December 19/18

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For today
Parable Of the Widow & The Judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people/Pray always and don't lose heart
Luke 18/01-08: "Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, "Grant me justice against my opponent. "For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, "Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming." ’ And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’"

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on December 18-19/18
UN peacekeepers say two tunnels at Israel border breached UN resolution
Lebanon: Military Sources Say Army Ready for All Possibilities
Ex-Lebanese minister: Hezbollah tunnels no violation of UN resolution
Lebanese Government Could See Light Before Week’s End
Lebanon’s 'Capernaum' on Shortlist of Oscar Nominees for Best Foreign Film
Hariri Assures Del Col: Lebanon Fully Committed to Resolution 1701, Respect of the Blue Line
Ibrahim Says Govt. ‘Initiative Successful’ after Meeting Consultative Gathering MPs
Khalil Says Lebanon Could Have a New Government Before Christmas
Miqati Relays Aoun’s ‘Confidence’ over Govt. Formation
Fitch Revises Lebanon's Outlook to Negative, Affirms at 'B-'
Berri Says Government Formation Is Imminent
EU Ambassador Christina Lassen meets with Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri
Future bloc: Aoun's initiative last chance to break cycle of political conditions
Bassil after “Strong Lebanon” meeting hopes government birth coincides with that of Christ
Geagea during LF Christmas recital: We shall not spare any effort to attain fully fledged nation state
Jordan's King urges launching of serious Palestinian Israeli peace talks
Kataeb calls for swift government formation
Kataeb Party: No Stability and Sovereignty Amid Presence of Non-State Arms
Analysis/Israel Takes Tunnel Op to World Stage Before Potential Use of Unprecedented Force in Lebanon

Titles For The Latest  English LCCC  Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 18-19/18
Pope Francis Warns Against Nationalism, Xenophobia
Russia, Iran and Turkey seek deal on new ‘Syria constitutional body’
Iran: European Financial Initiative Will Come into Force by End of 2018
Nearly 2,000 jailed for life since 2016 coup: Turkey state media
US accepts Assad staying in Syria – but won’t give aid
Iraqi Court Order Reappoints Fayadh to Former Security Posts
German Foreign Minister in Iraq to Discuss Security, Economic Files
Xi Warns No One Can 'Dictate' China's Path, 40 Years on from Reforms
Yemen's Hodeida Calm after Ceasefire Takes Effect

Titles For The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 17-18/18
Ex-Lebanese minister: Hezbollah tunnels no violation of UN resolution/Yoav Zitun/Ynetnews/December 18/18
Fitch Revises Lebanon's Outlook to Negative, Affirms at 'B-'/Fitch Ratings/December 18/18
Analysis/Israel Takes Tunnel Op to World Stage Before Potential Use of Unprecedented Force in Lebanon/Amos Harel/Haaretz/December 18/18
Russia, Iran and Turkey seek deal on new ‘Syria constitutional body’/Reuters, Geneva/Tuesday, 18 December 2018
Xi Warns No One Can 'Dictate' China's Path, 40 Years on from Reforms/Naharnet/Agence France Presse/December 18/18
Erdogan’s Rapprochement With Assad/Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al-Awsat/December, 18/18
The Problem With Dominant Mark Zuckerberg Types/Chris Hughes/Bloomberg/December,18/18
Proxy Wars and the Struggle for the Soul of Capitalism/John Authers/Bloomberg/December,18/18
Turkey Aiming to Head a Global Islamic Union Governed by Sharia/Uzay Bulut/Gatestone Institute/December 18/18
Yellow Vest Riots Spread: Week Five/Bruce Bawer/Gatestone Institute/December 18/18
Will sick men of Europe be able to weather economic storm?/Cornelia Meyer/Arab News/December 18/18
Hodeidah agreement offers a real chance at peace in Yemen/Fahad Nazer/Arab News/December 18/18
Saudi ties with Israeli intelligence, tech industry are targeted at weak moments for Trump, Crown Prince and PM/Debka File/December 18/18

Latest LCCC English Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on December 18-19/18
UN peacekeepers say two tunnels at Israel border breached UN resolution
Reuters/Tuesday, 18 December 2018/UN peacekeepers in Lebanon said on Monday two of four tunnels found close to the border with Israel crossed the frontier demarcation between the two countries, violating a UN resolution that ended a 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel. The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) said it had so far confirmed the existence of four tunnels which the Israeli army discovered in the vicinity of the border demarcation, known as the “Blue Line”, adding the finds were of “serious concern”. Israel says Hezbollah, Lebanon’s most powerful armed group, dug the tunnels with the aim of launching attacks into Israel with backing from its regional sponsor Iran. Hezbollah has yet to comment. “UNIFIL at this stage can confirm that two of the tunnels cross the Blue Line. These constitute violations of UN Security Council Resolution 1701,” the statement said. The UN peacekeepers said they would continue their technical investigations, describing the recent discoveries as “a matter of serious concern,” requesting “urgent follow-up actions” by the Lebanese authorities. Israel and Hezbollah have avoided major conflict across the Lebanese-Israeli border since 2006, though Israel has mounted attacks in Syria targeting what it said were advanced weapon deliveries to the group. Israel has said it is up to UNIFIL to deal with the tunnels on the Lebanese side of the border, and its military said it held the Beirut government responsible for breaching Security Council resolution 1701.

Lebanon: Military Sources Say Army Ready for All Possibilities
Beirut - Youssef Diab/Asharq Al Awsat/Tuesday, 18 December, 2018/The Lebanese Army was on alert after the Israeli soldiers started rolling out barbed wire along the Blue Line separating Lebanon and Israel on Monday. Civilians were asked to leave the area in anticipation of any military development. Lebanese soldiers - objecting to the placement of some barbed wire - asked UNIFIL members on site to tell the invading soldiers to move it. Lebanese military sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Israeli army carried out four violations of the Blue Line, which included changing the location of the barbed strip and advancing towards Lebanese territory. The sources described the moves as a “violation of the Lebanese sovereignty,” adding that the army would “deal with the situation based to its field requirements.” “As long as the Israelis move inside in the occupied territories, it won’t be a problem for us; but we will not allow them to approach our lands,” the sources affirmed, stressing that the Lebanese army deployed along the southern border was in full readiness and prepared for all possibilities.”“[Army] patrols are monitoring the situation closely,” they said, adding that the Lebanese army was in full coordination with the UNIFIL.Meanwhile, the UNIFIL announced on Monday that two of Hezbollah’s tunnels crossed the Blue Line, in violation of UN Security Council resolution 1701. “UNIFIL has been actively following up on developments relating to the discovery of tunnels along the Blue Line” by the Israeli army, a statement by UNIFIL said. UNIFIL technical teams have undertaken a number of site inspections south of the Blue Line in order to ascertain the facts. It added that based on UNIFIL’s independent assessment, “UNIFIL has so far confirmed the existence of all the four tunnels close to the Blue Line in northern Israel.” “After further technical investigations conducted independently in accordance with its mandate, UNIFIL at this stage can confirm that two of the tunnels cross the Blue Line. These constitute violations of UN Security Council resolution 1701,” the statement read. While expressing “serious concern” over the new developments, UNIFIL said it “requested the Lebanese authorities to ensure urgent follow-up actions in accordance with the responsibilities of the Government of Lebanon pursuant to resolution 1701.”“The situation in UNIFIL’s area of operation remains calm. UNIFIL’s leadership is fully engaged with the parties to ensure stability along the Blue Line and prevent misunderstandings in order to keep the area of operation calm,” the statement concluded.

Ex-Lebanese minister: Hezbollah tunnels no violation of UN resolution
Yoav Zitun/Ynetnews/December 18/18
On eve of UN debate on the issue, Israeli army releases footage showing the Iranian proxy's subterranean passages, says group likely tried to block at least one as IDF launched operation to find and destroy them.
A day before the United Nations Security Council convenes to discuss Hezbollah's tunnels dug into Israel from Lebanon, the Israel Defense Forces on Tuesday released new footage from inside one of the captured passageways, showing its advanced construction.
Alsdo Tuesday, a former Lebanese minister claimed that as the tunnels were hidden underground, they could not be seen as a violation of a key UN resolution on Hezbollah and Israel. The footage released by the IDF shows a tunnel with concrete reinforced walls, something that differs in construction to the other tunnels uncovered so far on the Israel-Lebanon border, which were dug through the rock.
The IDF believes Hezbollah fighters tried to block the tunnel after the launch of Operation Northern Shield on December 4.
IDF soldiers have located at least four cross-border Hezbollah attack tunnels over the course of the operation. According to the IDF, none of the tunnels that have been found, as well as others the military is trying to locate, poses a threat to the citizens of Israel. "Since the attack tunnels were first exposed, IDF soldiers have been analyzing them using a variety of means, including photography and research capabilities. The efforts to expose and neutralize the Hezbollah attack tunnels continue as planned," the army said in a statement. The IDF has yet to release the location of the concrete-reinforced tunnel. According to Lebanese reports, the IDF has been digging not only near the Israeli border town of Metula, but also close to Moshav Zar'it on the western part of the Israel-Lebanon border and in the Rafeket enclave in the Galilee.
A former senior Lebanese government official claimed Tuesday that Hezbollah's tunnels and the weapons they keep underground do not constitute a violation of UN Resolution 1701.
"The tunnels, which have been present for a long time, don’t constitute any evidence of violation of Resolution 1701," former minister Tarek Mitri told the London-based, pan-Arab Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. He was involved in the negotiations over Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War between Israel and Hezbollah, and later served as then-UN chief Ban Ki-moon's personal envoy to Lebanon. Mitri said that, "the article in the resolution that defines there would be no weapons south of the Litani River, with the exception of the Lebanon army and UNIFIL, does not directly address this matter. If there is nothing visible over ground, and if this weapon is underground, then it is not visible and therefore it does not exist."
The Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Akhbar newspaper reported Tuesday that Lebanon rejected Israeli requests, passed through the US, to aid in the search for the tunnels.
The report said that Israel had asked the Americans to put pressure on the Lebanese army to uncover tunnels and destroy them along with UNIFIL. A diplomatic source told the paper Beirut rejected the request and refused to discuss it further. Al-Akhbar further noted that "in the information Israel provides the international forces, it notes it is having a difficult time carrying out the digging works in the way it would've liked in light of the conduct of the Lebanese army in the area." The report also claimed that Israel told international forces in the area that, "it is experiencing difficulties in carrying out the digging work as it would like due to the conduct of the Lebanese army."Meanwhile, a source involved in the IDF activity on the Lebanese border told Asharq Al-Awsat that the resolution was violated both by Israel and Lebanon a day after it was approved by the Security Council. "Hezbollah and its media outlets said the resolution was a conspiracy against the organization. Iran's Revolutionary Guards were deployed in southern Lebanon, refusing to cooperate with Beirut after it asked Tehran to inform it of their activities," the source added.  UNIFIL confirmed Monday the existence of four tunnels on the Lebanese border, saying at least two cross the Blue Line from Lebanon into Israel. According to the UN force, this is a violation of Resolution 1701.

