Arab League Condemns Iran’s Terrorist Ally: Hezbollah

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Saudi Arabia ramped up its campaign against Iran’s growing influence in the Arab World Sunday by persuading most of the 22 member states of the Arab League to condemn Iran’s Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, as a “terrorist organization.”

Arab foreign ministers gathered at the League’s headquarters in Cairo Sunday for an emergency meeting called by Saudi Arabia. Lebanon’s foreign minister, Gibran Bassil, did not attend, and the Lebanese representative at the meeting expressed reservations over the final communique.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari also did not attend the meeting. Iran, along with the US-led international coalition, has been a major supporter of Baghdad in its war against ISIS.
“We want to hold everyone responsible,” Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa said during the deliberations. “We want to hold countries where Hezbollah is a partner in government responsible, specifically Lebanon.” Al-Khalifa claimed that Lebanon “is subject to full control by this terrorist group.”

Arab ministers attend a meeting at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo on Sunday.

The cabinet, led by outgoing Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri, includes several ministers affiliated with Hezbollah.
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Commenting on the Bahraini foreign minister’s statement, American University of Beirut professor Rami Khouri told CNN that “Hezbollah is certainly the single most powerful political group in Lebanon, where governance requires complex consensus building in which Hezbollah is clearly preeminent. But it is not in total control.”
This latest flare-up between Saudi Arabia and Iran was sparked by a November 4 incident in which Iranian-supported Houthi rebels in Yemen fired a ballistic missile at Riyadh’s international airport. Saudi Arabia subsequently accused Hezbollah and Iran of being behind the attack. Both have denied any involvement in the incident. Relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran have been rocky since the 1979 Iranian revolution.
Saudi Arabia subsequently expressed its anger at Hezbollah, which maintains close ties with Iran. Saudi Minister for Gulf Affairs Thamar Sabah has warned the Lebanese they must choose “either peace or to live within the political fold of Hezbollah.”
Hariri announced his resignation as prime minister of Lebanon on November 4 from Riyadh on the Saudi-funded Al-Arabiya news network, accusing Iran of destabilizing Lebanon and the region. Many Lebanese, including President Michel Aoun and Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, have said they believe Hariri resigned under Saudi pressure.
Hariri flew to Paris Saturday and vowed to return to Lebanon to attend celebrations marking the country’s independence day on November 22.
It’s not clear whether Sunday’s Arab League meeting will translate into concrete action. The League is notorious for passing resolutions and issuing communiques which are rarely acted upon. It is, however, the first time the Arab League has taken such a strong public stand against Hezbollah.
Reacting to the emergency meeting, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said, “Unfortunately countries like the Saudi regime are pursuing divisions and creating differences, and because of this they don’t see any results other than divisions.”
While the Arab foreign ministers deliberated in Cairo, Iran’s growing power across the region was on display in Syria. On Sunday evening Hezbollah’s media unit posted on YouTube a video of Qassem Suleimani, the powerful head of Iran’s Quds Force, meeting with what appeared to be Iraqi, Lebanese and Syrian fighters in the newly liberated Syrian town of Albu Kamal. The town, on the Iraqi-Syrian border, was the last significant population center in Syria to be held by ISIS.
Iranian forces have played a key role in backing the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in its war against the rebels and ISIS.

Saudi Arabia Threatens Hezbollah In Lebanon

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Saudi Arabia calls on Hezbollah to disarm, threatens its ouster from Lebanon

Riyadh’s foreign minister says ‘peace-loving countries’ exploring ways to reduce terrorist group’s influence in Beirut

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir addresses a joint press conference with his French counterpart in the Saudi capital Riyadh on November 16, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Fayez Nureldine)

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir addresses a joint press conference with his French counterpart in the Saudi capital Riyadh on November 16, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Fayez Nureldine)

Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir on Thursday called on the Hezbollah terrorist organization to disarm, warning the group that regional efforts were underway to oust them from the Lebanese government.

At a press conference in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, al-Jubeir denounced Hezbollah as “a tool of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards” and “a first-class terrorist organization used by Iran to destabilize Lebanon and the region.”

“Hezbollah has kidnapped the Lebanese system,” he said.

Al-Jubeir added that “consultations and coordination between peace-loving countries and Lebanon-loving countries are underway to try to find a way that would restore sovereignty to Lebanon and reduce the negative action which Hezbollah is conducting in Lebanon.”

The minister’s remarks came as the kingdom rejected accusations that Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri was being detained in Riyadh following his shock resignation earlier this month.

Former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri gives his first televised interview on November 12, 2017, eight days after announcing his resignation. (Future TV via AP)

“The accusation that the kingdom would hold a prime minister or a former prime minister is not true, especially a political ally like” Hariri, al-Jubeir said at the news conference flanked by his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian.

“I don’t know the source of these accusations. But they are rejected and are baseless and untrue,” al-Jubeir said, adding that Hariri is in Saudi Arabia of his own free will and “he leaves when he wants to.”

Hariri has been in Riyadh since giving a statement on television on November 4 that he was stepping down because he feared for his life while also accusing Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah of destabilizing Lebanon.

But Lebanese President Michel Aoun refused to accept his resignation from abroad, and accused Saudi authorities of “detaining” Hariri in Riyadh against his will.

At Thursday’s press conference, it was announced that Hariri had accepted an invitation to visit France in the coming days.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil delivers a press conference in Paris, November 14, 2017. (AFP/Lionel BONAVENTURE)

Aoun confirmed that Hariri and his family would arrive Saturday in France, “where he will rest for a few days” before returning to Beirut to make “a decision regarding the resignation.”

He welcomed Hariri’s decision to accept the French invitation, saying he hoped it “opened the door for a resolution” of the political crisis in Lebanon.

“I wait for the return of President (of the council of ministers) Hariri to decide the next move regarding the government,” Aoun told journalists.

Separately on Thursday, Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Gibran Bassil, on a European tour over the crisis, told reporters that “our concern is that he (Hariri) returns and takes the decision that he wants.”

Bassil spoke at a news conference in Berlin with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who called the situation in Lebanon “very dangerous.”

He warned other countries not to interfere or do anything to threaten the unity and stability of Lebanon, saying “every attack will backfire and will make the entire region suffer.”

READ MORE:

Saudi Arabia: 24 Hours That Have Shaken The Middle East

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

A resignation, detentions and missiles: 24 hours that shook the Middle East

Story highlights

  • Weekend’s events serve as an opening salvo for a new period in the region’s crisis-ridden history, analysts say
  • They represent an escalation in a years-long proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran

(CNN)When 32-year-old Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman rose to power two years ago, many predicted that change was afoot. The events of November 4 have shown that change would not just be swift, but also seismic, extending unremittingly beyond the kingdom’s boundaries.

