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Lebanon: A new theatre opens for Iran and Saudi Arabia?

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are now seeking ways to compensate for the loss of Syria.

Syed Ali Zia Jaffery

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Courtesy of Global Village Space

Amidst simmering crises in the Middle East, Lebanon finds itself in the thick of things as Saudi Arabia on Monday accused it of declaring war on the Kingdom through aggression by the Iran-backed Shiite group, Hezbollah.

This accusation comes days after Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad Hariri resigned while sitting in Saudi Arabia, citing the interference of Iran and Hezbollah as the reason.

The Arab country has thus been opened up as yet another territory of conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia.Saudi Gulf affairs minister Thamer al-Sabhan said the Lebanese government would “be dealt with as one that is declaring war on Saudi Arabia” because of what he termed as aggression by Hezbollah. Sabhan blamed the Hariri-led government for failing to rein-in Hezbollah.

He said: “There are those who will stop (Hezbollah) and make it return to the caves of South Lebanon. The Lebanese must all know these risks and work to fix matters before they reach the point of no return”.

The Iran-backed Hezbollah is both a military and political force, which according to many is more powerful than the Lebanese army. The group found its way into the Parliament and the Hariri-led coalition government formed last year. In accordance with the intricate Lebanese power-sharing deal, the president should be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni and the parliament speaker a Shiite. Haunted by the memories of the civil war which lasted from 1975 to 1990, the Sunnis and Shiites(dominant) agreed to tread carefully.

Hariri formed a coalition government in 2016 that included Hezbollah too.However, pundits are certain that the glaring victory of the Hezbollah-Iran-Assad forces against Saudi-backed rebels in Syria has got to do with the sudden resignation of Hariri, that despite repudiation appears to be pushed by Riyadh. Here, it is noteworthy to mention that this comes at a time when, both Iran and the Kingdom have ramped up their fight in the Yemen conflict.

The complexion of war changed dramatically when Houthi rebels hurled a missile on the Saudi capital, Riyadh. Saudi Arabia has asserted that Iran provided the rebels with the missile.

 

Saudi Imprints all-over

Hariri appeared on Al Arabiya, a channel whose content is stamped by the Saudi government, and blamed Iran for meddling in Arab affairs. “Iran’s arms in the region will be cut off,” he said, adding his life was in danger. Hariri’s resignation has exposed Lebanon to drift toward internal squabbling. Many are of the opinion that Hariri was led by Saudi Arabia. Hariri, despite tiffs with Hezbollah, showed his pragmatism by supporting its ally, Michael Aoun in a bid to regain premiership in 2016. His sudden theatrics apparently were much against his characteristics.

Talking to the author, senior Syrian-American journalist, Steven Sahiounie said that Hariri was forced to step down by the crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman. “If you see his body language, he hasn’t convinced himself. It has got a lot to do what is happening inside the Royal Family; Hariri is part of the family. His mother was the wife of late King Fahad and hence it is all about the infighting in the Kingdom,” said Steven.

Saudi Gulf affairs minister Thamer al-Sabhan said the Lebanese government would “be dealt with as one that is declaring war on Saudi Arabia”
Watchers are concerned that Hariri has dealt with the even otherwise outnumbered and dormant Sunnis in a rough manner. Hezbollah’s chief, Hasan Nasarullah however, was calm and said that he would not like to comment on a speech delivered by Saudi Arabia. It is expected that Hezbollah will find an acceptable replacement for Hariri because it can lead to domestic distractions; especially at a time when it feels that Syria and Iraq are bigger avenues of conflict. Steven asserted that Nasarullah’s speech was measured because he knows that the opponents want to stir up trouble in Lebanon.

Offset and Compensate

Experts see the desire on part of Riyadh to bleed Iran in Lebanon as something untenable. Hezbollah’s military prowess and kill-capability far exceed those of all rivals to include the Lebanese Army, which rules physical confrontation.

However, the new turmoil has opened up Hezbollah to be attacked left, right, and center, albeit politically. Hariri could contest the upcoming Parliamentary election and pull the plug on Hezbollah but that would require him to come back to Beirut and hope that the tumultuous situation does not lead to a postponement of elections.

