Detailed Lebanese & Lebanese Related LCCC English New Bulletin For September 02/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations
Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees Which is their teaching
Matthew 16/05-12: "When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Watch out, and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’They said to one another, ‘It is because we have brought no bread.’And becoming aware of it, Jesus said, ‘You of little faith, why are you talking about having no bread?Do you still not perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How could you fail to perceive that I was not speaking about bread? Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!’Then they understood that he had not told them to beware of the yeast of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees."

نشرات اخبار عربية وانكليزية مطولة ومفصلة يومية على موقعنا الألكتروني على الرابط التالي

Daily Lebanese/Arabic - English news bulletins on our LCCC web site.Click on the link below

Titles For The Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on September 01-02/18
Lebanon’s Economy Has Long Been Sluggish. Now a Crisis Looms/The Economist/September 01/18
On the ‘Resistance’ bloc celebrating its ‘victories’ in Syria/Ali Al-Amin/Al Arabiya/September 01/18
Lebanon’s Future Cabinet Awaiting an Absent Entente/Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Al Awsat/August 31/18
US Draws Up Initial Target List if Syria Launches Chemical Weapons Attack/CNN International/September 01/18
Russia Needed an Opponent Like John McCain/Leonid Bershidsky/Bloomberg/August 31/18
Iran and the Luminary from Saarland/Amir Taheri/Asharq Al Awsat/August 31/18
Italy and Hungary Create 'Anti-Immigration Axis'/Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/September 01/18
Opinion/Why We Went to the UN Over Israel's Nation-state Law/Aida Touma-Sliman/Haaretz/September 01/18
Analysis/Scarred by Previous Wars, Israeli Army's Ground Forces Struggle to Keep Up/Amos Harel/Haaretz/September 01/18
Idlib Awaits the Great Massacre/Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al-Awsat/September 01/18
Erdogan’s Dilemmas/Jonathan Spyer/Jerusalem Post/September 01/18
Time is running out for Iran and its interests in Yemen/Abdullah bin Bijad Al-Otaibi/Al Arabiya/September 01/18

Titles For The Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on September 01-02/18
Lebanon: Many Obstacles Prevent Return of Syrian Refugees Home
Lebanon's Hariri Prefers to Deal with Putin Rather than Assad
Lebanese-Russian Refugee Panel Being Formed
Hariri to Meet Bassil Sunday as Draft Line-Up Surfaces
Bassil Says FPM Not to Blame for Govt. Obstacles, Wishes Hariri SuccessLebanese Army Commander unveils martyr soldiers' memorial statue in Wadi ElDeb: Inciting campaigns would never deter us from carrying out our mission
German MP visits AlRahi: We must make every effort to support the Christian presence in the region
Tueni says there is no threat to Lebanese Lira whatsoever!
Mouin Merehbi: Continuing to impede government formation will undermine 'Cedre' outcome
Bassil, Grandi convene: For a joint mechanism to ensure refugees' safe return
Rahi meets with Karameh, Arab tribal delegation, calls for speedy cabinet formation
AlBukhari, Dabbousi tackle investment forum initiatives in Tripoli
Kanaan says President's stances push for cabinet formation
Chartouni inspects crime scene in Burj Hammoud
Hankach Calls for Provisional Rescue Government
Lebanon’s Economy Has Long Been Sluggish. Now a Crisis Looms
On the ‘Resistance’ bloc celebrating its ‘victories’ in Syria
Lebanon’s Future Cabinet Awaiting an Absent Entente

Titles For The Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on September 01-02/18
Kuwait Emir Arrives in US on Official Visit
Pompeo ‘deeply concerned’ about reports of Iran smuggling missiles into Iraq
Iran’s Zarif: European states should pay costs to benefit from nuclear deal
Iran says it plans to boost ballistic and cruise missile capacity
UK minister holds talks in Iran in first visit since US quit nuclear deal
Lieberman: We Want to Topple Hamas Through the Palestinians
'Hamas' Threatens Military Escalation Should Gaza Siege Prolong
US Accuses Russia of Defending Regime Assault on Syria’s Idlib
Volunteers Lead Restoration Efforts of Historical Venues in Raqqa
Russia’s Lavrov says US sanctions ‘push relations into impasse’
US ends funding for UN Palestinian refugee agency
Turkey blacklists Syria’s Tahrir al-Sham as Idlib operation looms
Alfayyadh Announces Candidacy for Iraq PM’s Post Hours after Dismissal
Egypt: Terrorist Killed in Shootout with Police in Nile Delta
Israel Welcomes End of U.S. Funding for U.N. Palestinian Refugee Agency
Saudi Arabia Hints at Plan to Turn Qatar into an Island
1 Dead, 18 Hurt as Plane Catches Fire in Russia
US Draws Up Initial Target List if Syria Launches Chemical Weapons Attack

The Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on September 01-02/18
Lebanon: Many Obstacles Prevent Return of Syrian Refugees Home
Beirut- Nazeer Rida/Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 1 September, 2018/United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi briefed on Friday Lebanese officials on the outcome of his latest visit to Damascus and talks over the return of Syrian refugees home. Although positive signs have emerged, financial and legal obstacles hindering the return of Syrians to safe areas have remained. Ministerial sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that during his meetings with Lebanese officials, Grandi expressed the UNHCR’s desire to see displaced Syrians in Lebanon return home. During a meeting held at the Baabda Palace, President Michel Aoun called upon Grandi “to play a greater role in facilitating the safe return of displaced Syrians in Lebanon to their country, especially to areas in Syria where the situation is now stable, based on the assertions of all those concerned with the Syrian affairs, including the UNHCR itself.” The UN agency has conducted a survey showing that 735,500 Syrians in Lebanon have been displaced from areas in Syria that are now safe. Aoun asserted that Lebanon will continue to organize the gradual return of displaced people who wish to do so.
“International organizations should provide assistance to the returnees in their towns and villages or safe places in Syria where they could reside," he added. He denied any pressure by the Lebanese authorities, stressing that the return of the refugees was "voluntary." Grandi had briefed Aoun on the outcomes of his visit to Syria and his talks with Syrian officials on the general situation and UNHCR's assistance to Syrians who were forced to move from their original places of residence to safer areas. After the Baabda meeting, Grandi held talks with Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri. “The best solution for the Syrian refugees in this region - and there are more than 5 million - is to have voluntary, safe and dignified return to their country,” Grandi said. The UN Commissioner added that the situation has been very difficult in Syria over the past few years but "as in the past we looked at what the concerns of the people are in terms of returning or not returning." After attending the meeting between Grandi and Hariri, State Minister for the Affairs of the Displaced Moeen Merehbi told Asharq Al-Awsat that any initiative on the issue requires security and living conditions that allow the return of Syrian to safe areas. “Russia expressed the need to reconstruct the infrastructure and houses in Syria,” he said, adding that the issue needs time, work and financial support from the international community.

Lebanon's Hariri Prefers to Deal with Putin Rather than Assad
Beirut - Paula Astih/Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 1 September, 2018/Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri has stressed that he preferred to deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin rather than the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar Assad.“I would rather deal with President Putin,” Hariri told Euronews in an interview when asked if he thought he would have to deal with Assad. “I have a very good relationship with Russia, and I have a good relationship with President Putin whom I respect very much, and I believe that he is somebody we can work with,” he said. Asked about reports of a planned offensive in Idlib province that could spell the end of the war in Syria, Hariri said: “Russia controls Syria.” In the interview that was broadcast on Friday, the premier-designate was asked about his relations with “Hezbollah.”He said: “We have political differences. Hezbollah knows that and I know that.”“Hezbollah” will never accept Hariri's policies towards the Gulf, and he will never accept their policy towards Iran, the PM-designate stated. Meanwhile, Speaker Nabih Berri said Lebanese cannabis can be used to produce a number of beneficial medical and industrial products if legalized. During an event in the eastern town of Baalbeck, he announced that his Amal Movement submitted a proposal Wednesday to legalize the crop. He said that international demand for the plant was surging amid a global trend toward legalization. He added that “123 counties in the world have legalized its medical use,” and “when legalization happens, the primary beneficiaries will be farmers and landowners – and not the traders and smugglers as is the case now.”
Lebanese-Russian Refugee Panel Being Formed
Naharnet/September 01/18/A Lebanese-Russian committee is being formed to put Moscow's initiative on repatriating Syrian refugees into action, media reports said. "It has been agreed that Russia will be represented by its ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin and the embassy's military attache," al-Joumhouria daily reported on Saturday. The Lebanese side will meanwhile be led by General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim while the political authority in Lebanon will name the rest of the members, the newspaper added. It said the members will be chosen in the expected meeting between President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, which will also determine the panel's "political level." The report comes a day after U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi met with Lebanese officials to explore the details of the refugee repatriation plans.

Hariri to Meet Bassil Sunday as Draft Line-Up Surfaces
Naharnet/September 01/18/Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri is expected to meet Free Patriotic Movement chief MP Jebran Bassil on Sunday evening ahead of his much-anticipated meeting with President Michel Aoun, al-Liwaa daily reported Saturday. Hariri is then expected to meet Aoun in the middle of next week, the newspaper added. Informed sources told al-Liwaa that an actual line-up might not emerge before the second half of September, while stressing that the disagreements are narrowing.The sources added that the line-up could be arranged as follows:
- President's share: deputy PM post, defense, information
- Al-Mustaqbal: PM post, interior, telecom and culture
- Strong Lebanon: foreign affairs, energy, economy, tourism, sport and youth
- Development and Liberation: finance and social affairs
- Loyalty to Resistance: health, agriculture and industry
- Lebanese Forces: public works, justice, environment
- Democratic Gathering: labor, displaced
- Marada Movement: one portfolio
Bassil Says FPM Not to Blame for Govt. Obstacles, Wishes Hariri Success
Naharnet/September 01/18/Free Patriotic Movement chief MP Jebran Bassil stressed Friday that the FPM is not behind the obstacles that are delaying the formation of the new government. “We're awaiting the formation of a national unity government on the basis of fairness, balance and partnership. This is the only way to form a government that works in a correct way and produces results for the Lebanese and the country,” Bassil said after talks with Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi in al-Diman. “The obstacles in the PM-designate's way are coming from the parties that are raising them. He is addressing them and we're helping him as much as possible and we wish him success. We are waiting for him to resolve the three main hurdles that are before him and we were hoping this would happen in these two days and God willing we will finish this soon,” Bassil added. “We're not concerned with the problems that the PM-designate is facing because we are not raising any own problem or obstacle. There were issues that we could have turned into obstacles but we did not, seeing as we're still insisting that no ministries should be confined to certain sects, such as finance, interior, energy and others, but we are facilitating things,” the FPM chief went on to say. He added: “Our only demand is fairness and we have not put any condition or veto on anyone and we have not rejected anything that falls under the principle of fairness.”
Lebanese Army Commander unveils martyr soldiers' memorial statue in Wadi ElDeb: Inciting campaigns would never deter us from carrying out our mission
Sat 01 Sep 2018/NNA - Lebanese Army Commander, General Joseph Aoun, vowed Saturday that none of the inciting campaigns or allegations, from any side, would ever deter the military institution from carrying out its duties and mission in protecting and preserving the country and nation. Speaking at the unveiling ceremony of a statue in memory of fallen soldiers in Wadi El-Deb area, who lost their lives during the 'Fajr El-Joroud" military operation in Arsal, Aoun paid tribute to Army martyrs for their lifetime sacrifices. "The 'Fajr El-Joroud' operation is a shining juncture in our military history and the history of Lebanon, and this pivotal point has increased our will and determination to complete our defense mission along the borders and our security mission at home," stated Aoun proudly. "Our people trust us and the international community as well," he underscored, adding, "The military institution's main concern is to maintain security and peace."

German MP visits AlRahi: We must make every effort to support the Christian presence in the region
Sat 01 Sep 2018/NNA - Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Bechara Butros Al-Rahi, met Saturday afternoon in Diman with German Parliamentarian and Executive Director of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Malti Gaykh, accompanied by MP Turson Frei and the Project Director of the European and International Council, Khalil Toubia. Talks reportedly centered on "the current situation of Christians in Lebanon and the region, and their presence in their countries of origin which was affected by the wars taking place in the Middle East."Following the meeting, Gaykh highlighted "the importance of meeting with His Beatitude, who represents the Maronite Church in Lebanon and the Middle East.""It was an occasion during which we discussed the political situation in the country, especially after the recent parliamentary elections, and the current difficulties in forming the government," he said, adding that Lebanon was influenced by regional problems. "It is an anchor of stability, because of its uniqueness in terms of its adoption of the democratic system, and its implementation of a coexistence formula between Christians and Muslims in one country," the German MP indicated. "We touched on the impact of the displacement of Syrians to Lebanon, the small country that received about one and a half million refugees, which had negative repercussions on the economic and social levels...In this context, we agreed with His Beatitude on the need to ensure the return of refugees to their country with the help of the international community that must secure this return, and find a political solution to the war in Syria," he underscored.

Tueni says there is no threat to Lebanese Lira whatsoever!
Sep01/ 2018/NNA - Caretaker State Minister for Anti-Corruption, Nicola Tueni, said in a statement Saturday that "there is no risk whatsoever to the Lebanese Pound," adding that "the capabilities of the Central Bank of Lebanon and the remaining commercial banks are very high." "The Central Bank can adopt a policy of buying government bonds in the Lebanese Lira at any time it deems suitable to activate and increase the monetary cycle flow," he explained. Accordingly, Tueni stressed that the policy of desperation is futile, adding that the country has been through long experiences that have fortified its economy and institutions. "The geographical surroundings of Lebanon are subject to war, destruction and conflict, yet our security and economy are stable and heading towards further improvement," Tueni reassured.

