December 22/18

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For today
The Parable of the king who gave a wedding banquet for his son, but those he invited did not come.
Matthew 22/01-14: "Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, "Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet." But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, "The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet." Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. ‘But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, "Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?" And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, "Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." For many are called, but few are chosen."

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on December 21-22/18
Modesty is A Grace From Almighty God
Israeli Army Concludes ‘Unconventional’ Drill Simulating Occupation of Lebanon Village
Israel Begins Destroying 'Hizbullah' Tunnels, Israeli Army Says
Aoun says new government formation 'faster than expected'
Hariri receives German Ambassador and French delegation
Berri meets French parliamentary delegation, Iran's Ambassador
Rahi meets French parliamentary delegation
Army commander inspects Tal Al Abiad post in Baalbek: Security red line
UK embassy takes part in handover ceremony of 96 pairs of 'Smartcrutch' before Christmas
Report: Lebanon Puts Finishing Touches on Govt. Format, Devising Policy Statement Next Step
Consultative Gathering MPs 'Approve' Adra’s Nomination’, Affirm 'United' Stance
Health Ministry Pick to Widen Hezbollah Role in Lebanon
Lebanon: Cabinet Lineup Ready, Ministerial Statement in the Making
The IDF must cut short tunnel operation, get set for repercussions from Trump’s stunning Syria withdrawal
UN declines to condemn Hezbollah's terror tunnels
Analysis/Attack Tunnels on the Israel-Lebanon Border Are Only a Prelude to the Real Hezbollah Threat
Al Arabiya documentary reveals Hezbollah’s drug trade, money laundering links
Hariri at Global Business Summit: Our focus in coming three months will be to pass all reforms and laws needed by SMEs

Titles For The Latest  English LCCC  Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 21-22/18
Kurds Urge Larger French Role After US Leaves Syria
Kurds Seek French Help over US Syria Pullout, Kurdish Spokeswoman
Erdogan Rejects US Sanctions on Iran/Rouhani: Sanctions a 'Terrorist Act'
Iraq: Dozens of Bodies 'Found in ISIS Mass Grave'
Kuwait: Implementing Security Council Resolutions Important to Achieve Syrian's Aspirations
Migrant Boat Tragedy Off Algerian Coast
Bread Protests in Khartoum Leave Casualties
Kabul downplays security fears as US withdraws troops
Trump announces measures to pull out 7,000 troops from the country
President Ghani’s government says move will not impact security situationSecurity Council votes to send cease-fire observers to Yemen

Titles For The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 21-22/18
Modesty is A Grace From Almighty God/Elias Bejjani/December 21/12/18
The IDF must cut short tunnel operation, get set for repercussions from Trump’s stunning Syria withdrawal/DEBKAfile/December 21/18
Analysis/Attack Tunnels on the Israel-Lebanon Border Are Only a Prelude to the Real Hezbollah Threat/Amos Harel/Haaretz/December 21/18
Al Arabiya documentary reveals Hezbollah’s drug trade, money laundering links/Al Arabiya/November 28/18
Hariri at Global Business Summit: Our focus in coming three months will be to pass all reforms and laws needed by SMEs/NNA/December 21/18
Kurds Urge Larger French Role After US Leaves Syria/Beirut/Asharq Al-Awsat/December, 21/18
Read Jim Mattis’s Letter to Trump: Full Text/Jon Elswick/Associated Press/The New York Times/December 21/18
Trump’s abrupt decision to pull American troops from Syria is riskier than it looks/David Ignatius/The Washington Post/December 20/18
Analysis/Syria Pullout: Israel Left With False Russian Promises and a Volatile U.S. President/
Amos Harel/Haaretz/December 21/18
Caroline Glick: Trump’s decision to pull forces out of Syria has upsides/Caroline Glick/Jerusalem Post/December 21/18
Why Trump Can’t Be Airbrushed Out of the Picture/Amir Taheri/Asharq Al-Awsat/December, 21/18
The EU’s Misguided Policy on Iran/David Ibsen/Asharq Al-Awsat/December, 21/18
Asia Bibi’s Case Reveals Islamists’ True Colors/Martha F. Lee/The American Spectator/December 21/18
US leaves Syria — what is next?/Sinem Cengiz/Arab News/December 21/18
Houthi retreat from Hodeidah: Beginning of the end?/Mohammed Al Shaikh/Al Arabiya/December 21/18

Latest LCCC English Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on December 21-22/18
Modesty is A Grace From Almighty God
الياس بجاني: التواضع نعمة ربانية
Elias Bejjani/December 21/12/18
Jesus Christ Himself has set the best and most powerful role model in modesty when with humility, joy and enthusiasm He washed his disciples feet.
“He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down princes from their thrones. And has exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things. He has sent the rich away empty”. (Luke 01/51-54)
Those who falsely delude themselves into thinking they are superior to others, super wise and can do everything and any thing, fall into the evil trap of arrogance. By doing so they badly detach themselves from the reality of God’s love. They build delusional castles in their minds, imprison themselves inside its imaginary gates and ultimately become completely blind in both heart and soul .
Arrogant individuals inevitably become hostile, angry, childish, selfish, antisocial and narcissists who end to be not welcomed anywhere. In general people avoid those who brag and exalt themselves.
Arrogance is a very serious social problem caused by lack of faith that needs to be fixed before it gets worse. God does not bless those who are arrogant.
Almighty God has made it very clear in His Holy Book that He does not like those who are pompous, proud, and conceited because He Himself is a caring, humble, and meek Father.
“Come to me, all you who labour and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart; and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Meanwhile, we cannot solve any problem unless we admit that it actually exists, and at the same time become fully aware of its causing factors.
We cannot defeat the evil of arrogance and the destructive self-exaltation that results unless we know our own capabilities, means and resources. And most importantly, recognize that all people are brothers and sisters to one Father, the Almighty God.
One might wonder why some people tend to behave in such a way that they end being socially hated and isolated?
This social Isolation takes place mainly because of their ignorance, distorted self-image, and most importantly because they have very little or no faith at all.
They fail to gain genuine friends and have no room for intimate and long lasting relationships.
Even their close family members avoid them and do not feel comfortable in their presence.
They cannot love others because of their narcissism.
These disturbed individuals need to be humble, loving, and honest to overcome their arrogant behaviour.
They need to call on Almighty God for the grace of humility knowing that God always responds to our calls and prayers when we put our full trust in Him, recognize His love, and lay our lives in His generous hands.
“Most certainly I tell you, if you have faith, and don’t doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you told this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it would be done. All things, whatever you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” (Matthew 21/21-22)
Humility is the magic curing medicine for arrogance. This heavenly grace is always there for us if and when we pursue it with faith and unquestionable trust in God. Knowing what humility means to our lives and for our salvation is critically important.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow His precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise. (Psalm 111:10)
There is humility that comes from the fear of God, and there is humility that comes from God Himself. Some are modest because they fear God, and some are modest because they know how to live with all the heavenly endowments that banishes all doubts, fears, selfishness, hatred, covetousness and grudges from our earthly nature.
Those who fear God are humble because they enjoy peace within themselves.
Those who fear God watch what they say and do, find sweetness in their bodies which are God’s temples, and experience the priceless grace of balance in their senses, granting them full control over their instincts and a forgiving heart at all times.
Those who are humble because they know and experience genuine happiness with purity, enjoy great simplicity all the time with a cheerful and transparent heart.
God loves the humble and always comes to their rescue so that no hardships or evil things can weaken their faith, entraps them into the temptations of the wicked and unrighteous, or makes them slaves to sin.
Jesus Christ Himself has set the rules in regards to humility:
“But he who is greatest among you will be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23/11-12)
The Bible (Malachi 4/1-6), Tells us exactly what the proud and wicked will be facing on the Day of Judgment. Let us never forget this or keep a blind eye on it: “For, behold, the day comes, it burns as a furnace; and all the proud, and all who work wickedness, will be stubble; and the day that comes will burn them up,” says Yahweh of Armies, “that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. But to you who fear my name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in its wings. You will go out, and leap like calves of the stall. You shall tread down the wicked; for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I make,” says Yahweh of Armies. “Remember the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded to him in Horeb for all Israel, even statutes and ordinances. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of Yahweh comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.”
In conclusion, humbleness is a blessed grace that we need to pursue via faith, love and fear of God. To be really God’s children we must dearly hold on to this grace and integrate it into our every day life, heart, mind and practise.
We are all equal and have one Father who created us on his image. We are all one family, brothers and sisters no matter who we are.
We are all children of God no matter where we live, what our racial identity is, the language we speak, the social status that we enjoy, the wealth that we have, the strength that we possess, and even whether we are good or sinful.
Almighty God is our loving Father and accordingly we must learn to be humble before Him and love each other more intimately as members of His own one family.

Israeli Army Concludes ‘Unconventional’ Drill Simulating Occupation of Lebanon Village
Tel Aviv - Beirut/Asharq Al-Awsat/December, 21/18 /The Israeli army said Thursday it has concluded an “unconventional” military exercise simulating the occupation of a “hostile village” through the use of robots and modern technologies that allow troops to accomplish their mission without putting the lives of soldiers at risk. The Israel Hayom newspaper, a mouthpiece of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, published details about the drill, which was conducted in a village assumed to be controlled by Hezbollah. “The Israeli forces utilized robots capable of gathering information ... to attack targets,” the newspaper said, explaining that Israeli soldiers control the robots from a distance of ten meters. Quoting military sources, the newspaper said that in the past three years, the technical department operating under the ground forces of the Israeli army has reached a new understanding for handling battles against hostile forces, in a way that allows them to combine human and robot soldiers. “The robot soldiers help boost the effectiveness of the fighting teams in any war,” Israeli officers told the newspaper. Technicians responsible for the new Israeli program said that robots would also reduce human losses, have a high capacity to fight in harsh conditions and are never tired. Separately, the Israeli army continued Thursday its operation to locate and destroy cross-border tunnels dug by Hezbollah, more than two weeks after announcing their discovery on the frontier with southern Lebanon. The United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) confirmed that two of the existing four tunnels, which Israel announced it had discovered along the border, had violated the Blue Line and Security Council Resolution 1701. UNIFIL spokesperson Andrea Tenenti said that the Israeli army informed the peacekeepers about its intention to blow up the tunnels.

Israel Begins Destroying 'Hizbullah' Tunnels, Israeli Army Says
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 21/18/The Israeli army on Thursday night began destroying cross-border tunnels dug by Hezbollah, it said, more than two weeks after announcing their discovery on the frontier with Lebanon. Since launching an operation to cut off the tunnels on December 4, the military says it has located four underground passageways infiltrating Israeli territory. "The neutralisation and destruction phase of the cross-border attack tunnels... has begun," the Israeli army said in a statement. The army also issued a warning to Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militant group with which Israel fought a devastating war in 2006. "The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) continues to operate... with reinforced troops, and is prepared with a wide variety of enhanced capabilities for any developments, should they occur," the army said. It later tweeted that the "explosions" Israeli families were hearing in the north of the country were the sound of its "soldiers destroying Hezbollah attack tunnels". Israel alleges Hezbollah had planned to use the tunnels to kidnap or kill its civilians or soldiers, and to seize a slice of Israeli territory in the event of any hostilities. The army said it would "continue to operate to neutralise Hezbollah's military infrastructure and to thwart" any threats from the Lebanese group against Israel and its civilians. A month-long war in 2006 between Israel and Hezbollah killed more than 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and more than 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers. The Israeli army said the operation to locate and destroy the tunnels was defensive, and that it would involve different techniques. "This phase will... ensure that the attack tunnels cannot be used by the Hezbollah terror organisation and will prevent it from implementing its plans," said the statement. The army advised Israeli authorities and UNIFIL, the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, to notify its Lebanese counterpart to take measures to protect civilians across the border. It said it held the Lebanese government "accountable for digging the attack tunnels". "The IDF warns against approaching the openings of the tunnels or staying close to them on the Lebanese side," said the statement.

Aoun says new government formation 'faster than expected'
Fri 21 Dec 2018/NNA - President of the Republic, Michel Aoun, said Friday the formation of the new government was "faster than expected." "Forming governments in Lebanon usually takes time because the Lebanese system is based on consensus and requires the participation of all sides in the national unity government," President Aoun told his visitors at Baabda Palace. The Head of State also disclosed that the nation's economic development plan will be launched immediately after the new government sees the light. "The path of reform will be completed after the ratification of a number of necessary laws pertaining to transparency," Aoun maintained. On the other hand, Aoun urged the international community to help in resolving the Syrian refugee crisis rather than delay their return to their homeland after the end of war there. The President welcomed this Friday at the Baabda palace a French parliamentary delegation, led by head of the parliamentary group of the Union of Democrats and Independents of the National Assembly, MP Jean-Christopher Lagarde. The meeting took place in the presence of MP Simon Abi Ramia. MP Lagarde stressed the delegation's efforts to strengthen bilateral relations with Lebanon, especially in the field of parliamentary cooperation. Aoun shed light on the deeply rooted historical relations between Lebanon and France. On the current developments on the southern border, Aoun stressed before the delegation Lebanon's commitment to UN Resolution #1701. Aoun also brought to attention Israel's continual violations of Lebanon's sovereignty, especially its recurrent overflights. On the other hand, Aoun met with the Chairman of the Anglo-Arab Organization, Nazmi Ogi, accompanied with a British-European parliamentary delegation. Ogi briefed the President on the Organization's efforts to build bridges between the United Kingdom and the Arab world. Discussions also covered the current situation in Lebanon and the broad region. Aoun underlined the historical relations between Lebanon and the UK, thanking the UK authorities for their aid to the Lebanese army. Lastly, Aoun welcomed the patron of the Lady of Lebanon parish in Washington, Chorbishop Dominic Ashkar, and Eng. Gerji Emile Ashkar.

