December 06/18

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For today
False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 24/23-31: "If anyone says to you, "Look! Here is the Messiah!" or "There he is!" do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Take note, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, "Look! He is in the wilderness", do not go out. If they say, "Look! He is in the inner rooms", do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. ‘Immediately after the suffering of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see "the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven" with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 05-06/18
Lebanese President Rells Army To "Closely Moniter" Israeli IDF Anti-Tunnel/Jerusalem Post/December 05/18
Analysis/Tunnel Demolition Operation: Hezbollah Is in No Hurry to Battle Israel/Zvi Bar'el/Haaretz/December 05/18
Analysis/Attack Tunnels From Lebanon: Israel Robs Hezbollah of Major Offensive Asset
Hezbollah releases new tunnel operation footage/Ynetnews//December 05/18
What is Nasrallah up to?/Smadar Perry/Ynetnews/December 05/18
Resident of the north warned about tunnels but were ignored/Lior El Hai, Goel Beno/Ynetnews/December 05/18
France Faces a Typical Facebook Revolution/Leonid Bershidsky/Bloomberg/December,05/18
Climate Denialism and Its Weakness/Liam Denning/Bloomberg/December,05/18
Goodbye Qatar: What next for OPEC/Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady/ Al Arabiya/December 05/18

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on December 05-06/18
Lebanon says Israel offered no proof of border tunnels
LISTEN: Does Israel's Northern Op Mean War With Hezbollah and Iran?
Lebanese Uncertainty after Israeli Action Against Hezbollah Tunnels
Israel Holds Beirut Responsible for Hezbollah Tunnels
Russia Offers Reserved Support For Israel's Anti-Tunnel Operation
UNIFIL to Send Team to Israel to 'Ascertain Facts' on Border 'Tunnels'
Netanyahu complains about UNIFIL’s inaction to UN Secretary
Opposition Chief Says Netanyahu Overplayed Lebanon Border Operation
Aoun: Security, Judicial Agencies in Service of the Law
Foreign Ministry to File U.N. Complaint against Israel
Othman Says ISF 'Didn’t Open Fire' in Jahliyeh Although It's 'Justified'
Hariri: Developments on Southern Border Must Not Lead to Escalation
Alloush Says Jahliyeh Raid 'Coordinated' with Aoun
Wahhab Says 'Druze Hurdle' Back, Accuses Khawaja of 'Assassination' Bid
Israel Launches Air Balloon with Spy Camera over Mays al-Jabal
Report: Berri Says Israeli Tunnel Tale ‘Questionable’
Maronite Bishops Express Concern Over Absence of Glimmer of Hope
Central Bank: Lebanon Government to Start Issuing Local Currency Debt at Market Rates
Former Minister Blasts Removal of Ban on Pesticides
Lebanese President Rells Army To "Closely Moniter" Israeli IDF Anti-Tunnel
Tunnel Demolition Operation: Hezbollah Is in No Hurry to Battle Israel
Analysis/Attack Tunnels From Lebanon: Israel Robs Hezbollah of Major Offensive Asset/Amos
Hezbollah releases new tunnel operation footage
What is Nasrallah up to?
Resident of the north warned about tunnels but were ignored

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 05-06/18
US Ambassador to UN: Iran’s Missile Test Is Dangerous, Troubling
US Sends Aircraft Carrier to Gulf amid Iranian Threats
US to Iran’s Rouhani: We will ensure freedom of navigation in Strait of Hormuz
How Erdogan is cosying up with Doha for funds to offer sops before local polls?
Egypt hands Muslim Brotherhood leader another life sentence
Pope Tawadros II: Saudi Arabia a fundamental pillar for the Arab world
UN Team to Launch Probe Into ISIS Crimes in Iraq Early 2019
US Suggests Ending Astana, Sochi Talks on Syria
UN Listing Gives Lifeline to Syria's Last Shadow Puppeteer
Egypt, Kuwait Reaffirm Need to Boost Arab Cooperation
Yemen Peace Talks to Start Thursday in Sweden
Moscow Dismisses 'Groundless' U.S. Claim Russia Breaching Arms Treaty
Turkey Prosecutor Seeks Arrest of Two Saudi Crown Prince Allies over Khashoggi Murder
Brazilian Consul: Arrested Ghosn is Healthy, Wants Thrillers

Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on December 04-05/18
Lebanon says Israel offered no proof of border tunnels
AP, Beirut/Wednesday, 5 December 2018/Lebanon’s Parliament speaker, Nabih Berri, says Israel has presented no evidence to prove its claims that a network of attack tunnels has been built by Hezbollah across the countries’ shared borders.The IDF’s spokesperson, Avichay Adraee, had published new pictures on Wednesday claiming to show the block factory in Kafr Kila village, which has transformed into “the place from which Hezbolla’s tunnel starts”. Adraee also said that the tunnel crosses the border line by 40 meters into Israel and posted a 3D video of the border line and the block factory on his Twitter account.Nabih Berri, Lebanon’s parliament speaker and ally of Hezbollah, said Israel offered no “coordinates or information” about the tunnels during the regular weekly meeting. His comments were carried by the National News Agency.The UN peacekeeping mission meanwhile said Wednesday it will send a team to Israel to “ascertain facts,” calling for full access to all locations along the border. The mission said its regular weekly meeting with the Lebanese and Israeli armies discussed Israel’s “activities” searching for suspected tunnels. The Israeli military launched an operation on Tuesday to “expose and thwart” tunnels built by the Hezbollah militant group it says stretch from Lebanon into northern Israel. Adraee also tweeted a video of the operation.

LISTEN: Does Israel's Northern Op Mean War With Hezbollah and Iran?
Haaretz Weekly/ After weeks of hints that a big military operation is in the offing, Israel has launched a broad operation against Hezbollah tunnels. A snap audio-analysis with Haaretz's senior military correspondent Amos Hare.
In the early hours of Tuesday morning, the Israel Defense Forces launched Operation Northern Shield. The goal of the operation is to destroying tunnels constructed by Hezbollah, which cross from Lebanon, into Israeli territory. The IDF's chief spokesman told reporters that Israel was prepared for a broad operation over several weeks, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – hours after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Brussels – said that anyone who tries to harm the state of Israel will pay a heavy price. Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah is expected to deliver a speech in Beirut on Tuesday evening in response to the launch of the operation. In this breaking news episode of Haaretz Weekly, host Simon Spungin is joined by Haaretz's military correspondent, Amos Harel, to discuss the timing and ramifications of the operation.
Follow Haaretz Weekly on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play or wherever you get your podcasts.

Lebanese Uncertainty after Israeli Action Against Hezbollah Tunnels
Beirut - Tel Aviv - Caroline Akoum and Nazir Magally//Asharq Al Awsat/December 05/18/All eyes were on Lebanon’s southern border on Tuesday after the Israeli army said it tracked cross-border attack tunnels dug by “Hezbollah” and started an operation to destroy them in a move that is expected to increase tension between the two sides. Hezbollah on Tuesday watched the operation but remained silent, while sources close to Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri refused to comment on the Israeli move. President Michel Aoun’s office said he followed up on developments at the southern border area in a series of phone calls with Speaker Nabih Berri, Hariri and Army Commander General Joseph Aoun. “The Lebanese senior officials assessed the current situation in light of the available information and the dimension of the Israeli operation,” a communique said, adding that the President asked the security agencies to follow up closely on the current situation along the southern border. From the Lebanese side of the border, army units and UNIFIL forces had deployed to prevent any escalation or destabilization in the area. The Lebanese army command confirmed in a communique that the situation on the border remains calm and stable in the wake of Israel's announcement of its "Northern Shield" operation to look for alleged tunnels. "The situation is under close follow-up," the communique read, confirming its forces were fully prepared to confront any emergency. The Israeli move came hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to Brussels where he met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Political sources in Tel Aviv said the “urgent” meeting between the two men tackled developments related to Iran’s increasing activities in Lebanon rather than in Syria. “Anyone trying to harm Israel will pay a heavy price,” Netanyahu said Tuesday, adding that Tel Aviv would continue other actions, overt and covert, in order to ensure Israel's security. Later, Tel Aviv asked for a UN Security Council meeting to discuss the Hezbollah tunnels. In Washington, the White House gave full backing to the Israeli operation. “The US strongly supports Israel’s efforts to defend its sovereignty,” President Donald Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton said.

Israel Holds Beirut Responsible for Hezbollah Tunnels

New York - Ali Barada/Asharq Al Awsat/December 05/18/Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon has held the Lebanese government responsible for what he called “terror tunnels” that Hezbollah is building on the Lebanese-Israeli border through Iranian support. In a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the Security Council, the Israeli Ambassador demanded the world body condemn Hezbollah “in the strongest terms possible” and hold the Lebanese government “responsible for the dangerous destabilization of the region.”“The Lebanese government must abide by its international commitments” and fully implement Security Council resolutions, he wrote. “The construction of these tunnels, built by Hezbollah and funded by Iran, alongside the ongoing efforts to transfer arms, convert inaccurate projectiles into precision-guided missiles and manufacture precision-guided missiles in Lebanon, are a flagrant violation of Israel’s sovereignty,” Danon said. He also slammed “Hezbollah’s ongoing efforts to expand its military build-up and further destabilize the already volatile region.”

Russia Offers Reserved Support For Israel's Anti-Tunnel Operation
Jerusalem Post/December 05/18/The Russian embassy posted a tweet saying that there is “no doubt that Israel has the right to protect its national security. Moscow expressed reserved support on Wednesday for Israel's efforts to neutralize terror tunnels from Lebanon, but said it hoped these efforts will not conflict with UN Security Council Resolution 1701. That resolution from 2006 put an end to the Second Lebanon War and called for the Blue Line, the border between Israel and Lebanon, to be respected. The Russian embassy posted a tweet saying that there is “no doubt that Israel has the right to protect its national security, including to prevent the illegal entry of anyone into the country.” At the same time, the tweet continued, “we hope that the actions taken for this purpose will not conflict with UNSC Resolution 1701.” This tweet paraphrased and condensed comments Russian foreign Minister spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, made on Wednesday. Zakharova said that Russia hoped UNIFIL would fulfill its monitoring mission in southern Lebanon and “not allow any violations.”She also said that Moscow called on all parties “to show the necessary responsibility and restraint, to avoid provocative steps and harsh statements that can further aggravate tense situation.” While IDF and government spokespeople said Tuesday that the operation was taking place on Israel's side of the border, there was no guarantee that at some point in time it might spill over to the Lebanese side of the fence. Moscow's comments came a day after the US gave unreserved support for the operation. US National Security Adviser John Bolton issued a statement saying that the US “strongly supports Israel's efforts to defend its sovereignty, and we call on Hezbollah to stop its tunneling into Israel and to refrain from escalation and violence.”

UNIFIL to Send Team to Israel to 'Ascertain Facts' on Border 'Tunnels'

Associated Press/Naharnet/December 05/18/The U.N. peacekeeping mission in south Lebanon said Wednesday that it will send a team to Israel to "ascertain facts" after Israel said it started an operation to destroy alleged Hizbullah tunnels on the Lebanese border. Calling for full access to all locations along the border, the mission, known as UNIFIL, said its regular weekly meeting with the Lebanese and Israeli armies discussed Israel's "activities" searching for suspected tunnels. Earlier in the day, Speaker Nabih Berri, an ally of Hizbullah, said Israel offered no "coordinates or information" about the alleged tunnels. An Israeli army spokesman has said the "attack tunnels" were not yet operational. He declined to say how many had been detected or how they would be destroyed, but stressed all activities would take place within Israeli territory.

Netanyahu complains about UNIFIL’s inaction to UN Secretary

DEBKAfile/December 05/18/Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu complained on Wednesday to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres that UNIFIL had fallen down on its job of monitoring violations of UNSC Resolution 1701 on the Lebanese-Israeli border. DEBKAfile: Netanyahu demanded answers from the UN Secretary as to why the UN monitors disregarded Hizballah’s digging of terror tunnels under the border. His call to Guterres was in line with a joint US-Israeli plan agreed between Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo when they met in Brussels on Sunday, to either force UNIFIL to perform its mission or have it removed.

