December 15/18

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For today
He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; & will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Book of Revelation 21/01-12.14: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’ And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’Then he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death.’Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.’And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. It has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal. It has a great, high wall with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates are inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of the Israelites; And the wall of the city has twelve foundations, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.’

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on December 14-15/18
St Charbel to the rescue/Miracles are on the rise in Lebanon...Heavenly help for the hard-up
Hariri: Cabinet Crisis is an Internal, not Regional Issue
Aoun expresses 'personal support' for Carlos Ghosn in meeting with Brazilian delegation
Army Patrol Ambushed in Baalbek, One Soldier Dead
Maronite Patriarch Blasts Intransigence Behind Government Formation Stalemate
President Aoun receives letter from Brazilian President, underlines commitment to Palestinian cause
Berri talks developmental affairs with Lazzarini
Moody's Changes Outlook on Lebanon's Rating to Negative
Israeli Excavations in the Town of Ghajar
The army installs surveillance camera in Kroum al Sharaqi region
Security Council to Hold Meeting on Hezbollah's Cross-Border Tunnels
Kardel visits Sleiman
Report: Hariri ‘Agrees’ to Review Names Close to Consultative Gathering
Lebanese Security Forces Scuffle with Sabaa Party Activists Outside Labor Ministry
Kataeb Students Protest Against Sagesse University's Elections Postponement
Bukhari honors Arab pioneering women in journalism
Army chief meets JSOC Commander, Girard
Bassil visits Archbishopric of Akkar for Greek Orthodox
Othman, Girard discuss cooperation
Machnouk meets Froklin: Russia has contributed to region stability
Trump Should Cut Hezbollah’s Lifeline in the Americas
Destroying Hezbollah’s tunnels: an operation years in the making
Lebanese Wary as Israel Destroys Hizbullah Border Tunnels

Titles For The Latest  English LCCC  Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 14-15/18
French Envoy to Syria Visits Cairo
Lavrov Says Syria Constitutional Committee ‘Almost Ready'
Two Babies Die at Syrian Border Camp- UN
Kurdish-led Fighters Expel ISIS from East Syria Hub
Erdogan, Trump Agreed On More Effective Turkey-US Coordination In Syria - Statement
Erdogan Vows to 'Bring Peace' to East of Euphrates
Syrian Kurdish-Led Fighters Take Hajin, Last Town Held by IS
Israel Arrests 40 Palestinians after West Bank Attack
Iran Deal, Saudi Murder: Turbulent Year Shakes up Middle East
Strasbourg Reopens Christmas Market after Gunman Killed
Canada congratulates Armenia’s prime minister-elect following election victory
UK's May Returns to Face EU Leaders after Brexit Deal Rebuff
Morocco’s King Appoints New Ombudsman, Head of Anti-Corruption Authority
Sisi Brands Egypt as Secure Magnet for Foreign Investment
Russian Orthodox church calls on UN for help in Ukraine

Titles For The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 14-15/18
St Charbel to the rescue/Miracles are on the rise in Lebanon...Heavenly help for the hard-up/The Economist/December 14/18
Trump Should Cut Hezbollah’s Lifeline in the Americas/Emanuele Ottolenghi & Jose Luis Stein/Foreign Policy/December 13/18
Destroying Hezbollah’s tunnels: an operation years in the making/Alex Fishman/Ynetnews/December 14/18
Lebanese Wary as Israel Destroys Hizbullah Border Tunnels/Associated Press/Naharnet/December 14/18/
Iran Deal, Saudi Murder: Turbulent Year Shakes up Middle East/Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 14/18
The Canary in the French Mine/Amir Taheri/Asharq Al Awsat/December v14/18
Tehran Counts on a Divided West/Reuel Marc Gerecht/The Wall Street Journal/December 14/18
Germany: Merkel to be Succeeded by "Mini-Merkel"/Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/December 14/18
The Hamas Plan to Take the West Bank/Khaled Abu Toameh/Gatestone Institute/December 14/18
Rouhani’s Threat to Shut the Strait of Hormuz—More Than Bluster? Matthew Levitt/Matthew Levitt/The American Interest/December 14/18
Egypt: Muslim Policeman Murders Two Christians While Guarding Their Church/Raymond Ibrahim/December 14/18
Senate Votes to End US Support for Saudi War, Bucking Trump/The Hill/December 14/18
Strasbourg Shooting Suspect Killed by Police, Paris Authorities Say/CNN International/December 14/18
Iranian regime is the basis of scourge in Middle East/Mohammed Al Shaikh/Al Arabiya/December 14/18
The Hodeidah agreement, beginning or an end?/Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/December 14/18
In ailing Europe, France is confused/Ghassan Charbel/Al Arabiya/December 14/18
SDF on Turkey’s anticipated offensive: There are no American reassurances/Juan Suez/Al Arabiya/December 14/18

Latest LCCC English Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on December 14-15/18
St Charbel to the rescue/Miracles are on the rise in Lebanon...Heavenly help for the hard-up
/تقرير من مجلة الإيكونومست يحكي عجائب القديس شربل

The Economist/December 14/18
Strange things happen to Nohad al-Shami. In 1993 her painting of St Charbel began oozing oil. Around the same time the long-dead saint appeared in her dreams. “I have come to operate on you,” he said. And so he did, curing her of hemiplegia (paralysis of half of the body), she claims. At the mountain-top monastery of Annaya, in north-west Lebanon, a mass is said every month to mark the miracle—and to pray for new ones. “The blind see and the disabled walk,” says Mrs Shami. Miracles are on the rise in Lebanon. So says Father Louis Matar, the Maronite priest who keeps a tally of such things. St Charbel (pictured), the closest thing Lebanon has to a patron saint, gets most of the credit. He has notched up 26,000 miracles since his death in 1898, when villagers said light beamed out of his tomb. After slowing down at the start of this century, he has regained his form. “We’re seeing more miracles in these past two years than we have in the past decade,” says Father Matar. Polls show religious faith is declining in Lebanon, especially among the young. But many people still wear amulets to ward off evil spirits and visit faith-healers when they are sick. Miracles were often reported during Lebanon’s civil war of 1975-90 and its war with Israel in 2006. Saints even get special protection under the law. Mock one and you risk jail time. In July, after news spread that St Charbel had helped a woman conceive, police interrogated two men who suggested that the saint had slept with the woman.
Studies suggest that people often turn to religion in the face of hardship. Some Lebanese may be seeking help from St Charbel to cope with a slow-burning economic crisis, staggering inequality and the threat of renewed war with Israel. “People are at best totally dependent on their sectarian leaders and at worst left out in the cold,” says Paul Tabar, an anthropologist at the Lebanese American University. “It is this precariousness that’s driving many into the arms of saints and gods.”Fortunately, St Charbel does not discriminate. About one in ten of his miracles heals a Muslim or Jew, says Father Matar. But the saint has been caught up in the sectarianism that poisons Lebanese politics. Though the tourist trade is struggling, officials are loth to publicise his acts, which might attract more visitors. “We cannot possibly promote the miracle of a Christian saint or any other religion,” says Avedis Guidanian, the tourism minister. “It would upset other sects.” If only St Charbel could heal Lebanon’s divisions.*This article appeared in the Middle East and Africa section of the print edition under the headline "St Charbel to the rescue"

Hariri: Cabinet Crisis is an Internal, not Regional Issue
London - Najlaa Habriri/Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 14 December, 2018/Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri has hoped that his national unity government would be formed by the end of the year. “I think we are in the last 100 meters of forming the government,” Hariri said Friday during a Q&A session at the Chatham House think tank in London. “We are getting there, it’s not a regional issue, it’s an internal issue, it’s because the equation changed a little bit in parliament and some people want more. I believe that most of the obstacles were solved, there is still one obstacle and I am sure that we will be able to resolve it,” he said in response to a question. Hariri has refused to grant six Hezbollah-backed independent Sunni MPs a representative in the cabinet for not making up a coherent political bloc. He stressed that “Lebanon cannot afford to continue without a government that can protect it from regional turmoil and economic downfall.”The PM-designate reiterated the importance of overcoming political differences among Lebanon’s different factions. “Hezbollah is not going to change my mind on Iran and I am not going to change its mind on Saudi Arabia,” stressed Hariri. “So we decided to put our regional differences aside.”Hariri told the audience that Riyadh will back Lebanon through several agreements that are set to be announced once the new cabinet is formed. “You will see Saudi Arabia taking some serious steps towards Lebanon and helping economically.”At the CEDRE conference that was held in Paris last April, Saudi Arabia committed one billion dollars, he said. “Our strategy is to invest in infrastructure, prepare Lebanon to be a platform so that big companies … would invest in Lebanon or make Lebanon a hub for reconstruction in Syria, in Iraq and even in Libya,” Hariri stated. He reiterated the importance of sticking to Lebanon’s dissociation policy, saying the new government will continue to abide by it.

Aoun expresses 'personal support' for Carlos Ghosn in meeting with Brazilian delegation
The Daily Star/December. 14/18/BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun expressed his "personal support" for ousted Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn during a meeting with a Brazilian delegation Friday, a statement from the presidency reported. The delegation was headed by Brazilian Minister of State for Presidential Affairs Carlos Eduardo Xavier Marun, who traces his roots back to Lebanon. During the meeting, Aoun said he was personally following up on Ghosn’s case. Ghosn, who is of Lebanese origin and was born in Brazil, faces an array of claims involving hiding money and benefits he received while chairman of Nissan and head of an alliance among the Japanese firm, Mitsubishi Motors and France’s Renault. Aoun added that he had spoken with French President Emmanuel Macron about the issue, who explained that he had assigned three lawyers to defend Ghosn, who also holds French citizenship. Marun told the president that the Brazilian Consulate in Tokyo was also working on assisting Ghosn. Several Lebanese officials have expressed solidarity with Ghosn since his arrest on Nov. 19, and billboards have sprung up across Beirut displaying the words, “We are all Carlos Ghosn.”The delegation also presented Aoun with a letter from his Brazilian counterpart, Michel Temer, in which he thanked Lebanon for its “fruitful cooperation" with his country. Temer also underscored the importance of Brazil’s contribution of troops to the United Nations peacekeeping force in south Lebanon.

Army Patrol Ambushed in Baalbek, One Soldier Dead
Naharnet/December 14/18/The Lebanese army imposed strict security measures on Friday in Baalbek’s neighborhood of Hay al-Sharawneh after an army patrol was ambushed overnight by armed men from the Jaafar family leaving one soldier dead, the National News Agency reported.
NNA said army conscript Raouf Hassan Yazbek was shot in the chest at night on Thursday but succumbed to his wounds early today. In a statement issued Friday, the army said it’s patrol came under heavy gunfire at around 9:41 P.M. on Thursday while passing through Hay al-Sharawneh. In conjunction an army center in Baldat al-Qasr in Hermel also came under fire and the army retaliated. Four soldiers were wounded one of whom was in a critical condition.Tight security measure were imposed on Friday added the statement. Investigations are ongoing to arrest the assailants.

Maronite Patriarch Blasts Intransigence Behind Government Formation Stalemate 14th December 2018/Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rahi on Friday said that no one has the right to impose his own conditions and choose to not make any concessions, stressing that the country cannot be run with stubbornness and intransigence.“Inflexibility about the government formation is not permitted. Everyone should assume responsibility,” Rahi said following a meeting with President Michel Aoun at the Baabda Palace. "No one has the right to say 'I want this and that'". The Patriarch called for prioritizing the country’s best interests over all else, warning of more stubbornness amid the deteriorating economy and the financial risks weighing on the country.

President Aoun receives letter from Brazilian President, underlines commitment to Palestinian cause
Fri 14 Dec 2018/NNA - Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Mar Bechara Boutros Rahi said after his meeting this Friday with President Michel Aoun at the Baabda Palace, that "the responsibility of the Republic does not lie exclusively on the President of the Republic. (...) We are all responsible."
"We stand by President Aoun because the president needs his people, especially at a stage where we can only say that the way the government formation issue is being tackled is wrong," said Rahi, stressing that "he who wants to delve into the political life ought to pay attention to public good."
President Aoun and Patriarch Rahi tackled the current political developments and the general situation in the country, with taks featuring high on the outcomes of Rahi's visit to Rome and the meeting he held with Pope Francis. "The president cannot reach solutions alone, without the presence of the PM-designate. All the political parties and components in Lebanon have to shoulder their responsibilities," Rahi stressed in a chat with journalists.
On a different note, President Aoun met with the Brazilian Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Carlos Eduardo Xavier Maroun, on top of a delegation representing the outgoing President of the Republic of Brazil, Michel Tamer, in the presence of Brazil's Ambassador to Lebann, Paulo Cordero de Andrade Pinto.Minister Maroun conveyed to President Aoun a message from outgoing President Michel Tamer expressing appreciation for the fruitful cooperation between the two of them during his term as president. "This phase was filled with important steps towards the consolidation of bilateral relations between Brazil and Lebanon, where the city of Sao Paulo hosted the Latin American Summit titled 'Lebanese Diaspora Capacities' organized by the Lebanese government, and which I had the honor to take part in," said the Brazilian President.
"We have also worked to strengthen bilateral relations in the field of peace and security through the Brazilian contingent operating within the UNIFIL, in addition to the impetus we have given together for negotiations on the free trade agreement between Mercosur and Lebanon," he said in his letter to Aoun, uttering "heartfelt wishes to Lebanon, the land of my ancestors."
Minister Maroun, in turn, pointed at his Lebanese roots, telling his host that his grandfather was the son of Ghazir.
"This makes me very happy today as I meet the President of the Republic of Lebanon, the mother country of a large number of Brazilians of Lebanese origin," he said, shedding light on the "historic and deep-rooted relations between Lebanon and Brazil."
Maroun hoped President Aoun would attend the Brazilian President's inaugration ceremony in person, along with a Lebanese delegation. He also stressed his country's support for the Free Trade Agreement between the countries of South America and Lebanon, which will be signed in March 2019 during the meeting of South American countries. The minister then tackled the issue of military cooperation between Brazil and Lebanon, referring to a "defense agreement between the two countries signed by the Brazilian Minister of Defense.""We will head immediately to the Ministry of Defense to obtain the signature of the Lebanese Defense Minister," he said, pointing at the "presence of a Brazilian frigate as part of the UN Interim Force in South Lebanon (UNIFIL). Tackling the issue of Carlos Ghosn's arrest in Japan, Maroun said "the Brazilian Consulate in Tokyo is trying to help and support him."President Aoun, in turn, highlighted the loyalty of Brazilians of Lebanese origin to their host country, Brazil, underlining their countless successes all the way through the presidency of the republic. Aoun noted that he will dispatch one of the ministers to represent him "at the signing ceremony with the South American countries."Tackling Carlos Ghosn's arrest, President Aoun said he was personally following up on the matter, revealing that he contacted the French president in this regard, given the fact that Ghosn carries the French citizenship next to the Lebanese and the Brazilian nationalities.President Macron explained to Aoun that he had tasked three lawyers to defend Ghosn upon the issuance of the indictment. On a different note, the President of the Republic welcomed a delegation representing the Global Coalition of the Unions of Jerusalem and Palestine, who thanked Aoun on his "positions in support of the Palestinian cause."The Head-of-State welcomed the delegation, saying "The Palestinian cause is our cause. Al-Quds is home to both Christian and Islamic religious sites and it is not permissible to jeudaize it. The Palestinian people have the right to have a homeland.""We are committed to defending Jerusalem, the Palestinian land and the Palestinian people," he affirmed.

Berri talks developmental affairs with Lazzarini
Fri 14 Dec 2018/NNA - House Speaker, Nabih Berri, met on Friday at his Ain Tineh residence with the resident representative of the UNDP in Lebanon, Philippe Lazzarini, with whom he discussed an array of economic and developmental affairs. On the other hand, Speaker Berri welcomed at Ain Tineh a delegation of the International Trade Union Coalition for Solidarity with Al-Quds and Palestine, headed by its President Mahmoud Erslan. Erslan hailed Berri's constant support to the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian people, underlining the need to rally all efforts in support of Al-Quds and Palestine in the face of daily Israeli enemy's attacks the Palestinian people and violations of the holy sites.

Moody's Changes Outlook on Lebanon's Rating to Negative
Moody's/ Friday 14th December 2018/Moody's Investors Service on Thursday changed the outlook to negative from stable on Lebanon's issuer ratings and affirmed the ratings at B3. "The negative outlook reflects an increase in risks to the government's liquidity position and the country's financial stability, in large part as a consequence of domestic and geopolitical risks that have become more intractable," read a statement issued by Moody's. "In particular, in the absence of fiscal consolidation measures that would allow the release of some international loans and partly reverse the widening in risk premia observed in recent months, Lebanon's fiscal metrics that have already been among the weakest of all the sovereigns rated by Moody's would weaken further, contributing to yet higher liquidity and financial stability risks.""The affirmation of the B3 rating reflects Moody's assumption that a government will be formed in the near term and will implement some fiscal consolidation that would unlock the CEDRE ("Conférence économique pour le développement, par les réformes et avec les entreprises") public investment package, which in turn would support GDP growth and ease liquidity risks," it noted. The rating affirmation also takes into account the central bank's demonstrated capacity to maintain a degree of financial stability despite very large macroeconomic imbalances and through times of political tensions, although the effectiveness of its financial operations may be diminishing. Moody's has also affirmed Lebanon's (P)B3 senior unsecured Medium Term Note Program rating and its (P)Not Prime other short-term rating. The foreign and local-currency bond and bank deposit ceilings remain unchanged. Specifically, the foreign-currency bond ceiling is unchanged at B1, the foreign-currency bank deposit ceiling is unchanged at B3, and the local-currency bond and deposit ceilings are unchanged at Ba2. The short-term foreign-currency bond and deposit ceilings are also unchanged at Not Prime.