Hariri receives German Ambassador and French delegation
Fri 21 Dec 2018/NNA - Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri received today at the Center House the German Ambassador to Lebanon Georg Birgelen and discussed with him the latest developments and the bilateral relations between the two countries. Hariri also received a delegation of French MPs headed by Jean Christophe Lagarde, president of the Union of Democrats and Independents party. The meeting focused on the political developments in Lebanon and the region.

Berri meets French parliamentary delegation, Iran's Ambassador
Fri 21 Dec 2018/NNA - House Speaker, Nabih Berri, met at Ain Teeneh on Friday with a French parliamentary delegation led by Jean-Christophe Lagarde. Discussions focused on ongoing developments in Lebanon and the region, as well as bilateral relations.
Berri then received Iran's Ambassador to Lebanon, Mohammad Firouznia, with whom he broached the most recent developments.

Rahi meets French parliamentary delegation
Fri 21 Dec 2018/NNA - Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rahi, welcomed this Friday a French parliamentary delegation, led by head of the parliamentary group of the Union of Democrats and Independents of the National Assembly, MP Jean-Christopher Lagarde. The delegation listened to Patriarch Rahi's perspective on the current situation in Lebanon, especially the issue of religious minorities in the East, in addition to the issue of the Syrian refugees and its impact on the country. Rahi also met with MP Ali Darwish, with whom he discussed the current developments. On the other hand, President of the Association of Banks in Lebanon, Joseph Torbey, visited Rahi on the occasion of the festive season. The visit was an occasion to dwell on the current banking and economic situation in the country.

Army commander inspects Tal Al Abiad post in Baalbek: Security red line
Fri 21 Dec 2018/NNA - Army Commander, General Joseph Aoun, on Friday inspected the military Tal Al-Abiad post in the neighborhood of Sharawneh in the city of Baalbek. Maj. Gen. Aoun met with the army officers and soldiers in Tal Al-Abiad post, which was subject last Thursday to an assault by outlawed criminals that led to the martyrdom of one soldier and the injury of others. Aoun saluted the "army officers' sacrifices and devotion to the homeland and its people in this region," hailing "their dedication to carry out the mission entrusted to them without hesitation or fear." Maj. Gen. Aoun said "maintaining security in Baalbek as well as across all Lebanese territories remain to be the top priority of the military institution." Aoun underlined that security is a red line, affirming that "the army shall not allow any outlawed person to undermine stability and civil peace or to commit abuses against citizens." The army commander then visited the town of Nahleh where he offered condolences to the family of martyr Raouf Hassan Yazbek.

UK embassy takes part in handover ceremony of 96 pairs of 'Smartcrutch' before Christmas
Fri 21 Dec 2018/NNA - Celebrating the Christmas spirit of giving, British ambassador to Lebanon Chris Rampling, took part in the handover ceremony of 96 new mobility aid ‘Smartcrutch’ to Arc-en-ciel and Lebanese Physically Handicapped Union (LPHU) beneficiaries. The UK made Smartcrutch is a new generation of mobility aid that offers advanced flexibility and comfort for those suffering from a variety of physical conditions that require the use of crutches. Working with people with disabilities across Lebanon, the two NGOs will distribute the Smartcrutch to the most disadvantaged disabled Lebanese and Syrian individuals, including young children. A group of motivated Lebanese and British came together to raise money for the disabled to buy the UK made Smartcrutches which have never been used before in Lebanon. After the ceremony Ambassador Rampling said: ‘I am pleased that the British Embassy has been able to support this great initiative of the ‘Smart move’ project, which aims to offer people with disabilities better mobility and independence in movement.
The work of NGOs such as Arc-en-Ciel and the Lebanese Physically Handicapped Union (LPHU) make the world a better and kinder place – giving people a renewed sense of autonomy and a sense of achievement. The fundraiser hosted by the Embassy raised funds that secured 96 pairs of Smartcrutch, all with spare parts (replacement feet). And Smartcrutch donated 10 further pairs of Junior crutches. This was a wonderful project, and I pay tribute to Philippa Neave and Solange Turk who made it happen.’

Report: Lebanon Puts Finishing Touches on Govt. Format, Devising Policy Statement Next Step
Naharnet/December 21/18/Lebanon’s political parties have reportedly overcome the obstacles that delayed the government formation for around seven months, amid expectations it would be formed on Friday evening or Saturday at most, Asharq al-Awsat daily reported on Friday.
After months long discussions over the distribution of portfolios and shares, discussions will now move to the government's policy statement “which will include controversial items difficult to ensure political consensus around, mainy Hizbullah’s weapons and Lebanon’s relation with Syria,” the newspaper reported. Speaker Nabih Berri has reportedly “advised that a brief, implicit ministerial statement be devised to override or neutralize controversial items, and to avoid wasting time on promises that remain mere ink on paper.”
On the eve of the “proclamation of the government decrees from Baabda,” sources of the presidential palace asserted to Asharq al-Awsat that “things are more than well. Communications are positively open between the various parties, especially with the deputies of the Consultative Gathering MPs who accepted Jawad Adra, as the name chosen by President Aoun.”“All indicators show that the decrees could be issued Friday evening, unless it was necessary to postpone them until Saturday,” they added. On the divisions between the MPs over naming Adra, MP Qassem Hashem of the Consultative Gathering told the daily: “The disagreement has been solved and naming Adra has been approved by all the deputies,” he said, noting that they still have to agree on what portfolio to give him. Efforts have accelerated in the past few days to end a months long impasse that delayed Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’s mission to form a cabinet since May 24.

Consultative Gathering MPs 'Approve' Adra’s Nomination’, Affirm 'United' Stance
Naharnet/December 21/18/The Consultative Gathering MPs met on Friday, after the return of their MP Faisal Karami from a trip abroad, and agreed on the controversial nomination of Jawad Adra as one of four figures to be named and presented to President Michel Aoun to choose from.“We have submitted a list of four names including Jawad Adra. If President Aoun agrees on Adra, then he will be the one to represent the Gathering in the new government,” Karami told reporters after the meeting. Karami’s remarks dismissed expectations the Gathering would reject Adra’s nomination as their representative because “his name surfaced last-minute.”Reports said that MP Qassem Hashem, of said Gathering, had suggested the name of Adra in a closed envelope he gave to the General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim who was mediating an initiative to end the so-called Sunni MPs hurdle.
The other MPs from the Gathering had suggested three names including Hassan Mrad, Othman Majzoub and Taha Naji. “Our position is united and we are committed to Aoun’s initiative which guarantees our representation in the government. If intentions are sincere, the government can be formed in the next hour,” said Karami.

Health Ministry Pick to Widen Hezbollah Role in Lebanon
London /Asharq Al-Awsat/December, 21/18 /Hezbollah's role in the Lebanese government stands to widen when it names the new health minister though it will not be putting a party member in the job, sources say, as the United States extends sanctions against the movement.
By picking the health minister, Hezbollah will be moving beyond the marginal role it played in past governments: this ministry has the fourth biggest budget in the Lebanese state, outgoing Health Minister Ghassan Hasbani says. Hasbani told Reuters that recent foreign aid to his ministry included $120 million from the World Bank to be spent over five years from 2019. The ministry also receives a lot of medicine from the World Health Organisation and European Union, he said. Two sources familiar with Hezbollah's choice said the new health minister would be Jamil Jabak, a Shiite doctor who they said is not a member of the heavily armed, Iranian-backed group. Hezbollah will also run two less significant ministries. The composition of Lebanon's new government is expected to broadly reflect the outcome of the parliamentary elections that took place in May, with the share of cabinet seats held by PM-designate Saad Hariri's Future Movement, which opposes Hezbollah's arms, set to fall. And while the staunchly anti-Hezbollah Lebanese Forces (LF) nearly doubled its number of MPs in the election, it was unable to secure all the cabinet seats it wanted, ceding ground to Christian rival President Michel Aoun and his Free Patriotic Movement, who are political allies of Hezbollah. In Lebanon, government posts are parcelled out based on sect: the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of parliament a Shiite Muslim. Posts in the cabinet of 30 ministers must be split equally between Christian and Muslims. A US State Department official said on Tuesday Washington hoped Lebanon's next government would be willing to work with it and expressed concern over Hezbollah's rising political clout. US President Donald Trump's administration has made Hezbollah a target of its policy to isolate Iran. Washington has hit Hezbollah leaders with new sanctions and tightened legislation seeking to sever their funding channels worldwide.

Lebanon: Cabinet Lineup Ready, Ministerial Statement in the Making
Beirut- Youssef Diab/Asharq Al-Awsat/December, 21/18/Lebanese political forces overpassed Thursday all obstacles hindering the birth of a new cabinet, which is expected on Friday evening or Saturday, and turned their attention to drafting the big headlines of the ministerial statement, as new disputes might emerge over issues related to the arms of Hezbollah and Lebanon’s relationship with the Syrian regime. Speaker Nabih Berri had advised all parties to draft a brief ministerial statement that excludes controversial files. On the eve of officially announcing a 30-member cabinet, sources from the Presidential Palace told Asharq Al-Awsat, “In the new few hours, the Lebanese will hear the good news of a long-awaited cabinet lineup.” The sources said the six Sunni independent deputies, known as the Consultative Gathering, finally accepted Jawad Adra to represent them in the new cabinet. On Thursday, some deputies of the Gathering had rejected the President's nomination of Adra. However, Hezbollah quickly interfered to dissipate any signs of dispute among them and urged the deputies to accept Adra’s nomination for the post. Member of the Consultative Gathering MP Qassem Hashem, who backed the nomination of Adra, refused to explain what happened in Thursday’s meeting between the so-called Sunni independent MPs and a Hezbollah delegation. He told Asharq Al-Awsat the timing for an expected meeting between the six deputies and both President Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri on Friday has not been set yet. However, he said, “It is expected in the coming hours.” Following a visit Thursday to Hariri at the Center House, caretaker Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said: “The government will be formed very soon, and there is an understanding that the ministerial statement will be based on that of the previous government with some additions related to the reforms of CEDRE Conference.”

The IDF must cut short tunnel operation, get set for repercussions from Trump’s stunning Syria withdrawal
موقع دبكا: على الجيش الإسرائيلي وضع عملية الأنفاق جانياً والتعامل مع انعكاسات انسحاب ترامب المذهل من سوريا

DEBKAfile/December 21/18
Israel’s leaders – government, military and intelligence – were dumbfounded by US President Donald Trump’s decision to pull US troops out of Syria as part of its withdrawal from the Mid-East at large. Senior ministers received no answers to their urgent calls to the prime minister’s office and Military Intelligence (AMAN) officers for confirmation of the news. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, himself, only received word of the decision just five minutes before it hit Twitter, DEBKAfile sources have learned, although he talked to the president and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo some days ago.
In recent conversations with US National Security Adviser John Bolton, as well as Pompeo, about the IDF operation against Hizballah tunnels, both US officials assured Netanyahu that he had nothing to worry about. US troops were present in eastern and northern Syria, they said, and they would not let pro-Iranian Iraqi militias come through from western Iraq to the aid of Hizballah.
Israeli officials were further dismayed early Thursday, Dec. 20, when they understood that the only leaders to receive prior notice of Trump’s decision were Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.
This was inferred from intelligence of a secret deal, which the president’s adviser on Syrian affairs James Jeffrey had reached with Erdogan and which opened the way for Turkish military movements in Syria in the wake of the US pullout.
As recently as Monday, Dec. 17, Jeffrey told the Atlantic Council in Washington in a speech: “The eventual goal of the mainly-Kurdish Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) should be to become part of the fabric of a changed Syrian society. We do not have permanent relationships with sub-state entities.” This was taken as a clear repudiation of US responsibility for the fate of its Kurdish allies.
The coming issue of DEBKA Weekly (for subscribers), out on Friday, Dec.21, uncovers the secret decision-making process at the White House which led up to the Trump decision without Israel picking up a hint of its purpose. (Click here to subscribe.)
Some clues could have been picked up, for instance, from Russia’s deployment in early December of an S-300 air defense battalion in the Deir ez-Zour province of eastern Syria, without demur from Washington, although US troops were nearby. DEBKAfile alone reported the Russian move at the time.
Israel is also discovering in the last few hours that Tehran and Hizballah stayed silent when Israel launched its operation to uncover Hizballah tunnels last week – not because they were taken aback, as some Israeli officials claimed – but because they had advance notice of the US withdrawal – either from Moscow or from Ankara – and saw it being totally eclipsed in importance by the sensation about to be landed by President Trump.
DEBKAfile’s military sources stress that the IDF must wrap up this operation with all possible speed and lose no time in getting set for the major repercussions about to roll in on Israel’s northern front as soon as the 2,200 US forces depart Syria. The reorganization required could take months of intense work.

UN declines to condemn Hezbollah's terror tunnels

Itamar Eichner/Ynetnews/December 21/18/Despite many Security Council members slamming the terror organization's cross-border tunnels, no official condemnation was issued by the world body. The United Nations Security Council on Wednesday failed to officially condemn Hezbollah's terror tunnels stretching from Lebanon into northern Israel, despite hours of debate and censure from multiple countries. Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said the information Israel provided to UNIFIL, the UN's peacekeepers in Lebanon, had been passed to the Lebanese Army, which then passed it to Hezbollah that then attempted to conceal the tunnels on the Lebanese side. He added that Hezbollah planned to use the tunnels to carry out a five-point attack on Israeli civilians at five different locations in the Galilee. He also displayed an image of a tunnel located near the Lebanese village of Kfar Kila that ran directly under the feet of the UNIFIL troops, claiming that there were areas where the peacekeepers could not go.
Danon also accused the Shiite terror organization of violating UN Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War. UNIFIL's chief, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, confirmed the organization has asked Lebanon to assist in tracking the tunnels on the Lebanese side of the border. He also admitted that at least two of the four tunnels found violated Resolution 1701. The US condemned Hezbollah, and called on the Lebanese President Michel Aoun to take all possible measures to stave off the tunnel threat and to prevent an escalation on the Israel-Lebanese border. Russia's representative said Israel's concerns are understandable, but stressed that in order to maintain stability in the region, both side must avoid provocations.
As expected, the Arab countries condemned the Jewish state, calming it had repeatedly violated Lebanon's sovereignty by entering its airspace, whereas the Swedish envoy condemned both sides. Lebanon's Ambassador to the United Nations, Amal Mudallali, said her country is committed to Resolution 1701, stating that the Lebanese residents see Operation Northern Shield as "a preview for further Israeli aggression." Israel and the US did not submit a draft resolution to condemn Hezbollah's terror tunnels, fearing Russia would veto it.

