Posts Tagged ‘Lebanon’

Saudi Arabia intercepts ballistic missile launched by Houthi militia from Yemen

January 16, 2018

Arab News

Saudi Arabia Air Defense forces intercepted a ballistic missile over Jazan on Tuesday. (SPA file photo)

JEDDAH: A ballistic missile fired by Yemen’s armed Houthi group towards Saudi Arabia’s southern Jazan region was shot down by Saudi forces on Tuesday. There were no reports of casualties or damage.

It comes just days after Royal Saudi Arabia Air Defense forces intercepted a ballistic missile over the southern province of Najran, bordering Yemen last week.
The Iranian-aligned Houthis have fired several missiles at the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia has accused Iran of supplying missile parts and expertise to the Houthis, who have taken over the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, and other parts of the country during its civil war. Iran denies the charge.
Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition that has been fighting the Houthis in neighboring Yemen since March 2015.
Saudi Arabia said on Nov. 4 it had intercepted a ballistic missile over Riyadh’s King Khaled Airport, an attack that led the coalition to close air, land and sea access to Yemen in a move it said was meant to stop Iranian supplies to the Houthis.
The conflict has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced more than two million.
Also on Tuesday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said Iran is the biggest source of danger in the region because of its role in Lebanon, Yemen and Syria.
“Iran supplied the Houthis with missiles that targeted Saudi Arabia,” he told the media alongside his Belgian counterpart Didier Renders at a press conference in the Belgian capital, Brussels.


Trump’s Catch-22 With Iran and the Palestinians Could Blow Up at Israel

January 16, 2018

Like his threats to cut Palestinian funding, the U.S. presidents new demands for the Iran nuclear agreement suffer from inconsistencies that cannot be resolved

TOPSHOT - Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli security forces on the eastern outskirts of Gaza City, near the border with Israel, on January 12, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABED
Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli security forces on the eastern outskirts of Gaza City, near the border with Israel, on January 12, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABEDMOHAMMED ABED/AFP

Lately, U.S. President Donald Trump is looking like a suicide bomber loaded with explosive devices that he’s releasing in different corners of the world. Fortunately, in most cases we’ve only had threats, finger wagging, shocking tweets and fake bombs, but there is no guarantee that the next one won’t be real.

At least two of these bombs could blow up in Israel’s face. Trump’s threat to significantly cut the funds the administration provides to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees and the aid it gives the Palestinian Authority in order to force Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to launch negotiations with Israel is already shaking up refugee camps in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, making the Jordanian kingdom tremble and sending Lebanon into a panic.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at the White House in Washington, January 10, 2018.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at the White House in Washington, January 10, 2018. Evan Vucci/AP

In 2016 the administration gave UNRWA $355 million, a third of the agency’s budget. The expected cut is $65 million, around half of the first contribution that had been scheduled for 2018. Add to this the cuts to the PA funding, which amounted to $357 million last year and whose extent for this year isn’t clear. The significance is that the PA, Jordan – home to more than two million Palestinian refugees – and the government of Lebanon, where 175,000 refugees live according to a recent survey (previous UNRWA estimates put the number between 400,000 and 500,000), will have to finance the education, health and welfare services that will be affected by the cuts.

Jordan and Lebanon already bear the heavy burden of aiding Syrian refugees, which is only partially funded by the United Nations and donor states and which isn’t enough to assure them a reasonable quality of life. The Gaza Strip, where most of the Palestinian refugees are concentrated, has been in crisis mode for some time, and the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service believe the economic stress could lead to its total collapse. Rich Arab nations like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are helping the PA, but it’s doubtful they will step in to fill the gap created by the American cutbacks, especially since they are coordinating their positions with the U.S. administration on the peace process.

It isn’t clear how Trump’s sanctions strategy against the PA will lead to a change in the Palestinian stance. Abbas has made it clear that he no longer considers the United States a fair broker and that economic pressure won’t make him adopt any program Trump presents.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas (C) speaks during a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah on January 14, 2018.
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas (C) speaks during a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah on January 14, 2018.AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI

There is a paradox here: The IDF is asking – or even demanding – that the Israeli government consider steps to alleviate the dangerous economic pressure on Gaza’s two million residents, and announced that it intends to approve a few thousand more permits for Palestinians to work in Israel. Meanwhile, the U.S. administration is adopting a policy aimed at curbing the threat of a violent outburst that could lead to a war with Israel, which undermines this demand.

The second potentially explosive charge, the sanctions on Iran, is no less worrisome. This week Trump gave the world powers four months to change the nuclear agreement that was signed with the Islamic Republic in 2015. Among other things, the new deal must include a ban on developing ballistic missiles, a halt in support for terror groups and a clause that keeps these restrictions in place forever in order for the United States to remain party to it. The U.S. president made it clear that if there was no progress in talks with his European partners, Russia and China, to fix the agreement, he would withdraw from it even sooner.

