February 14.2020
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For today
Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness
Second Letter to Timothy 02/14-26/:"Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth. Avoid profane chatter, for it will lead people into more and more impiety, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth by claiming that the resurrection has already taken place. They are upsetting the faith of some. But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are his’, and, ‘Let everyone who calls on the name of the Lord turn away from wickedness.’In a large house there are utensils not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for special use, some for ordinary. All who cleanse themselves of the things I have mentioned will become special utensils, dedicated and useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work.Shun youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth, and that they may escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on February 13-14/2020
Lebanon PM pledges not to run in next election/The National/February 13/2020
President chairs financial, economic meeting at Baabda Palace
Lebanon’s President: Anyone who Stole from Treasury Will be Taken to Court
Aoun chairs Cabinet session at Baabda palace
Aoun Urges Ministers to Devise Emergency Plan, PM Asks Them Not to Run in Elections
Baabda Meeting Convenes over Financial, Economic Crisis
Lebanon debt plan may need 70% haircut, 50% currency drop, Capital Economics estimates
Diab Says Hariri's Murder was 'Major Crime against Lebanon's Future'
Diab on 15th commemoration of martyrdom of PM Hariri: His assassination is a major crime against the future of Lebanon
Diab, ALI delegation tackle industrial situation
Berri, Saadeh, Hmayed waive their rights against those who assaulted MPs prior to confidence session
Central Bank Cuts Rates to Ease Lebanon's Crisis
Report: Aoun, FPM ‘Not Invited’ to Hariri’s Commemoration Ceremony
Report: Hariri Seeks New ‘Agreements’
IMF Says New Lebanon Government Requested Advice
Protesters Rally in Solidarity with Journalist Zbeeb after Assault
Rafik Hariri’s Commemoration Highlights Fall of Settlement with Aoun
Lebanon’s Diab Left Alone in Defending his Government
Wazni from Baabda: Circular will be issued shortly on banks' dealings with depositors
Activists stage sit in outside Interior Ministry in solidarity with Zbeeb
Hariri receives Mundis
Young men gather outside Karami's residence in Tripoli
Falha on World Radio Day: Ministry of Information is a platform for everyone
Five detainees released in Sidon
Lebanon struggles to honour Rafik Hariri's legacy/The National/February 13/2020
Analysis/Israeli-Arab Nonaggression Pact? Don't Celebrate Yet/Zvi Bar'el/Haaretz/February 13/2020
The Deal of the Century and the fate of the Palestinians/Manal Makkieh/Annahar/February 13/2020

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 13-14/2020
Syria’s air defenses down missiles from Israel
IDF appoints general to head-up new Iran Command as threat escalates
Iran warns it will strike US and Israel if they make the ‘slightest error’
US Senate passes Iran war powers resolution to restrain Trump
US seeks to pivot to Turkey-first policy on Syria
Turkey Slams Syria's 'Hypocrisy' over Armenian Genocide Move
Pompeo Says Iran Must Accede To International Financial Regulations
Trump’s peace plan and the Gulf Arab States’ reaction
U.S. Announces Partial Taliban Truce amid Signs Deal is Near
Rocket Attack Hits North Iraq Base Hosting U.S. Troops
Pound Hit as UK Finance Minister Quits
Pentagon Shifts $3.8 Billion to Mexico Border Wall Construction
Venezuela's Guaido Defends Sanctions against Maduro Regime
Sudan Signs Deal with Families of Victims of USS Cole Bombing
New Clashes in Libya despite U.N. Ceasefire Call
Breaking: US Navy intercepts 'Iranian weapons' bound for Houthis

Titles For The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 13-14/2020
How Donald Trump Can Max-Out 'Maximum Pressure' on Iran/Michael Rubin/The National Interest/February 13/2020
Ireland Brings New Twist to Populism/Lionel Laurent/Bloomberg/February, 13/2020
What's Powering the US Economy?/Noah Smith/Bloomberg/February, 13/
Iran, Not Saudi Arabia, Is to Blame for Yemen's Humanitarian Crisis/Con Coughlin/Gatestone Institute/February 13/2020
Qassem Soleimani: Iran's Latest 'King of Martyrs'?/Denis MacEoin/Gatestone Institute/February 13/2020
How Far is Turkey Really Willing to Go in Idlib in the Future?/Michael Young/Carnegie MEC/Febrauary 13/2020
Canada: Sharia financing rapidly expanding with increasing Sharia-adherent population/Christine Douglas-Williams/Jihad Watch/February 13/2020
A mutual historic partnership that has shown its resilience/Oubai Shahbandar/Arab News/February 14/ 2020
Day a historic relationship began/Salman Al-Ansari/Arab News/February 14/ 2020
Climate Change: There is no one silver bullet/Cornelia Meyer/Arab News/February 14/ 2020

The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on February 13-14/2020
Lebanon PM pledges not to run in next election
The National/February 13/2020
Hassan Diab and his entire Cabinet will also not support any future candidates
Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab on Thursday pledged not to run in the future parliamentary elections or support any candidates.
Deputy Prime Minister Zeina Akar and the other 18 members of Cabinet also signed up to Mr Diab’s pledge not to run in the next election. The current administration is a departure in Lebanon where the bulk of ministers are usually also MPs.  In recent years, discussions have been raised about having a government not also elected to parliament as it prevents one body overseeing the work of the other. However, many senior figures – including former prime minister and Future Movement head Saad Hariri or former foreign minister and Free Patriotic Movement head Gibran Bassil – served multiple times in both chambers. No elections are scheduled until 2022 although some have suggested that a vote should be held early given mass anger on the streets since October. Mr Diab stated his Cabinet's plan to abstain from standing on January 21. “There are no MPs [in the government], and no candidates for the next parliamentary elections," he said. His would be "a government of specialists that will only be held accountable to the language of science, reason and expertise and the interest of the nation," he added. Months of anti-government protests have rocked Lebanon, with demonstrators calling for a change in political leadership.The Lebanese parliament passed a vote of confidence in the cabinet this week, with just 84 of the chamber's 128 MPs attending the parliamentary session as protesters raged and blocked roads outside. Sixty-three MPs voted in favour of the new government with one abstention and 20 against. Mr Diab, a former professor at the American University of Beirut, presented his choices for the new government in late January. The prime minister was selected after Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned at the end of October, two weeks after the nationwide protests erupted. The letter on Thursday came as Lebanon's President Michel Aoun asked ministers to start working on the 2021 state budget, Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad said after the new cabinet's first meeting at Baabda Palace. The heavily indebted state is facing a financial crisis and must quickly decide whether to repay maturing foreign currency debt on schedule, including a $1.2 billion Eurobond due on March 9. Ahead of the Cabinet session, Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni said that there were several options open to the government over the repayment. “We will continue discussions in order to make the right decision,” Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni said.Imad Salamey, a political analyst in Lebanon, said the situation was unprecedented. "This is unprecedented since the 2005 government headed by Mikati," he said. "The 2005 Mikati government was established as an interm government with the sole purpose of preparing for elections. "This government is attempting to gain the confidence of the public by presenting itself as having no political ambitions other than confronting current crisis. "The 2005 government organised elections within three months after its formations, there are three more years of elections ahead of the current government. "So it is presenting itself as sustainable and non partisan while it represents only Hezbollah and allies."

President chairs financial, economic meeting at Baabda Palace
NNA/February 13/2020
President Michel Aoun chaired a financial and economic meeting, at 10:30am in the Presidential Palace, in the presence of the Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, Nabih Berri, Prime Minister, Hassan Diab, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of National Defense, Zeina Akar Adra, Minister of Finance, Ghazi Wazni, Economy and trade Minister, Raoul Nehme, Central Bank Governor, Riad Salameh, Head of the Association of Banks, Salim Sfeir, and General Director of the Lebanese Presidency, Dr. Antoine Choucair.
The meeting was devoted to discuss the entitlement of the "Eurobond", the Lebanese financial and economic conditions, and the necessary measures to confront the financial crisis and reassure depositors of their cash in banks. A meeting between President Aoun, Speaker Berri, and PM Diab preceded the economic meeting, during which the general conditions and current developments in the country were discussed.
Minister of Finance Statement:
"The meeting was very important, and the topics which we tackled are those discussed on the local scene, and can be summarized by two issues: The "Eurobond", and the Capital Control. The discussion about these two issues was concentrated.
Regarding the Eurobond merit, there are several options which have been proposed, each one has been studied in depth, whether in terms of payment or not, and each expressed his opinion frankly. It was agreed to continue the research in the coming stage to take appropriate decisions, since this issue is very important to the country, depositors, and banks, as well as for the economic sector, and our foreign relations.
As for the Capital Control issue, there is no longer possibility for banks to deal with depositors illegally, and unclearly, in which the customer is ultimately the weak point. From here, an understanding was reached that a clear circular would be issued in the next two days. The Cabinet agreed to put an end to discretion in dealing between banks and customers, in a way which provides protection to customers firstly, whether they are borrowers or depositors, in the banking sector".
French Delegation:
President Aoun received a French delegation including, the Vice-Chairman of the Senate Foreign Defense and Army Committee, Senator Joel Guerriau, Mrs. Christine Gerio, Senator Guillaime le Duc, media attaché to Senator Gerio, Mr. Elie Abi Saad, and his Personal Representative in La Francophonie Organization, Mr. Jarjoura Hardan.
The French delegation expressed support for the President's efforts in getting Lebanon out of the current crisis, and also affirmed readiness to provide all possible assistance to overcome the current difficult stage.-Presidency Press Office

Lebanon’s President: Anyone who Stole from Treasury Will be Taken to Court
Beirut/Asharq Al-Awsat/Thursday, 13 February, 2020
Lebanese President Michel Aoun has warned that “anyone who plunders the treasury” will be taken to trial, saying Lebanon entered a “new stage” after the government gained parliament’s vote of confidence. Aoun spoke on Wednesday during his meeting at Baabda Palace with a delegation of honorary consuls in Lebanon led by Joseph Habis, the dean of the consular corps in the country, who is also honorary consul general of Singapore. Commenting on the need to crack down on corruption, Aoun said: “Anyone who plunders the treasury will be taken to trial in accordance with the laws, and under a court specializing in financial crimes involving public money." He reiterated that Lebanon’s financial and economic crises “require measures that will be relatively painful for the Lebanese.”But Aoun stressed that “a new stage has begun after the government gained confidence.”Prime Minister Hassan Diab's cabinet won on Tuesday votes from the majority of parliament members present in the 128-member legislature. At the end of the day, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said 63 legislators voted in favor, 20 did not give a vote of confidence and one abstained.

Aoun chairs Cabinet session at Baabda palace
NNA/February 13/2020
The Cabinet held a meeting session, today at 12 noon in Baabda Palace, chaired by His Excellency, the President of the Republic, and attended by the Prime Minister and Ministers.
At the start of the session, His Excellency asked the Prime Minster for a minute of silence mourning the lives of Army and ISF martyrs, who fell in Bekaa and Ouzai. The martyrs of the Army are: Staff Sergeant, Ali Ismail, Sergeant Major, Ahmed Haidar Ahmad, and Soldier, Hassan Izz Al-Din. And from the Internal Security Forces: Major Jalal Sharif, and Deputy, Ziad Al-Attar.
Afterwards, His Excellency congratulated the Government on gaining confidence, pointing out that everyone is required to work at a fast pace in all exceptional economic, financial, monetary and banking conditions, which we live in, and start implementing the Policy Statement’s content regarding the preparation of the emergency plan, and plans for the first and second stage, as stated in the Policy Statement. The President then spoke about the financial meeting, which was held today before the session, indicating that he addressed the financial and economic crisis and current difficulties. During the meeting, the proposed solutions, which are to be approved later, were studied.
The President also asked the concerned Ministers to prepare a draft budget for 2021 in order to follow its path within the specified constitutional deadlines. Then the Prime Minister asked Ministers to sign a pledge not to run in Parliamentary elections (If held under the supervision of the current Government), in line with contents of the Policy Statement. All Ministers signed on this pledge. Minsters also signed as statement on movable and immovable funds, incomes, and loans of Ministers, and on all their interests and benefits (Direct or indirect), in any company or project of any kind disclosure of bank accounts in Lebanon and broad, as the Prime Minister requested
Afterwards, the Prime Minister asked Ministers to prepare a file which includes urgent and necessary project which are supposed to be presented during visits abroad (or with Arab visitors) when they visit Lebanon, as well as with donors, provided that these files are ready during the next week. Then the PM presented the most prominent aspects of the financial and economic meeting and the options available to deal with current economic and financial conditions. Provided that the assistance of experts from the International Monetary Fund, and International legal and economic experts, study these options so that the Cabinet is prepared to take the appropriate decisions.
Consequently, the Cabinet examined a number of issues raised by Ministers on economic, financial, and monetary conditions.
Finally, the Cabinet took a decision to strengthen capacities of the Health Ministry through measures taken to prevent the Corona disease, especially at land, air and sea entrances of the country.

Aoun Urges Ministers to Devise Emergency Plan, PM Asks Them Not to Run in Elections
Naharnet/February 13/2020
President Michel Aoun on Thursday called on ministers to “work in a rapid pace amid all the extraordinary economic, financial, monetary and banking circumstances that we are going through.”Speaking at the beginning of the first session of the new Cabinet, Aoun said the ministers should “begin implementing the content of the Policy Statement in terms of devising the emergency plan and the plans of the first and second phases, as mentioned in the Policy Statement.”The president also asked ministers to “start preparing the draft 2021 state budget so that it takes it course within the specified constitutional deadlines.” Prime Minister Hassan Diab for his part asked ministers to “prepare files listing the urgent and necessary projects that should be discussed during foreign trips or with Arab and foreign officials when they visit Lebanon, as well as with the donor parties,” telling them that the files should be ready by next week at the latest. He also asked them to “sign pledges not to run in parliamentary elections should the polls be held under the supervision of the current government, in line with the articles of the Policy Statement.”

Baabda Meeting Convenes over Financial, Economic Crisis
Naharnet/February 13/2020
In light of a crippling economic crisis and confusion whether Lebanon should pay or restructure its international dues, a “financial and economic” meeting convened at Baabda Presidential Palace to discuss the situation, the National News Agency reported on Thursday. Interlocutors did not make a decision on the payment of Eurobonds because “the issue needs to be studied thoroughly.” “Several options have been studied on the Eurobond topic and we will study it thoroughly to make appropriate decisions,” Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni told reporters in a statement after the meeting. Regarding illegitimate capital controls imposed by banks, Wazni said “banks can not keep dealing with depositors at their own discretion and the Cabinet will issue a circular in the next few days to protect depositors and the banking system as well.”The meeting, chaired by President Michel Aoun, was held in the presence of Defense Minister Zeina Akar, Wazni, Economy Minister Raoul Nehme, Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh, Head of the Association of Banks in Lebanon Salim Sfeir, and Presidency Director-General Antoine Choucair. Before the meeting began, Aoun, Berri and Diab held a tripartite meeting over the situation. Crisis-hit Lebanon is on the brink of defaulting on its sovereign debt, with a $1.2 billion Eurobond payment due next month. On Wednesday, the government asked the International Monetary Fund to provide technical expertise on the macroeconomic challenges facing the economy, according to IMF spokesman Gerry Rice. But Rica added that "any decisions on debt are the authorities’,” to be made in consultation with their own legal and financial advisors," Rice said. 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.

