December 16/18

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For today
No one, when tempted, should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one.
Letter of James 01/09-18: "Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the field; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. It is the same with the rich; in the midst of a busy life, they will wither away. Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. No one, when tempted, should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. Do not be deceived, my beloved. Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfilment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures."’

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on December 15-16/18
UN to Discuss Hezbollah Tunnels Amid Calls to Respect 1701
Western Officials Discuss Hezbollah's Latin Efforts
Report: Signs of ‘Blocking Third’ Impasse ‘Looms’ as Aoun Continues Govt. Discussions
Report: Berri Angry at 'Foiling' President’s Efforts ‘Last-Minute’
Security Council to Hold Meeting on Hezbollah's Cross-Border Tunnels
Berri discusses cabinet formation with Tashnag Party
German, Papal Ambassadors jointly inaugurate with Caritas Deir alQamar's Christmas Village
Khalil Presses for Reforms after Moody's Report
Sayegh Calls for Granting Unrestricted Voting Power to Expats
Public Drivers Block Vital Highway to Press Demands
Al Shamsi says declaration of 2019 as 'Year of Tolerance' in UAE is a new path of emphasizing the values of openness and dialogue
Shankar in Beirut: I bring a message of peace from India for a better future
ElKhalil honors UAE Ambassador in Hasbaya: We honor a history rich in cooperation, giving and noble stances
Islamic Council: Any deviation from Constitution's provisions undermines State's pillars
Traboulsi: Aoun provided all facilities with various parties, PMdesignate ought to find a solution
Mikati visits Dar ElFatwa: Implementing Constitution is the best solution
Ahmad Hariri meets with Papal Ambassador to Lebanon
Hezbollah evades Israeli bombs in Syria by flying Russian flag

Titles For The Latest  English LCCC  Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 15-16/18
Security Council Prepares to Support Griffiths' Peace Plan in Yemen
US Official: 'End Days' Nearing for ISIS in Syria
YPG Leader to Asharq Al-Awsat: We Are Ready to Work With Damascus to Deter Ankara
Turkey Vows to Keep Attacking PKK in Iraq
Australia Recognizes West Jerusalem as Israel's Capital
Palestinians Slam Australia's ‘Irresponsible Policies’
Netanyahu Threatens Hamas to Move War from West Bank to Gaza
Sisi Calls on Media to Reassure Egyptians
Egypt Tries to Calm Palestinian-Israeli Tensions
Political Disputes Reach Local Governments in Baghdad, Basra
Egypt Unveils 'One of a Kind' Ancient Tomb with Intact Colors and Statue
Trump: Interior Minister will leave the end of the year

Titles For The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 15-16/18
Western Officials Discuss Hezbollah's Latin Efforts/Voice of America/Saturday 15th December 2018
Hezbollah evades Israeli bombs in Syria by flying Russian flag/Alex Fishman/Ynetnews/December 15/18
Analysis/From Lebanon to Iraq: Iran’s New, Hybrid Threat to Israel/Amos Harel/Haaretz/December 15/18
An 8-Year-Old Bride/Majid Rafizadeh/Gatestone Institute/December 15/2018
End of the line for Iran’s hypocrites/Camelia Entekhabifard/Arab News/December 15/18
The Israel-Hezbollah conflict must not spiral out of control/Yossi Mekelberg/Arab News/December 15/18
Why Africa is the new big-power battleground/Dr. Theodore Karasik/Arab News/December 15/18
The ISIS demon haunts Iraq again/Adnan Hussein/Al Arabiya/December 15/18
Macron’s apology: A brave move/Randa Takieddine/Al Arabiya/December 15/18


Latest LCCC English Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on December 15-16/18
UN to Discuss Hezbollah Tunnels Amid Calls to Respect 1701

New York - Ali Barada/Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 15 December, 2018/United Nations Security Council members have approved a request for more investigations into Israeli claims that Hezbollah has built cross border tunnels in southern Lebanon. During a closed-door session, Council members also stressed the importance of allowing UN peacekeepers in south Lebanon to carry out their mission and of the Lebanese army preventing any violation of Security Council Resolution 1701. The session was held at the request of France, which has been seeking to contain a US attempt for a Council meeting that would discuss the Israeli claims on “terrorist tunnels” dug by Hezbollah across the UN-drawn Blue line. However, despite French efforts, Council members agreed to hold an open session next Wednesday as the US hopes that Israel would gather more evidence on the tunnels. A diplomat told Asharq Al-Awsat that all sea, air and land violations of Security Council Resolution 1701, “even if they were under ground,” should stop. The United Nations Peacekeeping Assistant Secretary-General for the Rule of Law and Security Institutions, Alexander Zuev, briefed the closed-door session on the preliminary findings of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). UNIFIL has confirmed the existence of a tunnel close to the Blue Line in Israel. It said that it was “engaged with parties to ensure urgent follow-up action” and “will communicate its preliminary findings to the appropriate authorities in Lebanon.”On Tuesday, UNIFIL Commander Major General Stefano Del Col briefed the Lebanese president and speaker “on developments in connection with tunnels along the Blue Line.”Yoel Strik, head of the army's northern command, has demanded the UN force "take action, investigate and make sure to neutralize the shaft of that attack tunnel" in a discussion with Del Col.

Western Officials Discuss Hezbollah's Latin Efforts
Voice of America/Saturday 15th December 2018
A U.S.-led Western Hemisphere ministerial on counterterrorism this week discussed Hezbollah's activities in Latin America, with some analysts suggesting member countries are stepping up efforts to prevent the Lebanese militant group from funneling funds from the region to make up for the money lost from close ally Iran because of U.S. sanctions. The ministerial conference, which took place Tuesday in Washington, was hosted by U.S. officials and attended by senior officials of 13 U.S. partners across the Americas. The countries discussed the threats transnational terrorist organizations, including Hezbollah, the Islamic State and al-Qaida, pose to the security of the Western Hemisphere. Nathan Sales, the U.S. State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism, in a press briefing Wednesday said recent U.S. sanctions had cut into Iran's disposable income, which previously gave Hezbollah an estimated $700 million a year. He said the group would most likely try to compensate for the lost revenue by stepping up its fundraising networks across the Middle East, Africa and South America.
Money goes elsewhere
"We've seen evidence that as we have tightened the screws on Iran by imposing sanctions, we know that the money that otherwise would have been made available to Hezbollah has to go to other purposes, which makes it even more important for us and for our partners to use our own efforts to cut off the sources of money that Hezbollah will be looking to use to make up for the revenues that they're losing as a result of sanctions on Iran," Sales told reporters during an online briefing. The U.S. government has reimposed a series of sanctions against the Iranian regime and its allies in the Middle East since May, when U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, in which Iran agreed to curtail its nuclear program for international sanctions relief. The U.S. Treasury Department so far this year has designated 31 individuals and entities linked to Hezbollah, including Jawad Nasrallah, the son of Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, as global terrorists.
Drug cartels
Sales warned Hezbollah could try to establish greater ties to Latin American drug cartels to move personnel and funnel money back home. The Lebanese militant group has been active in South America since the early 1980s. It has used its influence in the region to recruit Latin America's Lebanese diaspora, known in the region as "turcos," and other Muslim populations. In 1992, the Iran-backed group bombed the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, which left 29 people dead and 242 others injured. In another bombing in 1994, it targeted the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association, a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, killing 85 and injuring more than 300. But in recent years, the group has shifted its focus from bombings to raising money by joining South America's lucrative drug-trafficking businesses. There is no official data about how much money the group makes via dealings with organized crime in South America because of the nature of the illicit business. Officials estimate, however, about one-third of the group's revenues come from the region, particularly in its stronghold Tri-Border Area of Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil.
Money laundering
Emanuele Ottolenghi, a senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, said Hezbollah is receiving approximately $200 million a year in the Tri-Border Area alone through its laundering schemes that are responsible for moving about $600 million annually. Ottolenghi said recent steps taken by governments across the Western Hemisphere, including the ministerial conference this week, suggest that 2019 could be the year Hezbollah faces more pressure in the Americas. He said there are two reasons "we can begin to detect some change." First, "the Trump administration has started to raise the temperature on the subject of Hezbollah in Latin America. They have made considerable investment in resources to help local governments recognize the threat and start taking action," Ottolenghi said. "The second reason is that you have new governments, especially in the southern zone, that for a variety of reasons are today more willing than ever in the past to take action," he added. During his remarks Tuesday at the ministerial, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan praised progress made by South American countries to limit the activities of Hezbollah and other terror groups. But more needs to be done, he added. "Our safety depends on working with all of you on security as we continue to improve our own. We must learn from one another to develop our tools and policies, and to be both faster and smarter than those who wish to harm us," Sullivan said.
Use of casinos alleged
Last July, Argentina's Financial Intelligence Unit initiated an administrative assets freeze against 14 Lebanese nationals and Tri-Border Area residents accused of using casinos to launder money and funnel it to Hezbollah. In September, Brazilian police arrested Assad Ahmad Barakat, one of the major financial backers of Hezbollah, whose clan reportedly made purchases worth $10 million at a casino in the Argentine city of Iguazu with the intent of laundering Hezbollah's money. Matthew Levitt, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the renewed efforts by governments across the Western Hemisphere could help prevent Hezbollah from returning to violent attacks of the 1990s. "There is the issue of potential operations," said Levitt. "There was a plot that was thwarted in Peru in 2013 and also about three years ago in Bolivia. So, authorities are for good reason concerned about those long-standing activities."