Mouin Merehbi: Continuing to impede government formation will undermine 'Cedre' outcome
Sat 01 Sep 2018/NNA - Caretaker State Minister for the Displaced, Mouin el-Merehbi, considered Saturday that any pursuit of placing obstacles in the path of the government formation would hinder the results of the Cedar Conference and lead to its failure. Speaking at a luncheon banquet held in his honor by Al-Burj Municipality Head in Akkar earlier today, Merehbi indicated that Prime Minister-designate, Saad Hariri, is trying to overcome the various obstacles that only serve personal or partisan interests, and do not take into account the national interests. He concluded by calling on "everyone to realize that the circumstances surrounding the region require us to work together to produce a uniting government commensurate with the international environment, so that the international community can continue to support Lebanon."

Bassil, Grandi convene: For a joint mechanism to ensure refugees' safe return

Sat 01 Sep 2018/NNA - Caretaker Foreign Affairs and Emigrants Minister, Gebran Bassil, met Saturday with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, on head of a UNHCR delegation, with talks centering on the Syrian refugees issue. In a Foreign Ministry issued statement following the encounter, it indicated that "Minister Bassil detected progress in the Commission's position in terms of not obstructing the return of the displaced and starting to eliminate the obstacles standing in the way of their voluntary return; in addition to developing a joint mechanism to provide safe and dignified return conditions.""High Commissioner Grandi expressed a greater understanding of Lebanon's position on the issue of return," the statement added. In this connection, Minister Bassil had earlier met with US Senator Richard Black, with whom he discussed the situation in Syria and ways to create a political dynamic push in support of refugees' return to Syria. Black voiced support to Lebanon's position in this respect.

Rahi meets with Karameh, Arab tribal delegation, calls for speedy cabinet formation
Sat 01 Sep 2018/NNA - Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Bechara Butros al-Rahi, met Saturday in Diman with MP Faisal Karameh, with the economic situation and the delayed cabinet formation topping their discussion. "We are with accelerating the formation of the government within the criteria set by the recent elections. These standards must apply to all, in order to have the promised national unity government," MP Karameh said following the meeting. The Patriarch also met today with a delegation of Arab tribes from Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and various Lebanese regions, headed by Sheikh Saad Fawzi Hamadeh. On emerging, Sheikh Hamadeh stressed on "renewing signed pact with His Beatitude in 2014, which includes laying the foundation for national unity and mutual living, confirming the preservation of the Constitution and internal dialogue, remaining alert to the Zionist enemy's dangers and rejecting strife, sectarianism and terrorism." He thanked the Patriarch for embracing the "Arab Pact for Coexistence and Civil Peace" and confirmed loyalty to their century-old partnership. In turn, the Patriarch thanked the Arab delegation for their visit and seized the occasion to call on Lebanese officials to "distance themselves from narrow interests and work on forming the government as soon as possible.""The disputes between the Arab brethrens in all their sects helped to undermine the chances of peace, especially the issue of Jerusalem, which Christians and Muslims cannot accept," Rahi added. "We have to preserve our civilizations and culture. Lebanon is a model for the East and the West, and your presence here from the various Arab countries and Lebanese regions is the best proof of preserving this unity and these civilizations and moving away from the law of the jungle," he underscored. Al-Rahi concluded by hoping that the encounter would serve to promote the concepts of coexistence and civil peace to protect Lebanon, the message, away from all narrow political considerations.

AlBukhari, Dabbousi tackle investment forum initiatives in Tripoli

Sat 01 Sep 2018/NNA - Saudi Charge d'Affaires in Beirut, Walid Al-Bukhari, met Saturday with Head of the Chamber of Commerce, Toufic Dabbousi, with whom he discussed the prospects of organizing an investment forum in Tripoli. Al-Bukhari expressed the Saudi Kingdom's keenness on "contributing to the proposed projects for the North region, within the framework of partnership with the private sector."

Kanaan says President's stances push for cabinet formation
Sat 01 Sep 2018/NNA - "President Michel Aoun's positions have pushed towards a new direction to form a government," Change and Reform Parliamentary Bloc Secretary, MP Ibrahim Kanaan, stressed Saturday during an interview to "Sawt al-Mada" Radio Station.
MP Kanaan deemed that the presidential settlement led to the regularity of state institutions' work under the Charter and Constitution's ceiling. Commenting on the economic situation in Lebanon, Kanaan pointed out that "the economic indicators are globally declining, while Lebanon remains the most stable country in comparison with the region's economies."Finally, he noted that "the Lebanese Pound is well-protected in light of the Lebanese Central Bank's policy," adding that the Housing issue and other economic dossiers should be prioritized during in the upcoming phase.

Chartouni inspects crime scene in Burj Hammoud
Sat 01 Sep 2018/NNA - Judge Roland Chartouni inspected yesterday evening (Friday) the crime scene in the area of Bourj Hammoud and heard testimony from witnesses. On the other hand, National News Agency Correspondent said that six people were arrested for being connected to yesterday's incident.

Hankach Calls for Provisional Rescue Government Saturday 01st September 2018/Kataeb MP Elias Hankach called for a provisional, small-scale rescue government that would include non-partisan specialists, deeming this as the optimal solution until an agreement on the Cabinet formation "concoction". "It is not permissible to stand idly by and keep waiting for a political solution while the country is going through a difficult phase on all levels," Hankach told the Kataeb website. "The country will collapse economically and financially. It won't be able to hold on for so long."The lawmaker stressed the need for the upcoming government to include neutrality and the policy of dissociation in its mission statement, adding that the country must be streered clear of regional axes. "Lebanon is known for its sectarian pluralism. Although it is a wealth, each of the local sects is linked to a foreign side, historically and culturally. Therefore, neutrality is of a paramount importance," he concluded.