Lebanon debt plan may need 70% haircut, 50% currency drop, Capital Economics estimates
Reuters/February 13/2020
- Lebanon’s bond holders may have to write off 70% of their investments and the value of the country’s currency might be cut in half in an International Monetary Fund rescue, analysts at Capital Economics said on Thursday. Lebanon formally requested the IMF’s technical help on Wednesday as it tries to avoid a full-blown economic collapse. Whether that turns into a formal bailout remains to be seen, but analysts have started to evaluate possibilities. “Past experience suggests that this will involve haircuts (debt write-offs) of up to 70%,” Capital Economics’ Jason Tuvey wrote in a note. That would wipe out banks’ capital, and the cost of re-capitalising the banks would come to around 25% of Lebanon’s gross domestic product. IMF technical assistance could help limit the strains. A cut in government spending of 3% to 4% of GDP will also be needed to prevent the debt burden from growing. Austerity will focus on reining in public-sector wages and overhauling the state electricity company. As in Egypt in 2016, the IMF would be likely to insist that – as a pre-condition to a deal – authorities devalue the Lebanese pound, Tuvey said. Black-market exchange rates are now around 30% below the country’s official rate, but the IMF’s most recent review of Lebanon estimated the currency was over-valued by 50%. “We think the currency could fall by 50% against the dollar,” Tuvey said. “And in the meantime, the economy is likely to fall into an even deeper recession. Overall, we expect GDP to contract by 5% this year. Our forecast lies right at the bottom of the consensus range.” (Reporting by Larry King)

Diab Says Hariri's Murder was 'Major Crime against Lebanon's Future'
Naharnet/February 13/2020
Prime Minister Hassan Diab on Thursday described the 2005 assassination of ex-PM Rafik Hariri as a “crime against Lebanon’s future.”“The 15th anniversary of the martyrdom of ex-PM Rafik Hariri and his companions comes this year as Lebanon passes through a sensitive period and faces dangerous financial, economic and social challenges,” Diab said in a statement marking the occasion. “The martyr premier launched the reconstruction of Lebanon after the war and removed its scars and today we miss his strong presence at the Arab and international arenas as to rescuing Lebanon from the dire and accumulating financial crisis,” Diab added. “The assassination of the martyr premier represented an assassination of the dreams of the Lebanese and a major crime against the future of Lebanon, which the martyr premier wanted to be a beacon for the region and the world,” the premier went on to say. A massive suicide bomb tore through Hariri's armored convoy on the Beirut seafront on February 14, 2005, killing him and 22 other people. The U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon has tried four Hizbullah operatives in absentia over the crime and the verdicts are expected to be issued later this year. Hizbullah has denied involvement in the case, describing the tribunal as a U.S.-Israeli scheme and vowing that the accused will never be found.

Diab on 15th commemoration of martyrdom of PM Hariri: His assassination is a major crime against the future of Lebanon
NNA/February 13/2020
Marking the 15th commemoration of the martyrdom of late Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, and his comrades, Prime Minister Dr. Hassan issued the following statement: "this year's commemoration comes at a time when Lebanon endures a sensitive stage and faces serious financial, economic, social and daily living challenges.""The late PM, who launched post-war reconstruction process and purged its effects, we lack today the strength of his presence on the Arab and international arena to save Lebanon from the simmering financial crisis," statement said. "The assasinatin of the late PM was also an assasination of the dreams of the Lebanese and a major crime against the future of Lebanon, which the late PM hoped would be a lighthouse in the region and the world," statement concluded.

Diab, ALI delegation tackle industrial situation
NNA/February 13/2020 
Prime Minister, Dr. Hassan Diab, met this evening at the Grand Serail with a delegation of the Association of Lebanese Industrialists (ALI), led by Dr. Fady Gemayel. Discussions dwelt in depth on the current industrial situation in the country and the sector's challenges at this delicate stage.
Premier Diab stressed that industry and all other production sectors are of great necessity for the country, expressing trust that industrialist shall contribute significantly to Lebanon's rescue workshop. Diab also saluted the resilience of the industrialists in these difficult circumstances; however, he hailed the Lebanese ability to confront difficulties.

Berri, Saadeh, Hmayed waive their rights against those who assaulted MPs prior to confidence session
NNA/February 13/2020
President Michel Aoun on Thu
The Security Forces arrested on Thursday the assailants that attacked MP Salim Saadeh and MP Ayoub Hmayed's cars, as well as those of other MPs prior to the Parliament's vote of confidence session on Tuesday.
After being informed about the arrests, the House Speaker, as well as MPs Saadeh and Hmayed, requested of the competent security and judicial apparatuses to waive their rights in this case.

Central Bank Cuts Rates to Ease Lebanon's Crisis
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 13/2020
Lebanon's central bank Thursday told commercial banks to lower interest rates on dollar and Lebanese pound deposits in the latest attempt to ease the country's worst financial crisis in decades. The central bank imposed a temporary interest cap of 4 percent on dollar deposits and 7.5 percent on Lebanese pound deposits, according to a circular seen by AFP. It was the second time in two months that the central bank has taken such a measure. Earlier in December, it capped interest rates on dollar and local currency deposits at 5 and 8.5 percent respectively. The latest reduction comes weeks after Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni called for slashed rates to "spur economic activity and to ease pressure on public finances." A banking source close to the matter said the latest central bank measure was part "of a more comprehensive economic rescue plan."The source asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak on the issue. Prime Minister Hassan Diab has said his cabinet would draw up an emergency rescue plan for the country by the end of the month. The crisis-hit country has debt-to-GDP ratio of more than 150 percent, one of the highest in the world. 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 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 lost a third of its value on the black market.

Report: Aoun, FPM ‘Not Invited’ to Hariri’s Commemoration Ceremony
Naharnet/February 13/2020
Al-Mustaqbal Movement of will not invite President Michel Aoun or any figures of the Free Patriotic Movement to the commemoration ceremony of late PM Rafik Hariri, the Saudi Asharq al-Awsat reported on Thursday. Al-Mustaqbal sources told the daily that the Movement decided not to invite President Michel Aoun and to exclude the Free Patriotic Movement’s leader (MP Jebran Bassil) and its entire officials to the 15th commemoration of ex-PM Rafik Hariri at the center house. They said the FPM was added to the list of parties “not welcome on this occasion, similar to (Hizbullah) party, after the (presidential) term turned against the political settlement," between al-Mustaqbal chief ex-PM Saad Hariri and Aoun that led to Aoun's election. Hariri was assassinated in a massive car explosion in Beirut in 2005.

Report: Hariri Seeks New ‘Agreements’
Naharnet/February 13/2020
Al-Mustaqbal Movement of ex-PM Saad Hariri that moved to the opposition after the resignation of its chief, seeks to bring the opposition parties and figures of the popular movement in a “united front,” al-Joumhouria daily reported on Thursday. Mustaqbal sources told the daily that in order for the opposition to be “effective and productive,” it must be “united at the level of parliamentary blocs, political parties and figures from the Movement.”They said an “understanding could be reached with Movement figures to have them represented in the Parliament.”After the commemoration ceremony of his father on February 14, Hariri is expected to promote this opposition “with new understandings,” after his earlier agreement failed with founder of the Free Patriotic Movement President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law Jebran Bassil. “A constructive opposition can not succeed without strengthening itself and reinstating clear political bases with the opposition blocs, mainly with the Lebanese Forces, Kataeb party, Progressive Socialist party, independent MPs, independent figures of the March 14 camp, and figures from the Movement,” said the sources. “Conducting dialogues and understandings with political figures and leaders involved in the Movement that has existed since October 17, would give real significance for building effective opposition,” they added.

IMF Says New Lebanon Government Requested Advice
Naharnet/February 13/2020
A day after receiving a vote of confidence from parliament, the government on Wednesday afternoon asked the International Monetary Fund to provide advice on its economic plan, a fund spokesman said. However, the IMF statement made no mention of financial assistance for crisis-battered Lebanon. The authorities asked for "advice and technical expertise on the macroeconomic challenges facing the economy," IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said in a statement.
Part of the mission of the Washington-based crisis lender is to offer "advice to its member countries on policies and reforms to restore macro-stability and promote growth." However, "any decisions on debt are the authorities', to be made in consultation with their own legal and financial advisors," Rice said. The country is on the brink of defaulting on its sovereign debt, with a $1.2 billion Eurobond payment due next month. Lebanon's parliament on Tuesday backed the cabinet and program of incoming Prime Minister Hassan Diab in a confidence vote amid widespread and at times violent protests. 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 has warned that the economy could collapse without an emergency plan to restore order. The international community has pledged more than $11 billion in desperately needed financial aid but made it conditional on the speedy implementation of economic reforms. Rice in late January said the IMF already was providing technical assistance to Beirut but denied there had been any request for a loan.

Protesters Rally in Solidarity with Journalist Zbeeb after Assault
Naharnet/February 13/2020
Anti-government protesters and a grouping of journalists rallied Thursday outside the central bank in Hamra in solidarity with prominent economic journalist Mohammed Zbeeb, who was beaten up overnight at the hands of three unknown attackers. “Officials today are preoccupying people with lies and myths about the issue of paying Lebanon’s due debt,” a defiant Zbeeb said at the rally, noting that “every dollar paid as debt service or to pay the Eurobonds will come at the expense of our children’s milk.”“When this uprising erupted, it specified its objectives and it will not calm down until it achieves all its demands and it shall emerge victorious,” he added. “Those in power will be defeated,” Zbeeb stressed.Zbeeb, a vocal critic of banks and the state’s financial policies, was assaulted at a parking in the Hamra area as he was heading to his car after taking part in an economic seminar.

Rafik Hariri’s Commemoration Highlights Fall of Settlement with Aoun
Beirut - Caroline Akoum/Asharq Al-Awsat/Thursday, 13 February, 2020
Lebanon’s politicians are awaiting Friday’s speech of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri at a ceremony marking the anniversary of the assassination of his father, Rafik Hariri, as al-Mustaqbal Movement snubbed President Michel Aoun and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM). In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat, sources said that the FPM, which has been founded by Aoun, “was added to the list of undesirable parties in this event, alike [Hezbollah], after the [presidency] turned against the political settlement.”The settlement had led to Aoun's election as president in 2016 and Saad Hariri’s appointment as premier. Friday's event is expected to mark a reunion for the parties that once formed the March 14 coalition, especially after the eruption of the uprising on Oct. 17 and the subsequent developments, including Hariri’s resignation. While the Lebanese Forces and the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) have not disclosed the level of their participation in this year’s ceremony, they have both confirmed they would attend the event at the Center House in Beirut. In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat, LF media and communication official Charles Jabbour said: “For security reasons, we cannot confirm whether (Samir) Geagea, the party’s leader, will be present or not. But certainly we will participate through a high-ranking delegation of deputies and ministers.”The PSP, for its part, is yet to decide on the delegation’s size and level. Jabbour noted that the occasion should be an opportunity to restore the relationship between the LF and Hariri’s al-Mustaqbal Movement. Al-Mustaqbal MP Mustafa Alloush said Hariri’s speech could pave the way for breaking the ice among several parties that were members of the March 14 alliance. Any step in this direction should be based on solid and common grounds, according to Alloush. Rafik Hariri was assassinated in a massive car bomb explosion in Beirut in 2005.

Lebanon’s Diab Left Alone in Defending his Government
Beirut - Mohamed Choucair/Asharq Al-Awsat/Thursday, 13 February, 2020
The new government has passed its first test, after 63 out of 84 MPs present in parliament gave it their vote of confidence, despite Prime Minister Hassan Diab being named by 69 parliamentarians for the premiership. Only a few deputies publicly defended the cabinet during Tuesday’s vote of confidence session. But the position of Hezbollah was remarkable.“This government does not resemble us; we accepted it to facilitate its formation,” MP Mohammed Raad, the head of Hezbollah’s Loyalty to the Resistance bloc, announced. Raad’s position raised more question marks about the underlying reasons behind such as statement. Some observers said that he wanted to send a message to local and foreign parties that the government was not that of Hezbollah. Parliamentary sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the deputy was in fact responding to criticism that the new government was picked by Hezbollah. They added that Diab rushed to confirm Raad’s statements, by emphasizing that the cabinet ministers were independent. The premier’s insistence on the independence of the government, according to the sources, was a message to the Arab world and the international community that accusations on the formation of a one-sided cabinet were baseless. However, Diab received solely the votes of lawmakers from Hezbollah's bloc or its allies, mainly the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM). The prime minister - as parliamentary sources said - will seek to present to most Arab countries and the international community a better image of his new government, after relations with some of them had turned sour under former Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. But the sources added that it would be difficult for Diab to gain the international community's trust.

Wazni from Baabda: Circular will be issued shortly on banks' dealings with depositors
NNA/February 13/2020
Minister of Finance, Ghazi Wazni, said at the cabinet session at Baabda Palace: "Several options were studied on the topic of Eurobond, and we will continue to deliberate in order to take the appropriate decision."
"There is no possibility for banks to continue dealing with depositors with discretion, and an explicit circular will be issued in the coming days," he affirmed.

Activists stage sit in outside Interior Ministry in solidarity with Zbeeb
NNA/February 13/2020
A number of activists staged a sit in outside the Interior Ministry in Sanayeh, in solidarity with the Journalist Mohammed Zbeeb who was assaulted overnight, NNA field reporter said on Thursday. Activists have gathered outside Lebanon's Central Bank and marched towards Hamra Street.

Hariri receives Mundis
NNA/February 13/2020
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri received this afternoon at the Center House the Registrar of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, Daryl Mundis, and discussed with him the work of the STL.

Young men gather outside Karami's residence in Tripoli
NNA/February 13/2020
Several young men and women have gathered outside the residence of MP Faisal Karami in the city of Tripoli, deploring the current simmering economic situation and chanting anti-government slogans. Protesters branded the Cabinet as the "government of one color."Protesters then moved to Lebanon's Central Bank in Tripoli, deploring the monetary policy and dollar and food price hikes.

Falha on World Radio Day: Ministry of Information is a platform for everyone
NNA/February 13/2020
Ministry of Information General Director, Dr. Hassan Falha, on Thursday said in an interview with Radio Lebanon marking "World Radio Day" that the Ministry of Information represented a platform for everyone.
"'World Radio Day' was launched by the United Nations back in 1946, 8 years after the establishment of Radio Lebanon in 1938; it is a state-run radio station for all the Lebanese and all the listeners beyond the Lebanese borders," Falha said, stressing the important role of radio stations in strengthening the role of every human being in this world.
"A radio station neither dies nor ends for as long as there are people listening to the radio. However, there is a peak time in all fields, as well as in the media; when a person is in his car, it is the peak time of radio stations," Falha explained.
"One culture does not solely provide continuity and productivity but rather needs to interact with other cultures and civilizations for this purpose. Lebanon embodies the beautiful image of this diversity with its multiple denominations and the ideas of its people," he added, stressing that Radio Lebanon is the voice of every human being, as it allows everyone to express his/her opinion.
Dr. Falha went on to explain that the media was no longer confined within geographical boundaries thanks to the internet which has given every person in this world access to media. "There are global standards that must be adopted and national standards that must be adhered to, and most importantly, there should be responsibility to avoid chaos," he affirmed.
"We have a wide space of freedom in Lebanon; sometimes it exceeds its limits and it becomes chaos, but freedom of expression exists," he added.
Moreover, Falha noted that today's media has changed its role and function. "We must produce a conscious culture that enjoys the basic elements that humanity and culture can adhere to at the national level."
Falha couldn't help but regret the fact that the things that were taboo in the past have become acceptable and almost permissible due to the development that has changed the ethics compass of people.
"On the national level, and on World Radio Day, we consider the Ministry of Information a platform for everyone, and we will strive to provide an opportunity to everyone with energy to give. I believe that with the new growing generations, there is no fear for the future," Falha maintained.
On the other hand, Falha seized the opportunity to thank the Beirut Arab University, "which was founded for the poor and set out generations with a respectable level amongst Lebanese and Arab universities." He recalled its founder, Jamal Abdel Nasser, "a legacy and a heritage for future for generations."
He also paid tribute to the Lebanese University from which he graduated. "It is the University of the homeland and it is for all the Lebanese and Arab colleagues who studied there."
Falha did not fail to shed light on the many crises being witnessed in the world of media. "The media has changed as the advertising markets have increased. The means by which people acquire cultural standards have also changed thanks to the smartphones, which are available to everyone."
On the other hand, he said that the social media has allowed people to freely express their opinion. "Personally, I write literally pieces and discuss strategy, not politics via my social media accounts," he explained.
Dr. Falha concluded by saying: "We celebrate this year under the title 'Radio and Diversity'. We are part of UNESCO, and we adhere to its programs just the way it should adhere to ours."

