November 17/18
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For today
The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
First Letter to the Corinthians 01/18-25: "The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength."

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on November 16-17/18
Hezbollah Is Ramping Up South of the US/Clarion Project/November 15, 2018
Argentina Arrests 2 Nationals with Suspected Hezbollah Ties/Asharq Al-Awsat/November 16/2018
Lebanon: Wait-and-See Approach over Sanctions on Tehran, Hezbollah/Beirut - Youssef Diab/Asharq Al-Awsat
The Formation of a Lebanese Government Continues on Its Long and Grinding Path/Michael Young/The National/November 16/18
‘America First’ Is a Risk to Lebanon and the Middle East/Jeremy Arbid/Executive Magazine/November 16/18
Analysis/Putin's Interests in Syria and Lebanon Are Limiting Israel's Military Options/Amos Harel/Haaretz/November 16/18
A Brief History of Fake News/Amir Taheri/Asharq Al Awsat/November 16/18
First Muslim Women in US Congress Misled Voters About Views on Israel/Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/November 16/18
Expectations on the Khashoggi Case/Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/November 16/18
The EU’s Games of Chicken Are Coming Home to Roost/John Authers/Bloomberg/November 16/18
Will Al-Sistani step in to break Iraq’s political deadlock/Talmiz Ahmad/Arab News/November 16/18
Trump's Middle East Plan Dealt Another Blow With Israel Turmoil/David Wainer and Nick Wadhams/Bloomberg/November 16/18

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on November 16-17/18
Hezbollah Is Ramping Up South of the US
Argentina Arrests 2 Nationals with Suspected Hezbollah Ties
Lebanon: Wait-and-See Approach over Sanctions on Tehran, Hezbollah
Lebanon: Officials Rush to Prevent Government ‘Implosion’
Army Rehearsals Blamed for Hours of Traffic Congestion in Beirut
Hariri and Jumblat Discuss Developments over Dinner
Qassem Says Ball in PM-Designate's Court, Ahmed Hariri Hits Back
Hariri: Saudi Ruling in Khashoggi Case in Right Direction
Geagea: Unacceptable to Exploit Khashoggi Murder to Besiege KSA
Report: No Imminent Solution as Cabinet Formation Drags Out
Jawad Hassan Nasrallah: Militant or Poet?
Catholic Council Says Politicians Seem Unwilling to Build a State
Perpetrators of 2008 Zahle Crime Sentenced to Death
Report: ‘Insufficient Funding’ Brings Wage Scale Back to Spotlight
The Formation of a Lebanese Government Continues on Its Long and Grinding Path
America First’ Is a Risk to Lebanon and the Middle East

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on November 16-17/18
Canada welcomes international community’s call for Iran to meet human rights obligations
Jeffrey on US Objectives in Syria: Defeat ISIS, Get Iran Out
Russia-Turkey Efforts Intensify to Set Up Idlib Buffer Zone
IRGC Doubts Impact of Sanctions on its Regional Role
Israeli PM Takes over Defense Portfolio after Lieberman Quits
Abbas Sets the Stage for Reconciliation with Hamas
Netanyahu Battles to Save Weakened Ruling Coalition
US Envoy Warns Europe Against Non-dollar Iran Trade
Iraq to Exchange Food for Iranian Gas
Turkey Has More Evidence in Khashoggi Murder, Report Says
Saudis Push to End Khashoggi Crisis but Threat Lingers
U.S. Studying Turkey's Demands to Extradite Preacher
Yemeni Peace Talks May Happen Soon, Breakthrough in Hostage File
Rival Militias Violate Tripoli Ceasefire
CNN Reporter Returns to White House after Pass Reinstated

Latest Lebanese Related News published on November 16-17/18
Hezbollah Is Ramping Up South of the US
حزب الله يكثف وجوده في جنوب الولايات المتحدة
By Clarion Project/November 15, 2018
Iran’s terror proxy Hezbollah is ramping up south of the US border, as witnessed by arrests of its operatives in Bolivia and Peru.
Information revealed by the State Department’s top counter terror official Nathan Sales confirmed the increased presence of Iran and Hezbollah in Latin and South America.
In Bolivia, “large caches of military equipment and explosives” belonging to Hezbollah jihadis were found in the La Paz area. Jihads have also been dispatched to Peru, where prosecutions of operatives by the government is ongoing.
Last year in Paraguay, a number of Hezbollah-linked individuals – some with connections to the U.S. were arrested for money laundering and drug trafficking, according to the State Department. Panama also worked with the U.S. on a number of counter-terror efforts with suspects linked to Hezbollah.
A House panel last spring heard testimony that Iran has “converted and radicalized thousands of Latin Americans” over the years through sending imams to the region and establishing mosques and “cultural centers.”
It is in these “cultural centers” that Hezbollah and the Iran’s Revolutionary Guards do their recruiting. Breitbart News reported that Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, noted these centers numbered 36 in 2012 yet “more than 100” today.
Last October, then-attorney-general Jeff Sessions created a task force to specifically zero in on Hezbollah after declaring the designated terror organization one of the top five transnational threats to the U.S.
The State Department recently revealed Iran spent close to $1 billion per year on terrorism, including $700 million which the Islamic Republic gives annually to Hezbollah.
Hezbollah, named the world’s richest terror organization by Forbes, has an annual income of $1.1 billion, making up the rest of its funds through drug trafficking and money laundering, primarily in Latin America.
Meanwhile, a trial began in Paris this week of 15 suspected members of an enormous crime ring accused of laundering Colombian drug money through Lebanese middlemen.
The prime defendant in the trial, Mohamad Noureddine, has been sanctioned by the U.S. for his alleged links to Hezbollah. The U.S. says Noureddine ran a network spanning from South America to Europe and the Middle East since 2012.
The head of the network is suspected to be Mohammed Ammar, who was arrested in Florida shortly after Noureddine’s arrest in 2016, for illegally moving hundreds of thousands of dollars into banks in Miami. Ammar regularly traveled between California and Colombia and admitted his ties to Colombian drug cartels, according to prosecutors.

Argentina Arrests 2 Nationals with Suspected Hezbollah Ties
الأرجنتين تعتقل اثنين من مواطنيها بتهمة نسج علاقة مع حزب الله
Asharq Al-Awsat/November 16/2018
/Two Argentine citizens with suspected links to Lebanon's Hezbollah have been arrested ahead of the G20 summit due to take place in Buenos Aires at the end of the month, Argentina's security ministry said in a statement. The two men, aged 23 and 25, were arrested on Thursday in a residence in the capital. Police discovered a small arsenal that included a rifle, one shotgun and a number of pistols, among other weapons. Police said they discovered evidence of travel abroad "along with credentials in Arabic and an image of the Hezbollah flag." Police did not specify the nature of the travel or credentials, and did not say whether the men had intention of attacking the G20 event. Security Minister Patricia Bullrich said security forces were on the lookout for any suspicious activity ahead of the conference.

Lebanon: Wait-and-See Approach over Sanctions on Tehran, Hezbollah
Beirut - Youssef Diab/Asharq Al-Awsat
November 16/2018/The Lebanese have been cautiously monitoring the repercussions of new US sanctions against Iran and Hezbollah, which have recently targeted the narrow circle of the party’s leadership, including Jawad Nasrallah, the son of Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah. Analysts voiced concern over the state’s ability to limit the impact of the sanctions on the country’s ailing economic and monetary situation, in the absence of a balanced government capable of addressing the US administration and the international community to spare state institutions and the banking sector any harmful repercussions. It is true that the current measures adopted by the banks meet the requirements of the previous sanctions, but the new US decisions demand a different approach according to banking sources. “Banks are now keeping up with international standards in all fields, in terms of monitoring deposits, transfers, and information related to the Iranian regime, persons close to Hezbollah, or in terms of the implementation of money laundering and counterterrorism laws,” the banking sources told Asharq Al-Awsat, but added that the banks would strictly apply any new directions or circulars issued by Lebanon’s Central Bank (BDL). Attempts to alleviate the repercussions of the US sanctions seem to be closely linked to the stability of the political situation in Lebanon, according to researcher on strategic affairs Dr. Riad Qahwaji.
“US sanctions on Iran and [Hezbollah] are applied in a progressive way, and within multiple laws, but with one goal,” Qahwaji said, adding: “The US administration is maintaining the policy of drying up the financial resources of [Hezbollah] and Iran - the main financier of the party - and other organizations listed by Washington on its terrorism list.”“The sanctions have entered an upward spiral, and every day we will see new procedures and new names that are on the list, and their effects are expected to start with Iran over time, not within a day or two,” he noted, warning that Lebanon would be harmed by these sanctions, “as long as there is no balanced government headed by Saad Hariri, who is solely capable of easing the sanctions on Lebanon and reducing the risk of economic collapse.”However, a parliamentary source who participated in the meetings held by a Lebanese parliamentary delegation with US administration officials, in order to spare the banking sector the repercussions of the sanctions on Hezbollah, said in a statement to Asharq Al-Awsat that the recent sanctions against leaders in the party were the beginning of more escalatory steps. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the sources said they did not believe that the formation of a government would reduce the impact of sanctions. “The formation of the government might lead to a counter-US reaction, especially if Hezbollah was given key portfolios such as the Ministry of Health, which would increase the burden on the government,” they noted. For his part, economic and financial expert Dr. Ghazi Wazneh, said the new sanctions targeted individuals belonging to Hezbollah or close to the party, but he stressed that sanctions would become more painful, if they impacted educational, health and social institutions affiliated to the party, because it would affect the staff and those benefiting from the services.

Lebanon: Officials Rush to Prevent Government ‘Implosion’

Beirut - Caroline Akoum/Asharq Al-Awsat/November 16/2018/Lebanon’s politicians have been engaged in intense talks to resolve what is known as “the Sunni obstacle” preventing the formation of the government. Hezbollah has pushed for Sunni politicians allied to the group but opposed to Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri to be represented in the future cabinet. In a radio interview on Thursday, Hezbollah MP Walid Sukkarieh reiterated the position of the independent Sunni deputies and their right to be represented in the government, adding that the prime minister-designate “has to find the most appropriate way to proceed with the formation process.”Well-informed sources have stressed, however, that the ongoing political efforts, especially those deployed by caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, were no longer focused on finding a solution to this obstacle, but rather to obtain guarantees that the new government would be able to assume its duties without internal bickering. “The problem is no longer about a portfolio or another; what is required today is guarantees from various parties to avoid an implosion. If this goal is achieved, then all the obstacles, including the Sunni representation problem, would wither away,” the sources told Asharq Al-Awsat. They added that Bassil held several meetings with the country’s religious authorities in this regard. The minister has recently met with Grand Mufti Abdullatif Derian and held talks on Thursday with Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai.

Army Rehearsals Blamed for Hours of Traffic Congestion in Beirut
Naharnet/November 16/18/Commuters got stranded in their cars for long hours on Friday morning when several streets to the capital Beirut were closed for army rehearsals ahead of Independence Day. The entrances into Beirut witnessed heavy traffic congestion, which led to a complete halt to the western and eastern routes of the highway, said the National News Agency, This is due to military training in preparation for the military parade on Independence Day. Other streets inside the capital were no better. Angry drivers waited for long hours behind their wheels. They told reporters that the State is to blame for “shortening.” Others took to social media where they posted photos of long queues of vehicles. The army leadership issued a statement later during the day and apologized for the inconvenience. The army had issued a statement a few days ago --which several people said had no knowledge of-- saying that some roads in Beirut will be closed for the training.

Hariri and Jumblat Discuss Developments over Dinner

Naharnet/November 16/18/Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri had dinner Friday evening with the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party ex-MP Walid Jumblat and MP Wael Abu Faour at a Beirut restaurant, his office said. “They discussed the latest political developments and the formation of the government,” the office added in a terse statement. The government was on the verge of formation on October 29 after the Lebanese Forces accepted the portfolios that were assigned to it but a last-minute hurdle over the representation of pro-Hizbullah Sunni MPs surfaced. Hizbullah has insisted that the six Sunni MPs should be given a seat in the government, refraining from providing Hariri with the names of its own ministers in a bid to press him. Free Patriotic Movement chief MP Jebran Bassil is meanwhile trying to convince the rival parties to accept a settlement based on naming a “consensus” Sunni minister.

