English LCCC Newsbulletin For Lebanese, Lebanese Related, Global News & Editorials
For December 23/2020
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations For today

Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint John 16/20-24/:”Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labour, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. On that day you will ask nothing of me. Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.”

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on December 22-23/2020

Joe Bijani’s Assailants Are Those who Occupy Lebanon/Elias Bejjani/December 22/2020
Lebanon: murder of photographer Joe Bejjany sparks outrage/Gareth Browne/The National/December 21/2020
Gunmen Shoot Man inside His Vehicle in Kahale
Martyr Joe Bajjani was buried In His Home Town Kahale
Mysterious Kahaleh village murder in Lebanon raises questions, spurns rumors
Security Forces Reportedly Find Joe Bejjani's Phone
Fahmi: Kahale Crime Shall Not Pass
Lebanese gather around Christmas tree to mourn victims of port blast
Ministry of Health: 1693 new coronavirus cases, 17 deaths
US dollar exchange rate: Buying price at LBP 3850, selling price at LBP 3900
US regrets Lebanon-Israel stalemate, offers mediation
Aoun discusses with PM-designate Hariri government formation developments
Hariri Meets Aoun, Promises Govt. 'Format' before Christmas
President meets new Maronite Diocese Archbishop of Tyre
Salameh: $2bn Still Remain for Subsidies, Lebanese’s Deposits Not in Central Bank
Lebanese-UN meeting at Abdel Samad's office to discuss preparations for integrated media plan on COVID-19 vaccine
Rahi receives Army Commander, Apostolic Nuncio
FPM Bloc Urges 'Unified Standards' Anew after Aoun-Hariri Talks
Abiad: COVID-19 Infections Largest among Youth

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 22-23/2020

US submarine crosses Strait of Hormuz in new show of force
US slams fresh sanctions on Asma Assad, Syrian Central Bank
Israel faces prospect of new elections, again
Israeli envoys, Jared Kushner arrive in Morocco after establishing relations
Rome, Ankara jockey to form a new Sarraj government
Europe’s top human rights court orders immediate Turkish release of jailed Kurdish leader Demirtas
Qatar still turning blind eye to labor abuse: HRW
Daughter of British-Iranian political prisoner sends plea to UK PM
US restores Sudan’s sovereign immunity, passes aid package
Survey: Is polarization Turkey’s fate?
European Commission Recommends EU Members Lift UK Travel Bans
Top U.S. Disease Scientist Receives Vaccine, Says Confident of Its Safety


Titles For The Latest The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 22-23/2020
Canadian Report Underscores Iran’s Culpability in Downing of Ukrainian Airliner/Toby Dershowitz and Dylan Gresik/December 22/2020
Oil Prices Reach Highest Level Since Beginning of Pandemic/Brenda Shaffer/Policy Brief/FDD/December22/2020 |
The Olympics must ban Iran/Hossein Khosrov Ali Vaziri/The Iron Sheik/Benjamin Weinthal/Alireza Nader/New York Daily News/December22/2020
Don’t Discount America’s Interest in Keeping Africa Safe/Maj Scott D. Adamson/Defense One -FDD/December22/2020
Will Iran’s threat to Israel from Iraq increase?/Seth Frantman/FDD/December 22/2020
Getting back on the Paris climate track/LAURENCE TUBIANA/Arab News/December 22/2020
New strain of COVID-19 wreaking havoc in aviation and oil/CORNELIA MEYER/Arab News/December 22/2020


The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on December 22-23/2020

Joe Bijani’s Assailants Are Those who Occupy Lebanon
Elias Bejjani/December 22/2020
الذين اغتالوا جو بجاني هم من يحتلون لبنان


sadness, anger, as well as with love, faith, hope and fear of God our prayers go for Mr. Joe Bejjani’s soul to rest in eternal peace.
We ask Almighty God to accept Joe’s soul in His heavenly dwellings beside the righteous and saints where there is only peace, joy, and Hymns.
Our genuine and heartily felt condolences go to Joe’s wife, two daughters, family, friends, and to all our beloved El Kahali families.
Joe was brutally murdered yesterday morning with a silenced pistol by a number of hooded professional killers in his own town “El Kahali” while he was getting into his care to drive his two daughters to school and then head to his work at Alfa telecommunication company.
Joe was a talented photographer, a hard working young man, and a devoted peaceful loving husband and father who had no known enmities with any body. He and his family were in the final process to immigrate to Canada.
The assailants reportedly stole Joe’s mobile cellular phone before leaving the crime scene which means that he apparently knew something, or most probably had on his phone photos related to the Beirut Port explosion crime that the masters of the assailants didn’t want to come to light.
It is worth mentioning that Joe was recently acclaimed for his pictures of the aftermath of the Beirut port explosion crime.
This heinous crime that has to do with Beirut’s port horrible explosion is the third one.
Three years ago colonel Samir Skaf was killed, and few weeks ago his friend and colleague retired army colonel Munir Abu Rajeli, was found dead at his home in another murder that shocked the country.
Both victims worked at Beirut port customs service in their capacity as Lebanese Army officers and both had in a way or another extensive knowledge about the Ammonium nitrate that caused the port’s explosion.
In analysis, all proves, documents and incidents indicate that the murderer and terrorist who killed Joe Bejjani yesterday is most probably the same one who occupies Lebanon, assassinated all March 14th coalition martyrs, blow up Beirut’s port , imported the Ammonium nitrate and systematically is devouring Lebanon and its institutions piece by piece in a bid to topple Lebanon’s regime and replace it by a replicate of the Iranian Mullahs’ Islamic dictatorship.
In summary, The Iranian Occupier, killer and terrorist will ultimately face the same fate of defeat, and humiliation that all invaders and occupiers of Lebanon had faced all through 6000 years because Lebanon is rooted in history, and its blessed land belongs to God, “God’s endowment”. And also because the Lebanese people, are the guardians of the Temple, which is Lebanon, the Land of the holey cedars.
Joe Bejjani Rest In Peace your killers will be accountable for their brutal crime.

Background Data
Lebanon: murder of photographer Joe Bejjany sparks outrage
Gareth Browne/The National/December 21/2020
Father on school run was shot repeatedly by hooded men on motorcycle
A Lebanese photographer was shot to death by hooded men on Monday morning as he prepared to take his children to school. CCTV footage leaked to local media shows Joe Bejjany getting into his car outside his home in the mountain village of Kahaleh, about 13km from Beirut.
As he prepares to drive off, two men arrive on a motorcycle and approach the car. They open the driver’s door and shoot Bejjany several times with silenced pistols. The men then flee off-camera on foot. They are still at large. Lebanon’s state news agency said Bejjany died of his wounds in the nearby Saint Charles Hospital. His death sparked outrage in the country. Bejjany previously worked in the telecommunications sector but had recently found work as a photographer, including for the Lebanese army. The village’s mayor, Jean Bejjany, said CCTV footage indicated the involvement of a third suspect, and demanded an investigation that would reveal the motives for the murder within 48 hours. He said that Bejjany had no personal issues and was well liked and said that locals would begin blocking the roads in protest if the culprits were not identified quickly.
Locals told The National that within hours of the murder, villagers were attempting to block the nearby Beirut-Damascus motorway, while the church bells rang out in tribute. Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces told The National that they had begun an investigation, but there was no information yet regarding the motives or identities of the attackers. Michel Moawad, a former MP, tweeted that the murder risked exacerbating the decline of the Lebanese state. “The security and judicial agencies, as well as every official, must hasten to uncover the perpetrators and their backgrounds and impose the most severe penalties on them to avoid a return to the logic of self-defence and the complete dissolution of what remains of the state.” Bejjany was recently acclaimed for his pictures of the aftermath of the Beirut port explosion. The “About Me” section of his professional website shows him posing in front of a Humvee. A description reads: “This hobby has changed my perception of the world. My observation of things seems to go beyond their physical beauty.”The attack came just weeks after a colonel in Lebanon’s customs service, Munir Abu Rajeli, was found dead at his home in another murder that shocked the country. The attacks are not believed to be linked.

Gunmen Shoot Man inside His Vehicle in Kahale
Naharnet/December 21/2020
Unidentified gunmen shot dead a man on Monday morning in front of his house in Aley’s town of Kahale, media reports said. The victim identified as Joseph Bejjani, was killed with a silenced pistol, said the reports. He sustained a bullet to his head and another in his chest. Bejjani was about to ride his vehicle to take his children to school when two gunmen approached his vehicle and shot him dead, so showed surveillance cameras in the area. Footage showed them fleeing to an unknown destination.
Reports said the victim used to work at a telecommunications company, but currently worked as a certified photographer for the Lebanese Army. The assailants reportedly stole his mobile cellular phone. Later during the day, families and residents of Kahale area blocked the road in protest at the “unruly” security situation in the country, demanding “accountability.”


The Town of Kahala Bids Farewell To Its Murdered son, Joe Bejjani with a solemn funeral Procession/ Reports & videos covering the Funeral & Prayers in Arabic and English /

Martyr Joe Bajjani was buried In His Home Town Kahale
LCCC/Tuesday 22 December 2020

A funeral procession was held today in the Mountainous Khalae town for its murdered son Joe Bejjani. Joe who was gunned with a silenced gun yesterday morning was 36 years old. Residents of Al Kahale and many citizens from all over Lebanon paid tribute to Joe and participated in his funeral. Joe's father who  is receiving cancer treatment said: "Almighty God will make the murderers accountable not the government. Joe's widow stated that no matter what happens in regards to the investigation, joe will not come back and I will continue to raise my two daughters" Joe was buried after the prayers and funeral procession.. May Almighty God Bless Joe's soul and grant his family with endowments of faith hope and perseverance.

Mysterious Kahaleh village murder in Lebanon raises questions, spurns rumors
Reuters/Tuesday 22 December 2020
When Joe Bejjany was shot with a silencer as he got ready to take his two daughters to pre-school, it shocked not only his mountain village but a country already on edge. No clear motive has so far surfaced for the murder of the 36-year-old Lebanese telecoms employee and freelance photographer on Monday. But that did not stop local media and people wondering aloud whether it was linked to an ongoing investigation into August’s devastating blast at Beirut port. Residents of Kahaleh, some 13 km from Beirut, say they want a swift investigation into what they believe was a planned operation of some kind or another.
“This is not just about our village. Because today it’s Joe, tomorrow it’s someone else,” said Jean Bejjany, the head of the municipal council and a distant relative. “Are we going to have to protect our own houses and villages?” A number of recent murky deaths have fueled similar rumors of links to the explosion, even as security officials say they have no evidence of a connection. Nearly five months since the huge stockpile of chemicals, stored unsafely for years, detonated at the port, that inquiry has yet to yield public results. The blast killed 200 people and ravaged swathes of the capital, compounding a financial meltdown that has also triggered generalized fears over security. Earlier this month, authorities pledged to probe the death of a retired customs officer who was found dead in his home. Jean, Kahaleh’s municipal chief, said none of Joe’s friends or family were aware of any threats or enemies and made no mention of anything that might link him to the explosion. The two hooded gunmen took Joe’s phone before sneaking away, he said. His daughters, aged two and four, found the dead body in the car minutes later.
Mounir Bejjany, Joe’s godfather, described it as “an assassination.”
Relatives said Joe, who worked at a mobile service provider, had also photographed military events such as parades as a freelancer. Other photographers said they often saw him at such events. Two security sources said the murder was carried out in a professional manner but the motive was unclear. The caretaker interior minister has vowed to find the culprits. At the funeral on Tuesday, neighbors wept and threw rice as men in suits carried a white coffin to the church. Joe’s cousin, Gaby Feghali, said he had planned to emigrate with his family, like many others who are leaving Lebanon to escape the crisis. He said Joe got approval to leave for Canada about a week ago.