Five detainees released in Sidon
NNA/February 13/2020
Five detainees who were arrested on Wednesday in Sidon over riot acts in Central Beirut have been released.

Lebanon struggles to honour Rafik Hariri's legacy
The National/February 13/2020
Fifteen years after the former prime minister was killed, his work is being undone
Living in a new era of relative calm was only just becoming normal for the people of Beirut. By February 14, 2005, Lebanon had experienced nearly 15 years without open conflict.
Political instability and occupation by Syrian soldiers plagued daily life, but the extreme violence of the country’s sectarian civil war, which lasted from 1975 to 1990, finally looked as though it might fade into memory. That day in February, however, Lebanon’s new normal was dealt a deathblow.
Using a van packed with one tonne of TNT, assassins controlled by Syria and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah targeted the motorcade of Rafik Hariri – Lebanese prime minister during two period in the 1990s and early 2000s – as it rolled along Beirut’s Corniche, a seaside promenade that Hariri himself helped regenerate. The colourful high-rises lining the Corniche are a symbol of the economic boom Lebanon experienced under the prime minister’s stewardship. They soar over the coastline, built upon waves of investment he attracted throughout the post-war period. Moreover, they are symbols of the towering figure that was Rafik Hariri.
Hariri was the young son of a farmer when he left Lebanon, and spent nearly two decades in Saudi Arabia moulding himself into one of the wealthiest construction magnates in the Middle East. By the mid-1980s, he was back in his homeland, using his resources and influence to help pull it out of its brutal civil war. In 1989, in a deal drawn up by Hariri and struck in the Saudi city of Taif, Lebanon’s factions agreed to peace in the form of a new constitution mandating power-sharing between competing religious groups.
The constitution was far from a perfect solution, but back then it was the only solution. And Hariri’s combination of charisma, pragmatism and alliances with western and Gulf allies proved crucial in making it all work in the service of the Lebanese. He worked to maintain the volatile Lebanese pound’s peg to the US dollar. He also played a careful balancing act, dividing contracts to reconstruct destroyed infrastructure between sectarian elites, but did so comfortably in the knowledge that it would get the job of rebuilding Lebanon done. Hariri-led administrations had much else to contend with: healing the civil war’s wounds, looking after Palestinian refugees and re-establishing Lebanon’s sovereignty. Syria – Lebanon’s neighbour and a belligerent in the civil war – refused to leave Lebanese territory even after the Taif agreement was signed. Hariri was also the calm, confident face that post-war Lebanon needed. When facing the West, his economic liberalism and business-mindedness reassured European and American investors that the new Lebanese economy was a worthy investment. When facing his own people, his can-do attitude taught an entire generation that there is more to aspire to than blind sectarianism. And when facing Damascus, he helped cultivate a grass-roots movement among the Lebanese to present a united front against Syrian occupation.
The last of these was what brought about Hariri’s demise. Convulsing with grief in the wake of his death, the anti-occupation movement swelled. By April 30, 2005, Syria announced a full withdrawal. Lebanon was free, but shaken.
Fifteen years later, the country’s footing is no more stable. The imperfections of the power-sharing system have been magnified and wielded by Hezbollah – which lacks majority support, but controls parliament – against the people, who have taken to the streets once more. The pound remains pegged to the dollar officially, but its black-market value is plummeting. The future of the wider economy, on the other hand, is pegged to Iranian interests – leaving it vulnerable to American sanctions. Buffeted by its leaders’ ineptitude and malevolence, Lebanon is now a pale shadow of the land Rafik Hariri helped to revive.
But Hariri’s life ought to continue to inspire. If there is one lesson to be learnt from his leadership, it is that anything in Lebanon that starts to crumble can one day be rebuilt, stronger and more beautiful than ever.

Analysis/Israeli-Arab Nonaggression Pact? Don't Celebrate Yet
Zvi Bar'el/Haaretz/February 13/2020
زيفي برئيل/الهآرتس: متى الأحتفال بتوقيع معاهدة عدم اعتداء بين العرب وإسرائيل
التحليل الذي نشرته صحيفة الهآرتس بقلم زيفي برئيل أمس هو تعليقاً على تغريدة رئيس وزراء قطر السابق الشيخ حمد بن جاسم الذي توقع الوصول إلى اتفاقية عدم اعتداء بين إسرائيل ودول الخليج العربي ومعهم مصر والأردن وربما المغرب
Ex-Qatari PM's tweet reflects a growing discourse on such a move. But the real implications would be anything but military.
“On December 14, I tweeted about the ‘deal of the century.’ I said it would be released at the beginning of the year,” the former Qatari prime minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani noted in a tweet this week. “Now it will be followed by a nonaggression pact between Israel and the Gulf states, in addition to Egypt and Jordan, possibly also Morocco.”
Sheikh Hamad wrote that he is not opposed to a just peace. “And therefore I am not against signing a nonaggression agreement with Israel after we achieve clear results from the peace process.” In his opinion, however, any Arab countries supporting the “deal of the century” are adopting a short-sighted policy designed to help U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu win votes in the upcoming elections that they face. Such Arab countries, he said, lack a long-term strategy.
“I wonder if there are any Arab states that can exploit the Israeli and American need to satisfy their interests from the ‘deal of the century,’ instead of being tools used by others for their own needs,” the sheikh wrote.
Pre-election diplomatic coup
One wonders if Sheikh Hamad, who managed Qatar’s foreign relations until 2013 and has met with many senior Israelis, is basing his tweets on a simple personal assessment or on actual information. But talk about a nonaggression pact has been making the rounds in recent weeks, as part of efforts by Trump and Netanyahu to lay claim to a major political coup before Israel’s March 2 election – including hopes for a meeting between Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
On December 19, the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, Abdullah bin Zayed, shared an article on his twitter feed from Britain’s The Spectator about the new alliance taking share between Israel and the Gulf states.
Netanyahu hastened to applaud and share the tweet. And Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz was even more specific, tweeting: “Thank you @ABZayed! Now is a good time to advance the historic non-belligerency and economic cooperation agreements between Israel and the Arab Gulf countries.”
Later Katz told Army Radio that Israel and the United States are working toward an agreement. He talked about the main points of the initiative that he presented, via the Americans, to top people in the Gulf. It would include a commitment not to enter into an alliance with a third country that would intend harm to any of the signatories to the pact.
The comments came shortly after an Israeli delegation went to Dubai to examine the arrangements for Israel in Dubai at the Expo 2020 world’s fair scheduled for October. In August 2019, Katz reported on a visit that he made to the UAE as part of an effort to advance a public process of normalization with the Gulf states. That visit took place against the backdrop of an American effort to create an Arab military coalition to protect shipping in the Gulf from Iran. It also followed meeting of the Warsaw Convention a year ago attended by 60 countries – including the Gulf states and Israel.
Such displays of normalization are in addition to Netanyahu’s visit to Oman and his recent meeting with Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of the Sudanese Sovereignty Council in Uganda where the two discussed the possibility of normalization between the two countries, including civilian aircraft flying to and from Israel over Sudan.
Last week the Israel Defense website published a report about Saudi Arabia’s intention to buy Israeli-made Spike missiles to replace American Tau missiles. Saudi Arabia has not denied the report so far.
A nonbelligerence agreement, if signed, would formalize the political and military reality that exists between Israel and the Gulf states in any event. Its political implications are far more important than its military implications – since none of the Gulf states are in a state of war – either declared or in practice – with Israel.
Gulf Cooperation Council
But such agreement wouldn’t be devoid of limitations and obstacles. Three of the six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council – Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE – share a strategic interest with Israel to constrain Iran’s presence and influence in the Arab Middle East. They need Israel not as a military force but for its influence on President Trump’s policy towards Iran. But the other three council members, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar, have their own independent policies towards Iran.
Qatar has an official economic partnership with Iran that relies on shared ownership and management of the largest gas field in the Gulf, which is adjacent to both countries. Qatar is also Saudi Arabia’s bitter rival and an ally of Turkey, which maintains a major military base in the country. Turkey and Qatar both support the internationally recognized Libyan government against the regime of rebel general Khalifa Hifter, who is supported by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
If Qatar decides to enter into such a nonaggression pact with Israel, it might encounter pressure from Turkey, or at least find itself in a strategic dilemma regarding the other Gulf nations that sign onto the agreement with Israel. Despite the close relations between Israel and the UAE and Saudi Arabia, the Emiratis and Saudis have shared interests, but they also have separate interests – in other areas of the Middle East such as Yemen, Syria and Lebanon.
For example, the UAE signed a number of agreements last year providing for economic and security collaboration with Iran, bucking the Saudi and American position. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are also at odds over how the war in Yemen is being pursued, after the UAE decided to withdraw its forces from Yemen and break up its military coalition with Saudi Arabia.
This week the UAE held a lavish ceremony marking the return of its soldiers from Yemen, where it had 30,000 fighters. If the UAE wants closer ties with Iran, the nonaggression pact with Israel could face a complicated feasibility test over which ally the UAE would opt for.
For its part, Saudi Arabia has reluctantly given up influence in Lebanon following the resignation there of Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his replacement by Hassan Diab, who is close to the Shi’ite Hezbollah movement.
The Lebanese arena
But the situation in Lebanon is fluid. The government has no public support and Saudi Arabia could yet return to the Lebanese arena. A nonaggression pact with Israel could distance it even further from Lebanon, which is in a state of war with Israel. Like the UAE, Saudi Arabia will have to decide which ties matter to it more – those with the Lebanese government, which includes representation from Hezbollah but would be economically dependent on Riyadh – or Israel.
A nonaggression pact is part of the promise included in the Arab peace initiative that came out of the Arab summit in Beirut in 2002. Its principal innovation was the undertaking by the Arab countries to provide Israel with a safety net in exchange for a complete Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories.
That condition laid the foundations for a future peace agreement with the Arab countries and created a linkage between Israeli-Palestinian peace and an end to the conflict with the Arab states. If a “private” nonaggression pact is signed between Israel and the Gulf states, it would void the Arab peace initiative and eliminate the only carrot the Arabs still have to advance the peace process.
Ostensibly, that carrot didn’t stand any chance of developing in any event, primarily because of Israel’s objections to a withdrawal from the territories and the diplomatic rupture between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. But given the shared Arab position reached at the recent League summit in Cairo, which opposes Trump’s “deal of the century,” it is difficult to foresee even a few of the Gulf states agreeing to sign a nonbelligerence pact with Israel prior to any breakthrough in the process with the Palestinians. Such a move would complete the “betrayal” of the Palestinians.
It appears that the Gulf states will wait, just as the people of Israel are, for the Israeli election before making any historic moves that could place Israel in an unprecedented strategic position in the Middle East.
*Picture Enclosed: Ex Amir Of Qater with Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani
صورة حمد بن جاسم مع أمير قطر السابق الشيخ حمد بن خليفة

The Deal of the Century and the fate of the Palestinians
Manal Makkieh/Annahar/February 13/2020
According to members of the Palestinian civil society, the Oslo agreement carries huge risks for refugees.
BEIRUT: President Donald Trump and Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu’s “Deal of the Century” restricted the Palestinians and once again, placed them in a state of oblivion.
Accordingly, the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut organized a panel discussion on February 12 to discuss the fate of Palestinian refugees in light of the current political reality.
“Intellectual resistance is one of the most important tactics,” mentioned Dr. Ziad El Sayegh, a previous Senior Advisory to the Ministry of State for Displaced Affairs and an Expert and Adviser on Public Policies and a researcher on the Pale. “Armed Jihad is not the only method anymore to attain freedom, yet it must be adopted alongside intellectual resistance to create a diplomatic track and prepare for a negotiating sphere."
Leila Al Ali, a Palestinian Feminist, Political Activist, and Director of the Najdeh Association argued that the deal forces Arab countries to bear the responsibility of taking care of the displaced. Adding that people should accordingly fight for the right of return.
“If there is no authority or liberation organization, there is no state. We must not lose the fight for the right of return,” she said.
According to members of the Palestinian civil society, the Oslo agreement carries huge risks for refugees. These risks have encouraged members to form a body that aims to confront the agreement and defend the rights of refugees.
“A working group has been formed for the displaced Palestinians. It advocates for their rights and is currently working to integrate special curricula on the history of Palestine for the new generation to learn,” said Al Ali.
Saker Abu Fakher, Researcher and Editor at the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, also argued that International law, the International Bill of Human Rights, and international institutions such as the United Nations "have failed in 72 years to bring justice to the Palestinian people, perhaps because international law comes from colonial laws."
Accordingly, "the political opportunities for the Palestinians to achieve peace are not promising at the time, but their resilience strengthens them."
According to the panelists, the deal does not give any hopes for peace but rather sabotages the Palestinian's efforts to achieve freedom and independence. The deal charts the fate of the Palestinians in isolation from themselves. Therefore, without the Palestinian's legal seal, it is impossible for any agreement, plan, vision, or understanding to take its path towards practical implementation.
Aside from the risk posed by the Deal of the Century, the panelists proposed some measurements to confront it. These measures include: establishing a Lebanese-Palestinian unity in which both nations can fight together, monitoring UNRWA's work continuously in the region, resisting diplomatically and systematically, and reviving the Palestinian unity to end all divisions.

The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 13-14/2020
Syria’s air defenses down missiles from Israel

Souad El Skaf, Al Arabiya English/Friday, 14 February 2020
Syria’s air defenses intercepted and downed several missiles coming across the occupied Golan Heights in Israel before they hit their targets in the capital Damascus, Syrian state television said on Thursday.
“Our air defences intercepted hostile targets over the skies of Damascus,” state agency SANA said. It said the “missiles were launched from over the occupied Golan Heights.” Several missiles were intercepted before they could reach their targets, it added. Al Arabiya sources said that five airstrikes targeted weapons and missile depots in the vicinity of Damascus International Airport and that one of the strikes targeted a military post south of Damascus. The airstrikes were launched hours after the arrival of Iranian arms shipments to Damascus International Airport, according to the sources.
An AFP correspondent in Damascus heard large blasts. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights blamed the attack on Israel, which has not claimed responsibility. The Britain-based monitor said the attack targeted Iran-backed militias near the capital, with some missiles hitting their intended targets. On January 15, Israel carried out an aerial attack that damaged a military airport in central Syria, according to a military source quoted by Syria’s state news agency SANA. Israel “led a new attack against T4 airport... air defenses were immediately activated against the enemy missiles, destroying several of them,” a military source told SANA. Israel has repeatedly bombed Iranian-backed militia targets in Syria, saying its goal was to end Tehran’s military presence in the country. Sparked by the brutal government suppression of pro-democracy protests, the conflict in Syria has been complicated by the involvement of international powers.It has left more than 380,000 people dead, including over 115,000 civilians. (With Reuters, AFP)

