Posts Tagged ‘Lebanon’

Israel says all Hezbollah cross-border tunnels found

January 13, 2019

Israel has uncovered all cross-border attack tunnels dug by Hezbollah from Lebanon and now plans to bring its operation to find and destroy them to an end, a military spokesman said Sunday.

A picture taken on December 19, 2018 during a guided tour by Israel's army shows a soldier operating a pulley near a hole dug by the army to intercept a suspected Hezbollah cross-border tunnel between Lebanon and Israel

A picture taken on December 19, 2018 during a guided tour by Israel’s army shows a soldier operating a pulley near a hole dug by the army to intercept a suspected Hezbollah cross-border tunnel between Lebanon and Israel AFP/File

“We have found yet another Hezbollah cross-border attack tunnel from Lebanon to Israel,” Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus told reporters of the operation that began on December 4.

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Jonathan Conricus

“According to our intelligence and our assessment of the situation there are no longer any cross-border attack tunnels from Lebanon into Israel.”

The latest tunnel, found on Saturday, began in the Lebanese village of Ramyeh, some 800 metres (yards) away from Israel, the army said.

It reached a few dozen metres into Israel, and at 55 metres under the ground was the deepest as well as “the longest and most detailed” of all the tunnels the army exposed, Conricus said.

A picture taken from the southern Lebanese village of Meiss al-Jabal on December 16, 2018, shows Israeli soldiers watching as United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) soldiers speak with Lebanese soldiers in front of a Hezbollah flag. (Mahmoud ZAYYAT / AFP)

The latest tunnel was the sixth revealed to the public and the army said its discovery marked the end of the operation dubbed by the army “Northern Shield”.

The last tunnel will be destroyed in the coming days.

An alleged Hezbollah member walks through a tunnel dug into Israeli territory from southern Lebanon on December 4, 2018. (Screen capture: Israel Defense Forces)

“We have achieved the goal (to expose and destroy the tunnels from Lebanon) which we set out to achieve at the beginning,” Conricus said.

Conricus said there were no more tunnels reaching Israel from Lebanon but the army was still monitoring “facilities” being dug by Hezbollah within Lebanese territory.

He also reiterated that Israel holds the Lebanese government accountable “for any act of violence or violation of 1701,” the UN resolution that ended the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah.

UNIFIL, the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon, was informed of the latest tunnel, Conricus said.

A picture taken on December 5, 2018 from a position near the southern Lebanese village of Kfar Kila shows the Israeli military, excavators, trailers and other vehicles operating on the other side of the border in search of Hezbollah tunnels

A picture taken on December 5, 2018 from a position near the southern Lebanese village of Kfar Kila shows the Israeli military, excavators, trailers and other vehicles operating on the other side of the border in search of Hezbollah tunnels A picture taken on December 5, 2018 from a position near the southern Lebanese village of Kfar Kila shows the Israeli military, excavators, trailers and other vehicles operating on the other side of the border in search of Hezbollah tunnels AFP

Israel alleges Hezbollah had planned to use the tunnels to kidnap or kill its civilians or soldiers, and to seize a slice of Israeli territory in the event of any hostilities. It has said, however, that they were not yet operational.

A month-long war in 2006 between Israel and Hezbollah killed more than 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and more than 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

The highly publicised Israeli operation to expose and destroy the tunnels has gone ahead without drawing a military response from Hezbollah.

Israel says all operations have taken place within its territory.

AFP

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Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during a session of the Doha Forum in the Qatari capital on December 15, 2018. (AFP)

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during a session of the Doha Forum in the Qatari capital on December 15, 2018. (AFP)
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https://www.timesofisrael.com/iranian-fm-we-have-perfected-the-art-of-evading-sanctions/
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Israel Against Iran: The Long Military Campaign Between Wars

January 12, 2019

An interview with Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, Israel’s chief of staff.

By Bret Stephens

Opinion Columnist

Image result for Gadi Eisenkot in 2014. Credit Gili Yaari/NurPhoto, via Getty Images

Gadi Eisenkot in 2014. Credit Gili Yaari/NurPhoto, via Getty Images

TEL AVIV — “We struck thousands of targets without claiming responsibility or asking for credit.”

So says Gadi Eisenkot about the Jewish state’s undeclared and unfinished military campaign against Iran and its proxies in Syria and Lebanon. For his final interview as chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces before he retires next week, the general has decided to claim responsibility and take at least some of the credit.

Eisenkot’s central intellectual contribution in fighting that campaign is the concept of “the campaign between wars” — the idea that continuous, kinetic efforts to degrade the enemy’s capabilities both lengthens the time between wars and improves the chances of winning them when they come. He also believes that Israel needed to focus its efforts on its deadliest enemy, Iran, as opposed to secondary foes such as Hamas in Gaza.

