English LCCC Newsbulletin For Lebanese, Lebanese Related, Global News & Editorials
For February 02/2023
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For today
Presenting Jesus In The Temple & The Righteous-devout Simeon, who was waiting for the consolation of Israel
Luke 02/25-35/ Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss[d] your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on February 01-02/2023
Bitar goes to Justice Palace, reportedly meets with Abboud
Jumblat says Mouawad candidacy has hit a dead end
Jumblat seeks consensus with Berri over presidential file
Two illegal money changers arrested in Baalbek
Lebanon adopts new official exchange rate
Army Commander tackles developments with MP Gemayel, IOM delegation
Mikati discusses power file with Fayyad, Electricity of France
Aoun, Shea discuss latest political developments
Geagea rules out deal with Bassil, rejects president not backed by Christians
Lebanese villagers try to stem illegal logging scourge
Maronite bishops warn of the popular explosion: to expedite the election of a president and neutralize the port explosion from political tensions
Dozens of cases are being filed abroad against those responsible for the port explosion
Catholic-Orthodox Christian spiritual summit in Bkerki
Lebanese currency reaches record-low value

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 01-02/2023
Israel's Netanyahu offered to mediate the war in Ukraine. Meanwhile, a bloody fight is breaking out in his 'own backyard.'
Israel steps up demolitions of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem
Abbas succession battle could ‘collapse’ Palestinian Authority: Think tank
Iraqi PM says banking reforms reveal fraudulent dollar transactions
Eight rockets fired at Turkish base in Iraq
Iran jails couple in viral dancing video: Activists
Iran says Iraq-based Kurd groups ‘involved’ in drone attack
IAEA chides Iran for undeclared change to Fordow uranium enrichment setup
Iran, Russia move to link banks to evade Western sanctions
Ukraine hails French gift of radar as 'cherry on the cake'
Russian troops are joining Wagner mercenaries in grinding, high-casualty push for Ukraine's Bakhmut
Wagner troops wouldn't 'stop coming' and climbed over bodies of dead comrades like something out of a 'zombie movie,' says Ukrainian soldier
Belgian arms trader tangles with minister over tanks for Ukraine
Russian arms dealer, son and front firms hit with sanctions
Exiled Russian journalist gets 8 years' jail for slamming Mariupol shelling
China will lose half its population by the end of the century — and the ripple effects will be catastrophic
Anti-Islamophobia representative Amira Elghawaby apologizes for past comments about Quebecers

Titles For The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 01-02/2023
Israel and Iran… the Strategic Shift/Tariq Al-Homayed/Asharq Al Awsat/February 01/2023
The Surprising Attack on Iran/Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/February 01/2023
It’s Not Going Well for Britain’s New Prime Minister/Moya Lothian-McLean/The New York Times/February 01/2023
UNRWA is Part of the Problem – Not the Solution/Bassam Tawil/Gatestone Institute/February 01/2023
Slaughtered Mothers and Fathers: An Islamic Hate that Knows No Bounds/Raymond Ibrahim/February 01/2023

The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on February 01-02/2023
Bitar goes to Justice Palace, reportedly meets with Abboud
Naharnet /February 01/2023
Beirut port blast investigator Judge Tarek Bitar on Wednesday went to his office at the Justice Palace in Beirut, the state-run National News Agency reported. LBCI television meanwhile reported that Bitar met at the Palace with Higher Judicial Council chief Judge Suheil Abboud with the aim of “finding a certain solution for the Beirut port blast case.”It added that Abboud has also met with caretaker Justice Minister Henri Khoury and State Prosecutor Judge Ghassan Oueidat. MTV meanwhile denied that Bitar met with Abboud on Wednesday.
Bitar took Lebanon by surprise on January 23 when he resumed his investigation after a 13-month hiatus, charging eight new suspects including high-level security officials and Lebanon's top prosecutor Oueidat. Bitar also scheduled interrogation sessions for ex-PM Hassan Diab and former ministers who had been previously charged. Bitar said he based his decision on a legal review that he himself conducted. A top security official meanwhile said that the Lebanese judiciary had come under U.S. pressure to free detainees in the case, including dual Lebanese-U.S. citizen Ziad al-Ouf. The week before reopening the case, Bitar had met with two French judges for hours about his investigation. According to a judicial official, the delegation suggested Bitar should resume work, arguing that holding suspects in detention without trial was a human rights violation. Bitar's surprise move sparked a judicial battle with Oueidat, who retaliated by charging the judge with "usurping power" and insubordination and slapping him with a travel ban. A defiant Bitar meanwhile stressed that he would not step down, adding that Oueidat "has no authority" to intervene in the case. Media reports meanwhile said that Army chief General Joseph Aoun has advised Bitar to “stay home and not go to the Justice Palace – neither in Beirut nor in Jdeideh -- out of concern that he might get arrested by the State Security agency under the excuse of bringing him to interrogation before the state prosecutor.”

Jumblat says Mouawad candidacy has hit a dead end
Naharnet /February 01/2023
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri will not call for a president election session unless there are serious candidates competing for presidency, MTV said Wednesday. The media outlet added that Berri and Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat have affirmed that MP and presidential candidate Michel Mouawad has no chances of becoming president. Jumblat meanwhile told Annahar, in reports published Wednesday, that some parties consider Mouawad as a confrontational candidate. "Mouawad's candidacy has hit a dead end," Jumblat said. Both Berri and Jumblat agreed on the need to find other candidates, MTV said, adding that Berri has no veto on the Army chief. A delegation from the Democratic Gathering Bloc had met Tuesday with Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi in Bkerki, while Jumblat met with Berri in Ain el-Tineh. MP Raji Saad from the Democratic Gathering Bloc said after the meeting with al-Rahi that the name of the army chief is in the lead, as Gen. Joseph Aoun has emerged as the strongest candidate during the consultations between the blocs.

Jumblat seeks consensus with Berri over presidential file
Naharnet/February 01/2023
Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat has tried to reach a presidential consensus with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.
"We're trying to cross some barriers in order to reach a consensus that would give us hope that a president will be elected," Jumblat said after meeting Berri in Ain el-Tineh. He added that "we can't keep going around in circles" by casting blank votes and failing to elect a president. Jumblat went on to say that reforms cannot be made without electing a president, as he decried the economic situation and the collapse of the Lebanese pound. Lebanon has been without a head of state since Michel Aoun's mandate expired last year, with a caretaker cabinet overseeing the responsibilities of government amid a financial collapse that is stretching into its third year.The Lebanese pound plunged to a new low against the U.S. dollar after parliament failed for an 11th time to agree on a new president. Two weeks ago, Change lawmakers Najat Saliba and Melhem Khalaf started a sit-in inside the parliament to protest the deadlock, vowing to remain inside until fellow MPs elect a new president.

Two illegal money changers arrested in Baalbek
Naharnet/February 01/2023
A patrol from the judicial police on Wednesday raided money changers in the markets of the city of Baalbek and arrested two individuals who were practicing illegal money exchange operations, the state-run National News Agency reported. The development comes a few days after State Prosecutor Judge Ghassan Oueidat sent a memo to Financial Prosecutor Judge Ali Ibrahim asking him to “immediately” order the arrest of the money changers and speculators who are contributing to “the collapse of the national currency.”Arab Tawhid Party leader Wiam Wahhab meanwhile tweeted that Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh has informed caretaker PM Najib Mikati that “three money changers – one in Beirut, another in Sidon and a third in Tyre – are leading the dollar game and that they are yet to be interrogated.”“Why haven’t then been questions? Are they protected?” Wahhab wondered, noting that the aforementioned money changers are “buying all the dollars that are being pumped” into the market.

Lebanon adopts new official exchange rate
Agence France Presse/Associated Press/February 01/2023
Lebanon shifted Wednesday its long-standing official exchange rate to 15,000 pounds against the dollar, a central bank source said -- an almost 90 percent devaluation amid a years-long economic crisis. The Lebanese pound has been officially pegged at 1,507 to the greenback since 1997, but its market value began to slide in late 2019 and hit record lows of more than 60,000 this month. "One dollar will be worth 15,000," a central bank source told AFP. "There will no longer be such a thing as the 1,507 rate," the source added, requesting anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media. The first change to the official rate in more than two decades comes as the currency was trading at 60,000 to the dollar on the street on Wednesday -- almost four times the 15,000 rate. Lebanon's finance ministry had announced last year that it would roll out the 15,000 official exchange rate in November, but the move was not implemented. Battling surging poverty and financial collapse, Lebanon has seen the pound lose more than 95 percent of its market value to the greenback since 2019. The country is being run by a caretaker government and is also without a president as lawmakers have repeatedly failed to elect a successor to Michel Aoun, whose mandate expired at the end of October. The crisis has seen poverty rates climb to reach more than 80 percent of the population, according to the United Nations. The dramatic measure is meant to stabilize the free-falling Lebanese pound and eliminate the multiple exchange rates that currently exist, a key demand of the International Monetary Fund for a bailout package for Lebanon. However, it's unclear how the new rate will be implemented or reconcile a host of different exchange rates that exist for public sector salaries, fuel prices and different services, including telecommunications.
Many fear it will lead to another surge in inflation and hike prices of food and other essential goods, as authorities have in the past failed to crack down on illicit price hikes. Also, the new official rate is nowhere near the current black market rate of about 60,000 pounds to the dollar, used for buying and selling most goods, nor the Central Bank's Sayrafa platform - used for certain financial transactions - with 38,000 for $1. It also will apply to withdrawals from dollar accounts, where customers have been withdrawing some of their trapped savings in the local currency, at an exchange rate far lower than market value.
Currency unification is among a list of reforms the IMF has demanded to finalize a bailout package for Lebanon, tentatively approved in April 2022. The Finance Ministry already adjusted the customs exchange rate to 15,000 pounds for the dollar in December. Tax collection, balance sheets of the struggling Lebanese banks are now to adjust their exchange rates, and eventually the 2023 state budget. Since 2019, Lebanon's cash-strapped banks imposed informal limits on cash withdrawals in dollars, with most depositors losing access to their savings after the country's banks made risky investments by buying Lebanese treasury bills, despite widespread corruption from its political leadership. Economist Sami Zoughaib at The Policy Initiative, a Beirut-based think tank, criticized Wednesday's decision by the Central Bank, and called the measure temporary, in the absence of crucial structural economic reforms. "We need something that actually reflects the market value, and the only way we can do it is by building a centralized currency market in which people can openly and transparently trade Lebanese pounds and dollars," Zoughaib said. "This is not how you unify an exchange rate," he added.

Army Commander tackles developments with MP Gemayel, IOM delegation
NNA/February 01/2023 
Lebanese Armed Forces Commander, General Joseph Aoun, on Wednesday welcomed at his Yarzeh office, MP Sami Gemayel. He also welcomed a delegation from the International Organization for Migration, headed by its Regional Director, Othman Al-Belaisi, with whom he discussed the country’s general situation.

Mikati discusses power file with Fayyad, Electricity of France
NNA/February 01/2023 
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati held a meeting at the Grand Serail on Wednesday, devoted to discussing the electricity file, in the presence of Caretaker Energy Minister Walid Fayyad, a delegation of Electricity of France (EDF), and Mikati's advisor Nicolas Nahhas. "Today's meeting was to follow up on the ongoing works with Electricity of Lebanon (EDL) and the Ministry of Energy to establish new plants," Fayyad told reporters. He went on saying that the power supply will remain at 250 megawatts until mid-February.

Aoun, Shea discuss latest political developments
NNA/February 01/2023 
Former President, General Michel Aoun, on Wednesday welcomed at his Rabieh residence US Ambassador to Lebanon, Dorothy Shea, with whom he discussed the latest political developments, presidential elections, as well as the country’s economic and financial situation.