Israeli Excavations in the Town of Ghajar
Naharnet/December 14/18/The Israeli forces have been carrying out an operation scrapping and transporting sand and rocks to the southern village of al-Ghajar, facing al-Wazzani, the National News Agency reported on Friday. On the other hand, NNA said no Israeli enemy activity was recorded near the Fatima Gate border crossing in southern Lebanon and the Kfarkila main road, adding that no activity or violation of the Blue Line has been reported either in Kroum al-Chraki, along the outskirts of Mays al-Jabal. However, NNA said Israeli enemy soldiers have been positioned there for several days.

The army installs surveillance camera in Kroum al Sharaqi region
Fri 14 Dec 2018/NNA - The Lebanese army has installed a mobile surveillance camera in Kroum al-Sharaqi region in the outskirts of Meis al-Jabal village, to monitor the movements of the Israeli enemy and its actions in the region. This came after the Israeli enemy forces have fixed three cameras on the earthen barricades in the neighborhood of Kroum al-Sharaqi region. It is to note that the mentioned region is witnessing a remarkable calm, after the cessation of Israeli enemy's digging works and the withdrawal of its bulldozers inside the technical fence on the occupied territories. However, a number of enemy soldiers remained stationed between the technical fence and the Blue Line.

Security Council to Hold Meeting on Hezbollah's Cross-Border Tunnels 14th December 2018/The United Nations Security Council is set to convene on Wednesday to discuss the alleged Hezbollah cross-border tunnels that have been discovered lately by Israel. The meeting, called by the U.S. at Israel's request, will also deal with Hezbollah’s alleged violations of UNSC Resolution 1701. Israel's ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, said that his country is not expecting that the Security Council adopts a resolution condemning Hezbollah, adding that the meeting is aimed at designating Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.
A draft resolution on this matter is being prepared, he revealed. “Israel will expose Hezbollah’s terror operations and its blindfolding of the Lebanese government, under whose responsibility Hezbollah built a terrorist operation underground,” Danon said. “We must use every measure against Hezbollah to silence it and destroy its military and terror apparatus.”

Kardel visits Sleiman

Fri 14 Dec 2018/NNA - Former President Michel Sleiman underlined the necessity of pursuing all those who are in breach of security and who dare attack the State's security institutions which protect the legitimacy and preserve security. Sleiman made this remark while meeting with United Nations Special Coordinator in Lebanon, Pernille Dahler Kardel, stressing the necessity of implementing Resolution 1701 in full. He also thanked the international community for its constant efforts to strengthen the legitimate institutions in Lebanon, praising its constant commitment to neutralizing the country from the conflicts of axes.

Report: Hariri ‘Agrees’ to Review Names Close to Consultative Gathering
Naharnet/December 14/18/Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri has reportedly “agreed” on reviewing a list of compromise ministerial candidates presented by the so-called Independent Sunni MPs in order to allocate a cabinet seat for one of them in the new government, the Saudi Asharq al-Awsat reported on Friday. Sources following up closely on the government consultations spoke of a “suggestion that MPs of the Consultative Gathering (Independent Sunni MPs) prepare and hand Hariri a list of three or six candidates close to them for the Premier to choose from,” said the daily. They added that “President Michel Aoun and Speaker Nabih Berri were close to that suggestions, but lawmakers of the Gathering rejected it.” Said deputies, composed of six lawmakers, have earlier rejected to be represented from outside their “gathering.”The sources added that Hariri has informed Aoun and Berri that he “will never sign” a government decree that includes “provocative” figures. The last-minute Sunni hurdle emerged when the new government was on the verge of formation on October 29 after the Lebanese Forces accepted the portfolios that were assigned to it. Hizbullah has insisted that the six Sunni MPs should be given a seat in the government, refraining from providing Hariri with the names of its three Shiite ministers in a bid to press him. Hariri has rejected the demand, announcing that he’d rather step down than give the aforementioned lawmakers a seat from his own share in the government.

Lebanese Security Forces Scuffle with Sabaa Party Activists Outside Labor Ministry
Naharnet/December 14/18/A scuffle erupted on Friday between members of the security forces and activists from the Sabaa Party outside the Ministry of Labor in al-Musharrafieh area in Beirut's southern suburb. The campaigners said they were “protesting the delayed efforts to form a government.” Early in the morning, they first campaigned outside the Industry Ministry. They moved their protest later and gathered outside the Ministry of Labor and embarked on entering the premises but were banned by the security. The brawl left one man injured. He was taken to the hospital for treatment. Last week, Sabaa Party staged a sit-in near the Ministry of Finance-TVA Directorate in Beirut's neighborhood of Adliyeh. They blocked the main entrance to the premises and erected a tent outside in protest at “the delayed government formation and deteriorating living conditions in the country.” Disagreements among political parties over the Cabinet quotas and shares have delayed Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’s mission to form the government. Hariri was designated for the task on May 24. Political bickering over shares is threatening to scuttle pledges worth $11 billion by international donors. In November, the World Bank issued a stark warning, with one official saying that unless a government is formed soon to carry out badly needed reforms, "the Lebanon we know will fizzle away."

Kataeb Students Protest Against Sagesse University's Elections Postponement 14th December 2018/Kataeb students at the Sagesse University on Friday staged a sit-in to protest against the postponement of the student elections. The polls, which were set to take place today, have been deferred to January 7, 2019.Head of the Kataeb's Students Department, Zakhia Achkar, voiced utter rejection of said decision, adding that the Sagesse University, from which martyr Minister Pierre Gemayel graduated, is supposed to represent the values of justice and order. "We won't accept that Gebran Bassil turns the Sagesse University into a place where clientelism, discretionary actions as well as the violation of norms and laws prevail," he wrote on Twitter.

Bukhari honors Arab pioneering women in journalism

Fri 14 Dec 2018/NNA - Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon, Walid Bukhari, on Friday honored Arab creative women journalists at a ceremony held on Friday at the Embassy, in the presence of Caretaker Tourism Minister, Avedis Guidanian, and the director of the National News Agency, Laure Sleiman, representing Caretaker Information Minister Melhem Riachy. Also attending the ceremony had been Ambassadors of Iraq, Ali Al-Ameri, and Morocco, Mohammad Karin, as well as several Arab embassies' representatives, Head of the Arab Women Journalists' Center, Zeina Fayyad, Press Syndicate head, Aouni Kaaki, and scores of media figures and newspapers' editors in chief. Ambassador Bukhari underlined, on this occasion, the Saudi Kingdom's role in advocating women empowerment in the various fields, whether in terms of their political participation or their action in all walks of life at the media, educational, medical and engineering levels. "With the direct support of the King of Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammad Ben Salman, and as part of the 2030 Vision, the Kingdom has opened the door to women's empowerment in all spheres," Bukhari said, stating that 30 women, or 20%, are members of the Shura Council. Bukhari hailed the unlimited ambition of the Arab woman who has contributed to scientific and practical achievements at the local and international levels. Women journalists and writers from all Arab countries, Morocco, Kuwait, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt were present at the ceremony. At the end of the ceremony, shields were presented to Arab women journalists, namely Hanaa al-Rikabi from Saudi Arabia, Mahassen al-Imam from Jordan, Nibras al-Mamouri from Iraq, Samira al-Abdullah from Kuwait and Lamiaa Mahmoud from Egypt.

Army chief meets JSOC Commander, Girard
Fri 14 Dec 2018/NNA - Army Commander, Joseph Aoun, received this Friday at his Yarzeh office the Commander of US Joint Special Operations Command, Lieutenant General Scott Howell, accompanied by a delegation. Talks reportedly touched on the general situation in the region and means to strengthen cooperation between the Lebanese and American armies. Maj. Gen. Aoun also met with the Representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Mireille Girard, with talks touching on the displaced Syrians' affairs.

Bassil visits Archbishopric of Akkar for Greek Orthodox

Fri 14 Dec 2018/NNA - Caretaker Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, Gebran Bassil, visited on Friday the Archbishopric of Akkar for Greek Orthodox with talks touching on national public affairs, the issues and concerns of Akkar, the developmental projects it deserves on more than one level.

Othman, Girard discuss cooperation

Fri 14 Dec 2018/NNA - Internal Security Forces Director General, Imad Othman, received this Friday at his ISF office the Representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Mireille Girard, with talks touching on means to boost cooperation and coordination between the ISF and the UNHCR.

Machnouk meets Froklin: Russia has contributed to region stability
Fri 14 Dec 2018/NNA - Caretaker Interior and Municipalities Minister, Nouhad Machnouk, on Friday received the Deputy Director of the Federal Service for Russian Military-Technical Cooperation, Aleksey Frolkin, and the Russian Military Attaché in Lebanon, Col. Ratmir Gabbasov. Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri's Advisor for Russian Affairs, George Shaaban, was also present. Talks reportedly touched on the current political situation in Lebanon, Syria and the broader region. Minister Machnouk underlined the solidity of the Lebanese-Russian relations, highlighting the importance of the Russian role in Syria which has "contributed to the stability of the region." Frolkin, in turn, deemed the Lebanese-Russian relations as ancient dating back to the times of tsars. "These relations are ongoing," Alexi said, saying his country seeks to further bolster these relations at the various political, economic, social and spiritual levels. Regarding the Russian donation, Froklin informed Machnouk that the Russian government has decided to hand over the donation to the Ministry of the Interior, in coordination with the Ministry of Defense.

Trump Should Cut Hezbollah’s Lifeline in the Americas
على ترامب أن يقطع شريان حياة حزب الله (التمويل) من الأميركيتين
A crackdown is long overdue.
Emanuele Ottolenghi & Jose Luis Stein/Foreign Policy/December 13/18
Almost halfway through his term, U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has yet to launch a coordinated assault against Hezbollah’s terrorist finance networks in the Western Hemisphere, especially in the Tri-Border Area of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, the Iran-backed terrorist group’s most active financial hub in the region. That may be about to change, though.
All three of the bordering countries have elected leaders who have forcefully denounced the scourge of transnational organized crime and pledged to enhance cooperation among themselves and with Washington. This past January, the Trump administration established the Hezbollah Financing and Narcoterrorism Team, an interagency task force focused on the threat. Now is the time for Washington and its re-energized partners to launch a coordinated assault against Hezbollah’s networks and its enablers, which could have serious repercussions for the group’s ability to fundraise at the very same time that its Iranian patron faces crushing pressure from the return of U.S. sanctions.
It has been more than a decade since the U.S. Department of the Treasury sanctioned a Hezbollah operative in the Tri-Border Area. In late 2017 and early 2018, though, the Trump administration appeared to signal it would revisit this issue.
In December 2017, a Politico investigation charged that President Barack Obama’s administration, in an effort to facilitate nuclear negotiations with Iran, had gone soft on Hezbollah in order to facilitate nuclear negotiations with Iran. Specifically, the investigation alleged that the Obama administration deliberately derailed Project Cassandra, an ambitious effort by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to stop Hezbollah from trafficking narcotics into the United States and Europe. Days after the publication of the exposé, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered a review of Obama’s handling of Project Cassandra. On Jan. 11, Sessions announced the establishment of the Hezbollah Financing and Narcoterrorism Team.
Yet no concrete action against Latin American targets has followed. To be sure, Treasury did sanction the overseas networks linked to one of Hezbollah’s key Lebanese financiers, Adham Tabaja. So far this year, the Treasury has designated 31 individuals and entities, including four on the same day in November that the State Department put sanctions on Jawad Nasrallah, the son of Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah. However, Washington did not impose sanctions on any targets linked to Hezbollah’s Latin American operational hubs, in particular the Tri-Border Area.
In October, however, the administration began to signal an increased readiness for action. Sessions announced the formation of a Transnational Organized Crime Task Force that would confront Hezbollah and four other major organized crime threats. Trump also signed the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act of 2018 into law. And in an address at the American Enterprise Institute that month, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorist Financing Marshall Billingslea noted that Hezbollah has “a very robust presence” in the Tri-Border Area. The terrorist group, he said, “has a deep and substantial footprint in the Western Hemisphere, and they use the cover of seemingly legitimate businesses” to conduct its illicit financial activities.
These steps suggest that 2019 could be the year when Hezbollah’s operations in the Americas begin to unravel.
Three factors likely explain the administration’s new emphasis. First, Hezbollah’s revenue stream from illicit networks in the Americas is significantly growing, both because Hezbollah’s financial needs have expanded and because U.S. sanctions are cutting into Iran’s disposable income, which previously funded the group. Second, Hezbollah funnels much of its Latin American proceeds from illicit activities through the U.S. financial system, threatening its integrity.Hezbollah funnels much of its Latin American proceeds from illicit activities through the U.S. financial system, threatening its integrity. Third, Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil are readier than ever to work toward stamping out transnational crime in their midst. This convergence, aided by the election of new presidents in Argentina in 2015, Paraguay this April, and Brazil this October, has created a more constructive environment for joint action, especially after new Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro takes office in January.
There are clear indications that this trio of presidents plans to follow through on prior pledges. In July, Argentina’s Financial Intelligence Unit, in cooperation with its U.S. counterpart, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, initiated an administrative assets freeze against 14 Lebanese nationals and Tri-Border Area residents whom it accused of using Argentina’s casinos to launder money and funnel it to Hezbollah. Additionally, Argentina’s Ministry of Justice and Human Rights has been developing a terrorist financing and proliferation financing national risk assessment, one of the first of its kind in the region.
Paraguay has followed suit. Shortly after its new president, Mario Abdo Benítez, took his oath on Aug. 15, Paraguayan prosecutor Irma Llano issued an arrest warrant for Assad Ahmad Barakat, a Hezbollah financier sanctioned by the United States in 2004, who is also part of the network the Argentines had targeted in July. Within days, Llano issued another warrant, this time for Sobhi Mahmoud Fayad, a second Hezbollah financier who has come under U.S. sanctions. In September, Brazilian police arrested Barakat on their side of the border, where he remains in detention while awaiting extradition to Paraguay.

Destroying Hezbollah’s tunnels: an operation years in the making
تقرير من صحيفة يديعوت أحرونوت بقلم أليكس فيشمان: تدمير انفاق حزب الله عملية مستمرة منذ سنوات