Lebanese Government Could See Light Before Week’s End

Beirut - Caroline Akoum/Asharq Al Awsat/Tuesday, 18 December, 2018/Lebanese parties agreed Monday that the cabinet formation process reached its last phases and might see the light before the end of this week should no new obstacles emerge in the last minute of consultations. “If matter continue to move in this direction, a new cabinet will be announced before the end of this week,” sources told Asharq Al-Awsat. “We reached the last phases in solving the Sunni knot,” they said, amid reports that the March 8 Sunni Consultative Gathering has accepted to name a figure not from its six deputies to represent them in the next cabinet. MPs Abdul-Rahim Murad and Walid Sukkarieh, both from the Consultative Gathering, indirectly confirmed the reports. Sources from the Mustaqbal Movement told Asharq Al-Awsat that the key to solving the cabinet crisis is in the hands of Hezbollah. They said that President Michel Aoun, who accepted to name, from his share, a Sunni minister that represents the six MPs, has asked Hezbollah to offer guarantees that the party would not place additional obstacles in the cabinet formation process. Sources said that changes in the stances of concerned parties have produced positive results in the process. They said the six independent MPs should now name several figures as possible candidates for the Sunni ministerial post. Aoun would then choose one of them as a minister from his share. The Consultative Gathering is expected to meet on Tuesday with General Security chief Major General Abbas Ibrahim, who is currently mediating between concerned parties to solve the cabinet crisis. Murad said Monday there is a possibility to accept the participation of a minister from outside the Consultative Gathering in the new cabinet. “But, first, there is a need to admit our right to be represented in the government,” he said.

Lebanon’s 'Capernaum' on Shortlist of Oscar Nominees for Best Foreign Film

Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 18 December, 2018/Lebanese director Nadine Labaki’s “Capernaum” was shortlisted Monday for a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. It joins eight other movies that will be vying to be nominated for Hollywood’s top honor. Shortlists, decided on by executive committees in the film academy, help narrow the playing field in many of the categories before they are whittled down further to five final nominations in late January. “Capernaum” was shortlisted along with Alfonso Cuaron's "Roma", Lee Chang-dong's thriller "Burning", Poland's "Cold War," Japan's "Shoplifters," Colombia's "Birds of Passage," Denmark's "The Guilty," Germany's "Never Look Away" and Kazakhstan's "Ayka."Earlier this month, “Capernaum” was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes. The critically acclaimed film, about a streetwise child who survives on the streets, has already won the prestigious Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. It stars 13-year-old Syrian refugee child turned actor Zain al-Rafeea. The movie has garnered a string of wins and nominations on the festival circuit . Nominations for the 91st Academy Awards will be announced on January 22, a one month before the Oscars on February 24

Hariri Assures Del Col: Lebanon Fully Committed to Resolution 1701, Respect of the Blue Line
Naharnet/December 18/18/Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri assured the Head of Mission and Force Commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) General Stefano Del Col that Lebanon is committed to the full implementation of Resolution 1701 and the respect of the Blue Line on its southern border, Hariri’s press office said in a statement. Hariri said during a meeting with Del Col at the Center House on Monday that the Lebanese army, which is sole responsible of defending the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Lebanon, cooperates with the UNIFIL forces and will conduct patrols to deal with any flaw in the implementation of resolution 1701 from the Lebanese side. The UN must shoulder its responsibilities in facing the daily violations by Israel of Lebanese airspace and territorial waters. Hariri considered that the escalated Israeli tone towards Lebanon does not serve the calm that has been prevailing for more than 12 years, and that the international community must curb this escalation in the interest of the respect of the Blue Line and the full implementation of Resolution 1701.

Ibrahim Says Govt. ‘Initiative Successful’ after Meeting Consultative Gathering MPs
Naharnet/December 18/18/General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim stated on Tuesday after holding talks with the Consultative Gathering MPs that an “initiative” to ease the government formation impasse has been “crowned with success,” without disclosing the candidate’s name to represent said MPs. “Our initiative has been crowned with success. I want to extend my gratitude to President Michel Aoun,” Ibrahim told anxious reporters, referring to the President’s week-long consultations with concerned parties to end the impasse.
“Our meeting with MPs is the first step towards the completion of the initiative. Things are going by leaps and bounds heralding a close government,” added Ibrahim. Asked about the Consultative Gathering’s candidate to be named as minister, Ibrahim said: “We haven't discussed the names proposed yet. When the initiative is complete then we will announce the name,” he said. He noted that one of the six MPs, Faisal Karami, is expected to return to Beirut on Friday after which they will name the candidate. “All political parties have made concessions in order to make the formation happen,” he said. For his part, Abdul Rahim Mrad said: “We appreciate the efforts of Ibrahim. His efforts were successful. The entire problem has been solved.”

Khalil Says Lebanon Could Have a New Government Before Christmas

Naharnet/December 18/18Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil on Tuesday said a new government “is likely be formed before the Christmas vacation.”Khalil said if the discussions -- aiming at ending more than seven months of deadlock because of wrangling between political parties over quotas and ministerial seats-- continue in the “positive direction” they “could lead to fruition,” media reports quoted the minister as saying. Khalil affirmed that a positive outcome will have “positive effects on the financial and economic sectors,” in the country. Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’s efforts to form a new government have been delayed since his designation in May because of disagreements between political parties over cabinet shares and quotas. The government was on the verge of formation on October 29 after the Lebanese Forces accepted the portfolios that were assigned to it but a last-minute hurdle over the representation of pro-Hizbullah Sunni MPs surfaced. Last week, President Michel Aoun kicked off consultations with the concerned parties in a bid to record a breakthrough.

Miqati Relays Aoun’s ‘Confidence’ over Govt. Formation
Naharnet/December 18/18/Former PM Najib Miqati stressed on Tuesday that President Michel Aoun is “confident” the government crisis will be resolved. In remarks he made after meeting the President in Baabda, Miqati told reporters: “The President is confident the government will be formed and he is reassured that there is a work calendar for implementation immediately after the formation.”A meeting expected today between General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim and the so-called Independent Sunni MPs has raised expectations that easing the “obstacle” of their representation in the government could be solved. Independent MPs, have adamantly demanded representation in the government. They MPs: MP Abdel-Rahim Mrad, Adnan Traboulsi, Qassem Hashem (Amal Movement parliamentary bloc) Walid Sukkarieh (Hizbullah parliamentary bloc), Jihad al-Samad and Faisal Karami belong to a bloc that includes the Marada Movement.Hizbullah has insisted the 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.

Fitch Revises Lebanon's Outlook to Negative, Affirms at 'B-'
Fitch Ratings/December 18/18
Fitch Ratings has revised the Outlooks on Lebanon's Long-Term Foreign- and Local-Currency Issuer Default Ratings (IDR) to Negative from Stable and affirmed the IDRs at 'B-'."The revision of the Outlook on the Long-Term IDRs reflects a further deterioration in government deficits and debt dynamics and signs of rising pressures on Lebanon's financing model, including a decline in deposit growth, and increasing reliance on unorthodox measures by the central bank in response to these pressures," read a statement issued by the agency.
"Lebanon's public finances have worsened in 2018 and risks to the medium-term sustainability of government debt have risen. We forecast that the 2018 budget deficit has widened significantly to 10.6% of GDP, from an average of 8.2% of GDP in 2012-2017, because of hikes in public sector salaries, higher electricity subsidies and interest payments and a pick-up in capital spending," it added. Fitch Ratings also forecast that the budget deficit will remain above 10% of GDP in 2019-2020, on the back of higher interest rates, weak economic growth and a lack of material fiscal reform. Lower oil prices and the higher corporate tax rate introduced in 2018 will help marginally. "We project that government debt/GDP will reach 158% in 2020 and will continue rising, to 169% in 2023," it noted. The agency stressed that the salary scale adjustment in September 2017 has been the primary driver of the larger deficit, adding that the cost of the adjustment has outweighed revenue-raising measures introduced in 2018 to offset the salary scale. Other spending lines have also pressured the budget in 2018, thr agency pointed out, notably transfers to Electricite du Liban (EDL), the loss-making state-owned electricity company, which rose 33% yoy in 1H, in line with global oil prices. "Lebanese and international stakeholders agree that the budget deficit needs to narrow, but a credible, actionable plan for achieving this is still lacking and it remains unclear if political dynamics will allow for a concerted fiscal adjustment," the statement stressed.
Higher government borrowing requirements and rising international interest rates are placing extra pressure on Lebanon's financing model and risk undermining confidence in its sustainability."Lebanon's 'B-' IDRs reflect the very weak public finances, difficult political environment and anaemic economic performance," the agency said. "The ratings also reflect the unblemished track record of public debt repayment and the depth of the financial system (deposits in commercial banks are around 300% of GDP)."Growth prospects remain modest without improvements in the external environment, a stronger reform programme or a boost to investment through the implementation of CEDRE projects. "Domestic and international politics weigh on the ratings. The factional nature of domestic politics renders the country vulnerable to periods of political vacuum and policy inertia. Most recently, Lebanon has been struggling to form a government for more than six months since the 6 May election. Spillovers from regional instability continue to weigh on the economy and geopolitical risks persist, for example, related to enmity between Hizbollah and Israel, US policy against Iran and the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran."

Berri Says Government Formation Is Imminent 18/18/Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said that the government formation is imminent, adding that things are going in the right direction. "The government formation stalemate is close to being solved,” Berri told Al-Joumhouria newspaper. “We can say that the government is two steps away," he added.

EU Ambassador Christina Lassen meets with Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri
Tue 18 Dec 2018/NNA - EU Ambassador Christina Lassen met this evening with Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri. The meeting focused on the government formation process and the discovery of tunnels at Lebanon's southern border. Ambassador Lassen underlined the need to de-escalate the tense situation. She stressed the need for Lebanon to recognize breaches of Resolution 1701 from the Lebanese side, investigate the matter and to condemn all breaches of UN Security Council Resolution 1701. "We support UNIFIL's call for urgent follow-up actions by the Lebanese authorities in accordance with Lebanon's obligations regarding Resolution 1701 and commend the ongoing close cooperation between the Lebanese Armed Forces and UNIFIL forces along the Blue Line" Ambassador Lassen said. She further underlined the European Union's commitment to the support of Lebanon's security sector and institutions, crucial to ensure the stability, security and unity of the country. The meeting also tackled the progress of the consultation efforts to form a new government. "The European Union welcomes all efforts towards forming a government at the very soonest", said Ambassador Lassen and expressed hope "that all State institutions will function properly in 2019, for the benefit of Lebanon and the Lebanese people". This is even more crucial now given the tense regional situation.