Qassem Says Ball in PM-Designate's Court, Ahmed Hariri Hits Back
Naharnet/November 16/18/Hizbullah deputy chief Sheikh Naim Qassem insisted Friday that the ball is in the court of Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri regarding the formation of the new government. “As for us in Hizbullah, we have offered all facilitations to form the Lebanese government and from the very first day we stated our demands, which were not complicated, and the PM-designate accepted the demand to represent the party with three ministers,” Qassem said. “Today the decision is in the hand of the PM-designate, because the problem is coming from him and the solution lies with him. He can resolve the situation by honoring the rule that he has laid out on representing each party according to its results in the parliamentary elections. He can represent the independent Sunnis of the Consultative Gathering with one minister and the problem would be resolved,” Hizbullah number two added.
“We have nothing more to offer. If we want to complete the cabinet line-up to form a national unity cabinet, PM-designate Saad Hariri is the only one who can resolve this issue. If he takes a decision today, the government will be formed, and if he takes a decision in a week, the government will be formed. This matter is his responsibility and he bears the full responsibility in this country,” Qassem went on to say. Al-Mustaqbal Movement Secretary-General Ahmed Hariri snapped back at Qassem. “The remarks of Hizbullah’s deputy secretary-general contradict with the truth and facts, seeing as everyone knows that the government line-up has been ready since two weeks and it only needs the names of Hizbullah’s ministers,” Hariri said. “If it presents the names of its three ministers today, it would be formed today, and if it does so in a week, it will be formed after a week, and it bears the full responsibility of delay,” the Mustaqbal official added. “The problem lies with Hizbullah and the solution lies with the PM-designate, according to his powers and the constitutional rules,” he went on to say. The government was on the verge of formation on October 29 after the Lebanese Forces accepted the portfolios that were assigned to it but a last-minute hurdle over the representation of pro-Hizbullah Sunni MPs surfaced. Hizbullah has insisted that the six Sunni MPs should be given a seat in the government, refraining from providing Hariri with the names of its own ministers in a bid to press him. Free Patriotic Movement chief MP Jebran Bassil is meanwhile trying to convince the rival parties to accept a settlement based on naming a “consensus” Sunni minister.

Hariri: Saudi Ruling in Khashoggi Case in Right Direction
Naharnet/November 16/18/Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri hailed the Saudi Arabian decision regarding the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. “The Saudi judiciary’s decision to hold the accused in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi is a decision in the right direction in order to establish the principles of justice, and to block the attempts at politicization and the campaigns against the Kingdom,” said Hariri via Twitter. Saudi Arabia on Thursday called for the death penalty against five people accused of murdering the journalist inside the kingdom's Istanbul consulate, but absolved Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of any blame. Riyadh prosecutors announced indictments against 11 people and said a total of 21 individuals were in custody in connection with the killing. Khashoggi, who lived in the United States and wrote for The Washington Post and other international media, was killed and dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on October 2.

Geagea: Unacceptable to Exploit Khashoggi Murder to Besiege KSA
Naharnet/November 16/18/Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea on Friday condemned the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi but said the murder should not be exploited to “besiege” Saudi Arabia. “The killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in that fashion was a brutal act that is unacceptable at all levels. But taking advantage of this murder for goals and objectives unrelated to the crime in a bid to besiege the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is condemned and rejected,” Geagea said in a statement. “It is deplorable when a crime with the magnitude of journalist Khashoggi’s murder is exploited to undermine the role that KSA has been playing, especially over the past few years,” the LF leader added. “Had it not been for KSA’s support for a lot of Arab countries and many rightful Arab causes, perhaps the entire face of the Middle East region would have changed,” Geagea went on to say. He also called “those keen on fighting crime in the world” to “help the judiciary in everything it is doing to unveil all circumstances of this ugly crime” instead of “using it as an excuse to reach goals and objectives that have nothing to do with Jamal Khashoggi, the crime, public freedoms or any other matter.”Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri had issued a similar statement earlier in the day. On Thursday, the Saudi judiciary exonerated the country's powerful crown prince of involvement in the murder as death-penalty charges were announced against five men. Riyadh prosecutors announced indictments against 11 people and said a total of 21 individuals were in custody in connection with the killing, which outraged Saudi allies and placed massive pressure on Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to come clean about the murder. Khashoggi, who lived in the United States and wrote for The Washington Post and other international media, was killed and dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on October 2. The murder was carried out by a team of Saudis who travelled to Istanbul for that purpose, according to Turkish and U.S. assessments, and was allegedly directed and led by close aides of the prince. The Saudi prosecutor, in the country's newest account of what happened, said agents were dispatched to Istanbul to bring Khashoggi home "by means of persuasion" but ended up killing him with "a large amount of a drug resulting in an overdose."The Saudi prosecutor did not name any of those indicted in the murder. But U.S. sanctions announced Thursday included two top aides of Prince Mohammed, Saud Al-Qahtani and Maher Mutreb, and Mohammed Alotaibi, who was the consul general in the Istanbul consulate when Khashoggi was murdered.

Report: No Imminent Solution as Cabinet Formation Drags Out
Naharnet/November 16/18/The gridlock of forming Lebanon’s government may “prolong further” shall political parties adamantly adhere to their positions, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Friday. A senior source who spoke on condition of anonymity, said in remarks to the daily that “solutions must be found, the country can not wait any longer. If (political) positions keep on escalating, I fear that the formation will be delayed further. We cannot estimate the magnitude of repercussions as a result.”Meanwhile, a prominent ministerial source said: “Despite the efforts being made by caretaker Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil, the adamant positions of parties indicate that the gap is still large between them.”Bassil has met with several officials lately in a bid to convince the rival parties to accept a settlement based on naming a “consensus” Sunni minister. The government was on the verge of formation on October 29 after the Lebanese Forces accepted the portfolios that were assigned to it but a last-minute hurdle over the representation of pro-Hizbullah Sunni MPs surfaced. Hizbullah has insisted that the six Sunni MPs should be given a seat in the government, refraining from providing PM-designate Saad Hariri with the names of its own ministers in a bid to press him. Hariri was designated to form a government on May 24, but the disagreement between parties over quotas and ministerial shares have so far delayed his mission.

Jawad Hassan Nasrallah: Militant or Poet?

Associated Press/Naharnet/November 16/18/The son of Hizbullah’s leader designated by the U.S. State Department this week as a "global terrorist" is a poet and music lover who is said to move around without security and whose role within the group is shrouded in secrecy. Jawad Nasrallah, the 37-year-old father of four, is the second eldest son of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah who has been at the helm of the Iran-backed group since 1992. In its designation on Tuesday, the State Department described him as "the rising star of Hizbullah," saying he has recruited people to carry out attacks against Israel in the West Bank, and in January 2016 tried to activate a suicide bombing and shooting cell based there.The sanctions freeze any assets that those designated may have under U.S. jurisdiction and prohibit Americans from doing business with them. The action followed the Trump administration's decision this month to re-impose oil and banking sanctions on Iran over its financing of militant groups like Hizbullah, its military engagement in Syria and its nuclear program. In May, the U.S. and some of its Arab allies, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, imposed sanctions on 10 top Hizbullah officials including its leader Nasrallah, his deputy Naim Qassem and top officials Hashem Safieddine, Ibrahim Amin al-Sayyed, Hussein Khalil and Mohammed Yazbek. People who know Jawad Nasrallah, however, disputed the State Department's description of his role within Hizbullah, with one resident of Beirut's southern suburbs, a Hizbullah stronghold, saying Nasrallah is not even a senior official within the group. The man with close links to the group, who met the young Nasrallah on several occasions, described him as a modest man, adding it is almost impossible to believe that he is the son of the group's leader. "He moves around without security and visits shops to buy stuff or to eat," the man said. "People respect him because he is a humble person and the son of Sayyed Nasrallah," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was speaking about matters related to the group's security. He said Jawad is religiously moderate, unlike some other members of the group, and likes to listen to music.
"He is not a big official with the party. I never heard that he has a security or military post," the man said. Another person familiar with the group also cast doubt on the "rising star" narrative or that he was a high-ranking member of the group. Hizbullah declined a request by The Associated Press to comment on the State Department action. The group generally dismisses sanctions imposed on Hizbullah members as ineffective and part of psychological propaganda against the group. The Israeli Foreign Ministry also declined comment, while a Palestinian senior security official said Hizbullah stopped its activity in the West Bank and Gaza after the second intifada, or uprising, which ended in 2005. Although his rank and role within the group have remained ambiguous, the round-faced Nasrallah is not the reclusive type, as senior Hizbullah commanders tend to be. He has appeared publicly on numerous occasions, including at book signing events in 2007, when he published a collection of poems called "Resistance Letters." The book focuses on the role of poetry in resistance with poems that glorify those who died fighting Israel, including his elder brother, Hadi, who died while fighting Israel in south Lebanon in 1997.
In one poem called "Shukran," or "Thank you," he writes: "From the heart, thank you to the most beautiful father, thank you for being my inspiration, my father and my commander." In an interview with a local TV station in that same year, Jawad refused to give details about his role within the group, only saying that he dedicated his life to the resistance. He said he likes music and movies, including comedy films, history and documentary movies. He was active on Twitter for a while, before his account was suspended. The Trump administration has ramped up pressure on Iran and Hizbullah since withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal last year. On Tuesday, the Department of Treasury also announced it was imposing sanctions on four Hizbullah operatives who were said to have provided financial, material and technological support to Hizbullah in Iraq.

Catholic Council Says Politicians Seem Unwilling to Build a State 16th November 2018/The Council of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops on Friday called on officials to facilitate the formation of a new government, saying that their ongoing disagreements show that they are unwilling to establish a real State. “Politicians seem to be unwilling to build a state of law and social justice because it would go against their leverage and personal interests; they seem careless towards the people's suffering,” the council said in the closing statement of its 52nd session held in Bkirki. “The fathers consider that the absence of mutual trust and national unity, the dominance of personal interests and foreign meddling are the reasons behind the government formation deadlock,” the council stated. The council also discussed the deteriorating economic situation and the difficult living conditions that the Lebanese are experiencing, adding that the absence of a government, that would address these issues, is no longer tolerable. "We urge all the concerned political parties to contribute to the swift formation of a government, and to rise above their interests and stances for the sake of the country and the citizens. The Council hailed the reconciliation meeting that was held earlier this week in Bkirki between Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea and Marada leader Sleiman Frangieh, hoping that it lead to a broader rapprochement between all the Lebanese. “The fathers expressed joy over the reconciliation between Geagea and Frangieh and hoped that it would expand to include all the bickering political factions,” the statement noted.

Perpetrators of 2008 Zahle Crime Sentenced to Death 16th November 2018/The Judicial Council on Friday issued its final verdict in the murder case of Kataeb partisans Nasri Marouni and Salim Assi, sentencing the perpetrators to death in absentia. The Judicial Council also ruled that criminal prosecution against Edward Al-Zouki would be stopped, sentencing him to only six months in prison. Another suspect, Nicholas Homsy, has been acquitted. On April 20, 2008, Marouni and Assi were shot dead by Joseph Al-Zouki and Tohme Al-Zouki during the opening of the Kataeb's center in Zahle's Hosh Al-Zaraaneh. Following the verdict session, former MP Elie Marouni, brother of one of the two victims, thanked the Judicial Council for speeding up the trial process, calling on security forces to bring the assailants to justice. "Today, we, as a Kataeb party and a family, are turning a painful legal page," he said. "We hope that the verdict would be implemented, or else impunity and chaos will prevail." The former lawmaker pointed out that testimonies and confessions made in this case indicated that the killers had contacted late MP Elias Skaff shortly after the murder. Marouni, however, stressed opennness to any positive step that the Popular Bloc head Myriam Skaff might do to help end this case, saying that he will be awaiting the latter's initiative regarding this issue.

Report: ‘Insufficient Funding’ Brings Wage Scale Back to Spotlight
Naharnet/November 16/18/The wage scale for civil servants and armed forces is back to the spotlight amid reports alleging it could be “cancelled” due to “inaccurate cost estimations, and failed methods of funding,” al-Joumhouria daily reported on Friday. The daily said that estimated revenues to fund the scale came much lower than expected. However, canceling the scale could restore tension to the street, amid warnings voiced by Head of Lebanon's General Labor Union Beshara al-Asmar. In remarks he made on Thursday, al-Asmar threatened of “an immediate strike in the public sector, public institutions and the Lebanese University.”However, according to a legal source, the legal effects of such a decision can’t be underestimated because the scale has legally become an acquired right of employees, “employees can prosecute the State shall these rights get nullified,” he said. Public sector employees assert that “the scale is not responsible for the accumulation of public debt and the danger of collapse.”The Parliament passed in July, 2017 the public sector’s wage scale hike bill although the parliamentary blocs were divided over the resources to fund it.

