December 24/18

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For today
Glory to God in the highest,on earth peace, good will toward men
Luke 02/01-14/Now in those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment made when Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to enroll themselves, everyone to his own city. 4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to David’s city, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to enroll himself with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him as wife, being pregnant. While they were there, the day had come for her to give birth. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a feeding trough, because there was no room for them in the inn. 8 There were shepherds in the same country staying in the field, and keeping watch by night over their flock. Behold, an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. The angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be to all the people. For there is born to you today, in David’s city, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This is the sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth, lying in a feeding trough.” Suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good will toward men.”

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on December 23-24/18
Hariri: Sometimes Silence is Necessary
March 8 'Blames Bassil' for Adra Hurdle as New Obstacles Emerge
Pro-Hizbullah MPs Withdraw Backing for Adra as Their Representative in Cabinet
Scuffles, Roads Blocked as Beirut Protesters Denounce Living Conditions
Rahi to address Christmas message from Bkirki on Monday
Protesters roam the streets of AlMina on motorcycles
Maronite Patriarch Stresses Need for Government of Neutral Specialists
Ghosn Detention Extended over Christmas and New Year
Syrian Refugees in Lebanon Stay Put despite Hardships
Ignorance, the enemy of Lebanon

Titles For The Latest  English LCCC  Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 23-24/18
Trump, Netanyahu Discuss Iranian Role in Region
US Sanctions Halt New Iran Food Deals
Netanyahu Seeks to Calm Israeli Concerns over Trump's Syria Pullout
Hamas Rejects Abbas Plan to Dissolve Palestinian Parliament
Turkey, Israel in New War of Words
Macron Calls for Order after 'Yellow Vest' Attack on Police
U.S. Envoy to Anti-IS Coalition Resigns after Trump's Syria Decision
Head of U.N. Monitors Arrives in Yemen's Sanaa

Titles For The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 23-24/18
Ghosn Detention Extended over Christmas and New Year/Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 23/18
Syrian Refugees in Lebanon Stay Put despite Hardships/Associated Press/Naharnet/December 23/18
Ignorance, the enemy of Lebanon/Khairallah Khairallah/Al Arabiya/December 23/18
Macron Calls for Order after 'Yellow Vest' Attack on Police/Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 23/18
A Multiple-Choice Brexit/John Micklethwait/Bloomberg/December, 23/2018
New Revelation: Previous US Administration Facilitated Christian Genocide in Nigeria/Raymond Ibrahim/Gatestone Institute/December 23/18
Can Assad be trusted/Nadim Koteich/Al Arabiya/December 23/18
The curious case of a US government shutdown/Walid Jawad/Al Arabiya/December 23/18
The diplomatic overtures of Jordan and Syria/Shehab Al-Makahleh/Al Arabiya/December 23/18
The Iranian regime this year and next/Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/December 23/18
America showers Tehran, Ankara and Moscow with Christmas gifts/Baria Alamuddin/Arab News/December 23/18
How ‘America first’ could put America last/Cornelia Meyer/Arab News/December 23/18

Latest LCCC English Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on December 23-24/18
Hariri: Sometimes Silence is Necessary
Naharnet/December 23/18/Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri on Sunday posted a tweet about the stalled government formation process. “Sometimes silence is necessary so that the others listen,” said Hariri in a brief tweet. The PM-designate was apparently expressing dismay over the successive hurdles that have delayed the formation of the new government. The parties had wrangled for months over Christian and Druze representation in the new cabinet before the emergence of a new row over the representation of six pro-Hizbullah Sunni MPs.Other obstacles have also surfaced after some parties demanded a redistribution of some portfolios.

March 8 'Blames Bassil' for Adra Hurdle as New Obstacles Emerge

Naharnet/December 23/18/The March 8 forces have put the blame on Free Patriotic Movement chief MP Jebran Bassil for the latest setback in the cabinet formation process, media reports said. “Bassil insisted on considering the candidate Jawad Adra as a member of his ministerial bloc, which eventually pushed the Consultative Gathering to withdraw its nomination of Adra,” sources informed on the formation process told Asharq al-Awsat daily in remarks published Sunday. The Consultative Gathering is a grouping of six pro-Hizbullah Sunni MPs. Adra’s nomination as a consensus candidate came as an attempt to resolve a long-running standoff over the representation of the aforementioned grouping in the government. The sources say two new obstacles have emerged. “The second obstacle is Bassil’s attempt to get a Maronite minister from the Lebanese Forces’ share, which would leave the LF with a single Maronite seat, something that has been strongly rejected by the LF,” the sources said. “The third obstacle surfaced after Bassil tried to swap portfolios in order to get the environment portfolio, a move that was met by strong rejection from Speaker Nabih Berri,” the sources added. A member of the Consultative Gathering meanwhile told Asharq al-Awsat that the grouping is “not in a hurry” to name a new candidate pending solutions to the two other obstacles. And noting that “Bassil is seeking to get 11 ministers, or a one-third veto power, in the government,” senior March 8 sources told the newspaper that Bassil has torpedoed the Adra “settlement,” accusing the FPM chief of “blocking the formation of the government for the past five months.”

Pro-Hizbullah MPs Withdraw Backing for Adra as Their Representative in Cabinet
Naharnet/December 23/18/The Consultative Gathering MPs withdrew their support for nominating Jawad Adra as a representative of the group in the new government. The announcement came after an urgent meeting the pro-Hizbullah MPs held following Adra's reported remarks that he can't "exclusively" abide by the Gathering's "condition.

Scuffles, Roads Blocked as Beirut Protesters Denounce Living Conditions
Associated Press/Naharnet/December 23/18/Clashes erupted and several Beirut roads were blocked Sunday as demonstrators took to the streets to denounce the dire social and economic situations in the country. Carrying Lebanese flags, protesters in downtown Beirut chanted ‘No Sectarianism, We All Want Health Care Cards’ and ‘The People Want to Topple The Regime’. Some protesters donned yellow vests in a move echoing the ‘yellow vest’ demonstrations that have been rocking France for several weeks now. “Organizers declared that they are not emulating the protests that are taking place in France but rather asking the Lebanese state to follow the example of the French state in raising the wages of workers and employees and slashing taxes and other fees in order to preserve the dignity of the citizen in his country,” the National News Agency reported. The first scuffles erupted at the Riad al-Solh Square after some protesters started removing metallic security barriers outside the Grand Serail while hurling water bottles at security forces. “The lawyer Abbas Srour from the civil society movement was lightly injured in the head by a water bottle hurled at security forces,” NNA said. Some protesters later headed to the nearby Tabaris and Beshara al-Khoury areas where they blocked roads and clashed with security forces. In the evening, a number of demonstrators rallied on the capital's Hamra Street in a demo that soon escalated into a confrontation with army troops and security forces. "Chanting 'Revolution', some protesters smashed the facades of some shops and money exchange firms on Hamra Street near Starbucks," the National News Agency reported. The army eventually intervened in force and managed to disperse protesters and restore calm in the area. The Army Command meanwhile issued a statement warning protesters to keep their actions peaceful, vowing to prevent any attack on public and private property. Ex-minister Wiam Wahhab meanwhile tweeted that security forces “must realize that the demands of the protesters are also their demands.”“The corrupts are the rivals of security forces the same as they are the rivals of the rest of the people,” Wahhab added. "We want a government," shouted one protester to a TV reporter. "I am here to fight against the corruption of the state. We are here to bring back our social services. We need our rights. We need to live as human beings. We need that our government respects us," said Michel al-Hajj, another protester. Sunday’s protest comes in the wake of several smaller demonstrations sparked by the death of an ill child after a hospital reportedly refused to admit him due to his parents’ failure to pay a fee of $2,000.

Rahi to address Christmas message from Bkirki on Monday
Sun 23 Dec 2018/NNA - Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Beshara Boutros al-Rahi, is expected to deliver the message of Christmas to all Lebanese at 9:30 a.m. on Monday from the Patriarchal edifice in Bkirki.

Protesters roam the streets of AlMina on motorcycles
Sun 23 Dec 2018/NNA - Tripoli - A number of young demonstrators on motorbikes roamed the streets of Al-Mina in Tripoli shouting out revolutionary slogans against injustice and corruption, amid heavy military presence along Al-Mina highway, NNA correspondent reported.

Maronite Patriarch Stresses Need for Government of Neutral Specialists 23/18/Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rahi on Sunday stressed the need for a small-scale government of non-partisan experts, noting that a Cabinet that is built on conflicts will only cause further disagreements."We are convinced of the need to form a miniature government of neutral specialists because a government that is established on a basis of divergences, even if it's called a Cabinet of national unity, will only lead to more conflicts and will submerge the people into more poverty," Al-Rahi said in his Sunday sermon in Bkirki.
“We wish for our country to be stable and to get out of the political, economic, social and livelihood crises it is facing," he added.

