English LCCC Newsbulletin For Lebanese, Lebanese Related, Global News & Editorials
For February 22/2020
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations For today

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
Matthew 06/19-24/ “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.


Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on February 21- 22/2021

Elias Bejjani/Visit My LCCC Web site/All That you need to know on Lebanese unfolding news and events in Arabic and English/http://eliasbejjaninews.com/

Health Ministry: 1,685 new Corona cases, 43 deaths
Rafic Hariri Hospital: 53 critical cases inside the hospital
Arrival of second batch of Pfizer vaccine at Beirut airport
Lighting of candles in the Beirut Port vicinity in remembrance of the fallen victims, lauding of new judge quick appointment
Al-Rahi Again Clarifies His Call for Int'l Conference on Lebanon
Rahi: To keep judiciary away from political polarizations
Aircraft with Second Batch of COVID-19 Vaccine Doses to Arrive
LF to Hand U.N. Petition Demanding Int'l Probe in Port Blast
Al-Mustaqbal: Bassil is Living in La-la Land
Council of Ministers denies rumors circulating on some media outlets
Bassil Urges Govt. of 20-24 Seats, Suggests Reforms before Govt. Equation
Jumblat Wonders if New Probe Team Aimed at 'Burying' Port Case


Titles For The Latest The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 21-22/2021

Sullivan says US has started communicating with Iran over detained
Iran Says Talks with IAEA Chief 'Fruitful' as Deadline Looms
UN nuclear chief in Iran as it threatens watchdog’s cameras
US-Iran talks over detained US citizens via Swiss embassy: Report
‘Temporary solution’ found ahead of Iran nuclear deadline: IAEA
Israel to link Leviathan gas field to Egypt LNG plants, minister says
Erdogan Wants 'Win-Win' Relationship with U.S.
Libyan interior minister survives attack on motorcade
El-Sisi calls for African constitutional rules
Abbas decrees a minimum of seven seats for Christian Palestinians

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 21-22/2021

Putin considers slamming the door on Iran and opening a window for Israel/Baria Alamuddin/Arab News/February 21/2021
Arab Gulf states need to present a united front on Iran/Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib/Arab News/February 21/2021
The UAE must cherry pick elite teen mathematicians to get ahead of the curve/Omar Al-Ubaydli/Al Arabiya/21 February/2021
The Tunisian Jihadist Movement Ten Years After the Prisoner Amnesty/Aaron Y. Zelin/The Washington Institute/February 21/2021
Countering and Exposing Terrorist Propaganda and Disinformation/Daniel Kimmage/The Washington Institute/February 21/2021


The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on February 21-22/2021

Elias Bejjani/Visit My LCCC Web site/All That you need to know on Lebanese unfolding news and events in Arabic and English/http://eliasbejjaninews.com/

Health Ministry: 1,685 new Corona cases, 43 deaths
NNA/February 21/2021
The Ministry of Public Health announced, on Sunday, the registration of 1,685 new Corona infections, thus raising the cumulative number of confirmed cases to-date to 355,056.Additionally, it indicated that 43 deaths were registered during the past 24 hours.

Rafic Hariri Hospital: 53 critical cases inside the hospital
NNA/February 21/2021
The daily report of the Rafic Hariri University Hospital on the latest COVID-19 developments indicated today that 53 critical cases are currently receiving treatment inside the hospital.
It also announced that the call center for the COVID-19 vaccine service provides citizens and residents with assistance by filling-out the registration form for those wishing to take the vaccine or following-up on the previously filled-out registration form, by calling the landline # 01-832070 or WhatsApp # 70-056182.
The report outlined the below records for the past 24 hours:
- Number of vaccines against Coronavirus taken at the Covid-19 Vaccine Center: 0
- Number of examinations conducted in the hospital laboratories: 260
- Number of patients infected with Coronavirus who are currently in the hospital for follow-up: 111
- Number of suspected cases: 23
- Number of recovered patients in the hospital: 3
- Total number of recoveries at the hospital from the beginning of the pandemic to-date: 970
- Number of patients transferred from the intensive care unit to the isolation unit after improvement: 2
- Number of critical cases currently receiving treatment inside the hospital: 53
- Number of Deaths: 0

Arrival of second batch of Pfizer vaccine at Beirut airport
NNA/February 21/2021
A Middle East Airlines flight coming from the Belgian capital, Brussels, loaded with approximately 31,500 doses of the "Pfizer" vaccine, arrived at 5:00 pm today at Rafic Hariri International Airport in Beirut, being the second batch to arrive in Lebanon after the first batch arrived last Saturday, NNA correspondent at the airport reported.

Lighting of candles in the Beirut Port vicinity in remembrance of the fallen victims, lauding of new judge quick appointment

NNA/February 21/2021
The families of the martyrs of the Beirut Port explosion organized a stand this evening within the port vicinity, holding lit candles in remembrance of their loved ones, NNA correspondent reported. Ibrahim Hoteit spoke on behalf of the families, commending the quick appointment of a new judge to carry on with the probe along with an assistant judge, as per their demand. Hoteit also declared that a conference to expose all hidden will be held, in the event that the errors committed are not rectified, involving the Ministries of Defense, Finance, Interior, far-reaching the Beirut Municipality.


Al-Rahi Again Clarifies His Call for Int'l Conference on Lebanon
Naharnet/February 21/2021
Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi on Sunday re-clarified his call for a U.N.-sponsored international conference on Lebanon in the wake of the latest controversy over it. He said the conference’s objective would be to “revive Lebanon through immunizing the Document of National Accord issued by the Taef Conference in 1989, and to implement its text and spirit and correct the obvious flaws in the constitution that was amended according to it in 1990.”“The main and sole objective is to enable the Lebanese state to regain its life, vitality, identity, positive neutrality, non-alignment and its role as a stability factor in the region,” he added. “What we long for through this conference is a state that is unified with its people, land, legitimacy, decision, institutions and charter, a strong state that would build its peace according to its national interest and the right of its people to secure living, not the interests of other countries,” al-Rahi went on to say.

Rahi: To keep judiciary away from political polarizations
NNA/February 21/2021 
Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Beshara Boutros Rahi, called on Lebanese officials to keep the judicial body away from the vicious circle of polarizations and political polemic. "We wish that the judiciary, which was one of Lebanon's platforms, to escape from the hand of politicians and influential people, so that its formations would not remain frozen, its rulings would not be postponed, nor would it be a tool for malicious accusations," Patriarch Rahi said. He deemed that the aim of holding the international conference for Lebanon is to enable the Lebanese State to regain its life, vitality, positive neutrality, impartility and its role as a stabilizing factor in the region. "Just as the Taif Agreement succeeded in ending the civil war, we hope that the international conference will reform and restore Lebanon to its previous era," he noted. Rahi considered that replacing Judge Fadi Sawan with a new judicial investigator to look into the port explosion case would return us to "square zero" and prove the need for cooperation with international investigators.

