English LCCC Newsbulletin For Lebanese, Lebanese Related, Global News & Editorials
For August 13/2022
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For today
When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.’"
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke 12/10-12/:"And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.’"

Titels For English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on August 12-13/2022
Taymour Jumblat meets al-Rahi, says partnership 'steady'
Shami says Lebanon at crossroads, urges for speedy reforms
Daily transport allowance for private sector workers increases to LBP 95,000
Troops get financial aid as army receives Qatari donation
Family of Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein protests his arrest
Beirut bank gunman still behind bars as family takes to the street in protest
Hamra bank standoff exposes desperation of economic crisis
Al-Sheikh Hussein begins hunger strike, threatens to hang himself
Reports: Hezbollah delegation told Jumblat war with Israel probable
Hezbollah targets Israeli drone in West Bekaa
Anti-aircraft fire targets drone over Lebanon - report
What’s behind Walid Joumblatt’s outstretched hand to Hezbollah?/OLJ / By Mounir RABIH,/August 12/2022

Titles For LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on August 12-13/2022
Israeli shelling wounds 2 near Golan Heights
Israel’s El Al eyes Saudi-Oman corridor to avoid Iran airspace, save time
Death toll from weekend Israel-Gaza fighting rises to 48
Author Salman Rushdie stabbed in neck in New York state
Iran seeks 3 more Khayyam satellites
Saudi Arabia says wanted man blows himself up during arrest
Tunisia says 82 migrants intercepted or rescued
US reveals Russians were trained in Iran as part of drone deal
Amid war with Russia, Ukraine conveys viewpoint to Arab League
Russian officials trained in Iran as part of drone deal, U.S. says
Syria rebels call for protests over Turkey's 'reconciliation' call
In major policy shift, Turkey advocates ‘reconciliation’ between Assad regime, opposition
Rivals rally in politically deadlocked Iraq
At 75, India's democracy is under pressure like never before
Brazilians rally for democracy, seek to rein in Bolsonaro

Titles For The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on August 12-13/2022
Bolton Plot Should Be a Warning on Iran Nuclear Talks/Bobby Ghosh/FDD/August 12/2022
The Afghanistan Deal that Never Happened/A Q&A with General Frank McKenzie/Lara Swligman/Politico Magazine/August 12/2022
A revived deal will not stop Iran from becoming nuclear/Editorial/Jerusalem Post/August 12/2022
Time for Change at the UN’s Human Rights Division/Orde Kittrie and David May/Policy Brief/August 12/2022
Belgium's Prisoner Swap Treaty with Iran: "A Deal with the Devil"/Soeren Kern/Gatstone InstituteAugust 12, 2022
Why Assad’s strategy in southern Syria is doomed to fail/Haid Haid/The Arab Weekly/August 12/2022
Assassins Creed: Why the plot to kill John Bolton is in the DNA of the Iranian regime/Lucas Chapman and Rawan Radwan/Arab News/August 12/2022

The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on August 12-13/2022
Taymour Jumblat meets al-Rahi, says partnership 'steady'
Naharnet/August 12/2022
Democratic Gathering Bloc MP Taymour Jumblat met Friday with Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi, a day after a meeting between his father Walid Jumblat and a delegation from Hezbollah. "Our national and historic partnership is steady," the lawmaker said. He hoped that the partnership that had begun with Mount Lebanon's reconciliation will continue in the future for Lebanon's interest and sovereignty. Jumblat, the father, had met Thursday with Coordination and Liaison officer Wafiq Safa and Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah's political aide Hussein al-Khalil. They discussed the border demarcation, the presidential election, and the possibility of a Lebanese-Israeli war, media reports said. Both, Jumblat and the Hezbollah delegation positively described the meeting as "frank" and said they will hold further discussions in the coming days.

Shami says Lebanon at crossroads, urges for speedy reforms
Naharnet/August 12/2022
Deputy Prime Minister Saadeh Shami said Friday that Lebanon is at a crossroads between reforms and further collapse. "We have drawn a roadmap for economic, financial and monetary reforms through an agreement with the International Monetary Fund," Shami said, urging for a quick implementation of the IMF's prerequisites in order to reach a final agreement as soon as possible. Shami added that "every day of delay will have significant negative repercussions on the economic situation."He urged for passing the state budget and the capital control laws as soon as possible.

Daily transport allowance for private sector workers increases to LBP 95,000
Naharnet/August 12/2022
Caretaker Labor Minister Mustafa Bayram announced Friday that the daily transport allowance for private sector employees has increased to LBP 95,000. The amendment to the transport allowance has been signed by President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati and Bayram. It has been approved by the State Consultative Council, Bayram said.

Troops get financial aid as army receives Qatari donation
Naharnet/August 12/2022
The Army Command announced Friday that it has received the Qatari financial donation that had been granted by Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad in support of servicemen’s salaries. In a statement, the Command said all servicemen will get equal amounts of money as of today. Army Commander General Joseph Aoun for his part thanked Qatar and its emir for “this valuable initiative towards the Lebanese Army,” lauding Doha’s “commitment towards Lebanon and its army in light of the challenges it is facing due to the repercussions of the deteriorating economic situation.

Family of Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein protests his arrest

Associated Press/August 12/2022
The family of Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein, a 42-year-old man who held bank staff hostage for hours Thursday, blocked the Ouzai road in protest of a judge's decision to arrest Bassam. Judge Ghassan Khoury ordered at night the arrest of Hussein, after he was promised during negotiations as he was still in the bank that he would not be arrested. Hussein had $210,000 trapped in Federal Bank and had been struggling to withdraw his money to pay his father’s medical bills and other expenses, according to the family and others involved in the negotiations.
Bassam had sold his house and his parents' house, his mother said on TV, and deposited all the money at the bank. "This is our money, it is our right," she said. "They stole our money, Bassam is not a thief, the banks are."The hostage drama in the city’s bustling Hamra district was the latest painful episode in Lebanon’s economic free-fall, now in its third year. The country’s cash-strapped banks since 2019 have slapped strict limits on withdrawals of foreign currency assets, tying up the savings of millions of people. Hussein’s brother Atef had shouted Thursday that his brother is not a scoundrel. "He is a decent man. He takes what he has from his own pocket to give to others," he said. Bassam was hailed as a hero by many who gathered to support him outside the bank. His photo circulated on social media with a phrase he said to the cheering bystanders when he turned himself in "Take your right with your own hands, these are lying bastards."

Beirut bank gunman still behind bars as family takes to the street in protest
Najia Houssari/Arab News/August 12/2022
Bassam Al-Sheikh Hussein was arrested on Thursday after holding employees hostage
After surrendering himself he was told he would not be jailed
BEIRUT: The Lebanese man who held eight bank employees hostage at gunpoint while demanding the release of his frozen savings remained behind bars on Friday pending further inquiries. Bassam Al-Sheikh Hussein was arrested after voluntarily leaving the Federal Bank branch in Beirut on Thursday evening following a seven-hour standoff. On Friday, members of his family blocked Al-Ouzai Road in Beirut in protest at his continued detention saying it was in breach of an agreement made the night before. Al-Sheikh Hussein, 42, surrendered after being told his family would be given $35,000 of his money and being promised he would be questioned and then set free. Inside the bank he had been armed with a pump-action shotgun and gasoline, which at on point he said he would use to set himself alight. Many people in the crowd that had gathered outside the bank during the siege applauded as he was led away. Lebanon’s central bank imposed a freeze on all bank deposits in 2019. Despite the promise that he would be allowed to walk free, after leaving the bank Al-Sheikh Hussein was arrested and detained on the orders of the Lebanese judiciary. Lawyer Haytham Ezzo told Arab News that Al-Sheikh Hussein was detained by the Information Branch of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces and denied access to a lawyer despite it being his legal right to have one present. “Even if no one sues him, there’s the public right,” he said. “Either the investigating judge asks for his release after he’s referred to him by the Information Branch, or asks for his arrest.”Ezzo said it was possible that Al-Sheikh Hussein had been arrested for endangering state security or threatening to kill or kidnap. As for the money paid to the family, that could not be reclaimed by the bank as “it doesn’t constitute a criminal tool. It is the arrested depositor’s right and property,” he added. Hassan Mughnieh, the head of Lebanon’s Depositors Association, who was in charge of the negotiations between Al-Sheikh Hussein and the bank, told Arab News that “neither the employees who were held hostage nor the Federal Bank sued him.”
But the gunman would remain behind bars until next week at the earliest, he said.
“Things will become clear on Tuesday, as it’s the weekend and judges do not work on Monday in the Justice Palaces.”He added: “As depositors, we will organize a protest in front of Beirut’s Justice Palace on Tuesday and in front of the Directorate General of the Internal Security Forces. We don’t have a problem with Al-Sheikh Hassan’s arrest, but justice says the bank owner should also be arrested.” Mughnieh said he had received many calls from other disgruntled bank depositors saying they wanted to act as Al-Sheikh Hassan had done. Lebanese bank customers have had their deposits frozen since the start of the country’s economic crisis and slump of its currency. Castro Abdallah, head of the National Federation of Trade and Employees Unions, said on Friday that “the affected people should stand together in order to recover the stolen public and depositors’ money.”
He called on unions to protest next Thursday in the commercial street of Hamra in Beirut. Lebanon’s caretaker deputy Prime Minister Saade Chami warned that Lebanon was standing at a crossroads. “We need to acknowledge the reality and the crises we are facing and confront them. This means that we should take the needed measures and carry out the critical and necessary reforms that put the country on the right path.”He added that the financial and monetary policies adopted in recent years in a bid to buy time had failed and that time was now running out. “No one will rescue us if we don’t try to rescue ourselves,” he said. “Receiving help from the little friends we have left in the world will not achieve the desired outcome.”

Hamra bank standoff exposes desperation of economic crisis
Associated Press/August 12/2022
A judge ordered a gunman who took up to 10 hostages at a Beirut bank to force the release of his trapped savings to stay behind bars Friday, apparently a bid to prevent copycats as desperation deepens over Lebanon's economic meltdown. A few dozen relatives of Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein briefly closed a major road in Ouzai, saying that keeping him in jail breaches an agreement reached Thursday. The 42-year-old food-delivery driver surrendered after a seven-hour standoff in return for getting $35,000 of his money and promises that he would only be questioned then set free. No one was injured. It was the latest reminder of the pain created by Lebanon's nearly three-year economic and financial crisis, described by the World Bank as one of the world's worst since the 1850s. Three-quarters of the population are in poverty, corruption is endemic and many are losing hope for quick solutions.
Like most people in Lebanon, Hussein had no access to his money because of banks' informal controls on flows of money. He had $210,000 at Federal Bank in Beirut and struggled to withdraw some to pay his father's medical bills and other expenses.
Because taking hostages worked to free up some of Hussein's savings, releasing him without charges could inspire others to follow suit as people face skyrocketing inflation and a lack of job opportunities. Many celebrated him as a hero, but it was not clear if his actions would lead to wider protests against banks.
"They want to send a message to people that this will not pass easily," Paul Morcos, founder and owner of Justicia Consulting Law firm in Beirut, said about Hussein's arrest. The punishment for taking hostages and threatening people with weapons is usually three months to two years in prison but could reach a life sentence if it was for the purpose of getting money, Morcos said. But he expects Hussein to be released within days or weeks once people forget about what happened. The international community has demanded reforms to ease Lebanon's economic crisis, but entrenched political elites, blamed for decades of corruption and mismanagement, have resisted. Talks with the International Monetary Fund have moved slowly as parliament prepares legislation demanded by the IMF for a bailout, including laws on capital controls and those targeting money laundering.
Many of those in power are former warlords and militia commanders from the 1975-90 civil war. The ruling factions use public institutions to accumulate wealth and distribute aid to supporters. Corruption is often ignored, and institutions are undeveloped. As a result, power outages are frequent, trash is often uncollected and tap water is largely undrinkable. Poverty is rising as prices skyrocket and the Lebanese pound loses more than 90% of its value since October 2019. Most people can only withdraw small amounts of money from banks each month at an exchange rate far worse than that of the unofficial market. The situation started deteriorating dramatically last year after the state lifted fuel subsidies, leading to a surge in prices of almost all commodities. It came at a time when blackouts lasted for 22 hours a day, putting private generators out of reach for many as people now must pay for fuel in U.S. dollars.
Judicial officials said the judge decided to keep Hussein under arrest because he committed crimes such as taking hostages and threatening people with weapons. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said it was not clear how long Hussein will be kept in custody.
Hussein's lawyer, Rafik Ghraizi, who attended the interrogation, told the local Al-Jadeed TV that his client didn't point his weapon at anyone and had no intention of harming the employees. He said all that Hussein needed was his money back. In January, a coffee shop owner withdrew $50,000 trapped in a bank in eastern Lebanon after taking employees hostage and threatening to kill them. He was released two weeks later. When anti-government protests erupted in late 2019, protesters attacked banks, sometimes with Molotov cocktails, and lenders fortified their branches. At one point, police patrolled in front of every bank branch, but that changed after the protests waned.
Caretaker Deputy Prime Minister Saadeh Shami on Friday called on parliament to quickly approve a capital control law. Last year, he put the losses of the financial sector at $69 billion. "Lebanon is at a crossroad: Reforms and improvement or more collapse. It's up to us," Shami, who is leading the talks with the IMF, said in a statement. Lebanese banks made huge profits over the past decades as they invested much of their money in government treasury bills that paid high interest rates and led to one of the highest debt ratios in the world. This made the Lebanese diaspora and many foreigners put their savings in Lebanese banks and get higher interest rates compared with international markets. Banks had been criticized for years for making risky investments despite Lebanon's widely known corruption. In March 2020, Lebanon defaulted for the first time on repaying its debt, which then reached $90 billion, or 170% of gross domestic product. "Excessive debt accumulation was used to give the illusion of stability and reinforce confidence in the macro-financial system for deposits to continue to flow in," according to a World Bank report released this month called "Lebanon Public Finance Review: Ponzi Finance?"An economist said banks are to blame, not Hussein. "Banks, with the help of politicians, and financial and judicial authorities are taking people as hostages. It is not a depositor who is taking hostages in a bank," tweeted economist Mounir Younes.

