December 13/18

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For today
Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit
John 12/20-28: “Among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus. ’Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour. ‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say “Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on December 12-13/18
The 13th assassination anniversary of Gebran Tueini/Archbishop Calls for Rescue Government to End Stalemate
Netanyahu Says UN Force Should Rein in Hizbullah More
Israel 'Warns Hizbullah' of Reprisals over 'Attack Tunnels'
Lebanese leaders show new optimism on ending government deadlock
Aoun Meets Taymour Jumblat in Baabda
Hariri, Others, Pays Tribute to Gebran Tueni on 13th Assassination Anniversary
Hariri: Lebanon Will Make CEDRE Succeed Despite Govt. Delay
Berri Says Aoun Letter to Parliament on Hariri's Designation ‘Could Sow Strife’
Lebanon’s Bassil says Aoun-Hariri partnership will lead to government
U.S. Rejects Israel’s Request for Sanctions on Lebanon Over Hezbollah Tunnels
In Lebanon, Criticism Of Hizbullah's Tunnels Into Israel: Hizbullah May Drag Lebanon Into War

Titles For The Latest  English LCCC  Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 12-1318
US’ Mike Pompeo calls on UN to re-impose ballistic missile restrictions on Iran
French police hunt Strasbourg Christmas market attacker
Turkey Says to Launch New Operation against Syria Kurd Militia within Days
Washington: Observation posts in place on Syria-Turkey border
Turkey will start operation east of Euphrates in Syria in a ‘few days,’ Erdogan says
Iraqi PM Abdel Mahdi says lagging cabinet formation ‘not his decision’
US energy secretary urges Iraq to quit dependency on Iran
Mass Graves Found Near ex-IS Stronghold, Says Syria State Media
Palestinian Child Dies of Wounds after Border Clash
China Says Detained Canadian May Have Violated NGO Law
North and South Korean Soldiers Enter Each Other's Territory
Lawyers Protest Detention of Kelly, Ghosn's Co-Accused
UN chief Guterres to attend Yemen’s peace talks in Sweden
UN Reports More Suspected Iranian Missiles Found in Yemen
Yemen groups agree to reopen Sanaa airport, still in talks on port at Sweden talks
France Hunts Gunman after Three Killed at Strasbourg Christmas Market

Titles For The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 12-13/18
Lebanese leaders show new optimism on ending government deadlock/Reuters, Beirut/London/Wednesday, 12 December 2018
U.S. Rejects Israel’s Request for Sanctions on Lebanon Over Hezbollah Tunnels/Haaretz/December 12/18
In Lebanon, Criticism Of Hizbullah's Tunnels Into Israel: Hizbullah May Drag Lebanon Into War/
MEMRI/December 12/18
Region ushering in positive interfaith changes/Peter Welby/Arab News/December 12/18
US-China trade war masks worrying military buildup/Zaid M. Belbagi/Arab News/December 12/18
Macron’s domestic crisis comes at bad time for France/Dr. Theodore Karasik/Arab News/December 12/18
Hamas behind Ofra and Barkan terror, celebrates three “successful” months/Debka File/December 12/18
Another front the world cannot afford/Hazem Saghieh/Al Arabiya/December 12/18
What Iranians seek under sanction and suppression/Hamid Bahrami/Al Arabiya/December 12/18
No clear end in sight for war in Afghanistan/Dr. Azeem Ibrahim/Al Arabiya/December 12/18

Latest LCCC English Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on December 12-13/18
The 13th assassination anniversary of Gebran Tueini/Archbishop Calls for Rescue Government to End Stalemate 12th December 2018/Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Beirut Elias Audi on Wednesday called on officials to make a bold move that would rescue the country from its gloomy status quo, demanding that they form a small-scale emergency government that would include non-partisan who are known for their knowledge, experience, integrity and transparency. "Such a government would bring hope to the Lebanese and make them feel more reassured; a government that would address the problems, set out a plan to pull the country out of the abyss, revive the economy, appease the people and gain the trust of the countries that are intending to help Lebanon," Audi said in his sermon during a mass marking the 13th assassination anniversary of Gebran Tueini. “We wish to see the Lebanese officials acting like good shepherds now that crises are intensifying in this vulnerable country," he added. "We wish to not see them evading their responsibilities and standing idly by while the country is collapsing." "Only sacrifices build nations," he stressed. “When the crisis intensified Gebran back in 2005, Gebran decided to return to Lebanon and face all threats. He came to stand alongside his people, Christians and Muslims."“He came back to die for his country. This is the true love that someone can offer for his country; the kind of love in which you sacrifice yourself for the country, not exploit the country,” he added. Audi blasted the outrageous carelessness towards the critical phase that Lebanon is going through, saying that the country is "dying" and no one really cares. “What are we witnessing during these difficult days? Is there one step that is being made to help save Lebanon? Is there any sacrifice that is being made to save it? he asked. “No. Instead, there is deliberate obstruction schemes, all of which are not innocent as they are certainly not aimed at serving Lebanon’s best interests,” Audi concluded.

Netanyahu Says UN Force Should Rein in Hizbullah More

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 12/12/18/Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Italy's far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini on Wednesday that the Italian-led UN peacekeeping force in south Lebanon should do more to rein in Hezbollah. Netanyahu's remarks in his Jerusalem office came a day after the visiting minister toured Israel's northern frontier, where he was shown one of three tunnels uncovered by the army leading into the country from Lebanon. Israel says the Iranian-backed Shiite militants of Hezbollah dug the tunnels to infiltrate northern Israel in a future conflict. Referring to Salvini as "a great friend of Israel," Netanyahu said the tunnels were "a clear act of aggression by Hezbollah against us and against the norms of the international community." "You have a commander in UNIFIL, an Italian commander," Netanyahu said of Major General Stefano Del Col. "We think UNIFIL has to do a stronger job, tougher job, but ultimately it's the responsibility of the international community," he said. "They should stop Hezbollah from taking these acts of aggression against Israel." Salvini, who landed in Israel on Tuesday, was whisked by helicopter to the border. Following his tour, he told reporters the tunnel was dug by "Islamic terrorists" and accused the European Union of being biased against Israel, which he called "a safe haven for European and Western values in the region".Salvini, who heads Italy's anti-immigration League party, visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem on Wednesday. He was set to leave Israel later in the day. Israel fought a 2006 war against Hezbollah that was halted by a UN-brokered truce. Hezbollah is the only group in Lebanon not to have disarmed after the country's 1975-1990 civil war.

Israel 'Warns Hizbullah' of Reprisals over 'Attack Tunnels'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 12/12/18/Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Hizbullah of reprisals after the military said on Tuesday it had uncovered a third "attack tunnel" infiltrating its territory from Lebanon. "If Hizbullah makes the serious mistake of attacking us or confronting what we are doing now it will face unimaginable blows" in retaliation, Netanyahu said during a visit to northern Israel. "We will pursue this operation as long as the threat of Hizbullah tunnels persists," the premier, who was accompanied by the army chief of staff, said in a statement released by his office. His warning came after the army said it had uncovered a third Hizbullah "attack tunnel" infiltrating Israel from Lebanon, which like the other two "does not pose an imminent threat". The military, which started a search and destroy operation along the border last week, did not reveal the exact location of the third tunnel. "Explosive devices have been placed inside the tunnel by the Israeli army," it said in a statement. The army announced an operation on December 4 dubbed "Northern Shield" to destroy tunnels it said were dug under the border by the Shiite group Hizbullah. "The Lebanese government is held accountable for the attack tunnels dug from Lebanese territory," the military statement said. "IDF troops will continue to operate in accordance with the approved plan to locate and expose the Hizbullah terror organisation's attack tunnels."Israel fought a war against Iran-backed Hizbullah in 2006 that was halted by a UN-brokered truce. Hizbullah is the only group in Lebanon not to have disarmed after the country's 1975-1990 civil war. Netanyahu on Tuesday said that an Israeli army delegation would be visiting Moscow to brief Russian counterparts on operation "Northern Shield". He said the delegation, would also explain "as clearly as possible that Israel has the right and the duty to fight against Iranian military presence and act against Hizbullah's bid to attack through tunnels". The military has said the delegation would fly to Moscow on Tuesday for a day-long visit and led by the head of army operations General Aharon Haliva. Italy's far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who arrived in Israel on Tuesday, said on Twitter that he was flying by helicopter to see for himself the tunnels built by "Islamic extremists".

Lebanese leaders show new optimism on ending government deadlock
Reuters, Beirut/London/Wednesday, 12 December 2018
Lebanese leaders expressed fresh confidence on Wednesday about reaching a deal to form a new government, with President Michel Aoun saying results of his efforts to break the months-long deadlock would appear this week. Heavily indebted and with a stagnant economy, Lebanon desperately needs a new government to implement economic reforms that are required to put its public finances on a more sustainable footing and unlock pledges of foreign aid. A general election in May gave rise to months of wrangling between the rival parties to form a coalition government under the country’s sectarian system, with Saad al-Hariri designated as prime minister. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri was cited as saying he was “optimistic for the possibility of a solution soon” and caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said Lebanon would definitely form a new government “despite all obstacles”.
On Tuesday, Aoun said the government formation could not be resolved in the traditional way between the prime minister-designate and other parties, and that he had to get involved to avoid “catastrophe” - an apparent reference to the economy. He said on Wednesday the results of his new effort would appear “in the next two days”.Bassil, who is also Aoun’s son-in-law and head of the political party he founded, said partnership between Aoun and Hariri would “certainly lead to the formation of a new government, despite all obstacles”. He was speaking at a London conference which the Lebanese government hopes will garner investor interest in a capital investment program that aims to tap into billions of dollars of aid pledged at a donors’ conference in April.
High Public Debt
But foreign governments and international institutions first want Lebanon to implement long-stalled economic reforms. The country has the world’s third largest public debt compared to its GDP, at more than 150 percent. Hariri, also attending the London roadshow, told reporters he was “always optimistic” when asked about the prospects of forming a new government. Parliament Speaker Berri’s optimism stemmed from Aoun’s intervention in the process, lawmaker Ali Bazzi said. Agreement on the make-up of the new cabinet has met a series of obstacles as Hariri has sought to forge a deal parceling out 30 cabinet posts among rival groups according to the sectarian system. The final hurdle has been over Sunni Muslim representation, with the powerful Iran-backed Shi’ite Muslim group Hezbollah demanding a cabinet seat for one of its Sunni allies who gained ground in the election. Analysts believe one compromise could be for Aoun to nominate one of the Hezbollah-aligned Sunnis, or a figure acceptable to them, among a group of ministers named by the president. Hariri said on Twitter that the new government would be firmly committed to reforms agreed at the April donor conference, including fiscal reforms.

Aoun Meets Taymour Jumblat in Baabda
Naharnet/December 12/12/18/President Michel Aoun held talks with head of the Democratic Gathering MP Taymour Jumblat where discussions highlighted the latest developments, the National News Agency reported on Wednesday. MPs Hadi Abu el-Hassan and Jumblat’s adviser Hussam Harb accompanied Jumblat, NNA said. The agency said talks have focused on the government formation file in light of ongoing consultations to end the impasse hampering the formation. After his meeting with Aoun, Jumblat hailed the positions of the president, “affirming “positive relations” between the two.

