February 07.2020
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For today
God gave them a sluggish spirit, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day
Letter to the Romans 11/01-12/:”I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin.
God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? ‘Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars; I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.’
But what is the divine reply to him? ‘I have kept for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace would no longer be grace. What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written, ‘God gave them a sluggish spirit, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.’And David says, ‘Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling-block and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and keep their backs for ever bent.’ So I ask, have they stumbled so as to fall? By no means! But through their stumbling salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their stumbling means riches for the world, and if their defeat means riches for Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!”.

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on February 06-07/2020
Saint Maron: Life and Legacy
Lebanon cabinet approves political and economic plan/Policy statement reflects Hezbollah's narrative.
Lebanon Cabinet Approves Financial Plan to Salvage Country
Lebanon must pursue “reform” in return for aid: UN special coordinator
Lebanon Fears Security Deterioration Under Economic Crisis Pressure
Berri Slams Govt Over Electricity File, Confirms Fund Transfers by Bank Officials
AlFakhouri's trial on April 16
Aoun Calls Higher Defense Council Meeting
Berri tackles overall situation with Mikati, Teymour Jumblatt
Vote of Confidence in New Govt. Set for Feb. 11-12
STL: The Ayyash Case to Proceed in Absentia
Protesters Rally in Jounieh after Attack by Aswad Supporters
Jumblat Lashes Out at New Foreign Minister
‘The Call’ an Initiative Launched to ‘Salvage’ Lebanon
Politicians React as New Clash Involving Aswad Sparks Controversy
Man Arrested in Fatal Shooting in Dahiyeh
Rahi says will tackle Palestinians' resettlement with Pope
Rahi arrives in Rome, recites peace prayer
Ali Khatib meets German, Algerian ambassadors
Fourth Ukrainian Film Festival in Lebanon
Loyalty to the Resistance Bloc: Lebanon faces tough deadlines
South Korean Ambassador visits Antonine Institute
KSA Ambassador tackles local, regional developments with ESCWA's Dashti
Bassil: Violence in all its forms crime against homeland
Jumblatt: No immunity for whoever sows strife
In absentia arrest warrant against former director general of Casino du Liban
Confirmed indictment in the Ayyash case
Abdel Samad from Baabda: Ministerial statement of ‘challenges-facing’ government approved
Ohanian briefed on Ray Bassil's preparations for Tokyo Olympiad
Walid Jumblatt to Asharq Al-Awsat: Reform Not Possible during Aoun's Term/ Thaer Abbas/Asharq Al-Awsat/Thursday, 6 February, 2020
Switzerland examines Lebanese legal assistance request over transferred funds, Swiss Ambassador tells Annahar/Georgi Azar/Annahar/February 06/2020
Lebanon In The News/Tala Ramadan and Perla Kantarjian/Annahar/February 06/2020

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 06-07/2020
23 Said Killed in Israeli Strike in Syria/Jack Khoury and Reuters/February 06/2020
Israeli strike on Syria kills several pro-Iranian militiamen - report/The Israeli military declined to comment.
Terrorist in Jerusalem ramming attack caught by security forces/Jerusalem Post/February 06/2020
Iran will back Palestinian armed groups as much as it can: leader
Palestinian and Israeli Farmers Pay the Price as Politicians BickerSyria Regime Forces Enter Town East of Idlib City
Syria Regime Forces Enter Town East of Idlib City
US Steps Up Warnings on Russia Over Syria's Idlib
Israel Fails to Win Pentagon's Support to Annex Settlements Before Elections
Israeli Troops Hurt, Palestinians Killed in New Violence
Hamas: Israeli Detainees Injured in Strikes Against Gaza Last Year
Allawi Prioritizes Representation of Protesters in Iraqi Govt
Libya: Tripoli Ceasefire Violated, Militias Accuse Army of Bombing Civilians

Titles For The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published
 on February 06-07/2020
Bullying Against Sudan/Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al-Awsat/February 06/2020
Peace in Europe Means Peace in Libya/Huda al-Husseini/Asharq Al-Awsat/February 06/2020
The EU Foreign Policy Chief’s Mission Impossible in Tehran/Saeed Ghasseminejad and Richard Goldberg/FDD/February 06/2020
New U.S. Weapon Strengthens Nuclear Deterrence of Moscow/Bradley Bowman and Major Liane “Trixie” Zivitski/FDD/February 06/2020
Inside Iran’s IRGC training programs and quest to dominate MidEast/Seth J.Frantzman/Jerusalem Post/February 06/2020
Arab Writers: The Coronavirus Is Part Of Biological Warfare Waged By The U.S. Against China/MEMRI/February 06/2020
UK: Why Are Dangerous Jihadists Being Released Early from Prison?/Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/February 06/2020
The Trump Plan for Israeli-Palestinian Peace Won’t Bring Peace, So What Was the Purpose?/Michael Young/Carnegie MEC/February 06/2020
Russia reluctant to support Iran’s destabilizing behavior/Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/February 06/2020
Turkey’s days of peace with all neighbors now long gone/Cornelia Meyer/Arab News/February 06/2020
The Persistent Threat from the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda: The View from the UN/Edmund Fitton-Brown/The Washington Institute/February 06/2020

The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on February 06-07/2020
Saint Maron: Life and Legacy
Our Lady Of Lebanon Toronto Parish
Saint Maroun, born in the middle of the 4th century, was a priest who latter became a hermit, retiring to a mountain of Taurus near Antioch. His holiness and miracles attracted many followers, and drew attention throughout the empire. St John of Chrysostom sent him a letter around 405 AD expressing his great love and respect asking St Maroun to pray for him. Saint Maroun spent all of his life on a mountain in the region of Cyrrhus in Syria. It is believed that the place was called "Kefar-Nabo" on the mountain of Al-Yambos, making it the cradle of the Maronite movement.
St Maroun embraced the quiet solitude of the mountain life. He lived his life in open air exposed to the forces of nature such as sun, rain, hail and snow. His extraordinary desire to come to know Gods presence in all things, allowed St Maroun to transcend such forces and discover that intimate union with God.
Accompanying his deeply spiritual and ascetic life, he was a zealous missionary with a passion to spread the message of Christ by preaching it to all he met. He sought not only to cure the physical ailments that people suffered, but had a great quest for nurturing and healing the "lost souls" of both pagans and Christians of his time.This missionary work came to fruition when in the mountains of Syria, St Maroun was able to convert a pagan temple into a Christian Church. This was to be the beginning of the conversion of Paganism to Christianity in Syria which would then influence and spread to Lebanon. After his death in the year 410 AD, his spirit and teachings lived on through his disciples. The Maronite movement reached Lebanon when St Maroun's first disciple, Abraham of Cyrrhus, who was called the Apostle of Lebanon, realised that paganism was thriving in Lebanon, so he set out to convert the pagans to Christians by introducing them to the way of St Maroun. The followers of St Maroun, both monks and laity, always remained faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Lebanon cabinet approves political and economic plan/Policy statement reflects Hezbollah's narrative.
The Arab Weekly/February 06/2020
Lebanon's new cabinet Thursday approved a policy statement expected to outline a broad action plan to save the protest-hit country from one of the worst economic crises in decades. Information minister Manal Abdel Samad said the document was backed unanimously during a cabinet meeting at the presidential palace before it is due to be presented to parliament next week. Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his new government face the twin challenge of angry street protests and a collapsing economy, with Lebanon burdened with a debt of nearly 90 billion dollars, or more than 150% of GDP.
Diab, a 61-year-old computer engineering professor, formed a cabinet on January 21 after the previous government stepped down in October during unprecedented demonstrations. The premier on Thursday described the policy statement as "a working programme laying out our aspirations," Abdel Samad said.
"It is the product of facts and studies" and was not influenced by individual interests, she reported him as saying. The policy statement maintained the "tripartite alliance between the army, the people and the Resistance," she said, the third term referring to the pro-Iranian Shia Hezbollah movement. The phrasing reflects the domination of Hezbollah over the cabinet and has sparked controversy in the past after being included in previous government statements. Hezbollah is the only force not to have disarmed after Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war, and calls the shots in Lebanese politics. It is listed as a "terrorist" group by the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union. Local media said the statement would be presented to parliament for a confidence vote on Tuesday. The new statement comes as Lebanon grapples with a financial crisis, a liquidity crunch, and a fall in value of the Lebanese pound by a fourth on the parallel market.International donors have repeatedly urged Lebanon to implement reforms before they release billions of dollars in frozen aid. UN envoy to Lebanon Jan Kubis on Wednesday reiterated that the government must first take measures to redress the economy before any outside help. "The conditions are reforms, reforms, reforms," he said. I hope "the new government will come with a clear action plan... with deadlines," he said. "And then, we will try to help, but it must start with the work of the government," Kubis said. On Friday, Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni is to meet a delegation from the World Bank, according to a statement from his office. Lebanon has been rocked by protests since October 17 demanding a complete overhaul of a political class which activists charge is inept, corrupt and motivated by personal gain. The demonstrations have petered out in size in recent weeks. (AFP)

Lebanon Cabinet Approves Financial Plan to Salvage Country
Beirut- Asharq Al-Awsat/Thursday, 6 February, 2020
Lebanon’s government on Thursday approved a rescue plan to pull the country from its worst economic and financial crisis in decades, which must now win a vote of confidence in parliament. According to Reuters, the draft policy statement outlined broad plans, including reducing interest rates, recapitalizing banks, restructuring the public sector, and seeking support from foreign donors. The information minister said on Thursday that the cabinet had approved the plan with some amendments, which ministerial sources said were minor. It was not immediately clear what changes were made to the 17-page statement, which is expected to be presented next week in parliament for the new government to secure a vote of confidence. Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s cabinet was formed last month by the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement and its political allies, which hold a parliamentary majority. The cabinet took office nearly three months after Saad al-Hariri’s government resigned under pressure from sweeping protests against a ruling elite that oversaw decades of waste and corruption. Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc said on Thursday that decisions on the country’s debt maturities in coming months would need national consensus.
“Radical (moves)...require a national decision and popular understanding,” it said in a televised statement. Cash-strapped authorities are struggling to decide whether to repay a $1.2 billion Eurobond maturing in March, political and banking sources told Reuters this week.
Diab’s government faces a liquidity crunch, shattered confidence in banks- which have imposed informal controls-, a weakened Lebanese pound, and soaring inflation. “It is imperative to start work immediately to make up for lost time,” President Michel Aoun’s office quoted him as saying on Thursday. Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni will meet with a World Bank delegation on Friday, his office said.

Lebanon must pursue “reform” in return for aid: UN special coordinator
The Arab Weekly/February 06/2020
Jan Kubis called on Lebanon's new government to provide the UN with a "clear action plan."
LONDON - UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis confirmed that international efforts are underway to provide financial aid to Lebanon but stressed that this would be conditional upon the implementation of reform. Speaking at a televised news conference on Wednesday, Kubis said: “The conditions are reforms, reforms, reforms,” adding that the International Support Group had provided “concrete and practical” indications regarding its willingness to mobilize international aid for Lebanon’s ailing economy. “I hope that the new government will come with a clear action plan… Not only intentions, but a clear action plan with deadlines, with timeframe, with responsibility and in a transparent way, including with the management bodies that are necessary to ensure the quality of the reform…. then the international community is ready to assist,” he said. “If we assume that there will be a vote of confidence [in the new cabinet], we, together with the rest of the friends of Lebanon, will be not only watching, but encouraging reforms. It’s obvious what the country needs, in which areas,” he added. Kubis, who has served as the UN’s Special Coordinator for Lebanon since January 2019, called on Lebanon’s new government to implement the needed reforms, adding that this would ultimately help the international community mobilize in order to provide assistance for Lebanon. “It must be the right set of reforms and their resolute implementation. If this is not going to happen, I’m sorry. If you don’t help yourselves, why do you expect assistance from the outside world?” he said. Commenting on the political instability in the country, Kubis, said that the UN was striving to keep in contact with players across the political spectrum, including the protesters, in order to reach workable solutions. “My colleagues and I are in constant touch with the political and constitutional leaders, but also with civil society, with experts. We try to garner their opinions to discuss with them their visions. I myself attended several meetings and my colleagues are in constant dialogue, including with those who are protesting, with different experts that are providing ideas for solutions, for change,” he said.

Lebanon Fears Security Deterioration Under Economic Crisis Pressure
Beirut - Mohammed Shukeir/Asharq Al-Awsat/Thursday, 6 February, 2020
Prominent political forces revealed that the leadership of Lebanese security apparatuses fear that Lebanon’s security situation may deteriorate, telling Asharq Al-Awsat that they submitted reports in this regard to the parties concerned, heads of the state and members of the government, asking how would they deal with these reports, and whether they would take them seriously and address the dangers that may arise, especially since it threatens the “social security” of most Lebanese.
The political sources warned that many of those who consider themselves consultants of prominent politicians are downplaying the dangers and dealing with them as though they aim to undermine the new government as it prepares to release its ministerial statement during Monday's cabinet session ahead of appearing before parliament to request its confidence. The sources also stressed that the government should announce a plan for maximizing mobilization to confront the possibility of security deterioration facing the country immediately after gaining the confidence of parliament.
The same sources also said that the opposition, parties which “used to be part of March 14" will not rush to undermine the government. This decision was taken despite the growing hostility between them and President Michel Aoun because they believe that this would make it impossible for him to blame their obstructive efforts for the government’s failure.
The opposition is now assessing the actions and decisions it had taken, where it made mistakes and where it acted correctly, throughout the time it spent as part of the government, which Saad Hariri is expected to do in his speech marking the 15th anniversary of his father’s death on February the 14th.
Expectedly, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement Gebran Bassil will be Harir's primary target since he orchestrated the coup against the settlement, impaired the government’s work and damaged Lebanon’s relationship with the Arab world and the international community.
However, there are questions over whether or not President Aoun will also be addressed in the speech. The same questions apply to Lebanese Forces Leader Samir Geagea, who has been invited to attend but whose relationship with Hariri is very strained, especially after Geagea refused to name Hariri to head the government. Will they be able to repair their relationship since they both need each other, as Hariri needs a Christian and Geagea needs a Muslim ally? The Shiite duo, the Amal Movement and Hezbollah will not be ignored either. Their relationship is currently in a stage of positive coexistence, based on managing disputes on the grounds of "conflict solving", although this process used to oscillate constantly in the past. Jumblatt, until further notice, is most capable of communicating with the Future Movement, the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb, to maintain ties among the former coalition partners in light of the estrangement that dominates the Hariri-Geagea relationship. However, two things do bring these parties' together politically: the first is making peace with the government for a period and testing its leader Hassan Diab's ability to manage the economic decline, considering the ministerial statement to be merely for local consumption, and the second is assessing its performance based on its ability to compel the international community to meet its request for assistance, thereby preventing the situation from getting worse. To sum up, the opposition, though it is not unified, is postponing its confrontation with the government without walking back on its enmity to the president.

Berri Slams Govt Over Electricity File, Confirms Fund Transfers by Bank Officials

Beirut- Nazeer Rida/Asharq Al-Awsat/Thursday, 6 February, 2020
The reform of the electricity sector has drawn local and international attention, amid criticism over the new government’s strategy to deal with the file, which was reflected in its policy statement. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri on Wednesday said the state should adopt the electricity plan that has been successfully implemented in the Zahle region. “Why is this file not being handled in the same way as in Zahle?” Berri asked during his weekly parliamentary bloc meeting in Ain el-Tineh. The Parliament speaker was referring to the Zahle Electricity Company, which obtained a concession from the state to operate the sector in the city, while undertaking collection and maintenance, in exchange for purchasing electricity from the government. Berri also revealed that the owners of five Lebanese banks have sent their “personal money” abroad, estimated at $2.3 billion, despite the informal banking restrictions that have been imposed on depositors since November. Berri emphasized that the current situation could not bear “putting more burdens on people, the homeland, and the institutions.”“The national duty obliges us all to appease the atmosphere and create the appropriate circumstances to restore normal political life in line with law and constitution,” he said, adding: “We are before a real chance for salvation. We either seize it, or we let it go and fail.”The policy statement, which was approved by the government on Thursday, hinted at postponing the formation of the Electricity Regulatory Authority until after the amendment of the law regulating this sector. Sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni has tried in vain to adjust this item during the ministerial panel sessions that preceded the adoption of the statement, in order to separate the formation of the Authority from the law amendment. Meanwhile, United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis said during a televised news conference Wednesday that reform was a necessary condition for the international community to aid Lebanon, adding that it is “shameful, for example, that the electricity situation remains the same.”
He added that the reforms “must be accompanied by deadlines for implementation.”

AlFakhouri's trial on April 16
NNA/Thursday, 6 February, 2020
Head of the Permanent Military Court, Brigadier Hussein Abdullah, set April 16, 2020, a date for the trial of Amer al-Fakhoury, who is accused of murders and attempts to kill Lebanese people inside Khiam detention camp. He's also accused of kidnapping and torturing people when he was in charge of the aforementioned detention camp, before the liberation of south Lebanon in the year 2000. It is noteworthy that Military Investigative Judge, Najat Abu Shaqra, accused Al-Fakhouri of these crimes, for which he can get a death sentence; however, she dropped charges against Fakhoury's collaboration with the Israeli enemy due to the time factor which automatically drops these charges.

Aoun Calls Higher Defense Council Meeting
Naharnet/February 06/2020
President Michel Aoun on Thursday called for a Higher Defense Council meeting on Friday morning. The meeting will tackle “the security situations and developments,” according to the Presidency. The meeting comes following two clashes involving anti-government protesters and supporters of the Aoun-founded Free Patriotic Movement.