Alex Fishman/Ynetnews/December 14/18
Four years of intense intelligence gathering led in early December to the launch of an operation to uncover and destroy Hezbollah’s tunnels on the Lebanese border. From top secret discussions kept from half the General Staff to combat engineering soldiers who didn’t even know what they were training for—this is how Operation Northern Shield came to be.
During its covert construction, the IDF’s high command post in the Kirya base in Tel Aviv—also known as “the pit”—still had a secret code name. But last week, when it was opened for the first time to manage Operation Northern Shield, it got its permanent name: “Fort Zion.”
The planning and construction of the new “pit” lasted ten years. It’s a giant space, several dozen feet underground, with several floors. The Operations Division’s personnel sit in areas separated from one another by glass walls, with each being used for a different control center. Everyone can see everyone. Above this is an office floor, which is used by the IDF’s top brass, such as the IDF chief, the head of the Operations Directorate, the head of the Operations Division who commands over the “pit,” and others. The communications and control technologies installed there are state-of-the-art. The opening of the new “pit” was timed to coincide with the launch of the operation to expose Hezbollah tunnels on the Lebanese border.
The decision to open “the pit” under the command of the IDF chief is reserved for big operations, usually beyond the state’s borders, that entail high risk of escalation leading to war. And indeed, when Operation Northern Shield was announced, the level of alert was raised not just in the Northern Command, but in the entire General Staff, including preparations for immediate deployment of the army’s quick-response units: The Commando Brigade, which was sent to the north last week; Special Forces units; and the Israel Air Force (IAF).
In such a situation, at least based on past experience, dozens of IAF fighter jets stand ready at the different air bases. The situation assessment on the eve of the operation may have determined there was a low chance of escalation, but the operations area on the northern border—Syria and Lebanon—is so unstable that any situation assessment is almost considered an educated guess.
It’s enough for a series of military operations—which started with a strike in Syria in early December, which was attributed to Israel, and continued with the massive IDF presence on the Lebanese border and the discovery of Hezbollah’s tunnels—to be misconstrued, for the other side to feel threatened. This is why there has been criticism, coming from inside the IDF as well, of the boastful rhetoric used by the political echelon weeks before the operation and upon its launch, which could be seen on the other side as preparing public opinion in Israel for war.
Equipment hidden in the field
“Operation Northern Shield” is the public chapter of a covert operation that has been going on for four years under the code name “White Gold.” Only a few dozen commanders and professionals were aware of the operation; they all signed confidentiality agreements. The topic never came up in General Staff discussions, only in special discussion at the offices of the IDF chief, the defense minister and the GOC Northern Command. It started with Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi and continued under the command of Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick, who put together the plan and is directly overseeing it. At least half of the General Staff’s generals didn’t know a thing about it. Only as the launch of the public operation draw near did the number of people in on the secret was expanded to 300.
The Special Operations Engineering Unit “Yahalom,” the Engineering Corps’ special commando unit, was brought in to translate the intelligence accumulated over four years into the physical work of locating and uncovering the tunnels in the field.
“We closed the base, canceling all vacations on Friday,” says Col. Shahar Beck, the commander of Yahalom. “We went from zero to 100: full operational readiness ahead of an operation.”
“The soldiers had no idea what was about to happen. First the commanders were briefed, and orders were issues to the forces later,” he explains. “I, as the commander of the unit, and central people in the Engineering Corps, had our standing operating procedure (SOP) for many months beforehand. I had a small, compartmentalized team in my unit that dealt with the technological and operational aspects of the tunnels on the northern front. Some of the time they were stationed at the Northern Command and worked with the special team formed there, an intelligence-operational team, which was investigating the tunnels over the past four years. We prepared the combat soldiers 72 hours before the operation.”
Col. Beck said the soldiers did not require special training for the operation because “they train in the underground model all year long, both the southern model and the northern one, and study the ground—which is completely different in each of these fronts—in great detail. They don’t know what they’re training for.”
“Starting on Friday (before the launch of the operation—ed.), the soldiers once again studied the ground, we prepared the equipment, and we prepared the teams who will be deployed to several areas on the northern border. Each team like that is made up of fighters and experts, with the latter responsible for the technological aspect of locating the tunnels. This operation is the biggest engineering effort the unit has carried out that was not part of a war,” Beck says.IDF searches for Hezbollah tunnels as part of Operation Northern Shield (Photo: IDF Spokesman's Office)
The Yahalom unit traveled north only hours before the beginning of the operation, where it joined forces with the Commando Brigade and other infantry brigades stationed in areas where there is suspected tunnel activity or other unusual activity by Hezbollah. But the preparations for the operation began 24 hours earlier, when technological units arrived at the border covertly and began examining the ground. At the same time, heavy mechanical engineering equipment was covertly transported to the northern border.
Formally, Operation Northern Shield began in the early hours of Monday, December 3. But the search for the tunnels started at night using special technological measures developed in the south alongside measures developed especially for the northern front. One of the main measures developed to locate tunnels is an engineering vehicle called the “Ant.” This vehicle, which is equipped with sensors that can hear digging through the rock, deep underground, has been patrolling the northern front for a few years.
Initially, the IDF thought it would take 24-48 hours to physically expose the first tunnel, but in practice it only took two hours. “The initial intelligence and technological search was very extensive,” explains Col. Beck. “Slowly but surely we are narrowing down the search area, using a great deal of technological measures. The technological findings are sent to a special lab in the Northern Command that processes the geological information, and the results are sent back to the field to help accurately pinpoint the location of the tunnel.”The first tunnel uncovered in Kafr Kela
Finding the tunnel is only the first step. “There’s a very intensive process that follows the discovery of a tunnel, which includes not just exposing the tunnel but also ensuring no surprises come from inside of it,” he says.
When the IDF sent robots into the first discovered tunnel, they found two people inside—presumably Hezbollah men—heading towards Israel. “We were surprised they were able to get in. They were spotted two hours after we started operating. On the other side of the border, they could’ve seen the heavy equipment and notice our activity. They should’ve realized we were onto that tunnel. It’s likely they went in to see what was going on, what we were doing,” Beck notes.
What’s next?
“We’re preparing for a long stay on the northern border. We’ll work in an organized, systematic manner, one area after another, to rule out any possibility of underground infiltration. As a veteran commander in the army, I’m excited every time anew when I see the soldiers: the creativity, the initiative, the solutions they come up with… the war against the tunnels is a war of minds: the enemy is trying to hide, conceal, mislead—and doing so very skillfully. I don’t dismiss the northern enemy or the southern one. But we’re here until the threat is lifted.”
Missiles on ATVs
The tunnels are only a means to an end. The enemy is Hezbollah’s Radwan force, which is operated directly by Hassan Nasrallah. The elite unit numbers 8,000-10,000 fighters, roughly divided into two forces: an intervention force and a special force. The special force is meant to break through the obstacle Israel built on the border and infiltrate the Galilee, with the focus being on the 22 Israeli communities adjacent to the border.
In the next stage, the intervention force will come in with great fire power, including ATVs equipped with Kornet anti-tank missiles, and provide cover fire to help complete the takeover of a community, a military base or a strategic junction, as well as take out any IDF force that arrives at the scene. The intervention force also includes engineering units and snipers who will clear the way for units with heavier equipment.
There are three different scenarios for Hezbollah’s attack on the Galilee. The first: a response to an Israeli attack. The second: a Hezbollah-initiated attack as part of a bigger effort to surprise Israel. And the third, which is less likely: using the tunnels to abduct Israelis. Hezbollah is well familiar with the IDF’s reflex response. In the two major abductions—October 2000 and July 2006—the IDF’s knee-jerk reaction was to go into enemy territory. The abduction of a soldier from Israeli territory could be the first stage in a plan meant to ambush the Israeli force that will cross the border in pursuit, and destroy it.IDF searches for Hezbollah tunnels as part of Operation Northern Shield
IDF searches for Hezbollah tunnels as part of Operation Northern Shield
Incidentally, the Israeli defense establishment has known about Hezbollah’s ATV force since November 6, 2001, when the organization held a celebratory parade following the conquering of the Syrian city of Qusayr. Dozens of ATVs were on display with Kornet missiles mounted on top alongside tanks and American APCs mounted with anti-tank missiles that Hezbollah received from the Lebanese army. The Israeli intelligence community realized Hezbollah has undergone a significant change—both in size and in capabilities—during the civil war in Syria. It became the “boots on the ground” force for the Russians and the Iranian Quds Force, which commanded them during some of the battles. Hezbollah also served as the vanguard in Syrian army assaults as well. A rough estimation is that Hezbollah lost almost 2,000 of the 8,000 fighters it sent to Syria. At least half of that force has already returned to Lebanon.
The number of Hezbollah dead and injured fighters was met with harsh criticism in Lebanon, but the “tuition” paid off. The fighters returned to Lebanon after having received lessons from the best teachers there are: The Russians and Iran’s Special Forces. They learned to operate with fighter jets, helicopters and precision-guided armament. Their expertise in fighting in built up areas is of a much higher quality today. This is how Hezbollah’s elite team (“Nukhba,” a term that repeats itself in Gaza as well) came to be. Now they’re resting and preparing for the possibility of resuming the conflict with their historical enemy: Israel.
Israel has started noticing the change in Hezbollah’s doctrines at the beginning of this decade, following the 2006 Second Lebanon War: the terror group is putting an emphasis not just on missile fire at Israel and on the construction of an obstacle against Israeli infiltration, but also on a ground offensive inside Israeli territory with the overarching goal being improving the strategic balance between the two warring sides. Such a move is supposed to disrupt the IDF’s operations, keep its forces busy with defense rather than offense, and achieve a psychological victory.
The possibility there were tunnels on the northern border was first explored in October 2014, shortly after Operation Protective Edge. The discovery of the underground activities came after the IDF identified a secret component to Hezbollah’s operational outlook. It turned out that they were planning an assault just through the familiar over-ground area—infiltrating the Galilee through the thick vegetation and the valleys—but also through a different path, underground.
Internal fighting in Israel surrounding the Gaza tunnels not only expedited the development of technological measures to identify tunnels, but also increased the sensitivity and the openness to the possibility there were tunnels being dug in the north as well. Then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon was able to raise $120 million from the Americans to provide a push for the tunnel discovery project, and the IDF established an intelligence-technological-operational team that started working covertly in the Northern Command.
The team began analyzing strategic areas where Hezbollah could have covertly dug close to the border fence. This is how they reached the concrete block factory in Kafr Kela, where the first tunnel was discovered. The intelligence observation units monitoring the area of the factory noticed how in 2015 a generator and a guard post popped up there, while the people working there gradually changed and the site slowly but surely became a military facility for all intents and purposes. These units also tracked the trucks coming out of the site with dirt.
Then-GOC Northern Command Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi made a semantic decision at the time, which had operational significance: No more talk of guerrilla units and terror activity, but recognition of a Hezbollah army. The IDF realized that Hezbollah and Iran’s all-encompassing threat—the ability to hit Israel from air, land and sea, and now also from underground—is complete.
The third Mughniyeh
During 2016 and 2017, the Israeli defense establishment started working on a massive NIS 1 billion project, which includes clearing large areas of vegetation from the border fence area, building bluffs to prevent the infiltration of vehicles from the Lebanese side and constructing a nine-meter-tall (30 feet) wall along 13 kilometers (8 miles) of the border, with a plan to eventually cover 130 kilometers (80 miles)—if there’s money. At the same time, changes were made to the Northern Command’s deployment, plans were formulated for the evacuation of the population, etc. This over-ground project has been known to the public. The underground project, meanwhile, which was top secret within Hezbollah’s ranks as well, became one of the biggest secrets in the State of Israel.
The Israeli defense establishment realized that the Radwan force, which was formed in the early 2000s as Nasrallah’s personal security force, has been increasingly growing. What started as several dozens or hundreds of people grew during the Syrian civil war to many thousands.
The Radwan unit is named after one of the founders of Nasrallah’s personal guard, Imad Mughniyeh, whose operational nickname was al-Hajj Radwan. He went on to become Hezbollah’s military chief and was assassinated in 2008 in an attack attributed to Israel. His son Jihad followed in his footsteps: he started as a commander in Nasrallah’s guard and rose through the ranks to become the commander of Hezbollah’s units in the Golan Heights, where he too was assassinated.
In January 2017, a day before undergoing surgery, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot instructed then-GOC Northern Command Maj. Gen. Kochavi to launch a SOP to destroy the tunnels on the northern border that the Military Intelligence Directorate (MID) knew about at the time.
IDF chief Eisenkot, third from the right, with GOC Northern Command Strick and other senior officers holding a situation assessment in the north (Photo: IDF Spokesman's Office)
IDF chief Eisenkot, third from the right, with GOC Northern Command Strick and other senior officers holding a situation assessment in the north (Photo: IDF Spokesman’s Office)
Since then, every two weeks, a small group of officers have convened in the IDF chief’s office to discuss the progress of the project to eliminate the tunnels. The effort is led on three axes: The engineering team, which is dubbed the “Gray Axis,” prepared the location and destruction operation. The “Blue Axis” is preparing for the possibility of escalation leading to an all-out war. And the “Red Axis,” entrusted with psychological warfare, is operating all the time to de-legitimize Hezbollah as the organization violating the UN Security Council’s Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
The exposure of the tunnels last week led to a series of international condemnations against Hezbollah, bolstered the demand for harsher international sanctions on the organization and is supposed to prevent the sale of advanced weapons by the US or France to the Lebanese army, as such arms could reach Hezbollah.
Adding to this psychological warfare were IDF chief Eisenkot’s public comments that Israel knows of all of Hezbollah’s cross-border tunnels. This message was directed at the terror organization: You no longer have any secrets. This message builds on another message two months ago by a senior Northern Command official, who told military reporters in a briefing that the Radwan force would not be able to even reach the border. Meaning: It would be eliminated before that.
Now we’re waiting on Nasrallah’s speech. Israeli defense officials believe the speech has already been written, and Hezbollah is debating on the right timing for it. This speech might reveal what of the Israeli psychological warfare had any impact.
When Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick entered the GOC Northern Command’s office in March 2017, the SOP for the exposure of the tunnels was already being in place. Strick took charge over the three axes of the effort and held secret discussions about the operation in his office.
The IDF chief marked the summer of 2018 as the target date for the destruction of the tunnels, but a crisis in Gaza erupted in late March 2018, and the General Staff’s attention was directed to the Southern Command. The crisis with Russia following the downing of the Russian intelligence plane in Syria in September also contributed to the postponement of the operation.
That entire time, the IDF chief—in conjunction with the Northern Command, the Operations Directorate and the MID—held dozens of discussions about the timing of the operation. He believed it was imperative to launch the operation before the tunnels were ready to be used, in light of the possibility of deterioration into war on the northern front in the coming months, Hezbollah’s efforts to convert regular rockets into precision-guided missiles, and the organization’s attempts to re-establish its presence in the Golan Heights under the command of another Mughniyeh: Mustafa Mughniyeh.
Eisenkot also estimated his successor, as a new IDF chief, will take a while to receive the approval of the political echelon to launch the operation. It’s safe to assume that somewhere in his subconscious, Eisenkot also considered the possibility of early elections that could postpone the operation even further. And generally speaking, it is better to get ahead of the Galilee winter—which would make any activity more difficult, particularly digging through mud—and expose the tunnels now.
The head of MID’s Research Department, Brig. Gen. Dror Shalom, was in favor of revealing the tunnels’ existence to the world, but asked for it to be done at a different timing, citing professional reasons. The head of MID, Maj. Gen. Tamir Heyman, decided following internal discussions that it was possible to launch the operation now. The IDF chief sought to bring Brig. Gen. Shalom to the Security Cabinet’s discussion that would decide on this issue, to present and explain his position.
IDF searches for Hezbollah tunnels as part of Operation Northern Shield
Then-defense minister Avigdor Lieberman was in favor of having Brig. Gen. Shalom appear in front of the Cabinet, as he believed the military focus should remain in the south. The rationale: In the north, Israel already has a good intelligence grasp of the tunnels, it would be a few more months before Hezbollah can complete their construction, and there was no situation assessment indicating that the Shiite organization was preparing for an offensive in the north. Therefore, Lieberman explained, there is no reason to halt the activity in the Gaza Strip in order to move the efforts north.
Moving the military focus from one front to another is a political decision, and so it reached the Cabinet. And so at a Cabinet meeting held on October 7, Operation Northern Shield received the green light. It’s important to note Lieberman did eventually authorize the operation after postponing the decision several times and asking the military for more intelligence. He signed off on the operation itself, but not its timing.
It’s reasonable to assume that today the tunnels are empty and hold no activities. It appears that after the IDF’s discovery of the first tunnel, Hezbollah put the project on hold. Based on past experience, this is where the organization would draw conclusions, learn its lessons and evaluate the situation going forward. Hezbollah has patience, and its response by fire will not necessarily be immediate. They’re in no rush. So the days of quiet on the border since Operation Northern Shield was launched are not indicative of anything. It might also be an attempt to lull Israel into a false sense of security ahead of a provocation that would leave the IDF no choice but to response and stop its operation.

Lebanese Wary as Israel Destroys Hizbullah Border Tunnels
Associated Press/Naharnet/December 14/18/
As Israeli excavators dug into the rocky hills along the frontier with a Lebanese village, a crowd of young Lebanese men gathered to watch. The mood was light as the crowd observed what Israel says is a military operation — dubbed "Northern Shield" — aimed at destroying attack tunnels built by Hizbullah. The young men posed for selfies, with the Israeli crew in the background, as they burned fires and brewed tea to keep warm.
But Lebanese soldiers were visibly on high alert, deploying to new camouflaged posts behind sandbags and inside abandoned homes. About two dozen U.N. peacekeepers stood in a long line, just ahead of the blue line demarcating the frontier between the two countries technically still at war.
The scene highlights the palpable anxiety that any misstep could lead to a conflagration between Israel and Lebanon that no one seems to want. Underscoring such jitters, shadowy figures appearing across the misty hills of the border village of Mays al-Jabal last weekend sparked panic, and Israeli soldiers fired in the air to warn a Lebanese military intelligence patrol, according to Lebanese reports. Israel said it fired at Hizbullah members who came to the site to dismantle sensors installed to detect tunnels. Israel's tunnel search comes at a time when the civil war in neighboring Syria seems to be winding down. Hizbullah had sent hundreds of troops to Syria in 2013 to fight alongside the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad. With Assad's forces emerging victorious, attention now seems to be returning to the tense Israel-Lebanon border.
Israel said its troops have discovered at least three tunnels along the frontier — a tactic used by Hizbullah in previous wars — and called on the international community to impose new sanctions on Hizbullah. The militant group, which fought a bruising but inconclusive war with Israel in 2006, has not commented on the Israeli operation or statements. Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri said Thursday that neither Israel nor Lebanon wanted to go to war, but noted that Israel violates Lebanese airspace and international waters on a regular basis. He said the Lebanese army "will deal with this issue" after receiving a full report from the U.N peacekeeping force, but did not elaborate. The peacekeeping force, known as UNIFIL, has confirmed the presence of tunnels and said it is working with both sides to address the situation in line with U.N. Security Council resolutions. In southern Lebanon on Thursday, Lebanese army soldiers observed the frontier in Mays al-Jabal, taking photos of their Israeli counterparts operating only a few meters (yards) away. At times, the Lebanese soldiers asked the young men to move back, away from the frontier.Ali Jaber, a 21-year-old resident of Mays al-Jabal, said he believes that Hizbullah is more popular after the Syria war, and that this is the reason Israel is now turning to it. "But whoever puts up a shield and is hiding and making fortifications must be scared," he said.
Hussein Melhem, a 19-year old electrician from the village, came to watch. His cheeks ruddy on a cold but clear day, he covered his head with a tight hood. He alleged that Israel is trying to change the border."If they could occupy all of this, they would," he said, in an apparent reference to Israel's 18-year military occupation of southern Lebanon which ended in 2000. "But the resistance will prevent them."As a seven-year-old in 2006, Melhem and his family left Mays al-Jabal when Israel invaded. His village was badly damaged but has since largely recovered and he said he found their home intact.
It is hard to forget about war in the villages and towns along the frontier. Pictures of Hizbullah fighters who died in the 2006 war, as well as the one raging in neighboring Syria, known locally as the "Sacred Defense," are everywhere. Posts on town squares boast of defeating Israel or urge the locals to "know their enemy." During the Syrian civil war, Israel has frequently carried out airstrikes in Syria against Iranian-allied forces, particularly Hizbullah. Israel says it aims to prevent sophisticated weaponry from reaching Hizbullah, which it considers its most pressing security concern. In Lebanon, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's warnings have raised suspicions that he is also using the tunnel operation as a diplomatic pressure card.
Netanyahu has called for more sanctions against Hizbullah. In a visit to the frontier earlier this week, he warned that if Hizbullah tries to disrupt the search for tunnels, "it will be hit in a way it cannot even imagine."
In Israel, some newspaper commentators have been critical of the U.N. peacekeeping force, whose mandate Israel and the United States have unsuccessfully attempted to expand to include "intervention and deterrence."About 20 kilometers (12 miles) to the north from Mays al-Jabal, Israeli soldiers are also operating along another frontier to uncover what they suspect is a tunnel location. There, a high concrete wall separates them from the Lebanese village of Kfar Kela. U.N. peacekeepers and Lebanese army separately patrol the area. Israel began building the wall in 2012, and this section was completed weeks ago. While graffiti covers the older slabs of concrete, water has collected under the newer segment of the wall. A U.N. peacekeeping force was working to clear the water after Lebanese residents complained it comes from irrigation drainage from the other side.