Aircraft with Second Batch of COVID-19 Vaccine Doses to Arrive

Naharnet/February 21/2021 
Lebanon will reportedly receive a new batch of the COVID-19 vaccine doses from Brussels on Saturday afternoon, MTV television station reported.
It said 31,500 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will arrive by plane to the Beirut Rafik Hariri International Airport at 5:00 p.m. On Sunday, Lebanon administered the first jabs of the vaccine one day after receiving the first batch of 28,500 doses of the vaccine. More were expected to arrive in the coming weeks. The rollout is monitored by the World Bank and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to ensure safe handling and fair and equitable access for all Lebanese. The World Bank offered a $34 million loan to help pay for Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines for crisis-hit Lebanon that will inoculate over 2 million people. Nearly 3 million other vaccine doses are expected to be secured through the U.N.-backed COVAX program. Both are free of charge. The private sector has been negotiating separately for more vaccines.

LF to Hand U.N. Petition Demanding Int'l Probe in Port Blast
Naharnet/February 21/2021
Lebanese Forces lawmakers George Okais, Fadi Saad, Imad Wakim and Majed Abillama will on Monday visit the office of the U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon to deliver a petition demanding an international fact-finding mission into the disastrous Aug. 4 blast at Beirut port.
A statement issued by the LF’s media department said the MPs will meet 3:00 pm with U.N. Deputy Special Coordinator for Lebanon Najat Rochdi to hand her the petition, which is signed by the LF’s 15 lawmakers. The petition is addressed to U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres. “The visit comes due to people’s lack of trust in the local investigation and in its ability to unveil the truth,” the LF said in its statement, citing “the current obstacles” that the probe is facing. The party also reminded that it had pushed for such an international commission from the very first hours after the disaster, adding that the MPs and relatives of victims will hold a press conference at 4:30 pm.

Al-Mustaqbal: Bassil is Living in La-la Land

Naharnet/February 21/2021
Al-Mustaqbal Movement swiftly snapped back Sunday at remarks voiced by Free Patriotic Movement chief Jebran Bassil. “His lengthy speech today about the government, the constitution and standards was a repetition of stances that carry nothing new and which do not make the slightest breakthrough in the face of obstruction and impediment,” Mustaqbal said in a statement. “He blamed his own failure, obstruction, suspension of constitution, treachery, backstabbing and lack of loyalty on PM-designate Saad Hariri to hold him responsible for the dilemma that the presidential tenure and its political party are suffering,” the Movement added. “This person is still living in la-la land and placing the presidency under house arrest through his denial of the changes that emerged after October 17 and through considering that PM Saad Hariri’s resignation and his response to the popular protests were an act of political treachery,” Mustaqbal said. Lamenting that Bassil’s remarks suggest that “the presidency’s decision has moved from the Baabda Palace to the Mirna Chalouhi Center” and that Bassil is posing as “the exclusive spokesman of the ‘strong presidential tenure,’” Mustaqbal said Hariri will only deal with what President Aoun will directly say.

Council of Ministers denies rumors circulating on some media outlets
NNA/February 21/2021
PCM DG Press Office has issued the following statement:
In response to information being circulated in the media regarding the transfer and allocation of funds from the budget reserve to the budget of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers under the item delegations and conferences, it should be made clear that the item of delegations and conferences does not only include conferences, in the conventional sense.This item encompasses various expenses of meetings held at the Grand Serail, including scientific, technical and ministerial meetings, which are held on a daily basis. These expenses are disbursed in a transparent and open manner, and the transfer of the funds under this item has been made public pursuant to a decree published by the PCM’s Directorate General in the relevant official gazette.

Bassil Urges Govt. of 20-24 Seats, Suggests Reforms before Govt. Equation

Naharnet/February 21/2021
Free Patriotic Movement chief Jebran Bassil on Sunday lashed out anew at PM-designate Saad Hariri and accused him of following double standards in the cabinet formation process. In a lengthy televised address, Bassil denied that the FPM and President Michel Aoun are seeking a one-third-plus-one share in the new government. “Enough with the false accusations over the one-third-plus-one issue and with the lying to world capitals that we want it to control the government and so that Jebran Bassil becomes the next president,” the FPM chief said. He added that the FPM has an initiative under which it would grant its votes of confidence to the new government. “Let them raise the number of ministers from 18 to 20, and this is not so that we take an additional Christian seat for the president. We would accept giving this seat to Marada but not to the PM-designate, and it would be better if they raise the number to 22 or 24 to respect the principle of specialty instead of giving one minister two unrelated portfolios,” Bassil proposed. Reiterating that the FPM only wants “fairness and balance in the distribution of portfolios,” Bassil added that the FPM would accept what Hizbullah would accept for itself. “When the PM-designate says that naming the Sunni ministers is his exclusive right, when he takes from the Progressive Socialist Party the name of its (Druze) minister, and when he awaits the Shiite duo to give him the names of their ministers, he is accepting that the formation of the government be subject to the principle of the federalism of sects and parties,” Bassil said. “If this is the governing principle, then the president must apply it to every Christian bloc that wants to participate,” he added. Bassil also proposed another initiative under which the FPM would grant confidence to the government in parliament regardless of its participation in the cabinet. “Approve the capital control law, approve the law for recovering stolen and transferred funds, and approve the law for lifting secrecy off the accounts and properties of those who perform public service,” Bassil suggested. “Also ask Alvarez to begin the forensic auditing of the central bank without any pauses or setbacks,” he added.

Jumblat Wonders if New Probe Team Aimed at 'Burying' Port Case
Naharnet/February 21/2021
Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat on Sunday voiced concerns that the appointment of a new investigation team into the Beirut port blast could be aimed at “wrapping up and burying” the probe. “The main point in the issue of the port bombing and the resulting destruction and death is not probing how the blast happened, but rather unveiling the truth about who brought the ammonium nitrate shipment and who covered for its presence until the disaster occurred,” Jumblat tweeted. “Is the new investigation team a Trojan horse aimed at wrapping up and burying the file?” Jumblat asked.
Lebanon on Friday named a new judge to lead the probe into the devastating blast, a day after his predecessor was removed from the case. Tarek al-Bitar will become the second judge to look into the explosion of hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer on August 4 that killed more than 200 people, injured thousands and ravaged swathes of the capital. Bitar steps into the position after a court on Thursday removed Judge Fadi Sawwan from the case, following a complaint from two former ministers charged with negligence over the explosion. Lawyer and activist Nizar Saghieh tentatively welcomed Bitar's appointment, and said he had a good reputation as being competent. But after Sawan's removal, he wondered whether the new judge would be able to conduct his work "without interference or pressure."
"Will he be able to cross the red lines?" he asked. The probe into Lebanon's worst peace-time disaster has led to the detention of 25 people, from maintenance workers to the port's customs director, but not a single politician.