Like the threat to the Palestinians, this demand suffers from an inconsistency that cannot be resolved. The requirement to eliminate the nuclear deal’s time frame testifies to the faith the U.S. administration has in the Iranian leaderships desire and ability to uphold its terms, even as the administration itself (not just the EU and the International Atomic Energy Agency) admits that it hasn’t violated it to date. In other words, the deal may not be perfect, but according to Trump himself, the Iranian partner is a rational and responsible entity, to which one could make the demand that it sign to an eternal agreement – otherwise, what’s the point of making such a condition? In fact, what’s the point in signing any agreement with Iran at all?

Under the agreement, Iran is not required to subject its ballistic missile program or its military bases to international inspection. It announced this week that it does not plan to respond to the American demand to begin talks on changing the deal’s terms.

Meanwhile, Congress has so far refused to take up the gauntlet, passed to it by the president in October, to begin legislating new sanctions on Iran; the EU fears the new initiative, which could create a rift between Europe and the United States and freeze the huge ongoing European investment in Iran. Russia termed Trumps decision extremely negative, and China, Iran’s largest oil customer, is concerned about factors liable to complicate the agreement, as the Chinese foreign minister told his Iranian counterpart. It’s therefore doubtful that Trump will find partners among the agreement’s signatories to realize his latest demand.

In the worst-case scenario, Iran revives its nuclear program if the United States imposes new sanctions on Tehran or pulls out of the agreement. Under the more comfortable scenario, Europe, Russia and China continue to do business with Iran and thus push Washington into an isolated corner internationally. In such a case Trump could respond by punishing the states and international corporations that don’t uphold the American sanctions, but that would turn the U.S. into a Western country hostile to the West.

Israel’s great interest is for Iran to abide by the nuclear deal and not risk it being voided by its most important ally. The real concern regarding Iran’s ballistic missiles must lead to the opening of a parallel negotiations channel with Iran, but not by holding the nuclear agreement hostage.

Israel achieved one of the most important strategic achievements in its history when it succeeded in mobilizing a strong international coalition against the Iranian nuclear threat. Trump might now crush that achievement and sabotage any chance of reaching any kind of agreement with Iran on its nuclear program or its ballistic missiles in the future. In the cases of both Iran and the Palestinian Authority, where Trump treads, Israels toes get broken.

Brother of Top Hamas Official in Lebanon Targeted in Car Bombing

January 14, 2018

Mohammed Hamdan is the brother of Osama Hamdan, a member of the group’s political bureau

By Jack Khoury and Reuters Jan 14, 2018 12:26 PM

Lebanese soldiers are seen inspecting a damaged car in Sidon, Lebanon January 14, 2018.

Lebanese soldiers are seen inspecting a damaged car in Sidon, Lebanon January 14, 2018. ALI HASHISHO/REUTERS

The brother of a top Hamas official in Lebanon was the target of a car bombing in the southern city of Sidon, the Lebanese army said on Sunday.

The military said that Mohammed Hamdan, the brother of Osama Hamdan, a representative of Hamas in Lebanon and a member of the group’s political bureau, was wounded by the blast.

Medical sources in Lebanon said Hamdan is undergoing surgery and has lost one of the legs.

Related image

More details soon…

Jack Khoury
read more:



Booby trapped car explodes in Sidon, with Hamas official as target. (Reuters)
SIDON, Lebanon: An official in the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas was wounded in a car bomb blast in southern Lebanon on Sunday, military and medical sources told AFP.
“A bomb placed in a BMW in Sidon detonated, wounding Hamas official Mohammed Hamdan,” a military source said.
An AFP journalist in Sidon saw the burnt-out vehicle in a parking lot. A medical source at the scene told AFP that Hamdan suffered serious wounds to his legs while opening the door to his car, and was transported to hospital.

Images posted on social media and used by Lebanese TV show a mangled car, a large fire and black smoke rising above the city. Lebanon’s official National News Agency says the area has been cordoned off. (With AP)

Hamas Official Reportedly Wounded in Car Bomb Blast in Lebanon

January 14, 2018

Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor

An explosion was reported in the southern Lebanese city of Sidon.

Mohammed Hamdan, a senior official in the Palestinian movement Hamas was reportedly wounded in an explosion of a car on Sunday.

According to AFP citing medical sources, a BMW detonated when Hamdan opened a door to the car. The official sustained injuries to his legs. Several other people were reportedly injured as well, according to reports in the social media.

The internet users share the first images from the scene that depict black smoke rising over the burning car.

Image may contain: 1 person, outdoor and food


British Parliament To Debate Full Ban on Hezbollah

January 13, 2018
 JANUARY 13, 2018 16:34

Currently, the UK only proscribes Hezbollah’s ‘military wing,’ but not its ‘political wing.’