Lebanon’s Economy Has Long Been Sluggish. Now a Crisis Looms
The Economist/September 01/18
The main feature of Beirut’s skyline is not minarets or church steeples, but construction cranes. From the roof of a posh downtown hotel you can see 17 of them, throwing up luxury apartments that cost up to $1m each. Wealthy Lebanese sip wine on their terraces and discuss investment opportunities. They rub shoulders with Gulf tourists drawn by Beirut’s libertine nightlife. Lebanon’s economy relies on tourism, construction and finance for growth. All three seem to be thriving. That, however, is an illusion. The country is tipping into a property slump—and perhaps a banking crisis that threatens its currency. An economic crash could destabilise a country already swamped with refugees and plagued by sectarian divides. Trouble in the banking sector, which draws investors from around the region, might be felt beyond Lebanon’s borders.
Start with tourism, which was bouncing back from a period of regional unrest. Arrivals hit a five-year high in 2017. But they are still below their peak of 2010 and the industry is fickle. In November Saudi Arabia briefly detained the prime minister, Saad Hariri, and forced him to resign (a move he later reversed). Hotel occupancy plunged by 14 percentage points within a month. Saudi visitors, who account for the biggest share of tourist spending, are down by 19% this year. Investment is sluggish. Kafalat, a firm that guarantees loans for small and medium enterprises, handled 117 tourism projects last year, a 6% drop from 2016. Annualised figures from the first half of 2018 show a further 18% decline.More worrying is the construction industry, which accounts for nearly one in ten jobs. Despite the cranes dotting Beirut, construction is slowing. The number of permits issued in the first half of 2018 was 9% lower than in the same period last year. Property transactions dropped by 17% year on year in the first quarter.
Developers fear a deeper slump is coming. For years the central bank subsidised mortgages, offering 30-year loans with interest rates as low as 3%. In March it abruptly halted the scheme. Bankers say it was abused. Instead of buying houses, some borrowers put the principal into higher-interest savings accounts to turn a profit. Many young couples cannot afford unsubsidised loans, which carry rates of 8-9% and shorter repayment periods. Some have cancelled their weddings as a result.
From bad to worse
Lebanon’s economy was already struggling. Annual GDP growth was 8% in 2010, before neighbouring Syria plunged into civil war. Since then it has averaged less than 2%. The slowdown in the housing market will drag it down further. In Hamra, the commercial hub of west Beirut, electronics stores are almost empty despite deep discounts. Fewer new homeowners means less demand for refrigerators. Many shops have cut salaries or fired staff to get by. “This is the worst it’s been in 40 years. Everything is coming to a halt,” says Rafi Sabounjian, a small-business owner.
On paper, at least, the banking sector looks solid. Commercial banks hold $200bn in deposits, four times as much as Jordan, which has more people. The central bank (the Banque du Liban or BdL) sits on $44bn in assets, excluding gold, enough to cover more than two years of imports. Its governor, Riad Salamé, says everything is fine. He points to the months after Mr Hariri’s detention, when the central bank spent $1bn to prop up the Lebanese pound, which is pegged at 1,500 to the dollar. Reserves recovered almost immediately.
But those numbers are misleading. In 2016 the BdL pioneered something called “the swap”, a complicated scheme in which it borrows foreign-currency holdings from commercial banks. It uses the dollars to maintain the currency peg. The banks get eye-popping returns, raking in 40% for a one-year loan. With no economic growth, the swap works only if it can attract ever-larger sums. “It’s a pure pyramid scheme,” says Jean Tawile, a banker and adviser to Kataeb, a political party.
The BdL does not publish its net reserves. Toufic Gaspard, its former head of research, wagers that “swapped” deposits are worth $65bn—meaning net assets are already negative. Fearing a devaluation, banks are increasingly desperate to attract foreign currency. Interest rates even for short-term deposits are at their highest level in nearly a decade. High rates mean small firms cannot obtain credit. A decade ago commercial lending in Lebanon grew by 15-20% annually. This year it is shrinking.
The currency peg has been a pillar of the economy since 1997. Receipts are printed in dollars and pounds; shoppers use the two interchangeably. This is starting to look unsustainable. Devaluation would be painful for a country that imports so heavily. It would be good for exporters—but Lebanon hardly has any. Last year it exported $2.8bn worth of goods, about half as much as Iceland. The current-account deficit is more than 20% of GDP.Lebanese politicians made a fortune from the banking boom. Of its 20 biggest commercial banks, 18 are wholly or partly owned by politicians or well-connected families. Now they seem oblivious to the looming crash. Instead they float fanciful schemes for growth. Some hope Lebanon will become a hub for rebuilding post-war Syria. That plan faces many obstacles, not least that nobody knows who will foot the estimated $200bn bill for reconstruction. Foreign donors pledged $12bn in aid at a conference in Paris in April. But most of this is loans, not grants, and Lebanon can ill afford more debt. The IMF expects its debt-to-GDP ratio, currently about 150%, to hit 180% in five years. By then debt service will burn through three-fifths of government revenue, leaving almost nothing for capital expenditures (already quite low).
In May voters went to the polls for a long-delayed parliamentary election. Mr Hariri took a beating, losing 13 seats, 40% of his total. Still, he will probably remain prime minister—if he ever forms a government. Instead of discussing reforms, lawmakers are haggling over cabinet posts, which they use to disperse spoils. With the economy heading for a crash, there may not be much to hand out.
On the ‘Resistance’ bloc celebrating its ‘victories’ in Syria
علي الأمين: عن الممانعة التي تحتفي بانتصارها
Ali Al-Amin/Al Arabiya/September 01/18
We can notice that the forces of the ‘Resistance bloc’ are no longer satisfied with Russia’s military strength in fighting opponents of President Bashar al-Assad. Ever since Russia launched its aerial military intervention in Syria and displayed all of its destructive weapons in Syria, the ‘Resistance’ forces and their audience praised Russia and used names like Abu Ali Putin to describe Russian President Vladimir Putin.
They tried to project Russia as a conquering force against US imperialism and an ally in the face of Israeli and Western ambitions in the Arab region. They came up with analyses and coined slogans that presented Russia as an emancipator against American influence in the region, particularly in Syria.
The bogus claims of ‘Resistance’
This was before the execution of the recent military operations in southern Syria and which allowed the regime to take control of the borders with occupied Golan. Meanwhile, Iran gave assurances that it is going to push its militia back from these borders by more than eighty kilometers.
Russian actions, especially those related to guaranteeing the security of Israel, did not come as a shock. The decision to keep Iran away from the borders of Golan and the Russian-Israeli coordination that strengthened and solidified were not even mentioned in the speeches about the road to Jerusalem that’s being built from Syria and which the secretary general of Hezbollah delivers.
Iranian groups and their militias are now focusing on engaging in confrontations but not against Israeli soldiers in Lebanon and Syria and not against American soldiers in Iraq and Syria
What’s new today is that the forces of ‘Resistance’ and their media outlets are promoting their victory in Syria and are praising the Russian role in achieving this victory against the takfirist and terrorist American and Zionist project, since they consider that takfir and terrorism are an American and Israeli creation.
Facts in southern Syria have revealed that Israeli security is a priority that should not be touched. What is “perplexing” is that the sentiment of the ‘Resistance’ forces did not react to Russia's position standing as an obstacle in constructing the ‘Jerusalem Road’, in whose name the destruction of Syria was validated. We no longer even hear the name of the Quds Force or its leader in relation to its stance on the Israeli-Russian agreements regarding guarantees to Israel's security and borders.
In Israel’s service all along
Without doubt, neither Iran nor its militias can violate Israel's security, as its opponents may claim. However what observers can sense from the rhetoric of the forces of the ‘Resistance’ is that it intersects, if not matches, Israeli gains.
Israel has succeeded in achieving and enforcing a number of goals by virtue of the forces that claimed to be fighting it in Syria. The first is the establishment of security on its borders and of enforcing an Iranian withdrawal. Solidifying Israeli security is the truth that everyone recognizes, and facts have shown that the borders with Israel remained stable while Syrian areas have been up in flames for the last seven years.
Second, Israel has been confident that Russia and the United States will take its side in terms of its security, and this would not have been possible without Russian-Israeli cooperation in Syria and Iran’s bloody entry into the Levant. Iran is aware that the combination of hostility towards the Syrian people and harming Israel’s security will not be possible. Therefore, Iran was more than committed to protecting the interests of Israel and engaged in crushing the will of Syrian people, who revolted against the tyrannical regime in Syria, in such an unjustified manner.
Thirdly, while the ‘Resistance’ through its various affiliates was winning in Syria, Israel was achieving the most important agreements to ensure its interests, such as its agreement on the Syrian south, the Hamas-Israel agreement in Gaza or the move of the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
In this context, Israeli achievements and the marginalization of the role of the Palestinian Authority coincided with the so-called victories achieved by the axis of ‘Resistance’.
Victory has reached a point that Iranian groups and their militias are now focusing on engaging in confrontations but not against Israeli soldiers in Lebanon and Syria and not against American soldiers in Iraq and Syria. They are rather roaring up for the sake of supporting groups that further destroy Arab societies and their countries. Hezbollah’s secretary general is now ready to meet and directly support Houthis in Yemen, yet he has refrained from taking any practical steps that can be interpreted to be supportive of groups within occupied Palestine in order to emancipate it. On the contrary, he seems very disciplined about not upsetting Israeli officials.
Hezbollah, the false savior
Finally, the game that the Israelis wish for and which Hezbollah as a symbol of the ‘Resistance’ seems to master now is the exaggerations via media coverage on false plans about a possible war between the two sides. Israel’s purpose is to blackmail the West to promote its ambitions, while Hezbollah benefits from such reports to justify its projects which are focused on dominating and maintaining power in Lebanon and the implementation of what Iran requires in Syria and other Arab countries in the name of hostility towards Israel.
This excitement in the rhetoric of the ‘Resistance’ reached a point where the most important achievement of the Russian intervention after maintaining the Assad regime in Syria, was Moscow’s capability to win the confidence of Tel Aviv at the expense of Washington. This achievement, which exposes the dubious role of Russia role in Syria, is being praised by the ‘Resistance’ as a victory for its axis.
The ongoing Syrian calamity has proven costly to mainly the Syrians as well as to Arabs. However, it has also exposed the weakness of the Iranian ideology and its Arabized rhetoric towards Israel. It also exposed how regional countries, particularly Iran, have no problem in destroying its Arab surrounding through claiming to defend its causes in order to maintain their interests. The outcome in the end is that Moscow, Israel and Washington are the real winners in the Arab Mashreq, while the victory of ‘Resistance’ forces which are cheerful that Assad stayed is in fact a victory over the peoples and the Arab regional system and a victory of ideological hollowness which is based on the destruction of society and state.
In this sense, the most important achievement that can serve to revive awareness, presence and efficiency in our Arab countries to thus restore and re-activate the Arab regional system is further exposure of this ideological discourse which raised the slogans of liberating peoples and Jerusalem and confronting arrogance and the West. This rhetoric is being further exposed as a model of tyranny and that’s more likely to seal deals with Israel, celebrate foreign domination at the expense of national and Arab interests and invest in ignorance in order to support backwardness and servitude.
The so-called ‘Resistance’ bloc is the factory of hollow ideologies which master the destruction that it celebrates as triumphant victory.
Lebanon’s Future Cabinet Awaiting an Absent Entente
Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Al Awsat/August 31/18
The intractable complications hindering the formation of Lebanon’s future cabinet, like those of the country’s problems throughout its political history, are based on ignoring the facts and concealing the causes.
Everyone seems to be lost between the parliamentary blocs competing for posts and respective representational sizes, each thinks it deserves and has to fight for.
From the outside, this is the image various Lebanese factions prefer to present while covering up the root cause of the problem which - perhaps - none of them likes to discuss openly. None of the players, who have misled the Lebanese people by claiming to be the “masters” of their sectarian and political arenas, would be willing to eat the “humble cake” by admitting to being a “pawn” that follows orders, and heeds “advice”.
None of those flexing their muscles on TV screens, and boasting about their local and regional “strength” is modest enough to admit that he is much weaker than the mechanics of the regional game. Moreover, none finds it is appropriate to say that the regional “scenario” is awaiting a gloomy and confused global entanglement that seems lost between vengeful sanctions, tactical camouflages and waits for US mid-term elections, which may or may not decide more than political volume in Washington.
The most recent “innovation” on the Lebanese political stage, in the midst of a multitude of summer festivals, has been the Presidential “veiled threat” to put an end to the lengthy failure to form a new cabinet. In tandem with this “threat”, there was a concentrated media and legal blackmailing campaign from groups whose political and “security” connections are well known to most Lebanese.
Through raising the issue of Syrian refugees and displaced, and taking it away from the “current acting” cabinet to the security services, every ambitious minister is now acting on his (her) own, with total disregard to a collective government responsibility that is supposed to exist in any respectable state.
This abnormal situation, however, was not born yesterday, but was rather caused by an illogical agreement reached when one political camp voted to elect a president from an opposing camp that, practically and diligently, strives to eliminate it!
The intention of elimination has been clear with two facts;
Fact 1, is when President Michel Aoun’s partisans labeled him as "the strong President", implying that all presidents elected under the "Taif Accord" – which is enshrined in the Lebanese Constitution – were "weak presidents". Noteworthy here, is that Aoun was, and may still be, the staunchest opponent of the "Taif Accord". Then, during the formation of the lists of candidates for the latest parliamentary elections, Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) – now led by his son-in-law Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil – were keen to use the term “strong” in almost every name they chose for their electoral lists.
Fact 2, is that despite Aoun’s FPM and the "Shiite bloc" of “Hezbollah” and AMAL Movement agreeing to nominate Saad Al-Hariri for the post of Prime Minister, the latter was soon faced with impossible demands that aim to weaken, if not finish, him politically altogether. Indeed, Hariri’s Future Movement has emerged as the largest representative of Lebanon’s Sunni Muslims to whom the Constitution gives the post of prime minister. So, unable, constitutionally to ignore him, the Aounist and Shiite opponents began their "demolition" job following two paths: the first, to demand for a bigger share of Cabinet post including posts reserved to Aoun, in his capacity as president, in addition to the FPM posts; and the second, to force Hariri to “normalize” relations with the Syrian regime.
For some time now, the Lebanese media, regardless of political affiliations, have been talking about three unresolved problems preventing the formation of Hariri’s next cabinet:
1- A "Christian Problem" related to the representation of "The Lebanese Forces" after its relative electoral success in doubling its number of MPs (deputies). However, Aoun and his backers continue to refuse The Lebanese Forces’ demands, noting that the latter represents the most powerful Christian political force opposed to “Hezbollah” and the "Damascus – Tehran axis", and standing against normalizing relations with Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.
2- What Aoun and his backers call the "Druze Problem". In this case, Aoun and his camp are insisting on giving a cabinet post to their Druze ally Talal Arslan from the three cabinet seats reserved to the Druze community. Arsalan, incidentally, is the only Druze MP opposed to the bloc headed by his Druze arch-rival Walid Joumblatt who has won seven out of the eight Druze parliamentary seats. Moreover, Arslan is partly indebted to Joumblatt’s decision not to put forward a challenger for his seat, thus ensuring his election. Today, observers believe that there are two reasons behind Aoun’s insistence to appoint Arslan; the first being to gain favor with Assad’s regime (who supports Arslan), and the second is to drive a wedge within, and apply the principle of "divide and conquer" against the Druze community.
3- The third problem is a "Sunni Problem", which is somehow similar to the "Druze Problem". It is about the insistence on appointing pro-“Hezbollah” and Assad Sunni MPs, who have been mostly elected by the votes of the “Shiite bloc” and Aoun’s Christian power base, and benefitted from the abstention of many Sunni voters who were unhappy with the electoral deal struck just before last May’s elections between Hariri and Aoun.
A couple of days ago though, the political crisis took a new "legal" turn, when a pro-Aoun legal and constitutional "expert" claimed that the Lebanese president had every right to intervene in the ongoing crisis, including taking the step of withdrawing the offer to Hariri to form the Cabinet. Going further, the expert said such a move “would be constitutional and does not contradict the Taif Accord”.
Sure enough, such an argument provoked a counter legal and constitutional argument by a legal authority, who happens to be also a former justice minister. The latter not only rejected the validity of the former view, but went further to claim that the crisis would only be resolved by abolishing the "Doha Agreement" – which was imposed on Lebanon by force after “Hezbollah” and its allies had occupied Downtown Beirut for around a year and a half, and returning to the "spirit and letter of the Constitution as regards the forming of cabinets."
Quite right!
What is really needed in Lebanon is abiding by the "spirit" even before the "letter" of the Constitution; as there can be no "entente" with those who do not believe in it, no governments with those who do not care less about them, and most certainly no state for those who do not deserve one!

Eyad Abu Shakra: Lebanon’s Future Cabinet Awaiting an Absent Entente
إياد أبو شقرا من الشرق الأوسط/: حكومة لبنان تنتظر «الوفاق»… المغيَّب عمداً
Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Al Awsat/August 31/18
The Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on September 01-02/18
Kuwait Emir Arrives in US on Official Visit
Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 1 September, 2018/Kuwait Emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah arrived in the United States on Saturday on an official visit that will see him meet President Donald Trump next week. He will be received at the White House on September 7, reported the Kuwaiti news agency KUNA. Sheikh Sabah is leading a Kuwaiti delegation to discuss trade, investment and security cooperation.
Pompeo ‘deeply concerned’ about reports of Iran smuggling missiles into Iraq
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Saturday, 1 September 2018/Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted on Saturday that he was ‘deeply concerned’ about reports of Iran transferring missiles into Iraq and warned that if true, it would be a ‘gross violation of Iraqi sovereignty”.
“Deeply concerned about reports of #Iran transferring ballistic missiles into Iraq. If true, this would be a gross violation of Iraqi sovereignty and of UNSCR 2231. Baghdad should determine what happens in Iraq, not Tehran,” Pompeo wrote.This comes one the same day as the top US diplomat spoke with two Iraqi leaders to express support for Iraq’s efforts to form a “moderate, nationalist” government that would serve all Iraqis.The results of Iraq’s elections were ratified two weeks ago, paving the way for a new parliament to convene and elect a president and a prime minister, who would form a new government. The process is complicated by political wrangling. A coalition led by a maverick Shiite cleric won the largest number of seats. In Pompeo’s call with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, he made clear “the importance of safeguarding Iraq’s sovereignty during this critical time.”

Iran’s Zarif: European states should pay costs to benefit from nuclear deal
Reuters/Saturday, 1 September 2018/European countries should take action and be willing to pay the costs to reap benefits from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was quoted as saying on Saturday by the state news agency IRNA. “It is time for the Europeans to act in addition to voicing their political commitment. These measures may be costly, but if countries want to reap benefits and if they believe the nuclear accord is an international achievement, they should be ready to keep these achievements,” Zarif said.

Iran says it plans to boost ballistic and cruise missile capacity
Reuters/Saturday, 1 September 2018 /Iran plans to boost its ballistic and cruise missile capacity, as well as acquire new generation fighter planes and submarines, the Iranian state news agency IRNA quoted a senior Defence Ministry official as saying on Saturday. Iran says its missile program is solely defensive in nature and is not negotiable as demanded by the United States and European countries. Tehran says its plans to develop missiles are not linked to its 2015 nuclear accord with world powers. “Increasing ballistic and cruise missile capacity ... and the acquisition of new generation fighters and heavy and long-range vessels and submarines with various weapons capabilities are among the new plans of this ministry,” said Mohammad Ahadi, deputy defence minister for international affairs, IRNA said. Speaking to Tehran-based foreign military attaches, Ahadi said international sanctions had failed to hamper the development of Iran’s arms industry. “We have the necessary infrastructure and what we need to do is research and development, and at the same time upgrade and update the defense industry while relying on the country’s very high scientific capacities and tens of thousands of graduates in technical fields and engineering,” Ahadi was quoted as saying.