Latest LCCC English Miscellaneous Reports & News published on December 14-15/18
French Envoy to Syria Visits Cairo
Cairo - Sawsan Abu Husain/Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 14 December, 2018/Francois Senemaud, the personal representative of the French president for Syria, visited Cairo on Thursday, during which he met with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri and the head of the Arab League Ahmed Aboul Gheit. Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Hafez said that the meeting between Shukri and Senemaud tackled the Syrian crisis and ways to push the political process forward in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2254. Discussions also focused on the situation in northeastern Syria. Shukri and the French envoy agreed that a security deterioration there does not serve efforts to combat terrorism. Hafez said Senemaud lauded the balancing role that Egypt plays in Syria and stressed French keenness to continue consultations with Cairo on the war-torn country. On the meeting with Aboul Gheit, Arab League spokesman Ambassador Mahmoud Afifi said that the French envoy and the organization’s secretary-general discussed the Syrian crisis. Aboul Gheit told Senemaud that foreign meddling in the Syrian war has contributed to prolonging the crisis, said Afifi, lamenting that the ultimate loser is the Syrian people.
The Arab League chief called on the international community to exert stronger efforts to push the political process forward through the formation of a committee that would write the war-torn country’s constitution.

Lavrov Says Syria Constitutional Committee ‘Almost Ready'
Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 14 December, 2018/Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov revealed Friday that the make-up of a committee meant to draft a new constitution for Syria is nearly complete, with almost all members agreed on. The announcement on Friday comes after Syria's warring sides and mediators last month failed to agree on the formation of the committee, which is seen as key to ending Syria's seven-year civil war. Lavrov told Russian news agencies that the list of the committee members "is almost ready" and that he expects the committee to convene early next year. Agreement has already been reached on a 50-member government delegation and a delegation equal in size from the opposition that would be part of the committee. At issue is a 50-member delegation of Syrian experts, civil society members, independents and tribal leaders. Russian UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the Security Council on Thursday that Moscow sees no alternative to the plan to create the Syrian constitutional committee. "We would like to stress: there is still no viable alternative to the constitutional committee," he said. “We call upon everyone to engage in a collective effort to establish an all-encompassing political process under the UN aegis, which is critically important for Syria." "We still assume that all parameters of the committee’s work should be approved by Syrians themselves. Only in this case it will be efficient and viable," the Russian diplomat added.

Two Babies Die at Syrian Border Camp- UN
Amman- Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 14 December, 2018/Two babies have died of illness in the past week at a camp for displaced people on the Syrian border with Jordan, the United Nations children's agency UNICEF said Thursday. The exact cause of the deaths of the babies is unknown, but the UN children’s agency said they fell ill due to the “harsh conditions” in the desert camp as winter approaches. The deaths prompted UNICEF to reiterate calls for humanitarian access for the thousands of people at Rukban camp, which lies in an inhospitable stretch of desert.
‘Another sad week for children and families in Rukban. Two sick babies under six months old died in Rukban,’ said Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and North Africa. ‘Freezing temperatures and lack of supplies including of basic commodities, threaten the lives of nearly 45,000 people -- among them many children, leaving them at the risk of disease and death,’ he said in a statement. Cappelaere called for “all sides concerned to facilitate humanitarian access to reach all children in need in Rukban.”Until recently, the camp’s residents had only been surviving on food smuggled from other parts of Syria, but the Syrian army closed off those routes in October, making an already dire situation worse. Last month the United Nations and Syrian Arab Red Crescent announced the first delivery of humanitarian aid at Rukban in 10 months. Civilians trapped at the camp face the risk of starvation amid a deteriorating humanitarian situation since an ISIS attack targeting Jordanian soldiers. Soon afterward, the army declared Jordan's desert regions that stretch northeast to Syria and east to Iraq ‘closed military zones’. Amman believes the responsibility of the camp lies with Damascus since it is inside Syrian territory. Syria has been embroiled in a civil war that killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions since it started with the brutal repression of anti-government protests in 2011.

Kurdish-led Fighters Expel ISIS from East Syria Hub
Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 14 December, 2018/Syrian Kurdish-led forces seized ISIS’ main hub of Hajin Friday, a milestone in a massive US-backed operation to eradicate the militants from their single remaining enclave in eastern Syria. The Syrian Democratic Forces secured Hajin, the largest stronghold in what is the last pocket of territory controlled by the terrorist group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. After a week of heavy fighting and air strikes by the US-led Coalition, “the SDF were able to kick ISIS out of Hajin," Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Britain-based monitor, said. The operation was completed at dawn, he said, a day after SDF forces fanned out across the large village in the Euphrates valley. On Thursday, the last ISIS militants were confined to a network of tunnels and the edges of Hajin, which lies in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, about 30 kilometers from the border with Iraq. The area held by the extremist ogranization is sometimes referred to as the "Hajin pocket", the last rump of a once-sprawling "caliphate" ISIS proclaimed in 2014 over swathes of Syria and Iraq. Extremists pulled back to positions east of Hajin Friday and to Sousa and Al-Shaafa, the two other main villages in their shrinking Euphrates valley enclave. According to Abdel Rahman, a total of 17,000 fighters from the Kurdish-Arab SDF alliance are involved in the operation to flush ISIS out of its last bastion.The operation was launched on September 10.

Erdogan, Trump Agreed On More Effective Turkey-US Coordination In Syria - Statement
Fri 14 Dec 2018/NNA - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his US counterpart Donald Trump agreed by phone on more effective coordination between the two countries on Syria, the Turkish leader's administration said in a statement Friday. "Erdogan and Trump discussed today by phone bilateral relations, the fight against terrorism, security problems and recent events in Syria. Erdogan conveyed to Trump his concern about the presence of members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey. The presidents agreed to ensure more effective coordination in Syria," the statement said. -- Sputnik

Erdogan Vows to 'Bring Peace' to East of Euphrates
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 14/18/President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday said Turkey was determined to bring peace to areas east of the Euphrates controlled by a Kurdish militia after he warned this week of a new operation in Syria. "We are determined to bring peace and security to areas east of the Euphrates" River in northern Syria, Erdogan said during a speech in Istanbul. "Turkey has lost enough time in terms of intervening to clean the terror swamp east of the Euphrates. We don't have the patience to wait one more day," he added. The head of state on Wednesday said Turkey would launch an offensive against the People's Protection Units (YPG) militia within the "next few days" east of the river. Ankara views the US-backed YPG as a "terrorist offshoot" of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is blacklisted as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies. But the YPG has spearheaded the United States' fight against the Islamic State extremist group under the banner of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance. The latest threats by Turkey are likely to cause tension with Washington after relations suffered in the past couple of years due to US support to the YPG. Following Erdogan's operation warning, the Pentagon on Wednesday said any unilateral military action in northern Syria would be of "grave concern" and "unacceptable". One of the main issues recently has been the setting up of US observation posts on the northeast Syrian border to prevent altercations between Turkish forces and the YPG. Turkey had called on the US not to go ahead with the move last week. American forces are with the SDF east of the Euphrates as well as in the flashpoint city of Manbij, which is west of the river. Following threats by Erdogan this year to attack YPG-held Manbij, the US and Turkey agreed a "roadmap" which would mean the YPG would leave Manbij and that NATO allies would work together to establish a local security structure and decide who will govern. "Here is what we say: either you clean the city and (the YPG) leave, or we're going into Manbij as well," Erdogan said on Friday.

Syrian Kurdish-Led Fighters Take Hajin, Last Town Held by IS
Associated Press/Naharnet/December 14/18/U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led fighters captured the last town held by the Islamic State group on Friday, after days of intense battles in the militants' single remaining enclave in eastern Syria, activists said. The fall of Hajin is a blow to the extremists. The town was their main stronghold in the last pocket of land they control in eastern Syria, near the Iraqi border. IS still holds some villages nearby. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been fighting to take Hajin and the surrounding villages in Deir el-Zour province for over three months. In the past weeks, the offensive intensified with the arrival of reinforcements from northern Syria. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the SDF took Hajin early in the morning, after fierce fighting under the cover of airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition. It said some IS fighters withdrew to the villages and that fighting is still going in the fields outside Hajin as SDF fighters chase the extremists. Europe-based activist Omar Abu Layla of the DeirEzzor 24 monitoring group confirmed that the town was taken, adding that some IS fighters are still holed up in small pockets on the edge of Hajin. The area was home to some 15,000 people, including 2,000 IS gunmen who have been fighting back with counteroffensives and suicide attacks. Over the past days, hundreds of civilians were able to flee the enclave toward areas controlled by the SDF east of the Euphrates River and government-controlled regions on the river's west bank.

Israel Arrests 40 Palestinians after West Bank Attack
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 14/18/Israeli forces arrested 40 Palestinians across the occupied West Bank overnight during a manhunt for the perpetrator of a deadly attack, the army said on Friday. The West Bank, which Israel has occupied for more than 50 years, saw the third Palestinian shooting in two months Thursday, with an attacker killing two Israeli soldiers near a Jewish settlement before fleeing the scene. The army announced reinforcements after the attack and carried out raids in the nearby city of Ramallah, where Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas is based, and other places. "Forces apprehended 40 suspects wanted for their involvement in terror activities, popular terror and violent riots targeting civilians and security forces," an army statement said. It said 37 of them were known to be members of Hamas, the Islamist group that claimed two recent gun attacks, although not Thursday's. The army did not announce any arrests in relations to Thursday's attack. Around 600,000 Israelis live in settlements in the West Bank , including annexed east Jerusalem, which are considered illegal by the international community.

Iran Deal, Saudi Murder: Turbulent Year Shakes up Middle East
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 14/18/
A murdered Saudi journalist. A scrapped Iran nuclear deal. The two events alone have undone years of diplomacy in the Middle East, testing old alliances and shaking up the regional balance of power, analysts say. In another turbulent year for the tinderbox region, Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad appeared ever more powerful and Washington's promised Israeli-Palestinian peace plan seemed ever more elusive. Meanwhile, Russia -— buoyed by its 2015 intervention in Syria to prop up Assad —- has steadily asserted itself as a key powerbroker in the Middle East, stepping into a diplomatic void left by what observers see as a partial US retreat. US President Donald Trump, however, has staunchly backed Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a key regional ally who has faced intense global criticism over journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder in Istanbul's Saudi consulate in October. Trump has asserted the petro-state's importance as a lucrative buyer of US arms and a bulwark against common foe Iran, but furious American lawmakers appear in no mood to give the prince a free pass over the murder. The stakes are high for Trump and the prince, the heir to the Arab world's most powerful throne who the CIA claims ordered the killing.
Testing US-Saudi ties
"The killing has sparked multiple battles that are likely to shape relationships ranging from that between the US and Saudi Arabia to those between Trump, his Republican Party, the US Congress and the country's intelligence community," said James Dorsey, a fellow at Singapore's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. "The fallout of the killing could also shape Trump's ability to pursue his policy goals in the Middle East, including forcing Iran to its knees and imposing a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." The prince -— who sought to project he was no global pariah with an ebullient high-five with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the recent G-20 summit in Argentina —- is expected to weather the crisis. But the fallout is testing the alliance between Riyadh and Washington. "It looks set to really impact US-Saudi ties very negatively in 2019, regardless of what the Trump administration thinks it can do to stop or prevent it," said Kristian Ulrichsen, a fellow at Rice University's Baker Institute in the United States. The Khashoggi crisis has cast a renewed spotlight on a Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen, gripped by what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis, piling pressure on Riyadh to kickstart peace talks this month in Sweden between the government it backs and Iran-aligned Huthi rebels. The Khashoggi affair has also given Turkey -- allied with Saudi rivals Qatar and Iran -- unusual leverage in regional power plays.
'Dangerous and unstable'
Through his veiled attacks on Prince Mohammed, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is using the murder as a geopolitical opportunity to re-establish the balance of power in the Middle East, analysts say. "Between instability in the Gulf and a zero-sum game between MBS and Erdogan, the Middle East risks becoming even more dangerous and unstable," said Sigurd Neubauer, a Middle East analyst based in Washington. "It leaves every party with little option but to further entrench itself even as Trump seeks to use the Khashoggi murder as a catalyst to forge Gulf reconciliation and accelerate Yemen peace talks while seeking to pressure Iran."Turkey has also managed to consolidate its influence in Syria following an agreement with Russia to avert a regime assault on rebel-held Idlib province. With Russian and Iranian support, Assad has wrested back control of large swathes of Syrian territory while corralling what is left of the armed opposition in Idlib. "The Assad government had its best year since 2011" when the uprising against his regime began, said Nicholas Heras, an analyst at the Center for a New American Security. "The big battle in 2019 will be... over the aftermath of the war in Syria. For all of the gains it made in 2018, the Assad government still sits in the crosshairs of an American strategy that seeks to kill Assad's economy and the stability of his statelet."
'Pressure on Tehran'
A key part of the US strategy is also to ensure that Iran does not emerge as the big winner from the Syrian conflict. Earlier this year, Trump tore up the Iran nuclear deal -— a result of intense international diplomacy led by European allies and the previous Obama administration -- and imposed new sanctions on Tehran that kicked in last month. "The biggest and most far-reaching change that developed in 2018 was the aggressive American stance towards Iran," said Hussein Ibish, a scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. "There is a lot more pressure on Tehran." A perceived threat of Iranian expansionism in the Middle East has prompted an undeclared alliance between Israel and several Arab states, observers say. That was reflected in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's surprise visit to the Gulf state of Oman in October, the first by a leader of the Jewish state in 22 years. He also sought to publicly defend Prince Mohammed following global outrage over Khashoggi's murder. Trump, whose administration in May controversially moved the US embassy to Israel to Jerusalem, has promised to deliver a so-called "deal of the century" to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Diplomats and analysts claim the deal, set to be unveiled early in 2019, is secretly backed by several Arab states. But with public opinion largely pro-Palestinian, many in the Arab world view the warming ties with Israel as a betrayal. New tensions have also erupted in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip since March 30 when Palestinians launched rolling protests demanding the right to return to homes now inside Israel. Some 235 Palestinians have been killed by Israel soldiers since then. Two Israelis soldiers have died in the clashes.

Strasbourg Reopens Christmas Market after Gunman Killed
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 14/18/A relieved Strasbourg prepared to reopen its popular Christmas market on Friday after French police shot dead the gunman who killed three people there in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group. Cherif Chekatt was killed late Thursday after a two-day manhunt when a police patrol spotted him on a street in the district where he was last seen after Tuesday night's attack on Christmas shoppers. The lights on the market's towering Christmas tree were illuminated Friday for the first time since the attack ahead of the official re-opening of the market at 11:00 am (1000 GMT). "I hope life will get back to normal but I'm not too sure," said Franck Hoffmann as opened his wooden chalet offering Christmas candles and ornaments on Friday. "Business isn't going to be what it was," he predicted. Questions remained over how Chekatt was able to evade the tight security perimeter set up for an event long known to be a prime target for jihadist groups. Around 500 police, security agents and soldiers control access at checkpoints on the bridges leading to the river island, a UN World Heritage site, that houses the market. The goal is to "create a bubble with searches at the entry points," Mayor Roland Ries said after the attack, while regional government representative Jean-Luc Marx said he had not determined "any flaws in the security measures". Many residents, however, were not convinced after Chekatt managed to slip through the controls with a handgun and a knife. "It doesn't surprise me," said Emeline, 38, who works in the city centre. "You wear a heavy coat, put something in the bottom of your bag. You can bring in what you want."
'It's too painful'
France's anti-terror prosecutor Remy Heitz is to hold a press conference in Strasbourg on Friday while Interior Minister Christophe Castaner will attend the reopening of the market, which usually draws two million people every year. France has been on high alert since the start of a wave of jihadist attacks in 2015, which prompted a threefold surge in the security budget for the market, to one million euros. Chekatt, a 29-year-old career criminal who lived in a rundown apartment block a short drive from the city centre, was flagged by French security forces in 2015 as a possible Islamic extremist. The propaganda wing of the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for Tuesday's attack, calling Chekatt one of its "soldiers" who responded to its calls to target citizens of nations in the coalition fighting the jihadists in Iraq and Syria. Among the 13 injured in the attack, three remain in critical condition while three others have been released from hospital, Castaner said Thursday. Strasbourg's deputy mayor Alain Fontanel admitted that despite patrols, plainclothes police, profilers and video surveillance, "the risks can be reduced, but not eliminated"."We can't pat down and search everyone, only carry out random checks," he said, adding that huge lines at checkpoints would only create a new potential target for terrorists. "Someone who wants to get in an area this big with a weapon can do it," he said. Such reasoning was little comfort to the residents and tourists who flock to the Strasbourg market. "We thought this would happen only in Nice or at the Bataclan, but here it is at home," said Sylvain, who works at another market in the city centre. He was referring to the truck attack which killed scores at Bastille Day festivities in Nice, southern France, in 2016, and the massacre at the capital's Bataclan concert hall in November 2015. "I'm not going to forget this anytime soon. It's too painful. I'm not even sure I'm able to cry," he said.