Al-Sheikh Hussein begins hunger strike, threatens to hang himself
Naharnet/August 12/2022
Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein, the armed depositor who took hostages Thursday at Federal Bank’s Hamra branch before turning himself in, has started a hunger strike, al-Jadeed TV reported on Friday. “In a phone call with his lawyer, he threatened to hang himself unless he is released as per the agreement made with him” by authorities, the TV network added. It later reported that Federal Bank has filed a lawsuit against the man and that the file will be referred to public prosecution. Al-Jadeed also noted that the bank branch’s employees have refused to file personal lawsuits against al-Sheikh Hussein. The 42-year-old food-delivery driver surrendered after a seven-hour standoff in return for getting $35,000 of his money and promises that he would only be questioned then set free. Like most people in Lebanon, Hussein had no access to his money because of banks' informal controls on flows of money. He had $210,000 at Federal Bank in Beirut and struggled to withdraw some to pay his father's medical bills and other expenses. In January, a coffee shop owner withdrew $50,000 trapped in a bank in eastern Lebanon after taking employees hostage and threatening to kill them. He was released two weeks later.

Reports: Hezbollah delegation told Jumblat war with Israel probable
Naharnet/August 12/2022
Wafiq Safa and Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah's political aide Hussein al-Khalil many junctures, including the Presidential election and the maritime border demarcation, media reports said. Hezbollah's officials informed Jumblat that a war with Israel is possible, "if Israel insists on depriving Lebanon of its rights."They assured the PSP leader that the drones launched by the group towards the Karish field are for Lebanon's interest, as Jumblat reportedly asked if the drones' aim was to strengthen Iran's position in its nuclear negotiations."The drones were sent to improve Lebanon's position in the border demarcation negotiations and to pressure for allowing Lebanon to extract oil and gas from its resources," Hezbollah's delegation responded. The delegation reportedly said that Hezbollah will decide how to react based on the response of U.S. mediator Amos Hochstein. As for the next President, Jumblat stressed the need to elect a non-provocative consensual president who does not belong to the March 8 Alliance and who can be accepted by the other parties, the reports said. Hezbollah responded that the subject needs further consultations between the main political parties. Jumblat who had met with Safa and Khalil on Thursday will hold further discussions with them in the coming days.

Hezbollah targets Israeli drone in West Bekaa
Naharnet/August 12/2022
Hezbollah targeted an Israeli drone over the Bekaa Valley in the village of Meidoun on Thursday night with anti-aircraft fire, media reports said, amid conflicting reports on whether the drone was shot down or not. Videos circulated online showed Hezbollah anti-aircraft systems opening fire at the drone, while a source has told American news website Long War Journal that the drone was unharmed by the fire. The incident comes amid heightened tensions between Hezbollah and Israel, since Israel moved a production vessel into Karish, parts of which are claimed by Lebanon. Hezbollah threatened Israel against proceeding with extraction, while Lebanese authorities called for the resumption of U.S.-mediated negotiations over the border demarcation with Israel.

Anti-aircraft fire targets drone over Lebanon - report
Jerusalem Post/August 12/2022
The incident comes amid heightened tensions between Hezbollah and Israel surrounding ongoing talks about the maritime border between the two countries. Anti-aircraft fire targeted a drone over the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon on Thursday night, according to Lebanese reports. Initial reports indicated that Hezbollah was responsible for the fire and that an Israeli drone was targeted. The reports did not indicate that the drone was hit. The incident comes amid heightened tensions between Hezbollah and Israel surrounding ongoing talks about the maritime border between the two countries. On Thursday, the Lebanese El-Nashra newspaper reported that Israel has rejected the Lebanese proposal in the talks. The Lebanese Al-Liwaa newspaper reported on Thursday based on a "well-informed ministerial source" that there was information about the possibility of Israel conducting a "limited military operation" against Lebanon before reaching an agreement in order to avoid being seen as compromising. The source warned that the response to such an operation would be "harsh" and that it "will surprise Israel with the number of the missiles that will rain down on large parts of its territory, and therefore will not let it achieve its goal."
Nasrallah: Hezbollah waits for Israel's response. In a speech on Tuesday, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah stressed that the movement was waiting in the coming days for Israel's response to Lebanon's demands regarding the border demarcation. "Lebanon and its people will no longer accept the looting of its wealth."Last week, Nasrallah stated that "there is a 50% chance that this issue will be resolved through negotiations and a 50% chance that the situation will lead to war."In July, Hezbollah launched four drones toward the Karish gas rig off the coast of northern Israel. The drones were shot down by the IDF.

What’s behind Walid Joumblatt’s outstretched hand to Hezbollah?
OLJ / By Mounir RABIH,/August 12/2022
The Druze leader anticipates regional developments and wants to find common ground with Hezbollah.
What’s behind Walid Joumblatt’s outstretched hand to Hezbollah?
Walid Joumblatt, the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, is obsessed with geopolitics. He is likely the Lebanese leader who is most interested in such calculations and also the one who adapts his positions the most according to geopolitical developments. And with all the changes unfolding in the region, Joumblatt appears to have enough to keep him busy. Between the Iranian nuclear negotiations, the war in Ukraine, the discussions between Saudi Arabia and Iran and, on a more local level, the issue of the maritime border demarcation with Israel, geopolitics is making a comeback, and the region is once again on the verge of tipping into either escalation or compromise. In both cases, Joumblatt seems to have considered that it was time to take a step toward Hezbollah. The Druze leader has been making repeated calls for this move lately. When Archbishop Moussa al-Hage was arrested last month in Ras al-Naqoura, Joumblatt called on the leaders of the former March 14 camp to deal with the issue calmly, for the judiciary to do its job and for any alleged aid from Israel to be rejected, regardless of who it was intended for, even if it was destined for the Druze community. This rhetoric was the first sign of rapprochement with Hezbollah. A few days later, Joumblatt did not close the door to supporting Marada leader Sleiman Frangieh’s candidacy for the presidential elections, despite having clearly stated several days before the May 15 parliamentary elections that he would not lend his support to Gebran Bassil or Frangieh, both of whom are endorsed by Hezbollah. However, it was in an interview on Monday with the Jordanian channel al-Mamlaka that Joumblatt truly reached out to the pro-Iranian party. Asked about the possibility of a war between Hezbollah and Israel, Joumblatt seemed to understand the party’s military concerns and said he would stand by the party should the situation deteriorate. Regarding the party’s weapons and the maritime border demarcation dispute, Joumblatt justified Hezbollah’s launching of drones in the Karish field as a response to Israeli drones violating Lebanon’s airspace and as an attempt to exercise pressure in the maritime border talks. And regarding Lebanon’s disassociation policy in relation to regional conflicts, Joumblatt rejected neutrality and said it could not be applied amid the presence of an “ambitious Israeli enemy on the borders,” distancing himself from the proposals of the Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rai and the leader of the Lebanese Forces, Samir Geagea. This stance could leave its mark on the ex-March 14 camp and greatly impact the upcoming presidential elections.
‘A consensus name’
In the same interview on Jordanian television, Joumblatt said he would be meeting with a Hezbollah delegation in the coming days — something that was planned two weeks ago between the Druze leader and Wafic Safa, the head of Hezbollah Coordination Committee. According to information obtained by L’Orient-Le Jour, the meeting is expected to be held either Thursday or Friday. In addition to Safa, Hussein Khalil, political advisor to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, is expected to be present at the meeting. “[Parliament Speaker] Nabih Berri has played as always the role of intermediary in this development,” according to an advisor to the Parliament speaker.L’Orient-Le Jour has learned that the meeting between Joumblatt and Hezbollah will be more focused on technical rather than political issues. The PSP leader reportedly wants to gauge Hezbollah’s position on the negotiations with the International Monetary Fund and on the possibility of taking the Energy Ministry out of the hands of the Free Patriotic Movement. The presidential elections, however, are likely to be at the heart of discussions between the two sides. Frangieh seems to be Hezbollah’s candidate for the moment, even if it has not yet officially endorsed him. But in order to obtain the two-thirds majority needed for an election in the first round, or for a quorum in subsequent rounds, Hezbollah will have to look for votes beyond the ranks of the former March 8 camp. “The president cannot be elected without an agreement with Hezbollah,” a source close to Joumblatt told L’Orient-Le Jour. “So, we have to agree on a consensus name.” The PSP leader supported Frangieh in 2016, before the election of current President Michel Aoun, who then took advantage of Geagea’s change of heart. “Joumblatt does not want to be fooled this time. He decided to act beforehand,” a close associate to the Druze leader said without elaborating further. Back in 2013, Joumblatt agreed with Hezbollah to allow the appointment of Tammam Salam as prime minister. Today, he seems to be following the same logic. “Joumblatt does not talk to Aoun and Bassil. He is obliged to start a dialogue with Hezbollah so that an agreement can be reached for the presidential elections,” the close associate said.
‘Avoiding a new May 7’
Is Joumblatt trying to anticipate an escalation or a regional compromise? In PSP circles, things are not yet clear, and the Druze leader is watching events closely. “Joumblatt must keep up with the changes in the region. If there is a nuclear agreement or if there is a conflict, he cannot be isolated,” said a PSP MP who requested anonymity. “He wants to avoid a new May 7,” the MP added, referring to when Hezbollah and its allies invaded parts of Beirut and the Aley and Chouf areas in 2008. For Hezbollah’s opponents in the Lebanese Forces, Joumblatt’s positions are unacceptable. Although it is not the first time he changes positions, the Druze leader is counted among the anti-Hezbollah camp seeking to elect a president outside the party’s influence. With Joumblatt in, electing a president without Hezbollah’s approval appears to be difficult. But without him, it is simply impossible. “Joumblatt speaks like Hassan Nasrallah,” said a March 14 figure who says that the Druze leader has weakened his own camp. Joumblatt has placed himself in a position where he can tip the balance to one side or the other. But for the PSP leader, and according to his own words, he only seeks to find a compromise and a consensus candidate to avoid any confrontation, which is why he extended a hand to Hezbollah and will do the same with other political players in the future. “If he succeeds in this mission, he will be the patron of a compromise,” the close associate said. Joumblatt seems to want to follow in his father’s footsteps. In 1970, during the presidential election, Sleiman Frangieh (the grandfather of today’s Sleiman Frangieh)won by one vote over Elias Sarkis. It was the vote of Kamal Joumblatt. The outcome of this deal, however, was disappointing. Then the war broke out, prompting Kamal Joumblatt to galvanize efforts to get Sarkis elected so he could manage the crisis. Indeed, the latter took office in 1976. “The meeting [this week] with Hezbollah will not end all our differences with Hezbollah, but rather aims to neutralize the strategic dispute on political orientations,” Joumblatt’s close associate told L’Orient-Le Jour. “Hezbollah does not come from Mars, but rather was born of Lebanese circumstances following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and represents a large component of the Lebanese,” Joumblatt said in his recent interview with al-Mamlaka, the Jordanian television station. “Any elected president must establish a program that includes a way to start a dialogue with Hezbollah, and later give priority to how the state can integrate the party’s weapons into the defense strategy of the Lebanese state,” he added.
This article was originally published in French on L'Orient-Le Jour. Translation by Sahar Ghoussoub.

The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on August 12-13/2022
Israeli shelling wounds 2 near Golan Heights

/August 12/2022
Israeli shelling wounded two civilians in southern Syria's Quneitra province near the occupied Golan Heights on Friday, state media in the war-torn country said. "Two civilians were wounded when a tank belonging to the Israeli occupation forces fired two shells near the village of Hamidiya," the SANA news agency said. There was no immediate official reaction from Israel. An army spokesman told AFP: "We do not comment on reports in the foreign media." The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the attack, adding that the two people, whom it did not identify, were in an area bordering the Israeli-occupied Golan. Groups linked to Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah -- an ally of the Damascus regime and sworn enemy of Israel -- are active in the area, according to the war monitor, which has a vast network of sources on the ground in Syria. Since civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes inside the country, targeting government positions as well as allied Iran-backed forces and Hezbollah fighters. While Israel rarely comments on individual strikes in Syria, the military has defended them as necessary to prevent its arch-foe Iran from gaining a foothold on its doorstep. The Syrian army regained control of the southern part of Quneitra in mid-2018, five years after rebel fighters had overrun it. Israel seized 1,200 square kilometers of the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community.