British Parliament to debate full ban of Hezbollah as terrorist entity

The Union Flag flies near the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, June 7, 2017.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

“Hezbollah is a terrorist organization, driven by an antisemitic ideology, which seeks the destruction of Israel,” Labour Friends of Israel director Jennifer Gerber told The Jerusalem Post on Friday. “The British government has repeatedly failed to take action to ban it in its entirety. This debate is intended to increase the pressure on them to do so without further delay or excuses.”

MP Joan Ryan, the head of the pro-Israel Labour Party group, worked to obtain the cross-party parliamentary debate on the terrorist proscription of Hezbollah. The Labour Party’s leader Jeremy Corbyn has previously called Hamas and Hezbollah his “friends.”

According to a statement from Labour Friends of Israel, the group “has long called for the complete proscription of the terrorist group Hezbollah. Currently, the UK only proscribes Hezbollah’s ‘military wing,’ but not its ‘political wing.’

The UK’s distinction is not one that Hezbollah itself recognizes. Its deputy secretary-general, Naim Qassem, stated in 2009 that the ‘same leadership that directs the parliamentary and government work also leads jihad actions in the struggle against Israel.’

“This false distinction means that Hezbollah flags can be flown on the streets of Britain,” LFI wrote. “This is most notably seen in London during the annual al-Quds Day parade. Last June, LFI vice chair Louise Ellman wrote to the home secretary, Amber Rudd, calling for Hezbollah’s proscription as well as asking London Mayor Sadiq Khan to review the policing of the event. In November, she met with the Metropolitan Police to discuss our concerns.”

The US, the Arab League, the Netherlands, Israel and Canada have all designated all of Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

The White House on Friday urged all countries to outlaw all of Hezbollah.

“I also call on all our allies to take stronger steps with us to confront Iran’s other malign activities,” President Donald Trump said. “Among other actions, our allies should cut off funding to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, its militant proxies, and anyone else who contributes to Iran’s support for terrorism. They should designate Hezbollah, in its entirety, as a terrorist organization.”

The European Union designated Hezbollah’s so-called military wing, Izzadin Kassam, a terrorist entity in 2013. The UK classified Hezbollah’s military wing a terrorist entity in 2008 because of the group’s attacks on British soldiers in Iraq.

The EU’s terrorist classification followed Hezbollah’s 2012 attack on an Israeli tour bus in Burgas, Bulgaria, resulting in the murders of five Israelis and their Bulgarian Muslim bus driver. The trial of the two Hezbollah suspects is slated to proceed in February.

The two men on trial for the attack, Lebanese-Australian Meliad Farah and Lebanese-Canadian Hassan El Hajj Hassan, fled to Lebanon. Their trial is being held in absentia, because Lebanon’s government has refused to extradite the two suspects to Bulgaria.

A third Hezbollah attacker, Lebanese-French national Mohamad Hassan El-Husseini, is believed to have carried the bomb onto the bus. He died during the blast.

Germany’s most recent intelligence data show that 950 Hezbollah operatives work in Germany. The Hezbollah members raise funds and recruit members. They also play a key role in supporting the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign against the Jewish state.

Israeli and German lawmakers appealed to German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière to ban Hezbollah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine from Germany. De Maizière rejected the request.

In 2013, Taleb Yaacoub, a Hezbollah member carrying both Lebanese and Swedish passports, was convicted in Cyprus for plotting to murder Israelis. The Cypriot court sentenced the man to four years prison.

In 2015, a Cypriot court sentenced Hezbollah operative Hussein Bassam Abdallah to six years in prison for collecting explosives to use against Israelis.



Where is The Latest Iranian Revolution Headed?

January 13, 2018
 JANUARY 13, 2018 07:47

The protests of the past two weeks are significant.

Where is the latest Iranian ‘revolution’ headed?

A WOMAN chants slogans during a protest against the visit of Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, outside the European Union Council in Brussels. (Francois Lenoir/Reuters). (photo credit: REUTERS/FRANCOIS LENOIR)

It is still too soon to say that the wave has entirely spent itself. Demonstrations are still taking place, despite the IRGC’s announcement on Monday of an end to the unrest. In the cities of Sanandaj, Zahedan, Meybod, Abarkuh, Kordkuy, Aqqala, Alvand and Buin Zahra, among other centers, rallies were held. But the number of those attending the demonstrations is decreasing.

The wave of unrest was the most intensive to hit the country since 2009. Its details constitute evidence of broad alienation from the regime of a significant section of Iran’s youthful population. The unrest at its height spread to over 80 cities and towns. The average age among those arrested was 25. Demonstrators chanted anti-regime slogans and attacked facilities of the Basij paramilitaries and other regime-associated institutions.

Notably, Tehran’s costly policy of regional interference formed a focus for the protesters’ rage. Slogans such as “Leave Syria, think about us!” and “Death to Hezbollah!” were heard. More general anti-regime slogans, including “We don’t want an Islamic Republic” and “Death to the dictator” were also chanted by demonstrators.

