A Bundle Of English Reports, News and Editorials For February 11-12/2020 Addressing the On Going Mass Demonstrations & Sit In-ins In Iranian Occupied Lebanon in its 118th Day


A Bundle Of English Reports, News and Editorials For 11-12/2020 Addressing the On Going Mass Demonstrations & Sit In-ins In Iranian Occupied Lebanon in its 118th Day
Compiled By: Elias Bejjani
February 12/2020

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on February 11-12/2020
Lebanon gov’t wins Parliament’s confidence vote despite protests/Timour Azhari/Al Jazeera/February 11/2020
Lebanese Parliament passes vote of confidence in the new government amid violent clashes/Sunniva Rose/The National/February 11/2020
Mired by controversy, Diab’s government secures vote of confidence/Georgi Azar/Annahar/February 11/2020
Lebanon government wins confidence vote as protesters, security forces clash/Finbar Anderson and Lauren Holtmeier, Al Arabiya EnglishTuesday, 11 February 2020
Diab from House of Parliament: This government is not politicized
373 Injured as Protesters Clash with Security Forces around Parliament
Berri Affirms Quorum Secured at Confidence Vote Session
Diab Vows to Get Lebanon Out of Crisis
Diab’s Government Wins Parliament Vote of Confidence
Aoun receives Head of Association of Banks
Bassil Urges Govt. to ‘Impose Plan’, Resist ‘Politicians, Protesters Blackmail’
Raad to Parliament: Govt. Doesn’t Resemble Our Political Camp
MP Geagea Slams Officials Impotence, PSP MP Blasts ‘Govt. of Advisers’MP Saadeh Addresses Parliament after Being Injured in Protesters Attack
Officer Killed, Inmates Flee as Gunfire Erupts in Ouzai Police Station
Diab commenting on Ouzaei shooting: Security red line
New U.S. Ambassador to Replace Richard
Berri Says Lebanon Needs IMF ‘Help’
The Syrian women and girls sold into sexual slavery in Lebanon/Daniela Sala by Daniela Sala//Al Jazeera/February 11/2020
Iran-backed Hezbollah steps in to support Iraqi militias after Soleimani’s death
Beirut 1958 and Its Lessons/Michael Young/February 11/2020

The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on February 11-12/2020
Lebanon gov’t wins Parliament’s confidence vote despite protests
Timour Azhari/Al Jazeera/February 11/2020
Parliament backs cabinet and financial plans of PM Hassan Diab in vote held despite attempts by protesters to block it.
Beirut, Lebanon – Lebanon’s Parliament has backed a new cabinet and the government’s financial rescue plan in a vote of confidence held despite attempts by protesters to block it.
Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri congratulated the legislators who sat through a nine-hour session on Tuesday before holding a vote that saw 63 of 84 MPs present give their confidence to the new government formed last month. Twenty MPs voted against the government and one abstained. Hezbollah and its allies – the Free Patriotic Movement and the Amal Movement – backed the government while the Future Movement of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri voted no confidence along with its allies, the Lebanese Forces and the Progressive Socialist Party. Speaking before the vote, Prime Minister Hassan Diab said his government’s priority was preserving foreign currency needed for imports and that all options for dealing with Eurobonds maturing this year were being studied. Diab, a little-known academic and former education minister, was tasked with forming a government in December after Hariri was forced to resign.
Protesters tried to block vote
However, for months, thousands of Lebanese had been protesting against the proposed cabinet, saying it would not be able to rescue the country’s ailing economy. On Tuesday, more than 350 people were injured in clashes around the Lebanese Parliament building in the capital as protesters attempted to prevent the MPs from participating in the confidence vote. “We don’t have confidence in a single one of them,” Suzie Jumaa, a 49-year-old media professional told Al Jazeera, as she blocked a main thoroughfare in downtown Beirut. “We’re not giving them a chance, we have tried for 40 years, we have gotten old and we are going to die giving them chances. There isn’t any more time.” Despite the protesters’ efforts to block the vote, a quorum was achieved in the parliamentary session, which began around 11:45am (0945 GMT) on Tuesday. Several MPs made their way to the Parliament on the backs of motorcycles, allowing them to slip through protesters, while others arrived in heavily-guarded convoys. Security forces, including the Lebanese army, riot police and SWAT teams used batons, tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets to clear the roads of protesters. The Lebanese Red Cross said it transported 45 people to hospitals and treated 328 at the scene.The blockade forced several MPs’ vehicles to retreat under a hail of stones and projectiles that shattered car windows. MP Salim Saadeh, a representative of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, was taken to hospital and received stitches after protesters wrecked the car he was travelling in. “I am fine, thanks for all the people’s love,” he said in a video from his hospital bed.During the televised parliamentary session, Diab read the new government’s policy statement, laying out measures aimed at addressing the worst financial crisis in Lebanon’s history. He said the government would undertake fiscal and administrative reforms, fight corruption, tax evasion and smuggling, and seek to establish the independence of the judiciary within 100 days.
Parliament shutdown
Protesters tore down metal and cement barricades put up around Nejmeh Square, the seat of the Parliament. A group of people also set fire to a bank next to the parliament’s entrance. Running street battles ensued, lasting several hours in downtown Beirut before calming down some nine hours after protesters took to the streets on Tuesday. In October, the entire parliamentary area was closed off to the public after unprecedented protests broke out in the country, bringing down Hariri’s government. Since then, large demonstrations have occurred regularly, demanding the removal of a political class that has ruled Lebanon since its civil war ended in 1990. Protesters demand a government consisting of independent experts to lead the country out of its financial crisis, fight corruption and hold early elections. Many feel that Diab’s government of 20 ministers, picked mostly by Hezbollah and its main allies, the Free Patriotic Movement and the Amal Movement, has failed in meeting their demands for change. “They were chosen by the same people. How can we expect anything different?” Aline Germani, a 47-year-old professor told Al Jazeera. Despite the protesters’ failure to prevent the Parliament’s no-confidence vote from going forward, Germani said they had made gains. “They are scared of us now. If they weren’t scared, they wouldn’t have gone in like rats… that alone is a victory.”

Lebanese Parliament passes vote of confidence in the new government amid violent clashes
Sunniva Rose/The National/February 11/2020
More than 300 people were injured as protesters tried to stop MPs approving new government
The Lebanese Parliament passed a vote of confidence in the new government on Tuesday evening after hundreds were injured during violent clashes between protesters and security forces. Eighty-four of 128 MPs attended the Parliament session on Tuesday despite thousands of protesters trying to stop them.
Sixty-three MPs voted for the new government, 20 voted against and one abstained, the state-run National News Agency reported. Many Lebanese people reject the new government announced in late January after three months of protests against a collapsing economy. Carrying banners that read “no trust”, protesters were pushed back by riot police and the army with tear gas and water cannon. Some retaliated with stones and attacked a concrete barrier that had been set up to block roads leading to Parliament. The Lebanese Red Cross reported that 373 people were injured in downtown Beirut. The turnout for the confidence vote was “very poor”, said Sami Nader, director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs. “Confidence votes usually exceed 90 or 100 votes,” Mr Nader told The National. A confidence vote can be passed with only half of the MPs present. “If those who voted against did not attend, Parliament would not have established quorum today. Game-changing,” Lebanese journalist Kareem Chehayeb said on Twitter.Those who voted against the government included former prime minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement bloc and the Progressive Socialist Party’s Democratic Gathering. Protesters reject the new government because they believe it is affiliated with the political establishment they say caused the country’s economic crisis.But Prime Minister Hassan Diab claims it is a government of independent ministers. Mr Hariri’s government fell on October 29 because of the protests. After the vote, Mr Diab said that his government was “non-politicised” even though some ministers had “political inclinations”.“No one can challenge the legitimacy of the MPs elected by large segments of the Lebanese people,” he said. “No one can challenge the legitimacy of the uprising, which represents a large segment of the Lebanese people, too. “Here is the complex equation: how can a combination of both be found?”Lebanon is going through its worst economic crisis in living memory, with severe liquidity shortages and rising unemployment. “We have to be honest and admit that the risk of falling is not an illusion,” Mr Diab said. “We want to preserve public money, foreign currency assets and depositors’ money, especially in the central bank, to serve the priorities of the people in terms of food, medicine, medical materials, wheat and fuel.”Meanwhile, two men were killed in a shootout at a police station in a southern Beirut suburb on Tuesday.