A 24-hour sequence of political bombshells began on Saturday afternoon, when Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his resignation from the Saudi capital of Riyadh, blindsided his country’s political establishment. Hours later, Saudi Arabia’s official news agency reported that the country’s military had intercepted a Yemen-borne ballistic missile over Riyadh. Even as images of the blast were flashing on TV sets around the region, similarly dramatic news began to trickle in: Some of Saudi Arabia’s most high-profile princes and businessmen were being sacked and detained in an anti-corruption drive led by bin Salman.
The events serve as an opening salvo for a new period in the region’s crisis-ridden history, analysts say. They represent an escalation in a years long proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, threatening to activate new fronts in the region, with the Saudi show of force beginning with a sweeping consolidation of power from within.
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On Friday, ISIS’ last strongholds in Iraq and Syria fell. It marked a major milestone in a fight that saw archrivals converge on the extremist group until its so-called caliphate was on its last legs. On Saturday, regional powerhouses appear to have trained their sights on one another.
“I think the end of ISIS, the so-called Islamic State, does not really mean the end of geostrategic struggles,” London School of Economics Professor Fawaz Gerges told CNN’s George Howell.
“On the contrary, the dismantling of the so-called caliphate will basically intensify the geostrategic struggles between the pro-Iranian camp led by Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and its allies in the region, including the United States.”

A resignation sets the stage

On Friday evening, Lebanon’s Saad Hariri was summoned to the Saudi capital. It was his second visit to the country in a week. Hariri is a dual Saudi-Lebanese citizen and the regional powerhouse is widely seen as his political patron.
Just a week before, it appeared the Prime Minister had averted a major crisis between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. He had met with the Crown Prince and outspoken Saudi Minister Thamer al-Sabhan, appeasing their fears about the Iran-backed Hezbollah, which has members in his Cabinet.
“A long and fruitful meeting with my brother Prime Minister Saad Hariri. We’ve agreed on many issues that concern the good people of Lebanon. God willing, the best is yet to come,” Sabhan wrote in a tweet.
The meeting came on the heels of a series of tweets in which Sabhan chastised the Lebanese government for its inclusion of Hezbollah. Hariri appeared to have defused tensions with his visit.
Lebanese MP Yassin Jaber, a member of a pro-Hezbollah parliamentary bloc, told CNN that he met with Hariri just as he returned from Saudi Arabia, and described the premier as cheery and in a “joking” mood.
But when Hariri returned to Saudi Arabia the second time, it was an altogether different matter.
It would be the first time a Lebanese premier submitted his resignation from outside the country. Multiple local media reported that nearly all Hariri’s closest aides were caught unawares.
“Over the past decades, Hezbollah has unfortunately managed to impose a fait accompli in Lebanon by the force of its weapons, which it alleges is a resistance weapon,” Hariri said in his resignation speech.
“I want to tell Iran and its followers that they are losing their interferences in the Arab nation affairs. Our nation will rise just as it did before and the hands that want to harm it will be cut,” he said in remarks apparently aimed at Hezbollah, which he shared a coalition government with.
Hariri’s resignation spells the collapse of a 30-member government of national unity that saw Saudi-backed Hariri fill the post of prime minister, and Hezbollah-backed Michel Aoun occupies the presidency. That government, analysts say, was one of the byproducts of the Obama administration’s landmark Iran nuclear deal.
“With this arrangement, we saw some sort of appeasement where we saw mutual steps from the US and Iran in improving relations and lowering tensions in various areas,” said Riad Kahwaji, director of Institute for Near East and Gulf Military.
The period marked a brief time of stability, in which Lebanon seemed to have steered clear of regional fault-lines.
“With (Hariri’s) resignation yesterday, this arrangement has come to an end and we are back to an escalation between Iran and Saudi Arabia on the Lebanese front. Lebanon is back in the arena of the showdown between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
“Everyone in Lebanon is holding tight and worried … we’re seeing now that we may again be engulfed in conflict,” said Jaber.

Riyadh intercepts ballistic missiles

Hariri’s resignation triggered a crescendo of war drums. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the remarks were a “wake-up call” to “take action” against Iran. Saudi Minister Sabhan promptly tweeted: “The hands of treachery and aggression must be cut off,” echoing Hariri’s threats against Hezbollah.
Just hours later, Yemen’s Houthi rebels launched a ballistic missile targeting King Khalid International Airport in the Saudi capital. Saudi forces intercepted the missile over northeast Riyadh, the Saudi Ministry of Defense said, but the Houthis hailed it as a “success” that “shook the Saudi capital.”
The attack was conducted using a Yemeni-made, long-range missile called the Burqan 2H, the rebels said. The missile launch was the first time the heart of the Saudi capital has been attacked.
The Saudi-led coalition accused a regional state of providing material support to the Houthi rebels, saying the firing of a ballistic missile at Riyadh “threatens the security of the Kingdom and regional and international security,” according to a statement carried by Saudi state-TV al-Ekbariya.
The coalition didn’t name the country. Saudi Arabia has been fighting a proxy war in Yemen against Iran, which it accuses of arming the Houthi rebels.
Analysts dubbed this a “major escalation” in the Yemeni war.
“This is a major escalation and will have tremendous implications on the situation in Yemen itself, because Saudi Arabia now feels extremely the urge to retaliate against the Houthi movement that controls the government in Sanaa,” said Gerges.
Gerges added that combined with the political rupture in Lebanon, the ballistic missile attack spells an outbreak of tensions “throughout the region.”

Saudi Arabia wages war within and without

Saudi Arabia was still putting out the fires caused by the missile attack when state TV announced the onset of an anti-corruption crackdown led by the crown prince. Over 17 princes and top officials were arrested on graft charges, according to a list obtained by CNN and cited by a senior royal court official.
The list includes billionaire business magnate Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who owns 95% of Kingdom Holding, which holds stakes in global companies such as Citigroup, Twitter, Apple and News Corp.
The list also includes the formal head of the royal court Khaled Al-Tuwaijri, Saudi media mogul Waleed Al-Ibrahim and Prince Turki Bin Nasser.
“Some of the wealthiest figures in the Arab world are in apprehension today,” said military analyst Riad Kahwaji.
“This is unprecedented. We’re seeing it for the first time and it’s definitely causing shock waves across the region.”
Reportedly, the detainees are being held at the lavish Ritz-Carlton hotel. “I think there’s a lovely irony in that many of these corrupt deals happened at the Ritz-Carlton and now these guys are locked up there,” said historian Robert Lacey, who wrote two books about the kingdom.
“In historical terms, what we’ve seen in the last few months is nothing short of revolutionary,” said Lacey. “I’ve been waiting for 40 years for these things to happen, and they happened in four months.”
Mohammed bin Salman’s campaign of “two fronts,” as analysts have dubbed it, is being met by cheers and apprehension. But there is near consensus that these are uncharted waters, and the results will be dramatic.

