November 09/17

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations
Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil
Isaiah 5/21-30: "Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight! Woe to those who are mighty to drink wine, and champions at mixing strong drink; who acquit the guilty for a bribe, but deny justice for the innocent! Therefore as the tongue of fire devours the stubble, and as the dry grass sinks down in the flame, so their root shall be as rottenness, and their blossom shall go up as dust; because they have rejected the law of Yahweh of Armies, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. Therefore Yahweh’s anger burns against his people, and he has stretched out his hand against them, and has struck them. The mountains tremble, and their dead bodies are as refuse in the midst of the streets. For all this, his anger is not turned away, but his hand is still stretched out. He will lift up a banner to the nations from far, and he will whistle for them from the end of the earth. Behold, they will come speedily and swiftly. None shall be weary nor stumble among them; none shall slumber nor sleep; neither shall the belt of their waist be untied, nor the latchet of their shoes be broken: whose arrows are sharp, and all their bows bent. Their horses’ hoofs will be like flint, and their wheels like a whirlwind. Their roaring will be like a lioness. They will roar like young lions. Yes, they shall roar, and seize their prey and carry it off, and there will be no one to deliver. They will roar against them in that day like the roaring of the sea. If one looks to the land behold, darkness and distress.

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on November 08-09/17
All So Called Hezbollah Victories Are mere Defeats/Elias Bejjani/November 08/17
Plausible war scenarios in the Middle East/Roger Bejjani/November 08/17
Report: Lebanese Fear PM's Resignation Was a 'Saudi Power Play'/Associated Press/Naharnet/November 08/17/
Lebanon Caught in Crossfire as Saudi Steps up Battle against Iran/
Erika Solomon/Financial Times/November 08/2017
Saudi Arabia has opened a new front in its regional proxy war with Iran/Reuters/Haaretz/November 08/17
Lebanese PM Sa’ad Hariri Cancels His Deal With the Devil, Leaving Lebanon in the Hands of Iran/Tony Badran/Tablet/November 08/17
EU, U.S. affirm Lebanon support, diverging from Saudi/Tom Perry, Lisa Barrington/Reuters/November 08/17
IRGC General Kawthari: Israel Will Be Wiped Off Planet Earth In 25 Years Or Less/
The Middle East Media Research Institute/November 08/17/
White House Statement on Iranian-Supported Missile Attacks Against Saudi Arabia
Immediate Release/November 08, 2017
Abbas in Riyadh: Saudis court Palestinian support for grand alliance with Israel/MEE/November 08/17
Who Wants a War in the Middle East? Seven Key Players and Their Interests/Anshel Pfeffer/Haaretz/November 08/17
What goes up comes back down': Lebanese react to Saad Hariri's resignation/Federica Marsi/MEE/November 08/17
The Iran-Hamas-Hezbollah Connection/Khaled Abu Toameh/Gatestone Institute/November 08/17
Here's to the "Experts", Terrorism's Great Whitewashers/Bruce Bawer/Gatestone Institute/November 08/17
Iran and Qaeda: Best of Frenemies/Eli Lake/Asharq Al Awsat/November 08/17
Not All 'Bad' Deals Are Bad for US/Michael Schuman/Bloomberg/November 08/17
Paradise Papers expose offshore tax secrecy of Middle East elite/Amandla Thomas-Johnson/MEE/November 08/17
Canad's Governor-General Julie Payette praises freedom of religion, tolerance/Kevin Bissett/The Canadian Press/November 08/17

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on November 08-09/17
All So Called Hezbollah Victories Are mere Defeats
Plausible war scenarios in the Middle East
Nadim Gemayel: Patriarch's Visit to Saudi Arabia Encloses Message of Openness
Maronite Patriarch's Saudi Arabia Visit in Question amid Unfolding Crisis
Contacts Intensify between Lebanon’s FPM and ‘Hezbollah’
Geagea Rules Out Military Strike on Hizbullah, Says Technocrat Govt. 'Not Enough'
Al-Sisi Says 'against War' on Hizbullah or Iran, Urges Dialogue
U.S. Ambassador Richard Meets Army Commander General Joseph Aoun
Hariri Receives Call from Palestinian President
Visitors to Dar al-Fatwa Agree on 'Calm, Prudence' Post Hariri's Resignation
EU Ambassadors in Lebanon Reaffirm Support for Lebanon's Welfare
Report: Lebanese Fear PM's Resignation Was a 'Saudi Power Play'
Berri Invited to Paris, Says Government Still in Place
UNIFIL Head Hails 'Welcome Development' of New LAF Deployment
No Casualties as Landmine Hits Army Vehicle in Ras Baalbek
Iran's Rouhani Criticizes Saudi Arabia over 'Lebanon Meddling'
Lebanon Caught in Crossfire as Saudi Steps up Battle against Iran
Saudi Arabia has opened a new front in its regional proxy war with Iran
Lebanese PM Sa’ad Hariri Cancels His Deal With the Devil, Leaving Lebanon in the Hands of Iran
EU, U.S. affirm Lebanon support, diverging from Saudi

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on November 08-09/17
IRGC General Kawthari: Israel Will Be Wiped Off Planet Earth In 25 Years Or Less
White House Statement on Iranian-Supported Missile Attacks Against Saudi Arabia
Abbas in Riyadh: Saudis court Palestinian support for grand alliance with Israel
Federica Mogherini Discusses Iran Nuclear Deal in Washington
Moscow Opposes Extending Mandate of UN Chemical Arms Inquest in Syria
Russia Announces More than 54,000 Militants Killed in Syria
British Aid Minister’s Position in Doubt after Holding Undisclosed Meetings with Israeli Officials
Pro-Independence Strikes Sweep Catalonia as Officials Fail to Agree on United Ticket for Polls
UK Aid Minister Quits over Unauthorized Israel Meetings
Syria Army, Allies 'Encircle' Last IS-Held Town
Trump in China for Talks on North Korea's 'Cruel Dictatorship'

Latest Lebanese Related News published on November 08-08/17
All So Called Hezbollah Victories Are mere Defeats
Elias Bejjani/November 08/17
All those Lebanese who falsely allege that the terrorist Hezbollah defeated Israel in the 2006 war, or liberated South Lebanon in year 2000 are evilly faking the truth 100% and boldly, deceiving themselves as well as every body else. All Hezbollah so called victories are mere loses for each and every Lebanese. Hezbollah is not Lebanese Or Arabic, but an Iranian terrorist mercenary army.

Plausible war scenarios in the Middle East
Roger Bejjani/November 08/17
With an emboldened KSA led by a very young (32) crown Prince who will soon be king and who is determined to reinvent Saudi Arabia in all aspects: socially, economically and geo-politically with the clear vision and intention of lifting it from its passive status quo keeper to a policy maker; with Donald Trump who is badly in need of a diversion from his politically salacious Russian saga; with Iran and its Iraqi and Lebanese proxies (i.e. Hezbollah + a half dozen Iraqi militias); with Benjamin Netanyahu leading Israel; with the Houthis (and Iran their backer) firing missiles into KSA and threatening all Gulf countries with long range surface to surface missiles; it is not a question if war will erupt in the Middle East; but it is rather where, how and when.
The strength of the Gulf countries is in a nutshell their total air power supremacy, the deployment of sophisticated Patriot anti-missiles missiles, their superior naval forces, their huge monetary reserves and last but not least their alliance with the US which have many military bases throughout the Gulf states. Their weakness is the bourgeois type of military manpower that is not really excited to die at war and the concern of the Gulf States regarding economical growth, hence stability.
Israel’s military might will always prevail in any conflict with any Arab party, be it a state or a paramilitary group. Evidently Israel prefers clashing with regular Armies. However, there is none facing them anymore. Egyptian and Jordanian Armies are “friendly armies”; Syrian and Iraqi Armies have been decimated. Syria still has few rusting SCUDS that are annoying but are no challenge to Arrow and Patriot anti-missiles missiles. The Lebanese Army’s rules of engagement in Southern Lebanon are limited to maintaining status quo and to act as the custodian alongside the UNIFIL of resolution 425 and certainly do not include any confrontational modus operandi with Israel.
Islamic Republic of Iran’s strength is the proxy paramilitary groups and terrorist organizations spread throughout Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen; its ability to close the Ormuz straight; its batteries of surface to surface missiles (obsolete and dumb but numerous); its indifference to economical growth and above all its indifference to the number of casualties its own troops, population or its allied paramilitary groups may incur. Its weakness can be summarized by a non-existent Air Force and an obsolete naval and traditional ground troops.
The potential arenas for military operations are: Yemen, Gulf countries (may be targeted by missiles); Eastern Saudi Arabia and/or Bahrain where Iran may dare a landing linking with Saudi and/or Bahraini Shia population; South Lebanon, Bekaa Valley and Southern Syria.
An all out war opposing on one side Gulf countries with the full support of the US Navy, Air force and special forces and on the other side Iran and its proxies in the Gulf (Houthis and Abdallah Saleh mainly) is a credible scenario. The outcome of this war will determine the future of the new KSA leadership and/or the fate of the Mollah regime in Iran.
In parallel Israel may be called upon by the US (and indirectly the Gulf countries against a promise for peace with a tamed Palestinian political leadership. For the Gulf countries, Israel is not a threat to their stability and their Monarchies, while Iran is) to deplete Hezbollah might both in Lebanon and in Syria.
This envisaged war will be a confrontation between 2 fundamentally different camps. On the one side, a highly sophisticated military camp (Israel, Gulf countries and the US) facing a rudimentary military camp feeding from chaos and leveraging in a new form of asymmetric warfare its indifference to destruction and human lives.

Nadim Gemayel: Patriarch's Visit to Saudi Arabia Encloses Message of Openness 08th November 2017/Kataeb MP Nadim Gemayel on Wednesday met with Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi in Bkirki, with talks featuring high on the latest developments.Gemayel praised the Patriarch's planned visit to Saudi Arabia, saying that it carries a message of openness, dialogue and inter-religious harmony. “Saudi Arabia is a friend country that has always hosted Lebanese expats. We consider this visit to be historical since it is the first time that a Lebanese Christian Maronite Patriarch visits the Kingdom,” Gemayel stated following the meeting.
Gemayel voiced hope that the Patriarch's Saudi Arabia visit would contribute to restoring Lebanon's openness to the Arab World.

Maronite Patriarch's Saudi Arabia Visit in Question amid Unfolding Crisis
Kataeb.orgWednesday 08th November 2017/ Head of the Maronite League, Antoine Klimos, stressed on Wednesday that no one is allowed to put pressure on Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rahi regarding his upcoming visit to Saudi Arabia, saying that it is up to the latter to have the final say in this issue.
“No one is allowed to dictate the Patriarch what to do regarding his visit to Saudi Arabia,” Klimos said following a meeting with the Patriarch in Bkirki. “Although we told the Patriarch that it would be better to coordinate his Saudi Arabia trip with President Aoun, we stress that it's up to him to make the final decision,” he stressed. According to information obtained by the Kataeb website, the Patriarch will be deliberating with President Aoun and Grand Mufti Abdul-Latif Deryan over his visit to Saudi Arabia during the next two days. The Patriarch's trip to Saudi Arabia has become in question in light of the events that unfolded following the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Last week, Saudi Charge d’Affaires Walid Bukhari handed Al-Rahi an invitation to visit the Kingdom, in what would be a historic move made by one of the most prominent Christian figures in the Middle East.

Contacts Intensify between Lebanon’s FPM and ‘Hezbollah’
Asharq Al-Awsat/November 08/17/Contacts intensified between Lebanon’s “Hezbollah”, Iran and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), headed by Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil, in wake of Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s resignation on Saturday. The contacts culminated with a telephone call between President Michel Aoun and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani and later a five-hour meeting between Bassil and “Hezbollah” Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah. Aoun received a telephone call from Rouhani to discuss the latest developments, reported the National News Agency. Al-Mayadeen television said that Rouhani underscored to Aoun that the “unity of Lebanese factions ensures that they will overcome external strife and regional problems.”Meanwhile, Bassil and Nasrallah stressed the “importance of stability, national unity and consensus among all factions in order to resolve the crisis.”Various online media outlets described the meeting as “good” and that there were no fears over the upcoming phase in Lebanon. Justice Minister and FPM member Salim Jreissati underlined the “complete coordination” between the movement and “Hezbollah.”“There is plenty of time to wait for Hariri’s safe return to his country so that we can listen to the circumstances that led to his resignation,” he stated. He made his remarks after holding talks with “Hezbollah” Liaison and Coordination Officer Wafiq Safa and MP Nawwar al-Saheli. Jreissati said that the meeting tackled judicial, legal and political affairs, most notably the repercussions of Hariri’s resignation. Asked by reporters if the “Hezbollah” delegation had proposed an initiative to end the crisis, the minister replied that the party had inquired about various issues. The secretary general speaks on behalf of the party, he continued. The party “calls for peace and seeks stability and everything takes place under the authority of the state and the presidency,” stressed Jreissati.

Geagea Rules Out Military Strike on Hizbullah, Says Technocrat Govt. 'Not Enough'
Naharnet/November 08/17/Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea on Wednesday ruled out a military strike against Hizbullah and noted that a technocrat cabinet alone cannot resolve the political crisis in the country or with Saudi Arabia in the wake of Prime Minister Saad Hariri's resignation.
“I have not sensed any indications of a military strike against Hizbullah, and in the end Hizbullah is our problem as Lebanese, seeing as we cannot continue having two states,” said Geagea in response to a question during an interview on MTV.
“PM Hariri has revolted against the abnormal situation in the country,” Geagea added. “We are undoubtedly in a crisis, but it is similar to the rest of the crises that we went through, and like we managed to overcome the previous crises, we will overcome this crisis,” the LF leader reassured. Asked about his meeting with President Michel Aoun in Baabda on Tuesday, Geagea said: “The meeting was friendly... I emphasized on two points: the first is that he made a good step by not rushing things and going straight to parliamentary consultations, and the second is that we must address the core of the issue and not the technicalities.” “The crisis that we are going through was not born today. Hariri's resignation is the result of a long accumulation,” the LF leader pointed out. Decrying some controversial Hizbullah actions that followed the formation of Hariri's government, Geagea cited Hizbullah's military parade in Syria's Qusayr, its tour for journalists on the southern border with Israel, its announcement that tens of thousands of foreign fighters will take part in any future war with Israel, the party's alleged involvement in Kuwait's al-Abdali terrorist cell, and its negotiations with the Islamic State group during the Lebanese Army's eastern border offensive. Geagea said he was not surprised by Hariri's resignation but rather by its “timing.”As for the debate on whether Hariri's resignation should be accepted or not seeing as it was announced from another country, Geagea said: “PM Hariri has resigned and the resignation was public. Let us address the core of the crisis to find solutions instead of focusing on formalities. The reasons behind his resignation should be the focus of discussions.”Geagea noted that the formation of a technocrat cabinet alone cannot resolve the political crisis in the country or with Saudi Arabia, calling for addressing “the reasons behind Hariri's resignation.”The LF leader also stressed that “Hizbullah should end its involvement in the region's crises” in order to spare Lebanon any repercussions.

Al-Sisi Says 'against War' on Hizbullah or Iran, Urges Dialogue
Naharnet/Associated Press/November 08/17/Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said Wednesday that Iran must stop "meddling" in the Middle East and the security of Arab Gulf countries must not be threatened, but he underscored that he does not want war and believes dialogue can resolve the region's crises.With his comments, al-Sisi threw his support behind Egypt's Gulf ally Saudi Arabia amid the kingdom's mounting tensions with Iran. But he avoided the increasingly aggressive rhetoric that has come from Riyadh in recent days. Over the weekend, Saudi Arabia blamed Iran for a missile fired toward its capital by rebels in Yemen and warned that it could be considered an act of war. At the same time, Saudi officials accused Iran's Lebanese ally Hizbullah of "declaring war."The Egyptian leader told reporters that he did not want more tensions in the region, but that doesn't mean threats to Arab countries can be tolerated. "The region has enough instability and challenge as it is. We don't need any new complications involving Iran or Hizbullah so we don't add new challenges to the region," he said at a press conference in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. "I am against war, we can resolve crises with dialogue," al-Sisi said when asked about the possibility of a war on Iran or Hizbullah. But, he said, "Gulf security is a red line and others must stop meddling in our affairs and not work to escalate tensions."