Israel’s El Al eyes Saudi-Oman corridor to avoid Iran airspace, save time
The Arab Weekly/August 12/2022
El Al and smaller Israeli rival Arkia later said they had applied for permission to fly over both Saudi Arabia and Oman. Permission for El Al Israel Airlines to fly over Oman is expected in "a matter of days", chief executive Dina Ben-Tal said on Thursday, a move that would be a big boost for the flag carrier's Asian routes. Ben-Tal, speaking to reporters after El Al issued second-quarter results, said the airline had already received approval to fly over Saudi Arabia but also needed to fly over Oman to skirt Iran and save time for journeys to Asia. Last month, Saudi Arabia said it would open its airspace to all air carriers. El Al and smaller Israeli rival Arkia later said they had applied for permission to fly over both Saudi Arabia and Oman. Opening Saudi airspace to flights to and from Israel was a focus of US President Joe Biden's tour last month of the countries, which do not have formal ties. "It's not just Saudi Arabia. We need the full route to be approved," Ben-Tal said. Once fully approved, it would cut about 2-1/2 hours from flights to India and Thailand and save fuel costs. Present routes to those popular destinations bypass Saudi airspace by flying south over the Red Sea around Yemen. "We are planning to reschedule our network around that new (shorter) route," Ben-Tal said, adding El Al was also looking into new non-stop routes to destinations such as Australia. "It definitely will have a huge efficiency (benefit) around our network." Saudi Arabia allows Israeli carriers to overfly its territory on flights to and from the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain after the two Gulf states established ties with Israel in 2020. El Al showed a strong improvement in the second quarter after it was hit hard in earlier periods by the coronavirus pandemic that largely closed Israel's borders to foreigners. Its shares fell 1% in Tel Aviv. It said it had earned net profit of $100 million in April-June, versus a loss of $81 million a year earlier. Excluding a large one-time gain from the sale of its frequent flier club, El Al recorded a $15 million net loss on a jump in fuel costs. Revenue rose to $516 million from $223 million a year before, although that was still below $584 million in the second quarter of 2019, before the COVID-19 crisis began. Load factor, a measure of seats filled, rose to 81.5% from 67% last year. To meet demand on long-haul routes, El Al said it planned to add a 16th Boeing 787 in 2023 while it also began to restore older Boeing 777s to the skies.

Death toll from weekend Israel-Gaza fighting rises to 48
Associated Press/August 12/2022
The Palestinian death toll from last weekend's fighting between Israel and Gaza militants rose to 48 Friday after an 11-year-old girl and a man died from wounds they suffered during the worst cross-border violence in over a year. Meanwhile, two wounded Gaza children, ages 8 and 14, were fighting for their lives in a Jerusalem hospital. In all, more than 300 Palestinians were wounded over the weekend when Israel struck Islamic Jihad targets across Gaza and the militant group fired hundreds of rockets at Israel. The death of 11-year-old Layan al-Shaer at Mukassed Hospital in an Arab neighborhood of Jerusalem brought to 17 the number of children killed in the fighting. Hani al-Shaer, a relative, said she was wounded in a drone attack during a surprise opening salvo launched by Israel, hours before any rockets were fired. Israel said it launched the initial wave of airstrikes, which killed an Islamic Jihad commander, in response to an imminent threat from the militant group, days after Israeli troops arrested one of its leaders in the occupied West Bank.
Two other Gaza children, 14-year-old Nayef al-Awdat and 8-year-old Mohammed Abu Ktaifa were being treated in the intensive care unit at Mukassed. Nayef, who is blind, was wounded in an Israeli airstrike, while Mohammed was hurt in an explosion that went off near a wedding party and killed an elderly woman, with the circumstances still unclear. Israel has said as many as 16 people might have been killed by rockets misfired by Palestinian militants. Israeli strikes appear to have killed more than 30 Palestinians, including civilians and several militants, among them two senior Islamic Jihad commanders. It wasn't immediately clear how the man whose death was announced Thursday was wounded. The Israeli military says it makes every effort to avoid civilian casualties. A cease-fire took hold Sunday night, bringing an end to the fighting that started Friday. No Israelis were killed or seriously wounded.
Israel and Gaza's militant Hamas rulers have fought four wars and several smaller battles over the last 15 years at a staggering cost to the territory's 2 million Palestinian residents. Hamas sat out the latest fighting, possibly because of understandings with Israel that have eased a 15-year Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed on Gaza when Hamas took power. In other developments, a Palestinian prisoner on a protracted hunger strike was moved Thursday from an Israeli jail to a hospital because of his worsening condition, the prisoner's wife said. An Israeli prison service official confirmed the development, speaking on condition of anonymity under regulations. Khalil Awawdeh has refused food for just over 160 days, according to his family, in a bid to draw attention to his detention by Israel without trial or charge. His case was thrust into the spotlight during the latest Gaza fighting.
Gaza militants have demanded his release as part of the cease-fire that ended the fighting. Awawdeh, a 40-year-old father of four, was arrested by Israel in December, accused of being a member of a militant group, a charge his lawyer said he denies. Recently, he has been using a wheelchair and was showing memory loss and speech difficulties, according to his lawyer, Ahlam Haddad. Dalal Awawdeh, Khalil's wife, said his condition had deteriorated, prompting Israeli authorities to move him to a hospital. Dr. Lina Qasem from the Physicians for Human Rights Israel organization said Thursday after meeting Awawdeh that his condition was "extremely bad" and that he only drinks water and is refusing additional vitamins, salts and sugar. "He suffers from a very extreme weakness," she said. Awawdeh said he will continue his hunger strike until his release from detention, she said, but he "requests that the medical team do what is necessary to save his life because he does not wish to die."
Prospects for Awawdeh's release under the cease-fire are uncertain. But his case highlights the plight of hundreds of Palestinians who are being held by Israel under a system that critics say denies them the right to due process, known as administrative detention. The worsening conditions of hunger striking prisoners has in the past whipped up tensions with the Palestinians, and in some cases prompted Israel to accede to hunger strikers' demands. Israel is currently holding some 4,400 Palestinians, including militants who have carried out deadly attacks, as well as people arrested at protests or for throwing stones. Around 670 Palestinians are now being held in administrative detention, a number that jumped in March as Israel began near-nightly arrest raids in the West Bank following a spate of deadly attacks against Israelis. Israel says administrative detention is needed to prevent attacks or to keep dangerous suspects locked up without sharing evidence that could endanger valuable intelligence sources. Israel says it provides due process and largely imprisons those who threaten its security, though a small number are held for petty crimes. Palestinians and human rights groups say the system is designed to quash opposition and maintain permanent control over millions of Palestinians while denying them basic rights.

Author Salman Rushdie stabbed in neck in New York state
Naharnet/August 12/2022
British author Salman Rushdie, whose writings have made him the target of Iranian death threats, was attacked and stabbed in the neck at a literary event on Friday in western New York state. Police said that a male suspect stormed the stage and attacked Rushdie and an interviewer, with the writer suffering "an apparent stab wound to the neck." He was rushed by helicopter to a local hospital, police said, adding that his condition was not known. New York governor Kathy Hochul said Rushdie was alive, and hailed him as "an individual who has spent decades speaking truth to power." "We condemn all violence, and we want people to be able to feel (the) freedom to speak and to write truth," she said. A state trooper assigned to the event at the Chautauqua Institution, where Rushdie was due to give a talk, immediately took the suspect into custody. Police gave no details about the suspect's identity or any probable motive. Social media footage showed people rushing to Rushdie's aid and administrating emergency medical care. The interviewer also suffered a head injury in the attack. The Chautauqua Institution -- which puts on arts and literary programming in a tranquil lakeside community seventy miles (110 kilometers) south of Buffalo -- said in a statement that it was coordinating with law enforcement and emergency officials.
- A decade in hiding -
Rushdie, 75, was propelled into the spotlight with his second novel "Midnight's Children" in 1981, which won international praise and Britain's prestigious Booker Prize for its portrayal of post-independence India. But his 1988 book "The Satanic Verses" brought attention beyond his imagination when it sparked a fatwa, or religious decree, calling for his death by Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The novel was considered by some Muslims as disrespectful of the Prophet Mohammed. Rushdie, who was born in India to non-practicing Muslims and today identifies as an atheist, was forced to go underground as a bounty was put on his head -- which remains today. He was granted police protection by the government in Britain, where he was at school and where he made his home, following the murder or attempted murder of his translators and publishers. He spent nearly a decade in hiding, moving houses repeatedly and being unable to tell his children where he lived. Rushdie only began to emerge from his life on the run in the late 1990s after Iran in 1998 said it would not support his assassination. Now living in New York, he is an advocate of freedom of speech, notably launching a strong defense of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo after its staff were gunned down by Islamists in Paris in 2015. The magazine had published drawings of Mohammed that drew furious reactions from Muslims worldwide.
- An 'essential voice' -
Threats and boycotts continue against literary events that Rushdie attends, and his knighthood in 2007 sparked protests in Iran and Pakistan, where a government minister said the honor justified suicide bombings. The fatwa failed to stifle Rushdie's writing and inspired his memoir "Joseph Anton," named after his alias while in hiding and written in the third person. "Midnight's Children" -- which runs to more than 600 pages -- has been adapted for the stage and silver screen, and his books have been translated into more than 40 languages. Suzanne Nossel, head of the PEN America organization, said the free speech advocacy group was "reeling from shock and horror." "Just hours before the attack, on Friday morning, Salman had emailed me to help with placements for Ukrainian writers in need of safe refuge from the grave perils they face," Nossel said in a statement. "Our thoughts and passions now lie with our dauntless Salman, wishing him a full and speedy recovery. We hope and believe fervently that his essential voice cannot and will not be silenced."

Iran seeks 3 more Khayyam satellites
Agence France Presse
/August 12/2022
Iran plans to commission three more versions of a satellite launched this week by Russia, Tehran's government spokesman said Friday. The Khayyam blasted into orbit on Tuesday, prompting U.S. accusations that it is intended for spying. Iran dismissed Washington's claim as "childish.""The construction of three other Khayyam satellites with the participation of Iranian scientists is on the government's agenda," its spokesman Ali Bahadori-Jahromi said on Twitter. A Soyuz-2.1b rocket sent the satellite into orbit from the Moscow-controlled Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Responding to the launch, Washington said Russia's growing cooperation with Iran should be viewed as a "profound threat", but the head of Iran's Space Agency, Hassan Salarieh, dismissed the accusation. He said the Khayyam is designed to meet Iran's needs for "crisis and urban management, natural resources, mines, agriculture and so on." The Khayyam was built by the Russians under Iran's supervision, Salarieh said at a press conference on Wednesday. Ahead of the launch, The Washington Post quoted anonymous Western intelligence officials as saying that Russia "plans to use the satellite for several months or longer" to assist its war effort before allowing Iran to take control. Iran's space agency stressed on Sunday that it would control the satellite "from day one", in an apparent reaction to the Post's report. Khayyam, apparently named after the 11th-century Persian polymath Omar Khayyam, will not be the first Iranian satellite that Russia has put into space.  In 2005, Iran's Sina-1 satellite was deployed from Russia's Plesetsk Cosmodrome. The new satellite launch came a day after the European Union submitted a "final text" at talks to salvage a 2015 deal aimed at reining in Iran's nuclear ambitions, and which Tehran said it was reviewing. The United States has accused Iran of effectively supporting Russia's war against Ukraine while adopting a "veil of neutrality". Iran insists its space program is for civilian and defense purposes only, and does not breach the 2015 nuclear deal, or any other international agreement. Western governments worry that satellite launch systems incorporate technologies interchangeable with those used in ballistic missiles capable of delivering a nuclear warhead, something Iran has always denied wanting to build.

Saudi Arabia says wanted man blows himself up during arrest
Associated Press
/August 12/2022
A man wanted by security officials in Saudi Arabia killed himself with an explosive belt to avoid arrest, wounding four others in the blast, the kingdom said Friday. The state-run Saudi Press Agency, citing the Saudi State Security Presidency, identified the dead man as Abdullah bin Zayed al-Shehri. The report said as security forces moved in on him Wednesday in the Saudi city of Jeddah, al-Shehri detonated the bomb belt. The report identified the wounded as a Pakistani national and three security officials. The report offered no details on al-Shehri's background, nor if he belonged to any known extremist group. The kingdom has battled al-Qaida and Islamic State militants.

Tunisia says 82 migrants intercepted or rescued
Agence France Presse
/August 12/2022
Tunisian authorities intercepted five new migration attempts overnight and rescued or intercepted 82 people, the interior ministry said on Friday. National Guard units "from the north, center, south and coast" of Tunisia foiled the attempts "as part of the fight against irregular migration", a statement said. Tunisia is a key departure point for migrants hoping to reach Europe -- usually Italy -- and sea crossing attempts tend to increase during spring and summer. Friday's statement said 76 people were rescued in four operations at sea, and another six were intercepted on land in the Gabes and Sfax areas. It did not provide details the nationalities of the migrants or report on the condition of the boats they used. The statement said that both Tunisian and foreign currency were seized, although the amounts were not specified. Media in the North African country reported a shipwreck on Tuesday off the Kerkennah islands in which eight Tunisians -- three women, four children and a man -- died. Another 20 people were saved. And on Sunday, the National Guard said that 170 people from sub-Saharan Africa were among 255 migrants intercepted during 17 attempted crossings. Tunisia and Libya are the main points of departure for migrants trying to reach Europe from Africa. Tunisia is in the throes of political and economic crises, and Libya has been gripped by lawlessness since 2011 that has seen militias turn to people trafficking. Italian authorities say 34,000 people arrived in the country by sea up to July 22 this year, compared with 25,500 over the same period in 2021 and 10,900 in 2020.