The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 21-22/2021

Sullivan says US has started communicating with Iran over detained
Arab New/February 21/2021
WASHINGTON: White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Sunday the United States had begun to communicate with Iran over the country’s detention of American citizens, calling the matter a “complete and utter outrage.”Iran has arrested dozens of dual nationals, including several Americans, in recent years, mostly on espionage charges. Rights activists accuse the country of trying to use the detentions to win concessions from other countries, though Tehran dismisses the charge. Sullivan told CBS News’ “Face the Nation” that it was a “significant priority” of President Joe Biden’s administration to get those Americans “safely back home.”“We have begun to communicate with the Iranians on this issue,” Sullivan said when asked if the administration had started hostage negotiations with Iran. “We will not accept a long term proposition where they continue to hold Americans in an unjust and unlawful manner,” he said, calling it a “humanitarian catastrophe.”Sullivan added that Biden was “determined” to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and that diplomacy was the best way to do that. The United States said last week it was ready to talk to Iran about both nations returning to a 2015 accord abandoned by the Trump administration that aimed to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons while lifting most international sanctions. “Iran has not yet responded,” Sullivan said. The two countries have been at odds over who should take the first step to revive the deal. Iran’s Foreign Ministry reiterated earlier on Sunday that the United States will not be able to rejoin the nuclear pact before it lifts sanctions. Washington says Tehran must first return to compliance. Sullivan also told CBS that the United States will respond to the SolarWinds hack that hit several government agencies last year in “weeks, not months,” as the United States investigates the suspected Russian cyberattack. He said the response will include a mix of tools seen and unseen, and it will not simply consist of sanctions. “We will ensure that Russia understands where the United States draws the line on this kind of activity,” Sullivan said.

Iran Says Talks with IAEA Chief 'Fruitful' as Deadline Looms
Agence France Presse/February 21/2021
Iran said Sunday it had held "fruitful discussions" with UN nuclear watchdog chief Rafael Grossi in Tehran, ahead of a deadline when it is set to restrict the agency's inspections unless the United States lifts painful sanctions. Grossi's visit comes amid stepped-up efforts between U.S. President Joe Biden's administration, European powers and Iran to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal that has been on the brink of collapse since Donald Trump withdrew from it. Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, before meeting Grossi, signaled that the Islamic republic wants to avoid an "impasse", but also warned it could step further away from its commitments if Washington does not lift the sanctions. Grossi, head of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), arrived in Tehran late Saturday and met with the head of the Iran Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi. "Iran and the IAEA held fruitful discussions based on mutual respect, the result of which will be released this evening," Tehran's ambassador to the U.N. agency Kazem Gharibabadi wrote on Twitter. Grossi, who also met with Zarif later on Sunday, was due to hold a press conference when he returns to Vienna in the evening. Iran's conservative-dominated parliament months ago demanded that, if the U.S. does not lift sanctions by this Sunday, Iran suspend some IAEA inspections from Tuesday.But Iran has stressed it will not cease working with the IAEA or expel its inspectors.
- 'Remedial measures' -
Zarif told Iran's Press TV Sunday he would talk to Grossi about implementing Iran's law while making sure "not to create an impasse, so that he carries out the obligations to show that Iran's nuclear program remains peaceful."Iran's deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi said late Saturday the "IAEA's inspection capability will be reduced by about 20-30 percent after the implementation of the parliament's law." Iran has notified the UN body it will suspend "voluntary transparency measures" -- notably inspection visits to non-nuclear sites, including military sites suspected of nuclear-related activity -- if the US fails to lift the sanctions Trump reimposed in 2018. Zarif said the law mandates the government to "not provide the tapes" of cameras at sites to the IAEA, adding that technical details would be discussed in Tehran. "We are not violating the JCPOA, we are implementing remedial measures foreseen in the JCPOA itself," Zarif insisted, referring to the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. "Once everybody implements their part and their obligations, then there will be talks, and those talks will not be about changing or adding to the agreement."
- 'Still in partial phase' -
Biden has committed to rejoin talks on Tehran's nuclear program, in a shift away from Trump's policy of "maximum pressure" towards the Islamic republic. Tehran has repeatedly said it is ready to return to its nuclear commitments, on the condition Washington makes the first move by lifting the sanctions that have heaped economic pain on Iran. Zarif said that, from Iran's point of view, "nothing has changed", as the Biden administration had so far followed the same Iran policy as his predecessor. Iran's top diplomat warned that if U.S. sanctions are not lifted, Iran will continue scaling back its commitments under the deal it agreed in 2015 with the five U.N. Security Council permanent members and Germany. The stockpile of "enriched uranium will increase", he said, stressing that Tehran has the right within the deal to stop observing commitments "totally or partially" if the other parties fail to honor theirs. "We are still in the partial phase," Zarif said. "We can be total." The European Union's political director, Enrique Mora, on Thursday proposed via Twitter an "informal meeting" involving Iran -- and Washington accepted in principle. Araghchi said Saturday that "we are reviewing (this) proposal" and Iran was discussing the issue with "friends and allies such as China and Russia.""But, principally, we believe that America's return to the JCPOA and lifting sanctions, and acting on its commitments, do not require negotiations." Zarif also stressed that "there won't be any negotiations, period. Not before or after" the U.S. returns to the deal.

UN nuclear chief in Iran as it threatens watchdog’s cameras
AP/February 21, 2021
TEHRAN: The head of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog met Sunday with Iranian officials in a bid to preserve his inspectors’ ability to monitor Tehran’s atomic program, even as authorities said they planned to cut off surveillance cameras at those sites. Rafael Grossi’s arrival in Tehran comes as Iran tries to pressure Europe and the new Biden administration into returning to the 2015 nuclear deal, which President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from in 2018. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who under President Hassan Rouhani helped reach the nuclear deal, said the cameras of the International Atomic Energy Agency would be shut off despite Grossi’s visit to follow a law passed by parliament. “This is not a deadline for the world. This is not an ultimatum,” Zarif told the government-run, English-language broadcaster Press TV in an interview aired before he was to meet Grossi. “This is an internal domestic issue between the parliament and the government.” “We have a democracy. We are supposed to implement the laws of the country. And the parliament adopted legislation — whether we like it or not.”Zarif’s comments marked the highest-level acknowledgement yet of what Iran planned to do when it stopped following the so-called “Additional Protocol,” a confidential agreement between Tehran and the IAEA reached as part of the nuclear deal. The IAEA has additional protocols with a number of countries it monitors. Under the protocol with Iran, the IAEA “collects and analyzes hundreds of thousands of images captured daily by its sophisticated surveillance cameras,” the agency said in 2017. The agency also said then that it had placed “2,000 tamper-proof seals on nuclear material and equipment.”In his interview, Zarif said authorities would be “required by law not to provide the tapes of those cameras.” It wasn’t immediately clear if that also meant the cameras would be turned off entirely as Zarif called that a “technical decision, that’s not a political decision.”“The IAEA certainly will not get footage from those cameras,” Zarif said.The Vienna-based IAEA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Zarif’s comments. The agency last week said the visit was aimed at finding “a mutually agreeable solution for the IAEA to continue essential verification activities in the country.”There are 18 nuclear facilities and nine other locations in Iran under IAEA safeguards.
Grossi met earlier Sunday with Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s civilian nuclear program. Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, later tweeted that “Iran and the IAEA held fruitful discussions based on mutual respect, the result of which will be released this evening.”
Iran’s parliament in December approved a bill that would suspend part of UN inspections of its nuclear facilities if European signatories do not provide relief from oil and banking sanctions by Tuesday.
Already, Iran has slowly walked away from all the nuclear deal’s limitations on its stockpile of uranium and has begun enriching up 20%, a technical step away from weapons-grade levels. It also has begun spinning advanced centrifuges barred by the deal, which saw Iran limit its program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. An escalating series of incidents since Trump’s withdrawal has threatened the wider Mideast. Over a year ago, a US drone strike killed a top Iranian general, causing Tehran to later launch ballistic missiles that wounded dozens of American troops in Iraq. A mysterious explosion also struck Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility, which Iran has described as sabotage. In November, Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who founded the country’s military nuclear program some two decades earlier, was killed in an attack Tehran blames on Israel. Zarif brought up the attacks in his interview with state TV, saying the IAEA must keep some of its information confidential for safety reasons. “Some of them may have security ramifications for Iran, whose peaceful nuclear sites have been attacked,” Zarif said. “For a country whose nuclear scientists have been murdered in terrorist operations in the past — and now recently with Mr. Fakhrizadeh — confidentiality is essential.”

