Posted tagged ‘Hezbollah’

Russia’s Terrorist Double Game

June 17, 2017

Russia’s Terrorist Double Game, Investigative Project on Terrorism, June 16, 2017

A Muslim Russian national from Kyrgyzstan detonated an explosive device in St. Petersburg’s subway system in April, killing 14 people and injuring many others. The attack signaled a growing Islamist threat facing Russia, following several high profile terrorist attacks in recent years. More people have been killed in Russia from terrorism than any other European state since 1970. Yet Russia maintains a glaring double standard when it comes to terrorist violence and now sponsors some of the deadliest terrorist groups in history.

For the Russian government, terrorists aren’t “terrorists” if they avoid targeting Russian citizens or interests. In this light, Russian officials consistently avoid classifying groups like Hamas and Hizballah as terrorist organizations. The latest example came directly from Russia’s ambassador to Israel, Alexander Shein, in an interview last Friday with Israel’s Russian-language Channel 9 and translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).

Shein admitted that while both groups were “radical organizations, which sometimes adhere to extremist political views,” Russian law only designates organizations as terrorists when they “intentionally conduct acts of terror in Russian territory, or against Russian interests abroad – installations, embassies, offices, or citizens.”

Despite the lack of a universal definition, “terrorism” generally refers to a non-state actor’s deliberate threat or use of violence for primarily political, religious, or ideological purposes. According to many conceptions, terrorism tends to intentionally target civilians, but also to create a broader psychological reaction beyond those killed or injured. By these well-established criteria, Hizballah and Hamas, organized militant groups that purposefully kill civilians to establish Islamist states in their image, are the quintessential terrorist organizations.

For the Russian government, a jihadist blowing up a St. Petersburg metro constitutes terrorism. But a Hamas suicide bomber targeting Israeli public transportation or Hizballah militants indiscriminately firing rockets into civilian areas is not terrorism. With such a view, it is no surprise that Russia is actively engaging in a double game when it comes to supporting terrorist organizations.

Since launching its 2015 military intervention in Syria’s civil war, Russia has positioned itself as a major benefactor to the Iranian-led Shi’ite axis operating in Syria. Russia provides military training and air support to Hizballah fighters on the ground. Russia reportedly supplies the terrorist group with heavy weaponry and enables the flow of sophisticated armaments from Iran to its terrorist proxy.

Russia historically has faced diverse terrorist threats from its North Caucasus region, a conflict that has increasingly adopted a more global Islamist orientation. In December 2013, Islamist terrorists conducted two suicide bombings within two days, targeting public transportation in the city of Volgograd. Another suicide bombing had taken place in the same city two months earlier. Since the mid 1990’s, Russian forces have fought North Caucasian militants in two bloody wars and other sustained battles in the region. Despite strong crackdowns in recent years, Russian security services allegedly encouraged many local extremists to leave the North Caucasus and join terrorist organizations in Syria, disregarding its own laws deterring individuals from fighting with terrorist groups that oppose Russian interests. Since 2011, an estimated 2,400 Russians have travelled to Syria to fight with various militant groups, including the Islamic State and al-Qaida’s affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra. Now, Russia is particularly vulnerable to the threat from returning foreign fighters.

In Afghanistan, Russia has been increasingly supporting the Taliban under the pretext of combatting the Islamic State’s affiliate in that country. Like Syria, Russia is allying with one terrorist organization to fight another one. In both contexts, these policies may be intended to reduce the domestic terrorist threat to Russia and enhance Russia’s influence. But working with terrorist entities that hold long-standing grievances with the Russian state in order to fight other short-term terrorist threats, will likely backfire.

The Islamist terrorist threat to Russian national security is unlikely to wane anytime soon. Russia’s population is in decline, but Muslims living in Russia maintain relatively high birthrates. Some projections suggest that Muslims – which currently represent about 16 percent of Russian citizens – will account for one fifth of the country’s population by 2020. Support for various types of Islamist groups abroad does not bode well for long-term Russian counterterrorism efforts at home. Russia’s marginalized and predominately Sunni Muslim population may become even more susceptible to radical Islamist ideologies as Russia continues to support Shi’ite terrorist organizations in Syria.

