December 27/18

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations For today
An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah
Matthew 12/38-42: "Some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you. ’But he answered them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was for three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here! The queen of the South will rise up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here."

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on December 26-27/18
Christmas Righteous Duties and Obligation
Action In Syria
Were Hezbollah Members Targeted Near Demascus?
Israeli Drilling Works Continue on Border
No Government Breakthrough Expected before Year's End
Fenianos Says 2 Flights 'Escape Disaster' over Lebanon during Syria Raid
Zakka's Family Says Hasn't Heard from Him since 10 Days
Protesters Rally Anew in Beirut as Numbers Dwindle
Aoun awards Doctor Nuhad Dagher golden medal of Knowledge
Aoun signs officers' promotion decrees
Berri regrets government formation stagnation
Tenenti to NNA: UNIFIL is present on the ground
Lebanese Foreign Ministry denounces Israeli raids in Syria, Bassil instructs Lebanon UN delegate to lodge complaint
Fenianos assures Hariri Lebanon escaped humanitarian catastrophe
Civil society activists block Banks street
Majida Roumi bound for Saudi Arabia to participate in 'Winter at Tantora' cultural Festival

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 26-27/18

President Trump makes surprise visit to Iraq
Syrian army reinforced close to front with Turkish-backed forces
German parliamentary report: Turkey has already invaded Syria
3 Syrian Soldiers Wounded in Israeli Strikes near Damascus
Turkey: Pointless for France to Remain in Syria to Protect YPG
Palestinian President Urges Trump to Abide by International Law
ISIS Resumes Attacks in Northern, Western Iraq
In first, former Egyptian presidents Mubarak and Morsi face-to-face in court
Former Egyptian Presidents Mubarak, Morsi Appear in Same Courtroom
Tunisia: Protesters, Security Forces Clash After Journalist Sets himself on Fire
Pair with Fake Guns Spark Panic at Paris Airport
Iran Held Talks with Afghan Taliban amid Peace Push

Titles For The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 26-27/18

Christmas Righteous Duties and Obligation/Elias Bejjani/December 25/18
Action In Syria/Jerusalem Post/December 26/18
Were Hezbollah Members Targeted Near Demascus/Jerusalem Post/December 26/18
President Trump makes surprise visit to Iraq/AP/December 26, 2018
In the Middle East, Russia has welcomed everyone to its table/Michael Young/The National/December 26/18
US Pullout from Syria: Who Will Fill the Vacuum/Burak Bekdil/Gatestone Institute/December 26/18
 Analysis/Israel's Extensive Syria Strike Signals: Business as Usual Despite Trump and Putin/Amos Harel/Haaretz/December 26/18
Russia: Israel's 'Provocative' Syria Strike Directly Endangered Two Civilian Flights/Reuters/December 26, 2018
Palestinians: The Real "Crimes"/Bassam Tawil/Gatestone Institute/December 26/18
A League of Democracies: Dusting Off an Old Idea/Lawrence A. Franklin/Gatestone Institute/December 26/18
Christmas without Christians in IS-liberated Mosul/Saad Salloum/Al Monitor/December 26/18
Church’s political role sparks debate among Iraqi Christians/Ali Mamouri/Al Monitor/December 26, 2018
Hatred, is it cured by wars/Turki Aldakhil/Al Arabiya/December 26/18
US troop withdrawal from Syria counterproductive/Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg/Arab News/December 26/18

Latest LCCC English Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on December 26-27/18
Christmas Righteous Duties and Obligation
Elias Bejjani/December 25/18
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. (Luke 02/11)
Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good will toward men (Luke 02/14)
The holy birth of Jesus Christ bears numerous blessed vital values and principles including love, giving, redemption, modesty and forgiveness.
Christmas is a role model of love because God, our Father Himself is love.
Accordingly and in a bid to cleanse us from our original sin He came down from heaven, was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.
This is my commandment, that you love one another, even as I have loved you. (John15/12)
There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John15/13)
Christmas is way of giving …God gave us Himself because He is a caring, generous, forgiving and loving and father.
Christmas embodies all principles of genuine redemption. Jesus Christ redeemed us and for our sake He joyfully was crucified, and tolerated all kinds of torture, humiliation and pain
Christmas is a dignified image of modesty ..Jesus Christ accepted to be born into a manger and to live his life on earth in an extremely simple and humble manner.
Let us continuously remind our selves that when our day comes that could be at any moment, we shall not be able to take any thing that is earthly with us for the Day of judgment except our work and acts, be righteous or evil.
Christmas is a holy act of forgiveness ….God, and because He is a loving and forgiving has Sent His Son Jesus Christ redeem to free us from the bondage of the original sin that Adam and Eve committed.
Christmas requires that we all genuinely pray and pray for those who are hurt, lonely, deserted by their beloved ones, feel betrayed, are enduring pain silently pain, suffer anguish, deprived from happiness, warmth and joy .
Christmas is ought to teach us that it is the duty of every believer to practice his/her faith not only verbally and via routine rituals, but and most importantly through actual deeds of righteousness….
Christmas’ spirit is not only rituals of decorations, festivities, gifts and joyful celebrations…But deeds in all ways and means by helping those who need help in all field and domains.
Christmas’s spirit is a calls to honour and actually abide by all Bible teachings and values.
In this realm we have a Biblical obligation to open our hearts and with love extend our hand to all those who are in need, and we are able to help him remembering always that Almighty God showered on us all sorts of graces and capabilities so we can share them with others.
Christmas is a time to hold to the Ten Commandments, foremost of which is “Honour your father and your mother”.
Christmas is a good time for us to attentively hear and positively respond to our conscience, which is the voice of God within us.
Christmas should revive in our minds and hearts the importance of fighting all kinds temptations so we do not become slaves to earthly wealth, or power of authority.
Christmas for us as patriotic and faithful Lebanese is a time to pray for the safe and dignified return of our Southern people who were forced to take refuge in Israel since the year 2000.
Christmas for each and every loving and caring Lebanese is a holy opportunity for calling loudly on all the Lebanese politicians and clergymen, as well as on the UN for the release of the thousands of Lebanese citizens who are arbitrarily and unjustly imprisoned in Syrian prisons.
Most importantly Christmas is a time for praying and working for the liberation of our dear homeland Lebanon, from the Iranian occupation.
No one should never ever lose sight for a moment or keep a blind eye on the sacrifices of our heroic righteous martyrs who willing sacrificed themselves for our homeland, identity, existence, and dignity. Our prayers goes for them on this Holy Day and for peace in each and evry country, especially in the chaotic and troubled Middle East. May God Bless you all and shower upon you, your families, friends, and beloved ones all graces of joy, health, love, forgiveness, meekness and hope.

Action In Syria
جيرازليم بوست: العمليات العسكرية في سوريا
Jerusalem Post/December 26/18
As the IDF demonstrated this week, it will not hesitate to take action against Iran in Syria or elsewhere if Israel’s security is threatened.
Now that Israel has decided to hold early elections on April 9, the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has to be particularly cautious about any moves that could trigger a conflagration in the region. As the IDF demonstrated this week, it will not hesitate to take action against Iran in Syria or elsewhere if Israel’s security is threatened. While that’s how it should be, there is a real danger of Syria becoming a flashpoint for a new conflict involving Israel.
According to foreign reports, Israeli air strikes in Syria on Tuesday night hit several Hezbollah officials as they boarded a plane bound for Iran. Newsweek cited an unnamed source as saying that the strike also targeted strategic Iranian munitions. At least one Hezbollah official and three Syrian soldiers were wounded in the attacks.
Newsweek said its source had received the information from Israeli military officials. According to Syrian state media, the strikes were launched from Lebanon, and Syrian air defenses had fired at “hostile targets” west of Damascus; its weapons warehouses were hit by Israeli fire. For its part, the IDF said it had deployed air defenses against a missile fired from Syria at Israel, which caused no harm or damage.
“An IDF aerial defense system was activated in response to an anti-aircraft missile launched from Syria,” the army said. Photographs on social media showed the launch being carried out from near the northern city of Hadera.
Israel has over the past few years conducted hundreds of air strikes in Syria, treading a fine line between Russia, which supports the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and the US, which recently announced a withdrawal of American troops from the country.
Israel’s main goals have been to stop Iran from establishing a military presence in Syria that would threaten the Jewish state, as well as thwart attempts by Iran to transfer advanced arms and ammunition to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
In the latest issue of The Jerusalem Report, veteran military analyst Yossi Melman argues that US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw his contingent of more than 2,000 troops from Syria was “a Christmas gift to the US’s enemies and rivals, above all Russia and Iran, and indirectly China, and a bombshell dropped on Israel and the Sunni Arab world, which have been encouraged by the US to form a steadfast front against the expansionist aspirations of Shi’ite Iran.”
Melman notes that the US evacuation opens up an Iranian land corridor from Tehran to Damascus that will allow Iran to accomplish its aspirations to reach Lebanon via land. Where does all this leave Israel?
As Melman concludes, although Israel will continue to enjoy the diplomatic backing of the US and it remains the strongest military power in the region that can defend itself and its interests, without a US presence in Syria, “it will be much more difficult to deal with the crisis.”
“The recovery of the Assad regime and the reassertion of its control over most of the country has brought the Syrian army back to the Golan Heights, where it was joined by Iranian and Hezbollah forces, as well as by Tehran-backed Shi’ite militias,” writes Maj.-Gen. Gershon Hacohen in a paper published by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, summing up the key strategic turning points of 2018. “The situation was further complicated by the Russian military presence in Syria and the constraints it imposed on Israel’s operational freedom, especially after the September 2018 downing of the Russian plane by Syrian air defense forces.”
Israel, under Netanyahu, has managed to overcome such blips as the downing of the Russian plane, while maintaining close relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. After the US pullout, Netanyahu has to be even more careful not to upset Putin.
Now that Russia has become the key player in Syria, it is essential for Netanyahu to protect Israel’s interests by coordinating with Moscow to foil any Iranian plots against it. We urge him to be tough but smart in acting against Iran in Syria, especially now with new elections on the horizon.