Future bloc: Aoun's initiative last chance to break cycle of political conditions
Tue 18 Dec 2018/NNA - The Future parliamentary bloc held a meeting this afternoon at the Center House, chaired by MP Bahia Hariri. At the end of the meeting, the following statement was read by MP Nazih Najm: First: The bloc expresses its satisfaction with the course taken by the initiative of the President of the Republic, General Michel Aoun, in what relates to the government, and the solutions to overcome the obstacles to the government formation. The bloc believes that the efforts of the President constitute the last chance to break the cycle of political conditions, and its success must complete the results reached by Prime Minister Saad Hariri before the appearance of the last hurdle. Betting on forming the government before the holidays is now possible. It should be urgent in light of the economic, financial and developmental challenges on the agenda of the executive power and other institutions concerned with launching legislative, reform and administrative workshops and to stop the policies of wasting time.The economic and financial repercussions of the government's delay are warning of dire consequences that will not be remedied by political painkillers and successive calls for verbal solidarity to stop the collapse. Forming the government is a must and a national responsibility, and the efforts exerted by the President must be translated into practical steps that end with issuing the decrees as soon as possible. Second: The windows that open for Lebanon in the global economic and financial forums are opportunities that cannot be wasted due to local political clashes. The forum that took place in the British capital last week is a distinctive sign of the efforts exerted by Prime Minister Saad Hariri and proves that the private sector in Lebanon and the world are convinced of the opportunities of the Lebanese economy's advancement and are ready to contribute in it immediately after the launch of the reform and investment program by the future government. Third: The bloc stressed the importance of Lebanon's commitment to N resolution 1701 and the obligations to protect Lebanon in the face of Israeli threats and pretexts. It also welcomed Prime Minister Hariri's announcement that the Lebanese army will conduct patrols in the south, to solve, in cooperation with the UN forces, any flaw in the implementation of this resolution, to which Lebanon has repeatedly affirmed its full commitment. The bloc reminds the international community of its responsibility to stop the repeated Israeli violations of the Lebanese sovereignty, while emphasizing that the army alone is in charge of defending Lebanon's sovereignty and territorial integrity. Finally, the bloc examined the work of the parliamentary committees in which the bloc MPs participate and listened to a detailed presentation of the legislations related to the structural and sectoral reforms presented by the Lebanese government at the CEDRE conference in Paris last April, based on which Lebanon obtained funding for the Capital investment program that will be implemented after the formation of the future government.

Bassil after “Strong Lebanon” meeting hopes government birth coincides with that of Christ
Tue 18 Dec 2018/ NNA - “Strong Lebanon" Parliamentary bloc on Tuesday held its weekly meeting at its headquarters in Sin el Fil under the chairmanship of Caretaker Foreign Minister, Gebran Bassil. The meeting reportedly focused on the latest developments, especially with regard to the cabinet formation process. “It is only natural that the main issue on the meeting’s agenda had been the government’s birth, which we said and hoped to coincide with the birth of Christ,” Bassil said in the wake of the meeting. "Things are headed along this path, and I think a solution will surface from within the cabinet formation initiative and the many ideas that we have discussed on the basis of equity of representation and unity of standards — which I think are the most important,” Bassil said. "We can rejoice the birth of the government, but on the other hand, we have established stable standards so that we do not spark hubbub every time we want to form a government. It has been seven months, and we can only compensate for this time with a productive government that doesn’t only provide 24/24 electricity, but also serves the people in all the other fields,” Bassil said, regretting that the cabinet formation seven-month discussions were similar to those of the first week of similar discussions. Moreover, he highlighted the need to have the Sunni minority be represented in the new cabinet. “The Sunni minority must be represented with its own political orientation (...). Hence, the only solution was to jettison all monopoly, imposition, and rejection attempts.“
“Today I declare that there are some details that we have to work on within the next few days, and I wish the PM-designate and the President of the Republic would decide that the cabinet formula is ready and would be announced before Christmas,” Bassil added.
He finally made clear that the new cabinet would be void of “8 and 14” since it is found on the basis of various national agreements.

Geagea during LF Christmas recital: We shall not spare any effort to attain fully fledged nation state

Tue 18 Dec 2018/NNA - Lebanese Forces Party (LF) leader, Samir Geagea, on Tuesday vowed that the LF shall not spare any effort to attain a full-fledged nation state, regardless of all obstacles and impediments. "We will not tire nor get exhausted till we attain the state we aspire for," Geagea said during the Christmas recital held by the Lebanese Forces in Meerab, in the presence of MP Ibrahim Kanaan representing President of the Republic Michel Aoun, and Daoud al-Sayegh representing Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri. The Christmas recital was also attended by scores of religious, party, parliamentary, economic, security and social dignitaries, notably Vice Prime Minister, Caretaker Public Health Minister, Ghassan Hasbani, and Caretaker Information Minister Melhem Riachy. Geagea extended greetings to the Lebanese people on the festive season, Christmas and New Year, hoping that all the Lebanese people's aspirations of a fully fledged Lebanon would be attained.

Jordan's King urges launching of serious Palestinian Israeli peace talks
Tue 18 Dec 2018/Petra News Agency/NNA - Jordan's King Abdullah II on Tuesday met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and stressed the need to break the stalemate in the peace process through launching serious and effective peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis. The King reiterated that negotiations should be based on a two-state solution leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state on the June, 1967, lines with East Quds as its capital. During the talks, which were held at the Basman Palace, King Abdullah stressed Jordan's rejection of unilateral Israeli actions, including building settlement units and expropriation of Palestinian-owned lands in the occupied West Bank, which are a real obstacle to achieving just and lasting peace according to the two-state solution. King Abdullah also called on the international community to take its responsibility toward the Israeli escalation and lobby Israel to cease such practices that will only breed more violence. King Abdullah also reiterated that Jordan stands with all its capabilities with the Palestinian brothers to restore their legitimate and just rights, and will pursue its endeavours with influential parties and the international community to find a political horizon "that serves Palestinian interests and the rights of the Palestinian people". During the talks, emphasis was put on maintaining bilateral coordination and consultation on the latest developments concerning the Palestinian issue. Furthermore, King Abdullah underscored the importance of maintaining the status quo in Quds as the key to achieving peace in the region, stressing that Jordan continues to carry out its historic and religious role of safeguarding Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem in line with the Hashemite Custodianship over these shrines. The Palestinian President, for his part, commended the Kingdom's stance towards the Palestinians, their cause, and their legitimate rights.

Kataeb calls for swift government formation
Tue 18 Dec 2018/NNA - Kataeb Party chief, MP Samy Gemayel, on Tuesday chaired the Party's politburo weekly meeting at the Saifi Central House, to discuss most recent political developments and the general situation in the country. In a statement issued in the wake of the Party's politburo meeting, Kataeb called for a swift formation of a homogeneous government of technocrats, to commence immediately with the implementation of the necessary reforms for Lebanon's salvation. Kataeb considered that the current situation of the Lebanese financial markets, incoming reports by the international rating institutions, the high interest rates and liquidity drying up are all serious indicators of the seriousness of the economic situation in Lebanon. On the other hand, the Phalange Party stressed that Lebanon's stability can only be consecrated through the control of the Lebanese legitimate forces over all its territories. Lastly, Kataeb congratulated the Lebanese, in general, and the Christians, in particular, on the festive season, Christmas and New Year, wishing them peace, stability and good fortune.

Kataeb Party: No Stability and Sovereignty Amid Presence of Non-State Arms 18/18/The Lebanese Kataeb party stressed that Lebanon's sovereignty and stability will remain incomplete as long as non-state armed groups are still present, adding that the State's idleness and disregard of what's happening on its territory are jeopardizing the country."Once again, the State has put itself in the position of a bystander that is totally unaware of what's happening on the Lebanese soil, thus taking responsibility for the others' actions; that could drag the country into dangers that transcend its endurance capacity," read a statement issued following the weekly meeting of the Kataeb's politburo. The party pointed out that the cross-border tunnels that have been found along the Blue Line prove the State's onlooker status, adding that Hezbollah has allowed itself to do whatever it serves its own interest and, therefore, implicate Lebanon in crises it didn't seek. The politburo renewed its warning of the serious economic crisis facing Lebanon, reiterating the call for a government of specialists to launch the reforms needed to rescue the country. "Should a government be formed, after a long wait, as it is currently being proposed, then the ruling authority would have wasted eight months and caused the exacerbation of economic and social crises just for a ministerial post here and another one there," it added. The party extended Christmas and New Year greetings to the Lebanese, hoping that peace, stability, the rule of law, freedoms, justice and equality would finally prevail in Lebanon.

Analysis/Israel Takes Tunnel Op to World Stage Before Potential Use of Unprecedented Force in Lebanon
تحليل من الهآررتس لعاموس هاريل/إسرائيل تأخذ عملية الأنفاق إلى المجتمع الدولي قبل استعمال القوة غير السبوقة في لبنان
Amos Harel/Haaretz/December 18/18
Israel is preparing for a public relations battle to halt Iran’s effort to build precision-missile factories in Lebanon, while setting the stage for a possible war with Hezbollah
Israel's efforts against Hezbollah after the discovery of the attack tunnels under the Lebanese border enter the diplomatic sphere Wednesday.
Israel's claims, which have received U.S. support, will come up in the UN Security Council's periodic briefing on the situation in the Middle East. Israel is trying to leverage military developments – the discovery of the tunnels – to increase the pressure on Hezbollah and the Lebanese government in the international arena.
On Sunday the Israel Defense Forces announced the discovery of a fourth tunnel. The systematic exposure of the tunnels in two-week-old Operation Northern Shield apparently reflects extensive intelligence information. The impression is that the IDF is working according to a plan and is exposing Hezbollah’s tunnel program step by step.
This gradual exposure also serves the diplomatic angle. The operation remains in the headlines in Israel, even if the international media’s interest waned once the tunnel phenomenon was no longer new.
Israel is also trying to maintain awareness of the tunnels through visits to the border by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has already toured there twice, and President Reuven Rivlin, who has been there once.
At the United Nations, Israel will claim that the digging of tunnels into its territory violated its sovereignty and Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
The Lebanese government, for its part, is protesting Israeli threats against the people of south Lebanon – including a text message to villagers near the newly discovered tunnels – and Israel Air Force flights to take photographs. Israel had hoped that the discovery of the tunnels would convince Washington to impose sanctions on Lebanon and limit U.S. aid to the Lebanese Army, but the Trump administration has signaled that this won't happen.
On the ground, the engineering work will continue for at least a few more weeks. Military Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot had originally hoped to begin the work before the winter, but the debate in the cabinet on the need for the operation delayed the engineering work. The IDF believes that it might find a few more tunnels along the border.
The UN Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, has a strong presence at the border, in areas where Israel is operating. The IDF shows every tunnel it exposes to the UN officers. The most sensitive locations are the areas north of the patrol fence that are still under Israeli sovereignty; there’s no physical separation between the sides there. The IDF knows that Lebanese intelligence agents are always there; Hezbollah operatives may be among them.
Sure enough, on Monday the Lebanese military declared a state of high alert at an area where Lebanese soldiers prevented Israeli soldiers from unrolling a barbed wire fence, according to Lebanese reports and video footage.
Despite the American support for the Israeli complaints against Hezbollah, it’s doubtful whether Israel’s efforts at the United Nations will yield immediate results. But Netanyahu seems to be aiming at longer-term goals.
First, Israel is preparing for a public relations battle to halt Iran’s effort to build precision-missile factories for Hezbollah in Lebanon. The tunnels, which betray Hezbollah’s belligerent intentions, make it easier to convey the message on the missile issue as well, which Hezbollah considers even more important. Second, in the background is always the possibility that future tension with Hezbollah – especially surrounding the missile factories – will lead to war.
In any war, the IDF will resort to unprecedented force in Lebanon in a densely populated civilian area. The current steps are designed to prepare the ground in the international arena to justify the IDF’s operations. Israel won’t receive approval from the international community at any stage, but it considers it important to explain its reasoning and the complex circumstances under which it may have to act.