UK minister holds talks in Iran in first visit since US quit nuclear deal

Reuters, DubaiSaturday, 1 September 2018/A junior British minister held talks with his Iranian counterpart in Tehran on Saturday, Iran’s television reported, the first visit by a UK minister since US President Donald Trump withdrew from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers.
Britain and other European signatories are trying to keep the nuclear deal alive, despite Trump’s reimposition of sanctions on Tehran. Junior Foreign Minister Alistair Burt met Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, the state television reported. “The talks mainly covered economic cooperation and mechanisms of financial and monetary dealings between the two countries after the US withdrawal from the nuclear accord,” the television report said. The two sides also discussed regional developments, it added.
‘Safe, secure future for the region’
In a statement before his visit, Burt said: “As long as Iran meets its commitments under the deal, we remain committed to it as we believe it is the best way to ensure a safe, secure future for the region.” Burt was also expected to discuss the cases of dual nationals detained in Iran.
Britain is seeking the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation who was arrested in April 2016 at a Tehran airport as she headed back to Britain with her daughter, now aged four, after a family visit. She was convicted of plotting to overthrow Iran’s clerical establishment, a charge denied by her family and the Foundation, a charity organization that is independent of Thomson Reuters and operates independently of Reuters News. Burt is due to meet non-governmental organizations (NGOs) during his two-day visit when he will also discuss Iran’s role in conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

Lieberman: We Want to Topple Hamas Through the Palestinians
Tel Aviv/Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 1 September, 2018/Two ministers in the Israeli cabinet on Friday ended a month of mutual attacks in which they competed on opposing truce with "Hamas" and seeking to topple its government. The dispute culminated when the minister of education, Naftali Bennett, accused his colleague, the Minister of Defense, Avigdor Lieberman, of working to strengthen the rule of Hamas. He told him that those who want to bring down the movement at the lowest price tend to liquidate their leaders one by one and not negotiate with them a “false calm.” Lieberman has changed his previous opinion on the assassination of Hamas leaders and the overthrowing of their rule, and has spoken in recent days about the elimination of Hamas rule in Gaza through the Palestinian public in the sector. The defense minister expressed his opinion in an interview with the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, saying: “There are two options: The Israeli army can overthrow Hamas in Gaza, which means paying the price of taking control over the Strip, or it can lead Gaza’s residents to overthrow Hamas themselves.” He stressed that the second option “guarantees much more stability.”Bennett responded to Lieberman, saying that the assassination of Hamas leaders was the best solution and that Israel should do so as soon as possible. He rejected Lieberman’s remarks and stressed, during a radio interview on Friday, the need to target Hamas leaders and hit the movement’s military capabilities, especially rocket launchers in the Gaza Strip. “It is the duty of the Israeli government to disarm the Gaza Strip, destroy the movement’s tunnels and dismantle the movement’s ties with Iran,” he said. Bennett denied that he was calling for an invasion of the Gaza Strip. “We know where Hamas rocket launchers are. We have to destroy them completely. We also have to destroy their ability to produce rockets,” he noted.

'Hamas' Threatens Military Escalation Should Gaza Siege Prolong

Gaza- Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 1 September, 2018/"Hamas" and its offshoots threatened to opt for military escalation should Israeli forces continue with the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip and the Israeli government carry on dodging truce making. More so, Hamas demanded opening Gaza border crossings and building both an airport and a seaport. Hamas political leader Yahya Sinwar, despite expectations of a truce soon being made, threatened that the Gaza-ruling group could cause sirens to go off in the Gush Dan region in central Israel for six months in a row, and clarified that it is not interested in a military confrontation, but is also not afraid of one. “What the resistance launched in 51 days in the last war, it can launch in five minutes during any [future] Israel aggression,” he said, referring to the 2014 conflict. Sinwar stressed that Hamas would not allow for the siege to continue and that Gaza residents must no longer endure difficult living conditions. He renewed Hamas leaders’ commitment to a political truce, saying that his movement is not looking for a state in Gaza, and that it dejectedly accepts a Palestinian state built on the 1967 border in support of Palestinian national consensus. Sinwar’s representative Khalil al-Hayya told journalists that Hamas is determined to lift the siege and that it wants a port connecting Gaza directly to the world, like other countries. He accused Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of intransigence in his positions on lifting the siege. Hayya stressed that if Egyptian and United Nations mediation efforts fail, Hamas will continue its resistance until the siege is lifted. Statements made by Hamas leaders show that the group is suffering from accusations launched by the West Bank ruling party, Fatah, on Hamas harboring separatist ambitions. Hamas held a series of consultations with various Hamas-affiliated Palestinian factions in order to unify Gaza’s position. Factions stressed that they will not hesitate to fight the battle to break the siege by all means possible in order to alleviate the suffering of the enclave.

US Accuses Russia of Defending Regime Assault on Syria’s Idlib
Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 1 September, 2018/The United States accused on Friday Russia of “defending” the Syrian regime’s imminent offensive on the opposition-held northwestern province of Idlib. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that his counterpart "Sergei Lavrov is defending Syrian and Russian assault on #Idlib. The US sees this as an escalation of an already dangerous conflict." He added: "The 3 million Syrians, who have already been forced out of their homes and are now in #Idlib, will suffer from this aggression. Not good. The world is watching." Regime forces have been massing around the province of Idlib, which borders on Turkey, for days. The prospect of a massive Russian-backed offensive in a province that is home to some three million people -- half of them already displaced from other parts of Syria -- has raised fears of a new humanitarian tragedy. UN chief Antonio Guterres said Wednesday he was "deeply concerned about the growing risks of a humanitarian catastrophe in the event of a full-scale military operation in Idlib."

Volunteers Lead Restoration Efforts of Historical Venues in Raqqa
Raqqa- Kamal Sheikho/Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 1 September, 2018/Civil society organizations in Raqqa are actively working on restoring archaeological sites destroyed by the war, with the support of the US State Department and in coordination with the Raqqa Civil Council (RCC). “Towards a Better Environment for the Future of Raqqa Generations,” is a campaign launched by Oxygen Shabab –a civil society group which focuses on projects including the distribution of safe drinking water, the re-polishing of schools and clearing of areas around Raqqa’s historic city wall. “The duration of the project is one month,” Oxygen Shabab director Bashar al-Qarf told Asharq Al-Awsat. “The length of the Raqqa city wall is about 3 kilometers,” he added on the one of the sites listed for the cleaning project. Most Oxygen Shabab laborers undertaking the task of cleaning the citadel’s sites are volunteers. “We have coordinated efforts with the local council so that all waste, rubble, and war machine remnants get disposed of in allocated wastelands outside Raqqa,” Qarf added. Noting that the campaign aims to clean up archaeological sites without restoring any monumental bodies, Qarf said that refurbishing historical artifacts requires the involvement of specialized experts and technicians. “Our role was limited to cleanliness only,” he explained. Abdul Jalil, 42, whose shop is located opposite to Baghdad Gate, one of Raqqa citadel’s Abbasid era sites, said the gate was cleaned up within a day. “The rubble was removed and scattered outside– the gate is awestriking after the cleaning campaign,” Jalil adds. Located on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River, covering an area of about 27 thousand square kilometers, Raqqa was removed from regime control in the spring of 2013. Later that year, the ISIS terror group took over the city. It was until October 2017 that Syrian opposition forces, namely the Syrian Democratic Forces, alongside the US-led International Alliance freed the city from terrorists' hold. Stretching from June to October 2017, the battle for Raqqa saw the opening of three rafters to connect old neighborhoods near the citadel’s center of Raqqa, causing substantial damage to the body of the wall. The wall is considered one of the most important archeological monuments of the city. “Most museum artifacts and belongings were stolen, while those that were left behind and handed over by the council had sustained damage during battles,” said Hassan Mustafa Hassan, head of the Culture and Arts Committee at the RCC.

Russia’s Lavrov says US sanctions ‘push relations into impasse’
Reuters, MoscowSaturday, 1 September 2018/US sanctions against Russia are counter-productive but Moscow is ready for dialogue once the American side is ready for talks with mutual respect, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday, TASS state news agency reported. "Not for the first time we highlight that the permanent buildup of sanctions pressure without any facts that would justify such sanctions is counter-productive and push relations into an impasse," Lavrov said. "Once our partners are ready to talk on the basis of mutual respect and considering (mutual) interests, we are always ready for such dialogue," he said.

US ends funding for UN Palestinian refugee agency
AFP, Washington/Saturday, 1 September 2018/The United States is halting its funding for the United Nations’ agency for Palestinian refugees after determining that the organization is “irredeemably flawed,” the State Department said on Friday. Washington has long been the UN Relief and Works Agency’s (UNRWA) largest donor but is “no longer willing to shoulder the very disproportionate share of the burden,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. Just hours after the Palestinians warned such a move would further undermine the already flailing chances of peace with Israel, Nauert said there would be no additional contributions beyond a $60 million dollar payment in January. “The United States will no longer commit further funding to this irredeemably flawed operation,” Nauert added. There have been widespread warnings about the impact about a halt to funding from the US which contributed $350 million to UNRWA’s budget last year. But Nauert said the US would “intensify dialogue with the United Nations, host governments, and international stakeholders about new models and new approaches” to help alleviate any impact on Palestinian children. “We are very mindful of and deeply concerned regarding the impact upon innocent Palestinians, especially school children, of the failure of UNRWA and key members of the regional and international donor community to reform and reset the UNRWA way of doing business,” she added. The Palestinian ambassador to Washington, Hossam Zomlot, had earlier said that the US would be guilty of “reneging on its international commitment and responsibility” if reports that funding was to end were confirmed. “By endorsing the most extreme Israeli narrative on all issues including the rights of more than five million Palestinian refugees, the US administration has lost its status as peacemaker and is damaging not only an already volatile situation but the prospects for future peace,” Zomlot said in a statement to AFP. The Palestinian Authority has refused all contact with Washington since US President Donald Trump announced late last year that he was unilaterally recognizing Jerusalem -- which is claimed by both Israel and the Palestinians -- as the Israeli capital, making the US one of very few countries to do so. The United States also announced last week that it was canceling more than $200 million in bilateral aid to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

Turkey blacklists Syria’s Tahrir al-Sham as Idlib operation looms
Reuters, Istanbul/September 01/2018t 2018/Turkey has designated the insurgent group Tahrir al-Sham as a terrorist organization, according to a presidential decision published on Friday, as Damascus prepares for a military assault in northwest Syria where the group holds sway. The notice in the Official Gazette matches a decision by the United Nations in June to add Tahrir al-Sham to the list of people and organizations whose assets are to be frozen because of links to militant groups al Qaeda and ISIS. It comes before an expected attack by the Syrian army, backed by Russia, on the northwestern Syrian region of Idlib which is home to nearly 3 million people on the border with Turkey.Tahrir al-Sham, which includes the al Qaeda-linked group formerly known as Nusra Front, is the most powerful militant alliance in Idlib, the last stronghold outside Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s control. Russia said on Friday the Syrian government had every right to chase terrorists out of Idlib, adding that talks were underway to set up humanitarian corridors there. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said last week it would be disastrous to seek a military solution in Idlib, even though there were militants there.
Ankara, which has a small military presence in Idlib, has warned an assault could unleash a fresh wave of refugees. “It is important for all of us to neutralize these radical groups,” he said. “But we have to distinguish the civilians from the terrorist groups.”
UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said on Thursday there was a high concentration of foreign fighters in Idlib, including an estimated 10,000 who he said belonged to Nusra Front and al Qaeda. But he said there should be no rush to military action and called for more time for Russia, Turkey and Iran to discuss the situation in Idlib. The decision to add Tahrir al-Sham to the list of designated groups was taken by President Tayyip Erdogan. Ankara had already listed Nusra Front as a terrorist group.
Erdogan is due to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at a three-way summit in Iran on September, 7.

Alfayyadh Announces Candidacy for Iraq PM’s Post Hours after Dismissal
Baghdad - Hamza Mustafa/Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 1 September, 2018/Hours after he was dismissed by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi as national security adviser and as chairman of the Popular Mobilization Forces, Falih Alfayyadh responded Friday to his partner in Iraq’s al-Nasr alliance by announcing his candidacy for the premiership. A statement issued Friday by several members of the PM’s electoral list said: “We as major figures in al-Nasr alliance announce the nomination of Falih Alfayyadh as prime minister for believing in his ability to implement a government program that meets the expectations of citizens.”On Thursday, Abadi issued a decree dismissing Alfayyadh. Head of the Iraqi center for media development Dr. Adnan Sarraj told Asharq Al-Awsat on Friday that Abadi’s decision “is very normal.”“When Alfayyadh decided to get involved in the world of politics, he should have known that duality in security missions and political activities contradicts the Iraqi Constitution.”The development also comes hours after al-Fath alliance, affiliated to the Popular Mobilization Forces, issued a statement on Alfayyadh’s dismissal, describing the decision as illegal and saying it comes as a result of his refusal to support Abadi's attempt to clinch a second term in office.The alliance also said that Abadi’s decision creates a dangerous situation.

Egypt: Terrorist Killed in Shootout with Police in Nile Delta

Cairo - Waleed Abdul Rahman/Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 1 September, 2018/A terrorist was killed Friday during an exchange of fire with security forces as they attempted to arrest him after discovering his hideout in the city of Belqas in Egypt’s Nile Delta.
A security source said the suspect, who is wanted on several terror-linked charges, was plotting terrorist operations against the police and the armed forces. The source added that the terrorist opened fire on the security forces when he noticed he was under surveillance, resulting in a shootout that left him dead. Minister of Interior Mahmoud Tawfiq said on Friday the sacrifices made by the police and their heroic acts have been the main reason for maintaining security and stability in the country. The minister made the remarks during his meeting with leaders and members of the Central Security Forces. Tawfiq hailed as professional the training provided to the forces, wishing them more success. The minister honored personnel from the Field 2 Central Security Forces and units which serve in North Sinai, praising their performance, which he said reflects their full understanding of the seriousness of the tasks assigned to them, and full readiness in combat capabilities to deal with emergency situations. Earlier this week, the security forces foiled an attack on Field 2, killing four Takfiris and wounding two others. Police found with them a camera, hand grenades, rocket-propelled grenades, weapons and explosive belts. Egyptian troops, backed by police, have since February been conducting a major operation in Sinai targeting militants behind a wave of attacks against security forces and civilians. Minister of Defence Lieutenant General Mohamed Zaki has affirmed that defending Egypt’s national security is a sacred duty and a noble mission.

