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TALK OF THE REGION — “Israel and Iran lurch closer to all-out war in Syria after alleged rocket attack on Golan Heights” by Raf Sanchez: “Israel and Iran lurched closer to an all out war in Syria on Thursday after Iranian forces allegedly fired rockets into the Golan Heights and Israel responded with some of its heaviest airstrikes in years. The exchange of fire was the most direct confrontation between the Middle East rivals after years of escalating tensions in Syria.” [Telegraph; Haaretz]
“Israel Strikes Iranian Targets in Syria as Tensions Escalate” by Isabel Kershner: “By Thursday morning, the country’s air force had destroyed “nearly all” of Iran’s military infrastructure in Syria, according to Israel’s defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman. “If there is rain on our side, there will be a flood on their side,” Mr. Lieberman said… He added, “I hope we have finished with this round and that everybody understood.” [NYTimes]
— The Golan flare-up with Israel “is just further demonstration that the Iranian regime cannot be trusted and another good reminder that the President made the right decision to get out of the Iran deal,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told Fox News. [Reuters]
— Former U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro tweets: “Israel has been crystal clear where its red lines are for Iranian action in Syria. Iran blew through them with the rockets it fired toward the Golan. Israel has made them pay a very heavy price.”
ON THE HILL — “Congress prioritizes smart bombs for Israel despite US shortages” by Bryant Harris: “Congress today advanced legislation that prioritizes the delivery of precision-guided munitions for Israel amid rising threats from its adversaries across the region. There’s just one problem: The United States’ own stockpile is already insufficient. That did not deter the House Foreign Affairs Committee from unanimously endorsing the US-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2018, introduced by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., and Ted Deutch, D-Fla., for a vote on the House floor… A House staffer told Al-Monitor… the bill serves as “a message to Israel that if Iran strikes you, we will help you strike them back.” [Al-Monitor]
DRIVING THE CONVO — President Donald Trump is preparing to impose new sanctions on Iran, perhaps as early as next week, to ensure it does not develop nuclear weapons. At the start of a cabinet meeting yesterday, Trump warned Iran of “severe consequences” if it restarted its nuclear program.
“Trump Bets Sanctions Will Force Iran to Bargain. There’s No Plan B” by David Sanger: “One official said that John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, has argued that the Iranians will simply fold under enough pressure.” [NYTimes]
HEARD THIS MORNING — Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer discussed President Trump’s views towards Iran in a conversation with Mike Doran at the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC: The Israeli Ambassador emphasized that ratcheting up sanctions on Iran as a result of the U.S. withdrawal of the deal will only strengthen U.S. policy in pushing back against Iranian aggression in the Middle East. Dermer said he hopes the Europeans will join the U.S. in imposing tough sanctions on Iran if Iran continues to defy UN Security Council resolutions by launching ballistic missile tests. “Europe may take a strategy of ‘We want to stay in the deal as long as possible, and meanwhile we will also work with the U.S. on these other issues.’ And perhaps the President will use the leverage of U.S. sanctions to actually get them to move much faster on these other things.”
Regarding Israel’s concerns about the U.S. pulling out of Syria, Dermer said, “I am pretty conference that the U.S. will not want to simply leave Syria and cede it to the Iranians. I was pretty confident about that before President Trump made his decision. I do not believe this administration is going to cede Syria to the Iranians. I did not believe that before President Trump’s speech two days ago, and I am even more confident today that they will do what’s necessary to push them back, and they fully back Israel’s right to defend itself.” [Video] •
— Tal Shalev reports: Pompeo warned Tehran that the U.S. will respond to Iranian attacks on Israel [Twitter]
— “Saudi Arabia set to pursue nuclear weapons if Iran restarts program” by Nicole Gaouette: “Asked what his country will do if Iran restarts its nuclear program, [Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister] Adel Al-Jubeir told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that “we will do whatever it takes to protect our people. We have made it very clear that if Iran acquires a nuclear capability we will do everything we can to do the same.” Asked to clarify whether that means the kingdom will work to acquire its own nuclear capability, al-Jubeir said, “That’s what we mean.”” [CNN]
Trump assailed Sen. Chuck Schumer for opposing this week’s move after opposing the deal in 2015. “Perhaps he changed his mind,” Trump remarked. “But, by the way, the deal only got worse.”