Latest LCCC English Miscellaneous Reports & News published on December 18-19/18
Pope Francis Warns Against Nationalism, Xenophobia
AFP/December 18/18/Pope Francis has warned politicians of the dangers of exploiting nationalism and fear of foreigners to undermine the trust essential to their task of binding societies together, not dividing them. Trust based on an “authentic political life, grounded in law and in frank and fair relations between individuals... is never easy to achieve,” the pope said in a message released Tuesday which will be used to mark World Peace Day on 1 January. This is because “human relations are complex, especially in our own times, marked by a climate of mistrust rooted in the fear of others or of strangers, or anxiety about one’s personal security,” he said. “Sadly, it is also seen at the political level, in attitudes of rejection or forms of nationalism that call into question the fraternity of which our globalised world has such great need. “Today more than ever, our societies need ‘artisans of peace’. “Political addresses that tend to blame every evil on migrants and to deprive the poor of hope are unacceptable,” he added in the message entitled: “Good politics at the service of peace.”Pope Francis also warned against corruption and the pursuit of personal ambition at the expense of wider society, saying that when rulers look out only for themselves, the future is compromised, especially for the younger generations which become marginalised.

Russia, Iran and Turkey seek deal on new ‘Syria constitutional body’
Reuters, Geneva/Tuesday, 18 December 2018
Russia, Iran and Turkey are close to agreement on composition of a Syrian constitutional committee, diplomats said on Monday. The foreign ministers of the three nations, who support opposing sides in Syria’s nearly eight-year war, meet for talks on Tuesday in Geneva, where they are expected to seek the United Nations’ blessing for their joint proposal, they added. Staffan de Mistura, UN Special Envoy for Syria who steps down at year-end, has tried since January to clinch agreement on the identity of 150 members of a new constitutional committee to revitalize a dormant peace process. President Bashar al-Assad’s government and the opposition fighting to topple him have each submitted a list of 50 names, but the three nations have haggled over the final 50 members from civil society and “independent” members, diplomats say. “The three countries are coming with a proposal for the third list, which has been the heart of the problem,” said one diplomat. Turkey and other nations would consider working with Assad if he won a democratic election, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Sunday, two days before coming to Geneva to meet Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and Iran’s Javad Zarif. Turkey supports rebel fighters who control part of northwest Syria. A year ago, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan described Assad as a terrorist and said it was impossible for Syrian peace efforts to continue with him. De Mistura said at the weekend the constitutional committee could be a starting point for political progress. “It does touch, for instance, on presidential powers, it could and should be touching on how elections are done, on division of power, in other words a big issue,” he said. De Mistura will be under “heavy pressure” to accept the trio’s proposal to complete the make-up of the constitutional body, but may leave the decision to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in New York later this week, the diplomats said. “The last word is with us, with the UN, not with any country, as good and as powerful as they may be,” he said on Sunday.

Iran: European Financial Initiative Will Come into Force by End of 2018
London - Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 18 December, 2018/The European Union’s financial initiative intended to protect trade with Iran against newly reimposed US sanctions will come into force by end of 2018, announced head of Iran’s Strategic Council on Foreign Relations Kamal Kharazi. Promises to activate the special purpose vehicle (SPV) before the end of the year were made during negotiations between Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif and European parties, Kharazi told reporters on the sidelines of a conference in Tehran entitled “Peace and Stability in West Asia; One Region, One Fate”.Zarif and senior aides have repeatedly criticized the delay of European steps to confront the US sanctions. In November, western diplomats told Reuters that the EU has so far failed to find a country to host a special mechanism to trade with Iran as governments fear being targeted by US counter measures. Austria, Belgium and Luxembourg declined a request to play host for the SPV, and reports stated that there are talks to activate the mechanism in France, but Paris did not comment on the matter. Europe’s plans to activate the financial mechanism faced obstacles after the Belgium-based SWIFT financial messaging service announced earlier it will be disconnecting some Iranian banks. During his weekly press conference on Monday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi, addressed claims that the Iran-EU trade mechanism will only meet Iran’s needs for medicine and food products in exchange for the country’s oil revenues. “This mechanism has not been defined to only cover medicine and food products, and it must cover a range of transactions and economic and industrial cooperation, even investment,” he stressed. Regarding Iraq’s 45-day waiver granted by the US over Iran sanctions to import gas and electricity, Ghasemi said while Washington continue its futile attempts to undermine cooperation between Tehran and Baghdad by sending delegations, both countries are now perceiving the US hostile policies with new perspectives and will make their own decisions independently.
He further stressed that economic cooperation between Iran and Iraq would expand in the future. Meanwhile, the Fars news agency revealed that Iran and Iraq are negotiating the possibility of halting dollar-based trade between them. The Iraqi and Iranian governments are preparing to formally establish a line of credit between the banks of the two countries formally, and use their currencies in trade exchange. The Fars report revealed that Iran and Iraq’s central banks are finalizing the mechanism to use Iranian riyal and Iraqi dinar in exchange between the two neighbors. Chairman of the Iran-Iraq Joint Chamber of Commerce Yahya Al-e Eshaq confirmed these reports. He revealed that during eight months of the current Iranian year, which started on March 21, products worth $8 billion were exported to Iraq. Discussions were held with the Iraqi officials to simplify export procedures, Eshaq explained, adding that if an agreement is reached, the banks of the two countries may open a letter of credit to each other. Fars claimed that Iran’s export to Iraq in the 8-months period registered a considerable 67 percent hike in terms of weight and value, as compared with last year’s corresponding period. The agency reported that Iran exported 14.216 million tons of goods worth $6.757 billion to Iraq. Iran’s attempts to activate the European mechanism come at a time when the Iranian government finds it difficult to pass the regulations of the law to prevent money laundering and combat financing of terrorism, which prevents Tehran from joining the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), one of Europe’s main conditions for establishing a financial cooperation with Iran.

Nearly 2,000 jailed for life since 2016 coup: Turkey state media
AFP, Ankara/Tuesday, 18 December 2018/Nearly 2,000 people have been sentenced to life in prison since the July 2016 attempted overthrow of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish state media reported Tuesday. State news agency Anadolu said some 1,934 suspects have been told by the courts that they will spend the rest of their life in jail. Of these, 978 people were jailed for life, Anadolu reported, while 956 were sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment, which has replaced the death penalty in Turkey and carries harsher conditions than normal life imprisonment convictions. A total of 239 out of 289 cases opened after the failed coup have been closed. The remaining 50 include 18 in Ankara and nine in Istanbul, Anadolu added. Ankara accuses the US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen of ordering the 2016 coup attempt and refers to his movement as the “Fethullah Terrorist Organization”. Gulen strenuously denies Turkey’s claims and followers insist his movement promotes peace and secular education, ridiculing the description of themselves as a terror group. More than 3,050 people in all have been convicted over links to Gulen, with 1,123 given different jail sentences ranging from over a year to 20 years in prison. In one trial, Gulen’s nephew Selman Gulen was sentenced to seven years and six months in jail for being a “member of an armed terrorist organization”, the agency reported Tuesday. Kutbettin Gulen, brother of the preacher living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, was jailed for 10 years and six months on the same charge in October. In recent weeks, there have been multiple police raids across the country against individuals suspected of links to the Gulen movement, especially in the armed forces. The arrests of over 50,000 people and the sacking of tens of thousands of public sector employees since July 2016 has raised alarm in the West and among rights activists. But Turkish officials insist the crackdown is necessary to remove fully the influence of the Gulen movement, previously referred to as a “virus” inside state institutions.

US accepts Assad staying in Syria – but won’t give aid
AFP, Washington/Tuesday, 18 December 2018/The United States said Monday it was no longer seeking to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but renewed warnings it would not fund reconstruction unless the regime is “fundamentally different.”James Jeffrey, the US special representative in Syria, said that Assad needed to compromise as he had not yet won the brutal seven-year civil war, estimating that some 100,000 armed opposition fighters remained in Syria. “We want to see a regime that is fundamentally different. It’s not regime change -- we’re not trying to get rid of Assad,” Jeffrey said at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank. Estimating that Syria would need $300-400 billion to rebuild, Jeffrey warned that Western powers and international financial institutions would not commit funds without a change of course. “There is a strong readiness on the part of Western nations not to ante up money for that disaster unless we have some kind of idea that the government is ready to compromise and thus not create yet another horror in the years ahead,” he said. Former president Barack Obama had called for Assad to go, although he doubted the wisdom of a robust US intervention in the complex Syrian war and kept a narrow military goal of defeating the ISIS extremist group. President Donald Trump’s administration has acknowledged, if rarely so explicitly, that Assad is likely to stay. But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned in October that the United States would not provide “one single dollar” for Syria’s reconstruction if Iran stays. Jeffrey also called for the ouster of Iranian forces, whose presence is strongly opposed by neighboring Israel, although he said the United States accepted that Tehran would maintain some diplomatic role in the country. Jeffrey also said that the United States wanted a Syria that does not wage chemical weapons attacks or torture its own citizens. He acknowledged, however, that the United States may not find an ally anytime soon in Syria, saying: “It doesn’t have to be a regime that we Americans would embrace as, say, qualifying to join the European Union if the European Union would take Middle Eastern countries.”

Iraqi Court Order Reappoints Fayadh to Former Security Posts

Baghdad - Hamza Mustafa/Asharq Al Awsat/Tuesday, 18 December, 2018/The Iraqi Administrative Court annulled on Monday a decision by former prime minister Haidar al-Abadi to relieve Faleh al-Fayadh of his duties from three security posts in the government. The ruling came less than a week after a decision by PM Adel Abdul Mahdi and his cabinet to cancel orders made by Abadi’s government between July 1 and October 24. At the time, Abadi condemned the move, describing it as “a measure that is incompatible with the concepts of an institutional state that the country needs to abide by.” He attributed the move to Fayadh’s involvement in “political and partisan work.” Fayadh had appealed the decision before the administrative court. Monday’s order means that he will be reappointed as head of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and national security agency. The Reform and Reconstruction bloc, which includes Abadi, expressed its surprise at the court ruling. A statement issued following a meeting of the Coalition, presided over by Ammar al-Hakim, head of the National Wisdom Movement, said it was surprising to annul decisions taken by the Iraqi government during the three months when it was acting as a caretaker cabinet. “Most of the cabinet’s choices were right and legal and several served the public interest,” the statement said. Separately, an Iraqi deputy ruled out the possibility that parliament would finalize Tuesday a vote on the remaining eight ministers Abdul Mahdi’s government. He told Asharq Al-Awsat on conditions of anonymity that meetings were ongoing between political leaders to reach a solution for the cabinet crisis. The source said Abdul Mahdi was now waiting for parliamentary blocs to present the list of their final candidates to fill the remaining posts.