“When you fight for many years against a weak enemy,” he says, “it also weakens you.”

This thinking is what led Eisenkot to become the first Israeli general to take Iran head on, in addition to fighting its proxies in Lebanon and elsewhere. And it’s how he succeeded in humbling, at least for the now, Qassim Suleimani, the wily commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, which has spearheaded Tehran’s ambitions to make itself a regional hegemon.

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Suleimani

“We operated under a certain threshold until two-and-a-half years ago,” Eisenkot explains, referring to Israel’s initial policy of mainly striking weapons shipments destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon. “And then we noticed a significant change in Iran’s strategy. Their vision was to have significant influence in Syria by building a force of up to 100,000 Shiite fighters from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. They built intelligence bases and an air force base within each Syrian air base. And they brought civilians in order to indoctrinate them.”

By 2016, Eisenkot estimates, Suleimani had deployed 3,000 of his men in Syria, along with 8,000 Hezbollah fighters and another 11,000 foreign Shiite troops. The Iranian funds flowing toward the effort amounted to $16 billion over seven years. Israel had long said it would not tolerate an Iranian presence on its border, but at that point Syria had become a place in which other countries’ declaratory red lines seemed easily erased.

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Rouhani, Putin and Erdogan met in the Russian city of Sochi last November [Mikhail Metzel/Reuters]

In January 2017 Eisenkot obtained the government’s unanimous consent for a change in the rules of the game. Israeli attacks became near-daily events. In 2018 alone, the air force dropped a staggering 2,000 bombs. That May, Suleimani attempted to retaliate by launching “more than 30 rockets toward Israel” (at least 10 more than what has been previously reported). None reached its target. Israeli responded with a furious assault that hit 80 separate Iranian military and Assad regime targets in Syria.

Why did Suleimani — the subtle, determined architect of Iran’s largely successful efforts to entrench itself in Iraq, Yemen, Gaza and Lebanon — miscalculate? Eisenkot suggests a combination of overconfidence, based on Iran’s success in rescuing Assad’s regime from collapse, and underestimation of Israel’s determination to stop him, based on the West’s history of shrinking in the face of Tehran’s provocations.

“His error was choosing a playground where he is relatively weak,” he says. “We have complete intelligence superiority in this area. We enjoy complete aerial superiority. We have strong deterrence and we have the justification to act.”

“The force we faced over the last two years was a determined force,” he adds a little scornfully, “but not very impressive in its capabilities.”

Image result for Hassan Nasrallah, pictures

Hassan Nasrallah

Eisenkot seems to feel similarly about Hezbollah and its longtime leader, Hassan Nasrallah. The group had devised a three-pronged strategy to invade and conquer (even if briefly) at least a part of Israel’s northern Galilee: building factories in Lebanon that could produce precision-guided missiles, excavating attack tunnels under the Israeli border and setting up a second front on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.

So far, the plan has failed. The factories were publicly exposed and the tunnels destroyed. Israel continues to attack Hezbollah positions on the Golan, most recently last month against an intelligence position in the village of Tel el Qudne (also previously unreported).

“I can say with confidence that as we speak Hezbollah does not possess accurate [missile] capabilities except for small and negligible ones,” he says. “They were hoping to have hundreds of missiles in the mid- and long-range.”

That means Hezbollah is unlikely to soon start another war with Israel. Suleimani has pulled his forces back from the border with Israel and withdrawn some altogether. The resumption of U.S. sanctions has also put a squeeze on Iran’s ability to finance its regional adventures. Israel also thought it had won a reprieve of sorts when John Bolton indicated the U.S. would not quickly withdraw from Syria, thereby obstructing Iran’s efforts to build a land bridge to Damascus, though that reversal seems to have been reversed yet again.

Iran may now turn elsewhere. “As we push them in Syria,” Eisenkot says, “they transfer their efforts to Iraq,” where the U.S. still has thousands of troops. Thanks to Gadi Eisenkot, at least we know the Iranians aren’t invincible.

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Bret L. Stephens has been an Opinion columnist with The Times since April 2017. He won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary at The Wall Street Journal in 2013 and was previously editor in chief of The Jerusalem Post. @BretStephensNYT  Facebook

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A19 of the New York edition with the headline: The Man Who Humbled Suleimani.

What Real Border Security Looks Like — Why is it so hard for America to do what others did a long time ago

January 11, 2019

Republicans and Democrats should agree to build an Israeli-style “smart fence.”

By Bret Stephens

Opinion Columnist

Other than the Korean Peninsula’s DMZ, there’s probably no border in the world as fraught with the potential for sudden violence as this one, known locally as the Blue Line. Since President Trump thinks border security is the issue of our time, it’s worth considering how Israel — with tight borders, real threats, and a no-nonsense attitude toward its security needs — does it.