Canada congratulates Armenia’s prime minister-elect following election victory
December 14, 2018 - Ottawa, Ontario - Global Affairs Canada
The Honourable Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs, today issued the following statement on Armenia’s general election of December 9, 2018:
“Canada congratulates Nikol Pashinyan, leader of the Civil Contract party, on his mandate to form the next government of Armenia. This first general election since the popular demonstrations of April and May 2018 is a testament to the strong, peaceful democratic convictions of the people of Armenia.
“Armenia and Canada enjoy a special relationship that we are committed to strengthening. We share similar visions of peace, justice and democracy and collaborate in international organizations such as the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie. “Canada welcomes and supports ongoing democratic changes that Armenians have generated in the last year and looks forward to working together with the government as it seeks to enforce the rule of law and constitutional democracy, combat corruption and protect human rights to benefit all Armenians.”

UK's May Returns to Face EU Leaders after Brexit Deal Rebuff
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 14/18/British Prime Minister Theresa May returned to face EU leaders Friday after they rebuffed her pleas for help to sell her Brexit plan back home and warned of the growing threat of a "no deal."
May had sought to persuade her 27 colleagues she could overcome huge opposition to the divorce deal among British MPs if they gave her some assurances over the thorny problem of the Irish border. But they were not convinced, and European diplomats said May had been unable to explain what she wanted or how she could deliver a British parliamentary majority to endorse the deal. "The signals we heard yesterday were not particularly reassuring on Britain's capacity to honour the commitments that were made," Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michael said.
"So we will make sure to prepare for all scenarios and prepare also for a no deal scenario," he added, as he arrived for the second and final day of the EU summit.
On Thursday, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker repeated statements made all week by European leaders that "there is no room whatsoever for renegotiation" of the deal. May postponed a vote in the House of Commons this week on the Brexit deal to avoid a crushing defeat, but has promised it will take place next month, by January 21 at the latest. This is uncomfortably close to Britain's scheduled exit day on March 29, 2019 -- and Juncker said he was stepping up preparations in case it leaves with no deal in place. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz added on Friday: "There is a withdrawal deal, and there is an urgent necessity to take decisions. We should avoid a no deal scenario."She left with less. May did not speak as she arrived for the summit, where she met with French President Emmanuel Macron before EU-wide discussions on migration, Russia and climate change. She came to Brussels wounded by a confidence vote on Wednesday night, which she won but in which 117 MPs -- more than one-third of her Conservative party -- voted to oust her.
Opposition to the Brexit deal in Britain is focused on a so-called "backstop" arrangement designed to keep open the border with Ireland if and until a new UK-EU trade deal is signed. May is seeking "legal and political assurances" that this will not keep Britain trapped indefinitely in an EU customs union. Several EU leaders have talked of offering "clarifications" and "explanations", and a statement issued after they talked without May late Thursday emphasised they will try to ensure the backstop is never triggered. But, while an early draft of the conclusions said the EU "stands ready to examine whether any further assurances can be provided" on the backstop, this was removed from the final version. "Colleagues were so exasperated that she left with less than she could have got," a European source said. May told EU leaders they must help her "change the perception that the backstop could be a trap from which the UK cannot escape", according to a British official. "With the right assurances, this deal can be passed. Indeed it is the only deal that is capable of getting through my parliament," she told them. But European sources said the room was tense, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leaders repeatedly interrupting May to ask her what she wanted and how she could deliver it. Another source who had been in the room told AFP on Friday that May had contradicted herself and failed to say how any assurances on the backstop might work, to the consternation of fellow leaders.
'The problem is MPs'
On Friday, however, Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel on defended May, saying she "did a good job, she got the best possible deal" despite being able to deliver her own party's lawmakers. "The problem is the MPs in London," he said.
"The fact is for internal political reasons in the UK some people try to gamble the relation between the EU and the UK for the future. And it's bad." May has faced constant criticism to her Brexit strategy from hardline anti-Europeans in her party, while the Northern Irish party which props up her government also opposes her deal. They want the backstop out of the agreement entirely -- but Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar once again emphasised the need to have legal guarantees on keeping open the Irish border. "By resolving it in the withdrawal agreement we can make sure no side uses the threat of a border in Ireland as part of leverage in the future relationship talks," he said.

Morocco’s King Appoints New Ombudsman, Head of Anti-Corruption Authority
Marrakesh - Hatem al-Batyawi/Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 14 December, 2018/King Mohammed VI on Thursday appointed Judge Mohamed Benalilou as the Kingdom’s Ombudsman and Mohamed Bachir Rachdi as the president of the national authority for probity, prevention and fight against corruption. Upon the appointment ceremony the monarch recalled the role of the Ombudsman as an independent authority that strives to enshrine rights and end injustices, and particularly to preserve the rights of citizens in their relations with the administration, a statement by the Royal office said. King Mohammed also recalled that the institution’s role consists in rendering justice to citizens when subjected to any kind of abuse, under the rule of law and within the framework of the consolidation of the principles of justice and equity. He also urged the institution to foster public awareness about its role and powers and its interaction with complainants. Benalilou, born in 1975, is currently director of the administrative and training center of the Supreme Council of the Judiciary. He practiced at the Tangier First Instance Court, the former Special Court of Justice and the Rabat Court of Appeal. He held several positions at the Justice Ministry from 2012 to 2018, including that of counsellor on Criminal Policy. As for Rachidi’s appointment, King Mohammed VI stressed the importance he gives to the fight against corruption in all its forms, whether at the level of running public administrations and institutions and its impact on services for citizens, or its negative repercussions on the national economy and the achievement of sustainable and balanced development. The King instructed Rachidi to endeavor for the optimal implementation of the missions entrusted by the constitution to this national body, mainly concerning taking initiatives and coordinating, supervising, carrying out and overseeing anti-corruption policies, contributing to raising the moral standards of public life, upholding the principles of good governance, public service culture and general interest, as well as the values of responsible citizenship.

Sisi Brands Egypt as Secure Magnet for Foreign Investment
Cairo- Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 14 December, 2018/Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said that investment-friendly factors enjoyed by Egypt today have made the country one of the top magnets for foreign investment. Away from regional turmoil and circumstances, Sisi said Egypt provides a stabilized security and economy. A trained labor force and trade agreements linking Egypt to African, Arab and European Union markets also play a role in improving its economic standing. Presidential Spokesperson Bassam Radi stated that Sisi met with leading investors to review the latest economic developments and the promising investment opportunities available throughout the Egyptian market’s various sectors. They also reviewed national economic performance and progress under the comprehensive reform program being implemented. On the sidelines of the Africa 2018 Forum, Egypt has signed agreements worth US$1.9bn. This is in addition to a number of other major agreements worth US$1.6bn signed by participants at the Forum. The agreements include strategic partnerships to invest in Egypt's infrastructure, information technology, and renewable energy, and to foster entrepreneurship and private sector development in the country. Dalia Ibrahim, head of the “Nahdat Misr” publishing group, said there are high prospects for increased investments in the Egyptian market designed to develop educational and cultural content. Speaking for her group, Ibrahim revealed plans to establish five subsidiaries with entrepreneurs, in addition to forging new partnerships with two of the largest companies operating in the field. Nahdat Misr investments in the Egyptian marked are set to exceed EGP100 million. The group is developing educational content in some Arab countries, as well as training teachers in regional markets.“We have different projects in some Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia in which we train teachers, and Oman in which we are developing math and science curricula, and the UAE in which we developed an educational project letter in cooperation with the UAE government,” Ibrahim told Asharq Al-Awsat. She pointed to the signing of a protocol of cooperation with the Ministry of Immigration to teach and implement the project "Speak Egyptian" for Egyptians abroad, aimed to consolidate the Arabic language in the culture of workers abroad.

Russian Orthodox church calls on UN for help in Ukraine
Fri 14 Dec 2018/NNA
 The Russian Orthodox Church on Friday called on the United Nations, the leaders of Germany and France, the pope and other spiritual leaders to protect believers in Ukraine in the face of pressure on Moscow-affiliated clerics.
Ukraine’s Orthodox clerics will gather for a meeting Saturday that is expected to form a new, independent Ukrainian church, and Ukrainian authorities have ramped up pressure on priests to support the move. The Ukrainian church has been part of the Russian Church for centuries, while enjoying broad autonomy, but Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has pushed for the creation of an independent church. The newly formed community would then be expected to receive independence from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Istanbul-based institution considered the so-called “first among equals” of leaders of the world’s Orthodox Churches that has already drafted a charter for an independent Ukrainian church.
The Russian Church said on Friday that its Patriarch Kirill has sent a letter to the U.N. secretary-general, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, Pope Francis, the Archbishop of Canterbury and other spiritual leaders, urging them to help protect the clerics, believers and their faith in Ukraine. Merkel’s spokeswoman and the German foreign ministry spokesman said they didn’t immediately have any information on the letter. As church tensions have grown, Ukraine’s Security Service has searched Russian Orthodox churches and the homes of Russian Orthodox priests in several cities. The agency also has summoned dozens of priests for questioning. Ukrainian authorities have sought to portray Russian Orthodox priests in Ukraine as supporting Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, claims that the clerics have rejected.
Kirill’s letter accused the Ukrainian government of hate speech and pressuring the clerics to take part in the Saturday gathering. “The numerous instances of discrimination against the Ukrainian Church (of the Moscow Patriarchate) give us the reason to fear far worse infringements of the rights and legitimate interests of Orthodox believers,” the letter said. The Moscow Patriarchate’s Ukrainian Church said on Friday that the security services forcibly delivered one senior cleric to Kiev, reportedly for a conversation with the president. In Kiev, about 100 people led by a Moscow-affiliated cleric were holding prayers near the Ukrainian parliament Friday morning to protest the creation of a new church. Some voiced fears that authorities will seize churches from the communities under the Moscow patriarchate and give them to the new church. -- AP

Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 14-15/18
The Canary in the French Mine
Amir Taheri/Asharq Al Awsat/December v14/18
Normally, this time of the year, the Champs Elysees avenue in Paris has a festive air with Christmas decorations and happy shoppers looking for last minute presents. This season, however, what the French like to boast about as “the most beautiful avenue in the world” looks more like a war zone. The reason is the phenomenon labeled “les gilets jaunes” or “yellow vests”, a movement that started as a protest against an increase in the price of diesel and quickly galumphed towards an all-out attack on the French political system.
At first glance one might say: we have been there, done that and bought the T-shirt!
Setting fire on parked cars and city dustbins, shattering shop windows and looting stores are old tactics of French protest movements as witnessed on numerous occasions, most recently 2003 and 2005.
However, the current uprising, now in its fifth week, is different from previous protests for a number of reasons.
The first is that the “yellow vests” started not in Paris but in the provinces. That in itself is quite new. Ever since it emerged as nation-state in the 14th century, France has always been a Paris-centered polity. The great revolution of 1789 started in the capital as did its miniaturized successors in 1830 and 1848. The Paris Commune of 1871 was, as its name indicates, also a Parisian affair. The protests that led to the emergence of the Popular Front in 1936 was also the work of Parisian elites. Finally, the last great French insurrection, known as the May 1968 revolution, was also centered on the capital.
The second difference is that, unlike previous revolutionary and/or insurrectionary episodes, the “yellow vests” movement, mobilizing around 130,000 activists in 11 cities throughout the nation, has an unexpectedly small socio-political base, a fact camouflaged by the energy devoted to destructive activities. Because of its basically provincial persona, the movement reminds one of the old French tradition of rural revolts known as “jacqueries”, first launched in 1380, in which poor peasants cast themselves as bandits to fight, and rob, their feudal barons.
Like historical “jacqueries” the current “yellow vest” campaign is capable of inflicting much economic damage but is unable to offer an alternative vision of society.
The third difference is that it comes in the context of a society in which, for the first time in history, a majority of people could be regarded as privileged, at least in relative terms.
A nation that had lived through almost four centuries of intermittent wars, including two world wars and half a dozen colonial wars, has been at peace for an unprecedented six decades. France today is one of the richest nations in the world with perhaps the most generous welfare system anywhere. It has the world’s shortest working week, longer annual holidays, earliest retirement age, and some of the best education and health facilities in history. The French today are better fed, better housed, better clothed and better entertained than any time in their history. They are also in better health and live a staggering 20 years longer than they did at the start of their Fifth Republic.
Also worth noting is that France is perhaps the only country in the world where scores of small and medium towns and cities have virtually all the facilities of a modern metropolis.
Yet, opinion polls show that almost two-thirds of the French have some sympathy with the “yellow vests”.
What is the cause of this paradoxical situation?
Some analysts have tried to explain things with reference to modern information technology. The “yellow vests” have organized themselves with smartphones via Facebook and twitter accounts, we are told. But why should that make a difference? The great revolution of 1789 was fed with pamphlets, at the time the equivalent of pontification on Facebook. In 1968, leaflets and placards were used instead of pamphlets.
One may dismiss the “yellow vest” episode as nothing more than the latest manifestation of the French penchant for street protests and dislike for institutional politics, including the system of representative democracy. “The French just like to riot,” one analyst quips.
Other analysts see the protest as an insurrection against Emmanuel Macron’s presidency.
But, leaving aside the looters, the extreme right gangs such as Black Blocs, leftist groups of anarchists and the professional “smashers” (les casseurs in French) the events of the past five weeks have appealed to wide sections of the French society. Macron is designated as the target because he happens to be the president. And one of the unwritten functions of the president in the Fifth Republic is to act as a political punching bag. Macron himself is a product of the same energy, albeit in a non-violent version, that has produced the “yellow vest”.
Some analysts see the virtual collapse of all traditional political parties as the reason for France sliding towards politics of revolt. Still others point to the reduction in the powers of national governments to devise and apply policies. Hampered by networks of shared sovereignty, notably the European Union, national governments have seen their margin of maneuver narrow down in the fields of economic, social, defense and foreign policies.
My own unorthodox, and certainly unscientific, diagnosis is that the French, like most other people in rich countries, are simply bored with a lot of time on their hands and little exciting to do. Tens of thousands of people have already reached the peak at Everest not to mention the dwarfish Mont Blanc which is as busy as Champs Elysees at rush hour. Thousands go around the world in boat races. Each year thousands publish novels and/or make movies. And everyone could be sure of getting his or her 15 minutes of fame on TV or, if not, at least Facebook and Twitter.
Schopenhauer recognized the threat of boredom to Western civilization more than a century ago. At least since the Industrial Revolution, Western civilization has aimed at the creation of an affluent society in which people did less work, consumed more and lived longer in peace. Boredom would be the by-product of such a society.
Another way is to see the “yellow vests” as the canary in the coal mine. They are telling us that something is wrong in France. Let’s find out what.

Tehran Counts on a Divided West
Reuel Marc Gerecht/The Wall Street Journal/December 14/18
The Trump administration must persuade Democrats and foreign allies to counter the regime’s aggression.
President Trump has revived most of the U.S. sanctions on Iran that were dropped during Barack Obama’s 2015 nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic. More sanctions are coming. But to halt Iran’s march toward enriched uranium and functional ballistic missiles for good, the White House must convince more Americans and U.S. allies to join in raising pressure on the regime. The fruits of Tehran’s imperialism won’t wither until the world chokes its roots.
Looming in the background of the Trump administration’s efforts is the 2020 election, after which a Democratic president could reverse Mr. Trump’s progress. Democrats’ views on Iran are still shaped by Mr. Obama’s approach to the nuclear deal. They continue to play down Tehran’s regional aggression and especially its role in the slaughter in Syria and Yemen, and they have recast President Hassan Rouhani as a reformer despite his role as an enforcer of the mullahs’ police state. “Engaging” Tehran, restoring the nuclear deal, and reducing America’s presence in the Middle East are a gospel for progressive Democrats, who loathe Mr. Trump and aren’t enamored of Israel, Sunni Arabs or the region’s machtpolitik.
In contrast, President Trump’s sanctions-centered policy deprives Tehran of billions in hard currency each year and impedes its strategic ambitions. Yet it’s unlikely that the Trump administration’s ultimate goal, be it a new nuclear agreement or the theocracy’s collapse, can be achieved in the next two years. The Iranian regime is tenacious. The supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, is probably the most accomplished modern Middle Eastern dictator. Many of the mullahs and Revolutionary Guardsmen who rule it lived through the horrific Iran-Iraq War. They are far more brutal than the shah and his generals before the revolution.
Protests by the poor and middle class have unsettled the regime since last December, but Mr. Khamenei knows how to manage dissent. As long as the protests don’t boil over into massive disorder, they might actually help the regime by allowing public outrage to vent and revealing to the security services potential leaders of a larger insurrection.
Without a more aggressive play by the U.S., this regime is unlikely to fold on its ambitions. The mullahs have thrown billions of dollars at the development of nuclear weapons in good times and bad. Even if sanctions reduce the regime’s oil sales to fewer than a million barrels a day, the earnings will be enough to keep the regime’s security services loyal absent a massive popular revolt.
Even the fear of a possible military attack hasn’t moved Iran to halt its nuclear program. According to nuclear-weapons experts David Albright and Olli Heinonen, who have reviewed Iranian archives captured in 2016 by Israeli intelligence, Tehran didn’t freeze its nuclear program after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, as American intelligence asserted with “high confidence” in 2007 and Obama officials continuously regurgitated. Today’s sanctions can’t possibly match the fear that George W. Bush provoked in Tehran when American tanks raced toward Baghdad. And the development of advanced centrifuges is cheaper than it used to be. Mr. Heinonen believes Iran likely has significant undeclared stockpiles of the required materiel.
One of the most troubling aspects of Mr. Obama’s agreement was the lack of access to Iran’s nuclear personnel, files and suspicious sites. This blind spot persists today without an agreement. The clerical regime could still be developing nuclear technology and the Central Intelligence Agency likely wouldn’t know.
The picture isn’t much prettier across the region. Iran controls vast territory through its proxies in Iraq and Syria. The war in Yemen also is an exceptionally good deal for the regime, with minimal expenditures and high returns in the form of pressure on rival Saudi Arabia. Iran’s battle-tested Shiite foreign legions do entail costs. But after 40 years of cash and materiel shortages, the regime has learned how to wage imperialism on the cheap.
The Trump administration has weakened its leverage by appearing unwilling to counter Iran’s advances with military pressure. Washington largely has left Israel with the responsibility for containing the Revolutionary Guard. Fear of Sunni jihadists and Iranian reprisals—as well as the lack of congressional authorization for lethal covert action—has frustrated ambitions for a U.S. campaign to bleed the Shiite empire through low-cost guerrillas. The U.S. won’t do to Iran what Iran did to American troops in Iraq. Unfortunately, the Israelis, Saudis and Emiratis simply can’t handle such a task without American help.
The administration needs to play a longer game. The U.S. should increase and sustain pressure long enough for Iran’s massive internal contradictions to crack the theocracy. A renewed bipartisan consensus about the clerical regime’s wickedness is an essential condition, ensuring the effort is sustained into the next presidency. The administration must also persist in its effort to unite the developed world against Iran’s aggression.
To debunk the Obama narrative of Iran, the Trump administration should highlight more vividly the regime’s savagery abroad and brutality at home. The Democratic Party and Western European countries are likely to resist as long as Mr. Trump is president, but there’s no harm in trying. It will be hard for progressives to trash a foreign policy built explicitly on advancing human rights and democracy once the crimes of Mr. Rouhani and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif are fully exposed. The regime’s proclivity to assassinate expatriate dissidents—which crescendoed in the 1990s when President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and his fixer, Mr. Rouhani, were in power—is growing again.
The nuclear deal’s restrictions on sales to Iran of conventional weapons and ballistic-missile technology will sunset in 2020 and 2023, respectively. Democrats and Europeans should recognize the potential dangers and inject more muscle and conscience into their foreign policies.
Mr. Trump and many Republicans have been reluctant to promote democracy and civil society overseas. They would be wise to overcome this hesitation and play every card they have against the regime to build the broader base of support, at home and abroad. The clock is ticking.