U.S. Ambassador Richard Meets Army Commander General Joseph Aoun
Naharnet/November 08/17/Ambassador Elizabeth Richard, accompanied by Deputy Undersecretary of the Air Force for International Affairs Heidi Grant, met with LAF Commander Joseph Aoun to announce the U.S. Government’s reimbursement of $42.9 million for LAF Border Operations, the US embassy said in a statement on Wednesday. “Thank you General Aoun and thank you everybody for being with us; and a special thanks to Heidi Grant for coming to Lebanon. She is the Deputy Undersecretary of the Air Force for International Affairs, and she comes to Lebanon following the arrival, just two weeks ago, of the Super Tucano A-29 attack aircrafts, to further advance the LAF’s development of the Air Force; and so we are just delighted to have her here to continue this path that we and the Lebanese Armed Forces are on together to develop the capabilities of the force,” said Richard. “I also wanted to take a minute today to take the opportunity to also announce the recent delivery of a significant amount of funding that was just transferred from the Department of Defense to the Government of Lebanon, through the Ministry of Finance,” she added. “This funding, in the amount of $42.9 million, is part of a Border Operations Reimbursement Program, through which the Government of Lebanon can request reimbursement for some of the LAF’s costs in securing the Lebanese borders, particularly in the LAF’s fight against ISIS and other extremist groups.” Richard added that the LAF has done an excellent job stopping the advance of these groups into Lebanon’s northeast border and “the Army continues to prevent their spread into and throughout the country. So this reimbursement to the Government of Lebanon was based on invoices that were prepared by the Lebanese Ministry of Finance on behalf of the Ministry of Defense and the Army for this year.”She concluded: “The U.S. Government and the U.S. Embassy are looking forward to coordinating with the Government of Lebanon and with the Army regarding the use of these reimbursed funds. “

Hariri Receives Call from Palestinian President
Naharnet/November 08/17/Prime Minister Saad Hariri received a telephone call from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday, his media office annouced. Discussions focused on the latest development in Lebanon, Palestine and the region, it added. According to media reports, the Premier is staying at his Riyadh residence and receiving most of calls on his landline phone number.

Visitors to Dar al-Fatwa Agree on 'Calm, Prudence' Post Hariri's Resignation
Naharnet/November 08/17/Dar Al-Fatwa, the highest Sunni authority in Lebanon, witnessed crowds of visitors for the third day in a row on Wednesday, most notably ex-President Amin Gemayel, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and French Ambassador Bruno Foucher in the wake of Prime Minister Saad Hariri's sudden resignation. The visitors have unanimously agreed on temporizing measures and the importance of not taking any formal steps until Hariri's return. They assured to al-Joumhouria daily that they all agree on one rhetoric of “maintaining calm and prudence.”“We understood from Grand Mufti Abdul Latif Daryan that contacts are ongoing between Dar el-Fatwa, the Presidency and Speaker of the House of Representatives. They all agree on the need for consensus to strengthen the spirit of calm as each party is aware of the seriousness of the situation in Lebanon,” the visitors were quoted as saying. They pointed out that most of visitors of Dar al-Fatwa have insisted on the “safety" of Prime Minister Hariri as some were overwhelmed with shock over his sudden resignation, the daily added. However, the Mufti did not mention any direct contact with Hariri. The Mufti has acknowledged the existence of a “missing link” unknown to everyone which can only be clarified personally from Hariri after his return from Saudi Arabia. On Saturday, Hariri unexpectedly announced his resignation from Saudi Arabia and in a televised speech accused Iran of meddling in Arab affairs and the Iran-backed Hizbullah group of holding Lebanon hostage. The resignation was seen as a reflection of growing tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran, its archrival in the region. After Hariri's resignation, rumors spread in Lebanon that he was under house arrest in Saudi Arabia — especially after news broke over the weekend of arrests in the kingdom of dozens of Saudi princes, ministers and influential businessmen in a sweep purportedly over corruption.

EU Ambassadors in Lebanon Reaffirm Support for Lebanon's Welfare
Naharnet/November 08/17/Following Prime Minister Hariri's statement on 4 November 2017, the Ambassadors of the European Union in Lebanon reaffirm their strong support for the continued unity, stability, sovereignty, and security of Lebanon and its people, a statement released by the EU Ambassadors in Lebanon said on Wednesday. The EU Ambassadors call on all sides to pursue constructive dialogue and to build on the work achieved in the last 11 months towards strengthening Lebanon's institutions and preparing parliamentary elections in early 2018, in adherence with the Constitution, added the statement.The Ambassadors underline their ongoing commitment to stand by and assist Lebanon in the framework of the strong partnership to ensure the continued stability and economic recovery of the country.

Report: Lebanese Fear PM's Resignation Was a 'Saudi Power Play'
Associated Press/Naharnet/November 08/17/
Stunned Lebanese fear that Prime Minister Saad Hariri's surprise resignation last weekend — announced from Saudi Arabia in a pre-recorded message — was a "power play by the kingdom aimed at wrecking a delicate compromise with Hizbullah and taking a swipe at regional rival Iran."The move has thrown Lebanon into turmoil, potentially dragging the small nation back into the regional fight for supremacy between Saudi Arabia and Iran — at a time when Iran and its allies are seen to have won the proxy war against Saudi-backed forces in neighboring Syria. Sunni-led Saudi Arabia, under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has been intensifying its confrontation with Shiite powerhouse Iran. The two camps support rival sides in countries across the region, worsening conflicts in Yemen, Syria and elsewhere. Each also has proxies in Lebanon, but in recent years, Lebanese parties have tried — largely successfully —to prevent those tensions from blowing up into full-scale violence in a country still haunted by memories from its own 1975-1990 civil war. Shiite Hizbullah dominates Lebanon, but it has sought not to provoke the Sunni community, which in turn has avoided crossing the guerrilla force. The fear among some Lebanese now is that Saudi Arabia will upset that balance, trying to compensate for its losses in proxy wars elsewhere. In Syria, Hizbullah and other Iranian-backed fighters allied with President Bashar Assad's forces have recaptured large areas and are working to secure a much-prized land corridor stretching from Tehran to the Mediterranean through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. By contrast, Saudi Arabia has been stuck in a fruitless war in Yemen against Iranian-backed Shiite rebels, and a Saudi bid to isolate Qatar has failed to achieve its goals. Hariri appeared on Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV in a recorded video delivering a statement in which he accused Iran of meddling in Arab affairs and the Iran-backed Hizbullah of holding Lebanon hostage.
"Iran's arms in the region will be cut off," he said, adding that he felt compelled to resign and that his life was endangered. The resignation came exactly a year after Hariri formed a coalition government that included Hizbullah, shortly after Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian and Hizbullah ally, was elected president. That arrangement was the product of a rare understanding between Saudi Arabia and Iran for calm in Lebanon, ending a two-year period during which the presidency was vacant. It has been an uneasy partnership between Hariri and Hizbullah. As the Shiite group and its allies advanced in Syria, Hariri came under pressure from Washington and Riyadh to distance himself from the group. In recent days, Lebanese government ministers have bickered publicly over sending an ambassador to Damascus and repatriation plans for hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees living in Lebanon.
Still, officials had denied the tensions threatened the unity government. Last week, Saudi Minister for Gulf Affairs Thamer al-Sabhan predicted on Lebanon's MTV station that "astonishing developments" were coming for Lebanon. After Hariri's resignation, rumors spread in Lebanon that he was under house arrest in Saudi Arabia — especially after news broke over the weekend of arrests in the kingdom of dozens of Saudi princes, ministers and influential businessmen in a sweep purportedly over corruption.
Hizbullah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, on Sunday accused Saudi Arabia of drafting Hariri's resignation letter and forcing him to read it on Saudi TV. He even asked whether Hariri was being held against his will. The daily Al-Akhbar, a harsh critic of Saudi Arabia's policies, ran a full-page photo of Hariri on its front page with the words: "The hostage." Speculation continued to swirl despite the official Saudi Press Agency carrying photos Monday showing Hariri meeting with Saudi King Salman. Hariri tweeted that he was "honored to visit" the king in his office — and some of his supporters tweeted back, telling him to take a selfie raising his left hand as a signal that he's OK. Hariri, a dual Saudi-Lebanese citizen, has faced financial difficulties recently as his business in Saudi Arabia suffers. Earlier this year he closed his family's Oger construction firm, which had made billions of dollars since his late father founded it in the 1970s. Hilal Khashan, a political science professor at the American University of Beirut, said Hariri made "many concessions" to his political rivals in order to become prime minister and would not have given up the position had it not been for Saudi pressure.Joseph Bahout, a visiting scholar at Carnegie's Middle East Program, warned just last month that Saudi Arabia was seeking ways to compensate for the loss of Syria as a place where it could bleed Iran.
"A renewed desire to reverse their regional fortunes could lead them to try regaining a foothold in Lebanon," he wrote.
Saudi officials have vowed to crush Hizbullah and recently have been encouraging Lebanese to rise up against the Shiite group. Saudi Arabia, which along with Western nations considers Hizbullah a terrorist organization, says the group should not be part of a future Lebanese government.
Hizbullah's leader has been one of the kingdom's harshest critics, and it is not uncommon for Hizbullah supporters to chant "Death to Al Saud" at their rallies — a reference to the Saudi royal family. At the very least, Hariri's resignation could mean another long period without a government for Lebanon, at a time when its economy is struggling under a public debt that has reached more than $75 billion — 140 percent of its gross domestic product, a debt-to-GDP ratio that is among the highest in the world. According to Lebanon's power-sharing deal, the president should be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni and the parliament speaker a Shiite. But given Hariri's wide support among Sunnis, it may be difficult for any Sunni politician to assume the post of prime minister without alienating the Sunni community. And it will be impossible to form a Cabinet without Hizbullah, since the group and its allies enjoy wide support among both Shiites and Christians.

Berri Invited to Paris, Says Government Still in Place
Naharnet/November 08/17/Speaker Nabih Berri on Wednesday received an official invitation to visit France that was handed to him by French Ambassador to Lebanon Bruno Foucher. Talks between Berri and Foucher tackled “the situations in Lebanon and the region” and the date of the visit “will be set later,” the National News Agency said. Commenting on the crisis sparked by Prime Minister Saad Hariri's shock resignation, Berri said during his weekly meeting with MPs that “despite all the crises they have faced, the Lebanese have always managed to overcome all difficulties, immunized by their unity and a desire to fortify their domestic arena.”“What we are facing today requires us all to bolster this unity,” the Speaker added. “The government is still in place and PM Hariri's announcement of his resignation in this fashion will not affect its status,” Berri went on to say. Hariri stunned the Lebanese with his resignation on Saturday in a televised speech from Saudi Arabia. President Michel Aoun has said that he is awaiting Hariri's return to Lebanon to “inquire about the circumstances of the resignation and decide on the next steps." In a haltingly delivered address, Hariri accused Iran of meddling in Arab affairs and Iran-backed Hizbullah of holding Lebanon hostage. Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah speculated on Sunday that Saudi Arabia had forced Hariri to resign amid the deepening Saudi-Iran rivalry.

UNIFIL Head Hails 'Welcome Development' of New LAF Deployment
Naharnet/November 08/17/UNIFIL Head of Mission and Force Commander Major General Michael Beary on Wednesday chaired a regular tripartite meeting with senior officials from the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Israeli army at the U.N. position in Ras al-Naqoura, a UNIFIL statement said. Discussions centered on issues related to “the implementation of UNIFIL’s mandate under U.N. Security Council resolution 1701 (2006), the importance of cooperation from both sides in the implementation of resolutions 1701 and 2373, air and ground violations, the situation along the Blue Line, as well as the issue of withdrawal of Israeli forces from northern Ghajar,” UNIFIL said. The UNIFIL head hailed, in particular, the “welcomed development” of the deployment in September of additional LAF troops to the UNIFIL area of operation (AO) between the Litani River and the Blue Line. He added that the new LAF deployment in addition to the existing Brigades is allowing UNIFIL and LAF to increase coordinated activities and contributes to enhanced LAF presence in the UNIFIL AO. “It is an important step in the right direction,” he said. “The key to the long term stability and security of the South is an enhanced LAF presence. We look forward to this effort continuing, through the deployment of more troops.” He noted that calm has generally prevailed and a normalization of activities has been observed in certain areas in the period since the last tripartite meeting of September 19. He highlighted the importance of “building on the existing calm and relatively stable situation and providing impetus to the attainment of the broader strategic goals and working together towards a permanent ceasefire.” “While we all fully understand that those larger political issues are outside the remit of this forum, we have to acknowledge that we must not lose sight of this longer term goal while we continue to address the immediate operational concerns in the context of the cessation of hostilities,” Beary said, stressing the importance of both parties using UNIFIL’s liaison and coordination mechanism. The Major General praised the liaison arrangements noting that it has allowed for normal activities such as the olive harvesting to take place without friction. Tripartite meetings have been held regularly under the auspices of UNIFIL since the end of the 2006 war. According to UNIFIL, they have become an essential conflict management and confidence building mechanism between the parties. UNIFIL currently has around 10,500 peacekeepers who maintain some 13,500 operational activities per month in the area of operations. UNIFIL is complemented by a seven-vessel Maritime Task Force.

No Casualties as Landmine Hits Army Vehicle in Ras Baalbek
Naharnet/November 08/A Lebanese Army vehicle belonging to the Engineering Regiment was on Wednesday hit by a landmine explosion in the outskirts of the eastern border town of Ras Baalbek, the army said. The landmine that went off on the Wadi Rafeq road was planted by the jihadist Islamic State group prior to its ouster from the region in a major army operation, the Army Command said in a statement.The blast damaged the vehicle without causing any casualties, the statement added.

Iran's Rouhani Criticizes Saudi Arabia over 'Lebanon Meddling'
Associated Press/Naharnet/November 08/17/Iran's President Hassan Rouhani criticized Saudi Arabia on Wednesday over what he called "unprecedented" interference in Lebanese affairs and added his voice to those who suspect the Gulf kingdom forced Lebanon's prime minister to resign. Rouhani's remarks followed a phone call to his Lebanese counterpart the previous day, in which the Iranian president pledged Tehran's support for Lebanon's stability following the resignation of the Saudi-backed Prime Minister Saad Hariri. The surprise resignation threw the Lebanese government into disarray and exposed a new front for the tensions between the Sunni powerhouse and its archrival Shiite-led Iran. "Why are you interfering with Lebanon's internal affairs and governance," Rouhani said, addressing Saudi Arabia, according to his official website. "There is no case in history that a country forces another one's authority to resign only to interfere (in) their internal affairs," Rouhani added. "This is an unprecedented event in history."Hariri unexpectedly announced from Saudi Arabia he was resigning on Saturday and in a televised speech accused Iran of meddling in Arab affairs and the Iran-backed group Hizbullah of holding Lebanon hostage. Hizbullah has members in the Lebanese unity government that Hariri formed last year. The resignation was followed by harsh Saudi official statements, including accusations against the Lebanese government of waging a war on the kingdom. Iranian officials called the resignation a "plot" by the United States, Israel and the Saudis to foment tensions in Lebanon and the region. Casting himself as the voice of reason, Rouhani also questioned the benefits of Saudi Arabia's "hostility toward the peoples of the region" and urged the kingdom to choose "friendship" instead. "You are making mistake if you think Iran is not your friend and the U.S. and Israel are your friends," Rouhani also said, according to the semi-official ISNA news agency. "This is a strategic miscalculation."
Sunni-led Saudi Arabia, under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has been intensifying its confrontation with Shiite power Iran. The two camps support rival sides in countries across the region, as well as in the wars in Yemen and Syria.
In his call to Lebanese President Michel Aoun late Tuesday, Rouhani said Iran firmly believes the Lebanese people will overcome "this sedition" and "will not allow Lebanon to become a battlefield for foreign powers and an opportunity for the terrorists to re-emerge."According to Rouhani's website, Aoun told him that Lebanon is going through a "difficult" situation but that peace is still in place despite "some very weak voices that want to create tensions."Aoun has had no contact with Hariri since the prime minister left for Saudi Arabia last Friday. Washington has said it had no indication beforehand that Hariri would resign and pledged to continue U.S. support for the Lebanese government. "Our relationship with the government will not change," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters on Tuesday. She added that Washington considers Hizbullah a terrorist organization. Washington has recently imposed new sanctions on the Shiite group, including a bounty on two of Hizbullah's senior military commanders.
"The United States strongly supports the legitimate institutions in the Lebanese state. We expect all members of the international community to respect those institutions and the sovereignty and the political independence of Lebanon," Nauert said
The bizarre circumstances surrounding Hariri's resignation left Lebanese politicians grappling to find a way out of a political deadlock. The president has yet to officially accept the resignation amid calls for Hariri to return to Lebanon. In his speech, Hariri said he feared for his life, but security officials have said they had no indication there were threats against the prime minister. In his absence, Lebanon was awash with speculation the 47-year old prime minister may be held against his will in Saudi Arabia as Riyadh seeks to impose its rivalry with Tehran on Lebanon. Saudi officials denied Hariri was under house arrest. On Tuesday, Hariri traveled to the United Arab Emirates, another critic of Iran, in an apparent attempt to dispel claims of his detention. On Wednesday, Hariri's office said he received a call from the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The European Union ambassadors issued a statement, reiterating their support for Lebanon and urging all sides to "pursue constructive dialogue to build on" the government's work of the past year and prepare for next year's parliamentary elections. The vote has been postponed several times since 2009.
Also Wednesday, Aoun met with World Bank officials who reiterated their support for the Lebanese government. Regional Director Saroj Kumar Jha said World Bank's support for Lebanon's infrastructure, health, education and development has exceeded $2 billion.