Berri tackles overall situation with Mikati, Teymour Jumblatt
NNA/Thursday, 6 February, 2020
Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Beshara Rahi said Thursday that he will tackle the issue of Palestinian refugees' resettlement in Lebanon during his meeting with Pope Francis in Rome. "This is a crucial matter and it is included in the Constitution. We do not hope for the resettlement of the Palestinians nor the Syrians," Rahi said from Beirut airport before he took off to Italy.
House Speaker, Nabih Berri, received on Thursday at his Ain Tienh residence former Prime Minister, Nejib Mikati, with whom he discussed the general situation especially at the monetary and economic level. On emerging, Mikati gave no statement to media representatives. Speaker berri also met with Head of the "Democratic Gathering", MP Teymour Jumblatt, in the presence of former Minister Ghazi Al Aridi. Discussions reportedly dwelt on most recent developments in Lebanon at the various levels, esepcially with respect to the financial, economic and social crises. On the other hand, Speaker Berri cabled the Supreme Leader of Iran, Sayyed Ali Khamenei, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and his counterpart Ali Larijani, congratulating them upon the 41st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.

Vote of Confidence in New Govt. Set for Feb. 11-12
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 06/2020
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri on Thursday scheduled a parliamentary session for February 11-12 to debate Cabinet’s policy statement and vote on confidence in the new government. The new Cabinet approved the policy statement earlier on Thursday during a meeting at the presidential palace.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his new government face the twin challenge of angry street protests and a collapsing economy, with Lebanon burdened with a debt of nearly 90 billion dollars, or more than 150 percent of GDP. Diab, a 61-year-old computer engineering professor, formed a Cabinet on January 21 after the previous government stepped down in October during unprecedented demonstrations. The premier on Thursday described the policy statement as "a working program laying out our aspirations.""It is the product of facts and studies" and was not influenced by individual interests, he added. The policy statement maintains the so-called army-people-resistance equation, according to the information minister. The phrasing confers legitimacy to Hizbullah as an armed force, and has sparked controversy in the past after being included in previous Cabinet statements. Hizbullah is the only force not to have disarmed after Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war, and is credited with expelling Israeli forces from southern Lebanon. It is listed as a "terrorist" group by the United States and the European Union, but it is also a prominent player in politics with seats in parliament. The new statement comes as Lebanon grapples with a financial crisis, a liquidity crunch, and a fall in value of the Lebanese pound by a fourth on the parallel market. International donors have repeatedly urged Lebanon to implement reforms before they release billions of dollars in frozen aid.
U.N. envoy to Lebanon Jan Kubis on Wednesday reiterated that the government must first take measures to redress the economy before any outside help. "The conditions are reforms, reforms, reforms," he said. I hope "the new government will come with a clear action plan... with deadlines," he said. "And then, we will try to help, but it must start with the work of the government," Kubis said. On Friday, Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni is to meet a delegation from the World Bank, according to a statement from his office. Lebanon has been rocked by protests since October 17 demanding a complete overhaul of a political class which activists charge is inept, corrupt and motivated by personal gain. The demonstrations have petered out in size in recent weeks.

STL: The Ayyash Case to Proceed in Absentia
Naharnet/February 06/2020
Trial Chamber II of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) issued a decision yesterday to proceed with a trial in absentia against Salim Jamil Ayyash, accused in the attacks against Marwan Hamade, Georges Hawi and Elias El-Murr, which occurred in Lebanon on 1 October 2004, 21 June and 12 July 2005, respectively. In reaching this decision, Trial Chamber II took into account oral and written submissions from the STL Prosecutor, Registrar and the Head of the Defence Office. It also examined numerous documents from the Lebanese authorities, which detail the steps they have taken to apprehend the Accused and inform Mr Ayyash about the proceedings initiated against him. These efforts included multiple attempts by the Lebanese authorities to find the Accused at his last known residences, as well as other locations. Trial Chamber II also took into consideration the fact that the indictment and the identity of the accused received intense media coverage in Lebanon. In addition, Trial Chamber II considered it relevant that the Lebanese authorities have unsuccessfully been searching for him since 2011 in connection to his indictment for the attack of 14 February 2005 against former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and others.
Trial Chamber II concluded that all reasonable steps have been taken to secure the appearance of the accused and to notify him of the charges against him. It nevertheless emphasized the accused’s right to a retrial should he appear before the Tribunal in the future. While the STL is the only international tribunal that can prosecute accused in their absence, it is a measure of last resort meant to ensure that those who flee from justice, cannot be found, have not been handed over, or have waived their right to be present, do not delay the course of justice. With this decision, the case Prosecutor v. Ayyash (STL 18-10) proceeds to the Pre Trial Phase.

Protesters Rally in Jounieh after Attack by Aswad Supporters
Naharnet/February 06/2020
Anti-government protesters from several regions gathered in Jounieh Thursday evening to denounce the overnight attack on demonstrators by supporters of MP Ziad Aswad. The protesters outside the Fouad Chehab Stadium especially condemned an attack on a young protester who hails from Tripoli that was filmed and distributed by Aswad’s supporters. The video shows the supporters beating up and insulting the young man and telling him he had no business being in Keserwan since he hails from Tripoli. “We were sitting in a (protest) tent and we learned that MP Ziad Aswad was present at a restaurant, so we headed there with full peacefulness where we were assaulted,” the young man, Walid Raad, told al-Jadeed TV on Thursday. Commenting on what he was told during the attack, Raad added: “You’re from Jezzine, what are you doing in Keserwan? Keserwan is open to all sects and it has proven that it is for everybody.”MTV meanwhile reported that the Internal Security Forces have arrested Naji al-Alam, the man who assaulted Raad. Earlier on Thursday, Aswad accused some media outlets of distorting facts in their reporting about the incident. “Three cars arrived at the place I was present at and one of my bodyguards was injured after being run over,” Aswad tweeted. He was having dinner at a seaside restaurant in Jounieh when the confrontation erupted. “They tried to storm the place and one was carrying a visible gun that was handed over to the Ghazir police station after which it turned out that it is semi-real,” Aswad said. “The issue is not sectarian but rather a pursuit and attack. Who came to whom and who attacked whom? Your media outlets’ incitement is suspicious,” the MP added.

Jumblat Lashes Out at New Foreign Minister

Naharnet/February 06/2020
Progressive Socialist Party leader ex-MP Walid Jumblat lashed out Thursday at Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti over a tweet related to the economic cost of the presence of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. “It seems that the new foreign minister, Mr. Nassif Hitti, likes to detonate large sound bombs in order to rise to the level of his predecessor in exaggeration, not to say well-known racism,” Jumblat tweeted. “It is better to cross-check the numbers, Mr. Minister, or perhaps replace the foreign minister post with electricity,” the PSP leader added. Hitti responded by tweeting a chart of a study prepared by the Finance Ministry and UNDP about the impact of the Syrian refugee crisis on Lebanon’s economy between the years 2011 and 2018. He had earlier tweeted that “the Syrian refugee crisis has so far cost Lebanon more than 30 billion dollars,” adding that “the swift return of the refugees to safe areas in Syria is the solution.”

‘The Call’ an Initiative Launched to ‘Salvage’ Lebanon
Naharnet/February 06/2020
Amid nationwide protests ongoing since October 17 and an unprecedented economic crisis in Lebanon, local and national initiatives have intensified recently in a bid to “salvage” Lebanon from collapse, MTV broadcaster reported. The "Call,” an initiative that has gained widespread popularity locally and among the Lebanese abroad. A large segment of the public opinion following the revolutionary movement have interacted with it since its inception, according to MTV. Behind this initiative is a group of activists who created a referendum and succeeded in delivering it to more than 33,000 Lebanese so far. They launched a website for this mission:, where people can place their votes. The proposed rescue plan includes a number of key points that guarantee the country's transition to recovery, led by a transitional government program that has all the exceptional legislative powers to implement it, headed by Ambassador Nawaf Salam and composed of independent ministers. The program presented to referendum offers items that refer to "financial, economic, living and social reform, liberalization of the judiciary, accountability of the corrupt and the recovery of looted funds, approval and implementation of an election law that secures democratic representation, early parliamentary elections, activation of public services, and other structural and operational reforms at the state level.”

Politicians React as New Clash Involving Aswad Sparks Controversy
Naharnet/February 06/2020
Lebanese politicians on Thursday commented on the overnight clash between anti-government protesters and supporters of MP Ziad Aswad and the Free Patriotic Movement, as well as on a video of the violence that has sparked sectarian and regional tensions. “The hate speech has been raging for a while and the attacks on the FPM have become recurrent and systematic. We always confront campaigns with awareness and responsibility and we have not persevered for years so that we change our beliefs and approach today,” FPM chief Jebran Bassil said in a tweet. “Violence with all its forms is a crime against the country and no one should use it against anyone. The test is big and we are more keen on having a Lebanon that is reconciled with its diversity and embracing of all its sons,” Bassil added. Aswad himself reacted on Thursday, accusing some media outlets of distorting the facts. “Three cars arrived at the place I was present at and one of my bodyguards was injured after being run over,” Aswad tweeted. He was having dinner at a seaside restaurant in Jounieh when the confrontation erupted. “They tried to storm the place and one was carrying a visible gun that was handed over to the Ghazir police station after which it turned out that it is semi-real,” Aswad said. “The issue is not sectarian but rather a pursuit and attack. Who came to whom and who attacked whom? Your media outlets’ incitement is suspicious,” the MP added. The tensions had further surged overnight after a circulated video showed supporters of Aswad beating up and insulting a young man and telling him he had no business being in Keserwan since he hails from Tripoli.
“After I watched the video of the attack on the citizen in Keserwan at the hands of some thugs, I tell the sons of the heart of Lebanon (Keserwan), the rational and patriotic Lebanese, not to allow the worthless thug who is morally, patriotically and humanitarianly corrupt to steal your voice or to practice thuggery against people in your name,” Tripoli politician ex-MP Mustafa Alloush tweeted, in an apparent jab at Aswad. Mufti of Tripoli and the North Sheikh Malek al-Shaar for his part condemned the attack on the young man and the use of “blasphemous slurs,” warning against “the militia-like practices that threaten civil peace.” MP Shawqi al-Daccache of the Lebanese Forces-led Strong Republic bloc also condemned the assault, saying Keserwan “opens its heart to all honorable and free Lebanese.”And as MP Georges Atallah of the FPM defended the behavior of Aswad’s supporters, describing it as self-defense, the incidents and the video were condemned by the MPs Michel Mouawad, Neamat Frem and Chamel Roukoz. A group of lawyers meanwhile filed a lawsuit against Aswad’s bodyguards and supporters, accusing them of “inciting hatred and sectarian and regional strife” and calling for their arrest and prosecution. Protesters had overnight ransacked the FPM's office in the Akkar town of Halba in response to the video.

Man Arrested in Fatal Shooting in Dahiyeh

Naharnet/February 06/2020
A suspect has been arrested in the fatal shooting of a man in south Beirut's neighborhood of al-Jamous, the Internal Security Forces said in a statement.
A dispute erupted after midnight between two men in a residential building in al-Jamous. The suspect (K.H,) opened gunfire at Firas Samaha killing him instantly and ran away, said ISF in a statement. Police ran investigations and were able to locate his whereabouts. They found him hiding inside the attic of an old building in Hay el-Sellom neighborhood.

Rahi says will tackle Palestinians' resettlement with Pope
NNA/Thursday, 6 February, 2020
Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Beshara Rahi said Thursday that he will tackle the issue of Palestinian refugees' resettlement in Lebanon during his meeting with Pope Francis in Rome. "This is a crucial matter and it is included in the Constitution. We do not hope for the resettlement of the Palestinians nor the Syrians," Rahi said from Beirut airport before he took off to Italy.

Rahi arrives in Rome, recites peace prayer
NNA/Thursday, 6 February, 2020
Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Mar Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi, arrived in Rome on Thursday where he was welcomed by Ambassador of Lebanon to the Holy See, Dr. Farid Al-Khazen, and other senior religious figures and dignitaries. Upon his arrival in Rome, Rahi headed to the Maronite Pontifical Institute, where he recited a gratitude prayer to God at Saint Maroun church. In the evening, he performed rosary prayers, in conjunction with those taking place in Bkerki, with the intention of peace in Lebanon and the countries of the Middle East. Rahi called for praying for Lebanon, especially for the unity of the Lebanese people. He stressed that Lebanon's value was based on its cultural and sectarian diversity. Moreover, the Maronite Patriarch expressed his dismay and regret for the ill-fated scuffles that took place outside Al-Jazeera restaurant last night. He highlighted herein the need to preserve Lebanon's internal and national unity. "We always feel that Lebanon's entire value lies in its coexistence," he added, calling for prayers for the country's resurrection and for political, economic, and financial stability. Rahi also hoped that Lebanon's new political family will be able to tailor a road map for the country's resurrection and advancement through the newly adopted ministerial policy. "In the face of the grave situation that Lebanon is enduring nowadays, we must forget all our differences for the salvation of our homeland, which represents all our dignity, our destiny, and the meaning of our existence," Rahi added. "If we do not help each other for the advancement of our homeland, no foreign country will be willing to help us," he added.

Ali Khatib meets German, Algerian ambassadors
NNA/Thursday, 6 February, 2020
Vice Head of the Islamic Supreme Shiite Council, Shiekh Ali Al Khatib, welcomed German Ambassador to Lebanon, Georg Birgelen,, with whom he discussed the general situation in Lebanon and the region. Sheikh Al Khatib wished Ambassador Bergelen success in his mission to boslter the bilateral relations between Lebanon and Germany in the various domains. The senior cleric also thanked Germany for its support and stand by Lebanon in the international forums. Sheikh Al Khatib also met with Algerian Ambassador to Lebanon, Abdel-Karim Al-Rakaybe, who came on a courtesy visit. Talks reportedly touched on the bailteral relations and measn to bolster them in a way that serves the interests of both countries. Al Khatib wished the newly accredited Ambassador success in his mission, hailing Algeria's supportive stance towards Lebanon and the Palestinian cause.

Fourth Ukrainian Film Festival in Lebanon
NNA/Thursday, 6 February, 2020
From February 21, to March 4, 2020 there will be held the Fourth Ukrainian Film Festival in Lebanon. The purpose of the festival is the presentation of Ukraine and acquaintance the Lebanese audience with the best examples of Ukrainian contemporary cinematic art.
The festival aims to promote the enrichment of Ukrainian and Lebanese cultures, as well as to strengthen bilateral relations. The Lebanese viewer will be offered new popular Ukrainian films "The Gendelyk", "Adventures of S Nicolas", "Dzidzio first time" and "11 children from Morshyn". The premiere screening of the documentary "Ukrainian Lebanon" by the Ambassador of Ukraine in Lebanon Ihor Ostash will take place within the festival. This is the story about 2000-years history of cultural and humanitarian relations between Ukraine and Lebanon from Saint Barbara to present times.
The festival will be preceded by the screening of the short film "In the Field" by Oleksandr Shkrabak in Tyre as part of the International Short Film Festival (February 15-16). This story is about a father who is looking for his son in the fields of the Russian-Ukrainian war. Within the framework of the Third Ukrainian Film Festival in Lebanon in 2018, the film "Cyborgs" was also dedicated to the subject on heroic defense of Donetsk airport by Ukrainian soldiers. The event is organized under the patronage of the Embassy of Ukraine in Lebanon and under the support of the the State Film Agency of Ukraine, Alpha Production Studios, Lebanese Cultural Center in Kyiv, Lebanese Cinemas "Grand Cinemas", Municipality of Zahle, Maalaka and Taanayel, NGO "Ukrainian Community in Lebanon" and "Ukrainian Universities Graduate Club in Lebanon". As it is known, in 2016, 2017 and 2018, three film festivals were successfully held in Lebanon. Among other things, the Lebanese audience got acquainted with famous Ukrainian films "Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors", "The Guide", "Cyborgs", "The Nest of the Turtledove", "Bitter Harvests". This year's event, which has already arisen significant interest among in the Lebanese public, will be held in Beirut, Saida, Zahle and Anfeh.

Loyalty to the Resistance Bloc: Lebanon faces tough deadlines
NNA/Thursday, 6 February, 2020
Loyalty to the Resistance Parliamentary Bloc held its regular meeting on Thursday headed by MP Mohammad Raad.
During its meeting, the bloc followed up on the efforts made "to draft a realistic ministerial statement.""Lebanon endures difficult financial and economic conditions, not to mention faces looming financial deadlines within the coming few months; this is of course the outcome of the borrowing policy and the accumulation of public debt," a statement issued in the wake of the meeting said. "Addressing these inherited deadlines requires a kind of national consensus. The fundamental paths in financial, economic, and monetary treatment require a national decision and popular understanding," the statement added. Moreover, the bloc affirmed its strong condemnation of the so-called deal of the century. "It is intended to make the Palestinian people unaware in a bid to forget their homeland and cause. (...) This deal will multiply the strength, unity, and will of the Palestinian people."

South Korean Ambassador visits Antonine Institute

NNA/Thursday, 6 February, 2020
Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Lebanon, Young Dae Kwon, on Thursday visited the Antonine Technical Institute in Dekwaneh, where he was received by the Institute's Director, Father Charbel Bou Abboud. Kwon praised the institute's role and its valued mission spreading art and culture in Lebanon and creating job opportunities for all the Lebanese and students who participate in these courses. He finally expressed keenness on continued cooperation between the institute and the Korean embassy.

