February 13.2020
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

The Bulletin's Link on the lccc Site

News Bulletin Achieves Since 2006
Click Here to enter the LCCC Arabic/English news bulletins Achieves since 2006

Bible Quotations For today
If You Don’t Have A Sword Sell Your Coat & Buy One
Luke 22/35-38: “Then Jesus asked his disciples, “When I sent you out that time without purse, bag, or shoes, did you lack anything? Not a thing, they answered. “But now, Jesus said, whoever has a purse or a bag must take it; and whoever does not have a sword must sell his coat and buy one. For I tell you that the scripture which says, ‘He shared the fate of criminals, must come true about me, because what was written about me is coming true. The disciples said, Look! Here are two swords, Lord! That is enough! he replied.”.

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on February 12-13/2020
Lebanon: Four Months of Protests
Aoun Says Financial, Economic Crises Require 'Relatively Painful Measures'
Daryan Meets Diab, Says He's 'PM of Entire Lebanon'
Diab and Wazni Meet World Bank Officials, ABL Chief
Report: Wazni Meets International Bodies on Lebanon’s Eurobonds
ABL: Lebanon Must Pay Eurobonds due in March
ABL: To pay Eurobonds due in March to protect depositors' interests
Mikati says submitted draft electoral law, suggested shortening parliament's mandate
Minister of Interior meets ambassadors: Priority for prison improvement, women's rights support
Othman tackles general situation with Egyptian ambassador
Dabour, Ambassador of Iran utter rejection of Deal of the Century
Mohammed Bazih released from al Helo Barracks
Several wounded in Baouchriye scuffle
ISG Reaffirms Support for Lebanon, Urges Quick Action
Int'l Lenders Form Group to Discuss Lebanon's Foreign Debt
Lebanon’s int’l backers lend their support to new premier
7 Injured in Baouchriyeh Clash Involving Gunfire
Army Fires at Israeli Drone over Mays al-Jabal
Miqati Calls for Early Parliamentary Elections
Lebanon: Shy Majority Attends Parliament Session
Nissan Sues Ghosn, Seeking Damages for Property, Jet Use
Tehran-backed Hezbollah steps in to guide Iraqi militias in Soleimani's wake
Inside Iran’s push to get Hezbollah to take a role in Iraq/Seith J.Frantzman/Jerusalem Post/February 12/2020

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 12-13/2020
Death toll in China due to coronavirus epidemic jumps to 1,113 nationwide
US charges five in Texas, New York with colluding to break Iran oil sanctions
Pompeo meets with Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister in Washington
US President Trump warns Senate not to approve war powers resolution on Iran
Ex-Qatari PM: Israel and Gulf states to sign non-aggression pact soon
Adviser to Iran’s Khamenei is looking to 'raze Tel Aviv to the ground'
Iranian Armed Forces spokesman: Zionist state will disappear from Earth
Buying loyalty: Iran-backed militias offer young people in Al-Quneitra financial incentives
Iraq: Last-Minute Talks before Determining Fate of Government
NATO to boost Iraq mission after Trump urges bigger Mideast role
Turkey Will Strike Regime Forces Anywhere in Syria, Warns Erdogan after Flareup
Damascus Says Erdogan 'Disconnected from Reality' after Threats
Algeria’s PM Accuses Bouteflika of Mismanaging Economic Institutions
Egyptian Interior Ministry: 17 Terrorists Killed in North Sinai
Draft-Law on Deal with Qatar Sparks Chaos in Tunisia’s Parliament
Italy’s Salvini to stand trial on charges of illegally detaining migrants at sea

Titles For The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published
 on February 12-13/2020
Time for the nightmare of Iran's brutal autocracy to end/Sam Faddis/The Washington Times/February 12/2020
Technical setback used to herald 41st anniversary of Islamic Revolution in Iran/Behnam Ben Taleblu/Al Arabiya/February 12/2020
Trump finds bipartisan support for a pro-U.S. Venezuelan leader Guaido/Clifford D. May/The Washington Times/February 12/2020
Palestinians’ Hopes Hang on Transformation of the World, Themselves/Hazem Saghieh/Asharq Al Awsat/February 12/2020
Coronavirus: Death of Dr. Li Wenliang Rocks China/Gordon G. Chang/Gatestone Institute/February 12/2020
Russia's 'Wagner Group' Doing Its Dirty Work?/Lawrence A. Franklin/Gatestone Institute/February 12/2020
Demonizing Defense Lawyers: The True Road to Tyranny/Alan M. Dershowitz/Gatestone Institute/February 12/2020
Idlib exposes deep fissures among the stakeholders in Syria's future/Raghida Dergham/The National/February 12/2020
Iran goes to the polls amid domestic and regional tensions/Talmiz Ahmad/Arab News/February 12/2020
New UK ambassador to US well qualified for pivotal role/Alistair Burt/Arab News/February 12/2020

The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on February 12-13/2020
Lebanon: Four Months of Protests
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 12/2020
Lebanon has been paralysed by nearly four months of protests demanding an overhaul of the entire political system.Here is a recap of the unrest after parliament on Tuesday backed the new government in a confidence vote despite protesters' attempts to block it.
'WhatsApp tax' anger
On October 17, amid a looming economic crisis, the government announces a tax on messaging applications, including WhatsApp. Thousands take to the streets in Beirut and other cities, some chanting "the people demand the fall of the regime". The government of Saad Hariri scraps the tax the same day, but protests continue.
Demos grow
On October 18, thousands of demonstrators representing different sects and political affiliations bring the capital to a standstill. They demand an overhaul of the political system, citing grievances from austerity measures and state corruption to poor infrastructure and regular electricity cuts. Demonstrations swell over the following days and dozens are arrested. On October 25, the powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah -- which with its allies holds a majority in parliament -- tells supporters not to take part in protests. The next day, Hezbollah mobilises counter-rallies, sparking scuffles with anti-government demonstrators.
Government resigns
On October 29, Hariri submits his resignation and that of his government, prompting celebrations in the streets. In a television address on November 3, President Michel Aoun announces plans to tackle corruption, reform the economy and form a new government including technical experts. But thousands of protesters stream back into Beirut's Martyrs' Square, chanting "Revolution!"
Foreign aid appeal rebuffed
On December 11 at a Paris conference, France, the United States, Russia and other countries rebuff Lebanon's urgent aid appeal, making assistance conditional on the formation of a new reform-minded government. Hariri also asks the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank for support in drawing up a rescue plan.
Violence intensifies
On December 14 and 15 dozens of people are wounded and security forces use tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators. Dozens more are wounded on December 17, in dawn clashes between security forces and supporters of Hezbollah and Amal.
New prime minister
On December 19, the president finally names a new prime minister: little-known academic Hassan Diab, who is backed by Hezbollah. Protesters immediately regroup to condemn the appointment, which outrages members of the Sunni community. Protests continue the following day with roads blocked across the country.
Escalation in Beirut
On January 11, 2020, protests resume after a pause over the holidays. Days later clashes take place in Beirut and several banks are vandalised.  On January 17 violence breaks out after dozens of protesters throw rocks and large plant pots at police guarding a road leading to parliament while others charge police lines. Over the next two days, at least 546 people, demonstrators, but also members of the security forces, are injured in clashes in central Beirut.
Human Rights Watch accuses the police of firing rubber bullets at protesters' eyes. Authorities accuse "infiltrators" of being among the demonstrators and clear the security forces of all responsibility.
New government
On the 21, a new government is unveiled, made up of a single political camp, the pro-Iranian Hezbollah and its allies, who have a parliamentary majority. Demonstrators respond by torching tyres and blocking several roads in mainly Sunni towns across the country. On February 11, parliament votes its confidence in the new government, despite attempts by hundreds of protesters to block the session. They are dispersed by security forces using tear gas and water cannon. The clashes leave more than 370 injured, according to the Lebanese Red Cross.

Aoun Says Financial, Economic Crises Require 'Relatively Painful Measures'
Naharnet/February 12/2020
President Michel Aoun announced Wednesday that a “new phase” started after the new government won parliament’s confidence. “The financial and economic crises can no longer be resolved in an easy manner and they now require measures that will be relatively painful for the Lebanese,” Aoun said.
“I’m not trying to separate myself from other officials, seeing as I’m still in a position of responsibility and therefore obliged to fix the current situation, but today the cost has become higher,” the president added. And pledging that “anyone who stole from the treasury will be held accountable under the law and by a special court for financial crimes involving public funds,” Aoun called for “differentiating during this period between thieves and upright officials.”

Daryan Meets Diab, Says He's 'PM of Entire Lebanon'
Naharnet/February 12/2020
Prime Minister Hassan Diab held talks Wednesday at Dar al-Fatwa with Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Daryan, a day after his government won parliament’s confidence. “After the government won parliament’s confidence, His Eminence the Mufti of the Republic called me and we agreed on this meeting, that’s why my visit today is very normal,” Diab said after the talks. “The Mufti is playing a unifying role that preserves the position of Dar al-Fatwa and he is a dear friend and brother. I trust his wisdom and we are counting on it for the unity of ranks and stances,” the PM added. “We discussed the general situations and the financial and social affairs as well as the need to unify the efforts of all the loyal ones in order to overcome this difficult period that Lebanon is going through,” Diab went on to say, adding that he agreed with the Mufti on “maintaining communication for the sake of Lebanon’s interest and the service of Muslims.”Daryan for his part noted that the government “has won (parliament’s) confidence.” “Mr. Prime Minister is the Prime Minister of the government of entire Lebanon and we wish him success,” the Mufti added. This is the first meeting between Daryan and Diab since the latter’s designation as premier.
New premier Diab, a little-known academic and former education minister, was tasked with forming a government in December after mass rallies against official corruption and economic woes forced premier Saad Hariri to resign.

Diab and Wazni Meet World Bank Officials, ABL Chief

Naharnet/February 12/2020
Prime Minister Hassan Diab held separate talks Wednesday with a World Bank delegation and Lebanon’s Association of Banks chief Salim Sfeir. Diab’s meeting with the World Bank team was held away from reporters’ eyes according to TV networks. Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni meanwhile chaired an economic-financial meeting at the Grand Serail in the presence of World Bank representatives, Finance Ministry Director General Alain Bifani and Diab’s economic and financial team. The National News Agency said the meeting is a completion of the previous economic and financial meetings aimed at devising a complete economic and financial plan for the coming period. MTV meanwhile reported that Diab is inclined to ask for a “technical consultation” from the International Monetary Fund that would not inflict harsh measures on Lebanon. “This consultation would lay out a roadmap for what the government can do in the face of the crisis,” the TV network added. MTV also said that a meeting would be held Wednesday afternoon with IMF officials at Diab’s request.

Report: Wazni Meets International Bodies on Lebanon’s Eurobonds
Naharnet/February 12/2020
Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni reportedly began negotiations with international bodies on Lebanon’s $1.2 billion Eurobonds due to mature in March, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Wednesday. Wazni kicked off talks with a “technical nature” with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, in the presence of representatives of investment Lazard Bank, which advised Greece on the management of its debt, added the daily. Lazard attends the negotiations as an “adviser of the Lebanese State,” according to al-Joumhouria. Awaiting the results of these negotiations, Lebanon’s government must not make any decision whether it plans to pay or not these Eurobonds, otherwise, in both cases, the State and Lebanese citizens could be immensely harmed, said the daily. On Sunday, Lebanon’s central bank has proposed that Lebanese holders of the $1.2 billion Eurobonds swap their holdings for longer-dated notes. Crisis-hit Lebanon is on the brink of defaulting on its sovereign debt and the impact is being felt by all social classes, with tough restrictions on cash withdrawals and a steep de-facto devaluation of the national currency. The World Bank has warned that if no solution is found swiftly to the crisis, the poverty rate may shoot up from a third to half of the population. Lebanon’s government has to decide whether it should restructure or pay its $2.5 billion Eurobonds, including a $1.2 billion Eurobond maturing in March, $600 million maturing in April, and $700 million in June.

ABL: Lebanon Must Pay Eurobonds due in March

Naharnet/February 12/2020
The Association of Banks in Lebanon said on Wednesday that it was necessary for Lebanon to pay $1.2 billion Eurobonds due to be paid in March to “protect depositors, preserve Lebanon’s position in international financial markets and preserve its relations with correspondent banks.”In a statement, ABL said Lebanon should pay its dues, pointing out that fulfilling Lebanon's financial obligations is a permanent and fixed policy announced and affirmed previously by the Lebanese State. The association explained that failing to pay Lebanon's external debts is a significant problem and that restructuring the debt in understanding with the creditors requires time and assistance of international institutions. Crisis-hit Lebanon’s government has to decide whether it should restructure or pay its $2.5 billion Eurobonds, including a $1.2 billion Eurobond maturing in March, $600 million maturing in April, and $700 million in June.
Lebanon is passing through an unprecedented economic and financial crisis unprecedented since its 1975-90 civil war.

ABL: To pay Eurobonds due in March to protect depositors' interests
NNA/February 12/2020
The Association of Banks in Lebanon (ABL) on Wednesday issued a statement urging the new government to pay off the maturing Eurobonds in March in a bid to protect the interests of Lebanese depositors."In the coming weeks, Lebanon faces grave financial deadlines, the most important of which is deciding on the issue of Eurobonds which are due in March, and which have sparked a wide debate on whether or not they should be paid," the ABL's statement said, reminding that the government has previously announced that the fulfillment of Lebanon's financial obligations was a "stable policy". "Failure to pay Lebanon's external debts is a matter that should be approached with great precision and precaution," the statement added, noting that current suggestions propose rescheduling the public debt or restructuring it in agreement with creditors. "To accomplish this matter requires time, communications, and mechanisms that conform to international standards and similar approaches adopted by other countries. It calls for the use of the competent international bodies to build credible financial and monetary programs," the ABL statement explained. However, it warned that time was running out and was not enough to delve into the aforementioned option. "The remaining period until the maturity of Eurobonds in March is very short and does not allow apt preparation and efficient handling of this important national issue."Therefore, the Association of Banks in Lebanon said that for the sake of protecting the interests of depositors, not to mention Lebanon's survival amidst the global financial market, March's debt must be paid on time in line with immediate actions to address the entire public debt file. The ABL statement also indicated that the means by which this major financial deadline was dealt with by the new government "is a very important indication of the way it will deal with the international community in the future."

