December 07/18

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For today
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 24/32-44: '‘From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. ‘But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on December 06-07/18
Netanyahu: Israel May Have to Operate in Lebanon
UN peacekeepers confirm Israeli report of tunnel at Lebanon border
UNIFIL Confirms 'Existence of a Tunnel' in Northern Israel
Israel Demands UNIFIL Take action over 'Hizbullah Tunnel'
Lebanese Army Describes Israeli Reports on 'Border Tunnels' as 'Allegations'
Report: Aoun Says Hariri Replacement Ready if He Rejects 32-Minister Proposal
Bassil Meets Hariri, Vows Restless Efforts to Form Govt.
Report: New Govt. Solution Seeks to Appoint Karami, 'Compensate' for Hariri
Rampling Visits North Lebanon and Tripoli: Our Support Continues
In Lebanon, Billboards Declare 'We are All Carlos Ghosn'
Syria Ambassador Stresses Coordination with Lebanon on Refugees’ Return
Netanyahu Visits Lebanon Border; 'Iran's Entrenchment in Syria Has Been Halted'/Haaretz/December 06/18
IDF Reveals It Found Another Hezbollah Tunnel Crossing Into Israel, Asks UN to Help Destroy It/Yaniv Kubovich/Haaretz/December 06/18

Titles For The Latest  English LCCC  Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 06-07/18
Pope to Visit United Arab Emirates in February
2 Dead, Dozens Hurt as Iran Says 'Foreign-Backed Terrorists' behind Police Blast
US fails to win UN condemnation of Hamas
U.N. to Vote on Haley's Last Stand: Condemning Hamas
U.S.-Backed Fighters Break into IS Holdout in East Syria
Assad Announces $9 Billion Budget for 2019
Libya Could Vote on Constitution in February
UK's May Hints at Brexit Backstop Vote to Save Ailing Deal
Ukraine Calls for Int’l Action against Russian 'Aggression
Yemen War Rivals Lash Out as Talks Start
Bahrain FM: Qatar has spoiled chances of return to GCC fold

Titles For The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 06-07/18
Missile launch shows Iran’s determination to increase tensions/Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/December 07/18
Stockholm talks unlikely to yield long-term Yemen peace deal/Fatima Abo Alasrar/Arab News/December 07/18
Saudi economy has proved resilient — but now comes the challenge/Frank Kane/Arab News/December 07/18
Ethical red lines urgently needed for human gene editing/Nidhal Guessoum/Arab News/December 07/18
France’s secularism and the historic amendment/Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran/Al Arabiya/December 06/18
Netanyahu in the dock: How Gaza changed rules of the game/Ramzy Baroud/Al Arabiya/December 06/18

Latest LCCC English Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on December 06-07/18
Netanyahu: Israel May Have to Operate in Lebanon
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 06/18
/Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that there is “reasonable possibility” Israel will have to “operate in Lebanon” to neutralize Hizbullah's alleged “attack tunnels.”"We are denying our enemies the tunnels weapon in a systematic, determined manner and we will do whatever it takes," Netanyahu told 25 foreign ambassadors at a briefing near Lebanon’s border. "This operation is just the beginning, but when it ends, the tunnel weapon Hizbullah invested in will no longer be effective," he added.
"Anyone who attacks us, his blood will be on his own head. Hizbullah and Hamas know this," Netanyahu added. "I told the ambassadors they must unequivocally condemn the aggression and increase the sanctions against these elements (Hizbullah and Hamas)," he told reporters afterwards.
Netanyahu also said Israel plans to demand a response from the international community at a meeting of the U.N. Security Council called for by Israel. On Wednesday, Netanyahu told U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres that "he expects the U.N. to strongly condemn the violation of Israel's sovereignty", according to his office's Twitter account. A senior Israeli intelligence official meanwhile explained Netanyahu decided to tour the operation's area with the ambassadors "to create diplomatic legitimization for further action down the road -- if and when we need it."
"We're trying to de-legitimize Hizbullah," he explained. "They infiltrated our territory. We're convening the Security Council at the end of the week or early next week, and we'll start applying the same pressure we put on Hamas -- not just against the tunnels, but also to make it clear this is a terror organization that is here to kill civilians."

UN peacekeepers confirm Israeli report of tunnel at Lebanon border
Reuters, Beirut/Thursday, 6 December 2018
UN peacekeepers in Lebanon have confirmed the existence of a tunnel discovered by the Israeli military close to the blue line separating the two countries, it said in a statement on Thursday.
The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is “engaged with the parties to pursue urgent follow-up action” and “will communicate its preliminary findings to the appropriate authorities in Lebanon”, it added. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this week that Hezbollah was planning to send militants through the tunnels to launch attacks and he expanded on his comments on  Thursday.“Hezbollah wants to insert several battalions to our territory with the aim of isolating communities, towns and kibbutzim (collective farms) to continue its reign of terror and abductions which could take place simultaneously,” he told a meeting of foreign diplomats.He said Hezbollah’s tunnels were big enough to be used by motorcycles, small vehicles and groups of people.

UNIFIL Confirms 'Existence of a Tunnel' in Northern Israel
Naharnet/December 06/18
UNIFIL Head of Mission and Force Commander Stefano Del Col, along with a technical team, on Thursday visited a location near Metulla in northern Israel where the Israeli army “has discovered a tunnel close to the Blue Line,” the U.N. force said in a statement.
“Based on the site inspection, UNIFIL can confirm the existence of a tunnel at the location,” the force added. Accordingly, UNIFIL is now engaged with the parties to “pursue urgent follow-up action,” it said, adding that it is very important to determine the full picture of this “serious occurrence.” “UNIFIL will communicate its preliminary findings to the appropriate authorities in Lebanon,” it said. Israel had said Tuesday that it started an operation to destroy alleged Hizbullah tunnels on the Lebanese border. 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.

Israel Demands UNIFIL Take action over 'Hizbullah Tunnel'

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 06/18/Israel's army on Thursday demanded a U.N. peacekeeping force operating across the border with Lebanon to destroy a tunnel the military said was built by Hizbullah across the frontier. Israel launched an operation dubbed "Northern Shield" on Tuesday to destroy tunnels it said were dug across the border by Hizbullah. As operations continued on Thursday, the Israeli army said it had contacted the United Nations peacekeeping force (UNIFIL) which monitors the border region regarding a tunnel allegedly originating on the Lebanese side of the border. The Israeli military provided UNIFL with a map of the area around Ramieh village on which houses are marked which are "connected to another attack tunnel that has been dug from Lebanon into Israel," Israeli army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus said. The tunnel crosses into Israel but is not yet operational, he added. Yoel Strik, head of the army's northern command, demanded the U.N. force "take action, investigate and make sure to neutralize the shaft of that attack tunnel" in a discussion with the head of the peacekeeping mission Stefano Del Col. Following the launch of "Northern Shield", UNIFIL said Tuesday it had increased patrols but noted the area remained calm. Israel has not detailed how many tunnels have been detected, although Cornicus on Thursday said the army was working in three different areas along the border. The operation is part of Israel's wider campaign against Iran-backed Hizbullah, including actions to tackle the group's weapons facilities. Israel estimates Hizbullah has approximately 130,000 rockets in its arsenal, although it rejects the group's claim that it has successfully acquired precision missiles."Despite Hizbullah's effort to insinuate otherwise, Hizbullah is not in possession of any significant accurate capabilities," Conricus said.

Lebanese Army Describes Israeli Reports on 'Border Tunnels' as 'Allegations'

Associated Press/Naharnet/December 06/18/The Lebanese Army has described as "allegations" Israel's announcement that Hizbullah has dug "attack tunnels" on Lebanon's border.It called on Israel to present specific coordinates and information about the location of such tunnels. The army also called on Israel not to carry out any work inside Lebanese territory. The Israeli army has released photographs, video footage and an illustrative map of what it says is the first of several tunnels snaking into Israeli territory that it soon plans to destroy. The U.N. peacekeeping mission in south Lebanon, known as UNIFIL, said its regular weekly meeting with the Lebanese and Israeli armies discussed Israel's "activities" searching for suspected tunnels. The Israeli army said it used the meeting to express its objection to "the severe violation of Israeli sovereignty."The UNIFIL force commander, Maj. Gen. Stefano Del Col, encouraged both sides to reduce "the high level of rhetoric," avoid misunderstandings, and ensure that security and stability along the U.N.-drawn Blue Line "is maintained and reinforced," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in New York. He added that U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' "principle is that the building of tunnels from one country to another for military purposes is wholly unacceptable." Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, said he spoke with Guterres by phone Wednesday, telling him that he expects the U.N. to condemn the violation of Israeli sovereignty. Netanyahu also said he hopes the international community imposes increased sanctions on Hizbullah in response to Israel's exposure of the tunnels. Under the U.N. resolution that ended the 2006 war between Israel and Hizbullah, Hizbullah is barred from operating near Lebanon's border with Israel. Israel has long accused it of violating the resolution. Lebanon says Israel, too, regularly violates its air, sea and land spaces. "I emphasize the critical role of our liaison and coordination mechanisms in mitigating tensions through continuous communication, at the heart of which is the Tripartite forum," said Del Col. He appealed to both sides in using the mechanisms to "avoid misunderstandings and ensure that security and stability" along the border is maintained and reinforced. The Israeli operation is expected to last for weeks, or even months. The Israeli military said it had protectively increased forces along the border and warned Hizbullah to keep its distance from the tunnels.