KSA Ambassador tackles local, regional developments with ESCWA's Dashti
NNA/Thursday, 6 February, 2020
Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon, Walid bin Abdullah Bukhari, on Thursday welcomed at his Yarzeh residence, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), Rola Dashti, with whom he broached the most recent developments on the local and regional scenes. The pair also seized the occasion to exchange views on a number of issues of mutual concern.

Bassil: Violence in all its forms crime against homeland
NNA/Thursday, 6 February, 2020
Free Patriotic Movement leader, MP Gebran Bassil, tweeted this Thursday: "The hate speech has been rampant for a while now, and attacks on the FPM have been recurring and systematic. We have always handled such campaigns consciously and responsibly. We have not struggled all those years only to change our convictions and approaches today. Violence in all its forms is a crime against the homeland. No one should resort to violence against others. The exam is difficult, and our determination is on the rise to make Lebanon reconciled with its diversity and embracing of all its people."

Jumblatt: No immunity for whoever sows strife
NNA/Thursday, 6 February, 2020
Progressive Socialist Party leader, Walid Jumblatt, tweeted this Thursday: "I denounce the attack on activists be it by supporters of deputies who threaten and sow discord or by supporters of other ostracized employees. The judiciary remains the best means to stop such violations, and how great the joy if those employees, governors, and those who appointed them are dismissed from their posts. There should be no immunity for anyone who incites sedition."

In absentia arrest warrant against former director general of Casino du Liban
NNA/Thursday, 6 February, 2020
Investigating judge in Mount Lebanon, Nadim Al-Nashef, issued an arrest warrant in absentia against former director general of Casino du Liban, Hamid Kreidy, against the background of the claim submitted by lawyer Wadih Akel with accusations of corruption and financial violations.
Kreidy, who is in Switzerland, was absent from attendance for three consecutive sessions, including that intended for face-t-face confrontation with lawyer Akel, who had included in the file documents proving Kreidy's involvement in files of financial corruption. The file was referred to Public Appellate in Mount Lebanon, Judge Ghada Aoun.

Confirmed indictment in the Ayyash case

NNA/Thursday, 6 February, 2020
STL Pre-Trial Judge Daniel Fransen confirmed an indictment against Mr Salim Jamil Ayyash relating to the attacks against Mr Marwan Hamadeh, Mr Georges Hawi and Mr Elias El-Murr. The indictment and an arrest warrant were transmitted to the Lebanese authorities who have an obligation to search for, arrest and transfer the accused to the STL’s custody. An international arrest warrant has also been issued for Mr Ayyash. The confirmation of the indictment marks the opening of a new case before the STL. -- STL

Abdel Samad from Baabda: Ministerial statement of ‘challenges-facing’ government approved
NNA/Thursday, 6 February, 2020
Minister of Information Manal Abdel Samad announced in the wake of the Cabinet session held in Baabda that the government unanimously approved the ministerial policy, with the introduction of some amendments in accordance with specialists’ observations.
"The electricity plan that was approved in 2019 will be implemented, with few amendments to it if need be," she said, noting that Prime Minister Hassan Diab labeled this government a ‘challenges' facing’ one. "President of the Republic, General Michel Aoun, has said that, after the government gains confidence, it is necessary to kick off work immediately so as to compensate for lost time. He also asked to add a clause on the repatriation of the displaced to the text of the statement, especially since the majority of displaced [persons] entered [the country] to escape the dreadful security conditions, and they must return since those conditions no longer exist," she went on to say. "President Aoun has said that some countries opposed to the return of the displaced, and we wonder about the reasons behind such an objection," Abdel Samad added. "PM Diab believes the ministerial policy is a plan of action that defines our aspirations; it is not reproduced, and will in fact be a model for the governments to follow. This statement is the product of facts and studies, and does not meet any individual considerations," she asserted. Abdel Samad finally said that "the army-people-resistance clause was undisputed," stressing that "the main confidence we seek is that of the people, and the Parliament is elected by the people."

Ohanian briefed on Ray Bassil's preparations for Tokyo Olympiad
NNA/Thursday, 6 February, 2020
Minister of Youth and Sports Vartine Ohanian welcomed the President of the Lebanese Federation for Shooting and Hunting, Pierre Jalakh, and trapshooter Ray Bassil who won the Asian Championship title and qualified for the Summer Olympics, which will be held in the Japanese capital, Tokyo next summer. Bassil briefed Ohanian on her preparations to participate in the next Olympiad, pledging to work hard to achieve a good result of Lebanon.

Walid Jumblatt to Asharq Al-Awsat: Reform Not Possible during Aoun's Term
Beirut - Thaer Abbas/Asharq Al-Awsat/Thursday, 6 February, 2020
For the first time since 2005, head of Lebanon’s Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) Walid Jumblatt finds himself in the opposition. He stands “alone” as he awaits what is to unfold in Lebanon after what has been tumultuous months that saw the resignation of Saad Hariri’s government in wake of massive anti-government protests, the near collapse of the economy and the appointment of Hassan Diab as prime minister at the head of a “one-sided” cabinet.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Jumblatt said he was willing to give Diab’s government a “chance” despite the appointment of some figures who are loyal to the Syrian regime and who were part of the Syrian-Lebanese security apparatus that was present in Lebanon in 2005. He also expected tensions with President Michel Aoun to come to a head, saying that cooperation with him was “no longer possible”, criticizing his son-in-law and former Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil.
Caught between US and Iran
Jumblatt said that Lebanon is now caught between sanctions and pressure from the United States and between Iran and its allies. The protests, which have evolved into a movement calling for the overhaul of the entire political elite, are caught in the middle. The protesters, noted Jumblatt, reject the current status quo, corruption, government and ruling class “and they are right.” However, they have not yet offered a mechanism on how to change the regime.
The only way to do so lies through elections that are not tied to sectarian conditions, he suggested. Lebanon should also be transformed as a single electoral district.
Commenting on the deteriorating economy and strict bank measures, the former MP said that the people’s reaction “was not spontaneous”. He acknowledged their suffering due to the banks imposing strict capital controls, “but we are awaiting measures that the central bank governor pledged to introduce in order to better serve the people.”
“Some banks and some employees are acting harshly against depositors, who have nothing to do with the American-Iranian clash,” he remarked.
He cited recent “hurtful” comments by Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, who boasted that the party obtains its money and weapons from Iran and will continue to do so even if the Lebanese state collapses. Jumblatt said Nasrallah was exaggerating because the collapse of the state will impact everyone.
The new government must take firm and “decisive” measures to avert the collapse, especially in reforming the electricity sector that accounts for 40 percent of the deficit, he said.
Change is only possible through an independent judiciary, he stressed. “Can such a political class and regime and such a semi-one-sided government form an independent judiciary?” he wondered.
He acknowledged that some protest demands are justified, while others are complicated, such as holding corrupt officials to account and recovering looted funds. What can be achieved, is holding violators of marine properties to account.
Unresolved electricity problems
Addressing Aoun’s term in office, Jumblatt believed that it was “not possible” to cooperate with him. Such a term is driven by spite, he noted, citing toxic actions which left the country on the verge of civil war after the Qabr Shmoun incident months before the eruption of the protests in October.
“We miraculously made it. Some local and foreign pressure helped and perhaps Aoun realized at some point that his son-in-law’s policies are destructive,” he noted. “This is however, just one incident amid many accumulating political issues.”
As for the Diab government, the PSP chief remarked how some of the ministers were selected by some figures who played a prominent role when the Syrian-Lebanese security apparatus was active in the country.
Addressing the government’s policy statement, which has yet to be approved, Jumblatt said the document should not drone out pledges that will never be fulfilled. “We need serious reform measures, starting with the electricity sector,” he demanded. This was specifically requested by the international community at the 2018 CEDRE conference in Paris.
Lebanon was presented with “golden opportunities” that were all wasted, he lamented. He recalled how Kuwait once offered to build power plants, but Lebanon refused. Another company made the same offer and Lebanon again refused. Yet another offer was made and it too was turned down “all because those who control the energy ministry are opportunistic and do not take their job seriously”. “They would rather keep power being generated in Lebanon through ships, which I believe have now become generators for officials at the ministry or those who oversee its affairs,” Jumblatt said. He said the ministry today is comprised of a minister and general director, without a board of directors. He added that all of Hariri’s efforts to form a regulatory authority were rejected. “They want to monitor themselves because they are acting in complete freedom,” remarked Jumblatt, noting the “major corruption” in the energy file.
Divisive presidential term
“The open campaign against politicians is selective. I do not hear enough criticism against the president’s term, but I only hear criticism against Hariri, [parliament Speaker] Nabih Berri and Walid Jumblatt. Since its eruption, the protesters had singled out Gebran Bassil, today however, this has changed. How can reform be introduced under such a president? This is a crucial question,” he stressed. Asked if he had a problem with the presidential term or the president himself, Jumblatt replied: “Hariri believed that he could work with Aoun alone, but he failed. The president is surrounded by an intimidating team. It is not important to name names, but some judicial and political decrees were made by this team and the president complies.”
“Three more years remain. Hariri tried the diplomatic route and failed. We will see what this new government will bring,” he said when asked if efforts had reached a dead end.
“We have experience in combating presidential terms. We fought against Emile Lahoud and Beirut became divided into rival camps and then came the developments of May 7, 2008. The economic situation, however, was better back then,” he added. “How can we deal with the crisis knowing that no one will come to save us and that Rafik Hariri is no longer here?”
Returning to the new government, Jumblatt said its “looks can be deceiving, but it does include some positive elements. I have given it time, but I still place myself in the opposition. We will not give it confidence.” Asked if he will join other parties in the opposition, he replied: “I will oppose in my own way.”
“We will not return to old alliances. No one should be led to believe that we will return to the March 14 camp. The conditions that led to formation of the alliance are no more,” he explained, but revealed that coordination was ongoing with Hariri’s Mustaqbal Movement and others.
Amid such a precarious scene, how could Lebanon be kept away from regional conflicts? Jumblatt said: “We can’t do anything for a simple reason and that is the absence of a united Arab entity, Arab coordination and Arab League. The invasion of Iraq allowed Iran to expand and the Syrian regime greatly facilitated its arrival to Lebanon.”On the role Russia could play in Lebanon, Jumblatt said that Moscow has “not advanced much”.
“The Russians must make practical advances in Lebanon,” he added, suggesting that it can play a role in renting part of the “destroyed” Tripoli refinery. They must rebuild it and keep it away from the clutches of businessmen.

Switzerland examines Lebanese legal assistance request over transferred funds, Swiss Ambassador tells Annahar
Georgi Azar/Annahar/February 06/2020
"This request [sent in January 2020] is currently being examined by the competent authority, the Federal Office of Justice," Monika Schmutz told Annahar.
BEIRUT: As accusations of politicians and bank owners transferring their money abroad under bizarre circumstances gained traction, the Swiss Ambassador to Lebanon confirmed to Annahar that Switzerland has received a request for mutual legal assistance issued by the Lebanese authorities.
"This request [sent in January 2020] is currently being examined by the competent authority, the Federal Office of Justice," Monika Schmutz told Annahar. A mutual legal assistance treaty (MLAT) is an agreement between two or more countries for the purpose of gathering and exchanging information in an effort to enforce public or criminal laws.
On Wednesday, Speaker Nabih Berri confirmed that five Lebanese bank owners managed to transfer their “personal money” abroad, estimated at $2.3 billion, despite the informal banking restrictions that have been imposed on depositors since November.
This follows the accusations of a renowned Lebanese economist who alleged that nine politicians also wired the majority of their wealth to Switzerland in a span of two weeks in December 2019. Last month, Dr. Marwan Iskandar argued that information he obtained from a Swiss journalist revealed the transfer of $2 billion to the banking and finance hub. In response, Iskandar gave his testimony to Lebanese authorities, prompting the judiciary to launch an investigation into the allegations with media reports indicating that State Prosecutor Ghassan Ouweidat sought assistance from Switzerland. Schmutz stopped short from confirming the existence of such evidence at the moment, telling Annahar that "it has no indication that large sums of money were transferred from Lebanon to Swiss banks in December 2019. We cannot confirm the allegations stated in Lebanese media, that a Swiss official or a Swiss journalist has such evidence," she added.
Given the lack of formal capital controls, restrictions placed by government authorities on the flow of capital, any transfer abroad remains legal. Yet the issue lies in the preferential treatment showed to Lebanese higher-ups, with ordinary Lebanese having to foot the bill for the dollar liquidity crisis.
Banks have imposed informal capital controls since nationwide erupted in mid-October, limiting dollar withdrawals and almost completely barring transfers abroad. As the crisis escalates, Lebanon's Central Bank is expected to introduce official capital controls, sources told Annahar, limiting monthly Lebanese lira withdrawals to 25 million while capping dollar transfers abroad to 50,000 per year in certain cases.
Another facet of the accusations lies in the origin of these funds and whether they stem from the state's treasury.
Lebanese protestors and activists have long accused the ruling political class of illegal enrichment, with Lebanon ranking as the 43rd most corrupt country worldwide with a score of 28 over 100 according to Transparency International.
Looting of public funds, coupled with gross mismanagement, has depleted the state's coffers and led to massive public debt now estimated at 160 percent of GDP. This week, a group of Lebanese activists sent a letter to Swiss authorities, asking them to investigate and freeze Lebanese politician’s money in Switzerland. "On Wednesday, January 29th, protestors gathered in front of the Swiss Embassy demanding to investigate, lift the bank secrecy, freeze and recover the public funds that were stolen," the letter read. Schmutz extended her appreciation to the protesters, saying that the "Swiss authorities understand the concerns of the Lebanese people about the allegations that illicitly acquired funds might have been transferred from Lebanon to Switzerland.”“Switzerland has an established policy on freezing, confiscating and returning illicitly acquired assets through Mutual Legal Assistance," Schmutz said, adding that it can act on the basis of a respective request for mutual legal assistance if the necessary prerequisites are given. "In particular, it is vital that the Lebanese authorities provide concrete indications to the Swiss authorities relating to the presumed unlawful origin of assets and indicate where these assets have been deposited in Switzerland,” she said. Without Lebanese authorities doing their due diligence, their Swiss counterparts can do little to nothing, Schmutz said.
Paula Naoufal contributed to this report.*

Lebanon In The News
Tala Ramadan and Perla Kantarjian/Annahar/February 06/2020
The Independence of the Judiciary: An essential element for Lebanon
Lebanon’s judiciary system and its interference and encroachment with multiple elements hinder its ability to function effectively.
BEIRUT: An independent, impartial, and competent judiciary is integral to upholding the rule of law and dispensing justice.
In an effort to dig into the criteria for an independent judiciary system and highlight the challenges it faces, Coffee and Politics hosted a public discussion with Judge Jean Fahd, former head of the Supreme Judicial Council.
Fahd kicked off by highlighting that a critical element in achieving and preserving fair and impartial justice is judicial independence, which involves the principle of the separation of powers. Therefore, the judiciary would resolve disputes free from improper outside influence, self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism. Fahd explained that the judiciary must prioritize the issue of its independence for the sake of building a better society based on the rule of law.
According to the UN Human Rights, “A situation where the functions and competencies of the judiciary and the executive are not clearly distinguishable or where the latter is able to control or direct the former is incompatible with the notion of an independent tribunal."
Lebanon’s judiciary system and its interference and encroachment with multiple elements hinder its ability to function effectively. Fahd explained that under the current framework, the system is influenced by executive and political actors. He then shared the potential solutions required in order to achieve a level of judicial independence that falls in accordance with international standards.
One of the proposed solutions that could help in consolidating and supporting the independence of judges is the interaction and coordination between the judicial branch and the Ministry of Justice in a manner that serves the best interest of both parties.
Fahd’s recommendations were primarily directed towards the Lebanese authorities, but can also be taken into account by civil society organizations that take part in actively engaging in the process of promotion and strengthening judicial independence.
Coffee and Politics is a community built to allow citizens to be informed on legislative policies, municipality ordinances, and county regulations. As Tracy Nehme, founder of Coffee and Politics, puts it, “the goal of the community is to promote the discussion of politics among Lebanese citizens in a way that can benefit everyone.” Nehme told Annahar that in light of the October 17 revolution,
'Coffee and Politics' has been attempting to get figures from within the power system, and not only university professors or experts from civil society. "We believe in giving the public all the information and knowledge they can have in order to form a conscious opinion," she said.

The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 06-07/2020
23 Said Killed in Israeli Strike in Syria
Jack Khoury and Reuters/February 06/2020
Syrian state media says aerial defenses shot down most Israeli missiles but reports only eight wounded; monitoring group: Strikes targeted army positions, Iran-backed fighters.
Israeli warplanes carried out airstrikes early on Thursday near Damascus. There are contradicting reports regarding casualties: Syrian state media reported that eight soldiers were wounded, while an opposition war monitoring group said that 23 people died in the strikes, which targeted army positions and Iran-backed fighters. State news agency SANA said that Syrian air defenses shot down most of the missiles in the suburbs of the capital and the country's south before they reached their targets. It also reported that the Israeli warplanes fired the missiles while flying over the Golan Heights and neighboring Lebanon. The first attack targeted military positions in the vicinity of Damascus, while the second took place 30 minutes later striking military positions in the vicinity of Daraa, Quneitra and Reef Damascus provinces, SANA reported, quoting a military source. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the Syrian war through a network of activists on the ground, said the airstrikes occurred after midnight on Wednesday. They hit Syrian army positions and those of Iranian-backed militiamen west and south of the capital, as well as the Mazzeh military air base in Damascus, the Observatory said. According to their breakdown, fifteen of the casualties were from Iranian-backed militias, some local and some foreign, with at least three Iranian among them. Eight were from the Syrian government forces. The Observatory had the death toll at twelve in an earlier assessment.  Last month, the Syrian army said Israeli jets attacked the main T-4 air base in Homs province, and that its air defences downed several missiles in strikes that caused only material damage. In December, it said the air defense system intercepted missiles fired from the direction of Israel aimed at targets on the outskirts Damascus.