Security Forces Reportedly Find Joe Bejjani's Phone
Naharnet/December 22/2020
Lebanese security forces have reportedly managed to find the cellphone of slain young man Joe Bejjani -- an Alfa employee and freelance photographer who was gunned down Monday morning outside his home in Kahale. "Security forces found Bejjani’s phone in the town of Qmatiyeh" in Aley district, al-Jadeed TV quoted security sources as saying. "It is not known whether the culprits deliberately threw it in this town or that it fell from them," the sources added. Earlier in the day, al-Jadeed reported that security agencies had also collected footage from the CCTV cameras that were pointed to the route that was likely taken by the gunmen. Media reports have said that Bejjani, 36, was one of the first photographers who arrived at Beirut’s port to take pictures after the devastating August 4 blast. Reports also said that he worked with foreign investigators probing the incident.
CCTV footage of Bejjani’s murder shows two men arriving on foot and one of them shooting him as he was in his car, which was parked near his home. The second assailant then grabs something from the car, likely Bejjani’s cellphone, before fleeing the scene along with his companion. According to reports, Bejjani was preparing to emigrate to Canada after having obtained the necessary visas days before the crime.

Fahmi: Kahale Crime Shall Not Pass
Naharnet/December 22/2020
Caretaker Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi stressed on Tuesday that the investigation will continue until the perpetrators involved in the killing of Joseph Bejjani in Kahale a day earlier are caught. The Minister stressed that he is “closely following up on the case until the criminals are revealed,” stressing that the crime “shall not pass” unaccounted. Fahmi’s remarks came during a meeting with mayor of Kahale, Jean Bejjani.He briefed him on the contacts he had made immediately after the murder, with the Director General of the Internal Security Forces, Major General Imad Othman.
Early on Monday, two armed men cold bloodedly shot dead Joseph Bejjani while inside his vehicle in Aley’s town of Kahale, surveillance cameras showed. The victim, who worked as a photographer for the Lebanese army, was about to take his children to school. The assailants fled to an unknown destination. Police opened investigation into the crime.

Lebanese gather around Christmas tree to mourn victims of port blast
Al Arabiya English/Tuesday 22 December 2020
Lebanese people on Monday gathered around a Christmas tree decorated with names of the victims of the devastating port blast that took place in Beirut’s port in August. The blast killed at least 181 people, injured more than 6,500 and left scores of people homeless. Relatives of the blast victims spoke to AFP about losing their loved ones. “George was from the church. George wanted to get married, his birthday was on the 27th of the month,” father of port blast victim George Al-Omair said.“Instead of preparing the Christmas tree and celebrating, instead of getting married and filling the house with children, he’s gone up to Jesus and Mary.”Beirut’s August 4 explosion left 300,000 people homeless and caused $15 billion in direct damage, according to a report issued by the presidency of the council of ministers. “The festival will be here soon but we won’t have Tharwat with us like we used to every year. Instead of taking photos of ourselves with Tharwat, we are taking photos next to a tree with his name on it, all because of the fault of those behind the explosion,” a relative of port blast victim Tharwat Hoteit told AFP. Around 40 percent of Beirut has been severely damaged due to the explosion, according to an impact assessment report published in August.“I want to tell him that during all this celebration, not a day passed without remembering you.. I want to tell him you remain in our hearts for the last soul and we will keep fighting to know the truth for the last soul, for you and for this beautiful laugh,” said the mother of Faris Kiwan, another port blast victim.- With AFP.


Ministry of Health: 1693 new coronavirus cases, 17 deaths
NNA/December 22/2020 
The Ministry of Public Health announced 1693 new coronavirus infection cases, which raises the cumulative number to 160979 confirmed cases.
17 deaths have been recorded over the past 24 hours.

US dollar exchange rate: Buying price at LBP 3850, selling price at LBP 3900
NNA/December 22/2020
The Money Changers Syndicate announced in a statement addressed to money changing companies and institutions Tuesday’s USD exchange rate against the Lebanese pound as follows:
Buying price at a minimum of LBP 3850
Selling price at a maximum of LBP 3900

US regrets Lebanon-Israel stalemate, offers mediation
NNA/December 22/2020
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday voiced regret over a stalemate in maritime border talks between Israel and Lebanon and offered Washington's mediation.
The two nations which remain technically at war opened negotiations in October after quiet US diplomacy, seeking to clear the way for offshore oil and gas exploration sought by both. "Regrettably, despite goodwill on both sides, the parties remain far apart," said Pompeo, who has one month left in office after President Donald Trump's electoral defeat. "The United States remains ready to mediate constructive discussions and urges both sides to negotiate based on the respective maritime claims both have previously deposited at the United Nations."-- AFP

Aoun discusses with PM-designate Hariri government formation developments
NNA/December 22/2020
President of the Republic, General Michel Aoun, met Premier-designate, Saad Hariri, this afternoon at the Presidential Palace, and deliberated with him recent Governmental developments. After the meeting, which lasted for an hour and 25 minutes, PM-designate Hariri told reporters: “The meeting with His Excellency was positive indeed as there was an atmosphere of openness. We agreed to hold a second meeting tomorrow, without setting a timing due to security reasons. There will be successive meetings to come up with a Government formula, before Christmas God willing”.-- Presidency Press Office

Hariri Meets Aoun, Promises Govt. 'Format' before Christmas
Naharnet/December 22/2020
Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri held an important meeting with President Michel Aoun on Tuesday at the presidential palace. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Hariri said the talks were “positive.”“We have decided to meet tomorrow, but we will not announce the time for security reasons,” he added. “There will be successive meetings to reach a government format before Christmas,” Hariri went on to say.

President meets new Maronite Diocese Archbishop of Tyre
NNA/December 22/2020
President Michel Aoun received the new Maronite Diocese Archbishop of Tyre, Msgr. Charbel Youssef Abdullah, accompanied by his predecessor Shukrallah Nabil Hajj. According to a statement by the President’s press office, Msgr. Abdullah “thanked the President for sending him as a representative to participate in his ordination as Bishop in Bkerke, on December 5. The discussion also addressed the conditions of the Maronite Diocese in Tire, and general affairs.”

Salameh: $2bn Still Remain for Subsidies, Lebanese’s Deposits Not in Central Bank
Naharnet/December 22/2020
Central Bank governor Riad Salameh said on Tuesday the crisis of ending subsidies on the import of basic goods can be solved without reducing the foreign reserves if the new government takes the necessary measures. In remarks to the US-based Arabic-language satellite TV channel, al-Hurra, Salameh described as “exaggerated” the reports claiming that deposits of the Lebanese people in local banks have “evaporated.”
He stressed that the dollar liquidity crisis in Lebanese banks began a gradual decline, revealing that the depositors' money was not in the "central" bank.
He said a year ago until today, deposits worth 30 billion dollars have been withdrawn from Lebanese banks, 20 billion dollars of which have been used to cover debts.
"The debt portfolio decreased significantly in the banking sector from 55 billion to 35 billion dollars today,” he said. “The second part was used to buy real estate, while the third part was taken in cash, and we estimate that approximately 10 billion dollars are with the Lebanese,” he added. On the problematic issue of lifting subsidies on the import of basic goods, Salameh said we are keen that the Lebanese remain capable of buying medicines, fuel and foodstuff at the official dollar rate of LBP 1500.
He said it is up to the government to decide how to rationalize imports, stressing the need to set specific approaches that allow the Lebanese to get their basic needs, while concurrently preserving the bank’s foreign reserves.
“The bank still has two billion dollars before touching the foreign reserves,” he said, noting that forming a credible government that inspires confidence in creditors helps restore liquidity back to the country.
On the multiplicity of trading exchange rates of the dollar and the black market, Salameh said that “the bank does not interfere in cash. The only experience we took is through Sayrafa with a volume not exceeding $150 billion over a period of 6 months.
“How can we affect a market we know nothing about its location and the security services are chasing it?" he asked. On whether the central bank plans to peg the dollar rate, the Governor assured that the exchange rate is usually determined between the finance minister and central bank governor, “we will wait to see the policies of the future government,” he said. On forensic audit into the bank’s accounts, Salameh assured: “We submitted all the bank’s accounts to the finance ministry which in turn handed them to the forensic audit companies. We will hand over the state’s accounts after we received a written request from the Minister of Finance and a recommendation of the Parliament."
Salameh described as “baseless” the reports claiming the bank allegedly covered money laundering operations for Hizbullah.

Lebanese-UN meeting at Abdel Samad's office to discuss preparations for integrated media plan on COVID-19 vaccine
NNA/December 22/2020
Caretaker Minister of Information, Dr. Manal Abdel Samad Najd, on Tuesday met in her office at the Ministry, the representative of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Lebanon, Yukie Mokuo.
The meeting took place in the presence of the representative of the Caretaker Minister of Public Health, Dr. Hamad Hassan, Director of the E-Health Program, Lina Abu Murad, UNICEF Media Officer Blanche Baz, and a work team from the Ministry of Information.
During the meeting, conferees discussed means of cooperation especially in the field of media, where they agreed on several points, including the development of an integrated media plan on the Covid-19 vaccine.
The media plan includes several items, most prominently the launch of a unified vaccine media platform and a list of questions to be forwarded to a specialized medical committee at the Health Ministry and the World Health Organization for scientific answers, in addition to the launch of vaccine awareness videos, and the importance of the previously-launched Ma3an app for identifying infected people without revealing their identity. It is to note that the Ministry of Information has placed its e-mail info@ministryinfo.gov.lb at the disposal of citizens, for them to send their questions as part of its endeavor, in cooperation with the Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization and the UNICEF, to scientifically answer a preliminary list of questions/concerns about the coronavirus vaccine.
The Ministry of Information had previously prepared a preliminary list of questions - the most frequent concerns, and the final list will be part of a forthcoming awareness-raising campaign about the coronavirus vaccine.

Rahi receives Army Commander, Apostolic Nuncio
NNA/December 22/2020
Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rahi received Tuesday Lebanese Army Commander, General Joseph Aoun, who came to Bkirki in the company of Mount Lebanon Intelligence Chief, General Toni Mouawad.
Rahi later met with Apostolic Nuncio to Lebanon, Joseph Spiteri.

FPM Bloc Urges 'Unified Standards' Anew after Aoun-Hariri Talks
Naharnet/December 22/2020
The Free Patriotic Movement-led Strong Lebanon parliamentary bloc on Tuesday reiterated its call for “unified standards” in the cabinet formation process, shortly after a meeting between President Michel Aoun and PM-designate Saad Hariri.
In a statement issued after its weekly electronic meeting, chaired by FPM chief Jebran Bassil, the bloc hoped Aoun and Hariri will reach “a common approach as quick as possible.”It said this approach should be based on “clear principles and unified standards for the cabinet formation process, especially as to the distribution of portfolios and the confirmation of full partnership between them according to Article 53 of the constitution.”Strong Lebanon added that Article 53 “clearly states the government’s formation should happen in agreement between the President and the PM-designate.”Hariri described his talks with Aoun on Tuesday as “positive.”“We have decided to meet tomorrow... and there will be successive meetings to reach a government format before Christmas,” he said.