Mikati says submitted draft electoral law, suggested shortening parliament's mandate
NNA/February 12/2020
Former Prime Minister, Najib Mikati, on Wednesday said at a press conference that he had submitted an electoral bill based on 5 governorates, in which each voter votes within his or her jurisdiction with two preferential votes. He suggested as well shortening the current parliament's mandate. Moreover, the lawmaker called on the parliament to meet and discuss the new electoral law, expecting the situation to only improve through early elections. "An imbalance exists today because of the presence of strong and weak parties; this is unacceptable. We await the ordinary Parliament session to submit a constitutional amendment to set the voting age at 18," Mikati added.

Minister of Interior meets ambassadors: Priority for prison improvement, women's rights support
NNA/February 12/2020
Minister of Interior Mohamed Fahmy welcomed this Wednesday the Canadian Ambassador to Lebanon Emmanuelle Lamoureux, and discussed with her Lebanese-Canadian relations, in addition to the general situation in Lebanon and the demonstrations that accompanied the confidence session.
Minister Fahmy assured the Ambassador of Canada that "the demonstrators have not been treated with force," pointing out that "the security forces worked to protect the peaceful demonstrators on the one hand and public and private properties on the other hand," stressing that "the priority was to uphold the work of the ISF at all levels." He pointed out that "the economic situation is of utmost importance for the Lebanese citizen, and this is the focus of attention of the current government," underlining "the important Ministry of Interior role in the process of improving the conditions of prisons, developing municipalities and supporting the rights of children and women." For her part, Ambassador Lamoureux affirmed "Canada's contribution to the project of developing the capabilities of municipal police in Lebanon, in order to support the security forces in maintaining security across all regions," expressing Canada's readiness to assist Lebanon in all fields. Minister Fahmy also welcomed the Australian Ambassador to Lebanon, Rebecca Grindley, who congratulated him on the government gaining confidence yesterday, and provided an explanation of the projects that the Australian Embassy in Lebanon is contributing to, praising the impactful presence of the Lebanese community in Australia in all fields. She expressed regret over the martyrdom of an officer and a member of the Internal Security Forces yesterday in Ouzaei, stressing "the necessity of security cooperation between Lebanon and Australia."
For his part, Minister Fahmy hoped "Australia would assist in building prisons and supporting the security forces development."Minister Fahmy finally met with the French Ambassador to Lebanon, Bruno Foucher, who stressed his country's readiness to help Lebanon, calling for "concerted efforts between ministers in Lebanon to benefit from the assistance provided via the Cedre Conference." Foucher emphasized "permanent coordination to combat terrorism," stressing that "France has allocated $ 50 million to support such projects, in coordination with the Internal Security Forces."

Othman tackles general situation with Egyptian ambassador
NNA/February 12/2020
Internal Security Forces' chief Imad Othman, welcomed in his office the Egyptian Ambassador to Lebanon, Dr. Yasser Alawi, who came on a visit aimed at cooperation and coordination. Talks reportedly touched on the Country's general situation. On the other hand, Maj. Gen. Othman met with a delegation of the International Center for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) in Vienna, with talks touching on the progress of the Integrated Border Management project in Lebanon (phase III).

Dabour, Ambassador of Iran utter rejection of Deal of the Century
NNA/February 12/2020
Ambassador of the State of Palestine Ashraf Dabour welcomed this Wednesday the Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Muhammad Jalal Firouzenia, and briefed him on the "official Palestinian position and the unified popular stance against the so-called Deal of the Century.""The deal targets the national rights of our Palestinian people and totally contradicts with the international legitimacy resolutions issued by the Security Council and the General Assembly by international consensus," Dabour said. In turn, the Iranian Ambassador affirmed "the Islamic Republic of Iran's rejection of the deal of the century and its standing by the Palestinian cause, until its full goals are achieved and an independent State with Jerusalem as its capital is established."

Mohammed Bazih released from al Helo Barracks

NNA/February 12/2020
Communist Party's Youth and Students' Sector Command member, Mohammed Bazih, who had been arrested earlier, was released this afternoon from al-Helo army barracks, NNA field reporter said on Wednesday. A number of Bazih's friends have staged a sit in outside al-Helo Barracks to demand his release.Bazih's friends then marched towards Riad Al Sol Square, chanting slogans.

Several wounded in Baouchriye scuffle
NNA/February 12/2020
Several people were injured in a scuffle that broke out between young men in the locality of Baouchriye, NNA field reporter said on Wednesday.The army cordoned off the area

ISG Reaffirms Support for Lebanon, Urges Quick Action
Naharnet/February 12/2020
The International Support for Lebanon issued a statement on Wednesday reaffirming support for Lebanon and calling on PM Hassan Diab’s government to stop and reverse the deepening crises and address the needs of Lebanese.
The statement said: Following the vote of confidence by the Parliament yesterday evening, the ISG calls on the newly confirmed Government of Lebanon led by Hassan Diab to swiftly and resolutely undertake timely, tangible, credible, and comprehensive set of measures and reforms to stop and reverse the deepening crises, to address the needs and demands of the Lebanese people. Recalling the statements of the ISG meeting in Paris on 11 December 2019 and in Beirut on 23 January 2020 the ISG underlines the importance of action to regain the trust of the Lebanese people and that of the international community and unlock future international assistance for Lebanon. The ISG appeals to all political forces and leaders of Lebanon to prioritize their support for reforms when in the national interest and for the benefit of the people and the country. The ISG reaffirms its willingness to support Lebanon as it undertakes efforts to restore economic stability, credibility of the financial sector, a critical review of the 2020 budget to ensure sustainability, implementation of key sectoral reforms like the energy sector, reforms of state-owned enterprises to ensure efficiency and consumer benefit, and the passing and implementing of effective procurement laws. The ISG also reaffirms its willingness to support credible efforts by government leaders to tackle corruption and combat tax evasion, including adoption and implementation of an anti-corruption national strategy, the anti-corruption agency law and judicial reform, and other measures that ensure concrete changes are made and guarantee both transparency and full accountability. The ISG reaffirms the need for internal stability and the right to peaceful protest to be protected. The ISG reiterates the importance of Lebanon implementing Security Council Resolutions 1701 (2006), 1559 (2004) and other relevant Security Council resolutions, as well as the Taif Accord and the Baabda Declaration and its commitments made at the Brussels, Paris and Rome conferences. The ISG members reaffirm their continuous strong support for Lebanon and its people, for its stability, security, territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence.

Int'l Lenders Form Group to Discuss Lebanon's Foreign Debt

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 12/2020
A group of international lenders have formed a group to talk to the Lebanese government about its options regarding its foreign debt, distressed-debt investor Greylock Capital Management said on Wednesday. “This group will facilitate communication between disparate creditors and stands by to engage with the Lebanese Republic in any discussions,” Hans Humes, chief executive of New York-based Greylock, said in n statement. Earlier on Wednesday, Lebanon's Association of Banks urged the state to pay the forthcoming Eurobond maturity on time, despite fears that such a move may compound the country's worst economic crisis in decades. The 1.2 billion Eurobond payment due in March is a divisive issue in debt-ridden Lebanon. Economists warn that payment on time would eat away at plummeting foreign currency reserves, while bankers say a default would damage Lebanon's reputation and compromise its ties with lenders. In a statement on Wednesday, the Association of Banks said paying on time "would protect the interests of depositors, preserve the country's place in global financial markets and would maintain ties with" lenders. It said debt restructuring, which some experts have called for, could not be undertaken on time, especially as it would require talks with international bodies. "The remaining period before the debt matures in March is very short," it added. Lebanon is one of the world's most indebted countries, with a debt reaching more than 150 percent of GDP.
It is currently in the throes of a severe economic meltdown and a biting liquidity crunch that has seen banks impose stringent controls on withdrawals and transfers abroad.
Credit rating agencies and economists have also warned of dwindling foreign currency reserves that have plummeted in recent months, threatening import payments and a devaluation of the Lebanese pound. The local currency has already lost more than a third of its value on the black market. Credit rating agencies in recent month have downgraded Lebanon into junk territory, citing a high risk of default. The Lebanese government has never defaulted on a debt payment, but some analysts say now may be the right time to do so. "Repayment would weaken our foreign currency reserves, and we will therefore have less dollars to import basic goods, such as medicine and wheat," said economist Charbel Cordahi, who argued in favor of a deferred payment. Mohammed Zbeeb, an economic expert, said repayment may further threaten savings of ordinary depositors, who are already struggling to access money trapped under informal banking controls. "A comprehensive rescue plan must be developed, including restructuring of public and private debt," he told AFP. But a banking source close to the issue said that the Eurobond payment would ease pressure on commercial banks. "Failure to pay by March may have a (negative) impact on commercial banks, which hold a large share of the maturing Eurobonds," said the source, who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak on the matter. "Such a scenario would put additional pressure on banks," he told AFP. Bank of America Merill Lynch in a November report estimated that around 50 percent of Eurobonds were held by local banks, while the central bank had around 11 percent. Foreign investors owned the remainder, around 39 percent of Eurobonds, it said. But these figures may have changed, with local media reporting that local banks have recently sold a chunk of their Eurobonds to foreign lenders.

Lebanon’s int’l backers lend their support to new premier
Associated Press/February 12/2020
Lebanon’s economic slump has sparked months of mass protests against its government and ruling elite, many of them in power since the end of the 15-year-long civil war in 1990.
BEIRUT: Lebanon’s international backers said Wednesday they supported its new Cabinet while urging it to swiftly tackle the country’s snowballing crises amid ongoing anti-government protests. The group urged Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government to commit to major reforms that would “stop and reverse the deepening crises” afflicting the country economically and politically. Those issuing the statement included international partners like France, the United States, Russia, and the United Nations. Lebanon’s economic slump has sparked months of mass protests against its government and ruling elite, many of them in power since the end of the 15-year-long civil war in 1990. Diab, a former professor at the American University of Beirut, was picked by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and its allies after Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned at the end of October, two weeks after the nationwide protests erupted.
The new Cabinet secured 63 votes out of the 84 lawmakers who attended Tuesday’s session. Over forty lawmakers skipped the vote while the protesters hurled stones at security forces outside the fortified barriers surrounding the legislative chamber.
Diab urged the international community, and local opponents, to give his government a chance.
Lebanon is at the center of a foreign power play between supporters and detractors of Iran. Hezbollah, a major ally of Tehran, has come under intensifying U.S. sanctions as Washington seeks to put pressure on Iran and its regional allies. Thousands of protesters clashed with security forces outside the Parliament on Tuesday while lawmakers voted on the new government. Nearly 400 people were injured in the melee. Speaking ahead of the vote, Diab said he fully realized the massive task ahead but was confident it was possible to rescue Lebanon’s economy from complete collapse — and that his government would get to work immediately. Diab vowed to fight corruption, while ushering in judicial, financial and administrative reforms, but offered few specifics in his 16-page plan. Amid a spiraling financial crisis, Lebanese banks have imposed informal capital controls on withdrawals of U.S. dollars and halted transfers of foreign currency abroad. Lebanon has one of the highest debt ratios in the world, standing at more than 150% of GDP with no economic growth, a liquidity crunch, and high unemployment. International donors had pledged some $11 billion in grants and loans for Lebanon in 2018, calling for major reforms to unleash the money. In recent weeks, friendly nations have said they will not bail Lebanon out without those major policy and regulatory changes. On Wednesday, the international group, which also includes the European Union, Britain, China, Germany, and Italy, said it supports Lebanon’s efforts to restore economic stability, the credibility of the financial sector and key sector reforms. It also announced its support for peaceful protests.

7 Injured in Baouchriyeh Clash Involving Gunfire

Naharnet/February 12/2020
Seven people have been injured in a clash between Baouchriyeh residents and members of the Zoaiter family who live in the area, MTV reported on Wednesday. The TV network said the tensions erupted Tuesday following a confrontation between a bus driver from the Zoaiter family and Baouchriyeh residents. Security forces have since deployed in the area and arrested several people. In remarks to MTV, a young man from Baouchriyeh accused members of the Zoaiter family of opening fire at residents and buildings.
Strong Lebanon bloc secretary MP Ibrahim Kanaan meanwhile contacted security and judicial authorities in the wake of the clash, voicing support for “the army’s measures and its arrest of four people until the moment ahead of bringing the situation fully under control.” Kanaan also called on authorities to “be strict in pursuing violators, attackers of public and private property and those who caused the incident.” MP Eddy Abillama of the Lebanese Forces for his part visited the area and sought to pacify the situation. “We are one people but we heard profanities at all levels and there are infiltrators among the residents of the Zoaiteriyeh neighborhood,” he said. He also warned against “sowing discord among people,” noting that his party was exerting efforts to “avoid disputes.”
Media reports said a local mayor of Jdeideh-Baouchriyeh, Charbel Khoury, was among the wounded.

Army Fires at Israeli Drone over Mays al-Jabal

Naharnet/February 12/2020
The Lebanese Army on Wednesday opened fire at an Israeli drone over the southern border town of Mays al-Jabal, the National News Agency said.
The drone, which was not hit, was flying over the Kroum al-Sharraqi area, NNA said. “The aircraft immediately returned to the occupied Palestinian territories amid a security deployment by the Lebanese Army and UNIFIl forces in the aforementioned area,” the agency added.

