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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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Honest liberal says he is NOT INTERESTED in policy explanation [Video]

When news anchors try to act like prosecuting attorneys instead of actually interviewing people, we all lose.

Seraphim Hanisch

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One characteristic of modern-day television “news reporting” is that the political news is not truly reported. Rather, if the interviewer disagrees with the one being interviewed, the session turns into interviewer grandstanding. Regrettably, this tactic is used by liberal and conservative journalists alike. However, it is usually not admitted, as the interviewer usually chooses to say things like “I want the truth” when he or she really wants to force the other person to admit the correctness of the interviewer.

Over the weekend, Fox News’ Chris Wallace grandstanded against White House Senior Policy Adviser Stephen Miller. However, Chris Wallace at least was honest about his wish:

STEPHEN MILLER: … At a fundamental level, we could go down into the details, and you know, Chris, I can go down into details as much as you want to, but the bottom line is this…

CHRIS WALLACE: Please don’t! (laughs)

This is a big problem. The responsibility of any good journalist is to get full and accurate information about a given topic. Isn’t it?

Not in the press of our day. Chris Wallace is a valued personality for the Fox News Channel. As a former CBS anchor for 60 Minutes, Wallace brings a well-known face and voice of the mainstream media to Fox, even though he is quite liberal politically, as are many in the entertainment and information professions.

The problem is that the topic here, the facts justifying President Trump’s National Emergency declaration on Friday over the still permeable US-Mexico border, are present in abundance. But Mr. Wallace did not want to know these facts, or perhaps worse, he did not want to let his viewing audience know this information, so he tried to prevent Mr. Miller from talking about those details.

Stephen Miller, thankfully, was not having it. He insisted on giving a full and informed response to Mr. Wallace’s questions, even though Wallace did not want to hear any information.

The rest of the interview is comprised of Mr. Miller trying to dissemimate information and Mr. Wallace trying to block it and refuse it in order to sustain his own preferred narrative.

Chris Wallace’ point of view is that the President called a National Emergency for no good reason, and that President Trump is breaking the law by appropriating money for the Border Wall, something which only the House of Representatives can do, legislatively.

However, the point of view expressed by Mr. Wallace and President Trump is that as Chief Executive of the United States of America, the President is responsible to preserve the country from invasion. For the President, the never-ending waves of illegals coming into the country and not being deported, but rather, released into the US pending trials that they often never attend years later, amounts to a slow invasion.

Strictly speaking, President Trump is correct. The illegals are not (usually) armed representatives of a foreign power, but neither do they become American citizens. Many of them take advantage of generous provisions and loopholes in the law (Mexico teaches them how to do this!) and they therefore earn money but usurp the country of resources.

It has been exceedingly difficult to move the level of interest in stopping illegal immigration in the US. Rush Limbaugh rightly stated in his program on Friday, February 15, what the problem is, and we include some of the details (as we should) for why Mr. Limbaugh says what he says here:

There is a limit on a number of detainees. There is limit on how much of border and fence can be built. There’s a limit on what kind can be built. There’s a limit on modernization. This bill is filled with congressional edicts telling the president of the United States what he cannot do. Now, it authorizes $23 billion for Homeland Security, but it specifies $1.375 billion for fencing and bordering.

But there are so many limits on this as to make this practically irrelevant — by design and on purpose, because I firmly believe that what members of Congress (both parties) actually want with this bill is to send a message that nothing is ever gonna happen as long as Donald Trump is President. The attempt in this budget deal is to send a message to you Trump voters that it’s worthless voting for him, that it is a waste of time supporting him, because they are demonstrating that he can’t get anything done.

This is Pelosi in the House and Schumer in the Senate getting together, because they know when it comes to illegal immigration, these parties are unified, folks. For the most part, the Republicans and Democrats are for open borders. There are exceptions on the Republican side. But there are a lot of Republicans that don’t want Trump to succeed even now. There are a lot of Republicans just after he was inaugurated who don’t want him to succeed. So they come up with a piece of legislation here that is outrageous.

It is outrageous in its denial of the existence of a genuine emergency at the border. They don’t care. They will deal with whatever mess they create. They don’t care how bad it gets because in their world, the only mess is Donald Trump — and since the Russian effort and the Mueller effort and everything else related to that has failed to get his approval numbers down (and that has been the objective from the get-go), this is the latest effort, and it won’t be long… You mark my words on this.

There is an emergency at the US-Mexico border. Last year almost half a million people were apprehended by the Border Patrol and ICE. Many, if not most, though, are still in the United States. They were not all sent back. Some were, and some of them probably have come back in yet again. The fact that our nation’s borders are unrestricted in this manner is absolute folly.

