November 21/1
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For today
But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day
second Letter of Peter 03/01/15/This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you; in them I am trying to arouse your sincere intention by reminding you that you should remember the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets, and the commandment of the Lord and Saviour spoken through your apostles. First of all you must understand this, that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and indulging their own lusts and saying, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation!’ They deliberately ignore this fact, that by the word of God heavens existed long ago and an earth was formed out of water and by means of water, through which the world of that time was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, being kept until the day of judgement and destruction of the godless. But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance"

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on November 20-21/18
Lebanon-linked Gang Accused of Laundering Millions of Euros in Germany/Deutsche Welle/November 20/18
The Lebanese Daily, Al-Modon: Hizbullah Controls Area In Syrian Territory Along Border With Lebanon – And Has Built Military Bases, Training Camps, And Underground Warehouses There/MEMRI/November 20/18
Puttin To Israel, US: Loosen Sanctions In Exchange For Iran Leaving Syria/Jerusalem Post/November 20/18
Brazil’s New President Stumbles in Terra Incognita/Mac Margolis/Bloomberg/November, 20/18
The Political Split That Will Determine Brexit/Therese Raphael/Bloomberg/November, 20/18
Snapchat Should Emulate Facebook for Once/Shira Ovide/Bloomberg/November, 20/18
From gossip to fake news: A full circle incorporating state secrets/Walid Jawad/Al Arabiya/November 20/18
Political tasks for international organizations in Yemen/Hamdan Alaly/Al Arabiya/November 20/18
The most controversial hour/Turki Aldakhil/Al Arabiya/November 20/18
Turkey and US: Conflict Contained, Not Resolved/Burak Bekdil/Gatestone Institute/November 20/18
The EU's Dangerous New Confidence Game/Douglas Murray/Gatestone Institute/November 20/18
MbS fingered again for the Khashoggi murder to undermine him ahead of the G20 Buenos Aires summit/DEBKAfile/November 20/18
Flare-Up in Gaza (Part 2): Gently Undoing a Gordian Knot/Ghaith al-Omari and Assaf Orion/The Washington Institute/November 20/18
Why Has Netanyahu Reversed Course on Early Elections/David Makovsky/The Washington Institute/November 20/18

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on November 20-21/18
Trump Stresses to Aoun Keenness on Lebanon’s Security, Safety
Pope Francis Praises Lebanon for Hosting Refugees
Putin Stresses Strong Bilateral Ties in Letter to Lebanese President
Aoun congratulates Lebanese on Prophet Mohammad's Birthday
Hariri patronizes Independence Exhibition in Sidon: We can overcome our crises if we live the dreams of the youth
Reports: Bassil's Stance Further Complicates 'Sunni Obstacle'
Bassil Asks Lebanese Ambassador to Assist Carlos Ghosn
Nissan Shares Plunge as Ghosn Faces Ouster after Arrest
Mrad Says March 8 MPs Mulling 'Druze Solution' to 'Sunni Hurdle'
Kataeb Party Hails 'Historic, Epoch-Making Correlation' Between November Events
Gemayel, Jumblat Discuss Latest Developments
Lebanon-linked Gang Accused of Laundering Millions of Euros in Germany
The Lebanese Daily, Al-Modon: Hizbullah Controls Area In Syrian Territory Along Border With Lebanon – And Has Built Military Bases, Training Camps, And Underground Warehouses There

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on November 20-21/18
Puttin To Israel, US: Loosen Sanctions In Exchange For Iran Leaving Syria
UK's Hunt Discusses Nuclear Cooperation, Regional Demands with Iran
EU open to Iran sanctions after foiled France, Denmark plots
Iran Deputy FM: Europe Incapable of Creating Financial Mechanism
Iran Vows to Overcome Oil Sanctions, Seeks French Financial Channel
Iraq launches air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria
U.N. in Final Push for Syria Constitutional Committee
De Mistura in Final Push for Syria Constitutional Committee
Devalued Syrian Currency Adds to People’s Economic Hardship
Jordanian Delegation in Damascus in First Visit in 7 Seven Years
Iraq Strikes ISIS Targets in Syria
Putin, Erdogan Inaugurate TurkStream Pipeline
Falih: Saudi Crown Prince to Attend G20 Summit in Argentina
UK-Proposed UN Resolution for Hodeidah Truce Demands Houthis Halt Missile Attacks
Pakistan summons US envoy to protest Trump’s criticism
US Muslim lawmaker-elect in proposal to end head-covering ban in Congress
Chicago hospital shooting leaves 4 dead, including police officer and gunman
U.N. Prepares Ground for Yemen Peace Talks as Battles Flare
Trump Dilemma: Preserve Saudi Alliance or Declare MBS a 'Murderer'
Officer Stabbed outside Brussels Police Station

Latest Lebanese Related News published on November 20-21/18
Trump Stresses to Aoun Keenness on Lebanon’s Security, Safety
Beirut - Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 20 November, 2018/Lebanese President Michel Aoun received on Monday a cable of congratulations from US President Donald Trump on the occasion of Independence Day. Trump stressed Washington’s keenness on supporting Lebanon’s prosperity, security and safety. He also hailed the progress made throughout the year in staging the parliamentary elections, which were held in May, and in combating terrorism. In addition, Trump expressed his “deepest appreciation for the partnership between the US and Lebanon.” He stated that he looks forward to working with the new government that would be committed to preserving Lebanon’s sovereignty and political independence. Lebanon’s Independence Day falls on November 22.

Pope Francis Praises Lebanon for Hosting Refugees 20th November 2018/During his meeting with a Lebanese delegation at the Vatican on Tuesday, Pope Francis praised Lebanon for hosting more than 1 million Syrian refugees, hails the country as an "exemplary" model of coexistence. Kataeb MP Nadim Gemayel, who was part of the Lebanese delegation, posted a photo of him shaking hands with Pope Francis while standing next to Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rahi. “We were blessed by his holiness, and we heard his wishes and prayers for Lebanon; may his prayers intercede for Lebanon and its people,” Gemayel wrote on Twitter.

Putin Stresses Strong Bilateral Ties in Letter to Lebanese President 20th November 2018/Russian President Vladimir Putin cabled President Michel Aoun to convey his sincere wishes to the Lebanese people as the country is set to mark its 75th Independence Day. In his letter, Putin extended his greetings, assuring ongoing cooperation between the two countries for the sake of the Middle East’s security and stability. President Aoun also received congratulatory letters from both Saudi king and crown prince, king of Morocco, as well as the presidents of Egypt, Palestine, Tunisia, Algeria, Syria, Turkey, Austria, Croatia, and Gabon.

Aoun congratulates Lebanese on Prophet Mohammad's Birthday
Tue 20 Nov 2018/NNA - President of the Republic, Michel Aoun, on Tuesday extended greetings to the Lebanese people, in general, and Muslims, in particular, on the occasion of the Prophet's birthday. Aoun, whose words came via his Twitter account, hoped that "this occasion would bring by peace, goodness, and tranquility to the Lebanese and Arabs."

Hariri patronizes Independence Exhibition in Sidon: We can overcome our crises if we live the dreams of the youth

Tue 20 Nov 2018/NNA - Marking the 75th Lebanese Independence Day occasion, the Sidon Schools Network organized Tuesday a Graphic Design Exhibition entitled, "Independence with 75 designs in lines and color", under the patronage of Education and Culture Parliamentary Committee Head, MP Bahiya Hariri, held at the Sidon Municipal Palace. The exhibition included 75 paintings, portraits and manuscripts that symbolize the independence of Lebanon and its heroes, prepared by students from a number of universities and public and private institutions. In her opening word, MP Hariri praised the students for their creative initiative and the hope reflected in their lines and colors. "Our salvation and the way out of our crises and challenges can only be through living all your dreams, because the purity of what you painted reflects the will of preceding generations for Lebanon to be a country of creativity, beauty, love and giving," said Hariri. "In each of your creations we can see the spirit of responsibility and love for your nation and your faith in yourselves and your communities," she added, commending the youth's ability to create a future worthy of their ambitions and determination to succeed. Hariri thanked "all the universities and institutes that participated in the exhibition, full of colors and hope," congratulating all the Lebanese on Independence Day.

Reports: Bassil's Stance Further Complicates 'Sunni Obstacle'
Naharnet/November 20/18/A stance voiced Monday by Free Patriotic Movement chief MP Jebran Bassil after his meeting with March 8’s Sunni MPs has further complicated the so-called Sunni representation obstacle instead of easing it, media reports said. “It is clear that the independent Sunnis obstacle is aggravating and a settlement seems to be distant,” al-Akhbar newspaper reported. “Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri is still insisting on his rejection to represent them from his share and Minister Jebran Bassil, whom the President has tasked with the negotiations, has created a new dilemma in the cabinet formation deadlock, returning the ball to the PM-designate’s court,” the daily added. “Bassil has reiterated his stance that rejects the calls for naming a March 8 Sunni minister from President Michel Aoun’s share,” al-Akhbar said. Bassil had announced Monday that Aoun is willing to give up the Maronite-Sunni seat swap with Hariri in order to give the PM-designate an additional Sunni seat and leave the sixth Sunni minister to the pro-Hizbullah MPs or a consensus candidate. The government was on the verge of formation on October 29 after the Lebanese Forces accepted the portfolios that were assigned to it but a last-minute hurdle over the representation of pro-Hizbullah Sunni MPs surfaced. Hizbullah has insisted that the six Sunni MPs should be given a seat in the government, refraining from providing Hariri with the names of its three Shiite ministers in a bid to press him.

Bassil Asks Lebanese Ambassador to Assist Carlos Ghosn
Naharnet/November 20/18/Caretaker Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil has instructed Lebanese Ambassador to Japan Nidal Yahia to “follow up on the case of Mr. Carlos Ghosn, the chairman of the “Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance,” after he was arrested for alleged financial misconduct, the National News Agency said. NNA added that Bassil has asked the envoy to “meet him, inquire about his needs, verify the legality of the measures that have been taken, and ensure that he will be provided with legal assistance so that he can present the facts and evidence in his possession and have a real chance to defend himself.”“Ghosn is an expat Lebanese citizen and represents one of the Lebanese successes abroad, and the Lebanese Foreign Ministry will stand by him in his crisis to ensure that he will get a fair trial,” the Ministry said in a statement. Ghosn, 64, was born in Brazil of Lebanese descent, and educated at elite colleges in France, where he started in industry at tiremaker Michelin. He has maintained his ties with Lebanon, where he has invested in a winery. Ghosn made his name as a turnaround specialist before he was parachuted into Nissan from Renault in 1999, swinging the ax on costs to bring the troubled Japanese firm rapidly back to profit. A globetrotting polyglot who shook up corporate culture in France and Japan, Ghosn could seemingly do no wrong until disquiet began to mount in recent years over his high renumeration. Japanese prosecutors confirmed Tuesday that they were holding Ghosn after arresting him a day earlier on suspicion of systematically under-reporting his salary over five years. Nissan said it had been investigating Ghosn and Representative Director Greg Kelly for months, after a report from a whistleblower. CEO Hiroto Saikawa said the company had uncovered years of financial misconduct including under-reporting of income and inappropriate personal use of company assets. There has been no word from Ghosn or his representatives on the charges and no official confirmation on where he is being held. Sources told AFP he was being held at a detention centre in the capital belonging to Tokyo prosecutors.
Under Japanese law, Ghosn can be held for up to 23 days before being charged. Prosecutors confirmed Ghosn had conspired with Kelly to report income of 4.9 billion yen ($44.5 million) over five years when his actual income for that period had been nearly 10 billion yen. Several executives at Nissan were reportedly involved in falsifying financial documents under instructions from Kelly but they have been cooperating with prosecutors in a plea bargain deal in return for lighter penalties. Public broadcaster NHK reported board members received less compensation than financial statements showed, with Ghosn pocketing the difference. Nissan also reportedly provided luxury residences to Ghosn in Brazil and Lebanon by making subsidiaries purchase the properties for billions of yen (tens of millions of dollars).
Governments weigh in
Japanese government officials scrambled to insist that the alliance of Nissan, Mitsubishi and Renault that Ghosn oversaw would not be affected by his astonishing downfall. And France, which holds a 15 percent stake in Renault, said it would stay "vigilant" on the stability of the alliance as well as the French automaker. French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said he had ordered an inquiry into Ghosn's tax affairs immediately after learning of his arrest in Japan but that it showed up "nothing in particular about his tax situation."

Nissan Shares Plunge as Ghosn Faces Ouster after Arrest
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/November 20/18/Nissan and Mitsubishi shares plunged Tuesday after chairman Carlos Ghosn was arrested for alleged financial misconduct, that reportedly included exorbitantly priced houses and diverted compensation. The two automakers have already said they will propose removing Ghosn, and Renault -- which the titan also heads -- said it would meet later in the day to discuss his fate. The arrest of the superstar executive sent shockwaves through the auto industry and beyond, and Japanese officials scrambled to send reassuring messages about the stability of the three-firm alliance that Ghosn oversaw. "Keeping a stable relationship (among the companies) is important," industry minister Hiroshige Seko told reporters. "As the government, we will do anything we can," added Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, without elaborating. It was a stark indictment on the legacy of the 64-year-old, until now feted for his success in turning around failing companies with hard-nosed tactics that earned him the nickname "Le Cost Killer" in France. In France, the government said it had found no evidence Ghosn had cheated on his taxes there, though the allegations levelled by Tokyo prosecutors did not include any claim of tax evasion. A day after the astonishing news of Ghosn's arrest first emerged, there was vanishingly little new information about his situation and no official confirmation on his whereabouts. However, sources confirmed he was being held at a detention center used by Tokyo prosecutors. Television footage showed a van reportedly belonging to the French embassy entering the compound on Tuesday. Japanese prosecutors have said Ghosn is being held on suspicion of under-reporting his income by around five billion yen ($44.5 million) over five years. Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa said a months-long investigation prompted by a whistleblower had uncovered years of financial wrongdoing, including the under-reporting of his salary and misuse of company assets. Public broadcaster NHK reported Nissan had provided Ghosn with houses in four countries "without any legitimate business reason," and that Nissan paid "huge sums" for the homes in Rio de Janeiro, Beirut, Paris and Amsterdam. Representative Director Greg Kelly, who was also arrested on Tuesday with Ghosn, reportedly ordered other executives to "hide salaries", the Yomiuri Shimbun said. It also reported that some compensation due to other executives ended up going to Ghosn, without specifying how the process had worked. Local media reported prosecutors had negotiated a plea bargain for only the second time since Japanese law changed this year that would allow Nissan officials who are cooperating to receive lesser charges or lighter penalties. The massive scandal prompted Nissan shares to plunge, closing down 5.45 percent in Tokyo, while Mitsubishi had fallen 6.84 percent by the end of the trading day.
'It's all about money'
As Ghosn's once towering legacy unravelled, there was no word from the auto boss or any of his representatives. Instead, his own handpicked successor as Nissan CEO accused him of accruing too much power, in a harshly worded news conference on Monday. "Too much authority was given to one person in terms of governance," Saikawa told reporters at Nissan's headquarters. "I have to say that this is a dark side of the Ghosn era which lasted for a long time."It was an almost unthinkable turn of events for Ghosn, who had earned a virtually unparallelled reputation, particularly in Japan, for his role in resurrecting Nissan. Ghosn has dominated the country's corporate landscape, and is a well-known figure among the Japanese public, who know him as "Mr Fix It", partly through a popular manga comic of his life story. But the tables have now turned, with the Yomiuri Shimbun on Tuesday describing executives at Nissan slamming Ghosn as "greedy." "He says the right things, but in the end it's all about money," the daily quoted senior employees as saying. Nissan said the ongoing investigation had uncovered years of misconduct by Ghosn and Kelly but refused to be drawn on whether other people were involved, saying only: "These two gentlemen are the masterminds, that is definite." The news sparked concern in France, where the state owns a 15 percent stake in Renault. President Emmanuel Macron said Paris would be "extremely vigilant" about the stability of the firm and its three-way tie-up. Despite his international renown and rock-star status, particularly in Japan where he was a rare foreign-born executive, Ghosn was not without his detractors. He earned admiration but also anger for his ruthless restructuring at firms like Nissan. And his pay packet was regularly the subject of criticism, including at Renault, where it sparked a spat with shareholders.