Miqati Calls for Early Parliamentary Elections

Naharnet/February 12/2020
Head of the parliamentary Independent Center bloc MP Najib Miqati on Wednesday voiced calls for reducing the term of the current parliament and hence staging early parliamentary elections. “The people have no more confidence in the current political class. We need to stage early parliamentary elections to facilitate the mission of the new government, now that it has gained its vote of confidence,” said Miqati in a press conference. “I urge the Parliament to hold a meeting soon. We submitted a proposal for a parliamentary election law based on 5 districts where every voter votes within his own district with two preferential votes. Meanwhile the term of the current parliament would be shortened," said Miqati. After the new Cabinet of PM Hassan Diab won the confidence vote at the Parliament on Tuesday, Miqati said “we need to take very difficult decisions in the next stage. This is not related to the government or the people, but rather to the source of the authorities and the authority itself.”

Lebanon: Shy Majority Attends Parliament Session
Beirut- Caroline Akoum/Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 12 February, 2020
A parliament session devoted to discussing the new government’s ministerial statement was held on Tuesday in the presence of 68 deputies, before they were joined by the MPs of the Future Movement and the Lebanese Forces.
Before the session, during which Parliament was set to give its confidence to Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government, confusion appeared within the ranks of blocs that had previously announced their abstention from granting a vote of confidence, specifically the Future bloc, the Strong Republic, and the Democratic Gathering. It was clear that those deputies were waiting for the quorum to be completed before entering the parliament hall, so that their presence would not be seen as a contributor to securing the quorum, which is 65 deputies. Half an hour after the scheduled time of the session, Speaker Nabih Berri announced its launch without specifying the number of attendees, while several sources had confirmed that the number of deputies had not exceeded 58. When Diab finished his speech, Berri announced that the session of confidence was opened in the presence of 67 deputies, “and the number now is 68.” Most of the MPs were from the blocs of Hezbollah, Amal Movement, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), the Marada Movement, and their allies. It was later confirmed that the PSP deputies secured the quorum, a piece of information that was not rejected by the party’s leader, Walid Jumblatt. Based on this controversy, some parties questioned the constitutionality of the session. In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat, former Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar said that the session could not be regarded as unconstitutional. He explained that the quorum was later completed, and Berri’s abstention from announcing the number of deputies at the beginning of the session was a “minor violation” of the Constitution. “There are major violations and other minor breaches, which do not lead to the annulment of the session. What Berri did is a minor violation,” he stated. Kataeb Party MP Elias Hankash, who boycotted the session, criticized the anti-government blocs for attending the session and securing the quorum. “The deputies were supposed to respect the street protests and refrain from attending the session,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat. “This government, even if it got confidence vote, does not enjoy popular legitimacy,” he remarked.

Nissan Sues Ghosn, Seeking Damages for Property, Jet Use
Associated Press/Naharnet/February 12/2020
Nissan filed a civil suit Wednesday seeking 10 billion yen ($91 million) in damages from the Japanese automaker's former Chairman Carlos Ghosn.
Nissan Motor Co. filed the case in Yokohama District Court to recoup some of the monetary damages suffered, it said, "as a result of years of misconduct and fraudulent activity" by Ghosn. The claim was calculated by adding the costs from what Nissan called Ghosn's "corrupt practices," such as rent for overseas property, use of corporate jets and payments to Ghosn's sister, as well as costs for the internal investigation into Ghosn's alleged wrongdoings.
Ghosn, who led Nissan for two decades and saved it from near-bankruptcy, was arrested in Japan in November 2018, and charged with underreporting his future compensation and breach of trust in diverting Nissan money for personal gain.
He was awaiting trial but skipped bail and showed up in Lebanon late last year. Japan has no extradition treaty with Lebanon, and he's unlikely to be arrested. A date had not been set for his trial, and Ghosn has said he was worried his ordeal would never end and he would not get a fair hearing. The bail conditions also barred him from seeing his wife. He has repeatedly lashed out at Japan's judicial system, where the conviction rate is higher than 99%. Japanese authorities recently issued an arrest warrant for Ghosn and three Americans, accused of helping his escape. Separately, they issued an arrest warrant for Ghosn's wife on suspicion of perjury.
Ghosn has repeatedly said he is innocent, saying that the promised compensation had never been decided, and all the payments were for legitimate services.
Wednesday's lawsuit by Nissan comes on top of the civil case Nissan filed against Ghosn in the British Virgin Islands in August last year. It alleged unauthorized payments, sought to regain a luxury yacht and pursued other damages, according to Nissan. Yokohama-based Nissan, which makes the Z sportscar, Leaf electric car and Infiniti luxury models, is also facing trial in Japan as a company in relation to Ghosn's scandal. It has indicated it will agree to any penalties. Nissan's reputation has been sorely tarnished over the Ghosn fiasco, and its sales have dropped. Nissan reports financial results Thursday. The company is struggling to redefine its image and managerial leadership after the departure of Ghosn. His successor Hiroto Saikawa tendered his resignation in September after acknowledging he had received dubious income. Saikawa said he did not know about the money. He has not been charged.
Also in question is Nissan's relationship with alliance partner Renault SA of France, the top shareholder in Nissan. Ghosn, sent in by Renault to lead Nissan, has said his arrest was set off by a conspiracy against him at Nissan.

Tehran-backed Hezbollah steps in to guide Iraqi militias in Soleimani's wake
Reuters/February 12/2020
Shortly after Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq, the Tehran-backed Lebanese organization Hezbollah urgently met with Iraqi militia leaders, seeking to unite them in the face of a huge void left by their powerful mentor’s death, two sources with knowledge of the meetings told Reuters.
The meetings were meant to coordinate the political efforts of Iraq’s often-fractious militias, which lost not only Soleimani but also Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a unifying Iraqi paramilitary commander, in the Jan. 3 attack at Baghdad airport, the sources said.
While offering few details, two additional sources in a pro-Iran regional alliance confirmed that Hezbollah, which is sanctioned as a terrorist group by the United States, has stepped in to help fill the void left by Soleimani in guiding the militias. All sources in this article spoke on condition of anonymity to address sensitive political activities rarely addressed in public. Officials with the governments of Iraq and Iran did not respond to requests for comment, nor did a spokesperson for the militia groups.
The discussions shed light on how Iran and its allied groups are trying to cement control in the unstable Middle East, especially in the wake of the devastating U.S. attack on a revered Iranian military leader.
The Tehran-backed militias are critical to Iran’s efforts to maintain control over Iraq, where the U.S. still maintains some 5,000 troops. The country has experienced years of civil war since U.S. forces toppled Saddam Hussein and more recently, the government - and the militias - have faced growing protests against Iran’s influence in the country. Iran helped found some Iraqi militia groups.
In the months ahead of his death, Soleimani had waded ever deeper into the Iraq crisis, holding meetings with the Iraqi militias in Baghdad as Tehran sought to defend its allies and interests in its power struggle with the United States, one of the two Iraqi sources said.
Hezbollah’s involvement marks an expansion of its role in the region. The Shi’ite group, founded by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in 1982, has been at the heart of Iran’s regional strategy for years, helping Soleimani to train paramilitary groups in both Iraq and Syria.
One pro-Iran regional official said Hezbollah’s guidance of the militias would continue until the new leadership in the Quds Force – a unit of the Revolutionary Guards led by Soleimani since 1998 – gets a handle on the political crisis in Iraq.
The meetings between Hezbollah and Iraqi militia leaders began in January, just days after Soleimani’s assassination, the two Iraqi sources said. Reuters couldn’t confirm the number of meetings or where they took place. One source said they were in Beirut and the other said they were either in Lebanon or Iran.
Sheikh Mohammad al-Kawtharani, the Hezbollah representative in Iraq who worked closely with Soleimani for years to guide the Iraqi militias, hosted the meetings, the Iraqi sources said.
Kawtharani picked up where Soleimani left off, the Iraqi sources said. The sources said Kawtharani berated the groups, as Soleimani had done in one of his final meetings with them, for failing to come up with a unified plan to contain popular protests against the Baghdad government and the paramilitaries that dominate it. The government and militia groups have killed hundreds of protesters but not managed to contain the rebellion.
Kawatharani also urged a united front in picking a new Iraqi prime minister, the Iraqi sources said. Since then, former Iraqi communications minister Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi has been named - a development welcomed by Iran and accepted by the militia-linked parties it backs but opposed by protesters.
For now, Kawtharani is seen as the most suitable figure to direct Iraqi militias until a permanent Iranian successor can be chosen, although he possesses nowhere near Soleimani’s clout and charisma, according to the two Iraqi sources and a senior Iraqi Shi’ite Muslim leader.
“Kawtharani has connections with the militia groups,” the Shi’ite leader said, noting that he was born in Najaf, lived in Iraq for decades and speaks Iraqi dialect. “He was trusted by Soleimani, who used to depend and call on him to help him in crises and in meetings in Baghdad.”
One of the Iraqi sources close to the militias said that Kawtharani also met with the Iraqi populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a powerful but unpredictable figure, to convince him to support the new Iraqi prime minister. As Reuters has reported, Sadr has given Allawi his support.
Kawtharani will face serious - perhaps insurmountable- challenges in filling the shoes of the leaders killed in the drone attack, the Iraqi sources close to the militias told Reuters.
“A lot of faction leaders see themselves as too big and important to take orders from “ one Iraqi source said. “For now, because of pressure from Iran, they’re cooperating with him, but I doubt that will continue and the Iranians know that.”
One of the pro-Iran sources, a military commander, said Hezbollah’s involvement would consist of political guidance but stop short of providing manpower and materiel to retaliate for the Solemani killing. The militias “do not need Hezbollah’s intervention because they have the strength in numbers, combat experience and firepower,” the commander said.
Those groups are difficult to control while Hezbollah is seen as more disciplined. But like the rest of Iran’s network, Hezbollah risks stretching itself thin, a senior U.S. official in the region and an Iraqi political leader said.
In recent years, Hezbollah’s role has grown considerably. It has fought in support of President Bashar Al-Assad in Syria and extended political support to the Iran-allied Houthis of Yemen in their war with a Saudi-led military alliance.
Iran is likely to rely partly on the clout Nasrallah, a figure who commands deep respect among Iran’s allies across the region, the U.S. official said. Nasrallah is seen as overseeing Kawtharani’s efforts, according to a senior Shi’ite Iraqi leader.
“I think ideologically, religiously, he’s seen as a charismatic figure to many of the Iraqi Shia militias,” the U.S. official said, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.
In two lengthy televised addresses, Nasrallah has paid homage to Soleimani and vowed to avenge his death.
He has also declared it a goal of Hezbollah and its allies to eject U.S. forces from the region once and for all. U.S. forces have been in Iraq since 2014 as part of a coalition fighting against Islamic State.
If the Iraqi militias have their way, sources close to them say, these troops will be the first to depart.
Editing by Julie Marquis

Inside Iran’s push to get Hezbollah to take a role in Iraq
Seith J.Frantzman/Jerusalem Post/February 12/2020
Why is Hezbollah the go-to, with thousands of fighters and support base barely in the hundreds of thousands, when Iraqi Shi’ites number in the millions?
Since the US killed Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Commander Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi Kataib Hezbollah militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, Iran has been feeling a vacuum in its “axis of resistance.” Tehran must now reach out to Hezbollah for help to shore up its role in Iraq, according to recent reports.
Why is Hezbollah the go-to, with its thousands of fighters and base of support barely in the hundreds of thousands, when Iraqi Shi’ites number in the millions?
Middle East Eye first reported on January 14 that Iran had tasked Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah to begin “uniting Iraqi proxies” after Soleimani’s death. Now Reuters has followed up on those rumors from a month ago regarding Hezbollah’s role in Iraq. “Two additional sources in a pro-Iran regional alliance confirmed that Hezbollah… has stepped in to help fill the void left by Soleimani in guiding [Iraqi] militias.”
The mystery surrounds the “Hezbollah will manage Iran’s affairs in Iraq” story, and must be understood as relating to Iran’s trust in Hezbollah. In a time that Iran’s leaders now look back to with nostalgia, there were three men that anchored Iran’s power abroad: Qasem Soleimani, Imad Mughniyeh and Hassan Nasrallah. From Tehran’s point of view, the “good old days” of the 2006 war against Israel brought them together. Now, two of them are dead. Muhandis, a key Iranian ally in Iraq is also gone.
It’s important to understand that these were trusted knights of the realm for Iran. They operated in Syria, which was key to Tehran’s attempt to create a “road to the sea” via Iraq to Lebanon. Kataib Hezbollah, for instance, had a headquarters base in Albukamal – until it was blown up in an air strike in the summer of 2018.
Does Iran’s tapping of Hezbollah mean that it does not have faith in the Shi’ite base in Iraq – and that it is concerned that months of anti-Iranian protests in Iraq might have damaged it? Perhaps it thinks Lebanese can operate in Iraq more easily now.
Hezbollah sent Mohammad Al-Kawtharani to Iraq to negotiate after Soleimani and Muhandis were killed on January 3. Meetings followed in Lebanon and Iran. One goal was to bring in Muqtada al-Sadr, leader of Iraq’s largest political party, together with Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the second largest party. Amiri is head of the Badr Organization as well and fought alongside Iran in the 1980s. As such, the idea was to unite Sadr with Iranian-backed militias in Iraq. Sadr complied, ordering marches against the US in Iraq on January 24 and sending his blue hatted Saraya al-Salam to tamp down the protests on February 1.
BUT IT’S not so simple. Sadr held meetings in mid-January in the Iranian city of Qom with members of the Iraqi militias, the Popular Mobilization Units (Hashd al-Shaabi). Who was at the meeting? Akram Al-Kaabi of the Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba militia was photographed along with Sadr. But Kawtharani was not photographed there. Nevertheless, Irib News showed a photo of the various flags of Iran’s proxies all united behind an image of the “martyred” Soleimani during the same week. Iran’s message was unity, and Hezbollah was expected to help.
According to Reuters, Kawtharani has close connections to Iraq’s militias and, like Sadr, was born in Najaf. Soleimani would go to him in times of crisis. Kawtharani was in Iraq and Iran in late December, according to other reports and Al-Hurra. He spoke to Amiri and went to Qom to speak to Sadr. This was prior to the major crisis between the US and Iraqi militias which unfolded on December 27 when a rocket killed a US contractor. Kawtharani was trying to push the Iraqis to unify on a new prime minister choice.
The US Treasury department sanctioned Kawtharani in 2013. He was accused of being involved in “training, funding, [and] political and logistical support to Iraqi Shi’a insurgent groups.” He was a member of Hezbollah’s Political Council and had helped free Hezbollah member Ali Musa Daqduq, who was involved in planning an attack that had killed five US soldiers in Iraq in 2007. Kawtharani helped send fighters to Syria to support Assad after 2011, like Muhandis and Al-Kaabi. It might be assumed they worked closely on this issue.
Kawtharani was rumored to have been killed by the January 3 air strike. In fact, Jamal Jaafar Ibrahimi, a senior PMU member, was killed alongside Muhandis and Soleimani. Kawtharani was lucky, as was Al-Kaabi, whom the US has named as a key conduit for Soleimani’s network in Iraq.
The question now is what is the next step for men like Kawtharani and Iraq. The militias in Iraq have no shortage of members, but some of their own families have joined the protests against Iran’s overbearing influence in Iraq. Sadr is constantly unsure of himself. Amiri and Qais Khazali, another militia leader, are either in hiding or rarely seen in public. Hezbollah is strained through its role fighting in Syria and challenges at home.
Iran’s all-powerful proxy network appears to have some question marks at the top now. Reports about Tehran scrambling to get Hezbollah involved in Iraq point to a growing problem for Tehran in coordinating its efforts.

