,” including the transitional phase, the constitution, the elections and fighting terrorism. “This needs political will. Even if new mechanisms are agreed upon, they will not work if there is no political will and no regional understanding,” he stressed. Hariri emphasized that Iran’s presence in Syria would hamper the adoption of new mechanisms, saying: “Iran should leave Syria; there’s no solution in Syria in light of the Iranian presence.”

Protests within Fatah Movement, Factions Due to Measures against Gaza
Gaza - Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 11 May, 2018/Angry protests within Fatah Movement and some factions of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) have intensified over measures taken by the Palestinian Authority against the Gaza Strip, especially the salary crisis and the lack of commitment to pay the full wages, as announced by President Mahmoud Abbas during the recent National Council conference in Ramallah. Fatah Movement in the Gaza Strip decided to carry out a series of measures in protest of the government’s policy towards the sector’s employees. The decision came during a prolonged meeting on Wednesday at the residence of the Movement’s chief in Gaza, Ahmed Halas. “We will exercise our natural right to end those measures by legal and legitimate means, and we will not abandon our national and moral responsibilities in defending the rights of our people, mainly the martyrs and the wounded and our heroic families, as well as all the employees who have borne the burden of the struggle and contributed to the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority,” Fatah Movement in Gaza said in a statement.
“The natural solution to address all the problems of Gaza begins with the government of national accord assuming its full responsibility in the southern provinces alike the northern governorates, and enable it to extend full control over all aspects of official work without interference from any organization or party,” the statement added. The Movement in Gaza held Hamas responsible for obstructing the handover of ministries in Gaza to the national accord government. In this regard, it called on the organization to implement the agreement which was reached in Cairo last year. Fatah called on the Palestinian president to direct the government to immediately disburse all state employees’ salaries. In parallel, dozens of PA employees in Gaza held a strike on Wednesday at the Unknown Soldiers’ Square in Gaza city. Protesters, who included families of martyrs, carried banners demanding the government to pay their salaries.

Official: Pakistani Officer Killed in Bomb Blast, Several Wounded
Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 11 May, 2018/A roadside bomb hit a vehicle carrying police officers in Pakistan on Friday, killing at least one officer and wounding up to 13 others, police officials said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, according to Reuters. The explosive device, which was rigged to a motorcycle, exploded as the police patrol passed by the bus terminal in the northwestern city of Kohat, police official Nauman Khan stated. Ahsan Khan, an official at a district hospital, said that five of the 13 wounded are in critical health condition due to their injuries. Also, an explosion caused by a gas leak at a hotel killed five family members in the northwest. According to city police chief Qazi Jamilur Rehman, a fire followed the explosion but was extinguished by firefighters, AP reported. Guests were evacuated from the Hotel Afandi in the Bilal Town neighborhood, Rehman added.

Kenya Burst Dam Toll Climbs, Search Continues
Nairobi- Asharq Al Awsat/Friday, 11 May, 2018/The search for survivors after a dam burst its banks on a commercial farm in the Rift Valley in central Kenya resumed Friday, the region's governor said. At least 44 people were killed when the reservoir, used to store water for the farming of roses for export to Europe, burst its banks on Wednesday night after heavy rains. Another 40 people have been reported missing. Weeks of heavy rains have caused flooding and mudslides across the country that have left 175 dead. On Wednesday evening, the earthen wall of a privately owned irrigation dam in Solai, about 40 kilometers north of Nakuru town in Kenya's Rift Valley, breached and inundated nearby settlements. Nakuru county governor Lee Kinyanjui said 44 bodies had been recovered so far, with another 40 reported missing, and warned that at least one other local dam "will have to be discharged to avoid disaster". Dozens more were taken to hospital with injuries. The search and rescue operation, involving emergency services as well as volunteers digging through the mud by hand, was disrupted by further heavy rainfall on Thursday, resuming on Friday morning. A sea of mud and water washed away two villages and cut power lines, according to local residents. The torrent hit while people were in their homes, or sleeping, with one survivor describing it as "hell on earth". Many of the houses affected were rickety structures made of wood and tin that stood little chance against the raging floodwater. The Kenyan Red Cross estimates that up to 500 families were affected by the disaster. The reservoir, known locally as "Patel dam" after the owner of the farm, is close to an informal settlement housing casual laborers. On Friday morning Kenya's chief prosecutor Noordin Haji ordered the opening of a police investigation into the tragedy. The public prosecutor’s office said on Twitter the police chief had been ordered “to carry out thorough investigations to establish cause and cul .The Daily Nation newspaper quoted government officials as saying the dam and others on the 3,500-acre Solai farm, 190 km (120 miles) northwest of Nairobi, had not been cleared by government engineers. Villagers had complained when the dams were built, accusing the farm-owner of depriving them of access to river water, the paper reported. Vinoj Kumar, general manager of the farm, blamed the disaster on heavy rainfall in a forest above the dam. He declined to comment on the Daily Nation allegations, saying he was too busy to talk. Government statistics released this week showed that more than 220,000 people have been displaced by flooding as heavy rains hit the country after three consecutive failed rainy seasons had left it in drought. Since March, at least 21,000 acres (8,500 hectares) of farmland have been submerged in water with an estimated 20,000 animals killed, the Red Cross said last week. The floods have also destroyed road networks in some parts of the East African country.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on May 11-12/18
John Bolton: The Iran deal was betrayed by its own abysmal record
جون بولتن: خيانة الإتفاق النووي مع إيراني جاء من خلال سجله السيء
John Bolton/U.S. national security adviser./Washington Post/Pubhlished on May 09/18
On Tuesday, President Trump announced his decision to withdraw from the failed Iran nuclear deal. The president has famously referred to it as “the worst deal in history.” Its very premise has been betrayed by its own abysmal track record over the past two years.
The theory behind the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, was that the Iranian regime would, in the interests of its own people, trade its nuclear ambitions for economic incentives. But rather than focusing on behaving responsibly, Tehran has poured billions of dollars into military adventures abroad, spreading an arc of death and destruction across the Middle East from Yemen to Syria. Meanwhile, the Iranian people have suffered at home from a tanking currency, rising inflation, stagnant wages and a spiraling environmental crisis.
President Trump acted prudently. He spent more than a year studying the deal, soliciting information and assessments from within his administration, and consulting with our allies. He decided that this deal actually undermines the security of the American people he swore to protect and, accordingly, ended U.S. participation in it. This action reversed an ill-advised and dangerous policy and set us on a new course that will address the aggressive and hostile behavior of our enemies, while enhancing our ties with partners and allies.
The president’s December recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital illustrates the latter policy; it will come to fruition Monday with the U.S. Embassy’s official opening in the Holy City. While some believe that Israel is an irritant that upsets the natural balance of power in the Middle East and that Israel’s influence should be constrained, this president sees the enormous benefits the United States has reaped from our sustained relationship with Israel, as well as the opportunity to leverage this investment into greater cooperation to the benefit of both nations.
The recognition of Jerusalem and expeditious move of our embassy is a case in point — a physical demonstration of the U.S. commitment to Israel, which is in fact a commitment to our national security interests. Israel’s recent revelation of a trove of documentation of Iran’s past nuclear weapons program demonstrates that we share common enemies who do not differentiate between us, and we are safer together than we are individually. In addition, Israel is a dynamic economic powerhouse. While its population is only one-tenth the size of Iran’s , Israel has a gross domestic product that is roughly equal to Iran’s, and the annual flow of foreign direct investment in Israel is four times greater than in Iran. Closer economic partnership with Israel will only increase America’s prosperity, which, as President Trump has pointed out, leads to greater security.
As part of the Iran deal announcement, the president also deliberately linked his withdrawal from the JCPOA to the ongoing negotiations with North Korea, announcing that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would soon be landing in North Korea. No one in the Trump administration has any illusions about the negotiations ahead. But President Trump also understands that North Korea has exhibited a wide range of unacceptable behavior, and its weapons of mass destruction programs pose an immediate danger to America and our allies. The president much prefers to handle these issues diplomatically. Since the earliest days of his administration he has established strong working relationships with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts to help do just that.
Moreover, President Trump has not shied away from our differences with China but has also resolved to work cooperatively with President Xi Jinping, who will also play a critical role in any resolution to the North Korean nuclear threat.
In all of these cases, President Trump has been willing to take unconventional action to turn momentum to America’s favor. The Iran deal is not an inescapable trap — it’s merely an inadequate deal that couldn’t withstand serious scrutiny. The president’s commitment to keeping his word is evident in his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital — something three previous presidents had promised but failed to deliver. And President Trump created the opportunity for direct negotiation with North Korea. While the future remains uncertain and challenging, one thing we know for sure is that the president will always put America First.