US reveals Russians were trained in Iran as part of drone deal
The Arab Weekly/August 12/2022
The US vowed to “vigorously enforce” its sanctions on both Russian and Iranian weapons trading. Russian officials trained in Iran in recent weeks as part of an agreement on the transfer of drones between the two countries, the US State Department said on Thursday.
US officials said last month that Washington had information that Iran was preparing to provide Russia with up to several hundred drones, including some that are weapons capable, and that Russian officials had visited Iran to view attack-capable unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The claim raised concerns that Iran, which has supplied drones to its allies in the Middle East, was now giving support to Russia for its war in Ukraine. Iran’s foreign minister at the time denied the claim, including in a phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart. US State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters during a phone briefing on Thursday that Russian officials had conducted training on drones in Iran “in the last several weeks.”The United States would “vigorously enforce” its sanctions on both Russian and Iranian weapons trading, he said. The transfers of drones between the two countries was “potentially sanctionable under numerous authorities,” Patel said. “We remain incredibly concerned about Iran’s use and proliferation of UAVs. They have been used to attack US forces, our partners in the region, and international shipping entities,” Patel said.
Last July, military analyst Samuel Bendett of the CNA think tank said Russia’s choice of Iran as a source for drones is logical because “for the last 20 years or more Iran has been refining its drone combat force. Their drones have been in more combat than the Russians’.”They are pioneers of so-called loitering munitions, the “kamikaze” drones like the Switchblade that the US has provided Ukraine. Iran has “a proven track record of flying drones for hundreds of miles and hitting their targets,” Bendett added, including penetrating American-supplied air defences and striking Saudi oil refineries.
He said the Iranian drones could be very effective at hitting Ukrainian power stations, refineries and other critical infrastructure. Bendett noted that before the Ukraine war, Russia had licensed drone technology for its Forpost UAV from a proven supplier: Israel. The Jewish state has remained neutral in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, so that source is no longer available to Moscow.

Amid war with Russia, Ukraine conveys viewpoint to Arab League
The Arab Weekly/August 12/2022
Amid competition with Moscow over the hearts and minds of the Arab world, Ukraine’s special envoy for the Middle East on Thursday accused Moscow of preventing Ukrainian wheat deliveries to the region, addressing the Arab League just weeks after the organisation hosted Russia’s foreign minister. “Ukraine today has 20 million tonnes of grain ready to be exported, principally to Arab and African states,” Maksym Subkh told the pan-Arab meeting by video conference, saying “the siege of our ports by the Russian invaders” had blocked deliveries. The increase in global food prices is “a direct result of Russian aggression”, he added. The Ukraine war has severely hampered grain supply from the country, leading to an international food crisis as it is one of the world’s biggest producers. Some ships have been able to leave Ukrainian ports in recent days after a deal with Russia brokered by the United Nations and Turkey.
Several members of the Arab League are heavily dependent on wheat imports from both Russia and Ukraine, and have been reeling from food insecurity since Moscow’s invasion of its neighbour. But while the United States has sought to isolate Russia on the global stage over the war, it has faced less success in the Arab world, where many countries are hesitant to strain relations with Moscow. In late July, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov praised Arab countries’ and the League’s “balanced, fair, responsible position” on not siding with either Russia or Ukraine. Lavrov at the time said Western sanctions on Moscow had “aggravated” the global food crisis, but Subkh on Thursday called the measures “the only way of returning Russia to reason”. Subkh warned Arab countries against “Russian meddling in regional affairs”, accusing Moscow of sending mercenaries to the region in order to plan “coups” and “plunder these countries’ wealth”. He told the Arab League that his own appointment last month was “proof of Ukraine prioritising its political dialogue with Arab states”. Moscow ally Damascus, which was suspended from the pan-Arab bloc after civil conflict broke out in Syria in 2011, said in July that it was severing ties with Ukraine in support of Russia, saying the move was a response to a similar move by Kyiv. Subkh said Thursday that Syria had tried to “legitimise Russia’s illegal occupation” of Ukraine.

Russian officials trained in Iran as part of drone deal, U.S. says
Simon Lewis/Reuters/August 12/2022
Russian officials trained in Iran in recent weeks as part of an agreement on the transfer of drones between the two countries, the U.S. State Department said on Thursday. U.S. officials said last month that Washington had information that Iran was preparing to provide Russia with up to several hundred drones, including some that are weapons capable, and that Russian officials had visited Iran to view attack-capable unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The claim raised concerns that Iran, which has supplied drones to its allies in the Middle East, was now giving support to Russia for its war in Ukraine. read more
Iran's foreign minister at the time denied the claim, including in a phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart. U.S. State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters during a phone briefing on Thursday that Russian officials had conducted training on drones in Iran "in the last several weeks."The United States would "vigorously enforce" its sanctions on both Russian and Iranian weapons trading, he said. The transfers of drones between the two countries was "potentially sanctionable under numerous authorities," Patel said. "We remain incredibly concerned about Iran's use and proliferation of UAVs. They have been used to attack U.S. forces, our partners in the region, and international shipping entities," Patel said.

Syria rebels call for protests over Turkey's 'reconciliation' call
Agence France Presse/August 12/2022
Protests broke out in Syria's rebel-held north on Friday over a call from Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu for reconciliation between the Syrian government and opposition. "We have to somehow get the opposition and the regime to reconcile in Syria. Otherwise, there will be no lasting peace, we always say this," Cavusoglu said Thursday, in remarks to diplomats. The comments have sparked calls for protests after Friday weekly prayers in key cities that fall under the control of Turkish forces and their supporters, including in Al-Bab, Afrin and Jarablus.Similar calls were made in Idlib, controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and other rebel groups, to gather at border crossings with Turkey. Small protests already began overnight in some areas, including Al-Bab, where dozens gathered holding opposition slogans and chanting against Turkey. Some demonstrators burned a Turkish flag, while others took down Turkey's colors hung up around the city, an AFP photographer said. Dozens of others gathered at the Bab al-Salama crossing to Turkey, many shouting "death rather than indignity". Turkey's top diplomat also revealed that he had held a short meeting in Belgrade in October with his Syrian counterpart Faisal al-Meqdad, adding that communication had resumed between the two countries' intelligence agencies. But he denied direct talks between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad, despite long-standing calls from Russia for such dialogue. Cavusoglu added that Turkey would continue its fight against "terrorism" in Syria, following warnings from Ankara since May that it could launch new strikes on Kurdish-held areas in north and northeast Syria. Ankara has launched successive military offensives in Syria. Most have targeted Kurdish militants that Turkey links to a group waging a decades-long insurgency against it. Cavusoglu's comments have sparked widespread anger among the opposition, with renowned figure George Sabra writing on Facebook: "If Cavusoglu is concerned with reconciling with the Syrian regime, that is his business. As for the Syrians, they have a different cause for which they have paid and continue to pay the dearest price." About half a million people have died during Syria's 11-year conflict, which has destroyed large swathes of the country and displaced millions of people.

In major policy shift, Turkey advocates ‘reconciliation’ between Assad regime, opposition
The Arab Weekly/August 12/2022
As part of new regional arrangements, Ankara seems to have steered away from its plans to launch a military operation in Syria.
Statements made by Turkey’s foreign minister in favour of "reconciliation" between the Syrian opposition and the Damascus regime and his country’s proclaimed backing for the integrity of Syria seem to reflect a total shift in Ankara’s positions towards the Assad regime after a long decade of involvement in Syria’s civil war on the side of the opposition. Mevlut Cavusoglu said Thursday that he has had a "brief conversation" with Syria's chief diplomat Faisal Mekdad on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement meeting, last October, in Belgrade. Angered by Cavusoglu’s remarks, Syrian opposition leaders launched an attack on Erdogan, describing him as a "hypocrite" and denouncing the Turkish foreign minister's position as a stab in the back of the opposition. "We need to bring the opposition and regime together for reconciliation somehow, there will be no permanent peace otherwise," Cavusoglu was quoted by Turkey's Daily Sabah as telling reporters during an ambassadors’ conference in Ankara. The Turkish foreign minister stressed his country's support for Turkey's territorial unity. "The border integrity, territorial integrity and peace of a country next to us directly affect us," he said. Cavusoglu advocated for a strong Syrian administration that would prevent the territorial desintegration of the war-striken country. "The will that can dominate every corner of its lands can only be achieved through unity and solidarity," he said. He also stressed the need for an end to hostilities to pave the way for reconstruction of the devastated country.
"No one wants to help in rebuilding without cease-fire and peace. This includes the EU, the important actors of the world, as well as the international community. Therefore, we, as Türkiye, are doing our best, but the basis for all this is a cease-fire. We will of course intensify our work in this regard,” he asserted.
Syria watchers describe the Turkish foreign minister’s statements as tantamount to an about-face consecrating Ankara’s abandonment of the Syrian opposition and ending its commitment to the millions of refugees who fled Syria in search for a safe haven in Turkey. According to analysts, the policy shift in favour of Assad came after guarantees received from the Syrian leader and Russian President Vladimir Putin that both would help rein in Kurdish militants. According to the analysts, Erdogan whose country currently faces a deep economic crisis is also motivated by the desire to see Russian gas supplies reach Europe through Turkey instead of Ukraine. Experts expect Ankara to ask Syrian opposition leaders to leave Turkey and stop all activities that are hostile to the Assad regime. The experts do not exclude the possibility that the most hardline elements, especially those with a military background, could be handed over to Damascus. This would create an extreme situation for the Syrian opposition and push it to seek common ground with the regime instead of risking extradition. The Turkish policy shift is expected to accelerate the process of "voluntary return home" by Syrian refugees. Militarily, the Turkish president’s change of heart towards the Syrian regime is likely to push Ankara to review its plans for a military incursion to establish a 30-kilometre buffer zone inside Syrian territory, especially that Turkish leaders have failed to sell their military plans to influential countries, especially Russia and the United States. The United States considers the Kurds in northern Syria a key ally in the war against ISIS. It sees any Turkish military campaign in the region as a threat to its anti-ISIS effort. Russia opposes the launch of a Turkish large-scale operation in northern Syria, and believes such an operation could jeopardise the territorial integrity of Syria. Moscow sees anti-terrorism cooperation between all regional stake holders as a wiser course of action to take. During the last Astana summit, held in July, Turkey, Russia and Iran discussed coordination of their moves in Syria. Recent reports have pointed to Turkish military withdrawal from two bases in the western countryside of Tal Abyad, northern Syria. Russian forces and Syrian regime forces in Tal Abyad are now expected to replace the Turkish forces, which used to be stationed there.

Rivals rally in politically deadlocked Iraq
Agence France Presse
/August 12/2022
Supporters of Iraq's powerful Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada Sadr gathered for Friday prayers ahead of a counter-rally by their opponents later in the day. The opposing demonstrations are the latest turn in a political standoff which has so far remained peaceful in the war-scarred country. Thousands of supporters of Sadr, who once led a militia against American and Iraqi government forces, gathered for the traditional weekly prayers near parliament inside the normally secure Green Zone. A week earlier, Sadr had called out tens of thousands of his followers for prayers in the area, home to government and diplomatic buildings. For nearly two weeks, his supporters have held a sit-in, first inside the legislature, and more recently on its grounds. Their protest, triggered by a rival bloc's pick for prime minister, reflects months of failed negotiations by Iran's political forces to form a government after October elections. Outside parliament Umm Hussein, a Sadr supporter in her 50s, said she was there to protest "the regime that for 20 years has done nothing for the people, except plunder and steal public money". On Wednesday, Sadr demanded the judiciary dissolve parliament by the end of next week, as part of his call for new elections. His rivals in the pro-Iran Coordination Framework plan to demonstrate at around 5:00 pm (1400 GMT) on a road leading towards the normally secure Green Zone where parliament is located. A statement from the alliance said it will demonstrate for the "formation of a new government" that would provide public services and solutions to power outages and water shortages. The Framework had initially said they were conditionally open to new elections. Two days after Sadr supporters stormed the Green Zone and entered parliament on July 30, thousands of Coordination Framework backers held a counter-protest on a road leading to the Green Zone. Police fired water cannons to prevent them from entering the area, and they dispersed after about two hours.