Mrad Says March 8 MPs Mulling 'Druze Solution' to 'Sunni Hurdle'
Naharnet/November 20/18/A solution similar to the one that was reached to resolve the row over Druze representation might be reached to overcome the Sunni representation hurdle that is delaying the formation of the new government, MP Abdul Rahim Mrad said.
In remarks to al-Liwaa newspaper, Mrad described Monday’s meeting between Free Patriotic Movement chief MP Jebran Bassil and the MPs of the Consultative Sunni Gathering as “very positive.”“He said three parties should offer concessions: the President, the PM-designate and the six (pro-Hizbullah Sunni) MPs,” Mrad added. “As for President (Michel) Aoun, he is willing to give up his Sunni seat and make it part of the Sunni quota in the cabinet in return for replacing it with a second Maronite minister. Our concession would be to name a figure not belonging to the Gathering that would be accepted by all parties, and what remains would be the PM-designate’s acceptance of this solution,” the lawmaker explained. Mrad added that Bassil “promised to put PM-designate Hariri in the picture of the meeting with the members of the Gathering, in order to pave the way for arranging a meeting between them and Hariri to discuss the issue and reach a solution.”“But before this, we will hold consultations among us to discuss the proposed solution, which is in the vein of the solution that was reached for the Druze obstacle. We would then request a meeting with the PM-designate to explore his stance and we hope he will be responsive,” Mrad went on to say. Asked whether the members of the Gathering have already approved of this solution, Mrad said: “We have neither approved nor rejected it. We will calmly discuss the matter among us before meeting PM-designate Hariri.”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 the pro-Hizbullah Sunni MPs surfaced. Hizbullah has insisted that the six Sunni MPs should be given a seat in the government, refraining from providing Hariri with the names of its three Shiite ministers in a bid to press him.

Kataeb Party Hails 'Historic, Epoch-Making Correlation' Between November Events 20th November 2018/The Lebanese Kataeb party on Monday deplored the ongoing failure to form a new government in Lebanon due to the absence of a unified national vision, blaming the current stalemate on partitioning and share splitting. "The concretization of the election results into shares and ministerial portfolios is being favored over Lebanon's best interest. Meanwhile, challenges and international warnings are growing, and the suffering Lebanese are searching for a lost economic safety," read a statement issued following the weekly meeting of the Kataeb's politburo. The party called on politicians to draw lessons from past similar experiences, urging, once again, the swift formation of a rescue government of specialists, while political issues would be handled by the heads of parliamentary blocs. "Proceed with this suggestion without any further delay, out of mercy for the nation and the citizens." The party deemed the synchronized timing of Lebanon's Independence Day, the Kataeb's foundation anniversary and the assassination anniversary of Minister Pierre Gemayel as a "historic and epoch-making correlation". "The Kataeb party reaffirms its firm belief in the continuation of the march as laid out by martyr Pierre Gemayel and all those who also sacrificed their lives. It also renews its pledge to cling and uncover the truth, to adhere to full sovereignty, defend Lebanon's message and values, and to liberate the country from the grip of corruption," the statement stressed. The party voiced hope that peace and stability would prevail, and that there would be no more illegal weapons so that the State would be solely in charge of the country's decision-making power.

Gemayel, Jumblat Discuss Latest Developments 20th November 2018/Head of the Democratic Gathering bloc, MP Taymour Jumblat, on Tuesday met with Kataeb leader Samy Gemayel, with talks featuring high on the latest developments in the country. Gemayel was accompanied by his advisers Fouad Abu Nader and Michel Khoury. The meeting, held at Jumblat's residence in Clemenceau, was also attended MPs Akram Shuhayyeb and Wael Abu Faour.

Lebanon-linked Gang Accused of Laundering Millions of Euros in Germany

Deutsche Welle/November 20/18
The German-Belgian border in late July 2015: It was shortly after noon when the police pulled over a Mercedes C-Class with a Bremen license plate near the western city of Aachen that had just entered Germany from Belgium.
Behind the wheel sat a young man who, like the other passenger in the car, was born in Lebanon and lived in a town near the northern German city of Bremen. The two told officers they had gone to Belgium to do some shopping. During a search of the vehicle, however, the officers found €489,000 ($548,500) in cash, broken down in small denominations and stashed between layers of underwear in gym bags.
Further investigations by customs agents in Essen revealed that the bags contained traces of cocaine. Without knowing it, investigators had stumbled across two members of a group that moved luxury watches, jewelry and cars worth tens of millions of euros between Europe, West Africa, and the Middle East.
The investigative reporting teams from German public broadcasters NDR and WDR and the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) newspaper were given access to hundreds of pages of case files, giving a rare insight into what investigators believe is a global cocaine and money laundering network.
A network in western Europe
In February 2015, agents with the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) successfully intercepted telephone conversations between suspected members of a Colombian drug cartel in which they talked about transferring drug profits to South America.
This information sparked an extensive investigation in France, which led to hundreds of telephone calls being tapped and numerous covert surveillance measures being carried out. Investigators quickly identified an informal network spanning across all of western Europe, with branches in the Middle East, Africa and South America.
A total of 14 people have now been charged and stand accused of working together to launder tens of millions of euros from drug deals.
Nearly all of them are Lebanese citizens or have family roots in Lebanon. Investigators dubbed the case "Cedar," after the tree in the coat of arms on the Lebanese flag. According to the case files, investigators believe that the network was active in Europe but was controlled out of Lebanon.
At the height of the group's operations, they reportedly laundered €1 million per week — also in Germany. It is unclear to what extent these accusations will stand up in court.
From Lebanon back to South America
The investigation culminated in a massive operation in January 2016, in which police searched homes in six countries, arrested suspects and seized more than €800,000 in cash. Four suspects were arrested in Germany, where police searched apartments in Düsseldorf, Münster and around Bremen.
The group functioned hierarchically. Some of the members, like the ones who were detained on the border near Aachen, collected cash from drug sales in Germany, Belgium, Spain, Italy and France.
They were supposed to then give the money to other members of the group who used it to buy jewelry, luxury watches and expensive cars — which were then taken to Lebanon to be sold. According to investigators, the proceeds from those sales then flowed directly from Lebanon to the cartels in South America that had delivered the cocaine to Europe.
Authorities also probed whether the perpetrators could have been acting on the behalf of Hezbollah. The indictment, however, does not include any accusations of funding terrorism, due to a lack of evidence.
Suspect denies knowledge of drug trafficking
Germany is believed to have been the hub of the group's illegal business. Two defendants in the case lived in Münster and Düsseldorf, while two others lived near Bremen.
The probe could also have unpleasant consequences for four German jewelers who are now being investigated on charges of involvement in money laundering.
"The investigations have shown that from 2011 to 2015, these jewelers likely collected over €20 million from the people involved. Each delivered cash and each delivered it in plastic bags," explained a spokesperson for the public prosecutor's office in Aachen.
One of the main suspects in the case is Ali Z. from Münster. In an interview with NDR, WDR and SZ, he stated that he was innocent, saying that his flourishing, legal export business had been exploited by the others accused in the case.
He has claimed that he didn't know anything about drug money and said he assumed the money had been obtained legally. Ali Z. added that to this day, he still does not understand the basis on which prosecutors have made their accusations.
He rejected the accusation that the group supports Hezbollah, saying that French investigators were politically influenced by their US colleagues without there being any evidence for this connection. Other defendants did not wish to comment on the trial.
Thousands of money laundering cases in Germany
Experts believe that the suspects did not go on their extravagant shopping trips in Germany by chance. In comparison to its European neighbors, Germany lags behind in the fight against money laundering.
"It is completely acceptable for someone to pay for luxury items or even real estate in cash," said Sven Giegold, a German member of the European Parliament and the Greens' spokesperson for economic and financial policy. Although numerous business owners are obligated under the Money Laundering Act to report suspicious payments, it only rarely happens.
Germany's Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), which is responsible for such cases, logged some 60,000 money laundering reports last year — out of which, only 216 were from jewelers, car dealers or other retailers. An FIU spokesperson said that the problems were being taken seriously. In the coming year, they plan to specifically approach retailers in order to raise their awareness. The FIU also wants to improve cooperation with supervisory authorities.
The trial in Paris is scheduled to run until the end of November.

The Lebanese Daily, Al-Modon: Hizbullah Controls Area In Syrian Territory Along Border With Lebanon – And Has Built Military Bases, Training Camps, And Underground Warehouses There
خريطة للمناطق السورية التي يحتلها حزب الله
MEMRI/November 20/18
A September 25, 2018 article in the Lebanese daily Al-Modon, which is known to oppose Hizbullah, surveys the deployment of Hizbullah forces on the Syrian side of the border with Lebanon. The article, by Ahmad Al-Shami, indicates that Hizbullah controls large areas of the western Rif Dimashq Governorate, including a strip along the border, 3km-5km long, and has cemented its presence in this area by establishing military bases, strategically-placed outposts, training camps, and underground warehouses. The article states further that over 1,500 Hizbullah operatives are deployed at over 100 military outposts in Rif Dimashq, and that one of these positions houses Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) forces as well, and serves as an Iranian headquarters. According to the article, Hizbullah also derives economic benefit from its presence in this area by smuggling people, vehicles and goods across the border, and also by helping people to obtain a visa for Lebanon for a fee. It adds that one of the organization's goals in controlling this area, which includes many Shi'ite villages, is to provide itself with a location for storing its weapons, should it become impossible to continue maintaining them in Lebanon.
The area in Syria controlled by Hizbullah according to the article (image: Google Maps).
The following are excerpts from the article:[1]
"Although it expelled the [Syrian] opposition forces from western Rif Dimashq [Governorate] a year and a half ago, after a years-long siege, the Lebanese Hizbullah militia remains in isolated military outposts and many security compounds in a number of cities in western Ghouta, while the area controlled by the [Hizbullah] militia along the Syria-Lebanon border is 3km-5km long.
"According to an opposition military source, over 1,500 Hizbullah operatives are deployed in over 100 of the organization's military outposts in western Rif Dimashq [Governorate], and air force intelligence is the only Syrian military element that shares control of this area with them. The source added that all the Hizbullah commanders and operatives in the region are direct subordinates of the Hizbullah security apparatus – Branch 910, which has broad authority and jurisdiction for decision-making in the region.
"The source also noted that most of Hizbullah's force in the region is at the outposts erected on Syrian soil along the Lebanese border, which are considered Border Guards outposts – from the outpost at the Masna'a [Border Crossing] to the edge of the administrative jurisdiction of the region at the Rankous plains. The outposts are spaced a kilometer apart.
"A knowledgeable source from [the city of] Al-Zabadani told the daily that Hizbullah still controls the Al-Shallah neighborhood and parts of the [city's] western quarter, which are considered its security zone, and also Qal'at Al-Tal and Zahr Al-Qadhib in the west of the city – which are very important observation points in the region. The organization also has military camps in Serghaya and in 'Ain Hawr along the border strip, and it controls outposts [in the] forested [area] around the village of Bloudan. In addition, the organization uses Saudi-owned villas and other buildings... as vacation centers for its operatives.
"In the towns of Kfeir Yabous and Jdeidat Yabous, Hizbullah has full control, although the Syrian government has offices in them. Hizbullah has complete lists of the residents of both towns, and no one can leave or enter unless their name is on these lists. In the villages of Ma'adar and 'Atib, the situation is similar, and in 'Atib, Hizbullah has established a large training base where there [once] was a [Syrian] regime [forces] air defense radar brigade.
"Since Hizbullah besieged the town of Madaya,[2] it has established in the plain [around] the village, which the local residents call Marjat Al-Tal, a large closed military position that covers over three square kilometers and is surrounded by a no-trespassing zone over two kilometers long; it is estimated that Hizbullah has underground warehouses in this region. Likewise, Hizbullah and [Iran's] IRGC control the Al-Talai' military camp, which it uses as their training camp and as an Iranian operations room.
"In the north of the village Baqin, across from Madaya, Hizbullah has a single position – a six-story building that the town's residents call 'Abd Al-Majid. The building is used as a Hizbullah operations room and its storehouse serves as a temporary jail. In the towns of Qudsaya and Al-Hama, there is no Hizbullah presence; the organization withdrew its forces from there to the villages in Wadi Barada, several days after it participated in the takeover [of the towns] alongside the Assad regime forces.
"According to media member 'Omar Al-Shami, who is from Qudsaya, Hizbullah controls the highest hills in Wadi Barada – Al-Nabi Habil and Ard Al-Dahra. These are strategic spots that allow the organization to observe the region, and it has training bases for its operatives there. Hizbullah and Syrian air force intelligence control the villages of Basima and 'Ain Al-Fijah, and prevent the villagers from returning to them even though there have been no opposition elements there for two years.
"Hizbullah uses its outposts on the border to smuggle goods and people from Syria into Lebanon and vice versa. In the town of Al-Dimas, the organization has large warehouses for goods brought in from Lebanon, and they [the warehouses] are considered a kind of 'free market'..."
According to the daily, Hizbullah engages in human trafficking between the countries, and also smuggles motorcycles and other vehicles – sometimes with the cooperation of Syrian customs officers – and for a fee it will help obtain visas for Lebanon. It added: "[The sources emphasized] that Hizbullah aims to remain in the western Rif Dimashq [Governorate], since the Lebanese border towns and villages from Hermel [in Lebanon] to Yahfufa and Jdeidat Yabous [in Syria] are all Shi'ite [and therefore support the organization]... Hizbullah is drawing up a strategy for the future, and is maintaining an armed presence in that region [in Syria] as an alternative plan, in case one day the pressure in Lebanon for weapons to be in the hands of the Lebanese army alone[3] will increase [and if that happens Hizbullah will be able to keep its weapons in Syria]."
[1] Al-Modon (Lebanon), September 25, 2018.
[2] For more on Hizbullah's siege on Madaya, see MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1226, Hizbullah Faces Criticism In Lebanon For Besieging Madaya: Its Starvation Of Syrians Recalls Past Crimes Of Mass Extermination In History, February 9, 2016.
[3] On the controversy in Lebanon over the years about Hizbullah's weapons, see e.g., Special Dispatch No. 6851, Letter By Five Former Lebanese Presidents, PMs To Arab League Summit Conveys Opposition To Hizbullah's Weapons And Involvement In Syria, Iran's Involvement In Arab World, March 30, 2017; Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1011, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman Renews His Attack On Hizbullah's Weapons, August 22, 2013; Special Dispatch No. 2640, A Second Hizbullah Missile Explosion in South Lebanon Intensifies Lebanon's Internal Dispute over Hizbullah's Weapons, November 24, 2009.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on November 20-21/18
Puttin To Israel, US: Loosen Sanctions In Exchange For Iran Leaving Syria
Jerusalem Post/November 20/18
ussia offered Israel and the United States a deal involving Iran's withdrawal of its forces from Syria in exchange for a reduction in American sanctions, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a closed session of the Knesset's Foreign and Security Committee Monday, Channel 10 News reported. The offer was made by Russian President Putin, according to an MK who was present at the meeting. Netanyahu met Putin in Paris last week during the ceremonies marking the centenial of the armistice that ended the first World War, but it is unclear if Putin made the offer then. After the meeting, Netanyahu said that "the conversation with Putin was good, productive and very important. There is no point in going into further details."MKs said that Netanyahu said at the meeting that the Russians and Americans are in discussions on containing the Iranian influence in Syria, and held their last meeting on the issue on November 8 in Vienna. According to the report, at the beginning of the month Netayahu met with the American envoy to Syria, Jim Jeffery, and discussed the matter with him. Netanyahu was asked by the Knesset members if Israel expressed its stance on the proposal, and he answered that at this stage there is no official Israeli position. "We are continuing our conversations in order to reach a political solution in Syria," a senior US State Department official told Channel 10. "We will not go into detail on the content of those diplomatic conversations."
UK's Hunt Discusses Nuclear Cooperation, Regional Demands with Iran
London- Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 20 November, 2018/British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt on Monday discussed with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif and the secretary of Iran’s National Security Council Ali Shamkhani the future of the nuclear agreement after the US withdrawal and Tehran’s regional role, in addition to the file of detainees of dual nationality. Hunt said on his Twitter account at the end of his talks in Tehran that he discussed how to put pressure on the Houthis to stop the war in Yemen and stressed in a second tweet that he exerted serious pressure to release Iranian-British dual nationals. Hunt’s visit comes at a time when European countries are trying to maintain the nuclear deal in parallel with pressure on Tehran to contain its regional role and halt the development of ballistic missiles in an effort to ease US pressure. Before the visit to Tehran, the British foreign secretary held consultations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE on Iran’s destabilizing role. Hunt and his Iranian counterpart discussed the need to speed up European efforts to end the conflict in Yemen, where Iran supports Houthi militias by providing them with weapons and rockets. “This is part of the world that is quite frankly a tinderbox. We want to move to peace in Yemen – that is our number one priority at the moment,” Hunt told reporters. He also emphasized the case of dual nationals “who are in prison who should not be.” “We want to get them home, so all these things have to be discussed,” he added. On Iran’s nuclear deal, Hunt said: “The Iran nuclear deal remains a vital component of stability in the Middle East by eliminating the threat of a nuclearized Iran. It needs 100% compliance, though, to survive. We will stick to our side of the bargain as long as Iran does.”