Report: Signs of ‘Blocking Third’ Impasse ‘Looms’ as Aoun Continues Govt. Discussions
Naharnet/December 15/18/The results of contacts between President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, aimed at resolving the crisis of forming the government, are expected to unfold in the coming hours following Hariri's return from London today, although a solution to the impasse seem “unlikely,” the Saudi Asharq al-Awsat newspaper reported on Saturday. According to information, a solution for the representation obstacle of pro-Hizbullah Sunni MPs seems “unlikely as recognized by most parties”, said the daily. A new impasse has reportedly emerged namely the refusal of some, especially Hizbullah, to grant President Aoun and his team (headed by Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil), 11 cabinet seats granting them a power to veto the government decisions, said the daily. Before Aoun reveals the final outcome of his consultations with Hariri, member of the Strong Lebanon bloc, MP Alain Aoun said a solution for the government impasse “seems blocked as long as no one wants to back down from his conditions.” “Aoun leads the last chance to save the situation and work on forming a government. If he fails to succeed he may take a step, and no one else knows the nature of the option that he may resort to,” the MP said in remarks to the daily. He added: “Hizbullah has previously declared that it does not object to the President obtaining 11 seats. We do not know if some want to put the problem of disruption at the President to cover the real causes.” On the other hand, al-Mustaqbal Movement official told the daily on condition of anonymity: “Who is blocking the government now is one party named Hizbullah, because the agreement between Aoun and Hariri was final, and the decrees to form a government were written and ready, but were halted when the party declined to hand over the names of its ministers.
"Certainly the President has no interest in disrupting his mandate, and Hariri isn’t pleased about disrupting his mission,” he added. Furthermore, Secretary-General of al-Mustaqbal, Ahmed Hariri, said: “The PM-designate will not be subject to the will of Hizbullah and to a group of his representatives. It will not happen today, nor tomorrow or in a 100 years." He stressed that PM "will not go through a government defined by Hizbullah. His government was ready and known to the President, Speaker (Nabih Berri) and all concerned,” pointing out that President Aoun is "working to find a solution.”
In a statement indicating further “escalation”, MP Jihad al-Samad of the Consultative Gathering affirmed adherence to their stance saying: “We will only to accept to be represented as part of the Sunni share (Hariri’s), we will not accept o be represented as part of the (Strong Lebanon) bloc, and i won't accept any party to get a veto power in Cabinet.”

Report: Berri Angry at 'Foiling' President’s Efforts ‘Last-Minute’
Naharnet/December 15/18/When the presidential consultations to end the government impasse began last week, Speaker Nabih Berri was reportedly “betting on their success” in recording a breakthrough but was annoyed when that positivity “hit a brick a wall,” media reports said on Saturday. “Lack of responsiveness to the efforts of President Michel Aoun had a negative impact on Berri who expressed his obvious indignation,” said al-Joumhouria daily. “In this situation, I can’t but be more upset to the point of anger. The situation is intolerable. The country is falling apart and many are watching this fall. Unfortunately, speech is no longer useful, because there is no one to hear,” angry Berri was quoted as telling the newspaper. What annoys me the most is the fact that we were on the verge of finding a solution, but they pushed it away for reasons i have no knowledge of,” stressed the Speaker, urging political parties away from provocations. Last week, President Michel Aoun kicked off consultatons with parties related to the government formation gridlock. He held separate talks with Berri, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, and the six pro-Hizbullah Sunni MPs whose demands for representation in the new government lies in the heart of the “latest problem” delaying the formation. The last-minute Sunni hurdle emerged first 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.

Security Council to Hold Meeting on Hezbollah's Cross-Border Tunnels 15th 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.”

Berri discusses cabinet formation with Tashnag Party
Sat 15 Dec 2018/NNA - House Speaker, Nabih Berri, discussed the cabinet formation process and the latest developments with a Tashnag Party delegation, headed by Agop Pakradonian and caretaker Minister of Tourism Avedis Guidanian. After the meeting, Pakradonian expressed his hope that the main officials in the Lebanese State would exert more efforts to form a new government before the holidays. Berri also met with a delegation of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad Movement headed by Ziad Nakhali and Grand Jaafari Mufti, Sheikh Ahmad Kabalan.

German, Papal Ambassadors jointly inaugurate with Caritas Deir alQamar's Christmas Village
Sat 15 Dec 2018/NNA - National Association of Caritas Lebanon - Upper Shouf Region inaugurated on Saturday the Christmas Village in Deir al-Qamar in cooperation with the German Embassy and the Municipality of Deir al-Qamar, in presence of Papal Nuncio Joseph Spiteri and German Ambassador Martin Huth. In his word on the occasion, the German Ambassador said he feels "at home" in this village, stressing "Germany's love for Lebanon and its admiration for the historic town of Deir al-Qamar, and its appreciation for the work of Caritas Lebanon in providing humanitarian aids." In turn, the Papal Ambassador blessed the Christmas Village and said: "I will not be satisfied with blessing the Village, but the blessing will be for the people of Deir al-Qamar and the whole Shouf region."

Khalil Presses for Reforms after Moody's Report

Associated Press/Naharnet/December 15/18/Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil says that the Moody's Investors Service report that downgraded the Lebanon’s status shows the urgency of forming a new Cabinet and implementing economic reforms. Khalil's comments Friday came a day after Moody's changed Lebanon's government issuer ratings outlook from stable to negative and assigned it the rating of B3. Lebanon's economy has been under pressure for years from the war in neighboring Syria, a debt of $85 billion equal to 150 percent of its GDP and little growth.
Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri has not been able to form a Cabinet since May's parliamentary elections because of political disagreements. "The B3 rating reflects Moody's assumption that a government will be formed in the near term and will implement some fiscal consolidation," said Moody's report.

Sayegh Calls for Granting Unrestricted Voting Power to Expats 15th December 2018/Kataeb's Deputy-President Salim Sayegh called on expatriates to join efforts to demand that they would be given a full and unrestricted voting power, stressing the need to shore up the draft law submitted by Kataeb leader Samy Gemayel in this regard. Earlier this week, Gemayel proposed a draft law suggesting the amendment of the electoral law in terms of allowing expats to vote for all of the 128 parliamentary seats instead of restricting their role to just six. During a meeting with Kataeb partisans and supporters in Paris, Sayegh outlined the international movement that the party has launched to garner support to the Lebanese cause, stressing that it is aimed at preserving Lebanon’s freedoms and human dignity, promoting neutrality and safeguarding the Constitution in order to boost equality and ensure balance between local communities. He also emphasized the important role that the Kataeb party has been playing in safeguarding the Greater Lebanon, and adhering to the country's historical constants. “Safeguarding the Presidency is a national priority which can be achieved through a continuous constructive dialogue, reinforcing the immunity of the Lebanese army which is responsible of the people’s sovereignty as well as the country's political independence and democratic system," Sayegh said. "It is also a priority to preserve the national role of the Maronite Patriarchate in the midst of the decline of the Christians' presence in the East."

Public Drivers Block Vital Highway to Press Demands 15th December 2018/Public drivers on Saturday blocked the western side of the Nahr El-Kalb highway, as buses and taxi vehicles briefly hampered traffic on the main road leading to Metn and Beirut. The move is aimed at protesting the State’s failure to control and supervise competition from foreign drivers, and demanding that a public transportation plan would be approved.

Al Shamsi says declaration of 2019 as 'Year of Tolerance' in UAE is a new path of emphasizing the values of openness and dialogue
Sat 15 Dec 2018/NNA - The United Arab Emirates Embassy in Beirut distributed Saturday a speech by UAE Ambassador Hamad Saeed Al Shamsi on the occasion of declaring 2019 as the "Year of Tolerance" in the UAE. "We have been accustomed to our wise leadership's pioneering role in spreading the culture of goodness, openness and love, whereby the steps that have been taken since the announcement of the Ministry of Tolerance have been the best proof of the vision it seeks to spread across a world of conflict and crisis," said Al Shamsi. "Today, UAE President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan's declaration of 2019 as a 'Year of Tolerance' comes as a continuation of the process of consolidating and deepening the values of openness and dialogue adopted by the State," he added. The Emirates Ambassador deemed this initiative as "a source of pride and a new emphasis on moving forward on the same path and approach of the late founding father, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, God rest his soul." He noted that his country has always pursued a policy of openness and tolerance based on the principle of non-alignment to any conflicts, and continues to help the countries of the world and consolidate the values of its people in line with customs and traditions. "The attribute of tolerance is the best to build countries and protect societies, because it renounces hatred and establishes love, peace and giving, away from any other considerations," Al Shamsi stressed. "We believe in the individual person and in his right and dignity," he added. "Building of nations is our responsibility all together, so that we can pass them over faithfully to future generations...and what we are doing today is a way to a safer, more tolerant and happier future, a future that believes in women and youth and enhances their skills to lead them towards science and knowledge, which are the basis for combating extremism and terrorism," Al Shamsi concluded.

Shankar in Beirut: I bring a message of peace from India for a better future
Sat 15 Dec 2018/NNA - Humanitarian Mentor and World Peace Ambassador, Gurudev Ravi Shankar, arrived in Beirut this evening, at the invitation of the "Art of Life - Lebanon", where he will participate in several cultural meetings and seminars at the Lebanese American University in Beirut, and a seminar at the Al-Habtoor Hotel on Sunday evening. Welcoming the Indian spiritual leader upon his arrival at Beirut Airport, Zeinab Bahaa Ferghol from the Art of Life Association explained that "he is a spiritual teacher traveling around the world as a peace ambassador...He meets with heads of state, religious leaders and influential figures on the world stage, and calls for peace, love and the establishment of a tolerant, violence-free society." For his part, Shankar said he knew that "Lebanon suffered a lot during the civil war, but at the same time there were people who cared about the community and it is important that this work continues." "I bring with me a message of peace from India for a better future...In society there are always human values, and there are also people who have lost them, as is the case with Daesh," he added.