The protests began in the pro-regime, conservative city of Mashhad. Their initial focus was new austerity measures introduced by President Hassan Rouhani. There is evidence that the initial instigators of the demonstrations were themselves from among the hard-line “principalist” opponents of Rouhani.

But these elements did not anticipate the rapid growth of the demonstrations or their intensity. The regime, clearly taken by surprise, reacted in

A NUMBER of conclusions can be drawn from the direction of events so far.

1. For those hoping for the downfall of the Islamist regime, a major absence in the Iranian context is that of a revolutionary “party.” This does not necessarily mean a formal political party but, rather, a revolutionary trend with a level of organization and popular appeal, a vision for the future and a broad strategy for defeating the Islamist regime. At present, nothing of this type exists in the Iranian context – neither as a network inside the country, nor as a widely respected focus on the outside.

Because of this absence, the 2009 protests, which were concerned with the apparently rigged reelection of then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, were diverted through the election of the “moderate” Rouhani.

The current protests, meanwhile, which are economic in nature, may well be similarly diverted by a combination of a strong hand, some cosmetic concessions, and probably, ironically, also by the scapegoating of the “moderate” president.

Such diversionary moves are possible because of the dispersed and divided nature of the opposition. As long as no nucleus of political (and, probably, military) opposition to the regime emerges, it is difficult to see a way that a wave of unrest can smash the edifice of the Islamic Republic.

2. The regime has been keen, naturally, to blame the unrest on foreign agitators. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s Twitter feed suggested that a “pattern activating these events” was apparent. According to the supreme leader, a “scheme by the US and Zionists” with money from a “wealthy government near the Persian Gulf” (obviously Saudi Arabia) was responsible.

Given the Iranian regime’s penchant for interference in neighboring countries – with Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen chief among them – it is tempting to hope that the supreme leader’s fears are justified. There is, however, no actual evidence to support such a claim.

In US President Donald Trump’s recent speech outlining his national security strategy, he referred to Iran as “the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism” and identified the need to “neutralize Iranian malign influence.”

One way to help the achievement of the latter goal would be to keep the Iranian home fires burning. Tehran foments unrest in neighboring countries in order to keep neighbors weak. There is now an opportunity to return the compliment. There are a variety of ways that this might be achieved – from ensuring that protesters and demonstrators remain organized and in communication with one another, to punitive means to disincentivize those countries and individuals assisting the regime in acquiring the means of repression.

3. Among the most difficult type of people to unseat from power through revolution are revolutionaries themselves – at least as long as the revolutionary elite does not begin to crumble from within. There are as yet no signs of this in Iran. Rather, the rising force within the elite is precisely that force most committed to the values of the Islamic Revolution of 1979 (and to spreading its influence into neighboring lands) – namely, the IRGC and associated hard-line figures.

The rising, militant elements within the regime were themselves participants as young men in the revolution of 1979. Even if there were a similarly determined and organized leadership seeking to make revolution against the Islamic Republic, it would find this cadre a tough nut to crack. And as we have seen above, currently there is not.

Nevertheless, the protests of the past two weeks are significant. They point to the sharp fissures within Iranian society and the extent to which the regime is detached from large sections of the population and its wants and needs.

The guardians of the Islamic Republic of Iran have in recent years proved masters at identifying and exploiting the fissures in neighboring societies. The field is now ripe for this process to turn into a two-way street, depending on the will and the ability of Iran’s opponents to recognize the opportunity and make use of it.


