December 20/18

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For today
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person
First Letter to the Corinthians 03/10-23: "According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. If the work is burned, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire. Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness’, and again, ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.’ So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God."

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on December 19-20/18
Representative of Lebanon to the United Nations, Ambassador Amal Maddalali,from New York: To abide by 1701, move from cessation of hostilities to permanent ceasefire
Netanyahu: Lebanon Wasn't Aware of Hezbollah Tunnels, but Should Now 'Neutralize Them'
Israel Says Hizbullah Trying to 'Set Up Alternative Precision Missile Plants'
Israel: Hezbollah Blocks Tunnels Before Their Potential Discovery
Tenenti: Two tunnels cross Blue Line, violate 1701 Resolution
Israel Says Hezbollah Shut Precision Missile Plants
Israeli Forces Cross Technical Fence Facing Wazzani Parks
Lebanon finance, foreign ministers to stay as new cabinet edges closer
Tashnaq Brushes Off ‘Armenian Obstacle’ Claims ahead of Govt. Formation
Hariri meets Lazzarini, Naggari
Hariri meets Bukhari on protocol visit
U.S. Hopes Lebanon's Next Government Will Work With It
Bassil visits Hariri: Government in a couple of days
Report: Govt. Expected after Hizbullah ‘Persuades’ Allies, Ibrahim Mediates ‘Initiative’
Controversy on Invitation of Syrian Regime to Economic Summit in Beirut
Sources to Asharq Al-Awsat: Lebanese Cabinet Before Christmas
Hariri Meets EU Ambassador Christina Lassen
Nadine Labaki's Capernaum shortlisted for Oscar
How Hezbollah continues to dictate the terms
Hezbollah's tunnels distract Israel from real dangers

Titles For The Latest  English LCCC  Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 19-20/18
Trump says ISIS defeated in Syria as US weighs withdrawal of troops
Trump Plans Full Withdrawal of US Troops from Syria
Republican hawks slam Trump on Syria pullout
Guarantor States’ Fail to Reach Breakthrough on Syria Constitutional Committee
US on Syria: We Want to See a Regime that is Fundamentally Different
Jordan King Meets Abbas, Stresses Need to Break Peace Deadlock
ISIS Kills 700 Prisoners in East Syria in Two Months- Observatory
Stockholm Agreement Ignites Differences Among Houthi Leaders
Arab Coalition Destroys Drone at Sanaa Airport
Salame Reveals Intensive Talks to Set Stage for Inter- Libyan Conference
EU Implements Brexit 'No Deal' Contingency Plans
Yemen Govt Allies Urge Swift UN Deployment to Save Hodeida Truce
Coalition Says It Launched Strike at Airport in Yemen Capital
Russia, Turkey, Iran Renew Push for New Syrian Constitution
Third Canadian Detained in China
Trump Signals Retreat on Wall Funding, but Shutdown Threat Remains
Iran MP denounces arrest of striking workers: Violation of constitution
Toronto Catholic School Board says 95 part-time jobs cut after funding slash

Titles For The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 19-20/18
Representative of Lebanon to the United Nations, Ambassador Amal Maddalali,from New York: To abide by 1701, move from cessation of hostilities to permanent ceasefire/Wed 19 Dec 2018/NNA
Nadine Labaki's Capernaum shortlisted for Oscar/Katy Gillett/The National/December 19/18
How Hezbollah continues to dictate the terms/Elias Sakr/Annahar/December 19/18
Hezbollah's tunnels distract Israel from real dangers/Akiva Eldar/Al Monitor/December 18, 2018
Trump says ISIS defeated in Syria as US weighs withdrawal of troops/Reuters/December 18, 2018
Trump Plans Full Withdrawal of US Troops from Syria/Agence France Presse/December 19/18
Republican hawks slam Trump on Syria pullout/Bryant Harris/Al Monitor/ December 19, 2018
Iran: Toward a Plan B/Amir Taheri/Gatestone Institute/December 19/2018
No stable country without tolerance/Turki Aldakhil/Al Arabiya/December 19/18
The cyber war that is raging in your pocket/Walid Jawad/Al Arabiya/December 19/18
Value of soft power in foreign policy/Sabena Siddiqui/Al Arabiya/December 19/18
India’s foreign policy in tatters due to Modi’s sense of self-importance/S. N. M. Abdi/Al Arabiya/December 19/18
No …Voters Are Not Always Right/Eyad Abu Shakra/Al Arabiya/December, 19/18
The Colossal Price of Theresa May’s Immigration Obsession/Lionel Laurent/Bloomberg/December, 19/18
Who benefits as US withdraws from Syria? Not Israel/Ron Ben-Yishai|/Ynetnews/December 19/18
Trump orders US troop pullout from NE Syria. Israel left alone against Russia, Iran/DEBKAfile/December 19/18
Israel says will study US pullout from Syria, ensure its own security/Agencies//Ynetnews/December 19/18

Latest LCCC English Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on December 19-20/18
Representative of Lebanon to the United Nations, Ambassador Amal Maddalali,from New York: To abide by 1701, move from cessation of hostilities to permanent ceasefire
Wed 19 Dec 2018/NNA
The Permanent Representative of Lebanon to the United Nations, Ambassador Amal Maddalali, delivered a speech at the Security Council open briefing in New York on the "situation in the Middle East", in which she said:
"Dear Mr. President,
Allow me at the outset to congratulate you and Côte d’Ivoire on your presidency of this month. This holy month, Mr. President, which is supposed to bring peace to all on earth. Unfortunately, it seems my country Lebanon is condemned to be the victim of continuous threats, conflict and pain.
While the Lebanese were busy preparing for Christmas night, to celebrate the birth of hope and renewal, they are today worried, concerned and fearful about the future. When they see this esteemed body, meet to discuss Lebanon, as is called for today, it triggers memories of Israeli aggression, invasions and continued occupation of Lebanese land. They wonder if all of this is a prelude to another aggression.
No one should blame them, Mr. President. Lebanon has witnessed four devastating Israeli invasions in the last 40 years, which resulted in thousands of civilians killed, and severely injured, the infrastructure of the country destroyed, and years of hardship for the people. We still live its consequences.
Today we are witnessing another volatile situation concerning the tunnels, and Lebanon took this issue very seriously, and has said, loudly and clearly, and on the highest level, that it is not interested in a new conflict.
Indeed, President Michel Aoun, immediately after the news came out, reaffirmed unequivocally Lebanon’s commitment to resolution 1701 in letter and in its entirety. This commitment is not rhetoric, and these are not mere words, because this commitment is in the interest of my country and my people. This is also why President Aoun expressed Lebanon’s interest in preserving security and stability in South Lebanon, as well as willingness to work with the international community to address the issues raised by the Security Council in its last meeting on Lebanon. He made it clear that Lebanon has no aggressive intentions.
This same commitment was reiterated by Prime Minister designate Saad Hariri when he told UNIFIL’s Force Commander General Del Col during their meeting, that Lebanon remains committed to the full implementation of Resolution 1701 and the respect of the Blue Line.
The Prime Minister designate said that the Lebanese army, the sole responsible power for 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.
Following his statement, and upon request of the Lebanese government, the Lebanese army is deployed heavily now in the area of operations to make sure that 1701 is abided by strictly. The army is continuing its patrols there this moment. But the President and the Prime Minister designate also pointed to Israeli’s responsibility in instigating conflict through its daily violations of the Lebanese sovereignty.
Yes, esteemed members of the Council, the real issue at hand is the constant violations of our sovereignty by land, air and sea, in full contravention of resolution 1701, but also in full contravention of a key provision of the UN Charter, article 2(P.4).
Mr. President,
The Lebanese State did not commit any violations, while the violations on the Israeli side were done by the Israeli government. These violations amount to 1800 violation annually, and in the last four months they reached 150 a month on average. Here is a sample of the violations that we provide the United Nations, provide You with, daily. This is for the month of December alone and today is only the 19th.
Moreover, Israel breached Lebanese airspace in the last 4 months alone by an average of 84 violations on daily basis. All of these are documented with UNIFIL. This is in addition to its violation of the Lebanese telecom network, sending threatening messages to the Lebanese citizens and causing fear and panic among the population. We sent reports of these to you, Mr. President and to the Secretary- General, in a formal letter on December 6.
Just Imagine, esteemed members of the Council, if we were to call for a Security Council meeting, every time Israel had violated Lebanon’s sovereignty since 2006. You will be in a 24/7 shift to address them. Lebanese officials accorded the problem of the tunnels the utmost careful attention fearing, rightly so, that Israel might use it as a pretext to threaten the stability of Lebanon.
The Prime Minister designate told the UNIFIL Force commander that the UN must shoulder its responsibilities in facing the daily violations by Israel. He said the escalating tone towards Lebanon, which you had a taste of it today by hearing what the Israeli ambassador said, does not serve the relative calm that has been prevailing for more than 12 years in the South. Prime Minister Hariri called on the International community, on all of you, to "curb this escalation in the interest of the respect of the Blue Line and the full implementation of resolution 1701". We repeat his call here again in the Council hoping that you defuse the situation for the benefit of peace and calm on our border.
Mr. President,
In light of all of these violations and disregard to international legality, the Lebanese are asking a legitimate question: Are there aristocrats in violations for the International community? They are worried about double standards where Lebanese reports of Israeli violations of its sovereignty are buried in the archives, while Israel’s complaints get Security Council meetings, and their actions go unpunished.
Mr. President,
Listen to this quote: "We have the perfect right of preemptive self-defense, to survey and collect intelligence", these are the words of the Prime Minister of Israel few days ago when addressing the Israeli breaches of Lebanese airspace. What the Prime Minister sees as self-defense, is seen as a threat in Beirut.
When the Israeli planes fly low, or break the sound barrier, over populated areas, people feel the brunt of the Israeli violations. We all know too well how the so-called Israeli right of preemptive self-defense, which by the way has no international legal basis, is used to justify illegal aggressive acts and invasions.
Mr. President,
We should not be condemned to repeating the same situation over and over again. There is a simple way of keeping the border calm: it is by adhering to resolution 1701 by both sides, and not only by Lebanon. It is by moving from cessation of hostilities to a permanent ceasefire. It is by the Israeli withdrawal from the remaining occupied Lebanese territory and territorial waters.
There is also a UN mechanism in South Lebanon the Tripartite Committee that can deal with all the issues that arise from the situation in South Lebanon. This Committee can be empowered to solve all the violations especially solving the outstanding issues of the border dispute between Lebanon and Israel including the Maritime border. These issues can be resolved away from any domestic political considerations.
The Israeli press is rife with questions about the timing and purpose of this Israeli campaign. But, although Lebanon is not concerned with domestic Israeli policy, it refuses to be used as a pawn in Israeli power politics. Lebanon is interested in preserving calm on its territory, and living in peace and security. Is this too much to ask Mr. President?
I thank you Mr. President."

Netanyahu: Lebanon Wasn't Aware of Hezbollah Tunnels, but Should Now 'Neutralize Them'
Haaretz/December 19/18/Speaking with foreign media ahead of UN Security Council meeting, the prime minister says he asked Putin not to support or stay neutral on Hezbollah
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday that the Lebanese Army, to the best of Israel's knowledge, was not aware of the tunnels being dug by Hezbollah from Lebanon into Israel, but noted that Israel sees Lebanon responsible for demolishing them. Speaking at a press conference to foreign media ahead of a UN Security Council session on the discovery of the Hezbollah tunnels, Netanyahu called on the international community to hold Lebanon accountable for the tunnels. "[N]ow they know and they should be there to uncover and neutralize them," Netanyahu said. "The Lebanese government is doing nothing at best and colluding at worst."Netanyahu said that he appreciates the U.S. for taking a stance against Hezbollah and urging the Security Council to hold the emergency meeting on Wednesday and called on "all members of the Security Council to condemn Hezbollah's wanton acts of aggression," designate it as a terrorist group, impose sanctions against it, and support Israel's right to defend itself. Netanyahu told the reporters that, in recent days, ahead of the Security Council meeting, he spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin and asked him to take a stand against Hezbollah, "to condemn Hezbollah and not to support them or be neutral."

Israel Says Hizbullah Trying to 'Set Up Alternative Precision Missile Plants'
Naharnet/December 19/18/Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly claimed that “Hizbullah has shut down precision missile plants in Lebanon that Israel exposed in September,” media reports said on Wednesday. Netanyahu has also claimed that “Hizbullah is trying to set up alternative precision missile plants,” and that it “currently has at most, a few dozen” precision-guided missiles in its arsenal. In September, Netanyahu claimed that Hizbullah has positioned three missile sites near Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport. He said the sites include the football stadium of the Hizbullah-affiliated al-Ahed club, another site near the airport and the Ouzai fishermen's harbor. Last week, tension escalated after Israeli allegations of uncovering tunnels allegedly dug between Lebanon and the northern occupied Palestinian territories.

Israel: Hezbollah Blocks Tunnels Before Their Potential Discovery
Tel Aviv- Nazir Majli/Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 19 December, 2018/On the eve of a UN Security Council session over Hezbollah’s tunnels at the request of the United States and Israel, the Israeli army announced on Tuesday that the party’s members had tried in recent days to block a tunnel path uncovered by Israel and started a campaign to block all their tunnels before they are discovered. Israeli sources said that they would unveil new details about Hezbollah’s activities in southern Lebanon at the Security Council meeting scheduled for Wednesday, pointing to many alleged violations by the Lebanese side of UN Security Council Resolution 1701. A statement by the military spokesman in Tel Aviv noted that Israeli army experts, who documented the four tunnels discovered under the border between Lebanon and Israel, made a comparison with tunnels dug by Hamas and militant groups along the border with the Gaza Strip and found significant differences. Thus, they stressed that Hezbollah was working in a more qualitative and professional manner, indicating that the party benefitted from the experience of a state, in a clear hint at Iran. The Israeli army added that the four tunnels discovered so far since the start of the “North Shield” operation earlier this month, have crossed the border with Lebanon into the territories occupied by Israel, but did not pose a threat to settlements in the north. Although the UNIFIL forces confirmed in a statement that only two of these tunnels crossed the border with Israel, the latter welcomed the statement, describing it as “an important political achievement, especially as it comes ahead of the special discussion that will be conducted at the UN Security Council today on the issue of [Hezbollah’s] tunnels.”Meanwhile, the Israeli army spokesman allowed CNN for the first time to broadcast pictures from a tunnel recently uncovered. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin conducted visits to the site.

Tenenti: Two tunnels cross Blue Line, violate 1701 Resolution
Wed 19 Dec 2018/NNA - UNIFIL spokesman, Andrea Tenenti, confirmed the presence of four tunnels along the Blue Line after the Israeli enemy made such claims back in September.
"An independent UNIFIL investigation team has confirmed that there are two tunnels, out of the four tunnels, crossing the blue line from Lebanon into the Israeli territory, and thus consisting a violation of Resolution 1701," Tenenti said, noting that the UNIFIL technical team is continuing its investigation into the remaining tunnels. "The situation on the border is calm and stable, and the Lebanese government is committed to Resolution 1701," he added, pointing out that "the detected tunnels are located in the vicinity of Kfarkila, on the one hand, and the Mtelleh settlement, on the other, refraining from giving further details on that matter."Investigations are ongoing, and we are working in coordination with the Lebanese authorities," Tenenti stressed. Asked whether the tunnels were new or old, Tenenti said "It is difficult to determine the age of these tunnels. (...) Two of them violate Resolution 1701, and we cannot determine the status of this breach."

Israel Says Hezbollah Shut Precision Missile Plants
Reuters/December 19/2018/Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday that the Lebanese group Hezbollah had shut down plants to develop precision-guided missiles after Israel exposed them, and currently had at most just “a few dozen” of the weapons.
Netanyahu has accused Hezbollah of developing and stockpiling weapons capable of targeting his country’s key infrastructure. In a Sept. 7 speech to the United Nations, he named three locations near Beirut airport where he said the group was turning “inaccurate projectiles” into precision-guided missiles. At the time, Lebanon’s foreign minister Gebran Bassil, a political ally of Hezbollah, dismissed Israel’s accusations and accused Netanyahu of trying to “justify another aggression” against Lebanon. Netanyahu told an economic conference on Wednesday: “Those sites near the Beirut airport, the underground sites for precision conversion of missiles, which (Israeli) military intelligence gave me, to expose, those sites were closed.” “They are trying to open other sites,” he said, without elaborating on where they might be located. “But through these measures we are denying them precision arms,” Netanyahu added. Hezbollah had hoped to obtain “thousands of precision-guided missile (but) they have, at most, a few dozen,” he said. On Sept 20, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said his group had obtained “precision and non-precision rockets and weapons capabilities” despite Israel’s air strikes in Syria.
Israel has attacked suspected arms transfers to the Shi’ite Muslim group through neighboring Syria.

