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

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Updated 19 May 2022

‘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  
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US carries out air strikes in Syria after deadly drone attack

US carries out air strikes in Syria after deadly drone attack
Updated 24 March 2023

US carries out air strikes in Syria after deadly drone attack

US carries out air strikes in Syria after deadly drone attack
  • Strikes targeted groups affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp

WASHINGTON: The US military carried out multiple air strikes in Syria on Thursday night against Iran-aligned groups who it blamed for a deadly drone attack that killed a contractor, injured another and wounded five US troops, the Pentagon said.
The strikes were in retaliation for an attack against a US-led coalition base near Hasakah in northeast Syria at approximately 1:38 p.m. (1038 GMT) on Thursday, it said.
The US intelligence community assessed that the drone was Iranian in origin, the military said.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the strikes targeted groups affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
“The airstrikes were conducted in response to today’s attack as well as a series of recent attacks against Coalition forces in Syria by groups affiliated with the IRGC,” Austin said in a statement.

Overnight, videos on social media purported to show explosions in Syria’s Deir Ez-Zor, a strategic province that borders Iraq and contains oil fields.
Iran-backed militia groups and Syrian forces control the area, which also has seen suspected airstrikes by Israel in recent months allegedly targeting Iranian supply routes.
Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, which answers only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has been suspected of carrying out attacks with bomb-carrying drones across the wider Middle East. In recent months, Russia has begun using Iranian drones in its attacks on sites across Ukraine as part of its war on Kyiv. Iran has denied being responsible for these attacks, though Western nations and experts have tied components in the drones back to Tehran.
The attack and the US response threaten to upend recent efforts in the region to deescalate tensions, as Saudi Arabia and Iran have been working toward reopening embassies in each other’s countries. The kingdom also acknowledged efforts to reopen its embassy in Syria, whose embattled President Bashar Assad has been backed by Iran in his country’s long war.
Syria’s state-run SANA news agency did not immediately acknowledge any strikes. Syria’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
There was no immediate reaction from Iran over the strikes, which come during the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Qatar’s state-run news agency reported a call between its foreign minister and Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser. Doha has been an interlocutor between Iran and the US recently amid tensions over Tehran’s nuclear program.
Qatar’s foreign minister also spoke around the same time with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian.
Austin said he authorized the retaliatory strikes at the direction of President Joe Biden.
“As President Biden has made clear, we will take all necessary measures to defend our people and will always respond at a time and place of our choosing,” Austin said. “No group will strike our troops with impunity.”
The Pentagon said two of the wounded service members were treated on site, while three others and the injured contractor were transported to medical facilities in Iraq.

Male guardianship rules in north Yemen restrict women’s aid work

Male guardianship rules in north Yemen restrict women’s aid work
Updated 24 March 2023

Male guardianship rules in north Yemen restrict women’s aid work

Male guardianship rules in north Yemen restrict women’s aid work
  • Conflict divided country between Houthis in north and UN-recognized government in south

DUBAI: Female aid workers in north Yemen cannot do their jobs tackling one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises as tightening male guardianship rules by Houthi authorities restrict their movement, nine female humanitarians have revealed.

When women refuse to take a guardian, they cannot travel to oversee aid projects, collect data and deliver health and other services. When women do take one, gender-sensitive work is difficult and aid budgets must bear extra costs.

One health project manager normally conducts 15-20 visits a year to projects around the country but said she has not made any since the rules requiring Yemeni female aid workers be accompanied by a close male relative — a “mahram” in Arabic — came out a year ago.

“I don’t have a lot of men in my family,” she said, adding that some women struggle to find willing guardians because relatives are against her working. “Sometimes a woman works without informing someone in her family.” She improvises with video calls, but knows other women have lost jobs because they cannot work effectively.

Yemen’s conflict has divided the country between the Houthis in north Yemen and an internationally recognized government in the south.

The conflict has wrecked the economy and destroyed the health system, leaving two-thirds of Yemen’s 30 million population in need of humanitarian assistance. Aid groups say female-headed households are more vulnerable to food insecurity and difficulties accessing aid.

Without female staff in the field, aid groups say they have trouble doing things as simple as identification checks on women, who may need to lift their face veils, to distribute food aid.

“Mahram requirements are making it even more challenging for humanitarian interventions to reach the most marginalized female program participants,” said one representative of an NGO that works on nutrition and sanitation.