Report: Aoun Says Hariri Replacement Ready if He Rejects 32-Minister Proposal
Naharnet/December 06/18/President Michel Aoun has said that Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri could be replaced by another figure should he reject a proposal to form a 32-minister cabinet as a way out of the Sunni representation dilemma, a media report said.
“President Aoun believes that that the solution to the governmental crisis would be the formation of a 32-minister cabinet by adding a Syriac minister to Aoun’s share and an Alawite seat to Hariri’s share and naming one of the independent Sunnis as part of the PM-designate’s share,” al-Jadeed TV quoted unnamed sources as saying. “President Aoun’s visitors quoted him as saying that should Hariri reject the 32-minister proposal then his replacement will be ready to be tasked” with forming the new government, the sources added. The sources said that Aoun’s visitors have also quoted him as saying that he “will give a brief ultimatum to Hariri to declare his stance on the 32-minister proposal or else he will address a letter to Parliament to discuss the governmental situation.”“Aoun’s visitors said he has the impression that PM-designate Saad Hariri’s several foreign trips suggest that the formation of the government is not a priority to him, knowing that he is readying to begin a European tour on Sunday,” the sources added.

Bassil Meets Hariri, Vows Restless Efforts to Form Govt.
Naharnet/December 06/18/Free Patriotic Movement chief MP Jebran Bassil held talks Thursday evening with Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri. “We discussed the proposed solutions to form the government and we will not rest before we find the appropriate solution,” Bassil said after the meeting at the Center House. An obstacle related to the representation of pro-Hizbullah Sunni MPs has been delaying the formation of the new cabinet for several weeks now after the so-called Christian and Druze hurdles were resolved. The parties are currently mulling a new proposal under which a 32-minister government would be formed instead of one comprising thirty members. This would give Hariri a Alawite seat in return for him giving up a Sunni seat to the pro-Hizbullah MPs.

Report: New Govt. Solution Seeks to Appoint Karami, 'Compensate' for Hariri

Naharnet/December 06/18/Part of a suggestion to form a Cabinet of 32 ministers instead of 30, was to allocate a ministerial seat from President Michel Aoun’s share to Independent Sunni MP Faisal Karami, and to let Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri name the two extra ministers, the pan-Arab al-Hayat daily reported on Thursday. A reliable source told the daily the proposal -aiming to ease the government formation gridlock-- calls for “naming Karami instead of the latter’s candidate Fadi al-Asayli, and that Hariri be given the right to name the two extra ministers (a Alawite and a Christian minority minister) in compensation for accepting the appointment of Karami,” he said. Hariri’s share in a 32-minister government is hence raised from five ministers to seven, taking into consideration the minority Christian minister and the Alawiite, of his choice. However, the source noted that Aoun, whose ministerial share in the government constitutes of 11 seats, “has not agreed on conceding a ministry from his share for a figure of the March 8 camp.”“There is a determination from Hizbullah’s part that a minister of the six deputies, be appointed from Aoun's share,” added the source, noting that Hizbullah prefers Karami or, “if necessary, a Tripoli figure who meets approval of Katami’s allies.”The last-minute Sunni hurdle emerged when the new government was on the verge of formation on October 29 after the Lebanese Forces accepted the portfolios that were assigned to it. Hizbullah has insisted that the six Sunni MPs should be given a seat in the government, refraining from providing Hariri with the names of its three Shiite ministers in a bid to press him. Hariri has rejected the demand, announcing that he’d rather step down than give the aforementioned lawmakers a seat from his own share in the government.

Rampling Visits North Lebanon and Tripoli: Our Support Continues
Naharnet/December 06/18/On his first official visit to the North of Lebanon and to Tripoli, British Ambassador to Lebanon Chris Rampling held a series of meetings with the Head of the Municipality Ahmed Qamareddine, the Mufti of Tripoli Malek al-Shaar, representatives from Tripoli’s Chamber of Commerce, and toured local UK funded projects benefiting the residents of Tripoli. A British embassy statement said Rampling visited the historical souks of Tripoli to see how the second phase of Rehabilitation project for around 60 shops is progressing. “This is part of an additional £800,000 to help renovate and create jobs through the Lebanon Host Communities Support Programme (LHSP),” the embassy said. Rampling also met with young people from the cultural café on Syria Street, and talked with the MARCH NGO about peace building, coexistence and their forward looks for the future. At the Mouvement Sociale center, Rampling saw how vulnerable young people are benefiting from the learning opportunities provided through the No Lost Generation Program of the British Department for International Development. Rampling also attended the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding at the municipality between the British Council, the Chamber of Commerce and the Lebanese International University, represented by Director David Knox, Toufic Dabbousi and Dr. Ahmed al-Ahdab respectively. According to the British embassy statement, the UK has committed “over £730 million to supporting Lebanon’s stability and prosperity” since 2011.“By March 2019 we will have reached over 1,440,000 people and more than 220 municipalities under the Lebanon Host Communities Support program (LHSP) in cooperation with the Ministry of Social Affairs and UNDP. DFID has committed an additional £5 million on this program in 2018-19,” the statement said. “Since 2016, DFID support has enabled almost 64,000 boys and girls to benefit from non-formal education to and supported over 116,000 disadvantaged boys, girls and women in Lebanon who are vulnerable to abuse with a package of services to help them deal with trauma and prevent abuse in the future,” it added. At the end of his visit, Ambassador Rampling said: “I am really privileged to be visiting Tripoli today, a city of much historical and geographical importance for Lebanon and the region. I listened to Tripoli officials and religious heads about the challenges and opportunities lying ahead.”“I am excited to announce from Tripoli that next week London will be the venue for the Lebanon-UK Business and Investment Forum, led by PM (Saad) Hariri. Trade will be at the heart of our growing relationship. With the total bilateral trade standing at £586m in quarter two of 2018 – it is a clear sign that we are heading in the right direction,” he added. “What was started last year is continuing this year with UK aid investing over £1.2 million to renovate the old Souks of Tripoli, a project that will play an important role in the city’s economic development. We believe that investments in infrastructure benefits Lebanese citizens and supports future economic growth. That is why we committed £40 million of UK support to the Lebanese economy during the CEDRE conference, and supports the ambitious program the Government set out there,” Rampling went on to say. “The relationship between our two countries has never been stronger and we remain a firm supporter of Lebanon’s security, prosperity and stability,” he stressed.

In Lebanon, Billboards Declare 'We are All Carlos Ghosn'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 06/18/Lebanese woke up to bright billboards of ousted Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn posted around Beirut on Thursday, in the latest show of support for the detained businessman of Lebanese origin. The Brazil-born entrepreneur is feted in Lebanon as a model of international success, and many were shocked by his arrest in Japan last month over alleged financial misconduct. "We are all Carlos Ghosn," the digital billboards declared, under a large mosaic portrait of the 64-year-old tycoon, who is currently held in a Japanese prison. Dany Kamal, managing partner at the Lebanese advertising firm that put them up, said the 18 billboards were a "personal initiative" as he was an acquaintance of Ghosn. "It's just a campaign against injustice," he told AFP. "Until proven otherwise, Carlos is not guilty." Ghosn spent his childhood years in Lebanon, and has regularly travelled back and forth to the tiny Mediterranean country. The Lebanese authorities have repeatedly honored him, and in 2017 Ghosn's portrait even appeared on a postal stamp. Several Lebanese officials have expressed solidarity with Ghosn since his arrest on November 19, even as he denies allegations that he underreported his pay by millions of dollars. "A Lebanese phoenix will not be scorched by a Japanese sun," caretaker Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouk declared. Last month, caretaker Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil received the Japanese ambassador Matahiro Yamaguchi to enquire about the circumstances of Ghosn's arrest and the conditions of his detention, the ministry said. Ghosn faces an array of claims involving hiding money and benefits he received while chairman of Nissan and head of an alliance between the Japanese firm, Mitsubishi Motors and France's Renault. While Mitsubishi Motors and Nissan have removed Ghosn, he remains chairman and CEO of Renault. On social media, some in Lebanon have clamored that Ghosn is innocent while others have seen his arrest as an example of better accountability in other countries. "May all the gangs of thieves in Lebanon meet the same fate," one Lebanese social media user wrote online.

Syria Ambassador Stresses Coordination with Lebanon on Refugees’ Return

Naharnet/December 06/18/Syrian ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdul Karim Ali stressed on Thursday that coordination between Lebanon and Syria on the file of refugees falls in the interest of both countries. "The return of Syrian refugees is expected to grow in the coming period and the close coordination between Lebanese and Syrian authorities is a necessary,” Ali said in televised remarks he made to reporters after meeting the central committee for the return of refugees in the Free Patriotic Movement.“Syria today is safe and needs the return of its children. Syria has been able to eradicate terrorism from the majority of its territory,” he said. Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri previously announced that Lebanon will not coordinate directly with the Syrian government on the return of Syrian refugees to their homeland. He largely blames Syria for the assassination of his father, ex-PM Rafik Hariri, back in 2005. Lebanon is hosting more than a million refugees. Hundreds of thousands of others are scattered across Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and beyond.

