Lebanon highlights drug seizures as PM ‘smooths rough edges’ of response to Kuwaiti initiative

Lebanon's Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi gives a press conference about a seizure of a cache of captagon tablets in Lebanon's capital Beirut on January 25, 2022. (AFP)
Lebanon's Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi gives a press conference about a seizure of a cache of captagon tablets in Lebanon's capital Beirut on January 25, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 29 January 2022

Lebanon highlights drug seizures as PM ‘smooths rough edges’ of response to Kuwaiti initiative

Lebanon's Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi gives a press conference about a seizure of a cache of captagon tablets in Lebanon's capital Beirut on January 25, 2022. (AFP)
  • Initiative calls for serious steps to rebuild confidence with Gulf states amid concern over Hezbollah weapons

BEIRUT: Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi pledged that the Lebanese state “will spare no effort in thwarting all smuggling operations and preventing harm to our Arab brothers.”

He also announced on Thursday evening that the Anti-Narcotics Office of the Judicial Police, in cooperation with the Anti-Narcotics Division of the Customs, had seized about 12 tons of drugs hidden in boxes of powdered juice bound initially for Sudan.

Two days earlier, the minister revealed that authorities had seized a large quantity of captagon hidden in a tea shipment being sent by sea to an African country and then on to the Gulf.

The seizures come as Lebanon strives to show that it takes the smuggling of drugs to Gulf nations seriously, and highlight the effectiveness of its security and intelligence measures to combat the illicit trade.

BACKGROUND

Kuwait’s foreign minister said recently that he has given Lebanese authorities a list of suggested measures to be taken to ease a diplomatic rift with Gulf countries.

As part of efforts to repair strained relations between Lebanon and Gulf states, Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Ahmed Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah presented a new initiative during talks in Lebanon last week. It includes 10 items that “represent Arab, Gulf and international conditions for rebuilding confidence with Lebanon,” he said during his visit.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdullah Bou Habib will deliver an official response to the Kuwaiti initiative on Saturday.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati is trying to smooth the rough edges of the response, according to a source close to the PM, which will include a call for dialogue on the issue of Hezbollah’s weapons on the grounds that Shebaa Farms and Kafr Shuba are still occupied by the Israelis.

The source also said that Mikati reiterates Lebanon’s continuing adherence to the Taif Agreement that ended the civil war in the country, international resolutions and efforts to ensure the best possible relations with the region and the world.

The Kuwaiti initiative has been extensively discussed among members of the ruling Lebanese authority and it is understood the response has undergone several revisions.

Leaked information suggests that the initiative includes “harsh conditions, some of which are impossible to implement, such as Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls for the disbanding and disarming of all Lebanese militias.”

It also is said to call for Lebanon to adhere to political, economic and financial reforms, rehabilitate state institutions, adopt neutrality, respect the sovereignty of Arab and Gulf countries, halt any political, media or military interference in these countries, respect the decisions of the Arab League, and commit to international resolutions.

Other conditions include disarming all militias and extending government control over all Lebanese territory; serious measures to control Lebanese border crossings and prevent drug smuggling, including the adoption of a clear and decisive security policy that prevents the targeting of Gulf countries by drug-smuggling operations; measures to prevent interference by Hezbollah in the Yemen war; and taking firm steps to prevent any meetings or gatherings that might affect the internal affairs of Gulf states.

Gebran Bassil, the head of the Free Patriotic Movement, said that the Kuwaiti initiative includes conditions that would require time to be implemented, and some that are contentious to the Lebanese.

“Discussing the issue of arms is dangerous,” Bassil, whose bloc constitutes President Michel Aoun’s team in the parliament, told Russia Today.

“There is Israeli aggression and Palestinian invasion happening on Lebanese territories, and external pressure on Lebanon leads to an internal implosion as the conflict becomes a conflict between those who support Hezbollah’s weapons and those who are against them.”

Nabih Berri, the parliament’s speaker, said his position on Hezbollah’s weapons has not changed.

“Some Lebanese lands are still occupied by Israel, which gives these weapons a reason to exist and gives Hezbollah and Lebanon the right to resist the occupation,” he said.