IDF appoints general to head-up new Iran Command as threat escalates
Jerusalem Post/February 13/2020
Momentum plan will also see military open a new infantry division as well as close one tank battalion and one air force squadron in the coming year.
The IDF will be establishing a new Iran Command as one of the top priorities of Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi’s ‘Momentum’ multi-year plan which aims to obtain a considerable military advantage over Israel’s foes. The new Iran Command will be led by a Major General and will be dedicated and focused on analysing threats posed by Iran and planning Israel’s campaign against the Islamic Republic.It will bolster the IDF’s attack capabilities, including by technological means for the IAF jets to destroy enemy targets, increase the military’s intelligence superiority and expand it’s intelligence gathering on the Islamic Republic including by satellites as well as bolster Israel’s cyber (both defensive and offensive) capabilities. The plan was approved by Defense Minister Naftali Bennett and presented to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and will be presented to cabinet for approval. On Thursday IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi presented the plan to all IDF commanders with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and higher. "After a thorough and in-depth process with the chief of staff, IDF commanders, and the defense establishment, I endorsed the ‘Momentum’ plan that will allow the IDF to strike at the enemy faster, with greater force, with greater lethality and thus defeating the enemy and achieving victory,” Bennett said on Thursday adding that the plan will allow the military to end any future conflict in a decisive manner.
“The IDF is fast, strong and deadly,” he stressed.
The military believes it is of utmost importance to build the military for threats it will face some 30 years in the future and built the new multi-year plan accordingly, with new concepts and methods of warfare which have been adapted to the challenges of the urban battlefield saturated with enemy fire.
According to the IDF, while there remains a gap between the IDF and her enemies, it is closing quickly and Israel needs to take advantage of the strategic opportunity to stay one step ahead of the enemy by making the necessary changes to the military.
While the budget for the multi-year plan has not yet been agreed to with the Finance Ministry, the IDF says that the resources available to it (the budget for 2020 and with the US Memorandum of Understanding) along with changes in internal priorities will allow the IDF to implement many of the decisions of the plan.
If not, the military believes that there will be a risk to Israel’s national security.
“The threats are not waiting for us,” Kochavi told the General Staff. “We are at a point in time that if we do not press hard on the gas now, and open the gap [between Israel and her enemies]-not within a month, not within a year, but within a few years, it will dictate how we win and how fast we win.”
With more active and explosive fronts on Israel’s borders, with enemy arsenals turning groups like Hezbollah in terror armies, the guiding principle for the Momentum multi-year plan is to win any future war as quickly as possible.
Despite the fact that Israel’s enemies are not interested in war, the IDF has “increased it’s pace of preparations” for confrontation, Kochavi told journalists in October. “On both the northern and southern fronts the situation is tense and fragile and can deteriorate into a confrontation,” he said.
As part of the plan, which aims to make the military more lethal in scope and accuracy, the IDF will be opening a new infantry division as well as closing one tank battalion and one air force squadron in the coming year.
In addition to the closing of the tank battalion, the IDF will also reduce the number of tanks in defensive divisions therefore saving millions of shekel for the military which instead of upkeeping and installing new weaponry on the tanks, will replace 150 Merkava MK 3 with new advanced Merkava MK 4 tanks.
A new infantry division (the 99th Division) will be established for rapid maneuvering attack forces able to penetrate into enemy territory. The Division will have four brigades and will have elite reserve units. The military expects the new division to be operational by 2023. The 900th Kfir Brigade will also be converted into a more lethal maneuvering infantry force for operations in both the Northern and Southern Commands.
"The implementation of the Momentum multi-year program will enable the IDF to increase considerable capabilities-both in scope and accuracy, therefore creating conditions for shortening the length of the next campaign,” Kochavi said. “The challenges around us do not allow us to wait - and so, despite the complexity, the multi-year program has begun. "
The IDF will also focus on strengthening the military’s readiness and ability to change and adapt as well as focus on improving the military’s overall defensive and offensive capabilities. Under the plan, the military will double the number of precision weaponry in it’s arsenal over the next five years.
As part of the expansion of the IDF’s defensive capabilities, the military will broaden their view of the threat posed by long-range missiles and will increase the number of missile interceptor systems for a multi-layer protection umbrella against precision missiles, cruise missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles, and more.
The IDF will also begin a nationwide deployment of the Iron Dome missile defense system instead of regional deployments. The military has changed it’s formulation of the operational concept of victory of the IDF, which will include new concepts and methods of warfare which have been adapted to the challenges of the urban battlefield saturated with enemy fire. If in previous wars troops could visualize the enemy in one clear location, today’s enemy is decentralized and much harder to visualize. They have become time sensitive targets which challenge the IDF to strike them immediately after they are detected before they disappear once again. The military will invest significant amounts to increase the intelligence directorate’s ability to detect enemy forces in urban areas and broaden its target bank on both its southern and northern fronts. The military will also focus on improving offensive capabilities of all corps against decentralized enemy troops which requires more offensive platforms and weapons.
As part of the plan, the IDF has already opened a new multi-dimensional combat unit organically integrating the capabilities of soldiers and officers from various units across the IDF for a deadlier maneuvering force. The unit will be equipped with classified combat technologies, some of which are still being developed which are adapted to the future battlefield, as well as UAVs for a variety of missions.
Under the plan, the IDF will also spread capabilities to all the operational-end units (battalions and companies), in order to get all different branches to work together in maneuvering and defense, and to empower troops and commanders in the field.
In today's modern battlefield the ability to share information and maintain continuous communication between different forces is vital for the success of any mission. As such, there will also be a digital transformation in the IDF, where all troops will be connected-from the pilot in the sky to the platoon commander on the ground. The IDF will also upgrade all regional headquarters in the West Bank to “smart headquarters” with capabilities allowing troops to identify and warn of threats. The capabilities will also allow the transfer of intelligence gathered on the threat to troops in the field who can then operate against them within a short amount of time. Under the plan, the southern border will also be upgraded with smart border segments which will see battalions with unique units equipped with robotic and automated interception capabilities which will be able to instantly identify threats.
The military will also adapt training to the challenges of urban combat and establish urban combat training facilities with advanced virtual reality simulators for both soldiers and reservists which will allow them to strengthen their fighting methods to the characteristics of the modern battlefield and the characteristics of Israel’s enemies.There will also be an increase in the total number of advanced vehicles procured by the military under the plan, with additional Merkava MK4 tanks, Namer and Eitan armored personnel carriers, and a purchase of thousands of advanced logistic trucks to be procured over the coming five years.

Iran warns it will strike US and Israel if they make the ‘slightest error’
Reuters/Friday, 14 February 2020
Iran is ready to strike the United States and Israel if they give it any reason to do so, the head of the elite Revolutionary Guards said in a live broadcast on state television on Thursday. “If you make the slightest error, we will hit both of you,” Major General Hossein Salami said in a speech at a ceremony marking the 40th day since the death of top commander Qassem Soleimani. Soleimani, who was head of the Quds Force, a branch of the Guards responsible for operations outside Iran, was killed by a US drone in Baghdad on January 3 along with Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
The killing of Soleimani will lead to the liberation of Jerusalem, the spokesman for the Revolutionary Guards said earlier, according to the Tasnim news agency. “The cowardly and craven assassination of commander Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis by the Americans will lead to the liberation of Jerusalem, by the grace of God,” Ramezan Sharif said. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said last week that Iran would support Palestinian armed groups as much as it could and urged Palestinians to confront a US plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace. US President Donald Trump announced a plan that would set up a Palestinian state with strict conditions but allow Israel to take over long-contested Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. Palestinian leaders reject it as biased towards Israel. Separately, Soleimani urged Iranians to support Khamenei and said political factions should put aside their differences. He made the call in his will, which was read by the new Quds Force chief, Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani, at a ceremony in Tehran.

US Senate passes Iran war powers resolution to restrain Trump
The National/February 13/2020
US President expected to use power of veto for bill
The US Senate on Thursday passed the Iran War Powers resolution that would curb President Donald Trump’s ability to use military force against Iran without congressional approval. The bill passed with a majority of 55 votes. Eight Republicans joined the Democrats in voting in favour, while 45 opposed.
The bill, authored by the Democratic Senator for Virginia, Tim Kaine, "directs the President to terminate the use of the United States Armed Forces for hostilities against Iran or any part of its government or military, unless explicitly authorised by a declaration of war or specific authorisation". But it stresses that the text does not "prevent the United States from defending itself from imminent attack". Mr Kaine said his legislative victory was “a strong bipartisan message from the Senate that we will uphold our constitutional duty to deliberate and vote before sending our troops into harm’s way".Mr Trump on Wednesday night urged the Senate to vote against it against it. “It is very important for our country’s security that the United States Senate not vote for the Iran War Powers Resolution,” he tweeted. With the bill passed and on its way to the President’s desk, Mr Trump will most probably veto it.
US-Iran hostility has increased in the past two months after a rocket attack on a base hosting American troops in Iraq in December, which killed one US contractor. In response, the Trump administration carried out air strikes against pro-Iran militias in Iraq, then assassinated Iranian general Qassem Suleimani and a top militia leader. At the time of the Senate vote, AFP reported that rockets hit an Iraqi base that hosts US troops in Kirkuk. Iraqi security officials identified it as the “K1 base”, the same one that was hit in December. No casualties were reported. Meanwhile, the US Navy announced on Thursday that its forces in the Arabian Sea seized a dhow carrying Iranian weapons to the Houthis in Yemen. The heightened tension comes as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo travels to the region and will visit Saudi Arabia.A US senior official said that Iran’s behaviour and Yemen would top the agenda.

US seeks to pivot to Turkey-first policy on Syria
Jerusalem Post/February 13/2020
The US hopes to push Turkey to greater action against the Syrian regime and Russia in Syria’s northern Idlib province
The US has come with strong words in support of Turkey’s policies in northern Syria, hoping to push Turkey to greater action against the Syrian regime and Russia in Syria’s northern Idlib province. US envoy James Jeffrey landed in Turkey on Tuesday, where he commemorated Turkey’s “martyrs” who had been killed by the Syrian regime, and pledged support for Ankara. Jeffrey and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have been seeking to pivot the US back to a Turkey-first foreign policy in regards to Syria, to slowly jettison parts of what they see as the problematic Kurdish region of eastern Syria and engage in big power politics to confront the Russians and Iranians. The Russian-backed Syrian regime offensive in Idlib, which began last year and has increased in recent weeks, has led to 700,000 Syrians fleeing toward Turkey and has killed Turkish soldiers. Turkey has sent armored vehicle columns to Idlib to warn the Syrian regime, reinforcing its observation posts that it has maintained there since 2017. In 2018, Turkey and Russia signed a ceasefire deal for Idlib, which is controlled by the extremist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, linked to al-Qaeda. While the Syrian regime sees HTS and Syrian rebel groups as “terrorists,” Turkey backs some of these groups, which it has used to fight Kurds in Afrin and Tel Abyad in 2018 and 2019. Turkey’s goal since the election of US President Donald Trump was to get the US to abandon Kurdish partners in eastern Syria and pivot back to supporting Syrian rebels and Turkey.But Turkey hedged and decided to work closely with Russia and Iran on the Astana peace process for Syria. Turkey also bought Russian air defense systems, and Turkey and Russian leaders enjoyed smiles and ice cream in recent meetings. In the US, by contrast, Turkey sent security staff to attack peaceful protesters in Washington, and has routinely slammed the US for supporting “terrorists” in eastern Syria. The US says the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces are its temporary, transactional and tactical partners to fight ISIS. The US helped create the SDF, but in fall 2019, when Turkey decided to invade SDF-held areas, the US asked the SDF to dismantle defenses and then moved US forces so Turkey could bomb them.
The US hoped that it could pivot away from the Kurds, which US policy-makers are split on supporting. Some in the US saw the Kurdish fighters as helpful against ISIS and accused Turkey of ethnic cleansing and using extremists. But others viewed the Syrian Kurds as spoiling US relations with Turkey, and want to get rid of them as a partner so that Turkey can be leveraged against Iran. These policy-makers don’t mind if Turkey buys Russian arms, attacks US protesters or hosts Hamas, because their main goal is to find a way to create daylight between Iran, Turkey and Russia in Syria. Where there is daylight, there may be room to maneuver and get Turkey to shift. The US delegation to Turkey this week is a sign of commitment. In addition to Pompeo’s support on Twitter, Jeffrey, Syria envoy Joel Rayburn and adviser for Syrian engagement Richard Outzen are involved in talks with Turkey. Only a phone call between Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is missing to show how serious the US is. The pro-Turkey voices have now won out in discussions about Syria, arguing that Turkey is a NATO ally, and that even if it works with Iran and Russia, it’s better to have an ally that works with your adversaries than temporary partners who are expendable, like the anti-ISIS fighters the US trained in eastern Syria. This is the tried-and-true US policy that has been followed with Pakistan and with other countries that feed anti-American rhetoric at home but are ostensibly US allies. Unlike Iran, the US prefers big power state-to-state relations to local partners and proxies on the ground. To revive relations with Turkey, the US may offer it reentry into the F-35 program, give it Patriot missiles to replace its S-400s or fund Syrian refugees or rebels. The US could also reduce support for the SDF and enable a new Turkish operation in eastern Syria, renew drone links to help Turkey carry out airstrikes on the Kurdistan Workers Party in Iraq or reduce penalties associated with trade with Iran. There is no shortage of menu options for the US, even if some of them take time to be implemented.
Much depends on Turkey’s demands. Turkey has never wanted a conflict with the Syrian regime, as its main goal was to defeat the Kurdish groups in Syria that it says are linked to the PKK. Idlib has always been a problem for Turkey because it is controlled by extremists, but has numerous civilians who will demand entrance to Turkey if the regime takes Idlib. This puts Ankara in a tough spot; it can’t abandon Idlib, but it doesn’t want Idlib. Now that Turkish soldiers have been killed, it can’t be seen to be walking away, but also may not want to follow a US policy of increased confrontation with Russia, the Syrian regime and Iran. Turkey would prefer to get some other support from the US. Meanwhile, Russia has condemned continued “terrorist” attacks from Idlib on its forces. Russian officials say that Russia “understands difficulties that our Turkish partners face. However, the positions of Syrian forces, the positions of Russian forces – the Hmeimim air base, drone attacks – come under fire daily. We cannot just sit and wait what will happen in Idlib next.” Russia sees Turkey as a key partner, and doesn’t want the Americans coming in to take away that partnership. Jeffrey’s high-profile visit may prod the Russians to find a new agreement with Ankara. Prior to that agreement, Ankara may wring some concessions from the US. For the US, the big question is how to convince the SDF in eastern Syria to keep holding thousands of ISIS prisoners and fighting ISIS, while the US works more closely with Turkey. Quietly, the message has been that the SDF should work with the Syrian regime and Moscow, and find an arrangement for the day after the US leaves the rest of eastern Syria. But missions like the defeat-ISIS campaign are like oil tankers; they don’t turn on a dime, and $200 million is being budgeted this year by the US for eastern Syria and for other groups the US supports to defeat ISIS. Defeating ISIS is now being done on a shoestring, far removed from the 2018 plans to “stabilize” eastern Syria.

Turkey Slams Syria's 'Hypocrisy' over Armenian Genocide Move
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 13/2020
Turkey on Thursday slammed the Syrian parliament's recognition of World War I killings of Armenians as genocide as a "hypocrisy", as tensions run high amid deadly clashes in northwest Syria. "This is a picture of hypocrisy on the part of a regime which has for years committed any kind of massacre on its own people... which has displaced millions and which is well known for its use of chemical weapons," the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement. Armenia claims 1.5 million died in the killings -- for which the Ottoman Empire -- the forerunner of modern-day Turkey -- bore responsibility.
Turkey denies to term it as genocide and says the number of deaths was far lower and that Turks also died, blaming the killings on the First World War. The controversial move by Damascus, however, comes after escalating tensions with its fierce opponent over the deadly clashes in the northwestern province of Idlib this month. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to strike the regime "everywhere" in Syria if any harm is done to its troops in Idlib. Ankara blasted the genocide claims and blamed Damascus for the "humanitarian tragedy, one of the most grave catastrophes in history, at our border."
"The groundless allegations leveled by a tyrant regime which has lost its legitimacy is a clear indicator of a distorted mindset," the foreign ministry said.