Geagea rules out deal with Bassil, rejects president not backed by Christians
Naharnet/February 01/2023
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea has ruled out cooperation with Free Patriotic Movement chief Jebran Bassil in the presidential file, as he warned against electing a president not enjoying the support of the two main Christian parties – the LF and the FPM. “A president cannot be elected against the will of Christians. If someone believes that they can elect a president against the will of the majority of Christians, then they are mistaken. This is not a way to behave, seeing as everyone knows the reality of constitutional posts,” Geagea said in an interview with Kuwait’s al-Rai newspaper. “With such a proposal, instead of making a step that would restore the confidence of the Lebanese in their state and the confidence of the world in Lebanon, you would be starting without the confidence of the majority of the Lebanese,” Geagea added. As for the nomination of Army Commander General Joseph Aoun for the post of president, the LF leader said: "If the problem would be solved through the election of the army chief, we would not mind.”Asked whether he might agree with Bassil on a candidate should he sense that Marada Movement chief Suleiman Franjieh is about to secure 65 votes, Geagea said Bassil’s call for agreeing on a third candidate “entails deception.” “So far, Bassil thinks that he can be the serious candidate, and if after a month or two or three finds out that he is incapable of being a serious candidate, he will seek to have the main say in the president,” the LF leader added. Asked about the deteriorating relation between the FPM and Hezbollah, Geagea said: “In my opinion, whatever happens, Bassil and Hezbollah will not end their alliance. They disagree over certain interests, but they will not go separate ways, because the interests that Hezbollah provides for Bassil cannot be provided by anyone else and vice versa.”

Lebanese villagers try to stem illegal logging scourge
Agence France Presse/February 01/2023
Braving the bitter cold, Lebanese villagers have been patrolling a mountainside in the country's north, trying to protect trees from loggers who roll in under the cover of darkness. Near his village of Ainata, "nearly 150 centuries-old oak trees have been felled" in the past year, said Ghandi Rahme, pointing at the tree stumps in the rocky ground around him. The municipal police officer, 44, is among around a dozen locals who make the rounds on a volunteer basis, seeking to deter loggers who arrive in off-road vehicles and take to the trees with chainsaws. Lebanon, whose flag bears a cedar tree, is known for its greenery, with forests covering 13 percent of the Middle Eastern country's territory, according to official data. But since late 2019, an economic meltdown has plunged much of the population into poverty, and the local currency has lost more than 95 percent of its value. Electricity outages can last up to 23 hours a day, and fuel costs have skyrocketed as the state has gradually lifted subsidies. The crisis has left many people without incomes or winter heating, while public services -- including forest rangers -- are severely underfunded.
'Environmental massacres' -
Residents and officials whom AFP spoke to in Ainata and other mountain villages blamed "organised" gangs for felling centuries-old oak and juniper trees. Rahme said residents of "surrounding areas" were responsible, adding that he had scared off a group in September.
The Ainata volunteers said they have financial support -- mainly from worried expatriate villagers who send money from abroad -- to pay for fuel and vehicle maintenance. Rahme's cousin Samir, who is also a volunteer, called the tree fellings "terrible" but said the patrols were effective. "We haven't seen a single case of illegal felling" since they began, said the farmer, 58. In nearby Barqa, mayor Ghassan Geagea told AFP loggers acting with impunity had cut down scores of trees, including junipers believed to be thousands of years old. "The state now allocates us a measly budget," leaving the municipality with few means to tackle the problem, Geagea said. But he expressed doubt that the existing volunteer patrol would be able to prevent felling in his district's harder-to-reach areas. Paul Abi Rached, who heads activist group Terre Liban, has decried rising numbers of "environmental massacres" in Lebanon and sounded the alarm over the felling of juniper trees in particular. Lebanon has the largest juniper woods in the Middle East, according to the environment ministry, and is also home to pine, oak, cedar and fir forests.
'Organised' -
Junipers are among "the few trees that can grow at high altitudes", and they play an important role in replenishing groundwater reserves, Abi Rached said. "If we don't stop juniper felling, we will be headed for water shortages and drought," he warned. In Bsharre, west of Ainata, doctor and activist Youssef Tawk said "it takes 500 years for juniper to grow into a tree" in the wild. "Cutting down this tree is a crime. For me it's like killing a man," said the 68-year-old, who has long fought to protect Lebanon's environmental heritage. Near Ainata, activist Dany Geagea -- not related to the Barqa mayor -- has taken matters into his own hands by helping set up a juniper reserve. He said around 30,000 trees had been planted in the past two decades but that since September, logging had become a regular occurrence. Those responsible were rarely arrested and "quickly released, without being investigated", he lamented. "Illegal logging is not a new problem, but now it's become an organised" trade, Geagea said."This is Lebanon... even justice is politicized."

Maronite bishops warn of the popular explosion: to expedite the election of a president and neutralize the port explosion from political tensions
NNA/01 February/2023
The Maronite bishops held their monthly meeting in the patriarchal edifice in Bkerke, headed by Patriarch Cardinal Mar Beshara Boutros Al-Rahi and with the participation of the general superiors of the Maronite orders. They studied ecclesiastical and national affairs. At the end of the meeting, they issued a statement read by the Patriarchal Vicar, Archbishop Antoine Awkar, in which it said:
"The fathers renew their insistence on the Parliament to expedite the initiative to hold the electoral session, the mechanism and conditions of which were stipulated in the constitution to choose a new president of the state, especially since the general conditions are on the brink of a complete catastrophic collapse, which no force may be able to confront. This worsening collapse bears its responsibility The nation's deputies refrained from electing the president in compliance with the constitution.
With great astonishment and regret, the parents followed the raging conflict in the judiciary, which threatens to obstruct the course of justice, especially with regard to revealing the truth about the Beirut port bombing. They cry out to the consciences of those concerned, along with the thousands of victims' families and those afflicted with their souls, bodies, and livelihoods, in order to neutralize this case from political tensions, and they demand that the investigation be pursued until the issuance of the indictment, as soon as possible. The judiciary is the pillar of the state of right and institutions, without which it is controlled by the people of influence and dictatorships, and chaos and the law of the jungle prevail.
Parents are watching with great concern the dangerous manipulation of the national currency exchange rates, which leads to insane rises in the prices of life and living materials, which prevents most Lebanese from securing their needs from them. They appeal to the competent authorities to quickly provide the required treatments.
Recently, phenomena of imbalance in the security situation have increased, moving from one region to another, causing casualties and injuries among the perpetrators and the citizens. Parents warn against this, and call on the military and security authorities to take the necessary measures to put an end to it, especially where the attacks are of a factional or sectarian nature.
The educational sector is suffering from further deterioration, as institutions are forced to close. The same thing we see in other vital sectors, health and administrative. The country can no longer bear it, and signs of popular anger must come, if the authorities' contract, work, and cooperation for the good of the country and citizens are not completed.
On the ninth of this month, the Maronite Church celebrates the feast of its patron saint, Saint Maron, and all Lebanese participate in this national holiday. The fathers, with their sons and daughters, implore God to grant them the grace to imitate the virtues of this saint, especially deep faith and the practice of prayer, asceticism and austerity, asking God, through his intercession, to bestow security, prosperity and peace on Lebanon, and on its people with patience and steadfastness in the face of the ordeals with which it is afflicted.

Dozens of cases are being filed abroad against those responsible for the port explosion
Nidaa Al Watan/01 February/2023
Dozens of criminal cases are being prepared to be filed in several European countries, on behalf of the victims of the Beirut port explosion, against the possible perpetrators of that "crime". A source at Accountability Now said cases were being prepared in Germany, France, Belgium, Croatia and the UK. Accountability Now, a Swiss-based human rights organization whose name is spoken by Lebanese lawyer Zina Wakim, launched a call on January 25 for European passport holders to file criminal complaints in their national jurisdictions, in light of the obstruction of the Lebanese investigation and the attempt to isolate the judicial investigator, Judge Tariq Al-Bitar, from the case. Especially since among the victims of the Beirut port explosion there are those who are Lebanese and hold a foreign nationality, just as among the victims are foreigners. Courts in their countries of origin can open criminal investigations into the explosion, which may lead to indictments being filed in these countries with the suspension of the Lebanese investigation. A concerned source confirmed that the organization had received "dozens" of cases from individuals seeking legal representation in their national jurisdictions since last week. There are calls supported by Accountability Now for the formation of an independent international fact-finding mission in the explosion under the banner of the United Nations Human Rights Council, with the same source indicating that "the work of that mission can complete investigations inside and outside Lebanon, and the mission can be formed without Lebanon's consent."

Catholic-Orthodox Christian spiritual summit in Bkerki

NNA/01 February/2023
A meeting was held in Bkerke for the heads of the Christian denominations and their representatives in Lebanon, at the invitation of the Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Mar Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi, during which they discussed, according to a statement, "current matters, starting from the socio-economic situation and ending with the pressing political crisis."
At the end of the meeting, the participants issued the following statement:
1- We express our deep concern about the social and economic crisis that is getting worse day by day, and our solidarity with our people in what they suffer from depriving them of their basic life needs of food, water, electricity, medicine and the necessary needs of children, on the one hand, and the collapse of the national currency and the decline in family incomes, On the other hand, the high rate of unemployment and the low standard of living, in addition to the many life difficulties that burden the Lebanese people on a daily basis, cannot continue to bear this dangerous situation.
Therefore, we call on the officials in the state, by virtue of their responsibility, to find solutions to these tragedies, which cannot bear any delay. It is not possible to accept their mismanagement, negligence, and rampant corruption everywhere, which compels our families, especially the younger generation, to emigrate or resort to the streets to express their pain and demand their just rights.
2- For nearly three months, the presidential seat has been vacant with us, due to the parliament's failure to elect a president. This reality is completely unacceptable and contrary to the essence of the Lebanese constitution and the pillars of sovereignty, independence and the responsibility of the deputies towards the Lebanese people. The election of a president for the republic is the demand of all the Lebanese and means commitment to the regular work of the constitutional institutions. No one has the right to paddle in the fate of the country. The foundation of the Lebanese entity and the source of its unique strength is the Christian-Muslim national partnership, and we have full confidence in the solidarity of the heads of the Islamic sects with us.
Based on the foregoing:
- We demand the parliament to expedite its national duty and elect a president for the republic.
- We entrust His Beatitude Patriarch Al-Rahi to meet with whoever he deems appropriate to achieve the above content, including inviting Christian deputies to meet in Bkerke, and urging them to take the initiative together, with Muslim deputies, as soon as possible, to elect a president for the Lebanese Republic.

Lebanese currency reaches record-low value
Najia Houssari/Arab News/February 01, 2023
BEIRUT: After being pegged at 1,505 pounds to the US dollar 25 years ago, the Lebanese pound’s official exchange rate changed to 15,000 pounds to the dollar as of Wednesday.
The previous exchange rate lasted from 1998 until 2019, when the financial crisis erupted and the Lebanese currency began to gradually collapse, losing about 97 percent of its value by 2023.
The Lebanese Ministry of Finance has started charging value-added tax based on the new rate, causing confusion in the markets, as all official and unofficial transactions changed. Meanwhile, the black-market exchange rate ranges between 59,000 and 61,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar, in the absence of any solutions by the Central Bank or the government. Almost all services and products are now priced in US dollars: foodstuffs, medicine, gasoline, the Internet, and private generator bills. Security services seem to have given up on pursuing illegal money changers, who are now operating using secret social media groups or personally making home visits to practice their illegal exchanges. During its monthly meeting on Wednesday, the Council of Maronite Bishops warned against the dangerous manipulation of the exchange rate on the black market, which leads to extreme price hikes, preventing most of the Lebanese people from securing their needs. The council urged Parliament to convene and elect a new Lebanese president to end the four-month presidential vacuum. The council further warned that Lebanon is on the verge of a complete catastrophic collapse and blamed the MPs’ reluctance to elect a president for this worsening collapse. Over the past two days, Lebanon’s parties have been intensifying their meetings to come to an agreement on a new presidential candidate, form a government and appoint a governor for the Central Bank. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri is yet to set a new date for the presidential election session after the Progressive Socialist Party’s MPs threatened to stop attending voting sessions if Hezbollah’s MPs and their allies insist on casting blank votes. A spiritual summit was held that included the Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs, dedicated to discussing a way to resolve the presidential crisis.
Head of the Progressive Socialist Party Walid Jumblatt said after his meeting with Berri on Tuesday evening that he is trying to find common denominators with all the parties to finally elect a new president. “The country is abandoned, the economic situation is deteriorating, and the judicial situation is collapsing as well,” he said. Among the candidates being discussed is Army Commander Gen. Joseph Aoun, but agreeing to elect him requires amending the constitution. So far, no presidential candidate has the support of 65 MPs. The Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces party oppose the candidacy of Suleiman Frangieh, an ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad. However, Hezbollah supports him. MP Michel Moussa, a member of the Parliamentary Development and Liberation Bloc, said: “The election of a president is still hampered by the vertical division in Parliament, as none of the two opposing poles is able to rally votes for its candidate.”Moussa noted: “Berri knew from the start that this would happen, and this is why he called for dialogue, but no one responded, although everyone is well aware that the only way to start solving Lebanon’s crises is to elect a new president and form a new government that would implement reforms according to a recovery plan.”