Mired by controversy, Diab’s government secures vote of confidence
Georgi Azar/Annahar/February 11/2020
“No confidence,” chanted some of the protesters outside Parliament.
BEIRUT: Mired by accusations of constitutional violations, Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s Cabinet managed to win Tuesday a vote of confidence from Parliament. 84 lawmakers made their way to Parliament, with 63 MPs voting in favor of Diab’s government and its policy statement.
Speaker Nabih Berri kicked off deliberations over the new government’s policy statement Tuesday noon despite accusations that the number of lawmakers fell short of the required quorum when the session began. As protestors clashed with security forces outside Parliament, Diab took center stage, outlining his government’s policy statement and vowing to implement reforms, a recurring theme with previous governments that have failed to deliver on the promises of their own policy statements. As the session kicked off, Berri stopped short of confirming the number of lawmakers present, gesturing to Diab to read out his government’s policy. “I spoke with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and members of the Lebanese Forces who told me they’ll be joining us, ” Berri said.
Kataeb leader and MP Sami Gemayel blasted the move, labeling it a blatant “violation of Lebanon’s constitution” while calling on his fellow lawmakers to boycott the session. “Initiating the session without a quorum is unconstitutional and represents a blow to Lebanon’s democracy,” he tweeted.
An hour before Berri kicked off the session, LF member Strida Geagea maintained that her party would only participate once the quorum was secured. “In line with our beliefs, we will not secure the quorum,” she said, before joining the session shortly after.
Following Diab’s closing remarks, Berri sought to quash the accusations claiming that 67 lawmakers were present once he kicked off the session. As lawmakers began making their way to Parliament, clashes broke out between Lebanese protesters and security forces near the parliament building in central Beirut. The meeting is being held amid a crippling economic and financial crisis, Lebanon’s worst in decades. Police threw a tight security dragnet around the area, and special forces and riot policemen quickly opened roads that were closed by protesters trying to prevent Cabinet ministers and legislators from reaching parliament. “No confidence,” chanted some of the protesters while others carried held signs blasting officials. Lebanon has been gripped by anti-government protests since October. Demonstrators are calling for sweeping reforms and an end to a political class they deem as corrupt and incompetent, blaming it for the rapidly worsening financial crisis. The protests forced the resignation of the former prime minister, Saad Hariri. The new government’s policy statement includes a rescue plan to try to get Lebanon out of its economic and financial crisis, the worst since the end of the country’s 1975-90 civil war. A group of protesters surrounded the car of one Cabinet minister, Demianos Kattar, as he was on his way to the nearby government headquarters, pelting it with eggs pounding it with their fists before an army and police force pushed them away. Salim Saade, a prominent member of Lebanon’s Syrian Social Nationalist Party who’s serving his third term as a lawmaker, had his car pummeled with rocks and windows smashed. He was injured in the attack and transported to a nearby hospital. Security forces fired tear gas in another street leading to parliament, where protesters were able to remove part of a giant concrete wall. In other streets, troops forced protesters from the middle of the street to allow traffic to flow.The policy statement includes an “emergency rescue plan” and outlines reforms in the judicial, financial and administrative fields. Lebanon has one of the highest debt ratios in the world, standing at more than 150 of the GDP and worsening over the past years with no economic growth and high unemployment.— With AP

Lebanon government wins confidence vote as protesters, security forces clash
Finbar Anderson and Lauren Holtmeier, Al Arabiya EnglishTuesday, 11 February 2020
Lebanon’s new cabinet won a vote of confidence in parliament on Tuesday based in part on a financial rescue plan it put forward for grappling with a deep financial crisis. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri congratulated the lawmakers who sat through an eight-hour session before holding a vote that saw 63 out of 84 MPs present give their confidence to the new government. Members of the Lebanese Parliament from Hezbollah, Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), Amal, Marada and Karameh groups voted to back the government while the Lebanese Forces, Future Movement and Progressive Socialist Party groups voted for a no confidence. Thousands of protestors clashed with security forces in central Beirut on Tuesday morning as they tried to prevent the confidence vote in Lebanon’s new government from going ahead. Army troops deployed tear gas and water cannon against protestors at multiple points close to the Parliament building on a clear but cold winter morning.
Lebanese Forces member of Parliament Sethrida Gaegea said she refused to grant confidence to the new government.
She said the policy statement, adopted by Cabinet last week that says the country needs to take “painful steps” to pull it from the grips of economic and financial crisis, did not live up to the aspirations and expectation of the people, and therefore she refused to grant confidence to Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government, Lebanon’s National News Agency reported. Some protestors expressed little hope that they would change anything, but felt an obligation to demonstrate against a government they feel does little to meet their demands.New government not want Lebanese protesters wanted
Many Lebanese supporting the revolution were hoping the new government would be comprised of experts with no political ties. However, the 20-member cabinet, which includes six women, is chock-full of fresh faces with familiar political ties, albeit most with technical expertise.
“Government or no government, nothing is going to change,” said Rafic, a young protestor who acknowledged with a wry smile that as a banker he made an unlikely revolutionary. “The guys who are supposedly new ministers, new faces – they are puppets because they used to be the adviser of this one, or the secretary of this one, or the spouse of this one.”“We just ask for an independent government of experts,” Rafic said. He voiced his concern that politicians were trying to pin blame for Lebanon’s severe economic crisis on its five-month-old protest movement, and argued that the country’s financial collapse had been in the making long before as a result of policies implemented by the political class. MPs managed to make the necessary quorum of 65 out of the total 128 members for the morning session, despite lawmakers from Saad al-Hariri’s Future Movement showing up late. Sixty-eight members were present at the session, local Lebanese outlet the Daily Star reported. Some MPs were assisted by pro-government protestors on scooters in order to bypass those trying to prevent the session going ahead. Sryian Social Nationalist Party MP Salim Saade was hospitalized after his car was attacked on the way to the session, while the Lebanese Red Cross reported that it had transported 45 protestors to hospital, with 328 treated at the scene. Elie, a 44-year-old doctor, stressed the need to show the international community that the government was serious about reform in order to unlock financial aid packages. The 2018 CEDRE conference in Paris, for example, required heavy reform to the electricity sector, a huge drain on state coffers that nevertheless fails to provide citizens with 24/7 power. “The least that needs to be seen is a clear economic project that makes sense not only to us but to the global community,” Elie said, carrying a sign that read, “Leave so we can live: NO CONFIDENCE.”
Nothing has changed
“Nothing serious has come from them,” he added. “They will get elected and the system will collapse.”
The new cabinet was selected January 22 after more than a month’s delay. New Prime Minister Hassan Diab was appointed in mid-December amid ongoing anti-government protests that have swept across the country since October 17. Although the cabinet is smaller than the previous 30-member cabinet, with 20 members it is still larger than the 18 Diab had originally called for. Some have said the government is of “one color,” referring to the fact that it is made up of those loyal to the March 8 Alliance, which includes Iran-backed Hezbollah. The party, which lost one seat, will now hold two seats, but six pro-Hezbollah Sunni Muslim members will also sit in cabinet. Tuesday’s events left some considering their future in the country. “I want to leave,” said Kholoud, a 41-year-old dance choreographer, seeing few prospects of success for the protest movement. “It’s very idealistic,” she explained, voicing her doubt that the political elite could ever be persuaded to step down. “I believe in it but I know that it’s not realistic, but at the same time I can’t accept this situation.” Kholoud acknowledged the privilege afforded her by her husband’s French passport – an advantage not enjoyed by her Lebanese family. “I don’t want to leave them in this situation but I have a kid,” she said, adding that she saw no way for Lebanon to return to its former status quo. “It’s scary and unsure, but we can’t go back.”