Although Hezbollah has not responded directly to the Kuwaiti initiative, the party announced that Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah will deliver a speech on Monday. It is not known whether he will be supportive of the initiative or renew his criticism of Gulf states.

Lebanon’s Al-Markazia news agency quoted a source close to the party as saying: “Nasrallah will focus on the reasons and motives that dictate Hezbollah’s adherence to the resistance as long as there is an inch of Lebanese territory occupied.”

In his Friday sermon, Sheikh Ahmed Qabalan, a Shiite cleric affiliated with Hezbollah and the Amal movement, addressed “brothers in the Gulf Cooperation Council” and said: “The enemy is Israel, not the Arabs, and the danger lies in Tel Aviv, not in Beirut’s southern suburb.

“The solution does not start with (UN Security Council resolutions). The weapons of the resistance are a guarantee for the Arabs and not against them.

“Today, the resistance’s weapons are a guarantee for Lebanon and the greatest national need to prevent any civil war, sectarian strife or an Israeli or takfiri invasion.”

 


Vessel attacked off Yemen; security firm reports attempted boarding

Vessel attacked off Yemen; security firm reports attempted boarding
A US Navy’s Fifth Fleet spokesperson told Reuters the navy is aware of an incident in the Red Sea. (File/AFP)
Updated 6 sec ago

Vessel attacked off Yemen; security firm reports attempted boarding

Vessel attacked off Yemen; security firm reports attempted boarding
  • A vessel has been attacked 34 nautical miles (63 km) south west of Yemen’s Hodeidah, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Organization (UKMTO) reports

A vessel has been attacked 34 nautical miles (63 km) south west of Yemen’s Hodeidah, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Organization (UKMTO) reported on its website on Thursday, adding an investigation is underway.
British maritime security company Ambrey Intelligence said the incident involved a sailing vessel that managed to escape an attempted boarding from occupants of skiffs, and that the crew have been reported safe.
It said the vessel was “likely Hong Kong-flagged,” but did not give further details.
A US Navy’s Fifth Fleet spokesperson told Reuters the navy is aware of an incident in the Red Sea. 


‘Elections did not undermine Hezbollah but gives Lebanon chance to reorganize’ says spokesman for the American Task Force on Lebanon

‘Elections did not undermine Hezbollah but gives Lebanon chance to reorganize’ says spokesman for the American Task Force on Lebanon
Updated 55 min 49 sec ago

‘Elections did not undermine Hezbollah but gives Lebanon chance to reorganize’ says spokesman for the American Task Force on Lebanon

‘Elections did not undermine Hezbollah but gives Lebanon chance to reorganize’ says spokesman for the American Task Force on Lebanon

CHICAGO: The result of Lebanon’s elections should not lead people to believe that Hezbollah has been undermined but should be seen as an opportunity to restructure the country’s political dynamics, a spokesman for the American Task Force on Lebanon said on Wednesday.
Jean AbiNader, ATFL vice president for policy, explained that Hezbollah coalition partners such as the conservative Christian Free Patriotic Movement, headed by President Aoun’s son-in-law Gibran Bassile, lost seats, weakening the Hezbollah-led group.
AbiNader said that America needs to “de-couple” US policies toward Lebanon from US policies toward Iran. He said that Hezbollah, which is considered a terrorist organization by the US, must decide, too, if it is Lebanese or an arm of Iranian regional influence. But Hezbollah did not lose influence in the election, he said, only its coalition partnership.