Pompeo Says Iran Must Accede To International Financial Regulations
Radio Farda/February 13/2020
U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo has once again urged the Islamic Republic of Iran to ratify the conditions set by Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and respect international laws and regulations against financing terrorism and money laundering. FATF, the Paris-based global financial watchdog issued a four-month deadline in mid-October, giving Tehran a last and final chance to comply with international anti-money laundering rules by February 21, 2020. In a tweet on Wednesday, February 12, Mike Pompeo affirmed, "It is past time for Iran to live up to its commitment to play by the global rules to combat money laundering and terror financing. Iran must ratify the Palermo Convention and Terrorist Financing Convention now." Almost all countries have adopted the FATF standards, and Iran should not be treated as an exception, Pompeo has maintained. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) a G-7 supported international watchdog based in Paris, in 2017 demanded Iran to reform its legal system and banking practices by following international conventions, in order to become eligible for unrestricted international banking relations. FATF has put Iran on its blacklist, pending legal reforms by Tehran.
To meet FATF's demands, President Hassan Rouhani presented four bills, (collectively known as the "Palermo Bills" in Iran) to the parliament in November 2017. Commanders of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), Friday Prayer Leaders across Iran, and other figures appointed by the Islamic Republic's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, have repeatedly opposed the passage of UN-sponsored conventions. Ratifying the bills will restrict Tehran's financial assistance to the so-called “resistance entities,” including the Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian HAMAS in Gaza Strip they have argued.
Furthermore, they believe that if approved, the bills would give away the Islamic Republic's "secrets" in circumventing American sanctions. Supporters of accepting FATF’s conditions, including Rouhani’s government, say joining the FATF and other international agreements on financial transparency and combating money laundering and terrorism-financing would reduce international pressure on Iran's already deteriorating economy.

Trump’s peace plan and the Gulf Arab States’ reaction

David May/Varsha Koduvayur/The Hill/February 13/2020
The Arab League rejection of Donald Trump’s peace plan confirmed Israel’s role as the diplomatic mistress of Persian Gulf monarchs. Arab states are happy to flirt privately with Israeli intelligence-sharing, defense cooperation and hi-tech capabilities, but hesitate to bring this budding relationship into the daylight. The Palestinians cannot prevent these liaisons but can still employ sufficient guilt to prevent the Gulf Arab leaders from publicly admitting to their dalliance with Israel. Many Arab countries initially welcomed the Trump administration’s release of its long-awaited plan in late January. Ambassadors from Oman, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates were present at the launch event. Those that weren’t — including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Morocco — nevertheless expressed support for the administration’s efforts and praised some of the plan’s positive elements. It appeared that Israel and the Arab states were ready to move from discreet affairs to international affairs. wever, any hope of a full-fledged embrace of the plan by Gulf leaders was dashed when, just days later, the Arab League issued a sound and unanimous rejection of the entire plan, underscoring how Israeli ties to the Persian Gulf continue their delicate dance of two steps forward, one step back. Denouncing the plan as a “so-called ‘deal,’” the Arab League dubbed it a “setback” to the peace efforts undertaken in the past 30 years. The Palestinians initiated this public meeting of the Arab League, knowing they could shame the Arab states into denying their intrigue with Israel.
*Varsha Koduvayur is a senior research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where David May is a research analyst. FDD is a Washington-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy. Follow them on Twitter at @varshakoduvayur and @DavidSamuelMay. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD.

U.S. Announces Partial Taliban Truce amid Signs Deal is Near
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 13/2020
The United States has secured of a seven-day reduction in violence in Afghanistan that it hopes will allow it to strike a deal with the Taliban, officials said Thursday. The announcement came a day after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani reported "notable progress" in negotiations with the Islamist insurgents.
"The United States and the Taliban have negotiated a proposal for a seven-day reduction in violence," Defense Secretary Mark Esper said after a NATO meeting in Brussels."We've said all along that the best, if not the only, solution in Afghanistan is a political agreement. Progress has been made on that front and we'll have more to report on that soon, I hope." Esper did not say when the partial truce would begin, but on Wednesday a Taliban official told AFP that the group would begin a "reduction of violence" on Friday. "It is our view that seven days for now is sufficient but in all things our approach to this process will be conditions based, I will say it again, conditions based," Esper said."So it will be a continual evaluative process as we move forward, if we go forward."U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking to reporters on board a plane to the Munich Security Conference where he is expected to meet Ghani, said talks had "made real progress over the past couple of days." "We hope we can get to a place where we can get a significant reduction in violence not only on a piece of paper but demonstrated, the capability to actually deliver a serious reduction in violence in Afghanistan," he said. "If we can get there, if we can hold that posture for a while, then we'll be able to begin the real, serious discussion, which is all the Afghans sitting at a table, finding a true reconciliation, a path forward."Washington and the insurgents have been locked in grueling talks that have stretched over more than a year, seeking an end to what has already become America's longest war.
- 'Long overdue' -
Citing Afghan and U.S. officials, the New York Times has reported that President Donald Trump had given conditional approval to a deal with the Taliban to allow him to start withdrawing U.S. troops. "It will be a difficult set of conversations, one that's long overdue," Pompeo said. "It would also give us the opportunity to reduce the footprint not only for America’s forces there but for all forces." The United States currently has between 12,000 and 13,000 troops in Afghanistan, more than 18 after in invaded to overthrow the then Taliban government in the wake of the September 11 attacks. The only other time there has been a Taliban ceasefire since the regime's overthrow was in 2018, during the first three days of Eid at the end of the holy month of Ramadan. It led to moving scenes such as Afghans sharing ice cream with Taliban fighters and snapping selfies. But afterwards, the violence resumed. The number of clashes between the insurgents and U.S.-backed government forces jumped to record levels in the last quarter of 2019, according to a recent U.S. government watchdog report.

Rocket Attack Hits North Iraq Base Hosting U.S. Troops
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 13/2020
A rocket slammed into an Iraqi base where American troops are stationed in the remote province of Kirkuk, Iraqi and US security sources told AFP on Thursday night. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
According to three separate Iraqi security sources, the Katyusha rocket hit the K1 base at around 8:45pm local time (1745 GMT) and U.S. military aircraft immediately began flying low over the area. It was the first attack on the base since December 27, when a volley of around 30 rockets killed a U.S. contractor there and unleashed a dramatic escalation. Washington blamed the rockets on Kataeb Hezbollah, a hardline Iraqi military faction close to Iran, and conducted retaliatory strikes that killed 25 of the group's fighters.
Supporters of the group then surrounded the US embassy in Baghdad, breaking through its outer perimeter in an unprecedented breach on the mission.
Days later, a U.S. drone strike at Baghdad airport killed Iran's pointman on Iraqi affairs Qasem Soleimani and his right-hand man, Kataeb Hezbollah co-founder Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. In outrage, Iraq's parliament voted to oust all foreign forces from the country, including around 5,200 U.S. troops deployed to help local forces beat back remnants of the Islamic State group.
Those troops, as well as the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, have faced nearly 20 rocket attacks over the past four months. The most significant was Iran's response to Soleimani's killing, when Tehran fired a barrage of ballistic missiles at the sprawling Ain al-Asad base in western Iraq on January 8.The troops had prior warning and none were killed, but more than 100 have since been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury.

Pound Hit as UK Finance Minister Quits
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 13/2020
The pound briefly retreated Thursday after UK finance minister Sajid Javid sensationally quit Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government, dealers said.
In stocks trading, London's benchmark FTSE 100 index was down 1.4 percent, mirroring sharp losses across Europe, on resurfacing fears over the global economic impact of China's deadly virus outbreak. Javid's resignation meanwhile came two weeks after Brexit and a month before he had been due to deliver his first annual budget on behalf of Johnson's Conservative administration. Johnson appointed senior Treasury official Rishi Sunak to succeed Javid as chancellor of the exchequer. "Volatility has been injected into the markets on the back of the news that Sajid Javid, the chancellor, has resigned," CMC Markets UK analyst David Madden told AFP. "The news caught traders by surprise. Sterling has the biggest reaction to the news -- it initially sold-off, but it since recovered all the lost ground and is now back above the pre-announcement level."
British news agency the Press Association quoted a source close to Javid as saying he resigned after refusing to carry out Johnson's demand that the chancellor sack his entire team of aides. Global stock markets meanwhile slid Thursday after a dramatic spike in the number of coronavirus deaths and cases in mainland China, with traders concerned about the economic impact.
"Stock markets have moved into retreat... on coronavirus headlines," noted IG analyst Chris Beauchamp. Chinese authorities have changed the way they count infections from coronavirus -- officially named COVID-19 -- and the latest reports propelled the nationwide death toll to 1,355 and the infection count to nearly 60,000. The new virus numbers dampened the positive cue from Wall Street overnight, where the three main indexes all set fresh records.
China has been praised by the World Health Organization (WHO) for its transparent handling of the outbreak. There is, however, still skepticism among the global public, with suggestions that Beijing may be concealing the scale of the problem the way it did during the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic.
Tokyo stocks slid 0.1 percent, Hong Kong lost 0.3 percent, and Shanghai lost 0.7 percent. The falls were deeper in Europe, where London fell also on disappointing corporate news from energy company Centrica and banking giant Barclays. Centrica, owner of domestic electricity and gas provider British Gas, saw its shares tank 17 percent to 70.28 pence after posting a pre-tax annual loss and sliding revenues. Sentiment was rocked also as Barclays said chief executive Jes Staley was facing a UK regulatory probe over his historical links with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
Barclays' share price shed 2.4 percent to stand at 174.98 pence despite the British bank's board throwing its support fully behind Staley.
- Key figures at 1220 GMT -
Pound/dollar: UP at $1.3027 from $1.2960 at 2200 GMT
Euro/pound: DOWN at 83.35 pence from 83.90 pence
Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.0855 from $1.0874
Dollar/yen: DOWN at 109.72 from 110.09
London - FTSE 100: DOWN 1.4 percent at 7,425.61 points
Frankfurt - DAX 30: DOWN 0.9 percent at 13,623.14
Paris - CAC 40: DOWN 1.0 percent at 6,043.91
EURO STOXX 50: DOWN 1.2 percent at 3,809.12
Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.1 percent at 23,827.73 (close)
Hong Kong - Hang Seng: DOWN 0.3 percent at 27,730.00 (close)
Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 0.7 percent at 2,906.07 (close)
New York - Dow: UP 0.9 percent at 29,551.42 (close)
Brent Crude: DOWN 0.8 percent at $55.36 per barrel
West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 0.5 percent at $50.93 per barrel

Pentagon Shifts $3.8 Billion to Mexico Border Wall Construction

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 13/2020
The U.S. Defense Department is shifting another $3.8 billion dollars from procurement and other operations to the construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border, official documents sent to the U.S. Congress showed Thursday. The move expanded rebudgeting of Pentagon funds to support President Donald Trump's efforts to accelerate construction of the wall, circumventing Congress, which has so far blocked funding.

Venezuela's Guaido Defends Sanctions against Maduro Regime

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 13/2020
Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaido on Wednesday defended foreign sanctions against his country 24 hours after he was attacked at Caracas international airport by state airline employees shouting "fascist". Guaido returned on Tuesday from a three-week international tour that took him to the US, Canada, Colombia and Europe. He was met by some angry Conviasa workers enraged that last Friday the US placed sanctions on the state airline company. The US action criminalizing transactions with the flag carrier is the latest of many sanctions by Washington aimed at toppling leftist President Nicolas Maduro's regime, particularly by cutting his government's oil revenue. One protester appeared to douse Guaido with a fizzy drink. But speaking to journalists after a legislative session held in a Caracas plaza, the National Assembly speaker defended the use of sanctions. He said they are "the free world's tools to confront regimes (that) violate human rights, torturers and murderers."He said the sanctions imposed on the top officials in Maduro's government were an "effective" form of pressure. Guaido's uncle Juan Marquez, who vanished after flying back with him, had been arrested, top Maduro ally Diosdado Cabello said, accusing him of smuggling explosives. On his state television programme, Cabello said Marquez was detained for allegedly carrying C-4 explosives hidden inside flashlights and perfume refills, and was wearing a bulletproof vest.
Guaido had denounced the "disappearance" of his uncle at the airport and said he would hold Maduro responsible for whatever happened to him.
'More sanctions for criminals'
Maduro retains the support of Venezuela's powerful military and has resisted Guaido's challenge, even as the United States ramps up the pressure.
"Yes, there will be more sanctions for the criminals and everyone that supports the dictatorship," warned Guaido, who on Tuesday had told supporters to "look out for new announcements."For the second time in less than a year, Guaido flouted a travel ban imposed by Maduro's regime to meet with allies around the world, including US President Donald Trump. Guaido sprang to prominence in January 2019 when he declared himself the country's acting president in a direct challenge to Maduro. He derived such authority from his position as the speaker of the National Assembly, after the legislature declared Maduro's 2018 re-election invalid following a poll widely denounced as rigged. Lawmakers called Maduro a "usurper" while more than 50 countries recognized Guaido as interim president. He retained his Assembly post last month despite a standoff in which troops stopped him from entering the legislature.
Although it sits on the world's largest proven oil reserves, Venezuela's economy has collapsed under Maduro's leadership and the country has suffered five years of recession. The UN says more than 4.5 million people have left the country due to its crisis while inflation is the highest in the world, according to the International Monetary Fund. Maduro told supporters celebrating World Youth Day that "traitors go abroad to ask for sanctions against the people." Cabello, considered the second-most powerful person in the country, said the sanctions had affected Venezuela's ability to buy food and medicine.
Last year, Guaido tried to force in humanitarian aid from Colombia, Brazil and Curacao but under Maduro's orders the military blocked entry points to keep it out. Students rallied in Caracas on Wednesday in support of Guaido, who repeated his claim from Tuesday that his uncle had disappeared since returning with him to the Caracas international airport on the same flight he took from Portugal.

Sudan Signs Deal with Families of Victims of USS Cole Bombing
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 13/2020
Sudan's justice ministry said early Thursday it had signed a deal with the families of the American servicemen killed in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen. The deal was signed on February 7 in Washington to fulfil a key condition for removing the northeast African country from the United States' state sponsor of terrorism list, the ministry said in a statement without specifying the amount of compensation agreed. "As part of the transitional government's effort to remove Sudan from the terrorism list, a deal has been signed on February 7 with the families of the victims of the USS Cole incident," the ministry said. "The deal clearly specifies that the government of Sudan was not responsible for the incident or any such terrorist incident and it is doing this deal only to... fulfil the condition put by the American administration to remove Sudan from its terrorism list."On October 12, 2000, a rubber boat loaded with explosives blew up as it rounded the bow of the guided-missile destroyer, which had just pulled into Aden, Yemen, for a refuelling stop. Seventeen American sailors were killed as well as the two perpetrators of the attack claimed by Al-Qaeda, in an early success for the terror group and its founder Osama bin Laden. A US court then ruled that Sudan, where the two bombers were trained, was responsible for the attack -- a claim Khartoum always denied. In 1993, Washington listed Sudan in its terrorism blacklist for its alleged support of Islamist groups. Bin Laden used to reside in Sudan from 1992 to 1996.

New Clashes in Libya despite U.N. Ceasefire Call
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 13/2020
Rival forces clashed in the Libyan capital Thursday, witnesses and pro-Government of National Accord (GNA) forces said, a day after a U.N. Security Council resolution called for a "lasting ceasefire."Flights were again suspended at Mitiga, Tripoli's sole functioning airport, following rocket fire, as fighting broke out between forces loyal to the U.N.-recognized GNA and fighters of strongman Khalifa Haftar in the capital's south. Witnesses heard explosions in the largely agricultural area of Machrou al-Hadhba about 30 kilometers (18 miles) south of the Tripoli city center. Rockets also struck residential neighborhoods, killing one woman and wounding four other civilians, according to a spokesman for the health ministry, Amin al-Hachimi. GNA spokesman Moustafa al-Mejii confirmed fighting had broken out in the suburb. Mejii accused forces loyal to eastern Libya-based Haftar of having repeatedly violated a fragile truce called for by outside powers Russia and Turkey since January 12. "Haftar's militias tried to advance in the region of Machrou al-Hadhba, but our forces repelled the attack," he said.  Despite the truce, there has been sporadic fighting almost every day near Tripoli, and arms continue to flow into the country. The U.N. Security Council adopted on Wednesday a resolution calling for a "lasting ceasefire" in the conflict-hit country, a first since Haftar launched his offensive to seize Tripoli in April. The resolution called for continued negotiations by a joint military commission set up in January between the two sides, with the goal of achieving a "permanent ceasefire". This would include a monitoring system, a separation of forces and confidence-building measures. The commission's Geneva meeting ended Saturday without a resolution, but the U.N. proposed resuming talks from February 18. More than 1,000 people have died in the clashes between Haftar and the GNA, while another 140,000 have been displaced, according to the U.N.