The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 12-13/2020
Death toll in China due to coronavirus epidemic jumps to 1,113 nationwide
Reuters/Wednesday, 12 February 2020
The death toll from a coronavirus outbreak in mainland China had reached 1,113 as of the end of Tuesday, up by 97 from the previous day, the country’s National Health Commission said on Wednesday. The central Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak also known as corona, reported 94 deaths, while in the provincial capital of Wuhan, 72 people died. Across mainland China, there were 2,015 new confirmed infections on Tuesday, the lowest since January 30. The total accumulated number so far has reached 44,653.

US charges five in Texas, New York with colluding to break Iran oil sanctions
Reuters/Wednesday, 12 February 2020
The US Justice Department said on Tuesday it had charged five people in Texas and New York with conspiring to violate a law on international commerce by arranging to purchase sanctioned Iranian oil and sell it to a refinery in China.
The defendants include Daniel Ray Lane, president of privately held STACK Royalties, LLC a Texas-based company that sells oil and gas mineral rights to investment funds and private equity groups. The Justice Department charged the defendants with one count of conspiracy, and another for violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, based on allegations that from July 2019 to February 2020 they conspired to arrange for the purchase of oil from Iran for sale to an unnamed Chinese refinery. The charges also allege violations of US economic sanctions on Iran.
The five suspects, in addition to Lane, are Nicholas Haven of New York and Robert Thwaites, Nicholas Fuchs and Zhenyu Wang, also known as Bill Wang, of Texas. Lane offered to further the conspiracy by laundering money through STACK Royalties, the Justice Department said. STACK did not immediately respond to requests for comment. China is the world’s only major importer of Iranian oil despite sanctions President Donald Trump unilaterally reimposed on Tehran’s petroleum exports in 2018 after withdrawing the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal between Tehran and six world powers.
“With the goal of illegally enriching themselves, the defendants conspired for over eight months to devise a scheme to violate US sanctions imposed on Iran, particularly the ban on foreign oil sales,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers. The defendants agreed to use a Polish shell company as a straw seller of the illicit oil and planned two shipments of oil per month, according to the charges against them. The Justice Department said Fuchs and Thwaites agreed to apply for foreign passports in order to set up offshore accounts that would not be reported to US authorities. If convicted, the defendants each face a maximum sentence of 25 years and a fine of up to $1.25 million, the department said. It was not immediately clear if the five had hired lawyers to represent them.

Pompeo meets with Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister in Washington
Ismaeel Naar, Al Arabiya English/Wednesday, 12 February 2020
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with his Saudi Arabian counterpart, Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud, at the State Department on Wednesday. This is the second time in three months that Pompeo and the Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister have met. Prince Faisal bin Farhan was in Washington last November to take part in the meeting of foreign ministers from the global coalition to defeat ISIS.“US-Saudi partnership is critical as we confront Iran's destabilizing behavior. We also share an interest in de-escalation in Yemen. Glad to meet with Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud on these regional security issues,” Pompeo tweeted after his meeting with Prince Faisal bin Farhan.
(With AP)

US President Trump warns Senate not to approve war powers resolution on Iran

Reuters, Washington/Wednesday, 12 February 2020
US President Donald Trump on Wednesday warned the Senate against adopting a resolution that would curb his ability to wage war against Iran, saying it would send “a very bad signal” and allow Tehran to act with impunity. “It is very important for our Country’s SECURITY that the US Senate not vote for the Iran War Powers Resolution. We are doing very well with Iran and this is not the time to show weakness,” Trump, a Republican, tweeted. Democrats last month said they had the votes in the Republican-controlled chamber to approve the measure, which would require the president to seek congressional authorization for military action against Iran.

Ex-Qatari PM: Israel and Gulf states to sign non-aggression pact soon
i24NEWS/February 12/2020
US President Donald Trump’s deal of the century “will be followed by a non-aggression agreement between Israel and the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council in addition to Egypt, Jordan and possibly Morocco,” tweets Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim. Qatar’s former prime minister claimed on Monday that a non-aggression pact between Gulf states and Israel will soon be signed and may include the North African country of Morocco. In a statement posted to Twitter, Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim declared: “On December 14 last year, I posted a tweet in which I spoke about the deal of the century and said that it would be announced at the beginning of this year. “Now it will be followed by a non-aggression agreement between Israel and the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council in addition to Egypt, Jordan and possibly Morocco.”The former Qatari politician noted that he was “not against” such an agreement with Israel, and believed the unanimous decision taken by the Arab League to reject the deal last week was not in the best interest of the region. “Although there are Arab countries that promised the American side that they would take a positive position on the deal, but they did not, and they justified this by saying that they could not because of the media,” said Jassim. He added that “the Arab side follows a policy based on short-term tactics, while the Israeli side places its policies on long-term strategic foundations.”

Adviser to Iran’s Khamenei is looking to 'raze Tel Aviv to the ground'
Jerusalem Post/February 12/2020
In a recent interview, Mohsen Rezaee said that Iran would use any US activity as a pretext to attack Israel.
Ahead of the governments of France and Germany congratulating Iran’s regime on its Islamic revolution this week, an Iranian politician who advises the supreme leader said his nation was looking for an excuse to obliterate Tel Aviv.
Mohsen Rezaee said: “We would raze Tel Aviv to the ground for sure. We have been looking for such a pretext,” according to a translation from the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). He added that, “if they [the US] do something, we can use it as a pretext to attack Israel.” According to MEMRI, Rezaee is the secretary of Iran's Expediency Council and a former IRGC's commander-in-chief. His comment about razing Tel Aviv was aired during an interview on Mayadeen TV (Lebanon) on February 8. Rezaee said that: "We would raze Tel-Aviv to the ground for sure. We have been looking for such a pretext. If they do something, we can use it as a pretext to attack Israel, because Israel played a role in the martyrdom of Gen. [Qasem] Soleimani. It was the Israelis who reported about the martyr Soleimani's trip from Damascus to Baghdad. We were waiting for the Americans to give us a pretext to strike Tel-Aviv, just like we attacked Ayn Al-Assad.” The US government assassinated Soleimani in January. He was the head of Iran’s Quds Force and responsible for the murders of over 600 US military personnel in the Middle East, according to the US government. The US and the EU classified Soleimani as a foreign terrorist.Rezaee serves as advisor to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
Interpol put Rezaee on its most-wanted list for his role in connection with the 1994 bombing that murdered 85 people at a Jewish community center in Argentina. He said during the interview that "American hegemony in the region is in a state of disintegration and instability. By proposing the 'Deal of the Century,' they are looking for a firm and stable foothold on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, in order to do away with the Palestinian cause once and for all, and in order to take over Gaza and disarm Hamas.” He added that he expects “a significant weakening of the US over the next decade. If it does not leave the region completely, it will become very weak. As soon as the Saudi people and the peoples of the Persian Gulf feel that America is not what it used to be, there will be a revolution in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and it will be followed by revolutions in the other countries in the Persian Gulf.” He claimed that "Iran will be the standard-bearer of America's exit from the region." The regime in Tehran frequently declares "Death to America" and is the worst state sponsor of terrorism, according to the US State Department. Germany's foreign ministry under Social Democratic chief diplomat Heiko Mass told The Jerusalem Post last week that Germany will celebrate Iran's Islamic revolution. France's President Emmanuel Macron, according to a report in Iran's state-controlled Mehr News, sent a congratulatory note to the mullah regime. "In a message sent to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron congratulated the Iranian government and nation on the 41st anniversary of victory of the Islamic Revolution," wrote Mehr News. The Post could not verify the Mehr News report prior to publication.

Iranian Armed Forces spokesman: Zionist state will disappear from Earth
Jerusalem Post/February 12/2020
Commemorating fighters from various units and the Basij on the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, he spoke with passion about how Iran’s “resistance” was confronting the US and Israel. Israel will soon disappear from the Middle East, Brig.-Gen. Abolfazl Shekarchi of the Iranian army’s public relations sector said on Tuesday. He was speaking to veterans in Zarandieh in northeastern Iran. Commemorating fighters on the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, he spoke with passion about how Iran’s “resistance” was confronting the US and Israel. He discussed the missile attack by Iran on Ayn al-Assad base in Iraq, where up to a hundred US soldiers are now suffering from traumatic brain injuries. He said it represented Iran’s abilities to defeat enemies. He reminded those present of the “resistance forces, including Hezbollah, Kataib Hezbollah in Iraq, Hamas and others.” In his estimation, the “Zionist regime” will soon “disappear.” Other spokesmen for the armed forces said “today we are in a state of war with the enemy, and we must have smart choices for those running the parliament and send people to parliament who are willing to be martyrs.” Elections are on February 21. The rhetoric against Israel is nothing new from Iran but the list of “resistance” factions is part of Iran’s worldview that increasingly sees Hezbollah, Shi’ite militias in Iraq and Palestinian groups like Hamas as all part of the same force. In this view, Iran is the great leader of a mass of fighters across the region, all arrayed against the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia and some other states. Iran’s rhetoric seeks to instill into a new generation this imperial impulse to dominate the Middle East via these factions – and to see them all as not only allies but directed from Tehran.

Buying loyalty: Iran-backed militias offer young people in Al-Quneitra financial incentives
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights/February 12/2020
Al-Quneitra Province – Syrian Observatory for Human Rights: reliable sources informed the Syrian Observatory that local commanders of Iranian-backed militias started to offer financial incentives to dignitaries of Al-Habariyah, Sultanah and other towns near the Syrian border strip with the Occupied Golan, in return for persuading young people in these towns to join the Iranian militias.
The Iranian-backed militias are stationed in Al-Tala’e Camp in the northern countryside of Al-Quneitra, to the east of Al-Fawwar area. These militias are attempting to join the largest possible number of the area’s young people to their ranks, since they are seeking to shield the areas of Damascus by being present in the region.

Iraq: Last-Minute Talks before Determining Fate of Government
Baghdad- Hamza Mustafa/Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 12 February, 2020
The sudden cold weather and snow in Baghdad haven't affected the ongoing heated talks between all Iraqi parties leading to the cabinet formation, during a very complicated situation that happens with every government formation.
However, the situation is different now, and for the first time since 2003, a public movement succeeded in toppling a government. Although the political class speculated that the below-zero temperatures will weaken the popular movement, hundreds of protesters marched in the streets of Baghdad and other southern cities as of the early morning chanting against corruption and the government. Political blocs are now forced to come to a difficult yet strong consensus to form a cabinet similar to a salvation government to hold early elections. The prime minister-designate, Mohammad Tawfiq Allawi, was not the most preferred candidate among the political class that was forced to accept him, nor was he accepted by the movement which principally rejects any figure who was or still is part of this class. However, Allawi does not seem to be planning to repeat the scenario of former PM Adel Abdul-Mahdi who was enforced on all blocs by “Saeroon” and “Fatah” blocs. Saeron bloc is supported by the leader of the Sadrist movement, Muqtada al-Sadr, and Fatah Alliance is led by Hadi al-Amiri. Prominent Iraqi politician Izzat Shabandar believes Allawi still faces several expected difficulties in his mission, however, the circumstances are different now.Asked by Asharq Al-Awsat about the difficulties facing Allawi, Shabandar said that the Prime Minister-designate is still under pressure from leader of the Sadrist movement, head of Fatah, and President Barham Salih, without specifying the nature of these pressures. Shabandar warned that if Allawi submits to the will of any bloc or party, he will not succeed. Shabandar, who negotiated with the Kurds at Allawi’s request, denied that “they [Kurds] have any conditions, because they have not yet discussed the details of forming a government.”Exchanged accusations and attempts to hinder Allawi's mission began to publicly appear, however, MP of Erada Movement Hussein Arab believes the government’s formation depends on the tripartite meetings Allawi is supposed to hold with leaders representing the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds. Arab told Asharq Al-Awsat that these meetings are crucial regarding the way in which the government will be formed so that it can receive the vote of confidence in the parliament. He believes that all parties are keen to form a cabinet because the situation in the country can no longer take any more escalation or differences. Meanwhile, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, MP Mohammad Karbouli denounced some parties' attempts to 're-brand' themselves via Sunni component representation after they had lost their public support. Karbouli explained that it is not a shame for a representative of any component in the society to demand the rights of its people within the proper frameworks, especially that Iraq is a pluralistic country.