Lebanon Caught in Crossfire as Saudi Steps up Battle against Iran
Erika Solomon/Financial Times/November 08/2017
For years, Lebanon was left at the sidelines of the major power struggles playing out across the Middle East. Now, over the course of three days, it has landed on centre stage, as Saudi Arabia pushes forward with a no-holds-barred campaign against rival Iran. Since the shock resignation of Lebanese prime minister Saad al-Hariri this weekend, widely believed to have been pressed by Riyadh, Saudi Arabia has shown how serious it is about confronting Tehran — even if that means taking down Lebanon with it.Thamer al-Sabhan, Saudi minister of Gulf affairs, told the Al Arabiya regional news channel late on Monday that Lebanon had to choose between “peace and moderation and remaining under this party of evil and terrorism” — a reference to the Lebanese Shia force Hizbollah, Iran’s most prized regional asset.
“We will treat Lebanon as if it is a government that has declared war on Saudi Arabia. All Lebanese must be aware of the risks and handle this situation before we reach a point of no return,” he added.
Lebanon and world powers alike were stunned that the resignation of Mr Hariri, a long-time Saudi ally, was announced not from Beirut but from Riyadh, just hours before the kingdom launched a massive anti-corruption purge that arrested many of its own princes. Local politicians and regional diplomats say Riyadh probably forced Mr Hariri to step down in frustration that his year-long government gave a legal cover for Hizbollah.
Mr Hariri’s fate is now unclear, with some regional diplomats and political allies suspecting he too is being held in some sort of custody by his erstwhile patrons. Several regional diplomats contacted in Beirut said they had no contact with Mr Hariri since Saturday.
The mood in Lebanon was summed up on the front page of Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar, which had the single word “Hostage” written above a picture of Mr Hariri. But the country may soon find itself prisoner to events beyond its control.
Refusing to concede to Saudi demands to sideline Hizbollah will mean facing the serious economic and political hardship that Riyadh can bring to bear. Pushing back on Hizbollah is no easy choice either. The militant group’s political wing is one of the strongest parties in Lebanon, and its guerrilla forces are widely viewed as more powerful than the Lebanese army. Iran is unlikely to let its ally go down without a fight.
Hizbollah, which fought Israel to a standstill in 2006 and whose forces have helped President Bashar al-Assad in neighbouring Syria turn the tide in the country’s six-year civil war, is a force to be reckoned with in its own right.
“[The Saudi minister] Sabhan’s threats are terrible because they are like collective punishment for tolerating Hizbollah,” says Joseph Bahout, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a think-tank. “The Americans were also toying with this while strengthening sanctions on Hizbollah last month: increase the pain to get people to turn away. Well Hizbollah is like a guy with a pistol to your head — you will choose the pain rather than taking the bullet.”
Most observers expect Saudi Arabia to first attempt to inflict economic hardship on Lebanon. Credit rating agency Moody’s and Citi, the investment bank, warned on Tuesday that Lebanon’s already struggling economy could face further downgrades as the country’s dollar-denominated bonds fell.
Sami Nader, a Lebanese economist, says powerful Gulf states may now look to sanction not only figures in Hizbollah, but Lebanese politicians who have co-operated with them. They could curb investments or block crucial Gulf deposits into Lebanese banks and central bank. Most dangerous would be any attempt to block remittances that provide the bulk of cash flows to Lebanese banks.
“If you factor in the geopolitical risk growing and the removal of the safety nets we once had, all our risk factors are a flashing red light,” he said.
Since 2011, the prevailing view has been that with so much instability in the region, regional and international powers had a silent understanding to keep Lebanon out of the fray. But as the war in Syria has dwindled and Isis has been beaten back, it is Hizbollah and Iran who have seemed to gain. Riyadh is not willing to wait any longer to push back.
More worrying, diplomats say, is how aggressively it has chosen to do so — and how explosive a choice Lebanon may be for taking that fight. Possible worst-case scenarios mentioned include the mobilisation of the 1m Syrian refugees in Lebanon against Hizbollah to a full-out war with Israel.
Israel has for years made the argument now being touted by Riyadh that Lebanon’s government provides a cover for Hizbollah. Some regional observers say Saudi is either hoping to push Israel into an attack on Lebanon or is even aware of existing Israeli plans to do so.
“I still think war is the last resort, but my worry is Saudi has too many things up in the air right now to balance this,” said one western diplomat, referring to the drawn-out but flailing Saudi-led war in Yemen, its foundering diplomatic campaign to isolate Gulf neighbour Qatar, and its surprise domestic purge.
“They may want either a war with Israel or a civil war,” he added. “It’s still not clear what they will try to do, but it looks scary.”

ايران تفتح جبهة جديدة مع حزب الله ذراع إيران في المنطقة
Saudi Arabia has opened a new front in its regional proxy war with Iran,

Reuters/Haaretz/November 08/17
Threatening Tehran's powerful ally Hezbollah and its home country Lebanon to try to regain the upper hand.
With Iranian power winning out in Iraq and Syria, and Riyadh bogged down in a war with Iran-allied groups in Yemen, the new Saudi approach could bring lasting political and economic turmoil to a country where Tehran had appeared ascendant. The resignation on Saturday of the Saudi-allied Lebanese prime minister Saad al-Hariri, announced from Riyadh and blamed on Iran and Hezbollah, is seen by many as the first step in an unprecedented Saudi intervention in Lebanese politics."The Saudis appear to have decided that the best way to confront Iran is to start in Lebanon," a European diplomat said.
Riyadh is blaming Hezbollah for the resignation of Lebanon's preeminent Sunni politician, accusing it of "hijacking" Lebanese politics. But Saudi Arabia is also widening blame to Lebanon as a whole, saying it too has declared war on the Kingdom. A Saudi minister has made the near impossible demand that Lebanese act against a group that is a major part of Lebanon's political fabric and far more powerful than the weak state, with a guerrilla army that out guns the national military.Coinciding with a major anti-corruption purge of top Saudis, Hariri's shock announcement has given rise to suggestions from Hezbollah and others that his Saudi business interests had embroiled him in the probe and he was forced to resigning. Saudi Arabia and Hariri's allies deny that, and assertions that Hariri is under house arrest. They say his hand was forced by Hezbollah interventions in Arab countries in service of Iran.
Power vaccuum
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir said Hezbollah had been "calling the shots" in the Hariri government, which included two Hezbollah ministers and was formed last year in a political deal that made Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally, head of state. Hezbollah and its allies will struggle to form a government without Hariri or his blessing, leaving Lebanon in a protracted crisis that could eventually stir Sunni-Shi'ite tensions, though there is no sign of this yet as all sides urge calm. Announcing his resignation, Hariri cited an assassination plot against him and slammed Iran and Hezbollah for sowing strife and trying to "kidnap" Lebanon away from the Arab world. The declaration came as a surprise even to Hariri's aides.It is not clear what comes next: Saudi-backed efforts to weaken Hezbollah in Lebanon failed badly a decade ago, ending with a bout of Sunni-Shi'ite fighting on the streets of Beirut that only underlined Hezbollah's military dominance. The regional struggle moved elsewhere in recent years, notably neighbouring Syria where years of Saudi investment in rebel groups fighting President Bashar al-Assad failed to withstand direct military intervention by Iran and Hezbollah. In Iraq, Tehran-backed militias and Iranian commanders have often seemed as powerful as the U.S.-backed Iraqi military, most recently in an operation to retake Kirkuk from Kurdish forces.
So emboldened was Iran that top Iranian official Ali Akbar Velayati trumpeted his regional alliance's success from Beirut last Friday, declaring victories in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. His statement to the media after a meeting with Hariri was seen as a major provocation to regional Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia.
Hariri left for Saudi Arabia immediately afterwards, cancelling previously scheduled engagements and catching even his closest advisors off guard the next day with a declaration first broadcast bySaudi-owned media. The regional standoff flared in the Gulf hours later, with Iran-allied groups firing a ballistic missile at Riyadh from Yemen. Saudi Arabia says it was launched by Hezbollah.Hezbollah has not responded to the accusation. Neither Hezbollah nor the Lebanese government responded on Tuesday to the Saudi accusation, voiced by Gulf affairs minister Thamer al-Sabhan, a top aide to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, that both Lebanon and Hezbollah had declared war. "The Lebanese government will be dealt with as a government declaring war on Saudi Arabia, and all Lebanese must realise these dangers and work to resolve the issues before we reach the point of no return," he said in an interview with Al-Arabiya TV. Crown Prince Mohammed told Reuters last month the war in Yemen would continue to prevent the Iran-allied Houthi movement from becoming another Hezbollah at Saudi's border.
Sanctions call
Hezbollah was established by Iran's Revolutionary Guards in 1982 to fight Israeli troops in Lebanon. Its last major war with Israel was in 2006, since when Hezbollah has grown stronger. While Sabhan vowed that Hezbollah would be forced back into "its caves" in southern Lebanon, any Saudi military action in Lebanon - such as air strikes - would come as a major surprise. Political paralysis and tension is however a big threat to an already stagnant economy, and could derail next year's parliamentary elections - Lebanon's first since 2009. Policymakers have scrambled to calm concern over the financial stability of the heavily indebted state. They say the Lebanese pound - pegged against the dollar at the same rate for 20 years - is stable. Hariri was spearheading efforts to garner international aid to help Lebanon deal with the strain of hosting 1.5 million Syrian refugees, or a quarter of the population. Leaders on all sides say there should be no further escalation. Both Hezbollah and Hariri's Future Movement have worked to contain Sunni-Shi'ite tensions during the war in neighbouring Syria.Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has called for calm and patience in the face of Hariri's resignation.
Okab Sakr, a member of Hariri's Future Movement, noted that protests in solidarity with Hariri had been cancelled to avoid trouble. Sabhan, the Saudi minister, has called for "real sanctions" and alliances "to find a fundamental solution to this cancerous disease", saying Hezbollah should be disarmed and kept out of government. Hariri, who was thrust into politics by the 2005 assassination of his father, Rafik al-Hariri, led years of political struggle with Hezbollah in Lebanon.  But his Saudi-backed "March 14" coalition failed to make any progress towards Hezbollah's disarmament as demanded by U.N. resolutions. Echoing the Saudi position, the United States has also taken new measures targeting Hezbollah in recent weeks, as President Donald Trump takes a tougher stance towards Iran. It has offered a bounty for two Hezbollah officials, and the House of Representatives has backed new sanctions targeting entities found to support it.

Lebanese PM Sa’ad Hariri Cancels His Deal With the Devil, Leaving Lebanon in the Hands of Iran
الرئيس الحريري يلغي اتفاقه مع الشيطان ويترك لبنان في ايدي إيران
Tony Badran/Tablet/November 08/17
On Saturday, Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri announced his resignation in a televised speech from Saudi Arabia. In the speech, Hariri cited Iran’s control of Lebanon through Hezbollah as the reason for stepping down. Hezbollah, Hariri said, “has come to control the seams of the state and has the final and decisive say in the affairs of Lebanon and the Lebanese.”
Hariri went on to list how Hezbollah has turned Lebanon into a launching pad for military interventions and terrorist activities against fellow Arab states, for which Lebanon has paid a price in “international condemnation and economic sanctions.”
Of course, Hariri knew all this when he made a deal to return to the premiership last year. Under Hariri’s tenure, Hezbollah only consolidated its existing domination of the country by tightening its grip on the edifice of the state, winning key appointments in the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), the intelligence and security agencies, the judiciary and state administrative offices. Hariri’s function was simply to provide Hezbollah with cover. He often ran interference abroad, lobbying Washington for softer sanctions and for increased assistance to an LAF working hand-in-glove with Hezbollah and Iran.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, the Saudis never supported Hariri’s deal with the devil. Instead, the Saudis cut him loose. They withdrew their grant to the LAF, which they had come to view, rightly, as an auxiliary force to Hezbollah. And they did not return their ambassador to Beirut during Hariri’s tenure. Although they would have done better to block Hariri’s stunt from the start, the Saudis have finally pulled the plug on a disastrous arrangement before it got even worse.
Hariri’s acknowledgement that Lebanon is an Iranian satrapy run by Hezbollah obviously vindicates Israel’s view of the country. Last month, Israel’s defense minister Avigdor Lieberman explained that in a future conflict with Lebanon, “we’re no longer talking solely about Hezbollah. We’re talking about Hezbollah and about the Lebanese military.” The Lebanese army, Lieberman added, “has become an integral part of Hezbollah’s campaign under its command… [It] has become inextricably linked to Hezbollah.”
Lebanon is already an Iranian province. Jerusalem’s concern now is that Iran and Hezbollah are well on their way to achieving the same working arrangements inside Syria, while the US continues to facilitate the dominance of Iranian-led forces. And so, in his statement on the development in Lebanon, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu described Hariri’s resignation speech as a “wake-up call,” and warned that Iran was trying to replicate in Syria the model through which it has come to dominate Lebanon.
The Saudis are also driven by the desire to confront Iran in the region, and, with this move, they have integrated Lebanon into their effort to push back against Tehran. Saudi Arabia’s minister of state for Gulf affairs, Thamer al-Sabhan, ratcheted up the rhetoric this week, and stated that Saudi Arabia will treat the Lebanese government as a hostile government which has “declared war,” because of Hezbollah’s involvement in military operations in Yemen and elsewhere targeting Saudi troops and the Saudi homeland itself.
Rhetoric aside, it is in fact hard to see how Lebanon cannot be held responsible for attacks facilitated and conducted by the entity that controls the country’s government and armed forces – which is why few nations with any choice in the matter would choose to be run by a terrorist organization, especially one that is controlled by a foreign country. As of yet, however, it’s unclear what Saudi Arabia’s new rhetoric means in practice. For all the talk about the possibility of a return to instability in Lebanon, the reality remains that Riyadh’s tools and options in Lebanon are limited.
To be sure, the Saudis can, and likely will, impose painful punitive financial and economic measures, like expelling Lebanese working in the Gulf or sanctions against Lebanese businessmen allied with Hezbollah. Another option available to the Saudis might be to revive an anti-Hezbollah political coalition, perhaps even raising the defunct “March 14” coalition from the dead, and to launch a political and media campaign against Hezbollah ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections in the hope of peacefully wresting control of Lebanon back from Iran and its local proxy army.
Yet there are several obvious problems with this approach. First, and most obvious, is that Hariri and his allies, or whatever remains of them, are extremely weak and pose no threat whatsoever to Hezbollah, even if they were to fare well in elections — which is less likely under the new electoral law that Hariri agreed to. After all, in its heyday, the “March 14” coalition twice won elections in 2005 and 2009, and in both instances that meant absolutely nothing. In 2008, Hezbollah sent its fighters to the streets and imposed a cabinet formation in which it could veto all decisions. In January 2011, Hezbollah collapsed Hariri’s government and forced him into prolonged exile. He was allowed to return only when he capitulated in full.
A Lebanese political confrontation with Hezbollah, therefore, is meaningless — even assuming that it could be won at this point, which seems unlikely. In addition to having the president, the speaker of parliament, the LAF and its own militia, Hezbollah must give its assent before any new cabinet can be formed – and can easily topple that cabinet if it doesn’t like the result. In other words, the most that could be obtained in Lebanon is precisely what we had up to this point: a coalition government that Hezbollah will control. As for a media campaign against Hezbollah, it will amount to little more than noise and high-pitched poetry. Its impact on the balance of power and Hezbollah’s total control inside the country, will be nil.
This reality carries implications for US policy, which has been anchored around supporting the LAF – a conceit that can only make sense around seminar room tables populated by people who imagine Lebanon to be a version of an American-style procedural democracy with stable, independent institutions, which it utterly lacks. By building up the LAF, this abstracted logic went, America would be strengthening “the state,” and thereby weakening Hezbollah. When the anti-Hezbollah prime minister resigns citing the group’s total domination of the state, then perhaps a review of the underlying premise of the policy is in order.
Strengthening a state controlled by Hezbollah strengthens Hezbollah. It’s that simple. At the very least, the continuation of a Hezbollah-aligned government without the Hariri fig leaf should warrant a suspension of US aid to the LAF, at least until the dust settles.
A renewed political and media circus in Beirut should not be confused with a real, serious strategy to roll back Iran and break its long arm, Hezbollah. Reviving a dead political coalition to compete in elections and serving up a supercharged dose of anti-Hezbollah poetry and political rhetoric in the Lebanese media is fine and well, but it does not alter the balance of power, let alone break Hezbollah. The Lebanese people have seen that movie twice before, and it ended badly both times. Hezbollah will not be defeated through politics, let alone through “narrative” and fancy TV ads.
**Tony Badran, Tablet magazine's Levant analyst, is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He tweets @AcrossTheBay.