Opposition Chief Says Netanyahu Overplayed Lebanon Border Operation
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 05/18/Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday of over-dramatizing the army's discovery of alleged Hizbullah border tunnels for political gain. Livni told public radio that while she and the rest of the opposition welcomed the army's discovery of the suspected tunnels and their eventual demolition, "the incident must be kept in proportion." "We are not now in a situation where our soldiers are behind enemy lines," said Livni, who served as foreign minister during Israel's 2006 war with Hizbullah. "We are talking about engineering activity within the sovereign territory of the state of Israel," she added, accusing Netanyahu of "blowing the incident out of proportion."Israel announced on Tuesday that it had discovered Hizbullah tunnels infiltrating its territory from Lebanon and launched an operation to destroy them.
Israeli army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus said the "attack tunnels" dug by Hizbullah were not yet operational. He declined to say how many had been detected or how they would be destroyed, but stressed all activities would take place within Israeli territory.
Netanyahu, whose electoral appeal rests to a large extent on his image as Israel’s "Mr Security", went on television on Tuesday evening to explain the tunnel threat, with armed forces chief of staff Lieutenant General Gadi Eisenkot at his side. Netanyahu is seeking to hold his governing coalition together after last month's resignation of defense minister Avigdor Lieberman over a controversial Gaza ceasefire, which left him clinging to a one-seat majority in parliament. The premier took over the defense portfolio after Lieberman's resignation. He has also faced mounting legal woes, with police on Sunday recommending that he and his wife Sara be indicted for bribery, the third such recommendation against the premier in recent months. The army has dismissed any suggestion of political influence in the operation, but some in the opposition, while supporting the army's actions, have pointed to how Netanyahu handled the announcement.
Livni alleged that part of Netanyahu's thinking was to deflect criticism from residents of southern Israel who say he has failed to quash the threat of cross-border rocket fire from militants in the Gaza Strip."Therefore he made a defensive engineering event into a dramatic military operation," she said. "This was done from two reasons -- either the prime minister is himself panicking or he wants to sow panic to justify his actions both in delaying elections and abandoning the residents of southern Israel." Livni later told foreign journalists in a phone briefing that the international community should bring greater pressure on Lebanon over Hizbullah's activities.

Aoun: Security, Judicial Agencies in Service of the Law
Naharnet/December 05/18/President Michel Aoun stressed Wednesday that a strong state cannot protect corruption as he emphasized that the security and judicial authorities are “in the service of the law.”“The journey of combating corruption that started two years ago has achieved progress in many fields but this is not sufficient. It will continue vigorously despite the obstacles that are being put in its face and no one will manage to stop it,” Aoun told a delegation from the Friends of the Public School Association. He added: “Security and judicial agencies will always be in the service of citizens, the law and justice, in order to preserve rights, public safety and food safety as well as to fight smuggling.”

Foreign Ministry to File U.N. Complaint against Israel
Naharnet/December 05/18/Caretaker Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil on Wednesday instructed ministry officials to prepare a U.N. Security Council complaint against Israel over its repeated violation of Lebanese sovereignty. Bassil said Israel carries out around 150 violations every month. The minister’s move comes a day after Israel said it started an operation to destroy suspected Hizbullah tunnels on Lebanon’s border. Israel also launched a balloon carrying surveillance cameras on Wednesday towards the Lebanese border town of Mays al-Jabal. Israeli warplanes and drones meanwhile violate Lebanese airspace on near-daily basis while maritime and territorial violations are also frequent.

Othman Says ISF 'Didn’t Open Fire' in Jahliyeh Although It's 'Justified'
Naharnet/December 05/18/The Internal Security Forces chief Maj. Gen. Imad Othman stressed on Wednesday that although the ISF members are “allowed to use their weapons” during an operation, but they “did not use that right to fire gunshots yesterday” (during Saturday’s Jahlieyh raid).
“Individuals bearing the right to use arms did not use that right to fire gunshots yesterday,” said Othman in remarks during a conference on the achievements of the security apparatus. He emphasized that ISF arrest operations always begin with a judicial writ, “when we head to arrest someone we begin with a judicial writ and end with a judicial writ. We perfectly know our rights and ask you to know yours.”Othman was referring to Saturday’s incident in Jahliyeh during an ISF operation to summon ex-Minister Wiam Wahhab. Wahhab’s bodyguard, Mohammed Bou Diab, died of his wounds after gunfire erupted with the arrival of the force to Wahhab’s house. The ex-minister has argued that Bou Diab was killed by a gunshot fired by security forces but the ISF has disputed his claim, stressing that the man was hit by a gunshot fired by Wahhab’s supporters and that its force did not fire any arms during the incident.
Wahhab was summoned in connection with a lawsuit filed against him by a number of lawyers for insults he launched against Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri and his slain father Rafik Hariri.”“The security forces carry out their duties to combat crime on the entire Lebanese territories. The Lebanese people have sensed the progress achieved so far,” concluded Othman.

Hariri: Developments on Southern Border Must Not Lead to Escalation

Naharnet/December 05/18/Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri announced Wednesday that Israel’s operation to destroy alleged Hizbullah tunnels on Lebanon’s border should not lead to “any escalation.”“The developments on the southern border must not represent a reason for any escalation, and this is what Lebanon wants and is seeking with all the international and friendly sides concerned with this,” Hariri said in a statement. “The Lebanese government stresses commitment to the full obligations of Resolution 1701 and to the ongoing coordination and cooperation between Lebanese authorities and U.N. forces. It also asserts that the responsibility for protecting the border and extending legitimate authority along the entire border falls on the Lebanese Army, in line with the requirements of international legitimacy and the declared resolutions in this regard,” the PM-designate said. Slamming “Israel’s continued violation of Lebanese airspace and territorial waters,” Hariri added that the Lebanese government will continue the issue with “the relevant parties of the U.N. General Secretariat and the member states of the U.N. Security Council.”

Alloush Says Jahliyeh Raid 'Coordinated' with Aoun
Naharnet/December 05/18/Al-Mustaqbal Movement official ex-MP Mustafa Alloush announced Wednesday that a controversial Internal Security Forces operation in the Chouf town of Jahliyeh had been “coordinated” with President Michel Aoun. “The operation was coordinated with the President,” Alloush said in a video interview with the IMLebanon website. “All its details and its entire course were not withheld from the president,” the ex-MP claimed. “They (March 8 forces) know that such an operation in such a situation and in the presence of a caretaker cabinet cannot take place without an agreement with the President,” Alloush went on to say. “The president is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces,” the former lawmaker pointed out. “He could have taken punitive measures against the security officials” had the operation lacked judicial legitimacy as Wahhab is claiming, Alloush added. Informed sources meanwhile told LBCI TV that Aoun’s stance on what happened in Jahliyeh and the previous and subsequent verbal attacks “were clearly stated in the speech he delivered at the opening of the national library.”“What Mustafa Alloush said about President Aoun’s prior knowledge of the security operation in Jahliyeh requires him to disclose the side that told him that the operation was coordinated with the President so that his remarks can enjoy credibility,” the sources added.

Wahhab Says 'Druze Hurdle' Back, Accuses Khawaja of 'Assassination' Bid

Naharnet/December 05/18/Ex-minister Wiam Wahhab on Wednesday announced that the so-called Druze obstacle “has returned,” nominating MP Talal Arslan for the “third Druze seat” and a “key ministerial portfolio.”At a press conference, Wahhab linked his announcement to the Jahliyeh operation and to the support he received from Hizbullah, Arslan and other March 8 forces in the wake of the failed bid to arrest him. “The equation has changed,” he said. Wahhab also described the Internal Security Forces operation in Jahliyeh as an “assassination” attempt against him that was allegedly requested by the businessman Alaa al-Khawaja and “implemented” by Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri. “There is blood now on Hariri’s hands, he has become embroiled in corruption and he is no longer eligible for the premiership,” Wahhab added, referring to the death of his bodyguard Mohammed Bou Diab during the ISF raid. “During my conversations with the March 8 forces who offered me condolences, I sensed that they were pressing for the designation of someone other than Saad Hariri but the issue is in Hizbullah’s hands,” the ex-minister added. He also stressed that “there is no animosity with the Progressive Socialist Party but rather political rivalry.”

Israel Launches Air Balloon with Spy Camera over Mays al-Jabal
Naharnet/December 05/18/The Israeli army launched on Wednesday an air balloon with surveillance cameras from one of its military positions opposite the area of Kroum al-Sharaqi- Mays al-Jabal, in the district of Marjayoun, the National News Agency reported on Wednesday. NNA added that Israeli troops have also installed a surveillance camera, over the cement separation wall between Lebanon and occupied Palestine, in the area of al-Abbara near Kfarkila. The camera was pointed at the Lebanese territories, it said. The Israeli activity comes one day after it announced an operation against what it said were Hizbullah infiltration tunnels. The operation dubbed "Northern Shield" aims to destroy "attack tunnels" that Israel accused the Iran-backed Hizbullah of digging under the border.

Report: Berri Says Israeli Tunnel Tale ‘Questionable’
Naharnet/December 05/18/In addition to receiving a telephone call from President Michel Aoun, Speaker Nabih Berri received a similar call from the army leadership, the main objective of which was how to deal with the latest Israeli developments, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Wednesday.
Berri also received a phone call from the U.S. Ambassador Elizabeth Richard. It was clear that the Ambassador adhered to the backing position of the US administration to an Israeli army operation to destroy tunnels allegedly built by Hizbullah under the border with Lebanon, added the daily.
Doubting the Israeli claims, Berri said: “The Israeli tale about the existence of a tunnel in Kfarkla is questionable. Lebanon is asking to be provided with the details that determine the location of this tunnel and the validity of the Israeli claims about its existence.”He stressed that Lebanon will not stand idle shall Israel expand digging into Lebanese territories. “Israel is free to dig in the territories it occupies, but if it expands the digging towards Lebanese territories then we will have another position,” said the Speaker. He assured that Lebanon will “express a clear stance during a tripartite meeting expected on Wednesday in al-Naqoura,” and chaired by UNIFIL head with the Lebanese army and Israeli army. Tripartite meetings have been held regularly under the auspices of UNIFIL since the end of the 2006 war. They have become an essential conflict management and confidence building mechanism between the parties. The Israeli army said Tuesday it had detected Hizbullah tunnels infiltrating its territory from Lebanon and had launched an operation to cut them off. "We have launched Operation Northern Shield to expose and thwart cross-border attack tunnels dug by Hizbullah terror organisation from Lebanon into Israel," Israeli army spokesman Jonathan Conricus had said.

Maronite Bishops Express Concern Over Absence of Glimmer of Hope 05th December 2018/The Council of Maronite Bishops on Wednesday expressed deep concern over the absence of any glimmer of hope regarding the government formation, blaming the political forces' intransigence and the emerging internal events for the ongoing stalemate. In a statement issued following their monthly meeting, the bishops renewed their call for officials to fear God when serving the nation and its people, adding that the delay in the government formation is unjustified because nothing is more important than rescuing the country. The council said that Syrian refugee crisis is getting more complicated, stressing the need to engage in talks with the relevant international organizations, world powers and local authorities in order to draw a plan for the refugees’ return to safe areas, "which have become numerous", inside Syria. “Without neglecting the humanitarian duty which requires standing by the refugees' side, it is noteworthy to mention that Lebanon can no longer endure the burden that the refugee crisis is entailing in terms of the economy, security and the Lebanese citizens’ rights,” the bishops stressed.

Central Bank: Lebanon Government to Start Issuing Local Currency Debt at Market Rates
Reuters/Wednesday 05th December 2018/Lebanon’s central bank said on Tuesday the government would start issuing local currency debt at market rates to encourage banks to buy the debt, rather than putting their money in the central bank for more attractive rates. “The state now will issue bonds as the central bank does, with rates similar to those of the central bank,” Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh told Reuters, adding that the Bank of Lebanon’s benchmark ten-year rate is 10.5 percent. Highly-indebted Lebanon’s financial system has encouraged commercial banks to place foreign currency in the central bank for high returns, as Salameh seeks to maintain high foreign reserves to defend the Lebanese pound’s peg to the dollar as the economy stagnates and a political stalemate drags on. As a result, commercial banks have gradually stopped subscribing to weekly treasury bill auctions. This means the central bank has been left to buy up government debt - incurring losses on the difference between the interest it receives on this and the high interest rates it pays out to commercial banks to keep money flowing in. Salameh said he and Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil had on Tuesday agreed a plan to attract funding for government debt issuances and said Lebanon’s banking sector is capable of financing the state’s foreign and domestic debt in 2019. “We agreed this system for paying foreign and domestic debts is within our capabilities and within the capacities available to the banking sector,” Salameh said in televised remarks after meeting Khalil. Under the plan, banks will exchange their dollar deposits at the central bank for Lebanese pound debt at market rates. “These will not be short-term issues, but issues of 10, 15, 20 years,” Salameh said.He said the banks were in a position to fund government debt because of the financial engineering and operations which the central bank has carried out over the past three years. “Therefore the situation will continue to be stable, be it on the level of the Lebanese pound’s exchange rate or credit in Lebanon,” he said. Lebanon has the world’s third highest debt-to-GDP ratio and stagnant growth. The International Monetary Fund said in June that reforms are urgently needed to put the debt on a sustainable footing. But almost seven months since the parliamentary election, Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri has hit a wall in efforts to form a national unity government as political factions jostle for positions in a new cabinet.

