English LCCC Newsbulletin For Lebanese, Lebanese Related, Global News & Editorials
For October 17/2020
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For today
Jesus sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’
Mark 09/33-37: “Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”


Question: "Why should I care if God exists?"
GotQuestions.org/October 16/2020
Answer: There are myriad views on not only the nature of God but also His very existence. Humans have limited perception of the complexities of our immediate world and the universe as a whole. The irony is that God’s nature is not one of confusion, but of peace. First Corinthians 14:33 states, “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” The key to overcoming confusion is not to avoid the question altogether, but to focus on the very One whom many choose to ignore (Philippians 4:6–7).
We should eagerly address the real, concrete problems facing humanity, such as poverty, illiteracy, and disease, and it is true that debates about the existence and nature of God can keep us from concentrating on those challenges. So, why should any of us care whether or not God exists? To the believer, it is the theological question above all others. To the unconvinced, it remains a philosophical issue. Theology, to the agnostic, is merely a human invention; the question of God’s existence seems pointless.
The Bible’s presentation of God shows why His existence matters. God’s holy nature is revealed in contrast to human (sinful) nature, and the Bible gives mankind a standard of right and wrong. Without an arbiter, there is no final authority to weigh the values we establish for ourselves (Psalm 19:7–11). Who is to say one thing is wrong and another right? Why is it incumbent upon us to help those in need? By what authority can we object to illiteracy? If there is no God, and life on earth is simply “survival of the fittest,” then why should anyone work to feed the hungry? Upon what standard do we lay the foundation of our morality?
God reveals to us His essence: “I AM WHO I AM” (see Exodus 3:3–15). This statement speaks to God’s self-existence, which is fully independent of mankind’s perceptions of Him. He encompasses everything, and He Himself is the standard of what is good. Psalm 19:1–5 paints a beautiful picture of God’s eternal nature and His revelation of that nature in His creation.
The question of God’s existence is important because, on a practical level, if God does exist, there is a good chance that He wants to connect with us and that He requires the meeting of certain standards to make that happen. So, the question is central to everything. We are either created in God’s image, or we are not. Love and compassion are either part of God’s nature (and therefore to be reflected in us), or they are products of a random biological accident (and therefore unnecessary). Our existence has significance (or insignificance) depending on the existence (or nonexistence) of God. Meeting the temporal, material problems of mankind is important, but meeting the eternal, spiritual problems of mankind is even more important.
The Bible says mankind has been spoiled by sin. In fact, the pressing global problems that we face today are, ultimately, the result of sin. The question of God’s existence then becomes of utmost importance, because to ignore God’s existence is to ignore the reality of sin and thus the root of the world’s problems.
Fortunately, God has provided a way to forgive sin and restore our fellowship with Him through faith in Jesus Christ (John 3:16, Romans 3:21–26). Sinful man is spiritually dead and often rejects any notion of the one true God. John 3:19 states, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” It is God who brings us to faith in His Son through the Holy Spirit (John 6:41–51). Salvation is a gift God offers to all mankind (John 3:16). Our role is simply to believe what God says and yield to His Spirit. The validity of this message, of course, is contingent upon God’s existence!
Why do people attempt to persuade others to agree with their view of God’s existence? Why can’t Christians keep their faith within the confines of their homes and churches, as they are often told to do? The motivation for many Christians is that they want everyone to have the opportunity to fellowship with God. Also, Christianity is inherently evangelistic. One of Jesus’ mandates is to spread the gospel and make disciples. This outreach is done out of love, and it is an endemic principle of the Christian faith.
While no one has seen God, He manifests Himself to us in a number of ways. First, God is made known through His creation (Romans 1:20). The willing observer can look all around him, see God’s handiwork, and spend a lifetime in wonderment at the intricacies and interdependence of all physical things. Scripture states it is foolish to deny there is a God (Psalm 14:1). The universe was clearly designed, and we have been created with an ability to comprehend it at some level. Scripture is unambiguous that God has given us everything we need to acknowledge His existence (Job 38).
God also reveals Himself through His Word (Psalm 19:7–11). The Bible teaches us of God’s nature, and it instructs us in morality (1 Timothy 3:16). The supreme expression of God is to be found in the Son of God, Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:15).
The plain fact is that God does exist. He loves us and wants to bring us from spiritual death to life in His Son, Jesus.

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on October 16-17/2020

Aoun Meets Schenker, Hails US Border Talks Mediation
Report: Aoun Calls Macron to ‘Justify’ Delay in Consultations
President Aoun hopes Spain will play important role in European Union and international forums to support Lebanon
Statement attributable to Spokesperson for U.S. Embassy Beirut
Hariri receives Schenker
Frangieh, Schenker discuss current situation
Berri welcomes Spain's Gonzales, delegation tasked to hold maritime delineation negotiations
Statement of UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis on occasion of 1st anniversary of the start of popular protests in Lebanon
Geagea tackles developments with Schenker
Gonzales holds joint press conference with Wehbe, highlights Lebanon's pressing need for reform cabinet
Rahi welcomes Strong Lebanon delegation
Reports: Hariri Will Not Withdraw His Nomination for PM Post
Lebanon’s General Security chief in US for talks on American hostages in Syria
Hassan Inspects Pharmacies, Drug Depots that were Smuggling Medicine
Hassan Vows Immediate Measures to Control Medications Monopoly, Smuggling
A year on, Lebanon’s uprising yields gains but also setbacks/Samar Kadi/The Arab Weekly/October 16/2020
I dared to criticise Hezbollah on Twitter, and paid a heavy price/Luna Safwan/The National/October 16/2020

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on October 16-17/2020

France launches terror investigation after teacher killed
Pompeo Hopes Armenia Will 'Defend' Itself against Azerbaijan
Missile strikes residences in Azerbaijan’s second city amid conflict with Armenia
Turkey ‘increasing risks’ in Azeri-Armenian conflict, US warns
Turkey’s Erdogan and Ukraine’s Zelenskiy sign military agreements
Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy charged with 'criminal association' in Libyan campaign financing
High-level US delegation heading to UAE, Bahran, Israel for historic business summit
US warns Turkey over reported S-400 test but stops short of sanctions announcement
US blacklisting harms Sudan’s path to democracy: Sudanese PM
Americans Voting Early in Record Numbers in Presidential Election
Americans Voting Early in Record Numbers in Presidential Election
US drone strike kills 2 senior Al Qaeda operatives in Syria/Operation took place in northwestern Syria
Pro-Iran fighters in Iraq say truce with US hinges on American withdrawal


Titles For The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on October 16-17/2020

Time to Act on Human Shields/Orde Kittrie/FDD/October 16/2020
UN Elects Worst Violators to Human Rights Council/Tzvi Kahn/Policy Brief/October 16/2020
Washington Should Avoid a Self-Inflicted Wound in the Sinai/Bradley Bowman/Defense One/MAJ Amoreena York/October 16/2020
Does Trump really have a chance?/David Rosenberg/Arutz Sheva/October 16/2020
Iraq’s Shia parties escalate sectarian tensions, pressure Kurds/Hammam Latif/The Arab Weekly/October 16/2020
Erdogan’s Turkey in danger of imperial overstretch/Dr. John C. Hulsman/Arab News/October 16/2020


The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on October 16-17/2020

Aoun Meets Schenker, Hails US Border Talks Mediation
Naharnet/October 16/2020
President Michel Aoun met with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Middle Eastern Affairs David Schenker on Friday in Baabda, and hailed the US mediation role between Lebanon and Israel on their maritime sea border, the Presidency media office reported.
Aoun informed Schenker that Lebanon “Heavily relies on the US mediating role to reach just solutions during the negotiations which began a few days ago to demarcate the southern maritime borders”, considering “this role can help overcome difficulties which may hinder the negotiation process”.
Aoun also thanked the United States for its support for Lebanon after the Beirut Port explosion, and the aid sent to the affected. Aoun assured Schenker that work is ongoing to establish a clean Government focused on necessary reforms to advance the country from the existing deterioration in economic and financial conditions. He stressed the importance of forensic audit into the Central Bank’s accounts, considered an essential step in the reform process and in restoring the state’s rights. Aoun also highlighted the issue of displaced Syrians in Lebanon and negative repercussions on the public sectors. He hoped the US would facilitate their return to their homeland. For his part, Schenker said the US will continue its mediation role in the demarcation talks between Lebanon and Israel, hoping these negotiations would yield positive results as soon as possible. Schenker also praised the positive role which Aoun plays in leading the fight against corruption and changing the approach that prevailed in the past, considering that reforms in Lebanon are essential. Then, Ambassador Schenker expressed hope that a productive Government would be formed to achieve the necessary economic reforms, added the Presidency. The meeting was attended by US Ambassador to Beirut, Dorothy Shea and Logan Brogue on the US side. On the Lebanese side it was attended by former Minister, Salim Jreisatti, Director General of the Lebanese Presidency, Antoine Choucair, and Advisor, Osama Khachab.

Report: Aoun Calls Macron to ‘Justify’ Delay in Consultations
Naharnet/October 16/2020
After postponing the binding consultations with members of parliament to name a new prime minister, President Michel Aoun reportedly held a telephone call with French President Emmanuel Macron "justifying" the delay, the Saudi Asharq al-Awsat reported on Friday.
The daily said Aoun told Macron his move was aimed at getting a “broad Christian” backing for the candidate and ex-PM Saad Hariri. But Aoun’s call did not “dispel” the French’s annoyance over the postponement of consultations, according to the newspaper.
Had it been held on Thursday as planned, the consultations would have ensured that political parties were still willing to abide by the French initiative towards Lebanon, it said. “France was extremely disturbed by the ill-considered step that would plunge the country into a new round of political disputes, not only to float the initiative launched by President Emmanuel Macron, but to prevent Lebanon from disappearing,” political sources told the daily on condition of anonymity. Aoun postponed the consultations to next Thursday because he was reportedly seeking the backing of the two largest Christian blocs in parliament, the Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement- a party founded by Aoun. But LF leader Samir Geagea on Thursday renewed his call for organizing early parliamentary elections as a way out of the political crisis.


President Aoun hopes Spain will play important role in European Union and international forums to support Lebanon
NNA /October 16/2020
The President of the Republic, General Michel Aoun, expressed his hope that Spain would play an important role in the European Union and other international forums to support and help Lebanon in the difficult circumstances it is going through, stressing that work is based on forming a new Government which faces the challenges ahead at various levels. The President’s stances came while receiving the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation, Mrs. Arancha Gonzales Laya, who conveyed President Aoun’s greetings to the Spanish King, Philippi VI and the Spanish Government for the support received by Lebanon after the recent Beirut Port Explosion, and for the participation of the Spanish Prime Minister in the Paris Conference in support of Beirut and the Lebanese.
The President also thanked the Spanish Minister for the humanitarian aid sent from Madrid to Lebanon, especially the project to reform a school in Karantina region and establish a temporary school to accommodate students during the restoration processes.
President Aoun then praised the participation of the Spanish forces in the framework of UNIFIL in the South, pointing out that Lebanon looks forward to the visit of Spanish Premier, Pedro Sanchez to Beirut, next November.
The President of the Republic also welcomed Spain’s invitation to an international conference Barcelona on the 27th of November to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Barcelona Declaration, and hoped that the development projects funded by the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation for Development (AECID) would increase.
In addition, President Aoun discussed the current Lebanese situation, with the Spanish Minister, and the crises which the country suffers from, especially the ones which began after the Syrian war caused by the displacement of around one million and 500 thousand Syrians to Lebanon and the repercussions this migration had on Lebanese sectors, in addition to the cost incurred by the Lebanese state which has exceeded 45 Billion US Dollars.
“Government formation will take place during the coming days, after the Lebanese parties reach an consensus agreement on it, and the reforms that must be adopted to emerge the difficult economic conditions that the country is currently suffering from” the President continued, asserting that these reforms are essential. The President focused on the role of Spain and Europe in helping Lebanese through the Lebanese-European existing cooperation.
Afterwards, President Aoun pointed out that fighting corruption is one of the priorities at the present time, and an important Government should be formed which takes care of these priorities.
The Spanish minister had conveyed, to President Aoun, the greetings from the Spanish monarch, King Felipe VI and the head of the Spanish Government, noting that her country is following with interest the situation in Lebanon and is in constant contact with the Lebanese Government for coordination, noting that the upcoming visit of the Spanish Prime Minister to Beirut next month falls within the framework of the desire for assistance, support and cooperation.
Minister Laya also expressed her country’s readiness to support Lebanon in the reform directions that it intends to adopt, and to cooperate with the International Monetary Fund and in any field that Lebanon deems to be to advance its economy. She stressed the depth of friendship linking her country with Lebanon and the constant interest in achieving stability, security and prosperity in it, in addition to enabling it to overcome the current difficult circumstances. Minister Laya stated that Spain would stand by Lebanon and provide it with the required support in all fields, calling for the implementation of necessary reforms according to the Lebanese will. On the Spanish side, the meeting was attended by: Spanish Ambassador to Lebanon, Jose Maria Ferre, the Director of the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation for Development (AECID), Magdy Esteban Martinez Soliman, diplomats Eva Martinez, Monica Prado Rodriguez, and Victor Portino Angolo. On the Lebanese side: former Minister Salim Jreisatti, the Director General of the Presidency of the Republic, Dr. Antoine Choucair, and advisors Rafic Chelala and Osama Khashab attended. -- Presidency Press Office

Statement attributable to Spokesperson for U.S. Embassy Beirut
NNA/October 16/2020
Clarifying statements attributed to Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, David Schenker in local media, Spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Casey Bonfield, said on Friday that Assistant Secretary Schenker noted an inscription on the sword that hangs in President Aoun’s office, which reads: ‘Transparency is the sword that vanquishes corruption.’ “In commenting favourably on this message, he [Schenker] urged that it is incumbent on His Excellency the President [Michel Aoun] to wield (metaphorically) that sword of transparency and change the governing paradigm,” Bonfield explained.—US Embassy in Beirut .

Hariri receives Schenker
NNA/October 16/2020
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri received this afternoon at the Center House the US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern affairs David Schenker, accompanied by the US Ambassador Dorothy Shea, in the presence of former Minister Ghattas Khoury and Advisor Dr. Basem Shabb.
Discussions focused on the latest local and regional developments, particularly those related to the framework agreement to demarcate the southern maritime borders of Lebanon and the bilateral relations between the two countries.-- Hariri Press Office

Frangieh, Schenker discuss current situation
NNA - Head of the Marada movement, Sleiman Frangieh, met with US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, David Schenker, accompanied by US Ambassador Dorothy Shea, with talks touching on the overall situation and the latest developments.