EU, U.S. affirm Lebanon support, diverging from Saudiفي تناقض مع  الموقف السعودي الولايات المتحدة والإتحاد الأوروبي يؤكدان تأيدهما للبنان
Tom Perry, Lisa Barrington/Reuters/November 08/17
BEIRUT (Reuters) - The European Union and the United States on Wednesday reaffirmed support for Lebanon after the resignation of its prime minister, striking a sharp contrast to Saudi Arabia, which accuses Beirut of declaring war because of the Shi‘ite group Hezbollah. Statements of support from EU ambassadors to Lebanon and the United States have set a different tone to their Sunni Gulf ally Saudi Arabia, which has lumped Lebanon together with the Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah as parties hostile to it. Lebanon has been pitched into deep crisis since the Saudi-allied Saad al-Hariri resigned on Saturday in a speech delivered from Saudi Arabia in which he accused Hezbollah and Iran of sowing strife in the Arab world and cited fear of assassination. The circumstances surrounding Hariri’s sudden resignation have given rise to wide speculation that he had been caught up in a high-level anti-corruption purge in Saudi Arabia, where his family made their fortune, and coerced into resigning.
Saudi Arabia has denied this along with reports that it has put Hariri under house arrest. It says he quit because Hezbollah was calling the shots in the government. The move has pulled Lebanon back to the forefront of a regional struggle between the Sunni monarchy of Saudi Arabia and the Shi‘ite Islamist government of Iran, a rivalry which has also swept through Syria, Iraq, Bahrain and Yemen. It has plunged Lebanon into political crisis and hit market confidence in the heavily indebted Lebanese state. A sell off of Lebanese bonds continued for a third day on Wednesday, with some of them hitting their lowest ever levels. The U.S. ambassador to Lebanon said on Wednesday the United States remained “committed to a stable, secure, democratic, and prosperous Lebanon” during a meeting with Lebanese army commander General Joseph Aoun, a U.S. embassy statement said.
The meeting was to announce a U.S. government reimbursement of $42.9 million for border operations conducted by the Lebanese army, a major recipient of U.S. military aid. The United States classifies Hezbollah as a terrorist group even as it supports the weak Lebanese state, drawing a line between the two in a long-standing policy. On Tuesday, the U.S. State Department said Lebanon was a strong U.S. partner. “The United States strongly supports the legitimate institutions in the Lebanese state,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert said. “We expect all members of the international community to respect fully those institutions and the sovereignty and political independence of Lebanon,” she said.
In a statement, EU ambassadors to Lebanon said they reaffirmed “their strong support for the continued unity, stability, sovereignty, and security of Lebanon and its people”.Lebanon has also received significant Western aid to help it cope with the strain of hosting 1.5 million Syrian refugees, equivalent to around a quarter of the population. Hezbollah, set up by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in 1982, is the most powerful group in Lebanon, with major sway in government and a guerrilla army that outguns the national military. The group’s role has grown beyond Lebanon in recent years, and its fighters have provided critical support to President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war. Neither Hezbollah nor the Lebanese government have responded to accusations made by Saudi Gulf affairs minister Thamer al-Sabhan that both Lebanon and Hezbollah had declared war on the kingdom. President Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally who took office last year, has refused to accept Hariri’s resignation, saying he first wants him to return to Lebanon so he can meet him in person to understand the reasons. Aoun said Lebanon’s security and economy were stable and the presidency still viewed Hariri as prime minister, Lebanese media reported. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri has said the coalition government led by Hariri still stands.
Lebanese policymakers and bankers say there is no concern for the Lebanese pound - which has been pegged against the U.S. dollar at the same rate for two decades - thanks to record levels of foreign currency reserves. Banking sources say there was more demand than usual for converting Lebanese pound savings into dollars when banks opened on Monday. But they said this was not unexpected and is at minimal levels. Lebanon’s June 2020 bond, and its April 2020 issue both fell to their lowest ever levels on Wednesday. “Yields could come down, if a new Prime Minister is found quickly and the government can get back to business, but this doesn’t appear to be likely in the short term,” said Carmen Altenkirch, emerging market sovereign analyst at Axa Investment Managers. Byblos Bank’s Chief Economist Nassib Ghobril said: “We’ve had worse cases when we saw pressure on the actual peg of Lebanese pound to U.S. dollar but it takes a severe shock of the magnitude of the (former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri) assassination in 2005 or the 2006 Israeli war to put real pressure on the currency peg.”
Writing by Tom Perry; Additional reporting by Lisa Barrington and Reuters TV; Editing by Angus MacSwan and William Maclean
Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on November 08-09/17
IRGC General Kawthari: Israel Will Be Wiped Off Planet Earth In 25 Years Or Less

The Middle East Media Research Institute/November 08/17/
General Ismail Kawthari, Deputy Commander of the IRGC Tharallah Base, told Al-Alam TV that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had said "that this entity [Israel] must be wiped off the Planet Earth within 25 years," but that in his own opinion, that was the maximum period, and "God willing, it will happen before that." The interview aired on September 27. Interviewer: "Iran has provided aid to Hizbullah, Syria, and the resistance movements in Palestine for almost four decades, but it has paid a steep political price for this. Will Iran continue to pursue this policy of support for the axis of resistance, despite the political price this exacts?" Ismail Kawthari: "This policy is not related to what is going on at present. "It was our policy in the past too. Before the blessed victory of the Islamic Revolution, the late Imam Khomeini related to it, when he said that Israel was an illegitimate entity. It occupied the land of Palestine, and as a result, five million Palestinians left their land, and have become refugees since then. On these grounds, the late Imam determined this policy, which has continued since then. "The Leader of the Revolution [Khamenei] continues to implement this policy, and therefore the peoples in Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Iraq have reached the conclusion that they need to stand alongside one another, and to unite with one another. "Given this, one cannot say that Iran has paid a steep price for its policies. The reason is that since day one, we have defined this policy and declared it loud and clear. Last year, the Leader of the Revolution clarified an important notion: that this entity must be wiped off the Planet Earth within 25 years. "In my opinion, this is the maximum period of time, and God willing, it will happen before that."

White House Statement on Iranian-Supported Missile Attacks Against Saudi Arabia
For Immediate Release/November 08, 2017
White House Statement on Iranian-Supported Missile Attacks Against Saudi Arabia
The United States welcomes the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's statement exposing the Iranian regime’s support for Houthi militias, including the supply of illegal arms such as ballistic missiles. We condemn the Iranian regime's activities and stand with Saudi Arabia and all our Gulf partners against the Iranian regime's aggression and blatant violations of international law. These missile systems were not present in Yemen before the conflict, and we call upon the United Nations to conduct a thorough examination of evidence that the Iranian regime is perpetuating the war in Yemen to advance its regional ambitions. The United States calls on all nations to hold the Iranian regime accountable for its repeated violations of UN Security Council Resolutions 2216 and 2231, which ban arms transfers to the Houthis and prohibit Iran from exporting all arms and related materiel and specifically ballistic missile-related items.
Houthi missile attacks against Saudi Arabia, enabled by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, threaten regional security and undermine UN efforts to negotiate an end to the conflict. The United States seeks a negotiated settlement to the conflict and the provision of humanitarian assistance to the Yemeni people. The United States will continue working with other like-minded partners to respond to these attacks and expose the Iranian regime's destabilizing activities in the region.

Abbas in Riyadh: Saudis court Palestinian support for grand alliance with Israel
MEE/Wednesday 8 November 2017 /RAMALLAH -
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman invited Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to Riyadh this week as part of plans to form a grand regional alliance including both Israel and Palestine to confront Iran, Palestinian officials and western diplomats told Middle East Eye on Wednesday. Abbas arrived in Riyadh on Monday following a weekend of drama and intrigue in which dozens of princes, former ministers and influential business tycoons were arrested and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri also announced his surprise resignation from the Saudi capital. Officials and diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, told MEE that Abbas had been summoned to discuss renewed American efforts to secure a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority which the Crown Prince sees as a crucial step towards his goal of enabling Saudi Arabia and Israel to work together openly against Iran. "The Arabs and the Israelis are facing two enemies, Iran and terrorism, and they must form an alliance to confront them," a western diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"But this alliance cannot be established without resolving the Palestinian issue; Saudi Arabia cannot work openly with Israel in the face of Iran, before solving the Palestinian issue, and having the Palestinians themselves involved directly in such an axis."
The Israeli-Saudi alliance beating the drums of war
Abbas is expected to return to Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority's political capital, later on Wednesday. Palestinian officials, also speaking anonymously, told MEE that Abbas had met both King Salman and the Crown Prince and had been assured by them that Arab states would not establish formal diplomatic relations with Israel until Palestinian statehood was recognised and a regional peace deal had been agreed. “President Abbas raised his concerns of the Israeli intention to implement the Arab Peace Initiative from Z to A, not from A to Z, meaning that Israel is interested in having a relationship with the Arab countries before having a Palestinian statehood,” one official said. The Arab Peace Initiative refers to an Arab League-endorsed proposal dating from 2002 which offers recognition of Israel by Arab states in return for Israel's complete withdrawal from the West Bank and a "just solution" addressing the issue of Palestinian refugees displaced prior to the creation of Israel in 1948. "The King and the Crown Prince assured President Abbas that will not happen. The Saudis are keen to keen to see a regional peace deal that solves the Palestinian cause first," the official said. Majdi Khaldi, Abbas's diplomatic advisor who accompanied him on the visit to Riyadh, told Voice of Palestine radio on Tuesday, that the Crown Prince and Abbas had been in “constant contact” recently. “Saudi Arabia has always stood with us, provided us with all the political and financial support we needed, and the time has come for us to stand with it in the face of great challenges," said Khaldi.
No common ground
Abbas’s arrival in Riyadh came days after a four-day visit by Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy who is preparing to launch a new regional peace initiative involving Saudi Arabia and its Gulf state allies. But western diplomats said the US team was facing major obstacles because of the lack of any common ground between the two sides. Palestinian negotiators want a Palestinian state based on the internationally recognised frontiers predating Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. The Israeli government rejects any discussion of a peace deal based on the 1967 borders.
Will Mahmoud Abbas resign in Riyadh too?
One western diplomat told MEE that the US team was keen to include the Palestinian issue within its regional diplomatic file to give Israel more incentives to accept a peace deal and to focus some Arab pressure on Abbas. Israeli media said this week that the government had already started lobbying on behalf of Saudi Arabia against the common enemy of Iran, amid growing Israeli concern over Iranian influence in neighbouring Lebanon. "Israel will launch an international diplomatic campaign against Iranian interference in Lebanon's political arena,” Israel’s Channel 10 reported on Monday. The channel also said the Israeli Foreign Ministry on Sunday instructed Israeli embassies in the world to work in this direction. “The ambassadors were asked to explain the support of Israel to Saudi Arabia in light of Iran's involvement in the war in Yemen [where Iran is alleged to back Houthi rebels] and in Lebanon,” it reported. The Crown Prince’s diplomatic overtures to Abbas come amid competing efforts by Saudi Arabia, and its allies, and Iran for influence over Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that has controlled Gaza since 2007 but recently signed a deal with Abbas’s Fatah party to form a unity government.
The deal was signed after the UAE, a key Saudi ally, was reported to have agreed to pump $15 million a month in aid into the enclave which has been blockaded by Israel since 2007. But Hamas has also recently established closer ties with Iran, sending a senior delegation to Tehran earlier this year. In August, Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar described relations with Iran as “excellent” and said the country was the “largest supporter” of Hamas’s al-Qassam Brigades in terms of arms and money. Earlier this month Saleh Arouri, the deputy chairman of Hamas’ political bureau, also held talks in Beirut with Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah amid reports that the Iran-backed Lebanese Shia movement was trying to restore ties between Hamas and Syria. The reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas, under which the PA would assume responsibility for security in Gaza, includes a four-month test phase known as the "Empowerment of the Government" in which the Fatah-controlled PA is supposed to assume control of government departments, crossings and security services in Gaza. But doubts remain over whether the deal will hold because Hamas has said that any disarmament of the al-Qassam Brigades is a "red line" and has called for thousands of members of its existing security forces in Gaza to be integrated with the PA’s security apparatus. Hazem Atallah, the head of the Palestinian police, on Wednesday called for Hamas to disarm to allow the unity deal to succeed.
"How can we do security work in the presence of these guns and rockets? This is not possible, it is impossible," Atallah said. He added: "We security men are not the decision makers, and we implement what is decided by the political level, but I say that this is not possible." The solution is to remove these weapons away, or bury them in the ground, Atallah said.

Federica Mogherini Discusses Iran Nuclear Deal in Washington
Asharq Al-Awsat/November 08/17/On the sidelines of her visit to Washington, EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini said the Iran nuclear deal is not open for renegotiation and that US lawmakers have indicated that their goal, as they amend legislation related to the pact, is to keep the US in compliance with the multilateral agreement. The EU's top diplomat pushed back against a common criticism from US opponents of the deal who argue that so-called "sunset" provisions mean that Iran will eventually be able to resume its work toward a nuclear weapon. The sun doesn't set when it comes to nuclear commitments," Mogherini told reporters in a press conference on Tuesday. "Article three says Iran will never develop a nuclear weapon." "The agreement is composed of different provisions, some of them have different durations, but the commitment not to develop nuclear weapons are forever," she said. “The deal is made to stand the test of time, and it does not have a formal end date. It has phased implementation over 10, 15 and 25 years, but at its core is Iran’s commitment to renounce its ambition to develop nuclear weapons forever,” she added. Mogherini pointed out that the European Union wants to avoid the issuance of any US legislation leading to violation of the historic agreement, and she stressed that there is ongoing work and discussions between Brussels and Washington on this issue. “It took us 12 years to agree on extremely dense and complex technical details in a process that required all outstanding issues to be tackled in parallel. Unilaterally reopening discussions on this or that paragraph is simply impossible,” she stressed. “This is a matter of principles and credibility, she added, noting that the Iran deal is endorsed by a resolution of the United Nations Security Council, and “we — both in Europe and in the USA — have always believed in the universal respect of international norms as a fundamental pillar of the international system”.