Which Side Are You On: Iran or Israel?
مع من انت، مع إيران أو إسرائيل
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/Friday, 11 May, 2018/
It is a very embarrassing question because it violates all the concepts on which our political culture was built.
Yesterday, Israel attacked 50 bases run by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Syria in retaliation to 10 missiles fired toward Israel. It was claimed that the Revolutionary Guards had retaliated against an Israeli attack a night earlier.
Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid al-Khalifa volunteered to explain the stance. He wrote on Twitter: “As long as Iran has breached the status quo in the region and invaded countries with its forces and missiles, any state in the region, including Israel, is entitled to defend itself by eliminating sources of danger." Sheikh Khalid’s stance is consistent with any state that stands against Iran’s crimes in the region. In politics, stances change in line with interests and necessities. If we ask the majority of the Syrian people about their opinion, they would chant and support Israel in targeting Iranian forces and their militias in Syria. There is no excuse stronger than defending the right of 600,000 people killed and 10 million displaced as a result of the crimes committed by Iran’s forces and allies. Stances have their justifications and they are not always sacred.
The stance is with Iran if it supports the Palestinians, with Israel when it strikes Iran’s forces in Syria, with the Palestinians when Israel attacks them, with the Lebanese-Iranian “Hezbollah” when it had claimed to be liberating Lebanon from Israeli occupation, and with Israel when it targeted “Hezbollah” after attacking the Lebanese and participating in the murder of Syrians. Support is always to a party that has come under attack against the aggressor.
Is it difficult to understand this logic? This is the required rational in a region suffering from turmoil. The ideologues are the only ones who are probably incapable of accepting it. If you ask any Syrian or Lebanese woman whose son was killed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, she will not hesitate to pray for victory to Israel and for the loss and defeat of its rivals. This does not give the Israelis the right to occupy Palestinian territories or to persecute the Palestinian people.
We are facing a different phase and an unprecedented war. For the first time, Israel and Iran are in direct confrontation on Syrian territories rather than fighting proxy wars like they used to.
For the first time ever, we see the Revolutionary Guards that dominated the region, in Iraq, Yemen and Syria, paying a heavy price and realizing that they have crossed the red line. As they usually do in Lebanon, the Revolutionary Guards claimed in an official statement that they are not responsible for firing the 10 missiles towards Israel, blaming Assad’s forces.
The Israelis will not go to court and will not wait for international inspection commissions to address this issue. They don’t need evidence to know that Qassem Soleimani’s forces are behind it and that they will not be safe by hiding behind the powerless Syrian regime troops.
Tehran must have heard about the stance of the Syrian regime – Soleimani says he’s willing to sacrifice the last standing Iranian soldier for Assad’s sake – that it is willing to give up on Soleimani and the Iranians in any political deal.
Assad will cooperate with any power that achieves victory on Syrian territory. Now that Israel is involved in the war, Iran is probably the biggest loser. Meanwhile, the Russians do not heed the new developments.
The picture is today clearer: The aim is to force Tehran’s regime to back off. The plan includes US President Donald Trump’s decision to scrap the nuclear agreement and reinstate economic sanctions.
This is in addition to getting Israel’s military involved via the painful strikes that destroyed Iranian sites, and convincing the Russians of neutrality by becoming mere bystanders rather than threatening to use their missiles against Israel’s strikes.
All this aims to serve the same purpose after the Tehran government refused international calls to militarily retreat to its borders, and to stop interfering in the affairs of the region’s countries and toppling their governments.

Iraq Election: Weak Government, Strong Society
Amir Taheri/Asharq Al Awsat/Friday, 11 May, 2018
Iraqis are scheduled to go the polls tomorrow to elect a new parliament which would, in turn, choose a new government. You might say: So what? What’s the big deal?
The first reason why this is still a big deal is that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis still seem committed to pluralist elections as the sole means of choosing their government.
In 2003 when talk of holding elections started in newly liberated Iraq few people believed the Iraqis would understand the electoral process let alone develop a taste for it. One lost count of American and European “experts” who mocked the very idea of free elections in Iraq where, they opined, the “Arab mindset” was firmly entrenched against winning power at the ballot box.
Democrat Senator Joe Biden, the future US Vice President under Barack Obama, laughed the whole thing off” “One man, one vote, once!” he quipped. His recipe for Iraq was the division of the country into three mini-states, not democratic elections.
However, when millions of voters emerged from ballot boxes proudly showing purple-dyed fingers, the mockers knew that the two-finger sign was meant for them.
The second reason why tomorrow’s exercise is important is that its result isn’t “fixed” in advance, something rare in the “Muslim World” where traditional methods of changing governments include coups d’etat, riots, assassinations and even civil wars. In Iraq itself, murdering the Caliph had been the main method of changing government and policy since the Abbasid times.
The third reason is that tomorrow’s election could prove to be a major step towards the consolidation of Iraq’s position as a serious nation-state and thus a key element of stability in a region bedeviled by decades of turmoil and conflict.
Potentially, in terms of demography, natural resources, geopolitical location and, above all, quality of manpower, Iraq has the wherewithal to become a major player in regional politics. Many clichés are used to dismiss Iraq’s chances of redefining itself as a modern nation-state slowly devolving its democratic process. Iraqis, we are told are divided into sects.
That assumption was peddled by the Western “experts” that President George W Bush hired to tell him what Iraq looked and felt like. The “experts” relied on Ottoman era division of the” subject people” into “millahs” or religious communities, ignoring over a century of historic development under British protection, a mildly authoritarian monarchy and successive ideology-based despotisms and their numerous opponents.
The situation became more confusing when sectarians, often encouraged by Washington, moved center-stage both as collaborators with the American liberator and his adversaries. Iraq was pushed into a war of the sectarians which the “experts” dubbed a sectarian war. However, tomorrow’s election will provide a dramatic illustration of Iraq’s determination to move beyond sectarianism compared to previous elections in 2010 and 2014.
Those elections were contested by four big blocs: Two Shiite, one Arab Sunni and one Kurdish, fielding candidates under sectarian or ethnic labels. In this election, however, we have five big Shiite blocs, or lists, two Sunni and two Kurdish not to mention many other independent or trans-sectarian lists totaling over 80. The alliances that have taken shape are prompted by political and even ideological,
rather than religious and/or ethnic considerations. And it is a major step towards a more sophisticated form of democratic politics in which where-you-want-to-go is more important than where-you-come-from.
Finally, the coming election may mark the beginning of the end for attempts by foreign powers, notably the Islamic Republic in Iran but also the United States, not to mention smaller regional players such as Turkey and Israel, to force their agendas on Iraq.
Because of the sectarian methodology imposed by Washington the future Prime Minister would have to come from among Shiites. Right now four leading candidates are in the field. The first is the incumbent PM Haidar al-Abadi who rose to his position because at a certain delicate moment he was seen as everyone’s second choice.
Today, he hopes to emerge as the first choice of a majority of Iraqis thus rendering support from foreign powers irrelevant.
The second wannabe is former Premier Nuri Al-Maliki who first rose to that position as the joint choice of the Bush administration and the mullahs of Tehran.
Once Obama had decided to withdraw from Iraq al-Maliki, who had originally been cool on alliance with Tehran, decided or, perhaps, was forced to rely exclusively on Iran. But even today, and despite years of service to the Islamic Republic, al-Maliki is still regarded with suspicion in parts of the establishment in the Islamic Republic.
Iran’s reserve candidate is Hadi al-Ameri, the militia commander of Hashad al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization), handpicked by General Qassem Soleimani and his Quds (Jerusalem) Corps.
The fourth putative PM, regarded as the dark horse right now, is another former Prime Minister Ayad al-Allawi whose key trump is the ability to make a deal with both the Arab Sunnis and the Kurds as a consensus candidate.
Contrary to common “experts’ view” I believe that one outcome of this election would be a gradual reduction in the influence of both Iran and the United States as a sense of Iraqi-ness” (Uruqa) cuts across traditional sectarian and ethnic divides.
Whatever the outcome of the election the next Iraqi government would continue to operate from a position of relative weakness if only because he would lack a strong base of his own.
But is that a bad thing?
The answer is: not in the short run. Since its creation as a modern a nation-state in 1921 and until the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 Iraq always had strong governments which meant it had a weak or even non-existent civil society. In the past 15 years, however the balance has shifted in favor of the civil society which, in many instances, has had to start from zero.
Iraq may need two, three or even four more free and pluralist elections before an acceptable balance is formed between the power of the state and that of civil society.
In the meantime, whoever forms the future government in Baghdad must remain humble, steering away from grandiloquence, and focus on concrete policies that serve the bread-and-butter issues.
The first aim of the future government should be to make sure that the democratic process remains safe. Regardless of religious, sectarian, ideological or even political differences, all Iraqis share an interest in that.