Boris Epshteyn, chief political analyst for Sinclair Broadcast Group and a former Trump administration official, blasted Sen. Schumer for criticizing Trump’s decision on the Iran deal in an interview with Jewish Insider. “Schumer represents a very large Jewish population in his home state, I doubt that constituency is going to be happy about him advocating for the U.S. to stay in a deal which allows Israel’s mortal enemy, Iran, to continue developing nuclear weapons, destabilizing the Middle East and supporting terror groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas.”
“Withdrawal is the right decision and opposing that move is a mistake, no matter what party someone is a member of. The deal was a disaster because it did not effectively stop Iran from continuing any of its wrongdoings but did allow for Iran’s economy to breathe. The 2015 Agreement would not have been ratified as a treaty by the Senate, that is why President Obama rammed it through as an executive action. Now, with sanctions re-imposed, the Iran regime will have to negotiate on all fronts, nuclear, terror and sowing discord, because otherwise the Iranian economy will be crushed by sanctions and the people may finally topple the dictatorial government there.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer responded to the attacks in an emailed statement to Jewish Insider: “I have not changed my mind on the JCPOA. I still believe it was flawed. But there is a greater, more immediate threat to Israel and America we must presently heed: what the Iranian military is doing in Syria; Iran is arming Hezbollah with rockets and Iran is building ballistic missiles. Undoing this agreement makes it harder to deal with those immediate threats, rather than easier, because we need new sanctions aimed at those threats, which are not addressed in the original agreement. We need our allies to impose these new sanctions. Sanctions won’t work if we are alone.”
A Schumer aide added, “Tough talk from former administration officials is meaningless, we’d like to see a real strategy from current ones.” The aide pointed out that Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Reps. Ed Royce (R-CA), Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Lois Frankel (D-FL), who all opposed the deal in 2015, expressed their opposition to Trump’s move as well.
ONE DEM SUPPORTIVE OF TRUMP’S MOVE — Congressman Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), co-chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, in a statement: “I opposed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015, because while it may have placed temporary limits on certain aspects of Iran’s nuclear program, it did not permanently preclude Tehran’s pathway to the bomb. It also failed to address Iran’s aggressive development of long-range ballistic missiles to deliver these nuclear weapons. These facts remain true today… There should be nothing partisan about our national security, nor our relationship with our ally Israel. Iran must know that its destructive behavior throughout the Middle East will not be tolerated…”
HEARD LAST NIGHT — Former Vice President Joe Biden at the Seeds of Peace 25th Anniversary Spring Benefit held at Pier Sixty in NY: “One of the reasons I think the decision to withdraw from the Iran deal is such a gigantic mistake… it’s not a perfect agreement but we are throwing away a breakthrough achieved only after years of hard negotiation and diplomacy involving 5 very different countries. It’s throwing away a real accomplishment for peace by removing the threat of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon and providing a platform to address Iran’s other troubling activities in the region, including the threat it poses to Israel. It’s made us all safer. My worry is that by withdrawing we are putting ourselves in the path of only two outcomes: living with a nuclear-armed Iran or engaging in a new military conflict, which were not the alternatives two days ago. I worry we’ve damaged our ability to lead internationally and be a credible voice for peace.”