EU open to Iran sanctions after foiled France, Denmark plots
Reuters, Brussels/Tuesday, 20 November 2018/European Union foreign ministers showed cautious support on Monday for possible new economic sanctions on Iran in a shift of policy after accusations of Iranian attack plots in France and Denmark, diplomats said. Denmark and France briefed their EU counterparts at a meeting in Brussels on the alleged plots and ministers agreed to consider targeted sanctions on Iranians in response, although no details or names were discussed, five diplomats told Reuters. Though still at an early stage, the EU’s readiness to penalize Iranians would be the first such move in years after months of internal division over how to punish Iranians accused of destabilizing activities in Europe and the Middle East. Until now, the EU has been straining to uphold the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and world powers that US President Donald Trump pulled out of in May. It has been less willing to consider sanctions, instead seeking talks with Tehran. Iran has warned it could ditch the nuclear deal if EU powers do not protect its trade and financial benefits. France has already imposed sanctions on two Iranians and Iran’s intelligence service over what it says was a failed plot to carry out a bomb attack at a rally near Paris organized by an exiled Iranian opposition group. One option is to establish those asset freezes at an EU-wide level, diplomats said. Denmark, which in October said it suspected an Iranian government intelligence service had tried to carry out an assassination plot on its soil, is also open to EU-wide sanctions, the diplomats told Reuters. In October, France said there was no doubt that Iran’s intelligence ministry was behind the June plot to attack the demonstration by Iranian exiles near Paris. It froze assets belonging to Tehran’s intelligence services and two Iranian nationals - a Vienna-based diplomat now under arrest in Belgium for the plot and the deputy minister and director general of intelligence, Saeid Hashemi Moghadam. Neither appear to have held any assets in France. Paris also discreetly expelled an Iranian diplomat, diplomatic sources told Reuters last month. Iran has denied any involvement in either alleged plot. Under the 2015 deal, Iran restricted its disputed nuclear program, widely seen in the West as a disguised effort to develop the means to make atomic bombs, in exchange for an end to international sanctions against it.

Iran Deputy FM: Europe Incapable of Creating Financial Mechanism

London - Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 20 November, 2018/Europe is “incapable” of creating the promised financial mechanism for financial and trade exchange, and countries refuse to host the financial institution, according to Iran's deputy Foreign Minister Adnan Aragchi. “If Europe thinks that the West Asia Region is safe without the JCPOA, it can wait and see,” he told the “The Regional Developments and the International System” conference in Tehran. “Nobody in Iran is going to give in to the sanctions. We will find our way, as we have done in the past,” he asserted. Aragchi indicated that the result is that the Europeans either would not want or could not do anything regarding the sanctions, but as long as staying in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran will remain in it and if it does not, “staying in it will be futile.”"If we have stayed so far, it is because it has benefited us both politically and economically,” he asserted, indicating that the at the moment, the situation is in favor of Iran but this certainly cannot continue forever and the Europeans must know that this situation cannot continue like this anymore. These were Aragchi’s first statement days after he held talks in Europe on activating the mechanism to confront US sanctions. “Our region is struggling with a set of problems. Can Europe tolerate a new wave of terrorism and migration and the reemergence of the nuclear crisis?” he warned. He cautioned Europe that it will lose more than the US if the JCPOA fails.

Iran Vows to Overcome Oil Sanctions, Seeks French Financial Channel

London- Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 20 November, 2018 - 09:15/Iranian President Hassan Rouhani reiterated his criticism of US sanctions and vowed to resist the economic war by circumventing oil sanctions. Referring to what the United States had said on bringing Iranian people to their knees through economic pressure, the President said, “We won’t let pressures by the US and its mercenaries to create major problems for the Iranian nation and we will never surrender under any pressure”. Addressing the people of Khoy city on Monday, Rouhani indicated that US sanctions on Iran are part of a psychological war launched by Washington against Tehran that will fail, asserting that Iran will continue to export its crude. “The enemies are trying to put economic pressure and wage psychological war against the people of Iran. They think that the people will surrender to their bullying under these pressures,” he added. US reimposed sanctions on Iran, third largest oil producer in OPEC, to force Tehran to abandon its ballistic missile program. “We will establish better, closer relations with our neighbors. We will strengthen our relations with the Azerbaijan Republic, Turkey, Iraq, and other countries day by day,” continued the President. Rouhani addressed the US officials, saying they won’t be able to stop the country’s oil exports. He went on to say, “We know that you feel you have failed and we know that you were not able to reach your goals in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.” The EU is trying to establish what is known as the "Special Purpose Vehicle" to establish non-dollar trade relations with Iran. But this has not stopped foreign investors, ranging from oil companies and trading houses to firms to leave Iran for fear of incurring US penalties. The SPV is a kind of clearinghouse 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, which are based on the global use of the dollar for oil sales.
Iran threatened to withdraw from the nuclear deal if its economic advantages are not maintained, but Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi hoped Europe will deliver on what it had promised. Six diplomats told Reuters last week that the EU had tried to create an SPV this month, but no country had offered to host it. Qassemi said that Europe is expected to honor its commitments to salvage the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), adding there are still ambiguities with regard to the implementation of SPV, which has been designed to conduct banking transactions with Iran, but “none of the issues indicate that it won’t be achievable.” On Monday, Fars quoted Iran’s Deputy Minister of Petroleum Amirhossein Zamaninia as saying that France is likely to host the special purpose vehicle. Diplomatic sources in Paris told Asharq Al-Awsat that negotiations at the level of European countries are underway on the establishment of the financial channel with Tehran. The Finance Ministry has said that all options are on the table for the SPV and that no decisions have been taken. Washington has warned that European banks and firms that engage in the SPV will be at risk from the reimposed US sanctions. Zamaninia told ISNA news agency that European countries are seeking to establish banking relations with Iran, but they are faced by the US influence in practical steps they take. The Iranian official indicated that the financial channel is being formed in France, stressing that his country hopes to reach results within weeks. Other countries, including China, Russia, Japan, India, and Brazil, are awaiting the activation of the European financial channel, according to Zamaninia.

Iraq launches air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria
ReutersTuesday, 20 November 2018/Iraq launched air strikes on ISIS targets inside neighboring Syria on Tuesday, destroying two buildings housing 40 fighters and weapons, its military said. F-16 fighter jets destroyed a building where members of the ultra-hardline militant group were storing weapons, killing 10 of them. A second strike destroyed a building housing 30 ISIS fighters, it said in a statement. ISIS, which once occupied a third of Iraq’'s territory, has been largely defeated in the country but has continued to carry out ambushes, assassinations and bombings there and still poses a threat along its border with Syria.
Weapons warehose destroyed  “The successful operation led to the destruction of a weapons warehouse ... that contained ten terrorists, rockets, and explosives belonging to ISIS gangs,” the statement said. The Iraqi air force has carried out several strikes against ISIS in Syria since last year. ISIS has resorted to guerrilla tactics since it abandoned its goal of holding territory and creating a self-declared caliphate straddling Iraq and Syria.

U.N. in Final Push for Syria Constitutional Committee
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/November 20/18/The U.N envoy for Syria has signaled that he is ready to abandon efforts to set up a committee on drafting a post-war constitution if no deal is reached by the end of December. The planned constitutional committee agreed at a Russia-hosted conference in January has run into objections from the Syrian government over allowing religious leaders, representatives from women's groups and independent experts to take part. The centerpiece of U.N. peace efforts in Syria, the committee would be tasked with negotiating a new post-war constitution that would pave the way to elections aimed at turning the page on seven years of devastating war. "We are in the last days of the attempts to implement the constitutional committee," envoy Staffan de Mistura told a Security Council meeting on the Syria crisis. "We may have to conclude that (it) may not be possible to form a constitutional committee, credible and inclusive, at this stage," said the envoy, speaking by videoconference from Geneva. "In such an unfortunate case, I will certainly be ready to explain to the council why," he warned. De Mistura, an Italian-Swedish diplomat who has been the U.N.'s peace envoy since July 2014, was due to step down at the end of November, but he agreed to stay on for an extra month to lead a final push. The United Nations is still hoping to send invitations to committee members by mid-December and convene a first meeting before December 31, said the envoy. The leaders of Russia, Turkey, Germany and France have called for the committee to be formed by the end of the year. Norwegian diplomat Geir Pedersen has been appointed to become the fourth U.N. envoy for Syria since the war began in 2011. Russia and Iran, which are providing crucial military support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Turkey, which supports some armed groups, will meet next week in the Kazakh capital, Astana. More than 360,000 people have been killed in the war, which began in March 2011 as an uprising against Assad but has morphed into a complex conflict with myriad armed groups, many of whom are foreign-backed.

De Mistura in Final Push for Syria Constitutional Committee
London/Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 20 November, 2018/The UN envoy for Syria on Monday signaled that he was ready to abandon efforts to set up a committee on drafting a post-war constitution if no deal is reached by the end of December. The planned constitutional committee agreed at a Russia-hosted conference in January has run into objections from the Syrian government over allowing religious leaders, representatives from women's groups and independent experts to take part. The centerpiece of UN peace efforts in Syria, the committee would be tasked with negotiating a new post-war constitution that would pave the way to elections aimed at turning the page on seven years of devastating war. "We are in the last days of the attempts to implement the constitutional committee," envoy Staffan de Mistura told a Security Council meeting on the Syria crisis. "We may have to conclude that (it) may not be possible to form a constitutional committee, credible and inclusive, at this stage," said the envoy, speaking by videoconference from Geneva. "In such an unfortunate case, I will certainly be ready to explain to the council why," he warned. De Mistura, an Italian-Swedish diplomat who has been the UN's peace envoy since July 2014, was due to step down at the end of November, but he agreed to stay on for an extra month to lead a final push. The United Nations is still hoping to send invitations to committee members by mid-December and convene a first meeting before December 31, said the envoy. The leaders of Russia, Turkey, Germany, and France have called for the committee to be formed by the end of the year. Norwegian diplomat Geir Pedersen has been appointed to become the fourth UN envoy for Syria since the war began in 2011. Russia and Iran, which are providing crucial military support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Turkey, which supports some armed groups, will meet next week in the Kazakh capital, Astana. More than 360,000 people have been killed in the war, which began in March 2011 as an uprising against Assad but has morphed into a complex conflict with myriad armed groups, many of whom are foreign-backed.

Devalued Syrian Currency Adds to People’s Economic Hardship
Damascus- Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 20 November, 2018/Economic concerns are back to storm the lives of locals in Damascus despite witnessing short-lived stability for their country’s national currency exchange rate. Securing basic commodities is a growing challenge against the backdrop of skyrocketing prices and government negligence. A first-class citizen’s average monthly wage is valued at a minuscule $80 with economists setting median expenditure for a five-member family at $800 per month. The price tag on basic food staples saw a 10-fold increase, cutting back substantially on the quality of life in Syria. A pre-war exchange rate of SYP50 for a dollar has been on an ongoing steep decline that logged in a staggering low of SYP600 per dollar rate in May 2016. On the other hand, recovery is being recorded at a slower pace-- up from an SYP434 per dollar rate in November 2017, the Syrian pounds trade at SYP440 for a dollar in July 2018. Overall currency exchange rates for the Syrian pound in 2018 saw minor fluctuations, mostly trading within the range of SYP450-470 per US dollar. However, national currency exchange rates recorded a mid-November drop coupled with a living cost hike that was met with the deafening silence of government officials. Deteriorated exchange rates can be traced back to several reasons, including the Central Bank of Syria (CBS) September measures for pressuring currency exchangers to provide a full disclosure on the employment of foreign currency they obtained from the bank in 2012 at low rates, economists told Asharq Al Awsat. The recent US dollar hike in global markets has also contributed to bringing the down Syrian pound’s value even lower—not to mention a public lack of confidence in the regime's economic policies also undercutting Syria’s national currency. It is worth noting that the Syria regime balanced its 2019 public budget based on an average exchange rate of SYP435 per dollar. Most Syrian families have lost their savings during the war, Damascus locals told Asharq Al Awsat. “The cost of living has become unbearable,” a Syrian woman said, speaking under the condition of anonymity, while complaining that both her and her husband’s salaries combined are failing to make ends meet, despite living rent-free.