The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 01-02/2023
Israel's Netanyahu offered to mediate the war in Ukraine. Meanwhile, a bloody fight is breaking out in his 'own backyard.'
Chris Panella/Business Insider/February 1, 2023
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told CNN Tuesday that he would mediate the war in Ukraine if the US asked him. Netanyahu said he was previously unofficially asked to mediate at the beginning of the war. Israeli-Palestinian relations are currently at a boiling point as violence has escalated across the region. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told CNN Tuesday that he would mediate the war in Ukraine if Russia, Ukraine, and specifically the US asked him. In an interview with journalist Jake Tapper, Netanyahu said: "If I'm asked by both sides, and frankly, if I'm asked by the United States — because I think, you know, you can't have too many cooks in the kitchen."Netanyahu also told Tapper that he was previously tapped to mediate "early on in the breakout"of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, clarifying that it was an "unofficial" request. He deferred to Israel's sitting prime minister at the time. Netanyahu also would not reveal who asked him. Despite offering his help, Netanyahu added that his current focus in a surge in violence between Israelis and Palestinians, telling Tapper, "We have our own backyard to deal with."The conversation comes as the tensions between Israel and Palestine reaches a boiling point. According to the BBC, more than 200 Palestinians and 30 Israelis were killed in conflict in 2022. In January of this year, more than 30 Palestinians and seven Israelis have been killed in West Bank raids and other shootings. On Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to Israel, urging an end to the ongoing bloodshed.

Israel steps up demolitions of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem
Mohammed Najib/Arab News/February 01, 2023
Properties were razed in the city’s Sur Baher, Wadi Al-Hummus and Silwan neighborhoods on Wednesday
Residents of Al-Khan Al-Ahmar are staging a sit-in amid fears they will be displaced after a final deadline to leave the village expired
RAMALLAH: Israeli authorities have stepped up their demolitions of Palestinian homes in parts of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, following a policy formulated by extreme right-wing ministers in the country’s new government, local leaders say.
On Wednesday, Israeli bulldozers knocked down buildings in the Sur Baher, Wadi Al-Hummus and Silwan neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Rights activists urged people to publicly denounce the demolitions by posting messages on social media sites such as Twitter using the hashtag #Stop_Demolishing_Jerusalem.
They also called on the Palestinian Authority, the international community and global institutions to intervene immediately to force Israel to halt the demolitions and displacements that threaten the Palestinian community in Jerusalem. Since the beginning of this January, occupation forces have razed 30 homes in a number of the historic city’s neighborhoods. Last year, 211 Palestinian homes were demolished in Jerusalem. In the village of Al-Khan Al-Ahmar, east of Jerusalem, a sit-in protest by villagers and activists from the Palestinian Wall and Settlement Resistance Commission continued for a second day on Wednesday.
Residents of the village and surrounding Bedouin communities fear Israeli authorities will demolish their homes, after a final six-month deadline for them to leave expired on Wednesday. Eid Khamis Jahalin, a Bedouin leader from Al-Khan Al-Ahmar, told Arab News that people are scared that Israeli bulldozers will destroy the village and displace its 250 residents. “The electoral program of both Itamar Bin-Gvir (the new Israeli national security minister) and Bezalel Yoel Smotrich (the minister of finance) is based on the demolition of Al-Khan Al-Hamar and the displacement of its inhabitants,” he said.
Hussein Al-Sheikh, from the Palestine Liberation Organization, called on the international community to intervene immediately to halt the demolitions carried out by Israeli occupation forces in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, which he described as a continuation of a policy of displacement and “apartheid.” He said the Palestinian leadership would meet on Friday to discuss ways to respond.
Elsewhere, Israeli army forces continued to besiege Jericho, in the eastern West Bank, for a fifth day on Wednesday as they searched for two young men responsible for an attempted gun attack on a settlers’ restaurant at the entrance to the city five days ago. Critics accused Israeli authorities of imposing a collective punishment policy in the city by obstructing the free movement of residents, searching their cars and checking their identities, resulting in long queues and people being stuck in their vehicles for hours. Journalist Adel Abu Nima from Jericho told Arab News that the Israeli army on Saturday set up military checkpoints at all main entrances to Jericho city and its camps, Aqbat Jabr and Ein Al-Sultan, and blocked secondary entrances with mounds of earth, causing great disruption to the lives of city residents and visitors. “Some citizens and workers wait at the Israeli military checkpoints for four hours, and some are prevented from leaving Jericho,” Abu Nima said. Jericho is the only place from which 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank can travel to other countries, so the checkpoints have affected people traveling abroad and those who are returning. “As a journalist covering the events in West Bank, including Jenin and Nablus, I have not seen such Israeli military measures against entire cities as is happening now against Jericho,” Abu Nima said.
Meanwhile, an Israeli human rights organization has accused Israeli authorities of tolerating settler violence against Palestinians for more than 17 years. Yesh Din said in a report published on Feb. 1 that only 3 percent of cases of ideological crimes committed by Israelis against Palestinians in the West Bank during that time resulted in convictions and 93 percent of cases were closed with no indictment filed. Data contained in the report showed that between 2005 and 2022, Israeli police failed to investigate 81.5 percent of alleged crimes committed by Israelis against Palestinians and their property. The researchers said: “The state of Israel is evading its duty to protect Palestinians from Israelis who seek to harm them in the West Bank, as international law requires. “Yesh Din’s long-term monitoring of the results of police investigations into incidents of ideological crime committed by Israelis demonstrates the enduring systemic failures of the Israeli authorities to enforce the law on Israeli civilians who harm Palestinians and their property in occupied territory. “The fact that this systemic failure has persisted for at least two decades indicates that this is a deliberate policy of the state of Israel, which normalizes ideological settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank, supports it and then reaps the rewards resulting from it.”In another development, the Israeli Cabinet is due to discuss a decision to stop recognizing degrees awarded by Palestinian universities. Avi Dichter, the Israeli agriculture minister, who previously was chief of the Israeli spy agency Shin Bet, said: “During the studies of Palestinian students from Israel in Palestinian universities, they are exposed to anti-Israel materials and messages, with which they return to the country and pass on to their students.” Sheeran Haskel, a member of the Likud Party, claimed that more than 20 percent of teachers in Arab schools in Israel had graduated from Palestinian universities “after they absorbed the implications of portraying Israel as an enemy.”Thousand of Palestinians who live in Israel study at universities in the West Bank.

Abbas succession battle could ‘collapse’ Palestinian Authority: Think tank
AFP/February 01, 2023
RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: The future battle to succeed Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas could trigger “mass protest, repression” and the outright collapse of the Palestinian Authority, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said Wednesday. The think tank released its forecast a day after the aging and increasingly unpopular 87-year-old Abbas met in Ramallah with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was in the region to urge calm amid a spike in Israeli-Palestinian violence. Given Abbas’s age and persistent rumors about his poor health, speculation on his successor is common in the occupied West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority (PA) is based.
The Brussels-based ICG predicted in its report that “elections based on legal procedures” were “the least likely” outcome when Abbas vacates the presidency. Abbas heads the PA, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Fatah, the secular political movement founded by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Abbas was elected president after Arafat died in 2004. Palestinians have had no presidential elections since. The report says Abbas, who has been unwilling to designate a successor, has also “hollowed out or disabled the institutions and procedures that would otherwise decide who will take his place.”It is therefore “unclear who will succeed him, and by what process,” ICG said, warning of a possible “descent into mass protest, repression, violence and even the PA’s collapse.”According to the report, any last-ditch effort to name a successor to ease a transition process “would go awry.”Abbas has repeatedly called off plans to hold presidential polls, as recently as 2021 when he scrapped scheduled elections citing Israel’s refusal to allow voting in annexed east Jerusalem, which Palestinians claim as their future capital. Palestinian experts widely suspected Abbas backed away from the polls over fears Fatah would be trounced by Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip. While Abbas has not named a successor, he has elevated PA civil affairs minister Hussein Al-Sheikh, who he tapped for the number two spot in the PLO. The ICG report names Sheikh and PA intelligence chief Majid Faraj as possible successors. Though the two men hold significant power within the PA and are seen as able to work with the international community, the report notes “neither has been able to win much support in Palestinian society.” It identifies second-tier “would-be successors,” among them Palestinian Football Association chief Jibril Rajoub, prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh and Mohammed Dahlan, a former Gaza security chief exiled to the United Arab Emirates after falling out with Abbas. “Each of these men has his own network,” the report says, but none “could stand on his own.”

Iraqi PM says banking reforms reveal fraudulent dollar transactions
AFP/February 01, 2023
BAGHDAD: Iraq’s premier said Tuesday that new banking regulations had revealed fraudulent dollar transactions made from his country, as the fresh controls coincide with a drop in the local currency’s value. Iraq has in recent months been making efforts to ensure its banking system is compliant with the international electronic transfer system known as SWIFT. Referring to the new controls, Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani hailed “a real reform of the banking system,” but denounced “falsified invoices, money going out fraudulently,” in particular as foreign currency payments for imports. “That is a reality,” he said in an interview on state television. The adoption of the SWIFT system was supposed to allow for greater transparency, tackle money laundering and help to enforce international sanctions, such as those against Iran and Russia. An adviser to Sudani had said that since mid-November, Iraqi banks wanting to access dollar reserves stored in the United States must make transfers using the electronic system. The US Federal Reserve will then examine the requests and block them if it finds them suspicious. According to the adviser, the Fed had so far rejected 80 percent of the transfer requests over concerns of the funds’ final recipients. Before the introduction of the new regulations, “we were selling $200 million or $300 million a day,” Sudani said. “Now, the central bank provides $30 million, $40 million, $50 million,” he said, questioning: “What were we importing in a single day for $300 million?““There are products that were entering (Iraq) for prices that make no sense. Clearly, the objective was to take foreign currency out of Iraq,” he said. “This must stop.”Money may have been transported to Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan province “and from there to neighboring countries,” Sudani said, without specifying whether he was referring to Turkiye, Iran or war-torn Syria. He said the new controls had been planned for two years, in accordance with an agreement between Iraq’s central bank and US financial authorities, and deplored previous failures to put them in place. Iraq, which is trying to move past four decades of war and unrest, is plagued by endemic corruption. The official exchange rate is fixed by the government at 1,470 dinars to the dollar, but the currency was trading at around 1,680 on Tuesday on unofficial markets amid dollar scarcity. The drop has sparked sporadic protests by Iraqis worried about their purchasing power. Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein and the new central bank chief will be among a delegation traveling to Washington on February 7 to discuss the new mechanism and the fluctuating exchange rate, Sudani said.