Breaking: US Navy intercepts 'Iranian weapons' bound for Houthis
The National/February 13/2020
Weapons were of 'Iranian design and manufacture', US claims
An image of the vessel boarded by the US Navy which was discovered to be carrying a large cache of weapons. An image of the vessel boarded by the US Navy which was discovered to be carrying a large cache of weapons. The US Navy has intercepted a shipment of Iranian-made and designed weapons bound for the Houthi rebels in Yemen, the US Central Command announced on Thursday. Centcom said the operation occurred on Sunday, February 9. The USS Normandy, while conducting maritime security operations in the Arabian Sea, “boarded a dhow vessel in accordance with international law and discovered a large cache of weapons”. It said the weapons seized included "150 Dehlavieh anti-tank guided missiles” and “other weapons components seized aboard the dhow were of Iranian design and manufacture".They included “Iranian surface-to-air missiles, Iranian thermal imaging weapon scopes, and Iranian components for unmanned aerial and surface vessels, as well as other munitions and advanced weapons parts".The UN Security Council has imposed since April 2015 an embargo aimed at blocking weapons to military groups in Yemen.At least four times since then, the US Navy has intercepted weapons it says were heading to the Houthi rebels.

The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 13-14/2020
How Donald Trump Can Max-Out 'Maximum Pressure' on Iran
Michael Rubin/The National Interest/February 13/2020
Sanctions loopholes must be closed. Fortunately, it is possible to address these in a manner that would pressure the Iranian regime without harming the Iranian people, the majority of whom chafe under the clerical regime. It has now been over a year since the Trump administration began its “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, and almost two years since Secretary of State Mike Pompeo laid out 12 demands upon the Iranian regime to change its behavior.  For Iran, the “maximum pressure” campaign has been devastating. The economy is in recession, inflation is on the upswing, and the Iranian rial is increasingly worthless. The largest Iranian banknote—100,000 rials—is worth just $2.50 at official rates, and less on the street rates Iranians actually use. In order to bypass the psychological fear of hyperinflation, the regime now circulates “bank checks” worth up to one million rials.
As foreign policy and defense have become political footballs, there is growing partisan backlash against Trump’s Iran policy in Congress. Those who say ‘maximum pressure’ can never work, however, ignore history. As the late Peter Rodman pointed out in a 1981 Washington Quarterly article, maximum pressure forced Iran to reverse course on its demands for U.S. hostages seized at the embassy in 1979, and eventually release them on the first day of the Reagan presidency. Then, in 1988, revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini reversed course under the tremendous strain of Iran’s economic isolation to accept a ceasefire in the Iran-Iraq War that he had first been offered six years earlier. The major faults of the “maximum pressure” campaign are both that it lacks any strategy to fracture the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and it remains incomplete. While the U.S. government primarily considers the IRGC a terrorist entity challenging U.S. forces abroad and targeting U.S. allies across the Middle East, its major focus has actually been internal since 2007 when then-IRGC chief Mohammad Ali Jafari argued that the Iranian public rather than U.S. forces posed the primary threat to the regime. He was right, of course. It’s wishful thinking to believe muddle-through reform can work or regime change can occur when the IRGC remains united and strong. If Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Iran coordinator Brian Hook wanted to accelerate their strategy, there are many soft strategies they could employ to exacerbate fissures within the IRGC in order to turn the group upon itself.
Within the maximum pressure campaign, however, many sanctions loopholes also remain. Fortunately, it is possible to address these in a manner that would pressure the Iranian regime without harming the Iranian people, the majority of whom chafe under the clerical regime. U.S. sanctions have bit so hard on the IRGC and the perhaps 40 percent of the Iranian economy which it dominates, that Iraqi Shi’ite militias now subsidize the IRGC rather than vice versa. While the State and Treasury Departments have slapped sanctions on some of the Iranian-backed militias for terrorism and human rights violations, they have done little to identify the militia business interests in Iraq which now subsidize Iran’s malign activities. Within Iran’s borders as well, the clerical regime is investing in industries that augment Iran’s military abilities but remain largely ignored in Washington. For example, Iranian engineers have been working for more than a decade on nanotechnology and, increasingly appear to be making significant strides. Saeed Sarkar, secretary of the Islamic Republic’s nanotechnology headquarters, recently reported that there are now 610 products related to nanotechnology in the domestic market, and that 15 separate Iranian industries use nano-tech, including the pharmaceutical, construction, textiles, automotive, oil, gas, petrochemicals and home appliance sectors. Sarkar also claimed that Iran has successfully exported nano-tech to 45 countries. China actively helps the Iranian industry. Iranian work on carbon fibers, meanwhile, has enabled the Islamic Republic to build lighter and more advanced unmanned aerial vehicles and perhaps more advanced centrifuges as well. More recently, the Iranian government has launched efforts to extract rare earth elements—the 15 lanthanides on the Periodic Table of Elements as well as scandium and yttrium—many of which have unique industrial applications as catalysts, magnets, and in the petroleum industry. If the Iranian government is successful, not only can they save increasingly scarce hard currency, but also advance their own industrial capacity to better counter the impact of sanctions.
U.S. concern about the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions and its ballistic missile work may be the stuff of headlines, but Iran’s industry is broader, and the applications from other high-technology sectors can also augment Iran’s programs. It would be a mistake to ignore niche Iranian industries today, because they form the basis of asymmetric capabilities which the Iranian leadership will not hesitate to deploy or export tomorrow. It is time to undermine the building blocks of Iran’s next-generation military-industrial ambition.

Ireland Brings New Twist to Populism
Lionel Laurent/Bloomberg/February, 13/2020
Sinn Fein’s electoral smash in Ireland is a historic moment for a party that has long had difficulty shaking off its past ties to the sectarian violence of the Troubles. It’s clear that the party’s new leader and a policy platform based around fixing the country’s housing crisis and improving public services have struck a chord with the public. That was especially true with the under-35s, for whom peace in Ireland has been the norm rather than the exception.
It’s less clear what winning the popular vote will really mean for Sinn Fein in a country where the two dominant establishment parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, still command a sizable chunk of the vote and have more middle-of-the-road policy ideas. If this is the moment populism breaks the two-party grip on the Irish government, it will be very different to the forces that have shaken neighboring Britain, be it the euroskepticism of the Brexit vote or the sweeping hard-left economic changes espoused by Jeremy Corbyn before he was defeated in December.
It must be said that Sinn Fein’s victory did not come out of the blue. The party’s process of “normalization” has been going on for years as it gradually built up support at successive elections — in fits and starts, as seen elsewhere when armed rebel groups become unarmed political parties. Between 1997 and 2005 Sinn Fein’s share of the vote went from 16.9% to 23.3%, according to Birmingham University’s Matthew Whiting; grabbing a quarter of the first-round preference vote this weekend was a big improvement on its 14% share in 2016.
This latest jump in popularity reflects a policy platform and new leader able to connect with voters exercised about inequality, but it also reflects public frustration with the status quo. Prime Minister Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael party and center-right rival Fianna Fail are often described as “Tweedledum and Tweedledee,” given their similarity on big issues like Ireland’s low-tax economic model, Brexit and pensions.
The popularity of Sinn Fein has understandably prompted investors to scan the party’s manifesto pledges of taxing the rich and squeezing the banking sector and to sell Irish stocks as a precaution. But the reality of coalition-building means both that the party cannot be ignored and that it cannot avoid compromising on its pledges. Ireland’s ranked-choice system, and a broadly split vote between Sinn Fein, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, makes partnership a necessity in forming a government.
That’s why the focus is now on Fianna Fail — which is on track to win the most seats in parliament — and its dilemma over whether or not to begin talks with Sinn Fein. Fianna Fail’s deputy leader appeared to walk a fine line on the topic, as Bloomberg News reports. Giving Sinn Fein a taste of power might actually take some wind out of its sails: It would still put one of the Tweedledums in the driving seat, and curb the more extreme parts of the populists’ platform while still making them accountable to taxpayers and voters. It wouldn’t be a free ride.
Europe has little reason to worry about Ireland tipping into a destabilizing political crisis just yet. The UK’s former Europe Minister, Denis MacShane, tells me that all three top Irish parties look pro-European, though in different ways. While Sinn Fein’s demands for a border poll on Irish reunification should be taken seriously, a poll is unlikely to happen for several years, and there’s no guarantee that the UK would accept it.
And despite Sinn Fein’s history of criticizing European integration, it’s taking a more mixed tone of late — in fact, it even supports Brussels’ decision to fine Apple Inc. over 14 billion euros ($15.3 billion) in unpaid, illegally-avoided taxes in Ireland. And for all of the similarities with Corbyn’s hard-left agenda that was recently rejected by Brits at the polls, Sinn Fein’s platform doesn’t call for a change to Ireland’s 12.5% rate of corporate tax that’s a linchpin of the country’s low-tax model.
Varadkar said during the election campaign that Sinn Fein was not a “normal political party.” It’s a proposition that’s worth testing. Ireland looks set to pursue a different populist path to Brexit and Corbyn.

What's Powering the US Economy?
Noah Smith/Bloomberg/February, 13/2020
The US economy’s steady growth — the longest stretch since World War II without a recession — is something of a mystery. Last summer, the yield curve inverted, which traditionally is the most reliable signal of an impending downturn. There were all sorts of plausible reasons the economy could take a turn for the worse -- a mountain of increasingly risky corporate debt, a slowdown in China, President Donald Trump’s trade war, manufacturing weakness, increasing uncertainty about government policy and so on.
Yet no recession has appeared. Gross domestic product growth has been remarkably steady at a little more than 2% — probably the best, on average, that can be hoped for given the aging population and the global productivity slowdown.
And the labor market is stronger than at any time except the late 1990s, with workers at the bottom of the income scale getting real wage increases.
Why is the economy doing well despite all the headwinds? Trump supporters will tend to credit the president’s late 2017 tax reform. But this is unlikely. If the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act had made the economy more efficient, it would be have led to a surge of business investment. But economics research finds little impact, and real private investment actually decreased in the second through fourth quarters of 2019.
It’s also possible, of course, that the tax cut has raised consumption by driving up aggregate demand. Paul Krugman has put this forward as an explanation. It’s also true that under Trump, deficits have risen to levels not seen since 2012.
But this is unlikely to have provided the economy with a major boost. First, the tax reform’s benefits flowed mostly to the wealthy. Wealthier people tend not to change their consumption much in response to changes in income, because unlike poor and middle-class people they have no pressing need to pay off their debts or buy necessities. Fiscal stimulus also tends to have much less of an effect when the economy is healthy than when it’s in recession. Thus, the tax cuts probably provided little stimulus while raising the deficit.
So if it wasn’t the tax reform, what’s keeping the recovery rolling along?
Low interest rates haven’t yet sparked a consumer borrowing boom; the ratio of household debt to gross domestic product remains at low levels and shows no signs of rising.
Trump might assert that his trade war helped. But exports didn’t go up during the past year. And if US consumers are shifting from imported goods to domestically produced ones, the shift is very minor.
The recent weakness in business investment, especially in manufacturing, also suggests that the US is not benefiting from a wave of reshoring by multinational companies. Chinese labor costs have risen, and China has become a less attractive investment destination because of the trade war and Chinese government policies. But so far, companies are mostly just shifting their overseas production to other low-cost countries like Vietnam rather than bringing it back to the US.
The truth is, there’s no obvious driver of US growth. The most likely explanation is that the economy is simply in a phase of boring normality.

Iran, Not Saudi Arabia, Is to Blame for Yemen's Humanitarian Crisis
Con Coughlin/Gatestone Institute/February 13/2020
Now, with the humanitarian crisis reaching a critical juncture with an estimated 80% of Yemen's 24 million population in need of assistance, aid organisations are finally waking up to the central role the Iranian-backed Houthis have played in creating the disaster.
As humanitarian officials prepare to meet in Brussels this week -- Thursday -- to discuss the Yemeni aid crisis, the main topic of discussion will be what has been described as the unprecedented and unacceptable obstruction tactics being employed by the Houthis that are preventing vital aid supplies from reaching the country's starving population.
In their latest bid to seize control of the aid distribution, the Houthis have recently imposed a 2 percent levy on all the international aid agencies operating in the country, prompting one aid worker to claim that the Houthis could be using the aid money to finance the war.
Whatever the outcome, no one will be in any doubt that it is the Iranian-backed Houthis, and not the Saudi-led coalition, who are primarily responsible for creating Yemen's disastrous humanitarian crisis.
As Yemen's humanitarian crisis reaches a critical juncture, with an estimated 80% of the country's 24 million people in need of assistance, aid organisations are finally waking up to the central role the Iranian-backed Houthis have played in creating the disaster. Pictured: Displaced persons fill water containers at a makeshift camp in a village in Hajjah province, Yemen, on May 9, 2019.
In the five years since Yemen was plunged into its bitter civil war, it has invariably been the Saudi-led coalition, which enjoys the support of the US, Britain and France, that has been blamed for causing what is widely regarded as the world's greatest humanitarian disaster.
Throughout the conflict the main focus of coverage in most of the Western media has been on the role played by the Saudi military in intensifying the conflict, with Riyadh taking the lion's share of the blame for the estimated 100,000 Yemenis that have died.
The Saudis, it is true, have not always covered themselves in glory in the way they have conducted the military campaign, with frequent reports of Saudi warplanes attacking civilian targets.
The Saudis, though, are not the only outside power that has involved itself in the Yemeni conflict. The Houthi rebels, who provoked the civil war in the first place by overthrowing the country's democratically elected president, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, in 2014, have received backing from Iran, with the Revolutionary Guards regularly supplying the Houthis with weapons, including long-range missiles.
The Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, moreover, have been instrumental in escalating the conflict. Not only has the steady flow of weapons smuggled in from Tehran enabled the Houthis to sustain their offensive against the Saudi-led coalition. It has also enabled the Houthis to expand the conflict well beyond Yemen's borders by using Iranian-made missiles to launch a series of attacks against neighbouring Saudi Arabia.
Now, as the humanitarian crisis reaches a critical juncture, with an estimated 80% of Yemen's 24 million population in need of assistance, aid organisations are finally waking up to the central role the Iranian-backed Houthis have played in creating the disaster.
As humanitarian officials prepare to meet in Brussels this week -- Thursday -- to discuss the Yemeni aid crisis, the main topic of discussion will be what has been described as the unprecedented and unacceptable obstruction tactics being employed by the Houthis that are preventing vital aid supplies from reaching the country's starving population.
In what aid officials have described as "an extremely hostile environment", the Houthis have been accused of harassment and obstruction as they seek to prevent humanitarian supplies from reaching the 6.7 million Yemenis who are said to be on the brink of starvation.
In their latest bid to seize control of the aid distribution, the Houthis have recently imposed a 2 percent levy on all the international aid agencies operating in the country, prompting one aid worker to claim that the Houthis could be using the aid money to finance the war.
Washington has responded by threatening to suspend much of its humanitarian assistance to Yemen on March 1 if the Houthis continue to insist on their aid levy.
Such a move, if implemented, would add considerably to the already dire conditions affecting large swathes of the country. It would also, however, highlight the challenge of managing aid operations in areas controlled by an Iranian-backed rebel movement that is openly hostile to the West.
"We're in an unfortunate situation and we're trying to work the problem," said a senior official at the US State Department. "If such an action were taken, it would be one that was forced by basically unprecedented Houthi obstructionism."
A final decision will only be taken following a crunch meeting of aid agencies and donors this week in Brussels, where the thorny topic of how to respond to the Houthis' tactics will be discussed, as well as the implications of suspending aid to a country that is already teetering on the brink of total collapse.
Whatever the outcome, no one will be in any doubt that it is the Iranian-backed Houthis, and not the Saudi-led coalition, who are primarily responsible for creating Yemen's disastrous humanitarian crisis.
*Con Coughlin is the Telegraph's Defence and Foreign Affairs Editor and a Distinguished Senior 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.