NATO to boost Iraq mission after Trump urges bigger Mideast role
Bloomberg/Wednesday, 12 February 2020
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization plans to expand its training mission in Iraq as the alliance hunts for ways to meet US President Donald Trump’s calls for it to play a bigger Middle East role, according to officials. NATO intends to boost its 500-strong Iraqi operation by shifting personnel deployed for the much bigger US-led international coalition to fight terrorism in the country, the officials said on the condition of anonymity. The increase will be to around 700 members, according to one person. US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said bolstering NATO’s role in Iraq is a central focus of his discussions this week in Brussels, where he arrived on Tuesday evening. The move would allow the US to press ahead with efforts to bring some troops home and shift the Pentagon’s focus more to the Indo-Pacific region, where it is seeking to counter China in areas including the South China Sea.
“A NATO increase can allow us to do a decrease and that way I can free up forces to go, what I’ve said before, back to the states, to increase their readiness or redeploy them elsewhere in the Indo-Pacific,” Esper told reporters on his plane en route to Brussels. “That’s my ambition. But the first thing is getting NATO in.”The move will require the Iraqi government to express support publicly, a tricky domestic political task after the country’s parliament last month urged the expulsion of foreign troops. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has been in touch with senior Iraqi authorities to pave the way for the bigger NATO mission. “It’s a bit early for me to announce any specific decisions,” Stoltenberg said on Tuesday in Brussels at a press conference where he previewed a February 12-13 meeting of NATO defense ministers, who are expected to signal approval for the shift. “But we are looking into, for instance, what more we can do in Iraq in the context of training.”
Trump fueled speculation about a bigger NATO footprint in the Middle East a month ago after Iran carried out attacks in Iraq on two bases used by American troops as retaliation for a US airstrike that killed top Iranian General Qassim Soleimani in Baghdad. The American president vowed to get the US out of what he called “endless wars when he was campaigning for office in 2016. Yet heading into the 2020 election, Trump has sent more than 15,000 US troops to the Mideast since May to pressure Iran.
NATO has run a training mission in Iraq since late 2018 aimed at supporting Iraqi forces and preventing the re-emergence of Islamic State. The alliance suspended the mission on January 6 as a result of the heightened US-Iran tensions and security risks in the region.
Africa role
“We will resume training as soon as possible,” Stoltenberg said on Tuesday. “We are in close consultation with the Iraqi government.”The planned expansion of the NATO operation in Iraq represents an initial response to Trump’s calls for the alliance to do more in the Middle East. NATO officials aim to weigh over the coming weeks and months what other additional activities could be undertaken, including in the Mediterranean region. Esper praised France’s role in Africa but told reporters he’d like to see more European stepping up their commitments. “There’s room for them to step up in Africa and do more,” Esper said. “I think that’s something we’ll continue to press the Europeans on.”

Turkey Will Strike Regime Forces Anywhere in Syria, Warns Erdogan after Flareup
Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 12 February, 2020
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that Turkey's military would strike Russian-backed Syrian regime forces by air or ground anywhere in Syria if another Turkish soldier was hurt as Damascus tried to regain control of Idlib province. Erdogan said Turkey is determined to push Bashar Assad’s regime forces beyond Turkish observation posts in Idlib by the end this month, and he urged allied Syrian opposition factions not to give Damascus an excuse to attack. Violence has flared in Idlib, in northwest Syria and bordering Turkey, in recent weeks as regime forces backed by Russia and Iran have made gains in their campaign to eliminate the last opposition bastion in Syria's nine-year-old war. Turkey, which is allied with some opposition groups opposed to Assad, mounted a counter-attack on Tuesday after 13 Turkish soldiers were killed by Syrian shelling in Idlib in the last 10 days. "If there is the smallest injury to our soldiers on the observation posts or other places, I am declaring from here that we will hit the regime forces everywhere from today, regardless of Idlib's borders or the lines of the Sochi agreement," Erdogan said, referring to a 2018 ceasefire accord. "We will do this by any means necessary, by air or ground, without hesitating, without allowing for any stalling," he told members of his AK Party in Ankara. Russia, which has an air base in Syria, has controlled Idlib's air space for several years. Turkey has set up 12 observation posts in Idlib as part of an agreement with Russia and Iran to establish what is termed a de-escalation zone. This month it has poured some 5,000 troops and convoys of military vehicles across the border into Idlib, including tanks, armored personnel carriers and radar equipment to bolster its existing military positions.
Waves of displaced
The Turkish military casualties have sparked some of the most serious confrontations between Ankara and Damascus in the war, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and made millions refugees, including 3.7 million Syrians in Turkey. The fighting - which has driven nearly 700,000 people from their homes in the last 10 weeks - has also strained ties between Moscow and Ankara, which says it cannot handle another wave of refugees. TASS news agency quoted the Kremlin as saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Erdogan agreed in a phone call the sides would continue contacts on Syria. Erdogan said he discussed with Putin the "damage the (Syrian) regime and even Russia inflicted" on Turkish soldiers there.Erdogan said Russian and regime attacks have targeted not terrorists but civilians. "Russian forces and Iran backed militias are constantly attacking the civilian people, carrying out massacres, spilling blood," he said, according to Reuters. In the 2017 and 2018 Astana and Sochi accords, as well as in a ceasefire deal last month, Turkey and Russia agreed to work towards de-escalating the fighting in Idlib and creating a demilitarized zone. The US envoy for Syria, James Jeffrey, is meeting senior Turkish officials in Ankara on Wednesday. He said on Tuesday that "our NATO ally Turkey is facing a threat from Assad's regime and Russia," adding Washington could offer support. Turkish-backed opposition groups have mobilized to push Damascus’ forces out of Idlib, Erdogan said, adding they must remain disciplined. "We have given the message that we will act without compromise to those from the opposition groups who act in an undisciplined way and give the regime an excuse to attack," he said. Turkish artillery has been supporting the opposition factions as they battle to hold on to areas of Idlib. Turkey said on Tuesday 51 Syrian soldiers were killed as fighters struck back against regime forces, who had made gains in their campaign. Much of the fighting in the past week has focused on the M5 highway, linking the former economic hub of Aleppo to the capital Damascus to the south. Russia has officers on the ground advising the regime on the campaign as well as some ground forces, and Russian warplanes have carried out numerous air strikes.

Damascus Says Erdogan 'Disconnected from Reality' after Threats
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 12/2020
The Syrian government on Wednesday described Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as "disconnected from reality" after he threatened to attack regime forces "everywhere" in Syria. "The head of the Turkish regime comes with empty... statements only issued by a person disconnected from reality," state news agency SANA quoted a source at the foreign ministry as saying.

Algeria’s PM Accuses Bouteflika of Mismanaging Economic Institutions
Algiers - Boualem Goumrassa/Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 12 February, 2020
Algerian Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad has pledged to "clean up the disastrous legacy" of governance in previous years that devastated economic institutions. He was referring to former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s 20-year rule. Djerad made his remarks during the presentation of his government's plan of action to the People's National Assembly (lower house of the parliament) in a plenary session. He affirmed that the fragile financial situation will be confronted by the government steadily and responsibly. He promised to eliminate the "unconstitutional" meddling in political and economic decision-making.
According to observers, his remarks were a reference to politicians ruling on Bouteflika's behalf and taking unconstitutional decisions. Bouteflika resigned in April last year, succumbing to six weeks of largely peaceful mass protests driven by youth and pressure from the powerful army.
Djerad confirmed that the country is financially fragile, noting that the general budget still depends on the volatility of the oil market. The budget's deficit aggravated in 2019, and the trade deficit reached USD10 million end of the year. Expenditure reserves dropped by more than USD17 billion, compared to 2018. Djerad slammed Noureddine Bedoui’s government, underscoring the giant financial impact resulting from decisions and pledges made in 2019 despite the lack of funds. He affirmed that the government will not give up despite this complex situation. The PM hailed the thorough economic, political, and social reforms brought by the presidential program. “Our country has experienced catastrophic mismanagement in recent years which led to the squandering of its wealth,” Djerad said. The government will carry out “deep reforms to get the country out of this critical political and economic situation,” he said. The government plan includes boosting dialogue with the opposition and seeking alternative funding sources for the economy such as issuing sukuk and developing the country’s tiny stock exchange. Undoubtedly, the majority – backers of Bouteflika – will approve the plan of action. Then it would be referred to the National Assembly for final approval. Meanwhile, hundreds of university students took to the streets for the second month, demanding 'A civilian, not military state', which is the slogan of the popular movement since Feb. 22 2019. They also called for releasing prisoners of conscience.

Egyptian Interior Ministry: 17 Terrorists Killed in North Sinai

Cairo/Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 12 February, 2020
Egyptian police forces killed 17 terrorists during a shootout in the country's restive North Sinai Province, the Egyptian Ministry of Interior said on Tuesday. In a statement, the ministry said that a tip-off from the National Security Agency indicated that a group of terrorists were detected in a hideout in an area in Obeidat district of al-Arish city, from where they attempted to launch hostile operations. A shootout between police and the terrorists resulted in the death of all 17 extremists, the ministry said, adding that a number of automatic rifles and explosives were found in their hideout. Initially, police raided the hideout, where the shootout erupted, leaving 11 terrorists dead. Weapons and explosive devices were seized. A number of militants escaped before being tracked by security forces. A second shootout erupted, leaving six terrorists dead. Weapons and two suicide vests were found in their possession.. All legal procedures were taken and the Supreme State Security Prosecution launched an investigation. The incident came two days after Egypt's army announced that it killed 10 terrorists as its forces thwarted a major terror attack on a military checkpoint in North Sinai. An army spokesman said the assault caused the death and injury of seven troops, including two officers. Egypt launched a nationwide operation against militants in February 2018, mainly focusing on North Sinai. Since then, over 840 suspected militants have been killed in the region, according to army figures, along with more than 60 security personnel. Most of the attacks that have killed hundreds of policemen, soldiers and civilians were claimed by a Sinai-based terrorist group loyal to ISIS.

Draft-Law on Deal with Qatar Sparks Chaos in Tunisia’s Parliament
Tunis - Mongi Saidani/Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 12 February, 2020
Tunisian Speaker Rached Ghannouchi adjourned on Tuesday a plenary session after a dispute between lawmakers over a draft-law on selling some shares of Tunisair to Qatar Airways. The session, which was initially set to consider economic bills, was adjourned when deputies failed to agree on a proposal to reduce the number of draft-laws from four to two. In comments earlier this month, Tunisair CEO Elyes Mnakbi said that there were negotiations for an expanded partnership to sell 30 percent of Tunisair's stake to Qatar Airways. However, the national carrier later denied it, saying the decision was subject to parliament’s approval. During Tuesday’s session, a dispute emerged between deputy Manji al-Rahawi of the United Democratic Nationalist Party and Ennahdha MP Noureddine Bhiri. Rahawi accused Ghannouchi of conspiring to approve the draft agreement with Qatar. “Stop lying,” he shouted to the Speaker. Ghannouchi snapped back, saying the deputy’s remarks were “despicable.” Following the exchange of accusations, Bhiri spoke to defend the Speaker. “You are the biggest liar that Tunisia ever knew,” he told Rahawi.

Italy’s Salvini to stand trial on charges of illegally detaining migrants at sea
AFP, RomeWednesday, 12 February 2020
Italian opposition populist leader Matteo Salvini is to stand trial on charges of illegally detaining migrants at sea, after senators voted Wednesday to strip him of his parliamentary immunity. The Senate’s decision, which was displayed on a digital vote board, will send the former interior minister to trial for abuse of power and illegal detention, charges for which he faces up to 15 years in jail.

The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 12-13/2020
Time for the nightmare of Iran's brutal autocracy to end

Sam Faddis/The Washington Times/February 12/2020
Thuggish Iranian regime must be consigned to the dustbin of history
In 1979, Iranian students marched in the streets of Washington, D.C. Joined by sympathetic Americans, they decried the “oppression” in their home country and chanted “Death to the Shah.” Soon after, as President Jimmy Carter abandoned America’s longtime ally and stood aside, Ayatollah Khomeinei returned from Paris and began the process of dismantling the shah’s Iran and installing a new, Islamic regime.
It was a new day. A new dark day.
Western politicians steeped in moral equivalency and convinced America is to blame for all that is wrong in the world may still try to convince themselves that the mad theocracy in Tehran represents the people of Iran. They may fantasize about accommodation, finding middle ground and welcoming the ayatollahs into the community of civilized nations. That does not make it true.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is a brutal, medieval autocracy, which remains in power through the almost unimaginable use of brute force and savagery.
Iran executes more people per capita than any other nation on the planet. The total number of people executed each year in Iran exceeds that in any other nation other than China, which has a population 17 times as large. Capital punishment is carried out for nonviolent crimes, and according to Iran’s penal code girls as young as 9 and boys as young as 15 can be executed.
In what passes for the judicial system of the Islamic Republic, individuals can be sentenced to death for vague charges such as “waging war against God” or criticizing the supreme leader. They can also be killed for being homosexual. Just to make sure the individuals executed appreciate the gravity of their offenses, they are often flogged before being killed. The Iranian Penal Code provides for a number of methods of execution, including hanging, firing squad, crucifixion and stoning.
Capitalizing on the horrifyingly large numbers of executions, Tehran recently enacted legislation allowing for the sale of organs from prisoners who are killed. Buyers can now order their new organs in advance and receive them immediately following execution.