Russia’s explicit military, financial, and diplomatic assistance to some of the most brutal powerful terrorist groups make it one of the world’s leading state sponsors of terrorism today. All acts of Islamist terrorist violence needs to be condemned and supressed uniformly, not in Russia’s selective way.

Syrian-Hizballah massacre in Daraa: 140 dead

June 12, 2017

Syrian-Hizballah massacre in Daraa: 140 dead, DEBKAfile, June 12, 2017

According to DEBKAfile’s military sources, any Syrian rebels surviving the initial onslaught on the town had no choice but to fall back. They could only find sanctuary in two places – Jordan, to the south, or the Al-Tanf Syrian-Iraqi border crossing to the east, which is held by US and Jordanian special forces. Those forces did not intervene in the Daraa debacle.

After capturing Daraa, the next victim of a Syrian-Hizballah massacre is most probably Quneitra, which lies less than 9km from the Israeli border. Its capture would bring every last Syrian town bordering Jordan and Israel under their domination.

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Bashar Assad’s troops and his allies, the Iran-backed Lebanese Hizballah, are notorious for their barbaric cruelty to the populations they conquer. But even by their own appalling standards, the massacre they wreaked against the 100,000 citizens of the southern Syrian town of Daraa this week must stand out as a milestone from hell.

Posted in the town, just one kilometer from the Jordanian border, were 3,000 anti-Assad rebels, some of whom joined the Free Syrian Army to be trained and armed by the United States and Jordan. The offensive the Syrian government army and Hizballah launched against their positions on Sunday, June 11, left 140 dead and hundreds injured in its first hours.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that it started with dozens of Syrian air force helicopters dropping 150 explosive barrels on those positions, while Syrian bomber-fighter planes conducted at least 25 sorties against rebel rooftop positions atop the highest buildings, and Syrian artillery fired off some 120 ground-to-ground missiles against various key points in the town of Daraa.

Syrian and Hizballah forces advanced into the town under this hellish blitz.

Our sources report that the spearhead consisted entirely of Hizballah’s Al Qaim Brigade, followed by units of the Syrian army’s elite 4th armored Division, armed with advanced Russian-made T-90 tanks. The commander of the offensive was Col. Ghayath Galla.

(On June 6, DEBKAfile disclosed in an exclusive report that the 4th Division’s commander, Bashar Assad’s younger brother, Gen. Maher Assad, and his officers were sighted inspecting the terrain around Daraa in advance of the offensive.)

According to DEBKAfile’s military sources, any Syrian rebels surviving the initial onslaught on the town had no choice but to fall back. They could only find sanctuary in two places – Jordan, to the south, or the Al-Tanf Syrian-Iraqi border crossing to the east, which is held by US and Jordanian special forces. Those forces did not intervene in the Daraa debacle.

After capturing Daraa, the next victim of a Syrian-Hizballah massacre is most probably Quneitra, which lies less than 9km from the Israeli border. Its capture would bring every last Syrian town bordering Jordan and Israel under their domination.

Times Tips to Iran’s American Network

June 10, 2017

Times Tips to Iran’s American Network, Power LineScott Johnson, June 10, 2017

Against this background, one wonders what the New York Times was thinking when it drew on the usual anonymous sources to expose Michael D’Andrea, the CIA officer newly appointed to run the agency’s Iran operations.

The Times and its gaggle of “current and former officials” are guilty of mind-boggling irresponsibility. They have put a target on D’Andrea’s back. They omit only D’Andrea’s home address. They have damaged the national security of the United States to no public purpose. Their action is deeply nasty, gratuitous and, given its role in hyping the alleged “outing” of Valerie Plame into a crisis of the first order, unbelievably hypocritical.