Biden also implored the audience not to give up hope on peace in the Middle East, pointing to the rapprochement between Israel and Turkey: “It’s all too easy to become disheartened… Of course, when we read the news of the day, seeing the continued conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, peace seems like an unlikely prospect… But remember two years ago, if you watched the situation in other places you learned that Turkey is never going to solve their differences with Israel. Well, it did. It’s not all harmony, but there is no conflict, no war between them, and they were on the brink of it. It wasn’t until Bibi [Netanyahu] signed the agreement with [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan that he said what I didn’t want him to say that it was Joe Biden who put this together. The reason I did it — nothing special about me — is I know both men, and they each asked me to speak for them to the other person because I gained their trust… The point is: there are more than one means to build and gain trust… We can’t expect to make any breakthroughs if we stop working at it.” [Pic]
— Spotted at Seeds of Peace: Steve Clemons, Aaron David Miller, Seth Meyers, Nicholas Ma, and Jordanian Ambassador to the U.S. Dina Kawar.
ULTIMATE DEAL — “If There’s a Trump Israeli-Palestinian Peace Plan, Netanyahu Says He Hasn’t Seen It” by Noa Landau: “According to reports… the White House team headed by envoy Jason Greenblatt is currently finalizing its work ahead of an initial presentation to both sides. When asked about these reports on Tuesday while briefing reporters in Larnaca airport in Cyprus, Netanyahu said he “hasn’t seen” the aforementioned plan.”[Haaretz]
JERUSALEM EMBASSY WATCH — “Europeans said to be boycotting Foreign Ministry event celebrating new US embassy” by Raphael Ahren and Alexander Fulbright: “Despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu inviting the entire foreign diplomatic corps to Sunday’s [Foreign Ministry] event, many European envoys, including those from the United Kingdom, France and Germany, will boycott the ceremony, Hadashot TV news reported Wednesday… “At the moment 30 of 86 ambassadors have responded positively [to the invitation]. A large number of ambassadors have yet to respond. We hope all the ambassadors will arrive,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said.” [ToI]
RJC’s Matt Brooks tweets: “Now hanging outside of the David Citadel hotel in advance of the historic opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem, Israel. RJC has a huge group coming!!” [Pic]
“His anti-Semitism bill near to becoming law, SC lawmaker in Israel” by Maayan Schechter: “State Rep. Alan Clemmons will join White House officials next week to open the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, where the Republican is likely to mention his proposal to target anti-Semitic incidents on S.C. college campuses… The bill’s passage will make South Carolina the first state to define anti-Semitism by law.” [TheState]
According to a source, some of the Senators who will be in Jerusalem for the Embassy opening include Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz, Dean Heller and Mike Lee.
“Trump’s trust in his gut-driven, out-of-the-box approach to international relations grows” by Anne Gearan: “Trump has pointed to the Jerusalem embassy issue as a particular example of what U.S. officials and others described as the “Chicken Little” effect — when dire warnings against something Trump wants to do seem like hollow threats after the fact. “He heard from many people — commentators, observers and Cabinet members — that there would be all kinds of negative repercussions if he were to make that decision” to move the embassy, the U.S. official said. “Violence, the endangering of U.S. forces all over the Islamic world, all kinds of warnings — virtually none of which have proven to be the case, at least thus far.” [WashPost]
BUZZ ON BALFOUR — “Outlook for Israeli Leader Brightens as Prospects for Iran Nuclear Deal Dim” by Dov Lieber and Rory Jones: “President Donald Trump’s move to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal—long opposed by Mr. Netanyahu—has dramatically brightened the Israeli leader’s political outlook. Opposition politicians, who only weeks ago called for the Israeli leader’s resignation over alleged corruption, have lined up alongside Mr. Netanyahu… “When Israel is under existential threat no attorney general in their right mind would indict a sitting PM,” said Mitchell Barak, a political analyst and director at Jerusalem-based Keevoon Global Research.” [WSJ]
Netanyahu Surges in Polls After Trump Withdraws From Iran Nuclear Deal: “The Likud party would surge to 35 Knesset seats if elections were held today, up from 30 in the current Knesset, according to a poll released on Wednesday. Israel Television News, which commissioned the poll, said this is the highest Likud has polled in the past decade.” [Haaretz[ ToI]