For the past year female Yemeni aid workers have had to take a mahram when crossing provincial borders controlled by the Houthi group, a religious, political and military movement that controls north Yemen. In four provinces, they even need a guardian to move within the province.

“Female (Yemeni) staff have not been able to work outside our offices for almost two years which is catastrophic for their development, morale, motivation and also most obviously for us reaching women and girls in the field in a culturally sensitive way,” said an employee of another NGO, describing the situation in some areas.

Project quality in the NGO’s work on food and health provision has been “very damaged,” she said.

The women all requested anonymity due to safety fears.

A spokesman for the Houthis’ aid coordination body SCMCHA said they supported aid delivery, but organizations should respect traditions.

“Mahram is a religious Islamic obligation and a belief culture ... Why do organizations put up obstacles to Islamic teachings and Yemeni culture?” he said.

The Houthis have increasingly promoted conservative social values since ousting the government from the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014.

Movement restrictions increased ad hoc before becoming more systematic and targeting aid workers with mahram requirements.

The UN and governments including the US say the restrictions impact women’s ability to participate in public and political life and must stop.

In protest, most international NGOs have refused to include guardians when applying for aid work travel permits — resulting in those permits being declined. NGOs have also suspended travel on UN flights from Sanaa in protest.

“This smothering rule gives men power over women’s lives and is an unacceptable form of gender-based discrimination,” Amnesty International said.

Yemeni law does not impose male guardianship rules, and authorities in the south do not impose them.

“We want to achieve more, to be stronger, more independent. But they restrict that,” said one city-based aid worker who cannot monitor distant projects due to a lack of male relatives.

While humanitarians are the main target of mahram rules, directives requesting car hire and transport companies ensure mahram compliance extended it to all women – although these are less strictly applied.

“If women have to travel without a mahram, they are detained at checkpoints and kept until a male guardian arrives,” another aid worker said.

The women described taking boy relatives out of school, driving sick relatives around to ensure a man in the car, and last minute meeting cancellations.

“You have the burden to pay for your relative. To pay for accommodation, transportation, food ... It is not cost effective for us or for donors,” said a health worker.

Iraq WMD failures shadow US intelligence 20 years later

Iraq WMD failures shadow US intelligence 20 years later
Updated 24 March 2023

Iraq WMD failures shadow US intelligence 20 years later

Iraq WMD failures shadow US intelligence 20 years later

WASHINGTON: In his US Capitol office, Rep. Jason Crow keeps several war mementos. Sitting on a shelf are his military identification tags, the tailfins of a spent mortar and a piece of shrapnel stopped by his body armor.

Two decades ago, Crow was a 24-year-old platoon leader in the American invasion of Iraq. Platoon members carried gas masks and gear to wear over their uniforms to protect them from the chemical weapons the US believed — wrongly — that Iraqi forces might use against them.

Today, Crow sits on committees that oversee the US military and intelligence agencies. The mistakes of Iraq are still fresh in his mind.

“It’s not hyperbole to say that it was a life-changing experience and a life frame through which I view a lot of my work,” the Colorado Democrat said.

The failures of the Iraq w ar deeply shaped American spy agencies and a generation of intelligence officers and lawmakers. They helped drive a major reorganization of the US intelligence community, with the CIA losing its oversight role over other spy agencies, and reforms intended to allow analysts to better evaluate sources and challenge conclusions for possible bias.

But the ultimately incorrect assertions about Iraq’s nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs, repeatedly cited to build support for the war in America and abroad, did lasting damage to the credibility of US intelligence.

As many as 300,000 civilians died in two decades of conflict in Iraq, according to Brown University estimates. The US lost 4,500 troops and spent an estimated $2 trillion on the Iraq War and the ensuing campaign in both Iraq and Syria against the extremist Daesh group, which took hold in both countries after the US initially withdrew in 2011.

Those assertions also made “weapons of mass destruction” a catchphrase that’s still used by rivals and allies alike, including before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which US intelligence correctly forecast.

Avril Haines, the current US director of national intelligence, noted in a statement that the intelligence community had adopted new standards for analysis and oversight.

Only 18 percent of US adults say they have a great deal of confidence in the government’s intelligence agencies, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Forty-nine percent say they have “some” confidence and 31 percent have hardly any confidence.

Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush ordered an invasion of Afghanistan, where the ruling Taliban sheltered Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and allowed the group to run training camps.

Bush’s administration soon began to warn about Iraq, which was long seen as threatening American interests in the Middle East.