ElKhalil honors UAE Ambassador in Hasbaya: We honor a history rich in cooperation, giving and noble stances
Sat 15 Dec 2018/NNA - Development and Liberation Parliamentary Bloc Member, MP Anwar El-Khalil, held a luncheon at Dar Hasbaya on Saturday in honor of UAE Ambassador to Lebanon, Hamad Saeed Al Shamsi, in the presence of senior officials and prominent dignitaries. "A high-class diplomat who builds with remarkable activity the brotherly relations between Lebanon and the UAE...and culturally gives the historical relations between our two countries human and social values that are a creative embodiment of the values and humanitarian approach of the United Arab Emirates," said El-Khalil in a word of appreciation of Al Shamsi's outstanding role. El-Khalil praised the strong and brotherly ties between Lebanon and UAE, describing the latter as a "state of goodness and generous hospitality, a state of peace and moderation, a state of modernity and progress...and the state of Arab values."
"We recall with great gratitude and admiration the founder of the United Arab Emirates, His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Nahyan, and his pioneering role in supporting Lebanon and standing by his great nation in all fields," highlighted El-Khalil. "The UAE established its second embassy in the world in Beirut and the UAE is Lebanon's partner in growth, development and prosperity since 1974," he said. "For half a century now, the UAE has been an affectionate sister to Lebanon and the Lebanese. It has supported them in all their just causes and stood by Lebanon in international forums and has been a partner in strengthening the elements of internal stability and the return of the state to exercise its role after the cessation of internal fighting and the adoption of the Taef Accord...and has helped them withstand the Israeli occupation and its repeated aggressions," El-Khalil went on. "Honoring His Excellency Hamad bin Saeed Al Shamsi is a tribute to all this history of cooperation, generosity and the noble positions of the UAE...It is a tribute to the positive and intelligent diplomacy that establishes great areas of trust and respect," El-Khalil corroborated. In turn, Ambassador Al Shamsi thanked MP El-Khalil saying, "My presence today in this region is the presence of love and conveying a message from the UAE, both government and people, to this dear country. The UAE is present in Lebanon to contribute to its wellness and we continue to provide assistance in various fields." He added that the UAE's policy towards Lebanon is a humanitarian policy, hoping that "the South will be stable so that all of Lebanon would be stable," and that "the economy would return to its normal capable state." "We also hope that there will be a government in the near future to address all outstanding issues in all fields, especially at the economic level and with the support of all regional and international countries," Al Shamsi underlined. El-Khalil presented the UAE Ambassador with an honorary shield representing the Southern region of Hasbaya as a token of sincere appreciation for his relentless efforts and his country's continuous support.

Islamic Council: Any deviation from Constitution's provisions undermines State's pillars
Sat 15 Dec 2018/NNA - The Supreme Islamic Shari'a Council held its periodic session at Dar Al-Fatwa on Saturday, chaired by Mufti of the Republic Sheikh Abdul-Latif Derian, in the presence of former PM Najib Miqati, with discussions focusing on arising Islamic and national affairs. In an issued statement following its session, the Council highlighted the need to respect the Lebanese Constitution and abide by its provisions, being the supreme law that governs people's lives and the smooth running of operations within State institutions. "Any deviation from its provisions, or violation of its stipulations, would undermine the pillars of the State of law and impede the building of the State, thus plunging the country into conflicts, divisions and permanent instability," the statement indicated. "The Taef Accord, which was transformed into a constitution, established a political system based on the separation of powers and cooperation and balance between authorities, so that no power prevails over the other...Each authority is bound by the powers vested in it by the Constitution," the statement went on. The Council members assured that their keen concern that no violation is practiced against the Prime Minister's powers assigned to him by the Constitution, especially with regard to the government formation, springs from their core keenness on preserving the President of the Republic's full constitutional powers, including those related to the formation of the government. "We pin great hopes on the cooperation and understanding of the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister-designate and their constitutional role in forming the government as soon as possible, abiding by the provisions of the Constitution in order to strengthen the national reconciliation and avoid conflicts and divisions in the country," the Council members emphasized in their statement.

Traboulsi: Aoun provided all facilities with various parties, PMdesignate ought to find a solution
Sat 15 Dec 2018/NNA - MP Edgard Traboulsi reassured Saturday that the President of the Republic is the Lebanese citizens' guarantor, adding that President Michel Aoun has provided all facilities needed to form the government along with the various parties, whereby the Prime Minister-designate ought to find a solution at this stage. "We always approach matters with an optimistic spirit when dealing with any national crisis, especially the formation of the future government, and we hope that the new cabinet will be productive and effective," Traboulsi said, "We hope that with the return of the Prime Minister-designate [the most concerned with the government formation] that matters would begin to ease up, especially with respect to the Deliberation Gathering deputies," he added. "We are required to form a government and we have the greatest responsibility in this regard," Traboulsi emphasized, warning of the country's economic crises and corruption plight that need to be addressed the soonest possible.

Mikati visits Dar ElFatwa: Implementing Constitution is the best solution
Sat 15 Dec 2018/NNA - Grand Mufti of the Lebanese Republic, Sheikh Abdul Latif Darian, welcomed Saturday afternoon former PM Najib Mikati at "Dar El-Fatwa". Talks between the pair focused on the general situation and the stalled cabinet formation issue. "We must strengthen the internal community in face of the challenges ahead, and the basis is to follow-up on the implementation of the Taif Agreement and the full implementation of the Constitution because it is the best solution for all," Mikati said after meeting. "By virtue of our responsibility in preserving the country's interests, we defend this Agreement and adhere to the document of national reconciliation, demanding the full implementation of its provisions while holding on to the powers of the Prime Minister guaranteed by the Constitution," he underscored. The MP also spoke about the economic challenges facing the country because of the delay in forming the government, in addition to the threats of the Israeli enemy to Lebanon and the need to fortify the internal situation to confront them.

Ahmad Hariri meets with Papal Ambassador to Lebanon
Sat 15 Dec 2018/NNA - Future Movement Secretary-General, Ahmad Hariri, welcomed yesterday evening (Friday), the Papal Ambassador to Lebanon, Giuseppe Spiteri at his residence in Sidon. Hariri thanked his guest for visiting the region of Jezzine, expressing his hope that "Pope Francis will visit Lebanon soon," and recalling his meeting with the Pope in Rome with the Lebanese delegation, at the invitation of the Maronite Diaspora Institution.

Hezbollah evades Israeli bombs in Syria by flying Russian flag
تقرير من صحيفة يديعوت أحرونوت: حزب الله يتفادى القنابل الإسرائيلية في سوريا برفعه العلم الروسي”

Alex Fishman/Ynetnews/December 15/18
With Moscow smarting over losing plane during IAF attack in Syria, Russian newspaper says Kremlin made deal with Tehran that gives Iranian allies full protection.
Moscow is allowing fighters from Hezbollah and other pro-Iranian Shiite groups operating in Syria to carry Russian flags in order to protect them from Israeli airstrikes, Russia’s Kommersant newspaper reported Wednesday.
The report follows a Russian snub earlier this week to Israeli military officials, as Moscow appears reluctant to ease its anger over the loss of one of its planes during an IAF bombing raid in Syria in September. The plane was brought down by Syrian missiles targeting the Israelis, but Moscow insists that Jerusalem did not provide sufficient warning of its strike to allow its aircraft to reach safety.
Russian flags were recently seen near the military airport in the Syrian city of Hama, where Iranian installations were attacked by the IAF in the past. The flags were also flying in the cities of Homs and Idlib, as well as in the Syrian desert.
According to the report, Israel complained to Russia that its flags were spotted atop compounds and military convoys belonging to Iran and its allies in Syria. The complaint came ahead of a senior Israeli military delegation visit to Moscow on Tuesday.
According to Syrian opposition leader Colonel Petach Hasson, the Iranians promised to coordinate with the Russian military’s Syrian headquarters in Latakia in exchange for protection for the Shiite militias allied to Iran operating in the war-torn country.
The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit declined to comment on the Russian report.
The IDF delegation’s visit to Moscow on Tuesday was the first time that military officials from the Israel and Russia met since Israel Air Force Commander Amikam Norkin visited Moscow in September. Norkin went to Moscow to present the findings of an Israeli inquiry into how Syrian anti-aircraft shot down a Russian plane during an IAF air strike. The Russian Defense Ministry rejected the Israeli findings and insisted that Israel bears responsibility for the plane’s downing, and all attempts by Israel’s government to reconcile with the Russians were rebuffed.
Over the past two weeks, the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem made frantic efforts to get their Russian counterparts to agree to host the Israeli delegation, led by the head of the IDF Operations Directorate, Major General Aharon Haliva. Following the meeting in Moscow, the Russians issued a brief statement emphasizing that nothing concrete had been agreed upon, except that the two sides would continue to hold discussions on security coordination in Syria.
Putin’s cold shoulder
Although Russian President Vladimir Putin yielded to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pressure to receive the Israeli delegation, the Russians did not intend to actually resolve the crisis over the plane, as evidenced by the fact that Haliva didn’t get to meet his Russian counterpart. Instead, Haliva was matched with his counterpart’s deputy, Major General Vasily Trushin, who is about to finish his term and is not actually involved in the Syrian crisis. “Trushin is the only one in regular contact with Israel,” said a senior military Israeli official. Furthermore, the Russians set the date for the meeting knowing full well that their chief of military operations, chief of staff, defense minister, and a large part of the Russian military brass would not even be in the country during Haliva’s visit. And the Russians are adamant in their refusal to reach an understanding with Israel on the issue. “Our position remains unchanged. The chaotic damage done to Syrian infrastructure by the IAF, on the pretext of an Iranian threat, is unacceptable to us,” said a senior source in the Russian Defense Ministry ahead of Tuesday’s meeting.