Hariri, Others, Pays Tribute to Gebran Tueni on 13th Assassination Anniversary
Naharnet/December 12/12/18/Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri paid tribute on Wednesday to slain MP Gebran Tueni marking the 13th anniversary of his assassination. “On the 13th anniversary of the martyrdom of Journalist Gebran Tueni, we remember his brave words and free oath in defense of Lebanon and the unity of the Lebanese,” said Hariri in a remark on Twitter. Tueni, the former editor and publisher of An Nahar newspaper, was assassinated in a car bomb blast in Mkalles on Dec. 12, 2005. He was among a series of anti-Syrian officials who were assassinated or escaped murder in the aftermath of the Feb. 2005 killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.Tueni's daughter Michele said in a remark on twitter addressing her father : “An ominous day…the wound grows deeper and deeper every year...but love is stronger than death, even death never separated us father.” Kataeb chief Sami Gemayel also paid tribute saying Tueni has always sought for Lebanon’s sovereignty but was assassinated before his dream came to fruition. He is the “martyr of sovereignty that never came to fruition,” he said on Twitter. “On that very sad day 13 years ago, a Hero from Lebanon was martyred... a hero that impacted my life in many ways..Gebran you will never be forgotten..we miss you.the country misses you... Annahar misses you... God bless your soul,” one tweet also read.

Hariri: Lebanon Will Make CEDRE Succeed Despite Govt. Delay
Naharnet/December 12/12/18/Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri assured from London that Lebanon will seek to “make the CEDRE support conference” succeed despite the delayed efforts to form a new government. “Although Lebanon has not formed a government yet, but we will seek to make the CEDRE conference succeed,” stressed Hariri at the Lebanon-U.K. Business and Investment Forum held in the British capital. Highlighting the refugees crisis and its impact on the mediterranean country, Hariri added: “The economic and social challenges facing us are growing every day because of more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees residing in Lebanon for the eighth year in a row.”“Our economy is sustaining enormous pressure which mainly are the result of regional crises,” he added. Pinning hopes on the Forum’s outcome, he added: “I am confident that today’s event will take our trade and investment relationships to levels that meet our ambitions and capabilities.” He pointed out “at the CEDRE conference in Paris, the Lebanese government presented a comprehensive vision aimed at stimulating growth,” he said expecting Lebanon to “spend more than $ 200 million on projects in different sectors.”In April, international donors pledged $11 billion in low-interest loans and aid for Lebanon at the Paris CEDRE conference to try to avert an economic crisis in a country hard hit by the fallout from the Syrian war. Lebanon's growth has plummeted due to political instability, with the effect compounded by the Syrian conflict which has sent a million refugees across the border -- equivalent to a quarter of the Lebanese population before the conflict.

Berri Says Aoun Letter to Parliament on Hariri's Designation ‘Could Sow Strife’
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 12/12/18/Speaker Nabih Berri has reportedly advised the President to dismiss the idea of sending a letter to Parliament over the “open-ended designation” of Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri and the delayed government formation, warning it could “sow seeds of strife” among Lebanon’s various sects, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Wednesday. Berri was quoted as saying that addressing the parliament in that regard “could sabotage” the country and sow strife between the Christians and Sunnis on one hand, and Sunnis and Shiites on the other, said the daily. Speaker Berri “frankly” told President Michel Aoun during a meeting in Baabda on Tuesday that he would not call for a parliamentary session lacking “elements in the charter,” said the newspaper. Aoun is reportedly mulling over the possibility of sending a letter to the parliament to address an “open-ended designation period” of Hariri in light of the delay in forming a new government. Although political forces acknowledge the President's constitutional right to address the parliament asking it to deem “the appropriate thing”, constitutional experts said the “parliament is not authorized to overthrow the mandate of Hariri, nor is anyone prepared to engage the country in a constitutional conflict.”Experts believe that “Aoun’s message, if it happens, is aimed at pressuring Hariri to expedite the formation under his own terms and the terms of his (Aoun’s) Free Patriotic Movement team.”A Mustaqbal Movement official (of Hariri) noted the “president's right to send a letter to any side he deems appropriate, conditionally it falls in his jurisdiction,” but added “merely, its a waste of time. It will change nothing in the designation of the PM.”

Lebanon’s Bassil says Aoun-Hariri partnership will lead to government
Reuters/December 12, 2018/LONDON: The partnership between Lebanon’s president and designated prime minister, along with the national consensus, “will certainly lead to the formation of a new government, despite all obstacles,” its foreign minister said on Wednesday. Gebran Bassil, a member of President Michel Aoun’s party, was speaking at an investment conference in London where Prime Minister-designate Saad Al-Hariri is due to speak later on Wednesday. Lebanon’s political parties have failed to form a new government since a general election that was held in May.

Lebanon: Is the country lost?
Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/December 12/18
The lyrics of the song Tar El Balad (The country is lost) written by Nizar Francis and sung by famous Lebanese singer Ragheb Alama say: “It’s time people, to scream out loud. There is no time, the country is lost. Where is justice? Dreams are being put out. Awareness in us has gone to sleep, and the situation is only getting more difficult.”Once the song, which expresses despair and the damage that troubled all the Lebanese people – for well-known reasons – was aired, a controversy erupted. The most surprising statement came from the friends of President Michel Aoun, including a brave MP who reprimanded Alama and asked him to stick to singing about love and stay away from these remarks “that are bad.”The Aounist MP added a tune to the tanbur (music instrument) and said in a television interview: “His head must be lost. What does ‘the country is lost’ mean? What is this irresponsibility?”“The song comes within several attempts to drive people to desperation and push them to surrender and immigrate,” the MP added. The song’s lyrics are actually merciful compared to the country’s real situation, as acknowledged by the founding symbol of the party to which the angry Aounist MP belongs, i.e. Michel Aoun himself
More pressing issues
So Ragheb’s song, unfortunately, is the reason behind the Lebanese people’s frustration and the reason that’s pushing them to immigrate, while everything in the country is “right” or on the path of being completely right, for ‘independence or quick death’ as the famous “Zaghlouli” Egyptian national historical slogan puts it! There were hence Lebanese reactions to the song. Alama wrote on Twitter: “A while ago, prominent singer Majida al-Roumi called me and strongly condemned what happened and called on me to sing about reality and about the war on injustice and corruption. We will shake the throne of corruption with our voice, my friend.”The song’s lyrics are actually merciful compared to the country’s real situation, as acknowledged by the founding symbol of the party to which the angry Aounist MP belongs, i.e. Michel Aoun himself. Commenting on the incapability to form a cabinet ever since the parliamentary elections, which were held seven months ago, Aoun, the president, said: “The government issue has stumbled. The threats are bigger than what we can bear, and it must succeed. If it does not succeed, there will be a disaster.”The economic distress, administrative weakness, corruption and favoritism are clear to everyone, and their reasons are many, such as the “no-state” condition that Lebanon is in, given the presence of a fait accompli reality represented in Hezbollah’s heavy dominance on the state. An armed sectarian party that goes beyond the borders takes Lebanon as its base and as a hostage despite everyone’s will, hence spreading the worst social and political disease among the Lebanese people. Lebanon is the world's third-most indebted nation with a debt-to-GDP ratio, and it also suffers from growth recession. The country is on the verge of a serious, really serious, crisis but for the brave Aounist MP that is okay, but what’s not okay is superstar Ragheb Alama’s song!

U.S. Rejects Israel’s Request for Sanctions on Lebanon Over Hezbollah Tunnels
هآررتس: الولايات المتحدة ترفض طلباً إسرائيلياً بفرض عقوبات على لبنان بسبب انفاق حزب الله

Haaretz/December 12/18
تقرير من الهآررتس يفيد أن نيتنياهو كان قد طلب مؤخراً من وزير الخارجية الأميركي بومبيو خلال اجتماعه به الأسبوع الماضي في بروكسل فرض عقوبات على لبنان وجيشه حتى يتحملان مسؤولية خرق القرار الدولي 1701 بما يتعلق بأنفاق حزب الله ولكن الطلب رفض، كما رفضت أميركا مساواة لبنان بحزب الله
Netanyahu had reportedly asked Pompeo to put pressure on Lebanon to take responsibility for violating the terms of an agreement signed after the Second Lebanon War
The United States has rebuffed Israel’s request to impose sanctions on Lebanon and the Lebanese army so they would take responsibility for Hezbollah digging tunnels into Israel and violating UN Resolution 1701. Meanwhile, the Israel Defense Forces announced Tuesday that it had located another cross-border tunnel originating in Lebanon – the third tunnel whose discovery the army has made public. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested sanctions when he met with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Brussels last week. While the United States refused to equate Hezbollah with the Lebanese state, it agreed to draw up harsh sanctions that would put pressure on the group, which is struggling financially. During his conversation with Pompeo the day before the launching of Operation Northern Shield against the tunnels, Netanyahu also asked Washington to impose sanctions on Lebanon so it would take responsibility for violating the agreement signed after the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Since the operation began, Israeli political and military leaders have been trying to make it look as if Lebanon and Hezbollah were one and the same. From the start, the IDF spokesman has been stating that “the responsibility for the tunnel digging by Hezbollah in southern Lebanon rests with the Lebanese government.”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett agrees. “Hezbollah equals Lebanon. Israel no longer has to treat Hezbollah as an entity separate from Lebanon, as we did during the Second Lebanon War,” he said, adding that Hezbollah has become “a major part of the sovereign state of Lebanon.”
But the Americans reject Israel’s formula, saying that despite Israel’s right to defend itself, the problem is Hezbollah – therefore the agreement for sanctions against the organization directly. Washington made clear that the United States and Lebanon have close military ties and there is no interest in undermining them. Thus, during Netanyahu’s tour of the northern border a few days later, he softened his remarks about Lebanon, saying that “Israel expects an unequivocal condemnation of Hezbollah and the imposition of additional sanctions on Hezbollah,” with the Lebanese government no longer letting Hezbollah use its territory for attacks on Israel.
Regarding the new tunnel, whose exact location was not revealed, the army said it posed no threat to Israelis. IDF spokesman Ronen Manelis said that the route, “like the other routes, has been booby-trapped by the IDF, and anyone entering it from the Lebanese side puts his life at risk.”
He noted that the IDF was examining the tunnel and added that “responsibility for the digging of tunnels from Lebanese territory rests with the Lebanese government. We’re talking about a serious violation of Resolution 1701 and Israel’s sovereignty.”
Netanyahu held a security assessment at Northern Command headquarters with IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, Northern Command chief Yoel Strick and other senior commanders.
“Hezbollah thought it was digging without interruption. We knew and we planned and it didn’t leak,” Netanyahu said. “The operation will continue as necessary and is proceeding at a good pace, even a little ahead of schedule.”Netanyahu rejected attempts to play down the importance of the operation. “Think if we weren’t doing this; think of how on a cloudy, foggy day Hezbollah would emerge from the tunnels and kidnap our people,” he said. “Think of what Israel’s situation would be with Hezbollah campaigns of killing and kidnapping on our territory, something that hasn’t happened since ‘48. Understand that we’re talking about a very important step. Attempts to dismiss or belittle it are ridiculous.”Lebanese President Michel Aoun said Tuesday he had been informed by Washington that Israel does not have offensive intentions against his country, thus Lebanon had no such intentions either. “There is no danger to the quiet along Lebanon’s southern border,” he said. “We are waiting for the results of the investigation into the tunnels to formulate a position.”On Saturday, the IDF revealed that a second cross-border tunnel had been discovered. Manelis said work on that tunnel had been going on “right up to the last few days,” though the tunnel was not yet operational. Operation Northern Shield, launched at the beginning of last week, is expected to continue for several weeks.