Bolstered by President Trump’s outspoken anti-Iran strategy, KSA may tread towards a conflict in Lebanon. Riyadh and Tel Aviv share their spite for Iran; a conflict, therefore, becomes all the more likely. Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu termed Hariri’s resignation as “a wake-up call for the international community to act against Iranian aggression.”

Saudi Arabia has already lost a strong ally in Qatar. Qatar, while small, is an immense powerhouse due to its wealth and large oil reserves. Saudi Arabia is still dominant when it comes to oil supply but losing allies in a region like the Middle East will favor its enemy, Iran. Doha’s tilt towards Tehran has been a direct result of the blockade by Riyadh and its allies.

Saudi Arabia, after losing Qatar may go on to lose Lebanon in the space of a few months. Perhaps after making these mistakes and severing ties with these countries, the Saudi government thinks it needs the US more than ever. It is imperative enough to mention that it was President Trump’s anti-Iran tirade in Riyadh which led to the Qatar crisis_ Trump took credit for it too.

However, two things need to be borne in mind. Iran is not only in an enviable position, it is certainly in no mood to succumb to the mounting US pressure. Trump’s continuous efforts to discredit the JCPOA are not backed by a robust tactical plan to withstand Iran’s response. Seemingly, the US, after reverses in Syria and Iraq is pulling away. Therefore, Saudi Arabia, which is now faced with brazen Houthi rebels can ill-afford to borrow courage to jump in Lebanon, that too when even the Sunnis are not willing to challenge Hezbollah in ways desired by Riyadh

Prominent geopolitical analyst, Adam Garrie, while talking to the author said that the Saudi surge on Lebanon may backfire. He said:”The political situation in Lebanon is indeed more fragile than it previously was because of the forced resignation of Saad Hariri.” He added that “the key lies in the statement of Hezbollah leader Nasrallah who urged calm and appealed to a sense of unity among all Lebanese.” Garrie said that if Lebanese factions continue to follow this mantra then “it will be Saudi Arabia that will be in the midst of a bigger political crisis than Lebanon.”

It is reasonable to expect that Lebanon will soon become a new theater in the fierce animosity between the two powerhouses of the Muslim sects: Iran and Saudi Arabia. Joseph Bahout, a visiting scholar in Carnegie’s Middle East Program aptly puts it: “Regionally, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are now seeking ways to compensate for the loss of Syria as a place where they could defy and bleed Iran If ever they seek to rebalance the regional relationship with Tehran in the Levant, the only place to do so would be Lebanon, despite the many risks that would accompany such an effort.”

Tehran sits pretty; Riyadh has a lot of catching up to do!

Syed Ali Zia Jaffery is a Research Analyst and Sub Editor at Global Village Space.He frequently writes on defense and strategic affairs for various national and international platforms. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

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FBI recommended Michael Flynn not have lawyer present during interview, did not warn of false statement consequences

Flynn is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 18.

Washington Examiner

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Via The Washington Examiner…


Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who arranged the bureau’s interview with then-national security adviser Michael Flynn at the White House on Jan. 24, 2017 — the interview that ultimately led to Flynn’s guilty plea on one count of making false statements — suggested Flynn not have a lawyer present at the session, according to newly-filed court documents. In addition, FBI officials, along with the two agents who interviewed Flynn, decided specifically not to warn him that there would be penalties for making false statements because the agents wanted to ensure that Flynn was “relaxed” during the session.

The new information, drawn from McCabe’s account of events plus the FBI agents’ writeup of the interview — the so-called 302 report — is contained in a sentencing memo filed Tuesday by Flynn’s defense team.

Citing McCabe’s account, the sentencing memo says that shortly after noon on Jan. 24 — the fourth day of the new Trump administration — McCabe called Flynn on a secure phone in Flynn’s West Wing office. The two men discussed business briefly and then McCabe said that he “felt that we needed to have two of our agents sit down” with Flynn to discuss Flynn’s talks with Russian officials during the presidential transition.