Netanyahu Visits Lebanon Border; 'Iran's Entrenchment in Syria Has Been Halted'
هآررتس: نيتنياهو يتفقد الحدود مع لبنان ويؤكد أن تحصن إيران في سوريا قد اوقف
Haaretz/December 06/18
Official warns Lebanon against being part of an Iranian weapons corridor: 'There is a likelihood that we'll have to act in Lebanon'
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Israel-Lebanon border on Thursday afternoon to brief foreign diplomats on the Israeli army's operation to destroy Hezbollah tunnels, which was launched on Tuesday.
A senior Israeli official said that Iran's force in Syria has been curbed significantly as a result of Israeli actions against its entrenchment in the country. The official added that Iranian funds funneled for that purpose have decreased thanks to U.S. sanctions.
"The Israel Defense Forces is the only army in the world operating against the Iranian military. Iran's entrenchment in Syria has been stopped," the official said.
The source added that the timing of the army operation was due to a leak and subsequent concerns that the operational details would be exposed to Hezbollah. "We were concerned that if Hezbollah saw the leak they would expedite their kidnapping efforts," the official said.
According to the source, Iran's main effort is Hezbollah; thanks to the Islamic Republic, the militant organization has 140,000 rockets – an arsenal which mainly consists of short-range missiles but also includes several precision weapons "They wanted to have thousands of these [precision weapons], but they only have a few dozen. Why? Because we blocked them... their main sites have been destroyed," he said.
"If there is a weapons transfer route from Iran to Lebanon, Lebanon will be in deep trouble," the official said. "There is a likelihood that we'll have to act in Lebanon," he said.
Netanyahu told foreign diplomats Thursday that "there's nothing they can do, we have neutralized them. It's one of the reasons we didn't launch the Gaza operation, though there were other reasons."
The premier said that, "We are systematically taking the tunnels weapon from our enemies and we will act decisively and systematically against anyone who attacks us. Hezbollah and Hamas know this."
The prime minister added: "What we're facing is one big enemy. That enemy is called Iran."
In September, Netanyahu revealed that Hezbollah built weapons storage facilities in the heart of the civilian population in Beirut. The missile storehouses are part of joint effort of Iran and Hezbollah to upgrade the organization’s missile forces, while Hezbollah’s goal is to convert its present missiles and build a long-range precision ground-to-ground missile force.
'Look at your next-door neighbor'
Meanwhile, the IDF Spokesperson released two videos in Arabic on Thursday intended for residents of southern Lebanon.
The first video shows a map of Kafr Kila, the Lebanese village in which one of the alleged cross-border attack tunnels was dug. The video describes active Hezbollah sites inside civilian areas and concluded with the text, "Every third home in southern Lebanon contains terror."
The second video is a summary overview of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War, followed by a list of alleged Hezbollah violations. The videos were additionally published in English, and the IDF tweeted "Look at your next-door neighbors' houses."
Shortly before the videos were released, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Israel's consistently violates Resolution 1701 by infiltrating Lebanese territory and airspace, but stressed that recent developments are "no reason for escalation."

IDF Reveals It Found Another Hezbollah Tunnel Crossing Into Israel, Asks UN to Help Destroy It
هآررتس: الجيش الإسرائيلي يعلن عن اكتشاف نفق آخر لحزب الله يصل إلى داخل حدود أسرائيل ويطلب من القوات الدولية المساعدة في تدميره

Yaniv Kubovich/Haaretz/December 06/18
Attack tunnel discovered after Israel launched Operation Northern Shield earlier this week to destroy Hezbollah tunnels threatening to reach Israeli civilians ■ UN force in Lebanon promises to 'pursue follow-up action' with Israel
The Israeli military said Thursday afternoon that it has discovered another tunnel dug by the terror organization Hezbollah and has asked the United Nations to help efforts to destroy it.
The commander of the Israeli army's Northern Command, Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick, asked the commander of United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Maj. Gen. Stefano Del Col, on Thursday to assist in neutralizing an attack tunnel being dug from Lebanon into Israeli territory.
According to an Israeli army statement, Strick demanded UNIFIL reach the tunnel from the Lebanese side of the border, "and noted that whoever enters the underground perimeter endangers his life."
The tunnel, which is being dug from the village of Ramyeh in southern Lebanon, crossed into Israel, but does not pose an immediate threat to residents, the statement said.
Israeli army spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, said on Thursday that Strick clarified to Del Col that the Israeli army looks harshly upon the tunnel's digging.
Manelis said Del Col was given a map which shows several structures in Ramyeh "from which we know with certainty that tunnels are being dug towards Israel."
The Israeli army statement said that "the responsibility for the well-being of the residents of southern Lebanon living near the underground tunnels penetrating Israel lies with the Lebanese government."
The UN force in Lebanon confirmed later Thursday that Israel has identified a second Hezbollah attack tunnel reaching into Israel.
UNIFIL's Head of Mission Stefano Del Colo confirmed that he visited along with a technical team the spot where the IDF discovered the second tunnel close to the Blue Line. In an official statement, UNIFIL confirmed that "based on the site inspection," it could indeed say that a tunnel existed at the location.
UNIFIL also said it was "engaged with the parties to pursue urgent follow-up action" and guaranteed it would pass on its findings "to the appropriate authorities in Lebanon."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said later Thursday evening at a ceremony in honor of Mossad operatives receiving citations of excellence that while Hezbollah may be amping up its threats against Israel, the group is not equipped with enough missiles to damage Israel to the extent it wishes to. "According to Hezbollah's plan, they were supposed to be equipped with thousands of missiles today, but they only have dozens," Netanyahu said.
"The reason they only have several dozens," the premier continued, "is actually sitting in this room. It's a combination of the powers of Mossad, the Israel Defense Forces and our entire defense establishment," he added.
The Israeli military launched the operation, dubbed Northern Shield, on Monday night. Netanyahu said earlier Tuesday that there had already been "operational successes" in the operation. "Whoever tries to harm the State of Israel will pay a heavy price," Netanyahu said in a statement, adding that Israel "is operating decisively and responsibly on all fronts simultaneously. We will continue with further actions – public and clandestine – in order to safeguard the security of Israel."
Over the past two months, Northern Command and Military Intelligence concluded with a high degree of certainty that they had identified the existence of several attack tunnels below the border fence into Israel.
The army said the rocky terrain near the Lebanese border actually made seismic locating technologies more effective than they were in the sandy terrain near the Gaza Strip. These technologies are based on identifying movements in the earth caused by digging. Thus to monitor the digging in this rocky terrain, the army used different methods than it has in the south.
Northern Command officers predicted that it will take several weeks to locate and destroy all of Hezbollah’s attack tunnels, or in the worst case a little longer. But this assessment is based on an optimistic intelligence assessment – that the army will be able to identity with a high degree of certainly the entire routes of these tunnels.
*Noa Landau contributed to this report.

Latest LCCC English Miscellaneous Reports & News published on December 06-07/18
Pope to Visit United Arab Emirates in February
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 06/18/Pope Francis will visit Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates from February 3 to 5, where he will take part in an international "interfaith" meeting, the Vatican said Thursday. The pontiff was invited to the majority-Muslim country by both Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and the local Catholic church, the statement said.

2 Dead, Dozens Hurt as Iran Says 'Foreign-Backed Terrorists' behind Police Blast
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 06/18/A suicide car bombing followed by an armed assault killed at least two people and wounded dozens outside police headquarters in the port city of Chabahar in restive southeastern Iran on Thursday. Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused "foreign-backed terrorists" of being behind the attacks and vowed to bring them to justice. "Mark my words: Iran WILL bring terrorists and their masters to justice" Zarif tweeted. Chabahar lies in Sistan-Baluchistan province which has long been a flashpoint, with Pakistan-based Baluchi separatists and Sunni Muslim extremists carrying out cross-border attacks targeting the Shiite authorities. "This terrorist act led to the martyrdom of two members of the police force," the province's deputy governor in charge of security, Mohammad Hadi Marashi, told state television.A total of 42 people were injured, the majority of whom were discharged from hospital by late afternoon, state television reported. "The terrorists tried to enter Chabahar police headquarters but they were prevented by the guards and they detonated the car bomb," Marashi said without elaborating on how many assailants took part. The gunmen who attempted to storm the building were killed by security forces, Iranian media reported. Chabahar city governor Rahmdel Bameri said many shop owners and passers-by, including women and children, were seriously wounded. "The explosion was very strong and broke the glass of many buildings close by," he told state television.Chabahar lies some 100 kilometers (60 miles) west of the Pakistan border and is home to a large, mainly Sunni Muslim ethnic Baluchi community which straddles the two countries.
Busy shopping district -
A resident contacted by AFP who said he was inside the police headquarters at the time of the assault said the assailants had attacked the building after blowing up the vehicle. "There was an exchange of gunfire right after the explosion," the resident said, adding that it lasted about 10 minutes. The police headquarters lies in a busy commercial district with many shops and banks around it. The commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps ground forces, Brigadier General Mohammad Pakpour, who has overseen counter-insurgency operations in the southeast, visited the police base after the attack, the ultra-conservative Tasnim news website reported. The news agency carried pictures of the remains of the vehicle used by the attackers which is believed to have been a blue Nissan van. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Several recent attacks in the province have been claimed by the jihadist Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice), which is blacklisted as a terrorist group by Iran. It was formed in 2012 as a successor to the Sunni extremist group Jundallah (Soldiers of God), which waged a deadly insurgency against Iranian targets over the previous decade. In October, the group claimed the capture of 12 Iranian security personnel who were conducting an operation near the Pakistan border. A state-run television news agency reported that the unit included intelligence agents from the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps. Five of those captured were released and flown home last month following Pakistani intervention.
Chabahar is a strategically important city for Iran. It has a deep-water port on the Gulf of Oman which, with Indian assistance, Iran has been developing as a major energy and freight hub between Central Asia and India, bypassing Pakistan. Due to its importance as a trade gateway for landlocked Afghanistan, it is the only Iranian port exempt from sanctions imposed by the United States earlier this year after Washington pulled out of the landmark nuclear deal between major powers and Tehran.

