Hezbollah should have no role in Lebanon’s future, says Bahaa Hariri, son of Rafik Hariri

Hezbollah should have no role in Lebanon’s future, says Bahaa Hariri, son of Rafik Hariri
Bahaa Hariri appearing on the latests episode of Frankly Speaking, with Frank Kane. (Screenshot/AN Photo)
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Updated 25 January 2021

Hezbollah should have no role in Lebanon’s future, says Bahaa Hariri, son of Rafik Hariri

Hezbollah should have no role in Lebanon’s future, says Bahaa Hariri, son of Rafik Hariri
  • Broad alliance needed to implement unfinished business of 1989 Taif Agreement, Bahaa Hariri tells Frankly Speaking
  • He contrasts contribution of “true friend” Saudi Arabia with part played by Iran, which has never “given us a penny”

DUBAI: Bahaa Hariri, the eldest son of slain Lebanese statesman Rafik Hariri, is calling for a broad alliance — a “supermajority” — to coalesce around a plan to agree on the way forward for Lebanon as it faces multiple crises.

Such an alliance is needed to implement the unfinished business of the Taif Agreement, the peace deal brokered by Saudi Arabia 30 years ago, Bahaa said as he gave a candid assessment of Lebanon’s situation on Frankly Speaking, the televised interview in which senior Middle East policymakers are questioned on their views about the most important issues of the day.

“We have to make sure that across the sectarian divide, the forces of moderation go hand in hand to put (together) a complete comprehensive plan — whether it’s an economic plan, a COVID-19 plan, a constitutional plan, a judiciary plan, or a security plan,” he said, noting that Lebanese was “at the precipice.”

 

 

Bahaa, a billionaire Lebanese businessman, added: “We seek the full support of Saudi Arabia to make sure of the full implementation of the Taif Accord. It is key for us that Saudi Arabia helps us out and supports us in this. That's the key.”

The Taif Agreement, signed in 1989 under Saudi auspices at the end of the bitter civil war, had never been fully implemented, Bahaa said, but remained as a blueprint for achieving progress in the country. “If we are going to come to the Arab world and the international community, they’ll tell us you have an accord, but three-quarters of it hasn’t been executed,” he said.

“If we want a new accord, it may take us another 10 years and maybe half a million dead.”

Referring to the Taif Agreement, Bahaa said: “We need to make sure that this accord is executed to the letter: The separation of religion from the executive and the legislative branches; the establishment of a senate that protects minorities; the establishment of an independent judiciary; and an electoral law that meets the aspirations of all Lebanese. And that we have a new election.”

 

 

Having said that, Bahaa made it clear he had no plans to put himself forward as a possible leader of Lebanon as it continues months-long attempts to form a new administration. "I don't have all the answers to many questions and I don't want to be the leader,” he said.

“Today, we don't have a civil war - we have complete mismanagement of a configuration that is in complete divorce. That configuration, of course, is Hezbollah, and the warlords and whoever supported them.

“The situation is only getting worse and that's why we believe that the economic plan and the entire plan that we're putting together has to be around a non-sectarian government, a technocratic government that takes the agenda moving forward.”

By the same token, Bahaa said there should be no role for Iran-backed Hezbollah in the new agenda, and castigated Iran for its destructive interference in Lebanon’s affairs.

“Iran has never given us a penny. It has always supported a terrorist organization called Hezbollah, which is not the Lebanese people but only a sect within the Lebanese people. It has killed people and has tried to destroy everything we're trying, as good Lebanese, to move forward,” he said angrily.

Bahaa contrasted the part Iran has played with the role played by Saudi Arabia, which he said had been a “true friend” of Lebanon. “Saudi Arabia has done a lot for Lebanon. It has helped us with the Taif Accord, and on political stability. It has helped us in putting billions of dollar deposits after Taif to stabilize the currency,” he said.

“It was always in the lead in encouraging other GCC nations in pouring foreign direct investment in the Central Bank to stabilize Lebanon, and encourage foreign direct investments from the Arab world to invest in Lebanon.”

Bahaa would welcome constructive involvement from the international community to help solve Lebanon’s ongoing crisis, but is wary of further involvement by Emmanuel Macron after the French leader called for the involvement of Hezbollah in the reform process.

 

 

“We welcomed (France’s) help, and we welcome any initiative, but as we have said, it has to fall in line with the aspirations of the revolution,” Bahaa said, referring to the protest movement that appeared in Lebanon in October 2019 and intensified after the horrific explosion at Beirut port last summer.

“We welcome all efforts from the international community, but the most important thing is that it has to meet the aspirations of the Lebanese. The Lebanese want total divorce of Hezbollah and the warlords. I don't think Lebanon can afford any more patch-up solutions.”