 

 

Lebanese Prime Minister Resigns While In Saudi Arabia

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME.COM)

 

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Yarzeh near Beirut, Lebanon in September.
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Yarzeh near Beirut, Lebanon in September.
Hassan Ammar—AP

By Zeina Karam / AP

6:07 AM EDT

(BEIRUT) — Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri resigned from his post Saturday during a trip to Saudi Arabia in a surprise move that plunged the country into uncertainty amid heightened regional tensions.

In a televised address from Riyadh, Hariri fired a vicious tirade against Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah group for what he said was their meddling in Arab affairs and said “Iran’s arms in the region will be cut off.”

“The evil that Iran spreads in the region will backfire on it,” Hariri said, accusing Tehran of spreading chaos, strife and destruction throughout the region.

Hariri was appointed prime minister in late 2016 and headed a 30-member national unity cabinet that included the Shiite militant Hezbollah. The government has largely succeeded in protecting the country from the effects of the civil war in neighboring Syria.

The country is sharply divided along a camp loyal to Saudi Arabia, headed by the Sunni Muslim Hariri, and a camp loyal to Iran represented by Hezbollah. President Michel Aoun, who was elected in October 2016 after more than two years of presidential vacuum, is a close ally of Hezbollah.

His election was made possible after Hariri endorsed him for president, based on an understanding that Aoun would then appoint him as prime minister.

In a statement, the presidential office said Aoun was informed by Hariri in a phone call of his resignation, adding that the president now awaits Hariri’s return to the country to clarify the circumstances of his resignation and proceed accordingly.

Hariri’s bombshell resignation Saturday was expected to raise tensions in the country and ushers in a stage of deep uncertainty and potential instability. It comes amid a sharp escalation in Saudi rhetoric against its regional archrival Iran.

In his speech, he suggested he feared for his life and said the climate in the country is similar to the one that existed before his father, the late prime minister Rafik Hariri, was assassinated in 2005.

Several Hezbollah members are being tried in absentia for the killing by a U.N.-backed tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands. Hezbollah denies any involvement.

Hezbollah has sent thousands of its fighters to Syria to shore up President Bashar Assad’s government. The group’s intervention in Syria is highly controversial in Lebanon.

Hariri said Hezbollah’s policies have put Lebanon “in the eye of the storm.” His attacks on Hezbollah come on the heels of new U.S. sanctions on the group that many fear will impact negatively on the Lebanese economy.

“Hezbollah was able in past decades to impose a reality in Lebanon by force of arms directed at the chests of Syrians and Lebanese,” he said.

“I declare my resignation from the premiership of the Lebanese government, with the certainty that the will of the Lebanese is strong,” Hariri said.

“When I took office, I promised you that I would seek to unite the Lebanese, end political division and establish the principle of self-sufficiency, but I have been unable to do so. Despite my efforts, Iran continues to abuse Lebanon,” he said.

Earlier this week, Saudi State Minister for Gulf Affairs Thamer al-Sabhan sharply criticized Hezbollah, calling for its “toppling” and promising “astonishing developments” in the coming days during an interview with the Lebanese TV station MTV.

Al-Sabhan met with Hariri in Saudi Arabia when the now resigned prime minister was visiting earlier this week. Hariri abruptly returned to the kingdom later Friday before his bombshell announcement Saturday.

In tweets after meeting Hariri, al-Sabhan described it as “long and fruitful meeting” that resulted in agreements over many issues that concern the Lebanese. “What’s coming is better, God willing,” al-Sabhan tweeted on Tuesday. In a series of tweets, al-Sabhan criticized the Lebanese government for tolerating Hezbollah’s criticism of the kingdom.

He earlier said that those who cooperate with Hezbollah must be “punished.”

Israel-Hezbollah war is inevitable, sure to be devastating

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Israel-Hezbollah war is inevitable, sure to be devastating — defense experts

International High Level Military Group paints grim picture of potential conflict between Jewish state, Iran-backed terror group, and what, if anything, can prevent it

Soldiers evacuate a wounded comrade during the Second Lebanon War, on July 24, 2006 (Haim Azoulay/ Flash 90/ File)

Soldiers evacuate a wounded comrade during the Second Lebanon War, on July 24, 2006 (Haim Azoulay/ Flash 90/ File)

A war between Israel and the Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist group is inevitable, though not necessarily imminent, and will be unavoidably bloody for both sides, according to an assessment by a number of former generals from around the world, known collectively as the High Level Military Group.

In an extensive report, published Wednesday, the organization details both the IDF’s and Hezbollah’s reorganization in the 11 years following the Second Lebanon War, the last time the sides engaged in all-out combat with one another. The High Level Military Group (HLMG) also describes the strategies each side will use in the apparently approaching war, as well as the potential pratfalls of those plans.

“Hezbollah doesn’t want a conflict to break out at present, given it is still seeking to consolidate its gains in Syria and continue preparations in Lebanon. However, its actions and propaganda suggest that it considers its ability to fight a war with Israel as a given,” according to the report.

A Hezbollah fighter stands behind an empty rocket launcher, May 22, 2010. (AP/Hussein Malla)

“The timing of such a conflict is likely to be determined by miscalculation as much as decision-making in Iran and Lebanon.”

The group said that should such a war break out, it will likely be “more violent and destructive than the previous ones,” due to the improvements that both sides have made to their respective military capabilities in the interim.

The report, “Hezbollah’s terror army: How to prevent a third Lebanon war,” offers limited recommendations for avoiding such a conflict, instead painting it as a war waiting to happen.

The retired generals and defense officials from the United States, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Colombia, India, and Australia who make up the HLMG also express significant criticism of the United Nations for its “evident severe failure” to fully implement UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War, a dereliction that they credit with exacerbating the situation.

The former military leaders found that the UN Interim Force in Lebanon peacekeeping mission is not enforcing the aspects of Resolution 1701 that are meant to keep armed non-state actors like Hezbollah out of southern Lebanon.

The 76-page report, which is based on interviews solely with Israeli representatives during a fact-finding mission, comes to many of the same conclusions as those of Israeli defense officials. In preparing the assessment, the HLMG did not meet with Lebanese, Hezbollah, or UN officials.

Yet the High Level Military Group maintains that its assessments are “based purely on the accumulated military and strategic experience of its members.”

Colonel Richard Kemp speaks at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, June 29, 2015 (courtesy UN Watch/ Oliver O’Hanlon)

The HLMG, which includes a former chairman of the NATO military committee, a former chief of staff of the Italian army, a former US ambassador-at-large on war crimes, a former director-general of the Indian Defense Intelligence Agency and the outspoken Israel supporter Col. (res.) Richard Kemp of the British military, was created by the Friends of Israel Initiative, a group founded by former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar in 2010 to fight an “unprecedented campaign of delegitimization against Israel.”