Ghosn Detention Extended over Christmas and New Year
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 23/18
Former Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn will be spending Christmas and the beginning of 2019 behind bars after a Tokyo court on Sunday extended his detention through to January 1. The court's decision is the latest twist in a rollercoaster saga that has gripped Japan and the business world since the auto sector titan was arrested out of the blue in Tokyo on November 19. "Today, a decision was made to detain (Ghosn). The full term of the detention will expire on January 1," the Tokyo District Court said in a statement to media. This does not however mean that Ghosn can expect to taste freedom on New Year's Day, as prosecutors can apply for a further 10-day extension as they quiz him on allegations of financial misconduct. Authorities are pursuing three separate lines of enquiry against the 64-year-old Franco-Lebanese-Brazilian executive. They suspect he conspired with his right-hand man, U.S. executive Greg Kelly, to hide away around half of his income (some five billion yen or $44 million) over five fiscal years from 2010. They also allege he under-reported his salary to the tune of four billion yen over the next three fiscal years -- apparently to avoid criticism that his pay was too high. The third allegation is that he shifted a personal investment loss made at the height of the financial crisis worth more than $16 million to the Japanese automaker with help from a Saudi acquaintance. Prosecutors have pressed formal charges over the first allegation but not yet over the other accusations.
Ghosn reportedly denies all the allegations, saying the transactions were done legally.
In connection with the third suspicion, local media say Ghosn is not contesting that payments from Nissan totaling $14.7 million went to the Saudi person, whom he has known for some three decades.But Ghosn has maintained that the money was for the person's work to help Nissan in the region.
'Betrayed his role'
Ghosn's case has seen several twists and turns since his stunning arrest on the night of November 19 as his private jet touched down at Tokyo's Haneda Airport. On Thursday, observers were caught wrong-footed as the court threw out a request from prosecutors to extend his detention over the second set of allegations (under-reporting his salary between 2015 and 2018) in an almost unheard-of move. This raised his hopes of a release in time for Christmas and he was reportedly gearing up to hold a news conference to put his side of the story for the first time. But those hopes were then dashed on Friday when prosecutors sought and obtained his re-arrest over the new accusations of breach of trust. "The accused was responsible for managing Nissan's overall operations and for dutifully fulfilling his role as CEO not to cause damage to Nissan and its subsidiaries... but he took action that betrayed his role and caused financial damage to Nissan," prosecutors alleged in a statement on Friday. Since his arrest, the once jet-setting executive has languished in a tiny cell in a detention centre in northern Tokyo, where he has complained about the cold and the rice-based menu. Ghosn has told embassy visitors he is being well treated and sources at French car giant Renault have described his frame of mind as "combative" as he fights the charges against him. His lengthy detention -- in Japan, suspects can be "re-arrested" several times over different allegations -- has sparked criticism, especially from abroad.
- Fractious alliance
After his arrest last month, Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors promptly sacked Ghosn as chairman but Renault kept him on and appointed an interim boss as it waited to assess the legal procedures against him. In addition to charges against Ghosn and Kelly, prosecutors had also indicted Nissan itself, as the company submitted the official documents that allegedly under-reported the income. Kelly, who was also arrested last month, could be released as early as next week. Ghosn's fall from power at Nissan has exposed a deep rift in the three-way alliance -- which outsold all of its rival groups last year. The tycoon was once revered for his role in turning around Nissan and forging the fractious alliance, in which Renault remains the dominant shareholder. Some executives at Nissan -- which now contributes more profits than Renault to the group pot -- were said to bristle at the French company's leadership position.

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon Stay Put despite Hardships
Associated Press/Naharnet/December 23/18
Rozan Qarqour lives with her husband and six children in a tiny room in an unfinished building, where they share a bathroom with other Syrian refugees. Her husband sells paper cups of cardamom-flavored Arabic coffee on the streets of the southern port city of Sidon to earn a few dollars to buy bread and vegetables. But despite their dismal life in Lebanon, the family, which fled Syria's central province of Hama six years ago, has no plans to return home. Nor do the 160 other families who live in the Ouzai compound — or most of the other 1.2 million Syrian refugees who live in Lebanon.
"I will not take my children back to death and hunger," said Qarqour, 32, as she sat with other women on the floor cutting fresh fava beans that would later be cooked with rice on a small gas burner. A much touted Russian initiative to facilitate the return of refugees of Syria's 7-year-old war from around the region appears to have fizzled out, with only a tiny fraction of the nearly 6 million who fled their country since the start of the conflict in March 2011 returning home.
The Russian military says 114,000 Syrians have returned home since the beginning of 2018. The U.N. refugee agency says it has verified only 37,000 refugees who have voluntarily returned this year. Syria's war has displaced half the pre-war population of 23 million people, of which 5.6 million have fled the country. In Lebanon, where Syrians make up nearly a quarter of the population, most of the refugees say they intend to stay put, citing economic concerns, ongoing fighting and destroyed homes. The Qarqour family's region of Sahel al-Ghab is still in rebel hands and often gets bombed by the government, and their home has been destroyed. There are no jobs there, Qarqour says, and she hopes they can resettle in a third country, although the family has not yet applied. The fighting has wound down after seven years of brutal war. Using overwhelming military force, and with the help of Russian airpower and Iranian-backed militias on the ground, President Bashar Assad has retaken key cities and major population centers in Syria.
But most refugees say they do not feel safe returning while the government they fled is still in place. Fighting continues in some areas, while others are in ruins. Many are worried their sons could be picked up for conscription or detained, harassed or imprisoned if they go back. Others worry they won't find jobs.
Meanwhile, many have put down roots across the region and in Europe, and do not want to risk losing what they built by returning to Syria. Russia, a key ally of Assad, is eager to show a return to normalcy in Syria and has pushed to repatriate Syrians who fled. However, the U.N. has expressed concern about a premature return before the situation stabilizes and without guarantees for returning refugees. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in August that "all conditions are in place" for the return of 1 million refugees, quoting progress in restoring infrastructure and the fact that hostilities have largely subsided.
At the height of the conflict, the number of registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon reached 1.2 million, making the tiny Mediterranean country the biggest host of refugees per capita in the world. Today there are about 940,000, after some returned to Syria or were resettled in other countries, according to Lebanon's caretaker Minister of State for Refugee Affairs Mouein al-Merehbi.
Merehbi said about 12,000 Syrian refugees have returned home from Lebanon since June. His numbers are much lower than those released by Lebanon's General Security Directorate, which says more than 87,000 have returned. Merhebi, a harsh critic of the Syrian government and its Lebanese ally Hizbullah, said some of those who have been registered as returnees go back and forth between the neighboring countries. Eager to see Syrians return because of the strain their presence puts on the struggling economy, the Lebanese government has embraced the Russian plan and organizes convoys for refugees to return to Syria on almost a weekly basis. Most will continue to opt out for now, however. At the Ouzai compound in Sidon, time passes slowly for the refugees. Abu Ahmad, 42, sat in the yard eating mushabbak, a Syrian sweet consisting of fried pastry dipped in syrup made by one of the residents. He works in agriculture but his boss has not called him for a week. "I am not happy in Lebanon, but here there is school for my children, there is a doctor if I need it and there are hospitals for an emergency," said the father of five daughters and four sons. "Here I can make enough money to survive."Ahmad added that he applied years ago for resettlement in a third country. "I am ready to go to the south pole if I get a job there," he said.

Ignorance, the enemy of Lebanon
Khairallah Khairallah/Al Arabiya/December 23/18
Hussam Saad Hariri has made his grandfather proud. Nothing lasts like investment in education and enrichment of one’s knowledge. This is what Rafiq Hariri, who insisted on educating thousands of Lebanese people from all sects and all parts of the country in the best universities of the world at his own expenses, has accomplished. This persistence was one of the main reasons that he was made a target by those in Tehran and Damascus, who believe in the culture of death.
These are not random charges against the Iranian and Syrian regimes, but have been made by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL). In its brief, the STL’s prosecution speaks of 3,000 pieces of evidence about convicts who carried out the assassination of Rafiq Hariri.
The crime did not simply aim to kill Rafiq but was aimed at assassinating Lebanon. Perhaps Rafiq’s first crime was that he educated thousands of the Lebanese people, revived Beirut and put Lebanon back on the map of the Middle East and the world. He was aware that Lebanon’s future is all about developing people and not turning them into members of militias.
The problem is that many Lebanese people do not want to be educated. Hence it was normal that some people did not comprehend the importance of the graduation of a young Lebanese man from the Royal Military College of Sandhurst
Sandhurst alumni
The problem is that many Lebanese people do not want to be educated. Hence it was normal that some people did not comprehend the importance of the graduation of a young Lebanese man from the Royal Military College of Sandhurst, which was founded in 1801. The military college does not only pass out British military officers but also graduates those who look forward to a better future. Its list of alumni includes King Hussein, his son King Abdullah II and his grandson Prince Hussein who is the current Jordanian crown prince. This is in addition to Oman’s Sultan Qaboos and plenty of other officials from the Arab Gulf.
There are also other prominent figures who have graduated from this college, such as a number of Sheikh Zayed’s sons. There is also a good number of Qatari and Bahraini figures, including Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa, the former emir of Qatar. As for those who hail from Saudi Arabia, there is Prince Khalid bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz who can take pride in the fact that he brought back life to the Lebanese daily ‘Al-Hayat’, when he re-launched it from London in 1988.
The list of Arab graduates is long and it gives an idea about the significance of this college in terms of preparing young men to confront the most arduous of circumstances, such as sleeping in the wilderness when the temperature is below 20 degrees. Young men who enroll at the college for 44 weeks do not only learn how to adapt to grueling weather conditions but also lessons in international relations. This prepares them to subsequently enroll in the world’s best universities.
In brief, enrolling at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst does not mean joining the British army. It’s a unique college that prepares whoever goes there to be physically, psychologically and mentally prepared and to enroll at prestigious universities later.
Lebanon’s past glory
Some reactions to the graduation of Hussam Saad Hariri from there reflects the extent of ignorance that dominates a part of Lebanese society. It simply gives an idea how backwards Lebanon is after it was one of the most sophisticated countries in the region or rather among Mediterranean countries. Where were Greece, Cyprus and Turkey when Lebanon organized the Mediterranean Games during the era of Camille Chamoun and when there were festivals, as significant as the Baalbeck Festival?
We don’t need to recount how Lebanon was in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, when Beirut’s airport was among the most important airports in the world. We also don’t need to recount what was achieved during the era of Fouad Chehab in terms of constructing the institutions of modern Lebanese state, and in terms of civil organization.
The campaign against Saad Hariri and his son was spiteful. It expressed the extent of hatred towards Lebanon and towards what Rafiq Hariri built to revive Beirut. Some parties want Lebanon to remain uneducated and distant from the civilized world. A clear evidence is the situation of the Lebanese University which is supposed to be one of Lebanon’s civilized fronts. Instead of being a symbol of co-existence and openness, the Lebanese University has turned into a farm for a sectarian party that wants to impose its culture on all Lebanese people.
The culture of life is what made Lebanon play a pioneering role in all fields of the region. How many Arab leaders and officials graduated from the American University of Beirut (AUB), which was founded in 1866?
What about the role which Rafiq Hariri played in protecting AUB and other universities and in keeping the doctors of its hospital in the 1980s in Lebanon, when every single Lebanese doctor wanted to immigrate to the US, Europe or a specific Gulf country?
Investing in human capital
No prestigious Lebanese doctor immigrated to Tehran. The reactions to Hussam’s graduation from the Royal Military College Sandhurst and to his trip to Beirut to visit his grandfather’s tomb reflect such unprecedented ignorance. There are some parties that simply want to push Lebanon into the trap of empty sloganeering. If Lebanon stands today, then it does so thanks to the Lebanese people who continue to fight and resist.
They resist through the education they have received at prominent schools and universities and thanks to institutions which were founded by the first three eras after independence, i.e. the eras of Bechara El Khoury and Riad Al Solh and of Camille Chamoun and of Fouad Chehab. They are resisting after Rafiq Hariri restored hope to the Lebanese people and brought many of them back to the country before a party came to close Downtown Beirut for over a year in 2007 and 2008.
Instead of living in the dreams of oil and gas that have been discovered off the Lebanese coast, it’s important to get back in touch with reality which says that no wealth is more important than the human capital and that ignorance is Lebanon’s first enemy.
It’s no secret that Lebanon is currently passing through a difficult phase. What makes this stage more difficult is that there are some who insist on the destruction of “man” by promoting ignorance. Ignorance is the shortest way to attract youths to sectarian militias so that they serve a project that has absolutely nothing to do with Lebanon.