US fails to win UN condemnation of Hamas
The Associated Press, United Nations/Friday, 7 December 2018/A US-sponsored draft resolution that for the first time would have condemned the militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza, failed to win the required two-thirds majority in the UN General Assembly. Before Thursday’s vote, the 193-member world body had narrowly voted to require a two-thirds majority which Arab nations pressed for rather than a simple majority which the United States urged.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley told the assembly before the vote that it could make history and unconditionally speak out against Hamas which she called “one of the most obvious and grotesque cases of terrorism in the world.”But the vote on the resolution to condemn Hamas was 87-57 with 33 abstentions, a plurality below the two-thirds requirement.

U.N. to Vote on Haley's Last Stand: Condemning Hamas
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 06/18/The U.N. General Assembly will vote Thursday on a U.S.-drafted resolution condemning the Palestinian Hamas movement, in what could mark U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley's parting gesture at the United Nations. Haley, who will step down as UN ambassador at the end of the year, has repeatedly accused the United Nations of having an anti-Israel bias and strongly supports Israel in its latest confrontation with Hamas in Gaza. If adopted, it would mark the first time the assembly has taken aim at Hamas, the Islamist militant group that has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007.
The United States has won crucial backing from the European Union, with all 28 countries set to support the U.S. measure that condemns Hamas for firing rockets into Israel and demands an end to the violence. But diplomats said the U.S. draft resolution was unlikely to win the two-thirds majority required for adoption in the 193-nation assembly. The Palestinians sought to thwart the US move by presenting an amendment to the U.S. text to include a reference to UN resolutions that condemn Israeli settlements, call for negotiations on East Jerusalem and pledge support for the two-state solution. After talks with the Europeans late Wednesday, the Palestinians agreed to withdraw their amendment and instead table a separate resolution, diplomats said. That draft resolution calls "for the achievement, without delay, of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East" based on U.N. resolutions. In negotiations with the Europeans, the United States agreed to add a mention of "relevant U.N. resolutions" in its draft, but without specifying which ones. The U.S. text does not refer specifically to the two-state solution. The European Union, like the United States, considers Hamas a terror group. EU countries will support both draft resolutions, according to diplomats.
U.S. takes vote seriously
Haley rattled the United Nations when she arrived in January 2017 vowing that the United States will be "taking names" of countries that oppose President Donald Trump's foreign policy. Ahead of the vote, the U.S. ambassador sent a letter to all U.N. missions to make clear that "the United States takes the outcome of this vote very seriously." The vote at the assembly comes as Haley prepares to step away from public life even as polls show she remains one of the most popular members of Trump's cabinet. "She would like to go out with something," said a Security Council diplomat of the U.S.-drafted resolution. Resolutions adopted by the General Assembly are non-binding, but they carry political weight and are seen as a barometer of world opinion. The United States put forward the resolution as it prepares to unveil new peace proposals that the Palestinians have already rejected. The Palestinians have severed ties with the Trump administration after the decision a year ago to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and declare the city Israel's capital. The U.S. administration has also cut more than $500 million in Palestinian aid. The Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. International consensus has been that Jerusalem's status must be negotiated between the two sides. The assembly session is scheduled to begin at 3:00 pm (2000 GMT).

U.S.-Backed Fighters Break into IS Holdout in East Syria
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 06/18/U.S.-backed Syrian fighters have broken into an eastern holdout of the Islamic State group on the Iraqi border, a commander and a monitor said Thursday, months into an anti-jihadist offensive. A Kurdish-led alliance, backed by air strikes of the U.S.-led coalition, has been battling to oust IS from the pocket in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor since September. But the Syrian Democratic Forces suffered a series of setbacks, including due to a vicious fightback by jihadists and bad weather that impeded visibility. On Thursday, an SDF commander said the alliance had managed to break into the pocket and wrest part of its main town from IS. "Heavy clashes are ongoing inside the town of Hajin, after our forces advanced inside and started to control some of its neighborhoods," Redur Khalil told AFP. The SDF opened up humanitarian corridors out of the beleaguered pocket, allowing more than 1,000 civilians -- mostly woman and children -- to flee from Hajin in the past few days. Khalil accused IS of using civilians as human shields, and said the corridors would remain open. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said the SDF launched an attack on Tuesday and that dozens of families had managed to flee. The attack was backed by the heaviest shelling and air strikes by the U.S.-led coalition since the start of the offensive on the Hajin pocket on September 10, Observatory chief Rami Abdelrahman said. Since Tuesday, 34 jihadists including three suicide bombers, and 17 SDF fighters have been killed in the fighting, the Observatory said. In almost three months of battle, more than 820 jihadists and more than 480 U.S.-backed fighters have been killed, the monitor says. More than 300 civilians have been killed in that period, its says, though the coalition has repeatedly said it did not target non-combatants. IS overran large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014, declaring a "caliphate" across territories it controlled. But various offensives in both countries have routed the jihadists from most of that land, crushing their dreams of statehood. In Syria, the jihadists retain a presence in the vast Badia desert that stretches to the Iraqi border, as well as the pocket under attack around Hajin. "The liberation of Hajin will not signify the end of IS," Khalil said, warning it would retain sleeper cells. "Operations to expel them will still last a long time."

Assad Announces $9 Billion Budget for 2019
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 06/18/Syria's president on Thursday announced a budget for 2019 of almost $9 billion, of which around a third has been allocated to investment projects including in areas ravaged by the war. Seven years into Syria's grinding civil war, the Damascus government has expelled rebels and jihadists from large parts of the country with Russian military backing. President Bashar al-Assad issued the budget after the parliament passed the bill on Monday. Next year's budget would amount to 3,882 billion Syrian pounds ($8.9 billion, according to the official exchange rate), state news agency SANA said. From that, 1,100 billion pounds ($2.5 billion) would be allocated to "investment," SANA said. Finance Minister Mamun Hamdan said 443 billion pounds ($1 billion) would go to "investment projects in liberated areas or to which the Syrian army brings back stability," SANA quoted him as saying. The minister also said that 700 billion Syrian pounds ($1.6 billion) would be spend on electricity projects, without mentioning in which areas, according to state television. Hamdan told newspaper al-Watan that the projected deficit for next year was 946 billion pounds (almost $2.2 billion). The regime this year expelled rebels and jihadists from the capital's surroundings and the south of the country, bringing these areas back under its control. It has also threatened to retake the northwestern region of Idlib on the Turkish border, but the area is for now protected by a shaky buffer zone deal struck in September between Russia and rebel backer Turkey. The 2018 budget was of 3,187 billion pounds ($7.3 billion). Syria's war has killed 360,000 people and displaced millions since starting in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-regime protests.

Libya Could Vote on Constitution in February
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 06/18/Libya's electoral commission could organize a referendum on a new constitution for the strife-torn country in February if it gets security guarantees and funds, its head said on Thursday. "It is possible to organize a referendum on the constitution... towards the end of February," commission chief Imed al-Sayeh told a news conference. He said the first hurdle was overcome when the parliament, based in the remote east of the country, approved in mid-September a law on the referendum. Sayeh, who received the text of the law in November, said the legislation was a first step "even if it is incomplete and imperfect."But in order to hold a referendum security guarantees -- which he said are a "major challenge" -- must be met and the commission also needs funds. The commission is "in the red" and needs 40 million Libyan dinars (around $30 million) to organize the referendum, he added. In May suicide bombers stormed the headquarters of the electoral commission in Tripoli, killing 14 people, including nine staff members, in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group. Sayeh said that this "terrorist attack" also damaged infrastructure and equipment at the commission. "Therefore a comprehensive security plan is necessary... because the security of our staff comes before anything else," he added. A referendum on a new constitution for Libya should pave the way for much delayed legislative and presidential elections in the country. Rival Libyan leaders had agreed to a Paris-brokered deal in May to hold a nationwide election by the end of the year. But instability, territorial disputes and divisions in the oil-rich country have delayed plans for elections. The United Nations is hoping the polls could help turn the page on years of the chaos in Libya that have followed the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed strongman Moammar Gadhafi. But turmoil has continued in Libya with rival militias, tribes and jihadists vying for territory and the country's vast oil wealth. And the country also remains divided between the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli and an administration based in the east. The electoral commission is considered to be one of the few credible and independent institutions in the country. It organized legislative polls in 2012 and 2014, reviving voting in the country where it had been banned during Gadhafi's 42-year rule.