Berri welcomes Spain's Gonzales, delegation tasked to hold maritime delineation negotiations
NNA/October 16/2020
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Union (EU) and Cooperation of Spain, H.E Ms. Arancha Gonzلlez Laya, on Friday visited Speaker of the House, Nabih Berri, in the company of Spanish Ambassador to Lebanon, Jose Maria Ferre, as well as Head of the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), Magdy Esteban Martinez Soliman, and other ranking officials representing Spain's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Minister Gonzales emerged from the meeting without delivering any statement. Separately, Berri welcomed the Lebanese delegation tasked to hold technical negotiations over the delineation of Lebanon's southern maritime borders headed by Brigadier General, Bassam Yassin.

Statement of UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis on occasion of 1st anniversary of the start of popular protests in Lebanon
NNA/October 16/2020
The United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Jan Kubis, said in a statement on the occasion of the 1st anniversary of the start of popular protests in Lebanon: "A year ago, a massive wave of national protests started, that at some point brought to the streets hundreds of thousands, even millions of Lebanese across the whole country, across all sectarian and political divides and affiliations, with women and young people at the center. Deeply disappointed in the ruling political elites and confessional system of politics and administration that perpetuate corruption and nepotism, they have raised their voice against the corrupt practices of the past and for deep systemic reforms. They have called for justice, transparency, accountability, equal rights, protection and opportunities for all, for a proper and effective governance, functioning democracy and secular civil state. They shattered many taboos and common myths about what they need and want – and what they reject. In this truly national uprising, the people of Lebanon have stood up for their legitimate aspirations and rights with courage and determination, demanding dignified lives for themselves and their families, a brighter future for their country. After this patriotic awakening, the people’s commitment to and yearning for deep reforms and changes continues to be strong, even if the momentum has receded. They have planted the seeds for systemic changes. One year on, their struggle continues.
We pay tribute to the people of Lebanon and remember the martyrs and injured from among the protesters and the security forces.
Yet the legitimate grievances and needs of the Lebanese have gone unheeded during a harrowing year of ever deepening socio-economic crisis, a deadly pandemic, a traumatic explosion, a steep currency decline, inflation, blocked access of depositors to their money in the Lebanese banks, a collapse of the economy and of businesses amidst political and governance paralysis and the resignation of two governments. All of that has further deepened the lack of trust of Lebanese in their leaders and country, led to widespread angst, demoralization and loss of perspective mixed with anger, opens doors to extremism.
The reforms that Lebanon needs are well-known. The ruling political elites have repeatedly committed to implement them, without delivering on their pledges, thus perpetuating the status-quo and paralysis. Among the urgent needs is social protection for the quickly surging numbers of the poorest and most vulnerable in Lebanon, including women and youth, disproportionately affected by these devastating crises.
To protect and develop Lebanon’s democracy, judicial independence must be more than a repeatedly declared aim.
The country cannot start addressing the existential challenges that Lebanon faces without an effectively functioning pro-reform government that is able, willing and empowered to carry out urgently needed essential reforms on the basis of a clear action plan that will guarantee their implementation and that will, working with full transparency and accountability to the people. Lebanon’s international friends also urgently need such committed, credible and reliable partner.
On this day, we recall the freedoms of expression and of peaceful assembly that are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Lebanon itself co-authored. We underscore the UN’s full support for the right to peaceful protests as part of freedom of assembly and of expression that must be protected, allowing the people to fully exercise these rights within the rule of law. The United Nations will continue to stand closely by Lebanon and its people in their pursuit of a just, dignified, prosperous, stable and peaceful future."-- UN Information Centre

Geagea tackles developments with Schenker
NNA/October 16/2020
Lebanese Forces Party leader, Samir Geagea, on Friday met in Meerab with US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, David Schenker, accompanied by US Ambassador to Lebanon, Dorothy Shea, in the presence of Party officials. Discussions reportedly touched on most recent political and economic developments in the country.

Gonzales holds joint press conference with Wehbe, highlights Lebanon's pressing need for reform cabinet
NNA/October 16/2020
Caretaker Foreign Affairs and Emigrants Minister, Charbel Wehbe, on Friday held a joint press conference with visiting Spanish Minister for Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation, Arancha Gonzales Laya.
"The Spanish Minister's visit aims to express the Spanish Kingdom's friendship with Lebanon and to confirm its will to support the country's economic and social needs, especially those resulting from the massive bombing that rocked Beirut port on August 4, 2020," Minister Wehbe said.
"We also discussed the regional situation and the excellent bilateral ties between our two countries," he added.
Wehbe then thanked Spain for its contribution to UNIFIL in south Lebanon, and for the "great sacrifices it has made for the sake of spreading stability, peace, and security in South Lebanon."
For her part, Gonzales said that her visit to Lebanon aimed to show support for the country's government and people, "especially at a time when this country endures economic, political, and health turmoil, but above all suffers the massive ramifications of Beirut Port explosion."
Gonzales went on to affirm that Spain's commitment to Lebanon was "long-standing" through the participation of 600 Spanish soldiers in UNIFIL forces, which form a part of the United Nations mission.
"Today, accompanied by the Lebanese Army and UNIFIL, we visited Beirut Port to demonstrate our support, which we have already shown through the humanitarian aid that we sent on the first day of the explosion; we have also rebuilt another school that will house 500 children that have been left without a school due to the explosion. We hope that the reconstruction process will be completed soon," Gonzales said. Furthermore, the Spanish diplomat said that her Lebanon visit also aimed at relaying to the Lebanese President, Prime Minister, and House Speaker the importance of forming a new government in Lebanon that begins with swift and necessary reforms in a bid to give hope to Lebanon's younger generations. She reminded that reforms would consequently release the support of the international community and the European Union.
Gonzales added that she had extended an invitation to Wehbe to partake in the ministerial meeting of the Mediterranean Union, which will be held in Barcelona on November 26 and 27, 2020, to launch the European Union and Mediterranean projects and to participate in building a program dedicated to the country's national recovery and regional stability.

Rahi welcomes Strong Lebanon delegation
NNA/October 16/2020
Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Rahi welcomed this Friday a delegation of the Strong Lebanon bloc, including Deputies Hikmat Dib, Nicolas Sehnaoui, Hagop Terezian, and Alexandre Matosian.

Reports: Hariri Will Not Withdraw His Nomination for PM Post
Naharnet/October 16/2020
Ex-PM Saad Hariri will not withdraw his nomination for the PM post in the wake of the latest developments and the postponement of the parliamentary consultations by President Michel Aoun, media reports said on Thursday.
“Today, more than ever, he is clinging to the French initiative, seeing as it is the only chance to halt the collapse in the country and rebuild what was destroyed by the port explosion,” LBCI TV quoted sources close to Hariri as saying. “He is maintaining silence and monitoring the reactions to the delay in consultations,” the sources added. “The postponement of consultations is nothing but a postponement of the initiative,” the sources went on to say, accusing some parties of practicing obstruction. The sources also noted that Hariri was against the “unjustified” postponement of consultations.

Lebanon’s General Security chief in US for talks on American hostages in Syria
Joseph Haboush, Al Arabiya English/Friday 16 October 2020
Lebanon’s General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim is in Washington for several issues related to US hostages in Syria, with reports suggesting he may have new information on journalist Austin Tice. Last year, Ibrahim helped release US citizen Sam Goodwin and Canadian citizen Kristian Lee Baxter from the Syrian regime’s custody in separate operations. “He was invited by the family of Sam Goodwin who wanted to thank him for his efforts in securing their son’s release from Syria,” a senior diplomat told Al Arabiya English. Ibrahim is no stranger to negotiations on hostages. He shuttled back and forth in 2019 between Beirut and Tehran to help facilitate the release of Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese citizen who is also a permanent US resident. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) kidnapped Zakka in 2015 in Tehran after receiving an official invite from the state for a conference. On Thursday night, the NSC tweeted a picture of National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien meeting with Goodwin's family in Washington. O'Brien said the US remained “committed to those still held captive.”However, on Friday, Lebanese and Arab media reports suggested Ibrahim was also carrying new information to the US administration on Austin Tice, an American journalist who was captured in Syria in 2012. US President Donald Trump has previously said that Tice was still alive. The Trump administration and the State Department were unable to comment on Ibrahim's visit. An official Lebanese source confirmed to Al Arabiya English that Ibrahim was invited by Goodwin's family to Washington. “He will also have meetings with officials while he is in Washington, but he was not dispatched by the Lebanese state,” the source said. The source added that Ibrahim would likely discuss US prisoners in the region, considering his background and close ties with several security agencies in the Middle East.

Hassan Inspects Pharmacies, Drug Depots that were Smuggling Medicine
Naharnet/October 16/2020
Caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hassan on Thursday inspected pharmacies and medication warehouses in the Zahle district after some of them were found to be smuggling medicine to outside Lebanon. The National News Agency said some of the pharmacies and depots had been ordered sealed with red wax by Bekaa Attorney General Munif Barakat. “The medicine mafia in Lebanon has started collapsing,” Hassan announced during the tour.

Hassan Vows Immediate Measures to Control Medications Monopoly, Smuggling
Naharnet/October 16/2020
Caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hassan resumed his inspection tour of pharmacists and medication warehouses on Friday amid a shortage in medicine supply and reports they are being monopolized and smuggled outside Lebanon. “As a result of the raids we made, we found out that there is discretion and monopolization of certain medication brands only limited to some pharmacies,” Hassan said inspecting warehouses in the Baabda district. He stressed saying that “immediate measures will be taken against anyone who tampers with people's health.” On Thursday, Hassan made the same inspection in Zahle district and other Bekaa areas where some of the pharmacies and depots were ordered to be sealed with red wax by Bekaa Attorney General Munif Barakat. Hassan assured that all needed measures to distribute medications equally among Lebanese regions will be taken, mainly the ones subsidized by the Central Bank of Lebanon. The Central Bank plans to cut subsidies on main commodities including medicines, wheat and fuel over a depreciation foreign reserves. Pharmaceutical “mafia” started monopolizing large amounts of drugs amid the shortage. The decision sparked outcry among Lebanese already reeling from an economic crisis and a devastating Beirut port explosion sending many into poverty.

A year on, Lebanon’s uprising yields gains but also setbacks
Samar Kadi/The Arab Weekly/October 16/2020
Despite the challenges of a grinding economic crisis and the spread of the novel coronavirus which dispirited the protests, activists insist that the uprising commonly referred to as “al-thawra” (revolution) has not died out though it suffered many setbacks.
BEIRUT - A year ago on October 17, the Lebanese took to the streets to vent their anger against the entire political establishment whom they blame for Lebanon’s worst economic and financial crisis ever.
The countrywide cross-sectarian protests triggered by a tax increase on Internet voice-call services, soon evolved into an unprecedented popular uprising that vilified the traditional political parties and their leaders regarded as corrupt and incompetent.
Protesters called for a total overhaul of the deeply entrenched sectarian political system, accountability for the plundering of public funds, an independent judiciary and the restitution of stolen funds among others.
Two governments have since resigned the latter over the seismic Beirut port explosion on August 4, the economic situation has worsened and the traditional ruling class is still firmly entrenched.
Despite the challenges of a grinding economic crisis and the spread of the novel coronavirus which dispirited the protests, activists insist that the uprising commonly referred to as “al-thawra” (revolution) has not died out though it suffered many setbacks.
“The thawra did a very important thing by exposing all the traditional political parties and the whole political class without exception. It actually showed how politically bankrupt they are and made many partisans turn against their leaders,” says Halime Kaakour, a political activist and university law professor.
“Moreover, the thawra triggered an intellectual revolution in the sense that it raised awareness about political and economic issues in the country. The average citizen has become more conscious politically and economically. They are now scrutinising the government’s policies, the banking and financial sectors and the laws… They are even looking for solutions,” Kaakour said.
Since the uprising, political leaders have been harassed and shamed in public places and made aware of the growing tide against them.
“Politicians now feel so insecure that they don’t even dare to show up in a public place,” says political analyst Amin Kammourieh.
“Accountability and corruption of the political class has become the talk of the town everywhere. The thawra also brought down all the taboos and self-censorship by vilifying all leaders, including those who were regarded as untouchable,” Kammourieh said.
The August 4 explosion caused by tones of ammonium nitrate stored in an unsafe way at Beirut port reignited the protests. Enraged protesters lambasted the political elite and hanged cardboard cut-outs of politicians from mock gallows including an image of the powerful Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah — a gesture almost unthinkable a year ago.
Kammourieh maintains that although no tangible change has occurred in the past year, “the thawra placed on track many issues that necessitate reforms.”
“Parliament passed two major anti-corruption laws this year — a significant move for a body usually mired in political deadlock.
“However, the revolutionary potential of the protesters remains minimal, due to the lack of unity around a single vision and the lack of specificity on overall strategy. In brief, the thawra could not impose itself as a political player or change the existing political balances,” Kammourieh said.
“The thawra did not die. It is still breathing, but it needs a solid leadership that becomes institutionalised in politics, otherwise it will be a great disappointment for the Lebanese people,” Kammourieh added.
According to Kaakour the protest movement provided a platform to marginalised sectors of the society and demonstrated the important role of the youth, the women and the professionals in driving change.
“Even the mainstream media outlets that are mostly funded by or aligned with one of the country’s political leaders had to change and gave more space and voice to activists and protesters in the street,” Kaakour said.
The protesting groups have been largely drawn from professional or syndicate groups, such as retired military officers, teachers unions and lawyers.
But the possible return of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri as head of a government coinciding with the 1st anniversary of the revolution is a twist of fate for the Lebanese who brought down the government under Hariri around this time last year.
Lebanon is in dire need of a bailout by the international community which conditioned financial support to much needed political and economic reforms and Hariri is tipped to be one who could avert total economic collapse.
“The thawra toppled the government a year ago, but it did not succeed yet in bringing the aspired government because the confessional system is so robust and entrenched despite being dysfunctional. Definitely change will not be easy and will take time,” Kaakour said.