A Month of Islam and Multiculturalism in Germany: April 2018
Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/May 11, 2018
One of Germany's leading economists, Hans-Werner Sinn, warned that the migrant crisis could end up costing German taxpayers more than one trillion euros: "The cost to the taxpayer could also be higher. So far, there are about 1.5 million migrants who have come to Germany since 2015. And no: They are not dentists, lawyers and nuclear scientists, but mostly underqualified immigrants, who have arrived in the promised land... where the standard of living without employment is higher than in many countries of origin with employment."
In his first media interview as the new head of the influential GdP police union in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), Michael Mertens was asked if there are any no-go zones in NRW, Germany's most populous state. He replied: "There are areas where police do not go alone, only in large teams. Such areas are now present in almost all NRW cities."
"We now have new phenomenon in having refugees or people of Arab origin who are bringing another form of anti-Semitism back into the country. This dismays us." — German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
April 1. Senior German officials, including Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, always quick to outdo each other with good wishes for Islamic festivals, failed to greet Germans for Easter, the most important Christian festival. By contrast, Aiman ​​Mazyek, the head of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, did offer Easter greetings: "I wish you all peaceful and relaxing holidays. Happy Easter to the Christians, a happy 'Passover' to the Jews and a few contemplative days to the non-believers. #Variety makes you strong."
April 2. German churches were sheltering 611 illegal migrants at the end of March, up from 530 at the end of December 2017. Many churches in Germany provide refuge for refugees who face deportation or fear social and psychological hardships. German authorities tolerate church asylum, although there is no legal basis for it, according to the newsmagazine, Focus.
April 4. Sohail A., a 34-year-old rejected Pakistani asylum seeker living in Hamburg, confessed to slitting his two-year-old daughter's throat with a kitchen knife. Prosecutors said the man murdered his daughter out of "anger and revenge" because the girl's mother refused to allow the child to be taken to Pakistan.
April 4. Germany's domestic intelligence service (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, BfV) reported that the number of Salafists in the country doubled during the past five years: there are now 11,000 Salafists in Germany, compared to 5,500 in 2013. Salafists are committed to replacing the German constitutional order with Sharia law.
April 5. The newspaper Bild reported that of the 5.93 million recipients of unemployment benefits in Germany, 2.03 million (34.3%) were foreigners. Nearly half of them (959,000) come from non-European countries. The largest group are Syrians (588,301), followed by Turks (259,447).
April 5. The newspaper Express revealed that the City of Cologne was paying a luxury boutique hotel €1.5 million ($1.8 million) a year to house migrants. In one case, the hotel was receiving €6,800 ($8,000) a month to house an Iraqi family of eight in a room sized 35 square meters (375 square feet).
April 6. The newspaper Express revealed that Andrea Horitzky, a board member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), was receiving monthly government payments of €32,500 ($38,500) to house 31 migrants at a hotel owned by her family. When questioned, Horitzky said: "I have guests from all over the world. That's my private business and it's none of your business. I certainly am not doing this for the money."
April 8. Police arrested six men suspected of plotting knife attacks against spectators at the Berlin Half Marathon. The lead suspect reportedly knew Anis Amri, a Tunisian who killed 12 people and injured several dozen more when he drove a truck into a Berlin Christmas market in December 2016.
April 9. In Berlin, an 18-year-old Turk named Görkem A. received a suspended sentenced of two years in juvenile detention for ambushing a 40-year-old female jogger from behind, bashing her head with a brick and robbing her. He then kicked her in the head. She was hospitalized for injuries that included a broken jaw. The suspect was arrested based on a surveillance video from a security camera. Lisa Jani, a court spokeswoman, defended the lenient sentence: Görkem A. must pay the victim €2,000 ($2,400) as "symbolic" compensation.
April 9. North Rhine-Westphalia's Integration Minister, Joachim Stamp, announced a proposal to prohibit girls under the age of 14 from wearing headscarves to school. Amid a public outcry, Stamp quickly appeared to retreat: "The goal," he said, "is not necessarily a law."
April 9. Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Interior Ministry, Stephan Mayer, said that he expected the passage of a new law that would deny passports to jihadis with dual citizenship. He added that confiscating the German passports of alleged jihadis was a "pressing goal."
April 11. One of Germany's leading economists, Hans-Werner Sinn, warned that the migrant crisis could end up costing German taxpayers more than one trillion euros:
"The cost to the taxpayer could also be higher. So far, there are about 1.5 million migrants who have come to Germany since 2015. And no: They are not dentists, lawyers and nuclear scientists, but mostly underqualified immigrants, who have arrived in the promised land — one flowing with milk and honey and where the standard of living without employment is higher than in many countries of origin with employment."
April 11. Der Tagesspiegel published an exposé about the bullying of German students at the hands of Muslims in Berlin schools:
"I'm in seventh grade at a high school in Schöneberg. There I am marginalized because I am German and eat pork. I am cursed in Turkish and Arabic. In German, I am insulted as a son of a bitch or f**ked whore. In addition, I am sometimes beaten and kicked. If I get too close to other boys, they call me gay and kick me. Girls in my class are called sluts when they wear strapless shirts. I've been trying to change school for many months but cannot find an empty slot. The Education Department and the school do not help me."
April 11. Alexander Dobrindt, a leading member of the Christian Social Union (CSU), a political party based in Bavaria, said that Islam "has no cultural roots in Germany." He added:
"Islam has no cultural roots in Germany and with Sharia as a legal system, it has nothing in common with our Judeo-Christian heritage. No Islamic country on earth has developed a comparable democratic culture like the ones we know in Christian countries."
April 11. A food bank in Essen called Essener Tafel resumed offering food to migrants after a three-month ban. The relief organization generated controversy when it announced in January that it would no longer serve migrants because the proportion of non-Germans was too high. At the moment, 56% are Germans, compared to just 25% in January.
April 12. Kollegah and Farid Bang, a Muslim rap duo accused of singing anti-Semitic lyrics, was awarded Germany's top music prize, the Echo Music Award. The prize, awarded on Holocaust Remembrance Day, sparked public outrage. Justice Minister Heiko Maas said that "anti-Semitic provocations do not deserve a prize; they are repugnant." In an essay for Die Welt, comedian Oliver Polak wrote that the normalization of anti-Semitism in popular music was part of the reason "that young Jewish people are chased around and beaten up in schoolyards." After an extraordinary meeting in Berlin, Echo's organizer, the Federal Association of the Music Industry (BVMI), announced the end of the music award.
Germany's top music prize, the Echo Music Award, was awarded on April 12 to Kollegah and Farid Bang, a Muslim rap duo accused of singing anti-Semitic lyrics. The prize, awarded on Holocaust Remembrance Day, sparked public outrage.
April 12. A video posted on YouTube showed Muslim children at a mosque in Herford dressed in combat gear, equipped with toy weapons and covered with Turkish flags, pretending to be jihadis. In the background, listeners can hear the official election campaign song of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "We totally misjudged how this performance could be interpreted," said Necati Aydin, a representative of the mosque, which is run by the Turkish government.
April 12. German authorities launched a crackdown on Middle Eastern crime families in Essen, a city in North Rhine-Westphalia where some 70 Turkish, Kurdish and Arab-born clan members regularly engage in racketeering, extortion, money laundering, pimping and trafficking in humans, weapons and drugs. Middle Eastern crime clans now control large swathes of German cities and towns — areas that are effectively lawless and which German police increasingly fear to approach. The crime families, which are believed to have thousands of members, have for decades been allowed operate with virtual impunity: German judges and prosecutors were unable or unwilling to stop them, apparently out of fear of retribution.
April 12. The Interior Ministry reported that only ten of the more than 750 Islamist Gefährder (potentially highly dangerous persons) known to be residing in Germany have been deported during the past year. Parliamentarians called on the government to enforce an existing law which stipulates that individuals who pose a security risk be deported.
April 12. In the first test case of Germany's new internet censorship law, a court in Berlin ordered Facebook to restore a user's comment it had deleted. The case involved Facebook user Gabor B., who posted the following comment: "Germans are becoming increasingly stupid. No wonder, since the left-wing media litters them every day with fake news about 'skilled workers,' declining unemployment figures or Trump." Facebook said the comment violated its "community standards," but the court ruled that it was protected by the right to free speech.
April 13. A 33-year-old migrant from Niger fatally stabbed his ex-wife and her one-year-old daughter at the Jungfernstieg subway station in central Hamburg. In nearby Rendsburg, a 26-year-old Syrian man tried to decapitate his sleeping wife. She escaped with minor injuries. In Wuppertal, a 23-year-old migrant from India snatched a five-year-old boy from his family at the central railway station and pushed him in front of an oncoming train. The boy escaped with minor injuries; the man was known to police.
April 13. A 19-year-old Afghan asylum seeker was shot and killed by police after he went on a rampage at a bakery in Fulda. The Hesse State Criminal Police Office subsequently launched an investigation into why police used deadly force.
April 13. Three Syrians, aged 21, 23 and 27, were arrested in Saarland on suspicion of being members of Islamic State. All three arrived in Germany in 2015 posing as refugees.
April 14. An Emnid poll published by Bild found that 51% of those surveyed were worried about German no-go zones, areas where the state is unable or unwilling to enforce the law; 77% said that they wanted the state to take more forceful action against Middle Eastern crime families.
April 18. Two men wearing Jewish skullcaps were attacked by Arab-speaking passersby in Berlin. The assault, a video of which went viral on social media, highlighted the growing problem of Arab anti-Semitism in Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel said: "This is a terrible incident. That is why we will respond here. The fight against such anti-Semitic acts must be won, that is very clear. This unfortunately exists among Germans, but also among people of Arab origin." A representative of the Jewish community in Berlin, Mike Samuel Delberg, said: "Such things should not be swept under the carpet. The political lip service must stop."
April 19. A report by Germany's five leading economic institutes found that in order to preserve the existing social welfare system, Germans would either have to work until age 70 or annually import 500,000 migrants.
April 19. Germany's domestic intelligence service (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, BfV), reported that more than 1,000 German Islamists and Islamists from Germany have traveled to Syria and Iraq to take part in combat operations with the Islamic State and other jihadi groups. This figure is up from 960 at the end of December 2017.
April 19. Eurostat, the European statistics office, reported that Germany had taken in 325,400 refugees in 2017, accounting for almost 60% of the 540,000 migrants resettled in the EU last year. Most were from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
April 20. Germany agreed to take in 10,200 refugees as part of a European Union plan to resettle 50,000 migrants from North Africa and the Middle East. EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said the program of legal entry was designed to thwart smuggling gangs that illegally bring migrants to Europe.
April 22. Chancellor Angela Merkel said that refugees or people of Arab origin were responsible for the rise of anti-Semitism in Germany. In an interview with Israeli Channel 10 News, Merkel said: "We now have new phenomenon in having refugees or people of Arab origin who are bringing another form of anti-Semitism back into the country. This dismays us."
April 23. A 24-year-old Pakistani asylum seeker vandalized St. Mark's Church in Chemnitz. The man was arrested, questioned and released. He then vandalized St. Peter's Church, also in Chemnitz. Police blamed both incidents on the suspect's "mental health condition." Meanwhile, an "Asian man" sexually assaulted a 12-year-old girl at a Jewish cemetery in Mülheim.
April 24. North Rhine-Westphalia's Integration Minister, Joachim Stamp, said it was not possible to deport a former bodyguard of the late Osama bin Laden because of fears that he could be tortured or treated badly in his homeland. The 42-year-old Tunisian named Sami A. has been living in Bochum for more than a decade. Stamp confirmed that Sami A. receives €1,168 ($1,450) each month in welfare payments. He lives with his wife and children, who have German citizenship.
April 24. In his first media interview as the new head of the influential GdP police union in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), Michael Mertens was asked if there are any no-go zones in NRW, Germany's most populous state. He replied:
"There are areas where police do not go alone, only in large teams. Such areas are now present in almost all NRW cities. We must show a clear police presence and make it clear that everyone who lives in this country has to abide by the law."
April 26. Sibel H., a German-Turkish woman from Hesse, and Sabine S., a convert to Islam from Baden-Württemberg, returned to Germany on a flight from Baghdad after having joined the Islamic State in Syria. The Federal Prosecutor's Office had requested arrest warrants for the two women, but the Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof) ruled that the women should go free because no specific terrorist membership or support had been proven. The court treats males and females differently when assessing membership of or support for the Islamic State: male jihadis fight, torture or murder, while female jihadis mainly take care of the household, bear children and care for husbands and offspring. According to the Federal Court, such acts are not punishable because they do not constitute explicit support for terrorism.
April 27. A man with an "Arab phenotype" sexually assaulted four children between the ages of 11 and 12 at a zoo in Magdeburg. A 24-year-old "North African born in Palestine" was arrested after repeatedly raping at knifepoint a 46-year-old woman in her garden in Berlin.
April 28. Felix Klein, the German government's newly appointed special envoy to Jewish community, said he was not surprised that Jews are leaving Germany: "It is quite understandable that those who are scared for the safety of their children would consider leaving Germany," he said. "I hear this from my own Jewish friends. But we must do everything to avoid that." Klein also said that anti-Semitism in Germany is being fueled by mass migration from the Muslim world: "There is a tendency — anti-Semitic sentiment is more openly expressed. Anti-Semitism among Muslims and the extreme right and left existed before. But it is being expressed more unashamedly. Yes, the situation has become worse."
April 30. A study by Mediendienst Integration, an information service focused on immigration, found that demand for Islam courses in German schools far outstrips supply. Around 54,000 students at 800 schools across the country currently receive Islam religion lessons, although number of Muslim children aged six to 18 at German schools is now believed to be around 750,000 to 800,000.
*Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute.
© 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.