McCabe, by his own account, urged Flynn to talk to the agents alone, without a lawyer present. “I explained that I thought the quickest way to get this done was to have a conversation between [Flynn] and the agents only,” McCabe wrote. “I further stated that if LTG Flynn wished to include anyone else in the meeting, like the White House counsel for instance, that I would need to involve the Department of Justice. [Flynn] stated that this would not be necessary and agreed to meet with the agents without any additional participants.”

Within two hours, the agents were in Flynn’s office. According to the 302 report quoted in the Flynn sentencing document, the agents said Flynn was “relaxed and jocular” and offered the agents “a little tour” of his part of the White House.

“The agents did not provide Gen. Flynn with a warning of the penalties for making a false statement under 18 U.S.C. 1001 before, during, or after the interview,” the Flynn memo says. According to the 302, before the interview, McCabe and other FBI officials “decided the agents would not warn Flynn that it was a crime to lie during an FBI interview because they wanted Flynn to be relaxed, and they were concerned that giving the warnings might adversely affect the rapport.”

The agents had, of course, seen transcripts of Flynn’s wiretapped conversations with Russian then-ambassador Sergey Kislyak. “Before the interview, FBI officials had also decided that if ‘Flynn said he did not remember something they knew he said, they would use the exact words Flynn used … to try to refresh his recollection. If Flynn still would not confirm what he said … they would not confront him or talk him through it,'” the Flynn memo says, citing the FBI 302.

“One of the agents reported that Gen. Flynn was ‘unguarded’ during the interview and ‘clearly saw the FBI agents as allies,'” the Flynn memo says, again citing the 302.

Later in the memo, Flynn’s lawyers argue that the FBI treated Flynn differently from two other Trump-Russia figures who have pleaded guilty to and been sentenced for making false statements. One of them, Alexander Van der Zwaan, “was represented by counsel during the interview; he was interviewed at a time when there was a publicly disclosed, full-bore investigation regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election; and he was given a warning that it is a federal crime to lie during the interview,” according to the memo. The other, George Papadopoulos, “was specifically notified of the seriousness of the investigation…was warned that lying to investigators was a ‘federal offense’…had time to reflect on his answers…and met with the FBI the following month for a further set of interviews, accompanied by his counsel, and did not correct his false statements.”

The message of the sentencing memo is clear: Flynn, his lawyers suggest, was surprised, rushed, not warned of the context or seriousness of the questioning, and discouraged from having a lawyer present.

That is all the sentencing document contains about the interview itself. In a footnote, Flynn’s lawyers noted that the government did not object to the quotations from the FBI 302 report.

In one striking detail, footnotes in the Flynn memo say the 302 report cited was dated Aug. 22, 2017 — nearly seven months after the Flynn interview. It is not clear why the report would be written so long after the interview itself.

The brief excerpts from the 302 used in the Flynn defense memo will likely spur more requests from Congress to see the original FBI documents. Both House and Senate investigating committees have demanded that the Justice Department allow them to see the Flynn 302, but have so far been refused.

In the memo, Flynn’s lawyers say that he made a “serious error in judgment” in the interview. Citing Flynn’s distinguished 30-plus year record of service in the U.S. Army, they ask the judge to go along with special counsel Robert Mueller’s recommendation that Flynn be spared any time in prison.

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Macron offers crumbs to protestors in bid to save his globalist agenda (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 36.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at French President Macron’s pathetic display of leadership as he offers protestors little in the way of concessions while at the same time promising to crack down hard on any and all citizens who resort to violence.

Meanwhile France’s economy is set for a deep recession as French output and production grinds to a halt.

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Via Zerohedge


As if Brussels didn’t have its hands full already with Italy and the UK, the European Union will soon be forced to rationalize why one of its favorite core members is allowed to pursue populist measures to blow out its budget deficit to ease domestic unrest while another is threatened with fines potentially amounting to billions of euros.