The Formation of a Lebanese Government Continues on Its Long and Grinding Path

Michael Young/The National/November 16/18
Lebanon’s government formation process is in jeopardy following a speech on Saturday by Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. In it, he doubled down on his condition that the new cabinet include what he called an “independent Sunni” minister. This minister, he added, had to come out of Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’s ministerial share, not anyone else’s.
On Tuesday, Mr Hariri accused Hezbollah of seeking to block the government’s formation and affirmed that the party could not dictate to him whom to include in it. If Hezbollah was so adamant about an independent Sunni, he added, then it should name him from its own quota. Mr Hariri admitted he had no solution to the impasse, suggesting the ball was in Hezbollah’s court because, constitutionally, only the prime minister-designate and the president can form a government.
The last-minute condition, which came as Mr Hariri was preparing to finalise his cabinet line-up, appeared to be part of a broader effort by Hezbollah to humiliate the prime minister-designate and whittle away at the cabinet shares of the major parties who had made up the March 14 alliance opposed to Syria's regime. March 14 was formed after the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005, when popular demonstrations led to a Syrian military withdrawal from Lebanon.
Hezbollah’s move followed the party’s successful military campaign in Syria. Having helped consolidate the regime of Bashar Al Assad, the party has sought to cash in on this politically at home, primarily by marginalizing those Lebanese political forces hostile to the Assad regime and Iran. While Hezbollah and its allies did relatively well in the parliamentary elections in May, the party has overstated its margin of victory to build more momentum against its political foes.
Hezbollah is pushing hard because it realises that the regional context is rapidly changing, and it wants to consolidate its gains as soon as possible. For one thing, recent US sanctions against Iran have constituted a challenge to the Iranian leadership, and the party wants to show that it holds strong cards of its own.
In wanting to be seen as capable of imposing its writ in Lebanon, Hezbollah intends to send a message that that it holds the country hostage. Ironically, Israel and its acolytes have echoed this idea, suggesting that Hezbollah and Lebanon are one, meaning there is no viable Lebanese opposition to Hezbollah. By taking such a line, Israel only helps ensure that it becomes a reality, playing into the party’s hands.
Equally important to Hezbollah is that its domination of the government sends a message to Russia and Turkey that their accord over Syria should not be interpreted as meaning that Iran has a secondary role in the Levant. Mr Hariri suggested recently that he would not deal with the Assad regime in the future, because as he put it, Syria was controlled by Russia. Therefore, it was preferable to talk to Moscow. This cannot have gone down well with Hezbollah, because Mr Hariri hinted that he may seek to use Russia to navigate between Iran and Syria.
That is why, while Hezbollah may not openly oppose Russia, it does want to underscore that its political rivals in Lebanon would be mistaken to regard Moscow as a potential counterweight to Syria and Iran. There is a growing perception that Tehran has overreached in the region and no longer has the financial means to pay for its expansionism. Iran’s manoeuvres in Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen, and that of its allies, are aimed at disproving such an assertion.
A third aim of Hezbollah is to be seen as a cross-sectarian actor, after years of sectarian behaviour in Syria, by insisting on an independent Sunni minister and maintaining its alliance with the Christian Free Patriotic Movement. But when the party set as a condition that Mr Hariri take on an independent Sunni in the cabinet, and the prime minister-designate refused, to Hezbollah’s displeasure the president of Lebanon, Michel Aoun, sided with him.
In the meantime, Gebran Bassil − the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, of which Mr Aoun is the founder − began a mediation effort to find a compromise. He held talks with Mr Nasrallah, which newspaper reports said were tense, because Hezbollah was angry with Mr Aoun’s decision to back Mr Hariri. Mr Bassil is trying to push for a solution, whereby a consensus Sunni candidate acceptable to Mr Hariri would be named − one who would come out of Mr Aoun’s ministerial quota, in exchange for which Mr Hariri would name a Christian minister.
Whatever the solution, it is unlikely that Mr Hariri will bend to Hezbollah’s will. Unless a compromise is found, he will withdraw from forming a government, which may even be what Hezbollah wants. In his remarks on Tuesday, Mr Hariri observed that Hezbollah’s blocking of the government was “bigger” than its insistence on an independent Sunni. He couldn’t have been more correct. The party sees the future Lebanese government as having regional implications, at a bad time for Iran.

‘America First’ Is a Risk to Lebanon and the Middle East
Jeremy Arbid/Executive Magazine/November 16/18
Last month marked the 35th anniversary of the deadliest attack against US forces since World War II: the bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut on October 23, 1983 that killed over three hundred people, including 241 US military personnel. The official US line now is that elements of what would later become Hezbollah, backed by Syria and Iran, were responsible for the attack—although all three parties continue to deny involvement. During an event marking the anniversary, US President Donald Trump, with his customary love of theatrical moments, signed new legislation targeting Hezbollah. The first response from Lebanon was defiant.
For a long time the United States has pitted itself against Iran and, by extension, Hezbollah. Since the Islamic Revolution at the end of the 1970s in Iran and, later, Hezbollah’s inception during the Lebanese Civil War, the Americans have hunted the two in a remarkably consistent way. This has not changed under President Trump; American strategy, however, has shifted. It has been influenced by a fundamental repositioning of US policy vis-a-vis the entire world—a mindset most commonly referred to as “America First.” The Trump administration has been more aggressive in removing itself from or renegotiating existing treaties, and seems content with exercising a much more risk-friendly foreign policy. To understand how this new policy of Trumpism has affected Hezbollah, Lebanon, or Iran, looking at the realities on the ground is somewhat pointless. To understand these changes, one should instead examine Trump’s version of reality. This is not a new phenomena when regarding the foreign policy of America, but under Trump it has become particularly acute.
Trumpism writ large
The Trump paradigm, which is not an openly declared policy, is that the US will do what it likes and what suits it, with little regard to how it impacts other nations—allies included. This has had huge global implications. How many treaties has Trump made redundant, or at least announced his intention to scrap? In less than two years Trump has, for example, exited a landmark international climate change agreement, unilaterally walked away from the Iran nuclear deal, and, most recently, indicated he would junk an arms control agreement with Russia. Every foreign policy decision under Trump’s direction is a wild card.
Trump’s targeting of Hezbollah comes as part of a shift in America’s Middle East strategy to more closely reflect the policy goals of Israel and, to a lesser extent, Saudi Arabia—both hellbent on countering Iranian influence across the region. So far, Trump’s administration has sought to counter the group by targeting its financiers. This is not a radical departure from the previous administration, but it seems that Obama during his second term was less interested in pursuing Hezbollah and more amenable to working with the group’s patron, Iran.
In 2008, at the outset of the Obama administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) launched a law enforcement campaign, code-named Project Cassandra, to disrupt Hezbollah’s alleged global drug trafficking and money laundering network. Following its investigation into Hezbollah’s sources of funding, the DEA alleged that the group reaped $1 billion per year laundering money from drug proceeds.
Near the end of Obama’s first term, drawing on evidence from the DEA investigation, the US Treasury blacklisted local financial institution the Lebanese Canadian Bank (LCB). According to the original indictment issued in the Southern District of New York US Federal District Court, LCB was involved in a tri-continental money laundering operation that stretched from South America to North America and West Africa. A money exchange entity in a West African country that was a subsidiary of LCB was accused of channeling the proceeds, but the money came mostly from manipulation of the used car market, including pre-owned vehicle dealerships in the US, with smaller amounts coming from Latin America. Allegedly, LCB was also involved in the financing of Hezbollah activity, but the actual affiliation of LCB was never visible, above the level of individual branch managers having some connections to the group. There was never a smoking gun linking bank executives to Hezbollah, and, in 2013, LCB’s board and all shareholders agreed to a settlement of over $100 million on the condition of no admission of guilt.
That year, discussions began in earnest between the Obama administration and its counterparts on the UN Security Council, plus Germany and the EU, that ultimately led to negotiations on an Iran nuclear deal framework. In pursuit of a drawdown of Iran’s nuclear weapons capability, the Obama administration began quietly withdrawing support for Project Cassandra, a Politico investigation published last December reported. The Politico investigation concluded that the Obama administration sidelined the operation because it feared DEA investigations and Treasury actions would jeopardize negotiations with Iran.
Ramping up sanctions
It was only 15 months ago, in August 2017, that Lebanon’s prime minister, Saad Hariri, stood on the White House lawn as Trump declared a forthcoming answer to the “menace” of Hezbollah. At the time, we did not know what Trump had in store.
In May, Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal, in part on the implied notion that Iran was using the country’s economic recovery from sanctions relief to fund Hezbollah. The Americans see Iran’s support for Hezbollah as a destabilizing force, in both a political and security sense, away from the interests of the US and its allies in the region. The Iranians see Hezbollah as a useful tool extending Persian political influence and its interpretation of Shiite Islam, Waliyat al-faqih, serving as a resistance and counter to Israel and, in recent years, securing mutual interests in Syria.
In August, the US reapplied a first phase of sanctions, and in early November reimposed a second phase of sanctions targeting key Iranian trading and energy activities, namely the nation’s petroleum exports. The US is targeting Iran’s economy to alter its political influence and military behavior in the region, and to temper Iranian financial support to Hezbollah.
Back in 2015, after the Iran deal was concluded, Congress passed a law—the “Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act” (HIFPA)—meant to kneecap the group financially and isolate it from the banking system worldwide. The legislation may have been driven more by America’s political environment rather than regulatory need, Executive reported in 2016, placating conservatives and war hawks in the Congress enraged by the agreement with Iran. It is, however, unclear what practical effect that law had in cutting Hezbollah off from the international financial system. HIFPA required the Obama administration to report to Congress on Hezbollah’s alleged narcotics trafficking and alleged transnational criminal activities, but if that was done the reports were never made public. Amendments to HIFPA had been rumored to be in the works since mid-2017, as Executive reported, and finally, at the end of October, as America’s renewed clampdown on Iran was set to begin, Trump signed new legislation amending HIFPA, the “Hizballah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act of 2017” (HIFPAA).
Congruently, throughout 2018, the US Treasury has sanctioned nearly 40 individuals and entities, “pursuant to the Hizballah Financial Sanctions Regulations.” In October, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) named Hezbollah as one of the “transnational organized crime threats” to the United States, alongside four Central American cartels. The DOJ move comes nearly 10 months after it formed the Hezbollah Financing and Narcoterrorism Team, tasked with “investigating individuals and networks providing support to Hezbollah, and pursuing prosecutions,” according to a DOJ statement. The statement also added that the new DOJ unit will work to “restrict the flow of money to foreign terrorist organizations as well as disrupt violent international drug trafficking operations.”Through sanctions and the law enforcement actions, it seems a case is being built that could lead to indictments in US courts of Hezbollah officials and entities, or their affiliates. As of yet, we do not know how strictly the US will pursue Hezbollah on these fronts, how widely the US will cast its net, or whether there will be collateral damage. But what is clear so far is that the Trump administration is coming hard for Hezbollah, and this pursuit will likely intensify.
Diplomacy no more
The main difference between the Obama and the Trump administration in all this is that the former was pursuing Hezbollah while easing off its patron, Iran, while the latter is going full throttle after both. Under Obama, the US pursued a diplomatic solution to the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon, whereas now the US is seemingly on a path toward military confrontation with Iran and its allies—if Iran does not change course in its regional influence campaign. At the moment, Iranians—and arguably the world at large—are content to wait out Trump. We do not know what impact the reapplication of sanctions on Iran will have on economies in the region, nor what will happen to the price of oil. If the Iranian oil supply to the market is disrupted, it could cause price shocks and keep the cost per barrel high. These dynamics will start to emerge toward the end of the year, in time for the next OPEC/Non-OPEC meeting, in December. We also do not know what these American actions mean for Iran’s patronage of Hezbollah, and the country’s regional ambitions. Neither do we know Trump’s endgame—assuming he has one—if Iran and its allies do not capitulate to American demands.
How all of this will affect Lebanon remains to be seen. We know that past experience with US law enforcement and Treasury sanctions forced the closure of LCB in 2011, and when the HIFPA legislation was implemented in 2016, a local bank was bombed. That summer, Lebanon’s central bank had ordered commercial banks to comply with the US law. After they did, the head office of Blom Bank, one of Lebanon’s largest banks, was targeted. There was no claim of responsibility for the bombing and local law enforcement did not publicly reveal the results of an investigation into the event, if one was even conducted.
Hezbollah might assume important ministerial positions in Lebanon’s next government, namely the portfolio of the Ministry of Public Health. Suggestions that a Hezbollah-run health ministry would jeopardize foreign funding to the ministry’s programs is the next game of who will blink first. By now we know it is not beyond Trump to manipulate American soft power at multilateral institutions, in diplomatic or financial form, to get what he’s after, and in truth those were carrots long before Trump was elected. But what will happen if America’s implicit threat is ignored—either by Lebanon, Hezbollah, or Iran—is an unknown, as the world at large continues to react to this wild card president.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on November 16-17/18
Canada welcomes international community’s call for Iran to meet human rights obligations

November 15, 2018 - Ottawa, Ontario - Global Affairs Canada
The Honourable Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs, issued the following statement welcoming today’s adoption of the resolution on the situation of human rights in Iran in the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee, during the assembly’s 73rd session:
“The adoption of this UN resolution by countries from every region of the world sends a strong message to the Iranian regime that it must respect human rights. “It also voices the support of Canada and the international community for the people of Iran in their struggle to enjoy the rights and freedoms to which they are entitled.“Canada urges the Iranian regime to address the grave human rights concerns raised in this resolution.”
Quick facts
Introduced by Canada and 43 co-sponsors, this year’s resolution was adopted by the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee on November 15, 2018, with 85 member states voting in favour. The resolution will also be presented for adoption by the UN General Assembly in plenary in mid-December. Reports by the UN Secretary-General and the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran reveal that the human rights situation has worsened in the past year, with a systematic crackdown on protestors, journalists and social media users that followed increasingly widespread protests. The use of the death penalty against juvenile offenders has continued at an alarming rate. There have also been reports of torture; arbitrary arrests and detention; trials that fail to adhere to due process standards; restrictions on freedom of expression, both online and offline; and intimidation of human rights defenders, showing that Iran has failed to adhere to international rights standards. Discrimination against women and girls, members of recognized and unrecognized religious minorities and of other marginalized and vulnerable groups remains persistent.