Israeli strike on Syria kills several pro-Iranian militiamen - report/The Israeli military declined to comment.
At least 14 Iranian militia members fighting in Syria were reported to have been killed in alleged IAF air strikes on Thursday against several targets in the war-torn country. According to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least three government Iranian positions near Damascus and west of the capital were targeted. Syria’s official SANA news agency said that the Israeli strikes came in two waves and hit the al-Kiswah area as well as Marj al-Sultan and Jisr Baghdad. The first wave at 01:12 a.m. “targeted some of our military positions in the suburbs of Damascus,” SANA quoted a military source as saying. The second wave at 01:41 a.m. “targeted military positions in the surroundings of Daraa, Quneitra and Damascus countryside with a number of missiles fired by Israeli warplanes from the airspace in Southern Lebanon and the occupied Golan.”While the IDF does not comment on foreign media reports, Israel has been carrying out a war-between-wars campaign in Syria since 2013, working to prevent the entrenchment of Iranian forces and the transfer of advanced weaponry from Iran to Hezbollah. The IAF has admitted to carrying out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria since the Syrian civil war erupted in March 2011. The Syrian defense ministry claimed that Syrian air defenses intercepted the Israeli missiles over the capital Damascus that were fired at military targets. Israel has repeatedly bombed Iranian-backed militia targets in Syria, saying its goal was to end Tehran’s military presence there, which Western intelligence sources say has expanded in recent years.Last month, the Syrian Armed Forces said IAF jets attacked the T-4 air base in Homs province. In December, it said the air defense system intercepted missiles fired from the direction of Israel aimed at targets on the outskirts Damascus.

Terrorist in Jerusalem ramming attack caught by security forces
Jerusalem Post/February 06/2020
Twelve Israeli soldiers were wounded in a vehicular ramming attack in central Jerusalem just before 2 a.m. on Thursday morning. The terrorist who carried out a ramming attack in Jerusalem during the early hours of Thursday morning was arrested by Israeli security forces on Thursday evening. "Following an extensive IDF operational and intelligence effort in cooperation with the ISA, Israeli police and other special units, the forces arrested the terrorist who carried out the terror attack in Jerusalem this morning," the IDF Spokesperson's Unit stated on Thursday evening. "The terrorist was taken to the interrogation."Twelve Israeli soldiers were wounded in a vehicular ramming attack in central Jerusalem just before 2 a.m. The Golani soldiers passing by the First Station, a popular entertainment spot on the city’s David Remez Street, during a heritage tour ahead of their swearing in ceremony at the Western Wall.
IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen Hildai Zilberman said that they had been walking on the sidewalk when the vehicle came from behind and struck them at high speed. The soldiers were not able to shoot at the driver before he fled the scene of the attack. “This happened in seconds,” Zilberman said.
One of the soldiers, aged 20, was evacuated in critical condition to Shaare Zedek Medical Center. The others were lightly injured and evacuated to hospital. The suspects care was found near Beit Jala, sparking a manhunt throughout Thursday.
Shaare Tzedek Medical Center said in a statement that the critically wounded individual suffered from multisystem trauma and was sent to the operating room after undergoing diagnostic procedures. "One of the injured was in a critical condition, and after having surgery, he is in a stable condition but you cannot say that his life is not in danger anymore. The other four are expected to be released later today," Dr. Alon Schwartz, head of the trauma department at the hospital told KAN. In response to the attack, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent wishes for recovery to the wounded soldiers.  "It's only a matter of time - and not much time - until we get our hands on the perpetrator," Netanyahu said in a statement. "Terror will not overwhelm us, we will win." Blue and White head Benny Gantz tweeted in response to the attack that he "prays for the healing of the Golani soldiers" and "trusts the security forces to capture the lowly terrorist and hold him accountable for his actions. "Terror should not be allowed to raise its head, neither in Gaza nor in Judea and Samaria," Gantz concluded. President Reuven Rivlin expressed similar sentiments, adding that, "we will fight [terrorism] without compromise." Overnight, IDF forces in conjunction with Border Police destroyed the home of terrorist Ahmed Kunbe in the Palestinian refugee camp of Jenin overnight. Kunbe was a member of a cell that was involved in a shooting attack that killed Rabbi Raziel Shabach in January 2018. Despite his family submitting a petition to place a stay on the demolition, a military court ruled that the IDF may proceed with the demolition.  A Palestinian protesting the demolition was killed during the event while confronting IDF soldiers.

Iran will back Palestinian armed groups as much as it can: leader
Reuters/February 06/2020
Iran will support Palestinian armed groups as much as it can, Iran’s Supreme Leader said on Wednesday, urging Palestinians to confront a U.S. plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace. “We believe that Palestinian armed organizations will stand and continue resistance and the Islamic Republic sees supporting Palestinian groups as its duty,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a speech, the text of which appeared on his website. “So it will support them however it can and as much as it can and this support is the desire of the Islamic system and the Iranian nation.” U.S. President Donald Trump announced a U.S. plan last month which would set up a Palestinian state with strict conditions but allow Israel to take over long-contested Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. Palestinian leaders have rejected it as biased toward Israel. Trump’s plan is to the detriment of America and Palestinians should confront the deal by forcing Israelis and Americans out through jihad, Khamenei said, according to his official website. Tensions have spiked between Iran and the United States after top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad on Jan. 3, prompting the Islamic Republic to retaliate with a missile attack against a U.S. base in Iraq days later. Khamenei jabbed at Arab leaders who have supported the Trump plan. “The welcoming and clapping from a few traitorous Arab leaders who are worthless and dishonorable among their own people has no importance,” Khamenei said, according to his official website. Separately, Khamenei called for a high turnout in parliamentary elections on Feb. 21, broadly seen as a gauge of support for authorities after all-out war with the United States almost broke out last month. “It’s possible that someone doesn’t like me but if they like Iran they must come to the ballot box,” Khamenei said, according to his official website, noting that the elections could help solve Iran’s international problems. Last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani lashed out at hardliners over the mass disqualification of candidates for the election. Iran’s economy has been battered after Trump pulled out of a multilateral nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic in 2018 and reimposed sanctions in a bid to bring Iran to the negotiating table for curbs on its ballistic missile program and to cut its support for regional proxies. America’s attempt to pressure Iran to negotiate through sanctions will not work, Rouhani said in a speech broadcast live on state TV on Wednesday. “They thought we would request negotiations from America. Negotiations by their definition, not our definition,” Rouhani said. “They want us to surrender through cruel, unequal and undignified negotiations. This is impossible for the Iranian people.”
*Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Alex Richardson, William Maclean

Palestinian and Israeli Farmers Pay the Price as Politicians Bicker

Tel Aviv- Asharq Al-Awsat/Thursday, 6 February, 2020
Israel and Palestine have opened a new front in their decades-long conflict by getting locked in a trade dispute - and farmers on both sides of the border are paying the price. Palestinian Mowafak Hashim, who farms fruit and vegetables in sun-baked Jericho in the occupied West Bank, says he supports moves by the Palestinian Authority (PA) to end imports of Israeli agricultural products. But he also fears the breakdown in a usually smooth-running cross-border trade relationship will ruin his business. "I won't find alternative markets... since the (Israeli) occupation controls the checkpoints", said the 51-year-old, referring to Israel's control over the West Bank's border crossings. The PA announced a boycott of Israeli calves in October. Last weekend Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said he would halt all PA agricultural imports, which in turn prompted the PA to say it would end imports of Israeli agricultural products, fruit juice, and bottled water. Those tit-for-tat moves have frayed trade links that have generally held strong since the two sides signed interim peace accords in the 1990s, even weathering the collapse in 2014 of peace negotiations. The actions of the PA, whose power base is in the West Bank, in part reflect greater efforts to end what its leaders - including new Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh - see as an over-dependence on Israeli markets. A second Palestinian farmer, 54-year-old Hisham Qutaishat, concurs with that approach. "The PA should start a comprehensive national and strategic plan to connect the needs of the Palestinian market to what Palestinian farmers produce," he said. "That way, we will not fall victims to any (Israeli) decision like this in the future." But in the meantime, with the announcement of US President Donald Trump's Middle East peace plan further fuelling bilateral tensions, producers on both sides are suffering. The West Bank currently sends over two-thirds of its farming exports to Israel, whose agriculture ministry says the calves boycott has affected around 400 Israeli cattle breeders, costing them a total of $70 million since October. In Be'er Tuvia, a southern Israeli agricultural village, cattle farmer Guy Golan said he sells around 400 calves annually to the Palestinian market, earning him 2.5 million shekels ($725,000). "This boycott hurts our business very, very much ... The cows go on and give birth, and the young calves, they're not able to go anywhere," Golan said.
"We can't buy and we can't sell, everything is stuck."

Syria Regime Forces Enter Town East of Idlib City

Beirut- Asharq Al-Awsat/Thursday, 6 February, 2020
Syrian regime forces battled rebels and were hit by Turkish artillery barrages as they tried to seize the town of Saraqeb in northwestern Idlib province in a new push to recapture the last rebel stronghold, witnesses and a war monitor said. Government forces backed by airstrikes had on Wednesday encircled and entered Saraqeb, 15 km (9 miles) east of Idlib city, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights had said in a report corroborated by witnesses. The town, Saraqeb, sits at the intersection of two major highways, one linking the Syrian capital of Damascus to the north and another connecting the country' west and east. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported clashes inside the town between Syrian troops and opposition fighters. The swift advance toward Idlib city has caused a new exodus of thousands of civilians toward the border with Turkey, which backs some insurgent groups fighting Assad. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday he expects Russia to stop the Syrian government's attacks in the northwestern region of Idlib immediately, adding that Ankara needs to work with Moscow to resolve problems in the region. Speaking to reporters in Baku, Cavusoglu also said in televised comments that a Russian delegation would come to Turkey to discuss Idlib and that Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan may hold a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin after those talks if necessary. The renewed fighting is taking place despite a Jan. 12 ceasefire agreement between Turkey and Russia, which back opposing sides of the conflict. Shelling by Syrian regime forces killed eight Turkish military personnel on Monday, prompting Turkish forces to strike back.
Erdogan threatened on Wednesday to drive back Syrian troops in Idlib unless they withdraw by the end of the month to stem an assault which he said had displaced nearly 1 million people. The United States, Britain, and France requested an emergency UN Security Council meeting on the escalating situation in northwestern Syria. The open meeting is expected to take place Thursday and include a briefing by the UN special envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, and UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock, diplomats said Wednesday ahead of an official announcement. The United Nations warned Wednesday that the humanitarian situation in the northwest was deteriorating. Some 586,000 people have been displaced since Dec. 1 and over 100,000 others are "facing an immediate risk of displacement," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. He said many of the displaced fled with only the clothes on their back and food, shelter, water, sanitation, and education are urgent priorities. A humanitarian plan for the next six months to help up to 800,000 people in the northwest is seeking about $336 million, Dujarric said.

US Steps Up Warnings on Russia Over Syria's Idlib
Washington- Asharq Al-Awsat/Thursday, 6 February, 2020
The United States on Wednesday stepped up warnings to Russia over its Syria policy, saying Moscow was trying to challenge the US presence in northeastern Syria by violating the terms of a de-confliction agreement and was also helping escalate the fighting in the northwestern province of Idlib.
James Jeffrey, US special envoy for Syria engagement and fight against ISIS, said the United States was “very very worried” about the Syrian government assault, backed by Russia, on Idlib, and he repeated calls on Moscow to stop it. “This is a dangerous conflict. It needs to be brought to an end. Russia needs to change its policies,” Jeffrey said. The United States, France and the United Kingdom called for a United Nations Security Council meeting on Thursday to discuss the situation in Idlib. President Donald Trump softened his plans to pull out US troops from Syria after backlash from Congress, and has kept around 600 troops, largely in northeastern Syria to continue the fight against ISIS. However, in northwestern Syria, the United States has no troops on the ground and thus little leverage on Russia or the Syrian government in asserting its position. The Idlib violence has accelerated in recent months despite several ceasefire efforts, including as recently as January. On Wednesday, Syrian government forces entered Saraqeb in Idlib, a war monitor and eyewitnesses said, in a renewed push by President Bashar al-Assad to recapture the last rebel stronghold. “We’re seeing not just the Russians but Iranians and Hezbollah actively involved in supporting the Syrian offensive. We don’t know whether the offensive is just to get to the M4-M5 road, or it may continue further,” Jeffrey said, in reference to the strategic highways connecting Syria’s Aleppo to Hama and Latakia on the Mediterranean coast. Jeffrey said Moscow could change its policies and meet the requirements of the international community without ousting Assad. “Those requirements are not unreasonable. ... They require a change in that (Assad) government’s behavior. That government would not survive a week without the Russian assistance.”In a related development, Russia's foreign ministry said on Thursday that Russian and Turkish "military specialists" were killed by militants who staged more than 1,000 attacks in the last two weeks of January in the de-escalation zone in Idlib province. "There has recently been a dangerous increase in tension and a surge of violence in Idlib," the foreign ministry said in a statement on its website. Russia continues to closely coordinate with Turkey and Iran on the ground in Syria, it added.
Northeastern Syria is a complicated battleground with forces of the United States, Turkey and Russia as well the Syrian government and aligned Iranian militia operating, sometimes in close proximity. Moscow has been filling the vacuum of US withdrawal from the area, ramping up its military presence in Syria’s northeast, and de-confliction agreements between the two sides ensure they avoid any clashes. But Jeffrey on Wednesday said there have been more incidents of Russia’s violating the terms of de-confliction in what he characterized as an attempt to challenge the US presence in there.
“We’ve seen a limited number of occasions where ... they’ve tried to come deep into the area where we and the SDF are patrolling well inside the basic lines we have sketched. Those are the ones that are worrying me,” he said, referring to Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that works with Washington in northeastern Syria. He said while the numbers of such incidents were not very high, they were on the rise. “Thus is troubling,” he said, and called on Moscow to adhere fully to the de-confliction agreements with the United States.

Israel Fails to Win Pentagon's Support to Annex Settlements Before Elections
Tel Aviv – Asharq Al-Awsat/Thursday, 6 February, 2020
Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett failed to alter the official US position on the annexation of settlements or any areas in the West Bank before the elections or before presenting the plans to the US-Israeli Special Committee, according to informed sources. The sources said that Bennett tried to present the vision of settlers' leaders on annexation, but his US counterpart, Mark Esper, refused to discuss it and refused to mention the ‘deal of the century’ in the joint statement. Bennett arrived in Washington on a traditional visit made by every new Israeli defense minister to the Pentagon. The joint statement indicated that the two officials only “discussed a broad range of defense-related issues to include regional threats, shared interests, and the importance of maintaining a strong military-to-military partnership moving forward.” Meanwhile, settlers' leaders mounted a protest tent in front of the Knesset, calling on the government to enact a law that imposes Israeli sovereignty over the settlements established in the occupied West Bank, and annex the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea regions to Israel, rather than waiting till after March elections. Dozens of far-right settlers and party leaders gather each day near the tent, which is also visited by schoolchildren and Jewish religious leaders. They demand the enactment of the annexation law before the elections, even if it involved a conflict with the US. Netanyahu rejected the pressures saying at a Likud campaign event in Beit Shemesh that the decision to impose sovereignty over areas of the West Bank was postponed indefinitely. “We, the Likud, won’t let this great opportunity slip from our grasp. But in order to guarantee it, in order to guarantee Israel’s borders, in order to guarantee the future of Israel, I need every Likud member this time around to go out and vote and get others out to vote. This time we’re getting everyone out of the house, we’re not leaving anyone behind,” Netanyahu said. Political sources said that Netanyahu's new rhetoric indicates he is fully convinced the US administration will not allow him to annex before the elections. The administration wants to see the results of the Israeli elections, and whether Netanyahu will ever remain prime minister. The Israeli Broadcasting Corporation quoted Likud officials as saying that the party is still considering obtaining the government's approval of the entire US ‘deal of the century’, and not just annexing the settlements in the occupied West Bank before the Knesset elections. This approach aims to end the US administration's opposition to the implementation of the annexation of the settlements before the elections without losing the US support, unnamed sources from the Likud told the Corporation. The same sources believe the approval of the plan in its entirety will not be met with US opposition, because it also includes accepting the clause of establishing a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, adding that Netanyahu is discussing the matter with Washington.

Israeli Troops Hurt, Palestinians Killed in New Violence
Asharq Al-Awsat/Thursday, 6 February, 2020
A spike in Israeli-Palestinian violence on Thursday left at least three Palestinians killed and a dozen Israeli troops wounded in a rash of attacks and clashes. A Palestinian motorist slammed his car into a group of soldiers in central Jerusalem early on Thursday, wounding 14 before fleeing the scene, Israeli police said. In the West Bank, two Palestinians died after clashes broke out with Israeli troops, according to Palestinian hospital officials. And later, Israeli police said they shot and killed a Palestinian who opened fire at forces in Jerusalem's Old City, lightly wounding an officer. Israeli aircraft struck Hamas positions in the Gaza strip early Thursday, the military said, after Palestinians in the enclave again launched projectiles and explosive balloons at Israel. "Fighter jets and (other) aircraft targeted Hamas terror targets throughout the Gaza Strip," it said in an English language statement. Palestinian security sources and eyewitnesses in Gaza reported hits on unspecified targets north of Al Shati refugee camp near Gaza City and a Hamas facility in the southern Gaza Strip. They said nobody was injured.  On Wednesday night the army reported "two mortar shells were fired from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory" at open areas. There were no reported casualties. Since US President Donald Trump's announcement last week of his plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, rockets, mortar shells and explosive balloons have been launched almost daily from Gaza into southern Israel, provoking Israeli retaliation. Palestinians strongly reject the US plan, seen as heavily favoring Israel.