Were Hezbollah Members Targeted Near Demascus?
جيرازليم بوست: هل استهدفت الغارة الإسرائيلية بالقرب من دمشق اعضاء من حزب الله
Jerusalem Post/December 26/18
Mountain highway from Beirut to Damascus has been frequent target of past airstrikes, but claims that Hezbollah leaders were targeted leave questions about why they traveled to Syria
Hezbollah senior leaders and members were traveling to Damascus during the air strikes that rocked areas west of the Syrian capital on Tuesday evening. They were reportedly hit during the air strikes, leaving many questions about their identities and why they were targeted.
Newsweek reported on Wednesday that Hezbollah leaders were targeted in the airstrikes. According to several sources, including the Lebanese website, the Hezbollah delegation was journeying to Damascus to board a flight bound for Tehran. It was heading to the funeral of Grand Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, an important Iranian cleric who was head of the Expediency Discernment Council. He died on December 24, and senior Iranian religious figures buried him on Wednesday. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei presided at the ceremonies, according to Iran’s Fars News.
It now appears that the Hezbollah delegation may have been heading to Damascus to board a flight to Tehran for the state funeral. Hezbollah and Iranian regime leaders regularly attend each other’s funerals and ceremonies. For instance, in 2015, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani went to the grave of Jihad Mughniyeh in Beirut.
A Mahan Air flight left Damascus around 10 p.m. in the midst of the air strikes. Mahan Air has been designated by the US Treasury Department for its links to the IRGC. Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon said in 2016 that Mahan Air was among those whose flights have been used by Tehran to supply Hezbollah. However, these flights could fly directly to Beirut – so why would a Hezbollah delegation need to travel to Damascus to board the flight?
The claim that the Hezbollah members were targeted and that they were traveling for the Shahroudi funeral has not been confirmed. Newsweek reported that a Defense Department source said the strike was “conducted minutes after the leaders boarded a plane bound for Iran.” Strikes also targeted ammunition warehouses that held precision ammunition. In comments reports in ‘Haaretz,’ former director of Military Intelligence Maj-Gen. Amos Yadlin cast doubt on the report, saying it was a low probability that Hezbollah officials were struck.
The claim that the Hezbollah members had already boarded a plane has not been corroborated with any footage on the ground that shows a plane being hit. A strike on a plane at Damascus International Airport would be a serious escalation. The report may be only partly accurate, and may indicate that the men were struck on the way to board a plane, not after they had boarded.
Syria’s state media SANA claims that Syrian air defenses “intercepted hostile missiles fired by Israeli warplanes from Lebanese territory and managed to drop most of the rockets before reaching their targets.” SANA said the air strikes hit an ammunition depot and wounded three soldiers. Several Syria observers, including the Twitter account @Syria_SR, claimed the air strikes were more complex than that, involving “55 munition, four waves [of cruise missiles] in 35 minutes and managed to hit 7 times in 2 different locations.”
In response, Syrian air defense reportedly fired 60 missiles to intercept the attack. Several Syrian SA-125 anti-air missiles misfired during defensive action, falling in areas around Damascus and causing confusion.
If the Hezbollah members were in fact targeted, it would not be the first time that Hezbollah members have been struck in the same location – on the highway that leads from Damascus over the mountains to Beirut. For instance, two Hezbollah members were killed in an air strike near Dimas in December 2014. In January 2015, “senior Hezbollah figures,” including Jihad Mughniyeh, were killed near Quneitra. Mezzeh military airport was also struck in December 2016. Air strikes also targeted an area near Saboura on the mountain road in November 2016 and April 2017.
The road that passes from Damascus via the Mezzeh military airport and Saboura, Dimas and then over to Lebanon is a 116-km. stretch of beautiful mountain driving that normally takes two-and-a-half hours.
The allegation that the senior Hezbollah members were targeted on their way to the Shahroudi funeral has now been repeated by many sources on social media and online. Why would Hezbollah members expose themselves on the road to Damascus, knowing that there have been tensions in the region in recent months? Did they feel safe, hoping Syria’s S-300 air defense system – supplied by Russia in the wake of the downing of a Russian IL-20 in September during an Israeli air strike – would provide them security?
Targeted in the past on the same stretch of road, they would have known its dangers. It doesn’t answer the final question of why they didn’t board a flight directly from Beirut and save themselves the drive and exposure.
Hezbollah media and pro-Syrian regime media have been silent on this issue. Iranian regime media have also been silent, discussing only the Syrian air defense system’s “success” at targeting the attack and continuing the story that only a warehouse was hit and several soldiers injured. In the coming hours or days, the Syrian regime or pro-Hezbollah media may begin to reveal what happened. If senior members of the group were killed, they will want to hold lavish funerals for the “martyrs.”
Hezbollah is often outspoken about these kinds of events. On December 3, for instance, Hezbollah claimed none of its members were hit in an alleged November 29 air strike south of Damascus. This was in response to rumors that its members had been targeted. Now the ball is in Hezbollah’s court once again. We will see if the terrorist organization responds to the rumors from December 25 regarding its members being targeted.

Israeli Drilling Works Continue on Border
Naharnet/December 26/18/Israeli forces continued Wednesday drilling works on Lebanon's border in search of suspected Hizbullah tunnels, the Lebanese National News Agency said. “Enemy forces are continuing drilling works on the border with Kfarkila and the (Lebanese) army forced them to adjust their border wall plans,” NNA said. According to the agency, a patrol from the army's Directorate of Geographic Affairs carried out delineation works in a disputed area facing Kfarkila, forcing Israeli troops to retreat beyond the military route. The works were being monitored by a large number of troops from the two sides as well as UNIFIL peacekeepers, NNA added.

No Government Breakthrough Expected before Year's End
Naharnet/December 26/18/The new government will not be formed in the remaining days of 2018 according to media reports. In remarks to Saudi-owned newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, informed sources ruled out “any breakthrough before the beginning of next year.”
“Initiatives and contacts among the concerned parties are nearly suspended,” the sources added. A dispute over the political affiliation of Sunni candidate Jawad Adra has torpedoed the latest attempt to resolve the government deadlock. Adra had been initially nominated as a consensus candidate representing both President Michel Aoun and the Consultative Gathering – a grouping of six pro-Hizbullah Sunni MPs – but the Gathering later withdrew its endorsement of Adra after ambiguity surfaced over his future political alignment.

Fenianos Says 2 Flights 'Escape Disaster' over Lebanon during Syria Raid
Naharnet/December 26/18/Two civilian flights “narrowly escaped a humanitarian disaster” Tuesday over Lebanon during an Israeli raid on targets in Syria, a Lebanese minister said on Wednesday. Caretaker Public Works and Transport Minister Youssef Fenianos called Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri to “put him in the picture of what happened yesterday” during Israel's airstrike, the National News Agency said. “Lebanon miraculously escaped a humanitarian disaster that was about to hit the passengers of two civilian planes in Lebanon's airspace during the Israeli aggression against south Damascus that took place from Lebanese airspace,” Fenianos told Hariri according to the agency. “They agreed that Lebanon will file an urgent complaint with the U.N. Security Council against Israel in order to reach a resolution that would protect Lebanon and its civilians,” NNA said. Earlier in the day, the Russian military also said that that the Israeli airstrike had endangered two civilian flights. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said that six Israeli F-16 jets launched the "provocative" raid at the moment when two civilian airliners were preparing to land in Damascus and Beirut, creating a "direct threat" to the aircraft. Konashenkov said the Syrian military didn't fully engage its air defense assets to avoid accidentally hitting the passenger jets. He added that Syrian air traffic controllers redirected the Damascus-bound plane to the Russian air base in Hemeimeem. Konashenkov said the Syrian air defense forces shot down 14 of the 16 precision-guided bombs dropped by the Israeli jets, while the remaining two hit a Syrian military depot, injuring three Syrian soldiers. The Israeli Foreign Ministry declined to comment.

Zakka's Family Says Hasn't Heard from Him since 10 Days
Naharnet/December 26/18/The family of Iran-held Lebanese national and U.S. green card holder Nizar Zakka announced Wednesday that contact has been lost with him since ten days. “We the family of Nizar Zakkar, who is being arbitrarily detained in Iran, express grave concern over the fate of our son with whom direct communication has been severed since ten days. Lebanon's embassy in Tehran has also failed to secure any contact with him,” the family said in a statement. Urging Iranian authorities to clarify his fate in a speedy manner and holding them responsible for any harm, the family urged the Lebanese government and “specifically Prime Minister Saad Hariri to act quickly and summon the Iranian ambassador to Beirut to question him about Nizar.”“We also ask the Lebanese constitutional institutions, especially the Presidency and the Speakership, to take charge of Nizar's case in order to end his plight and liberate him from his prison,” the family added. Zakka has been detained in Iran since 2015 over spying allegations. He was sentenced in 2016 to 10 years in prison and a $4.2 million fine. Zakka, who lived in Washington and held resident status in the U.S., was the leader of the Arab ICT Organization, or IJMA3, an industry consortium from 13 countries that advocates for information technology in the region. Zakka disappeared Sept. 18, 2015, during his fifth trip to Iran. He had been invited to attend a conference at which President Hassan Rouhani spoke of providing more economic opportunities for women and sustainable development. On Nov. 3, Iranian state television aired a report saying he was in custody and calling him a spy with "deep links" with U.S. intelligence services. It also showed what it described as a damning photo of Zakka and three other men in army-style uniforms, two with flags and two with rifles on their shoulders. But that turned out to be from a homecoming event at Zakka's prep school, the Riverside Military Academy in Georgia, according to the school's president.

Protesters Rally Anew in Beirut as Numbers Dwindle
Naharnet/December 26/18/Around 60 civil society protesters staged a march Wednesday in downtown Beirut demanding better living conditions and health care in the country. The activists first marched from Martyrs Square towards the Port of Beirut where they staged a sit-in calling for improved inspection and an end to customs evasion. They later returned to the Riad al-Solh Square where the government's headquarters, known as the Grand Serail, is located. Army troops, security forces and riot police escorted the demonstration to preserve order as the protesters -- whose numbers sharply dropped compared to a larger demo on Sunday – chanted slogans calling for health care cards and solutions for social crises and unemployment. The National News Agency meanwhile reported that the Charles Helou road and the Banks Street were blocked during the protest. Violence between protesters and security forces had marred Sunday's demonstrations which spread from central Beirut to the Beshara al-Khoury and Hamra areas. At least three journalists were also beaten by security forces during the protests.

Aoun awards Doctor Nuhad Dagher golden medal of Knowledge
Wed 26 Dec 2018/NNA - President of the Republic, General Michel Aoun, represented by Caretaker Culture Minister, Dr. Ghattas Khoury, awarded Doctor Nuhad Dagher, the golden medal of Knowledge, First Class, as a token of appreciation for his contributions to the agricultural sphere in Lebanon. Dr Dagher was awarded the citation during a ceremony held on Wednesday at the Grand Serail, in the presence of the Secretary Gneral of the National Council of Scientific Research, Moeen Hamzeh, and concerned dignitaries. Speaking on the occasion, Minister Khoury hailed the accomplishments of the honored Dr in terms of his abundant scientific researches and projects for the advancement of the field of agriculture in Lebanon. Doctor Dagher, for his part, thanked President Aoun for bestowing upon him such a high ranking citation, saying "today's citation is granted to knowledge in Lebanon and all Lebanese scientists who work under very difficult conditions."

Aoun signs officers' promotion decrees
Wed 26 Dec 2018/NNA - President of the Republic, Michel Aoun, has signed, on Wednesday, the decrees of the promotion of officers of the various military corps, which will come into effect on January 1, 2019.

Berri regrets government formation stagnation
Wed 26 Dec 2018/NNA - House Speaker, Nabih Berri, this Wednesday regretted at his weekly meeting with deputies, "the current stagnation in the government formation process."However, Speaker Berri refused to blame any specific side for this stagnation. Visiting Lawmakers quoted the Speaker as saying that he has exerted all efforts needed to facilitate government formation. Nevertheless, the Speaker regretted the new government has not seen the light. The head of the legislative council told his visiting lawmakers that communication and contacts among the various parties, even those concerned in forming government, are standstill. Berri underlined that the only solution to Lebanon's predicaments lies in the civil state. He blamed confessionalism and sectarianism for all our quandary. The Speaker also stated that the first mission of the Parliamnet, after the formation of the new government, would be to lobby for the implementation of around 39 laws, including those related to the formation of the boards of directors of several institutions and sectors. On the other hand, Berri received a congratulatory cable from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sis, on the New Year.

Tenenti to NNA: UNIFIL is present on the ground
Wed 26 Dec 2018/NNA - The UNIFIL official spokesman, Andrea Tenenti, on Wednesday told the National News Agency that "UNIFIL soldiers are present on the ground to ensure the stability of situation," adding that UNIFIL is working with the parties to maintain stability.
Tenenti's comment came in reply to a question on the issue of the bombing of a tunnel in the area of Al-Hadab off the town of Aita Shaab.On the Kfer Kela surroundings, Tenenti said: "Our UNIFIL peacekeepers are deployed along the Blue Line, working closely with the Lebanese Armed Forces on the ground.""The head of the UNIFIL mission and its general commander, Major General Stefano Del Col, is in full contact with the parties to ensure stability in the region," Tenenti said, adding that the situation is now calm.