Analysis/Attack Tunnels on the Israel-Lebanon Border Are Only a Prelude to the Real Hezbollah Threat
تحليل سياسي من الهآرتس بقلم عاموس هاريل: ضرب الأنفاق على الحدود الإسرائيلية-اللبنانية هو مجرد مقدمة لمواجهة خطر حزب الله الحقيقي

Amos Harel/Haaretz/December 21/18
Hezbollah's precision-missile factories in Beirut are likely to dominate the Israeli agenda in the upcoming year – but an indictment against Netanyahu could delay the response.
As planned, Israel launched a diplomatic campaign against the Lebanese government and Hezbollah this week after uncovering the tunnels dug by the Shi’ite organization under the Israel-Lebanon border. On Wednesday, a few hours before a UN Security Council session on the matter, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the tunnels were part of Hezbollah’s plans for war, adding that the group uses “every third house in southern Lebanon.”
Netanyahu called on the council to define Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and impose sanctions on it – two things that probably won't happen in the near future.
The success of Israeli intelligence in locating the tunnels won't be translated into a fundamental change along the border. Israel will have to salvage whatever it can from the achievement, mostly by increasing pressure on the United Nations' UNIFIL forces to show greater resolve in southern Lebanon.
Officers who until recently served in UNIFIL told Haaretz that the possibility of attack tunnels under the border came up in talks with Israeli officers in recent years. The former UNIFIL officers said UN troops would need a court order to search houses in villages in southern Lebanon. They admitted that UNIFIL, because of the restrictions placed on its activities, is hard-pressed in providing a reliable picture of what's happening along the border.
Although no one in the United Nations admits it directly, the main constraint comes from UNIFIL’s senior command itself. It's clear to the force’s officers that Hezbollah will lash out the minute it senses danger.
The group acted that way in 2007, the year after the Second Lebanon War. The Spanish battalion was very active in its sector, before a car bomb blew up near one of its patrols and killed six Spanish soldiers. The message was received – and according to the finest of Lebanese traditions. Since then, Hezbollah has had nearly no problems with undesired supervision.
Hezbollah has been keeping total radio silence since the Israeli surprise. Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah declared back in September that he would no longer respond publicly to every “Israeli provocation.” His announcement came shortly after Netanyahu revealed to the UN General Assembly Hezbollah's efforts to improve the precision of its missiles. At the same time, the Lebanese government – which denies it knew about the tunnels – has responded by harshly condemning the “Israeli violations of its sovereignty” and, more importantly, the air force's flights over Lebanon.
It's clear to all parties that the debate over the tunnels is just a preview of the much broader disagreement expected to occur over Hezbollah's precision-missile factories in Beirut – first as an Israeli diplomatic effort and later, possibly even as justification for preemptive military action against the missiles. The missile factories will be at the center of Israel’s affairs this coming year, according to many defense officials.
But for now, it seems that Netanyahu – like U.S. President Donald Trump – expects more pressing personal problems. With all due respect to the American withdrawal from Syria and the tunnels from Lebanon, the most dramatic headline of the past week concerned the state prosecutor's recommendation to charge Netanyahu for allegedly offering benefits in return for positive news coverage. (This refers to Case 2000 involving the tabloid Yedioth Ahronoth and Case 4000 involving the Bezeq telecommunications company's Walla website.)
The prosecutor's recommendation is an earthquake that could affect the timetable for the next Israeli election, and possibly even the election itself. With all this going on, it could be that Hezbollah's precision-missile plants in Beirut will have to wait.
No A for effort
The Knesset continued dealing intensively last week with the criticism by the Israel Defense Forces' ombudsman, Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brik. On Monday, the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee said goodbye to Brik, who will finish up his term in three weeks.
On Wednesday, the subcommittee on military preparedness presented the conclusions of its work since Brik’s criticism of the IDF’s ground forces' preparedess for war. The subcommittee, chaired by MK Omer Bar-Lev (Zionist Union), studied the defense establishment’s internal reports, visited the bases where reserves units’ equipment is stored and met with General Staff generals, division commanders and battalion commanders in the reserves.
The subcommittee’s conclusions are very different from Brik’s loud warning bells. Bar-Lev was impressed that the military under Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot has significantly improved its preparedness for war during the four plus years since the 2014 Gaza war. But Bar-Lev also identified major gaps, and the subcommittee recommended the IDF to finish the work. The subcommittee accepted Eisenkot’s conclusion that the military must invest resources and give precedence – in training and equipment – to its elite divisions over a few reserve divisions.
The subcommittee’s report is a lot like a school report card, a member of the subcommittee said. The student, the IDF, is progressing very nicely but could try harder. The General Staff is pleased with the conclusions of the Bar-Lev subcommittee. To the generals, this is an objective and independent response to Brik's harsh accusations against the military.
In comparison, Brik – who it seems has upped his media efforts as the end of his term nears – has expressed much less satisfaction. The members of the subcommittee “missed out on the one-time opportunity to help the IDF rescue itself from the mire in which the ground forces are sinking,” Brik said.
The next chapter in the Brik-Eisenkot saga will start next week. The steering committee appointed by Eisenkot, headed by retired major generals Doron Almog and Avi Mizrahi, will present its own report. This should be a short document that won't directly address the dispute with Brik and won't deal with Brik’s (accurate) criticism of the IDF’s organizational culture. The Almog-Mizrahi committee is expected to focus on the issues that need improvement concerning the ground forces' preparedness for war. Eisenkot will have his say in his television interviews before he finishes his term in mid-January. But the changes will be carried out by his successor, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi.

Al Arabiya documentary reveals Hezbollah’s drug trade, money laundering links
Al Arabiya/November 28/18
/In a deep look into a “thriller” investigation, Al Arabiya’s exclusive documentary “Hezbollah’s Narco Jihad” discusses the involvement of the designated terrorist organization, Hezbollah, in the global drug trade and explains how it uses money laundering to substitute for its fund shortage. From 2009 to July 2013, an estimated 7,000 people were killed in the Medellin mafia wars in Colombia, as different challengers sought to claim Don Berna’s criminal throne as head of the Oficina de Envigado (the Envigado office), and become the successor to the Medellin Cartel. Until his death in Medellin in 1993, Pablo Escobar was the unchallenged head of the Medellin Cartel. A former sicario of the Medellin cartel, who is also said to have been Escobar’s most loyal man, told Al Arabiya in its exclusive documentary that: “The cartel of Medellin was too powerful. It had an aircraft fleet of around 140, it had more than 3,000 hit men, and it had a cruel intelligence structure. They bribed people from the State, operated a lot of intelligence matters. It was a totally criminal organization, with a great deal of money, possessing many weapons and an elaborate infrastructure."
For two years after Escobar’s death, the Cali Cartel was able to continue operating with the same modus operandi, until the leaders, the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers, were captured in 1995. Then the Colombian underworld became fragmented, and now drug trafficking syndicates are eluding countering forces with new strategies.
The documentary explains that this meant working with the Italian Mafia in Europe, and tapping into the huge Brazilian and Argentinian markets in South America. It also meant increased coordination between Colombian organized crime that had migrated to the Middle East, and known Hezbollah associates that had been in the Guajira region of Colombia for the past decade. In October 2008, a joint endeavor by American and Colombian investigators dismantled an international cocaine smuggling and money laundering ring that allegedly directed part of its profits to finance Hezbollah.
As the investigation progressed, the undercover agent got close enough to the cartel to serve as one of its money launderers. The agent laundered some $20 million, enabling the DEA to follow the money and map out much of the cartel’s operations.
The operation broke down before direct terrorism charges were filed.
While some claim the operation ended due to interagency squabbling, many government officials believe that the Obama Administration tamped down the investigation of Hezbollah for fear of jeopardizing the impending nuclear deal with Iran.
Lebanon was the Middle East’s leading producer of illicit drugs in the 1970s and 1980s, with cultivation taking place mostly in the northern Bekaa Valley, according to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) figures.
American intelligence analysts believe that for years Hezbollah received as much as $200 million annually from its primary patron, Iran, along with additional aid from Syria. But that support has diminished, the analysts say, as Iran’s economy buckles under international sanctions over its nuclear program and Syria’s government battles rising popular unrest.Auditors brought in to scrub the books discovered nearly 200 accounts with links to Hezbollah and their classic signs of money laundering. “Hezbollah’s Narco Jihad” takes the audience through the details of the organization’s drug trade and money laundering, reaching up to today’s reality stating that the same networks are still active.