The more American people know the details about what is actually happening at the border, the more they support the wall’s construction and President Trump’s policies. We have seen evidence for this in polling even by liberal network outlets. President Trump managed to call attention to this topic and bring it into the center of the discussion of US domestic policy. Rasmussen reported that the level of approval of Trump’s work to close the border is high – at 59 percent, with only 33 percent disapproving.

The President made this an issue. Chris Wallace tried in his own program to deflect and dissuade information from being brought to the attention of the American viewers who watch his program.

This is not journalism. It is reinforcement of propaganda on Mr. Wallace’s part, defense against facts, and an unwillingness to let the American people have information and therefore to think for themselves.

Unfortunately, such practices are not limited to Mr. Wallace. Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and others all utilize this form of questioning, and it is a shame, because the news reporter no longer reports the news. When a talking head on TV or radio places himself or herself as the Gatekeeper to allow or prevent information from reaching the American people, this is highly presumptuous, ego driven and almost always, dishonest.

Worse, such an approach reinforces this message to American people: “You cannot think for yourself. It is too hard, so we will do your thinking for you. Trust us!”

This style of journalism became more and more popular over, under the “appearance” of “tough questioning.” However the usual course of “tough questioning” is ideologically aligned with whatever the journalist thinks, and not at all about what is actually important. Chris Wallace is notorious for doing this with conservatives, and he does aggravate them, but he reduces interviews to an argument between the journalist and the person interviewed.

And usually, this is not the story. This was made absolutely clear in the interview with Stephen Miller, even to the point that Mr. Wallace actually voiced the request, “please don’t (give us all the specifics of this issue.)” 

Good journalism respects the fact that different people have different points of view. Agreement or disagreement with these points is what Op-Ed writing is for. But when Op-Ed is treated as hard fact journalism, we all lose.

We included the whole interview video from the beginning here so that the viewer can take in the whole course of this discussion. It is well worth watching. And as it is well-worth watching, it is also well-worth each person’s own personal consideration. People are smarter than the media would like us to be.

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Macron pisses off Merkel as he tries to sabotage Nord Stream 2 pipeline (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 177.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss an EU compromise for Nord Stream 2 where EU member states, the EU Parliament, and its Commission will give the bloc more oversight on gas pipelines, with one caveat…the Nord Stream 2 project with Russia will not be threatened by the new regulations in the agreement.

Macron pushed hard to have the new regulations include (and derail) Nord Stream 2, an action which annoyed Angela Merkel, who eventually got her way and delivered another blow to Macron’s failing French presidency.

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Via The Express UK

Angela Merkel hit back at Emmanuel Macron over Russia and Germany’s pipeline project, declaring it would “not be a one-sided dependency”. The German Chancellor explained that Germany will expand its gas terminals with “liquified gas”. Speaking at a press conference, Ms Merkel declared: “Do we become dependent on Russia because of this second gas pipeline? I say no, if we diversify. Germany will expand its gas terminals with liquefied gas.

“This means that we do not want to depend only on Russia, but Russia was a source of gas in the Cold War and will remain one.

“But it would not be one-sided dependency.”

Via DW

The EU parliament and its Council are set to adopt new regulations on gas pipelines connecting the bloc members with non-EU countries, the EU Commission announced early on Wednesday.

The upcoming directive is based on a compromise between EU member states and EU officials in Brussels. The bloc leaders agreed to tighten Brussels’ oversight of gas delivery and expand its rules to all pipelines plugging into the EU’s gas distribution network.

“The new rules ensure that… everyone interested in selling gas to Europe must respect European energy law,” EU Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete said in a statement.

For example, owners of pipelines linking EU and non-EU countries would also be required to allow access for their competitors. Brussels would also have more power regarding transparency and tariff regulations.

Russian ambassador slams US

Brussels has repeatedly expressed concern over the controversial Nord Stream 2 project which would deliver Russian gas directly to Germany through a pipeline under the Baltic Sea. Many EU states oppose the mammoth project, and the US claims it would allow Moscow to tighten its grip on the EU’s energy policy.

Berlin has insisted that the pipeline is a “purely economic” issue.

Speaking to Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung daily, Russian ambassador to Berlin, Sergey Nechayev, slammed the US’ opposition as an attempt to “push its competition aside” and clear the way for American suppliers of liquefied gas.

“It’s hard to believe that a country that is destroying the rules of free and fair trade, that is imposing import tariffs on its competition, that is flying slogans like ‘America First’ on its flags and often threatens biggest European concerns with illegal sanctions, is now really concerned about European interests,” the Russian envoy said in remarks published in German on Wednesday.

Last week, France unexpectedly rebelled against the project, but Berlin and Paris soon reached a compromise. Thanks to their agreement, the latest deal is not expected to impede the ongoing construction of Nord Stream 2.

Citing sources from negotiators’ circles, German public broadcaster ARD reported that the deal left room for Germany to approve exceptions from the EU-wide rules.

According to the EU Commission, however, exceptions are “only possible under strict procedures in which the Commission plays a decisive role.”