Lebanese Foreign Ministry denounces Israeli raids in Syria, Bassil instructs Lebanon UN delegate to lodge complaint

Wed 26 Dec 2018/NNA - The Foreign Ministry denounced in a statement on Wednesday the Israeli airstrikes against Syria, underlining "Syria's legitimate right to defend its land and sovereignty.""The Foreign Ministry also calls on the international community and the UN Security Council to denounce these raids, as well as Israeli warplanes' breach of Lebanese airspace to carry out attacks on a brotherly country, in flagrant violation of UN resolution 1701," the statement read. "Minister of Foreign Affairs Gebran Bassil instructed the Permanent Representative of Lebanon to the UN to file a complaint to the Security Council against the dangerous Israeli violations threatening stability in the region," statement concluded.

Fenianos assures Hariri Lebanon escaped humanitarian catastrophe

Wed 26 Dec 2018/NNA - Caretaker Public Works and Transportation Minister, Youssef Fenianos, assured Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, during phone call on Wednesday, that Lebanon has escaped a "real humanitarian catastrophe" on Tuesday night, as two civilian planes had been at risk of being hit by Israeli enemy warplanes in their violation of the Lebanese airspace during their bombing of targets in southern Damascus, Syria. Hariri and Fenianos agreed to file an urgent complaint against Israel at the UN Security Council, and to take the decision that protects Lebanon and its civilians.

Civil society activists block Banks street

Wed 26 Dec 2018/NNA - Civil society activists have blocked Banks Street in Downtown's Beirut, National News Agency correspondent reported on Wednesday.

Majida Roumi bound for Saudi Arabia to participate in 'Winter at Tantora' cultural Festival
Wed 26 Dec 2018/NNA - The highly renowned artist Majida El Roumi left Beirut this afternoon, heading to the city of Al-Ula in Saudi Arabia, to participate in the cultural "Winter at Tantora" Festival.Majida El Roumi will perform a music concert upcoming Friday 28, at 7:30 pm, within the touristic and cultural "Winter at Tantora" Festival currently taking place in the city of Al Ula. "Winter at Tantora" Festival is considered the longest of its kind in Saudi Arabia, stretching over a period of seven weeks, from December 20, 2018, till February 9, 2019.
The Festival features a wide range of cultural, sports and art events and programs to experience the ancient heritage of the city of Al Ula.The Festival's itinerary includes music concerts by several renowned international artists, notably Mohamed Abdo, Majida El Roumi, Omar Khairat, Lang Lang, Andrea Bocelli and Yanni. Um Kulthum's songs will also be played in a music concert using the hologram technology. Several other social, sports and art festivities will be organized within "Winter at Tantora" Festival.

Latest LCCC English Miscellaneous Reports & News published on
December 26-27/18
President Trump makes surprise visit to Iraq
AP/December 26, 2018
Trump's trip was shrouded in secrecy
Air Force One flew overnight from Washington, landing at an airbase west of Baghdad under the cover of darkness Wednesday evening
AL-ASAD AIRBASE, Iraq: President Donald Trump made an unannounced visit to Iraq on Wednesday, leaving behind a partially shuttered US government to greet American troops helping hold off extremists in a country where thousands of Americans died during the recent war. It comes a week after Trump stunned his national security advisers by announcing that he would withdraw US troops from neighboring Syria where they have been fighting Daesh militants. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis abruptly resigned following the announcement, and Trump's decision rattled allies around the world, including in Iraq. Trump's trip was shrouded in secrecy. Air Force One flew overnight from Washington, landing at an airbase west of Baghdad under the cover of darkness Wednesday evening. It is his first visit with troops stationed in a troubled region.
Fifteen years after the 2003 invasion, the US still has more than 5,000 troops in Iraq supporting the government as it continues the fight against remaining pockets of resistance by Daesh. The group has lost a significant amount of territory in Iraq and Syria but is still seen as a threat. Trump, who speaks often about his support for the US military, had faced criticism for not yet visiting US troops stationed in harm's way as he comes up on his two-year mark in office. He told The Associated Press in an interview in October that he "will do that at some point, but I don't think it's overly necessary." He later began to signal that such a troop visit was in the offing. Trump had planned to spend Christmas at his private club in Florida, but stayed behind in Washington due to the shutdown. It's unclear whether his trip to Iraq was added after it became apparent that the government would be shut down indefinitely due to a stalemate between Trump and congressional Democrats over the president's demand for a wall along the US-Mexico border.Adding to the tumult, the stock market has been experiencing heavy losses over concerns about a slowing global economy, Trump's trade war with China and the president's public slamming of the Federal Reserve and its chairman over interest rate hikes by the independent agency.
Trump's visit comes at a time when his Middle East policy is in flux. He went against the views of his top national security advisers in announcing the Syria withdrawal, a decision that risks creating a vacuum for extremists to thrive.
There are dire implications in particular for neighboring Iraq. The Iraqi government now has control of all the country's cities, towns and villages after fighting its last urban battles against Daesh in December 2017. But its political, military and economic situation remains uncertain, and the country continues to experience sporadic bombings, kidnappings and assassinations, which most people attribute to Daesh. Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi recently said Iraqi troops could deploy into Syria to protect Iraq from threats across its borders. Iraq keeps reinforcements along its frontier to guard against infiltration by Daesh militants, who hold a pocket of territory along the Euphrates River.
Trump campaigned for office on a platform of ending US involvement in foreign trouble spots, such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. The Syria decision will ultimately affect all of the approximately 2,000 troops deployed in the war-torn country. The Pentagon is also said to be developing plans to withdraw up to half of the 14,000 American troops still serving in Afghanistan.
During the presidential campaign, Trump blamed Democrat Hillary Clinton for the rise of Daesh, due to the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq at the end of 2011 during her tenure as secretary of state. President George W. Bush is the one who set the 2011 withdrawal date as part of an agreement with the Iraqi government to gradually shrink the US footprint and slowly hand off security responsibilities to the government and Iraqi security forces. His successor, President Barack Obama, wanted to leave a residual force in Iraq to help the government manage ongoing security challenges. But he ultimately went ahead with the scheduled pullout in 2011 after Iraqi's political leaders rejected terms the US sought for legal protections for the US troops that would have remained. Two of Trump's recent predecessors visited Iraq early in their terms. Bush visited Iraq in November 2003, about eight months after that conflict began. Due to security concerns, Bush waited until 2006 to make his first visit to Afghanistan. Obama visited Iraq in April 2009, the first year of his eight years in office, as part of an overseas tour. He visited Afghanistan in 2010. Vice President Mike Pence visited Afghanistan in December 2017, not long after Trump outlined a strategy to break the stalemate in America's longest war. Pence met with Afghan leaders and visited with US troops stationed in the country. Trump has not visited Afghanistan.

Syrian army reinforced close to front with Turkish-backed forces
Reuters, Beirut/Wednesday, 26 December 2018/Syrian government troops backed by Russian forces have sent extra troops towards the city of Manbij in coordination with the militia that controls it, a militia spokesman said, as Turkish-backed Syrian rebels said they were preparing to attack it. The deployment was coordinated with the US-backed militia in Manbij, the spokesman for the Manbij Military Council said. It is part of the wider buildup of forces in the area. “The battle will soon start,” Major Youssef Hamoud, spokesman for the National Army, the main Turkish-backed rebel force in the area, told Reuters.
“What we see on the front now is reinforcements to all forces to reach full preparedness for the battle.”President Donald Trump’s plan to withdraw US troops from Syria has triggered alarm among the largely Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
They have partnered with Washington in the war against ISIS and now fear the US move will open the way for Turkey to launch a long-threatened attack against them. “The Russian army has restored the Syrian-Russian coordination centre to Arima village to the west of Manbij city, after its withdrawal from there a while ago,” said Sharfan Darwish, the spokesman for the Manbij Military Council. Manbij was seized in 2016 from ISIS by Syrian militia allied to the SDF, which control roughly a quarter of Syria. Its capture was a milestone in the US-backed campaign against ISIS. In June, the United States and Turkey reached an agreement that would see the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia ousted from the town, but Turkey says its implementation has been delayed. In November Turkish and US troops began joint patrols in the region. Turkey is determined to cross to the east of the Euphrates river in northern Syria as soon as possible, Ankara’s foreign minister was quoted as saying on Tuesday. Ankara regards the YPG as terrorists and has been infuriated by US support for the group in the fight against ISIS. Trump’s abrupt decision to pull troops out of Syria has handed the fight against ISIS over to Turkey - and effectively given Ankara the green light to push into remaining Kurdish-controlled areas in northern Syria.

German parliamentary report: Turkey has already invaded Syria
Al Arabiya English, Dubai/Wednesday, 26 December 2018/An expert report prepared for German parliament said Turkey’s military presence in Syria “fulfills the criteria of an invasion” according to international law, Deutche Welle Turkish reported on Wednesday. The report, prepared by the parliament’s Research Services at the request of the German Left Party (Die Linke), examined Turkey’s military presence in northern Syria. Turkey currently controls a large swathe of territory in northwestern Syria consisting of Al-Bab and the border cities of Jarablus and Azaz, captured from the Islamic State (ISIS) in the Euphrates Shield operation launched in August 2016. Turkey also seized control of the northwestern province of Afrin this year, formerly controlled by the Kurdish People Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey sees as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an armed group which has been fighting inside Turkey since 1984. “When Turkey’s military presence in Afrin, Azaz, Al-Bab, and Jarablus regions in northern Syria is examined, it is seen that it fulfils the criteria of an invasion set in international law,” the report said. Sevim Dagdelen, deputy chairman of the Left party in the German Bundestag, criticized the German government for declining to evaluate Turkey’s military activities in Syria as a violation of international law.“It is a scandal that as a NATO ally Turkey entered into some territories in Syria and its invasion is not being recognized as a violation of international law, despite all expert reports and despite all parties’ stance,” she said.

3 Syrian Soldiers Wounded in Israeli Strikes near Damascus

Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 26 December, 2018/Three Syrian soldiers were wounded in overnight Israeli strikes near Damascus, regime media reported Wednesday. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said the airstrikes targeted three positions south of Damascus that are arms depots for Lebanon's Hezbollah group and Iranian forces. Regime television acknowledged that arms depots were targeted, but it did not elaborate. It said that most of the missiles were shot down by air defense units. The TV, quoting an unnamed military official, identified the warplanes as Israeli. The Observatory said the Israeli missiles were launched from above the Lebanese territories and targeted western and southwestern Damascus rural areas. Lebanese state-run National News Agency said Israeli war planes performed mock raids above southern Lebanon.
Israel's military spokesman's unit did not confirm the raids, but said in a statement that "an aerial defense system was activated against an anti-aircraft missile launched from Syria." No damage or injuries were reported by the Israeli military. The attack near Damascus is the first since US President Donald Trump announced last week that the US will withdraw all of its 2,000 forces in Syria. Following the announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel would "continue to act against Iran's attempts to entrench itself militarily in Syria, and to the extent necessary, we will even expand our actions there."Israel is widely believed to have been behind a series of airstrikes in the past that mainly targeted Iranian and Hezbollah forces fighting alongside the government in Syria. Tuesday's attack is the first since a missile assault on the southern outskirts of Damascus on November 29.