Israel Welcomes End of U.S. Funding for U.N. Palestinian Refugee Agency
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/September 01/18/Israel welcomed Saturday a U.S. decision to end funding for the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA), accusing the organisation which supports some five million Palestinians of perpetuating the Middle East conflict.
Israel and the United States have accused the nearly 70-year-old agency of maintaining the idea that many Palestinians are refugees with a right to return to the homes from which they fled or were expelled during the 1948 war that accompanied Israel's creation, an idea they both oppose. On Friday, Washington, which until last year was by far the agency's biggest contributor announced it was ending funding to the "irredeemably flawed operation.""Israel supports the U.S. move," an official in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said on condition of anonymity. "Consolidating the refugee status of Palestinians is one of the problems that perpetuates the conflict."Palestinian ambassador Hossam Zomlot accused the United States of "reneging on its international commitment and responsibility" towards a body that was set by U.N. General Assembly resolution in 1949.
"By endorsing the most extreme Israeli narrative on all issues including the rights of more than five million Palestinian refugees, the U.S. administration has lost its status as peacemaker and is damaging not only an already volatile situation but the prospects for future peace," he said.
UNRWA now supports some five million registered Palestinian refugees and provides schooling to 526,000 children in the Palestinian territories as well as in camps in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the agency had his "full confidence" and called on "other countries to help fill the remaining financial gap, so that UNRWA can continue to provide this vital assistance." UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness tweeted: "We reject in the strongest possible terms the criticism that UNRWA's schools, health centres and emergency assistance programmes are 'irredeemably flawed.'" Washington, which had already frozen $300 million in funding this year throwing the agency into financial crisis, said it would seek ways to prevent its decision from hurting "innocent Palestinians". Israel expressed support for a new conduit for humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians."It would be good to allocate the funds to other elements that would use the money properly for the benefit of the population, and not for perpetuating the notion that they are refugees," the official in Netanyahu's office said.

Saudi Arabia Hints at Plan to Turn Qatar into an Island
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/September 01/18/A Saudi official has hinted the kingdom was moving forward with a plan to dig a canal that would turn the neighboring Qatari peninsula into an island, amid a diplomatic feud between the Gulf nations. "I am impatiently waiting for details on the implementation of the Salwa island project, a great, historic project that will change the geography of the region," Saud al-Qahtani, a senior adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, said on Twitter. The plan, which would physically separate the Qatari peninsula from the Saudi mainland, is the latest stress point in a highly fractious 14-month long dispute between the two states. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar in June 2017, accusing it of supporting terrorism and being too close to Riyadh's archrival, Iran -- charges Doha denies. In April, the pro-government Sabq news website reported government plans to build a channel -– 60 kilometres (38 miles) long and 200 metres wide –- stretching across the kingdom's border with Qatar. Part of the canal, which would cost up to 2.8 billion riyals ($750 million), would be reserved for a planned nuclear waste facility, it said. Five unnamed companies that specialise in digging canals had been invited to bid for the project and the winner will be announced in September, Makkah newspaper reported in June. Saudi authorities did not respond to requests for comment and there was no immediate reaction on the plan from Qatar. After the dispute erupted last year, Qatar -- a small peninsula nation -- found its only land border closed, its state-owned airline barred from using its neighbours' airspace, and Qatari residents expelled from the boycotting countries. Mediation efforts led by Kuwait and the US, which has its largest Middle East air base in Qatar, have so far failed to resolve the dispute.

1 Dead, 18 Hurt as Plane Catches Fire in Russia
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/September 01/18/One person died -- apparently of a heart attack -- and 18 people sought medical help when a plane skidded off a runway in Russia's Olympic city of Sochi, slid into a river and caught fire during landing early Saturday, officials said. The Boeing 737 flying from Moscow with 166 passengers and six crew members overshot a runway as it attempted to land in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, damaged a wing and caught fire."As a result of the crash landing at Sochi airport 18 sought medical help," regional health authorities said. The injured included three children, said investigators, who opened a criminal probe. During the rescue operation an airport employee died, possibly of a heart attack, a spokeswoman for the Sochi Airport told AFP in a statement. Sixteen ambulance crews worked at the scene, authorities said, adding that the fire had been put out. The plane was operated by the Utair airline. Sochi hosted the Winter Olympic Games in 2014.

US Draws Up Initial Target List if Syria Launches Chemical Weapons Attack
CNN International/September 01/18
US intelligence and military targeting experts have drawn up a preliminary list of Syrian chemical weapons facilities that could be struck if President Donald Trump were to order a new round of airstrikes in the country, multiple US officials tell CNN.
A decision to take action has not been made, but one administration official with direct knowledge of the current situation told CNN the military "could respond very quickly" if Syria launched a chemical weapons attack, and the initial targeting data assembled would give the Pentagon a head start if the President decides to take action. US officials stress they are worried that an impending Assad regime assault on the rebel stronghold of Idlib could involve the use of chemical weapons if the rebels are able to slow regime advances. The regime has moved armed helicopters closer to Idlib in the last few weeks, according to two defense officials. The US is concerned they could eventually be used to launch another chemical attack using chlorine-filled barrel bombs, though they are readily available for a conventional assault.
Officials stress they are also worried that an assault on the city using conventional weapons could leave thousands dead and deepen the humanitarian crisis along the Syria-Turkey border.
Diplomatic tensions rising
Diplomatic tensions with Russia are also rising over Idlib. On Friday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Russia's foreign minister on Twitter: "Sergey Lavrov is defending Syrian and Russian assault on Idlib. The Russians and Assad agreed not to permit this. The U.S sees this as an escalation of an already dangerous conflict."
On Thursday, Lavrov told Western nations not to "play with fire" over Idlib."It's well known that the progress of Syrian resolution, humanitarian solutions and fight against terrorism is not to everyone's liking," Lavrov said, adding that the White Helmets, a group of unarmed volunteer rescue workers, were preparing to stage a chemical strike to blame on the Syrian government as a pretext for military action. "Another such provocation is being prepared in order to hinder the anti-terroristic operation in Idlib, and we, having our facts on the table, through our Defense Ministry and Foreign Ministry clearly and firmly warned our Western partners -- don't play with fire," Lavrov said. On Friday, the Pentagon responded, "Russia has recently launched a concentrated disinformation campaign to discredit the United States and international partners and allies... Specifically, Russia has suggested that as a pretext for United States strikes against the Assad regime, humanitarian organizations in Syria were planning a chemical weapon attack. This is absurd," Pentagon spokesperson, Cmdr. Sean Robertson said. "That Russia is seeking to plant false lies about chemical weapons use suggests that Moscow is seeking to deflect from its own culpability when these heinous weapons are used. Russia's efforts to obscure the truth only underscore its years-long role in abetting the murder and mayhem conducted by the Assad regime," Robertson added.
Pentagon monitoring Russian activity in Mediterranean
The Pentagon is also closely watching Russian military maneuvers in the eastern Mediterranean. The Russian Ministry of Defense says 26 warships and more than 30 combat aircraft will be part of what the Russians say will be large scale exercises the area.
A US official with direct knowledge of the latest assessments tells CNN the US believes the Russians may have engaged in the buildup of naval warships to be ready for what they believe might be US strikes in response to the Assad regime using chemical weapons.
By having so many ships there, the Russians can attempt to use their shipborne radars to blanket that area and "see" any potential US Tomahawk missiles coming, the official says. One scenario the US is considering is that Russian shipborne radars could then cue Russian S-400 class anti-air systems on the ground in Syria and try to shoot US missiles down.
This would give the Russians a better chance of shooting down US missiles than in April 2018 when Russia was unsuccessful after the US, UK and France launched strikes against targets at three sites after an alleged chemical weapons attack on civilians in the Damascus enclave of Douma.
The US intelligence community has a very good understanding of what the Russians are trying to do with this seaborne strategy, officials tell CNN. It is also well known that the US military could use jamming and electronic warfare countermeasures against any Russian military efforts. In the April strikes against Syrian chemical targets, US and allied ships and aircraft fired from not only the Mediterranean but the Red Sea and North Arabian Gulf to avoid Russian detection. The State Department has shared concerns about "any kind of escalation" of violence in Idlib with the Russian government, according to State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert. "We have shared the concerns that we have about any potential offensive taking place, we have shared those concerns with the Russian government at many levels," she said Wednesday.
As US intelligence continues to look at Russian military strategy and motivations, the official also points out the Russian naval presence contradicts all of Moscow's public statements about the situation. The US views this move by the Russian as evidence they are indeed aware the regime would be the one responsible if chemical weapons are used the official says. The US has said they will hold the Assad regime accountable if chemical weapons are used in an attempt to retake Idlib, according to an NSC official. National security adviser John Bolton also issued a public warning, saying in Israel last week: "Just so that there is no confusion here, if the Syrian regime uses chemical weapons, we will respond very strongly. And they really ought to think about this a long time before they come to any decision because there is no ambiguity in the US position on this point."

The Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published
September 01-02/18
Russia Needed an Opponent Like John McCain
Leonid Bershidsky/Bloomberg/August 31/18
Senator John McCain, who died on Saturday, is being eulogized not just in the US but also throughout Eastern Europe, in Ukraine and in Georgia. Not in Russia, however, where establishment figures brand him an enemy even in death. The clarity of McCain’s stance on Russia will be missed by everyone, though, including Kremlin propagandists.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki remembered McCain as “a proven friend of Poland” and a “tireless guardian of freedom and democracy.” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko mourned him as a “great friend of Ukraine” who had made an “invaluable contribution” to its democracy and freedom. Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili calledhim a “national hero of Georgia.” And former Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves wrote in a heartfelt obituary: “In Eastern Europe, few know or care about John McCain’s domestic politics. Here, the late senator is a symbol of all that we thought was good about the US: decency, a belief in liberty, human rights and a liberal world order.”
Commentary from Russians aligned with President Vladimir Putin’s regime presents a powerful contrast. The obituary by the official news agency RIA Novosti is titled “America’s Chief Russophobe.”
“Let God receive his dark soul and Himself determine its future,” wrote legislator Oleg Morozov. “His only real ideology was, ‘Defend your own and bash the others,’” wrote Konstantin Kosachev, head of the foreign affairs committee in the upper house of Russia’s parliament. “Its mainstay was loyalty to America and American interests, not criteria of peace, good and justice.”
The sentiment behind both the eastern European and the Russian reactions to McCain’s death is understandable. In any regional matter, McCain always backed countries and politicians trying to break away from Russia’s orbit and bashed Putin and his allies. He took sides predictably and wholeheartedly. There was no nuance to his stance, no buts to his firm conviction that Russia, defeated in the Cold War by President Ronald Reagan’s firmness and reduced to “a gas station masquerading as a country,” deserved to keep losing as a revanchist authoritarian state.
Politicians working to distance their countries from a history of dependence on Russia could always count on McCain. He never let them down, even if the administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama never matched his zeal. Such reliability is rare in politics. But what it did in Moscow was feed a particular type of convenient confusion; the Putin regime needed an external enemy, the US was a traditional one, and it wasn’t too much of a propaganda stretch to hold up McCain as the bearer of the true American attitude toward Russia. “He taught us better to understand ourselves and America,” Morozov wrote in his Facebook post on Sunday:
The most important thing McCain did was, essentially, to declare that Russia is incorrigible. No matter how we wanted to be liked, no matter how we bowed and swore devotion to the West, as we did throughout the ’90s, we could never be good. We are enemies forever! That’s the logic of McCain, and it’s good in its transparency and consistency.
The problem with perfect consistency is that it ignores inconvenient facts. As McCain focused the America-hatred of the Putin elite, he kept Putin on his toes and always careful to coup-proof his regime. Meanwhile, he made mistakes that helped Putin score propaganda points — and, once, even wage a brief, victorious war.
After supporting Mikheil Saakashvili’s ascent to power in Georgia in a peaceful revolution in 2003, McCain stuck with his protege once he turned authoritarian. As he ran for president in 2008, McCain encouraged Saakashvili’s illusion of Western support, and was probably partly responsible for the Georgian leader’s rash decision to engage with Russia militarily in South Ossetia, a mountainous part of Georgia along Russia’s southern border. The Kremlin was waiting for that move to pounce, and within days, Georgia was overrun by Russian troops and in danger of losing its statehood. Subsequent Western non-interference taught Putin that he enjoyed a measure of immunity in Russia’s immediate neighborhood — a revelation that informed his risk-taking in Ukraine in 2014.
McCain’s approximate understanding of the intricacies of post-Soviet politics and power dynamics has probably weakened Putin’s opponents in Russia.
“Dear Vlad, the #ArabSpring is coming to a neighborhood near you,” he tweeted in December 2011 — exactly the kind of support Russian protesters against the rigging of a parliamentary election didn’t need. To Putin, this was a sign that the Russian political opposition wasn’t just egged on, but was directly supported by the US as it sought to overthrow him. This belief shaped Putin’s third presidential term, which began in 2012 and ended this year: The Kremlin steamrolled over the opposition and the liberal Russian media, uniting his core electorate around the idea of a constant war against American dominance and American incursions. The Russian trolling and hacking during the 2016 US presidential election was part of this policy.
McCain never appeared to feel a need to learn more about how Russia worked. In 2013, the pro-Kremlin site (no relation to the official paper of the Soviet Communist Party) published McCain’s attempt to talk directly to Russians about the the Putin regime’s failings.
“I am pro-Russian, more pro-Russian than the regime that misrules you today,” he wrote, adding, “a Russian citizen could not publish a testament like the one I just offered.” The uninformed choice of the venue and McCain’s obvious conviction that Russians couldn’t criticize Putin in print — incorrect even today — contributed to the caricature image of “America’s chief Russophobe.”
Kremlin propagandists will miss McCain. Other US politicians who have ridden the post-2016 anti-Russia wave aren’t as focused on fighting Russian expansionism and helping Putin’s enemies throughout eastern Europe. Nor are they as emotionally involved or gaffe-prone. Without McCain, it’s harder to paint the US as intrinsically hostile to Russia.
I will miss him for a different reason. Even if he was often wrong about details, he was right about important fundamentals. Imperialism and authoritarianism need to be challenged even when political realism counsels against it. Plain speaking often causes eye rolls among experts, but it’s still a virtue in a politician and McCain never pretended to be a wonk. Russians deserve a better government than the one they have today, and if McCain’s belief in their ability eventually to establish one was naive, then so is mine.
I have no illusions about more nuanced approaches to Russia winning out in the US now that McCain is gone. He at least had the virtue of sincere conviction, which even Putin respected (“I like him for his patriotism and his consistency in defending his country’s interests,” Putin said last year). But no living politician can match it or back it up with a personal history like McCain’s. The Putin regime liked McCain as an enemy – but Russia, in the final analysis, needed the regime to have an enemy with McCain’s moral clarity, and the ex-Communist countries needed the hope and inspiration that this clarity provided.