I dared to criticise Hezbollah on Twitter, and paid a heavy price
Luna Safwan/The National/October 16/2020
For years, Lebanon ranked among the best countries in the region in terms of the freedoms it offered. It was a good place to work as a journalist – a country where media practitioners faced minimal intimidation and harassment. But recently Lebanon’s name started peeking through the headlines because of the number of journalists and photojournalists either summoned and investigated by security forces or attacked in protests. The number of reporters bullied and threatened online has tripled in the past year alone.
Journalist Dima Sadek has woken up to online hate campaigns because of her work. Mohamad Zbib, another reporter, was cornered and attacked on the street earlier this year in Beirut’s Hamra district.
Online harassment, especially against female journalists, is becoming a powerful weapon. Social media, in particular, is being used to intimidate, blackmail and sometimes threaten women working in the media. This is becoming a dangerous trend in Lebanon, where organised cyber armies initiate attacks to discredit female reporters while spinning the popular narrative to fit their political parties’ agendas, even if it means using defamation or Photoshopping pictures. One of the key players in this domain in Lebanon is a network of social media accounts supporting the militant party Hezbollah.
This is what happened to me on the week of October 1, after I tweeted a picture of the Hezbollah flag with accompanying text reading “the elephant in the room” to suggest that Hezbollah’s overpowering influence is a subject that the Lebanese often refrain from talking about. I tweeted it in the context of a discussion about how party politics in Lebanon is crippling public services and will lead the country to further collapse.
I received plenty of criticism, including some angry comments. None of this was unusual, given that I am an active writer. I am also very opinionated, expressing what I think openly, and I am a firm believer in my right to say what I want to say as a woman journalist reporting from the field.
The greatest damage came, however, when an Israeli channel quoted my tweet the next morning – without my consent, of course, because Twitter is considered an open source. Anyone can use public tweets, endorsing or criticising them. This step, being out of my control, brought a wave of hate, initiated by a fellow journalist who works in a pro-Hezbollah media outlet.
The responses I received from that point on no longer fell under the umbrella of “normal criticism”. I received animated GIFs of cars exploding, users were tagging security forces urging them to arrest me at my home and accusing me of being a traitor. They claimed that I endorse the “Israeli agenda”, and associated me with other Lebanese citizens who are being investigated on suspicion of dealing with Israel. All of this happened simply because I tweeted an opinion and shared news, which is my job as a journalist, and which is something everyone else was doing.
I am paying a significant price just for doing my job.
That is not the only price that too many women in journalism are now paying in Lebanon. In addition to being underpaid and overworked, threatened, bullied and harassed, female journalists face one additional risk, which is being painted by the politics of the sect to which they happen to belong. Hezbollah is a Shia party, and I come from a Shia background. So criticising them not only placed me in a direct confrontation with their politics, but also with what Lebanese society considers to be “my own people” and anyone supporting a sectarian narrative.
The confrontation didn’t end there. It has continued, led mostly by cyber armies that get paid to bully women in journalism. In my case, the campaign has extended to targeting my family.
My own cousin, whose father died while fighting for Hezbollah years ago, denounced me on Twitter, accusing me of being a “cheap traitor”. I was shocked to find out, after thorough research, that she herself participated some weeks ago in a naming and shaming campaign targeting another Lebanese female journalist.
Many of us don’t endorse our families’ political views in Lebanon. It’s a diverse society where interreligious marriages are common. The state of political differences, however, has reached a new low when as a female journalist you are denounced by your own family and by other women. It’s an indicator of how complex Lebanon’s current political situation is. If families can no longer communicate about politics and agree to disagree, how do we expect political parties to do so on a national level?
The popular protest movement that erupted throughout Lebanon last October, and has continued over the past year, has further highlighted the state of freedoms and journalism in a nation that was once considered a jewel in the Middle east, not only in terms of tourism and the economy, but also for its culture and diverse society. The beauty of Lebanon lies in its differences, even the political or religious ones. Lebanese journalism often articulates that beauty to the world.
But political tensions have made it almost impossible for a journalist to cross certain parties. Even when the backlash doesn’t rise to the level of a concerted, online campaign or worse, those who want to express themselves must always be on their guard.
After my own experience, Reporters Without Borders issued a statement of support to me and my colleagues who have been through similar ordeals. They wrote: “These women have been subjected to an unjustified wave of hostility because they are independent and refuse to follow the editorial line of the media of the community to which they are supposed to belong. Being a woman is an additional difficulty that exposes them to all sorts of sexist insults of varying intensity. These threats must be taken seriously and everything must be done to protect the victims.”
And while it remains a surreal moment for me to wake up and find my name included in global statements of solidarity, I refuse to refer to myself or these other brave female journalists as victims. We are not victims. We are fighters, fighting against a corrupt system and an unfair state that tries to justify – through its politics and even its laws – the harassment we are forced to endure. But we do sleep well at night by assuring ourselves that we are fighting the good fight. No amount of bullying will ever change that for me.
*Luna Safwan is a Lebanese freelance journalist who works on press freedom


The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on October 16-17/2020

France launches terror investigation after teacher killed
Simon Rushton/The National/October 16/2020
The knifeman was killed by police shortly afterwards.
A man has been stabbed to death in suburbs near the French capital and his attacker has been killed by armed police. The victim was a history teacher who used an edition of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in a discussion with pupils on caricatures of Prophet Mohammed, a police official said. Antiterrorism police are investigating the attack, which took place in Conflans Sainte-Honorine, a suburb north-west of Paris. A police source said witnesses heard the attacker shout Allahu akbar, or God is Great. The suspected attacker was spotted and killed about 600 meters away by a police patrol while he was still carrying a knife and an airsoft gun, which fires plastic pellets. President Emmanuel Macron visited the Paris suburb visited the attack site late on Friday. "One of our fellow citizens was assassinated today because he was teaching, he was teaching pupils about freedom of expression. Our compatriot was flagrantly attacked, was the victim of an Islamist terrorist attack," he said near the scene. "This evening, it's the Republic that's under attack," Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer tweeted. Heavily armed police sealed off the area around the school, and police vans and emergency vehicles lined the leafy adjacent streets. The suspect and the victim have not been officially identified. “We didn’t see this coming,” said local resident Remi Tell who had attended the school. Mr Macron said the killing was an attack French values. "The whole country stands behind its teachers. Terrorists will not divide France, obscurantism will not win," Mr Macron said. “I want to tell all of France’s teachers that we are with them, that the whole nation will be here on their side today and tomorrow to protect them, defend them, allow them to do their job, the most beautiful job of raising free citizens. It’s not a coincidence if tonight a teacher was struck. "Because he [the attacker] wanted to attack the values of the Republic, its light, the possibility to make our children, no matter where they come from, no matter what they believe or not believe, no matter what their religion is, to make them free citizens. That battle is our battle and it’s an existential one," he added. France has over the past several years seen a series of violent attacks carried out by Islamist militants.Late last month, a man who immigrated to France from Pakistan used a meat cleaver to attack and wound two people outside the former offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. That was the spot where Islamist militants gunned down employees of the magazine five years ago in retaliation for the magazine's publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. The September attack happened as a court case involving alleged accomplices to the original Hebdo attack was heard in Paris.


Pompeo Hopes Armenia Will 'Defend' Itself against Azerbaijan
Agence France Presse/October 16/2020
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo voiced hope Thursday that Armenia would "defend" itself against Azerbaijan, appearing to show sympathy to one side over the fierce clashes. "We're hopeful that the Armenians will be able to defend against what the Azerbaijanis are doing," Pompeo said in an interview with WBS radio in Atlanta. Pompeo voiced hope that the two sides would "get the ceasefire right, and then sit down at the table and try and sort through... what is a truly historic and complicated problem set." The United States -- which has a strong Armenian diaspora but growing strategic relations with Azerbaijan -- has over the past two weeks voiced neutrality over the violence, urging both sides to talk. Pompeo renewed criticism of NATO ally Turkey, which has staunchly backed Azerbaijan. "We now have the Turks, who have stepped in and provided resources to Azerbaijan, increasing the risk, increasing the firepower that's taking place in this historic fight over this place called Nagorno-Karabakh," Pompeo said.The United States is co-chair of the so-called Minsk Group in charge of diplomacy on Nagorno-Karabakh along with Russia and France. The foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed over the weekend to a humanitarian ceasefire, but both sides accused the other of violating the agreement within hours after it was supposed to take effect. Azerbaijani forces have advanced along the north and south of the front line, taking positions in Karabakh and in two districts of Azerbaijan that have been under Armenian control since 1994.

Missile strikes residences in Azerbaijan’s second city amid conflict with Armenia
AFP/Saturday 17 October 2020
A missile strike levelled several residential homes in Azerbaijan's second city of Ganja on Saturday, with one resident telling AFP he saw seven victims pulled out of the rubble. The strike, which came only hours after the Nagorno-Karabakh capital Stepanakert underwent a shelling attack, marked a new escalation in the deadly conflict between ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijanis over the separatist region. The rescuers called for silence so that they could detect sounds of survivors, and pulled out passports, unopened delivery packages, and items of clothing from the debris.
One resident said the residential block was home to more than 20 people. Another said he saw a small child, two women and four men pulled from the rubble, although their state was not immediately clear.
"One woman was missing her feet. Someone else was missing an arm at the elbow," said Elmir Shirinzaday, 26. An AFP team in the nearby city of Mingecevir, an hour's drive north of Ganja, heard the impact of a huge blast that shook buildings there at around the same time. Mingecevir is protected by a missile defence system because it is home to a strategic dam, and it was not immediately clear if the missiles were destroyed in the air or had made impact.


Turkey ‘increasing risks’ in Azeri-Armenian conflict, US warns
The Arab Weekly/October 16/2020
WASHINGTON – US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday said Turkey’s involvement in the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia has increased the risk in the region, reiterating his call for the issue to be resolved through diplomacy. “We now have the Turks, who have stepped in and provided resources to Azerbaijan, increasing the risk, increasing the firepower that’s taking place in this historic fight,” Pompeo said in an interview with broadcaster WSB Atlanta. Several hundred people have been killed in the deadliest flare-up of the decades-old conflict since a 1990s war over Nagorno-Karabakh killed about 30,000 people. Nagorno-Karabakh belongs to Azerbaijan under international law, but is populated and governed by ethnic Armenians. The clashes have raised concerns that Turkey and Russia, which also back opposing sides in the conflicts in Syria and Libya, may get dragged in. Rebuffing criticism from NATO allies, Turkey has accused Armenia of occupying Azeri territory and vowed full support for Azerbaijan. Ankara has repeatedly called on the Minsk Group, formed to mediate the conflict and led by France, Russia and the United States, to urge Armenia to withdraw from the region.
“The resolution of that conflict ought to be done through negotiation and peaceful discussions, not through armed conflict, and certainly not with third party countries coming in to lend their firepower to what is already a powder keg of a situation,” Pompeo said.
On Thursday, hopes of a humanitarian ceasefire sank as the death toll mounted and Armenia and Azerbaijan accused each other of launching new attacks. “We’re hopeful that the Armenians will be able to defend against what the Azerbaijanis are doing, and that they will all, before that takes place, get the ceasefire right, and then sit down at the table and try and sort through this,” Pompeo said. Pompeo had previously, along with French Foreign and European Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov, issued a statement calling for a ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan amid the armed clashes in Nagorno-Karabakh.


Turkey’s Erdogan and Ukraine’s Zelenskiy sign military agreements
The Associated Press/Friday 16 October 2020
Turkey and Ukraine signed military cooperation agreements in Istanbul on Friday, deepening a defense partnership seen as an effort to counterbalance Russia’s dominance in the Black Sea region. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan oversaw the signing of a “goodwill” agreement concerning the defense industry and a “military framework agreement,” officials said, although details of the agreements were not immediately known. “Turkey sees Ukraine as a key country for the establishment (of) stability, security, peace and prosperity in the region,” Erdogan said following the signing ceremony between the two Black Sea nations that have been enhancing military ties in recent years. Zelenskiy said the agreements pave the way for “new opportunities.”“Cooperation in the defense industry is important for the development of our strategic partnership and I am happy that we are strengthening it today,” he said, speaking through an interpreter. Last year, Ukraine reached an agreement for the purchase of Turkish-made drones. The two countries are also reportedly engaged in discussions to develop an aircraft engine. The signing of the agreements comes as the conflict in the Caucasus over Nagorno-Karabakh is putting a strain on Turkey’s relations with Russia. Turkey has backed Azerbaijan in the dispute, while Russia has a military base in Armenia and a security pact requiring Moscow to intervene if its ally is attacked. In a delicate balancing act, Russia also has sought to maintain warm ties with Azerbaijan and avoid upsetting relations with Turkey. Although Ankara and Moscow have developed strong economic ties and are accommodating mutual interests in Syria and Libya, the two have an often uneasy relationship and remain geopolitical rivals. Erdogan on Friday reiterated Turkey’s refusal to recognize Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. “Turkey has not recognized Crimea’s illegal annexation and it never will,” Erdogan said. Zelenskiy meanwhile, presented Erdogan with a state medal for his support for Ukraine’s “territorial integrity.”

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy charged with 'criminal association' in Libyan campaign financing
Brodie Owen/The National/October 16/2020
Charges relate to his 2007 election campaign.
Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has been charged with criminal association over suspected Libyan financing of his 2007 election campaign. Mr Sarkozy left office in 2012 but has been dogged by the campaign finance scandal since his departure. The charge for "membership in a criminal conspiracy" was brought on Monday, and adds to charges in 2018 of "passive corruption", "benefitting from embezzled public funds" and "illegal campaign financing" against Mr Sarkozy, prosecutors said today. The latest charge, which can be appealed under French law, came after prosecutors interviewed Mr Sarkozy for more than 40 hours over four days. Prosecutors suspect the former president and his associates received millions of euros from the regime of former strongman Muammar Qaddafi to help finance his election bid. Mr Sarkozy, who was president from 2007 to 2012, said on his Facebook page that his "innocence had been tarnished" by the charges, without "even the slightest proof". He said that during the questioning "I answered every question I was asked without ever being put in difficulty." Last month, a Paris appeals court threw out Sarkozy's bid to have the investigation dismissed, making a trial more likely. Sarkozy, 65, denies the charges that were sparked by investigative website Mediapart in 2012, when it published a document purporting to show that Qaddafi agreed to give the French politician up to €50 million ($58.6 million). In his defence Mr Sarkozy - who is himself a trained lawyer - has claimed presidential immunity, and said there is no legal basis in France for prosecuting someone for misusing funds from a foreign country. Judges are also investigating claims by a French-Lebanese businessman, Ziad Takieddine, who said he delivered suitcases carrying a total of €5 million ($5.8 million) from the Libyan regime to Mr Sarkozy's chief of staff in 2006 and 2007. Shortly after his election, the former president controversially invited Qaddafi to Paris for a state visit. However, he also put France at the forefront of NATO-led air strikes against Qaddafi's troops, leading to the dictator's downfall in 2011.
Mr Sarkozy said after being charged in 2018 that for him "politics is finished". In June, Mr Sarkozy released a book charting his rise to power, sidestepping the corruption allegations that have dogged his post-presidential life.


High-level US delegation heading to UAE, Bahran, Israel for historic business summit
Joseph Haboush, Al Arabiya English/Friday 16 October 2020
A high-level US delegation will head to the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Israel this weekend to follow up on the Abraham Accords signed last month, including the first-ever direct commercial flight from Tel Aviv to Manama, the Treasury Department said Friday.
Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin will lead the delegation that will travel to the region from Oct. 17 to Oct. 20 “to support expanded economic cooperation under the Abraham Accords signed by the three countries last month.”The statement revealed that Mnuchin and the delegation would join Israeli officials on the first direct commercial flight to Bahrain from Israel. “The historic flight will depart Tel Aviv and arrive in Manama, where the US and Israeli delegations will participate in meetings with senior Bahraini officials,” the Treasury Department said. Following this, the delegation will head to Abu Dhabi, where Mnuchin will participate in the first Abraham Accords Business Summit. “The US and Israeli delegations will return to Israel on the first-ever direct commercial flight from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv,” the statement said.