This is not the group’s first foray into Israeli security. In December 2015, the organization also released a report that defended the IDF’s actions during the previous year’s Gaza war, finding that the army had abided by the rules of armed conflict and even surpassed them.

Hezbollah is all grown up

Hezbollah was founded in 1985, three years after the start of the First Lebanon War. It was created with Iranian support, and began killing Israeli soldiers stationed in IDF outposts in southern Lebanon with anti-tank missiles, improvised explosive devices, and small arms fire.

Over time, however, the group grew from a terrorist nuisance to a full-scale nemesis with significant sway in domestic Lebanese politics. What was once a two-bit terrorist group now represents the benchmark by which the IDF measures its preparedness.

Supporters of the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah watch a video screening of a speech by the group’s head, Hassan Nasrallah, to mark the 11th anniversary of the end of the 2006 war with Israel, in the village of Khiam in southern Lebanon, August 13, 2017. (AFP/Mahmoud ZAYYAT)

In its report, the former generals and defense officials describe Hezbollah as being “widely considered to be the most powerful non-state armed actor in the world.”

As the Lebanese terrorist group has taken part in the fighting on behalf of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, it has gotten stronger through combat experience and improved access to advanced weaponry from its benefactor, Iran.

“Hezbollah has the political clout of a government, the firepower of an army and the strategic approach of a terrorist organization,” according to the report.

Israel believes that Hezbollah maintains a force of approximately 25,000 full-time fighters — 5,000 of which underwent advanced training in Iran — with another at least 20,000 fighters in reserve units.

A Hezbollah armored vehicle sits at the site where clashes erupted between Hezbollah and al-Qaeda-linked fighters in Wadi al-Kheil or al-Kheil Valley in the Lebanon-Syria border, July 29, 2017. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

The terrorist army boasts of possessing attack drones, air defense systems, armored personnel carriers and even tanks. It is also believed to have the Yakhont shore-to-sea missile, with which it can threaten Israeli Navy ships.

But its weapons of choice are missiles and rockets, which it has been amassing and improving, with Iranian assistance, at a fantastic rate.

Hezbollah is believed to possess between 100,000 and 150,000 projectiles, most of them short range. Israeli officials assess that in a future war, the terrorist group would be able to sustain a firing rate of over 1,000 missiles per day.

Increasingly, the IDF believes, the group has been focusing on making its missiles more precise so that it can direct attacks to key Israeli strategic sites.

Israeli explosives experts inspect a Hezbollah rocket after it landed in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, August 9, 2006. (Max Yelinson /Flash90)

“Thus, not only has the sheer numeric scale of the threat increased exponentially, but the lethality is greatly increased on account of larger payloads, range and higher targeting accuracy,” the HLMG wrote in its report.

Israel has been working to counter that threat through advanced missile defense systems like the Iron Dome, David’s Sling, Patriot and Arrow. But military officials regularly stress that these batteries will not provide perfect, hermetic protection.

On the defensive side, Hezbollah has been embedding itself in the southern Lebanese civilian population “for tactical advantage (making the IDF hesitate to attack) and strategic advantage (using images of civilian harm to delegitimize the IDF),” according to the report.

The HLMG said that Hezbollah “transformed almost every Shiite village in the country’s south into a military asset.”

Inside and under those villages, Hezbollah is believed to have prepared extensive fighting positions from which it could confront the more powerful IDF.

Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah has also threatened that the terrorist group would not be fighting alone, but would have the support of Iran-backed militias in Syria and other fighters from across the Middle East. This which would force the Israeli army to fight on two fronts or even more, if Hamas in Gaza joins in the conflict as well.

Lebanese supporters of Hezbollah gather in the southern town of Nabatiyeh on May 24, 2015 (Mahmoud Zayyat/AFP)

But the terrorist group has another advantage: the Israeli citizenry is unaccustomed to and unprepared for sustained conflict.

A man inspects the damage to a house following a rocket attack by terrorists from the Gaza Strip on the Israeli town of Yehud, beside Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport, on July 22, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Policymakers expressed concerns about how prepared the Israeli public is for the level of devastation that would be wrought in a major military clash with Hezbollah,” the HLMG wrote.

“Younger Israelis are less familiar with the threat of direct attack than older generations, and Israel’s success in neutralizing less sophisticated rockets fired from Gaza may have led to inflated expectations of its capacity to intercept the volume of rockets likely to be fired by Hezbollah.”

The IDF’s nothing to scoff at either

While Hezbollah’s arsenal contains “more rockets than many European armies,” according to the HLMG report, Israel’s military is considered by many analysts to be the most powerful in the Middle East.

Israel’s first two F-35 stealth fighter jets on their maiden flight as part of the Israeli Air Force on December 13, 2016. (Israel Defense Forces)

“Israel is equipped with the most advanced fighter jets, high-tech armed drones, and is widely assumed to be a nuclear weapons power,” the retired generals and defense officials wrote.

“Statistical data available for 2014 suggests that the IDF has 410,500 active frontline personnel, 3,657 tanks, and 989 aircraft.”

Israel has also dramatically improved its intelligence on the terrorist group in the 11 years since the Second Lebanon War, an important development, as a severe shortage of accurate information has been blamed for causing many of the conflict’s failures.

By combining the overwhelming military force at its disposal and the intelligence required to direct it, the IDF would seek to end a future war quickly, before the Israeli home front would sustain heavy casualties.

“However, as a potential conflict progresses, it will become harder for Israel’s military superiority to translate into battlefield victory,” according to the HLMG.

In their report, the former generals wrote that Israeli officials told them they expect there to be “thousands of casualties in Lebanon, many of whom will be civilians despite the IDF adhering to the highest standards of the Law of Armed Conflict.”

Conspicuously, while the High Level Military Group provides a general estimate of Lebanese casualties, it offers no such assessment of Israeli civilian deaths, beyond saying that the number is “likely to far exceed previous conflicts.” (There were 50 Israeli civilian deaths in the 1982 Lebanon War, and 46 in the 2006 conflict.)

Hezbollah is Lebanon, or is it?

One of the lingering questions in the High Level Military Group’s report is how Israel perceives the country of Lebanon, if it is fundamentally intertwined with Hezbollah or distinct from it.

“During the HLMG fact-finding, it was clear that an intense policy debate in Israel’s upper echelons increasingly sees some senior voices making the case that a conflict should probably be conceived as including the state of Lebanon as an adversary,” the former generals wrote.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, October 22, 2017. (Alex Kolomoisky)

For instance, Education Minister Naftali Bennett has been leading the charge that the two cannot be separated and that Lebanese national infrastructure should also be counted as a legitimate military target in a future war.

This was not the case in the 2006 Lebanon War, when the IDF’s policy was to differentiate between Lebanon and Hezbollah, but developments inside the Arab country could change that.

In its report, the HLMG noted an “increasingly symbiotic relationship between Hezbollah and the Lebanese Armed Forces,” which is believed to include intelligence sharing, as well as material cooperation.