Germany: Merkel to be Succeeded by "Mini-Merkel"
Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/December 14/18
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer promised to hold a "workshop discussion" (Werkstattgespräch) on immigration and security. On all major policy issues, however, Kramp-Karrenbauer's positions are virtually identical to those of Merkel.
"Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer is the continuation of Merkel by other means. She has supported the refugee policy and will not correct it." — Alexander Gauland, Co-Chair, AfD party.
"The CDU has not given convincing answers to the consequences of globalization and digitization.... The CDU lacks a clear vision of how prosperity and jobs are not only secured but expanded..." — The business newspaper Handelsblatt, in a commentary entitled, "CDU: The Divided People's Party."
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (left) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel react after Kramp-Karrenbauer was chosen to succeed Merkel as the next leader of the Christian Democratic Union party (CDU) on December 7, 2018 in Hamburg. (Photo by Carsten Koall/Getty Images)
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a 56-year-old career politician committed to the status quo, has been chosen to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel as leader of Germany's Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
Kramp-Karrenbauer — often referred to as "Mini-Merkel" or "Merkel 2.0" because many view her as Merkel's clone — won by just 35 votes (517 to 482) in a second-round run-off against her main opponent, a conservative named Friedrich Merz, at a CDU conference in Hamburg on December 7. Kramp-Karrenbauer's extremely narrow victory (51.7% to 48.2%) revealed a party split down the middle.
Merz had pledged to pull the CDU back to its conservative roots, after two decades of leftward drift under Merkel's leadership resulted in a mass defection of angry CDU voters to the anti-mass migration party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), now the third-largest in the German parliament.
Kramp-Karrenbauer, by contrast, promised only cosmetic changes to the status quo, apparently out of fear that substantive changes would alienate the Social Democrats (SPD), who currently form part of Merkel's "grand coalition" government.
The failure to make a clear break with "Merkelism" means that not only might the CDU be unable to win back disaffected voters, but that even more CDU voters could be tempted to defect to the AfD in the next general election, due by October 2021.
In her inaugural speech as CDU leader, Kramp-Karrenbauer — also known as AKK because her full name is a mouthful to pronounce — confirmed her intention to follow along the liberal path established by Merkel. Kramp-Karrenbauer said that she does not want the party to undergo a "conservative revolution" and instead wants the CDU to occupy the "very broad center." Merkel has long insisted that the CDU must be the "People's Party of the Center," and under Merkel's watch, the party has often used the slogan, "The Center" (Die Mitte).
After disgruntled conservatives threatened to form a new party, Kramp-Karrenbauer swiftly pledged to emancipate herself from Merkel by "occasionally contradicting" the chancellor "where it is necessary" in the interest of the CDU. Kramp-Karrenbauer also promised to hold a "workshop discussion" (Werkstattgespräch) on immigration and security.
On all major policy issues, however, Kramp-Karrenbauer's positions are virtually identical to those of Merkel. The German government's basic positions (Grundsatzprogramm) on European integration, open borders, multiculturalism are unlikely to change without Merkel's permission.
"Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer is the continuation of Merkel by other means," said AfD co-chair Alexander Gauland, paraphrasing the Prussian general and military strategist Carl von Clausewitz. "She has supported the refugee policy and will not correct it."
AfD MP Alice Weidel predicted that Kramp-Karrenbauer will benefit the AfD more than the CDU:
"Mrs. Kramp-Karrenbauer is Merkel's desired successor. Kramp-Karrenbauer means: Continuity! She is Merkel 2.0. With her, the leftward course of the CDU will continue, and thus the last conservative Christian Democrats have lost their fight and no longer have a political home in the CDU."
One of the CDU's best-known conservatives, Wolfgang Bosbach, observed:
"First, a narrow majority of the party wants a consistent continuation of the course of recent years — no course correction. Second, while values-conservatives and economic liberals continue to be needed to represent a broad political spectrum within the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) on the outside, internally they will not have a significant impact on the party's agenda and policies."
CDU Vice President and Merkel confidant Volker Bouffier, in an interview with Rheinische Post, warned Kramp-Karrenbauer not to revisit migration policy:
"We do not win the future by looking back. It may be wise to simply openly discuss the migration issue and take stock of it. But that cannot and should not be the central object of the party's work. That's not what we need now."
Commentator Hugo Müller-Vogg, writing for Tichys Einblick, noted that Merkel is still the chancellor and that Kramp-Karrenbauer will remain in her shadow:
"Merkel remains the benchmark for voters. The new CDU leader can make the party more effective for the upcoming election campaigns, push ahead with the debate on the new basic program, take a more proactive approach toward the AfD. In the eyes of the population, however, all this is rather secondary. Crucial for the reputation of the CDU and its approval is the 'performance' of the chancellor. If people are not satisfied with the government's policies, they cannot be lured with a more modern, digitally pimped-out party image. Then they will stay away or withdraw from the CDU....
"Merkel will undoubtedly continue to justify her 2015 refugee policy. The new CDU chairman wants to have 'workshop discussions' to determine what went wrong in 2015, why Merkel's welcome policy has weakened the CDU and made the AfD really strong. Whatever will be written in the relevant papers, Merkel will not be willing publicly to concede her mistakes, not now or in the future. This means: Voters who left the CDU will not now make their peace with Merkel just because the CDU has a new chairwoman....
"If Kramp-Karrenbauer does not openly expel her predecessor from the Chancellery, she will only be able to act in Merkel's shadow. This is because Kramp-Karrenbauer, who has risen from the secretary-general to the party chairman, remains, from Merkel's point of view, what she has been all along: an assistant, not a partner at eye level."
The business newspaper Handelsblatt, in a commentary entitled, "CDU: The Divided People's Party," warned that Kramp-Karrenbauer must focus on reuniting the CDU and strengthening the German economy:
"Angela Merkel has prevailed again: Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, her favorite, has been chosen as the new chairperson of the CDU. The delegates at the congress voted for continuity and against experimenting with Friedrich Merz.
"But with just under 52% of support, AKK has received the worst result of all party leaders in the history of the CDU.... The party is as divided as perhaps never before. Whether AKK manages to create unity out of this tattered party is rather uncertain.
"The rupture in the CDU between those who fundamentally support a continuation of the previous Merkel policies, and those who demand a radical renewal of political orientation, is deeper than many in the party leadership had expected....
"The CDU has not given convincing answers to the consequences of globalization and digitization.... The CDU lacks a clear vision of how prosperity and jobs are not only secured but expanded. The economic boom is over, as is the phase of constantly increasing tax revenues.
"Ahead of the European elections in May 2019, and the parliamentary elections in Bremen, and then in autumn in Saxony, Thuringia and Brandenburg, the new CDU chairman must not only succeed in reuniting the torn party, but must also be able to strengthen its economic competence.
"Only then can she lead the CDU from the current historically low approval ratings. And only then will it be decided whether the new CDU leader could one day inherit Angela Merkel as chancellor."
The online publication Deutschland Kurier wrote that the CDU was "committing suicide for fear of death" by abandoning its conservative values to hang onto power:
"At their surreal Hamburg party congress, during which one could at times have the impression that it had taken place in Pyongyang, the delegates bizarrely gave a ten-minute standing ovation to applaud their own decline in the guise of outgoing party leader Angela Merkel....
"The CDU is so permeated and corrupted by the 'Merkel System' that little or nothing will change in the party itself. If the election of the Merkel clone to CDU federal chairman means anything at all, then this may well be: Merkel is still holding the reins firmly in her hands....
"The close result [over Merkel's succession] shows that the CDU is undergoing a fundamental rupture. Merkel leaves after 18 years at the top of a party that is more deeply divided than ever before.
"Unlike Merz, who at the party congress gave a substantive lecture largely based on cool analysis, Merkel's clone gave an emotional hug speech that reached the hearts of the delegates and was greeted with standing ovations and shouts of 'AKK.' Kramp-Karrenbauer cleverly excluded the issue of immigration in her speech. In the end, the CDU functionary corps assembled in Hamburg followed the motto of Konrad Adenauer [Germany's first chancellor]: no experiments!
"A choice of Merz as CDU boss, so it was heard again and again, would have meant a high election risk. For many delegates, the shirt of their own parliamentary mandate was preferable to the skirt of inner-party renewal. They wanted something (apparently) new for the external effect, but no break with the Merkel era, so as not to give the Social Democrats (SPD) an excuse to exit from the Grand Coalition. The ominous legacy of Merkel should be preserved, not unwound.
"Thus, the new CDU boss is in no way in favor of a course correction. The CDU will pay a high price for Kramp-Karrenbauer's scarce success, which is mainly Merkel's victory. The prize is a deeply split party in two camps....
"Conclusion: After their Hamburg party congress, the CDU is following their former Italian sister party into political nirvana. The parallels are frightening. Like the CDU, Italy's 'Democrazia Cristiana' was for decades the most important state-sponsored post-war party. Like the CDU, the Italian Christian Democrats embarked on a left-wing course, which they carried out with strikingly similar arguments as the German Christian Democrats. The result is known: the 'Democrazia Cristiana' no longer exists.
"Seen in this light, Angela Merkel's farewell words as CDU chairwoman may have left a bitter aftertaste for many conservatives in the Union: 'It was a great pleasure for me. It was an honor for me.'
"The 31st CDU Party Congress applauded for ten minutes with a standing ovation to their own decline. It was a ghostly scene as in North Korea."
*Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute.
© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

The Hamas Plan to Take the West Bank
Khaled Abu Toameh/Gatestone Institute/December 14/18
Hamas and its allies are openly working and encouraging the eruption of a new anti-Israel uprising in the West Bank, and they have been emboldened by the recent failure of the UN General Assembly to adopt a US-sponsored resolution condemning Hamas and other Palestinian groups for firing rockets at Israel and inciting violence.
The Hamas-engineered attacks are not only a threat to Israeli civilians and soldiers; they also undermine the Western-funded Palestinian Authority (PA) of Mahmoud Abbas. Each "successful" attack carried out by Hamas earns it more popularity in the West Bank, at the cost of Abbas and his regime.
Now that Hamas is getting what it wants in the Gaza Strip -- millions of dollars and no war with Israel -- it is seeking to shift the attention to the West Bank, all with the help of its friends in Tehran. This has a twofold goal: to undermine or overthrow the Palestinian Authority, inflict heavy casualties on Israel, and thwart any peace plan brought forward by the US administration.
Hamas and its allies are openly working to export their "armed struggle" against Israel beyond the Gaza Strip and ultimately to take control of the West Bank. Pictured: Masked Hamas terrorists.
It is clear by now that Hamas is behind some of the recent terror attacks against Israelis in the West Bank. These attacks serve the interests of Hamas and its friends and sponsors, especially the Palestinian Islamic Jihad organization -- and Iran.
Hamas and its allies have a plan, and they are not even keeping it a secret -- to export their "armed struggle" against Israel beyond the Gaza Strip and ultimately to take control of the West Bank.
The latest terrorist attack took place on December 9 outside the West Bank settlement of Ofra, east of Ramallah. An Israeli-Canadian citizen, Amichai Ish-Ran, and this pregnant wife, Shira, were among seven people wounded in a drive-by shooting attack. The baby born prematurely as a result of the terrorist attack died on December 12, after doctors fought to save his life for close to 72 hours.
Hamas, which later claimed responsibility for the attack, was the first Palestinian faction to commend the terrorists. So far, not a single Palestinian faction has come out against the attack, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's ruling Fatah faction.
Describing the shooting attack as a "heroic and qualitative operation," representatives of Hamas and several Palestinian factions said that it demonstrated that the Palestinian "resistance was still alive in the West Bank." They also called on Palestinians to "step up the intifada (uprising) against Israel, specifically settlers and Israel Defense Forces soldiers.
"The West Bank has taken the initiative of resisting the occupation," Hamas said in a statement published in the Gaza Strip shortly after the terrorist attack. The attack, Hamas added, "came to affirm our people's legitimate right to resist the occupation at a time when the occupation, together with Israel, had tried to criminalize our resistance."
This stance by Hamas points at two important factors; first, that Hamas and its allies are openly working and encouraging the eruption of a new anti-Israel uprising in the West Bank; and, second, that Hamas and its friends have been emboldened by the recent failure of the UN General Assembly to adopt a US-sponsored resolution condemning Hamas and other Palestinian groups for firing rockets at Israel and inciting violence.
Hamas's dream of spreading its ideology to all Palestinians is as old as its foundation 31 years ago. Hamas is not interested in ruling only the Gaza Strip. It wants the West Bank, Jerusalem, and all the land, "from the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea." Hamas does not believe in negotiations or peaceful settlements. Rather, it believes that the only way to "liberate" Muslim land is through jihad. This goal is why, it says, it remains committed to the option of "armed struggle" against Israel.
As Hamas clearly states in its charter:
"The Islamic Resistance Movement strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine, for under the wing of Islam followers of all religions can coexist in security and safety where their lives, possessions and rights are concerned." (Article 6)
The Hamas charter leaves no doubt as to the methods it believes should be used to employed to solve the Israeli-Arab conflict:
"There is no solution for the Palestinian issue except through jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors." (Article 13)
The Hamas charter, which is relevant today more than ever, states unambiguously that the movement "believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Muslim generations until Judgement Day. It or any part of it, should not be squandered; it, or any part of it, should not be given up. (Article 11).
From here, it is easy to understand why Hamas continues to celebrate and applaud every terrorist attack against Israel, whether in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank or inside Israel proper. Hamas sees these "heroic and brave operations" as an implementation of its ideology of waging jihad to "liberate the land of Palestine." Even if the terrorists who carried out the recent shootings in the West Bank do not belong to Hamas, their attacks are completely compatible with Hamas's declared goals and ambitions, the most prominent of which is seeing Israel removed from the map.
Hamas has good reason to celebrate not only the attacks, but what it perceives as a series of "achievements" that it has gained in recent weeks. These "achievements" include the $30 million in Qatari cash grants that were delivered to Hamas in the past few weeks so that it can pay salaries and stipends to tens of thousands of its employees and supporters, as well as the failure of the UN General Assembly to adopt the anti-Hamas resolution. These two steps have left Hamas leaders laughing all the way to the next shooting attack on Israel.
The Qatari funds are being delivered to Hamas as part of unwritten understandings regarding a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip. The purpose of the funds is to help solve the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip and prevent the eruption of another major military confrontation between Hamas and Israel. Hamas, however, has thus far done nothing to stop the violence, including weekly protests that began last March along the border with Israel. On the contrary, Hamas is now saying -- and there is good reason to believe it -- that the demonstrations will continue. Hamas is also saying the that it was not required to pay any "political price" for a purported ceasefire.
The ceasefire understandings between Hamas and Israel, which were reportedly achieved through the mediation of Qatar, Egypt and the UN, are only related to the Gaza Strip, and have nothing to do with the West Bank. Because these understandings are limited to the Gaza Strip, Hamas, believes it has a green light to continue launching and directing terrorist attacks from the West Bank without being accused of violating the ceasefire.
The UN, Qatar and Egypt should have demanded that any ceasefire agreement include the West Bank, where Hamas still has several armed cells as well as significant support.
The Hamas-engineered attacks are not only a threat to Israeli civilians and soldiers; they also undermine the Western-funded Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas. Each "successful" attack carried out by Hamas earns it more popularity in the West Bank, at the cost of Abbas and his regime.
Evidently, members and friends of Hamas have interpreted the failure to adopt the US resolution as a pass from the UN and the international community to continue their "resistance" against Israel. They perceive the failure of the US administration as a "big achievement" -- one that permits the Palestinians to continue all forms of "resistance" against Israel, including the "armed struggle." It is no coincidence, then, that Hamas has responded to the debacle at the UN General Assembly by pledging to remain committed to an "armed struggle" against Israel.
Every dollar and every concession that is being made to Hamas will only increase its appetite to continue its plan to extend its control beyond the Gaza Strip. From Hamas's point of view, its plan has won legitimacy from the UN and important players in the region such as Qatar and Egypt. As long as Hamas feels that it is marching in the right direction, we are likely to see an increase in armed attacks and other forms of violence in the West Bank.
Now that Hamas is getting what it wants in the Gaza Strip -- millions of dollars and no war with Israel -- it is seeking to shift its attention to the West Bank, all with the help of its friends in Tehran. This has a twofold goal: to undermine or overthrow Abbas's Palestinian Authority, inflict heavy casualties on Israel, and thwart any peace plan brought forward by the US administration. In other words, Hamas and Iran now have their sights set on the West Bank, and this is reason not only for Israel to worry, but Abbas as well.
*Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem, is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at Gatestone Institute.
© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Rouhani’s Threat to Shut the Strait of Hormuz—More Than Bluster? Matthew Levitt