Latest LCCC English Miscellaneous Reports & News published on December 15-16/18
Security Council Prepares to Support Griffiths' Peace Plan in Yemen

New York - Ali Barada/Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 15 December, 2018/Western diplomats expect members of the UN Security Council to vote within days, most likely on Wednesday, on a draft resolution on the deals struck by Yemen’s warring parties. UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths has called for a "strong and effective" monitoring mechanism in the Red Sea city of Hodeidah to ensure the ceasefire is respected and humanitarian aid delivered to millions of needy people throughout the country. However, the Permanent Representative of Yemen to the United Nations, Abdullah al-Saadi, urged the Security Council to implement its decisions on Yemen, in particular Resolution 2216, indicating that there was no need for further resolutions. Griffiths gave a video briefing from Amman, Jordan, stating that during the consultations held between Yemen’s warring sides in Sweden, the parties approved several clauses listed in the Stockholm Agreement, which came into force on December 13. The envoy said that all parties made concessions. He then thanked Saudi Crown Prince Prince Mohammed bin Salman for personally supporting this process and agreements.
Describing the achievements as "a significant step forward," Griffiths also urged caution saying "what's in front of us is a daunting task... and the hard work is only about to begin."Griffiths pointed out the cease-fire agreement in Hodeidah includes "phased but rapid mutual withdrawals from both the three Hodeidah ports and the city."It also gives the UN a leading role in managing and carrying out inspections at the ports of Hodeidah, Saleef and Ras Issa which must "happen within days," he said. "The United Nations is asked to monitor the compliance of the parties to these commitments. I am sure this Council will want to address this requirement," said Griffiths. The envoy revealed that at the instruction of the secretary-general, relevant UN departments in New York and elsewhere are already active on the planning for urgent deployment in line with the Security Council’s expected decisions.
"The Council has for months called for just such an agreement; I believe we now have it," Griffiths said. For his part, UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told the Council that "the good news we have heard this week has not yet had any material impact on the millions of people who need assistance." He said the results of the latest analysis of the crisis "decisively confirm Yemen's descent toward famine," with more than 20 million people hungry and in need of aid. This includes, for the first time, 250,000 people facing "catastrophe," which is defined as "starvation, death and destitution," he said. Lowcock called for greater access for aid workers, increased humanitarian funding, and billions of dollars to stabilize Yemen's economy. The agreement on Hodeidah reached in Sweden offers hopes for a real cessation of hostilities, he said. "As the details (of the agreement) are being worked out, we continue to call for a full cessation of hostilities across the country." "Up to now, we have only seen a reduction in fighting in some areas, not a full cessation. In the last week, nearly 450 conflict incidents were reported across Yemen, about a third of them in Hodeidah."He pleaded the warring parties to continue to engage seriously with Griffiths in the peacemaking process, including implementing the agreements reached in Sweden. US Ambassador Nikki Haley said the Council "must be ready to act if one or more of the parties fails to follow through" on implementation. UK Ambassador Karen Pierce welcomed the agreements reached in Stockholm, asserting that “people have been put first. We commend all parties on this important step.” She warned that "we have no time to lose," reiterating the need to bring about tangible improvements for the people of Yemen as swiftly as possible. During the briefing on Yemen, Pierce pledged that the "Council will do its very best to stay united and work tirelessly throughout UN to support what's been achieved and move it on to the much desperately needed next stage."

US Official: 'End Days' Nearing for ISIS in Syria
Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 15 December, 2018/Col. Sean Ryan, a spokesman for the US-led Coalition said Saturday that fighting against ISIS in its last enclave in eastern Syria "is going very well."His comments came a day after the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces captured the town of Hajin, the largest urban area controlled by ISIS in the enclave. Ryan said the extremist organization still poses a threat and its militants are regrouping, planting improvised explosives devices to slow the progress of SDF offensives. He added that the "end days" of ISIS in the enclave they hold near Iraq's border are getting closer, however, "they still have the capability for coordinated attacks, and the fight is not over." SDF has been trying to take the enclave for more than three months.

YPG Leader to Asharq Al-Awsat: We Are Ready to Work With Damascus to Deter Ankara
London - Ibrahim Hamidi/Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 15 December, 2018/The leader of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), Siban Hamo, said he believed that Russian officials were “pleased” with the Turkish army’s threats to the YPG and the US troops in northeastern Syria, adding that Damascus was not taking any initiative to defend the Syrian border. In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Hamo called on the Syrian state to work to protect its borders and land, saying: “We are ready for joint action to deter Turkey.” Hamo was speaking by telephone to Asharq al-Awsat from northeastern Syria. He said that Turkey “is seeking through all means to eliminate the gains made by the Kurds, has mobilized its troops on the border and bombed territories inside Syria.” He also noted that Turkish intelligence officials have met with Syrian factions and asked them to be ready for a military action similar to that carried out in Afrin in the countryside of Aleppo at the beginning of this year, when the Turkish army, in cooperation with the Syrian factions, launched the Olive Branch operation. Hamo went on to say that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stressed that the borders of Turkey were not safe and wanted to take measures within the Syrian territory, as happened in Afrin. Asked about contacts between the YPG and the Russian side in the wake of Ankara’s threats, he said that direct contacts had been stalled since his “disappointment” with Moscow when it allowed the attack on Afrin, but pointed to “indirect contacts through our offices.”“The Russians are pleased with what is happening to disturb the US,” he noted. Regarding the position of Damascus, the YPG leader mentioned contacts with officials in the Syrian government. “In Afrin, they asked us to hand over the city before the Turkish attack, but we refused. Now they [Damascus] are watching. There is no initiative from Russia or Damascus,” he affirmed.

Turkey Vows to Keep Attacking PKK in Iraq
Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 15 December, 2018/Turkey will keep hitting Kurdish PKK fighters in northern Iraq, the foreign ministry said on Saturday, a day after its strikes sparked criticism from Baghdad. The Turkish military said on Friday it killed eight Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants, prompting Iraqi authorities to summon the Turkish ambassador in Baghdad to formally protest the air raids on Iraq's Sinjar and Makhmour mountains. Turkey regularly hits PKK bases across its southern border, saying the militants use the remote and mountainous northern Iraqi region as a base for deadly attacks inside Turkey, where the outlawed group has waged an insurgency since the 1980s. President Tayyip Erdogan threatened to launch a ground offensive in northern Iraq earlier this year. This week he also announced an imminent operation against US-backed YPG Kurdish fighters in neighboring Syria. The YPG, which has been fighting ISIS militants, controls Syria's northeastern border with Turkey. Ankara says it is an extension of the PKK and poses a direct threat to Turkey. "The activities of the PKK terrorist organization in the territory of Iraq and Syria have become a national security issue for Turkey," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said Saturday. He said the government in Baghdad had a duty to prevent Iraqi land being used as a base for attacks on neighbors, and described Friday's air strikes as an act of self-defense which Turkey carried out because Iraq would not act. "These operations in the fight against terrorism will continue as long as terror organizations nest on Iraqi soil and as long as Turkey’s security needs require it to," Aksoy said.

Australia Recognizes West Jerusalem as Israel's Capital
Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 15 December, 2018/Australia has decided to formally recognize west Jerusalem as Israel's capital, but said Saturday that it won't move its embassy until there's a peace settlement between Israel and Palestinians. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a speech that Australia will recognize east Jerusalem as Palestine's capital only after a settlement has been reached on a two-state solution. The Australian Embassy won't be moved from Tel Aviv until such a time, he said. While the embassy move is delayed, Morrison said his government will establish a defense and trade office in Jerusalem and will also start looking for an appropriate site for the embassy. Canberra became one of just a few governments around the world to follow US President Donald Trump's lead and recognize the contested city as Israel's capital. Both Israel and the Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital. Most foreign nations avoided moving embassies there to prevent inflaming peace talks on the city's final status -- until Trump unilaterally moved the US embassy there earlier this year. Morrison first floated a shift in foreign policy in October, which angered Australia's immediate neighbor Indonesia -- the world's most populous Muslim nation - and Malaysia. Canberra on Friday told its citizens traveling to Indonesia to "exercise a high degree of caution", warning of protests in the capital Jakarta and popular holiday hotspots, including Bali. Morrison said it was in Australia's interests to support "liberal democracy" in the Middle East, and took aim at the United Nations he said was a place Israel is "bullied". The opposition Labor party slammed Morrison for putting "self-interest ahead of the national interest". "Recognizing West Jerusalem as Israel's capital, while continuing to locate Australia's embassy in Tel Aviv, is nothing more than a face saving exercise," shadow minister for foreign affairs Penny Wong said in a statement. "This is a decision which is all risk and no gain," she said, adding it puts Australia "out of step" with the international community. Trump's decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv last May prompted tens of thousands of Palestinian protesters to approach the heavily-protected Israeli border. At least 62 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire that day. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has previously hailed Morrison's initiative.The Palestinian government will press for Arab and Muslim states to "withdraw their ambassadors" and take some "meat and wheat" style "economic boycott measures" over Canberra's decision, Palestinian ambassador to Australia Izzat Abdulhadi told AFP Friday. The Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN) on Saturday said Morrison's move "serves no Australian interest".
"This sabotages any real possibility for a future just agreement and further emboldens Israel to continue with its daily human rights violations of Palestinians," APAN president Bishop George Browning said in a statement.

Palestinians Slam Australia's ‘Irresponsible Policies’
Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 15 December, 2018/The Palestinian leadership on Saturday slammed Australia's "irresponsible policies” after its recognition of west Jerusalem as Israel's capital. The country became one of just a few to follow US President Donald Trump's lead and recognize the contested city as Israel's capital. Australia said it would open a defense and trade office in the west of the holy city and Prime Minister Scott Morrison also committed to recognizing a future state of Palestine with east Jerusalem as its capital. "The policies of this Australian administration have done nothing to advance the two-state solution," senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said in a statement, stressing the Palestinian view that the holy city remains a final-status issue in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which have run aground. There was no immediate comment from Israel's government on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. Morrison had earlier floated the idea that Australia may follow the contentious US move of relocating its embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, but it was seen by many Australians as a political stunt. Critics called it a cynical attempt to win votes in a by-election in October for a Sydney seat with a high Jewish population.

Netanyahu Threatens Hamas to Move War from West Bank to Gaza
Tel Aviv - Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 15 December, 2018/Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened Hamas leaders with direct strikes on the Gaza Strip in retaliation for West Bank operations in which several Israeli soldiers were killed. “We will operate against you if you carry out [acts of] terrorism from Judea and Samaria,” the Premier said in a sharp message to Hamas. “There will not be a situation in which there is a ceasefire in Gaza and the use of fire in Judea and Samaria.”Likud party members and other allies called on him to respond more harshly to the Palestinian operations. In response to the violence, Netanyahu held a "security consultation session" in which his office issued a statement announcing that he had ordered several measures be taken. It said that the PM had decided to legalize thousands of settler homes built illegally in the West Bank. He also requested that Israel’s attorney general take legal steps to facilitate the construction of 82 residential units in the West Bank settlement of Ofra, in which a soldier was killed. In addition, he ordered the “accelerated demolition of terrorists’ homes within 48 hours” and “increased administrative detention” — incarceration without charges or trial — for suspected Hamas perpetrators in the West Bank. “Our guiding principle is that whoever attacks us and whoever tries to attack us — will pay with his life,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “Our enemies know this and we will find them.”Netanyahu also ordered an increased presence of Israeli forces in the West Bank, the placement of roadblocks and the denial of permits for families of perpetrator to stay in Israel. However, settlers, who were not satisfied with the measures, organized street demonstrations in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Around 1,000 settlers demonstrated outside Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem on Thursday evening, with protesters calling for his resignation over the government’s response to the string of attacks carried out by the Palestinians. Posters bearing the face of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in rifle crosshairs and the Hebrew words “assassinate the terror funders” appeared throughout the West Bank as part of a campaign launched by a far-right Israeli group.