Iran deal ignored Gulf concerns
الإتفاق النووي مع إيران تجاهل مخاوف ومصالح دول الخليج العربي

Hasan Al-Hasan/Arab News/May 11/18
When he announced his decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, US President Donald Trump spent more time criticizing it for its failure to address Tehran’s support for terrorism and its destabilizing regional activity, than most of its other defects. For years, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Israel and other regional states made the same point. But under Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, their concerns were ignored.
With Trump in office, however, these states have been able to point to a worsened regional situation as evidence that the deal has done more harm than good. Ultimately, his decision strongly suggests that the deal’s most fatal defect was to ignore Iran’s neighbors and their ability to successfully oppose it. But the remedy may be too late.
From the perspective of regional states, the deal has enabled Iran to advance its relentless campaign of regional expansion, out of which more lives have been claimed than through its nuclear and ballistic missile programs together.
But at the time of the deal’s negotiation, the Obama administration defended the omission from discussion of Iran’s destabilizing activities. The administration claimed that this allowed the US and its regional allies to counter Iran more forcefully on its sponsorship of terrorism, independently of any progress on the nuclear file.
The departure of Tillerson and the appointment of Bolton and Pompeo to Trump’s policy inner circle came at an opportune moment.​
But in practice, Obama’s arguments have not held up. To begin with, the deal has not allowed for a more forceful confrontation with Iran on its destabilizing activities in the region. In fact, Obama was widely perceived as softening US policy on Tehran’s support for terrorism, out of fear that forceful action could jeopardize the deal.
In December 2017, Politico revealed that his administration had blocked an investigation by the US Drug Enforcement Agency into Hezbollah’s global drug trade, in effect shielding an Iran-allied terrorist entity from prosecution. Many in the region also interpreted Obama’s failure to enforce a red line on the use of chemical weapons in Syria in 2013 as a concession to Tehran to ensure its continued adherence to the negotiations.
The deal has also failed to turn Iran into a responsible state, and appears to have achieved the opposite. It has provided Tehran with a windfall of $10 billion in direct financial assets, according to the Wall Street Journal. This allowed it to ratchet up support for its proxies in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
Due in part to this support, Syrian President Bashar Assad has practically crushed his opponents, paving the way for an Iranian land bridge that cuts across Iraq and Syria to connect to the Mediterranean. As a result, Iran has managed to expand its military presence in Syria, and is now building military bases and assembling launch sites for ballistic missiles not far from Syria’s border with Israel.
Because of Obama’s policy toward Iran and the nuclear deal, US relations with Gulf states and Israel soured. In 2015, US-Saudi relations reached their nadir when the Kingdom announced military operations in Yemen without so much as a heads up to Washington — a highly unusual move. Obama moved swiftly to mend ties with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), convening a heads-of-state summit at Camp David later that year.
But the absence of Saudi King Salman and Bahrain’s King Hamad from the summit sent a clear message on the extent of Gulf displeasure. Although the US and GCC states signed the Camp David Accords, which encouraged the latter to mellow their criticism of the Iran deal, some of the American promises, including large-scale military exercises in the Gulf, never materialized.
The Obama administration also sought to mend ties with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and in 2016 signed off on the largest military aid package ever to Israel, worth $38 billion. This succeeded temporarily in dialling down the criticism of the Iran deal.
But with Trump installed as US president, all bets on the deal’s future were suddenly off. Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE spotted the opportunity and embarked on a lobbying effort to sway the new administration — including through their ties to Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner — against keeping the deal.
Moreover, the departure of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (whose stance on Qatar irked Saudi Arabia and the UAE) and the appointment of John Bolton and Mike Pompeo (both of whom have advocated ditching the deal) to Trump’s policy inner circle came at an opportune moment.
And a week prior to Trump’s abandonment of the deal, Israel revealed a trove of intelligence that it claimed proved Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, setting the stage for a US withdrawal. Immediately following Trump’s decision, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain issued statements welcoming it.
But despite its many defects, pulling out of the deal at this stage makes little strategic sense. The US has already squandered its financial leverage over Iran by paying upfront for the deal. And given the lack of support from the deal’s other signatories for Trump’s decision, it may be difficult to implement global sanctions or assemble another international coalition to apply pressure on Iran.
Moreover, if the Europeans fail to offer Iran enough economic incentives to keep it on board, the latter is likely to resume enrichment in a few months, potentially setting off a nuclear arms race with regional competitors such as Saudi Arabia. The decision to scrap the deal may have made sense three or four years ago, but today it is highly uncertain that US withdrawal will lead to a safer, more stable Middle East.
• Hasan Al-Hasan is a Ph.D. researcher at King’s College London and the National University of Singapore, where his work focuses on Indian foreign policy in the Middle East. Previously, he served as a senior analyst at the office of the first deputy prime minister of Bahrain.
© 2018 Syndication Bureau