US warns Turkey over reported S-400 test but stops short of sanctions announcement
Bryant Harris/The National/October 16/2020
The State Department issued a stern warning to Turkey over the S-400 test but stopped short of committing to sanction Ankara.
Turkey’s reported test of the Russian-made S-400 missile system drew a stern rebuke from the United States – but the Donald Trump administration still has not given any indication that it plans to move ahead with sanctioning Turkey as required by law. “The United States has been clear on our expectation that the S-400 system should not be operationalised,” US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told The National. “We have also been clear on the potential serious consequences for our security relationship if Turkey activates the system.” Turkish media outlets with close ties to the government reported that Ankara tested the S-400 missile over the Black Sea province of Sinop. American officials worry that Turkey’s acquisition and use of the system could allow Russia to spy on US-made military hardware. “If confirmed, we would condemn in the strongest terms the S-400 test missile launch as incompatible with Turkey’s responsibilities as a NATO ally and strategic partner of the United States,” said Ortagus.
The State Department did not clarify whether it would move forward with sanctions on Ankara over Friday’s reported test. US President Trump has so far refused to implement the sanctions stipulated under the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act despite intense pressure to do so from both Democrats and some of his closet Republican allies in Congress.Secretary of State Mike Pompeo moved the goalposts for sanctions further back last year after Turkey acquired the S-400 system and tested its Russian-made radar against American-manufactured F-16 and F-4 fighter jets. After the radar test, Pompeo warned Ankara against “full operationalisation” of the S-400 anti-aircraft system.
Greek press reports claimed earlier this month that Turkey once again activated the S-400 radar system in August to track F-16s returning from military exercises that Athens conducted in the eastern Mediterranean with Cyprus, France and Italy. Turkey is embroiled in a heated maritime dispute with Greece and Cyprus over offshore oil reserves off the coast of the disputed island. The Greek media reports prompted Democratic and Republican senators Chris Van Hollen and James Lankford to press Mr Pompeo to sanction Turkey in a letter. The senators demanded that the Trump administration sanction Turkey as required under the 2017 law, which mandates penalties on any country that engages in a “significant transaction” with the Russian defence sector. They also criticised “the slow pace at which the Department of Defence is moving to remove Turkey from the F-35 supply chain.” The United States formally kicked Turkey out of the co-production programme for the F-35 fighter jet last year over the S-400 issue. The US Congress formalised that expulsion into law as part of its annual defence authorisation bill last year.
"Not only is this equipment incompatible with US and NATO systems, it poses a clear threat to the F-35, which is why we have already terminated delivery of the F-35 to Turkey," James Inhofe, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told The National.
"It is surprising and even incoherent to see Turkey turning further toward Russia, given the two countries’ starkly opposing policy positions on and troop deployments to Libya, Syria and the ongoing conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Turkey’s reliance on Russia for military equipment undermines, rather than improves, Turkey’s security."A bipartisan group of lawmakers want to go even further in this year’s defence bill with language clarifying that the president must sanction Turkey for its S-400 purchase.
Republican Adam Kinzinger and Democrat Abigail Spanberger introduced the legislation as an amendment to the House defence bill, which passed 295-125 in July. However, the bill also gives Turkey an off-ramp by authorising the president to remove the sanctions if Ankara gets rid of the S-400 system. The Senate version of the bill does not contain the Turkey sanctions provision, but Foreign Relations Committee Chairman James Risch, a Republican close to Mr Trump, has introduced identical legislation in the upper chamber. The House and Senate are slated to finish negotiating a compromise defence bill to send to Mr Trump after the US election concludes in November. Defence News reported in August that the US Congress has already been holding up arms sales to Turkey since 2018 over the S-400 issue. “A test of the system at this juncture would be deeply problematic,” a congressional staffer told The National.


US blacklisting harms Sudan’s path to democracy: Sudanese PM
AFP, Khartoum/Sunday 11 October 2020
Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has said that keeping his country on a US blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism is endangering its path towards democracy, the Financial Times reported. The designation dates back to 1993, when the country under longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir become an outcast for having hosted Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. In an interview published Sunday, Hamdok said sanctions linked to the designation were “crippling our economy,” adding that Sudan’s removal from the list would be a “game changer.” “We are isolated from the world,” Hamdok said, noting that Sudan had expelled bin Laden over two decades ago, and that Bashir’s regime was overthrown last year. “Sudanese people have never been terrorists. This was the deeds of the former regime,” he told the Financial Times. Concerning speculation that Sudan could normalize ties with Israel if its terror listing were removed, Hamdok said: “We would like to see these two tracks addressed separately.”Last month, Israel signed US-brokered deals to normalize ties with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and the administration of US President Donald Trump wants Sudan to follow suit.
Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur, was convicted of corruption and is currently on trial in the capital Khartoum for the 1989 coup that brought him to power. Hamdok said he had spoken with the ICC about the option of trying Bashir in Sudan, potentially in a “hybrid court,” the paper reported, but that Hamdok considered reforming Sudan’s judiciary in order to try Bashir itself would be the best option. Hamdok also said there were no guarantees that Sudan’s democratic transition would hold until elections planned for 2022.
“Transitions are always messy. They are non-linear and they don’t travel in one direction.” Concerning the country’s tanking economy, the prime minister said a landmark peace deal signed this month with a coalition of rebel groups would result in savings for the government. Sudan’s economy is in crisis, laid low by long years of civil war under Bashir’s rule, US sanctions and the 2011 secession of the oil-rich south. The government declared a state of emergency last month to avert a further downturn. With Sudan no longer a “war economy,” the proportion of revenue spent on the military would drop from up to 80 percent down to 10-15 percent, the Financial Times reported him as saying.

Americans Voting Early in Record Numbers in Presidential Election
Agence France Presse/October 16/2020
Americans are voting early in record numbers with more than 17 million casting their ballots already ahead of the November 3 election between Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Donald Trump. And while the result of the White House race will not be known until Election Day, the early vote indications appear to favor the 77-year-old Biden, who has a double-digit lead over Trump in the national polls. Iowa, the midwestern state where the 74-year-old Trump held a campaign rally on Wednesday, is among the states which allow voters to cast their ballots early. Early voting began in Iowa on October 5. As of Thursday more than 325,000 ballots have been cast in the Hawkeye State, according to the U.S. Elections Project of the University of Florida. The U.S. Elections Project maintains a running tally of the number of in-person early votes and returned mail ballots. By Thursday morning a total of 17.36 million ballots had been cast in the states that report early totals, it said. Election experts point to the coronavirus pandemic and an expansion of voting by mail for the spike in early voting this year, which is smashing previous totals. Trump frequently denounces voting by mail as being rife for fraud, but there has been no evidence of widespread irregularities in past elections. Michael McDonald, a professor of political science at the University of Florida who runs the US Elections Project, said that while the early voting numbers bode well for Biden there could be heavy turnout for Trump on Election Day. Several polls have shown that Democrats are more likely than Republicans to vote early because of the Covid-19 pandemic. "I've warned that the heavily Democratic voting at this point should not be an indicator that Biden has the election sown up," McDonald said. "Yes, the numbers are very good for Biden. "However, it is very likely Republicans will show up in force to vote in-person," he said.
- 'Cannibalized' -
A Trump campaign spokeswoman told The Washington Post that the president was counting on heavy turnout on Election Day. "For months, Democrats have pinned all their hopes on mail ballots, irresponsibly scared voters away from the polls and cannibalized their Election Day voters in favor of vote-by-mail," Trump campaign spokeswoman Thea McDonald said. "Republicans will show up in person on Election Day and reelect President Trump." According to the US Elections Project, voters, as of Thursday, have requested 79.89 million mail-in ballots in the states reporting such figures. Of the states that report requests by political party registration, Democrats have requested 23.46 million ballots and Republicans 13.69 million. A total of 2.09 million early votes have been cast in Florida, 1.68 million in California and 1.62 million in Texas, according to the US Elections Project. Other states with high early vote totals include Michigan (1.19 million), Virginia (1.14 million) and New Jersey (1.04 million). More than 916,000 early votes have been cast in the southern state of Georgia despite long lines on the first day this week which saw some voters waiting for more than 10 hours. North Carolina began in-person early voting on Thursday, and Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris had been scheduled to travel to Asheville to address an early vote mobilization event. Harris was forced to cancel, however, after her communications director and a flight crew member tested positive for Covid-19. Early in-person voting began on Tuesday in Texas, which has 38 Electoral College votes and is key to Trump's hopes of victory. Harris County, which includes the major metropolis of Houston, saw a record number of in-person early voters on the first day, when 128,186 cast their ballots -- more than double the 68,000 who did so four years ago. The figure was slightly lower on Wednesday -- 114,996 -- but still substantially higher than in 2016. Solmaz Afshar, a 32-year-old nurse, was among those voting early.
"I wanted to make sure that my vote is counted before anything can happen between now and Election Day," Afshar said.


US drone strike kills 2 senior Al Qaeda operatives in Syria/Operation took place in northwestern Syria
Lucas Tomlinson/Fox News/October 16/2020
The U.S. military carried out a drone strike Thursday, killing two senior Al Qaeda operatives in northwest Syria.
“U.S. forces conducted a strike against Al Qaeda in Syria in the vicinity of Idlib, Syria, Oct. 15. AQ-S continues to present a threat to America and our allies,” Maj. Beth Riordan, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command said in a statement to Fox News.
Officials say the strike was carried out by the U.S. military’s elite Joint Special Operations Command.
It’s the first drone strike by the U.S. military against Al Qaeda in Syria since mid-September.
The U.S. military has been using a new missile to kill terrorists in the past year dubbed the “flying Ginsu” for the knives released by the specially modified Hellfire missile carried on MQ-9 Reaper drones. The missile does not carry a high explosive warhead greatly reducing collateral damage and killing innocent civilians. The GPS-guided “Ginsu” missile falls from the sky with enough force to shred through car roofs and human flesh while terrorists are traveling by car. Anyone nearby has a greater chance to live due to the lack of explosive in the missile.
It’s not clear if this type of missile was used Thursday, officials say.
Idlib is the same area in Syria where nearly a year ago President Trump approved a raid by U.S. Special Operations forces to kill ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The names of the Al Qaeda leaders killed were not immediately known. Idlib is home to some of the last remaining opposition fighters who have been battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces for nearly a decade. Over 400,000 civilians have been killed since the civil war began in 2011.Roughly 500 American troops remain deployed in eastern Syria to help Kurdish fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces stamp out the remnants of ISIS after its caliphate was wiped out last year. In a new report released Thursday, Human Rights Watch accused Russian and Syrian forces of deliberately carrying out attacks against civilians in Idlib including schools, hospitals and marketplaces. The report accused Russia of covering up their attacks on civilians.
*Lucas Tomlinson is a Pentagon correspondent for Fox News Channel. Follow him on Twitter: @LucasFoxNews

Pro-Iran fighters in Iraq say truce with US hinges on American withdrawal
AFP/16 October 2020
Lawmaker representing Hashed al-Shaabi group says ceasefire ‘not open-ended’ and could be called off by year’s end
BAGHDAD — Pro-Iran factions in Iraq will cease targeting US troops, but their proposed truce is only temporary and depends on Washington completing a full military withdrawal by year end, a key lawmaker told AFP.
Around 90 rocket attacks have targeted the US in Iraq since January, including its forces housed in Iraqi bases and its embassy in Baghdad’s high-security Green Zone, with several claimed by pro-Iran factions. The most prominent pro-Iran factions declared a truce from Sunday.
“The truce isn’t open-ended,” Ahmed al-Assadi, a lawmaker representing the political arm of pro-Iran armed coalition Hashed al-Shaabi, told AFP late Wednesday. “In my estimation, at its earliest it could end around the US elections,” scheduled to take place on November 3, “or it could last until the end of the year,” he added. In early January, Iraq’s parliament voted to expel American soldiers from its soil two days after a US drone strike killed top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and his Iraqi lieutenant Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
“A truce lasting longer than the end of the year doesn’t make much sense. We’re only giving the government more time to negotiate the withdrawal,” Assadi added. The Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitaries were established in 2014 from mostly-Shiite armed groups and volunteers to fight the Islamic State jihadist group. Hashed has formally been part of Iraq’s armed forces since then, holding political representation in parliament, but it also spawned several armed groups ideologically affiliated with it.
Kataeb Hezbollah, the most radical pro-Iran armed faction in the country, has consistently been blamed by Washington for the rocket attacks. Fighters from the Kataeb Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Brigades militia, inspect the destruction at their headquarters in the aftermath of a US airstrike in Qaim, Iraq, December 30, 2019. (AP) But other smaller and newer groups have taken responsibility for the strikes including one targeting a logistics convoy heading to a US base on Sunday in Diwaniyah, in the country’s south.
Another Hashed source told AFP that the current fragile truce was the result of discussions between pro-Iran factions, the government and foreign missions in Baghdad.
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi’s government — seen as friendly to the US — has said recently US troops might need up to three years to withdraw.
The US deployed thousands of troops to Iraq in 2014 to lead a military intervention against IS. By late 2018, there were an estimated 5,200 troops still stationed in Iraq, according to US officials.
On Thursday, the US shut down Kataeb Hezbollah’s website with a “seizure warrant” message from the Commerce Department emblazoned on its page.
Earlier in the week, the al-Etejah and al-Nujaba media channels were also blocked by the US government.They are channels for factions composed of Iraqi fighters armed and financed by Iran with affiliations to Hashed.Some of the fighters are operating in support of President Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria, alongside Lebanon’s Hezbollah.