At 75, India's democracy is under pressure like never before
Associated Press
/August 12/2022
The Aug. 5 demonstrations by India's main opposition Congress party against soaring food prices and unemployment began like any other recent protest — an electorally weak opposition taking to the New Delhi streets against Prime Minister Narendra Modi's massively popular government. The protests, however, quickly took a turn when key Congress lawmakers led by Rahul Gandhi — Modi's main opponent in the last two general elections — trooped to the Parliament, leading to fierce standoffs with police. "Democracy is a memory (in India)," Gandhi later tweeted, describing the dramatic photographs that showed him and his party leaders being briefly detained by police. Gandhi's statement was largely seen as yet another frantic effort by a crisis-ridden opposition party to shore up its relevance and was dismissed by the government. But it resonated amid growing sentiment that India's democracy — the world's largest with nearly 1.4 billion people — is in retreat and its democratic foundations are floundering. Experts and critics say trust in the judiciary as a check on executive power is eroding. Assaults on the press and free speech have grown brazen. Religious minorities are facing increasing attacks by Hindu nationalists. And largely peaceful protests, sometimes against provocative policies, have been stamped out by internet clampdowns and the jailing of activists. "Most former colonies have struggled to put a lasting democratic process in place. India was more successful than most in doing that," said Booker Prize-winning novelist and activist Arundhati Roy. "And now, 75 years on, to witness it being dismantled systematically and in shockingly violent ways is traumatic." Modi's ministers say India's democratic principles are robust, even thriving. "If today there is a sense in the world that democracy is, in some form, the future, then a large part of it is due to India," External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said in April. "There was a time when, in this part of the world, we were the only democracy."
History is on Jaishankar's side.
At midnight on August 15, 1947, the red sandstone parliamentary building in the heart of India's capital echoed with the high-pitched voice of Jawaharlal Nehru, the country's first prime minister. "At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom," Nehru famously spoke, words that were heard over live radio by millions of Indians. Then he promised: "To the nations and peoples of the world, we send greetings and pledge ourselves to cooperate with them in furthering peace, freedom and democracy." It marked India's transition from a British colony to a democracy — the first in South Asia — that has since transformed from a poverty-stricken nation into one of the world's fastest-growing economies, earning itself a seat at the global high table and becoming a democratic counterweight to its authoritarian neighbor, China. Apart from a brief interruption in 1975 when a formal emergency was declared under the Congress party rule that saw outright censorship, India clung doggedly to its democratic convictions — largely due to free elections, an independent judiciary that confronted the executive, a thriving media, strong opposition and peaceful transitions of power. But experts and critics say the country has been gradually departing from some commitments and argue the backsliding has accelerated since Modi came to power in 2014. They accuse his populist government of using unbridled political power to undermine democratic freedoms and preoccupying itself with pursuing a Hindu nationalist agenda. "The decline seems to continue across several core formal democratic institutions... such as the freedom of expression and alternative sources of information, and freedom of association," said Staffan I. Lindberg, political scientist and director of the V-Dem Institute, a Sweden-based research center that rates the health of democracies.
Modi's party denies this. A spokesperson, Shehzad Poonawalla, said India has been a "thriving democracy" under Modi's rule and has witnessed "reclamation of the republic."Most democracies are hardly immune to strains. The number of countries experiencing democratic backsliding "has never been as high" as in the past decade, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance said last year, adding the U.S. to the list along with India and Brazil. Still, the descent appears to be striking in India. Earlier this year, the U.S.-based non-profit Freedom House downgraded India from a free democracy to "partially free." The V-Dem Institute classified it as an "electoral autocracy" on par with Russia. And the Democracy Index published by The Economist Intelligence Unit called India a "flawed democracy." India's Foreign Ministry has called the downgrades "inaccurate" and "distorted." Many Indian leaders have said such reports are an intrusion in "internal matters," with India's Parliament disallowing debates on them. Globally, India strongly advocates democracy. During the inaugural Summit for Democracy organized by the U.S. in December, Modi asserted the "democratic spirit" is integral to India's "civilization ethos." At home, however, his government is seen bucking that very spirit, with independent institutions coming under increasing scrutiny.
Experts point to long pending cases with India's Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of key decisions taken by Modi's government as major concerns. They include cases related to a controversial citizenship review process that has already left nearly 2 million people in Assam state potentially stateless, the now revoked semi-autonomous powers pertaining to disputed Kashmir, the opaque campaign finance laws that are seen disproportionately favoring Modi's party, and its alleged use of military-grade spyware to monitor political opponents and journalists.
India's judiciary, which is independent of the executive, has faced criticism in the past but the intensity has increased, said Deepak Gupta, a former Supreme Court judge. Gupta said India's democracy appears to be "on the downswing" due to the court's inability to uphold civil liberties in some cases by denying people bail and the misuse of sedition and anti-terror laws by police, tactics that were also used by earlier governments. "When it comes to adjudication of disputes... the courts have done a good job. But when it comes to their role as protectors of the rights of the people, I wish the courts had done more," he said.
The country's democratic health has also taken a hit due to the status of minorities.
The largely Hindu nation has been proud of its multiculturalism and has about 200 million Muslims. It also has a history of bloody sectarian violence, but hate speech and violence against Muslims have increased recently. Some states ruled by Modi's party have used bulldozers to demolish the homes and shops of alleged Muslim protesters, a move critics say is a form of collective punishment. The government has sought to downplay these attacks, but the incidents have left the minority community reeling under fear. "Sometimes you need extra protection for the minorities so that they don't feel that they are second-rate citizens," said Gupta. That the rising tide of Hindu nationalism has helped buoy the fortunes of Modi's party is evident in its electoral successes. It has also coincided with a rather glaring fact: the ruling party has no Muslim lawmaker in the Parliament, a first in the history of India.
The inability to fully eliminate discrimination and attacks against other minorities like Christians, tribals and Dalits — who form the lowest rung of India's Hindu caste hierarchy — has exacerbated these concerns. Even though the government sees the ascent of an indigenous woman as India's ceremonial president as a significant step toward equal representation, critics have cast their doubts calling it political optics.
Under Modi, India's Parliament has also come under scrutiny for passing important laws with little debate, including a religious-driven citizenship law and controversial agricultural reform that led to massive protests. In a rare retreat, his government withdrew the farm laws and some saw it as a triumph of democracy, but that sentiment faded quickly with increased attacks on free speech and the press. The country fell eight places, to 150, out of 180 countries in this year's Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders, which said "Indian journalists who are too critical of the government are subjected to all-out harassment and attack campaigns." Shrinking press freedoms in India date to previous governments but the last few years have been worse. Journalists have been arrested. Some are stopped from traveling abroad. Dozens are facing criminal prosecution, including sedition. At the same time, the government has introduced sweeping regulatory laws for social media companies that give it more power to police online content.
"One has only to look around to see that the media has certainly shriveled up during Mr. Modi's regime," said Coomi Kapoor, journalist and author of "The Emergency: A Personal History," which chronicles India's only period of emergency. "What happened in the emergency was upfront and there was no pretense. What is happening now is more gradual and sinister," she said. Still, optimists like Kapoor say not everything is lost "if India strengthens its democratic institutions" and "pins its hopes on the judiciary." "If the independence of the judiciary goes, then I'm afraid nothing will survive," she said. Others, however, insist India's democracy has taken so many body blows that the future looks increasingly bleak. "The damage is too structural, too fundamental," said Roy, the novelist and activist.

Brazilians rally for democracy, seek to rein in Bolsonaro
Associated Press
/August 12/2022
Thousands of Brazilians have flocked to a law school in defense of the nation's democratic institutions, an event that carried echoes of a gathering nearly 45 years ago when citizens joined together at the same site to denounce a brutal military dictatorship. In 1977, the masses poured into the University of Sao Paulo's law school to listen to a reading of "A Letter to Brazilians," a manifesto calling for a prompt return of the rule of law. On Thursday, they heard declarations defending democracy and the country's elections systems, which President Jair Bolsonaro has repeatedly attacked ahead of his reelection bid. While the current manifestos don't specifically name Bolsonaro, they underscore the country's widespread concern that the far-right leader may follow in former U.S. President Donald Trump's footsteps and reject election results not in his favor in an attempt to cling to power. "We are at risk of a coup, so civil society must stand up and fight against that to guarantee democracy," José Carlos Dias, a former justice minister who helped write the 1977 letter and the two documents read Thursday, told The Associated Press. In Sao Paulo, drivers stuck in traffic on one of the main roads to the law school applauded and honked as marching students chanted pro-democracy slogans. A huge inflatable electronic voting machine by the building's main entrance bore the slogan "RESPECT THE VOTE". Inside, hundreds of guests gathered in the university's Great Hall to hear speeches, while others stood outside watching on big flat screens. The proclamations are contained in two letters. The first went online on July 26 and has been signed by nearly 1 million citizens, including ordinary people; popular musicians such as Caetano Veloso and Anitta; high-profile bankers and executives; and presidential candidates, among them former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who leads all polls ahead of the October election. The second letter, published in newspapers last Friday, carries the endorsement of hundreds of companies in banking, oil, construction and transportation — sectors that traditionally have been averse to taking public political stances, said Carlos Melo, a political science professor at Insper University in Sao Paulo. They appear to have made an exception now, given the fear that any democratic backslide would be bad for business, he said.
"Democracy is important for the economy," he said.
Bolsonaro's commitment to democracy has been scrutinized since he took office, in large part because the former army captain has insistently glorified the country's two-decade dictatorship, which ended in 1985. Earlier this year he met with Hungary's autocratic leader, Viktor Orban, and Russia's Vladimir Putin.
The president only spoke about the event late Thursday, saying it was crafted to support da Silva's campaign. He also criticized the Workers' Party party for supporting leftist authoritarian regimes in Cuba and Venezuela.
For over a year, in actions that appear to be lifted directly from Trump's playbook, Bolsonaro has claimed Brazil's electronic voting machines are prone to fraud, though — like Trump — he never presented any evidence. At one point, he threatened that elections would be suspended if Congress didn't approve a bill to introduce printed receipts of votes. The bill didn't pass.
Bolsonaro also began expressing desire for greater involvement of the armed forces in election oversight. Last week, army officials visited the electoral authority's headquarters to inspect the voting machines' source codes. Bolsonaro has alleged that some of the authority's top officials are working against him.
At the law school on Thursday, Carlos Silveira carried a sign that read: "The military doesn't count votes." "We are here because it is riskier not to do anything," said Silveira, 43. "Bolsonaro has suggested a big anti-democratic act before the election, and the military has remained on his side, it seems. We want to show them we are the majority, and that our quest for democracy will win."When Bolsonaro launched his campaign, he called on supporters to flood the streets for Sept. 7 independence day celebrations. On that date last year, he declared before tens of thousands who rallied at his behest that only God can remove him from power. That same day, he declared he would no longer heed rulings from a Supreme Court justice, threatening to plunge the country into an institutional crisis. He later backtracked, saying his comment was made in the heat of the moment.
Bolsonaro's rhetoric resonates with his base, but is increasingly alienating him politically, Melo said. Since last year, the electoral authority has been proactive in countering claims against the voting system. Its top officials, who are also Supreme Court justices, have made repeated statements in its defense. Behind the scenes, they have been working overtime to recruit allies in the legislature and private sector, though many had been loath to echo their public pronouncements. A turning point came last month, after Bolsonaro called foreign ambassadors to the presidential residence to lecture them on the electronic vote's supposed vulnerabilities. Since then, both leaders of Congress and the prosecutor-general, all of whom are considered Bolsonaro allies, have expressed confidence in the system's reliability.
The U.S. also weighed in, with its State Department issuing a statement the day after the ambassadors' meeting to say the Brazilian electoral system and democratic institutions are a "model for the world." In a July conference with regional defense ministers in Brazil's capital, Brasilia, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said militaries should carry out their missions responsibly, especially during elections.
The letters — which at any other time might have been a dry exercise relegated to academia — have struck a chord with society. Television stations in recent days have aired clips of artists reading the pro-democracy pledge, and rallies are being called in 22 cities nationwide.One of those invited to speak at the university law school was Arminio Fraga, a prominent asset manager and former central bank chief during a previous, center-right administration. "I am here today ... with such a diverse group that sometimes fought on opposite sides, doing all we can now to preserve what is sacred to us all. That's our democracy," said Fraga, an outspoken Bolsonaro critic. Bolsonaro, for his part, has played down concerns, deriding the manifestos as "little letters" and insisting that he respects the Constitution. On Thursday, in a public swipe to the law school rally on Twitter, he remarked: "Today, a very important act took place ... Petrobras reduced, once again, the price of diesel." On Twitter, he added Thursday night: "Brazil already has its letter for democracy; the constitution. That is the only letter that matters to assure the democratic rule of law, but it was precisely the one that was attacked by those who promote a parallel text that, for legal effects, is worth less than toilet paper." Still, concern about Bolsonaro's fiery rhetoric has spread even among some allies and has undermined their efforts to keep the peace between the administration and other institutions, two Cabinet ministers told The Associated Press. They spoke on condition of anonymity, as they weren't authorized to discuss the matter publicly. Bolsonaro's party has distanced itself from claims that the election could be compromised. The party's leader sought out the electoral court's president to assure him of his trust in the voting system, Augusto Rosa, the party's vice president, told the AP. In any case, the election will be an uphill battle for Bolsonaro. More than half the people surveyed by pollster Datafolha said they wouldn't vote for him under any circumstance, though support has perked up recently amid lower unemployment, reduced gasoline prices and higher welfare spending. Analysts said they expected da Silva's lead to fall as the election nears, given that incumbents tend to benefit from the state machine. A close race would make pre-election promises to respect results all the more relevant.