Bahaa is also hopeful that the new Biden administration in the US, as well as British and European governments, can be persuaded to get involved in the Lebanese reform process. Equally, he is optimistic that the new opportunities presented by the Abraham Accords, as well as the reopening of trade and economic relations between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, can defuse tensions in the Middle East and Lebanon.

Hezbollah is suing Hariri in the Lebanese judicial system after he blamed the Iran-backed group for the explosion, but he is determined to defend the case strenuously. “The alleged offense is that we have tarnished the reputation of a branded global terrorist organization,” Bahaa said. “We believe that — based on the most reputable investigative reporters of the world — that they control the port. Fine, if that's the case. We have the best lawyers who will defend our case.”

The Aug. 19, 2020, verdict of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which investigated the 2005 assassination of his father, represented “closure” in the case, but added that there remained substantial evidence of the responsibility of Hezbollah’s senior leadership.“These courts are not after a party; they are after individuals. The courts were very clear in saying that they had evidence, but not enough evidence to indict the others,” Bahaa said.

As for his father’s legacy, Bahaa said it has been squandered in the sense that the opportunities presented by the Taif Agreement have been wasted by successive Lebanese politicians who are responsible for the current dire condition of the country. “We were almost there, and (the current political leaders) have to bear the full brunt and the responsibility of what happened,” he said.

Speaking about his younger brother, Saad Hariri, who was prime minister of Lebanon for six of the last 11 years, Bahaa said his fraternal affection remains, but that political differences were insurmountable, especially relating to Hezbollah and the influence of Lebanese “warlords” over the political process.




Bahaa Hariri said the forces of moderation in Lebanon need to work together across the sectarian divide to tackle the countries crises. (Screenshot/AN Photo)

“He is my little brother and I love him very much. This will never change — not today, not tomorrow, not till the end of my days,” Bahaa said. “But you cannot solve the problems when these cronies are the problem, okay. This hasn't happened just for a year or two; we've been on it for almost 16 years now.”

Thus, he rules out supporting Saad in his efforts to form a new government if he includes terrorist-designated Hezbollah in the administration. “I have stark differences politically with him,” Bahaa said. Asked if he would support Saad in a Hezbollah-influenced government, his reply was: “Absolutely not.”

Bahaa judged that the current Lebanese president, Michel Aoun, was under also the influence of “warlords,” and that international sanctions should be extended to other members of the political establishment, in addition to Aoun’s son-in-law Gebran Bassil, who was placed under US sanctions on corruption charges last year.

“It’s not enough. I think others have to be sanctioned,” Bahaa said. “It is the same for all the warlords, not only one. We cannot take one and isolate the others.” However, he declined to identify further potential targets for sanctions “because in the justice system you are innocent until proven guilty.”

Having been involved in business in Saudi Arabia, Bahaa believes the latest peace breakthroughs in the Middle East can lead to a revival of economic activity and an influx of foreign investment, despite the damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The biggest venture of his new business enterprise - the $500 million Al-Abdali development in Amman, Jordan - had been only marginally affected by the economic slowdown, he said.

Watch full episode below:

 

 

Twitter: @frankkanedubai


Libya speaker flags March 8 for government confidence vote

Libya speaker flags March 8 for government confidence vote
Updated 9 min 57 sec ago

Libya speaker flags March 8 for government confidence vote

Libya speaker flags March 8 for government confidence vote
  • It was unclear whether the vote itself would take place on March 8 or whether the meeting would be limited to talks
  • Interim prime minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah on Thursday said he faced a Friday deadline to form his government according to a UN road map

TRIPOLI: The Libyan parliament will discuss holding a vote of confidence on a new unified government for the divided country on March 8, its powerful speaker Aguila Saleh said.
Oil-rich Libya has been mired in chaos since dictator Muammar Qaddafi was ousted and killed in a popular uprising backed by a NATO air campaign a decade ago.
Its Government of National Accord (GNA) is based in Tripoli, while eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar supports a parallel administration based in the east.
“Parliament will convene to discuss a vote of confidence on the government on Monday, March 8, at 11 am in Sirte if the 5+5 Joint Military Commission guarantees the security of the meeting,” Saleh said in a statement late Friday, referring to a city halfway between east and west.
The military commission is a forum bringing together five representatives from each side.
“If that proves impossible, the session will be held in the temporary seat of parliament in Tobruk at the same date and time,” he said, adding that the military committee would need to advise the parliament in advance.
It was unclear whether the vote itself would take place on March 8 or whether the meeting would be limited to talks.
Interim prime minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah on Thursday said he faced a Friday deadline to form his government according to a UN road map.
He said he had submitted to Saleh a “vision” for a cabinet line-up that would help steer Libya to elections in December, and that the names of proposed ministers would be disclosed in parliament during the confidence vote.
Parliament has 21 days to vote on the line-up, according to the road map.
Dbeibah was selected early this month in a UN-sponsored inter-Libyan dialogue, the latest internationally backed bid to salvage the country from a decade of conflict and fragmented political fiefdoms.
Saleh said Friday that Dbeibah should choose “competent people with integrity, from across the country, in order to achieve (national) consensus” for his government.
“Everyone should be represented so that (Libya) can emerge from the tunnel,” Saleh said.
If approved, a new cabinet would replace the Tripoli-based GNA, headed by Fayez Al-Sarraj, and the parallel administration in the east.
The premier will then face the giant task of unifying Libya’s proliferating institutions and leading the transition up to December 24 polls.