US-Iran talks over detained US citizens via Swiss embassy: Report
Reuters/21 February/2021
Any communication between Tehran and Washington about US citizens detained in Iran has been conducted via the Swiss embassy which handles US interests rather than through any direct contact, an Iranian news website reported on Sunday. The report followed remarks on Sunday by White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, who said the United States had begun to communicate with Iran over Tehran’s detention of US citizens. “Iran’s government has not discussed American prisoners with Washington. All messages have been exchanged through the Swiss embassy in Tehran,” an unnamed source told the website, which is affiliated to Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. Switzerland represents US interests in Iran because Washington and Tehran have no diplomatic ties.

‘Temporary solution’ found ahead of Iran nuclear deadline: IAEA
Reuters/22 February/2021
The UN nuclear watchdog has struck a deal with Iran to continue “necessary” verification and monitoring activities in Iran after Tehran slashes cooperation this week but there will be less access and no more snap inspections, its chief said. “What we agreed is something that is viable, it’s useful to bridge this gap that we are having, salvages the situation now,” Rafael Grossi told a news conference on Sunday after returning from a trip to Tehran for talks with Iranian officials on how his agency will carry out its work given Iran’s plan to scale back its cooperation with it as of Feb. 23.


Israel to link Leviathan gas field to Egypt LNG plants, minister says
Reuters/February 21, 2021
JERUSALEM: The Israeli and Egyptian energy ministers have agreed to build a pipeline to connect Israel’s offshore Leviathan natural gas field to liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals in northern Egypt, the Israeli minister said on Sunday. Yuval Steinitz hosted a meeting with his Egyptian counterpart, Tarek El Molla, as both countries look for new ways to expand the development of east Mediterranean natural gas. The Leviathan field, located 130 km (80 miles) off Israel’s coast, already supplies the Israeli domestic market and exports gas to Jordan and Egypt. Its shareholders include Chevron and Delek Drilling. Leviathan’s partners have been exploring options to expand the project, including a floating LNG facility or a subsea pipeline to link up with LNG terminals in Egypt that have been idled or run at less than their potential capacity. Steinitz said the two governments were moving ahead with the pipeline plan and were working on a formal agreement. “The two ministers agreed on the construction of (an) offshore gas pipeline from the Leviathan gas field to the liquefaction facilities in Egypt, in order to increase the gas exports to Europe through the liquefaction facilities in Egypt,” Steinitz’s office said in a statement.

Erdogan Wants 'Win-Win' Relationship with U.S.
Agence France Presse/February 21/2021
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said overnight that he wants to forge a "win-win" relationship with the United States, to end years of fractious ties between the NATO allies. The Turkish leader stressed that "the common interests of Turkey and the United States outweigh the differences."
In comments released by the presidency in a video on Twitter, Erdogan said "we hope to reinforce our cooperation with the new American administration on a win-win basis." Turkey had greeted the election of U.S. President Joe Biden with some suspicion, fearing a hardening of the American stance towards Turkey on several issues. Indeed the new U.S. administration swiftly rebuked Turkey, urging the release of prominent civil society leader Osman Kavala and criticizing homophobic rhetoric in a crackdown on student demonstrators. Those statements were in line with Biden's vow to put a new priority on the promotion of democracy, but the United States and Turkey have plenty of other disputes likely to exacerbate tensions. Erdogan defiantly bought Russia's advanced S-400 missile system, brushing aside warnings that it was jeopardizing its role in the NATO alliance, leading the then US President Donald Trump to impose sanctions on the Turkish defense industry. And a New York court will in May start a trial of Turkey's state-run Halkbank over allegedly evading sanctions on Iran, potentially inflicting a heavy economic blow on Turkey. On Monday, Turkey accused the United States of supporting "terrorists" and summoned its ambassador after Washington declined to immediately back Ankara's claim that Kurdish militants had executed 13 Turkish nationals in Iraq. Washington sought to defuse the diplomatic row by saying later Monday that it accepted Ankara's claim that PKK Kurdish "terrorists" had executed the 13 Turks in Iraq. "We expect a clear attitude from all our allies after the cowardly terrorist attack which claimed the lives of our 13 nationals," Erdogan said late Saturday. The PKK has for decades used Iraq's mountainous areas as a springboard for its insurgency against the Turkish state. Both Washington and Ankara view the PKK as a terrorist organization but the U.S. also backs a Kurdish militia in neighboring Syria in the conflict against President Bashar al-Assad. This provides another source of tension between Turkey and the United States.

Libyan interior minister survives attack on motorcade
AP/February 21, 2021 17:40
CAIRO: The motorcade of the interior minister of Libya’s UN-backed government came under attack on Sunday in the capital, Tripoli, a government spokesman said. Armed men opened fire at Fathi Bashagha’s motorcade on a highway in Tripoli, wounding at least one of his guards, said Amin Al-Hashmi, a spokesman for the Tripoli-based Health Ministry. He said Bashagha survived the attack and his guards chased the assailants, killing one and detaining two others. Earlier Sunday, Bashagha met with Mustafa Sanalla, head of Libya’s National Oil Corporation to discuss the security of oil facilities and how to strengthen the corporation’s independence to “ensure a fair distribution of wealth among all Libyans.”No group claimed responsibility for the attack, which underscores the insecurity in the North African county. The US Ambassador in Libya Richard Norland condemned the attack and called for an investigation to hold those responsible accountable. “Minister Bashaga’s focus on ending the influence of rogue militias has our full support,” Norland said. Oil-rich Libya was plunged into chaos after a 2011 NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi. The country has been divided between two governments, one in the east and another in the west, each backed by a vast array of militias as well as foreign powers. Earlier this month, an UN-picked body comprised of Libyans from both sides appointed an interim government — a three-member Presidential Council and a prime minister — to lead the country through elections, scheduled for Dec. 24.Bashagha was a contender for the post of prime minister, in the end Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah was chosen to lead the transitional Cabinet. The forum also picked Mohammad Younes Menfi, a Libyan diplomat from the country’s east, to lead the Presidential Council.

El-Sisi calls for African constitutional rules
Mostafa Galal/Arab News/February 21, 2021
CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has called for collective action to lay down common constitutional rules for African countries. In a speech during a virtual preparatory meeting of Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court ahead of the fifth African Constitutional Conference, he asked participants to discuss the challenges facing the continent, and to work collectively to set joint constitutional rules.“The status quo requires us to think collectively in dealing with emerging challenges” such as the coronavirus pandemic “from a legal and constitutional perspective,” as well as “traditional challenges” such as terrorism, “as an obstacle to development and stability,” he said.