Technical setback used to herald 41st anniversary of Islamic Revolution in Iran
Behnam Ben Taleblu/Al Arabiya/February 12/2020
“We’re UNSTOPPABLE! We have more Upcoming Great Iranian Satellites!” That’s how Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, Iran’s Minister of Information and Communications Technology, heralded his country’s latest – and unsuccessful – attempt to place a domestically-produced satellite, ironically dubbed the Zafar [Victory], into orbit.
Jahromi, who took to Twitter on February 9, just days before the 41st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, was engaging in a tactic far older than the regime in Tehran. He was framing defeat as victory, an approach favored by authoritarians since time immemorial. Through a shrewd act of “whataboutism” on Twitter, Jahromi cited several failed American satellite launches in a bid to establish a technical parity between the US and Iran, as well as to insulate the regime from criticism over highly public failings in its space program since 2019.
Later, Jahromi went on to specify that the Zafar had fallen into the Indian Ocean after its Simorgh [Phoenix] satellite-launch vehicle (SLV) did not reach adequate speed.
The need for damage-control is simple. Around major government holidays, Iranian authorities rely on physical symbols of Iran’s “resistance” and “steadfastness” – its missile, nuclear, and military programs – to justify the sacrifices average Iranians are consistently asked to make. This is why the Zafar’s failure may very well add more tension to an already uneasy situation at home.
Since 2009, but much more systematically since late 2017, Iranian protesters have made the money the regime spends abroad on its revolutionary foreign policy a central tenant of their broader political criticism against the regime. Now, as Iran sinks greater sums of money into its space program (as a reminder, the Zafar reportedly cost two million Euros), Iranians may well begin to ask: why is this worth it and why now?
In an early bid to generate mass support for the launch and thereby offset this potential question, Iranian authorities created a website for citizens to send audio or video messages, no longer than a minute, which the Zafar could relay when in space. They dubbed the webpage, “Zafar + Me.” Similarly, Jahromi had also hyped the launch – which had already faced a delay – several times on social media, tying in national pride to the then-impending launch.
According to its webpage, the Zafar satellite weighed 113 kilograms, was designed to spend up to two years in orbit, and was built over the course of six years by the Iran University of Science and Technology (IUST). Reportedly, IUST was on a 2007 proliferation warning list by the German government, hinting at its potential role as an entity of end-user concern, or worse, a possible link to Iran’s nuclear program. Previous satellites were manufactured by the Iran Electronics Industries (IEI), a subsidiary of Iran’s Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics. IEI is on the US sanctions list with no expiration date, as well as on the European Union (EU) sanctions list until 2023, when per the 2015 nuclear deal, EU-wide penalties against it will terminate. The same phased US and EU sanctions apply to Aerospace Industries Organization whose logo is imprinted on the Simorgh SLV, which it produces.
This sanctions nexus is instructive for several reasons. As exhibited above, a similar constellation of government agencies and affiliates behind Iran’s nuclear and missile program have ties to Iran’s space program. But it’s also a measure of how Washington is treating these threats.
According to the 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment by the US Director of National Intelligence, “Iran’s work on a space launch vehicle (SLV) – including on its Simorgh – shortens the timeline to an ICBM because SLVs and ICBMs use similar technologies.” A closer look at the Simorgh reveals that it is a two-stage, 85 ton liquid-fueled system that can reportedly place a 250 kilogram into low-earth orbit. The Simorgh is propelled by four Nodong-A engines, which are of North Korean origin. The Nodong-A was the basis for Iran’s first liquid-fueled medium-range ballistic missile called the Shahab-3. It was also Iran’s first “nuclear-capable” system.
The Treasury Department has previously exposed and sanctioned cooperation in the missile domain between Tehran and Pyongyang. The Simrogh is just another area where this technical cooperation is manifest.
Thus far however, the Simorgh has failed to put a satellite into low-earth orbit. But even failed flight-tests stand to teach Iran about engine functionality, missile staging, preparing a launch-environment, and more, all of which have military and not just civilian applications. While Iran would have to take many more steps, including worrying about re-entry, to move from an SLV to a full-fledged ICBM program, it, like India and North Korea, can use these steps as a cover to further learn and hedge while avoiding international pressure.
And to avoid domestic pressure in the interim, as news of the Zafar’s failure cascaded in the Western press, Iranian outlets were heralding a new ballistic missile that was tested. Dubbed the Ra’ad [Thunder]-500, it is an upgrade to Iran’s single-stage solid-propellant Fateh class of short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs), which have been used in military operations launched from Iranian territory at targets in the Middle East. The Ra’ad reportedly extends the range of the Fateh SRBM by using composite material rather than metal, thus reducing the weight of the missile body. But more importantly, hardline news agencies are talking about using the Ra’ad’s composite engine “to manufacture light satellite carriers with solid propellant,” which would be a historic first for the regime. This too, would be an indicator of a greater nexus between the space and military programs.
Both in the space/missile and nuclear domains, the Islamic Republic remains driven by two larger forces: status and security.Those same forces have led the regime to engage in illicit procurement, defy the international community, suffer sanctions, and even tolerate the erosion of cash from Iran’s coffers over time. In its dogged quest for both status and security, more than four decades later, the Islamic Republic has little to show for either. Iran may have the largest ballistic missile arsenal in the region, but this arsenal is actively uniting the region against it. And while Tehran covets the status of regional leader, to date, there is no regional actor voluntarily emulating the Iranian model.
Forty-one years on, there are sadly too many areas where defeat passes as victory in the Islamic Republic. The space program is just one.
*Behnam Ben Taleblu is Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) based in Washington DC.

Trump finds bipartisan support for a pro-U.S. Venezuelan leader Guaido
Clifford D. May/The Washington Times/February 12/2020
Even Nancy Pelosi applauded his appearance at the State of the Union
Bipartisanship was in short supply at last week’s State of the Union address — with one notable exception.
Nancy Pelosi had been looking dyspeptic, shuffling the papers she would later rip to shreds, when President Trump reminded his audience that “the United States is leading a 59-nation diplomatic coalition against the socialist dictator of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro.”
Suddenly, the House speaker applauded. Mr. Trump then introduced “the true and legitimate president of Venezuela: Juan Guaido.” Mrs. Pelosi rose from her chair, smiled and put her hands together for the tall, dark and handsome Latin American in the House gallery. When Mr. Trump said, “All Americans are united with Venezuelans in their righteous struggle for freedom!” she again stood up and clapped
I wondered: Was Bernie Sanders, the socialist senator and perhaps leading candidate for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, applauding, too? Or was he sitting on his hands and scowling? It turns out he was in New Hampshire, viewing the event on television.
However, Keane Bhatt, one of his policy advisers, tweeted: “There is no better distillation of Washington, D.C. than a State of the Union in which Nancy Pelosi-having just led the impeachment of Donald ‘All Roads Lead to Putin’ Trump-twice joins in a rousing standing ovation of Juan Guaido, Trump’s appointed ‘president’ of Venezuela.”
There’s more. A year ago, Mr. Sanders told Univision’s Jorge Ramos that he didn’t recognize Mr. Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate leader. Asked whether he regarded Nicolas Maduro as a dictator, he refused to say. That prompted Rep. Donna Shalala, a Miami Democrat, to charge that Mr. Sanders “has demonstrated again that he does not understand this situation.”
On the campaign trail, the Brooklyn-born Vermonter likes to say he’s a Scandinavian-style socialist. But in 2003, he signed a letter in support of Mr. Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez, a self-proclaimed Marxist and comrade of Cuba’s Fidel Castro, whom Mr. Sanders also has praised. He’s called Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua’s far-left leader, “an impressive guy.” And of course in 1988, newlyweds Bernie and Jane honeymooned in the Soviet Union.

Palestinians’ Hopes Hang on Transformation of the World, Themselves
Hazem Saghieh/Asharq Al Awsat/February 12/2020
It would not be an overstatement to say that the “deal of the century” is recognition of Israel as a forerunner in cruelty. For this world, as it seems today, merely imitates and continues to imitate Israel, and has succeeded, to a large extent, at following in its footsteps. In this sense, Tel Aviv’s successes are not dissonant: they are, unfortunately, the face of a tide rising across the world.
So long as America has a decisive impact on drawing the picture of world, its mounting bias in favor of Israel since Eisenhower was in power, is not marginal. With Donald Trump, this bias reaches total compatibility. However, globally, it is not a simple thing for Israel to combine brotherhood with America, friendship with Russia, mutual openness with China and India, and the limitation of the damage to its relationship with Europe, not to mention the progress, some of it major, being made in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
Nevertheless, the issue is not one of political and diplomatic relationships. It’s deeper than that. To a large extent, the state of our world is what explains the above described diplomatic and political relationships. For when the world puts its stakes behind the Jewish state against justice for Palestine, it recognizes its preference for its example, its fundamental nature of withholding rights. The student, in this sense, is telling his teacher: I have become like you.
Let's, for a moment, survey briefly some of the prominent signs of cruelty in our times: nationalist-centered populism in most parts of the world. Islamophobia cuts across nations, regimes and ideologies (in addition to an expansion of anti-Semitism). Collective expulsions of populations and “Guantanamist” exceptions are increasing. Politics has become condensed to war against terrorism that takes the good for the crimes of the bad.
Even states themselves are faced with a tough test: during the Cold War, the unity of weak states was protected by global polarization, which guaranteed their continuity, while they desperately need now to prove that they are worthy of survival. A country like Syria (which once was home to 25 million people) became, in the midst of the “survival of the fittest” uproar, an Iranian- Turkish- Russian- Israeli battleground, turning it into a wasteland. Bashar Al-Assad was the tool for implementing this transformation.
Within the democratic world, there is a growing openness to far-right parties, in Italy and Austria for example. Even in Germany, we find, in the small state of Thuringia, a dangerous precedent: the Christian Democrats stood alongside the 'Alternative for Germany' against Angela Merkel’s wishes. As for the countries of Middle and Eastern Europe, which witnessed revolutions that defeated the Soviet empire, their situation, with regard to nationalism, populism, and migrants is much worse.
It is true that globalized humanitarian sensitivity is growing in the big cities of advanced countries, especially among the youths. However, it is also true that this sensitivity expresses itself mostly through repulsion of horrific scenes and changing the TV channel so as not to see it. It is the behavior of the homo ludicus more than of those who to change the world. Is it not remarkable, for example, that we have not witnessed a popular or militant movement against nuclear armament similar to the one which took place during the Cold War, or similar to half of it, or even a quarter of it?
In contrast, we have the terrifying implications of what Myanmar witnessed, as its significance surpasses the borders of that Asian country: Aung San Suu, who had been the shining star of democracy, human rights and resistance to dictatorship and militarism, herself became the defender of the genocidal campaign launched by the military against the Muslim Rohingya, 750 thousand of whom fled the country. The rationale behind this was that democracy itself became nationalistic: it is a privilege for us and not a right for others.
Is there not something of an Israeli precedent to all of this? Let us just remember a few headlines: the uprooting of 'natives', discrimination against citizens, Netanyahu’s populist leadership… Even a former prime minister like Ehud Olmert, who spent more than half of his political life with Likud, is now warning against Israel’s transformation into an apartheid state.
If this perception of Israeli precedence is correct, resisting Israel becomes a far more important issue than a car-ramming or an explosion in a coffee shop or a bus. Also, the medicines of the past (resistance and armed struggle…) cannot provide the cure, and only provide the justifications and opportunities required by the Syrian and Iranian regimes who only fish in troubled waters.
Let’s be honest with ourselves about the fact that the viable options are difficult and narrow, especially with the poor objective position that the Palestinian issue has in the regional and world balance of power, however way these balances are seen. With that, what is left for us and the Palestinians are two connected bets: for the democratic world to witness a movement that corrects its democracy and its capitalism, in such a way that nationalistic and populist tendencies retreat in favor of humanistic and progressive values like liberalism, social democracy, and humanitarian intervention, and that this transformation finds reception in Israel, which will only happen when the Israelis are convinced, in light of a different global atmosphere, that they have to choose between racism and democracy. As for the Palestinians, right-holders, their hope is to align themselves with this atmosphere: moving away from identity politics and corruption, having peaceful resistance prevail, and decisively supporting the right-holders who resemble them in other countries. As for their unity, it certainly takes precedence over any other consideration.
This talk seems preachy? Maybe, but preaching is what is left.