Israeli Forces Cross Technical Fence Facing Wazzani Parks
Naharnet/December 19/18/An Israeli army task force has crossed the technical fence on Wednesday facing the area of al-Wazzani parks and combed the area, the National News Agency reported on Wednesday. Unmanned Israeli reconnaissance airplanes have meanwhile hovered over the area, added NNA. Israel and Lebanon are technically at war, and Israel and Hizbullah fought a monthlong war that ended in stalemate in 2006. On December 4, Israel announced an operation dubbed "Northern Shield" to destroy tunnels it said have been dug under the border by Hizbullah.

Lebanon finance, foreign ministers to stay as new cabinet edges closer
Retuers, Beirut/Wednesday, 19 December 2018/Lebanon’s finance and foreign ministers will keep their posts in the new national unity government, sources said on Wednesday, with the country close to forming the cabinet after seven months of political wrangling. Efforts to form the government, led by Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri, have been obstructed by conflicting demands for cabinet seats that must be parceled out in line with a finely balanced, sectarian political system. Heavily indebted and suffering from a stagnant economy, Lebanon is in dire need of an administration that can set about long-stalled reforms to put public debt on a sustainable footing. Lebanese dollar-denominated bonds rose on progress towards the government formation, jumping to a five-week high. The May 6 national election, Lebanon’s first in nine years, produced a parliament tilted in favor of the heavily armed, Iran-backed Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah, which together with its political allies won more than 70 of the 128 seats. Hariri, who enjoys Western backing, lost more than one third of his lawmakers, though he remained Lebanon’s biggest Sunni Muslim leader and was nominated again as prime minister. “We are on the brink of forming the government,” Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a political ally of Hezbollah, was quoted as saying by one of his MPs. Caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said the remaining details should not need more than “two days ... and we will have a government.”Ali Hassan Khalil, a top aide to Berri, will remain finance minister, a senior official and a senior political source told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity because the government had yet to be finalized and announced.
$11 billion pledged
International institutions and donor states want to see the next government take long-delayed steps to put public debt on a sustainable path to unlock more than $11 billion of support, mostly loans, pledged in April to help revive the economy. Lebanon has the world’s third highest debt as a proportion of GDP. The sources said Bassil, the son-in-law of President Michel Aoun and head of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) he founded, would keep his job as foreign minister. Aoun has been a political ally of Hezbollah since 2006 and, despite some differences, supports the group’s arsenal which he has said is needed to defend Lebanon from Israel. Hezbollah is expected to name three ministers in the new government, one more than in the outgoing administration. One of these will be the health ministry, the most significant ministry the group would have controlled in any government.
Elias Bou Saab, also part of Aoun’s political bloc, would be the next defense minister, the senior political source said. Lebanon’s army is a major recipient of US aid, receiving more than $1.6 billion since 2006. The defense ministry in the outgoing cabinet was also held by an Aoun ally.
The interior ministry is expected to remain with Hariri’s Future Movement. A US State Department official said on Tuesday the United States hoped that next government would be willing to work with it “on areas of mutual interest” and expressed concern over Hezbollah’s rising political clout in the country.

Tashnaq Brushes Off ‘Armenian Obstacle’ Claims ahead of Govt. Formation
Naharnet/December 19/18/The Tashnaq party MP Hagop Pakradounian said there was no obstacle related to the “Armenian representation” as circulated in the media, but affirmed the party’s right for getting a portfolio. “There is no obstacle regarding the Armenian representation. It is our normal right to get a portfolio. The tourism ministry is going to remain with us, mainy with (current caretaker tourism minister) Avedis Guidanian ,” said Pakradounian in a statement to MTV. Meanwhile, General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim “informed the leadership of the Tashnaq Party that the Ministry of Tourism would be allocated to a party representative of the Tashnaq, Avedis Guidanian.”Ongoing efforts continued on Thursday in a bid to complete an “initiative” mediated by Ibrahim between the various Lebanese parties.

Hariri meets Lazzarini, Naggari
Wed 19 Dec 2018/NNA - Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri received today at the Center House the Deputy United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon Philippe Lazzarini and discussed with him the latest developments and UN activities in Lebanon.
Hariri earlier met with the Egyptian Ambassador to Lebanon Nazih Naggari who said after the meeting: "I had the honor to meet with Prime Minister Hariri. There is an Egyptian keenness as usual on Lebanon's stability and the formation of the new government. We heard good news that this formation will take place soon. We wish Premier Hariri success in the great efforts he has been exerting for many months to achieve this objective which is in Lebanon's interest." He also met with the Indonesian Ambassador to Lebanon Ahmad Khazen Hamidi and discussed with him the bilateral relations. Hariri also received caretaker Minister of Telecommunication Jamal Jarrah.

Hariri meets Bukhari on protocol visit
Wed 19 Dec 2018/NNA - Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, welcomed this evening at the Center House the Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon, Walid Bukhari, who came on a protocol visit on the occasion of his accreditation as ambassador to Lebanon. Talks reportedly touched on the general situation and the bilateral relations. On the other hand, Premier Hariri Hariri chaired the fourth meeting of the "Legislative Consultative Forum" in the presence of MPs Bahia Hariri and Dima Jamali, as well as representatives of trade unions.

U.S. Hopes Lebanon's Next Government Will Work With It

Reuters/December 19/2018/The United States hopes Lebanon's next government will work with it on areas of mutual interest, a State Department official said on Tuesday, and expressed concern over Hezbollah's rising clout in the country. "We hope Lebanon's next government will build a stable and secure Lebanon that is committed to peace, responsive to the needs of the Lebanese people, and working with the United States on areas of mutual interest," the official told Reuters. Lebanon is expected to form a new national unity government in the next few days, politicians said on Tuesday, raising hopes for an end to more than seven months of wrangling that has darkened the outlook for its struggling economy. Hezbollah is expected to get three ministries in the upcoming cabinet for the first time, instead of two, including the health ministry.

Bassil visits Hariri: Government in a couple of days
Wed 19 Dec 2018/ NNA - Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri received today at the Center House Caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. Discussions continued over lunch, after which Minister Bassil told the reporters: "First, I would like to say that the birth of the government has taken time, but we hope that it would see the light in the next couple of days, thus the Lebanese would spend the holidays in the presence of a new government. But the most important thing is to achieve everything related to the new government as soon as possible, from the ministerial statement, to the vote of confidence and starting work. By this we will be showing from the first meeting of the government that it came to work 24 hours a day to accomplish achievements for the country and its citizens, and revive the economy. This is the real present that we can give to the Lebanese.
The details are with the Prime Minister, who according to the Constitution and his powers, forms the government and determines with the President of the Republic the appropriate date to announce its birth. There is still some work to be done by Premier Hariri. What concerns us are the basic principles on which the government was formed. We have always talked about fair representation and this has been respected in content and form. What is more important is that the government be coherent, without rivalries or problems. The proportional electoral law gave everyone the right to be represented, majorities and minorities, without monopoly. Accordingly, everyone recognize the other and everything is being prepared to have a good atmosphere when the government is formed. The Prime Minister will do what is necessary to meet the six MPs and this will help the formation of the government and its work".
He added: "We lost a lot of time and reached a result that we could have reached a long time ago. We spoke about fair representation criteria because if we adopt them once, there won't be any difficulty in forming a government in the future. We also hope to finish the ministerial statement as soon as possible."
He refused to get into details about names, but said that the ministers should be experts in their fields so that no time is wasted. Asked about the UN Security Council session held today on the situation in the South, Bassil said that the Ministry issued a very precise statement. He denied criticizing the UNIFIL in the statement and said: "We as a government and a country are committed to UNSCR 1701 with all its provisions, and concerned in implementing it. The most important is to have security and stability on the southern borders. I think the Lebanese army is doing what should be done and conducting the necessary patrols. It is our right to ask the Security Council to oblige Israel to stop its violations of the 1701. Israel violates the Lebanese sovereignty five times a day by flying an F16 plane carrying tons of explosives over our heads and threatening us. We call on the Security Council to make these violations, that exceed 1800 per year, stop."

Report: Govt. Expected after Hizbullah ‘Persuades’ Allies, Ibrahim Mediates ‘Initiative’

Naharnet/December 19/18/Prospects grew on Wednesday that Lebanon’s seven-month delayed government could be formed before the year-end when the pro-Hizbullah Consultative Gathering MPs agreed to name a figure from outside their group to get a ministerial seat in the government. Each of the pro-Hizbullah MPs is free to name the figure of his choice, out of which President Michel Aoun will pick one for a seat from his own share ending the stalemate and disagreements between political parties over shares and cabinet quotas, the pan-Arab al-Hayat daily reported . Some figures have even expected the formation to crystalize by Saturday or Sunday, said the daily. A Consultative Gathering MP who was not named told the daily: “The obstacle has been solved, unless a new hurdle emerges.”Al-Hayat said the indications that a soon settlement might be reached arose two days ago when senior Hizbullah sources told a number of parties that the stalemate of Sunni MPs representation is “heading towards a solution in light of concessions made by all sides.”Politicians familiar with “the situation” told al-Hayat that Hizbullah has persuaded the six deputies to accept their representation through a figure from outside their group.
They have adamantly insisted before that one of them must specifically be named for a seat. General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim mediated the “initiative” on Tuesday, and relayed Hizbullah leaders as saying that once Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri met with the six members of the Consultative Gathering, the problem would be resolved. Some political circles said the developments at the regional level, mainly in Iraq and Yemen, “have attributed to the solution at Lebanon’s governmental level.”Ibrahim’s mobility yesterday reinforced expectations that the government could be formed before the holidays in an effort to find a compromise within the framework of President Michel Aoun's initiative when he kicked off consultations with the various concerned parties last week, added the daily. Ibrahim had met on Tuesday with the Sunni MPs, except for Faisal Karami who is traveling abroad and is expected to return to Lebanon on Friday. The interlocutors agreed that members of the gathering would name personalities from their political line for a ministerial post. President Michel Aoun would then choose one of them to represent them. 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. Hizbullah has insisted that the six Sunni MPs should be given a seat in the government, refraining from providing Hariri with the names of its three Shiite ministers in a bid to press him.

Controversy on Invitation of Syrian Regime to Economic Summit in Beirut
Beirut - Youssef Diab//Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 19 December, 2018/A possible invitation to the Syrian regime to attend the 2019 Arab Economic Summit expected in Beirut on January 20 has drawn controversy in Lebanon. Political parties loyal to Damascus, including Hezbollah, have been exerting pressure on officials to convince them into inviting the Assad regime to the summit. However, parties loyal to the March 14 coalition have warned from the repercussions of such invitation, particularly if taken without the consent of the Arab League. They also said such decision could further push Lebanon into the Iranian sphere of influence. The summit is largely important for Lebanon since Beirut hosted the Arab Summit in 2002. Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri's economic adviser Nadim Munla downplayed the impact of failing to invite Syria to the summit. Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Munla said Lebanon is a hosting country but not responsible for deciding which state to invite. “Such a decision is taken by the Arab League,” he said, adding that Beirut would respect the organization’s choices. For his part, MP Yassine Jaber from the Amal Movement’s parliamentary bloc said he hoped Lebanon had not hosted the event because the country “does not need additional problems.”

Sources to Asharq Al-Awsat: Lebanese Cabinet Before Christmas
Beirut - Nazeer Rida/Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 19 December, 2018/Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri will likely announce his government line-up over the weekend after the hurdle on the representation of six Sunni deputies from the Hezbollah-allied Consultative Gathering was resolved. “A cabinet will be announced before Christmas,” sources close to the cabinet consultations told Asharq Al-Awsat on Tuesday. Since the May parliamentary elections, rival political parties have been bickering over key ministerial shares, hampering the formation of the national unity government.The process was further complicated when Hariri rejected a Hezbollah demand for a seat for one of its Sunni allies, the Consultative Gathering, a parliamentary bloc including six deputies.But a breakthrough was reached this week following extensive consultations led by General Security chief Major General Abbas Ibrahim. Concerned parties agreed that the six Sunni MPs get a representation by a figure from outside the Consultative Gathering after President Michel Aoun accepted to cede one of his bloc's seats in the government to the Hezbollah-allied Sunni figure. A local television station, LBCI, said Tuesday that the deputies should visit the Presidential Palace next Friday to meet with Aoun and Hariri and hand them a list of names from which the President and the PM-designate can chose the cabinet minister. “Choosing the name of the Sunni candidate should not constitute any obstacle in the face of the cabinet formation process,” the sources said without revealing the names of potential candidates. On Tuesday, Ibrahim held separate meetings with Aoun, Hariri and members of the Consultative Gathering to remove the last hurdle to the cabinet formation process. “If this positive atmosphere continues, I can reassure the Lebanese about the upcoming formation of the government. This is the last quarter of an hour before the birth of the government," Ibrahim said after meeting the members of the Gathering. Also Tuesday, Hariri’s Mustaqbal parliamentary bloc expressed satisfaction with Aoun’s initiative and its expected outcome.

Hariri Meets EU Ambassador Christina Lassen
Naharnet/December 19/18/Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri met with EU Ambassador Christina Lassen on Tuesday and the meeting focused on the government formation process and the discovery of tunnels at Lebanon's southern border, the media office of the European Union Delegation in Lebanon said in a statement. 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 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.

Nadine Labaki's Capernaum shortlisted for Oscar
Katy Gillett/The National/December 19/18
The Lebanese director and actress becomes the first Arab female filmmaker behind a film shortlisted for Best Foreign Language Film
It's a moment film buffs have all been waiting for: the nominations for nine of the categories of the 91st Academy Awards are out, and on the shortlist for Best Foreign Language Film is Capernaum, directed by Lebanese director and actress Nadine Labaki. It makes it the first film by an Arab woman to get an official Oscars nod and it is the second film from Lebanon to ever be nominated. Ziad Doueiri's The Insult was shortlisted in 2017. The announcement comes not long after Capernaum was also nominated for the Golden Globes' Best Picture – Foreign Language category, becoming the first Lebanese film to be nominated in the prestigious awards ceremony, often seen as the precursor and barometer for what we should expect from the Academy Awards. This year, the Golden Globes airs on January 6, 2019, while the 91st Academy Awards are on February 25.
What the film is about
Capernaum is Labaki's third film and tells the story of children in the slums of Beirut, using a cast of non-actors. The main storyline follows a 12-year-old boy who decides to sue his abusive parents, who he's already fleed from, for the "crime" of giving him life. Earlier this year Labaki again made history at the Cannes Film Festival, as she became the first female Arab filmmaker to win a major prize in the competition, picking up the Jury Prize for Capernaum, which received a 15-minute standing ovation at its premiere screening.

How Hezbollah continues to dictate the terms
Elias Sakr/Annahar/December 19/18
Only Hezbollah will truly emerge a winner by expanding its share in the Cabinet while weakening both Aoun and Hariri.
BEIRUT: After seven months of political bickering, the last of many deals may be soon finalized to break the Cabinet deadlock. The deal supposedly features concessions from three main parties and was marketed as follows:
The president will cede a cabinet seat from his share while the prime minister-designate will approve the appointment of a minister nominated by his pro-Hezbollah Sunni rivals, rather than a member of the group itself.
While this deal is being painted as a three-way compromise, in fact, it is another clear victory for Hezbollah.
Simply because, whoever is assigned to the post, which Aoun relinquished in favor of a Hezbollah-backed Sunni, will ultimately answer to the Shiite group.
So why are all parties intentionally misleading the Lebanese into believing this deal demanded sacrifices from across the board to thwart an imminent economic collapse?
Well, when it comes to Aoun, the president has no interest in sharing with his followers the true cost that this deal carries; a deal under which he will cede veto power in the Cabinet, only because Hezbollah insisted on representing an affiliated Sunni bloc, fully knowing that the deal will come at the expense of Aoun.
Hariri, on the other hand, also has no interest in sharing with his supporters the true price he will have to pay: being forced to relinquish monopoly over Sunni representation in executive power.
Only Hezbollah, not even the Sunni bloc itself, will truly emerge a winner by expanding its share in the Cabinet while weakening both Aoun and Hariri.
While it has become clear that Hezbollah continues to dictate its terms, it remains unclear why the party has greenlit the Cabinet formation now.
In other words, why has Hezbollah waited so long to signal to the Sunni bloc to backtrack on its previous condition of appointing one of its own members in the cabinet when Aoun had implied on numerous previous occasions that he was considering ceding a seat from his share to represent the group?