Abbas decrees a minimum of seven seats for Christian Palestinians
Daoud Kuttab/Arab News/February 21/2021
AMMAN: Mahmoud Abbas signed a presidential decree Sunday guaranteeing a minimum of seven parliamentary seats to Palestinians of the Christian faith. Palestinians in the occupied territories are expected to choose 132 legislators based on proportional representation.
Former Bethlehem Mayor Vera Baboun told Arab News that the new legislative council needs to mirror Palestinian society’s diversity so as to include a plurality of Palestinians, saying: “The upcoming elected council needs to reflect the widest national experience and representation of all of our society including women and Palestinian Christians.”Ramzi Khoury, head of the Presidential Higher Committee for Churches Affairs, welcomed the decision, saying this is the first time the quota is open-ended. “The fact that the decree calls for a minimum of seven members are welcomed because it gives opportunities for Palestinians of all walks of life to compete with the opportunity of more individuals being elected than the minimum quota,” he told Arab News. Jerusalem’s Orthodox Archbishop of Sebastia Atallah Hanna told Arab News that Palestinians welcome this decision.“We wish generally for the upcoming Palestinian Legislative Council to bring in new blood and we hope that they are chosen based on qualifications and abilities.”Nashat Filmon, director of the Palestinian Bible Society, said it is good to have a guaranteed representation that reflects the Palestinian Christian presence in the cradle of Christianity.
“I would like the representatives to the Palestinian Legislative Council to focus on the living stones, the Christians of Palestine, and not just the physical stones that represent the history of Christianity in Palestine,” he told Arab News. Ibrahim Daebes, a former Christian school principal and a leading columnist for Al Quds daily, told Arab News that it is imperative that the new representatives act to curtail hate speech. “Palestinian Christians are facing personal and religious persecution from all corners and it is important for the newly-elected council to draft legislation that can put a stop to radical elements within our society who spew hate speech and religious bigotry at fellow Palestinians,” he said. Bernard Sabella, former member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, welcomed the decision of the President. “This is an excellent decision because our experience is that the Palestinian electorate votes on the basis of geography, not nationality,” he said.Sabella added that previous experience which was not successful “requires us to have a new vision and a holistic plan that addresses our needs. We need our representatives to represent their nation and not a religion.”
He added: “We are at a political crossroads and we can’t live with the mindset of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. While I respect ideologies, we need to revive international support for the Palestinian cause and to stop the rhetoric that fails to face the local and international realities. What we need instead is to look to improve our steadfastness on the ground and to work for a state that will help us in this effort to stay put on our land.”


The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 21-22/2021

Putin considers slamming the door on Iran and opening a window for Israel
Baria Alamuddin/Arab News/February 21/2021
A remarkable meeting occurred in January between Syrian and Israeli officials at the Russian base near Latakia in western Syria. It appears to have been precipitated by Israeli concerns about the increasing sophistication of high-precision Iranian missiles and drones in Tehran’s satellite states.
Israel wanted to convey the message to Tehran that an Iranian military presence in Syria would never be permitted. Perhaps more remarkable than the meeting itself was the extensive pressure exerted by the Russians to force Damascus to participate, including temporarily suspending fuel supplies.
Some observers view Moscow’s persistent efforts to bring Israeli and Syrian officials closer together as the prelude to a peace accord, similar to those brokered with other Arab states. If Russia did facilitate such a deal, the essential elements are obvious: Return of the Golan, in exchange for wholesale Iranian exclusion from Syrian territory – a major concession to swallow for both sides, but offering huge strategic gains. If Putin decides to put his boot on Assad’s neck, this is probably an offer that the gravely weakened Syrian dictator couldn’t refuse — particularly as it was Russia’s 2015 intervention that fundamentally shifted the course of the Syrian conflict.
It’s no secret that many Assad regime officials are fed up with the contempt they experience from Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps personnel who behave as if Damascus belongs to them. Similarly for Russia, Iran has gone from being a necessary ally to a liability. Russia’s massive military investments in Syria will never be secure as long as Iran’s radicalized militias provoke regional conflict.
Meanwhile, the depths of Putin’s commitment to Israel — and to his friend Benjamin Netanyahu —were highlighted again last week with a Russia-brokered prisoner swap, the third such exchange amid successive rounds of Israeli elections in which Netanyahu has been fighting for his political life.
Russia has conspicuously left Syrian airspace wide open for Israel to strike Iran-associated targets on a daily basis. US intelligence sources describe Syrian airspace as “saturated” with Israeli and Russian planes, necessitating close coordination. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov recently pledged to Israel’s leaders: "If you have facts that your state is facing threats from Syrian territory, report the facts urgently and we will take every measure to neutralize the threat."
The Biden administration appears to have reconciled itself to Syria being consolidated under Russian influence; better this than being an Iranian satellite or spawning ground for Daesh. Trump’s Syria envoy, James Jeffrey, warns: “Russia is trying its very best to present an alternative security architecture for the region. (The Russians) are our competition in the region as much as the Iranians are.” Indeed, Biden’s lack of outreach to Arab leaderships may spur them to seek closer Russian ties.
For the time being, Moscow has gone from being the foremost global provoker of conflicts to energetically putting out fires and calming things down — not least in the Middle East, where Putin is sick of Tehran’s warmongering and ceaseless provocations.
While Biden aspires to be tough with Moscow, he clearly isn’t seeking confrontation for the sake of confrontation, evidenced by the swift return of both sides to the START Treaty. However, this will remain a highly transactional relationship, with Putin seeking as many negotiating cards as possible, even when Russia-US interests overlap.
This is likely to be the case with Iran’s nuclear program. Both Putin and Biden support a return to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Indeed, behind the scenes Russia has been encouraging Tehran not to violate its JCPOA commitments, with Lavrov warning Iran “not to give into emotions” and withdraw from the IAEA Additional Protocol. Moscow furthermore has a strategic interest in widening the deal to encompass the curtailment of Iran’s proxy paramilitaries.
Russian diplomacy in Lebanon is also becoming increasingly visible in support of Saad Hariri forming a government, after Western efforts appear to have petered out. This is another arena where Russian diplomacy could constrain Iranian influence, particularly as Moscow’s curtailment of Iran’s activity in Syria would limit Tehran’s ability to arm and support Hezbollah, while abruptly putting a halt to Hezbollah’s regional aspirations. Russia has also been intervening in the floundering Afghan peace process, having most to lose from a terrorism-exporting failed state in its backyard.
Biden should be urging Turkey, as a NATO member, to act as a check on Russian expansionism, particularly as Turkish ambitions so frequently clash with those of Moscow: Ankara backed the winning side, Azerbaijan, in Nagorno-Karabakh, while Moscow (previously the pre-eminent Caucasus power) only latterly intervened to calm the situation.
As part of this Armenia-Azerbaijan peace accord, “sister states” Turkey and Azerbaijan are now physically linked by a “pan-Turkic super-highway” via Armenia. This affords Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman ultra-nationalist regime enhanced access to the Turkic states of Central Asia, which Russia and China regard as their exclusive zone of influence. Turkey’s close ties to Ukraine, including military assistance, are an irritant to Putin’s aspirations to dominate the Black Sea region.
Since 2017 the Central African Republic (CAR) has been the centerpiece for Putin’s expansionist Africa strategy, offering the tantalizing prospect of monopolies over the region’s vast mineral riches. But with the CAR dissolving into renewed paroxysms of civil war, Putin has been compelled to send hundreds of additional mercenaries (or “military instructors”), as his dreams of lucrative African adventures turn into a costly headache.
With a plurality of crises in former-Soviet states (notably Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia), a newly assertive domestic protest movement (personified by Alexei Navalny) and a tough economic outlook, Putin appears unusually vulnerable and overstretched. Thus, for the time being, Moscow has gone from being the foremost global provoker of conflicts to energetically putting out fires and calming things down — not least in the Middle East, where Putin is sick of Tehran’s warmongering and ceaseless provocations.
Russian pre-eminence in Syria and the region is certainly not our ideal scenario, given the implications for governance, freedoms and human rights. However, given the overarching menace from Tehran, Hezbollah, Daesh, Al-Qaeda and a thousand and one other paramilitary proxies, matters could be infinitely worse.
• Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.