Turkey: Pointless for France to Remain in Syria to Protect YPG

London - Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 26 December, 2018/Turkey warned France that it is pointless to maintain its military presence in Syria to protect the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG). "If France is staying to contribute to Syria's future, great, but if they are doing this to protect the (militia), this will bring no benefit to anyone," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters according to state news agency Anadolu. Cavusoglu hit out at France's "support" of the YPG, which he said was "no secret", pointing to a meeting French President Emmanuel Macron had held on Friday with the Syrian Democratic Council, the political wing of the US-backed Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF).
The YPG serves as the military backbone of the SDF.
Turkey views the YPG as terrorist organization affiliated to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). The PKK is blacklisted as a terror group by Ankara, the US and the European Union. France is part of the international anti-terrorism coalition led by the US in Syria and Iraq. It dispatched military pilots and artillery soldiers to carry out bombings. Several sources also reported the deployment of French special forces in Syrian territory, but Paris has not confirmed this information. Last week, US President Donald Trump ordered the withdrawal of 2,000 US ground forces that had been in Syria to provide training to the YPG under the SDF. The shock move put allies on the backfoot, with Macron on Sunday saying: "An ally must be reliable". On Sunday, Macron avoided commenting on the demands made by two representatives of the "Syrian Democratic Council" after Trump's decision to withdraw US troops from Syria. He summed up by the situation by announcing Paris "regrets" the US decision, given that the mission to terminate ISIS was not over yet, adding that the SDF should not be abandoned and allies should not be “left in the middle of the road.”France confirmed it will remain in the alliance despite the US withdrawal. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Ankara will intervene in the coming months against ISIS and the YPG.

Palestinian President Urges Trump to Abide by International Law
Ramallah – Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 26 December, 2018/Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said US President Donald Trump must abide by international law resolutions in regards to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. “In the past year, Trump has undertaken initiatives in total violation of international law as he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved his embassy to Jerusalem,” he said during Christmas mass in Bethlehem late on Monday. He also pointed to Trump’s decision to “punish all refugees” by cutting US funding to the UN Palestinian aid agency, UNRWA, and clearly supporting settlement building. “We told him we cannot accept this,” Abbas said. “We want Trump to rescind this and to implement international law.” “We are not enemies of anyone and we are not enemies of America,” he stressed, adding that Palestinians want America’s friendship and good relations with it.
“However, it must deal with us in a just way. We are not asking for anything more than that.” Abbas also stressed his commitment to peace efforts and renounced violence and terrorism, pointing to his signing of 83 security protocols to combat terrorism with world countries, including the United States. His speech was in line with his position, which calls for excluding the US from being a mediator in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process following Trump's decision to relocate his country’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The mass was attended by Jordanian Interior Minister Samir Mubaidin, PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, a number of ministers, senior officials, security chiefs and several citizens. On the same occasion, Archbishop and Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem Bishop Pierre Batista Pizzaballa called on the Palestinians not to abandon their lands. Pizzaballa held the mass with the participation of a number of bishops, senior patriarchal figures, a number of parishioners, diplomatic delegations and visitors from various countries who arrived in Bethlehem to celebrate the occasion.

ISIS Resumes Attacks in Northern, Western Iraq
Baghdad - Hamza Mustafa/Wednesday, 26 December, 2018/The ISIS terrorist group has kicked off a series of attacks in western and northwestern regions of Iraq, revealed security and political sources. Examples of these attacks, were the car bombing in Tal Afar on Tuesday that left two people dead and the kidnapping of 14 civilians in Kirkuk also on Tuesday. The developments have taken place a year since former Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi’s announcement that ISIS has been defeated in Iraq. An informed political source told Asharq Al-Awsat that prior to the arrival of ISIS, corruption among the military was rife in these regions. This would eventually pave the way for ISIS’ onslaught. After the liberation, however, the regions became embroiled in a struggle for power among forces that emerged victorious in the May parliamentary elections, the source said on condition of anonymity. Each of the victors alone wants to assume power, he went on to say. This dispute is being played out in parliament and government whereby the Sunni camp has been split into two: the Islah and Binaa blocs. The rivalry between them is demonstrated in the differences over ministerial portfolios. The dispute could later seep into the provinces and state agencies, he added. This rivalry could ultimately be exploited by ISIS, he warned. Meanwhile, security expert Saeed al-Jayashi told Asharq Al-Awsat that since June, ISIS has been working on developing its media and since August, it has been upping its terror operations. He added that the Iraqi armed forces have developed high expertise in combating ISIS. The current developments, however, he warned, cannot be tackled with security measures, but through political and social means. On the Tal Afar bombing, MP Hassan Touran told Asharq Al-Awsat that the region is an important Turkmen area. It also lies inside the Nineveh province and on the volatile Syrian border. ISIS is trying to regroup and recover its power in this region through all possible means, he warned. The security plan in place must therefore be reviewed in order to counter the organization.

In first, former Egyptian presidents Mubarak and Morsi face-to-face in court
Al Arabiya English, Cairo/Wednesday, 26 December 2018/Former Egyptian President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak testified against former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi who is charged with damaging and setting fire to prison buildings, murder and attempted murder, and looting prison weapons depots while allowing prisoners from Hamas, Hezbollah, and other criminals to escape. Mubarak said that 800 people from different nationalities stormed through the eastern border of Egypt during the January 25 revolution, through Gaza tunnels. “They entered Egyptian land through Gaza and had weapons… They headed toward the prisons to release prisoners belonging to Hezbollah, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood,” Mubarak said. Mubarak added that they broke into the Wadi el-Natrun prisons as it held prisoners belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. He said that the perpetrators killed police officers north of Sinai, adding that he has more information but would need permission from the presidency to reveal more. “The issue of Gaza tunnels is complex and we destroyed many of them before the revolution… We were exposed to attacks from Gaza while destroying the tunnels,” Mubarak said. Mubarak was accompanied by his two sons, Gamal and Alaa Mubarak. Egyptians await an extraordinary moment on Wednesday, when the two former Egyptian presidents appeared together before the Criminal Court in Cairo in the case of storming prisons during Egypt’s January 25 revolution. The former President Mubarak was due to testify during the last hearing in early December but was absent as he refused to fulfill the civilian request, because he still enjoys military status, according to defense lawyer Farid al-Deeb. The case brings together Mubarak and Morsi in one hall, the first as witness and the second as defendant for the first time in the history of Egypt. Mubarak is closely associated to the case which looks into the issue of the border intrusion. The events led later to his toppling from power on January 25, following the storming of prisons and police departments.

Former Egyptian Presidents Mubarak, Morsi Appear in Same Courtroom
Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 26 December, 2018/Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak appeared in the same courtroom on Wednesday as his ousted successor Mohammed Morsi. Mubarak was in court to testify in the case of the storming of the eastern borders and the raiding of prisons during the 2011 revolt in the country. Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, has been detained on an array of charges, including the jailbreak. The jailbreak was staged by Morsi and other leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood group during the 2011 uprising. Mubarak told the court that the storming of the border was aimed at increasing chaos during the revolt to support the Muslim Brotherhood . He added that the attack was possible through tunnels that were dug from Gaza, which is controlled by the Hamas Palestinian movement. The raiders then headed to the prisons to release Hezbollah, Brotherhood and Hamas inmates, he charged. Furthermore, he accused the raiders of attacking and killing police force members in northern Sinai, which borders Gaza. Hamas’ founding charter, Mubarak noted, recognizes the group as part of the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt has banned the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group.

Tunisia: Protesters, Security Forces Clash After Journalist Sets himself on Fire

Tunisia - Asharq Al-Awsat/Wednesday, 26 December, 2018/Tunisian security forces fired tear gas at protesters in the western city of Kasserine following the death of a journalist who had set himself on fire over harsh living conditions in the country. Tensions rose in the center of the city of Kasserine Monday night, after dozens of protesters burnt tires, and blocked the road in al-Nour neighborhood, and Habib Bourguiba main street. The police responded with tear gas, according to an Agence-France Presse (AFP) correspondent. Interior ministry spokesperson Sofiane al-Zaq said Tuesday that six members of the security forces were injured and nine protesters were detained. Journalist Abdul Razaq Zorgi, 32, died late Monday after he set himself on fire and his death sparked protests in the city and clashes overnight with police. After the clashes, the area prevailed in the morning. “For the sons of Kasserine who have no means of subsistence, today I start a revolution. I am going to set myself on fire,” Zorgi said in a video published before his death. “The children of Kasserine are unemployed, who have no livelihood, and have nothing to eat.” Kasserine was one of the first cities to rise up after the vendor's death in 2010, in protests that saw police kill demonstrators. The unrest quickly spread across the country and led to the overthrow of then-president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.
National Union of Tunisian Journalists confirmed his death, saying that Zorgi died protesting “difficult social conditions... and a lack of hope.” The Union hinted that it was considering organizing a general strike in the media sector. Despite the country's democratic transition after Ben Ali's ouster and a recent return to economic growth, authorities are still struggling to improve poor living conditions. Inflation fueled by the devaluation of the Tunisian dinar and persistent unemployment, which remains over 15 percent, sparked protests across the country last January. The incident was reminiscent of the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouaziz eight years ago, which sparked revolutions around the Arab World. A number of local political observers considered that the democratic transition in Tunisia was widely praised and recognized a qualitative leap. But many Tunisians are frustrated by the difficult economic situation and the exacerbating unemployment eight years after the 2011 uprising.

Pair with Fake Guns Spark Panic at Paris Airport
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 26/18/Two people holding replica guns sparked a panic at Paris' main Charles de Gaulle airport on Wednesday before they were quickly arrested, sources close to the investigation said. Passengers were evacuated from Terminal 2 for around 45 minutes after the incident at 8.30 am (0730 GMT). A passenger had raised the alarm saying they had seen "two adults who did not speak French with weapons in a case," one source said. "There was a wave of panic in Terminal 2 when people saw the weapons." A police source said border police had detained the pair. A security perimeter was quickly set up, while a bomb squad had already been at the scene dealing with an abandoned bag. The guns were believed to be "airsoft" pistols, replica weapons used for sport. French airport authorities consider those carrying them to be "armed," an airport source said.

Iran Held Talks with Afghan Taliban amid Peace Push
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 26/18/Iran has met with the Afghan Taliban, a top Iranian security official said Wednesday according to the Tasnim news agency, just days after the militants attended reconciliation talks in the UAE. Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, made the announcement while on a visit to the Afghan capital Kabul, several Iranian agencies reported. "The Afghan government has been informed of the communications and talks carried out with the Taliban, and this process will continue," he said, quoted by Tasnim. No details on where the talks took place were given by the news agency, which is considered close to Iran's Revolutionary Guards. "The Islamic Republic has always been one of the primary pillars of stability in the region and cooperation between the two countries will certainly help in fixing Afghanistan's security issues of today," Shamkhani said.Abas Aslani, a reporter for Tasnim, tweeted that it was the first time talks had been confirmed between Iran and the Taliban. The announcement follows reconciliation talks last week between the United States and Taliban officials in the United Arab Emirates. The Taliban said they also held meetings with officials from the UAE, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, but the militants refused to meet a delegation from Afghanistan. The renewed diplomatic efforts come as Washington seeks a way out of the 17-year conflict. An American official told AFP last week that President Donald Trump had decided to pull out "roughly half" of the 14,000 US forces, but the White House has yet to confirm the widely-publicized move.
Complex history
Iran and Afghanistan share a nearly 600-mile border, and have a had a complex relationship in recent years. Tehran has long supported its co-religionists in Afghanistan, the Shia Hazara minority, who were violently persecuted by the Taliban during its rule in the 1990s. Iran worked alongside the United States and Western powers to help drive out the Taliban after the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. But there have been allegations, from Western and Afghan sources, that Iran's Revolutionary Guards have in recent years established ties with the Taliban aimed at driving out U.S. forces from Afghanistan. Iran hosted Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Monday in Tehran. No details were given of the discussions. Tehran welcomed Trump's announcement that he was withdrawing all U.S. forces from Syria last week, but has not commented on the reduction in Afghanistan. "The presence of American forces was from the very start, in principle, a wrong and illogical move and a primary cause of instability and insecurity in the region," foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said on Saturday. Hawks in Washington have criticized Trump's move, saying it will cede significant influence in the region to Iran. The Taliban, meanwhile, has made significant territorial gains this year as its fighters inflict record casualties on government forces. Afghanistan's largest militant group carried out an hours-long gun and bomb attack on a Kabul government compound on Monday that killed at least 43 people, one of the deadliest assaults on the capital this year.

Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 26-27/18
In the Middle East, Russia has welcomed everyone to its table
Michael Young/The National/December 26/18
As the only person who can mediate between the likes of Israel and Iran, Vladimir Putin now occupies a position of immense power in the region
The decision of President Donald Trump to withdraw American forces from Syria has accelerated the arrival of a new moment in the Middle East, one characterised by firm US disengagement and a larger Russian role in the region.
In the decades after the 1970s and the end of the presidency of George W Bush, Washington had put in place a broad, relatively pro-American regional order that stretched from Iraq and the Gulf to the western limits of North Africa. US influence over this array of states made it a central actor in the region, allowing it to be the main power broker while pursuing its political priorities. Not all states were pro-American, but most were, so that outliers, such as Syria, Iraq until 2003, and Libya until 2011, had to coexist with the Pax Americana around them.
Under Barack Obama, the Americans began dismantling that order, seeing the region and its problems as a drain on their resources. Mr Trump has gone even further in his drive to get America out, pushing regional states to take charge of their affairs while avoiding any conflict between the US and its main regional rival, Iran. The pull-out from Syria was the clearest affirmation of this attitude.
Russia will certainly continue to fill the vacuum. However, its philosophy is very different to that of the Americans. Where the US identified enemies and sought to reinforce alliances so as to contain them, Russia has adopted another approach, one that is more ecumenical and contrasts with its own past behaviour.
This was well outlined recently by the director of the Carnegie Moscow Centre, Dmitri Trenin, at a conference in Beirut. He argued that the most important insight of Russian officials in recent years had been to conclude that Russia didn’t need to take sides in the Middle East, but could deal with all relevant parties, except a few that were beyond the pale, such as ISIS. All were welcome at Moscow’s table.
Mr Trenin’s point was that Russia had adopted a pragmatism that allowed it to be flexible in regional affairs. It has accorded itself a central role amid myriad contending parties, allowing it to play in many settings. It was not entirely with anyone but also not entirely against anyone, so it would be a mistake to assume that Russia might jeopardise this convenient situation by taking sides. Nor did the Russians see themselves as holding the moral high ground, unlike America, which has a tendency to view itself as a force for good.
Such barefaced political realism has opened up many avenues for President Vladimir Putin, who has opportunistically exploited the spaces created by Washington. Mr Putin is today the only person who can mediate between Iran and Israel, or Hezbollah and Israel, to avert conflict between the sides. In a region that has long depended on outside intervention to manage and alleviate regional tensions, the Russian leader has become a go-to person for the countries of the Middle East.
This has generated unease in the US. The perception that the Russians are gaining on Washington has disconcerted many in the foreign-policy community. Most recently, US defence secretary James Mattis alluded to this in his resignation letter, expressing the need to be “clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors”, in what was, at least partly, a reference to Russia.
Yet this is not a Russia that seeks to build up a regional order opposed to the US, as the Soviet Union may have dreamed of doing during the Cold War. Today, Moscow is close to one of Washington’s main regional allies, namely Israel, while other allies such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia will not forsake their ties with Washington – nor are they required to – to strengthen their relations with Russia. In other words, the Russians may be competitors of the Americans, but that’s largely because US administrations have given them ample space to be.
What makes the Russians’ task easier is that alternative crisis-mediation structures –such as regional Arab or Muslim organisations, or the United Nations – have been absent. Yet states require such communication channels in a divided and conflict-ridden region. The Arab League is a shadow of its former self, as the rifts among Arab states widen, while the United Nations is only effective if the five permanent members of the Security Council can agree. Barring that, as happened in Syria, little multilateral progress can be expected.
So, Russia today fulfils a need in the region, one that satisfies the preferences of most Arab regimes. Moreover, by ignoring democratisation, opposing regime change and defending stability, it reassures authoritarian leaders who fear political volatility. This conservative approach has increased its margin of manoeuvre. With Mr Trump pulling his forces out of Syria and leaving Israel to confront Iran on its own, Russia’s role can only expand. As regional necessities increase, so too will Russia’s possibilities. Western countries can complain about Moscow’s malign attitude, but unless they stake out a central presence in the Middle East for themselves, no one in the region will have any impetus to marginalise Russia.

US Pullout from Syria: Who Will Fill the Vacuum?
Burak Bekdil/Gatestone Institute/December 26/18
"What Turkey is going to do is unleash holy hell on the Kurds. In the eyes of Turkey, they're more of a threat than ISIS. So this decision is a disaster." — U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham.
The U.S. move also could turn out to be a death-blow on Washington's efforts to keep Tehran from further establishing itself in Syria and threatening the security not only of Israel, but of the entire Mediterranean region.
Potential Turkish-Kurdish conflicts would further destabilize Syria and strengthen Russia. This point cannot be ignored. Turkey's and Iran's dependency on Russia in Syria will increase, as the trio further teams up to have a larger role in shaping Syria's future.
It is understandable that abstaining from the role of the world's policeman may look consistent with Trump's pre-election pledge to "Make America Great Again." Nevertheless, caution is needed here: Leaving the "policing" job in the world's most volatile and turbulent parts to un-free regimes such as Russia, China, Iran and Turkey could also damage the quest of America and others in the free world to become great again -- and to remain free. The free world simply does not have the luxury -- even in remote geographical areas -- of allowing security to be policed by un-free state and non-state actors.
U.S. President Donald Trump's optimism about a potential Turkish military campaign to finish off ISIS looks woefully premature. Trump taking seriously Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's pledge to "eradicate whatever is left of ISIS" is also problematic. ISIS and some of its offshoots are Erdoğan's former Islamist allies. Pictured: Trump and Erdoğan talk at the NATO Summit in Brussels, Belgium on July 11, 2018. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump's unexpected decision to pull U.S. troops from Syria (and Afghanistan) was music to Turkish ears. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called it "the clearest and most encouraging statement" from Washington.
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavuşoğlu welcomed Trump's abrupt decision to withdraw all 2,000 U.S. troops from northern Syria. Defense Minister Hulusi Akar vowed that that Syrian Kurdish fighters whom Turkey considers as top regional security threat, would soon be "buried in the trenches that they dig."
The way Trump made that decision has also given new ammunition to Turkey's pro-Erdoğan media to portray the decision as "Erdoğan's victory." The media, in Turkey and abroad, widely reported that Trump decided on the pullout after a Dec. 14 telephone conversation with Erdoğan. According to Washington's official account of the conversation, the two leaders had "agreed to continue coordinating to achieve our respective security objectives in Syria."
Long before Trump decided in favor of troop withdrawal, Turkey had been threatening a cross-border military operation against U.S, allies, the Kurds, in Syria. Although Ankara pledged maximum care to avoid clashes with the U.S. troops some observers feared an unwanted Turkish-US military conflict. Turkey's security services had long been supplying military HQ with loads of intelligence from Arab, Kurdish and mixed population locations in northern Syria. The Turkish Air Force conducted airstrikes on Kurdish strongholds in neighboring Iraq. The Turkish military also massed troops near a town on the Syrian border, although Erdoğan seemed to agree to a delay in his planned incursion into Syrian territory, the third such operation in two years.
Now what? In its official narrative, Ankara could eradicate the remnants of the Islamic State group from Syria with just logistical help from Washington. Erdogan has openly said that military operations would also target Syrian Kurdish militants from the People's Defense Units YPG), the military wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) which Turkey says is an offshoot of the PKK, a Kurdish militant group that has been fighting Turkey for autonomy or secession since 1984. Turkey, the U.S. and European Union have long designated the PKK as a terrorist organization. With the upcoming U.S. withdrawal, Turkey has won the chance militarily to challenge YGP/PYD without the risk of clashing with the U.S. troops. It is not known yet if Erdoğan, in return for securing the U.S. pullout, pledged not to engage in an all-out war with the Kurds. But Kurds remain nervous.
Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the main military group that allied with the U.S. in the fight against Islamic State (and made up of mainly YPG fighters), says it would have to withdraw fighters from the battle against radical jihadists to protect its borders in the event of a Turkish attack. "Fighting [Islamic] terrorism will be difficult because our forces will be forced to withdraw from the Deir el-Zor front to take up positions on the border with Turkey to stop an eventual attack," Elham Ahmed, the co-chair of the SDF's political wing, said in Paris.
"What Turkey is going to do is unleash holy hell on the Kurds," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. said on the Senate floor. "In the eyes of Turkey, they're more of a threat than ISIS (IS). So this decision is a disaster." Trump's decision complicates the Syrian theater more than just opening up a new battleground between Kurdish fighters and Turkish troops.
In any Turkish operation Tel Abyad promises to be an imminent target. Militarily speaking Turkey will wish to divide the main block of Kurdish territory into two creating a major crevice of land between Manbij and Kobane in the West and Qamishli and Hasaka in the East. In 2011 around 70% of the population of Tel Abyad was Arab (and some 25% Kurdish). The U.S. withdrawal will mean flocks of Arab fighters who were trained at military camps in Turkey, returning to the Arab-Kurdish zone to fight as Turkish proxies, fueling an Arab-Kurdish, in addition to a Turkish-Kurdish fighting. Most Arab tribes, most notably Jamilah and Bou Jarada, remain loyal to Turkey but had in the past also supported IS. That risk highlights a major down side of Trump's plan.
Backed militarily by Turkey and returning to northern Syria some Arab tribes may be exposed to the risk of "re-recruitment" into potentially new radical Islamist groups. IS may have largely lost its institutional identity but its fighters have not disappeared from the earth. Their tactical (anti-Kurdish) alliances with Turkey-backed Arab militants may lead to new, longer-term alliances, creating various IS-like groups with various new banners and brands. That being the new setting in northern Syria, Basher al-Assad, Syria's Russian-backed dictator, may see it totally fit to encourage new jihadists in order to win an upper hand in the "political process" (the constitutional reform process) that will theoretically shape the future of his country.
The Syrian theatre is too complex to feature a zero-sum game. The state and non-state actors that cheered Trump's decision to withdraw are: Erdoğan's Turkey, which wants to build a Sunni, Islamist and pro-Turkey administration in northern Syria; Russia, whose now-augmented power in Syria will also augment Assad, and Iran, which will now gain new advances in Syria.
Potential Turkish-Kurdish and Arab-Kurdish conflicts would further destabilize Syria and strengthen Russia. This point cannot be ignored. Turkey's and Iran's dependency on Russia in Syria will increase, as the trio further teams up to have a larger role in shaping Syria's future.
On December 19, foreign ministers from the three countries met in Geneva to cement their increasing convergences over Syria. Russia must be especially pleased to have a new opportunity to weaken even further Turkey's deeply problematic ties with its Western and NATO partners. Potential Turkish-Kurdish and Arab-Kurdish conflicts would further destabilize Syria and strengthen Russia. This is a point that cannot be ignored.
The U.S. move also could turn out to be a death-blow on Washington's efforts to keep Tehran from further establishing itself in Syria and building a Shia land bridge all the way to Lebanon and therefore threaten the security not only of Israel, but of the entire Mediterranean region.
In September, speaking on the margins of the UN convention, Trump's National Security Advisor John Bolton said that the U.S. forces would remain in Syria until Iran and its proxies departed. With its numerous potentially serious drawbacks, Trump's decision deeply discredits the U.S. administration, its key figures -- and Trump himself.
The U.S. president said on Twitter December 23 that Turkey promised it would ensure that ISIS is defeated in Syria. He said:
"President Erdoğan of Turkey has very strongly informed me that he will eradicate whatever is left of ISIS in Syria.... and he is a man who can do it plus, Turkey is right 'next door.' Our troops are coming home!"
Trump's optimism about a potential Turkish military campaign to finish off ISIS looks woefully premature. Trump taking seriously Erdoğan's pledge to "eradicate whatever is left of ISIS" is also problematic. ISIS and some of its offshoots are Erdoğan's former Islamist allies. The lines of alliance and hostility are blurred but always open to further change.
Erdoğan's word is fine -- but probably not good enough. First, Erdoğan's primary motive to send the Turkish army into Syria is not to fight jihadists. He may even have less appetite to fight jihadists who may come up under non-ISIS banners. Some groups of jihadists (aspiring but not yet ISIS 2.0) are his allies and proxies. It would have been wiser if Trump got assurances that Erdoğan will finish off every Islamist/jihadist group in Syria, not just what remains of ISIS. If one can actually trust Erdoğan's word, that is. Erdogan has a history of not being reliable.
It is understandable that abstaining from the role of the world's policeman may look consistent with Trump's pre-election pledge to "Make America Great Again." Nevertheless, caution is needed here: Leaving the "policing" job in the world's most volatile and turbulent parts to un-free regimes such as Russia, China, Iran and Turkey could also damage the quest of America and others in the free world to become great again -- and to remain free. The free world simply does not have the luxury -- even in remote geographical areas -- of allowing security to be policed by un-free state and non-state actors.
*Burak Bekdil, one of Turkey's leading journalists, was recently fired from the country's most noted newspaper after 29 years, for writing in Gatestone what is taking place in Turkey. He is a 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.