German Foreign Minister in Iraq to Discuss Security, Economic Files
Baghdad - Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 18 December, 2018/A year after Baghdad announced its victory over ISIS, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas pledged his country would offer more support in the reconstruction of Iraq. Following his arrival in Baghdad aboard a Transall C-160 transport aircraft, Maas said Monday that Germany should continue to support civilians in Iraq, a country that he described as “a friend and reliable partner.” He said: “The terrorism of ISIS has been broken. Now, we should prevent the group from secretly re-strengthening its spell, under any circumstances, and avoid its threats in Iraq, the region and also in Europe.” Maas is expected to hold talks in Baghdad with the new Iraqi cabinet, which assumed power at the end of last October. In October, the German government extended its non-combat military involvement in Iraq by one year. The country’s military mandate should also allow German forces to train Kurdish Peshmerga forces and specialists from the Iraqi army. This move came to secure the military successes in the fight against ISIS and prevent the terrorist organization from regaining strength. Berlin believes that continued suppression of the terrorist organization by military means remains necessary. German soldiers currently participate in anti-ISIS missions through aircraft stationed in the Azraq air base in Jordan, from where they are taking part in reconnaissance and refueling missions. German forces are also training the Iraqi army at Camp Taji near Baghdad. Germany had offered 1.5 million euros in aid to Iraq during the past four years, the second largest assistance to support the reconstruction of the country following the US. Maas’ visit to Baghdad was not announced for security reasons. Although the visit comes to achieve stability in Iraq, the minister will also discuss economic affairs, particularly given the German Siemens company is competing with the US’ General Electric over a deal worth billion of dollars to expand electricity production in Iraq. The minister is also set to travel to Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region.

Xi Warns No One Can 'Dictate' China's Path, 40 Years on from Reforms
Naharnet/Agence France Presse/December 18/18
President Xi Jinping warned Tuesday that no one can "dictate" China's economic development path as the Communist Party marked 40 years of its historic "reform and opening up" policy amid a stern challenge from the United States. In a speech at the grandiose Great Hall of the People, Xi vowed to press ahead with economic reforms but made clear that Beijing will not deviate from its one-party system or take orders from any other country. Without directly referring to the United States, Xi said China "poses no threat" to any country but warned that it would not be pushed around. "No one is in a position to dictate to the Chinese people what should or should not be done," China's most powerful leader since Mao Zedong told the party faithful. "We must resolutely reform what should and can be changed, we must resolutely not reform what shouldn't and can't be changed." While Xi promised more reforms, he did not offer any specifics. The US and Europe have long complained of lingering obstacles to fully entering China's massive market while Chinese companies enjoy the benefits of open Western economies abroad. "We actively promote the construction of an open world economy, build a community of human destiny, promote the transformation of the global governance system, clearly oppose hegemonism and power politics," Xi said, referencing Chinese geopolitical ambitions. "China is increasingly approaching the centre of the world stage and becoming a recognised builder of world peace, a contributor to global development, and a defender of the international order."The commemoration of the reforms enacted under late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping on December 18, 1978, came as China is locked in diplomatic spats and a bruising trade war with the United States.The rivals have agreed to a 90-day truce as they seek to negotiate a solution, with the US seeking a reduction in its massive trade deficit as well as deeper reforms in China to stop the alleged theft of intellectual property. China's reforms pulled hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and turned the country into the world's second biggest economy. But it is currently facing a debt mountain and a slowing economy, which grew by 6.9 percent last year and the rate is expected by the government to ease to around 6.5 percent this year.
Emancipating the mind
Tuesday's ceremony included the awarding of medals to more than 100 individuals whom the party recognised as key contributors to the country's development, from people involved in rural reform and poverty alleviation to China's richest man, Alibaba founder Jack Ma, and retired NBA legend Yao Ming. Deng's reforms broke with Maoist-style collectivisation that left the nation impoverished and backward. The poverty rate among the rural population dropped to 3.1 percent last year from 97.5 percent 40 years ago. China now boasts the most dollar billionaires in the world with 620, according to Shanghai-based magazine publisher Hurun Report. But the economic transformation has not brought changes to the Communist Party-controlled political system, with authorities harshly cracking down on the Tiananmen protests in 1989 and activists complaining of a deterioration of human rights in recent years.
"There's a very stark contrast with the spirit of Deng leadership 40 years ago. If there's one thing which is missing, it's emancipating the mind," Hong Kong Baptist University political science professor Jean-Pierre Cabestan told AFP. "Now they're just constraining the mind of the people and party members... it's like China is moving in another direction from reform."Xi's speech paid lip service to the idea of reform but without any concrete plans, it hints at divisions within the leadership on how to deal with the trade war and other political situations, Cabestan added.
Second reform?
The trade war could be a chance for China to enact more changes, said Beijing-based political analyst Wu Qiang, who described the current system as "state capitalism under a one-party dictatorship, or party-run capitalism". "If the Communist Party is smart enough, it may transform it into the starting point of a second reform and opening up and change the role of the party and the state," Wu said. When the party enacted the reforms under Deng, China was still suffering from famine and was emerging from the Cultural Revolution, a period of intense social and political upheaval launched by Mao. This new "revolution" started in the countryside, where authorities began to de-collectivise land and dismantle communes, but it quickly spread to cities. Wary of an opposing power base in economically powerful Shanghai, Deng chose the extreme south of the country as the guinea pig for his reforms.Southern cities including Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong and was still a fishing village, were designated China's first Special Economic Zones that became powerhouses and models for the rest of the country.

Yemen's Hodeida Calm after Ceasefire Takes Effect

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 18/18/Yemen's flashpoint city of Hodeida was calm on Tuesday following heavy clashes that erupted after the UN-brokered ceasefire started at midnight, pro-government sources and residents said. "There has been complete calm since 03:00 am Yemen time (1200 GMT) in the city of Hodeida," a military source loyal to the government told AFP on Tuesday. The ceasefire agreement struck at the UN-sponsored peace talks in Sweden came into effect at midnight Monday but heavy clashes and air raids continued after the deadline, pro-government sources and residents in the city told AFP. The residents confirmed by phone that there has been no fighting between the government forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition and Iran-aligned Huthi rebels since 03:00 am. But it was not possible to determine if the halt in fighting was in response to the ceasefire or just a temporary stoppage. Residents said that daily fighting would usually be fierce in the evening and at night, before coming to a standstill at dawn. The two warring sides have however welcomed the truce in the strategic Red Sea province. Both the defence ministry of the internationally-recognised government and that of the Huthi rebels said they would comply with the ceasefire.The United Nations said on Monday that the deal was to be implemented at midnight, even though the agreement reached in Sweden last week included an "immediate ceasefire" in Hodeida and its surroundings. A UN official, who requested anonymity, told AFP that the delay to the halt in hostilities was necessary for "operational reasons".

Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 18-19/18
Erdogan’s Rapprochement With Assad
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al-Awsat/December, 18/18
The notable race over Damascus between leaderships, such as the Sudanese and Turkish, goes in tandem with political developments on the ground. It’s a mere confession to the fait accompli. Turkey’s silent rapprochement with the Syrian regime happened more than a year ago within a new policy, cooperating with Iran and abandoning the Syrian opposition.
In fact, those who actually destroyed the Syrian opposition were neither the Syrian regime’s forces nor Iran’s militias, nor Russia’s air force, but Ankara’s government. Its rapprochement with Iran and Russia and withdrawal from the previous Syrian scene led to the collapse of the political and armed opposition considering that Turkey was the major party that had embraced the armed opposition since the eruption of the revolution in 2011.The Turkish withdrawal from supporting the opposition’s project, i.e. the national one, in order to distinguish it from armed jihadists, led to pretty much the elimination of the ground structure. All that’s left is few factions that the Turks hired to fight Kurdish organizations. It also estranged a number of Syrian political opposition leaders and kept them outside Turkey after they had been living in Istanbul.
New stances that seem shocking are being formed on the ground. Turkey has become closer to the Assad and Tehran regimes, and it’s now standing against American presence and fighting Syrian opposition members positioned east of the Euphrates. Although Turkish officials justify their new stance against the Syrian opposition there by saying that the excuse that most of it are Kurds, and that is true, but the Turkish orientation has been on so many levels based on a new alliance with Iran and Russia in the area where it’s a must to get rid of the opposition.
The US State Department warned Ankara from this, as it believes Ankara’s stances and behavior contradicts with American interests as well as with the NATO, of which Turkey is a member of. An example is that Turkey’s intention to purchase Russian S-400 missile system infuriates Washington and it’s expected to deepen the dispute between the two old allies. Turkey’s insistence regarding rapprochement with Iran and engaging in trade with it indicate the nature of Turkish orientations in the region, including in Syria.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s visit to Damascus only bears a symbolic value and comes within several moves to enhance the image of President Bashar al-Assad to respond to the Americans that reject the Russian solution of adopting the Syrian regime again. No matter how dilatory American stances are, they will accept Assad in the final round.
The situation in northeast Syria is immersed in political mud. Turkey's amity with Assad is increasing, and this is what Washington is trying to prevent but without achieving any striking success, and it may have to make concessions and allow Turkish troops to enter Manbij which President Erdogan threatened to enter against the Americans’ will. Why do the Americans rely on Syria’s Kurds and Arab tribes to confront the Assad regime although this angers Erdogan’s government? It’s because Washington does not have other options and it thinks Ankara is responsible for the defeat after it abandoned the Syrian opposition. Turkey is fighting Americans in this area where it’s using the remnants of the Syrian armed opposition affiliated with it as a proxy to fight the American proxy that’s made up of Syrian Arab and Kurds east of the Euphrates. Meanwhile, the Russians insist on imposing the entire Assad regime and are oblivious to the US efforts to ruin the Astana-Sochi agreement by calling for finalizing the constitutional committee and including the opposition within Syria’s new regime. However, everyone does not trust the Americans’ seriousness and think that they lack the patience for managing crises, unlike the Russians who are more persistent and successful. The Turks’ rebellion against the Americans in Syria is proof of Washington's weakness which only has 3,000 soldiers on the ground east of Euphrates.

The Problem With Dominant Mark Zuckerberg Types
Chris Hughes/Bloomberg/December,18/18
It irks investors in America, and now it’s irking them in Europe too. The US stock market’s permissive attitude to initial public offerings that give founders super-voting rights is the subject of an international campaign. Rightly so. The US new-issues market is the de facto standard setter for the rest of the world. Undemocratic voting structures are an unwelcome export.
The “one-share, one-vote” principle is fair and gives outsiders some sway to hold management to account. True, Google parent Alphabet Inc.’s stock price has thrived with dual-class shares giving its founders control. But it’s the exception.
Shares in Snap Inc., Altice USA Inc. and Blue Apron Holdings Inc. have performed terribly since going public in 2017. The controversies swirling around Facebook Inc. raise questions about whether founder CEO and Chairman Mark Zuckerberg’s dominant position still benefits the company.
Of course, no one is forcing investors to buy a stock with imbalanced voting arrangements. And removing super-votes would usually leave incumbent management with a controlling stake still. The tech companies argue that “founder control” supports long-term investment decisions. Index providers are creating separate indices that exclude stocks with bad voting structures. But academic research backs up fears that inequitable structures become a liability more often than not. It would be better if stock exchanges cleaned up the market overall.
In October, the Washington-based Council of Institutional Investors proposed that dual-class share structures should automatically end within seven years of listing, unless independent shareholders approved an extension. This “sunset” arrangement is a pragmatic and proportionate response that simply requires founder dominance to prove its worth. A group of European funds speaking for $1.7 trillion of assets, including Legal & General Investment Management and the Dutch fund PGGM, last month wrote to the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq to endorse it.
The global exchanges compete with each other for IPOs. This dynamic influences their standards. The US stock market is the world’s biggest pool of capital, which puts pressure on other venues to lower their standards to lure business. As such, America has a special duty to show leadership on this subject.
For now, the exchanges are making no promises. Nasdaq’s president Nelson Griggs has said his exchange is a believer in the “flexibility of share structure” for the sake of providing all investors with access to growth companies, while adding that it keeps standards under review.
The good news is that a lower proportion of American companies listing in the US in the first nine months of 2018 had dual-class structures than in the whole of 2017, according to the CII. Of those that did, the proportion with sunset clauses went up. The trend is encouraging. But that shouldn’t take the pressure off US regulators to set standards to which the rest of the world can aspire.