Jordanian Delegation in Damascus in First Visit in 7 Seven Years
Amman, London/Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 20 November, 2018/A Jordanian parliamentary delegation met in Damascus on Monday with Syrian regime head Bashar al-Assad on the first official visit to Syria in more than seven years after the opening of the Jaber-Nassib crossing last month. According to Khalid Abu Hassan, one of the eight MPs, who visited Damascus and met with Assad, the Syrian leadership has shown a positive attitude towards normalizing relations with Amman, and called for the need to remove all obstacles in this regard. During his meeting with the delegation, Assad reportedly expressed his appreciation to the Jordanian leadership and people for the pressure exerted on Jordan due to the Syrian crisis, stressing that these pressures “will not change the relationship between the two countries.”The visit comes at the initiative of some lawmakers in the framework of promoting joint parliamentary cooperation between the two countries. Syria’s news agency, SANA, quoted Assad as saying that the “importance of the parliamentary delegations’ visits stems from the fact that they are the real reflection of the popular positions and the compass for the bilateral relations between countries, which must always be driven by the interests of the peoples and their aspirations.” Meanwhile, Kuwaiti Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Al-Jarallah denied that Kuwait had applied for the opening of its embassy in Damascus. “According to our information, some Arab countries have applied for rearrangement of their embassies in Damascus, but the Kuwaiti embassy there is closed and the relationship is frozen so far,” the minister was quoted as saying.

Iraq Strikes ISIS Targets in Syria

London- Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 20 November, 2018/Iraq launched airstrikes on ISIS targets inside neighboring Syria on Tuesday, destroying two buildings housing 40 militants and weapons, its military said. F-16 fighter jets destroyed a building where members of the ultra-hardline terrorist group were storing weapons, killing 10 of them. A second strike destroyed a building housing 30 ISIS fighters, it said in a statement. ISIS, which once occupied a third of Iraq’s territory, has been largely defeated in the country but has continued to carry out ambushes, assassinations, and bombings there and still poses a threat along its border with Syria. “The successful operation led to the destruction of a weapons warehouse ... that contained ten terrorists, rockets, and explosives belonging to Daesh (ISIS) gangs,” the statement said. The Iraqi air force has carried out several strikes against ISIS in Syria since last year, with the approval of the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad and the US-led coalition fighting ISIS. ISIS has resorted to guerrilla tactics since it abandoned its goal of holding territory and creating a self-declared caliphate straddling Iraq and Syria.

Putin, Erdogan Inaugurate TurkStream Pipeline
Ankara - Saeed Abdul Razek/Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 20 November, 2018/Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan marked on Monday the completion of the offshore phase of the Turkish Stream Project, TurkStream, to transport Russian gas to Europe through Turkish soil. The project is an export gas pipeline set to cross beneath the Black Sea from Russia to Turkey and also further extend to Turkey's borders with neighboring countries. TurkStream's first line is set to carry 15.75 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas to Turkey. With a second line that goes to Europe, the project is to have a capacity of 31.5 bcm per year. Speaking at the inauguration ceremony in Istanbul, Erdogan announced the offshore part of TurkStream's two parallel lines two kilometers deep in the Black Sea had been finished and said the final leg of the "historic project" had been reached. He said the project will be functional next year, asserting that the natural gas project had many advantages not only for Turkey, but also for its region and neighboring countries. He called Russia a "reliable' partner for Turkey" and an "important" natural gas provider that Turkey can cooperate with in the long run. Ankara’s goal was to reach a bilateral trade volume of $100 billion with Russia, he stated, adding that Turkey has purchased 387 bcm of natural gas from Russia since 1987. Erdogan said Turkey's solidarity with the Russian president and people will pave way for bigger projects for both countries in the future.
For his part, Putin stressed that Turkey is becoming an important international energy hub. He said that the construction of the TurkStream pipeline will have a positive impact on the development of the whole Black Sea region and will be an important safeguard for European energy security. Completion of the most difficult section of the pipeline testifies to the effective cooperation between Turkey and Russia in very important and complex areas, added Putin. Russian energy minister Alexander Novak hailed Gazprom's 31.5 bcm/year TurkStream gas pipeline as a "landmark" project for both countries, saying it will form the basis of long-term cooperation. "Turkey becomes a natural gas bridge for southeastern Europe with the TurkStream project," Novak said. He did not elaborate on what route that will be used to export gas from Turkey to the region, only saying that Moscow was examining possible export routes. Moreover, he stated that trade exchange increased 26 percent this year. Russian exports to Turkey increased 24 percent and Turkish exports to Russia increased by 36.6 percent, compared to the same period last year. All restrictions imposed on the agriculture sector have been lifted, he indicated, and both countries took steps to bolster cooperation in other fields, including industry and transport. "We have taken many steps on strengthening relations between the two countries and exempting our citizens and businessmen from visa requirements,” he announced. In 2017, 4.7 million Russian tourists visited Turkey, and the number is expected to reach 6 million this year, Novak revealed. The minister also noted that the implementation of the trade exchange between the two countries with local currencies is one of the main items discussed in the talks between Putin and Erdogan.

Falih: Saudi Crown Prince to Attend G20 Summit in Argentina

Riyadh- Fateh al-Rahman Youssef/Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 20 November, 2018/Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will attend the G20 summit in Argentina at the end of this month as part of a foreign tour, Saudi Minister of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources Khalid Al-Falih said on Monday. According to Falih, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz will launch the largest solar power project in the Middle East region and possibly around the world next Thursday in Sakakah. This came during a meeting between Falih and journalists in Riyadh on Monday to talk about the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ inauguration of Waad Al-Shamaal project, a 440-square-km city for mining industries in the Kingdom’s northern region. The project will cost 85 billion riyals ($22.7 billion) and create 10,000 jobs, according to Falih. The energy minister confirmed that King Salman would lay the foundation stone for the Sakakah solar project and the wind power project, “Dumat Al-Jandal”. He noted that the mining projects would provide 90 thousand jobs, adding that the mining system was being reviewed by the experts’ body within the Cabinet and would enter into force in 2019.

UK-Proposed UN Resolution for Hodeidah Truce Demands Houthis Halt Missile Attacks

New York – Ali Barada/Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 20 November, 2018/All 15 members of the United Nations Security Council will tackle a UK draft resolution for establishing an immediate and effective truce in Yemen’s key port city, Hodeidah, well-informed diplomats told Asharq Al-Awsat. The UK proposal demands the Iran-backed Houthi militants halt all missile launches and drone attacks against Yemen’s neighboring states, namely Saudi Arabia, added to the removal of all obstacles inhibiting the delivery of humanitarian aid. It also called for the fast injection of foreign currency into the economy through the Central Bank of Yemen and more funding for much-needed aid. Apart from the bloody coup, Yemen faces the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The resolution sets a two-week deadline for Houthis in control of Hodeidah to remove all barriers to humanitarian aid. They must “facilitate the unhindered flow of commercial and humanitarian food, water, fuel, medicine and other essential imports across the country” from Hodeidah, through which 80 percent of Yemen’s imports flows, the text says. The resolution also calls on the warring parties to cooperate with UN-brokered peace talks scheduled to begin later this month. The effort to bring the two sides to talks in Sweden is being led by the UN special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths. Negotiations planned for September did not get off the ground as Houthi leaders refused to attend. The consultations support a series of confidence-building measures aimed at paving the way for talks to end almost four years of war, including the release of prisoners, the reopening of the airport in the Houthi-held capital, Sanaa, to commercial flights and strengthening the Central Bank. All concerned regional parties and countries must continue reducing tensions and refrain from any actions that could undermine political dialogue sponsored by the UN, the draft resolution stressed while recalling the legal obligation for all Member States to comply with the arms embargo stipulated by UNSC resolution 2216.

Pakistan summons US envoy to protest Trump’s criticism
Reuters, Islamabad/Tuesday, 20 November 2018 /Pakistan on Tuesday summoned the US Chargé d’Affaires in Islamabad to protest against remarks made by President Donald Trump who has criticized Pakistan’s role in fighting terrorism fight and the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Trump’s comments over the last few days have angered Pakistan, including Prime Minister Imran Khan, who on Monday hit back at Trump by saying on Twitter that few allies have sacrificed or helped the United States as much as Pakistan in its war on terror. The friction threatens to further worsen already fragile relations between Islamabad and Washington, on-off allies who have repeatedly clashed about the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s alleged support for extremist militants. “The Foreign Secretary called in the US CdA Ambassador Paul Jones to register a strong protest on the unwarranted and unsubstantiated allegations made against Pakistan,” Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Over the weekend, Trump said in an interview Pakistan doesn’t “do a damn thing” for the United States despite billions of dollars in US aid, and alleged Pakistani officials knew former al Qaeda leader bin Laden’s location before his killing by US troops in a raid inside Pakistan in 2011. On Monday, Trump tweeted again and doubled down on those claims. “Rejecting the insinuations about OBL, Foreign Secretary reminded the US CdA that it was Pakistan’s intelligence cooperation that provided the initial evidence to trace the whereabouts of OBL,” the ministry said, adding that “baseless rhetoric about Pakistan was totally unacceptable”.

US Muslim lawmaker-elect in proposal to end head-covering ban in Congress

AFP, Washington/Tuesday, 20 November 2018/A Muslim congresswoman-elect has co-authored changes to a longstanding rule banning the wearing of head coverings on the US House floor, an effort supported Monday by the nation's largest Muslim rights group. Ilhan Omar, a Somali refugee who was one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress earlier this month, has joined Democratic leaders in drafting an update to a 181-year-old rule to allow for religious exemptions for headwear like the Muslim hijab, Jewish yarmulkes or Sikh turban. The change is part of a rules package introduced by top Democrats including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi that is expected to be approved in January, when Democrats take majority control of the chamber. “No one puts a scarf on my head but me. It's my choice -- one protected by the first amendment,” Omar posted Saturday on Twitter. “And this is not the last ban I'm going to work to lift,” added the Minnesota representative-to-be. The proposal earned the backing of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “We support the effort to update this anachronistic policy and to bring the House of Representatives into conformity with the Constitution and its existing protection of religious freedom,” said CAIR national executive director Nihad Awad. A record number of women, and scores of minorities including Hispanics, African Americans, Native Americans and members of the gay, lesbian and bisexual communities, will fill the ranks of the 116th Congress when it convenes beginning January 3. Democrat Jim McGovern, expected to chair the House Rules Committee starting in January, said the update reflects the broader diversity in Congress. “This change will finally codify that no restriction may be placed on a member's ability to do the job they were elected to do simply because of their faith,” he said. The head-covering rule has vexed some lawmakers, notably Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who is known for her colorful hats and has pushed to get the ban lifted. Under the proposed changes, Wilson would still be barred from wearing hats on the House floor.

Chicago hospital shooting leaves 4 dead, including police officer and gunman
AFP, Chicago/Tuesday, 20 November 2018/A gunman shot to death a doctor outside a Chicago hospital on Monday before bursting into the facility and killing a woman and a police officer during an exchange of gunfire and dying in the shooting, officials said. The shooter knew the doctor he shot outside Mercy Hospital, but once inside he fired randomly at people, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said at a news conference. The shooting sent doctors and patients streaming out of the facility, some with their hands up as heavily armed police officers sought to secure the facility. “The city of Chicago lost a doctor, a pharmaceutical assistant and a police officer, all going about their day, all doing what they love,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel told reporters. “This tears at the soul of our city. It is the face and consequence of evil,” Emanuel said. The police officer, Samuel Jimenez, died in an exchange of fire with the gunman after he entered the medical facility, Johnson said. The gunman, whose name has not been released, also died, officials said. But it was not immediately clear if he shot himself or if he was struck by a police officer's bullet, Johnson said. Another officer was spared injury when a bullet lodged itself in his holster, Johnson said. In Denver, another shooting left one person dead and three others wounded on Monday. At least one suspect remained at large after the shooting on a downtown street corner.

U.N. Prepares Ground for Yemen Peace Talks as Battles Flare
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/November 20/18/U.N. envoy Martin Griffiths was preparing Tuesday to head to war-torn Yemen to lay the groundwork for peace talks in Sweden, after fresh fighting shook the flashpoint city of Hodeida. Griffiths -- whose efforts at kickstarting peace talks failed in September -- is again trying to get the Iran-aligned Huthi rebels and the Saudi-backed government to the negotiating table by the end of the year. He is expected to meet with Huthi officials in the capital Sanaa on Wednesday. Both sides have in the past week expressed their support for the envoy and his mission to hold talks in Stockholm, but fierce clashes erupted in the Red Sea city of Hodeida late Monday after a lull. Military officials said that the battles were the worst since loyalists halted an offensive last week, and were concentrated in the eastern part of the city where rebels fired artillery. Pro-government forces struck back, supported by warplanes from the Saudi-led coalition which launched a dozen raids, the sources said. According to Huthi-run media, clashes lasted up to four hours and resulted in fatalities. The city was relatively calm on Tuesday morning, according to an AFP correspondent who spoke to residents by telephone from Khokha about 100 kilometers (62 miles) away.
Call for truce
On Monday, Britain presented to the U.N. Security Council a draft resolution urging an immediate truce in Hodeida city, whose port serves as an entry point to nearly all imports and humanitarian aid to the impoverished country. The draft, circulated by Britain to the 14 other council members and seen by AFP, sets a two-week deadline for the warring sides to remove all barriers to humanitarian aid. The proposed resolution would significantly ratchet up pressure on the Saudi-led coalition and the Huthis to seek a negotiated settlement in Yemen, where millions are on the brink of starvation. It also calls for a large injection of foreign currency into the economy to support Yemen's collapsing currency and for salaries of civil servants, teachers, and health workers to be paid within a month. Mohammed Ali al-Huthi, head of the Huthi rebels' Higher Revolutionary Committee and an influential political figure, tweeted on Monday that he wanted his group to announce "readiness to suspend and halt all military operations" and stop firing missiles on Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia also lent its support to new talks. Saudi King Salman told the Shura Council, his country's top advisory body, that Riyadh also backed a "political solution" and a "comprehensive national dialogue" in Yemen. Multiple past attempts to hold negotiations between the government alliance and Huthis have failed. Griffiths said on Monday he hoped the rivals would meet in Sweden "within the next few weeks". No date has yet been set.
'Stop selling weapons'
The Huthis have controlled Yemen's capital Sanaa since capturing it in late 2014, when they also took control of Hodeida and its port. A year later, Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened in the war to bolster Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi. Both parties in the Yemen conflict stand accused of acts that could amount to war crimes. Human Rights Watch on Tuesday called on France to address laws-of-war violations with the UAE -- a key member of the Saudi-led coalition -- during Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan's visit to Paris on November 21. "If President (Emmanuel) Macron is truly concerned about the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, he should tell the crown prince that France will stop selling weapons to the UAE if there's a real risk of their unlawful use," Benedicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. Although western governments have condemned civilian deaths in Yemen, they remain political and military backers of Saudi Arabia, which is a regional ally and spends billions of dollars on arms from the United States, Britain and France. The World Health Organization says nearly 10,000 people -- mostly civilians -- have been killed in Yemen since the Saudi intervention in March 2015, but rights groups believe the toll may be five times higher. The war in Yemen -- already one of the world's most impoverished countries -- has left the nation on the edge of mass starvation.