Hariri at Global Business Summit: Our focus in coming three months will be to pass all reforms and laws needed by SMEs
NNA/December 21/18
 Prime Minister designate Saad Hariri said that his focus in the coming three months will be to pass all the reforms and laws needed by the SMEs, adding that CEDRE imposed transparency and established all the steps to fight corruption.
He said that "the youth are the future and it is time to stop exporting them", adding that "investing in women and empowering them in different sectors will only benefit the country".
Hariri was addressing today a large number of Lebanese entrepreneurs and investors attending the Global Business Summit organized by "Endeavor Lebanon" and "Lebanese International Finance Executives" (LIFE) at the Four Seasons Hotel.
He answered their questions as follows:
Question: With the birth of the new government, our hopes are high, what can you and the new government do to enhance the economy?
Hariri: First, cross your fingers, I am trying very hard to finalize the government today hopefully.
As a government, my focus is on the CEDRE reforms and the economy in general. For me, without these reforms, it is like throwing money into the same basket where we have been throwing in the past. I think everybody in the government understands that the only way to move forward is to pass these reforms, execute CEDRE, with a committee that will follow it up, from the international committee and the Lebanese part. There will be a very transparent process, I pushed very hard to have this committee that will include the World Bank, IFC, EBRD, all the institutions that will give us the financing, plus countries that donated this money. The World Bank approved 250 projects. My focus will be on energy.
Question: When can we feel the effects on CEDRE on the economy of Lebanon?
Hariri: In the past 6-7 months, we have been working, we passed about five reforms out of the 14 reforms that were in CEDRE. I do not see any problems in the reforms. Concerning energy, we have to make a committee. We are working with the World Bank on a paper and all projects would be negotiated with a committee within the government.
Question: You are talking a lot about reforms. If you want to talk financially about debt and the debt to GDP ratio, what ways will the government use to reduce this number?
Hariri: I think our problem on the debt ratio is that we are only growing at 1%, we need to increase our growth and that is why my focus is on infrastructure. As quick as we move on energy, you will see that the debt ratio will decrease. Our problem for the past 5-6 years, we had the same growth of 1%. We need to work hard in 2019 to increase our growth. At the same time, we work with the IMF. We need to bring down our fiscal balance by 1% every year from 2019-2020 for five years. I think we need to bring down the subsidies we pay on energy next year of 600 to a billion dollar because we cannot continue paying these 2 billion dollars.
Question: Last year, you committed not to increase taxes further to what has been increased to finance the public servants wages and at the same time, among the CEDRE requirements, you should increase the fiscal income of the government, how would you manage to do both?
Hariri: If we save the 2 billion dollars on energy, we would have already made 2 billion dollars. Our problem is energy, we need to bring down the energy bill from 2 billion dollars to zero. I think in 2019, we will be able to bring it down. We are going to increase the tariffs in energy once we have 24/7. The rolling out of our telecommunication plan must bring us more money. We need to work hard in executing few projects that we have for 2019, spend a billion dollars on these projects in 2019, and increase our tax collection. I do not want to increase taxes and will not.
Question: Today the private sector and the business investors have lost confidence in the politicians and are no longer willing to invest or develop businesses in Lebanon. What are the first actions that you will take to gain their trust back?
Hariri: We are going to put in the ministerial statement all the reforms so everybody is committed to these reforms. As soon as we start the government, we are going to issue the laws. I think we lost some confidence from the private sector but what does this private sector want from us? The private sector wants us to reform, to make it easy for the SMEs to do business in Lebanon and my focus in the coming three months is to pass all the reforms and laws that are needed by the SMEs. We already passed the bankruptcy law, the anti-corruption law, we need further work on some laws for anti-corruption but I think that we will gain this confidence by pushing all the reforms. If we do not pass these laws and reforms, then we will have a continuous problem of confidence.
Question: What is your opinion on wastewater?
Hariri: In the past we used to get financing for a wastewater plan and we did not have the network for it. What we did in CEDRE, is that we got the financing from A to Z for each project in each region.
We need to make settlements with water offices in some areas. The essential thing is that in CEDRE, we went and found the solution and funded all regions from A to Z concerning the wastewater problem. If people are interested in a project, we are open to that.
Question: Concerning electricity, what is going to be different this time, the solutions have been known for while so can you tell how we are going finally be able to resolve this problem? And can you tell us more about the oil and gas?
Hariri: The problem we had in the past is that some political parties were not convinced that the private sector should do all this, but today everybody is convinced that the private sector should do all this. The government has passed the strategy for energy from today to 2030 and I believe that we have a better chance today. The BOT-PPP projects are there and many projects will be ready by March.
Concerning oil and gas, Total won the first bid now there is a second bid that is going to open in February or March. Today, BP is interested, the Americans are interested. I was in London a week ago, there is a totally different outlook on Lebanon especially when it comes to oil and gaz. Total is on schedule.
Question: You mentioned that tax collection and State revenues are hampered by the fact that the tax collection is low. But there is also ever-growing size of the illegal economy. How are you going to address this phenomenon?
Hariri: We have to fight corruption in the country. Why is there a black economy or illegal economy? Because there is corruption. No one should protect anyone and from day one this should be the rule and this is what everybody agreed on. A committee is going to follow all the projects of CEDRE. Transparency for me is the most important thing, and there will be follow up with the international community, the World Bank and us as a government. This is essential for me because otherwise it would be as if we did nothing. If we do not pass these reforms and this committee does not follow up on daily or weekly basis with us on all the projects, then I tell you yes we have a problem.
But I am confident that all the partners in the government accepted all the reforms of CEDRE and I think you can take it also from the World Bank because they saw all he political parties who told them they also support the reforms.
Question: The public sector represents around 25% of our GDP. There are around three hundred to three hundred fifty thousand employees benefitting from the wages including retired employees. Do you have any intension to work on reducing the size of the public sector and how?
Hariri: I have every intention to make our government fit for the job that has to be done. I think that three hundred thousand employees is too much but this is something that we have to tackle with the reforms that we are going to implement. Unfortunately because of the divisions that we had in politics in the past few years, everybody resorted to the government and I think this is a big mistake. We need to reduce the cost of the government and increase the share of the private sector. This plan is not going to be executed tomorrow. This should be gradual and we should not be too ambitious in this subject but as long as we put a plan on where are we today and where we plan to be in five years this is doable.
Question: We know that SMEs are the engine for economic growth. What are the short-term plans of the government to support SMEs?
Hariri: We are passing all the laws to make it easier for SMEs. We put a 100-day goal after which we will be declaring as soon as we form the government and obtain the confidence of the Parliament. I am a true believer that the only way we can move forward is with the SMEs and making sure that all the laws and platforms they need are there. That is why investing heavily in infrastructure is important for SMEs. I think that Lebanon has a good chance to have a financial service hub for the region. We should have a legal hub in the region because we have lots of talents, but at the same time we find all the Lebanese spread all over the world.
We are exporting people who can do the job in Lebanon. Let us prepare the legal framework in order for them to be able to work in Lebanon and make it happen. The internet speed in Lebanon improved a lot during the last three years and we are bringing the prices down slowly but surely because it represents a big income for the government. We need to increase our capacity and then we will reduce prices. The students today are getting much lower prices than last year. So we are doing all this to make sure that people can do business in Lebanon and I think we have a good chance in this.
Question: How can we enhance the role of women, especially in the public sector, and what is the government going to do about this?
Hariri: The previous government put a quota of 20 to 30% for all appointments in government institutions. Now I think that the private sector is already advanced on the issue of women in all fields. Today the mentality has changed and the women are becoming more vocal. I expect to have at least six women ministers in this government.
Question: Knowing the Lebanese dynamic, will you be able to enforce the anti-corruption laws and all the reform projects?
Hariri: We have to get out of this idea that we cannot do it. We can do it and we can do anything. We do everything outside Lebanon so we should do it in Lebanon. I am going to be very harsh on the issue of corruption and I am going to punish anyone who is corrupt, even if he is from the Future movement or a relative of mine.
Question: Who is going to be the digital champion who has an agenda and holds every single minister accountable to deliver on the digital agenda?
Hariri: I am going to champion this and I will take it all the way.
Question: Some of the international groups mention figures as much as $4billion per annum worth of leakage, of us not collecting taxation and other means and forms. What can you do as a government?
Hariri: I agree with you that E-government is going to be one of the challenges that we have but we are committed to it. E-Government is one of the projects that I believe is going to cut corruption enormously.
I believe the MOF has to increase its capacity and we need to invest more in the ministry of finance for the collection part. I think 4 billion is a little bit exaggerated. I think there is some waste. We have a problem also from the customs, we do not get as much as we are supposed to get from them. What is happening in Lebanon is that some people stop paying because they see others not paying. We need to hit the cycle. When you hit the cycle of corruption, when people see that the government is extremely serious, you will see the increase. Our duty is to take all the measures so we can get more, but we should not raise taxes because what we did 2 years ago was enough. Now it is time to collect. How do we collect? If the private sector has any idea we can share together, we will be more than happy. I agree with you, e-government is one of the best ways to move forward. The previous government passed a few laws for that. We should advance at least 60% to 70 % if not 100% about e-government in the next 4 years.
Question: You have been talking about fighting corruption and I think this is the main problem of this country. To fight corruption, we need a judicial system that can fight corruption and we need more jails to fill up. Are you planning on doing either of the two?
Hariri: I am planning to do anything to fight corruption. I said it before and I will keep saying it. We passed laws to really fight corruption. Concerning the judicial system, I believe that we have a good judicial system, we need to make sure that it is computerize and we need to get rid of the bad judges that we have in the ministry. If you look at the previous government, there were a least six judges who were kicked out from the justice department and I think there will be more in the coming years.
Question: Corruption is not only direct, it is indirect also. Why don't we establish an agency to fight corruption?
Hariri: Fighting corruption is not a process that can be done overnight. What we did in CEDRE is establishing all the steps to fight this kind of corruption.
In CEDRE, there is transparency that will kill the corruption we had. We also created new agencies against corruption.
Question: Concerning the political gridlock, it seems every time we are in a major intersection, the country is going through an extended period of political paralysis which has a negative implication on the socio economic situation. My question is do you see a solution?
Hariri: If you look at our major political obstructions, they happens on three occasions: forming the government, electing a president and the electoral law. Look at how fast the budget passed. I have the capacity to negotiate with everybody, this is something I am not worried about.
In elections, you don't have a problem, they are done on time, concerning the government we will be done today. The reforms are already agreed on by everybody and will be in the ministerial statement. I do not foresee a problem in this regard. Even corruption, which is a major issue, there are serious talks will all political parties and I think that you will see results on that.
Question: Before we end, we want to hear a message from you to the Lebanese youth and young talents.
Hariri: Everything I do today, I do it for the youth. For me the youth are the future, and they are the ones who are going to build this country. It is time to stop exporting our expertise, we have a golden opportunity if we do a systematic work on CEDRE and continue with Mckinsey.
My focus is on women also because I see that when you empower women, you see that discussions are much more professional and results are much better. I think that investing in women and empowering them in different sectors will only benefit the country and hopefully one day you will see a women sitting in my place.

Latest LCCC English Miscellaneous Reports & News published on December 21-22/18
Kurds Urge Larger French Role After US Leaves Syria
Beirut/Asharq Al-Awsat/December, 21/18
A senior Kurdish politician Friday called on France to play a larger role in Syria following the withdrawal of US troops from the country, warning that Kurdish fighters may have to withdraw from the front lines in the fight against the ISIS terrorist group. Ilham Ahmed also suggested that the main Kurdish militia may no longer be able to hold the hundreds of ISIS militants detained in its prisons in northeastern Syria in the case of a Turkish attack, noting they might head to Turkey and from there to the rest of the world. The group known as the Syrian Democratic Forces is known to hold hundreds of militants from various nationalities, including Europeans, in detention centers across areas under their control in northern Syria, and their families have been rounded up in camps run by the group. The Kurds have not decided how to handle them, since their home countries don't want them back and also don't recognize Kurdish-run courts. "We fear things will get out control and we would no longer be able to contain them (ISIS militants) in the area, and this would open the door to their renewed spread and movement toward the Turkish border and from there to the rest of the world," Ahmed said. She was in Paris as part of a delegation attending talks on the planned US military withdrawal from Syria and Turkey's warnings that it may launch a military operation against Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria. The delegation met with French President Emanuel Macron's representative to Syria, Francois Senemand.
Ahmed said France as a NATO member has a moral obligation to prevent Turkey from attacking Kurds. Her comments reflected the desperation and turmoil within the Kurdish forces following President Donald Trump's surprise announcement that he would withdraw the 2,000 troops in Syria. The announcement came at a particularly tense moment in northern Syria. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly warned of launching a new offensive against the Kurds and in recent days has stepped up the rhetoric, threatening that an assault could begin "at any moment."
Turkey views the People's Protection Units, or YPG, the main component of the Syrian Democratic Forces, as a terrorist group and an extension of the insurgency within its borders. U.S. support for the group has strained ties between the two NATO allies. On Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the announcement from Washington about a pullout as well as "diplomatic and security contacts" forced Turkey to delay its plans for an operation against the US-backed Kurdish militia east of the Euphrates river.
Speaking in Istanbul in an address to business groups, he said however, that the delay would "not be open-ended."Trump's abrupt decision has been widely seen as an abandonment of a loyal ally, even though the US partnership with the Kurds against the Islamic State group in Syria was always considered a temporary marriage of convenience. With US air support, the Kurds drove ISIS out of much of northern and eastern Syria in a costly four-year campaign.
"The decision to pull out under these circumstances will lead to a state of instability and create a political and military void in the region and leave its people between the claws of enemy forces," a statement by the Kurdish-led group and main US ally in Syria said Thursday.
Underscoring the ongoing fight against ISIS, a Kurdish news agency and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor reported that IS launched a counteroffensive in the area on the outskirts of Hajin, the last town controlled by ISIS in Syria which the SDF recaptured a week ago.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Friday said his country welcomed the decision by Trump to withdraw US troops from Syria. Cavusoglu spoke during a visit to Malta in comments that were broadcast on Turkish television. They marked the first official reaction to the US decision to pull out its troops. The minister spoke of a need to coordinate the withdrawal with the US and said all countries need to be vigilant in the fight against the remnants of the Islamic State group. Cavusoglu also warned that the withdrawal should not create a vacuum that could be filled by terrorist groups. The German government, meanwhile, said it wasn't consulted by Washington before the US announced the troop withdrawal. Government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer told reporters in Berlin on Friday that Germany would have appreciated prior consultations. Demmer said the US decision could affect the dynamics of the conflict, adding that "much remains to be done" for a final victory over the Islamic State group. She said the United States is an "important ally" but declined to say whether Germany also considers it a "reliable" one. German Defense Ministry spokesman Jens Flosdorff said the decision has no immediate impact on Germany's aerial surveillance missions over Syria.

Kurds Seek French Help over US Syria Pullout, Kurdish Spokeswoman
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 21/18/Kurds leading the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria asked France Friday for military and diplomatic support following President Donald Trump's decision to pull US troops out of the country, a spokeswoman said.
The leaders of the political wing of the Kurdish-led force also said they feared they could "lose control" over foreign jihadists being held in Syrian Kurdish jails if IS used the US pullout to regroup, or if Turkey pushed ahead with its threatened offensive against the Kurds' self-declared autonomous region, Ilham Ahmad said.

Erdogan Rejects US Sanctions on Iran/Rouhani: Sanctions a 'Terrorist Act'

Ankara - Saeed Abdulrazzak/Asharq Al-Awsat/December, 21/18 /Turkey has affirmed the rejection of US sanctions against Iran, which were described by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as a terrorist act. "This US action against Iran is a 100-percent terrorist act," said Iran's president.  Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey does not approve the US sanctions on Iran since they lead to destabilization in the region. "We will continue to be in solidarity with brotherly Iran at a time when pressures on Iran mounts which we find unjust," Erdogan said at a news conference with his Iranian counterpart in the capital Ankara on Thursday after chairing the 5th Meeting of the Turkey-Iran High Level Cooperation Council. He also described Washington’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement as a “mistake” that could endanger regional peace. "There are so many steps that Turkey and Iran can take together to end the clashes in our region and ensure a peaceful environment," Erdogan continued. Turkey aims to increase bilateral trade with Iran to USD30 billion from the current USD11 billion, he added. Meanwhile, Rouhani thanked Erdogan for his support against Washington's "unilateral and illegal" sanctions. “We share deep historical, cultural and religious ties,” he said.  “In recent months, Turkey – and especially President Erdogan – has taken a firm stance against the US sanctions,” he continued. Rouhani also said that the Turkey-Iran cooperation bore fruit during the Astana peace talks process with the participation of Russia. "We need to increase our efforts to ensure permanent peace that will embrace Syria and whole Syrian people," Rouhani said. He added that Iran and Turkey have decided to hold talks related to humanitarian aid to Yemen.

Iraq: Dozens of Bodies 'Found in ISIS Mass Grave'

Asharq Al-Awsat/December, 21/18 /Iraqi authorities said they uncovered a new mass grave containing the remains of dozens of people in an area of northern Kirkuk province once held by ISIS. Security forces have discovered dozens of mass graves since they drove out the extremist group in 2017 after three years of occupation of swathes of northern and western Iraq. The United Nations said in November that more than 200 mass graves containing up to 12,000 victims had been found in Iraq that could hold vital evidence of war crimes by the militants. The latest macabre discovery was made on Thursday in the Hawija district of Kirkuk province, Adel Ismail, a lieutenant-colonel in the Iraqi federal police force, told AFP. He said the grave contained the remains of "innocent Iraqi civilians" who "were abducted and then killed" by the militants. It was found in what appears to be a deep well in the Al-Abbassi area of Hawija. "This is a mass grave used by ISIS," said Wani Firas, a resident of the area. "They used to come here, execute and throw (the victims) inside, and we used to watch and observe from nearby," he said. The United Nations in Iraq (UNAMI) and its human rights office said last month they had documented a total of 202 mass graves in parts of western and northern Iraq held by ISIS between 2014 and 2017. Of them, just 28 had been excavated and 1,258 bodies exhumed by Iraqi authorities, the report said. Even more sites could be uncovered in the months to come, it warned, urging Iraqi authorities to properly preserve and excavate them to provide closure for victims' families

Kuwait: Implementing Security Council Resolutions Important to Achieve Syrian's Aspirations
Asharq Al-Awsat/December, 21/18/Kuwait stressed the need to work for the implementation of Security Council resolutions in order to enable the Syrian people to achieve their legitimate aspirations through a political settlement on which all its components are compatible and preserve the unity, independence, and sovereignty of Syria, SPA reported. This came in the speech of the State of Kuwait delivered by its Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Mansour Al-Otaibi at a meeting of the Security Council Thursday to discuss the political process in Syria. Al-Otaibi said: "The Security Council unanimously adopted three years ago resolution 2254, which charted the road map to reach a just political settlement in Syria and restore stability. According to SPA, Al-Otaibi renewed the call for the constitutional committee to be "balanced, credible and inclusive, including all segments of the Syrian society" in the belief of its importance as a pivotal station in the Syrian political process that will push it forward, pointing out that this is the first step in the political transition, including the drafting of a constitution and the holding of free and fair elections under the auspices of the United Nations, in accordance with the highest international standards of transparency and accountability, including all Syrians, including those abroad, in accordance with resolution 2254.