Proxy Wars and the Struggle for the Soul of Capitalism
John Authers/Bloomberg/December,18/18
Concentration in the investment industry has created many accidental powers. The financial crisis told us all about the power of the monoline credit insurers and the rating agencies. There are also the big three indexing groups (MSCI, S&P Global and the London Stock Exchange’s FTSE Russell) and the big three passive asset managers (BlackRock Inc., State Street Corp. and Vanguard Group). And then there is an increasingly contentious duopoly in proxy advice: Institutional Shareholder Services and Glass Lewis.
Passive managers contend ardently that they are active stewards of the companies that they own, even if they cannot threaten to sell the shares of corporations that misbehave, and they passionately contest any notion to the contrary. For their best publicity gesture so far, look no further than the Fearless Girl statue, moved this week to the New York Stock Exchange and originally designed to publicize State Street’s campaigns to get more women on to corporate boards.
What isn’t in dispute is that the rise of passive investing has given far more importance to the proxy voting process, in which shareholders exert their control without using the sanction of selling the stock. And as running a proxy campaign requires hard work and expenditures on research, this also creates cost issues for managers whose chief appeal is their low price. There are only two proxy advisers of any great size in the US market. Does this therefore mean that these two companies have become accidentally but dangerously powerful, like credit-rating companies before them?
Some recent academic research suggests that they have. The question was serious enough to prompt a hearing by the Senate’s banking committee last week. I strongly recommend reading the prepared testimony, available on the committee’s website, by Michael Garland, who heads corporate engagement for the New York City comptroller, and Thomas Quaadman, of the US Chamber of Commerce’s Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness. The Chamber has long been in a fight with what it regards as ideologically motivated institutional investors, particularly the pension funds run by labor unions. Meanwhile, the pensions funds of New York City, the nation’s third-largest system, are the most active investors in asserting their rights. Twenty years ago, the then New York City comptroller famously used the threat of divestment from Swiss companies to force Swiss banks into making a settlement with the relatives of Holocaust victims whose accounts had been allowed to stay dormant, in one of the most aggressive assertions of shareholder power on record.
So it shouldn’t be surprising that their differences went far beyond a detailed technical argument about proxy voting in a passive-dominated world. At issue is the bedrock controversy within corporate governance: Does the fiduciary responsibility of executives and directors entail a duty to improve shareholder value and nothing else, or does it go further than that?
From the Chamber’s perspective, investors shouldn’t be allowed to bring motions on environmental, social and governance (ESG) topics that can be at odds with corporate performance. These should be left strictly to politicians. This is Quaadman:
Public companies and their shareholders are increasingly targeted through the proxy system and other means over issues that are unrelated to — and sometimes, even 5 at odds with - enhancing long-term performance. Topics that should be reserved for the legislative and executive branches of government — including a variety of social and political issues that may not be directly correlated to the success of the company — are increasingly finding their way into proxy statements and being debated in boardrooms. This has created significant costs for shareholders and in many instances has distracted boards and management from focusing on the best interests of the company.
The man from the comptroller’s office begged to differ. As far as Garland was concerned:
As long-term owners, we expect companies to create long-term, sustainable value. We push them to address a range of environmental, social and governance risks that are fundamental to ensuring long-term profitability. This is part of our fiduciary duty as long-term shareowners. We believe sound corporate governance and sustainable business practices — the latter including responsible labor, human rights and environmental practices — are fundamental to creating and protecting long-term shareowner value and sustainable economies.
In other words, boards and managers shouldn’t assume that their sole responsibility is to raise the return for investors. This is a deep philosophical division. In recent years interest has grown in “universal ownership.” Big institutions control so much of the economy that they must think about the external impacts their companies have; and as investors on behalf of future pensioners, they can try to maximize their members’ chance of having clean air to breathe when they retire. Read through the testimonies and you find references to academic studies showing that investor activism both subtracts value and adds to it, and that concentrating on ESG goals both raises returns and lower them. This is a grand fascinating debate, which must continue.
A further issue is the existence of the listed company. Could corporate-governance issues become so onerous that companies decide that going public isn’t worth the candle? The Chamber suggests that they could. Some of this is outrageous special pleading, in my opinion, but it does contain a kernel of common sense: Outdated SEC proxy rules have allowed motivated special interests to take advantage of this system to the detriment of Main Street investors and pensioners. The problems we face today have in part stemmed from a lack of proper oversight over proxy advisory firms and a failure to modernize corporate disclosure requirements. Activists have been able to hijack shareholder meetings with proposals concerning pet issues — all to the detriment of the vast majority of America’s investors. The deficiencies within the US proxy system must also be viewed against the backdrop of the sharp decline of public companies over the past two decades. The United States is now home to roughly half the number of public companies than existed in the mid-1990s and the overall number of public listings is little changed from 1983. While the JOBS Act helped arrest that decline, too many companies are deciding that going or staying public is not in their long-term best interest. There is little doubt that the current proxy system — which disadvantages long-term investors and creates serious challenges for companies — has made the public company model less attractive.
I doubt that the risk of a proxy fight over whether to appoint a woman to the board really counts significantly toward the decline of public companies, but corporate governance does matter. Thus the debate gets to the heart of whether shareholder capitalism can work in its modern form. That question is steadily moving from the corporate to the political agenda. For example, there is the proposal by the liberal senator from Massachusetts and likely presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, who has suggested mandating that employees be represented on boards.
Away from the weightiest issue of the future of capitalism, the problem of regulating proxy advisers remains. Any concentration of power is worrying, and it is far too tempting for a manager trying to reduce costs to shield themselves from any trouble by saying they did whatever ISS told them to do. Just as nobody was ever fired for buying IBM, nobody was ever fired for voting with ISS. And it is necessary to be clear about how these companies should be regulated. The Chamber raises valid issues here. The two big proxy advisers have different regulatory regimes. ISS is registered under the Investment Advisers Act as a fiduciary, while Glass Lewis isn’t. ISS has a consulting business to issuers, while Glass Lewis doesn’t, citing potential conflicts of interest. To quote Quaadman:
We can think of no other area under the securities laws where two dominant market participants in the same industry operate under two completely different sets of rules and standards — with one of those participants choosing not to register with the SEC at all. While commenters will disagree as to the proper regulatory regime for proxy advisers, we think there should be broad agreement that allowing proxy advisory firms to choose their own regulatory model is not the right approach.
This is fair — but it must not be used as a Trojan Horse to force regulations that are utterly unnecessary and benefit only unscrupulous boards. As ISS itself said in a response,
Today’s system is structured so that the integrity of the research and analyses we conduct for investors is protected from undue influence by the companies being analyzed. ISS and its clients believe it is inappropriate to mandate that proxy advisers hand their work over to the management of the companies being analyzed for review and comment before it can be provided to the investor clients whom we serve. Yet this is one of the requirements now being contemplated.
It is also fair to point out that while many investors use ISS and Glass Lewis, they don’t always follow their advice. This survey was cited by Garland, representing New York City’s pension system:
According to Proxy Insight, which analyzes the voting records and policies of over 1,800 global investors and is the world’s leading source of information on global shareowner voting, “the number of investors delegating their entire policy and voting to a proxy voting adviser is actually very low — from a sample of 1,413 investors, 75% have their own dedicated proxy voting policy representing a significant 92% of 4 the assets under management.”
These are important issues to be sweated through at a technical level.
Ultimately, the cramped version of corporate governance and the rights of owners espoused by the Chamber strikes me as untenable. If I own a share in a company, I have a right to try to push it into whatever directions I see fit. This will mostly involve pushing it toward making me more money, but if it involves pushing it toward some good outcome for me that will cost me something in the short term, that is my decision. It might well be a good expenditure of my money.
Further, an extreme focus on shareholder value, with all the negative social consequences it can have, has driven a crisis of confidence in the workings of shareholder capitalism. Thus, making sure that institutions get unbiased advice to help them exert some form of shareholder democracy is ever more important. We can all agree on that. It would be good, therefore, if the issue of regulating proxy advisers could be handled as a technical one, without ideology. I’m not holding my breath.
Bears in a China Shop
Bears have long confidently predicted a Chinese economic crisis. Bulls have equally confidently dismissed the idea — and they have continued to be proved right. But the record of China bulls on the Chinese stock market is much more mixed. Over the years, the domestic Chinese A-share market has given its investors a painfully bumpy ride, with two massive bubbles so far this century. Over the last 20 years, it has barely outperformed US stocks despite China’s far superior economic growth. Thus, it was interesting to talk this week to Andy Rothman, one of my favorite China bulls. Now on the buy-side with Matthews Asia, he previously spent time on the sell-side with CLSA, and in the public sector representing the US government in China. His confidence concerning the ability of China’s economy to continue its strong, but slowly decelerating growth has proven to be exactly right. And it is maintained. He points out that China’s debt, after “the largest Keynesian stimulus since Keynes, financed by bank loans” to tide through the effects of the 2008 crisis, was all extended at the direction of the state. There is no equivalent of Bear Stearns or Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., and there is no key player who is subject to the pressures of mark-to-market pricing of debt. Thus, he suggests, there should be no need for a systemic crisis, even if the overhang of debt will help to ensure that growth continues to slow down gradually.
So why, I wanted to know, have Chinese stocks done quite so badly this year? This is how the main indexes have performed, all indexed to the beginning of the year and denominated in dollars. Stocks in the A-share markets of Shanghai and Shenzhen have fared far worse than New York-quoted American Depositary Receipts or “red-chip” stocks quoted in Hong Kong.
Note that A-shares have done far worse than shares quoted outside China. The fault for this, Rothman contends, lies with Donald Trump. (The president need not be unhappy about this). Chinese A-shares markets are driven to a very great extent by local retail investors. The gradual entry of foreign investors hasn’t changed this much, as yet. Chinese “Mom and Pop” investors understandably watch Trump in full flow on television, and decide that they don’t want to leave their life savings in stocks as long as the prospect for a trade war is real.
If Rothman is right about this, and also right that some kind of decent trade deal can be patched together next year, then that implies that a buying opportunity in A-shares could be coming along very soon. If the A-share market continues to behave with the physics of a rubber band, foreign investors might like to try betting that it zooms upwards again. It isn’t a relaxing or safe prospect, but the bulls could easily go charging back into the China shop if an agreement on trade is reached.