Arab Gulf states need to present a united front on Iran
Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib/Arab News/February 21/2021
As expected, new US President Joe Biden appears set on going back to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal with Iran. All the talk of including US allies such as Israel and the Arab Gulf states in any negotiations, requiring Iran to roll back on its enrichment, or the prompt and shy “no” that was Biden’s reply when asked if he would lift sanctions, does not seem to have amounted to anything.
The US wants to return to the deal as soon as possible. Last Thursday, Biden rescinded the Trump administration’s attempt to restore UN sanctions on Iran. Meanwhile, there has been an invitation by European partners to discuss re-entry into the JCPOA, which can be seen as a face-saving mechanism to avoid a “you go first” scenario between Iran and the US. However, what is the Arab Gulf position on this?
Barack Obama did not include Gulf countries in the initial JCPOA negotiations with Iran, as he did not want to add another layer of complications to an already complex matter. Biden will probably follow suit. He would not want to give any US allies veto power over the deal. The Gulf is still waiting for the courtesy call Biden has yet to make. His reluctance to engage is supposed to send a clear message: US policy will be crafted mainly to suit America’s strategic objectives and interests, not those of the Gulf.
This was expressed in an article written by Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, who is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in Foreign Affairs magazine last week. He wrote that the Carter Doctrine, which states that the US should use force to protect the Gulf and its oil wells, no longer applies and America should change its policies toward the Gulf nations, putting its own interests above theirs. In the case of Iran, the main US objective is to prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
There is still no cohesive and coherent Gulf policy toward Iran that can be sustained.
And, as the Biden administration is likely to repeat Obama’s mistakes, so the Gulf states are likely to repeat theirs. I once asked a contact of mine who worked for the Obama administration why the US did not consult with the Gulf when it entered the JCPOA. His reply was: “Do they know what they want?” He explained that these states never came up with a clear, unified position. Before the deal, they did not want the US to engage with Iran, but at the same time they did not advocate a military strike that might have repercussions for them. Nevertheless, the US wanted to close the nuclear file. My contact might have been exaggerating and trying to throw the blame on to the Gulf, but there is still no cohesive and coherent Gulf policy toward Iran that can be sustained. The region’s policies have been more a set of uncoordinated, knee-jerk reactions to Iran’s strategic deployment of its own policies.
At the time of the Obama administration, Iran had been emboldened by what it perceived as a US endorsement, especially when the president famously called on Saudi Arabia to “share” the region with Iran. On top of that, the release of funds as a result of the JCPOA gave Iran the means to finance its operations across the region. The US attitude of ignoring and even snubbing the Gulf while appeasing and even courting Iran made the Gulf states nervous, putting them on the defensive. They responded to Iran’s adventurism by supporting groups on the opposing side. This was done in a chaotic manner and as a result emboldened Iran. The deal that was supposed to bring stability to the region had exactly the opposite effect.
Not taking Iran’s proxies into account rendered the JCPOA vulnerable and unsustainable. US allies rejected it, many inside America criticized it, and Donald Trump reneged on it. This scenario is at risk of repeating itself unless a more in-depth approach is adopted by both the US and Gulf countries. However, the Gulf states need to help themselves if they want the US to help them. The first step is to put their own house in order.
The Gulf has not been on the same page when it comes to conflicts in the region. The Yemen conflict has been exacerbated by the UAE and Saudi Arabia’s diverging policies. In Libya, since the fall of Muammar Qaddafi, the UAE and Qatar have been supporting different sides. Syria is not so different, with the various Gulf countries supporting different groups and even creating competing platforms for the opposition. To add to that, despite the ending of the Qatar blockade, the UAE and Bahrain still have reservations regarding Doha. All these issues should be streamlined and solved immediately. Everyone should be on the same page regarding the region in order to present a comprehensive initiative to Iran and to engage with the US as a proper partner that has a concrete and executable offering.
It is now time for the Arab Gulf to come together. It is also time to change the previous attitude, whereby each country sought to have preferential relations with the US over other Gulf countries. This mentality will lead nowhere. They need to start thinking, planning and acting with a united front, otherwise they will miss the boat and get nothing out of the Biden administration.
*Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib is a specialist in US-Arab relations with a focus on lobbying. She is co-founder of the Research Center for Cooperation and Peace Building, a Lebanese NGO focused on Track II. She is also an affiliate scholar with the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut.

The UAE must cherry pick elite teen mathematicians to get ahead of the curve
Omar Al-Ubaydli/Al Arabiya/21 February/2021
Granting naturalized citizenship to stars in the making, as the UAE is attempting, is prudent – we all want the next Albert Einstein or Elon Musk as a compatriot. However, spotting the next star is incredibly difficult. Quantitative sciences, such as mathematics, statistics, computer science, physics, and so on, are an exception, as one can reliably detect brilliant minds at a young age. The UAE must tailor its immigration system to capture such talent. The UAE’s recent decision to offer top global talent a path to Emirati citizenship follows in the footsteps of the points-based immigrations systems that many other countries operate. All successful economies are constantly on the lookout for international superstars.Guest worker visas and permanent residency are poor substitutes for naturalized citizenship, because talented people will not invest in their host countries, nor will they transfer knowledge to colleagues, if they think that country does not represent their long-term future. Accordingly, the UAE’s wise decision to naturalize top international talent will bear fruits over the coming years.
In the last two centuries, the biggest beneficiary from naturalizing global superstars is the US. Illustrious figures such as, Henry Kissinger, Andrew Carnegie, and Nikola Tesla are part of American history because of an immigration system, and a culture that absorbed these intellectuals into society seamlessly.
However, as Australia and Canada have already learned, the UAE should note that creating an application process that uncovers these gems is essentially impossible. Many of the stars that the US acquired were not stars at the time of acquisition: Sergey Brin (Google), Jerry Yang (Yahoo!), Jan Koum (WhatsApp), and Max Levchin (PayPal) were all the children of ordinary immigrants when they entered the US, and had a Canada-style points system been used on their parents, they might not have qualified.
Quantitative sciences such as mathematics are an interesting area which the UAE should consider, because it is relatively easy to spot a star in the making. Maryam Mirzakhani, the first woman to earn the Fields Medal, the most prestigious prize in mathematics, was obtaining gold medals in the International Mathematics Olympiads (IMO) as a teenager, a very reliable indicator that she would become a star.
The problem that many mathematics prodigies, born in low- and middle-income countries face, is that they lack the resources to fulfill their potential.
This is why the UAE should consider camping out at competitions such as the IMO and offer Emirati citizenship to precocious teens and their families. By giving them the chance to advance their careers in the UAE’s research institutions, over time, they will help provide a much-needed boost to the country’s homegrown research output. Unlike a migrant on a guest worker visa, they will be strongly motivated to build the skills of young Emiratis, and to make long-term investments in national research and development programs. There are no shortcuts to a knowledge-based economy. Trying to buy innovation through guest worker visas is expensive and ineffective. Naturalizing top innovators is essential to success, and while spotting them early is hard, it can be done in quantitative sciences. For the UAE to get the most out of its naturalization program, it needs to naturalize teenage superstars in fields such as mathematics, physics, and computer science.