Eight rockets fired at Turkish base in Iraq
Reuters/February 01, 2023
IRBIL, Iraq: Unidentified attackers fired eight rockets at a Turkish military base in northern Iraq on Wednesday, two of which landed inside the facility, the Counter-Terrorism Group, a security organization in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, said. A Turkish security source said the attack had caused no damage and there were no casualties in the base, without going into further detail. An Iraqi security source who declined to be identified said an Iraqi contractor in the base had been wounded. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack in the early hours on the Zilkan base, which hosts Turkish troops in Ninevah province of northern Iraq. Turkiye has been carrying out operations in Iraq for decades against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has bases in the region. It is designated a terrorist group by Turkiye, the United States, and the European Union. The group launched an insurgency in southeast Turkiye in 1984 in which more than 40,000 people have been killed.

Iran jails couple in viral dancing video: Activists
AFP/February 01/2023
A revolutionary court in Tehran sentenced them each to 10 years and six months in prison
HRANA cited sources close to their families as saying they had been deprived of lawyers during the court proceedings
PARIS: An Iranian court has handed jail sentences of over 10 years each to a young couple who danced in front of one of Tehran’s main landmarks in a video seen as a symbol of defiance against the regime, activists said on Tuesday.
Astiyazh Haghighi and her fiance Amir Mohammad Ahmadi, both in their early 20s, had been arrested in early November after a video went viral of them dancing romantically in front of the Azadi Tower in Tehran. Haghighi did not wear a headscarf in defiance of the Islamic republic’s strict rules for women, while women are also not allowed to dance in public in Iran, let alone with a man. A revolutionary court in Tehran sentenced them each to 10 years and six months in prison, as well as bans on using the Internet and leaving Iran, the US-based Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) said. The couple, who already had a following in Tehran as popular Instagram bloggers, were convicted of “encouraging corruption and public prostitution” as well as “gathering with the intention of disrupting national security,” it added. HRANA cited sources close to their families as saying they had been deprived of lawyers during the court proceedings while attempts to secure their release on bail have been rejected. It said Haghighi is now in the notorious Qarchak prison for women outside Tehran, whose conditions are regularly condemned by activists. Iranian authorities have clamped down severely on all forms of dissent since the death in September of Mahsa Amini, who had been arrested for allegedly violating the headscarf rules, sparked protests that have turned into a movement against the regime. At least 14,000 people have been arrested, according to the United Nations, ranging from prominent celebrities, journalists and lawyers to ordinary people who took to the streets. The couple’s video had been hailed as a symbol of the freedoms demanded by the protest movement, with Ahmadi at one moment lifting his partner in the air as her long hair flowed behind. One of the main icons of the Iranian capital, the gigantic and futuristic Azadi (Freedom) Tower is a place of huge sensitivity. It opened under the rule of the last shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in the early 1970s when it was known as the Shahyad (In Memory of the Shah) Tower. It was renamed after the shah was ousted in 1979 with the creation of the Islamic republic. Its architect, a member of the Bahai faith which is not recognized in today’s Iran, now lives in exile.

Iran says Iraq-based Kurd groups ‘involved’ in drone attack
AFP/February 01, 2023
TEHRAN: Iran has accused Iraq-based Kurdish groups of being “involved” in a drone attack last week against a defense ministry site in the central province of Isfahan, Iranian media reported Wednesday. “Parts of the drones that attacked the workshop complex of the defense ministry in Isfahan, along with explosive materials, were transferred to Iran with the participation and guidance of the Kurdish anti-revolutionary groups based in Iraq’s Kurdistan region,” Nour news agency said. Iranian authorities reported an “unsuccessful” drone attack late Saturday that targeted a defense ministry “workshop complex” in Isfahan province, home to the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility. An anti-aircraft system destroyed one drone and two others exploded, the defense ministry said, adding that there were no casualties and only minor damage to the site. Nour charged that Kurdish groups brought the drone parts and explosive materials into Iran from “one of the hardly accessible routes in the northwest” upon “the order of a foreign security service.” The news agency, considered close to the Islamic republic’s Supreme National Security Council, did not specify which country’s security service it accused of being behind the attack. It said the drone parts were delivered to the “service’s liaison in a border city.”“The parts and materials have been assembled and used for sabotage in an advanced workshop by trained forces,” Nour said. Some Western media have blamed the attack on Iran’s arch foe Israel. Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region hosts camps and rear-bases operated by several Iranian Kurdish rebel groups, which Iran has accused of serving Western or Israeli interests in the past. In November, Iran launched cross-border missile and drone strikes against several of the groups in Iraq, accusing them of stoking the nationwide protests triggered by the death in custody in September of Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini.

IAEA chides Iran for undeclared change to Fordow uranium enrichment setup
Reuters/February 01, 2023
VIENNA: The UN nuclear watchdog criticized Iran on Wednesday for making an undeclared change to the interconnection between the two clusters of advanced machines enriching uranium to up to 60 percent purity, close to weapons grade, at its Fordow plant. The International Atomic Energy Agency found the change during an unannounced inspection on Jan. 21 at the Fordow Fuel enrichment Plant (FFEP), a site dug into a mountain where inspectors are stepping up checks after Iran said it would dramatically expand enrichment. Fordow is so sensitive that the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major powers banned enrichment there. Since the United States pulled out of the deal in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions against Iran, the Islamic Republic has breached many of the deal’s restrictions on its nuclear activities. In a confidential report to member states seen by Reuters, the IAEA did not say how the interconnection between the two cascades of IR-6 centrifuges had been changed except that “they were interconnected in a way that was substantially different from the mode of operation declared by Iran (to the IAEA).” In a public statement summarising that confidential report, the IAEA said its chief Rafael Grossi “is concerned that Iran implemented a substantial change in the design information of FFEP in relation to the production of high-enriched uranium without informing the Agency in advance.” “This is inconsistent with Iran’s obligations under its Safeguards Agreement and undermines the Agency’s ability to adjust the safeguards approach for FFEP and implement effective safeguards measures at this facility.”The IAEA has had regular access to Fordow to carry out verification activities like inspections and it is in talks with Iran on stepping up those activities, the report said. “The Agency and Iran have continued their discussions. The Agency has increased the frequency and intensity of its verification activities at FFEP. However, some other safeguards measures are still required and are being discussed with Iran,” the report added.

Iran, Russia move to link banks to evade Western sanctions
Associated Press/February 01/2023
Iran and Russia have taken a key step toward linking their banking systems in a move that further boosts their cooperation in the face of Western sanctions, an Iranian official said. At a signing ceremony on Sunday, Mohsen Karami, the deputy central bank governor, said banks in the two countries had connected their messaging networks following agreements reached over the past year, according to the state-run IRNA news agency. It was not clear whether those links would allow for the transfer of funds, and services were not yet available to bank customers. Karami said 100 banks in 13 other countries were connected to the network, without naming them. There was no immediate comment from Russia or the United States, which has worked with its allies to isolate both countries. In response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine nearly a year ago, Western countries banned key Russian banks from the Belgium-based SWIFT financial messaging system, which daily moves billions of dollars around the world among more than 11,000 banks and financial institutions. The Trump administration took similar action against Iranian banks as it reimposed crippling sanctions after withdrawing the U.S. from a nuclear agreement with world powers in 2018.
Cutting banks off from the SWIFT system severely limits a country's ability to acquire foreign capital and trade internationally, and is among the toughest financial sanctions available. Iran and Russia have strengthened ties following Russia's invasion, with Iran supplying attack drones that have dive-bombed infrastructure and other civilian targets across Ukraine. After initially denying that it had armed Russia, in November Iran acknowledged the drones transfer, saying it took place before the war began. Russia's vast oil reserves and trade ties with China and India have thus far largely cushioned it from Western sanctions. Iran has struggled for years in the face of similar sanctions linked to its disputed nuclear program. Its currency fell to an all-time low late last year, further hobbling the economy, draining people's life savings and adding fuel to nationwide anti-government protests.
Efforts to revive the 2015 agreement, which lifted sanctions on Iran in return for strict limits and stepped-up surveillance of its nuclear activities, hit an impasse several months ago.

Ukraine hails French gift of radar as 'cherry on the cake'
LIMOURS, France (AP)/Wed, February 1, 2023
Ukraine's defense minister said Wednesday that Ukrainian lives will be saved by a sophisticated air-defense radar that France is supplying and which is powerful enough to spot incoming missiles and exploding drones in the skies over all of Ukraine's capital and its surrounding region. The minister, Oleksii Reznikov, was so enthusiastic about what he called Ukraine's new “electronic eyes” that he quickly coined a nickname for the Ground Master 200 radar — the “Grand Master."Speaking through an interpreter at a handover ceremony for the radar with his French counterpart, Reznikov described the French-made GM200 as a "very effective” improvement for Ukraine's network of about 300 different types of air-defense radars. Thales, the manufacturer, says the radar detects and tracks rockets, artillery and mortar shells, missiles, aircraft, drones and other threats. “Because of your support, Ukrainian lives will be saved,” the minister said at the ceremony in Limours, where Thales makes the equipment. “This radar will be the cherry on the cake," he added. “That's why it will be called ‘Grand Master.’"The French defense minister, Sebastien Lecornu, said the GM200's range of 250 kilometers (155 miles) would enable it to watch the skies over Kyiv and the Ukrainian capital's surrounding region, although it wasn't clear whether that's where Ukrainian forces intend to deploy it. The radar is transportable on a truck. Thales says it can be deployed in 15 minutes and be moved to another location in 10 minutes, making it a harder target to hit. The minister was gifted a small model of the radar at the ceremony and brandished it with a big grin above his head.

Russian troops are joining Wagner mercenaries in grinding, high-casualty push for Ukraine's Bakhmut
Peter Weber/The Week/February 1, 2023
Russian conventional forces have entered the long, bloody battle for Bakhmut in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region, either replacing or augmenting the Wagner private mercenaries that have been fighting to capture the now-ravaged town since July. "The enemy continues to suffer great losses," Ukraine's armed forces said Tuesday, reporting they killed 850 Russian soldiers in the previous 24 hours. But Ukrainian commanders also say they are struggling to hold Bakhmut amid the waves of charging foot soldiers. More than 4,100 Wagner soldiers have been killed and another 10,000 wounded, a U.S. official estimated in early January, including than 1,000 dead near Bakhmut from late November to early December. Many of the Wagner frontline troops were recruited from Russian prisons. "Previously, the assaults were carried out first by convicts, followed by more 'elite' Wagner units, but now airborne units have also joined the fight," Maksym Zhorin, a former co-commander of Ukraine's Azov regiment, wrote on Telegram. "Wagner's troops are forced to advance on foot, while Russian paratroopers have armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles," he added. "Another difference is that for some reason regular troops are less willing to die than Wagner's men. That is why they act a little more cautiously. But they are still dying, just not in such huge numbers." Ukraine is suffering heavy losses in Bakhmut, too. "Manpower is less of a Russian problem and, in some ways, more of a Ukrainian problem, not only because the casualties are painful," Lawrence Freedman, a professor emeritus of war studies at King's College London, tells The Associated Press, but they're also often "Ukraine's best troops." He added that losing Bakhmut would give Russia a tactical boost, not a decisive victory. Bakhmut isn't in imminent danger of falling to Russian forces, "although the Ukrainian command may choose to withdraw rather than risk unacceptable losses," ISW assessed Tuesday night. "It is extraordinarily unlikely that Russian forces will be able to conduct a surprise encirclement of Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut." And if Russia does take Bakhmut, they'll get a bombed-out ghost city, not the quaint town of 80,000 known for its sparkling wines produced in historic underground caves, AP reports. "It's hell on earth right now," said Ukrainian soldier Petro Voloschenko, who has been defending Bakhmut since August. "Bakhmut is the heart of Ukraine, and the future peace of those cities that are no longer under occupation depends on the rhythm with which it beats."