Iran and the Luminary from Saarland

Amir Taheri/Asharq Al Awsat/August 31/18
Of all European powers, Germany, from its beginning in 1871 as a nation-state, has been alone in enjoying warm feelings among Iranians. That was partly due to the fact that Iran and the newly created Germany shared common enemies, notably Russia and England.
However, the fact that, from the beginning of the relationship, Germany puts its focus on economic and scientific relations also persuaded many Iranians that their new friends in Europe wished to help Iran join the modern world.
During the Second World War, Iran under Reza Shah Pahlavi refused to join the Anglo-Russian alliance against Nazi Germany and paid a heavy price when the Allies invaded the country and forced its monarch into exile.
After the war, Federal Germany emerged as Iran’s principal friend in Europe. Iran became a “must” destination for Federal Germany’s Chancellors. By 1979 as the Islamic Revolution reached its crescendo Federal Germany was Iran’s number-one trading partner.
Even today under the mullahs, Germany is regarded if not as an ally at least as a partner with no hidden agenda.
So, it was no surprise that a comment the other day by Heiko Maas, the new Foreign Minister in Angela Merkel’s coalition Cabinet, was seized upon by President Hassan Rouhani and his team as a sign that their hope for a split between the US and European Union allies is about to be realized. Writing in the German Handelsblatt newspaper, Maas called for the setting up of independent payment channels, largely as a way for European businesses to avoid US sanctions targeting firms -- whether inside or outside the US – that do business with Iran.
“US sanctions are back in force,” he wrote. “In this situation, it is of strategic importance that we clearly tell Washington: we want to work together. But we will not let you act over our heads." Maas’s comment was subsequently brushed aside by Merkel who insisted that the EU must continue working with the US on the Iran imbroglio.
Maas himself walked the cat back a few days later.
"I don't see any simple solution to shield companies from all the risks of American sanctions," he told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag.
However, state-controlled media in Tehran had had enough time to depict a fantasy world in which the EU, alongside Russia and China and maybe even Turkey and Malaysia, would line up behind the Islamic Republic to defy the American “Great Satan.”
Maas helped the most hard-line faction in Tehran, the faction that claims the Islamic Republic need make no concessions to anyone as the major powers are unable to adopt a unified position on any major issue.
A regional politician, Maas has little experience in international affairs. It is, therefore, no surprise that he should tackle the “Iran problem” with some naiveté. Also, a dose of anti-Americanism is always welcome in European leftist circles while Trump bashing has developed into an international pastime.
Maas isn’t the first Western politician to fail to understand that the problem with the Islamic Republic is that it is a regime, or a system if you prefer, that cannot but have problems with everybody else because it has a problem with itself.
That problem is this: It claims to be building what “Supreme Guide” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has labelled “The New Islamic Civilization” according to which the Islamic Republic, being the only legitimate government in the world, is not bound by any aspect of international law which is the work of “Zionists and Crusaders.”
Within that doctrine, the Islamic Republic does as it pleases until it hits something hard. In that case it stops temporarily, waiting for the hardship to end. In theological terms it is called “relief after constraint.” (In Arabic: faraj ba’ad al-shiddah).
Earlier this month, Khamenei spelled out that doctrine in its starkest way. Talking about expected new sanctions by the Trump administration, he told a gathering of senior political and military officials in Tehran that there was no need to do anything different.
“There will be neither war nor diplomacy,” he said, adding that henceforth there should be no talks with the United States. To give his statement more force he said he was renewing a ban imposed by the late Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini.
Khamenei’s implicit assumption was that the Islamic Republic need not show any flexibility as its adversaries are bound to back down sooner or later. Statements such as the one initially made by Maas lend some credence to that dangerous assumption.
Normally, there are only two ways in which international problems are resolved: diplomacy or war. By apparently renouncing both, Khamenei hopes to trod a third way: practicing ersatz diplomacy while waging real but covert war. There are many examples of the ersatz diplomacy practiced by the mullahs.
In 1981 the mullahs signed the Algiers Accord with President Jimmy Carter, promising not to seize any more American hostages. They never honored that promise and since then hardly a day has passed without them holding some American hostages.
In 2015 they made a song and dance about the “nuke deal” concocted by President Barack Obama. But they refused to sign anything and prevented the “deal” from securing a legal mooring.
More recently, President Rouhani signed the so-called Caspian Sea Convention, a document that some in his entourage claim he had not even read in detail. But the so-called convention, a sop to its author, Russian President Vladimir Putin, has already been put on the backburner.
A meeting of parliament’s National Security Committee scheduled to examine the text has been postponed sine die. Also, Iran has written to the Kazakh government, designated as the “trustee of the convention”, to demand more talks on unspecified “aspects not covered” by the Aktau document.Maas may not know it. But Iran’s problem is that it believes the whole world must be run in accordance with the rules set by the Islamic Republic, not the other way.
Unless the Tehran leadership changes its mind-set, or unless the leadership is changed, no one can protect Iran against its own follies- no one, not even Maas, the luminary from Saarland.

Italy and Hungary Create 'Anti-Immigration Axis'
Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/September 01/18
"We are close to a historic turning point at the continental level. I am astonished at the stupor of a political left that now exists only to challenge others and believes that Milan should not host the president of a European country, as if the left has the authority to decide who has the right to speak and who does not -- and then they wonder why no one votes for them anymore." — Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini.
"This is the first of a long series of meetings to change destinies, not only of Italy and of Hungary, but of the whole European continent." — Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini.
"We need a new European Commission that is committed to the defense of Europe's borders. We need a Commission after the European elections that does not punish those countries -- like Hungary -- that protect their borders." — Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini have pledged to create an "anti-immigration axis" aimed at countering the pro-migration policies of the European Union.
Meeting in Milan on August 28, Orbán and Salvini, vowed to work together with Austria and the Visegrad Group — the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia — to oppose a pro-migration group of EU countries led by French President Emmanuel Macron.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini meet in Milan, Italy on August 28. (Image source: RT France video screenshot)
Orbán and Salvini are seeking a coordinated strategy ahead of the March 2019 European Parliament elections to defeat the pro-immigration Party of European Socialists (PES), a pan-European party representing national-level socialist parties from all EU member states. The objective is to change the political composition of European institutions, including the European Parliament and the European Commission, to reverse the EU's open-door migration policies.
At a joint press conference, Salvini said:
"Today begins a journey that will continue in the coming months for a different Europe, for a change of the European Commission, of European policies, which puts at the center the right to life, work, health, safety, all that the European elites, financed by [billionaire Hungarian philanthropist George] Soros and represented by Macron, deny.
"We are close to a historic turning point at the continental level. I am astonished at the stupor of a political left that now exists only to challenge others and believes that Milan should not host the president of a European country, as if the left has the authority to decide who has the right to speak and who does not — and then they wonder why no one votes for them anymore.
"This is the first of a long series of meetings to change destinies, not only of Italy and of Hungary, but of the whole European continent."
Orbán added:
"European elections will be held soon, and many things must change. At the moment there are two sides in Europe: One is led by Macron, who supports mass migration. The other side is led by countries that want to protect their borders. Hungary and Italy belong to the latter.
"Hungary has shown that we can stop migrants on land. Salvini has shown that migrants can be stopped at sea. We thank him for protecting Europe's borders.
"Migrants must be sent back to their countries. Brussels says we cannot do it. They also said it was impossible to stop migrants on land, but we did it.
"Salvini and I, we seem to share the same destiny. He is my hero."
Macron responded:
"If they wanted to see me as their main opponent, they were right to do so. It is clear that today a strong opposition is building up between nationalists and progressives and I will yield nothing to nationalists and those who advocate hate speech."
Salvini fired back:
"From the beginning of 2017 to the present day, the France of 'do-good Macron' has rejected more than 48,000 immigrants at the Italian border, including women and children. Is this the 'welcoming and supportive' Europe that Macron and the do-gooders are talking about?
"Instead of giving lessons to others, I would invite the hypocritical French president to reopen his borders and welcome the thousands of refugees he promised to take in.
"Italy is no longer the refugee camp of Europe. The party for smugglers and do-gooders is over!"
In July, Salvini said that he wanted to create a pan-European network of like-minded, nationalist parties:
"To win [the Italian elections] we had to unite Italy, now we have to unite Europe. I am thinking about a 'League of the Leagues of Europe,' bringing together all the free and sovereign movements that want to defend their people and their borders."
Salvini proposed that the network include Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, Dutch Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders, France's National Front leader Marine Le Pen, and Hungary's Orbán, among others. He also said that the European Parliament elections in 2019 should be a referendum on "a Europe without borders" versus "a Europe that protects its citizens."
Salvini has repeatedly criticized the European Union over mass migration, accusing the bloc of having abandoned Italy as it struggles to deal with the more than 600,000 migrants who have arrived in the country since 2014. The problem has been exacerbated by EU regulations.
Under an EU rule — known as the Dublin Regulation — migrants must seek asylum in the country where they first enter the European Union. This has placed an inordinate burden on Italy, given its geographical proximity to Africa.
Italy has long sought to overhaul the Dublin Regulation, but other EU member states, most notably Hungary, have opposed changing the agreement. The dispute highlights the challenges of forming a united anti-immigration axis at the EU level: the interests of many EU member states are diametrically opposed.
Although Italy and Hungary, for example, agree that mass migration should be completely stopped, they disagree on how to deal with the migrants who already are in the EU. While Italy wants the migrants redistributed to other EU countries, Hungary and the Visegrad states are adamantly opposed to accepting any migrants at all.
In an interview with the Czech newspaper DNES, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, ahead of his August 28 visit in Rome with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, said:
"I insist that we will not take any illegal migrants from Italy or elsewhere. This is nothing against Italy, to which we are sympathetic; it is a crucial strategy. It is, in my view, a key signal, a symbol and a message to migrants and smugglers that it makes no sense to sail to Europe....
Babiš added that the European Union must overcome its differences and agree on a common pan-European migration policy:
"If Italy does not accept migrants, if Malta does not accept them, then Spain will. We are sending a message that it is possible to get to Europe from Morocco through Spain. We must stop the migration stream. I want to talk about it with my partners in Italy, Malta, and, of course, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has now acted with Spain. We have to work very hard to work on the solution because we have needlessly lost three years with the absurd debate about quotas...
"We must protect what our ancestors built for more than a thousand years. It is not a slogan, it is a fact."
Salvini's embrace of Orbán has also exposed differences in Italy's ruling coalition, comprised of Salvini's League and the populist Five Star Movement (M5S) led by Luigi Di Maio.
On August 23, Di Maio threatened to withhold Italian payments to the European Union if a top-level EU meeting in Brussels scheduled for August 24 failed to produce pledges from other EU countries to accept migrants from Italy. In an interview on Italian TV, which he also posted on his Facebook account, Di Maio said:
"If tomorrow nothing comes out of the European Commission meeting, if they decide nothing regarding the ... redistribution of the migrants, the whole Five Star Movement and I will no longer be prepared to give €20 billion euros ($23 billion) to the European Union every year."
After the EU meeting failed to produce a solution, the leaders of M5S in Italy's chamber of deputies and senate, Francesco D'Uva and Stefano Patuanelli, respectively, issued a statement:
"Countries that do not participate in relocation and which do not even deign to respond to Italy's request for help, should no longer receive European funds from us, and among these at the moment, is Hungary."
In an August 27 interview with the newspaper La Stampa, Di Maio again lashed out at Orbán:
"Orbán's Hungary raises barbed-wire walls and refuses migrant allocations. For those who do not accept the allocation, they should not be entitled to European funding."
Salvini defended Orbán: "I respect Hungary's absolute right to defend the borders and the security of its people. The shared objective is the defense of external borders."
Orbán replied: "We need a new European Commission that is committed to the defense of Europe's borders. We need a Commission after the European elections that does not punish those countries — like Hungary — that protect their borders."
*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.