“That’s really critical for people to understand. Hezbollah hasn’t lost. Its coalition lost. One is the Free Patriotic Movement, which is President Michel Aoun’s party now run by Gebran Bassile,” AbiNader said during an interview on The Ray Hanania Radio show broadcast on the US Arab Radio Network and sponsored by Arab News.
“They lost seats. The biggest losers, of course, are the Sunnis because they didn’t contest the election. A number of Sunni candidates won. That’s great. Some pro-Syrian candidates lost. Some outliers who are not members of any coalition also lost. What you have here is Amal, Hezbollah, the kernel of their 27 seats is intact. They will look to Marada and other organizations to join with them in a coalition. But regardless of what happens, if — and this is a big if — if Lebanese forces can pull together with the Druze, and can pick up with the independents and the anti-traditional leaders, they will have a slim majority in parliament.”
He said that the political balance will “shift all the time,” but conceded, “it is definitely a time of uncertainty.”
AbiNader said that the election has created an opportunity for the Lebanese people to form a new coalition that will focus on confronting the corruption that has blocked a full investigation of the Aug. 4, 2020 explosion that killed more than 218 people, injured 7,000 and made more than 300,000 people homeless.
“The explosion “has never really been investigated,” AbiNader said. Questions still remain about how much of the ammonium nitrate that exploded still remains and where it is. He said that the explosion was estimated to reflect the power of about 500 tons of ammonium nitrate. But, he said, there was more than 2,700 tons at the port and the whereabouts of the 2,200 tons remains a dangerous mystery.
“If we get a new government in Lebanon, the investigation will go forward,” AbiNader predicted, noting that two of the government ministers who have called for an investigation were re-elected.
“There is no full investigation in Lebanon of that bombing, so far,” AbiNader said.
He said that the Lebanese continue to live under the fear that more violence could take place.

“There is that fear and the fear is how do we set up a government that can function that isn’t a provocation to Hezbollah. And that is a real challenge because the Lebanese forces, the largest Christian party, that will form an anti-Hezbollah coalition has to do it more than on anti-grounds,” AbiNader said.
“They have to be pro-something. That’s my concern — that Lebanese forces will see their votes as a mandate to be aggressive and antagonistic to Hezbollah. That shouldn’t be the target. The target should be an independent judiciary, complete the investigations, fix the economy, put money back in people’s pockets, and diminish corruption. That’s what the challenges should be because that is what people are tired of. Hezbollah will gradually lose its attraction as it loses its raison d’etre, which is to protect Lebanon against Israel.”
AbiNader argued that Hezbollah, which is a political force and a powerful militia, must decide whether it is Lebanese or is a force for Iran.
America, he added, must see past Hezbollah in helping Lebanon to recover and rebuild. The Biden administration, AbiNader said, has been very supportive of Lebanon, but America needs to do more.

“Let’s be frank. The United States has not really been very smart about the Middle East in terms of their politics. They have been trying to pivot out of the region since Obama,” AbiNader said.
“The relationships with the Lebanese and other groups have been hard won. And they have usually seen Lebanon through an Iranian lens or an Israeli lens and not Lebanon for itself. And that’s really what we have been fighting to get over the past 20 years is a Lebanese policy that is built on US-Lebanon interests and not a Lebanon being seen as something affected by the Iran negotiations or by Israel’s security.”
The challenge, he said, remains in Congress, where some members continue to believe that Lebanon is “run by Hezbollah and Iran.”
“We had to show them time and time again that Lebanon has been a good partner with the United States,” AbiNader said.
“The Congress has increased the amount of humanitarian assistance to Lebanon. It has increased the amount of assistance to the LAF (Lebanese Armed Forces),” AbiNader said.
“It has made very strong indications of what the US would like Lebanon to do, for example, vis a vis the elections in terms of being free, fair and on time, which helped a lot. It has helped Lebanon with the World Bank, in terms of Lebanon receiving certain loans, for example, to subsidize wheat. So, I think the United States is doing a lot. But can it do more? We always think it should.”
AbiNader acknowledged that a stronger case must be made to the Lebanese people explaining what the US is doing for Lebanon, given the pressures of the Russian war in Ukraine, economic issues with China, and immigration challenges on America’s southern border.
AbiNader said that Lebanon is grateful that US President Joseph Biden has restored the financial support that was stripped by his predecessor, Donald Trump.

  • The Ray Hanania Radio Show is broadcast on the US Arab Radio Network and sponsored by Arab News live every Wednesday at 5 p.m. EST in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 and in Washington D.C. on WDMV AM 700. It is rebroadcast on Thursdays at 7 a.m. EST in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 radio and in Chicago at 12 noon on WNWI AM 1080.

 For the podcast and more information on the radio show visit: www.arabnews.com/rayradioshow  

Yemeni FM meets with Japanese State Minister for Foreign Affairs, urges to put pressure on Houthis

Yemeni FM meets with Japanese State Minister for Foreign Affairs, urges to put pressure on Houthis
Updated 19 May 2022

Yemeni FM meets with Japanese State Minister for Foreign Affairs, urges to put pressure on Houthis

Yemeni FM meets with Japanese State Minister for Foreign Affairs, urges to put pressure on Houthis

Japanese State Minister for Foreign Affairs ODAWARA Kiyoshi met with the Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmed bin Mubarak on Wednesday to discuss ways to enhance bilateral ties between the two countries.