Wagner troops wouldn't 'stop coming' and climbed over bodies of dead comrades like something out of a 'zombie movie,' says Ukrainian soldier
Rebecca Cohen,Jake Epstein/Business Insider/February 1, 2023
A Ukrainian soldier compared fighting Russia's Wagner Group to something like a "zombie movie."
"They're climbing above the corpse of their friends, stepping on them," the soldier told CNN.
He detailed an "uninterrupted," 10-hour battle in which Russian mercenaries "didn't stop coming."
A Ukrainian soldier who recently had a run-in with a group of Wagner mercenaries said the fighters "didn't stop coming" during a battle in Bakhmut, Ukraine."We were fighting for about 10 hours in a row. And it wasn't like just waves — it was uninterrupted. So it was just like they didn't stop coming," the soldier, named Andriy, told CNN of fighting troops from the Wagner Group, a private military contractor linked to the Kremlin that consists of mercenaries and former prisoners. He said the fight was between 20 Ukrainian soldiers and about 200 Wagner troops and described it as a "frightening and surreal experience."Andriy detailed the ruthless nature of these fighters, comparing the battle to something out of a "zombie movie." "They're climbing above the corpse of their friends, stepping on them," he told CNN. He even suggested that the Wagner troops might be "getting some drugs before the attack."
Andriy said their machine gunner was "almost going crazy" because he knew he was shooting at and hitting his targets, but none of the troops he hit were falling. "He said, 'I know I shot him, but he doesn't fall,'" Andriy told CNN. "And then after some time, when he maybe bleeds out, so he just falls down." The soldier said his group's AK-47 rifles became so hot from constantly firing at the Wagner troops that they had to keep switching out guns. He described Wagner's attack method to CNN, saying that first, they send a group of attackers — mainly made up of recruits fresh from Russian prisons. At that point, they begin "digging into position," Andriy said. A second group then advances to claim more land "step by step," moving forward and into position, Andriy recalled. As Wagner loses more troops and groups are exhausted, they send more as an attempt to hold their spot on the battlefield.
Eventually, Andriy's group was surrounded. "We didn't expect them to come from there," he told CNN. "We were shooting until the last bullet, so we threw all the grenades we had and left only me and a few guys. We were helpless in that situation," he told CNN. At the end of the day, Andriy and comrades got a stroke of luck: Wagner retreated. Tens of thousands of Wagner fighters have joined in Russia's war efforts to capture Bakhmut, where intense fighting has raged for months. Among the group's fighters are recruited prisoners who have been sent to the front lines — sometimes alongside newly mobilized Russian troops — and used to absorb heavy Ukrainian fire. US military officials have said that these forces are taking the brunt of Ukrainian firepower. Top US Gen. Mark Milley said last month that Russian casualties have climbed to "significantly well over 100,000 now." That assessment includes the regular military and Wagner.Though Wagner is taking heavy losses, the group also appears to be the only Moscow-linked force that has found any sort of success on the battlefield, specifically the capture of the strategically insignificant Soledar, and its prominence has at times caused rifts between the mercenary group and Russia's regular military. The US government announced a litany of new sanctions last week aimed at the Wagner Group, designating it a "significant transnational criminal organization" and targeting individuals and entities involved in supporting its global network.

Belgian arms trader tangles with minister over tanks for Ukraine
Andrew Gray/TOURNAI, Belgium (Reuters)/Wed, February 1, 2023
Freddy Versluys does not like to be called an arms dealer. But he does have a big warehouse full of second-hand tanks for sale.
Standing next to dozens of German-made Leopard 1 tanks and other military vehicles in the chilly warehouse in eastern Belgium, Versluys stressed he is the CEO of two defence companies with a broad range of activities, such as making sensors for spacecraft.
But buying and selling weapons is part of his business too. And it’s the tanks that have brought him into the spotlight over the past few days, as he has engaged in a public battle with Belgian Defence Minister Ludivine Dedonder over the possibility of sending them to Ukraine. While other Western nations have pledged in recent weeks to send main battle tanks to help Ukraine repel Russia’s invasion, Belgium has not joined that group, for one reason above all: It doesn’t have any tanks left. It sold the last of them – a batch of 50 – to Versluys’s company more than five years ago. Asked why he bought the tanks, Versluys, a silver-haired man in his mid-60s, said that was his company’s business model – it bought unwanted military equipment in the hope that someone else would want it in future. “There are still countries in the world who have these Leopard 1 tanks. So there's always a possibility either to sell spare parts or to sell additional tanks,” he said.
But, he added: “Of course, it's a gamble... Maybe tomorrow we will have to scrap them (or) 10 years later they can still be there.”
Dedonder has said the government has explored the idea of buying back tanks to send them to Ukraine. But she has blasted the prices quoted as “unreasonable” and “extremely high”. Tanks sold for 10-15,000 euros each are being offered for sale at 500,000 euros, despite not being operational, she has said.
The spat highlights a predicament faced by Western governments as they scramble to find more weapons for Ukraine after almost a year of intense warfare – arms they discarded as obsolete are now in high demand, and many are now in the hands of private companies.
Dedonder hasn’t named Versluys’s company, OIP Land Systems, in her accusations. But Versluys is sure he is her target. Dedonder declined a request for an interview. Versluys has taken the unusual step of going public to dispute the minister’s assertions, offering a rare insight into the workings of a business that often prefers to keep a low profile. Versluys said his firm bought the 50 tanks for about 2 million euros and only 33 were useable. That would mean a unit price of 40,000 euros for 50 tanks, or some 60,600 euros for 33. He said his selling price could range anywhere from several hundred thousand to close to a million euros but that would include work to refit the tanks, which he insisted could be highly expensive. Replacing the system that controls the gunfire could cost 350,000 euros per tank, replacing asbestos in the engine could cost 75,000 euros, he said. Each tank had to be assessed individually.
“We still have to look at what is their actual status and what we have to spend on them to make them suitable,” he said.
As part of his public offensive, Versluys has given journalists tours of his warehouse on the outskirts of the provincial town of Tournai. It resembles a military hypermarket, filled with lines of Leopard 1 tanks in dusty green and black camouflage and scores of other military vehicles, along with shelves stacked with spare parts and piles of webbing. In his sales pitch, Versluys also emphasises that refitted Leopard 1 tanks could be battlefield-ready in months - much more quickly than new models ordered today, which will take years to produce. The Leopard 1 is the predecessor of the Leopard 2 tanks that Germany, Poland, Finland and other countries agreed last month to send to Ukraine. It is lighter than the Leopard 2 and has a different type of main gun. The models in Versluys’s warehouse were last upgraded in the 1990s. Yohann Michel, an analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank, said Leopard 1 tanks would not be as valuable on the battlefield as their successors. But, he said, they could still be of some use in taking on older Russian tanks and in supporting infantry units, particularly if they were refitted to a high standard. If Belgium does not buy back the tanks, another country could purchase them for Kyiv. Versluys said he had held discussions with several European governments about that option. Last year, Britain bought 46 infantry fighting vehicles from his firm for Ukraine and sent out engineers who worked round the clock to refit them, Versluys said. However, any export of Leopard 1s would require the approval from the Belgian region of Wallonia, where the company is based, and from Berlin, as the tanks were made by German firm KMW. Versluys is a smooth salesman, reeling off names, model numbers and prices of numerous bits of military kit. He worked as an engineer in the Belgian military before going into business. While he does not like the “arms dealer” label, he said the weapons business is better than its reputation: “Contrary to what people say, it’s quite a civilised market.”

Russian arms dealer, son and front firms hit with sanctions
FATIMA HUSSEIN/February 1, 2023
A Russian arms dealer, his son, a group of front companies across Asia, Europe and the Middle East and their leadership have been targeted for U.S. sanctions in an effort to quell Russia's access to weapons as it continues its invasion of Ukraine. Russian arms dealer Igor Zimenkov, his son and companies connected to “the Zimenkov network” in Singapore, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Israel, among other countries, were identified by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control for financial penalties. Roughly 22 people and organizations related to a sanctions evasion network supporting Russia’s military-industrial complex were named in Wednesday's news release. The administration uses an April 2021 executive order as its authority to impose the financial penalties, and took the actions in concert with the Russian Elites, Proxies, and Oligarchs Task Force, a multi-agency group that works with other countries to investigate and prosecute oligarchs and others allied with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Russia’s desperate attempts to utilize proxies to circumvent U.S. sanctions demonstrate that sanctions have made it much harder and costlier for Russia’s military-industrial complex to resupply Putin’s war machine,” Treasury's Deputy Secretary Wally Adeyemo said in a Wednesday statement. Treasury says over the last year, OFAC has sanctioned more than 100 people and entities engaging in activity to circumvent international sanctions and export controls imposed on Russia. “Targeting proxies is one of many steps that Treasury and our coalition of partners have taken, and continue to take, to tighten sanctions enforcement against Russia’s defense sector, its benefactors, and its supporters," Adeyemo said. As the one-year anniversary of Moscow's invasion approaches, Russia is mustering its military might in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine, local officials say, in what Kyiv suspects is preparation for an offensive in coming weeks. Ukraine is hoping to secure more Western military aid as it tries to fend off the much larger Russian forces. It already has won pledges of advanced battle tanks from the U.S., Germany, Britain and other European countries.

Exiled Russian journalist gets 8 years' jail for slamming Mariupol shelling
Reuters/Wed, February 1, 2023T
Prominent Russian journalist Alexander Nevzorov was sentenced in absentia to eight years in jail by a Moscow court on Wednesday on charges of spreading "fake news" about the Russian army. The court found that Nevzorov, 64, had been "motivated by political hatred" when he accused Russia's armed forces in social media posts last March of deliberately shelling a maternity hospital in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, an assertion Moscow said was false. The court said in a statement that he would be sent to a penal colony if he ever returned to Russia, and that he was banned from managing internet content for four years. Nevzorov, who runs a YouTube channel with close to 2 million subscribers, called the investigation ridiculous and left Russia with his wife last March. Prosecutors had asked for a nine-year sentence. Nevzorov responded to the verdict by saying "I don't think Russia will exist in nine years' time".
In comments to a Russian news outlet, "We can explain", he said he had no plans to return to the country and that President Vladimir Putin was heading "a dictatorship based on dirt, blood and denunciations". Nevzorov, who made his name hosting the pioneering news programme "600 Seconds" as Soviet society opened up under Mikhail Gorbachev and also served in Russia's parliament, was granted Ukrainian citizenship after publicly denouncing Russia's invasion, calling the war a "crime" and Ukraine its victim. The case against him was brought under a law passed eight days after the invasion that set jail terms of up to 15 years for intentionally spreading false information about the military. Russia has since blocked access to news sites publishing content at odds with the official line on the conflict, while dozens of Russian and international news outlets have left the country. In a separate development on Wednesday, the General Prosecutor's office declared the foreign-based opposition platform Free Russia Forum to be an "undesirable" organisation that posed "a threat to the constitutional order and security of the Russian Federation".The Forum, whose leading members include former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, has held several meetings in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, where it staged an anti-war conference late last year. "Undesirable" organisations are banned from operating in Russia, and people risk prosecution for supporting or promoting their activities.