Turkey Aiming to Head a Global Islamic Union Governed by Sharia
Uzay Bulut/Gatestone Institute/December 18/18
Turkey's Strategic Research Center for Defenders of Justice is planning to organize an "International Islamic Union Congress" every year until 2023, to address the "Islamic confederal state" it aims to establish across the Muslim world.
"Go to Syria, Iraq, North Africa, the Middle East or the Balkans, and ask the people there what they think of Turkey and Turks. You will never hear words such as colonialism, invasion, persecution or massacre. Instead, you will hear expressions of thanks that have become a symbol, such as, 'The loyal Turk was here.' ... Yes, it has been a century since we left those lands but the waiting and the hope of the people there has never ended.... You know I say, 'The world is bigger than five' [referring to the five permanent member states of the UN Security Council]. And Turkey is bigger than Turkey; just know this. We cannot be trapped inside 780,000 kilometers [Turkey's total area]." — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, November 10, 2016.
As demonstrated by the annual International Islamic Union Congress, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan seems determined to bring back the Ottoman Empire and a Sharia-governed caliphate. Pictured: Erdogan addresses the Turkish parliament on October 23, 2018 in Ankara.
Turkey appears to be accelerating its endeavor to establish an Ottoman-style Islamic government encompassing several Muslim nations. One such effort was apparent in early November at the second "International Islamic Union Congress," in Istanbul. The conference is sponsored mainly by the Strategic Research Center for Defenders of Justice (ASSAM), headed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's chief military advisor, Adnan Tanrıverdi, a retired Islamist lieutenant general.
Other organizers of the congress -- the next one of which is to be held in December 2019 -- include the Association of Justice Defenders (ASDER), Istanbul's Üsküdar University (ÜÜ), the Union of NGOs of the Islamic World (UNIW), the International Muslim Scholars Association (UMAD) and the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS).
The self-described aim of the congress is "to make determinations on an academic and political ground with regard to current problems in world politics, particularly in Islamic world geography, and to offer solutions to decision-makers."
At the November event, Tanrıverdi and other prominent supporters of Erdoğan promoted the creation of a common Muslim economic market. Participants declared their aim to create an Islamic "superpower of the future on Islamic lands owned by 60 Islamic countries, inhabited by 1,6 billion Muslims, on 19 million km2," constituting "55.5% of world oil reserves and 45.6% of its production, 64.1% of natural gas reserves, and 33% of its production."
Bemoaning the fact that the "Muslim world is in disarray," Turkish Deputy Finance Minister Nurettin Nebati suggested in his address to the conferences that Erdoğan -- to whom he referred as the "leading imam to the ummah [Islamic nation]" -- would preside over this planned Islamic confederation.
"Is there anyone whose power would be enough to defeat the one who relies on Allah?" he asked rhetorically.
The Egyptian theologian Yusuf al-Qaradawi, chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood-linked International Union of Muslim Scholars -- known for his advocacy of suicide-bombings -- expressed similar sentiments:
"Turkey is facing plots by those who don't like to see this nation [rising] and by the West. They would have succeeded [in their plots] but for Allah's support for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his brothers. Allah will help Erdoğan to emerge victorious as long as true Muslims are standing by him."
At the first ASSAM conference in November 2017, participants endorsed the aim of "unity of Islam" through establishing the "Confederation of Islamic Countries." Its declaration was approved by ASSAM and 109 NGOs – seventy of which were from Turkey – from 29 countries.
The declaration reads, in part:
"Islamic countries have to unite under one common will and an 'Islamic Countries Parliament' which will conduct permanent activities has to be established urgently. [The confederation aims to include] sixty-one Islamic countries... in the Unity of Islam provided they decide in free will and accept the unity terms and conditions."
In addition, a model constitution was drafted, according to which the capital of the Islamic confederation is Istanbul; sovereignty "belongs to Shariah [Islamic law]"; and four of the member states -- mainly Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia -- are expected to be European Muslim-majority countries.
The first congress also concluded that "each Islamic country should create a 'Ministry of Islamic Union' within its Council of Ministers."
ASSAM is planning to organize an "International Islamic Union Congress" every year until 2023, to address the "Islamic confederal state" it aims to establish across the Muslim world. Next year, participants will discuss "defense industry cooperation"; in 2020, they aim to determine a "common defense system"; in 2021, they will focus on a "joint foreign policy"; in 2022, the agenda is a "joint justice system"; and in 2023, the plan is to determine "common assistance and security" for the Islamic Union.
Ironically, 2023 will be the centennial of the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923. Given Erdoğan's past statements in praise of the Ottoman Empire, it appears that the goals of the ASSAM congresses are perfectly in line with his vision of the future.
At a public speech in 2016, for instance, Erdoğan made a distinction between Turkey's "physical borders" and the "borders of our [Turkish] heart":
"Our ancestors made wherever they went thrive and prosperous. We have a state tradition that established an environment of safety and peace in a wide geography, ranging from central Europe to Africa for centuries.
"The efforts of those trying to portray this body of knowledge as Western-style invasion are futile. Go to Syria, Iraq, North Africa, the Middle East or the Balkans, and ask the people there what they think of Turkey and Turks. You will never hear words such as colonialism, invasion, persecution or massacre. Instead, you will hear expressions of thanks that have become a symbol, such as, 'The loyal Turk was here.'
"Let me tell you a true story. A team of TIKA [the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency] goes to a mountainous village in Macedonia after long efforts and challenges. A very old person with a walking stick approaches the team. When he sees the Turkish flag on the vehicle, he pokes the TIKA official with his walking stick and asks: 'Why are you so late?... We have been waiting for you for 100 years."
Referring to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the withdrawal of Turkish forces from other nations, Erdoğan said:
"Yes, it has been a century since we left those lands but the waiting and the hope of the people there has never ended. Yesterday, we were there as a state. Today, we are there with our charitable, educational and health organizations as well as our projects of development. You know I say, 'The world is bigger than five' [referring to the veto power of the five permanent member states of the United Nations Security Council]. And Turkey is bigger than Turkey; just know this. We cannot be trapped inside 780,000 kilometers [Turkey's total area]. For our physical borders are different from the borders of our heart. Our brothers in Mosul, Kirkuk [in Iraq], in Al-Hasakah, Aleppo, Homs [in Syria], Misrata [in Libya], Skopje [in the Republic of Macedonia], Crimea [in the Russian Federation] and the Caucasus might be outside our physical borders, but they are all inside the borders of our heart. They are right inside our heart."
In short, as the ASSAM congresses demonstrate, Erdoğan seems determined to bring back the Ottoman Empire and a Sharia-governed caliphate.
*Uzay Bulut, a Turkish journalist born and raised a Muslim, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute and currently based in Washington D.C.
© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Yellow Vest Riots Spread: Week Five
Bruce Bawer/Gatestone Institute/December 18/18
Across Western Europe, ordinary citizens feel ignored and condescended to by their political, business, academic, and media elites. Against the will of most of these citizens, their leaders are gradually surrendering their nations' sovereignty to the EU.
Also against these citizens' will, their nations have been flooded with Muslim immigrants who embody a major cultural challenge, have caused massive social unrest, and represent a devastating economic burden.
Although it is increasingly obvious that taxpayer-funded Islamization is leading Western Europe down the wrong path, the EU, which stands foursquare behind this disastrous development, refuses to reverse course.
Perhaps the question should not be why Western Europeans are rioting but why they did not start rioting a long time ago.
"Yellow vest" protesters gather at Place de l'Opera on December 15, 2018 in Paris, France.
Paris has now seen its fifth weekend of street demonstrations by the so-called gilets jaunes, or "yellow vests," although reports suggest that things may be finally winding down. Meanwhile, the protests -- which in many instances rise to the level of riots, with innumerable examples of looting, vandalism, and arson – have spread. The last couple of weekends have seen disturbances in other major French cities, such as Toulouse, Bordeaux and Lyon, as well as in cities in the Low Countries, including Brussels, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Nijmegen and Maastricht. This weekend, in London, as the tension, confusion, and frustration surrounding Brexit have intensified and the possibility of a second referendum seemed to increase, yellow-vested protesters, most of them apparently supporters of Brexit, blocked major bridges and shut down streets in the city center.
As these displays of lawlessness have spread, ideas about the participants' motives have evolved. At first, it was reported that the protesters in France, far from being political extremists of the left or right, were ordinary citizens angered by new hikes in gas taxes. But even when President Emmanuel Macron yanked the tax increase, the turmoil continued. Why? Writing at Gatestone, David Brown noted that "[l]ower-middle class families are not poor enough to receive welfare benefits but have seen their income flat-line whilst cost-of-living and taxes have risen..... The French people feel screwed." Amir Taheri suggested that "the French, like most other people in rich countries, are simply bored, with a lot of time on their hands and little exciting to do." At PJ Media, Rick Moran opined that "the ordinary people who are paying for the grandiose schemes of the social planners in Brussels have had enough. And they are finally rising up to demand an end to it." For my part, I wondered whether this dramatic sign of popular discontent marked "the start of the Western European public's pushback against the elites' disastrous multicultural and globalist project."
The proliferation of the protests indicates, of course, that the demonstrators are motivated by anger over social, economic, and or cultural phenomena that are not confined to France. Earlier this month, the Dutch daily Het Parool said that Dutch protesters are opposed to the European Union, to immigration and to current efforts to put an end to "Zwarte Piet," an age-old Dutch Christmastime tradition that, as it involves putting on blackface, is now viewed by many observers as racist, even though the character in question is beloved. As one Dutch news site pointed out, "The Netherlands does not have a tradition of mass protests or mass strikes, like France or Belgium," which makes the spread of these activities to that country rather surprising, even though they have not reached anything like the scale of the uprisings in France.
The first thing one notices about the variety of motives cited in the media is that they are not unrelated. Anti-EU sentiment? Opposition to the huge immigrant tide? A major reason for anti-EU sentiment in Western Europe is resentment at the power of Brussels to force member states to take certain numbers of so-called refugees. Similarly, protesters who are angry over high taxes know very well that a great deal of their money is being used to support immigrants who become welfare clients the moment they enter the country.
One curious wrinkle: this weekend, thousands of people in yellow vests marched in Rome. These protesters, however, were looking-glass images of their counterparts to the north and west: while the French, Belgian, and Dutch agitators were mostly native Europeans, apparently fed up by governments that take too much from them and give them too little in return, the protesters in Rome were migrants and their supporters, who disapprove of Italy's new immigration law. In this instance, what we appear to be observing is a movement that, for whatever reasons, has decided to mimic the appearance of another movement that is, philosophically, pretty much its exact opposite.
These people in Rome, though, would appear to be the exception that proves the rule. Setting them aside, the more one reads about the supposedly varied concerns that animate the yellow vest protesters in France, Britain, and the Low Countries, the less varied they look. Across Western Europe, ordinary citizens feel ignored and condescended to by their political, business, academic, and media elites. Against the will of most of these citizens, their leaders are gradually surrendering their nations' sovereignty to the EU, which Macron has frankly admitted wanting to transform into a United States of Europe. Also against these citizens' will, their nations have been flooded with Muslim immigrants who embody a major cultural challenge, have caused massive social unrest, and represent a devastating economic burden.
Although it is increasingly obvious that taxpayer-funded Islamization is leading Western Europe down the wrong path, the EU, which stands foursquare behind this disastrous development, refuses to reverse course. Naturally, the powerless man and woman in the street are scared, resentful, and, yes, outraged. Perhaps the question should not be why Western Europeans are rioting but why they did not start rioting a long time ago.
*Bruce Bawer is the author of the new novel The Alhambra (Swamp Fox Editions). His book While Europe Slept (2006) was a New York Times bestseller and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. His other books include A Place at the Table (1993), Stealing Jesus (1997), Surrender (2009), and The Victims' Revolution (2012). A native New Yorker, he has lived in Europe since 1998.
© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Will sick men of Europe be able to weather economic storm?
Cornelia Meyer/Arab News/December 18/18
A hard Brexit is looking increasingly likely since Theresa May will probably not get the majority needed for a deal. (Reuters)
A whirlwind of events has engulfed Europe over the past six months. While the effects have most been felt on its economies, these ripples were inspired by politics. In fact, if the events of 2018 show one thing, it is to what extent politics can undermine economic prosperity.
First there is Brexit, a self-inflicted saga. Prime Minister Theresa May has “pushed” the vote on the Brexit deal to January 21, hardly enough time for the European Union (EU) to get ready for it. A hard Brexit is looking increasingly likely since May will probably not get the majority needed for a deal.
The International Monetary Fund estimates a six-percent decline in GDP if a hard Brexit prevails, a stark comparison with projections of a 1.4-percent increase were the United Kingdom to stay in the EU.
The finance, automotive and chemicals industries would likely be the hardest hit. Brexit will be a hard blow to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) because they lack the financial wherewithal to hire the accountants and lawyers necessary to brace themselves for a no deal scenario. And yet, SMEs currently hire 60 percent of the national workforce, making them the most important segment of the labor market by far.
In the shorter term, exporters fared well because they were aided by the falling pound, which was thanks, of course, to Brexit.
Brexit will be a hard blow to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) because they lack the financial wherewithal to hire the accountants and lawyers necessary to brace themselves for a no deal scenario. This will come to an abrupt end if Britain comes crashing out of the EU under a no deal scenario. Both the exports and supply chain fronts will be severely affected. The FTSE 250, which is composed of more traditional British companies, is a good litmus test of what the Brexit wobbles have done to the economy. It is down roughly 13 percent on the year. But it is not just the UK economy that is going to be hit by a hard Brexit. Supply chains are inherently integrated within the automotive and other manufacturing sectors, meaning importers will feel the pinch once the free trade agreements come grinding to a halt, especially if there is no transition period. The extent to which these chains are affected is contingent on an orderly Brexit.
As if Brexit was not enough, there is Italy. The stand-off between the European Commission and the Italian government over the budget deficit may have been somewhat quelled with Italy’s latest proposal, which brings down next year’s GDP deficit from 2.4 percent to 2.04. Yet it is still too high to enable Italy to draw down on its overall debt, which stands at 131 percent relative to GDP, well above the Eurozone’s 60 percent limit. Only Greece beats Italy in this category. However, Italy matters much more than Greece because it is the Eurozone’s third largest economy. The Italian debacle is yet another man-made kerfuffle. Italy’s government is composed of two populist parties, the left wing M5S and the right-wing Lega. The budget is a compromise of sorts between their two ideologies. While the former wants to guarantee minimum income and a raft of other forms of social spending, the latter wants to reduce the tax burden on the wealthy. While one side spends, the other limits the fiscal income stream.
Meanwhile, in the Eurozone’s second largest economy, France, French President Emmanuel Macron had to abandon the direly needed economic reforms he initiated after violent protests paralyzed Paris and many cities over several consecutive weekends. While the riots were sparked by fuel tax, the issues run deeper. In fact, far too many French feel economically disenfranchised and politically powerless.  Those people cannot make ends meet. They also feel that they do not have a seat at the table. This sense of disenfranchisement is by no means limited to France. It permeates throughout Europe. The unrest led Macron to abolish fuel tax, increase minimum wages and cut taxes in some sectors, resulting in a projected budget deficit of 3.4 percent for next year. Once again, this exceeds the three-percent limit allowed under under Eurozone rules. The debt-to-GDP ratio stands at a whopping 97 percent and is set to grow further if things continue the way they are.
As though it is not enough that Europe’s second, third and fourth largest economies are basking in such struggles, the EU’s largest economy, Germany, has thrown a curve ball at the zone as well. The German economy contracted in the third quarter of this year for the first time since 2015, bringing the overall Eurozone growth rate down from a projected 0.6 percent to 0.2 percent. Germany’s woes had a lot to do with a fear of trade wars ensuing both between the US and China and the US and Europe. Germany is the economic locomotive of the Eurozone. Its automotive sector is the driver behind the manufacturing juggernaut. US tariffs on imported cars would hit the economy badly, as will trade wars with China.
Germany exports a lot of machinery to China and its Volkswagen and BMW brands export a lot of their cars from their plants in the US to China. Once again, the culprit is political forces in the US. In short, economic storm clouds are fast gathering in Europe. That is why the decision of the European Central Bank (ECB) to halt the $2.85 trillion stimulus program in December was a courageous move. True, Mario Draghi, ECB president, left himself some wiggle room by reserving the right to reinvest the proceeds of previous bond purchases and leaving the interest rate unchanged. Only time will tell us whether this can provide sufficient liquidity to help the economy weather these largely self-inflicted storms.
Cornelia Meyer is a business consultant, macro-economist and energy expert. Twitter: @MeyerResources