Diab from House of Parliament: This government is not politicized
NNA/February 11/2020
Prime Minister Dr. Hassan Diab stressed that his Cabinet is not politicized but rather a government of non-partisan specialists. “This government is not politicized, despite the political sentiments of its ministers, but they are in line with the general frames that I have set since the first day of my assignment… It is a government of non-partisan specialists,” Premier Diab asserted in his reply to deputies’ entries during the Parliament vote of confidence session on Tuesday. “The government will carry the demands of the Lebanese and will launch the course of salvation,” Diab corroborated, stressing that the government will be working for all the Lebanese and seeking salvation and the service of people. “Lebanon is going through an unprecedented difficult period and crossing into the safe shores is almost impossible without an external and internal impetus.” The Prime Minister also pledged that the government shall face challenges “with a plan, methodology and firmness.” “Our prime concern now is how to protect people’s deposits in banks and preserve monetary stability,” the PM concluded.

373 Injured as Protesters Clash with Security Forces around Parliament
Agence France Presse/Associated Press/Naharnet/February 11/2020
Lebanon’s parliament met Tuesday for a confidence vote on a new government as protesters clashed outside with security forces who used teargas and water cannon to disperse them. The Red Cross said a total of 373 people were treated for teargas exposure and other injuries, including 45 who were taken to hospital. The new prime minister, Hassan Diab, a little-known academic and former education minister, was tasked with forming a government in December after premier Saad Hariri was forced to resign by pressure from the street. But more than three months on, angry demonstrators charge that his proposed new cabinet fails to address their demands and won’t be able to rescue Lebanon’s ailing economy. Before the session started in an area cordoned off by riot police and soldiers, protesters mobbed the tinted-glass vehicles of lawmakers and lobbed water bottles at them in a bid to stop them reaching parliament for the vote. Sixty-eight out of the 128 lawmakers however made it in, meeting the required minimum to proceed with the session. A group of protesters surrounded the car of one Cabinet minister, Demianos Qattar, as he was on his way to parliament, pelting it with eggs and pounding it with their fists before soldiers and police pushed them away. The protesters also attacked legislator Salim Saadeh in his car. “Thank God I am good. I thank everyone for their love,” Saadeh said in a video posted on his Twitter account, his shirt tainted with blood and his left eye blue and swollen. “Does the protest movement approve of the attack on colleague Salim Saadeh?” Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said during the parliament session. Saadeh later went to parliament with a bandaged head and gave a speech in which he criticized widespread corruption in the country. Protesters also attacked a cameraman working for the local OTV TV station run by loyalists to President Michel Aoun. Since the protests began nearly four months ago, journalists have been attacked by both government supporters as well as opponents. The protesters later smashed fronts of the Le Gray Hotel close to parliament causing significant damage. Near one of the entrances, supporters of the AMAL Movement attacked some protesters to force them to open the way. Security forces separated the two sides. Earlier, security forces used tear gas and water cannon to break up groups of demonstrators who hurled rocks over the blast walls erected to block off roads leading to parliament. “I’m here to say ‘no confidence’ in the government because the way it was formed shows that it cannot be trusted,” said one protester who gave her name as Carole. A group of protesters later set fire to a bank in the downtown area.
‘Emergency rescue plan’
Demonstrators draped in Lebanese flags and chanting “no confidence” had started gathering early in the morning before parliamentarians were set to arrive for the vote. Some lawmakers had spent the night in parliament to thwart protesters who have successfully prevented several previous sessions since they launched their campaign in October. Lebanon’s cross-sectarian protest movement has pushed for the wholesale removal of a hereditary political elite widely seen as corrupt and incompetent. While Diab has vowed to carry the hopes of the protesters, portfolios in his government were shared out through the same partisan and sectarian gamesmanship that has been the trademark of Lebanon’s political class for decades. Inside parliament, Diab said his cabinet was determined to draw up an emergency rescue plan for the country by the end of the month. With the economy badly hit, he warned that “we could reach a complete collapse from which it will be hard — if not near impossible — to get out.”The international community has pledged more than $11 billion in desperately needed financial aid, but made it conditional on the speedy implementation of economic reforms.
‘People have no confidence’
But in the street, one of the protesters, 26-year-old Christopher, said he had little faith in the new leadership. “We are here to reject Diab’s government and to say that the Lebanese people have no confidence in it — even if lawmakers vote to support it.” He said the new ministers may appear to be qualified but they still depended on “the parties that destroyed the country.”Nearby, water cannon aimed cold jets at protesters trying to scale the perimeter wall. Demonstrators had traveled to Beirut from as far as Sidon, Tripoli and Tyre. Human Rights Watch condemned the use of force against demonstrators. “Security forces were throwing tear gas and beating people up” said Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch. If approved by parliament, the new government will face one of the worst crises in the county’s recent history. The protests spell the biggest popular challenge to the power-sharing system that emerged from the 1975-1990 civil war. Lebanon is also on the brink of defaulting on its debt and the impact is being felt by all social classes, with tough restrictions on cash withdrawals and a de-facto devaluation of the national currency. One placard at Tuesday’s protest carried the sarcastic message: “Of course we are confident — that they will help the banks to the detriment of the people.” The World Bank has warned that if no solution is found swiftly to the crisis, the poverty rate may shoot up from a third to half of the population.

Berri Affirms Quorum Secured at Confidence Vote Session
Naharnet/February 11/2020
Speaker Nabih Berri stressed on Tuesday that the Parliament session dedicated for a Cabinet confidence vote and discuss the Policy Statement secured quorum with 67 lawmakers attending at the opening. He said lawmakers of the Strong Republic bloc, MP Setrida Geagea, of the Lebanese Forces party joined after that. In a tweet, Kataeb MP Sami Gemayel said the session was unconstitutional because it convened without securing quorum. “Opening the confidence session without quorum violates internal laws, is unconstitutional and draws a blow to democracy and challenges Lebanese protesters,” he said. A two-thirds quorum of Lebanon’s 128-seat Parliament is needed to push through major initiatives such as a Cabinet confidence vote.