What I saw on Wednesday while traveling along the Blue Line was … a fence. A fence studded with sensors, to be sure, but by no means an imposing one. As the accompanying photos show, here is what a long stretch of the border between two sworn enemies looks like.

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 New section of fence, north of Eilat, Israel–Egypt border

And here is a Hezbollah observation post, masquerading as an environmental group operating under the slogan, “Green Without Borders.” (Green is the traditional color of Islam.) The Israelis maintain an equally visible, if outwardly low-key, security presence.

Does that look like Trump’s idea of a “big beautiful wall”? Does it even look like the “steel slats” the president now offers as his idea of an aesthetic concession to Democrats? Not quite. Yet for the last 19 years it was all the fencing Israelis thought was necessary to secure its side of the Blue Line.

barrier wall

Israel’s wall: Children play soccer in the Palestinian town Anata, Nov. 25, 2005.  Photo by Yotam Ronen

That started to change in December, after Israel announced that it was conducting an operation to destroy tunnels dug by Hezbollah under the border. The tunnel construction — secretly detected by Israel some four years ago — was intended to infiltrate hundreds of Hezbollah fighters into Israel in the event of war. As an additional precaution, Jerusalem is spending an estimated $600 million to replace about 20 kilometers of the fence with a concrete wall, mainly to provide greater peace of mind to the 162,000 Israelis who live near the Lebanese border.

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Turkey’s smart wall under construction: “Apart from illustration, we have set up a system with solar energy. We developed the systems of illustration, camera and censor.” (see link below)

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A section of the border fence between Israel and Egypt, January 2012. (Moshe Milner/GPO/Flash90)

Such a wall may look formidable. But it won’t stop tunnel construction or missile firing, the two principal threats Hezbollah poses to Israel. Nor has Israel felt the need to erect concrete walls along most of its border with the Gaza Strip, despite Hamas’s multiple attempts last year to use mass protests to breach the fence. Israel’s border with Egypt is marked by a tall and sturdy “smart fence” packed with electronic sensors, but not a wall. And Israel’s longest border, with Jordan, stretching some 400 kilometers (about 250 miles), has fencing that for the most part is primitive and minimal.

A big portion of the border between Israel and Lebanon looks like this.Credit Bret Stephens/The New York Times
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A Hezbollah observation post disguised as an environmental group’s station. Credit Bret Stephens/The New York Times

So how does Israel maintain border security? Two ways: close cooperation with neighbors where it’s possible and the use of modern technology and effective deterrence where it’s not.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi recently attested to the depth of cooperation in an interview last week with 60 Minutes — so deep, in fact, that the Egyptian government made an attempt to stop the interview from airing. Jordan’s border patrol typically does its work facing east, not west, to prevent possible penetrations into Israel. Security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority also runs deep despite political differences, since Mahmoud Abbas shares Israel’s interest in suppressing Hamas.

As for technology, I saw it at work on a tour earlier Wednesday of an Israeli military base on the Golan Heights. In a crowded, windowless room within a bunker-like structure, 20 or so women soldiers, some of them still teenagers, sat at screens patiently watching every inch of Israel’s border with Syria, noticing patterns, prioritizing potential threats, and relaying information to operators in the field.

An all-female unit monitors the border with Syria on video screens. Credit Israel Defense Force

Why an all-female unit? Because the Israeli military has determined that women have longer attention spans than men. Last August, the unit spotted seven Islamic State fighters, wearing suicide belts and carrying grenades, as they were infiltrating a no-man’s land on their way to Israel. An airstrike was called in. The men never reached the border.

None of this is to say that physical barriers are invariably pointless or evil. Israel’s fence along the Egyptian border all-but ended the flow of illegal African migrants, though most illegal immigrants in Israel arrive legally by plane and simply overstay their visas. The much-maligned wall (most of which is also a fence) that divides Palestinians from Israelis in Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank played a major role in ending the terrorism of the Second Intifada.

Yet the Israeli experience also suggests that the best way to protect a border is to rely on the tools of the 21st century, not the 12th. Walls only occasionally provide the most reliable security. They can be dangerous for providing the illusion of security. And there are vastly more effective means than concrete to defend even the most dangerous borders. Why can’t Democrats and Republicans simply agree to build additional smart fencing in places where it’s missing and call it, for political effect, an “Israeli-style barrier”?

The good news for the U.S. is that we don’t face Hezbollah, Hamas or ISIS across our border, only people who overwhelmingly want to relieve their own plight and contribute their labor for everyone’s betterment. If we really wanted to secure the border, our first priority should be to make it easier for them to arrive through the front door rather than sneak in through the back.