The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on October 16-17/2020

Time to Act on Human Shields
Orde Kittrie/FDD/October 16/2020
The “Sanctioning the Use of Civilians as Defenseless Shields Act” (“Shields Act”) was enacted on December 21, 2018. It required the president, within one year (that is, by December 21, 2019), to submit to Congress a list of, and impose financial sanctions on, each foreign person involved in human-shields use by Hamas or Hezbollah “on or after the date of enactment.”
The president has delegated his Shields Act authorities to the Treasury secretary, who is empowered to implement the Act in consultation with the secretary of state. As of October 2020, however, they have not taken action, despite strong evidence of human-shields use by both Hezbollah and Hamas. The Trump administration has not issued any notifications to Congress, or imposed any sanctions, pursuant to the law.
In a speech to the UN General Assembly on September 29, 2020, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu specified three Beirut locations where Hezbollah established missile factories near or underneath civilian residences. Two of the factories are operating underneath civilian apartment buildings. This is strong evidence for a human-shields designation.
Shortly after Netanyahu’s speech, in an effort to debunk his claims, Hezbollah gave journalists a tour of one of the sites. Video of the tour actually confirmed that it is a missile factory, with missile production machines clearly visible. The video also showed (and Israeli officials subsequently named) a Hezbollah operative in the factory: Mohammad Kamel Fouad Rammal (a.k.a. Muhammad Kamil Fuad Rimal), the site manager.
Treasury has an obligation to designate Rammal under Shields Act Section 3(b)(1), as he is knowingly using human shields and “is a member of Hizballah or is knowingly acting on behalf of Hizballah.” Treasury should also designate Hezbollah under Section 3(b)(3) for knowingly and materially supporting, ordering, controlling, directing, or otherwise engaging in the acts for which Rammal is designated.
Treasury should also use open-source and classified intelligence to list and penalize others involved in human-shields use. This should include additional Hezbollah officials (in addition to Rammal) who knowingly ordered, controlled, or otherwise directed the use of such shields; municipal officials who knowingly provided permits for construction of missile factories underneath or next to such civilian facilities; and businesspersons who knowingly and materially supported construction of missile factories underneath or next to civilian facilities.
Open-source research also provides substantial support for listing two Gaza leaders for human-shields use since the Shields Act’s date of enactment: Yahya Sinwar, the top Hamas political leader in Gaza, and Khaled al-Batsh, the head of Gaza’s National Authority for Return Marches.
Fatah Central Committee Secretary Jibril Rajoub threatens violence in response to Arab states’ signing peace agreements with Israel, October 7, 2020. (image via palwatch.org)
Legal Requirements
On December 21, 2018, President Donald Trump signed into law H.R. 3342, the “Sanctioning the Use of Civilians as Defenseless Shields Act”1 (“Shields Act”), which became Public Law No. 115-348. The House and the Senate had previously passed H.R. 3342 unanimously.2
The Shields Act principally requires the president to submit to Congress a list of, and impose financial sanctions on:
“each foreign person” the president determines is a member of Hamas or Hezbollah, or knowingly acts on behalf of those organizations, and “knowingly orders, controls, or otherwise directs the use of civilians protected as such by the law of war to shield military objectives from attack”; and
“each foreign person or agency or instrumentality of a foreign state” that the president determines “knowingly and materially supports, orders, controls, directs, or otherwise engages in” the use of human shields as defined above.
The Shields Act requires the submission of this list to the appropriate congressional committees “not later than one year after the date of the enactment of this Act,”3 that is, not later than December 21, 2019. As of October 2020, the president has not met this obligation.
In addition to requiring the issuance of Hamas- and Hezbollah-related human-shields sanctions, the Shields Act also authorizes a separate sanctions list of other entities and individuals that employ human shields, such as members of the Taliban or Islamic State. The Shields Act describes this second list as “permissive” because the law does not require the president to make such designations. The Shields Act states that “not later than one year after the date of the enactment of this Act, and annually thereafter, the President should submit to the appropriate congressional committees a list of each foreign person that the President determines, on or after the date of the enactment of this Act, knowingly orders, controls, or otherwise directs the use of civilians protected as such by the law of war to shield military objectives from attack, excluding persons” associated with the above-referenced mandatory list and sanctions relating to Hamas’ and Hezbollah’s use of human shields.4
The Islamic State and Taliban have used human shields extensively against U.S. warfighters during the last decade. Assuming the U.S. government has or can collect sufficient evidence of such use since the Shields Act’s date of enactment (December 21, 2018), Treasury could list those organizations and/or their relevant officials pursuant to this “permissive” provision.
In a presidential memorandum on May 24, 2019, the president delegated “to the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State,” the principal functions and authorities vested in the president by the Shields Act.5 On July 23, 2019, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control amended the Global Terrorism Sanctions Regulations to reflect the Shields Act.6 The authority to investigate and take action against human-shields violations now sits primarily with Treasury’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.
Policy Context of the Human-Shields Law
The use of civilians to shield military objectives from lawful attack or to deliberately cause civilian casualties is a war crime that violates the Fourth Geneva Convention.7 This war crime is commonly referred to as the use of human shields.
U.S. law8 and the U.S. Department of Defense’s Law of War Manual9 explicitly prohibit U.S. service members from using human shields. By contrast, terrorists and other non-state actors, including al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Islamic State, and the Taliban, have repeatedly used human shields against U.S., Israeli, and other allied armed forces. Tactically, terrorists use human shields to cause Western militaries to self-impose restraints beyond those required by the law of armed conflict. These restraints put at risk the lives of Western troops and render them less effective in defending their citizens.
Those who employ human shields also seek to delegitimize lawful military operations, erode the will of Western militaries to fight, and spur anger at Western militaries by generating civilian casualties for which the Western militaries are blamed. Terrorists engage in the actual war crime of using human shields in order to create a situation in which U.S., Israeli, and other Western militaries can more readily be falsely accused of engaging in war crimes such as the deliberate killing of civilians.
For Hamas and Hezbollah, a core element of their campaigns to delegitimize Israel involves using human shields, which is itself a war crime, and then falsely accusing the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) of deliberately killing innocent civilians when the IDF targets hostile personnel and their facilities.10
The Taliban have also proved exceptionally effective at using human shields, including against the United States and its NATO allies. Professor Charles Dunlap Jr., a retired major general and former deputy judge advocate general of the U.S. Air Force, has decried “the effect of NATO’s effort to impose more restrictive airstrike rules than the law of armed conflict requires” in response to the use of human shields. According to Dunlap, NATO at one point announced “that its forces ‘would not fire on positions if it knew there were civilians nearby.’”11
As Dunlap noted, “by creating restrictions beyond what the law of armed conflict would require, NATO’s pronouncements encourage the Taliban to shield themselves from air attack by violating the law of armed conflict through embedding themselves among civilians. This permits a form of lawfare where NATO’s adherence to its own rules, in essence, creates for its adversary a substitute for conventional military weaponry.”12
“For the Taliban to survive,” Dunlap added, “it is not necessary for them to build conventional air defenses; rather, just by operating amidst civilians they enjoy a legal sanctuary created by NATO’s self-imposed restrictions that is as secure as any fortress bristling with anti-aircraft guns.”13
The Islamic State also used human shields extensively against the United States and its coalition partners. For example, in August 2016, Islamic State fighters fleeing Manbij, Syria, placed civilians in each of the 500 vehicles in their retreating convoy.14 U.S. fighters did not fire on the cars. “We had to treat them all as non-combatants. We didn’t shoot. We kept watching,” said the spokesman of the U.S.-led coalition, Colonel Chris Garver.15
Islamic State militants fleeing Manbij, Syria, in August 2016 with human shields.
The Islamic State also used human shields during battles for the Iraqi cities of Mosul,16 Fallujah,17 and Ramadi,18 prolonging the terror group’s hold on those territories. According to a May 2015 article in The New York Times, “Islamic State troops … appear[ed] to be taking advantage of the restrictions” the U.S. military adopted to minimize civilian harm, “as the militants increasingly [fought] from within civilian populations to deter attack.”19
In his capacity as NATO supreme allied commander Europe, General Curtis Scaparrotti called upon NATO member countries in 2019 to hold terrorists accountable for human-shields use. Scaparrotti stated that he considered the use of human shields “an important obstacle for the effectiveness and success of current and future NATO operations and missions.” He explained that NATO’s adversaries, notably in the Middle East, “have not hesitated to use the prohibited practice of human shields as it provides them with undeniable operational advantages.” NATO troops were then “forced to choose between not taking action against legitimate military targets or seeing their actions, and the overall mission, delegitimized.”20
Scaparrotti said that “it is essential that further measures be taken at the national level to maximise enforcement of the international legal prohibition of the use of human shields.” Scaparrotti specified that “measures at the national level,” including “criminalisation, robust national criminal law enforcement, active prosecution, imposition of sanctions, international cooperation, and spotlighting violations … are key in order to deter, hinder, and impose accountability for violations of international law such as the use of human shields” and would “become a major and substantial contribution to the better planning and conduct of NATO operations and missions.”21
The United States, its allies, and even the United Nations have condemned terrorist use of human shields. Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley repeatedly criticized the use of human shields by Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terrorist groups.22 Haley also noted that “Iran is the patron and protector of many of these groups that fight from behind the bodies of innocent civilians.”23 On June 26, 2018, the UN General Assembly for the first time condemned the use of human shields in its updated “United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy Review” resolution, which it adopted unanimously.24
But Washington and its allies have not sanctioned, prosecuted, or otherwise held specific terrorist groups or their leaders or material supporters accountable for using human shields. Spotlighting and penalizing terrorist use of human shields will help counter the terrorists’ narrative, including by demonstrating that the terrorist group’s officials are war criminals and by helping educate the media and public about the use of human shields and who is responsible for resulting harm to civilians. It may also deter some material supporters from involvement in human-shields use. This could include municipal officials who knowingly provide permits for weapons factories underneath residences or public gathering spots, and businesspersons who knowingly participate in installing weapons factories underneath residences.
Specific Sanctionable Examples of Human-Shields Use
Considerable open-source data demonstrates the extensive use of human shields by Hamas during the March of Return, a campaign launched in spring 2018 that continued until December 2019.25 The campaign encouraged thousands of Gazans (including women and children) to approach the security barrier and riot near the border with Israel. Several times during the campaign, armed militants used the civilians as cover to attempt to breach the border and enter Israel.26
Open-source research provides substantial support for listing two Gaza-based leaders for human-shields use since the date of enactment: Yahya Sinwar, the top Hamas political leader in Gaza, and Khaled al-Batsh, the head of Gaza’s National Authority for Return Marches and a senior official in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. A listing of Sinwar could be accompanied by a listing of Hamas.
Hamas extensively and flagrantly used human shields as part of the March of Return.27 Ambassador Haley condemned Hamas for having “used Palestinian civilians as human shields at the boundary fence, seeking to incite violence and overrun the border.”28 The European Parliament responded to the March of Return clashes with a resolution that both “urge[d] the IDF to refrain from using lethal force against unarmed protestors” and “strongly condemn[ed] the persistent tactic of Hamas of using civilians for the purpose of shielding terrorist activities.”29
Several statements by Yahya Sinwar, the top Hamas political leader in Gaza since February 2017, make clear that Hamas’ policy since the beginning of the March of Return was to knowingly use civilians protected as such by the law of war to shield militants from attack. While these statements were made in spring 2018, when the March of Return began, the March of Return continued until December 2019. Sinwar continues to serve as the top Hamas political leader in Gaza, and there is no evidence that this Hamas policy changed as the protests persisted. Indeed, there is strong evidence that the policy continued. Thus, these policy statements can be used to attribute responsibility for human-shields use in March of Return activities since the Shields Act’s date of enactment.
Sinwar declared in spring 2018 that the March was designed to generate civilian casualties, stating, “When we decided to embark on these marches, we decided to turn that which is most dear to us – the bodies of our women and children – into a dam blocking the collapse in Arab reality, a dam to prevent the racing of many Arabs towards the normalization of ties with the plundering entity.”30
Yahya Sinwar, the top Hamas political leader in Gaza since February 2017, makes clear that Hamas’ policy since the beginning of the March of Return was to knowingly use civilians protected as such by the law of war to shield militants from attack. (images via MEMRI)
Sinwar boasted that the plan worked, as “our people have imposed their agenda upon the whole world,” forcing onto “the world’s television screens … the sacrifice of their [Palestinian] children as an offering for Jerusalem and the Right of Return.”31 In a speech about the March, given to hundreds of Gazan youths, Sinwar took credit for “leading” the March and said Hamas leaders “are ready to die along with tens of thousands” of other Gazans as the March continues.32 Sinwar even admitted that some of the marchers were fighters masquerading as civilians, stating, “[T]hese youth and men … many of them took off their military uniforms.”33
Sinwar also confirmed that the March of Return was not designed as a peaceful protest near the border, but rather as an attempt to breach the border, stating, “We will take down the border and we will tear out their hearts from their bodies.”34 He also said, “[T]he March of Return will continue, it will not stop until we remove this transient border.”35
Hamas’ efforts to use the March of Return as a cover to breach the border reached a peak on May 14, 2018, when, according to The New York Times, “a mass attempt by Palestinians to cross the border fence separating Israel from Gaza turned violent” and the IDF “used barrages of tear gas as well as live gunfire to keep protesters from entering Israeli territory.” Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus, an IDF spokesman, told the Times that at least three separate teams of armed Hamas fighters “tried to use the commotion and smoke and dynamics of the riots as concealment, and then launched an attack on the fence.”36
The New York Times said the charge to the border “was often led by women dressed in black, waving Palestinian flags and urging others to follow.”37 Hamas announced that of 62 Gazans killed that day by Israeli forces, “50 of them are from Hamas and 12 from the people.”38
Based on open-source research, the following uses of human-shields took place in Gaza after the enactment of the Shields Act on December 21, 2018:
In February 2019, Hamas reportedly sent children as young as eight to the front lines of the March of Return border protests and via loudspeaker promised children at the border 300 shekels ($83) if they sustained injuries.39
In March and May 2019, the Hamas-run education ministry in the Gaza Strip canceled school for a day to encourage children to participate in the March of Return.40 In a letter to the UN Security Council and UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon wrote, “Hamas has cancelled school on 30 March so that children will be free to attend the riots. As always, Hamas will exploit these children as human shields and compensate the rioters and their families, should they suffer injuries.”41
The Israeli military also stated as follows regarding a school closure on May 15, 2019: “IDF intelligence can confirm that Hamas has cancelled schools in Gaza tomorrow in order to send the children to participate in violent riots against Israel… The Hamas militant group in #Gaza distributed this message at 2:19pm local time via radio stations, TV stations, and on Twitter.”42
The Associated Press reported in October 2019 that “on days before protests, vehicles with loudspeakers mounted on their roofs tour Gaza streets and mosques urging families to head to the fence.”43
The organizers of the March of Return labeled the October 11, 2019, protests as “Our Child Martyrs” day. The prior day, the UN coordinator for Palestinian humanitarian affairs, Jamie McGoldrick, said, “I am concerned that the demonstrations’ organizers have branded tomorrow’s protests as ‘Our Child Martyrs,’ which may push boys and girls to put themselves at risk.”44 McGoldrick also said, “I call upon Hamas to uphold its responsibility to ensure the safety of children in Gaza, including by preventing them from being exposed to the risk of violence, or from being used as instruments of political action.”45
On October 13, 2019, the head of Gaza’s National Authority for Return Marches, Khaled al-Batsh, inaugurated a children’s park titled the “Return Park,” located meters from the border fence in East Gaza City, in the buffer zone that Israel forbids Palestinians from entering.46 The park includes playground equipment, lawns, gardens, and a promenade designed for children and families.47 According to Talal Abu Zarifeh of the National Authority for Return Marches, “the aim behind establishing the park is encouraging a human presence in border areas… [It is unlikely that Israel is] bold enough to shoot at people in the park.” Iyad al-Qarra, a writer for the Hamas-affiliated newspaper Felesteen, said that the constant motion of people visiting the park would “exhaust” Israeli soldiers deployed along the border to track people’s movements.48
Yahya Sinwar has served as the top Hamas political leader in Gaza since February 2017.49 In September 2015, the State Department designated Sinwar as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist.50 However, Sinwar is not on the EU terrorist list (which includes Hamas)51 or the UK terrorist list (which does not include the non-military wing of Hamas).52
Although Sinwar issued his most damning public statements prior to the Shields Act’s date of enactment, the March of Return continued until December 2019,53 and Sinwar continues to serve as the top political leader in Gaza. Sinwar’s comments prior to the date of enactment, and his continuous leadership of Hamas since then, provide grounds for listing him for involvement in these Hamas uses of human shields. In addition, U.S. government analysts should be able to identify relevant post-enactment open-source or other statements made by Sinwar as well as other post-enactment human-shields uses linked to him.
Designating and sanctioning Sinwar and other Hamas leaders for their human-shields use – a war crime under international law – could lead to follow-on sanctions by the European Union, the United Kingdom, and other U.S. allies. Naming Sinwar and other leaders of Hamas’ “political” wing for human-shields violations would help counter the flawed view (reflected, for example, in UK policy)54 that Hamas political leaders are separate from the group’s military wing, less involved in objectionable activity, and should not be sanctioned.
Singling them out would also help counter the Hamas narrative, demonstrating that Hamas’ leaders are war criminals and helping educate the media and public about human-shields use and who is responsible for resulting harm to civilians.
Khaled al-Batsh founded the National Authority for Return Marches in March 2018.55 The National Authority was established by agreement between Hamas, Fatah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and other groups and continues to be run by representatives of those groups (other than Fatah, which dropped out).56 Batsh headed the National Authority until at least October 201957 and is a senior PIJ official.58 He should therefore be listed and sanctioned under the mandatory authority of the Shields Act, which requires action against “each foreign person or agency or instrumentality of a foreign state that the President determines … knowingly and materially supports, orders, controls, directs, or otherwise engages in” the use of human shields by Hamas.
In a September 29, 2020, speech to the UN General Assembly, and in associated materials released by the Israeli government, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu specified three Beirut locations where Hezbollah missile factories are operating near or underneath civilian residences.
The IDF described one Hezbollah factory for producing precision-guided missiles (PGMs) as located underneath a seven-story apartment building home to 70 families in Beirut’s Laylaki neighborhood. A second Hezbollah factory identified by the IDF produces PGMs underneath a five-story apartment building home to 50 families in Beirut’s Chouaifet neighborhood. A third Hezbollah PGM factory was described as located in Beirut’s Janah neighborhood, near civilian homes and adjacent to two gas companies (one just a meter away) and a gas station.59 The location of missile factories underneath and near civilian residences and adjacent to fuel tanks provides exceptionally strong evidence for a human-shields designation.
PGMs60 are equipped with advanced navigation systems, which could enable them to evade Israeli missile defense systems and strike targets with an accuracy of a few meters. Because they are significantly more precise than unguided Hezbollah missiles, which often miss their targets, they are particularly dangerous to Israel. After unsuccessful attempts to transfer ready-to-use PGMs, Iran has been sending PGM parts to Hezbollah for assembly at locations such as these in Lebanon.61
Shortly after Netanyahu’s speech, in an effort to debunk his claims, Hezbollah gave journalists a tour of the Janah site. Video of the tour showed that the site is indeed a missile factory, with missile production machines clearly visible.62 Identifiable equipment included rolling machines used to form metal cylinders, including engine and warhead casings; laser and hydraulic cutting machines used to cut metal into needed dimensions for missile stabilization fins and warheads; and a bending machine used to shape the metal of missile engine casings, warheads, and navigation component housings.63
The video also showed (and Israeli officials subsequently named) a Hezbollah operative at the factory: Mohammad Kamel Fouad Rammal (a.k.a. Rimal), the site manager.64 This is compelling open-source evidence.
The Shields Act requires the president to submit to Congress a list of each foreign person involved in Hezbollah’s or Hamas’ use of “civilians protected as such by the law of war to shield military objectives from attack.” The president is also required to impose sanctions on each person on the list. In light of the threat posed to Israel by these PGM factories, they are a legitimate objective for the Israeli military. Hezbollah’s use of civilians to shield such legitimate military objectives from lawful attack or to deliberately cause civilian casualties is a war crime in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and customary international law.65
In addition, Hezbollah is reportedly preparing to rely heavily on the use of human shields in a future conflict with Israel.66 In January 2018, IDF Spokesman Brigadier General Ronen Manelis asserted, “[O]ne in every three or four houses in southern Lebanon is a headquarters, a post, a weapons depot or a Hezbollah hideout.”67 The IDF has also published on its website specific examples of current preparations by Hezbollah to use human shields.68
However, while Hamas leaders are quite open about their use of human shields, Hezbollah leaders have been far more careful. There appear to be few, if any, open-source quotes from Hezbollah leaders acknowledging their use of human shields. Policymakers will need to collect the necessary additional information through intelligence channels.
Washington could use a combination of open-source and intelligence information to list and penalize the following categories of persons involved in such missile factories underneath or adjacent to civilian sites since the Shield Act’s enactment: Hezbollah officials (in addition to Rammal) who knowingly ordered, controlled, or otherwise directed the use of such locations; municipal officials who knowingly provided permits for construction of missile factories underneath or next to such civilian locations; and businesspersons who knowingly and materially supported construction of such factories.
The intelligence community should also review for designation senior Hezbollah leaders likely involved in Hezbollah’s use of human shields: Hassan Nasrallah (secretary-general), Hashim Safi al-Din/Hashem Safieddine (head of the Executive Council), Nabil Qaouq (deputy head of the Executive Council), Fu’ad Shukr (senior military official), Wafiq Safa (senior security official), and Ahmad Safieddine (senior south Lebanon official).
Intelligence information could also help make the case that Iran fits the Shields Act’s criteria for listing as a “foreign state that … knowingly and materially supports, orders, controls, directs, or otherwise engages in” human-shields use by Hezbollah. It may well be possible to make such a case, as Iran has reportedly been sending PGM parts to Hezbollah for assembly at locations such as the Janah, Laylaki, and Chouaifet sites.69 In addition, Israel has said that Rammal was “manufacturing precision-guided missiles in cooperation with Iranian forces,” and that “as part of his role, he visited Iran a number of times.”70
Apart from the legal requirements of the Shields Act, there are strong policy reasons to hold Hezbollah accountable for human-shields use. Hezbollah’s use of human shields puts civilians in danger of explosives accidents, such as those that decimated the Port of Beirut in August71 and detonated a Hezbollah arms depot in the Lebanese village of Ain Qana a few weeks later.72
In addition, a formal U.S. government determination that Hezbollah is engaging in a war crime through the use of human shields could strengthen the argument for the European Union to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist group.73 This argument is made more compelling by recently publicized discoveries that Hezbollah has been storing large quantities of ammonium nitrate, a bomb-making ingredient, in various European countries.74
Imposing Shields Act sanctions on Hezbollah in response to its clear recent violations would also be an important first step toward countering human-shields use against the U.S. and allied militaries by groups such as the Islamic State and the Taliban. In his 2019 request to NATO member countries, General Scaparrotti, in his capacity as NATO supreme allied commander Europe, said, “[I]t is essential that further measures be taken at the national level to maximise enforcement of the international legal prohibition of the use of human shields.” Scaparrotti specifically urged “imposition of sanctions” and “spotlighting of violations.” In light of the frequency and effectiveness of human-shields use against NATO forces, Scaparrotti said that such national measures “would decidedly become a major and substantial contribution” to NATO operations.75
Imposing sanctions on Hezbollah for using human shields would set a strong U.S. example for its NATO partners of taking action on these requests from the NATO supreme allied commander Europe. It would also hopefully pave the way for the U.S. government’s collection and deployment of sufficient evidence to impose Shields Act sanctions on the Islamic State and Taliban for their human-shields uses since the date of enactment (December 21, 2018).
It has been nearly two years since the Shields Act became law. Despite considerable prior evidence of human-shields use by terrorist groups, the Trump administration has yet to impose any sanctions under the law. It is time for the U.S. government to use the Shields Act to hold terrorists and their material supporters publicly accountable for the war crime of using human shields.
*FDD and CMPP value diversity of opinion and the independent views of our scholars, fellows, and board members. The views of the author do not necessarily reflect the views of FDD, CMPP, its staff, or its Board of Advisors.