Lebanese soldiers sit atop an armored personnel carrier in the eastern town of Ras Baalbek on August 21, 2017, after returning from fighting against Islamic State. (AFP Photo/Stringer)

“Israel shared evidence with the HLMG that suggests that at least some military equipment which the LAF receives from international patrons, including the United States, ultimately finds its way into the hands of Hezbollah units,” the retired generals wrote.

However, some analysts, who are not cited in the HLMG document, make the case, against the view of Bennett and other Israeli officials that Lebanon is Hezbollah, and Hezbollah is Lebanon.

One of these is David Daoud, a researcher analyst for the United Against a Nuclear Iran think tank and advocacy group, who argues that by attacking Lebanese national infrastructure, Israel could end up helping Hezbollah by proving to the Lebanese population that the terrorist group is, as it claims, the country’s defender against the “Zionist regime.”

Peacekeepers with their hands tied behind their back

The HLMG puts significant focus on the role and failures of UNIFIL, the United Nations peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon.

The international force is generally seen by Israel to be feckless and incapable, or at least unwilling, to take serious action against Hezbollah’s force build-up, while in Lebanon the group is perceived by many as being a shill for the IDF.

A Spanish UNIFIL peacekeeper drives an armored vehicle in the Lebanese town of Adaisseh, near the border with Israel, on January 19, 2015. (AFP/Mahmoud Zayyat)

UNIFIL’s activities in southern Lebanon are dictated by UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which, among other things, calls for no non-state armed forces to occupy positions south of Lebanon’s Litani River.

According to the HLMG, the United Nations force understands Resolution 1701 “in a very narrow sense with regards to the authority to search for weapons in Lebanon and curtail the activity of armed groups.”

A new and improved mandate is required to address the situation

Israel, and now the HLMG, argue that this mandate should be interpreted more broadly, which would allow UNIFIL to curb Hezbollah’s efforts to prepare for war by actively preventing the terror group from possessing weapons south of the Litani, with force if necessary.

“A new and improved mandate is required to address the situation,” according to the report.

What else can be done?

Beyond granting UNIFIL broader powers, the High Level Military Group offers scant advice for preventing a future conflict between Hezbollah and Israel.

What advice is offered is relatively vague, with no specifics to implement or mention of its feasibility. The main recommendation is to address not Hezbollah, but its patron.

“The international community must take actions to curtail Iran’s activities, raise the cost of its behavior and engage in efforts at deterrence,” the group wrote.

In terms of Hezbollah specifically, the High Level Military Group calls for Western nations to cease distinguishing the terror group’s political and terrorist wings.

The international community must take actions to curtail Iran’s activities

The former generals and defense officials also encourage the United States to make any future aid arrangements with Lebanon contingent “on a plan to strip Hezbollah of its de facto status as the leading force in the country.”

More generally, the HLMG calls for the West to “strongly support Israel in its efforts to de-escalate the tensions.”

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Netanyahu says Israel will not tolerate Iranians on northern border

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

In New York, Netanyahu says Israel will not tolerate Iranians on northern border

Prime minister indicates main message of upcoming UN speech will focus on Tehran’s efforts to establish base in Syria

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures during a presser with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto (out of frame), at the Los Pinos Residence in Mexico City, on September 14, 2017. (AFP/ Alfredo ESTRELLA)

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures during a presser with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto (out of frame), at the Los Pinos Residence in Mexico City, on September 14, 2017. (AFP/ Alfredo ESTRELLA)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the main message of his upcoming speech at the United Nations for the annual gathering of world leaders at the 72nd session of the General Assembly would be that Israel would not tolerate an Iranian presence on its northern border with Syria, now in its seventh year of a brutal civil war.

Speaking to reporters from his hotel in New York on Friday, after wrapping up a historic trip to Latin America, Netanyahu said that the central message will be that “Israel will not tolerate an Iranian military presence on our northern borders. An [Iranian] military presence endangers not just us, but also our Arab neighbors.”

He added that Israel was “obligated to act against this.” These days, he added — in an apparent reference to previous Israeli military intervention in Syria and Lebanon — “Israel, and what it says, is taken seriously. That’s how it should be.”

Netanyahu hosted Shabbat dinner at the hotel.

He is due to address the UN on September 19 and meet with US President Donald Trump a day earlier.

The meeting will be the two leaders’ fourth together since Trump assumed office. The two met once in February when the Israeli premier visited the White House, and twice in May when the American president traveled to the region, which included a two-day stop in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Trump too is slated to address UNGA on September 19.

Netanyahu’s remarks on Iran came a day after a senior Israeli official denied reports that Russia rebuffed Jerusalem’s demand to ensure that Iranian forces and Iran-backed Shiite militants not be allowed to operate within 60-80 kilometers of the Syrian frontier with Israel in the Golan Heights.

The demand was initially raised by Israel in July, when negotiations were underway for a ceasefire deal in southern Syria between President Bashar Assad and Syrian rebels, under the auspices of Washington and Moscow.

Last month, Netanyahu met Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi to discuss the entrenchment of Iran and Iranian-backed forces in Syria, and to present Israel’s position.

“Israel is satisfied with the talks in Sochi,” the official said Thursday, insisting on anonymity.

According to reports Thursday on Israel’s Channel 2 television and the Haaretz newspaper, Russia rejected Netanyahu’s plea. Instead, the reports claimed, Moscow committed only to keeping Iranian forces five kilometers from the Golan Heights frontier.

Israel had wanted a buffer zone of between 60 and 80 kilometers from the border on the Golan Heights, and has been repeatedly warning against Iran’s military ambitions in the area, Tehran’s bid to establish a territorial “corridor” all the way to the Mediterranean, and an increased Iranian presence on Israel’s northern border, according to the reports.

Netanyahu opposed the ceasefire deal, putting him publicly at odds with US President Donald Trump, since it did not sufficiently address Israel’s security needs.

Israeli intelligence expects the Iranians to try to establish a military and intelligence presence closer to the border to allow for the opening of a second front against Israel in the event of another conflagration between the Jewish state and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terror organization in Lebanon, Haaretz said.

It said Iran plows around $800 million per year into Hezbollah and additional hundreds of millions into the Assad regime in Syria, Shi’ite militias fighting in Syria and Iraq, and Shi’ite Houthi insurgents in Yemen. (It also supports the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror organizations in the Gaza Strip to the tune of $70 million annually.)

Israel sees attempts by Iran, Syria and Hezbollah to improve the latter’s missile accuracy as a major threat.

A week ago, Israeli warplanes allegedly struck the Syrian military’s Scientific Studies and Research Center (CERS) facility near Masyaf, in the northwestern Hama province, damaging several buildings and killing two Syrian soldiers.

Western officials have long associated the CERS facility with the production of precision missiles, as well as chemical weapons.