During their meeting, Mubarak praised the “distinguished and historical” bilateral relations between Japan and Yemen, which extend to several fields including political, economic and developmental.

He also expressed the Yemeni government’s appreciation of Japan’s long-term support to the humanitarian response in Yemen, as well as efforts aimed at supporting the peace process.

Mubarak praised the strength of bilateral relations, and Japan’s support for the Presidential Leadership Council, stressing that the Council is strenuously working to reach a comprehensive political solution to the Yemeni crisis and bring Peace to the county through carrying out its role in fulfilling the peace process led by the United Nations, in reference to the concessions made by the government for the success of the armistice agreement.

The minister reiterated his government’s pledges under the truce to stop hostilities and facilitate the attainment of a political solution to the Yemeni crisis that meets the aspirations of the country’s people, urging Japan and the international community to apply pressure on the Houthi militia to complete the implementation of the truce agreement by lifting the seven-year siege of Taiz, Yemen’s third-largest city. Mubarak also called for the need to use the revenues from oil shipments coming from the port of Hodeidah to pay public sector salaries.

Mubarak added that the food crisis that the world is witnessing has exacerbated the existing food-security issues in Yemen and that the country has become “more threatened than ever before to reach the brink of famine.” He called on Japan to provide assistance through the provision of food commodities, especially imports of wheat, in order to enhance food security.

This article was originally published on Arab News Japan


Israel fires missile defenses near Lebanon after misidentification

Israel fires missile defenses near Lebanon after misidentification
Updated 19 May 2022

Israel fires missile defenses near Lebanon after misidentification

Israel fires missile defenses near Lebanon after misidentification
  • “Due to a misidentification, the air defense soldiers launched interceptors and as a result an alert was activated,” said the military

JERUSALEM: Israel activated its missile defenses on Thursday after mistakenly identifying a threat near the border with Lebanon, the Israeli military said.
The incident also set off air raid sirens in parts of northern Israel.
“Due to a misidentification, the air defense soldiers launched interceptors and as a result an alert was activated,” the military said.


Dubai announces plan to improve municipality and land department services, cut costs

Dubai announces plan to improve municipality and land department services, cut costs
The plan also seeks to promote productive partnerships with the private sector. (WAM)
Updated 19 May 2022

Dubai announces plan to improve municipality and land department services, cut costs

Dubai announces plan to improve municipality and land department services, cut costs
  • The restructuring plan comes as part of the government’s mission to increase productivity and develop comprehensive strategic plans to achieve the organizations’ objectives

Dubai’s government has announced plans to improve services in the municipality and land departments by 20 percent, while reducing operational costs by 10 percent, state news agency WAM reported.

The restructuring plan comes as part of the government’s mission to increase productivity and develop comprehensive strategic plans to achieve the organizations’ objectives, report added. 

The plan also seeks to promote productive partnerships with the private sector and create new business opportunities worth $2.723bln per year, according to WAM.

The restructuring plan for Dubai Land Department also aims to improve the competitiveness of Dubai’s real estate sector and improve operational efficiency by 20 percent.

WAM reported that the plan also has a focus on making Dubai one of the world’s highest ranked cities in real estate market indicators and enhancing investment in the sector. 

Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and First Deputy Chairman of the Dubai Council, and Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and Second Deputy Chairman of the Dubai Council, met with Mattar Al Tayer, Commissioner-General for Infrastructure, Urban Planning and Wellbeing and Member of the Dubai Council on Wednesday to discuss the initiative. 

“The comprehensive restructuring plan of Dubai Municipality and Dubai Land Department forms part of Dubai’s efforts to transform itself into the world’s best city to live and work and ensure its services and operations keep pace with the evolving global environment,” Sheikh Hamdan said. 

“The teams in the two departments have a great responsibility to lead and manage Dubai’s strategic projects. We will be closely following their progress and supporting them to achieve their objectives.”