China will lose half its population by the end of the century — and the ripple effects will be catastrophic
Sebastian Dettmers,Chris Forman,Andrew Flowers/Business Insider/Wed, February 1, 2023
The country's shrinking population is a grim omen for the rest of the world.
China's population is shrinking. While the massive country is still home to 1.4 billion people — nearly one out of every five people on Earth — China's National Bureau of Statistics announced that its population shrank in 2022, falling by roughly 850,000 people.
This shocking statistic is only the start of China's population decline. This year India is set to surpass China's population, and in a few years it will surpass China's working-age population — people 20 to 69. The United Nations has estimated that if China's birth rate remains at its super-low level and the country fails to position itself as an attractive destination for migrants, the country will lose nearly half of its population by the end of this century, a contraction of roughly 700 million people.
Strong growth in its working-age population over the past several decades allowed China to become the world's factory — over 70% of solar panels, 60% of farm machines, and 25% of robots are constructed with components from Chinese suppliers. Because of its manufacturing prowess and importance to supply chains, China's shrinking working-age population has enormous, direct effects on the global economy. It's also an omen for the US and Europe: If they don't turn around their shrinking birth rates, they face the same economic fate as China.
Fewer children, fewer workers
For decades China's fertility rate — the number of live births per woman — has declined, helping slow the country's population growth. In 2022, it hit the lowest level on record, 1.1 children per woman. In the main population centers of Beijing and Shanghai the fertility rate cratered to 0.7 children per woman. China's one-child policy, which restricted couples to only one child, is not solely to blame (though it played a small role). When the one-child policy was implemented nationwide in 1980, the fertility rate had already fallen to 2.6 from more than 6 children per woman in 1970. In 1991, it fell below 2.1 children per woman, the level needed to keep the population stable over time. At that moment a demographic timer was set, and now the alarm is ringing.
The specter of population decline has for years worried the Chinese government, leading the country to relax its restrictive one-child policy in 2016. The Chinese government began encouraging its citizens to have up to three children by enticing them with cash incentives, discounted real estate, and extended maternity leave. But it appears those efforts have been largely unsuccessful.
Unlike many developed economies in the West, China and other major economic powers in Asia aren't using immigration to offset declining fertility. Instead, they're closing themselves off. The proportion of migrants as a percentage of the total population in Japan in 2020 was only 2%. In India it was 0.3%, and in China it was as low as 0.1%. It is practically impossible for foreigners to obtain Chinese citizenship. In contrast, 17% of people living in Germany in 2021 were born abroad, and a third of them had obtained German citizenship.
Fewer children and fewer immigrants means fewer workers in the long term. The UN forecasts suggest the workforce in China will shrink more in the coming years than it will in almost any other country, and the precipitous population drop will set the stage for a reversal of its decades of strong economic growth, meaning living standards can't improve as quickly. This is a gigantic challenge for the Chinese economy — and for Xi Jinping's ambitious plans to make China the world's largest economy and dominant superpower.
The shrinking workforce has already caused the government to shift its economic focus. After decades of export-led, labor-intensive manufacturing growth, the government's 14th five-year plan — the latest set of growth targets and economic reforms set by the Chinese Communist Party, in 2021 — focused on orientating the economy toward its domestic market and investing in higher-value-add products. Instead of being an intermediate step in the global supply chain — importing raw goods and parts, using cheap labor to manufacture finished products, and then shipping that merchandise abroad — Beijing wants its own workers to produce those final goods and sell them to shoppers in its own country.
This shift is imperative because so much of the Chinese economy is dependent on an ever growing population. Take the demand for real estate: In the past two decades, Chinese people have invested 70% of their wealth in real estate. In the US, that share is only 35%. The construction and real-estate sector accounts for roughly a quarter of China's total economic output. China builds like no other country: It has built entire cities from scratch, and it consumes half of the concrete produced worldwide. And China is apparently planning further growth: In 2017, 65 million empty apartments — enough to house the population of France or California — were waiting for young families.
But how long will demand for real estate last? Who will move into the empty apartments when the population shrinks? What will happen to this massive industry when the number of Chinese consumers declines and there are fewer people to continue investing? And what will happen to the elderly Chinese people who have tied up so much of their wealth in their homes?
A shrinking workforce wouldn't just hurt China's economy — it would have spillover effects for the US and Europe. China's manufacturing sector, for example, would likely struggle to maintain its recent growth streak. So in the coming decades, China's economy would not lift global growth rates as it has in the past. Productivity growth in the country could also stagnate. Economists have long tracked the correlation between population density and innovation — a larger population means a larger pool of potential entrepreneurs — so a shrinking population means China's ability to disrupt markets could decline as well. Taken together, China's slowing economy would have severe knock-on effects for the rest of the world.
The trouble with closed borders
China's population decline also serves as an omen for countries that have birth rates at or below the replacement level, such as the US and many places in Europe. Europe is facing the same demographic turning point as China — the continent's population is projected to decline by 21%, or 157 million people, by the end of the century. Nigeria is set to overtake Europe as the third-largest labor force later this century.
Among today's largest economies, only the US has a projection of positive population growth, though at very low levels. But the projected growth is due not to increasing fertility but to immigration. Pew Research Center has estimated that in the second half of the century, one-third of the US population — more than 100 million people — will be migrants and their US-born children.
And immigrants to the US punch above their economic weight. More than 40% of the 500 largest US companies were founded by immigrants or their children, from tech giants like Google to the wholesale chain Costco to the jeans brand Levi's. The influence of immigrants on American prosperity is not relegated to the startup scene; the story of the rags-to-riches millionaire — or at least of middle-class success — is repeated frequently. This is impressively demonstrated by a recent study that followed millions of parents and their children and found that the children of immigrants of almost every nationality achieved social advancement at least as often as their peers from nonimmigrant families. For immigrants at least, the American dream is alive and well.
That said, immigration is notoriously hard to forecast and is increasingly politicized. But without an injection of immigrants, the working-age population in the US is likely to decline, harming the country's economy. But if American policymakers can keep the door open to new residents, the US will be one of the few industrialized nations that won't have to contend with a shrinking population, which could prove a decisive factor in its race against China for dominance in the global economy.
The Great People Shortage is not an abstract threat — it has very real consequences. Already, many companies are facing major challenges in filling their open positions, especially in crucial industries like healthcare and education. And in the coming years, both in China and in the West, many more sectors and fields will struggle to find workers. The lack of train drivers, teachers, engineers, doctors, firefighters, nurses, and programmers will have more far-reaching consequences down the road. With fewer employees, companies will produce or perform less, resulting in fewer sales, less economic growth, and ultimately less prosperity for everyone. And in China, the problem exists on a far more dramatic scale. Unless nations manage to turn things around, the problem will only accelerate, and it could spell disaster for the economy.
**Sebastian Dettmers is the CEO of StepStone, which is owned by Axel Springer, the parent company of Insider. He is also the author of a new book on the future of the world's population.
**Chris Forman is the founder and CEO of Appcast, which was acquired by StepStone in 2019. He is a recognized expert in recruiting and talent management.
**Andrew Flowers is the lead labor economist at Appcast. He is a recognized expert on economic policy, the US labor market and macroeconomy.

Anti-Islamophobia representative Amira Elghawaby apologizes for past comments about Quebecers
CBC/Wed, February 1, 2023
The federal government's new anti-Islamophobia representative Amira Elghawaby apologized Wednesday for past remarks about the prevalence of anti-Islam sentiment in Quebec. Elghawaby, who was appointed the special representative on combating Islamophobia last week, made the remarks before meeting with Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet, who had requested the meeting to push back against her 2019 remarks. "I would like to say that I am extremely sorry for the way that my words have carried, how I have hurt the people of Quebec, and this is what I am going to express to Mr. Blanchet," she said. "I understand that the words and the way that I said them have hurt the people of Quebec. I have been listening very carefully. I have heard you and I know what you're feeling and I'm sorry." The controversy is linked to an opinion column Elghawaby co-authored with Bernie Farber, the former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, that appeared in the Ottawa Citizen in 2019. The column comments on Quebec's controversial Bill 21, which bans provincial public servants from wearing religious symbols such as hijabs. "Unfortunately, the majority of Quebecers appear to be swayed not by the rule of law, but by anti-Muslim sentiment," Elghawaby and Farber wrote. In the column, Elghawaby and Farber said that they came to that conclusion after a Léger Marketing poll found that the 88 per cent of Quebecers who held negative views of Islam overwhelmingly supported the ban on religious symbols for public servants.
"I believe she does not know Quebec. She does not know our history and I will be pleased as a citizen, as a party leader and as an anthropologist, to discuss Quebec history with her," Blanchet said Wednesday morning.
Calls for Elghawaby's resignation
Jean-François Roberge, Quebec's minister responsible for the French language, said earlier this week that Elghawaby "seems to be overcome by an anti-Quebec sentiment." "All she did was try to justify her hateful comments," he said. "That doesn't fly. She must resign and if she doesn't, the government must remove her immediately."After hearing her apology, Roberge said that Elghawaby was trying to explain her remarks just days earlier. "I'm glad that she apologized but she still has to resign," he said. Earlier Wednesday, as he went into a caucus meeting, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre doubled down on his call for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to remove Elghawaby from her new position. Speaking in French, Poilievre said that he backed the effort to combat Islamophobia but accused Trudeau of choosing someone who has insulted Quebecers. Speaking before Elghawaby's apology Wednesday, Trudeau said that Quebecers' opinions on religious symbols are informed by the province's history of living under "an oppressive church," not by racism. "Quebecers are not racists," Trudeau said. "Quebecers are among the people who are the strongest defenders of individual rights and freedoms, along with a lot of other Canadians."Trudeau said Elghawaby is qualified for the job of reaching out to both secular and religious Quebecers. After the meeting, Elghawaby called her conversation with Blanchet a "constructive" discussion and an "opportunity to hear each other."Elghawaby said that as a Muslim, she understands what it means to be judged and to be treated with bias. She said she apologized to Blanchet again in private. "I want to bring people together. I want people to listen and Mr. Blanchet has demonstrated that he does too, and he had a very good discussion and [we] are looking forward to more opportunities for dialogue," she said.

The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 01-02/2023
Israel and Iran… the Strategic Shift
Tariq Al-Homayed/Asharq Al Awsat/February 01/2023
It seems that we are looking at a strategic shift in the way Israel deals with the Iranian regime, not only with regard to the nuclear issue but also the “fake heroics” of Tehran through its use of regional militias, like Hezbollah and Hamas.
An Israeli drone attack was launched against Iranian nuclear facilities in Isfahan from within Iran, and according to the information currently at our disposal, this marks a strategic shift that could lead to real changes.
Indeed, the plan is now to “target the head of the octopus,” i.e., striking Iran rather than its militia proxies. It has done so, and this is no longer the “shadow war” we had seen Israel wage before.
True, striking the nuclear facilities in Isfahan is a major step that makes the nuclear program of Iran the target of Israel’s attacks. However, it also coincides with Benjamin Netanyahu's return to the premiership.
It also followed meetings between Israel and the US that addressed the Iranian nuclear program, as well as an unannounced meeting that was recently reported by US news outlets that saw the director of the CIA visit Israel.
This meeting does not definitely mean that Americans gave the green light, but the Israeli strike on Isfahan comes after Israel and the US conducted large-scale massive joint military exercises about a week ago. All of this cannot be ignored, of course. However, it is also remarkable that the Israeli strike in Isfahan came after incidents that claimed the lives of Palestinians and Israelis, meaning that what we saw was a strategic shift in Israel’s posture. It is now retaliating directly on Iranian territory rather than retaliating against the militias.
The New York Times shared a video currently making the rounds of former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who served in his position for a year, saying he decided to put a “price tag” and strike inside Iran in retaliation to any attack on Israelis or Jews around the world.
“Our soldiers are dying on the border… They can’t sit calmly in Tehran while we do nothing to them,” he added.
Moreover, Israel has already eliminated a senior Iranian security official who had been planning to assassinate an Israeli businessman in Türkiye.
And so, the Israeli drone attack in Isfahan launched from inside Iran tells us that Israel has infiltrated Iranian security services. Talk of targeting ballistic missile factories or drone factories means that Israel is also advancing the agenda of the Europeans.
In fact, the Europeans are now under real pressure to label the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization despite the statements of High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell, who was met with pushback after claiming that the IRGC cannot be classified as a terrorist organization without an EU court ruling. To conclude, Israel’s strategy for dealing with the Iranian regime is changing. US officials are becoming increasingly adamant that concluding a nuclear deal with Iran is almost impossible now. Thus, we can see that we are on the brink of a different kind of battle, and Iran seems to be the weakest link. All of its options are suicidal.