Opinion/Why We Went to the UN Over Israel's Nation-state Law
النائبة العربية في الكنيست الإسرائيلي عيده توما سليمان: لهذه الأسباب توجهنا إلى الأمم المتحدة لمواجهة قانون يهودية إسرائيل
Aida Touma-Sliman/Haaretz/September 01/18
The choice for all of us, Jews and Arabs, is clear: real democracy or a nationalist ethnocracy
Many good people were furious this week that we, members of the Joint List, dared defy the people the nation-state law defines as the lords of the land. Instead of sufficing with the crumbs of rights that Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government might deign to grant us, we declared that the nation-state law is an apartheid law.
With temerity that doesn’t suit people whose language is unworthy of official standing in their homeland, we went to the United Nations to protest the law that defines us, Palestinian citizens of Israel, as second-class citizens, legitimizes the occupation and perpetuates Israel’s place in the dubious company of ethnocentric, discriminatory and exclusionist countries.
Although UN Ambassador Danny Danon's claim - that I spoke with Rosemary DiCarlo, the UN under-secretary-general for political affairs, about an alleged suggestion by the Joint List and Palestinian Authority that the General Assembly or the Security Council censure Israel - is totally false, it must be stated that the nation-state law isn’t an internal Israeli affair.
A law that tramples the foundations of democracy and the basic principles of the UN Charter (to which Israel is supposed to be faithful according to the Declaration of Independence) is an international matter. It’s not only our right, but also our moral and political duty to warn about this from every platform, in Israel and abroad, and to act against the nation-state law and the racism that it institutionalizes.
But it seems that our refusal to keep discussion of the apartheid law within boundaries convenient for the legislators of discrimination drove not only Netanyahu and his coalition cohorts crazy, but also people who supposedly are the sane alternative. The newly minted opposition leader, Tzipi Livni, recently lambasted the prime minister, who portrays people who define themselves as leftists as collaborators with the enemy.
But that didn’t stop her from telling a few ambassadors this week, in the context of my meeting with DiCarlo: Don’t interfere in Israel’s internal affairs and don’t cooperate with any move at the United Nations. Livni has apparently forgotten that the infringement of the rights of national minorities is against international law, so it’s of interest to the United Nations.
The opposition leader is also dead set on ignoring the fact that the nation-state law states that “the Land of Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people in which the State of Israel was established,” where only the Jewish people have the right to self-determination. And because Israel refuses to set its borders, and de facto controls and settles all the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea and is Judaizing it, the law for all intents and purposes negates the Palestinian people's historical, legal and moral right to self-determination. That right is reserved for the Jewish people, whether in Kiryat Arba in the West Bank or Tel Aviv.
When the law states that “Jerusalem, complete and united” is Israel’s capital, the law contradicts international law and the UN resolutions under which East Jerusalem is occupied territory. The law’s statement that the development of Jewish settlement is a supreme value that Israel will promote, whether in Yitzhar in the West Bank or Katzir west of the Green Line, allows the exclusion of whole population groups based solely on their national affinity or origin, and the advancement of Jewish-only communities, in the West Bank as in the Galilee
In other words, the nation-state law not only produces racist segregation in Israel, it slams the door on a just diplomatic solution of the establishment of a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders alongside Israel.
Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay and Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid’s joining the chorus of incitement against the Arab community in Israel and against its elected leaders proves once again that when push comes to shove, those who call themselves the opposition prefer to ideologically defile themselves with Netanyahu rather than build a true democratic camp. And they continue to act as a pale shadow of the far-right government of Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.
Those who lack the moral backbone to withstand the sordid wave of nationalism washing over Israel and stand firm in the face of the incitement campaign by Danon and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin shouldn’t be surprised at lynchings of Arabs, as happened last week at Kiryat Haim beach. Those who oppose the nation-state law just for appearance’s sake won’t only continue to fail at the ballot box, they won’t survive the moral battle against the exclusion of entire groups from equal citizenship.
We turned to international institutions because the nation-state law isn’t a local Israeli matter but rather an immoral law with far-reaching implications both for Israel’s citizens and the Palestinian people, who are suffering under the weight of the occupation. We’ve said this loud and clear from the Knesset podium and at the United Nations, and we’ll do this at our meeting next week with the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini.
Our struggle for peace, equality and social justice isn’t limited to the Jewish discourse in Israel. In every arena, including the international one, my colleagues and I in Hadash and the broader Joint List alliance will continue to fight with determination and with heads held high against the occupation and apartheid. The choice for all of us, Jews and Arabs, is clear: real democracy or a nationalist ethnocracy. Our hand is extended to everyone who is concerned with justice and liberty.
**MK Aida Touma-Sliman heads the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality.

Analysis/Scarred by Previous Wars, Israeli Army's Ground Forces Struggle to Keep Up
عاموس هاريل من الهآررتس: الجيش الإسرائيلي الخائف من الحروب السابقة يجهد لتقوية قواته البرية

Amos Harel/Haaretz/September 01/18
The army vowed to address the limitations exposed in Lebanon and Gaza, but is it ready for a ground maneuver deep in enemy territory?
On Thursday, June 12, 2014, the members of the IDF General Staff gathered for an evening of “team-building” in the Kirya headquarters in Tel Aviv. The General Staff forum, headed by then-Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, heard to a lecture by Prof. Yoram Yovell titled “Between Body and Soul.”
Later that night, after the generals had all gone home, the IDF received the first report, still vague, about an incident in the West Bank. The picture became clear only the next morning. Three youths, yeshiva students in Gush Etzion, were hitchhiking and were picked up by a car driven by Palestinians masquerading as Israelis. The youths, whose bodies were found weeks later west of Hebron, were murdered by the kidnappers, members of a Hamas cell from Hebron.
The IDF ended the summer of 2014 with scars to both its flesh and spirit, says one of the participants at the General Staff get-together that evening. “From the minute dozens of those released in the Gilad Shalit deal in the West Bank were rearrested, we were already on the slippery slope.” The worsening tensions with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, mostly concerning the tunnel the group dug near the Kerem Shalom border crossing, led to the blow-up – Operation Protective Edge – which began in the second week of July and ended this week, four years ago.
Protective Edge exposed the limitations of the army’s capabilities on the ground. This was the last link, for now, in the not very illustrious chain that began with the Second Lebanon War in 2006, if not earlier. After the failure and disappointment in Lebanon, the IDF announced widespread steps to fix the problems. The units returned to training much more seriously and reservists received new equipment.
But the change wasn’t deep enough after the war in Lebanon: The ground forces remained way down at the bottom of the list of the IDF’s priorities, while the political leadership remained doubtful about its ability to conduct maneuvers on the ground deep inside enemy lines during a war.
This was quite clear during the three operations the IDF has conducted since then in the Gaza Strip. During Operation Cast Lead at the turn of 2009, only a symbolic ground action was carried out, whose main goal was to prove to the enemy (and the Israeli public) that the army had rehabilitated itself from the trauma of the Second Lebanon War. In the next operation, Pillar of Defense in 2012, large numbers of reserve forces were called up but Israel tried to achieve a cease-fire after only a week of aerial attacks. And in Protective Edge, the IDF’s mission was limited to dealing with the attack tunnels, at a distance of no more than 1.5 kilometers inside the Gaza Strip.
Four years since the end of the last military operation, the doubts remain. What is the real state of the ground forces units? Is there a chance to close the gap between their effectiveness and that of the Air Force, intelligence branch and the technological units? And do the repeated public statements made by the army’s top brass about the necessity of ground maneuvers deep inside enemy territory during wartime have any value?
This debate has become much more important and loaded recently, given the coincidental timing of a number of unrelated events: IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot’s term is ending in a few months and the race is on to choose his successor; the harsh criticism leveled by the outgoing IDF ombudsman on the ground forces’ lack of readiness for war; and the ambitious and resource-filled plan “IDF 2030,” whose main principles were presented this month by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
When Eisenkot entered the chief of staff’s office back in February 2015, he found the ground forces in rather bad shape. As someone who had been the deputy chief of staff under Gantz during Protective Edge, it seems he was not surprised. The criticism that only a few individuals in the General Staff dared to express at the end of the fighting in Gaza became almost a consensus a few months later:
During Protective Edge, the IDF failed in suppressing the rocket and mortar fire from the Gaza Strip; the Air Force did not have enough precise intelligence about Hamas targets; the level of preparedness of the various units to carry out their missions, and first and foremost dealing with the tunnels, whose importance increased during the fighting, was too low; and the use of the forces on the ground during the fighting suffered from a lack of creativity.
In a document distributed throughout the military a month after his appointment, in preparation for the composing of the multi-year Gideon plan for the IDF, the new chief of staff wrote: “A deep change is needed in the IDF to carry out its missions.” Eisenkot asserted that the problems in the IDF did not end with questions about the leadership and values, but reflected a much deeper professional crisis within the ground forces. He found an army that had gotten fat in the all the wrong places in the decade after the Second Lebanon War. A large army that was not focused on its principle missions and had not undergone the necessary structural changes.
Gideon included a number of unprecedented changes. Eisenkot’s multi-year plan was not just a long shopping list of inflated requirements. It identified central discrepancies and tried to deal with them, with Eisenkot personally overseeing from up close the pace of implementation of his instructions.
The plan’s focus for the ground forces was on missions needed for a decisive victory on the ground. The updated version of the document on the IDF’s strategy, which was released in April this year, stated: “The operation of the forces will combine the physical and softer capabilities in all dimensions of the war, including: Rapid and lethal maneuvering to the objectives viewed by the enemy as valuable, multi-dimensional fire … and actions in the dimension of information, such as cyber [warfare] and awareness.”
The document differentiates between two approaches to operating the forces: The decisive victory approach and the approach of prevention and influence. As for decisive victory, the document states that during fighting according to this approach: “The military force will be used for attack whose goal is to move the war into the enemy’s territory as quickly as possible.” The IDF will prepare for attack in one or more regions, based on an “immediate and simultaneous integrated strike” that will include a “maneuvering endeavor with crushing capability – survivable, quick, lethal and flexible” alongside “wide-scale precise fire based on high-quality intelligence.”
Eisenkot’s unusual decision to release the document to the public, the first of its kind ever published, reflected an attempt to hold a public dialogue with the government and security cabinet. According to MK Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid), the chairman of the Knesset Subcommittee on Security Preparedness and Maintenance, Eisenkot is “basically telling them: In 2006 and in 2014, the political and military leadership were completely paralyzed as a result of the fears of the expected casualties in a ground maneuver. The result was that the operation lasted until in the end it was decided on a limited maneuver, which was conducted in an incorrect manner and achieved nothing. Eisenkot’s public message is: I am preparing the ground forces for a quick and lethal maneuver and you will have to decide whether to use it within a short time after war breaks out.”
But the report produced by Shelah’s subcommittee, which was released in September 2017, hinted at disparities between Eisenkot’s vision and its full implementation. The report states that Eisenkot has laid down the correct directions but equipping and building the forces is proceeding at too slow a pace. It seems the subcommittee was referring in part to the scope of the procurement plans for active defense, such as the Trophy armored protection system for tanks and armored personnel carriers, and the large gap between the regular army’s capabilities and that of some of the reserve brigades.
This criticism is all the more acute in light of the debate over future defense budgets. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman presented a request last year for a budgetary supplement of about 13 billion shekels ($3.6 billion), based on changes in the challenges facing the IDF – including the Iranian presence in Syria and the improved accuracy of the missiles in Hezbollah’s hands – along with the Defense Ministry’s new interpretations of previous agreements reached with the Finance Ministry.
Netanyahu, in a meeting of the security cabinet held two weeks ago, went even further. The strategic threats require setting the defense budget as a fixed percentage of the GDP, he said. Considering the optimistic economic growth rates he forecasts, about 3 percent a year, Netanyahu wants to add tens of billions of shekels to the defense budget over the next decade. He listed a number of main areas where he thinks money is needed, including precision weaponry, missile and rocket interception systems, both defensive and offensive cyber-warfare tools, completing the construction of the country’s border fences and improving protection for the home front. None of the areas presented by Netanyahu as candidates for increased spending as part of the strategic plan directly concern the ground forces, and large sums were included for implementing these capabilities in the multi-year Gideon plan.
Shelah says that Netanyahu “views the IDF as a boxer in a 15-round fight: Heavy, strong and well protected. This does not correspond with the principle of shortening the period of the fighting, which appears in the IDF’s strategy document. [Netanyahu] did not present a security doctrine, only a shopping list that does not come together in real capabilities. The large amount of money that will be spent on it will prevent the closing of the gaps remaining in the ground forces’ capabilities, and will turn what has already been invested into a white elephant. This is how we may well find ourselves without the ability for decisive victory, not in one way and not in any other way.”
The Gideon plan was designed for a specific direction and even though it was never fully implemented, it aspired to rehabilitate the ground forces. In his recent statements, it seems Netanyahu has made a U-turn: A battle of fire from far away, a great deal more than just maneuvering on the ground. Netanyahu’s ideas are not synchronized with what the General Staff has presented, not in the goals of the war and not in the view of how the military is used: stand-off attacks from a distance as opposed to contact up close.
“Lacking a decision, our view on the question of what we want to achieve in the war and how to do so, we may well invest many billions without them becoming a critical mass that will create a concrete achievement. Netanyahu is talking about tens of billions [of shekels] but every shekel we spend now without deciding first what we want, will be wasted,” warns Shelah.