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On Thursday the Department of Justice announced the arrests of “New York man” Ali Kourani and “Michigan man” Samar El Debek as Hezbollah agents. They have been charged with providing material support to Hezbollah. They were on the prowl looking to do damage in the United States and elsewhere. Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim made the announcment:

Today, we announce serious terrorism charges against two men who allegedly trained with and supported the Islamic Jihad Organization, a component of the foreign terrorist organization Hizballah. Recruited as Hizballah operatives, Samer El Debek and Ali Kourani allegedly received military-style training, including in the use of weapons like rocket-propelled grenade launchers and machine guns for use in support of the group’s terrorist mission. At the direction of his Hizballah handlers, El Debek allegedly conducted missions in Panama to locate the U.S. and Israeli Embassies and to assess the vulnerabilities of the Panama Canal and ships in the Canal. Kourani allegedly conducted surveillance of potential targets in America, including military and law enforcement facilities in New York City.

The Department of Justice press release has much more in the way of detail along with comments on Hezbollah’s status as an Iranian asset. The alleged facts set forth in the press release are chilling.

Iran maintains a sophisticated network of agents in the United States. Jordan Chandler Hirsch opens his review of Jay Solomon’s book on Iran and the Obama administration with this story:

In April 2009, a young Iranian, Shahram Amiri, disappeared in Medina, Saudi Arabia. Ostensibly there to perform the hajj, Amiri had in fact brokered a deal with the CIA to provide information on Iran’s nuclear program. Leaving his wife and child behind in Iran and a shaving kit in an empty Saudi hotel room, Amiri fled to America, received asylum, pocketed $5 million, and resettled in Arizona. Formerly a scientist at Malek Ashtar University, one of several institutes harboring Iran’s nuclear endeavors, Amiri conveyed the structure of the program and intelligence about a number of key research sites, including the secret facility at Fordow.

The story might have ended there. But according to Jay Solomon, chief foreign affairs correspondent for the Wall Street Journal and author of The Iran Wars, what happened next “emerged as one of the strangest episodes in modern American espionage.” A year after Amiri defected, he appeared on YouTube, claiming that the CIA had drugged and kidnapped him. In fact, Iranian intelligence had begun threatening his family through their intelligence assets in the United States [Ed. note: Solomon reports in the book that Iranian threats against Amiri’s wife and son left in Iran had been conveyed to Amiri through “a sophisticated network of assets maintained in the” United States]. Buckling under that pressure, Amiri demanded to re-defect. In July 2010, he returned to a raucous welcome in Tehran, claimed he had been working for Iran all along, and reunited with his son. Of course this was not the end of the story. Amiri soon disappeared, and in August 2016, shortly after Solomon’s book was published, he was hanged.

This past August David Sanger reported on Amiri’s execution for the Times in “How an Iranian’s spy saga ends, 6 years later: He’s executed.”

Students of ancient history may also recall Iran’s 2011 effort to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States in Washington, D.C. The Houston Chronicle updated the story in its 2015 report “How a plot to kill Saudi ambassador went from fiction to fact.”

Against this background, one wonders what the New York Times was thinking when it drew on the usual anonymous sources to expose Michael D’Andrea, the CIA officer newly appointed to run the agency’s Iran operations. The Times explained:

The C.I.A. declined to comment on Mr. D’Andrea’s role, saying it does not discuss the identities or work of clandestine officials. The [current and former intelligence] officials spoke only on the condition of anonymity because Mr. D’Andrea remains undercover, as do many senior officials based at the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Va….The New York Times is naming Mr. D’Andrea because his identity was previously published in news reports, and he is leading an important new administration initiative against Iran.

A footnote about those “previously published” news reports. In the version of the story posted online, the Times linked to its own 2015 story by Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzo as I have above.

The Times and its gaggle of “current and former officials” are guilty of mind-boggling irresponsibility. They have put a target on D’Andrea’s back. They omit only D’Andrea’s home address. They have damaged the national security of the United States to no public purpose. Their action is deeply nasty, gratuitous and, given its role in hyping the alleged “outing” of Valerie Plame into a crisis of the first order, unbelievably hypocritical. Yet so far as I am aware Marc Thiessen stands [alone? — DM] among mainstream media columnists in calling out the Times for what it has done.

