Lebanon rescue talks follow lull in fighting

Updated 03 September 2019

Lebanon rescue talks follow lull in fighting

  • An uneasy calm returned to both sides of the border

BEIRUT: Top-level talks on an economic rescue plan for Lebanon began Monday after the UN stepped in to help bring an end to military clashes along the country’s border with Israel.

An uneasy calm returned to both sides of the border following an exchange of fire between Hezbollah and Israeli military forces near the town of Maroun Al-Ras in southern Lebanon.

Clashes between Israel and Hezbollah intensified along the border after a week of rising tensions.

Israel’s military said it fired into southern Lebanon on Sunday after anti-tank missiles launched by Hezbollah targeted its army base and vehicles near the border. Hezbollah said that it was responding to an earlier drone attack by Israel.

The head of the UN peacekeeping mission, Maj. Gen. Stefano del Cole, said late on Sunday that he contacted both parties to call for an end to the fighting.

“This resulted in a restoration of general calm in the area of operations. Both parties assured me of their commitment to continue the cessation of hostilities in accordance with UN Resolution 1701,” he said.

Political leaders joined banking, finance and business chiefs at the top-level meeting on Lebanon’s economic future held at the presidential palace and chaired by President Michel Aoun.

“All of us are aware of the sensitivity of the economic and financial conditions we are experiencing. We are looking for effective solutions that will promote stability in order to avoid the worst,” the Lebanese leader said during the session.

“The circumstances require all of us to transcend our political or personal differences, and not to turn differences of opinion into conflict at the expense of the supreme interest of the nation. We must unite our efforts to come up with effective solutions to the economic crisis that is stifling the dreams and hopes of our people.”

Fixing the price of fuel, raising the tax on bank interest to 11 percent and increasing value-added tax are among reforms being considered.

Economist Louis Hobeika said that Lebanon’s 2019 budget had reduced the country’s fiscal deficit by 7.6 percent, but a greater reduction is required in 2020, “which means dealing with and fighting corruption.”

“I do not expect the meeting to make advanced decisions, because those attending are not serious about reducing spending or stopping mismanagement. I have warned against finding a way out by increasing taxes on citizens. People do not mind the increase, but only in exchange for serious reforms, not continuous corruption,” he said.

Hobeika said that the response of assembled officials to pleas regarding corruption did little to encourage optimism.

“It would have been better to have a unified paper by neutral economists adopted after discussion with politicians and even by public opinion. What is happening does not inspire confidence,”
he said.

 


Hundreds of employees fired from Turkey’s Incirlik air base

Updated 25 January 2020

Hundreds of employees fired from Turkey’s Incirlik air base

  • Incirlik Air Base is located in Turkey’s Adana province, near the Syrian border, and it has been a strategic element in ties between Ankara and Washington
  • It has also played a key role for the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) against Daesh in Syria and Iraq in the past

ANKARA: More than 420 people working at a crucial military air base in southern Turkey have lost their jobs, with some analysts considering it symbolic of decreased cooperation levels with the US and as the Pentagon reconsiders Middle East deployments.
Incirlik Air Base is located in Turkey’s Adana province, near the Syrian border, and it has been a strategic element in ties between Ankara and Washington. It has also played a key role for the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) against Daesh in Syria and Iraq in the past, as well as hosting US nuclear warheads.
The Colorado-based company Vectrus System Corporation, which provides day-to-day maintenance and operation services at the base, terminated the contracts of almost half of its employees at the base earlier this month.
“The base surged to support OIR,” Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told Arab News. “The Turkey-based staff for OIR has mostly left. So, the base is going back to its pre-OIR level of people, and that level requires less contractor support.”
Vectrus did not reply to Arab News’ request for comment about its decision to scale back at the base.
Joe Macaron, a resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, said the move was largely symbolic as the canceled contracts related to logistical support rather than the US military mission.
“But obviously, it comes against the background of some tensions in the US-Turkish relationship and previous hints by Ankara that it might reconsider the status of the Incirlik base,” he told Arab News. “The Pentagon is reconsidering its deployment across the Middle East and it might be looking to become less dependent on Incirlik without fully exiting this crucial military air base.”
Incirlik air base has been used in the past as a bargaining chip at times of tension between the two countries.
“Turkey may re-evaluate the status of the Incirlik Air Base if the US imposes sanctions,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said last month in an interview with pro-government channel A-Haber, referring to the potential fallout from Turkey’s decision to buy an air defense system from Russia. 
Washington has threatened to use its Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act to punish Ankara for buying the S-400 system.
Seth J. Frantzman, who is executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, said reports of the US reducing presence at Incirlik, or challenges to the US presence there, have been growing over the last years.
“Whether these reports relate to changes or are just random is unclear and it is important to note that the large interests of the military and history tend to mean the US does not simply walk away from bases, even if it reduces its role slowly over time,” he told Arab News.
The US has invested heavily in the Jordanian Muwaffaq Salti Air Base to expand its presence there.