Abiad: COVID-19 Infections Largest among Youth

Naharnet/December 22/2020
Director general of the state-run Rafik Hariri University Hospital, Firas Abiad, said Tuesday the responsibility to prevent the spread of coronavirus mainly lies on “individuals and sectors," noting that most infections are among the youth who spread it to the elderly.
Abiad said in an interview with LBCI TV station that the health sector has the capabilities to conduct PCR tests as long as it continues to obtain the needed support. According to figures, “coronavirus is still present at a large scale. 80 percent of hospital beds in the ICU are full,” he said. “Commitment to wearing face masks is largely variable,” he added, explaining that “young people make up the largest part of individuals infected with corona, they transmit the infection to the elderly.”“A lot of details about the virus remain unknown (to scientists) until this moment,” noted Abiad, adding “we are aiming for accuracy and speed in decision making because the virus is quick, and the new strain must not be allowed to reach Lebanon.” On Lebanese expatriates visiting their relatives in Lebanon, he said it would have been better if Lebanon had taken a decision banning arrivals from abroad to limit the spread of a new coronavirus strain. Noting that schools are the most common place to retract the virus, “at the same time it is not possible to waste the school year. Our children need to grow up properly," he stated. “Undoubtedly we will win the war against corona, but until this day comes, we must take caution and caution,” he concluded.

The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 22-23/2020

US submarine crosses Strait of Hormuz in new show of force
The Arab Weekly/December 22/2020
WASHINGTON--A US nuclear submarine crossed the Strait of Hormuz Monday in a new show of force directed at Iran as the anniversary of the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani by a US drone approached. The USS Georgia can carry 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles and 66 Special Forces soldiers, according to a statement from the US Navy, which usually does not disclose the presence of its submersibles around the world. The statement is illustrated with photos showing the USS Georgia at the surface, escorted by the cruisers USS Port Royal and USS Philippine Sea, in the strategic strait that Iran regularly threatens to block.
Unusual transit
The unusual transit in the Arabian Gulf’s shallow waters, aimed at underscoring American military might in the region, follows the killing last month of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, an Iranian scientist named by the West as the leader of the Islamic Republic’s disbanded military nuclear programme. It also comes some two weeks before the anniversary of the American drone strike in January that killed Soleimani. Iran has promised to seek revenge for both killings. US military officials fear an attack by Tehran to avenge the powerful Soleimani, who was assassinated on January 3, 2020 in a US drone strike near Baghdad airport in Iraq. The head of US forces in the Middle East, General Frank McKenzie, told journalists Sunday that Washington is “prepared to react” if Iran attacks them. The anniversary will coincide with a reduction in US military strength in Iraq, and the Pentagon has stepped up demonstrations of force in recent weeks to deter opponents.
Commitment to regional partners
The Georgia’s presence “demonstrates the United States’ commitment to regional partners and maritime security with a full spectrum of capabilities to remain ready to defend against any threat at any time,” the Navy warned.
Two US B-52 bombers, capable of carrying nuclear weapons, flew over the Gulf region on December 10, and the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz crossed the Gulf waters at the end of November. A rocket salvo on Sunday targeted the US Embassy in Baghdad, causing damage but no casualties. The attack was the third against US military and diplomatic facilities since an October truce with pro-Iran Iraqi factions ended a year-long series of attacks on foreign facilities across Iraq.


US slams fresh sanctions on Asma Assad, Syrian Central Bank
Reuters/December 22/2020
WASHINGTON: The United States on Tuesday slapped fresh sanctions on Syria, targeting its central bank and blacklisting several people and entities in a continued effort to cut off funds for President Bashar Assad’s government. The latest action, building on sanctions imposed on Syria earlier this year, marked another round in a US campaign to push Assad’s government back into UN-led negotiations to end the country’s nearly decade-long war. “The  United States will  continue to seek accountability for those prolonging this conflict,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
Millions of people have fled Syria and millions more have been internally displaced since a crackdown by Assad on protesters in 2011 led to civil war with Iran and Russia backing the government and the United States supporting the opposition. In a separate statement, the US Treasury Department said the new sanctions add two individuals, nine business entities and the Central Bank of Syria to Washington’s Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List. The US State Department also designated Asma Assad, the British-born wife of the Syrian president, accusing her of impeding efforts for a political resolution to the war, and several members of her family, Pompeo said. Asma Assad was previously hit with sanctions in June. Among those blacklisted were Lina Mohammed Nazir Al-Kinayeh,  one  of Assad’s key advisers;  her husband, Syrian parliamentarian Mohammed Hammam Mohammed Adnan Masouti; several government affiliated  businesses; and General Kifah Moulhem, commander of Syria’s Military Intelligence organization. Tuesday’s action freezes any US assets of those blacklisted and generally bar Americans from dealing with them. Non-Americans that engage in certain transactions with the targeted people and entities may also be hit with sanctions, the Treasury said.

Israel faces prospect of new elections, again
The Arab Weekly/December 22/2020
JERUSALEM - Israel appeared headed to its fourth election in two years on Tuesday after the failure of a last-ditch effort to keep the government afloat and push off the automatic dissolution of parliament. Negotiations meant to bring about a budget compromise between the government’s two main parties broke down early Tuesday and in a late-night Knesset session, members of the Likud and Blue and White parties voted against a proposal to postpone Tuesday’s budget deadline for another two weeks. The measure failed by 49 votes to 47. If the government does not pass a budget by midnight Tuesday, Israeli law stipulates that the Knesset dissolve and triggers snap elections in 90 days. Most avenues to evade that deadline have been closed off. Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s Likud and Defence Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party have been at loggerheads over the national budget issue since forming a unity government in May. Netanyahu and Gantz had proposed pushing off Tuesday’s deadline by two more weeks in an effort to reach a compromise on the 2020 budget. But members of their own parties voted against the motion in a late-night, 11th hour break from party ranks. “We do not want elections and we voted against them this evening, but we are not afraid of elections — because we will win!” the prime minister wrote on Twitter.
Changed landscape
Israel’s coalition government — a broken marriage between Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and his political rival, Defence Minister Benny Gantz — has been inching towards collapse for weeks. The three-year coalition deal stipulates that Netanyahu serves as premier for 18 months, with Gantz, currently the alternate prime minister, taking over in November 2021. Gantz had insisted the coalition pass a budget covering both 2020 and 2021, arguing Israel needs stability after its worst ever political crisis and with its economy devastated by the pandemic. Netanyahu has refused to endorse a 2021 budget. That, according to his critics, was a political tactic to keep the coalition unstable and make it easier for him to sink the government before he must hand power to Gantz. Once parliament dissolves, Israelis will head to the polls in March for a fourth time since early 2019, this time in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, a major economic recession, and while Netanyahu is on trial for a series of corruption charges. Netanyahu also faces a challenger from within his own camp, Gideon Saar, who broke from the Likud party earlier this month and has called for the long-ruling prime minister’s ouster. Several members of Netanyahu’s party who shot down Tuesday’s proposal are expected to join ranks with Saar.
Netanyahu “confident”
The premier on Saturday received the first of two jabs, kicking off Israel’s national coronavirus vaccination effort, but the country remains in the grips of pandemic-driven economic crisis. Speaking alongside White House advisor Jared Kushner who was in Jerusalem on Monday, Netanyahu voiced confidence of victory should an election be called. “We don’t want elections,” the veteran premier said. “But if elections are forced on us, we’ll win, since everyone can see our accomplishments,” he added, listing historic normalisation agreements with multiple Arab countries, as well the COVID-19 vaccination rollout. Meanwhile, Gantz’s political fortunes appear to have plummeted. Blue and White fractured in April when he decided to strike a deal with Netanyahu and recent polls suggest the party would only win a handful of seats if elections were held soon.

Israeli envoys, Jared Kushner arrive in Morocco after establishing relations
Reuters/December 22/2020
Israeli delegation led by Led by National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat
Donald Trump's advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner also joined the flight
RABAT: Israeli envoys arrived in Morocco on Tuesday to meet its king and hammer out an upgrade of ties that was forged by the White House in a parting foreign policy push by US President Donald Trump. Led by National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, the Israeli delegation was accompanied by Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and architect of pan-Arab rapprochement with Israel. They took El Al Israel Airlines in the first direct flight by a commercial plane from Tel Aviv to Rabat. Both countries anticipate a surge in tourism aboard such connections, mainly among the hundreds of thousands of Israelis of Moroccan descent. This afternoon, Moroccan officials welcomed Jared Kushner and Israeli National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat at Rabat’s airport. #AbrahamAccords https://t.co/PCjX2mcm7I
— U.S. Embassy Morocco (@USEmbMorocco) December 22, 2020
Morocco followed the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan in moving toward normal relations with Israel. Palestinians have censured the US-brokered deals, seeing a betrayal of a long-standing demand that Israel first meet their statehood demand.
As the Trump administration has sought to isolate Iran, the deals have been sweetened with promises of business opportunities or economic aid. Israel's new partners have also enjoyed bilateral benefits from Washington - in Rabat's case, US recognition of its sovereignty over the Western Sahara.
"This type of agreement (with Israel) will help have a better interaction between communities and people," Moroccan Tourism Minister Nadia Fettah Alaoui told I24 television. During the visit, Ben-Shabbat and Kushner will see Morocco's King Mohammed VI, Israeli officials said. Moroccan and Israeli officials are also scheduled to sign accords on linking up aviation and financial systems, on visas and water management. The delegates' plane, painted with the Hebrew, Arabic and English words for "peace" and a Maghreb good-luck talisman, had a low-key reception at Rabat airport. Moroccan officials describe their deal with Israel as a restoration of mid-level ties that Rabat cooled in 2000 in solidarity with Palestinians. Israel and Morocco now plan to reopen mutual "liaison offices". Israel hopes these will be upgraded to embassies. Asked if the countries might establish full diplomatic relations before Trump steps down next month, Israeli Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen told Ynet TV: "My understanding is that the likelihood is not high."