US prosecution drive could weaken Hezbollah in Mideast

January 12, 2018

Lebanon’s Hezbollah members carry Hezbollah flags in southern Lebanon May 26, 2015. (Reuters)
NEW YORK: Vigorous prosecutions of Hezbollah’s drug traffickers and other vice units could starve the Iran-backed militia of cash and hurt its military activities in the Middle East, an expert on the group told Arab News.
Emanuele Ottolenghi, a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a think tank, praised this week’s decision by the United States to launch a task force to probe “narcoterrorism” by the Lebanese movement Hezbollah.
The group pockets $200-$300 million each year – 20-30 percent of its annual budget – from smuggling cocaine to the US and other illicit schemes before using the cash to fund activities in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, Ottolenghi said.
“You could severely disrupt flows of funds that come through Hezbollah’s Latin American involvement to their war machine in the Middle East,” said Ottolenghi, the author of several books on Iran and its Shiite proxy militia.
“You could weaken them at the global level – impairing their ability to interface with the cartels, logistically being able to carry out terrorist strikes abroad, and reduce their leverage in Lebanon, which is contingent on their financial largesse.”
Ottolenghi’s comments followed Thursday’s decision by the US Justice Department to create a unit of specialists on money-laundering, drug trafficking, terrorism and organized crime aimed at Hezbollah’s fund-raising wing.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said it would “leave no stone unturned” in targeting Hezbollah’s sprawling network, whose reach extends across Africa and into Central and South America, according to the department.
The team will build prosecutions, disrupt drug rings and staunch cash flows, Sessions said. He noted criticism that former president Barack Obama held back from cracking down on Hezbollah’s global web in order to achieve the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
The creation of the Hezbollah Financing and Narcoterrorism Team (HFNT) comes amid a stepped-up effort to battle Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East and the group’s expanded military capabilities.
Senator Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican, praised the new HFNT, saying an “aggressive, multi-agency investigation” of Hezbollah was “sorely needed” and thanked President Donald Trump’s administration for delivering.
“The Iran-backed Hezbollah uses its criminal network to fund ongoing efforts that undermine US interests. Obama officials blocked efforts to take the terrorist group down,” Wicker said via Twitter on Thursday.
“The American people and their representatives in Congress require a full assessment of Hezbollah’s criminal enterprises.”
Wicker and other Republicans have bashed Obama following a report in Politico in December that his administration hindered a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) program targeting Hezbollah’s trafficking operations as it brokered the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
Washington has long targeted Hezbollah with sanctions, accusing the group of terrorist attacks and destabilizing parts of the Middle East using resources gained through global drug smuggling and money laundering operations.
In 2011 the Obama administration cracked down on the group’s far-flung associates, branding Beirut-based Lebanese Canadian Bank a “primary money laundering concern” for handling the funds of alleged Hezbollah drugs chief Ayman Joumaa.
The US Treasury and DEA later described a massive operation involving Panama- and Colombia-based drug traffickers shipping multi-ton amounts of cocaine to the US, Europe and elsewhere around the globe.
The network laundered billions of dollars of their own cash and that of other traffickers through Panama shell companies, various banks in Lebanon and elsewhere, and an operation that exported used cars from the US to West Africa.
Former DEA official Derek Maltz said Hezbollah most recently used the proceeds to buy weapons for the group’s operations in Syria, and some funds went to Yemen, where Iran-backed rebels are battling Saudi-supported government forces.
Against this backdrop, Ottolenghi warned that the new HFNT faced a formidable task and would need talent, tools and the full diplomatic clout of the Trump administration to make a dent in Hezbollah’s criminal web.
“You’re dealing with a global network of people who are very loyal to one another, are loyal to the cause, and often benefit from great wealth for themselves personally and for the enterprise,” Ottolenghi told Arab News.
“They are talented, multilingual gangster-cum-entrepreneurs who travel seamlessly across borders and have global connections for support and cover. In short, we need talent, resources and the lowering of bureaucratic barriers that have impeded the government from doing the right thing until now.”

How Lebanon Managed to End Its Bloodiest Conflicts, While Israel Failed

January 12, 2018

Both Lebanon and Israel increased their territories in the wake of war and found themselves ruling new populations. But there’s one glaring difference between the two expanded states

By Oren Barak Jan 12, 2018 7:01 AM

File photo: IDF soldiers patrol the border with Lebanon on March 28, 2000 in Lilach, Israel.

File photo: IDF soldiers patrol the border with Lebanon on March 28, 2000 in Lilach, Israel. Mark H. Milstein / ANS / Getty

In August 1978, Prime Minister Menachem Begin met secretly in Jerusalem with Camille Chamoun, a leader of Lebanon’s Maronite Christian community and a former president of his country. In the meeting, Begin promised Chamoun that Israel would expand its aid to the Christians in Lebanon, and in this context drew a comparison between the Lebanese Christians and the Jews who were persecuted in the Diaspora. The meeting between the two concluded with ardent embraces, but as Chamoun left the Prime Minister’s Residence, his face clouded over. “Mr. Prime Minister,” he said to Begin, “don’t make the same mistakes that we made in Lebanon. The French forced ‘Greater Lebanon’ on us and made us annex Muslim-populated areas. That was the source of our troubles. Don’t annex Muslim territories to your country.”

Begin listened, but said nothing.

In a recently published book, “State Expansion and Conflict: In and Between Israel/Palestine and Lebanon,” I draw a first comparison of its kind between two expanded states: “Greater Lebanon,” which was established in 1920, in the wake of World War I; and “Greater Israel” (or Israel/Palestine), which came into being after the 1967 Six-Day War. What both cases have in common is that a relatively small political unit – the autonomous district of Mount Lebanon and the State of Israel, respectively – added to itself territories that had previously been outside its boundaries. Thus, instead of becoming (in Lebanon) or continuing to be (in Israel) a more-or-less homogenous nation-state, as its leaders had hoped, each state became a divided society: namely, one containing a number of religious, ethnic or national groups between which there is tension, friction and sometimes also violent conflict.