Migrant Boat Tragedy Off Algerian Coast
Asharq Al-Awsat/December, 21/18/Twenty migrants were missing Friday a day after the boat they were travelling in caught fire off the Algerian coast, the APS national news agency said. APS, quoting an unnamed security source, said the migrants were among 29 people aboard the ill-fated boat. A Liberian-flagged vessel assisted the boat and rescued nine people, including two newborn babies, the agency said, adding that some had suffered burns. The survivors are in "stable condition", APS said quoting Mohammed Sayeb, the director of the Tenes hospital west of Algiers where they were taken for treatment. Online news website Al-Shuruq quoted a survivor as saying the fire broke out shortly after the migrants set off at midnight Wednesday from the coastal city of Oran in northwest Algeria. According to the report the passengers -- all of them Algerians -- jumped into the sea to escape the blaze. It was not clear what started the fire. A spokesman for the coast guard of Libya, Algeria's neighbor, said Thursday about 15,000 migrants have been intercepted trying to reach Italy by sea this year, giving a number for the first time. The coast guard has stepped up patrols after receiving new boats from Italy as part of efforts by the right-wing government there to stop migrants reaching Italian shores from Africa. The UN Libya mission (UNSMIL) gave a much higher estimate, saying in a 61-page report that the coast guard had intercepted or rescued 29,000 migrants in the first nine months of the year.

Bread Protests in Khartoum Leave Casualties
Khartoum/Asharq Al-Awsat/December, 21/18/Protests over soaring prices of bread reached Thursday the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, where police fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators near the Presidential Palace. According to the latest counts, eight people were killed and dozens were injured across the country during clashes between protesters and riot police. The Sudanese authorities declared a state of emergency in at least four cities, but remained silent on the latest developments and the number of victims. Demonstrations first emerged Wednesday in the cities of Atbara, al-Damir and Berber in the north, in Port Sudan in the east and El Nahud in the west and spread the next day to Al-Kadarif in the east, Kosti and Sinar in the south and Dongola in the north, according to a statement issued by the opposition National Ummah Party. They were sparked by a government decision to raise the price of bread from one Sudanese pound to three. Thursday’s demonstrations witnessed a “symbolic burning” of office owned by the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) of President Omar al-Bashir and some public institutions. Demonstrators in Al-Qadarif "threw stones at banks (in the city center) and smashed cars," resident Tayeb Omar Bashir told AFP by phone. Observers expected the pace of protests to increase in Khartoum when worshipers leave mosques following the Friday prayers. A large number of police personnel were deployed in several parts of the city, as others in civilian uniforms were seen driving pick-up trucks and holding light arms. Hatem al-Wassilah, the governor of the Nile River state, said protesters set on fire the headquarters of the ruling party and a public institution building. A 36-year-old man who participated in Wednesday's demonstration and asked not to be identified, told Reuters on Thursday that he had not been able to buy bread for four days because it was no longer available in the shops. "Prices have increased and I have still not been able to withdraw my November salary... because of the liquidity crisis. These are difficult conditions that we can't live with, and the government doesn't care about us,” he said. NCP spokesman Ibrahim Al-Siddiq said any citizen has the right to express his opinion peacefully, but what happened in Atbara is not consistent with the concept of peacefulness.

Kabul downplays security fears as US withdraws troops
Trump announces measures to pull out 7,000 troops from the country
President Ghani’s government says move will not impact security situation

Arab News/December 21/18
KABUL: After the US caught everyone by surprise with its announcement to withdraw nearly half of its troops from Afghanistan, President Ashraf Ghani’s government downplayed the significance of the move on Friday by saying that Washington’s plans would have no impact on the security situation in the country. Reports of the sudden departure of 7,000 troops came a day after US President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of American forces from Syria; and follows closely on the heels of talks between the Taliban’s representatives and US diplomats in the UAE for solutions to end the Afghan conflict.
The move coincided with reports that US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had tendered his resignation. However, it was not clear if he took the decision based on Trump’s order to pull out troops from Syria and Afghanistan.
Additionally, there were no statements to verify whether the move which is expected to be implemented in a few weeks was due to the talks in Abu Dhabi which had taken place in the presence of officials from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Pakistan.
President Ashraf Ghani’s government which could not take part in the two-day dialogue said — after more than 12 hours of silence – that the US’ plans to withdraw troops from the country would have no impact on the security situation in Afghanistan. “Troops pull out will not affect security situation in the country,” Harun Chakhansuri, Ghani’s spokesman, told reporters.
“Most of the US troops which will possibly be withdrawn from Afghanistan – are engaged in training and advise mission for Afghan forces…who are capable of defending the country,” he said.
Ghani’s chief adviser, Fazel Fazly, downplayed the impact of the move by tweeting that ever since the president had assumed office more than four years ago, the Afghan forces have fought on the frontline on their own. Recalling the drastic pullout in 2014 when tens of thousands of foreign and US-led troops had withdrawn from the country, he said concerns that the security situation would deteriorate proved to be wrong then and would be wrong this time, too.
“The alarms raised about Afghanistan’s future in the media were more rampant in December 2014. Most analysts believed that Afghanistan would collapse with the departure of more than 1,00,000 troops. But our brave defense and security forces proved these analysts wrong and defended the nation with great valor,” he said. The Taliban have gained ground in recent years, partly due to a drawdown in 2014, but more importantly due to internal divisions within Ghani’s government. Additionally, the number of casualties among national forces, civilians, and the Taliban have soared with some US officials openly admitting that the war cannot be won with military might. Ordinary Americans, for their part, have questioned the need to spend money on and retain troops in Afghanistan for a war which began with US-led forces ousting the Taliban in late 2001.
Trump himself has spoken against retaining the troops in Afghanistan on several occasions. However, he has been unpredictable in his stance. Last year, based on the advice of Pentagon’s generals, he opted to increase air offensives and send additional troops to Afghanistan to turn the tide.
The plan seems to have backfired with the Taliban occupying more areas in the country. While Ghani’s embattled government rejects the impact of the withdrawal, several generals said that the government was not consulted or forewarned about Trump’s planned order.Some observers said that the pullout — combined with US talks with the Taliban which has led to most believing that Washington is after the formation of an interim government in Afghanistan — would impact the morale of the troops and further embolden the militant group. Michael Kugeleman, a regional analyst added that the decision would be used by the Taliban as a victory point. “Let’s be clear; Trump’s decision, if confirmed, amounts to a propaganda coup and a tactical triumph for the Taliban. It (Taliban) has gotten the troop withdrawal it has always wanted,” he said.
Rahmatullah Nabil, a former Afghan spymaster, disagrees. He reasons that the proposed move would encourage the Taliban to take part in the peace process. “From my point of view, the exodus of roughly 7,000 American troops can persuade the Taliban to actively participate in the peace process,” he told Arab News, detailing the short-term and long-term impact on security forces.
“In the short term, it will have an impact on Afghan security forces and promote the inclination of acquiring power through war, but it will not have an actual impact on the war itself,” he said.
Several lawmakers, especially women, expressed concerns at the hasty move reasoning that it offers no assurance to Afghans about their future. “My fear is that God forbid, the security situation will deteriorate. Without American forces, Kabul and the entire country can collapse in one day,” Raihana Azad, an MP told Arab News. “This will also prove to Afghans that Americans are short-term friends, people will become more disappointed with America and our neighbors will use their influence and resources to consolidate their power here,” she added.

Security Council votes to send cease-fire observers to Yemen
Arab News/December 21/18UNITED NATIONS: The UN Security Council on Friday voted unanimously to send a civilian observer mission to Yemen to monitor a fragile truce in the strategic Red Sea port of Hodeidah and supervise the departure of combatants.
The Britain-drafted resolution was adopted by all 15 council members after a week of tough negotiations. The text also endorsed the results of recent peace talks in Sweden aimed at ending the four-year-long conflict. Britain’s UN Ambassador Karen Pierce praised the council’s unanimity “on this very important issue that affected so many millions of citizens in Yemen today.”“The most important matter now is that we turn to urgent implementation,” she said. “It’s vital that the parties follow through on their commitments to pave the way for a formal relaunch of (peace) negotiations, and at the same time deliver real improvements on the ground that make a tangible difference to ordinary Yemenis.”That revised draft resolution was approved for all 15 Security Council members.It authorizes UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “to establish and deploy, for an initial period of 30 days ... an advance team to begin monitoring and to support and facilitate the immediate implementation of the Stockholm agreement.”It also endorses the truce agreement, a prisoner exchange agreement, and a “statement of understanding” aimed at reducing fighting in the central city of Taiz. The resolution requests Guterres to submit proposals “as soon as possible before Dec. 31” on how the United Nations will fully support the cease-fire, the redeployment of the rival forces from the Hodeida area and other provisions in the accord.
The agreement also included a planned prisoner swap involving some 15,000 detainees. Welcoming the resolution, Saudi Arabia’s deputy permanent representative at the UN, Dr. Khaled Manzalawi, said the resolution confirmed “the success of the military pressure by the coalition and the Saudi diplomatic efforts in forcing the Houthis to withdraw from Hodeidah.” The resolution, he said, granted the UN the right to deploy a team to monitor the cease-fire in Hodeidah, which will reduce Houthis’ room for maneuver and prevent their obstructive attempts and repetitive violations in the past. The UN-brokered peace negotiations in Stockholm last week saw Yemen’s warring parties agree to a cease-fire and the withdrawal of fighters in Hodeidah, a key gateway for aid and food imports. The city is a vital lifeline for millions at risk of starvation, and the cease-fire between government forces backed by the Arab coalition and Iran-backed Houthi militia is seen as the best chance yet of ending four years of devastating conflict. The latest version of the UN draft — which was amended several times this week at the request of the United States, Russia and Kuwait — “insists on the full respect by all parties of the cease-fire agreed” for Hodeidah. It authorizes the United Nations to “establish and deploy, for an initial period of 30 days from the adoption of this resolution, an advance team to begin monitoring” the cease-fire, under the leadership of retired Dutch general Patrick Cammaert. According to the UN, Cammaert — who served multiple times as a UN peacekeeper — was expected to arrive in the Jordanian capital Amman on Friday, before heading to the Houthi-held capital Sanaa and Hodeidah.The draft resolution also authorizes UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to “submit proposals as soon as possible before December 31, 2018 on how the United Nations will fully support the Stockholm Agreement as requested by the parties.” Diplomats said the UN observer mission could consist of 30 to 40 people, tasked with ensuring the withdrawal of the warring parties from Hodeida and the safe passage of humanitarian aid. The observers will head up monitoring teams made up of government and rebel representatives, under the auspices of a Redeployment Coordination Committee headed by Cammaert.French Ambassador Francois Delattre said the unanimous vote sent a “strong signal of the council’s unity and engagement” on Yemen, and that it had put its weight behind the UN-brokered talks.
Diplomats said the UN observer mission could consist of 30 to 40 people, tasked with ensuring the withdrawal of the warring parties from Hodeidah and the safe passage of humanitarian aid. The UN said the first members of the mission were already en route to the region.

Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 21-22/18
Read Jim Mattis’s Letter to Trump: Full Text

Jon Elswick/Associated Press/The New York Times/December 21/18
In a resignation letter to President Trump, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis stressed the importance of alliances.
President Trump on Thursday tweeted that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis would be leaving the Pentagon in February. The news comes a day after the president announced troop withdrawals in Syria.
Shortly after Mr. Trump’s post, Mr. Mattis released a letter he wrote to Mr. Trump acknowledging that the president had a right to a defense secretary with views “better aligned” with his.
Below is the full text of that letter, as released by the Defense Department.
Dear Mr. President:
I have been privileged to serve as our country’s 26th Secretary of Defense which has allowed me to serve alongside our men and women of the Department in defense of our citizens and our ideals.
I am proud of the progress that has been made over the past two years on some of the key goals articulated in our National Defense Strategy: putting the Department on a more sound budgetary footing, improving readiness and lethality in our forces, and reforming the Department’s business practices for greater performance. Our troops continue to provide the capabilities needed to prevail in conflict and sustain strong U.S. global influence.
One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies. Like you, I have said from the beginning that the armed forces of the United States should not be the policeman of the world. Instead, we must use all tools of American power to provide for the common defense, including providing effective leadership to our alliances. NATO’s 29 democracies demonstrated that strength in their commitment to fighting alongside us following the 9-11 attack on America. The Defeat-ISIS coalition of 74 nations is further proof.
Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours. It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model — gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions — to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.
My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.
Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position. The end date for my tenure is February 28, 2019, a date that should allow sufficient time for a successor to be nominated and confirmed as well as to make sure the Department’s interests are properly articulated and protected at upcoming events to include Congressional posture hearings and the NATO Defense Ministerial meeting in February. Further, that a full transition to a new Secretary of Defense occurs well in advance of the transition of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in September in order to ensure stability within the Department.