Moscow Opposes Extending Mandate of UN Chemical Arms Inquest in Syria
Asharq Al-Awsat/November 08/17/Russia announced on Wednesday that it opposes a draft United Nations resolution on extending the mandate of the international inquiry into chemical weapons attacks in Syria, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said. His comments came hours after Russia rejected a report by the international inquiry blaming the Syrian government for a deadly toxic gas attack, casting doubt on the UN Security Council’s ability to extend the investigation’s mandate before it expires next week. Russia and the United States have circulated rival resolutions to extend the experts' body, known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism, or JIM. Its mandate expires November 14. “I stress that we are in no way raising the question of ending this structure’s activities,” Ryabkov stated.“We are in favor of its maintenance, but on a different basis,” he added. The draft UN resolution by the United States says Syria must not develop or produce chemical weapons, and it calls on all parties in Syria to provide full cooperation with the international probe. The investigation found that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime was to blame for a chemical attack on the opposition-held town of Khan Sheikhoun that killed dozens of people in April, according to a report sent to the Security Council on October 26. Russia, whose air force and special forces have bolstered the Syrian regime forces, has said there is no evidence to show Damascus was responsible for the attack. Moscow maintains that the chemicals that killed civilians belonged to rebels, not Assad’s government. Russia last month cast a veto at the United Nations Security Council against renewing the investigation’s mandate. US Ambassador Nikki Haley told the Security Council that a revised US draft circulated Tuesday included some points from the Russian draft, including the importance of high standards and sound evidence. But she said Russia continues "to push unacceptable language only meant to undermine the investigators and divide this council."Assistant Secretary General Edmond Mulet, who heads the JIM, told the council how experts reached their conclusions, including finding that the chemistry of the sarin used in Khan Sheikhoun was very likely to have been made from the same precursor, called DF, as the sarin in Syria's original stockpile. Mulet said the Security Council has "a unique responsibility" to deter all those using chemical weapons and "end the use of such weapons forever." "I understand the political issues surrounding the situation in the Syrian Arab Republic," he said. "However, this is not a political issue about the lives of innocent civilians. Impunity must not prevail."Russia's deputy UN ambassador, Vladimir Safronkov, was sharply critical of the JIM and the report, especially the experts' failure to visit Khan Sheikhoun, which Mulet said was for security reasons. Safronkov derided the JIM for not pinpointing specific responsibility, asking: Is "an entire state is responsible?" He also complained that "while some continue to try to find this mythical or invented chemical weapons in Damascus, the region is seeing an increasing threat of chemical terrorism" that isn't being addressed. Deputy British Ambassador Jonathan Allen said Russia has advanced multiple theories about the Khan Sheikhoun attack, and when one gets debunked Moscow goes with something else. "It's one of the great tragedies that Russia is a country with hugely respected and impressive scientists, but also a country of great fiction writers," he told several reporters. "And unfortunately the scientists of Russia are being ignored and the fiction writers are being indulged." Allen called Russia's draft resolution to renew the JIM mandate "a cynical ploy to discredit a professional, independent and impartial body."

Russia Announces More than 54,000 Militants Killed in Syria

Asharq Al-Awsat/November 08/17/Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed on Tuesday that preparations for the Syrian national dialogue are taking place hoping it would take place in the near future. He added that war on terrorism is almost over in Syria and warned against any suspension of efforts for political settlement for the Syrian crisis. Russian Foreign Ministry stated that over the past two years in Syria, 54,000 militant had been killed. Asked whether the congress was postponed, Lavrov told a briefing that the date had not been officially announced.
“No one has postponed it because the date of the congress has not been officially announced,” he added, knowing that Russia had previously announced it would be on November 18. He reiterated that war on terrorism in Syria is almost over, adding that as far as the Syrian conflict is concerned, the political process is becoming even more important. Lavrov said that global players should redouble efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the six-year war as the Syrian regime edges closer to victory after an ISIS loss. Lavrov said some opposition groups had refused to hold negotiations, but added that the “feedback is rather positive.”He added that he hoped that the United Nations would support holding the congress, stating: “There shouldn’t be any breaks in the efforts of the international community.”The FM stated that Moscow is informing UN Envoy Stephan Di Mistura of all the preparations taken as well all US, European, Gulf and Arab countries and partners. Russia's Foreign Ministry confirmed that over 1,000 residential area had been liberated over the past two years during the Russian military operations. More than 54,000 militants have been killed in Syria over the past two years, including about 800 natives of Russia and 1,400 from the former Soviet republics, Chief of Russia’s General Staff Valery Gerasimov said at a meeting of the Russian Defense Ministry board. Gerasimov recalled that, by the beginning of the operation, terrorist groups controlled more than 70% of Syria’s territory and continued to advance in all directions. "During the two years of our armed forces’ participation in the fighting, it was possible not only to turn the tide of the hostilities in favor of government troops but also rout big militant groups in the most important areas, liberate the key cities and recapture major communication lines," Gerasimov concluded.

British Aid Minister’s Position in Doubt after Holding Undisclosed Meetings with Israeli Officials
Asharq Al-Awsat/November 08/17/British Secretary of State for International Development Priti Patel is facing an uncertain future over his position after it was revealed that she held a series of undisclosed meetings with Israeli officials. The issue adds even more pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May, who has her hands full with Brexit negotiations and the resignation of her defense secretary following a sexual harassment scandal. Patel apologized to May on Monday for failing to report that she had met senior Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a holiday - breaking rules by straying into matters reserved for the foreign ministry. On Wednesday, the Sun newspaper reported that she had also failed to disclose that she had met the director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Yuval Rotem, in New York and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan in London. A government source confirmed those meetings took place. Patel, a Brexit campaigner whose views chime with many in the governing Conservative Party, was heading back to London after canceling meetings on a planned trip to Africa, an official at her Department for International Development said. Asked whether she should be dismissed, Conservative lawmaker Crispin Blunt, former chair of the influential foreign affairs select committee, told Reuters it was a “matter for the PM.”British Defense Minister Gavin Williamson meanwhile told reporters in Brussels: “The prime minister makes her own decision on actually who is serving in her cabinet, and they’re only the prime minister’s decisions.”The source said that no UK government officials were present for the discussions, and they were set up and reported in a way that did not accord with the usual procedures. Last week, close May ally Michael Fallon, the defense minister, was forced to resign over a growing sexual misconduct scandal in parliament. The potential loss of another minister will further unsettle May, who, while struggling to push talks to leave the European Union forward, has faced criticism from opponents for her handling of everything from a deadly apartment block fire this year to the ongoing sexual harassment claims. “There are times when a government has the stench of death about it,” Pat McFadden, a lawmaker from the main opposition Labor Party, told parliament on Tuesday. Patel held 12 meetings with Israeli groups and officials, including Netanyahu, during a vacation in the country in August. She did not inform May or her colleagues about it. She later discussed with her department the possibility of British aid being given to the Israeli army to support medical assistance for refugees from the Syrian civil war arriving in the Golan Heights. Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported Wednesday that Patel visited an Israeli military field hospital in the Golan Heights during her August trip. Britain regards Israel as illegally occupying the territory, which it captured from Syria in 1967. Patel's situation has been made worse by her contradictory statements about the meetings. When news broke about the August trip, Patel insisted that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson "knew about the visit." Her department was later forced to clarify the statement, saying "the foreign secretary did become aware of the visit, but not in advance of it." Patel apologized, saying the meetings "did not accord with the usual procedures."

Pro-Independence Strikes Sweep Catalonia as Officials Fail to Agree on United Ticket for Polls

Asharq Al-Awsat/November 08/17/Catalan pro-independence union CSC called the strike which was supported by civic groups Asamblea Nacional Catalana (ANC) and Omnium Cultural, whose leaders were imprisoned last month on sedition charges. Activists blocked roads across the region, causing huge tailbacks into Barcelona while some public transport ran minimum services. Scores of people stood across dozens of major highways in the region waving placards and chanting “freedom for political prisoners” while minor scuffles were reported on social media as police attempted to move protesters, TV and video images showed. The national railway operator, Renfe, said that trains stopped working on dozens of local lines because protesters were blocking tracks. Several national high-speed lines have also been affected, Renfe added, with trains delayed or diverted. In the northern town of Girona, protesters bypassed police controls to enter the main railway station. However, despite transport delays, shops and businesses in the region largely appeared to be functioning as normal. The leaders the ANC and Omnium and eight former members of the Catalan government are in prison awaiting trial after staging a referendum on secession that Spanish courts deemed illegal and then declaring independence. The independence drive has tipped Spain in to its worst political crisis in decades, widening political and cultural divisions and prompting thousands of companies to relocate out of the region. The government, which assumed control of Catalonia after a unilateral independence declaration, has called an election for December 21. Meanwhile, Catalan secessionist parties on Tuesday failed to agree on a united ticket to contest the snap regional election, making it more difficult to rule the region after the vote and press ahead with their collective bid to split from Spain. Catalan political parties had until midnight on Tuesday to register coalitions ahead of the vote, but the two main forces which formed an alliance to rule the region for the last two years did not manage to agree on a new pact in time. While they could still find an agreement after the vote, political analysts say the lack of a deal on a joint campaign may also trigger a leadership fight at the top of the movement. This is because center-right PdeCat (Catalan Democratic Party) of sacked Catalan president Carles Puigdemont is expected to be overtaken by leftist Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) of former regional vice president Oriol Junqueras. Puigdemont and Junqueras are the two main leaders behind the current secession bid that last month led to a unilateral declaration of independence which Spain thwarted by imposing direct rule on the region. Junqueras is currently in custody pending a potential trial on charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds. Puigdemont, who faces the same charges, is currently in self-imposed exile in Belgium and has said he would oppose extradition. Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel is refusing to comment on the political actions of the ousted Catalan leader in Belgium, saying that Puigdemont's case must be handled by justice authorities alone. Michel told Belgian lawmakers Wednesday that "as prime minister I consider that I don't have to make any pronouncements about justice, whether it be in Belgium or between European countries."The premier was lambasted by the lawmakers for his handling of the Catalan crisis and its fallout in Belgium, where Puigdemont and four associates are fighting extradition to Spain. While some Belgian government officials have criticized Spain's handling of Puigdemont's independence drive, Michel said that the Spanish government remains his partner. He said: "We have an interlocutor; it is the government in Madrid. It is Spain."Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said next month's elections in Catalonia should open "a new political era" in the northeastern region with the return to normality and respect for the country's laws.
"I hope that elections open a new political era of coexistence, in which the rules are respected and the Spanish economy recovers," he said in parliament Wednesday when asked by opposition lawmakers about the extraordinary controls that have led to central authorities to rule directly Catalonia.

UK Aid Minister Quits over Unauthorized Israel Meetings
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/November 08/17/Britain's overseas aid minister Priti Patel quit Wednesday over unauthorized meetings in Israel, becoming the latest cabinet member caught up in a whirlwind of scandals rocking Prime Minister Theresa May's government. "I offer a fulsome apology to you and to the government for what has happened and offer my resignation," Patel wrote in a letter to May, becoming the second minister to leave the cabinet in one week. May summoned Patel back from a trip to Africa to explain her talks with Israeli politicians and officials, in which she reportedly raised the possibility of Britain diverting aid to the Israeli army. Patel had apologized on Monday for holding 12 separate meetings -- including with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- during a family holiday to Israel in August, without notifying the Foreign Office or Downing Street in advance.
Patel wrote in her letter that there had been a "number of reports about my actions and I am sorry that these have served as a distraction." May accepted Patel's resignation, replying in a letter that "the UK and Israel are close allies, and it is right that we should work closely together. But that must be done formally."

Syria Army, Allies 'Encircle' Last IS-Held Town
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/November 08/17/Syrian troops and allied militiamen on Wednesday encircled the Islamic State group in Albu Kamal, the jihadists' last urban stronghold in the country, state media said. "Army troops and allied forces have completely encircled Daesh terrorists in Albu Kamal and have begun operations to eradicate them from the town," state news agency SANA reported. Albu Kamal lies on the Syrian side of the border with Iraq, in the oil-rich eastern province of Deir Ezzor. After a series of defeats in the province and the loss of IS' de facto capital Raqa further north, Albu Kamal is the only Syrian urban center left in IS hands. Syrian regime forces, backed by intensive Russian air strikes, have advanced on the town from the south and west for weeks. And Iraqi forces have closed in on border area from the east, seizing the town of Al-Qaim from jihadists last week. "The advance towards Albu Kamal came after army troops and their allies met up with Iraqi forces at the border between the two countries," SANA said Wednesday. A source from the militias allied to Damascus told the AFP news agency that fighters from Lebanon's Hizbullah had advanced to the southern edges of Albu Kamal on Wednesday. "Part of those units crossed into Iraq, with the help of Hashed al-Shaabi units, to circle around Albu Kamal and reach the northern side of the town," the source added. The Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary alliance has denied that its own forces entered Syria on Wednesday as part of the fight. IS overran vast swathes of Deir Ezzor province in 2014 as part of its military sweep across Syria and Iraq, where it ran a self-styled "caliphate". But the jihadist group has seen that territory shrink down to a small pocket along the Euphrates River, with Albu Kamal as its final hub. Tens of thousands have been displaced by fighting to oust IS from the area, many living in desperate conditions in desert camps. In recent weeks, an estimated 120,000 people have been displaced from Albu Kamal alone, said Linda Tom from the United Nations' humanitarian affairs coordination office in Damascus.

Trump in China for Talks on North Korea's 'Cruel Dictatorship'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/November 08/17/US President Donald Trump toured the Forbidden City with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Wednesday as he began the crucial leg of an Asian tour intended to build a global front against North Korea's nuclear threats. After warning North Korea's "cruel dictatorship" against testing the United States during a speech in Seoul, Trump and First Lady Melania Trump were met by Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan for tea at the former imperial palace. But the genial gathering will be followed on Thursday by a full day of thorny talks, with Trump looking to prod Xi into doing more to squeeze North Korea economically and to address China's massive trade surplus with the United States. The Trump administration sees Beijing as the key to controlling Pyongyang, which depends on China for its economic survival and for 90 percent of its trade.
Earlier, Trump congratulated Xi on his reappointment as China's Communist Party chief, tweeting: "I very much look forward to meeting with President Xi who is just off his great political victory." Trump's use of the term "political victory" for the outcome of last month's Communist Party congress was seen by analysts as an attempt to conciliate Xi before tough talks on trade and North Korea. "He's laying it on thick to put Xi in a good mood because he will have unpleasant things to tell him," said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, China politics specialist at Hong Kong Baptist University. Xi has prepared an extravagant "state visit-plus" for Trump, with opera and a lavish banquet, and the US leader has brought a business delegation along for the ride. Deals are expected to be signed, though they may not be enough to allay US concerns about China's massive trade surplus, which narrowed in October but remained high at a monthly $26.6 billion.
North Korean cult
Hours earlier in an address to the South Korean parliament, Trump painted a dark picture of Pyongyang as an oppressive, despotic regime. "North Korea is a country ruled as a cult," the US leader declared. "At the centre of this military cult is a deranged belief in the leader's destiny to rule as parent protector over a conquered Korean peninsula and an enslaved Korean people."South Korean lawmakers applauded as the US president, whose tour of Asia has been dominated by the nuclear-armed North, vowed not to be intimidated and warned Pyongyang it should not test American resolve. The North carried out its sixth, and most powerful, nuclear test in September, and has fired dozens of missiles in recent months. Two have overflown Japan, and Pyongyang says it can mount a nuclear warhead on a rocket to bring the US mainland within range. "We will not permit America or our allies to be blackmailed or attacked," Trump said. Trump gave a preview of what he will ask Beijing to do regarding North Korea. "You cannot support, you cannot supply, you cannot accept," he said, urging China and Russia to fully implement UN sanctions, downgrade diplomatic ties and sever all trade and technology ties. A senior White House official said China has done "much more that it's ever done in the past" but it could try harder to curb trade at the border with North Korea. "There are still some financial links that exist that should not under those (UN) resolutions... We're going to work closely with the Chinese to identify that activity and end it," the official said.
Trump will also decide at the end of his Asian tour next Monday whether to re-designate North Korea as a "state-sponsor of terrorism", the White House said.
DMZ no-go
In South Korea Trump had to abandon a surprise visit to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that divides the two Koreas because of bad weather, leaving him "pretty frustrated" according to the White House. South Korean President Moon Jae-In, who had flown earlier before fog closed in, was left waiting for him at the border, which bristles with electric fences, minefields and anti-tank barriers.In his speech Trump described the DMZ as "the line that today divides the oppressed and the free", where "the flourishing ends, and the prison state of North Korea sadly begins". The Kim dynasty has ruled the impoverished, isolated North with an iron fist and pervasive personality cult for three generations, showing no tolerance for political dissent. The regime has for decades been criticised for a range of rights abuses including torture, rape and execution of perceived critics or those trying to flee the country. It is also known to operate prison camps where hundreds of thousands languish under forced labour, and its 25 million people are barred from contact with the outside world such as foreign television or internet access. But Trump made overtures to leader Kim Jong-Un, who has overseen rapid advances in its weapons technology. In what he said was a direct message to the young leader, he told him: "North Korea is not the paradise your grandfather envisioned. It is a hell that no person deserves." "Yet despite every crime you have committed against God and man, we will offer a path towards a much better future."It would have to begin, though, with the North stopping ballistic missile development, Trump said, and "complete verifiable and total denuclearisation".