Rome, Ankara jockey to form a new Sarraj government
The Arab Weekly/December 22/2020
The proposed formula would crush the ambitions of Libyan Parliament Speaker Aguila Saleh to head the presidency council.
TRIPOLI – As political dialogue stumbles in Libya, Turkey and Italy are trying to exploit the North African country’s misfortunes to have a new executive authority appointed under its ally, the current President Fayez al-Sarraj. This brings back to the surface talk of a scenario that had been previously floated whereby Sarraj would remain head of the presidency council, while the army, led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, would appoint a prime minister of its choice. Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported that Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio had transferred a proposal from Sarraj to Haftar stipulating that Sarraj would remain head of the presidency council in exchange for appointing a prime minister from the eastern region. The newspaper added, “Sarraj informed Italy and Turkey that he is ready to extend his mandate, proposing to freeze the Presidential Council. But he offered to make room for a new prime minister (a position which does not exist today), and accepted that the nominee be from Haftar’s camp. This is the political proposal that Conte and di Maio presented to the Field Marshal.”If Haftar agrees to this formula, it would crush the ambitions of Parliament Speaker Aguila Saleh, who has had his eye set on the presidency, recently causing his relationship with the army commander to deteriorate. Saleh exerted great tribal pressure on Haftar to withdraw from southern Tripoli, a condition that was demanded by the Islamists and their allies before entering into any talks. Saleh turned into a competitor to Haftar in the eastern region, benefiting from the support of regional countries backing the army. He was able to mastermind a sort of siege on the army commander, making him less welcome abroad, especially in the countries supporting him such as Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, France and Russia, and no longer able to receive foreign delegations in his headquarters in Rajma. Turkey and Italy are counting on Haftar’s anger to agree to the proposal to keep Sarraj in power to spite Saleh, who has been involved in local and international efforts to cut the wings of the Libyan National Army (LNA) commander who is often referred to as “the strongman in eastern Libya.”It seems that Egypt, which had sent signals indicating its support for the proposal to have senior positions in the new executive authority in Libya attributed to Saleh and the current interior minister of the Government of National Accord (GNA) Fathi Bashagha, sensed the risk to this scenario in last week’s visit of Italian officials to Rajma; so it dispatched its intelligence chief Abbas Kamel to Rajma in an attempt to read Haftar’s position on the Italian offer and convince him to reject it. Egypt’s contribution to the path of a politically negotiated solution by hosting a round of military talks in Hurghada at the end of last September, in addition to receiving Bashagha, reflects Cairo’s approval of the UN’s moves to reach a political solution in Libya, moves that Ankara, and now apparently Rome, oppose. It is quite possible that Italy, like Turkey, is apprehensive of the arrival of a new executive authority in Libya that would limit its strong influence in the country and advance the interests of its rival France, especially after Bashagha’s visit to Paris and his signing important contracts with a number of French security companies.
The Italian-Turkish alliance dispels all expectations of rising tensions between the two countries following Turkey’s expressed ambitions to take control of wealth and the sea and air ports in western Libya. Turkey was clearly annoyed by Sarraj’s decision to resign as soon as a new executive authority was agreed upon. “A development like this … Hearing such news was disturbing for us,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had said at the time.Observers have linked his frustration to the possibility that numerous economic understandings between Sarraj and Ankara that were reached in exchange for the latter’s intervention to repel the LNA’s attack on Tripoli, have still not been implemented. They did not exclude that these understandings are related to Libyan ports, especially the port of Misrata, while other reports spoke of Turkish ambitions to control all sea ports in western Libya.
Ankara also fears that the arrival of a new Libyan authority would undermine its controversial maritime border demarcation agreement with Sarraj, which several countries, led by France and Egypt, oppose. The efforts of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum have stalled, unable to produce an agreement on a mechanism to choose candidates for the highest positions in the new executive authority, amid accusations that wealthy businessman Ali al-Dabaiba, who is close to Turkey, is obstructing the dialogue. The accusations directed against Dabaiba first focused on bribing participants in the dialogue to vote against the mechanism that would lead to the victory of the Saleh-Bashagha proposal. Dabaiba’s efforts first looked as though they were about to bear fruit, as first-round votes gave an advantage to a proposal paving the way for Dabaiba’s son-in-law and Misratan businessman Abdulhamid al-Dabaiba be the next prime minister and parliament member Abdul Jawad al-Ubaidi to serve as head of the presidency council. However, Abdulhamid al-Dabaiba and a number of members of the forum opted to withdraw from the race in protest against amendments made to the proposals by the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), despite indications that he would still be able to garner a majority vote in the forum. The withdrawal indicates that Dabaiba was not serious about competing for the position and that his intervention was aimed at obstructing the dialogue to help Sarraj survive.

Europe’s top human rights court orders immediate Turkish release of jailed Kurdish leader Demirtas
MENEKSE TOKYAY/December 22, 2020
ANKARA: The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Tuesday ordered Turkey to immediately release jailed Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas. In their ruling, the chamber’s judges said the 47-year-old’s human rights had been violated and his pre-trial detention for years served as a cover for narrowing pluralism in the country. The court found that Turkey had interfered with the freedom of expression of the former leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) by lifting his parliamentary immunity and violated his right to be elected for parliament.
Demirtas, who has been in prison on terror-related charges since November 2016, was a two-time presidential candidate against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and co-chaired the HDP between 2014 and 2018. He faces 142 years of imprisonment over his political actions during 2014 protests in southeastern provinces of Turkey where he is accused of inciting street demonstrations against the siege of the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani by Daesh militants. The protests led to the deaths of 37 civilians.
Europe’s top human rights court also ordered Turkey to pay Demirtas 60,400 euros ($73,540) in damages, costs, and expenses. “Turkey as a contracting party to the European Convention has undertaken the obligation to implement all rulings of the European Court,” Massimo Frigo, senior international lawyer at the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), told Arab News. “The Demirtas ruling by the court is final and should be executed immediately, including his release as requested by the court,” he said. According to Frigo, lack of implementation would constitute a fundamental disregard of Turkey’s obligations under the convention and as a member of the Council of Europe. “The court thus concluded that the reasons put forward by the authorities for the applicant’s pre-trial detention had merely been a cover for an ulterior political purpose, which was a matter of indisputable gravity for democracy,” the chamber said, adding that there was no evidence in the charges for his detention that linked the offenses and his political actions. When a chamber of the ECHR ruled that Demirtas’ right to a swift trial had been violated, Erdogan committed to making a counter-move against the ruling and an appeals court quickly approved a jail sentence against him over charges of disseminating terror propaganda in 2013 to finalize his conviction. In several speeches he made recently, Erdogan still referred to Demirtas as “a terrorist having the blood on his hands.”Since November 2016, Demirtas has been detained at a prison in Edirne, a city bordering Bulgaria and Greece, thousands of miles away from the southeastern Turkish province of Diyarbakir where his family lives. “Enough lives ruined. Enough pain inflicted. Enough injustice. Release Selahattin,” former European Parliament Turkey rapporteur, Kati Piri tweeted just after the announcement of the ruling. Nacho Sanchez Amor, the current Turkey rapporteur of the European Parliament, said: “No more excuses for Turkey’s authorities: Respecting rule of law means freeing Demirtas.”However, human rights lawyer, Erdal Dogan, was pessimistic about any positive move from the Turkish judiciary in that regard.
“I don’t expect any decision to release him. They already opened another trial against him for a second arrest for not being obliged to free Demirtas. However, this ECHR ruling is the utmost confirmation at the international scale that he is imprisoned over baseless charges,” he told Arab News.
In June, Turkey’s Constitutional Court concluded that the right to his personal liberty and security had been violated as his period of arrest exceeded the reasonable duration.
In detention, Demirtas has written three books containing short stories.

Qatar still turning blind eye to labor abuse: HRW
CASPAR WEBB/December 22, 2020
Human Rights Watch slams ‘government’s failure to ensure workers are paid’
LONDON: Qatari authorities have ignored hundreds of migrant workers who are awaiting months of unpaid wages at two firms in the country, despite repeatedly being warned of the situation, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Tuesday.
The government set up the Workers’ Support and Insurance Fund in 2018 to address the persistent labor abuse allegations leveled against Qatar. However, the fund has not been used to benefit struggling workers in the two companies. “It is disheartening that hundreds of workers in at least two companies are struggling to obtain their unpaid wages even though the Qatari government has been made aware of these abuses over and over again,” said Maham Javaid, Middle East fellow at HRW. “The Qatari government’s failure to ensure that workers are paid underlines the disappointing gap between Qatar’s promises of reform and the reality.” HRW informed the government earlier this year that two companies in the country were systematically underpaying employees. Workers for the Imperial Trading and Construction Co. (ITCC) and Lalibela Cleaning & Services told investigators that they “live and work in desperate conditions.”In response to the allegations, Qatar’s Government Communications Office said: “ITCC has been placed on the Labor Ministry’s list of banned companies, legal proceedings against the company have been launched and strict penalties have been imposed on the company.” But workers are yet to receive the wages they are owed, and many are denied Qatari ID cards that are required to receive essential services in the country. HRW contacted both companies for comment but neither responded. An August report by HRW revealed that wage abuse of migrant workers is prevalent across many occupations and industries in Qatar. The report said the country “has not met its 2017 commitment to the International Labour Organization.” As part of the investigation, HRW uncovered a repeated pattern of neglect. Local authorities and police have ignored complaints and protests by migrant workers, the organization found. One worker told HRW that “at least 40 workers” submitted complaints to Qatar’s labor dispute committee, but were yet to be called in for a hearing. After authorities failed to address their complaints, many workers organized strikes and protests. Another employee said: “Police came to the protests to try to scare us to end the strikes. They say that if we put photos or videos of the protests on social media we will be jailed.”Earlier this year, Qatar claimed that the Workers’ Support and Insurance Fund was “fully operational” and had distributed more than 14 million Qatari riyals ($3.85 million) in financial compensation. But at least 400 workers are still awaiting payments from the fund, despite Qatari law stating that labor cases must be concluded “within six weeks.”HRW said: “Qatar should amend the fund’s terms and provide humanitarian assistance to workers while they await a labor court resolution. Additionally, the labor court needs to create avenues for workers without Qatar IDs to report wage abuse and other grievances.”

Daughter of British-Iranian political prisoner sends plea to UK PM

ARAB NEWS/December 22, 2020
LONDON: The 6-year-old daughter of one of Iran’s most high-profile political prisoners has written a card to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson asking him to bring home her mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in time for Christmas. Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who turns 42 on Saturday, is expected to spend her fifth Christmas away from her family, having been imprisoned since 2016 on highly contentious allegations of espionage and an attempt to overthrow the Iranian regime. In the card to the prime minister, her daughter said: “Dear Boris Johnson, please can you bring my mummy home for Christmas. She has been good. When she comes back I want to cuddle her first and then go to the toy shop with her. Merry Christmas to you and your family. Love Gabriella.”Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family has been campaigning for her release non-stop since her imprisonment.
Measures to draw attention to the case have included a joint hunger strike between her and her husband Richard, who camped outside the Iranian Embassy in London. Zaghari-Ratcliffe was given a temporary release from the notorious Evin Prison in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, which Tehran struggled to contain. She is now back under house arrest at her parents’ home in Tehran. No date has been set for her next court hearing.

US restores Sudan’s sovereign immunity, passes aid package
The Arab Weekly/December 22/2020
CAIRO/WASHINGTON – The United States on Monday reinstated Sudan's sovereign immunity, as the US Congress passed legislation formalising the move, following the ending of Sudan's designation as a state sponsor of terror. However, the legislation includes an exemption allowing lawsuits by the families of victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States already underway in US courts to move forward, although experts say Sudan is unlikely to lose those cases. The state sponsor of terror designation, which was in place for almost three decades, had weighed on Sudan's economy and restricted its ability to receive aid. For investors, the reinstating of sovereign immunity removes another layer of financial risk. Sudan had been engaged in talks with the United States for months, and paid a negotiated $335 million settlement to victims of al-Qaeda attacks on US embassies in East Africa in 1998 who had been awarded much higher damages by US courts. The process to release the settlement money and restore Sudan's sovereign immunity -- protection against being sued in American courts -- had been stalled in the US Congress as it had been tied to the $892 billion coronavirus aid package. Late on Monday, the wider package was passed in the US Congress after a deal has been worked out in a rare weekend session, and sent to US President Donald Trump to sign into law. According to the bill, Washington will be authorising $111 million to pay off part of Sudan's bilateral debt, and $120 million to help pay off its debt to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) while making another $700 million available until September 2022 for assistance to the country. Last week, Sudan's finance minister announced a US "bridge loan" that would allow Sudan to clear $1 billion in arrears to the World Bank.
A US source familiar with the matter said the debt assistance would help kick off Sudan's debt relief on a global level, helping make it eligible for the IMF's Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) programme. With the reinstatement of sovereign immunity and the financial aid, Khartoum will now be "on the hook" to normalise ties with Israel, a US source familiar with the matter said, a move it has agreed to under US pressure. In a joint statement in October, Israel and Sudan said they had agreed to normalise relations and end the state of belligerence between the two countries, but Sudan's civilian leaders have said the final decision would be in the hands of a yet-to-be-formed transitional legislature. The normalisation would make Sudan one of the four Arab countries along with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco, over the past several months to establish relations with Israel in deals brokered with US help. The bill also appropriates an additional $150 million for Sudan's settlement payment, in order to redistribute the funds in a way the bill's sponsors say is more equitable. The United States designated Sudan a state sponsor of terrorism in 1993 on the grounds that former President Omar al-Bashir's regime was supporting extremist groups including al-Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah. In the 1990s, the regime became a pariah, hosting Osama bin Laden and positioning itself as a fulcrum for Islamist movements, although experts still say Sudan's liability for the September 11 attacks is questionable.