The tactics behind Iran’s dual response to US withdrawal
التكتيكات الإيرانية المزدوجة رداً على الإنسحاب الأمريكي
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/May 11/18
Tehran’s politicians and the state-owned Persian news outlets have been heavily covering the US decision to pull out of the nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which was struck in 2015 between six world powers, known as the P5+1, and Iran.
The reactions and responses coming out of Iran are mixed. On the one hand, hard-liners are taking a tough stance by lashing out at the US and leading calls to “set fire to the nuclear deal.” When the Majlis, Iran’s Parliament, opened its session the day after President Donald Trump announced the US withdrawal from the deal, hard-line representatives burned a US flag and a copy of the agreement, while chanting “Death to America.”
These hard-liners are attempting to appease Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and make a reality of his previously symbolic phrase, “Set it (the nuclear deal) on fire.” Before the election of Trump, Khamenei warned that “if the threat from the American presidential candidates to tear up the deal becomes operational then Tehran will set fire to the deal.”
In addition, the regime in Tehran is warning that the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal will bring significant harm to America. Such threats against the US will most likely escalate.
On the other hand, Iran’s so-called moderate political party and its media outlets are taking a totally different approach. The moderates are forcefully spreading the narrative that European nations are robustly standing with Iran and opposing the US. For example, the Arman newspaper’s front-page headline quoted Federica Mogherini, the EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, as stating that “we (Germany, France and the UK) will stay in the JCPOA.” The Hamdeli newspaper’s headline applauded the French ambassador for saying: “We will support the JCPOA.”
Similarly, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani reacted by repeatedly promoting and buttressing the argument that there is no issue with the nuclear deal, even though the US has withdrawn from it.
In the Iranian newspaper Etela’at, he said the nuclear agreement was between the P5+1 countries (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — China, the US , Russia, France and the UK — plus Germany). All that has changed, he said, is that an intruder (the US) has left the accord. Now the agreement is between Iran and the other five nations, he added. Some state-controlled outlets, such as Hamshahri, supported his position, with headlines such as “the JCPOA stays, the US left.”
Any astute analyst who has studied the four decades of Iran’s ruling mullahs will know that such mixed reactions originating from the country should not be regarded as a surprise. It illustrates a tactical move utilized by the clerical establishment; such a dual approach is the modus operandi of the Iranian regime.
For instance, before the nuclear agreement was reached, the hard-liners — including Khamenei, high-ranking members of the powerful Revolutionary Guards and their hard-line social base — were taking a similarly strident stance by opposing the deal and criticizing the negotiations between Rouhani’s technocrat team and the West. Even a few hours before the UN unanimously voted to endorse the deal, Maj. Gen. Mohammed Ali Jafari, head of the Revolutionary Guards, rejected it, saying: “Some parts of the draft have clearly crossed the Iran’s red lines, especially in Tehran’s military capabilities. We will never accept it.”
This is a classic good cop, bad cop strategy. The moderates set the tone on the international stage through their shrewd diplomatic skills and softer tone, while the hard-liners take a tougher stance to assist the moderates in obtaining more concessions from the other side.
Although the Revolutionary Guards have been a major beneficiary of the nuclear deal, thanks to the lifting of crippling sanctions against Iran, Jafari added that the UN should not “waste its time” passing a resolution endorsing the agreement.
Hence, the big question now is why is the Iranian regime playing such a tactical game? The answer is that this is a classic good cop, bad cop strategy. The moderates set the tone on the international stage through their shrewd diplomatic skills and softer tone, while the hard-liners take a tougher stance to assist the moderates in obtaining more concessions from the other side.
In addition, it is critical to point out that when it comes to Iranian politics, the rhetoric of the leaders across the political spectrum matters less on certain occasions. The most important issue is the instructions that Khamenei gives behind closed doors to both the moderates and hard-liners. These instructions might totally differ from what Khamenei expresses in his public speeches and announcements.
For example, before the nuclear deal, Khamenei continually criticized the negotiations with the West and any potential agreement. But he desperately needed the nuclear deal. Without his blessing, Rouhani would not have been able to negotiate with the West and reach an agreement. In fact, were it not for Khamenei’s blessing, Rouhani would not have been approved by the Guardian Council to run for the presidency in the first place.
Khamenei is the final decision maker when it comes to Iran’s major foreign and domestic policies. Despite his public announcements and threats to set fire to the nuclear deal, the latest developments from within Iran suggest that even though the US has withdrawn, Khamenei, his gilded circle and the senior cadre of the Revolutionary Guards still desire to remain in the nuclear deal and keep it intact because of the benefits that it is bringing to the regime.
• 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.
Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh

Who are the winners and losers from US oil sanctions on Iran?
من هم الخاسرين والرابحين من عقوبات أميركا البترولية على إيران
Wael Mahdi/Arab News/May 11/18
It seems clear that all producers will benefit from rising prices following the decision of US president Donald Trump this week to impose sanctions on Iranian oil exports within 180 days. Conversely, it would be reasonable to expect that consuming nations will suffer from high oil prices.
But in reality things could be different depending on the development of events. Not all oil producers will benefit in the same way and not all consumers will be affected in the same way. Similarly, not all international oil companies will benefit or lose in the same way.
So who are the real winners from the renewed sanctions on Iranian oil and who are the losers? And why are the sanctions this time different from the last round of sanctions that were imposed in the summer of 2012?
Starting with the second question, the dynamics in the market differ greatly from the previous situation. In 2012, demand was not very strong and there was no excess supply in the market to replace Iranian crude.
Iran mainly produces medium and heavy-density crude oil with a high sulfur content, otherwise known as sour crude. Not all producers can supply this type of crude, and most of the medium and heavy excess capacity is in the Gulf region, in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
The growth in world oil demand in 2012 was about 800,000 barrels per day (bpd), largely unchanged on the previous year, as US oil demand moved from deep contraction to minor growth, according to OPEC estimates at the time.
The supply picture was different, with output from outside the group not growing greatly, despite oil prices trading at above $100 that year. Non-OPEC’s supply growth was projected at 500,000 bpd in 2012 with gains from US and Canada, according to the organization’s estimates. OPEC at that time had a production ceiling of 30 million bpd.
The supply and demand situation in 2012 was reflected in pricing dynamics. Due to the lack of enough medium and heavy spare capacity, the gap in prices between Dubai crude oil, which represents Gulf heavy sour grades, and Brent oil, which represents medium-sweet grades, narrowed to record lows in that year following the embargo on Iranian shipments. This was because the value of medium and heavy grades went up due to scarcity.
The price spread between Brent and WTI widened greatly, as the US was not exporting crude oil and most shipments to Asia came from Brent-linked crude grades or Brent itself. By the end of 2012, the Brent-WTI spread reached $24. Today, the dynamics of the market are totally different. Fundamentals are healthy and there is abundant crude in the market — mainly sweet and light oil. This time around, it is not hard to replace an Iranian shipment, even from within OPEC, as many countries — including Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE — have invested in adding capacity.
According to OPEC’s latest monthly report, oil demand in 2018 might grow by 1.63 million bpd, twice the amount in 2012. Growth in supply from outside OPEC this year is around 1.71 million bpd, more than three times that in 2012.
US oil companies will benefit more than OPEC producers, while refiners in Asia and Europe will suffer
Meanwhile the Dubai-Brent spread, which now stands at $4 per barrel, is expected to narrow later in the year and early in 2019, as the value of Dubai might rise. As for the Brent-WTI spread, the former is trading now at a premium of $6 to WTI.
The only significant difference is that OPEC and some non-OPEC producers have an agreement to cut production as oil prices now trade at little more than half their levels in 2012. If the sanctions on Iranian crude result in the end of that agreement, there will be a flood of medium and heavy grades in the market and any sanctions on Iranian crude will not affect the balance of the market.
Saudi Arabia alone can increase production by another 500,000 to 1 million bpd in a short period. But this is unlikely, given the Kingdom’s close coordinations since last year with Russia and others to balance the market; therefore the responsibility for increasing supply is likely to be shared by a wide group of producers.
It is hard to tell whether the new sanctions will spell the end of the OPEC plus agreement. Oil prices are not yet at the level where producers in the agreement want them to be, as they are not yet high enough to bring back lost investments in the industry. So the deal might continue but with a new distribution of the quotas of producers. Another important difference with the situation in 2012 is that the US now has enough capacity to replace Iranian condensates to Asia due to the increased production of shale oil and gas from areas such as the Permian and Eagle Ford. Back in 2012, it was hard to replace Iranian condensates — a form of a very light oil. With all of this in mind, who will be the winners and losers from the new sanctions on Iran? US oil companies are in a better position to benefit more than OPEC countries, while refiners in Asia and Europe will suffer when they look for new sources of supply. This is for two reasons.
First, such refiners will need to get some oil that is priced based on Brent. Second, some refiners will lose the discounts and the long billing cycles that Iran usually offers to its customers to compete with other Gulf producers.
Another source of concern for refiners is the refining margin. The shift in use of other type of crudes that are not configured by the refineries will change the economics, and may shrink the profits made from refining each barrel. For the US refiners, there is not much to fear. But for EU and Asian refiners the margins will be a big concern next year. OPEC will no doubt think about these issues in its next ministerial meeting in June but there are many challenges. First, distributing Iranian market share is not going to be easy, and selling crude at reasonable discounts and pricing to Iran’s customers is a delicate marketing issue.
Second, whenever there is a void in the market, everyone will try to sell more crude. This may result in cheating by some members of the agreement.
What is almost certain is that OPEC and non-OPEC allies are interested in keeping the agreement because it results in higher oil prices. And as oil prices are expected to increase next year, although not greatly, producers will need to balance the market and make sure they do not jeopardize the balance of the market. But will the sanctions work this time? This really depends on the role that the EU plays. Last time it was not the embargo that hurt Iranian oil exports but the withdrawal of EU insurers from insuring Iranian tankers that made customers unwilling to buy Iranian oil.
• Wael Mahdi is an energy reporter specializing on OPEC and a co-author of “OPEC in a Shale Oil World: Where to Next?” Twitter @waelmahdi