Hizballah’s elite force sustains heavy casualties from US air strike

May 19, 2017

Hizballah’s elite force sustains heavy casualties from US air strike, DEBKAfile, May 19, 2017

(Please see also, The Devil’s Triangle: At-Tanf/Abu Kamal/Ar Rusafah. — DM)

US jets and assault helicopters took off from the Ayn al-Asad air base in western Iraqi for an operation to prevent the convoy from reaching the strategic Al-Tanf crossing at the intersection of the Syrian, Iraq and Jordanian borders.

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Most of the damage inflicted by the US air strike Thursday in South Syria was sustained by Hizballah’s elite unit, the Radwan Force, DEBKAfile’s military sources disclose. This was the first aerial attack the United States has conducted on a combined Syrian-Iranian-Hizballah convoy in the seven-year Syrian war. Our sources add that the US jets and assault helicopters took off from the Ayn al-Asad air base in western Iraqi for an operation to prevent the convoy from reaching the strategic Al-Tanf crossing at the intersection of the Syrian, Iraq and Jordanian borders. They hit at least three of Hizballah’s armored vehicles and several trucks, which caught fire. The Americans and Hizballah have both imposed a blackout on the details of the incident and the scale of casualties.

DEBKAfile ran a number of stories this week disclosing the activities of US, British and Jordanian special operations forces in southern Syria for taking over key segments of the Syrian-Iraqi border, including the Al-Tanf crossing. US Secretary of Defense James Mattis commented this week that Washington had not change its policy of non-intervention in the Syria war, adding, “But we will defend our troops.”

Russia’s 4 Syrian ceasefire zones – Kremlin spin

May 6, 2017

Russia’s 4 Syrian ceasefire zones – Kremlin spin, DEBKAfile, May 6, 2017

The only real change in Syria’s military situation is a surreptitious one, which may present a fresh, wide-ranging peril: The Lebanese Shiite Hizballah has agreed to place the 8,000 members fighting in Syria for Bashar Assad under direct Iranian command. This is part of a radical reorganization of all the military outfits Iran has deployed in Syria, whereby all the Shiite militias including Hizballah fall henceforth directly under a single centralized Iranian command.

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The widely reported Kremlin plan to set up four safe or “de-escalation” zones, that were supposed to have gone into effect in Syria Friday night, May 5, turns out to be nothing but a propaganda ploy. The spin factor leaps to the eye from the small print of the plan that was released by Gen. Sergey Rudskoy, head of Russian General Staffs Operations Division, Friday night.  He outlined four steps that may never take off.

1. Observation points will be set up to monitor the ceasefire (in the four designated de-escalation zones).

So when the putative safe zones were to have started operating Friday night, there were no observation points to monitor them.

2. The boundaries of the zones will be determined in accordance with the observation points.

This means that the zones don’t exist.

3. By June 4, a working team made up of officers of the three guarantors, Russia, Turkey and Iran, will be created to administer the observation points.

Who can tell what will happen in Syrian in a month’s time.

4. Only after the observation groups of the three sponsor-nations’ armies finish mapping the ceasefire zones can it be determined whether the plan is doable or not.

Still no zones.

The Russian propaganda machine worked overtime this weekend to convince the Western media that the ceasefire zones plan had won the support of the United States and Saudi Arabia.

The truth is that US President Donald Trump did not commit himself one way or another when he talked on the phone with President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, May 2, although most of their conversation was devoted to Syria, rather than the North Korean crisis. There was no agreement between them on any Syrian issue, except for a decision that American and Russian forces in the war-torn country would stay out of each other’s way.

In sum, Moscow’s ceasefire zones plan, though effectively propagandized, has changed nothing in Syria’s bloody predicament.

With so much still up in the air, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson talked by phone Friday to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, after which he gave the following statement: “The secretary looks forward to further meetings with the foreign minister to discuss the respective roles of the United States and Russia in de-escalating the conflict and supporting the talks in Geneva to move the political solution forward.”

Tillerson made no mention of any safe zones which Moscow claims to be setting up with Ankara and Tehran, or of the Russian-sponsored Syrian peace conference in Astana, Kazakhstan.

Rebel groups, supposed to be holding a dialogue with Assad regime representatives, walked out of its fourth round last week. And the Trump administration appears unwilling to throw its support behind the Russian-sponsored peace initiative, preferring to stand solidly behind the UN-sponsored Geneva process.