Hodeidah agreement offers a real chance at peace in Yemen
Fahad Nazer/Arab News/December 18/18
Some casual observers have been referring to the conflict in Yemen as the “forgotten war.” That has not exactly been the case. The United Nations, the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Saudi-led coalition have all made efforts to try to bring peace and prosperity to Yemen, going back as far as the tumult that led to the end of the three-decade presidency of the late Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2011. More compelling is the argument that the war that began in the summer of 2014, and the humanitarian crisis that ensued in the country, needs to come to an end as soon as possible. By all measures, that is indeed the international consensus. In Stockholm last week, that consensus was translated into action.
In the eyes of some, the UN-brokered consultations in Sweden between representatives of the internationally-recognized government of Yemen and the Houthi rebels were perhaps a desperate measure to avert the continuation of a war that has brought tremendous suffering and destruction to Yemen. Somewhat surprisingly, at the end of the week-long discussions UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths was able to broker a cease-fire agreement regarding the vital port and city of Hodeidah. The agreement also calls on the two sides to redeploy their troops outside the city and establishes a committee that will oversee the withdrawal process. A monitoring mission is scheduled to arrive in Yemen as early as next week.
Although many close observers of the conflict — most importantly, the Yemenis themselves — are cautiously optimistic, the Houthis’ long record of reneging on agreements is a cause for concern. Nevertheless, this potential breakthrough might provide the Houthis with one more chance to demonstrate that, like all Yemenis, they too want to see this conflict come to an end. Considering that they did not show up to the previous talks, in Geneva, the Stockholm agreement could indeed prove to be a turning point.
In the eyes of some, the UN-brokered consultations in Sweden between representatives of the internationally-recognized government of Yemen and the Houthi rebels were perhaps a desperate measure to avert the continuation of a war that has brought tremendous suffering and destruction to Yemen. The conflict in Yemen, like all conflicts around the world, is a complicated one. One could argue that unresolved political disputes and long-simmering economic challenges help explain Yemen’s unfortunate legacy of political turmoil. However — and although it is hard to imagine now — in 2013, Yemen was portrayed by some as a model to emulate of a country that had peacefully negotiated its way out of the tumult ushered in by the so-called Arab Spring. An inclusive National Dialogue and a GCC initiative created the framework for a peaceful transition.
However, the Houthis — no doubt emboldened by their Iranian patrons — reneged on previous agreements and convinced themselves that they have a right to impose their will on the Yemeni people and usurp power by force.
Their violent campaign, which took them from their northernmost base of Sadaa all the way down to the southernmost tip of Aden, has brought unimaginable pain, destruction and misery to the beleaguered but proud people of Yemen. However, the talks last week offer the Houthis a chance to make changes.
With the sole exception of the Iranian regime’s leadership, the entire international community wants this terrible conflict to come to an end. Tehran clearly does not care about the pain and suffering of the Yemeni people. If it did, it would not have encouraged the Houthis to continue fighting by supplying them with weapons and technology. Iran has done nothing to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people nor has it contributed in any way to the reconstruction efforts that have already begun in certain regions. As it has done in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, Iran’s main objective is to sow division and discord.
Nevertheless, the entire international community has expressed its support for the preliminary agreements that were reached last week about Hodeidah and Taiz. That includes Saudi Arabia, which expressed its strong support for the agreement and its “commitment to reach a political solution in Yemen.” Granted, the language of the agreement was relatively vague and many of the details, such as who will collect customs revenues in Hodeidah, will need to be agreed upon at a later date. However, the talks do set the stage for broader discussions early next year. Considering how long peace talks have been stalled, Sweden represents a major step in the right direction.
**Fahad Nazer is a political consultant to the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington and an international fellow at the National Council on US-Arab Relations. He does not represent or speak on behalf of either organization. Twitter: @fanazer

Saudi ties with Israeli intelligence, tech industry are targeted at weak moments for Trump, Crown Prince and PM

Debka File/December 18/18
It was only a matter of time before someone tied the Khashoggi murder affair to Israel. And so, on Tuesday, Dec. 18, at moments of weakness for President Donald Trump, Saudi Crown Prince MbS and PM Binyamin Netanyahu, The Wall Street Journal brought Saudi ties with Israeli intelligence and tech systems firms into play.
The WSJ first noted that Saudi Dep. Intelligence chief Gen. Ahmadal-Assiri and court adviser Saud al-Qahtani, – both close advisers to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, (MbS) – who played key roles in the covert ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel, were also were sacked over their suspected involvement in the journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s death at the Istanbul consulate on October 2. The paper notes suggestively that Qahtani, as media adviser, directed the Saudi press to soften Israel’s image compared with its long portrayal as the Zionist enemy, and managed the purchase of “advanced surveillance technology from Israeli firms,” to serve his second role in “monitoring critics and stifling dissent in Saudi Arabia, which included the hacking of electronic communications.”
Saudi officials told the paper that Qahtani had “sought out software made by Israeli spyware maker NSO Group and its affiliate, Q CyberTechnology, which began providing the kingdom cyber surveillance tools last year in a $55 million deal.” One official is quoted as saying, “Qahtani was the key player in all of this… He wanted the best and the knew that Israeli firms offered the best.”Although no facts are presented as evidence that the two senior Saudi officials used Israeli technology to track Khashoggi, or that any Israeli was implicated even indirectly in the affair, the WSJ writes suggestively that that the sidelining of the two officials suspected in the Khashoggi murder has had a negative impact on Saudi-Israeli ties. Another casualty has been the Trump Mid East peace plan, which hinged on the crown prince’s growing affinity with Israel.
Although the crown prince is confirmed by various sources to be safe in the saddle after the Khashoggi affair (including The New York Times on Monday), the WSJ speaks of his “diminished role” in the wake of the murder, and reports that King Salman, who has taken “a more active role in government” in its aftermath “has been more adverse to warmer ties with Israel than his 33-year old son, recently describing resolving the Palestinian plight with Israel as the kingdom’s foremost priority in the region.”
This report appeared shortly after the US Treasury imposed sanctions for the first time on a senior IDF general. Maj. Gen. (res.) Israel Ziv was accused of serious charges, which he has flatly denied, of selling weapons both to the South Sudanese government and its opposition, thereby stirring up the conflict to boost his sales of arms. In one week, therefore, a senior Israeli army officer, intelligence officials and technology companies find they are under attack for their ties with Saudi Arabia and in one case, Africa.
This assault comes at a time that President Donald Trump, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, each for different reasons, are undergoing debilitating political and personal crises, and, moreover, shortly before the Democrats take over a majority of the US House of Representatives next month.