The Tunisian Jihadist Movement Ten Years After the Prisoner Amnesty

Aaron Y. Zelin/The Washington Institute/February 21/2021
Brief Analysis
Security issues won’t top Tunisia’s agenda in 2021, but the sheer volume of citizens mobilized into the jihadist milieu over the past decade suggests that the consequences will be felt for years to come.
On February 19, 2011, Tunisia announced a general prisoner amnesty following the overthrow of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, in the process allowing 1,200 jihadists back onto the streets to organize. These individuals included 300 operatives who had previously fought in Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Somalia, and Yemen.
In the ten years since then, the country’s jihadist movement has morphed through various phases and is now at its greatest lull since the revolution, at least in terms of terrorist attacks. The current situation mirrors the movement’s pre-revolution status in other ways as well, with most of its fighters located on foreign fronts, most of its attack planners based in the West, and members imprisoned in multiple countries. The main difference now is that the number of those involved is much larger. And despite the government’s major accomplishments against jihadists over the past five years, it still faces formidable challenges related to reforming its security sector, judiciary, prison system, and governance problems—any of which could undermine the country’s ability to prevent a resurgence of the acute security threats it met from 2011 to 2016.
Evolution Since the Revolution
Following the amnesty, released jihadists formalized what they had been planning in prison since 2006: the establishment of a new group called Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST). Due to the transitional government’s lack of legitimacy at the time, most authorities were focused on preparing the country for elections, so AST had ample space to operate without much oversight. This gave members a chance to link up with jihadists in Libya and protest for the rights of their fellow Tunisian fighters in Iraqi prisons, while at home they forcibly took over 400 mosques throughout the country and began harassing secular artists, activists, and politicians.
AST achieved even greater freedom of operation after the elections, which placed the Islamist party Ennahda atop the new parliament. Ennahda treated the group with a light touch based on its own experiences enduring crackdowns in previous decades. It also naively believed that AST could be coopted into the new democratic system—even though democracy is anathema to jihadist ideology. Consequently, AST was permitted to conduct more than 900 events in 2011-2013, including religious lectures, dawa (proselytizing) forums, and charitable caravans.
Yet even as the group claimed to favor a dawa-first approach, members unofficially engaged in hisba (moral policing) activities and supported a secret military wing that trained individuals in Libya. Following an attack on the U.S. embassy in 2012 and the assassination of leftist politicians in 2013, Ennahda began to crack down on AST’s activities amid pressure from the political opposition and concerns about its own standing. By August 2013, the government had designated the group as a terrorist organization.
One effect of the crackdown at home was to increase AST’s recruitment of fighters for deployment abroad. In total, around 3,000 Tunisians ended up going to Iraq and Syria, while up to 1,500 (including some returnees from Syria) went to Libya. Based on the experience they had accumulated with AST, Tunisians became key components inside al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, and later within the dawa and administrative spheres of the Islamic State (IS). Some members also helped with planning, guidance, and training for IS external operations in Europe and Tunisia.
Indeed, Tunisia suffered several large-scale jihadist attacks beginning in 2015, including the Bardo Museum shooting in Tunis, the Sousse beach shooting, and the bombing of a Presidential Guard bus, along with smaller insurgent-style attacks in the mountains near the Algerian border, primarily in Kasserine governorate. The strengthening IS presence in Libya also gave jihadists another opportunity to break national borders as they had in Iraq and Syria. Yet Tunisian security forces and local resistance thwarted their 2016 attempt to capture Ben Gardane and link it up with Sabratha and other communities across the border in Libya.
In many ways, this was a turning point in the fight. Smarter counterinsurgency and law enforcement efforts enabled Tunisia to slowly degrade the jihadist movement, from targeting local al-Qaeda and IS-linked sleeper cells to addressing the low-boiling insurgencies in the mountains near the Algerian border. Since April 2019, the government has seen itself as being on the offensive instead of the defensive, actively preventing jihadists from reestablishing their capabilities as they did in varying ways from 2011 to 2016.
Situation in 2020, Outlook for 2021
Jihadist activity in the mountains near Algeria continued to degrade in 2020, and five more IS leaders were confirmed to be killed: Bassem Ghnimi, Mohamed Habib Hajji, Hafedh Rhimi, Nadhem Dhibi, and Muhammad Wanis bin Muhammad al-Haji. In all likelihood, little more than a dozen IS fighters are likely still holed up in the mountains. Yet Katibat Uqba ibn Nafi, the Tunisian affiliate of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), saw no leaders killed this past year, suggesting that around forty or so of its members are still active in the mountains. Then again, this affiliate has not claimed responsibility for an attack since April 2019, which suggests that either the group is smaller than the government’s past estimates, or its members are no longer able to connect with AQIM’s media network in Algeria.
Although COVID-19 has made it difficult to parse out the complete strength and attack risk of these and related groups, their pre-pandemic trajectories suggest that the drop in attacks could be a sign of broader weakness. The coming months will presumably provide greater insights as Tunisians get vaccinated and a semblance of normalcy returns.
Open imageiconTable: Tunisian Terrorist Activity and Arrests, 2011-2020
At the same time, however, jihadist-related arrest numbers have increased, and Tunisia’s Interior Ministry has offered little transparency on the specifics behind these detentions. Are these first-time offenders or individuals who have previously been arrested for jihadist activities?
In any event, the number of cases prosecuted—which at times includes multiple individuals—is down again. This is likely a result of the pandemic, but it might also stem from the troubling degradation of institutions that many Tunisians believe has been ongoing for several years, from eroding rule of law to the reversal of progress made during the revolution’s initial aftermath. Once the worst of the pandemic has receded, Washington should urge Tunisia’s Justice Ministry to try cases more swiftly, which could help restore faith in rule of law, bring more jihadist operatives to justice, and ensure the system does not get overburdened.
Another concern about this judicial record stems from a March 2020 report by the Tunisian Organization Against Torture, which documented persistent human rights violations in the country’s detention facilities. Here too, the U.S. State Department should step in, pushing Tunis to stop such practices given their negative effect on the government’s legitimacy at home and abroad.
As for the challenge of repatriating Tunisian citizens affiliated with IS and their families, there has been little progress on that front beyond the return of 6 children who had been held in Libya. Around 50 more children remain in Libya and 200 in Syria, with most of them born abroad. The number of Tunisian adults held in those two countries is unknown, however.
To be sure, security issues are unlikely to reach the forefront of Tunisia’s agenda in 2021 given the country’s bevy of other concerns, from the pandemic’s economic consequences to parliament’s continued instability and friction with President Kais Saied. Yet even as immediate security problems became more manageable in recent years, the sheer volume of Tunisians mobilized into the jihadist milieu over the past decade suggests that the consequences will be felt for years to come, as individuals complete their prison sentences, reorganize abroad, or are inspired to plan attacks locally. This is why the aforementioned reforms are crucial to address sooner rather than later. Past governance problems spurred many Tunisians to join the state-building projects offered by AST and IS, and continued lapses will give the jihadist movement fodder in the future—no matter how much it may have been weakened of late.
*Aaron Y. Zelin is the Richard Borow Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy where his research focuses on Sunni Arab jihadi groups in North Africa and Syria as well as the trend of foreign fighting and online jihadism.