Trump Dilemma: Preserve Saudi Alliance or Declare MBS a 'Murderer'

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/November 20/18/The Saudi assassination of a U.S.-based journalist has put President Donald Trump in an intractable bind. Does he preserve a close U.S. ally and accept whatever Riyadh says about the murder? Or does he risk a rupture and embrace the conclusion of the Central Intelligence Agency that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country's de facto leader, ordered the killing? The U.S. president has refrained from attacking Prince Mohammed ever since Jamal Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi journalist who had been writing articles critical of Riyadh for The Washington Post, was killed and dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2. With Riyadh under international pressure, the Saudi prosecutor announced the arrest of 21 suspects and charges against 11, saying five will face the possible death penalty. At the same time, Washington announced sanctions on 17 Saudis allegedly involved, including two top aides of the prince. Neither side though named the mastermind of the operation. But, according to the Post and The New York Times, the CIA is certain that it was Prince Mohammed himself. That puts the US president in a bind. He has formed a deep alliance with the Saudis over a mutual dislike for Iran and a shared interest in keeping global oil prices steady. Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner has sealed the relationship through a close personal connection with the prince, known as "MBS." For that reason, until now, Trump has appears loathe to finger Prince Mohammed for Khashoggi's murder, saying he hasn't seen the evidence. He said on Sunday that he will likely only be briefed on the CIA conclusions by Tuesday.
Two options
"Trump has only two options," said Michele Dunne, a Middle East expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "He can agree with the intelligence evaluation and go along with what Congress wants to do, which means indicating publicly or privately that the US will no longer work with MBS." Or, she said, he can go against all that and try to protect the White House's relationship with the prince. In either case, the risks are high. Severing relations with the son of King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud is an extreme step, but would not necessarily mean a complete bilateral rupture, said Dunne. "Saudi Arabia is not MBS, and MBS is not Saudi Arabia." Yet it risks spurring changes in the hierarchy of the Saudi royal family, with the outcome unpredictable for Saudi-US relations. On the other hand, if Trump refuses to condemn Prince Mohammed, an angry Congress could take action that would damage the relationship, such as freezing arms sales to the Middle East giant. Senior Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who is close to the president, does not mince his attacks on the prince over Khashoggi's death. "I believed from day one that 15 people, 18, whatever the number was, they don't get on two airplanes, go to Turkey and chop a guy up in the consulate who's a critic of the crown prince without the crown prince having known about it and sanctioned it," Graham told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday.
Show of resolve?
The White House appears divided. Kushner has been quiet about the case and his friend the prince. But on Friday, Kirsten Fontenrose, a White House official who advocated a tough stance, resigned her position, according to the New York Times. Trump himself has waxed hot and cold on the issue. One day he denounces it as "one of the worst cover-ups" in history and a "total fiasco."The next he stresses the importance of the alliance and repeats that Prince Mohammed has personally denied to him that he ordered the assassination. Suzanne Maloney of the Brookings Institution think-tank said Trump's equivocating is risky for the relationship. "The Saudis aren't getting the signal that this kind of activity is damaging," she said. "The signal that they're trying to send is that business can go on as usual with the senior leadership." However, she said, a direct, public accusation against the prince will not work either. "You wouldn't go out in public and say that your crown prince needs to go!" The best alternative is to make the point behind the scenes, and make it clear to the Saudis that they have gone too far. "That's what a genuinely competent administration would do," she said.

Officer Stabbed outside Brussels Police Station
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/November 20/18/A Brussels police officer was injured in a pre-dawn knife attack in front of the city's main police station Tuesday, officials said. The stabbing came during a state visit to Belgium by French President Emmanuel Macron that has revived memories of the Paris and Brussels attacks. But Belgian interior minister Jan Jambon said, "a priori", the suspect in the "cowardly attack" was not listed in Belgium's counter-terrorism database. "Police don't know him as someone who was radicalized or a terrorist. He seems to have been in psychiatric care but was released a while ago," Jambon told Radio Een, adding that investigations continued. An assailant stabbed the officer outside the central police station at 5:30am (0430 GMT), police spokeswoman Ilse van de Keere told AFP. "A police officer was stabbed and slightly wounded" and taken to hospital, she said, adding that the officer's colleague opened fire and wounded the attacker, who was arrested. The spokeswoman refused to confirm a local media report that the attacker had shouted "Allahu Akbar" (God is Greatest) during the incident. Later Tuesday, Macron was to visit the Brussels district of Molenbeek, home of some of the jihadists who carried out the 2015 Paris attacks that left 130 people dead.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on November 20-21/18
Brazil’s New President Stumbles in Terra Incognita
Mac Margolis/Bloomberg/November, 20/18
To rescue Brazil from its worst economic debacle in memory, and perhaps his own worst instincts as a career dirigiste, president-elect Jair Bolsonaro has called upon a market-friendly, University of Chicago-trained wunderkind. His pick for Justice Minister? Sergio Moro, of course, the federal judge who presided over the Carwash probe — Latin America’s biggest political corruption-busting case.
So who will be Bolsonaro’s foreign-policy whisperer, and shepherd the upstart former parachutist in an uncertain world caught between a new cold war and a potentially treaty-shredding trade conflict? Anyone please?
Yes, every new government needs time — and plenty of trial and error — to set its own course. Yet Bolsonaro’s bellicose rhetoric has already provoked many of Brazil’s global customers, slighted regional allies, and antagonized pivotal trade partners — and all this weeks ahead of actually taking office. Argentina, China, much of the Arab world: Bolsonaro’s outbursts offered a slap for almost everyone.
True, Bolsonaro no sooner lobbed those diplomatic grenades than he retreated to more measured, almost enthusiastically global positions. That tree-hugging Paris Agreement to contain dubious climate change? Too important to scuttle, Bolsonaro now says. And what about those Chinese economic imperialists who wanted not just to buy Brazilian but “buy Brazil?” Now all the talk is over locking in a fruitful relationship.
The pivot to moderation is a capitulation to reality. Consider Bolsonaro’s recent announcement that he intends to assign the foreign ministry to a diplomatic insider, with the respected World Trade Organization adviser and former Brazilian envoy to the European Union Jose Alfredo Graca Lima on the shortlist.
That could be a blessing. Even if world peace might not exactly hang on decisions in Brasilia, getting Brazilian foreign policy right means a great deal to the fortunes of Latin America’s biggest economy and the hemisphere beyond, while neglecting traditional friends could be costly.
For all his talk of upending the old ways, Bolsonaro comes to office with a formidable national legacy to protect. After years of retraction, the oil and gas industry is expanding, with foreign drillers scrambling for stakes in the country’s promising offshore reserves. Global demand is driving up prices for Brazilian soybeans, meat and wood pulp.
Brazil’s beef exports to Islamic countries have grown by 16 percent a year since 2000, reaching $4.7 billion last year, according to Marcos Jank, a Brazilian agribusiness expert. Bolsonaro’s vow to follow Donald Trump’s lead and move the Brazilian embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem could jeopardize that bonanza. That much was clear when Egypt abruptly canceled Brazilian Foreign Minister Aloysio Nunes’s state visit last week. No wonder Bolsonaro now denies that any decision on the embassy has been made.
Nowhere are the economic stakes higher for Brazil than in its relations with China. China is Brazil’s biggest single investor and best customer, buying up everything from soybeans to iron ore. It imported nearly $30 billion from Brazil in the first half of this year, an 11 percent rise from the year before, according to Commerce Ministry data. Total bilateral trade reached $44.8 billion in the same period, with Brazil pocketing a $14.8 billion surplus.
“China is growing at double the rate of the rest of the world and transitioning to a consumer-driven economy. That means it will drive world demand not only for food but increasingly for the manufactured goods that we produce,” former Brazilian ambassador to China Luiz Augusto de Castro Neves, who heads the China-Brazil Business Council, told me. “Snubbing Beijing for political reasons is shooting yourself in the foot.”
Nor is bending over backwards to Beijing the right policy. “If Brazil wants to act strategically, it needs to think about how to partner with China and to ensure diversification of trade, engage in cooperation initiatives and promote industrial capacity,” said the Inter-American Dialogue’s Margaret Myers, who has mapped Chinese infrastructure investments in Latin America. “To the extent that the new Brazilian government wants to privatize, China would have considerable interest in investment.”
It may be soon to say the yuan has dropped for Bolsonaro. “Like Trump, he is not a normal president, so it’s foolish to think of a normal foreign policy,” said Oliver Stuenkel, who teaches international relations at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in Sao Paulo. “He was elected as a disruptor and will have to deliver some disruption.”
Cozying up to Trump will likely be part of the script. Bolsonaro has never hidden his admiration for the hemisphere’s disruptor-in-chief, and hot talk of a joint Brazilian-Colombian invasion of Venezuela with a nod from Washington is fueling the regional rumor gin.
That may be a stretch. The problem, according to Stuenkel, is what price Brazil could pay for policy upheaval. “Brazil over the years built a reputation as a country committed to strong multilateral institutions like the World Bank and the World Trade Organization, and the United Nations, embracing them even when they were doubted by many,” said Stuenkel. “Countries will react quicker and more decisively against the Brazilians if the government abandons that tradition.”Not all of Bolsonaro’s diplomatic eruptions are misguided. Behind the seemingly cavalier dismissal of Mercosur by his economic adviser is a gathering consensus that the underperforming South American trade pact needs a makeover.
Mercosur has been dogged by mission drift, a dead-end negotiation for a deal with the European Union, and a 39 percent slump in total trade from 2011 to 2017. To that end, Bolsonaro may find an ally in business-oriented Argentine President Mauricio Macri, who also wants to reform the languishing compact, encourage bilateral trade deals outside Mercosur, and end the regional indulgence of Bolivarian autocrats like Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro. “Economic and trade interests should guide Brazil’s foreign policy,” Graca Lima told me.
“That means giving priority to the southern cone countries of South America, the United States, China and the European Union.”
External affairs may not be for amateurs, but neither is it an “occult science,” as Graca Lima put it. Roberto Abdenur, a former Brazilian diplomat, agrees. “There’s sense in Brazil drawing closer to world powers and jettisoning its third-world leanings, and for that he should pick an experienced foreign minister as quickly as possible.” The new minister’s first job? “Educating Bolsonaro about diplomacy.” The learning curve is sure to be steep.

The Political Split That Will Determine Brexit
Therese Raphael/Bloomberg/November, 20/18
Theresa May hasn’t just given her own party an ultimatum to back her Brexit deal with Brussels. The UK Prime Minister has also handed Labor an equally difficult choice: The outcome will decide whether she gets her way.
So far, Labor's divides over the European question have been largely obscured by the Conservatives’ own feuds. For vocal Brexiters like Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, anything short of a total break from all EU rules and institutions is a betrayal of the Brexit referendum. There are already rumblings Conservative lawmakers may trigger a vote of no confidence in her leadership.
These divisions have also helped to deflect attention from the fact that Labor hasn’t had to come up with a plan of its own; instead it has merely created six (impossible) tests by which it will pass judgment on whatever May proposes.
As lawmakers prepare to vote on May’s plan, the opposition is faced with a choice it can only hate: Either it supports a government it wants to replace, or votes against a deal that offers the country its best chance of an orderly Brexit.
Which way Labor lawmakers vote matters all the more now because May, who only has a slender parliamentary majority, is coming under fire from a second front within her own party: Remainers such as transport minister Jo Johnson, who resigned earlier this month urging his party to reject May’s deal and hold a second referendum on Brexit. The parliamentary arithmetic is tight.
If Labor decides, as it almost certainly will, to oppose the deal, the prime minister will have to rely on a handful of Labor MPs who believe that an agreement is preferable to not having one and are willing to defy their leadership if told to vote against the government. A few Labor MPs have helped the government win Brexit-related votes in the past, but this would be a much more consequential vote.
You would think that Labor, the pro-European party in British politics for the past three decades, would support an agreement or oppose Brexit. Awkwardly, though, while most Labor voters were Remainers in the 2016 referendum, more party MPs actually represent Leave-voting constituencies. But the bigger obstacle is that party leader Jeremy Corbyn himself has been a longtime critic of the EU.
For Corbyn, Brexit has been more of a distraction than a cause to rally behind. His priority is a radical reordering of the UK economy: the nationalization of key industries, an expansion of welfare, and an overhaul of the tax system. The EU’s insistence that Britain remain bound by its state-aid and competition rules would hinder many of Corbyn’s plans. His clear preference is for a general election, though he reluctantly agreed at his party’s annual conference to support a second referendum — if a vote could not be held.
Keir Starmer, Labor's shadow Brexit minister, has at times appeared uncomfortable with his party’s line. In 2017, he often repeated that it’s impossible to imagine an agreement that would be worse than no deal at all. The disruption, uncertainty and widespread economic loss that leaving without a negotiated agreement would cause was, he said, the worst possible outcome. He was right then, though the party’s position has only grown muddier ever since.
The risk is that in opposing May’s deal, Labor will push Britain into the no-deal scenario that Starmer has warned against and that his party could have prevented.

Snapchat Should Emulate Facebook for Once
Shira Ovide/Bloomberg/November, 20/18
What if Snapchat were to copy Facebook for a change?
Evan Spiegel, Snap Inc.’s co-founder and chief executive, has consistently said that Snapchat is a place for deep interactions with a small number of close contacts. And indeed much of the app’s activity is people firing photos and short videos — called “snaps” — back and forth privately to friends as a form of visual conversation.
But advertisements don’t appear in the stream of more than 3 billion snaps that users send daily. Instead, a good chunk of Snapchat’s advertising spots pops up in a public part of the app where news organizations, entertainment companies and celebrities post to the world. The split between the heavy use of the chat function and the share of revenue from everything else creates a perverse incentive. Snapchat needs to lure people who are happy snapping all day with their buddies to the part of the app where Snap makes money.
There’s a solution to this, though it’s one that Snapchat fans may not like: Snap should start selling ads in or between the app’s private communications. Facebook is already crossing this Rubicon by experimenting with ways to charge companies for interacting with people in its Messenger chat app, which is also primarily a place for people to communicate out of the public eye with a small circle of people. Facebook’s other messaging app, WhatsApp, will get a similar treatment soon.
Facebook has relentlessly copied Snapchat, and this is a chance for Snap to turn the tables by borrowing select advertising tactics from Facebook’s messaging apps. Introducing ads in chat also harmonizes the company’s advertising strategy with its product focus. Why shouldn’t Snap’s ad strategy be based around the essential and most used feature of its app?
For people who aren’t familiar with Snapchat, it has three basic functions. There’s the camera, which people use to take photos or short videos and doctor them with doodles or animations. Second, there’s a thread of private communications, typically of people sending those visual snaps to friends. And there’s Discover, a section with photo-and-video montages compiled or created by news organizations, entertainment companies and people with a following such as the comedian Kevin Hart. Personal montages from friends, called Stories, are here, too.
Snap makes money from two of those three activities. Companies like Adidas pay to create animations that let people appear to bounce an animated soccer ball on their selfies. Advertisers also buy commercial messages within the Discover montages and between friends’ Stories. Snap doesn’t break down the features that draw the most use or advertising revenue, but analysts estimate that Snapchat users spend a small minority of their time in the Discover section, which just happens to be where the company generates a large share of its ad revenue.
That means Spiegel’s focus — not one of his strong suits — is split between the feature that Snapchat users want most and his company’s business imperatives. Identifying the best way to make money from the untapped potential of Snap chats should be one of the top priorities from the executive Snap hired recently to oversee its advertising business and other money-making areas. Snap hasn’t ruled out this possibility. On a conference call with analysts in August, Snap’s chief financial officer said the company was “looking at monetizing all aspects of the app” and mentioned the possibility of making money from snap activity.
I confess I don’t have a clear idea of how Snapchat should mix advertisements into the stream of personal communications. The company initially faced backlash but persisted in putting commercial messages between the personal Stories. Snap could do the same between individual snaps, which could help it become less reliant on ginning up users’ interest in Discover.
Snapchat is less well suited to commercial interactions than Facebook’s Messenger and WhatsApp, but the older company’s blueprint is still a good place for Snap to start. Facebook is finding ways to get paid by businesses that might interact first with a potential customer on Instagram or Facebook and then carry that activity to the company’s Messenger app to, for example, ask questions about a handbag and order it.
No one has cracked the code yet on effective advertising in personal communications — not even Facebook, which is adept at making money. And there are possible downsides to mixing ads into Snapchat messaging. Snapchat fans might hate it. Plus, the prices for Snapchat’s ads are becoming cheaper as the company embraces computerized auctioning to place them. It’s possible that adding more slots for commercials that Snap can’t sell, or is forced to sell at cut-rate prices or to low-quality advertisers, is the opposite of what the company needs right now.
That’s a worry. But I can’t escape the idea that messaging is the soul of Snapchat. It’s time for the company to unify its product priorities with its financial ones.