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on FacebookTwitter (@NYTopinion) andInstagram.

Bret L. Stephens has been an Opinion columnist with The Times since April 2017. He won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary at The Wall Street Journal in 2013 and was previously editor in chief of The Jerusalem Post.

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Trump: Iran ‘can do what they want’ in Syria

January 3, 2019

US president says that Tehran, pressured by sanctions, is now ‘pulling people out’ of countries and ‘only wants to survive’

US President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House, Wednesday, January 2, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

US President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House, Wednesday, January 2, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump on Wednesday gave Iran free rein to further entrench itself in Syria, but claimed that Tehran was no longer seeking to bolster its presence in the beleaguered country.

“They can do what they want there, frankly,” he told reporters, referring to Iranian forces.

Trump’s comments came two weeks after he rattled Jerusalem by announcing that he would pull all American troops out of Syria. US soldiers had been leading the coalition against the Islamic State terror group, while also helping to thwart a permanent Iranian infrastructure in the war-torn country.

Israel has repeatedly warned in recent years that Iran is seeking to establish a military presence in Syria, where it is fighting alongside its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah and Russia to restore the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Israeli officials have also warned that America’s absence would open the door for Tehran to create a so-called “land bridge” from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, into Lebanon and to the Mediterranean Sea.

Illustrative image of a tank flying the Hezbollah terror group’s flag seen in the Qara area in Syria’s Qalamoun region on August 28, 2017 (AFP Photo/Louai Beshara)

Over the last several years, Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria against targets linked to Iran.

Yet Trump, on Wednesday, said that Tehran, like the US, was withdrawing its forces from Syria.

“Iran is no longer the same country,” he said. “Iran is pulling people out of Syria. They can do what they want there, frankly, but they’re pulling people out. They’re pulling people out of Yemen. Iran wants to survive now.”

The president went on to say that in pulling out of the nuclear deal with Iran last year, Washington had changed Tehran’s calculus and stymied its efforts to destabilize, and spread its influence throughout, the region.

“Iran was going to take over everything and destroy Israel while they’re at it. Iran is a much different country right now,” he said, in comments that were at times incoherent. “They’re having riots every week in every country. I’d love to negotiate with Iran… but Iran is a much different country right now.”

Trump’s decision to pull America’s 2,000 troops out from Syria caused a major shakeup within his own administration; his secretary of defense, James Mattis, resigned over the withdrawal.

Trump offered a stark take on the situation in Syria Wednesday, summing it up in two words — “sand and death” — while remaining vague about the timing of the US troop withdrawal.

“So Syria was lost long ago. It was lost long ago. And besides that, I don’t want — we’re talking about sand and death. That’s what we’re talking about,” Trump said during a cabinet meeting. “We’re not talking about vast wealth. We’re talking about sand and death.”

On when US forces would leave Syria, Trump said: “I don’t want to be in Syria forever.”

He added: “I never said we are getting out overnight… We’re withdrawing… over a period of time.”

The president’s announcement of the Syrian withdrawal was the first significant point of contention between Washington and Jerusalem since he took office — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly pleaded with him to rethink the decision — and has fortified the perception that he views the US relationship with Israel as transactional.

On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Netanyahu that the planned withdrawal of US ground forces from Syria will not alter America’s commitment to countering Iranian aggression and maintaining Israel’s security.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Brasilia on January 1, 2019 (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

“The decision by the president on Syria in no way changes anything that this administration is working on alongside Israel,” Pompeo said at a joint press conference with Netanyahu before they held talks in Brazil.

Trump said last week that he did not think America’s removing its troops from Syria would endanger Israel by strengthening Tehran’s hand in one of the Jewish state’s immediate neighbors to the north.

“Well, I don’t see it. I spoke with Bibi,” he said. “I told Bibi. And, you know, we give Israel $4.5 billion a year. And they’re doing very well defending themselves, if you take a look… So that’s the way it is.”

Trump blamed Syria’s instability on the policies of his predecessor, Barack Obama, who didn’t attack Assad after he crossed the former US president’s “red line” of using chemical weapons on his own people.

“You can’t make a threat and then do nothing. So Syria was lost long ago,” Trump said. “Beside that, we’re talking about sand and death. We’re not talking about vast wealth.”

Times of Israel staff and Agencies contributed to this report.

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Lebanon’s Aoun, Hariri, ‘determined’ to form government

January 2, 2019

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Al-Hariri are “determined to form a government,” state news agency NNA quoted Hariri as saying after they met on Tuesday evening.

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Lebanon has been without a government since an election almost eight months ago, as its rival parties have jostled over the allocation of cabinet positions, further unsettling the country’s fragile economy.

Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri speaks during a news conference in Beirut, Lebanon, November 13, 2018. (Reuters)

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Only one difficulty remains in the process and Hariri and Aoun are working to solve it, Hariri added.

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A breakthrough to create a national unity government in line with Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system seemed close last month, but did not work out and the impasse resumed. However, Hariri said on Sunday he still believed the government would form early in the new year.

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Lebanon has the world’s third-highest level of debt to GDP and Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said on Sunday it faces an economic crisis that he warned could turn into a financial one.

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Hariri has pledged to carry out economic reforms that could unlock billions of dollars of international investment in Lebanese power, transport and data infrastructure, aimed at boosting the economy after years of weak growth.

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The International Monetary Fund has stressed the importance of Lebanon putting its debt on a sustainable footing, while bond yields and the cost of insuring against Lebanese sovereign debt have shown signs of stress in recent months.

Reuters

Lebanon protests grow over economic crisis and political impasse

December 29, 2018

Lebanon had elections seven months ago after a hiatus of nine years but a political stalemate has ensued ever since.

by
A man takes part in a protest over Lebanon's deteriorating economy and political instability [Mohamed Azakir/Reuters]
A man takes part in a protest over Lebanon’s deteriorating economy and political instability [Mohamed Azakir/Reuters]

It was a Christmas of protests in Lebanon. The formation of a government was the promised gift, but those elected failed to iron out their differences, forcing people out onto the streets to demonstrate against the many problems crippling the country.

A number of civil society groups have organised protests over the last 10 days, marching in Tripoli and Nabatieh, while the capital, Beirut, drew one of the biggest gatherings.

The protests were focused on an economic crisis, which has led to falling living standards, and has worsened since May due to political instability caused by the inability of political factions to form a government.

Those taking part chanted slogans demanding an end to corruption and better civic facilities, as well as reminding politicians to do what they had been elected to do and run the country.

Scuffles broke out between Lebanese soldiers and those marching in Beirut – with some protesters burning rubbish and throwing rubbish bins in the direction of the soldiers.

Hasan Shaaban, a photographer with the English-language newspaper Daily Star, was one of those attacked by soldiers.

“The soldiers kicked me to the ground, punched me, and hit me anywhere they could,” he said.

 

Hasan Shaaban@hasanshaaban

I was Screaming non-stop before being attacked by army soldiers.

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Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri speaks during a conference at Chatham House in central London on December 13, 2018. (File/AFP)

Shaaban said that while he was randomly picked, the soldiers specifically targeted photographers who were documenting attacks on unarmed civilians.

“I saw 10 soldiers hitting and kicking one guy,” he said. “They beat up innocent bystanders who just stepped out of a restaurant to see what was happening.”

That afternoon, the army released a statement emphasising that while they respected “the right of civil protest, freedom of expression, and the right to make demands, demonstrators must not vandalise private and public property.”

Shaaban said that he had covered many protests and seen protesters throw rubbish bins to block the streets.

Each time, he said, riot police intervened to clear up the situation peacefully. This time, he said, the army did not let the riot police handle the situation.

Inability to form government foments Lebanese economic disaster

Lebanon’s Hezbollah supporters chant slogans during last day of Ashura, in Beirut, Lebanon September 20, 2018. (photo credit: AZIZ TAHER/REUTERS)

“The Lebanese army intervened themselves. They were aggressive because the protest was independently organised and there were no political parties to back the protesters,” he said.

Instead, the protests were organised on social media by citizens and social activists. The latest took place on December 26.

Some protesters even wore yellow vests – seen in anti-government protests in France recently – but with a cedar tree, Lebanon’s national symbol.

The Lebanese PM-designate Saad Hariri had assured Lebanese citizens that by Christmas or the New Year they would have a government.

“I think the pressure that we have from the economic crisis is pushing more and more (politicians) to form the government,” he said.

But these hopes seem quashed as the wrangling over cabinet positions in Lebanon’s unity government has thwarted all attempts at compromise.

Government needed for economic stability

Lebanon had elections seven months ago after a hiatus of nine years but a political stalemate has ensued ever since.

Mired in debt and a stagnant growth rate, Lebanon needs a government to implement economic reforms all sides agree are needed to encourage foreign investment.

Vicky Khoury of the Sabaa political party, who attended the protest, said that she and her colleagues had been staging sit-ins in front of several government ministries over the last week and demanding those elected take responsibility for tumbling finances in the country.

“They are just busy fighting over their share of power and who gets what,” she said. “Seven months is not a joke. We cannot afford to live without a government.”

The International Monetary Fund estimated Lebanon’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth to be at one percent this year, whereas it needs at least six percent annually to provide jobs to the roughly 30,000 Lebanese citizens joining the labour market each year.