 Analysis/Israel's Extensive Syria Strike Signals: Business as Usual Despite Trump and Putin
تحليل سياسي من الهآرتس بقلم عاموس هاريل: الغارات الإسرائيلية المكثفة على سوريا تشير إلى أن النشاط العسكري قد عاد إلى وضعيته السابقة بالرغم من ترامب وبوتين
Amos Harel/Haaretz/December 26/18
The strike in the Damascus area was likely aimed at a specific target such as Iranian weapons depots, but it has a wider geopolitical context ■ Netanyahu is reverse-engineering facts on Hezbollah tunnels ahead of elections
The aerial attack on Syria Tuesday attributed to Israel came less than a week after U.S. President Donald Trump announced the pullout of American forces from the country. The alleged Israeli strike may have been in pursuit of some specific military goal - to bomb Iranian weapons depots, for instance - but it has a broader political context. Israel is signaling that from its perspective, it's business as usual again: Despite Trump's announcement and despite Russia's fury about its Ilyushin plane getting shot down last September, Israel sees itself as free to continue attacking targets in Syria, when necessary.
Israeli attacks on Syria have very much reduced since the downing of the Ilyushin (which the Syria aerial defense system shot by mistake during an Israeli air raid), according to foreign media reports.
Russia, wanting to stabilize the Assad regime, pressed Iran to reduce its arms smuggling and attempts to establish a military presence in Syria; it also leveraged the incident of the downed plane to press Israel to reduce its Syria strikes.
The Israeli army sent a delegation headed by General Aharon Haliwa, head of the IDF operations division, to Moscow in mid-December. It is possible that Russia's opposition to Israel's renewed attacks in Syria was softened to some degree by that meeting. The Russians could also have an interest in Israel constraining the Iranian drive to increase its military assets in Syria.
It is of interest in any case that the attacks ascribed to Israel are focusing on the greater Damascus area, remote from the most sensitive area from Russia's perspective – an air base and the cities of Tartus and Latakia, in northwest Syria where the Ilyushin was shot down.
Israel has another argument beyond the message that Trump's withdrawal does not deflect it from its path. Last summer, when Russia aided Assad's forces in regaining Syria's south, Moscow promised Jerusalem that it would keep the Iranians 80 kilometers away from Israel's border in the Golan Heights.
In practice, the Russians didn't include Damascus and its suburbs in that no-go zone, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds force continues to operate there. Moreover, there are still signs of Iranian and Hezbollah activity on the Syrian side of the border in the Golan Heights.
In any case, the resumed Israeli-Iranian brawl in Syria is still low-key. Israel may prefer to strike more targets in fewer raids to prevent a gratuitous escalation of the situation. According to Syrian reports, the Israeli jets that struck Damascus operated from Lebanese airspace. The Syrian anti-aircraft systems responded, as they have done over the last two years, with massive missile fire. One of the missiles seemed to penetrate Israeli airspace and an intercepting missile was fired in response. Insofar as is known, there was no interception and the IDF did not specify which air defense systems were activated.
Meanwhile, the IDF is still working on locating Hezbollah tunnels on the Lebanese border. Likud ministers on the talk radio circuit on Tuesday following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's surprise snap election announcement said the mission up north is all but over.
It's a classic case of reverse engineering the facts. To prevent Habayit Hayehudi from abandoning the coalition in mid-November, Netanyahu used the excuse of the tunnels (the nature of the challenge remains as mysterious to Hezbollah as it does to the Israeli public), claiming that the military situation was sensitive (so elections shouldn't be held).
Now that the legal and political circumstances have changed and elections are planned, one can hardly be in the middle of a sensitive operation, hence the haste to declare it all but finished.
In practice, however, it will take many more weeks to finish finding and destroying all of Hezbollah's tunnels into Israel. This shouldn't affect the timing of elections, but in hindsight also applies to Netanyahu's original "sacrifice" speech more than a month ago. The tunnels operation is complicated and has some potential for trouble developing with Hezbollah, which hasn't happened yet. That's all, and it has nothing to do with the elections.

Russia: Israel's 'Provocative' Syria Strike Directly Endangered Two Civilian Flights
Reuters/December 26, 2018
'Six Israeli F-16s fired 16 missiles at Damascus, Syrians intercepted 14 of them,' Russian Defense Ministry says ■ One flight was landing in Beirut, the other in Damascus
Russia's Defense Ministry said Wednesday the airstrike in Syria attributed to Israel "directly endangered" two civilian flights. The ministry did not specify which flights had been threatened but said one of the flights was landing in Beirut and the other in Damascus.It added that Syrian air defences had destroyed 14 of 16 Israeli missiles launched against unspecified targets near Damascus by six Israeli F-16s on Tuesday. A Defense Ministry spokesman said the Syrian military didn't fully engage its air defense assets to avoid accidentally hitting the passenger jets. He added that Syrian air traffic controllers redirected the Damascus-bound plane to the Russian air base in Hemeimeem.
Israeli aircrafts struck an arms depot west of Syria's capital city of Damascus from Lebanese airspace, Syrian state media reported Tuesday. According to reports, three Syrian soldiers were wounded in the attack which targeted Hezbollah depots.  A report in the American weekly Newsweek said several senior Hezbollah officials were wounded in the alleged attack. Citing a Department of Defense source familiar with the details of the attack via senior Israeli representatives, the report said Israeli aircrafts struck a few minutes after the officials had gotten on board a plane to Iran. However, former director of Israeli Military Intelligence, Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin said on Wednesday it is unlikely Israeli had directly struck Hezbollah officials. Speaking on Israeli army radio, Yadlin said "the probability (of the report) is very low," adding that "we're trying to piece the picture together, with the official Israel remaining silent. We're trying to understand what's been attacked and what were the results of the attack. We're relying on statements from the Syrians and leaks for the Department of Defense." Although Russia and Israel established a system to avoid friction between Israeli aircraft operating in Syria and Russian military planes in the area, a Russian aircraft was downed by Syrian anti-aircraft missiles during an Israeli airstrike in September. The Russians blamed Israel for the mishaps, a claim that Israel vigorously denied. Russia announced it had delivered the S-300 air defense system to Syria in October following the incident.

Palestinians: The Real "Crimes"
Bassam Tawil/Gatestone Institute/December 26/18

As far as Abbas and other Palestinians are concerned, Israel's security measures in response to terrorist attacks are also a "crime." In other words, they are saying that Israel does not have the right to conduct hot pursuit after terrorists hiding in Palestinian cities or refugee camps.
When it comes to the actions of the Palestinian leaders themselves, however, they see utter innocence. For them, the daily incitement against Israel and Jews is not a "crime." For them, the glorification of terrorists and paying salaries to their families is not a "crime." For them, the shooting of a pregnant woman at a bus stop is not a "crime."
Such messages are driving Palestinians into the open arms of Hamas. If you are telling your people that Israel and the Jews are criminals, and that anyone who does business with them or visits them is guilty of a "crime," you are telling them that Hamas has got it right: Palestinians should be seeking the destruction of Israel, not peace with it.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his cohorts have long been waging a campaign of hate and incitement against Israel -- one that aims at depicting Israelis and Jews as "criminals" and "murderers." (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
The Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership's favorite -- and probably most used -- word in recent weeks is "crime." This is the word that PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his senior officials in Ramallah have endorsed as part of their anti-Israel campaign of incitement. Almost every statement that is issued by the Palestinian leadership concerning Israel includes the word "crime."
For Abbas and his officials, almost everything Israel does or says is a "crime."
ّIn their world, building housing units for Jews in the West Bank or Jerusalem is a "crime."
According to the logic of Abbas and his Palestinian officials, the killing of a Palestinian terrorist who murdered two of his Jewish co-workers and Israel's subsequent demolition of his house is a "crime."
As far as Abbas and other Palestinians are concerned, Israel's security measures in response to terrorist attacks are also a "crime." In other words, they are saying that Israel does not have the right to conduct hot pursuit after terrorists hiding in Palestinian cities or refugee camps. Each time the Israeli army enters a Palestinian city to arrest a terrorist, the Palestinians cry "crime".
Visits by Jews to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem have been upgraded by Abbas and his officials from an ordinary "crime" to, in the words of one official, a "hellish crime."
They and other Palestinian factions, including, of course Hamas, have gone as far as condemning the establishment of Israel as a "crime."
Accordingly, Abbas's ruling Fatah faction, which is often described by international media outlets as "moderate," also considers the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which announced the British government's support for the establishment of a "national home for the Jewish people" in Palestine, as a "crime against humanity."
In recent weeks, the Palestinian leadership's list of "crimes" has grown to cover other matters.
In the eyes of Abbas and his top officials, a recent visit by Arab journalists to Israel is not only an "unacceptable crime," but a political and national sin" as well. These are the words used by Abbas's Ministry of Information to condemn seven Arab journalists based in Europe for accepting an invitation to visit Israel.
Last week, Abbas's ruling Fatah faction endorsed a statement issued by a group called the Islamic and National Forces that called for boycotting an Israeli-Palestinian shopping mall in east Jerusalem and warning Palestinians that "economic normalization" with Israel was a "crime" and an act of "intentional treason."
Abbas's Fatah also considers real estate transactions with Jews as a "crime." For Abbas and his representatives, any Palestinian involved in selling properties to Jews is a "criminal" and "traitor." This "crime" carries a death sentence.
Hence, we see that Abbas and his friends consider everything related to Israel and Jews as a "crime." They do not want Palestinians to do business with Jews; they do not want Palestinians to sell properties to Jews, and they do not want Arabs who believe in coexistence and peace to visit Israel. All these actions, according to the Palestinian leadership and its supporters, are "crimes" for which people should be punished.
When it comes to the actions of the Palestinian leaders themselves, however, they see utter innocence. For them, the daily incitement against Israel and Jews is not a "crime." For them, the glorification of terrorists and paying salaries to their families is not a "crime." For them, the shooting of a pregnant woman at a bus stop is not a "crime." For them depriving their people of international aid and cracking down on public freedoms under Abbas in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip is not a "crime."
The daily use of the word "crime" to condemn Israel comes in the context of the Palestinians' continued effort to delegitimize Israel and demonize Jews. This is not a new policy. Abbas and his cohorts have long been waging a campaign of hate and incitement against Israel -- one that aims at depicting Israelis and Jews as "criminals" and "murderers." That is the main reason it has become almost impossible to find one Palestinian who is ready to accept any form of concussions or compromise with Israel. This campaign is also the main reason why Hamas has become highly popular among Palestinians, as the latest public opinion poll published last week showed.
Palestinian leaders bombard their people with the following message: All Israelis are criminals. All Israelis are guilty until proven otherwise. The establishment of Israel is a crime. Israel's anti-terrorism measures are a crime. The hands of Palestinians, by contrast, are lily white.
Such messages are driving Palestinians into the open arms of Hamas. If you are telling your people that Israel and the Jews are criminals whose hands drip with blood, and that anyone who does business with them or visits them is guilty of a "crime," you are telling them that Hamas has got it right: Palestinians should be seeking the destruction of Israel, and not peace with it.
*Bassam Tawil is a Muslim Arab based in the Middle East.
© 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.