Iraqi interpreters face death threats from Iranian-backed militias

Iraqi interpreters face death threats from Iranian-backed militias
Updated 29 min 48 sec ago

Iraqi interpreters face death threats from Iranian-backed militias

Iraqi interpreters face death threats from Iranian-backed militias
  • Seven of the interpreters have gone into hiding as they believe their identities have been exposed
  • Militia groups responsible for attacking bases targeted one of the interpreters and posted bullets through his door

LONDON: Eight Iraqi interpreters who worked with British forces fighting Daesh have said they fear for their lives after receiving threats from Iranian-backed militias.
Seven of the interpreters have gone into hiding as they believe their identities have been exposed to anti-coalition groups targeting bases used by US and UK troops, The Times reported.
The interpreters stopped translating for British forces at the Camp Taji military base in March 2020 after troops who were training Iraqi forces began to leave the country.
Two interpreters told the British newspaper that their full names, identification numbers and vehicle registrations were handed over to Iraqi Security Forces and the information was handed over to checkpoints in Baghdad. This meant that the data ended up being accessed by Iranian-backed militias.
Militia groups responsible for attacking bases where coalition troops were stationed targeted one of the interpreters and posted bullets through his door. They had told Iraqis working with coalition forces to work with them instead.
The interpreters have moved, except for one who could not afford to do so. Some have left their families amid concerns that they would be found and killed.
The UK’s Ministry of Defense said it was investigating the allegations. It is understood that the British military believes there were no data breaches and that standard security was followed.
Another interpreter said that Iranian-backed militias increased their targeting of coalition bases after the death of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in January 2020.
He said that tougher security requirements after the attacks meant that interpreters had to supply their full documentation, including vehicle details, to the coalition.
“They told us they would not pass this information to the Iraqi government, but it was then circulated for all the checkpoints throughout Baghdad. Many of these checkpoints are joint with the Popular Mobilization Forces — the legal name of these militias, of which many of them have loyalty to Iran,” he told The Times.
He is appealing to Britain to give him and his family sanctuary. “We are not a huge number, there are only eight of us with our families.”
The Ministry of Defense said: “While we do not employ interpreters in Iraq directly, we take any breach of personal security extremely seriously. We hold our contractors to the highest standards and are investigating.”


Bahrain announces extension of Covishield-AstraZeneca dosing intervals

Bahrain announces extension of Covishield-AstraZeneca dosing intervals
Updated 27 February 2021

Bahrain announces extension of Covishield-AstraZeneca dosing intervals

Bahrain announces extension of Covishield-AstraZeneca dosing intervals
  • The vaccine was approved for emergency use for vulnerable groups in the Kingdom starting Jan. 21
  • The vaccine was produced by AstraZeneca in cooperation with the University of Oxford

DUBAI: Bahrain has announced it is increasing the number of weeks between the first and second dose of the Covishield-AstraZeneca vaccine from four to eight weeks, state news agency BNA reported.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said the longer dose durations between eight to 12 weeks are related to greater vaccine effectiveness, the Ministry of Health’s Undersecretary for Public Health Dr. Mariam Al-Hajeri said.
The vaccine was approved for emergency use for vulnerable groups in the Kingdom starting Jan. 21. The groups include the elderly and those with immune complications, she said.
The vaccine was produced by AstraZeneca in cooperation with the University of Oxford and is manufactured by the Serum Institute of India under the name ‘Covishield’.


Explosion hits Israeli-owned ship in Mideast - AP

Explosion hits Israeli-owned ship in Mideast - AP
Updated 27 February 2021

Explosion hits Israeli-owned ship in Mideast - AP

Explosion hits Israeli-owned ship in Mideast - AP
  • The crew and vessel were safe, according to the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: An explosion struck an Israeli-owned cargo ship sailing out of the Middle East on Friday, renewing concerns about ship security in the region amid escalating tensions between the US and Iran.