The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on August 12-13/2022
Bolton Plot Should Be a Warning on Iran Nuclear Talks

Bobby Ghosh/FDD/August 12/2022
The brazen threat against the former national security adviser shows Tehran can’t be relied on to negotiate in good faith.
The Iranian regime has a long, dishonorable history of assassination plots against dissidents and detractors abroad, but commissioning a hit against a former US national security adviser represents a raising of the bar in brazenness. The revelation that a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps attempted to have John Bolton murdered — on American soil, at that — should serve as a sobering reminder for President Joe Biden of Tehran’s depravity as he contemplates making a deal that will both enrich and embolden those behind the plot.
The US Justice Department said Shahram Poursafi, an IRGC member based in Tehran, offered $300,000 “to individuals in the United States [to] carry out the murder in Washington, DC or Maryland.” The hit was likely meant as retaliation for the 2020 US drone strike that killed Qassem Soleimani, a top IRGC commander designated by the US as a terrorist and also personally sanctioned by the European Union and the United Nations.
Poursafi began casting for an assassin last fall, even as Biden was reiterating his pledge to revive the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, that Iran signed with the world powers in the summer of 2015. President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the JCPOA in 2018, arguing it didn’t do enough to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and slapped economic sanctions against Iran.
Biden has made a return to the deal one of his foreign policy priorities. After several rounds of negotiations in Vienna, the US and Iran are now examining what is being billed by European mediators as the “final text” of an agreement to revive the nuclear deal. If they agree, the sanctions will be lifted, giving Tehran access to hundreds of billions of dollars in frozen assets and revenue from oil exports.
Like President Barack Obama, who championed the original agreement, Biden seems to believe that if Iran’s leaders are allowed to make money, they will tone down the aggression against their Arab neighbors as well as the US: more trade, less terrorism.
The opposite is more likely. In the years that the JCPOA was in effect, Iran increased its financial and material support for a network of militias and terrorist groups it uses to menace the Middle East and international trade. Biden’s repeated assurances of his sincerity to revive the deal — and his administration’s lax application of Trump’s sanctions — have been met only with bad faith from Iran.
While pocketing billions from oil exports carried out in contravention of the sanctions, the regime has grown more aggressive in its behavior. It has accelerated its uranium enrichment well past the point of any nonmilitary application. Tehran has also ratcheted up its program of hostage-taking, specifically targeting people with Western passports.
And, as the plot against Bolton demonstrates, Iran has grown more ambitious in its international assassination campaign. Much of it is directed at Israeli tourists and diplomats, apparently in retaliation for Israel’s killing of top IRGC figures connected to the nuclear program. In June, Turkey detained eight men in an Iranian operation to kill Israeli tourists in Istanbul.
Two months earlier, Israeli intelligence foiled an IRGC plot to assassinate an Israeli diplomat in Turkey, an American general in Germany and a French journalist.
Iran has also grown more brazen in planning attacks in the US. In late July, a man carrying a loaded AK-47 was arrested outside the Brooklyn home of Masih Alinejad, a prominent critic of the regime. It was almost exactly a year after four Iranian agents were charged in federal court in Manhattan with conspiring to kidnap Alinejad.
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By targeting Bolton, the regime is signaling that its recklessness knows no bounds. And the former national security adviser may not even have been the IRGC’s top target: According to the Justice Department, Poursafi let it be known he would pay $1 million for another hit, presumably against someone of even higher profile. The State Department recently told Congress that it is paying to protect former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his point man on Iran, Brian Hook, both of whom face “serious and credible” threats from Tehran.
It is especially ironic that one of the Iranian demands that has stalled negotiations for the resuscitation of the nuclear deal was that Biden remove the IRGC from the State Department’s list of designated terrorist groups. The president has, wisely, refused to make that concession. But Biden should now ask himself whether a regime this reckless can be trusted with any deal at all.

The Afghanistan Deal that Never Happened/A Q&A with General Frank McKenzie, one year after his negotiations with the Taliban and the chaotic American withdrawal.
Lara Swligman/Politico Magazine/August 12/2022
General Frank McKenzie was on his way to negotiate with the Taliban when he got the call that Kabul had already fallen.
It was Aug. 15, 2021, and the then-commander of U.S. Central Command had watched anxiously for weeks as the group seized provincial capitals across Afghanistan in one of the most stunning guerilla campaigns in modern history.
McKenzie was flying to Doha, Qatar that day to offer the Taliban a deal: Keep your forces outside the capital so the U.S. can evacuate tens of thousands of Americans and Afghans from the city, and we won’t fight you.
But by the time McKenzie landed, the offer was DOA. Taliban fighters were already inside the presidential palace, and Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, had fled the city. The Afghan government the United States had worked so hard to keep afloat for 20 years had collapsed in a matter of hours.
McKenzie had to think fast. His mission, to conduct a massive air evacuation from Kabul’s one functioning airport, had not changed. So, on the way to Doha’s Ritz Carlton, he came up with a new proposal. Don’t interfere with the airlift, he told the Taliban’s co-founder, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, and we won’t strike.
The general, who spoke to POLITICO Magazine by video call almost exactly one year after the fall of Kabul, walked away from the meeting with a deal that would allow the U.S. military to control the airport while they undertook the largest air evacuation in U.S. history, flying out more than 120,000 people in the span of two weeks.
But during the meeting, he also made what critics say was a strategic mistake that contributed to what became a chaotic, deadly evacuation: refusing the Taliban’s offer to let the U.S. military secure Afghanistan’s capital city.
McKenzie defended his decision during the interview, noting that he did not believe it was a serious proposal, and in any case securing the city would have required a massive influx of American troops, which could have triggered more fighting with the Taliban.
At the end of the day, the U.S. military didn’t have many good choices.
Does McKenzie think the withdrawal from Afghanistan was a mistake? Yes – but it wasn’t his decision to make.
“My belief is we should have stayed. I believe that everything that happened flowed from that basic decision,” says McKenzie, who retired from the military on April 1. “My recommendation was that we keep a small presence where we could maintain a level of support for the Afghans. That was not the advice that was taken.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Seligman: It’s the week before Kabul falls. What is happening? What are you thinking? Set the scene for me.
McKenzie: In the last formal intelligence assessment I sent up on the 8th of August, I said, ‘It is my judgment that Kabul is going to fall.’ I did not think it was going to fall that weekend. I thought it might last a little bit longer, 30 days or so. But I felt Kabul would be surrounded in the immediate short term.
On Thursday or Friday, I got the direction to go to Doha to talk to the Taliban. What we wanted was about a 30-kilometer exclusion zone: You guys stay out of there while we do the evacuation. And if you stay out of there, we will not strike you anywhere in Afghanistan.
I got on the airplane on Sunday morning. While I was on the airplane over, I was getting reports that the Taliban is in downtown Kabul, they’ve actually overrun the city. By the time I met with them, they had significant forces inside the city. So I said, ‘Look, we can still have a solution here. We’re going to conduct an evacuation. If you don’t interfere with the evacuation, we won’t strike.’
Mullah Baradar said, off the cuff, ‘Why don’t you come in and secure the city?’ But that was just not feasible. It would have taken me putting in another division to do that. And I believe that was a flippant remark. And now we know in the fullness of time that Mullah Baradar wasn’t actually speaking for the hard-line Taliban. I don’t know if he could have delivered, even if he was serious about it.
I felt in my best judgment that it wasn’t a genuine offer. And it was not a practical military operation. That’s why they pay me, that’s why I’m there.
By and large, the Taliban were helpful in our departure. They did not oppose us. They did do some external security work. There was a downside of that external security work, and it probably prevented some Afghans from getting to Kabul airport as we would have liked. But that was a risk that I was willing to run.
Seligman: So after Kabul fell, the evacuation began. What happened next?
McKenzie: The next day, Aug. 16 it was my plan to fly to Kabul. But the airfield, the runway, was overrun by people coming in from the south. It took us about 16 hours to bring that under control — a combination of us, the Afghan commandos and the Taliban. We had 400 Taliban fighters beating people with sticks. It’s not what you want, but you’re in the land of bad choices now. It let the commander on the ground regain control of the airfield, and we never lost control again after that. But that was certainly intense.
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Seligman: Had you personally warned the president at any point that Afghanistan would almost certainly collapse if U.S. troops left?
McKenzie: I wrote a number of letters over the course of the fall and into the spring, saying if we withdraw our forces precipitously, collapse is likely to occur. I was in a number of meetings with the president, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the secretary of Defense. We all had an opportunity to express our opinions on that.
It was my opinion that if we went from 2,500 to zero, the government of Afghanistan would not be able to sustain itself and would collapse. It was initially my recommendation that we should stay at 4,500. They went below that. Then it was my recommendation we stay at 2,500.
Seligman: Indefinitely?
McKenzie: Indefinitely. I know the criticism: the Taliban are going to come after you and you’re going to have to beef up your forces. The commander on the ground and I didn’t believe that was necessarily the case. For one thing, at 2,500 we were down to a pretty lean combat capability, not a lot of attack surface there for the Taliban to get at. Two, we would have coupled the 2,500 presence with a strong diplomatic campaign to put pressure on the Taliban.
What would have happened if we stayed at 2,500? It’s just difficult to know that. Here’s what we do know as a matter of history — if you go to zero, they collapse.
Seligman: Why did they collapse? We spent so long training the Afghans and then as soon as we were gone, they fell. How did that happen?
McKenzie: I believe the proximate defeat mechanism was the Doha negotiations [on a peace deal]. I believe that the Afghan government began to believe we were getting ready to leave. As a result, I think it took a lot of the will to fight out them.
Seligman: Do you blame the Trump administration for what happened?
McKenzie: It goes even back beyond that. You can go back to the very beginning of the campaign, when we had an opportunity to get Osama bin Laden in 2001, 2002 and we didn’t do that. The fact that we never satisfactorily solved the problem of safe havens in Pakistan for the Taliban. There are so many things over the 20-year period that contributed to it.
But yes, I believe that the straw that broke the camel’s back and brought it to the conclusion that we saw was the Doha process and the agreements that were reached there.
It’s convenient to blame the military commanders that were there. But it was the government of Afghanistan that failed. The government of the United States also failed.
Joe Biden stands with his eyes closed and hand over his heart as U.S. service members pass in front carrying a casket. Antony Blinken is standing behind him.
President Joe Biden watches as a carry team moves a transfer case containing the remains of Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui during a casualty return on Aug. 29, 2021, at Dover Air Force Base. Nikoui died in an attack at the Kabul airport, along with 12 other U.S. service members. | Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo
Seligman: It was a political decision to leave. How much blame should the Biden administration get for the collapse?
McKenzie: Well, I think both administrations wanted to leave Afghanistan, that’s just a fact. But look, that’s a decision presidents get to make. I recommended something different. But they get to make that decision. I don’t get to make that decision. We are where we are as a result of that. They both ultimately wanted out.
Seligman: After the evacuation, did you see a reemergence of al Qaeda or other terrorist elements after we left?
McKenzie: Clearly. It’s very hard to see in Afghanistan after we left. We had 1 or 2 or 3 percent of the intelligence-gathering capability that we had before we left. All our intelligence told us that the Taliban would probably allow space for al Qaeda to reassert itself and at the same time, they’re unable to get rid of ISIS. I think both are going to be entities that are going to grow.
The fact that al Qaeda leader Al-Zawahri was in downtown Kabul should give us pause. It tells you first of all, that the Taliban obviously negotiated the Doha accord in complete bad faith. They said they wouldn’t provide a safe haven for al Qaeda. What’s the definition of a safe haven if it’s not the leader in your capital city?

A revived deal will not stop Iran from becoming nuclear -
Editorial/Jerusalem Post/August 12/2022
Operation Breaking Dawn has shown that even the smallest of Iran’s proxies is a threat. Any deal must take Israel's interests into account.
A return to the Iran deal that was negotiated in 2015 seemed impossible just a few weeks ago. After a year of claims that the Iranians had to come to some sort of an agreement or the window of opportunity would close, it appeared that the ayatollahs in Tehran were too far away from the West in negotiating the return to what is known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. However, new reports this past week claim that a final text of a deal has been hammered out.
Is the Iran deal finalized?
We remain skeptical about this effort to finalize a deal but we hope that whatever is involved in the final talks and any agreement that might be made, will include measures that ensure Israel’s and the region’s stability and security. Israel relies on a close alliance with the United States and good relations with the Biden administration.
We support the administration’s attempts to provide security for the region, while expecting that Iran will never be able to develop nuclear weapons.
“What can be negotiated has been negotiated, and it’s now in a final text…However, behind every technical issue and every paragraph lies a political decision that needs to be taken in the capitals.”
European Union’s High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell
The European Union’s High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell explained this week that “what can be negotiated has been negotiated, and it’s now in a final text…However, behind every technical issue and every paragraph lies a political decision that needs to be taken in the capitals.”
The US is also on board and it seems that right now the Iranian regime is holding things up as it continues to try and wring more concessions from the West.
These kinds of concessions are concerning, as is the overall nature of the deal. Iran wants its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which funds and arms terror groups around the region, to be removed, for example, from US sanctions lists. It also wants free rein for its missile and drone programs.
A concern: Iran has enriched large amounts of uranium
Most concerning has always been the fact that Iran has advanced centrifuges and has enriched large quantities of uranium to high levels. It has been enriching the uranium far beyond the agreements in the 2015 deal.
Iran argues that because the US violated the terms of the deal it too had the right to do so. The major problem is that every day Iran enriches it grows closer to being able one day to build a nuclear bomb. In fact, Iranian officials have recently hinted that they already have all the components and material needed to build a bomb, but they have so far decided not to.
This is problematic, because it means even if a new deal or a return to the old deal is agreed upon, Iran can always blackmail the West by using the enriched uranium card.
On another note, the overall deal has always been a concern because after a certain number of years, many of the safeguards designed to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon have fallen to the side.
Have just postponed the inevitable of a nuclear Iran?
The deal in 2015 appeared to merely postpone the inevitable. It is now 2022 and any deal that might be signed now would seem to just kick the can down the road in terms of eventually having to confront a nuclear Iran.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine and tensions between the US and China have complicated an already difficult situation.
The US prefers not to have to confront Iran at the same time, or deal with a new Iran-Israel crisis. The recent battles in Gaza against Palestinian Islamic Jihad seem to have been aimed at preempting the Iranian proxy’s ability to threaten Israel.
Nevertheless, that brief conflict shows that even the smallest of Iran’s proxies is a threat. What about the bigger threat of Hezbollah and groups like the Houthis in Yemen or Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Iran’s entrenchment in Syria?
Iran has openly bragged about how it is pushing the US out of the region and how it can threaten Israel from a number of angles and fronts. The nuclear front is just one of those problems. The deal being discussed today must take into account Iran’s threats to the region and Israel.