Hezbollah's tunnels distract Israel from real dangers

Akiva Eldar/Al Monitor/December 18, 2018
The IDF started Operation Northern Shield Dec. 4 to neutralize the border tunnels dug by Hezbollah from Lebanon into Israeli territory. But the goal of Israel’s operation is apparently not only to protect residents of northern Israel from Hezbollah fighters.
Indeed, at a meeting with the heads of the towns and villages in the region on Dec. 11, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu painted a horrific scenario in which “on some rainy, foggy day, Hezbollah emerges from the tunnels and kidnaps our people.” But according to the prime minister, there is more to the the tunnel network he'd said earlier on Dec. 4 “is part of a regional and global network of terror and aggression directed and funded by Iran.” The operation on the border with Lebanon is targeted at “Iran’s terror arm in Lebanon," he emphasized. Seated next to Netanyahu at that same event, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot promised “to keep hitting the Iranian entrenchment in the northern arena.”Although Hezbollah has had access to the tunnels for two or three years, the organization has not used them. Israel’s intelligence community believes Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has no interest in attacking Israel as long as his forces are deployed in Syria and his precision missile project is in its infancy. Although Hezbollah relies on Iran, it is first and foremost focused on internal matters. Like other groups that have become established movements, such as Sinn Fein in Ireland, it bears responsibility for the welfare of civilians if it wants to exert control and maintain its power.
In fact, ever since Israel withdrew its troops from Lebanon in May 2000, Nasrallah has initiated no war against Israel. Right after the Second Lebanon War in 2006, he declared that had he known Israel would land such a heavy blow on Lebanon, he would have foregone the kidnapping of the two Israeli soldiers that set off the deadly Israeli reaction.
This time, Hezbollah has wisely avoided giving Israel an excuse to strike Lebanon and is letting the Israelis celebrate their victory at the mouth of each tunnel it unearths. Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Beri said on Dec. 11 that the Israel Defense Forces can do whatever they want within their territory, but not within Lebanon. In a Haaretz opinion piece on Feb. 7, Ronen Dangoor, the former deputy head of research in the prime minister’s office, warned that Israel and Hezbollah would each pay a heavy economic and social price if they go to war again, and the status quo would be restored until the next round of violence. A verbal dispute that erupted on Dec. 17 between Lebanese and Israeli soldiers, with rifles drawn on both sides, demonstrated the volatility of the situation. A hasty reaction by a soldier could trigger a major conflagration. Dangoor suggested that instead of beating the drums of war, Israel should ask a third party such as Russia, which has displayed a growing interest in the region, to act as a “hotline” between Jerusalem and Beirut. Rather than risking lives, he added, the two sides are better off in negotiations to settle their ongoing disputes over the strip of land on the Israel-Lebanon-Syria border known as Shebaa Farms and over control of offshore gas reserves. However, the Israeli government believes that what cannot be achieved by force can be achieved by more force. On Dec. 13, Netanyahu expressed this philosophy in typically sharp, simplistic fashion: “Whoever attacks us and whoever tries to attack us will pay with his life. Our enemies know this and we will find them."
Israel’s enemies know that the IDF is the strongest military force in the Middle East. Presumably, they read reports citing “foreign sources” and assume that the large complex outside the southern town of Dimona is not a production facility for perfume atomizers. This knowledge explains Tehran’s restraint in the face of repeated Israeli attacks on its targets in Syria and was presumably the main incentive for members of the Arab League, including the Palestine Liberation Organization and members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, to adopt the Arab Peace Initiative in 2002, offering Israel peace and normalization in return for its withdrawal to the 1967 border lines with certain agreed border adjustments.
Netanyahu, however, refuses to recognize the “lands for peace” formula. At a Dec. 16 meeting with Israeli ambassadors, Netanyahu said, "The Arab states are looking for links with the strong,” adding, “Cultivating strengths gives us diplomatic power” that enables normalization with the Arab world even without progress in negotiations with the Palestinians. The hope that such progress would pave the way for Israeli ties with Arab states “was shelved under Oslo governments,” he said, referring to the Labor-led governments that adopted the Oslo Accords in the 1990s.
Successive Israeli governments under Netanyahu, together with Palestinian rejectionist organizations, spare no effort to ensure that the hopes engendered by the Oslo process remain shelved. As always, the people of both nations are the ones who pay the price. Netanyahu asked the heads of local councils in Israel’s north to imagine the “killing sprees” Hezbollah fighters would have launched through the tunnels. Residents of Israeli settlements in the West Bank do not have to imagine killers emerging from beneath their doorsteps. For them, they are an almost daily occurrence. How does the government propose to change this reality? As always, by expanding the settlement enterprise, which makes Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas a laughingstock in his people’s eyes and strengthens his domestic and external rivals.
While Israel takes forceful action against what Netanyahu describes as Iran’s entrenchment in the northern arena, his government is helping the same enemy entrench along Israel’s southern front. Israel’s cease-fire arrangement with the Gaza Strip last month stabilized the regime of the Hamas movement, which enjoys the support of Iran and its satellites. From the besieged Gaza Strip, the road is short to the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Encouraged by Israel, Qatar, which supports Hamas and has a special relationship with Iran, is increasing its influence in the territories. The strengthening of the Hamas state in Gaza and perpetuation of Israel’s policy of separation between Gaza and West Bank Palestinians hasten the collapse of the Palestinian Authority under Abbas’ leadership and destroy prospects of peace. Sadly, there is no glimmer of light at the end of this tunnel.
**Akiva Eldar is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. He was formerly a senior columnist and editorial writer for Haaretz and also served as the Hebrew daily’s US bureau chief and diplomatic correspondent. His most recent book (with Idith Zertal), Lords of the Land, on the Jewish settlements, was on the best-seller list in Israel and has been translated into English, French, German and Arabic.

Latest LCCC English Miscellaneous Reports & News published on December 19-20/18
Trump says ISIS defeated in Syria as US weighs withdrawal of troops
Reuters, Washington/Wednesday, 19 December 2018/
The US President Donald Trump announced on Wednesday defeating ISIS in Syria, adding that this was the sole reason of American military presence in the country. “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump presidency,” Trump tweeted.
The United States is considering a total withdrawal of US forces from Syria as it nears the end of its campaign to retake all of the territory once held by ISIS, US officials told Reuters earlier on Wednesday. Such a decision, if confirmed, would upend assumptions about a longer-term US military presence in Syria, which US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and other senior US officials had advocated to help ensure ISIS cannot reemerge. Still, President Donald Trump has previously expressed a strong desire to bring troops home from Syria when possible. The timing of the withdrawal was not immediately clear and US officials who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity did not disclose details about the deliberations, including who was involved. It was unclear how soon a decision could be announced. The Pentagon and White House declined to comment. The United States still has about 2,000 troops in Syria, many of them special operations forces working closely with an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF. The partnership with the SDF over the past several years has led to the defeat of ISIS in Syria but outraged NATO ally Turkey, which views Kurdish YPG forces in the alliance as an extension of a militant group fighting inside Turkey. The deliberations on US troops come as Ankara threatens a new offensive in Syria. To date, US forces in Syria have been seen as a stabilizing factor in the country and have somewhat restrained Turkey’s actions against the SDF. A complete withdrawal of US troops from Syria would still leave a sizeable US military presence in the region, including about 5,200 troops across the border in Iraq. Still, Mattis and US State Department officials have long fretted about leaving Syria before a peace agreement can be reached to end that country’s brutal civil war, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced around half of Syria’s pre-war population of about 22 million. In April, Mattis said: “We do not want to simply pull out before the diplomats have won the peace. You win the fight - and then you win the peace.”ISIS is also widely expected to revert to guerilla tactics once it no longer holds territory. A US withdrawal could open Trump up to criticism if ISIS reemerged. Trump has previously lambasted his predecessor, Barack Obama, for the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq that preceded an unraveling of the Iraqi armed forces. Iraqi forces collapsed in the face of ISIS’s advance into the country in 2014.

Trump Plans Full Withdrawal of US Troops from Syria
Agence France Presse/December 19/18
The United States will withdraw its troops from Syria, a US official told AFP on Wednesday, after President Donald Trump said America has "defeated ISIS" in the war-ravaged country.
The stunning move will have extraordinary geopolitical ramifications and throws into question the fate of US-backed Kurdish fighters who have been tackling Islamic State jihadists.
"We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency," the Republican president tweeted. The US official said Trump's decision was finalized Tuesday.
"Full withdrawal, all means all," the official said when asked if the troops would be pulled from all of Syria. Currently, about 2,000 US forces are in Syria, most of them on a train-and-advise mission to support local forces fighting IS.
The official would not provide a timeline for a withdrawal, saying only: "We will ensure force protection is adequately maintained, but as quickly as possible."The Pentagon would not confirm the US troop pull-out. "At this time, we continue to work by, with and through our partners in the region," Pentagon spokesman Colonel Rob Manning said. A large contingent of the main US-backed, anti-IS fighting force in Syria, an alliance known as the Syrian Democratic forces (SDF), is Kurdish and is viewed by Turkey as a "terrorist" group. Ankara has said it plans to launch an operation against the Kurdish militia, known as the YPG (Kurdish People's Protection Units). While the YPG has spearheaded Washington's fight against IS, US support has strained relations between the NATO allies.
Ties have grown even more fraught since the US set up observation posts in northern Syria close to the border with Turkey to prevent any altercation between Turkish forces and the YPG.
Most US forces are stationed in northern Syria, though a small contingent is based at a garrison in Al-Tanaf, near the Jordanian and Iraqi border.
'Short-sighted and naive'
The decision to withdraw marks a shocking development not just for Kurds in Syria, but for long-established US doctrine in the region. Only last week Brett McGurk, the special envoy to defeat IS, said: "nobody is declaring a mission accomplished."
"The military objective is the enduring defeat of ISIS. And if we've learned one thing over the years, enduring defeat of a group like this means you can't just defeat their physical space and then leave." A US presence in Syria is seen as key to pushing against Iranian influence in the country and across the broader region. Tehran militias have supported the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, said the president's decision was shortsighted.
"President @realDonaldTrump is right to want to contain Iranian expansion," Graham said on Twitter.
"However, withdrawal of our forces in Syria mightily undercuts that effort and put our allies, the Kurds at risk."Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, called the decision "extraordinarily short-sighted and naive.""This move will look like a 'withdrawal,' not a 'victory,' and yet more evidence of the dangerous unpredictability of the US president," Lister said. "This is not just a dream scenario for ISIS, but also for Russia, Iran and the Assad regime, all of whom stand to benefit substantially from a US withdrawal."
IS swept across large swaths of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014, implementing their brutal interpretation of Islamic law in areas they controlled. But they have since seen their dream of a state crumble, as they have lost most of that territory to various offensives. In Syria, IS fighters are holding out in what remains of the pocket that once included Hajin, including the villages of Al-Shaafa and Sousa.

Republican hawks slam Trump on Syria pullout
Bryant Harris/Al Monitor/ December 19, 2018
President Donald Trump wants to immediately begin withdrawing US troops from Syria, but Iran hawks in Congress aren’t having it.
Iran hawks in Congress are vehemently pushing back against President Donald Trump’s directive to begin pulling US troops out of Syria.
CNN and the Wall Street Journal reported this morning that the administration has ordered the Pentagon to begin removing US service members “as quickly as possible.” And Reuters reports that the State Department is evacuating all its personnel within 24 hours.
The news sparked an immediate uproar among some of Trump’s usual allies on Capitol Hill, who were all caught off guard. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., issued a statement likening the pending removal of the 2,000 US troops stationed in Syria to President Barack Obama’s 2011 withdrawal from Iraq and the subsequent rise of the Islamic State, calling it “a huge Obama-like mistake.” “Today, we have a small American footprint and limited presence in northeastern Syria in support of our Kurdish allies who were indispensable in the fight against [the Islamic State],” Graham said. “Staying there is an insurance policy against the reemergence of [IS] and destruction of our Kurdish allies who fought so bravely against them.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., also weighed in, tweeting that a “full and rapid withdrawal from Syria is a grave error with broader implications” beyond the campaign against IS. Although the militant group’s would-be caliphate has collapsed, the group still maintains small slivers of territory in eastern Syria. Yet shortly after the initial media reports, Trump declared mission accomplished, tweeting, “We have defeated [IS] in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.”Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., immediately rebuked Trump’s claim, tweeting “This is simply not true.”“Iran is rejoicing right now,” tweeted Kinzinger, an Iraq war veteran. “We left Iraq, and had to come back. I would sure hope the President and his advisers are smarter than this.”Later this morning, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders put out a statement that neither confirmed nor denied reports of an immediate withdrawal.
“Five years ago, [IS] was a very powerful and dangerous force in the Middle East, and now the United States has defeated the territorial caliphate,” she said. “These victories … in Syria do not signal the end of the Global Coalition or its campaign. We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign.”The looming withdrawal comes as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to launch an offensive against US-backed Kurdish forces in eastern Syria. Trump and Erdogan discussed Turkey’s threats on the phone on Friday.
In addition to troops supporting Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria, the United States maintains a garrison of soldiers at al-Tanf in an effort to thwart Tehran’s endeavors to establish a land bridge from Iran to Lebanon. A US withdrawal, Graham wrote, “will also be seen by Iran and other bad actors as a sign of American weakness in the efforts to contain Iranian expansion.”

Guarantor States’ Fail to Reach Breakthrough on Syria Constitutional Committee

London - Ibrahim Hamidi/Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 19 December, 2018/During their meeting with UN envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura in Geneva Tuesday, the Foreign Ministers of Russia, Turkey and Iran, known as the guarantor states of the Astana process, failed to agree on a committee responsible for drafting the Syrian Constitution. The meeting between Russia's Sergei Lavrov, Turkey's Mevlut Cavusoglu and their Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif on Syria was joined by de Mistura. But the talks ended without any breakthrough and three ministers made no press conference. So, any agreement or discussions on the constitutional committee would be postponed until Thursday, when extensive talks are expected in New York following a briefing by de Mistura before paving way for his successor, veteran Norwegian ambassador Geir Pederson, to take over his mission. A Syrian opposition leader told Asharq Al-Awsat that the failure to take a step forward in the talks on the committee, forced attending ministers to amend a draft of the final communiqué, which read, “Announcing the establishment of a constitutional committee in coordination with all parties.”
A western diplomat told Asharq Al-Awsat that three obstacles caused the failure of the ministerial meeting in Geneva. First, there was a dispute on the role of the United Nations as de Mistura insists that the organization “sponsors the committee” while the guarantor states suggest holding UN-backed meetings for the committee in Geneva. The conferees also disagreed on the standards of the committee’s mission and argued on the third list of the constitutional committee, which includes independents and civil society representatives. After Tuesday’s meeting, the guarantors of the Astana process read a statement that failed to announce the full membership of the committee. The statement, read by Lavrov, stressed that Russia, Turkey and Iran presented to de Mistura "the positive results of their consultations with the Syrian parties on the composition of the constitutional committee." The document notes that the three countries agreed to undertake efforts to convene the committee’s first meeting in Geneva in early 2019.

US on Syria: We Want to See a Regime that is Fundamentally Different
Washington - Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 19 December, 2018/James Jeffrey, the US special representative in Syria, has said that Washington was no longer seeking to topple the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, but renewed warnings it would not fund reconstruction unless the regime is "fundamentally different."He 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 ISIS. 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.

Jordan King Meets Abbas, Stresses Need to Break Peace Deadlock
Amman/Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 19 December, 2018/Jordan’s King Abdullah II on Tuesday stressed during talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas the need to break the stalemate in the peace process by launching serious and effective peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis. The Royal Diwan said the King reiterated that negotiations should be based on a two-state solution. During the talks, which were held at the Basman Palace, the King also 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 based on the two-state solution.”He called on the international community to assume responsibility and put pressure on Israel to cease its practices that breed more violence, said the Royal Diwan in its statement.
King Abdullah also reiterated that Amman stands by the Palestinian people “to restore their legitimate and rightful demands,” vowing to exert all efforts along with influential parties and the international community for a solution "that serves Palestinian interests and the rights of the Palestinian people". He underscored the importance of maintaining the status quo in Jerusalem as a 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.”

ISIS Kills 700 Prisoners in East Syria in Two Months- Observatory
Beirut- Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 19 December, 2018/The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday that ISIS militants had executed nearly 700 prisoners in nearly two months in eastern Syria. The UK-based war monitoring group said the prisoners were among 1,350 civilians and fighters that ISIS had been holding in territory near the Iraqi border.The extremists control a shrinking strip of land east of the Syria's Euphrates River around the town of Hajin, which US-backed forces entered this month. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), led by the Kurdish YPG militia, has battled ISIS there for several months with the help of US air power and special forces. SDF commander-in-chief Mazloum Kobani told Reuters last week that at least 5,000 IS fighters remain holed up in the enclave, including many foreigners who appear ready to fight to the death. ISIS' self-proclaimed caliphate has crumbled after different offensives across Iraq and Syria, though its fighters still operate in the desert border region and mount attacks.

Stockholm Agreement Ignites Differences Among Houthi Leaders
Jeddah – Asmaa Al-Ghaberi/Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 19 December, 2018/The Stockholm Agreement between the Yemeni government and the Houthis during last week’s talks in Sweden have led to disagreements among Houthi leaders, especially between the two main heads - Abu Ali Al-Hakem and Mahdi al-Mashat - as the former rejects the agreement while the other supports it. Informed sources close to the Houthis in Sanaa told Asharq Al-Awsat that there were deep and bitter differences between the two movements, which are considered the two most influential currents among Houthi militias. He pointed out that Al-Hakem movement, which rejects the agreement, was behind breaching the ceasefire, which came into force on Tuesday. Al-Hakem considered the agreement as a “defeat”, according to the sources, who emphasized deep disputes between the two currents that have almost developed into a fist fight before the intervention of some other Houthi officials. The sources also said that Iran and Hezbollah could not convince the two sides to reach a solution to the recent disagreements. They noted that Mahdi al-Mashat, along with a number of military and administrative officials, had the final word among the Houthi ranks, due to their strong influence in Iran and Lebanon. The crisis led Houthi militias to breach of the truce agreed upon in Stockholm, and to fail to commit to the withdrawal of all insurgents from the city of Hodeidah and ports of the province, as it was stipulated in the agreement.
Military sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the joint resistance forces, backed by the Arab Alliance, monitored and documented the breaches committed by Houthi militias of the Stockholm Agreement.