In Lebanon, Criticism Of Hizbullah's Tunnels Into Israel: Hizbullah May Drag Lebanon Into War
من موقع ميمري: الإنتقادات في لبنان لأنفاق حزب الله تحذر من أنها قد تجر لبنان للحرب

MEMRI/December 12/18
The Lebanese Government Must Demand That Hizbullah Stop Violating UNSC Resolution 1701
On December 4, 2018, Israel launched Operation Northern Shield to find and destroy tunnels excavated by Hizbullah under its northern border, which constitutes a violation of UNSC Resolution 1701.[1] Two days later, a UNIFIL delegation visiting the location confirmed the existence of a tunnel there.[2]
So far, Hizbullah has been careful to issue no official reactions on the matter of the tunnels. The pro-Hizbullah media have denied their existence and claimed that any statements to the contrary are lies.[3] In a threatening message conveyed via its media, Hizbullah included photos of Israeli soldiers at the border taken from the Lebanese side to show that the soldiers are within striking distance.[4]
Hizbullah elements, headed by Hizbullah deputy secretary-general Na'im Qassem, sought to reassure the Lebanese public with the argument that Hizbullah's deterrence capabilities would dissuade Israel from carrying out an extensive attack in Lebanon. He said: "The Israeli home front is exposed as far as Tel Aviv, and there is not a single point in the Zionist entity that is not exposed to Hizbullah's missiles... The Israelis cannot withstand [a war], so the idea of [going to] war against Lebanon is inconceivable to them..."[5]
Lebanon's official position on the tunnels issue ranges from denying that they even exist to claiming that it is Israel that is violating UN Security Council Resolution 1701, while Lebanon is being careful to uphold it. Thus, Lebanese President Michel 'Aoun, a Hizbullah ally, said at a meeting with UNIFIL Head of Mission and Force Commander Major-General Stefano Del Col that Israel is violating the international resolutions, while his country is implementing Resolution 1701 and is opposing any activity that is likely to complicate the border situation.[6] Speaker of the Parliament of Lebanon Nabih Berri, who is also an ally of Hizbullah, called Israel's claims baseless.[7] The Al-Nahar daily reported that Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, another Hizbullah ally, had ordered his office to prepare a complaint to the UNSC about Israel's "repeated" violations against Lebanon. Lebanese Prime Minister Sa'd Al-Hariri, who opposes Hizbullah, also argued that it is Israel that is violating 1701, that the Lebanese Army is in charge of border security and legitimately controls the entire border, and that the Lebanese government is determined to meet its obligations regarding its sovereignty and the integrity of its border, and stresses that the rules that were created in accordance with Resolution 1701 must not be violated. He added that the developments on the border should not constitute a reason for escalation. [8]
IDF activity at the Lebanese border, from the Lebanese side. (, December 11, 2018)
However, voices contradicting the official position have emerged, largely amongst the Christian community, criticizing Hizbullah for the tunnels and expressing apprehension about the ramifications this could have for Lebanon. The Lebanese government itself was also criticized for failing to enforce its control over Hizbullah and for its apparent ignorance of what Hizbullah is doing, which could drag the country into a war.
It should be noted that similar criticism was expressed by Bahraini Foreign Minister Khaled bin Ahmad Aal Khalifa, who according to one report represents the position of other Gulf states as well, headed by Saudi Arabia, which are known for their hostility towards Hizbullah.[9] Bin Ahmad tweeted: "Does the fact that the terrorist Hizbullah is excavating tunnels through the Lebanese border not constitute a clear threat to Lebanon 's stability – and is [Hizbullah] not a partner in ruling [the country]? Who will be responsible when the neighboring countries take it upon themselves to get rid of this danger that threatens them?" He also tweeted: "Lebanon has chosen 'to cut itself off'[10] from the Arabs, and now it is cutting itself off from itself and from peace at its border."[11]
This report reviews criticism in Lebanon of Hizbullah's tunnels under the Lebanon-Israel border:
Officials From Christian Parties: The Government Must Prevent Hizbullah Activity That Endangers Lebanon
Senior Christian politicians in Lebanon criticized both Hizbullah, which they said is endangering Lebanon with a war that could cost it dearly, and the government, which they said is ignorant of what Hizbullah is doing and what is happening on its sovereign soil.
Samy Gemayel: "Hizbullah Has A Green Light To Do As It Wishes, And To Entangle The State In Problems"
Lebanese MP Samy Gemayel, who heads the Phalange party, called on UNIFIL to intervene quickly and to examine the circumstances of the incident because it is "very dangerous, and the entire region cannot bear [the consequences] of mistakes of this kind."[12] He also criticized the Lebanese government: "None of the Lebanese state officials knows whether [the tunnels] exist or not, even though they are on Lebanese soil. Hizbullah has a green light to do as it wishes, and to entangle the state in problems to which we have no connection, and which the state has not decided on. The state will pay the price for them – as happened in the July 2006 war."[13]
Samir Geagea: "The Government Must Officially Ask Hizbullah To Stop All Activity That Can Endanger Lebanon"
Samir Geagea, head of the Lebanese Forces party, called on the government to urgently discuss the developments in the south of the country. On December 6, 2018, even before UNIFIL confirmed the presence of a Hizbullah tunnel into Israeli territory, Geagea said that if UNIFIL confirmed Israel's claims, "the government must officially ask Hizbullah to stop all activity that can endanger Lebanon and the Lebanese and must again remind Hizbullah that the military and security decisions are in the hands of the government alone." He added that if Israel's claims about the tunnels turned out to be untrue, the Lebanese government must act against it on the diplomatic level among the UNSC members.[14] Several days later, after UNIFIL confirmed the existence of a tunnel, the party called on the Lebanese government to convene an immediate session and officially demand that Hizbullah stop this activity. In a statement it issued, it stressed that the government alone has the authority to decide on the methods of confronting Israel.[15]
Maronite Christian Organization: The State Must Warn Hizbullah Not To Expose Lebanon To Risky Adventures
In a December 10 announcement following a meeting discussing the ramifications of the discovery of the tunnels, the Maronite Saydet Al-Jabal Association[16] expressed its astonishment that the Lebanese state had no knowledge of "this dangerous matter" whose existence the UN had confirmed and that has "negative ramifications for Lebanon's stability and security, particularly for South Lebanon and its residents." The association also demanded to know what steps the state was taking to prevent the breaching of the international border and violations of Resolution 1701 besides the complaint it had filed with the UNSC against Israel. The announcement stated:
"Dare the president, the government, and all the official state apparatuses ask Hizbullah about the incidents [i.e. the digging of the tunnels]? The state is obligated to sue Israel, which is violating Lebanese sovereignty on the sea, in the air, and on land. The state is also obliged to stop Hizbullah from exposing Lebanon to risky ventures that can bring it into a war, whose price – destruction and ruin – will be paid by all of Lebanon; [war] usually ends with [someone] saying, 'If only I had known.'[17] If the Lebanese state continues to be lax about Hizbullah – which is acting in accordance with a regional agenda and against the Lebanese interest – then it would be better to demand the revocation of Resolution 1701, so that [Lebanon] will not bear the responsibility for its non-implementation, to the world and to the international community."[18]
Former Minister From Phalange Party: Hizbullah Is Endangering Lebanon; Its Violations Must Be Firmly Opposed
Saj'an Qazi, a former minister from the Phalange party, wrote in the Al-Jumhouriyya newspaper that the tunnels constituted a challenge to the Lebanese government and the UNIFIL forces before a challenge to Israel and the UN resolutions. He wrote: "This activity [i.e. Hizbullah's tunnels] has revealed to all the state's inability to govern in South Lebanon, and has also revealed that in [implementing] UNSC Resolution 1701, Lebanon, Hizbullah and Israel [all] settled for a ceasefire and have not implemented the resolution's 37 other clauses... Lebanon must ask Hizbullah why it is embroiling Lebanon in a new war plan, just as it submitted a useless complaint against Israel to the UN. It should also demand that the Lebanese Army locate the tunnel entrances in South Lebanon, just as it asked UNIFIL to confirm that the tunnels [indeed] reach Israeli territory...
"If Israel is preparing for war against Lebanon, why should we give it an excuse? If it is not preparing for war but is becoming accustomed to living alongside Hizbullah in the south, then why provoke it? Courage to tell the truth is preferable to courage to fight. Continuing to ignore Hizbullah's status – especially in South Lebanon but also in [the rest of] Lebanon and in the Middle East in general – will expose Lebanon, at some unknown time [in the future], to a war more devastating than that of July 2006. Whether Lebanon or Israel wins militarily, it is Lebanon that will be defeated, in light of the total destruction that it will suffer.
"Our mothers did not give birth to us for us to continue to fight, and our fathers did not establish the Lebanese entity for us to wage constant war. War is neither our fate nor our destiny. If war is forced upon us, we stand up [to fight], as we have done [in the past]. But we do not go looking for war with candles and in tunnels... We pray to live, to learn, to work, and to create. We pray to raise a family in happiness and peace and to establish a society based on brotherhood, national partnership, and equality... We pray to Allah to distance war from us...
"No group has the right to impose its will on the entire homeland and on the state with all its institutions. [No group has the right] to determine the fate of the nation as though it owned it. No group has the right to undermine the regime, the constitution, the presidency, and the government in order to promote a plan that contravenes Lebanon's interest...
"Hizbullah must sever its military connection with the regional battles and disputes, and must be bound by Resolution 1701 in South Lebanon – if it does not, Lebanon will be exposed to every possible military, economic and existential option [i.e. threat]. The time has come for us to oppose this without fear or evasion. [Even] if Hizbullah is indifferent to [the possibility of] an Israeli attack on the areas where it is present, we are defending our nation, our lives, our families, our institutions, and our state infrastructure, and the capital, South Lebanon, the Dahiya in Beirut, and our other regions.
"Our opposition to the [current] situation does not entail a confrontation with Hizbullah, which is the worst idea. It [merely] requires us to have the courage to tell Hizbullah, with affection and respect: As long as you refuse to place your weapons under [control of] the Lebanese Army, do not turn the weapons of the Lebanese Army into weapons that complement your own. As long as you do not sever your ties with [the other] countries of the region, sever your ties with the Lebanese state until you complete your military jihad. As long as you oppose Lebanon being neutral, neutralize Lebanon with regard to yourself, and protect it from the results of your non-neutrality."[19]
Lebanese Journalists: Hizbullah Is Dragging Lebanon Into A War That Will Cost It Dearly
Criticism of Hizbullah's tunnels came also from Lebanese journalists. In the Al-Nahar daily, which is owned by the Christian Tueni family, columnist Rozana Bu Munsif wrote: "So far, Lebanon has held many cards in its complaint that Israel has violated Resolution 1701 by repeatedly infiltrating Lebanese airspace. In a single moment, Lebanon is likely to lose those cards and [find itself] on the defensive as the result of Hizbullah's violation of the resolution – at a time when the Lebanese Army, together with UNIFIL, is responsible for the southern border."
Citing diplomatic sources, Bu Munsif wrote that the situation in Lebanon today was completely different from the situation that prevailed in the Arab arena in 2006, as reflected by the Bahraini foreign minister's position that largely represents that of the other Gulf states. She added that, according to the same diplomatic sources, "Israel cannot tolerate a defeat in any possible war. The same is true of Iran, which cannot afford a military defeat no matter what the cost. Even if Hizbullah could, with [Iran's] help, destroy some areas of Israel, it is Lebanon that would pay a heavy price for it – not to mention the damage Hizbullah itself is likely to be caused in such a war... [Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan] Nasrallah has said many times that his missiles will cause great destruction in Israel but he hasn't addressed what will happen in Lebanon [as a result]."[20]
In a tweet, Lebanese journalist Jerry Maher, who is known for his opposition to Hizbullah, called on the Lebanese government to allow the Lebanese army to take over Hizbullah's areas of influence if it wanted to prevent a war. He said that Hizbullah was violating Resolution 1701 and was threatening the lives of Lebanon's citizens.[21] He also tweeted: "Hizbullah is acting to drag Lebanon into a war in which all that remains of it will be destroyed in order to serve Iran's interests."[22]
Shi'ite Lebanese Journalist: Hizbullah Is Silent, Evading Responsibility For The Tunnels For Fear Of Conflict With Israel
Criticism of Hizbullah's behavior regarding the tunnels issue was also expressed by Shi'ite journalist Ali Al-Amin, editor of the Lebanese website and well known for his opposition to Hizbullah. In an article in the London-based Al-Arab daily, he argued that while declaring that it is acting to liberate Jerusalem, Hizbullah is evading responsibility for excavating the tunnels at the Lebanon-Israel border because of its fear of a direct confrontation with Israel. He wrote:
"Hizbullah has not yet released any [official] position [in the matter of the tunnels]. It has neither confirmed nor denied its responsibility [for them]. While Israel has devoted itself to a diplomatic campaign aimed at presenting it as a country under attack, without showing any interest in a military response... Hizbullah is entrenched in silence, and has not acknowledged the existence [of the tunnels] or taken any responsibility for excavating them...
"Hizbullah's evasion or failure to address the tunnels issue underlines again that it is presenting itself as an element striving to reach Jerusalem via the occupied Palestinian areas but... is taking care not to deviate from the popular discourse of resistance to active involvement in the military resistance against Israel. [Unlike Hizbullah's situation], in the case of the Gaza tunnels to Egypt or towards the occupied Palestinian territories, not only have the Palestinian resistance organizations not hesitated to take responsibility, but have shown great interest in their achievements in this area.
"It appears that Hizbullah is today in a completely different place. It is very proud of its achievements against the armed opposition in Syria [claiming that this is being done] for the sake of Palestine. Moreover, it sees the battles to destroy Syria's cities and expel their residence as a way of liberating Jerusalem... But when it comes to a real conflict with Israel, as it did several days ago, we see that it hides behind the Lebanese Foreign Ministry and takes refuge in silence. It is dealing with the incident of [the discovery of the] tunnels as if it were an accusation, not as if it were something to be proud of, as it did with the 'liberation' of Homs, Daria, Al-Zabadani, or Al-Qalamoun [in Syria].
"Hizbullah is continuing to claim that the Lebanese state is weak and incapable, so as to justify its [possession of] weapons. It even accuses anyone calling for adhering to the international resolutions and for implementing them in Lebanon of collaborating with Israel... In contrast to all these violations [by Hizbullah] and its courage to confront the Syria revolution, there is complete silence regarding the tunnels... While [Hizbullah] takes refuge in the Lebanese state, the state institutions are apparently the last to know what it is doing and it continues to oppose letting these institutions be the primary authority regarding the requirements of Lebanese sovereignty..."[23]
[1] UNSC Resolution 1701, taken on August 11, 2006 with the aim of ending the war between Hizbullah and Israel that was triggered by the former's abduction of three Israeli soldiers, stipulates that neither Hizbullah nor the IDF may enter the area between the Israel-Lebanon border and the Litani River (, August 11, 2018).
[2], December 6, 2018.
[3] See for example story on the pro-Hizbullah Al-Jadeed TV rejecting Israel's claim of a tunnel into Israel from the Lebanese village of Kafr Kila, Facebook.comAlJadeedOnline, December 5, 2018.
[4], December 4 and 11, 2018.