UK's May Hints at Brexit Backstop Vote to Save Ailing Deal

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 06/18/Prime Minister Theresa May suggested Thursday that MPs may get to decide whether Britain eventually joins the "backstop" plan to avoid border checks with Ireland, as she fought to save her Brexit deal. May told BBC Radio that she was looking at allowing lawmakers a vote on the arrangement, which would keep the country in a customs union with the European Union after the end of the proposed Brexit transition period in December 2020. The alternative, according to the deal struck between May and the EU, would be to extend the transition period for up to two years, during which time Britain would largely enjoy the same relationship with the bloc, despite officially leaving on March 29, 2019. "We're looking at is this question around the backstop and the role of parliament," May said. "The backstop is talked about as if it's automatic. Actually it's not automatic. There is a choice. "The question is do we go into the backstop, do we extend... the transition period? I'm exploring."
EU-British 'trust'
May is drumming up support for her deal, but faces daunting odds with scores of her own MPs set to vote against the government on December 11. EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier warned on Thursday that approval of the withdrawal agreement by the British and European parliaments was "the basis for everything". "If there is no treaty, there is no transition period, nor is there the basis of trust with the British that we need to build the future relationship," Barnier said.
"The British lawmakers will vote on this text and on the future relation in the next few days. It is a vote on which the future of their country depends." The Conservative prime minister commands a slim working majority in parliament thanks to a deal with Northern Ireland's DUP, which is fiercely opposed to her plan. DUP leader Nigel Dodds said his party would vote against the deal, but would not move to bring down May's government. "If it (the deal) is defeated, it would be somewhat illogical -- having achieved our aim trying to get to a better deal -- it would be illogical then to turn around the next day and say 'let's vote the government out'," he told ITV. "I think then we start on a process to try to get a better deal," he added. The backstop issue is the key sticking point, with official legal advice suggesting Britain could get indefinitely stuck in a customs arrangement, having no power to unilaterally withdraw.
According to media reports, May's office has attempted to win over rebellious backbenchers by suggesting that MPs may even be able to vote on rejecting both options of the deal, but was rebuffed by leading Brexiteers. Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the influential euroskeptic ERG group, told the Daily Mail that such a proposal would mean ripping up the withdrawal agreement and renegotiating it entirely, something the EU has ruled out. MPs held a third day of debates on the deal on Thursday, focusing on its economic impact. During the debate, finance minister Philip Hammond warned MPs it was "a delusion" to believe another deal could be negotiated. "This deal is the best deal to exit the EU that is available or that is going to be available," he said. "The idea that there's an option of renegotiating at the 11th hour is simply a delusion." May's fragile position was laid bare on Tuesday with a stunning series of defeats in parliamentary votes. MPs backed an amendment that will give them a bigger say in what happens if May's deal is voted down and also forced her to publish the official legal advice. A defeat for the prime minister in next week's vote could trigger a no-confidence vote leading to early elections, leaving the Brexit process in chaos.

Ukraine Calls for Int’l Action against Russian 'Aggression'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 06/18/Ukraine's foreign minister on Thursday called for a speedy international response to Russia's "aggression" after it seized three Ukrainian navy ships and 24 sailors in the Sea of Azov. At a meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Milan, Pavlo Klimkin said this was the fifth consecutive OSCE ministerial meeting to be dominated by Russia's "destabilizing" behavior in Europe. "It's a major threat to European security," the minister said, in front of Russia's top diplomat who was also in attendance.
"This year, Russia did not pull back but extended its aggressive course of action," Klimkin added. The confrontation at sea on November 25 was the first open military incident between Kiev and Moscow since 2014 when Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula, fueling a conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people. Klimkin said Ukraine would return to the United Nations to demand a "prompt response to this act of aggression." "Declarations are not enough, there must be action," he said. Klimkin called for the "immediate release and safe return to Ukraine" of the sailors and the ships, a demand also made by the EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. The sailors have been put before a court in Simferopol, the main city in Russian-annexed Crimea, and ordered to be held in pre-trial detention for two months. Mogherini on Thursday also called for the "greatest moderation to proceed toward a de-escalation" of the conflict. The first sign of detente appeared on Tuesday when Ukraine announced the "partial" lifting of the blockade by Russia in order to access some ports in the Sea of Azov. Moscow has defended its actions maintaining that the Ukrainian ships had entered Russian territorial waters and refused to respond to requests to stop from Russia's patrol boats. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meanwhile denounced "Ukraine's behavior" at the meeting and its support from the West. He blasted "the reckless enlargement of NATO... the deployment of U.S. anti-aircraft defence systems in Europe, as well as illegitimate sanctions (imposed) under false pretexts," referring to sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union after the annexation of Crimea.

Yemen War Rivals Lash Out as Talks Start

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 06/18/Talks between Yemen's government and rebels, locked in a devastating war for nearly four years, opened Thursday as tension remained high despite what the U.N. envoy called a "critical opportunity."Yemen's government and rebels doubled down on their rival demands Thursday, just moments before hard-won consultations opened in Sweden under the auspices of the United Nations. Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani, who heads the Saudi-backed government's delegation to the U.N.-sponsored talks in Sweden, told AFP his team would follow through with a planned prisoner swap with the Huthi rebels -- but refused to compromise on the flashpoint port city of Hodeida, home to Yemen's most valuable port. "The Huthi militias must withdraw from the city of Hodeida, and its port, and hand it over to the legitimate government, and specifically internal security forces," Yamani said. A Saudi-backed military coalition has for months led an offensive to retake Hodeida, the last rebel stronghold on Yemen's Red Sea coast. The move has sparked fears for more than 150,000 civilians trapped in the city as even hospitals were seized by militants.
Hodeida is on the agenda at the talks, slated to run for one week. Not on the table are negotiations on a solution to the conflict between the Saudi-backed government of Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi and Yemen's Huthi rebels, according to U.N. envoy Martin Griffiths.
Mass starvation threat
One of the most impoverished countries in the world, the Arabian Peninsula state of Yemen is now home to what the U.N. calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with 14 million people facing imminent mass starvation. The talks in Rimbo, Sweden -- a picturesque village some 60 kilometers (35 miles) north of Stockholm -- have been months in the making, with the U.N. sending its special envoy to Sanaa to personally escort the rebel delegation to Sweden. "During the coming days we will have a critical opportunity to give momentum to the peace process," Griffiths told reporters as the rival delegations gathered in Sweden. "There is a way we can resolve the conflict," Griffiths said, adding that the Security Council was "united" in its support for a resolution to the conflict. "Remember these are consultations. We are not yet beginning the process of negotiations." The meeting marks the first attempt in two years to broker an end to the Yemen conflict, which has killed at least 10,000 people since Saudi Arabia and its allies joined the government's fight against the rebels in 2015.
'Humanitarian pipeline'
Griffiths said the U.N. was willing to step in in Hodeida, an offer the Saudi-led coalition has rejected unless the rebels withdraw completely from Yemen's western coastline. "The U.N. is willing if the parties so desire to play a part in the port and city. We'd like to take Hodeida out of the conflict because ... it's the humanitarian pipeline to the rest of the country," he said. "We would like to see that airport open, but it needs to be assessed," he said. "We'd like to see progress on this."The head of the Huthi rebels' political council threatened Thursday to bar U.N. planes from using the Yemeni capital's airport unless the peace negotiations lead to its full reopening. Sanaa international airport, located in the rebel-held capital, has been largely shut down for years. It has been the target of air raids by the Saudi-led coalition, which also controls Yemeni airspace.International pressure to end the Yemen conflict reached unprecedented heights in recent weeks, as all eyes turned to Saudi Arabia's policies following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Sources on both sides said they would demand a ceasefire -- initiated by their rival -- and the opening of humanitarian corridors. The government and Huthis on Tuesday said they agreed to a prisoner swap, to be overseen by the International Committee of the Red Cross, after the Sweden talks. Saudi Arabia and its allies this week allowed the Huthis to evacuate 50 wounded rebels from Sanaa for medical treatment in Oman. Griffiths' plans to host talks in Geneva in September collapsed on the opening day after the rebels refused to leave the Yemeni capital, saying they feared they would not be allowed to return.

Bahrain FM: Qatar has spoiled chances of return to GCC fold
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Thursday, 6 December 2018/Bahrain Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa has described the ongoing dispute with Qatar as “unprecedented and very deep” as Qatar has spoiled chances of returning to the GCC fold.
In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, he said that Doha “has burned the return ships to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the dispute can’t be solved by just a hug. There must be a new agreement and new regime and Doha should be placed under scrutiny.”“I do not know how Qatar will return. It has committed to the enemies of the region, such as Iran, and separated itself from the GCC. We are realistic in dealing with this issue and we don’t want to waste more time,” he affirmed.
Putting Doha under scrutiny
The minister emphasized that Qatar was the least to commit to the GCC agreements. Underlining the need for reforms in Doha, he noted that the Arab Quartet was holding on its stance and conditions with regard to the crisis. He added that three quarters of these conditions are related to two Riyadh agreements in addition to the presence of Turkish troops. The majority of the terms of the agreements were signed by the Emir of Qatar in front the leaders and promised to abide by them.
Riyadh Summit resolutions
Sheikh Khalid said that the GCC summit due next Sunday in the Saudi capital Riyadh will discuss the strategic military cooperation between the member countries and that the summit is expected to arrive at a number of resolutions. As for Qatari representation in the summit, he said: “The Qatari representation is not of concern to us, its presence or absence is the same, no one looks at our stance toward Qatar. What we did was a reaction to what Qatar did and adopt. But does Qatar belong to the GCC? It is a member but it helps foreign troops instead of forces it belongs to like the Peninsula Shield Forces. The foreign troops present on the Qatari soil is the biggest threat Doha created to threaten GCC countries.”
Israeli officials visits to Bahrain “untrue”
Bahrain Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa denied reports related to the visit of Israeli officials to Bahrain, saying that: “What is reported today is incorrect. There is no plan for a visit by the prime minister of Israel. There were no contacts in this regard. Nothing happened in fact and if these visits happened we will not hesitate to declare them.”

Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 06-07/18
Missile launch shows Iran’s determination to increase tensions
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/December 07/18
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his team, including Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, continue to boast that the Islamic Republic is not in favor of hard power. Instead, they say it prioritizes soft power in the region, such as employing diplomatic initiatives and dialogue in order to address regional and global issues.For example, Zarif last week called on the international community to resort to dialogue, not military solutions, with the Taliban. He said: “All of us need to facilitate the intra-Afghan dialogue by helping to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table with the government for inclusive and comprehensive talks.”But the reality on the ground tells a totally different story. The Islamic Republic has ratcheted up its projection of hard power to an unprecedented level. On Saturday, Iran launched a medium-range ballistic missile. The range of existing Iranian ballistic missiles has grown to more than 2,000 kilometers, which would mean they could easily reach Eastern Europe, as well as countries such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Yemen. In addition, Iran’s medium-range ballistic missiles have the capability to carry several warheads.
This development highlights the fact that Iran’s ballistic missile activities and proliferation have been increasing. While the Iranian leaders argue that they are not breaching any international law, Tehran is clearly violating UN Security Council resolution 2231. The resolution calls on the Islamic Republic “not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.”
In addition, as Iran and the P4+1 (Germany, the UK, Russia, China and France) still argue that the nuclear deal remains effective, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) indicates that Iran should not undertake any ballistic missile activity “until the date eight years after the JCPOA Adoption Day (Oct. 18, 2015) or until the date on which the IAEA submits a report confirming the broader conclusion, whichever is earlier.”This is not the first time that Tehran has carried out such violations. It has previously launched Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missiles and Qiam 1 short-range ballistic missiles, which, according to a report obtained by the Associated Press, are “destabilizing and provocative” and are “inherently capable of delivering nuclear weapons.”
The Trump administration cannot deter the Iranian regime from pursuing such aggressive policies alone. Unfortunately, the P4+1 have not reacted forcefully enough or taken measures to hold the Iranian government accountable for its increasingly frequent violations. China and Russia, which enjoy strategic, geopolitical and economic alliances with Tehran and favor Iran’s counterbalance stance against the US and its allies, tend to embrace Iran’s justification for launching the missiles. Even though France and Britain expressed concern over the launch and requested a closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council, they and other European countries appear to have even less incentive to publicly hold the Iranian regime accountable. This is due to the fact that the EU desires to keep the nuclear deal alive and protect economic and trade ties with Tehran, particularly in the energy sector.
On the other hand, the US has taken a tougher stance against Iran’s activities. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Iran’s action a violation of the UN Security Council resolution and pointed to the repercussions of Tehran’s destructive behavior. He said: “We are accumulating risk of escalation in the region if we fail to restore deterrence. We condemn these activities, and call upon Iran to cease immediately all activities related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.”
Nevertheless, the Trump administration cannot deter the Iranian regime from pursuing such aggressive policies alone. Furthermore, since Iran is cognizant of the fact that launching ballistic missiles is not going to elicit a robust reaction from the other members of the UN Security Council or the EU, Tehran is likely to continue its proliferation and launching of ballistic missiles. Advancing its ballistic missile program, regardless of international norms, has become a core pillar of the regime’s foreign policy. The Islamic Republic currently possesses the largest ballistic missile arsenal in the region.
In an attempt to further increase geopolitical tensions, Iran’s state-owned media outlets and politicians this week celebrated the launch of a stealth warship in the Gulf. Iran had previously declared its plans to establish navy bases in several countries in the region, including Yemen and Syria, and send vessels to South America. Contrary to the Iranian president’s rhetoric about the importance of deploying diplomacy and dialogue in the region, as well as on the international stage, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the senior cadre of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have recently placed significant emphasis on increasing the regime’s military capabilities. At the end of the day, Khamenei and the IRGC enjoy the final say in Iran’s domestic and foreign policies.
By launching ballistic missiles and a stealth warship in the Gulf, the Iranian regime appears determined to escalate tensions in the region and seek every opportunity to project its power in order to reassert its hegemony. The international community ought to hold Tehran accountable for its military adventurism and violations of international standards.
*Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh

Stockholm talks unlikely to yield long-term Yemen peace deal

Fatima Abo Alasrar/Arab News/December 07/18
Most of Yemen’s analysts are offering measured responses to the current UN-led negotiations in Stockholm, demonstrating both the urgent need for peace and the difficulty of attaining it. Even the US State Department is erring on the side of caution. “We have no illusions that this process will be easy,” read a statement by spokesperson Heather Nauert. “But we welcome this necessary and vital first step.” In a nutshell, consultations will go as scheduled, but the peace that is required “now” is being saved for “later.”Whether or not the bar is set too low or expectations are being mitigated, one thing is clear: There is reason to believe the conflict in Yemen will continue for much longer than anyone had hoped for. Anyone who understands the local dynamic in Yemen’s conflict realizes that there is no appetite for peace among the warring parties, all of which have no incentive to negotiate any concessions. The Houthis have nothing to gain if they give up their control over Sanaa or Hodeidah, nor is it in their DNA to give up their weapons. For the government, realizing that the Houthis are now at their weakest since Ali Abdullah Saleh’s death a year ago is increasing the possibilities of internal turmoil and divisions, and their political termination. This is not the first time that UN-led talks have focused on the optics of a process rather than its outcome. The 2013 National Dialogue Conference (NDC), for example, where Yemenis from different stripes came together, was an event that received excessive praise and optimism, but it failed to bring about the desired results on the ground. The NDC ignored all factors that indicated the impending collapse of the Yemeni state by remaining committed to the process, and not the outcome.
From the UN’s perspective, these consultations aren’t meant to be overburdened with high expectations. The UN is seeking to find piecemeal wins between the government of Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the Houthis, perhaps with the hope of moving toward peace negotiations next year. UN envoy Martin Griffiths may have laid the foundations for these talks, but for now he will focus on helping both parties feel reassured about working together through the introduction of confidence-building measures (CBMs), such as the reopening of Sanaa airport, prisoner exchanges, and economic measures through the Central Bank of Yemen. These measures are not very difficult to agree on because both sides of the aisle have been pressured on them for the past year. Agreement on these measures is therefore highly likely. However, a win on CBMs is not a win for the peace process.
The consultations in Stockholm have received an enormous amount of interest given the failure of September’s Geneva consultations, which the Houthis did not attend. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that peace is around the corner. Griffiths is working overtime to get the parties into binding agreements through the CBMs, which are more likely to be short-term wins. It remains unlikely these will translate into something beyond this step. There is reason to believe that the conflicting parties find it much easier to fight instead of agreeing.
A win on confidence-building measures is not a win for the peace process.
The Houthis do not have any reason to demonstrate flexibility. The international pressure for peace and calls for ending the war are often seen as advantageous for the Houthis because they place the burden firmly on the coalition, without paying much attention to the Houthis’ role in Yemen.
Nevertheless, the UN is continuing unabated with its plans to demonstrate that this should be the trajectory the warring parties should follow. Griffiths is likely to continue with a second round of consultations around his peace framework in 2019.
Another interesting part of the consultations, which might make them less serious, is that they are primarily taking place without the involvement of the regional players. The UN views this as a good step as it keeps things simple and focused on local Yemeni actors, but in reality the war is complex and the role of outside actors, especially Iran, has significant influence over the peace process.
Moreover, while the Arab partners have demonstrated considerable concern over the humanitarian crisis in Yemen through large donations and the backing of Griffiths, Iran is yet to act to help stem the humanitarian crisis in Houthi-controlled areas. Tehran’s calls for a peace plan are extremely vacuous given the destructive role it plays in empowering the Houthi militia and supplying it with ballistic missiles, some of which were fired on Saudi Arabia just days before the consultations. Iran is still believed to be the main hurdle, as it has been using the Houthis to settle political scores with the US.
The consultations in Stockholm are being conducted as a result of tremendous international pressure due to the humanitarian crisis and projections of famine, which create unimaginable suffering among Yemenis. This much is understood, and such calls for a change in the war trajectory are noble. The current external push for peace, even with the realization that it is unattainable for now, is meant to signal that making peace is the only acceptable way forward. However, politicians must realize that focusing on the process itself without swiftly addressing violations on the ground will ultimately come back to threaten the peace that everyone craves. Politicians must understand that, without the ability to enforce peace on a local level, the consultations will be nothing more than a first step toward a failed peace process.
*Fatima Abo Alasrar is a senior analyst for the Arabia Foundation in Washington. Twitter: @YemeniFatima