The Surprising Attack on Iran
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/February 01/2023
A failed Operation Eagle Claw in 1980 was the United States’ first and last attack on Iranian soil. At the time, the US Government planned a supposedly surprise military attack to free American hostages stuck in their embassy in Tehran. They used an aircraft carrier, fighter jets, military cargo planes, helicopters, Special Forces, and Marines – but a sandstorm stopped the plan in its tracks. After that, the Americans shunned the idea of waging direct attacks, opting instead for responding from afar and waging proxy revenge attacks.
Four decades after this hiatus, the comeback was as interesting as it was surprising. Of all the warcraft choices available to them, the Americans and Israelis chose drones to target Isfahan’s drone plants, in a clear response to Iran’s supply of drones to Russia in its war on Ukraine.
With the accelerating race for supremacy between the US and China on the one hand and the Russian war in Ukraine on the other, oil and gas are back to the forefront, as are Iran and the Middle East.
Last week’s US-Israeli maneuvers were clearly directed against Iran and involved training to address nuclear threats. The military offensive is more a message than a declaration of war. Iran can easily reconstruct what the attack destroyed. What it cannot do now is stay out of the bloody game being played in Ukraine.
We may not have a role in the Ukraine war or in the attacks on Iran, but they sure have added a new dimension to regional politics. The aspects of the Russian-Western conflict in the Middle East have now stretched beyond Syria. The Russian media is urging Moscow’s government to support Iran and its armament plans, nuclear included.
Yet, for many reasons, it is unlikely the Russian government will take that path. When the Iranians agreed to become Russia’s main supplier of drones in Ukraine, they must have realized that they are marching into another game – and a dangerous one at that, in a bid, I believe, to have leverage over the West and return to negotiations with preferential terms. In short, their indirect involvement in the Ukraine war is a means to an end: the Vienna negotiations. The surprise, there, is that Joe Biden responded by attacking Iran directly instead of targeting its external proxies as usual.
The Russian media retorts with rumors saying that the bombing of Iranian military sites by Washington and its allies seeks to obscure the secret negotiations with Iran. Truth is, the negotiations are no secret – neither those in Vienna, nor those taking place in New York between Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley and the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations. The attacks aim at coercing Iran to stop supplying arms to Russia in Ukraine. Should Iran insist on continuing to send drones and missiles, the targeting will likely not stop.
The Americans and Israelis can destroy Iran’s system of missile and drone manufacturing. The sites are open and can be easily accessed, unlike its nuclear project, guarded by an arsenal and hidden eight meters below the ground under a 2.5-meter-thick cement cover.
The question lies not in military prowess, but in desire and determination. Will the Americans risk engaging in a war with Iran not even two years after withdrawing from Afghanistan? The US considers the war in Ukraine to be a direct transgression upon its security and against NATO, which it leads. Therefore, Washington seems ready for confrontation with the Tehran regime, and despite not claiming it publicly, perhaps this is the first time the US has shown such readiness through a show of force, increased military presence and maneuvers with Israel, and bombing of military factories in Iran.
This inevitably leads us to a final question: will the targeting of Iran make matters better or worse for us?
The weakening of Iran’s regime is certainly good news for the region, and for countries like Ukraine and Azerbaijan. But we cannot bet on that. Tehran can change the equation and bargain with Washington to halt supplies of weapons to Russian fighters in exchange for reviving the nuclear deal according to its expectations. Here the equation becomes different. The West wants to besiege Russia, not necessarily Iran.
However, Tehran is weakening with time and successive wars. It no longer enjoys a position of power that allows it to impose its terms, what with the growing internal discontent, aging leadership, and persistent economic sanctions facing Tehran.

It’s Not Going Well for Britain’s New Prime Minister
Moya Lothian-McLean/The New York Times/February 01/2023
Rishi Sunak, Britain’s prime minister, has a plan for the new year. In a speech in early January, he set out an agenda to resuscitate the country and save the Conservative Party, now in free fall. “We will halve inflation, grow the economy, reduce debt, cut waiting lists and stop the boats,” he intoned.
You’d be forgiven for hearing a note of desperation. Mr. Sunak, after all, entered office with a mountain to climb. The cost-of-living crisis is just the start: Wherever you turn, strife seems to rise to meet you. To name but a few, there’s the health care crisis, the housing crisis (both ownership and rental), the education crisis, the child care crisis, the transport crisis, the climate crisis and, not least, the constitutional crisis threatening the end of the union with Scotland. In Britain, it’s far easier to document what isn’t teetering on the brink of collapse.
Even a great statesman would need more than three months to make headway on such deep-rooted social ills. But the early signs are not good. Far from fulfilling his promise to bring “stability and unity” to both the country and his party, the prime minister has done the opposite. A new era may have begun, but it’s not going well.
For a start, Mr. Sunak has done little to alter his reputation as a cautious technocrat. Plans for the economy, unveiled in November, announced major spending cuts but delayed the bulk of them until 2025. Balancing between further immiserating the public and appeasing the markets whose ire brought Liz Truss’s premiership to such a dramatic end, it wasn’t a death blow to the nation’s economy. But it merely maintains a failing system. And the situation is dire. British households are in the midst of the biggest fall in living standards since the 1950s, yet Mr. Sunak seems to have little idea of how to reverse it. Vague promises to bring down inflation do little to bring actual improvement to people’s lives. Add a dubious effort to coax recent retirees back into work and plans to deregulate the City of London, some of which have already been abandoned, and the overall impression is of a leader both misfiring and weak.
It doesn’t help that Mr. Sunak began his tenure with unnecessary missteps, not least the reappointment of Suella Braverman as home secretary less than a week after she was sacked for a serious security breach. Ms. Braverman’s fixation on deepening an already inhumanely hostile environment for migrants clearly proved more persuasive than her track record of incompetence, gaffes and sheer ignorance. The subsequent bungled handling of a bullying scandal, where Mr. Sunak refused to dismiss a cabinet member accused of serial misconduct, further frayed the prime minister’s reputation almost before he’d begun.
Struggling to manage his party, Mr. Sunak has abandoned key policies in response to internal pressure. In December, for example, the government scrapped plans to introduce sorely needed mandatory home-construction targets for local councils, saving Mr. Sunak from a backbench rebellion. To head off another, the prime minister relaxed a ban on onshore wind farms that he’d previously supported.
Yet when it comes to his biggest battles, Mr. Sunak has already shown a penchant for inflexibility rather than negotiation. In the face of the biggest wave of public sector strikes in a generation, the prime minister’s refusal to hammer out deals with union bosses has seen him scorned as “missing in action.” Instead, Mr. Sunak has unveiled an assault on the right to strike, introducing new laws that would require “minimum service levels” in key services and leave unions liable for legal action if they are not met.
It’s an approach that puts him further at odds with public opinion, where support for striking public sector workers is high. It also betrays a lack of political common sense. Even Margaret Thatcher handed public sector workers a 25 percent pay rise upon her arrival in office in 1979, to end rolling strike action. Discontent with Mr. Sunak’s approach has earned him a rare rebuke from the monarchy. The freshly minted King Charles III used his Christmas Day address to praise the “health and social care professionals and teachers and indeed all those working in public service.”
Mr. Sunak’s heavy-handedness could even hasten the end of the United Kingdom. A fight over a new gender recognition bill passed by the Scottish government, which would make it easier for trans people to change their legal gender, snowballed into a constitutional catastrophe after Mr. Sunak used a veto to block the law. It was the first time the veto had been employed since it was established in 1998, a decision taken without robust justification. Scotland’s first minister vowed to “vigorously defend” the bill in court, potentially pouring gasoline on an already rising independence movement.
After the tumult of 2022, in which Britain became a byword for political and economic malfunction, many hoped Mr. Sunak would be a safe pair of hands. The first three months of his tenure, though, have been a disappointment. For Mr. Sunak, facing an unhappy country, a restive party and an opposition leading in the polls, it looks like a long year ahead.