Former Minister Blasts Removal of Ban on Pesticides 05th December 2018/Former Health Minister Wael Abu Faour on Wednesday warned of the decision to lift a ban on previously prohibited agricultural products, revealing that the import of certain carcinogenic pesticides has been allowed again.
"Who is responsible of the safety and the health of the Lebanese people?" Abu Faour asked, demanding that the ministries of health and agriculture take immediate action.

Lebanese President Rells Army To "Closely Moniter" Israeli IDF Anti-Tunnel
Jerusalem Post/December 05/18

After Operation Northern Shield was launched by the IDF earlier on Tuesday, the president held a series of phone calls involving Lebanese parliament speakers, the prime minister-designate and the LAF.
President of Lebanon Michel Aoun called on Lebanon's military and security wings to "closely monitor" the situation in the south on Tuesday, in response to the initiation of the IDF's Operation Northern Shield, according to Lebanese news agency Naharnet. The IDF had launched an operation in which the military is seeking out and destroying suspected Hezbollah built tunnels leading into Israel.
After Operation Northern Shield was launched by the IDF earlier Tuesday, the president held a series of phone calls involving Lebanese parliament speakers, the prime minister-designate and the army commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces, according to the National News Agency (NNA).
"During President Aoun's phone calls, the situation was evaluated in light of the available information about the Israeli objectives and the security agencies were asked to closely monitor the situation," the NNA said.
In a related speech, Aoun spoke about strife within the Lebanese government. According to Naharnet, he called on all of Lebanon's leaders to "understand the severity of the situation that the country is going through amid the hostile practices and increasing threats, in addition to the financial and economic damage we are facing.”
“It has become the duty of us all to unite efforts to overcome this situation,” the president concluded.
The Lebanese army has reacted and confirmed it is watching the situation closely for any provocations.
An official from the "Axis-of-Resistance" - an Iranian-backed group consisting of Syrian officials, Iraqi Shi'ite militias, Hezbollah members and others - said that Hezbollah was "on high alert to confront any possible Israeli aggression."
Hezbollah official and aide to leader Hassan Nasrallah, Hussein al-Khalil, met with other members of the Progressive Socialist Party of Lebanon and said, "the common concern with the PSP is to spare Lebanon any security setback.”
Lebanon has not finalized their government or government roles as of now, and according to the Lebanese Daily Star, Hezbollah officials said on Tuesday that the "escalation" from the IDF's operation bordering Lebanon's south should create urgency in finalizing the cabinet formation. This is assumed in case the IDF further instigates the situation and the Lebanese parliament would have to swiftly be able to declare war if needed.
The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon released a statement Tuesday in regard to Operation Northern Shield, in which the UN peacekeeping branch said that the "UNIFIL was informed by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) this morning that they have started activities south of the Blue Line to look for suspected tunnels."
"The overall situation in UNIFIL’s area of operation remains calm and UNIFIL is working with all interlocutors in order to maintain the overall stability," the statement continued. "UNIFIL peacekeepers have further increased their patrolling along the Blue Line, together with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), to maintain the overall stability and avoid misunderstandings that could lead to any escalation."
UNIFIL Head of Mission and Force Commander Maj.-Gen. Stefano Del Col is in close contact with both LAF and the IDF, and is again urging all parties to use UNIFIL’s liaison, coordination and tripartite mechanisms in de-escalating any tension.
"UNIFIL’s liaison teams are operating on both sides of the Blue Line," the UNIFIL said. "UNIFIL monitors the Blue Line around-the-clock and reports all violations of the UN Security Council resolution 1701, which forms the core of UNIFIL’s mandate."
The above statements are in regard to the cross-border Hezbollah tunnel which was destroyed Tuesday morning and the operational presence of the IDF around the Israeli-Lebanese border.
The tunnel in question began in a home in the Lebanese border village of Kfar Kila and extended some 40 meters inside Israeli territory near the town of Metulla, the IDF said Tuesday.
It was the first tunnel the IDF has discovered as part of Operation Northern Shield launched to neutralize offensive tunnels crossing the “Blue Line,” the border demarcation between Lebanon and Israel published by the United Nations in June 2000 to verify that the Jewish State had fully withdrawn from Lebanon.
According to the IDF, Hezbollah miners took two years to burrow their 180-meter-long shaft through the basalt into Israel. The tunnel, located 27 meters below the surface, measured two meters feet wide and tall. It was fitted with electrical and communication infrastructure, as well as a ventilation system.
“The digging of the cross-border attack tunnels that the IDF has discovered, before the attack tunnels became operational and posed an imminent threat to the safety of Israeli civilians, constitutes a flagrant and severe violation of Israeli sovereignty,” said IDF spokesman Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis.
For the time being, the operation is being limited to Israeli territory. Other tunnels may be destroyed within Lebanon in the future.
“We are prepared for all options, and the operation is only in its first day. The neutralizing of the tunnels will not necessarily take place within our territory,” Manelis said.
Operation Northern Shield will be led bb the OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoel Strick and includes troops from the combat engineering corps and the intelligence Branch. Specialists from the Defense Ministry’s administration for the development of weapons and technological infrastructure are taking part as well in the operation.
As the situation in the North continues to intensify, the IDF will need to walk a fine line to maintain the security of the State of Israel without interfering with Lebanese sovereignty and sacrificing an all-out-war with Lebanon, Hezbollah and Iran and their allies by proxy. As for now, the situation remains calm, however further instigation from either side would be deemed irresponsible.
So far no official comment by Hezbollah has been made.
*Anna Ahronheim contributed to this report.

Analysis/Tunnel Demolition Operation: Hezbollah Is in No Hurry to Battle Israel
زفي برئيل من الهآررتس: فيما يتعلق بتمير إسرائيل لأنفاق حزب الله فإن الحزب غير مستعجل على الحرب معها

Zvi Bar'el/Haaretz/December 05/18
The Shi’ite militia has managed to forge an equilibrium after the 2006 war that allows it to grow stronger in southern Lebanon and act freely in Syria: they have no interest in upsetting the balance at this time.
When Israel cannot bombard Syria, or at least cannot act freely like it did before the downing of the Russian plane by Syrian missiles, it brings the Lebanese front closer, a front that has been quiet for years. Moving the front from Syria to Lebanon, if that is indeed Israel’s intention, narrows its strategic objectives and positions them around Hezbollah – as opposed to the broader objectives of the war against Iran in Syria.
If Israel made it clear in Syria, with the full backing of the United States, that it would not let Iran establish itself along the border, and use its attacks not only to stop the transfer of weapons and equipment from Iran – via Syria – to Hezbollah, and also to convey an aggressive message to Iran; now Israel is restricted to working diplomatically against Iran in Syria. And if Israel plans on working against Hezbollah, it will have to do so in Lebanon.
Another message came from Jeffrey on Tuesday when, in a meeting with the ambassadors of France, Britain, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, he proposed creating no-fly zones in Syria like the ones in Iraq in the 1990s after the first Gulf War. The very suggestion could show a American attempt to restrict not only Russia’s involvement – through the United Nations, but also Israel’s involvement. Jeffrey’s suggestion will probably not come to fruition, especially because of Russia’s opposition, but it contains an undisguised hint to Israel as well.
At the same time, it seems that reviving the fighting in Lebanon, as an alternative to Syria, is an undesirable scenario for both for Israel and Hezbollah. For now, this scenario could only occur as a result of a tactical mistake in the field, such as a strike against Hezbollah fighters or unconstrained shooting by Hezbollah at Israeli engineering equipment.
This turn of events was clearly alluded to by the U.S. special envoy for Syria, James Jeffrey, who in a briefing last month to the media said that the departure of Iranian forces from Syria would come through diplomatic and political efforts, that is, not through the use of force.
Hezbollah has been in the throes of a political entanglement over the past few months that has made it difficult for it to reap the full political capital it desires in its efforts to establish a government in Lebanon. Hezbollah wants to establish a bloc with at least 11 ministers in the Lebanese government, so it can stop crucial decisions that are not to its liking.
According to the Lebanese constitution, such major decisions, like budgets, national projects or treaties, require the support of two thirds of the cabinet. So it is enough if one of the blocs has a majority of one-third plus one (11 out of the 30 cabinet ministers) to block any major decision.
To reach the necessary number, Hezbollah needs one Sunni minister (because it has already exhausted its quota of Shi’ite ministers) from among the Sunni members of parliament who support the organization. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a Sunni, is against this, because adding a Sunni minister will not only come at the expense of the quota of ministers from his bloc, he also does not want to give Hezbollah the political power to which it aspires. And as long as no agreement exists on the formation of a government, there is no body that can make decisions, which has been the case since the elections in Lebanon in May.
This political struggle is preoccupying Hezbollah at the moment, and it does not want to test its strength again against Israel in a violent clash now. Such a clash would compel Hezbollah to breach the convenient balance of deterrence that it has managed to forge since the Second Lebanon War.
In Hezbollah’s view, this balance of deterrence has so far kept the peace and quiet on the border and has allowed the Shi’ite organization to grow stronger in southern Lebanon – and not only there; it has allowed it almost unimpeded action in Syria, without fear that Israel will take advantage of the opportunity and attack it in Lebanon, as well as enabling Hezbollah to hold on to its political power – thanks to its ability to threaten that it can always cause Israel to attack Lebanon if it decides to act against it.
Hezbollah’s assumption, or at least its hope, is that Israel is also satisfied with the balance of deterrence and that it does not intend to strike. So far, neither Hezbollah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah nor any of his senior deputies has issued an official statement about the Israeli army’s operation against the tunnels along the border with northern Israel.
It seems that as long as Israel is operating in its own territory and does not cross the border into Lebanon – on the ground – Hezbollah will continue its policy of shrugging its shoulders. The more serious threat lies in the possibility that Israel will decide to attack the missile factories inside Lebanon and thus force Hezbollah to respond.
Israel has been trying recently to convey aggressive messages to Iran and Hezbollah via European countries and Russia, and to a lesser extent through the United States. The problem is that this pressure does not have an effective address.
Israel can declare that it considers the Lebanese government responsible for developments but with no government, there is also no one to pressure Hezbollah. The United States can freeze the record-high assistance it is giving the Lebanese army, but this will be shooting itself in the foot.
Russia, which wants peace and quiet in Lebanon, can theoretically demand that Iran rein in Hezbollah, but it needs Iran to promote the political process in Syria, just like Iran needs Russia to get around the American sanctions.
Saudi Arabia, which has tried to spark a revolution in Lebanon, folded after the fiasco of Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri’s resignation, and its leverage in Lebanon is very limited. At the same time, Israel is actually the most sensitive to international pressure, both from Russia and the United States, as well as from Egypt, which is working vigorously in Gaza and does not want to be dragged into a diplomatic fight in a conflict that is not a threat to it.
In this tense web of pressure, Israel needs insight and great caution when it tries to push the limits and test its options in Lebanon, because this arena is no longer just a local framework, limited to a Lebanese-Israeli brawl, but rather, it has the potential to lead to a broader conflict in which the world powers might become involved.