A League of Democracies: Dusting Off an Old Idea

Lawrence A. Franklin/Gatestone Institute/December 26/18
"Ours are not western values. They are the universal values of the human spirit. Anywhere and anytime, ordinary people when given the choice, the choice is the same: freedom not tyranny, democracy, not dictatorship, the rule of law, not the rule of the secret police." — Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, 2003.
A League of Democracies might also serve as a vehicle to increase the numbers of democracies in the world: it could have as its overriding objective the expansion of democracy throughout the planet.
During a recent interview, Ambassador Ron Dermer, Israel's Ambassador to the United States, suggested that a "League of Democracies" would help freedom-loving states survive the challenge to democratic values presented by authoritarian states and extremist ideologies.
According to Dermer, the league could be made up of a consortium of "Free World" nations unlimited by territorial region, race or culture. The alliance could be global in scope, not confined, as is NATO to a North Atlantic community of nation-states. Nor would the league be exclusively military in nature. Dermer proffered that it could include India, the world's most populous democracy; Israel, the Middle East's only democracy, and Japan, an Asian democracy.
Such a league might also serve as a vehicle to increase the numbers of democracies in the world: a League of Democracies could have as its overriding objective the expansion of democracy throughout the planet. This goal was previously suggested by Dermer and the former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky in their book, The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror. In it, the authors underscore this sentiment by quoting from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's address to a Joint Session of the United States Congress in 2003:
"Ours are not western values. They are the universal values of the human spirit. Anywhere and anytime, ordinary people when given the choice, the choice is the same: freedom not tyranny, democracy, not dictatorship, the rule of law, not the rule of the secret police."
Advocates for a League of Democracies might feel inclined to propose a prerequisite for league membership candidacy. Its defining requirement could be a constitution embracing the inalienability of human rights and a tradition of law and policy that protects these rights.
Perhaps, also non-democratic states that appear to be evolving toward establishing a democracy -- such as Indonesia, Ethiopia, and Tunisia -- could eventually be admitted. Conditional admission to the League could rest on the voting judgment of existing League members. Moreover, if these states fail to make continued progress toward democracy, states could be expelled from the League.
Membership in it might act as an incentive for borderline states to travel even more forcefully toward a path to democratization.
Democratic societies such as Taiwan and the Republic of Korea, both overshadowed by the People's Republic of China, might seek League membership. Admission might guarantee a protective shield for these nations against aggression by a militarily-superior China. Such a guarantee would be part of a NATO-like Article V, that an attack on one member will be viewed as an attack upon all, thus serving as a deterrent to aggression.
Further, recently-established democracies in Eastern Europe and the Baltic region might likely lend vigor to a League of Democracies after having been so long denied freedom and sovereignty by the Soviet Union. Appropriate countries in South America might also qualify and seek to join. A League of Democracies might also serve as an institutional counterweight to the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, headquartered in Saudi Arabia, and as a worthy competitor to the Chinese model of sacrificing political freedom and human rights for economic gain and domestic determinability.
Just as significant as countering China, the League could buttress the world's most populous democracy, India, in its struggle to raise economic and social standards, thereby increasing its political stability.
In addition, a League of Democracies could have the potential to tackle transnational problems such as illicit human- and drug-trafficking, transcontinental criminal syndicates and terrorist organizations, as well as being able to help preserve freedom of speech and human rights.
The egalitarian energy generated by such a consortium of democracies could have the beneficent effect of extending equality under law to ethnic, religious and social minorities in the League's member states, and offer hope to the world's oppressed people now ruled by tyrants and other autocrats.
*Dr. Lawrence A. Franklin was the Iran Desk Officer for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. He also served on active duty with the U.S. Army and as a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve. He is also a practicing Catholic.
© 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.

Christmas without Christians in IS-liberated Mosul
سعد سلوم: عيد الميلاد من دون مسيحيّين في الموصل رغم تحرّرها من داعش

Saad Salloum/Al Monitor/December 26/18
GETTY/Zaid al-ObeidiFather John Botros Moshi — the Syriac Catholic archbishop of Mosul, Kirkuk and the Kurdistan Region — stands among the rubble of the Tahra Church in Mosul, Iraq, April 29, 2018.
MOSUL, Iraq — Christmas remains a sad affair in Mosul, a city that once hosted a lively Christian community, even two years after its liberation from the Islamic State (IS).
This is largely because most of the Christians who fled five years ago have not come back and few churches have been renovated to bring back the Christmas spirit of the past, Samer Elias, a Christian Iraqi researcher and writer, told Al-Monitor.
Elias’ book, "Mosul Churches, History and Pain," which was published in November, documents how Mosul’s churches and other Christian heritage sites were destroyed by IS. Elias calls on the Iraqi authorities to allocate more financial resources for the restoration and reconstruction of these churches, pointing out that the current process is very slow.
“Only one church has been rebuilt in Mosul — the Chaldean Church of St. Paul in al-Muhandisin district. The reconstruction was financed by the Chaldean Patriarchate, in cooperation with an Italian institution. UNESCO is currently working on the construction of two churches in the western part of Mosul — the Dominican Fathers Church known as the Our Lady of the Hour Church, and the Syriac Immaculate Church,” Elias said.
But even the recently renovated Chaldean Church of St. Paul remains deserted during the festive season, as most of the Christian community still has not returned to Mosul.
The head of the Gilgamesh Center for Antiquities and Heritage Protection in Mosul, Faisal Jaber, told Al-Monitor that the Christians are hesitant to return because of the security situation. “Just the reconstruction of churches with no guarantee of stability is not persuading the Christians to return,” he said.
Jaber expressed concern about the current government's policies toward the Christian heritage in general and misappropriation of Christian property in particular. He gave as an example the case of the Organized Crime Directorate at the Ministry of Interior’s intelligence service that uses Al-Nasr nunnery and neighboring monasteries as their headquarters.
He believes that the use of a religious site by a government security service without paying the owners rent further strengthens the fears of the Christian community that “the IS ideology” is dominant and the Christians are still a vulnerable minority.
Elias also spoke of other practices that cause both anger and anxiety among Christians, such as using destroyed churches as waste dumps or holding concerts there — both considered as unrespecful to the sanctity of places of worship.
In addition, the Christian church authorities do not give a single, unified message to the Christians on whether they can return.
Elias noted, “The Chaldean Church encourages the immediate return of Christians to Mosul, while the Syriac Orthodox community is calling for international guarantees for the return of Christians. Meanwhile the Syriac Catholic community — mostly based outside Mosul in the Ninevah valley — has largely responded to the demands of return.”
Christian leaders are aware of the complex situation and say they face repetitive questions by their community on whether it is safe to return. “Today we are all called to have a deep spiritual reading of the prophets’ texts and words, to discover the rich meaning in our faith and [to gain strength from what] we went through during IS' occupation of our towns in August 2014. … Our homes were destroyed and we were displaced. We lived for over 3½ years in camps away from our towns. The towns were liberated in 2017 and the reconstruction process has begun, although it is a bumpy road filled with challenges,” Cardinal Mar Luis Rafael I Sacco told Al-Monitor.
Though he tries to motivate Christians to use the spiritual experience in the Old Testament to find strength, Sacco said he understood the hesitation to return. “The church cannot overlook the extent of the human suffering the displaced have gone through during the time of their displacement," he noted.
On the political level, the cardinal expressed belief that the issue of return requires “a political consensus between the countries of the region and the central government as well as the Kurdistan Region."
"Any demographic change is not acceptable because our properties and homes are neither for acquisition nor for sale," he added.
Christians have come to realize that their return is a challenge that cannot be faced alone and requires coexistence with other communities in the region.
Based on this, the head of the Department of Endowments in the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs in the Kurdistan Region, Khaled al-Bir, stressed the need to preserve all religious heritage sites without any discrimination.
“The lack of financial resources for the reconstruction of the Ninevah churches is the first obstacle down this path. Therefore we seek assistance from international organizations and churches. The area is also home to other religious and ethnic minorities. We may be fortunate to receive aid for the reconstruction of churches, and therefore we ought to be wise enough to develop an approach for the reconstruction of the diverse religious heritage in the area, including the Islamic and Yazidi heritage sites that have also been destroyed,” Bir said.
This approach holds an important message, as it reveals that the rebuilding of churches is an integral part of the process to rebuild trust between Christians and the various components of the city. This also requires raising awareness among the city’s Muslim community about the importance of Mosul’s religious heritage, which is not associated with Christians alone.
***Saad Salloum is an Iraqi academic and journalist specializing in Iraqi minorities and human rights. He heads the research department in the College of Political Sciences of Mustansiriya University and is one of the founding members of the Iraqi Council for Interfaith Dialogue. His publications focus on Iraqi minorities and include the books "Minorities in Iraq" (2013), "Christians in Iraq" (2014) and "Policies and Ethnic Groups in Iraq" (2014).

