Warnings as Lebanon misses government formation deadline

France said it regretted that Lebanese leaders have failed to form a new government in line with a commitment made to Macron. (File/AFP)
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Updated 16 September 2020

Warnings as Lebanon misses government formation deadline

  • Macron has visited Lebanon twice in less than a month, trying to force change on its leadership amid the crises and last month’s massive explosion
  • Beirut’s chief prosecutor charged four people with negligence over a huge fire last week at Beirut’s port

BEIRUT: France said on Wednesday it regretted that Lebanese political leaders have failed to form a new government in line with a commitment made to President Emmanuel Macron, but that it was not too late to do so.
The statement by Macron’s office came after Lebanese politicians missed a 15-day deadline to form a crisis Cabinet, with many remaining deadlocked on Wednesday on which political faction gets to have the key portfolio of the finance ministry.
The deadline was set as part of a French initiative by President Emmanuel Macron who has been pressing the leaders in Lebanon to form a Cabinet made up of specialists who can work on enacting urgent reforms to extract the country from a devastating economic and financial crisis.
The crisis has been worsened by the Aug. 4 explosion at Beirut’s port caused by the detonation of thousands of tons of ammonium nitrates, which killed nearly 200 people, injured thousands and caused losses worth billions of dollars.
“It is not yet too late: everyone must assume their responsibilities and finally act in the sole interest of Lebanon by allowing Moustapha Adib to form a government that reflects the seriousness of the situation,” the French statement said, referring to the Lebanese prime minister-desginate.
The French leader has described his initiative, which includes a road map and a timetable for reforms, as “the last chance for this system.”
While initially committing to the plan and naming a new prime minister-designate who promised to deliver a Cabinet within two weeks, Lebanese politicians have been unable to meet the deadline amid divisions over the initiative itself and the manner in which the government formation is being carried out, away from the usual consultations and horse-trading among political factions.

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Adib’s French-supported efforts to form a government of experts without party loyalists hit snags the last few days, particularly after the US administration slapped sanctions on two former Cabinet ministers and close allies of Hezbollah, including the top aide to the powerful Shiite Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.
Berri, who heads the Hezbollah-allied Shiite Amal movement, is now insisting on retaining hold on the Finance Ministry, which has been held by a Shiite close to Berri and Hezbollah for the past 10 years. He has also objected to the way the Cabinet formation was being undertaken, apparently angered that Adib has not been consulting them.
A government opposed by Lebanon’s two main Shiite groups would find it difficult to pass a vote of confidence in parliament.
Local reports said Adib, a Sunni according to Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system and former diplomat who is supported by Macron, got the backing of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and was appointed to form a Cabinet on Aug. 31. Local reports said he was inclined to step down if no breakthrough was achieved in the next 24 hours.
Hariri, in a tweet, said the Ministry of Finance and other ministerial portfolios “are not an exclusive right for any sect” and that the insistence on retaining the ministry for one sect was undermining “the last chance to save Lebanon and the Lebanese.”
Walid Joumblatt, a leading politician and head of Lebanon’s Druze sect, said some people “do not understood or do not want to understand that the French initiative is the last chance to save Lebanon and prevent its demise.”
Macron has visited Lebanon twice in less than a month, trying to force change on its leadership amid the crises and last month’s massive explosion in Beirut’s port.
Lebanon, a former French protectorate, is mired in the country’s worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history. It defaulted on paying back its debt for the first time ever in March, and the local currency has collapsed, leading to hyperinflation and soaring poverty and unemployment.
The small, cash-strapped country is in desperate need of financial assistance but France and other international powers have refused to provide aid before serious reforms are made. The crisis is largely blamed on decades of systematic corruption and mismanagement by Lebanon’s ruling class.
Also on Wednesday, Beirut’s chief prosecutor, Ziad Abu Haidar, charged three Lebanese and a Palestinian with negligence over a huge fire last week at Beirut’s port that badly polluted the air and traumatized the city’s residents, still reeling from the August explosion. The fire also heavily damaged a warehouse where the International Committee of the Red Cross stores thousands of food parcels and cooking oil, the state-run National News Agency reported.
There were no casualties in the blaze, which was the second fire at the port since last months massive blast. Two of the three Lebanese and the Palestinian were ordered arrested, the report said, without elaborating.


Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

Updated 01 October 2020

Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

  • Captured gang tells of route to Yemen through base in Somalia

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: A captured gang of arms smugglers has revealed how Iran supplies weapons to Houthi militias in Yemen through a base in Somalia.

The Houthis exploit poverty in Yemen to recruit fishermen as weapons smugglers, and send fighters to Iran for military training under cover of “humanitarian” flights from Yemen to Oman, the gang said.

The four smugglers have been interrogated since May, when they were arrested with a cache of weapons in Bab Al-Mandab, the strategic strait joining the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden.

In video footage broadcast on Yemeni TV, gang leader Alwan Fotaini, a fisherman from Hodeidah, admits he was recruited by the Houthis in 2015. His recruiter, a smuggler called Ahmed Halas, told him he and other fishermen would be based in the Somali coastal city of Berbera, from where they would transport weapons and fuel to the Houthis. 

In late 2015, Fotaini traveled to Sanaa and met a Houthi smuggler called Ibrahim Hassam Halwan, known as Abu Khalel, who would be his contact in Iran. 

This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security.

Dr. Theodore Karasik, Security analyst

Pretending to be relatives of wounded fighters, Fotaini, Abu Khalel, and another smuggler called Najeeb Suleiman boarded a humanitarian flight to Oman, and then flew to Iran. They were taken to the port city of Bandar Abbas, where they received training on using GPS, camouflage, steering vessels and maintaining engines.

“We stayed in Bandar Abbas for a month as they were preparing an arms shipment that we would be transporting to Yemen,” Fotaini said.

On Fotaini’s first smuggling mission, his job was to act as a decoy for another boat carrying Iranian weapons to the Houthis. “The plan was for us to call the other boat to change course if anyone intercepted our boat,” he said.

He was then sent to Mahra in Yemen to await new arms shipments. The Houthis sent him data for a location at sea, where he and other smugglers met Abu Khalel with a boat laden with weapons from Iran, which were delivered to the Houthis.

Security analyst Dr. Theodore Karasik said long-standing trade ties between Yemen and Somalia made arms smuggling difficult to stop. “This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security,” Karasik, a senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics in Washington, DC, told Arab News.

“The smuggling routes are along traditional lines of communication that intermix with other maritime commerce. The temptation to look the other way is sometimes strong, so sharp attention is required to break these chains.”