Analysis/Attack Tunnels From Lebanon: Israel Robs Hezbollah of Major Offensive Asset
عاموس هاريل من الهآررتس: ضرب إسرائل لأنفاق حزب الله على الحدود مع لبنان يحرم الحزب من امكانيات هجومية كبيرة

Amos Harel/Haaretz/December 05/18
Despite its charged name, Operation Northern Shield is a defensive campaign which is not expected to spark an escalation. The question is how Iran will respond
The events on Tuesday morning now allow to state out loud what could only be hinted at recently due to the heavy restrictions imposed by the military censor: The Israeli army has embarked on the public phase of a wide-scale operation to find and destroy attack tunnels that Hezbollah has dug under the Lebanese border with Israel.
This is the immediate backdrop to the growing nervousness on the northern front in recent weeks, to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's lightning visit to Brussels on Monday, where he met with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the situation in the north, and also apparently to the hints that Netanyahu made about two weeks ago about an emergency security situation that he said required the Habayit Hayehudit party to remain in his faltering government coalition.
Despite Tuesday morning's dramatic announcements and the highly symbolic name chosen for the current operation – Operation Northern Shield – the steps being taken by Israel are far from a harbinger of war. Israel is carrying out legitimate defensive activity, in its own territory, to foil offensive preparations that Hezbollah has carried out for a future move against the country.
The engineering work is being conducted on the Israeli side of the border and is addressing the violation of Israeli sovereignty by Hezbollah, which has dug tunnels into Israel territory. (And of course Israel hasn’t refrained either from taking action violating Lebanese and Syrian sovereignty; in recent years, the Israel Air Force has attacked Syrian territory hundreds of times and has frequently flown over Lebanon to collect intelligence information and as a deterrence).
The Israeli move now deprives Hezbollah of an important offensive card that the Lebanese militia group had been saving in the event war breaks out. From its standpoint, this is a major operational disappointment, but it's far from constituting a reason to start a war at this time. According to the assessments in Israel, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is not interested in war and actually serves as a restraining force in decision-making among Tehran, Damascus and Beirut – despite his frequent public threats.
The Israeli prime minister's trip to Brussels on Monday apparently had two components: Coordination with the Americans on Israel's military steps to find the tunnels, and conveying another strong warning signal to the Lebanese government that it should sit quietly and try to rein in Hezbollah to prevent an escalation along the border.
The more disturbing question is how Iran will react in the future – and whether it will find a way to exact a price from Israel, perhaps on another border, for foiling its operational plans. Undertaking the tunnel project has been an expensive, secret venture of critical importance to Iran and Hezbollah. It's clear that the Iranians have also been in the picture – and that some of the operational insights have relied on knowledge gained by Hamas in its own underground activity in the Gaza Strip over the past decade.
The Israeli defense establishment achieved a technological and intelligence breakthrough in finding the tunnels in Gaza about a year ago, and has since located and destroyed nearly 15 attack tunnels on both sides of the Israeli-Gaza border. But this important operational success also gradually contributed to the deterioration later on between Israel and Hamas and prompted Hamas to deliberately heat things up along the Gaza border with Israel, with the demonstrations that began at the end of March.
Digging tunnels in the ground, like locating the tunnels, on the northern border is an immeasurably difficult task. The Israeli army disclosed minimal detail on Tuesday regarding its preparations in this regard in recent years - an understanding formulated in 2012 that when Hezbollah talks about a future plan to "conquer the Galilee," it also includes plans for a surprise attack through tunnels; and convening a special team in 2014 to examine the problem and frequent efforts in recent years to find tunnels.
The Israeli army has yet to reveal how many years have elapsed since the tunnels were dug and how long it was until they were discovered (but it was apparently a considerable period); whether it suspects that there are more tunnels in addition to those that have been found; and whether there might have been reason to undertake such a step several months back when the ongoing preparations to act began.
Another question relates to the political realm. In a speech on November 18, Netanyahu said the country was expecting a period with security challenges and added that the public would be required to "sacrifice." The outgoing defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, minimized the importance of the comments, and apparently the members of the cabinet from the Habayit Hayehudi party, who decided to stay in the government, were not convinced that there was a danger of war.
Nevertheless, on Tuesday morning, a significant security challenge was disclosed that now requires close personal involvement from the prime minister, from army Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and from the head of the army's Northern Command, Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick. It should be remembered that the tunnels are not the only urgent issue on the agenda. Israel has also been warning of the consequences of Iran's plans to set up precision weaponry plants for Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Israel also needs to be prepared for changes being dictated by Russia, which to a great extent has closed Syrian airspace to attacks by the Israel Air Force, but has also forced Iran to curtail its weapons smuggling convoys.

Hezbollah releases new tunnel operation footage
تقرير عن الأنفاق من صحيفة صحيفة يديعوت أحرونوت: حزب الله يوزع لقطات جديدة للأنفاق
Ynetnews//December 05/18
After IDF launches Operation Northern Shield near Metula, Hezbollah releases footage of the Israeli army operating near moshav Zar'it; meanwhile, a Lebanese television station airs footage of the 'cement factory' that concealed Hezbollah's tunnel destroyed by IDF, in an attempt to show that it wasn't used for terrorist activity.
Hezbollah released purported footage of IDF engineers taking part in Operation Northern Shield to locate and neutralize infiltration tunnels near southwestern Lebanon, adjacent to moshav Zar'it, on Wednesday. Also, Lebanese media aired footage of the concrete block factory that concealed the Hezbollah tunnel that was destroyed by IDF Tuesday. According to the terror organization, the footage was taken near the village of Ramyah in the Bint Jbeil District.
Hezbollah noted the exact location of where the photos were taken in an attempt to show that they continue to monitor the events on the other side of the border as Operation Northern shield enters its second day.
At the beginning of the operation, IDF said additional tunnels might exist across the border area—from Rosh HaNikra in the Western Galilee to Metula in the East.
The footage was published by Hezbollah spokesmen, along with the caption "the army of the Israeli enemy began digging next to the barb wire fence opposite Ramyah village in the western part of southern Lebanon."
Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry said that "Israel has the right to protect itself as well as preventing illegal entry into its territory."
"We hope that the actions taking place will not violate UN resolution 1701, and expect the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to fulfill its mission," the ministry added.
"We call on both sides to show restraint and responsibility, avoiding provocative actions and statements, which would escalate tensions on the Israeli-Lebanese border," it concluded.
The IDF estimates that the critical mass of the tunnels revealed by the IDF on Tuesday will be exposed to the public in the upcoming weeks. However, the neutralization of the tunnels will last several weeks, during which the state of alert in the north is expected to remain high.
The army is preparing for two scenarios that might lead to a violent retaliation by the Shi’ite terrorist ‎group: an explosion or deliberate collapse of the tunnels which might harm Hezbollah members, or spillage of the IDF's operation into, or underneath, Lebanese territory. Moreover, the stormy weather expected over the weekend could affect the ground, to the benefit or detriment of either side. It appears Hezbollah has only dug a few tunnels that cross into Israel. Nevertheless, additional tunnels might be discovered in the future.
On Tuesday, the IDF Spokesperson's Unit, released camera footage of a Hezbollah tunnel near Metula.
The video captured two Hezbollah terrorists approaching the hidden IDF camera and running away from it, as a device, which was attached to it, explodes.
The footage shows the tunnel at its very last moment, before being completely destroyed. The 200-meter tunnel, which was dug near Metula, seems to have been operational.
"Minutes after Operation Northern Shield was launched, we inserted a camera 25 meter deep into the tunnel, which captured Hezbollah members approaching it, and then trying to escape the tunnel as a small explosive device, which was attached to the camera, exploded," IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis said.
IDF spokesperson revealed additional information about the tunnel. "The tunnel was dug underneath a civilian building that served as a civilian concrete block factory until 2014, only a few meters from UNIFIL's post and patrols," he said
On Wednesday Aljadeed TV, a Lebanese television station, aired footage of the "cement factory" in order to show that no terrorist activity has taken place there.
In 2009, civilian work appears to have occurred at the plant, work which was suspended in October 2014, two months after the conclusion of Operation Protective Edge.
“We monitored this structure in 2014 and saw that civilian activity in the plant began declining while military activity increased,” Manelis explained. “We started to see unusual activity under the guise of a civilian activity: we saw vehicles and trucks transporting dirt from the plant to a nearby area in Kafr Kela. In fact, they were clearing the dirt from the tunnel construction. Hezbollah tried to hide this from us, from Lebanon civilians, and from UNIFIL.”
In October 2015, a military generator was spotted in the area, and a month later a guard post was placed there.
The tunnel was most likely dug over a period of two years. It stretches from a residential structure in the south of Kafr Kela in Lebanon and reaches 40 meters (130 feet) into Israeli territory. The 200-meters-long (656 feet) tunnel is about two meters tall and two meters wide (6 feet 7 inches) and includes ventilation systems, electricity and piping. It was dug 25 meters (82 feet) underground.
The Lebanese "Block Factory"
Unlike the tunnels Hamas is digging in Gaza, Hezbollah's tunnel does not require concrete walls as it is supported by the rocky terrain it was dug through.
The total population of Kafr Kela, the village from which the tunnel was dug, is about 15,000. Its altitude is around 700 meters above sea level, and it is very close to the border and the Fatima Gate, also known as the Good Fence Crossing, a former border crossing between Lebanon and Israel.
In the 1980s, many of the villagers served in the South Lebanon Army (SLA), but after the Israeli withdrawal in 2000, some villagers fled the area and others joined Hezbollah. In recent years, the village has been considered a Hezbollah stronghold.
During the Second Lebanon War, the villagers received a warning to leave their homes, and most of them fled the area. Later on, fire exchanges between IDF fighters and Hezbollah terrorists commenced and the Israeli Air Force bombed the area. In 2012, to stop drug smugglers who were throwing contraband sacks over the fence, a wall was erected.
**Yoav Zitun, Daniel Salami, and Itamar Eichner contributed to this report.

What is Nasrallah up to?
سمدرا بري من صحيفة يديعوت أحرونوت: ما الذي يريد حسن نصرالله الوصول إليه؟
Smadar Perry/Ynetnews/December 05/18
Analysis: Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah knows that Israel knows his exact whereabouts but yet refrains from targeting him, unless perhaps if he allows Iran to drag his organization to a war which Lebanon can ill afford right now.
Where is Hassan Nasrallah? On Tuesday, three Lebanese parliamentarians and newspaper editors tried to pressure Hezbollah's secretary-general to appear and deliver a "vigorous speech," not only to refute information circulated by Israel, but also to threaten Israel with a wide-scale operation. But Nasrallah chose not to respond. He himself has threatened, on multiple occasions, to attack northern Israel and over the weekend Hezbollah broadcast a video displaying "targets" in Israel, with maps of IDF bases, Defense Ministry headquarters and threats in Nasrallah's voice.
But on Tuesday, Nasrallah preferred to dispatch Hezbollah fighters, in civilian clothing, to portray an image of calm from the villages of south Lebanon. I hear from senior officials in Beirut that Nasrallah has in recent days played a moderating role between Hezbollah, Iran and Syria, which is re-eyeing Lebanon enviously. Nasrallah sent his men to inform the Iranians that "this is not the right time to enter into confrontations with Israel."
The tunnels in southern Lebanon are nothing new. Ask residents in the northern communities how, over the last few years, they have been hearing the sound of digging tunnels. What is new is the massive Iranian presence that is now coming out of Syria.
The Iranians who failed to securely entrench themselves in Syria seek to turn Lebanon into an arena of confrontation with Israel and to recruit Hezbollah for the task.
Nasrallah is already stuck in a confrontation with Lebanese Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri on the formation of his new government coalition. But the two have a common interest: Neither of them needs a confrontation with Israeli now. Hariri also does not want the Iranians and the Syrians in Lebanon at all. Hariri met with US Ambassador to Lebanon Elizabeth Richards to convey the message that he cannot afford a new round of confrontation with Israel.
Once again we read in the Russian media, not coincidentally, that Israel is plotting to expand the operation into Lebanon in order to eliminate Nasrallah. But even Nasrallah knows that this is not Israel’s intention. One can even say that Nasrallah is actually protected. Israel has no plans to eliminate him now, and we know that if Nasrallah disappears, there is always a willing new leader for Hezbollah to take his place. Israel has grown accustomed to Nasrallah and his dramatic performances are familiar to us, with all the threats he likes to issue.
We must recall that Hezbollah has huge quantities of missiles, some of which can reach almost the entire territory of the State of Israel. And yet Hezbollah does not use them. And another fact: Israel knows exactly where Nasrallah is hiding, at what address, on what floor, and yet did not even try to kill him once. To some extent he is protected, unless he commits a terrible folly.
It is likely that he will appear within a few days to convey a message to his organization's members, to the Lebanese government, and to Israel as well.