Countering and Exposing Terrorist Propaganda and Disinformation
Daniel Kimmage/The Washington Institute/February 21/2021
Brief Analysis
A senior U.S. official discusses how the government and its partners are using technological innovation, social media engagement, and other tools to challenge false narratives spread by state and nonstate actors.
On February 17, The Washington Institute held a virtual Policy Forum with Daniel Kimmage, the Principal Deputy Coordinator of the State Department’s Global Engagement Center (GEC). The following rapporteur’s summary focuses mainly on the event’s question-and-answer session; for his full remarks, download the PDF transcript or watch the video.
Recognizing the burgeoning threat posed by disinformation, Congress expanded the Global Engagement Center’s mission in 2017. Today, the GEC has positioned itself as the hub of a broader effort to counter disinformation by heightening inter- and intra-governmental coordination. Its mission is driven by data and analysis. The center works with a team of more than thirty data scientists who analyze open-source materials and produce actionable products for partners. It also strives to position itself at the forefront of technological innovation, especially in the case of countering disinformation technologies
To deprive bad actors of the space to conduct their malign influence activities, the GEC works on a global scale. Over the past year, it has conducted analysis touching on more than seventy-seven countries. These analytic products are designed to be actionable and unclassified in order to encourage information-sharing and meet the needs of customers and partners foreign and domestic. The GEC’s Technology and Engagement Team tracks various social media platforms while communicating with threat teams to link its research to relevant national security matters. Likewise, GEC analytic products draw on information gleaned from threat teams, often from the local level. For example, Line is the most popular social messaging app in Taiwan, but preferred modes of communication and propaganda dissemination differ across borders and ideologies. Ultimately, analytic products in a given country seek to answer the most critical questions: what platforms are people using, where, and for what purpose?
Crucially, the GEC values its relationships with academic institutions and think tanks, embracing the desire for open-source information and striving to foster public-private collaboration. For example, it recently embarked on a one-year research project with the U.S. Institute for Peace to examine foreign online extremist communications exchanged by racially and ethnically motivated violent extremist (REMVE) actors.
Countering Terrorist Propaganda and State-Driven Disinformation
Terrorist organizations of various ideologies use social media and disinformation to multiply the impact of their operations by sharing multimedia content, sensationalizing their attacks, and appealing to audiences around the world. They also use social media platforms to recruit new members.
At its zenith, the Islamic State (IS) produced a great deal of high-quality content that allowed it to craft a particular narrative and project an image of power. The group also enjoyed greater freedom of online movement at the time, which made its content and contacts more readily accessible to potential recruits. Today, IS propaganda production is far more difficult. In addition to losing its “caliphate,” the group now operates in a more hostile social media landscape, making the content it does produce far less accessible. Thanks to more effective coordination among social media companies, orchestrating cross-platform terrorist propaganda campaigns has become nearly impossible. To take advantage of this new space and disrupt extremist narratives, the GEC works with local and state-level partners to provide counter-narratives from former extremists, religious figures, and community leaders.
GEC threat teams track, analyze, and counter state-driven disinformation efforts as well. The center began reporting on coronavirus-centered propaganda in January 2020, and it continues to work with partners in and out of government to identify falsehoods. In particular, Russia and China have capitalized on the uncertain pandemic information landscape, with Moscow encouraging the spread of conspiracy theories and Beijing pushing dangerously false narratives about COVID-19’s origins. In fact, the center has witnessed a convergence of Russian and Chinese narratives, with each utilizing well-developed and sophisticated disinformation infrastructure to spin politically advantageous narratives. Further, Beijing has now adopted the Russian approach of using troll farms and tactics to further its disinformation campaigns. To counter these strategies, the GEC has provided rapid-response grants to community-level organizers working to expose disinformation and reverse the flood of falsehoods.
The center also works to educate global partners about the threat posed by Iranian propaganda, including efforts to erode confidence in democratic elections. The Islamic Republic uses state-driven disinformation to improve its global standing, minimize its domestic issues, undermine U.S. credibility, and conduct influence operations. The GEC’s efforts to address these campaigns often intersect with its counter-terrorist propaganda work, since Iran remains one of the foremost state sponsors of terror. Lebanese Hezbollah and other Iranian militia proxies often operate media outlets and carry out online influence and cyber operations that serve Tehran’s interests. To counter such narratives, restore local faith in media, and provide reliable sources of news, the GEC supports fact-based journalism in the Middle East.
Technological Innovation and Resiliency Programs
Understanding how adversaries spread disinformation and what tools they have at their disposal helps the GEC devise tactics to confront their constantly evolving strategies. For example, the center hosts biweekly Tech Demos in which private-sector firms discuss emerging technologies, as well as Tech Challenges in which foreign companies showcase new tools that can be used to counter disinformation. The GEC also created the Technology Testbed and Disinfo Cloud—the former allows U.S. agencies to experiment with promising tools from the Tech Demos, while the latter is an online, open-source platform that shares findings on new technologies.
Although the GEC furthers its mission by working with major social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, the truth is that any platform can host disinformation and terrorist propaganda. Fortunately, these same platforms can also be employed against dangerous narratives. The GEC places great value in building resilience among audiences likely to be targeted by propaganda campaigns. In collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security, it released “Harmony Square,” a virtual game in which users spread disinformation and work to undermine community trust. The game draws on “inoculation theory” to show users how disinformation is shared and build their resiliency against real-world propaganda efforts.
Still, the GEC recognizes that the U.S. government is not always the best communicator to a foreign audience, so its partnerships with embassies, local actors, and religious leaders are all the more essential. The center often coordinates with community-level partners to assess major threats, better understand the affected audiences, and collaborate on best practices. In particular, it has worked with teachers and youth leaders in East Africa to detect signs of radicalization and build local resiliency to disinformation. This includes the far-reaching “Somali Voices” program, in which local partners build websites and social media platforms focused on counter-messaging and interrupting terrorist propaganda.
*This summary was prepared by Lauren Fredericks. The Policy Forum series is made possible through the generosity of the Florence and Robert Kaufman Family.
*Daniel Kimmage is Principal Deputy Coordinator of the State Department’s Global Engagement Center.