When blaming Russia failed to quell the widespread anger elicited by his policies, French President Emmanuel Macron tried to appease the increasingly violent “yellow vests” protesters who have sacked his capital city by offering massive tax cuts that could blow the French budget out beyond the 3% budget threshold outlined in the bloc’s fiscal rules.

Given the concessions recently offered by Italy’s populists, Macron’s couldn’t have picked a worse time to challenge the bloc’s fiscal conventions. As Bloomberg pointed out, these rules will almost certainly set the Continent’s second largest economy on a collision course with Brussels. To be clear, Macron’s offered cuts come with a price tag of about €11 billion according to Les Echos, and will leave the country with a budget gap of 3.5% of GDP in 2019, with one government official said the deficit may be higher than 3.6%.

By comparison, Italy’s initial projections put its deficit target at 2.4%, a number which Europe has repeatedly refused to consider.

Macron’s promises of fiscal stimulus – which come on top of his government’s decision to delay the planned gas-tax hikes that helped inspire the protests – were part of a broader ‘mea culpa’ offered by Macron in a speech Monday night, where he also planned to hike France’s minimum wage.

Of course, when Brussels inevitably objects, perhaps Macron could just show them this video of French police tossing a wheelchair-bound protester to the ground.

Already, the Italians are complaining.  Speaking on Tuesday, Italian cabinet undersecretary Giancarlo Giorgetti said Italy hasn’t breached the EU deficit limit. “I repeat that from the Italian government there is a reasonable approach, if there is one also from the EU a solution will be found.”

“France has several times breached the 3% deficit. Italy hasn’t done it. They are different situations. There are many indicators to assess.”

Still, as one Guardian columnist pointed out in an op-ed published Tuesday morning, the fact that the gilets jaunes (yellow vest) organizers managed to pressure Macron to cave and grant concessions after just 4 weeks of protests will only embolden them to push for even more radical demands: The collapse of the government of the supremely unpopular Macron.

Then again, with Brussels now facing certain accusations of hypocrisy, the fact that Macron was pressured into the exact same populist measures for which Italy has been slammed, the French fiasco raises the odds that Rome can pass any deficit measure it wants with the EU now forced to quietly look away even as it jawbones all the way from the bank (i.e., the German taxpayers).

“Macron’s spending will encourage Salvini and Di Maio,” said Giovanni Orsina, head of the School of Government at Rome’s Luiss-Guido Carli University. “Macron was supposed to be the spearhead of pro-European forces, if he himself is forced to challenge EU rules, Salvini and Di Maio will jump on that to push their contention that those rules are wrong.”

While we look forward to how Brussels will square this circle, markets are less excited.

Exhausted from lurching from one extreme to another following conflicting headlines, traders are already asking if “France is the new Italy.” The reason: the French OAT curve has bear steepened this morning with 10Y yields rising as much as ~6bp, with the Bund/OAT spread reaching the widest since May 2017 and the French presidential election. Though well below the peaks of last year, further widening would push the gap into levels reserved for heightened political risk.

As Bloomberg macro analyst Michael Read notes this morning, it’s hard to see a specific near-term trigger blowing out the Bund/OAT spread but the trend looks likely to slowly drift higher.

While Macron has to fight on both domestic and European fronts, he’ll need to keep peace at home to stay on top. Remember that we saw the 10Y spread widen to ~80bps around the May ’17 elections as concerns of a move toward the political fringe played out in the markets, and the French President’s popularity ratings already look far from rosy.

And just like that France may have solved the Italian crisis.

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Watch: Democrat Chuck Schumer shows his East Coast elitism on live TV

Amazing moment in which the President exhibits “transparency in government” and shows the world who the Democrat leaders really are.

Seraphim Hanisch

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One of the reasons Donald Trump was elected to the Presidency was because of his pugnacious, “in your face” character he presented – and promised TO present – against Democrat policy decisions and “stupid government” in general.

One of the reasons President Donald Trump is reviled is because of his pugnacious, “in your face” character he presented – and promised TO present – in the American political scene.

In other words, there are two reactions to the same characteristic. On Tuesday, the President did something that probably cheered and delighted a great many Americans who witnessed this.