UN Elects Worst Violators to Human Rights Council

Tzvi Kahn/Policy Brief/October 16/2020
The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on Tuesday overwhelmingly elected China, Cuba, Gabon, Pakistan, Russia, and Uzbekistan as members of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). The election underscores the UN’s long record of entrusting the oversight of human rights to the very regimes who violate them most flagrantly.
The UNGA also elected nine other countries to the UNHRC: Bolivia, Côte d’Ivoire, France, Malawi, Mexico, Nepal, Senegal, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom. The new members will serve for three years – beginning on January 1, 2021 – on the 47-member Council, which receives new members annually based on a majority ballot of the 193-member UNGA.
Ballots for the rotating membership are secret, though individual countries may opt to publicize their decisions. The United States had no compunction about disclosing its choice. Calling the UNHRC a “deeply corrupted body,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft tweeted that the Council has made “a mockery of its intended purpose and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that the elections validated the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the body in 2018.
Notably, Saudi Arabia failed in its bid to join the Council, receiving only 90 votes – seven votes short of a UNGA majority.
UNGA Resolution 60/251, which created the UNHRC in 2006, articulates the criteria for UNHRC membership. When electing members of the UNHRC, the resolution states, UNGA members “shall take into account the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights.” The resolution further asserts that UNHRC members “shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.”
As the nonprofit groups UN Watch, the Human Rights Foundation, and the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights noted in a joint report released earlier this month, China, Cuba, Pakistan, Russia, and Uzbekistan have exceptionally poor human rights records, denying their peoples basic freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These five countries have also opposed or abstained on UNGA resolutions criticizing human rights abusers such as Iran and Syria.
Freedom House ranks each of these five countries, as well as Gabon, as “not free.” Reporters Without Borders, in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index, ranks China 177th out of 180 countries, Cuba 171st, Pakistan 145th, Russia 149th, Uzbekistan 156th, and Gabon 121st.
China may constitute the most egregious human rights abuser among the five. In addition to running a police state, Beijing has sent more than a million Uighur Muslims to concentration camps, where they face indoctrination, torture, and forced sterilization.
The UNHRC vote also comes nearly two months after Russia allegedly poisoned leading dissident Alexei Navalny with a chemical agent.
In this context, UNHRC membership effectively serves as a shield to deflect criticism of members’ human rights violations. From the Council’s founding in 2006 through the end of 2019, it did not pass a single resolution that condemned China, Cuba, Gabon, Pakistan, Russia, or Uzbekistan. All except Uzbekistan have previously held seats on the Council.
One key reform can help mitigate this problem: The ballot for UNHRC membership should no longer be secret. By forcing each UNGA member to publicize its vote, such a reform can help dissuade countries from casting votes that may embarrass them, thereby introducing much needed accountability in the UN human rights infrastructure.
*Tzvi Kahn is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). For more analysis from Tzvi and FDD, please subscribe HERE. Follow Tzvi on Twitter @TzviKahn. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