Turkey and Iran, the other two “sponsors” of the Astana framework, and putative “guarantors” of the safe zones, are strangely silent about the roles assigned them by the Kremlin. And no wonder. As rivals in the Syrian arena, their forces are ranged against each other in both Syria and Iraq. It is hard to see them working shoulder to shoulder alongside Russian officers to monitor safety zones which are still pie in the sky.

The situation at the moment is this: In Iraq, Turkish and Iranian troops – essentially pro-Iranian militias under the command of Revolutionary Guards officers – glare at each other across two warfronts, Tel Afar and Sinjar. In Syria, each of their armies is poised to grab Al-Bab in the Aleppo province.

The only real change in Syria’s military situation is a surreptitious one, which may present a fresh, wide-ranging peril: The Lebanese Shiite Hizballah has agreed to place the 8,000 members fighting in Syria for Bashar Assad under direct Iranian command. This is part of a radical reorganization of all the military outfits Iran has deployed in Syria, whereby all the Shiite militias including Hizballah fall henceforth directly under a single centralized Iranian command.

This fundamental shift in the military balance in Syria was initiated by Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Suleiman, commander of Iranian forces in Syria and Iraq. He convinced supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that there was no other way to safeguard Iran’s military supremacy in the Syrian war arena, guarantee a land bridge to Lebanon, or mobilize tactically for future confrontations with Israel.

The Syrian ruler also submitted to this step. Therefore, Hizballah and the Shiite militias will henceforth operate under the orders of the Iranian military mission which has its seat at Syrian High Command Headquarters in Damascus.

This “reorganization” opens the door for Hizballah officers to assume Iranian army uniforms and act as “ceasefire monitors” if Russia’s fictitious safe zones ever get off the ground.

Congress blames State Department after draft sanctions bill leaked to pro-Hezbollah media

May 2, 2017

Congress blames State Department after draft sanctions bill leaked to pro-Hezbollah media, Al-Monitor

People walk outside Lebanon’s Central Bank in Beirut November 6, 2014. REUTERS/Jamal Saidi/File Photo – RTSEJDF

Congress is blaming the State Department and the US Embassy in Lebanon after draft sanctions legislation was leaked to the Lebanese media, setting off a political and diplomatic firestorm.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., began devising a new bill targeting Hezbollah last year amid concerns that the Barack Obama administration was slow-walking implementation of a previous effort that was signed into law in December 2015. Royce shared an early draft with State Department experts for their input, sources on and off Capitol Hill told Al-Monitor, but got burned when a media outlet close to Hezbollah got wind of it. 

The State Department has not officially acknowledged or denied being involved. Royce declined to comment.

As a result of the leak, numerous newspaper articles in Lebanon over the past month have picked apart — and possibly distorted — an unfinalized draft that only a handful of people in Washington have heard about and fewer still have seen. Even House Foreign Affairs ranking member Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., a natural ally on sanctions legislation, has yet to see the proposed draft, according to a Democratic aide. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is working on a similar effort in the Senate.

Lebanese officials say destabilizing sanctions would be ill-advised while tiny Lebanon is struggling to absorb more than a million refugees from Syria.

“We are surprised by all the leaks about new sanctions,” Lebanese member of parliament Yassine Jaber, a former economy minister who met with administration officials during the congressional recess two weeks ago, told Al-Monitor in an email. “We don’t see a need for further legislation, we feel that all these leaks about further legislation to come, only hurts Lebanon, its economy and banking sector, at a moment of very high weakness and vulnerability.”

According to Lebanese media accounts, the 20-page draft bill has also caused a panic in Lebanon because of its potential political impact. While the 2015 bill unnerved a banking sector that is one of the pillars of the country’s economy, the new draft has government leaders fretful that Congress is now coming after them.