Jeffrey on US Objectives in Syria: Defeat ISIS, Get Iran Out
Washington - Moaz Al-Omari/Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 16 November, 2018/US envoy James Jeffrey has reiterated that the US administration’s presence in Syria is aimed at defeating ISIS and forcing the departure of all Iranian-commanded forces from the war-torn country. “Eventually, technically, the Syrian government invited them in; we expect the Syrian government to ask them to leave,” Jeffrey said in response to a question on the Iranian forces.
He spoke during a press conference at the State Department on Thursday. Jeffrey said that Russia, the Syrian regime’s backer, has “been told at the highest level what our policy is, specifically by President Trump at the Helsinki summit now four months ago. We have communications constantly with the Russians at every level. John Bolton, the National Security Advisor, was just in Moscow. Much of the conversation was on Syria. They know the situation.” Asked about the regime of Bashar Assad, the envoy said: “We’re not about regime change. We’re about a change in the behavior of a government and of a state, and that’s not just our view. That’s the view in a whole series of international agreements related to Syria since 2012, culminating in the resolution of 2254.”Other than fighting that the US is leading with the Syrian Democratic Forces along the Euphrates River against ISIS, there’s a relative ceasefire in Syria, he said. “But the conflict is, alas, not over and there are still dangers. There are five outside forces – US, Iranian, Turkish, Russian, and at times Israeli Air Force units – involved in Syria for important, or in several cases of the neighbors, existential interests,” he said.
Jeffrey told reporters that the Syrian regime claims in its diplomatic contacts that it is winning, but it controls only about half-plus of the country’s territory. “Half of the population has fled its horrific rule, either as internally displaced persons or refugees across the border, and the international community treats – most of it treats Syria as a pariah, and reconstruction funds are not going to flow either from us or from most of the rest of the international community that provides typically reconstruction funds until we see a great deal more progress on the agenda I’ll lay out,” he said. The envoy stressed that the US military presence in Syria has the sole mission of defeating ISIS. That presence, “in its work with our partners, indirectly helps affect Iran’s malign activities, and by our presence and by our commitment to security in Syria and in the region, we demonstrate an interest in achieving a political solution by the various ways that we have, not just diplomatic but security and military, through economic tools and other assets that we have and that we’re deploying in this conflict,” he said. “Our second goal is the de-escalation of the conflict, building on the ceasefires right now. Particularly important is the agreement that the Turks worked out with the Russians in – over Idlib back at the end of September in which the Russians – again in a summit meeting with the leaders of France, Turkey, and Germany on the 27th of October – agreed would be a lasting ceasefire,” he added.

Russia-Turkey Efforts Intensify to Set Up Idlib Buffer Zone
London- Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 16 November, 2018/Russia’s foreign ministry said on Thursday the process of separating radical militants from moderate opposition groups in the demilitarized zone in Syria’s Idlib region had not yet been successfully achieved, despite Turkish-Russian efforts for setting up a de-escalation area. Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the process, which was launched as part of a deal between Turkey and Russia in September, had not been successful despite efforts by Ankara. For his part, UN humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland said Russia said it would go to great lengths to avoid military action if their own positions were not attacked. “The worst case scenario is still horrific war across enormous areas but the way that Russia and Turkey tell us of their plans ... makes me a cautious optimist. I don’t see the big war coming any time soon to Idlib.”Russia and Turkey, after Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had agreed to create a demilitarized zone between the government troops and militants before October 15. The zone will be 15-20 km wide, with full withdrawal of hardline militants from there, and later on the removal of all heavy-duty arms, including tanks and rocket launchpads. For its part, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitored increased violations within the Turkish – Russian truce areas. The human rights watchdog issued a report stating that at least 46 have been killed in clashes and shelling by the regime forces at the northern and northwestern countryside of Aleppo, Idlib countryside, and Hama countryside, since the start of the demilitarized buffer area agreement on the 17th of September 2018. Some 23 Jaysh al-Izza fighters were killed during ambushes and clashes -including at least one leader- in the northern countryside of Hama. On the other hand, at least 9 people were killed as a result of shelling by the regime forces on Jarjanaz town and its vicinity, and at least 7 citizens including 3 children and 3 women were killed as a result of shelling on al-Raffa village, the report added.

IRGC Doubts Impact of Sanctions on its Regional Role
London - Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 16 November, 2018/The commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Mohammad Ali Jafari, questioned the impact of US sanctions on his forces, saying on Thursday that mechanisms adopted by the US were “ineffective”, with regards to limiting his country’s role at the regional level. Jafari implicitly referred to the US strategy - including the exemptions granted for eight countries without mentioning them by name - and said sanctions were “the last resort against Iran.”“What American officials acknowledge in the media is a recognition of the impotence and ineffectiveness of the sanctions mechanism,” he said. The new round of US sanctions against Iran came into force ten days ago. Referring to the US, Jafari said: “The enemies have never ceased to exert pressure and threats” against his country, adding that economic sanctions “come in the context of US threats but will lead nowhere.”Jafari’s remarks came as US officials announced the White House intention to gradually stop Iranian oil exports without affecting oil markets. The Iranian official implicitly denied the withdrawal of the IRGC forces from Syria. “Given the ongoing peace negotiations, the Syrian government has asked Iran to redeploy its units as peacekeepers in Idlib and north-western Aleppo,” he said. In an implicit acknowledgement of the IRGC’s role in regional conflict zones against Tehran’s opponents, Jafari boasted of targeting parties opposed to his country’s regional role, noting that his forces were responding with “hidden and painful” acts, “away from the media.”

Israeli PM Takes over Defense Portfolio after Lieberman Quits
Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 16 November, 2018/Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will take over the defense portfolio after the resignation of Avigdor Lieberman on Wednesday, a spokesman for his Likud Party said on Friday. Earlier Netanyahu met with key coalition partner Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home Party, who had sought the post for himself, but the two men emerged without an agreement. Netanyahu's right-wing coalition government was rocked by Lieberman's resignation in protest at a ceasefire reached between Israel and the Islamist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Lieberman's far-right Yisrael Beitenu party has quit the coalition and its five MPs have withdrawn support for the government. On Friday, Lieberman toured southern Israel and accused Netanyahu of being soft on terrorism. He said Netanyahu's Gaza policy is strengthening Hamas. "It's impossible that after Hamas launches 500 rockets at the Israeli border communities. the heads of Hamas are actually getting immunity from the Israeli cabinet," he told reporters. After Bennett and Netanyahu's meeting, a spokesman for the PM's Likud Party said that for now Netanyahu would handle the defense portfolio himself.
The PM’s move fueled speculation of an early election. The premier spoke by phone with the rest of his coalition partners, urging them to "make every effort not to bring down the right-wing government" and to prevent the left from getting into power, the spokesman said. A source close to Bennett said that after his meeting with Netanyahu "it became clear ... there was a need to go to elections as soon as possible with no possibility of continuing the current government." Israeli media reported that other coalition partners would oppose Bennett, who leads an ultra-nationalist, religious party, becoming defense minister. An election date would be decided on Sunday, the source close to Bennett said. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who heads the centrist Kulanu party, has also called for a vote to be held before the scheduled date next November. Before the crisis Netanyahu's coalition had 66 seats in the 120-seat parliament. The loss of Lieberman's five has brought him down to a perilous 61. Losing Bennett's eight means Netanyahu would lose his majority. Opinion polls show that Netanyahu's Likud would be likely to remain the dominant party after a parliamentary election. Netanyahu, a conservative serving his fourth term as premier, is under investigation for corruption. Commentators say he may agree to bring the ballot forward in order to win a renewed mandate before the attorney-general decides whether to indict him.

Abbas Sets the Stage for Reconciliation with Hamas

Ramallah - Kifah Zboun/Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 16 November, 2018/Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said that the road for inter-Palestinian reconciliation is clear, urging Hamas movement to fully implement the Cairo agreement singed last month.
"Today, the road to eliminate the causes of division and reach reconciliation is clear through the honest and accurate implementation of the Cairo Agreement of October 12, 2017, in a comprehensive manner that would ensure national, political and geographical unity," he said while chairing meetings for the Palestinian leadership and the Higher Committee tasked with following up the decisions of the Palestinian Central Council. "Our national unity is the base,” he said, calling on the factions to avoid partisan interest and consider the country’s interest as top priority. “The independence of Palestine and Jerusalem should be put above any other consideration,” Abbas continued. He condemned the latest Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip, holding the Tel Aviv government accountable for any fallout for its actions. Abbas signed accession papers to 11 international organizations and conventions, including the Universal Postal Union, the Convention on the Nationality of Married Women, Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. In addition, he signed papers for accession to the Basel Protocol on Liability and Compensation for Damage Resulting from Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, Vienna Convention of Road Traffic, Protocol concerning countries or territories at present occupied, Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages, Agreement Establishing the Common Fund for Commodities and International Convention on the Arrest of Ships. The accession falls in line with Abbas' pledge to engage Palestine in international organizations as a response to US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. He stressed that the deal of the century, the occupation and settlements will fail. “The inevitability of history leads us to the shores of the independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital based on the June 4, 1967 borders, which we are committed to achieving,” he said. Abbas congratulated the Palestinian people on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, considering it a source of political, cultural and historical pride for the Palestinian people. Further, Secretary-General of the Palestine Liberation Organization's Executive Committee Saeb Erekat said that the leadership focuses on cementing the truce, but the road to it should pass through the PLO and the Islamic and national factions.

Netanyahu Battles to Save Weakened Ruling Coalition

Tel Aviv- Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 16 November, 2018/Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was battling to keep his government afloat on Friday after Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman quit over a ceasefire deal for Gaza. Left with a single seat majority in parliament after the walkout by Lieberman and his hawkish Yisrael Beitenu party, most media saw little way for Netanyahu to avoid calling a snap general election. The veteran prime minister was expected to hold crunch talks later on Friday with his other main right-wing rival, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, whose religious nationalist Jewish Home party has threatened to quit unless he is given Lieberman's job. The Gaza ceasefire, which ended the worst flare-up between Israel and the territory's rulers Hamas since a 2014 war, faced its first major test later on Friday as Palestinian demonstrators were expected to gather along the border for mass protests that have triggered deadly violence in previous weeks. The deal has already drawn heavy criticism, however, in Israeli communities near the border that faced barrages of rockets earlier this week. Hundreds joined a demonstration in Tel Aviv on Thursday despite a promise from Netanyahu of more public money for emergency services. Pro-Netanyahu freesheet Yisrael Hayom daily predicted that the prime minister would do all he could to avoid a general election while his hard-won security credentials were at issue. "Holding elections with the fiasco in Gaza in the background cracks the image of the ultimate leader that he has built over the course of years," it said. "The chances of stopping this speeding train appear impossible, but Netanyahu is still trying." The eight lawmakers of Bennett's far-right Jewish Home party are not the only threat to Netanyahu's razor-thin parliamentary majority. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, whose center-right Kulanu party hold 10 seats, has reportedly told Netanyahu that a snap election is necessary to provide a stable government to keep the economy on track. But Yisrael Hayom said Bennett was key to efforts to avoid an early election and could yet prove Netanyahu's political salvation.
"Naftali Bennett as defense minister and Netanyahu as prime minister could together project stability and embark on a coordinated offensive against anyone who gets in the way," it said. In a speech on Thursday, Bennett did not reiterate the resignation threat but made his case for why he should get the defense post. "The most dangerous thing for the state of Israel is that we begin to think that there is no solution to terrorism, to terrorists, to missiles," he said. "There is a solution. When Israel wants to win, we will win."There were no official details of when or where Bennett would meet Netanyahu on Friday or what public statements if any would be made. Hundreds of people demonstrated in Tel Aviv on Thursday evening calling for tougher action against Hamas which has portrayed the ceasefire and Lieberman's resignation as a victory. Netanyahu -- flanked by Kahlon, Interior Minister Arie Deri and army top brass -- met with the leaders of Israeli border communities. He briefed them on military efforts to quell Hamas attacks and also announced a 500 million shekel ($139 million, 119 million euro) two-year package to improve emergency medical and social services, a government statement said. With a major domestic political battle on his hands, Netanyahu canceled a planned two-day visit to Austria next week for a conference on antisemitism and anti-Zionism. There has long been speculation that Netanyahu would call a general election before its scheduled date of November 2019. Police have recommended he be charged in two separate corruption cases and the attorney general is expected to announce in the coming months whether to put him on trial. Analysts say the prime minister would be better positioned to fight any charges with a fresh mandate from the voters. But he would not have chosen to go the polls with voters' attention focused on the Gaza ceasefire and his rivals' efforts to outbid his security credentials.