The Gazprom-backed pipeline is set to be completed by the end of the year.

 

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UK Defence Secretary looking for a fight with both China and Russia (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 87.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson’s idea to deploy hard power against China and Russia, starting with plans to send Britain’s new aircraft carrier to the tense sea routes in the South China Sea.

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“Britain’s Gavin Williamson places Russia & China on notice, I’m not joking,” authored by John Wight, via RT

UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson is itching for conflict with Russia and China. He’s not mad. Not even slightly. But he is stupid. Very.

Unlike former fireplace salesman Gavin Williamson, I am no military expert. But then you do not need to be one to understand that while Britain going to war with Russia and China might work as a video game, the real thing would be an exceedingly bad idea.

So why then in a speech delivered to the Royal United Services Institute in London, did Mr Williamson’s argument on the feasibility of the real thing elicit applause rather than the shrieks of horror and demands he be sacked forthwith it should have? This is a serious question, by the way. It is one that cuts through British establishment verbiage to reveal a country ruled not by the sober and doughty political heavyweights of years gone by, but by foaming fanatics in expensive suits

Placing to one side for a moment the insanity of the very concept of Britain deploying hard power against Russia and/or China, the prospect of fighting a war against two designated enemies at the same time is a recipe for disaster. Not satisfied with that, though, Mr Williamson is actually contemplating a conflict with three different enemies at the same time – i.e. against Russia, China, and the millions of people in Britain his government is currently waging war against under the rubric of austerity.

“Today, Russia is resurgent,” Mr Williamson said, “rebuilding its military arsenal and seeking to bring the independent countries of the former Soviet Union, like Georgia and Ukraine, back into its orbit.”

For Mr Williamson and his ilk a resurgent Russia is a bad thing. Much better in their eyes if Russia, after the Soviet era in the 1990s, had remained on its knees as a free market desert; its state institutions in a state of near collapse and tens of millions of its citizens in the grip of immiseration. Yes, because in that scenario Western ideologues like him would have had free rein to rampage around the world as they saw fit, setting fire to country after country on the perverse grounds of ‘saving them’ for democracy.

As it is, he and his still managed to squeeze in a considerable amount of carnage and chaos in the years it did take Russia to recover. The indictment reads as follows: Yugoslavia destroyed; Afghanistan turned upside down; Iraq pushed into the abyss; Libya sent to hell.

By the time they turned their attention to Syria, intent on exploiting an Arab Spring that NATO in Libya transformed into an Arab Winter, Russia had recovered and was able to intervene. It did so in concert with the Syrian Arab Army, Iran and Hezbollah to save the day – much to the evident chagrin of those who, like Gavin Williamson, prefer to see countries in ashes rather than independent of Western hegemony.

As to the facile nonsense about Russia trying to bring Georgia and Ukraine back into its orbit, both countries happen to share a border with Russia and both countries, in recent years, have been used by the UK and its allies as cat’s paws with the eastward expansion of NATO in mind.

It gets worse though: “The Alliance must develop its ability to handle the kind of provocations that Russia is throwing at us. Such action from Russia must come at a cost.”

“Provocations,” the man said. Since British troops have been taking part in exercises on Russia’s doorstep, not the other way round, one wonders if Gavin Williamson wrote this speech while inebriated.

It is Russia that has been on the receiving end of repeated provocations from NATO member states such as the UK in recent times, and it is Russia that has been forced to respond to protect its own security and that of its people where necessary. Furthermore, not only in Russia but everywhere, including the UK, people understand that when you have political leaders intoxicated by their own national myths and propaganda to such an extent as Britain’s Defence Secretary, danger ensues.

The most enduring of those national myths where London is concerned is that the British Empire was a force for good rather than a vast criminal enterprise, that Britain and America won the Second World War together alone, that Iraq had WMDs, and that international law and international brigandage really are one and the same thing.

Perhaps the most preposterous section of the speech came when Mr Williamson tried to fashion a connection between Brexit and Britain’s military strength: “Brexit has brought us to a moment. A great moment in our history. A moment when we must strengthen our global presence, enhance our lethality, and increase our mass.”

Reading this, you can almost hear Churchill turning in his grave. Britain’s wartime prime minister had such as Gavin Williamson in mind when he famously said, “He has all the virtues I dislike, and none of the vices I admire.”

Mr Williamson obviously misread the memo talking up not the opportunity for increased conflict with China after Brexit but trade.

This was not a speech it was a linguistic car crash, one that will forever command an honoured place in compendiums of the worst political speeches ever made. As for Gavin Williamson, just as no responsible parent would ever dream of putting an 10-year old behind the wheel of car to drive unsupervised, no responsible British government would ever appoint a man like him as its Defence Secretary.

In years past, he would have struggled to find employment polishing the brass plate outside the building.

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