Satellite image of a CERS facility near Masyaf reportedly hit by an Israeli airstrike overnight Wednesday, September 7, 2017 (screen capture: Google Earth)

Over the past five years, Israel has carried out dozens of airstrikes within Syria, hitting convoys of weapons bound for Hezbollah, as well as weapons storage facilities.

It rarely acknowledges specific attacks. Last week’s operation was reported by foreign media.

On his trip to Latin America, Netanyahu has stressed the dangers posed by Iran through its quest for nuclear weapons, its involvement in conflicts across the region, and support for terrorism.

The Iranians “have a terror machine that encompasses the entire world, operating terror cells in many continents,” he said in Argentina on Tuesday. “In the case of Iran, it’s not only merely terror but the quest for nuclear weapons that concerns us and should concern the entire international community. We understand the danger of a rogue nation having atomic bombs.”

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Netanyahu rips UN, says Iran turning Lebanon, Syria into war fronts against Israel

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Greeting Guterres, Netanyahu rips UN, says Iran turning Lebanon, Syria into war fronts against Israel

With secretary general by his side, PM accuses United Nations of bias against Israel and of allowing Iran to build missile sites and Hezbollah to smuggle arms

 August 28, 2017, 4:08 pm 13

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) welcoming UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, August 28, 2017.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) welcoming UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, August 28, 2017. (GPO)

AP — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greeted visiting UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday with blistering criticism of the international body’s treatment of Israel and accused it of failing to prevent arms from being smuggled to Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah terror group.

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Netanyahu also claimed that Iran is building sites in Syria and Lebanon for the manufacture of “precision-guided missiles,” with the aim of deploying them against Israel.

Both Hezbollah fighters and Iran have backed President Bashar Assad’s government forces in the civil war that has ravaged Syria.

“Iran is busy turning Syria into a base of military entrenchment, and it wants to use Syria and Lebanon as warfronts against its declared goal to eradicate Israel,” Netanyahu said. “This is something Israel cannot accept. This is something the UN should not accept.”

The Israeli leader offered no specifics to support his allegations.

Guterres arrived on Sunday for a three-day visit to the region, his first since taking office at the beginning of the year. His meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders are aimed at encouraging the resumption of peace talks.

Speaking at a joint press conference with the UN chief, Netanyahu criticized the United Nations, saying that it fails to check Palestinian hate speech, “absurdly denies” Jewish connections to Jerusalem and has not stopped arms from reaching Hezbollah in Lebanon.

He was referring to a recent UN cultural agency resolution about Jerusalem that angered Israel, which said it diminishes Jewish ties to the city. Israel also criticized the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon, or UNIFIL, for being, according to Israel, soft on Iranian-backed Hezbollah forces in the border area.

Guterres vowed that he will “do everything in my capacity” to ensure UNIFIL fulfills its obligations. The UN peacekeeping force’s mandate is up for renewal at the end of the month and Israel is pressing for the force to have an increased presence to better monitor and prevent what Israel says is Hezbollah building up its weapons.

“I understand the security concerns of Israel and I repeat that the idea or the intention or the will to destroy the state of Israel is something totally unacceptable from my perspective,” the UN chief said.

Earlier, President Reuven Rivlin called on Guterres to curb what he described as “the discrimination against Israel” in some UN institutions.

President Reuven RIvlin (R) with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, August 28, 2017. (Mark Neiman/GPO)

President Reuven RIvlin (R) with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, August 28, 2017. (Mark Neiman/GPO)

Guterres, in turn, stressed his commitment to impartiality in “treating all states equally.” He said those who call for Israel’s destruction peddle in a “form of modern anti-Semitism” — though he also said he doesn’t always agree with the country’s policies.

During a visit to the Holocaust memorial before meeting Israeli leaders, he warned that anti-Semitism remains “alive and well” in today’s world and vowed to combat all forms of racism and bigotry.

“I believe that the horror of the Holocaust should be such that anti-Semitism should now be dead forever,” he said, adding how he was shocked “to listen to the chant of a group of neo-Nazis in a developed country in the world, chanting ‘blood and soil’, the slogan of the Nazis.”

Guterres will meet Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah on Tuesday in the West Bank. He is scheduled to visit Gaza on Wednesday.

We Thought George W. Was The Most Ignorant Fool Ever, Then Along Came Trump

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORKER.COM)

 

Max Boot, a lifelong conservative who advised three Republican Presidential candidates on foreign policy, keeps a folder labelled “Trump Stupidity File” on his computer. It’s next to his “Trump Lies” file. “Not sure which is larger at this point,” he told me this week. “It’s neck-and-neck.”

Six months into the Trump era, foreign-policy officials from eight past Administrations told me they are aghast that the President is still so witless about the world. “He seems as clueless today as he was on January 20th,” Boot, who is now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said. Trump’s painful public gaffes, they warn, indicate that he’s not reading, retaining, or listening to his Presidential briefings. And the newbie excuse no longer flies.

“Trump has an appalling ignorance of the current world, of history, of previous American engagement, of what former Presidents thought and did,” Geoffrey Kemp, who worked at the Pentagon during the Ford Administration and at the National Security Council during the Reagan Administration, reflected. “He has an almost studious rejection of the type of in-depth knowledge that virtually all of his predecessors eventually gained or had views on.”

Criticism of Donald Trump among Democrats who served in senior national-security positions is predictable and rife. But Republicans—who are historically ambitious on foreign policy—are particularly pained by the President’s missteps and misstatements. So are former senior intelligence officials who have avoided publicly criticizing Presidents until now.

“The President has little understanding of the context”—of what’s happening in the world—“and even less interest in hearing the people who want to deliver it,” Michael Hayden, a retired four-star general and former director of both the C.I.A. and the National Security Agency, told me. “He’s impatient, decision-oriented, and prone to action. It’s all about the present tense. When he asks, ‘What the hell’s going on in Iraq?’ people around him have learned not to say, ‘Well, in 632 . . . ’ ” (That was the year when the Prophet Muhammad died, prompting the beginning of the Sunni-Shiite split.*)

“He just doesn’t have an interest in the world,” Hayden said.

I asked top Republican and intelligence officials from eight Administrations what they thought was the one thing the President needs to grasp to succeed on the world stage. Their various replies: embrace the fact that the Russians are not America’s friends. Don’t further alienate the Europeans, who are our friends. Encourage human rights—a founding principle of American identity—and don’t make priority visits to governments that curtail them, such as Poland and Saudi Arabia. Understand that North Korea’s nuclear program can’t be outsourced to China, which can’t or won’t singlehandedly fix the problem anyway, and realize that military options are limited. Pulling out of innovative trade deals, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, will boost China’s economy and secure its global influence—to America’s disadvantage. Stop bullying his counterparts. And put the Russia case behind him by coöperating with the investigation rather than trying to discredit it.