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on November 08-09/17
Who Wants a War in the Middle East? Seven Key Players and Their Interests
من يريد الحرب في الشرق الأوسط؟ سبعة لاعبين ومصالحهم

Anshel Pfeffer/Haaretz/November 08/17
Practically everyone wants to fight - as long as someone else does the fighting
A tunnel explodes underneath the Gaza-Israel border, a surprise resignation throws Lebanon into turmoil, a series of upheavals in the Saudi kingdom and the battle against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq winds down – all this is winding up with a new round of saber-rattling between Israel and Iran and its proxies. Talk of war between elements of the Iran-led coalition and the unlikely anti-Iran alliance of Israel and the Saudis is rife, but a plausible scenario for one breaking out much less. Both sides would like to see someone taking on the other, but none of the parties are at present in a situation where it is their interest to do so themselves.Here’s where the parties who want war, just as long as someone else is fighting it, are right now.
Iran – For the last six-and-a-half years, the Islamic revolutionary leadership in Tehran has invested heavily in propping up the Assad regime in Syria. This support has taken a variety of forms – “military advisers” from Iran’s Quds Force, the deployment of thousands of Hezbollah fighters, frequent airlifts of weapons landing in Damascus airport, the recruitment of tens of thousands of citizens (mainly Afghan refugees) to fight in Shi’ite militias, and at least a billion dollars of credit to allow Assad to remain solvent. None of this was enough to enable the Syrian president’s eventual victory, but it kept him just about afloat until the Russians arrived in September 2015.  Now that Assad’s survival has been ensured, Iran is intent on reaping its reward in the shape of mining concessions for valuable minerals, and the rights to build an airbase on Syrian territory and a military port on its Mediterranean coast.
Israel is both exerting diplomatic pressure and threatening to use military power to prevent Iran from establishing a permanent stronghold in Syria.  (This pressure is playing into a power struggle back in Tehran, where rival factions are arguing whether the additional billions that will be needed for building these bases should not go instead to strengthening Iran’s economy at home).  Tehran has no interest right now in a war between its proxies and Israel in Syria and Lebanon that would endanger the gains in which it has invested so much. Instead, it would prefer seeing Israel distracted elsewhere and the most convenient place for that to happen would be along Israel’s southern border with the Gaza Strip.A Hamas delegation is currently in Tehran, the second such delegation in a matter of weeks. Hamas and Iran had a falling-out during the Syrian war when Iran was helping the Assad regime butcher hundreds of thousands of Syrian Sunnis, including Hamas’ allies in the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. But now that the war is ending, the ties are being reestablished. Throughout the war, Iran’s support for Hamas’ rivals in Gaza, the more militant Palestinian Islamic Jihad, intensified. Now Iran would be happy for Hamas and PIJ to join forces in provoking some mayhem on the Gaza border, and deflect attention from Syria.
Gaza – Iran’s entreaties notwithstanding, Gaza has its own troubles and while Hamas is happy to reestablish ties with Tehran, the movement’s interests currently lie in Cairo, where its reconciliation agreement with Fatah was signed last month.
Egypt wants Hamas to keep the peace in Gaza and to make sure the Strip doesn’t serve the ISIS fighters in Sinai as a logistical hub. If there was any doubt, particularly in Israel, that the reconciliation was yet another doomed-to-fail exercise, along came the demolition on October 30 by Israel of a PIJ cross-border attack tunnel, killing at least 14 PIJ and Hamas members underground.
In the past, there would have been no question of such an operation ending without some form of retaliation by Hamas and PIJ. But instead, over a week later, we have yet to see any escalation. Hamas has forced PIJ to keep the unofficial truce that has been in force with Israel since the summer of 2014.
Hamas – The ruling movement in the Strip hasn’t converted to Zionism but the continued closure of Gaza and its worsening economic situation – intensified by the sanctions put in place during the last few months by the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, have led Hamas’ new “prime minister” in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, to the unavoidable conclusion that he must find a way for now of cooperating both with neighboring Egypt and the PA.
It was either that or lose any capability of maintaining control in the Strip. Sinwar is a hardliner who sat for many years in Israeli prisons, but he is Gaza-born and understands local politics. Saleh al-Arouri, deputy chief of Hamas’ political bureau, Sinwar’s rival and the leader of the delegations to Tehran, does not have any responsibility for Gaza.
Hamas isn’t giving up its rocket arsenal or tunnel network in the Strip, but it urgently needs to ease humanitarian conditions there and the only way of doing so is by means of an alliance with Egypt and an uneasy rapprochement with the PA.
Another round of destructive warfare with Israel will jeopardize the agreement and Sinwar, for now, won’t let that happen and is meanwhile preventing PIJ from retaliating. No matter what Iran wants.
Egypt – Not too long ago, Egypt would have been counted as the major Arab element in the regional anti-Iran coalition. But its ongoing political and economic weakness has forced it to curb its wider designs and focus mainly on skirmishing with ISIS in Sinai, where a few hundred of the militant organization's fighters are still tying up a large part of Egypt's huge and well-equipped army.
Egypt is probably the only nation that is about to lose out due to the elimination of the ISIS strongholds in Iraq and Syria. The remnants of ISIS are now relocating to neighboring Libya and the organization may focus more of its remaining resources on Sinai.
It would have been happy to see others carrying on the wars further afield, while focusing on affairs closer to home. Like Gaza, for example.
Effectively, Egypt has abdicated its historic mission to lead the Arab Sunni camp, leaving the Saudis in charge.
Saudi Arabia – The last few days’ events in Riyadh have astonished veteran watchers of the House of Saud. Multiple arrests over allegations of corruption of once-senior officials, including a number of royal princes; appointments to key positions of men close to Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (aka MBS); a mysterious helicopter crash; and the summoning of Saudi clients such as Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who chose on Saturday to announce his resignation from Riyadh, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas – all this has pundits trying to work out a common motive, aside from just another move by MBS to consolidate his grip over the kingdom.
One popular theory regarding Hariri’s resignation is that he fled to Riyadh, or was ordered there, so he would not be implicated in an impending military attack by Israel on Lebanon, with Saudi backing, or an attack on Iran’s main proxy in Beirut, Hezbollah.
The fact that Hezbollah has been accused of an assassination attempt on Hariri strengthened this theory. The Saudis would certainly love to have their Iranian rivals punished at this point, in some way or another, and Hezbollah would be a good target. The regime in Riyadh is in no position to launch a war itself against Iran. For the last two-and-a-half years, the Saudis have been engaging in a war against the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen, which has been so unsuccessful that on Friday night, the Houthis were capable of taunting the Saudis by firing a ballistic missile at Riyadh airport. The Saudis are unlikely to risk a cross-Gulf offensive with the much more powerful Iranians. Especially when MBS is so busy with internal politics. But will Hezbollah respond in any way to the accusations?
Hezbollah – After fighting for over six years in Syria as Iran’s vanguard, Hezbollah can credit itself with some impressive victories and has accumulated major experience – both in the use of advanced weaponry, and in the command and control of military formations as large as brigade-size units. But they have lost at least 800 men in the fighting and thousands more have been wounded – totalling about one-quarter of Hezbollah’s original force at the start of the war.
Thousands of new conscripts have been trained and sent to Syria but while this has widened the ranks, it has also fed resentment back home in Lebanon where many, including some within the Shi’a community, feel that Hezbollah has long ago ceased to serve as a Lebanese “resistance” force and is now holding the country hostage, in the service of Iran.
Militarily, Hezbollah is in no condition to launch an attack on Israel. It is still fighting in a number of locations in Syria and has to rebuild its units before embarking on a new war. Eighteen months after the death of its military commander, Mustafa Badreddine – almost certainly an assassination carried out by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, at Iran’s urging – a replacement has yet to be announced. Nasrallah has lost the standing he enjoyed in the Arab world following the Second Lebanon War in 2006. He’s no longer seen as the plucky resistance fighter, but rather as the murderer of Syrian resistance fighters. Another war with Israel, with the prospect of rehabilitating his image, may seem tempting, but Nasrallah is aware that his men are not ready and that a devastating response by Israel, targeting Lebanese civilian infrastructure, may actually yield the opposite result, with him being blamed by the Lebanese for yet more suffering. But if Hezbollah is in such a vulnerable position, could Israel be tempted to take advantage of it?
Israel – One thing is almost certain: Even if Hariri and the Saudis thought that an Israeli attack on Lebanon is imminent, it won’t be happening in the next couple of weeks. Israel is currently hosting the largest international military exercise ever to take place in the country, with seven foreign air forces from three continents participating. This is a show of military diplomacy that has been over a year in the planning and the Israel Air Force has little time right now for anything else. War won’t start at least until the end of the month and by then tensions may have died down elsewhere.
For now, however, Israel is interested in keeping the calm around Gaza: Its new underground defense system against Hamas and PIJ attack tunnels is still being deployed and won’t be fully operational for another 12 months. Besides, Israel doesn’t want to interfere with Egypt’s attempts to try and pacify the Strip.
The situation with Hezbollah along Israel's northern border is more complex. Israel has been regularly attacking Syrian targets, usually Hezbollah convoys trying to smuggle advanced weapons back to Lebanon, or military research facilities.
Syria has tried a number of times recently to fire rather ineffective missiles at Israeli planes, but beyond that there has been no response from the Assad regime or from Hezbollah.
There are some voices in the Israeli security establishment that are in favor of a preemptive strike against Hezbollah’s rocket positions in Lebanon at the present time, but they are in a minority.
Benjamin Netanyahu, for all his anti-Iranian rhetoric, is loath to expand hostilities with Iran’s main proxy, beyond surgical pinpoint attacks. The lessons of 2006 are still fresh in the minds of Israeli military planners, and anyway Netanyahu is much more risk-averse than his belligerent image and has never been a fan of wide-scale operations that necessitate mobilizing the entire army.
He would of course be more than happy to see someone else take Iran head-on – like the Americans, for example – but while there has been no lack of anti-Iran rhetoric from the Trump administration either, there doesn’t seem to be an appetite for going beyond a war of words in Washington.
Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said at Chatham House in London Monday that the leaders of Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt had all urged President Barack Obama to bomb Iran early on in his term. But none of them tried to do it themselves. That still seems to be the situation.
*Anshel Pfeffer/Haaretz Correspondent

What goes up comes back down': Lebanese react to Saad Hariri's resignation
Federica Marsi/MEE/November 08/17
BEIRUT - After the unforeseen - and largely unexplained - resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri while in Riyadh on Saturday, a cloud of uncertainty has hung over the capital as many wonder exactly what the latest political crisis will mean for the country.
While memes emerged showing Hariri wearing a digital watch saying "Help" and Twitter users urged him to blink to cameras if he wanted to be rescued from Saudi Arabia, conversations on the streets here ranged from bleak forecasts of a new conflict to little more than a shrug of the shoulders.
We have lived through the civil war and had to move to Africa - Sierra Leone. Now my son, who is 35, has to live through the same struggle I had to face when I was young
“What Hariri did is irresponsible,” said Usama, the owner of a clothes shop on bustling Hamra Street in the western Sunni-majority side of the city. Chain-smoking on a chair placed at the shop’s entrance, the 53-year-old spat a harsh sentence.
“It puts the country in danger and all of us,” he said.
Despite blaming the leader of the Future Movement – a party to which Usama is affiliated – his greatest criticism is reserved for Hezbollah, the Shia political party.
“All the political parties put their interests first. No one wants the best for the country. This is especially true for Hezbollah, who only wants to raise tensions in Lebanon. Hariri compromised [when he formed a government], what did Hezbollah do?” said Usama, who would only give his first name.
'What goes up ...'
Saad Hariri assumed office in December 2016 following a power-sharing agreement with President Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian with strong ties to Hezbollah. The agreement ended a 29-month power vacuum and saw Hariri form a government that included Hezbollah, whose members have been charged by the International Court of Justice with the 2005 assassination of his father, Rafik Hariri.
In the neighbourhood of Geitawi – a largely Orthodox Christian and Armenian neighborhood in the heart of Beirut’s eastern district – Fadi Leba’ine also expressed worry for the current political situation.
“We have lived through the civil war and had to move to Africa - Sierra Leone. Now my son, who is 35, has to live through the same struggle I had to face when I was young. I imagine the children of my nephews will also have to live through the same things all over again,” Leba’ine said.
The 59-year-old seller of home-made food preserves said sectarianism is still very much a part of the country’s fabric, despite a 15-year-long civil war that still haunts the memories of much of its population.
“When a customer enters the shop, they want to know which part of Lebanon I am from and which village,” he said. “If they don’t like what they hear, they won’t buy from me.”
Leba’ine fears that Hariri’s resignation will make Lebanon a key pawn in the regional chess game that Saudi Arabia and Iran are playing. In his experience, international relations have always, sooner or later, affected Lebanese citizens.
“What goes up comes back down,” Leba’ine said, using an Arabic expression that hints to the inevitability of future repercussions on Lebanese soil.
'People don't care'
Closer to the city centre, in the Christian quarter of Gemmayze, the 54-year-old Shia owner of a high-end boutique was confident the country would remain stable.
“I don’t think any group in Lebanon has the power to do anything stupid,” Amer Jabali told MEE. “Saudis are cowards, they fight their wars from the sky and they never win. And I don’t think Israel is stupid enough to fight the war for Saudi Arabia.”
'I don’t think any group in Lebanon has the power to do anything stupid'
Jabali also had confidence in the stability of the Lebanese banking system and said moving capital abroad was not an option for Lebanese business owners. “Foreign countries apply very high taxes, while in Lebanon you pay none,” he grinned. “It’s better to take a risk rather than becoming poor for sure.”
Right below the store’s name, on the entrance glass door, Jabali recently added a sign bearing a very political message: “Boycott weapons, save lives.” Before the formation of the government in 2016, another sign provocatively advertised sales “until a new president is elected".
Further north, in the Muslim quarter of Zokak el-Blatt, 25-year-old security guard Imad el Ali said everyone in the country has grown accustomed to a volatile political situation and had no fear for the immediate future. “Everything is going on as usual,” he said. “People don’t care about politics. They just want to go from home to work and back.”
As a Shia married to a Sunni Muslim, El Ali argued sectarian tensions are a thing of the past. “We got used to this country. We even marry each other,” he laughed.
Waiting for the earthquake
While views on the streets of Beirut greatly differ, government officials are on high alert. In a security meeting on Monday, President Aoun told security forces to be prepared for the possibility of unrest or terrorist attacks.
He also invited the media to act responsibly in their reporting so as not to raise tensions. However, in the regional context – where most news outlets are known to have political affiliations – narratives have been clearly skewed towards pro-Saudi or pro-Iranian standpoints.
In a piece published on the Hezbollah-owned Al Manar news site on Monday, Hariri's resignation is described as a clear outcome of Saudi threats and a further demonstration of a Saudi strategy aimed at "compensat[ing] for its failures on more than one front in the region". Several analysts quoted in the piece vent the theory - widely circulated on social media - that Hariri may be under house arrest in the Saudi capital.
Similarly, the pro-Hezbollah daily newspaper Al Akhbar featured a picture of Hariri with the headline "Hostage" on Monday.
A web page named "Free Saad Hariri" has also emerged, demanding Hariri’s release from “Saudi jails” and counting the days since he announced his resignation. While it is unclear who started the site and some believe it might be a joke, local websites claimed it was started by supporters who are genuinely concerned with the prime minister's safety.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Saudi news outlet Al Arabiya highlighted the accusations that Hariri has made towards Iran, including the alleged failed attempt on his life. "Hariri assured in his televised speech that Iran has a wild desire to destroy the Arab world and that, wherever it resolves to, it spreads war and discord," the article, published on Saturday, read.
An-Nahar, a newspaper which also supports Saudi Arabia but tends to be more moderate with its views, made a comparison between the current situation and the assassination of Hariri's father, Rafik, in 2005. "We are facing a recurring situation, but this time, fortunately, Saad Hariri survived," columnist Ahmed Ayyah wrote.
A separate report in the paper mocked a Lebanese tendency to be over-dramatic. "The 'earthquake' occurred and the 'bomb' exploded [...] are all Lebanese expressions to describe one situation: Lebanon without a government," it read.
At present, the "earthquake" is postponed until Hariri’s return from Saudi Arabia, when the legal procedure to replace him will be set in motion. Until then, news outlets will keep their fingers pointed in opposite directions. Meanwhile, many in Lebanon brace themselves for more hard times to come.