Latest LCCC English Miscellaneous Reports & News published on December 23-24/18
Trump, Netanyahu Discuss Iranian Role in Region

Tel Aviv - Asharq Al-Awsat/December,23/2018/Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Friday that he had held a telephone call with US President Donald Trump to discuss maintaining cooperation between Tel Aviv and Washington on Iran. Netanyahu spoke of American-Russian understandings based on which the Russian military will work on curbing Hezbollah and Iran’s influence in Syria, said an Israeli daily that is close to the premier. These understandings will allow Israel to continue striking Hezbollah and Iranian targets in Syria with Russia’s blessing. These understandings were reached with the approval of Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin and allowed for the US troop withdrawal from Syria. Political sources in Tel Aviv described Netanyahu’s statements as “interesting because he does not seem too disappointed with the US withdrawal. In fact, he is trying to undermine it.” Israelis in general, however, have expressed deep concern over the US decision. A senior Israeli minister had said that the move does not serve Israeli interests, harms the Kurds, empowers Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and maintains Iranian military forces in Syria. Furthermore, he criticized Netanyahu for failing to inform his cabinet or national security council of the US withdrawal, given that he was informed by the Americans of the decision on Monday. Trump cited what he described as victory over ISIS in Syria as warranting the US withdrawal. Israel has long tried to persuade Washington that Iran and its militias, sent to reinforce Damascus, pose the greater threat. “We will continue to act very aggressively against Iran’s efforts to entrench in Syria,” Netanyahu said on Thursday. “We do not intend to reduce our efforts. We will intensify them, and I know that we do so with the full support and backing of the United States.”

US Sanctions Halt New Iran Food Deals
London - Asharq Al-Awsat/Sunday, 23 December, 2018/Cargill, Bunge and other global traders have halted food supply deals with Iran because new US sanctions have paralyzed banking systems required to secure payments, according to industry and Iranian government sources. “There is no real chance of being paid using the existing mechanisms and many international traders are unable to do new business for the moment,” Reuters quoted one European source with knowledge of the situation as saying. Several western and Iranian trade sources said US groups Cargill and Bunge, as well as Singapore’s Olam, were among those which could not conclude new export deals for wheat, corn, raw sugar or other commodities because Western banks would not process payments with Iran. Under the earlier round of sanctions, Iran had turned to a dwindling number of foreign banks that continued to act as a conduit for payments to keep food and other trade flowing. But this time, many of those foreign banking channels are closing down. Three Iranian officials told Reuters that banking issues were to blame for halting food and other trade. An official with Iranian Industry, Mines and Trade Industry said only a “handful of small European banks” with no or little interaction with the United States were still doing business with Iran, and they were only involved in small-scale purchases. “We are in talks with Europeans to expand this network of banks and financial institutions,” added the ministry official. He indicated that right now, many companies including Cargill and Bunge have informed Tehran about banking difficulties that will force them to stop their dealings with Iran. Washington says its sanctions are part of an effort to force Iran to curb its nuclear and missile programs, as well as end Tehran’s support for proxy forces in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East. Iran insists its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes and its missiles are defensive. US sanctions took full effect on Nov. 5, although Washington has issued temporary waivers for some of its allies which depend on imported Iranian oil.Iran, which relies heavily on imported food staples, has years of experience working around US and other Western sanctions, which were progressively tightened  between 2012 and 2015 until Iran reached a deal over its nuclear program. Many sanctions were lifted in 2016 after the pact. Bankers reported that for many foreign banks, it is easier to end any Iranian activity than try to navigate the US sanctions rule book and run the risk of slipping up and facing penalties. “There is super caution now,” said a European financial source involved in Iranian transactions in the past, adding rules on food and other humanitarian dealings were complex. “If goods are shipped for instance to an Iranian distributor, who then sells them on and not directly to an end buyer, banks will increasingly look at such a transaction as commercial rather than humanitarian,” the source said. Data collected on Dec. 21 from global shipping intelligence platform MarineTraffic showed 16 ships had been waiting to unload cargoes of commodities and goods, including foodstuffs, for at least two weeks at Iran’s ports of Bandar Abbas and Maashour. Four of the 16 vessels had been waiting since October.

Netanyahu Seeks to Calm Israeli Concerns over Trump's Syria Pullout

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 23/18/Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought on Sunday to calm domestic concerns over U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from Syria, saying his country will still act against Iran there. Trump last week said the Islamic State group had been defeated and he was withdrawing the United States' 2,000 troops from Syria. Israel has seen the U.S. presence in neighboring Syria as a bulwark against its main enemy Iran and a counterweight to Russia. Both Russia and Iran support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime in the country's civil war. "The decision to remove the 2,000 U.S. soldiers from Syria won't change our consistent policy," Netanyahu said at the start of a cabinet meeting."We will continue to act against Iran's attempt to establish a military presence in Syria, and if the need arises, we will even expand our activities there." He added that he wanted to "calm those concerned." "Our cooperation with the United States continues full-force, and takes place in many fields -- the operational field, the intelligence field, and many other security fields."Trump's decision to withdraw from Syria -- as well as reduce forces in Afghanistan -- led U.S. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis to quit in disagreement.The U.S. special envoy to the coalition fighting the Islamic State, Brett McGurk, has also resigned. The withdrawal abruptly ends American influence in the war-ravaged country and gives Turkey an opening to attack U.S.-backed Kurds in Syria. But Israel is particularly concerned about the presence of Iran there as well as Lebanon’s Tehran-backed Hizbullah. Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes in Syria against what it says are Iranian military targets and advanced weapons deliveries to Hizbullah. A friendly fire incident in September that led to a Russian plane being downed by Syrian air defenses during an Israeli strike has however complicated Israeli operations there. Russia subsequently upgraded Syrian air defenses with the delivery of the advanced S-300 system, which Damascus had said would make Israel "think carefully" before carrying out further air raids.

Hamas Rejects Abbas Plan to Dissolve Palestinian Parliament
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 23/18/Hamas on Sunday denounced Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas' plan to dissolve the largely defunct Palestinian parliament that it controls, calling it a move to "serve his partisan interests."Abbas said Saturday he intended to dissolve the Palestinian Legislative Council after a court decision that ordered the move and elections to be held within six months. The ruling was made by the Palestinian Constitutional Court in Ramallah, and Hamas said in a statement it rejected the decision by a court created by Abbas "to legitimize his arbitrary decisions."
"Abbas should have extended his hands to (Hamas leader Ismail) Haniya's invitation to hold a joint meeting, thereby ending the Palestinian division," the statement said. "Rather, Abbas opted to ruin the Palestinian political system, maintain his unilateralism, and dissolve the legal institutions of the Palestinian people. All of this is just to serve his partisan interests."It called on Egypt, which has been seeking to reconcile Hamas and Abbas' Fatah, to block the measure. Dissolving the parliament would allow Abbas to further pressure Hamas.Though the parliament has not met since 2007, when Hamas seized control of the Gaza  Strip, Palestinian law allows for its speaker to act as interim president should 83-year-old Abbas die in office.Hamas won the last parliamentary elections in 2006 in a landslide, resulting in an electoral dispute with Fatah. The split between them persists and has defied several reconciliation attempts. A range of issues have kept the two sides apart, including Hamas' refusal to disarm its military wing. Abbas, whose Fatah is based in the occupied West Bank, has sought to pressure Hamas in recent months by reducing salaries in the Gaza Strip, which is under an Israeli blockade, among other moves.Abbas' term was meant to expire in 2009, but he has remained in office in the absence of elections.

Turkey, Israel in New War of Words
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 23/18/Turkey on Sunday hit out at Israel's "lawless occupation" of Palestinian territory after the Israeli prime minister accused Turkey of "massacres" against Kurds in a new war of words. Relations between Turkey and Israel have been tense this year over multiple issues including a controversial law passed by the Israeli parliament in July which defined the country as the nation state of the Jewish people. Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu said President Recep Tayyip Erdogan "should not preach to Israel" after the Turkish leader warned young Turks on Saturday: "Do not kick the enemy you have brought down to the ground. You are not a Jew in Israel." Netanyahu said Erdogan was "the occupier of northern Cyprus, whose army massacres women and children in Kurdish villages, inside and outside Turkey" in a tweet late on Saturday. Erdogan's spokesman and chief adviser Ibrahim Kalin lambasted Netanyahu, who he said "should end the lawless occupation of Palestinian lands and the brutal oppression of Palestinian people" instead of "begging President Erdogan not to speak out the truth." Kalin added in the tweet on Sunday: "Bashing Erdogan or using Kurds as a political chip will not save him from his domestic troubles." On December 14, Erdogan also said Palestinians were subjected to "pressures, violence and intimidation policies no less grave than the oppression done to the Jews during the Second World War," referring to the Holocaust. Turkey-Israel ties have been strained since Ankara ordered the Israeli ambassador to leave Turkey in May over the killing of protesters along the border with the Gaza Strip. Erdogan, who regards himself as a champion of the Palestinians, has bitterly criticized Israel previously, calling it in July "the world's most fascist and racist state."