Latest LCCC English Miscellaneous Reports & News published on December 12-13/18
US’ Mike Pompeo calls on UN to re-impose ballistic missile restrictions on Iran

Arab News/December 12/18/NEW YORK: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the UN Security Council on Wednesday that the US is seeking to re-impose previous UN restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile program, and that the UN should not lift an arms embargo on Iran in 2020. He added that Iran does not comply with UN resolutions and continues to support terrorism around the world, including in Lebanon and its ties to Al-Qaeda, and that the US has evidence that Iran is supplying the Houthis in Yemen with missiles and weapons. Pompeo said that the US’s continued “goodwill gestures” had been “futile in correcting Iran’s missile activity” and its “destructive behavior.”Eight EU nations underlined their commitment to the Iran nuclear deal while urging Tehran to stop its "destabilizing regional activities," especially the launch of ballistic missiles. Their statement said: "It has been confirmed that Iran continues to implement its nuclear related commitments."But they warned that ballistic-missile-related activities including "the launch of nuclear-capable missiles and any transfers of missiles, missile technologies and components" would violate Security Council resolutions. Ambassadors of Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Sweden and United Kingdom issued the statement outside the UN Security Council on Wednesday ahead of a meeting on Iran's compliance with the 2015 nuclear agreement and the council resolution endorsing it.

French police hunt Strasbourg Christmas market attacker
Reuters/December 12, 2018/PARIS: A massive manhunt was under way in northeastern France on Wednesday for a gunman who killed three people and wounded a dozen others at a Christmas market in the eastern city of Strasbourg. France raised its security threat to the highest alert level, strengthened border controls and asked people around Strasbourg to stay put as and police searched for the suspect. German police also tightened border controls across the Rhine river, officials said.
Police identified the suspect as Strasbourg-born Cherif Chekatt, 29, who was known to the intelligence services as a potential security risk. "The hunt is continuing," Deputy Interior Minister Laurent Nunez said on France Inter radio. Asked whether the suspect might have left France, he said: "That cannot be ruled out." Police sources said some 600 members of the security forces were taking part in the manhunt. Nunez said it was believed that the attacker had been injured by security forces Tuesday night but that could not be confirmed. A Reuters witness saw police briefly seal off an area near Strasbourg cathedral early Wednesday morning, but the operation ended quickly. Nunez said the suspect had a police record and had been in jail several times, most recently at the end of 2015. He added the suspect had been monitored for religious radicalisation but he declined to comment on the motives for the attack. He also said police had searched the suspect's home early on Tuesday, before the attack, during a homicide investigation. He said five people have been questioned as part of that investigation. "When the anti-terrorism section of the Paris prosecutor's office is investigating the case, we can call this an attack," Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet said on Public Senat television. She said there was no need for the government to declare a state of emergency as recent new legislation gave police adequate powers to deal with the situation. Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said early on Wednesday that the shooter had evaded a police dragnet and was on the run, raising concerns of a follow-up attack. The gunman exchanged shots with security forces twice as he escaped, Castaner added. The gunman's whereabouts now were unknown, and commandos and helicopters were involved in the manhunt. The Paris prosecutor said the motive for the attack was not known. No one immediately claimed responsibility, but the U.S.-based Site intelligence group, which monitors jihadist websites, said Islamic State supporters were celebrating. Strasbourg mayor Roland Ries said authorities recommended that people stay home if possible, but he said they should continue with their lives as much as possible. "We should not allow a terrorist to interfere with our way of life," he said on BFM television.

Turkey Says to Launch New Operation against Syria Kurd Militia within Days
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 12/12/18/Turkey will launch a new operation in Syria within days against a US-backed Kurdish militia that Ankara considers a terrorist group, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday. "We will start an operation to free the east of the Euphrates from the separatist terrorist organisation in the next few days," Erdogan said during a speech in Ankara, referring to territory held by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG). Turkey says the YPG is a "terrorist offshoot" of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984. The PKK is blacklisted as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies. "The target is never American soldiers but terrorist organisation members active in the region," Erdogan told the audience at a defence industry summit. American forces have worked closely with the YPG under the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance against the Islamic State (IS) extremist group. There are American forces with the SDF east of the Euphrates as well as in the flashpoint city of Manbij, which is west of the river. Washington's relationship with the YPG, seen as a key ally, is one of the main sources of tensions between Turkey and the United States. Ankara has repeatedly lambasted Washington for providing military support to the Kurdish militia. Erdogan has previously threatened to attack areas held by the YPG. In a bid to avoid any clash, the NATO allies agreed a "roadmap" for Manbij in June. The Pentagon separately on Tuesday announced US observation posts on the northeast Syria border region intended to prevent altercations between the Turkish army and the YPG despite calls from Ankara not to go ahead with the move. Erdogan claimed Turkey was not being protected from terrorists but "terrorists were being protected" from possible action by Turkey. Turkey has previously launched two operations in northern Syria. The first offensive began in August 2016 with Turkish forces supporting Syrian opposition fighters against IS and was completed by March 2017. Then in January 2018, Turkish military forces backed Syrian rebels to clear the YPG from its northwestern enclave of Afrin. In March, the operation was completed with the capture of Afrin city.

Washington: Observation posts in place on Syria-Turkey border
AFP, Washington/Wednesday, 12 December 2018/The Pentagon announced Tuesday that American observation posts in northern Syria, meant to prevent altercations between the Turkish army and US-supported Kurdish militia, have been erected, despite Ankara’s request to scrap the move. US support for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) has strained relations with Turkey, which fears the emergence of an autonomous Kurdish region on its southern border. “At the direction of Secretary (James) Mattis, the US established observation posts in the northeast Syria border region to address the security concerns of our NATO ally Turkey,” Department of Defense spokesman Rob Manning said. Mattis announced in November that the US military was in the process of installing the observation posts. The measure aimed to reassure the YPG, which Turkey considers a “terrorist” group but which is the spearhead of the international fight against ISIS. “We take Turkish security concerns seriously and we are committed to coordinating our efforts with Turkey to bring stability to northeastern Syria,” Manning added.
Afrin border
The Turkish army since 2016 has already launched two military operations against Kurdish forces in Syria, the last of which saw Ankara-backed Syrian rebels take the border city of Afrin in March. After Turkey shelled Kurdish militia posts in northern Syria in late October the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), of which the YPG is the backbone, announced the suspension of their operations against IS for several days, to the embarrassment of Washington. During a meeting with US Special Envoy to Syria, James Jeffrey, in Ankara on Friday, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar had asked that Washington scrap the observation posts. Akar also called for the US to end its cooperation with the YPG. Syria’s long-oppressed Kurdish minority has established a semi-autonomous region in the north of the war-torn country.