Nevertheless, there is one outstanding difference between these two expanded states. “Greater Lebanon,” which later became the independent state of Lebanon, was eventually accepted by the majority of its inhabitants, including the Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims who lived in the areas annexed to it in 1920, and was also accepted by its Arab neighbors (including Syria, which initially refused to recognize Lebanon’s “separate” existence, but eventually, in 2008, established diplomatic relations with it). In contrast, not one country – including Israel itself – has recognized the existence of “Greater Israel” as a state. Moreover, many of its residents, including most of the Palestinians but also a not insignificant number of Israeli Jews, refuse to accept it to this day.

At the same time, all efforts that have been undertaken to date to bring about the “contraction” of the two expanded states have failed. Lebanon’s borders remain unchanged since 1920, as have the borders of Israel/Palestine since 1967. (Israel withdrew its forces from the Gaza Strip in 2005, but no recognized international border exists between it and that region, and the Strip itself is under an Israeli land, air and sea blockade.) This lengthy existence of the two expanded states – almost a century in the Lebanon case, and a half-century for Israel/Palestine – obliges us to take them seriously as political phenomena, and also creates an opening for a comparison between them.

Such a comparison shows that in the first decades after the expansion, the political leaders in both countries adopted different ways to cope with the divided society they had created (in Israel/Palestine) or asked others to create for them (in Lebanon – and here it needs to be remarked that, contrary to what Chamoun said to Begin, it was the Maronite Christians who pressured France, their ally, to expand their country’s borders in 1920). Moreover, the decisions made by these leaders engendered consequences that were sometimes similar and sometimes different, and in some cases became intertwined – as occurred, for example, in the period of the Israeli-Maronite alliance of 1976-1982, which reached its zenith in the first Lebanon War.

Both cases, Lebanon and Israel/Palestine, were at first characterized by relative political stability, whether in the wake of a power-sharing arrangement between the different communities, such as existed in Lebanon from 1943 to 1975, or by the establishment of a system of “control” of one community over the other, as existed in Israel/Palestine until the eruption of the first Palestinian intifada in 1987. But in both expanded states, political stability was undermined later, when those who viewed themselves as being victimized by the situation – groups consisting largely of Muslims in Lebanon (though some of them included Christians, too), and the Palestinians in Israel/Palestine – put forward demands that were rejected by each country’s leaders.

Arab prisoners of war are led blindfolded to interrogation in the old city of Jerusalem, June 8, 1967.
Arab prisoners of war are led blindfolded to interrogation in the old city of Jerusalem, June 8, 1967.GOREN / AP

Decline of statism

It’s important to note that in both Lebanon and Israel/Palestine, considerable differences existed in the countries’ strength, in the degree of their legitimacy in the eyes of their residents and in the scale of international intervention in their affairs. As a result, the conflicts that broke out in the two divided societies were different in character. In Lebanon, where a civil war raged from 1975 until 1990, the conflict revolved largely around power, positions and resources, but most of the parties involved did not challenge the very existence of the expanded state, and those who did were branded “isolationists.” But in Israel/Palestine, since 1987 the conflict has been over the expanded state itself, with one side, Israel, seeking to continue maintaining it, and the other, the Palestinians, seeking to part from it.

This basic difference between the two conflicts can explain why the conflict in Lebanon – in which, according to official estimates, 150,000 people were killed – concluded with a relatively successful peace process culminating in the 1989 Ta’if Agreement and in the end of the civil war, a year later, whereas the peace process in Israel/Palestine in the 1990s did not succeed in putting an end to the conflict and its collapse brought about the renewal of violence between the sides in 2000. True, Lebanon did not become a strong state in the wake of the Ta’if Agreement, and its political stability is occasionally disturbed, whether by local players (such as Hezbollah in 2006) or by external developments (such as the civil war in Syria since 2011, during which hundreds of thousands of refugees streamed into the country). But, unlike Israel/Palestine, Lebanon is considered a legitimate state by the overwhelming majority of its citizens.

Lebanon and Israel/Palestine, however, are not only cases that exist separately from each other. They are also neighbors, and as such it is worth examining the nature of the relations between them before and after Israel’s expansion in 1967, and to ask whether this factor influenced their relations.

In contrast to the prevailing image of Israel-Lebanon relations as inherently volatile, both countries have actually known periods of relative stability on their common border. For example, in the period 1949-1967, Israel’s relations with Lebanon, even without a formal peace agreement, were more stable than those it shared with Egypt, Syria or Jordan. In this period, the problems that arose between the two countries were handled relatively successfully by the Israel-Lebanon Mixed Armistice Commission, which included representatives from both sides and a United Nations observer.

In the wake of the 1967 war, however, relations began to deteriorate. Following the emergence of Israel/Palestine as an expanded state, Israel expelled the armed Palestinian organizations from the territories to Jordan, and in the wake of the civil war that erupted there in 1970 (“Black September”), they found shelter in the Lebanon-Israel border area, where they could operate against Israel in relative freedom. Israel tried initially to force the Lebanese government to restrain the Palestinian factions, as King Hussein had done in Jordan, and afterward tried to do so itself, notably in Operation Litani in 1978 and during the first Lebanon War in 1982.