Saudi economy has proved resilient — but now comes the challenge

Frank Kane/Arab News/December 07/18
As the decision makers in Vienna got down to the nitty gritty on Thursday, the economic policymakers back home were looking through the range of oil price variables to see how the OPEC deliberations will effect their budget calculations for 2019. Though it is still too early to say where the oil price will settle after Vienna, especially after the recent volatility in global crude prices amid a wave of geopolitical forces pulling it this way and that, the economic background is relatively benign — or at least less unpredictable than it has been for several years. The risk is that those same mercurial geopolitics can throw off course even the best laid plans, and that Saudi Arabia — the biggest of the regional oil-exporting economies — finds itself contending with more variables than policymakers would ideally like. But for the time being, the economic context is encouraging. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) in October raised its forecast for Saudi Arabia to 2.2 percent in 2018; after a fall of 0.9 percent last year, that is welcome news.
The IMF’s sums were drawn up before the oil price began its recent descent — it is down about 30 percent since the start of October — but a better guide to recent performance comes from a report by Capital Economics, the London-based consultancy. CapEcon’s survey of purchasing managers’ index (PMI) data showed that business confidence in Saudi Arabia rose to 55.2 in November, its highest level this year, even as the price of oil was plummeting. (Similar optimism was expressed in the UAE). It could be, of course, that the survey did not capture the full effect of the oil price fall — it was being compiled before the sharpest part of the decline — but in Saudi Arabia and the UAE the PMIs probably also reflected the positive effects of fiscal and economic stimulus measures introduced this year.
In Saudi Arabia, there was also the boost to consumer spending from the recently announced reinstatement of some public-sector bonuses.
Can this positivity extend into next year, when oil prices might look very different? The IMF says it can, predicting 2.4 percent growth in the Kingdom in 2019.
Gradual fiscal reforms, the introduction of household and cost of living allowances, greater support for the private sector and the ongoing megaprojects will all help stimulate economic activity over the next 12 months. This is backed up by a recent assessment from Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BoAML). The US bank’s MENA research team forecasts higher growth for Saudi Arabia on looser fiscal spending. Gradual fiscal reforms, the introduction of household and cost of living allowances, greater support for the private sector and the ongoing megaprojects will all help stimulate economic activity over the next 12 months. Saudi Arabia’s financial position is improving, too, with the fiscal deficit narrowing on higher-than-budgeted oil revenues over the course of the full year, the non-oil sector broadly on target, and greater spending discipline, with higher current spending offset by lower capital spending.
As ever, there are risks. “The impact of recent geopolitical uncertainty on the domestic political and business environment, foreign direct investment, private sector investment, growth, oil and foreign policy bears watching,” said BoAML. In the longer term, it is all about oil prices, geopolitics and the reform program, and the delicate balance between the three.
“A prolonged period of low oil prices, fiscal reform slippage, devaluation, and regional geopolitical threats remain the primary risks. An exodus of expatriates and their families due to fees and Saudization could weigh on private consumption,” the bank’s analysts said. The resilience of the Saudi economy, and especially the non-oil sector in the face of recent volatility, is commendable, but the big question is whether it will last. CapEcon said that lower oil prices will not cause major balance sheet strains in the largest Gulf economies, but “at the very least, we expect fiscal support is key to fade and we expect the recovery in non-oil sectors to park in the coming quarters,” the consultancy said. That means the government could face challenges in providing the level of stimulus necessary to continue pump-priming the non-oil sector. This is why the delicate negotiations in Vienna are being mirrored by an economic balancing act in Riyadh. As policymakers prepare for a crucial budget at the end of this month, they had some key economic advantages compared with previous years, but the geopolitical background is less certain.
*Frank Kane is an award-winning business journalist based in Dubai. Twitter: @frankkanedubai

Ethical red lines urgently needed for human gene editing
Nidhal Guessoum/Arab News/December 07/18
The world awoke to a shocking piece of news late last month: A Chinese scientist had edited the genes of two twin girls at the fertilization stage and let the two embryos be carried to birth. Furthermore, another woman is currently carrying a baby whose genes have also been edited.
I must first stress that no scientific breakthrough was made in this instance — no procedure that other scientists could not have achieved. Indeed, the technique that was utilized, Crispr-Cas9, often simply referred to as Crispr, was developed a few years ago and was known to potentially have wide-ranging and powerful applications, including on human genes.
Crispr, in a nutshell, is a biochemical technique that allows scientists to send molecules to literally cut pieces of a gene (a little segment of DNA) and thus either render it inoperative or modified in a specific way. Everyone knew that this could, in principle, be used on humans, most likely with good intentions, but the consequences of editing human genes are very difficult to predict, hence committees have been at work to set guidelines on the use of Crispr. In December 2015, a few months after the technique was revealed to the world, an international summit on human gene editing was held in Washington.
What makes Crispr so powerful? Suppose you inherited from one of your parents a gene that makes you likely to develop a certain deficiency (myopia, type 1 diabetes, etc.); one could, in principle, target the genes that are responsible for these illnesses and turn them off before conception. Surely, we would all welcome that and encourage scientists to perform it, right? Similarly, the Chinese scientist who edited the two baby girls’ genes tried to make them “resistant” to the HIV virus and claims to have at least partially succeeded.
What’s wrong with this approach? First, one cannot guarantee success, and indeed one of the few experts who got the chance to review Dr. He Jiankui’s paper (it is still unpublished) has stated that, in one of the twins, the editing was successful in only one of the two genes; the girl will thus not have the resistance to HIV that was intended. Secondly, and more importantly, there was evidence in He’s data that other genes or segments of the DNA were affected, and who knows what impact that will have on the girl’s traits, not to mention her children’s? Indeed, modifications on genes often express themselves only in offspring. And, last but not least, impacts on genes are difficult to detect, so a full list of modifications that will have occurred in this intervention is impossible to draw up.
And, if you’re not yet shocked by these developments, here’s the worst of it. He did perform a gene sequence of the two groups of cells after the gene editing (or “surgery,” as he prefers to refer to it) but before the cells were put into the uterus for the mother to carry until birth. Guess what: He saw (or at least should have seen) that the editing was not totally successful but he still proceeded with the implantation into the mother’s uterus. He didn’t bother to consult with colleagues, let them review the results, and supervise or monitor the experiment. No, he proceeded single-handedly, being convinced that “parents should get the chance to use this technique.” I wonder whether he even informed the parents of the full results of his work.
He saw that the editing was not totally successful but still proceeded with the implantation into the mother’s uterus
Is this kind of experiment even allowed? Dozens of countries have laws that explicitly prohibit this, but not China — at least not yet. There are additional concerns with this line of research. First, any error made on a gene in an embryo will be carried by the descendants and passed on to others by reproduction, and such errors will be impossible to remove from humanity.
Moreover, even if one checks that no mistakes have been made in such “surgery” before any further steps are taken, who is to guarantee that the technique will only be used for therapeutic purposes, and not for enhancements or evil intentions? In fact, clinics around the world are already offering “designer babies,” and who doesn’t want their child to become a sports champion, a piano virtuoso or other such talent?
Indeed, once that genie is out of the bottle, nobody knows what consequences will follow.
The 2015 international summit on human gene editing issued very clear and strong recommendations: “It would be irresponsible to proceed with any clinical use of (hereditary cell) editing unless and until (1) the relevant safety and efficacy issues have been resolved, based on appropriate understanding and balancing of risks, potential benefits, and alternatives; and (2) there is broad societal consensus about the appropriateness of the proposed application. Moreover, any clinical use should proceed only under appropriate regulatory oversight. At present, these criteria have not been met for any proposed clinical use.”
Ethical international guidelines, if not red lines, are urgently needed for human gene editing. We must not allow individual scientists to recruit consenting parents for dubious experiments through false promises or decide on their own what research is good or bad. The whole of humanity is at stake in such research.
*Nidhal Guessoum is a professor at the American University of Sharjah, UAE. Twitter: @NidhalGuessoum