Qassem Soleimani: Iran's Latest 'King of Martyrs'?
Denis MacEoin/Gatestone Institute/February 13/2020
Esmail Ghaani, Soleimani's successor as head of the Quds Force, has promised: "to continue martyr Soleimani's path with the same force and the only compensation for us would be us would be to remove America from the region."
So much terrorism has come from Tehran.... as distant as Latin America.
One might also ask why has the United Nations never held Iran accountable for these violations?
One might also ask if the time has finally come for the UN's largest donors -- read the US -- to rethink their generosity? Why not, as Ambassador John R. Bolton long ago recommended: "that we should pay for what we want and insist that we get for what we pay for."
Esmail Ghaani, Qassem Soleimani's successor as head of Iran's Quds Force, has promised: "to continue martyr Soleimani's path with the same force and the only compensation for us would be us would be to remove America from the region." (Image source: Tasnim News [CC by 4.0])
When news broke on the morning of January 3 that Qassem Soleimani, an Iranian general who for many years had headed the Quds Force, the powerful extraterritorial operations arm of the regime's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), had been assassinated -- along with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, head of the Iraqi Ketaib Hezbollah militia -- in a US drone strike at Baghdad airport, pundits across the globe burst into print, some to condemn, others to praise his killing.
Neither side seems to want an all-out war. On October 7, 2019, US President Donald J. Trump tweeted:
"... it is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home. WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN."
One can only hope that this statement is not as un-thought-through as it appears. While in a democracy war is never a first choice -- least of all in an election year -- the Western fight against Islamist terrorism and territorial predation is far from at an end. As President Trump has already found out in both Syria and Iraq, when it was even mentioned that troops might be withdrawn, evidently that was understood by some countries as an invitation to help themselves, and more troops had to be sent, often within days. The same "misunderstanding" might be now be taking place in the waters of the eastern Mediterranean and Libya as well.
Quite often, troop deployment in these areas does not so much mean "endless wars" as forward deployment. While President Trump is indeed a dazzling negotiator, there are sizeable differences between negotiating, say, business deals and geopolitical ones. Business deals tend to be "win-win": You have the land and I have the money, or I have the land and you have the money. Geopolitical deals can be stickier: You would like to have -- nuclear weapons capability? The Middle East? Control of all the sea lanes on the planet? What is supposed to disabuse a despot of his wish? Will a despot cheat? Will a despot take money given to him not to cheat and use it to cheat? Why would a despot not cheat? Or try to?
So much terrorism has come from Tehran. The Iranian regime works across the Middle East, using major terrorist forces such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria, Hamas in Gaza, Houthi rebels in Yemen, and Soleimani's Revolutionary Guards Quds Force in Syria, Iraq and as distant as Latin America.
Iran may be chary of waging full-out war, and has been seeking negotiations -- at the United Nations. Evidently the mullahs have calculated that they have too many expensive assets to lose, starting with oil refineries. The regime has been weakened of late by US sanctions, conflict in the Gulf, the main waterway for its oil, and by unrest at home, often put down with savage force. Nevertheless, threats and attacks are likely to keep on developing for months if not years. The assassination of Soleimani is, by any standards, a game-changer. Even as his body was taken on a tour of cities in Iran, to reach his burial site in his native Kerman:
"The Islamic Republic will no longer observe any limits on the operational aspects of its nuclear program," the semi-official Fars news agency reported Sunday, citing a statement from the government.
The Iraqi parliament has, in a non-binding resolution, called for the withdrawal of the 5,000 US troops stationed in the country during the campaign against Islamic State. Meanwhile, Mohsen Rezai, a former Revolutionary Guard chief has declared: "If [US President Donald] Trump retaliates to Iran's revenge, we will strike Haifa, Tel Aviv and wipe out Israel".
Rash words, of course, though not at all surprising from a representative of a state that daily chants "Death to Israel" in defiance of all international norms and laws, ironically at the UN, where Iran is now seeking negotiations. The UN Charter expressly prohibits member states from threatening one another:
All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations. – UN Charter, Article 2(4)
One might also ask why has the United Nations never held Iran accountable for these violations? One might also ask if the time has finally come for the UN's largest donors -- read the US -- to rethink their generosity? Why not, as Ambassador John R. Bolton long ago recommended, "pay for what we want and get what we pay for?"
Writing in Tablet, Tony Badran sums up the positive impact of Soleimani's disappearance from the scene:
"At one stroke, the U.S. president has decapitated the Iranian regime's chief terror arm and its most prominent extension in Iraq, where the U.S. Embassy was set on fire last week. Strategically, the killing of Osama bin Laden and, more recently, of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, pale by comparison. In addition to being responsible for killing hundreds of U.S. soldiers during the Iraq War, Soleimani directed a larger state project, which has shaped the geopolitics of the region."
Badran is right in his assessment, but his concerns relate simply to the geopolitical aspects of the assassination and its aftermath. No one seems to be talking about the religious implications, which may in the end outweigh everything else.
The Islamic Republic of Iran was brought into being largely through the inspirations of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as set down in his short treatise Hukumat-e Eslami ("Islamic Government") in 1977 and in its central doctrine of Velayat-e Faqih ("Guardianship of the Jurist"), which placed responsibility for leadership of the state in the hands of the clerical establishment. For more than forty years, the clergy have steered the Iranian ship of state through all manner of vicissitudes, keeping control of affairs through the use of sheer force and legislation based on Islamic law.[1]
What typifies Iranian Islam more than anything is that the vast majority of its people are Shi'i Muslims and that Shi'is are also the majority (64%) of Muslims in neighboring Iraq.
There is no room here for a full discussion of how Shi'ism developed in history or of how it developed in great distinction from mainstream Sunni Islam. The Shi'is have always been a minority within the Islamic world as a whole, with a belief system that differs in significant features from their Sunni rivals.
For most of their history, the Shi'a have been persecuted, something that has encouraged them to practise taqiyya, or dissimulation, in matters of faith. The main group of Shi'is, the Ithna' 'Ashariyya (Twelvers), follow the teachings and example of twelve holy imams, starting with 'Ali, who married the prophet Muhammad's daughter. When the second of 'Ali's two sons, Husayn, was killed during the Battle of Karbala in 680, his death gave rise to a cult of martyrdom that permeates the religion. The imams are regarded as manifestations of divinity on earth, and the twelfth and last imam, the Imam Mahdi, still lives in a heavenly realm from which he is destined to return to wage the last jihad in which unbelievers are finally destroyed. Messianic claims have led to violence by the Shi'a in the past, notably through the mid-nineteenth century heretical Babi movement.
For most Iranians, being proud Persians conflates with being devoted Shi'is; it is out of that conflation that the Islamic Revolution in Iran gained its strength and continues to retain control over the nation. More recently, that combination of belief and nationalism has led to increased involvement in territories from Yemen to Lebanon, beyond Iran's own borders.
Every month of Muharram, millions of Shi'a take to the streets in commemoration of Husayn's death. Men flog themselves and use knives to cut their heads, sending blood streaming down their faces. There is lamentation, sermonizing, and a range of passion plays for most of the month.
This celebration of violence is also a celebration of Husayn's bravery in rising up with an army against the then Sunni caliph, Yazid. The sense of a persecuted people rising against their oppressors may still invigorate many Shi'is, as in attacks on Saudi Arabia, or the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), although both in 2009 and more recently, protests have been against their own Iranian leaders.
Soleimani's name is already being written on posters in religious not military terms, not as "General" but as "Martyr and Pilgrim" (Shahid va Haj).
Some historians believe that we are not dealing with rational people here, yet despite the possible preference of some of the mullahs for "the end of days" and martyrdom, many others seem to prefer retaining power.
Meanwhile, Esmail Ghaani, Soleimani's successor as head of the Quds Force, has promised: "to continue martyr Soleimani's path with the same force and the only compensation for us would be to remove America from the region."
Some pundits have claimed that Soleimani's death will lead to World War III. In reality, any all-out war will end in the rapid defeat of Iran, if only because of the gross disparity between their respective military forces, with America vastly better armed.
Nevertheless, the tactics and forms of attack already in use by the Quds Force, the Keta'ib Hezbollah, and other Iranian terrorist operations abroad are likely to persist and be multiplied -- unless stopped.
*Denis MacEoin is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute. He authored the standard account of Iran's militant sectarian movement, Babism, in The Messiah of Shiraz (2008).
[1] The best summary of modern Iran remains that of Michael Axworthy, Revolutionary Iran: A History of the Islamic Republic, 2nd. London, 2019.
© 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.
Most people tend to think of the business cycle as a series of alternating booms and busts. The US economic record seems to confirm this, with recessions coming at least once a decade. But while this is certainly possible, most macroeconomic models envision the economy as a production machine that just keeps chugging until some sort of shock disturbs it from equilibrium.
Since the end of World War II, there have been three main types of shocks that have thrown the US economy off kilter: financial bubbles and crashes, Federal Reserve interest rate hikes or big increases in oil prices. None of these are threatening now. The rise in risky leveraged lending doesn’t seem big enough to cause another financial crisis. Vivid memories of the crash of 2008 are probably preventing excessive speculation in stocks and housing, while the Dodd-Frank financial reforms and the scars of that disaster probably are holding back financial institutions from piling up excessive risks. Meanwhile, oil prices and gasoline prices are at moderate levels, and the Fed in 2019 reversed some of the interest rate increases of prior years. Much has been made of Trump’s trade war, but so far the real impact has been minor even in sectors such as agriculture.
So US consumers simply have little reason to stop consuming. They’ve deleveraged since the crash, their homes are appreciating modestly in value, their wages are rising at a decent rate and their pensions are doing fine. Barring a new financial crisis, a major Chinese collapse, a sharp reversal of course from the Fed, or more dramatic meddling from Trump, the economy may simply keep sailing along.

How Far is Turkey Really Willing to Go in Idlib in the Future?
Michael Young/Carnegie MEC/Febrauary 13/2020
Joseph Daher | Professor at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, part-time affiliate professor at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, where he works on the Wartime and Post-Conflict in Syria Project.
Turkey has sent military reinforcements to Idlib Governorate and warned the Syrian regime’s armed forces that “all options are on the table” to stem their advance and push them to withdraw. However, Turkey is in a difficult position, even as it wants to prevent a new arrival of refugees to Turkey from Idlib.
The Turkish army would have a clear military advantage in any large-scale confrontation with the Syrian regime, but it wants to avoid increasing tensions and jeopardizing its relations with Russia. Moscow is the only actor capable of curbing Damascus’ potentially hostile actions against Turkish interests at any time. Turkey also wants to preserve its close relations with Russia because of Ankara’s deepening international isolation, especially with regard to Western and Middle Eastern powers, due to its Libyan venture and energy rivalry over hydrocarbon resources in the eastern Mediterranean. In addition, earlier this year the presidents of Turkey and Russia formally launched the TurkStream pipeline that will carry Russian natural gas to southern Europe through Turkey. Maintaining the relationship with Moscow is the main issue for Ankara.
The Syrian regime’s forces, backed by Russia, have just retaken Saraqeb, which is of strategic importance as it lies at the junction of the M5 and M4 highways that connect Aleppo to the capital Damascus and to Lataqia, respectively. Following this, the most probable scenario is that a form of truce will be negotiated by Turkey and Russia. Regime forces will then wait several weeks, or even months, before resuming a new offensive in Idlib, once again with Russian support.
Turkey’s calls for a new Sochi agreement with Russia and Iran, as it is losing ground after the regime’s conquest of new territories in Idlib, reflect in some ways the limited options it has in Syria.
Bissane al-Sheikh | Journalist, writer, and media consultant based in Istanbul, former reporter at the Al-Hayat newspaper
“There is no consensus over Idlib,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoglu to those hoping for results from a three-hour meeting with Russian officials that was supposed to revive the stalled political track. But why would anyone expect the Syrian regime’s military offensive in Idlib to stop at this stage, if Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan himself gave Syrian regime forces until the end of February to withdraw to the limits of the deescalation zone?
It is true that Erdoğan has warned the Syrian forces that “the Turkish army will do whatever it has to do in order to force them to withdraw” and that “the [Turkish] air and ground forces will carry out military operations if necessary in all areas of our operations in Idlib.” However, in practice none of this has happened. Rather, Turkey has prevented Turkish-backed Syrian factions from fighting or providing any support to villages and towns trying to resist the Syrian army’s attacks. Ironically, this has coincided with the announcement by Ankara that it would send Syrian fighters to Libya, which strengthens the assumption that Turkey has abandoned its role of “guarantor” in Syria in favor of being a “conqueror” in Libya.
The fact is that Idlib, which was once a strong negotiating card in the hands of Turkey, has exhausted its validity and become a huge burden. Turkey has lost its interest in the area except for a border strip where it can use the estimated 1.7 million displaced people as a bargaining chip to be used in future negotiations.
Assaad al-Achi | Executive director of Baytna Syria, a civil society support organization
It’s very hard to tell how far Turkey is willing to go in Idlib. It has deployed more than 5,000 soldiers in the governorate over the past month. Yet its response to the killing of its soldiers by the Syrian regime’s artillery has been minimal. Negotiations with Russia have not stopped, but have failed so far to produce any lasting cessation of hostilities. Therefore, Turkey is in a conundrum. It wants to avoid at all costs a humanitarian disaster on its southwestern border, but at the same time it doesn’t want to ruin its relationship with Russia.
Without clear support from NATO, it is very hard to imagine that Turkey will be willing to go far in Idlib. Its strategic interests lie elsewhere, particularly in northeastern Syria, where it seeks to prevent any advances by the People’s Protection Units, an offshoot of Turkey’s sworn enemy and most imminent national security threat, the Kurdistan Workers Party. However, should NATO decide to counter the Syrian and Russian offensive in Idlib, Turkey would be willing to enforce a “safe zone” there to protect civilians and avoid any risks of a refugee wave entering into southern Turkey.
Kheder Khaddour | Nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, focusing on Syria
Idlib has become a central front in the Syrian war. The area includes extremist groups who believe they are waging holy war, as well as rebels with very local agendas focused on protecting their land and communities. For international aid groups and the local population, the region is the last stronghold outside the Assad regime’s control. For Turkey, meanwhile, Idlib has come to be viewed as a sort of borderland. After trying to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad militarily, Ankara had to change direction following the Russian military intervention in 2015. Having realized that Russia now had a presence on Turkey’s border with Syria, Ankara altered its approach to one primarily of border protection.
Now the Syrian military—with Russian support and Turkish acquiescence—will reconnect the urban areas of Syria’s northwest—Ma‘rat al-Na‘man, Saraqeb, Idlib city, and Jisr al-Shughour—with coastal regions and Syria’s south. By doing so, Turkey’s talk of creating a 30-kilometer “safe zone” inside Syria will become a de facto reality. But rather than being a safe zone, it will actually serve more as an extended border zone for Turkey.