The Iran-Hamas-Hezbollah Connection
Khaled Abu Toameh/Gatestone Institute/November 08/17
Now that the Iranians have sole control over Lebanon, their eyes are set on the Gaza Strip.
Hamas, for its part, is thirsting for Iranian resources. Hamas knows that it will have to pay a price.
Iran and Hezbollah are working with Hamas to establish a "joint front" against Israel.
The Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, has had enough. Last week, Iran finalized its takeover of Lebanon when Hariri resigned, and reportedly fled to Saudi Arabia.
Hariri, denouncing Hezbollah and its Iranian backers, said he feared for his life. Hariri has good reason to be afraid of Hezbollah, the powerful Shia terror group and Iranian proxy that effectively controls Lebanon.
Indications show that Iran and Hezbollah are also planning to extend their control to the Gaza Strip. Iran already provides Hamas with financial and military aid. It is precisely the support of Iran that has enabled Hamas to hold in power in the Gaza Strip for the past 10 years. It is also thanks to Iran that Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, another major terror group in the Gaza Strip, are in possession of thousands of missiles and rockets. It is Iranian money that allows Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad to continue digging terror tunnels under the border with Israel.
Relations between Iran and Hamas have grown stronger in the past few weeks. Last month, a senior Hamas delegation visited Tehran to attend the funeral of the father of the senior Iranian security official, Qasem Soleimani. A few weeks earlier, another senior Hamas delegation visited Tehran to brief Iranian leaders on the latest developments surrounding the "reconciliation" agreement reached between Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority (PA).
It was the first time senior Hamas officials visited Iran since relations between the two sides became strained in 2011. That year, Iran suspended its ties with Hamas over the latter's refusal to support Syria's dictator, Bashar Assad, against his opponents in its civil war. The sudden rapprochement between Hamas and Iran has raised concerns among Abbas and his Palestinian Authority officials regarding Hamas's sincerity in implementing the "reconciliation" agreement. President Abbas and his officials wonder why Hamas rushed into arms of Iran immediately after reaching the "reconciliation" accord under the auspices of the Egyptian authorities.
Iran and Hezbollah are no fans of Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. Abbas is terrified that Hamas is trying to bring Iran and its Hezbollah proxy into the Gaza Strip.
Abbas and his PA are eager to return to the Gaza Strip, but the presence of Iran there creates a serious problem. Like Hariri, Abbas would have good reason to fear for his life if Hamas brings the Iranians and Hezbollah into the Gaza Strip.
Abbas's fear is also not unjustified. Earlier this week, a senior Hamas official, Musa Abu Marzouk, disclosed that his movement and Hezbollah were working towards strengthening their relations. "Relations between Hamas and Hezbollah were never cut off," Abu Marzouk stated.
"We have ongoing contacts and understandings. But we preferred to keep them away from the spotlight. Hamas and Hezbollah are in one line in the fight against Israel, and we coordinate our positions regarding the Palestinian cause. Hamas will continue to cooperate with resistance groups that support the Palestinian resistance."
The alliance between Hamas and Hezbollah is a direct result of the renewed relations between Iran and Hamas. With the help of Hezbollah, Iran has managed to take control of large parts of Syria. With the help of Hezbollah, Iran already controls Lebanon. Now that the Iranians have sole control over Lebanon, their eyes are set on the Gaza Strip. They know that the only way to access the Gaza Strip is through the Hamas door. Iran wants to see Hezbollah inside the Gaza Strip. Hamas, for its part, is thirsting for Iranian resources. Hamas knows that it will have to pay a price: allowing Iran and Hezbollah to set foot in the Gaza Strip. Judging from the remarks of Abu Marzouk, Hamas appears to be happy to pay the price.
Hariri, Abbas and many Sunni Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia, felt betrayed by the Obama Administration's policy of détente towards Iran -- a policy that emboldened the Iranians and gave them a green light to meddle in the internal affairs of Arab countries to try to establish, as they seem to have done, a "Shiite Crescent" from Persia through Yemen and now Lebanon, clear to the Mediterranean Sea.
The Sunni Arabs are apparently particularly worried about the nuclear deal signed between the Obama Administration and Iran. They feel that the Obama Administration's attempt to appease the Iranians has emboldened the country that is the world's leading sponsor of terrorism. Iran has since taken advantage of the nuclear deal to threaten and try to terrorize America, its friends and its Arab allies.
Abbas has multiple reasons to be worried about the Hamas-Hezbollah alliance. Here is another one: a recent meeting in Beirut between Hamas leader Saleh Arouri and Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah was yet another sign of Hamas's effort to pave the way for Iran and Hezbollah to infiltrate the Gaza Strip and meddle in the internal affairs of the Palestinians.
A recent meeting in Beirut between Hamas leader Saleh Arouri (left) and Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah (right) was another sign of Hamas's effort to pave the way for Iran and Hezbollah to infiltrate the Gaza Strip. (Image source: Hezbollah via Al Manar)
Hamas has already stated repeatedly that it has absolutely no intention of laying down its weapons as promised for the "reconciliation" agreement with the Palestinian Authority. Hamas is prepared to cede to PA President Mahmoud Abbas limited civilian control of the Gaza Strip, but has been clear that it will never dismantle its security apparatus or military wing. Hamas wants to bring the Iranians and Hezbollah into the Gaza Strip to counterbalance pressure from Abbas and Egypt and other countries to disarm and hand control over to Abbas. If Abbas ever returns to the Gaza Strip, he will find himself sitting not only with Hamas, but also with Iran and Hezbollah, who consider him a traitor and puppet in the hands of Israel and the US.
Alarmed by the rapprochement between Hamas and Hezbollah and Iran, Saudi Arabia earlier this week summoned Abbas for urgent talks in Riyadh. The Saudis have been following with concern the visits by Hamas leaders to Iran and Hezbollah, and are worried that Abbas may face the same fate as Hariri.
Abbas may well wish to steer clear of the Gaza Strip: Iran and Hezbollah are working with Hamas to establish a "joint front" against Israel. Hamas's decision to tilt towards Iran and Hezbollah discloses the truth: it is not headed towards moderation and pragmatism, but the very opposite. This does not bode well for the current Trump Administration's efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East.
Without stopping Iran and Hezbollah from spreading their influence and control to the Gaza Strip and Arab countries, the prospects of peace seem rather dim. In fact, the prospects of war seem pretty close, as Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad meet in the middle to discuss their plans for war against Israel. Failing to stop Iran and Hezbollah would mean that Abbas may soon find themselves hiding with Hariri in Saudi Arabia.
**Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist, is based in Jerusalem.
© 2017 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Here's to the "Experts", Terrorism's Great Whitewashers
Bruce Bawer/Gatestone Institute/November 08/17
Never mind that the holy books of Islam quite clearly spell out the doctrine of jihad and the heavenly rewards that await jihadist martyrs. No, according to MSNBC "terrorism expert" Malcolm Nance, Manhattan attacker Sayfullo Saipov's butchery was "anti-Islamic".
According to Nance's theory, every Islamic terrorist in our time somehow overlooked the real lessons of Islam and instead made exactly the same flub, mistaking Osama bin Laden's bloodthirsty lesson of murderous violence for the thoroughly peaceful tidings of the Koran.
To fail to see a continuity between, on the one hand, the Islam of the terrorists, and, on the other, the Islam of forced marriages, honor killings, female genital mutilation (FGM) and the niqab is to engage in denial and a total whitewash. But then, whitewashing Islam is the true area of expertise of so many of these so-called terrorism experts.
Thank heaven for the "terrorism experts." After Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov mowed down pedestrians and bicyclists in Manhattan on Halloween, murdering eight innocent people, what would we have done without Malcolm Nance, who, identified as an "MSNBC Terrorism Analyst," assured viewers of that cable network that Saipov's action was
"not Islam, whatsoever. None of this is condoned. Including the, you know, sacrificing and getting yourself killed at the end of a terrorist attack, none of that is Islamic, it's anti-Islamic."
Weirdly, Nance even chuckled partway through that last sentence, as if the idea that jihad is jihad were too absurd to take seriously.
Never mind that Saipov is an Uzbek Muslim; never mind that he shouted "Allahu Akbar" after his act of mass slaughter; never mind that the holy books of Islam quite clearly spell out the doctrine of jihad and the heavenly rewards that await jihadist martyrs. No, according to Nance, Saipov's butchery was "anti-Islamic," period. Nance explained: Osama bin Laden "corrupted Islam" and taught "multiple generations to follow what he believed." The Islamic terrorists of our time, in Nance's view, either have a "mental defect" or "some loss or vacuum in their world," and chose to act upon bin Laden's ideology because they believed their actions would "validate them once and for all in their life."
In short, do not blame the Koran -- blame Osama bin Laden, who, if you believe Nance, managed in a trice to effect a transformation in Islamic theology more comprehensive than the changes wrought in Christianity by several generations of followers of Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Cranmer, Tyndale, and other Protestant reformers. According to Nance's theory, every Islamic terrorist in our time -- the 9/11 hijackers, the train bombers in Madrid, the concert attackers at the Bataclan Theater in Paris, Omar Mateen at Orlando's Pulse nightclub, the Tsarnaev brothers at the Boston Marathon, etc., etc. -- somehow overlooked the real lessons of Islam and instead made exactly the same flub, mistaking bin Laden's bloodthirsty lesson of murderous violence for the thoroughly peaceful tidings of the Koran.
What a fount of wisdom Nance is! In the same way, how would we have gotten along without CNN's own "terrorism analyst" Paul Cruickshank, who hypothesized that Saipov had been "triggered" to commit his heinous act of mass murder by a traffic citation he had received a year earlier in Missouri -- and that other "radicalized individuals in past cases" may also have been acting in response to similar "[h]umiliating brushes with law enforcement." For example, Muhammed Youssef Abdulazeez, who shot four Marines and a sailor to death at a U.S. Navy recruitment station in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in July 2015 (remember when it was possible actually to keep track of all these atrocities?), had been arrested for driving while intoxicated shortly before committing those murders and was "due in court soon after attack."
To be sure, Cruickshank was not as avid a whitewasher as Nance: at least he acknowledged that the police who issued traffic tickets to these men were only doing their jobs and that any humiliation involved was "of course a matter of... perception" on the part of the Muslims themselves, who presumably felt superior to "infidel" American police. Yet when you come right down to it, Cruickshank's effort to shift responsibility away from Islam was every bit as sincere, as desperate, and as absurd as Nance's. As one Twitter user commented: "I got stopped [by police] on Monday... strangely enough I haven't begun to plan my plot for revenge yet."
Plenty of us get traffic tickets. Plenty of us experience loss. Plenty of us feel a "vacuum" in our world from time to time. Such things do not ordinarily lead to bloodthirsty, conscienceless mass murder. Psychopathy on a ten-out-of-ten scale, combined with some lethal ideology or other, can do it -- think Timothy McVeigh. (Perhaps the Las Vegas killer will turn out to fall into this category as well.) But in modern times, nothing does anywhere near as reliable a job of turning people into mass murderers as Islam does.
To think that you need to get a traffic ticket in order to be fired up by Islam is to have no grasp of the nature and power of faith. A religion, truly, deeply and fully believed in, can lead a man to change his life entirely, whether for good or for ill. Christianity has turned bad men into saints. Islam has led apparently ordinary men to massacre children. It has led them in uncountable numbers to murder their own daughters to restore family honor after a conversation with a male stranger or a failure to wear hijab. Thousands of such Muslim "honor killings" have been documented; I have never seen a suggestion that a single one of them might be explained by a traffic ticket.
America is not alone in having such splendid "terror experts" as Nance and Cruickshank. France, for instance, has the estimable Olivier Roy, who after the Barcelona attack in August told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that most of the perpetrators of such atrocities, at least in Europe, are acting out of a sense of "dislocation." They are "second-generation Muslims who have lost their connection with their country of origin and have failed to integrate into Western societies." They have undergone a "process of deculturation." They may experience a "suicidal instinct" and a "fascination with death."
Roy's theory avoids answering, or even asking, why a Muslim son of immigrants in the Western world would be less likely to integrate successfully -- and more likely to be suicidal or fascinated with death -- than, say, a Hindu from India or a Buddhist from Thailand. The answer, of course, lies in Islam itself. When most people feel overcome by suicidal feelings, they commit suicide -- they don't bomb an Ariana Grande concert.
Roy maintained that we need to study "the Islamification of radicalism.... not the radicalization of Islam." Implicit in this statement is that it's a mystery why potentially radical and violent young people are turning to Islam. But what is the mystery? Islam is filled with prescriptions that are radical and violent. Roy rejected this plain fact, however, and strove, like Nance and Cruickshank, to uncouple Islamic terrorism from Islam itself, even in its most extreme form. "[W]hile ultraconservative Salafi Islam is certainly a problem," Roy told Haaretz, "it shouldn't be conflated with violent extremism." On the contrary: to fail to see a continuity between, on the one hand, the Islam of the terrorists, and, on the other, the Islam of forced marriages, honor killings, female genital mutilation (FGM) and the niqab is to engage in a total whitewash. But then, whitewashing Islam is the true area of expertise of so many of these so-called terrorism experts.
**Olivier Roy, a prominent French "terrorism expert," strives to uncouple Islamic terrorism from Islam itself, even in its most extreme form. (Image source: Internaz/Leonardi e Parlamenti/Flickr)
Bruce Bawer is the author of the new novel The Alhambra (Swamp Fox Editions). His book While Europe Slept (2006) was a New York Times bestseller and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist.
© 2017 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Iran and Qaeda: Best of Frenemies
Eli Lake/Asharq Al Awsat/November 08/17
Last month President Donald Trump caused a minor stir in his speech on Iran policy by discussing that regime's connection to al-Qaeda. He said "Iranian proxies" provided training to al-Qaeda operatives involved in the 1998 bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. He said Iran hosted high-level Qaeda operatives after the Sept. 11 attacks, including Osama bin Laden's son.
His critics pounced. Former Obama administration Middle East policy coordinator Philip Gordon wrote that the president "stretched the evidence" to portray Iran as a partner of Qaeda. Paul Pillar, the former senior intelligence analyst who signed off on the US conclusions that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction programs, dismissed Trump's claims as based on the fact that some Qaeda operatives resided in Iran under house arrest.
It turns out Trump was closer to the mark than his detractors. On Wednesday the CIA released hundreds of thousands of documents captured in the 2011 raid that killed bin Laden, Qaeda's founder.
Ryan Trapani, a spokesman for the CIA, told me Thursday: "Documents collected during the bin Laden raid, which have been declassified, indicate Iran and Qaeda have an agreement to not target each other. The documents indicate bin Laden referred to Iran as the 'main artery' for Qaeda to move funds, personnel and communications."
Some of this was known before. The US government has sanctioned members of Qaeda's network in Iran going back to the Obama years. The State Department's annual reports on terrorism also touch on this.
Nonetheless, it's understandable why many observers would dismiss the notion of an Iran-Qaeda connection. Earlier releases of the bin Laden files under the Obama administration emphasized the Iran-Qaeda rivalry. All the while documents that showed cooperation remained classified.
Take for example the 2012 release, the first time the intelligence community declassified files captured in the 2011 raid on bin Laden's bunker in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Those documents publicized Qaeda's tense negotiations with Iran to return members of bin Laden's family, following Qaeda's taking an Iranian diplomat as hostage.
The new releases tell a more nuanced story. Thomas Joscelyn and Bill Roggio, the founders and editors of the Long War Journal, got early access to the latest bin Laden files this week. They say the latest information shows two wary rivals, willing to cooperate against America.
They focus on a 19-page document from a senior Qaeda operative that gives an early history of the relationship. It began on friendly terms in the late 1990s. They write that the author of the document, who is not named but appears to be well connected, "explains that Iran offered some Qaeda militants 'everything they needed,' including 'money, arms' and 'training in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon, in exchange for striking American interests in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.' Iranian intelligence facilitated the travel of some operatives with visas, while sheltering others."
Like most deals between thugs, the relationship at times soured. Qaeda operatives for example wrote a letter to Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, demanding he release members of their operatives' families. The Iranians too considered in 2003 a possible deal with the US, offering up some Qaeda operatives in exchange for members of the People's Mujahadin, an anti-Iranian group supported by the not-yet-deposed Iraqi tyrant, Saddam Hussein. Nothing ever came of the offer.
The 19-page document says that a Qaeda operative named Abu Hafs al-Mauritani negotiated the arrangement for some Qaeda operatives to enjoy safe haven in Iran after the fall of the Taliban in 2001 in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11 attacks. Most of Qaeda's leadership fled to Pakistan, but bin Laden's and his deputy's wives and children went to Iran, along with a handful of others.
Initially the deal required Iran's Qaeda guests to keep a low profile. They did not keep their end of the bargain though, according to the document. The author says Qaeda's operatives began using cell phones, which the Iranian regime prohibited on the grounds that the US would find out about it, according to a rough translation of the document shared with me by Joscelyn. "They began to buy cars and they began to move the way they like and gathering with people, and relationships with Sunnis in the city and other places," the 19-page document says.
Joscelyn told me this week that his journal, which is part of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, will be combing through the thousands of new documents and translating them. He said he would be looking for more on the relationship between Iran and Qaeda, along with more insights into Qaeda's relationship with Pakistan, the role bin Laden played in day-to-day operations and the history of his terror network.
For now the release of the files from the CIA is itself a victory for anyone who was frustrated by the slow pace of declassifications from the Obama administration. That would include Obama's Defense Intelligence Agency director, Michael Flynn, who became Trump's first national security adviser. He wrote in his book about the bin Laden documents and said there was ample evidence of Qaeda-Iranian cooperation against the US Representative Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has also pressed the government to declassify the documents, going so far as to require the document release in the bills that authorize spending for the intelligence agencies.
Current and former Trump administration officials tell me the declassification of the documents was a priority for the new president's team. The former senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, pressed the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to declassify the bin Laden documents. He met with resistance because translations, vetting the documents and providing official analysis would sap resources from higher priorities, according to these current and former officials. In the end, the CIA released most of the documents on Wednesday without translations and analysis, in hard-to-download zip files.
In the coming days and weeks, outside analysts and experts will be able to see for themselves the extent of Iran's cooperation with Qaeda. What's already emerging though is a more complex relationship than ideologues on either side of this issue would care to admit. Qaeda and Iran were not exactly allies. They were not enemies either.