Turkey will start operation east of Euphrates in Syria in a ‘few days,’ Erdogan says
Reuters/December 12, 2018/ANKARA:Turkey will start an operation east of the Euphrates river in northern Syria in a "few days" President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday, a move that could further complicate relations with the United States. "We will start the operation to clear the East of the Euphrates from separatist terrorists in a few days. Our target is never US soldiers," Erdogan said in a speech. Ankara and Washington have long been at odds over Syria policy, where the United States has backed the YPG Kurdish militia in the fight against Daesh. Turkey says the YPG is a terrorist organisation.

Iraqi PM Abdel Mahdi says lagging cabinet formation ‘not his decision’
AFP, Baghdad/Wednesday, 12 December 2018/Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi said on Tuesday that an ongoing political dispute over unfilled ministries in his government was out of his hands. “It’s not my decision,” he told reporters gathered at a weekly news conference, in response to an AFP question. More than two months after being appointed premier, Abdel Mahdi has yet to fill eight of his cabinet’s 22 posts, including the key ministers of interior and defense. He has named candidates for the eight ministries, but parliament has repeatedly delayed a vote on them due to divisions among various factions. The proposed names for interior and defense ministers, Faleh al-Fayad and Faysal al-Jarba respectively, have the support of political parties with close ties to Iran. Abdel Mahdi has said that he named a share of the cabinet, but that the rest of the posts would be doled out according to arrangements among rival blocs. “We were free to choose eight or nine ministers, and the rest are the results of political agreements,” he said. “When it comes to the interior and defense, these were the choices of the political blocs, not of the premier.”Parliament is expected to meet next week, but it is unclear if they will vote on the empty posts. As the process drags on, observers have wondered whether Abdel Mahdi could resign, destabilizing a country getting back on its feet one year after ousting the Islamic State group.To mark that occasion on Monday, the government reopened a main route in Baghdad’s high-security Green Zone to through traffic for five hours daily. The area, home to Iraqi government buildings, United Nations agencies, and foreign embassies including the American mission, has been sealed off to most Iraqis since the 2003 US-led invasion. Many Iraqis hope its reopening could signal better days. “It carries an important message,” Abdel Mahdi said Tuesday. “There were fears from the diplomatic missions, who told us ‘We don’t want to risk it,’” he said. “But this decision is irreversible. If there’s no security on the outside, then there’s no security for those inside either. The citizen should be just as protected as the official.”

US energy secretary urges Iraq to quit dependency on Iran
The Associated Press/Wednesday, 12 December 2018/US Energy Secretary Rick Perry arrived in Baghdad on a trade mission Tuesday urging Iraq to reduce its energy dependence on Iran and open its own energy sector to American investment. The visit comes as the US tries to isolate Iran through sanctions targeting its business and finance sectors. US President Donald Trump says Iran is not in compliance with the 2015 nuclear accord. Iraq is caught in a delicate position as it continues to draw on Iranian gas and electricity production to power its own economy despite the renewed sanctions against its neighbor. But Perry characterized the moment as ripe for US investment in Iraq’s energy sector. Iraq is one of the largest oil producers in the world. “The time has come for Iraq to break its dependence on others and move forward toward true energy independence,” Perry said at a Baghdad conference organized by the US Chamber of Commerce that brought one of the largest US trade delegations in recent memory to Iraq. “I’m here to tell you that America and its business community stand ready to assist you in that endeavor,” he said. Iraq was granted a 45-day waiver by the US in November to continue to buy Iranian gas before facing possible consequences for its continued business with Iran’s sanctioned energy sector. But most experts agree that before Iraq can stop importing from Iran, it will need at least a year to find alternative power sources, whether developing its own natural gas sector or importing from other producers. Perry met with Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, Oil Minister Thamer Ghadban and other top officials in Baghdad as well as top Kurdish political official Masoud Barzani in Irbil to deliver a message encouraging market liberalization and low barriers to investment. “Capital will come where it’s welcome,” he said.

Mass Graves Found Near ex-IS Stronghold, Says Syria State Media
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 12/12/18/Seven mass graves containing hundreds of unidentified bodies have been unearthed near the former Islamic State group stronghold of Albu Kamal in eastern Syria, official news agency SANA said. Most of the more than 100 bodies recovered so far at the site appear to "have been subjected to torture and ill-treatment before execution," it said, accusing IS of killing the victims. Work was under way to retrieve the rest of the bodies from the graves in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, SANA said in its report published late Tuesday. It released a video showing forensic experts in protective clothing recovering remains, and corpses laid out on the ground in a row under white sheets. "After examining the remains, it appears that most of the people were executed by bullets to the head, while their hands were tied," said an unidentified member of the military who appears in the video. IS has been held responsible for multiple atrocities during its reign of terror, including mass executions and decapitations. In recent months, both Syria and Iraq have discovered a number of mass graves in areas previously occupied by the jihadists. IS proclaimed a "caliphate" over swathes of the two countries in 2014, but has since lost almost all the territory it once held. Albu Kamal, which lies in the Euphrates Valley near the border with Iraq, was the last major town that IS controlled fully before losing it in November 2017.

Palestinian Child Dies of Wounds after Border Clash
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 12/12/18/A four-year-old Palestinian boy has died after being injured during clashes between the Israeli army and protesters along the Gaza border, the health ministry in Gaza said. "Ahmed Abu Abed, aged four years and eight months, died as a result of the wounds he received last Friday east of Khan Yunis," health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said in a statement late Tuesday. The statement did not provide further details on how the child was injured. In the hospital where the boy died, 38 year-old Bassem told AFP he was the child's uncle. He said Abu Abed was injured by shrapnel when his father was shot during regular Friday protests along the border. It was not clear why the child had been taken to the border protests and there was no independent confirmation of the circumstances. His funeral will take place on Wednesday. The Israeli army said it was reviewing the incident, while accusing Gaza's Islamist rulers Hamas of using residents as cover for attacks. "The Hamas terrorist organisation cynically uses Gaza residents, especially women and children, as human shields and places them at the forefront of the violent riots, terrorist attacks and the terror of arson, demonstrating their contempt for human life," the army said in a statement on Wednesday. "Facing this reality, the IDF (army) does everything possible to avoid harming children." Palestinians have been protesting along the Gaza border at least weekly since March 30, triggering repeated clashes with the army.
At least 235 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, the majority during clashes on the border but others in air strikes or by tank fire. Two Israelis have been killed over the same period.

China Says Detained Canadian May Have Violated NGO Law
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 12/12/18/Beijing said Wednesday a detained former Canadian diplomat may have violated Chinese laws if he carried out work in the country because his employer is not legally registered in China. Michael Kovrig, a senior adviser at the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank, was detained by Chinese state security in Beijing on Monday night, according to ICG. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said he had "no information to offer" about the detention. But he added that ICG was not registered in China. "If it's not registered and its employees in China are engaged in activities, it is already in violation" of a Chinese law on foreign non-governmental organisations, Lu said. Kovrig was detained nine days after Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, at the behest of the United States. A former Canadian ambassador to Beijing, Guy Saint-Jacques, told AFP Kovrig's detention is likely related to Canada's arrest of Meng. Canadian Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has said Ottawa was "deeply concerned" by the detention of one of its citizens. He added that there was no "explicit indication" that the former diplomat's detention was linked to Meng's arrest.

North and South Korean Soldiers Enter Each Other's Territory
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 12/12/18/Soldiers from North and South Korea crossed into each other's territory peacefully for the first time on Wednesday, Seoul said, as they began checking the dismantlement of guard posts in the Demilitarized Zone. The North invaded the South in 1950, triggering the Korean War, and Seoul went on to change hands four times as Pyongyang's Chinese-backed forces and the US-led UN troops supporting the South fought their way up and down the peninsula and back again. The conflict ended in an armistice in 1953, leaving the two technically still in a state of war, but a rapid reconciliation has taken place this year. The South's President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un, leader of the nuclear-armed North, agreed to remove a limited number of guard posts along their heavily-fortified frontier at a September summit in Pyongyang, among other measures.
North Korea blew up 10 of its facilities in November, while the South tore 10 down on its own side using excavators. South Korean inspectors visited each of the guard posts on the North's side on Wednesday to make sure they had been dismantled and all firearms and troops removed, Seoul's defence ministry said. North Korean inspectors carried out the same process at the South's bunkers in the afternoon, it added. Video footage showed armed South Korean soldiers shaking hands with North Korean personnel at the military demarcation line in the centre of the DMZ, before crossing to the other side. Led by the North Koreans, the Southerners walked along a path where the North's guard posts had once stood, soldiers from both sides taking photos and filming the process as they chatted. "This marks the first time since the division that the soldiers of the North and South... are peacefully crossing the military demarcation line," the ministry said in a statement. The North is known to have more guard posts -- which include both surface structures and underground elements -- and according to Yonhap news agency it now has around 150 in the DMZ, with the South having about 50. Despite its name, the area around the DMZ is one of the most fortified places on earth, replete with minefields and barbed-wire fences. But under the plans to ease tensions agreed in Pyongyang, the two Koreas have demilitarised the border truce village of Panmunjom, leaving it manned by 35 unarmed personnel from each side. Officially called the Joint Security Area (JSA), the enclave is the only spot along the 250-kilometre (155-mile) frontier where soldiers from the two Koreas and the US-led UN Command stand face to face. The dovish Moon has pursued a policy of engagement with the North, in increasing contrast to Washington, which insists pressure should be maintained on Pyongyang until it denuclearises.

Lawyers Protest Detention of Kelly, Ghosn's Co-Accused
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 12/12/18/Lawyers for Greg Kelly, the American executive arrested last month with Nissan's former chairman Carlos Ghosn on suspicion of underreporting Ghosn's pay, protested his prolonged stay in Japanese detention Wednesday. The Tokyo District Court confirmed it received the protest. Lawyers often file such protests in Japan, where suspects get detained for weeks, sometimes months, before they face trial. Such protests tend to be routinely rejected. A similar protest filed by Ghosn's lawyers was rejected Tuesday. A Tokyo court has decided to detain Ghosn and Kelly through Dec. 20, although it could be longer. Ghosn, Kelly and Nissan Motor Co. as a legal entity were charged Monday with violating financial laws by underreporting Ghosn's pay by about 5 billion yen ($44 million) in 2011-2015. Prosecutors are also questioning Kelly and Ghosn about additional allegations prosecutors issued Monday that Ghosn's compensation was underreported by another 4 billion yen ($36 million) in 2016-2018. Ghosn's lawyers have not issued a statement. Aubrey Harwell, the U.S. lawyer for Kelly, has said his client is innocent, and that Nissan insiders and outside experts had advised him the financial reporting was proper. The maximum penalty for violating Japan's financial laws is 10 years in prison, a 10 million yen ($89,000) fine, or both. The conviction rate in Japan is more than 99 percent.Ghosn, a Brazilian-born Frenchman of Lebanese ancestry, was sent in by Nissan's alliance partner Renault SA of France in 1999, when Nissan Motor Co. was teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. For two decades, Ghosn led the Japanese automaker's rise. The alliance, which now includes Mitsubishi Motors Corp., is now among the biggest in global sales. Ghosn's downfall is being seen by some as a move by others at Nissan to gain power in the alliance. No trial date or bail has been set yet. Prosecutors say Ghosn and Kelly are flight risks. When Ghosn and Kelly may get out of the Tokyo Detention Center remains unclear.