Washington Should Avoid a Self-Inflicted Wound in the Sinai
Bradley Bowman/Defense One/MAJ Amoreena York/October 16/2020
Withdrawing from the Multinational Force and Observers might be penny-wise, but would certainly be pound-foolish.
Following Israel’s establishment of diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain on Sept. 15, there is much to celebrate in the positive trajectory in Israel’s relations with several Arab countries. In light of this progress, it is reasonable for Americans to ask why U.S. troops should continue to serve in the Sinai to prevent conflict between Israel and Egypt – two governments that made peace more than four decades ago.
In fact, as part of the Pentagon’s ongoing review of U.S. global military posture designed to free up finite resources for higher priorities, Defense Secretary Mark Esper would like to end the U.S. military’s role in the Multinational Force and Observers, or MFO, an independent international organization designed to maintain peace between Israel and Egypt. A review, however, of the MFO and its relationship to key objectives in the 2018 National Defense Strategy demonstrates that withdrawing the U.S. military contingent from the MFO would represent a penny-wise and pound-foolish mistake.
The MFO’s mission is to “supervise the implementation of the security provisions of the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli Treaty of Peace and employ best efforts to prevent any violation of its terms.” Today, the MFO consists of about 1,160 troops in the Sinai from 13 nations. The American military contingent is the largest, with 454 service members, down from more than 1,150 service members in 1986. Almost half of the U.S. troops come from the Army National Guard or Reserve.
In addition to personnel in the Sinai, the MFO maintains a headquarters in Rome and offices in Cairo and Tel Aviv. The combination of observers on the ground with offices in Egypt and Israel provides the MFO director general the ability to speak authoritatively on developments in the Sinai using a unique and direct line of communication with both countries. This line of communication, according to Anne Patterson, who served as U.S. Ambassador to Egypt from 2011 to 2013, is difficult for any third country or embassy to emulate. The extraordinary mixture of assets has helped the MFO prevent war between Egypt and Israel for almost four decades — a stark contrast to five wars involving Egypt and Israel in the 33 years preceding the MFO’s establishment.
Some are tempted to undervalue this accomplishment by dismissing peace as an inevitable outcome or foregone conclusion. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Consider the MFO’s role during the crisis of August 2012. Jihadists killed 16 Egyptian border guards and then used their armored vehicles to attack Israeli forces, as described in a May 2020 Washington Institute for Near East Policy report by Assaf Orion, an Israeli reservist brigadier general, and Denis Thompson, a retired Canadian major general. Cairo then sent a massive military force into Sinai that was not coordinated with Israel, sparking grave concern there.
Orion and Thompson note that Ambassador David Satterfield, then the director general of the MFO, shuttled between Egypt, Israel, and the Sinai “narrowing the gaps in understanding, carrying messages, bringing Washington’s weight and interests to the table, and devising procedures to address the new situation and allay the parties’ concerns.”
Orion and Thompson argue persuasively that the MFO’s “unique combination [of] unwavering U.S. support, world-class diplomacy, high levels of access and trust in both capitals, excellent field-monitoring capabilities, and the U.S. military as a backbone” was key to defusing tensions that could have led to war.
Some may dismiss this anecdote as no longer relevant due to the relatively stable and constructive relations that Jerusalem and Cairo currently enjoy. However, a review of events in Iran in 1979 and Egypt in 2011-2012 caution against confident predictions regarding the future course of events in the Middle East. That is especially a concern in cases such as Egypt, where ill feeling in the general population toward Israel remains widespread.
While the future of the Middle East remains unclear, the benefits of the MFO to U.S. national security interests are quite clear. The NDS established that one of America’s top security priorities is “[d]efending allies from military aggression.” The MFO has helped do just that for Israel – America’s closest and most reliable ally in the Middle East.
Furthermore, the NDS says, “We will foster a stable and secure Middle East that denies safe havens for terrorists, is not dominated by any power hostile to the United States, and that contributes to stable global energy markets and secure trade routes.”
It is worth considering how the MFO supports each of the four major sub-elements contained in that policy statement. The MFO has played an indisputable role in facilitating a more “stable and secure Middle East.” In addition to the benefits for the two countries, their peace has also served as a foundation for Israel’s peace with Jordan in 1994, and ultimately Israel’s peace with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain this year. A new conflict between Egypt and Israel, while thankfully an unlikely prospect in the near-term, would be a catastrophe for the region and for the United States. Even if such a development seems far-fetched for now, military analysts understand that risk is measured in terms of both likelihood and severity, and it is unwise to neglect the latter consideration.
The NDS also prioritizes denying “safe haven for terrorists.” The Sinai is home to a significant terrorist insurgency that includes militants who have sworn allegiance to ISIS. The confidence that Israel has in the MFO’s treaty verification processes allows Egypt to deploy additional combat power into Sinai to address the ongoing insurgency. The MFO’s ability to monitor these exceptional temporary deployments mitigates Israel’s legitimate concerns about the re-militarization of Sinai. The transparency and communication channels provided by the MFO’s sophisticated and multi-layered liaison process have been indispensable in navigating this process.
The U.S. military contingent in the MFO also supports the NDS’s objective of contributing to “stable global energy markets and secure trade routes” in the Middle East. While this objective is certainly not part of the MFO’s mission, it is worth remembering that the Suez Canal, one of the world’s most important maritime and energy chokepoints, sits adjacent to the Sinai Peninsula. According to the Energy Information Agency, oil flowing through the Suez Canal and nearby SUMED pipeline accounted for roughly 9 percent of total worldwide seaborne traded petroleum in 2017. Similarly, they were responsible for 8 percent of global liquefied natural gas trade as well. The Suez Canal is also incredibly important to the U.S. Navy, which regularly sends vessels through the canal. Having a U.S. military force near the important chokepoint that connects the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean is an asset not to be relinquished lightly.
Finally, the U.S. military presence in the Sinai also supports the NDS’s goal of ensuring the region is “not dominated by any power hostile to the United States.” Underscoring the fact that great power competition occurs in the Middle East too, the Russian navy is increasingly active in the eastern Mediterranean, while Russian regular and irregular forces operate in Syria and Libya. Moscow works hard to cultivate relationships with Cairo, conducting a large air defense exercise in Egypt in 2019 and helping the country build a nuclear reactor.
Meanwhile, the People’s Republic of China established its first overseas military outpost in Djibouti in 2017 at the opposite end of the Red Sea from the Suez Canal. As part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, Chinese companies pursued ownership of ports in the region, including Israel’s Haifa port and Greece’s port of Piraeus. In short, it is difficult to imagine Moscow and Beijing not leaping to take advantage of any unforced American error in the Sinai.
It does not take much imagination to envision a scenario in which a U.S. withdrawal from the MFO results in the collapse of the organization. The United States provides the largest portion of force protection capability for the MFO, and most of the other nations contribute troops to the MFO based on their relationship with Washington. If Washington were to pull the U.S. military contingent from the MFO, many other troop-contributing nations would worry for the safety of their forces. Some nations would also no longer see any serious benefit in retaining troops there in terms of their relationship with the United States.
It would hardly be surprising to see Beijing or Moscow step into the vacuum created by an American departure, seeking to work with Cairo to establish a new civil or military presence in the Sinai. Ironically, in such a scenario, an American effort to reduce a modest military commitment in the Sinai to compete more effectively with China and Russia elsewhere would give Beijing and Moscow an opportunity to establish a coveted strategic outpost vital to energy, economic, and military security at the intersection of Africa, Asia, and Europe.
Thankfully, key leaders in Congress appreciate the bigger picture. In an extraordinary bipartisan broadside, the Democrat and Republican leaders of the House and Senate Foreign Relations, Armed Services, and Appropriations Committees sent a letter to Secretary Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo regarding the MFO on May 13. The members of Congress warned that a withdrawal of the U.S. contingent from MFO would represent a “grave mistake” that could “ultimately make it more difficult to implement the NDS.”
The Pentagon is right to review U.S. military posture in every combatant command to ensure an optimal military posture that fully aligns ends and means. In the Middle East, an objective review would demonstrate that ending the modest U.S. military contribution to the MFO would endanger key NDS objectives and represent a short-sighted and self-inflicted wound to American national security interests.
Bradley Bowman is senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Major Major Amoreena York is a U.S. Army officer who deployed in support of Multinational Force and Observers and served as a visiting military analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Does Trump really have a chance?
David Rosenberg/Arutz Sheva/October 16/2020
Is this election Biden's to lose - or are the polls missing yet another Trump victory?
A global pandemic shutting down entire countries for months. Riots scarring cities across America with the worst urban violence in half a century. A sitting American president getting infected with a deadly virus, leading to his hospitalization less than a month before a presidential election. And a Supreme Court justice dies months before that election.
In many ways, 2020 has been an unprecedented, even bizarre, year for American politics.
And yet the horse race of this year’s presidential election has been surprisingly dull.
Looking at the polls, and the narrative they’ve spawned in much of the media, there’s almost a feeling of déjà vu.
That’s been especially true after President Trump’s polling numbers tanked in the late spring, after having received an initial ‘rally around the flag’ boost during the early stage of the coronavirus pandemic.
Since then, Trump’s approval rating numbers have remained deep underwater, and he has consistently trailed Biden by a wide margin in nationwide polling, and by smaller – though significant – margins in key battleground states.
And just as in 2016, media outlets and political analysts have pointed to Trump’s consistent polling deficit as proof that he is the clear underdog, with only a slim chance of winning, while his Democratic opponent could potentially win in a historic landslide.
2016 Redux?
So just how bad are Trump’s polling numbers?
Right now, according to the RealClearPolitics aggregate of polls, Biden leads Trump in nationwide polling by an average of 9.8 points (51.9% to 42.1%) when third party candidates aren’t included, and by an average of 7.6 points (51.2% to 43.6%) when third party candidates are included.
To be clear, that’s not a good place for a candidate to be in, particularly an incumbent president seeking reelection.
It’s also worse than where Trump was polling four years ago - but not catastrophically so.
On this date four years ago Clinton led Trump by an average of 6.0 points in a head-to-head matchup, and by 5.4 points on average in a four-way race.
Trump ended up losing the popular vote to Clinton by about 2.1 points, while winning states in the Electoral College worth 306 votes to Clinton’s 232.
In other words, ceteris paribus, Trump’s deficit at this point in the race would appear to put him on track for a loss in the popular vote of around 4-6 points.
A four point loss in the popular vote would make it harder for Trump to win in the Electoral College, but it certainly doesn’t make it impossible, though a six-point popular vote deficit would be difficult to overcome.
But are all other things equal in the polling this year? Or has something changed?
Are the polls better this year, or worse?
Ask most mainstream political analysts why Trump is yet again considered the underdog this year, after his surprise win four years ago which defied most polling in battleground states, and you’ll likely hear one of two answers.
First, Biden’s lead is wider and more consistent this year than Clinton’s was in 2016.
Second, pollsters have learned from their mistakes four years ago, and have adapted their methods to better draw out shy Trump voters who eluded pollsters in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan last time.
There’s some truth to both points.
Regarding the latter, many pollsters in 2020 are trying new techniques to avoid the misses that dogged polling in 2016, when nearly all polls consistently showed Pennsylvania and the Upper Midwest safely Democratic.
Some pollsters are now weighting their poll samples not just by race, but now also by education, to compensate for the oversampling of college-educated voters.
Others are now using the ‘neighbor question’, developed by the Trafalgar Group, which asks respondents how they think most of their neighbors will vote – a method for allowing reticent voters to hint at who they actually will vote for, without actually saying so over the phone.
Thus, when pollsters show Biden leading by about seven points in Michigan, six points in Wisconsin, nine points in Pennsylvania, and nine points in New Hampshire, it appears that Trump’s chances of eking out a victory this time are slim – even slimmer than last time.
Add to that Biden’s leads in traditional Republican states like Arizona and Georgia, and it seems to confirm the narrative of an impending Biden victory.
Social Desirability Bias in the era of Cancel Culture and Black Lives Matter
But a minority of experts have pushed back on claims that the polling in 2020 is more accurate than it was in 2016.
Some, like the chief pollster for the Trafalgar Group, Robert Cahaly, argue that polls this year are even more likely this year than in 2016 to miss shy Trump voters.
In a recent appearance on The Political Trade podcast, Cahaly argued that many right-of-center voters are disinclined to share their views openly with polls conducted by live callers – even though such polls have long been considered the gold standard of political polling.
This ‘social desirability bias’ – the tendency of respondents to tell pollsters what they think they want to hear, rather than what the respondents actually think – has gotten progressively worse since 2016, Cahaly argues, making it even more difficult to draw out shy Trump voters.
In addition, Cahaly claims that long-form polls, which present a battery of questions – sometimes many dozens – to respondents cause the sample to skew away from people who don’t follow politics closely, with highly-opinionated, strongly partisan respondents being disproportionately likely to actually complete such surveys.
Other pollsters, however, like YouGov's Doug Rivers, have disputed claims of a large hidden Trump vote hiding from live caller polls.
“Hundreds of thousands of people have signed up to take surveys and we interview them repeatedly over time," Rivers told the UnHerd podcast last month. "What that enables us to see is the same people at different points in time and whether they've changed or not. What we've seen is about 7% of the Trump voters now say they will vote for Biden rather than Trump, and there's only a 1% offsetting flow in the other direction. So that's a big deal."
But unlike automated calls, internet-based polling methods, like those used by YouGov, rely on self-selecting groups of participants, who seek out and volunteer to join the pool of possible respondents. While the samples used in internet polling can be weighted by demographic groups like race, age, and education, the participants tend to be far more politically-oriented and active than the general population - or even the voting public as a whole.
State polling in 2016 vs 2020
Keeping in mind the two conflicting narratives on the state of polling in 2020, how do the state polls look right now, in comparison to where they were in October 2016, and what, if anything does that tell us about this year’s election?
RealClearPolitics, which tracks Trump’s performance in battleground states and compares it to his position in 2016, has found that the president is now polling an average of half a point ahead of where he was overall in those key states four years ago.
But looking at averages of polls for multiple states provides a fairly weak metric for measuring the state of this election. Taking each state’s polling gives a better idea of how to compare this season’s polling with that of 2016.
Four years ago today, Clinton led Trump in eight of the top 11 battleground states, according to the RCP aggregate of polls.
She held a 7.5-point lead in Pennsylvania, a 7.3-point lead in Michigan, a 6.8-point lead in Wisconsin, a 6.7-point lead in New Hampshire, a 2.9-point lead in Florida, a 2.6-point lead in North Carolina, a 2.3-point lead in Ohio, and a 1.3-point lead in Nevada.
Trump led in just three states, two of them traditionally Republican strongholds: he had a 4.7-point lead in Georgia, a 3.3-point lead in Iowa, and a razor-thin 0.7-point lead in Arizona.
On election day, Trump carried nine of those eleven states, winning all but Nevada and New Hampshire, which he lost by 2.4 points and 0.3 points respectively.
Notably, Trump outperformed his polling numbers at this point four years ago in every state with the exception of Nevada, where Clinton performed one point better than the polling had indicated in mid-October.
In the latest RCP averages for the 2020 election, Trump again finds himself trailing in most battleground states. Biden leads in ten of the eleven states, narrowly trailing Trump in Georgia.
Positive numbers indicate Biden lead, negative indicate Trump lead
On the face of it, Trump’s position in the battleground polls is even worse than in 2016, when he led in three states in mid-October.
But when we look at the margins of Biden’s lead compared to Clinton’s in states where both led at this point in the race, we see that Trump is outperforming his October 2016 numbers in five of the eleven states – Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
Positive numbers indicate Biden lead, negative indicate Trump lead
Poll bias?
State polls, as we saw above, were poor predictors of the eventual outcome in 2016, with Trump trailing in mid-October in eight of the 11 top battleground states, while he ended up winning in all but one.
Putting aside the question of whether the polls are more or less accurate this time than in 2016, what happens if we apply transfer the results of 2016 to the current polls – in other words, what happens if we subtract the difference between the 2016 polls and the actual results from the current polling?
Nate Cohn of The New York Times builds such a model, using the NYT’s aggregate of polling, rather than RCP’s.
If the polls are as wrong in 2020 as they were in 2016, the model shows, Trump still is likely to lose must-win battleground states, though Biden’s lead is drastically reduced.
While the NYT aggregate shows Biden up nine in Michigan, eight in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, five in Arizona and Florida, and four in North Carolina, with the 2016 polling bias removed, Biden trails in North Carolina, Wisconsin becomes effectively a tossup, and Biden’s lead in the remaining states is cut to between 2-4 points – still a difficult hurdle, but not an impossible one for Trump to overcome.
But Cohn’s model compares current polling – in October 2020 – to the bias in the final polls in 2016, on the eve of the election.
What happens if we apply the same idea to polling from this point in 2016 – comparing the difference between the RCP average of polls in mid-October with the actual results and then subtracting that from the current average of polls?
Now, Trump leads in eight of the 11 battleground states, losing only one state (Pennsylvania) which he won in 2016, with a second state (Arizona) a virtual tossup, with Trump leading by a tenth of a point.
Another tight election
None of this should be construed as meaning that the polling numbers, which currently show Trump trailing almost across the board, actually mean he is likely to win.
Rather, the point is to highlight the level of uncertainty in this election.
With election models giving precise predictions, based on polling, regarding the chances of a Trump victory (slim to extremely slim, depending on the model) about equal to those of a Biden landslide, it’s important to remember the difficulties in accurately polling a diverse country of 330 million people, particularly in such a chaotic period.
Both candidates have a very realistic chance of winning next month’s election, and each clear paths to 270 electoral votes.
Instead of trying to gauge the odds at this point for either candidate, it is more useful to instead consider the hazards facing each campaign.
Danger signs for Trump
One of the most high-profile issues in this election cycle since the outbreak of the pandemic has been mail-in voting.
Putting aside the practical issues now being debated, mail-in voting presents a potentially serious threat to the Trump campaign.
For decades, Republicans have tended to perform better in low-turnout elections. Registered voters generally lean more Democratic as a group than actual voters, with more non-voters favoring Democrats than Republicans.
As distance voting and early voting has increased in recent years, however, turnout has risen.
The push to make mail-in voting easier and more widespread could lead to a significant increase in turnout, fueled primarily by people who in previous years did not bother to vote. As the actual voting population grows, Republicans could find themselves facing a blue wave of new voters.
Perhaps even more worrisome for the Trump campaign is the sharp drop off in support from white voters, and in particular, older white voters.
Exit polls show Trump won voters over 65 by even points, 52% to 45%.
However, recent polls now show Trump trailing Biden among voters over 65 by a wide margin.
A recent IBD/TIPP poll shows Biden leading Trump 51.5% to 44% among voters over 65.
Trump is also performing relatively poorly among whites – a demographic group which backed him 58% to 37% in 2016.
While the president has substantially improved his standing with black and Hispanic voters, recent polls show support from whites slipping to 53%, compared to 42% for Biden.
Elderly white voters, who strongly backed Trump in 2016, appear to be moving towards Biden following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. If that trend continues, it will represent the loss of one of the Republican Party’s key demographic groups.
A third factor is the relative stability of Biden’s lead over Trump.
While Clinton led Trump for nearly all of the 2016 election cycle, the margin of her lead was not nearly as stable as Biden’s.
Clinton’s lead shrank or expanded significantly during the course of the election season, influenced in part by the developments in the investigation into Clinton’s unauthorized use of a private email server.
During the past year, Biden’s lead in head-to-head matchups with Trump ranged between 4.0 points, according to the RCP average, and 10.2 points.
Over the same period in the 2016 election cycle, however, Clinton’s lead varied more, and was less consistent. At its peak, Clinton led Trump by 11.2 points, but trailed him twice, by a maximum of 1.2 points.
More importantly, her lead dipped significantly numerous times. On no less than seven occasions, Clinton’s lead fell below two points during that 12-month period, while Biden’s never fell below four.
The fourth and final factor is the incumbent advantage.
Trump ran in 2016 as an outsider with no record in politics. Today, he has nearly four years in government under his belt.
Typically, incumbents – in particular incumbents who succeed in winning reelection – receive a boost from their incumbency, outperforming their performance in the first election. In the past century, only one president – Barack Obama – has managed to win reelection by a narrower margin than in the previous election.
The fact that there is no apparent incumbency boost for Trump – at least in the polls – should be worrisome to the Trump campaign.
Warning signs for Biden
If Trump should be concerned by his relatively poor polling numbers with whites and elderly voters, Biden should be very concerned by continued erosion of minority support.
Clinton suffered in 2016 both from a significant drop off in black turnout, and from increased support among black and Hispanic voters for Trump in comparison to 2012.
That trend appears to be continuing in 2020, with black support for Trump doubling in polls from about 8% in 2016 according to exit polls, to the mid-to-high teens this election.
Among Hispanics, Trump is now polling in the mid-to-high thirties, compared to the 27% he received in 2016.
Should these trends continue, Biden will not only struggle in battleground states like Florida, Ohio, Georgia, and North Carolina, it could even put seemingly safe Democratic states like Virginia and Colorado into play.
The coronavirus pandemic could also have unforeseen effects on the election, depressing turnout among Democratic-leaning voters, rather than increasing it. Polls have shown Republicans disproportionately planning to vote in person on election day – by a wide margin – while Democrats are far more likely to say they will vote by mail. According to a Pew Research Center study released last Friday, 63% of registered voters who say they plan to vote in person on election day back Trump, compared to just 31% who say they back Biden. By contrast, 69% of respondents who said they plan to vote by mail back Biden, compared to just 27% who back Trump. In-person early voters favor Biden over Trump by a margin of 55% to 40%.
But if large numbers of those mail-in votes don’t materialize – either because a voter doesn’t actually bother to register for it (in states which require it), fill out the form, print it, and mail it in; or because large numbers of votes are disqualified over technicalities – the effect of the virus on the election could actually be a net negative for Democratic voter turnout.
Republicans have registered more new voters than Democrats in a number of battleground states, cutting into the traditional Democratic edge in voter registration numbers.
While Democrats have invested far more heavily than Republicans in ad spending, the GOP has significantly bolstered its ground game in 2020.
In North Carolina, for instance, the number of registered Democrats has fallen significantly since 2016, dropping 6.2%, CBS News reported earlier this month, while the number of registered Republicans rose by 3.5%.
In Pennsylvania, the number of registered Republicans increased by 3.7% since 2016, compared to a 1.5% drop in the number of registered Democrats, cutting the Democratic lead in the number of active registered voters by about 27%.
The number of registered Democrats in Florida increased by 5.8% since 2016, while the number of registered Republicans rose by 9.6%.