Not All 'Bad' Deals Are Bad for US

Michael Schuman/Bloomberg/November 08/17
President Donald Trump visits Asia this week focused on the supposedly bad deals his predecessors struck with America's partners in the region -- whether job-killing trade pacts or costly defense pledges. In Tokyo, he raised his hosts' "not fair" trade advantages. In South Korea, where he arrives on Tuesday, he'll both tour one of those costly US military bases and, in all likelihood, criticize the “horrible” USKorea free-trade pact, from which he has talked of withdrawing.
Contrary to Trump's narrative, however, previous US presidents didn’t enter these deals blindly. In a very real sense, America’s relationships in Asia were designed to be "bad" -- to sacrifice some US interests in the service of other, higher ones. If he were to scrap those arrangements, Trump would render his nation -- for decades considered indispensable to the stability and security of Asia -- very dispensable indeed.
Recall what East Asia looked like in the years immediately following World War II. Much of the region was desperately poor and in dire need of reconstruction. Communism, which had already claimed victories in China and North Korea, seemed poised to gobble up even more countries. Responding with military force was an option and worked in Korea in the early 1950s to beat back a North Korean invasion. But clearly, a less bloody and more sustainable strategy was needed to stem the Communist tide and defend US allies, values and interests in the region.
What emerged was a system of diplomatic, military and economic relationships that created a stable order in East Asia and enshrined the US as the region’s premier power. Defense treaties, backed by a series of military bases, with allies such as Japan and South Korea kept the peace. Economically, the US opened its markets to exports from Asia, which turned out to be the key driver of the region’s rapid development.
Even Communist China eventually got drawn into the US order. Deng Xiaoping, China’s paramount leader, saw American cooperation as so vital to his country’s economy that he undertook a charm offensive in the US in early 1979, just as his pro-market reform program was getting underway. That led to President Jimmy Carter’s decision to grant China most-favored-nation status, without which Deng’s export-oriented growth strategy would have been almost impossible.
Asia got rich, and the US acted as a kind of guarantor of its success -- as the glue that held otherwise contentious allies together and, in effect, as the consumer of last resort, buying what became the region's vast industrial output, from the Walkman to the Samsung Galaxy.
Of course, when Washington opened its markets to Asian exports, trade deficits were almost inevitable. Japan, Korea and later China were initially too destitute to buy very much from the U.S. in return. All three nations also found ways to protect their nascent industrial programs, often unfairly, while their lower labor costs shifted jobs away from the US to Asia.
For the most part, the US tolerated such costs, just as it picked up the heavy burden of ensuring its allies' defense, paying billions to operate its bases in Japan and South Korea. Does that make presidents from Truman to Obama a bunch of chumps? Not really. The US has gained tremendously from these relationships. Communism was defeated. Endless new opportunities have been created in Asia for US companies, from Starbucks to Apple to Boeing. American shoppers have benefited from lower prices on Asian-made clothing, electronics and other consumer goods. Most of all, the “bad deals” Washington cut in Asia underpinned America's superpower status in the region.
It may be time for more balance in the relationship. The Japanese and South Koreans are no longer poor and could take more responsibility for their own defense (though they do already contribute significantly to the cost of US military bases in their countries). China, Japan and South Korea are all still notching trade surpluses with the U.S. and could do more to open markets to US business, especially China.
This would require mere tweaks to the existing US-led system, however, something Trump and his team could quietly negotiate without upsetting the overall order. Instead Trump has been threatening the order itself. By withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a regional free-trade pact, Trump tossed away a critical tool for strengthening the US position in Asia. Publicly nickel-and-diming Tokyo and Seoul over military expenses raises doubts about whether Washington can be trusted to stand firm when the bombs start falling.

Paradise Papers expose offshore tax secrecy of Middle East elite
Amandla Thomas-Johnson/MEE/November 08/17
A Saudi Prince, a Queen of Jordan and sons of the Turkish prime minister have all been mentioned in one of the largest data leaks in history
Sons of the Turkish prime minister, a Jordanian dowager Queen and a Saudi prince who owns a superyacht longer than a football pitch, are just a few Middle Eastern figures whose offshore dealings have been laid bare by one of the largest ever data leaks.
Published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the Paradise Papers exposes the secret dealings and offshore interests of the global elite and shows how companies use offshore company structures to slash tax bills and even hide questionable business practices.
Leaked from the Bermudan branch of offshore law firm Appleby, the release comes a year after the ICIJ published a tranche of similar material called the Panama Papers. Like them, the Paradise Papers reveal some of the undercover dealings of some of the biggest names in world politics - including Queen Elizabeth of Britain, members of Donald Trump’s entourage, and members of the Middle East’s political and business elite.
Prince Khaled bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, Saudi Arabia's former deputy minister of defence and dubbed “Father of Saudi Arabia’s missile” for his work in procuring weapons for the kingdom, also had offshore dealings revealed by the leak.
According to Appleby’s files, Prince Khaled is a beneficiary of two trusts and registered at least eight companies in Bermuda between 1989 and 2014, some of which were used to own yachts and aircraft.
Registering yachts and aircraft in this way can save tax.
Prince Khalid bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud (L), Saudi Arabia's then assistant minister of defence and aviation, after his arrival for their meeting in Madrid 2 November 2010 (Reuters)
The prince is reported to own a fleet of four luxury yachts, the largest being the Golden Odyssey, which at over 120m long is one of the world’s largest.
The leaks show that Bermuda-based Achteon Shipping Ltd owned and operated a “large pleasure yacht” while Euroyacht Ltd, which had assets totalling $51m in 1992 earned income from chartering the Golden Odyssey.
Khaled bin Sultan did not respond to a request for comment from ICIJ.
Jonathan Kolber, Israel
A probe published by ICIJ centres around Stephen Bronfman, a confidant and fundraiser for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Israeli businessman Jonathan Kolber, beneficiary of the Kolber trust, established in the Cayman Islands in 1991.
The trust’s complicated activity over the years is detailed in over 3000 documents and show that Bronfman’s investment firm, Claridge, has been pouring millions into the the Kolber Trust, much of it through interest-free loans from the Bronfman family - one of Canada’s wealthiest.
Interest-free loans are seen by many tax officials as suggesting possible tax avoidance.
The ICIJ found a $3.1m loan from a US-based Bronfman trust to the Kolber Trust that may have required interest payment under US law.
“Bronfman trust are US trusts, this debt must be interest bearing,” says Jonathan Kolber’s investment adviser to Kolber, a leaked document shows.
But he suggests that Claridge could “make him whole again”, suggesting Kolber send the company an invoice for unspecified “services rendered” for the same amount.
Kolber’s and Bronfman’s lawyers said to ICIJ that the loans received by the Kolber Trust “were at arm’s length” and that “non-interest bearing loans by a US person do not violate US law. Rather, in certain circumstances, there is a deemed interest concept.”
The revelations will be damaging to Trudeau who turned to Stephen Bronfman to raise money for his Liberal Party leadership bid in 2013. After winning, Trudeau then tasked him with turning around the party’s fortunes - something that contributed to his election win in 2015.
Back in March, Trudeau had vowed to do a "better job of getting tax avoiders".
Mudhar Ghassan Shawkat, Iraq
Mudhar Ghassan Shawkat, a former member of the Iraqi parliament and founder of the National Salvation Front, is a Sunni political coalition dedicated to defeating the Islamic State group.
Emails show that in 2008 the law firm was asked to hold in escrow on behalf of Shawkat and his son, Ali, about $140m but refused before accepting them as clients later on that year.
Iraqi Shia politician and the candidate of Iraqi National Alliance bloc speaks during an election campaign rally ahead of March 7 parliamentary elections in Baghdad (Reuters)
Appleby set up the Passion Group Trust for the benefit of Shawkat’s family in 2008. But with the incorporation of a not-for-profit entity, which was a beneficiary of the trust, concerns arose about Shawkat’s reported association with Ahmed Chalabi - the discredited Iraqi opposition figure who strongly advocated the 2003 US-led invasion.
One Appleby employee described wrote in an email: “It is suspicious that they are setting up a charitable company offshore [Passion for Change S.A.] for funds coming out of Iraq – there does not seem any benefit other than lack of accountability in doing so.”
Despite this, Appleby continued to work with Shawkat and his family.
Through a lawer, Shawkat told ICIG that he has not legal or beneficial interest in the entities that make up the Passion Group, and has no control or involvement in their business activities. He added that he has never had commercial or business ventures or dealings with Ahmed Chalabi.
Queen Noor of Jordan
The American-born widow of King Hussein is the beneficiary of two trusts registered in Jersey with one, the Valentine 1997 Trust - valued at more than $40m in 2013 - providing an income for her. The trust also owns property in southern England adjacent to Buckhurst Park, the estate where she resides.
In an effort to reduce inheritance taxes on the estate upon her death, the trustees in 2013 considered borrowing money and using Buckhurst Park as a security which would lower the property’s market value. It not clear whether the ideas was implemented.
A spokesman for Queen Noor told ICIJ that “all the bequests made to her and to her children by [the late King Hussein] have always been administered according to the highest ethical, legal and regulatory standards.”
He did not respond to detailed questions about the queen’s offshore assets.
Erkam and Bulent Yildirim, Turkey
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim attends a press briefing with his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc (not pictured) at the Government Office in Hanoi, Vietnam August 23, 2017 (Reuters)
Erkam and Bulent Yildirim, sons of Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, are sole shareholders of two companies registered in Malta which form part of the family’s lucrative shipping businesses, according to the papers.
They have not responded to a request for comment from ICIJ.

Canad's Governor-General Julie Payette praises freedom of religion, tolerance
Kevin Bissett/The Canadian Press/November 7, 2017.
Governor-General Julie Payette, who faced criticism for a speech last week that some said mocked people of faith, praised Canada's tolerance and freedom of religion Tuesday.
She told the New Brunswick legislature that Canada is in a fortunate position to be able to make a difference, because the country is rich in values.
"Our values are tolerance and determination, and freedom of religion, freedom to act, opportunities, equality of opportunities amongst everyone and for all," she said.The comments come a week after she criticized people who believe in creationism and horoscopes, and those who don't believe in climate change.
Payette's speech Tuesday followed the regular daily prayer used to open the New Brunswick legislature.
She did not directly address controversy over her earlier remarks, but the former astronaut spoke Tuesday about seeing Canada from space without borders, and talked of the need to work together. "It is one planet and we all have a duty to protect it. We have to work together. We have to use our power to work together and make decisions and changes that are needed to preserve our world," she said.
In last Wednesday's speech at the Canadian Science Policy Convention in Ottawa, Payette urged her friends and former colleagues to take responsibility to shut down the misinformation about everything from health and medicine to climate change and even horoscopes that has flourished with the explosion of digital media."Can you believe that still today in learned society, in houses of government, unfortunately, we're still debating and still questioning whether humans have a role in the Earth warming up or whether even the Earth is warming up, period?" she said. "And we are still debating and still questioning whether life was a divine intervention or whether it was coming out of a natural process, let alone, oh my goodness, a random process."
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She generated giggles and even some guffaws from the audience when she said too many people still believe "taking a sugar pill will cure cancer if you will it good enough and that your future and every single one of the people here's personalities can be determined by looking at planets coming in front of invented constellations."
Conservative political strategist Alise Mills said Payette went way over the line with her speech, which Mills characterized as not only political but "mean-spirited."
She said Payette wasn't just promoting science, she was mocking people with religious beliefs, and specifically, evangelical Christians who don't believe in evolutionary science.
But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau didn't seem to have any issue with what Payette said, saying his government and Canadians understand the value of science.
Blaine Higgs, New Brunswick's Progressive Conservative leader, said he thought Payette's comment's last week were "inappropriate."
"I think that saying that some people's opinions weren't as important as others is not what has made Canada the nation it is today," Higgs said, adding Payette was new to the job and he didn't think she'd make similar comments in the future.
Payette met Tuesday with Lt.-Gov. Jocelyne Roy Vienneau and Premier Brian Gallant before addressing the legislative assembly.
Payette's visit also included a tour of the Institute of Biomedical Engineering's prosthetics labs at the University of New Brunswick, and a visit to 5th Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown. Payette toured the base wearing a Canadian Forces combat uniform, the first time she has had the opportunity to don the uniform and visit a military base since becoming Governor General.She rode in a LAV 6 armoured vehicle before taking a short flight in a Griffin helicopter. "I must say I was so very impressed by the professionalism, by the dedication, but also by the sense of community that I felt throughout the visit. This is a gem," Payette said of her trip to the sprawling training base.
She made the comment at a reception hosted by Gallant at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery.
Payette was sworn in as Canada's 29th Governor General on Oct. 2.