From gossip to fake news: A full circle incorporating state secrets
Walid Jawad/Al Arabiya/November 20/18
Gossip can be fun, but more importantly functional. Secrets are intriguing, while State secrets are consequential. Gossip played a functional and necessary role in conveying relevant information in the pre-mass media era. Personal survival and society-wide well-being required continuously maneuvering to avoid physical harm. As we evolved, gossip helped people navigate social structures for personal gains. In the area of mass media gossip is institutionalized in the hand of trusted media outlets but has lost its interactive nature. Mass media is a one-way information machine; transmitting information from media organizations to the audience. Social media has changed that equation allowing people to go back to a more natural two-way communication style. Being exposed to information is only useful to the extent they are factual. Of course, now that we have discovered a “new-type” of information, Fake News, many became skeptical of most news media outlets.
As we have been witnessing lately and specifically around elections, it’s a short hop from disinformation to a virally spreading misinformation accepted as truths on social media. Wholly or partially incorrect information disseminated intentionally to serve any number of purposes is not a new phenomenon. Decades ago when information was monopolized by mass media, Fake News was packaged within traditional media channels. Wholly or partially incorrect information disseminated intentionally to serve any number of purposes is not a new phenomenon. Decades ago when information was monopolized by mass media, Fake News was packaged within traditional media channels. It was referred to as Yellow Journalism. The lines were clear. Today, disinformation; i.e. falsehoods presented as truths, become Fake News once it is widely referenced by others and accepted as truth without question Such lies don’t have to meet any standards or even be convincing, they only need to create doubt. Understandably, people don’t know what to believe anymore causing the truth to be lost. After all, who has time to research information for accuracy?
Now that we have discovered “Fake News” circa 2016, many doubt information uncovered by legitimate news outlets, all the while trusting none transparent sources; enter WikiLeaks.
The WikiLeaks War
Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, stepped into the spotlight this week when US prosecutors unintentionally revealed secretly filed criminal charges against him. The US government has waged war against Assange and his anti-secrecy organization. The US is more interested in killing the messenger, as it were, than pursuing the people who have committed the criminality of information theft; espionage or hacking.
The indictment which is under seal; i.e. the charges are secret, leaves us speculating on its content. News reports confirm the indictment is connected to the alleged Russia collusion investigation headed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into the 2016 Trump presidential campaign. WikiLeaks shared hacked Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails, which is believed to be part of a Russian government-sanctioned attempt to damage Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in favor of advancing Trump chances of winning the presidency according to most accounts.
Assange has been holed up inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012 in an attempt to avoid prosecution in Sweden on sexual assault charges and possible extradition to the US. It is unclear if his framing of Clinton being a personal foe qualifies him to be delusional. But in his 2016 editorial on his WikiLeaks site, he wrote: "I have had years of experience in dealing with Hillary Clinton and have read thousands of her cables. Hillary lacks judgment and will push the United States into endless, stupid wars which spread terrorism. ... she certainly should not become president of the United States."
Thus, raising a critical question: was Assange exposing secrets for the sake of spreading knowledge or for personal gains; the former makes him a journalist and the latter a person with an agenda. The administration of former president Obama treated him as a journalist rather than an activist. The Mueller indictment suggests a shift in that approach.
Indeed, the Trump administration made Assange a target by reversing his WikiLeaks classification as a media organization. This is a critical step to allow the US government to go after Assange without the appearance of intruding on press freedoms. Mike Pompeo, as the top US spy at the time, locked onto Assange making him a CIA target conducting espionage against his organization over the past year according to a New York Times report. The administration is out of sync with Trump who had praised WikiLeaks numerous times during the 2016 campaign for releasing Democrats emails damaging Clinton. Further, Mr. Trump adamantly denies any collusion between his campaign and the Russians. He believes Mueller’s investigation is a “witch hunt” and “absolutely nuts.”
Who is not a Journalist?
Can the US government reclassify a journalist as “information broker” and what are the criteria a person or an organization must meet before being stripped from its media status? Pursuing legal options places the burden of proof on the government. Because US laws don't carry over to none Americans, Assange, who is Australian, has no legal recourse or right to due process. As per the guarantees the American legal code offers freedom of speech, officials avoid facing the news media in the courts. It is much easier and more effective to use their bully pulpit to smear the media. Fake News is one way to render the press less effective, but it doesn’t stop their mission. Having the ability to strip journalists of their status can silence the media and at the same time turn a democracy into a society rotting with corruption and abuse of power. Days ago, a federal court ruled in favor of CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta after the White House revoked his access last week. The White House Press Corps is expected to ask the president the tough questions and pursue answers on behalf of the American people. Excluding a reporter on frivolous basis will not and should not be tolerated.
Pleading ‘fake news’ before the court
Unfortunately, allegations of Fake News is harder to stop. However, the silhouette of a silver lining is beginning to take shape. The casual observer will inevitably notice the pattern by which government officials invoke “Fake News.” They will soon conclude that only weak officials who are exposed by truthful reporting will always cry “Fake News.” Soon enough crying “Fake News” will be synonymous with crying “wolf!” Constantly labeling legitimate reports 'fake news' was trumped by the president’s tweet last year branding news media as “the enemy of the American people.” The president’s freedom of speech is constitutionally guaranteed. The First Amendment guarantees the same right to every American except for inciting violence among other exceptions. Should we really be surprised when someone takes it upon themselves to act violently against the media?
Resorting to the courts seem to have delivered a first-round win to the press in the Acosta case, but the fight is far from over. Although the legal system is a compelling option when available, it is the court of public opinion officials should fear the most.

Political tasks for international organizations in Yemen

Hamdan Alaly/Al Arabiya/November 20/18
On September 19, a group of Yemeni human rights activists and journalists met with Mr. Kamel Jendoubi, the head of the prominent experts tasked with investigating human rights violations in Yemen. The meeting was held on the sidelines of the 39th session of the UN human rights council in Geneva, and it aimed to discuss the council’s August report, which stirred wide controversy due to some mistakes in it and due to its ignoring of many of the violations which the Houthis are committing in Yemen. I was one of the participants in this special meeting, which Jendoubi began with presenting the methodology adopted in preparing the report and the difficulties that the team confronted while visiting some areas that witnessed violations, as well as the obstacles which prevented the team from reaching other areas. The most significant thing that Jendoubi told us that day was that due to security threats, his team was prevented from reaching the Taiz governorate and other areas where the Houthis committed violations.
Such organizations clearly support the Houthis. Yemenis on social media networks and in their gatherings wonder why does this always repeat as every time the Yemeni national army gets close to liberating any governorate, international organizations rush from day one to issue statements warning of the dangerous humanitarian situation. During the peak of the conversation, my friend Mansour al-Shadadi – a human rights activist from Marib – asked Jendoubi: “Why didn’t you visit Marib governorate to look into the crimes which the Houthis are committing there? It’s a secure city and the Houthis had bombarded it with missiles.” Jendoubi replied saying his team was prevented from entering it due to the security situation there.
I told him that the American envoy and other ambassadors and journalists from European countries continuously visit it, and it’s safe. Jendoubi interrupted me saying: “This is the envoy of America, a superpower,” to which I replied: “And you represent the UN!” The conversation ended with him saying: “The UN’s safety and security team is the one that prevented (our) team from reaching these governorates for security reasons and (we) cannot violate this.” Hence the UN report lacked the most important, brutal and dark side of the Houthis’ violations.
UN contradictions
On the same day, I met with Yemen's Deputy Human Rights Minister Nabil Abdul Hafiz and condemned the government’s lack of action – represented in its human rights and interior ministries – to secure the team’s visit to Taiz and Marib to look into the violations which the Houthis are committing there. Abdul Hafiz confirmed to me that the ministry repeatedly asked the team, both in written and oral requests, to go to Taiz and Marib and guaranteed it full protection but these demands were rejected. This is also what Yemen’s Minister of Human Rights Mohammed Askar confirmed to me later.
I recalled these details while reading news that a high-level delegation from international organizations, including UN organizations, risked itself to enter Hodeidah last Tuesday as armed confrontations were ongoing in different areas in and around the city.
A delegation headed by Executive Director of the World Food Program David Beasley (who runs operations in more than 90 countries), UN Humanitarian Coordinator Lise Grande and others risked their lives and entered Hodeidah as they heard the gunfire, explosions and the roar of guns and fighter jets! The aim was to suspend the operations to liberate Hodeidah and save the Houthi armed militias, which the UN views in its decisions as rebellious.
Before this huge contradiction, what can we the Yemenis understand? Such organizations clearly support the Houthis. Yemenis on social media networks and in their gatherings wonder why does this always repeat as every time the Yemeni national army gets close to liberating any governorate, international organizations rush from day one to issue statements warning of the dangerous humanitarian situation for the purpose of halting the liberation of these governorates?! These organizations keep silent when the Houthi militias commit violations against civilians.
It’s worth remembering that these international organizations kept silent when the heavily armed Houthis marched towards Sanaa and the rest of the governorates and they were even silent when the Houthis besieged Taiz and did not allow bringing in water, food and medicine resulting in the death of premature infants in hospitals because they lacked life-saving oxygen! Everyone still remembers what happened on January 22, 2016 when the United Nations Department of Safety and Security risked the lives of seven of the UN organizations’ chiefs, including the former humanitarian coordinator, to enter Taiz and issue a shameful statement announcing there was no humanitarian siege on the city. After three and a half years, none of these organizations can today issue a statement or a report acknowledging there is a humanitarian siege on Taiz.
The same applies to non-UN organizations. What makes a British “charity” organization that practices political activities and carries out funded and supported media campaigns in Europe and the US demand changing or amending UN Security Council Resolution 2216 which obligates the Houthis to hand over their weapons towards guaranteeing restoring the state and ending the war?  There is a huge amount of suspicious activities and shameful violations which some international organizations operating in Yemen are committing; hence confirming the political involvement and the scandalous exploitation of the humanitarian situation to obstruct any military efforts that seek to restore the state and liberate Yemen from the violence of the descent that claims that God granted it the right to enslave and control the Yemeni people. The Yemenis now know your conspiracies and your harmonious efforts along with the orientations of some states that are keen on keeping the armed Houthi militia in the Arabian Peninsula to be a dagger in the Arabs’ waist… but this will be in vain!

The most controversial hour
Turki Aldakhil/Al Arabiya/November 20/18
I know exactly this hour in which each of us remembers his wristwatch. I mean those who do not get their cellular phones out of their pockets to check the time when someone asks what time it is and who actually lift their hand towards their eyes before they respond in an accurate manner that we do not often see when it comes to a question asked by a stranger in a rush. I am not obsessed with watches but I am still loyal to the watch as it’s the remains of a habit. Many men and women differ in terms of wearing watches as it’s a remnant of taste, and the interest in specific details also differs. It’s rare to see a businessman who is over 50 years old without noticing the watch that he decorates his wrist with!
Did he inherit it? It may be a limited edition that you may not see again. Or does he want to say through the numbers that only shine bright when he – and only he – looks at it that he is stingy and refuses to participate or give even before the meeting begins? Or is he an ambitious man in his 30s who hails from the generation of technology and who’s capable of managing the office via a watch on his wrist? I was in London when a Jordanian friend summed up the discussion and said: “You know we have rare resources in Jordan. We have relied on the daylight saving time since the 1980s to co-exist with the fact that we are a non-oil producing state. In 2010 alone, we saved more than $45 million from the time difference of the hour. You may find someone wearing a watch that’s worth five times his salary as he competes to catch up with industry trends or because he is convinced that the best way to present himself is what he wears!
Saving time to save money
Unfortunately, this is not the hour I am talking about. Two weeks ago, the conversation I’ve frequently heard about on the same topic on the same usual date but across different continents. From those who are angry and resentful that the government is even controlling the citizen’s wristwatch, all the way to the environmental activists who are joyful due to the quantity of energy that can be saved when people are forced to pay attention to increasing energy consumption, even if this leads to the law’s intervention in the redistribution of sunrays in daylight hours.
I was in London when a Jordanian friend summed up the discussion and said: “You know we have rare resources in Jordan. We have relied on the daylight saving time since the 1980s to co-exist with the fact that we are a non-oil producing state. In 2010 alone, we saved more than $45 million from the time difference of the hour which people here have annoyed us about.” I laughed at his annoyance, looked at my wristwatch as I smiled and bid him farewell.
“Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise,” is not Benjamin Franklin’s most famous quotes when it comes to clocks skipping forward or going backward for one hour. However, all narratives agree that the time skipping forward for one hour during the summer made him very sleepless. Franklin is the man with the elegant belly on the American dollar. Perhaps the source of elegance here is the value of the dollar and not his belly. Franklin lived for a while in Paris and wrote an anonymous letter suggesting that the French reduce consumption of candles at night by waking up early to make use of daylight.
Personally, I cannot say this story is false as I am aware that during his early years, Franklin used to write using a pseudonym in the American press before he began working as a diplomat to improve relations with Paris.
What’s interesting is that the pseudonym he used in the US to sign his articles with was Silence Dogood. This was before he became the victim of the French’s mockery as they ridiculed his seriousness about daylight saving and made up jokes after he advised them to make use of it. The jokes proposed solutions which, if anything, reflect how unserious they were in receiving that advice and they ranged from rationing the use of candles to imposing tax on whoever closes their windows to prevent the sunrays from accessing the house, to firing cannons at sunrise and ringing church bells to wake up the extravagant lazy ones.
The early bird catches the worm
Back to Franklin’s approach of linking success to waking up early, a maker of success and hope in the Arab world, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum said: “You have two choices every morning: to keep sleeping and resume your dreams or wake up and pursue them.” Therefore, I think the Emiratis, whom I have lived among for around two decades, believe that a characteristic of a successful man is to wake up early. What’s more interesting is that Germany and its allies were the first to adopt the daylight saving time, and it happened on April 16, 1916. The decision was purely economic as our Jordanian friend in London said. The change which the most famous American legislator and president later proposed and which the grandparents of the French revolution mocked only required Germany’s need to preserve coal during World War I to be pursued!
Britain followed suit and imposed the idea on British colonies. Then daylight saving time was adopted in the US in the summer of 1918. Ever since, daylight saving – and not winter time because it’s going back to the standard time and the global time – is viewed as an economic plan and a genius system to reduce the energy bill. This is in addition to its positive influence on the social and economic levels especially for non-oil producing states.
I am not exaggerating when I say that the decision to advance our wristwatches one hour has resulted in a heated debate that has lasted for years. This debate is for instance still ongoing in the EU. A month ago, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker defended the idea to cancel changing the clocks twice per year in winter and summer while leaving the option to let each EU member state to have its own decision regarding this. Eighty eight countries advance the clocks forward every year for economic reasons and sometimes for environmental ones. What’s strange is that this change – that seems linked to industrial and non-oil producing states – does not include Japan although an important study held there in 2004 concluded that the direct effect of implementing the daylight saving time is equal to preserving energy that would be used by the whole country watching television on a daily basis for 66 days!
What’s even more interesting is that the conversation regarding daylight saving becomes really serious when we realize it’s a completely sovereign right – sovereign in a way that sometimes allows regions to decide on it as for example South Brazil is different than North Brazil. We must note that the continents of Africa and Asia, especially zones crossed by the equator, enjoy the stability of hours, which relieves them from the debate about this hour which saves millions, and which keeps politicians, intellectuals and our friends who are very concerned with climate change up.
Advance your clocks forward or revert them, what’s more important is to enjoy your time and save energy consumption no matter what the price of the hand watch you’re wearing is.