Macron Calls for Order after 'Yellow Vest' Attack on Police
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 23/18
French President Emmanuel Macron called for "order" on Sunday after a sixth weekend of "yellow vest" anti-government protests marked by dwindling participation and a violent attack on police in Paris. Speaking during a visit to the central African state of Chad where he was visiting French troops serving in a counter-terrorism force Macron said: "There must be order now, calm and harmony. Our country needs it." "It needs harmony, unity, sincere commitment to strong collective causes and we must heal the divisions," said the 41-year-old centrist, who has struggled to tamp down the anger of the working poor in smalltown and rural France over falling spending power and policies seen as tilted towards the rich. A total of 38,600 people took part in a sixth round of nationwide protests on Saturday, according to the interior ministry -- around half the number that demonstrated a week earlier. In Paris, the scene of fierce clashes and widespread destruction in previous weeks, the protests were mainly peaceful.
But as evening fell, violence broke out again on the iconic Champs-Elysees avenue. In one incident that caused widespread outrage, a group of three police officers on motorbike were forced to make a hasty escape after coming under attack near the Champs-Elysees from a group of demonstrators, who threw electric scooters, paving stones and other objects at them. A video of the incident, which was widely shared on social media, showed one officer pulling his gun and pointing it at the advancing protesters. He and his two colleagues -- one of whom had his motorbike knocked to the ground -- then made their getaway. The video showed that, seconds before the attack, the police had lobbed stun grenades at a group of protesters, who were some distance away. Speaking to BFMTV channel Macron said those responsible for the violence would face "the most severe" legal punishment. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe for his part denounced the "incredible violence towards the police."He also took aim at protesters who sang a song by controversial comedian Dieudonne M'Bala M'Bala, a convicted anti-Semite, outside Sacre-Coeur church in Paris as well as those who decapitated an effigy of Macron in the western Charente region -- two other incidents seen as evidence of growing radicalization and the presence of extremists within the movement. "There can be no trivializing of such gestures which must draw unanimous condemnation and be punished by the law," Philippe tweeted. The number of demonstrators has been trending downwards since 282,000 people turned out for the first Saturday protest against planned fuel tax hikes on November 17. From there the protests quickly morphed into a full-scale revolt against Macron's policies, aloof, top-down governing style, and the political class as a whole.
Leader faces charges
Saturday's numbers represented a sharp drop from last week, however, when Macron announced an income increase for minimum-wage earners and rolled back tax increases on pensioners, among other measures. Around 2,000 protesters gathered in Paris, compared to 4,000 last week, police said. A total of 142 people were detained and 19 taken into police custody in the capital, including one of leaders of the movement, Eric Drouet. Drouet, a truck driver, was to be brought before an investigating magistrate Sunday to be charged with carrying an illegal weapon in the form of a block of wood and "participating in a group formed to commit violence or destruction". He denies the charges. The protests have dealt a blow to the French economy, particularly the retail trade. Junior economy minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said French stores reported an average drop-off of 25 percent in sales compared with the same period a year earlier. Ten people have died in incidents linked to the demonstrations, mostly in accidents at roadblocks set up by the protesters.

U.S. Envoy to Anti-IS Coalition Resigns after Trump's Syria Decision

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 23/18/Brett McGurk, the U.S. special envoy to the anti-Islamic State group coalition, has resigned, a State Department official said, capping a chaotic week that saw the departure of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Donald Trump's stunning decision to pull troops from Syria. McGurk's resignation, effective December 31, comes on the heels of Mattis' decision to quit the Trump administration over key disagreements with the U.S. president, notably the Syria withdrawal.
Just last week McGurk, a Barack Obama appointee whom Trump kept on, said "nobody is declaring a mission accomplished" in the battle against IS -- just days before the president blindsided politicians and allies with his announcement of victory against the jihadist movement.
Trump on Saturday said that the jihadist group "is largely defeated." "When I became President, ISIS was going wild," the president tweeted. "Now ISIS is largely defeated and other local countries, including Turkey, should be able to easily take care of whatever remains. We're coming home!"
Trump later took aim at McGurk on Twitter, referring to him as a "grandstander" who was quitting just before his time was up. McGurk, 45, was set to leave his position in February, but reportedly felt he could no longer continue in the job after Trump's declaration and on Friday evening informed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of his intention to wrap up at year's end. His conclusion mirrored that of Mattis, who was seen as a voice of moderation in the mercurial Trump White House and quit after telling the president he could not go along with the Syria decision. McGurk has served as the U.S. envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, an acronym for the jihadist group, since 2015.  He also served as the deputy assistant secretary of state for Iraq and Iran, and worked under Republican George W. Bush as a senior official on Iraq and Afghanistan. Discussing the U.S. role in Syria this month, he had told journalists that "it would be reckless if we were just to say, 'Well, the physical caliphate is defeated, so we can just leave now.'" "I think anyone who's looked at a conflict like this would agree with that."
- 'Complete reversal of policy' -
McGurk called Trump's move to leave Syria "a shock" and "a complete reversal of policy that was articulated to us," in an email announcing his decision to colleagues that was obtained by The New York Times. "It left our coalition partners confused and our fighting partners bewildered," he said, according to the newspaper. "I worked this week to help manage some of the fallout but -- as many of you heard in my meetings and phone calls -- I ultimately concluded that I could not carry out these new instructions and maintain my integrity."Just after announcing his Syria decision, Trump again confounded international partners with plans to slash troop numbers in Afghanistan. The momentous reversal of years of US foreign policy will leave the war-torn regions at risk of continued and potentially heightened bloodshed. In typical fashion, Trump said Saturday that the media was treating him unfairly over the Syria withdrawal decision. "If anybody but your favorite President, Donald J. Trump, announced that, after decimating ISIS in Syria, we were going to bring our troops back home (happy & healthy), that person would be the most popular hero in America," he tweeted. "With me, hit hard instead by the Fake News Media. Crazy!"The troop pullout will leave thousands of Kurdish fighters -- which the Pentagon spent years training and arming against IS -- vulnerable to Turkish attack.
On Saturday, a senior Kurdish official called on the United States to prevent a potential Turkish offensive against areas in northern Syria inhabited by Kurds, calling it America's "duty to prevent any attack and to put an end to Turkish threats."The U.S. has for years supported the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the fight against IS in Syria. Aldar Khalil, a key player in establishing Syria's semi-autonomous Kurdish region in 2013, said the US and its partners "must honor their commitments."Heavyweight adviser Mattis -- a decorated Marine general who was often referred to as "the last adult in the room" -- made clear in his resignation letter that pulling out of Syria crossed the line.The departures of Mattis and now McGurk follow those of national security adviser H.R. McMaster and White House chief of staff John Kelly -- leaving Trump, who has no political, diplomatic or military experience, increasingly alone.

Head of U.N. Monitors Arrives in Yemen's Sanaa
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 23/18/The head of the U.N. team tasked with monitoring a fragile ceasefire in Yemen arrived in the rebel-held capital of Sanaa on Sunday. Retired Dutch general Patrick Cammaert is heading a joint committee including members of the government and the Huthi rebels, in charge of monitoring a ceasefire in the port city of Hodeida. He is making a stop in Sanaa before heading to Hodeida, a lifeline port city that serves as the entry point for the majority of imports to war-torn Yemen, a U.N. official said, after holding talks Saturday with Yemen government officials in Aden.

Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 23-24/18
A Multiple-Choice Brexit
John Micklethwait/Bloomberg/December, 23/2018
Britain is edging toward multiple-choice politics. This may not be a bad thing.
When you have a particularly doltish group of students, unable to pass even the simplest exam, one well-worn solution is the multiple-choice test. Confronted with four possible answers to a question, even the least smart student stands a sporting chance of getting it right. (It was certainly true with me and physics.)
The shambolic politics of Brexit now seem to be heading toward an exam with three or four answers to a question. It is unclear whether members of Parliament or the general public will be the examinee — probably both. Weirdly, this may be the least worst solution. With less than 100 days until Brexit, it is wrong for Theresa May to try to stop it.
First, some background. At a time when Westminster needs a Blackadder (the Machiavellian cynic played by Rowan Atkinson in the eponymous BBC series), it is stuck with a Baldrick — Blackadder’s useless sidekick who inevitably possesses a “cunning plan” that is either mad or beyond his ability to carry out. You could argue that the first Baldrick was Prime Minister David Cameron, whose cunning promise of a referendum helped him win a slender majority in the 2015 election — but also enabled Brexit, which he did not want, to happen. The next was Boris Johnson. His last-minute decision in 2016 to join the Leave campaign was a tactical wheeze to win support with the Brexit-obsessed Tory faithful, positioning him to succeed Cameron. Yet when Leave unexpectedly won, Johnson had no clue what to do next; in the chaos he helped cause, the Tories gave May the top job.
May was supposed to be a safe pair of hands, but she too had a cunning plan. She called a snap election in 2017 with the aim of giving herself a large Tory majority that would bolster her Brexit negotiations with the European Union. Instead, her ham-fisted campaign caused her to lose her slim majority, forcing her to rely in Parliament on the Democratic Unionists from Northern Ireland (the least flexible group of Britons on the issue of the Irish border).
Indeed, throughout her negotiations with Europe, May has proved herself more Baldrick than Blackadder, throwing away the few good cards she had. She declared Article 50 too early, setting a clock running against her: Britain is now due to leave on March 29, deal or no deal. And she made virtually no preparations for the “no deal” she kept telling Britons was “better than a bad deal.” The Europeans, knowing that “no deal” would in fact grievously hurt the British economy, smiled and waited until May, running out of time, gave in. She now has to hawk a Brexit deal with a lengthy transition period and with an especially poisonous (and possibly indefinite) Irish “backstop.”
You would imagine that British politicians would have had enough of cunning plans by now. However, two new Baldricks have appeared, both bent on destroying May, but whose cackhandedness has helped her live on.
The least cunning assassins are the hardline Tory Brexiteers, led by Jacob Rees-Mogg. They are zealots, who would prefer no deal, despite the damage it would do to the economy. As an example of their handiwork, recall that a week ago May looked doomed. She had been forced to postpone the parliamentary vote on her compromise plan, and she was about to head off to Brussels to beg EU leaders for concessions they were never going to give. What did the Brexiteers do? They cluelessly triggered a rapid leadership election. In the end, 117 out of 317 Tory MPs voted against May; enough to hurt her but not enough to win.
Under the Tory party rules, May is now safe from a leadership election for another year. Had Rees-Mogg and friends waited even a few days for her to return empty-handed from Brussels (as she did), they might well have ousted her. Now Brexit will be run by a premier they don’t trust.
The other Baldrick is Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party. His Brexit plan is so cunning that it is invisible. He has never unveiled it and possibly does not actually know what it is. You could argue that his ignorance, feigned or real, makes sense so long as the Tories keep forming circular firing squads. Eventually, though, Corbyn is going to want to bring down the government and force a general election — and he has nothing to offer the British people other than more division. Although many Labour MPs and constituents want another referendum, Corbyn does not.