Survey: Is polarization Turkey’s fate?
MENEKSE TOKYAY/December 22, 2020
ANKARA: A new international study has produced striking results about the growth of polarization in Turkey this year. The study, by the German Marshall Fund of the US and the Istanbul Bilgi University Center for Migration Research with financial support from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), published its results on Dec. 22, revealing the social distance, political intolerance and echo chambers within Turkish society. The survey, entitled “Dimensions of Polarization in Turkey 2020”, was conducted through face-to-face interviews across 29 cities with some 4,000 representing Turkey’s adult population. The results were announced on Tuesday morning. Among all political party supporters, the US is seen as the biggest threat, followed by Israel and Russia. Eighty-six percent of all respondents want 4 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey to go back home, while this view climbs to 93 percent among CHP supporters. As a prominent indicator of political polarization, people created a social distance from others who hold “the most distant” political line to their own. While 72 percent of the participants do not want to do business with supporters of the “most distant” political party, some 60 percent also do not want them as neighbors. Another 66 percent said that they do not want their children to play with children of that political party’s supporters, and 75 percent don’t want their children to get married with children of the “other” political party.
Professor Emre Erdogan, an academic from Istanbul Bilgi University and the scientific coordinator of the study, said the survey revealed a decreasing willingness for living together among supporters of different political parties. “This is a polarization both on political and emotional fronts, and is becoming an acute problem for the country,” he told Arab News. 70 percent of CHP supporters, 67 percent of HDP supporters and 65 percent of IYI Party supporters think that social disagreements increased in the country over the last year, with the failed coup attempt, the Kurdish conflict and the executive presidential system that grants President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with excessive power being the hot topics for disagreement. Paul T. Levin, director of the Stockholm University Institute for Turkish Studies, thinks polarization seems to be part of the government’s strategy, or at least a consequence of it. “President Erdogan himself has long used divisive rhetoric and depicted his political opponents as vandals, terrorists, or enemies of the state,” he told Arab News, adding that the government-affiliated media has also been known to demonize critics and contribute to the polarization in the country.
The survey shows that polarization also deepens with some controversial issues. The supporters of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its nationalistic ally MHP vehemently support divisive projects such as Kanal Istanbul artificial waterway project or the re-conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque, while the opposition party supporters stand against them. “The timing of the Hagia Sophia decision was probably related to the need to shore up support among core Erdogan and AKP supporters at a time of crisis. It was a big card to play though for relatively small gain at home and irreversibly sours perceptions of Turkey in the West and Orthodox Christian world,” Nora Fisher Onar, Turkey expert from University of San Francisco International Studies department, told Arab News.
“Another aspect of domestic governance that has been polarizing is the government’s interference in an attempt to usurp resources from or block opposition mayors’ provisions of public goods like transportation infrastructure,” she added. Instead, the education in the mother tongue for the Kurdish community gathers all party supporters against the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) supporters. But supporters of the opposition parties stand against the appointment of trustees to the Kurdish-led municipalities with half of the population opposed. A majority of the respondents do not use Twitter (63 percent) and Facebook (66 percent) as a means to share their political views. Half of the respondents think the economy and unemployment are the most important problems of the country, followed by inflation rates. Eighty percent of AKP supporters think their opinions are represented in the country’s governance, while this rate is only 13.6 percent among CHP supporters and 8.1 percent among HDP supporters.
The supporters of the opposition parties are inclined to move abroad if they have a chance. One-third of CHP supporters and almost half of HDP supporters would think of immigration for finding a better job, for better opportunities of personal freedoms and due to losing hope about the country’s future. “The unemployment, the poverty and the lack of means for political expression are the main factors that weaken the citizenship bond of HDP supporters,” Prof. Erdogan said. Ninety percent of HDP supporters, 80 percent of CHP supporters and 69 percent of IYI Party supporters don’t think that the elections are held fairly in Turkey. “This perception further strengthens the political alienation of people and it pushes them to migrate to other countries where they would be better represented on political fronts with democratic elections,” Prof. Erdogan said.
77 percent of AKP supporters feel “emotionally” attached to the country, while this rate declines to 65 percent among CHP supporters and 45 percent among HDP supporters.
According to Onar, Ankara’s assertive regional policies are most worrisome to HDP voters — especially regarding Syria and Iraq — and for the more progressive elements in the CHP, but are viewed positively by the right-wing nationalist AKP-MHP coalition and also for some in the center-right and center-left nationalist IYI Party. “The more you polarize by encouraging a strong sense of ‘them’ versus ‘us’ the more you can generate passionate support among your followers. But then the harder it becomes to govern, requiring more polarization to stay in power and making it even harder to govern. This becomes a vicious circle,” she said.


European Commission Recommends EU Members Lift UK Travel Bans
Agence France Presse/December 22/2020
The European Commission recommended Tuesday that EU member states lift the blanket bans some have imposed on arrivals from Britain to allow essential journeys and cargo transport to resume. France, the country with the busiest train and ferry links to the UK, announced that it would ease restrictions to allow entry to EU nationals and residents on condition passengers can present negative virus tests. Other countries were expected to follow suit, but Germany and Ireland had already announced that their controls would continue, and a diplomat said EU ambassadors had simply "taken note" of the recommendation.  “There was broad support among EU ambassadors to maintain or reestablish cargo flows to and from the UK," the diplomat said after the member states met to discuss the proposal. "EU member states have taken note of the commission recommendations," he said. "Member states stand ready to reassess the measures taken in order to limit the further spread of the new SARS-CoV-2 variant when more scientific evidence sheds further light on the nature of the new virus strain." This falls short of the European Commission's advice, released ahead of the meeting.
"Flight and train bans should be discontinued given the need to ensure essential travel and avoid supply chain disruptions," a statement from the EU executive said. EU member states are responsible for their own borders, but representatives were to meet later Tuesday to study the Commission's recommendations.
Several EU member states have imposed flight, train and ferry bans on UK arrivals since Britain announced the discovery of a new strain of coronavirus. The ban on arrivals in France has led to long tailbacks of freight trucks in southern England, and has disrupted passenger travel in the run-up to Christmas.
Member states want to get their own nationals home from Britain, and resume freight shipments, but they still want to discourage "non-essential" travel. The Commission recommended, therefore, that coronavirus tests be carried out on passengers within 72 hours of travel -- although "transport staff" should be exempted.  "Transit of passengers, especially for essential travel, should be facilitated without quarantine," it said. "A test can be required, but authorities need to inform about such requirement in advance or offer testing during the journey," the statement said.
British Home Secretary Priti Patel told Sky News that British and French authorities are in talks on setting up testing centers in ports. Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said: "Member states should take coordinated action to discourage non-essential travel between the UK and the EU. "At the same time, blanket travel bans should not prevent thousands of EU and UK citizens from returning to their homes."France decided late Sunday to suspend all arrivals from the United Kingdom for 48 hours over the new strain that has resulted in a third lockdown for London and much of southeast England. Other EU countries have instituted flight and train bans, and Germany has already extended its ban until January 6.

Top U.S. Disease Scientist Receives Vaccine, Says Confident of Its Safety
Agence France Presse/December 22/2020
Anthony Fauci, the United States' top infectious disease specialist, received his Covid-19 vaccine on Monday along with other senior officials and six health workers at a live streamed event at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The widely-respected scientist said he took the shot "as a symbol to the rest of the country that I feel extreme confidence in the safety and the efficacy of this vaccine. "I want to encourage everyone who has the opportunity to get vaccinated so that we could have a veil of protection over this country, that would end this pandemic," he added. He then gave a thumbs-up sign and clapped for his colleagues as he left the stage of an auditorium at the NIH's headquarters in Bethesda, a Washington suburb. The 79-year-old, who continues to practice as a physician, was among the first Americans to receive injections developed by Moderna and the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which he has directed since 1984. NIH director Francis Collins and health secretary Alex Azar also received their vaccinations at the ceremony. "I want the American people to know that I have absolute and complete confidence in the integrity and the independence of the processes used by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) to approve these vaccines," said Azar, a political appointee of the Trump administration. Before them, six health workers received their shots, many appearing emotional as they were asked to explain why they chose to be vaccinated. "I work directly with a colon patient so I felt I have an opportunity, why not," said nurse Naomi Richardson. It comes as a new poll showed Americans' willingness to take a coronavirus vaccine has jumped since the first two were authorized. The USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll, carried out Wednesday through Sunday, showed 46 percent said they were willing to take the vaccine as soon as they can -- a significant jump on the 26 percent who answered similarly in late October. A further 32 percent said they would wait for others to get the shots before they do so themselves.

The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 22-23/2020

Canadian Report Underscores Iran’s Culpability in Downing of Ukrainian Airliner
Toby Dershowitz and Dylan Gresik/December 22/2020
Last week, Ralph Goodale, special advisor to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, released a comprehensive report detailing the significant flaws in the Islamic Republic of Iran’s investigation into its downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752. The report is an important step in holding Iran accountable for its actions and clarifying what happened on that fateful day.
On January 8, 2020, an operator with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) fired two surface-to-air missiles from a Russian-made Tor-M1 system at Flight PS752 as the civilian plane departed Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport. All 176 passengers and crew members, including 85 Canadian citizens and permanent residents, were killed.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a UN agency, outlines aircraft incident investigation requirements in Annex 13 of the Convention on International Civil Aviation, also known as the Chicago Convention. It requires the Islamic Republic to lead the investigation, since it is the state in which the incident occurred.
Yet 11 months later, Iran “has not conducted its investigations (safety, criminal or otherwise) in a truly independent, objective and transparent manner,” Goodale determined. “The party responsible for the situation is investigating itself, largely in secret.”
In its own preliminary report released in July, Iran’s Aircraft Accident Investigation Board (AAIB) concocted an elaborate chain of human and technical errors that it says led the operator to misidentify and fire on the civilian aircraft.
Goodale rightly questions Iran’s assertions that IRGC personnel failed to notice the missile battery’s alleged misalignment by an “enormous directional error of 107 degrees.” Goodale also challenged Tehran’s claim that it had experienced a total communications failure with the command center and “mistook a [130-foot] long commercial passenger jet taking off and ascending from east to west for some sort of threatening aircraft or missile coming in from west to east.”
The Canadian report lists integral questions Iranian authorities left unanswered, including why Iran’s civilian airspace remained open during active missile launches against U.S. military personnel in Iraq. In July, Iran’s then-lead investigator, Hassan Rezaeifar, was recorded suggesting the airspace remained open to conceal these attacks and to continue collecting profitable overflight fees.
“Iran bears a heavy burden of responsibility to be completely comprehensive and transparent in substantiating its explanations with credible, compelling evidence, which has not yet been forthcoming,” the report stated. Despite Iran’s claims to the contrary, evidence suggests intentional harm as well as “incompetence, recklessness and wanton disregard for innocent human life.”
If the past is any indication, the Islamic Republic’s forthcoming final incident report, due before January 8, 2021, will be similarly incomplete and flawed – and should not satisfy ICAO’s requirements.
The Canadian report states the government will “pursue transparency, accountability and justice” through “all relevant international forums.”
President-elect Joe Biden should provide his critical support for Canada and Ukraine to pursue legal options, such as initiating negotiation and arbitration proceedings under the Montreal Convention of 1971. This multilateral treaty, of which Canada, Ukraine, Iran, and the United States are parties, determines criminal liability and compensation in incidents of violence against civilian aircraft.
Working with Canada and Ukraine, the incoming administration can help ensure accountability for the regime in Tehran, helping to bring a measure of justice to the families of those killed on PS752.
*Toby Dershowitz is senior vice president for government relations and strategy at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where Dylan Gresik is a government relations analyst. They both contribute to FDD’s Iran Program. For more analysis from Toby, Dylan, and the Iran Program, please subscribe HERE. Follow Toby and Dylan on Twitter @tobydersh and @DylanGresik. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_Iran. FDD is a non-partisan think tank focused on national security and foreign policy.