Amy Sheaito, an accountant by profession and a protester, said that joblessness is one of the biggest problems bringing people out to protest.

“Everything is messed up. There are no jobs for young people,” she said. “The protests will go on as long as things do not change.”

Earlier this month the World Bank called for an end to the impasse in Lebanon and for the building of a climate of confidence for donors and investors.

Currently, projects worth millions of dollars are stuck in limbo because the caretaker government in place cannot take major decisions regarding the economy.

Against parliamentarians

While the protesters want a functioning government, they do not think existing MPs can fix the country’s problems.

“They were all warlords, they are all corrupt,” Amy, a protester said. Adding: “Our slogan is, return the stolen money, that’s what they have stolen from the people.”

Khoury, the Sabaa party politician, said that politicians opposed to the current status-quo have demanded a law, under which parliamentarians must declare their assets before and after coming to power.

Like Amy, she too accused the leaders of exploiting their positions to accumulate personal wealth.

The greater struggle for the protesters is replacing the current crop of politicians with civil society candidates or technocrats.

But in the last elections, just one such candidate managed to win and secure a place in the parliament.

Amy said that it may take time but Lebanon will get there. She said, for now, some sort of a government is needed so at least basic governmental tasks can be performed.

“At least the administration will be running when a government is in place, that’s really all that we can expect,” she said.

On Wednesday, a day after Christmas, tens of Lebanese people again marched in central Beirut.

They said that more protests are coming. One of them held a placard which read, “They can take our lives but they can never take our freedom.”

What's next for Lebanon?

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA NEWS

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https://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Inability-to-Form-Government-Foments-Lebanese-Economic-Disaster-575675

Popular former military chief jumps into politics in Israel

December 27, 2018

A popular former Israeli military chief jumped into the political fray Thursday, announcing he would run for office in the upcoming election and instantly injected perhaps the strongest challenge to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lengthy rule.

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Retired Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz has been polling favorably in recent weeks, emerging as a fresh, exciting face in Israel’s staid political landscape. By officially registering his new party, “Israel Resilience,” Gantz shakes up a snap three-month election campaign that has been widely seen as Netanyahu’s to lose.

File photo showing retired Israeli military chief Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz attending a news conference in Tel Aviv July 28, 2014. (Reuters)

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Even before officially entering the fray, several polls showed Gantz’s hypothetical party coming in second only to Netanyahu’s ruling Likud in the run-up to the April 9 vote.

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Gantz has yet to comment publicly on the party and was not expected to make any statement Thursday.

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Though Gantz has yet to lay out his worldview or political platform, he flaunts stellar military credentials — a must in security-centric Israel — and a squeaky-clean image to contrast Netanyahu’s corruption-laden reputation.

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While still short of the kind of widespread support likely needed to become prime minister, his candidacy captures a yearning in Israel for a viable alternative to emerge against the long-serving Netanyahu, seeking his fourth consecutive term in office.

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With a commanding lead in the polls, and a potential indictment looming against him, Netanyahu called early elections this week, seeking to pre-empt corruption charges and return to office to become the longest serving premier in Israeli history.

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Police have recommended charging Netanyahu with bribery and breach of trust in three different cases. Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing, dismissing the allegations as a media-orchestrated witch hunt aimed at removing him from office.

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Even with Netanyahu’s legal woes, Israel’s established opposition parties have remained splintered and have been unable to produce a viable challenger. Gantz seems to be taking votes away from all the major parties and may not tip the scales away from Netanyahu just yet. But the emergence of the tall, telegenic ex-general with salty hair makes things more interesting, as he could spark new alliances with other moderate parties to give the hard-line Likud a good fight.

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“It’s too early to tell, but he definitely strengthens the center-left camp,” said Mina Tzemach, a leading Israeli pollster, whose most recent survey gave Gantz’s new party as many as 16 seats in the 120-seat Parliament. “He projects security and integrity. And the fact that he looks good doesn’t hurt either.”

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Gantz, 59, was a paratrooper who rose up the ranks to command special operations units and other various units before becoming Israel’s 20th military chief between 2011-2015. His term was marked by two wars with Hamas militants in Gaza and a covert air campaign in Syria against Iranian arms shipments to Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon. Since his discharge, he’s been highly coveted by several Israeli political parties.

Associated Press

US official says top Hezbollah brass hit in alleged Israeli strikes in Syria

December 26, 2018

Defense Department source tells Newsweek commanders were targeted after boarding a plane bound for Iran; advanced weaponry also destroyed

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A screenshot from video on social media purporting to show airstrikes near Damascus on December 25, 2018. (Screen capture: Twitter)
A screenshot from video on social media purporting to show airstrikes near Damascus on December 25, 2018. (Screen capture: Twitter)

An alleged Israeli airstrike in Syria Tuesday night hit several senior Hezbollah officials as they boarded a plane bound for Iran, Newsweek reported Wednesday morning, citing a Defense Department source.