Diab Vows to Get Lebanon Out of Crisis

Associated Press/Naharnet/February 11/2020
Prime Minister Hassan Diab on Tuesday vowed during a Cabinet confidence vote session to get Lebanon out of its economic and financial crisis, the worst since the end of the 1975-90 civil war, as protesters clashed with security forces outside the Parliament. In the Policy State read by Diab, the prime minister said “painful” measures are needed now and that it would be difficult to extricate Lebanon from the crisis once “we reach total collapse.” No plan would succeed unless interest rates are reduced in order to revive the economy and reduce the debt,” he said.
He read the 16-page government statement as protesters rallied outside the Parliament and clashed with security forces. According to a copy, the government’s “emergency rescue plan” includes reforms in the judicial, financial and administrative fields, as well as fighting corruption and fixing the country’s finances. “Mistaken are those who believe they can evade an economic collapse and people’s anger. We must admit that restoring confidence can only be achieved through deeds and tangible achievements,” Diab said. “The Policy Statement focuses on an emergency work plan, and we are committed to expedite its implementation. The government will serve Lebanon and will be independent, honest and transparent with direct communication with the people mainly the Movement,” he added. He assured depositors that “the government will put in place a mechanism to protect depositors.”

Diab’s Government Wins Parliament Vote of Confidence

Associated Press/Naharnet/February 11/2020
Lebanon’s new government won parliament’s vote of confidence on Tuesday, as 63 MPs voted in favor, 20 voted against and one MP abstained. The MPs of Hizbullah, the Free Patriotic Movement, the AMAL Movement and their allies granted confidence to Hassan Diab’s government as those of al-Mustaqbal Movement, the Progressive Socialist Party and the Lebanese Forces withheld it. MP Michel Daher of the FPM-led Strong Lebanon bloc meanwhile abstained from voting. Eighty-four out of 128 MPs attended the session, which was boycotted by several opposition blocs and MPs.
“No matter the number of accusations, this is a cabinet of nonpartisan specialists and our hearts are outside, beating alongside the people,” Diab said told parliament in a speech that preceded the vote. “The government will carry the demands of the Lebanese and launch the course of salvation,” he pledged.
Diab added that he fully realized the massive task ahead but was confident it was still possible to rescue Lebanon’s economy from complete collapse — and that his government would get to work immediately. “The ball of fire is spiraling quickly and if the flame is not controlled by this government then it will burn everyone,” Diab said. “We will do all we can to put Lebanon on track of reforms,” he added. The meeting was held amid a crippling economic and financial crisis, Lebanon’s worst in decades, and an ongoing protest movement against the country’s hated political class. Amid a spiraling financial crisis, Lebanese banks have imposed informal withdrawal limits and halted transfers abroad. Demonstrators are calling for sweeping reforms and an end to a political class they deem as corrupt and incompetent, blaming it for the rapidly worsening financial crisis. The protests forced the resignation in October of the former prime minister, Saad Hariri. Diab, a former professor at the American University of Beirut, was picked by the militant group Hizbullah and its allies after negotiations to bring back Hariri, who was insisting on a government of technocrats, failed. That will make it difficult for him to gain the international community’s trust and unlock badly needed assistance for the country. Friendly nations, including France, have made clear they will not support the heavily indebted nation before a reform-minded Cabinet is formed. Diab urged the international community, and local opponents, to give his government a chance. “Lebanon is passing through a very difficult and unprecedented time. Overcoming this period peacefully is close to impossible without assistance from abroad, as well as from the inside,” he said. The parliament session began with Diab reading the 16-page government statement on a rescue plan to get Lebanon out of its economic and financial crisis, the worst since the end of the 1975-90 civil war. The plan includes reforms in the judicial, financial and administrative fields, as well as plans fighting corruption and fixing the country’s finances. Lebanon has one of the highest debt ratios in the world, standing at more than 150% of GDP and worsening over recent years with no economic growth and high unemployment. In the statement read by Diab, the prime minister said “painful” measures are needed. He said slashing interest rates were among measures that needed to be taken in order to revive the economy and reduce the debt.”Those who think they can survive the collapse of the economy are mistaken,” Diab said.

Aoun receives Head of Association of Banks
NNA/February 11/2020
President Michel Aoun met with the Head of the Association of Banks, Dr. Salim Sfeir, and discussed with him banking and financial affairs. The President was briefed on the current banking conditions and on the results of Sfeir’s visit to the United States, and the meetings which he had with US State Department officials, in addition to a number of bankers. Dr. Sfeir’s Advisor, Mr. Antoine Habib, also attended the meeting.—Presidency Press Office

Bassil Urges Govt. to ‘Impose Plan’, Resist ‘Politicians, Protesters Blackmail’
Naharnet/February 11/2020
Free Patriotic Movement chief MP Jebran Bassil on Tuesday urged the new government to “impose a monetary plan” and resist what he called the “blackmail” of both politicians and protesters. “If the government wants to overcome the crisis and this is still possible, it has to raise its voice… and it should not bow to the blackmail of politicians seeking to keep their privileges nor to the blackmail of street protesters voicing unjustified political demands,” Bassil said in a speech before parliament as MPs debated Cabinet’s policy statement ahead of a confidence vote. Bassil called on the government to “impose a comprehensive monetary plan in coordination with the central bank governor” and “end the policy of blind borrowing for high interest rates.”He also urged it to “end the policy of pegging the (dollar) exchange rate,” noting that “it is costly and a big lie” and that “the lira’s price has been illusory since a long time.”
And calling on the government to “legalize and regularize the capital control, recover the stolen funds and expose the culprits,” Bassil called for “restructuring debt after negotiating and conducting a comprehensive study and survey.” Bassil also urged protecting small depositors, merging some banks and recovering “the funds of the central bank’s financial engineering operations.”“We will give a chance and if the government does not act quickly and differently without bowing to blackmail, we will be the ones who will topple it and we won’t wait for anyone. We will act against it in parliament and on the streets. Beware because the time is tight and the options are clear, so do not waste the time or the chance,” Bassil went on to say.

Raad to Parliament: Govt. Doesn’t Resemble Our Political Camp
Naharnet/February 11/2020
The head of Hizbullah’s parliamentary bloc MP Mohammed Raad on Tuesday announced that his party will grant confidence to Hassan Diab’s government although it “does not resemble” the Hizbullah-led political camp. “With all due honesty and clarity, this government does not resemble our political camp, but we all accepted it to facilitate the formation mission and we are confident that the visions can be reconciled among its components,” Raad said in a speech before parliament. Raad also criticized the government’s “lengthy” policy statement, saying “convincing the Lebanese of transparency and integrity cannot be achieved through the policy statement but rather through practice.”“Winning people’s confidence hinges on the implementation of serious anti-corruption measures,” he said.