Coronavirus: Death of Dr. Li Wenliang Rocks China
Gordon G. Chang/Gatestone Institute/February 12/2020
[T]he disease ravaging the country could be, as is now said, China's "Chernobyl," the cover up of a disaster eventually leading to the downfall of the regime.
Many analysts expect Beijing to stimulate the economy, but stimulus works only if there is underlying economic activity. With much of the economy shut down, there is not much to stimulate. A dead economy is an existential crisis for a regime whose primary basis of legitimacy is the continual delivery of prosperity.
The boldness of recent demands shows that, due to the outbreak, the Chinese people are starting to lose their fear of Xi and the Communist Party. Rudd and Chinese propagandists are saying the Party will weather this crisis, but when people are no longer afraid, anything can happen.
"If they do not give us an explanation, we will not give up," said Lu Shuyun, the mother of Dr. Li Wenliang, demanding to know why Wuhan police harassed him while he was trying to save patients.
In this contest, bet on the mother. After all, she has about 1.4 billion angry people on her side.
Dr. Li Wenliang, who died from the coronavirus on January 31, had been reprimanded by the Chinese government, with seven other doctors, for warning of the outbreak in December. He was accused of "spreading false rumors" and "disrupting social order" and, for his brave efforts, was briefly detained and interrogated.
On hearing the news that Dr. Li Wenliang had died from the coronavirus on January 31, people in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, under strict quarantine, opened their windows and cried. Others took to the streets to blow whistles for the whistleblower. Grief and anger, expressed from China's streets and balconies and social media platforms, has reached almost unprecedented levels in recent days.
Li, reprimanded with seven other doctors for warning of the outbreak in December, was accused of "spreading false rumors" and "disrupting social order" and, for his brave efforts, was briefly detained, interrogated, and forced to sign an "admonishment notice." Li undoubtedly contracted the virus treating patients at Wuhan Central Hospital.
The first official announcement of his death, on Thursday night, sparked online outrage. State media, perhaps to mollify public opinion, then said he was alive but critically ill. When he was pronounced dead for a second time, the announcement was followed by a white-hot uproar. Chinese censors scrubbed millions of social media postings supporting the young doctor. Li was 34 years old.
Some say that as memory of the disease wilts in the heat of the upcoming summer, the Chinese political system will be able to resist change. On the contrary, the disease ravaging the country could be, as is now said, China's "Chernobyl," the cover up of a disaster eventually leading to the downfall of the regime.
Firmly in the no-Chernobyl camp is former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. "Xi wields near-absolute political power over China's Marxist-Leninist state," he wrote in a February 8 column. It is "certain," he assures us, "that the crisis, once resolved, will not change how China is governed in the future."
Rudd's argument is that Xi's priorities, which he calls "ten sets of concentric circles emanating from the party center," will remain the same. Foremost among those priorities is maintaining the country's political system. As Rudd, now president of the Asia Society Policy Institute, notes, "Since coming to power in 2012, Xi has strengthened the Communist Party's hold on power and developed a comprehensive national agenda from which all else — including domestic crisis management — must follow."
Is Xi that strong? He has defied expectations and accumulated power not seen since the days of Deng Xiaoping, Mao's crafty successor. Some analysts compare his position to that of Mao himself. Politically, Xi seems to have "nine lives."
He is almost certainly laying the groundwork for having his adversary, Premier Li Keqiang, take the blame when things go wrong. Li, most notably, has been put in charge of coordinating Beijing's response to the disease.
On January 26, the Communist Party announced that Li would be chairing China's task force, the Central Leading Small Group for Work to Counter the New Coronavirus Infection Pneumonia Epidemic. Xi has also borrowed a tactic from Mao and retreated from the spotlight by largely disappearing from the official media during the last week of January.
Yet, as clever as Xi has been, there are reasons why he cannot escape responsibility. First, his great power brings with it accountability, and he seems to realize there are occasions when he must acknowledge his primacy. In the fight against the epidemic, Xi said in a January 28 meeting in Beijing with World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, "I, myself have been directing and arranging the work."
Second, the Chinese economy, due to the epidemic and other reasons, looks as if it is contracting, not only quarter-to-quarter but year-to-year. Chinese oil demand is now down 20% from this time last year. Many factories and stores remain shut, long after the end of the Lunar New Year holiday. The spring session of the Canton Fair, scheduled for April, has been cancelled. Airlines have cut flights to China; many routes have been indefinitely suspended.
This emergency comes as the economy was already slowing, in reality growing about 2% before the epidemic, and while defaults were taking place.
Many analysts expect Beijing to stimulate the economy, but stimulus works only if there is underlying economic activity. With much of the economy shut down, there is not much to stimulate. A dead economy is an existential crisis for a regime whose primary basis of legitimacy is the continual delivery of prosperity.
Third, the Chinese people, as evident from the reaction to the death of Li Wenliang, are not going to be swayed by Xi's internal Communist Party maneuverings. For one thing, local officials have blown Beijing's cover. On January 27, Zhou Xianwang, the mayor of Wuhan, publicly said he could not disclose the coronavirus epidemic to the public because he was waiting for authorization from higher-ups. That charge made no one in Beijing look good.
The Chinese people, partly as a result of Zhou's finger-pointing, are furious, and unlike earlier episodes of Beijing malfeasance, they are now talking about fundamental issues and demanding basic rights. The refrain now heard across China is, "We want freedom of speech!" People in that stricken society, like those seeking freedom in Hong Kong, have adopted as their anthem the politically impactful song from Les Miserables, "Do You Hear the People Sing?"
The death of Dr. Li comes after a Tsinghua University law professor, Xu Zhangrun, last week publicly called Xi Jinping "not very smart" and asked him to step down. At about the same time, Xu and eight others signed an open letter to the National People's Congress, titled "The Right to Freedom of Speech Starts Today."
The boldness of recent demands shows that, due to the outbreak, the Chinese people are starting to lose their fear of Xi and the Communist Party. Rudd and Chinese propagandists are saying the Party will weather this crisis, but when people are no longer afraid, anything can happen.
When people lose fear, they either think they can do anything or they simply do not care about the consequences. That is often the moment when mighty-looking political systems crumble.
Xi must be bracing himself for the early summer, after the virus peaks in April and May in major population centers outside Hubei province, the current epicenter. Then, the Chinese people will in earnest talk about who is to blame.
Right now, Xi is focused more on controlling the national narrative than in ending the disease. The composition of the nine-member Central Leading Small Group, described above, is particularly disturbing. There is only one public health official on the roster, which is heavy with political hacks and propaganda officials. The Party propaganda czar, Wang Huning, is vice chair. "Maintaining the integrity of Xi Jinping's dictatorial rule is evidently the Leading Group's primary focus," China watcher Charles Burton of Ottawa's Macdonald-Laurier Institute told Gatestone.
Xi Jinping, however, has already lost the battle over the narrative. His waging a propaganda effort hinders his ability to eradicate the disease. Secrecy and the suppression of information never help.
In any event, one woman is not going to allow the authorities to suppress information for long. "If they do not give us an explanation, we will not give up," said Lu Shuyun, the mother of Dr. Li Wenliang, demanding to know why Wuhan police harassed him while he was trying to save patients.
Can one woman stand against strongman Xi Jinping? In this contest, bet on the mother. After all, she has about 1.4 billion angry people on her side.
*Gordon G. Chang is the author of The Coming Collapse of China and a Gatestone Institute Distinguished Senior Fellow.
© 2020 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Russia's 'Wagner Group' Doing Its Dirty Work?
Lawrence A. Franklin/Gatestone Institute/February 12/2020
The Kremlin under President Vladimir Putin still manages to exploit opportunities in Africa and Latin America that threaten to diminish U.S. influence. To this end -- to extend its power to regions beyond its borders and limited resources -- Moscow established the Wagner Group.
The Wagner Group masquerades as a private commercial enterprise, but it is actually a mercenary arm of the Russian Defense Ministry, run by a long-time Putin associate, the oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Putin has pledged support to rebel leader General Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army (LNA), in his effort to overthrow the UN-recognized government in Tripoli.
One motivation for Putin's support for Haftar's rebel army may be Moscow's desire to gain access to Libya's oil wells, almost all of which are under Haftar's control.
The Wagner Group provides Putin with an aggressive force to safeguard his interests, while allowing him plausible deniability in the event of a confrontation with Washington.... One hopes the White House is listening.
The Wagner Group, a mercenary arm of Russia's Defense Ministry, provides President Vladimir Putin with an aggressive force to safeguard his interests, while allowing him plausible deniability in the event of a confrontation with Washington. Pictured: Putin at the military Patriot Park in Kubinka, Russia, on September 19, 2018.
Although Russia is no longer the superpower it was during the days of the Soviet Union, when it posed a genuine threat to U.S. interests around the world, the Kremlin under President Vladimir Putin still manages to exploit opportunities in Africa and Latin America that threaten to diminish U.S. influence. To this end -- to extend its power to regions beyond its borders and limited resources -- Moscow established the Wagner Group.
The Wagner Group masquerades as a private commercial enterprise, but it is actually a mercenary arm of the Russian Defense Ministry, run by a long-time Putin associate, the oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin. A paramilitary organization that enjoys technical support from the Russian Army -- receiving armor, artillery and rocket systems -- the Wagner Group may receive direct orders from the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (GRU), the institutional successor to the old Soviet KGB spy organization, in which Putin was a career officer.
Many Wagner Group operatives are former members of Russian Spetsnaz (special forces) units. The founder of the Wagner Group, Dmitry Utkin, is a retired Lieutenant Colonel in a Spetsnaz unit attached to the GRU. Utkin, in fact, along with several of his comrades-in-arms, were among the "little green men" who invaded Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in February 2014.
The Wagner Group's paramilitary troops receive training from Russian Army drill instructors at the Molkino camp in southwest Russia. Following Moscow's annexation of the Crimea, many Wagner Group operatives moved on to the pro-Russian Ukrainian enclaves of Donetsk and Luhansk, where they continue to fight alongside ethnically Russian Ukrainian separatists.
It is in Syria, however, where the Wagner Group achieved its greatest notoriety. Prigozhin, with Putin's support, orchestrated an official arrangement according to which Wagner Group assets would assist Syrian President Bashar al-Assad regain control of the country from rebel groups and al Qaeda and ISIS terrorists. The Wagner Group's agreement with Damascus eventually resulted in thousands of Russian paramilitary forces being deployed to Syria.
Wagner Group troops fought valiantly against ISIS, helping Damascus regain vast swaths of Syrian territory. All the same, Wagner Group field commanders, perhaps over-confident after their battlefield successes, overreached. On February 7, 2018, they attacked a base held by a joint Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)-U.S. military contingent, which was guarding a natural gas field in Deir-es-Zor near the village of Qasham. When U.S. pilots employed their AC-130 ground-attack gunships against them in that operation, Wagner Group units were decimated.
Subsequently, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed that hundreds of Russians had been killed by the U.S. in the battle. After this defeat by American troops, Wagner Group fighters joined the Syrian regime's efforts to reclaim Idlib, the last of its territory in rebel hands.
Of equal, if not greater, significance are the Wagner Group's lower-profile deployments on Moscow's behalf – such as in Venezuela, where its forces provided security for the dictator, Nicolas Maduro, and in Sudan, where it may have helped prolong the genocidal regime of the since-ousted ruler, Omar al-Bashir, by coaching his enforcers in anti-government protest-suppression.
Nevertheless, the Wagner Group survived al-Bashir's ouster, and is now hoping to finalize contracts with Sudanese petroleum and gold companies. The group's interest in securing shares of client countries' raw materials is also part of the reason for ensconcing itself in Libya, currently still undergoing a civil war.
Putin has pledged support to rebel leader General Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army (LNA), in his effort to overthrow the UN-recognized government in Tripoli.
One motivation for Putin's support for Haftar's rebel army may be Moscow's desire to gain access to Libya's oil wells, almost all of which are under Haftar's control.
Some reports suggest that the Wagner Group has dispatched hundreds of recruits to Libya, and that the Russian Defense Ministry has been delivering spare parts for Russian warplanes and helicopters to Haftar's air force.
The Kremlin also has not hesitated to assist the Wagner Group to interfere in the election process of at least two other African countries, the Comoros and Madagascar. In the Comoros, Wagner Group activists sought to sully the island's close diplomatic relations with France. In Madagascar, reports suggest, several Russian businessmen associated with the Wagner Group's CEO seem to have supported the candidacy of Andry Rajoelina by bribing several first-round candidates to drop out of the race. Shortly after assuming office, President Rajoelina openly welcomed the Wagner Group's continued presence in Madagascar.
The ideology that binds the Wagner Group with the Russian state is ethnic-Slavic exceptionalism. Putin's not-so-secret embrace of the group, however, goes beyond ethnic identity. The Wagner Group provides Putin with an aggressive force to safeguard his interests, while allowing him plausible deniability in the event of a confrontation with Washington. Nonetheless, senior members of the U.S. military remain concerned about the group's involvement in sensitive locations around the world. One hopes the White House is listening.
*Dr. Lawrence A. Franklin was the Iran Desk Officer for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. He also served on active duty with the U.S. Army and as a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve.
© 2020 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Demonizing Defense Lawyers: The True Road to Tyranny
Alan M. Dershowitz/Gatestone Institute/February 12/2020
I said that if a president did something entirely legal, with a mixed motive that included his desire to be re-elected, that mixed motive could not turn a legal act into an impeachable offense. I also said that a good motive could not turn a criminal act into a lawful one.
Those lawyers were demonized as I am being today. I have a thick skin, developed over many years of defending controversial and unpopular clients and causes. But I am concerned that young lawyers will be deterred from representing such clients and causes for fear it will destroy their careers. I am hearing that from young lawyers and students.
Demonizing defense lawyers for representing politically incorrect clients and causes is the true road to tyranny.
I grew up in the age of McCarthyism, when lawyers who represented suspected communists were blamed for the alleged sins of their clients. I never expected to see a return to that benighted time, especially by self-proclaimed progressives. But it's back.
I appeared on the Senate floor as constitutional counsel against impeachment, not as a regular, full time counsel for US President Donald J. Trump. As I said in my opening remarks: I come not as a partisan but to " defend the constitution" from partisan misuse. I laid out the constitutional arguments in an academic manner.
Instead of simply disagreeing with my scholarship or offering alternative interpretations of the operative constitutional terms, I was personally demonized, my motives questioned, and my integrity impugned. Even my qualifications as an expert in constitutional law were challenged, despite my having taught courses and seminars, written numerous books and articles and litigated large numbers of cases involving the constitution for more than half a century. None of this would have happened if I had appeared in the same capacity but in favor of Trump's impeachment (or against the impeachment of a Democratic President).
This hypocrisy of this double-standard — by political leaders, media pundits, academics and ordinary folks — is shameful, but done not only without shame but with self-righteousness. It was similar during the McCarthy era of my youth. Now as then, the "cause" — anti-Trumpism today, and anti-communism back then — were seen as so righteous that any means, no matter how unfair, is justified in achieving the end. Outright wilful lying is justified by anti-Trump zealots in the interest of getting rid of Trump.
Consider the way Democratic leaders and the anti-Trump media deliberate distorted what I said in response to a question about quid pro quo. I said that if a president did something entirely legal, with a mixed motive that included his desire to be re-elected, that mixed motive could not turn a legal act into an impeachable offense. I also said that a good motive could not turn a criminal act into a lawful one. These self-evident statements were turned into the lie that I had claimed a president could do anything — even kill his opponent or tamper with voting machines — as long as these felonies were motivated, supposedly in the public interest, by a desire to be re-elected. A CNN talking head, Joe Lockhart, said that what I advocated was comparable to the genocides committed by Hitler and Stalin.
These liars knew full well that what they were saying was demonstrably false but they also knew that if you repeat a lie often enough — on television or on the Senate floor — it will be believed, especially by those who want to believe it. And this lie has been repeated — by the anti-Trump media and Democratic leaders— so often that it is now taken as an incontrovertible truth by many. As a result, I have been demonized by many on the left who refuse to understand why a liberal Democrat would defend the constitutional rights of a controversial Republican president. This is the mirror image of the McCarthyism of my youth, when many on the right could not understand why anti-communist centrist lawyers would defend the rights of communists.
Those lawyers were demonized as I am being today. I have a thick skin, developed over many years of defending controversial and unpopular clients and causes. But I am concerned that young lawyers will be deterred from representing such clients and causes for fear it will destroy their careers. I am hearing that from young lawyers and students.
Demonizing defense lawyers for representing politically incorrect clients and causes is the true road to tyranny.
*Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law Emeritus at Harvard Law School and author of the book, Guilt by Accusation: The Challenge of Proving Innocence in the Age of #MeToo, Skyhorse Publishing, November 2019. He is the Jack Roth Charitable Foundation Fellow at Gatestone Institute.
© 2020 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Idlib exposes deep fissures among the stakeholders in Syria's future
Raghida Dergham/The National/February 12/2020
As the civil war continues into its 10th year, even those in agreement over the Astana Process distrust each other
These days the stakeholders in the Syrian peace process, also known as the Astana Process, are finding themselves in a state of mutual distrust and regional competition.
As the Syrian civil war continues into its 10th year, President Bashar Al Assad remains vital for Russian diplomacy, with his regime key to legitimising its presence in Syria. From the Russian viewpoint, Moscow’s military and strategic deployment in the country five years ago came at the invitation of Damascus – unlike, say, the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003. But there is no doubt that Russia’s military achievements in Syria, which form the basis of the restoration of its prestige, have also provided it near-permanent strategic bases in the Mediterranean.
Yet President Vladimir Putin cannot be absolutely at ease; after all, there is always the possibility of Syria turning into a quagmire for the Russians, who do not trust US intentions – or even those of their partners, Iran and Turkey. Indeed, Russia’s relationship with Turkey was never one of trust anyway. It has always been marred by doubts about the latter’s intentions, integrity and ambitions. As a result, clashes that broke out between both players in Syria earlier this week were to be expected.
However, the worst could be yet to come because – despite their co-operation in Syria – Mr Putin’s project is diametrically opposed to that of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. For his part, Mr Putin considers Syrian rebels, including those backed by Mr Erdogan, to be part of a terrorist nexus that threatens Russian ambitions. But Russia does not want to clash with Turkey either, given the continued need for its co-operation in other matters, including the conflict in Libya, where they are backing opposing parties. For this reason, it is likely that the two sides could still strike deals – in Syria and other parts of the region.
Moscow is more accommodating of Iran. It perceives Tehran as a junior partner, albeit a problematic one, due in large part to its relationship with Israel. The latter struck Iranian positions near Damascus – in the first such attack of its kind since the US assassination of Quds Force Commander Qassem Suleimani in Baghdad last month – thereby indicating that it intends to resume containment of Tehran’s ambitions in Syria.
Iran, meanwhile, is paying heed to recent developments in Washington. It had bet on the impeachment of US President Donald Trump – as well as on the Democrats’ return to the White House next year. But it is now less likely that the hardliners in Tehran will prevail over the moderates who have sought to be more accommodating towards the Americans.
Under pressure at home and abroad while faced with an economic crisis, Tehran has chosen to de-escalate tensions in the region for now. It has reined in its partners in various theatres of influence, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and the various militia groups in Iraq – thanks to popular unrest against its projects in both countries.
Sources close to Tehran, however, say that the leadership sees the current state of affairs in Lebanon as favourable to its interests following the formation of a Hezbollah-backed government in Beirut. And despite the economic crisis in Iran, the regime intends to give Hezbollah a cash injection while reinforcing its support. The same sources state that Iran is doing this despite having been forced to divert funds from its proxy war Yemen.
The Iranian leadership is trying to forecast Mr Trump’s next move following his acquittal by the US Senate, given that it no longer hopes for a European rescue operation that could help it evade sanctions. This, even as it continues to publicly give Europe “the last chance” to act before withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal and, perhaps, even the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
Troubled by the prospect of Mr Trump’s re-election, Iran’s options now are to either escalate tensions – which will come at too great a cost for it – or negotiate a new agreement with the US that would include curbs on its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, as well as on its incursions in Arab countries.
Circling back to Syria, Tehran is also facing difficulties in its partnership with Russia. There is coherence as far as their alliance on the ground and their support for the Assam regime are concerned. According to Russian sources, Moscow values its relationship with Tehran and considers it an essential partner in the fight against terror, as Russia defines it. It also believes defeating ISIS and the Nusra Front in Syria can be partially credited to Iran and Hezbollah.
However, there are disagreements between the two countries in the context of their relations with Israel, as well as divergences between their projects in Syria. The trajectory of the developing relations between Russia and Gulf countries, as well as Egypt, also worries Iran. Russia is not keen on the Iranian Crescent project in the region – a point of convergence with US and Israeli interests.
Speaking of US-Russia competition, Moscow has consistently raised doubts about a complete US pull-out of its troops from Syria. It believes that “continued US presence hinders the progress of normalising the situation in Syria”, according to a source familiar with Russian policy. Therefore, “the possibility of an agreement with the Americans is low to non-existent – although a clash between Russia and the US in Syria is out of the question”.
*Raghida Dergham is the founder and executive chairwoman of the Beirut Institute