Iran and Israel on the brink: What will stop them?
إيران وإسرائيل على شفير الهاوية فمن سيوقفهما
Yossi Mekelberg/Arab News/May 11/18
In the early hours of Thursday morning, the much-anticipated Iranian missile launch on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights took place. Ever since Israel increased its frequency of attacks on military bases in Syria — in particular those manned by Iranian forces and their Hezbollah allies — a few weeks ago, the clock counting down to an Iranian retaliation had been ticking.
Israeli security forces braced themselves for an attack, though the place, time and magnitude was unknown. When it eventually happened, 20 rockets were fired by Iran’s Quds Force — a special unit affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — at frontline Israeli posts in the Golan Heights. The rockets were all either intercepted or failed to cross the border between Israel and Syria. This represents a major failure for Iran in its ability to respond to Israel’s military operations against its installations in Syria.
Israel’s instant military response, striking from the air dozens of Iranian targets in Syria, leaves both countries on the brink of open hostilities. It remains to be seen whether they are capable of withdrawing from the brink of war, bearing in mind that Wednesday night was the first time that Iran had directly attacked Israel militarily, and that Israel openly admitted it targeted Iranian forces in its northeastern neighbor. This is a patent escalation that, without diplomatic intervention from the outside, might spiral out of control, especially in the extremely volatile Syrian context.
For the more than seven years since the conflict in Syria broke out, Tel Aviv had maintained a restrained approach toward developments there, limiting its intervention in the hostilities to situations only when it felt threatened. It was a conscientious decision, based on intelligence assessment, that Israel had nothing to gain from such an intervention and, even if it wanted to influence the situation there to serve its interests, it had no capacity to do so. It made a clear decision, which was relayed to its enemies across the border, that it would not tolerate the arming of Hezbollah by Iran with weapons that might endanger it, and it would respond militarily to any firing inside Israel from across the Syrian border. For most of the period since March 2011, the border was relatively calm and Israel could adhere to these red lines.
However, as the war in Syria raged on, the presence of Iranian military personnel in the country consistently increased. Toward the end of last year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explicitly asserted: “We will not allow (Iran) to entrench itself militarily in Syria, as it seeks to do, for the express purpose of eradicating our state.” The writing was on the wall for months, as Israel has increasingly become unnerved by the Iranian presence in Syria; the growing military capabilities of Hezbollah in Lebanon, enabled by their patrons in Tehran; and by Iranian support for the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas. Israel under Netanyahu is a country with a siege mentality, even without seeing Iran in almost every direction it looks. With it, its sense of strategic claustrophobia multiplied.
It is impossible to separate the confrontation between Iran and Israel in Syria, and potentially in Lebanon, from the broader strategic picture, especially the Iran nuclear deal and US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement earlier this week. In the mind of Israeli strategists, and especially the current Israeli government, Iran is an existential threat that has to be contained. From their perspective, the only way to do so was to abolish the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and, in the longer term, bring regime change to Tehran. Netanyahu has been advocating for this objective for years. For him, Trump’s decision was an exoneration of his long-held position.
Events this week injured Iran economically, military and its pride suffered a major blow, but this could spell danger too, as it still has the military capabilities to respond.
Moreover, from the magnitude of the air force attack on Iranian forces and dozens of Iranian installations — including intelligence and logistics sites around Damascus, munitions warehouses, and observation and military posts — it is clear Israel had prepared for this operation for quite some time and was just waiting for the opportunity to present itself. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman asserted that the Israeli army had hit “nearly all the Iranian infrastructure in Syria” and that “they must remember that if it rains here (in Israel), it will pour there.”
Lieberman further stated: “I hope that we have finished this chapter and that everyone got the message.” Similarly, Netanyahu, who this week visited Moscow for meetings with President Vladimir Putin, insisted on the right of Israel to take any necessary steps to stop Iran from “attacking the state of Israel as part of their strategy to destroy the state of Israel.” One suspects that Putin gave the green light to Israel’s comprehensive attacks; otherwise it would have been a massive diplomatic insult and embarrassment had this happened behind his back, especially in a place where Russia has vital interests, a substantial military presence and involvement in the conflict.
Support for Israel also came from Washington, underlining Iran’s isolation. However, there must be a call for calm and caution.
Iran’s leaders suffered a double blow this week, with the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal and Israel’s military operation in Syria, which exposed its vulnerability. It might be the case that, in recent years, while the focus was on Iran’s pursuit of nuclear capability, the international community neglected to notice its pursuit of regional hegemony through more conventional means.
Events this week injured Iran economically, military and its pride suffered a major blow, but this could spell danger too, as it still has the military capabilities to respond. Moreover, it might embolden those more radical voices in the regime over the pragmatic ones, represented by President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif.
The way forward should involve a concerted effort by the international community, including the UN Security Council, aimed at preventing further escalation. In the long run, it is imperative to explore peaceful means to reduce tensions between Iran and the region, otherwise what we witnessed on Thursday could be the prologue to another protracted and bloody conflict in the Middle East — and maybe beyond.
• Yossi Mekelberg is professor of international relations at Regent’s University London, where he is head of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program. He is also an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. He is a regular contributor to the international written and electronic media. Twitter: @YMekelberg