The Royce draft, Lebanese President Michel Aoun said last week during a meeting with the Washington-based American Task Force for Lebanon, “would harm Lebanon and its people greatly.” Critics are worried that the draft bill paves the way for sanctioning Lebanese allies and political parties that are close to Hezbollah, including Aoun, the Christian Free Patriotic Movement headed by his son-in-law and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, and the Shiite Amal Movement of parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

In response, the Lebanese government is planning to send a delegation to Washington later this month of government officials, lawmakers and other dignitaries, possibly including Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh. The government hopes to have representatives of the private banking sector tag along to play up any potential threat to the financial sector, a Lebanese source told Al-Monitor, but the main concern appears to be with the bill’s political ramifications.

“This is more about the political groups of the speaker, etc., being nervous rather than the issues of the banks,” the source said. “Politicians — and the government, actually — are trying to get the private banks involved in their effort. I can tell you the private banks do not like that: They do not want to come with politicians here.”

The Association of Banks in Lebanon spent $200,000 in the first three months of this year to discreetly lobby Congress about the bill and other matters, according to lobbying records. The banks would prefer to wait until President Donald Trump fills in top spots at the Treasury Department before organizing their annual visit to Washington, the source said.

Hezbollah claims to get all its funding from Iran. US experts, however, have long suspected that much more comes from Lebanese expatriates, illegal activities and other sources, fueling Congress’ desire to crack down on as many funding streams as possible.

The Lebanese source, who has seen a draft of the bill, said it does not designate Hezbollah’s allies as terror groups. Rather, it would require the Trump administration to publicly report on their financial links to the Shiite militia, including estimates of the net worth of some top Lebanese officials.

“Obviously they don’t want their net worth to be mentioned,” the source said. “I totally see how Nabih Berri could be panicking even if his own party knows how much money he has.”

 

EXCLUSIVE – Arab Intelligence Source: Jihadists Are Wearing Down Hezbollah on Syria-Lebanon Border

April 29, 2017

EXCLUSIVE – Arab Intelligence Source: Jihadists Are Wearing Down Hezbollah on Syria-Lebanon Border, BreitbartAaron Klein and Ali Waked, April 29, 2017

ANWAR AMRO/AFP/Getty

Fighters of the Al Nusra Front, Al Qaida’s affiliate in Syria, or as the group now calls itself, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, have recently been posing a serious challenge to Hezbollah in the border area between Lebanon and Syria, a senior Arab intelligence official told Breitbart Jerusalem.

“Dozens of Hezbollah fighters have been wounded in engagements over the last few weeks between the two sides,” the official stated. “The jihadists decided to switch their offensive from Syria to Lebanon. “

“In the area of Arsal and in other regions, they’ve continued to surprise Hezbollah and force the group to send many soldiers to the area.”

The challenge presented by the jihadists has forced Hezbollah to reconsider the positions of their troops in Syria and at home in Lebanon, according to the intelligence source. “According to intelligence reports, Hezbollah is taking the most recent engagements very seriously,” said the intelligence source.

“The slow stream of jihadists into Lebanon represents a disruption of the relative stability within the country’s borders, especially just before the beginning of the fasting month of Ramadan next month,” said the source.

“Hezbollah understands that Al Nusra and the jihadists are trying to turn the month of Ramadan into a bloody month for the Shi’ite organization and the communities supporting it, and so, we are witnessing the reduction in age of volunteers and fighters being recruited by the organization and they’re continuing to go down and even now we can see that 16-year-olds are among the fighters.”

The intelligence source also said that, as far as Hezbollah is concerned, “The threat from Al-Nusra isn’t nearing its strongholds in Lebanon. The increased troop presence on the border comes at a direct cost to troop numbers in Syria.

“In any case, Hezbollah already conducted a new assessment of the deployment of its forces in Syria due to the American airstrike, but now the fear is double.”

According to the source, “Hezbollah’s fundraisers and recruiters are investing far more effort than in the past.  If Ramadan passes without any special attacks, it should be a month of fundraising that will help the organization deal with the need to expand its recruitment of volunteers.”

The source added that “the main deliberation within Hezbollah concerns the need to prepare for a direct attack on the organization from Israel or even the U.S. The organization understands that Hezbollah is in the cross hairs of the American government as a source of disruption of U.S. interests in the area.”

“Hezbollah is fundraising, recruiting volunteers and fighting for public opinion. The organization is preparing for a very difficult summer.”