Oil Prices Reach Highest Level Since Beginning of Pandemic

Brenda Shaffer/Policy Brief/FDD/December22/2020 |
The Brent and West Texas Intermediate oil benchmarks are both now back up to their pre-COVID-19 lockdown levels, reaching their highest point last week since March 2020. While oil prices took a dip today with the news of new lockdowns enacted in many countries, other commodity prices are soaring, indicating anticipation of strong global economic activity. Oil’s upward trajectory is therefore likely to continue into early 2021.
The rise in oil prices is taking place even prior to widespread deployment of COVID-19 vaccines. If the vaccines are as effective as anticipated, commercial activity ought to increase over the next few months, thus boosting oil demand and putting additional upward pressure on oil prices.
Some COVID-19-related trends are likely to strengthen demand for oil. As people return to in-person work in greater numbers, they are not using public transportation at anywhere near pre-COVID-19 levels. Traffic is back to pre-COVID-19 rates in many major cities. Thus, with more miles traveled via private vehicles, demand for oil for transportation will continue to rise. Fear of using public transportation is likely to linger for a long time.
In addition, demand for oil will come from increased demand for plastic, which is likely to continue for several years due to increased use of disposable items, individually packed food servings, protective gear, and medical plastics. This will reverse the anticipated decline in demand for plastic, a trend that was factored into pre-COVID-19 projections of oil demand.
In the short term, two developments in the United States will affect global oil prices. First, the arrival of the congressional stimulus package will likely rouse additional commercial activity and create more funds for paper trades in oil, putting additional upward pressure on price.
Second, the Georgia run-off elections on January 5 will determine if Republicans maintain control of the Senate alongside Democratic control of the House. If Congress remains divided, investors are likely to expect continuity in the tax code and federal regulatory frameworks, thus spurring investments, including in oil. In the long term, if the global oil price remains at or above $50 per barrel, as it is now, U.S. oil production, which has significantly decreased in 2020, will likely increase. This would put downward pressure on oil prices.
Geopolitical factors will also affect prices. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) Plus group will evaluate its oil production strategy again in January. Russia supports releasing more oil into the market in order to prevent a higher price from stimulating renewed U.S. oil production. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is likely to support keeping previous supply cuts in place or minor production increases in order to enjoy the heightened revenue.
A major unknown that will affect global oil prices is the long-term trend of the U.S. economy. Prior to the COVID-19 lockdowns, the U.S. economy was on an unprecedentedly long growth streak, which was likely to end at some point in 2020 or 2021. A downturn in the $20 trillion-plus U.S. economy would dampen global demand for oil, resulting in lower prices.
Now that the United States is the world’s top producer of oil, high oil prices affect it differently than in the past and have a mixed impact on the U.S. economy. Specifically, higher fuel prices raise costs in family budgets but overall provide a boost to the U.S. economy and especially to the oil producing regions of the country.
*Brenda Shaffer is senior advisor for energy at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where she also contributes to FDD’s Center on Economic and Financial Power (CEFP). She is also a faculty member at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School. For more analysis from Brenda and CEFP, please subscribe HERE. Follow Brenda on Twitter @ProfBShaffer. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CEFP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

The Olympics must ban Iran

Hossein Khosrov Ali Vaziri/The Iron Sheik/Benjamin Weinthal/Alireza Nader/New York Daily News/December22/2020
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and United World Wrestling (UWW) — the global governing body for amateur wrestling—squandered a chance to save the life of Navid Afkari, the Iranian champion put to death in September on fraudulent charges by the regime in Tehran.
“There is not one shred of evidence in this damned case that shows I’m guilty,” Afkari, 27, said shortly before his execution, but the regime’s hanging judges “are looking for a neck for their rope.”
The IOC and UWW failed to speak out when they could have saved Afkari’s life by warning the regime that murdering its own athletes would make it a pariah, unwelcome at the Olympics and other world championship competitions. To provide a measure of justice for Afkari and repair their own tattered reputations, the two organizations must now banish Iran’s regime from international sports competition.
The regime refuses to even grant Navid and his family a semblance of peace after his hanging. Thursday, security forces destroyed Navid’s grave and detained his father Hossein and his brother Hamid for preparing the site for a tombstone. Navid’s sister published a photograph of his desecrated grave and wrote on Instagram: “You can threaten, destroy, or arrest, what are you going to do with Navid’s name and memory in people’s hearts?”
A Greco-Roman wrestler, Afkari and his brothers Vahid and Habib protested against the regime’s deep-seated economic and political corruption during nationwide demonstrations in 2018. All three brothers were tortured in connection with the invented crime of killing a security officer. Vahid and Habib continue to be held incommunicado.
Navid Afkari won fame in the city of Shiraz in Fars province for achievements which included winning a bronze medal in the Armed Forces Greco-Roman wrestling tournament. In Iran, the sport has a popularity and prestige comparable to basketball, baseball and football here in the United States. The in-ring artistry of the country’s greatest wrestlers has made them into Michelangelos of the sport. Thus, Afkari’s hanging made him into a national icon.
Afkari’s death also recalls the 1981 execution of Houshang Montazer Al-Mahdi, a gold medal-winner in Iran’s national wrestling championship, for alleged membership in an opposition group.
Even as the IOC and UWW went silent, wrestlers and martial artists launched a grassroots campaign to save Afkari. Popular and decorated wrestlers across the globe, from Germany to Canada to the United States, posted messages and videos on social media urging the regime to cancel the hanging.
The wrestling world was in upheaval at the grassroots level, but neither the IOC nor the UWW could muster the backbone to declare, loudly and publicly, that Afkari’s life must be spared.
Then, after the regime did the dastardly deed, the IOC said it was “shocked” and noted that IOC President Thomas Bach had appealed by letter to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani for “mercy for Navid Afkari.” The UWW issued a self-absorbed statement about its “behind the scene work” with the IOC.
Neither seemed to understand that the Tehran regime can easily ignore quiet appeals; what it fears is public shame.
It is not too late for consequences. Yet the first IOC executive committee meeting after Afkari’s hanging did not even include the case on its agenda. An IOC spokesman declined to comment on the omission.
There is ample precedent for punishing regimes that violate their athletes’ human rights of athletes. The IOC banned South Africa’s now-defunct apartheid regime from the Olympics. In 1999, it banished Taliban-controlled Afghanistan from Olympic competition.
In 2019, the IOC, Paralympics and FIFA prohibited Russia from participating in their events due to violations of anti-doping rules. While non-doping athletes are allowed to participate under a neutral flag, the Russian flag and anthem are banned at the events.
The IOC charter declares, “The practice of sport is a human right,” and prohibits discrimination based on “political or other opinion.”
Seeking justice for Afkari may also help spare the life of other Iranian athletes — such as disabled bodybuilder Reza Tabrizi, who may face execution for asking why gyms have been closed during the COVID pandemic while religious shrines remain open.
Public pressure matters. The clerical regime put a stay on the execution of three men who took part in protests against rising fuel prices last year after a social media campaign with the Persian hashtag #do_not_execute was used millions of times online.
The Tokyo Summer Games are now less than eight months away. The IOC should make clear the 2020 Olympics have no place for regimes that kill their own competitors.
*Hossein Vaziri, the wrestler known as the Iron Sheik, was a member of Iran’s Greco-Roman wrestling team for the 1968 Olympics. Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and NYU’s first All-American wrestler. Alireza Nader is a senior fellow for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow Benjamin and Alireza on Twitter @BenWeinthal and @AlirezaNader. FDD is a nonpartisan think tank focused on foreign policy and national security issues.

Don’t Discount America’s Interest in Keeping Africa Safe
Maj Scott D. Adamson/Defense One -FDD/December22/2020
As the Pentagon removes more troops, consider what its modest investment has garnered.
The Defense Department’s coming near-total withdrawal of troops from Somalia follows its 2019 re-assessment of its force posture in Africa, aimed at shifting finite resources to great power competition. While it is appropriate to conduct such reviews and execute needed adjustments, America needs to recognize how its military presence in Africa helps protect the homeland from terrorism and compete with great powers such as Russia and China.
Africa is a vast continent comprising a land mass three times larger than that of America. It boasted eight of the 20 fastest growing economies in 2019. Under its surface, the continent holds 30 percent of the world’s unmined minerals, 8 percent of its oil, and 7 percent of its natural gas.
Yet many African countries face great challenges: climate change, desertification, food and water scarcity, poverty, unemployment, trafficking, and piracy. Often coupled with poor governance and security, these phenomena prove favorable for the recruitment and spread of terrorism by violent extremist groups.
Over the last decade, the frequency and distribution of violent attacks, and the number of terror organizations perpetrating them, have increased substantially. The Africa Center for Strategic Studies noted 3,471 violent events last year that contributed to the deaths of 10,460 African men, women, and children. Many of these events were perpetrated by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Boko Haram, Al Shabaab, and various regional affiliates.
Notably, each of these organizations is a part of, or pledged to, the terror networks of Al Qaeda or Islamic State, both of which, through fear underwritten by ruthless violence, seek to establish the caliphate and attack Western civilization – especially the United States. A report released last week by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies suggests that withdrawing U.S. forces from regions where Al Qaeda or Islamic State operate will not prevent these groups from pursuing their stated ends.
As Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of U.S. Africa Command, put it, “a secure and stable Africa is an enduring American interest.” Through security cooperation and other related programs – like the African Partnership Flight and State Partnership Program – Washington can support Africa to prevent further atrocities wrought by terrorism. Doing so not only empowers countries like Niger and Somalia to develop the capability to undertake the burden themselves, but also reduces the risk that terror organizations export attacks to the U.S. homeland.
Further, these partnerships often afford America the access needed to kill top violent extremists. A U.S. airstrike earlier this year that resulted in the death of Yusuf Jiis, whom the U.S. identified as a “foundational member” of Al Shabaab, is a prime example. Targeting key Islamist militant leaders has likely helped depress Al Shabaab’s activity last year.
While U.S. security cooperation, and the force presence that comes with it, undoubtedly disrupts and degrades transnational terrorism, Washington must also acknowledge that the vital program helps to curb the growing influence of China and Russia.
China views Africa as key to its global ambitions. Through diplomatic overtures, peacekeeping contributions, and economic initiatives, Beijing has sought to deepen relations across the continent. The persistent engagement is paying off. China is now Africa’s chief bilateral trading partner, biggest infrastructure financier, and third largest arms supplier.
Further, the CCP operates a permanent military base in Djibouti and retains access to 41 other ports, many of which have the ability to serve dual-use functions. This not only allows China to secure its supply chain, but also affords Beijing the ability to contest others along critical sea lines of communication.
Moscow, though not as active in Africa as Beijing, also sees the continent as a top priority.
Over the last seven years, Russia has doubled its African access agreements, most recently obtaining approval by the Sudanese government to establish a naval base. This will help the Kremlin project power to the Indian Ocean and reinforce its position on NATO’s southern flank.
Security cooperation must be part of a whole-of-government approach to confront the competition playing out in Africa. It can help America secure the access needed to advance its national interests while also denying that same access to others. General Townsend highlighted this fact in testimony to the Senate Armed Forces Committee in January. He noted that China and Russia “do little to counter violent extremist groups” and that many African countries view the U.S. as a partner of choice. Yet the commander of U.S. Africa Command noted a message shared with him by an African leader: If America will not provide counterterrorism expertise and capability, “a drowning man will accept any hand.”
Some may argue that the United States needs to cut its presence in Africa in order to shift finite resources to competitions playing out in the Indo-Pacific and Europe. However, the combatant command’s posture is already an economy of force. It pales in comparison, for example, to the approximately 60,000 troops and tens of billions of dollars allocated to U.S. Central Command. At a cost of roughly 6,000 personnel and 0.3 percent of the defense budget, America can afford this investment.
The vital relationships and influence America garners through security cooperation comes at a discount to American taxpayers. Washington would be wise to bolster these efforts to confront the rise in terrorism and great power competition alongside our African partners.
*Maj. Scott D. Adamson is a visiting military analyst with the Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP) at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