Time for Change at the UN’s Human Rights Division
Orde Kittrie and David May/Policy Brief/August 12/2022
UN Secretary-General António Guterres is due to appoint a new UN high commissioner for human rights to replace Michele Bachelet, whose term expires on August 31. The new commissioner will have an opportunity to change the UN human rights division’s longstanding practice of whitewashing human right abuses by China and other authoritarian regimes while unjustly criticizing Israel.
The high commissioner is the top UN human rights official, opining on human rights worldwide while directly supervising a large staff, a $350 million annual budget, and some two dozen offices around the world. Her office also serves as the secretariat for the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), responsible both for providing recommendations to the council and for helping implement its decisions.
Bachelet’s term began in 2018 with a commitment to investigate what Secretary of State Antony Blinken has since termed China’s “genocide” of its Uighur minority in Xinjiang province. During a May 2022 trip to China, however, Bachelet repeated Beijing’s false claims that it had ended its Uighur surveillance and re-education program. Bachelet has yet to publicly release a report that her office has written on these atrocities. Amidst widespread criticism of her trip to China, Bachelet announced she would not seek a second term.
Bachelet has also faced criticism for firing Emma Reilly, a whistleblower working for her office who alleged that Bachelet and previous high commissioners wrongfully handed the Chinese government the names of Uighur dissidents, reportedly leading to their arrest, torture, or, in one case, death. Numerous whistleblower organizations have credibly asserted that Bachelet’s office unjustifiably overturned a UN ethics panel finding in favor of Reilly and then wrongly terminated her.
Bachelet’s record on Israel is also problematic. In February 2020, Bachelet supported the global anti-Israel boycott campaign by publishing a list of 112 companies operating in the West Bank. Most of the companies appeared on the list simply for engaging in generic business activities in the disputed territory.
In addition, Bachelet has presided over a series of prejudiced commissioners and rapporteurs who unfairly excoriated Israel. These include the UN special rapporteur for Palestinian rights and all three members of the ongoing UN commission of inquiry into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One of these members was Miloon Kothari, whose recent comments criticizing the “Jewish lobby” and questioning Israel’s UN membership were denounced as antisemitic by the United States and more than a dozen other countries. Bachelet has remained silent on Kothari’s statements.
The rumored top three contenders to replace Bachelet are UN bureaucrats without extensive records on either China or Israel. However, one of the contenders, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ilze Brands Kehris, criticized Israel for defending itself during the Great March of Return, a 2018-2019 Hamas-led campaign that saw thousands of Gazans (including women and children) rioting at the border with Israel. Hamas designed the march to overwhelm Israel’s border defenses and thereby enable armed militants to enter the country.
Yet rather than condemn Hamas, Kehris criticized Israel’s use of force to defend its border and said she found it “deeply disturbing that the Israel Defense Forces continue to view the Great March of Return protests as events that cannot be detached from the ongoing armed conflict with armed groups in Gaza.” This assertion is consistent with the UNHRC’s record of dismissing Israeli security concerns and ignoring Palestinian forces’ extensive use of human shields.
Congress and the Biden administration should encourage Guterres to select a replacement for Bachelet who would end the UN human rights division’s whitewashing of China and unjust criticism of Israel. The United States contributes 22 percent of the division’s budget. Washington should leverage these funds to ensure change.
*Orde Kittrie is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where David May is a senior research analyst. They both contribute to FDD’s China Program and Israel Program. For more analysis from the authors and the China and Israel programs, please subscribe HERE. Follow the authors on Twitter @ordefk and @DavidSamuelMay. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focused on national security and foreign policy.

Belgium's Prisoner Swap Treaty with Iran: "A Deal with the Devil"
Soeren Kern/Gatstone InstituteAugust 12, 2022
A Belgian court has temporarily prohibited the Belgian government from exchanging an Iranian diplomat convicted of terrorism for a Belgian citizen being held in Iran on dubious charges of espionage.
The court's ruling represents a potential blow to a controversial new prisoner exchange treaty, which critics say will embolden the Iranian government to step up its practice of taking foreigners hostage to pressure Western countries into making concessions.
The treaty has angered those who argue that it would grant impunity to Iranian agents such as Assadi and have accused the Belgian government of caving in to "odious blackmail." It has been variously described as: "frightening appeasement," "a green light to terrorists," and "very short-sighted," "dangerous," "outrageous," "a sign of weakness," "a stunning mistake," and "a deal with the devil."
"If the Belgian government proceeds with this treaty, Iran's regime will further turn Europe into a roaming ground for its terrorists, targeting not just Iranian dissidents but others also, as Tehran is essentially being told that it won't pay a price." — Ramesh Sepehrrad, Organization of Iranian American Communities, July 5, 2022.
"With the knowledge that prisoner swaps are an easy option, Tehran will now instruct more 'diplomats' and other operatives to engage in terrorism.... Europe must recognize that, ultimately, the only sustainable path to having a stable relationship with Iran is to support the Iranian people's democratic aspirations." — Cameron Khansarinia and Kaveh Shahrooz, Politico, August 1, 2022.
A Belgian court has temporarily prohibited the Belgian government from exchanging an Iranian diplomat convicted of terrorism for a Belgian citizen being held in Iran on dubious charges of espionage. Iran is suspected of holding Olivier Vandecasteele hostage to force Belgium to release Assadollah Assadi, who is serving a 20-year prison sentence in Belgium for masterminding a plot to bomb a rally of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which took place near Paris in 2018. Pictured: Police guard the courthouse during Assadi's trial in Antwerp, on February 4, 2021.
A Belgian court has temporarily prohibited the Belgian government from exchanging an Iranian diplomat convicted of terrorism for a Belgian citizen being held in Iran on dubious charges of espionage.
The court's ruling represents a potential blow to a controversial new prisoner exchange treaty, which critics say will embolden the Iranian government to step up its practice of taking foreigners hostage to pressure Western countries into making concessions.
On July 20, after months of heated debate, Belgian lawmakers voted 79 to 41 (with 11 abstentions) to approve the "Convention between the Kingdom of Belgium and the Islamic Republic of Iran on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons." The Belgian government said the agreement, the first of its kind in Europe, is the only possible way to free Olivier Vandecasteele, a 41-year-old Belgian aid worker who has been held in solitary confinement at Tehran's notorious Evin Prison since his arrest on February 24.
Iran, for its part, is seeking the release of 50-year-old Assadollah Assadi, an Iranian diplomat who is serving a 20-year prison sentence in Belgium for masterminding a plot to bomb, outside Paris in June 2018, a rally of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an exiled opposition group. At least 25,000 people attended the event. The plot was foiled at the last minute by Belgian, French and German police.
In February 2021, a court in Antwerp ruled that Assadi, who was attached to the Iranian mission in Austria, where he served as an Iranian regime agent under diplomatic cover, was guilty of terrorism and that his status as a diplomat did not grant him immunity from prosecution for criminal acts.
Prosecutors, who sought the maximum 20-year sentence, said that Assadi smuggled explosives for the planned bombing aboard a commercial airliner from Iran to Austria. He was arrested while on holiday in Germany, where he did not have diplomatic immunity, and was then extradited to Belgium.
Three accomplices, all Iranian-Belgian dual nationals, were given prison terms of between 15 and 18 years for their roles in the plot and stripped of their Belgian citizenship.
The ruling marked the first trial of an Iranian official for terrorism in the European Union since Iran's Islamic revolution in 1979. Iran's foreign ministry insists that Assadi's arrest and prosecution are illegal and violate the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. In a statement, Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said:
"The Islamic Republic of Iran reserves the right to employ all possible legal and diplomatic means to protect Mr. Assadi's rights and hold accountable the governments that have violated their international commitments."
Iran is suspected of holding Vandecasteele hostage to force the Belgian government to release Assadi.
On March 11, less than three weeks after Vandecasteele's arrest, Belgian officials secretly negotiated the prisoner exchange treaty with Iran. Belgian Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne said that Belgium has a "moral duty" to secure Vandecasteele's freedom. "If the bill is not fully approved, the threat to Belgian interests and certain Belgian citizens will increase," he warned. "I weigh my words: there are human lives at stake." He said that any of the 200 Belgians still in Iran "could be next to be locked up."
Critics have warned that the treaty could set a dangerous precedent by encouraging Iran to take innocent people hostage and use them as bargaining tools.
After the Belgian Parliament approved the treaty, the NCRI and several people who were civil parties to Assadi's trial took immediate legal action to prevent Assadi's transfer to Iran. The Brussels Court of First Instance dismissed the lawsuit, but the plaintiffs won their case on appeal.
On July 22, the Brussels Court of Appeals issued an order which prohibits, until further notice, the Belgian government "from proceeding, by any means whatsoever, with the transfer of Assadollah Assadi" until the prisoner exchange treaty can be challenged in court.
The treaty has angered those who argue that it would grant impunity to Iranian agents such as Assadi and have accused the Belgian government of caving in to "odious blackmail." It has been variously described as: "frightening appeasement," "a green light to terrorists," and "very short-sighted," "dangerous," "outrageous," "a sign of weakness," "a stunning mistake," and "a deal with the devil."
President-elect of the NCRI, Maryam Rajavi, said in a statement:
"The Iranian Resistance strongly condemns the endorsement of the shameful deal with the clerical regime and considers it the highest incentive for the religious fascism ruling Iran to step up terrorism and to use hostage-taking as much as possible....
"The treaty was endorsed despite facing not only the widespread and unified opposition of Iranian refugees, Belgium opposition political parties, and human rights lawyers and associations but also some parties and parliamentarians who are members of the government coalition, who attempted to remove it from the parliament's agenda, and who called it a stigma that would prompt the clerical regime to commit further terrorism in Belgium and Europe."
The NCRI said that Assadi should remain in prison. Farzin Hashemi, deputy chair of the NCRI foreign affairs committee, noted that hundreds of people would have been killed if the plot had succeeded. He added:
"The experience of the past four decades has shown that making concessions to a terrorist regime will only embolden it and endanger the lives of more innocent people."
In a July 6 letter to the Belgian Parliament, 20 members of the European Parliament warned that that the treaty "gives a green light to the religious fascism ruling Iran to continue its criminal activities and terrorism on European soil." They added: "Such an agreement will result in more crimes and assassinations in Europe, and unless we all take a firm stand, this will not be the last of these deadly terrorist plots."
Ramesh Sepehrrad of the US-based Organization of Iranian American Communities (OIAC), in an interview with Al Arabiya English, agreed:
"If the Belgian government proceeds with this treaty, Iran's regime will further turn Europe into a roaming ground for its terrorists, targeting not just Iranian dissidents but others also, as Tehran is essentially being told that it won't pay a price."
Indeed, the Belgian treaty with Iran might well have immediate consequences for other European countries.
On July 14, for instance, a court in Sweden sentenced 61-year-old Hamid Nouri, a former Iranian prosecutor, to life in prison for war crimes in connection with the mass executions of political prisoners in Iran in 1988. Nouri was arrested after flying to Sweden in 2019 and was tried under the principle of universal jurisdiction. Iran is now threatening to execute Swedish-Iranian Ahmadreza Djalali, a scholar of disaster medicine, who was arrested during a business trip in 2016 and sentenced to death the following year on dubious charges of spying for Israel.
In an opinion article — "Belgium's Prisoner Swap Deal will only Encourage Iranian Terrorism" — published by Politico, Iran experts Cameron Khansarinia and Kaveh Shahrooz warned that Brussels is paving the way for more Europeans to be taken hostage:
"Assadi had plotted his terrorist attack while serving as an Iranian envoy in Vienna, and the Islamic Republic likely has many other such operatives across Europe. With the knowledge that prisoner swaps are an easy option, Tehran will now instruct more "diplomats" and other operatives to engage in terrorism.
"The regime will come after Iranian human rights activists and opposition figures living abroad even more brazenly than before. These activists fled Iran seeking safety. Now, they'll have to live in fear of the long, and increasingly muscular, arm of the regime in every corner of Europe — with already a macabre record of killings in Germany, France and Switzerland....
"The Belgium treaty will only intensify the already troubling pattern of kidnapping for ransom. In recent months alone, news of the Iranian regime's flagrant abuse of European citizens has been constant: A Swedish academic, a French tourist and a German national have all been taken hostage, and face mistreatment and possible execution in Iran....
"Though the Belgian government claims it signed the treaty because it had done "everything it could" to free its citizen, that is simply false. Supplication and spinelessness aren't the only options available to Europe.
"In the face of hostage-taking, Europe should be bold. When Tehran takes a European hostage, that country — and, perhaps, others acting in concert — should begin expelling Iranian diplomats. If the situation continues, it should declare the Iranian ambassador persona non grata and close the embassy as well. Adopted by Germany in the 1990s, this approach was very effective at temporarily curbing Iranian terrorism in Europe.
"Additionally, any European country whose citizens are kidnapped should remove the families and affiliates of Iranian officials from their country.
"Then, it should confiscate the regime's assets in Europe too. European countries hold billions of euros affiliated with the Islamic Republic and its officials, and those funds should be frozen and confiscated, returned only when European hostages are released and hostage-taking ceases.
"Finally, Europe must recognize that, ultimately, the only sustainable path to having a stable relationship with Iran is to support the Iranian people's democratic aspirations. Otherwise, such steps are merely kicking the proverbial can down the road."
*Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute.
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Why Assad’s strategy in southern Syria is doomed to fail
Haid Haid/The Arab Weekly/August 12/2022
On July 27, Syrian tanks rolled into the former rebel stronghold of Tafas, in Syria’s western Deraa province. The aggression, ostensibly to root out ISIS supporters, came just three days after military leaders suggested the operation could be avoided if the people they sought were voluntarily handed over.
Yet no matter what the regime claims – or promises, for that matter – its moves in places like Tafas are part of a larger, more ambitious, strategy: to consolidate dominance, through a mix of violence and negotiations, in areas where its authority is still contested.
Compared to other regime-held areas, Deraa governorate, in Syria’s south, occupies a special status. It was the epicentre of unrest in 2011 that precipitated the civil war, and today, it remains stubbornly resistant to President Bashar Al Assad’s control. Opposition forces in the region maintain strong support, and unlike other areas reconquered by Damascus, such as Eastern Ghouta, Deraa is at least partially untamed.
Russia played an early role in delivering this scenario. A surrender agreement brokered by Russian forces in 2018 gave Tafas and Deraa Al Balad, among other districts inside Deraa governorate, a level of local autonomy under Moscow’s protection. The deal allowed the Assad regime to reopen state institutions in Deraa but prevented it from establishing a military or security presence. It also helped Russia secure its strategic interests in the region – and ensure that their man in Damascus survived.
This tradeoff was initially convenient for Assad, as it allowed Damascus to regain territorial control over Syria’s south without incurring additional losses. But the regime’s recent use of force against towns that do not have a strong government presence demonstrates that Assad is no longer content with the arrangement. The regime cannot rely on overwhelming military force to capture Deraa’s rebel-held towns, given the potential impact fighting could have on the national security of neighbouring countries, particularly Jordan. Russia’s repeated calls for restraint also suggest that the Kremlin has a vested interest in ensuring Syria’s military activities don’t breach the southern border.
Rather than a full-scale assault, then, the Assad regime looks for smaller opportunities to regain the upper hand. In July 2021, pro-Assad forces imposed a suffocating military siege on Deraa Al Balad, a district inside Deraa city. Like last month’s raid, the operation was conducted under the pretext of capturing ISIS-affiliated individuals, but that time, the regime insisted on establishing a military presence inside the district.
After weeks of inconclusive negotiations, regime forces shelled Deraa Al Balad and attempted to storm it. Eventually, fierce clashes between the two sides pushed Russia to intervene and broker a new agreement, known as the “second settlement.” Instead of establishing new checkpoints, Assad settled for receiving a substantial quantity of light and medium weapons from former rebel forces. Over the subsequent months, the regime used the excessive force it had deployed against Deraa Al Balad to threaten other rebel areas to sign similar deals.
With that task now complete, the regime appears to be making a move to tighten further its control in Deraa, and Tafas is ground zero in this strategy.
Last month’s escalation began when town officials were asked to hand over four alleged ISIS supporters. Knowing that residents would refuse this demand, the regime began shelling. Fearing what might come next, residents quickly signed a deal agreeing to expel the wanted individuals in exchange for the withdrawal of regime troops. After Damascus refused to withdraw its forces, the deal collapsed. The regime then tried to storm the city but its attack was repelled by former rebels.
Russia has, once again, sought to mediate. But while the outcome of such negotiations is still up in the air – and a peaceful solution is possible – Assad seems poised to use sticks rather than carrots. His forces have already begun invoking the presence of wanted individuals in other former rebel areas in Deraa, including Jassim and Al Yadouda, as a pretext to justify future escalation. No matter what happens in Tafas, Damascus will likely try to replicate its intimidation strategy in the rest of the governorate.
In the end, Assad’s strategy is almost certain to fail. The Syrian regime’s desire to tighten its grip on former rebel areas in Deraa will continue to fuel skirmishes and assassinations in the region. Long-term stability in the south can only be achieved by reaching an agreement that addresses the root causes of the conflict. In that regard, Russia’s role is key. Then again, any deal would need to be enforced by independent guarantors to hold all violators accountable. And unfortunately, in Syria, accountability remains an elusive concept.