UN chief Guterres to attend Yemen’s peace talks in Sweden
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Wednesday, 12 December 2018/Sources confirmed that UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres will attend the Yemen peace talks in Sweden on Thursday. Foreign ministers of a number of countries sponsoring the political process in Yemen are also expected to arrive in Stockholm on Wednesday to press the two sides of the Yemeni conflict to make progress in the ongoing consultations and come up with results that will ensure the resumption of a new round of talks early next year. The United Nations has in recent days brought Yemen's warring sides together in Sweden for peace talks, the first in two years. During talks between the two Yemeni delegations on Tuesday, the United Nations proposed the withdrawal of their troops from the coastal city of Hodeidah and placing the status of the city under the control of a temporary entity, with Yemeni Foreign Minister Khalid al-Yamani confirming Monday that his country would not accept a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Hodeidah, unless the city is under the control of the legitimate government. The two sides agreed earlier Tuesday to exchange some 15,000 prisoners, including a prisoner swap agreement reached at the start of the current peace talks in Sweden.

UN Reports More Suspected Iranian Missiles Found in Yemen
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 12/12/18/More suspected Iranian-made weapons have been found in Yemen, the UN says in a report that will be discussed Wednesday by the Security Council. The Gulf monarchies and United States accuse Iran of supporting Huthi rebels in Yemen -- and see this as justification for the military campaign they have been waging in Yemen since 2015. Iran supports the rebels politically but denies supplying them with arms. The report from UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres' office says his staff examined two container launch units for anti-tank guided missiles recovered by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.  "The Secretariat found that they had characteristics of Iranian manufacture," the report said. "The Secretariat also examined a partly disassembled surface-to-air missile seized by the Saudi-led coalition and observed that its features appeared to be consistent with those of an Iranian missile," it added. A probe into the origin of the weapons continues, it said. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was expected to attend Wednesday's meeting on Iran, scheduled to start at 1500 GMT. Guterres' report mainly addresses Iran's obligations under the 2015 nuclear deal it struck with six major powers. The United States pulled out of the accord in May and has reimposed sanctions on Iran. The report concludes that Iran continues to abide by the nuclear accord, under which it won sanctions relief in exchange for limiting its nuclear program. The UN has said in the past that Yemen's Huthi rebels have fired Iranian-made missiles at Saudi Arabia. But it said it could not be certain that these weapons were in fact supplied by Iran in what would be a violation of UN resolutions.

Yemen groups agree to reopen Sanaa airport, still in talks on port at Sweden talks
AFP/December 12, 2018/Askar Zaeel, a member of the government delegation, said his camp would hold firm to UN Security Council Resolution 2216
Multiple draft proposals have been submitted to the two delegations over the past week
RIMBO, Sweden: Yemen's warring parties agreed on Wednesday to reopen Sanaa airport in the Houthi-held capital, sources said, as Western nations press the two sides to agree on confidence-building measures before the end of the first UN-led peace talks in two years.The Iranian-backed Houthi movement and the Arab coalition-backed government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi were still discussing a UN proposal on the contested port city of Hodeidah, a lifeline for millions of Yemenis. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is due to attend final talks in Sweden on Thursday to support his envoy's efforts to launch a political process to end the nearly four-year-old war. Another round of talks could be held in early 2019. The Houthi militia hold most population centres, including Hodeidah and the capital Sanaa from which it ousted Hadi's government in 2014. The government is now based in the southern port of Aden.
The two parties agreed that international flights would stop at a government-held airport for inspections before flying in or out of Sanaa, two sources familiar with the talks said. They have yet to agree on whether those inspections would be in Aden airport or that of Sayun, the sources added. The Arab coalition intervened in the war in 2015 to restore Hadi's government controls the air space.UN envoy Martin Griffiths, trying to avert a full-scale assault on Hodeidah, where coalition forces have massed on the outskirts, is asking both sides to withdraw from the city. His proposal envisions an interim entity being formed to run the city and port and international monitors being deployed. Asked if the government could accept that proposal, culture minister Marwan Dammaj said: "We are still discussing it." Both sides have agreed to a UN role in the port, the entry point for most of Yemen's commercial imports and vital aid, but differ on who should run the city. The Houthi militia want Hodeidah declared a neutral zone, while Hadi's government believes the city should fall under its control as a matter of sovereignty. "The devil is in the details - withdraw how far (from Hodeidah), the sequence, who governs and delivers services," said one diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. They have also yet to agree on shoring up the central bank, and on a transitional governing body, although a deal was struck on a prisoner swap that could see 15,000 prisoners released.

France Hunts Gunman after Three Killed at Strasbourg Christmas Market
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 12/12/18/Hundreds of police and anti-terror forces hunted Wednesday for a gunman who shot dead three people and wounded 13 at a Christmas market in Strasbourg, with the suspect known to police and thought to be an religious extremist.
The attack took place Tuesday around 8 pm (1900 GMT) in the heart of the medieval city in eastern France as the market was closing, sending crowds fleeing for safety. The suspected shooter, a 29-year-old from the south of the city, was on a watchlist of suspected extremists and "is actively being hunted by security forces," local officials said in a statement. The man opened fire in three areas of the Christmas market, which draws hundreds of thousands of people each year to its wooden chalets selling festive decorations, mulled wine and food. Much of the centre of the city and the European parliament were locked down through though night as teams of police and soldiers searched for the gunman who was reportedly armed with an automatic rifle and a knife. The government has raised the security alert level for terrorism to its highest, reinforcing border controls and patrols around all Christmas markets across France. Hundreds of police, two helicopters, officers from elite anti-terror units and soldiers have been were mobilised Wednesday as part of the efforts to find the suspect.
'People running everywhere'
The shooting spree comes as French leader Emmanuel Macron faces the biggest crisis of his presidency after three weeks of anti-government demonstrations sparked by fuel tax rises. Security forces were already stretched by the often violent demonstrations during which five people have died and more than 1,400 been injured. The motive for Tuesday night's shooting in Strasbourg "has not yet been established," deputy Interior minister Laurent Nunez told France Inter radio. The gunman is "known for a number of criminal offences (...) but has never been linked to terrorist offences," he said.Police had wanted to arrest him Tuesday morning as part of a investigation into an attempted murder, but he was not at home, a security source told AFP. Strasbourg mayor Roland Ries said most of the victims were men, including one Thai tourist. "Some were shot in the head," Ries told BFM television. No children were hurt.
Soldiers patrolling the area as part of regular anti-terror operations after a series of attacks since 2015 exchanged fire with the suspect and wounded him, police sources said. "I heard shooting and then there was pandemonium," one witness, who gave his name as Fatih, told AFP. "People were running everywhere." He said he had seen three people injured and on the ground only a few metres (feet) from the city's giant Christmas tree.
France shaken by attacks
France has been targeted by a series of attacks by Islamist gunmen since 2015 and the Strasbourg market was long considered a possible target. Strict vehicle restrictions, security checks and patrols by armed police and soldiers have become the norm. In 2016, a 23-year-old Tunisian killed 12 and injured 48 others when he ploughed a truck into a Christmas market in Berlin in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group. He was shot dead by Italian police three days later near Milan after travelling through several European countries. In November 2015, groups of jihadists gunned down and blew up 130 people in Paris on November 13 in a coordinated rampage by Islamic State extremists that shook the country and Europe. But French counter-terror officials say their focus has since shifted, with the biggest danger now posed by so-called "lone wolves" -- self-radicalised individuals acting without links to terror groups. Most recently a 20-year-old Chechnya-born man went on a knife rampage in central Paris in May, killing one man and injuring four. A total of 246 people have been killed in terror attacks in France since 2015, according to an AFP toll.

Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 12-13/18
Region ushering in positive interfaith chang
Peter Welby/Arab News/December 12/18
I spent last week in Abu Dhabi, attending the fifth assembly of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies. With the disclaimer that I advise the forum on inter-religious issues, it was a remarkable event. Not just for the quality of the speeches (many were outstanding) or the opportunities for networking (with 550 senior Muslim scholars and others attending, these were plentiful), but also for the little things that happened, unplanned and natural. The topic of the conference was a new “Alliance of Virtues” — a revival of a pre-Islamic alliance in Makkah of which Prophet Muhammad (before his prophecy) was present for the founding. The idea, both of the original and of its revival, was for those of goodwill to gather together, regardless of faith, united around their common values, for the common good. Such an alliance is not about syncretism. Present in Abu Dhabi last week we had a large contingent of US evangelical Christians (and other Christians from different backgrounds and countries) who talk about their (and my) faith at every opportunity. They are not concerned that they may be asked to compromise — they know that will not happen. But they relish an opportunity to join forces with others who seek the global common good on the basis of some of the shared virtues of the Abrahamic faiths. The presence of the evangelicals came alongside a large contingent of Jewish rabbis and other leaders, largely from the US, but some from elsewhere too. Their invitation was not a surprise to me; there has been a growing number of Jewish leaders participating in and speaking at events organized by Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah for a couple of years. But their attendance was doubly appreciated due to the coincidence of the conference with Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights.
This festival did not prevent the rabbis’ attendance; all they asked for was an opportunity to celebrate the festival together each evening. And then, last Thursday, they celebrated it in the presence of Sheikh Abdullah, one of the world’s leading Islamic scholars. This was one of the most moving occasions of the conference — not to mention the first time that so many rabbis have celebrated together in the Arabian Peninsula for at least a century.
This story is not simply to recount what happened at a single event, but to argue that this is as an example of the wider changes that are taking place in the Gulf. The UAE has, for many years, been rightly proud of the welcome it gives to those of other faiths, gladly providing them with places of worship. But this gathering in its capital was not the only event of significance for religious minorities in the Arabian Peninsula in the past few weeks. The UAE has, for many years, been rightly proud of the welcome it gives to those of other faiths, gladly providing them with places of worship.
Last week, this paper published a full-page interview with Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Orthodox Church, anticipating his upcoming visit to Saudi Arabia. This interview followed reports of the first Coptic religious service held in Saudi Arabia at the start of this month. These developments signal a change in attitudes. While I was in Abu Dhabi, I joined a meeting of the US Ambassador for Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback, with Muslim leaders from across the Muslim world. The time he gave them was appreciated, and the conversation was both honest and cordial. But the changes taking place in the Arabian Peninsula around religion at the moment are not being driven by Western pressure. They are entirely homegrown — and homegrown in response to deeper theological approaches and changing domestic necessities. Both of those aspects give such changes sustainability in a way that changes in response to outside pressure generally don’t.
It is not just Westerners taken by surprise. Many Muslims have also been shocked by the way that things are going. Some welcome the changes, others recoil in revulsion. Such reactions must be carefully managed.
Developments around religious freedom in the peninsula are not occurring without theological backing from within Islam, and the scholarship that supports them is not artificial or even particularly radical. It stems from a reassessment of Islamic texts and history, combined with the context in which we find ourselves today, and considerations of the public good; in other words, the key criteria for Islamic scholarship around any matter of jurisprudence. It is important that this thinking and theological underpinning is explained at every opportunity to both supportive and hostile audiences. Human beings, whatever we like to think of ourselves as individuals, are often conservative on such strongly contested subjects. Psychologically, we are inclined to reject evidence if it contradicts assumptions. Such tendencies are not inevitable — they can be overcome with self-discipline and sound teaching. But sound teaching must be present. At the same time, Western governments must understand the significance and assist where they can. They must do this mindful of the fact that changes in the Arabian Peninsula on such important issues must come with the support from the region’s governments and societies, or they will fail.
**Peter Welby is a consultant on religion and global affairs, specializing in the Arab world. Previously, he was the managing editor of a think tank on religious extremism, the Center on Religion & Geopolitics, and worked in public affairs in the Gulf. He is based in London, and has lived in Egypt and Yemen. Twitter: @pdcwelby