Disputes over Iraq and Syria: Strategies and ramifications
Shehab Al-Makahleh/Al Arabiya/May 11/18
Disputes in the Middle East cannot be resolved unilaterally. They can only be tackled collectively, through integrated regional and international cooperation. This applies to challenges such as the Palestinian cause, terrorism, Arab-Iranian conflict and other lesser predicaments.
Some political observers believe that the Arab-Iranian dispute should be addressed even before the Palestinian-Israeli issue. Since 1967, the Middle East has been a hub for the worst military conflicts and wars.
About 22 percent of world’s conflicts have been concentrated in the region during the past three decades. When the eight-year Iraqi-Iranian went on from 1980 to 1988, both countries lost more than 2 million soldiers.
UN statistics reveal that about 40 percent of the total number of those killed in armed conflicts have fallen in the Middle East since 1980 until the end of 2017. Such conflicts have complicated the political scene and have led to further chaos when the Arab Spring erupted in some Arab republics.
Up to 72 percent of world war toll and military conflict fatalities have been reported in the Middle East. Moreover, the Middle East has the highest levels of terrorist attacks since 2003. Incidents of terrorism increased by 50 percent, leaving many countries behind owing to their impact on economies.
Iran and Arab states are heading toward direct regional conflict that would drive Israel to intervene by targeting some strategic sites in Iran to turn balance of power
Balance of power
Many states harbor a strong belief that their main enemy is Iran as it tampers with the stability of Arab countries. This started with Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and Syria. Since no conflict can take place without the pretext, if the root cause is to be resolved then changing the balance of power and the regime in Iran are a must.As Iran was eying Iraq since 1980s, after regime had changed in Tehran in 1979, a conflict broke out which saw in the Iranian expansionist policies a strategy to rule over the whole region.
The first Iranian step was to control Iraq after American pullout because Iraq is in the north of the Gulf and Iran is located to the east of the Gulf States.
This is likely to pose a major threat to Gulf states as Iraq is geographically and strategically located between three major powers: The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, Turkey and Iran.
Iranians have sought to play the Iraq card first before moving to play other cards which include sectarianism, the cards of Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. Iran believes that an Arab-Iranian model can be created through the Iraqi gate, with the support of others – such as Russia, Syria – without reaching a compromise between Arabs and Iranians in such a conflict.
There is a firm belief that the Iranian regime should be changed in order for the country’s policies to be changed accordingly. Hence, changing the regime of the Vilayat al-Faqih may be considered a regional and international necessity before the possibility of confluence of Iraq and the other Gulf states in the form of an alliance or to form a new regional system.
No peace deal
But why all previous wars have ended with no peace deal or surrender agreement? The Iran-Iraqi war ended on August 8, 1988 with a truce but without a peace or surrender agreement being signed. The same applies to the two wars against Iraq.
Thus, the answer is simply tacit which bears the seeds of a war that would erupt any moment. Should this happen, Iran will be forced to leave Iraq and Syria to protect its borders. Iran looks at Arabs, whether Sunni or Shiite, from a heritage perspective. It considers the GCC a springboard backed by the West to besiege Iranian revolution. On the other hand, Gulf Arabs regard the Iranian revolution as an existential threat. This was exemplified by Khomeini who called on Arabs in the Gulf to stir up revolution.
Iran and Arab states are heading toward direct regional conflict that would drive Israel to intervene by targeting some strategic sites in Iran to turn balance of power. The month of May is very critical where the future of the Middle East region will be at stake.

12 phone calls from Theresa May to Trump

Mamdouh AlMuhaini/Al Arabiya/May 11/18
Two parties engaged in a fateful battle to keep the US in the nuclear deal and were at some point more enthusiastic about this than the Iranians themselves.
A European party and an American one that mainly consists of Democrats, particularly those affiliated with the faction of former President Barack Obama, the godfather of the deal. Although these two parties have some similar goals, they also have different motives.
On the European level, British Prime Minister Theresa May exhausted US President Donald Trump with phone calls in an attempt to convince him to change his stance. She made 12 calls to him in a short period of time. This was followed by dispatching the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Boris Johnson to the White House.
For the first time, we notice how she tasked junior diplomats in the Middle East to defend the nuclear deal to an audience whose majority rejects it, and this caused them embarrassment. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also visited Washington and met with Trump for long hours to convince him not to withdraw from the deal.
However, the romantic trip which has been engraved in our memories and which did not have a happy ending was that of French President Emmanuel Macron who can be described as the new lecturer of the deal now that Obama is out of the picture.
When he visited Trump in Washington, he brought up his well-known arguments and resorted to embraces, kisses and holding hands to influence the American president. However, all these Europeans efforts proved to be futile and Trump decided to withdraw from the deal. While making the announcement, Trump noted that the entire agreement was based on lies.
US National Security Advisor John Bolton said Trump decided to withdraw in the last second, but we cannot believe such claims. As more reports emerge, we realize that Trump had decided to withdraw from the deal after he rearranged his team and kept the doves out of it, particularly his former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who convinced Trump to postpone scrapping the deal twice.
The Europeans are saying that during this last phase, American negotiators were leniently working and did not have any strong belief in the cause because they knew that their president had made up his mind to withdraw from the deal.
Europe’s angry reactions convey justified fears because resuming its trade with Iran greatly threatens its trade with the US
Knock on the door
However, if the US president had decided to withdraw then why did he let European leaders beg him not to and knock on his door every hour?
Most likely, he saw this as a big chance to display America’s power, which he wants to embody in himself and his administration and which is the opposite of how the former administration was as he was always accused it of being humiliatingly weak.
This is not the first time he does so with the Europeans as he withdrew from the Paris Agreement on climate change and once threatened to impose a 35 percent import tax on German cars. The issue of the Iranian nuclear deal is more humiliating.
A high-ranking official at the EU angrily commented on Trump’s decision and said: “We must stop acting like we’re yielding.” On Thursday, Merkel reiterated her past statements in a new tone and said: “It is no longer such that the United States simply protects us, but Europe must take its destiny in its own hands.”
Abstract political theories and major economic gains constitute the motives of this European enthusiasm. Their political argument is not different from that of the former American administration despite the major transformations on the ground.
The idea in general seems right and perfect, i.e. the deal will contribute to integrating the Iranian regime in the world order and strengthen the reformist movement thus it will defuse crises and spread peace. However, what we saw was the complete opposite.
Almost everyone knows that the American money brought by European funds and investments encouraged the Iranian regime’s dangerous behavior to spread chaos and destroy regional peace. History is not on European side.
For instance, they decided to strongly confront the Nazi threat and did not think of making any peace agreements even when Chamberlain made the deals, which he celebrated. When Hitler’s troubled deputy Rudolf Hess traveled to Britain in search of peace, he was confined to a solitary prison.
The Europeans then struggled for a long time while confronting Stalin’s iron rule. Western powers are now united in a hawkish determination to confront the influence of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The other motive is related to economy. European countries are trying to maintain these economic ties with Iran as they clearly said they will work to maintain their companies’ interests. European companies rushed to invest in Iran after the deal was signed.
Iranian-German commercial trade is around $4 billion a year. Last year, the French company Renault sent more than 60,000 to Iran. The French company Total is considered the largest investor in Iranian gas and oil. (There is a detailed report by colleague Hanan al-Manouri in Al about the European billions that are now in the wind.)
Terms of agreement
Europe’s angry reactions convey justified fears because resuming its trade with Iran greatly threatens its trade with the US. Before withdrawing from the deal, the US Treasury had thwarted European banks’ operations that fund large projects and deals inside Iran because they violated the terms of the agreement.
The American party that opposes Trump’s move has made huge efforts to maintain Obama’s only legacy in foreign policy and which is now shattered to pieces. This was the main reason behind their enthusiasm as they have used all means of intimidation and resorted to media attacks to deter Trump from making his decision.
After he withdrew from the deal, we heard several angry and bitter comments which, interestingly, greatly resemble the comments made by Iranian regime officials. Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani repeated the same accusations they made, that Trump does not have the mental capability to manage and govern. This accusation is at the core of the American leftist camp’s propaganda.
There were angry reactions following the withdrawal of the deal including a tweet by former director of the Central Intelligence Agency John Brennan in which he said: “Today, Donald Trump simultaneously lied about the Iranian nuclear deal, undermined global confidence in US commitments, alienated our closest allies, strengthened Iranian hawks, & gave North Korea more reason to keep its nukes. This madness is a danger to our national security.”
Brennan is an agitated and reckless man who lacks any sense of wisdom, and his statements reflect the rage toward the Trump administration and its decision, which is considered historical except by these two parties as well as by the mullahs in Tehran.