Iran goes to the polls amid domestic and regional tensions
Talmiz Ahmad/Arab News/February 12/2020
Campaigning for Iran’s elections to the 290-member Majlis, scheduled for Feb. 21, officially began on Wednesday. Iran’s electoral scene reflects the deep political divisions in the country, with four broad political groups vying for power.
On the “left” are the reformers, who back openness and accountability in governance, the restructuring of political and economic institutions, and robust engagement with Western powers. On the “right” are the hard-liners, who uphold the values of the Islamic revolution and the sweeping powers of the supreme leader, and reject interaction with the West, fearing that the pristine principles of the revolution would get diluted — hence, they also refer to themselves as “principlists.” Between these groups are the “moderates” on the left and the “conservatives” on the right.
These divisions are indicative of orientation and tendency and do not reflect a simplistic divide between “reformists” and “hard-liners,” as favored by several commentators. Each broad group has several subgroups representing coalitions, often centered on a prominent leader. All these groups and factions are subordinate to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who, as the ultimate guardian of the revolution, wields supreme political and security authority in the country.
Ahead of the forthcoming election, Iran’s convoluted electoral system has already stepped in to ensure a sweeping triumph for the conservatives. The Guardian Council has rejected the candidature of 9,000 out of 14,000 candidates, including 90 sitting members, most of whom were either reformers or moderates. It later reinstated 2,000 of them, but this still means that nearly half the candidates are excluded from the elections.
After the 2016 elections, the Majlis had 41 percent reformists, 29 percent conservatives and 28 percent independents. Now, it is likely to be dominated by conservatives and hard-liners. Observers believe there will be no competition for 158 seats.
An unhappy President Hassan Rouhani has criticized this deliberate exclusion of his supporters, saying “people favor political pluralism in elections,” and the people should be “free to choose and elect.” He has reminded Khamenei that “nobody is above the law and the people.” Khamenei has said that Iran’s elections are the “healthiest” and has insisted that voting is “about the dignity of the establishment and the security of the nation.”
This public debate is largely between the leaders; the people remain aloof. Iran’s election campaign has commenced amid widespread popular disgruntlement and apathy. Voters who had enthusiastically supported reformist candidates just four years ago and then gave a thumping majority to Rouhani a year later seem determined to sit at home on election day. This reflects their dissatisfaction with the government and, more seriously, with the political scenario that has sapped their national wealth and self-confidence, and brought them to the edge of a region-wide conflict.
Voter indifference is largely the result of disillusionment with the Rouhani government’s failure to deliver on its promise of economic benefits following the successful finalization of the nuclear agreement with world powers in 2015. Prospects of economic prosperity and political peace withered away when Donald Trump entered the White House. He spearheaded the US’ withdrawal from the nuclear agreement and the reinstatement of sanctions on Iran, and adopted an aggressive posture that aggravated regional tensions, culminating in the assassination of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani on Jan. 3.
As a result of the US sanctions, Iran’s economy contracted by 9.5 percent in 2019, inflation is 35 percent, and oil exports have gone from 2.1 million barrels per day in 2016 to about half a million at present. Economic outlook remains dire: The World Bank projects zero growth this year and just 1 percent next year. Popular anger in response to the combination of economic difficulties and governmental incompetence led to widespread agitations in November last year after fuel subsidies were reduced. Then, 200 demonstrators were killed and several thousand arrested.
Iran’s convoluted electoral system has already stepped in to ensure a sweeping triumph for the conservatives.
Later, the government’s attempt to conceal that state forces had brought down a Ukrainian civilian aircraft, mistaking it for an American missile, enraged the populace once again. Thousands of people took to the streets in an outburst of frustration at the chicanery of their leaders and the hopelessness of their situation. Not surprisingly, Iranian commentators see Trump as a “divine gift” to the hard-liners.
The outlook for Iran and the region remains grim. With the US’ aggressive posture and the negative economic outlook, Iran’s leaders, backed by a right-wing Majlis, could increasingly distance themselves from the nuclear agreement and see confrontation with the US and periodic acts of violence against American interests, as retaliation for Soleimani's killing, as the only option available to them. This will, in turn, evoke a hard response from the US president, who is facing his own election later this year and is anxious to maintain his “tough guy” image before his core constituency.
The absence of any long-term vision that defines US interests and shapes its strategy vis-a-vis Iran and the Middle East will ensure that these acts of mutual assault will cause an upward spiral of violence that could consume the region.
*Talmiz Ahmad is an author and former Indian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE. He holds the Ram Sathe Chair for International Studies at the Symbiosis International University, Pune, India.

New UK ambassador to US well qualified for pivotal role
Alistair Burt/Arab News/February 12/2020
The news that Prime Minister Boris Johnson had appointed Dame Karen Pierce as the UK’s new ambassador to the US was greeted with acclaim by her Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) colleagues and, I am sure, with much approval from her diplomatic colleagues worldwide. The appointment builds upon an already stellar career, which has seen Pierce most recently hold key positions such as the political director at the FCO and the UK’s permanent representative to the UN, first in Geneva and then in New York. With these posts, particularly the latter with the UN Security Council, she wrestled first-hand with the tragedies of Syria and Yemen, the complications of current Middle East and North African issues, and the frustrations of a Security Council too often crippled by vetoes to be truly effective. Nonetheless, she made her mark in all of them as a fearless and skilled diplomatic force.
She will need to continue in the same vein. The context of her appointment sees the UK’s relationship with the US as difficult as it has been for decades, at perhaps the time it needs to be the most secure. Both countries are in the process of political upheaval, which has much to do with their respective leaders. President Donald Trump’s remorseless take-no-prisoners attitude has left most pundits gasping for air since 2016, with no let-up in sight. I detect little evidence that he wears a chapeau branded “Make Great Britain Great Again” as he ponders his part of the special relationship. He is met by an iconoclast of a different stamp, who has taken the UK out of the cover of the EU and will be coping with the forces released, many of which will not be immediately clear. The first and most obvious place will be trade talks, where those beyond politics hope for speedy conclusions that favor everyone — which cannot be, so hard bargaining will take place.
Pierce will play a key role. She will promote the UK to wider America, well aware of the depth of our relationship in intelligence, defense, security, business and people. These broader common interests go beyond the here today, gone tomorrow of politics, but she will need all her diplomatic skills to ensure the best possible relationship between the two administrations and their respective leaders.
Two things should be noted. Firstly, she will be conscious of the termination of her predecessor’s tenure, when leaked emails revealed Sir Kim Darroch’s unflattering opinion of personalities in Washington. The chance of her being intimidated by the affair or the president’s response is precisely nil, and she will communicate her opinion with customary honesty, albeit more securely. Secondly, she will need to disabuse some commentators of alleged similarities between president and prime minister. Johnson is no Trump, and can be expected to stand his ground in support of UK interests. But he will not do so simply to make a point. The contrast between a prime minister bringing his divided country together — reaching out to his opponents to urge a sense of unity from the weariness of the last few years of division — and a president who revels in polarization and sees it as a necessary backdrop to his drive for re-election is clear. The British are smarter in not always seeing negotiations, or politics, as a zero-sum game.
Persuading the US to once again act in concert with others, to shore up the international order, would be a success indeed.
A standard bilateral relationship is of little interest to others, but the relative positions of the US and UK in world affairs, and the tables around which they sit, add significance. Perhaps the UK ambassador’s greatest achievement could be in using her years of multilateral experience to persuade Washington that reckless disregard of international norms and structures has a very short half-life, and that there is much more for it and the world to gain by turning to strengthening such processes rather than weakening them. From climate change to Libya and the Middle East peace process to the seizure of territory, the architecture painstakingly built on the back of the tragedies of the 20th century is proving unable to bear the burdens, as its foundations are chipped away by those prepared only to work within them when it suits their own interests. Persuading the US to once again act in concert with others, to shore up the international order, would be a success indeed.
To acknowledge the achievement that Pierce is also the first woman to secure the position of UK ambassador to the US — as she was a similar pioneer in a number of her roles — is not an afterthought. She joins a small number of others in Washington, including Arab envoys, reflecting the need for London to do more catching up. But she is there because her personality, her extensive knowledge of the world and its workings, and her wit and judgment qualify her uniquely for such a pivotal role at a crucial time. A revived partnership could turn out to be special for more than ourselves. I hope both president and prime minister listen well.
*Alistair Burt is a former UK Member of Parliament who has twice held ministerial positions in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office — as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State from 2010 to 2013 and as Minister of State for the Middle East from 2017 to 2019. Twitter: @AlistairBurtUK