IN THE SPOTLIGHT… “How Michael Cohen, touting his access to President Trump, convinced companies to pay millions” by Michael Kranish, Rosalind S. Helderman, Carolyn Y. Johnson and Josh Dawsey: “From his perch in a law office on the 23rd floor of New York’s Rockefeller Center, Cohen pitched potential clients on his close association with Trump, noting that he still was the president’s lawyer… He showed photos of himself with Trump and mentioned how frequently they spoke, even asking people to share news articles describing him as the president’s “fixer.” “I’m crushing it,” he said, according to an associate who spoke to him in the summer of 2017.” [WashPost] • Trump Lawyer Helped Recruit Corporate Client With Ties to Kushner Probe [WSJ]
“Who is Viktor Vekselberg, the Russian billionaire linked to Michael Cohen?” by Amie Ferris-Rotman: “Vekselberg is… a prominent member of Moscow’s Jewish community. He gave money towards the sprawling Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center, which opened in 2012. (Putin also reportedly gave a month’s salary towards the project.) At the opening, attended by the late Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, Vekselberg said he hoped the museum would help Russians and Americans understand each other better by eradicating stereotypes that Russia is “an evil empire.” [WashPost]
2018 WATCH — “Big Donors Form New Alliance to Seize House From Republicans” by Shane Goldmacher: “Major Democratic donors in New York have discreetly formed a new political alliance to raise roughly $10 million that would be injected into as many as two dozen key House battlegrounds… Others include Robert E. Rubin, the former treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton… “The idea is to win 24 highly curated races,” said Alan Patricof, a venture capitalist and Democratic donor, who said that many of the contributors involved have worked together for decades. Mr. Patricof said the goal was finding candidates with a “high probability of prevailing” in November.” [NYTimes]
“Adelson gives $30 million to help GOP save the House” by Jake Sherman and Alex Isenstadt: “Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson has cut a $30 million check to the House GOP-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund, a massive cash infusion that top Republicans hope will alter the party’s electoral outlook six months before Election Day. The long-sought donation was sealed last week when, according to two senior Republicans, House Speaker Paul Ryan flew to Las Vegas to meet with the billionaire at his Venetian Hotel. Also at the meeting with Adelson was his wife, Miriam; Norm Coleman, the former Minnesota senator who chairs the Republican Jewish Coalition; Corry Bliss, who oversees the super PAC; and Jake Kastan, Ryan’s No. 2 political aide. They laid out a case to Adelson about how crucial it is to protect the House.”
“As a federally elected official, Ryan is not permitted to solicit seven-figure political donations. When Ryan (R-Wis.) left the room, Coleman made the ask and secured the $30 million contribution… The $30 million contribution is three times as much as Adelson gave to CLF in 2016. And the cash comes much earlier in the cycle.” [Politico]
Democratic primary winner in North Carolina is former chair of Jewish federations movement: “Kathy Manning, the first woman to be chair of the Jewish Federations of North America, handily won a Democratic primary and will face a right-wing Republican congressman… Ted Budd in North Carolina’s 13th district, a once reliable Democratic district that trends Republican after recent redistricting.” [JTA]
“Kevin Kamenetz, Baltimore County executive and Democratic candidate for governor dies of heart attack” by Doug Donovan, Dan Rodricks and Pamela Wood: “Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz — a Democratic candidate for governor and a fixture in state and local politics for nearly a quarter-century — died Thursday morning of a heart attack, officials said… The news stunned his friends, colleagues and Maryland’s political establishment… His death will upend the political calculations in the race for governor both for Democrats and for Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who ordered state flags to be flown at half-staff.” [BaltimoreSun]
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PODCAST PLAYBACK: “How Trump could break from the Fed’s independence” by Ben White: “Kevin Warsh, a former Fed governor who was on the final short list for the top job at the Fed, said in the latest Politico Money podcast that Trump — during an hourlong Oval Office interview last year — appeared to want to know exactly what Warsh would do on interest rates and seemed not to care about the Fed’s historical independence. “If you think it was a subject upon which he delicately danced around, then you’d be mistaken. It was certainly top of mind to the president,” Warsh said.” [Politico]