Trump’s latest blunder was made during an appearance in the Rose Garden with Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, on July 25th. “Lebanon is on the front lines in the fight against isis, Al Qaeda, and Hezbollah,” Trump pronounced. He got the basics really wrong. Hezbollah is actually part of the Lebanese government—and has been for a quarter century—with seats in parliament and Cabinet posts. Lebanon’s Christian President, Michel Aoun, has been allied with Hezbollah for a decade. As Trump spoke, Hezbollah’s militia and the Lebanese Army were fighting isis and an Al Qaeda affiliate occupying a chunk of eastern Lebanon along its border with Syria. They won.

The list of other Trump blunders is long. In March, he charged that Germany owed “vast sums” to the United States for nato. It doesn’t. No nato member pays the United States—and never has—so none is in arrears. In an interviewwith the Wall Street Journal, in April, Trump claimed that Korea “actually used to be part of China.” Not true. After he arrived in Israel from Saudi Arabia, in May, Trump said that he had just come from the Middle East. (Did he even look at a map?) During his trip to France, in July, the President confused Napoleon Bonaparte, the diminutive emperor who invaded Russia and Egypt, with Napoleon III, who was France’s first popularly elected President, oversaw the design of modern Paris, and is still the longest-serving head of state since the French Revolution (albeit partly as an emperor, too). And that’s before delving into his demeaning tweets about other world leaders and flashpoints.

“The sheer scale of his lack of knowledge is what has astounded me—and I had low expectations to begin with,” David Gordon, the director of the State Department’s policy-planning staff under Condoleezza Rice, during the Bush Administration, told me.

Trump’s White House has also flubbed basics. It misspelled the name of Britain’s Prime Minister three times in its official schedule of her January visit. After it dropped the “H” in Theresa May, several British papers noted that Teresa May is a soft-porn actress best known for her films “Leather Lust” and “Whitehouse: The Sex Video.” In a statement last month, the White House called Xi Jinping the President of the “Republic of China”—which is the island of Taiwan—rather than the leader of the People’s Republic, the Communist mainland. The two nations have been epic rivals in Asia for more than half a century. The White House also misidentified Shinzo Abe as the President of Japan—he’s the Prime Minister—and called the Prime Minister of Canada “Joe” instead of Justin Trudeau.

Trump’s policy mistakes, large and small, are taking a toll. “American leadership in the world—how do I phrase this, it’s so obvious, but apparently not to him—is critical to our success, and it depends eighty per cent on the credibility of the President’s word,” John McLaughlin, who worked at the C.I.A. under seven Presidents, from Richard Nixon to George W. Bush, and ended up as the intelligence agency’s acting director, told me. “Trump thinks having a piece of chocolate cake at Mar-a-Lago bought him a relationship with Xi Jinping. He came in as the least prepared President we’ve had on foreign policy,” McLaughlin added. “Our leadership in the world is slipping away. It’s slipping through our hands.”

And a world in dramatic flux compounds the stakes. Hayden cited the meltdown in the world order that has prevailed since the Second World War; the changing nature of the state and its power; China’s growing military and economic power; and rogue nations seeking nuclear weapons, among others. “Yet the most disruptive force in the world today is the United States of America,” the former C.I.A. director said.

The closest similarity to the Trump era was the brief Warren G. Harding Administration, in the nineteen-twenties, Philip Zelikow, who worked for the Reagan and two Bush Administrations, and who was the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, told me. Harding, who died, of a heart attack, after twenty-eight months in office, was praised because he stood aside and let his Secretary of State, Charles Evans Hughes, lead the way. Hughes had already been governor of New York, a Supreme Court Justice, and the Republican Presidential nominee in 1916, losing narrowly to Woodrow Wilson, who preceded Harding.

Under Trump, the White House has seized control of key foreign-policy issues. The President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a real-estate developer, has been charged with brokering Middle East peace, navigating U.S.-China relations, and the Mexico portfolio. In April, Kushner travelled to Iraq to help chart policy against isis. Washington scuttlebutt is consumed with tales of how Trump has stymied his own Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, the former C.E.O. of ExxonMobil.

“The national-security system of the United States has been tested over a period of seventy years,” John Negroponte, the first director of National Intelligence and a former U.N. Ambassador, told me. “President Trump disregards the system at his peril.”

Trump’s contempt for the U.S. intelligence community has also sparked alarm. “I wish the President would rely more on, and trust more, the intelligence agencies and the work that is produced, sometimes at great risk to individuals around the world, to inform the Commander-in-Chief,” Mitchell Reiss, who was the chief of the State Department’s policy-planning team under Secretary of State Colin Powell, told me.

Republican critics are divided on whether Trump can grow into the job. “Trump is completely irredeemable,” Eliot A. Cohen, who was a counsellor to Condoleezza Rice at the State Department, told me. “He has a feral instinct for self-survival, but he’s unteachable. The ban on Muslims coming into the country and building a wall, and having the Mexicans pay for it, that was all you needed to know about this guy on foreign affairs. This is a man who is idiotic and bigoted and ignorant of the law.” Cohen was a ringleader of an open letter warning, during the campaign, that Trump’s foreign policy was “wildly inconsistent and unmoored.”

But other Republicans from earlier Administrations still hold out hope. “Whenever Trump begins to learn about an issue—the Middle East conflict or North Korea—he expresses such surprise that it could be so complicated, after saying it wasn’t that difficult,” Gordon, from the Bush Administration, said. “The good news, when he says that, is it means he has a little bit of knowledge.” So far, however, the learning curve has been pitifully—and dangerously—slow.

* This post has been updated to clarify the contextual significance of the year 632.

 

Lebanese Politicians Strongly Criticize ‘Hezbollah,’ Nusra Swap Deal

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWSPAPER ASHARQ AL-AWSAT

 

Lebanese Politicians Strongly Criticize ‘Hezbollah,’ Nusra Swap Deal

Nusra

Beirut – The prisoner exchange deal between Lebanon’s “Hezbollah” and al-Nusra Front extremists was met with wide condemnation among Lebanese politicians, who said that the deal “undermined the sovereignty of the state.

The deal saw terrorist fugitives wanted by the Lebanese judiciary exchanged for the release of “Hezbollah” members that were detained by the militant Nusra group in Syria.

Head of the Kataeb Party MP Sami Gemayel asked: “Who took the decision and allowed murderous criminals to leave the outskirts of Arsal and facilitated their return to their country without trial and punishment?”

Directing his questions to the parliament speaker, prime minister and ministers of interior, justice and defense, he asked: “Who took the decision to jump above the Lebanese judiciary and release criminals accused of terrorism and belonging to a terrorist group to be released from Lebanese jails?”

“Who took the decision to allow political and security authorities to intervene in the judiciary and prevent the trial of the terrorists and detainees and thereby achieve justice? What is the justice minister’s stance from all this? Is this a strategy that the government will adopt in dealing with all terrorists who violate Lebanon’s security? How will the Lebanese government deter other terrorist and criminal groups and whoever deigns to violate Lebanese sovereignty?” he wondered.