Matthew Levitt/The American Interest/December 14/18
There are reasons—and historical precedent—to think Tehran will lash out if it feels cornered.
Last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani threatened that if the United States blocks Iran’s oil exports then “no oil will be exported from the Persian Gulf.” This may be nothing more than hot air, but as tensions mount over the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions against Iran and Iran’s increasing malign activities around the world—assassination plots in Europe, fomenting instability in the region, ballistic missile tests, and more—Iranian threats against its Gulf neighbors cannot be ignored.
In fact, one could make the argument that this week marks the unhappy anniversary of three and a half decades of Iranian terrorist proxy warfare in the region. Thirty-five years ago this week, on December 12, 1983, Iran sent Lebanese and Iraqi Shi‘a terrorist proxies to carry out a series of coordinated bombings over the course of two hours. The attacks targeted Western interests in Kuwait, including the U.S. and French embassies, the Kuwaiti airport, a site near the Raytheon Corporation’s grounds, at a Kuwait National Petroleum Company oil rig, and a government-owned power station. The seventh attack, outside a post office, was defused. Six people were killed and some 87 wounded in the attacks.
The bombings took Kuwaiti officials by surprise, but the damage could have been much worse—perhaps worse than that in the Beirut bombings—had the bombs been properly wired. As it happened, faulty engineering prevented three quarters of the explosives planted at the American Embassy compound from detonating, saving many lives. Shoddy planning also reduced the destructiveness of the attacks: a truck carrying two hundred gas cylinders primed to explode at the National Petroleum Company site went off 150 yards from a refinery and just a few yards shy of a pile of flammable chemicals. Had the truck been better placed, some commented, the oilfield might have burned for months. More adept operational planning might also have resulted in the destruction of Kuwait’s primary water-desalination plant, located within the premises.
Over the course of the next few years, Iran would continue to dispatch operatives from Lebanese Hezbollah, Iraqi Dawa, and a variety of local Shi‘a militants from Kuwait, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia to carry out attacks on Tehran’s behalf across the region. As early as 1985, the CIA would note that “Iran generally employs radical Lebanese or Iraqi Shi‘a groups in its terrorist operations.” More than three decades later, Tehran has perfected the use of what it now describes as a “Shi‘a Liberation Army,” under the command of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps—Qods Force, to foment regional instability and project Iranian power beyond its borders.
Seventeen operatives were convicted and jailed in Kuwait for their roles in the December 1983 plots, including three Lebanese Hezbollah operatives. One was a cousin of Hezbollah leader Husein al-Musawi, while another was Mustafa Badredinne, brother-in-law and cousin of Hezbollah terrorist mastermind Imad Mughniyeh. Their incarceration led to many more terrorist plots around the world aimed, at least in part, in securing their freedom.
For example, on December 3, 1984, Hezbollah operatives hijacked Kuwait Airways flight 221, killed two Americans, and demanded the release of the so-called “Kuwait 17.” Hezbollah operatives hijacked Kuwait Airways flight 422 in April 1988, killing a Kuwaiti citizen and again demanding the release of the Kuwait 17.
But the most brazen plot occurred in May 1985, when a car filled with explosives rammed the royal motorcade of the Emir of Kuwait, killing three people and injuring 12, including the Emir, who suffered minor lacerations. “We hope the Emir has received our message,” an anonymous caller warned on behalf of Hezbollah’s Islamic Jihad Organization, “we ask one more time for the release of those held or all the thrones of the Gulf will be shaken.” Just ten days earlier, Hezbollah issued another warning to the United States, France, and Kuwait demanding the release of the Kuwait 17. American and French hostages were being held to force Washington and Paris into pressuring Kuwait to release the 17 jailed terrorists, according to a note that accompanied the photos of four American and two French hostages. The note threatened “horrible catastrophe” for the hostages if the Kuwait 17 were not released. An anonymous caller told a French news agency that “the U.S. government should await the largest military operation it has ever known,” adding, “[We have] been preparing this surprise for a long time.” The caller also threatened to target Kuwaiti diplomats worldwide. Iranian proxy agents struck ten days later, but instead of targeting American or French interests, or Kuwaiti diplomats, it came very close to assassinating the Kuwaiti emir in his own backyard. Once more, the plot was carried out by a combination of Lebanese Hezbollah and Iraqi Dawa operatives.
In these and other attacks, Lebanese and Iraqi operatives acted in the explicit service of Iran. In 1986, the CIA assessed in a now-declassified report that, while Iran’s support for terrorism was meant to further its national interests, including dissuading Kuwait from supporting Iraq militarily in the Iran-Iraq War, this support also stemmed from the clerical regime’s perception “that it has a religious duty to export its Islamic revolution and to wage, by whatever means, a constant struggle against the perceived oppressor states.”
Iran increased its involvement in international terrorism in 1987, the CIA noted in a February 1988 report, including terrorist plots well beyond Lebanon’s borders in Europe and the Gulf. For Kuwait, these included bombings targeting Kuwaiti oil installations in January, April, and May. In July, two Kuwaiti brothers who underwent sabotage training in Iran died when the bomb they were placing in front of the building housing the Air France ticket office detonated prematurely. As the year closed out, Iranian proxy operatives carried out arson and bombing attacks at Kuwait University, the Pan American ticket office, the Ministry of Interior, and the office of a U.S.-owned insurance company. “Iranian leaders view terrorism as an important instrument of foreign policy,” the report assessed, “which in 1987 they were willing to use to advance national goals and to export the regime’s Islamic revolutionary ideals.” Describing what Iran did in 1987 and could well be planning again today, the report noted that “Tehran used the threat of terrorism, along with attacks on Gulf shipping, to discourage Kuwait and the other moderate Arab Gulf states from supporting the U.S. reflagging effort.”
Even back in the 1980s, Iran understood the utility of having non-Iranian Shi‘a forces at its disposal to carry out attacks that provide Tehran with a measure of reasonable deniability. Together, Tehran already understood, Iran and its allied Shi‘a militants could achieve asymmetric victories of larger, more powerful adversaries. The CIA assessed in early 1988 that “in the Iranian view, Tehran and its Shi‘a allies forced the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Lebanon, humiliating the United States and bringing into question the idea that Washington could use its military forces to influence political developments in the Middle East.” Iranian leaders drew parallels between what Iran and its militants Shi‘a allies achieved with the 1983 and 1984 U.S. Embassy and Marine Barracks bombings in Beirut and what they could do then, in 1987, to disrupt U.S. plans to protect Kuwaiti oil tankers in the Gulf.
There are several reasons to be concerned that Iran may be making similar calculations today and that Rouhani’s threat to shut the Strait of Hormuz might be something more than bluster. The sanctions re-imposed by the United States are tremendously impactful, even without full European cooperation. And Europe appears willing to consider some more sanctions on Iran in the wake of Iranian assassination plots in Europe and an escalation in Iranian ballistic missile testing in violation of existing UN security resolutions. If Iran feels cornered, it may lash out. And it would have the means to do so through its allies—whether that means rocket attacks against Israel from Hamas and Hezbollah, attacks on coalition forces in Iraq, or attacks targeting Gulf states. In fact, some of the people leading Iran’s most capable proxy forces today first cut their teeth in the Kuwait operations back in the 1980s. Consider people like Lebanese Hezbollah leaders Fuad Shukr and Talal Hamiyeh, both of whom played key roles in Hezbollah attacks in the 1980s and are senior operational leaders today. Perhaps it should not surprise that under their leadership Hezbollah has not only dispatched terrorist operatives around the world but also maintained large caches of weapons in places in Nigeria and Kuwait.
But the most prominent example involves Jamal Jafar Muhammad Ali, better known as Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, one of the operatives convicted in absentia for his role in the 1983 Kuwait bombings and the 1985 plot to assassinate the Emir of Kuwait. Back then, Muhandis was a young Iraqi Dawa operative who worked hand-in-glove with Lebanese Hezbollah operatives. Muhandis went on to lead the Badr Corps, the militant wing of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). As head of the Badr Corps, Muhandis worked directly with the Qods Force, became an Iranian citizen, and served as a senior advisor to Qods Force leader General Qassem Suleimani. Today, Muhandis leads Kataib Hezbollah, one of the most extreme Iraqi Shi‘a militant groups and a key part of Iran’s network of Shi‘a militant allies.
“Export of the revolution is a central tenet of the clerical regime in Iran, and terrorism has been a primary instrument in advancing this objective,” the CIA assessed in 1986. Even after all these years, exporting the revolution remains the prime directive of the Qods Force and its Shi‘a militant allies. Retired IRGC commander Brigadier General Mohammad Ali Falaki explained in 2016 that Tehran’s proxy forces—from Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and beyond—together form “a Shi‘a Liberation Army whose commander is [Qods Force leader] Hajj Qassem Soleimani.” Iranians may lead some of these units, but “Iranian forces are not meant to comprise all of this army,” he explained.
Today, Iran provides weapons, training, funding, and intelligence support to component elements of this Shi‘a Liberation Army. On display in a hangar at Joint Base Anacostia—Bolling in Washington, DC, is a collection of Iranian weapons—from small arms and grenades to short range ballistic missiles, surface to air missiles, anti-tank guided missiles, and drones—which Iran supplied to proxies in Afghanistan, Bahrain, and Yemen.
Among the other weapons systems on display at the so-called Iran Material Display were unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) capable of carrying explosive payloads and a remote controlled Shark-33 boat of the type that was filled with explosives and targeted the Saudi frigate HMS al-Madinah in January 2017. Technicians collected ninety sets of GPS coordinates from the boat’s remote control computer system, including locations in the Red Sea, in Yemen, in the Strait of Hormuz, and in Iran. GPS coordinates for one of two locations in Tehran corresponds to the Self-Sufficiency Jihad Organization, which is responsible for the research and development of Iran’s ballistic missiles, among other things. In fact, images found on the Shark-33 computer guidance system show the likely production, assembly, or testing of at least seven additional such computers at this IRGC facility in eastern Tehran. In one picture, an IRGC hat sits on top of one of the boxes. Iran, it appears, is actively producing and providing to its proxies weapons systems specifically intended to threaten freedom of navigation—which explains why officials take seriously the Iranian President’s threats to prevent the export of oil through the Strait of Hormuz.
This new evidence of Iran’s missile proliferation is compelling, and represents evidence of clear violations of several UN Security Council resolutions banning Iran from exporting weapons. But it is only the latest manifestation of Iran’s support for terrorist activities targeting its neighbors in the Gulf and beyond—something that can be traced back to events in Kuwait that took place 35 years ago this week.
**Matthew Levitt is the Fromer-Wexler senior fellow and director of the Reinhard program on counterterrorism and intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He is the author of Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God.

Egypt: Muslim Policeman Murders Two Christians While Guarding Their Church
ريموند إبراهيم: ضابط مصري مسلم يقتل اثنين من المسيحيين فيما كانا يحرسان كنيستهم

Raymond Ibrahim/December 14/18
A Muslim policeman charged with guarding a Coptic Christian church shot and killed two Christians—a father, 49, and his son, 21—last night in Minya, Egypt.
Eyewitnesses say a verbal quarrel had ensued before the officer pulled out his gun and opened fire on the two men.
Video footage of the incident shows the killer-cop brandishing his gun as he stalks around the bloodied but still moving Christians on the ground. He loudly curses them—or all Copts in general?—as “mother-f*****s.” Two other police officers arrive and nonchalantly watch.
The office of the prosecutor charged the murderer with “beating that led to death”—as opposed to “killing” which could lead to a death sentence; seven years in prison is the maximum penalty for the current charge.
Thousands of angry Christians attended the funeral today, chanting kyri eleison (“Lord have mercy!), and “One, two—but where are the rights of the martyrs!”
Coptic Solidarity said in a statement:
Whatever punishment—if any!—the killer policeman may end up getting, the real culprit in this heinous crime is nothing but the authorities themselves, as they have allowed impunity to killers of Copts time and again, making it easy for anybody having an argument with a Copt to pull a gun, or knife, and just kill.
The outright slaughter of Copts by Muslim officers is not unprecedented in Egypt. In 2011 an off-duty policeman boarded a train, identified some of its passengers as Coptic Christians (based on the tattoo of the cross on some of their wrists) and opened fire, killing one elderly Christian and wounding four others — even as he shouted Islam’s war cry, “Allahu Akbar.”
More common are incidents such as that which transpired in the village of Beni Suef a few months back: a Muslim “policeman tasked with guarding the church from extremists instead aggressively entered the church and hurled insults at the congregation, calling them infidels. The other policemen reportedly remained outside of the church during the incident.” One member of the church said, “The Christian villagers are very distressed and want a strong stand from official persons.”
The murdered Christian father, ‘Imad, and his son, Kamal.
Unfortunately, “official persons” of all sorts tend not to be much better. According to the World Watch List (2018), Egyptian “officials at any level from local to national” are “strongly responsible” for the “oppression” of Egypt’s Christians. “Government officials,” the report adds, “also act as drivers of persecution through their failure to vindicate the rights of Christians and also through their discriminatory acts which violate the fundamental rights of Christians.”
While the authorities themselves are sometimes the persecutors, as in this most recent incident — or the ongoing phenomenon of Muslim military men killing Christian soldiers on account of their faith—they more often function as enablers, allowing a culture of impunity to thrive.
Earlier today Coptic Bishop Makarious likened the killing of two Christians at the hand of an officer guarding their church as having “a fox guard the hen house.” He added that this incident is worse than the St. Samuel Monastery attacks—where scores of Copts were massacred by Islamic terrorists on two separate occasions—as it involves, not outlaws, but a lawman.
All this begs the question: whereas it may be understandable that President Sisi cannot eliminate terrorism—after all, terrorists operate surreptitiously and work “in the shadows”—what about the fact that his very own government openly persecutes and occasionally even murders Coptic Christians—all right under his nose?
**Picture enclosed: Muslim officer stands near his handiwork: the bloodied and dying bodies of two Christians.
Coptic Solidarity

Senate Votes to End US Support for Saudi War, Bucking Trump

The Hill/December 14/18
The Senate approved a resolution Thursday to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, dealing a significant blow to President Trump amid heightened tensions over the death of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Senators voted 56-41 on the resolution, which would require the president to withdraw any troops in or “affecting” Yemen within 30 days unless they are fighting al Qaeda. The resolution would still need to be passed by the House before it could be sent to Trump, who has threatened to veto it. The House on Wednesday narrowly approved a rule governing debate on the farm bill that included a provision that would prevent lawmakers from forcing a war powers vote this year. Still, the Senate vote Thursday underscores the depth of frustration with Saudi Arabia on Capitol Hill, as well as the escalating gap between the White House and Congress on the relationship between the U.S. and the kingdom. “I hope … we send a loud and powerful message by passing this resolution. That we’re going to bring peace to that country and that the United States Congress is going to reassert its constitutional authority to be the body that makes war not the president,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), one of the sponsors of the resolution, told reporters.
It’s a dramatic U-turn from less than nine months ago when the chamber pigeonholed the same resolution, refusing to vote it out of committee and on to full Senate. At the time, 10 Democrats joined 45 Republicans in opposing it.
The resolution's passage comes two days after Trump maintained that he would stand by the Saudi government and specifically Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom U.S. intelligence officials reportedly believe ordered Khashoggi's killing inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in early October. A growing number of senators also believe the crown prince is responsible for the death of Khashoggi, who was a vocal critic of Saudi leadership and lived in Virginia while serving as a columnist for The Washington Post. The Senate passed a separate resolution Thursday afternoon specifically naming the crown prince as responsible for Khashoggi's death.
Trump told Reuters on Tuesday that Riyadh has been “a very good ally” and “at this moment” sticking with Saudi Arabia means standing by the crown prince. The Trump administration had led a lobbying effort to try to quash the Senate resolution withdrawing U.S. support for the military campaign in Yemen.
In addition to a veto threat, the administration sent Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to brief senators and urge them to oppose the resolution. The House was expected to get the same briefing on Thursday. And CIA Director Gina Haspel has met with a group of Senate and House lawmakers earlier this month, but she only appeared to solidify the belief among senators that the crown prince is responsible.Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters after the briefing that “there's not a smoking gun, there's a smoking saw” tying the crown prince to the death — a direct rebuke to Mattis’s claim that there isn’t a “smoking gun” linking the crown prince. Backers of the Yemen resolution did lose some GOP support since the initial procedural vote late last month. Some Republicans, including Graham, say they voted initially to advance the resolution because of the message it sent to Saudi Arabia and not because of the substance of the resolution.
Outgoing Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said Wednesday that he couldn’t support the Yemen resolution but “I know that Lee-Sanders has the votes.”Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) urged opposition to the measure on Wednesday, while acknowledging members have "legitimate concerns" about Yemen and share "grave concerns" about Khashoggi's death. "[But] we also want to preserve the 70-year partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia and we want to ensure it continues to serve American interests and stabilizes a dangerous and critical region," McConnell said. He added that the dynamic presents "challenging circumstances" but "the Sanders-Lee resolution is neither precise enough or prudent enough.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee who also opposes the resolution, wrote in a Fox News op-ed Wednesday that while “the Saudis must answer for Khashoggi’s murder” the Sanders-Lee resolution “risks emboldening Iran and increasing the suffering of the Yemeni people.”Corker, who spearheaded the resolution finding the crown prince responsible for Khashoggi's death, had negotiated for days with Senate leadership on that resolution. "Unanimously the United States Senate has said that Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. That is a strong statement. I think it speaks to the values that we hold dear. ... I'm glad the Senate is speaking with once voice unanimously toward this end," Corker said shortly after the vote Thursday.