Sisi Calls on Media to Reassure Egyptians
Cairo - Waleed Abdul Rahman/Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 15 December, 2018/Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has called on the media to clarify the difference between prices of commodities in Europe and Egypt to reassure citizens. In remarks to a TV show on MBC Masr channel on Thursday, Sisi urged the Egyptian media to reflect more accurately the reality of how Egyptians favorably view living conditions in the country and report on world events in a way that takes into consideration differences between Egypt and other states. “We are working hard to change the lives of Egyptians for the best, and the rates at which projects are completed are unprecedented,” Sisi noted. He said the level of unemployment in Egypt is also improving. “In every home you find a person or a youth who is somehow working in one of these projects and earning enough to live decently."He also urged the media to explain the current events in a particular European country more objectively. "We should not simply only report the events but also provide facts," the President stressed. "For example, (in France), the price of one liter of fuel and diesel, which exceeds 25 Egyptian pounds with 20 percent of taxes, is not comparable to fuel prices in Egypt,” Sisi said, stressing the importance of the media’s role in clarifying such issues. The Egyptian government responded on Friday to rumors spread on social media affecting citizens’ health. The Ministry of Health denied reports that Sisi’s “100 million healthy people” campaign was not a presidential initiative. It said in a statement that the campaign had been launched by the President with the aim of eradicating virus C and detecting noncommunicable diseases at an early stage. The Ministry issued its statement after false rumors have occasionally made the rounds on social media, some affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, which the government considers a terrorist organization. The rumors, which are mainly about the people’s conditions, are soon denied by the government.

Egypt Tries to Calm Palestinian-Israeli Tensions

Ramallah/Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 15 December, 2018/Egypt is discussing with the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel means to avoid a further deterioration in the situation in the West Bank following violent clashes, informed Palestinian sources told Asharq Al-Awsat. The sources confirmed that an Egyptian delegation visited Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday at his headquarters in Ramallah and discussed the need to hold onto the achievements that have been so far made by the Palestinians in the peace process. The delegation also asserted that the achievements could be consolidated through full reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, which will put an end to inter-Palestinian division and prevent Israel from isolating the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. Egypt wants to maintain stability in the West Bank similar to Gaza, and aims to complete the reconciliation which brings power back to the enclave and helps launch a peace process leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state, asserted the sources. Abbas received a delegation from the Egyptian intelligence service conveying a message from President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the head of the General Intelligence Service, Major General Abbas Kamel. The delegation stressed that Cairo was willing to exert all efforts to support stability in the Palestinian territories. They called for swift action and coordination between Cairo and Palestine to maintain the security and stability of the region. Abbas thanked the delegation, Sisi and Kamel for all their efforts and support for the Palestinian people and their leadership. The Egyptian attempts came at a time when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent messages to Abbas as well as Hamas regarding the escalation in the West Bank. A senior Israeli official said Netanyahu conveyed a message through Egyptian intermediaries that Israel will not be willing to accept a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip if Hamas is simultaneously orchestrating attacks in the West Bank. Netanyahu also sent a message to Abbas demanding that the PA security forces take steps to prevent escalation over the Green Line, a senior official said.

Political Disputes Reach Local Governments in Baghdad, Basra
Baghdad - Hamza Mustafa/Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 15 December, 2018/The “incomplete” Iraqi cabinet crisis reached local governments especially in Baghdad and Basra, against the backdrop of the ongoing dispute to elect new governors in both provinces. In Baghdad, there have been no signs yet that the political crisis will be resolved during next Tuesday's session set for voting on the remaining eight ministers of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s government. Leader of Fatah alliance Hadi al-Amiri stressed last week that his coalition did not nominate Falih Fayadh for the post of interior minister, but it was rather Abdul Mahdi’s choice. The PM was quick to respond during his weekly press conference, saying Fayadh was the candidate of political blocs, and not his. Meanwhile, a crisis in local governance represented by the provincial councils is emerging. Local governments are a reflection of tension among political blocs which is set to grow as the date for the election of two new governors in Baghdad and Basra approaches. The governors of Baghdad and Basra, respectively Atwan al-Atwani and Asaad al-Eidani, have been elected members of parliament and have continued to exercise their functions as governors. The Baghdad Provincial Council is represented by the Reform bloc which was able to elect a new governor of the capital, who is also a member of the Sadrist movement. However, the council is facing two problems: First, former governor failing to resign in order to be able to join the parliament. The second issue is including member of the Council, who presided the election session, within the accountability and justice procedures. Binaa bloc filed an appeal with the Federal Court to thwart the election of the new governor. In Basra, the council failed to hold a full session to elect a governor, who would replace Eidani. On Friday, the council was also unable to hold a new session. Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Eidani said that “the post of Basra governor is not concerned with the political agreements that are taking place in Baghdad.” Regarding his position as a parliamentarian, Eidani stated that he was prepared to give up the membership of the legislature to remain governor of Basra, “in order to serve the people of my province.”

Egypt Unveils 'One of a Kind' Ancient Tomb with Intact Colors and Statues
Reuters/Saturday 15th December 2018/Egypt unveiled a well-preserved 4,400-year-old tomb decorated with hieroglyphs and statues south of Cairo on Saturday, and officials expect more discoveries when archaeologists excavate the site further in coming months. The tomb was found in a buried ridge at the ancient necropolis of Saqqara. It was untouched and unlooted, Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, told reporters at the site.He described the find as "one of a kind in the last decades". The walls are decorated with hieroglyphs and statues of pharaohs. Mr Waziri said the tomb was unique because of the statues and its near-perfect condition. The tomb dates from the rule of Neferirkare Kakai, the third king of the Fifth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom. Archaeologists removed a last layer of debris from the tomb on Thursday and found five shafts inside, Mr Waziri said. One of the shafts was unsealed with nothing inside, but the other four were sealed. They are expecting to make discoveries when they excavate those shafts starting on Sunday, he said. He was hopeful about one shaft in particular. "I can imagine that all of the objects can be found in this area," he said, pointing at one of the sealed shafts. The tomb is 10 metres long, 3 metres wide and just under 3 metres high, Mr Waziri said.The tomb lies in a buried ridge that has only partially been uncovered. Mr Waziri said he expects more discoveries to be made there when archaeologists start more excavation work in January. The Fifth Dynasty ruled Egypt from about 2,500 BC to 2,350 BC, not long after the great pyramid of Giza was built. Saqqara served as the necropolis for Memphis, the capital of ancient Egypt for more than two millennia. Ancient Egyptians mummified humans to preserve their bodies for the afterlife, while animal mummies were used as religious offerings. Egypt has revealed over a dozen ancient discoveries this year. The country hopes the finds will brighten its image abroad and revive interest among travellers who once flocked to its iconic pharaonic temples and pyramids but who fled after the 2011 political uprising.

Trump: Interior Minister will leave the end of the year
Sat 15 Dec 2018/NNA - Washington {Reuters} - US Secretary of State Ryan Zink will leave the administration at the end of the year after serving for nearly two years, US President Donald Trump announced today through his Twitter account. "He has achieved a lot during his tenure and I want to thank him for his service to our nation," he said. Trump disclosed that his administration would announce the new interior minister next week.

Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 14-15/18
Analysis/From Lebanon to Iraq: Iran’s New, Hybrid Threat to Israel
تحليل سياسي من الهآررتس بقلم عاموس هاريل: من لبنان إلى العراق.. تهديد إيران الجديد والهجين لإسرائيل