Canada: Sharia financing rapidly expanding with increasing Sharia-adherent population
Christine Douglas-Williams/Jihad Watch/February 13/2020
كريستين دوغلاس ويليامز/في كندا تمويل الشريعة يتوسع بسرعة مع زيادة عدد السكان الملتزمين بها

Islamic finance is rapidly expanding in Canada. “Canada is home to an estimated 1.5mn people following the Islamic faith, or around 4% of the population, which makes Muslims the second largest religion in the country, while it is also the fastest-growing. Most of them are immigrants.”
And expect demand in Canada for Sharia finance to increase steadily, along with demands for other Sharia tenets, such as curbing speech that offends Islam. Canada already has “Islamophobia” motion M-103, along with a $23-million followup plan to “crack down” on “Islamophobia,” as well as to train law enforcement to monitor online and offline “hate speech.”
Canada is also welcoming in one million immigrants a year, with a Prime Minister who has his clear preferences: Trudeau has declared that “evangelicals are the worst part of Canadian society.” Also, Canada’s zeal to lead the charge on the UN Migration Pact will “spell radical change for Canada,” turning mass migration into a human right. That is sobering, given Trudeau’s dismal record of promoting the interests of Islamic supremacists. The Muslim Voting Guide even deemed Trudeau’s “blackface antics” to be “OK because of his public stance against Islamophobia.”
There are plenty of opportunities for Islamic banking in Canada with a Muslim population that will increase substantially in the future and with a growing interest of foreign investors noticing that Canada is developing into an Western hub for Islamic investment and finance, following the footsteps of the UK.
But allowing Sharia-compliant finance is dangerous. Frank Gaffney, Founder of the Center for Security Policy, warns that it “is green-lighting a seditious system that supports jihad.” He further states:
“If you understand what Shariah is, you understand that it is a pretty awful system. Not something that you’d want insinuated in your society and becoming a major feature of your economic system…..Shariah (Islamic law as dictated by the Koran) governs all aspects of life, from the personal practice of the faith to how you relate to your family to how you relate to your business partners, to your community … all the way up to how the world is run, and it is all one seamless program. You can’t say ‘I’ll take the personal pietistic practice … and skip the beheading and the flogging and the stoning and the global theocracy.”
The Canadian banking sector reportedly has about $18 billion worth of Sharia-compliant mortgages; Sharia financing is rapidly expanding into the insurance sector as well.
“Islamic finance making strides in Canada,” by Arno Maierbrugger, Gulf Times, February 11, 2020:
Although currently not quite in the very centre of attention of the global Islamic finance industry, the Canadian Islamic finance scene in the recent past has experienced growing interest from domestic and international investors, as it developed a rising number of Shariah-compliant investment and financing offerings. The reason is that more Muslims are seeking halal banking and finance products and – in general – an open-minded and progressive society is looking for alternative and socially conscious ways of investing.
Canada is home to an estimated 1.5mn people following the Islamic faith, or around 4% of the population, which makes Muslims the second largest religion in the country, while it is also the fastest-growing. Most of them are immigrants, but there is also a growing percentage of Muslims born in Canada and a smaller, but increasing number converting from other religions to Islam.
Most of them live in the Greater Toronto and Greater Montreal area and are generally middle-class and well educated with considerable grades of financial literacy. Overall, it is estimated that the number of Canadian Muslims will double in the coming decade. Besides, the Muslim community in Canada is quite young, so there is definitely a large potential for mortgage, car, house and personal insurance, credit cards and consumer loans. Multiple-language offerings, personalised services and modern technology-based banking and investment products further create demand in Islamic banking.
These facts, paired with Canada’s global competitiveness and ease of doing business, its AAA credit rating, its well-supervised financial market with strong risk management mechanisms, a sound banking system and a financial regulatory regime which has shown to be compatible with many Islamic finance instruments make a solid background for a thriving Islamic banking and finance landscape.
This situation, together with open-minded non-Muslims on the outlook for ethical and sustainable investment, has raised particular demand for halal mortgages and sukuk and Islamic mutual funds, Islamic insurance, or takaful, as well as commodity- and infrastructure-backed investment. Notably, Canada’s wealth in natural resources, which ranges from mining to hydrocarbons, combined with its ambitious infrastructure development agenda provide countless investment opportunities for investors looking for Shariah compliance in accordance with the asset-backed product requirements of Islamic finance.
There are already a number of Islamic finance players, with the most established being United Muslim Financial, Habib Canadian Bank, Al-Ittihad Investment, Al Yusr, Manzil Bank, Ijara Community Development Corp, Islamic Co-Operative Housing Corp, Ansar Co-operative Housing Corp, Qurtuba Housing Co-op, An-Nur Housing Cooperative, Amana Auto Finance Canada, Assiniboine Credit Union, newer players such as Iana Financial, Wealthsimple Halal, ShariaPortfolio Canada, Global Iman Fund, as well as a number of other medium-sized and smaller player and mortgage cooperatives. Besides, there are a growing number conventional banks and financial institutions opening Islamic windows or planning to do so, among them Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce or the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp….

A mutual historic partnership that has shown its resilience
Oubai Shahbandar/Arab News/February 14/ 2020
The strength of US-Saudi bilateral relations has ebbed and flowed over seven decades, but they have without a doubt managed to overcome a number of obstacles over the years. It is a relationship that has been anchored on common security interests and personal bonds between leaders. A partnership forged in the dying days of World War II, the bond built between US President Franklin D. Roosevelt with Saudi King Abdul Aziz came at a time when a new international order was emerging, and new security threats would evolve over the coming years. That the relationship has only strengthened in scope and scale in the wake of the 9/11 terror strikes — where America faced its deadliest attack on home soil since Pearl Harbor — speaks volumes on its resilience.
As former defense analyst in the US Department of Defense with nearly a decade in service and multiple deployments to combat zones in the Middle East and South Asia, it was clear to me that US military strategists and diplomats would not be able to successfully tackle the threat of transnational terror networks and state-sponsored terror without the help of Arab and Muslim allies. Common concerns over Islamist-inspired terror and Iranian hegemonic aspirations have become a common rallying cry for the US and the Kingdom. More recently, tectonic shifts in the political and social orders of the region have also underscored strategic cooperation between American and Saudi policymakers.
President Trump’s administration has clearly charted a policy path to strengthen defense ties with the Kingdom. And while defense and security cooperation has typically been a bipartisan affair, it would not be hyperbole to describe the Trump administration as having essentially “doubled down” on foreign military sales and various tools for joint defense.
According to the Congressional Research Service: “Since 2009, the executive branch has notified Congress of proposed foreign military sales to Saudi Arabia of major defense articles and services with a potential aggregate value of nearly $139 billion.”
The two countries also found themselves in the common crosshairs of Qassem Soleimani’s vast regional network of proxies and Iran’s growing missile arsenal. The cruise missile attack on the Saudi homeland targeting Aramco’s strategic oil fields and the Iranian missile attack on the US Al-Asad airbase in Iraq highlighted the urgency of establishing a common defense front.
The deployment of advanced missile defense systems, ground troops and fighter-jet squadrons to Riyadh on President Trump’s orders delivered a loud and clear message of deterrence to Iran at a critical time when the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have been attempting to gauge how much they could get away with in terms of destabilizing activity in the region. After all, Soleimani did not differentiate between targeting Americans or Arabs — indeed, he targeted anyone who stood in the way of the Revolutionary Guards’ mission of establishing a region-wide system under Ayatollah Khamenei’s tutelage. The strong security bilateral security link has served as a force multiplier for the US presence in the Arabian Gulf to deter and counter the attempted misadventures of Soleimani’s Revolutionary Guards which threaten the freedom and wellbeing of millions across the Arab world.
And while for a brief time it seemed that the US Congress would put a hold on a significant portion of US military sales and support to the Kingdom in the wake of the Khashoggi tragedy, the strategic partnership that FDR and King Abdul Aziz built is being reinforced by Donald Trump and King Salman.
In the inaugural foreign visit as head of state that he made to Riyadh in 2017, President Trump outlined a foreign policy vision calling for Muslim-majority countries to take the lead in combatting radicalization. He said: “Above all we must be united in pursuing the one goal that transcends every other consideration. That goal is to meet history’s great test—to conquer extremism and vanquish the forces of terrorism.”
And it has been a call that has been met from the Saudi Grand Mufti’s historic pronouncement of extremists to be the “first enemies of Muslims” to unprecedented agreements to share the burden of the investments in countering common security threats.
President Trump’s administration has clearly charted a policy path to strengthen defense ties with the Kingdom.
It is a historic test that, like two old friends who have weathered many storms together in the trenches, has only strengthened the unity of our two countries. President Trump’s message of the urgency and strategic importance of the custodian of the two holy mosques being at the forefront of the fight that affects American and Arab security interests alike has resonated deeply in the Arabian Peninsula. And no matter how much military hardware or intelligence platforms that the US deploys over the years, without the spread of good governance and the responsible recognition of the desires of the millions of Arab youth calling for a better future no battlefield gain will be sustainable.
American men and women have been on the frontlines for well over a decade in the Middle East (nearly two in Afghanistan). Their missions cannot be accomplished alone. And more and more, Washington policy circles have come to terms with the reality that the historical partnership with the Kingdom will have to endure, despite the naysayers.
And so, a meeting that began on an American warship in the Suez on the eve of the great Allied victory over global fascism continues to pay dividends to this day.
*Oubai Shahbandar is a Syrian-American former Middle East Pentagon analyst.

Day a historic relationship began
Salman Al-Ansari/Arab News/February 14/ 2020
Valentine’s Day of 1945 marked a turning point in relations between Saudi Arabia and the US, establishing the beginning of one of the most important and strategic government-to-government and people-to-people relationships, with exchanges that have provided for achieving shared values, goals and interests.
On this day, Saudi King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud accompanied US President Franklin D. Roosevelt aboard American cruiser USS Quincy in the Suez Canal — following the victory by US and allied nations in World War II — for the purposes of exchanges in physical security and energy development from oil resources. This historic meeting established a post-world-war alliance that has flourished into the modern era, with the continuous advancement of the shared goals of regional security, energy stability, economic development and more that encompass all collaborative exchanges between the two countries.
Like the revolutionary King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, the warrior who established the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia through endless battles with leadership and strength, the US-Saudi relationship too has been revolutionary in similar ways, including sharing and prevailing in power and leadership on the global stage, and achieving together in opportunities, challenges and battles through enactments of domestic and international policies. By understanding cooperation between the US and Saudi Arabia, one can determine how similar in nature the Saudi and US governments and their societies are, which can explain how this relationship has prospered and should continue to benefit both with mutual understanding and actions considering their shared interests and goals.
Broad cooperation ranges from economic developments, educational exchanges, energy security and market stability, the continuous fight against radical extremism, countering theats and acts of terrorism, maintaining legitimacy in the Middle East order, and all other aspects that encompass one of the most important relationships in the world. Cooperation in advancing goals in domestic and international policies has created an alliance that continuously protects shared interests, advancing economic and social developments while deterring adversarial influence that threatens US-Saudi national security.
Arguably, the biggest influence threatening US-Saudi relations to date is Iran, with its malign terrorist network actively undermining international law and all that encompasses the legitimacy of a recognized civilized nation. Since the Islamic Republic of Iran rose to power in 1979, its ideological espousation and use of hard power for religious extremist political gains has shocked the world. Its malign influence, clerical control and oppressive actions in domestic and international affairs have threatened the moral and social fabric, legal legitimacy and regional stability of all international societies.
By acting pragmatically in opposition to Iran and its partners’ malign enactments, the US-Saudi front seems to always find the higher ground.
Iran’s influence has arguably led to the rise — and gives illegitimate support to — the grievances of most modern terrorists today, especially in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Libya and elsewhere, threatening international security. By acting pragmatically in opposition to Iran and its partners’ malign enactments, the US-Saudi front seems to always find the higher ground, influenced by logical reason, unlike Iran and similar actors, who play into ideological grievances influencing terrorism, causing further destablization in the Middle East and around the world.
With aims to deter such influence while maintaining strong and prosperous US-Saudi relations, it is important to remember shared history, to act pragmatically and logically, reform policies for international legal legitimacy, and continue in developments involving economic and social exchanges that encompass the uniquely shared relationship between the governments and peoples of the US and Saudi Arabia. Both have risen to power as an alliance on the global stage, coming from a place with a desire for economic and social prosperity, with an understanding of reasoning for ideological and social reform domestically and internationally.
With an alliance dedicated to social and economic security and prosperity within their societies, advancing both is arguably essential for the US-Saudi Arabia relationship to flourish in the international realm while maintaining the status quo as top world powers. For this alliance’s influence to continue to prosper in the form it is today, both must maintain a policy to deter Iran’s malign activity and pursuit of nuclear weapons, counter other forms of radical extremism and terrorism, maintain legitimacy in domestic and international legal realms, ensure economic security away from oil dependency, and continuously develop the social realm to meet future challenges and opportunities in US-Saudi relations.
*Salman Al-Ansari is the founder and president of the Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee (SAPRAC). Twitter: @Salansar1

Climate Change: There is no one silver bullet
Cornelia Meyer/Arab News/February 14/ 2020
Sustainability was the big talk of the town at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos. Greta Thunberg has become the idol of the environmentally conscious. At the same time more and more governments have set their energy transition targets. The UK wants to be carbon neutral by 2050 and Austria even by 2040. The new president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, certainly got attention when she proclaimed Europe would be the first carbon neutral continent by 2050. These are noble and lofty goals, but what does it take to get there?
Much has been said and written about the role renewable sources of energy will play to keep the warming of the planet below 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century — an important goal in order to avoid the catastrophic impact of a warming planet. Renewables have been seen as the solution by many for some time. Alas, they had until recently failed to gain sufficient traction, because until recently it was relatively expensive to produce power from renewable sources of energy. That picture has changed drastically over the past 18 months. It is now possible to produce power from renewable sources of energy at a cost well below that for fossil fuels. This holds particularly true for the GCC, where sunshine is in abundance during daytime and the wind often blows at night.
It is true that the renewables sector has left in its wake a long tail of companies producing solar panels and wild mills going bankrupt. Solar panel producers in particular went from boom to bust in Germany, France, China and elsewhere. That is not surprising, because whenever we see economic revolutions — and the drive towards curbing CO2 emissions is precisely such a revolution — ups and downs are unavoidable. In times of change there will always be winners and losers. Instability among equipment suppliers was exacerbated by the fact that for a long time the renewables sector had to be underpinned by subsidies to make it economically viable.
Those days are gone, because renewable power generation has become economically competitive in its own right. This is why people such as ACWA Power CEO Paddy Padmanathan were so bullish on the sector at the Middle East Africa Summit of the Milken Institute, which took place earlier this week in Abu Dhabi. ACWA is representative for the region as far as independent power producers go: It operates in 12 countries in MEA and it will add another six over the next 10 months.
We live in a different era compared to where we were 12 months ago. Sustainability and ESG have become front and center of the global debate and with it at the core of every investment decision.
This does not take away from the fact that we need more than renewables to provide energy for the close to 8 billion people inhabiting the globe. Particularly China and India will rely on coal-fired power plants for some time to come. There is no one silver bullet when it comes to addressing climate change and the warming of the planet. This is where the circular carbon economy comes in. It is advocated by the Saudi energy minister, HRH Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, among others. It advocates a closed loop system which reduces, renews, recycles and removes carbon.
The numbers required to keep the planet inhabitable for the generations to come are daunting, whether we look at it from an environmental or investment point of view.
This brings to the fore new ways of carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS). The technology exists, but its roll-out has been slow, again because it is heavily dependent on subsidies. However, innovation is a good thing: Carbon can be captured where it is produced; alternatively, there is now the technology which can take carbon out of the air and produce CO2 where it is needed economically. This has huge implications, not least for the production of hydrogen. The technology could be an interesting proposition both from an economic and an environmental aspect. Edgar Bronfman, the executive chairman of global Thermostat, estimates that we need to take between 1 billion and 5 billion tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere each year over the next decades, if we want to keep the warming of the planet below 1.5C.
The numbers required to keep the planet inhabitable for the generations to come are daunting, whether we look at it from an environmental or investment point of view.
Innovation will be at the core of the brave new world. It also requires political will at the global level to achieve the environmental goals that were stipulated by the UN — which is why it is a pity that the US has bowed out of the Paris agreement on climate change. At the Milken Institute’s MEA summit, Bronfman proposed a global environmental industrial complex to produce the technologies and jobs required to deal with climate change and energy transition. Climate change is a global problem requiring global solutions. The methods of energy transition will vary from region to region. Coordination will, however, be important, if we don’t want the ice caps to melt and sea levels to rise.
*Cornelia Meyer is a business consultant, macro-economist and energy expert. Twitter: @MeyerResources