Arab Coalition Destroys Drone at Sanaa Airport
Sanaa- Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 19 December, 2018/The Coalition for the Support of Legitimacy in Yemen said Wednesday that it targeted an unmanned aerial vehicle before its execution of an imminent terrorist attack. The Coalition said in a statement that it "destroyed” the aircraft’s base at Sanaa international airport. It said the attack comes in line with international humanitarian law. The Saudi-led Coalition urged on Wednesday an intervention by the United Nations to save a hard-won truce in the battleground Yemeni city of Hodeidah from collapsing amidst persisting violations by Houthi insurgents. The Coalition complained of repeated insurgency breaches since the truce went into effect. "A total of 21 violations since ceasefire commencement have come to our notice," a coalition source told AFP on condition of anonymity. "If the UN continues to drag the chain and take too long to get into the (military) theater, they will lose the opportunity altogether... and the agreement will turn a dead duck," the source said in English. "We will continue to give them the benefit of the doubt and show restraint but early indicators are not promising." Yemen's government, backed by the Coalition, has been at war with the Iran-aligned Houthi militias since 2015. Oxfam warned on Wednesday that more than half a million displaced people in war-torn Yemen face the "double threat" of famine and freezing temperatures as winter sets in. The aid group said some 530,000 displaced people are in mountainous areas, many living in makeshift shelters with no insulation or weatherproofing. "Freezing temperatures could be the final straw for families already struggling to survive desperate hunger," said Muhsin Siddiquey, Oxfam's Yemen director.

Salame Reveals Intensive Talks to Set Stage for Inter- Libyan Conference
Tunis - Kamal bin Younes/Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 19 December, 2018/UN Special Envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame has briefed Tunisia's Foreign Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui on updates and outcomes of the marathon talks held recently by Libyan officials in Tunisia and Libya as a support to the UN and neighboring countries’ efforts to hold the inter-Libyan national conference the soonest. Salame, however, refused to reveal the date of the conference but asserted there is great progress in setting the stage for it. He revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that some political forces and parties are awaiting a lapse or the announcement of a date that isn’t final yet. Progress is achieved in cooperation with the Government of National Accord (GNA) and all Libyan parties, he added, affirming that the majority will back efforts in the economic, political and security fields. Despite secrecy over the conference date, Salame expected the conference to be held at the beginning of 2019 and to be attended by various Libyan parties. The conference would pave the way to hold presidential and legislative elections. As for activating the political road-map agreed on, following Palermo conference on Libya, he said that the UN delegation along with the Libyan parties and neighboring states are to join efforts to activate previous political agreements. In this context, he stressed the political and security coordination between the UN mission and the GNA for the sake of activating the decision to penalize some leaders of the armed militias convicted by UN and international institutions. Jhinaoui lauded the positive outcomes on the political, security, social and economic levels in Libya. He announced that Tunisia supports continuous endeavors to reach a comprehensive political agreement according to the UN road-map. He pinned hopes on the Libyan conference pushing Libyans to overcome their disputes and embrace a peaceful solution that puts an end to the crisis in the country.

EU Implements Brexit 'No Deal' Contingency Plans

Naharnet/Agence France Presse/December 19/18/The European Union on Wednesday adopted back-up plans to protect essential trade, transport and finance in the event that Britain leaves the bloc without a Brexit deal in 100 days.The European Commission said it was acting "to ensure that the necessary contingency measures can enter into application on 30 March 2019 in order to limit the most significant damage caused by a 'no-deal' scenario."

Yemen Govt Allies Urge Swift UN Deployment to Save Hodeida Truce
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 19/18/A hard-won truce in the battleground Yemeni city of Hodeida will collapse if rebel violations persist and the United Nations does not intervene, the Saudi-led coalition said on Wednesday. UN observers are due in Yemen to head up monitoring teams made up of government and rebel representatives tasked with overseeing the implementation of the UN-brokered ceasefire that took effect on Tuesday. The UN Chair of the Redeployment Coordination Committee, will convene its first meeting by videoconference from New York on Wednesday before heading to Yemen "later this week", UN spokesman Stephane Dujarri said. Hodeida residents reached by telephone said there was complete calm in the Red Sea port city on Wednesday morning following intermittent gunfire during the night. But the Saudi-led coalition, which has been fighting alongside the government since March 2015, complained of repeated rebel breaches since the truce went into effect. "A total of 21 violations since ceasefire commencement have come to our notice," a coalition source told AFP on condition of anonymity. "If the UN continues to drag the chain and take too long to get into the (military) theatre, they will lose the opportunity altogether... and the agreement will turn a dead duck," the source said in English. "We will continue to give them the benefit of the doubt and show restraint but early indicators are not promising."The rebels, in turn, accused pro-government forces of violating the truce agreed at landmark talks in Sweden earlier this month. The rebel-run Saba news agency said loyalist forces targeted several areas of the city and its surrounding province overnight. The observers of the Redeployment Coordination Committee are due to oversee the withdrawal of the warring parties from the city, including a rebel pullout from the city's docks that are the point of entry for 80 percent of Yemeni imports and nearly all UN-supervised humanitarian aid. The committee chair is expected to report to the UN Security Council on a weekly basis as part of a major diplomatic push to end the four year-old conflict that is seen as the best chance yet for peace.
'Wicked war'
The war between the the Huthi Shiite rebels and troops loyal to President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi escalated in 2015, when he fled into Saudi exile and the Saudi-led military coalition intervened. Since then, the war has killed some 10,000 people, according to the World Health Organization, although human rights groups say the real death toll could be five times as high. The conflict has also pushed 14 million people to the brink of famine in what the United Nations describes as the world's worst humanitarian crisis. The warring sides have both welcomed the truce.In addition to the UN-supervised withdrawal of fighters from Hodeida, the International Committee of the Red Cross is due to oversee a promised exchange of prisoners involving some 15,000 detainees. A "mutual understanding" was also reached to facilitate aid deliveries to Yemen's third city Taiz -- under the control of loyalists but besieged by rebels.
The two sides have agreed to meet again in late January for more talks to define the framework for negotiations on a comprehensive peace settlement. Hodeida residents said on Tuesday they hoped the truce would hold and lead to lasting peace in the war-ravage Arabian Peninsula country.
"We hope that this ceasefire agreement holds and for this war to end because the people of Yemen has had enough of this wicked war," Amine Awad told AFP.

Coalition Says It Launched Strike at Airport in Yemen Capital
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 19/18/The Saudi-led coalition fighting on the side of Yemen's government said it launched an air strike Wednesday at the airport in the rebel-held capital Sanaa, destroying a drone. It is the first air strike that the alliance has confirmed carrying out since a ceasefire was agreed at peace talks in Sweden last week for the battleground port city of Hodeida. The coalition said in a statement carried by the state-run Al-Ekhbariya news channel that it targeted an unmanned aerial vehicle and "destroyed the aircraft that was in the process of preparing to be launched".

Russia, Turkey, Iran Renew Push for New Syrian Constitution
Associated Press/Naharnet/December 19/18/Russia, Turkey, Iran and the United Nations voiced hope Tuesday that a committee charged with writing a new Syrian constitution will start work early next year. The Damascus government, which is backed by Moscow and Tehran, has not yet agreed to the committee, saying it will only support a process that alters Syria's existing constitution. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov -- flanked by his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif and Turkey's Mevlut Cavusoglu -- read a joint declaration after talks with UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura. Russia, Iran and opposition backer Turkey "agreed to take efforts aimed at convening the first session of the Constitutional Committee in Geneva early next year," Lavrov said. The committee has become the centrepiece of UN peace efforts in Syria and aims to set up elections that can turn the page on seven years of devastating war. De Mistura, who will be replaced as UN envoy on January 7, praised the "significant joint input" from the three powers. But the United States, which has tense relations with Russia and Iran, recalled that the initial goal had been to set up the body within 2018. "The establishment and convening by the end of the year of a credible and balanced constitutional committee in Geneva is an important step to lasting de-escalation and a political solution to this conflict," State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said in Washington. Positive spin? The meeting marked a final moment in de Mistura's four-year tenure, which did not produce a breakthrough for peace. An op-ed in Syria's pro-government Al-Watan newspaper on Tuesday underscored de Mistura's tense relationship with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime. "In Damascus, we will never be sorry for Staffan de Mistura's departure," Al-Watan said. De Mistura is "leaving with regret that he couldn't destroy the Syrian state and couldn't impose the West's agenda on Syrians," it continued, while chastising efforts to "impose a new constitution on Syrians."The veteran UN diplomat tried to put a positive spin on his fraught peace push by suggesting that protracted rounds of diplomacy helped limit bloodshed in Syria. De Mistura said he had been contacted by an individual, whom he did not identify, who had conducted "various extrapolations" which indicated that UN-backed talks had saved hundreds of thousands of lives. "The fact that you have been coming up constantly with your team with new meetings, preparatory meetings, inter-discussions, ceasefires that didn't work and then worked and didn't work again... we have been calculating that instead of 540,000 people (dead) there would have been 1.3 million," de Mistura told reporters, quoting the unnamed individual. A UN spokesperson later told AFP that de Mistura was citing an estimated death toll of 540,000 people for Syria that includes combatants. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitor group, has said that an estimated 360,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

Third Canadian Detained in China
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 19/18/A third Canadian citizen has been detained in China, a Canadian newspaper reported Wednesday, amid a diplomatic spat between Beijing and Ottawa over the arrest of a Chinese telecom executive. Canada's foreign ministry said it was "aware of a Canadian citizen" having been detained, according to the National Post, which cited a ministry spokesperson. The spokesperson did not provide further details and did not suggest that the detention was linked to the arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, the report said.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular press briefing that she had "not heard" about the reported detention. The recent detentions of two Canadians has raised suspicions that Beijing is holding them in retaliation for Meng's December 1 arrest, though no link has officially been made between the cases. Meng was released on bail last week in Vancouver pending a US extradition hearing on US fraud charges related to sanctions-breaking business dealings with Iran. China has accused the other detainees -- former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and China-based business consultant Michael Spavor -- of activities "that endanger China's national security".They were both detained on December 10.  Kovrig is a Hong Kong-based senior adviser at the International Crisis Group think tank, while Spavor facilitates trips to North Korea and helped former NBA star Dennis Rodman travel to the neighbouring country. Beijing has threatened Canada with "grave consequences" if Meng is not freed and Chinese state-run media has lashed out at the arrest, saying it was politically motivated. Ottawa has repeatedly said the arrest was not political but rather a judicial process in keeping with an extradition treaty with Washington. But despite escalating tensions between the two countries, the Canadian embassy in China does not seem to be holding back. On Tuesday it posted a commemoration of the 10th anniversary of Charter 08, a widely circulated online petition that called for political reform in China, on Chinese social media. Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and dissident Liu Xiaobo, who died last year from liver cancer while in police custody, was arrested after co-authoring the petition, which urged protection of basic human rights and the reform of China's one-party system.
More than 1,300 people "shared views before (the) comment section was shut down", wrote the Canadian embassy on its Twitter account on Wednesday, which included a link to the Nobel Prize's Liu page. "Violation of article 35 (freedom of speech) of China's own Constitution?"

Trump Signals Retreat on Wall Funding, but Shutdown Threat Remains
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 19/18/President Donald Trump backed off his demand for $5 billion in border wall funding Tuesday, but his subsequent offer was rejected by congressional Democrats, leaving the opposing sides struggling to avert a partial US government shutdown. Trump had stood firm for days, declaring he needed the funds to build the controversial wall, defiantly proclaiming last week that he would be "proud" to stop some government operations cold after a midnight Friday deadline if he did not get his wish. He appeared to ease that stance early Tuesday when the White House said it did not want a shutdown and was looking for "other ways" to obtain funding, including getting Congress to reprogram $1 billion in unspent funds so Trump could use them on his immigration policies. "The president asked every one of his cabinet secretaries to look for funding that can be used to protect our borders," White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi -- set to become speaker of the House when Democrats take control of the chamber January 3 -- and top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer shot down the proposal, saying the $1.6 billion in border security funding in proposed legislation is sufficient. "Leader Schumer and I have said that we cannot accept the offer they made of a billion-dollar slush fund for the president to implement his very wrong immigration policies," Pelosi told reporters.
"So that won't happen."
The deadlock leaves thousands of federal workers in limbo, wondering whether they will be sent home without pay one week before Christmas.Trump said it was still "too early to say" whether a deal could be struck in time. "We'll see what happens," he said at the White House. "We need border security." If Republican and Democratic lawmakers fail to reach agreement on a spending package by midnight Friday, parts of the government will slide into a shutdown, paralyzing some federal operations. The exact impact is difficult to foretell. About 75 percent of the government is already funded through September 2019.
But a quarter of government operations still require spending agreements and could face disruptions, including the departments of justice and homeland security.
'Not a good option' -
Republicans presently control Congress, including 51 seats in the 100-member Senate. But a deal in the upper chamber can only advance with 60 votes, meaning Democratic support is vital. Pelosi said the path forward remained unclear, and that a stopgap "continuing resolution," or CR, might be required. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell insisted he remained confident there would be no work stoppage. "I think a government shutdown is not a good option," McConnell said, adding he was in discussions with the White House on ways forward. But he acknowledged that a brief CR might be the likeliest move. "If we end up going with a relatively short-term CR, we will end up, in effect, punting this year's business into next year," McConnell said. Meanwhile, Sanders expressed optimism that the White House could find legal ways to obtain extra funding. "There are certainly a number of different funding sources that we've identified that we can use... that would help us get to that $5 billion that the president needs in order to protect our border," she said on Fox News.

Iran MP denounces arrest of striking workers: Violation of constitution
AFP, Tehran/Wednesday, 19 December 2018/An Iranian member of parliament denounced the arrest of several striking workers following weeks of protests at a steel plant in southwestern Iran, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported Wednesday."A number of workers of the National Steel Group who had work-related complaints were arrested two days ago," Alireza Mahjoub, head of parliament's labour faction, said in a speech to lawmakers. "This is a violation of the constitution," he added, calling on parliament to intervene to free the arrested workers. Staff at the National Steel Industrial Group in Ahwaz in Khuzestan province have been on strike since November 9 over unpaid wages and benefits, said labour-focused news agency ILNA. The Ahwaz protests started shortly after a strike by workers at the Haft Tapeh sugar factory in nearby Shush over wage arrears and alleged criminal activity by new private owners. The strike at Haft Tapeh, which has around 4,000 workers, ended after the workers received their wages. Iran has been hit by strikes over working conditions in several key sectors this year, including education, mines, transport and the steel industry, mainly outside Tehran. In November the head of Iran's judiciary warned restive workers against creating "disorder". "Workers should not allow their demands to become an excuse and an instrument for the enemy," Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani said, quoted by the judiciary's news agency Mizan Online.

Toronto Catholic School Board says 95 part-time jobs cut after funding slash
The Toronto Catholic District School Board says the province’s decision to cut programs aimed at providing students with extra skills and support will result in the immediate loss of 95 part-time jobs. In a briefing note sent this week to trustees, the school board says the jobs losses will affected about 35 part-time student tutors and 60 working in youth after-hour programs. On Friday, the Ontario government issued a memo to school boards announcing it is slashing $25 million in funding for specialized programs in elementary and secondary schools. A spokeswoman for Education Minister Lisa Thompson said the programs account for less than one per cent of school board funding, but has had “long track record of wasteful spending.” However, Maria Rizzo, chair of the Toronto Catholic District School Board, said after the cuts became public that she was “blindsided” by the funding cuts and worried how special needs students in her board would be affected.Meanwhile, the briefing note also highlights that $30,000 allocated for a program called Indigenous Student Learning and Leadership, which provides leadership development opportunities to Indigenous students from Grade 7-12, has been cut. “Some temporary staffing reductions are required effective immediately,” says the note, adding most of those losing their jobs are part-time tutors who are university or college students. The Progressive Conservative government has made significant changes to the province’s education system since taking power, such as promising to develop a new sex-ed curriculum, requiring new teachers to pass a math proficiency test before teaching the subject and the cancellation of Indigenous curriculum writing sessions.

Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 19-20/18
Iran: Toward a Plan B
دراسة مفصلة للكاتب الإيراني المعارض أمير طاهري عن خطة طهران الإحتياطية التي قدمها في مؤتمر عقد في بريطانيا الشهر الماضي

Amir Taheri/Gatestone Institute/December 19/2018
Is a Plan B possible? No one knows for sure.
What is certain, however, is that the possibility should be discussed. This is what we propose to do in this session with a paper aimed at opening the discussion on how to nudge, help or even force Iran out of the schizophrenic trap that its current ruling elite, or history if you prefer, have set for it -- a way out that points to Iran absorbing its revolutionary experience to re-become a nation-state with the needs, aspirations, hopes, fears, and patterns of behavior of nation-states.
Like other revolutions with international ambitions, the Khomeinist revolution regards Iran as primarily a base for promoting its universal message through a global revolutionary network that recognizes no frontiers. Pictured: The late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (right), leader of Iran's Islamic Revolution, and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (left), Iran's current "Supreme Leader", sometime in the 1980s. (Image source: BBCPersian/Wikimedia Commons)
For four decades Iran has been in world headlines, not always for the best of reasons. Many countries have had problems with Iran in its current version as the Islamic Republic. In turn, the Islamic Republic has not been able to find the place it covets in a global system that it rejects as a creation of the "Infidel".
Those having problems with the Islamic Republic have contemplated, planned and, in some cases, even tried quite a few Plan A options to deal with the Islamic Republic. These range from efforts to persuade the current leadership in Tehran to change aspects of its behavior to economic warfare, "crippling" sanctions, and, on occasions, even military action.
All those plans failed to produce the desired result because they were based on the assumption that the Islamic Republic is a classical nation-state and likely to respond as such.
However, in its revolutionary emanation, Iran has experienced what could only be called an historic schizophrenia in which its identity as a revolutionary cause is in conflict with that of its identity as a nation-state.
The net result is that it can neither respond as a nation-state, which implies some degree of compromise with reality, nor, lacking the power required, as a messianic revolutionary force, impose its will on its adversaries.
When hitting something hard on its way it has slowed down or even momentarily stopped; but it has not changed course. It has not changed course because it cannot.
The schizophrenia in question has also led Iran's domestic politics into impasse. The present regime is unable to respond to Iranian society's "normal "demands, such as the rule of law, security, economic development, welfare and cultural diversity because these are things that only a nation-state can deliver.
However, in Iran today priority is given to the achievement of the revolution's global goal of what "Supreme Guide" Ayatollah Ali Khamenei calls "The New Islamic Civilization" rather than the mundane task of dealing with bread-and-butter issues. The net result, as far as Iranian people are concerned, is that their country has had four decades of under-achievement, to say the least.
Because of its demographic size, geopolitical location, natural resources, and historic pretensions, Iran has proved strong enough to suffer many Plan As without altering its trajectory. Its nuisance power has remained intact in many areas, notably in the Middle East. At the same time, it has not acquired a degree of economic, military and cultural power that includes a moderating mechanism.
Is a Plan B possible? No one knows for sure.
What is certain, however, is that the possibility should be discussed. This is what we propose to do in this session with a paper aimed at opening the discussion on how to nudge, help or even force Iran out of the schizophrenic trap that its current ruling elite, or history if you prefer, have set for it -- a way out that points to Iran absorbing its revolutionary experience to re-become a nation-state with the needs, aspirations, hopes, fears, and patterns of behavior of nation-states.
Just as every language has its own grammar, every nation has its own rhythm and tempo when it comes to historic change and development. A fast-food approach to Iran's multiple problems could lead to disappointment or worse.
The good news is that the Islamic Revolution has failed to wipe out the culture of nationhood and statehood in Iran. Choosing its version of Islam as its sole field of reference, the current leadership has failed to develop an efficient alternative model to that of the nation-state. That makes the task of helping Iran close the chapter of revolution and reopen a new chapter in its long history of nationhood appear that much more realistic.
The goal is to revive an Iranian state for an Iranian nation. Achieving that goal requires a road-map in which all those interested in dealing with the "Iran problem" will play a part.
What to do about Iran?
For almost four decades this question has haunted chancelleries around the world. During all that time, Iran has been called "the leading state sponsor of international terrorism", part of an "axis of evil", "the great trouble-maker" and "le perturbateur". During those decades Iran has been involved in the longest war in history since the 30-year war in medieval Europe. It has fought a naval war with the United States, two proxy wars with Israel, a proxy war with Saudi Arabia and a war of repression in Syria alongside that country's minority-based regime. In a series of "revolutionary operations", that their victims regard as acts of terrorism, it has been directly or indirectly involved in the death of thousands of people, both military and civilian, in 22 countries from Argentina to Yemen and passing by Nigeria and Kuwait.
In the past four decades, the Islamic Republic has seized and held hundreds of hostages from more than 40 countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Holland. In fact, not a single day has passed since November 1979 without the Islamic Republic holding some foreign hostages either in Iran itself or through proxies in Lebanon and Iraq.
The international dimension of the "Iran problem" is also illustrated by Tehran's active involvement in the wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen not to mention its support for armed groups engaged in power struggles in Lebanon, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Bahrain and, at least until 2013, even in Turkey.
In its current emanation as the Islamic Republic, Iran has also been among the world's top three countries for the number of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience and for the number of executions. Right now over 15000 Iranians, are on death-row, having received capital punishment. The Islamic Republic has experienced the severing or suspension of diplomatic relations with more than 40 countries, perhaps an all-time record at peacetime.
Whichever way you look at it there is an Iran problem.
And that problem cannot be simply ignored if only because of Iran's importance as a nation. In addition to its geostrategic location, it is one of the world's 20 biggest countries in terms of territory, population and economic size. The emergence of more than eight million Iranians in a diaspora that covers more than 50 countries across the world gives a global flavor to the "Iran problem". Add to that Iran's position as heir to one of the world's oldest and richest cultures, still present far beyond its current borders in a civilizational space called "the Persianate" , and you would appreciate why it cannot be ignored when posing a problem.
But what is this problem?
One is reminded of a quip attributed to Lord Palmerston when he was asked to explain the Schleswig-Holstein problem.
"Only three people knew the answer," he noted. "One was Prince Albert who is now dead. The other is a German professor who has gone mad. And the third is my humble self who has forgotten it."
One difficulty in dealing with the Iran problem is that those who faced it either refused or failed to define it before seeking a solution.
That failure and/or refusal is reflected in the insipid cliché so often repeated by successive US Presidents that in dealing with Iran "all options are on the table."
Another difficulty is rooted in the fact that dealing with Iran has become an ideological dividing line in global politics. On the one side, the Islamic Republic is seen as a plucky standard-bearer of defiance against American hegemony if not actual Imperialism. Even in the US, partly thanks to President Barack Obama's efforts to woo the Islamic Republic away from some of its undesirable attributes, Iran has become a cause celebre for the Democrats and a tar-baby for the Republicans. At the other end of the spectrum, some see Iran as the devil reincarnate that must not only be resisted but, if possible, wiped out of existence.
In instances where attempts have been made to develop a pragmatic approach to the "Iran problem", the measures tried have been discrete, dealing only with specific issues, and even then partially, thus failing to produce the desired solution. Those attempts have amounted to so many Plan As for those inside and outside Iran interested in finding a solution to the " Iran Problem."
The Overthrow Option
Inside Iran, many opponents of the Islamic Republic have based their Plan A on a clear demand for the overthrow of the current regime. The use of such terms as "forupashi" (disintegration), "barandazi" (overthrow), and "nabudi" (annihilation), does not hide the fact that the Plan A in question is not based on any sober clinical diagnosis and thus is deficient in conception and paralyzed in execution.
Inside Iran, this time within the broader context of the current ruling establishment, we have the trend called "Islah-talaban" (reform seekers) whose adepts reject the concept of regime change and insist that what the present system needs in order to survive and faction is a series of reforms.
However, despite the fact that the "reform-seekers" faction has had a leading role in the Islamic Republic, including at least two decades in control of big chunks of the executive and legislative branches, it has never been able or willing to specify what reforms it deems necessary, let alone trying to implement any.
Like its rival in the "overthrow camp", its Plan A has been more virtual than real.
Needless to say the segment of the ruling establishment that controls most important levers of power has had its own Plan A which is almost exclusively aimed at self-perpetuation through sectarian propaganda, repression, social bribery and systematic violence. More recently it has tried to expand its constituency by attracting segments of its fraternal rival factions, especially former Communists and socialists, within the establishment. The chief argument used is that regime change or even changes in regime behavior could turn Iran into "another Syria".
Endorsement of Status Quo
A series of popular uprisings last summer and winter is depicted as a warning that Iran could go the way of "Arab Spring" countries, a way that could lead to tragedy. Individuals who lauded "people power" and "the energy of the masses" during the revolt against the Shah now depict anti-regime marches and strikes as threats to the very existence of the country. They argue that, fraught with risks, regime change may or may not produce positive results for the nation and that a quietist approach may be the wisest course to adopt at present.
Thus, their Plan A consists of an implicit endorsement of the status quo.
However, after four decades it must now be clear that no meaningful reform is possible without regime change and, had such reforms been possible, there would have been no need for regime change.
Outside Iran, most Plan As devised and tried by various powers interested in Iran, even if only anxious to minimize the damage it can do to their interests, have aimed at partial changes in the behavior of the Islamic Republic on specific topics.
The European Union's Plan A has aimed at persuading the Islamic Republic not to carry out terrorist operations in Europe. Between 1979 and 1995, the Islamic Republic carried out 42 operations in 11 European countries claiming scores of victims including 117 Iranian exiles assassinated by hit-squads, often consisting of Lebanese and Palestinian elements, sent by Tehran.
Despite many ups and downs in relations, including a collective closure of EU embassies in Tehran at one point, the European powers, especially Britain, Germany and France have tried to bolster the EU's Plan A through increased trade, technical cooperation and even diplomatic visits at the highest levels. Tony Blair's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw made more visits to Tehran than to Washington. At times, his French counterpart Dominique de Villepin and their German colleague Joschka Fischer sounded like apologists for the Islamic Republic.
Although one might say that the European Plan A has had some success it has not dealt with the Iran problem as a whole. And the recent resumption of terror operations backed by the Islamic Republic, as illustrated by arrests in Austria, Belgium and Denmark, show that Tehran leaders could ignore the European Plan A when and if they so desire.
As far as the United States is concerned, we have witnessed several Plan As, all of them ending in failure. President Jimmy Carter's Plan A was to embrace, not say assist, the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and to help the new Khomeinist regime establish its moorings. Carter was encouraged by the fact that, in the final months of the revolutionary insurrection against the Shah, he had established contacts with several Khomeinist leaders at the highest level and that the first Council of Ministers formed under Khomeini, with Mehdi Bazargan as Prime Minister, included five Iranians with US citizenships and/or "Green Card" permanent residency. However, just nine months after the success of the revolution, the seizure of the US Embassy in Tehran by Khomeinist militants spelled the death of Carter's Plan A and, later, also of his presidency.
Lacking a fallback position, Carter launched what was to become the key element in another Plan A that consisted of a "carrot-and-stick" approach to the "Iran problem". Four set of sanctions formed the backbone of the new version of the American Plan A that, with certain modifications to reflect present conditions and political temperaments of the various administrations, was adopted by all of Carter's successors with varying degrees of determination.
Inside the US ruling establishment a small but influential minority, at one time vilified under the label of "neocons" promoted its own Plan A.
That Plan A advocated the use of force in various forms and with various degrees of intensity from full-scale invasion, to "give-them-a-state of their own-medicine" tit-for-tats to "proximity pressure", aiding and abetting the regime's armed opponents including some charged with terrorism, and even a military putsch backed by the US and its allies.
The use of force option has been justified with the claim that, though democracy cannot be imposed by force, force can be used to remove hurdles on the way to democratization, one example being the removal of Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.
The only time that Plan A promoted by "neocons" scored a fleeting success was in April 1988 during Ronald Reagan's presidency, when the US navy fought a 16-hour battle with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard's navy in the Persian Gulf with the aim of persuading Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to stop firing on tankers under the US flag, carrying Kuwaiti oil, and to accept a UN Security Council resolution to end the Iran-Iraq war.
Reagan adopted the "neocon" Plan A only after his attempts at wooing the Khomeinist rulers of Tehran by smuggling arms to them to fight Saddam Hussein's army and sending them gifts failed to change their behavior.
All of Reagan's successors as US president adopted his Plan A with variations to emphasize either the "stick" or the "carrot" aspect. President Barack Obama added his personal flavor by imposing the toughest sanctions on the Islamic Republic but making sure that none was actually implemented. In fact, of the 35 rounds of sanctions imposed by the US on Iran since Carter, 11 came during Obama's presidency.
US policy towards Iran has always been inspired by the "containment" strategy first developed by George Kennan in the late 1940s to counter the Soviet Union. The strategy failed to contain the USSR and may have even helped prolong the life of the Soviet Empire but gained some justification with the claim that it helped prevent a thermonuclear war. In the case of Iran, however, containment, highlighted under President Bill Clinton, served only to encourage the most radical factions in Tehran. Yet, in Iran's case, fear of a real or imaginary nuclear war never existed.
Imposing sanctions was, in effect, nothing more than an attempt to buy time and pretend that one was "doing something." Successive US presidents, from Carter to Obama, and possibly even to the current one Donald Trump, was never willing or able to decide what to do about "the Iran problem". Thus, by imposing sanctions as a simulacrum of action, they resembled the man who not knowing where he wants to go parks his car somewhere but keeps the engine running.
The fact that President Trump has just re-imposed the toughest sanctions imposed on Iran by his predecessors shows that the American Plan A for Iran hasn't worked. His aides state that he may yet impose even tougher sanctions. But even if he does so, it is unlikely that the new modified Plan A would prove more effective.
But what does one mean when one claims that sanctions haven't worked?
In a sense sanctions do work if only because they make life more difficult for the people of the nation subjected to them. They also work as a symbol of disapproval not to say antipathy with regard to a regime's policies and behavior. However, it is as far as their stated goal is concerned, which is changes of policy and/or behavior by a regime, that sanctions often don't work. Sanctions could lead to unintended consequences but seldom deliver the results desired.
Western powers interested in Iran failed in their diagnosis of the "Iran problem" for two reasons.
The first was that they focused almost exclusively on certain aspects of the Islamic Republic's disruptive foreign policy. They did not realize that a regime's foreign policy is a reflection, even a continuation, of its domestic policies, and that a regime that has problems with its own people is unlikely to have problem-free foreign relations.
More importantly, they overlooked the schizophrenia that has afflicted Iran under the Islamic Republic.
By 1981, when the Khomeinist leadership was acknowledged as the dominate force in Iranian politics, two Irans existed side by side: Iran as a state and Iran as a vehicle for a revolutionary ideology. Iran's experience in that regard was not unique. All nations that passed through major revolutionary upheavals have suffered from similar schizophrenia with varying degrees of intensity.
The first aim of all major revolutions, at least since the Great French revolution of 1789, is to destroy the state in place and create a new successor state. The Khomeinist revolution followed the same path. However, unlike the French, Russian and Chinese revolutions, to name only the best-known three, the Khomeinist revolution faced two major problems when it came to destroying the Iranian state.
The first was that it lacked the philosophical, literary and historical points of reference required to develop an alternative narrative without which destroying the old to build the new is not always possible. Abundant, not to say wanton, use of the label "Islamic" could not hide the fact that the Iranian state, as forged over the past five centuries is moored in Shi'ite Islamic beliefs, traditions and values. Thus, in theory at least, the new revolutionary regime could not claim that it wished to re-Shi'ify Iran. Instead, the new regime had to borrow such Western terms as "republic" and adopt a terminology borrowed from Marxism-Leninism, albeit disguised in an Arabic lexical camouflage, could not amount to a credible alternative to the Iranian nation-state it wished to destroy.
Despite purges that included the expulsion of over a quarter of a million people from the armed forces, the police, the civil service, the diplomatic apparatus, the bureaucracy, academia and the managerial elite of the public sector of the economy, the much maligned Iranian nation-state did not fade away. More importantly, partly because of the need to ward off an Iraqi invasion in 1980, the new regime was forced not only to halt its dismantling of the Iranian nation-state but, in part at least, rely on its human and institutional resources to prevent its own collapse.
Unable to destroy the Iranian state, Khomeini and his entourage decided to create parallel state structures for their revolution. With help from Lebanese, Palestinian and other foreign radical groups, they created their Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a double for the national armed forces. Later, as the IRGC started to look like a regular army, they created a new double for it known as Baseej Mustadhafeen (Mobilization of the Dispossessed).
As an alternative to the nation-state's judiciary that functioned through civil and criminal courts by using a Persianized version of the Napoleonic Code, they created Islamic Revolutionary Courts with mullahs acting as judges. Alongside banks regulated by the nation-state the mullahs set up interest-free "justice and generosity" and "good credit" funds.
To reduce the nation-state's role in the economy, the new rulers confiscated thousands of private and public businesses, transferring their ownership and control to "foundations" that not only paid no taxes to but did not even publish their accounts.
Despite a two-year shut-down of Iran's universities and the purge of over 10,000 members of the faculties, the new rulers failed to Islamicize higher education. Instead they created parallel universities of their own which, by the time of this writing, have reached the staggering number of 2,600.
More importantly, perhaps, the new rulers gradually transformed the nation-state into a façade as far as decision-making was concerned. The Presidency, the Council of Ministers, the unicameral parliament, the various departments of the nation-state, the regular army, police and security agencies form a façade behind which policies are made and decisions are taken by a network of star-chambers converging on the "House of the Leader" (beit-e-rahbar).
The presence side by side of two Irans, one reflected in a badly shaken but resilient state structure while the other reflects a wayward revolution has created a situation in which neither is able to fully function in pursuit of its interests. One may call this a Jekyll-and-Hyde situation in which the interests of Iran as a nation-state and Iran as a vehicle for revolution do not always coincide. That conflict of interests is reflected in many aspects of the regime's domestic and foreign policies.
As a nation-state Iran has no problems with any other country. In fact, it is the only country in the Middle East, and one of a few across the globe, to have no border problems with its 16 neighbors. Dating back to the pre-revolution era, Iran also has treaties of cooperation and trade with 32 countries, including the United States. Iran was the first non-European nation to be given preferential access to the then "Common Market" with an agreement signed in 1975. Iran had joint economic commissions at ministerial level with 30 nations on all five continents and visa-free travel accords with a further 40.
At regional level, Iran was one of the first two Muslim countries to recognize the newly created state of Israel, albeit on a de facto basis but with a full range of political, economic and cultural relations. At the same time, Iran was a strong advocate of legitimate Palestinian rights and the initial sponsor of the first Islamic Summit held in Rabat, Morocco, to harmonize the Muslim world's position on the Palestinian issue. In 1971 Iran became the only country to be granted full access to US weaponry, barring nuclear weapons.
As a nation-state Iran enjoyed other distinctions.
It was one of only three Muslim countries not to become colonized by or fall under the protection of foreign empires. But nor did it become a colonial power itself. It was also the only nation not to become involved in the global slave trade and one of the first to adopt an international covenant banning slavery. Iran did not become a participant in either of the two world wars although rival alliances violated its neutrality in both. Unlike its neighbor Turkey, during the Cold War Iran did not join either of the two rival military blocs of NATO and Warsaw Pact. It also refused to take part in the Korean War and the subsequent wars in Indochina.