The unnamed source told the magazine he had received the information from top Israeli military brass.

He said strategic Iranian munitions were also targeted, including advanced GPS components for weaponry.

Syrian state media said the strikes, beginning at about 10 p.m., were carried out from Lebanon and that a number of targets were intercepted. It said its own air defenses had opened fire on “enemy targets,” shooting them down.

Syrian TV quoted a military source saying weapons warehouses were hit, and three Syrian soldiers wounded.

A screenshot from video purporting to show a Syrian surface-to-air missile being fired near Damascus on December 25, 2018. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Israel said it had deployed air defenses against a missile fired from Syria as Damascus attempted to repel the alleged airstrikes.

The Israel Defense Forces said there was no damage or injuries from the surface-to-air missile fired from Syria at Israel.

“An IDF aerial defense system activated in response to an anti-aircraft missile launched from Syria,” the army said in a statement.

It did not say where or even if the missile was successfully intercepted.

Pictures shared on social media showed an air defense missile being fired near Hadera, a city some 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of the Syrian border where residents had earlier reported hearing a loud explosion.

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Observer IL – 🅾️🅱️🔺@Obs_IL

Dashcam footage from Road 6 of the launch of an AD missile earlier near following this evening airstrikes in . @Intel_sky @IsraelD_Heb @edrormba @BabakTaghvaee @Dannymakkisyria @IntelCrab @IdeologyWars @TheWarOfNow @intellipus

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Syrian eyewitnesses and video on social media showed what appeared to be intense fire on targets near the capital.

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Syrian News Agency says the “Aggression on ” continues “from the Lebanese airspace” and air defenses are responding.

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“It’s an Israeli raid,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.

“Missiles fired from Israeli planes targeted… arms depots southwest and south of Damascus that belong to Hezbollah or Iranian forces,” Abdel Rahman said.

Lebanon’s National News Agency reported that Israel Air Force planes were operating over southern Lebanon.

Qalaat Al Mudiq@QalaatAlMudiq

: explosions heard over province. Air defenses fired missiles moments ago.

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Qalaat Al Mudiq@QalaatAlMudiq

. Air defenses in action tonight over W. province. pic.twitter.com/xrYqMYX1E1

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News reports made a connection between the strike and the earlier arrival of an Iranian cargo jet in Damascus. The 747, belonging to Iran’s Fars Air Qeshm, had landed in Syria just after 7 p.m.

The civilian company has been accused on multiple occasions of smuggling Iranian arms to Hezbollah, and media speculated that its cargo had been the target of the strikes.

It was not clear whether the jet was the one which Hezbollah officials had allegedly boarded.

Israel in recent years has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria against targets linked to Iran, which alongside its proxies and Russia is fighting on behalf of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Israel has accused Iran of seeking to establish a military presence in Syria that could threaten Israeli security and attempting to transfer advanced weaponry to the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon.

The number of airstrikes in Syria attributed to Israel has dropped noticeably in recent months, after a Russian military plane was downed by Syrian air defenses during an Israeli attack on Latakia, killing all 15 servicemen aboard.

Russia blamed the Israeli military for that incident — a charge rejected by Jerusalem — and has supplied Syria with the advanced S-300 air defense system.

The S-300 systems were delivered to Syria last month, but they are not yet believed to be in use, as the Syrian air defense teams still need to be trained to operate them.

Israeli defense officials have met with Russian counterparts a number of times in recent weeks in an effort to re-establish a deconfliction mechanism that will allow Israel to recommence its air campaign.

Russia reportedly wants significant warning period ahead of any Israeli airstrike, something Israeli officials have been said to refuse.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/us-official-says-top-hezbollah-officials-hit-in-alleged-israeli-strikes-in-syria/

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Syria says Israel strikes weapons depot near Damascus

December 26, 2018

Israeli warplanes flying over Lebanon fired missiles towards areas near the Syrian capital of Damascus late Tuesday, hitting an arms depot and wounding three soldiers, Syrian state media reported.

Most of the missiles were shot down by air defence units, according to Syrian state media.

The TV, quoting an unnamed military official, identified the warplanes as IsraeliLebanon‘s the state-run National News Agency earlier reported that Israeli warplanes were flying at low altitude over parts of southern Lebanon.

Omar Sanadiki, Reuters | Smoke rises past a mountain as seen from Damascus countryside, Syria December 25, 2018

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said Israeli airstrikes targeted three positions south of Damascus that are arms depots for Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group and Iranian forces.