UNRWA is Part of the Problem – Not the Solution
Bassam Tawil/Gatestone Institute/February 01/2023
The United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has once again requested international financial aid. This is the same organization whose workers have been promoting violence and antisemitism on social media.
UNRWA has since done absolutely nothing to help the "refugees" move on with their lives and seek a better future for themselves or their families.
"Almost all of [the incorrectly labeled Palestinians in Gaza] have been born in Gaza, their parents have been born in Gaza, their grandparents have been born in Gaza... they were never displaced an inch. Yet, every day they hear, they learn, and they get an official stamp from the UN agency that says: 'That's not your home. You might have lived here all your life, but your home is there, just across the fence. That's your real home [Israel], and it was taken from you." — Einat Wilf, former Israeli Member of Knesset, December 1, 2015.
The Geneva-based independent human rights group UN Watch has uncovered evidence of UNRWA staff incitement which clearly violate the agency's own rules as well as its proclaimed values of intolerance for racism, discrimination or antisemitism.
Meanwhile, in 2021, the US government confirmed its "failure to ensure that taxpayer aid dollars sent to the Palestinian government did not ultimately make their way to terrorists."
Terrorist groups in Gaza, such as Hamas, have continued to build terror tunnels under UNRWA schools, to use the children as human shields if Israel retaliates after it is attacked -- as Hamas member Abu Khaled, openly admitted in December 2021.
"UNRWA's procurement contracts suggest that funds are already flowing to PFLP affiliates," wrote foreign policy expert Julia Shulman.
"[T]he Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act (PATA).... prohibits assistance to the PA unless the administration certifies that 'no ministry, agency, or instrumentality of the Palestinian Authority is effectively controlled by Hamas'" — Matthew Zweig, Foundation for Defense of Democracies, June 2021.
Commenting on the Biden administration decision to restore the financial aid, UN Watch said that now is the time for the US to demand that "neutrality, accountability and transparency" Secretary Antony Blinken paraded.
It does not seem, however, that UNRWA has taken far-reaching and drastic measures to end the incitement to violence and antisemitism. In fact, it has not taken any at all.
It is clear that UNRWA, like many other UN agencies, has become part of the problem, not part of the solution. Instead of seeking ways to solve the problem of the so-called refugees, UNRWA has perpetuated and inflated it.... Instead of promoting peace and non-violence, UNRWA employees have been doing the reverse.... UNRWA donors might consider these evasions before they sign the next check to one of the UN's most incompetent and corrupt organizations.
The United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has once again requested international financial aid. This is the same organization whose workers have been promoting violence and antisemitism on social media. Pictured: A still shot from the documentary film "Camp Jihad," featuring a summer camp in Gaza sponsored and funded by UNWRA. (Image source: Nahum Bedein Center for Near East Policy Research)
The United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has once again requested international financial aid. This is the same organization whose workers have been promoting violence and antisemitism on social media.
On January 24, the agency appealed for $1.6 billion "for programs and operations." UNRWA said it "continues to play an indispensable role in the lives of millions of Palestine refugees," and warned that "compounding challenges over the past year, including underfunding, competing global crises, inflation, disruption in the supply chain, geopolitical dynamics and skyrocketing levels of poverty and unemployment among Palestine refugees have put immense strain on UNRWA."
Established by the UN General Assembly in 1949 with a mandate "to provide humanitarian assistance and projection to registered Palestine refugees pending a just and lasting solution to their plight," UNRWA has since done absolutely nothing to help the "refugees" move on with their lives and seek a better future themselves or their families.
In reality, UNRWA continues to perpetuate the refugee problem by granting refugees status through the generations.
It also perpetuates the narrative of the so-called right of return, which envisions the elimination of Israel by flooding it with millions of Arabs and turning it into another Arab state where some Jews might be allowed to live as a minority as long as they are loyal to the Arab ruler.
As then Israeli Member of Knesset Einat Wilf correctly pointed out in 2015, most of the Palestinians living in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip are incorrectly registered as refugees from Palestine:
"Almost all of them have been born in Gaza, their parents have been born in Gaza, their grandparents have been born in Gaza and lived there all their lives; they were never displaced an inch. Yet, every day they hear, they learn, and they get an official stamp from the UN agency that says: 'That's not your home. You might have lived here all your life, but your home is there, just across the fence. That's your real home [Israel], and it was taken from you."
The Geneva-based independent human rights group UN Watch has uncovered evidence of UNRWA staff incitement which clearly violate the agency's own rules as well as its proclaimed values of intolerance for racism, discrimination or antisemitism.
The report published by UN Watch highlights that more than 100 educators and staff members who work for UNRWA schools and social services have publicly promoted violence and antisemitism on social media platforms.
In 2021, the Biden administration decided to resume financial aid to UNRWA (which had been cut off by the Trump administration) on the grounds that the US was "deeply committed" to ensuring that its partnership with UNRWA "promotes neutrality, accountability, and transparency."
In response to the Trump administration's 2018 decision to end US contributions to UNRWA, Brett D. Schaefer, a Jay Kingham Senior Research Fellow at the Margaret Thatcher Center, and James Phillips, Visiting Fellow at the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, wrote:
"This decision is long overdue. UNRWA has existed for more than 60 years as a 'temporary' initiative to address the needs of Palestinian refugees and to facilitate their resettlement and/or repatriation. Despite receiving ongoing financial assistance from UNRWA, the Palestinian refugee problem has only grown larger. Many of the original refugees are deceased, but the refugee population has expanded to 5.3 million individuals because UNRWA redefined and expanded its definition of refugee. Today, the agency has made refugee status available to the 'descendants of Palestine refugee males, including legally adopted children.'"
Meanwhile, in 2021, the US government confirmed its "failure to ensure that taxpayer aid dollars sent to the Palestinian government did not ultimately make their way to terrorists." (US Government Accountability Office, March 2021)
Terrorist groups in Gaza, such as Hamas, have continued to build terror tunnels under UNRWA schools, to use the children as human shields if Israel retaliates after it is attacked -- as Hamas member Abu Khaled, openly admitted in December 2021.
"UNRWA's procurement contracts suggest that funds are already flowing to PFLP affiliates," wrote foreign policy expert Julia Shulman in June 2021.
"As recently as March, UNRWA was funding the Union of Health Work Committees (UHWC), a Gaza-based entity with extensive links to the PFLP. Earlier this month, Israel charged several staff members from UHWC's partner organization with funneling funds to the PFLP."
In a June 2021 policy brief for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Matthew Zweig wrote:
"[T]he Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act (PATA).... prohibits assistance to the PA unless the administration certifies that 'no ministry, agency, or instrumentality of the Palestinian Authority is effectively controlled by Hamas'
"Still, critical questions remain about the overall package, specifically the State Department's oversight and vetting mechanisms. The congressional notification for the assistance package declares that USAID deploys 'rigorous partner-anti-terrorism vetting and certification, auditing, and monitoring procedures to help ensure that its assistance does not go to Hamas or other terrorist organizations.'"
"Other terrorist organizations" in Gaza that could use UNRWA as a pass-through for funding include the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP).
Commenting on the Biden administration decision to restore the financial aid, UN Watch said that now is the time for the US to demand that "neutrality, accountability and transparency" paraded by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
"The US should demand that UNRWA adopt a zero-tolerance policy for employees who incite racism or murder by immediately terminating them," UN Watch stressed. It also called on UNRWA to conduct a thorough investigation of its facilities and put an immediate stop to all antisemitic or terrorist-inciting activities and images found there.
It does not seem, however, that UNRWA has taken far-reaching and drastic measures to end the incitement to violence and antisemitism. In fact, it has not taken any at all.
In the Gaza Strip, UNRWA often takes great pains to avoid alienating the Palestinian terrorist groups, above all the Iranian-backed Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The two terror groups, whose declared goal is to destroy Israel and replace it with an Islamist state, have long been receiving money and weapons from the mullahs in Tehran.
UNRWA has also turned a blind eye to the fact that Hamas, PIJ and other terror groups have, since 2001, been building tunnels for attacking Israel and storing weapons near the agency's facilities, including schools, in the Gaza Strip.
On January 27, Israeli warplanes attacked a tunnel used by the terrorists to manufacture rockets. The attack came in response to the firing of a number of rockets at Israel earlier in the day. The terrorist target attacked by Israel was adjacent to an UNRWA installation in the Gaza Strip. It is not uncommon for terrorists to stockpile weapons or dig offensive tunnels near and beneath schools and hospitals.
What is particularly disturbing is the manner in which UNRWA and other international agencies relate to the serious threat posed by the terrorists.
In the past few years, UNRWA has published statements regarding the discovery of tunnels near and underneath its facilities. The agency, however, often employs ambiguous and indirect rhetoric when mentioning the tunnels. It also refrains from openly condemning Hamas or holding it directly responsible.
Take, for example, the statement issued by UNRWA in November 2022, in which it said that the agency "recently identified a man-made cavity underneath the grounds of an UNRWA school in Gaza."
UNRWA condemned the construction under its facility, calling it a "serious violation of the Agency's neutrality and a breach of international law."
Needless to say, UNRWA did not dare to hold Hamas or other Palestinian terror groups fully and directly responsible for the "man-made cavity."
The use of the word "cavity" instead of "tunnel" is laughable. What is stopping UNRWA from calling a tunnel a tunnel? Why do UNRWA and other UN agencies have no compunctions when it comes to condemning Israel but tiptoe around condemning Palestinian terrorist groups?
Is UNRWA afraid to use the word tunnel because it fears for the lives of its workers, or is it because UNRWA wants to downplay the actions of the terrorists? What are people supposed to understand by the use of the word "cavity?" That the terrorists are dentists?
The organization NGO Monitor has documented at least 7 additional incidents from the past 10 years, in which terror tunnels and weapon caches were discovered under UNRWA schools or in their close vicinity.
On June 4, 2021, UNRWA stated that an investigation, "revealed what appears to be a cavity and a possible tunnel" under the grounds of the UNRWA Zaitoun School in Gaza.
On June 9, 2017, UNRWA issued a statement, noting that "On 1 June UNRWA discovered part of a tunnel that passes under two adjacent Agency schools in Maghazi camp."
On July 29, 2014, UNRWA stated: "A cache of rockets was found earlier today at an UNRWA school in central Gaza... We condemn the group or groups who endangered civilians by placing these munitions in our school."
An additional four incidents in 2020, 2017 and 2014 have been documented as well.
It is clear that UNRWA, like many other UN agencies, has become part of the problem, not part of the solution. Instead of seeking ways to solve the problem of the so-called refugees, UNRWA has protracted and inflated it by creating new generations of "refugees." Instead of promoting peace and non-violence, UNRWA employees have been doing the reverse. Instead of taking a tough and clear stand against terrorism, UNRWA hides behind riddles. UNRWA donors might consider these evasions before they sign the next check to one of the UN's most incompetent and corrupt organizations.
*Bassam Tawil is a Muslim Arab based in the Middle East.
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Slaughtered Mothers and Fathers: An Islamic Hate that Knows No Bounds
Raymond Ibrahim/February 01/2023
Incidents of Muslims slaughtering, or trying to slaughter, their own parents are on the rise, including for bizarre reasons (as in “Allah had invited them to paradise through me”).
Most recently, a 30-year-old Muslim man stabbed his own mother in the throat with a knife in France. After characterizing the incident as an “attempted murder,” local authorities said that the “accused has admitted to the crime,” which he “committed for personal and religious reasons.” Further underscoring the latter reason—“religion”—the Muslim would-be matricide was heard crying “Allahu Akbar.”Two months earlier, and also in France, a Muslim man, 25, beheaded his own father, 60, with a knife. When police arrived on the scene, the Muslim patricide was also heard crying “Allahu Akbar” while fleeing the scene.
That the Muslim men in both of these examples from France deemed it fit to cry Islam’s ancient, jihadist war-cry—which literally means “my god is greater than your x, y, z”—indicates that, whatever their quarrel, these Muslim men at least believed that, in slaughtering their parents, they were acting on behalf of or vindicating Islam. This was certainly the case of another, well-documented case of Muslim parricide. In September, 2022, a Muslim man bludgeoned his mother and father to death in Nigeria.
The reason? “My parents don’t like the prophet Muhammad because I adore him, [and] they called me a mad [crazy] person,” Munkaila Ahmadu, 37, explained in a video recorded by police. “[So] I killed them, because they refuse[d] to accept the truth concerning the prophet Muhammad. I killed them because they abused the prophet and their punishment is death—there is no repentance for any person who abused the Prophet.”
He is certainly not alone in such logic. After a Muslim mob stoned and burned to death a Christian college student, Deborah Emmanuel, accused of blaspheming Muhammad, a Muslim cleric justified the atrocity by saying, “When you touch the prophet we become mad [crazy] people…. Anyone who touches the prophet, no punishment — just kill!”Showing no remorse whatsoever for murdering his father (70) and mother (60), Ahmadu instead boasted of how “I will [soon] be free because Allah is with the righteous person; that is why I am not worrying over my action…. I am now in police custody because, by human thinking, I did a wrong thing but in the sight of Allah and the Prophet what I did is the right thing” (emphasis added).
Is this true? Unfortunately, yes. “Executing” those who “blaspheme” against the prophet of Islam is as old as Islam itself and traces straight back to Muhammad, who was first to call for the slaughter of those who mocked or called him “mad.”
But even beyond the issue of blasphemy, another of Muhammad’s doctrines—that of al-wala’ w’al-bara’ (which can be simply translated as “love and hate”)—requires Muslims to hate anyone perceived to be in opposition to Islam.
Koran 60:4 is the cornerstone verse of this doctrine. As Osama bin Laden once concluded, after quoting that verse:
Such, then, is the basis and foundation of the relationship between the infidel and the Muslim. Battle, animosity, and hatred — directed from the Muslim to the infidel — is the foundation of our religion (The Al Qaeda Reader, p. 43).
Similarly, after citing Koran 60:4, the Islamic State confessed to the West that “we hate you, first and foremost, because you are disbelievers.” As for any and all political “grievances,” these are “secondary” reasons for the jihad, ISIS said:
The fact is, even if you were to stop bombing us, imprisoning us, torturing us, vilifying us, and usurping our lands, we would continue to hate you because our primary reason for hating you will not cease to exist until you embrace Islam. Even if you were to pay jizya and live under the authority of Islam in humiliation, we would continue to hate you (emphasis added).
Even so, surely this hate has nothing to do with slaughtering fellow Muslims—especially one’s own mother and father?
Actually, the doctrine of al-wala’ w’al-bara’ encompasses even these killings. Consider Koran 58:22, another key verse that calls for hating non-Muslims:
You shall find none who believe in Allah and the Last Day on friendly terms with those who oppose Allah and his Messenger — even if they be their fathers, their sons, their brothers, or their nearest kindred.
According to Ibn Kathir’s mainstream commentary on the Koran (The Al Qaeda Reader, pp. 75-76), this verse refers to a number of Muhammad’s Companions who slaughtered their own kin during the battle of Badr: one slew his father, another his brother, a third—Abu Bakr, the first revered caliph of Islamic history—tried to slay his son, and Omar, the second righteous caliph, slaughtered several of his relatives.
As Ibn Kathir explains, Allah was immensely pleased by their unwavering zeal for his cause and rewarded them with the highest level of paradise, as captured by the latter part of Koran 58:22:
Allah has inscribed the faith in their very hearts, and strengthened them [against their kin] with a spirit from himself. He will admit them to gardens watered by running streams, where they shall dwell forever.
In short, no one—not even fathers and mothers—are safe from the jihad. There is a final and highly relevant lesson from all this: If Muslims are called on to hate and even murder their own flesh and blood—including fathers, sons, brothers, and wives—whenever they are perceived as mocking Muhammad or merely opposing Islam, is it any surprise that so many Muslims hate the “natural” enemies of Islam—foreign “infidels,” such as those who live all throughout the West?
While officialdom vehemently denies this reality, others in the West are apparently learning that, in Donald Trump’s words, speaking after a series of Islamic terror strikes in late 2015: “I think Islam hates us. There’s something there that — there’s a tremendous hatred there. There’s a tremendous hatred. We have to get to the bottom of it.”For those paying attention, we’ve gotten to the bottom of it a long time ago.