Iraq’s Shia parties escalate sectarian tensions, pressure Kurds
Hammam Latif/The Arab Weekly/October 16/2020
Zebari angered pro-Iran militias by calling for removal of the PMF from the heart of Baghdad.
Iraq’s Shia parties escalate sectarian tensions, pressure Kurds
Zebari angered pro-Iran militias by calling for removal of the PMF from the heart of Baghdad.
BAGHDAD – Statements made by Kurdish politician Hoshyar Zebari questioning the deployment of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) in the Green Zone, where government offices and major international missions are located, and at Baghdad Airport have sparked a storm of controversy in Iraq. Zebari's remarks brought to the fore questions about security authorities’ ability to face the challenges embodied by negative Iranian influence in the Iraqi capital.
Zebari, a veteran politician and diplomat who has served as foreign minister and finance minister in the federal government, said that the United States had already informed Iraq of its intention to close its embassy in Baghdad due to the threat posed by groups linked to Iran and their repeated Katyusha-rocket attacks, noting that it was the responsibility of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to handle the status and role of the PMF inside the Green Zone and to ensure the security of the road linking the US Embassy building and the Green Zone.
Zebari believes that the PMF’s continued control of the Green Zone and its roads leading to Baghdad airport will not serve Iraq and its foreign relations, especially its relations with major powers.
Iraqi intelligence sources previously revealed to The Arab Weekly the presence of about 10,000 armed men linked to militias affiliated with Iran and the PMF in the heavily fortified Green Zone in central Baghdad, which includes the prime minister’s office, the House of Representatives, the defence ministry, the United Nations mission and the embassies of the United States and Britain.
The militias and parties affiliated with Iran reacted swiftly to Zebari’s statements by launching a massive campaign based on the claim that such statements are “violating the sacred,” according to MP Ahmed al-Asadi from the Fateh parliamentary bloc, which is led by the head of the Badr militia Hadi al-Amiri.
Asadi, who heads the militia of the Islamic Movement in Iraq, which is part of the PMF, said that “the PMF are a jewel in the crown of History and whoever desecrates their sacrifices is closer to being an enemy (than a friend),” stressing that “the PMF are a national military institution affiliated with the Iraqi state.”
Asadi called on Zebari to “keep in mind that if Erbil and all of our cities have preserved their prestige, it was thanks to the sacrifices of the PMF, and whoever interferes with their sanctity and stature is as if he was violating what we hold sacred.”
Iraqis are rather familiar with the concept of “the sacred” as used by the militias, as the latter resort to it quite often, especially in a sectarian context, and Asadi is one of the faces of sectarian extremism in parliament.
For his part, Naim al-Aboudi, a member of parliament representing Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia led by Qais Khazali, said that “removing the PMF from the airport and the Green Zone is an American demand, and Hoshyar’s statements echo those demands.” He too made sure to emphasise that “had it not been for the PMF, the whole political process in the country would have disintegrated.”
Aboudi brandished the threat of escalation if Zebari did not apologise. “If there is no apology for insulting the PMF, we will not be silent,” he said.
While Aboudi did not specify the nature of the response he was referring to, previous experience with the rogue behaviour of the militia to which he belongs suggests that targeting Kurdish interests and personalities in Baghdad through direct assassinations or missile attacks would be among the expected methods.
If direct attacks on their opponents prove to be very risky or impossible, the militias usually resort to playing the card of street demonstrations to exert pressure. They can easily mobilise hundreds of their members and the PMF themselves for political demonstrations.
Indeed it seems that the militias have now opted for protest, as an armed response may backfire in light of the increasing accusations levelled at these militias of undermining security in the Iraqi capital.
An unknown group calling itself “The Masses and Supporters of the Sacred Hashd (the PMF)” has called for a mass demonstration tomorrow on Saturday in Baghdad.
The group warned Kadhimi not to “stand in the way of the demonstrators or try to prevent them from expressing their views, because the reaction will be harsh.”
Observers say the insistence of pro-Iranian militias to bring up sectarian references in their discourse is an attempt to push the Shia majority in Iraq towards a clash with the Kurds, and thus create the ideal conditions for the activities of the armed groups to flourish and limit the ability of the government and its security services to have any impact on their presence and influence.
It is widely believed among Iraqi Kurdish and Sunni political circles that the Shia parties that receive orders from Iran are currently looking to start a sectarian conflict at any cost to save themselves from the growing hostile popular pressure, as they are accused of failing to properly manage the state and of stealing the country's resources.
Observers expect militia forces to continue their sectarian escalation against the Kurds and Sunnis over the next few months before the elections, hoping that they will succeed in rallying the Shia masses behind them by appearing in the role of their defender.
The parliamentary bloc of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, to which Zebari belongs, said that the “attempt to alter” the statements of the former foreign minister regarding the PMF simply translates the position of one particular side “which cannot live with civil peace,” in reference to the pro-Iranian Shia political right and its militias that always tamper with the security file.
The Kurdish bloc believes that “at a time when the country is going through difficult political and economic conditions, and at a time when the Iraqi citizen is waiting for his representatives and political forces to come together to take the country out of the crises that plague it, there are those who try to fabricate problems in order to promote themselves at the expense of the interests of the Iraqi people. It seems that there are those who cannot coexist with civil peace and do not harmonise with the national consensus on preserving calm and closing ranks.”
“Focusing on commonalities and searching for solutions to Iraq’s problems will ultimately benefit all spectrums of the Iraqi people, and only those who do not want good for the homeland and its citizens will benefit from the escalation,” the statement concluded.

Erdogan’s Turkey in danger of imperial overstretch
Dr. John C. Hulsman/Arab News/October 16/2020
Since 2003, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has towered over his country like a colossus, dominating its political discourse in every respect. To survive and thrive in this cut-and-thrust political culture takes skill, brains and, above all, cunning ruthlessness. But, along with success, as the ancients tell us, so often comes hubris — excessive self-confidence, potentially leading to ruin. And, in pushing his signature, expansionist neo-Ottoman foreign policy beyond its limit, Erdogan has bitten off more empire than Turkey can chew.
On its surface, Erdogan’s neo-Ottomanism perfectly fits the tenor of the times. The desire for the emboldened Turkish Republic to more greatly influence the former regions of its predecessor state — the sultanate centered for centuries in Istanbul — coincides with our new era of loose bipolarity, wherein the two superpowers, the US and China, have far less control over other great powers just beneath them, such as India, Russia, Europe, Japan and the Anglosphere, in terms of power.
Erdogan, viewing a revived Turkey as a prospective great power in its own right alongside these others, sees the chance to set a largely independent Turkish foreign policy for the first time in such a favorable global system.
Reflexively, Erdogan has resolved the age-old question of Turkey’s basic cultural orientation by harkening back to the days of Ottoman power, when the answer was “both” and “neither.” Like the Ottomans, Erdogan sees his country as both Western and Middle Eastern-oriented, and also as entirely distinct from both regions because of its unique dual historical and cultural circumstances.
Given this common view of identity, Erdogan’s Turkey, while still wishing to play a role in European politics, has shifted its emphasis to the Middle East, particularly to the Ottoman Empire’s former possessions in Greece, Syria, Iraq and North Africa, hoping to expand its power and influence in this traditional bastion.But, as has happened literally dozens of times in history, in practice Erdogan has engaged in imperial overstretch, taking on more commitments than he can sustain. Presently, Turkey is directly involved in the civil war in Libya, supporting the Government of National Accord (GNA) faction in Tripoli against the forces ranged around Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar, who is backed in turn by Russia, France and Egypt.
In June, Turkey at least temporarily bolstered the then-flailing GNA, supplying it with arms, drone technology and mercenaries. However, getting out of failed states is often far harder than getting in. At present, Ankara has no visible strategy to accomplish the tall task of winning the war, helping to establish a stable, pro-Turkish government, and then withdrawing any time in the near future.
At the same time, Ankara has also retained a significant military and geographical foothold in the north of neighboring Syria, occupying swaths of land with the aim of both halting the influx of refugees and stopping Syrian Kurdish forces from effortlessly crossing the border to aid the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the indigenous Turkish Kurdish grouping that has been the mortal enemy of Ankara for decades.
If this were not enough, Erdogan also continues the traditional Turkish practice of propping up a government in the north of the divided island of Cyprus. In fact, he has also moved to a far more aggressive posture in the eastern Mediterranean, with the Turkish Navy actively challenging ships in waters recognized by the international community as belonging to Greece — a ruling Ankara defiantly refuses to countenance. At stake here are potentially large natural gas deposits, of great value to a perpetually thirsty Turkey.
To facilitate this far more expansionistic regional strategy, Erdogan has also built bases in both Qatar (completed in 2019) and Bashiqa in Iraq. All these moves must be seen as part of a strategic whole, the basis of Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman efforts to decisively expand Turkey’s power in the region.
But you cannot run an empire on the cheap. The fatal flaw in Erdogan’s fevered neo-Ottoman dream is that Turkey is simply not the great power he imagines that it is. In Ankara’s case, the endemic structural problems with its economy make such an expansionistic foreign policy utterly unsustainable in the long run. Turkey’s endemic structural problems with its economy make such an expansionistic foreign policy utterly unsustainable in the long run.
The devastating effects of the pandemic on Turkey’s economy are clear. In September, the Turkish lira slid to an all-time low. In a desperate effort to keep the currency from plunging further, the government has blown almost half the foreign reserves of $65 billion it had at the beginning of this year. Inflation remains stubbornly high, reaching nearly 12 percent in August. Finally, Turkey’s gross domestic product was pulverized in the second quarter of 2020, almost entirely due to the coronavirus disease lockdown. It tumbled a hair-raising 9.9 percent year-on-year, the worst such figure in more than a decade. To put it mildly, such devastating statistics do not make running a neo-Ottoman foreign policy easy.
Instead, these numbers amount to facts on the ground that simply cannot be gotten around in the long term. Erdogan’s grandiose neo-Ottoman dream is destined to fail for the most pedestrian, and historically common, of reasons — his expansionistic dreams have far outpaced Turkey’s economic realities.
*Dr. John C. Hulsman is the president and managing partner of John C. Hulsman Enterprises, a prominent global political risk consulting firm. He is also senior columnist for City AM, the newspaper of the City of London. He can be contacted via chartwellspeakers.com.