Resident of the north warned about tunnels but were ignored
تقرير من صحيفة يديعوت أحرونوت: سكان الشمال الإسرائيلي خذروا من الأنفاق لإر أنهم أهملوا الأمر
Lior El Hai, Goel Beno/Ynetnews/December 05/18

Residents of the north say they've been notifying authorities about tunnel threat for years, but were blatantly ignored; Gabbi was told 'the rocky ground is not fit for tunnel digging'; it turns out the residents were right all along—Hezbollah men were walking under their feet.
Residents of the north, residing in the vicinity of the Lebanese border, said Wednesday, following the launch of Operation Northern Shield, that they have been notifying authorities about the tunnel threat for years, but were blatantly ignored.
"I told the army I was hearing strange noises back in 2013. They came, checked the area and told me the noise came from a water pool and a stalactite cave. Now I know I was right," said Shula Asayag, 70, who has been living in Zar'it, a moshav near the Lebanese border, for the past 50 years. She is not the only one. Many residents of the north said at the launch of Operation Northern Shield Tuesday that they told authorities about Hezbollah's tunnels a long time ago, but no one was listening.
"For years, when my children come to visit, they are too afraid to stay the night," said Asayag. "Now, when the tunnels are exposed, I am more at ease, they are taking care of it. By the way, I'm not afraid for my life, I'm afraid for the lives of the soldiers."
David Ozana, 65, who lives 300 meters away from the border, also suspected something is going on beneath the surface: "I reported hearing drill noises, the army arrived with a drill and assured us that there was nothing wrong. Perhaps they only said so to deceive the other side. But the moshav brought in experts who determined with certainty that tunnels were dug here—it turns out they were right. I have no doubt that a horrible disaster was prevented."
Galit Levy, 28, was born in Zar'it when sounds of Katyusha rockets ripped through the air. "We heard the sound of explosions, and saw trucks moving dirt piles across the border. IDF forces came in and inspected the area, but, it's not pleasant to say but it's the truth: they were looking in the wrong places. Today, I am more at ease but as a mother I have a responsibility: if something happens, I will leave Zar'it in a second. It's very frightening to think about terrorists infiltrating Israel underneath our feet. Not too far from here, soldiers were kidnapped," she explained.
Beni Ben Muvhar, head of Mevo'ot HaHermon Regional Council, said he warned about the tunnel threat four years ago. "They thought I was crazy," he disclosed and added that he is "glad the army didn’t ignore the residents' warnings. I assume the chief of staff knows exactly what he's doing."
Shlomi Local Council Chairman Gabi Naaman asked his employees to inspect the shelters in town, 136 in number, and go over procedures. "It's good that the army exposed the tunnels," he acknowledged. "In the past we were told the ground is too rocky for tunnel digging. Today, we are left with one big question mark: If we don't go to war now, we will suffer ten times more in the future."
The pressure was also felt in Metula. "After years of trying to calm our families and convince ourselves that there's nothing to be afraid of, we now feel like the enemy is walking under our feet," said Yossi Levit, whose family has been farming in Metula for a century. "Some people were hearing noises over a long period of time. We calmed them down. I told them that Metula is very close to the border so why would Hezbollah dig if they can cross the border above ground? It turns out that I was wrong and they were right. "
Ravit Sandler Jaffe, 40, a member of the Metula Local Council, added: "We continue our daily routine, the children go to summer camps and kindergarten, but there is a sense that life is changing around us. The tunnel issue has been raised a few years ago. Residents began to ask: 'If this happens in the south, when will it reach us?' We constantly see Hezbollah men moving along the border. There is also a large quarry nearby. It was only a matter of time until it would reach us. In the south we see how long this thing (tunnel threat—ed.) has been going on. We hope that things will be different in the north."
The land, which IDF forces dug as part of Operation Northern Shield, belongs to farmer Levav Weinberg who grows apples on it. Weinberg, second generation of Metula farmers, said the army had been operating in the site for several months now. "There was military activity inside the apple orchard and near the border fence, but only now did I realize what it was all for," he said Tuesday.
On Monday night, Weinberg was asked to come to the site and dismantle several water heads so they don't interfere with IDF's activity. "On Tuesday we received an order to stay away from the orchard and so we worked in the valley," he went on to say.
Later on, he was allowed to enter the site. "It is a complicated situation; when I went there on Tuesday I saw the orchard completely destroyed. Nevertheless, of course it's not what matters, what matters most is that terror activity was prevented."
Weinberg added that until recently, farmers from Metula interacted with their colleagues on the other side of the border. "It's not that we drank coffee together or had conversations, but when we passed each other, we waved. The construction of the wall was completed recently, and there is no longer any eye contact between us. In the northern part of the border, where there is no wall, interactions between Israeli and Lebanese farmers still exist," he concluded.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 05-06/18
US Ambassador to UN: Iran’s Missile Test Is Dangerous, Troubling
New York– Ali Barada/Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 5 December, 2018/The United Nations Security Council met behind closed doors Tuesday to discuss Iran's latest missile test. The meeting was requested by UN Ambassadors of France Francois Delattre and Britain Karen Pierce who reminded Tehran with Resolution 2231 that calls on Iran to refrain from testing missiles capable of carrying a nuclear weapon. Delattre described the meeting as “useful” but could not confirm if the issue would be debated further, adding there was a "widely-shared concern" about the matter. He criticized Iran’s missile activity and renewed France's call to Tehran to halt all activities related to its missile program. “We, as France, call on Iran to immediately cease any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be able to carry nuclear weapons, including launches using ballistic missile technology,” he added. In response to a question by Asharq Al-Awsat, Delattre asserted that Paris will follow this matter. “There is no doubt about that. We will see how this will be reflected in the Security Council. It is our responsibility to do so."Ambassador Pierce stated that several states in the closed meeting pointed out that under a 2015 UN resolution, Iran is called upon to refrain from developing its ballistic missiles to deliver nuclear weapons. “There is no legitimate reason why Iran should flout the resolution,” she noted. “If you wanted to demonstrate to the international community that you were a responsible member of it and you were genuinely interested in regional peace and security, these are not the sorts of missiles you would be test launching,” the Ambassador addressed Tehran. US Ambassador Nikki Haley issued a statement saying Iran tested a medium-range ballistic missile in defiance of Resolution 2231. She welcomed the initiative of the United Kingdom and France in requesting the discussion. Haley described Iran’s recent ballistic missile test as “dangerous and concerning, but not surprising.” “The United States has repeatedly warned the world about Iran’s deliberate efforts to destabilize the Middle East and defy international norms.”She warned that the international community cannot keep turning a blind eye every time Iran blatantly ignores Security Council resolutions. “If the Security Council is serious about holding Iran accountable and enforcing our resolutions, then at a minimum we should be able to deliver a unanimous condemnation of this provocative missile test,” she warned. Prior to the meeting, Paris and London echoed warnings issued by the US administration that Tehran might be in violation to its obligations to the international community by conducting an experiment on medium-range missiles capable of carrying a number of warheads. US officials believe that this is the first sign EU partners have become convinced that they should consider Iran’s destabilizing role in the Middle East. Washington said Saturday's missile test violated Resolution 2231 issued and ratified in the 2015 agreement. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier said the ballistic missile was capable of carrying multiple warheads and striking parts of Europe and the entire Middle East. He explained that this test violates UN Security Council Resolution 2231 that bans Iran from undertaking “any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.”
France’s Foreign Ministry said it was concerned by the test-firing describing it as "provocative and destabilizing" and "does not conform" with UN Resolution 2231 on the Iran deal. British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt called the missile test "provocative, threatening and inconsistent" with the Resolution and said Britain was determined "that it should cease."

US Sends Aircraft Carrier to Gulf amid Iranian Threats

New York - Washington - Geneva/Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 5 December, 2018/Iran has again threatened to disrupt other countries' oil shipments through the Gulf if Washington presses ahead with efforts to halt Iranian oil exports. Its threats came as US defense officials told The Wall Street Journal that the USS John C. Stennis and accompanying ships will arrive by this week’s end in Gulf waters, the first such military presence in the region in eight months, to exhibit a show of force against Iran.The United States has imposed sanctions on Iran and US officials say they aim to reduce Iran's oil exports to zero in a bid to curb Tehran’s missile program and regional influence.  On Monday, the Trump administration urged Europe to impose new sanctions on Iran after it test fired a medium-range ballistic missile considered capable of carrying nuclear warheads that could reach parts of the European continent.  Washington's Iran special envoy Brian Hook also insisted that despite Tehran's assertions to the contrary, Iran's missile tests were not defensive in nature. "We would like to see the European Union move sanctions that target Iran's missile program," Hook told reporters aboard Pompeo's plane as he traveled to Brussels for a NATO meeting. Hook said President Donald Trump's campaign of "maximum pressure" on Tehran since withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal "can be effective if more nations can join us in those (sanctions).""It is a grave and escalating threat, and nations around the world, not just Europe, need to do everything they can to be targeting Iran's missile program," he added. Hook said "progress" was being made on getting NATO allies to consider a proposal to target individuals and entities that play key roles in Iran's missile program. But Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised speech during a trip to the northern Iranian city of Shahroud that "America should know that we are selling our oil and will continue to sell our oil and they are not able to stop our oil exports.”"If one day they want to prevent the export of Iran's oil, then no oil will be exported from the Persian Gulf," Reuters quoted him as saying.
According to Agence France Presse, he also downplayed the economic impact of sanctions, accusing the media of exaggerating the country's problems. "No hyperinflation, no massive unemployment will threaten us. People should stop saying such things in the papers," he said. The latest inflation report from Iran's central bank says food prices rose 56 percent year-on-year in October. Rouhani acknowledged there were "some problems", but said these would be addressed in the new budget plan to be presented on December 16. He said the government would maintain subsidies on essential goods and increase public sector wages and pensions by 20 percent. Iranian Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri said that US sanctions were hitting vulnerable people in Iran. "When (Americans) say their target is the Iranian government and there won't be pressure on the sick, the elderly and the weak in society, it's a lie," Jahangiri said, according to IRNA.  Also Tuesday, Reuters quoted Brigadier General Aziz Nasirzadeh, a senior military official, as saying that Iran wants to increase its missiles' range. "We don't see any limitations for ourselves in this field."Iran's military has cited 2,000 km as the current missile range, and said US bases in Afghanistan, and the Gulf region, plus US aircraft carriers in the Arabian Gulf, were within range.

US to Iran’s Rouhani: We will ensure freedom of navigation in Strait of Hormuz
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Wednesday, 5 December 2018/After its repeated threats of disrupting other countries’ oil shipment through the Gulf, if Washington presses ahead with efforts to halt Iranian oil export, the US administration responded on Tuesday to Iran, where it dismissed any possibility of disruption in the navigation movement and rejected Tehran’s provocations in the region.Brian Hook, the US representative for Iran policy, dismissed Rouhani’s threat, noting that Iran does not control the Strait of Hormuz. Addressing a press conference he said: “The strait is an international waterway. The United States will continue to work with our partners to ensure freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce in international waterways.”
Rouhani speech
Hawk’s remarks came in response to a statement made by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani earlier on Tuesday in a televised speech during a trip to the northern Iranian city of Shahroud where he said: “America should know that we are selling our oil and will continue to sell our oil and they are not able to stop our oil exports,” according to Reuters. “If one day they want to prevent the export of Iran’s oil, then no oil will be exported” from the region, he said. Rouhani made similar comments in July. Also in July, an Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander, Ismail Kowsari, was quoted as saying that Tehran would block oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz, lf the United States banned Iranian oil sales. “Preventing Iran from exporting oil would mean preventing the entire region from doing so,” he said. Iran has repeatedly threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz to export oil if the United States moves forward with tougher sanctions.

US urges UN to condemn Iran missile test
AFP, United Nations/Wednesday, 5 December 2018/The United States on Tuesday urged the UN Security Council to condemn Iran’s ballistic missile test, which it described as “dangerous and concerning” and a violation of a UN resolution. The council met behind closed doors at the request of France and Britain which along with the United States have accused Iran of test-firing a ballistic missile on Saturday. France and Britain maintain that missile launches are inconsistent with the UN resolution that endorsed the 2015 Iran nuclear deal while the United States has taken a harder stance and maintains it is an outright violation. “Iran’s recent ballistic missile test was dangerous and concerning, but not surprising,” US Ambassador Nikki Haley said in a statement. “The international community cannot keep turning a blind eye every time Iran blatantly ignores Security Council resolutions. “If the Security Council is serious about holding Iran accountable and enforcing our resolutions, then at a minimum we should be able to deliver a unanimous condemnation of this provocative missile test,” she said. Iran has neither denied nor confirmed the launch that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said involved a missile of a medium range, capable of carrying multiple warheads and striking parts of Europe and the entire Middle East. The UN resolution calls on Iran to refrain from testing missiles capable of carrying a nuclear weapon, but does not specifically bar Tehran from missile launches.
Iran has long maintained that its missile program is defensive in nature and not aimed at ensuring the delivery of a nuclear weapon, a stance supported by Russia at the Security Council. “This is inconsistent behaviour with (resolution) 2231 and it concerns the council,” British Ambassador Karen Pierce told reporters ahead of the meeting. “We need to know exactly what happened and then we will reach a judgment about how we want to characterise it,” she said. The United States decided in May to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions on Iran, to the dismay of its Europeans allies. The nuclear deal provides for a lifting of sanctions against Iran in return for curbs on its nuclear activities. The remaining five signatories to the nuclear deal -- Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia -- have backed an EU effort to set up a special payment system in a bid to maintain trade and business ties with Iran.