Amos Harel/Haaretz/December 25/18
The pro-Assad axis saw great strategic success in 2018 – but Tehran has also suffered failures ■ The state of the Israeli army’s ground forces is a divisive issue Netanyahu will have to address
Operation Northern Shield, to locate Hezbollah’s tunnels under the Lebanese border, is entering its second week. So far the Israel Defense Forces has reported the discovery of three tunnels, and the excavations are continuing at several other sites along the border. This engineering effort is expected to take more than a month, and even then the army will probably have to make changes regarding preparedness at the border fence.
Benjamin Netanyahu, in his dual role as prime minister and defense minister (among his other ministries), arrived this week for a second visit to the area, where he threatened Hezbollah. (Like when he said in September that if Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah “confronts us, he’ll get a crushing blow that he can’t even imagine.”)
But it was clear that the tour was also for domestic consumption. The prime minister is preparing for Israel’s next general election due within a year, and his frequent meetings with officers and soldiers provide an ideal setting for his journey to the ballot box.
In an article last week on the website Israel Defense, Col. (res.) Pesach Malovany, a former senior official in Military Intelligence, mentions a propaganda film released by Hezbollah in 2014. The organization promised “to free Bi’ina, Deir al-Asad and Majdal Krum,” three Arab villages in the Galilee, and presented an attack plan based on no fewer than 5,000 fighters.
According to the film, the units would progress in four spearheads, from Nahariya in the west to Misgav Am in the east, with a fifth force in reserve. Cover would be provided by a heavy barrage of rockets launched by Hezbollah at the Galilee.
Israeli officials at the time dismissed this as mere psychological warfare. Even now it’s hard to imagine how Hezbollah would be able to transfer so many troops, sometimes underground in relatively narrow and short tunnels, without being discovered. Interestingly, the size of the forces that was mentioned is quite similar to the estimated number of fighters in Hezbollah’s Radwan special forces unit. When you add the tunnels that were recently revealed, it’s easier to understand how Hezbollah is thinking about the next battle.
Hezbollah’s steps are part of a change in Iran’s plans. In recent months Iran’s military intervention in Syria, including the weapons smuggled to Hezbollah in Lebanon, has ebbed due to Russian pressure.
At the same time, Moscow has pressured Israel to go easy on its air strikes in Syria since the Syrians’ accidental downing of a Russian reconnaissance plane in September. This week the Russians finally agreed to receive a military delegation from Israel, headed by the chief of the General Staff Operations Directorate, Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva, but the IDF is reluctant to state that this signals an end to the crisis.
Amid the difficulties of operating in Syria, Iran is increasing its efforts in the two neighboring countries. In western Iraq it’s deploying long-range missiles that are capable of striking Israel as well. In Lebanon it’s trying to build factories that will let it improve the precision of Hezbollah’s older rockets. These efforts are accompanied by a dispute regarding the Iranian regime’s priorities for investment, in light of increased sanctions by the United States and a protest by everyday Iranians due to the deteriorating economy.
Since the discovery of the tunnels, the General Staff has made sure to clarify that despite the media’s preoccupation with the precision-missile project, Hezbollah apparently has only a few dozen high-precision rockets capable of striking less than 50 meters (160 feet) or so from their target.
The Iranians have yet to achieve the “industrial” capability of a swift conversion to precision missiles in Lebanon. The smuggling of weapons on flights from Iran to Beirut is also being done on a small scale, far smaller than what was tried in the weapons convoys on Syrian soil.
In the north, 2018 saw a major strategic success of the axis that supported the Assad regime in Syria – a renewed takeover of most of Syrian territory and a restabilization of the government. But the Iranians also suffered failures; one is a slowdown of their efforts to entrench themselves militarily in Syria, because of Israel’s strikes in April and May. The other is the exposure of Hezbollah’s tunnel plan.
That doesn’t mean that Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds force, will lay down his arms in 2019. Israel must assume that Iran will try to attack it on other fronts. At the moment, it seems this will happen in Lebanon, with the precision-missile factories the main issue.
If in the future Tehran believes that it has a reason to attack Israel, perhaps due to American efforts to combat Iran’s nuclear programs and missiles, it’s hard to believe it will leave Hezbollah out, as it did in the confrontation with Israel in Syria this year.
In light of the billions that the Iranians have invested in Lebanon, the day will come when they demand that Nasrallah provide a better return for their money. A senior defense official, in a meeting with his European counterparts, recently said that it will be hard to maintain the quiet in Lebanon for another year.
“We’ll try to neutralize the tunnels and remove them from the equation, but the precision-missile project remains a problem for us,” he reportedly said. “Iran is trying to build a missile system in Iraq and Syria, in addition to the rockets it has already provided to Hezbollah in Lebanon and to Palestinian organizations in Gaza. For us it’s too much; the Iranians have to leave Syria entirely. It’s not enough to keep them 60 or 80 kilometers [50 miles] from the Israeli border.”
Unprecedented challenge
The Israeli rhetoric against Iran in the past decade has focused on the nuclear program. But the 2015 nuclear agreement and the lifting of the sanctions against Iran that ensued (some of which were recently renewed when Washington abandoned the agreement) have clarified the progress of Iran’s other efforts: to develop long-range missiles and increase its influence in the region.
The conventional military threat against Israel has waned with the collapse of the Syrian army and Israel’s closer ties with Egypt. On the other hand, the combined, hybrid threat that Iran is developing from many directions and with many means is a challenge Israel hasn’t faced in the past.
Heavy rocket barrages against civilians and strategic infrastructure, an attempt at a land grab on the border, cyberwarfare and electronic warfare, an option of opening a secondary front in Gaza, the big question of how Russia will behave – all these elements appear in the scenarios that the General Staff has practiced in recent years.
Are the ground forces, which are still partly based on a large contribution by reservists, ready for more extreme scenarios? That’s one subject of the debate with the Defense Ministry ombudsman, Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brik. Brik isn’t being attacked for his ungentlemanly style and sweeping statements, but apparently the public slap in the face by his reports has triggered a positive process of investigations in the IDF and at the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
When the generals stop feeling offended, the army will discover that it’s not a bad idea to investigate itself occasionally. And the managers of large organizations tend to discover that reality is less glamorous than their high opinion of themselves.
In the army, opinions about the ground forces are divided. Have the steps by Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot to bring the IDF up to par been sufficient? Some people believe it’s lagging by decades. Eisenkot challenged the political leaders in the summer of 2015 when he published documents on IDF strategy; he tried to force the politicians into a deeper discussion on the army and its future.
In fact, from the few statements by Netanyahu on this question in recent months, it’s clear he envisions an army even more dependent on the air force, technology and intelligence. The ground forces, and the reservist system in particular, are liable to remain far behind. The prime minister, in his role as defense minister, will have to find time to discuss these controversies in depth during the first half of the coming year, when Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi takes over as chief of staff.

An 8-Year-Old Bride
Majid Rafizadeh/Gatestone Institute/
December 15/2018
د.ماجد رفيفزاده: عروس عمرها 8 سنوات/مشكلة زواج القاصرات في إيران وغيرها من البلدان
After the mullahs’ party imposed Sharia law in Iran and made it the official unquestionable law of the land, the authorities immediately changed the age of legal marriage to 9 for girls and 13 for boys. After 40 years, the Sharia-based law has not changed.
The prevalence child marriage “still remains far too high. In a set of 25 countries for which detailed analysis was conducted, at least one in three women marry before the age of 18, and one in five women have their first child before the age of 18.” — World Bank.
According to official Iranian statistics, 180,000 child marriages take place there each year. In addition, in 2013 in Iran, a law was passed that allows men to marry their adopted daughters.
Facebook acted as an auction block for a child bride in South Sudan as recently as last month.
Unless the international community steps in and, instead of appealing to the Islamist leaders of Iran, applies pressure to get these laws changed, more children will be at risk.
According to official Iranian statistics, 180,000 child marriages take place there each year. Besides the physical and sexual abuse endured by little girls forced into marriage, many also encounter emotional abuse. (Image source: iStock. Image is illustrative and does not represent any person in the article.)
“At eight years old my parents sat me down for a serious talk,” said Noushin, during the interview. “I can still remember the tremble in my mother’s voice. She told me that in two days I would be part of an Islamic religious blessing. My father insisted that I behave, and not cause a scene. I was confused, but I trusted them, that they were telling me the truth. I trusted them right up to the moment that the wedding ring went onto my finger and I became the bride of a 43 year old man.” Noushin, now 19, is the mother of three.
You might assume that her parents, who so willingly gave their child to this man, were not educated or had never been exposed to modern ways of thinking. In fact, Noushin’s father had been educated in Europe, and then came back to his country to work for the regime.
Noushin said the wedding was “a nightmare I could not wake up from. I understood that I was married, but I did not understand what that meant.” She said was forced to have sexual intercourse before she reached puberty. “Each day was filled with new confusion, and new horrors,” she said, as she tried to become accustomed to the role she was forced to endure.
“I thought the move into my husband’s house was a punishment by my parents because I had not listened when they told me to stop playing a week before. I hoped that after that, it was torture, they would bring me back to my parents the next day. But it soon became clear that this was not a temporary punishment, it would last a lifetime.”
You might believe that these things happen only rarely; that is not so. Noushin is not an exception. Islamic leaders claim that child marriages are now less frequent in their countries, but even if that is true, the incidence of it is still high enough to have drawn a fairly recent voice of alarm from the UN.
The Islamic Republic of Iran, for example, where I am from, is run by Sharia law; child marriage is still prevalent. According to the latest statistics, confirmed by the Managing Director and Member of the Board of Directors of the Association for the Protection of the Rights of Children, Farshid Yazdani, 24 percent of all marriages in Iran are child marriages. Perhaps you might think, according to all the claims of Islamist leaders, that this is an improvement, right? Wrong. In previous years, child marriages – at least the ones that were registered — were below 10 percent. So there has actually been an increase in young girls being forced into marriage.
These numbers mean that in Iran, tens of thousands of children are still being forced into marriages. In fact, according to official Iranian statistics, 180,000 child marriages take place there each year. As many marriages can be performed by a Shia Sheikh without the need to register them with the government, the unofficial number is doubtless higher; in this way, many marriages of girls under 10 years old take place.
Before the Islamist party of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini came to power in 1979, the legal age of marriage was 18 for girls and 20 for boys. After the mullahs’ party imposed Sharia law in Iran and made it the official unquestionable law of the land, the authorities immediately changed the age of legal marriage to 9 for girls and 13 for boys. After 40 years, the Sharia-based law has not changed. If they truly wanted to deter child marriage would that not be the place to start?
In addition, in 2013 in Iran, a law was passed that allows men to marry their adopted daughters.
Besides the physical and sexual abuse that these little girls endure, many also encounter emotional abuse. Under Sharia law, these young girls must completely comply with their husbands wishes. The husbands have the right to divorce their wives at any time, but the wives do not have such a law. According to the head of the Social Work Association in Iran, Hassan Moussavi Chelak, there are more than 24,000 child widows in the country. These girls have been through marriage, trauma, and then are abandoned, left alone to fend for themselves.
Some of the grooms in these marriages are middle aged or older men. Some of the grooms try to say that the reason for so many child marriages is the economy: that the need for money is what drives these parents to arrange marriages for their children to older men. There are many countries, however, where poverty is a problem, but child marriages do not exist, or not to such an extent. The reason this plague continues to occur is because it is sanctioned and even encouraged by the Sharia-based law. While other countries forbid such abuse, it does not happen; but the Islamist law of Iran embraces it.
The Sharia law in Iran provides the platform, the legal language and the judicial legitimization, for adults to marry girls younger than ten, and for the parents of these children to profit from it, both financially and religiously.
Noushin has suffered more than most people could ever comprehend. She is determined to get a divorce and find a way to raise and provide for her three children. She never had a choice at the age of eight, when her childhood was sold. She never had a choice when she became pregnant. Now, she is willing to risk everything to be free.
This is not simply a problem only in Islamist countries. Children in other countries vulnerable as well.
Facebook acted as an auction block for a child bride in South Sudan as recently as last month.
Sweden has also apparently been seeing an “increase in reports of forced and child marriages.”
The World Bank assessed last year that the prevalence child marriage “still remains far too high. In a set of 25 countries for which detailed analysis was conducted, at least one in three women marry before the age of 18, and one in five women have their first child before the age of 18.”
Child marriage is also, it seems, prevalent in the United States. Only this year, Delaware became the first state to ban marriage under the age of 18.
You may find it hard to believe that it could be legal for a 70 year old man to marry a girl as young as 5 but it happens, and will continue to happen. Unless the international community steps in and, instead of appealing to Islamist leaders, applies pressure to get these laws changed, more children will be at risk.
*Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated scholar, businessman, political scientist, board member of Harvard International Review, and president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He has authored several books on Islam and US Foreign Policy. He can be reached at Dr.Rafizadeh@Post.Harvard.Edu
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End of the line for Iran’s hypocrites
Camelia Entekhabifard/Arab News/December 15/18
For several years after the 1979 revolution, Iranians were visually indistinguishable from one another; everyone looked and dressed more or less the same. The country was united by a revolutionary atmosphere and the common struggle against sanctions, followed by the war with Iraq. Even if some people were rich, or were “old money,” no one publicly flaunted their wealth or used it to put down others. This phase passed, Iran’s relations with the West improved, and the economy even began to grow a little in the second decade of the revolution, making life a lot easier for millions of Iranians — at least until a new round of sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program while Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was president. Even the 2015 nuclear deal to end the sanctions was of little benefit to ordinary Iranians, and none at all when US President Donald Trump withdraw from it last May.
Throughout all this time, however, the regime in Tehran has been reliant on revenues from oil. And when sanctions were in place, it needed people skilled in the operations of the black market to negate their effect. The result is that, while ordinary Iranians have suffered increasing impoverishment, people involved in sanctions-busting, money-laundering and other associated nefarious practices have become very wealthy indeed — some of them visibly so.
The result is a generation of young people called “the Aghazadeh” — in Persian, literally “the noble-born,” the children of the hierarchy and those affiliated with the system who can enjoy luxury living while most ordinary Iranians struggle to finance their daily lives.
They drive the latest-model sports cars, wear the latest chic styles and own luxury houses and apartments. Their money and connections permit them to travel without hindrance while ordinary Iranians are living on the poverty line.
While ordinary Iranians have suffered increasing impoverishment, people involved in sanctions-busting, money-laundering and other associated nefarious practices have become very wealthy indeed.
Many of these people have never done a day’s work in their lives, but live in comfort overseas. Even the great-grandchildren of the leader of the revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, shuttle between Canada and Iran and are not shy about sharing their photos on social media.
Most curiously of all, while the regime’s pet clerics shout “Death to America” every Friday, the elite and their children seem to be so fond of the US that many of them actually live there. This hypocrisy has not escaped the attention of ordinary Iranians, who have urged Washington to cancel these people’s visas, and it now appears that the US may be about to address the issue. “I can tell you that we are working on it, and while I can’t discuss individual cases or internal policy deliberations, you can be sure that we are pursuing all options to pressure the corrupt hypocrites in your government to change their behavior,” Brian Hook, special US envoy for Iran, said on a video last week on the State Department’s Persian-language Twitter account.
It will be interesting to see if the Trump administration deports these hypocrites. In any case, my prediction for 2019 is that human rights and individual rights will be at the center of Iranian protests next year.
*Camelia Entekhabifard is an Iranian-American journalist, political commentator and author of Camelia: Save Yourself By Telling the Truth (Seven Stories Press, 2008). Twitter: @CameliaFard