Strasbourg Shooting Suspect Killed by Police, Paris Authorities Say
CNN International/December 14/18
The man suspected of killing at least three people and wounding 13 others at Strasbourg's famed Christmas market has been killed by French police, following a shoot-out not far from the scene of Tuesday's attack.
Cherif Chekatt, 29, was shot dead on Thursday evening, two days after he first disappeared sparking a massive manhunt involving hundreds of police officers, soldiers and anti-terror specialists from three European countries.
French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said police recognized a man who looked like Chekatt walking on the street in Strasbourg's Neudorf district on Thursday night and approached him. He opened fire on officers when they tried to question him, he said.
Police returned fire, killing the suspect, Castaner said. "As I am speaking to you, I am thinking about the victims and the wounded. I am thinking of those close to them. I am thinking of Strasbourg and France that was hit by this terrible attack," Castaner said.On Thursday, Strasbourg police said the death toll from the attack had risen to three, after one person succumbed to their injuries. Five people remain in serious condition with eight others suffering light injures.
The hunt prompted a curfew in the eastern French city near the German border and forced the country to raise its national security threat level to its highest status: "emergency terror attack."
French prosecutors said the suspect shouted the Arabic phrase "Allahu Akbar," meaning "God is greatest," at the time of the attack.
"It's relief for the people of Strasbourg to know that the attacker has been killed," Strasbourg Mayor Roland Ries said, adding that the Christmas market would reopen on Friday. The French National Police thanked the public for their assistance in finding Chekatt. "Thank you for your alerts which allowed us to find the wanted individual," the National Police said on Twitter.
Earlier on Thursday, Paris prosecutor's office said that a fifth person was taken into custody in relation to the attack. "At this stage there are five people in custody," a spokesperson said.
Authorities said Chekatt entered the perimeter of the market, one of the oldest in Europe, by the city's Corbeau Bridge and started shooting and stabbing passers-by on the Rue des Orfevres around 8 p.m., when many were in the middle of their Christmas shopping. Anti-terror police flooded the market and tried to arrest the suspected gunman. He exchanged fire with security forces, suffering an injury to his arm. The suspected gunman then jumped into a taxi and fled the scene, Heitz said. On Thursday, French police evacuated buildings and cordoned off the area close to where Chekatt had fled. The gunman's father, mother and two brothers were also questioned by police, a source close to the investigation told CNN.
Checkatt was already known to security services as a possible threat, police said. He has an extensive criminal background that includes 27 convictions in France, Germany and Switzerland, mostly for acts of robbery and violence.
A spokeswoman for the Swiss Federal Police, Cathy Maret, told CNN that Chekatt was well known to authorities there, having been arrested and convicted several times in Switzerland for crimes such as break-ins, theft and violence. He was not on their radar as a radical Islamist or for narcotics violations, she said.In 2017, he was deported from Germany to France after the Interior Ministry in the German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg confirmed he had been convicted of break-ins and serious theft in 2016 and spent time in a German prison. The German Federal Criminal Office said the suspect was not known in Germany as a radical Islamist. However, Chekatt was known to French prison officials for being radicalized and for his proselytizing behavior in detention in 2015, Paris prosecutor Heitz said, adding that he had been incarcerated multiple times. He was also on a French watch list called a "Fiche S" surveillance file. The "Fiche S" is a French terror and radicalization watch list that includes thousands of people, some of whom are under active surveillance, meaning they are on law enforcement's radar. Hours before the attack, French gendarmes tried to bring Chekatt in for questioning but found he wasn't home, a spokesperson for France's National Police told CNN earlier this week, without providing further details. Chekatt was born in Strasbourg, according to CNN affiliate BFM.

Iranian regime is the basis of scourge in Middle East
Mohammed Al Shaikh/Al Arabiya/December 14/18
One of Iran’s defensive tactics is to bribe and employ Arab traitors for stirring up unrest in their countries. These traitors sacrifice the security of their own countries in order to serve the interest of the abhorrent Persian enemy. Prominent among these Persian proxies are those found in Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen. In Lebanon, Hezbollah controls security and the country’s peace and war decisions. As for the Lebanese army, it is weak and helpless in front of Hezbollah’s strength. In fact, Lebanese generals solicit the blessings of Hezbollah to seek promotion within the army.
Ironically, President Aoun is the main ally of Hezbollah that is both against the army and the government. The party is loyal only to the clerics in Tehran. Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah blatantly admits this and even states that the expenses of his party and the wages of the militia come from Vilayat-e Faqih. Nasrallah, does not mind to turn Lebanon and its capabilities into the first line of defense for Persian clerics. The same approach – though in a lesser degree – is followed by Iranian militias in Iraq. These militias control the Iraqi parliament and impede the passing of any piece of legislation that Tehran may find incompatible with its interest.
No parliamentary resolution is allowed to pass unless Tehran approves it. Meanwhile, in Yemen, the Houthis and their leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi cannot take any independent decision. Orders come from Tehran and they are implemented in Yemen.The mullahs’ state is currently reeling under an American economic blockade, which might last a long time. Therefore, these Iranian proxies do not mind destroying their own countries for the sake of Vilayat-e-Faqih. In my view, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen may witness serious developments in 2019, a year that might seriously undermine security and peace in these countries
No choice but to obey
These militias are ready to turn their states into ashes to carry out Vilayat-e-Faqih orders. They consider this as divine ordinance, which the Shiite soldier have no choice but to obey. Lebanon is now escalating tensions with Israel to blackmail the Americans to lift the siege on Iran.
I believe that the Israelis would find a chance to settle their score with Hezbollah especially as Trump’s America has put its entire weight to pressure Iran into either complying with US conditions or suffer the gradual increase in the siege till it destroys Iran’s weak economy which even though it can resist the sanctions’ consequences on the short term, it cannot do so on the medium and long term. It seems that the US whose decisions are controlled by hawks is determined to proceed with the blockade. However, before Iran is destroyed, it would destroy Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen along the way.
In my view, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen may witness serious developments in 2019, a year that might seriously undermine security and peace in these countries. The first country to pose the biggest problem for the Americans might be Lebanon.
Anyway, I am certain that the whole of the Middle East would not calm down and security will not be established until this regime is overthrown as it is the prime source which terrorists derive the reasons for their existence.

The Hodeidah agreement, beginning or an end?
Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/December 14/18
Hodeidah, the city with its three ports, Saleef, Ras Isa and Hodeidah itself, has been liberated from the Houthis’ sway. This is the summary of the Sweden agreement announced by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Thursday. He said agreeing over Hodeidah was one of the most difficult issues they faced, adding: “We are witnessing the beginning of the end to the Yemeni crisis.”Perhaps, the world’s first man of diplomacy, the Portuguese Guterres, is exaggerating this optimism but there’s no doubt that when it comes to the agreement reached during Sweden’s negotiations, international British envoy Martin Griffiths, the delegation of Yemeni legitimacy, and if you want you can say the Houthis as well, take some credit. But hold on, would Hodeidah’s main port, the two other ports, Saleef and Ras Isa, and the city itself, would be liberated just like that in a “sudden Houthi patriotic rational” moment?
The Houthis backed on their common stubbornness – their stalling regarding the Kuwait conference is well-known – under the force of arms, the arms of the legitimacy and Arab-Islamic alliance, which was a stone’s throw from the port.
Hence, if it hadn’t been for the speed of Griffiths and the UN, and the west behind them, to launch the Sweden dialogue, we would have now been talking about a complete military liberation of Hodeidah. It’s true that the humanitarian and financial cost would then be great but these are wars at the end, especially wars with nihilist groups like the Houthis.A joyful Guterres, who’s thrilled that the agreement has been signed between the two parties told reporters, while photos were taken and handshakes were exchanged between the Houthi Mohammed Abdelsalam and the legitimacy representative Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani, that the UN will play a “major observer role.”If it hadn’t been for the speed of Griffiths and the UN, and the west behind them, to launch the Sweden dialogue, we would have now been talking about a complete military liberation of Hodeidah
Deadline for withdrawals
There is a deadline for withdrawals accompanied with vigilant supervision to implement the plan including not having “revolutionary supervisors,” i.e. Houthis, in governmental departments in Hodeidah. Yamani frankly said that he will not engage in other negotiations until the Hodeidah agreement is completed.
As for the coalition’s camp in support of legitimacy, the picture is clear. Prince Khalid bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US, said on Twitter: “Approving (this agreement) would not have been achieved today hadn’t it been for military pressure.” UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said the same thing. The question is: Does this mean the end of war in Yemen? I think this is an exaggeration. Let’s keep in mind that the agreement over the use of the Sanaa airport failed during the Sweden’s negotiations, and the same happened with other economic issues. Hence the security situation and the military pressure imposed themselves on the table of negotiations. This is exactly the essence of the Yemeni legitimacy’s approach along with the Coalition’s as the Houthis do not submit except by military power. The Hodeidah agreement proved the accuracy of this approach. Other military, political and media stories, maneuvers, negotiations and attack and retreat have stayed in Yemen’s war. However, there is no doubt that a candle was lit yesterday (Thursday) in Yemen’s darkness.

In ailing Europe, France is confused

Ghassan Charbel/Al Arabiya/December 14/18
In democracies, public opinion is a reckless and insidious horse. It takes you to the palace in a powerful wave, but quickly expects you to do miracles beyond your powers, disregarding the bureaucratic, political and psychological obstacles. The moment you fail to astonish it, it begins to disseminate its remorse through frustrations, protests and settling of accounts.
Today, technology has changed the rules of the game. It made it harder and more dangerous. With smartphones, every citizen has become an independent party. Everyone has his own newspaper on his phone screen. Everyone has been granted the opportunity to harass, oppose, condemn and circulate news and rumors.Social media can assemble scattered opinions and turn them into rivers, and accumulate dispersed winds into a thundery storm. In the past, authorities were monitoring prominent parties, unions and rebels. But now, how is it possible to implant a policeman in the phone and mind of every citizen?
A few weeks ago, Emmanuel Macron was able to achieve great dreams despite the polls that confirmed the massive fall in the high tide that took him to the Elysee Palace. The European stadium awaited a man who could speak on behalf of the continent and not only on behalf of his country. The European scene was tempting. Chancellor Angela Merkel, who in recent years has been the backbone of European joint work, has begun to prepare for her departure. She abandoned the leadership of the party to later leave the Chancellery headquarters.
On the other hand, British Prime Minister Theresa May is busy completing divorce proceedings with the European Union, struggling on the Brussels front and trying to avoid the stabs of her opponents and the daggers of her fellow party members. Trump’s arrival to the White House is not a simple event. His way of managing America and world affairs is new, strange, difficult to ignore and hard to catch up with
Merkel’s path to retirement
Only France seemed eligible to fill the void that would be caused by Merkel’s path to retirement and May’s European divorce. Macron was preparing himself for this major role. Europe is not at its best. The misunderstanding between the two sides of the Atlantic is strong.
Donald Trump uses a dictionary that is hard for the leaders of the ancient continent to accept. He demands Europe to assume greater responsibilities in self-defense. He reminds its leaders that the US military has saved the continent twice, but America is tired of generous spending to ensure the safety of its allies. Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, misses no opportunity to weaken the Atlantic and Western spirit. He regained Crimea under the logic of reuniting the branch with its trunk. He shook the stability of Ukraine, reminding the Europeans that Russia will not tolerate attempts to besiege it, encircle it or regard it as a second-level force.
The issue is not just about US-Russian rivalry. Europe must try to find a place in the new world that is taking shape. The Asian advancement is no longer a mere media speculation. It is a tangible fact. Beijing is living under the strongest leadership it has known since Mao Zedong.
The master of the world’s second economy wants more than the Silk Road for his country. In parallel with China’s ascension, one must bear in mind India’s technological advances, which qualify it to be a big player in the coming phase, alongside America, China and Europe.
More than ever, the world seems blown away by surprises. Trump’s arrival to the White House is not a simple event. His way of managing America and world affairs is new, strange, difficult to ignore and hard to catch up with. When America changes, the world changes too. Putin’s Russia is not an easy opponent either. The tsar manipulates the cards, moves his pawns and then asks the world to acknowledge his gains. At this time, Europe seems confused, suggesting sometimes that it was swiftly founded while ignoring that its countries are advancing at different paces.
Exit the EU
It is not easy for the British people to choose to exit the EU and then find out at the Brexit advocates do not have a convincing plan to face the burden of divorce.
Public opinion sometimes commits costly adventures under the weight of populist voices, discontent with taxes, declining confidence in the political class, and the flow of news and illusions through social media. Macron dreamed of qualifying France for a bigger role in Europe. He knows that the current world needs a modern economy free of the weight of old ideas and notions that prevent the economy from growing, advancing and competing. He knows that the French have to accept bitter measures if they want a sustainable economy that can attract investments. So he initiated some reforms. But the young president soon became “the president of the rich.” He was blamed for restricting the decisions at the Elysee and not giving enough space to the institutions and to the necessary efforts to motivate the ordinary citizens. The gap between the president and the street has widened and campaigns and accusations have intensified.
The French people have a long history of protests. The current president was not yet born when they flowed into the streets of Paris in May 1968. On that day, the Elysee was ran by a man named Charles de Gaulle. His powers were wide and his aura was greater. France sank into chaos and confusion, and it seemed that those who ripped up street paving stones had also uprooted the pillars of the regime.
De Gaulle chose not to surrender and bet on the French fear of the unknown fate looming on the horizon. He dissolved the national assembly, organized general elections and achieved victory. A year later, he cited disappointing results in a referendum on decentralization and stepped down. He lost hope in his ability to convince the French, who were making fun of the ordinary president and hated the president with the aura.
Macron was dreaming of the great European role when the yellow jackets took to the streets. As usual, the wrath of the people was mixed with practices of those with precedents. Among the protesters, there are those who attack the government, its taxes and policies… and those who complain about the European project itself and the Brussels directives… Right-wing radicals and extremists from the left.France is tangled between the role and its requirements, the rescue and its costs. It is a troubled country in a troubled continent, where many migrants dream of throwing themselves into its capitals.

SDF on Turkey’s anticipated offensive: There are no American reassurances
Juan Suez/Al Arabiya/December 14/18
Co-president of the Syrian Democratic Council, the political wing of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Riyad Derar commented on Turkey’s Wednesday announcement that it would soon start an operation east of the Euphrates river in northern Syria and said announcing general mobilization means readiness for all possibilities and that there were no American reassurances regarding Turkey’s threats.
“The international coalition led by Washington must be fully aware that this area did not attack (anyone) or pose any threat. Not a single bullet was fired from here towards Turkey. Hence the international coalition is aware of what’s happening on the ground in terms of confronting terrorists and working on liberating areas from ISIS and not threatening neighbors. This calls on the international coalition to take appropriate stances and not going around international decisions or the reality we’re living,” Derar told Al via a phone call.
Derar said that although the Syria Democratic Council is a rival of the Syrian regime, the Syrian state must have its decisions in terms of protecting sovereignty as this is its responsibility. “This is why we’ve previously asked the Syrian army to enter Afrin with (appropriate weapons) to defend it,” he said. “The regime continues to be silent and by doing so, it’s either an accomplice in these attacks or it submits to international agreements between Moscow and Ankara,” Derar said, adding: “The regime must know that it committed a crime by keeping silent over what happened in Afrin. Its silence again this time signifies participating in these events. We’re thus putting it before its responsibilities.”
Derar, however, noted that this time, the “scenario is different and it’s not like what happened in Afrin.” “I think the coalition forces and America in particular will not allow Turkey’s interference and may take a stance that prevent this one way or another,” he said. Derar also denied there were political agreements between Washington and the Syrian Democratic Council.
“There are no reassurances. There was no talk about this. We only read statements that condemn Turkish threats; therefore, this may be followed by reactions.” He also noted that Syria’s Democratic Forces is not equipped to confront large armies, in reference to the Turkish army.
“Our first aim is to liberate our areas from the terrorist ISIS organization. Our forces are also trying to protect borders and establish security in the areas they control,” Derar added.
Derar’s statements come after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would begin an operation “within days” to target the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara considers a “terrorist offshoot” of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The Pentagon said any unilateral military action in northern Syria would be “unacceptable.”
“Unilateral military action into northeast Syria by any party, particularly as US personnel may be present or in the vicinity, is of grave concern,” Pentagon spokesman Commander Sean Robertson said in a statement. “We would find any such actions unacceptable.”Commander-in-chief of the Syrian Democratic Forces Mazloum Kobani told Reuters on Thursday that the group will respond strongly to any Turkish attack but is pressing diplomatic efforts to deter an assault.
Two day ago, the Kurds and their allies in the de facto autonomous region in northern Syria announced general mobilization in preparation for any attacks that Ankara may launch against their areas soon. The executive council in the region called on the international community to take a stance regarding Turkish threats and called on the Assad regime to take an official stance on the matter. Many people took to the streets of Kobani and Qamishli on Thursday to protest against the expected Turkish operation east of the Euphrates.