It’s noteworthy that Israeli decision makers’ perception of Lebanon in this period was influenced also, and perhaps mainly, by the profound changes that occurred in Israel/Palestine following the state’s expansion in 1967. This was expressed particularly in the diminishment, not to say decline, of the statist orientation, which places the state at the center, and the rise of the communal orientation, which accords supreme importance to the ethno-national group both domestically and externally. A salient example of this is Israel’s attempt to annul unilaterally its 1949 armistice agreement with Lebanon in the wake of the 1967 war, even though Lebanon had not been involved in the war. But the height of this process was in the period of the Israeli-Maronite alliance, beginning in the mid-1970s.

Hezbollah as patron

The eruption of the civil war in Lebanon, in 1975, and the rise of the Phalangist Party, under the leadership of the Gemeyal family, as the largest and strongest Maronite Christian force in the country in the late 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s, created a golden opportunity for Israel’s leaders, particularly those who advocated the “community” approach, such as Prime Minister Begin, but also for such security officials as Ariel Sharon, Rafael Eitan and David Kimche. In this way, they were able to deal a mortal blow to the armed Palestinian factions, considerably weaken Syria – Israel’s most significant enemy after the signing of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty in 1979 – and radically transform Israel-Lebanon relations.

But Israel’s attempt to resolve in one fell swoop both conflicts – in Israel/Palestine and in Lebanon – ended in failure. Although Israel succeeded in 1982 in expelling Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and his supporters from Lebanon, and inflicting heavy losses on the Syrian army, Lebanon’s president-elect, Bashir Gemeyal, who was Israel’s chief ally, was assassinated, and Israel was accused of being responsible for the massacre perpetrated by its ally, the Maronite Christian Lebanese Forces militia, in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in Beirut. The massacre itself, but also the “Reagan Plan” for Arab-Israeli peace presented by the U.S. administration, guaranteed that the Palestinian problem – which Israel had sought to make disappear in order to entrench its expanded state in Israel/Palestine – was not only not shelved but that it would come increasingly to the fore.

Clothes left behind by South Lebanon Army soldiers during the Israeli withdrawal are strewn on the barbed wire border fence between Israel and Lebanon as seen from Kfar Kila, 27 May 2000.     
Clothes left behind by South Lebanon Army soldiers during the Israeli withdrawal are strewn on the barbed wire border fence between Israel and Lebanon as seen from Kfar Kila, 27 May 2000.     THOMAS COEX / AFP

But these setbacks did not mark the end of Israel’s ordeals in Lebanon. In the wake of repeated attacks on its forces, this time by Lebanese militias – particularly Hezbollah, the Shi’ite party-militia – the government of Israel decided on a partial withdrawal from Lebanon and the creation of a “security zone” along the Israel-Lebanon border in which a local militia, the South Lebanon Army, would operate with Israeli backing and support. Nonetheless, Hezbollah’s attacks persisted, and according to Brig. Gen. (res.) Moshe Tamir, who served in the “security zone” in those years, the result was that Hezbollah was “transformed from being an outcast terrorist organization, operating contrary to the will of the central government in Lebanon, into a legitimate resistance movement of the Lebanese people against the Israeli occupation.”

It was not until 2000, nearly a decade after the end of the civil war in Lebanon, that Israel decided to withdraw its forces from Lebanon completely. But by then, Hezbollah was a well-trained and well-armed player in the Lebanese arena, enjoying the support of Iran and Syria. Indeed, even after the withdrawal by Israel, Hezbollah looked for, and found, ever more pretexts to continue fighting it.

The result, then, was that instead of solving the Palestinian problem in Lebanon, as Israel’s leaders had hoped to do in 1982, they found that the conflicts in the two expanded states were now intertwined. This situation found expression in the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, on which Israel embarked, in part, because of provocations by the Palestinian organization Hamas in the Gaza Strip, but also in prisoner-exchange deals between Israel and Hezbollah, in which the Lebanese organization portrayed itself, in part, as the patron of the Palestinians.

The expanded state of Israel/Palestine that emerged in 1967 created a divided society in this territory, in place of the relatively homogeneous society that had existed in the State of Israel since it had gained independence, and engendered far-reaching implications not only domestically but externally as well, including in terms of its neighbor, Lebanon.

In view of the far-reaching external impacts of Israel’s expansion in 1967, it would appear that in this case, Henry Kissinger’s well-known observation that “Israel has no foreign policy, only domestic policy,” is apt, albeit with a somewhat different meaning than he had in mind.

Prof. Oren Barak teaches in the departments of both political science and international relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and he is a research fellow in the Forum for Regional Thinking.

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US task force to probe Hezbollah ‘narcoterror’

January 11, 2018


© AL-MAYADEEN/AFP/File | Hezbollah, whose leader Hassan Nasrallah is pictured here during a recent television interview, is one of the dominant forces in Lebanese politics


The US Justice Department announced Thursday creation of a special task force to investigate what it called “narcoterrorism” by the powerful Lebanese movement Hezbollah.