US Envoy Warns Europe Against Non-dollar Iran Trade

Tel Aviv, Tehran - Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 16 November, 2018/panies involved in a European Union special initiative to protect trade with Iran from being at risk of US sanctions. It is “no surprise” that EU efforts to establish a so-called Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) for non-dollar trade with Iran were floundering over fear in EU capitals that hosting it would incur US punishment, Hook said, adding: “European banks and companies know that we will vigorously enforce sanctions against this brutal and violent regime.”Hook was commenting on statements by six European diplomats quoted by Reuters, who said that European efforts were underway to legalize the SPV this month, although it would not be implemented until next year. According to Reuters, the diplomats said that Brussels had wanted to have the SPV set up by this month, but no country has offered to host it. “Any major European company will always choose the American market over the Iranian market,” Hook affirmed. Reuters said the SPV was conceived as a clearing house that could be used to help match Iranian oil and gas exports against purchases of EU goods in an effective barter arrangement circumventing US sanctions, based on global use of the dollar for oil sales. During a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday in Jerusalem, Hook said the economic and financial sanctions imposed by President Donald Trump’s administration on Iran "contribute to peace and stability in the Middle East."
The US official’s visit to Israel comes as part of a tour to the region, where he met senior Israeli government officials. Netanyahu’s office said that talks focused on efforts to curb the Iranian aggression.In Tehran, National Security and Foreign Policy committee Chairman Hashmatullah Faisah Bishah commented on reports that Austria had refused to host the proposed European mechanism, saying that time has revealed Europe’s stalling in practically cooperating with Iran.

Iraq to Exchange Food for Iranian Gas
London - Asharq Al-Awsat/Thursday, 15 November, 2018/Iraq has agreed with Iran to exchange Iraqi food items for Iranian gas and energy supplies, two Iraqi government officials said on Wednesday. Baghdad is now seeking US approval to allow it to import Iranian gas which is used in its power stations, and needs more time to find an alternative source, they told Reuters. The sources are a senior government official and a member of Iraq’s ministerial energy committee.“The American deadline of 45 days to stop importing Iranian gas is not enough at all for Iraq to find an alternative source,” the first official said. “Stopping Iranian gas after the deadline will create a real power crisis. We need more time ... the Americans are completely aware of how desperately we need Iranian gas.”Washington granted Iraq a waiver to be able to import Iranian gas and energy supplies as well as food items when US sanctions were restored against Iran’s oil sector last week. But the United States has said the exemption will last only 45 days. Iraq relies heavily on Iranian gas to feed its power stations. The second official said Iraq would will submit a request to the United States to allow it to import beyond the 45-day deadline. In exchange for the gas Iraq is to “pay food and humanitarian items for Iran ... Iran accepted this proposal,” the official said.

Turkey Has More Evidence in Khashoggi Murder, Report Says
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/November 16/18/Turkey has more evidence contradicting the Saudi version of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi including a second audio recording, a Turkish newspaper reported on Friday. The second voice recording -- said to be 15 minutes -- clearly reveals that the murder of the Washington Post columnist had been premeditated, the Hurriyet newspaper said.  That would contradict the statement of the Saudi prosecutor who said on Thursday that five Saudi officials faced the death penalty on charges of killing Khashoggi but exonerated the country's powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of involvement in the murder. Khashoggi, 59, a critic of the crown prince, was killed and dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2. Turkey has said the murder was carried out by a team of Saudis who travelled to Istanbul for that purpose. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the order came from "the highest levels" of the Riyadh government, but stopped short of pointing the finger of blame at the crown prince. Abdulkadir Selvi, pro-government columnist in the Hurriyet daily, said key findings in the Saudi prosecutor's statement did not overlap with the evidence in the hands of Turkey including two voice recordings. He claimed that the first seven-minute voice recording proves that Khashoggi was strangled but the second tape recorded shortly before the journalist stepped into the consulate clearly shows the murder was planned in advance. The second tape proves the 15-member "killer team" seated inside the consulate before Khashoggi's arrival was discussing how to carry out the murder, he said. Turkey has also evidence that the team made international calls after the murder, he added. Saudi prosecutors on Thursday announced indictments against 11 people and said a total of 21 individuals were in custody in connection with the killing. It said execution would be recommended for five of them who "are charged with ordering and committing the crime."Turkey however said the Saudi statement was "insufficient", with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu insisting that the killing was "premeditated."

Saudis Push to End Khashoggi Crisis but Threat Lingers
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/November 16/18/Saudi Arabia has sought to draw a line under one of its biggest crises triggered by critic Jamal Khashoggi's murder, but an ever greater threat of international scrutiny and pressure hang over the kingdom. Riyadh on Thursday exonerated powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of involvement in the murder as it called for the death penalty against five men, and as the United States, a key ally, slapped sanctions on 17 suspects. The kingdom has repeatedly changed its official narrative about journalist Khashoggi's murder inside its Istanbul consulate on October 2, first denying any knowledge of his whereabouts and later saying he was killed when an argument degenerated into a fistfight. In the latest version presented by the Saudi prosecutor, a 15-member squad was formed to bring Khashoggi back from Istanbul "by means of persuasion," but instead ended up killing The Washington Post columnist and dismembering his body in a "rogue" operation. Just hours later, the U.S. Treasury slapped sanctions on 17 people, including close aides of Prince Mohammed, suggesting a coordinated effort between Riyadh and Washington to pre-empt the threat of harsher actions from an outraged U.S. Congress. "The (Saudi) government is accelerating its investigation and prosecution of suspects in the Khashoggi affair to defuse any potential escalation from Turkey and the U.S. Congress," said consultancy Eurasia Group. It said the regime was still in "crisis mode." The Saudi prosecutor said the operation was ordered by the deputy chief of intelligence Ahmed al-Assiri, and advised by Saud al-Qahtani, a royal court advisor -– both part of Prince Mohammed's inner circle who have been sacked. "Although the investigation is not particularly independent, it distanced the crown prince from the entire affair," Eurasia Group said. "Yet despite the effort, the affair will continue to pose challenges for the Saudi leadership."
Cover up
The Washington Post editorial board on Friday slammed the apparent contradictions in the Saudi narrative, accusing President Donald Trump's administration of abetting a "Saudi cover up.""Congress should... suspend all military sales and cooperation with Saudi Arabia until a credible international investigation of the Khashoggi killing is completed," it said. Saudi Arabia has rejected calls for an international investigation. "It currently seems like the U.S. pressure will not go away any time soon," said Steffen Hertog, an associate professor at the London School of Economics. "That said, other than sanctions on weapons deals –- which Trump will resist –- it is not quite clear what Congress can do. Direct sanctions against Prince Mohammed... seem unlikely, as do financial sanctions." But Saudi attempts to silence or sideline loyalist officials who were active in the operation could potentially backfire, experts say. "It is very risky for the prince to threaten capital punishment to those who appeared to be following orders," said Bessma Momani, a professor at Canada's University of Waterloo. "It can potentially create rogue elements within the intelligence service."In the aftermath of the crisis, King Salman ordered a restructuring of the intelligence apparatus to be led by Prince Mohammed, who has effectively neutered his political rivals and tightened his grip on military and security agencies.
"Memory of killing"
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the orders for the killing came from "the highest levels of the Saudi government", apparently alluding to Prince Mohammed. Ankara has said the kingdom's latest explanation was "insufficient."Seeking to keep up the pressure, Turkish media on Friday reported that Ankara had more evidence contradicting the Saudi version of Khashoggi's murder, including a second audio recording. "The Saudis think they can run the clock on the affair and it will soon leave the spotlight," said Momani. "The audio tapes are the last leverage that the Turks have and in the past few days they've made it clear they are sharing it widely." The Turkish position going forward will potentially depend on "what it gets in return" for silence, she added. The U.S. State Department said Thursday it was studying Turkish demands for the extradition of preacher Fethullah Gulen, who is accused by Ankara of orchestrating a failed 2016 coup attempt. But it rejected media reports that the White House is seeking a way to extradite Gulen -- who reportedly has U.S. residency -- in a bid to reduce Turkish pressure on Saudi Arabia. At home, senior Saudi royals appear to be forming a relatively united front to defend the kingdom. King Salman and his son, Prince Mohammed, have launched an unprecedented domestic tour to leverage their links with different tribes and religious leaders and shore up support for the leadership. But the crisis appears to have dented the prince's absolute control on power. "The era of consensus-based decision-making among senior royals is over, but Mohammad bin Salman will still have to cede some of the powers he has accumulated over the past few years," Eurasia Group said. "His father has already become more involved in decisions... (and) members of the ruling family are also likely to demand greater say in consultations."At Friday sermons in mosques in big cities such as Jeddah, prayer leaders in recent weeks have implored Saudis for "loyalty" towards the rulers, according to residents.

U.S. Studying Turkey's Demands to Extradite Preacher
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/November 16/18/The United States is studying Turkey's demands for the extradition of preacher Fethullah Gulen, who is accused by Ankara of orchestrating a failed 2016 coup attempt, the State Department said Thursday. But spokeswoman Heather Nauert rejected the allegation in an NBC report that the White House is seeking a way to extradite Gulen -- who reportedly has a US Green Card -- in a bid to reduce Turkish pressure on Saudi Arabia over the murder of a dissident journalist. "We have received multiple requests from the Turkish government... related to Mr Gulen," Nauert said. "We continue to evaluate the material that the Turkish government presents requesting his extradition," she said. But Nauert insisted that "there is no relation" between the Gulen extradition issue and Turkish pressure on Saudi Arabia over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul. The White House "has not been involved in any discussions related to the extradition of Fetullah Gulen," she said. NBC, citing four anonymous sources, reported that Trump administration officials had asked law enforcement agencies about "legal ways of removing" Gulen, 77, from the US to persuade Turkey's president "to ease pressure on the Saudi government."Following his disappearance on October 2, Turkish officials kept up a steady stream of leaks on the gory details of Khashoggi's killing even as Saudi Arabia denied involvement. The kingdom eventually branded the murder a "rogue" operation and has requested the death penalty against five people accused of involvement, but the country's public prosecutor absolved the country's powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, of having played a role. Turkish officials however have accused Prince Mohammed of orchestrating the killing of the journalist who had been critical of him. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames Gulen -- a cleric he once regarded as an ally -- for the July 15, 2016 coup plot that saw 250 killed, not including the plotters.
The issue is a major bone of contention in relations between Turkey and the US, with Ankara voicing impatience over Washington's failure to hand Gulen over.

Yemeni Peace Talks May Happen Soon, Breakthrough in Hostage File
London – Badr Al Qahtani/Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 16 November, 2018/A breakthrough in the issue involving war prisoners, Sanaa airport and civil servants pending salaries, will soon be announced, Western sources close to Yemeni consultations told Asharq Al-Awsat. Resolving those disputes will improve on confidence building between Yemen’s two warring parties. Since 2014, Iran-backed Houthi militias have been leading a nationwide coup against the freely-elected government. The United Nations special envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths, after a failed September attempt for rebooting peace talks, is determined to salvage gained momentum and ensure that negotiations take place before the end of 2018. The last round in September collapsed when the Houthis did not show up. Griffiths hopes to convene talks before the end of the year to agree a framework for peace under a transitional government. Sweden is preparing to host consultations when the parties “are ready to talk”, said a source familiar with the matter. “I would describe the process as slightly positive. Steps have been taken during the last weeks towards peace talks.”Al Arabiya television reported that sources hinted talks could be held on November 29. “Warring parties have received proposed roadmap for peace, and are studying to share their respective comments,” a well-informed Western source told Asharq Al-Awsat under the conditions of anonymity. “Consultations should get a solid head start and to build confidence by talking about a comprehensive solution,” the source added. The international envoy, supported by the coalition countries, is seeking consultations on a smaller scale. Bringing both Houthis and the internationally-recognized government back to the negotiations table hopes to create an catalyst for talks to overcome the current stalemate. UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash has welcomed an early resumption of talks, saying on Twitter the alliance would raise the issue at a UN Security Council meeting on Friday. “(The) coalition will urge all parties to take advantage of window of opportunity to restart political process,” he said. The Saudi state news agency reported on Thursday that Saudi Arabia, the UAE, the United States and Britain had formed a committee to address the economic and humanitarian situation in Yemen, including through possible support of its central bank.

Rival Militias Violate Tripoli Ceasefire
Cairo - Khalid Mahmoud/Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 16 November, 2018/Warring factions in the Libyan capital Tripoli have agreed to halt armed clashes and pave way for reconciliation attempts following a violation of a ceasefire deal, a semi-official committee announced on Thursday. Ramadan Zarmouh, the head of the committee tasked with implementing security measures adopted by the Government of National Accord and the UN mission in Libya, said that the bickering militias resumed fighting in Tripoli on Wednesday. But they agreed to a ceasefire a day later. The latest flareup of violence was the latest violation of a ceasefire that the GNA of Fayez al-Sarraj is seeking to impose in Tripoli since the heavy clashes it witnessed in September. Following the announced ceasefire on Thursday, there was relative calm in the capital. Businesses and schools opened as usual and state institutions functioned normally. “Schools are open to welcome their students while the city’s banks are trying to regulate their work,” the GNA-loyal news agency quoted Sarraj as saying. Meanwhile, Libyan National Army spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari said that the LNA has received intelligence reports that extremists would be moved from Syria to Libya via Sudan. During a press conference he held in the eastern city of Benghazi, Mismari warned of a possible infiltration of terrorists. There are more than 18,000 terrorists, including Libyans, in the northern Syrian province of Idlib, the spokesman said. “If the Syrian army continues to tighten the noose around them, they will be taken out of (the war-torn country) to Sudan and from there to Libya and other African states.”He also told reporters that for the first time several extremists have been taken to trial at a military court.