Will Iran’s threat to Israel from Iraq increase?
Seth Frantman/FDD/December 22/2020
In the recent lead-up to Hanukkah, Israel announced that it had conducted an unprecedented multi-layered air defense test. The test comes amid increased tensions with Iran and in the wake of Israel rolling out a multi-year defense plan called “Momentum.” It also comes after years in which Israel has conducted air strikes in Syria against Iranian targets, designed to stop Iran’s entrenchment in Syria from threatening Israel. Israel Defense Minister Benny Gantz has said the recent test illustrates that Israel has “one of the most advanced air defense mechanisms in the world and it protects the state from threats near and far.”
Israel’s reference to “far” threats generally means that the country is not only confronting the kinds of missiles Hamas once fired from Gaza or Hezbollah used in 2006 from Lebanon. In addition, there are precision guided munitions threats using Iranian technology supplied to Hezbollah, and Iran’s trafficking of ballistic missiles and munitions through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon. In May 2019, a report indicated Iraq could be used by Iran for the basing of missiles that threaten Israel. Further reports in 2018 and 2019 indicated Iran had trafficked missiles to pro-Iranian Shi’ite militias in Iraq. Iran has also produced increasingly accurate missiles and mobile launchers for their missiles. In the summer of 2019, numerous reports alleged Israel carried out airstrikes in Iraq against facilities used to store weapons of pro-Iranian militias. Then reports of those strikes stopped. This leaves questions about whether Iran’s threat to Israel using Iraq changed since 2019 or whether there has been merely a hiatus in these threats.
To understand why Iraq matters in this map of Iranian operations in the Middle East, it is important to look at Israel’s recent assessments of Iran’s multifaceted threats and to examine the changes in the region over the last several years.
Israel has called Iran a “third circle” threat and its new multi-year Momentum plan calls for a dedicated headquarters and general to focus on this threat. Over the last year Israel has trained increasingly with its two squadrons of F-35s, including three joint training drill with U.S. F-35s that have flown from Al-Dhafra.
The F-35 training paired with the new air defense drill showcasing Israel’s advances in integrated multi-layered air defense gives a picture of a country that is well prepared for complex emerging threats. These including new Sa’ar 6 corvettes that will defend the country at sea. Alongside the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, Israel’s Ministry of Defense said it “successfully completed a series of intercept tests of an advanced version of the David’s Sling Weapon System.” In addition, Israel used its Iron Dome system and portions of the Arrow system during the recent tests. The head of the Israel Missile Defense Organization in the Ministry of Defense, Moshe Patel said that Israel “demonstrated that the State of Israel has a robust, multilayered capability to face a variety of threats – cruise missiles, UAVs and ballistic threats. For the first time, we have demonstrated a multi-layered approach to dealing with threats – an approach that employs the Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Arrow weapon systems. Using this approach, a variety of threats may be identified and intercepted via full coordination and interoperability between the systems.”
The reference to cruise missiles and UAVs is related to Iran’s use of two dozen drones and cruise missiles to attack Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq facility in Sept. 2019. Experts in Israel agree that the 2019 Iranian attack illustrated the need to show that Israel’s air defense systems can stop these types of threats, in addition to long range ballistic missiles and shorter range weapons. Israel has already faced a variety of these threats: A drone flown by Iran from Syria’s T-4 base penetrated Israeli airspace in February 2018. The Arrow and David’s Sling system were both first used publicly in 2017 and then 2018 to confront threats from Syria.
This brings us back to Iran’s role in Iraq and the trafficking of weapons via Syria. Since 2018 Iran has improved a base near Syria’s Albukamal on the border with Iraq. This border crossing to Al Qaim was opened publicly at the end of September 2019 after years in which it was closed due to ISIS presence between 2014 and 2019. Improvements at this base continued despite airstrikes at the location. Israel has never said it was responsible for these airstrikes but Israel has said it carried out more than 1,000 airstrikes in Syria. The most recent acknowledgement by Israel of these strikes was on Nov. 19 in response to an IED planted near an Israeli post on the Golan Heights.
Albukamal is part of Iran’s “road to the sea.” This network of Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard bases and pro-Iranian militia units stretches from Iran through Iraq to Syria and Lebanon. This network has been bolstered since 2016 with Iran’s entrenchment in Syria and Iraq. Changes on the ground aided Iran in this, including the Syrian regime’s offensive to retake areas near the Golan from Syrian rebels in the summer of 2018 and laws in Iraq that enabled the Hashd al-Shaabi or Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) to become an official paramilitary force. In addition members of Lebanese Hezbollah have been active in Syria and Iraq.
In Iraq, the PMU increased their attacks on U.S. and Coalition forces in 2019, usually using 107mm Iranian katyusha rockets. These rocket attacks, ascribed to groups such as Kataib Hezbollah, targeted facilities where U.S. forces were present, killing one contractor in Dec. 2019 and three coalition personnel in March 2020. The U.S. responded with airstrikes in Dec. and March 2020. Significantly, in 2020, the U.S. killed IRGC Quds Force head Qasem Soleimani and Kataib Hezbollah head Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in Baghdad. Iraq has proven unable to rein in the weekly militia attacks and they continued through the summer of 2020. The US consolidated and withdrew forces from most of the facilities where they were based in Iraq in 2020, concentrating them in the autonomous Kurdistan region, in Baghdad and al-Asad base. Even with the consolidation, a pro-Iranian group fired grad rockets at Erbil from Nineveh plains in September 2020.
Iran’s threats using Iraq continue. Washington withdrew diplomatic personnel between 2019 and the fall of 2020 due to the threats. Tensions also have increased with Israel after Iranian nuclear program head Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed in November. Iran’s calculations, waiting for a new US administration to come into office in Jan. 2020, may have affected its response. It has vowed to respond to sabotage at its Natanz facility in July and Hezbollah vowed a response to a killing of one of its members it blamed on Israel in the same month. At the same time Israel has warned Hezbollah and Iran against entrenchment and continued threats from Syria.
Background and sources of Iran’s threats to Israel from Iraq
What is known about Iran’s threats to Israel from Iraq and alleged Israeli airstrikes against sites in Iraq comes from only a few sources. First, Israel’s campaign against Iran’s role in the region was recently acknowledged by former anti-ISIS and Syria envoy Ambassador James Jeffrey. In an interview with Al-Monitor he said that the U.S. “only began supporting” Israel’s air campaign when he came on board in 2018. “I went out there and we saw Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others, and they thought that they were not being supported enough by the US military, and not by intelligence.” Jeffrey says there was a “big battle” in the US administration about this and that the side supporting Israel’s air campaign won. He implies that focus on the counter-terrorism mission in Iraq and Syria was opposed to Israel’s role against Iran. Commanders didn’t want to divert “resources to allow the Israelis to muck around in Syria.” He doesn’t mention Iraq. That makes sense because his mission as Syria envoy gave him a mandate to confront the Assad regime and Iran, whereas the anti-ISIS mission in Iraq was tailored to confront ISIS. President Donald Trump appeared to hint at U.S. facilities in Iraq being used to “watch Iran” in speeches in December 2018 and early 2019. U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton indicated the U.S. would stay in Syria until Iran leaves in comments in Sept. 2018 and Jan. 2019.
The scant US statements about Iran’s role in Iraq and the U.S. posture relating to Iran in Syria and Iraq leave many questions about the alleged Israeli airstrikes in the summer of 2019. The U.S. Department of Defense produces quarterly Lead Inspector General reports to Congress. In the report covering Oct. to Dec. 2019, the report noted that there were tensions between U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq and “Iranian-aligned actors in Iraq.” This had hindered the Operation Inherent Resolve mission against ISIS. “The Iraqi government plac[ed] restrictions on Coalition air movement after they suspected Israel had conducted airstrikes against Iraqi militias tied to Iran.”
There are no mentions of suspected strikes in 2017 or 2018, or between Jan. and June 2019 or Jan. and March 2020, April and June 2020. The only reference to the strikes in the reports is the July to Oct. 2019 report. The report doesn’t confirm the strikes, but does note that Iraqi politicians blamed Israel and sought to restrict use of Iraqi airspace for Coalition aircraft. “Media reports stated that as many as four airstrikes targeted bases in Iraq belonging to Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) militias aligned with Iran.” The Coalition said the restrictions had negative effects on the anti-ISIS mission. “On July 1, 2019, Iraqi Prime Minster Adel Abd al Mahdi issued another government decree ordering the full integration of PMF units into the ISF. According to the DIA, some PMF brigades followed the decree by shutting down headquarters and turning in weapons, but several Iranian-aligned groups refused to comply. In an assessment provided to the DoD OIG, the DIA said that Iranian-affiliated groups within the PMF are unlikely to change their loyalties because of the new order.”
This same summer 2019 report highlights Iran’s role in Syria and threats to Israel. “The congressionally appointed Syria Study Group stated in its Sept. 2019 report that despite hundreds of Israeli air strikes and U.S. sanctions aimed at dislodging Iranian presence, ‘Iran continues to entrench itself in Syria.’” This report also says that U.S. Central Command was concerned about the tensions between the U.S. and Iran and that “USCENTCOM assessed that Iranian backed forces in Syria might look to target U.S. military personnel or its partner forces in Syria, if they view the U.S. as complicit in Israeli strikes on its forces in Syria.” It referenced air strikes on Iranian-linked forces at Albukamal.
This unusual report focuses more on Israel and tensions with Iran than any other public US inspector general report of its type. Israel is referenced twenty-three times in the report, whereas in most others it is not referenced at all. It says the first suspected Israeli airstrike in Iraq occurred in July 2019. Reports indicated several more strikes followed through August 2019 and then stopped. The Iranian threats against the U.S. increased from May 2019 and there was an Iranian attack on ships in May and June 2019 in the Gulf of Oman as well as the drone and cruise missile attack on Saudi Arabia in September. In November and December rocket attacks by Iranian-linked militias rapidly increased in Iraq. This is the context of a complex year in Iraq in 2019.
While Jeffrey indicated he wanted more support for the Israeli airstrikes in Syria he also indicated there were tensions with CENTCOM. This appears to confirm the characterization found in the Lead Inspector General report covering the summer of 2019. Former U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis was tight-lipped about the issue of Israeli airstrikes. He was asked in April 2018 “do you think allowing Israel a freer hand in terms of air strikes, military action in Syria would allow the US to check Iranian sort of aggression.” His answer: “Yes, Israel makes its own sovereign decisions and I don’t see us frankly having any role in that, those decisions.” This was the opposite of the Jeffrey approach. Mattis appeared more cold toward the airstrikes and several sources I spoke to confirmed this.
The last piece of information about the airstrikes in Iraq in the summer of 2019 are satellite photos of Camp Falcon in Baghdad in the wake of an August explosion that was alleged to be an airstrike. Satellite photos posted by ImageSat International show air strikes at Amerli on July 19, Camp Falcon (Saqr) on Aug. 12 and Balad Aug. 20. Pro-Iranian groups in Iraq, such as members of the State of Law Coalition blamed the US, while Asaib Ahl al-Haq leader Qais Khazali called for an investigation. Discussions in Iraq about who was to blame for the strikes and attempts to restrict the US use of Iraq’s airspace took place in the fall of 2019.
Changes in Iraq impact role of Iran and potential threats to Israel
The overview of Iraq’s role in Iran’s operations in the region and the brief period of alleged airstrikes in the summer of 2019 raise many questions about what might come next. Iran’s use of Iraq as part of its road to the sea, a corridor of arms trafficking to Syria and Lebanon, increased from 2016 to 2019. Militia-controlled warehouses in Iraq and Syria serve as storage facilities for Iranian weapons. In 2020 it appears the number of Iranian IRGC members in Syria was slightly reduced. It is not clear if Iran’s overall footprint and access to bases, as well as entrenchment using arms warehouses and airstrikes, has diminished. Iran’s role in Iraq is central to its alliance with Iraqi political parties, such as the Fatah Coalition and pro-Iranian groups such as Badr, Kataib Hezbollah, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Harakat Hezbollah al-Nuajaba and most recently groups such as Rab’Allah. These groups appeared to have shifted their focus increasingly to targeting U.S. forces and getting the U.S. to leave Iraq since tensions grew in May 2019.
This is a slight shift for these groups because some of them, such as Kataib Hezbollah, had played a visible role in the Syrian civil war and set up bases in Syria. In addition AAH leader Qais Khazali travelled to Lebanon in Sept. 2017 to showcase Iraqi Shi’ite militia support for Hezbollah. After the killing of Soleimani and Muhandis in Iraq the focus shifted as Hezbollah sent Mohammad al-Kawtharani to Iraq to support unity among Iraqi-based militias. This appears to indicate Iran shifted focus to opposing the US role in Iraq in the fall of 2019 and early 2020, and the tensions with the alleged Israeli airstrikes ended in Sept. 2019. That also coincided with the eruption of massive protests in Iraq in Oct. 2019 which led to the fall of Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi. This chaos in Iraq could have served Iran’s ability to transfer weapons to Syria, but it also meant the powerful militias needed for those transfers were focused domestically.
The fall of 2020 found Iran considering responses to the killing of Fakhrizadeh and awaiting the outcome of the U.S. election. Overall Iran’s posture since its Abqaiq attack on Saudi Arabia in Sept. 2019, has shifted to less high profile attacks. It showed its capability in Sept. 2019. Israel’s air defense drills in Dec. 2020 illustrate that Israel can confront the types of threats Iran displayed last year. Iraq’s will continue to play a potential role in basing those types of threats, from ballistic missiles to serving as a conduit for weapons flowing to Syria. Iran and its allies in Iraq and Syria are also focused on the diminished presence of the US in Iraq and questions about the continued U.S. role in Syria. This shapes Iran’s calculations about shifting weapons and routes of trafficking through Iraq and Syria.
*Seth J. Frantzman is Executive Director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, and author of ‘After ISIS: The US, Iran and the Struggle for the Middle East.’ A contributor to Defense News and The Jerusalem Post, he is conducting research for a forthcoming book called ‘Drone Wars.’
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Getting back on the Paris climate track
LAURENCE TUBIANA/Arab News/December 22/2020
When representatives from nearly 200 countries finalized the Paris climate agreement on Dec. 12, 2015, there were celebrations around the world. But it has now been five years and the world is in a state of deepening uncertainty. The coronavirus disease pandemic has ushered in deepening economic and social crises, as well as a wave of increased indebtedness. The geopolitical landscape is as fractured as it has been in decades and, with global supply chains being reorganized, the prospects for achieving deeper integration through trade are fading.
Yet, despite all the recent turmoil, one certainty remains: The climate crisis and the need to stick with the Paris accord, which is the only roadmap that we have for decarbonizing the global economy. Though the agreement initially met with doubts, its primary mechanisms are proving their efficiency and efficacy, and its target of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century is now the point of reference for governments and businesses around the world. A growing number of economic sectors — public and private finance, energy, transport and, increasingly, industry — are setting targets consistent with this objective. With the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) approaching, the immediate task for governments is to strengthen their climate plans (following the logic of the Paris agreement’s “ratchet mechanism”) to lock in emissions-reduction targets for 2030. Politically, the world has reached a tipping point. Donald Trump’s infamous June 2017 Rose Garden speech announcing America’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement set off a negative domino effect, encouraging Brazil, Australia and Mexico to also temper their climate ambitions. But we are now on the cusp of a positive domino effect, as more governments and sectors realize that decarbonization is the key to future economic competitiveness.
In 2020, ambitious new net-zero commitments by China, Japan, South Korea and the EU were followed by Joe Biden’s election to the US presidency, together marking a decisive shift in the global calculus. In 2021, the G7 and the G20 could both make climate policymaking (not least green finance) the central issue on the global agenda. A majority of members in each group have already established net-zero targets, and thus will need to increase their 2030 benchmarks accordingly. The EU, for example, will need to reduce net emissions by 55 percent by 2030 in order to meet its 2050 goal.
Beyond the latest developments in the US, the EU and China, broader economic trends and the mobilization of non-state actors have lent further momentum to climate action. Since 2015, there has been a 22,000 percent increase in assets committed to fossil-fuel divestments, and many large multinational companies have committed to emissions reductions in line with the Paris agreement. For example, in late 2020, Malaysia’s state energy giant Petronas joined BP, Shell and Equinor in setting a 2050 net-zero emissions target, while Spain’s Iberdrola, the world’s third-largest utility, announced that it will invest €75 billion ($90 billion) over the next five years to double its renewable energy capacity. Meanwhile, Volkswagen’s CEO has acknowledged that the company’s survival depends on its ability to pivot to electric vehicle production, starting with a €33 billion investment between now and 2024.
We are on the cusp of a positive domino effect, as more governments and sectors realize that decarbonization is the key to future economic competitiveness.
Moreover, cities, regions, companies and financial institutions are increasingly working together on climate action, implying that some countries could exceed their national climate goals, while others — such as Brazil and the US — get back on track. These efforts are all underpinned by strong grassroots support for climate action. Even amid a pandemic, polls show that people are as concerned as ever about climate change and want their governments to do more to protect the planet. These pressures are creating a virtuous circle. Far from being just words on paper, net-zero commitments are having a significant effect on the real economy. A major trade deal between the EU and Mercosur (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay), for example, has been blocked by a number of EU member states over concerns about Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s disregard for environmental protections and issues like deforestation. As a result, many Brazilian businesses — including in the beef and soy industries — have been pressuring the Bolsonaro government to change course. Moreover, in pursuing the European Green Deal, the EU is considering a carbon border adjustment mechanism to put a carbon price on certain imports from outside the bloc. The mechanism will be developed through close engagement with trade partners and could be the beginning of a new era of cooperation, as other countries committed to net-zero targets will have to push their own industries to pursue decarbonization.
Still, we cannot be blindly optimistic. The fact is that we are running out of time. We know that 2010-20 was the hottest period on record and that the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases have continued to rise fast. We know that emissions from fossil fuels and forest fires reached an all-time high in 2019 and we are now regularly confronted with images of melting glaciers, burning rainforests, streets choked with smog, and small islands battered by superstorms. Even in regions or countries where emissions have peaked, the effort to get to net zero by 2050 will need to be stepped up threefold. Other regions, meanwhile, are not even close to meeting the challenge. With entire economies and societies changing fast, this is the moment for political leadership to push things across the finish line. The new Biden administration will play a critical part in the global response, but the US alone will not solve the problem. In these times of increasingly distributed global leadership, we must all work together. The international community’s next milestones — at the G7, the G20, and COP26 — will be decisive. This is a game of dominoes that we can win.
• Laurence Tubiana, a former French ambassador to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, is CEO of the European Climate Foundation and a professor at Sciences Po, Paris.
Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2020