تقرير مطول يلقي الأضواء على ثقافة نظام ملالي إيران المبنية على اغتيال من لا يماشيهم ويؤيد مشروهم التوسعي والمذهبي والإجرامي والإرهابي
Assassins Creed: Why the plot to kill John Bolton is in the DNA of the Iranian regime
Lucas Chapman and Rawan Radwan/Arab News/August 12/2022

In 2011 Iranian operatives had similarly plotted to kill (then Saudi ambassador) Adel Al-Jubeir in Washington, D.C.
DoJ revelation of IRGC plot to target Bolton and Pompeo exposes Tehran’s long history of overseas terror
QAMISHLI, Syria/JEDDAH: For the past year, unbeknown to the citizens of Washington D.C., an assassin had allegedly been stalking the streets of the US capital searching for a prime target: A former high-ranking American official whose killing would shake the world and serve as a symbol of vengeance against the West.
This alleged plan was revealed to have been foiled when, on Wednesday, the US Department of Justice officially charged an Iranian citizen with plotting to kill John Bolton, a senior national security adviser under both the Bush and Trump administrations.
Shahram Poursafi was charged with use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder for hire and providing and attempting to provide material support to terrorists.
According to the Justice Department’s indictment, Poursafi attempted to hire criminals in the US to carry out the murder in Washington, D.C., or Maryland for $300,000. On Nov. 9, 2021, Poursafi contacted a confidential source.
The FBI said that Poursafi is a member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is designated as a terrorist organization by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the US. He was acting on behalf of the Quds Force, an elite arm of the IRGC. Poursafi remains at large and is considered armed and dangerous.
Name: Shahram Poursafi
Place of birth: Iran
Date of birth: Sept. 21, 1976
Affiliation: Quds Force, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps
Criminal charges: Material support to terrorism, attempted murder-for-hire of high-ranking US official
Status: At large
Nasser Kanaani, an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, has strenuously denied that the Iranian government planned to assassinate Bolton, calling the accusations “baseless.” But the regime’s long history of targeting critics and dissidents abroad belies its protestation of innocence.
Since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, Tehran has carried out assassinations and attacks on Iranian dissidents and foreign officials worldwide. Which is why for Iranian affairs expert Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami, the revelation of the most recent plot comes as no surprise.
“Iran has been following this strategy for decades,” Al-Sulami, founder and chairman of Rasanah: International Institute for Iranian Studies in Riyadh, told Arab News. “More than two dozen successful assassination operations have been carried out by the Iranian regime across the globe.”
Since 1979, individuals believed to be linked to the Iranian government have carried out attacks against dissidents and opposition figures in more than a dozen countries, including, France, the US, Austria, Switzerland, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Albania, Thailand, Denmark and Turkey. Individuals linked to the Iranian government have also hijacked aircraft and bombed government offices as well as military installations around the world.
“Worldwide threat assessments from the US intelligence community have for years warned that Iran is trying to develop networks inside the US for such operations,” Jason Brodsky, policy director at United Against Nuclear Iran, told Arab News.
“These operations are shocking, but not surprising. There’s a long history dating back to the beginning of the Islamic Revolution,” he said, citing the assassination of Iranian exile and former press attache to the Iranian embassy in the US, Ali Akbar Tabatabaei, in Maryland in 1980.
21 Targeted Iranian dissidents.
21 Directed at Western or Arab targets.
19 Aimed against Israelis or Jews.
Brodsky pointed out that in 2011, the US Justice Department charged two Iranian citizens, one of whom was a commander in the Quds Force, with planning a murder-for-hire targeting the then Saudi ambassador Adel Al-Jubeir at a restaurant in Washington, D.C.
FBI investigations revealed that money had been wired to Iranian US dual national Mansour Arbabsiar, one of the potential assassins, from a known Quds Force bank account, and that the fee for the assassination was $1.5 million.
The 2011 criminal complaint from the Justice Department said that “the Quds Force conducts sensitive covert operations abroad, including terrorist attacks, assassinations and kidnappings, and is believed to sponsor attacks against coalition forces in Iraq.”
Eric Holder, US attorney general at the time, added: “The criminal complaint unsealed today exposes a deadly plot directed by factions of the Iranian government to assassinate a foreign ambassador on US soil with explosives.”
Ultimately, the plot, which involved the hiring of a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate Al-Jubeir — now the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs — failed due to poor planning and the use of unskilled operatives. Arbabsiar, who was working as a used car salesman in Texas, was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2013.
“Iran has, beyond any reasonable doubt, sponsored international terrorism,” Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, a Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar, told Arab News.
“They do so through their agents and proxy army, creating chaos in the region and beyond. They are now a threat not only to the region, but to the US as well by attacking US missions and army bases.”
Such attacks blamed on Iran are not just limited to political figures. Masih Alinejad, an Iranian US journalist and women’s rights activist, was the target of a kidnapping plot in July of last year. Just last month, a man with a loaded AK-47 rifle was arrested outside her home in New York City.
Brodsky says that in the plot against Alinejad, instead of the elite international Quds Force, Iranian intelligence operatives were directly involved.
“Not just the IRGC Quds Force has attempted operations to harm American citizens on US soil. Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence has also undertaken those operations,” he said. “That shows that we have different parts of the Iranian system all trying to penetrate the US, and that’s definitely a cause for concern.”
Sources close to Mike Pompeo, the former US secretary of state, told CNN that Bolton was not the only target of the most recent Iranian plot. Pompeo was reportedly one of two individuals whom Poursafi had sought to assassinate through a third party, with the price tag for Pompeo’s death being $1 million.
Dec. 7, 1979 Assassin shoots and kills Shahriar Shafiq, nephew of the former shah, outside his home in Paris.
July 13, 1989 Iranian agents shoot and kill Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran leader Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou in Vienna.
April 24, 1990 Iranian academic and opposition figure Kazem Rajavi shot dead in his car outside Geneva.
Aug. 6, 1991 Agents kill former Iranian PM Shapour Bakhtiar at his home near Paris, where he fled after the 1979 revolution.
July 24, 1992 UK orders three Iranians out of the country after linking them to a plot to kill award-winning novelist Salman Rushdie.
Aug. 8, 1992 Iranian singer and artist Fereydoun Farrokhzad found beaten to death in his Bonn apartment.
Sept. 17, 1992 Three Iranian- Kurdish leaders killed in a Greek eatery in Berlin in a machine- gun attack dubbed ‘the Mykonos restaurant murders.’
Feb. 20, 1996 Zahra Rajabi, a senior member of the opposition MEK based in Turkey, shot dead in her Istanbul apartment.
Oct. 11, 2011 US officials uncover Iranian plot to kill Adel Al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US. Iranian national Manssor Arbabsiar pleads guilty to planning the attack.
June 30, 2018 Bomb plot targets Iranian National Council of Resistance rally in Paris. Prosecutors charge Iranian diplomat Assadolah Assadi and three others with planning the attack.
Nov. 14, 2019 Iranian scientist and dissident Masoud Molavi Vardanjani shot dead on an Istanbul street by Iranian agents.
July 2020 Iran says it has captured US-based opposition figure Jamshid Sharmahd. Details of his detention and subsequent removal to Iran remain a mystery.
July 2021 US officials claim Iranian agents plan to kidnap New York-based journalist and Iran critic Masih Alinejad along with four others in Canada and the UK.
Iran’s plots against US officials and citizens have come in the wake of the Jan. 1, 2020, strike that killed Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force. After the incident, Iranian political and military officials vowed revenge for Soleimani’s death.
However, according to Al-Sulami, the regime completely failed in terms of taking revenge, denting its image among followers in the region and beyond.
“Soleimani is not a replaceable military commander in terms of managing the IRGC’s militias in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen; he is a big loss for the management of Iran’s regional file,” Al-Sulami told Arab News, adding that Iran resorted to carrying out assassinations when its propaganda failed to convince Iranians and Iran-backed militias that it had avenged Soleimani’s death.
In January, two years after the killing of Soleimani, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi vowed to exact vengeance on those responsible if then US President Donald Trump was not put on trial for ordering the strike.
Pompeo was serving as secretary of state at the time of Soleimani’s killing, and Bolton had pushed for both regime change in Iran and the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement.
Al-Shehri says the latest revelation begs the question of how US-Iranian relations will be affected, if at all. “Since Ayatollah Khomeini denounced the US as the ‘Great Satan’ and approved seizing the American Embassy in Tehran in November 1979, the US has treated Iran as one of the most extreme, irrational and dangerous governments in the world,” he told Arab News.
After the attempt on Bolton and Pompeo’s lives, he asks, “will the US still allow Iran to continue its enrichment program? Will they allow Iran to obtain nuclear capabilities.”
With the uncovering of the alleged plot, political commentators took to social media to criticize the Biden’s administration’s approach to relations with Iran.
“Intent to murder a former senior US official is not enough to dissuade this administration from negotiating with Iran,” tweeted Simone Ledeen, former US deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East.
Reacting on Twitter, Morgan Ortagus, a former State Department spokesperson, said: “It is clear that the Iranian regime will spare no cost to kill (Mike Pompeo). The smoking gun that the Biden administration apparently requires to push back on Iran must not be a mass-casualty event with our former secretary of state at the center.”
Analysts caution that the perception of a lack of serious consequences may be behind Iran’s bold attempts to assassinate dissidents and enemies abroad. Brodsky says that for Iran, the potential rewards associated with assassinating a top US official far outweigh the risks, partially due to the lack of perceived consequences from the US.
“On the policy level toward the Iranian regime, the US is saying there will be severe consequences when there is an attack on US officials. What about an attempted attack? This was an attempted attack on a former US national security adviser and secretary of state. That’s explosive,” he said.
“So if there isn’t a consequence when there’s an attempted attack, it’s not going to break the cycle and change the Iranians’ calculation.”
Looking to the future, Al-Sulami said, “The Iranian political system will continue targeting other countries in the region and beyond, as well as officials from the US and Saudi Arabia in particular, unless the political and security negotiations, and engagements with Tehran, address this belligerent and terrorist behavior.
“If not, Iran will continue with its policy of assassinations targeting US and Arab officials.”