How Erdogan is cosying up with Doha for funds to offer sops before local polls?
Staff writer, al Arabiya English/Wednesday, 5 December 2018 /President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s bid to shore up his country’s economy got a boost when Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamid Al Thani and his finance minister visited Turkey in August and offered a direct investment of $15 billion.
The economy had suffered following the rift with the US and the subsequent fall of the Turkish lira. The emir also sent Erdoğan an ultra-luxurious Boeing 747-8 VIP jet worth over half $500 million as a gift kicking up a controversy in Turkey at a time when people were facing economic hardships.
Bilateral pacts
The flow of goodwill did not stop there. The two countries met again in in Istanbul on November 26 to hold the fourth meeting of the High Strategic Committee, signing many agreements presided over by Sheikh Tamim and his ministers. Erdoğan in his speech thanked his guests for their support against at a crucial time when the country’s economy was facing “speculative attempts” from outside. A day after the meeting with Qatar, Erdoğan announced in parliament the names of 20 new candidates for the local elections next March. According to Zülfikar Doğan of Ahval News, “some other significant details from the president’s speech escaped notice.”Doğan notes: “President Erdoğan said that in December, alongside his electoral manifesto, the government would announce a new “investment and employment mobilization” plan, which appears to be a set of incentives to voters similar to those offered before the referendum in 2017 and the elections last June.” While talking up the prospects of economic recovery at home, Erdogan also said it was time to capitalize on foreign investors’ mounting interest in Turkey. Erdoğan specifically mentioned Qatar’s funding. “The $15 billion in direct investment and funds pledged by Qatar should come into play before the local elections,” he said.
Electoral sops
This has sparked speculation that the Turkish President was trying to use the funding from Doha specifically as electoral sops to boost the prospects of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the coming local election. There has been such a precedent in the earlier elections in 2015, when municipalities controlled by the AKP gave temporary employment to 150,000 laborers to plant trees and clean public spaces. The pattern is being repeated in the coming elections, with Education Ministry has employing 50,000 temporary school janitors. More can be expected in the run-up to March. The help from Qatar will come in handy to fund all of this. After a meeting between the Qatari and Turkish trade ministers in September, The two sides are to disclose which sectors would receive the $15 billion Qatari direct investment very soon. Some sources say that $5 billion of the amount from Doha will come in December, a convenient time when Erdoğan will announce his government’s initiatives for “investment and employment mobilization”.

Egypt hands Muslim Brotherhood leader another life sentence
The Associated Press, Cairo/Wednesday, 5 December 2018/An Egyptian court has sentenced five people, including the head of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, to life in prison on charges related to inciting violence and supporting militants. The Cairo Criminal Court has convicted Mohammed Badie and five others of providing weapons, ammunition and explosive devices to militants. Wednesday’s sentences are not subject to appeal. The court also acquitted six Muslim Brotherhood leaders, including former speaker Saad el-Katatni, in the same trial. The suspects were also charged with inciting riots, violence and premeditated murder outside the Brotherhood’s headquarters in Cairo’s Mokattam neighborhood in 2013 that killed nine people and injured 91. Brotherhood chief Badie has gotten several death sentences in separate trials since his 2013 arrest. Charges have included inciting violence and planning attacks against the state.

Pope Tawadros II: Saudi Arabia a fundamental pillar for the Arab world

Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Wednesday, 5 December 2018/The Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church Tawadros II said on Wednesday that the meetings that Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, and Saudi officials are holding on all levels, whether religious, political or cultural, are very beneficial to the nation and will contribute toward human development. “We hail and appreciate these efforts that encompass a lot of hope for our brothers in Saudi Arabia,” he said. In an interview with Arab News daily, Pope Tawadros II said that he found Saudi Crown Prince an open-minded person who has a modern vision to life, and this pleases us a lot. “I personally follow all the positive developments that took place under the directives of King Salman, his Crown Prince and all Saudi officials,” he said. “Saudi Arabia is a main pillar of the Arab and the Islamic world, and on the international level as well,” he said. The Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church said he will pay a visit Saudi Arabia soon following an invitation by Saudi Crown Prince when he was on a state visit to Egypt this year.
Muslim Brotherhood and Christians’ fear in Egypt
The Pope warned against the danger of emptying the Middle East of Christians, and said: “This emptying is against nature, our regions arose with the existence of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. What happened in some countries, such as Syria and Iraq, is painful.”Pope Tawadros also spoke about the Christians’ fear in Egypt, especially under Muslim Brotherhood rule few years ago, saying: “Christians feared for their lives and fled the country. When the country regained its stability, a lot of them returned to Egypt. Christian emigration rates have dropped significantly.”

UN Team to Launch Probe Into ISIS Crimes in Iraq Early 2019
Baghdad- Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 5 December, 2018/A UN team authorized over a year ago to investigate the massacre of the Yazidi minority and other atrocities by terrorists in Iraq will finally begin work early next year, the head of the investigation said Tuesday. The UN Security Council adopted a resolution in September 2017 to bring those responsible for ISIS group war crimes to justice -- a cause championed by Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad and international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney. The team, led by British lawyer Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, was deployed to Baghdad in October, but has since focused on administrative and technical details to lay the groundwork for the probe. "The investigative team now looks forward to continuing preparations in Iraq with a view to commencing investigative activities in early 2019," Ahmad Khan told the council during his first report. He told the council that "the realization of our investigative activities is dependent on securing the cooperation, support and trust of all elements of Iraqi society."The United Nations has described the massacre of the Yazidis by ISIS militants as possible genocide and UN rights investigators have documented horrific accounts of abuse suffered by women and girls. Nadia Murad is among thousands of Yazidi women who were taken hostage and held as sex slaves when ISIS fighters swept into Iraq's Sinjar region in August 2014. The investigators will gather evidence on war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide for use in Iraqi courts that will hold trials for IS militants, according to the UN resolution. More than 200 mass graves containing up to 12,000 bodies have been recently discovered in Iraq, providing evidence of war crimes by ISIS. The United States announced it will provide $2 million to support the work of the investigative team, known as UNITAD, the UN investigative team to promote accountability for crimes committed by Daesh, an Arabic acronym for ISIS. After being awarded this year's Nobel Peace Prize, Murad said she wanted ISIS jihadists to face trial in a courtroom. "For me, justice doesn't mean killing all of the Daesh members who committed these crimes against us," she said in October. "Justice for me is taking Daesh members to a court of law and seeing them in court admitting to the crimes they committed against Yazidis and being punished for those crimes specifically," she said in October.

US Suggests Ending Astana, Sochi Talks on Syria
Washington - Heba El Koudsy/Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 5 December, 2018/US Special Representative for Syria Engagement James Jeffrey has called on Russia to exert efforts to convene the Syrian constitutional committee on December 14, proposing to end the Sochi/Astana peace talks if the committee is not put together. During a press conference Monday at the State Department, Jeffrey noted that Washington is looking forward to UN envoy Staffan de Mistura’s report to the Security Council on December 14, describing it as "the key point where we see whether we are going to have the political process moving forward under the UN.”Following a meeting with representatives from Germany, France, UK, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt at the State Department, Jeffrey explained that the officials reviewed the implementation of a UN-facilitated, Syrian-led, and Syrian-owned political process that would create a permanent, peaceful, and political end, in line with UN Resolution 2254. They also discussed the importance of sustaining the Idlib de-escalation arrangements and supporting the UN envoy. The Special Representative warned that if Damascus is not pressured, the new UN Envoy, Geir Pedersen, and the international community will face a serious issue. “We were hoping...that the Russians, the Iranians, and the Turks would be able to finalize the third list of members to this constitutional committee, and that was a primary goal of the Astana meeting last Thursday.”The Representative went on to say that after the meeting, they issued a statement that examined the Idlib de-escalation area, and stressed the importance of a lasting ceasefire while underlying the necessity to continue the effective fight against terrorism. However, “they did not take any significant action on the constitutional committee,” but, they stated once again that there is no military solution to the Syrian conflict. All they did was reaffirm their determination to set up joint efforts to launch the constitutional committee in Geneva, Jeffrey told the press. He indicated that the officials did not determine a time frame for the committee but rather said it will be set up “the soonest possible time.”Asked whether there is a possible breakthrough in the political process, Jeffrey noted that the situation had been in a stalemate since Astana/Sochi talks began in December of 2017. “What we’ve seen in the last few months is a ministerial at the small-group level at the UN putting pressure on the UN and on the Astana group to come forth. Then we saw the Istanbul summit where, for the first time, Russia said that they would try to get this thing done by the end of the year,” however, up till now they say there is no deadline point. He hoped there is a possibility that they will move by December 14th with de Mistura. The agreement on forming the Syrian constitutional committee, which is supposed to include representatives from the Syrian government, the opposition and civil society, was reached at the Sochi talks in January 2018.

UN Listing Gives Lifeline to Syria's Last Shadow Puppeteer
London- Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 5 December, 2018/In a crowded dark room, Syria's last shadow puppeteer crouches on stage, holding two intricate figures against a brightly lit silk screen and voicing their animated chatter. Hiding inside his booth and moving the silhouettes around on sticks, Shadi al-Hallaq gave a proud performance on Monday night after his disappearing art finally received international recognition. Syrians last week received news that their war-battered country's shadow theater has secured a coveted place on the UN's list of world treasures."When they rang to congratulate me, it was like a daydream," said the puppeteer, a slim 43-year-old wearing a dark grey suit and warm beige scarf. His two star characters -- the naive but charming Karakoz and clever friend Eiwaz -- would finally receive the limelight they deserved, he said. "There's no one in Syria who masters the art except me," said Hallaq, who learned it from his late father, a famed storyteller who performed in one of the capital's oldest coffee shops. "There are no regular shows anymore, though I have given performances in a few places over the past years," said the puppeteer, who previously worked as a taxi driver.
The advent of digital entertainment as well as mass displacement due to conflict have contributed to the gradual decline of the art in Syria, the United Nations says. Only a few such performers existed in the country before the war broke out in 2011, and a leading shadow puppeteer has since gone missing. Traditionally, shadow plays were held in coffee shops. A bright light would project the silhouettes of the puppets onto a silk screen, usually accompanied by dialogue and music. Often including humorous social commentary, they would star Karakoz and Eiwaz, as well as female characters and talking animals. Hallaq's characters are crafted from cow leather, their clothes cut out with decorative patterns and painted with watercolors "so the light can shine through". Karakoz is short and dons a large red hat, while Eiwaz sports an elegant mustache. As they move around before an arched alleyway, their witty banter entertains all generations. "My audience are old and young -- from three years old to old men in coffee shops," Hallaq said. The art form is said to be centuries old, long before the war that has killed 360,000 people and displaced millions from their homes. Some say Karakoz and Eiwaz are typical Syrians from Damascus, while others say they are in fact originally Turkish. Since the United Nations cultural agency UNESCO classified his art as "in need of urgent safeguarding", Hallaq said things are looking up for his art and its two stars. "I thought I would have to bury them away," he said. But now "a bright future awaits them in Syria. I will tour with them all over the country."

Egypt, Kuwait Reaffirm Need to Boost Arab Cooperation
Cairo- Sawsan Abu Hussein/Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 5 December, 2018/Kuwait Ruler Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah on Tuesday received Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, who is set to head the 12th session of the Egyptian-Kuwaiti Joint Committee chaired by the Foreign Ministers of both countries. Egyptian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Counselor Ahmed Hafez said Shoukry conveyed President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s greetings to his Kuwaiti counterpart. Shoukry emphasized that Egypt takes great pride in the close and brotherly ties that unite the two peoples and countries, Hafez noted in an official statement. Shoukry also delivered a presidential invitation to the Kuwaiti Ruler invitation to visit Egypt, set in line with Egypt’s great interest in advancing consultation and coordination mechanisms with Kuwait--especially, in light of the important role Kuwait is leading in defending regional security. The meeting broached overall regional issues and developments. The importance of advancing frameworks of Arab unity and joint action in the face of various challenges was emphasized to maintain Arab national security. Solutions to regional crises were also discussed at the meeting which endorsed Arab people’s unalienable right to self-determination in a manner that meets their aspirations for a more peaceful and secure future. For his part, the Kuwaiti Ruler wished Sisi more prosperity and stability for Egypt’s people and government. He praised the special relations that unite the two countries and emphasized continued Kuwaiti unwavering position in support of brothers in Egypt.