MP Geagea Slams Officials Impotence, PSP MP Blasts ‘Govt. of Advisers’
Naharnet/February 11/2020
The parliamentary blocs of the Lebanese Forces and the Progressive Socialist Party on Tuesday attended a parliamentary session to debate Cabinet’s policy statement but announced that they will not grant confidence to the new government. “The economic and social situations were much better during the war and certainly no one wants war’s return, but is it acceptable to face what we’re facing during peacetime?” MP Sethrida Geagea of the LF said in a speech before parliament. It blamed the dire situation on officials’ “continued deeds and their failure to find solutions.” “We will not grant confidence to this government, but we will continue to wait for its decisions and steps. We will eventually support it should it launch drastic and quick steps to rescue the country, or else we will be among its fiercest opponents,” Geagea added. MP Hadi Abu al-Hosn of the PSP meanwhile said the formation of the new government was “disappointing,” noting that “some of its ministers are advisers who are loyal to their parties’ policies.” “We have major reservations over the poetic policy statement that does not contain any plan, that’s why it is needed to approve the law on the judiciary’s independence before pursuing corrupts,” Abu al-Hosn added, calling for “activating the central inspection authorities.”

MP Saadeh Addresses Parliament after Being Injured in Protesters Attack
Naharnet/February 11/2020
Lawmaker Salim Saadeh was injured and hospitalized on Tuesday when his car came under an attack by protesters in Downtown Beirut. Saadeh was injured in the head when protesters attacked his vehicle as it was making its way through to the Parliament in Nejmeh Square for the Cabinet confidence vote. In a video from the hospital that circulated on social media, Saadeh appeared with a bruised eye and stitches on his forehead. He assured that he was in good health. Protesters in Beirut tried to stop a confidence vote in parliament on a new government. They mobbed the tinted-glass vehicles of lawmakers and lobbed water bottles at them in a bid to stop them reaching parliament for the vote. Protesters hurled stones at Saadeh’s vehicle breaking its windows and injuring the Syrian Social Nationalist Party MP. At the beginning of the session, Speaker Nabih Berri denounced the incident and all other attacks at lawmakers, noting that Saadeh was in good health. Saadeh later arrived in parliament where he delivered a sarcastic speech about the economic crisis. Lawmakers clapped as the MP entered parliament’s hall. They later erupted in laughter as Saadeh began his speech by apologizing for being “late due to health reasons.” The MP blasted the central bank and the economic policies in his trademark humorous fashion as he called for abolishing the ministries of information and the internally displaced.

Officer Killed, Inmates Flee as Gunfire Erupts in Ouzai Police Station
Naharnet/February 11/2020
The Ouzai police station witnessed deadly mayhem on Tuesday that left an Internal Security Forces officer dead and several policemen wounded. The station’s commander, Captain Jalal Shreif, was killed in the incident as the shooter, Lebanese national Hasan al-Hussein, shot himself dead after opening fire at the ISF members. LBCI television said around 20 inmates escaped during the chaos and that the army later arrested seven of them. Media reports said the slain captain is the son of Brig. Gen. Ali Shreif, the army’s deputy intelligence chief. Citing preliminary investigations, MTV said al-Hussein had entered the police station along with his mother to visit his jailed brother and was not carrying any weapon. “A fistfight ensued between him and his brother, which prompted the intervention of the station’s commander and other policemen, after which he snatched the firearm of one of the policemen and shot dead the officer Jalal Shreif,” MTV reported. “An adjutant from the al-Attar family was seriously wounded as another policeman was injured in the leg before al-Hussein shot himself dead,” the TV network added.

Diab commenting on Ouzaei shooting: Security red line
NNA/February 11/2020
Prime Minister Hassan Diab commented via Twitter on the recent Ouzaei shooting, tweeting: “Once again, the prestige of the State is under attack, as martyrs and wounded of the Internal Security Forces have fallen in an insidious attack. Security is a red line, and the prestige of the State will in no way be weakened. The security forces are the image of the State, and it is necessary to rally around the State and protect its institutions in order to protect the country. May God have mercy on the martyrs of the security forces and grant their loved ones patience and solace. We also wish the wounded a speedy recovery.”

New U.S. Ambassador to Replace Richard
Naharnet/February 11/2020
The new U.S. ambassador to Lebanon will arrive soon to Lebanon to replace Ambassador Elizabeth Richard after serving four years in office, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Tuesday. Diplomatic sources told the daily that the new ambassador, Dorothy Shea, is expected to arrive “soon” in Beirut. She is a “staunch supporter” of US President Donald Trump’s policy, said the sources. Shea was deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. According to information, Trump seeks to “change the performance of the Lebanese embassy with Lebanese parties by appointing an ambassador close to his hard-line policy.”The “Lebanese will see a different and stricter approach than before,” according to sources. The new ambassador speaks both French and Arabic languages

Berri Says Lebanon Needs IMF ‘Help’
Naharnet/February 11/2020
Speaker Nabih Berri sees a need for help from the International Monetary Fund to draw a rescue plan for Lebanon’s crippling economy, media reports said on Tuesday. “Lebanon needs technical assistance from the International Monetary Fund to formulate an economic rescue plan,” Berri was quoted as saying. He was also quoted that the “IMF should advise on Lebanon’s $1.2 billion Eurobonds due to mature in March.”Berri visitors quoted the Speaker as saying that he also believes that Lebanon can not “surrender” itself to the IMF because “it can not bear its conditions,” An-Nahar daily said.