Hamas: Israeli Detainees Injured in Strikes Against Gaza Last Year
Ramallah - Asharq Al-Awsat/Thursday, 6 February, 2020
Hamas movement's armed wing, al-Qassam Brigades, revealed Wednesday that Israeli soldiers detained since 2014 were injured during an Israeli airstrike on the Gaza Strip in May 2019. The group issued a statement revealing that the Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip in May 2019, bombing civil and security buildings, had wounded several Israeli soldiers. Qassam Brigades’ spokesman Abu Obeida said: “We will not reveal their fate at this phase, and we promise our heroic prisoners that we will do everything we can to free them.”Abu Obeida criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for misleading the Israeli public when he freed an Israeli citizen imprisoned in Russia, while he leaves his soldiers behind since 2014. “In light of how Netanyahu defrauded the Israeli public with Naama Issachar's release, during a period when Israel left its captives in Gaza since 2014, without caring about their unknown fate. We confirm that the occupation government is lying.”The movement, in charge of the prisoners' issue, wants to pressure Israel through the families of captive soldiers. Many previous talks failed to make any progress to complete the exchange deal, given that Israel refuses to include Palestinians who were rearrested after their release.Hamas recently confirmed that all mediations have failed to ensure an exchange prisoner deal with Israel. The movement announced that countries such as Egypt, Turkey, Qatar, Sweden, and Germany had interfered, but no progress had been made on this issue.
There are 4 Israelis with Hamas in Gaza Strip including Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, who were captured by the movement in the war that broke out in the summer of 2014. Israel believes Shaul and Goldin are dead, however, Hamas does not provide any information about their fate.
Also, Hamas detains Avera Mengistu, an Israeli of Ethiopian descent, and Hashim Badawi al-Sayyid, who is of Arab descent. Both crossed Gaza borders at two different times after the war. Families of the prisoners accuse the Israeli government of neglecting its duties and not working seriously to bring their sons back, but Netanyahu says that Israel is exerting all efforts to release all detainees.

Allawi Prioritizes Representation of Protesters in Iraqi Govt
Baghdad – Hamza Mustafa/ Asharq Al-Awsat/Thursday, 6 February, 2020
Iraqi Prime Minister Muhammad Tawfiq Allawi has launched consultations on forming the new government, starting with disgruntled protesters before political blocs. Allawi, assigned by Iraqi President Barham Salih, will face the toughest challenge in gaining the Iraqi parliament’s vote of confidence.
Political figures told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that Allawi will soon form a team to negotiate with the political blocs and anti-government protesters in Baghdad, and central and southern provinces. Negotiations will focus on a vision on which mechanisms to adopt in forming the new cabinet and whether political parties and blocs will have a direct role in naming ministers or the choice will be left to the newly-appointed prime minister, the political figures added. An official said that while the Shiite blocs commit to leaving the choice to the PM, Kurds and Sunnis insist on their right to have a say in the distribution of ministerial portfolios. These concerns are coupled with Allawi’s efforts to have the popular movement represented in the cabinet by more than half of its members, in addition to granting portfolios to women. Asharq Al-Awsat learned that the prime minister-designate has formed teams to follow-up the protests in various provinces. He has also held meetings with leaders from the popular movement, paving the way for normalizing ties between demonstrators and the authorities for the first time since people took to the streets in October. Saeroun MP Raad al-Maksusi affirmed that the majority of lawmakers are willing to grant their confidence vote to Allawi. He stated to the press on Wednesday that all political parties should leave the choice for the PM to name ministers. Deputy for State of Law Coalition Mansour al-Baiji urged Allawi to choose his cabinet away from the pressure exerted on him by political parties and blocs. He added that the prime minster-designate is in this position now because of the bloodshed that paved way for a decision on implementing reforms and eliminating corruption. That’s why he should fulfill the promises he made to the people and form a non-partisan cabinet, said Baiji.
The MP stressed that this is a delicate phase in Iraq and there is no room for procrastination and under the table deals.

Libya: Tripoli Ceasefire Violated, Militias Accuse Army of Bombing Civilians
Cairo - Khalid Mahmoud/Asharq Al-Awsat/Thursday, 6 February, 2020
The Libyan National Army (LNA) has downed a drone belonging to militias backing the Government of National Accord (GNA) in the Ain Zara axis, south of the capital Tripoli, according to military sources. Meanwhile, an LNA official told Asharq Al-Awsat that the armed militias of Misrata have withdrawn from their locations in Tripoli to face army forces advancing towards Tawergha, west of Sirte. The official, who asked to remain anonymous, noted that militias have left Tripoli, and Turkish and Syrian mercenaries have stayed. He noted that the Misrata militias also withdrew remnants of Benghazi and Darnah Shura councils from Tripoli, including wanted terrorists, such as Ziad Balaam and Salah Badi. The official also highlighted that elements of the so-called “Suleyman Shah Brigade” or “Sultan Murad's Factions” are merely unorganized Syrian militias, adding that they are led by Turkish officers who relocated them after Misrata militias withdrew from their locations. He indicated that most Syrian mercenaries, who were deployed to Az-Zawiya and Zuwara, fled by sea to Europe. Meanwhile, Volcano of Rage Operation launched by militias loyal to the GNA, accused the LNA of bombing neighborhoods and civilian areas.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, the media office of the Operation indicated that LNA forces fired a random shell near the Faculties of Agriculture and Pharmacy at the University of Tripoli, noting that the bomb squad headed to the area. Also Wednesday, Algerian Foreign Minister Sabri Boukadoum began a visit to Libya where he met with LNA commander Khalifa Haftar. Haftar’s media office said in a statement that the two officials discussed bilateral relations and Algeria's role in supporting Libya's stability, as well as joint efforts to combat crime and terrorism.
Haftar highly praised “the positive role” of the Algerian state, which is steadily striving to find a peaceful solution to the crisis in Libya, stressing the important role of the Algerian people, and their support to Libyans.Sources at Haftar’s office said he received an official invitation to visit Algeria soon. The Algerian  official arrived earlier Wednesday in Benghazi for an unprecedented visit, where he met with Prime Minister of the interim government Abdullah al-Thinni. The two discussed recent developments in Libya and bilateral relations. Algeria recently hosted a meeting of foreign ministers of Libya's neighboring countries. It is also seeking to organize new talks between Libyan parties, which was announced by Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune during the Berlin Conference last month. Thinni recently received an invitation to visit the US Senate in Washington to present his government’s vision for resolving the Libyan crisis, according to his spokesperson.

The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 06-07/2020
Bullying Against Sudan
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al-Awsat/February 06/2020
In our region things are not always what they seem, as in the case of the intense attack against Sudan and the chairman of its Sovereign Council, Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, under the pretext of his meeting with the Israeli prime minister in Uganda.
The main driver behind this attack is none other than the Muslim Brotherhood, which lost power in Sudan last year. Its members are disgruntled because the Sudanese authorities began to uproot thousands of them from the educational, security and economic institutions that the Brotherhood took over during the rule of the previous regime. Sudan, like other countries, faces serious challenges that cannot be taken lightly, and it cannot act against its supreme interests. We cannot lose sight of the fact that more than half of all Arab countries — including Tunisia, Qatar, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Oman and others — have dealt with Israel. We also cannot forget that some officials of the Palestinian Authority (PA), which was previously boycotted by some Arab states on the pretext that it had concluded a deal with Israel, are making the same mistake.
Political bullying against Arab governments in the name of Palestine or Israel is unacceptable. Everyone is tired of this declining political rhetoric, which had the audacity to criticize states without taking into account their circumstances and necessities. States have their supreme interests, and sovereign decisions are not to be decided on Twitter. Nor should they be pressured by those who have personal whims or interests.
Why does the PA deal with the Israeli government, buy electricity from it and exchange security information? The reason is that it is obliged to do so. Why does a Sudanese sovereign official meet with an Israeli official? Because his country is still sanctioned and he has to search for solutions to end its crises.
Sudan is going through a difficult transitional period in which it faces internal and external intrigues, and the Palestinians must not be exploited. Let us not forget that the Iranians involved the previous Sudanese regime in their battles over the years. The Sudanese people paid a high price for this.
Indeed, naval and air chases sank Iranian ships off Sudanese ports, and Iranian military training camps were bombed on Sudanese territory. In addition, the crimes of the previous Sudanese regime against its people placed the country on international and US sanctions lists. Sudan does not have many options if it wants to lift these sanctions, move away from the Iranian strategy of conflict and shift to internal development. The Brotherhood’s incitement machine has been working overtime since the Sudanese successfully reached an agreement that is the only one of its kind in the areas of the Arab world afflicted by political turmoil. This is why incitement is to be expected from disgruntled parties and their allies. A number of the Brotherhood’s leaders have fled and settled in Istanbul, joining the leaders of the Egyptian group and others there.
Regardless of the motives for criticizing Sudan, the Palestinian cause is the biggest loser when it is exploited by such people, who have long used it to serve their own interests and to fight their battles. No one dares to speak against the incitement practiced by some Palestinian officials close to Doha. Al-Burhan’s meeting in Entebbe lasted two hours, while they have been silent about meetings taking place since the 1990s.

Peace in Europe Means Peace in Libya!

Huda al-Husseini/Asharq Al-Awsat/February 06/2020
Many thought that the Berlin Conference would lead to a ceasefire in Libya. Europe understands the danger of the escalating crisis, but is it also capable of looking after its own interests?
During the days that followed the assassination of the leader of the Quds Forces Qassem Soleimani it seemed that Iraq would become the battlefield that would attract the West’s attention. With the internal protests demanding the expulsion of Iran returning, the disturbances caused by Tehran’s attempts to attack US forces in Iraq and parliament’s decision that called for the US to withdraw its troops from Iraq, it seemed that all eyes would be on Iraq.
In truth, however, the unsettling headlines came from Libya. The country, only a few hundred kilometers away from Europe, that has many refugees and massive oil reserves, has become the topic of discussion for the different leaders in Berlin in mid-January.
These leaders came to discuss the future of Libya at a time when there was an escalation in the battles and an increase in foreign intervention, especially by Turkey and Russia.
Among the leaders that attended the conference were Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The two competing camps represented by the commander of the Libyan National Army, Khalifa Haftar and the Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord in Tripoli, Fayez al-Sarraj, were unofficially present. Both refused to meet and held separate discussions at the conference. The conference ended with an agreement to form a military committee that includes five officers from each camp under the supervision of the United Nations (UN), in preparation for a permanent ceasefire.
Strict implementation of the 2011 arms ban in Libya and the cessation of all military aids to competing forces in order to force them to conduct serious discussions were agreed to. Despite that, in practice, no specific decisions were made concerning the means of monitoring the ceasefire or implementing the ban. Despite that, the summit showed Europe’s increasing readiness to intervene in the escalating conflicts in Libya; in reality, it was unable to formulate the necessary mechanism to stop the chaos in the security and government sectors. At the same time, violent militias took over the capital and took Libyan lives hostage in a large prison in West Tripoli and Misrata.
Since the Gaddafi regime was overthrown, Libya became a battlefield for opposing interests, a country ripped apart, controlled by competing militias, and run by two governments, two parliaments, two central banks, and tens of militias. Its strategic location has tempted many international players in order to exploit its resources.
Those players’ loyalties have been divided in the last few months, and Russian aid to Haftar’s forces have increased despite Moscow continually claiming that it has no connection to either camp.
On the other hand, Turkey and Qatar have supported Sarraj’s government, which also has the support of the UN and has taken West Tripoli as its stronghold.
Every European country has an interest in the stability of Libya, the third-largest exporter of oil in Africa. For example, Italy signed an agreement that prevents refugees from all over Africa to sail to the European Union (EU) from the Libyan coast. Turkey signed a military and security cooperation agreement with Sarraj’s government and an agreement to delineate marine borders between the two countries. This allows Turkey to increase its oil extraction in the Mediterranean substantially and to take over oil and gas extraction areas from Greece and Cyprus.
Egypt, however, strongly objects to any Turkish intervention in its backyard, which could strengthen the Muslim Brotherhood group publicly supported by Erdogan and that controls Egypt’s interests in the Mediterranean.
In the last few years, Russia has expanded its interests in the Middle East and has strengthened its control over the Syrian coast, and sees Libya as a strategic base that would allow it to reach the other side of the Mediterranean coast and its oil reserves.
From here, the increasing participation of foreign players in the Libyan conflict started after Haftar’s military campaign to take West Tripoli back in April 2019. Lately, some reports have indicated that 2000 former Syrian rebels were funded and sent by Turkey to Libya for six months, earning around US$2000 every month.
It is clear that with the increase in the participation of foreign players in the conflict, a solution is becoming more far fetched. When the situation becomes more complex, violence will increase and spread to neighboring countries, posing a threat to Europe in terms of refugees, terrorism, and energy supplies.
Despite all of this, the US has taken a stance similar to the one on Syria and has not exercised all of its weight, which has forced Europe to confront the challenge, after many years of looking the other way of the Mediterranean.
The point of the Berlin Conference was to stop the dangerous operation being carried out by Turkey to establish a fait accompli on the ground, increasing its influence in Libya and creating an adequate area to put pressure on its competitors in Egypt, Europe, and wherever it sees fit.
Alongside the conference, the EU is examining ways to support a ceasefire and implement sanctions, including the possibility of renewing naval patrols along the Libyan coast or sending the UN peacekeeping forces to the area.
The conflict in Libya is at a crossroads. One of the possibilities is for Europe to succeed in implementing a permanent ceasefire, dispelling foreign forces in Libya, delicately imposing a siege, stopping the inflow of arms into the country, and forcing enemies to let go of their military ambitions and to resort to compromise instead.
The second possibility is for the fighting to continue, with Turkey continuing its military support al-Sarraj and making available weapons, training, military consultants and fighters of different nationalities that have gained extensive experience during the long years of battle in Syria.
In the competing camp, Haftar will be supported by those who support them. In such a case, the internal fighting in Libya will escalate into a wider confrontation. Europe and the West will hold a tremendous responsibility in such a situation.
The Berlin Conference has proven that Europe acknowledges with certainty the rising threats. The question is: Will it succeed in recruiting enough forces to stop the Turkish offense and prevent the situation in Libya from deteriorating like it did in the Syrian civil war?
Another more important question is: In the end, what will push Arab countries to move, independently or collectively, through the Arab League to end the chaos in Libya?
The answer is clear: a quick glance at the daily headlines shows that the Arab homeland has turned into a neighborhood where every side does what suits them.

The EU Foreign Policy Chief’s Mission Impossible in Tehran
Saeed Ghasseminejad and Richard Goldberg/FDD/February 06/2020
The new EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, traveled to Tehran this week to salvage the almost-dead Iran nuclear deal. Borell’s mission had little hope of success, however, since the European Union lacks the means to match its political gestures with the kind of economic support that would stabilize a regime now reeling from Washington’s maximum pressure campaign.
Borrell’s visit comes three weeks after Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, collectively known as the E3, triggered the dispute resolution mechanism created by the 2015 nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The E3 took action in response to Tehran’s escalating nuclear activities, including a declaration last month that it will no longer abide by JCPOA limits on uranium enrichment.
While strict application of the dispute resolution mechanism could lead to the reinstatement of UN sanctions and restrictions in little more than 30 days, the process can also be extended indefinitely by consensus among the remaining JCPOA participants. The Trump administration has called on the E3 to move quickly, yet Borrell, like Iran, would rather play for time until the U.S. presidential election in November.
Iran, for its part, says it will happily return to compliance with the JCPOA if all U.S. sanctions on the regime are lifted and tens of billions in economic relief fills its coffers. Tehran could then take patient pathways to nuclear weapons, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and an advanced military as key restrictions sunset under the nuclear deal and the related UN Security Council resolution. Of course, during a previous period of alleged compliance, Iran maintained a hidden nuclear archive and reportedly concealed nuclear material or activities at an undeclared site. Now, in exchange for a new pledge of compliance, Tehran wants the European Union to buy oil from Iran or give it billions of dollars in loans and lines of credit to escape the impact of President Donald Trump’s maximum pressure campaign.
Borrell, however, arrived in Tehran with empty pockets since he cannot deliver what the mullahs ask. Trump appears unwilling to provide any sanctions relief prior to a final agreement that addresses the administration’s 12 key demands. At present, European banks, energy companies, and insurers are unwilling to risk violating U.S. sanctions and losing their access to the U.S. market and financial system.
For that reason, past attempts by European leaders to encourage their companies to trade with Iran have failed. In the first 11 months of 2019, EU imports from Tehran decreased 93 percent in comparison with the same period a year earlier, falling from €9.3 billion to just €648 million. A similar pattern is visible for EU exports to Iran, which fell 52 percent from €8.5 billion in 2018 to €4.1 billion in 2019. Clearly, the INSTEX special purpose vehicle established by European politicians to evade U.S. sanctions has failed to deliver.
With each passing day, as Iranian centrifuges produce more and more enriched uranium and the UN conventional arms embargo on Iran approaches its October 2020 expiration date, or “sunset,” Borrell’s ability to salvage the JCPOA grows ever weaker. Moreover, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s overwhelming electoral victory and mandate for Brexit may soon free British foreign policy from Brussels’ fear of offending Tehran. Without Johnson’s support, the French and Germans cannot drag out the JCPOA’s dispute resolution process. Instead, the issue would come before the UN Security Council, where a U.S. or UK veto could kill the JCPOA and its sunset provisions, thereby preventing Russian and Chinese arms from flowing into Iran, increasing restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile program, and restoring the international standard of “no enrichment” for the regime.
Washington’s priority should be to end the JCPOA before the first sunset takes effect. President Trump should continue and intensify his maximum pressure strategy while working closely with Johnson to bring the dispute resolution process to its proper conclusion.
Saeed Ghasseminejad is a senior Iran and financial economics advisor at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where Richard Goldberg is also a senior advisor. They both contribute to FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP). For more analysis from Saeed, Richard, and CMPP, please subscribe HERE. Follow Saeed and Richard on Twitter @SGhasseminejad and @rich_goldberg. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CMPP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