Turkey and US: Conflict Contained, Not Resolved
Burak Bekdil/Gatestone Institute/November 20/18
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that Turkey will not abide by the renewed U.S. sanctions on Iran's oil and shipping industries, claiming that they are "steps aimed at unbalancing the world."
U.S. President Donald Trump, in the same speech in which he hailed Erdoğan as a "friend and a tough, smart man," ruled out the possibility of Gülen's extradition.
The future actually looks potentially gloomier as the future of Syria shapes up and Erdoğan might well switch back to more radical anti-Western rhetoric ahead of critical local elections in March.
Although Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has recently toned down his anti-American rhetoric, things have not come up roses in U.S.-Turkey relations. Pictured: U.S. President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan deliver statements at the the White House, on May 16, 2017. (Photo by Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)
Only three months ago Turkey and its NATO ally the United States had too many issues about which to disagree: They had major divergences over Syria; they had different views on Turkey's plans to deploy the Russian-made S-400 air defense system on NATO soil; they had mutual sanctions on top government officials due to Turkey's refusal to free Andrew Brunson, an American evangelical Christian pastor living in Turkey who faced bogus charges of terrorism and espionage; they had a potential U.S. decision to block delivery to Turkey of arms systems, including the F-35 stealth fighter; they had potential U.S. sanctions on a Turkish public bank; the U.S. had doubled tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminium; a Turkish boycott on U.S. electronics; major differences over Syrian Kurds; and Turkey's persistent demands for the extradition of Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim cleric who is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's political nemesis, living in self-exile in Pennsylvania.
Three months later, there is not much left of the anti-American euphoria in Turkey. Erdoğan has already stopped accusing the U.S. of waging economic warfare against Turkey. For his part, President Donald Trump has said, "We're having a very good moment with Turkey ... He [Erdoğan] is a friend of mine. He's a strong man, he's tough man, and he's a smart man."
What has changed so radically in three months to lift up the relationship from its worst tensions in decades to such warmth? Not much.
Under U.S. pressure, Turkey released Pastor Andrew Brunson; Turkey's currency, the lira, has since steadied, and there is no more Turkish talk of an American "economic warfare." Yet Ankara and Washington still have a rich menu of problems to be resolved. Washington has not had an ambassador in Ankara for more than a year now, a first in the modern history of U.S.-Turkish relations. But there is more.
According to the Greek magazine Hellas, U.S. officials say that Turkey's planned acquisition of the S-400 system could potentially trigger actions under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), and have "serious ramifications for US ability to do business with Turkey across the defense trade spectrum." Turkey insists that the S-400 deployment in the country will start in October 2019.
It is still unclear if the U.S. will sanction Halkbank, the Turkish state bank accused of violating U.S. sanctions on Iran. Markets remain anxious over a penalty worth billions of dollars that could seriously damage the bank's liquidity position in particular, and the Turkish banking system in general.
A potentially large penalty on Halkbank is not the only dispute over Iran sanctions. On November 6, Erdoğan said Turkey will not abide by the renewed U.S. sanctions on Iran's oil and shipping industries, claiming that they are "steps aimed at unbalancing the world". "We don't want to live in an imperialist world," he said. "We will absolutely not abide by such sanctions. We buy 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas. We cannot freeze our people in the cold."
Syrian Kurds remain an issue. Turkey and the U.S. differ on the Kurds. Both countries view the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) -- the main Kurdish separatist group -- as a terrorist organization. Turkey also thinks the People's Protection Units (YPG) is PKK's Syrian branch, and insists that it should be listed as a terrorist organization. The U.S. thinks differently about the YPG, which has worked as a U.S. ally in the fight against Islamic State.
The U.S. offer of a reward of millions of dollars for information on the location of three leading PKK figures cautiously pleased Ankara because Turkey thinks the move is against PKK, not YPG. Although Ankara said it was pleased by the American reward offer to help capture three top Kurdish PKK militants, most Turkish security officials believe the move was a U.S. effort for public diplomacy, aimed at eventually driving a wedge between the PKK and Syrian Kurds. "We think this [the U.S. reward offer] aims to finally legitimize the YPG," one senior security official told this author on November 17.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said the U.S. reward offer was a positive but a "very, very late" step, and called on Washington to adopt the same policy towards the YPG. "It is not possible for us to accept putting a bounty on PKK leaders on the one hand, and sending trucks of tools, weapons and ammunition to the YPG on the other," Akar said.
On top of that exhausting list of disputes for the Turkish and American diplomats to resolve remains the issue of Fethullah Gülen, the Muslim cleric who was once a staunch ally of Erdoğan. Gülen, now, however, is accused by the Turkish government of being the mastermind behind the failed coup of July 2016. Since then, the Turkish government has been seeking his extradition from the U.S.
President Trump, in the same speech in which he hailed Erdoğan as a "friend and a tough, smart man," ruled out the possibility of Gülen's extradition. Earlier, there were media reports that the White House was looking for ways to remove Gülen from the U.S. in order to placate Turkey over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. But only hours after that report, a senior Turkish official in Ankara said that Turkey had "no intention of intervening in the Khashoggi investigation in return for any political or legal favor."
All this means is that since the summer, things have not come up roses on the Washington-Ankara axis. Most of the problematic issues remain unresolved. The future actually looks potentially gloomier as the future of Syria shapes up, and Erdoğan might well switch back to more radical anti-Western rhetoric ahead of critical local elections in March.
*Burak Bekdil, one of Turkey's leading journalists, was recently fired from the country's most noted newspaper after 29 years, for writing in Gatestone what is taking place in Turkey. He is a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.
© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

The EU's Dangerous New Confidence Game
Douglas Murray/Gatestone Institute/November 20/18
The first problem of the European Court of Human Rights decision against Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff is that it means that, at least in cases of blasphemy, truth is not a defence.
Such a judgement hands over the decision on what is or is not allowed to be said not to a European or national court, but to whoever can claim, plausibly or otherwise, that another individual has risked "the peace."
There have been similar mobster tricks tried for some years now. They all run on the old claim, "I'm not mad with you myself; I'm just holding my friend back here."
The first problem of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decision against Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff is that it means that, at least in cases of blasphemy, truth is not a defence. Pictured: The courtroom of the ECHR in Strasbourg.
At the start of this decade, a minor story occurred that set the scene for the years that have followed. In 2010, a Saudi lawyer named Faisal Yamani wrote to the Danish newspapers that had published cartoons of Islam's prophet, Mohammed. Claiming to act on behalf of 95,000 descendants of Mohammed, the Saudi lawyer said that the cartoons were defamatory and that legal proceedings would thereby begin.
However, everything about the supposed legal claim reeked. How had Mr Yamani located all these descendants? How had he come up with exactly 95,000 of them? And how could you claim that a statement about somebody who died 1,400 years ago was "defamatory"? Legally, one cannot "defame" the dead.
Everything about the claim was laughable Yet it had its desired effect. At least one Danish paper -- Politiken -- swiftly issued an apology for republishing the cartoons. So Mr Yamani got what he wanted. He had (one might suggest) conjured up a set of alleged victims and cobbled together an alleged offence, but no matter, because he also got a European newspaper to fold in no seconds flat. It was an interesting probe of the European system of justice -- and a good example of submission. And a fine scene-setting precedent for the decade that has followed.
Now, eight years later, an even greater act of submission has come along. This one not imposed from some dodgy Saudi lawyer, but from the highest court in Europe.
At the end of last month, the European Court of Human Rights issued its ruling in a long-running case involving an Austrian woman named Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff. Way back in 2009, in Vienna, Sabaditsch-Wolff (who has lived in several Muslim countries) gave two seminars entitled, "Basic Information on Islam." During these talks, in the words of the ECHR:
"... she discussed the marriage between the Prophet Muhammad and a six-year old girl, Aisha, which allegedly was consummated when she was nine. Inter alia, the applicant stated that Muhammad 'liked to do it with children' and '... A 56-year-old and a six-year-old? ... What do we call it, if it is not paedophilia?'"For this statement, based on the text of an official Hadith [the acts and saying if Muhammad], Sahih-Bukhari, Vol. 5, Book 58, Nos. 234–236, the Vienna Regional Criminal Court, in February 2011, found Sabaditsch-Wolff guilty of "disparaging religious doctrines." She was fined 480 euros and ordered to pay costs. During an appeal the following December, the court upheld the decision. In December 2013, Austria's Supreme Court dismissed a request for the proceedings to be renewed.
So, Ms Sabaditsch-Wolff took her case to the ECHR, and filed her application in June 2012. In her defence, she cited Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is meant to protect freedom of expression.
The wheels of ECHR justice, however, grind slow, so it was not until last month -- a mere six years after the case was filed -- that the court issued its judgement. According to the ECHR ruling: "Relying on Article 10 (freedom of expression), Mrs S. complained that the domestic courts failed to address the substance of the impugned statements in the light of her right to freedom of expression. If they had done so, they would not have qualified them as mere value judgments but as value judgments based on facts."
The court ruled that the right of people to express themselves under Article 10 did not supersede the right of other people "to have their religious feelings protected" (under Article 9). The ruling states:
"The Court observed also that the subject matter of the instant case was of a particularly sensitive nature, and that the (potential) effects of the impugned statements, to a certain degree, depended on the situation in the respective country where the statements were made, at the time and in the context they were made."Meaning, it would appear, that a statement might be protected in one European country and not in another.
"The Court noted that the domestic courts comprehensively explained why they considered that the applicant's statements had been capable of arousing justified indignation; specifically, they had not been made in an objective manner contributing to a debate of public interest (e.g. on child marriage), but could only be understood as having been aimed at demonstrating that Muhammad was not worthy of worship. It agreed with the domestic courts that Mrs S. must have been aware that her statements were partly based on untrue facts and apt to arouse indignation in others. The national courts found that Mrs S. had subjectively labelled Muhammad with paedophilia as his general sexual preference, and that she failed to neutrally inform her audience of the historical background, which consequently did not allow for a serious debate on that issue."
Just as importantly, the court concluded:
"... [Austria's] domestic courts carefully balanced the applicant's right to freedom of expression with the rights of others to have their religious feelings protected, and to have religious peace preserved in Austrian society."
The fact that Ms Sabaditsch-Wolff had been ordered by the Austrian court only to pay what the ECHR ruling called a "moderate fine" meant that the ECHR did not view the punishment as "disproportionate."
Of course all of this has provoked a range of responses, from people saying that the ECHR has overseen the insertion of a new blasphemy law within Europe to those insisting that there is nothing to see here, and that the judgement is of absolutely no interest. Somewhere in the middle are a range of legal voices saying that all that the ECHR has done has agreed that the Austrian courts have the right to make their own decisions on this matter. So again -- there is nothing, or at least not much, to see here. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The first problem brought by the ECHR decision to uphold the Austrian court's verdict against Sabaditsch-Wolff is that it means that, at least in cases of blasphemy, truth is not a defence. There is -- as every Islamic scholar knows -- significant evidence from the Hadith to allow someone to make a perfectly plausible case along the lines that Sabaditsch-Wolff did. But the courts went further. They claimed that her statements were based on "untrue facts" -- whatever those might be. As I have pointed out elsewhere, this poses a serious problem for Europeans. It tells us that words we can read with our own eyes, and which are in books freely available anywhere in the world, do not say the words that they say. What are we to do? Lie? Apparently so.
The second problem is that it turns it a debate about facts into a debate about "tone." Were certain things said in an "objective" manner or not? So, in the future, one European might state something in one tone of voice and another might state it in another -- and on that, a prosecution could be launched. While the first defendant can expect to be hauled before the court, the second may be allowed to continue to roam intellectually and physically free. Who is to decide that?
The third problem is, of course, that such a judgement hands over the decision on what is or is not allowed to be said not to a European or national court, but to whoever can claim, plausibly or otherwise, that another individual has risked "the peace."
Which returns us to the example of the 95,000 descendants of Mohammed. There have been similar mobster tricks tried for some years now. They all run on the old claim, "I'm not mad with you myself; I'm just holding my friend back here." In the Austrian case, as in the Danish one, it seems to have a disturbing ability to work. Yet in the universe of confidence games, this must be among the baldest and the worst.
Once one group of people sees that game working, why shouldn't everyone else play it too? Why shouldn't any other group in Austria other than Muslims claim, on a routine basis, that their feelings have been hurt and announce to the courts that, as a result, "peace" has been put at risk? If I were an Austrian Christian of a fundamentalist bent, I might well think about attending various lectures and sermons at a range of Austrian mosques, waiting until one of the speakers denies the divinity and resurrection of Christ and then run straight to the courts. After all, a denial of the resurrection of Christ by a Muslim could be deemed to be seriously offensive to a Christian and who is to say that "peace" will not be at risk as a result?
There is a complacency that has settled across Europe. This complacency is amply demonstrated by those happy to say that what has just happened at the ECHR is really nothing important. They are wrong. It is extremely important. Not just because it is an awful example of the morally bewildered decade we are in, but because it sets the stage horribly -- for Muslims and non-Muslims for decades to come.
*Douglas Murray, British author, commentator and public affairs analyst, is based in London, England. His latest book, an international best-seller, is "The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam."
© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