The Israel-Hezbollah conflict must not spiral out of control
Yossi Mekelberg/Arab News/December 15/18
The current main concerns along the fortified Blue Line separating Israel and Lebanon are whether a war with Hezbollah is imminent, and if so how it might be averted.
The discovery of three attack tunnels dug by Hezbollah and intruding into Israeli territory has dangerously narrowed the margin of error for both sides. The construction of these tunnels — and there may be more — in flagrant violation of Israel’s sovereignty and of UN Security Council resolutions is a provocation that Hezbollah are going to find hard to justify. It makes the threats by its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, about his organization’s intention “to conquer the Galilee” in the next war more credible, which is something Israel cannot afford to take lightly.
As in most issues involving Israel and Hezbollah, there are a number of plots and subplots. As much as it is an ongoing conflict between two sides that have been sworn enemies since Israel’s ill-conceived invasion of Lebanon in 1982, it is also to a large extent a proxy war between Israel and Iran that serves the domestic interests of both governments.
It may be that memories of the bloody consequences of a real war are not as vivid as they should be. Therefore it is worth recalling that during the last round of hostilities neither side came out on top; both suffered substantial loses and they have been licking their wounds ever since. Another flare-up is likely to be even more costly. Regional powers and the international community must be on high alert and warn the protagonists against letting the situation escalate into a limited, or even a full-blown, conflict.
The cynics would argue, with some justification, that the unearthing of the tunnels and the operation to destroy them was too politically and personally convenient for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be mere coincidence. Diverting public attention while he is up to his neck in corruption investigations — and as police recommend he be indicted, along with his wife and others close to him — is blissful respite from his domestic problems. Putting cynicism and considerations of individual political survival aside, however, to have discovered and destroyed the tunnels before they could become fully operational is an important achievement for Israel. It has saved Hezbollah, and with it Lebanon, from its temptation and folly. After all, it is not within that organization’s military capabilities to “conquer the Galilee.” Nevertheless, that it might have been able to send its Radwan commando unit into Israeli territory undetected through the tunnels posed a real threat. It would have given Hezbollah the crucial element of surprise and enabled it to take control of Israeli territory, if only for a short time, and probably terrify the local population.
For the Jewish state this is a nightmare scenario, as it would probably result in many casualties, both military and civilian. It would require a mass evacuation from areas along its northern border, not to mention confronting enemy forces on its own territory, which is not something the Israel Defense Forces are comfortable with. They would rather operate beyond their own borders than confront guerrillas inside Israel.
The discovery of three attack tunnels dug by Hezbollah and intruding into Israeli territory has dangerously narrowed the margin of error for both sides.Moreover, should Nasrallah’s forces ever manage to execute such a plan it would probably force Israel to retaliate with massive force to re-establish calm along its northern border and act as a long-term deterrent — a response that might result in even worse destruction and bloodshed than in the summer of 2016. Add to this that any military achievement for Hezbollah is one for Tehran too, and the volatility of the Blue Line becomes explosive. Nasrallah, who has been on the run and in hiding for the past 12 years, views Israel as a useful enemy. Confronting it is part of his domestic calculus, and the best way to maintain political, financial and military support from Iran.
With the war in Syria approaching some kind of conclusion, Hezbollah fighters are returning home to Lebanon, having acquired significant battlefield experience that they will find useful in future confrontations. However, they have also sustained heavy casualties, and the organization and its leaders have been criticized for getting embroiled in a war that did not serve the interests of Lebanon. Despite doing well in last May’s elections, Hezbollah are treated with great suspicion in many political quarters, and there is a fear that should they become entangled in another war with Israel, they will not be the only ones to pay the price for it.Hezbollah’s acquisition of up to 150,000 short-to-long-range rockets and missiles — which put the entire state of Israel within range— has been keeping both sides on edge for more than a decade. Its recently exposed tunneling into Israeli territory shows how dangerous the situation has become. Any wrong move, politically or militarily, could end in calamity for both sides.On this occasion it is not only Nasrallah who must come up with some explanations, but also Tehran, which is playing its own part in heating up tensions along the Blue Line.
*Yossi Mekelberg is professor of international relations at Regent’s University London, where he is head of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program. He is also an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. He is a regular contributor to the international written and electronic media. Twitter: @YMekelberg

Why Africa is the new big-power battleground

Dr. Theodore Karasik/Arab News/December 15/18
US National Security Adviser John Bolton’s unveiling of President Donald Trump's Africa strategy is a direct attempt to counter China and Russia’s expanding influence across the continent. Both are accused of predatory economics, from the theft of intellectual property to stealing mineral wealth and labor through debt. Bolton said America's vision for the region was “one of independence, self-reliance, and growth — not dependency, domination, and debt.”Chinese and Russian behavior stunts economic growth in Africa and threatens the financial independence of African nations while inhibiting opportunities for US investment. More importantly, predatory economics can interfere with US military operations and ultimately pose a significant threat to US national security interests.
Bolton said the two nations were deepening their reach and investments in the region in the hopes of gaining a “competitive advantage” over the US. He especially criticized China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the trillion-dollar program of infrastructure development and investments across Asia, Europe, and Africa.
To be sure, both Russia and China are extraordinarily active in Africa. Russia has signed agreements to establish economic zones in Eritrea, explore opportunities in accessing minerals across southern Africa, and enhance military and technical cooperation with the Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Zimbabwe, and others. Murky Russian private military companies are operating in several African countries advising leaders and protecting economic assets.
China has provided billions of dollars in loans, grants, and development financing to many of Africa’s 55 nations. Beijing financed large-scale infrastructural projects such as railways in Kenya, factories in Lesotho and Namibia, and free trade zones. China also helped Ethiopia launch its first satellite, has opened up a key military base in Djibouti and has sent peacekeepers to South Sudan, Mali, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Beijing provides training and education opportunities for thousands of Africa’s leaders, bureaucrats, students, and business people.
Both Russia and China make African security more fragile from the US point of view; Washington sees the BRICS as a weak grouping unable to rally African countries to a new economic order simply because the metrics do not add up for success. Instead, a trail of broken countries will continue.
Specifically, the Trump administration’s approach appears to lean heavily on the idea that the US needs to advance trade and commercial ties with African nations now by exposing the predatory practices pursued by Russia and China. With two peer competitors seemingly teaming up in Africa, the game is now about great powers and their financial and political influence. Moscow and Beijing are targeting their investments in the region to gain a competitive advantage over the US. With the East ascendant over the declining West, Russia and China see opportunity.
Chinese and Russian behavior stunts economic growth in Africa and threatens the financial independence of African nations while inhibiting opportunities for US investment.
The US wants African governments to act as strategic partners and to improve governance and transparent business practices that can help those nations address security threats, including terrorism and militant violence. Such an offer may be tough for some African countries to swallow given local politics, corruption and ineffective legal systems or hybrid courts. For some countries, the Chinese presence has been ongoing for several decades and with a resurgent Russia in the eyes of the Middle East and Africa, Moscow is pushing assertively into several corners of the continent, reawaking old ties and developing new connections. Together, Russia and China make a formidable team who seek an alternative path to sustainable development.
Bolton’s policy announcement followed a long-awaited plan to reduce AFRICOM’s number of US troops conducting counterterrorism missions in Africa over the next three years. This comes despite senior US military commanders warning last year that the terror threat in many African nations was growing, particularly in West Africa. Importantly, the planned reductions are part of a broader global effort intended to align the US military’s global posture with the Trump administration’s National Defense Strategy, which focuses more on “near-peer” competitors such as Russia and China instead of counterterrorism missions.
Overall, this shift in policy means the US will be reducing counter-terrorism efforts in order to shift to plan and train missions for confrontation with near-peer competitors in third locations. African countries are expected to be transparent and self-sufficient and not beholden to another country in debt or servitude. That the Trump administration is dealing so aggressively with Russia and China is likely to be read in both Moscow and Beijing as a challenge. Africa as a theater of hybrid warfare is now here, with an economic collision between the three powers while extremists continue to pop up in new corners of the continent.
*Dr. Theodore Karasik is a senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics in Washington, DC. He is a former RAND Corporation Senior Political Scientist who lived in the UAE for 10 years, focusing on security issues. Twitter: @tkarasik