CNN Reporter Returns to White House after Pass Reinstated
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/November 16/18/The White House agreed Friday to allow CNN reporter Jim Acosta back in after a judge ruled that the star journalist was improperly banned following a testy exchange at a press conference with President Donald Trump.
Trump spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said "in response to the court, we will temporarily reinstate the reporter's hard pass." But she left open the possibility of seeking to remove Acosta's access later and said new rules would be imposed "to ensure fair and orderly press conferences." Trump said that "rules and regulations" were being drafted to govern such gatherings, where the president or his representatives often accuse journalists -- Acosta in particular -- of being overly hostile. "We have to practice decorum. We want total freedom of the press," Trump told reporters. In fact, Trump himself frequently speaks harshly to reporters, for example last week telling another CNN correspondent several times that her question was "stupid."He also routinely describes journalists he does not approve of, and the media in general, as "enemies of the people."
Free speech rights
Acosta often aggressively questions the White House on its attitude toward journalists and has been criticized even by some in the media for becoming part of the story he is meant to be covering. On November 7, the day he was stripped of his pass, Acosta had riled Trump by refusing to give up the microphone at a news conference when he considered that Trump was evading his question. Trump responded by branding Acosta a "rude, terrible person." CNN cast the controversy as a question of free speech, which is protected under the constitution's first amendment. In his ruling Friday, Judge Timothy Kelly stressed that he had only found the procedure for expelling Acosta illegal and that free speech did not enter the equation. "I want to be very clear that I have not determined that the First Amendment was violated," he said in the Washington courtroom, adding that further hearings would be held on that aspect. The U.S. Justice Department's lawyer, James Burnham, argued that Acosta had "disrupted" last week's news conference and that "there is no First Amendment right to access the White House."However, major media outlets took up Acosta's cause. Tellingly, Trump's most friendly outlet, Fox News, joined the suit calling for Acosta's pass to be returned. "We are gratified with this result and we look forward to a full resolution in the coming days," CNN said in a statement. "Our sincere thanks to all who have supported not just CNN, but a free, strong and independent American press."Shortly after the ruling, Acosta returned to the White House, telling fellow journalists that "this was a test.""Journalists need to know that their first amendment rights are sacred," he said.
The spat over Acosta has prompted an unusually public show of unity between America's powerful media organizations. Those backing CNN's court action included the Associated Press, Bloomberg, First Look Media Works, Gannett, the National Press Club Journalism Institute, NBC News, The New York Times, Politico, Press Freedom Defense Fund, EW Scripps Company, USA Today and The Washington Post. "Whether the news of the day concerns national security, the economy or the environment, reporters covering the White House must remain free to ask questions," the media groups said in a joint statement.After the judge's ruling, the White House Correspondents’ Association president, Olivier Knox, cheered a decision that "made it clear that the White House cannot arbitrarily revoke a White House press pass.""We thank all of the news outlets and individual reporters who stood up in recent days for the vital role a free and independent news media plays in our republic," he said.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on November 16-17/18
Analysis/Putin's Interests in Syria and Lebanon Are Limiting Israel's Military Options
عاموس هاريل من الهآررتس: أهتمامات بوتين بلبنان وسوريا تضع حدوداً وضوابط على خيارات إيرائيل العسكرية
Amos Harel/Haaretz/November 16/18
Playing chess with Hezbollah is one thing. Trying to figure out what Putin wants, in Syria and perhaps also in Lebanon, even as Hezbollah is trying to manufacture weapons there, is a completely different challenge.
One reason for Israel’s exceptional caution in dealing with Hamas in the Gaza Strip is its growing concern over the northern front. Though it may sound like a threadbare excuse, this seems to be one of the considerations driving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to decide, time after time, to try to reach a cease-fire in Gaza.
The problem Israel faces in the north, in a nutshell, is the real danger that its operational window of opportunity is closing. In recent years, Israel has exploited the upheaval in the Arab world to expand its offensive activity, most of which is secret.
Via hundreds of airstrikes and special operations, the army and the intelligence agencies have worked to distance the danger of another war and reduce the enemy’s operational capabilities in the event that war does break out.
In Syria and Lebanon, the campaign initially focused on preventing Iran from smuggling advanced weaponry to Hezbollah. But over the last year or so, a new mission has been added – preventing Iran’s military entrenchment in Syria. This peaked with a flurry of incidents between the Israel Defense Forces and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards last winter and spring.
But the stabilization of the Assad regime in Syria is gradually changing the situation. Whether Russia is truly still angry over the downing of a Russian spy plane (by Syrian anti-aircraft fire) during an Israeli airstrike two months ago or is just exploiting it to dictate new strategic rules in the north, the result is the same.
Israel hasn’t completely halted airstrikes in Syria; two have been reported since the plane was downed. But it’s clear that Russia is making things tougher.
Even this week’s hasty meeting between Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of an international conference in Paris, which was finally arranged after much Israeli effort, evidently hasn’t resolved the crisis. Putin said Thursday that he wasn’t planning another meeting with Netanyahu anytime soon.
Russia has made it clear to Israel in many ways that the status quo ante is gone. The air force’s energetic activity was disrupting their main project — restoring the Assad regime’s control over most of Syria and signing long-term contracts with Syrian President Bashar Assad that will protect Moscow’s security and economic interests in the country.
The change is evident in the more aggressive tone on the hot line connecting Israel Air Force headquarters to the Russian base in Khmeimim, in northwest Syria, whose purpose is to prevent aerial incidents between Israel and Russia. It’s also evident in the confrontational attitude of Russian planes and anti-aircraft batteries in Syria.
A problem may also be developing in Lebanon. In his address to the United Nations General Assembly in September, Netanyahu warned of efforts by Iran and Hezbollah to set up missile production facilities in the Beirut area. Given the problems its smuggling operations had encountered, the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds force apparently decided it had to shorten the distance between the manufacturer and the customer by moving its efforts to improve the accuracy of Hezbollah’s rockets to Lebanon.
Netanyahu’s speech did its job. In the three days between that speech and the tour of Beirut the Lebanese government conducted for diplomats to rebut it, someone worked hard to get rid of the evidence. But over the long run, Iran seems unlikely to abandon this effort.
What’s even more worrying is that Putin has recently displayed increased interest in events in Lebanon. In the worst-case scenario, the defensive umbrella — both real and symbolic — that Russia has spread over northwest Syria would be expanded to Lebanon, further complicating Israel’s calculus.
Even now, at least according to Arab media reports, Israel hasn’t conducted an airstrike in Lebanon since February 2014, when the IAF, apparently pursuing an arms convoy that had crossed the border from Syria, bombed a target in Janta, a few hundred meters to the Lebanese side of the Lebanon-Syria border.
Hezbollah, which was willing to pretend the spit was rain as long as its convoys were being bombed on the Syrian side, immediately responded with a series of attacks by Druze residents of the Syrian Golan Heights. The cell’s commander, Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar, and his successor, Hezbollah’s Jihad Mughniyeh, were both subsequently killed in attacks attributed to Israel. Since then, Israel has confined its attacks to Syria. But playing chess with Hezbollah is one thing. Trying to figure out what Putin wants, in Syria and perhaps also in Lebanon, even as Hezbollah is trying to manufacture weapons there, is a challenge of a completely different order of magnitude. Netanyahu was presumably hinting at this problem, among others, when he spoke about security considerations that he can’t share with the public, at the memorial for Paula Ben-Gurion earlier this week.

A Brief History of Fake News

Amir Taheri/Asharq Al Awsat/November 16/18
A penchant for claiming credit for almost everything is already established as a trait of President Donald Trump’s public persona. America’s surprisingly robust economy, the biggest tax cut in US history, naming two Supreme Court judges in the first term, and increasing, in a midterm election, the incumbent’s majority in the Senate for the first time in 105 years are some of the events for which Trump takes credit. One may quibble about all that but none could flatly reject Trump’s claim of credit. One issue on which something more than quibbling may be in order is Trump’s claim of being the first to discover fake news. For fake news dates back to the very origins of the human story. Wasn’t the claim of the tempter that partaking of the forbidden fruit shall have only beneficial consequences a piece of fake news?
The more regular human history is full of fake news. In 522 BC after the death of Persian Emperor Cambyses, a group of power-hunters led by Darius spread the fake news that the man who had succeeded Cambyses was not his brother and rightful heir Bardia but a usurper. The group then staged a putsch, killed the “fake Bardia” and gave the crown to its own chief Darius.
A bigger piece of fake news came in the shape of the yarn woven around Alexander the Great, the invincible conqueror. He is supposed to have lived to the ripe old age of 33.
In just 10 years, the Macedonian is supposed to have conquered almost all of the then known world from the Balkans Peninsula to Russia to the Indian Ocean and from North Africa to the Indian Subcontinent, Central Asia and China. That involves a distance of around 40,000 kilometers, allez-retour, which means he would have been traveling quite a bit. And, yet, he is supposed to have built 20 cities named after himself, taken four wives (long before Islam) and “disappeared” for an unknown length of time looking for the fountain of eternal youth.
That there is no contemporaneous account of those marvelous deeds has persuaded some historians to doubt the existence of such a character which first appeared in Greek and Latin literature in 160 AD, that is to say, centuries after the claimed events.
During the Abbasid caliphate, based in Baghdad, the fake news was spread by professional raconteurs known as “qas’ in Arabic, hence the proverb “al-qas la yahub al-qas” (ranconteur doesn’t like raconteur!). Under the Caliph Wathiq, Baghdad counted more than 100 “qas” some of whom made fortunes spreading the fake news for rich and powerful patrons.
Russian history is full of fake tsars, collectively known as pseudo-Dimitrius who appeared during the "time of troubles”
to claim the crown. They used the media of their time, largely consisting of priests preaching in churches and traveling merchants. Often the result was a popular revolt or civil war.
At times, the fake news could help bring peace. In the 15th century Spain and Portugal, ruled by two cousins, were often at war. Peace was established when the Portuguese king granted a reportedly rich Mediterranean island to his Spanish cousin. It didn’t matter that such an island didn’t exist and that the map presented to the Spanish was one of Serendip, now known as Ceylon in the Indian Ocean. The Spanish potentate could claim victory and have a parade.
More recently, the fake news was used to promote the French Revolution of 1789. Revolutionary leaders claimed that the Bastille prison was full of “heroic fighters for the people.” But when the building was captured it contained only seven prisoners, all of them ordinary criminals.
The revolutionaries spread many fake news items against Queen Marie Antoinette, including the one about her necklace which later inspired Alexander Duma swashbuckling yarns.
When the tide turned fake news was used against leaders of the revolution. Robespierre, the most radical of revolutionary leaders, was accused of having married the daughter of Louis XVIth in secret as the first step to claiming the crown. As a reward, he got the guillotine.
The tsarist secret service, Okhrana, perfected fake news into an art. Its masterpiece was the so-called Protocols of the Elders of Zion which has served in many conspiracy theories for over a century.
In 1879 the Prussian Chancellor Bismarck used a doctored version of a conversation between his King and the French Ambassador over the Spanish royal succession in order to provoke the French into a war. The fake version came in the form of the notorious “Ems telegram”. The French took the bait and lost the war along with Alsace and Lorraine provinces. In Britain, the so-called Zinoviev Letter, named after the then leader of the Comintern, remains an example of fake news. It was published by the Daily Mail just four days before the 1924 election to foment anxiety that Communists, controlled by Moscow, were plotting to seize power through the Labour Party if it won a majority in the House of Commons.
Back to Iran, the fake news was used to promote the fable about a CIA operative named Kermit Roosevelt overthrowing Dr. Muhammad Mussadeq’s government in a 1953 coup by spending $18,000, the cheapest regime change in history.
In her memoirs, Tahia Kazem, the widow of Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser recalls a trip to Yugoslavia when her husband was informed that the CIA plotted to capture him at sea on his way back home. That fake news was concocted by the Soviets and spread through Muhammad Hassanein Heikal, then Nasser’s media aides. The aim was to have Nasser flown to Moscow and thence to Cairo, casting the USSR as the protector. Fake news does not always have political or religious aims. It could also be used to make a fast buck. In 1977 a Belgian company persuaded French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing that it had developed an aircraft that could discover oilfields by simply sniffing them. The Frenchman swallowed the wallop and coughed out 800 million francs, enabling the fakers to disappear substantially richer.
Want more? Well, go and fetch popcorn and lemonade to watch more of this three-ring circus that is politics.