The Democrats have been unanimous in taking any chance to roast the President, or to call for his impeachment, or to incite violence against him. But Tuesday was President Trump’s turn. He invited the two Democrat leaders, presumptive incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and then, he turned the cameras on:

As Tucker Carlson notes, the body language from Schumer was fury. The old (something)-eating grin covered up humiliation, embarrassment and probably no small amount of fear, as this whole incident was filmed and broadcast openly and transparently to the American public. Nancy Pelosi was similarly agitated, and she expressed it later after this humiliation on camera, saying, “It’s like a manhood thing for him… As if manhood could ever be associated with him.”

She didn’t stop there. According to a report from the New York Daily News, the Queen Bee took the rhetoric a step below even her sense of dignity:

Pelosi stressed she made clear to Trump there isn’t enough support in Congress for a wall and speculated the President is refusing to back down because he’s scared to run away with his tail between his legs.

“I was trying to be the mom. I can’t explain it to you. It was so wild,” Pelosi said of the Oval Office meet, which was also attended by Vice President Pence and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “It goes to show you: you get into a tinkle contest with a skunk, you get tinkle all over you.”

This represented the first salvo in a major spin-job for the ultra-liberal San Francisco Democrat. The rhetoric spun by Mrs. Pelosi and Chuck Schumer was desperate as they tried to deflect their humiliation and place it back on the President:

With reporters still present, Trump boasted during the Oval meeting he would be “proud” to shutdown the government if Congress doesn’t earmark cash for his wall before a Dec. 21 spending deadline.

Pelosi told Democrats that Trump’s boisterousness will be beneficial for them.

“The fact is we did get him to say, to fully own that the shutdown was his,” Pelosi said. “That was an accomplishment.”

The press tried to characterize this as a “Trump Tantrum”, saying things like this lede:

While “discussing” a budgetary agreement for the government, President Donald Trump crossed his arms and declared: “we will shut down the government if there is no wall.”

While the Democrats and the mainstream media in the US are sure to largely buy these interpretations of the event, the fact that this matter was televised live shows that the matter was entirely different, and this will be discomfiting to all but those Democrats and Trump-dislikers that will not look at reality.

There appears to be a twofold accomplishment for the President in this confrontation:

  1. The President revealed to his support base the real nature of the conversation with the Democrat leadership, because anyone watching this broadcast (and later, video clip) saw it unedited with their own eyes. They witnessed the pettiness of both Democrats and they witnessed a President completely comfortable and confident about the situation.
  2. President Trump probably made many of his supporters cheer with the commitment to shut down the government if he doesn’t get his border wall funding. This cheering is for both the strength shown about getting the wall finished and the promise to shut the government down, and further, Mr. Trump’s assertion that he would be “proud” to shut the government down, taking complete ownership willingly, reflects a sentiment that many of his supporters share.

The usual pattern is for the media, Democrats and even some Republicans to create a “scare” narrative about government shutdowns, about how doing this is a sure-fire path to chaos and suffering for the United States.

But the educated understanding of how shutdowns work reveals something completely different. Vital services never close. However, National Parks can close partly or completely, and some non-essential government agencies are shuttered. While this is an inconvenience for the employees furloughed during the shutdown, they eventually are re-compensated for the time lost, and are likely to receive help during the shutdown period if they need it. The impact on the nation is minimal, aside from the fact that the government stops spending money at the same frenetic pace as usual.

President Trump’s expression of willingness to do this action and his singling out of the Dem leadership gives the Democrats a real problem. Now the entire country sees their nature. As President Trump is a populist, this visceral display of Democrat opposition and pettiness will make at least some impact on the population, even that group of people who are not Trump fans.

The media reaction and that of the Democrats here show, amazingly, that after three years-plus of Donald Trump being a thorn in their side, they still do not understand how he works, and they also cannot match it against their expected “norms” of establishment behavior.

This may be a brilliant masterstroke, and it also may be followed up by more. The President relishes head-to-head conflict. The reactions of these congress members showed who they really are.

Let the games begin.

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