Trump’s abrupt decision to pull American troops from Syria is riskier than it looks
David Ignatius/The Washington Post/December 20/18
President Trump’s abrupt decision to pull American troops from Syria is riskier than it looks. It ends a low-cost, high-impact mission and creates a vacuum that will be filled by one of a series of bad actors — Iran, Russia, Turkey, Islamic extremists, the Syrian regime — take your pick, they’re all dangerous for U.S. interests in the Middle East.
Trump’s withdrawal from northeast Syria will end a campaign that was never really seen or understood by the American people. It was a small-footprint, low-visibility war carried out by U.S. Special Operations forces, in partnership with a Kurdish-led militia.
Because most Americans didn’t watch the conflict on television, they didn’t appreciate the unlikely fact that it was successful. It destroyed the Islamic State; it stabilized northeast Syria; it blocked Iranian expansion; it checked Russian hegemony; it gave the United States some bargaining leverage for an eventual political settlement in Syria. But none of that evidently mattered in the end to Trump. He was elected to end wars in the Middle East, even successful ones. On this, as with so many issues, he was determined to fulfill his campaign promises, consequences be damned. His Syria decision was opposed, near as I can tell, by the Pentagon, the State Department and key regional allies. Trump did it anyway.
This decision scares me partly because I’ve seen with my own eyes the hard-won gains we may be giving up, in visits to the secret bases where this war was waged. It’s hard to describe the competence of American troops in Syria without sounding corny. Suffice it to say they found a way to project American power with maximum damage to the enemy and minimum cost for the United States.
We can grant some of Trump’s larger points, even as we assess the potential costs of his decision. Every war must end, as strategist Fred Charles Iklé once remarked about Vietnam, and the war against the Islamic State had all but ended. As the terrorist threat receded, so did the legal rationale for deploying American troops — the overstretched authorization to use military force against terrorists passed on Sept. 14, 2001. The White House shouldn’t be faulted, either, for stressing that the United States’ national military strategy now focuses on the threat of great-power competitors, such as Russia and China, rather than terrorists. U.S. strategy became lopsided after 9/11, misallocating resources, and now it’s time for a rebalancing. I get all that.
And finally, analysts who’ve followed Syria knew that at some point, the United States would have to retreat from its all-in support for the Syrian Kurdish militia that fought so bravely, to the last man and woman, to liberate eastern Syria from the torture chamber of the Islamic State. The Kurds want a mini-state east of the Euphrates, but as special envoy James Jeffrey said this week at the Atlantic Council, “we do not have permanent relationships with substate entities.”
The United States was going to have to break the Kurds’ hearts eventually (as we seem to do with so many of our brave allies). But not now, not when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was threatening an invasion, trying to jawbone the United States into abandoning its allies. This kind of bullying shouldn’t work against a superpower. But sadly, it just did, with lasting cost to American credibility.
Senior administration officials try to put the best face on Trump’s mistaken decision. “This will be a measured, step-by-step withdrawal,” says one. “It will be conditions-based, with the timeline moving left or right depending on force protection and other factors.” That’s what you’re supposed to say about a pullout, but I doubt it will convince many people in Tehran, Moscow or Ankara. What’s truly distressing is that until Trump’s sudden turnabout, the United States had something of a virtuous cycle going in the region. Not only was the Islamic State almost extinguished, but in addition, U.S. power was creating conditions for future stability. The new Iraqi government was eager to be a partner; Iran was realizing it had overreached in Syria; Sunni Arab allies such as Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates wanted to help contain Turkish power and create a more stable Syrian state.
Trump aborted this positive momentum. He ceded power in northern Syria to Turkey and its proxies, which have made a ruinous mess everywhere in Syria they’ve tried to control. He abandoned a Syrian Kurdish ally that had imagined that sacrificing lives at the United States’ request would count for something. It didn’t. Trump’s Syrian legacy: He has proved even more irresolute than his predecessor, Barack Obama. How does that feel, Mr. President?

Analysis/Syria Pullout: Israel Left With False Russian Promises and a Volatile U.S. President
تحليل سياسي من الهآرتس بقلم عاموس هاريل: الإنسحاب الأميركي من سوريا يضع إسرائيل بمواجهة وعود روسية كاذبة ورئيس أميركي متقلب

Amos Harel/Haaretz/December 21/18
Trump pulls rug from under his own generals ■ An Israeli expert on Russia lays out Putin’s strategic reasoning in Syria.
With the thrust of the sword, or really with strike of just one tweet, U.S. President Donald Trump ruined all the plans of his advisers and generals.
For many months, all of them have been explaining – from Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who announced his resignation Thursday, to National Security Adviser (Trump’s third in less than two years) John Bolton – to Trump how important the American presence in Syria is to blocking Iranian expansion, containing Russian influence in the Middle East and bolstering the international standing of the United States.
On Wednesday, along came Trump and pulled the rug out from under their feet. Diplomats and other U.S. government employees will leave Syria within 24 hours, and the last American soldier will leave in 100 days.
Who is the wise man who can understand what led to Trump’s decision? Was it something he saw on television, on the Fox network where he spends so much of his time? Maybe he wanted to quickly divert the media debate to another topic, after another catastrophic week in which it seemed the noose that special prosecutor Robert Mueller is readying around him is growing even tighter? Or maybe he just remembered his campaign promise to make America great again by reducing its spending on wars far from its shores?
As far as Israel is concerned, this story has one immediate lesson and one long-term conclusion. The immediate conclusion is that the desire to distance Iranian forces and the Shi’ite militias from Syria is nowhere near being realized.
Russia sold Israel barren promises, which crumbled after six months or so – and the United States is not excited about helping out. And even if the Israel Defense Forces racked up an impressive achievement in the series of confrontations with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Syria last spring, this does not mean that Tehran has given up on its plans.
The long-term lesson is that Trump, in his situation, has become someone who cannot be relied on. Even if he is basically sympathetic to Israel, and even though he is surrounded by family, advisers and weathly people who are Jewish, Trump is in such big trouble and acts in such an erratic manner that the Israeli government cannot be certain of his support over the long term.
The chances that the American administration will advance a coherent “Deal of the Century” peace plan with the Palestinians now seems to be minimal, similar to the possibility that Trump will suddenly reconcile with the Iranians, in the same way he fell in love with the North Korean dictator – and in the same breath he announced, without any foundation, the end of Pyongyang’s nuclear threat. But it is simply impossible to know when it comes to Trump – and the decision makers in Jerusalem need to take into account the increased sphere of uncertainty in which they are operating.
The Kurds have the real right to complain
The Israeli disappointment is just another relatively small matter compared to the betrayal that the Kurds certainly feel, after they sacrificed thousands of their fighters to aid the American campaign against the Islamic State, and will now remain without any military support to fall back on in Syria.
In comparison, the U.S. retreat from Syria has been received with satisfaction in the broad camp that supported the Bashar Assad regime in the Syrian civil war, led by Russia and Iran. Russian President Vladimir Putin can, for now, consider his Syrian adventure to be an impressive success.
Assessments heard in the Israeli defense establishment, to the effect that Russia would sink deep into the mire in Syria, a sort of Russian Vietnam (or another Afghanistan for Moscow), were proven wrong. Putin’s decision in September 2015 to send two squadrons of Russian combat planes to help out Syrian President Bashar Assad has paid off. It tipped the balance in the civil war in favor of the regime, which at the time was on the verge of collapse, and later it shored up Moscow’s international standing.
Prof. Dmitry Adamsky, from the School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, is one of the outstanding analysts of Russian strategy. In a policy paper, “Moscow’s Syria Campaign: Russian Lessons for the Art of Strategy,” published recently by independent French think tank IFRI, Adamsky describes the deep influence of Russian military involvement in Syria on “Russian strategic thought and operational art.”
Moscow entered the campaign in Syria for a combination of reasons: Defending its ally (Assad); preserving its assets (most important of them, maintaining control of the port of Tartus on the Mediterranean Sea); striking the Islamic jihadists, some of whom came from its neighboring countries in Central Asia; attempting to improve its international and regional position; and diverting attention from its moves in Crimea and in eastern Ukraine.
Adamsky identifies three Russian strategic principles that were played out in Syria. The first principle is preserving friction at a high, but controlled level, which allows Moscow to strengthen its status as a broker in its contact with all the parties, all of whom need the Russians. Russia was part of the problem in Syria, but is also part of the solution. The contacts it kept with all the sides gave it an advantage in its competition with the Americans. In every conflict, Russia will work to underscore the limits power of each of the parties and their dependence on the Kremlin, writes Adamsky.
It should be noted that these are the principles implemented in Russia’s contacts with Israel, too: First establishing a hot line to prevent aerial confrontations between planes from both countries, and later – recently – the cold shoulder Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received from Putin after the Ilyushin spy plane was shot down by Syrian antiaircraft fire.
The second principle, according to Adamsky, is the avoidance of what the Russians view as the greatest danger, the uncontrolled expansion of the campaign – what the Americans call “mission creep,” a mission that gradually exceeds its original scope. The third principle is preserving strategic flexibility, while remaining aware of the limits of their power and while implementing rapid adaptations when they are necessary.
Putin has reasons to be satisfied by Russia’s strategy, says Adamsky. It is not just the fact that Russia succeeded in stabilizing the Assad regime, but also that the cost of the war, in both casualties and money, was reasonable as far as the Russians were concerned. Their regional and international status was bolstered, military officers gained operational experience and the troops managed a complex campaign filled with intelligence and technology, in which Russia tested the validity of new combat doctrines and displayed its military capabilities and its modern weapons systems, for all to see in the international arena.

Caroline Glick: Trump’s decision to pull forces out of Syria has upsides
تعليق من جيرازولم بوست بقلم كارولين غليك: إيجابيات قرار ترامب سحب القوات الأميركية من سوريا