First Muslim Women in US Congress Misled Voters About Views on Israel
Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/November 16/18
"Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel." — Ilhan Omar, in a tweet, November 2012.
"When a politician singles out Jewish allies as 'evil,' but ignores every brutal theocratic regime in the area, it's certainly noteworthy...." — David Harsanyi, New York Post.
"With many Jews expressing distaste for an 'illiberal' Israel, it's little surprise that the bulk of American Jewry isn't overly bothered about the election of Socialists who are unsympathetic to the Jewish state or consider Zionism to be racist." — Commentator Jonathan Tobin.
Ilhan Abdullahi Omar (pictured) and Rashida Harbi Tlaib will be the first two Muslim women ever to serve in the US Congress. During her campaign, Omar criticized anti-Israel boycotts. Less than a week after being elected, however, Omar admitted that she supports the boycotts.
Ilhan Abdullahi Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Harbi Tlaib of Michigan will be the first two Muslim women ever to serve in the US Congress. Most of the media coverage since their election on November 6 has been effusive in praise of their Muslim identity and personal history.
Less known is that both women deceived voters about their positions on Israel. Both women, at some point during their rise in electoral politics, led voters — especially Jewish voters — to believe that they held moderate views on Israel. After being elected, both women reversed their positions and now say they are committed to sanctioning the Jewish state.
America's first two Muslim congresswomen are now both on record as appearing to oppose Israel's right to exist. They both support the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. Both are also explicitly or implicitly opposed to continuing military aid to Israel, as well as to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — an outcome that would establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Instead, they favor a one-state solution — an outcome that many analysts believe would, due to demographics over time, replace the Jewish state with a unitary Palestinian state.
Ilhan Omar, who will replace outgoing Rep. Keith Ellison (the first Muslim elected to Congress) in Minnesota's 5th congressional district, came to the United States as a 12-year-old refugee from Somalia and settled in the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and Saint Paul, in the late 1990s.
In her acceptance speech, delivered without an American flag, Congresswoman-elect Omar opened her speech in Arabic with the greeting, "As-Salam Alaikum, (peace be upon you), alhamdulillah (praise be to Allah), alhamdulillah, alhamdulillah." She continued:
"I stand here before you tonight as your congresswoman-elect with many firsts behind my name. The first woman of color to represent our state in Congress. The first woman to wear a hijab. The first refugee ever elected to Congress. And one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress."
Omar faced some controversy during the campaign, including a disturbing report that she had married her own brother in 2009 for fraudulent purposes, as well as a tweet from May 2018 in which she refers to Israel as an "apartheid regime," and another tweet from November 2012, in which she stated: "Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel."
After the tweets came to light, Omar met with members of her congressional district's large Jewish population to address concerns over her position on Israel, as reported by Minneapolis's Star Tribune. During a Democratic Party candidates' forum at Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park on August 6 — one week before Omar defeated four other candidates in the party's primary — Omar publicly criticized the anti-Israel BDS movement. In front of an audience of more than a thousand people, Omar said she supported a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict and that the BDS movement aimed at pressuring Israel was not helpful in trying to achieve that goal.
Pressed by moderator Mary Lahammer to specify "exactly where you stand on that," Omar replied that the BDS movement was "counteractive" because it stopped both sides from coming together for "a conversation about how that's going to be possible."
Less than a week after being elected, however, Omar admitted that she supports the BDS movement. On November 11, Omar's office told the website that she favors BDS against Israel:
"Ilhan believes in and supports the BDS movement, and has fought to make sure people's right to support it isn't criminalized. She does however, have reservations on the effectiveness of the movement in accomplishing a lasting solution."
On November 12, Omar told TC Jewfolk, a website catering to the Jewish community in the Twin Cities, that her position on the BDS movement "has always been the same" and pointed to her vote as a state lawmaker against House bill HF 400, which prohibits the state from doing business with companies or organizations that boycott Israel. In a recent interview with the Star Tribune, Omar characterized the controversy over her tweets about Israel as an effort to "stigmatize and shame me into saying something other than what I believed."
In a July 8, 2018 interview with ABC News, for a segment entitled, "Progressive Democrats Increasingly Criticize Israel, and Could Reap Political Rewards," Omar defended her tweets. She said the accusations of anti-Semitism "are without merit" and "rooted in bigotry toward a belief about what Muslims are stereotyped to believe."
On September 22, Omar was the keynote speaker in Minneapolis at a fundraiser focused on providing monetary support for Palestinians in Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas. The US Department of State has officially designated Hamas a terrorist group. After the event, Omar tweeted: "It was such an honor to attend the 'Dear Gaza' fundraiser ... I know Palestinians are resilient people, hateful protesters nor unjust occupation will dim their spirit."
Writing in the New York Post, political commentator David Harsanyi noted that Omar's rhetoric had anti-Semitic undertones:
"Now, it isn't inherently anti-Semitic to be critical of Israeli political leadership or policies. The Democratic Party antagonism toward the Jewish state has been well-established over the past decade. But Omar used a well-worn anti-Semitic trope about the preternatural ability of a nefarious Jewish cabal to deceive the world...."Omar had a chance to retract, or at least refine, her statement. Instead, she doubled down ... blaming Jewish Islamophobia for the backlash....
"To accuse the only democratic state in the Middle East, which grants more liberal rights to its Muslim citizens than any Arab nation, of being an 'apartheid regime' is, on an intellectual level, grossly disingenuous or incredibly ignorant. And when a politician singles out Jewish allies as 'evil,' but ignores every brutal theocratic regime in the area, it's certainly noteworthy....
"Omar's defenders will claim she's anti-Israel, not anti-Jewish. 'Anti-Zionism' has been the preferred justification for Jew-hatred in institutions of education and within progressive activism for a long time. Now it's coming for politics. Democrats can either allow it to be normalized, or they can remain silent."
In Michigan, meanwhile, Rashida Tlaib, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, won a largely uncontested race for the open seat in state's heavily Democratic 13th congressional district.
In Tlaib's acceptance speech, delivered with a Palestinian flag, she credited her victory to the Palestinian cause. "A lot of my strength comes from being Palestinian," she said.
Like Omar, Tlaib has changed her positions on key issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. During her race for the Democratic nomination in the state primary, Tlaib actively "sought out the support and received the endorsement of J Street." J Street is a left-leaning organization that is highly critical of the Israel government, and through "JStreetPAC," it also allocates financial support to those who back J Street's policies.
J Street endorsed Tlaib "based on her support for two states" with the JStreetPAC website claiming that she "believes that the U.S. should be directly involved with negotiations to reach a two-state solution. Additionally, she supports all current aid to Israel and the Palestinian Authority."
After her primary win on August 7, however, Tlaib radically shifted her positions on Israel, so much so that Haaretz suggested that she pulled a "bait-and-switch."
In an August 14 interview with In These Times magazine, Tlaib was asked whether she supported a one-state or two-state solution. She replied:
"One state. It has to be one state. Separate but equal does not work.... This whole idea of a two-state solution, it doesn't work."
Tlaib also declared her opposition to US aid for Israel, as well as her support for the BDS movement. When asked why she accepted money from J Street, Tlaib said that the organization endorsed her because of her "personal story," not her policy "stances."
In an August 13 interview with Britain's Channel 4, Tlaib revealed that she subscribes to the specious concept of intersectionality, which posits that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is fundamentally a dispute between "white supremacists" and "people of color."
When Tlaib was asked about her position on Israel, she replied, "I grew up in Detroit where every single corner of the district is a reminder of the civil rights movement."
When Tlaib was asked whether, once in Congress, she would vote to cut aid to Israel, she replied: "Absolutely. For me, US aid should be leverage."
On August 17, J Street withdrew its endorsement of Tlaib's candidacy. J Street noted:
"After closely consulting with Rashida Tlaib's campaign to clarify her most current views on various aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we have come to the unfortunate conclusion that a significant divergence in perspectives requires JStreetPAC to withdraw our endorsement of her candidacy.
"While we have long championed the value of a wide range of voices in discussion of the conflict and related issues, we cannot endorse candidates who conclude that they can no longer publicly express unequivocal support for a two-state solution and other core principles to which our organization is dedicated."Commentator Jonathan Tobin noted that many American Jews seemed indifferent to victories by these anti-Israel Democrats: "The base of the Democratic Party has been profoundly influenced by intersectional arguments that, like Tlaib's slurs, view the Palestinian war on Israel as akin to the struggle for civil rights in the United States...."For most [American Jews], Israel is, at best, just one among many issues they care about. At the moment, that means most American Jews are far more interested in evicting US President Donald Trump from the White House or expressing solidarity with illegal immigrants than about threats to Israel... "With many Jews expressing distaste for an 'illiberal' Israel, it's little surprise that the bulk of American Jewry isn't overly bothered about the election of Socialists who are unsympathetic to the Jewish state or consider Zionism to be racist."
*Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute.
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Expectations on the Khashoggi Case
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/November 16/18
The murder of Jamal Khashoggi is a complicated case from different angles. It’s a political crime that happened amid very strange circumstances from a country that’s not known for practicing violence against rivals. Khashoggi was not known as a figure who is dangerous to national security as he worked as a government spokesperson and with its media for 30 years. The crime was carried out on a territory that’s “unfriendly” due to the political dispute and regional bias within the Turkey-Qatar framework against Saudi Arabia.
What’s noticeable is that the Saudi public prosecutor’s story that was built on the interrogations of those accused matched most of the Turkish leaks but not all of them. The final conclusion is that the team had traveled to Istanbul to meet with Khashoggi in the consulate to convince him to return and in case he rejects to do so, he’d be returned by force, i.e. he'd be kidnapped. Perhaps this explains the large number of participants, as all secret security operations require a large logistical team.
An example is the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, who is well-known for smuggling arms to the Hamas Movement. The operation required sending a large team of Israelis who entered Dubai as tourists via different airlines, stayed in distant hotels, took up fake names, and used fake passports and anonymous phone numbers. The team which carried out the Khashoggi murder went to Turkey collectively and clearly, and some of them were known by the Turkish security. They entered using their real passports and went to the Saudi consulate which strengthens the story that the main goal was to return him alive, although he was killed after their efforts failed.
The general prosecution’s story is based on investigations, and when the trial is held later we hope to hear the testimonies directly from the accused.
The investigation has fulfilled what is expected from it. What was revealed yesterday during the press conference of the general prosecution’s spokesperson was rich in details and included more than the Turkish leaks. Despite this, we already know that Turkey and Qatar, which both have a political dispute with Saudi Arabia, will not stop exploiting the case. Therefore, we must differentiate between two crimes. The first one is the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, may he rest in peace, and the second one is the organized attack against a state like the Saudi Kingdom. I do not want to say what others have said; that murdering Khashoggi is one crime and more than half a million were deliberately killed in Syria and no one was punished for their murder and for other similar crimes in the region’s countries. Murder is murder as the Quran warned us: “Whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land - it is as if he had slain mankind entirely.” However, we must reject Qatar’s campaign in politicizing the crime for more dangerous purposes as the attempt to destabilize the Saudi Kingdom, as a government and a country, has been a purpose and a systematic approach that preceded the assassination by a long time. All those who followed up on the developments of the crisis can sense there is a bad intention to use the Khashoggi murder. I’ll note a comparison that shows the intentions of both parties.
After the failed coup in Turkey two years ago, Ankara insisted on some of the region’s governments to hand over some figures it accused of belonging to the opposition. At the time, these figures were in fact handed over by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. However, when Turkey hosted a number of Saudi extremist activists, Ankara refused Riyadh’s request to hand them over or to at least prevent them from carrying out hostile practices that were actually funded by Qatar. This explains the depth of the problem between governments and the overlapping of countries’ higher interests and how a man’s tragedy can transform into an abhorrent game.