HOLLYWOOD: “Mel Gibson’s Unlikely New Advocate: Ex-Agent Ari Emanuel” by Kim Masters: “Ari Emanuel took a hard-line stance against and fired his then-WME client Mel Gibson after the actor’s 2006 arrest following an alcohol-fueled, anti-Semitic and sexist tirade. Now, more than a decade later, sources tell THR that the Endeavor CEO has been advocating for Gibson in recent deals. First, Gibson personally apologized to Emanuel some months back, says an insider. More importantly, Emanuel’s prized client Mark Wahlberg bonded with Gibson during the making of Paramount’s holiday comedy Daddy’s Home 2, in which he starred as Wahlberg’s father.” [HollywoodReporter]
“Ninja Supreme Court Justice: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Has Fun With Fame” by Melena Ryzik: “No one knew when, or even how or where, Ruth Bader Ginsburg would pop up. The Supreme Court justice was due at a screening here of “RBG,” a new documentary chronicling her exemplary life. But she was not tied to the night’s tightly scripted schedule — at some point she would just appear, “like a ninja,” an organizer said. Gathered in a theater at the Naval Heritage Center, the crowd was amped… When the justice arrived, bodyguards encircling her, the audience gave her a standing ovation, then hushed until she claimed her seat… Justice Ginsburg is an unlikely celebrity but then again, we live in an age full of those. What makes her ascendance to pop culture icon — the Notorious RBG, y’all — truly surprising is that, at 85, she is having fun with her unexpected fame, and making careful and inspired use of it for her own savvy ends.” [NYTimes]
LongRead: “A Muslim Among Israeli Settlers” by Wajahat Ali: “Meeting settlers for the first time in these bourgeois utopias, I felt like I was the token minority at an upscale New York City party; I could feel myself being scrutinized with equal measures of fascination and curiosity, and not a small quotient of horror. The settlers were friendly, a bit guarded and standoffish at first, but mostly curious why a guy who looked like a Long Island Uber driver had come to Israel to talk with them… As a result of engaging with Zionists, I found that once you allow a space for conflicting narratives, even those that might repulse you, the characters take up room in your mind and your heart. You can no longer unsee or unfeel them. You have to negotiate their presence without compromising your core principles. Yossi Klein Halevi had somehow conjured two dozen ways that Muslim extremists could destroy his people—but he also kissed my Muslim babies and looked at them lovingly, yearning for grandchildren.” [TheAtlantic]
“Paul McCartney to skip Wolf Prize ceremony” by Amy Spiro: “Sir Paul McCartney will not be attending the upcoming Wolf Prize ceremony in the Knesset after being selected earlier this year for the prestigious recognition… “It’s very flattering and I am grateful to be this year’s Wolf Prize winner in music,” McCartney said, according to the Wolf Foundation. “It’s certainly a great honor for me to be included among the greatest artists, creators, scientists and writers of today’s history. But after reviewing my schedule I have to announce that I will not be able to arrive at the date set.” The Wolf Foundation noted that recipients of the prize must appear in person to collect their honor but they may do so at the ceremonies of either of the following two years instead.” [JPost]
“The Brazen Bootlegging of a Multibillion-Dollar Sports Network” by Tariq Panja: “What do you do when your multibillion dollar sports network has been stolen? Executives at Qatar’s beIN Sports pondered that question last week as they stared at a bank of screens inside their sprawling headquarters here. On the night of May 2, the network’s main channel, which functions as the ESPN of the Middle East, televised the deciding game of the Champions League semifinal between A.S. Roma and Liverpool. Then they watched the same play 10 seconds later on live coverage from beoutQ, a bootlegging operation seemingly based in Saudi Arabia and whose roots lie in the bitter political dispute between Qatar and a coalition of countries led by its largest neighbors, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.” [NYTimes]
SCENE LAST NIGHT — Governor Andrew Cuomo, CNN’s Andrew Morse, Stuart Force, Sander Gerber, Tom Blumberg and Ben Blumberg were honored at the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York’s annual gala at The Pierre Hotel. In his speech, Gov. Cuomo announced he’ll be visiting Israel “as soon as possible.” Facing a primary challenge from the Left, Cuomo declared, “As long as I am governor, New York State stands 100 percent with Israel.”