New U.S. Weapon Strengthens Nuclear Deterrence of Moscow

Bradley Bowman and Major Liane “Trixie” Zivitski/FDD/February 06/2020
The Department of Defense announced this week that the U.S. Navy has deployed a low-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) nuclear warhead. This deployment, which aims to deter Russia’s first-use of a low-yield nuclear weapon, represents an important but insufficient step to deter Russian aggression.
According to the Pentagon, “there is a large and growing disparity in the nonstrategic nuclear weapons (NSNW) fielded by the United States and the Russian Federation.” In fact, Moscow possesses a stockpile of up to 2,000 active NSNWs that it can employ using ships, planes, and ground forces. Underscoring Washington’s concerns, Moscow’s statements and military exercises demonstrate that it has developed a war-fighting doctrine that emphasizes the first-use of low-yield tactical nuclear strikes.
Moscow believes the size and variety of its NSNWs “provide a coercive advantage in crises and at lower levels of conflict,” according to the 2018 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). This perception could increase the chances that Moscow employs low-yield nuclear weapons. Correcting this perception, the NPR notes, represents a “strategic imperative” for the United States.
Consequently, the Trump administration requested funding for fiscal year (FY) 2020 to deploy a low-yield SLBM, the W76-2. Despite opposition along party lines in the House of Representatives, the final FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) permitted the W76-2 deployment to proceed. Republican and Democrat senators voted to pass the final NDAA by a vote of 86-8.
Under Secretary of Defense for Policy John Rood issued a statement on Tuesday announcing the deployment. The deployment “provides the United States a prompt, more survivable low-yield strategic weapon.” In publicly doing so, Rood argues that the U.S. “demonstrates to potential adversaries that there is no advantage to limited nuclear employment because the United States can credibly and decisively respond to any threat scenario.”
While the deployment of the low-yield SLBM warhead strengthens U.S. nuclear deterrence, more must be done.
Indeed, the 2018 NPR said that the deployment of the low-yield SLBM warhead represented a “near-term” step as the Department of Defense develops a modern nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM-N).
Washington certainly does not need to build an NSNW arsenal identical to Moscow’s. But the deployment of a SLCM-N would provide the United States a complementary capability distinct from the W76-2. The SLCM-N would complicate Russian defense planning and further strengthen deterrence against a potential first-use of low-yield nuclear weapons in a regional crisis.
The deployment of the SLCM-N would prevent Moscow from accruing significant military advantage based on its deployment of ground-launched cruise missiles in longstanding violation of its obligations under the now-defunct Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The deployment of a SLCM-N would also not require a new nuclear warhead or nuclear testing, and it would not violate any U.S. treaty commitments.
Fielding the SLCM-N could increase Russian President Vladimir Putin’s incentive to come to the nuclear weapons negotiating table in good faith. If Moscow refuses to negotiate in good faith, the United States will need the SLCM-N to deter Russian aggression.
The deployment of such a capability has enjoyed some bipartisan support, including from James Miller, former President Barrack Obama’s undersecretary of defense for policy.
The best way to protect American interests and deter Moscow’s use of low-yield nuclear weapons is to make clear to Putin that Washington has appropriate means to respond. That is exactly what the dual deployment of the low-yield SLBM warhead and SLCM-N would provide.
Bradley Bowman is senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP) at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where Major Liane Zivitski works as a visiting military analyst. For more analysis from Brad, Liane, and CMPP, please subscribe HERE. Follow Brad on Twitter at @Brad_L_Bowman. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CMPP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

Inside Iran’s IRGC training programs and quest to dominate MidEast
Seth J.Frantzman/Jerusalem Post/February 06/2020
Tony Blair Institute study reveals Iran's indoctrination as Blair calls for IRGC to be listed as terrorist organization.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps is involved in training recruits to believe that jihad can be an offensive ideology and that thousands of young Shi’ites across the Middle East should answer Iranian Ayatollah Khamenei’s calls for military strikes, a new report shows.
Titled ‘Beyond Borders: The Expansionist Ideology of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ and published by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, the report looks deeply at Iran’s training of IRGC members. Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair gave a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on Tuesday about the key findings.
Kasra Aarabi, who authored the report, concludes that for over four decades “the Iranian regime has worked tirelessly to impose a totalitarian state-sanctioned Shia Islamist ideology, both inside and outside Iran. Nowhere is the engine of this ideology more visible than the IRGC.” The way that Iran’s regime indoctrinates people including recruits to the IRGC is to present itself and Shi’ites as victims and claim it is “resisting.”
This may have been true in the 1970s and 1980s, but today Iran is more often the aggressor in places like Syria and its allies are often involved in suppressing protests in Iraq and Lebanon.
Iran’s IRGC pushes a sectarian message arguing, according to the report, that Shi’ites are under attack from a “[Sunni] Arab-Zionist-Western axis.” Images circulated on Telegram accounts and social media show how they push claims that the US and the West created ISIS, or that Jews and Israelis created Saudi Wahhabist Islam.
The report documents how Iran’s IRGC has presented its role as part of a religious war. This is an all-encompassing ideology that embraces not only concepts like “jihad” but also instructs volunteers on how to organize their family life and pushes a chauvinist line of thinking.
The author compares the documents to the Salafist-Jihadi worldview of groups like ISIS, and argues that both the IRGC and its extremist opponents on the other fringe manipulate scripture. Imagery is important here too. The IRGC symbol, used by its proxies and allies, is a first holding a rifle which denotes “the supposed religious legitimacy of violence.”The end goal now is to expand the IRGC’s role, through billions sent to the Syrian war for instance. It also involves support for groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon, various Shi’ite militias and groups in Iraq such as the Badr Organization and Kataib Hezbollah, and groups in Afghanistan and Yemen. Iran’s expansion via the IRGC is now at its highest point historically. It is aiming for a kind of Iranian hegemony in the Middle East.
In Blair’s speech he outlined Iran’s challenge and current policies that the US and other countries are using. He noted that the IRGC’s role is critical to Iran’s responses. The recent killing of Qasem Soleimani could change the IRGC’s behavior. “If it continues as under [Qasem] Soleimani, it will make impossible any such discussion with Iran. The Iranian regime there has a fundamental choice. The West should be united in making it choose wisely.”
IRGC is critical to this. If it continues as under Soleimani, it will make impossible any such discussion with Iran. The Iranian regime therefore has a fundamental choice. The West should be united in making it choose wisely. The Tony Blair Institute has recommended that policymakers limit the activity and reach of the IRGC. That means designating it as a foreign terrorist organization, as the US has done. It should also be viewed through the “countering violent extremism” lens. IRGC propaganda should be confronted online using technology. Understanding its training manual and worldview is key to this as well.At the same time that the IRGC’s training has been revealed, other reports emerged at Al-Hurra that Iran has paid up to 32,000 agents in Iraq over the years. This is important because Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, many of them affiliated with the paramilitary elements of the security forces, have been accused of killing more than 500 people in recent protests.
This fits the Iranian regime model of killing protesters last November. Groups implicated include Saraya Khorasani, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Kataib Hezbollah, Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba and the Badr Organization. All of these are linked to the IRGC, with some of their leaders having trained in Iran in the 1980s. Hadi al-Amiri of Badr trained in Iraq. Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis of Kataib also did. He was killed by the US on January 3 alongside Soleimani.
In November last year The Intercept and New York Times revealed leaked Iranian intelligence files showing how Iran has sought to dominate Iraq and create a network of agents, informers and loyal politicians throughout the country. The recent study adds to our knowledge of the overall Iranian IRGC octopus and its role in Iraq and the region.

Arab Writers: The Coronavirus Is Part Of Biological Warfare Waged By The U.S. Against China
MEMRI/February 06/2020
Following the spread of the coronavirus in China and other countries, several writers in the Arab press wrote that this virus and others, such as the SARS and swine flu viruses, were deliberately created and spread by the U.S. in order to make a profit by selling vaccines against these diseases. Others wrote that the virus was part of an economic and psychological war waged by the U.S. against China with the aim of weakening it and presenting it as a backward country and a source of diseases.
Coronavirus sparks war between the U.S. and China (source:, February 2, 2020)
The following are translated excerpts from some of these articles:
Saudi Writer: It's No Coincidence That The Coronavirus Has Skipped Over Israel And The U.S.
In Saudi daily Al-Watan, writer Sa'ud Al-Shehry claimed that the coronavirus was a plot by American and Israeli drug companies aimed at increasing their profits. He wrote: "A 'wonder' virus was discovered yesterday in China; tomorrow it will be discovered in Egypt, but it will not be discovered either today, tomorrow or the day after tomorrow in the U.S. or Israel, nor in poor countries such as Burundi or the Comoro Islands…
"The corona[virus] is a known virus, and we know that it was discovered in 1960 and that it causes ordinary respiratory diseases. Its symptoms are like those of any other virus: coughing, congestion, and perhaps also diarrhea and fever. [Therefore,] it is strange to hear that the World Health Organization is saying that 'this is a virus first discovered in 2012 in Saudi Arabia, in a camel...'
"And here is something else that's strange: As soon as Egypt announced, a few years ago, that it would rely on poultry [raised in the country], and that it would even export [poultry] abroad – that is, that it no longer needed poultry from the U.S., France, and so on – [suddenly] there appeared, from underneath the ground, the avian flu virus… with the aim of nipping [Egypt's economic] awakening in the bud. Helpless, the world searched for a serum [i.e. vaccine] for this miserable avian [flu] virus. Out of the blue, like a miracle, Merck Sharp appeared like an innocent lamb, with the longed-for medicine in its hand, as if it knew nothing and as if one of its managers, Donald Rumsfeld, knew nothing and thought that the world too knew nothing. And maybe [the world] really did not know that this Donald Rumsfeld had served as [U.S.] secretary of defense for five years, into 2006. This secret member of the army brought the 'hidden' serum in the form of [the antiviral medication] Tamiflu, and thus he and his company raked in tens of billions of dollars from this miserable swine flu. The question is, what is the [U.S.] Department of Defense's connection to medical treatments?!
"Even before this, the same thing was done in China… when in 2003 [the country] announced that it had [the [world's] largest dollar reserves [and] they [the Americans] introduced coronavirus' cousin, SARS, into [the country] – [along with] the [vaccine] serum, [saying] 'We are the only ones who have this and you'll pay for it.' There was also the anthrax experiment, with the same company, Merck Sharp, and the same fraud and roundabout methods – and it happened also with the swine flu, when Novartis and many other companies made $6 billion from this.
"Dear reader, when you read these scenarios, you will surely agree that behind the [outbreak of] corona[virus] there is a plan of deceit aimed at making a profit, and nothing more. The whole thing is a virus industry, a world of tiny creatures – viruses and genetic engineering – that culminate in the manufacture of a virus that is transferred to wealthy countries that can buy the [vaccine] serum. It is transferred through food, beverages, animals, the air, or perhaps via cosmetics and other means that don't come to mind. At the same time, the appropriate [vaccine] serum is being prepared for this virus, and it is held until the people need it badly because of the severity of the disease [caused by] this virus, which is genetically engineered. Then the patient grasps at any straw and pays all his money to buy this artificial treatment that was created at the same time as the virus [itself].
"And perhaps, dear reader, you will look at the statistics on the rate of contagion with the corona[virus] worldwide, and you will learn that the Gulf states hold the first places [in this list], followed by European countries, and you will never find [in these statistics]… [either] the U.S. or Israel. This is a question mark that I leave for you to hypothesize about. You will also not find [the virus] in a poor country. I will solve the riddle [of why this is so], but don't tell a soul – it is because [a poor country] cannot pay the price of the serum.
"Finally, rest assured that your country will pay a high price. Rest assured [also] that this is an 'ordinary' disease and not highly contagious – only when [people] gather in large crowds. Long live Saudi Arabia and be strong and healthy."[1]
Syrian Writer: The Coronavirus Epidemic Is An Artificial Crisis Intended To Undermine China's Economy
Hussein Saqer, a columnist for the Syrian daily Al-Thawra, made similar claims in a February 3, 2020 column, saying that the coronavirus was part of a commercial-biological-psychological war waged by the U.S. against China. He wrote: "From Ebola, zika, SARS, avian flu and swine flu, through anthrax and mad cow disease to the corona[virus] – [all these] deadly viruses were manufactured by the U.S. and threaten to annihilate the peoples of the world. [The U.S.] has turned biological warfare into a new type of war, by means of which it intends to change the rules of play and shift the conflict with the peoples [of the world] away from the conventional path. What was reportedly said recently by the Finnish Minister of Health and Social Affairs was not fake news of the kind that features in counter-propaganda and in the tabloids. It was an authentic video with sound and image...[2] [The Finnish minister] said that the U.S. was acting to reduce the population of the world by two thirds in a way that would not cause it any losses. In fact, [the U.S.] would earn billions after forcing the World Health Organization to designate these diseases as deadly plagues so that [getting] the vaccine would be obligatory rather than voluntary, especially for the most vulnerable populations that constitute the next generation: pregnant women and children.
"The announcement of the Finnish minister firmly proves that the U.S. has a schedule for manufacturing viruses of this kind, and that the coronavirus is [another] link in the chain of deadly biological [agents] that it means to use, after mad cow disease, avian flu and the other diseases mentioned above. It embarked on this path of war after losing the commercial and financial competition, so as to punish and crush the economies of the countries that surpass it [economically],and after acting to strengthen the pharmaceutical companies owned by [its] Congressmen and ministers and placing [these companies] at the service of the vaccine industry. The World Health Organization, for its part, is willing to market the disease and the treatment together, according to the instructions of the White House, using the so-called 'good news' about new vaccines discovered for these diseases.
"The discourse, then, currently revolves around an artificial crisis of a new sort, which was created by the U.S., just like the many [other] crises it invents for its own benefit. After American economic advisors began to fear [that the U.S. would be unable] to compete with China or even match it, they came up with the virus, so as to preoccupy the Chinese officials on the one hand, and market [American] medicines and increase the panic among the Chinese people, on the other. This is therefore a war that has commercial, biological and psychological [aspects] simultaneously, and it is far removed from the conventional kind of confrontation."[3]
Egyptian Writer: The U.S. Spread The Virus To Harm China's Economy And Reputation
On the Egyptian news website, Egyptian journalist Ahmad Rif'at explained why the U.S. chose the Chinese city of Wuhan as the epicenter of the disease: "American factories are the first to manufacture every kind of virus and bacteria, from the virulent smallpox virus and the bubonic plague virus to all the viruses we saw in the recent years, such as mad cow disease and swine flu. Wuhan, the city that has now been struck by the corona [disease], is an industrial town, but it is nevertheless the eighth-richest city in China, after Shanghai, Guangzhou
Guangzhou, Beijing, Tianjin and Hong Kong, which are the country's major cities. Its place at the bottom of the list [of China's major cities] is what makes it a suitable [site] for an American crime... for it is not a focus of attention, and the level of healthcare there is surely lower than in the larger and more important cities.
"All that is needed in order to let a virus spread quickly is to release it from some bag, using an ordinary syringe or in any other way. But the really interesting fact is the large number of Americans who were staying in Wuhan and decided to leave it immediately and quickly, [as was shown] on American news channels, among them a CNN reporter, even though none of them contracted [the disease]! We don't know what that [CNN reporter] was doing there. Did he come to report on the events? If so, why did he leave so dramatically? Did he come there before [the outbreak of the epidemic]? [If so,] what caused him to go there before the coronavirus crisis began?...
"This war is not only intended to worry China, trouble it and cause it to spend billions of dollars on emergency measures and medicines – which, by the way, will be manufactured by an Israeli company... The U.S. wants to inform the world, and especially China itself, as part of a propaganda war targeting [China's] prestige and status, that [China] is still a backward country whose citizens eat bat soup and which exports diseases and epidemics to the rest of the world!"[4]
[1] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), February 2, 2020.
[2] The reference is apparently to Finnish physician and conspiracy theorist Rauni-Leena Luukanen-Kilde, who claimed that the swine flu epidemic was a hoax created by Big Pharma in order to market the vaccine, which is actually poisonous and threatens to depopulate the world.
[3] Al-Thawra (Syria), February 3, 2020.
[4], January 27, 2020.

UK: Why Are Dangerous Jihadists Being Released Early from Prison?

Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/February 06/2020
"We cannot have the situation...where an offender — a known risk to innocent members of the public — is released early by automatic process of law without any oversight by the Parole Board. — UK Secretary of State for Justice.
"When I was a constable, I could arrest and process a suspect in an hour, maximum. Today, it takes a day or more.... The police are mired in bureaucracy, while the judicial system has become an institutional cloud-cuckoo land." — Philip Flower, former chief superintendent with the Metropolitan Police, Daily Mail.
"Bluntly, how would you feel if you were told to keep track of known terrorists who have been released from prison to satisfy the politically correct assumptions of our justice system?" — Philip Flower, former chief superintendent with the Metropolitan Police, Daily Mail.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to toughen sentencing guidelines for convicted terrorists after a newly-released prisoner carried out a jihadist attack in London. Pictured: Police officers search for evidence at the scene of Sudesh Amman's terror attack in London, on February 3, 2020.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to toughen sentencing guidelines for convicted terrorists after a newly-released prisoner carried out a jihadist attack in London.
On February 2, Sudesh Amman, a 20-year-old jihadist from Harrow in north-west London, stabbed two people in a knife rampage on Streatham High Road before he was shot dead by police. He had been released from prison just days earlier after serving less than half of his sentence for terrorism offenses.
Amman, who was carrying a 10-inch kitchen knife, wearing a fake suicide bomber vest, and shouting "Allahu Akbar" ("Allah is the Greatest"), had been under active police surveillance at the time of the attack, which London police described as an "Islamist-related terrorist incident."
In December 2018, Amman was sentenced to three years and four months in prison after pleading guilty to 13 counts of expressing support for Islamist terrorism and possessing and sharing Islamic State and al-Qaeda propaganda. He was 18 years old at the time.
Amman was arrested in May 2018 after posting Islamist propaganda online. At the time, police said that he had expressed support for the Islamic State, sent beheading videos to his girlfriend, and asked her to kill her "kuffar" (non-Muslim) parents. He also wrote about carrying out a jihadist attack:
"If you can't make a bomb because family, friends or spies are watching or suspecting you, take a knife, Molotov [cocktail], sound bombs or a car at night and attack the crusaders, police and soldiers of taghut [idolatry], or western embassies in every country you are in this planet."
In a search of Amman's computer, police found documents titled, "How to Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom", "U.S. Army Knife Fighting Manual Techniques" and "Bloody Brazilian Knife Fighting Techniques."
During Amman's trial, police noted that he had a "fierce interest in violence and martyrdom." Acting Commander Alexis Boon, then head of the Metropolitan police counter terrorism command, explained:
"His fascination with dying in the name of terrorism was clear in a notepad we recovered from his home. Amman had scrawled his 'life goals' in the notepad and top of the list, above family activities, was dying a martyr and going to 'Jannah' — the afterlife."
"It's not clear how Amman became radicalized, but it is apparent from his messages that it had been at least a year in development. Whatever the circumstances, this case is a reminder of the need to be vigilant to signs of radicalization and report it."
Amman's attack is the second one in the British capital in the past three months. On November 29, 2019, Usman Khan, a 28-year-old jihadist from Stoke-on-Trent, stabbed and killed two people in a knife rampage near London Bridge. Like Amman, Khan had also been released early from prison.
A day after Khan's attack, Boris Johnson announced a review into the license (parole) conditions of 74 terrorists who had been released from prison early. He also vowed to end the practice of automatically releasing serious offenders from prison before the end of their terms:
"The terrorist who attacked yesterday was sentenced 11 years ago under laws passed in 2008 which established automatic early release.
"This system has got to end. I repeat, this has got to end.... If you are convicted of a serious terrorist offense, there should be a mandatory minimum sentence of 14 years — and some should never be released.
"Further, for all terrorism and extremist offenses, the sentence announced by the judge must be the time actually served — these criminals must serve every day of their sentence, with no exceptions."
A Sentencing Bill included in the Queen's Speech in October 2019 would have changed the automatic release point from halfway to two-thirds for adult offenders serving sentences of four years or more for serious violence or sexual offenses. The bill, however, stalled due to a hung parliament, and was shelved later that month when new elections were called.
The latest attack sparked considerable anger. In an interview with Sky News, the editor of Spiked magazine, Brendan O'Neill, spoke for many when he said: "The Streatham terror stabbing is a scandal. This man was an Islamist maniac. He was devoted to ISIS and he had planned to kill non-believers. And yet he was let out of jail after just 18 months. We've got to start taking Islamic terrorism more seriously."
Paul Stott, a terrorism researcher with the London-based Henry Jackson Society, added: "We need an immediate moratorium on the release of terrorist prisoners, whilst the government reviews each individual case."
In an interview with the Daily Mail, an unidentified government source said that according to British law, Amman had to be released from prison early, despite the threat he posed to society: "There had been concerns when he [Amman] was in prison but there were no powers for any authority to keep him behind bars. "There was nothing that could be done to keep him behind bars under existing laws, hence why he was under surveillance and strict licensing conditions. "He had served half of his sentence, which was more than three years, so he had to be released despite concerns over his conduct.
"The public will look at this case and say why was this individual not kept behind bars and the Prime Minister shares that view."
After the latest attack, Johnson promised "fundamental changes" to the system for dealing with convicted terrorists. He said that terrorists currently in prison will lose their right to automatic early release halfway through their sentences. Johnson stressed that the legal concept of automatic early release for people "who obviously continue to pose a threat to the public has come to the end of its useful life."
On February 3, Secretary of State for Justice Robert Buckland announced that the government would introduce emergency legislation — The Counterterrorism Bill — to end the automatic early release from prison of terror offenders:
"We cannot have the situation, as we saw tragically in yesterday's case, where an offender — a known risk to innocent members of the public — is released early by automatic process of law without any oversight by the Parole Board. "We will, therefore, introduce emergency legislation to ensure an end to terrorist offenders getting released automatically having served half of their sentence with no check or review."
Buckland added that the changes would be retroactive and apply to jihadists currently in prison: "We face an unprecedented situation of severe gravity and, as such, it demands that the government responds immediately and that this legislation will therefore also apply to serving prisoners.
"The earliest point at which the offenders will now be considered for release will be once they have served two-thirds of their sentence and, crucially, we will introduce a requirement that no terrorist offender will be released before the end of their full custodial term unless the Parole Board agrees."
A total of 353 convicted and suspected Islamist terrorists were released from prison between June 2012 and June 2019, according to Home Office statistics cited by the Daily Mail. In October 2018, the Islamist firebrand preacher Anjem Choudary, described as Britain's "most dangerous extremist," was released from prison after serving only half of the five-and-a-half-year sentence he received in 2016 for pledging allegiance to the Islamic State.
Prison authorities could not prevent his release: under British sentencing guidelines, prisoners — even those who are still a risk to the public — automatically become eligible for release under license (parole) after serving half their terms. In an essay published by the Daily Mail, Philip Flower, a former chief superintendent with the Metropolitan Police, warned that the fight against violent Islamism in Britain was being hampered by political correctness: "As a retired senior police officer involved in containing terrorist and other threats during a 40-year career, I want to tell you of the intense frustrations that will be felt today across British policing. They will feel utterly let down by the judicial system.
"When I was a constable, I could arrest and process a suspect in an hour, maximum. Today, it takes a day or more.
"The police are mired in bureaucracy, while the judicial system has become an institutional cloud-cuckoo land.
"As a society, we have to decide how to deal with terrorist suspects. It takes around 32 police officers to maintain around-the-clock surveillance of a single terror suspect.
"It is insane to attempt to maintain this level of supervision of the thousands of individuals known to be of interest to the security services and counter-terrorism police. It seems as though the Streatham perpetrator was being watched by armed police, yet still he managed to stab shoppers....
"If we are to release convicted terrorists from jail early, then we would have to recruit thousands and thousands more police to oversee them, which of course will never happen because there is not enough money and we would find that level of intrusion unacceptable in a free society.
"There is a wider problem of maintaining the morale of the officers charged with keeping the public safe from fanatics.
"Bluntly, how would you feel if you were told to keep track of known terrorists who have been released from prison to satisfy the politically correct assumptions of our justice system?"
Ian Acheson, a veteran prison officer who in 2015 led an independent review of Islamist extremism in British prisons, told the BBC's Today program that the UK's risk-management system is fundamentally broken:
"We are going to have to accept that we have to be much more skeptical and robust about dealing with the risk of harm.
"We may need to accept that there are certain people who are so dangerous they must be kept in prison indefinitely....
"I am still unconvinced that the prison service itself has the aptitude or the attitude to assertively manage terrorist offenders."
*Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute.
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The Trump Plan for Israeli-Palestinian Peace Won’t Bring Peace, So What Was the Purpose?
Michael Young/Carnegie MEC/February 06/2020
A regular survey of experts on matters relating to Middle Eastern and North African politics and security.
Diana Buttu | Palestinian-Canadian lawyer and a former legal adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team
Indeed, the Trump plan will not bring peace. This plan, in its essence, was devised by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing extremists. It is a plan that seeks Palestinian submission and subjugation, not one that is based on equality or international law. Alarmingly, whereas in the past there was never a discussion of taking away citizenship from Palestinians in Israel, this is now a component of the plan, which would strip some 300,000 Palestinians of their Israeli citizenship, leaving the remaining Palestinians in Israel with an uncertain status.
There are two main reasons for this plan: First, like the various “gifts” that President Donald Trump gave to Israel—moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, ending assistance to the Palestinian Authority, ending funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, closing the Palestine Liberation Organization representative office in Washington, D.C., and declaring that Israeli settlements are not illegal—the plan aimed to make “facts on the ground” virtually impossible for any future U.S. president to reverse. Who, for example, will move the embassy back to Tel Aviv?
Second, the timing was designed to help Netanyahu secure an election victory in order to avoid serving prison time. The Israeli prime minister has faced difficulty in the past two, indecisive, elections and is hoping this plan will secure him some votes or seats from Israel’s extreme right. Netanyahu will use the plan to begin annexing the West Bank as soon as possible. It gives him the U.S. backing he needs to move ahead, before or after the Israeli elections.
The plan, it should be noted, is not only colonial in its approach—with Trump, his son in law Jared Kushner, the U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman, and Netanyahu deciding what is best for us—but also telling: Of the 13 million Palestinians worldwide, they could not find a single Palestinian to sign onto the plan as no Palestinian could endorse our collective subjugation.
Mkhaimar Abusada | Political analyst and chairman of the Political Science Department at Al-Azhar University in Gaza
The Trump administration’s plan for Palestinians and Israelis has unilaterally terminated negotiations over final-status issues—Jerusalem, refugees, Israeli settlements, and final borders. It would leave Palestinians with a political entity that is not viable, without sovereignty or control over its borders, and above all having no control over Al-Aqsa Mosque. Peace between Israelis and Palestinians cannot come out of a unilateral and biased plan like this one.
I believe the main purpose of this plan was to divert U.S. public attention from the impeachment process against President Donald Trump in the U.S. Senate and garner more support from evangelicals and conservative voters to help reelect Trump this year. I also think the timing of the release of the plan five weeks before Israeli parliamentary elections was aimed at boosting the chances of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to win as he faces corruption and bribery charges and remains unable to form a coalition government.
The Trump plan will not bring peace to the region. Rather, it will destabilize an already troubled and fractured Middle East, and might lead to further deterioration in Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli Jordanian relations.
Aaron David Miller | Senior fellow in the Geoeconomic and Strategy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Why release the most detailed U.S. peace plan in the history of America’s peace process diplomacy five weeks before the third Israeli election in a year, without any real discussion and without consulting the Palestinians, against the backdrop of a U.S. presidential impeachment trial, on the eve of the Democratic primaries, knowing full well that the gaps between Israelis and Palestinian are galactic in scale and the mistrust as wide as the Grand Canyon?
Why indeed? First there is the mundane. Whether a U.S. peace plan so preternaturally oriented toward Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will help him in the March 2 elections isn’t at all clear. But as my grandmother said about her chicken soup, it can’t hurt, particularly if the administration greenlights Israeli annexation before Israel’s elections. The Trump administration deems it useful if possible to keep Netanyahu around through the U.S. elections to help shore up its pro-Israel base. Waiting for the results of the Israeli elections and the formation of a new Israeli government would have meant pushing the plan’s announcement too deep into 2020. This would have interfered with the U.S. political clock, all the more so as the results of the last two elections in Israel do not suggest that a quick resolution of the political deadlock in the country is likely.
Then there’s the grandiose. The plan’s announcement was never about starting negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, let alone reaching an agreement. From its inception the Trump administration’s intensely pro-Israel peace team sought to abandon the approach of the previous three U.S. administrations and reframe Washington’s policy toward a two-state solution so that it closely aligned with Netanyahu’s vision of Israel’s borders. This means a truncated Palestinian state without sovereignty, maintenance of Israeli control over virtually all of Jerusalem, incorporation into Israel of Israeli settlements and the Jordan Valley, and dismissal of the problem of Palestinian refugees. Trump inherited a nearly dead two-state solution. He may well end up burying it on his watch.
Hussein Ibish | Senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, D.C.
The timing was entirely political. President Donald Trump does not do policy at all, only politics. The primary aim was to help Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu get reelected and stay out of prison. The wish list for the Israeli right embodied in the U.S. plan was intended to ensure that he stayed in power, and the plan will probably do so. It also served Trump’s own political condition, which also helps him stay out of jail, allowing him to pose as a peacemaker and visionary while Senate minnows squabbled about impeachment and solidified his alliance with the fanatical and apocalyptic Christian right.
A secondary consideration was pushing the envelope on what is politically acceptable in terms of U.S. policy toward Israel, creating ever-greater space for supporting annexation and thwarting any prospect of a two-state solution. The ultimate goal is to deny Palestinians statehood and lay an irreversible foundation for the United States to embrace a separate, unequal and apartheid-like Greater Israel encircling a pathetic Palestinian Bantustan.
Zaha Hassan | Visiting fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, focusing on Palestine-Israel peace
The timing of the unveiling of the Trump plan for Israel-Palestine was unquestioningly determined by political expediency: President Donald Trump was in the midst of an impeachment trial for seeking foreign help in undermining the presidential campaign of a political rival and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is preparing to stand trial on corruption and bribery charges. Timing aside, the plan should be understood as a memorandum of understanding between the United States and Israel over just how much Palestinian land Israel can annex with U.S. blessing and—most importantly—with U.S. political recognition of Israeli sovereignty.
Fortunately for Palestinians, the Arab and Muslim world came through by issuing strong statements reaffirming international law and a consensus around a resolution of the 52-year-old Israeli military occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Most important, the Arab League states meeting in Cairo called on Arab states to not cooperate with any attempt to implement the plan. The 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation, meeting in Saudi Arabia in executive session, stated that the plan did not meet minimal requirements and would “destroy the foundations of peace.” It rejected the plan outright. Jared Kushner and his Mideast peace team appear to have miscalculated on the Arab Gulf states’ support for the plan, believing that they could secure these states’ financial and political commitment in executing a plan that would liquidate Palestinian national aspirations. The Trump administration went too far too fast, ensuring that the plan would find little backing.

Russia reluctant to support Iran’s destabilizing behavior
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/February 06/2020
Amid the rising tension between the Islamic Republic and the US, Russia has been in a difficult situation. Should it unequivocally support the Iranian leaders despite their destabilizing behavior in the region? Moscow has been shrewdly avoiding any attemptto declare its robust and unconditional support for the Iranian leaders.
When top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani was killed on an order from US President Donald Trump last month, Russian leaders tried to avoid being dragged into the conflict, so they did not declare military support for Tehran. The only reaction that Moscow gave was an announcement of condemnation. President Vladimir Putin, in a joint statement with French President Emmanuel Macron, “agreedthat US actions have the potential to seriously aggravate the situation in the region.”
In addition, in the midst of US-Iran tensions in May last year, Moscow did not offer military support for the Iranian regime when the US deployed a Patriot missile battery, the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier, the USS Leyte Gulf guided missile cruiser, Carrier Air Wing Seven, and destroyers from Destroyer Squadron Two to the Middle East in order to deter the Iranian regime from carrying out its threats, which included closing the Strait of Hormuz.
The Iranian leaders most likely expect more support from global power Russia. After all, the two countries share a common interest in counterbalancing and scuttling US foreign policy in the region. Russia’s ties with Tehran extend its regional influence and give it leverage that can be used to push the West — and the US in particular — to lift sanctions against Moscow. Since Iran’s 1979 revolution, improving ties with Tehran has been a major part of Russia’s foreign policy, as it has been using Tehran as a bargaining chip to reassert its global leadership.
However, amid the latest developments, Russian leaders likely believe that the Iranian authorities are at least partially to blame for the rising tensions and, thus, the killing of Soleimani. As the Pentagon saidin a statement, Soleimani “was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.” It also said: “At the direction of the president, the US military has taken decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad by killing Soleimani.” The strike itself “was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans.” The statement also pointed to the previous deadly actions of Soleimani and his Quds Force, which was “responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more.”
It is also not in Russia’s interest that the Iranian leaders have been increasingly exploiting their strategic advantage by issuing threats to block the Strait of Hormuz, which is another tactic in the asymmetric war strategy employed by Tehran. Then-commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Mohammed Ali Jafari was in 2018 quoted by the semi-official Tasnim News Agency as saying: “We will make the enemy understand that either everyone can use the Strait of Hormuz or no one.” And, last year, armed forces chief of staff Mohammed Bagheri said: “If our oil does not go through the strait, other countries’ oil will certainly not cross the strait either.”
For Russia’s leaders, stability is critical in order to safeguard Moscow’s assets and interests in the Middle East. Therefore, not only does the Kremlin likely believe that the Iranian regime has brought on these problems by its own irrational actions, but it is also not in Russia’s interests that Tehran has been pursuing aggressive policies such as attacking oil tankers in the Gulf.
In addition, Moscow does not want to see the rising tensions between the US and the Iranian regime lead to war, turning the region into a conflict zone. This might again endanger the hold on power of Syria’s Bashar Assad, Moscow’s key ally. Russia’s strategic interests in the Mediterranean Sea are intertwined with the political establishment in Damascus because the Syrian port of Tartus — its second largest — houses Russia’s only naval basein the region. In addition, Syria has been purchasing arms from Moscow for decades.
Russian leaders likely believe that the Iranian authorities are at least partially to blame for the rising tensions.
The rising tensions between Washington and Tehran are undermining the theocratic establishment’s efforts to support the Syrian regime economically and militarily. If the tensions spiral out of control, Syrian oppositional and rebel groups might become empowered once again and threaten Russia’s strategic and geopolitical interests in the country.
Finally, as a global power, Russia has to maintain its international status and prestige. Demonstrating too much support for a regime that has been wreaking havoc in many nations in the region does not bode well for Moscow. Iran’s destabilizing behavior is inimical to Russia’s strategic and geopolitical interests in the region.
*Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is an Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh

Turkey’s days of peace with all neighbors now long gone

Cornelia Meyer/Arab News/February 06/2020
Turkey occupies some much sought-after geopolitical real estate at the crossroads of the Orient and the Occident. It has been a transit nation for goods and ideologies for centuries. It was even able to use that to become one of the world’s great powers during the time of the Ottoman Empire. Fewer cities have more history that matters to the whole of civilization than Istanbul, formerly Constantinople.
But Turkey’s proximity to so many powers — Europe, Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria and the Caspian region — yields its own dangers and potential for conflict. Former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu wrote a doctrine during his time as foreign minister — it stipulated that Turkey should be on good terms with all of its neighbors. That was after the US invasion of Iraq, but before Syria had erupted into civil war.
Turkey is a member of NATO but it has an uneasy relationship with the alliance because of the still-smoldering conflict over Cyprus, because President Recep Tayyip Erdogan never tires of telling Europe that he will send Syrian refugees in its direction, and because he has built a strong relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He bought Russia’s S-400 air defense system, which quickly got Turkey kicked out of NATO’s F-35 jet fighter program, both as a recipient of the aircraft and as manufacturer of more than 900 parts in its supply chain.
Last month, the two presidents opened the controversial TurkStream pipeline, which will bring gas from Russia to Southeast Europe, circumventing the Ukraine — to the chagrin of US President Donald Trump and his administration.
But all is not rosy in the relationship between the two strongmen. They stand on opposite sides on many issues, most markedly Syria and Libya. While Russia supports President Bashar Assad and Libyan Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar, Turkey backs the Syrian opposition and the UN-supported Libyan government of Fayez Al-Sarraj. They also find themselves being friends with the opposite sides in the Gulf when it comes to Qatar.
When five Turkish soldiers and three civilians were killed by Assad’s forces in the rebel-held province of Idlib on Monday, something had to give. Idlib is a big problem for Turkey. The province houses about 3 million people who were displaced from other parts of Syria by the ongoing conflict. They live in camps and ramshackle residences. Many of them have the intention to move north to Turkey, which already accommodates 3.6 million Syrian refugees and refuses to take in any more.
Erdogan, never lost for words, fiercely attacked Putin after the incident, accusing Russia of “turning a blind eye.” He also visited Kiev and stood shoulder to shoulder with President Volodymyr Zelensky, hailing “Glory to the Ukraine.” That certainly irked Putin, who felt offended and betrayed.
Since then, the two leaders have talked on the phone and promised to coordinate more closely on Idlib. That may be the case, but the situation remains fraught and tense. The withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria also rendered the situation more volatile. Turkey cannot afford to alienate Russia, which has played its cards well in the various conflicts afflicting the Middle East. Its influence in the region has gone from strength to strength. Erdogan may bemoan that Gazprom charges Turkey more for its gas than it does Germany, but TurkStream’s capacity is less than a third of that of Nord Stream 1 and 2 combined — and discounts do come with volume.
Erdogan cannot afford to alienate Russia, which has played its cards well in the various conflicts afflicting the Middle East.
It is true that the Astana peace process, where Russia, Iran and Turkey agreed on safe zones in Syria, has not worked. However, looking at it from the Russian perspective, it was probably always only a temporary measure because Putin wanted to see Assad’s power reinstated over the whole of the country.
When waltzing with an elephant, one needs strong allies. Erdogan’s repeated threats to reopen Turkey’s borders to Europe for refugees, the purchase of Russian weaponry, and the opening of TurkStream have done little to remedy his already strained relationship with the West, which accuses him of violating civil liberties and the freedom of the press. The Turkish president also remembers what happened when Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet that had encroached on Turkish airspace on the border with Syria in 2015. It had devastating effects on both trade and tourism with Russia, which is an important partner for Ankara. Foreign policy choices always come at a price. They are also driven by ever-shifting geopolitical and economic realities, especially in a region as fraught with conflict as the Middle East. Turkey will have to live with its choices. From a Turkish perspective, Erdogan may have had no choice but to find an accommodation of sorts with Russia, which is an emerging regional power. Long gone are the days of Davutoglu, when it seemed easier to get along with all of one’s neighbors equally well.
Cornelia Meyer is a business consultant, macro-economist and energy expert. Twitter: @MeyerResources

The Persistent Threat from the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda: The View from the UN

Edmund Fitton-Brown/The Washington Institute/February 06/2020
The head of the UN team charged with monitoring each group assesses their prospects for bouncing back and recommends further steps that governments can take to counter them.
On February 6, Edmund Fitton-Brown, coordinator of the UN Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team, addressed a Policy Forum at The Washington Institute. The following are his prepared remarks.
The Monitoring Team was created in 2004 to support the committee charged with implementing UNSCR 1267 (1999) and imposing sanctions on the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and those individuals, groups, and entities associated with these terrorist organizations. Through a succession of update resolutions between then and 2017, the team now supports two successor UNSC committees: the “Security Council Committee pursuant to Resolutions 1267 (1999), 1989 (2011), and 2253 (2015) concerning Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Da’esh), Al-Qaida, and associated individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities” (aka the 1267 Committee), which focuses on ISIL and al-Qaeda, and the 1988 Sanctions Committee, which deals with sanctions relating to the Taliban.
Today, I will focus specifically on the team’s recent findings with regard to the global threat posed by ISIL and al-Qaeda. Before doing so, however, I will provide a brief overview of the mandate and responsibilities of the Monitoring Team.
The al-Qaeda Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team comprises ten experts from ten member states and is based in New York. It supports the Security Council by:
Assessing the global threat from ISIL and al-Qaeda in biannual reports and in regular oral briefings to the 1267 Committee, and by drafting the threat part of the UN Secretary General’s regular ISIL report. In addition, once a year, we report on the threat posed by the Taliban to peace and stability in Afghanistan.
Collecting information from member states on individuals and entities on the al-Qaeda and 1988 sanctions lists, to ensure these designations remain updated, accurate, and detailed enough for conclusive identification. In a similar vein, we travel extensively to member states to raise awareness of the sanctions regimes and generate new designation proposals.
Preparing and presenting recommendations to make the three sanctions measures (asset freezes, travel bans, and/or arms embargos) more effective. We also aim to improve sanctions implementation and member state compliance.
In furtherance of these missions, the team works on its global mandate with member states, UN missions and agencies, and other relevant bodies. For example, we collaborate with Interpol, the International Civil Aviation Organization, the World Customs Organization, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), and FATF’s regional bodies. We also collaborate with relevant private sector entities in assessing the changing nature of the terrorist threat and enhancing sanctions compliance.
We are explicitly mandated to “consult in confidence with member states’ intelligence and security services,” distinguishing us from other UN entities. In this way, we offer a significant niche capability to the UN’s overall counterterrorism (CT) effort. Our assessment of the threat provides part of the basis for other UN CT entities’ issue prioritization.
Additionally, to support intra-UN synergies and efficiency, the team works with the Office of Counter-Terrorism and the Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate. We participate in the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy—including the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Coordination Compact and its working groups—and collaborate with other entities that are signatories to this framework.
The team also organizes periodic closed regional meetings for the CT leaderships of intelligence and security services in various strategic parts of the world, contributing to the UN objective of generating and enhancing cooperation between and amongst member states’ CT agencies. The team is also mandated by various resolutions to develop information on specific issues during our consultations with member states, including: foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs); human trafficking; sexual violence; illicit trade in antiquities and cultural property; terror finance; links between terrorism and organized crime; terrorist acquisition of arms; and threats to aviation security.
Regarding the global threat posed by ISIL and al-Qaeda, I will draw on the Monitoring Team’s twenty-fifth report, which was completed at the end of December 2019 and is now available online. Though the report covers the second half of 2019, I will also touch on several key developments from earlier last year in my remarks.
The first significant development that warrants mention is the military defeat of ISIL, completed in eastern Syria in March 2019. Although the fall of Baghuz marked the defeat of the “geographical caliphate,” it also precipitated a larger than expected movement of ISIL fighters, supporters, dependants, and other refugees and displaced persons. In light of mass internal displacement, overcrowding in refugee camps such as al-Hawl, and precarious holding arrangements, humanitarian and security challenges demand urgent attention. However, clear, comprehensive, and multilateral solutions remain elusive.
The second event that I believe deserves attention is the Easter Sunday Sri Lanka bombings, during which three churches and three luxury hotels in Colombo were targeted, followed by smaller explosions at a housing complex in Dematagoda and a guest house in Dehiwala. The mass-casualty attacks—which killed 259 individuals, including 25 foreign nationals—are demonstrative of ISIL’s increasingly decentralized structure and international base of support. The group’s claim of responsibility via its Amaq News Agency on April 23, 2019, and the attackers’ inspiration by ISIL’s ideology illustrate the group’s ability to endure, recruit, and radicalize abroad, even absent direct command and control of attacks.
Indeed, ISIL-core had no advance warning of the Easter Sunday attacks. ISIL caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s late April reference was merely an afterthought. Nonetheless, an ISIL-inspired group had incubated in Sri Lanka and developed a significant capability. While it had foreign links, the cell was locally generated, financed, and led.
The shock value and scale of the Sri Lankan attacks were a boon to the homegrown terrorist threat. More ISIL-inspired attacks (though hopefully not on the same scale as Sri Lanka’s) are likely in 2020, with the added motive of avenging Baghdadi’s death. However, given that these inspired attacks tend to be unreliable and relatively low-impact, ISIL might also revive its own external operations capabilities.
Today in Iraq and Syria, the process of stabilization and reconstruction remains slow. Political tensions do not help.
ISIL’s covert network in Syria is being established at the provincial level, a mirror image of what we have seen in Iraq since 2017. In its core area, it is adapting, consolidating, creating conditions for its eventual resurgence. As the group grows in confidence, it is operating ever more openly.
Northwestern Syria is a base for many extremists, including FTFs. As the recent Monitoring Team report noted, member states continue to assess that between one half and two thirds of the more than 40,000 who joined the “caliphate” are still alive.
Al-Qaeda-aligned Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and Hurras al-Din (HAD) also remain active in the area. While ISIL has taken a back-seat in fighting Syrian forces (as long as it is able to retain a presence in the area), HTS currently has 12,000 to 15,000 fighters, mainly focused on combating Syrian government forces. HAD is assessed to have between 3,500 and 5,000 fighters and also operates in Idlib and its surrounding areas.
The return to normal in Iraq and the Levant won’t be easy, and absent political stability, there is a vacuum of power to be exploited by terrorists.
The killing of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in late October was another key event of 2019. Before his death in Barisha, Baghdadi urged efforts to free ISIL fighters and dependants accommodated in facilities in northeastern Syria, such as al-Hawl refugee camp.
Many ISIL leaders are indeed hiding in Iraq and Syria. ISIL discriminates between its personnel, and while foot soldiers, including many FTFs, are seen as dispensable, key seniors are kept safe. In this vein, Syrian and Iraqi leaders are favoured over their foreign counterparts.
ISIL’s somewhat cavalier attitude toward its foreign contingent may cost the group in terms of future opportunities. In contrast with regular operations in the core area and some remote provinces, directed international attacks are still way down from their 2015/16 levels, as are the number of facilitated and inspired attacks.
This decline in external operations may not turn imminently, but with time and space to recoup and reorganize in its safe haven, ISIL will once again start to project an organized threat. Once its survival is assured, ISIL will reinvest in its external operations capability, possibly in unexpected locations. We have seen signs of this happening with ISIL and al-Qaeda.
ISIL certainly has the financial reserves to assist in this. Some estimates place the group’s finances at 100 to 300 million dollars. Additionally, member states have reported that ISIL in Iraq continued to finance its operations through investing in legitimate businesses and commercial fronts, including money exchange companies.
Turning to leadership succession, following Baghdadi’s death and the public announcement of Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi as his successor, there has been unconfirmed reporting that Abu Ibrahim is Amir Muhammad Said Abdal Rahman al-Mawla, an established senior who previously served as Baghdadi’s deputy.
After the announcement of Abu Ibrahim’s appointment, the ISIL central media bureau choreographed through propaganda outlets a series of pledges of allegiance from supporters claiming to be in Sinai, Bangladesh, Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen, Khorasan Province (Afghanistan), and a number of other countries. But ISIL will find it hard to sustain this initial level of enthusiasm over al-Qurayshi without compromising the new leader’s security.
Because putting Qurayshi on screen might pose danger to his security, the transition of authority might accelerate the delegation of authority from ISIL-core to its affiliates, even if Abu Ibrahim is al-Mawla and strategy remains consistent.
We learned in September that Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza had been killed some while ago. Meanwhile, current al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is in poor health. Given these two developments, it is important to pre-emptively consider what direction Abu Muhammad al-Masri, Zawahiri’s presumed successor, will take al-Qaeda.
It is also interesting to note al-Qaeda’s conservatism with regard to resourcing operations. Al-Qaeda tends to prioritize its administrative costs and salaries. Despite external attack ambitions by groups like al-Qaeda-affiliated Hurras al-Din in Syria’s Idlib province, such affiliates remain curtailed by both military pressure and al-Qaeda’s own reluctance to resource such operations.
As the recent Monitoring Team report notes, “Afghanistan continues to be the conflict zone of greatest concern to member states outside the ISIL core area and suffers by some measures the heaviest toll from terrorism of any country in the world.” ISIL’s Khorasan Province (ISIL-K) remains the group’s centre of gravity in South Asia. In fact, the UN’s 1267 Committee recently sanctioned ISIL-K as a separate entity. The group is resilient, launching attacks with impact disproportionate to its numbers, even in Kabul, where it conducts propaganda activities in madrasas and universities.
ISIL-K has had a difficult year, ending with eradication of its Nangarhar base. We now assess its fighting strength at no more than 2,500 individuals, the great majority of whom are currently in Kunar Province. Nonetheless, ISIL-K is still recruiting new members, and ISIL might develop an external operations capability in Afghanistan.
Many al-Qaeda and Taliban-aligned extremist groups are also present in Afghanistan. al-Qaeda’s relationship with the Taliban continues to be close and mutually beneficial, with the former supplying resources and training in exchange for protection. Central Asian neighbours fear a potential cross-border threat from these as well as from ISIL.
Afghan politics and the peace process are evolving, and it is vital to revive talks and bring peace to Afghanistan; indeed, reconciliation is the main driver behind our 1988 work. However, there may be short term costs associated with peace negotiations, such as driving individuals to join ISIL-K and/or pursue terrorist plans more actively. It is not clear what impact diplomatic developments will have on the external threat, but if a peace agreement is reached, al-Qaeda intends to develop a new narrative to justify continuing the armed conflict in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, a continuum of instability is emerging in West Africa and the Sahel. Extremists threaten fragile regional states. Al-Qaeda-aligned Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (or JNIM) represents the principal international terrorist threat in the region, and its operational efficiency is maximized by deconfliction and operational collaboration with other terrorist groups active in the region, such as the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) in Mali and Niger and Ansarul Islam in Burkina Faso.
Particularly in Africa, ISIL has been devolving authority, allowing its most prominent affiliates to lead lesser ones in the same region. For example, IS West Africa Province (ISWAP) in Nigeria has grown in ambition and now claims attacks on behalf of ISGS.
Facing a different primary set of issues, in Europe, authorities seem at cross-purposes, unsure how best to handle domestic extremists, returning FTFs, and frustrated travellers. Radicalization in prisons and the release of extremist prisoners are also growing challenges, as demonstrated by the recent attacks by Usman Khan and Sudesh Amman in the United Kingdom. Additionally, many of the foreign terrorist fighters who received relatively short sentences upon their return to Europe prior to 2015 are expected to be released in the coming period. Many states in Europe, never mind poorer countries elsewhere, lack the resources to address this host of issues.
ISIL’s military defeat and the death of Baghdadi should be welcomed as good news. But the whole nexus of post-caliphate issues—what to do with people who fought for ISIL, worked for it, and/or lived under it—is massive. More than 40,000 travelled to join this struggle; a rough calculation of the attrition rate suggests 25,000-plus FTFs may still be alive. We have detainees, fugitives, returnees, and relocators, and some dependants may also pose a potential threat.
The international community will face short, medium and long-term risks if we mismanage these challenges. The fight against extremism is a generational problem. The case of an Indonesian FTF killed in Syria in 2018—himself the child of one of the bombers in the 2002 Bali bombing—exemplifies how mishandled grievances can fuel continued radicalization and recruitment.
Unfortunately, I believe the underlying conditions exist for this strain of jihadist terrorism to be with us for a long time, whether in the form of ISIL (under its more or less effective new leader), al-Qaeda (sooner or later under a successor to Zawahiri), mutations like jihadi nationalism, multi-group coalitions like JNIM, or a new brand as little known now as ISIL was before 2014.
*The Policy Forum series is made possible through the generosity of the Florence and Robert Kaufman Family.