The EU’s Games of Chicken Are Coming Home to Roost
John Authers/Bloomberg/November 16/18
The classic movie “Rebel Without A Cause” starring James Dean provided a great model for negotiations. In one memorable scene, Dean’s character and a rival raced their car toward a cliff in a sort of competition to see who was braver. The winner was the last to swerve; the loser swerved first, and therefore was a “chicken.” But to win, one had to face the risk of disaster. In the movie, our hero survives, while his rival gets his sleeve caught in the door and he is unable to escape or swerve in time. His car plunges over the cliff.
The European Union is playing a game of chicken with two of its biggest and most powerful members: the UK and Italy. The UK, which has voted to leave the EU, is trying hard to negotiate a deal to leave and playing very tough. If it fails, there is a real risk of an exit without a compromise, which would suddenly entail needing to renegotiate 759 treaties with 168 different countries.
This game of chicken involves not only the UK and the EU, but also multiple factions within the UK. Ministers have resigned from Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet both because they wanted a tougher approach to leaving, as was the case with former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, and also because they opposed the entire undertaking and wanted the whole matter put to a referendum, as led Jo Johnson, Boris’ younger brother.
The problem the competing parties face is that virtually any option that seems viable at this point would be demonstrably worse than the status quo, surrendering the U.K.’s vote within the EU while still being subject to at least some of its rules. But the leaders of both the government and the opposition have ruled out putting the whole matter to another referendum. Thus, without an agreement on any one proposal, a “no-deal” exit, or Brexit, becomes likely.
It is possible that the dangers of a “no-deal” exit are being overstated. There are concerns over whether jets could even leave Heathrow airport, while plans are in motion to stockpile medicine and food ahead of what could become much longer supply bottlenecks. The fact that it is possible to question how bad a “no-deal” would be (Brexit supporters accurately assert that the U.K. got on fine for centuries on its own before joining the EU) greatly increases the risk that nobody swerves, and the U.K. goes over the cliff.
Then there is Italy. It has set a budget that involves a far greater deficit and far greater fiscal expansion than is permitted under the 1991 Maastricht Treaty that set the terms for countries to join the euro. Last month, the EU formally rejected the budget. This seems necessary. Without maintaining discipline, other countries will follow Italy’s lead and the euro will lose all credibility. After the force that the EU applied to minnows such as Portugal, Greece and Cyprus to adopt extreme austerity in return for avoiding a departure form the euro, it would seem that there is little choice but to force Italy into a new budget.
But the Italian government does not see it that way. And the EU has a problem because the bond market is not helping. As judged by the spread of Italian sovereign bond yields over comparable German bunds, bond traders regarded the alarming election result in Italy with total complacency. Yields shot up in late May as it suddenly became apparent that the right-populist Lega and left-populist Five-Star movement might be able to work together to the detriment of bond traders. They shot up again as the confrontation with the EU took shape, but they have been stable for several weeks now.
Yield spreads at these levels are difficult for Italy, but survivable. The government has previously said the spread should not go through 4 percentage points. It remains safely below that level, appearing to embolden Italy. Matteo Salvini, Italy’s deputy prime minister, told reporters on Monday, “The budget doesn’t change because the EU sends us letters.”Italy is also aided by the stock and the currency markets. The euro is falling, making it harder for the EU to risk an all-out confrontation. And bank stocks are in serious trouble, again making it harder to take action against Italy.
Of the two games of chicken, the disaster scenario in the case of Italy would be much worse than with UK. It would mean the dissolution of the euro, an event for which there is no precedent, and would affect every economy in the world. It is hard to see how a “no-deal” Brexit for a country that is not part of the euro could be as bad as this, beyond British shores.
But the chances of a plunge over the side of a cliff is far greater for the UK than for Italy. The EU is highly unlikely to swerve in its game with the UK. Italy is a different matter.
US stocks suffered another brutal sell-off Monday. There were plenty of reasons for the decline, but this leg of the correction looks like a fundamentally driven attempt to address the overvaluation of the “FAANG” group stocks (the acronym Facebook,, Apple, Netflix and Google), and a new affection for under-appreciated and less cyclical defensive stocks. As I commented last month when Procter & Gamble enjoyed its best day in years, when people get excited about sales of toothpaste and toilet-cleaner, it tends to suggest something rather bad about their sentiment toward the market broadly. Now my Bloomberg News colleague Luke Kawa has taken the exercise a step further by comparing P&G’s valuation via its price-to-earnings multiple with that of the tech-heavy Nasdaq-100. At this point, investors are prepared to pay more for the predictable earnings growth in basic consumer products than they will pay for all the growth potential in Apple, and the other stalwarts of the Nasdaq. This is an unusual state of affairs. As the chart shows, the gap between P&G’s valuation and that of the Nasdaq grew extreme earlier this year, and it is unusual for investors to pay a premium for P&G for any length of time. So we can see that this has been an extreme rotation within the market. After Monday’s latest downdraft, it also looks as though the time to buy is either or rapidly approaching. P&G, very unusually, was the best performer in the S&P 500 in terms of index points, accounting for 0.19 extra point. Unfortunately, Apple’s decline accounted for a reduction of 5.11 S&P 500 index points. Investors are enthusiastically hunting the stocks that have been caught on the other side of the “FAANG trade” and invested in companies that had sold off too much on concern that and the others would eat away their profits. We are now seeing a full-blown reaction.
For another illustration, try this one: the combined market cap of and Apple had briefly exceeded that of the entire S&P 500 Consumer Staples sector, including 32 companies headed by P&G, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Walmart.
Looked at this way, regrettably, the message is that the selling has further to go. The rise of the biggest internet players on this basis looks like an aberration, and needs to be corrected further. The way this sell-off follows evidence of problems for iPhone sales and pain for Apple’s biggest suppliers strengthens the evidence that this latest leg of the downturn has more of a basis in fundamentals than those that preceded it. Investors are taking a hard look at exactly what evidence there is for the FAANG’s growth potential, rather belatedly, and adjusting prices accordingly. How long will that process last? It depends where the evidence takes us.

Will Al-Sistani step in to break Iraq’s political deadlock?
Talmiz Ahmad/Arab News/November 16/18
Iraq’s new Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi took the oath of office last month along with 14 ministers of a Cabinet that needs 22 members. This marked the culmination of a month-long process of political uncertainty, turbulence and deal-making since he was named prime minister by newly appointed President Barham Salih.
Abdul Mahdi’s accession to high office is fortuitous. The country’s former oil and finance minister and vice president did not participate in the national elections in May. He explained in a Facebook post that month that he could not be prime minister as his vision and goals would never obtain political support.
His program included making state institutions effective and free from political interference, controlling the country’s militia, and combating ethnic, sectarian and tribal divisions.
This vision resonated with Muqtada Al-Sadr, whose Sairoon alliance romped home with the highest number of seats in Parliament, but who wanted to see a government of technocrats, not politicians. As the complex process of coalition development came to an end in late September, with Al-Sadr aligning with the No. 2 grouping, the Fatah alliance headed by Hadi Al-Amiri of the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Units militia, he identified Abdul Mahdi as the appropriate leader of the next government.
It is now apparent that Al-Sadr and Al-Amiri do not share the same views on government formation. Al-Sadr rejects the old “quota” system of allotting ministerial portfolios to political groups — a veritable division of national spoils — while Al-Amiri wishes to see rewards for groups like his own that have made great efforts to combat Daesh. His focus is on the interior and defense portfolios.
His all-too-infrequent interventions in the political space have had extraordinary implications for a nation that is groaning under the twin scourges of conflict and corruption.
This divide has prevented Abdul Mahdi from obtaining parliamentary approval for eight ministers, including the interior, defense and justice ministers. The two competing alliances, though ostensibly on the same side, vetoed each other’s nominees in a destructive zero-sum endeavor. However, the prime minister was able to get ministers for foreign affairs, oil and finance, and is retaining with himself the interior and defense portfolios. There are threats of impeachment against some ministers for past misdemeanors.
Fifteen years since the end of the Saddam Hussein regime, the country is experiencing nationwide civil conflict, deepening ethnic and sectarian divides, and widespread destruction of infrastructure and governmental institutions. People are witnessing the near-total collapse of civic services, including the supply of drinking water and electricity, continued violence from extremist elements, and pervasive corruption on the part of politicians they elected to provide governance.
This popular rage was exhibited through agitations in southern Iraq in September, which finally persuaded the normally apolitical Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani to break his silence and demand that the next government meet the people’s requirements.
But not much has changed on the ground. Reports from Basra, which provides the bulk of Iraq’s oil revenues, suggest that popular anger remains unassuaged, but the people now see no advantage in street protests. They are watching with deep cynicism the calls for public demonstrations from their elected representatives, who are upset that no one from Basra is in the new Cabinet.
Besides the politicians from Basra, those representing the Turkmen and Kurds are displaying both greed and disunity. The former are upset that ministerships have not gone to their community, while the Kurds continue with their century-old divide between the Barzani and Talabani clans. The former, much diminished after the fiasco relating to the “independence referendum” last year, is upset that its candidate for president was not successful and that victory went to the candidate from the Talabani side in Sulaymaniyah. Issues between Baghdad and Irbil remain unaddressed.
The national security situation also remains parlous, with daily reports of bombings by Daesh elements even a year after they had been comprehensively defeated. This violence reflects the feeble character of the official security forces, since effective power remains with the numerous militia that have not been disbanded or disarmed. They remain a lethal and fractious presence and are often accused of targeting their opponents on a sectarian basis. There are widespread concerns that Iraq could see the revival of earlier conflicts with extremist elements.
The divided national edifice is also constantly buffeted by the rival claims on the government in Iraq from Iran and the US. Though Iran was able to obtain the government of its choice in Baghdad, the US has made life difficult for Iraq by insisting on enforcing sanctions on Tehran: A blow to Iraq’s crucial energy and trade ties with its neighbor. While Iraq’s leaders have publicly accepted US demands, most observers believe this is just lip service since the ties between Iraq and Iran are too deep and mutually important to be abandoned at the behest of Washington.
Amid the grim scenario that is Iraq’s reality, all eyes are once again turning to Al-Sistani. His all-too-infrequent interventions in the political space have had extraordinary implications for a nation that is groaning under the twin scourges of conflict and corruption. Can he wave his wand and save his people? No one else seems available.
• Talmiz Ahmad is an author and former Indian diplomat who holds the Ram Sathe Chair for International Studies, Symbiosis International University, Pune, India.

Trump's Middle East Plan Dealt Another Blow With Israel Turmoil
David Wainer and Nick Wadhams/Bloomberg/November 16/18
Israel’s political turmoil isn’t just a problem for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: It’s the latest blow to President Donald Trump’s hopes to unveil a grand Middle East peace plan his son-in-law has spent almost two years on.
Netanyahu’s coalition now holds a bare majority of 61 of 120 parliamentary seats after his political rival, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, pulled his faction out of the government Wednesday. If other parties leave the coalition -- and some are already threatening to do just that -- Israel could head into elections this winter even as Netanyahu is facing corruption probes in three different cases.
Israeli officials already had been urging the Trump administration not to release its proposal too close to the elections, afraid that a plan demanding concessions from Israel would hurt Netanyahu’s chances when hard-liners already accuse him of being too soft on Hamas, the militant Palestinian group that rules the Gaza Strip.
After moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing the city as Israel’s capital, Trump said in August that the Palestinians will “get something very good” in his plan because it’s now “their turn.”
Regardless of how the U.S. proposal is pitched, there will be “some things in the plan the Israelis won’t like, so the key is how to make sure that they are OK with the general tenor of the plan,” said Dennis Ross, a former U.S. Mideast peace negotiator. Ross predicted that if elections in Israel come in the winter, the Trump administration may wait to make sure Netanyahu is re-elected before presenting the U.S. proposal.
Yet even before the latest developments, Trump was showing increasing frustration that the Israeli leader -- with whom he’s forged a close personal bond -- wasn’t doing more to help the plan overseen by son-in-law Jared Kushner come to fruition, according to two people familiar with the matter. Trump complained in recent meetings that Netanyahu hasn’t been “flexible” or “forward-leaning” enough on the plan, one of the people said.
White House officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Some analysts, including Natan Sachs, director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, say there’s now a chance the plan will never see the light of day. Support in the Arab world, as well as Israel, is essential to the plan’s success. Recent tensions between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, which would be expected to play a key role in financially supporting the peace plan, haven’t helped the proposal’s prospects either.
Given the political turmoil in Israel, the government’s flexibility on sensitive topics such as Jerusalem or Palestinian refugees will be very limited, particularly since Netanyahu may have to defend his right flank from a challenge by Liberman or other more conservative leaders like the Jewish Home party’s Naftali Bennett.
Those rivals have accused Netanyahu of being too moderate on the Palestinian issue. Liberman resigned on Wednesday after the security cabinet on Tuesday agreed to a truce halting a two-day flare-up of fighting in Gaza. He called it a “capitulation to terrorism.”
“I suspect that the prime minister has probably” told the Americans, “‘Don’t present the plan before elections because with this government I have little flexibility,”’ Ross said. “‘With this government, you’ll turn it into political football. After the election I’ll be able to broaden my government.’ ”
Netanyahu’s office didn’t respond to several requests for comment. The prime minister met Thursday with mayors of towns near the Gaza border who are angry that he didn’t strike Hamas harder. His finance and interior ministers have urged the prime minister to call early elections.
Publicly, the Trump-Netanyahu relationship has been one of the strongest in recent history. Since taking office in January 2017, Trump has handed Netanyahu key victories without demanding anything in return.
The recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the move of the American embassy broke with decades of U.S. practice. Then, Trump quit the Iran nuclear deal negotiated during the Obama administration, which Netanyahu opposed from the start, and he’s led an international campaign to pressure Tehran by reimposing sanctions.
‘Ultimate Deal’
At the same time, Trump has expressed eagerness to do what no president before him has managed to pull off -- the “ultimate deal” of Middle East peace, drafted by his Jewish son-in-law. At a meeting with Netanyahu in September at the United Nations, the U.S. president said he would like to release the plan in “two to three to four months, something like that.”
But Trump’s decision on Jerusalem essentially ended Palestinian participation in U.S. talks. Palestinians have long sought to make east Jerusalem their capital. While Trump administration officials maintained that they weren’t precluding any final decision on the city, preemptively recognizing the holy city as Israel’s capital drew international condemnation. He’s since gone further, slashing aid to Palestinian refugees and the Palestinian Authority.
After decades of the U.S. publicly saying it wanted to be an honest broker in the Israel-Palestinian crisis, part of the problem for Netanyahu is that Trump’s policies have been perceived to be so pro-Israel that any plan viewed as conciliatory toward the Palestinians could disappoint the prime minister’s political base. Israelis have grown accustomed to Trump backing them at every turn.
To avoid damaging relations with the Trump administration, Netanyahu would need to give a “qualified yes” to any plan that’s announced, saying he’s open to negotiations with some reservations, according to Sachs of Brookings.
“Trump has been so much in Netanyahu’s corner that every deviation toward the mean will sound like an ominous move from the Trump administration,” Sachs said.