New Revelation: Previous US Administration Facilitated Christian Genocide in Nigeria
ريموند إبراهيم: الكشف عن دور تسهيلي لإدارة أوباما الأميركية السابقة في الإبادة الجماعية ضد المسيحيين في نيجيريا
Raymond Ibrahim/Gatestone Institute/December 23/18
"On March 23, 2015, President Obama himself took the unusual step of releasing a video message directly to Nigerians all but telling them how to vote. In that video, Obama urged Nigerians to open the 'next chapter' by their votes." — Goodluck Jonathan, former president of Nigeria, in his new book, My Transition Hours.
"Christianity is on the brink of extinction in Nigeria." — Bosun Emmanuel, the secretary of the National Christian Elders Forum, June 23, 2018.
"Hundreds of indigenous Numan Christians in Adamawa state were attacked and killed by jihadist Fulani herdsmen. When they tried to defend themselves the Buhari govt. sent in the Airforce to bomb hundreds of them and protect the Fulani aggressors." — Femi Fani-Kayode, Nigerian lawyer, author and former Minister of Aviation, Daily Post, December 6, 2017.
In March 2014, after the United States Institute for Peace invited the governors of Nigeria's northern states for a conference in the U.S., the State Department blocked the visa of the region's only Christian governor, Jonah David Jang, an ordained minister.
Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria's former president, has accused the Obama administration of meddling with his nation's politics in order to replace him with its current president, Muhammadu Buhari. Pictured: Goodluck Jonathan in 2012.
In a bombshell revelation, Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria's former president (2010-2015), has accused the Obama administration of meddling with his nation's politics in order to replace him with its current president, Muhammadu Buhari -- whom many blame for facilitating the persecution of Christians. In his new book, My Transition Hours, Jonathan writes:
"On March 23, 2015, President Obama himself took the unusual step of releasing a video message directly to Nigerians all but telling them how to vote... In that video, Obama urged Nigerians to open the 'next chapter' by their votes. Those who understood subliminal language deciphered that he was prodding the electorate to vote for the [Muslim-led] opposition to form a new government."
A 2011 ABC News report provides context:
The current wave of [Muslim] riots was triggered by the Independent National Election Commission's (INEC) announcement on Monday [April 18, 2011] that the incumbent President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, won in the initial round of ballot counts. That there were riots in the largely Muslim inhabited northern states where the defeat of the Muslim candidate Muhammadu Buhari was intolerable, was unsurprising. Northerners [Muslims] felt they were entitled to the presidency for the declared winner, President Jonathan, [who] assumed leadership after the Muslim president, Umaru Yar'Adua died in office last year and radical groups in the north [Boko Haram] had seen his [Jonathan's] ascent as a temporary matter to be corrected at this year's election. Now they are angry despite experts and observers concurring that this is the fairest and most independent election in recent Nigerian history.
That the Obama administration may have imposed its will on a foreign country's politics and elections is hardly unprecedented. Recall the administration's partiality for the Muslim Brotherhood during and after 2012 presidential elections in Egypt; or its unsuccessful efforts to oust Israeli prime minister Netanyahu with U.S. taxpayers' money; or its efforts -- with an admittedly unverified "dossier" (here, here and here) -- to prevent then-presidential candidate Donald J. Trump from being elected, or by discussing an "insurance policy" in the event that Trump won. Moreover, texts by Peter Strzok revealed that Obama "wants to know everything we're doing."
So in Nigeria, the Obama administration, it seems, sought to right the apparently intolerable wrong of having a duly elected Christian president in a more than 50% Christian nation.
Two questions arise: 1) Is there any outside evidence to corroborate Jonathan's allegations against the Obama administration? 2) Is Buhari truly facilitating the jihad on his Christian countrymen?
The Obama Administration's Pro-Islamic/Anti-Christian Policy
Former Nigerian President Jonathan's newly published accusations appear to correspond with the former U.S. administration's policy concerning Muslims and Christians in Nigeria.
To begin with, the Obama administration insisted that violence and bloodshed in Nigeria -- almost all of which was committed by Muslims against Christians -- had nothing to do with religion. This despite the fact that Boko Haram -- which was engaging in ISIS type of atrocities: slaughter, kidnap, rape, plunder, slavery, torture before ISIS was even born -- presented its terrorism as a jihad. In one instance it even called on President Jonathan to "repent and forsake Christianity" and convert to Islam as the price for peace. The Obama administration, however, refused to designate Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization until November 2013 -- years after increasing pressure from lawmakers, human rights activists, and lobbyists.
For instance, after a Nigerian church was destroyed in an Easter Day 2012 bombing that left 39 worshippers dead -- one of many such deadly church bombings over the years in Nigeria -- Obama's Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, said, "I want to take this opportunity to stress one key point and that is that religion is not driving extremist violence" in Nigeria.
Instead, "inequality" and "poverty" -- to quote Bill Clinton -- are "what's fueling all this stuff" (a reference to the jihadi massacre of thousands of Christians).
Apparently to prove that it believed what it was saying, the Obama administration even agreed to allocate $600 million in a USAID initiative to ascertain the "true causes" of unrest and violence in Nigeria, which supposedly lay in the socio-economic, never the religious, realm.
Also telling is that, although the Obama administration offered only generic regrets whenever Christians were slaughtered by the dozens -- without acknowledging the religious identity of persecutor or victim -- it loudly protested whenever Islamic terrorists were targeted. When, for instance, Nigerian forces under Jonathan's presidency killed 30 Boko Haram terrorists in an offensive in May 2013, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (who is also mentioned in unflattering terms in Jonathan's memoirs) "issued a strongly worded statement" to Jonathan, reported Reuters: "We are ... deeply concerned by credible allegations that Nigerian security forces are committing gross human rights violations," Kerry warned the Nigerian president.
In March 2014, after the United States Institute for Peace invited the governors of Nigeria's northern states for a conference in the U.S., the State Department blocked the visa of the region's only Christian governor, Jonah David Jang, an ordained minister. According to human rights lawyer Emmanuel Ogebe:
"After the [Christian governor] told them that they were ignoring the 12 Shariah states who institutionalized persecution ... he suddenly developed visa problems... The question remains – why is the U.S. downplaying or denying the attacks against Christians?"
More recently, Ogebe, of the U.S. Nigeria Law Group based in Washington, told Gatestone in an interview that the Obama administration "State Department actually said they preferred a 'Muslim majority' country to explain why Obama chose to visit Senegal instead of Nigeria. Ironically, Jonathan sided with the US on Israel in the UN while Buhari voted against the US/Israel in the UN."
Muhammadu Buhari's Role in the Jihad on Christians
Indicators that Muhammadu Buhari -- whom the Obama administration helped make president of Nigeria, according to Jonathan -- is empowering the genocide of Christians follow.
After Goodluck Jonathan became president, thousands of Christians living near Muslim centers in Nigeria were killed. Since getting what they want -- a Muslim president, Muhammadu Buhari, in 2015 -- Muslims have attacked Christians in ways that are being characterized as a "pure genocide."
As the Christian Association of Nigeria, an umbrella group of various Christian denominations, said in a recent statement:
"There is no doubt that the sole purpose of these attacks is aimed at ethnic cleansing, land grabbing and forceful ejection of the Christian natives from their ancestral land and heritage."
To begin with, significantly more Christians have been massacred under Muhammadu Buhari than his Christian predecessor -- mostly by Muslim Fulani herdsmen, who regularly launch raids on Christian villages. In just the first six months of this year, 6,000 Christians were slaughtered in the name of jihad. It took three times as long for the Fulani to kill only 1,484 Christians under Jonathan's presidency.
Any number of prominent Nigerians have accused Buhari of turning a blind eye to Fulani atrocities. He "is himself from the jihadists' Fulani tribe," Ogebe told Gatestone.
According to Rev. Musa Asake, the General Secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria:
"Under President Buhari, the murderous Fulani herdsmen enjoyed unprecedented protection and favoritism... Rather than arrest and prosecute the Fulani herdsmen, security forces usually manned by Muslims from the North offer them protection as they unleash terror with impunity on the Nigerian people."
Similarly, according to prominent Nigerian lawyer, author and former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode:
"... the Muslim president [Buhari] has only awarded the murderers with impunity rather than justice and has staffed his government with Islamic officials, while doing essentially nothing to give the nation's Christians, who make up half the population, due representation."
Like the Obama administration, Buhari also attributes Fulani persecution of Christians to "poverty, injustice and the lack of job opportunities." As the Christian Association of Nigeria retorts, however:
"How can it be a [secular or economic] clash when one group [Muslims] is persistently attacking, killing, maiming, destroying, and the other group [Christians] is persistently being killed, maimed and their places of worship destroyed?"
The National Christian Elders Forum is more direct concerning the source of violence:
"JIHAD has been launched in Nigeria by the Islamists of northern Nigeria led by the Fulani ethnic group. This Jihad is based on the Doctrine of Hate taught in Mosques and Islamic Madrasas in northern Nigeria as well as the supremacist ideology of the Fulani. Using both conventional (violent) Jihad, and stealth (civilization) Jihad, the Islamists of northern Nigeria seem determined to turn Nigeria into an Islamic Sultanate and replace Liberal Democracy with Sharia as the National Ideology. ... We want a Nigeria, where citizens are treated equally before the law at all levels...."
The Buhari government has even been accused of participating in the jihad. For example, one especially savage Fulani "attack razed several [Christian] villages in the southern part of the state [leaving 100 dead], and a military jet bombed a Lutheran church and other targets," says one report, before adding: "Some people suspect the jets were deployed in collaboration with the terrorists because their bombs hit villagers."
Fani-Kyode has been even more direct in his accusation against Buhari:
"Hundreds of indigenous Numan Christians in Adamawa state were attacked and killed by jihadist Fulani herdsmen. When they tried to defend themselves the Buhari govt. sent in the Airforce to bomb hundreds of them and protect the Fulani aggressors. Is this fair? WORLD TAKE NOTE!"
It is also worth noting that, although Christians were only recently the majority of Nigeria's population, the ongoing genocide against them has caused their population to drop -- to the point that Christianity in Nigeria "is on the brink of extinction," warns Bosun Emmanuel, the secretary of the National Christian Elders Forum. Last summer he said that Muhammadu Buhari "is openly pursuing an anti-Christian agenda that has resulted in countless murders of Christians all over the nation and destruction of vulnerable Christian communities." Accordingly, "the Church has been weakened and unable to stand before its enemies. Realistically speaking, Christianity is on the brink of extinction in Nigeria. The ascendancy of Sharia ideology in Nigeria rings the death toll for the Nigerian Church."
*Raymond Ibrahim, author of the new book, Sword and Scimitar, Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute and a Judith Rosen Friedman Fellow at the Middle East Forum.
© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.
*N.B: Picture enclosed: Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria's former president.