Wherever Iran took military action, as was the case in Oman, it was to protect its security interests as a nation-state and not in pursuit of an ideological goal. Elsewhere as in Morocco, Somalia, Sudan and Lebanon Iran's military assistance was prompted by a concern for stability or a peacekeeping mission sanctioned by the United Nations.
By the 1970s, Iran as a nation-sate had established itself as a force for peace thanks to its close ties with the Western world and cordial relations with both the Soviet Union and China. It was thanks to that distinction that the rival Cold war blocs nominated Iran's Ambassador to the United Nations as head of the organization's crucial disarmament committee. Iran also hosted the monitoring stations needed in the context of the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) between the United States and the USSR.
Because it always acted as a responsible and law-abiding nation-state, Iran was respected across the board. It did not try to "export" revolution and sedition, nor did it ever use terrorism as a tool of policy. The same cannot be said of the parallel "state" created by the Khomeinist rulers of Iran since the 1980s. It has been frequently condemned, often with some justification, for using terrorism sanctioned at the highest levels of the leadership as a means of furthering its aims.
On occasions, the revolutionary leadership has blamed "uncontrolled elements" for acts of terror inside and outside the country. However, in almost every case acts of terror have been traced back to organs of the parallel revolutionary state in Tehran.
Like other revolutions with international ambitions, the Khomeinist revolution regards Iran as primarily a base for promoting its universal message through a global revolutionary network that recognizes no frontiers. As a result, it has been both unwilling and unable to cater for Iran's needs and aspirations as a nation. Despite its liberal use of Islamist shibboleths, it has even failed to cater for the spiritual needs of the Iranian people, hence the unprecedented growth of religious sects and organizations such as American Bible-belt-style Christianity, not to mention traditional Persian Sufism and esoteric "metaphysical" circles claiming to offer an alternative to regime-sanctioned orthodoxy.
In most cases both the foreign powers interested in Iran and the domestic opponents of the new regime failed to understand the political schizophrenia caused by the Islamic Revolution. Thus their policies, let's say their Plan As, were all based on the assumption that despite regime change in Tehran, Iran would continue to behave as a nation-state, pursuing goals and interests that any normal nation-state would espouse. At the same time, however, almost invariably they chose the parallel revolutionary organs created by the new regime, thus contributing to the further isolation and weakening of Iran's state institutions. Worse still, some leading democracies, notably the United States, Germany and France implicitly agreed to pursue contacts and relations with the Islamic Republic outside the parameters of international law and conventional diplomatic practice. President Carter ordered his Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan to wear false beard and flamboyant clothes to meet revolutionary figures from Tehran in Paris and in secret to discuss under-the-counter deeds. President Reagan sent two senior aides to Tehran on forged Irish passports to talk to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's aides without informing the "formal' government in Iran.
President Barack Obama went even further by circumventing the United Nations' Security Council, the United States' Congress and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to forge his notorious "nuke deal" known as Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) through negotiations that later included Britain, China, Germany, France and Russia.
French President François Mitterrand had an army of shady characters, many of them Levantine fixers, as intermediaries with the mullahs in Tehran. By the mid-1980s dealing with the Islamic Republic had generated a veritable industry in the West, attracting convicted felons, arms dealers, double-agents and affabulators of all shades. Some of whom were later to end up landing in American and French jails on charges unrelated to their dealings with Iran. The German government established special relations with revolutionary figures in Tehran with a mixture of business deals and political favors. At one point the German security service BND organized the hasty exfiltration of the Islamic Security Minister Ayatollah Ali Fallahian who was wanted for murder by a court in Berlin. Germany became a favorite destination for Islamic revolutionary figures seeking medical treatment, vacations and business deals. Today, despite the lack of formal diplomatic relations with Iran, Canada serves as a haven for prominent figures of the Islamic Republic and their offspring.
In some cases, the powers involved decided to shut down channels of communication with the official Iranian state in favor of unofficial channels suggested by revolutionary figures. One stark example was when the Reagan administration ended contacts with the then Prime Minister Mir-Hussein Mussavi's Cabinet in favour of a new secret channel developed by Saudi arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi and Iranian "fixer" Manuchehr Suzani and finally leading to Khomeini. In other words, Khomeini was not prepared to let the prime minister chosen by himself to pursue his goals within the parameters of a classical nation-state. Khomeini wanted the Iranian state shattered just as he had tried to disband the national army.
The domestic opposition to the regime made its own mistaken diagnosis by focusing attacks on the badly shaken institutions of the Iranian state while nursing the illusion that factions within the ruling elite, first named "sazandegan" (constructors) and later "isalh-talaban" (reform-seekers) would find a way out of the impasse created by the revolution.
Duality established
Despite all that, by the late 1980s the new revolutionary ruling elite had realized that it could not totally destroy the Iranian state whose administrative network, historic memory and technical know-how kept the country afloat even at the worst of times. By the early 1990s that duality had been established as a key feature of Iranian life under the Islamic Republic.
Both the foreign powers and the domestic opposition were demanding from a revolution what only a state can deliver. Paradoxically, the use of that method further weakened the very state that alone might have been able to satisfy at least part of the demands in a quest for common interest.
Regardless of how it is defined, the "Iran problem" cannot be solved without the restoration of a culture of statehood (culture étatique) which, in turn, requires the downgrading of the revolution into part of a much larger historic, political and existential reality.
In other words, Iran must cease to be a vehicle for revolution and re-become a nation-state that is both willing and able to develop a national rather than a revolutionary strategy.
And that is the central component of what we propose as a Plan B for Iran.
There is no doubt that Iran will, in time, absorb its revolutionary experience and re-emerge as a nation-state.
A revolution is like an attack of fever and no organism can forever live in a feverish state. Without recalling much older times, the Russian and Chinese revolutions of the 20th century ended up fading into the background, albeit in different ways, thus allowing the re-emergence of nation-state structures in both countries. That does not mean that the current regimes in either China or Russia are paragons of good governance let alone democracy. What is important, however, is that neither Russia nor China today behave as revolutionary agents provoking disruption, violence and war. Seen from the West they cannot be considered as friends, let alone allies. But nor could they be regarded as enemies and/or foes. In their new manifestation as nation-states, they are adversaries and rivals that could, given time and further evolution, even become partners and friends.
Paradoxically, because the Khomeinist revolution did not succeed in totally destroying state structures in Iran, something that both the Bolsheviks in Russia and the Maoists in China did in their respective countries, chaperoning the return of Iran as a nation-state may prove a less challenging task.
What is to be done?
A number of ideas inspired by the need to lead Iran away from its revolutionary turmoil and back into its historic course as one of the world's oldest and best established nation-states have been developed and intermittently discussed even within the Khomeinist ruling elite.
One idea concerns the unification of Iran's military forces, now numbering six more or less autonomous entities.
Iran's national army is still intact, albeit on a smaller scale and within constraints imposed by the revolution. Thanks to its historic memory, the prestige it still enjoys in public opinion, its military culture and organizational methods it had managed to retain its specific personality by meeting numerous challenges under the revolutionary regime.
The idea of merging the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), an organization that, for reasons beyond our scope here, has failed to develop an esprit de corps, with the traditional armed forces to create a new and expanded national army was officially discussed in the mid-1990s.
Another idea is the merger of the various Islamic revolutionary courts with the traditional long-established Ministry of Justice courts, enabling the Iranian nation-state to regain control of the judiciary. The legal framework for such a move already exists as the Islamic Revolutionary Courts were initially set up for a period of five years, long expired. More importantly, perhaps, fewer and fewer people now take their cases to such semi-official courts which are being used or rather abused to hamper the legal system.
Iran as a revolution is also present through dozens of so-called foundations, façade companies, and unchartered charities initially based on public sector corporations or businesses confiscated from private owners. They are part of a parallel black economy that operates outside the laws and regulations of the nation-state. Through at least 30 companies, black economy is even extended to the all-important oil sector which is nominally under state control.
Bringing those companies under the control of the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) would be a major step towards restoring the Iranian nation-state.
Another idea is to restore the authority of the state on the educational sector which directly concerns some 30 million Iranians of school-going age. Over the past decades, revolutionary mullahs and their partners have confiscated numerous state schools and transformed them into private profit-making enterprises. The restoration of national curricula at all levels of education and the re-introduction of free education at least up to secondary school would also help speed up the re-emergence of the state as the principal framework for Iranian national existence.
Ultimately, however, the full restoration of the Iranian state would not be possible without the abolition of organs such as the office of the "Supreme Guide", the Custodians' Council and the Assembly of Experts.
A platform based on the restoration of the state with the slogan "Iranian state for Iranian nation" could give the opposition a clear objective against which its performance could be checked. Such a shared goal could also unite the many opponents and critics of the regime including a segment of the current ruling elite within both the military establishment and the civil service.
Opposition energies that are now partly spent on ideological polemics, self-indulgent nay-saying and even Utopian fantasies could be devoted to the promotion of a concrete project aimed at regime change through the reconstruction of the Iranian nation-state.
As far as foreign powers interested in Iran are concerned clinical analysis of the Iranian situation would reveal an impasse in which no decision-maker in Tehran could devise let alone implement the policies needed to normalize relations with the outside world. A revolution cannot abide by the rules set for a world of nation-states. This is why that even with the best goodwill, Tehran's leaders are unable to resolve even the most minute foreign relations policy through diplomacy.
The assumption that the Islamic Republic's strategy is based on a desire to defend and promote Islam is wide of the mark not to say fanciful. A few examples would illustrate that.
In the dispute over the Nagorno-Karabkh enclave, the Islamic Republic has always sided with Christian Armenia against Azerbaijan, where Shi'ite Muslims of Iranian origin form a majority.
Using virulent anti-Israeli rhetoric, Khomeinist leaders make much of their claimed attachment to Palestine as an example of Muslims suffering under non-Muslim occupation. However, they have nothing to say about the repression of Muslims by Russia in such places as Chechnya and Dagestan or by China in East Turkestan (Xinjiang). Last October they denied a delegation of Uighurs visas to visit Iran and turned down a request by them to open an office in Tehran. Nor has the Islamic Republic shown much concern about the expulsion by Burma (Myanmar) of more than a million Rohingya Muslims.
During the Yugoslav crisis, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, then President of the Islamic Republic, paid a state visit to Belgrade to forge an alliance with the Serbs in the name of "non-aligned" unity. As a direct result the Islamic Republic supplied arms to the Serbs, mostly Orthodox Christians, to massacre Bosnian and Albanian Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. Even today, the Islamic Republic refuses to recognize Muslim Kosovo as a state but endorses the Russian annexation of South Ossetia which also has a Muslim majority.
The Islamic Republic regards the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas as an enemy while also keeping relations with Hamas within strict limits. Its favorite Palestinian proxy is Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which is totally subservient to Tehran.
The Islamic Republic's closest and most consistent allies in the past four decades have been Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, Zimbabwe and Syria, none of them under Muslim rule.
In confronting the Islamic Republic in Tehran, foreign powers should realize that they are in conflict with neither Iran as a nation nor Islam as a religion.
The adoption of anti-Iranian and/or anti-Islamic rhetoric by foreign powers, as has been the case with some governments both in the West and the Middle East, is at best a diversion and at worst could legitimize the regime's claim of defending the nation and its faith. In practice, however, most Western powers and their regional allies have tried to downgrade contacts with the nation-state element of Iran's complex reality in favor of the revolutionary element.
One example: when, in the wake of a raid by radical Khomeinists on the British Embassy in Tehran, Great Britain severed diplomatic ties with Iran it ordered the closure of the official Iranian Embassy in London but allowed the unofficial embassy of the "Supreme Guide" Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to continue operations without hindrance. The fact that the unofficial embassy is larger in terms of personnel, richer in terms of resources and more active in terms of questionable activities than the official embassy was ignored. Even after it was reopened, the official embassy was not allowed to have even a bank account through which to pay it employees while the unofficial embassy used full banking facilities for operations including the funding of radical Islamist groups in the United Kingdom.
London isn't the only capital where the revolutionary element of the Islamic Republic maintains unofficial embassies along the formal embassies of Iran as a nation-state. Such unofficial embassies operate in no fewer than 40 capitals, including almost all major European capitals plus at least 10 Arab capitals, notably Oman, Qatar, the UAE and Kuwait. The closure of those unofficial embassies or at least demanding that they be absorbed into the official embassies may contribute to nudging Iran back into behaving like a normal nation-state.
Most foreign powers seemed to have simply set aside the entire panoply of treaties, agreements and traditional forms of cooperation established with the Iranian state before the revolution. Reviving at least some of those could help solve some of the problems that Iran has with the outside world while helping the cause of reviving the culture of statehood in Tehran. One example: Iran has a full treaty with Afghanistan to operate and guarantee a system of water-sharing in the four zones of Haririrud, Parianrud, Farahrud and Hirmand rivers. That system was tested over years to the benefit of the two neighbors. However, the revolutionary element in Tehran tried to by-pass it by claiming that, as a relic of Iran under the Shah, it did not serve the interests of the regime's messianic mission. Sadly, the Afghan government agreed to by-pass the treaty and enter a game the rules of which were set by the most radical faction within the regime.
At least 20 countries, ranging from Israel and Great Britain to Zimbabwe, owe Iran billions of dollars in the form of loans obtained or oil imported from Iran before the revolution. However, despite occasional noises made in Tehran about the subject, no progress towards repayment has been made because the Islamic Revolution, in its revolutionary persona, is unwilling and unable to attempt what a normal nation-state does in ordering relations with the outside world.
Four decades of underachievement
As it prepares to mark its 40th anniversary, the Khomeinist revolution may be rated as an example of gross underachievement if not total failure.
By the time it was 40, the Bolshevik Revolution had transformed Russia, a ramshackle 19th century empire, into a 20th century superpower capable of sending the first man into the space. It had also succeeded in spreading its ideology throughout the world and helped the emergence of a bloc of Communist states more or less resigned to, if not devoted to its leadership. The fact that the USSR, its obvious flaws notwithstanding, managed to live on for four more decades was, at least in part, due to its self-transformation into a nation-state via the "Socialism in one-country" doctrine that replaced the "permanent revolution" slogan.Similarly, on its 40th birthday the Chinese Revolution had reverted to a culture of statehood, traced a path back into normality, created a network of neighbors sharing its ideology and laid the foundations for reforms and developments destined to make it a global economic power-house.
The same cannot be said of the Khomeinist Revolution. No other nation has adopted its model while it stands almost alone, bereft of friends let alone credible allies. Forty years later, Iran is poorer than it was before the revolution and, as a recent report by Iranian academics clearly shows, underperforming in almost all fields of human development.
The Khomeinist system today resembles a crumbling edifice, an anachronism that must be bequeathed to history. Iran must absorb that experience and re-emerge as a nation-state claiming the place it deserves in the community of nations. The revived Iranian nation-state may not conform to the ideal, not to say Utopian, models envisaged and dreamt of by many Iranians and some of the powers interested in Iran.
But it will have the merit of shedding the illusions that have claimed so many lives, shattered many more lives and led our nation into an impasse. As one of the world's oldest nation-states Iran could close the Khomeinist parenthesis with a minimum of damage to itself and to others. In doing so, Iran would need the dedication of all its children, the support of all its friends, and the goodwill of all those who uphold the universal values of freedom and human dignity.
**Paper presented by Amir Taheri on 27 November 2018 at special seminar at Westminster University in London, United Kingdom. The seminar was attended by Iranian political activists and foreign diplomats, academics and media people.
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No stable country without tolerance
Turki Aldakhil/Al Arabiya/December 19/18
In the beginning of 16th century, an exceptional cleric rose to prominence in Europe. It was Martin Luther (1438-1546), professor of theology, who used lexicon that Christians were not familiar with. He believed in and promoted the idea of direct relation between man and God as this relation does not require mediation. The concept infuriated the church. “Faith is a matter between the individual and God,” Luther said. This idea was tantamount to a ball of fire that burnt whatever traditional fundamentalism was in its way.
Due to this Protestant critique, Europe witnessed different balances between the feudalists’ investment of Luther’s criticism and a sharp opposition by the church. The peak of the conflict was the eruption of the 30-year war FROM 1618-1648. It was a multipurpose war in which several parties were involved. However, the slogan “war on heresy” mainly reflected a bloody way that killed between seven and nine million people!
The war mixed politics with religion. The Catholics’ and Protestants’ war was enhanced by French ambitions against the influence of the Roman empire. Following decades of bloodshed, the negotiations yielded the Peace of Westphalia in 1684.
This is in addition to two other treaties, which are Munster and Osnabruck. The treaty noted that it was “to the glory of God, and the benefit of the Christian World that the following Articles have been agreed on and consented to,” adding: “That there shall be a Christian and Universal Peace, and a perpetual, true, and sincere amity.”
During this phase, English Philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) had returned from Paris and had witnessed the bloodshed. He did not think the treaty included enough as he believed there must be a theory to penetrate this religious alignment. His written work tackled law and politics and he laid down the core that later on developed under the name “social contract.” Hobbes had though the war and its atrocities realized that the absence of a comprehensive concept to regulate social relations, the individual’s relation with the other and the nature of the state and its institutions was the reason for what he described as “the war of all against all.”He then wrote the book Leviathan, which is a reference in the philosophy of political sciences. It’s here that the world engaged in a different form of dealing with matters, and his theories decreased the tensions of religious civil wars. Wars that the Islamic world has witnessed, and terrorism in the name of religion, make it necessary for societies to learn from the experiences of nations that suffered woes before us
Europe’s civil wars
Civil wars crushed France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland and America but what stopped them?
In the 17th and 18th centuries, the idea of “tolerance” crystallized between John Locke and Voltaire, the nucleus of the age of enlightenment, via their famous theses and other works. Their main point is that differences between people in terms of religion do not justify attacking them or derogating them or doubting their citizenship or their destiny in the hereafter. This concept changed the facet of humanity forever. It was not magical but it was the most rational idea that prevented an individual from insulting or attacking or killing the other.
Today, we need this concept not only to teach it and turn it into an educational curricula – and a path to be followed in terms of how Muslims from different sects deal with each other – but also to develop it and deepen it especially that its roots in our religious and civil culture are solid.
However, the merchants of intolerance have tried to destroy it as they hate the “idea of the state,” hence, they only make gains via the concept of elimination in the name of religion. Wars that the Islamic world has witnessed, and terrorism in the name of religion, make it necessary for societies to learn from the experiences of nations that suffered woes before us. How can we overcome religious wars, genocide and hatred in the name of religion? It’s a difficult question but planting the values of tolerance yields an approach in the right path and leads to taking a secure passage to attain peace.
The UAE believes in the fruit of tolerance and announced 2019 as the Year of Tolerance. It has made advanced and civilized leaps via laws and legislations and established an independent ministry to sponsor this concept and solidify it in the society on the level of education.
This is in addition to plenty of initiatives that do not just set the concept but also seek to develop it via a policy of awareness.
Tolerance is not a luxury but a necessity. It establishes for the idea of the “stable state,” and it is the path to civilization. Tolerance, my dear, is an effective potion against violence and war. Ask history!