US-China trade war masks worrying military buildup
Zaid M. Belbagi/Arab News/December 12/18
The tension around trade at the G20 summit last week masked a more troublesome reality —the unyielding nature of the competition between the US and China. Just a week prior, Vice President Mike Pence addressed the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Singapore, warning that there was no place for “empire and aggression” in the Indo-Pacific region: A warning clearly intended for Chinese consumption.
In the midst of a trade war in which both sides inflict serious wounds on the other’s economy, the two powers are increasingly at odds in the South China Sea. In late September, American and Chinese warships nearly collided, coming within 45 yards of each other. As China seeks to assert itself on its neighbors in the South China Sea, the US has conducted a series of “freedom of navigation” exercises in contested waters, angering Beijing. As the US military re-orientates its capability from counter-terrorism to great power competition and Chinese military spending continues to rise, understanding how the two powers are arming themselves is important.
Since President Richard Nixon’s rapprochement in the 1970s, US policy toward China has been based on the understanding that Beijing would come to accept American leadership. This was the reasoning behind its accession to the World Trade Organization, for example. The logic being that having China better integrated with international institutions would bring it further into the American fold. However, Beijing is actually using its new-found wealth and influence to transform international rules, norms and institutions in a manner that is increasingly at odds with US interests.
Unchecked, heavy-handed Chinese diplomacy could lead Asia toward a future that is less democratic and markedly less open to US trade and indeed its key regional military bases. Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong was expressive during the ASEAN summit in stating that Southeast Asian countries did not want to take sides when pulled in different directions by major powers, but that one day they may have to.
Decision-makers in Washington are clear on the fact that they must improve their strategy, resources and international relationships in order to contain Chinese power. If the US is to sustain its vital interests in Asia and preserve its influence in the South China Sea, it must abandon its belief that China will voluntarily morph into a liberal economy that will respect and advocate the rules of the post-1945 international system. Chinese power continues to grow and the People’s Republic will, as many before it, seek its place in the sun.
There is no doubt that the Trump administration is gearing the US military to better cope with peer adversaries such as China. In October, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan outlined the new national defense strategy as “the beginning of the retooling of the Department of Defense for great power competition.” Officials are clear in their intention to ready the US for a potential conflict with China by developing radar-evading bombers and fighters to get past China’s advanced anti-aircraft systems. The administration is aware that its ageing A-10s and B-52s, which have been over-serviced in the Middle East over the past three decades, will not survive a potential conflict in Asia.
Worrying as such a build-up seems, intractable problems in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait underscore that competition for dominance in the Pacific Ocean remains the volatile issue between the two nations. China’s claims in the South China Sea, through which some $3 trillion of shipborne trade passes each year, are contested by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan. The potential for exacerbation of small-scale conflicts between these nations, some of which are long-term US allies, is considerable.
Chinese power continues to grow and the People’s Republic will, as many before it, seek its place in the sun.
As one of China’s leading tech executives, Meng Wanzhou, languishes in detention in Canada awaiting extradition to the US, the extent of Sino-American competition is only too clear. China’s leading technology firm Huawei is not viewed by the US as the company that made the smartphone accessible to millions of Chinese; rather it is an example of how rapid and fearsome China’s rise has been.
Unchecked, Beijing has poured funds into technological advances as part of what the government has labelled “civil-military fusion.” Just as Huawei was on the cusp of dominated 5G networks, the US has sought to stunt the company’s advance through legal measures, which indicate its concerns about technological competition. Amidst the specter of state monopolies being dismantled to allow private companies to design and build everything from telecommunications systems to rockets, Chinese decision-makers are keen to close the technology gap with the US military.
With President Donald Trump calling for a foreign policy that puts “America first” and his Chinese counterpart evoking the Maoist call of “self-reliance,” there is little doubt that US and Chinese disagreements over trade mask a more worrying military buildup that risks regional and international security.
*Zaid M. Belbagi is a political commentator, and an adviser to private clients between London and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Twitter: @Moulay_Zaid

Macron’s domestic crisis comes at bad time for France
Dr. Theodore Karasik/Arab News/December 12/18
The yellow vest or “gilet jaune” is symbolic following weeks of widespread protests in France, with thousands taking to the streets while wearing the vests to protest fuel price hikes and low wages. The intensity of the protests has cost France $11 billion and forced President Emmanuel Macron to make concessions by scrapping price hikes and promising to raise the minimum wage. The move is probably the first of many capitulations.
The background is relevant. As part of his environmental policy strategy, Macron announced a green tax on fuel last month to come into effect on Jan. 1. The move set off nearly a month of protests around France. The Interior Ministry estimates 136,000 protesters turned out across the country over the past weekend, in addition to 280,000 in previous weeks. The protests started in the French provinces but spread to Paris, where demonstrations turned into riots and scenes of violent civil unrest occurred on the Avenue des Champs Elysees.
The yellow vest protesters were people from rural areas who have to drive long distances as part of their daily life. They said they couldn’t afford the hike in fuel prices. Protests appeared in pockets around France to denounce Macron’s green tax, and then quickly grew into a larger movement that includes members of the working and middle classes, who are expressing their frustration about slipping standards of living. They say their incomes are too high to qualify for social welfare benefits but too low to make ends meet. The movement has no official leadership and was organized initially through social media groups.
The protesters focus on Macron as the source of their problems. Along with his early reforms to loosen labor laws and cut France’s famous wealth tax, the fuel tax reinforced protesters’ image of him as a president for the rich. For some, Macron represents the French elite and thus the dividing line between the elite and the workers is now fully exposed.
There is no doubt that the yellow vest movement is not weakening. It will therefore continue to take root and highlight the gap between the haves and the have-nots, between urban and rural divides. The EU ultimately faces a test, as social and political challenges continue to emerge and challenge continental unity.
Last weekend showed that the level of violence in France had gone up several degrees. The number of arrests exceeded 1,300. Investigations are being carried out in order to understand and pinpoint the movement in terms of its leadership. People have been injured by the police. The symbol of law enforcement used by the gendarmerie in Paris will remain. Importantly, the rioting evoked comparisons with the violence of 1968.
The yellow vest movement will continue to take root and highlight the gap between the haves and the have-nots.
In 1968, a battle between 6,000 student demonstrators and 1,500 gendarmes escalated within days to a civil dispute featuring 10 million French workers going on strike and bringing the economy to a virtual halt. The De Gaulle government was forced to hold new elections. Importantly, May 1968 is an important marker in modern French history between the balance of what may be called the “liberation and anarchy” and feeds into today’s discourse over the significance of the yellow vest movement. Today’s riots are different in that, in modern society, everything is filmed, including images showing high school students in Mantes-la-Jolie being rounded up by the police. The images tell an interesting story of where France is going as part of Europe.
Macron’s government has a road map that is between the framework of the EU and the euro. If Macron leaves this path, the impact on financial markets will be immediate. His government is listening to the markets and complying with the euro’s framework. Moreover, the French government will now need to move on to the introduction of proportional representation in the upcoming elections, while balancing the requirement to reduce the number of MPs and senators. Wrapped up in the political game are traditional issues of immigration and acculturation within French society that have fed into the yellow vest demonstrations, especially in terms of slogans and graffiti.
It is therefore more than likely that the movement will continue, as Macron has been damaged by the riots and their significance. Images of violence and continued resentment at a lack of change may mean that Macron is a “lame duck” at exactly the wrong time geopolitically. France is in the middle of several security and military operations throughout Africa and the Middle East and is intensely working on the Iran file, in addition to making heavy energy investments. Paris is also involved in important counter-terrorism operations. Domestic violence at home and a crisis of authority does not add up well for scoring major foreign policy points in the coming year.
Overall, France has entered a crisis period. This crisis will have social, political and institutional dimensions. But it may be more about the adverse effects on the EU framework, and in particular the euro, at this juncture. Macron, who was gesticulating earlier this year at the World Cup in Russia, is unlikely to enjoy that pose again in the future.
• Dr. Theodore Karasik is a senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics in Washington, DC. He is a former RAND Corp. senior political scientist who lived in the UAE for 10 years, focusing on security issues. Twitter: @tkarasik

Hamas behind Ofra and Barkan terror, celebrates three “successful” months

Debka File/December 12/18
The terrorists who shot and injured 9 Israelis at the Ofra junction on Sunday, Dec. 9 were sent by Hamas. They are part of the same Hamas squad which murdered two Israelis, Ziv Hajbi and Kim Levengrund, at the Barkan industrial center on Oct. 7 and got away. So long as those killers were at large, IDF and Shin Bet investigators had expected Hamas to use them to strike again.
The Palestinian Ashraf Naalawa, 23, from the village of Sweika near Tulkarmm, who is still on the run, was presented as the lone killer at Barkan. But he was not alone and the manhunt is in fact focusing on a large squad of at least five to eight terrorists, all of them mobilized by Hamas to unleash a major campaign of terror in Judea and Samaria. It had been hoped that when they surfaced for their next attack – possibly on the anniversary of the Barkan hit, it would be possible to lay hands on them. But again, after the drive-by shooting at Ofra, when the pregnant Shira Ish-Ran was deliberately targeted, the shooters got away. Raids and searches by IDF units in a number of Palestinian towns and villages, including Ramallah and El-Bireh, failed to turn up any lead to the fugitives and the investigation must again rely on intelligence informants.
On Tuesday night, Dec. 11, security was finally boosted in Judea and Samaria. The IDF reinforcements were charged with securing road traffic, while other units had their hands full hunting for the escaped terrorists. But, so long as the killers are on the loose, their main mission is to be on the spot for anticipating and cutting short the next Hamas strike.
The IDF and Shin Bet have identified the hand behind the latest round of terror as Gaza-based Abdel Rahman Jinmati, who is in charge of terrorist operations on the West Bank and the right hand of Saleh al-Arouri, overall chief of Hamas terror.
During the eight months of Palestinian turbulence on the Gaza front, Israeli security forces were able to keep the lid on Hamas efforts, oiled with substantial funding, to establish West Bank terrorist networks as well as thwarting attempts to launch attacks. But in late November, when Hamas began easing up on aggression from the Gaza Strip upon receipt of Qatari dollars, the Gaza-based terrorist organization succeeded in setting up an active infrastructure for terror in Judea and Samaria, which has so far eluded discovery by Israel’s security and intelligence authorities.
In the past three months, Hamas has pulled off a string of successes against Israel: One was the murderous Barkan attack on Oct. 7. Then, on Nov. 11, the Palestinian group uncovered an Israeli covert force which had operated for several weeks in the Khan Younes district of southern Gaza. An IDF colonel was killed in the ensuing firefight. Whereupon Hamas loosed nearly 500 rockets against Israeli communities. Nonetheless, the Israeli government decided against retaliation for the outrageous assault on a civilian population and instead, agreed to a ceasefire bought from Hamas by Qatar’s $90m payout. The first two of six $15m instalments are already in Hamas hands. The price paid by Israel? The drive-by shooting at the Ofra junction was the down-payment. Its youngest victim, a baby, is in mortal danger two days after being delivered prematurely from its injured mother.
Palestinian terrorist groups are celebrating what they perceive as Hamas’s extraordinary feats against Israel’s army and security authorities. In this atmosphere, a further upsurge of Palestinian terror is to be expected.