Iraq’s Elections: Red Flags and Opportunities for Inclusion
Bilal Wahab/The Washington Institute/May 11/2018
A closer look at the local security changes, turnout obstacles, sectarian divisions, and other factors that could determine the shape of Iraq’s next government.
Iraqis head to the polls on May 12 to elect a new parliament, after which legislators will choose a speaker, president, and prime minister. The elections come at the end of four tough years for Iraq, with the Islamic State seizing a third of the country in 2014 and the Kurds making a strong push for independence last September.
Despite the turmoil, Kurdish-Arab violence has been minimal, and the numerous victors of the war against IS are all hoping to turn their battlefield triumph into votes. Chief among them is Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is seeking reelection and a stronger mandate to govern. The numerous Shia militias who fought IS have formed a political coalition that is expected to do well. Yet the electoral prospects are uncertain for the Kurds, whose independence referendum and subsequent military and political setbacks have diluted the goodwill they gained by fighting IS in the north.
Indeed, ethnosectarian divisions continue to cast a shadow over the Iraqi political scene. Interestingly, however, the public thirst for accountability has caused fragmentation within each group, leaving the Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish houses internally divided on the eve of the election. This may further complicate and delay the government formation process.
Security. Although security in Iraqi cities has significantly improved in recent months, IS remains a threat, especially as it transitions from a territory-controlling entity back into an urban insurgency. Polling stations and election season in general have been among the group’s favorite targets over the years.
Turnout. Around 18 million Iraqis are eligible to vote this year, and they will have to sift through some 7,000 candidates to fill 329 seats in parliament, a quarter of which (83) are allocated to women. On average, 60 percent of voters took part in the two previous elections, but recent polls indicate that more of the electorate is disillusioned by a political class that has been unable to deliver on key concerns such as job creation, economic reforms, and curbing corruption. Despite making cosmetic changes to party names and slogans, the main contenders are familiar faces. In a nod to the public discontent, leading Shia ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a fatwa emphasizing people’s right not to vote if they cannot identify with any of the candidates.
Sunni participation. Whether due to boycotts or lack of security, turnout among Iraq’s Sunni minority has been consistently low in past elections. Sunni parties are actively participating in this year’s campaign, but many of their constituents were forced to flee during the war against IS and still live in refugee camps. Although the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) has committed to placing ballot boxes at these camps, fears of low Sunni turnout persist—not least because security in many of these areas is provided by Kurdish personnel or militias from the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), which are dominated by the country’s Shia majority.
Kurdish unity. Kurdish parties have campaigned as if this were a local election—rather than reassuming the unified stance that helped them maximize gains from Baghdad in the past, they have focused on each other’s failures instead. As a result, the Kurds collectively stand to lose seats in parliament, decreasing their leverage in Baghdad.
Changes in local control. To determine whether minorities will lose influence at the national level, one litmus test may be the turnout and voting results in areas that recently changed hands. In Kirkuk and Sinjar, for example, army and PMF forces replaced Kurdish forces in response to the independence referendum, while many Sunni towns and refugee camps are still controlled by Shia PMF units. Such local control often translates into votes by enabling coercion and cooptation. Kurdish parties losing significant votes in Kirkuk would be a glaring red flag in this regard, as would PMF-affiliated parties making gains in Sunni areas.
Election fraud. Allegations and instances of fraud have haunted all Iraqi elections, at times contributing to public distrust about the electoral process, delaying the certification of results (as seen in the 2010 recount), and impeding government formation. Current members of IHEC were nominated by the parties in power, so the commission has a partisan flavor despite being representative. And while IHEC recently invested in modern voting technology that could help reduce fraud and declare results faster, some fear that registration cards not collected by their owners may open the door for ghost votes, especially by parties already in government (e.g., certain officials could create fake IDs to match uncollected voter cards and give them to other Iraqis).
Iranian meddling. Tehran’s desire to shape the outcome of Iraqi elections is always a given, but it is unclear how aggressive such interference will be this time around. In light of the many pressures Iran is under—from Israeli strikes in Syria to U.S. renunciation of the nuclear deal—the regime may be too distracted to pay full attention to Iraq’s vote. Alternatively, it could stay passive on purpose, relying on its local proxies in various institutions to wield influence in Baghdad while trying to convince Europeans that they should continue doing business with Iran. More likely, however, Tehran will take a direct approach by attempting to play spoiler, insisting on its favorite candidates for top jobs in the next Iraqi government. Although this path risks hurting Tehran’s international reputation, Tehran may calculate that a neutral Iraq would be dangerous to the Islamic Republic if a regional war erupts.
The United States remains committed to a strong, neutral, democratic Iraq. Specific outcomes aside, Washington has an interest in the country running a clean election that results in an inclusive government. Iraqis, including members of the PMF, are cognizant that U.S. military support was instrumental in their ability to defeat IS, so Washington may need to remind them of this fact as they proceed through the election and its aftermath—likely including long weeks of waiting for final results and forming the next government. More broadly, U.S. officials should maintain full attention on all of these processes, since they will shape Iraq for the next four years.
*Bilal Wahab is the Nathan and Esther K. Wagner Fellow at The Washington Institute.

Iran will quit nuclear deal, restart enrichment, ramp up military tension
إيران ستخرج من الإتفاق النووي وتعيد تخصيب اليورانيوم وتصعد في التوتر العسكري

Debka File/May 11/18
Exclusive: Tehran will challenge the US by restarting nuclear fuel enrichment and ramp up its military confrontation with Israel. The Iranian leadership reached these decisions on Thursday, May 10, after Israeli warplanes smashed its military assets in the Damascus area that morning, DEBKAfile’s exclusive intelligence sources report. These steps follow the strategic plans Tehran had drawn up for the eventuality of the US quitting the 2015 nuclear pact.
In the coming weeks, therefore, Tehran will choose its moment to abandon the nuclear deal and restart high level uranium enrichment, in the face of President Donald Trump’s warning that this action would meet with “very severe consequences.” In light of Iran’s strategy, the US, after quitting the nuclear deal, Thursday asked the nuclear watchdog IAEA to continue inspections of the Iranian nuclear program. Washington intends to keep independent monitors accessing Iran’s nuclear activities for as long as they are permitted.
DEBKAfile’s sources outline the motives behind Iran’s next steps:
Tehran does not believe that Israel’s massive assault on Iranian bases, missiles stores, logistic centers and other military sites in Damascus and points south on Thursday night – described as its largest air operation since the Yom Kippur War – was triggered by the Qods rocket barrage on the Golan a few hours earlier. Iranian strategists are convinced that it was planned in advance by the Trump administration and Netanyahu government as Act One of a major joint campaign.
Tehran discounts European ability to preserve the nuclear pact without the United States. In a phone conversation Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani that it was imperative to halt his country’s ballistic missile development and production and rein in its military involvement in Syria and Yemen.
Rouhani countered by demanding guarantees that no European Union member would join President Trump’s new sanctions, either directly or indirectly. And indeed, as they spoke, new US sanctions were clamped down on six people and three companies with ties to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the penalties targeted those who had funneled millions of dollars to the group, funding its “malign activity”. Iran’s central bank helped the IRGC to access US dollars via “a large-scale currency exchange network,” he said.
The Treasury Department said all six individuals were Iranian. This order went out from Washington a few hours after Israel accused Al Qods of launching the 20-missile barrage on the Golan from Syria.
Iran’s leaders have no illusions about the EU being able to deliver any such guarantees and are playing along with European leaders in a show of diplomacy to buy time for getting organized to confront the US and Israeli campaigns.
Tehran expects the coming rounds of US sanctions to be exceptionally harsh and comprehensive. If the pressure forces Iran to agree to negotiate on a new nuclear deal as demanded by Washington, its leaders would rather not start out with the weak hand they hold at present. They believe they can only improve the odds in their favor by military escalation. When Rouhani said Thursday that Iran does not want “new tensions” in the region, he was playing for time for Iran to get its next moves – resumption of enrichment and armed confrontation – in place.

Iran will quit nuclear deal, restart enrichment, ramp up military tension
إيران ستخرج من الإتفاق النووي وتعيد تخصيب اليورانيوم وتصعد في التوتر العسكري
Debka File/May 11/18

Lebanon’s elections and the region’s challenges
Randa Takieddine/Al Arabiya/May 11/18
انتخابات لبنان وتحديات المنطقة
رندة تقي الدين/الحياة/09 أيار/18

John Bolton: The Iran deal was betrayed by its own abysmal record
جون بولتن: خيانة الإتفاق النووي مع إيراني جاء من خلال سجله السيء
John Bolton/U.S. national security adviser./Washington Post/Pubhlished on May 09/18

Which Side Are You On: Iran or Israel?
مع من انت، مع إيران أو إسرائيل
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/Friday, 11 May, 2018/

Iran deal ignored Gulf concerns
الإتفاق النووي مع إيران تجاهل مخاوف ومصالح دول الخليج العربي

Hasan Al-Hasan/Arab News/May 11/18

The tactics behind Iran’s dual response to US withdrawal
التكتيكات الإيرانية المزدوجة رداً على الإنسحاب الأمريكي
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/May 11/18

Who are the winners and losers from US oil sanctions on Iran?
من هم الخاسرين والرابحين من عقوبات أميركا البترولية على إيران
Wael Mahdi/Arab News/May 11/18

Iran and Israel on the brink: What will stop them?
إيران وإسرائيل على شفير الهاوية فمن سيوقفهما
Yossi Mekelberg/Arab News/May 11/18

الحريّة والتجربة الحزبية

إيلي الحاج/مدى الصوت/11 أيار/18