Can Assad be trusted?
Nadim Koteich/Al Arabiya/December 23/18
Bashar al-Assad will not reflect much when analysts write about the meaning of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s visit to Damascus from a human rights and liberal point of view. He will not look closely into the fact that the visitor doesn’t have any legitimate status to add to him. He is the first president in the world to have an arrest warrant issued against him in the International Criminal Court, even if it was rejected by the Arab League and the African Union and countries like China and Russia. None of these considerations matter in Damascus. What the Syrian regime has done against its people belittles the record of others in similar matters. Assad is aware of all these contradictions on the Syrian front as he was the reason for the creation of many of them, transforming the Syrian narrative from a peaceful uprising to an armed revolution to the fight against terrorism, to finally bringing Syria back to its traditional norm of investing in the proceeds of its geographical location
Reclaiming Arab support
What Assad will consider is that Bashir is the first Arab president to have visited Damascus since Syria was suspended from the Arab League in 2011. In this context, the few words Assad made during the visit focused on the Arabism of Syria. He said: “Despite everything during the years of war, Syria has remained faithful to Arabism and held to it.” What this means is that Assad assumes that the normalization of ties between him and Arab states is just a matter of time and a mere formality which confers great victory to him, after less than eight years of the outbreak of the Syrian revolution against him.
Bashir's visit to Syria is the strongest signal of this growing trend, preceded by a huge media roar, when photographers' pictured the first meeting of its kind since 2011 between Bahrain's Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa and his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Moallem on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. The Bahraini minister stated that “the meeting was not arranged in advance, but it comes within the Arab movement to resolve the Syrian crisis.”
The UAE was the first to begin this review when Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said: “I think it was a mistake to kick Syria out of the Arab league, it meant we had no political leverage at all, no open channel, we could not present an Arab prism to how the Syrian issue should be resolved.”
I hereby add what I heard directly from a senior Gulf official, that the Arab position should not continue to be based on the facts of 2011, since plenty of changes have occurred in the scene of the Syrian crisis, and on the notion that the fate of an Arab state is being decided by the Russians, Turks, Israelis, Iranians and Americans.
All this is true; but the question remains: Can Assad be trusted? Is it possible to rely on the fact that he will not jump to the assumption that normalization with him is not only a victory for his policy, position and alliances, but also a preamble to settle accounts with his opponents?
There are no easy or conclusive answers to these questions. The whole approach is dominated with adventure and characterized with very rapid changes. The convergence between Assad and some of his opponents over the negative attitude towards Turkey's policies does not constitute a solid ground for taking relations from the space of the situational intersection to building policies that have a minimum of common orientation or common Arab interest.
New chapter?
Furthermore, Turkey which enjoys significant and growing relations with Sudan, is capable of finding its own understandings with Assad, especially on the Kurdish issue. Although Iran is drowning in sanctions, it remains a major player in Syria since it has a huge presence on the ground, through Shiite militias from Lebanon, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Israel, which has cautiously resumed its strikes against the Revolutionary Guard in Syria, is facing endless constraints, especially Russian ones, in its confrontation with Iran.
Israel is also aware that it’s not the time for any decisive confrontation with Iran yet, and maybe that time will never come, given the anticipated costs of the war. As for the United States, it seems to be stumbling as it is taking its Syrian mission from the scope of eliminating ISIS to the scope of confronting Iran and its militias, while its position regarding the Syrian crisis grows sour.
As for Russia, it is managing a highly sensitive stance over Syria and is combining the attempt to meet Arab interests with ensuring Israel's security, its need for Iran to secure ground and its strategic rivalry with Turkey.
Assad is aware of all these contradictions on the Syrian front as he was the reason for the creation of many of them, transforming the Syrian narrative from a peaceful uprising to an armed revolution to the fight against terrorism, to finally bringing Syria back to its traditional norm of investing in the proceeds of its geographical location and international intersection on his soil. The Assad experience suggests that he may be closer to investing in this open opportunity with retaliation and vendetta in his mind. There have been many attempts to contain the Syrian regime and to take it out from the crises of its policies, from the 1980s until the initiative of late King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz. Each attempt was doomed to fail. Nothing suggests that we are facing different givens today, and the most dangerous thing at this moment is the hasty answers to how to deal with Assad’s Syria.

The curious case of a US government shutdown
Walid Jawad/Al Arabiya/December 23/18
Shutting down the government is not an option considered anywhere in the world, except in the US. It is mind-boggling to have the US government decide to shut itself down. Yes, it is a conscious decision not to fund the government. Typically, this happens when Congress fails to pass a federal funding bill or when the US president decides not to sign the Congressional bill. This latest government shutdown was triggered by the inability of Congress to come together to pass a spending bill both Republicans and Democrats can agree to. As a result, the federal government is forced to shutter its non-essential operations.
Over the past few decades, elected officials in the White House and Congress have forced the government to suspend its operations many times over. The economic losses are far-reaching and inexcusable. Government employees go without pay, the whole system of government is further fractured inciting the ire of the American people who typically punish the “responsible” party in the next election cycle.
Why decide to shutdown the government?
The Republican and Democratic parties were bickering over the border wall slated to be built along the US-Mexico border. President Trump has announced his willingness to shutdown the government unless the Democrats agree to fund the border wall.
Two weeks ago he said in this Oval Office meeting with the Congressional Democratic leadership that he would be “proud” to shutdown the government if Congress doesn’t fund the wall. The latest polls show that 51 percent of Americans blame the president for this partial government shutdown, while 37 percent blame Democrats.
Trump demanded Congress include a $5 billion earmarked to building the border wall to fulfill a campaign promise he made to his constituency. During the presidential elections leading to him winning the presidency in 2016, he made building the wall a cornerstone of his campaign.
Trump’s proposed wall is the singular item on his agenda to guarantee border security against illegal immigration. Although the Democrats dispute the effectiveness of the wall, they agree with Trump on the need for border security.
For no other reason but to score political points the two political parties have turned this aspect of the greater immigration failure into a fiscal policy dispute to shutdown the government. The projected cost for a border wall will run anywhere from $10 to $25 billion. The primary point of disagreement is not the project cost, but president promise to make Mexico pay for it. In its early days, the White House attempted to pressure Mexico to build the wall but failed. Trump quickly turned to the American people demanding Congress fund his wall. According to Trump, there are two issues at hand: criminal elements illegally coming into the country to commit violent acts and smuggle drugs, and second, illegal immigrants burdening the US economy.
American taxpayers suddenly found themselves on the hook for an untold budget. Die-hard Trump supporters believe the answer lies in building the wall, but not all Republicans do. Within Congress, upwards of 25 percent of Republican members are not in favor of funding the wall according to a USA Today poll taken during the last funding battle. Border security can be achieved by a combination of surveillance and barriers according to the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), a trusted non-partisan government agency. What is surprising is the already built combination of walls and fences covering 580 miles (930km) of the 1,989 miles (3,201km) US-Mexico border.The wall Trump wants to build is part of an immigration reform challenge, which consecutive US administrations have failed to address. For no other reason but to score political points the two political parties, Republicans and Democrats, have turned this aspect of the greater immigration failure into a fiscal policy dispute to shutdown the government.
What happens when the US government turns off the lights?
The US government ran out of money to fund a number of US agencies on midnight last Friday. Government workers in the Departments of State, Interior, Justice, and Transportation among others have asked their non-essential workers to stay home; i.e. be furloughed, unless they are deemed essential.
Essential employees, on the other hand, will have to report to work but would not get paid for the work they perform during a shutdown, at least not until a spending bill is passed. Essential and critical functions of government, those operations pertaining to the safety of human life and the protection of property, are the only functions to continue through a shutdown.
How will this affect others around the world?
US Embassies around the world will continue to function as normal. Entry points to the US would continue to welcome travelers. TSA and customs officers will report to work although none of them will be paid for the duration of the shutdown. Government to government diplomatic and economic will not cease. The outside world will not notice any change in US functions particularly if the shutdown is short. Longer suspension of government operations will force affected agencies to halt different parts of their operations in a controlled fashion. Yet internally the effects are felt, during the Obama 16 day shutdown in October of 2013 around two million government employees were furloughed or required to work without pay and the economy lost $24 billion. This is a similar number of employees who are affected by the current shutdown. A political battle on this scale presumes a winner and a loser. In this case, there are only losers, bigger losers, and ultimate losers. The Republican Party is already perceived to have lost by the majority of the American people, but government workers are losing as they pay in lost wages, while the ultimate loser is the American people as a whole. They are losing financially by forgoing gains the nation’s GDP would accumulate. Worse, the people are becoming less trusting in their government institutions.  Whenever the idea of shutting down the government is kicked around, elected officials must recall why they were sent to Washington in the first place: to find solutions, not manufacture issues for political reasons.
If failed states do all that they can to avoid disruption in governance, US politicians must never consider a government shutdown. When they do, as they’ve chosen on Friday, they are reneging on another promise: to make America Great Again.