The ISIS demon haunts Iraq again
Adnan Hussein/Al Arabiya/December 15/18
The government of Iraq announced December 10 a national holiday in which governmental institutions close to mark the first anniversary of defeating and expelling ISIS from the country. However, this is a bit misleading as ISIS has revived some of its activity in recent months in a number of areas from where it was expelled earlier. Statements about this activity is no longer limited to a number of journalists, security experts, political and civil activists, as even leaders of political blocs and influential parties have started issuing warnings against the dreaded terror group’s return.
Speaking at a press conference recently, leader of Kurdistan Democratic Party Masoud Barzani warned that “the ISIS threat is not over and has returned to (some) areas in a way that’s worse than before.” He said that it’s more dangerous than before, noting that the “organization strongly returned because the reasons that led to the rise of ISIS and al-Qaeda have not been resolved.”
A week before Barzani’s statement, leader of the Sadrist movement Moqtada al-Sadr issued a warning on Twitter saying: “Mosul is in danger, terrorist cells are getting active and the corruptors are spreading destruction,” and added the hashtag ‘Save Mosul’.
The liberated areas, especially Nineveh Governorate, have recently witnessed a series of attacks, bombings, murders, kidnapping and road blockages attributed to ISIS. The menace extends as far as the Saladin Governorate in the south and the Diyala Governorate in the east. Under pressure from the pleas of the residents of these areas, Iraqi parliamentary members were forced to form an investigating committee for the security breaches in Mosul which had spread to several other western governorates.It is obvious that this ‘return’ of ISIS is not because it has become very powerful. Official Iraqi statistics actually indicate that the number of its members killed in the war to restore areas they occupied since June 2014 exceeded 20,000. This is in addition to hundreds of prisoners held by Iraqi forces. Meanwhile, the international coalition sources estimate 80,000 members of ISIS were killed in Iraq and Syria.
Endemic corruption
The secret behind ISIS’s resurging activity is linked to the Iraqi state which has not been able to bring normalcy in the liberated areas. There are still tens of thousands of families who fled cities and villages during the military operations against ISIS and have been incapable of returning and continue to live miserably in camps.
This is all due to the state’s inability to rebuild the devastated areas, despite allocation of funds for the process — most of which were provided by rich Arab and foreign countries. The inability to reconstruct these areas is due to the reluctance among government departments to initiate reconstruction operations. There have been frank accusations against government officials of having swindled reconstruction money, in collusion with contractors and the companies that were supposed to carry out reconstruction operations.
This is a general problem in Iraq as according to government sources, the number of stalled investment projects in Iraq is over 30,000. Corruption is the main stumbling block. In Mosul, the largest city invaded by ISIS in 2014, there is no sign of commencement of any government reconstruction program. In fact, all the reconstruction effort, such as the rebuilding of houses and institutions in the city has been done by the local residents, who have received modest support from local and foreign charity organizations.
Another reason that has helped ISIS revive is that some military and security forces tasked with protecting and securing the liberated areas did not perform their duties like they should in a way that helps them gain the locals’ approval and hence cooperation. The head of the previous parliamentary security and defense committee, Hakim al-Zamili, recently stated that some military units’ preoccupation with financial affairs, selling lands, accepting bribes, smuggling scrap, drugs, goods and oil have helped in the return of terrorist groups to Mosul and its outskirts. This is reminiscent of the situation in Mosul and other western areas and cities just before ISIS invaded them.
The faltering center
According to local media reports, some officials of armed groups that participated in the liberation of Mosul a year ago have taken off their military suits and become businessmen. Many of them now control the oil market, real estate and auctions in the city. Influential parties are also involved in such practices and have formed “economic committees” to regulate them. This is why during his meeting with Nineveh Governorate MPs three weeks ago, Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi said he will work toward dissolving these partisan “economic committees.”
Certainly, the political crisis which Baghdad has experienced recently over the issue of government formation, wherein even the ministers of defense and interior have not been appointed, has exacerbated the situation.
It has hindered the restoration of much needed security and stability for launching reconstruction projects in the devastated cities. It has also impeded the return of displaced citizens to their areas to support the military and security forces in confronting the terrorist militia that is making efforts to restore its previous status via its sleeper cells in several areas and cities and its armed groups that roam freely. Truth is, if the current situation continues as such, it will encourage ISIS to expand and escalate its operations in the future while the influential political class in Baghdad remains preoccupied with its conflicts over government posts.

Macron’s apology: A brave move

Randa Takieddine/Al Arabiya/December 15/18
French President Emmanuel Macron seemed responsive with the complaints of the Yellow Vest Movement protesting the high cost of living in the country. The president issued an apology in his uncharacteristically brief 13-minute speech to the French people in case they found his behavior arrogant or dismissive of their concerns.
He offered four measures to the problem in a firm and dignified tone. He said he understands that life is difficult for some people but without giving in to those who resorted to violent actions. He condemned the latter and said violence was rejected while emphasizing his influence and apologizing if he hurt anyone with his words. He also announced exemption of low-income contractors from taxes and raised the minimum wage limit by 100 euros, without being paid by the employer. He removed taxes on extra working hours, which was imposed by former right wing French President Nicolas Sarkozy and removed by the socialist Francois Hollande upon becoming the President. He said that he would not reinstate wealth tax as it did not benefit the needy and reinstating it would be disincentive for investors and increase unemployment.
Macron offered all that could be given in difficult economic situations. He even reversed the words of the finance and the labor ministers, who had earlier stressed that there was no room for raising the minimum wage
A compassionate leader
He promised to hold talks with various groups on the ground as well as their representatives such as municipality and syndicate heads. His speech showed that he is aware of the seriousness of the living conditions facing a large segment of the French people as he described the current period as a “historic time” for France. Contrary to his usual approach which often appears to be detached from the people; the President showed courage in extending an apology and backing down.
However, the reaction of the Yellow Vests protesters was mixed. Many thought the President responded to their demands and they said they would suspend their activity. Others, however, and they are a majority, believed the President’s response was not enough and described his speech as a gimmick and said that they would continue their movement till the end.
In fact, Macron offered all that could be given in difficult economic situations. He even reversed the words of the finance and the labor ministers, who had earlier stressed that there was no room for raising the minimum wage or removing some taxes. He used his influence to adopt measures to satisfy the protesters. However, the protesters may resume with their demonstrations on Saturday as they still want more concessions, not only measures pertaining to the minimum wage but ones that pertain to the medium class salaries. They also want an increase in pension to cope with the rising cost of living.
They have decided to continue because they do not trust the promises of the ruling class and what it has been telling them for decades. Macron was elected because he promised that he would bring in reforms, no matter what opposition he may face. The French people had for years relied on the state to improve their living conditions. Now, the state seems incapable of improving them. Macron thought that reducing the tax burden on employers would create job opportunities and improve people’s purchasing power. This takes time, but the Yellow Vests movement will not be patient as they’ve had enough of the burden of taxes and rebelled.
Popular unrest
Even schoolchildren have rebelled against the examination system. Other sectors of the populace are also mobilized and ready to act encouraged by the far left led and its leader Jean-Luc Melenchon who criticizes Macron day and night. He said that President Macron started by accusing those who committed violent actions, but did not say a word about the victims of this violence nor the injured security officers. Melenchon added that Macron had wrongly understood the times France is experiencing as he (Macron) thinks that the dispersal of some money would stop the protests. Melenchon added that his parliamentary bloc was not concerned with Macron’s measures because they did not present a solution.
However, Gaullists supported some of the measures announced by Macron in his speech. Logically, Macron’s decisions should have calmed the protests, but the popular movement will continue and it may peter out when the labor, trading and tourism sectors get wary of tourists’ and buyers’ reluctance just before Christmas and of spreading gloominess across cities. Protestors want to enhance their purchasing power but this cannot be achieved overnight. Macron does not have a magical wand to do so, hence he is trying to improve conditions in France on the long run. However, the Yellow Vests protestors preceded him and will not wait.
Some politicians from both the extreme left and extreme right are taking advantage of this discontent. However, Yellow Vests protesters might themselves lose popular support in case their demonstrations cause more losses in vital sectors of the country which, every Saturday for four weeks, has been hit by closures of shops and neighborhoods and destruction and theft in Paris, Bordeaux and other French cities.
The protests are thus doomed to fail if they continue and they will only make life harder for protestors and others.