France’s secularism and the historic amendment
Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran/Al Arabiya/December 06/18
The proposed amendments to the French Secularism law of 1905 have raised a lot of debate between the intellectual elite and Islamic institutions in the country. A group of intellectuals perceive the proposed amendment to the law as supportive of the concept of secularism, instead of being opposed to it. They support amending it after more than 113 years when the Muslim community was not part of the French fabric. On the other hand, others object to this amendment considering it a violation of the battle which the French society fought to achieve a secular system. The government leaked the planned amendments to the media and they are summarized in three items:
1. Expand the scope of religious associations to include all places of worship
2. Define the criteria of the religious association to distinguish between what is religious and what is cultural
3. Tighten the supervision over financial resources, especially those coming from abroad
Fear has been creeping within the hearts of Muslims as these amendments serve them, which in turn would naturally make the French people hold Muslims responsible for being the cause of this unprecedented historic change. According to these items, despite the third one, Islamic associations can invest and this will create problems on the social and intellectual levels.
Secularism requires society’s pluralism, where there is a kind of neutrality or “principled distance”
Understanding secularism
A large percentage of Muslims, even the ones who are living in Europe, America and Canada, oppose and fight secularism. This is even more problematic, despite Gilles Kepel, François Burgat, Alain Gresh, Olivier Roy and other intellectuals’ defense of Muslims considering them to have become a societal constituent that can hence be dealt with outside the context of hegemony. This is totally refuted by intellectuals like Ali Harb and Adonis. On the other hand, Mohammed Arkoun distinguishes himself as he calls for the development of secularism so that it harmonizes with the liberal attitude and reconciles with the “study of religions” in high schools according to what he calls “Reconciling with the Study of Comparative Religion” in his book “Islam: Europe and the West.” Arkoun has actually engaged in a long debate on this matter with intellectuals and clerics.A recent book Beyond the Secular West supervised by Akeel Bilgrami, the Sidney Morgenbesser Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University, and co-authored with a group of thinkers, discusses the nature of secularism among countries in which Christianity has not been widespread, such as China, India and the Middle East.
It also explores how local religious cultures work together in Africa and the extent to which modern secularism has developed. The book is quite special for two main reasons. First, it is an extension of prominent philosopher Charles Taylor’s extensive discussions about secularization and in which he engaged in rich debates with German philosopher Jurgen Habermas. The second aspect is Taylor’s participation in a paper titled: A Secular Age. Perhaps the book itself compels us to go back to Taylor’s original theory.
Taylor once asked why we need a radical definition of secularism? In the book “The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere” which he wrote in collaboration with Habermas, Judith Butler and Cornel West, he states: “It’s generally agreed that modern democracies have to be ‘secular.’ There is perhaps a problem, a certain ethnocentricity, involved in this term.
But even in the Western context the term is not limpid.” Secularism requires society’s pluralism, where there is a kind of neutrality or “principled distance.” The latter is a notion established by Rajeev Bhargava (an expert in Indian secularism and its distinction and a contributor to the book “Beyond the Secular West” previously referred to). Yet, Taylor’s particularity is his opposition of “instrumental secularism” in its shallow definition of “separating religion from state” or linking it to the writing of a particular constitution. He believes it’s complete with these three bases:
1. Coercion shall not be exercised in the field of religion
2. Equality of people in faiths
3. All spiritual families have the right to find a listening ear
French and German versions
Certainly, there exist differences between German and French secularism and so Taylor uses the example of the headscarf as an example to further illustrate this point. The headscarf is banned in France but it’s partly banned in Germany (only for female students and not the teachers).
Meanwhile, every school in Britain is free to decide upon the matter. These differences are due to the different criterion used to explain the equality between religions. Habermas explains the roots of this criterion and calls for epistemological rupture between the secular mind and the religious thought, with a preference given to the former and that is enough to provide the standard results of establishing democratic legitimacy or specifying political ethics. Ultimately, the debate in France is due to limiting fairness that justice is part of the revolutionary renewal of the social contract as in John Rawls’ profound book “Justice as Fairness.” The basis can be explained by these quotes from Rawls’ book: “Social and economic inequalities are to satisfy two conditions: first, they must be attached to office and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity; and second, they must be to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged members of society.” Rawls also emphasized that his theory is not metaphysical or utilitarian and does not aim to define what is moral but is a “political theory.” And to this, there are further lengthy discussions.

Netanyahu in the dock: How Gaza changed rules of the game
Ramzy Baroud/Al Arabiya/December 06/18
The tide has been turning against Israel for years, but recent events only demonstrated that Israeli policies, aimed at regaining the initiative, whether militarily or in terms of public opinion, have miserably failed to make any difference whatsoever.
Israeli leaders and their allies may wish to blame “anti-Semitism” for Israel’s tarnished image but in truth, they have no one else to blame but themselves. Even before the Gaza siege and successive wars on the impoverished Strip turned criticism of Israel into global outrage, a new discourse was being firmly and irreversibly developed, one that equates Israel with an Apartheid state, and Israeli actions with war crimes. The Israeli government, which has subjected Palestinians to seemingly perpetual siege and military occupation, is itself being besieged – not by Palestinians, but by the consequences of its own criminal actions. This sordid reality is yet to inspire an awakening among Israeli leaders, or even a major rethink within Israel’s increasingly right-wing society. To the contrary, Israeli colonialism is in full swing - racism is growing more rampant than ever and aggression and violence are meted out in the most brutal and pronounced forms imaginable. Gaza, of course, remains the favorite Israeli platform to express these violent tendencies – it is a place where Palestinians can be taught their proverbial lesson. Indeed, the recent Israeli attack on Gaza was meant as yet another Israeli military campaign aimed at suppressing the popular uprising that has been gathering steam at the fence separating besieged Gaza from Israel, since March.
Additionally, such attacks often serve, as has been the established norm for years, to downgrade the defenses of Palestinian Resistance.
But when Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, ordered his army to carry out the limited operation in the Strip on November 12, he certainly did not anticipate that his military adventure would destabilize his government and threaten the very survival of his right-wing coalition.
Israel’s ability to win wars and translate its victories into political concessions from Palestinians and Arabs, have been greatly hampered, and this fact has little to do with Netanyahu’s supposed ‘weakness’, as his Israeli detractors often claim
Corruption cases
Yet it did, far more than the multiple police investigations into various corruption cases involving Netanyahu’s family and closest aides. Thanks to the botched operation in Gaza, which led to the killing of seven Palestinians and an Israeli army commander, Netanyahu’s coalition has begun to disintegrate, merely needing a final push for it to collapse completely. It all began when the country’s extremist Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, quit his post two days after the Gaza attack, in protest of the country’s ‘surrender’ to Palestinian Resistance.
The even more extreme far-right leader, Naftali Bennett, was expected to pounce on the opportunity and follow suit. He did not – in a calculated move aimed at capitalizing on the fact that he had suddenly become the government’s ultimate kingmaker.
Now, Netanyahu’s once stable coalition is hanging by a thread with the support of only 61 members in the Knesset. This means that the coalition’s once-comfortable majority is now dependent on a single MK. One wrong move and Netanyahu could find himself forced into snap elections, a choice that, at least for now, he dreads. Netanyahu’s options are growing limited. Worse, his own Gaza miscalculations are being investigated by the Israeli military, adding yet another case to a burgeoning dossier of investigations concerning the embattled prime minister and his policies.
It seems that the age of striking Gaza with impunity in order to score political points with Israeli voters, is, perhaps, over. While much political commentary is being dedicated to Netanyahu’s future and the dirty politicking of his right-wing coalition, Israel’s burgeoning problem is larger than any individual. Israel’s ability to win wars and translate its victories into political concessions from Palestinians and Arabs, have been greatly hampered, and this fact has little to do with Netanyahu’s supposed ‘weakness’, as his Israeli detractors often claim.
Some Israeli politicians, however, still refuse to accept that the violence paradigm is changing. Almost every time that Israel has attacked Gaza in the past, Israel’s own politics factored greatly in that decision. Gaza has been used for Israel to flex its muscles and display its latest war technology.
The 2014 war - dubbed ‘Operation Protective Edge’ – was, however, a wake-up call for the over-confident Israeli leaders. More than 2,300 Palestinians were killed in that war and over 17,000 wounded, the vast majority being civilians.
War trajectory
While that is quite consistent with the Israeli war trajectory, the number of Israeli casualties indicated a changing trend. 66 Israeli soldiers were killed, and only a few civilians, indicating that the Palestinian Resistance has abandoned the randomness of its past tactics and grown bolder and more sophisticated. Four years since that war, coupled with a particularly harsh stage of the siege - which has been imposed on Gaza since 2007 – did not change the equation. The fighting that was instigated by the latest Israeli attack has further accentuated the fact.
As Israel pounded Gaza with a massive bombing campaign, Gaza fighters filmed a rare attack using anti-tank missiles that targeted an Israeli military bus on the Israeli side of the fence. Hours later, a truce, facilitated by Egypt, was announced, to the relief of Netanyahu and the jubilation of Palestinians, who marched in their thousands in celebration.
Considering the disproportionate military power and desperate humanitarian situation in Gaza, it makes perfect sense why Palestinians perceived the outcome as a ‘victory’.
Israeli leaders, not only on the Right but the Left as well, attacked Netanyahu who understood that continued fighting would lead to another major war, with most unpredictable outcomes.
Unlike Lieberman, Bennett and others, Netanyahu’s political strategy is not only driven by attempting to pacify Israel’s angry public, many of whom protested the Gaza truce in various parts of the country. The Israeli Prime Minister has a twofold political outlook: laboring to politically divide Gaza from the West Bank, and maintaining a degree of ‘stability’ that would afford time and space for American political maneuvering in preparation for Donald Trump’s so-called ‘Deal of the Century.’
Growing challenge
Moreover, Israel’s growing challenge in Syria and Lebanon makes a prolonged military operation in Gaza quite dangerous and unsustainable. But the pressure on the home-front is relentless.
74 percent of the Israeli public is ‘dissatisfied’ with Netanyahu’s performance in the latest round of fighting in Gaza, according to an Israel Television News Company poll released soon after the truce was announced. Yet Netanyahu has no other option but to commit to the truce in Gaza which, according to Israeli political logic, means that he must stir trouble elsewhere to send a message of strength and prowess to the disquieted public. This is precisely why Netanyahu renewed his threats of ethnically cleansing the population of Khan al-Ahmar in the Occupied West Bank.
“It will be demolished very soon,” he declared, in an attempt to move the conversation from Gaza to elsewhere, and to regain the confidence of his right-wing constituency. While Gazans are getting a badly needed respite, however fleeting, Khan al-Ahmar residents will now become the main target for Israel’s political violence and bullying.
The question is, how long will Israel be able to sustain this violent paradigm and what will it take for the international community to hold Tel Aviv accountable?
As for Palestinians, Gaza has demonstrated that only Resistance, popular or otherwise, works. It is the only language that registers with Israel who must understand that the age of easy wars is long gone.