The Syrian women and girls sold into sexual slavery in Lebanon
Daniela Sala by Daniela Sala//Al Jazeera/February 11/2020
Syria’s refugee crisis has shone a light on sex trafficking in Lebanon, where victims are often treated as criminals.
Beirut, Lebanon – “How do I know most of the women working as prostitutes are controlled?” asked Paul, a volunteer for the Jesuits, a religious order of the Roman Catholic Church, before answering his own question. “[Because] the last time I tried to help one of them get in touch with an NGO, I got beaten and threatened by her captors.”
Everyone in Lebanon’s “sex trade” seems to be involved in trafficking in one way or another: Sources at both the Internal Security Forces (ISF) and the General Directorate of General Security (GS) in Beirut told Al Jazeera that even pimps working further down the chain of command ultimately report to a bigger network of organised traffickers.
Paul has learned the ins-and-outs of Lebanon’s trafficking world over the years. Beirut, the Lebanese capital, and Jounieh, a coastal town about 10km (6.2 miles) north of it, are where most victims of sex trafficking end up in Lebanon.
A GS officer estimated that there are at least 800 women and girls who have been forced into prostitution in these areas. But the numbers are hard to verify because of the hidden nature of the problem.
While the ISF formally identified 29 victims – 10 of whom were Lebanese and 13 Syrian – of sex trafficking in 2017, the most recent year for which there is data, other sources, including officers at the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and NGOs, put the number in the thousands.
The law
The plight of these women is compounded by the way the law is applied in Lebanon. Article 523 of the Lebanese Penal Code criminalises “any person who practices secret prostitution or facilitates it”. The punishment is a prison sentence of anything from a month to a year.
It is not illegal to work as a licensed prostitute but seeing as the government has not issued any such licences since the 1970s, those working as prostitutes are vulnerable to being arrested and punished.
Beirut is no stranger to the sex industry. Prostitution was legalised in Lebanon after World War I when the government decided that concentrating prostitutes in one area – Mutanabbi Street, which became Beirut’s downtown red-light district before it was destroyed in the Civil War – would protect Lebanese women from French and Senegalese soldiers.
According to the Lebanese Prostitution Law of 1931, brothels were divided into two groups: public brothels and escort houses. The law also set conditions for those working outside the brothels, dividing them into groups of workers; cafe girls, mistresses and “artistes”.
After Lebanon’s Civil War, which lasted from 1975 to 1990, secret – meaning unlicensed – prostitution became a crime.
But hundreds of women enter Lebanon each year, particularly from Eastern Europe and Morocco, with an “artiste” visa, to work as dancers in clubs. “Artiste” is widely understood to be a euphemism for “prostitute”.
Life on the streets
It is about 8pm on a Saturday, close to the Daoura intersection near Bourj Hammoud in Beirut’s Armenian district, on a crowded road full of busy shops and cafes. From his car, Paul has just spotted a woman leaning towards a black SUV. She and the driver talk for a few minutes. Eventually, she gets in the car. The transaction is quick, and people passing by do not even seem to notice.
“They found a deal,” explains Paul’s wife, Ray. The couple, both in their 40s, have been volunteering for the church for years. Paul first got involved 20 years ago when he discovered that one of his neighbours was being forced into prostitution. He says he considered it his “Christian mission” to help. Ray decided to join him soon after they met in 2010.
We meet women who are Lebanese, East Africans and a lot of Syrians. They all want to leave the job, but the only ones I have seen leaving a trafficker was because they were handed to another [trafficker].
Paul and Ray are Armenian-Lebanese and asked that their real names be withheld because of the sensitivity of their work. For the past 10 years, they have distributed food and medicine once a week to “people in need”, the couple’s term for the homeless, drug addicts, beggars and women exploited into prostitution in Beirut.
As they drive around Doura, in the eastern suburbs of Beirut, the main road is still crowded. Two policemen are patrolling the area. But right around the corner, Ray spots another woman sitting in a car with a man. They have seen her here before, waiting on the street corner.
“We meet women who are Lebanese, East Africans and, in recent years, a lot of Syrians, of course,” says Paul. “In my experience, they all want to leave the job, but the only ones I have seen leaving a trafficker – it was because they were handed to another [trafficker].”
The Chez Maurice case
It came as no great shock to Paul when, in 2016, news broke that 75 Syrian women had been trafficked and held captive in a Jounieh brothel for years.
What became known as the “Chez Maurice case”, after the brothel in which they were held, only came to light because four women managed to escape.
Legal Agenda, a Lebanese NGO that collected several testimonies from survivors of the Chez Maurice brothel, described the place as a “torture chamber”.
“I didn’t think there was a state [law and order] in Lebanon,” one of the trafficked women told Legal Agenda. “[One of the traffickers] told me that he bought the state with his money. I believed him the moment I was detained in the General Security building for 24 hours and then released scot-free.”
Despite the media uproar surrounding the case, the owner of the brothel, a Lebanese businessman, was soon released on bail. Hearings into the case have been postponed multiple times and, three years on, the trial is only just about to begin.
‘No trust in the system’
In 2011, the US State Department had placed Lebanon on its tier 2 watchlist of countries not fully complying with standards to combat human trafficking. Following pressure from civil groups such as Legal Agenda, Lebanon passed a new anti-trafficking law.
Since then, however, the Syrian crisis has precipitated a mass influx into Lebanon. Many of the refugees are women and children who have already suffered trauma and may be particularly vulnerable to exploitation.
Al Jazeera heard accounts of several scenarios in which Syrian women and children ended up in the hands of traffickers. One involved marriages, either in Syria or Lebanon, where the “husband” later revealed himself to be a trafficker. Another involved groups of women and children being trafficked across the border. There are also cases of women and girls being forcibly recruited within refugee camps or even sold by their families to traffickers.
However they arrived in Lebanon, human rights groups and aid workers say not enough is being done to protect them. Ghada Jabbour, head of the anti-trafficking unit at NGO Kafa (“enough” in Arabic), which focuses on gender-based violence, explains: “There is no trust in the system. Victims do not ask for help and do not report. And, at the same time, there is no outreach programme for the victims.”
When the numbers do not add up
According to Lebanon’s ISF, the number of identified victims of trafficking – including those forced into begging, labour exploitation and prostitution – has remained steadily low: 19 in 2015, 87 in 2016 (mainly the Chez Maurice survivors) and 54 in 2017. Most were Syrian.
However, Dima Haddad, programme officer at the IOM, says the official statistics do not come close to conveying the magnitude of the problem.
From her office at the IOM headquarters in Beirut, she coordinates a regional taskforce to counter human trafficking in Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and Jordan – the countries most affected by the Syrian refugee crisis. Sitting at her desk, surrounded by charts showing the dozens of tasks her team has planned for the next few months, she says: “Wherever there is a crisis, there is human trafficking.
“Vulnerability is increasing, hence trafficking is increasing.”
Asked whether there are gaps in the system for identifying the victims, Haddad answers immediately. “Absolutely. If I have to be more diplomatic, I would say there is a lot of work to do. It is urgent, as we consider anti-trafficking a life-saving intervention.”
There are also great obstacles to women being able to tell their stories. Aside from the shame and stigma that prevent victims from coming forward, it can also be difficult to access them. Approaching women on the street is dangerous – as Paul has found over the years – as they are watched by their traffickers.
In researching this feature, Al Jazeera tried to speak to survivors through NGOs, local journalists and local refugee camp leaders. However, those who were prepared to speak asked for money in exchange, requests that appeared to come from husbands and other relatives. Permission to access Baabda female prison – where many of the women arrested for prostitution are held – was not granted.
During 2017, the ISF adopted a policy of trying to root out all cases involving potential trafficking victims through its Human Rights Unit. As of 2018, at least 108 training sessions had been given to the 37 law enforcement agents attached to the unit to help them identify and deal with suspected trafficking cases. But, according to Alef, a human rights watchdog based in Beirut, and other organisations, these training sessions are rarely given to those on the front lines and are, therefore, missing their target.
Ashraf Rifi, who served as minister of justice between 2014 and 2016, and who was ISF director-general from 2005 to 2013, says it could take 10 to 15 years before there are significant changes in how cases of human, and specifically sex, trafficking are identified and combatted.
“It is a cultural problem,” he explains in his office, referring to the low numbers of women – and particularly Syrian women – identified as victims of trafficking. “It’s not unusual, because of stigma and discrimination, that Syrian women are considered ‘just’ prostitutes.”
The ISF is also responsible for investigations into exploitation networks. And yet, Rifi adds, one of the main challenges is the “high level of corruption”, including within the ISF itself.
In August 2018, the head of the ISF’s Human Trafficking and Moral Protection Bureau, Johnny Haddad, was arrested on charges of corruption in connection with a prostitution ring. To date, he is still under investigation by the ISF’s ethics committee, meaning that all information related to the case is classified.
Meanwhile, hundreds of women continue to fall through the cracks – treated like criminals instead of victims.
In 2016, 304 women were arrested on charges of prostitution, according to the ISF’s data. More than half of them were Syrian. All were placed in prison.
The only support available to these women after they are released comes from charities. Dar Al Amal, a local NGO, helps women recuperate in its sparse offices in Sin el Fil, in the eastern suburbs of Beirut.
Here, the volunteers provide emotional and practical support to women who were forced into prostitution, trying to address their legal, medical and psychological needs.
Ghinwa Younes, a social worker who regularly visits the Baabda women’s prison, says: “All the women I met want to quit this life. Most of them are in fact trafficking victims – but ISF did not understand they were victims. As soon as they leave the prison, they rarely get any kind of support and they are immediately back in the network of their exploiters.”
When Al Jazeera spoke to Joseph Mousallem, a spokesman for the ISF, he acknowledged that the difference between prostitution and trafficking is not well understood by police officers. “But it is a cultural issue involving the whole of society, not only the security forces,” he says.
“Countering trafficking is a priority, but we do have thousands of priorities: the whole system is under pressure. We do our best, but not have the means or the resources to track the victims.”
‘Of course they are victims’
Lawyer Hasna Abdulreda meets dozens of these women during detention visits. For 10 years, she has provided legal support to women in jail, and she is currently the head of the legal department at the Lebanese Centre for Human Rights, a local NGO.
“In the past five years, every month at least two or three [women] reach out to me, after being arrested as prostitutes,” she says. “Most of them are Syrians and, of course, they are victims of trafficking.”
But there is little she can do.
“The trials are very fast and if the judge is given any reason to think that the woman is consenting to prostitution (for example because she keeps a share of the money), then he will just send her to prison without any further investigation,” Abdulreda explains.
This is despite the fact that both the UN Convention on Human Trafficking and Lebanese law state that the victim’s consent should be considered irrelevant.
“The only thing I can do is to give [detained women] my phone number and ask them to call me once they leave so that I can refer them to a shelter or an NGO. In prison, they do not have a phone, so I can’t contact them once they are released,” Abdulreda adds.
Despite many women asking for help, in 10 years nobody has called back.
For Syrian women, it is more complicated. Because they are foreigners, they are held by the GS for up to two days after being released from Baabda, Abdulreda says.
“I’m not allowed to access their files. I just lose every contact with them.”
‘Double standard’
Even when trafficking cases go to court, the odds appear stacked against victims of sex trafficking.
Legal Agenda analysed the 34 trafficking cases that made it to court in Lebanon between 2012 and 2017. According to lawyer Ghida Frangieh, who put that report together: “There is a clear double standard in the judges’ attitude towards prostitution and begging.
“While in all cases involving forced begging, judges were quite fast in ruling that it was a trafficking case, when it comes to prostitution, they were digging deeper into the means of exploitation, asking for proof that the woman was actually forced into it. In certain cases they ruled that the woman was not to be considered a victim of trafficking as she consented, at least to some extent.”
[Chez Maurice] became the victim paradigm. If you do not fit into this stereotype, you are hardly considered as a victim of trafficking.
Frangieh says that as well as reflecting a general prejudice against women in prostitution, this view has also been influenced by the Chez Maurice case.
“[Chez Maurice] became the victim paradigm. If you do not fit into this stereotype, you are hardly considered as a victim of trafficking,” she explains.
But this is not how trafficking works.
According to a former senior GS officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media, sex trafficking generally happens in one of two ways: through highly organised rings operating in brothels (such as Chez Maurice) or through so-called “free agents”.
But, despite their name, free agents still operate under the protection and control of a trafficker. “There is no prostitution that is not linked to the main traffickers,” the former officer says.
‘Long-term solutions’
“Alone, we cannot do much,” says Jabbour from Kafa.
Along with the Catholic NGO network Caritas, Kafa runs a shelter for female survivors of violence, mainly domestic workers who have been abused by their employers. The ISF occasionally refers trafficking victims to them.
But their resources are limited: Since 2015, Kafa has been able to offer protection to approximately 100 women, 20 of whom (all Syrians) were sex-trafficking survivors.
“These shelters are just a starting point,” says Jabbour. “What we need are long-term solutions.”
Where are the investigations? We are talking about organised crime. This is not something you can expect NGOs to deal with.
Some of these women were relocated overseas, some got married, but others, without a proper support mechanism, simply went back into prostitution – either forced or out of desperation.
“Countering trafficking and identifying victims is something that cannot be done by NGOs. It is a state’s responsibility,” says George Ghali, director of Alef.
According to Ghali, the problem is not the law but rather in the implementation of the law. “Where are the investigations? We are talking about organised crime. This is not something you can expect NGOs to deal with.”
Back in Doura, Paul and Ray keep providing basic help to people in need. They do not have success stories to share.
Paul says he has not received any further threats from the traffickers. “[Why? Because] we make no change in the situation. And even if a girl manages to quit, they would have another one.”
He admits that lately, he has considered stopping his volunteer work because of the emotional toll it has taken.
But, giving up is not an option, he concludes.
*Daniela Sala is an Italian freelance journalist and photographer, focusing on the Middle East and women’s rights.