The crew and vessel were safe, according to the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which is run by the British navy. The explosion in the Gulf of Oman forced the vessel to head to the nearest port.

Dryad Global, a maritime intelligence firm, identified the stricken vessel as the MV Helios Ray, a Bahamian-flagged roll-on, roll-off vehicle cargo ship.

Another private security official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, similarly identified the ship as the Helios Ray.

Satellite-tracking data from website MarineTraffic.com showed the Helios Ray had been nearly entering the Arabian Sea around 0600 GMT Friday before it suddenly turned around and began heading back toward the Strait of Hormuz. It was coming from Dammam, Saudi Arabia, and still listed Singapore as its destination on its tracker.

The blast comes as Tehran increasingly breaches its 2015 nuclear accord with world powers to create leverage over Washington. Iran is seeking to pressure Biden to grant the sanctions relief it received under the deal that former President Donald Trump abandoned nearly three years ago.

Capt. Ranjith Raja of the data firm Refinitiv told the AP that the Israeli-owned vessel had left the Arabian Gulf Thursday bound for Singapore. On Friday at 0230 GMT, the vessel stopped for at least nine hours east of a main Omani port before making a 360-degree turn and sailing toward Dubai, likely for damage assessment and repairs, he said.

While details of the explosion remained unclear, two American defense officials told the AP that the ship had sustained two holes on its port side and two holes on its starboard side just above the waterline in the blast. The officials said it remained unclear what caused the holes. They spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity to discuss unreleased information on the incidents.

A United Nations ship database identified the vessel’s owners as a Tel Aviv-based firm called Ray Shipping Ltd. Calls to Ray Shipping rang unanswered Friday.

Abraham Ungar, 74, who goes by “Rami,” is the founder of Ray Shipping Ltd., and is known as one of the richest men in Israel. He made his fortune in shipping and construction.

According to the Nikola Y. Vaptsarov Naval Academy, where Ungar provides support and maritime training, he owns dozens of car-carrying ships and employs thousands of engineers.

The US Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet said it was “aware and monitoring” the situation. The US Maritime Administration, an agency of the Transportation Department, issued a warning to commercial shippers early Saturday acknowledging the explosion and urging ships to “exercise caution when transiting” the Gulf of Oman.

While the circumstances of the explosion remain unclear, Dryad Global said it was very possible the blast stemmed from “asymmetric activity by Iranian military.”


Yemen’s children starve as UN seeks billions to avoid vast ‘man-made’ famine

Yemen’s children starve as UN seeks billions to avoid vast ‘man-made’ famine
Updated 27 February 2021

Yemen’s children starve as UN seeks billions to avoid vast ‘man-made’ famine

Yemen’s children starve as UN seeks billions to avoid vast ‘man-made’ famine
  • Some 80 percent of Yemenis need help, with 400,000 children under the age of five severely malnourished
SANAA/NEW YORK: Ahmadiya Juaidi’s eyes are wide as she drinks a nutrition shake from a large orange mug, her thin fingers grasping the handle. Her hair is pulled back and around her neck hangs a silver necklace with a heart and the letter A.
Three weeks ago the 13-year-old weighed just nine kilograms (20 pounds) when she was admitted to Al-Sabeen hospital in Yemen’s capital Sanaa with malnutrition that sickened her for at least the past four years. Now she weighs 15 kilograms.
“I am afraid when we go back to the countryside her condition will deteriorate again due to lack of nutritional food. We have no income,” her older brother, Muhammad Abdo Taher Shami, told Reuters.
They are among some 16 million Yemenis — more than half the population of the Arabian Peninsula country — that the United Nations says are going hungry. Of those, five million are on the brink of famine, UN aid chief Mark Lowcock warns.
On Monday the United Nations hopes to raise some $3.85 billion at a virtual pledging event to avert what Lowcock says would be a large-scale “man-made” famine, the worst the world will have seen for decades.
Some 80 percent of Yemenis need help, with 400,000 children under the age of five severely malnourished, according to UN data. For much of its food, the country relies on imports that have been badly disrupted over the years by all warring parties.
“Before the war Yemen was a poor country with a malnutrition problem, but it was one which had a functioning economy, a government that provided services to quite a lot of its people, a national infrastructure and an export base,” Lowcock told reporters. “The war has largely destroyed all of that.”
“In the modern world famines are basically about people having no income and then other people blocking efforts to help them. That’s basically what we’ve got in Yemen,” he added.