Caroline Glick/Jerusalem Post/December 21/18
On its face, Trump’s announcement that he is pulling US forces out of Syria seems like an unfriendly act toward Israel. But it isn’t.
On its face, President Donald Trump’s announcement that he is pulling US forces out of Syria seems like an unfriendly act towards Israel. But it isn’t. Trump’s decision to pull US forces out of Syria is of a piece with outgoing US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley’s address on Tuesday to the UN Security Council regarding the Palestinian conflict with Israel. Both statements reflect the depths of the administration’s friendship and support for the State of Israel.
In Haley’s speech at the Security Council’s monthly meeting concerning the Palestinians’ conflict with Israel she decried the “UN’s obsession with Israel.”
Haley noted that the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians has failed for 50 years. And she said that it is time to try something new. She enjoined her “Arab and European brothers and sisters” to move beyond the “failed talking points” that formed the basis of the failed peace plans of the past half century.
Haley’s address intuited a key point that has never been raised by a senior US official. The “peace process” which has been ongoing between Israel and the PLO since 1993 is antithetical to actual peace.
Consequently, any effort to achieve actual peace between Israel and the Palestinians requires the abandonment of the “peace process.”
Haley made this clear by acknowledging that Israel has far less to gain and much more to lose from the peace process than the Palestinians do.
In her words, “Israel wants a peace agreement, but it doesn’t need one.”
“Both sides would benefit tremendously from a peace agreement. But the Palestinians would benefit more and the Israelis would risk more,” Haley said.
She added that if efforts to achieve peace were to fail, “Israel would continue to grow and prosper.”
The Palestinians on the other hand, “would continue to suffer.”
Haley’s insight puts paid the popular claim that Israel’s survival depends on the establishment of a Palestinian state in Judea, Samaria, Gaza and northern, eastern and southern Jerusalem. For years, pro-Palestinian forces have insisted that their demand that Israel surrender its capital and its heartland to the PLO is actually a pro-Israel position. Indeed, they say, anyone who rejects it is anti-Israel.
Haley exposed their conceit. “It would be foolish for [Israel] to make a deal that weakened its security,” she insisted.
The ambassador argued in favor of the administration’s still unpublished peace plan based on the plan’s rejection of the peace process’s “unspecific and unimaginative guidelines.” The administration’s plan is promising she said, because it is based on reality – or in her words, because it “recognizes [that] the realities on the ground in the Middle East have changed... in very powerful and important ways.”
HALEY ENCOURAGED the Europeans and Arabs to make a choice “between a hopeful future that sheds the tired, old and unrealistic demands of the past or a darker future that sticks with the proven-failed talking points of the past.”
That is, she told them to abandon the catechisms of the peace process in favor of a path that is based on the realities she outlined in her speech: Israel doesn’t need peace and it won’t sacrifice its security to achieve one. The Palestinians need peace more than Israel does and they should be willing to make sacrifices to achieve it.
The European response to Haley’s speech showed just how stark a departure her speech – and the Trump administration’s general vision for resolving the Palestinian conflict with Israel – is from everything we have experienced since 1993.
The eight European members of the Security Council – France, Britain, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, Belgium, Germany and Italy – issued a joint statement rebuking her. They warned the administration that any peace plan that would disregard “internationally agreed parameters… would risk being condemned to failure.”
The European statement continued, “The EU is truly convinced that the achievement of the two-state solution based on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as the capital of both States – that meets Israeli and Palestinian security needs and Palestinian aspirations for statehood and sovereignty, ends the occupation and resolves all final status issues in accordance with Security Council Resolution 2234 and previous agreements – is the only viable and realistic way to end the conflict and to achieve a just and lasting peace.”
They then enjoined the US to get back to the business of putting the screws on Israel to agree to these “parameters,” stating that the EU “will continue to work towards that end with both parties and its regional and international partners.”
Trump and his advisers are unlikely to be swayed by the European threats. After all, if they had been trying to make the Europeans like them, they would have just continued the foreign policy of their predecessors. The EU’s rebuke of Haley was important not because it impacted the administration’s determination to abandon a quarter century of failure in favor of reality-based success – it was important because it showed just how far away the Trump administration has walked from the failures of its predecessors.
THIS BRINGS us to Syria and Trump’s sudden announcement that he is pulling all US forces out of the embattled country. How are we to understand a move that seems to advance the interests of all of the US’s worst enemies at the expense of its closest allies?
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US forces were first deployed to Syria in 2014 as part of an international anti-Islamic-State coalition. At the time, then president Barack Obama was engaged in negotiations with the Iranian regime toward the nuclear deal.
Obama’s embrace of Iran was part of an overall strategic realignment of the US away from its traditional Sunni Arab allies and Israel toward Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood. As Obama’s deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told an audience of pro-Obama activists at the time, Obama viewed his embrace of Iran through nuclear talks as the central policy of his second term.
Since Sunni ISIS was perceived as hostile to Shi’ite Iran, by fighting ISIS, Obama was achieving two goals: He was helping Iran by getting rid of a powerful adversary in Iraq and Syria, and he was selling the idea to the American public that Iran was their ally in a common war against ISIS.
US forces in Syria were given a very narrow mandate. They were prohibited from taking any action against Iran or Iranian-backed forces.
For the past two years, the Trump administration has continued implementing Obama’s pro-Iran policy in Syria. Efforts to change the US mission have failed, largely due to Pentagon opposition. During his visit to Israel in August, National Security Advisor John Bolton said that the mission of US forces had been expanded to block Iran from asserting control over Syria. But since the administration didn’t request a new mandate from Congress, the mission remained officially what it has been since 2014.
It is true that on the ground, the US forces in Syria do far more than fight ISIS. They block Iran from controlling the Syrian border with Iraq and so prevent Iran from controlling a land route from Tehran to the Mediterranean Sea.
US forces also have blocked Turkey from taking over Syrian Kurdistan and have prevented Turkish President Recep Erdogan from carrying out his pledge to destroy the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces. If the US chooses not to arm and supply the SDF, once the Americans leave, Syria’s Kurds – America’s only loyal allies there – will either have to cut a deal with Russia and Iran or face Turkey alone.
US forces in Syria also block Russia from taking over Syria’s oil fields. On February 7, forty US Special Forces troops blocked hundreds of Russian mercenaries from seizing the Conoco oil field on the eastern side of the Euphrates.
Finally, US forces in Syria act as a deterrent against Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah aggression against Israel. With US forces on the ground, they fear that provoking a war with Israel will be tantamount to going to war against America. With US forces out of Syria, their fear of attacking Israel will diminish.
BUT THERE ARE two significant upsides to the US move which together outweigh the downside, at least as far as Israel is concerned.
First, by leaving Syria, the US is abandoning Obama’s pro-Iranian policy once and for all. Further indication that this is part of a far-reaching strategic shift rather than a dangerous move by an impulsive president came with a Hadashot News report Wednesday night that senior US officials told Israel this week that Washington will align its policy towards Lebanon and the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) with Israel’s position if Hezbollah receives a larger role in the next Lebanese government than it enjoyed in the previous one.
Hezbollah and its allies won a majority of the seats in May’s parliamentary elections. Negotiations towards a new government have been deadlocked over Hezbollah’s demands for expanded portfolios.
Obama’s Lebanon policy – to support the Hezbollah-controlled Lebanese government and the LAF – was part of his overall policy to empower Iran at the expense of Israel and the Sunni Arab states. Until now, guided by the Pentagon, the Trump administration has maintained this policy, much to Israel’s distress.
The advantage Israel gains from US abandonment of the Hezbollah-controlled Lebanese government and the LAF far outweighs the blow it takes from the withdrawal of US forces from Syria. If the US abandons its support for the LAF and the Lebanese government, Israel will be able to defeat Hezbollah in war.
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement Thursday morning revealed the second upside of Trump’s decision.
Netanyahu said: “We will continue to act in Syria to prevent Iran’s effort to militarily entrench itself against us. We are not reducing our efforts; we will increase our efforts.”
He added that, “I know that we do so with the full support and backing of the US.”
If the US backs Israel in war against Iran and Hezbollah by, among other things, deterring Russia and Turkey from getting involved; defending Israel at the UN; and supplying it with the weapons and other indirect support it needs to succeed – and it gives Israel a green light to attack the Hezbollah-controlled Lebanese government and military – then Trump’s move represents a full abandonment of Obama’s anti-Israel, pro-Iranian policies.
Haley explained on Tuesday that, “The world must know that America will remain steadfast in our support of Israel, its people and its security. That is an unshakable bond between our two peoples. And it is that bond – more than anything else – that makes peace possible.”
By abandoning the anti-Israel fake “peace process” and striking out on a new path based on reality, and by walking away from Obama’s pro-Iran policies in Syria and Lebanon and backing Israel in its efforts to defeat its enemies, the Trump administration is demonstrating what pro-Israel really means. So long as it is true to its word, Israel is safer and stronger for it.

Why Trump Can’t Be Airbrushed Out of the Picture

Amir Taheri/Asharq Al-Awsat/December, 21/18
As the American political elite head for Christmas holidays, the buzz in Washington circles is that 2019 will start with fresh attempts at curtailing the Trump presidency or, failing that, preventing Donald Trump’s re-election in 2020. Amateurs of the conspiracy theory may suggest that the whole thing may be a trap set by the Trump camp to keep the president’s opponents chained to a strategy doomed to failure.
By devoting almost all of their energies to attacking Trump personally and praying that the Muller probe may open the way for impeachment, the president’s opponents, starting with the Democrat Party leadership have shut down debate about key issues of economic, social and foreign policy, issues that matter to the broader public. Reducing all politics to a simple “Get Trump!’ slogan makes them a one-trick pony that may amuse people for a while but is unlikely to go very far.
Despite sensational daily headlines furnished by the Muller soap opera, there is little chance of the impeachment strategy to get anywhere close to success. And even if the pro-impeachment lobby succeeds in triggering the process it is unlikely that this would lead to Trump’s removal from office. In fact, out of the 45 men who have served as President of the United States only two, Andrew Jackson and Bill Clinton faced formal impeachment procedures, but neither was driven out of office.
Two others, Richard Nixon and John Tyler came close to being impeached but managed not to face the music in the end. Nixon resigned and Tyler dodged by not seeking re-election. With impeachment unlikely, Trump’s opponents may be looking for other ways of terminating his tenure at the White House. One way is to exert so much psychological pressure that he decides to regain his tranquillity by resigning. However, apart from Nixon’s special case, the resignation has never been a feature of the American presidential history.
In any case, Trump looks like the last man on earth to opt for the humiliation of entering history as a quitter. A third way to get rid of Trump is to persuade the Republican Party not to nominate him for a second term. At first, a glance that may look like a credible option if only because the main body of the Republican Party has never warmed up to Trump.
In fact, calling Trump a Republican President may be more of a verbal conceit than an accurate depiction of reality. In the mid-term elections last November some Republican senators and congressmen insisted that Trump should stay away from their campaigns. Some who did lose their seats may have regretted their decision as Trump proved to be in command of his own support base beyond the Republican Party.
The anti-Trump section of the US media is desperate to find at least one Republican figure capable of challenging the incumbent president in the coming nomination contest. So far, however, none of the putative knights-in-shining-armors field by the anti-Trump media has succeeded in making an impression. In any case, there are only five cases in which an incumbent president failed to win re-nomination by his party. Of these, four were men who had inherited the presidency after the death of the president.
One was the already mentioned John Tyler who became president after the death of President William Henry Harrison. Tyler became president in 1841 following the death of William Henry Harrison. Another was Millard Fillmore who entered the White House after the death of President Zachary Taylor.
The third on the list was the already mentioned Andrew Jackson who not only failed to secure re-nomination but also narrowly escaped impeachment. The fourth was Chester Arthur who took over after the assassination of President James Garfield. He was ditched when he launched an anti-graft campaign that alienated many within his own party. Only one sitting president who had won the first term failed to secure re-nomination by his party.
He was Franklin Pierce whose demise came in exceptional circumstances created by the division over the issue of slavery as the nation moved towards the War of Secession. Today, none of those conditions obtain in the United States and the Republican Party and the possibility of a palace revolt against the incumbent seems remote. Some of Trump’s opponents publicly pray that he might foreswear a second term because of poor health. However, though he has entered his eight-decade, Trump shows no signs of physical fatigue let alone serious illness leading to possible incapacitation. During the mid-term election, this septuagenarian was capable of flying from one end of the American mass to the other in a single day to address half a dozen public meetings.
That political power may act as an aphrodisiac and doping agent has been known at least since the time of the great Xerxes whose only regret was that, in 100 years, none in his million-man army will be alive. There is no doubt that Trump thrives on power and despite the extra kilos he has gained in the past two years still sees himself as a long distance runner. The mistake that Trump’s opponents made from the start, and some still continue to make, is to underestimate him and dismiss his appeal to wide segments of society as an aberration.
However, he has managed to question the political agenda by questioning the so-called Washington Consensus that led to globalization with all benefits and drawbacks. In his unorthodox manner, Trump has put a number of burning issues back on the agenda.
These include the widening income gap in the United States, the unintended, and unexpected, consequences of outsourcing, and the disequilibrium created by signing trade agreements with countries with different labor laws, and environmental and health and safety standards. In foreign policy, Trump has managed to pass on an important message: don’t take American heavy lifting for granted! More importantly, Trump has persuaded millions of Americans excluded or self-excluded from the political arena to end their isolation and demand a meaningful in collective decision-making. Thus, for the time being at least, air-brushing Trump out of the picture is a forlorn task.

The EU’s Misguided Policy on Iran

David Ibsen/Asharq Al-Awsat/December, 21/18
Many EU policymakers are deeply resentful of President Trump’s decision to leave the Iran nuclear deal. This resentment has fueled several shortsighted proposals that will only harm EU businesses and institutions.
This approach to Iran, championed by High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Frederica Mogherini, is increasingly discordant with the direction taken by national governments in Europe. Foreign ministers in the Council have said that they will examine imposing sanctions on the Iranian regime, while the Danish government has called for stronger action. Furthermore, the implementation of these misguided schemes has been stifled by unenthusiastic European business leaders, whose consent and cooperation are necessary to put most of the plans into motion. Apparently, European business leaders believe they know what’s best when it comes to matters of European business. For example, despite efforts by EU politicians to keep trade flowing to Tehran, countless European entities – including Renault, Volkswagen, Total, Siemens, and even long-time holdouts like Volvo – have all announced plans to vacate their Iran business and trade relationships.
In a more recent example, the Brussels-based financial messaging service SWIFT last month announced it was disconnecting Iranian banks from its system, greatly inhibiting Iran’s ability to do business. Like other European businesses, SWIFT resisted short-sighted demands of EU policymakers and relied on its own judgment and risk evaluation to decide how to proceed.By contrast, EU politicians – led by Mogherini in Brussels and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in Berlin – have pushed myopic schemes that effectively force European entities to engage in Iran activities that they simply do not want.
In a speech in late August, Maas proposed that the EU establish payment channels independent of the US, and a European monetary fund, with the express goal of circumventing US sanctions on Iran.
Not to be upstaged, Mogherini engineered the passage of a blocking mechanism prohibiting EU companies from complying with US sanctions and a €50 million package, charged to the European taxpayer, to compensate the Iranian regime for lost trade revenue. What Mogherini and Maas refuse to acknowledge is that irrespective of US sanctions, EU business leaders are independently arriving at the conclusion that the challenges and risks of operating in Iran far outweigh any benefit or financial gain.
The basic logic underpinning the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the Iran nuclear deal is formally known, was that Iran would receive relief from sanctions in exchange for placing restrictions on its nuclear program. But European entities and taxpayers should not be forced to pay-up to sustain this crumbling construct, especially given that Iran uses the very profits gleaned from European trade and business activity to fund terrorism on European soil.
While EU politicians such Mogherini are working hard to increase business links, national governments in Europe are beginning to take a stand. On Monday 19 November, foreign ministers in the Council agreed to examine possible sanctions on the regime in response to the overt aggression displayed in Denmark and France. Mogherini’s own plan to circumvent US sanctions has also run into roadblocks in the form of EU member state governments. The success of her blocking mechanism depends on a European country being willing to host the vehicle delivering it.
This, however, has proved impossible so far: no country has accepted Mogherini’s albatross, presumably because they know just how negatively it will impact their relationship with the US. This fact, combined with the onset of re-imposed US sanctions and Iran’s record of support for terrorism in Europe and worldwide, should compel remaining European businesses to leave Iran. There is no justification for Europeans to provide goods or services that help the Iranian regime fund terror attacks in Europe. A clear-eyed evaluation should lead any responsible actor to steer clear of Iran – the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and the bankroller of slaughter and misery in Syria. European political resentment over the failure of the JCPOA will eventually fade – but the costs and the stigma for businesses and commercial entities working with the brutal Iranian regime may not.