The unit will comprise specialists on money-laundering, drug trafficking, terrorism and organized crime, targeting Iran ally Hezbollah’s sprawling network, whose reach extends across Africa and into Central and South America, the department said.

“The Justice Department will leave no stone unturned in order to eliminate threats to our citizens from terrorist organizations and to stem the tide of the devastating drug crisis,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“The team will initiate prosecutions that will restrict the flow of money to foreign terrorist organizations as well as disrupt violent international drug trafficking operations.”

The move comes amid a stepped-up effort to battle Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East and the expanded military capabilities of Hezbollah, a dominant force in Lebanese politics.

But Sessions said the creation of the Hezbollah Financing and Narcoterrorism Team was also a response to criticisms that former president Barack Obama held back from cracking down on Hezbollah’s global networks, investigated under the previous Project Cassandra, in order to achieve the nuclear deal with Iran.

“The HFNT will begin by assessing the evidence in existing investigations, including cases stemming from Project Cassandra, a law enforcement initiative targeting Hezbollah’s drug trafficking and related operations,” the department said.

Officials in Washington and US allies Saudi Arabia and Israel, have increasingly raised the alarm over Hezbollah’s growing power in Lebanon and around the world.

On Wednesday, former top Treasury Department sanctions official Juan Zarate told Congress that Hezbollah’s drug smuggling and money laundering operations are global in scale.

“Recent actions by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Treasury to dismantle networks of Hezbollah’s ‘Business Affairs Component’ have exposed financial and trade nodes that the Hezbollah operates and led to arrests and enforcement actions around the world,” he told a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

– Obama accused of holding back –

The US has long targeted Hezbollah with sanctions. A 2007 presidential order allowed the seizure of property of “persons undermining the sovereignty of Lebanon,” not naming the group but clearly aimed at it.

In 2011 the Obama administration unleashed a crackdown on the group’s far-flung associates, designating Beirut-based Lebanese Canadian Bank a “primary money laundering concern” for handling the funds of alleged Hezbollah drug kingpin Ayman Joumaa.

The US Treasury and Drug Enforcement Administration later described a massive operation involving Colombia and Panama-based drug traffickers shipping multi-tonne amounts of cocaine to the United States, Europe and elsewhere.

The network laundered billions of dollars of their own money and that of other traffickers through Panama shell companies, various banks in Lebanon and elsewhere, and an operation that exported tens of thousands of used cars from the United States for sale in West Africa.

According to former DEA official Derek Maltz, Hezbollah most recently used the proceeds to buy weapons for the group’s operations in Syria, and some of the funds have also made their way to Yemen, where Iran-backed rebels are battling Saudi-supported government forces for control of the country.

However, Maltz and others in the law enforcement community have accused Obama of refraining from taking action against certain figures and entities in the Hezbollah network while he sought with five other world powers to complete the 2015 deal with Iran to curb its nuclear program.

Call out Iran but keep nuclear deal, Germany says to U.S.

January 11, 2018

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Europe and the United States should confront Tehran about its ballistic weapons program and its role in Syria’s civil war but a 2015 deal to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb must be preserved, Germany’s foreign minister said on Thursday.

Image result for Sigmar Gabriel, photos

FILE PHOTO: German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel. Getty Images

Speaking before a meeting with his counterparts from Iran, Britain and France and the European Union, Sigmar Gabriel said the United States was right to address concerns about Iran’s strategy in the Middle East.

But he said: “We should separate two things from each other: we want to preserve the nuclear deal with Iran… and the difficult role Iran has in the region.”

“We want to speak with Iran about its role in the region, which is more than problematic,” he said, citing Iran’s influence in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon.

On the eve of a deadline for U.S. President Donald Trump to decide whether to reimpose oil sanctions lifted under the agreement, the EU’s top diplomat Federica Mogherini convened the meeting with the European powers to show support for the nuclear deal in a message to Washington, diplomats and officials said.

Tehran has always denied seeking nuclear arms.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, in a statement released before the start of the meeting in Brussels, called the nuclear deal “a crucial agreement that makes the world safer.”

Trump’s October decision not to certify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal has put Washington at odds with all other signatories of the accord – Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the European Union.

European allies have warned of a split with the United States over the nuclear agreement and say if Washington reimposes sanctions on Iran, the pact could fall apart.

Trump must decide by mid-January whether to continue waiving U.S. sanctions on Iran’s oil exports under the terms of the pact. The U.S. State Department said on Tuesday the Trump administration was expected to decide on Friday.

The decision comes as Iran’s government deals with protests over economic hardships and corruption that are linked to frustration among younger Iranians who hoped to see more benefits from the lifting of sanctions.

Additional reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek; editing by Philip Blenkinsop