The cyber war that is raging in your pocket
Walid Jawad/Al Arabiya/December 19/18
It was 1986 when I first connected to the Net. The modem was an old-fashioned phone handset placed on a cradle that spoke in AOL “handshake” tones.
The long distance call from Dhahran’s KFUPM to Harvard University’s node was transformative, placing me in the middle of a sci-fi novel. I found myself reading a physics research paper unaware of the potential to which that connection was providing.
The next interaction was from Riyadh in the first half of the 1990s over an XT 286 computer. By that time, you could reach other Intranets if you had the necessary information.
Fast forward to Washington DC, 1997, when AOL made the internet accessible in “high” speeds at 56Kbps. “You got mail” was addictive, and the World Wide Web (WWW), those three letters that opened our eyes to a limitless new world.
How did the hopeful advent of the Internet turned from a revolution that overcame human physical limitations of space to the latest frontier of war; cyberwar?
Cyber-armies are becoming part of the composition of any war ready armies. Unlike other units at the ready for when war breaks, cyber-armies conduct warfare around the clock every day
The lure
A quest for knowledge was the initial driver; informative and enlightening — instant communication eclipsing the carrier pigeon, horses, postal service, telegram, and fax; instant, easy and cheap.
Our innate voyeuristic tendencies made it addictive. In its infancy, the Internet offered a very wide margin for anonymity. It allowed a person to be whomever they want to be hiding behind a faceless username.
Forums and chat rooms popped up creating a safe space for people to engage in dialogue without censorship. The Internet became a haven for many. It offered a parallel existence with undefined rules and disputed norms. It was a guilty pleasure. Alas, Internet yesteryears are to be remembered nostalgically.
Although we can still operate in some corners of the internet with a cloak of anonymity, it is the exception. Today, our new “www” ID is our Facebook account. Those who had an alter ego carry their real photo are compelled to either recreate their Facebook in their real-life image or adopt that fictitious persona in the real world with great limitations.
Soon enough Facebook algorithms will catch up to users and force their real-life identities onto the platform if it has not already. It’s already the case that governments and businesses troll Facebook to glean insights into people’s “real” lives.
Spy agencies do it and so do hiring company prior to making their job offer. Before we know it, we won’t need physical passports or driver’s licenses, or credit cards to move around. In fact, the last number of purchases I have made were through my app Wallet by waving my smartphone to the point of sale at the register.
My car’s insurance card is already in the insurance company’s app on my device. And Google knows where I’ve been and can guess where I’m going as soon as I type the first letter of my destination on Maps. I believe my cell phone knows more about me than my wife - heck, I think it even knows me more than I consciously do.
It would be one thing if personal information is contained within the device, but it’s a different issue when my data is marked for attack by unauthorized government spokes and organized hackers.
Governments, businesses, and activists and hackers make it their business to break the defenses we put up to gain access to my information and yours. Our devices are pawns in the greater game of cyberwars although we own them, hackers use them to their advantage.
New cyber-warriors
Espionage, sabotage, propaganda, and economic disruption are all part of the cyberwars battlefield; they are different objectives serving varying needs. Academics are still working on the dichotomy of this cyberwar while the battleground itself and the warring parties are shifting and evolving.
Nevertheless, the overarching understanding seems to that there are two types of actors: Hacktivists and government. Most of us heard of the activist group “Anonymous” while the US government has created its latest US Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM).
Cyber-Armies are becoming part of the composition of any war ready armies. Unlike other units at the ready for when war breaks, cyber-armies conduct warfare around the clock every day. The battlefield is littered with state-sponsored attacks and counterattacks against governments and non-state actors.
Operational aspects of cyberwars make a distinction between two types of targets; one, government controlled and business digital systems, and two, the physical infrastructure controlled by digital systems.
The military is one such physical aspect that would be targeted, power grid and water supplies are other infrastructures. These big systems are matters of national security forcing governments to take proactive steps to guard against them. But are governments taking proactive measures to safeguard against organized attacks targeting the individual?
When we examine cyberspace on the level of individual users, we quickly find that the lack of proactive protection is turning each of us into part-time tech-warriors defending against constant assaults.
Each must be guarded in anticipation of threats lurking behind unknown links and downloads. All the while, a new bread of cyber warriors are in the making trying to find new and innovative ways to bypass our defenses. They have more than one option to steal our information, either by hacking into our own devices or by hacking into the systems that hold our accounts.
I don’t know about you, but lately, I’ve been receiving an increased number of notices from banks and other businesses informing me that I could be one of the millions of accounts that were compromised. There is no foolproof way to guard against hackers or spy agencies.
The latest Russian digital war against the US targeting voters during the 2016 elections is a daily evolving news item here in the US. We need to be clear; this is only a specific attack that is garnering media attention. Cyber-attacks are happening all the time against all sorts of systems - that is the reality of the cyber existence we live in.
It will be revealing to read the full report provided to the US Senate Intelligence Committee due to be published later this week. The leaked report is claimed to focus on the US 2016 elections, but it goes beyond Russia and the elections to include the role of social media organizations in the Arab world and elsewhere.
Personal information
Each user must be responsible for his/her online security. The problem is most of us don’t know what we need to do to safeguard against the constant barrage of attacks. And when we learn and implement new defenses, attackers find new ways to overcome our efforts.
Cyberwarfare is global, but much of the attacks are personal. Each of us is a soldier or a victim, or a victimized soldier in this war and it starts with your online presence. We mistake companies that provide us services like Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram, etc for service providers.
Yes, they do provide a service, but that’s not how they make their billions. Their business model is to provide our attention and information to their clients; we are the product.
Facebook, Google, and Twitter along with other social media platforms can be trusted as long as their bottom line is dependent on satisfying the users, us. We as users have very limited options to coordinate a response to punish these platforms and compel them to do what is right by us; i.e. to keep our information private as they promise. Our human nature is yet to evolve from the survival of the species in nature to one that has options to prevent being violated in the world of zeros and ones.
The trick is to get these platforms to be proactive in their defense of our information and not merely react to attacks after the damage is done. We know that criminals are always one step ahead of law enforcement, but this is not true on the Internet.
These billion dollar companies can dedicate the resources needed to ensure our protections. This is only one step toward creating a safer environment on the Internet, the rest is incumbent on the individual user to be discriminate in our daily online adventures. And no, there is no African prince who wants to give you millions of dollars. If it’s too good to be true, then it probably isn’t.

Value of soft power in foreign policy
Sabena Siddiqui/Al Arabiya/December 19/18
Under-estimating the value of “soft power” is the worst mistake any nation can make in this age of constant communication and connectivity. Defined as ‘the ability of a country to persuade others to do what it wants without force or coercion’, this term was first introduced by Joseph. S, Nye in the 80’s decade.
Since then, the term is often used with reference to international relations and foreign policy. Emphasizing that successful nations need to employ both soft power and hard power, Nye explained in his book ‘Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics’ that the ability to enforce or ‘coerce others’ is not enough.
According to him, shaping perceptions, attitudes and preferences is as important for a nation’s security as other defense. Being an important power source that cannot be safely ignored, views and opinions can be formed globally with the efficient projection of “soft power” tools such as culture, ideals and values.
In this bracket, books, movies and media play the main role along with the background support of universities, companies, foundations and other such institutions of civil society. Hollywood movies played a significant role in introducing the United States to the world, and entire generations of children grew up idolizing cowboy heroes and the “American Dream”.As a result, the global majority is more comfortable with the American way of life and is drawn magnetically towards its fashion trends, food, culture and traditions.Where movies, books or media is concerned, China has not made much headway as Mandarin remains focused in the same regions where it is spoken and has not become a bridge across continents like English
American phenomenon
Even the English language has been a useful vehicle in furthering the American phenomena as it is the second most widely spoken language after Mandarin and is considered the world’s ‘lingua franca’. Consequently, the US is not just a superpower because it is rich and powerful, it is the soft power giant of the world.In comparison, China is gradually building up its soft power skills as it tries to build up its presence with Confucius institutes world-wide. Promoting Chinese culture and language, these centers have been a great success. Even the ubiquitous Chinatowns that can be found in big cities across the world play an important role as they introduce Chinese food, festivities and culture.
Perceptibly, the main handicap in China’s way has been language as Mandarin is not as widely spoken across nations worldwide as English which also the favored medium of instruction in educational institutions and used most for syllabi.
Thus, China’s soft-power journey has been an arduous one beset by many hurdles though Chinese culture, food, dress and architecture has its own charm. Making efforts, even the Beijing 2008 Olympic games were structured and planned by the Chinese to market their culture and identity.
But where movies, books or media is concerned, China has not made much headway as Mandarin remains focused in the same regions where it is spoken and has not become a bridge across continents like English. Mostly, even the products China sells abroad are tailor-made for Western consumers and no spill-over soft power effect can be expected as such.According to the 2017 Soft Power 30 survey from the University of Southern California’s Center on Public Diplomacy, the US, UK, France and Germany held the top slots while China ranked 27th out of the 30 countries analyzed. Dropping two places, even though it had improved in the 2015 survey, there is room for improvement in China’s soft power.However, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has grown to be China’s best- known brand today and once completed, it can be an effective means of global soft power and leverage.
Chinese Diasporas
Chinese Diasporas can also play an active role by spreading Confucian wisdom and values based on the concept of ‘ren yi’, translated as benevolence, humanity and love which exemplify the ideal Chinese attitude towards life.
Meanwhile, the US fell to 3rd place but it remains top of the education index with highest amount of universities in global rankings, international students as well as science journals published. As per the Soft Power 30 report, “The country is still unrivalled in higher education, cultural production, and technological innovation.”Having unlimited dimensions, soft power is a critical part of the equation even in economic and political alliances. Even tourists, students and migrants across borders play an important role as informal ambassadors and most of all, it is positive people to people inter-actions that help build up lasting goodwill and trust.Though “soft power” does have limits and cannot deliver specific results, it is not wise to deny the influence the US has over global opinion due to successful implementation of these methods.
At the end of the day, winning hearts and minds is much more important than winning wars and can be said to be the real victory as in this age of internet and constant flow of information and narratives, perceptions are all that matter.

India’s foreign policy in tatters due to Modi’s sense of self-importance
S. N. M. Abdi/Al Arabiya/December 19/18
No other Indian prime minister has travelled abroad as frequently as Narendra Modi has since mid-2014. But an appraisal of the staggering number of overseas trips at the fag end of Modi’s term reveals how little they achieved – to put it mildly.
Bluntly speaking, there isn’t a single foreign policy victory Modi can rightfully claim credit for. He cuts a very sorry figure as a roving ambassador of a country as great as India.
The biggest irony of Modi’s external engagements is that he tried the hardest to snuggle up to the country, which shunned him for 10 long years – America – due to the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat under his watch.
He pulled out all stops to woo Barrack Obama and Donald Trump. He placed huge defense orders to fill US coffers and signed questionable military pacts, which undermine India’s strategic autonomy.
Modi bent over backward dying to be in America’s good books. But Trump turned down his invitation to grace Republic Day celebrations on January 26, 2019 as chief guest, obviously breaking Modi’s heart.
Yet Modi has no option but to bear the humiliation with the equanimity he displayed when the United States clamped a decade long visa ban, which was lifted only when he became the PM.
After Modi’s ascent, India’s stocks in the neighborhood has crashed, SAARC is as good as dead, an undeclared India-Pakistan war is on even as Nepal, Sri Lanka and Maldives are forging ties with China
S.N.M. Abdi
Obama and Trump
Obama was polite but Trump evidently takes Modi all too lightly. According to American accounts, Modi’s desire to bond with Trump over dinner in Camp David was rebuffed; Trump mimicked Modi’s accent in internal White House discussions – and jokingly offered to set Modi up on a date when he was told that the Indian PM was visiting America without his wife. The other irony is that Modi went out of his way to cultivate Bangladesh – the very Muslim neighbor he demonized almost as much as Pakistan during the 2014 poll campaign. In protest, Sheikh Hasina boycotted Modi’s swearing-in ceremony. But he took bold steps to woo her so that he could pit Bangladesh against Pakistan. After Modi’s ascent, India’s stocks in the neighborhood has crashed, SAARC is as good as dead, an undeclared India-Pakistan war is on even as Nepal, Sri Lanka and Maldives are forging ties with China. New Delhi is trying to reset relations with Beijing and Moscow that are strained because of India’s obsessive yet unrequited fondness for America.
A repentant Modi embarked on a rectification drive after Trump bluntly told him to deploy Indian troops in Afghanistan. America’s wish sent shivers up New Delhi’s spine. Realizing how dangerously demanding Trump-led US can be, India is courting anti-US powers like Russia and China which have since 2014 become increasingly close to Pakistan, making New Delhi’s task extremely difficult. Unfortunately for Modi, Trump has just sounded Imran Khan to help out in Afghanistan – virtually underlining Pakistan’s critical and unparalleled role in Afghanistan. India backs the Afghan government whose writ doesn’t run outside Kabul.
A befuddled New Delhi is now resigned to talking to the Taliban at Russia-sponsored peace talks after calling them Pakistan-backed terrorists for years! India’s external relations are now in dire straits mainly because of Modi’s over-confidence, inexperience and misplaced sense of his own importance. He has cunningly caged Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj to settle old scores and sidelined career diplomats of the Ministry of External Affairs. Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has overrun ministry headquarters.
Securitization of foreign policy
Another scandalous development is the securitization of foreign policy with the National Security Advisor taking decisions instead of the Foreign Secretary. Ajit Doval handles relations with United States, China and Pakistan more than Vijay Gokhale.
Post of FS is redundant, although previous incumbent, Jaishankar Subrahmanyam, was a Modi lackey who sang such paens to the big boss that seasoned diplomats cringed.
Some extra-constitutional forces too have become very influential. Overseas BJP leaders play the lead role during Modi’s visits to countries with a substantive Hindu diaspora putting the diplomatic mission in the shade as in London.
The grip of right-wing think-tanks like Vivekananda International Foundation and India Foundation on foreign policy has also tightened, leaving the traditional foreign policy instruments in tatters due to Modi’s sense of self-importance