The diplomatic overtures of Jordan and Syria
Shehab Al-Makahleh/Al Arabiya/December 23/18
Today, after more than seven years of war in Syria and after all the political tensions that took place between Amman and Damascus, the two countries are seeking to revive diplomatic ties.The countries share a border and even enjoyed good economic relations before the events of 2011. The relations have since undergone strains, as Jordan was forced to reduce its diplomatic representation in Damascus for several years. Still, Jordan managed to maintain a sliver of diplomatic ties without compromising on its political stance in order to revive relations with Syria at a suitable point after the war has ended.
Reviving diplomacy, trade
The visit of the Jordanian parliamentary delegation to Syria on Monday, 19 November 2018, aimed to buttress official Jordanian position towards Syria in preparation for subsequent political concessions on both sides in the interest of the Syrian and Jordanian peoples.
The Jordanian parliamentary delegation paid a visit to Damascus and held talks with Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, the first of its kind since the beginning of the civil war in Syria. The Jordanian delegation, led by incumbent parliament member and former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Abdul Karim Al Dughmi, said that Assad had conveyed a message to King Abdullah II that Syria will not look back from now but look forward to boosting bilateral relations with Jordan. The message, conveyed by al-Dughmi from Assad to King Abdullah, came after the two countries restored trade relations with each other on16 October, with the opening of Naseeb-Jaber crossing. The letter of Assad to King Abdullah focused on turning the page and starting a new chapter by resuming diplomatic ties as a first step. Al Dughmi said to a closed circle: “President Assad received the Jordanian delegation cordially. He was very positive and transparent with us. His morale is high.”Assad told the Jordanian delegation: “I do not want to touch on the past. I look forward to enhancing relations between our two countries”
Assad speaks of the future
The Jordanian monarch appeared to respond to the Assad’s greetings and started consultations on the next step with the government. However, it is not clear what it means to look forward to Jordan-Syria relations. Al-Dughmiq noted Assad as saying to the Jordanian delegation: “I do not want to touch on the past. I look forward to enhancing relations between our two countries”. Head of the Jordanian delegation also stressed that Assad did not refer to any negativity or fallacies made by the Jordanian government against Syria. “Our relationship will develop further. Greetings to his Majesty, the King,” Al Dughmi said quoting Assad. The Jordanian delegation also held talks with Syrian foreign minister, Speaker of the People’s Assembly and Muslim and Christian clerics as well as minister of justice. The Jordanian delegation grouped senior parliamentary personalities including amongst others Nidal al-Ta'ani, head of the Jordanian Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee and Awwad Al-Zawaideh, chair of the Parliament’s Public Liberties and Human Rights Committee.
Restrained normalization
As history is one of the main pillars in the narrative and analysis of political efforts, ideas and political movements in the Arab world, nature of international relations is associated with surrounding circumstances that affect the future of such ties. Thus, Jordan’s relationship with its neighbours such as Iraq, Syria, Israel and Saudi Arabia is concomitant with regional and international considerations. With regard to Jordanian-Syrian relations, what is expected hinges on many internal stimuli (both in Syria and Jordan politically, economically and militarily), as well as in countries that support Jordan and Syria including the United States, the United Kingdom and Russia. The reaction of the Syrian government to the Jordanian parliamentary move has been restrained. During the meetings of the Arab Parliament, a prominent member of the Jordanian Parliament, Khalil Attia, has called for the return of Syria to the Arab League. This is a new initiative that has been made after Jordanian parliamentary visit to Syria last month, which indicates that Amman is anxious to resume political relations with Damascus. Jordanian sources confirm that contacts with Syria are in progress at various levels. However, Syrian officials believe these talks are improving but not to the expectations of both countries. Signals from both capitals reveal that the two sides “are not in a rush” to restore full diplomatic ties at the level of ambassadors at present due to various regional and international considerations and hindrances.
People-state perspectives
Jordanian officials close to the Syrian regime were told that the opportunity was available to appoint a Jordanian ambassador to Damascus and to send a Syrian ambassador to Amman, while the United States was still pressing other countries to prevent a normalization of relations between the two sides.
Though the Jordanian embassy in Damascus has kept its activities at the level of Chargé D'affaires, the foreign ministry hopes to send a “diplomatic delegation” to Syria soon to pave the way for exchange of ambassadors. On the other hand, Syria is not rushing to appoint a new ambassador in Amman. At this stage, it is satisfied with the Chargé D'affaires in its embassy in Jordan, especially with the increase in number of Syrian refugees returning to their native country on a daily basis. Humanitarian organizations said some 20,000 Syrians had returned to their country after the reopening of the Naseeb border crossing with Jordan in October 16, while the number of Jordanians visiting Syria increased to 70,000 by the end of November. Meanwhile, Jordanian officials close to the Syrian regime were told that the opportunity was available to appoint and send a Jordanian ambassador to Damascus and to appoint a Syrian ambassador to Amman, while the United States was still pressing with other powers to prevent a comprehensive normalization of relations between the two sides. Today, as the Syrian army has expanded its control over most of Syria and restored large parts of the country that have been under the control of armed and terrorist groups for years, including areas bordering Jordan, there are signs that the two countries are normalising ties gradually. In the past, the decision to re-establish Jordanian-Syrian relations depended on several elements: regional, international, but today the decision hinges on Jordanian and international factors.
Backed by big powers
Perhaps the most important element affecting the fate of political relations between the two countries lies in the satisfaction of international players for Jordan's convergence with the current Syrian regime. Jordan is a country that is affected by the policies of world powers because of its reliance on foreign economic assistance from the United States, China, Japan, the European Union and the Gulf states. Thus, Amman formulates its policies based on its interests and the interests of those countries that affect Jordan's debt negatively or positively. What the United States wants from Jordan is that Amman should not have the ability to reject Washington's requests because it is the main supporter of Jordanian economy, security and military, with some observer believing thatJordan cannot guarantee its stability without American support. Thus, Jordan has to take all these considerations into account when it comes to foreign policy. When Amman considers political rapprochement with Syria soon, an international green light shall be given thereof. In the end, Syrian crisis is not an internal conflict as many media outlets portray. Any decision to resume political ties with Syria has to be approved by all countries sponsoring the Syrian crisis in the presence of Russia and the United States. This was confirmed by the statement of the Jordanian Foreign Minister a few days ago at a press conference with UN envoy Staffan de Mistura stating: “A new page must be opened in dealing with the crisis,” adding there is an unacceptable absence of the Arab role in the efforts to resolve the crisis.

The Iranian regime this year and next
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/December 23/18
This year has been one of the toughest for Iran in three decades, with the regime having to deal with political, social, economic and military challenges. Large-scale protests and strikes erupted in multiple cities — including major ones such as Isfahan, Tehran, Karaj, Shiraz, Rasht and Tabriz — in what Iranian activists describe as the continuation of a nationwide anti-regime movement. While protesters initially took to the streets to express outrage over high unemployment and currency devaluation, the demonstrations quickly took on a political tone, with calls for the regime’s ouster. Throughout the year, Iranians expressed frustration with hardline and moderate politicians alike. Tehran blamed the West, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and the People’s Mojahedin of Iran (MEK) for the protests. But people did not buy such narratives, instead blaming the regime, which resorted to brute force to suppress the uprising.
The human rights situation deteriorated in 2018, according to several watchdogs. Human Rights Monitor reported an increase in executions, including 32 hangings in less than a month, as the regime tries desperately to contain the growing unrest. Human rights groups also report arbitrary murders, deaths in custody, inhumane treatment and appalling prison conditions. On the international arena, one of the biggest blows to the regime stemmed from US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal. Washington re-imposed economic sanctions that hit Iran’s energy and banking sectors. To salvage the nuclear deal for its financial gain, Tehran tried to pit the EU against the US, but the renewed sanctions exacerbated the crisis facing the regime. Many foreign firms became reluctant to invest in Iran, and some pulled out altogether. Iran’s currency, the rial, lost nearly 400 percent of its value and is currently trading at more than 100,000 to the dollar.
Amid a more united Arab front, the Trump administration adopted a tougher stance against Tehran’s military adventurism and belligerence. Another significant development was the regime’s increasing attacks in Europe despite the EU appeasing it and trying to save the nuclear deal. If the regime does not address people’s grievances, the next uprising could topple the theocracy and achieve Iranians’ long-sought dream of democracy. Terrorist plots against the MEK in Albania, France, the US and Denmark were foiled in March, June, August and September, respectively. An Iranian diplomat was jailed in Belgium, three were expelled from France and the Netherlands, and the terrorist arrested in Denmark was exposed as closely linked to the Iranian ambassador in Norway.
The regime continued its cyberattacks against its rivals, and was caught playing a major role in misinformation campaigns and propagating fake news. Tehran also employed Iranians posing as journalists to do the bidding of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security. In September, Facebook closed 652 accounts and Twitter closed 770 accounts linked to the regime, declaring them as fake and disseminating fake news. Some of them were used to smear the Iranian opposition. In 2019, Tehran will likely continue to try to drive a wedge between the US and Europe, while marching onward in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere. Domestic protests, strikes and clashes will most likely continue nationwide, as demonstrators have proven willing to push back against repression. Tehran’s violent suppression and misinformation will only energize the protesters. If the regime does not address people’s grievances, the next uprising could topple the theocracy and achieve Iranians’ long-sought dream of democracy. If the US and its European and Gulf allies present a united front against Tehran and support the Iranian people and opposition, the increased pressure could threaten the regime’s hold on power unless it moderates its domestic and foreign policies.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh

America showers Tehran, Ankara and Moscow with Christmas gifts
Baria Alamuddin/Arab News/December 23/18
“We cannot protect our interests… without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies.” This was the damning indictment with which US Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned last week, immediately after learning of President Donald Trump’s plan to withdraw militarily from Syria.
The withdrawal is a betrayal of Kurdish recruits who bled on the frontlines against Daesh, as Turkey is now free to dominate northern Syria. Furthermore, Arab and Western allies depended on US commitments in eastern Syria as a bulwark against Iranian expansionism.
Our foes are predictable in their enmity. An ally who betrays you at a time of encroaching threats is 100 times more dangerous. This betrayal grows more painful after realizing how cheaply it was sold for. Under mounting legal jeopardy and threats of impeachment, with Congress refusing to fund his ridiculous wall, all Trump wanted was a cheap Christmas victory to tout to his alt-right, lunatic-fringe political base.
Yet the Syria withdrawal represents an infinitely larger Christmas gift to others. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is licking his lips in readiness to swallow Syria’s Golan Heights in its entirety.
Russian President Vladimir Putin ecstatically thanked Trump, proclaiming that “Donald is right” that Daesh has been defeated. We have yet to hear the full story from Robert Mueller’s investigation into how Putin obtained Trump’s unswerving loyalty.
Trump’s horrifying announcement followed a phone call during which Turkey’s president threatened and cajoled him into a withdrawal commitment, sweetening the deal by promising to buy a couple of shiny US missile batteries.
But by far the biggest beneficiary of Trump’s generosity is Iran, which will now deploy its proxies to consolidate its control over the rest of Syria, further entrenching its dominance in Baghdad, Beirut and all the way to the Mediterranean.
Trump’s Syria withdrawal announcement will embolden Iran’s allies in Iraq to escalate their demands for Cabinet seats.
Iran-sponsored paramilitaries from Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi are already preeminent in the Syria-Iraq border region. They will waste no time in linking up with associated militia forces in Syria and with Hezbollah to create a contiguous belt of territory under Iranian hegemony from which to go on the offensive against their regional and Western enemies.
Trump’s announcement will embolden Iran’s allies in Baghdad to escalate their demands for Cabinet seats. It also adds fuel to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s poisonous rhetoric that the US cannot be trusted, having signed a flawed nuclear deal then ripped it up two years later. Now it is the turn of Arab and Kurdish allies to discover that Trump’s promises count for nothing.
Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner spent two years promising that if Arab states reduced their hostility toward Israel and backed his peace efforts — even as his father-in-law tossed Jerusalem to the wolves — then the US would contain Iran. Arab Gulf states even silently tolerated boorish demands about lowering oil prices and bankrolling America’s commitments.
All this today counts for nothing. The US has no Iran policy, excepting some clumsy sanctions that allow the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to profit from oil smuggling. America’s Middle East strategy is determined by Trump’s whims after binge-watching Fox News, with no remaining sane administration officials to curb his worst instincts.
Trump’s retreat accelerates the countdown to a devastating confrontation between Israel and Iran’s proxies. Netanyahu, like Trump, has been distracting the public from all-consuming corruption charges with bellicose rhetoric about a few pitiful Hezbollah border tunnels. Both sides are now locked on a path of reciprocal threats and escalation. As America retreats and Iranian proxies advance, an Israeli invasion becomes a matter of time.
The perception of betrayal was palpable in unprecedentedly robust statements from Western officials who rebuked Trump’s assertion that Daesh has been defeated and stressed the need to contain Iran. Britain’s Middle East Minister Alistair Burt warned: “If allies cannot be relied upon, others are sought to take their place.”
Trump’s juvenile tweets reveal his dangerous ignorance: “Russia, Iran, Syria and many others are not happy about the US leaving, despite what the Fake News says, because now they will have to fight ISIS (Daesh) and others, who they hate, without us.”
Russia and Iran never lifted a finger to confront Daesh in Syria. They bear responsibility for the group’s emergence, with the Syrian regime from 2011 facilitating a conveyor belt of terrorists from its jails in order to create a bogeyman with which to terrorize the West. Tehran and Damascus bankrolled Daesh by trading in oil, while coordinating attacks against moderate Syrian rebel forces.
Daesh is coming back strongest in the central Iraqi regions under the control of Tehran’s Iraqi proxies. Both sides share a fundamentally anti-Western agenda, while not wanting to allow autonomous and representative governments to emerge in Baghdad, Beirut and Damascus.
Recent estimates of Daesh’s remaining capacity are around 30,000 fighters — hardly a spent force. These extremists thrive on instability in societies where populations have been alienated by brutal, sectarian and unjust governance. We should commence the countdown now to Daesh re-emerging as a massive regional and global threat.
There have long been intense policy discussions within Western defense establishments about which entity represents the greatest threat: Iran and its allies, or Daesh and the extremist movement? Trump has decisively solved this strategic conundrum once and for all: America will pull out its troops and allow both these menaces to thrive and proliferate.
The Middle East has been pounded by successive crises and conflicts over recent decades, but tighten your seatbelts — it is about to get 100 times worse.
• Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.

How ‘America first’ could put America last
Cornelia Meyer/Arab News/December 23/18
US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of US troops from Syria and scaling down its military presence in Afghanistan has led to the resignations of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and anti-Daesh coalition envoy Brett McGurk, the former sending a scathing letter of resignation in which he argued strongly in favour of honoring international commitments.
As far as Syria is concerned, there are clear winners and losers from the withdrawal of US troops. The pullout is unconditional, which means that instead of allies having their positions ring fenced, they are now exposed to enemy forces.
Russia has been playing its cards well. Its support for Bashar Assad secured it a naval base in Tartus, an airbase in Khmeimim and several forward bases. The first is of particular importance because Russia had lost access to the warm-water ports of the Mediterranean in the aftermath of the Cold War. This had been a thorn in the side of the country’s generals for a long time. It did not, then, come as a surprise when President Putin praised Trump’s decision during his mammoth end-of-year international press conference. Iran is the other big winner from Trump’s move. It can now develop its land bridge to the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon without any impediment. This will not bring joy to Israel, which is probably the strongest and most important US ally in the Middle East. Russia and Iran are the allies of President Assad. The latest US move will speed up his army regaining control over much of the remaining territory he had lost in seven years of civil war.
Trump’s move in the Middle East and the resignations of senior security officials go well beyond that particular geography.
Turkey is happy too. It opposes the Assad regime, but looked beady-eyed at the support the US and other Western powers gave the YPG Peshmerga Kurds. For the Turkish regime the YPG are related to the banned PKK. They are classed as terrorists by the government of Turkey, which views ideologies propagating an independent Kurdish state as an existential threat. They fear that such ideologies could eventually undermine the territorial integrity of their country. President Erdogan had held back on a full-scale assault on the YPG, because it would have been tantamount to a blue-on-blue assault — one NATO country, Turkey, in direct conflict with the allies of another NATO country, the US. Erdogan also praised Trump’s decision and promised not to invade northern Syria for the time being. It is questionable, however, how long the Turkish restraint will last. In the end fighting will resume in northern Syria with no regard for the civilian population, who are probably the biggest losers from Trump’s announcement.
The French and the British voiced concern. France’s Armed Forces Minister, Florence Parly, made a particularly good point when she countered President Trump’s assertion that the fight against Daesh was over. While the caliphate controls only about 1 percent of the territory it held at the height of its power, Daesh has not been beaten. It has merely retreated and will remerge somewhere else, possibly in a different incarnation. Such is the nature of asymmetric warfare with non-state actors.
Trump’s announcement on Afghanistan left US allies bewildered. Only 7,000 US troops will remain if the US presence is halved. This prompts the question, what can 7,000 soldiers achieve when peace and stability eluded 100,000 US troops? Again, the announcement comes at a critical stage when the government of Afghanistan needs to come to some sort of modus operandi with the Taliban. A strong presence of allied forces would be beneficial to such talks.
Trump’s move in the Middle East and the resignations of senior security officials go well beyond that particular geography. It indicates that the US is no longer the reliable ally that had shaped the post-Second World War international architecture. The president’s open criticism of NATO and one-sided cancellation of military exercises on the Korean Peninsula in the summer were further examples in the military theater — as is exiting the Paris Accord on Climate Change on the civilian front.
Democracies have at their disposal arsenals that go well beyond arms; soft power, diplomacy and reliable partnerships work to the benefit of all concerned. In that sense, a strict “America first” policy threatens to undermine the very foundation that American influence is built on.
Cornelia Meyer is a business consultant, macro-economist and energy expert. Twitter: @MeyerResources