Yemen Peace Talks to Start Thursday in Sweden
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 05/18/Peace talks between Yemeni government representatives and a rebel delegation will begin on Thursday in Sweden, the U.N. announced. "The (U.N. special envoy) would like to announce the restart of the intra-Yemeni political process in Sweden on 6 December 2018," U.N. envoy Martin Griffiths' office tweeted. A 12-member government delegation, led by Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani, arrived in Stockholm Wednesday evening, one day after a rebel delegation flew in from Sanaa -- accompanied by the U.N. envoy. The talks mark the first meeting between Yemen's Saudi-backed government and Huthi rebels, linked to Iran, since 2016, when 106 days of negotiations yielded no breakthrough in a war that has pushed 14 million people to the brink of famine. The Sweden meeting follows two major confidence-boosting gestures between the warring parties -- a prisoner swap deal and the evacuation of 50 wounded insurgents from the rebel-held capital for treatment in neutral Oman. Nearly 10,000 people have been killed since Saudi Arabia and its allies joined the government's fight against the Huthis, according to the World Health Organization, triggering what the U.N. calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis. Rights groups estimate the toll could be up to five times as high.

Moscow Dismisses 'Groundless' U.S. Claim Russia Breaching Arms Treaty
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 05/18/Moscow on Wednesday dismissed US claims that Russia is violating a major Cold War treaty limiting mid-range nuclear arms, from which Washington is planning to withdraw. "Groundless accusations are again being repeated," foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday declared Russia in "material breach" of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty. "No proof has been produced to support this American position," Zakharova said.  She described the treaty as a "cornerstone of global stability and international security". Pompeo said during a meeting with fellow NATO foreign ministers that the US would withdraw from the deal within 60 days if Moscow does not dismantle missiles that Washington say violate it. NATO said it was now "up to Russia" to save the treaty. In October, President Donald Trump sparked global concern by declaring the United States would pull out of the treaty and build up America's nuclear stockpile "until people come to their senses". But on Monday, the US leader said he wants talks with his Chinese and Russian counterparts Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin "to head off a major and uncontrollable Arms Race". Signed in 1987 by then US president Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, the INF resolved a crisis over Soviet nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles targeting Western capitals. But it was a bilateral treaty between the US and the then Soviet Union, so it puts no restrictions on other major military actors like China. Pompeo on Tuesday said there was no reason why the US "should continue to cede this crucial military advantage" to rival powers. The Trump administration has complained of Moscow's deployment of Novator 9M729 missiles, which Washington says fall under the treaty's ban on missiles that can travel distances of between 310 and 3,400 miles (500 and 5,500 kilometres). US-Russia ties are under deep strain over accusations Moscow meddled in the 2016 US presidential election. The two states are also at odds over Russian support for Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria's civil war, and the conflict in Ukraine.

Turkey Prosecutor Seeks Arrest of Two Saudi Crown Prince Allies over Khashoggi Murder
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 05/18/A Turkish prosecutor has demanded that arrest warrants be issued against two Saudi nationals close to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a Turkish source close to the investigation said Wednesday. Khashoggi, 59, was killed shortly after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 to obtain paperwork for his upcoming marriage. The chief prosecutor's office in Istanbul filed an application Tuesday to obtain the warrants for Ahmad al-Assiri and Saud al-Qahtani, described in court documents as being "among the planners" of the murder of the Washington Post contributor Khashoggi. Assiri often sat in during Prince Mohammed's closed-door meetings with visiting foreign dignitaries and Qahtani was a key counsellor to the crown prince. Both were sacked after Riyadh admitted Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate.According to Turkey, a 15-member Saudi team was sent to Istanbul to kill Khashoggi. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the order to kill Khashoggi came from the highest levels of the Saudi government, but has insisted it was not King Salman.
Riyadh has since detained 21 people over the murder. Despite speculation that the powerful crown prince ordered the hit, the kingdom has strongly denied he was involved. But two key US Republican senators said a Tuesday briefing by the CIA's director only strengthened their conviction that Prince Mohammed directed the murder. The Istanbul prosecutor in charge of the investigation said in late October that the Saudi former insider turned critic was strangled then his body was cut into pieces. The remains of Khashoggi's body have not been found. There has been speculation in pro-government media that his body was dissolved in acid. A senior Turkish official Wednesday said the prosecutor's move "reflects the view that the Saudi authorities won't take formal action against those individuals".The official, who did not wish to be named, pointed to the fact that the wording of the prosecutor's request suggested that the current list wasn't necessarily exhaustive, appearing to indicate that more arrest warrants could be sought. Amid criticism from Ankara over Saudi Arabia's lack of cooperation with the Turkish investigation, the official said Riyadh could "address those concerns" over its commitment to probing the murder by extraditing all the suspects to Turkey.

Brazilian Consul: Arrested Ghosn is Healthy, Wants Thrillers
Associated Press/Naharnet/December 05/18/The former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn, who was arrested in Japan on suspicion of underreporting his income, seems prepared to fight out his case and has asked for thriller books, according to the Brazilian consul general. Joao de Mendonca Lima Neto, one of the few visitors Ghosn has been allowed to see under Japan's stringent rules, said Ghosn was healthy and holding up well. "My impression is that he is a strong man in the sense that he will fight this out properly. He doesn't look worried," Mendonca told The Associated Press on Wednesday at Brazil's consulate in Tokyo. "I admire him for his fortitude."Mendonca declined comment on the specifics of the allegations against Ghosn, saying his job was about helping Brazilian citizens with their problems. He said he has conveyed Ghosn's verbal messages to his family and has relayed the family's messages back. He declined to disclose details. Ghosn, who headed the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Motors auto alliance, was arrested last month on suspicion he underreported his income by millions of dollars for years at a time. Born in Brazil, Ghosn holds French, Lebanese and Brazilian citizenships. Only representatives of a suspect's home country and attorneys can visit suspects in detention in Japan. Consular officials have visited Ghosn four times in the last two weeks, Mendonca said. They brought history and philosophy books and fruit, but Ghosn asked for thriller books to pass the time.
Mendonca said he speaks with Ghosn in Portuguese through a glass barrier. Although Japanese detention cells are not heated and the weather can be chilly, Mendonca said Ghosn told him he was warm. He was wearing a blue zipped-up top, he recalled. "Dr. Ghosn has always said that he is well and he is well treated, given the circumstances," he said. "He answers normally, 'I'm fine.'" Japanese media, without identifying sources, have reported prosecutors will detain Ghosn on additional allegations beyond Dec. 10, when the period of detention allowed on the first set of allegations against him will run out. Prosecutors have refused to comment except in weekly meetings, when they confirm some basic facts. Ghosn has not been charged. Since he was sent by Renault SA of France to turn around a near-bankrupt Nissan Motor Co. two decades ago, Ghosn's star-level pay has drawn attention since executives in Japan tend to be paid far less than their international counterparts. At the center of the allegations, according to Japanese media reports, is Ghosn's deferred income, promised as money, stocks and other items for a later date, including after retirement.Nissan, which makes the March subcompact, Leaf electric car and Infiniti luxury models, says an internal investigation found Ghosn hid his pay and misused company funds and assets for personal gain. The company has ousted Ghosn as chairman but has yet to pick a replacement. Brazilians are proud of Ghosn, Mendonca said. "We also have a position of wait and see. What you read in the press is not what he is saying. We are just waiting for the result, and hopefully the best result," he said. "Given his position, he has been an icon not only here but all over the world."

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 05-06/18
France Faces a Typical Facebook Revolution
Leonid Bershidsky/Bloomberg/December,05/18
The liberating role social networks played during the Arab Spring and the Russian protests of 2011 and 2012 was widely lauded. Little of that enthusiasm is on display today amid the violent “yellow vest” protests in France – even though Facebook is still doing what it does best: let people channel their rage.
In a 2011 paean to “the Facebook revolution,” Chris Taylor of the tech news website Mashable wrote that Facebook was “democracy in action.” Philip Howard of the University of Washington, who researched the social network’s role in the Arab Spring, said the same year that social media “carried a cascade of messages about freedom and democracy across North Africa and the Middle East and helped raise expectations for the success of political uprising.”At the end of 2011, I took part in the Russian protests following a rigged parliamentary election. Facebook played a central role in organizing them. The emerging pattern – leaderless protest networks developing on US-owned platforms; meme-like narratives fueling popular indignation; nebulous, quickly radicalizing, demands fueled by lots of underlying anger – led Russian President Vladimir Putin to suspect the US of organizing action in different parts of the world according to the same playbook. He was as naive as the observers who thought Facebook’s role in these popular uprisings had anything to do with freedom or democracy. Soon after the countries that underwent Arab Spring revolutions began reverting to authoritarianism or plunging into chaos, concerns emerged about the ability of social networks to shape democratic transitions. But Facebook and other platforms were never any good at that: What they did was help to get people get more and more excited about things that bothered them. By amplifying messages and inflating opinion bubbles, they whipped up a frenzy where there had been mere grumbling.
It’s happening again in France, a country impossible to describe as an autocracy and one where the US has no reason to foment a revolution. It all started with the government’s decision to raise taxes by 7.6 cents per liter on diesel and 3.9 cents per liter on gasoline. This isn’t a major outrage. For someone filling a 50-liter tank with diesel every week, the hike means 15.2 euros ($17.3) a month in extra costs, less than two McDonald’s meals. But the protests, set off in mid-October by a viral Facebook rant by accordion player Jacline Mouraud about the government’s anti-car policy, have escalated until they produced the country’s worst urban riot in more than a decade. Over the weekend, 133 people were injured, including 23 police officers.  As in previous protests, these disturbances are largely leaderless; they don’t need France’s political or media infrastructure to develop. They have, however, thrown up some unlikely opinion leaders, whom protesters follow and whose views get endlessly amplified through “yellow vest” Facebook groups. One of them is Maxime Nicolle, also known as Fly Rider, a 31-year-old Brittany native who has regularly done Facebook Live webcasts from the increasingly violent protests. He has emerged as one of the amorphous movement’s eight spokespeople empowered to negotiate with the government.
“Self-appointed thinkers became national figures, thanks to popular pages and a flurry of Facebook Live,” Frederic Filloux, now a researcher at Stanford and formerly a journalism professor at Sciences Po in Paris, wrote on Medium. Nicolle’s “gospel is a hodgepodge of incoherent demands but he’s now a national voice.”French President Emmanuel Macron has described the “yellow vests’” manifesto as “a little of everything and no matter what.” And indeed, the original demands – the repeal of the fuel tax for cars, a minimal value-added tax on food, lower fines for traffic violations, pay cuts for elected officials, and more efficient government spending – have now been muddled by added calls for better public services, the dissolution of parliament, and Macron’s resignation. This is now about anger that flows freely in all directions. As Filloux puts it: “As the absolute amplifier and radicalizer of the popular anger, Facebook has demonstrated its toxicity to the democratic process.”There’s nothing democratic about the emergence of Facebook group administrators as spokespeople for what passes for a popular movement. Unlike Macron and French legislators, they are unelected. In a column for Liberation, journalist Vincent Glad suggested that recent changes to the Facebook algorithm – which have prioritized content created by groups over that of pages, including those of traditional media outlets – have provided the mechanism to promote these people. Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg thought he was depoliticizing his platform and focusing on connecting people. That is not what happened.
“Facebook group admins, whose prerogatives are constantly being increased by Zuckerberg, are the new intermediaries, thriving on the ruins of labor unions, associations or political parties,” Glad wrote.
Whether the anger unleashed by France’s tiny tax hike is real or at least partially induced by Facebook echo chambers is by now difficult to figure out without exact scientific methods. Nevertheless, it’s time to cast away any remaining illusions that social networks can play a positive role in promoting democracy and freedom. A free society can’t ban Facebook, or even completely regulate away its hate-enhancing function; but it should be aware of the risk Facebook and similar platforms pose to democratic institutions. Ironically, the threat to authoritarian regimes is less: they have learned to manipulate opinion on the platforms with propaganda, trolling, bullying and real-life scare tactics against activists.
A country like France can’t resort to such techniques. That means more work for police and more tough decisions for politicians unwilling to submit to mob rule – until populists, bolstered by the social networks, start winning elections. Averting that result will require people to realize what the platforms really do, and start quitting them in droves.