Another front the world cannot afford
Hazem Saghieh/Al Arabiya/December 12/18
Our already stressed world did not need the emergence of a new hotspot of tension, especially in Europe. In fact, trouble erupted before the end of the centenary celebrations of World War I, which was largely a European war. The new hotspot which developments reflected on the G20 Buenos Aires summit and forced US President Donald Trump to cancel his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin was in the Kerch Strait at the end of Azov Sea between Russia, Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula. Russian border guards shot at three Ukrainian ships and detained 24 crew members. Russians have said that the ships had trespassed into their territorial waters, a charge denied by the Ukrainians who showed relevant maps in their defense and warned of Russia’s expansionist designs. However, Russia’s volleys of accusations continued. It blamed the Ukrainians for causing the crisis in order to allegedly revive Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s failing prospects in next year’s elections. Thus, Russia accused Petro Poroshenko of whipping anti-Russian sentiment in his bid to win the elections. There is weakness and passivity of the West versus the obdurate policies of Russian President Putin
NATO warships
For their part, the Ukrainians have urged the NATO to send in warships to the region and declared a state of emergency and took a set of financial measures against Russians living in their country. Ukraine has also stopped all Russian men, between the ages of 16 and 60 years, from entering the country. Meanwhile, Moscow has announced the deployment of S-400 surface-to-air missiles to northern Crimea, which it had annexed in 2014, and said it plans to build a missile early warning radar station there. After seizing control of the peninsula, Russia has built a 19-kilometer long bridge linking to it. Ukraine, which talks about economic siege and about Russian expansionist intentions, had, after Crimea was annexed, begun building a wall which has not been finished. It seems its high cost has prevented completing it. If it’s true that European military intervention is unlikely as confirmed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, one cannot rule out the possibility that the NATO would reinforce its military presence in the Black Sea, especially after its Bulgarian and Romanian members in the aforementioned region have expressed their concerns over Putin’s policies.
Pessimistic scenarios
What strengthens the most pessimistic scenarios is that the agreement signed between Moscow and Kiev in 2003 over control of the Azov Sea had left a lot of sensitive issues vague. After the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea, this ambiguity has turned into a direct source of danger, particularly after Russia imposed its unilateral military presence in that region. Why has this happened? Certainly, there are the complicated historical relations between Russia and Ukraine and that witnessed some of their most violent chapters during the Stalinist era. Ukraine, the agriculturally rich country which was once called “breadbasket of the Soviet Union” and whose peasants were traditionally known for their independence and dedication to the land, suffered a major famine because of Moscow’s policies in 1932 when they were asked to double the quantity of wheat output. Some historians estimated the victims of this famine to be as high as 5 million, leaving a very deep stain on Ukrainian memory against Russians in general.
However, the historical background is a possible but not the only factor in play. Here we must look into the populist nationalism that is on the rise across the globe today and which is threatening democracy on one hand and destroying healthy international relations on another. There is another factor that is just as important and it’s the West’s weakness and passivity versus the obdurate policies of Russian President Putin who is acting like there is no impunity when it comes to his intentions and concerns related to Russia’s military force. Would “this war continue for as long as the current Ukrainian authorities remain in power,” as Putin has stated? Are we going to have a new flashpoint that could be triggered by a vested interest?

What Iranians seek under sanction and suppression

Hamid Bahrami/Al Arabiya/December 12/18
In the middle of December last year, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) warned of the expectation of mass protests and responded by dispatching special patrols of Basij forces in order to create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation across the country to prevent any expression of popular dissent. But popular protests erupted later that month and turned rapidly into a nationwide uprising that tore down the wall of oppression. The Iranian President said recently that he believes these protests encouraged the US President to pull his country out of the nuclear deal.
Many Iranians interviewed inside the country said what they believe and have shown are completely different with what some newspapers in the west such as the Guardian and New York Times print regarding the domestic situation and public opinion over the causes and effects of the severe sanctions. “The ruling regime has security forces here and apologists in abroad”, says Zohreh, a blogger who previously worked for some reformist newspapers in Tehran. Her last name is not provided because of security reason.
She believes the western media do not reflect the reality on the ground in Iran. “While Iranians are protesting and daily executions are a part of our life, a golden opportunity like Khashoggi crisis helps the apologists to deflect mounting criticism over regime’s domestic oppression and spending Iran's wealth to support terrorists across the Middle East”. Her comments refer to the Guardian’s Iran correspondent Saeed Kamali Dehghan who claimed in a tweet that Saudi journalist was killed because of speaking to him on the phone. However, Mr Kamali deleted his tweet hours later. As President Trump has shifted the US Iran policy to hold the theocracy to account for its behavior by imposing tough sanctions, the Channel 4 in the UK and Al Jazeera echo president Rouhani’s words
Holding theocracy to account
As President Trump has shifted the US Iran policy to hold the theocracy to account for its behavior by imposing tough sanctions, the Channel 4 in the UK and Al Jazeera echo president Rouhani’s words claiming that Trump’s goal is regime change by supporting the opposition and that all imposed sanctions are in this regard. In contrast, Iran’s society shows something different during the recent years. “It doesn’t matter who takes office in the White House or Élysée Palace but what is evident is people want to get rid of this regime”. However, Zohreh acknowledges that policy of appeasement provides the regime with opportunity to prolong its grip on power.
When asked about his situation before and after the sanctions were imposed, Reza, a 67 homeless man living in the east of Isfahan province, said, “Because of my mother’s illness, I sold my lands and even a kidney to cope the cost of medical operations, but it wasn't enough and she passed away”. He has been homeless since 2016 when Rouhani and his European counterparts claimed sanction relief would improve the living standards in Iran. “Sanctions do not matter. We have been poor, our water, gold, oil and etc are stolen, this country is riddled with corruption”.Reza, who worked as a farmer, says he has nothing to lose and always participate in protests. “The authorities are responsible for our difficulties, not the foreigners.”Last Friday, the First Deputy Speaker of Iran’s Parliament Masoud Pezeshkian admitted that the regime is responsible for the social problems. “What have we done that people hate us”, he asked his colleagues during a ceremony held by Parliament.
Amid all suppressions, Iranian workers joined the protests of the poor class citizens across the country. Workers of Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Agro-Industry in Khuzestan Province in the southwest of Iran have been protesting for four weeks for their unpaid salary. In a video clip on social media, a protester said: “Would the kids of authorities tolerate two days without food, no clothes? Let’s emphasize, two days without their luxury cars?”Fouad, an unemployed young Iranian Arab, says that the human rights situation has been deteriorating. “More executions, more arbitrary arrested of people”. Human rights organizations reported last month that the regime had secretly executed 22 Iranian Arabs for their political beliefs. He says the Arab minorities are viewed as second-class citizens. “When the world doesn’t care about you, executed friends are buried in secret graves, remaining silent is not an option”.

No clear end in sight for war in Afghanistan
Dr. Azeem Ibrahim/Al Arabiya/December 12/18
As the deployment in Afghanistan enters its seventeenth year it has become the longest running war in US history. It is therefore worth reminding ourselves why the US is there. The mission has four principal aims.
Firstly, to reduce the insurgency until it is no longer a significant threat to progress. Secondly, to make sure that core al-Qaeda does not come back. Thirdly, to make sure that Afghanistan remains a legitimate state. And lastly, to make sure that Afghanistan can handle its own security. Many in the British and American foreign policy establishments see their principal aim as keeping the Taliban out of Afghanistan. This is a dangerous misunderstanding. Most Taliban are ordinary Afghans. (Although most ordinary Afghans are not Taliban).
They tend to be motivated by varying combinations of money, Islamism, and a nationalist desire to free their country of foreigners. Reporter Jason Burke has described how when he asks village locals who the Taliban are, a common response is bemused surprise and the answer “men from my village.”After 17 years, the Taliban now control more territory than they have since the start of this war. Daily attacks have become so commonplace that they are no longer reported. The government is regarded within Afghanistan as both weak and beholden to its western allies. It can also no longer be assumed that the Taliban are committed to al-Qaeda. They remain distinct organizational entities divided by language
Development projects
Well-intentioned development projects have not been as big an inducement to support the government as was hoped. And 70 percent of supplies enter the country through two supply crossings – Torkham and Chaman on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border – one of which has recently had to shut for a while due to increasing attacks. No other significant alternative supply routes into the country have been found. A British military commander has said publicly that the war as currently conceived cannot be won. Until now, the option of negotiation or power-sharing with moderate elements of the Taliban has not been seriously pursued because of the assumption that the Taliban were monolithically committed to violence. That can no longer be assumed.
Taliban leaders have stated publicly that the Taliban could stand as a party in Afghan elections as his Islamist party had recently done in Pakistan. Some Taliban members have argued that the Afghan state’s army and police should be strengthened in order to persuade allied forces to leave sooner. Some officials in the Afghan government have said that they were approached by Taliban leaders seeking to negotiate in 2014. And there have been reports of negotiations in Saudi Arabia between Taliban representatives and the Afghan government.
It can also no longer be assumed that the Taliban are committed to al Qaeda. They remain two distinct organizational entities divided by language. There are no Afghans at the top of al-Qaeda and no Arabs at the top of the Taliban. And two Taliban spokespeople have talked publicly about divergence between the two groups. The bottom line is that the war is at a stalemate. Lasting stability will only be achieved by negotiating with moderate elements in the Taliban and opening the way for them to share power. That will bolster the legitimacy of the national government and ultimately divide and weaken the insurgents. Troops will be necessary to reduce the insurgency. But this should be seen as a means to the end of ending the conflict by enabling us to negotiate from a position of relative strength.
Only a power-sharing government which includes the least extreme elements of the Taliban will be able to achieve the other three war aims – ensuring that Afghanistan remains a legitimate state, ensuring that it can handle its own security, and keeping core al-Qaeda out of the country. The current government is committed to a stable, secure and democratic Afghanistan, but we have to start looking at the country long term. We will not be able to secure the Ghani over the long term. The only way to ensure that the next government commits to these objectives is to engage moderate Taliban in a power-sharing government now.