Gemayel demanded that the prime minister and ministers of interior, justice and defense submit a written response to his inquiries, “otherwise my questions will be turned into an interrogation.”

A judicial source told Asharq Al-Awsat that the decision to release a few al-Nusra Front detainees was “faultless” and based on trial norms.

In addition, he explained that the time the detainees already spent in jail is equal to the time that they would have been sentenced to once put on trial.

The Military Tribunal will go ahead in trying those who have been released. If they do not respond to the court summons, they will be tried in absentia and as fugitives. The trials are set to begin soon, he added.

Sentences against them will be issued in absentia and harsher punishments will be laid down against them, elaborated the source.

Mustaqbal Movement MP Amin Wehbeh meanwhile voiced his support for Gemayel’s stance, telling Asharq Al-Awsat that the “Hezbollah” and Nusra deal “undermined” the sovereignty of the Lebanese state.

“The decisions of war and peace are in the hands of the party, not the state, seeing as it is waging its battles in Syria, Iraq and Yemen and has terrorist cells in Kuwait and the Arab Gulf that are carrying out Iran’s policies,” he added.

“Hezbollah” had in the past and on several occasions criticized the 2016 swap deal that was struck between the Lebanese state and Nusra Front that saw the release of the Lebanese soldiers by the extremist group. “Hezbollah” had rejected that a number of Nusra detainees be released “because they were being held on terrorist charges.”

In wake of the Arsal clashes in July, the party adopted a different stance and insisted on “speeding up the deal with al-Nusra in order to free its fighters” from its clutches.

Kataeb MP Fadi al-Haber said that recent prisoner exchange “proves that the political decision-making power in Lebanon lies in the hands of ‘Hezbollah’.”

He told Asharq Al-Awsat that the equation of the army-people-resistance, which the party “is imposing on ministerial statements, is being invested on the borders, whether in declaring war with Israel or armed groups or in waging wars abroad.”

The Canaanites weren’t annihilated, they just ‘moved’ to Lebanon?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

The Canaanites weren’t annihilated, they just ‘moved’ to Lebanon

A UK-based study of ancient genomes finds Canaanites form over 90% of modern Lebanese ancestry, a trait they share with ancient Israelites

 July 28, 2017, 4:30 am 33

Burial of individual analyzed in the Canaanite study, from about 1600 BC. (Dr. Claude Doumet-Serhal/Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute)

Burial of individual analyzed in the Canaanite study, from about 1600 BC. (Dr. Claude Doumet-Serhal/Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute)

A new study suggests the biblical account of the annihilation of the ancient Canaanite people at the hands of the invading Israelites was a bit premature, claiming their descendants are still living just up the road, across the Lebanese border.

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New genetic research from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute has found that far from being destroyed, the Canaanites morphed into the inhabitants of modern Lebanon.

Scientists in the United Kingdom-based genetic research center sequenced the genomes of five 4,000-year-old Canaanite individuals and compared them to other ancient and present-day populations, including a sample of 99 modern Lebanese.

The results, published July 27 in the American Journal of Human Genetics, show that 93 percent of the ancestry of modern Lebanese ancestry comes from the Canaanites.

Had they been destroyed by the Israelites, who were commanded by God to annihilate them, it would have been a form of patricide. According to the study, the Canaanites were the common ancestor for several ancient peoples who inhabited the Levant during the Bronze Age, such as the Ammonites, Moabites, and Israelites.

“Each achieved their own cultural identities but all shared a common genetic and ethnic root with Canaanites,” according to the authors of the new study.

“For the first time we have genetic evidence for substantial continuity in the region, from the Bronze Age Canaanite population through to the present day. These results agree with the continuity seen by archaeologists,” said Dr. Claude Doumet-Serhal, co-author and director of the Sidon excavation site in Lebanon.

An early 12th century BCE Canaanite alphabet inscription found at Lachish in 2014. (courtesy of Yossi Garfinkel, Hebrew University)

An early 12th century BCE Canaanite alphabet inscription found at Lachish in 2014. (courtesy of Yossi Garfinkel, Hebrew University)

The Canaanites, like the Israelites a Semitic-speaking people, were at the center of Bronze Age civilization and “inhabited an area bounded by Anatolia to the north, Mesopotamia to the east, and Egypt to the south, with access to Cyprus and the Aegean through the Mediterranean,” according to the study.

Mystery surrounds the fate of the Canaanites, who later came to be known as the Phoenicians, as they appear in scant historical records. Although they introduced several innovations into society, including the first alphabet, other than in the Hebrew Bible — where their annihilation is clearly detailed — there are a few mentions in ancient Egyptian and Greek texts.

As reported in Science, Greek legend has it that the Canaanites originally came from the East.

According to the study, the Canaanite-related ancestry “derived from mixture between local Neolithic populations and eastern migrants genetically related to Chalcolithic Iranians.” The scientists estimate, “using linkage-disequilibrium decay patterns,” that the genetic mixture took place between 6,600–3,550 years ago, “coinciding with recorded massive population movements in Mesopotamia.”

Further, the Eurasian ancestry in the modern Lebanese genetic samples was not present in Bronze Age Canaanites or earlier Levantines. “We estimate that this Eurasian ancestry arrived in the Levant around 3,750–2,170 years ago during a period of successive conquests by distant populations,” write the scientists.

Did a Canaanite genocide occur?

In Deuteronomy 20:16, the ancient Israelites are commanded by God to completely wipe out the several Canaanite peoples after the death of the Hebrew leader Joshua.

“But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded.”

A series of Egyptian-style anthropoid coffins that served both Egyptians and Canaanites (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

A series of Egyptian-style anthropoid coffins that served both Egyptians and Canaanites (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

However, according to the report, archaeological evidence does not support widespread destruction of Canaanite cities between the Bronze and Iron Ages. For example, coastal cities such as Sidon and Tyre “show continuity of occupation until the present day.”

The analysis of the DNA from five Canaanite skeletons found in Sidon who lived 4,000 years ago, and comparison with modern day Lebanese, paint a picture much different than the annihilation recorded in the Bible.

“It was a pleasant surprise to be able to extract and analyze DNA from 4,000-year-old human remains found in a hot environment, which is not known for preserving DNA well,” said Dr. Marc Haber, from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. Haber said the team overcame the climate’s challenge by taking samples from the petrous bone in the skull, which is a very tough bone with a high density of ancient DNA.

“Genetic studies using ancient DNA can expand our understanding of history, and answer questions about the likely origins and descendants of enigmatic populations like the Canaanites, who left few written records themselves,” said Dr. Chris Tyler-Smith, from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

“The overlap between the Bronze Age and present-day Levantines suggests a degree of genetic continuity in the region,” according to the study.

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