New strain of COVID-19 wreaking havoc in aviation and oil

CORNELIA MEYER/Arab News/December 22/2020
The airline industry, which had been badly battered by the pandemic, just about saw light at the end of the tunnel courtesy of vaccine approvals and the rollout of vaccination programs in several major economies. But once again the virus proved that it had a mind of its own.
A mutant strand, which is believed to be 70 percent more infectious than the original coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and which had evolved in the southeast of England, forced the UK government to bring 16.4 million people into stricter measures, shutting all non-essential shops and forbidding them to leave their zone of restriction. On Saturday evening immediately after the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had informed the nation of the new restrictions, scenes in London train stations were reminiscent of what had unfolded in Saigon as the last helicopters took off from the roof of the US Embassy.
Countries were quick to react, first in Europe and then further afield. By now the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Kuwait and Hong Kong — just to name a few — have stopped or are about to stop receiving air passengers from the UK. The Eurostar has also halted operations. Saudi Arabia has taken the only sensible and prudent approach by stopping international air travel for a week until there is more clarity about the impact of this new strain.
This is especially tough on aviation, particularly as England’s southeast was the busiest region for air travel in Europe during the holiday season, according to Eurocontrol. The three carriers who are most affected are IAG, the parent of British Airways, EasyJet and Ryanair. The last two will be hit particularly hard as they carry 49 percent of passengers between the UK and Europe. The bickering on cash reimbursements for canceled flights has already started, with EasyJet supposedly being the most conciliatory. While these three companies feel the brunt of the burden, let there be no illusion that the uncertainty will hit the industry as a whole. What happens in the UK today can happen tomorrow anywhere in the world — the only certainty during this pandemic being uncertainty.
Oil was also affected, WTI falling below $48/b or losing around 3 percent, while Brent fell below $51/b on Sunday after having reached $52.40/b on Friday, which were pre-pandemic levels. This ended a seven-week rally where the commodity appreciated some 33 percent since the end of October. The commodity has moved from deep backwardation into contango in a sign of the more pessimistic outlook. Brent traded at $47.44/b and $50.57/b Monday morning CET.
In this context, the decision of OPEC+ to convene at the ministerial level on a monthly basis in order to adjust production cuts if necessary was spot on. OPEC+ production cuts are expected to come in at 7.2 million bpd as of Jan. 1. In the face of uncertainty, it is wise to have an opportunity to recalibrate frequently. In the same vein, both Saudi Arabia and Russia, who are the de facto leaders of OPEC+, reiterated over the weekend that they would react fast to changes and have a hands-on approach.
Earlier this month, markets might have been carried away in hope that life would return to normal as vaccines were proven effective and approved by several regulators. The reality is that while there might be light at the end of the tunnel, we are not out of the woods. The mutant strain of the virus proved that we have to be ready for surprises. Furthermore, we should not underestimate potential manufacturing impasses, logistical hurdles and the time it will take to vaccinate whole populations. Several experts have warned that we shall only return to something resembling normalcy toward the end of 2021 or even the beginning of 2022. Hang in there!
• Cornelia Meyer is a Ph.D.-level economist with 30 years of experience in investment banking and industry. She is chairperson and CEO of business consultancy Meyer Resources. Twitter: @MeyerResources