Church’s political role sparks debate among Iraqi Christians
Ali Mamouri/Al Monitor/December 26, 2018
The Iraqi Chaldean Catholic Church attempts to have a bigger role in Christian politics, but Christian parties see this as unwarranted interference by the religious institution.
Facebook/www.en.abouna.orgCardinal‎ Louis Raphael I Sako addresses Iraqi Christians from the Vatican, Vatican City. Posted July 7, 2018.
The Chaldean Catholic Church headed by Cardinal‎ Louis Raphael I Sako is trying to play an important role in politics that resembles the role of the senior Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Although this role is not direct intervention in politics but only an advisory role that provides support to certain political issues, it triggered the reactions of Christian political parties that want to have the only say in decisions related to the Christian community. They want to be entirely separate from the religious institution in the country.
The latest development in the ongoing debate between the church and the Christian parties is the refusal of the five members of parliament of the Christian bloc to support the candidacy of church-backed Hanaa Korkis as minister of displacement and migration. Due to the Christian bloc's opposition, Korkis did not receive the parliament’s confidence vote, and she also did not receive the support of Christian allies in parliament such as the Al-Binaa Alliance.
The Ministry of Displacement and Migration is traditionally allocated to Iraq's Christian community. Yet the Christian members of parliament insist on having the sole say in the candidacy. They issued a statement Dec. 4 expressing their opposition to the candidacy of Korkis, arguing that she does not represent them and insisting that her candidacy is an attempt to isolate their role in parliament.
Also, the Christian Babylon movement, which is close to the Popular Mobilization Units, said in a statement that its leadership and the members of the Christian parliamentary bloc “strongly oppose the candidacy of Korkis for the position of minister of displacement and migration.” The movement said it is “necessary for the candidate to be named by the representatives of the Iraqi people in parliament.”
The statement said, “Assigning someone for the ministry is a political process, not a religious one. Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has to respect the decision of the Christian bloc. If he chooses someone, that person (must be chosen after talks and) should not be aggressively imposed on the bloc.”
In response to the Christian parties’ criticism of the church, the Chaldean Patriarchate issued a statement Dec. 17 saying, “The church is not trying to replace or equate itself with the government.” The patriarchate criticized “partisan Christian elements” for their irresponsible and provocative comments regarding the interference of the church in the political realm. The statement said, “The church is concerned with the public good. This is part of its vocation as it has a mission to support the well-being of people protecting their rights and dignity. By doing so, it mimics the roles of Jesus Christ and the popes.”
The statement spoke of the example of the Catholic Church in the Vatican and its support of Patriarch Sako’s religious role in the country, saying, “The church is defending the rights of Palestinians. Pope John Paul II even played a role when Iraq was under siege, just as Pope Francis visited Burma and defended Muslims. “
The statement added, “The church is involved in matters of the public because it is part of its mission, not because it is seeking benefits. It is only concerned with people’s happiness and their development; however, it definitely does not want them to go back to dark times and the Inquisition like some figures said.”
The statement said, “By discussing public matters related to the country and its people, the Patriarchate represented by Cardinal Louis Raphael I Sako is not looking for any personal gains or benefits.”
The statement also pointed out that the church had previously backed candidates who became government ministers. “The Patriarchate supported the candidate from the communist party, former minister Fares Jajo, and Dr. Anne Nafi, an independent Syriac Christian, for her integrity, professionalism, and loyalty. Both were not named by the Christian bloc members of parliament.” Jajo served as minister of science and technology from 2014 to 2015 until the ministry was abolished; Nafi was minister of construction and housing from 2016 until October of this year.
The statement also said, “The church does not interfere in the political and partisan polarization and is far from it. Yet when asked about its opinion, it expresses it independently and responsibly. The church has the right to take legal action against anyone who tarnishes its reputation. It is determined to serve Iraq and the Iraqis no matter the cost.”
Despite the opposition of most Christian parties to Sako’s political role, a leader of the Christian Rafidain bloc, Yonadem Kanna, defended the patriarch, saying, “PM Abdul Mahdi and President Barham Salih decided to take two candidates from Cardinal Sako, who nominated Hanaa — the candidate of the Chaldean religious authority.”
Kanna, responding to the question of church interference in politics, said, “This is the general situation in the country. There are Islamic religious parties that constitute the majority, and as they respect Islamic religious authorities, we respect Christian religious authorities.”
However, Kanna and Emmanuel Khoshaba, the head of the Rafidain bloc, do not see eye to eye. Khoshaba said in a Dec. 19 statement that the parliament’s dismissal of Korkis “is a victory for the notion of a secular state and separation of religion from politics.” He said clerics imposed Korkis and that she does not represent the thinking of the parliamentary component.
The Chaldean Patriarchate answered Khoshaba’s statements, saying, “These statements are delusional and not well-informed. We respect democratic choices, depending on their circumstances. A secular or religious state does not depend on dismissing an independent and technocratic woman (Hanaa) from the race.”
Apparently, the weakness of the political process and lack of institutionalization of political behavior in Iraq are forcing the different religious authorities representing diverse Iraqi components to voice their opinions when it comes to politics. Political parties consider such intervention to be competition with their role, and they are calling on religious authorities to implement a strict version of state secularism, which does not seem possible or applicable in Iraq.
**Ali Mamouri is Al-Monitor's Iraq Pulse Editor and a researcher and writer who specializes in religion. He is a former teacher in Iranian universities and seminaries in Iran and Iraq. He has published several articles related to religious affairs in the two countries and societal transformations and sectarianism in the Middle East.

Hatred, is it cured by wars?

Turki Aldakhil/Al Arabiya/December 26/18
Every moment we live turns into history and it gains its eternity depending on the extent of its connection to ongoing events. A history reader is like a sailing captain, each mountain, island and trace he passes through are history to be written, legends to be told and inscriptions to be engraved.
What distinguished nations and helped them transition from their falls is the extent of their awareness in the lessons learnt from history. History does not repeat itself as it’s said, however, events seem similar due to lack of knowledge. Prominent figures wrote about major events throughout our history like al-Tabari, Ibn Kathir and Al-Baghdadi.
In the West, there are Arnold J. Toynbee, Will Durant and Eric Hobsbawm. Their writings are a mixture of history, ideas, lessons and events. Without these documents people cannot know what happened with those who came before them and cannot anticipate the future.
What distinguished nations and helped them transition from their falls is the extent of their awareness in the lessons learnt from history. History does not repeat itself as it’s said, however, events seem similar due to lack of knowledge
‘Events that changed history’
When I read the book ‘Events that changed history’ by Dr. Jamal Al-Suwaidi, what attracted my attention was the type of events he selected and chose out of thousands of developments and crises.
In the introduction, he noted how events are linked to each other. It’s true that an event is a development that is made up of time, place and social actors but it may also bring about additional events.
He compares between two treaties in the introduction. The Treaty of Vienna, signed in 1815, came “after the end of the Napoleon war which engaged Europe in a series of conflicts that lasted for long years. It’s viewed as a model of how to create peace after wars and resulted in an accurate system for the balance of powers and in (setting an approach) that contains the defeated instead of humiliating him.”
He compares between this treaty and the Treaty of Versailles, which was signed in 1919 after WWI that greatly humiliated Germany and explains how this humiliating treaty was the “seed of WWII.”
Dr. Jamal chose twenty events for his book. Among the topics he chose to comment on was The Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) between the Pope’s followers and the Catholics on one hand and the followers of Martin Luther, John Calvin and the Protestants on another. Dr. Jamal believes it’s necessary to study this war to overcome the sectarian corruption in the Islamic world as this war is a clear lesson as to how Europe was torn apart, houses were set on fire and blood was shed on the streets.
He then narrates the repercussions of the war, even after the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, where it was agreed upon the sovereignty of law and keeping the Church away from politics. Dr. Jamal believes that: “History’s wise (lesson shows) that everyone is a loser in religious wars and sectarian conflicts.” He emphasized the concept of tolerance and its role in decreasing the manifestations of hate in Europe due to the people’s awareness in lessons learnt from history and to their painful comprehension of the consequences of bloodshed and destruction on humans and structure.
Dr. Jamal uses the Treaty of Vienna to explain the development of the international order and the structuring of the modern state. The treaty solidified the principle of “balance of powers” and the necessity to be inspired by its experience and articles which protected Europe, defused the tensions of deadly disagreements and buried the embers, which always ignite wars, under the ashes of temporary settlements. The value of the treaty is in ending the reasons behind the war, which crushed the rich and old continent.
While discussing the great event, WWII (1939-1945), he links between the Marshall Plan and European growth thanks to the American role, which imposed its domination over the world after the war. However, the most important thing is not to repeat the mistake of the Treaty of Versailles.
The Marshall Plan set the pillar of peace in Europe and ended every possibility of the birth of a new Hitler in the continent. The historical mistake which was made after WWI was hence comprehended and based on this, Europe rose again, armed with a rich legacy of ideas and theories that qualified it to dive into science and spread its jewels on the entire world!
Dr. Jamal’s book that highlights twenty events is worthy of being studied by the young generation so they learn lessons from nations which suffered the plagues of absurd religious wars. The West is now contemplating the causes that sparked its wars in the utmost irony as it now understands how man’s stupidity, intolerance and hatred can produce the worst of fates and destroy all dreams.
Hatred is not cured by wars. The treatment to malice is to curb it with tolerance and reason.
Perhaps this is why ancient Arabs said:
“He who holds higher positions shall feel no malice,
And he whose temper is characterized with anger shall never reach higher ranks”

US troop withdrawal from Syria counterproductive
Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg/Arab News/December 26/18
On Sunday, the Pentagon confirmed that the order to withdraw US troops from Syria had been signed. Last week’s announcement of President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw American forces, which have been deployed to help the global coalition fight Daesh, came as a shock to US officials, as well as to allies and partners worldwide.
Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned in protest. Apparently angry at his letter of resignation, Trump asked him to leave at the end of December and appointed his deputy as acting defense secretary. Brett McGurk, who served as the special presidential envoy to the coalition, also resigned. Trump later said he had never heard of McGurk, despite the fact that he had been in that post for years.
As was to be expected, Iran, Russia and the Syrian regime were delighted by the news of the US withdrawal and the apparent chaos it had caused. Turkey was also pleased, but was hoping for a gradual withdrawal to enable it to take full advantage of the new situation. That was reportedly the subject of a phone call between Trump and his Turkish counterpart on Sunday.
US forces and their allies control 25-30 percent of Syria, including some strategic locations. The withdrawal will have a serious impact on the fate of those territories. Iran and Turkey will likely seek to extend their control to those areas currently protected by US forces.
Without American help, local rebel groups are no match militarily for the forces of Turkey, Iran, Russia, the Syrian regime, and the multitudes of sectarian militias fighting alongside them, including Hezbollah. The rebels will be slaughtered or driven away en masse.
Since 2016, the US military has helped run, with Maghawir Al-Thawra rebels, the Tanf desert base, strategically located near Syria’s borders with Jordan and Iraq. The base is also close to the Damascus-Baghdad highway. US forces have kept a wide perimeter around it, striking any force that attempts to move down the highway or toward the base.
As soon as they leave, the Syrian regime, Iran and their allies will likely try to take these important assets. Tehran is keen to secure that part of the highway to facilitate the movement of its forces and materiel to Syria. Iran’s land bridge to Syria and Lebanon could become fully operational in a short time.
Next is the areas US forces control with Syrian-Kurdish rebels. With American help, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) drove Syrian regime forces out of large parts of the northeast in 2012, and has controlled those areas since. In 2014, with US support, the YPG resisted Daesh’s attempts to overrun those areas.
Iran and Turkey will likely seek to extend their control to those areas currently protected by US forces.
The YPG formed the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) when it entered into an alliance with local Arab rebel groups. The SDF controls nearly a quarter of Syria — almost all the areas east of the Euphrates river, including Raqqa (the former capital of Daesh’s caliphate) and some of the country’s largest oil fields. In addition, since 2016 the SDF alliance with local rebels has controlled the Manbij area, located west of the Euphrates.
Turkey has accused the YPG and SDF of being fronts for its arch enemy, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Ankara has announced its intention to attack both areas east and west of the Euphrates. With US forces out of the way, it is very likely to carry out those threats.
This US volte-face had been rumored for months, revived every time Trump tweeted about the cost of maintaining American forces in Syria. Despite his outbursts, American officials sought to reassure allies that the US was in Syria to stay. In January 2018, the US secretary of state gave a lengthy exposition of long-term policy toward Syria.
In August, the US appointed two senior officials to lead its engagement on Syria, stressing that it was remaining in the country despite rumors to the contrary. Former US Ambassador to Iraq Jim Jeffrey became the secretary of state’s representative for Syria engagement, and Joel Rayburn was appointed special envoy for Syria, in addition to serving as deputy assistant secretary of state for Levant affairs.
The appointments were meant to dispel notions that the US was disengaging from Syria and allowing others to decide its future. Those notions were given currency by Trump’s tweets about withdrawing troops and freezing funds earmarked for Syria. In a widely circulated tweet, he said the US “has ended the ridiculous 230 Million Dollar yearly development payment to Syria.”
Also in August, the US reassured its allies that it was “remaining in Syria,” in McGurk’s words. He stressed that the US focus was still the enduring defeat of Daesh. “We still have not launched the final phase to defeat the physical caliphate. That is actually being prepared now, and that will come at a time of our choosing, but it is coming,” McGurk said.
After the group’s defeat, he added: “You have to train local forces to hold the ground to make sure that the area remains stabilized so ISIS (Daesh) cannot return. So this mission is ongoing and is not over.” But the withdrawal of US troops now seems certain after the order was signed. Its impact will likely be profound, in the immediate and medium terms, on the balance of power in Syria. It will most likely be the end of the US presence in the country.
In addition to its role in the air campaign against Daesh, US covert action, support for allies and diplomatic engagement will continue to carry out American policy toward Syria. Now more than ever, US allies and partners need to coordinate more closely to map out their own strategy for Syria.
*Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg is the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) assistant secretary-general for political affairs and negotiation, and a columnist for Arab News. The views expressed in this piece are personal, and do not necessarily represent those of the GCC. Twitter: @abuhamad1