Asia Bibi’s Case Reveals Islamists’ True Colors
Martha F. Lee/The American Spectator/December 21/18’s-case-reveals-islamists’-true-colors
This past October, the Pakistani Supreme Court overturned the death sentence of Asia Bibi, a Christian Pakistani woman who had spent eight years on death row after being convicted of blasphemy. Following her acquittal, extremist groups across Pakistan, including the prominent Islamist movement Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), violently protested against the decision and called for Bibi to be executed. Islamists have reportedly been going “house to house” to track down her family.
After striking a deal with leading Islamist parties, the Pakistani government has prevented Bibi from leaving Pakistan. Now, her husband has appealed to the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. to provide the Bibi family with asylum. But while dozens of organizations across the United States have expressed their support for Bibi and the asylum request, there is one group that remains conspicuously silent: the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA).
ICNA is usually a regular commentator on events in South Asia — mourning the death of prominent Islamists in Bangladesh, or condemning jihadist violence against religious minorities in Pakistan. ICNA is also involved in the discussion of asylum rights and immigration reform. In June 2018, the organization denounced the “Muslim Ban 3.0” and reaffirmed its support of all “efforts to bring justice in our legal system.” ICNA officials have even taken part in the recent demonstrations over America’s border with Mexico. ICNA’s own former president Naeem Baig was filmed at the San Diego border expressing the organization’s support for migrants and the message that “love knows no borders.”
But when we asked ICNA if it supports Asia Bibi’s acquittal and her asylum request, ICNA refused to respond.
What might explain this silence on the part of an organization seemingly so dedicated to the support of refugees and migrants? While ICNA may appear enmeshed in immigration activism and other progressive campaigns, its roots actually lie in the same extremist JI movement in Pakistan that has been campaigning for Bibi’s killing. Apparently, ICNA’s loyalty continues to lie with JI as well.
For some years, ICNA was led by Ashraf Uzzaman Khan, a prominent JI activist who was convicted of war crimes in 2013 for his role in the murders of civilians during Bangladesh’s war of independence, in which JI fighters assisted the Pakistani army with the rape and murder of thousands of Bangladeshis. In the decades following the massacres, JI’s violence has continued, and in 2017, the U.S. designated JI Pakistan’s “militant wing,” Hizbul Mujahideen, as a terrorist organization.
Still, ICNA remains closely linked to JI. ICNA’s youth division website promotes the books of JI founder and Islamist theorist Abul A’la Maududi, whose ideas influenced Muslim Brotherhood theorist Sayyid Qutb and, later, terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda. Yusuf Islahi, a leader of JI’s Indian affiliate (JI Hind), has been an invited speaker at ICNA conventions.
In addition, ICNA established two aid charities which are both tied to Jaamat-e-Islami: ICNA Relief and Helping Hand for Relief and Development (HHRD). HHRD openly funds Jamaat-e-Islami’s charitable arm in Pakistan. And in 2017, HHRD organized a conference in Pakistan with the designated Pakistani terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Salafi-jihadist group responsible for the deadly Mumbai attacks in 2008. HHRD’s Chairman, Mohsin Ansari, is an alumnus of Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (IJT), the student wing of JI’s branch in Pakistan. Over the past month, thousands of students from IJT have been very involved in the protests against Bibi’s acquittal.
Just like ICNA, HHRD has also refused to provide comment on Asia Bibi’s case.
Charities tied to the Muslim Brotherhood — another Islamist network that has a long history of a close partnership with JI — have also failed to offer support for Bibi. Islamic Relief — which was founded by senior Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood official Essam El Hadddad — is also closely involved with immigration activism in North America. But when asked to comment on her case, an Islamic Relief spokesperson refused to mention Bibi at all, only saying that Islamic Relief supports giving “people a voice to control their destiny and encourages policies that helps foster human rights, civility, and success.”
This noncommittal response can also be explained by Islamic Relief’s own ties to extremism and to JI itself. Islamic Relief has been banned as a terror organization by the UAE, because of its links to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. In 2017, the Bangladeshi government also banned Islamic Relief from providing aid to Rohingya refugees, citing concerns about radicalization. Most recently, Islamic Relief published praise of its leading activist in Pakistan, Khalid Mirza, who just so happens to be a prominent leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami branch in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi.
For years, Muslim organizations in America have been at the forefront of the movement for more progressive immigration policies. ICNA and Islamic Relief both showcase their work for refugees on their websites, and have promoted rallies and demonstrations led by progressive, pro-immigration crowds. Islamic Relief insists that refugees do not leave willingly and that “the choice to leave home is excruciating,” while ICNA regularly posts articles chronicling its efforts to assist refugees.
But these prominent American Islamist organizations do not appear keen to extend all this progressive rhetoric to Asia Bibi, whose life is in total, irrefutable danger, as JI and other Islamist movements actively and violently campaign for her execution. Islamist silence over Bibi confirms that the progressive values professed by organizations such as ICNA are nothing more than a facade, and that the loyalty of these groups lies not with liberal causes in the West, but with extremists in South Asia.
**Martha Lee is a writer for Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.

US leaves Syria — what is next?
Sinem Cengiz/Arab News/December 21/18
As we approach the end of 2018, there is no sign that the Syrian war, or the resulting refugee crisis, will end anytime soon. Nor will they as long as the conflict remains a proxy battle between regional and global actors.
But there was a significant turning point this week when UN envoy Staffan de Mistura made major progress in the creation of a council charged with writing a new constitution for Syria. The foreign ministers of Turkey, Russia and Iran attended the meeting, as did representatives from the Syrian regime and the opposition. Although past experience has shown the difficulty of pleasing all parties to the conflict, these recent efforts are a milestone and a big reason for hope, particularly when considering how many Syrians have been killed and displaced. Moreover, it is a very important sign that everyone wants a political solution. In 2019, it seems we will see further close cooperation between Ankara, Tehran and Moscow, the guarantors of the Astana peace process. This week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani paid an official visit to Ankara upon the invitation of his Turkish counterpart. Rouhani, who attended the fifth session of the Turkey-Iran Cooperation Council, hailed close bilateral ties. “We will discuss means of enhancing ties and overcoming the obstacles to achieving that goal,” he said. “Turkey is extremely important to Iran.”The US military withdrawal from Syria is a big win for Turkey, Russia, Iran, the Syrian regime and Daesh.
Among all the efforts to end the conflict in Syria, the Astana process has been the most concrete. Credit should be given to Ankara, Tehran and Moscow in this regard. Though not much hope was placed on it when it was initiated in January 2017 due to the shaky UN-led Geneva process, the Astana process has succeeded in reducing violence, paving the way for political talks.
Closer cooperation between Turkey, Iran and Russia has weakened the US, which this week announced its military withdrawal from Syria. This is a big win for Turkey, Russia, Iran, the Syrian regime and Daesh, which has not yet been defeated completely and still controls areas in Syria. The US decision comes as Ankara is preparing to send troops into Syria to take on Kurdish terrorists that it considers a threat to Turkey’s national security. For the past four years, Ankara and Washington were at odds due to the latter’s support for the Syrian-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the fight against Daesh. Though US-Turkish relations might improve after Washington’s decision to withdraw, its alliance with the Kurds led to lost Turkish trust.
“The US presence in Syria went beyond its purpose and became another theater for proxy games in the region,” said Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin. One could not agree more. We are entering 2019 with the emergence of a new order in Syria that will shape the entire region.
*Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkey’s relations with the Middle East. Twitter: @SinemCngz

Trump’s Syria bombshell
Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/December 21/18
As usual American President Donald Trump changed the global scene with one unexpected decision.Trump decided to withdraw all American troops from East of the Euphrates in Syria – the troops which along with their local ally that consists of a gathering of Kurds and Arab tribes formed a barrier between Iranian militias and geographic communication with the rest of their gangs in the Mediterranean.
America’s presence in the Syrian East, or the Northeast to be accurate, raised the slogan of fighting and eliminating ISIS as well as combating Iranian poisonous activity.
Trump said his decision is not surprising as he is simply fulfilling a promise he made and he had previously decided to withdraw US troops from Syria but he waited based on the generals’ advice. He’s honest about this and we all remember the story.
However, what’s confusing is that the scene has not changed so why the “haste” in withdrawing from Syria? Is there a clear or new excuse? ISIS is still present and Iran’s incendiary activities, both the apparent and the clandestine ones, are increasing. So what changed?
Let’s listen to Trump’s explanation and which is actually an interesting explanation. Trump said on Twitter: “Getting out of Syria was no surprise. I’ve been campaigning on it for years,” adding: “Russia, Iran, Syria & others are the local enemy of ISIS.”
What can be understood from this is let the Russians, Iranians and Bashar’s bunch wallow in the mud with ISIS as ISIS is not only the Americans’ enemy.
It’s a strange decision and the American official public justification that the “mission has been accomplished” cannot be accepted unless there are other secret justifications with the Turks or Russians
Pentagon remark
Away from these Trump’s hot-headed remarks, the US Defense Department (the Pentagon) statement was more realistic as it tried to justify the withdrawal decision. The statement noted: “The campaign against ISIS is not over.”
Meanwhile, there is a man observing the scene of America’s withdrawal with the eyes of a hawk. It’s Vladimir Putin who after praising Trump’s “wisdom” said: “As far as the withdrawal of US troops is concerned, I really don't understand what it's about, because the US has been present for some 17 years in Afghanistan," adding that the Americans are “still talking about withdrawing them, but they haven't done it yet."
Does the decision “betray” the local allies that consist of the Syrian Democratic Forces? This is what the forces’ official statement stipulates but Kamal Akef, an official spokesperson, said there was a new arrangement to establish a new security base!
Of course Israel frankly announced that the threat in Syria is not limited to ISIS as there is the Iranian global threat as Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett and member of the state security cabinet said.
It’s a strange decision and the American official public justification that the “mission has been accomplished” cannot be accepted unless there are other secret justifications with the Turks or Russians or to implicate them, as Trump said. Who knows?

Houthi retreat from Hodeidah: Beginning of the end?
Mohammed Al Shaikh/Al Arabiya/December 21/18
In my view, the liberation of Hodeidah from the Houthis and the latter’s withdrawal from it are a very important sign, not only for Yemen but for the Middle East as a whole.
As it is known to everyone, Houthis are only one of Iran’s many arms in the region, as ever since their coup till the talks in Sweden, the decision to go to war or to make peace was never their own.
A significant sign
Such decisions are made by Tehran. Even the funding and weaponry for them comes from Iran. What was reached in Sweden means that the Iranians have back down from their expansionist strategy. Ignore what Qatar and Hezbollah say as they are very well-aware that Iran had complied and accepted in Sweden what it had rejected in Geneva and Kuwait and that Iran did not willingly accept to relinquish Hodeidah.
Future events may prove that I am right. Iran’s retreat in Yemen and submitting to the decisions of legitimacy presents the first glimmer of hope for countries in the region. It is a sign that Iran’s control over Baghdad, Beirut and Damascus will advance to reach the phase of upcoming concessions. In the end, Iran does not care about Yemen but it’s trying so hard to rescue as much as it can of its foreign political investments in the region.
The US economic blockade has started to suffocate it and has made the Houthis accept what they previously opposed. No matter how much Iran’s mullahs and their agents deny it; the fact that the Houthis have abandoned Hodeidah is a defeat for them.
Someone might say: how do you consider their withdrawal from Hodeidah as a defeat, while they are still in control of the capital Sana’a? Iran’s grip over Hodeidah port was a means by which it controlled the Red Sea, with which the West reaches out to the East through the Suez Canal. In addition, the Houthis cannot continue receiving supplies, except through Hodeidah. Thus, giving away the port of Hodeidah is much more important than their control over Sana’a.
If the Iranians had not really felt how serious the world is about liberating Yemen of their influence, they would not have given up Hodeidah against their will.
Economic sanctions on Iran have put the country in the worst situation since Khomeini’s revolution. It could not resist the pressure being imposed on it on all sides
Sanctions bite
What is important now for Saudi Arabia is that the Houthis hand over all their medium and heavy weaponry to the legitimate state so the Kingdom does not have a militia similar to the gangs of Hezbollah neighboring it, especially that Iran’s attempt to replicate Hezbollah’s experiment in Yemen has failed.
The economic sanctions on Iran have put the country in the worst situation since Khomeini’s revolution. It could not resist the pressure being imposed on it on all sides. Iran’s agents in Iraq are in their worst condition. Many indicators show that their influence in Iraq is diminishing.
The Russians had previously allied with Iran at the beginning of the Syrian crisis, but now they have changed their position because Iran’s presence in Syria does not serve their interests, as Russia considers its relation with Israel more important than its relation with Iran. The Israelis are pressing Russian diplomacy to keep the Iranian monster away from their borders.
Meanwhile, Iran’s presence in Lebanon is facing real challenges, not only inside Lebanon, but also in view of the tunnels dug by Hezbollah on the Israeli border, a situation that might blow up at any moment. The Houthis’ defeat in Hodeidah is the beginning to defeat them in the region. As for what lies beneath, it indicates that Iran’s control has begun to recede gradually and that former US President Obama’s project which gave the Iranians unprecedented power and influence has failed.

Modesty is A Grace From Almighty
الياس بجاني: التواضع نعمة ربانية
Elias Bejjani/December 21/12/18

The IDF must cut short tunnel operation, get set for repercussions from Trump’s stunning Syria withdrawal
موقع دبكا: على الجيش الإسرائيلي وضع عملية الأنفاق جانياً والتعامل مع انعكاسات انسحاب ترامب المذهل من سوريا

DEBKAfile/December 21/18

Analysis/Attack Tunnels on the Israel-Lebanon Border Are Only a Prelude to the Real Hezbollah Threat
تحليل سياسي من الهآرتس بقلم عاموس هاريل: ضرب الأنفاق على الحدود الإسرائيلية-اللبنانية هو مجرد مقدمة لمواجهة خطر حزب الله الحقيقي

Amos Harel/Haaretz/December 21/18

Caroline Glick: Trump’s decision to pull forces out of Syria has upsides
تعليق من جيرازولم بوست بقلم كارولين غليك: إيجابيات قرار ترامب سحب القوات الأميركية من سوريا

Caroline Glick/Jerusalem Post/December 21/18

Analysis/Syria Pullout: Israel Left With False Russian Promises and a Volatile U.S. President
تحليل سياسي من الهآرتس بقلم عاموس هاريل: الإنسحاب الأميركي من سوريا يضع إسرائيل بمواجهة وعود روسية كاذبة ورئيس أميركي متقلب

Amos Harel/Haaretz/December 21/18