Idlib Awaits the Great Massacre
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al-Awsat/September 01/18
Militants in Idlib governorate and its vicinity are sharpening their knives and cleaning their rifles in preparation for the great, and maybe final, battle of Syria’s war.
On one side, there are eight Russian navy ships equipped with cruise missiles, tens of thousands of Syrian regime troops and Iran’s multinational militias; while on the other side is the so-called Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), which includes: Al-Nusra Front, Khalid ibn Al-Walid Army, Jund Al-Sharia, Saraya Al-Sahel and Jaysh Al-Malahim, all of which are terrorist organizations and, intellectually, extensions of Al-Qaeda. Moreover, most of these organizations' leaders are not Syrians, such as Abu Mariya Al-Jubouri Al-Qahtani, Abu Al-Yaqdhan Al-Masri and Al-Farghali.
The two parties fighting in Idlib, i.e. the Syrian regime and its allies the Iranian militias versus HTS, are the culprits who brought destruction and bloodshed to Syria during the past seven years. They have avoided direct clashes in the past, as each needed the other in this war. The terror groups have given legitimacy to the Syrian regime and polished its image, while the Syrian regime, by massacring and displacing millions of civilians – often for sectarian reasons – has given terror groups the incentive and publicity to recruit militants from across the world in order to fight in a horrendous sectarian war.
Most of the previous battles waged by both parties targeted the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which has never included foreign militants or used jihadist slogans, but posed the real threat to the regime as it was the national alternative supported by the region’s states and the West.
Idlib province, which borders Turkey, eventually became a refuge for terrorists who fled eastern and southern Syria toward the Turkish border. As for Turkey, it has closed its border in their faces and mobilized its troops to stop infiltrators and fugitives. Today, Idlib’s worst fate is looming as a result of the massive military build-up, and concerns have increased after Russia’s warnings of imminent chemical attacks. These warnings made many question Russia’s motives and expect its forces, along with those of the Syrian regime, to commit such a crime, based on previous experiences.
Amidst this alarming situation, more than three million people live in Idlib province, half of whom are not local residents but displaced people who took refuge there after fleeing the attacks of either the Iranian militias or Daesh and its likes. Inhabitants are not allowed to leave the province’s cities and towns as they are being used as human shields and hostages in the face of intensive military attacks. Therefore, if the war erupts in Idlib within the next few days- as the Iranians, Syrian regime, and Russian military leaders are warning- we may witness the greatest massacre in the history of Syria’s war. This is what made the UN special envoy and mediator, Staffan de Mistura, say that it would be a “tragic irony” at the end of the war inside Syria with a “most horrific tragedy” involving large numbers of civilians.
However, it was both disappointing and surprising that the UN envoy made justifications and provocative statements when he claimed that there were 10,000 terrorists in Idlib. Indeed, there is a large number of terrorist HTS militants, but the exact figure de Mistura has mentioned seems grossly exaggerated unless he possesses accurate and detailed information, which he then must present to the media. Furthermore, when he said he feared that “the two sides” would use chemical weapons, the Russians and the Syrian regime celebrated his statement, claiming terrorists were preparing to carry out chemical attacks. Again, if de Mistura really possessed solid information about such attacks, he must bring it forward, instead of making general statements that lay the groundwork for approaching crimes.
We heard before the Syrian regime’s claims about terror groups being the ones who used chlorine gas and other prohibited weapons, but all conclusive evidence proved that the regime was the only side that had used these weapons. This does not mean that HTS was innocent of committing horrendous crimes against civilians, but it wasn’t known for possessing or using such weapons – at least in its previously documented attacks.

Erdogan’s Dilemmas
جونسان سباير من الجروزلم بوست: ورطة اردوغان

Jonathan Spyer/Jerusalem Post/September 01/18
Turkey Faces Few Good Options as Idlib offensive looms
Syrian regime and Russian forces are currently preparing for an offensive into Idlib Province in north west Syria. The attack on Idlib is set to mark the final major action in the war between the Assad regime and the insurgency against it. Moscow has moved 10 warships and two submarines into the waters off the western coast of Syria. This represents the largest concentration of Russian naval forces since the beginning of Moscow’s direct intervention into the civil war in Syria in September, 2015.
The regime, meanwhile, is dispatching ground forces from further south, as its forces complete a recent offensive against Islamic State fighters in the Sweida area.
Idlib is set to form the final chapter in a Russian-led strategy that commenced nearly three years ago. According to this approach, rebel-controlled areas were first bombed and shelled into submission and then offered the chance to ‘reconcile’, ie surrender to the regime. As part of this process, those fighters who did not wish to surrender were given the option of being transported with their weapons to rebel-held Idlib.
This approach was useful for the regime side. It allowed the avoidance of costly last-stand battles by the rebels. It also contained within it the expectation that a final battle against the most determined elements of the insurgency would need to take place, once there was nowhere for these fighters to be redirected. That time is now near. There are around 70,000 rebel fighters inside Idlib. The dominant factions among them are Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, (the renamed Jabhat al-Nusra, ie the al-Qaeda franchise in Syria), and the newly formed, Turkish-supported Jaish al-Watani (National Army), which brings together a number of smaller rebel groups.
The presence of the Turkish-supported Jaish al-Watani among the Idlib rebels reflects the complex, broader political/diplomatic situation surrounding the upcoming Idlib offensive. The offensive will not mark the end of conflict in Syria. Rather, once Idlib is returned to the regime, the dynamic in Syria will conclusively shift – from one at least partially led by autonomous political-military organizations, to one entirely directed from above by sundry state interests, which make use of various militia groups as proxies.
As this dynamic emerges, it represents a particular dilemma for Turkey. Ankara in the early stages of the war abandoned a burgeoning relationship with the Assad regime to throw its full weight behind the Sunni Arab rebellion. It saw the insurgency (correctly) as one of a number of conservative Sunni Arab movements then sweeping the Middle East. The AKP government envisaged itself as the natural patron and leader for these movements. Unfortunately for the Turks, the Sunni Islamist wave was brief and has left little permanent imprint on the region.
With the entry of the Russians onto the Syrian battlefield, and the decision by the US not to offer major support to the rebels, the insurgency lost any hope of defeating the Assad regime.
Turkey then transferred its focus in Syria to two areas: preventing the Kurdish area of control in the north east from extending across the 900 km Syrian-Turkish border in its entirety, and, slightly more nebulously, preventing the complete defeat and destruction of the rebels, which if allowed to happen would represent a humiliating failure for the government of President Recep Tayepp Erdogan.
The first goal was achieved in two stages: in August 2016, in Operation Euphrates Shield, the Turks established an area of control in northern Syria from Jarabulus to Azaz, leaving the Kurdish Afrin canton isolated. In January 2018, in the creatively named Operation Olive Branch, they then destroyed and occupied Afrin, thus creating an area of exclusive Turkish control stretching from Jarabulus to Jandaris in the Aleppo Governorate.
The second goal appeared for a while to be progressing in a satisfactory way. The Turks have invested in administration and education in their area of control in north west Syria. Signs in Turkish, Turkish trained police, Turkish administration in schools and hospitals are all features of the ‘Euphrates Shield Zone.’ The authorities there have even issued new i.d cards for residents of the area, marked with the opposition flag and translation in Arabic and Turkish. The formation of the Jaish al Watani forms a key element of this effort.
But this project is placed into question by the prospect of the regime offensive into Idlib. There are 3.5 million civilians in the province. Turkey fears the possibility that this offensive could generate a new rush of refugees for Turkey’s borders or into the Euphrates Shield Zone. Also, given Assad’s determination to reconquer Syria in its entirety, a successful Idlib offensive will surely be followed by pressure on the Turks to quit this zone. It would at that point constitute the last remaining barrier to Assad’s full reincorporation of north west Syria.
But for Turkey to quit this area would be to accept the final and total eclipse of the Sunni Arab cause, and the clear and humiliating total defeat of Turkey’s aims. To do so while the PKK-associated Kurds retain a large de facto area of control east of the Euphrates would represent a double defeat.
Turkey is currently engaged in diplomacy to forestall this possibility. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu last week warned against a military operation into Idlib, saying it would be a ‘disaster.’ Cavusoglu, notably, was speaking to reporters in Moscow, after meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
Russia is key here. A notional Moscow-brokered truce has been in place in Latakia, Idlib and Hama provinces for the last three weeks. But it is subject to daily violations by regime forces, and seems likely to go the way of previous Russian brokered agreements in other parts of Syria which preceded regime and Russian assaults.
President Erdogan is due to travel to Iran on September 7th, to meet with Presidents Putin and Rouhani. The future of north west Syria is set to dominate the discussions.
Why is the Russian position pivotal? Iran, of course, supports the reunification of Syria by the regime. Turkey clearly prefers the status quo. Russia, meanwhile, has broader interests. On the one hand, it is in alliance with the regime and Iran. On the other, Moscow has a clear interest in drawing the government in Ankara further away from its fraying connections with the US. Offering Turkey at least part of what it wants in northern Syria would be useful in this regard, but would have a cost for Moscow’s relations with its allies. It is probable that Putin will seek some face saving formula for Turkey. But the dilemma showcases the fragility of Russia’s current stance as the supreme arbiter in Syria, enjoying positive relations with all forces.
Erdogan will be seeking in Teheran to use the Russian desire to draw him away from NATO, and perhaps Iranian hopes that Ankara may act as an oil-sanctions buster for Iran after November, to salvage something of Ankara’s project in Syria. As the Syrian revolution goes down to military defeat, the great game of the presidents and the diplomats over the ruins of the country is moving into high gear.

Time is running out for Iran and its interests in Yemen
Abdullah bin Bijad Al-Otaibi/Al Arabiya/September 01/18
Amid these regional conflicts and the major changes in US position, time has become the key factor in determining victory, along with patience, wisdom, firmness and resolve. This is for the benefit of Arab countries and their people in confronting hostile campaigns, particularly the Iranian project.
The Iranian regime started to collapse with the large-scale withdrawal of international companies operating there. The Iranian currency began to suffer and was severely devalued. The Iranian uprisings are escalating while the opposition is getting more organized and popular. This is all happening although not all of the US sanctions have been implemented yet. Meanwhile, American National Security Advisor John Bolton has asserted that sanctions will soon cover other areas and increase over time.
The US is quite vigilant in Iraq and Syria and has clearly stated that it would not accept the Shiite crescent expanding from Tehran to the Mediterranean. The US has put pressure on Russia to get all Iranian militias out of Syria while Israel is directly striking Iranian militias with military force and preventing them from approaching its borders.
The US has warned the Assad regime against using chemical weapons in Idlib, as it would respond with a direct military action. The situation in Syria is slowly turning against Iran’s interest. The scene in Iraq is no longer purely in Iran’s favor as the conflict there is no longer between the US and Iran but Saudi Arabia and some Gulf countries have intervened to support Iraq’s stability and to let Iraq be for the Iraqi people away from Iran’s adventures and threats. The Saudi and Arab intervention aims to support Iraq and its people so that they rise again and liberate from the Iranian semi-occupation which has since 2003 only caused destruction there.
Houthi leaders are falling and Yemeni tribes are looking for their interests with the legitimate government and the Arab coalition.
The European opposition to Washington’s policies against Tehran seems ineffective and has upset the Iranian regime. Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini traveled around the world to help the regime but has made no progress as the world has become aware of the threat posed by the Iranian regime that sponsors terrorism and extremism and that has been the central bank of global terrorism since 1979, as Bolton said last week.
The fact that the Iranian regime accepted funding from the European Union with $20 million looks more like an insult than it looks like help. It sends a “wrong message at the wrong time”. It is only a symbolic action to show European opposition rather than to benefit in any field. It is thus merely nuisance, not a strategy by any means.
The Lebanese Hezbollah and the Houthi terrorist militia in Yemen are the two most important militias representing the second phase of the Iranian regime after Khamenei took over following Khomeini’s death. These two terrorist militias are losing ground now and they are gradually getting squeezed. Hezbollah will have to pull out of Syria while it’s exhausted and tired despite all the slogans and claims of victory made by its secretary general after every defeat. People have actually not yet forgotten the claims he made after the 2006 July War.
Time is running out for Iran’s interests in Yemen, as the Houthis are losing every day and on all fronts. Houthi leaders are falling and Yemeni tribes are looking for their interests with the legitimacy and with the Arab coalition. The latest among such developments was the meeting of tribal sheikhs in Hajjah. This meeting which was sponsored by the Arab Coalition is just a small example that highlights the truth of what’s happening in this regard in Yemen.
Besieging Iran with US sanctions, building international mobilization against it, boycotting Qatar and the decline of the Turkish currency all are clear indicators that time in Yemen is on the side of legitimacy and the Arab Coalition. Time is on the side of Arab states and their peoples while smart policies shall yield their fruitful results one day after the other.