SPOTTED: NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Israeli Consul Gen. Dani Dayan, Councilmembers Kalman Yeger, Barry Grodenchik, Alicka Ampry-Samuel, Francisco Moya and Matthew Eugene; Michael Miller, David Pollock, Rabbi Bob Kaplan, William Daroff, Jason Koppel, Hindy Poupko, Jeff Leb, Mark Botnick, Yeruchem Silber, Janice Weinman Shorenstein, David Lobl, Pinny Ringel, Betty Ehrenberg, Elizabeth Velez, and Yidel Perlstein.
SCENE THE OTHER DAY IN DC — Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH); and Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Joe Kennedy (D-MA), Brad Schneider (D-IL) and John Faso (R-NY) attended a Tribute to American Jewry luncheon in the Kennedy Caucus Room on Capitol Hill. The event, marking Jewish American Heritage Month, was emceed by Greg Rosenbaum and organized by Ezra Friedlander and honored Paul Packer, Chair of the U.S. Commision for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, among others. [Pic]
SPOTTED: Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Rabbi Abba Cohen, Phil Goldfeder, Jason Koppel, Jules Fleischer, Ashley Freiberger, Ann Linehan, Joe Stamm, Maurice Bortz, Stanley Treitel, Rita Wertlieb, Steve Rabinowitz, Aaron Keyak, Abe Eisner, Lesley Weiss, and C-SPAN’s Howard Mortman.
BIRTHDAYS: Shopping center developer and former US Ambassador to both Australia (1989-1993) and Italy (2001-2005), Melvin Floyd “Mel” Semblerturns 88… Real estate developer (majority owner of The Related Companies), developer of NYC’s Time Warner Center, philanthropist and principal owner of the Miami Dolphins, Stephen M. Ross turns 78… Independent media production professional, she serves on the boards of Israel21c and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Susan Libitzky turns 76… Rabbi of a Connecticut congregation, creator of RTN (a Russian language TV channel) and Shalom TV (a Jewish channel), Mark S. Golub turns 73… Leading Democratic pollster and political strategist, Stanley Bernard “Stan” Greenberg turns 73… British film, theatre and television actress, on the editorial advisory board of Jewish Renaissance magazine, she has become a harsh critic of the British Labour Party’s anti-Israel members, Maureen Lipman turns 72…
Israeli businessman and philanthropist, his family founded and owned Israel Discount Bank, Leon Recanati turns 70… Ed Brill turns 68… Anchor for SportsCenter and other programs on ESPN since 1979, host of ESPN’s NFL Countdown program (1985-2016), Chris “Boomer” Berman turns 63… Former NBA player, whose career spanned 18 seasons on 7 teams, Danny Schayes turns 59… Brazilian businessman, serial entrepreneur and partner with Donald Trump in Trump Realty Brazil, Ricardo Samuel Goldsteinturns 52… Associate Rabbi of Houston’s Congregation Beth Yeshurun, Brian Strauss turns 46… Israeli rock musician, singer, songwriter, producer, keyboardist, and guitarist, Aviv Geffen turns 45… Manager of government affairs at the American Forest & Paper Association, Fara S. Klein turns 30… National correspondent for New York Magazine, Gabriel Debenedettiturns 28… Actress who has appeared in 12 films and starred in three television series, Halston Sage (born Halston Jean Schrage) turns 25… Reporter for the Wall Street Journal, Adam Janofsky… Communications manager in the DC office of Pew Research Center, Rachel Weisel (h/ts Playbook)… CEO of Medical Reimbursement Data Management in Yanceyville, NC, Robert Jameson… Mollie Harrison…