Iraq was known to have sought a nuclear weapon in the 1980s and had chemical and biological weapons programs by the end of the Gulf war in 1991. It had been accused of concealing details about those programs from international inspectors, before they were kicked out in 1998.

The Bush administration argued Saddam Hussein’s government was still hiding programs from inspectors after they reentered the country in 2002 and found no signs of resumed production.

A US intelligence estimate published in October 2002 alleges that Iraq had considered buying uranium from Niger and aluminum tubes for centrifuges, that it was building mobile weapons labs, that it was considering using drones to spread deadly toxins, and that it had chemical weapons stockpiles of up to 500 tons.

Some US officials also suggested Iraqi officials had ties to Al-Qaeda leaders despite evidence of deep antipathy between the two sides.

Those claims would largely be debunked within months of the invasion. No stockpiles were found. Subsequent reviews have blamed those claims on outdated information, mistaken assumptions, and a mix of uninformed sources and outright fabricators.

Bush repeated wrong US intelligence findings before the war, as did Secretary of State Colin Powell in a landmark February 2002 speech before the UN.

Kuwait’s Al-Najat Charity distributes iftar meals to Syrian refugees in Lebanon

Kuwait’s Al-Najat Charity distributes iftar meals to Syrian refugees in Lebanon
Updated 23 March 2023

Kuwait’s Al-Najat Charity distributes iftar meals to Syrian refugees in Lebanon

Kuwait’s Al-Najat Charity distributes iftar meals to Syrian refugees in Lebanon
  • Charity delegation joins refugees in Arsal to welcome Ramadan and hold Taraweeh prayers

BEIRUT: Kuwait’s Al-Najat Charity has celebrated the advent of Ramadan by distributing iftar meals among Syrian refugees in camps near the border in northeastern Lebanon, Kuwait News Agency reported.
The charity’s public relations officer, Tarek Al-Essa, said a delegation joined refugees in Arsal to welcome Ramadan and hold Taraweeh prayers.
A mobile kitchen prepared breakfast as part of the “One Million Fasting Meals” campaign, which includes Lebanon and other countries.
Food baskets were also distributed to camps in the region.
Al-Essa highlighted the charity’s keenness to support the refugees, especially during the holy month, which represents “mercy, goodness and giving.”

Jordan urges international community to take a stand against hate speech fueling violence in occupied Palestine

Jordan urges international community to take a stand against hate speech fueling violence in occupied Palestine
Updated 23 March 2023

Jordan urges international community to take a stand against hate speech fueling violence in occupied Palestine

Jordan urges international community to take a stand against hate speech fueling violence in occupied Palestine
  • Jordan’s deputy PM points to ‘reckless and disgusting’ comments by Israel’s Finance Minister Betzalel Smotrich
  • EU envoy Josep Borrell denounces Israeli minister’s statements, describing them as ‘dangerous and unacceptable’

AMMAN: Jordan’s Deputy Prime Minister has called on the international community to take a clear stand against hate speech fueling violence and conflict in occupied Palestine.
Ayman Safadi, who is also Jordan’s minister of foreign affairs and expatriates, pointed to the danger of extremist racist ideology, manifested in a “reckless and disgusting manner” in the statement of Israel’s Minister of Finance Betzalel Smotrich.
Jordan’s News Agency reported on Wednesday that the Israeli minister had denied the existence of the Palestinian people and their historical rights, and presented a map of Israel that included the occupied state of Palestine and Jordan.
In a phone call with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, Safadi stressed that Israel’s government should bear the responsibility for “hate speech, racist incitement, and the disgusting behavior of the Israeli minister.”
The government must declare its rejection openly and clearly, he said.
“Staying silent in the face of such statements and racist positions under the pretext of protecting government coalition is unacceptable and dangerous, and will only fan the flames of tension and further spread this extremist ideology.”
Borrell also denounced the Israeli minister’s statements, describing them as “dangerous and unacceptable,” and urged the Israeli government to take a stand.
The EU rejects all unilateral Israeli measures, underscoring its firm position that supports the two-state solution as a way to achieve peace, he added.
The two parties discussed the dangerous deterioration in the occupied Palestinian territories, underlining the need to halt all measures that fuel violence and undermine the chances of a comprehensive peace based on the two-state solution.
Safadi and Borrell also discussed the outcomes of the recent Aqaba and Sharm El-Sheikh meetings on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and Jordan’s efforts to help relaunch negotiations to end the violence.
Safadi lauded the EU’s support for the two-state solution and its condemnation of racist hate speech in all its forms.