Iran-backed Hezbollah steps in to support Iraqi militias after Soleimani’s death
Reuters/Wednesday, 12 February 2020
Shortly after Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani was killed in a US drone strike in Iraq, the Tehran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah group urgently met with Iraqi militia leaders, seeking to unite them in the face of a huge void left by their powerful mentor’s death, two sources with knowledge of the meetings told Reuters. The meetings were meant to coordinate the political efforts of Iraq’s often-fractious militias, which lost not only Soleimani but also Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, a unifying Iraqi paramilitary commander, in the January 3 attack at Baghdad airport, the sources said.
While offering few details, two additional sources in a pro-Iran regional alliance confirmed that Hezbollah, which is sanctioned as a terrorist group by the United States, has stepped in to help fill the void left by Soleimani in guiding the militias. All sources in this article spoke on condition of anonymity to address sensitive political activities rarely addressed in public. Officials with the governments of Iraq and Iran did not respond to requests for comment, nor did a spokesperson for the militia groups.
The discussions shed light on how Iran and its allied groups are trying to cement control in the unstable Middle East, especially in the wake of the devastating US attack on a revered Iranian military leader.
The Tehran-backed militias are critical to Iran’s efforts to maintain control over Iraq, where the US still maintains some 5,000 troops. The country has experienced years of civil war since US forces toppled Saddam Hussein and more recently, the government – and the militias – have faced growing protests against Iran’s influence in the country. Iran helped found some Iraqi militia groups.
In the months ahead of his death, Soleimani had waded ever deeper into the Iraq crisis, holding meetings with the Iraqi militias in Baghdad as Tehran sought to defend its allies and interests in its power struggle with the United States, one of the two Iraqi sources said.
Hezbollah’s involvement marks an expansion of its role in the region. The Shi’ite group, founded by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in 1982, has been at the heart of Iran’s regional strategy for years, helping Soleimani to train paramilitary groups in both Iraq and Syria.
One pro-Iran regional official said Hezbollah’s guidance of the militias would continue until the new leadership in the Quds Force – a unit of the Revolutionary Guards led by Soleimani since 1998 – gets a handle on the political crisis in Iraq.
The meetings between Hezbollah and Iraqi militia leaders began in January, just days after Soleimani’s assassination, the two Iraqi sources said. Reuters couldn’t confirm the number of meetings or where they took place. One source said they were in Beirut and the other said they were either in Lebanon or Iran.
Cardboard cutouts of the late Iran’s Quds Force top commander Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis who were killed in a U.S. air strike at Baghdad airport, are seen during the forty days memorial in Baghdad, Iraq February 11, 2020. (Reuters)
Sheikh Mohammad al-Kawtharani, the Hezbollah representative in Iraq who worked closely with Soleimani for years to guide the Iraqi militias, hosted the meetings, the Iraqi sources said.
Kawtharani picked up where Soleimani left off, the Iraqi sources said. The sources said Kawtharani berated the groups, as Soleimani had done in one of his final meetings with them, for failing to come up with a unified plan to contain popular protests against the Baghdad government and the paramilitaries that dominate it. The government and militia groups have killed hundreds of protesters but not managed to contain the rebellion. Kawatharani also urged a united front in picking a new Iraqi prime minister, the Iraqi sources said. Since then, former Iraqi communications minister Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi has been named – a development welcomed by Iran and accepted by the militia-linked parties it backs but opposed by protesters.
Big shoes to fill
For now, Kawtharani is seen as the most suitable figure to direct Iraqi militias until a permanent Iranian successor can be chosen, although he possesses nowhere near Soleimani’s clout and charisma, according to the two Iraqi sources and a senior Iraqi Shi’ite Muslim leader. “Kawtharani has connections with the militia groups,” the Shi’ite leader said, noting that he was born in Najaf, lived in Iraq for decades and speaks Iraqi dialect. “He was trusted by Soleimani, who used to depend and call on him to help him in crises and in meetings in Baghdad.”One of the Iraqi sources close to the militias said that Kawtharani also met with the Iraqi populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a powerful but unpredictable figure, to convince him to support the new Iraqi prime minister. As Reuters has reported, Sadr has given Allawi his support. Kawtharani will face serious – perhaps insurmountable- challenges in filling the shoes of the leaders killed in the drone attack, the Iraqi sources close to the militias told Reuters. “A lot of faction leaders see themselves as too big and important to take orders from,” one Iraqi source said. “For now, because of pressure from Iran, they’re cooperating with him, but I doubt that will continue and the Iranians know that.”
One of the pro-Iran sources, a military commander, said Hezbollah’s involvement would consist of political guidance but stop short of providing manpower and materiel to retaliate for the Solemani killing. The militias “do not need Hezbollah’s intervention because they have the strength in numbers, combat experience, and firepower,” the commander said.
Those groups are difficult to control while Hezbollah is seen as more disciplined. But like the rest of Iran’s network, Hezbollah risks stretching itself thin, a senior US official in the region and an Iraqi political leader said.
In recent years, Hezbollah’s role has grown considerably. It has fought in support of President Bashar Al-Assad in Syria and extended political support to the Iran-allied Houthis of Yemen in their war with a Saudi-led military alliance. Iran is likely to rely partly on the clout Nasrallah, a figure who commands deep respect among Iran’s allies across the region, the US official said. Nasrallah is seen as overseeing Kawtharani’s efforts, according to a senior Shi’ite Iraqi leader. “I think ideologically, religiously, he’s seen as a charismatic figure to many of the Iraqi Shia militias,” the US official said, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record. In two lengthy televised addresses, Nasrallah has paid homage to Soleimani and vowed to avenge his death. He has also declared it a goal of Hezbollah and its allies to eject US forces from the region once and for all. US forces have been in Iraq since 2014 as part of a coalition fighting against Islamic State.If the Iraqi militias have their way, sources close to them say, these troops will be the first to depart.