Climate Denialism and Its Weakness

Liam Denning/Bloomberg/December,05/18
One problem I have with “climate denial” is the name. Nobody denies there’s a climate (not yet, anyway). I guess it fits better into a tweet, but that brings me to another problem I have with climate denial: It’s really stupid.
To illustrate what I mean, here’s President Donald Trump trashing his own administration’s dire climate assessment, published with impeccable timing on Black Friday, to the Washington Post last week:
One of the problems that a lot of people like myself — we have very high levels of intelligence, but we’re not necessarily such believers. You look at our air and our water, and it’s right now at a record clean. But when you look at China and you look at parts of Asia and when you look at South America, and when you look at many other places in this world, including Russia, including — just many other places — the air is incredibly dirty. And when you’re talking about an atmosphere, oceans are very small. And it blows over and it sails over. I mean, we take thousands of tons of garbage off our beaches all the time that comes over from Asia. It just flows right down the Pacific, it flows, and we say where does this come from. And it takes many people to start off with.
As with Ulysses, professors will surely be arguing for centuries over what the president was going on about there. Yet to parse the words is to miss the point. The paragraph is pure misdirection, conflating carbon emissions with “dirty” air and thereby casting the US as “clean” (and Trump isn’t exactly helping on that score anyway; see this and this.) Ditto the whataboutism regarding China and Russia, as the U.S. is still the world’s second biggest emitter of carbon, and Trump walked away from an international climate agreement.
This is what I mean by stupidity: lines of argument barely designed to withstand even the slightest scrutiny. This isn’t just a presidential prerogative. In the same week, Rick Santorum, former Republican senator and champion of intelligent design, accused the climate assessment’s authors of being in it for the money. Come on. The upstream oil industry alone — not counting refining, natural gas, or coal — rakes in roughly $5-6 billion of revenue a day at current prices. Yet the vested interest here is a bunch of scientists spread around labs and universities? Sure.
Incoherence serves a purpose, though. Whether Trump genuinely struggles to string a proper sentence together on this subject or just chooses not to, it offers a certain protection from effective rebuttal by turning the normal process of argument and counterargument into a farce.
There’s no real argument about the science. The tell is when Trump said he isn’t a believer. Recasting the issue as a matter of faith rather than reason lets him simply ignore the evidence. Moreover, resisting the consensus about climate change fits with other themes Trump champions, especially disdain for “elites” (scientists and other assorted intellectuals in this case) and international cooperation. Similarly, Santorum’s blithe smearing of scientists dovetails with the established theme of the “swamp” while also ducking the real issue.
So climate change actually serves a purpose, signaling Trump’s resolve on unrelated red-meat issues to his supporters. It follows that persuasion via yet more scientific evidence is a futile exercise. David Bookbinder, chief counsel to the Niskanen Center, a think tank advocating for action on climate change, among other things, summed it up for me last week: “It’s very hard to reason someone out of a position that they weren’t reasoned into.”
Kevin Book, managing director at ClearView Energy Partners LLC, a DC-based research firm, suggests past efforts to address climate change have often failed in securing public buy-in for what needs to be done. Consider, for example, the backlash against President Emmanuel Macron’s recent hike in gasoline taxes. This disconnect from the public creates an opening for those dismissing the mounting scientific evidence:
It is quite a thing for the world to proceed with a wholesale renovation of its energy systems without public buy-in, isn’t it? But at the same time, maybe that isn’t really that different from setting a trajectory towards inaction without scientific buy-in. Both approaches seem incomplete, but short political time horizons can rush things, notwithstanding long industrial and geological timescales. That doesn’t mean progress is impossible. Action to address climate change is ongoing at state and city levels, and in other countries at the national level. And while the push on climate change by incoming Democratic House members won’t result in legislation under this administration, it does mean the issue will likely be more prominent in 2020.
Of course, if Democrats push the issue harder, right-wing intransigence may harden further. But then, given the depths to which the Republican leadership’s arguments on climate change have sunk already, that is hardly a reason to hold back. Raising public awareness of both the risks of climate change and the opportunities for new jobs and businesses, and not just costs, that come from dealing with it is essential anyway. So is looking beyond those “short political time horizons” Book mentioned. While Trump dominates his party now, the recent midterm results and the gathering clouds of the Mueller investigation remind us that he is politically mortal. Younger Republicans, while more skeptical than Democrats, appear to be more open to taking action on climate change than their older counterparts.
As sociologist Robert Brulle has argued persuasively, the key to shifting Republican attitudes about climate change may well be to shift the cues provided by the right’s leading figures (or, elites, if you prefer) given their central role in shaping that amorphous thing known as “public opinion.” Jerry Taylor, a former climate-change denier who founded the Niskanen Center, points out Trump managed to get his party to abandon seemingly bedrock positions regarding free trade, Russia, and deficits pretty quickly. Only a decade ago, the late John McCain was campaigning on climate change as the Republican presidential candidate. Nothing is necessarily set in stone.
The resort to misdirection and conspiracy theories makes progress tough but also hints at the underlying fragility of climate denial. Ultimately, the issue of climate change can be boiled down to this: We have built prosperous societies on the extensive use of fossil fuels, but now know those same fuels also threaten our survival, requiring us to reimagine how we power our way of life. It is as simple and as difficult as that. And our debates, forceful as they are, should focus on the reimagining part. All else — the presidential free-associating, the tweets and the TV soundbites — is noise.

Goodbye Qatar: What next for OPEC?
Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady/ Al Arabiya/December 05/18
And so it came to pass, with one of OPEC’s members smallest producers – Qatar – making its surprise announcement that, effective January 2019, it would leave the organization. The announcement came just days before the group meets in Vienna and when the oil markets were looking for signs of OPEC and non-OPEC producer cohesion and price stability. While the Qataris put out statements to justify their decision to leave the OPEC family which they joined as one of the founding members in 1961, their exit has opened up some debate on the long term viability and structure of OPEC in the face of multiple threats.
The official Qatar announcement to exit OPEC – which has 15 members including Qatar – was couched in terms that this was a purely business driven decision and was not driven by politics. But in an oblique reference, without naming Saudi Arabia, Qatari Minister of State for Energy Affairs Saad al-Kaabi said: “We are not saying we are going to get out of the oil business but it is controlled by an organization managed by a country.”So why the sudden Qatar surprise decision? According to the Qatari minister this was because it was not practical “to put efforts and resources and time in an organization that we are a very small player in and I don’t have a say in what happens.”Instead, Qatar would focus on gas production. By all accounts, Qatar is indeed a minnow, producing around 650,000 of barrels of oil a day, compared with Russia’s 11.37 million barrels a day, and Saudi Arabia’s 11.1 million barrels a day in November.
In the natural gas and LNG domain, it is a different story and explaining Qatar’s decision, Energy Minister al-Kaabi said: “We don’t have great potential (in oil), we are very realistic. Our potential is gas.”Qatar’s exit or divorce from the OPEC family is probably a blessing in disguise for that organization to try and reassess its future role in a far more complicated energy and geo-political world than when it was first established in a period of fervent resource control nationalism
LNG market
But Doha is an influential player in the global LNG market with annual production of 77 million tonnes per year, based on its huge reserves in the Gulf, and shared gas field with Iran. The Qataris apparently want to become “the Saudi Arabia” of gas production and the decision to focus on gas was part of a long-term strategy and the country’s plans to develop its gas industry and increase LNG output to 110 million tons by 2024. It was a purely strategy and business decision said Qatar. Doha plans to build the largest ethane cracker in the Middle East. Ethane crackers break gas down into ethylene, the main chemical used in plastics, resins, adhesives and synthetic products. Qatar’s withdrawal from OPEC may not have any lasting impact on the price of oil but while its departure might not mean much for OPEC’s influence over the oil market. According to some analysts, it is important to see the decision within the broader geopolitical climate in the Middle East, especially Qatar’s relationship with OPEC’s de facto leader Saudi Arabia which has been leading a regional blockade on Qatar that has seen trade and travel links severed since June 2017. While Qatar’s energy minister insists that the decision was not political, the withdrawal from OPEC after 57 years in the club is just another way that Qatar and its Gulf Arab neighbors are growing further apart as relations deteriorate but offers a historic turning point of the organization toward Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United States, the three mega oil producers with roughly 33 million barrels per day of production between them or more than a third of global output. The key issue is whether other smaller or disgruntled OPEC members who feel marginalised in a new unofficial super producers club between Saudi Arabia and Russia, who now make key production decisions, would follow Doha’s move. Should this happen then in that scenario OPEC would have no major influence, as control is too strong a word to use given rampant US shale production, over supply or demand as each individual country could just do what they like causing market uncertainty and more price volatility.
Major ‘leavers’
But this assumes that more “leavers” are major players and an OPEC existential crisis would certainly be more realistic if countries like Iraq, Libya, Venezuela or Nigeria decided to go the Qatar route. There is no indication that any of these countries are considering this although a primary candidate is Iran, which has been fretting at the ever closer Saudi-Russian energy partnership and the proposed new consensus decision making process to make and execute production quickly based on changing market conditions, as opposed to the laborious and discredited cumbersome unanimous OPEC voting that Iran prefers.
For now, however there is optimism that Saudi Arabia and Russia are committed to keep the supply under control and have been increasingly deciding output policies together, under pressure from US President Donald Trump on OPEC to bring down prices but deciding when it is also right to try and stop a downward spiral in oil prices deemed to be harmful to oil dependent economies. Qatar’s exit or divorce from the OPEC family is probably a blessing in disguise for that organization to try and reassess its future role in a far more complicated energy and geo political world than when it was first established in a period of fervent resource control nationalism. The organization is facing challenges on many fronts, whether from environmental lobbying against fossil fuel and the increasing use of renewable energy, to continuing accusations that it is a cartel that acts in monopolistic fashion and sets prices, which is not patently true given the extraordinary surge in US shale production from a multitude of private sector companies, entering and exiting the sector depending on oil prices, availability of finance, technology break through and geology. Such accusations whether driven by Presidential tweets, but more seriously by US Congressional threats such as the proposed NOPEC Act ensures that OPEC members have to take such legal action seriously and some have made the observation that Qatar has decided to leave OPEC so as not to face such future litigation against it if it remained within the organisation.
However, in a perverse way, should Qatar ever become the equivalent of Saudi Arabia in the LNG and gas sector in the future and dominate that market, then that country could conceivably one day may also be faced by legal anti -trust lawsuits on the ground that it dominates the gas market and sets monopolistic prices.
Scenario analysis
The news that one of Saudi Arabia’s leading energy think tanks – KAPSARC – is undertaking various scenario analysis on whether the Kingdom should leave OPEC, associate with OPEC in a different format or remain as is. The Saudi Energy Minister denied that the Kingdom is considering leaving OPEC and rightly said that think tanks by their very nature have to conduct such “what if” scenarios. But Qatar’s exit will spur this debate, as one consideration would be an association with OPEC like Russia once the Aramco IPO has been completed, especially of Aramco is listed in litigious domains where investors could take action if Aramco’s post IPO production decisions are based on sovereign decisions and not on market forces to the detriment of shareholder value. This is the constant argument put by Russian semi privatized energy companies when the Russian state asks them to join in OPEC mandated production decisions based on higher national political interests. In the medium term, OPEC could re invent itself, ensuring that OPEC countries carry out joint energy investment projects such as co-mingling and refining different crude oil products, developing and sharing technology among members, especially poorer ones to enhance capacity, establishing professional market assessment experts on the ground in key consumer nations so that the organization has first hand information on demand trends instead of depending on secondary sources, and, above all, in re-visiting the archaic establishment by-laws that gives an equal vote for each OPEC member whether they are producing 50,000 barrels a day or 10 million barrels a day. This is inequitable and no international organisation like the IMF or World Bank adopts such an equal voting system. No wonder then that the Kingdom feels that the time for unanimous voting is over. In the final analysis, OPEC will survive the Qatar jolt but how it evolves and adapts is going to be a key question to its survival to ensure its continued relevance.

What is Nasrallah up to?
سمدرا بري من صحيفة يديعوت أحرونوت: ما الذي يريد حسن نصرالله الوصول إليه؟
Smadar Perry/Ynetnews/December 05/18

Resident of the north warned about tunnels but were ignored
تقرير من صحيفة يديعوت أحرونوت: سكان الشمال الإسرائيلي خذروا من الأنفاق لإر أنهم أهملوا الأمر
Lior El Hai, Goel Beno/Ynetnews/December 05/18

Hezbollah releases new tunnel operation footage
تقرير عن الأنفاق من صحيفة صحيفة يديعوت أحرونوت: حزب الله يوزع لقطات جديدة للأنفاق
Ynetnews//December 05/18

Analysis/Attack Tunnels From Lebanon: Israel Robs Hezbollah of Major Offensive Asset
عاموس هاريل من الهآررتس: ضرب إسرائل لأنفاق حزب الله على الحدود مع لبنان يحرم الحزب من امكانيات هجومية كبيرة

Amos Harel/Haaretz/December 05/18

Analysis/Tunnel Demolition Operation: Hezbollah Is in No Hurry to Battle Israel
زفي برئيل من الهآررتس: فيما يتعلق بتمير إسرائيل لأنفاق حزب الله فإن الحزب غير مستعجل على الحرب معها

Zvi Bar'el/Haaretz/December 05/18