MbS fingered again for the Khashoggi murder to undermine him ahead of the G20 Buenos Aires summit
DEBKAfile/November 20/18
After a short lull, a third wave of derogatory reports in the US, Turkey, and West Europe again put the Saudi crown prince on the hot plate for the Jamal Khashoggi murder on Oct. 2 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. What has catapulted this story back onto front pages after weeks of quiet? DEBKAfile’s sources offer some background:
President Donald Trump said on Sunday, Nov. 11, that he had been briefed on the tape on which Turkey claims to have recorded the murder, but he refused to watch it: “It’s a suffering tape, It’s a terrible tape,” he said.
Several US media subsequently reported that the CIA, after being charged by the president with investigating the crime, had concluded that it had been planned and ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman MbS). The CIA itself said nothing to confirm this claim.
Trump responded to the allegation by saying that he can’t determine from the facts put before him the degree of the crown prince’s responsibly for the murder. “But at the same time,” he added. “We do have an ally and I want to stick with an ally that in many ways has been very good.”
On Monday, Nov. 19, a well-known Turkish columnist alleged that the quarrel between Khashoggi and the Saudi security officers holding him at the consulate, was triggered by their demand that he send a cable to his son in Saudi Arabia and he refused. He was then put to death. The columnist had no knowledge of what the alleged cable was to have said.
On Tuesday, Nov. 20, another Turkish publication ran what it claimed were words heard on the tape in the seconds of the murder. “Release my arm! What do you think you’re doing?” Khashoggi is quoted as shouting. This was followed by the sounds of blows and torture. The next words came from a man, identified as a squad member, who said: “It feels spooky to put on the clothes of a man we killed 20 minutes ago.” He is then heard to complain that Khashoggi’s shoes were too small and is told to wear his own trainers. According to these Turkish sources, this discrepancy showed up when the dead journalist’s double was filmed on an Istanbul street after the murder.
The “double” was named by Turkish media as Mustafa al-Madani whom they claim is close to the crown prince. All these new quotes in the Turkish media from a tape in the possession of the Turkish authorities, appeared as the backdrop for a conversation taking place then in New York in which Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu demanded that UN Secretary Antonio Guterres set up an international tribunal to probe the Saudi journalist’s murder.
Saudi Arabia strenuously denies all the Turkish allegations and claims that a team sent to Istanbul to extract Khashoggi, went rogue and killed him. There have been 21 Saudi arrests in connection with the crime, of whom 5 were sentenced to death and 11 given prison sentences. The entire team acted on their own initiative, says Riyadh, while Prince Mohammed was not involved and was in total ignorance of what was happening at the Istanbul consulate.
The new rash of publications on the Khashoggi affair reflects a fresh, coordinated effort to unseat the crown prince, say DEBKAfile’s sources who point at four motives:
inRead invented by Teads.
1-Certain Washington circles are determined to impair the strong relationship prevailing between the Trump administration and Saudi King Salman and his son. Those circles have long sought to weaken the king, but since Donald Trump entered the White House, they view MbS’s ouster that much more desirable for the collateral gain of getting at the president and his family through that relationship. The crown prince’s eclipse would gain two further advantages in the eyes of those circles: It would seriously jeopardize Trump’s anti-Iran campaign and also his projected Israeli-Palestinian peace plan which is contingent on the cooperation of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Israel.
2-A number of interested parties, political, financial and members of the world oil community, look with extreme disfavor on the two crown princes, MbS and Sheikh Mohammed Bin Ziyad (MbZ) of the United Arab Emirates, running the show in the Gulf as a joint powerhouse. Knocking not just one of the princes off this high perch – but both – is their goal. Turkey therefore planted a second tale in its tame media, which sought to blacken MbZ as MbS’ accomplice in the Khashoggi crime’s cover-up. This story alleged that the Emirates assigned this task to a team of four. One was named by the Turkish media as the exiled Palestinian Muhammed Dahlan, who is reputedly a close friend of MbZ. The Emirates foreign minister categorically denied his tale.
3-Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan can’t let go of his burning desire to thrust the two crown princes aside and out of his way to the leadership of the Sunni Muslim world.
4-The Saudi crown prince has announced he will attend the G20 summit in Buenos Aires on 26-30 November. He hopes that the sight of him hobnobbing with world leaders as their equal (including Erdogan), and shaking their hands in front of flashing cameras will repair the damage to his reputation cast by aspersions over the Khashoggi affair and give him a solid footing on the world stage. The new flood of pejorative reports hitting the media in the last few days aims at snatching this opportunity out of his hands by making him an international persona non grata.

Flare-Up in Gaza (Part 2): Gently Undoing a Gordian Knot
Ghaith al-Omari and Assaf Orion/The Washington Institute/November 20/18
Israel and Hamas cannot advance their current strategic goals through intensified fighting, but the Cairo dialogue could enable important short-term gains in Gaza.
This PolicyWatch is the second in a two-part series on the latest hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Part 1 discussed the domestic political implications for Israel.
After seven months of ongoing clashes, and before the recent escalation in Gaza, Israel and Hamas were making significant progress in Egyptian-sponsored talks aimed at reaching limited ceasefire understandings. Resuming those discussions and implementing the understandings seems like their best available course of action today, despite the current volatility.
The talks turned fruitful when they finally disaggregated the myriad demands made by both sides, adopting a piecemeal approach instead of bundling. The main goal is to produce a limited but concrete set of arrangements whereby Hamas commits to end violence against Israel (including confrontations along the Gaza security barrier during weekly “Marches of Return,” as well as incendiary kite and balloon attacks), while Israel allows foreign assistance into Gaza to alleviate the territory’s pressing economic and humanitarian situation.
Before the latest escalation, both sides took steps to signal their seriousness and goodwill. Israel allowed the immediate transfer of $15 million to pay the salaries of Hamas employees in Gaza as part of a $90 million grant from Qatar. It also permitted the entry of fuel trucks. For its part, Hamas ensured that the November 2 and 9 border marches avoided friction with Israeli forces, producing two of the calmest Fridays since the practice began in March.
The latest escalation stemmed from a tactical development, not from either side’s strategic intent. On November 11, a covert Israel Defense Forces team operating deep in Khan Yunis was exposed and exchanged fire with Hamas forces, resulting in the deaths of one senior IDF officer and seven Hamas operatives. This was followed by fierce cross-border fighting, the worst since 2014. Israeli towns were targeted with around 500 rockets and mortars, which scored some direct hits on homes and other buildings while spurring close to 100 intercepts by Iron Dome defense batteries. One civilian was killed and several others wounded in Israel. In Gaza, the IDF struck 160 targets; five Palestinians were reported killed.
Soon afterward, however, both sides decided to pull back from the brink. The Israeli cabinet accepted the defense establishment’s recommendation and agreed to another Egyptian-proposed ceasefire, seeing no gains in further escalation. Hamas declared victory but nevertheless kept its November 16 border march from spiraling into violence.
Disaggregation was the key to the last round of talks because bundling numerous agenda items had bogged down previous efforts. By attempting to tackle a wide swath of issues at once—security conduct, wages, fuel, commercial traffic, intra-Palestinian reconciliation, prisoners, disarmament, and large infrastructure projects—negotiators had increased the complexity of each item and created room for more actors to derail the process.
On the Palestinian front, Egypt initially sought to reconcile the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. The idea was to bring the PA back to Gaza before pursuing a truce with Israel, both to bolster the PA’s standing and to deny Hamas political credit. International donors supported this approach as a matter of diplomatic and practical preference. Since many governments have formally designated Hamas as a terrorist organization, reaching a Gaza truce without the PA would complicate assistance efforts in the struggling territory. Donors would have to go through cumbersome procedures to ensure that aid completely bypasses Hamas and is not used for terrorist or military purposes.
Yet reconciliation talks stalled after PA president Mahmoud Abbas demanded that Hamas disarm immediately, and the situation began to deteriorate sharply due to sanctions he imposed on Gaza. Some believe that these pressure tactics were part of a deliberate effort by Abbas to precipitate conflict between Hamas and Israel. In any case, while his concerns regarding Hamas arms were legitimate and shared as an ultimate goal by Egypt and Israel, his insistence made him a spoiler in the urgent context of stabilizing Gaza and avoiding escalation.
As a result, Egypt—with the support of international donors and Israel—opted to pursue a Gaza truce independent of its Palestinian unity discussions. The aim was not to seek a direct Hamas-Israel agreement, but rather to broker a set of understandings between them while sidelining the PA during the negotiations and initial implementation. Working through the UN, international donors are already in the process of setting up a funding mechanism that bypasses the PA and Hamas. Meanwhile, the various components of the wider understandings are being phased in gradually to create ongoing momentum.
To achieve this result, Egypt also had to make some adjustments of its own, especially regarding the role of Qatar. Tensions between Cairo and Doha are longstanding, and Gaza has been one arena where they played out. Hamas political leader Khaled Mashal and his Qatar hosts were a serious hindrance to reaching a ceasefire during the 2014 Gaza war, contributing to the conflict’s unprecedented length. Yet once it became clear that Qatar was—at least for the time being—the only country willing to immediately allocate funds for the Gaza stabilization plan, Egypt took the pragmatic path of allowing Doha to participate.
While disaggregation has produced progress, it left some actors feeling that their interests were unmet, thereby motivating them to play a spoiler’s role. For example, Abbas may have been pressured to acquiesce to Egypt’s approach, but if past experience is any guide, his continued cooperation is far from guaranteed. As the PA becomes increasingly marginalized, he may choose to act on his threat to cut all PA payments to Gaza, plunging the territory into a deeper humanitarian crisis that could quickly sharpen its security threats.
Such a move would test the resolve of Israel and international donors. Israel could opt to divert some of the value-added tax (VAT) clearances it collects on the PA’s behalf into Gaza, and donors could do the same with their aid. Yet such a course of action could have implications for West Bank stability, perhaps including PA security cooperation with Israel.
Local Gaza actors could derail the process as well. Under new leadership, Palestinian Islamic Jihad has been reenergizing its relations with Iran and reasserting its presence, firing rockets into Israel on October 26 in a strike that was not coordinated with Hamas. Moreover, some constituencies within Hamas are not satisfied with the ceasefire arrangements. Some hardline elements see them as an unacceptable concession to Israel, while others are unhappy with the group’s implied reorientation away from the Muslim Brotherhood orbit of Qatar/Turkey and toward Egypt. Keeping PIJ and rogue Hamas elements under control will test the limits of the organization’s leadership as they try to fulfill their end of the bargain in Gaza.
Besides intentional spoilers, tactical developments may dictate their own escalatory logic, as occurred in the latest round of fighting. As Hamas promoted popular assaults on Israel’s border and at sea over the past seven months, several uncontrolled attacks were conducted by individual elements in Gaza, and two rockets were launched inadvertently, perhaps due to technical failure. These tactical sparks could flare up into unintended escalation.
Alternatively, Hamas may try to walk the tightrope of controlled violence for domestic gains, allowing its current sense of victory over triggering Israel’s political crisis to balloon into hubris and tactical adventurism. Israel may likewise find it more difficult to walk back from the brink if the current political turbulence persists. Although the prospect of early elections seems to have dissipated for the moment, the public’s very negative reaction to the government’s handling of recent clashes could erode Israel’s restraint in a future flare-up.
Continuing the truce process and implementing its understandings seem like the best means of preventing a pointless confrontation in Gaza and stabilizing the territory’s humanitarian situation. Accordingly, the United States should encourage the parties as they seek to reach practical understandings and promote calm. It should also signal support for Egypt’s efforts to stabilize Gaza and encourage a positive role for the PA in these efforts, as much as it is willing to play. At the same time, Washington can prepare for future obstacles, readying donors to step in if Abbas again cuts Gaza’s budget and, later, building on available momentum by leveraging the administration’s own peace plan to further stabilize the theater through economic and infrastructure improvements.
*Ghaith al-Omari is a senior fellow at The Washington Institute and coauthor of its recent study “Neutralizing the Gaza Powder Keg.” Assaf Orion, a retired Israeli brigadier general and defense strategist, is a visiting military fellow at the Institute.

Why Has Netanyahu Reversed Course on Early Elections?
David Makovsky/The Washington Institute/November 20/18
He seems to have calculated that keeping his coalition together is the best way to rebuild public support for the Gaza ceasefire policy, but his political margins are narrowing.
In a rather dramatic turnaround, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has raised the stakes against a key political rival and scuttled efforts to hold early elections that seemed inevitable last week. The upshot is that his government may now remain in power until regularly scheduled elections arrive in November 2019—though his coalition’s thinning 61-59 majority in the 120-member parliament means there are no guarantees it will last that long. Whatever the case, Netanyahu will temporarily serve as defense minister, foreign minister, and prime minister, perhaps the closest Israel has come to a de facto presidential system.
The move came in a nationally televised speech on November 18, when he decided to go over the head of Education Minister Naftali Bennett and appeal to the country and his right-wing base directly. After calling Bennett wrong-headed for threatening to resign unless he received the defense portfolio, Netanyahu proceeded to argue that when right-wing governments were brought down from within during the 1992 and 1999 election cycles, they paved the way for left-wing governments that pursued supposedly inimical policies.
Following the speech, Bennett and his main ally, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, faced pressure for putting their own ambitions above the goal of maintaining a right-wing government, spurring them to announce a change of heart. Yet Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who leads a ten-member faction in parliament, is still calling for early elections. The rapid twists and turns have blindsided the Israeli political world.
Netanyahu had been begging his coalition partners to go to early elections for months, so what is behind his sudden reversal? First, it should be pointed out that his overall foreign policy outlook has remained consistent: namely, he agrees with the Israel Defense Forces leadership that a Gaza ceasefire is preferable to escalation given the more urgent priority of curbing Iran’s presence in Syria. Early elections could make it more difficult to maintain a ceasefire.
Netanyahu is also well aware that two of his three predecessors were driven from office following major upticks in Israeli-Palestinian violence. To be sure, recent polls indicate that 74 percent of Israelis are unsatisfied with his limited retaliatory response to the latest wave of Hamas rocket strikes. For now, though, he is unlikely to change that approach; instead, he seems keen on giving himself more time to recover from the poor polling performance and avoid early elections that would put even more public focus on the Gaza flare-up. He cannot ignore public dissatisfaction, of course—his commitment to the stalemate is tenuous and could unravel if developments warrant. Yet he knows that the 74 percent poll result does not mean that anywhere close to that proportion of the electorate favors a full-scale ground incursion into Gaza given the risk of heavy Israeli casualties.
Netanyahu also appears to be betting that the recent resignation of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who said he wanted a tougher response to Hamas, will be forgotten if elections are pushed off until next November. He knows it will be more difficult for Liberman to critique him from the benches of the political opposition than from the press conferences and newspaper headlines regularly accorded to defense ministers. If the Gaza issue cools down in the coming months, Liberman’s faction may have to run as an immigrants’ party—a tough platform to sell thirty years after the mass immigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union.
Another factor that may have changed Netanyahu’s desire for early elections is his seemingly cooling relationship with Russian president Vladimir Putin. Until recently, Netanyahu’s aides loved telling reporters that he was the only leader on the world stage who enjoys close ties with both President Donald Trump and Putin. In September, however, Syrian forces shot down a Russian military plane while attempting to counter Israeli airstrikes. Since then, Putin has refused to meet with Netanyahu directly, and speculation has grown that Moscow wants to constrain Israel’s ability to hit Iranian targets in Syria. The prime minister’s critics would no doubt use this tension against him in early elections.
Regarding U.S. policy, the latest developments in Israel free the Trump administration to put forward its long-awaited peace plan sooner rather than later. Such a plan would have a greater chance of success if Washington and Netanyahu waited for a potentially more centrist government to form. Yet the Trump administration cannot wait until next November, since that would risk peace efforts spilling over into the next U.S. presidential election political cycle. The White House may therefore decide to put its plan forward long before then. For his part, Netanyahu may be counting on the Palestinian Authority rejecting the U.S. plan as insufficient, sparing him from having to say no to Trump himself.
In sum, Netanyahu has outmaneuvered his rivals by going straight to the public. Yet the narrowing of his parliamentary majority will likely embolden coalition members to push their agenda to the maximum, meaning his government may still fold before completing its term. For example, if ultraorthodox factions press their religious demands, at what point would succumbing to them risk alienating the other constituencies Netanyahu needs to win reelection in 2019? Likewise, the Gaza stalemate is very fragile and may not hold until next fall, ensuring a bumpy road ahead.
*David Makovsky is the Ziegler Distinguished Fellow at The Washington Institute and helped created its interactive mapping tool "Settlements and Solutions: Is It Too Late for Two States?"