No …Voters Are Not Always Right!
Eyad Abu Shakra/Al Arabiya/December, 19/18
Paris has been living tense moments, as the political impasse intensifies and the glitter of change and charisma wane. The French capital has been gripped by tension after weeks of deterioration witnessed extremist and anarchist elements riding the wave of honest political demands.
Why has France reached this crossroads? Where has democracy – both as a concept and practice – failed to provide a safety valve and bring about solutions?
In fact, there is an unwritten principle followed by parties of government throughout old western democracies, that regardless of election results the voter must never be blamed. Like a rich customer at a high end shop, the voter is always right!
In these democracies, where ruling political elites have accepted the ‘rules of the game’, party institutions have entered an interest-based ‘socio-political contract’ with the masses, which through voting either hands a given party power or deprives it of it.
On the other hand, through long experience, and ‘trial and error’, these ruling elites developed their own mechanisms through which they can influence the masses, play on their emotions, and exploit its activists to the elites’ end. Thus, if the voting masses can influence results on elections day, the political ruling elites - both on the right and the left – can with their supporters in the financial blocs, trades unions, and the media, interact, invest, and mobilize resources in order to secure the desired outcome in the ballot box.
As such, both sides are beneficiaries: the masses, because a democratic system allows them safely and freely to make their choice; and the ruling political elites, because they have mastered the game within acceptable and safe boundaries, hence, as bitter as a ‘professional’ politician may be after an electoral defeat, he (she) may blame the defeat on anybody or anything but never the voter!
In France, where ‘historic’ and charismatic’ figures have proved on several occasions to be much stronger than institutions, there is an old problem with solid and quiet democracy. Here is a country that does not wait long for revolts, which it glorifies and rarely regrets their mistakes, there is an issue against pragmatic patience, compromise truces, acceptance of austerity, and taking responsibility for wrong choices, let alone putting up with gradual reform. I do not want to sound harsh on the average French voter, whose political ‘romanticism’ led him to hand the keys of the Elysee Presidential Palace to a young ambitious politician, with no party and no ideology. However, one may recall in this case the famous quote of General Charles De Gaulle, the founder of France’s Fifth Republic, “How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese”?
Indeed, De Gaulle personally experienced this ‘moodiness’ on more than one occasion, the last being ‘The Student Revolt’ of 1968, which was followed by the referendum that led to his resignation.
Also avoiding being harsh on the French voters, the British voters barely fared better in the ‘Brexit’ referendum of 2016, as they proved to be willing to take a jump into the unknown when selfish and sick populism won the day.
Despite the deeply-rooted ‘institutional’ democracy in Great Britain, compared with the revolutionary and individualistic France, and despite the tendency of the British political ruling elites to prefer ‘long-term reformist evolution’ over speedy radical change, there were exceptions. Winston Churchill, none other, was self-assured enough to swim against the tide to appeasing voters, when in his caustic sarcasm once said “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter”.
Today there seems to be a broad consensus that Britain is in real crisis caused by the uncertainty created by voting to leave the EU without a solid alternative strategy. Indeed, many, including senior politicians, appear to be just discovering new data that was not available to them amid the clamor to “free” Britain from Brussels shackles!
The American example may provide the ‘middle way’ between Britain’s quiet evolutionary ‘reform’ and France’s hurried revolutionary ‘change’. The US federal structure and its strict implementation of separation of powers minimize the chances of suffering intractable crises. Still, we are currently witnessing fast developing and new serious problems, among which are the clear demographic shifts and the populist counter-reaction against them. America’s demographic fabric is changing, and so is its political thinking. Today, elites, interests and common denominators between Americans are being redefined, and here too there is no guarantee that the voter is always right. There is no guarantee because the ordinary voter does not seem to understand causality, or willing to understand that one cannot have the cake and eat it! For example, it is impossible – without going to war – for American products to be competitive in the world markets if the production cost is several times higher than those of America’s competitors. It is also impossible to keep its industrial companies going if they get no opportunities to maintain their competitiveness which include owning and operating factories in cheap-labor countries.
Furthermore, it would not make sense to resurrect obsolete industries, such as coal mining, while the whole world is moving toward new energy sources.
So, temporary electoral interests may be worth exploiting for a while, but they cannot be a serious strategy for the future. Actually, according to academic studies, some of America’s worst presidents, such as Warren Harding (governed between 1921 and 1923) won the races to the White House with large majorities. In contrast, among those who lost the presidential elections were people like former President Jimmy Carter and former Vice President Al Gore, both of whom won the Nobel Prize after their defeats.
Moreover, President Richard Nixon lost the race to become Governor of California in 1962, two years after losing the presidential elections against John Kennedy. As the result was declared, Nixon announced in front of shocked media reporters in the Beverley Hilton, that he was quitting politics, saying: “you don't have Nixon to kick around anymore, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference”! However, Nixon’s political career did not end there and then; because he returned to unite the factions of his party, and win the presidency twice in 1968 and 1972 before resigning under the pressure of the ‘Watergate Scandal’Yes, the voter is not always right; so what can one say about the anarchist who does not usually vote anyway?!

The Colossal Price of Theresa May’s Immigration Obsession
Lionel Laurent/Bloomberg/December, 19/18
Cracking down on immigration is how Theresa May has chosen to interpret the Brexit campaign’s promise to “take back control.” As a result, the UK prime minister has ruled out one of the more plausible alternatives to her own EU withdrawal deal: the so-called “Norway-Plus” idea, which would keep Britain in the European single market and force it to accept freedom of movement from other countries in the bloc.
Indeed, control of British borders is probably the most indelible of May’s red lines in the Brexit negotiations. Even though she voted remain, she was always the fiercest champion of the Conservative Party’s promise to cut yearly net migration to the “tens of thousands” during her previous incarnation as home secretary. Ivan Rogers, the former UK ambassador to the EU, said last week: “The entire EU knows that where we have now reached derives from her putting the ending of free movement of people well above all other objectives.”
But while May was right about immigration being one of the driving forces of the leave vote, she should note that British public opinion on the matter seems to be softening. As Rogers suggests, May’s withdrawal deal can be seen as trying to end freedom of movement from the EU at almost any cost, including a weaker economy, being a rule-taker from Brussels and swallowing demands for guarantees on the Irish border. She may no longer be totally in tune with her electorate.
Brits increasingly think that Britain should prioritize staying in the single market over ending freedom of movement, according to the pollsters Opinium. That fits with other surveys which put worries about the economy and public services above immigration. The numbers are still close, but the trend is clear. In early 2017, the split was 40-30 in favor of prioritizing an end to free movement. Recently it has flipped to 40-35 the other way. None of this is to say that Brits have become sanguine about controlling immigration. But there does seem to be rising concern about whether it’s worth the price of leaving the single market. And the cost of Brexit is already apparent. UBS economists reckon the British economy is 2.1 percent lower than where it would have been without the leave vote, equating to about 40 billion pounds ($50.4 billion) of lost GDP.
At the same time, we’ve also seen a drop in net migration since the vote as EU workers avoid Britain. The yearly number has fallen from about 336,000 at the end of June 2016 to about 273,000 at the end of June this year: a reduction of 63,000.
If you take UBS’s 40 billion pounds of lost output over the past two years and divide it by the number of fewer migrants, you get to 635,000 pounds. Now, no one is suggesting that this is the direct cost of losing each of those migrants. Most of the lost output since the Brexit vote comes from factors such as consumer fear, curtailed investment and the weak pound. But it still raises the question of whether this is all a price worth paying for “taking back control” of the borders.
Looking further forward, the Bank of England’s forecasts suggest that May’s Brexit plan would cut yearly net migration to about 100,000 by 2021, while the long-term GDP cost relative to pre-2016 trends would be between 1 to 3 percent in the most optimistic scenarios. These figures suggest a cost of about 40 billion pounds over a six-to-seven-year period, for a policy that delivers 236,000 fewer net annual migrants. That’s 169,500 pounds per non-arriving migrant. A smaller figure than the previous one, but still one that asks a question.
May is essentially telling the UK that you can control EU migration, or you can have the economic benefits of the single market. You cannot have both. She’s right; there’s no Boris Johnson fantasy of having cake and eating it here. But if her deal has become all about killing freedom of movement at any cost, Brits need to know what that price is.

Who benefits as US withdraws from Syria? Not Israel
تحليل سياسي من صحيفة يديعوت أحرونوت بقلم رون بن يشاي::
من سوف يستفيد من انسحاب الولايات المتحدة من سوريا؟ بالتأكيد ليس اسرائيل

Ron Ben-Yishai|/Ynetnews/December 19/18
Analysis: Washington's decision is counterproductive: it gives Iran a second front in its war against the Jewish State and leaves IS active, whatever Trump says—it erodes US standing on the world stage and gives Putin even more power in the Mideast.
Islamic State is still present in Syria and Iraq, and yet US President Donald Trump is withdrawing his forces from Syria. He intended to do so long ago, but US Defense Secretary James Mattis deterred him. The stated reason for keeping American troops in Syria was their Kurdish allies, since if American consultants abandon the Kurds—the betrayal would decimate American standing and credibility. Such a move will also invalidate Israel's insistence that Syria, Iran and Turkey should not be given carte blanche to do as they wish in the strategically located country.
But Trump wanted out of Syria, mainly for economic reasons, and therefore he declared victory over IS. The White House was quick to state that the US departure does not signal that the Americans are leaving the coalition against IS, but rather, now that IS lost its strongholds, the White House is "transitioning to the next phase of the campaign."
It is not clear what it means to "transition." Will the US withdraw its military advisers from Syria and transfer them to Jordan? Or will it be satisfied fighting IS with its troops in Iraq? Will the Americans use their airpower from the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean instead of military bases in Syria? Whichever way this goes, this is not good news for Israel.
The White House's announcement means that the US is letting Russia and Iran, and to a certain extent Turkey, shape both their own interests and the new order that will form in Syria at the end of the civil war.
As a result, Iran will cement its foothold in Syria more easily and Putin's influence in the Middle East, including Iraq, will grow. The Syrian Kurds, who are losing the support of a protector and adviser, will have to seek shelter in Assad's arms while, once the US forces leave the area, Turkey is free to attack them at will.
Who will trust the US now?
The United States had about 2,000 military personnel in Syria. They were stationed there to assist the Syrian Democratic Forces, a prominent opposition group, to fight in rebel enclaves in the desert east of the Euphrates River.
Despite what Trump claims, IS has not yet been completely destroyed—the American troops and their Kurdish allies were successfully wiping them out. Until now.
The American presence in Syria, therefore, is still necessary, even though they are small in numbers. In fact, this force, together with its Kurdish allies, holds all territory to the east and north of the Euphrates River—about a quarter of the entire territory of Syria. When the American military advisers return home, the US will lose an important asset that would grant it influence over whatever surfaces in Syria after the civil war.
Another American military asset in Syria is a Special Forces base in Al-Tanf, near to the Syrian-Iraqi-Jordanian border triangle. From this military base, US air and intelligence forces operate against IS enclaves in the Deir ez-Zour area. But more importantly, these troops prevent Iran from transferring militias, missiles and other weapons through the land corridor from Iran through Iraq to Syria, and onto Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Therefore, the American departure from Syria does not bode well, both from an Israeli and a Jordanian perspective. It is this American presence that currently blocks the establishment of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the Shiite militias it brought into Syria, near its borders with Jordan and Israel.
More importantly, this withdrawal erodes the status of the United States as a world power and as an influencer in the Middle East. The Russians want the American military advisers out so that Washington wouldn’t be able to demand a share of the spoils once the civil war is over.
Worse yet, the US will be perceived as abandoning the interests of its allies in the Middle East, not just Israel and Jordan, but also Saudi Arabia, which is considered the patron of the Sunni Muslims in Syria. In addition, by withdrawing its forces, Washington is losing a negotiating card in their dealing with Russia.
When Trump takes his soldiers from Syria, you can be sure Qasem Soleima
ni , the commander of Iran's Quds Force, will be cheerfully rubbing his hands together and gleefully informing Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that another obstacle has been removed from their path in Syria, and a second front against Israel is now ripe for opening.

Trump orders US troop pullout from NE Syria. Israel left alone against Russia, Iran
موقع دبكا: ترامب يأمر بسحب القوات الأميركية من شمال سوريا تاركاً إسرائيا بمفردها بمواجهة روسيا وإيران

DEBKAfile/December 19/18
US President Donald Trump has announced in a series of tweets the imminent withdrawal of US forces from northern and eastern Syria. “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” he said. Senior administration officials confirmed on Wednesday, Dec. 19, that there would be a “full and rapid withdrawal.”
DEBKAfile notes that this is not the first time that President Trump has decided to pull the 2,000 US troops out of Syria. He decided this in March but was persuaded to hold off by Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. They explained that, as soon as American troops were out of the way, the Russians would move in and take control of the Syrian-Iraqi border and pro-Iranian forces would swarm across. Iran would be gifted its biggest military triumph ever by achieving a land bridge under its control up to the Mediterranean. Hizballah too would be further strengthened.
Trump accepted their arguments at the time but is now reverting to his consistent belief that US troops have no business in Syria since accomplishing their mission and Syria should be left to the Russians. Whether or not Mattis and Pompeo will again succeed in postponing the US military exit from Syria cannot yet be determined. If it does go forward, Israel will face a new and disastrous military reality against an unbridled Iranian-Syrian lineup on its northern front. This situation would virtually reduce the IDF operation against Hizballah tunnels to comparative irrelevance.

Israel says will study US pullout from Syria, ensure its own security
وكالات/صحيفة يديعوت أحرونوت/اعلنت إسرائيل أنها سوف تدرس انسحاب القوات الأميركية من شمال سوريا وتؤكد على على أمنها الخاص

Agencies//Ynetnews/December 19/18
Russia hails US decision to withdraw, while Trump comes under fire from Republican lawmakers, British ally; Pentagon: withdrawal already underway. Israel will study the US decision to pull its forces from Syria and will ensure its own security, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday. Netanyahu in a statement said he had spoken over the past two days with US President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about their intention to withdraw troops from Syria.
"They made clear they have other ways to have influence in the area," Netanyahu said. "We will study the timeline, how it will be done and of course the implications for us. In any case, we will make sure to maintain Israel's security and protect ourselves from this arena," he said.
Russia's Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, said the US decision to withdraw creates prospects for political settlement to the years-long, bloody Syrian civil war, according to the TASS news agency.
TASS also cited the ministry as saying that an initiative to form a Syrian constitutional committee had a bright future with the US troop withdrawal.
Russia is a key backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and Russian President Vladimir Putin's support is believed by many to have turned the tide of the war in Assad's favor.
Trump tweeted that the troops would be leaving as the US had defeated ISIS, which he said was his sole reason for being in Syria.But in the UK, minister in the Defense Ministry Tobias Ellwood used Trump's favored means of communication to express his disapproval of the decision. "I strongly disagree," Ellwood tweeted in response to Trump's claim that Islamic State had been defeated. He warned that the organization "has morphed into other forms of extremism and the threat is very much alive."
In the US, senior members of Trump's own Republican Party denounced the decision as having a far-reaching, negative impact.
Withdrawing the troops, said Senator Lindsey Graham, a recent staunch supporter of the president, would be "a big win for ISIS, Iran, Bashar al-Assad of Syria and Russia."
Fellow GOP Senator Marco Rubio also condemned the move, saying that a full, rapid withdrawal would be a "grave error" that had implications beyond the battle against Islamic State. The Pentagon said Wednesday that the process of withdrawing had already begun, while a US official said that the full redeployment would take between 60-100 days.
"The Coalition has liberated the ISIS-held territory, but the campaign against ISIS is not over," Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said in a statement, using an acronym for Islamic State.
"We have started the process of returning US troops home from Syria as we transition to the next phase of the campaign," she said. "For force protection and operational security reasons we will not provide further details. We will continue working with our partners and allies to defeat ISIS wherever it operates."