The reported attack near Damascus is the first since U.S. President Donald Trump announced last week that the U.S. will withdraw all of its 2,000 forces in Syria, a move that will leave control of the oil-rich eastern third of Syria up for grabs.

Following Trump’s announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that Israel would “continue to act against Iran’s attempts to entrench itself militarily in Syria, and to the extent necessary, we will even expand our actions there.”

Nearly an hour after the attacks began, Damascus residents could still hear the air defense units firing toward targets in the air.

A screenshot from video on social media purporting to show airstrikes near Damascus on December 25, 2018. (Screen capture: Twitter)

A screenshot from video on social media purporting to show airstrikes near Damascus on December 25, 2018. (Screen capture: Twitter)

“The aggression is still ongoing,” said a presenter on state TV, which interrupted its programs to air patriotic songs.

Later the TV quoted an unnamed military official as saying that Syrian air defenses “shot down most of the missiles before reaching their targets and the aggression damaged an arms depot and wounded three soldiers.” It added that the Israeli warplanes fired the missiles from Lebanese airspace.

FILE PHOTO: Surface-to-air missile fire lights up the sky over Damascus as the U.S. launches an attack on Syria, April 14, 2018.Hassan Ammar,AP

Israel’s military spokesman’s unit did not confirm the raids, but said in a statement that “an aerial defense system was activated against an anti-aircraft missile launched from Syria.” No damage or injuries were reported by the Israeli military.

The sound of loud explosions also echoed through Damascus, a witness told DPA.

Syrian air defense activity near Damascus, December 25, 2018.SANA

Israel is widely believed to have been behind a series of airstrikes in the past that mainly targeted Iranian and Hezbollah forces fighting alongside the government in Syria. Tuesday’s attack is the first since a missile assault on the southern outskirts of Damascus on Nov. 29.

Russia announced it had delivered the S-300 air defense system to Syria in October. That followed the Sept. 17 downing of a Russian reconnaissance plane by Syrian forces responding to an Israeli airstrike, a friendly fire incident that stoked regional tensions.

(AP)

Lebanon: some parties do not want government formed — Politicians are “masters in creating problems and obstacles”

December 24, 2018

Lebanon’s parliament speaker said there are parties that do not want a new government, a newspaper reported on Monday, highlighting the obstacles that have derailed its formation after an agreement had seemed close.

More than seven months since its last election, Lebanon, heavily indebted and suffering low economic growth, is in dire need of an administration to enact long-stalled reforms and put public debt on a sustainable footing.

Separately voicing his frustration at the crisis, Lebanon’s Maronite patriarch said in his Christmas address that politicians were “masters in creating problems and obstacles” and did not care about losses suffered by the state and people.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri speaks during a conference at Chatham House in central London on December 13, 2018. (File/AFP)

Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri has been seeking to finalize a deal on a government that splits portfolios among rival groups according to a sectarian power sharing system.

A deal looked close last week when a mediation effort made headway toward resolving the last big problem over Sunni Muslim representation. Hariri said on Friday he hoped to finalize a deal later that day. But new complications surfaced on Saturday.

Speaker Nabih Berri told al-Akhbar: “What happened confirms there are parties that do not want the government to be born at all.” He expressed great concern regarding “what awaits the country in the coming period”.

Several hundred people demonstrated in Beirut on Sunday over the state of the economy and politics, briefly blocking several main roads. Some of them wore yellow vests inspired by the protests in France.

The dispute over Sunni representation emerged as a group of Sunni MPs backed by the Shi’ite group Hezbollah said they must be allocated a seat in cabinet to reflect their election gains and Hariri resisted their demand.

Under a compromise, the six pro-Hezbollah Sunnis agreed to be represented by another figure acceptable to them. Each of the six submitted a name from which President Michel Aoun picked one.

But on Saturday, the pro-Hezbollah Sunni MPs withdrew their support for the Sunni candidate picked by Aoun – Jawad Adra – because he “did not consider himself an exclusive representative” of the six Sunni MPs.

That points to a row with Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), Lebanon’s biggest Christian party, which wants Adra to be part of its cabinet bloc. That would give the FPM and Aoun 11 of cabinet’s 30 seats and effective veto power.

Another row surrounds precisely which portfolios should go to which factions, though the ministries in question are not the most powerful.

Berri said: “The matter appears to be bigger than a blocking third, portfolios, and shares.”

Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rai, in his televised address, said politicians were procrastinating. “They do not care about the great financial losses suffered by the Lebanese state and people,” he said. “Is this not a crime?”

“This is what stirred the anger of the people yesterday. They carried out rightful protests, the dangerous consequences of which nobody can tell if the politicians continue in their maneuvering.”

Reporting by Tom Perry; Editing by Alison Williams

Reuters