Beirut 1958 and Its Lessons
Michael Young/February 11/2020
In an interview, Bruce Riedel discusses his recent book on the deployment of U.S. Marines to Lebanon 62 years ago.
Bruce Riedel is a senior fellow and director of the Brookings Intelligence Project, as well as a senior fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy. He retired in 2006 after 30 years of service at the Central Intelligence Agency. He was a senior advisor on South Asia and the Middle East to the last four presidents of the United States in the staff of the National Security Council. He was also deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Near East and South Asia at the Pentagon and a senior advisor at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Brussels. Diwan interviewed Riedel on his most recent book, Beirut 1958, published late last year to explain how the U.S. intervention in 1958 might inform U.S. behavior in the Middle East today.
Michael Young: Why publish a book in 2019 on the long-forgotten U.S. intervention in Lebanon in 1958?
Bruce Riedel: The United States’ intervention in Lebanon in 1958 was the first combat operation by U.S. forces in the Middle East. Today Americans are engaged in dangerous combat operations across the region, the so called “endless wars.” The operation in 1958 was massive—three aircraft carrier battle groups were offshore in the Mediterranean Sea, troops in Europe and America were on alert to go to the landing zone, and nuclear weapons were en route to Lebanon. British paratroopers landed in Jordan in a closely coordinated operation. It was a prototype for later operations such as Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom.
President Dwight Eisenhower was the first U.S. president to identify the Middle East as vital to the interests of the United States, citing its vast oil resources and role as the birthplace of three religions (though he did not cite Israel’s survival as one such vital interest). So Beirut in 1958 is the place to understand why Washington has become entangled in the Middle East and perhaps how to get out.
MY: You derive lessons from the intervention in Lebanon, some of which can be applied today to the Trump administration. Could you outline which ones?
BR: The first lesson is don’t panic. In 1958, the Eisenhower administration was surprised by a bloody coup in Baghdad that decimated the Iraqi Hashemite royal family. The president’s senior advisers, including his secretary of state and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, warned that the coup would lead to the collapse of all pro-Western governments in the region and a communist takeover. Egypt’s president Gamal Abdel Nasser was the Soviet Union’s stalking horse, they wrongly claimed. The next day the Marines landed to prop up a Christian president in Lebanon who was facing a civil war. The Middle East is full of surprises, but all but a few are not harbingers of the apocalypse for the United States. Await further developments before rushing to use force.
Second, engage your opponents and look for compromise. The Beirut operation was short-lived because the Americans quickly accepted an outcome to the Lebanese civil war that satisfied the Muslim opposition without jeopardizing the Christian minority. Only one American died in combat in 1958, largely because the Marines agreed to partner with the Lebanese armed forces and avoided patrolling rebel-held parts of Beirut. In the end Eisenhower abandoned the Maronite Christian president Camille Chamoun, who had invited the Marines into country, in favor of Fouad Chehab, the Maronite army commander who was the Muslims’ and Nasser’s choice.
MY: The U.S. Marines returned to Beirut in 1982 during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. In what way might the lessons of 1958 have prevented the problems associated with that second intervention?
BR: In 1982, the U.S. intervention was widely seen in the region as supportive of Israel’s disastrous invasion of Lebanon and its war to destroy the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The U.S. claimed that it had sent a peace-keeping force but was perceived as siding with the Israelis, and for good reason. The PLO was still an organization with which the United States refused to deal and Syria was considered a Soviet client state. Therefore, engagement was all but impossible for the Reagan administration in 1982.
Belatedly president Ronald Reagan understood that he needed to address the underlying Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Reagan Plan, which he presented at the time, promoted the Jordanian option—whereby the West Bank and Gaza would be joined in a confederation with Jordan—which proved unacceptable to all the parties, including Jordan’s King Hussein. The Iranians created a new proxy using the neglected Shi‘a community to drive American forces out. To his credit, Reagan had the good sense to quit after the Marine barracks bombing in October 1983.
MY: The two U.S. military deployments in Lebanon, a country the United States has never really considered of vital interest, appear to show that despite Washington’s uncertainty about military involvement in the Middle East, the region almost naturally provokes outside intervention. What’s the message here?
BR: The Middle East has become progressively more divided and violent since 1958. Today there are more than 50,000 U.S. troops in the area. President Donald Trump has increased the troop numbers, including in Iraq, despite his promise to end the endless wars. After more than a decade U.S. combat troops have also returned to Saudi Arabia, this despite America’s energy independence and Israel’s unchallenged military dominance over the region.
America does have interests in the area, but much less so than in previous years. Engagement and negotiations are much better suited for protecting both U.S. interests and values. The diplomats who kept the Marines out of a quagmire in 1958 should be the role models for more successful U.S. engagement in the future.